a lighthearted camping story about love and adventure
"And these trees that you see on your left, have been there for two hundred years. Arborists can tell how old a tree is by the number of rings on its trunk. The ones you see now are definitely more than hundred years old, based on my experience in studying Sequoias,” explained the guide. Her name was Claire, and she was a middle aged woman. I listened intently at her.
I was at the Sequoia National Park where a group of nature enthusiasts like myself walked around the park and learned new facts about the Sequoia trees. The brown color and prickly texture of the bark made these trees unique. Wildfires unfortunately destroyed these trees and made it harder for wildlife enthusiasts like myself to see the marvels of these trees.
As Claire, went on to explain more, I looked around.
I then saw a man at the back of our group. He was looking at the plants on the other side of the trees. I wondered what fascinated him so much about them. He had on a jacket and hiking pants, along with a backpack.
When he turned around briefly, as if to see if our group was still there, I almost froze. He was so good looking. Almost like a model. He had a beard, brown hair and blue eyes.
I felt like a part of me just escaped and my heart just came out from first glance at him.
Was he a part of our tour group? I hadn’t seen him before. I was so engrossed in the trees and the guide’s explanations that I didn’t care to observe the people in my group. The group was made up of college students, families and couples. The man I saw seemed out of place. He was around thirty-five. But he sure was a sight for sore eyes.
I looked away from him and focused on what the guide was saying about what happens during the winter time…“the trees stay the same but they surely aren’t as appreciated.”
Were we supposed to feel bad? This guide was making us feel like we had an obligation to appreciate trees year long.
I turned around again. I jumped. The man was right behind me. This time, he caught my gaze. He smiled at me. I smiled back, then quickly turned my head.
That was embarrassing, I thought.
We continued walking until we reached a clearing where some log stumps were. Some sat on them while others remained standing.
“At this point of the tour, I encourage you all to talk with one another, even if you don’t know each other. Introduce yourself. I heard earlier that a few of you are wildlife photographers,” Claire said.
Everyone looked around unsure. I didn’t like this. This wasn’t an ice breaker for a college orientation event, this was a nature tour. Why did we have to introduce ourselves to random people whom we’d never see again?
Oh well, this would be a good chance to introduce myself to the handsome man. I was about to do so when I saw he was not next to me like before. He was a few feet from me, talking with the college students, two of which who were female. They all were engrossed in conversation. Darn.
“Hey.” Someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned. A man dressed like Bob the Builder minus the hat smiled at me. “I’m Darryl Enton. I’m a wildlife photographer for an imprint company of National Geographic. What’s your name? I noticed you have a camera around your neck.”
I did have my canon camera strapped around my neck. I grabbed it gently. “Yep, you’re right. I am a photographer as well. I work for an indie magazine where I shoot nature photos. I’m Clarissa Fitz.”
“Clarissa, nice to meet you.” He extended his hand. I shook it.
He then popcorned over to someone else.
I enjoyed that mini interaction, but I hated everything else about going around, telling strangers about myself, that too in the middle of the Sequoia National Park.
I then realized I was the only one not talking to anyone. So I fiddled with my camera and decided to take some shots of everyone talking. I got Darryl, who was talking to a couple. Then I shifted the lens to the handsome man. He had now finished talking with the college students and was standing alone, also fiddling with his camera. I lowered the lens and smiled to myself. I took this as an opportunity to walk up to him.
“Hi,” I said.
He looked up. “Hi.”
“Photographer too?” I said, cheerily.
“Yep. I’m a professional photographer for the New York Times. I’m doing a nature piece on the parks of the U.S and am planning to write about this one.”
“Wow, neat. I didn’t think I’d be meeting so many photographers like myself here.”
He grinned. “I bet you’re excited about being here then, huh?”
“I am. The magazine I work for will be happy to know that I am not alone in my interest in getting scenic nature shots.”
The man gave me a quizzical look. “Yeah…I bet. It’s very nice to meet you. I—” He looked like he was going to say something, but decide not to. He then put out his hand. “I’m John Evans.”
