I left Dillon and headed just a bit southeast, approximately 160 miles away, but still a five-hour drive. I’d recalled when I got to Colorado that I’d had a friend who lived sorta near Colorado Springs, in Canon City, actually. And, lucky me, said friend alsohappened to have a nice, big, fairly level space where I could park, and he also didn’t mind me parking there! We made plans for me to arrive the Tuesday before Labor Day Weekend. It was a gorgeous drive there, but by the time I hit Highway 50, I was ready to be there. Instead, I made my slow way on this winding, slightly hilly, two-lane highway. My average speed was probably around 50 mph, mostly due to curves. I probably pissed off a few people, as I refuse to go faster than I am comfortable with and generally make the curves at the recommended speeds. There are few places to pull over. It’s rare in such a beautiful place for me to say: are we ever going to get outta here? But I did say that, multiple times!
I still managed to arrive before it got cooking too much. The temperatures in Canon City are vastly different than the ones we had in Dillon. It got up to 103 one day, and 100 on another, though this torture came after the holiday weekend. My friend happened to have the whole three days of the weekend off of work, so he suggested that we head to a place he really loves to camp. I was uncertain at first if I wanted to do this, but, after a couple of days in the heat, I totally changed my mind. Sure, let’s do it. So, on Friday morning, I left early while he worked, and made my way backalong Highway 50. It was much better the second time around and at the beginning rather than the end of the drive! Instead of the campground he had in mind (which required 8 miles down a dirt road), we decided to try a different one nearby, which required only a mile on a gravel road. These were both USFS campgrounds and had no services, though they had vault toilets. I left early enough that I hoped to snag us a good spot before what we feared would be the after-work march in to the no reservations campground in hopes of scoring a campsite for the weekend.
Turned out, we had nothing to fear. I saw only three other campers there when I arrived, and I found us an absolutely huge pull-thru site with two tent site options for my friend. It was a little work to get it level, but I managed to find the sweet spot. And, even with my friend’s car parked, there was enough room for another rig ten feet longer than my own! Huge. And it looked out into the woods. No neighbors were close. And it was a quiet weekend as the campground never did come close to filling up. It was my first go at dry camping, so I held my breath a bit as I plugged in and set up my solar panels, but the monitors both read that all was working as it should! My two batteries and 120 watts of solar panel were definitely plenty for what I needed it for this weekend. I didn’t test using the plug-n-play inverter to charge my computer—which I didn’t use—or phone, since there was no signal and I only turned it on to take pics while hiking.
And speaking of hiking…another great thing about this campground is that it’s close to the Continental Divide Trail, which is also the Colorado Trail in this area. We hiked one segment on Saturday and another on Sunday. The scenery in both sections was gorgeous. On the first day, we spent more time in the woods, while on the second day, it was more wide open, with grand views all around. It was the perfect combination. Both days we went about 8.5 miles. On day two, we saw quite a few thru-hikers and a couple of Colorado Trail thru-bikers. It made me want more than just a couple of day hikes! I’m not sure I’d want to go by bike, though. I’d rather the speed of a hike (though the couple on the bike said there were more than a few times that they were forced off their bikes, trudging uphill, with hikers passing them!). I am not sure I could do the entire CDT, or the PCT (which I’d love to do from Northern Cali to the Canadian border), or the ACT. But, perhaps, I could do the 485-mile Colorado Trail if I could get someone to come stay in the rig with the cats for a few weeks.
It was a lovely, peaceful, weekend. No technology, other than the phones for pictures, and that felt great. It’s amazing how wonderful it feels to step away from the screens. Spent the weekend in good company, with face-to-face conversations. Stunning scenery. And a nice walk along a little trail in the mountains. Oh, and there was an hour-long drive to Gunnison on Saturday for some good pizza and a beer. I can’t think of a better way to have spent the holiday weekend. Feeling refreshed, I suddenly didn’t mind that trip back down Highway 50 one more time…
After just over two weeks, I said so long to Summit County. For now anyways. This area will most certainly be one I return to again and again. When I return, it will be to the same campground as well. I love it there. Even when the wind comes roaring through in the afternoons, whistling around the contours and sending the rig a rockin’. It is still peaceful. All the trees were cut down because of the ravenous and too plentiful bark beetle. There are little saplings all around, but it will be quite some time before those provide any shade. In reading the reviews, you see some complain about the lack of trees or lake view. But I actually prefer it this way. I don’t like that the trees are in a losing battle with the beetle, but I like this campsite with the wide view. It sits on a rounded mound on the side of a mountain and is surrounded by the texture of peaks in every direction. It feels remote, yet it’s just a short ride or drive down to the bustling town of Dillon on one side or Frisco in the other direction. Breckenridge isn’t much further. Even without a car, I felt like Lowry was the perfect place to be.
