My stress level was at a boil. Days before Sasquatch, I still hadn't secured a camp site. I combed a 30-mile radius around the gorge: several places reminded me that it is, after all, Memorial Day weekend and they had been booked for 8 months. Not one to give up, I would call them weekly hoping I could catch a cancellation. Someone had to be dying, somewhere.
The penultimate week found me frantic, and there's no squeeze toy like a credit card. I was upping the ante on not having a place to camp by making erratic visits to sporting goods & retail outlets, charging more and more camping equipment that it was looking more and more likely I would not get to use. But it was to make me feel like I was effectively doing something while waiting for the universe to get me out of a stalled momentum.
On the last day before leaving, I had 2 leads. Riverside Camp Ground & Inn - who keep 5-10 spots unreserved (if you check in before noon, you'll pay for the previous day as well), and Getty's Cove - a whopping 150 first-come, first-serve unreserved sites that begin filling up at 8 a.m. Odds on the latter, even though I couldn't conceive getting there that early...however: I was already feeling queasy about the Cove.
Their website offered no phone number to call. Front Page HTML dating back to the 90's - when everybody's uncle decided to create their own web page. A site counter on their main page that was stuck at one. The only hint at the personality of the campground? A rambling run-on fragment: "HIKE,BIKE,SWIM,FISH,BOAT,SUN,SOCIALIZE,PIC-NIC,BBQ,RELAX,& Many Many Other Thing to Do." I asked my sister - an avid camper - what the place is like. "It gets a little loud, but it's a fun place". Sometimes I forget how different me and my Graham Cracker sister are. But I figure, everyone is going to be there for the same thing, right? 225 camp-sites, mostly people tired from 12 hours of music. It'll be fine.
When I pick up Jen on day one of the festival, all my stresses dissipate. None of this is bouncing around in my head anymore; it's happening and we are on our way. There is no more preparation one can do. I tell her our alternatives, and when we reach exit 136, the decision is concrete and we make a right turn.
The car ahead of us is turned away at the entrance. The young pimply staffer seems to sum us up and makes a quick decision that yes, there are sites still available. They are full, but we can find a spot somewhere. Warning sign number 2. But we are wayfaring travellers with limited options, and agree to the terms anyway. "No Refunds".
On finding somnambulistic security, our relief is brief. A crawl down a long gravel roud surveys dry ground and rampant youth. Young, impossibly young, nubile, chiselled and cut partygoers. Competing sound systems erupting from several quarters. An inflated, dense population. Camping tents are packed side to side and a few setups have spilled heavenward onto the bluffs and rises. And Jen is so polite, saying this reminds her of a rave she'd been to. This mitigates my discomfort, a bit.
We find a parking space and set up our tent. In retrospect, we were probably doing this on someone's site...but it appeared everyone was doing it. There were tents anywhere ten square feet of flat land invited one. We had a few hours, and walked about the grounds. We joked about being ten years older (at least!) than anyone else we saw...and we admitted to each other there ain't anything wrong with ogling when there was so much fit young flesh to feel up with your eyes. We were united in our mutual novelty (however, looking at the competition, I see images of bringing my bathing suit for a morning swim float away into the distance).
By the time we returned to our tent, a Ford F-150 had snuggled it's way onto the tight site. We applied makeup and popped in contacts as 8-Bit's Suck Ma Dick blared from its speakers and filled our temporary quarters. The classics. The grounds were ensconsed in towering rocky hills, and I pointed out some drunken climbers posturing at a jutting precipice. "I think there's going to be some casualties this weekend." Jen didn't seem to mind should this happen..."Could you imagine how Bree would have handled this?" "Oh, she would've hated this," I say.
We zip up the tent, and I have a brief thought about whether I'm leaving anything of value behind. And we get back on the gravel road. Jen points out a girl changing into her bikini top. I'm definitely piqued, but I'm also wondering why everyone else isn't heading out to the show...despite boats packed with drunken teenagers and rap music or hard rock hits of the seventies cranked from several quarters, I hold on to this belief that we are all here for the same thing: to exhaust ourselves at Sasquatch. I am so fucking wrong.
Through day one of Sasquatch, my denial takes root and my optimism grows. Jen's comments about a rave conjure an image in my mind: hundreds of people happily dancing or ambling about high on ecstasy, while I'm lulled asleep to the beration of techno music. I can deal with this; there's a comfort to it. I can really deal with this. When I get away from the gang at Sasquatch for a few minutes, I'm texting Marika:
Me: If I play my cards right, I might be committing statutory rape tonight.
Marika: I say, if there's grass on the field, play ball.
But this is the way of my denial. As the hopelessness of a situation climbs to a forbidding peak, my optimism increases to illogical levels.
Day one of Sasquatch wraps up with an incredible performance by R.E.M. We are soon on the road, and I'm fighting sleep as the headlights light a landscape lulling in its anonymity. I only want to sleep. Jen is quiet. I almost drive by the entrance to the Cove - I have to put the car into reverse to return to the entry - and then I'm awake. It is the adrenaline and fear, and what the car's beams reveal by light over the next several minutes...
We have to creep slowly down the gravel road: there are drunks in droves, walking backwards and joking with each other about how they'll get rundown. The general store and public showers are an octupus of inebriated, equilibrim challenged and vibrating, lines of people. And we make our way by, at two - at four - miles an hour. Once past the initial throng, some ashole takes to flashing a strobe ray light into my rear view mirror to destroy my vision and slow me down even more. It is personal and I can't do much about it: I just want to get past the people, the bonfires, the music...and get to the tent.
