I’m lying on the platform bed I made in the back of my 2007 Honda Element Ember with Coco cuddled up against me. It’s 9:18 PM, and I am parked in a very unique neighborhood somewhere in Larkspur within a grove of majestic old redwood trees. I parked under a street sign that reads “2 Hour Parking 7 AM – 6 PM – 7 Days a Week.” I take that to mean that I can legally park here overnight. Better yet, this spot has a good vibe. The eclectic neighborhood with its narrow, meandering streets is woven into and around the ancient grove. The trees seem to be both protected and protectors.
My only worry in the moment is that someone walking or driving by will see the dim glow of my laptop through the tiny gaps between my homemade window insulation and Ember’s window frames. I did the best I could to make the insulation panels fit snugly, but it’s not perfect. It is almost pitch black in here, though, in spite of the warm amber glow from the nearby street light.
A car drives by every minute or so. Even this idyllic neighborhood in a magical redwood grove is not immune from the brazen bump of bass from the occasional passing car. I’ve also heard the voices of passersby four times. I imagine they are out to enjoy a late evening stroll and conversation. I wonder if they know how lucky they are to live here. I wonder if they will have any idea that there is someone inside the Honda Element that they walked past — someone soon to be sleeping with a “2-Hour Parking 7 AM – 6 PM” sign, a dusky yellow street light, and the redwood spirits to watch over her.
Being unable to see outside unnerves me a little bit. I long for the song of wind in the trees. …Something besides human voices and the rattling bump bump-bump bump of bass. Although it’s cool enough outside to need a jacket, all I need is a light blanket. I wear only thin leggings and a tank top. The window insulation does its job well. Even with the front windows cracked open one inch, I’m perfectly warm and comfortable.
Tonight is a only trial run, the first wetting of my feet in the urban stealth camping waters. Just over a week ago, I pulled off my first overnight parked in a pull-out on the side of a woodsy back road near Highway 1 just north of Davenport. It was the quietest night I can ever remember. If it weren’t for Coco’s and my breathing, Ember’s plush belly might have felt like a coffin. Morbid, I know. Okay, so maybe a sensory deprivation chamber would be a more pleasant analogy.
My iPhone’s alarm is set for 5:30 AM. When it goes off, I’ll gulp down an energy shot, wriggle into my gym clothes and the front seat, pull the InfraStop panels off the windshield and side windows, and drive away. At the gym, I’ll get some exercise and a shower before heading to work.
Before I left the house at 4:00 this afternoon, I prepared Coco’s dinner and breakfast of crushed Vetmedin pills mixed into soft dog food. I spent a few minutes lying on my queen-sized bed and stared up at the ceiling. The idea of spending the night in my car seemed more surreal then than it does now.
After leaving the house, I busied myself with window shopping, dinner, and exploring Larkspur neighborhoods. I brushed my teeth and washed my face in a grocery store bathroom. (Next time, I’ll bring my own soap. Commercial grade hand soap made my face itchy!) I returned to my pre-selected spot nestled in the redwoods just before the sun went down.
The tinny crack of what I assume to be a pinecone strikes Ember’s roof, startling Coco and me. He lets out one sharp bark. My heart beats a bit faster for a minute or so. I bury my face in my pillow as I sneeze. I hope no one heard the bark nor the sneeze.
It’s now 9:52 PM. The cars drive by less frequently now. The hush of night settles among the houses and trees. I should probably try to get some sleep now. I have another long week ahead.
I am awakened at 3:30 by a nightmare that Ember had gone rogue with me in the back in bed. She accelerated faster and faster down the street out of control. I kept saying, “This can’t be real. This has to be a dream. Wake up, Mary! Wake up! Wake up!” But I could not force myself awake this time. Knowing that I had left the key in the ignition, I turned it counterclockwise and yanked it out — just in time. Ember‘s engine died, she decelerated, and bumped gently into a wall. I scrambled out of the car, shaken and thankful to be alive. Then I saw a pickup truck being chased by police cars down the street towards me. After crashing into a house, a man staggered out of the pickup with a rifle in his hands. He was dressed in ragged flannel and denim and looked thin and mean. He spotted me with Coco in my arms and began marching towards me with dark determination in his eyes. I knew he wanted to kill me, just because I was there and he wanted to kill. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The police were closing in on him but hadn’t tackled or shot him down yet. The man raised his rifle and glared at me with one eye down its barrel. Seeking cover, I bolted into a house. Then I finally woke up with my heart racing. And I had an uncomfortably full bladder. But somehow I managed to hold it until I got to the gym at 6:00 AM.
I also had a nightmare the first time I stealth camped on that back road off of Highway 1. I dreamed that I had forgotten where I had parked Ember and that her license plates were stolen. I got the plates back, but still didn’t know where Ember was.
It is extremely rare for me to have nightmares. Is my subconscious trying to warn me that this is a reckless idea? Or is this just a normal manifestation resulting from boldly facing fears and drastically changing my lifestyle?
It is scary to be so exposed. It is scary to undergo such major changes. I suppose I will acclimate and grow more confident the more I do this. There is no way to conquer fear except by staring it right down its hot stinky throat. (More often than not, it turns out to be toothless.)
I’m sleeping at home tonight, and then I’m going to try urban stealth camping two nights in a row. Wish me sweet dreams.