Solo travel. It isn’t for everyone, though I think there is a lot to gain for anyone who gives it a go, even if it puts them way out of their comfort zone. I enjoy solo travel. I am an introvert, and I like spending time alone. Need to spend time alone. And I love to travel. So solo trips are not a difficult choice for me. As a female, I certainly have to keep safety in mind. This fact has guided some of my choices, but it has not prohibited me from venturing out on my own. Getting out on my own started when I was in my late 20s living in Germany. I would frequently hike or bike on my own, even though I certainly had no shortage of opportunities to do the same with friends. There was, and still is, just something about being alone out in nature. It is easy to get caught up in conversation or staring at the back of the person in front of you when you are hiking or biking with others. It is also less likely you’ll stop and smell the roses. That you’ll give yourself permission to take a break to sit down for a few at that beautiful vista or on a log in the middle of the forest. Alone, however, you notice your surroundings more. You become more a part of them than just a passerby, an observer.
My first big solo trip that was not just a hike or a bike ride was in Turkey. I was living in Germany at the time and wanted to get away. In the lower level of the Munich airport, they had last minute travel agencies with deals on tickets and trip packages. I browsed the options and then booked a roundtrip flight to Turkey for $100, leaving the following day. The trip was a bit of an adventure and might have made many people never want to travel solo again. At least not in Turkey. Okay, so anyone who has seen the movie Midnight Express might not have traveled by themselves to Turkey in the first place. So, what happened in Turkey, you ask? A setup by a guy who proposed to me after too many raki at dinner. He apparently didn’t like my answer. And he made me pay for dinner, to boot, claiming he had no money on him. A rude awakening at daybreak by the police with their automatic rifles. A 16-year-old hostel manager vouching for me and translating for me as the head of the operation tore apart my luggage and questioned me. And, at last, the saving grace: feminine hygiene products. The head honcho had apparently never seen such a thing before, and the poor 16-year-old boy had to explain its function, to which the head honcho laughed and laughed and laughed. I didn’t know what else to do, so I laughed too. And that was the end of it. Head honcho told me I had laughing eyes, and then he left me to clean up the mess he had made of my belongings. But I didn’t get carted off to prison. After some misunderstood translation and a promise of protection from the head of Interpol at that time (who happened to be there on an anniversary trip with his wife, and both of whom I had been conversing with during my stay…they were actually supposed to be at that ill-fated dinner, but ended up declining at the last minute), I finally got around to the truth of the matter. The drunk guy whose proposal I had turned down was arrested for having drugs, and he said that he had bought them from me, leading to the raid and near-arrest-experience. The rest of the trip went without incident, and I enjoyed ancient ruins, the nearby inlet with blue, blue waters, and an impromptu fire, dinner, and dance when a boat of Turkish citizens on holiday came ashore for a night.
After that trip, I continued my solo hiking, both in Europe and when I moved back to the US. My next big solo trip, however, did not come until years later. (I don’t count the travels I did around the PNW and western Canada during my research trips, since they weren’t purposefully intended to be solo adventures). A few years ago, I was introduced to bike touring on a trip back to Germany to visit friends. I loved it and decided I wanted to do such a journey on my own. At the time, I had recently found out about the Cabot Trail from my mom. The Cabot Trail is a road that encircles the northern half of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. It is often done as a car trip, but quite a few cyclists also embark on the tour. The photos of the area looked beautiful. There are some challenging climbs (frequently around 12%, but up to 15%), but my bike is made for those, with ample gears to handle it. There are options for guided and self-guided, supported and unsupported, tours. I opted for self-guided and self-supported. I’d be carrying all of my gear with me and camping in campgrounds along the way.
I started my tour in Beddeck, as most do. It’s a fun little town in its own right, and there is a free public parking lot where it is legal, and safe, to leave your car for the duration of your tour (in my case, I’d somewhat loosely planned for 8 days). I opted to go clockwise, as the two steepest and longest climbs are slightly less steep than the two you encounter going counterclockwise. I went in August, but, given that this is a northern coastal environment, I had to come prepared for rain and sun, hot and cold. And I’m glad I came prepared, even though it meant carrying more weight, because I did hit it all. Sometimes even within the course of a single day.
This route is interesting as a bike tour. For much of it, there are no shoulders and no bike path. Where shoulders exist, they are narrow. I was, however, impressed with how generally conscientious and kind drivers were. Even the trucks. There were only a couple of occasions where I encountered a rude driver who refused to slow down or move over to ensure a safe passing. Both times, these drivers were in trucks, so it sufficiently scared the crap out of me each time. Fortunately, I knew they were coming, as I could see them in my mirror. Mostly, however, I received waves and shouts of encouragement out windows from the passengers and drivers of passing cars. Traffic was fortunately not heavy. I had plenty of time to enjoy the views. And views there were aplenty. Especially on the western side of the island.
Cutting across the middle of the island you start to hit some scenic spots on the western half. What you don’t see, however, are many places to camp! I had planned for a stop at the one campground shown on my map. When I got there, however, I discovered that that campground was no longer open for short-term stays and tent campers. Fortunately, as I was searching in vain for the campground office, looking quite bewildered, I’m sure, one of the long-term campers happened upon me. He informed me of the change in campground policies, and offered to show me to a former tent spot that was near his camper. He said that it would be fine for me to stay the night there. I was a bit nervous. I didn’t want to get into trouble with the owner. But I was also tired and starving, and it was free. Also, there was nothing else around for quite a number of miles. So, I stayed. Without incident. And managed to get everything set up and dinner cooked and cleaned up just as the rain hit.
The next few days brought me the jaw-dropping scenery of the west coast, the quaint town of Cheticamp, signs posted in French and English, and Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The mountain climbs would be a challenge with nothing to weigh down my steel frame bike, but with the additional weight of loaded panniers, I was more than happy for the excuse of beautiful vistas to stop for a few to catch my breath. After my stay in the National Park, I hit the two steepest and longest climbs of the trip. In the same day. I was happy for cooler weather and for the clouds that held on to the rain during my ride that day. It was already going to be a long day between the two climbs and the planned miles I had to cover to get to the next campground. But when I got to said campground, I found it deserted. It was a beautiful spot, but, given that I was a single female AND that this was bear country and the campground was right next to a lovely watering hole for bears, I made the very tough decision to travel the 15 or so miles to the next campground. I was fortunate in that they had one spot left, and they were still serving food (I honestly have no recollection of what it was, just that I could eat it) because in no way did I want to pull out my camp stove and cook and clean up. I barely had the energy to shower, but I managed. One would think I would have collapsed into a coma, but that wasn’t to be. I had some noisy neighbors that night, so sleep was elusive. But the next day, I was ready to move on.
I took a detour from the Trail that next day to a place called Meat Cove. I’d read that this was a detour worthy of the rough ride to get there, so I decided this would be a place I’d take a break for a few days and just rest and hike. So glad I did. My tent sat perched on the edge of a bluff overlooking the ocean and a little inlet. There was some hiking accessible from the campground and rocky outcroppings to climb and perch. Whales are often spotted from here, just not by me! Though I did see an eagle swoop down low over my head. Low enough that we made eye contact. And that made my day.
The rain had, mostly, held out for me during my rides, generally coming only during the nighttime hours up to that point. Here in Meat Cove, one of those nighttime rains was something to behold. I had built a campfire that evening and let it burn out before I went to bed. But apparently it hadn’t quite cooled off when the winds started raging. As my tent was being blown almost to the point of lying flat on the ground, and I was stretched out on my stomach like superman trying to hold down all four corners, I started to smell smoke. Coming from my fire pit. I started to panic, not certain that getting out of my tent in the gale-force winds was a brilliant idea. I was quite fond of that tent and had no alternatives for sleeping accommodations should it blow away. Then the sky started lighting up. I ventured a peek out my door and could see the smoke streaming up from my fire pit. But it didn’t last for long, as the clouds cut loose their vast holds of water, dumping rain in buckets and dowsing the smoke the winds had fanned. So, I just held on for the ride and hoped that I was heavy enough to keep my tent in place and that my tent poles were flexible and strong enough not to break. Thank you, Big Agnes, for making a quality tent capable of surviving what Mother Nature threw at it that night.
