Vacation: Part Two

I haven’t figured out why, but usually when I camp alone I have two mornings. The first begins when I open my eyes to the morning.

Typically I wake up needing to pee so I’ll cocoon further into the sleeping bag until my bladder tells me it’s time to stop messing around. With puffy eyes and a nest of hair I’ll quickly shuffle toward the bathroom. By the time I walk back to the campsite I’m ready for breakfast. I’ve always been one to eat right away.

Setting up the small propane camp stove is a ritual in of itself. There’s the clang of metal lid flipping open to expose the burners. Two clips keep the lid upright and attach itself to collapsible sides, a protectant from wind exposure. I can’t help but think of explosions every time I handle propane, but stomach grumblings urge me to keep going. The squeaking of propane tank twisting into the fuel line promises food will soon be ready. I cautiously light a burner.

A pot of water soon begins to bubble, signaling it’s time to assemble breakfast accoutrements. A collapsible bowl and cup are pulled out from a camping gear drawer in the car. I empty two packets of strawberry oatmeal into the bowl. A single serving of instant chai latte is dumped into the cup. Steaming hot water is poured into each and I tell myself to wait a few minutes so that everything can properly meld and cool down a tad, but of course I don’t.

I spend about half an hour enjoying the meal while engrossing myself in a book, but then feel obligated to clean up with enough time to avoid the crusting of oatmeal and tea remnants. By the time everything is washed and put away I start to feel tired. With book in hand I crawl back into the tent and shimmy into the belly of the sleeping bag again. It doesn’t take long before I put the book down and fall back asleep.

An hour or so later I’m awake once more and ready to begin my second morning.

With everything cleaned and packed up in the car I make my way up the coast toward the next campground. The first of two pitstops, Prehistoric Gardens, was kitschy and cartoonish in all the right ways.

Ever since throwing an epic tantrum and begging my parents to take me to see Jurassic Park when I was six, and them finally relenting, I have adored dinosaurs. Before heading out the door with Dad, Mom made it very clear that I would probably have nightmares and that she didn’t want to hear about it when they happened.

Of course I had nightmares, though not as many as expected. I can still remember one that was reoccurring in which I “wake up” to find a T-Rex looking through my bedroom window, it’s enormous reptilian head filling up the entirety of the glass.

The following summer Dad set me up in front of the modest television at our property in the woods to see Jaws for the first time. Mom walked by about halfway through the movie and asked what I was watching. She was furious when I told her.

“Goddamnit! Why are you letting her watch Jaws? She’s seven!”

Dad was in trouble, and Mom stormed out of the house muttering angrily, but I was allowed to finish watching the movie. Despite all logic regarding sharks in fresh water I was nervous to swim in the river for the rest of the summer.

To this day Jurassic Park and Jaws are my favorite movies and I am a sucker for anything having to do with their prehistoric lead characters. Obviously, I couldn’t pass up a dinosaur themed garden on the way to Cape Perpetua.

A twenty-foot-tall tyrannosaurus stands in the parking lot of the gardens to welcome visitors and catch the eye of those driving by on the highway. I paid the twelve-dollar entrance fee and took my time perusing the paths. I made a point to stop and read each description of the creatures, then snap a photograph, before continuing on.

As with all tourist attractions the path ended at a gift shop. I already knew I’d be spending money before I walked in. With a few postcards, a magnet, and some children’s books in hand, I finally exited to the car with a giddy smile. Money well spent, although I wouldn’t necessarily pay to experience the place second time.

The second pitstop, the touristy Sea Lion Caves, ended up being temporarily closed. As the small building is perched on a cliff above the highway,

I decided to spend a few minutes stretching my limbs and snapping a few photos of the coastline. The weather couldn’t have been better. With a cloudless sky, mid-seventies temperature, and just a smidge of a breeze, I was surprised to be bestowed with unusually perfect weather in the middle of April.

