It was the summer of 2012 and I had just gotten over a case of walking pneumonia. As the three-week regimen of antibiotics neared its end, my girlfriend and I departed on our cross-country trip to Oakland, California over the objections of my mom (“you’re still sick, honey”), my dad (“the car will never make it”), and her ballet teachers (“do you know what two weeks of break will do to your form?”). The first stop was Tanya’s childhood home in Vermont, where we picked up a tent — unused for years — and two tattered sleeping bags. As we set up the tent that first night I finally disclosed that I had never been camping before, but I said I would follow instructions and we set off with confidence. The car was a 2000 Subaru Outback that my brother had learned to drive on before handing it over to me for my teenage experiments.
I’d blown the bass when I was seventeen so our listening choices were limited — Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and few others made the cut. Our plan was to camp every night, but we made it to Buffalo the first night and decided it was too dark. We stayed in a motel. Day two, we got lost and ended up outside Elkhart, Indiana, with no campgrounds desired or apparent. It was day three that Tanya started coughing and getting headaches. On day four we found ourselves at an emergency medical clinic outside Janesville, Wisconsin. It appeared she had caught my pneumonia. I drove while she took pills and slept. On day seven, we were insistent that we would finally camp. We had all this gear — sickness or no, we were going to experience the joy of the outdoors. So up Wyoming’s Big Horn mountains we went. The Subaru had other plans, though.
It refused to pass 25 miles per hour, groaning the whole way. Cars honked to pass. I’d try to pull over to a non-existent shoulder along the winding mountain roads. It was 10 p.m. by the time we got to our campsite and there was no motel for dozens of miles, So, Tanya, still pneumatic, and I, simply incompetent, attempted our camping adventure. We couldn’t start a fire until we lit a tin of emergency cooking oil on fire with a lighter. The can opener was broken, so we sawed open a can of beans with a knife and tried to avoid eating the shards of floating tin. We got the tent set up under the lights of the untrustworthy Subaru. We shivered through the night, unprepared for the mountainous cold.
The next morning, we got in the car and, while eating eggs at a diner an hour later, we agreed that we’d stick to motels until we got to California.