THIRTY MINUTE’S DRIVE SOUTH of Hollister in California. It embodies a puzzling array of intersecting fault lines and formations. There’s Pinnacles Fault, sandwiched between granitic basement rock structures to the West, and Pinnacle Volcanic features to the East. There’s Chaloné Creek fault, neighbored by the Temblor mix of rock structures fanning across its East, paralleling Pinnacles Volcanic protrusions to its West. Dotted by scenic locations, labeled with inspirational names like Resurrection Wall, Machete Ridge, and Monolith.
Recently, William and his family camped in Pinnacles National Park. Departing their San Francisco Bay Area home at 11 a.m., Thursday before Memorial Day Weekend. Enjoying a pleasant drive past farmlands and unexpected vineyards before arriving at the park. One day ahead of the anticipated crowd of Holiday outdoor enthusiasts.
Upon arrival, they stopped at Pinnacles Campground Store. William exited the car alongside his wife Becky and their four-year-old son, Shila. The shop, resembled a log cabin and had a long, narrow wooden patio positioned roughly twelve inches above the ground. Its screen door entrance creaked when they opened it and if not for William’s courtesy hold, would have slammed-shut behind the family as they crossed the threshold.
He approached the counter as young Shila’s eyes widened. The boy was drawn towards aisles loaded with camper snacks like graham crackers, cheap chocolates, and marshmallow fluff spread. William and Becky waited in-line behind a heavy-set woman who spoke to the counter attendant.
“Thirty Dollars?” she said.
The attendant spoke in a low monotone voice. “Yeah. That’s the registration fee.”
The woman half-turned while speaking aloud. “George! We gotta pay thirty dollars for registration!? I thought you paid!”
William followed her eyes, seeking George. But couldn’t find him. Instead, he heard a voice emanating from the indoor concession area.
“I thought we paid that!”
The woman turned toward the attendant while she spoke.
“You sure we didn’t pay already?
The attendant responded dismissively. “Lemme check.” Tapping the touch-screen in front of her she lowered her glasses. Peering at its display. “Says here; it ain’t paid.”
“Why isn’t that part of the reservation fee? We paid the reservation fee, didn’t we?”
“Yup, reservation fee’s paid.” She spoke matter-of-factly. “You don’t have to pay the registration fee if you don’t wanna camp.”
“We want to camp. We just drove sixty miles.”
“Great. After you pay the registration fee; you’re camping.”
Retrieving her credit card, she handed it to the attendant who swiped it before processing the charge. A minute later, William and Becky stepped forward as he spoke.
“We’re here to check-in.”
The attendant focused on her touch-screen. “What site?”
“We have two of them. Well, our friend reserved two of them. Sites ninety and ninety-one. We’re gonna stay in one of them, and they’ll stay in the other.”
“Is your friend here?”
“I don’t think so. But I’m not sure. Did they register into one of the sites?”
“Nope. Neither is registered.”
“I guess they’re not here yet.
The attendant glanced at William. “Which one do you want?”
“I looked online. It seems like site ninety is smaller than ninety-one. Since our friends made the reservation, we’ll take the smaller site.”
“That’s mighty neighborly of ya.”
William responded with a smile, then paid the registration fee as Shila spoke from below. “Can we get this?” His arms cradled a bag of marshmallows, Hershey’s chocolates, and a box of Cheerios below a broad smile and twinkling eyes. The dimple in his right cheek creviced around ruby-red lips, quivering with jubilation.
“We already have that stuff in the car,” said Becky.
Shila’s smile frowned.
“Don’t worry buddy,” said William. “We’ll roast marshmallows tonight by the campfire and look up at the stars. Wanna do that?”
“Yeah!” The boy’s eyes shined.
“Well, put that stuff back, man. We gotta go camping!”
“Okay.” Shila’s smile beamed as he turned around to return his spoils. “We gotta go camping!” He spoke aloud. “We’re going camping!”
UPON EXITING THE STORE, they returned to their vehicle and meandered down a thin winding trail, passing campsites filled with temporary residents. Some locations housed enormous tents with AstroTurf entryways, and mini-mobile homes, while others were minimalistic; sporting tiny two-person structures with single foldable chairs positioned beside flame filled fire-pits. Becky read the site numbers aloud as they approached campsites in the high eighties.
“Eight-eight. There’s eighty-nine. And ninety!”