“Clarissa. Clarissa Fitz.” I shook his hand. He had a firm grip.
“You’ve come here alone?” he asked, after a few seconds.
“Yeah. I live in Santa Cruz, so it was a half day trip by car to get here.”
“Lucky you. I had to get a plane all the way from New York City, just to get here.”
I tsked. “That must be a lot of stress to come all the way here and then go back again.”
“Yeah, but I plan to take a train back. I don’t do well in airborne travel.”
I was curious now. “You scared of flying?”
“No…I just don’t like traveling by plane. The whole process of checking in, taking off shoes, waiting in line, blah, blah. And I never know if TSA will damage my camera and equipment, because it’s happened before.”
“Oh my! That’s a photographer’s worst nightmare! I can relate. I almost broke this camera that I have now due to negligence from the TSA people who were less than willing to own up to their mistakes. It was a month ago, I was flying to L.A—”
I stopped when I realized John’s attention was now fixated on Claire, who was ushering us over.
“I’m glad you all had a chance to talk. Now let’s continue on. We will reach the end of the trail in an hour. From there, the tour is over. By the time the tour is over, it should be nearing dark.
She then looked at everyone and pointed at a select few. “I see some of you have hiking backpacks, which means you have packed sleeping bags and are prepared to be camping out here for the night. For those of you who didn’t bring overnight gear, who are you? Just kidding. But seriously, if you don’t have a tent or sleeping equipment I suggest you cut this tour short now and head back to the parking lot.”
Some people murmured a this. “But we want to finish the tour,” protested one of the college students, who hadn’t brought a tent.
“I know, but for the safety of our tours, as per company policy, it would be best if you turned back now so you don’t risk walking back at night.”
The people who hadn’t brought any sleeping bags, tents or gear, walked away. This included the college students’ group, the couple and two others. Claire then turned to the rest of us. All who remained was me, Darryl, John, two men, a woman and two pairs of husband-wife couples.
“I see that you all have stayed back, which means you have brought camping gear,” Claire said.
I gulped. I had only brought clothes, and a blanket and toiletries, just in case, but no sleeping bag or tent. I quickly told Claire this. She asked if I wished to go back; I said no. I wanted to stay some more time here.
She then turned to everyone. “Tell me, who in the group has come here alone, meaning they are a party of 1? Raise your hands.”
I raised my hands, as did John, Darryl and three others.
“I see. Who out of you have brought a tent?”
Darryl and one other person, a man, were the only one who raised their hands.
“Darryl, how big is your tent that your brought?”
“It’s big enough to fit two or three people.”
“And you?” she turned to the other man, whose name was Tyler.
“It can fit three people as well. I brought my jumbo tent just in case,” Tyler said.
“Hmmm…” Claire seemed to be thinking something. It appeared that she wanted all of us to do the whole tour including the overnight stay, but not all of us party of 1 folks had brought tents. I certainly didn’t, as I assumed this would be a day tour.
Claire began: “Darryl, would you be willing to share your tent with John here and... what’s your name, young lady?” She directed this question at me.
“And Clarissa. This way you three can be a team, and the other three—” She pointed to Tyler and the other party of 1 people (a man and one woman)— “can be another team.”
I didn’t know what to think about this. Sharing a tent with two men whom I didn’t know well? I didn’t like this set up. I immediately eyed the other woman who was supposedly here alone too, just to see if she seemed alright enough to bunk with.
But by the looks of her, I was better off with John and Darryl. She had a gothic appearance, with nose and brow piercings and scary dark eyeliner. Her hair was dyed half black and half pink. I wasn’t against creative appearances, but if I was camping in the middle of the woods and had to choose who I would bunk with, I’d definitely chose the two people whom I’ve already interacted with.
I brushed the thought out of my head. I couldn’t say anything to protest staying here overnight, but I guessed everyone camping overnight in the Sequoia National Park was part of the tour experience.