I crawled out of my tent the next morning looking and feeling worse for wear and seeing the same on other campers. The only perky ones were the ones who had stayed in the cabins. I ran into another solo female traveler that morning. She was traveling by car. She had not been so lucky as me with her tent. In the middle of that storm, her tent caved in. She struggled to get her gear out and into the car, got completely drenched herself in the process, and spent the rest of the night in her car. She had no idea where her tent went. It had blown away in the storm. I was originally supposed to leave that day but booked one more night there. I would be more than a little useless trying to climb on my bike and cycle 30 miles to the next planned stop. I was pretty useless anyway, and did nothing on my last day but lounge around my campsite, venturing no further than the little restaurant for a midday meal of fries and a beer.
Leaving Meat Cove, I headed towards the eastern side of the island. The ride across the north was gorgeous and continued for a stretch as I turned south. It was hot and sunny those days. And after a few miles heading south, I entered the part of the tour that made me wish it was over. I dreaded each mile. The sun blasted down on my face. I lost the view of the ocean. The forest was all new growth because of a fire that had hit the area a decade prior. I hit some interesting towns, thankfully, and this side of the island has a completely different feel than the west side. The signs are all in Gaelic and English. There are art galleries all along the road, even in areas that did not seem well populated. I loved that part of it. I took the ferry over to Englishtown, staying at a campground whose entrance was so steep and gravelly there was nothing to do but push my bike up that hill. Great campground though. And from there, the scenery returned. Making my last day of cycling rewarding and enjoyable. Making me go from wishing the trip over to wishing it would never end.
I arrived back in Baddeck feeling victorious. Feeling strong. Feeling empowered as a woman. And feeling so grateful. I was grateful for the opportunity to take such a journey. Grateful for the warmth and encouragement I received from so many along the way. It was incredible to me how many people stopped me to ask me questions, to tell me how brave I was for doing this alone, and to say that they wished they had the same kind of courage. I had people tell me they’d been following me along the way, checking up on me when they would see me at different points along the way. I had people tell me that they’d heard about that (crazy) woman riding the trail on her own on a loaded-up bike. Had I traveled with others, I would not have had this same experience. I could have met a lot of people, but maybe not. By traveling solo, people were much more willing to approach me for conversation. Much more curious about what I was doing, wanting to know my story. And in the process, I got to find out their stories too. That is part of the beauty of traveling solo. If you are open to it, and if you put yourself out there. I might have been a party of one, but I was never lonely, and I was often also not alone.
The Midwest. Everybody knows it’s flat here. You can see for miles and miles and miles in any direction. Except from July through October when the corn blocks the view of the horizon…and anything else for that matter. In the last Ice Age, the glaciers swooped down to the mid latitudes in this middle region of the US, crushing the ground beneath it as they advanced, and leaving flatlands and rich, fertile soil in their wakes as they retreated. What once used to be woodlands, wetlands, and prairielands are now corn and soybean fields for growing fuel, fillers, and animal feed. There is still beauty in these lands, to be sure. In the cornstalks blowing in the breeze and the old red barns that harken back to the days of family farms and simpler times, of quiet country roads and one-stop-sign towns, where the big oaks and maples still reign alongside cobblestone streets and over town squares with lush green grass and summer concerts in gazebos. But it is still flat, and for those of us who like to hike, it isn’t as simple as just heading out the door to the nearest trail. There are, however, in the midst of all these cornfields, natural gems that exist in pockets around the region.
One of these gems is less than an hour and a half from my hometown (like I said, you can’t just walk out your door or drive to the outskirts of town…these hikes are a destination worthy of a day trip). It’s a bit across the border into Indiana, off a small state highway. You know you’re close when the road begins to curve and to rise and fall over hills and the trees envelope you. When you cross Sugar Creek, you’ll likely see canoers and kayakers making their way down the river. There are several outlets here for renting canoes and kayaks, and the river is a fun one to run. Most of the time, it flows smoothly with a few spots that provide a bit of excitement. After heavy rains, however, they will often limit the age of riders to 16 and over. During these times, there is quite a bit more excitement. And sometimes they have to close the river altogether. The name “Creek” can be quite misleading.
Entering Turkey Run, you can park at the lodge or further down by the nature center. The park has eleven trails ranging from 0.5 to 2.0 miles, and they can all be strung together to make any length of hike you want. There are four trails south of the river and the rest on the north side. The trees have all greened up now, and this is the first chance I’ve had to make it this way since coming home. The weather has been unpredictable, wet, and chilly. And in this park, there is a lot of water and the trails can become a muddy mess quickly, sucking your boots into the muck with every step. I was looking forward to this hike, but curious as to what I would think of it after so many amazing hikes over this past fall. Trails in Custer State Park, along the Enchanted Circle, Medicine Bow, Capitol Reef, Zion, the Redwoods, and coastal Oregon. So many trails in such a short time. Would Turkey Run still hold up?
Leaving the lodge, I walked the trail along the river to reach the suspension bridge that takes you over to the north side trails. The current bridge is new, and it sits a couple of stories above the water, as did the previous bridge. But the previous bridge had been wiped out by a raging flooded river a few years ago. Standing on the new bridge looking down, I marvel at the thought of the river rising up high enough and taking trees large enough with it to wipe out a bridge sitting up this far above the water. This day, though, the muddy river flows smoothly under my gaze and on down through rocky cliffsides. You don’t get the clear, see-to-the-bottom rivers around here. They’re all brown from the soil and silt that wash into the rivers or get stirred up from the riverbeds. Even so, the contrasts of water, rock, and the green, green trees are striking.
After losing myself in the movement of the water for a few moments, I make my way to the other side where I discover one of the trails I’d intended to hike was at least partially closed for trail repairs. Looking at the long planks of 2 x 4s, I assumed that bridges and wooden walkways over an eco-sensitive section of this trail had washed out. This trail is one of three where sections of the trail pass through moss and fern lined canyons with streams running through them. I delighted in these trails as a child. What an adventure to be able to splash through running water and call it a trail! To climb over fallen trees or try your skills at balancing along the entire length of said tree instead. To clamber up or down the ladders on Trail 5 taking you up to the ridge or down to the canyon bottoms.
Okay. I still do this. I still delight in these very activities.
The allure of this area is in these canyons. At least in my opinion. They are so different from anything else in the surrounding areas. And in the heat of the summer, the canyons provide a welcome reprieve from the heat, as the canyons can be a good ten degrees cooler. I was looking for that reprieve, with temperatures in the mid 80s and humidity somewhere in the range of 500%. The steep narrow passages and cliffs lined with lush forests are also mystical. They feel prehistoric, and you wouldn’t be surprised if a dinosaur comes crashing through the foliage. Any Land of the Lost fans out there? Kinda like that.
Lucky for me, Trail 5 is still open. I take a route that strings together three separate trails, including said Trail 5, which is the ladder trail and probably the most fun of the canyon hikes. The humidity is brutal, but I also break a sweat from the climbing. While not the same as hiking up Medicine Bow Peak, there are plenty of steep inclines (one of which includes 140 steps) to get the heartrate up. The scenery is just as I remembered, and, yes, it does hold up. It doesn’t compare to my fall hikes, but then they don’t really compare with one another either. They are each special places; and they each have their own magic about them. You can’t compare apples to oranges, and you can’t compare Turkey Run to Zion. The sound of thunder rumbling loud and long forces a shorter route and a quickened pace back to my car. But I don’t mind. I’ll be back soon.
The Midwest is flat. It is dressed in corn and soybean fields, with wide horizons and Tree City towns. But it is also carrying a pocketful of gems. And one of these gems is Turkey Run State Park. So, if you’re ever passing through central Indiana, do yourself a favor and spend a day or two here. You’ll leave feeling richer than when you arrived.
50. Today (April 15) marks a half a century that I’ve been experiencing life on this planet. They say age is just a number. On the one hand, that isn’t true no matter how much you want it to be. We all know that no matter what we do, our bodies change over time. Gravity is less kind to us, we start graying or thinning or both, laugh lines multiply (and often worry lines do, too), and joints start creaking and popping a bit more than they used to. We have to work harder to maintain a level of fitness that our quarter century selves would have found easy. But, on the other hand, it kinda is true. Sure, we become “wiser” and our perspectives change over the years; but ask just about anyone if they feel 40 or 50 or 90, and they’ll usually tell you that in their minds they feel just like the same person they were at 20 or 12. There are people who feel 60 at 20 and vice versa. There are people who act 20 at 60 and vice versa.
