Heavy breaths escaped my lungs as I heaved myself and my computer bag up the long, gravel road. I wrapped up the day’s work around 5:30 pm at the Thousand Trails campground lodge — the only location with a wifi signal in the region — and the sharp mountainside, along with a single missing ingredient, stood between me and a supper of pancakes with my family.
The day before, our 2003 Honda Element deposited me at the ‘office’ and delivered me back at our campsite on the other end. But just moments into the morning, my wife called to inform me that the car was convulsing, and its check-engine light was blinking. A flatbed tow truck was there within the hour to scoop it up and deposit it at the nearest auto mechanic — a mom and pop (well, really just pop) establishment in the bustling metropolis of Centralia, Washington.
So we were left to wonder whether our automobile, now 210,000 miles into its life and the only option we have to tow our 1969 Shasta Compact trailer back to the other side of the country, had driven its last mile. And with the nearest store roughly 20 miles away, we were going to have to stretch our groceries (some jelly, five pieces of bread, half a box of pasta, two bowlfuls of Grape Nuts cereal, an inch of milk, a bag of pancake mix, three slices of ham, a skosh of cheddar cheese, and about 38 hot sauce packets from Taco Bell) to fill three hungry bellies for a couple of days.
A bit of lunchtime strategy (over thin ham and wheat bread sandwiches) had us aiming toward whipping up the aforementioned floury mix into a supper of pancakes. My job, as the manly pillager and plunderer, was to plunder us the missing pancake ingredient — two large eggs — from a neighboring RV’er on the return commute home from work.
I don’t know why I was afraid to ask. Maybe it was because I was wearing a food-stained black hoodie sweatshirt and the same, now-smelly long-sleeved tee I had worn for the past three days, and I did not want anyone thinking I was a hobo. Or perhaps I am a touch afraid of the somewhat mysterious members of the motorhome crowd, a modern-day crew of gypsies with a rye-and-ginger-drinking, senior-adult vagabond sort of twist. And maybe I am simply a bit too prideful to ask someone else for help.
Whatever the case, I thought about skipping the egg hunt and hoping that the pancakes would magically rise without the missing ingredient. Then came the pep-talk, which I audibly delivered to myself halfway up the hill, right next to the park’s dump station. “Come on! You can do this. You have a hungry three-year-old. It’s just eggs. No one is going to kill you for asking. Do it!”
And so I reviewed each trailer that came into sight, passing on one after the next, sure that this one had owners out for blood, that one probably had a pit bull, and if I went in the other, I was sure to make it into tomorrow’s headlines as a dad on vacation that mysteriously disappeared somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.
Then it came into sight: a smallish metal trailer with a couple of tidy lawn chairs outside, a colorful, twirly windsock, and a plastic tube of twinkle lights, draped around its awning. I swallowed hard and knocked thrice.
Mike came to the door ten seconds later. Wearing a thick, green flannel, well, maybe shirt or maybe jacket, and a mesh Camel Lights baseball cap. He reached out his hand to shake mine. I scrambled to explain the situation, hemming and hawing about the hungry three year old, the broken car, the scant groceries, the missing link in our pancake recipe.
Before I could finish, he had not two, but four large brown eggs in a Ziploc bag, and he offered to run me into town for anything else I needed. He flatly refused the crumpled dollar bill I tried to insist he should take, and back at the trailer a few minutes later, he came knocking to find out if there was anything else he could do to help us out.
I was raised in cities, always sleeping behind a locked front door and an armed security alarm. Each night since I was old enough to understand english, I would overhear the evening news trumpeting the scary headlines of the day into my otherwise-optimistic ears, teaching me that everyone and everything was out to get me.
As my family rumbles through the forgotten corners of our country, we are constantly meeting caring, kindhearted folks eager to lend a hand to a couple of married kids on the road and far from home. They repaired our dented front step when we crunched the bottom of our trailer against a curb. They offered a paper plate of ham and vegetables when we rolled into camp late. They gifted us a furry, brown teddy bear as a travel companion for our son. They lent us a 30 amp adaptor when our power box lacked a 120 volt plug. They offered a space in their driveway for an overnight stay. They provided metal skewers for our evening activity of roasting marshmallows. They fixed my car for a handful of dollars when they could have charged hundreds. And yes, they even extended to us that quintessential act of neighborly hospitality: a loan of eggs.
With each passing day of the journey, my faith in the goodness of my fellow human beings is strengthening. And I am certain that pancakes never before tasted as good as this.
My family is currently traveling around the USA in a 10 foot Shasta Compact travel trailer from 1969. We are currently camped outside Centralia, Washington and headed toward Seattle. Keep it right here for tales from the journey, and please also join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Nothing keeps us motivated more than the encouragement of hearing from our readers, so please keep in touch by commenting below. Thanks!