365 Days of Writing – Day 116 – A failed journey, a happy outcome.

Tent

To continue from yesterday…

The envelope which arrived in the mail was from the law school. I held it without opening it until I was breathing normally. I went to my room where I could open it in privacy. I had to look twice at the paper to make sure I’d read it correctly. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I had failed Contracts and had gotten a C in Constitutional Law.

Normally I aced tests. Even when I didn’t ace a test, I didn’t fail. I’d never failed. I’d messed up on pop quizzes due to lack of preparation or I had forgotten about an upcoming test so hadn’t studied. In those cases, I didn’t do well because I didn’t deserve to do well. If hard work meant anything, I should have gotten at least a B but more likely an A. Clearly hard work wasn’t enough in law school. I’d missed something, something big. I knew my facts so it had to come down to how I presented them. For the first time in my life I doubted that law school would be in my future.

What do you do when the neat little plan you had for yourself crumbles? You take a trip. I, for some reason I can no longer imagine, thought that a solo drive/camping trip would be the perfect opportunity to make a critical decision about my future. Like Cheryl Strayed, I thought I would be able to see things clearly and find answers if I was away from everything familiar: home, family, friends.

I packed up my used Honda Wagon with a sleeping bag, a borrowed tent, all the clothes I thought I’d need, a stack of books, a journal, my camera and enough film to last me the two weeks I thought I’d be gone. I drove north to San Francisco with two friends. I stopped in the city just long enough to drop them off at Fisherman’s Wharf before I kept driving north, eager to start my adventure. My goal was Washington state. I had a map but I hadn’t planned, as I would now, how many miles I’d go in a day or where I’d camp. My map had all the KOA campsites marked and there were plenty of them so I wasn’t worried. I would just drive until I was tired, then get a good nights rest in my tent before heading out bright an early to continue on my way.

I’d left SF at 4:30 by 6:30 the sun was starting to set. I didn’t want to erect up my tent in the dark so I pulled into the first KOA I saw. Full. A reservation? No, I didn’t have a reservation but I was beginning to have reservations. It wasn’t until 9pm that I found a camp with space. I was tired and it was pitch black out. My headlights barely illuminated the path I was on. I managed to find the small plot I had rented for the night. I parked and removed my tent. With only the dim light from my flashlight I built the tent. I dug around int the back of my wagon and found the stakes which I would use to anchor my tent to the ground. I pounded, I twisted, I stomped but those stakes were not going in. It began to drizzle then rain. I threw some items into the tent to keep it from blowing away. I pushed aside my suitcase and supplies in the back of the wagon to make a clearing. I unrolled my sleeping bag to nearly 3/4 of its length and crawled in as the rain increased. Ten minutes later, my bladder notified me that I had neglected to use the public lavatory and my tongue, making its rough journey across my teeth, reminded me I had not brushed. I found the ground cloth I’d neglected to lay down under the tent, wrapped it around myself and dashed out to take care of my bathroom needs.

The next morning I woke to a gray overcast day. I couldn’t figure out how to oepn the back door so I climbed over the seats and stepped out from the drivers door into a large muddy puddle. that’s when I noticed that my car was parked on the dirt portion which meant that I had tried to set up a tent, and drive in tent stakes, on the concrete pad meant for the car. The tent? Where was the tent? I found it about fifty yards away in it’s own puddle, everything in it slightly damp and worse for the night out. I slipped on clean clothes after drying my muddy feet on yesterday’s clothes – I had neglected to pack a towel. What did I know? I’d never been camping. I rolled up my sleeping bag then spread out my damp clothes hoping they’d dry. I started the car and headed to the exit, the highway and a hot meal.

I drove straight through on the second day stopping only for food. The first hour or perhaps the first two hours, I marveled at the beauty of the landscape and how little traffic there was. By hour three I was bored of the scenery and only became excited when another car appeared on the road. I played little games with the other cars. I’d pass them then betting with myself if they would speed up to pass me or be content to stay behind me. I would try to guess where they’d exit the highway or how many people were in the car. I tried to appreciate the beauty of the coast, the grandeur of the trees, the rugged strength of the rock face but it was all so dull.

I forced myself to start looking for campsites early in case they were sold out. The first one I stopped at had a space. I paid the fee and drove around to my spot. I was the only vehicle in the campsite. I was clearly off the beaten path now. I managed to get the tent set up in the right spot and I even remembered to lay down the groundcloth. Proud of myself I crawled into the tent to relax. I’d have had better luck relaxing on a bed of nails. Too late I realized that I should have checked the ground for rocks. I couldn’t bear the idea of dismantling everything and digging around in the dirt. So for the second night I slept in the back of my car, next to my tent.

I endured one more day of this then I came to my senses. On the third night I pulled into a motel, paid for a room and enjoyed sleeping in an actual bed and taking a hot shower. The next morning I pointed the car South and headed back to LA, not having made it to the Oregon border let along Washington. I had not written a single word in my journal during my days on the road. I had not reached a single conclusion regarding my future. All I could think about was how much I disliked tents, driving and being on my own.

I pulled into SF at about 6pm having gotten on the road around 5am so eager was I to be finished with my grand journey. I’m sure I broke all sorts of speed limit laws but I didn’t care. Miraculously, upon entering SF I found a parking space. I had no idea where I was only that I was back in a city with other people and cars and hotels. I stepped out of my car and into David. I didn’t just apologize, I poured out three days worth of pent up conversation. I regurgitated. Instead of running away from me, he asked me to dinner. Then he asked me to stay with him. I spent a blissful week or maybe it was two, I don’t recall at the moment, living with him and telling him everything.

He helped me decide the direction of my future. He let me talk it out until even I understood what was the best thing for me to do. Part of me wanted to stay there, to move in with this wonderful man and make a new life but I couldn’t walk away from college and everything waiting for me in LA.

My intended journey, like my intended career path, was a bust but what and who I stumbled into – that was exactly what I needed.

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