Growing up, our age mile markers after our first decade come in quick succession. 13, 16, 18, and 21 (in the U.S. at least), but after 21, the biggies are our decadal birthdays. Each decade of living is an accomplishment. And it truly is. So many people want to hide from their years of living. Deny age and avert our eyes from our own mental images for what it means to be 40, 50, 60, on up. We are dragged into and through our middle and elder years kicking and screaming, when we should be celebrating and wearing our badges of life with honor. I think the latter is more likely to happen in countries where the elderly are revered and where death is not such a scary and ominous event. Life is a collection of experiences, not material goods or status or the ability to participate in the 40 hour or more work week.
I wondered how I would feel when I hit 50. I will admit, I did not enjoy turning 30. It wasn’t the number, really, it was where I was in my life. At that age, I’d recently returned to living in the U.S. after living in Germany. I’d broken an engagement to a British man I’d met while traveling. And I had no clue what I wanted to do next. I thought I should be a “grownup” by then, but I didn’t feel like one, and I didn’t want the life that most grownups I knew had. I just didn’t know what it was I didwant, other than to travel, and I had no idea how to make that happen for a living. But by 40, I’d made my way down to Texas, into grad school, and over to Europe a few more times. I was enjoying my life. When I hit 40, as a woman, I felt more freedom to just be me. To worry a bit less about what others thought I should be and instead worry about what I thought I should be. Or, more accurately, whoI thought I should be. I loved turning 40.
Turning 50 is interesting to me. I’ve continued to evolve over the past decade. I’ve traveled, had my heart hurt and heal, earned some letters after my name, landed on and leapt from a “career” life, changed how I eat, embraced being single, made loads of mistakes, watched the changing world with worry, discovered peaceful moments aplenty, and learned a lot more about who I am and who I want to be. We like to think we are much wiser as we age, and I think we are, certainly (or hopefully?), when it comes to understanding our own experiences. We like to think we know what’s best for those generations coming up after us. And sometimes that’s true. Sometimes we might have just the right advice to offer. Sometimes we have something we can teach others based on our experiences. And often, young people have something to teach us. Often, people need our ears more than our advice. Often, the experiences we had growing up don’t reflect what younger generations experience, or even what others of our own and older generations experienced.
The longer I’ve lived and the more I’ve learned, the more I’ve come to recognize how much I don’t know. And that’s okay. Actually, I think it’s freeing to accept that you don’t have all the answers and you don’t even have to. It makes life more of an adventure when you don’t have to always know. There is so much to discover about life, about the world, and about others, if we take the time to observe and listen. To experience our moments with ourselves and with other living beings without judgement and to be fully present in those moments. So, as I leave my 40s and begin rolling towards the next decadal achievement, I hope to live this adventure called life fully, taking risks and being comfortable with the not knowing, and to be present in my days, whatever it is I am doing. Today…I’ll start with smelling the flowers and feeling the crisp air as I ride my bike on the country roads of central Illinois.
Peace. And thanks for continuing to follow along. I am so grateful to all of you reading this!
For me, I did just that, when moving back into Knight. I have to admit, I was nervous to move back in. Excited. And nervous. I so missed living in my cozy home. I missed the warmth of my surroundings. I missed the simplicity of my small space. I missed being able to see out from every direction. And I missed being able to pack it all up in a short time and move on to different views in a new place. But I was nervous all the same. The last time I’d been in the RV was for the mad sprint back to Illinois to get out of the Oregon rain, when I was consequently slammed into a brutal winter with frigid, deadly temperatures and winds. In Oregon, Knight had become inhospitable because of the moldy environment the rain had created. I hoped that the steps I had taken had been enough to make Knight the friendly, welcoming home I’d known prior to being overtaken in Secret Camp. But I had no real way of knowing until moving back in. And it’s spring. The rainy season. I had an additional anxiety over moving the cats back in. Would they still love being in the rig? Or would they feel confined after having a bigger space to live in than they’d ever had before (other than when they each had experienced living life entirely outside as stray, abandoned, or feral cats in their previous lives)? And how would Ifeel moving from a house back into Knight?
Winter in Illinois has been a long one. Today, it feels still present as the temps sit below freezing and the wind howls out of the north, making it feel so much colder. I used to love winter. I used to love rain. I think I still do. But right now, we sit on the cusp of April and the calendar said spring arrived a week ago. So, my four-season soul is telling me it is time. Time for flowers and green buds on trees. Time for light or no jacket temperatures. Time for the greening of the grass and the buzzing of bees. Lucky for me, the forecast says it is arriving for real this coming week. I am ready for it. I am ready for time outside and open windows. Fresh air smells and breezes blowing through the rig.
The cold and the sometimes rainy, sometimes snowy precipitation of the last two months kept me inside and hunkered down. I was unable to do the work I needed to do on Knight until the last week or so before moving back in. But because of that, I had plenty of time when I first got to my parents’ house to finish writing a book I had started writing back in the fall. My first novel, and the first in a planned trilogy. Writing this blog has been a great creative endeavor for me, and it gave me the courage to put words out there in the form of fiction. I cut my teeth on a children’s book, and then dove into a full-on novel. When I went out on the road, I had thought I would write a book, but I did not dream I would write fiction, let alone a children’s book and a YA novel. But now that I’ve done it, I’ve found how much I love to write fiction.
When I was young, I wrote creatively all the time. I wrote and I read. I used to have to be told to put my book away and be social. I carried a book with me all the time and everywhere. Any free moment I had, I’d escape into the world living in the pages of whatever book I was currently reading. When I did not have free time, I made it, eschewing conversations with family while on vacation or reading while eating, in order to find out what happened next. I was a journal writer from the age of about eight or so and I also carried around a notebook or loose scraps of paper on which to write imaginary scenes or stories that would pop into my head. No one read these things. They were purely for my own entertainment. As I got older, the creative writing stopped. When I got to grad school, the fiction reading stopped. While I got back into reading fiction after I graduated, I was completely surprised when I felt the desire to write fiction. I was also intimidated by the thought. But once the ideas for both books popped into my head, there really was no question for me as to whether or not I’d pursue them. And now they are done and it’s time to start book two in the trilogy. (Check out my “Books” tab where you will find the links to both books on Amazon.)
When we first moved ourselves into my parents’ house, the cats had a difficult time adjusting to all the space. They seemed to be disconcerted with not knowing where one another or we were. Towards the end, however, they discovered the fun in chasing the laser light around an entire floor or chasing each other up and down the stairs. Towards the end, however, I was very ready to move back into my home. I had to do several things to get him ready, and I had less than a week to get them all done because the weather didn’t cooperate before then. But, with the leak in the bathroom fixed, new faucets in the bathroom and kitchen, the switch for the porch light repaired, a new bed with airflow netting under the mattress, mold killing primer on wood and touchup paint, we could move back in.
So, I came home again. It has been wonderful to be back in my cozy little space. The cats have been joyful, especially Gatsby and Bubs. It took Arlo and Nola about a day, and then they, too, were back into the groove and seeming happy and contented to be home. We aren’t leaving the area for a while, but we are camped for now at a nearby campground with Knight overlooking a little pond with geese and ducks already hanging out. It has rained a LOT the last few days. It felt a little like the coast of Oregon again. Except colder. But Knight seems to be holding up in the rain. And after tonight the overnight temperatures will not be dropping below freezing and the daytime highs from Tuesday onwards, at least according to the weather app, will start to climb into the upper 50s and lower 60s. The chairs and awning will come out, Gatsby will chill on my lap, and we will watch as the flowers start to pop out of the ground, the leaves begin to bud, and the grass goes from straw brown to soft green, as the birds flit about the trees and the bees wake up. Oh yeah. And we will have to have our plan for how to get the cats to the storm shelter if the sirens sound, for it is April in the Midwest…
I’ve been back in Champaign for one month now. It’s a strange thing being back. I’ve done this before, left for a while and then returned for a stretch of time longer than a week’s visit, and I always have this odd feeling of disconnect from the place I grew up. Usually, though, it also comes with feelings of nostalgia. Perhaps I wasn’t gone long enough this time, but those nostalgic feelings are missing. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly elements of Champaign that I find I am really happy to take advantage of again now that I am here. Like shopping at the food co-op. I really missed my co-op when I was on the road. I found others, in sometimes surprising places, but the one in CU is exceptional. I have yet to see another one with the selection here, especially with the vegan options in the bakery and deli. So, I will miss that again when I leave. And, along with that, I will miss the ease with which I could get my favorite vegan burger, not at the co-op, incidentally. It’s been great to reconnect with a few people here, as well. Most especially my former students. That was pure joy. But on the whole, I find my nostalgia is for the road, my longing is to be back out there again.
