That’s what came out of the open window of the white Subaru as I was toiling up the long and winding pass leading into Crescent City, CA.
By now I’d accepted Bryan Kevan’s view of things: There are no strange or coincidental happenings when you are out on the road; rather, the absence of serendipity is the price you pay for living a life of indoor, online routine.
But still …
It came as a shock to see the face of Tom Duong, Tom of Los Angeles, Tom who had little or no business to be tooling casually along the redwood-infested scenic byways of US 101 in Del Norte County.
“I’ll pull over at the top of the climb,” I foolishly said, foolishly because I had no idea where the climb actually ended.
“Okay,” Tom said, and sped off.
As I write this I am illegally camped under a new growth, spectacular redwood canopy in southern Oregon, the ocean visible from my high hidden bluff, and the sound of waves slightly muffled by the trees. Illegal camping is not my first choice, but with the covids in town and the antifas hanging out in the bushes, state parks have shut down and at the end of the day there aren’t a lot of options other than hotels, inns, B&B’s, for-pay private campsites, and illegal roadside bivouacs. Is it any wonder I’m at another illegal roadside bivouac?
But back to Tom. We rendezvoused at the top of the endless climb and beneath a towering redwood grove he loaned me his floor pump, gave me two bottles of water, gifted me an extended battery for my iPhone, and proffered two of the most amazing oatmeal cookies I’ve ever eaten along with a 500 kcal brownie.
“These cookies were made by my sister. I never give them to anyone.”
I didn’t know what to say except, “What are you doing out here?”
“Going to a new job in Seattle and taking the scenic route. It’s surreal to see you out here … “
I wanted to explain the utter normalcy of two people meeting by chance a thousand miles from ex-home, but instead I thought about the fifteen miles, ten of which were uphill, between me and my next campsite. I thanked Tom for his kindness, we exchanged hugs, and parted.
Just before I crested the final-final part of the climb I saw a sign that said “Mill Creek Camp Site.” Tired and unwilling to push on to Jedediah Smith Park, I made the turn and plunged two miles into a deep valley thick with towering redwoods. As per, the state park had reserved the best spot in the park for bike campers, and $5 later I was happily setting up camp next to the stump of a 1,500 year-old tree. The park had size limitations for anal RVs, so there were no generators. In fact, the park was completely silent.
That’s when I realized that for the most part, no one cooks at campgrounds anymore. Time was that at 6:00 PM the campground was filled with the smell of burnt beef, burnt sausage, and burnt marshmallows. But now everything was self-contained. Everyone had a microwave inside their RV and they simply ate ramen inside while cruising the Gram. There was hardly anyone walking about even though the grounds were full. My pork chops were an anachronism, like the rest of my life.
The maintenance people at the park had severed some line or another so there was no cell service, and of course no wi-fi. What there was, and I took advantage of it, was a hot shower, five minutes for $1.25. It was my first hot shower since July 12 and man did it feel good. Before long maybe I’ll really splurge and wash some of these clothes. Maybe.
After dinner I went for a short walk and came upon a giant hollowed out stump, about fifteen or twenty feet in diameter. I peered down into the stump and couldn’t see the bottom, so I began climbing down. The edges gave way and I started to slide, catching myself on the branches and detritus that had fallen into the hole over the decades. Finally I was completely underground and kind of scared. The bottom was soft and kept going down.
I switched on my flashlight but it couldn’t pierce more than about another six or seven feet, where I could make out more tiers and drops into blackness. I wondered how deep it went, and then wondered how I’d get out if I slipped? “What happened to Seth?”
“I dunno. He was at a park and then disappeared into the ground.”
I went further down, terrified. Now I was a solid ten or fifteen feet into the stump and could see the sunlight up above. There was still no bottom. I shone my light down and the darkness absorbed it. I’d heard of people dying spelunking, but never of anyone getting swallowed by a tree stump. Giant roots protruded from the sides, making hand holds, but they were soft and rotten. Some crumbled, some were firm. I went further down.
Finally I couldn’t see any more direct sunlight. The hole was still going down. What was at the bottom? China? Tom Sawyer’s treasure? A bear? Bodies? My terror finally got the better of me and I started scrambling up. It took a while to get out and I told myself that the next morning I’d come back when it was good and light and get to the bottom of it, so to speak.
Nothing of the sort happened; the next morning I was churning up the long climb to get back to the road that descended into Crescent City. I’d had nightmares all night long about being eaten by a tree.
I was welcomed to Oregon with a giant sign and with a giant recreational pot shop. I posed for the one, bypassed the other. Not sure I got that right, but there’s always next time.
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