Having only spent exactly 1 month and 1 day at home with 2 weeks of it at Burning Man, our planning and preparation for the adventures of Romping & Nguyening Part 2 was no doubt a challenge. With only a hasty 9 days, we knocked out our jam-packed list of to-do’s which consisted of unpacking and cleaning 2 weeks of Burning Man gear and our trailer, packing for our 3-month U.S. road trip, and meeting a handful of friends and family for lunch/dinner before departing.
In a way, packing for the 3-month road trip was a bigger pain in the ass than packing for our 5-month Southeast Asia backpacking trip. Not being limited to a 50L backpack meant we could pack MORE! In addition to the thick, winter clothing we were obliged to pack, we also managed to cram our skydiving gear, cycling gear (road bikes on the bike rack), swimming gear, and running gear (both summer and winter wardrobes) into Chris’ compact Toyota RAV4. Scromp, our 16-foot Scamp trailer that we purchased almost 2 years ago, also required supplies such as tools (Chris installed solar panels), kitchenware (I bought a camp oven for baking), cleaning supplies, and more.
We had originally planned to embark on our journey on Monday, September 15 to Lake Tahoe, but we ended up starting earlier on Friday, September 12 after excitedly making last minute plans to go abalone diving after conjuring crazy ideas while intoxicated at Burning Man. The first destination was Van Damme State Park near Fort Bragg in Mendocino, about a 3-hour drive north of San Francisco. Over the past couple years, some friends had mentioned abalone diving but we never chiseled out the details and carved the idea into realization. This year the interest to make it happen was full of vigor and enthusiasm, and a group of 11 of us, all from Burning Sky, rendezvoused at the campground and squandered the weekend away by abalone diving, feasting, and simply having a blast.
Fortunately, a number of our friends were experienced abalone-divers, which resulted in a highly well-taken-care-of camp. They brought boats, gave us the where-to for wetsuit rentals and fishing/abalone licenses, and provided tips on how to pry off the abalone and not die. 😉
Back at camp we worked in teams to prepare the feast for that night. We prepared 10 abalone (even with 20+ people, we only managed to eat half of them) by de-shelling, de-gutting, washing, trimming, slicing, and tenderizing them. Hours went into this tedious work; those not involved with the abalone prep kept themselves busy by preparing the other dishes of roast vegetables, tri tip, and chicken.
When we weren’t abalone diving, we enjoyed camping like normal people–hanging out at the campfire amidst the chilly north coast fog, making crude jokes and laughing so loud that our asshole neighbor complained, devouring gooey s’mores, and simply enjoying each other’s company.
In order to to prevent extinction, California law prohibits abalone from being purchased in markets and limits free-divers (no SCUBA) to catching only 3 per day with a maximum of 18 per year. Black market rates can actually run up to $80-$100 per abalone! With the surplus of abalone, Chris and I decided to drop some off at restaurants during our long drive from Mendocino to Lake Tahoe to make sure the abalone were put to good use. Both head chefs from the seafood restaurant in Sacramento and sushi restaurant in Truckee gratefully accepted a pair of abalone. They weren’t allowed to sell/serve it to customers so they excitedly told us of their plans to share it with their staff. The sushi chef in Truckee even graciously prepared some abalone sashimi for us!
After dropping off a pair of abalone at two different restaurants, I was left with one more abalone, which I prepared myself for a potluck dinner with my triathlon club in Lake Tahoe. It took a total of a tedious 2.5 hours for Chris to de-shell and gut the abalone, and for me to thinly slice, tenderize (with a freakin’ hammer!), and prepare the abalone appetizers. Thanks to a lesson with Karl back at the campsite, I was able to recreate a simple but scrumptious recipe in the kitchen. I rolled sliced pepper jack cheese into the tenderized abalone steaks, which I proceeded to roll in prosciutto. I then placed each pepper jack-abalone-prosciutto ball onto a generously buttered pan, poked a toothpick through each ball to keep them in tact, and then topped each ball with fresh-grated parmesan. After baking in the oven for 15 minutes at 300ºF, they turned out more mouthwatering than the ones we roasted over the campfire!
Since it was my first time preparing and cooking abalone (I did not work on the abalone at camp), I was nervous about serving it, but the looks in my friends’ eyes and exaggerated compliments filled me with pleasure and confidence that I’ll be able to create another delicious abalone dish again.
The last-minute excursion to abalone dive with friends was a wonderful way to kick off the adventures of Romping & Nguyening Part 2. We were able to share our appreciation of our friendship and each other’s company, our passion for new experiences, and our love for food. Chris and I look forward to abalone diving again in the next season after we fulfill our thirst for wanderlust. Until then, we have the rest of the U.S. to explore!