I stand at the counter. Wait as she heads into the back to pour coffee over ice. Scanning the bead store, that happens to sell coffee, I wish Kelsey was here. She’d certainly find treasured supplies among the packed tables and glittering racks.
The woman calls out, asks if I’m from around here. Learning that I’ve traveled from Oregon, she rushes back to the counter. My daughter’s in Portland, she might want to move there. Do you think she’ll be able to get a job?
Portland’s lovely, though I’ve never lived there. From what my friends tell me, it’s a great city with plenty of opportunities.
So you think the market’s good? That she’ll be able to get a job? She stares at me intensely, expectantly.
I hesitate. I certainly don’t want to be responsible for predicting her daughter’s future. Can just imagine this woman’s upset years from now if it doesn’t go well. Well, that gal traveling from Oregon said it was a good place, that there were plenty of jobs, she’d say with a disapproving head shake.
I dodge the question, respond noncommittally, I’m sure she’ll do great with whatever she pursues. If it’s alright with you I’m going to sit on the patio and work while I drink this.
Bead store closing unexpectedly early, I’m given the boot. Head off to find another office to finish up for the day.
Hoping to find something locally owned, I pull into a parking lot to reference the phone. Sensing someone next to me, I look up. Wave at the man on the motorcycle. You have a sec? he asks.
Sure. I kill the engine, take off my helmet, remove the ear plugs.
I’ve wanted to do this with my KLR but wasn’t sure if it’s a good idea.
Oh, really. What’s stopping?
Ignorance I guess.
I laugh, Well, that’s probably the same reason I decided to do it.
He laughs. Informs me that people call him Motorcycle Dave. Tells me where I can find a good mechanic if I need one, points out his wife’s business across the street. We talk about the journey, places he’s been, adventures on the horizon. I could stay and talk to you for hours, but I gotta get to work. He glances at his watch, Already late, probably gonna get in trouble. Stay safe out there.
Waving goodbye, I get ready to go. Look up as the door to my right opens. Six children and one man clad in white suits and colorful belts pile out. Ask if they can pet Baylor. Take turns telling me about their dogs, their cousins dog’s, the reasons they don’t have a dog. Heading back inside to finish karate class, they chatter excitedly about the dog in goggles, turn for one last look as we pull away.
Moon peeking through the clouds, I settle into the tent. Stack the backpack, jacket and blanket into an improvised backrest. Baylor circles. Lies down, pressing firmly against my side. Making sure to fully maximize his share of the tent space.
Podcast keeping me company, I move shapes around on the computer screen. Drain the battery on the final stages of a design project.
I jump as Baylor growls, barks, growls. Shushing him, I turn off the speaker to listen. Watch as shadows and lights play across the green walls of our tent home. It’s just a boat, I assure him shakily as the lights turn, circle back around.
I keep the speaker off. Try to read, but only distractedly scan the letters on the page. Keep an ear cocked for any and all sounds.
Noise of a car pulling into the dirt lot reaches the tent. Baylor lets out a low growl as doors slam shut. It’s okay, I say hanging the sheathed knife around my neck.
Logically, I know there’s no real reason to be freaked out. That there’s nothing about this dispersed forest camp spot that’s scarier than any of the other nights we’ve spent outside. Remind myself that we’ve done this before, that we’ve certainly slept in stranger places.
But that’s the thing about the heeby jeebies. Once you have them, they’re near impossible to shake. The only real cure is the rising sun.
Looking at my phone, I sigh. It’s only 9:30. Lying back, I try to slow my beating heart. Tense at every twig breaking. Startle at each bird squawking. Bear spray in hand, I roll to my left. Wrap my arms around a snoring Baylor. Accept that this is going to be a long and restless night.
139 days down. Many to come.