We took another break, this time a supper/early dinner break at around 6 pm. We dared not eat at night where bears and other creatures could smell our food from miles away.
Once we finished eating, we separated into our tent groups. Darryl and John were working on setting up the tent, while Claire had a meeting with the women of the group—me, the gothic woman, and two husband-wife couples. Claire had given us whistles, just in case something happened. A whistle would alert the local patrol officers who would be patrolling the park at night.
After the meeting, I entered the tent, which was nicely contracted. It was spacious, and sturdy. A small lamp stood in the corner and was lit. The inside was a bit chilly, but it didn’t matter. I packed some extra scarves, mittens and jackets in my bag, just in case of this. John was unfolding his sleeping bag in the center, while Darryl was unpacking some essential food items.
I explained what was said in the meeting. I showed Darryl and John the whistle. “This is if I’m in danger…” I added as a cautionary warning, eyeing then both.
John put his hands up. “Don’t think of me like that, Clarissa, I’m much to respectful to play games in the wild,” he said.
I stared at him. “Good. That’s the word of a gentlemen.”
I then went through my backpack. I realized that the blanket I packed was not big enough. Talk about being unprepared.
“Guys?” I asked. Both looked up.
“Do you have a spare sleeping bag?”
They both gave each other a look. “No, I’m afraid not. Why?” Darryl asked.
“I didn’t bring one. I just brought a blanket, which will not last me long in this cold.” I was being honest with them because I felt like I had to. I wasn’t about to switch tents just because they didn’t have a spare sleeping bag. “What about you, John?”
“I’m afraid not, either,” he said, sadly. “Why don’t you take my sleeping bag? I can make do with my blanket I brought. It’s big and cozy.” To prove this, he pulled out his blanket from his bag, which was huge, like he said. But I knew it would not prevent the cold from seeping in. I didn’t want him to get hypothermia.
“No, no, it’s alright. I can manage,” I said.
John seemed alarmed at this. “I don’t want you freezing to death by tomorrow. It gets cold at night, as you can already tell.” He was right. It was chilly now and the air smelled more and more like the night sky and damp earth.
“So what do I do?” I asked, looking at the two men.
Darryl pursed his lips. “Why don’t you take turns using John’s sleeping bag for the night? One hour you have it, the next hour John has it…”
I laughed, even though the issue at hand was serious, a matter of lasting the night. But I guessed the absurdity of Darryl’s suggestion made my mood lighten briefly. “At that rate, we won’t be getting any sleep.”
John smiled at this. “She’s right. We can’t be doing sleeping bag swap-a-roo every hour.”
We all paused, trying to think of an idea.
Darryl suddenly got up. “I got an idea. What if you both shared John’s sleeping bag together? It’s just for a night, and you both won’t freeze. If anything you’ll be accumulating more heat. I’d be happy to offer my bag, but—,” he pointed at his finger, which had a silver ring on it, “—I’m married. I don’t think my wife would be happy to hear I shared a sleeping bag with another—”
“Alright, we get the point,” John interjected. “So you’re saying I share my bag with her?”
I stared at the two of them. Share a bag with John? Was the bag even big enough? Would I be safe? I mulled over these possibilities. John better not be married either.
I was about to ask when someone knocked on the outside of our tent. It sounded like a raspy unzipping sound. We jumped. We could see a shadowy figure outside. Darryl slowly unzipped the tent. To his relief it was only Claire. We could see her tent was stationed near ours.
“How’s it going, guys? All good?” she asked.
“Yep,” Darryl said, giving a thumbs up.
“Oh, Claire?” I asked.
“I didn’t bring a sleeping bag as I said earlier. We were wondering what to do.”
John jumped in. “Darryl suggested I share my bag with her, but I feel like she’s hesitant.”
He could sense I was hesitant? Well, I’m glad he did, because this proves that he would value my boundaries. I wasn’t the type to get into one sleeping bag after meeting them for the first time.
