The boys and I pulled out of Champaign last Tuesday, nerves alive for all of us, as it had been too many months not traveling more than just the short distance through town to my parents’ house. I made the determination for their sanity and mine to drive no more than three to four hours a day. Preferably closer to three. No, I don’t cover much distance that way, but I’m not on any real timeline, other than the internal one that told me to push towards the mountains and higher elevations as quickly as possible. I listened to that voice at first, the impatient voice in a hurry to get to an environment I love. Not in how long I traveled per day…no, the voice could not overpower the desire for the rest of me to only be on the road for a few hours…but, rather, in how long I stayed at each spot. I listened to that voice for the first two stops, staying one night the first night, and two the second. By the time I got to the third stop, in Kansas, I guess I felt like I’d put just enough distance to feel like I was really on my way, so I added a third night to the originally scheduled two. Plus. There was the small matter of crazy winds that quickly convinced me I did not want to drive this past Monday, no matter how much I wanted to get to the mountains.
I’m glad I stayed. I think opting to add that third night slowed me down. It quieted that voice pushing me to the mountains as fast as possible. I had a moment to look around and realize that I was really doing this. That I was here, on the road again, and my schedule was mine to keep. I had no more reservations after that day. I’d only booked far enough to be sure I got through the weekend because I didn’t want the stress of trying to figure out where I could stop on a Friday night. Suddenly, I felt free. I was untethered and my soul grew lighter. I felt the burdens of worry about the upcoming travel, about how the boys would do on the road, about whether or not I could manage this on my own, lift from my shoulders and race away on those gusty winds that roared through the state park on Monday.
Time has already taken on a different quality again. As I was sitting here writing this, my first stop on this journey seemed so far away that I couldn’t remember where it was until I looked on the map to trigger my memory. I stayed at an Army Corps campground on Mark Twain Lake. Beautiful, large, campground shrouded in trees. I shared it with three other campers. Only there a night, we didn’t do much but allow ourselves to let down a little and enjoy the new view. That was last Tuesday. We rolled on Wednesday morning, getting on the road by 9:30. I’ve been fortunate so far in that the places I’ve stayed my spots have been open when I arrived, at least two hours before check-in. It was my plan to drive the early hours of the day, when it would hopefully be cool enough to not have to turn on the generator and run the AC to keep the back of the rig cool enough for the boys. It’s worked so far! We pulled into a Missouri state park at 1 pm on Wednesday, where we stayed for two nights. The place was sparsely populated, but by Friday it was scheduled to be completely booked.
I debated on whether or not to hike on the trail that led into the woods adjacent to my campsite. I debated because of the heat and humidity and mosquitos. But my desire to do my first hike on this journey won the debate. I think I might almost wish that it hadn’t. Almost, but not quite. It’s true that it was humid. My clothes were drenched and stuck to me like another layer of skin. I sprayed the poison on to keep the mosquitos away (I rarely…very rarely…use anything other than natural repellants, but I have been known to make exceptions, and this was one such time). However, they were no help in battling the bazillion spider webs, with their inhabitants present, stretched across the trail for a majority of the 3.5 miles I hiked. I had a brief respite. At first I believed it was because the trees had thinned out, but I think it was actually because the single other hiker I saw on the trail cleared the way for me. They were back as soon as I passed the hiker when he was taking a break. The toxic spray also did not ward off the bugs that flew up my nose. So, when a shortcut appeared, that would cut the remaining trail length by a good chunk, I did not think twice about taking it. I said I almost wish my desire to hike hadn’t won the battle, but I’m still glad it did. Even with the challenging environment, I still got time in nature. I still got to see birds, frogs, and deer tracks, and flowers and trees. I still got to stretch my legs and breath in the scents of soil, leaves, and growing green. It isn’t just looking on the bright side. It’s that the benefits of getting out really do outweigh the challenges. Even at only 3.5 miles, I still had the sense of accomplishment that comes from pushing yourself through discomfort and challenges, no matter what the form.
I was reminded of this yet again at my third stop. I was excited at the prospect of staying at a state park campground that sat just at the edge of a town. That town, I found out, also had a food co-op. It was still early on in my journey and I didn’t really needanything, but I thought it would be a good opportunity to get a few more fresh goods, as I was unsure of when I’d next have the chance. Since it’s just me, and I am driving a motorhome that is 30’ long, one of my challenges will be to get groceries and other supplies I need, especially with three cats in tow. I do have my bike, and I love riding it. I plan to try to balance stopping on my way to a location and riding my bike to the shops as much as possible. I’d rather not unhook everything and disrupt the boys for a trip into and back from a town that is just out of reasonable reach on my bike. I’m sure there will be times when this is necessary, and I’ll do it when I have to. But if I don’t have to, all the better.
