I spotted the basset hound first, followed by an older man walking past my campsite. He saw me and said hello; I asked how he was.
"Just trying to get away from some of these crowds," he said, waving his arms facetiously at the vacant campsites. February in the redwoods of Northern California; there were not a lot of campers.
I didn't plan this trip around the seasons, but it's worked out well. Except for extreme weather in a few spots -- torrential rains in the Southeast, an ice storm in Texas, a few 12-degree nights in the Southwest -- things have been almost perfect. And in most places I've visited, campgrounds have been empty.
"I try to never travel when there are crowds," Jacob told me. "Can you imagine these campgrounds, all of the sites filled, kids running around? You'd never get any peace."
Jacob has been on a three week trip up the west coast. He lives in Long Beach with the hound, Bee. He's an amateur photographer, retired. They camp in a modern-looking van. “It's got a thermostat. When it gets below 65 degrees … WHOOSH!”
Oh, van envy. I tell him that I have to turn my heater on manually. He looks suspiciously at Rosy the Minivan, as though unsure I'm telling the truth.
He's right, though, off- or shoulder-season travel is where it's at. Only twice have I run into crowds on this trip: Once in the Grand Canyon, where the spectacle is such that even temperatures around 0 can't dissuade tourists from around the world. And then in a campground near Malibu Beach, where the weather is so nice there is no off-season.
We then spent 30 minutes trying to fix journalism. I have this conversation a lot, whenever people ask me where I'm from and what I did. “I don't care about the opinion pieces, about the columns and the celebrity crap,” Jacob said. “I worry about corruption in my city hall. Who is covering that?”
Long Beach corruption? I haven't thought too much about city hall since taking off on this trip. See, you really can't get away.