Oh, to be back out there again. When I made the decision to return to Champaign for a few months, it was not without some fear and trepidation. I was afraid of getting stuck here. It is nothing against Champaign. It’s a great little town in so many ways. It is more about my own soul and where my passions reside. It was something to overcome the idea that coming back here did not mean I had to stay here. That I could pick up again when my designated time was up. That my home sits out in the driveway of my parents’ house right now, and, in April, I can point it where I want it to take me. Which is, oddly enough for me, the desert.
The desert. In earlier posts from my travels, I spoke of my newfound love of the desert southwest, especially in fall. I soaked in the contrasts of red, yellow, and green. My eyes were drawn to the ruggedness of the landscape against a backdrop of big, blue skies. Yet, when we made the decision to go to Oregon, I could not wait to see the lushness of the rainforest and the wildness of the ocean. It was time for that change of scenery. The wildness of coastal Oregon is a different beast from the wildness of southern Utah. Both are amazing. Both stir the spirit. I look forward to going to the coast of Oregon again, just not in the rainy season. But now, the desert is, once again, beckoning. I am ready for warmer temperatures. Yes, this girl who would have never, ever spoken those words in the past is now saying them. I was always a cold weather person, preferring winter and fall over spring and summer. Life on the road has changed me, even in just six months. Now, sitting in February in Illinois, I dream of the warmth of the spring sun on the rocky mountains of New Mexico. Things can always change. People can always change. Even at nearly 50, I have changed.
50. Half a century. A long time to live through the eyes of a child. I can remember when I thought 50 was old. Now, I am reflecting on that timeless observation that even at 50, I feel I’ve only been here for the blink of an eye. And while I’ve changed, inside, I feel in many ways like the same girl I was as a teenager, or younger even. Some of the same insecurities and vulnerabilities still arise in me regarding my place in the cosmos and my relationships with those around me and with myself. Some passions and dreams have changed, while others have remained constant. My perspectives and ideas have certainly shifted, formed, dissolved, and reformed a thousand times over the course of my lifetime. I’m sure there is more of that to come. I count on it. In terms of Earth time and Universe time, 50 years traipsing around on this planet doesn’t even count as a blink of an eye.
In the blink of an eye. That is how quickly things can change. I was reminded of this a few days ago. I have largely been absent on Instagram since coming back to Champaign, only touching base there briefly and occasionally. One evening, I was doing just this when I came across a post that revealed the passing of an old friend. It was a shock to make this discovery through an Instagram connection who I did not even realize was friends with this particular friend. I am not on facebook much at all, so I had missed the news there. This friend was a person who embodied joy, with a laugh that was infectious and light and from her heart. We lost regular touch over the years, but at some point, got reconnected over facebook. We had lunch not too long ago. At least it feels like it was not too long ago. Last year, I think. We caught up over all the years’ events. She talked about her stage four breast cancer and how, when nothing else had worked, she had changed her diet and had been declared cancer-free. I had thought just a week or so ago that I should contact here while I was in town to make that trip out to the farm to visit and to meet her family. So, this news of her passing was a surprise. And it got me thinking.
It got me thinking about how things always change. We never know exactly how, and we never know exactly when. The only thing in this world that is permanent is impermanence. The one thing we do know is that we are only ever guaranteed the moment we are currently in. We westerners have such a tough relationship with death, on the whole. But we are all going to get there. It’s inevitable. While hearing the news of my friend’s passing was surreal and difficult, it also made me think about how lovely it was that she had the extra time that she did with her family. Death has something to teach us about life, if we let it. What would we do differently if we knew that today was our last day on Earth? How might our life change if we lived each moment as if it were our last? Each and every moment is unique. You will never get that slice of time back. Even the hard moments. They pass too. There is beauty in this truth. There is also freedom. So, what if we were grateful for each moment we have? What if we were present for each moment we exist? How would that change our perspectives and our relationships with one another and with ourselves?
How would it change you?
9 days, 1 blizzard, 1 blowout and 6 new tires, a protesting brake, and 2700(ish) miles later…
Gold Beach, Oregon, to Champaign, Illinois, in nine days. The original plan had been for six days, but the original plan did not involve obstacles. Reality did. We were in a race against the weather and an appointment scheduled for the 29th. Our chosen route was to head south and then across to Reno, where we’d pick up I-80 to zip through Nevada, Wyoming, and Nebraska. We chose this route because the weather looked to be amiable for that drive when we headed out and there were fewer steep inclines and declines to deal with than I-70 across Colorado. Even the wind was supposed to cooperate, which was a big deal for me driving a 30 ft long 12 ft high beast (I say this affectionately). I do not have a fondness for driving I-80 across Nebraska in the winter, as my one memory of doing so involved an accident on black ice. In college, friends of mine and I were heading to Colorado to go skiing. My roommate and her boyfriend and I were in my car. There were five guys in a Suburban. Alyssa was sleeping in the front seat. Mike was driving and I was in the back seat. Somehow, Mike and I both managed to look in the rearview mirror in time to see the suburban skid sideways, then fish-tail a couple of times, before flipping over and landing in a concrete-lined ditch. No one was hurt, but the Suburban was totaled, and we spent the night in the hospital while the guys were checked over, just in case. We ended up renting a station wagon, as it was the largest thing left, and somehow fitting ski gear and eight people in my VW Fox and said station wagon. We made it, but since then, I’ve had an aversion to the idea of driving I-80 across Nebraska at any time of year, but definitely mostly in the winter.
But it seemed the weather was going to cooperate. And it did appear to be a better course than the mountains in Colorado or the extra-long drive to head south to I-40. I swallowed the lump in my throat and butterflies in my stomach upon acknowledging that this did appear to be the best way to go. Mother Nature had other plans from the start, though…
We opted to leave a day earlier than originally planned. Unfortunately, this meant a drive down the coast through torrential downpours and over winding and bumpy roads. Our “short” drive took a loooooong time. As I said in my previous post, we did wake up to glorious sunshine and a spectacular and scenic drive the next day. It was also a long drive due to the slow procession through the mountains, but it was beautiful. We had to wait for clearing weather and roads in the Sierra Nevadas. Also a stunning drive, with the sunshine and snow-capped mountains. After spending the night in a town east of Reno, we had a choice to make. I was awake for hours in the middle of the night looking at weather conditions and forecasts for our chosen route. It’s winter. The weather can change rapidly. To my horror, I was finding that I-80 was closed to light-weight, high-profile vehicles (that would be me) in parts of Wyoming due to severe blow-over risk from high winds. They were also reporting icy roads, including areas of black ice, and blowing snow. Nebraska showed sections of ice or snow-covered roads as well. It was supposedto get better in that the winds were supposed to die down, but it seemed clear that it would be too risky to count on that. I looked up I-70 conditions in Colorado. Ice covered, nearly the entire way across the mountains. Again, conditions were supposed to improve, and many towns were predicting above freezing temps during the day, but at the highest altitudes? Well, that might not be the case. Colorado has this great thing where there are cameras placed all along their roads and you can see current road conditions at these various locations. What I saw through the lens of many of these cameras made my stomach lurch. I could not imagine conditions clearing up enough in a day to make the road comfortable for driving Knight over.