William steered their SUV into the narrow campsite driveway and parked, then stepped out. “Me too! Me too!” said Shila. He prompted William to release him from the rear seat, then onto the gravel road.
The end of the driveway revealed a fire-pit encased within a rusty, lopsided metal ring. It sat beside a dis-colored picnic table that rested unevenly, and lay snared by a metal chain to a thick eye-bolt, twisted into a concrete stub in the ground. William pointed at the table. “What’s up with this thing?”
Becky curled her lip as she surveyed the remaining space. “This site is small.”
“It’s small,” said Shila while following in his mother’s footsteps. William walked to the fire-pit and glanced down. A faint trail of smoke rose slowly from its ashes. He peered-up, scanning the area. “Where’s the spot for the tent?” Becky pivoted her head around the site. “I don’t know.”
“It’s gotta be here somewhere,” William spoke while walking towards the back of the fenced location. He noticed a trail leading to the right, and followed it between thickets of brush. The walkway opened to reveal a flat, hard-packed rectangular space, roughly seven by ten feet in size.
Becky followed, then stopped beside William as Shila trailed her.
“It’s too small,” she said.
Shila repeated her words. “Too small!”
William envisioned the dimensions of their new tent, the one they purchased via Craigslist and brought with them on the trip. He knew it was a ten-person tent, but had no idea of its precise measurements. However, he remembered the approximate size of their old tent, the one they’d left in the garage. “Our old tent might fit here,” he said. “But not the new one.”
“Not the new one!” said Shila.
THE TRIO WALKED to the other campsite, and visually measured its area. It was nearly triple the size of the first site, and had enough space for two large tents. They claimed a spot towards the rear of the area, and identified a separate location where their friends, David and Darcy could pitch their tent. Minutes later, David and Darcy arrived with their five-year-old twin boys, Thorn and Riley. After a brief greeting, William and Becky retrieved their new tent from the car, and removed its parts from the bag before placing them on the ground.
“We should’ve put this thing together before we got here,” said William. He itemized all the pieces according to the instructions that were printed on a flap of fiber paper, sewn into the Ozark sack. Then struggled with Becky to construct the tent above a thick tarp they’d spread across the ground. Thirty minutes later, the tent stood erect. Its footprint was slightly larger than the tarp, twenty-one feet-wide by eight-and-a-half-feet deep.
“It’s huge,” said Becky.
“Yeah, it is.”
The top and sides of the tent were composed of a mesh material that William assumed would allow moisture to escape while they slept. He rubbed his hand against the mesh while looking at Becky. “This is the way our old tent should’ve been constructed. After we put the rain tarp on, all the moisture condensed at night will seep through the mesh and cling to the inside of the tarp. Then it’ll stream down the tarp to the ground. Our Coleman tent should’ve been constructed the same way. Coleman used to make good tents, but they’re slipping. I never heard of Ozark before, but this tent seems better.”
“Yeah. But when I bought this, the guy said it was new; never used.” Becky pointed through the mesh towards a tablespoon size hole in the floor of the tent. William followed the direction of her finger, then spoke. “I noticed that too. The guy lied. This tent is absolutely used. I hate Craigslist for that shit. There’s no way to know if you can trust someone who sells stuff there; no personal rating system.”
“He said it was his brother’s tent. Maybe he didn’t know?”
William sneered. “He knew. And if he didn’t know, then it’s still his fault because he shouldn’t sell something and claim it’s never been used, if he hasn’t verified it’s never been used.”
“Maybe he trusts his brother?”
“Maybe he doesn’t have a brother. It’s impossible to know. Plus, we can’t give him a negative review because there’s no rating system.” He motioned towards the tent. “Let’s put the top on this thing.”
They stood on opposite sides of the structure, and spread the rain tarp over the top.
“Why doesn’t this fit?” said William.
“Turn it sideways.” Becky rotated the tarp while William pulled it over the tent. “This is not the tarp,” he said.
“Then where is it?”
William walked to the empty tent bag and shook it upside down. He glanced across the ground. “It’s not here. There’s no tarp. I can’t believe this.”
“Are you sure it’s not there?”
“Do you see it?” he snapped back. “I’m telling you, it’s not here. That guy screwed us!”
Becky glared at the tent and grimaced. “Maybe we don’t need the tarp? Can we sleep without it?”
