May 29, 2019 – Joemma State Park – Gig Harbor, WA
Recovering from major surgery is trying, even under normal circumstances. When you’re living in a tent, and the stars line up against you, it’s next to impossible. We’d planned on being in one place so that Brent could recuperate, but things didn’t work out that way.
Day 1 (Thursday) – The Surgery
We set off for the clinic at 8:00 am—he’d never admit it, but I could tell Brent was nervous by the cloud of silence hanging over us in the car. I thought we’d be out of there before midday since his rotator cuff surgery was scheduled to take no more than two hours, but with prep time and recovery, we didn’t leave until after 3:00 pm.
Brent was surprisingly lucid considering he was only two hours out of surgery. Everything had gone smoothly with one exception. “They told me I had an irregular heartbeat when I was under—wanted me to stay overnight, but there’s no way I’m staying.” His heartbeat was normal now, but I was concerned, nonetheless. “Maybe it has something to do with your sleep apnea.” I wanted to believe that was the case, but who knows? I’d expected to see his shoulder and upper arm encased in plaster; instead it was supported by a cushioned sling and straps which passed over the opposite shoulder and around his waist. Damn, I thought to myself. This is going to make things tricky. With so much freedom of movement, how do I stop him from using his left arm?
The last thing we’d planned on doing was changing campsites the next day, but we had no choice. We decided on Saltwater State Park which was a short distance away. According to a friend, there were primitive sites available for $12 a night on a first-come first-served basis.
Day 2 (Friday) – On the Move
Brent had packed most of our stuff in the trailer the night before his surgery, though he still needed to hitch and unhitch the trailer. There was no avoiding that chore, the hitch was way too heavy for me to manage. We rolled into Saltwater State Park around 2:00 pm, the earliest time we could check in, only to find out that there were a meager 22 sites available and they were reservation-only. It was a beautiful spot to camp, with only one drawback—the sites lay directly under the flight path of Seatac Airport. Never mind, we’d only be there for a few days, we thought.
The young woman at the ranger station greeted us with a big smile. “Do you have a campsite available for 3 days?”, I asked hopefully.
“We only have two open right now. Drive around, pick out the one you want and let me know. You can only pay for one night, though. For the other two you’ll have to call the park reservation line.” We picked out number 10, unhitched the trailer, then called to reserve the remaining days. “Sorry, but the site is taken on Saturday and Sunday,” he replied.
I could see Brent was already tired, but he pulled himself together. “It doesn’t make sense to stay here for one night, then leave. Let’s drive up to Joemma.” Joemma Beach State Park didn’t accept reservations and wasn’t even on the official list of State Parks, so we figured they’d have room for us, but we figured wrong. After the 90-minute drive, we pulled up to a big sign that read “campsite full”, and my heart sank. “Ok, let’s try Penrose Point. They’ve got over 80 campsites—they should have something available.” Ten minutes later we pulled up to the ranger station. I’d never seen the place so full, teeming with vacationers, kids riding bikes, trailers and tents. I expected the words before I heard them, “Sorry, but everything’s full through the weekend.”
We were both at the point of exhaustion and I felt homeless in a way I’d never felt before. We literally had no place to go. I wanted to fold down into my seat and cry, but I couldn’t. I knew that Brent felt worse than I did, and I had to stay strong. “Let’s go to Walmart,” he said. What the hell was he talking about? We need a place to sleep and he wants to go shopping at Walmart?
If you’ve ever passed through the parking lot of a Walmart Superstore at dusk, you may have noticed lots of cars parked in the remote lot over to the side of the store. On any given evening, I’d estimate that up to 80% of those cars are there for the night. Blankets covering car windows were a sure sign that nobody was in Walmart doing their shopping that night. A few RV’s and several trailers had pulled over on the outer edge of the lot. While Walmart doesn’t invite homeless folks to spend the night in their parking lot, they won’t kick you out either. They’re open 24-hours a day, which means there’s always a bathroom available. Despite the ever-present lights in the lot, I slept soundly that night. At least we wouldn’t have to unhitch the trailer—less work for Brent.
