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.