Girls Gone Camping. How my friends and I accidentally crashed the Rainbow Gathering Party

Mt. Shasta, Rainbow Gathering 2017.

I went on my first camping trip with my husband and his family when I was in my mid 20's. My family, who still lives in Poland, was never into sleeping in tents, but as I later found out, I was. Unlike my family, my husband's American family goes camping at least once a year. Their garage is like an REI store, full of camping gear and they have extras of everything. What they call a camping meal, is better than what I ever make at home in a real kitchen, and I am not even a bad cook. We always have plenty of great wine, the perks of living in California and beers, an essential of camping. We tell stories by the fire, listen to live music and play hide and seek in the pitch dark of the night. After a few of these trips, I finally got the confidence I could camp on my own. I invited two of my girlfriends from San Francisco, and we headed on a camping adventure, not knowing what was to come... 

First of all, I never thought three girls could bring more shit with them than a family of 15. By the time we finished loading our stuff in the car, there was barely any space for my friends. We managed to get on the road by 11am, instead of our planned 8 am departure. We headed out towards Mt. Shasta, a beautiful mountain in Northern California that's very popular amongst hikers and hippies from around Cali. 

The First Contact

It was a warm late afternoon, when we stopped to check the availability at the first campground. It was fully booked, and the rest of the nearby campsites either had no bathroom, running water or we just missed the last spot. Of course, we didn't make any reservations in advance because online it looked like there were plenty of campsites. We decided to drive about 40 minutes up the road, to the last campground at the base of the mountain. As we raced towards our destination, the sun was setting and the cold wind blowing from the mountain was signaling the cold night ahead. Our journey came to a screetching halt when we reached a barrier blocking the road. All three of us in the car read the sign out loud, spelling it slowing syllable by syllable, like a preschooler "RO-A-D CL-O-SED", followed by an adequately appropriate adult response, "FUUUUCK!!!". Apparently, the road and the campsite ahead were closed due to the cold weather and snow still lying on the ground. We felt devastated and as we were about to drive off to the nearest town, just a few yards from the road we spotted some people in the woods, who clearly had been camping there. They explained that we could pick any spot that we wanted and could camp there as long as we wanted. No fees or reservations were required and as a bonus, dry bathrooms near the parking lot. Free for all? Well that was good enough for us, plus returning to look for another camp so late was out of the question. With the last remaining light, we quickly set up our tent and started a fire. We sat comfortably near the warmth, passing a bottle of Capitan Morgan and laughing how lucky we were. In the distance, somebody with an angelic voice was singing "The Dog Days Are Over", and after drinking a bottle of Cpt. Morgan, we didn't need much encouragement to introduce ourselves to the neighbors. We climbed over a deep ditch and we saw about 50 plus hippies (perhaps our drunken double vision multiplied them...) dancing around a huge bonfire. It is not often that you see a group of 50 people camping together, but having been to Burning Man before, this gathering looked totally normal to me.


The Glorious Morning

"We love you..., we love you..." is what I consider a strange wake up call, especially when you wake up hungover and are trying to figure out why the hell you are in the forrest before you remember it was your idea to connect with nature. I crawled over my friends to unzip the tent and saw a bunch of naked people making this commotion. My girlfriends woke up just in time to hear the nudists calling everyone in the forest to come for coffee and oatmeal. No questions asked. We grabbed our coffee cups, stripped naked, and ran to join the nudists, at their campsite. Just kidding. We didn't take our clothes off but we DID join them for coffee! Everything and everybody looked different in the daylight. What appeared to be a dance floor around a bon fire the night before, was a kitchen area with a huge pot of slushy oatmeal cooking over a firepit in a large medieval pot. A lovely man dressed only in his birthday suit with a friendly smile, served us some coffee and was kind enough to answer our many questions. What seemed to us like a bunch of hippies camping in the woods, were in fact the Rainbow Family and apparently, we just crashed their annual gathering in the woods (technically they were on their way to a much bigger festival). For the next 3 days, the Rainbow Family and the three of us girls, became good friends. 

Somewhere over the Rainbow

The Rainbow movement started in the 70's, and somehow I'd never heard of them before. In my defense, I grew up in communist Poland and we didn't get the memo... The Rainbow gathering is now a worldwide project and the "family" meets once a year, each time in a different place but alway close to nature. The general movement carries a beautiful message of love, peace and creativity. The Rainbow People believe that the mass media, and our culture that's dominated by capitalism, creates an unhealthy and unnatural life style. The movement went through many changes since its start, for example it's not as strict on being vegetarian as it used to be, and it's more open to mainstream ideology but the general idea of love and peace is still at its core. Of all the places we could have camped, we just happened to be there, to learn and participate in this interesting event. Nudism... peace... parties... drugs... nature... What's not to love???

Out of respect, we didn't take any photos of the Rainbow people, but imagine a bunch of people looking like a cross between The Kelly Family and The Rednex bands. Although many were naked, most were wearing something in the boho, grungy style. 

We thanked them for the coffee and went back to our campsite. A few minutes after, we heard some people getting in an argument about the sanitation and clothing rules around the kitchen, which was to be discussed during a circle meeting, a type of hippy a conference. 

Over the next couple of days, the Rainbow people frequently stopped by to chat, or to trade various goods. We traded some of our "adult" gummies for "magic rocks". When they said "magic rocks", we were hoping for something more than literal rocks, as we have yet to find their magic... oh well...

We also met some odd characters. A strange male visitor, dressed all in camoe clothes came to our camp with a huge white dog. The interaction started normal and quickly became a bit scary, when he started talking about secret passages in the Bible warning of the End of Days. Also its not the best idea to pick up chicks while you wear cameo clothes because you look like you might be hunting them instead...

Luckily, there was no armageddon that night, but we did dance till the break of dawn at the coolest dance party with an old school bus, DJ, and laser lights, all in a parking lot overlooking Mt. Shasta with its white peak, shining in the moonlight. I don't know what your summer plans are, but I sure am going camping in Shasta again this year!