Some of the greatest narratives of human endurance have pitted man against the sea. William Bligh’s 4,000-mile sail in a lifeboat by dead reckoning after the mutiny on the Bounty. Ernest Shackelton’s 800-mile lifeboat odyssey in stormy Antarctic seas to reach Elephant Island after his ship had been crushed by ice. Louis Zamperini’s 47 days at sea in a lifeboat after being shot down by Japanese fighters.
And although it wasn’t on sea, who can forget Davidson’s eight hours of uncertainty at Bodega Bay Dunes State Park, desperately awaiting resupply of precious provender without which survival was impossible, including watermelon, two kinds of butter, fresh sourdough bread, tomatoes, eggs and bacon, chocolate, avocado, and chilled Pellegrino?
Against all odds I had slept comfortably through the night at my campsite, and awoke the next morning with a message from Deb & Co. that they were rushing to resupply my depleted stores. At first blush it seemed reasonable for me to ride 1.8 miles into Bodega Bay and purchase the required items at the supermarket, but on second thought it made much more sense for Deb, Darell, Drew, and Mark to load up the battle wagon in Sacramento, get up at the crack of dawn, and drive for five hours through Bay Area traffic to provision me for the next leg of my journey.
Somehow I forgot to tell them that I was staying at the campground, so they assumed I’d be doing what I’d done each day previously, that is, ride my bike up the coast highway. My phone was almost dead and only later in the morning did I find the one hot plug in the entire state park, inside a women’s restroom a two-minute ride from my campsite.
Somehow I also forgot to confirm with the park that I could stay another day, and simply dropped $5 into the slot. Before long the park was fielding phone calls about an unshaven, smelly old man hanging out inside the women’s restroom. I tried to explain it as people came up, but it didn’t work too well.
“Ah, sorry, I’m just charging my phone,” I’d say as some suspicious mom walked up with her children.
“Oh … okay.” [Grips children tightly by the arm and scowls.]
The phone was charging slowly but by 12:30 Deb & Co. still hadn’t arrived. My heart sank as I was now beyond starving. I’d eaten my morning ration of granola mixed with water and peanut butter, and the thought of all that bacon and eggs lost somewhere on Highway One was more than I could bear.
By 4:00, just before I reached the point that Shackelton, Bligh, and Zamperini would have all thrown in the towel, I got a text from Deb. “We’re at your campsite. The rangers are looking for you and claim you have to leave.”
I dashed over to site #18b and the ranger was standing with her hands on her hips, not smiling. “You have to leave, sir.”
“There’s no sir here,” I protested.
“The bike camp sites are closed and you were allowed to stay here one night only.”
“But it’s four o’clock and I have nowhere to go …” I pulled my saddest puppy face, but it only looked like a sneaky grifter hanging out at the women’s toilets face.
Deb & Co. had unloaded the provender and set the picnic table grandly. The ranger felt sorry for me, a little. “I’ll go talk to the boss and let you know,” she said.
While waiting for my execution I piled into the two kinds of butter, Darell’s magnificent sourdough, the eggs and bacon whipped up by Mark and Deb, and the Pellegrino uncorked by Drew who was wearing a tux for the occasion. Slowly life returned.
“So what the hell was that?” Deb asked.
“Uh …” I said. “I thought you knew … I mean I thought I said … I mean, uh … fuck … sorry.”
She gave me a giant hug. “We drove all the way to Point Arena looking for your sorry ass. We finally gave up and had a huge picnic overlooking the ocean.”
“Yeah,” Darell said. “It was actually better without you.”
“No cell reception up the coast I guess,” I said.
“That would be correct.”
“Sir!” the lady ranger called. “The chief ranger wants to speak with you at the headquarters!”
“Oh fucksticks,” I said.
Deb laughed. “You got this.”
I went to the headquarters where I was met by the kindly grandmother who had taken pity on me the night before, only she wasn’t very kindly now and pity wasn’t on her to-do list. She turned to me gruffly. “Look, Mr. Davidson, I told you I’d make an exception, and now you’re taking advantage of the situation.”
I scuffed a toe in the dirt but it was only linoleum. “I’m sorry,” I said, conjuring sad puppy as hard as I could. “I really don’t have anywhere to go.”
“That’s not my problem,” she snapped. “You could have left early today and found somewhere else. And I understand you have a carload of friends who would probably drive you anywhere you wanted.”
“I’m really sorry. I promise I’ll leave tomorrow before 6:30.”
She looked at me again. As I suspected, the gruffness was a facade. She was a kindly grandmother whose heart was about as hard as a butter pat. “Well, I really wish you didn’t put me in this position, but I guess you can stay.”
I brightened up. “Can I tell you something?”
“You are a beautiful human being.”
She paused for a second, almost as if that was something she didn’t hear every day. “You’re a very sweet boy,” she said gently. “Now please leave.”
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