We wouldn’t hit the mountains for two days, but it seemed clear that we had to make a call that morning, sitting outside of Reno. We decided to head south to Vegas and then to Kingman, Arizona, where we’d catch the I-40 to Oklahoma City, and then the 44 to St. Louis. This should have been a comfort. Elevations wouldn’t be as high. Temps during the day would be warmer for the cats in the back of the rig. But I-40 is a trucker route and the roads can be in not-so-great condition. I still relaxed a bit. It was better than the alternatives. We headed south. About 50 miles from our intended stop, I got a high pressure reading on one of the back tires. It jumped up instantly from 90 psi to 96 psi. We pulled over, but I couldn’t see what the problem was. It was an inside tire, so it was difficult to see, but all seemed okay, even though the tread was worn, and it was obvious new tires would be in order before we left Illinois to head out again. We let the tires cool and started off again. The pressure started climbing again. We ended up stopping at a small, middle-of-nowhere town. I changed all the batteries in the sensors for the Tire Pressure Monitoring System, thinking perhaps this was the issue. It wasn’t.
We headed out the next morning. All the tires read in normal ranges. I kept an eye on the trouble tire from the day before. The pressure increased to levels above the others but did not hit that critical level from the day before. However, 30 miles outside of Vegas, the rig started vibrating. Or it seemed something on the rig was vibrating. Quite loudly. Pulled over on the, thankfully, wide shoulder. Couldn’t figure out what it was. Double-checked the tire pressure with the manual gauge. Everything read close to what the sensors read. So, we took off again. The vibrating was still there. I was only going about 30 mph because I was still trying to figure out what was going on. And then there was the loud, explosive boom. The sound like a gunshot. I knew immediately what had happened, so I pulled quickly over to the side of the road. Gail said later that pieces of tire actually flew over the top of her car. We were 27 miles from Vegas. Traffic was fairly light, and the shoulder was fairly wide, but it was still nerve racking to hang out there while waiting for help to come, which it did, 1.5 hours later. Another 1.5 hours and I had two new tires on the driver’s side back axel. While those tires were being changed, we decided not to risk another such incident and go ahead and get the remaining tires changed. We made arrangements to go to the shop for the same business who was at the time changing the tires on the side of the road.
When we arrived at the shop, it was busy. We had been told they could get us in and out quickly, but that apparently was not going to be the case. We waited. The cats did marvelously well with all of the noise and commotion going on in the very busy lot where tires were being changed on trucks and semis were pulling in and out getting weighed or stopping at the shop for various reasons unknown to me. I think the cats did better than I did! I tried to be patient. I really did. But when it was supposed to be my turn, as in every other truck that had been there had had their tires changed, I was at the end of my patience. No one had been in the bay when we arrived, so I knew there was no one waiting for other services besides the tire services when I arrived. I had been waiting ages, so I went into the shop and asked one of the techs how much longer it would be. I was informed that he had been left on his own to do everything, but that I was next. He was obviously agitated (and understandably so!). However, as he was rolling up the tires for the rig, another guy stopped him. I overheard the conversation. He was telling the kid that he needed to do the oil change before he changed the tires on my rig.
No. Way. I intervened. I had been waiting for well over an hour. He tried to tell me that the guy waiting for his oil change had been waiting longer. The only thing is, this wasn’t the truth. No one had been in the bay when we arrived. I told him this. The tech agreed, so he brought me to the supervisor, who had been the one to change my tires on the side of the road. The supervisor also knew no one had been in the bay, so he sent the tech on his way to change my tires. The tech was still agitated, but appreciative of my intervention, as it seemed that he was having a challenging end of his day. He told me he was staying overtime to make sure my tires got changed. So, I didn’t complain when he stopped for a couple of minutes to take a few drags off a cigarette before continuing with the work of changing my tires. As time rolled on, it became obvious we were going to be staying in the Vegas area. Fortunately, we found an open spot in Henderson. Vegas RV parks at this time of year can, apparently, be packed to the gills. We felt lucky to find a spot. After 8 hours of dealing with the tire issues, we were able to make our way to the campground and then to grab some food for dinner.
The next day found us in Gallup, New Mexico, where the overnight low was 15 degrees. Brrrr. We managed to stay plenty warm enough overnight and prepared to hit the road at 7 a.m. the next morning. Except...
Except that one of the tires read 55 psi, while the others were at 68-71 psi. It was the last tire the tech put on, and I happened to witness him having difficulty getting the air valve extension onto the valve. I was immediately suspicious of this, as I’d seen him retrieve a tool from the shop to help him get it on. This was a Saturday. The truck stop we went to had truck tire service. They legally could not work on RVs but were nice enough to check the tire and said that the leak was definitely coming from the valve area. He could hear it. Seriously?
Seriously? We tried the shop they suggested. It was supposed to be open. It wasn’t. No one was answering the phone, and no one was anywhere to be found on the grounds. We went back to the campground and called roadside assistance. They found an open shop for us but said that they wouldn’t cover anything other than taking the extension off and filling the tire because the extension was an aftermarket piece. But they did find an open shop who could help us. I was not at all happy. This shop did get us in right away. Sure enough, a seam on the extension was broken, most likely because the tech had overtightened it with that tool he’d retrieved. Steam was coming out of my ears at this point. And then I was shown the kindness of a man who ran a shop and knew of my plight. When he rang up my ticket, he charged me $12 for a new extension. That’s it. He charged me nothing for the hour it took his tech to do the work. When he told me the cost, I had the hardest time not weeping from the sheer kindness of this act. Just when I was at the end of my rope. I wanted to hug him. But I knew if I did, I’d lose it. I could barely thank him enough without a quaking in my voice and tears escaping from the corners of my eyes.
We were off again at 9:20. Two and a half hours later than planned, but it still we could make it by Monday. Which would be just in time. If we drove far enough over the next two days, we could have a shorter driving day on Monday. We could arrive in Champaign early enough to beat the high winds and dropping temperatures due to hit early afternoon. Sunday’s drive was long, but uneventful, until it was time to stop. Pulling off on the exit, and coming to a stop, produced a very loud groan of protest from one of my brakes. Was this ever going to end? The brakes gave no indications of trouble prior to this point, but we hadtraveled a LOT of miles with a fair number of steep-ish descents. It shouldn’t have been surprising. After much discussion and conversations with family members who know more about this sort of thing than me, we decided to push for home. We had five more break pads still functioning just fine. Funny thing was, once we got started again, the brakes quit making any sort of noise. Maybe they’d just been dirty from the windy, dusty desert conditions. I don’t know. I’ll find out in the spring when we check them all.
We left Springfield, Missouri, for our final stretch home. It looked like we’d make it just ahead of the high winds. It felt like smooth sailing. I-44 was in better condition and had fewer truckers than I-40 (which had been treacherous at times due to BOTH scary bad road conditions and scary fast and numerous semis). The traffic around St. Louis was light enough. We decided to head up to Springfield, Illinois, and then east to Champaign, just in case the winds arrived a little early. This way, they’d be at my tail, mostly, rather than directly broadsiding me. Or so I thought. Just 12 miles outside of Springfield, I slammed into a brick wall that was the wind. After breaking through this brick wall, the wind hit hard from the side. It had arrived early. Very early. Turning east onto I-72 didn’t help much, except for short stints. It was a terrifying drive, much like the one through the grasslands in South Dakota, except four times as long. As I drove, I did battle, and feared that with any given gust, I’d lose the battle and topple over or blow off the side of the road. I was sooooo close to my destination. So. Close. Yet it felt we’d never get there. It was a tough place to be. The winds would only get worse through the remainder of the day, and the temperatures would plummet. So we kept on. And finally arrived. Frazzled. Fraught. And Fried. But safe.
