Thursday morning my family and I got up early for our annual camping trip. This year we had decided on a new place: Rock Creek Campground, near Yachats on the central Oregon coast, purported to have campsites in the deep woods of the Coast Range, with a half-mile trail straight to the beach.
We'd worked hard all week getting ready: pulling the tents, camp stove, folding canvas chairs, cooler, and all the other accouterments out of the shed, shopping for eggs, hot dogs, sandwich fixings and s'mores ingredients, and packing our duffle bags. I was especially looking forward to strolls along the sand gazing at the ocean waves, songs and stories around the campfire, and looking up at the impossible number of stars in a sky removed from town lights.
But Rock Creek was a disappointment-- campsites either too small or right out in the open, with no sense of seclusion or privacy anywhere. We headed back a few miles towards Cape Perpetua Campground, which we'd stayed at before, and which had no direct beach access but at least had more private sites.
As soon as we'd chosen a site there, I left my husband and kids to sit and hold it against all comers, and drove the van up to one of the two camp managers' sites, to pay for the space and order firewood. "Off Duty," proclaimed a sign in the window. "See Manager in Space 2."
Oh, well. I got back into the van to turn it around and drive back down to Space 2.
The van wouldn't start. It choked and gasped for gas, couldn't find any, and gave up. Over and over again.
But the tank was nearly full. Something was very wrong.
I got out of the van and rushed back down to the site where my family was waiting. "The van won't start!" I told my husband.
"Stay here and keep holding the site!" he told our two teenagers. We trotted back up to the van. He tried it. It still wouldn't start.
We walked down to Space 2 and spoke to the manager that was in. He suggested the engine might be flooded. Well, maybe. By this time it was well after noon. We walked back up the hill to the van and got out the cooler and a couple of bags, carried it back to our proposed site and made some sandwiches. "If the engine is flooded, and the van starts after lunch, we can stay," we told the kids. "If not, we'll have to get it towed."
After lunch it still wouldn't start. With the kids' help we packed everything back into the back of the van. No cell phone service was available at the campground, so the managers kindly let us use their phone to contact our insurance company. Could they locate a mechanic in a nearby coastal town for us? Could they send a tow truck for the van?
They could. One would be there in 45 minutes. But as soon as I'd hung up the phone, my husband pointed out that most tow trucks only carry two passengers. We'd better call back and make sure they sent a tow truck that could transport the four of us. I sighed, but he was right. Back on the phone, I sat on hold once again for the insurance company's emergency road service people. Yes, they could recall the tow truck they'd sent out and send a bigger one that would seat four passengers. But this was going to take at least another hour.
By this time it was 3 pm. We thanked the managers profusely for giving us extended use of their phone when we weren't even going to be paying for a campsite, and walked back up to where the van was. We found a nearby picnic table to sit at. I began to read aloud to them (a favorite pastime on camping trips, though the reading matter has changed quite a bit over the years). I read them The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber. Then we began on a Jeeves-and-Wooster novel, The Mating Season by P.G. Wodehouse. Chipmunks ran by the table. A brown rabbit hopped out of the bushes a little ways away, and hopped slowly into the next clump of bushes. The trees rustled, the sun shone, the camp robbers screeched overhead. In spite of everything we began to enjoy ourselves a little.
After about an hour and half, one of the managers drove up to tell us the insurance company had finally located a tow truck with a large enough cab, but it had been an hour and a half's drive away, in Lincoln City. It was now almost here but had gotten lost. We sighed and shrugged, broke out a few snacks, and went on reading.
At ten minutes to five the truck finally arrived. I needed to use the manager's phone again, this time to call the mechanic whose number we'd been given (hoping like crazy he was an honest man!) to tell him we were coming and ask if he'd keep the shop open till we got there. He would. We piled into the tow truck and drove to Waldport, a little town that boasted only one mechanic, but was small enough so that the things we needed-- mechanic, hotel, restaurant-- would all be in walking distance. The tow truck operator, who was very nice, told us that he knew this mechanic and that he was "a good guy." Great relief.
