SUMMARY: Vicon moves to Point Arena.
Even the familiar can change, and yet remain familiar.
Since 1985 or 1986 (the records are murky), since my sister became serious about the guy who's now my brother-in-law, I've been attending "Vicon" (for Visalia convention as a joke) in Visalia in August--a giant sleep-over party for family and friends for a 3-day weekend.
If you're not familiar with Visalia (as many aren't), it's a "small" community of merely 124,000 people that takes about 3 hours of mostly smooth freeway driving from my place to put you smack dab in the middle of California's Central Valley. The average high temperature for the month of August is 93.3F (34.1C) and overnight low average is 64.8F (18.2C). Believe me, it's been plenty much warmer on many years. The big appeal to counter the heat is that we've slept on the in-laws' huge back lawn in the shade of glorious old trees and plunged into the clear blue swimming pool as needed.
So, yep, for all those years we've learned the routine--how to get there, what to bring, where to set up in the yard, what to do, how to keep cool, which Hawaiian shirts to wear, where to buy more ice and drinks--everything to have a comfortable and familiar routine.
Oh, except one year it didn't happen; one year my sister was in the hospital producing my niece so it was an afternoon-only party locally; and one year we tried it in another sister's yard with a swimmming pool but it wasn't quite the same without being out of town and REALLY hot.
However, last year was Visalia's last year. The in-laws can't host it any more. A sad thought indeed, especially for the bro-in-law, so we weren't sure that it was going to continue in any form.
Luckily, we found another location: A 22-acre site with four cabins, a kitchen, a dining pavilion, and a living room, privacy, quiet--more expensive than the in-laws' yard, but still reasonable--in Point Arena.
If you're not familiar with Point Arena (as many aren't), it's a truly small community of 449 people (down 25 from the 2000 census) on the coast 3 hours north of San Francisco. Its temperatures--well, f'rinstance, the forecast high for August 11 (when we were there) for Visalia was 110; for Point Arena, 72.
From wondering whether we'd be too hot or have enough ice, we went to wondering whether we'd be too cold and have enough of anything we could possibly need--because this is the general store (groceries, hardware, and anything else you need) in Point Arena:
If you need to shop more, you can drive an hour north on the curvy Coast Highway to Fort Bragg. But if you really need to shop, or need anything substantial, it's probably an hour south along the snaking Coast Highway and another hour inland to Santa Rosa.
But look at the color of that sky! Plus-- zebra?!
We still had over 20 people (including assorted offspring); the weather proved coolish to warmish (Sunday was definitely shirt-sleeve weather at the site way up on the ridge, but fleece weather down on the beaches); the accommodations were almost perfect (this is the first time it's been rented out and there were some, er, issues with the self-contained water, power, and sewer Sunday morning, but nothing that we couldn't work around); and we still managed to have a great time.
The drive was a bear Friday afternoon; awful traffic, plus 2 hours of twisty windy roads on the cliffs of the coast. Beautiful if you're feeling leisurely but not if you want to get to where you're going and relax. 5 hours there; 4 hours back on Sunday evening. But--as I said, still managed to have a great time, but very tired!
I've attended 27 or 28 Vicons now, and this sign has come with me probably 20 of those times:
The owner had a fire going before we got there and said, "keep it burning all weekend; the smoke keeps the mosquitoes down." From the kitchen porch, looking up at the four cabins (and Mutt Mvr poised to unload.)
The huge difference for me was that, for the first time in those 27 years, the Merle Girls got to come along. What an experience for all concerned! Some of the small children couldn't get enough of throwing the frisbee or the ball for Boost, who was sometimes a little discombobulated at the distinctive styles of throwing and kicking utilized by two-to-eight-year-olds, but somehow survived the trauma. (From the cabins looking down at the bar pavilion, the huge kitchen (it extends to the back), the dining pavilion, and a storage shed).
I got one of the cabins--apparently the Nautical Room--because I thought that would be easier for corralling the beasts while I slept than in a tent (because at Vicon, activities seem to go on almost around the clock).
Half the crew slept in tents. My sister and her spouse know how to do it in style.
The Merle Girls loved being off-leash all the time--Tika, in particular, identified the center of food activity right away and could be found there at any time of day, giving cooking tips ("add rice, drop one cup on floor..."). She checked in with me periodically, but mostly wanted to be where the food was...
Or, if no food, where the snugglies were--
Boost started out as the complete Mommy's Dog, staying close to me at all times, but as the weekend went by, gradually daring to take her eyes off me from time to time and even to snuggle up to a couple of friendly looking strangers once or twice.
She also was intrigued by the smells in the kitchen, and although it took her a while to get over the Evil Floor Syndrome--going over a period of less than 48 hours from not going in, to scrabbling frantically in, to racing hurriedly across it, to walking allll the way in in slowly and backing allll the way out quickly, to just wandering around and cleaning up spills--but although the bath/shower building had the identical floor, she never got over the scrabbling frantically stage there. She did, however, want to follow me into the bathroom and, after a couple of suggestions the first time, just automatically would hit the floor in a Down as soon as we got to the place where I sat down. Quick learner in some ways, not in others. Dogs. Weird.
But the Merle Girls were on their feet the entire time from when we arrived Friday night around 7 until bed around 10:30, then from when I got up at 8 the next morning until bedtime and on Sunday until we left around 1:30-- oh, at least, Boost was. By Saturday afternoon, Tika was up for lying down to guard the food supplies rather than maintaining an active patrol.
And by Sunday morning, poor dog could barely stand up and spent a lot of time sleeping. In the kitchen doorway, of course.
Saturday evening, as we sat around the conflagration neé campfire, when I made them go into their x-pen next to me, they both protested that they were FINE and wanted to come OUT and didn't NEED a nap, MOOOOooommm! Three minutes later--
Still, it was a very unusual situation for them--I don't know whether they've ever been off leash in an unstructured outdoors situation (offleash on hikes, but that's not unstructured), let alone with complete strangers around. They both did very well. I knew Tika would--she likes people and small children and exploring--but although Boost has been good around the very few small children and occasional stranger that she's encountered briefly, I wasn't sure how she'd act. Her confidence grew amazingly, I think, although sometimes the unfamiliarity of it all was a little too much: The dog who *hates* getting into my lap would just jump up there and need a hug for a minute.
There were little trails here and there, so we could go on mini-hikes around the 22 acres, by ourselves or with others. Dogs liked that.
Boost was tired enough to lie down sometimes on her own, but basically the energy reserves never drained. Bored Sunday morning, found a stick to chew up, which the smallest offspring-type found interesting:
(I'll post the rest of the photos, including those w/out dogs, later and add a link here.)