My husband and I were wandering down the East Coast with our two dogs. We had just made an unplanned visit to West Virginia to be with my family during a medical emergency and, as a silver lining to the sudden and stressful trip, we figured we’d meander down the Atlantic and across the Gulf on our way back to Texas rather than traverse the highways we already knew so well; the ones that run through Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas. We didn’t have much of a plan, but we had a bed in our van and a small list of dog-friendly beaches we’d be passing through.
%Gallery-160758%But by the time we reached Jacksonville, we were over it. One dog had already climbed up onto, and proceeded to puke off of, the lofted bed and onto everything we had with us in the van, causing us to pull over in a random rural driveway in Maryland. We cleaned out the car as best we could with bottled water. We drove to D.C. in search of a 24-hour laundromat and we ordered Chinese takeout as we waited for the laundry to finish. The smallest bill I had was a 20, and with no attendant in sight to give me smaller bills, I walked away with $20 in quarters. In Virginia, I woke up to the smell of reeking Chinese food in the parking lot of my gym with a tow truck parked beside me that didn’t pull away until I entered the gym. Once I was in the gym, a cop came and talked to my husband after a call had been placed reporting that I had left my dogs in the vehicle unattended. I hadn’t. We arrived to a park we’d been hoping to camp at in Wilmington only to find out there wasn’t any vacancy. We stopped at the Highway 21 drive-in movie theater in Beaufort, South Carolina, and woke up to a flashlight in our faces at 2 a.m. and a voice asking us to leave. Everyone else had cleared the field and in our exhaustion, we didn’t even see the movie we’d come to see. The iPhone had gotten us lost more than once and if that wasn’t bad enough, we got into an accident in Savannah. The car endured a few thousand dollars of damage, but it was still drivable. No one was injured and everyone involved was polite, especially the officers, so we went on our way to Jacksonville. And we were beat. We made our way over to the park we’d been looking forward to, but we were 10 minutes late and they wouldn’t let us stay. The men working directed us to another park and when we finally arrived there, we found out it was a community playground, not a place to camp.
To hell with the romantic detour, we decided that night. We agreed to leave town early and just drive straight to Austin. Still, I noticed Grayton Beach State Park on the map as we drove through the panhandle. We got there in time for sunset and although we only spent 20 hours there, that park was our silver lining. The dogs weren’t allowed on the beach, so we had to spend our beach time separate. I went first, inhaling more deeply than usual during yoga postures. With my feet rooted in the wet sand and the sun setting to my right, I felt as though, for the first time in two weeks, I could breathe. With each crashing wave that was lapped back up by the ocean, my muscles loosened. My head fell to the ground before me and, just like that, I let it all go.
We got delicious takeout that night from a little Italian place near the beach called Borago. We drank big pours of wine and whiskey at the bar while we waited for the food. We took the boxes back to our campsite and with the headlights turned on and shining toward us, we dined at 10:30 p.m. at the picnic table.
We continued west in the morning. We stopped at the KOA Baton Rouge on our last night of the trip. A woman in an especially sour mood greeted us. She scoffed at us for having a bed in our car and seemed intent on not letting us stay at all until a colleague of hers shooed her away and took over. He told me about his plans to drive straight down to Panama soon. He used to live there and is eager to return. Were it not for the reprieve we found in Grayton Beach State Park, the kind of “hospitality” the KOA woman showed us would have, I am guessing, broken my last nerve. But that 20-hour vacation is just what we needed. It was enough to redeem the two weeks that preceded it. It was enough to keep me focused on the drive to Panama this man would soon be making.