Two nights ago, I thought I had found the ultimate landing spot. I had read about the beauty of Cannon Beach, and decided to see it for myself. Upon arrival to town, I discovered a sweet residential street to pull over and park by one of the beach’s side entrances. As I walked over the dune, I gasped at the beauty of this incredible spot. The iconic Heystack rock was about a mile to my left and the expans of sand, lapping waves and unreal blues of the water took my breath away.
People were clumped in very small groups and couples. Socially distant, they walked along the shore, biked fat tire bikes and one kid wizzed by me on a one wheel. Empty in comparison to what it is probably like at the onset of summer, I enjoyed a leisurely walk along the shore. Mostly sand with a few rocks, there were carcasses of grody sand bugs, a few jellyfish and prehistoric looking kelp. Along the shore, I was able to find two beautiful pieces of sea glass that I pocketed along the way.
It was a misty raining sort of afternoon. Reminded me of early June days in the Hamptons when I was a kid. We’d go to the beach in sweatpants and hang on the shore because we could. I love the sticky mist on my face, and the cool winds that blow through my hair on days like today. With a hoodie on, I’m warm enough to enjoy the chilly breezes kicking up off surfers’ waves rolling consistently towards the shoreline.
It felt amazing to be out for a real walk on the shore. I kept my distance and said nothing to anyone but the chatter in my head that keeps me company these days. I arrived feeling distraught and defeated. I came to the beach for healing, to suck up the ionic bursts that expel from crashing waves and inhale sweet salty humid air of the sea evaporating into oxygen. Upon entering this incredibly place, I promised myself to be very present and be with the experience. It was Friday, work was done, the phone and my email could take a break.
With my sandals on, I walked in the chilly waters and let my feet sink into the salty pools. There was no one to interact with, so I tuned in attentively to my breath. It was a walking mediation, with many stops to take photos of what I was seeing.
After returning to my car, I washed my feet off with a hose hanging in the empty parking lot next to me. It felt strange to be using a stranger’s spigot, but I’ve grown accustomed looking for unattended spigots and outdoor electrical outlets the past few months. In this post pandemic time, us vehicle dwellers have become unwanted infiltrators. We have been forgotten by so many. It was our decision to morph into this lifestyle. I should reword that. Last year, when I sold everything and gave up brick and mortar living, it was a conscious choice. I did so, because there were enough creature comforts that I could obtain as needed out in the world. There were showers to purchase in rec centers after a nice swim in a pool. There were state parks open with potable water to get as needed. Nomads were seen as romantic beings, traveling and seeking transformation in the beauty of the world. Today, I know my affect on others, I make them very uncomfortable.
In the past few months of quarantine, I’ve received threats through social media, weird looks, and that stranger banging on my van and unplugging me from a city outlet by a tree mumbling loudly. On the day I found the epic Cannon Beach, another one of these aggressive interactions would rattle my sense of security and safety.
I decided to move the van to a different street for the night. A block over, there were spots next to a vacation rental that was locked up, and across from a closed hotel. In fact, the entire block appeared to be deserted. This seemed like a good place to land for the night and suck up the sounds of crashing waves while I sleep. the spot I was parked in was a legal overnight spot on a residential block. There was no signage of any kind saying that I could not park there. Seemed safe.
At 1am, the dog jumped up out of bed and began howling, there was a light coming around from the back and a loud rapping on the door. The loud banging started in the back and worked it’s way around to my side door. By this point, I kept into my front seat and readied myself to do the apology dance and move. Perhaps I missed a no overnight parking sign, or made a local uncomfortable on her street. These are things I try to be careful of. I guess I missed it on this night.
The policeman rapped furiously, and I called out, “I’m in the driver’s seat sir.” He came around the back and shined his light in my face. “I’m sorry if I am doing something wrong, I just wanted to watch the sunset and enjoy the waves. I must have dozed off.”
