Last week, I took a spontaneous, two-day trip to Big Sur to ring in the new year with a beautiful bang. After an amazing day of hiking and beach combing, I began to search for a place to sleep in my station wagon for the night, off of Route 1. I pulled in to a campground, took one look at the fee ($22!) and pulled right back out.
Just down the road, there was another small turn-off that led through an open gate, down a grassy road, and to a perfectly secluded spot. I could vaguely see the outline of a building behind the tall grasses in which I was parked, but no one seemed to be around. I slid quietly in and began setting up my bed and cooking my dinner.
I ate my rehydrated potatoes with broccoli & cheese while sitting on the hood of my car, watching the stars come out one by one. Then I brushed my teeth and cozied in to my sleeping bag in the car to read. I fell asleep to the sound of the crashing waves just over the road behind me.
The next morning, I awoke to see that the building was a school. I had parked in some grasses behind their school garden. It was January 2nd, so school was still not back in session. I went through my usual camping morning routine - ate breakfast, drank coffee, got dressed, brushed my teeth, dug a poop hole, etc. Then I threw everything into the back of the station wagon and excitedly began to drive back to Route 1 for my second day of adventures.
When I got back to the beginning of the road, I stopped my car abruptly. The gate was locked. I was locked in. And no one would be coming to the school today.
I turned off the car and paced the length of the property, searching for any possible alternate path out. Most of the perimeter was blocked either by a stone wall, a huge tree trunk, or a bank way too steep to drive over. They had done a good job ensuring that the gate was the only way in and out.
My best bet was a still-quite-steep slope down through a daffodil patch.
I got back into the car and drove slowly through the grassy yard. At the edge of the bank, I took a deep breath, prayed to any gods that might be listening to please keep my car from flipping over, and drove straight down through the daffodils (don't worry, I hate myself for it).
Just when I was about to put my tires onto Route 1 and be home free, a car came around the corner. It was the sheriff. He snapped his head around to look at the girl driving through the garden bank out of the closed school and stopped his car just up the road.
I pulled on to the road and behind his car. I figured I'd just save us all the drama of a chase. I'd accept my fate straight away. He turned his car around and pulled up next to me so his driver's window was next to mine. We both rolled down our windows.
"What was that about?" he asked incredulously.
"I'm so embarrassed." I put my face into my hands.
"What were you doing in the school? And why were you driving over the flower bank?"
"I slept in my car on the edge of their property last night because I needed a free, safe place to park. The gate was open when I got there, but someone must have locked it during the night."
He tried to hide his chuckle from me by putting his closed fist over his lips. It didn't work.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I feel terrible for putting tire marks in that flower bed. I didn't mean any harm by camping there. I just can't afford a $22 fee at the campground."
"You know," he said with a grin, "you can camp for free all along the forest road just a half a mile north."
"No," I replied flatly. "I didn't know that. Oops."
He laughed without trying to hide it now. "Well I can't even give you a ticket for anything. You didn't technically do anything illegal - "
"Just rude," I interrupted. He nodded with a smile.
"I'm just glad you weren't robbing the school."
"Well just keep the free camping in mind next time you're in Big Sur. And enjoy the rest of your trip." And he drove off, still laughing at me.