Vacation Part One: The Longest Exhale

The time had come. It was the second April of the pandemic and I was gratefully vaccinated. Clients were rescheduled. The house was clean and tidy, well enough. Reservations were made. The Forester and bags were packed. Camping drawers in the trunk were stocked and organized. The alternate caregiver was set to arrive. I left her a “note”, which is an exceptionally modest way to describe it because notes are not six pages long. I brought Mom and Princess to Dad’s house, but stayed for over an hour because he was offering me last minute snacks and supplies. It’s one of my favorite endearing “good dad traits”, even when I have to decline the excess.

After many rounds of hugs, kisses, and thank yous to both parents and all three dogs, the trip commenced. It was a straight shot up the 101 to my first campground, so no GPS was needed until after I crossed the border into Oregon.

An hour and half into the drive I pulled over to take a break at a rest stop. Really. I was so tired that my eyelids kept dipping down despite having begged them to perk up. I rolled into the parking lot right next to a couple who were apparently reuniting after one of them had very recently been released from jail. With the seat adjusted horizontally and the windows cracked I set a timer for twenty-three minutes. By the time I could get my ears to stop eavesdropping on the neighbors’ conversation, I had fifteen minutes left on the clock. Despite the limited time it did just the trick. The nap kept the exhaustion at bay adequately enough for the remaining five-hour drive. I called Dad to confess of the irony needing to nap in the first hours of freedom from caregiving.

With plenty of daylight left to set up, I settled into camp at Harris Beach State Park. The ocean was close enough to stroll to within minutes and hear its water symphony. The campsites were tucked between trees so as to keep everyone sheltered from wind gusts. Just what you hope for at a seaside camping spot.

I made a dinner of Thai tofu salad, the nearly vegetarian version of laarb. Tofu cubes were fried in the cast iron pan until crisp. Then the golden protein was tossed into a mix of chopped lettuce, cilantro, mint, and onion, and everything was thoroughly coated with a lime fish sauce dressing. It’s one of my favorite things to make and eat. Easy enough to throw together while camping but feels fancy because it’s far from the typical camp staples of food of fire-roasted hotdogs and chili.

Dessert was a hot thermos of just-add-water chai latte, strawberry wafer cookies, an edible, and a walk down to the beach. I climbed to the top of a rocky outcrop and relished taking in the 360-degree view of iconic Pacific Northwest shoreline. Before the dimming light could fade altogether I cautiously made the descent to flat ground, careful not to rip my pants while scooting down the last section. From the perch of an entire tree trunk of driftwood my feet dangled and swayed inches above the sand, emoting the joy radiating from my every molecule. To accompany the whoosh of tidy waves, I played Fleet Foxes’ latest album and tucked the phone into a pocket out of sight. There I sat and smiled for eternities, like a child on an oversized bench gleefully waiting for her turn on a Ferris wheel.

I had found it: the long-lost intangible I had been chasing in daydreams for too many months. Completely at the center of myself yet equally engulfed in the vibrancy of the universe, I was present and appreciative. It was an opportunity to focus on the magic of being alive instead of holding my breath and surviving. Letting sound waves and dimming sunlight slough off layers of tension and intrusive thoughts, I welcomed the night and fog blanketed starscape and let out the longest exhale.

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