Before midnight in California
Life’s just a bunch of accidents, connected by one perfect end.
— Daniel C. Tomas

Ten days flew very quickly. We were able to camp outside the last two nights of the trip; however, it was nothing like the first night in Mammoth. Once we fixed the tire, we drove to Crater Lake hoping that we could camp nearby. As we drove closer to the crater, the rain turned into snow and at least two feet of snow covered the ground. We were not prepared for 80 mph winds and rain the first night, so we were obviously not prepared for snow and below freezing temperatures. 

Slightly defeated, we drove back and found a camping spot at a local state park right off the highway. The saving grace was that it was the first clear night during our trip, so we were able to see the night sky in all its star-speckled, awe-inspiring glory. There was some light pollution from the town nearby, but it paled in comparison to the light pollution from our respective California homes. We gazed at the stars for an hour then tucked in for the night. The next morning, we made our way back to Crater Lake. The views from Rim Village were breathtaking. The white snow beautifully contrasted with the deep blue waters. We snapped photos all around the rim for at least an hour before taking our leave.

We spent the last night near Clear Lake in central California. We actually thought we had to hike in, but it turned out to be a glamping hot spot with running water, public bathrooms, firepits and electric hookups. The campground was filled with families with young children, high school student groups, and elderly couples. We were a little disappointed, but we made the best out of the situation. 

While we were watching a movie later that evening, we heard the couple (likely drunk) next door having a heated argument. It eventually turned into a shouting match and physical altercation. They were so disruptive and loud that a police officer actually came to settle the dispute. It took all of our willpower to not giggle loudly. The woman vehemently insisted on taking the food and grill with her, but her car was too small to fit everything inside. The man clearly just wanted to settle the conflict and move on. The police officer had to call the woman’s son and her ex-husband(?) to come pick up her claimed items. It was a fascinating reminder of how different our worlds were. 
The next day, I asked Jean if we could stop by Mendocino. It was clear that he wanted to go back to San Francisco as soon as possible, but he kindly obliged. I thought the worst was behind us, but we got pulled over by an officer for speeding. Unfortunately, Jean was driving almost 30 mph over the limit. (Eeek!) The officer gave us a break and wrote the ticket for 5 mph over instead of 30 mph.

When we approached Mendocino, my friend wanted to show me something in Fort Bragg first. I asked where, but he said it was a surprise. When we parked in the lot, he said to bring my camera because I’ll probably want to take photos. Once I figured out we were going to Glass Beach, I became really excited. We followed the path towards the spot, but there were no colorful glass pebbles in sight. It turned out that the Glass Beach was closed for reconstruction, so all the glass pebbles were moved to another location. The comedy of errors continued, and I couldn’t help but laugh about it. I felt so bad for him, because he knew how much I loved taking photos of beautiful and unique scenery in natural light. 

We had lunch in Mendocino. We finally had blue skies and sun, so we spent the afternoon strolling along the cliffs. We both shared a fear of heights except we had different ways of managing that fear. Jean was more cautious and selected the safest path away from the cliffs’ edge. I took the riskier path where I was only a step away from the swirling ocean currents below. As I hopped from one ledge to another, I caught a glimpse of his concerned face. I smiled and sat on a ledge with my feet dangling over the waters. As considerate as always, he took photos of me every time I asked even if he had to walk a little too close to the edge. 

Eventually we made our way back to San Francisco. He dropped me off at my brother’s apartment and carried my bags to the front door. I thanked him for sharing the adventure and doing most of the driving. He said he had a great time and hoped our paths would cross again soon. With a hug and a kiss on the cheek, we bid each other adieu. As I walked up the steps to my brother’s apartment, I wondered if he was watching and glanced back. Our gazes connected for a moment. I smiled and said goodbye once more before turning to greet my brother at the front door. 

Although nothing cooperated with us during that trip, it was still one of my highlights of this year. As I mentioned in a previous post, it takes a lot of time and effort to get to know a person during adulthood. Social media and dating apps exacerbated this further by conditioning us to judge a person by a selfie. This road trip was a rare opportunity to observe a person in many situations and see how he or she reacted. I already knew he was a “nice guy” with a wicked sense of humor. From this trip, I knew that Jean was honest, reliable, kind, and compassionate. I also witnessed his calm perseverance in bad situations. Although he retreated into himself more than I would have liked, he was able to control his frustration and be polite with strangers. He never blamed anyone else for our misfortunes. 

People tend to curate the best versions of themselves on social media, so we assume that’s how they are all the time. In reality, there are two sides to a coin, and people have just as many ugly moments compared to happy moments. The best way to judge a person’s character is to see how he or she reacts in negative scenarios. We definitely had more than our fair share.

Being open to strangers is easy because I’ll probably never see them again. Being vulnerable to someone who comes back into my life made me uncomfortable, but I’m glad had the courage to do it. I want to live and love fiercely, and sometimes this is perceived as reckless. I want to feel so deeply and act on instinct in spite of fear. I want to laugh to no end, make memories when I least expect it, settle less and see things that are beautiful and unorthodox. I want to learn, and I want to question things more. Time is limited, so I never want to have regrets. I’m happy that he came back into my life. Jean has a gentle heart. I sincerely hope we cross paths again soon.