Claire didn’t seem to know what to do now. She told us to sort it out ourselves, not even offering me to stay in her tent. She exited the tent. I wondered what the point of checking in on us was. She didn’t seem to have a solution to my sleeping bag problem.
I looked at John. “I guess I have no other choice then. I hope your bag is big enough.”
“It’s big enough alright. I packed an extra-large one.”
“You knew you’d be camping out here for the night?”
“No…I just like to be safe than sorry.”
I walked over to his bag and looked at it in detail. It was green in color and covered almost the entire middle section of the tent. I then gave John a quizzical look. “You’re not married either, are you?”
He seemed taken aback by this question. “Why no, I’m not,” he said.
“No girlfriend either?”
“No. What about you? Do you have a boyfriend that we should be worried bout?”
I scoffed. “If I did, I wouldn’t even be here. I’d be with him right now in our own tent.”
Darryl raised his brows as he sensed the tension. He got into his bag and turned the other side, as if pretending to sleep.
“I see…” John said, with a smile. He got into the sleeping bag. “Hop in,” he instructed.
I got in besides him, the whistle around my neck still. The sleeping bag was just the right width that we both fit in perfectly. My arms, however were forced to remain at my side like a soldier, as I couldn’t move it freely.
“Comfy?” he asked looking at me. I nodded quickly then looked away. I could barely look at his face. He was mere centimeters away from mine. I wasn’t in the mood to say more. I shifted my head and body to the left.
“Goodnight you two, don’t have too much fun,” Darryl called out. I felt like he was having fun, teasing us. Well, I didn’t know if John was feeling uneasy, but I knew he wouldn’t be feeling as comfy as Darryl would.
It was at this point I wished I was married or something, so I didn’t have to deal with a situation like this ever.
In the middle of the night, I heard some noises outside the tent. I slowly sat up without disturbing John, who was sound asleep. The voices were pretty loud. I could hear someone giggling, as well as the sound of a match being lit. I got out of the sleeping bag and inched towards the entrance of the tent. I unzipped the entryway flap slightly. What I saw caused a shock.
It was Tyler, the goth girl and another man sitting on the grass, chatting. The goth girl was smoking. Tyler then got up and stomped what looked like a cigarette. What were they doing? This was so bad for the nature and the air. I couldn’t stand people who smoked. As I watched in disgust, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I almost screamed, but managed to hold on to the tent as I turned around swiftly. It was John. He looked at me, concerned. From the distant moonlight that radiated from outside the tent, I could see that his hair was tussled.
“What?” I asked him.
“Why are you up?” he asked. His face was near my shoulder.
“I heard some voices. And then I saw something.”
“Here, look.” I opened the flap of the tent and showed him what I had seen.
“Why are they smoking?” John asked, disgusted.
“My thoughts exactly.”
“Should we say something?”
“Like what? It’s not our place to say anything.”
“If they burn down this entire park, I’m not going to burn along with it. I say we say something,” he insisted.
“I think Claire should be the one to advise them, not us,” I warned.
John shrugged. “Okay. Whatever. I’m going to sleep. You should sleep too.”
I stared at the group outside one last time, then joined John.
I closed my eyes.
By the time I woke up, it was morning time. I could see the faint light of sunrise on the top of the tent. I saw Darryl in front of me. He was awake, brushing his hair with a comb. I then looked to my right. John was still asleep. What time was it? I wondered.
“Good morning,” Darryl said, noticing me.
“Morning,” I said, hiding my face. I knew I looked terrible in the morning. I got out of the sleeping bag and reached for a brush and mirror from my bag.
“Had a fun time sleeping?”
“I bet it was nice and warm for you. Especially with double the heat.”
I stopped midway thought looking in the mirror. “Look, Darryl. I didn’t ask to sleep with him in the same bag, it was your idea. What’s the deal with all your teasing?”
Darryl seemed surprised of my annoyance. “I guess you’re not a morning person, huh? I was just joking around. But seriously, I’m surprised you were able to sleep. I was tossing and turning. I kept hearing voices outside the tent.”
