On this road trip, at some point I pictured myself lounging in a rainy Oregon cabin, wine glass in hand, spewing silver words from an inky ballpoint pen. A fireplace roaring in the background. Perhaps a cat curled at my feet.
I didn’t know exactly how to make any of this happen, except for the merlot. Definitely not the silver words.
I figured at least I could rent an Airbnb for a night or two, turn my phone off, and in my typical fashion: see what happens. Maybe I could even Ashton Kutcher-it and fast on green tea in the woods for hallucination guidance, though I’m not sure I’ve ever gone more than six hours without eating- and that was most likely when I was sleeping.
I settled for an off-grid, quirky cabin in Gasquet, California, only minutes away from the redwoods. There were all kinds of unconventional stays to choose from: a hobbit hole, a tree house. It wasn’t until after I hit ‘book’ that a sense of intimidation set in.
First, the website read (and this is an exact quote): “DO NOT USE GPS!!!! You will be lost for days, wandering aimlessly through the National Forest with your little techno-rectangle in hand, probably end up be eaten by bears, with wailing and gnashing of teeth, and horrible stuff like that. DON’T do it.”
Red flag. My car may be filled with maps, and I’ll humor you for hours (with eyes glazed over) as you explain North and South and the 101 connecting to the 199… but just know that as soon as I leave you, I’ll be consulting my good friend Siri.
Then, there was the forest road to get to the cabins. Streets back home, infamously riddled with potholes, had nothing on this. My soul left my body roughly seventeen times as twigs and limbs scraped the underbody of my car. Dips and hills and rocks galore. It took me what felt like eons to crawl 4.6 miles. Huge downed trees had been haphazardly cut so a vehicle could squeeze through.
I’ve never been one to personify my SUV, but now I felt compelled to apologize. Or thank her. I did both.
My mind ran through scenarios. If a tree blocked the road, I wouldn’t be able to turn around, as it was impossibly narrow, with a huge drop off to my right. No phone service, so I couldn’t call my parents or 911 or road side assistance (which is the exact order I would try to call anyone).
If I did run into bears with gnashing teeth like the website joked (that was a joke- right?) at least I had my key chain mace, despite it having expired in March of last year.
I was listening for the Deliverance banjo when a white truck rounded the bend, flashing its headlights at me. Panic surged through me, as I simply had no where to move over.
The older man expertly maneuvered the truck up on the bank, and rolled his window down beaming, like it was perfectly normal to be completely sideways.
‘You staying at our cabins?’ he roared, and I dumbly responded, ‘I think so,’ as if I were debating between this location and the Best Western 45 miles back.
‘Sorry about all the mess,” he continued. ‘We just had the biggest storm yet a couple days. ago. It took me and five guys ten hours to clear what we have so far.’ Immediately, I felt guilty for complaining about the road conditions.
As if on cue to make me feel worse, the man glanced at my phone perched on the dashboard. Even though the GPS didn’t know my location (exactly as they had warned), I still had it on in the background. You know, a sense of comfort.
‘Were you the one that asked about the showers?’
‘I don’t think so…’ I offered, even though that’s quite obviously a thing I would know Yes or No to. This was going really well.
‘Okay, well, enjoy your stay!’ and before I could worry that he would try to explain paces and longitude and latitude, he sped off, his truck lurching down from the bank with a violent rock.
Three dogs greeted me when I finally arrived. A woman named Terry hollered down to me from where she was working in the garden, but besides that, I was left to my own devices. In her overalls, she looked like something out of Mother Earth News.
It turns out I didn’t need to worry about distractions. There was no phone service. No WiFi. No electricity.
Since it was only 2 o’clock, I had all day to explore. When was the last time I had done that? No timeline. Not friends to meet. No plans to make.
I started off on a hike, but was confronted with more fallen trees. These ones hadn’t been cleared yet. At first, I turned around to head back to the cabins, but decided to trudge ahead – climbing over trunks and under branches, slipping on wet bark, spider webs in my face. When had I last climbed something? Gotten dirty?
When I returned, I met a man and a woman doing work-for-stay. We made tea in the common area, deemed Hygge Hall. Perused the shelved books about mushrooms and communal living and winter canning and homesteading. We talked about where we were all from – Oregon, Vermont, Maine.
I hung on every word from Diane, who in her mid-30’s travels around the world working with sheep and pursuing an interest in, “learning where our food comes from.” In her laid-back manner and Blundstone boots, she was easily the coolest person I had ever met. I instantly decided we were best friends, though she hadn’t asked my name yet. And I knew I was going to leave in the morning and never see her again.
By the time I went to cook dinner, fog had rolled in over the fir trees, and the sky had turned pale violet.
In the silence walking back to my cabin, I felt completely alone. Though I was warned (and this is another direct quote from their listing), “There is often a little mouse in one of the walls, just so ya know. Consider it a mascot — we’re all living, kind of invaded nature, so we live with our creatures here.” I actually really like that. I also really like that I didn’t see or hear any mice.
There were no huge revelations or epiphanies. I didn’t hole up in my cabin and write America’s next best novel. The composting toilet and muddy driveway and 8 o’clock bedtime proved to be pretty uneventful.
But I read. Walked. Played with the dogs. Watched the goats and chickens. Had a conversation where we were all present. Cozied up. Slowed down. Looked at the stars. Listened to the frogs.
Most days, that’s the greatest thing you can do.