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…