The mechanic was a gentle, kindly, weathered man who looked to be in his forties. He took our key and promised to check out the situation and order parts before he left that night. Probably the fuel pump. Yes, probably the fuel pump, we agreed.
I felt very odd and exposed, walking from the mechanic's to the hotel he told us about (roughly a half mile back the way we'd come, right on the main coast highway in downtown Waldport), carrying duffle bags, our small cooler and a bag of reading material. Families of four did not customarily walk across small towns carrying their luggage down the sidewalks. Were people staring? I decided to try not to notice.
The hotel was small but clean, as was the room. But there were no fans, and only one window would actually open. The room was marked "No Smoking" but gave forth a definite smell indicating that someone had recently broken that rule. We opened the bathroom window and went across the street to eat a not-too-bad dinner. Afterwards we were so tired that we turned out the lights at 10 pm. sharp, and slept until 8 the next morning.
Friday morning, 9:00. Gotta find breakfast. Was the place where we'd eaten dinner open for breakfast? No. There was a tavern next door that would serve breakfast, but not our kids. We walked up the street, then back down. No cafes, no bakeries. A service man waiting on a customer at a gas station looked up as we walked by. Did he know where we could eat that was within walking distance? Only one place, and that was back the way we'd just come, then up another street a good ways.
We walked the good ways. Breakfast was only mediocre. The fritters were underdone, as were the eggs. We ate them anyway. Then we called the mechanic. What was the prognosis on the car?
It was indeed the fuel pump. Yes, he'd been able to get parts that would arrive later today. He'd have the van ready by mid-afternoon. Oh, good. Thank you so much! We've got to check out of the hotel now and bring the luggage back, ok? Ok.
Another long traipse down the sidewalks laden with duffel bags. The mechanic's black cocker spaniel greeted us at the door. The mechanic smiled at us. He was so sorry he didn't have a vehicle that would have transported us to the hotel and back. That was all right, we told him. Was there beach access anywhere within walking distance?
Yes-- down by the marina. There was a nice beach overlooking the bay. No ocean waves, but lots of nice sand, shells and gulls. We loaded the small cooler with drinks, put snacks and binoculars in the book bag, and went down to the beach. There were a couple of small restaurants there to serve the boat docks. Hooray, a place to eat lunch later! We found a pile of rocks and sat down to enjoy the sunshine. We waded a little, watched the gulls and a couple of cormorants flying around. Read more Jeeves and Wooster. Began once again to enjoy ourselves.
Lunch was clam chowder and hot dogs in one of the little cafes. We were still feeling a little queasy from the mediocre breakfast, though, so we didn't eat much. As we were finishing, the mechanic called. The van was fixed. Hooray!
Back through the streets to the mechanic's. A fuel pump is an expensive repair. Oh, well. "Another day older, and deeper in debt," right? Heh, heh. But we have wheels again! We decided to drive up to Newport and look in shops and galleries along the bay front. So nice to not be trundling luggage!
Ice cream on the bay front. As we licked our cones we watched a young man casting crab nets over the fence and scooping in Dungeness crabs, most of which were undersize or female and had to be tossed back. Then we walked a little ways and laughed at a large group of sea lions all trying to hang out on a dock that was too small to hold them all. They barked and showed their teeth at one another, jockying for the best places, now and again shoving one of them over the side back into the water. "There were ten in the bed, and the little one said, 'Roll over, roll over.' So they all rolled over, and one fell out," I sang to my husband and kids. They laughed.
At 5 pm we'd had enough walking, having seen hundreds of beautiful and unusual things for sale. We talked about maybe finding some firewood and a day-use beach, and roasting for tonight's dinner the hot dogs that had been meant for Thursday night's campfire, but we were worn out. So we drove home, ordered some Chinese, and went to bed.
It wasn't exactly the vacation we'd expected. It certainly wasn't the inexpensive trip we'd budgeted! But it was an adventure, and a lot of it was pretty fun. In any case, it's a far more interesting story to tell than an ordinary camping narrative of s'mores and sausages and sleeping bags. And stories are important. Family stories like this define us to ourselves, and they give us memories that will last into the next generation.
I sure missed that campfire, though-- and the ocean waves, and the starry skies.
Maybe next year.