I slowly swerve around beer bottles; I rescind the driver-side car window to better enable a severely challenged sailing. Something breaks and shatters against the side of the car and I immediately close the window. There is wetness and I know nothing more. It had to be that fucker with the light, or his friend, or something. I have a clear path where the road widens and I do not find a parking space - I park off-center from the road where I'm not blocking anyone in. Because I'm polite like that. Jen and I disembark into a war zone.
There is no ecstasy: just drunk people. There is no rave: music is invading space from every quarter. There are hoots and hollers and Yeeeeaaaah's that rise above the music. And the ladies are suspiciously absent; the atmosphere is masculine and asanine. I see no point in pretense at being cool and wrap a light around my forehead designed for reading (for real: I had a notion that I would read a little of Hitchen's God Is Not Great as my pretend rave played lullabye); Jen and I get what we need from the trunk and make the long 100-yard walk to our tent.
The entry is unzipped and open, but this is no surprise. It doesn't look like anything was stolen; certainly someone would have taken my glasses and destroyed them if this were not a simple case of a drunk accidentally crawling into the wrong shelter. Just to be sure, I scan our sleeping bags for jizzum or the evidence of condom wrappers. We cannot be more urgent about slipping into our coccoons, something that defies explanation. The car, parked in some random (not-here) place, had to be a safer, more appealing option. But we were physically and mentally exhausted. We didn't have the energy to help ourselves. It was a little after midnight.
Since I forgot one, I grabbed a bunch of clothes for a makeshift pillow. We didn't wish each other goodnight; sleep was a goal that was outdistancing us amongst obstacles of shouted hollahs and shitty music. The next four hours were torture - because I did approach sleep! I would feel the soft touch of going under, and something would retrieve it. The onset of a snore, a racing chest, or a disturbance beyond the thin wall. I kept checking over at Jen; she seemed either to manage sleep or manage to keep her eyes tightly shut. I was imagining my car upturned in flames. I would hear spitting gravel in the distance, and resigned myself to a guessed-at fate: some monster truck was going to four-by through our tents. I was uncertain if I locked the car. Thinking this did not help at all.
Conversations cast shadows against our little tent's scrim: "Dude. This is not your tent." "Uhhh..." "What did I tell you? Go find your spot. You're in the wrong place". "Yeah, but..." "This is not your spot (raised voice). What do you want me to do?" The drunker of the two moved on and a fight was avoided. Or another: "Did you just piss on that tent?" "Uhhhh...why, did you see me?" "Fuckin-aye, man, that's sick." "But I had to go." "Yeah, but fuckin - piss in the ditch, man".
Of course, I thought it was our tent. Only by chance, it wasn't - small mercies. Speaking of small mercies, there were 2 rain showers that drifted into the cove during the small hours. The first was pleasant: the campground died down to an occasional shouted "Fuckin Rain"; the second drew a drunken chant of "no more rain" from a dozen people. Evilly audible. Still, the rain seemed to dampen the drunken energy for a few minutes at each stretch.
I was unused to seeing the morning sunlight before 5 a.m. I arose from my astrally-travelled state, not quite sleep - and emerged from the tent. I was concerned about leaving Jen there alone, even for a few minutes, and as I embarked on my walk I kept looking back at the tent. There were still forty-some people about, the hardcore and immunized, and I didn't want them invading our tent. I made my way to the car, where I verified all doors were locked and was surprised at how ineptly I parked it. It was very close to the middle of the path and begging abuse. I noted it was an exploded egg, not a beer bottle, that hit the car. I chanced on a HoneyBucket, which was unsurprisingly not-flowing over. As I quit it, I looked at the dried-up inland rivulet and counted the discarded beer bottles and half-rack cartons, and posted a theory about where all the human feces were really going.
I tried for sleep again and succeeded. I succeeded in spite of some ass aping an Indian chant to the morning sun. There was still music playing. There were still zombies about, and there was still ribaldry. But the checksee put me at some ease, and I slept for 2 hours.
By seven, Jen and I were both awake. We unceremonially set to taking down the tent even before vocalizing a decision that we wouldn't be staying here another night. I think we were both utterly defeated. We had travelled from having no reservation to having all the reservations in the world. The only path we could see was out of here - and any alternative sounded inviting at this point.
When we arrived at the Riverside Inn, they had - after checking - one campsite available. I was a limp rag hanging over their counter; the ending scene of Poltergeist playing through my mind. Even good news was absorbed numbly.
We set up site at this new ground. It was away from the water, and I wasn't going to be able to use my swimsuit again. We were a three minute walk from all the amenities we needed. But all the challenges in the world were removed from us, and we could concentrate on the complications a normal camper must face: how to go about brushing one's teeth? Do I want to make a trip to the bathroom now, or should I wait a few minutes? We could finally relax - our neighbors were gay to the right and yoga enthusiast to the left. We got a kick out of how cosmically cruel were the past ten hours.
Still, the Cove left it's mark. Following the next night's deep sleep (Jen dealt with my industrial snoring, trying to make me feel less conscious about it -"all boys snore!"), I had an urge to do 50 pushups - my fading competitiveness given an urgent boost by the hardbodies of Getty. But mostly, it was dreamy. Whatever noise sent us to sleep was nothing, nothing, compared to the chaos that sent us running like a pair of wayfaring travellers turned refugee. The penultimate RELAX of the Cove's script was finally found in a place where capital letters kick up their legs and retire.
That morning, a helicopter sped over the Columbia river towing a large rectangular box below it as I read through Haruki Murakami's After Dark. I turn to Jen: "Probably one of those cliff people from the Cove". She tells me that the same helicopter flew over the river the morning before, but I dismiss it. "I'm sure they're dying all the time, falling off that cliff. I wouldn't be surprised if they lost someone every day. Look, it's the perfect shape of a coffin." And I inwardly dreamt they were carting away the fucker that egged my car.
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