Doe-eyed, like the animals we were hoping to see, we ogled at the park ranger in front of us. “There’s only one campsite available tonight,” she said to a line of four cars.
It was 7:30 in the morning and most of us had dragged ourselves from the warmth of our sleeping bags 3 hours prior just to secure a spot of dirt for sleeping – AKA camping – at one of the best national parks in the country.
Tension suddenly clogged the air as we realized our car was the first in line, securing our spot at the campsite but leaving the others to scramble for accommodation elsewhere, or to get cozy with the bears. Were we supposed to just say sorry to our new friends and be on our way? You’d be surprised how well you can get to know someone during a short stint of standing outside in the bitter morning air.
There was Hana, the Columbia student who rocked up in her Mercedez accented with mud and an amicable attitude for adventure, Anna and Carl from Spain and Ireland (respectively) on a West-coast-bound adventure, raising the standards for my future relationship goals. Finally, there were Tanner with Jessie, who had a cast on her leg and I really couldn’t help but feel sorry for knowing that so much of the park requires hiking.
We had all been under the assumption that this campsite was first-come-first-served, particularly seeing on the website that there were time stamps marking when it filled up in the morning, which is pretty standard are any FFS. For those who don’t know, these kinds of sites work quite simply, and competitively: the earliest to show up have priority when getting a campsite.
Low and behold, as the park ranger scampered from her car to the office, avoiding eye-contact as if her life depended on it, the ‘full’ timestamp curiously and simultaneously appeared on the website. Confused and processing this information, it slowly dawned on us that in fact this timestamp was not accurate at all. Rather, it was reflective of the morning shift clocking in and marking the sites as ‘unavailable,’ as opposed to them actually filling up.
With multiple cars of people chattering about this appalling discovery, my sister and I decided to get straight to the bottom of this kerfuffle and knocked on the door of the ranger hut to find out for ourselves. Which brings us full circle.
“There’s only one campsite available tonight. The first car in line gets it.”
After an awkward pause and a few sighs of exasperation, we made a decision.
“You can all camp with us,” Pat piped from the side of our car.
And just like that, we had a new group of friends and what I was sure would feel like the party camp site. It worked out perfectly in the end. Everyone spent the day doing their own individual activities, and later we all reconvened fireside.
More eventful than not, we decided to make the trek up the Going-to-the-sun-road with Hana following behind. To make our day even more curious, we encountered a man playing the Didgeridoo at the top of the mountain. I wish I could tell you more, but I’m just as perplexed as you are.
On our way back, Hana fatefully realized that her car had approximately 15 miles of gas left. Certainly not sufficient for the hour-long trek back down. We did our best coasting down the hill for as long as we could and then all jumped into our trusty Honda Pilot to go get a gas can.
In the meantime, Sammy had managed to get a gummy lodged in her throat and Pat quite literally had to do the heimlich on her. At the time I was just outside the car, entirely unaware of the life threatening situation occurring inside. Failed sisterly instincts aside, Pat saved the day and Sammy hasn’t eaten a gummy since.
After that, we were happy to retire to the bonfire where everyone was chatting over the sound of crackling wood and crunching S’mores.
Even better than the evening fire, though, was the one in the morning. Hana camps in style and had the phenomenal idea of making French Toast for breakfast. My three stomachs and I can never turn down food and the rest of us were chomping at the bit for something that wasn’t a granola bar or rice. (We were budget camping, okay?)
Anna contributed Huckleberry jam, a must-try for anyone who hasn’t come across it, and soon we were all munching and chattering away. That morning will always be one of my favorites from the entire trip. Never did I think that in the span of 24 hours these strangers would be sharing a campsite, breakfast, and stories of their lives with me.
I suppose that’s the beauty of travel and, more importantly, being open minded. If you welcome possibilities with open arms, the universe will make sure to fill them. And it might even throw in some French Toast to fill you stomach, too.