Day 3 (Saturday) – The Call of the Wilderness:
By Monday, Memorial Day visitors would begin to trickle home, but we had no desire to spend the next two days sleeping outside Walmart. I noticed Brent was engrossed in his phone, a rarity for him. “I just downloaded this app. It shows all the places you can camp for free.” He pointed to some dots on the screen that were clustered together. “There’s some spots over here near the Olympic National Forest where you can pull over for the night. I bet they’re really pretty.”
We pulled out of the Walmart parking area around noon, heading up the coast along the Hood Canal, an area I’d never explored before. Under normal circumstances I would have been excited, but Brent had already been using his shoulder more than he should have and I was worried he’d reverse all that had been mended. Following a two-hour drive, I pulled off the main highway onto a dirt road, SR #24. The gravel road was in decent shape, but we hit several large (unavoidable) potholes which no doubt aggravated the pain Brent was feeling.
We made it to a dead-end pullout late in the afternoon. The view was magnificent—rolling, forested hills surrounded the winding Hood Canal below. The site itself was barren. It had been stripped of trees who knows when and, except for the birds, wildlife was non-existent, but we agreed it was a nice place to spend a night or two.
“We should turn the trailer around, so we’re ready to leave when we want.” Brent was already trying to figure out how he’d accomplish this feat. There wasn’t a lot of turnaround space. His first idea was to unhitch the trailer and pull it around by hand, but he couldn’t manage to unhitch it and I didn’t want him to hurt his shoulder even more. What we didn’t realize at the time was that he’d forgotten to remove the pin from the hitch, so of course it wouldn’t release. Otherwise, we’d never have attempted what we ended up doing—backing it up with the truck and reversing it.
Brent carefully cased out the dead-end road where we’d parked. There was a substantial graveled area, but only a small part of it was level. The remainder sloped slightly downwards toward the vista below. Slowly and carefully he pushed the trailer back with the truck, trying to free up enough space to turn it around. At a certain point, the gravel thinned and the truck, with trailer attached, began to slip sideways. Brent stopped and got out to free up the trailer, which by now sat above the truck—he figured he’d have a better chanced of getting the truck out without the extra load to pull. But the truck was sitting on a pile of bark and loose soil. The more he accelerated, the further down it slipped. We were really stuck now. We were both exhausted. Tired and cranky, we went to bed early, sleeping in the back of the sideways-facing truck. Brent had jacked it up a bit so it wouldn’t be quite so slanted, but we rolled into each other nonetheless.
Day 4 (Sunday) – More Bumps in the Road:
I should have been enjoying the incredible view that morning, but all I could think about was how we were going to get out of this predicament. We didn’t have much water, though we were in no danger of dying of thirst—it was less than a two-mile walk to civilization. “I think we can get the truck out”, Brent said, as I tried to figure out how he would accomplish this miraculous feat with one good arm. “We just need to build a road.” It sounded impossible, but Brent isn’t one to give up. We could have called a tow truck, but it was the worst possible time to get help, Memorial Day weekend, and neither of us wanted to sleep sideways on a hill for two days.
That day I scooped up I don’t know how many buckets of gravel while Brent shoveled out piles of loose bark around the tires with his good hand, trying to level things out and get down to solid soil. He jacked up the rear tires, placed gravel underneath, then put more gravel in front of and behind all the tires.
Dusk had already crept in as Brent got into the truck and made his first attempt to get it out. Betsy (our truck has a name) rocked and rolled and her tires gripped for a bit, long enough to swivel the vehicle around 90 degrees. Her tires dug themselves into a rut and it was obvious she was done for the night. At least she was now facing forwards. We crawled, exhausted into the back of the truck. This time we were slipping downwards as we slept—by morning our blankets were halfway out on the ground.
