After packing our food pannier with goodness from San Luis Obispo’s Natural Foods Coop, we wandered along vineyards to Price Canyon Road, which took us in to the town of Pismo Beach.
When we arrived at Pismo Beach State Park we, sadly, discovered they had done away with their hike/bike rates. Instead of paying $5/person we would need to pay the full price, the same as someone who was driving into the site would pay. We decided to move on and check out a few other campsites down the road to see if rates were cheaper. Finding one campground, literally, right next to a railway, and another priced at $35 a night we moved on to Pismo Beach State Park’s sister campground near the pier, Oceano Campground. They too, informed us of their now extinct hike/bike rate, and after expressing our disbelief and frustration over this fact, explained to us that it was necessary due to problems with “transients”.
Now, let me tell you something. (warning: rant ahead)
I’ve had some issues with the CA state parks as we’ve been traveling down the coast.
We’ve found, time and again, that the hike/bike sites are usually at the bottom or top of a steep hill, often right next to the railway tracks (which run every couple of hours), draped in the shadows amongst the unkempt regions of the campsites, where we freeze our rears off and neither our gear nor tent can dry quickly in the mornings, while the motor homes sit nice and pretty in the prime, sunny, sites. This is true even in the dead of winter when the campgrounds are empty and they could easily give cyclists the more pleasant sites with access to the morning sunshine.
Those who come in on foot or bicycle are prohibited from staying more than two consecutive nights (some parks even restrict it to one night only!), whereas those who drive in can stay 20 to 30 days or longer. In addition, we have been harassed by rangers and camp staff multiple times (and have seen them harassing other cyclists as well) to make payment for a second night before our check-out time had passed for the previous day and for placing our tent in a so-called “non-designated” locations (meaning 10-20 feet from the site they assigned you because you couldn’t see clearly while setting up your tent in the dark). We haven’t seen ranger’s knocking on RV doors, or any other campers “doors” for that matter, before check out time, or any other time we’ve been in the parks, despite their repeated violations of quiet hours by use of generators.
At Doheney State Park, we were literally put in a semi-flooded site behind a bathroom, next to the rail tracks and a busy roadway, despite the park being practically empty. The floodlight off the back of the bathroom facility really helped add to the ambiance of a restless night’s sleep, as did the constant trains passing, and the hour-long flashing of police lights on the adjacent road only a few feet from our tent, necessitated by a DUI arrest.
When a fellow camper using the restroom spotted us, he commented, “So, this is where they put the cyclists!”. After we explained our history and opinion about the state parks policy and placement of cyclists within the campsites, he said, “Well, at least you’re well hidden!”. And our sentiments were, “You’ve got that right. That’s how they like non-driving “transients” – well-hidden from every one else’s view!”
[There have been a few exceptions to the scenarios listed above: Half Moon Bay State Park was gorgeous & friendly to cyclists; San Simeon hosts allowed us to camp in a sunnier and more open location, outside of the hike/bike area, after we requested it (the campground was completely empty); Refugio State Park‘s hike/bike campsites are right across from the beach in decent spots and far from the railroad tracks; Thornhill Broome Beach (Point Mugu State Park) gave us our choice of site, which happened to be right on the beach; and South Carlsbad State Park hosts offered us a normal, sunny site site at a reduced hike/bike rate after they found out our intended destination of San Elijo park was closed.]
My problem with all of this?
These are state parks, run by a state that has a grand reputation for setting stringent environmental standards and leading the country in environmental policy, whose stated mission is “to preserve the state’s extraordinary biological diversity, protecting its most valued natural and cultural resources“, yet they are obviously rewarding people who drive fossil-fueled vehicles into their parks, over those who use the most environmentally friendly energy there is – their own two legs! We could discuss all day how 3 ton vehicles damage park grounds, pollute the air and water, use an excessive amount of resources and create noise pollution with those generators.
My opinion is that the system should be set up to reward those whose actions most support the parks own mission, in both site assignment and payment. Bike/hikers should be given the prime spots at a discounted rate and those driving themselves into a park should be given the less desirable sites while paying a higher rate. They can effortlessly drive their “camp” anywhere, they have indoor heating to keep them warm in the cool shadows, and they don’t have a need to keep equipment dry in the way that tent-campers do, plus they create more maintenance costs for the parks, not even mentioning the environmental impact they have in contrast to tent-campers.