Knight has more complaints. And I hope he survives this deep freeze without any more injuries. But we are all safe. Over the course of the 9 days, 2700 (ish) miles, and almost daily obstacles, I wondered at my course. Was this what I should be doing? Why did the universe seem to have it out for me? Was it bad karma? Should I not be going to Champaign? I was looking at the drive with an entirely negative perspective. I saw everything that went wrong. I saw the obstacles and the delays, the setbacks and challenges. In my rant against the universe, I got caught up in seeing the obstacles that life always throws in our paths as some sort of evidence that the universe had it in for me, rather than realizing that we actually overcame all these obstacles. We all got home safe. Each time something went wrong, we got through it. Each time something went wrong, we had a safe place to stop, or we were just outside of Vegas where help arrived quickly (I’ve heard horror stories of people waiting for hours upon hours for help or help never arriving or being stuck on the side of the road with no cell service to even call for help) , or we actually found a place to stay in a city that has few options for RVers this time of year, or a kind man only charged me for a part an not labor because he knew of my misfortune, or I managed to get to my folks’ house without the rig tipping over or blowing off the road…the list goes on. When I shifted my perspective, I realized that in each situation things could have been oh so much worse. Life will always happen. Obstacles appear on every course. We can choose to see the obstacles as evidence of how unfair life is, or we can choose to see the lessons those obstacles have to offer and our tenacity at getting past them. It’s that tenacity that brings us forward to new opportunities, opening the door to possibility, opening our eyes to choices and dreams and a life truly lived. 9 days, 1 blizzard, 1 blowout and 6 new tires, a protesting brake, and 2700(ish) miles later…I feel fortunate, and I feel oh so grateful. We are here, we are safe. Knight is intact and I have the opportunity to tend to his needs and get him ready to roll again in April. The road is already calling me again, but until I can heed that call, I will use this time to catch up with family and friends, get Knight ready, finish the book I am writing, and enjoy the moments I am given between now and then.
Images of Knight in the Redwoods taken by Gail.
I’ve said goodbye to Gold Beach and the Oregon coast. For now. The rain finally got to me. It wasn’t simply the rain; it was all that came with it. The constant vigilance against mold. The dark inside the trees. The torrential downpours and wind and hail that made it impossible to do anything other than hunker down. It is beautiful, to be sure, but it is also relentless. You know who is boss in these parts in the winter, and it isn’t you. The first month in Gold Beach was a joy. The rain wasn’t too much and there was ample opportunity for exploration. That all but disappeared the second month. Everyone was stir-crazy, including the cats. They were getting bored with the same view. Even the deer wandering through our camp no longer caused them to perk up and get excited. The cats, it seems, are also drawn to the movement this life affords. When we stop for too long, the space inside the rig shrinks. So, I said goodbye to Gold Beach on Sunday and drove through a pouring rain down to Fortuna, CA.
I was ready to go. But it was hard to leave. I didn’t imagine it would be as hard as it was. I made a final trip to the local Ace Hardware, where I’d been enough times that they knew me, and felt my first tug at leaving when saying goodbye to these jovial and kind folks. On the drive down the 101, I spoke my goodbyes aloud to those now-familiar and loved landmarks: Kissing Rock, Cape Sebastian, and Harris Beach. Yes, I got misty eyed, and promised I’d return. Next, we dove deep into the Redwoods, along winding, wet, white-knuckle-driving-in-a-30-ft-RV roads. More rain pounded the roof as we stopped for the night, but, in the morning, it was sunshine. Glorious sunshine. I entered new territory on the 101 the next day. A drive I hadn’t done before, and it was stunning. The giant Redwoods dwarfed Knight, but sunlight still filtered through. The Redwoods gave way to a drier climate as we turned east, going through three or four different ecosystems before landing in Yuba City for the night.
Along the way, we hit a lake. An enormous lake. The road hugged its shore for ages. It brought to mind an Italian lake: Lake Maggiori, located near the border of Switzerland. The lake, the views across the lake, the trees and hills—they all transported me across the ocean. I didn’t care that I couldn’t drive any faster than 35-40 mph. I didn’t want to leave that lake too quickly. When we finally did part ways, the road wound through a deep hill landscape with green grasses and decreasing numbers of trees. It looked like spring. It felt like spring. And all the while, the sun smiled upon us.
Movement. It is like breaking free. To be moving again makes my heart sing. To be moving again under a big, blue sky? My heart is singing in three-part harmony. The cats are loving it too. Not the driving, of course. Though, even with that, they slipped right back into the routine after the first day. I marvel at Bubba. He’s got a social anxiety disorder. Not kidding. And he’s not one to like change much at all. But, for some reason, he is the most chill guy on travel days. He dives under the covers on the bed in the back and makes himself comfortable. When we stop, I find him sprawled out under the covers, sawing logs. As long as the road isn’t too bumpy, he’s good to go. And Gatsby has gotten a new lease on life. Every new stop is yet another adventure. He bounds from his place on the bed to look out every window and then beg me to take him outside. He is joyful. Nola is almost as excited as Gatsby, and Arlo just wants to know that he’s still with his peeps, and then all is right in his world.
Today took us over the Sierra Nevadas and into a town 35 miles east of Reno. There had been a blizzard in the mountains on Sunday, hence the stop in Yuba City; I-80 was impassible without chains. By yesterday afternoon, all was clear on the roads. Oh, the winter wonderland of the Sierra Nevadas after a heavy snow. It was stunning. Fresh white against blue sky, with a few high thin clouds to accent the scenery. We drove over Donner peak. With the fresh-fallen, deep powder blanketing the peaks and valleys, adorning the trees in a heavy dressing, it wasn’t difficult to imagine how the tragedy befell the group of pioneers stranded in the mountains in the winter of 1846. In looking up details about the Donner party, I discovered they began their journey westwards on April 16th(my birthday is the 15th) from Springfield, Illinois (I am headed to my hometown of Champaign, Illinois, about 90 miles from Springfield) to make their way to the west coast after the head of the party read a book called The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California. Seems I am essentially reversing their intended journey! Especially as I plan to stick around in Illinois until just after my birthday. I didn’t read all of this until I was safely encamped at my current location. It makes me even more grateful to have safely made my journey over that pass today, and glad I didn’t attempt it just two days prior.
Just 1,879 miles to go. I am heading back to Champaign for the next couple of months. Knight needs a bit of work done and stopping at my folks’ is the perfect spot to do it. It’s winter. Here and in Champaign. The drive home will be a race against the weather. So far, the forecast seems to mostly be in our favor. We had one delay because of the blizzard in the Sierra Nevadas, which worked out well because it is also delaying us from a very high wind day in Wyoming. But the next few days will be long drives (at least, for me, drives more than 6 hours in this rig constitute very long drives) through less scenic landscapes than the previous three days. Much of it will be flat. Normally not my favorite, but with the desire to make haste in the eastward sprint, I’ll be glad not to chug up too many more mountain passes, nor crawl down on the other side, weary of using my brakes any more than absolutely necessary. So, it’s goodbye to the west for now. A sad farewell, though I know I will return to these parts later this year. There is so much to see out here. I’ve barely scratched the surface. When I roll out in April, I’ll make my way somewhere. Gold Beach isn’t going anywhere. She’ll be waiting for me upon my return. Maybe next fall. Maybe some other time. But to the West I will return.
All but the first image taken by Gail.
It’s been a while since my last post. December was quite a month to cap off the year 2018. You know how there is that saying, “Time flies when you’re having fun”? Well, sometimes it does. But it doesn’t always. Life out on the road has shown me this more than almost any other time in my life, except perhaps for the time I lived in Germany. That period of life was closest to what I experience now, except that now I am older, I’ve racked up some graduate degrees, tried my hand at a few “careers,” and gained the sort of personal wisdom only time and experience can deliver. I’ve discovered that a meaningful life is one that is not dictated by university degrees or income or status, but rather by how you live each moment (including the tough ones, because they always arise), your perspectives on life and the world you live in, and your kindnesses.
December was a month during which experience, emotion, and the weather ricocheted from one extreme to another. Rolling into January has shown much of the same tendency in all three areas. I have stayed in this one spot for a month and a half now. One of the things I have discovered is that movement is part of this life for me. I like the movement. Not every day, but at least once a month. I can tell this because after a month, I started looking to where next might be, even though at this time it is better to stay put. I also know that, for me, I have a difficult time staying in the types of RV parks that are most prevalent: the tightly packed parking lots. I prefer more privacy and scenery. I prefer peaceful surroundings. These can be found in a lot of state parks and a very few private parks, which are fewer in number during the winter months. Even the private parks deemed “resorts” and costing a fortune tend to be neighbor stacked on neighbor places. This works great for many, but for me the allure of the road life is a combination of scenery and outdoor space. However, private parks are the only places you’ll find monthly rates at a substantial discount from nightly or weekly rates. Boondocking is something I want to do, but at this point I am not set up completely to be able to be self-sustaining in a location without electricity. So, for now I stay put.
