I started worrying about where I was going to sleep the minute I woke up. Parks and campgrounds full from here to Pluto. The map showed a park called El Capitan. All I had to do was pack up my room at the Starbucks in Goleta, ride an hour or so into a nasty wind that neither Eric nor Jaeger bothered to warn me about, and I’d be there.
I doubted there’d be anything so I began scouting the roadside the minute I left Goleta. There were a couple of shady groves, some creek bottoms, and a small spot or two that looked like they’d do in a pinch, “pinch” meaning another night on a mat in the dirt.
I got to the park entrance for “camping.” My big Macs had worn off long ago and however far I’d pushed that 60-lb. monster of a bike, it was about ten miles too far.
“Are you camping here?” the guy asked.
“I hope so.”
“Do you have a cabin?”
“Do you have a reservation?”
“Oh …” he trailed off, staring piteously into my sunken eyes and sunken-er cheeks.
“Can I pitch a tent?”
“No,” he said, the pity mostly drying up. “But there is camping at our sister site a quarter mile up the road.”
I got back on the feeder road and went for a quarter mile. He’d forgotten to say it was straight fucking up and I’d probably not make it. But I did. I scooted through the kiosk and did a loop of the park. There were several open sites along with a giant banner that said “CAMPGROUND FULL.”
I was sure they didn’t mean it so I stopped at the kiosk. “Can I pitch a tent?”
“No. We’re full.”
“Several of the RV slots are empty.”
“But they’re rented and you’re not an RV.”
“I do a pretty good impression of one.”
“Sorry. You might try the beach park. They have sites for hike-bike camper tent pitcher subhuman types.” He didn’t really call me subhuman.
I went downhill through a beautiful park road. “I could definitely sneak off and sleep here,” I thought. “If I have to.”
I reached the entrance and a large lady with large gun was yelling at some kid who was trying to sneak in even though it said “CAMPGROUND FULL.” She was scary and she scared him. He left.
I got to the kiosk. “Any biker tent sites?”
The nice lady smiled. “Of course.”
“No, I mean where I can camp. Tonight.”
“Yes, of course.”
“You don’t understand. I’m looking for a place to camp that’s full so I’ll have to go sleep in a ditch because everything’s full.”
She had seen many such addled bike campers. “$10 and the sites are up top. We always save spaces for you guys. You’re special.”
I knew it wasn’t appropriate to kiss strangers with the covids on the loose, but I nevertheless got on my knees, sobbed a little, and licked the toe of her boot. This didn’t surprise her either because, addled bike camper.
Then I numbly paid and pedaled up the steepest, longest road in the park. I knew it would be packed with thousands of bike campers all high on self-importance. There’d be one site next to the dumpster, swarming with stinging flies, on a barren patch of ground a few feet away from the latrines.
The road ended. The camping area was … vacant. Everywhere else had been elbow to ankle, and this was completely empty. A site overlooking the ocean with a picnic table under a shade tree awaited me. Ipitched my tent and fried up an onion, a jalapeno, some garlic, and five or six pieces of bread, everything soaked in olive oil. Best meal on July 11 in Santa Barbara County.
For dessert ate the whole jar of peanut butter, only 2,600 lousy kcals. Still, there was water next to my tent, a toilet and shower off in the distance, and the ocean at my feet, at the bottom of the bluff. A few campers and RVers at the other sites periodically wandered by, eyeing my solitude with envy, but my bike not so much.
I’m hoping that tomorrow I can make it a few more miles, declare victory, and call someone to come pick me up. Really.
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