Camping and Other Solitary Pursuits

 

I announced to my crew last week I was going camping.

“Who are you going with?” Ben asked.

“Myself.”

“Why are you going camping alone?” he said, with a curious look on his face.

“Because no one wants to go with me.”

Camping with me is an experience in pure luxury. I have 7 plastic bins that load easily into the Tacoma. I have (just purchased) a tent big enough to play catch in. It has a porch, for god’s sake. I have a portable bar. I have Astroturf to lay in front of the tent entrance. I have pots and pans and cutlery. I have a double air mattress and a duvet. I have captains chairs and beach chairs and a director’s chair. I have a hammock.  I have a chest of drawers to put stuff in. It’s cardboard and it folds up compactly. I can set it up in 40 minutes. Previous camping companions have marveled at the speed at which I can unfurl this outdoor studio apartment!

Hiking in 12 miles to pitch a tent? I prefer to luxuriate. That’s correct – I am a camping snob. Oh, we’ll get dusty and dirty, but we’ll be ensconced in creature comforts.

Saturday midday, I cross the Bay and head over to Marin, take a right and jam up to Petaluma, take a left and 25 miles later I’m in Bodega Bay.

This little coastal hamlet is where some special moments happened this summer. It floods my memory as I approach the outskirts. It feels very familiar; the cool wine bar, the grocery, the upscale lodge and spa, and the marina. I drive to the home of my friends Peter and Sheila, the home I lived in when I was here. I pull up, and sit there for a minute, remembering the moments.

I head down the hill to Porto Bodega, the campground adjacent to the marina. I spent considerable time in a little office there, writing and dreaming and working. I’m excited to see Kelly, the take-no-bullshit manager. I know she’s there.

I stick my head in the door. She’s at the desk, pushed up against the right wall of the rectangular, brightly lit office, staring at her PC monitor. In classic Kelly fashion, she looks right, notices me, and deadpans, “What are you doing?”

We talk for a while and reminisce about my weeks here in July.

Bidding her farewell, I negotiate the truck back on Highway 1, and head north.

I stop here, as I have done many times this year, to remember a moment in the spring when I told someone a secret at this spot.

Back on 1, headed to Destination Nowhere.

The campground is 15 miles north of the town of Jenner, surrounded by nothing.

While those who know me best know I am gregarious and extroverted to the max, I am capable of a measure of snobbery. I do not like being next to people who are camping, I do not care to talk with people about the camping experience. One of my chosen family members calls these folks “them”. We love us, we just don’t care for them. I use my instincts to locate a campsite secluded from them, a place I can call my own for a time.

I set up, and settle in for a decadent nap. I wake up and take a hike along the rugged coastline, smelling the Pacific, feeling the wind on my face. Normally I might use this time for intense introspection, but now my mind is blank, focused on the strenuous hike, loving the exertion.

Back at the site, I climb into the comfy captains chair and pull out a book, spending a couple of hours lost in this collection of Kurt Vonnegut short stories. I want to finish it; I have 4 books going this week, and it’s taking me forever to finish this one.

The sun is starting to go down. It’s happy hour. I make a shaker of martinis and start a fire.

The soothing baritone of John Miller, The San Francisco Giants announcer (doing ESPN radio duty this night) is on the radio, calling the Yankees/Twins ALDS game. I fire up the stove and brown a couple of chicken breasts.  The chicken cooks, I grab my mobile and head to the beach, about 30 yards away.

There’s something about a sunset – no one doesn’t like looking at one.

I finish dinner, chicken and pasta, quaff another martini, and pull up to the fire. A little pang of something hits me.

I become contemplative.

I dream of sitting in my office, in the home I will soon have. I imagine sitting in front of the computer, working on words, the sound of “her” creating a fabulous dinner in the kitchen in the background. A most ordinary moment, routine by anyone’s standards, yet I pine for it. I imagine sitting here with “her”, faces illuminated by the fire,  talking about everything. I run some more scenarios – completely pedestrian activities, totally unexciting events. I pine some more.

I realize how utterly alone one can feel, even when surrounded by all these friends, family (chosen and biological), and even “them”… The loneliness is not pathetic or morose, it’s simply a feeling of solitary-ness.

I am this lump of clay, a blank slate, a white canvas. I fantasize about having someone  watch me morph into this new person – a rebirth, finding a new direction, her witnessing every moment, the encouragement fueling me, the internal compass pointed in the right direction. I imagine what I can do to return the favor in kind.

I understand why it’s not going to happen any time soon. I take a measure of comfort in at least knowing why. It’s no mystery. It is what it is. It’s a healthy realization, one I have had a thousand times, but it’s no less desolate. I’m going to have to make this walk alone.

I put out the fire, crawl into the big tent, and search for sleep, wrapped in warmth, the scenarios my only companion.

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