The day after we settled in, I decided to go ahead and make my first biking shopping trip. My bike got a tune-up, new tires, and a new chain before I left, so I was looking forward to taking her out for a spin. The day was going to be a hot one, so I opted to head out early, hoping to be home by 11 a.m. to be the onslaught of the sun’s rays. I checked my map app to find my route, and followed it, first on a two-lane road without any shoulders and a number of curves (thankfully not too busy), and then on major roads that were busy, hilly, and only briefly outfitted with multi-purpose trails. I got to the co-op 8.5 miles later, only to discover that they had very little produce, and only one item I was looking for. I looked up the Hy-Vee, because if I was out, and made that trek into town, I was going to go shopping damnit! It appeared to be just a bit out of the way, but still in the direction of the state park rather than away from it. Made it to the Hy-Vee without incident, and I actually made the discovery that the smaller roads through neighborhoods were pleasant to cycle on! Got my goods…more than I’d planned…and began to make my way back.
The sun was rising higher in the sky, and it was getting a LOT hotter. And this is when the roadblocks appeared. Literally. On my way back, I ran into no fewer than three closed roads and one that was entirely unsafe for me to cycle on. I kept having to detour further out of my way. The last closure was the one that would have taken me directly to the campground, without having to go all the way back a few miles to go on the original road I’d ridden out of the park. My only option at this point was to either do that or hope that what appeared to be a small road leading off of the highway that goes across the dam (that pedestrians, including bikes, aren’t allowed on) was really a road I could take. It was. Or actually, it was a double-track, rock and dirt path that did not allow motorized vehicles. No matter. I was not motorized. My tires can handle the terrain. So, feeling lucky, I set off, with the sun blasting down on me and no breeze to break the heat, I made for what appeared to be an opening into the campground for pedestrians around a gate at the base of a steep hill. I got all the way down there only to discover that appearances were deceiving. There was no way I was riding up the steep and rocky trail, so I had to climb off my bike and push it, laden with groceries, back up the hill to where another track led to a paved road that led, at last, down into the park.
What I had anticipated to be a 15-16-mile ride turned into one that was 21 miles. With hills. And lots of stops to recalculate. I was wrecked from the heat. I didn’t have nearly enough water and had run out not too long after leaving the Hy-Vee. I had not planned to be out in the heat for so long (I did bring sunscreen…just in case!). I was too hot and exhausted to even consider making my way to the shower house, which would have involved either getting back on my bike or walking in the sun the good stretch of road to get there. A sponge bath in the sink was good enough. Followed by more water and sprawling under the AC vents. But, after all was said and done, I had a smile on my face as I shut my eyes and drifted off for a few blinks. It was tough, but it was doable. I felt for the first time that I really could meet the day-to-day challenges of being solo out here with just Knight and my bike for transportation.
That next day was all about rest. I read, I napped. I graded some final papers from my students. I sat in the AC for most of the day, recovering from the heat exposure the previous day. I felt peace. When moving day arrived, I was ready for it. We left early, headed for a city campground that has water and electric hookups and WiFi, is on water, and doesn’t take reservations. When I arrived, there were just a few spots open in this little park, and only one that had WiFi access. I thanked the universe and took it. It’s a beautiful place. Only fifteen spots. It’s quiet. The two campers next to me both house humans and cats. It’s always fun to see other traveling cats out there on the road. The view out my window as I write this is of shade over the dirt and gravel campground road, trees, grass, and muddy waters flowing gently by.
Originally, I had planned to leave today, but then I discovered that the temperatures were going to soar quickly, and eventually reach 105. It might seem crazy to stay for those temps, but it feels crazier to me to leave and drive across open planes (in windy conditions) in such hot conditions. Plus, I found out the place I was hoping to stop next is booked through Sunday, so, here we’ll sit, watching the river flow by, for five more days. It’ll cool off this weekend, so I might get a stroll around this tiny little town. And maybe another trip to the Mexican restaurant (I have no idea how often I’ll be able to treat myself to visits to a restaurant while I’m out here, so this feels decadent!). I’ll soak it all in, let my cares flow away with the waters, and sit in the joy of what it means to me to be here, to relish in just being, to absorb that here I am, on the road again…
Sometimes things don’t go as planned or expected. Or, perhaps, it is more accurate to say that things almost never go as planned or expected. At least not exactly so. I had formed my leaving around expectations for what I needed to do here before setting off and for what I expected to happen once I got out on the road. But. Things did not go as planned or expected. Gail is in her apartment, all settled except for the small details, and Knight is nearly ready to roll. So, the preparations for leaving took less time than I’d planned. My expectations for what would happen once I was out on the road also proved to be wrong in one major regard. Maybe two, actually. Or three. And I’m not even out on the road yet! So, I lied. What it all boils down to is that I am leaving two weeks ahead of schedule. The boys and I are shoving off on Tuesday, July 23rd, heading due west.
