Backpacking Angel Island


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September 18th 2017
Published: September 20th 2017
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This started out as a planned group trip with our friends but one by one they ended up bailing- it's difficult planning a trip on weekdays. All the weekends were booked up for permits when I made the reservation a few months ago, though. As nurses, Chris and I are very lucky to have a four day stretch off every two weeks. It's like an automatic vacation without ever using PTO. We had planned to take Arya on her first backpacking trip last May for Mother's Day but then she ended up with the flu. I was pretty disappointed, and the next available permit for Point Reyes wasn't until October (1 more month!). Well, what the heck, let's just make Angel Island her first trip. Point Reyes can be her second. Once that was settled, packing for a toddler for an overnight backpacking trip who also happens to be potty training, boy that sure takes some logistics. We managed to fit the majority of her things (a few changes of clothes, extra diapers, lots of extra underwear, a sleep sack- we're not ready to invest in her own gear yet) in my backpack, and the rest (Wolfie, more diapers and underwear, snacks, her own water bottle, wipes) into a little school size backpack that she could wear. We have this crazy idea that we'll teach her that "everyone helps carry the gear" - even if her share only weighs a pound or two currently. I wasn't sure how well this would work out with a toddler but it actually turned out alright in our case.

We drove to Tiburon to take the ferry to Angel Island. Tiburon is a pretty wealthy little town (city?) near Marin on the North end of the Bay. Our other option could have been to take a ferry from San Francisco but we chose Tiburon because the overnight parking fee was a mere $5/night and I figured there'd be less traffic avoiding "the City." My permit seemed to allude that my ferry fees would be waived since I had an overnight permit. The ferry guys said it only gave me a discount. So it was $24 for 2 adults, Arya was free. We were early so we got coffee and wandered about. The ferry is literally a ten minute ride. We sat on the top deck, and an employee brought Arya the largest sticker I've ever seen lol.

Once at the island, we disembarked and met the rangers over at the kiosk. One of them gave us our little permit ticket to attach to our campsite, and then reviewed all the camping rules for the state park. Very obvious things like- no wood fires ('cause when are they ever allowed these days?), don't litter, yeah yeah same old. I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that not only did our site have running water AND a pit toilet, it ALSO had a garbage and recycling can! That with internet access and stunning views of the bay, I was basically doing the glamping version of backpacking. Backglamming? Glampacking? I'm sure it'll be a thing some day.

Next we had to hike to our campsite. We chose the East Bay sites, mostly because they were still available when I made the reservation but also because they tend to be less windy. And you can set up a hammock at site #2. You can take the perimeter road (paved) and then a fire road (not paved) all the way to the sites but the ranger said taking the stairs to the trails was nicer. And since we had backpacks, stairs weren't an issue. I'd read that some people bring camping gear in wagons and drag them up those hills (ick). It took us an hour and a half trekking the 2 miles (or so) at toddler speed, which includes more than a handful of stops to look at every rock, pick up every stick and occasionally sit down and refuse to move period. Cookie bribes are the way to go. And while she wasn't always thrilled to be hiking (because she's a toddler), she did carry her own backpack the entire hike!

We arrived at our campsite mid-afternoon. It had a wonderful view of the East Bay! Arya helped us set up the tent and hammock. We had promised her a walk to the beach and a cookie if she hiked the whole way, and amazingly, she completed that stretch, too. I'd only ever been to Angel Island once before, and I didn't remember this side of the island at all. We were in the McDowell area, full of old military ruins from the 1910s. The architecture was really neat to wander through! I could just imagine people filming dramas and horror movies here. We found Quarry Beach, which was relatively small and totally secluded, and ate our giant cookie. Actually, most of the island was pretty devoid of tourists since it was so late in the day on a weekday. It was very peaceful. After hiking a few miles total that day with zero naps, Chris ended up carrying her half the way back to our site. I was pretty sure she might pass out on his head, she looked like she was nodding off!

Dinner consisted of two different backpacking meals of Pepper Steak and Beef Stew (it was the only thing that looked good at the dismal supply Dick's Sporting Goods had- a wonderful reminder of why I love REI when it comes to my gear and supply needs). Arya, to my surprise, ate a good helping of each. She's often a typically picky toddler. Also surprising, neither her nor Chris liked the Raspberry with Chocolate Cookie topping dessert thing (also a backpacking rehydrated meal pack). Damn, 'cause I loved it. Probably the best dessert option I've had. Chris and I popped open cans of wine to complement our meals. Perfect. =)

The sun set around 7pm and that was the last of any energy Arya had. She passed out within two minutes inside the tent. I continued to read until it was totally dark, and then went on a solo night hike to see if I could get a good view of the city lights. I'm not the bravest girl in the world, especially when it comes to walking around at night by myself. Like, I'm not. But we obviously had to split up so Arya was safe and yet still getting to see one of the things we stayed here for- the beautiful night time views. I briskly walked (like crazy nurse speed) a third of the way around the island (the Four Corners) until I had an unobstructed view of the Golden Gate Bridge and downtown San Francisco. Goddamn, it is BEAUTIFUL. I do not have a professional camera- I always just use my camera phone. So, I can only imagine the amazing shots a professional would be able to take from this beautiful vantage point. On the way back, I was a little less scared since I knew where I was headed but still freaked. There was so much skittering going on in the bushes. The only likely predator on this island is MAYBE one coyote (there were a couple recent possible sightings), and unless he's rabid, I'm golden. However, that won't save the deer from scaring the shit outta me anyway. I didn't run into any on the way to the Four Corners but on the way back I ran into several deer four different times. I don't think these guys know what headlamps are. I kept trying to shoo one off the trail, and he just kept staring at me dumbly, like, "What ARE you?!" After the third try and me yelling, it finally ran in to the bushes. I wasn't taking any chances getting mauled by an antlered deer on a dark, nearly deserted island. My roundtrip hike was about 40minutes, then Chris took off on his walkabout while I read in the dark outside the tent. With, you guessed it, more deer. There are seriously ALOT of deer on this island.

Chris wasn't gone as long as I was- he didn't make it all the way to the Four Corners. I think he was a little worried about getting lost in the dark so he was back by the time I was crawling into bed with Arya. Lemme tell you, sleeping with a toddler (or any kid, I'm sure) in a two person tent is rough. Chris and I slept on opposite sides to try and make space for her. I guess all night she would wake up confused, or cold, and then steal Chris' pillow. Which made it difficult for Chris to sleep, and backpacking is already rough on sleep. So there ya go. I took a Benadryl so my tossing and turning wasn't too bad. It was "warm" when we first went to sleep (maybe 60 degrees but we had the tent flaps down for insulation) but it dropped to a chill before warming up again in the morning around 7am. Arya let us lie in bed until 8am when she demanded a "bar" (toddler speak for "Nutrigrain Bar"... she's hooked on those the past few weeks).

Breakfast for all three of us was fruits bars and Nutrigrain bars, along with a strong cup of coffee for me. Then we packed up and took a different route back to Ayala Cove, along the perimeter road. We figured it would be easier footing for Arya. She was less thrilled to be hiking again but she made it the whole way back to the ferry. We arrived with a few minutes to spare, hopped on board and got lunch in Tiburon before heading home. =) A successful, lovely trip. I hope to go back again.


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