“You heard them too?” I asked.
“Yeah…you did too?”
“I saw them also.”
“Who was it?”
I explained what I saw yesterday.
Darryl frowned. “That’s not good at all. You should have said something. I would have, if I saw them doing that.”
“I don’t think they’re wildlife enthusiasts at all,” I said.
“What do you think they are?”
“I think they’re just tourists or people who signed up for this tour like that. They have no interest in nature. I wonder why they’re here at all.”
“Just to have fun at night, I bet,” he said, shaking his head.
I looked up. “I’m glad I decided not to stay with them. I was debating on whether to stick with the goth looking girl, because at first I didn’t trust the idea of staying in a tent alone with two men. But after seeing what I saw last night, I’m glad I stayed here.”
Darryl smiled. “I’m glad too. You sure are great company.”
At this point, John woke up. He checked his watch. It read 7:30. “Good morning you two.”
I turned. “Good morning,” I said, smiling at him.
He flashed a killer smile. We stared at each other for longer than necessary, even though I felt like I looked terrible.
“Top of the morning to you sir,” Darryl said, interrupting our brief moment.
“What’s the plan for today?” he asked.
“How about we start with breakfast?” Darryl suggested.
“What’s for breakfast?” I asked.
“Berries, leaves, whatever nature can provide for us,” Darryl said, as if he were a walking encyclopedia.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” A still sleepy John proceeded to grab his toiletries and go out of the tent.
I grabbed my toothbrush and followed him out. We reached an area away from the tents where we could brush our teeth properly. There were no bathrooms or sinks close by, so we had to resort to doing things the free-spirited way.
After finishing, we returned back where we saw Claire, Tyler, goth girl and the others outside. Claire called for a morning meeting. Darryl joined seconds later.
“I’m glad you all enjoyed the night here. I know you all will use this experience to change your lives for the better. As for you photographers, I recommend getting pictures of trees in a bit, as the lighting is just perfect. You can see the sunlight touch the top of the sequoia trees. As for food, if you’ve packed some grub, then good for you. Otherwise, there’s nothing much to eat out in the wild.”
We spent a few minutes, taking marvelous photos of the trees and wilderness.
Then we went back into our tents to pack up. I wondered if we should have said something about the smoking incident to Claire. But I didn’t want to be a tattletale.
Neither did Darryl or John.
We all walked back to the parking lot. I hugged both Darryl and John. “It was great meeting you two and spending the night in a tent.”
“I enjoyed that a lot,” said John, grinning.
“Hopefully I see you again the near future,” Darryl said. “I’d be happy to have you over to our house, which is in L.A. Here’s my number.” We exchanged numbers.
“I’m in Santa Cruz, so it’s not that far. I can come visit anytime.”
“I don’t think you’d be able to visit me,” John interjected. “I’m all the way across the U.S.”
“I’ll have to travel to New York in the future then,” I said. I felt sad that I’d never see these two again. Especially John. He had been a gentleman last night, acting with class despite us sleeping in the same sleeping bag together. I respected him for that reason. I don’t think I would come across a man like that anytime soon.
John proceeded to call an Uber to take him to his hotel room. His hotel was not far from the park. I wondered if I should offer to drop him back. But I decided not to.
In the meantime, Darryl got into his car and drove off.
I then sat inside my car and watched as John finished the call. He then knocked on my window. I rolled it down. “Can I sit in your car as I wait for my Uber?”
“Sure.” I looked at him. He stared at his phone.
“I’m going to miss you when the Uber comes,” he said suddenly.
I observed his face. He was genuine in his words.
“Me too.” I put my hands on his. “How long are you staying here till?”
We sat there in silence for a while.
“What are you going to do once you get to Santa Cruz?” he asked me.
“Develop the photos I took, resume with my work. And you? What will you do when you get to New York?”
“Same thing. Work.” John seemed uninterested at this. As if by going back all interesting things would have ended. He then looked at me. “Would you consider coming to New York with me? Just for a few days?”
