The Beach and Mountains DFS

Santa Barbara, California - September 19-20, 1998

Be sure to see the pictures I took at this social.

The Wind and the Wheel

The Wheel of Time turns, and ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the age that gave it birth comes again. In one age, called the First Age by some, the Only Age by people who fail to understand the concept of cyclical time, a wind rose in the Santa Ynez Moutains above the city of Santa Barbara. The wind was not the beginning, particularly because it only started at about 3:00am and the social had been going on for 16 hours at that point, but it was _a_ beginning. A beginning of feeling cold, that is. But since it's not _the_ beginning, I'll start this memoir with some less obnoxiously formulaic and get back to the wind later.

After the successful Santa Cruz DFS on the beach in July, several of us said, "Hey, let's do this again!" Chris Mullins volunteered to organize it, and plans for the first Santa Barbara beach DFS were on. Unlike the Santa Cruz gathering, where many things went wrong, the Santa Barbara social was almost flawless. I guess it's because Drew Gillmore wasn't there to take the blame.

We gathered in the parking lot of an IHOP in Santa Barbara on Saturday morning, expecting 11 people. Chris Mullins, Hawk, Bill Garrett, Tony Zbaraschuk, William Toren, Noell Milota, and Eric Milota came. Four others didn't come: Julie Kangas had to stay at work to tinker with a broken satellite, Kurt Montandon dropped out because his travel plans changed, Katy Westerman was captured by Whitecloaks, and Ziv Tzvieli was eaten by Trollocs. I think Tony was happy that Ziv didn't come because it meant he once again won the prize for having the oddest last name of those present.

Life's a Beach

Chris had selected two potential beaches for the day's event, leaving the final choice to us. We asked him to tell us the difference between them. "Well, one's at the bottom of a steep and treacherous cliff, and is totally underwater at high tide. It's not near any modern conveniences like restrooms, food, or drinkable water. The other's easy to get to, usable all day, and has restrooms and a restaurant nearby." Sheesh. Like we'd have to consult Lord Perrin to make that decision.

We got to the beach and started setting up our equipment: umbrella, folding chairs, blankets, suntan lotion, ice chests full of beer.

I grabbed a beer called Fat Weasel Ale and made a toast to Mike Kozlowski. His namesake tasted awful.

William, Chris, Hawk, and I tossed a frisbee around and generally made fools of ourselves with our collective frisbee inability. Then Hawk dropped out and other three of us started playing much better.

We saw a dog having difficulty taking a dump. Chris took pictures.

We walked several miles down the beach and back for little reason. Hawk taunted sea anemones.

We talked about sf authors. I don't remember most of what everyone said, and since I'm semi-literate and darn proud, I don't care.

It's Sssssssuppahtime!!!

By about 5:00 we packed up and headed to a restaurant for dinner. William left before then, so he didn't get to witness Tony's rapturous, near-orgasmic garlic bread experience.

Eric and Noell left us after dinner, as Eric had to get back home to fix some last-minute problems in the computer games his company's getting ready to publish. He boasted that he's snuck in cheat codes for our newsgroup -- when you type "rasfwrj" you get some special ability like a flame thrower or immunity to flames.

The remaining four of us -- Chris, Tony, Hawk, and I -- decided to spend the evening camping under the stars. We headed back to Chris's place to regroup and then drove up into the Santa Ynez mountains above Santa Barbara to a place called Knapp's Castle.

A Night in the Moutains

Trekking along the 1/2 mile trail to the ruined castle, we must have looked something like the gang from Emond's Field escaping the Two Rivers... except we weren't being led by Lan or Moiraine and we had a Coleman cooler full of beer, wine, and sodas. Ah, the benefits of not being stuck as characters in medieval fantasy novels.

Knapp's Castle is little more than a crumbling foundation today, a remnant of a building half tumbled down and half never built. The upper ground level was a flagstone floor skirted by a two-foot-high ledge. Downstairs, a portico could have been the wall of a sitting room, a stable, or a three-car garage (take your pick). The only other standing structures were two fireplace chimneys stabbing like stony fingers into the sky above.

We rolled out our sleeping bags in a corner of the upper ground level, where the ledge would block us from some of the wind. The Warder side of me noted with approval our defensive position.... To three sides, the ground was 10 feet below our stony perch, and to the fourth side a narrow approach with a long, clear line of fire. It's a good thing no Shadowspawn tried to attack us that night. The nature-loving, Grape Nuts-eating side of me was also happy with our position because it gave us a great view of the Cachuma Valley far below.

To Build a Fire

Having thrown our sleeping bags down in the first spot that looked attractive, we set about To Build A Fire. Step 1 was building a fire circle with stones, to avoid burning the whole forest down. Step 2 was collecting dead wood. The bunch of us started looking around, with Hawk staying on the path waiting for firewood to jump out and bite her, while Chris and I rummaged around in the bushes. (The following morning, we found that the bush we rummaged the most looked like poison oak. We might have realized it that night, except Hawk was hogging the flashlight while waiting for firewood to jump out and bite her.) Meanwhile, Tony stayed back at camp to make sure the stones we collected in Step 1 didn't run away.

Step 3 of building a fire was Getting The Damn Thing Lit. That proved surprisingly difficult with Chris's fireproof matches. We got down to the last match without success... and then, on the last match, with the success or failure of the entire camping trip hanging in the balance, I got the fire to light and stay lit. Hooorray!!! I tell you, this is the stuff legends are made of. Well, maybe not legends, but stories to tell to drunk friends in bars who really don't care anyway.

As soon as we started the fire, everyone but me lost interest in it. Tony, Hawk, and Chris became transfixed by watching stars appear in the clear night sky. Tony was able to point out many of the stars and constellations by name. I was content to drink booze and stare into the fire.

Later, as the fire dwindled (not that anybody but me noticed) and the stars became old hat, we dozed off to sleep. I had a dream about coyotes. At first, there was one coyote, and it was mostly minding its own business. I wasn't worried, since it wasn't growling. Then it started growling. Then other coyotes appeared and started growling. Pretty soon, the hillside was full of coyotes growling, snapping, and snarling. At full panic I awoke-- to find Hawk and Tony snoring.

Content that if there _were_ any animals in the area Hawk and Tony were scaring them off, I went back to sleep.

The Wind and the Wheel (again)

At about 3am I awoke to a howling wind. No, it wasn't Hawk and Tony snoring, and it wasn't Tony farting or Chris moaning about Tony's farting. It was just a damn loud, damn strong, damn cold wind. It woke everybody else up, too, and we comiserated about having to crawl down into our sleeping bags like turtles retreating into their shells to keep our ears from freezing off.

We all awoke again about 3 hours later, as the sky lightened with the approaching dawn. We crawled out of our sleeping bags and wandered around the castle, seeing in a better light the things we'd missed by arriving at dusk the previous evening. A heavy fog was rolling in over the hills. Instead of a lake in the valley below us, we saw a turbulent sea of gray mist. We watched the sun rise, visible through the fog only as an orange blob ascending the sky from the mountains to the east.

We broke camp -- which was basically a matter of stuffing our sleeping bags and ground covers back into their sacks -- and trekked back up the trail to our cars.

As befits anything tied to the Wheel of Time, our WoT-fan social ended where it began, at the IHOP just off highway 101 in Santa Barbara. We ate breakfast and joked about how exhausted the other people there looked. Most likely, they looked only about as exhausted as we did. I don't remember what else we talked about, except agreeing that we'd all had a great time and that we really ought to do it again.

Until next time the Wheel spins 'round,

Back to the Darkfriend Socials page

Bill Garrett