The Way of the Road:
Hidden costs of stealth camping
I shouldn't have to tell you that Poison Oak is none too fun. Similar to Poison Ivy, it results in a series of bumpy, itchy outcroppings wherever its sneaky oil hits. Depending on severity exposure, it can lead to rashes, blisters, swelling, or worse. Sometimes it's worse.
Stealth camping or illegal camping, if you like, involves finding some place on the side of the road to crawl into and then setting up tent for the night. You move on by first light in the morning and, if you are a decent person, leave no litter, damage, or other intrusion to testify to your presence. You are a ghost of sorts, and it's the way I've been living intermittently throughout the trip.
I knew there would be some hidden cost to stealth camping, some unavoidable accident that would make the activity less than free. Because as we all know, nothing is free. I assumed the cost would be something human related. Either an encounter with the cops, unhappy landowners, or worse yet, ruffian thieves. Short of that, I thought I might have trouble with animals, stray dogs or wild cats damaging my things or body. But I never expected my trouble would come in the form of those oh so innocent and nearly motionless plants that weave the tapestry of my daily view. Well, I shouldn't have to tell you that hidden costs always come in forms you don't expect, hence the 'hidden'.
You may have guessed by now, that I had some trouble with poison oak, but that's not all. I've dealt with poison oak before, and it's not all that bad, itchy yes, but I've experienced worse in life than a little itch. The problem with poison oak is not necessarily its effects, but where they strike. They struck me in the worst way. I'll leave it to you to guess where, but the result was 2-3 X swelling and an unflattering shape. If you know the look of a balloon 3 weeks after the party ended, with its wilted, half-bloated deformity you have a guess at what I saw.
Now, I know you'll be wondering, because everybody asks, how the oils made it to such a sensitive area. I think the answer to this question is pretty obvious, but people ask it because they are pervs and really want to hear you admit the truth. That, and secretly they are hoping that the truth is something far more scandalous than the obvious. Well the oil was transferred, it was on my hands and it was transferred. There are a myriad of ways that might happen and I'll leave it to your insightful minds to ponder how exactly it did.
What you might not yet appreciate about this story, though, is the psychological terror this kind of incident can induce. Imagine me, unaware of poison oak exposure, being particularly itchy all day and when going to take the evening's shower noticing that my most precious possession was beginning to malform. Going to bed, I hoped it might be gone by morning only to find the situation triply bad upon waking. At this point I didn't understand what was happening... had I contracted some sort of unknown disease? Had I been drugged? More importantly, would the poor boy ever recover to his former happy state or would the legacy of the Haley family name depend on Michael's fecundity? These questions swirled through my head unanswered, and I was about 30 miles away from diagnostic medical care with a bike that was unridable due to the potential impact on the area in question.
Fortunately, I'd had a case of Poison Oak a few weeks back and began to spot signs apart from precious that I must have gotten into some stuff. Fortunately again, there was a bus headed into town that morning. Most fortunately of all, the good Dr. at the urgent care center told me I would recover and gave me some steroids to reduce these very disturbing symptoms. So now I am holed up in a hotel for a couple of days. Much to my satisfaction, the situation has improved dramatically and I can sigh a sigh of relief and join with ya'll in the laughter which I hope you are now enjoying.