Day 5 (Monday) – Freedom (at a Price):
I woke up at 5:00 on Monday to a gorgeous sunrise and paused long enough to take some photos. I wanted to get back under the covers, but there was too much on my mind, so I brewed up some coffee and waited for Brent to wake up. Our conversation by now was pretty much limited to the task at hand. We were both too exhausted for small talk and Brent had run out of weed, which had played a big part in alleviating his pain (aspirin wasn’t doing it and they’d given him only a few pain pills).
We returned to the task of digging, gathering gravel, and distributing it around the tires. My hands were sore, my back was sore, but I couldn’t stop now. The truck was almost out, and so was our water. After about six loads, we decided to make another stab at getting Betsy unstuck. Brent got in and I held my breath. She rocked and rolled, then the tires skidded like hell, creating a ditch. Just when I was sure she’d lose it again, she grabbed the embankment one last time and managed to free herself from the rut she was in. Slowly, surely, she inched up the hill, finally getting to the top. We’d done it!
We loaded up the trailer and hitched it to the truck. I got into the driver’s seat and headed down the dirt road, feeling like every ounce of energy had been sucked from my body. I could only imagine what Brent was feeling, but at least we were free. We had something to look forward to and, best of all, there’d finally be available campsites.
Brent noticed my yawns. “Don’t worry. Once we get there you can take a nap.” I headed up the hill towards the T-junction and about halfway up I felt the truck slow down. Instinctively, I reached for the gear shift to shift it down, then realized there was no “down.” I was already in first gear. I sat there helplessly as we slowed to a crawl, then stopped. Brent wasn’t happy. “You should have given it more speed”, he chastised me. Yep, I should have, I thought to myself, but it would’ve been nice if you’d told me that a couple of minutes ago before we got to the hill.
“Let me drive.” Brent got into the driver’s seat and tried to back up, but the trailer wouldn’t cooperate. It was teetering on the edge of a ditch, so he turned off the engine. “We’re done,” he said, and I knew we were in trouble. At that point we had two options. We could drive into town and look for someone with a big truck who could tow us up the hill, or we could unload the trailer, drive it up the hill, then carry all the stuff up and reload the trailer. We opted for the former—we were both exhausted. We drove back to civilization, but couldn’t find anyone to help us, so we turned around and headed back to the stranded trailer, resigned to spending another night on the ridge. We parked and Brent fell asleep in the driver’s seat.
Tuesday the 28th, was Brent’s birthday, and I’d be damned if he’d wake up to a stuck trailer. I needed to do something. A quarter mile down the road was a makeshift shooting range and we’d passed 3 guys who’d opted to spend Memorial Day target shooting. “Excuse me.” I shouted as loud as I could, hoping to get their attention through the earplugs they were wearing. “Do you think you could help us out for a bit. We’re stuck down there where the road turns and we need some help getting our trailer out. My boyfriend just had surgery and we can’t do it by ourselves.” They agreed to help, though they’d driven for miles to find a place to shoot and I could see they weren’t happy about the idea.
We unloaded the trailer together and they helped Brent hitch it up and get it to the top of the hill. Then they left. I hate to criticize anyone who has offered to help, but in this case I will. They had a car and they could have easily driven all the unloaded stuff back up the hill to the trailer, but they wanted to get back to their target shooting so we did it alone. Little by little I dragged the stuff up the hill and Brent loaded the trailer. Something that could have taken 15 minutes with a car ended up taking an hour and a half.
Finally, we were on the road! Brent passed out in the passenger seat and I got us to Joemma Beach State Park which by now was almost empty. After two nights of sound sleep, I’m starting to regain my energy. Brent is smiling again and, despite his shoulder, is happily working on staining the wood siding of the trailer. I can’t wait to hear the story he concocts for the doctor at his upcoming his Post-Op visit. “Yep. I took it easy—put ice packs on my shoulder, didn’t use it, kept it clean.”