I resented daylight savings when I got up early Monday morning to take my last final of the term, but as evening rolled around I was so thankful for it. “Maybe we’ll have just enough time to set up our tent before it gets dark,” said Ashlie, leaning over the seat. I held my phone upside down, because I heard somewhere that you get better service that way, and I still didn’t know where we were going to set up camp.
I was trying to get ahold of Elaine, who I knew from the internet but had never officially met. “I’m going to California for a wedding in March,” she’d told me weeks before. “Do you want to camp in Yosemite with me?”
“Yosemite is pretty far away. How about something close, like the southern Oregon coast, or the Redwoods?”
“REDWOODS!!!” she wrote back.
So we decided to go camping in the redwoods.
I asked my friend Ashlie to come along, and she asked her friend Laurel. The three of us planned to drive south and meet Elaine in the redwoods early Monday evening. Which was great, except my nose was buried so deep in my finals that I didn’t quite hash out all the details, and we ended up on the road without any idea where exactly we were meeting Elaine.
“It’s okay,” I thought, “I’ll just call her on the drive down.”
Well. Apparently southern Oregon and northern California don’t have much in the way of cell phone service.
After several phone calls that got cut short when one or both of us moved out of service, we resorted to texting, hashing out whether we wanted to find a place to camp for free or pay California’s ridiculous campground fee. The sun sank lower and lower in the sky, and the evening fog rolled over the trees.
“Look, here’s a campground,” said Laurel. “Let’s just camp here.”
“Okay,” I said. “Let me text Elaine the name of it.”
We drove in circles for a bit trying to find service. “Here!” I said as one bar popped up on my screen. Laurel slammed on the breaks. I texted Elaine the name of the campground and the color of my car, but of course we didn’t know what campsite we were at yet.
Laurel, Ashley, and I set up that tent faster than I have ever set up a tent in my life. Just as we were about to drive back to the spot with service and text Elaine our campsite number, a white van pulled up.
The driver rolled their window down, but it was too dark to see who it was. “Are you Elaine?” I asked.
“Yes! I’m so glad I found you! It’s getting dark and scary!”
There was only a sliver of light left in the sky. Elaine built a campfire, and Laurel pulled out her 1-burner propane stove and boiled some water for tea.
“I’m so hungry! What should we make for supper?” I asked.
We’d all brought piles of random food, including lots of fruit and veggies that mercifully hadn’t been seized at the California border. We dumped my chicken, Ashlie’s cabbage, and Elaine’s wild rice into a frying pan to create a sort of stir fry. Huddled by the fire, we ate food and talked about everything.
The four of us barely knew each other before that night, but in the middle of the redwoods, we were exactly the same in all the ways that mattered.
It was perfect.
“It’s not even raining!” I said. “It’s been raining here for weeks. Rain was predicted for today, but I prayed that it would be dry.”
As the fire died down, we all got sleepy at the same time. We boxed up all the food and shoved it into my car so as not to attract bears. Ashlie and Laurel crawled into the tent, while Elaine and I climbed into the back of her amazing gypsy van. All the bench seats were removed, replaced with piles of pillows and blankets.
“I don’t like to get cold,” she explained.
I didn’t either. We piled blankets on ourselves and chatted idly about life until we drifted off to sleep.
(Read part 2 here)