The sky was just lightening and, in the distance, the Carrizo Plain was covered with a white mist that looked like an endless lake. It was our last morning before entering the endless rivers of Californian traffic to visit some good friends in Santa Cruz. During one of our last hikes in the gold and emerald hills surrounding the Selby Campground where we were camped, Kat expressed sadness that it was all coming to an end. The tone of our adventure was about to change as we started our return journey northward into Canada. Like coming back from a long and extended vacation, we have practical matters to deal with: tax returns, repairs to our truck and camper (fortunately, all minor), crossing the border without running afoul of Canadian Customs. And looking for a new home. The real world for most people.
Our original idea was to live on the road from one to two years. Considering that we’ve already been on the road for almost a year, it will probably be a good while still before we find a place to settle. It may even be that we’re still living in our truck camper this time next year. But instead of living for the moment, and searching out those elusive but immensely satisfying remote spots where we can camp all alone, we’ll be on a quest to find a new home. So far, we have no idea where that home will be other than someplace in BC.
A few days earlier we stayed at the gorgeous Keyesville SRMA boondocking site outside of Kernville, on the opposite side of Lake Isabella where we had camped by ourselves the previous week. We found a nice remote spot nestled in amongst the boulders near the Kern River, which was frothy and full of energy from all the recent rains. The rains had also carved deep trenches into the dirt roads going into the campground, which was to our advantage because this eliminated all but the hard-core tenters and those, like us, who had four-by-fours. During our stay, a few rigs did try to access some of the more remote spots at our end, but they ended up turning around because the best spot was already occupied. By us. We had a wonderfully serene and picturesque setting, with sun and pools of water, birds and frogs, and the odd heron crossing the sky and reminding us of why we started our journey in the first place.
A little ways away from where we camped and beside one of the outhouses, was an abandoned tent. Originally, it wasn’t abandoned. On the afternoon of the Thursday we arrived at the campground, someone in an older Class B van came in and stayed in the tent. I never saw who it was, but Kat told me that when he left early the next morning, a Jack Russel was chasing alongside the van. She assumed it was for the exercise, but wasn’t sure. The van never came back. Not that night, nor the remaining two nights we stayed at the campground.
The next day a pickup truck with at Ranger decal on the door bounced over the rough road into the campground as if on a serious mission. Two rangers leapt out to inspect the tent. I don’t know what they were looking for nor if they found anything. They left a few minutes later as quickly as they had come and, after they were gone, I wandered over to the tent. There were cooking utensils piled around the entrance and I saw the shadowy shapes of other belongings in the inside. Although the tent had been abandoned, it seemed it hadn’t been abandoned willingly.
I wondered about the owner and what his story was. Was he a wanderer, like us? Did he camp during the night and during the day go to town to work? Maybe he was a busker and his dog danced when he played the ukulele. Or maybe he was one of the lost who stand forlornly at the corners of busy intersections holding up cardboard signs, telling passerby about how they were destitute and needed some spare change to get back home, wherever that home is. Perhaps he had been run over and was lying in a coma in some clinic or hospital in Kernville. Or worse, maybe he was dead, killed in a bar fight with one of the locals. I also wondered about his dog, and what would happen to it, and whether it would spend its last days in a shelter dreaming of running beside a class B camper before finally getting the needle.
In another day or so, the rangers would probably return and remove the tent. Soon, another camper on a quest for a choice camping spot would find the site and quickly occupy it before someone else did.
That weekend we watched as dozens of RVs of all shapes and sizes jostled for prime camping spots across the river. Although our area was mostly remote and private because of the bad roads, the campground on the other side of the river was more groomed, with nice paved roads more amenable to regular RVs. From Friday afternoon to late Sunday, we watched as campers scrambled for the best camping spots like players in a game of musical chairs, except that the music was the sound of clattering trailers and revving motors and the chairs were tightly spaced campsites.
Around us, the world is in constant motion and transition. Even in the most remote places we’ve stayed at, we can always see some highway in the distance, like millions of identical highways around the world, filled with trucks and cars and people all shoving and pushing from one spot to the next, each one trying to hold onto their own little space. It’s not a world for the polite and the meek.
Many, many years ago I went to a concert in Vancouver, BC. It may have been the first concert given by George Harrison after the breakup of The Beatles. An enormous crowd of people was waiting for the doors of the Pacific Colosseum to open. When the doors finally opened, people started streaming forward in an unruly rush. The centre of the stream was moving the fastest, much like the centre of a lake of water would if a dam were breached. Earlier on, a few ragged lineups had formed and at the head of one of them stood a tall and gangly hippie. He could have been me in an alternative universe, except that his hair and beard were longer. I could tell he was being gentle and polite as he waited for a natural opening in the flow of people. After a few moments of waiting, someone behind him lost his patience and I watched as he gave the hippie a big shove. The hippie lurched and staggered into the surge like a big crane fly, just barely able to keep his balance. I watched as he was swept up by the current and carried into the concert hall.