Sternly and loudly he said, “You know you are not allowed to camp here, I can give you a $250 ticket and it’s a misdemeanor with a $1250 fine.” He continued to yell, telling me I can be arrested and to give him my license. While I know that it’s my right to refuse, I succumb and give him my license. Instead of just letting me go, he had me in a holding pattern, lights on me, and the threat of being hauled away in play. It was dark, 1:00 am. My gas tank light was on, I was on empty. How is any of this safe for me? After more yelling and threats, he handed me back my license with “Get out of Cannon now, or I will arrest you. LEAVE TOWN RIGHT NOW!!”
Did I mention I was on empty, it was dark and I had no clue where I was? I looked on Google Maps for the nearest gas station out of town and drove there. It was really dark, and I drove slow, because I was nervous and my adrenaline was pumping hard. It isn’t the first time I’ve been woken from slumber and told to move, but it was the first time I was verbally threatened and triggered in fear that badly. The idea of getting a criminal record for trying to live peacefully on a side street seemed unfair.
I managed to find a spot in a town north next to an overgrown lot that was for sale. I parked behind another van that was a work van, and figured I’d blend til the morning.
When I woke up, it was raining hard, and I was still super tired from the abrupt interaction and the challenges I had falling back asleep. How is that protecting and serving? Waking someone up at 1:00 am and demanding they drive away in the dark, when we have nowhere to go. Parks, campgrounds, rest stops, hiking trails and other places I would have escaped to are all closed. In Northern Oregon, not only are they closed, but it was decided if you even visit any of those towns you can be arrested and given a hefty fine. We, the vehicle dwellers, were forgotten. We wanted to live on the fringe. I was enjoying the counter culture of it. But right now, I am not safe, and won’t be for a long time.
Last night, I used my iOverlander app to find a peaceful parking spot on the river in a town called Pacific City. As lovely as the spot was, I was soon met with neighbors of a different kind. Homeless people living in tents, and the guy next to me made me hugely uncomfortable in his beat up old rusted SUV. He got out at one point, cigarette in his mouth and chattering when I was walking the dog and tried to talk to me. I didn’t respond, and got back into my van and locked all the doors. In the light of day, this parking area was filled with trash, the beach had a makeshift fire pit area surrounded by trash, broken glass and rusty beat up lawn furniture. I realized I may have taken my neighbor’s usual spot when I pulled in. I usually feel really safe in my rig. Last night, I’m not sure I was.
What struck me was this overwhelming desire to want to give my neighbor in the parking lot an apple or something to eat. I wondered if my son was living that way, would I want someone to provide him with nourishment? It’s not my son. I don’t know his story. Would he mug me and rob me if I was out of the vehicle, exposed? Vulnerable? Right now, in BLM campgrounds around the country, #Vanlife dwellers are being mugged and looted. As badly as I don’t want to live in fear, my fear is palpable almost all of the time.
The journey that started with an opening to adventure, transformation and freedom, has morphed to a scramble for peace and survival. Every time I step out of my vehicle, there are risks of Covid 19 infection, crime, or unwarranted altercation. Smiling comes easily to me, and I smile even with my mask on to ensure I am no threat in any way.
It’s time to find a new place to stay in place. I have options. I could go to MN and stay with friends not too far outside of the city. I could go to Maine, Colorado, Upstate NY and stay with good friends who will take extra good care of me. When I close my eyes and imagine where I want to be the most, I see a face not a place. I want to be with my son. I envy parents spending quality time with their teens right now. Bonding together at home in the threat of this pandemic crisis must be something special. My ex husband has ensured and secured his place in that and found a way to legally keep me away. It sucks. There is no court open, no judge to hear me or place to file a complaint. The courthouses in Anoka County are closed. Last week I found out I now have to wait until the end of June to be heard. Now my ex can continue to triangulate and angle my child to his will. It’s disgusting. And my son misses having two parents in the end of his senior year.
It’s time to head further south. I want to catch another sunset on the Pacific and walk along a shoreline open to the public. Just 30 miles south of me, there’s a green open dot on a beach park. That’s where I’m headed.