I just spent a weekend homeless. Strap in, this is a long one.
It was Nicole’s birthday weekend. She’s now been on earth for 24 years so we decided to go up to Mammoth to celebrate her making it this far. Originally, she told me that we were going backpacking. I’ve never been backpacking but I’ve hiked the Hollywood sign hungover about a hundred times so I felt equipped to get the job done. Though, when I told my mom I was going backpacking and she told me that she had a sturdy North Face backpack in the garage that she could send me. I replied, “Oh, shit. I didn’t even realized that I’ll need to get a backpack.”
As the weekend approached, the plans downgraded from backpacking to camping when we realized the only participants in this journey would be Nicole, Ebru, and me. Because maaaaybe we weren’t quite backpacking trip material. We have been known to call ahead to a restaurant to make sure their patio heat lamps were on when it was a bit breezy out.
On Friday afternoon around 2pm, we left LA with extreme gusto. We were off! It was happening! The three of us! Camping! S’mores! Here we go!
We didn’t arrive in Mammoth until 11pm. Turns out, Nicole’s birthday weekend is also Labor Day weekend. Lots of people wanted to get out of LA. Lots of people took the highway. Lots of people went to mammoth. Lots of people camped.
As we pulled into town, we searched the town for campsites. We camped last year during the Fourth of July and had pulled right into a spot on the lake, so this year we found no reason to make a reservation. Heads up – If you ever go camping in Mammoth on Labor Day, make a reservation. Turns out, at midnight the Friday of Labor Day weekend, there are absolutely no campsites available. We drove around for hours looking. To give you perspective, I just looked up Mammoth camping online and it says that they have “over 800 campsites available.” I have stink-eyed every single one.
We found a campsite – #43 – that appeared to be open. We parked, yanked out our tent, and began to build our new home.
A man from the campsite next door pointed his flashlight at us and asked what we thought we were doing. I showed him the bags under my eyes to gain sympathy. I was so tired. In one day, I had worked, driven for 9 hours, and learned the hard way that McDonalds is not yet serving breakfast all day. He introduced himself as Kei (pronounced “Key”) and said that he had reserved this spot for his friends who were arriving in the morning. We could sleep at his campsite but we better GTFO early in the morning. (He did not say GTFO with his mouth but he did with his eyes)
That night we slept outside in 32 degree weather. I know this not only because I have never been so cold in my life, but also because Ebru said “IT IS SO COLD. IT’S LIKE 30 DEGREES OUT.” every hour on the hour. I didn’t even go to the much-needed bathroom the entire night for fear of climbing out of my sleeping bag and turning into a popsicle.
7am the next morning, we woke up more tired than the night before and packed up the car. Back on the road, we once again looked for campsites. One of the campground host’s trailer even had a sign that said, “We’re full. Don’t even ask.” We called hotels. Most of them were full, though one lady told me, “GREAT news! We have one room open. $243 a night.” For a weekend that we predicted our biggest purchase would be a 12 pack of Clif bars, $243 a night was not an option.
Ebru posted an “SOS” snapchat story where she announced to everyone that we were homeless in Mammoth and needed a place – any place – to stay. We called everyone we have met over the years that lived in Mammoth. Everyone, and I mean everyone, had either moved away, was on vacation, or was living on a mattress on the back of their truck. When I asked, “What do you do when you get cold?” my truck-living friend answered, “I run.” Like, at 4am, if he is too cold, he just starts running. Meanwhile, I have been in head-to-toe running gear, on a perfect 70 degree day, standing on a beautiful beach trail and have thought, “Eh, not today.”
Driving around the campgrounds, we saw a group of people setting up a tent on the side of the road, sans campsite. We asked them what they were doing and they replied that, because it’s a national forest, you can set up camp wherever you want and no one can ticket you. You don’t need to pay for a campsite. (If you’re thinking at this point – if this is true, then why doesn’t everyone do it? Then you are much smarter than we are. Though, you’ve probably had a good night’s sleep and a shower so you have the upper hand here and can’t even compare to our desperation, so LEAVE ME ALONE GOSH.)
We set up camp on the side of the road. We even tied up a banner to properly alert the bears we were celebrating Nicole’s birthday.
Streamer work done by Ebru. See more of her work at I-tie-streamers-around-trees.com.
Then, we went hiking. We embarked on a beautiful 12 mile round-trip hike to Duck Lake, passing 3 other lakes on our way: Arrowhead, Skelton, and Barney, and somehow lived to tell the tale.
Me looking for a place to sleep that night.
We got back into town and headed directly to Mammoth Brew Co to enjoy some well-earned beers. That’s when Nicole started to second guess our side-of-the-road home we had set up earlier. We asked our waiter what he thought, who laughed at us for thinking we could just put up a tent on the side of the road and think that the rangers wouldn’t ticket us. He asked if we were at least being discreet? I thought of the streamers and the banner and answered yes, of course we were being discreet.
