For those who have never heard me rave about Lake Lopez (which is really called "Lopez Lake," but that's simply semantics), this is my husband's family's epic family reunion held yearly --for the last 43 years. It all started as a simple family camp out when my husband's grandparents were invited by some friends to go camping at some random lake near San Luis Obispo, and the rest, as they say, is history.
It's literally epic. Epic because this family tradition is huge. Big. Expected and loved. The traditions at camp come and go; some have stayed for decades. I've been privileged to be a part of it for the last 13 years, and even though we aren't able to go every year, it's always a wonderful experience.
I honestly think this was the best year, yet. This was due to my own mental healthiness (I'm getting better and better) and finally understanding and accepting how things run in my husband's family. The only glaring stain was that Jared was missing. But guess what? For the first time in 40 years, a black bear was sighted in the campground. (Black Bear is the name of Tamra and Jared's band.) Coincidence? We think not. We thought about him and talked about him --he wasn't there to lead the jam session we were used to having. No guitars even made it out of their cases.
This year there were about 52 of the 110 family members; 6 of the 8 siblings. We missed everyone that wasn't there --they were sincerely, truly missed. As we were finishing cleaning up, I told Brandon we need to stop this every-other-year bit and just do it every year. It's really that much fun and our kids love it more than Christmas.
Breakdown of Lopez family awesomeness:
Wednesday: We drove to Vegas and stayed in a hotel overlooking Lake Las Vegas in Henderson. We swam with the kids for 3 hours, ate pizza on the patio, and turned in early.
Thursday: We arrived in Lopez! It took most of the day, but we got there before dinner. Brandon set up camp for us (because, according to him, I had done it the last two times we'd gone to Lopez --because he wasn't there; he'd flown in later --and he felt guilty and decided it was his turn), and we spent the evening just hanging out around the campfire (s'mores and hot chocolate on the menu, of course). Oh! And watching the kids perform their play about a magic hot dog.
Friday: Beach day! This included:
*Brandon going on a bike ride with his mom, sister, cousin, etc. (20 miles?)
*The kids and teenagers taking out the canoes on the lake (that our Bishop so graciously lent us for the trip)
*Visiting the Avila Valley Barn petting zoo and produce stand on our way to Avila Beach (they seriously have the best berries and peaches in the world!)
*Hanging out at Avila Beach for 4+ hours (where this year we saw dolphins (a whole pod!) near the shore, #5 learned the qualities of sand, #1, #2, and #3 boogie boarded and swam out further than they had before, Brandon pulled out some kites, and #6 enjoyed his first beach trip.
*Coming back to camp to Haystacks for dinner
*Movie night! Projected "Despicable Me" on a homemade movie "screen" and campfire popcorn
Saturday: Lake Day!
*10 mile walk/run in the morning. Five ladies (including my two SILs) ran it out and back in --20 miles!! I walked the 10 miles in (we drive out to a park in Arroyo Grande, which is approx. 10 miles from camp and then walk or run it back in).
*Kids' races (complete with three levels and homemade wooden Lopez medals)
*Canoe riding, Boat riding (with the tube!), Lake swimming
*New this year! A boat making contest per family --four of the families participated and made boats out of cardboard, plastic sheeting, a water noodle, and duct tape. Only one family really cheated, although some "improvised" and weren't "technically" cheating.
*Mexican night! Delicious feast of tacos and burritos and nachos (to represent our family's Mexican heritage --Brandon's Grandpa is from Mexico).
*More hot chocolate, s'mores, etc.
*Pounce tournament! We didn't have a lot of time (or enough cards) for a double elimination bracket set-up, so it was simply single elimination.
Sunday: Church Day!
*Lazy morning; breakfast, some showered, some slept
*"Church" at 11AM --included family updates and then we split into three groups: Grandma took the primary kids, Brandon taught the Sunday school lesson for the adults, and our young engaged cousins took the youth.
*Tri-tip feast! Baked potatoes, thinly sliced tri-tip, salad, rolls, cobbler, ice cream... but I missed the cobbler and ice cream! So did Brandon. Why, you ask? Because:
A. Brandon was out on a 30 mile road bike ride with his mom, sister, and his sister's boyfriend.
B. I was in Arroyo at the park meeting with a long-lost (not really lost, we're friends on FB) friend from high school. Didn't realize she lived only 20 minutes from Arroyo until I posted a photo on FB on Beach day. So glad I posted that photo and we made the connection BEFORE I left camp! It was so good to see her! She is just too fantastic.
*My first real road bike trip with just Brandon --we went about 4 miles, nothing big. It was so fun! And then my MIL gave me the bike. How cool is that!? She is the best.
*Fishing without a hook (#3's idea)
*Eating random food concoctions and left-overs (by far the best: Aunt Carrie's stuffed chiles. YUM!)
Monday: Breaking Camp
*Brandon and I went out on the lake early, just the two of us, in one of the canoes. It was so quiet and calm. I loved being out there with him. Funny part: falling into the lake as I tried to get OUT of the canoe and onto shore. Sigh.
*Clean up contest for kids --they filled bags and bags of trash
*Impromptu talent show by the kids for Grandma and Grandpa
*Packing up and heading home!
We stayed again at Lake Las Vegas and we all bathed and bathed and bathed (man, we were dirty! I had forgotten quarters AND double towels so we could shower at camp) and slept in. We drove home the rest of the way yesterday (Tuesday?) and arrived around dinnertime. Wasting no time, we unpacked all of the camping gear and put it away and I cleaned out and vacuumed the entire van. All that's left? Mountains and mountains of laundry. It will take me a week.
What I love about this annual camp out:
1. The schedule is fluid (which used to drive me crazy). There's no set time for going to the beach or the lake. We just know we're going. I rarely --if ever --looked at a clock. It was nice to just let time ebb and flow.
2. Some traditions change (this year we had the boat races, the canoes, movie night started last year, biking, kids' racing) and some stay the same (black-bottom cupcakes, Avila beach, 10 mile walk/run, pounce tourney, Haystacks/Mexican/Tri-tip, church).
3. Lots of kids, lots of babysitters.
4. The chance for my kids to see their second cousins they would otherwise probably never see.
The truth is, Lopez has become what it is because of the people who want to make it what it is --Lake Lopez is really kind of a ghetto dump of a place to camp. The lake is kind of gross, there are wasps and raccoons and lizards, there's too much wind and not very much foliage to enjoy, but --it's not the place, really. It's the tradition. It's the family. And it's awesome.
P.S. And now I get to go see my new nephew! As per tradition, my sister had a baby while I was out of state (this is the third time it's happened. And she only has four kids!). So excited to see him today!