We are anchored at RV site #1 at Pine Mountain Lake Campground in Groveland, CA, the closest town (albeit 24 miles away) from Yosemite’s western gate. The sites at PML are terraced on a steep hilltop better suited for mountain goats, although there is 50 amp power and a water bib, should goats ever feel the need for air conditioning and a shower.
The pop-up caravan at site #2 has just packed up and pulled out, leaving us completely alone and feeling somewhat relieved. After being cramped for so long at so many “RV resorts”, it’s nice to enjoy the breathing room that comes from having space on both sides of our home, when more often than not, RV parks keep us closer to neighbors than a Grey Poupon commercial.
Yet, despite the constant flux of RV park populations, and the proximity of rigs from stall to stall, there is an unwritten code of ethics that’s very reassuring–where neighbors seem to respect the property of others that typically extends beyond the footprint of one’s camper. Unattended grills, bikes and lawn chairs are a large part of open-door living at campgrounds, and are seldom disturbed by others.
However, when left alone, the isolation can be disquieting and peculiar, leaving us to wonder what it’s like to be on our own.
After breaking camp by mid-morning, the enervating 100 miles of stop-and-go driving from June Lake, over the Tioga Pass, through a crowded Yosemite NP to our final destination at Pine Mountain Lake took up most of our day. Ordinarily, after setting up, a secluded mountain setting would invite us to open our windows for a crisp cross-breeze of fresh air, but Groveland had served up a helping of haze with a side a smoke, giving us little choice but to button-up the Airstream to protect us from the effects of fires in the forest.
Leah was first to bed, while I spent some time editing photos for the blog. I don’t know exactly what time I fell asleep in front of the computer, but I was startled awake at 11:30 pm by a knock on the door, followed by a weak plea for help.
Shaking off the groggy feeling, I turned up the lights and fumbled to unlock the door. Had I been more coherent, I probably would have ignored the distress call, and filed it under “too weird for worry”. But instead, I reacted otherwise.
“Are you in some kind of trouble?” I asked, cracking the door a few inches.
A disoriented rail of a woman with pulled-back hair and dressed in black spandex workout gear was standing by my door.
“I’m lost, and I need a ride home. Can you please drive me to my house?” she pleaded.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, growing increasingly suspicious of her request, and feeling angry that I may have put Leah and myself in jeopardy by answering the door.
“My husband and I had a disagreement and he dropped me here, and I have no way of getting home. I live on the mountain, but I don’t know where I am, so could you please drive me home?” she reiterated.
She didn’t appear upset–just confused, but so was I.
When Leah and I began preparations for our year-long adventure, a common question among friends and family was, “Are you taking a gun with you?”
My response was always the same: “Are you fucking crazy?” But now I’m not so sure.
“I’m not from around here, so I don’t know how to get you home,” I asserted. But what I was really thinking was: “You’ve got to be kidding if you think I’m leaving Leah behind, while you ambush me outside the Airstream or on the way to your home.”
“Then will you let me use your phone so I can call someone?” she suggested.
I anticipated the question. “I’ll be right back,” I announced, closing the door. I reached for the phone I recently replaced two weeks ago, switched on the exterior light, and re-opened the door to find her drinking from a large water bottle. I wondered what else she was hiding on the other side of my door.
“Since we don’t know each other,” I volunteered, “how ’bout I dial the police for you, and you can ask them directly for help?…”
She hesitated as I entered 9-1-1, “…Cause it sounds to me like this warrants a call to the police.”
“Sheriff’s office, what’s your emergency?” answered dispatch.
Switching the phone to speaker, I offered, “I’m calling from Pine Mountain Lake Campground in Groveland, CA. A woman has knocked on my camper door who claims that she’s lost and unable to find her way home. Are you able to help her?”
“Is she still there?” asked the dispatcher.
“She is, and she’s asked me to drive her to her house somewhere nearby,” I confessed.
The dispatcher took over. “Are you alright ma’am? Are you hurt in any way?”
The stranger responded, “I’m okay. I just don’t know where I am is all, and it’s dark, and I don’t know how I’m gonna get home.”
The dispatcher continued, “Can you tell me your name and where you live?”
“My name is Amber and I live at 20247 Longview St.,” claimed the knocker.
“Were you born in 1964?” asked the dispatcher.
“Yeah,” responded Amber.
“Well, this office is not a taxi service, Amber, but if you like, I can offer you the numbers of a few local cab companies who can get you home,” suggested the dispatcher. “Is that a good option for you?”
Amber, dazed, “Sure.”
To Amber, “Be right back.” I let the door slam behind me, and I scrambled for a pen. The dispatcher dictated phone numbers for three taxi services and signed off.
Getting back to Amber, “I’ve got three choices here. Which number would you like me to call?”
“I don’t have the money for a taxi. Can you just tell me the direction to the main road?” asked Amber.
“Ferretti Road is at the bottom of the hill. You can’t miss it,” I declared, and double-locked the door.
From the “bedroom” Leah called out, “What the hell was that all about?”
“I don’t even know where to start, but I hope she’s gone,” I asserted.
“Maybe we should bring in the bear spray from the truck as a precaution,” Leah recommended.
“Only if you get it,” I replied.
“Fuhgeddaboutit! I’m not stepping out there,” exclaimed Leah.
At Leah’s suggestion, I called Pine Mountain Lake Association security, who completed a sweep of the property, but came up empty. Their promise of an increased patrol through the night was reassuring, but the peculiar notion of ever enjoying peace and quiet as a solitary guest in a campground now seems highly overrated.