I used my old friend Google to learn that what we were doing was called “dispersed camping” which has a much better ring to it than “homelessness” but is not legal in the recreational area. If we wanted to drive miles outside of Mammoth and pitch a tent on the side of the freeway, we were free to do that. I pegged that as Plan Z and desperately hoped we could any viable option A though Y.
At this moment, Ebru received a snapchat from a username that she didn’t recognize. He had seen her extremely desperate post and he lived in Mammoth. He seemed to know Ebru. She didn’t remember who he was. We discussed the possibility that he was a murderer. I hope he never reads this. We agreed to meet him in the public and crowded village. The three of us took our beers to go, walked up to the village, and waited.
Turns out, the snapchat username belonged to a guy that we had known from trips years prior in ski racing. He explained that a friend of his was housesitting a 4-bedroom place and was throwing a house party and did we want to come? Our mission became clear. We would go to this house party and I would have to challenge everyone into a flip cup competition and bet that, should I win, I gain full access to the house and they must all endure the painful experience that is sleeping outside in 30 degree weather. That, or we can just claim a room and be grateful to the host. I was prepared for either one.
We told our friend that we would meet him back at the village in an hour, as we needed to dismantle our birthday-themed illegal campsite that we had set up earlier. We bid him farewell. As we all squealed with excitement over our new house party plans, we started coughing from the 12 miles worth of dust and dirt we still had on from our hike. Where do you shower when you’re homeless?
The Westin is the most beautiful hotel in Mammoth. Why we chose this one as the one to sneak into is beyond me. We entered the hotel and too loudly talked about how “we were just taking the elevator UP TO OUR ROOM” and that we would “toooooootally get room service tonight! YUMMY!!” You need a room key to get into the gym, but sneaky Ebru convinced an innocent bystander that we had left our room key in the pool area. We probably looked like straight loons, covered in dirt and in hiking attire while telling this lady that “We were JUST in the pool! I love swimming laps! Gotta beat my PR!” She swiped her card, allowing us access to the showers. We used hand soap to scrub away the day.
That night, we arrived at a bar to meet our friend but, more importantly, to charge our phones. Outlets, I have learned, are a true luxury that should not be taken for granted. I no longer do that. Since I started typing out this story, I have whispered “Thank you” into each outlet in my apartment 3 times.
Our snapchat friend had signed up to be a food model for the day, which consisted of having photos taken of him eating and enjoying the restaurant to later be posted to the Mammoth Mountain website. Since our wagon was officially hitched to his for the night, we joined in the fun before heading to the party. The photographer took pictures while Nicole ate tacos. He recorded videos while we danced to live music played by a guitarist with no teeth. It was a weird weekend.
We later arrived at the house party to a host who greeted us with, “You must be the homeless girls.” He then very sweetly showed us a room that we could stay in for the night, squashing my need to conquer them all at flip cup and force them to sleep outside. We partied the night away with the local mountain dirt bike instructors.
The next morning, we thanked our lovely host by helping clean the house that he was no longer staying in after that night. So, we left the house once again homeless. We had planned on staying in town until Monday. It was Sunday.
An option of places to stay. Though, the sign “Yes on Z” felt like a sign to drive out of town and pitch a tent on the freeway. Remember??? Plan z?? Oh, forget it.
That day, we went horseback riding because we have our priorities straight. Why spend money on a hotel room when you can spend it on huge animals that carry you up mountains?
Side note on how funny I think this picture is: Look at Nicole’s extreme excitement about the journey we were about to embark on. You should know that that smile faded quickly when she later learned that her horse refused to move and stopped randomly in the middle of rocky hills.
In the afternoon, we pitched hammocks at Lake Mary.
In the early evening, we drove out to the hot springs and met some dude who catches fish for a living. We had planned on setting up camp right near the hot springs but, as the temperature dropped and the pull to our beds 303.77 miles away grew stronger, we hit the road at 7pm to travel back to LA.
We concluded that, before we left, we should make s’mores on the portable stove Nicole brought. But… We couldn’t figure out how to turn it on. Desperate for my favorite dessert, I grabbed the lighter to light a marshmallow on fire, only to learn that our lighter was out. It was the most perfect ending to the trip that had originated with the idea that three of us could backpack through the Mammoth mountains.
The entire ride back, each one of us burst out laughing whenever we thought of the weekend that we had just endured. I think it took everything about our trip to go wrong to realize that, in the end, everything about our trip was so right. I was lucky enough to experience an incredible weekend and made a million memories with two of my favorite people in the world… And I do mean Kei and that photographer dude.