It’s still all a bit surreal. It feels strange being in Knight with just the three boys. Not bad. Not at all. I am a person who likes being alone. But different. Knight is still comfy and very much home, but the energy inside has changed with the leaving of Gail and Nola. It’s quieter, of course, but I like quiet. It’s also more than that, in a way that is un-nameable. The patterns of living in this space have changed, too. They’ve changed because now it’s just me taking care of the business of the day-to-day operations. They’ve changed because now I sleep in the bedroom instead of over the cab (which, by the way, I’ve kinda missed because there’s just something about being perched up high and waking up to whatever view is right outside the window, right at eye level). They’ve changed because now the boys allsleep with me, so while I’ve moved to a bigger bed, I think I have less space to sleep! They’ve changed because I’m now not doing the tiny space dance as two people maneuver around one another in small quarters. They’ve changed because now when I talk to myself, I do it out loud instead of just in my head. They’ve changed in all these small and not-so-small ways, but not one of these changes has felt uncomfortable or unnatural. The four of us seem to have just slipped into this new way of being in our space. This shift was not hard in and of itself. Don’t get me wrong, it was odd and a bit sad to have my best friend and travel partner move out. To have it actually happen. And it’ll be weirder still when I drive away from here on Tuesday. I am grateful for the technology that allows me to keep in touch with Gail and family while I’m out there. I like being alone, but I also like being able to maintain contact with people. I’m an introvert, not a hermit.
I’ve been wondering if I’ll feel lonely at all once I’m out there. I’m such an introvert that I’m inclined to doubt it. But It’ll be different than living alone in an apartment, with friends and/or family in close proximity (sure, I will have people in close proximity still when I’m at a campground, and I’ve promised to only boondock in places where I’ll share the general space with others, so I’ll not be, really, completely alone.) and a car to get to whatever I need or want, quickly. I really have no way of knowing, though, until I’m out there. Campers are generally such a friendly sort that I know I’ll still have the friendly greetings, small talk, and occasional substantial conversations with folks around me. But I won’t have friends or family nearby. I haven’t had that in…well…ever, I don’t think. I’m actually looking forward to that aloneness right now. For the opportunity to turn inwards more, to explore my inner spaces as well as my outer spaces, with no one but me around to distract me from the journey. What will I discover about myself in those spaces that I don’t already know? What will I discover about others when I have to count on the kindness of strangers for the challenges I meet and for the company I do keep? How will this journey change me? I know living in an RV and traveling for six months has already changed me, but this next stage in my journey will, without doubt, change me further still. It’ll be its own kind of adventure.
This past week-and-a-half has been challenging and busy, as the bottom fell out of my expectations and my plans for departure and being out on the road changed substantially. It’s been painful and it’s been frenzied. But the closer my departure gets, the more I find I am calming down. My mind is moving forward, mostly, to what comes next. I am nervous about how it will all go and what I now have to do, but I will meet the challenges head on. I know that the worrying is scarier than the doing. I will sort out where I stay and the details of living as I go. I have to trust the boys are up to moving more frequently, as I will have to drive the rig sometimes just to go shopping. But I’ll also do as much of my shopping as I can on my bike, which is now also ready to go (when I took my bike off the rack to clean it and pump up the tires, I discovered that the tires cracked from the weather, so I had to take my bike in to get worked on…now she’s got spiffy new tires, a new chain, and is all tuned up). I will find my way. This is how it was always going to be. That my expectations and plans changed does not change the truth of the big picture. I will find my path…and take it.
