I’m back! It’s a well-known fact of holidays that the hardest part is the return. And the more ‘away’ in nature the holiday, the harder the transition. Even though I’ve been to places much more far flung and exotic than the western US, I’m officially putting camping road trips at the top of my list of ‘hard to return-from’ vacations. Add to that the length of the trip – a full month – and you have something approaching culture shock upon arriving home. I keep finding myself thinking about saving paper garbage for starting the camp fire and waking up at night dreading the need to go out and pee (particularly in camp sites with bear-proof garbage containers). I’m glad to be home, of course. It’s just taking me a little longer than usual to get my tanned and freckled nose back on the grindstone.
Unlike a soap opera, which you can miss for a month and come back to find nothing of substance has changed, much has gone on in the land of equines while I was off worrying about nothing more than what to barbecue for dinner and which beachside camp spot to choose. I hope to have some properly formed opinions on rules about blood on mouths in a few days, but in the meantime I’m going to wallow a bit more in the already-fading memory of our wonderful road trip adventure.
Now, when it comes to getting into trouble, the male member of my marriage traditionally takes care of business. Friends tell me I should write a book about Jan and all his exploits. It would take a long chapter just to describe the several accidental dunkings he has taken (all of them involving falling from various water vessels – canoes, boats and inflatable dinghys) in Vancouver’s False Creek alone. But on our trip through Utah and California, it was I who stepped in the merde. Did I offend a Mormon by cussing in front of one of his children? Maybe, but I don’t know because no one complained to me while we were in Utah. No, I chose a much less obvious locale for my misdemeanor: the cannabis-addled northwestern corner of California near Eureka – a town that resembles a downtrodden Portland mixed with the less-dangerous bits of Vancouver’s lower eastside, and a dash of Tofino thrown in (mainly the dreadlocks). Just a little bit north of Eureka is a combined national and state park that features magical, towering redwoods, a photogenic herd of Roosevelt elk, and a beautiful, primitive campsite on a wild, empty beach. It was our last campsite in California, and one of the only destinations on this trip that we already knew. We were really excited to be back at Gold Bluffs Beach.
A quick note on the sorry ‘state’ of California’s parks, physical proof that a love baby is not Arnold’s only lasting legacy. It would be no exaggeration to describe the current condition of the state parks in California as a shambles: partial closures, full closures, eroded and grown-over trails and roads, and everywhere the odor of impending bankruptcy. And yet, they were also the most expensive parks we visited on the entire trip. Camping was always $35 a night, no matter how primitive the bathrooms.
All that income seems to be dedicated to making California’s parks the best-policed recreation spots in America. The wildlife may be endangered, but there’s no shortage of enforcers who may or may not be drop outs from the LAPD. These excessively armed rangers were everywhere (do they really need those semi-automatic assault rifles?) . They were easily the most numerous staff in the parks. After ten days of camping in California’s state parks without raising an eyebrow, I ran afoul of one of the nastiest rangers of them all, a redheaded medusa named D. Freeman. Think Kathy Griffin on steroids, without the sense of humour. I spotted her on our first night there; she and her equally feminine colleague patrolled the campsite on foot like a couple of stormtroopers hunting for Luke Skywalker.
Their bullet proof vests added to the impression that these women were powerful and violent specimens of the California park ranger population; they had clearly been hand picked to terrorize the gentle, nature-loving denizens of the campsite. I managed to remain beneath their radar that first night, but my luck ran out on Night Two. I was taking Chorizo for his last little walk of the evening and decided that it would do no harm to let him off the leash on a gravel road behind the campsite. I would like to point out that there were no endangered species on this gravel road, nor were there even any people around. I was just calling him back to put him on the leash because I was returning to the campsite, when Ranger Freeman pulled up and dismounted from her white pick up. I’d overheard her hassling a group camping near us earlier, and when I saw her, I said, “I suppose now I’m in trouble too.” Little did I know just how much trouble I was in.
After answering her question that yes I was aware my dog was to be on the leash at all times (and learning that honesty is not always the best policy), and stupidly volunteering that I had taken him off the leash because he preferred to do his business at liberty, she wrote up a citation for two offences: off leash and littering, in spite of the fact that there was no physical evidence of the latter (and in fact Chorizo subsequently took his evening crap, which I picked up, on the road in front of another ranger who was ‘assisting in the arrest’). Stormtrooper Freeman then declared that I was hereby evicted from the park. What?!? Evicted for letting my dog off the leash on a dirt road? No warning, just ‘you’re out’? But what about the filthy and obnoxious guy the night before, who besides being falling-down-drunk was blasting 60’s tunes from his pick up while driving the wrong way around the one way campsite road trying to sell illegal campfire wood? I asked, steering the conversation into new and tragic territory. I was immediately chastised for not pointing out this incredibly obvious mess of humanity to the rangers, who managed not to notice him for themselves. When Madame Freeman repeated that I must leave the campsite immediately, I replied that I had been drinking and was not legally able to drive – adding that my husband had also been drinking (he was in fact already long gone to the land of Nod, aided by a couple of fingers of Bushmills).
You’re not going to believe what Frau Freeman did next. She made me take a breathalyzer. So I underwent the humiliation of my very first breathalyzer in order to PROVE TO AN OFFICER THAT I WAS TOO DRUNK TO DRIVE. I satisfied her craving for evidence by blowing a healthy 0.12, and she conceded that I would not be leaving the campsite quite yet. She gave me until 6 am, but having my doubts that she was planning to set her alarm and drive down the mountain to verify my departure, I asked her if someone would be there to check that I was gone by that time. “Possibly” was her unconvincing response. We left around 8:30 the next morning. All that drama for taking my dog off the leash for a few minutes. I wouldn’t have received such severe punishment if Chorizo had been caught taking an off-leash dump on the front steps of the Vancouver Police Department. You haven’t heard the last from me, Officer Freeman. I’ll be writing some letters to your bosses and fighting that citation, even if I have to drive back to down-and-out Eureka to do it.
Other than having to throw some money at a mechanic to stop the van leaking and making scary noises, the rest of our trip was blissful and beach-filled. I’m trying to think of which magazine would like an investigative report about the appalling condition of California’s state parks. Any ideas are welcome in the form of a comment to this post.
View from a Volkswagen (note to PETA people: he is wearing a harness
and is attached to the passenger seat with a leash in case of sudden braking or accident)
Chorizo showing the love to the only snow of the trip – at 8000 feet elevation near Lake Tahoe