Better than planned
July 5th, 2008
Our vacation was so stress-relieving that, as I sat contentedly on the public toilet at the Morro Bay campground and heard footsteps approaching, I did not panic at all as I looked up and noticed that I hadn’t bothered to lock the door, the universal code among campers that means “this room is occupied.”
I half-stood, pants around my ankles, and leaned forward with my arm outstretched towards the lock, inches away, just as a burly, Grizzly Adams of a man flung open the door. Backlit by the setting sun, I could only make out a bear-like silhouette that responded to my muffled “Grmph! Yarg!” with a “Hngh! Fwoo! Graahgh!” of his own, greeted as he was by me reaching unintentionally towards his area like a half-naked toilet zombie, before shuffling backwards apologetically and closing the door.
Later, my wife related the story of how she’d seen a rather befuddled looking unbear-like man crack open the toilet door, close it quickly, and with a shiver walk briskly to another toilet on the other side of the building.
I never found out who that mysterious stranger was; and if anyone on the campground had seen my waggle-taggle-gypsy-oh they weren’t letting on. But this stressed me out not at all. I walked out of that bathroom with my head held high, took a mighty breath of fresh air, and swaggered proudly back to my campsite, whistling.
We left on Sunday, June 22, with a rented vehicle expertly packed with everything we would need to survive (and then some) for four days. My Lovely and Talented Wife and I have been camping many times, off and on over the years, but this would be our children’s first tent camping adventure.
We left Los Angeles behind quickly and without a second thought as we headed north towards our destination in Big Sur. We visited Ostrich Land and stopped for lunch at Andersen’s in Buellton. And then, beyond the elephant seals, about six hours into our journey and just miles from Big Sur, we found out that Highway 1 ahead was closed due to fire (the Basic Complex fire). It had been closed that morning and there was no way through.
And here I must give all remaining credit for the success of our trip to my Lovely and Talented Wife who, without batting an eyelash, simply said we should go back a few miles and ask some locals where a nice nearby campground was; and to my children who, despite my guilt about not being able to give them the camping trip I had planned for them, did not care where we camped as long as they got to sleep outdoors and cook with fire and go tromping through foreign places and eat roasted marshmallows.
And with that, we stayed our first night at San Simeon State Park which is a very nice family campground with hot running water and a creek with a trail that runs down to the state beach covered in river stones and jade and beautiful driftwood. And we cooked hamburgers and eggs and bacon and coffee over an open fire. And the kids thoroughly enjoyed the Junior Ranger program where they got to make a plaster casting of an animal track and got a great coloring book and a stamp from a real live ranger and got to touch a dozen different animal pelts. And life was good.
Our second day we headed up the coast to see if the road had been opened. We stopped at a shop at the Lucia Lodge and found the folks there extremely helpful and friendly (and you should stop in and say “Hi” and buy one of their ginormous chocolate chip cookies) but the fire was worse and the road was going to be closed for a while.
So we headed back down the coast again and stayed our second night at a National Forest Service campground called Plaskett Creek. This first-come first-served family campground was also very nice with large trees (next time we’ll bring a rope swing) and the loveliest pit toilets I have ever seen. Plaskett Creek has a fun, easy hike from the campground through a large open meadow to a trail that descends the cliffs down to a secluded beach that you’d never know existed from the highway. We met Harvey and his daughter Grace here. And there was much running around and laughter and marshmallows. And life was good.
We made our home in Morro Bay State Park on the third day where we got lucky and got the very last unreserved tent site. Morro Bay is a beautiful area with a lot to do. We’d stayed here once before, a decade earlier, under similar circumstances (a road trip with no plan and no reservations).
After setting up camp we hiked over to the museum and the scenic view above it. The museum is interactive and children are encouraged to touch and twist and push and pull every exhibit. Later we hiked around the campground itself and down to the salt marsh that is filling in the bay. I doubt it’s usual, but that day the hot water in the showers was free and the timers were turned off.
At Morro Bay we met John and Jody of Canada and their children. We gave them half of our strawberries and they gave us a fire log made of coffee. The firewood bundles were the most generous here and we had the best campfire of the trip.
And we stayed up long into the night, my wife and I each with a child falling asleep on our laps. We sat together silently, warm and at peace. And life was good.
Earlier that day, as I was headed to the public toilet, a grandfatherly gentleman a few sites from ours stopped me. He asked if two young children he’d seen earlier, a boy and a girl holding hands, were mine. I confirmed that they were. And he smiled warmly and thanked me and congratulated me on having the two most beautiful, happy children he’d ever seen.
And it was a wonderful feeling knowing that everything I truly needed was right there with me. And that it was so little and so much. And I could have stayed out there forever.