Friday, August 31, 2012

Ritter-Done Camping Co. presents: RitterFest 2012

Niece Jessica's artwork on a wine barrel
(hey, RitterFest may not take place in Napa Valley but
we have to take a little bit of Napa Valley with us. )
Her work is available on Facebook at Mundy Creations
The Captain’s annual family reunion is lovingly referred to as RitterFest. For many years The Captain’s sister took her immediate family on an annual weekend trek to Yosemite. Eventually, her kids started bringing friends then girl/boyfriends then spouses. Needless to say, none too soon after the spouses arrived, so did babies; thus, putting a temporary end to their annual excursion.

The Boy jumping off the rock. Last year and the year
before they were jumping off the big one...
As happens in many families, a whole crop of babies arrived at once. When the oldest three were about age two, we couldn’t restrain ourselves any longer and decided to find a family-friendly campsite to introduce the wee ones to our love of the great outdoors. At the time The Captain and I owned a mostly unimproved piece of creek front property in our beloved Trinity Alps and wanted to host everyone there. The Captain spent an exhausting week attempting to carve a large enough space for all the tents out of the tall grass on the terraced hillside. A bit defeated, he admitted he just didn’t feel he could do enough to make it right. So... 

Our first RitterFest was spent up the road at Trinity Lake. We numbered about twenty including three teeny weenies. The next year we went to Calaveras Big Trees and found Beaver Creek; we numbered about twenty-five. The following year we were in Mendocino County. Then my mother-in-law offered her “back forty” which is about half an hour from our place in Trinity County. It offered a fabulous creek deep enough to swim in, plenty of room for tents, and showers at her house a quarter mile up the road. Most of all, not only was it free, it was private. This is important because we are loud -- very, very loud. How could we say no?
Guinness with Canyon and his 5 gallon water bottle
 The Captain enjoying Ritterbrau
That was in 2007. The family has since improved my mum-in-law’s property with a bathroom, an outdoor kitchen sink and counter top, and several other smaller bits and pieces. A trail to the creek was blazed so we no longer have to repel the canyon to get to it from the campsite. Since then our numbers have grown to about forty humans and seven dogs (helping keep the bears and mountain lions away) with an additional ten local family for Saturday dinner.

Wonder who they're aiming for... probably Uncle Captain
Not only have our numbers grown, our weekend has gotten longer. We used to leave home Friday morning and return Sunday evening with some of us working a full day Friday and not arriving until late. Over the years we’ve had some good natured competition to see who can get there first with this year’s winner being Brother James and Jackie who arrived Tuesday near midnight and all but one family coming Wednesday by early afternoon. We still don’t leave until Sunday after one last dip in the creek.

Sisters-in-law waiting for our Cabana Boys 
Our active family loves spending time in the creek, which is snowmelt and, therefore, COLD. But the mountain air in late July is HOT so the contrast is welcome. Whether you’re lounging on a raft, jumping off the rock, snorkeling, throwing rocks over the dam, or just sitting on the bank with your toes in the water catching up, everyone is having fun in the creek from around 10:00 am until dinner. This year while floating around, Sis-in-law and I discovered we had Cabana Boys in the guise of husbands who willingly went up to get us drinks (happy wife, happy life! J). …I’ll be storing that tidbit away for future reference.

Saturday dinner
The only two shared meals are Saturday dinner and Sunday breakfast. The menus for these are family favorites. Dinner is The Captain’s smoked and BBQ’d ribs, Sister Jeri’s beans and cornbread (or Orb Bread. haha, family joke), Niece Rachel’s green salad (using Jeri’s homegrown lettuces), Brother James and Jackie’s pasta salad, Steve's guacamole, and Mum Wendy’s desserts. Sunday breakfast is The Captain’s biscuits, Sister Lorna’s gravy, Brother-in-law Jim’s egg scramble, and Sister Jeri’s Jeri-Deli Blackberry Jelly.

We engage in other activities than eating such as crafts for the kids, cards and other table games, and giving the kids rides on Uncle James’ dirt bike. At the end of the road there is a beautiful hike to the Falls which we do one morning before it gets too hot. The surroundings are beautiful. This part of the canyon is almost completely unspoiled since the gold mining days 150 years ago. In fact, something the kids love is discovering the occasional artifact from days gone by. This year The Boy found a rusted railroad spike and wanted to know if we could look for antique finger prints. Too cute. 

Brother Eric is an accomplished, self-taught guitar player. Most years he and I start six months in advance working on which song(s) we are going to perform and which others we are going to lead for group singing. Over the years we have accumulated a popular playlist. However, this year, Brother Eric was not available to practice due to work, etc. and, in fact, wasn’t able to attend RitterFest. He was sorely missed by everyone all day but especially while we were sitting around the campfire. The Eagles Greatest Hits playing repeatedly on a car stereo had to suffice. Not quite the same.

We start planning next year’s event while we’re still at this year’s. The date is set in January and everyone asks for the time off from work right away. Brother Eric and I usually start practicing songs shortly thereafter. The Captain begins the Ritterbrau (his homebrew) four to six months in advance so it’s perfect for the event. Soon he’ll also be redesigning and building a larger “Ref-Ritter-ator” (self-contained, fully-insulated, non-electric, portable kegerator that will hold a fifteen gallon keg since ten gallons was not enough). Nephew Vas begins work on the logo in June so Sister Lorna can order the T-shirts. Sister Jeri makes enough jelly to feed us all and send some home. Adult and wee Ritters look forward to RitterFest all year long. 

If you’re interested in being invited, Brother Eric is single, early 40s and cute. You’ll have to marry him first. J