Travel unvarnished: The Day From Hell.

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Bangkok hotelThis is fifth in a five-part series on travel situations we’ve encountered that are never part of anyone’s plans but you’ll be sure to remember long after you return home.

Just about every trip we’ve taken that’s longer than a week, has featured the dreaded Day From Hell. Sometimes there’s more than one.

In truth it’s never really a full day. It can be anywhere from an hour to several hours of unplanned aggravation, frustration, desperation and exhaustion. No matter; you always feel changed afterward. Perhaps even scarred.

The Day From Hell always starts with such promise. You’re on vacation, in new lands, prepared to see new and exciting sights. Then it begins.

Maybe the hotel lost your reservation. Maybe you can’t find your hotel, or any hotel. Or you can’t find your wallet. Or the ATM just ate your debit card and along with it your means for seeing those exciting new sights.

In August 1991 Julie and I drove west from Salt Lake City for the Lost Coast, a remote section of northern California beach. We spent the night in Reno, then continued over the Sierras and along back roads through the Central Valley.

It was glorious. This was our first vacation without kids in years and we were taking our time exploring new territory. We were excited and giddy and chatted about our happy life together.

We planned to camp at Clear Lake and hit the Lost Coast the next day. When we arrived at the lake we were still excited but ready to stop.

We drove along the north shore, passing home after home, private-property sign after private-property sign. There was supposed to be a campground, but we weren’t finding it or even a place to stealth camp.

We were tired as we rounded the lake and drove along the south shore following promising signs touting Clear Lake State Park. At the park entrance, the ranger gave us the stunning news.

“Full.”

“Full?”

“Yes. Full.”

“Where else can we camp around here?”

“This is it.”

“You can’t squeeze us in. We have a small tent.”

“No.”

I remember it was precisely at that moment that our Day Of Bliss became the Day From Hell. We continued driving, completing a loop around the lake and covering the same ground again.

It was getting late and we were tired and hungry. We didn’t see any place to camp as we headed northwest on the dark highway. We got snappy with each other. As the miles went by, we exploded into a full argument.

I forgot the name of the town, but finally we found a little commercial camping area. The office was closed, but we pulled in and set up our tent and went to sleep frustrated and exhausted.

The next morning we awoke early, silently packed up camp and left. We didn’t say a word to each other about the previous evening and had a glorious day.

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