Celebrating 5 Years of Camping on Angel Island

It was 5 years ago, when Evie was only 7 months old, that we took her on her first camping trip.  We went to an island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, called Angel Island.  Of course I was worried.  I didn’t know if she would cry all night or be fussy on hike to the campsite.  I called the State Park ranger on duty to confirm emergency procedures if something should end up happening while we were there.  I hadn’t even been to the island prior to the trip so I had no idea if they had boats docked overnight or even signal to reach anyone.

She slept in the Bjorn carrier as we climbed Mount Livermore, the highest point on the island.  We apparently took the hardest trail to the campsite, with baby and backpacks of camping supplies, and my husband and I were exhausted by the time we reached our destination.

We had her dressed in all of her layers as the wind blew the cold in and we worried if she was warm enough.  Any slight tossing or turning she did through the night woke us up out of what little sleep we had.   After all of that, she woke up the happiest camper in the park.

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We’ve gone back every year since then.  Always around the same weekend in October to catch SF’s Fleet week where the Bay is filled with ships and planes, and catch the firework show at night.  The Blue Angels do a daytime show and use the island as a turnaround point so they get so close, it’s like having our own personal show.  There really aren’t any predators on the island, unless you call the deer my nephew called “a demon” because of the noises it made outside the tent at night.  There really aren’t too many people on the island at night as well, as Angel Island only has 10 campsites available.  We book our site well in advance as they do fill up fast, so I’m pretty lucky to have some friends always on top of booking as soon as the sites become available.

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Every year is a different group of people, yet we are 1 of 3 families that are generally there each year.  Our friends, Jessie and Grizz and Alli and Luke, are also regulars.  That first year, Evie was the lone baby.  This year we had so many babies and kids around that Evie seemed like the pro.  It’s funny how 5 years make so much of a difference.  She’s had lots of camping experience since and does so well with keeping herself entertained, it makes for such a different camp experience from that first year.

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The trip starts the same way every year.  First we drive to Sausalito and park the car to take the ferry over to the island.  We know the grocery store before the ferry and the cafe on Angel Island very well as we may make stops before the hike to the site.  There are 3 groupings of campsites on the island: Sunrise, East Bay, and the Ridge.  We did Sunrise the first year, with a great view of Oakland and the Bay Bridge.  The next 3 years were spent on the Ridge, giving us the SF view from Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge, and had a prime location for fireworks.  This past trip we spent at East Bay, and facing Berkeley and Richmond.  Walking towards the site, we were able to see the Blue Angels come around the island.  Hiking on that side of the island provided us the opportunity to finally see the Immigration Center close by.

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Angel Island at one point has a history to being sort of the Ellis Island of the west coast.  Immigrants were detained there upon arriving to this country as they awaited processing and clearance to enter.  During Chinese Exclusion Acts in the 1880s, a lot of Chinese immigrants were not allowed to enter and left on the island for years.  Initially promised a chance to gold from the mountains, they came and found themselves placed in low paying labor jobs.  Most notable of the jobs was their work on the Central Pacific Railroad where many Chinese immigrants had died to construct.  After some economic problems, the country decided to take these jobs back from the immigrants, and created laws specifically targeting the Chinese and other Asians.  This created the internment at Angel Island.  Hundreds of immigrants were packed into the barracks, in poor to filthy conditions.  They had carved poetry in the walls to talk about the loneliness and isolation as they awaited their freedom, in some cases for many years.

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The Chinese Exclusion Acts were repealed around the time of World War 2, and the Immigration Station was transformed again into another type of camp.  Japanese and German prisoners of war came to the island and were held again to be processed and sent to prisons on the mainland.  The Department of Defense fully turned over the island to the State Parks department in the 1960s.  Then 10 years later, the buildings were in despair, and someone happened to see the carvings in the wall.  People rallied together to restore the old barracks, and make it the museum it is today.

Obviously, being Asian American, I feel like this is an important story to be shared.  As this election year is again bringing anti-immigrant sentiment and discrimination to light, I thought it would be an opportune time to share it.

We had never really been to that side of the island and were in luck to find it still open.  We walked around, trying to explain to Evie why it was important, and imagining what it must have been like for years in such conditions. We walked around, then moved on.  Our campsite still awaits.

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As Evie had already hiked over 3 miles at that point, she broke out her little ukulele to help keep her motivated in that last stretch.  She doesn’t know how to play it, but she strums along and sings her favorite songs from the cartoon Steven Universe.  She’s kinda our hippy Berkeley baby.  Climbing up to the ridge, we met up with all of our friends and set up camp.

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Of course, the night is filled with fun, food, and drinks.  Evie decorated her “christmas tree”, made her own little campfire, and played a game of bowling with some giant pinecones.  We watched the fog roll into the bay and cover all the ships in it’s thickness.  A little girl walked over from a neighboring campsite and offered glowsticks to all the kids.  We were in site #3, which wasn’t our favorite because of the wind and the slanted ground, but the experience was still all that mattered.

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Experiences like celebrating Jessie and Grizz’s engagement on the island, flying a kite on the beach, seeing a moon bow over the bay, Evie crying all the way down the ridge because she wanted to be carried one year, and the first time Evie hiked all the way up without any help.

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She reported that year, after it was all done, “Today was a hard day, but it was a good day.”

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We all hiked back together in the morning and took the ferry across to Sausalito, with Evie strumming on the ukulele and new friends, Hazel and Jill, playing along with a harmonica.  It was a great way to celebrate a 5 year tradition, and I am pretty fortunate to have so many years of fun memories like these.

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