I am on a road trip, the kind where you meander slowly, taking in the sights. It’s my first solo trip that is more than just going from one place to another. This is the trip I have dreamed of since I moved into my first van four years ago next week, but put off again and again over what I thought were budget fears. Turns out the fear was entirely different.

The plan was to drive up the West Coast from San Diego to Vancouver, meeting up with Facebook friends along the way, then across the Canadian Rockies and criss-crossing the U.S. border all the way to Minnesota. After that, I was going to visit relatives there and friends down to Texas, then more friends in New Mexico, winding up at my friend Linda’s place in southeastern Arizona.

It didn’t quite work out that way. Dozens of forest fires all over the West, along with the resulting smoke, persuaded me to put the trip off until spring, but then I changed my mind again. The whole trip wasn’t doable but I could at least go to San Francisco. So I did.

And that’s when I finally had to face the real fear: fear of the unknown, of places I’ve never been. I imagine it’s much like the ancient fear of venturing beyond the edge of the sea, a fear reflected in maps that said, “Here be dragons.” It’s like that.

Ironic, I know

I’m supposedly doing all this so I can see all the places I’ve never been, right? Right. But it’s scary.

The most primal fear for me is where will I park at night? How will I find places to sleep safely without worrying about the dreaded knock on the window?

You can’t just park anywhere and sleep any more. There are laws, especially along the California coast. So far, I’ve been lucky. Experience has taught me that a supermarket parking lot or 24-hour fitness club are the safest bets, but on scenic, remote Highway 1, where I’ve chosen to travel, these things are hard to find. The locals drive inland half an hour or more for their groceries. Fitness clubs aren’t needed in this rugged terrain—people hike a lot here. The only legal overnight camping that I know of is the kind you have to pay for, and money is tight.

I am beyond San Francisco now, having traveled to Napa Valley and over to Fort Bragg, enjoying gorgeous scenery but always worrying about that dilemma.  Scout and I are resting after a long walk on the stunningly beautiful Goat Rock State Beach.

Camping here is forbidden, but I’m tired and I don’t want to drive the winding, precipitous Highway 1 in the dark. I should get going. It’s after 5 o’clock. But I wonder if the dusk-to-dawn curfew is enforced here. Should I take a chance? The only way to know is to watch and see if any others stay after dark but by then it will be too late to find another spot, if the dreaded knock on the window comes after all.

There is no internet or cell signal here. I can’t find out what’s down the road without, you know, actually going down the road. And I can’t decide what to do.

Guess I will go.

[UPDATE]

I checked out a state park campground a few miles down Highway 1, thinking it might be worth it to pay just this one night—$35? Yikes!—but it was full. The ranger didn’t know of any dispersed (aka free, no hook-ups) camping in the vicinity. So I went a bit further and stopped at a tiny shopping center in Bodega Bay. The parking lot looked inviting, like a good place to spend the night: only two or three other vehicles there, and all the businesses were closed except a market/deli.

Should I ask permission to sleep there? My stomach churned. I had never asked before, not at numerous Wal-Marts or Safeways or even the San Diego marina where I slept for the entire summer. In big cities, asking permission felt too exposing. I was in a plain white van. It was easy to blend in. But in a small town like this, I could imagine the sheriff herself keeping an eagle eye on every home and business, and my white van suddenly looked like a sore thumb.

I went in to hunt for dinner, anxiety level rising as I wandered the narrow aisles. An attractive, dark-haired woman excused herself to squeeze past me, her arms loaded with food.

“Potato salad,” she said, “indicating a small plastic tub in her right hand. “They make great potato salad here.”

“Sold!” I smiled and headed for the deli counter.

The clerk was another beautiful woman with grey hair. What was with all these gorgeous older women in Northern California, and was it contagious? I hoped so.

“Would you like a sample?” she asked, her accent British. Class.

“Why yes, I would,” I replied, though the last tub of potato salad was already in my hand. My motto is never turn down free food.

She scooped a hefty spoonful into a small paper cup and handed it to me along with a plastic fork. It was good, of course. When is potato salad not good?

As she rang me up, I finally worked up some courage.

“Do you think I’d get in trouble if I parked in your lot overnight?” I asked in my most charming tone. “The state campground is full and I’m tired.”

“Um…” She looked unsure. “Let me ask.”

She walked away. A few seconds later, she came back with a young man who looked more like a stocker than a manager. He looked at me. I wondered if I had remembered to comb my hair today.

“Okay,” he said, “as long as you leave first thing in the morning.”

“Oh,” I said, exhaling relief, “absolutely!”

I joined Scout back in the van and savored my dinner, relaxed in the knowledge that I had permission to be there.

Bam. Fear faced. At least for one night.

BTW, Tuesday is National Face Your Fears Day. What fear are you going to face?

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Showing 4 comments
  • Claudia
    Reply

    My old stomping grounds! I’ve spent the night in my car at Goat Rock before, but this was back in the 70’s. I was awakened by a young Ranger who thought that as a lone woman I should not be sleeping out at all. Sounds like things haven’t changed much. If you get a chance, go to Dillon Beach and Tomales, just drive south around Bodega Bay. Only 20 mi. or so. Eryn was born at home in Tomales, and grew up on the rocks at Dillon Beach. I went to a well mama clinic in Forestville on the Russian River when I was pg with her. We plucked dulse and mussels off the rocks, and an occasional octopus for dinner. Pacific Marine Biology Lab students would dive for abalone seasonally–and the annual Shark and Ray Derby would fill the huge freezers for the whole year. Mussel pizza, spaghetti, chowder, you name it, we had it.

  • LaVonne
    Reply

    Wow, lucky Eryn! I went to Dillon Beach but it’s behind a pay wall now. $10 just to go into the parking lot! Sounds like an idyllic time for you and Eryn.

  • Linda Buie
    Reply

    This is such a good story, LaVonne! You always write about things that I can identify with. I am going to be doing some frightening things these next few months like buying an RV. I just made an appointment to see a Class C that is low mileage and looks to be in good shape. I don’t even know how to get a loan on a used RV, but I guess I’ll just have to DO IT! The other thing that I am trying to get myself to do is go to a laundromat. I will have to once I no longer have my house, and right now my washer is working only partially (it fills and drains but won’t agitate or spin), so I am saving up the heavy laundry to take to a laundromat. Why is this so frightening to me? I haven’t been in a laundromat since the early 70’s, but they weren’t so bad. So, really, what is wrong with me? A couple of the local ones even have internet. Is that common?

    I love reading about your travels. Keep the stories coming.

    • LaVonne Ellis
      Reply

      Hi Linda! I saw on FB this morning that you got approved for the loan — go you! Crossing fingers and toes they attach it to your RV. As for the laundromat, I’m scared of them too, but for a reason: I can’t tolerate the chemical fragrances in most detergents and especially fabric softeners. They get on my clothes from previous users, ugh! But I’ve found some workarounds, like prewashing the washer and wiping down the dryer with vinegar before using. It helps.

      Yes, I think almost all laundromats offer wifi for their customers. Why don’t you just go in and use the wifi for half an hour while you get a feel for the place? Talk to some of the other customers. Pretty soon, you will feel comfortable enough to wash a load. 🙂

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