“I don’t think so.” William shook his head. “It’s about seventy degrees right now, but at night it’s gonna drop to forty-something. We need a tarp. How much did we spend for this tent?”
“We just lost ninety bucks.”
THEY EXPLAINED THE SITUATION to David and Darcy. Then decided to drive thirty minutes to Hollister and purchase a new tent from a Walmart in town. It was a drive they both regretted. And throughout it, they scolded themselves.
“We should’ve put that tent together before we got here,” said Becky. “I bought it three weeks ago, but we never put it up.”
“I know. But even if we put it together, I don’t think we would’ve attached the rain tarp. We would have assumed the extra piece that we thought was the tarp, was actually the tarp.”
Becky spoke quietly. “You don’t blame me for this, do you?”
“No. I blame the guy who sold us the tent. I hate people like that. He’s a pain in the neck for both of us. We’re wasting an hour-and-a-half driving to Walmart when we should be barbecuing at the campsite.”
Upon arrival at the superstore, they purchased a six-person Coleman tent. Then returned to the campsite where they dismantled the old tent, and raised the new one. Afterward, William sighed in relief.
“Well, at least that’s over with; I’m getting a beer.”
David approached the tent and surveyed it while he spoke. “What are you gonna do with the other one?”
“I’ll look online and see if I can buy a rain tarp from the manufacturer. Then we’ll email the idiot who sold it to us. Maybe he’s got the rain-tarp lying around somewhere and forgot to put it in the bag? I don’t know.”
David smiled. “You deserve that beer.”
“I know, right?”
Inside the tent, Becky spread blankets across the floor. Afterward, she walked to the car and opened the rear hatch, then yelled towards William. “Where are the sleeping bags?” William responded. “They should be in the car.”
Becky spoke brashly. “Yes. They should be in the car. But they’re not in the car. Where are they?”
William approached the vehicle while recalling back, a few hours ago… I loaded everything that looked like camp gear. Firewood, chairs, small table, tent, grill, ground tarp, inflatable mattresses. I don’t remember seeing the sleeping bags. They weren’t on the shelf with the other gear. He questioned himself… were they?
Standing next to Becky, he stared into the half-empty hatch-back while he spoke. “Our sleeping bags used to be on the shelf, next to the car, with all the other gear. I don’t remember seeing them there; I would’ve grabbed them. Did you move them?”
Becky snapped back. “They’re in a box.”
“A box on the shelf.”
“How am I supposed to know you put them in a box? You never told me that. They used to sit directly on the shelf, not in a box.”
“God! I can’t believe you forgot the sleeping bags!”
“Is there a label on the box? Does the box say something like ‘sleeping bags’ on it?”
Becky walked away and raised her hands in the air. “What are we supposed to sleep in?”
“This is hilarious.” William chuckled. “Because if the box had writing on it that said ‘sleeping bags,’ then I would’ve grabbed it. How could I know the sleeping bags were in a mystery box with no label?
Becky approached Darcy, whose eyes opened wide while she spoke.
Becky pointed at William. “He forgot the sleeping bags!”
“What are we supposed to sleep in! How could you forget the sleeping bags!” William approached their position while glaring at Becky. “First of all, stop saying ‘he forgot the sleeping bags.’ What you mean to say is, ‘we forgot the sleeping bags.’ Secondly, we have a lot of blankets, right? If we wrap ourselves in the blankets and huddle together, we should be fine. We’ll be okay.”
David was keeping the boys occupied, and spoke from a distance. “I think we have an extra sleeping bag. Don’t we Darcy?”
Darcy gazed up in thought. “Yeah. We brought an extra one for the boys.” She looked at Becky. “Do you want to use it?”
William looked at Darcy. “Thank you, so much.” He smiled. “This trip is off to a horrible start. I appreciate your help.” Darcy and David stood side-by-side as David spoke. “No problem. We don’t need the bag. We brought it, just in case one of the boys wanted to use it.”
Becky slumped her shoulders. “Thank you.”
UPON RECEIVING THE SLEEPING BAG, Becky placed it in the tent. Then she and William inflated their mattresses. David and Darcy had prepared dinner while William and Becky journeyed to Hollister and back; Grilled Salmon served with individual sized packets of mixed veggies wrapped in aluminum foil.
With a plate full of food in his hand, William approached the picnic table and stood beside it. Shila sat on one side while Thorn and Riley occupied the other. The three boys scavenged between three food dishes, resting in the center of the table. One layered with scattered pieces of potato chips, another covered with cheese doodles, and the third littered with lettuce, ham, and slices of bread. Thorn and Riley stood on the bench, snatching handfuls of food and mashing them into their mouths.
William gazed at the tabletop; there was more food on it, than on the plates. He glanced under the bench where a separate array of food lay scattered in all directions; chips, tomato slices, and chunks of cheese, all soiled with the dirt on the ground. He thought to himself… looks like a food-bomb exploded. Shila stood on the bench, mimicking the antics of Thorn and Riley as William scolded him.
“Shila! Don’t stand on the seat! Sit down.”
The young boy pointed at his friends. “But they’re doing it!”
“Don’t worry what they’re doing. You know not to stand on your seat, right?”
Shila sighed. “Yes.”
“Then sit down, dude.”
AFTER SUNSET, WILLIAM AND DAVID lit a fire while Becky and Darcy assisted Thorn, Riley, and Shila with marshmallow s’mores. At the same time, William sat beside the fire, glaring under the picnic table. He’d cleaned the tabletop earlier, but refused to pick up the collection of food trash that lay accumulated beneath it. He thought to himself… I hope there are no bears out here. He took a gulp of beer, and heard faint rustling behind him on the other side of their car… what the heck is that? He glanced over his shoulder but saw nothing… it’s too dark.
He spoke to David. “I hope there are no bears out here.”
“Me too. I think there are raccoons though, more than bears. I saw a sign in the bathroom about not feeding raccoons.”
“Really? I guess raccoons are better than bears.” William perched on the edge of his chair. “I watched the news a few weeks ago. They had a story about this cub scout group that went camping. During the night, everyone in the troop was asleep, including the scout leader who slept alone in his tent. Around 3:00 a.m. he got startled by the sound of something crunching; like a popping, snapping type of noise? It was super intense, so he woke up and opened his eyes. Turns out, it was the sound of his skull crunching in a bear’s mouth. Apparently, the bear entered his tent, and thought the guy smelled delicious. So it positioned his cream-filled head between its lips and clamped down on the guy’s skull. Then dragged him from the tent, and across the ground. When the guy opened his eyes, he saw the inside of the bear’s mouth and felt hot breath blowing over his ears. Of course, he flipped out and screamed like crazy. Then everyone in the campsite woke up. After that, the bear ran away.”
Darcy’s jaw dropped. “Was he okay?”
“I guess so. They interviewed him for the story, so he survived. I’m guessing he had nasty stitches, and a fractured skull to deal with though. Not to mention the emotional trauma of having his head in a bear’s mouth. But yeah; he lived.”
“What kind of bear was it,” asked David.
“A Black Bear.”
“He’s lucky it wasn’t a brown bear.”
“Oh, yeah. I was thinking the same thing. If it were a grizzly bear, that guy’s head would’ve spit jelly like a doughnut, and left a slippery trail in the dirt.” William imitated a loud spurting sound like a juicy fart. Becky scrunched her face. “Stop talking about it! You’re scaring the boys.” William gazed across the fire towards the three boys. They sat huddled together. Eyes opened wide, embracing each other in shock.
“Oh! Sorry. Don’t worry guys; it’s just a story, everything turned out fine.” He looked at David. “I was thinking about animals because there’s a field of food laying on the ground under the table. If I were a wild animal, that’s where I’d get food tonight.”
“They’ll eat well,” said David.
I don’t want them to eat well… thought William… I want you to clean up the mess your boys made, so we’re not dragged into the woods by wild gangs of bloodthirsty raccoons! He heard more rustling, this time from the picnic table area. William glanced at Becky and spoke. “You have a flashlight?”
“Toss it here.” Becky lobbed it over. Upon receipt, William turned it on and flashed it towards the table. Three pairs of raccoon eyes reflected in the light, shining like glowing stars. “There they are!”
Everyone glanced at the creatures, who stood huddled beneath the table. William hadn’t seen a live raccoon in years, and compared the size of these three to the last raccoon he’d seen face-to-face.
“Geez! These things are huge!”
Thorn, Riley, and Shila ran to their respective mother’s arms as William stood and waved the light erratically towards the trio of animals. They stared into the beam, and glanced around, picking pieces of food from the ground, and gently placing them in their mouths.
“They’re not scared!” William stepped towards the table and yelled. “Hey! Get outta here! Can’t you wait for us go to sleep before the food orgy!” The raccoons lazily turned their back to the light and noise. Then slowly meandered away from the table before disappearing beneath a bush alongside the road.
HE HEARD A LOUD SQUAWKING sound. It reverberated against the bark of trees, and bounced around the area. A jittery, nervous, bird-like call like nothing he’d heard before. It emanated again, this time louder than before. He thought to himself… is that a Turkey? It was a gobble-like sound, but seemed distressed and rabid… a wild Turkey maybe? William leaned up and gazed at Becky. She lay next to him, cuddled in the sleeping bag with Shila; they were asleep. He crawled from beneath the covers and unzipped the tent.
The sun had risen above a cloudless sky, and he guesstimated the time… seven a.m.? His stomach churned. Oh… he thought… I gotta go. Upon departing the tent, he closed it from the outside, then donned his shoes, and walked down the road towards the bathroom. Once inside, his stomach grumbled and flipped. The room was empty, and there were two stalls. He entered the last one, adjacent to the window. After locking the door, William applied a thin layer of toilet paper on top of the seat. His stomach butterflied and twirled. “Ugh,” he grumbled while he sat… just in time.
SECONDS LATER, the bathroom door opened, and a man’s voice spoke. “Okay, sweetie. Come in.” A toddler responded. It was a little girl… an unseen angel.
“It’s wrong room,” she said.
Based on the tone of her voice, William guessed her age… maybe three-years-old?
“I know. But we have to go in here; Daddy can’t go in the ladies room.”
“Because Daddy’s a man.”
The man’s voice came closer. “Go in here, okay?”
They entered the stall, then he closed and locked the door as he spoke.
“You have to use the bathroom, right?”
“Number one, or number two?”
“Okay. First, we gotta clean the seat.”
“Because sometimes it’s dirty. You don’t wanna sit on a dirty seat.”
“Because sometimes people get it messy, but they don’t clean it.”
“They might get poo-poo on it.”
“Poo-poo go in toilet.”
“That’s right. Poo-poo goes in the toilet. Okay. Let’s get ready. Gotta take this off. And lift you up here. There you go. Okay? You good?”
“Yeah. Sometimes the bathroom’s stinky, sweetie. Okay. You can poo-poo now.”
There’s a moment of silence.
Seconds later, the man spoke.
“Are you poo-pooing?”
“You’re not constipated. You gotta poo-poo, right?”
“Are you poo-pooing?”
“You don’t gotta poo-poo?”
There’s no response.
“Did you pee-pee?”
“Are you done? Wanna get down?”
“Okay. Let’s clean up. Then get you down. And we’ll put this back…”
“Oh! Poo-poo now!”
“Serious? You gotta poo-poo now?”
“Okay. Let’s take this off. And get you back up here. There you go. Are you good?”
“Are you poo-pooing?”
THIS IS UNCOMFORTABLE… William thought. He was anxious to exit the stall and prepared to leave, but his stomach gurgled and groaned. Then his body released an unexpected sound.
“What’s that?” said the angel.
Her father sighed. “It’s nothing, sweetie; focus on what you’re doing.”
“No. It’s somebody using the bathroom.”
“No. It’s a human, sweetie.”
“If it were an animal it would use the bathroom outside in the woods. Only humans use the bathroom inside, okay?”
There’s more silence.
“All done poo-poo?”
“Are you sure?”
“Okay. Let’s clean up. And get you down. And we’ll put this back…”
“Serious? More poo-poo?”
“Okay.” The man murmured under his breath. “What did you eat?”
“Alright. Let’s take this off. And get you back up here. And there you go. You good?”
“Are you poo-pooing?”
WILLIAM RUSHED TO FINISH his business. Afterward, he exited the stall and hurried to the sink where he washed his hands and searched for hand towels… or a dryer? Where is it? But there was nothing. He debated whether to re-enter the stall, and use toilet paper. But instead, dried his hands using his pajama bottoms. He heard the latch on the other stall door unlock, then hurried out the door and escaped to the road. Halfway to his campsite, he burst into laughter… oh my God. That was so incredibly awkward and funny.