Beyond the things listed above, what troubles me the most is the obvious discriminatory behaviour against people who own less or chose to travel with less. I question why people with license plates are given preferential treatment over those who don’t outwardly show signs of owning a licensed vehicle. Most disturbing to me is the use of the word “transients”. When we’re each setting up “camp” in a campground, regardless of whether we’re using a tent or a recreational vehicle, aren’t we ALL, by definition, “transients“?! Are the people who drive their tents into and out of the site somehow LESS transient than the person that rides or walks their tent in to and out of the site? Now, if you meant to say homeless, instead of transient, that begs another question: Doesn’t the CA State Park’s mission claim to serve all people without discrimination? I’m really confused. Since when did a person need proof of homeownership to go camping in this country?
We see this problem running through the veins of our society as a whole, not just in the parks. If you don’t buy into the consumerist culture that requires you to display your participation by showcasing the goods you own, people get anxious, nervous, even fearful, and they start implementing policies that marginalize, even criminalize, those who choose not to or are unable to participate in that culture.
If you haven’t guessed by now, this kind of outright discriminatory, environmentally irresponsible, and hypocritical behavior really burns my butt.
Watch this video to get an idea of our sites at some of the state parks:
But wait. It gets even better.
As I started to go off on the asinine reasoning methods of the state parks and the use of the word “transients”, right there in the middle of the entrance to Oceano Campground, Kai offered to set up camp while I took a break. Before I got my panties all in a bunch I grabbed the chance to remove myself from the park and began cycling slowly down the nearest city street, breathing deeply, in and out, in and out……until I came to the end of the street and the pier.
There, I proceeded, once again, to lose my crap, because, as I approached the beach at the end of the pier, which happened to be a STATE PARK, I discovered signs indicating that it was a vehicular dunes beach, meaning that it was specifically open to people who owned vehicles, and that those people could madly and demonically drive onto and across miles of sandy beaches, thereby deriving some warped sense of pleasure from the act. Besides the many, many reasons why this is one of the most idiotic forms of environmentally self-destructive behaviour I’ve ever seen, the thing that really got to me at that particular moment was that these people could camp on the beach for $10/night versus the $25 we paid for down the street. Yup. Oh yeah.
Trying to remain calm, I rode up to the entry kiosk where a young woman in a park employee’s uniform was sitting and calmly asked with an incredulous smile on my face, “Camping for $10? Really? My partner and I just cycled into town and we’re paying $25 down the street, can we come camp on the beach for $10 instead?”. “No”, I was told, “you have to have a license plate number to legally camp on the beach.”
For Real. I am not kidding.
And while reeling over the insanity of our society’s priorities, I started in without restraint, “So, you’re telling me that because I don’t drive a fossil-fueled machine that requires a license plate, I can’t camp on the beach? And how does that uphold the mission of…..blah, blah, blah…”. It got ugly. Fuming, my voice rose as I went on about how ridiculous it all was, how discriminatory, how morally corrupt, and how hypocritical. Once I exhausted my frustrations, I apologized to the now wide-eyed young woman for losing my temper, knowing full well that she was just a powerless pawn in the system that employed her. I turned my bicycle around and rode back to the campsite, deflated, and ready to call it a night.
Conclusion (or more random thoughts)
I can hear many a long-distance cycle tourist asking the question, “Why frustrate yourself and camp at those places at all? Why not just stealth camp?”.
I do realize we could eliminate many frustrations with the park system by simply removing ourselves from the system altogether and stealth camping. We have done that when we were able to but, unfortunately, there have been few places along the southern coast of California that we felt were safe to stealth camp. Honestly, I don’t mind paying for a campsite in a park if the money is used to TRULY implement policies that support the mission of caring for the land and the environment. I also like the occasional convenience of showers, water and bathrooms that can be found at these parks.
Other, more philosophical, thoughts in relation to this topic also come up for me. For instance, if we drop out of the system altogether, without uttering a word to challenge the status quo, how will change ever happen? Do we have an obligation to stay in the system, to some degree, in order to help change it when it’s broken? Does our leaving the system, without stopping the damage it does, make us somewhat complicit? These are questions I’ve often asked myself over the years, as we literally have worked to remove ourselves from many of the “normal” systems within our particular society. I often worry that by quietly moving (or being moved) into the shadows, we allow those utilizing broken policies and systems to conveniently ignore us, effectively giving them a pass on accountability and supporting a “more of the same” damaging mentality.
But enough of my ranting! I want to know, what do YOU think about park systems and policies? Or about our society’s approach to homelessness or environmental problems? Had any similar experiences? Have any ideas on how to change the system to better support sustainable methods of transportation?
Next Stop :: Santa Maria (without any rants, I promise!)