Friday, March 4, 2011
A Long Love Affair With the Open Road
In early June of 1982, Linda and I bought a 1977 Volkswagen Camper, yellow-orange, from a couple in San Jose. We took possession, put Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors in the tape deck, and hit the road. It was love.
The first camping trip was to Hendy Woods State Park, south of Mendocino. A couple of weeks after that, my high school buddy John and I took a long fishing weekend on the east slope of the High Sierra.
In late July, Linda and I took off on a three-week vacation. Twenty-nine years ago, companies still let you do that. We drove to Seattle, continued through British Columbia, stopped at Jasper, Banff, Waterton Lakes and Glacier National Parks. We had a blast.
The camper was a great open-road car as long as the wind wasn’t blowing too hard. On that first trip we got blown about as we drove across the prairie from Banff to Waterton, and again after we left Glacier and were headed south through the Salmon River Canyon in Idaho. Knuckles turned white, but nothing bad happened. Closer to home, I learned to dread early morning trips across the Carquinez Bridge north of Oakland, when the wind blew crosswise and the occasional gust would push the camper close to the edge.
For years, I took the camper, which, by then, we had lovingly named Heap, on fishing trips alone, with Linda or with a friend. With its high clearance and Porsche engine in the rear, it was great for steep dirt roads in the mountains. At the end of the day, there was plenty of room to throw a nine-foot fly rod in the back, drive it to the campsite and take the rod apart there. In an open space on a hot day, you could slide open the side door and get some shade by sitting partially inside.
A couple of years after our son, Nick, was born, we strapped him into his car seat and took him to Big Sur for his first camping trip. Other trips followed, to Big Sur and the mountains. It was a tight squeeze getting the three of us and all the equipment in, but once we arrived, it was worth it.
The last camping trip was in 2002, when we spent several days at Jackson Meadows reservoir north of Truckee. I suffered a herniated disk shortly afterward, and gradually my appetite abated for the physical labor of loading and unloading Heap and for setting it up.
Still we kept it. A few years ago, I took Nick out in it and gave him his first lessons in driving a stick shift. He took a picture of it with his cell phone and made it his wallpaper. When Linda’s mother went into a nursing home and we had to clean out her house to rent it, Heap did yeoman duty on multiple dump runs. But that was making a plow horse out of a thoroughbred.
I had no intention of selling it even so, but a few months ago, a younger fellow saw it while driving by our house and began making inquiries. Last week he called up unsolicited and made an extremely generous offer. More important than the money was the fact that he said he wanted to take his son camping in it, and that he could keep it garaged, which we couldn’t do, and would provide it with a good home. Sadly, I concluded that selling it to him would be the right thing to do.
He came by Wednesday afternoon, and it was over in a few minutes. I couldn’t bear to watch him drive it away because I felt that nearly thirty years of memories were going with it. A few hours later I realized that was wrong. As long as I’m sentient, I’ll always have the memories of the trips in Heap, and believe me, I’m damned grateful for them.