After my bike was repaired, I set off on a ride around the lake. What a difference! Even the steep climbs were manageable. And the route was filled with some breathtaking views. I rode a steadily but stopped several times to absorb it all. I got off track a few times because the area is littered with paved bike paths and it was easy to miss a turn here and there. Luckily, they have maps posted everywhere as well, so I never went too far astray before figuring it out. I made it back home just as the afternoon winds really got going and the clouds rolled in. 22 miles. I put my bike back in its place on my still damaged, but functional, rack to await another ride on another day.
I had hoped to ride that trail again, but that was not to be. I pulled my bike off to ride a couple of days later only to discover that the front tire was flat. The tire for the wheel that had just been replaced. So, I got to try out the bus system because I needed a few things from town because my floor pump broke. Before I left, however, I talked to the camp host. I wanted to know about moving into my new spot early, just in case I opted for a long hike the following day. In the course of the conversation, it came up that there was another spot that would be open that day because someone made a reservation and never showed and never cancelled. Taking that spot meant that I would be able to stay through the weekend, instead of leaving on Saturday because the place was booked. What great luck! And, oh, yes. I’ll take that spot, please! The people currently occupying it left before I left for town, so I was able to move locations quickly and still have the rest of my day.
Summit county has a great, free, bus system that connects the towns and even some of the trailheads. It was a two-mile walk from the campground to the nearest bus stop. No problem. Got to stretch my legs and get some exercise. Rode the bus in and got off by the REI and City Market. REI was holding my old wheel for me. They got it repaired enough to be rideable for a bit as a spare, should I need it. I had thought about telling them never mind, they could go ahead and recycle it, because I wasn’t sure about getting it back to the rig. Taking the bus made it easier, so I decided to go ahead and pick it up. When I got to the bike shop desk, one of the techs came out to greet me. She asked if anyone had called me…noooo, no they hadn’t…why? Turns out that after they replaced my wheel, they found one just like my original one in their breakroom. It had been on a co-worker’s bike and that person had swapped it out for a different one. It was basically brand new. Had I purchased one like it as a replacement, it would have cost a fair amount more than the one I put on there. The good folks at REI…they gave it to me for the low, low price of zero dollars, in place of my original. So I’ve now got a really nice, brand new wheel as a spare! I had them recycle the old one. And to think I almost told them I had changed my mind on the idea of a spare.
I finished up my errands and, with my new wheel in hand, caught the bus back towards the campground. Turned out that I had the same bus driver as on the way up. My wheel without a bike was a conversations starter. I ended up having a lovely conversation the entire ride back with the bus driver, talking bike tours and RV travel and living adventure when you can. It made for an enjoyable trip back, and only added to the good feelings in a day that started off with a flat tire. It got me thinking about how we often get stuck in the mire of an event that we think of as bad or negative, but that when we let go, and take a step back, we might find that that event was actually the thing that spurred on something good or beautiful or amazing. Something we’d never have had the opportunity to experience if it weren’t for something gone wrong. I admit, I was frustrated when I saw my flat tire. I was exasperated. How could it be that I just got this wheel replaced and the tire has now gone flat? And why didn’t I get that bike pump when I was at REI in the first place? I quickly let it go, not really purposefully, but just in the course of planning for going to town on the bus, which I’d wanted to try out anyway. And right away, my day started turning around with the discovery that I’d be able to stick around for a bit longer. The good experiences kept coming for the rest of the day (including some pretty wicked storms missing our little corner of the mountains), and ended with a long conversation with the camphost outside my RV that evening about fulltime RV living and his and his wife’s winter experiences living in the RV in Breckenridge (think shoveling waste-high snow and ice from the rooftop of an RV as a regular experience and you’ll get the picture). I mused later that evening about the fact that my introvert self had multiple long conversations throughout that day, and not once had I felt my energy depleted from the effort of the encounters. The day was a gift. I went to bed that night grateful for every bit of it. Even the flat tire.
I did end up changing that flat. It was my first time ever having to change a flat on a bike. I’ve been exceptionally lucky in my life never to have experienced a blown bike tire. Not sure how that happened! And I did find out why it was flat. Somehow, in the course of putting a valve adapter on, a piece of the tire got caught between the adapter and the valve. I somehow got lucky yet again. The tire didn’t blow out while I was riding it. I assume it happened when they replaced my wheel. I rode back to the campground and then all the way around the lake without incident. It only gave way, with the stress of the pulled rubber finally breaking away and creating a rather good-sized hole in the tire, when my bike was safely back in the rack and not in use.