I will have to live small, smaller than I have been up to now, when I’m out there. But I will have the time and space to do what I’ve been unable to do standing still. I look forward to diving back into the story of my characters as I spend serious time on my second book. I look forward to having more to share here, both of my own journey and those of the people I meet along the way. I look forward to discovering those places to stay where the hiking is just outside my door, and a town is not too far away when I need it. I look forward to cooler (I hope) temperatures and drier (I know) air. Things did not go as planned or expected. They rarely ever do. The changes can create new challenges, but also new opportunities for growth and discovery. And so it has been and will be for me now and going forward. It is scary, but taking action reduces that lion’s roar to a kitten’s growl. I can handle the kitten better than the lion. Can’t we all? And so, I lied about how quickly things would take shape, but I hope the going forward still takes on the shape of adventure, promise, beauty, and love I’ve anticipated all along. I’ll see you all back here, very soon, from out there, on the road!
I am caught in that thick, heavy, sticky space between making a firm decision and getting to the time of being able to act on that decision. This seems to be a space that is especially reserved for those life events you are most excited about. At least that seems how it is for me. Do you remember that game you played as a kid? The limbo? (Do they still do this these days, or have I completely dated myself?). Where your goal is to turn yourself into a contortionist as you try to get from where you stand, under a bar set impossibly low (if you make it that far), and to the space on the other side. You cannot rush headlong under the bar, crouching down on all fours, where it is easy to balance, easy to see where you are going. Oh no. Instead, you must bend backwards. You cannot touch the ground with your hands, you cannot touch the bar, and you cannot see well where you are going. You walk…if it can be called that…feet first, arms flailing about to keep your balance, and hoping the rest of you can keep up without collapsing in heap on the floor halfway between where you were standing and your goal. That’s me right now. Doing the limbo. It’s even better on roller skates.
I’ve decided that I need to hit the road again. Gail has decided to stay put for now. This new adventure is something I very much look forward to, but it feels surreal. It’s somewhere off in the distance, on a horizon I can just see. I thought time would speed up once I got the work done on the rig. Did it the weekend before last. Hallelujah I didn’t have to replace anything that had to do with the breaks! Knight seems to be in good order, capable of carrying me and the boys along the dusty roads (or paved highways and byways) safely. The biggest undertaking after determining the brakes looked good was to get a plug-n-play inverter hooked into my house batteries, which are also fed by solar. With my bro’s help (okay, so he pretty much did everything), that’s done. Oil is changed. Back sidelight that got smashed in the gas pump debacle replaced. Electric cord cap replaced. Now what? I find myself waiting. Wondering what it is I can write about here that will be worth reading for those of you who continue to keep coming back (THANK YOU!!!, btw). How do I make the waiting interesting, exciting, or insightful?
I could say some wise words about patience. Again. Except that I find I have no more of it than I did before. I’m pretty sure the universe will keep tossing me into these situations over and over and over again. One day I might learn. That doesn’t mean that I’ll never have to wait again. Just that I won’t mind it so much. If it were autumn in the Midwest, the waiting might be just a tad easier. I would be enjoying the cool days and changing leaves, hiking on nearby trails every weekend I could. But summer has decided to slam into us at full speed and doing much more than melting is out of the question. Especially on a day like today. At 10 a.m., the temperature was already a blazing 93 degrees, and the heat index was a scorching 102. Gatsby was pissed at me because he just couldn’t understand why he couldn’t sit out in his tent like he does basically every day it isn’t raining. So, after hearing him yell (in his most insistent meowing voice) at me for a while, I took him out for about five minutes, brought him inside, and I haven’t heard a peep out of him since. I think he gets it now. At least for the next half hour or so.
Needless to say, I am itching to go. As are the cats. I can see it in their day-to-day demeanor. The appeal of living in an RV is the movement. The new scenery on a regular basis. The excitement of what awaits in this new territory. New smells. New birds. Will there be another buffalo (that was so exciting!)? Or perhaps some horses or deer. Those are cool too. The movement is key for me and the cats. We seem to be good for about a month. We’ve been at this particular campground for more than three months now. And while it is a lovely little campground, with the nicest owner and camp hosts around, it’s still been three months. So, why not just leave, you ask? I can’t. Not just yet. Gail moves into her apartment this weekend, but it will likely take a few days to a week, because of work, to get her completely moved in and then to get the rig space reorganized for 1 + 3 (humans + cats). I am also teaching a summer course at the university where I used to clock in for a career job every week. For any of you who have taken a summer course, you know how insanely fast everything moves. It isn’t much different for those of us who teach them. Grades are due on the last day of July. I will wait until that is finished before launching. I am looking at the first week in August. One month to go. Until then, me and the cats will be just over here, doing the limbo. I’ll update you on our progress probably one more time before we successfully make it to the other side.