We spent three nights camping along the Pacific Coast Highway before arriving in San Francisco. We'll be adding to this series of vignettes as we recall stories from the road. Each night out there exposed us to new people and new environs and left us inspired to share them with you. Sometimes the tales have to do with food, sometimes they don't. Either way, expect one every Tuesday until we get to San Francisco. Here's Part I, Part II, and Part III if you missed them.
One of my favorite sounds is the long zip of a tent opening and closing. I like it because it’s a sound you only heard when you’re far from life’s essentials. At night, the sound rings in the end of a day. In the morning, when your tent may or not may not be wet with dew, the sound marks the start of a day in the same way church bells claim Sundays. Though before daylight can happen, night needs to fall. Full with burritos and hot chocolate from Carolyn and beer from the store back in town, I broke the night’s silence letting myself into my tent.
I was lying on my back. In the pitch black of the Pacific wilderness it doesn’t make sense to sleep in any other position. It was with the top of my tent catching the moon’s glow that I managed to close my eyes. But the last thing on my mind was the reality of the situation. I was going to bed in the woods. Back home in Brooklyn going to bed means walls, memory foam, heat, and a locked door. The hand I was dealt had none of those cards. Are there bears out here? Leroy said something about coyotes. I figured that by putting myself in the situation meant I couldn’t be that concerned with reality, so I let myself drift off to sleep.
It didn’t hit my tent, but it came awfully damn close. It felt close when I woke up in the middle of the night anyway – my only company the unfamiliar skirmish outside my tent and the pitch-blackness it was happening in. Without an idea of the time or where the moon was in the sky, and with my mind washed over with sleep, the sound seemed to be coming from something no smaller than a gorilla. My heart raced and I propped myself up on an elbow. Darkness didn’t fade, nor did the rummaging on the other side of my tent. I waited in a daze for the mystery beast to throw itself at the canvass partition that divided us, but the noises drifted further away. I took the silence as a sign the animal was getting closer – living out its innate instincts and ability to hunt. It never happened. I grabbed my iPhone: 3:48am. I managed to find sleep and held on until the sun came up.
Carolyn's husband Patrick joined me as I got the fire going for breakfast. We shared bread and bacon and coffee. He told me about immigrating to the states from Chile as a teenager and how he works as a mechanical engineer, but most of his interests were biological in nature. When I told him I was heading to San Francisco he told me about Araucaria trees in Ghirardelli Square that are native to Chile. He went on with passion and in great detail about the common firefly, luciferin, and how lampyridae species are billions of years old. He also told me about the animal that woke me up the night before. It had woken him up too, only he caught a glimpse of it from his camper window.