As I have been here for a month and a half, I have started to realize a few things. First, I have discovered that time takes on a different shape out here. Before I left, I spent the first few months working two full-time jobs (one of them teaching as an adjunct professor, completely online) in order to prepare for being out here on the road. Those days were long. They seemed to never end. But the weeks flew by, as I realized all I was doing was working. And the months crept along, as the time for my departure seemed ever far away. How does all that work? Different chunks of time seem to pass at different speeds. But vacations always seem to fly. Or those weekends when you have nothing to do but enjoy your time. In those instances, the saying “time flies when you’re having fun” certainly seems to apply. Once out here on the road, all of that changed.
Time can still fly when I am having fun. There aren’t always enough hours in a day to hike as far as I want to hike when I am on a beautiful trail. It feels like I have been out here forever, though. It’s only been six months, but it feels like at least twice that long. Granted, not all days are fun. Some days are just hard work. Some days you are met with frustrations and worries. I have had a whole lot of days devoted simply to the work of writing, and other days have been spent attending to living needs. It isn’t often convenient to shop for food or pet supplies, especially when you are a plant-based vegan and you feed your cats a specialty food. Those errands can soak up an entire day, easy. Here, at least, the drive to the towns where I can find what I need is beautiful. It’s relaxing. It’s a journey in and of itself. I do not tire of the coastal drive. One thing is constant in this life, though, even when I have a bad day: I am not bound by the same time as I was when I was working and living in the “normal” world. Yes, I do have to hope to make a living out here, but when I hit a writing wall, I can go for a hike in a forest or go visit the ocean and let nature rejuvenate and revive my mind and soul. As on vacation, I lose track of the day of the week and the date of the month. If it weren’t for my watch and phone, I would really be hard pressed to keep track!
I like it like this. I like the slow weaving of time stitching together a patchwork of experiences. I like the understanding that even when I have a hard day, that patch of the quilt will be finished in its time, and a new patch will be started. I live in a rainy environment now. I am having to deal with some issues that have come up from this. I have devoted two entire days this week and given up my bed to sleep on the futon (which is, thankfully, reallycomfortable) to mold from condensation. Those days saw tears and frustration aplenty. Those days saw worry over not being able to complete my writing project any time soon. Those days saw anxiety over the idea that I could lose the battle with nature out here or the one battle with time that I have. Those days saw me wondering if I needed to give up and go back to the old way of living. But I would persevere and get through it. And the next day, I would wake up feeling like maybe I had won that skirmish, and if I could win a single skirmish, I might stand a chance in winning the next. I don’t want to “beat” Mother Nature, per se, I just want to be able to live harmoniously with her, but I do want to be able to live. In my little house on wheels. In the beautiful places of North America. I have learned from these experiences more about how to set up my living space so that I canlive harmoniously with Mother Nature in this wild and wet and beautiful land.
This life continues to stretch me. My quilt of experiences is growing, as is my stick-to-it-ness. I realize every day is a new beginning. Each gift of a day brings with it an opportunity to grow and to learn and to choose how you want to live that day. The quilt of experiences that time is stitching for me out here lends itself always to making each piece a color or design of my own making, even when the events of life aren’t always of my own choosing, what I do with them is, the way I color them is. It also is teaching me to be patient with myself. I am an imperfect being, as are we all. There is no real sense in regretting any of our reactions, as that means we are dwelling in a negative space and spending our energies reliving those events, rather than acknowledging them and then focusing on what you have learned and how you can handle it differently the next time. And then move on. We can all lose time and create quilts with very little color or pattern if we dwell on what has been or constantly look to what is to come, even if it is just looking forward to a weekend or a vacation. Life is lived in the moment. We can all let time stitch together a beautifully colorful quilt. It is one of the gifts that time can give us, we just have to accept it. When you live in the moment, time doesn’t always fly, even when you are having the most fun of your life, and, yes, even when you are facing the toughest of days, but that is the beauty of living.
And because my furry family has been so integral to all of my experiences here, from the joy I get in seeing them when I come home from a hike or a long day of errands--and vice versa, I think--to the comfort I receive from them on the toughest days, I am including pics of them on this post :)
Epic. This is what we were told by Ranger Rick at the Redwoods National and State Forests Visitor Center. You would think that he was talking about the trees we were getting ready to go see this past Saturday, and it is true, those are epic, indeed. But, no, it wasn’t the trees. He was talking waves. Giant waves. As we were chatting about the majesties of this northwestern coastal region, he mentioned that we might want to check out the waves on Monday because they were going to be “epic,” 30 ft monstrosities (at least for this coastal area). By this time, we were accustomed to the consistent hazardous seas warnings put out by the NWS. We have seen some epic-ish waves, thought 30 ft was higher than what we had witnessed so far.
Our friend arrived, and we said goodbye to Ranger Rick. As we headed into the epic forests, we set aside what we’d heard about the waves. Until yesterday. Gail had read more about this forecast. They were predicting 25-40 ft waves along the northwest coast, with some waves reaching 50 ft. The highest waves were to be in Eureka, California, nearly 200 miles from Gold Beach, but the entire coast from Coos Bay to San Fran was to get a taste. What timing. Our friend hadn’t been to this part of the coast before, so seeing this drama was a not-to-be-missed treat. Especially when hearing that the NWS was saying that going onto the water meant “imminent death.” Now those aren’t words you hear coming from these normally stoic and reserved agency folks at the National Weather Service. Of course we had to go check them out.
Looking at the waves in the Gold Beach area, it was obvious they were even more turbulent than they’d been thus far, but though big, they did not seem epic. Impressive, yes, but not yet epic. We determined to just see where they drive south took us, how far we would go would be determined by our moods and daylight. We would find out that this was an epic day, altogether. A grand, wonderful, joyful day, punctuated by even more epic moments, with a terrifying exclamation point at the end of a sentence in a paragraph that describes the entire day.
We drove south from where our friend was staying and pulled off at an overlook where there was a crashing display of white foam and sea spray. A moving van was pulled off there already, and its driver out taking photos. The three of us looked on at the ocean in that wonder that is ever-present out here and snapped our own pics. As we were heading back to the car to drive on, I noticed that the man had stepped over the guardrails and was looking over the edge at the appearing and disappearing rim of sand (and it wasn’t even close to high tide), holding onto his hat as the wind whipped around. He looked up and saw us, and I called out “Don’t let the wind blow you away!”
With a huge grin on his face, he called back that this was his first time seeing this. We walked towards him as he clarified that this was actually his first time ever seeing the Pacific Ocean. The look on his face. It was priceless. He was so full of glee and joy it was impossible to keep it at all contained, and he danced around in exuberance at what he was witnessing. I told him he came at exactly the right time, that he would be able to see some incredible sights if he kept driving along the coast. I asked him where he was from…
“I’m all the way from Illinois!” he said.
In unison, the three of us said, “So are we!!”
He literally started jumping around at hearing this. We found out he was from Chicago, and when we told him we were from Champaign, he laughed and told us that he is now living a mere 45 minutes away from Champaign, in Bloomington. He shook our hands and proceeded to tell someone he was talking to in his headset that he just met three ladies from Champaign, Illinois. Seeing his uncontained joy, his excitement, as he giggled and jumped and gestured, and feeling the camaraderie of sharing this moment with someone who was not only experiencing the Pacific Ocean for the first time on this epic day, but who was also from Illinois…well, it made me giddy with joy of my own. I got tears in my eyes from the beauty of that moment, and it’s bringing tears to my eyes now, as I write this. Watching a 38-year-old man with the completely unguarded jubilation of a kid just made my day. And we’d only just started.
We continued south, stopping along the way at overlooks that were suddenly more populated than I’d seen them thus far, and it was a Monday. Seems we weren’t the only ones drawn to the promise of one of Mother Nature’s displays of power. We found, as we drove, that the best shows tended to be in areas where there was nowhere to pull off. The waves were meant to be highest on northwest and west facing coastlines. The northwest facing coastlines fulfilled their promises, even more so than the west facing ones. So we hopped our way down from one overlook to the next, talking and ogling and moving onwards. We found ourselves suddenly just 40 miles from Eureka. How could we not go the rest of the way?