Aside from the whole bike saga, and a few opportunities to ride in Dillon, I managed to get some hiking in while I was in the area as well. Twice I hiked a trail that I was able to access from the campground by walking over the ridge and into Keystone. The first time I hiked 2.5 miles in, and then turned around an came back. With the 1.5 miles between the campground and the trailhead, it would have made for an 8-mile hike. Except. I made it longer. When I got to the base of the path that would take me back to camp, I decided I was thirsty for a hoppy beverage, and I had nothing in the rig. A quick peruse on Yelp and I discovered I could walk a mile from that spot to a liquor store. So I did. Priorities, you know? What is it about a good, long hike that makes one crave a nice cold brew? I try to blame it on friends in Germany who introduced me to that habit while I was living there…The second time I hiked that trail, I went further on the trail and ended up hiking 10 miles total again, just without the detour at the end. It was a great hike, and one mountain bikers seem to love even more than hikers, but everyone I came across on a bike was exceptionally nice and not a one was put out by coming across a hiker. Even so, I would often go for quite some time without seeing a soul on the trail. Where I became lost in the sound of the wind through trees or across grasses and wildflowers. Or looking up to snow-dotted peaks and billowing white clouds. No man-made sounds to interrupt the symphony of nature. In places like this, I often fantasize about walking forever or just living off the land (I pretend I would know how) because it all feels so right and so perfect, I don’t want it to ever end.
One other hike of note was not quite as long. Only about six miles. I was having a low-threshold day. One where I wasn’t feeling quite certain of myself and what I was doing. The great thing about living out here is that when a day feels that way, it is easy enough to change your perspective by heading outside, and that is just what I did. I went for a hike. I decided to head towards a place I’d seen on my ride around the lake, where there were great views of the lake and a place where there was a ¾ mile scenic loop that I’d not been on. When I got to the trail, I opted to go in the opposite direction from the one I was seeing everyone else go. Because of this, I quickly found myself at what was, for everyone else, the grand finale of the loop: a spectacular scenic overlook. I was gazing across the view over the lake, a smile now planted on my face. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a young man taking a photo of his girlfriend and their dog. I offered to take one of the both of them, for which they were grateful. As I was handing back the phone, the young man asked if I would take one more photo. He was reaching into his backpack, so I thought he was going for a big camera. I told him I would be happy to, as he pulled out, not a camera, but a small(ish) fancy blue box. I flipped the phones camera to video and captured the young man’s proposal on bended knee and his now fiancée’s acceptance. It was very moving. I was glad for my sunglasses. And even gladder that I happened to be there at the right time.
Dillon was the place where I felt I was truly able to let go since I’ve been out on the road solo, to be fully here, present with myself and open to whatever came my way. I adjusted to the wind. I moved when I needed to. I allowed myself the flexibility to adapt and change my point of view. I was reminded of how often it is necessary to do so. Even in a place as lovely as Dillon, life happens. When we can take a step back, change our perspective, we often find that in the down times or the low spots or the negative space, lies opportunity, if we can pull our heads out of the muck and walk down the path that opens before us. So, while I have said so long for now to Summit County, I will carry a piece of it with me in the memories, yes, but also in the experiences that reminded me what I am out here to learn and what I mean by shiftingspace: find your path and take it.
I’ve made it. At last. I am surrounded by mountains and will be staying put for almost two weeks in one spot. It feels heavenly. After being in high heat, followed by stormy weather in the Colorado Springs area, it is wondrous to wake up to crisp, cool mornings and plenty of sunshine. This morning was a brisk 45 degrees. I hadn’t brought in the heaters, so I just toughed it out with long pants and a sweatshirt. And coffee…always just the thing on a chilly morning. Or any other morning, come to think of it. I’m sitting at 9300 feet in elevation. It’s a Rocky Mountain High, to be sure.
I’ve been on the road again now for almost three weeks. Some might wonder why it took me so long to get to the mountains. I had to cross all the states in between Illinois and here. They aren’t the most exciting of areas, so why did I not hightail it here? I determined when I set out this time that I was going to make driving days as low stress as possible. And that meant making sure I was not behind the wheel for too long. I set my limit at three to four hours, aiming for as close to the three-hour range as I could get. I was successful up until the last day of driving to get to my current location. Now that I am in the mountains, I hope to move a little less and drive even shorter distances. I will try my hand at real boondocking, finally. And stay in a few host sites with Boondockers Welcome.