This request took me by surprise. “What? When? Now?”
“Tomorrow. You could see where I live, and what I do for work and all. And you’ll get to see New York.”
“I’ve been there before when I was in high school. It’s definitely a great tourist spot.”
“I can show you cities you haven’t seen before, like Queens, and the Bronx.”
I kept a face. “What makes you think I haven’t seen those cities?”
“You said it yourself, ‘New York is a great tourist spot’ and that you’ve been there before. I doubt that Queens and the Bronx were on your list of places to see then.”
I laughed. “You’re right. I haven’t been to those cities before. But it’s not something I’d be interested in seeing.”
“Then what would you be interested in seeing?”
I shrugged. “I would prefer to see more parks like this one, to be honest, rather than cities.”
John put his hand on mine. “I’m with you there. I want to see all the parks I can. But it’s hard to do it alone.”
“You don’t have friends who would want to travel with you?” I inquired.
“I do have friends, but that’s not what I meant.” Seeing my confused face, he clarified, “Traveling is fun with friends, and even alone, to a certain extent, but it’s even more fun to travel with someone you like, or are in love with…you get what I’m saying?”
“I get it…I get it all right. Who’s the lucky person whom you are referring to?”
John seemed alarmed. “I wasn’t referring to anyone. Well, maybe I was. I was talking about you. Why don’t you come to New York with me and we can travel together all we want?”
“Are you saying you like me?”
“Yep.” He smiled. It radiated his entire face.
“Well I guess I like you too. It’s why I introduced myself to you in the first place.”
“I was wondering about that. I knew you had something going on for me when I saw you looking in my direction.”
I tapped his shoulder lightly. “Oh don’t get cocky now…”
He wrapped his arms around my shoulder. “I wasn’t. Just speaking the truth.”
At this point, his phone rang. The Uber driver was close by.
“I’ll see you tomorrow hopefully. Hopefully you say yes to coming with me to New York. If not, I understand. Let me get your number, just in case.” We exchanged numbers. The Uber pulled up beside us.
“Goodbye for now. I’ll wait to hear from you,” John said, pulling on the door handle. Then, he leaned in to me and kissed me on the cheek. He stepped out of the car and into the Uber. And then he was gone. Like a good dream.
I knew it would be hard to just go to New York when I had work to do. I would let him know this tomorrow, as I wanted time to unwind and relax.
I had reached Santa Cruz after four hours. I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was sleep in my bed. As I was about to close my eyes, I saw my phone light up. I picked it up.
It was a text from John:
Hope you reached Santa Cruz safely. I’m chilling in my hotel room watching Netflix, and having room service dinner.
I laughed aloud; all tiredness faded away instantly. I sat up in bed and replied back:
I’ve reached, thank you for inquiring. I’m so happy you texted; I was wondering if I would hear from you today. I will tell you my decision on coming with you to New York tomorrow. Right now I’m in bed, about to sleep. I’m swamped.
Two seconds later…
I bet…it must have been a long ride for you. Take your time and let me know tomorrow. My flight leaves at 4 pm only.
Thank you for understanding. Have a good night xoxo
Good night to you. Don’t let the bedbugs bite. 😊
I laughed. He was so corny. But this made him cute. I felt myself suddenly feeling something different, something I hadn’t felt when he was sleeping right next to me last night. How I wish I was back again in the tent with him besides me. Why did it take our conversation in my car to this text interaction for me to develop real feelings for this man?
I closed my eyes and went to sleep. I had a dream again. This time, Tyler and others were not in it. It was John and I, staring into each other’s eyes underneath the sequoia trees. He leaned in, as did I. The wind picked up slowly. I felt us both rising to the top of the tree. We were in each other’s embrace.
It was after I woke up that I made my decision on whether or not I would go to New York with John.
NOTE: I would love to be considered for this challenge. The word count is a little over 5,000 words. I tried cutting down as much as I could, but cutting down more would take away the essence of the story.:)