A Go At Tahoe

        For maybe the third night this trip, we leave without paying for our campsite. The more I think about this the less I like it, especially considering the charges are usually $20 or less and probably used to maintain the campgrounds. It's nice to save money, but we're not like bums about to run out of money and get stranded. I rationalize our petty theft by making a mental note to donate a significant amount to Greenpeace / Sierra Club-esque groups when / if I ever have a lot of disposable income.
        Like almost everywhere I've seen on this trip, Lake Tahoe's beautiful and begging to be explored for much longer than we'll have here. Tahoe City's a picturesque resort town on the edge of this 6,000-feet-high lake, snow-capped mountains visible out the windows as you peruse outdoor gear in the many ski shops. Apparently this is a big point on the Pacific Crest Trail, a massive system of hikes longer than the Appalachian Trail, and we happen into town during some big trail promotion thing. This means free energy bars and other goodies as we nod knowingly during salespeople's schpiels on the latest in backpack technology.
        (Something) Bliss State Park is host to another activity I now want to devote more time, money and energy than I have to pursuing: bouldering. It's climbing up large rocks instead of mountains, meaning without the need for gear or as great a potential of death. I'm pouring sweat and hurting by the time we've had our fill, but I manage to make it up one of the rock's most difficult routes without doing any permanent damage to my body. Not that I need another hobby to pour time and money into, but climbing's seeming pretty interesting.
        After a dip in Donner lake, named after the famous, cannibalistic Donner party, we have an uneventful long drive to our Sonoma County campsite. A large notice announces a fine if you don't pay upon arrival by dropping an envelope with cash into a box, so our plan to steal a stay is stymied. I'm proud of my attempt: balancing the lip of the envelope on the box's slot and planning to take our money with us if we wake up and leave before the ranger arrives.
        Camping's chilled, except for when Brian and Erik think they hear a bear growling in the woods. No biggie: just more reason to build a fire. Our attempt is mostly a smoky bunch of ashes, but it deters bites from mosquitoes and large mammals quite nicely.
        A good fireside chat is about responsibility to fellow travelers. Erik mentions he feels Mike and Riad should have stayed in Cambodia with him and Mud when Mud forgot his passport and Riad disagrees, citing the extra expenditures and lack of any danger. Looking at it more broadly, I think the only sustainable travel philosophy is one of minimal responsibility to cotravelers. To me, travel is an extraordinary, special, and, most importantly, fleeting opportunity to have crazy adventures. Concepts Erik talks about, like keeping Mud company and sticking together, are great for making and keeping friends. But, when these conflict on a trip, I think it's often best to maintain as much autonomy as possible. I'd go further than Riad and expand this to include times when there is danger. Had the Cambodia-Thailand border been dangerous (it wasn't, according to all 3 of them), I don't think I'd want the others sticking around in harm's way with me. I make a far-reaching comparison to "Touching the Void," an account of 2 British climbers in way over their heads on a snowy mountain. Oversimplifying, one leaves the other for dead instead of further risking his life to try and save him. Turns out both miraculously survive. Many climbers criticize the dude's decision to leave his friend behind, but both involved say it was the right thing to do. Not quite sure the comparison makes any sense, but what I'm trying to say is that I think group travel's gotta leave a lot of room and flexibility for different individual actions, both so that they can fuck up and so that everybody's getting the most out of their trip. If this explanation seems confusing, imagine what my cotravelers must have thought as I stumbled through it after more than a couple drinks!

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