I have been to the Kern Valley Airport on the shore of Lake Isabella a handful of times and wanted to camp there from the first time I saw the campground. Situated just west of the runway, the campground is a nice grassy area with trees, fire pits, warm showers, and a short walk to the Kern River. The restaurant at the south end of the field has great food and there is a courtesy van available on a first come first served basis.
When my good friend Michael Rodgers, President and Founder of the West Coast Mooney Club, reached out about the possibility of a campout at Kern Valley I was in for the trip. I looked forward to the cool nights of early fall and some fly fishing on the nearby Kern River. The campout was to be Friday through Sunday so I planned to work in Buena Park on that Friday, a short 5 minute drive to the airport. I could leave late afternoon and arrive in time to setup camp and maybe get a few casts in before sundown.
A couple weeks before the trip Michael sent me a text that the San Diego 99’s were also planning a fly-in campout the same weekend. The Ninety Nine’s are an international organization of licensed women pilots from 44 countries with thousands of members worldwide organized into local chapters. They were organized November 2, 1929 at Curtiss Field, Valley Stream, long Island, New York and Amelia Earhart was elected the group’s first president in 1931.
I joked with my wife that we would be camping with a bunch of women who were pilots, but not to worry, “Michael will be my wingman.” That resulted in a shake of the head and roll of the eyes.
I pulled out my fishing and camping gear and started going through what I would need. After Oshkosh I decided I wanted a tent that I could stand up in without bending over so purchased a Coleman Peak1 4-Person Dome Tent. I have no intention of ever camping with four people in the tent, but a four-person tent is the perfect size for two people with cots. I also got out the new tent and set it up in the front yard so the first time I attempted it wouldn’t be at the campsite. If I was going to look like a fool trying to figure it out, I wanted to get that out of the way at home.
I got all the gear together the night before and staged in the entryway so I could throw it in my truck in the morning, hopefully without forgetting something. I changed up my work schedule to spend Friday at our Buena Park store, a couple miles from the airport so I could get in a longer workday before heading out.
I worked through lunch and left the office at 2:15pm, getting to the hangar at 2:20pm. By 3:10pm the plane was loaded, pre-flight and run up complete, flight following obtained from Ground, and I was wheels up. Looking at the nearly four-hour drive time, I was glad I only had a one-hour flight ahead of me.
Michael had his tent set up by the time I got there and gave me a hand carrying stuff from my plane over to the campground. The tent was set up, along with the cot and table to go next to it. Do you really need a cot and a bedside table in a tent? You might answer no, but that would only be because you have never camped with them before. If you had, your answer would be yes!
Michael and I set up our fly rods, chatted with one of the club members who had just come back from the river with some fish, and headed out to get in a few casts before the sun went down. It’s a short walk from camp to the Kern River, and there are some good spots to fish, but you need to wade out into the river to make good casts along that stretch, and neither of us had waders or wanted wet feet. We got a few casts in but didn’t have any luck from our limited spots on the bank.
Dinner and Campfire
Back at camp they had cooked up the fish along with some amazing venison stroganoff that they kindly shared with us. A campfire was built, and we spent the evening roasting marshmallows, making smores, and trading stories and looking up at the amazing display of stars. You never know who you might meet around the campfire, and this night was no exception. In addition to the other club members, there was a young dad who had flown in with his three year old son in their Vans RV. He was an F-22 Raptor pilot and had spent time as an instructor at the Air Force’s Fighter Weapons School and shared some fun stories with us while his son got loaded up on sugar from the marshmallows. It was a great time!
I slept well but got a little chilly around 2am. The sleeping bag was rated down to 20°F with a comfort rating at 32.2°F, although that must assume that you are wearing thermal underwear, socks, and a beanie. It only got down to the low 50°’s and I was wishing I had put some socks on before climbing in my sleeping bag.
The morning dawned beautifully, and we visited with the guys that were packing up to leave. I gave out some swag, t-shirts, caps, and stickers and grabbed a couple pictures before watching them depart. After a breakfast of sausage and eggs we went down to get the courtesy van and headed upstream looking for fishing spots.
We stopped at the fly shop in town to get some local advice on what the fish are hitting and where to go before continuing our trip. We saw and fished some beautiful stretches of river. I had three fish on, but lost all of them.
It was hot, between the two of us we had gone through a gallon and a half of water, and by late afternoon headed back to the campground. Some of the 99’s had arrived and introductions were made. Pilots love to talk about flying, and meeting other pilots is just another opportunity to talk about flying.
We even got a demo of the CampIt, a compact fully assembled, containing everything you need in a box, camping kit. If you’re looking for that perfect setup check it out.
Sunset was about an hour away, so I decided to take the van and make one more attempt at landing a fish. I wish I could remember the spot where I had the bites earlier, but I couldn’t find it. Climbing down to the river I slipped on one of the big boulders and as I caught myself the tip of my fly rod hit another boulder and snapped off. That was the end of my fishing.
Yes, I bought some beer
I should have stayed in camp, but then I wouldn’t have had the experience of buying beer for the first time in my life. No, it wasn’t to mourn the untimely demise of my fly rod. It happened like this. I was driving back to the airport and had passed the town when Michael called.
Michael: “When do you think you’ll be back? A couple of the girls want to know if you could stop and get some beer and ice on your way. They said they’ll pay you.”
Me:“I just passed town, but I can turn around, what kind of beer?”
Michael: “I don’t know, they just said lite beer.”
Me: “I don’t know what’s good, they didn’t say what kind?”
Michael: “They said they didn’t care, just lite beer.”
I know nothing about beer, other than people tend to have preferences. I turned around and went back to the small market in town, grabbed a bag of ice and some Coors Lite. (Don’t judge, I really have no idea what I was buying). I went up to the register, wondering if they would card an old guy, but they didn’t.
Back at camp I found the ladies and brought the ice and beer over.
“I’ll apologize in advance, this is the first time I’ve bought beer so if it’s bad I’m sorry.”
“No, that’s great,” they said, and then “Wait, you’ve never bought beer?”
“Yeah, first time.”
“Wait, are you Mormon?”
“Ah, you’re putting it all together,” I said. Earlier when we were going through introductions she had mentioned she was from Utah and I told her about the family that we have up in Utah.
“Did you get carded?” they said with a smile.
“No, I guess they don’t’ card you when you’re 51,” was my answer.
Campfire - Night Two
That evening, with a big group around the campfire, we went around making introductions and sharing stories. Again, there was a great mix of people and I gave out t-shirts, stickers, and ball caps to anyone that wanted them. In addition to the ladies form the San Diego 99’s, there was a guy from Germany who keeps his plane at Fullerton and a couple of young guys from France that are here in the states and fly out of Santa Monica. The conversations went on and on, and the generous amount of driftwood near camp kept the fire burning late.
I remembered to wear socks to bed this time and I slept great, with the exception of around 1am when some coyotes apparently found something over towards the river. I think they probably woke up everyone in camp with their yipping.
The next morning I got packed up, loaded the plane, and said goodbye to everyone. A couple of the ladies said they were looking forward to the article about how awesome they are. Well, here’s the article. 😊
If you ever get a chance to campout at the Kern Valley airport, take it. If you are a lady who flys and live in the San Diego area check out the 99’s there, they are a class act.