I stayed at one such place already. Just outside of Colorado Springs. Prior to that, I had been a few days on the plains of Colorado, but still had some time to kill before my first reservations in the mountains. I was not quite ready to full on boondock, so I made reservations for a couple of weeks at a USFS campground near Dillon. In the meantime, I hung out at a host site for a few days. And an eventful few days it was. The storms followed me there. We had one every day I was there. The first day, we had a tornado warning. That was fun. I was happy to have been in a location where I had a basement to take the cats into…and my hosts’ dog was absolutely thrilled to have kitty company. I can’t say the cats felt the same way about the dog, even though the dog was an absolute sweetheart that I would have taken with me if I could have found a way! In addition to the storms, I also discovered that the trucker who rear-ended me (and drove off when I got out of the rig to check on what happened) on the off-ramp at the previous stop had actually damaged my bike as well as the bike rack.
I had been heading to the store and to ride a rail trail when I noticed that I was having an exceptionally difficult time pedaling. I did not think the conditions were that bad, and I’d done the hills in Kansas without too much trouble, so it made no sense to me. Until I glanced down at my front wheel and noticed my brakes rubbing and wobbling, and then I further noticed the tire, wobbling as well. So, that was it. Front wheel was bent, and the five-mile ride I took to the store and back felt like 20. Fortunately, I recalled that Dillon has an REI, so I gave them a call and made my plans to drop my bike off on Tuesday. Needless to say, while my hosts were absolutely lovely people, and the views from where I was parked were gorgeous, I was glad to finally make my way into the mountains.
I opted to take the advice of one of my hosts and take the highway through the mountains, rather than I-25 and I-70. I’d come along part of that route, in the opposite direction, the previous year, so I knew it would be a beautiful drive. And it was. But so slow. It took ages to get out of Colorado Springs, but then once in the mountains, poor Knight struggled with the altitude and the climbing. At least the roads were pretty good and the other drivers polite. And the views were stunning. My three-to-four-hour limit turned into a five-hour drive. It was long, but I was never without amazing views to stare at while I passed the time behind the wheel. The cats did great, too. They were all crashed out asleep when we got to our camping spot. They were troopers. And maybe the CBD I’ve been giving them has helped too…
So, yesterday, I rode my bike to REI. The distance wasn’t bad, and only a short bit of it was on a scary-busy mountain road. The rest was on this great bike path that goes all the way around Dillon Reservoir. However, while the 5 miles I had first ridden with my bad wheel was on fairly mild grades, this 7 miles had more than a few steeper climbs. My legs got quite the workout, as did my lungs. But the weather was spectacular, and the big, white clouds, blue skies, water, and mountain peaks (still with snow patches dotting them at higher elevations) all made the ride in worth it. I love this area. I love the mountains and the cool, dry air. It does something to my soul. It’s sad to see all the beetle damage around here, but the Forest Service has been working to remove and replant, so there are many areas with young trees growing where dead trees were removed. And then there are the mountain peaks jutting above treeline. Rugged peaks that rise up strong out of the ground. That stand bold against the blue skies. They automatically make me feel stronger. They make me feel like I, too, can rise up, show formidable strength, and grace and beauty at the same time. That I can stand strong against the storms and winds of life, face into them, and remain standing when they pass. Maybe weathered a bit, but that just creates character, right?
The folks in the bike shop at REI were awesome. They knew my situation, that my bike was my only form of transportation other than Knight, and they worked diligently to get my bike done yesterday, even though they were already busy. Turned out that the master tech did not think that my wheel would be as dependable as I would want it to be for what I needed because the damage was too great, and he couldn’t get the tension on the spokes to a comfortable level. My rear wheel was also slightly bent, but that one was easily corrected. They had one rim in the shop that would work for what I needed, the right size and everything. So, I got a new wheel. And still got my bike back the same day I took it in. Incredible the difference in the ride on the way home! I’m not going to lie…there were a couple of steep climbs that I just couldn’t hack. My legs were as wobbly as my wheel had been. For those stretches, I hopped off my bike and pushed it up the hill (with my pack of groceries on my back, as well…I didn’t take my panniers because I thought for sure I’d be walking back to the campground without my bike). It just gave me extra time to take in the scenery, view the wildflowers, and gaze out over the valleys and through the trees.
I’m looking forward to a lot more riding and hiking while I’m here. I’ve been investigating the AllTrails app to see what hikes I can access from where I’m at. I’ll always have to do a bit of traveling to get to trail heads, but some of them are easily accessible with my bike. Others, I can take the free bus that travels this entire area, giving me access to a whole host of hikes I’d not otherwise be able to reach. I already know it’s going to be hard to leave this area. Everything I need is within reach. But there will be new places to explore in the Colorado mountains. And I’ll do that for as long as I can. This Rocky Mountain High is addicting. I’ll keep chasing it until the weather chases me south. Now I think I’ll go listen to some John Denver as I watch the sun sink lower over the mountains…
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.
I have been at a standstill now for several months. As those of you who have followed my journey know, I was driven back to my hometown in February by the weather, and here I am, five months later, still sitting here. I had not anticipated this turn of events and certainly had not thought I’d be here for as long as I have. My traveling partner (and best friend) and I have been staying in the RV at a campground just outside of Champaign, IL, which is where I grew up and where my parents and my brother and his family live. I have been working at my brother’s company and enjoying the time I’ve gotten to spend with family. But once the weather started to turn, the road began to whisper sweet nothings in my ear. And now those whispers have become a roar, and I find that I can’t resist much longer. The road is such a convincing romantic. I have been swayed to believe all that is held before me to tempt me to follow the road wherever it may lead me.
This time, however, things will be different. I will be heading out on my own, for my biggest solo adventure yet. It was so great to have my best friend join me in this crazy venture for the past year. What an adventure it has all been. I am so grateful to have had a partner in crime and someone to rely on for support when we were faced with challenging situations.
But now, she will stay here for a while because an opportunity arose that she cannot pass up. And I must go. Because it is in my blood. I will head west.
I had originally thought to point the rig to the east/northeast first but going west again feels right. I’ve had enough of the rain and humidity to last me a good long while. I am ready for drier alpine environments. For towering rugged mountains and crystal blue lakes. For blue skies and puffy white clouds. For pine needles under my boots and views that go on forever.
Am I nervous? Sure. At least a little bit. I am in a 30’ 1993 RV traveling solo. And I will have no car…just my bike. There will be new challenges, some of which I am already aware, and others that I am sure will blindside me unawares somewhere along the line. I am sure there will be frustrations aplenty along the way. Moments of anxiety as a new problem arises that I am unsure of how to fix. But those are just part of this life. And for all that, I get the rewards of the freedom this lifestyle offers. Opportunities to grow and gain strength. New trails to hike and amazing views right outside my window. Views that change as often as I care to move. I get the quiet and peace that being alone out in nature affords. And when I hit those rough patches, I’ll just turn up my music and “dance it out” (in the words of Meredith Gray from Gray’s Anatomy), or head out for a good, long hike, understanding that rough patches are only temporary setbacks on my path of living a life doing what I love.
I will not be completely alone. I am travelling with three boys. Three furry boys. Gatsby, Bubs, and Arlo are a bonded tribe. The Boys’ Club. And neither of us wants to break that tribe apart. Gatsby and Bubs are happiest living this road life. I’d never have imagined it for Bubs, but he’s come into his own out here and I’ve never seen him happier. Gatsby was made for this type of life. I can’t fathom him back in an apartment. He has an adventurer’s soul. And Arlo? Arlo is truly happiest wherever Bubs is. So, it will be me and the boys on this journey.
I have discovered that this road life is an important part of the path I need to follow. My creativity relies on the freedom, adventure, changes in scenery, and time out in nature that I get living out on the road. I have started writing the sequel to The Undoing, book 2 in the trilogy, but I’ve found that my creative brain just doesn’t work as well sitting still. Part of the joy in the journey has been, and still is, that all of the different sides of me fit together better. I feel more complete, more creative, more at peace with myself and others. I am free to be who I am deep down to my roots, and I can live a life that rests in love. Do I think it’s necessary to live this kind of life to feel peace and to rest in love? No. This life isn’t for everyone. And I’m sure that even for me, it isn’t necessary. But it is right. For me, it is right.
The boys and I will be in Champaign a bit longer. At this point, it looks like ETD (estimated time of departure) is at the beginning of August, when Gail can move into her new digs. In the meantime, Knight will be getting prepped to leave as well. Next weekend, it will be time to tackle replacing the brakes, changing the oil, connecting the inverter, and a few other minor tasks to make him road-ready again. This part of the path will teach me something as well. It will teach me that lesson I have always struggled to learn. Patience. Patience to wait for those things that I look forward to. But it is oh so near now. I might have to occasionally plug my ears to quiet that roar a bit, turn it into more of a whisper again, before heeding the call of the road. It is time. When the whisper becomes a roar, you know it is time to listen.
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!