The Northern California coast can be finicky. On many occasions I’ve driven the twenty-one miles to the ocean on a blazing day only to be confronted with clouds and a twenty-degree temperature drop within the last few miles.  By driving further north to Oregon I figured it was more likely for me to experience cooler weather. I love to be right, but in this case it did me well to be wrong.

Less than twenty-minutes from Sea Lion Caves was the second and last tent accommodations of the trip: Cape Perpetua State Park Campground. Nestled amidst a forest headland, the campground is conveniently located across the highway from a beach.  

I assembled my simple tent and additional camp gear before settling into cooking dinner. I don’t remember what I made, but I do recall the continued sensation of feeling at home. Lighting the stove, stirring, sauteing, flipping, scorching. It made no matter what food I was making. Being outside with dirt and rocks crunching beneath tired feet and losing count of which day I last took a proper shower, that was a version of “being present” that wrung out the worries from my soul like dirty bath water from towel.

The following day I went hiking. It was the first in some time, a stark contrast from the once-a-week Sunday trail excursions I had routinely gifted myself pre-pandemic. It made the return to the trails taste that much more sumptuous, like the first day of sunshine after months of rain.

I decided on the 4.5 mile Saint Perpetua Trail which began in the same park where I was camping. It was a short but steep route with generous views of the neighboring coastline. I started at the top, above the fog, and meandered down switchbacks to the tide pools waiting at the bottom. Before making the return ascent I took a snack break on the jagged rocks, letting the salty air and sound of waves bathe me.

I am an average hiker, but when it comes to hills I am especially slow. I always take a lot of minute breaks to slow my breathing and pause the burning of leg muscles. Being tall you’d think that my long legs would do me well for athletic endeavors, but I haven’t seemed to have figured out how to utilize them to my advantage.

After returning to the campsite I was greeted by a new friend. A kid in the campground who was bored out of his mind and starving for companionship boldly recruited me to be his campground companion. I learned that since the pandemic began he’s been homeschooling and traveling around with his mom, brother, and mom’s boyfriend in their van. He’s been able to see a lot of places, as you can imagine, but hasn’t developed many lasting relationships with kids his age.

He wandered toward me as I was laying on the grass reading a book and then began to nonchalantly chat me up. He wandered back again after I had come back from the beach.

During the latest moments of afternoon I was feeling ready to lay down in my tent, listen to an audiobook, and watch the sun sink into the horizon. I told the kid I was going to go brush my teeth, signaling that our social hour was over, and then thanked him for stopping by as I strolled to the bathroom.

After changing into comfy pajamas and cleaning the day’s grime from my mouth I walked back to my campsite. I noticed the kid standing across the road, very obviously waiting for me to return. I went about my business and then crawled into my tent to commence quiet relaxation before bedtime. No more than five minutes later I heard his voice from outside the tent.

“Ma’am, I got you something.”

“Oh?” I replied, trying to disguise the slight annoyance from being interrupted.

I unzipped the tent door halfway and peered out. He held up a single flower.

“Thank you! That’s very nice of you,” I exclaimed as he walked away. I zipped the door shut all but an inch so I could peek as to whether he was really leaving. I watched as he stooped to gather more flowers from the knoll in my campsite. It was then I realized that he wasn’t going to let me relax without further interruption, nor did I have the heart to deny him the youthful attention he was seeking.

I put my shoes back on, crawled out of the tent, and asked if he wanted to play a game. Thankfully I had packed Monopoly Deal, so I retrieved the deck of cards and taught him the basics. I went easy on him for all three rounds, but didn’t let him win. I’m generally nice, perhaps too nice, but I’m not about to let anyone beat me at Monopoly Deal.

The next morning I left earlier than originally intended. I can’t put my finger on it, but I didn’t want to provide another opportunity for the kid to drop by. Maybe it was his lack of boundaries, or his loneliness, or the selfish pit in my stomach that wanted to satiate introverted tendencies. Despite this I drove slowly down the dirt road toward the highway, unable to stop a compulsion to glance again and again in the empty rearview mirror.

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