It was a good decision. We pulled off the 101 at Eureka, driving over the Arcata Channel and into Samoa. Finding a turnout beside the dunes that wasn’t full, we pulled over and climbed the short trail over the dunes to take our front-row positions at the show. Not only were the waves high, 40-50 ft, but they were coming in with such rapidity and so close together. Deep blue giants rolling in from a distance, some cresting almost out of view. They got bigger as we stood there watching, and came closer in. A dog wandered by, wearing a shirt, but seemingly unattached to any person. I tried getting it to come to me, but it was completely in its own world. Gail was watching it from closer to the water. She had her back to the waves, standing in a location where the waves had yet to reach. Until then. She turned just in time to see one coming for her, but not in time to run far enough away to not get soaked up to almost her knees. Good thing we had opted notto bring extra shoes and socks along, as has been the habit when hiking along the beach…she spent the rest of the time in wet socks and shoes. The dog disappeared down the beach.
I am not sure how long we were there. At some point, I looked at my watch and realized it was after 3 pm. The sun sets at around 4:40 pm. Time to make our way back, so we would not be driving the entire 200 miles in the dark. It was difficult to tear ourselves away, but we managed. Heading north, we drove by a herd of elk grazing in a meadow. We came upon a giant bull elk grazing on the side of the road. Yes, we stopped to watch, and to let our friend, who was on the right side of the car, shoot some pics, as the bull looked on, unconcerned with our presence. We headed into the Redwoods on a scenic stretch of road and promptly saw a second bull elk grazing along the side of the road, even bigger than the first. Yes, we stopped to watch again, and for Gail and me to take pics this time, since it was on our side of the road. Funny how that worked out.
Still in California, and still, thankfully, in daylight, re-entered the 101 and continued north, reveling in the scenery and the experiences we’d had. We approached a pullout to our left, with a cliff wall to our right. I had just glanced out at the ocean and turned my eyes back to the road. Just. In. Time. I gasped as I caught sight of two figures running down the road, and running right towards me, in my lane, and not veering at all. Thankfully, the traffic on the other side of the road had stopped in time, but now I had to slam on my breaks, on wet roads. The two dogs still did not move out of my way. I had no idea how I was going to stop in time, and I had nowhere to swerve, with traffic stopped in the oncoming lane and a cliff face on the other side of me. Somehow, though, I did manage to stop in time. The dogs walked around to the passenger side of the car. At first, we thought they were strays or escapees and tried to get them in the car, but did not even get the door open before they were dashing back to the parking area. Turned out they were escapees and their owners were trying to catch them. We lended a hand to the owners to get the pups into the safety of their vehicle.
Shaken, but so happy it all turned out well, we finished the drive back to Gold Beach as the winds picked up and the rain started falling in earnest. Gale force winds of up to 80 miles per hour and soaking rains were on tap for the overnight hour. Mother Nature continuing to remind us of her beauty and her power. It was truly an epic day. Punctuated by moments that make a person appreciate meeting a man full of joy at his first sight of the Pacific, seeing towering and turbulent waves, watching bull elks graze, driving through the Redwoods, and experiencing the whole of it with two of your closest friends.
I returned to one of the many spots I’d wanted to explore between Gold Beach and Coos Bay the day after I drove up to Coos Bay. Another sunny day on the coast. Not at all what I expected from December in coastal Oregon from what I read of the annual weather here. But I’m not complaining. So far, it’s been a nice combination of moody storms, of the gale-force wind and rain variety, and sunny skies. When I awoke to another sunny day, I knew I had to get out some, even knowing I have a goal to finish a writing project I’m currently working on by the end of this month. A sunny day on the coast in December is hard to ignore. I wrote for a few hours, and then headed back up the 101 to the place that most appealed to me from the road on the drive the day before. It is a seastack further offshore, but it is still connected by a strip of land. It has not yet been completely separated from the coast by the powerful forces of the ocean. There are plenty of places here where you can fulfill your urges to stand atop a seastack during low tide, but for some reason, this one, with its strip of connecting land, called to me to explore.
As I pulled off into the parking area, one other car pulled in at the same time. Other than that, just one other vehicle was present. A man stepped out of the car he arrived in at the same time I did. He looked around a bit and then commented to me about how beautiful it was. This began a lovely several minutes of conversation. I found out a bit of his story, and he mine. He was driving the coast road from Seattle south to southern Cali until he had to turn west. Turns out, he lives in Austin. He found it very amusing that I had lived in Austin for ten years and, after hearing that bit of information, held out his hand to shake mine and properly introduce himself. He was a delight. We parted ways, he giving the slight bow of respect of his native culture, and I a wave and nod in return. These types of exchanges out on the road are common. They are brief moments that, when stitched together, create the fabric of experiences that remind me of our common humanity, of the fact that everyone has a story, everyone has something to give, if we take the time to listen. It is one of the beautiful gifts of sharing the journey of life on this third rock from the sun. I can’t say I always appreciated that as much as I should have but living out here the way I am is fine-tuning my appreciation for more than just the beauty of the places I visit.
Bruce headed off to continue his journey down the coast, and I headed off to continue mine down to the rugged piece of land below. One thing you find out quickly in places of spectacular beauty is how little justice photos do. It is impossible to convey the grandeur of what you see in front of you on a two-dimensional image with edges that box in views that go on forever. Oh, I try, all the time, as the more than 8000 images currently in my library can attest (these are not just from this trip, but I do admit that number of photos is completely insane, and I am slowly going through them to weed out the unnecessary ones). And I tried here, as well. But the scale of the rising tuft of land I climbed or the force of the water rushing through the opening in the rock or the play of the water against the pitted, craggy surface of the seastack I sat upon looking down into the ocean below are impossible to capture well, if at all.
I walked down the coast trail until it split in two, with a detour down to the seastack and the two coves created by the piece of land leading out to it. On my continued decent, I couldn’t resist a climb up a soft tuft of land that jutted out over the beach below. I love that feeling you get at the top of something, looking down and out over a forever landscape. You feel invincible and vulnerable at the same time. It’s that line between two opposing forces: gravity and flight. A feeling of what it must feel like to be soaring over a land on your own wings yet realizing at the same time that you do not have wings at all and are bound to the earth by the force of gravity.
I stayed atop that tuft until the rocks and water pulled me down and closer. This little strip of land screamed for scramble and exploration, and the more a person climbs and scrambles, the more you realize of its hidden gems. It’s been explored a lot. You can tell by the well-worn paths created by the same curiosities among visitors to see what lies here, or over there, or up there. A perfect ledge upon which to walk to read a perch that thrusts you out over the ocean is one that not many can resist. I certainly couldn’t. I took satisfaction in knowing that while so many others obviously enjoyed exactly the same things I was currently enjoying, I was alone in my reveries and explorations at that moment. I could then at least pretend to be that first explorer discovering the wonder and power of ocean against rock. I perched, I scrambled. And I discovered something I did not at all know existed as I perched on one of the overlooks.
I saw a place where the water moved past the rock, and flowed under it in a powerful rush, before sweeping back out. A cave of sorts, it seemed. I watched from up high, and then had to inspect up close. The tide was out. Good thing. As I got closer, I noticed three other people looking at something on the other of the “cave.” I let them finish their explorations while I went to look more closely at the place I’d seen. This put me right at the level of the water rushing in, standing on top of some smaller rocks, very much attuned to the force around me. It was amazing, and I also realized what the three others were looking at. The “cave” went all the way through, and they were watching the show from the other side. I went around the rock and met the three, and their little rock-climbing pup, as they were leaving. We chatted a bit before trading places. The view was even more powerful from the other side. I watched from above for a while, before climbing below into a rocky bowl, level again with the water. I was even more aware of how powerful this water was as it came close enough to get me wet and at the same time completely attuned to the fact that I was in a bowl of rocks over my head where, during high tide, the water would surely be above my head. It was a bit scary and a bit exhilarating. The same contrasts I feel at being perched up high.
That is so true of this life we lead. It’s full of contrasts. Often we experience these contrasts simultaneously, and they can leave us feeling perplexed and confused. But I also think it’s the beauty of life. These contrasts keep us on our toes. They play off of one another and remind us of the complexities of a world we like to see in black and white. Our world is so much more than that. It’s a puzzle that never gets solved. A gift that you can unwrap forever. A secret that will be told for the rest of your life. We have much to learn about this world we live in. The opposing forces of water and rock, gravity and weightlessness, that exist here on this coast have something to teach us about the connections and human experiences that shape a life and make us who we are always becoming.