I’ve thought about this moment many times in my life. Life is all about pushing and shoving and forever striving for the best places to camp, the choicest pieces of cake to eat, the richest treasures to horde. Does a tree stop growing because it doesn’t want its shadow to hinder the growth of another tree? Would Donald Trump have become the president of the richest country in the world by being a nice guy? Every living thing stakes out its own claim, fights for its spot of land, and bars its teeth if someone else encroaches on it. Melo and Pixel remind us of this every time they see someone outside our camper.
And this is why Kat and I are on a quest for the more remote spots. We simply don’t want to compete with others. We don’t want to fight for the prime spots. Like that hippie who got shoved into the maelstrom of concert goers, we don’t want to shove and push. We just want to find the fringes of the world. Close enough so we can get supplies when we need them, but far enough away where we can enjoy the wonders of the universe, the rising of the sun and moon, the stars, the birds, the buzzing things (as long as they don’t try to suck our bodily fluids).
After leaving our lovely spot in the Keyesville forestry campground, we headed for the Carrizo Plain, which we were told would be in bloom at this time of year because of the wet spring. But the entire Carrizo Plain offers only two campgrounds, both of which were packed by the time the sun set. Although the plain itself is magnificent, a spectacle of bright yellow and emerald green, not enough spaces are set aside for all the visitors. We were fortunate to find a spot where we could have some privacy, but we remained tense until late into the evenings of our two days there as we expected late night campers to come and try to cram their rigs onto the patch of wildflowers beside us at any minute.
After we left the Carrizo Plain, we headed for the west coast of California. California is a beautiful state — probably the most beautiful of all the states we visited. It’s no wonder they call it the Golden State. The climate is perfectly suited for people. Although it’s warm in the summer, it never gets too warm, mostly because of the coastal breezes. And in the winter, it never gets too cold. It’s actually ideal. Which is why so many people live there. The state has a population of about forty million residents, about nine million more than all of Canada, and crammed into a space that’s about five percent as big as Canada. That works out to just under a hundred people per square kilometre in California compared to just under four in Canada. And most of the people in California live on or near the coast (to be fair, three quarters of Canada’s population lives within 100 miles of the US border as well).
Long before we caught our first whiff of the Pacific, we were immersed in snarls of traffic. Like pretty well the entire eastern seaboard, the west coast of California is a huge fishnet of highways and endless traffic. Although we were looking forward to a nice stroll on the beach after spending the last few months in the desert, trying to find a spot where we could walk Melo and Pix was difficult. We stayed at an expensive RV site at Morro Bay where we had no privacy. The beach was off limits for the dogs so we had to drive about twenty miles before we found a place that allowed dogs (On Leash Only — which we ignored).
Like salmon fighting upstream, we continued north from Morro Bay until we stayed with some old friends in Santa Cruz. Although Santa Cruz is part of the extended network of cities that make up most of the Californian coast, our friends had created a small refuge within the maelstrom where we felt we could take the time to revive. Santa Cruz is also a picturesque city that seems to have avoided most of the worst of the west coast congestion. On one of our evenings, our friends took us to a rare secluded beach which was glorious and dark. It was shielded from all the lights of the city because of the tall cliffs bordering its shore. We debated whether the sparkling shimmer on the waves was caused by the silvery crescent of the moon or phosphorescent algae in the water.
After Santa Cruz, we continued to push hard northward, edging into the interior to avoid some of the congestion. Kat found us some beautiful boondocking spots, some of which were free, and most of which, to our surprise, were remote and mostly empty. On our last day in California, we stayed at a free campground at Shastina Lake, just north of Mount Shasta. There were only two or three other campers who, like us, kept to themselves.
That night, the wind rose up and banged and rocked our camper, making us feel like we were in a boxcar on a speeding train. I was less afraid of being toppled over than I was of being impaled by one of the branches flying all around us. I didn’t sleep well and had strange dreams of ghosts trying to cross from their world into ours. Who knows what spirits are hidden in the winds?
The hard wind would remain with us for the next few days, as would heavy rains, and even some snow. But I didn’t mind. Not at all. I am from the north and I have the prairie winter in my blood. Maybe that’s why I prefer the more extreme places. Most folks like to congregate in the warmer, more comfortable lands, where the sun always shines and where they can walk around in shorts and straw hats while sipping cocktails. But as we crossed over from California into Oregon, I realized that I prefer places with harder edges. The emptier the land, the more I’m at home. And when we do finally find our home, perhaps one day all that will remain of us will be an abandoned tent. Or an empty truck camper.
Kat talks about Corrizo Plain and the very big wind here: