One afternoon, in the redwood forest, my traveling companion and I had set up our tent in the bargain campsite provided by the California parks department and gone for a little wander among the enormous trunks soaring up to a canopy you could sort of forget about as you examined the vivid green undergrowth in the filtered light. Trees that big seem more like topographical than botanical features.
We returned to find other campers setting up. One was a German woman with a blonde crew cut, riding a touring bike. The others were a couple of hitchhikers, a man in his 20s and a woman who appeared barely old enough to qualify for the description. The road of summer is full of travelers trying their wings for better or for worse.
The young man had just finished a summer stint cooking at an inn in Vermont. He and his companion had traveled across the country swiftly enough to arrive in the redwoods in early September. Still summer, but only technically, the time just after Labor Day is a great one for traveling.
While my own companion and I had given up on culinary gumption and opted for a big skillet full of scrambled eggs, we soon regretted our haste as we watched the young chef whip up something that looked and smelled far more elaborate over the same fire pit.
To make matters worse, he could play guitar and sing. This he demonstrated after supper. We had been joined by a soft-spoken woman with long, straight hair, who asked if anyone minded if she did some background vocals. My own companion, a guitarist and singer herself, stayed in the music circle. I, possessed of only grunts and croaks, wandered the periphery of the firelight, still in awe of the immense forest. The music drifted over me with the flickers of firelight as I tripped over unseen obstacles and got up again, still in the trance of that random convergence of talents in this enchanted place.
Yeah, at the time I also felt like a boring, miserable toad with nothing to contribute. But I was taking it all in anyway.
The next morning, my companion and I had to move on. We had a deadline in Eugene, Oregon, and a few hundred more miles to cover. The chef was making blueberry pancakes.
Several days later, in Oregon, under steady rain, we converged with the crewcut German woman again. I liked her because her watchword was "coffee." "Coffee? Coffee?" she would ask. Even a big jar of instant looked fine to a caffeine freak pushing a loaded bike over wet roads and bunking down in a wet tent each night.
Her name was Marianne. She told us that she had stayed two more days in the redwoods with the chef and his girlfriend, emerging only to go to the little grocery store nearby to get ingredients for the chef's next creation. She said she finally tore herself away because she realized her bike shorts were getting tight, and she was in danger of just settling in there for the winter. We traveled together for a couple of days, eating our own miserable fare, as she described the chef's creations, to give our imaginations a taste of that little bubble of feasting and conviviality.
She left us to rendezvous with other travelers. We rode onward in the rain, a little hungry.