The Stealth Night

The Stealth Night

When we originally selected our trip vehicle, we were going for inconspicuousness. Just in case…just in case we got in a bind and needed to sleep on a street or at a rest area. Just in case we needed to blend in — in case we needed to go stealth. This was a worst-case scenario for me, something to be avoided at all costs — but something I had to admit could happen. That’s why we got the minivan. That, and the fact that we could fit a full-sized bed in the back.

We hadn’t had to go stealth yet. Until Portland. Which is fitting, in a way. I’ve never seen as many homeless people in one place as I’d seen in Portland.

We left Portland late, after just missing meeting up with a friend of Paul’s. We were making for a State Park outside the city and we had to get there before the gates closed at 10pm. We were going to be cutting it really close. I didn’t think about the fact that the park might be full.

The whole way out, we watched the sunset throw pink shadows on Mt. Hood. It was mesmerizing.

But the State Park was full. And we’d already committed to this southeasterly direction — there was no going back. I wanted to get closer to Mt. Hood, so we kept moving southeast, even though we had intended to head southwest, along the Oregon coast. At least Mt. Hood promised great camping in its national forest.

And there was plenty of camping, but there were also plenty of people there already camping, filling the many small campgrounds to capacity. Who knew the people of Portland were so outdoorsy? That, and the fact that it was Saturday, didn’t help our cause.

We went through campground after full campground, getting more and more exhausted. Paul wanted to pull over by the side of the road, but I wasn’t comfortable with it. There were signs saying “camping in designated sites only — next fifteen miles.” The problem was,  the official campgrounds were full, and we couldn’t tell where the unofficial sites were. So we kept driving.

Stealthy in Seattle.
Stealthy in Seattle.

Paul had wanted to stop long ago. I was happy to be driving, so I voted to keep going. I couldn’t stop just anywhere. I knew I couldn’t sleep just anywhere; I needed something that felt safe. We drove past the Ripplebrook Ranger Station and a sign declaring that we no longer needed to camp in designated areas only. The next two campgrounds were full. We passed through a parking lot by the ranger station, and I decided that that was where we’d stealth. I knew no official ‘unofficial’ spots were going to be open, and if they were, that we weren’t going to be able to find them anymore at 11:30pm. It was too dark, and we were too exhausted. We went back to the campground parking lot — it was just a parking lot for a free, hike-in campground. I figured they couldn’t give us too hard a time if they caught us sleeping there. That’s the way to do it…go stealth in a free campground or at a trailhead. If bothered, say that you showed up late, that you were planning to hike in first thing in the morning. It’s much safer than parking alongside the road.

Once we finally stopped, I was wired. I couldn’t fall asleep. I tried to read, but Paul wanted me to cover my light whenever a car passed. Finally I was fully freaked out by a car that drove through the parking area before I noticed and covered my light. I shut off my headlamp, but I was wide awake, staring out the window, wondering if the driver had noticed my light. Forgetting that we had done the same thing an hour before. That’s why I’ve never wanted to go stealth. I can’t sleep under that kind of stress.

The next morning, I was awake before Paul, looking out at the trees and the Subarus parked around us. I wondered if anyone else was stealthing with us. We climbed into the front and drove over to the ranger station to use the bathroom. We were elated. We’d gotten away with it, a free night, but it wasn’t…pleasant.

Some people say you shouldn’t pay for camping. But I can’t sleep unless my place in the world is settled. Who can rest when you might be awakened at any moment by a knock on the window? Only those without my active imagination.