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!
For me, I did just that, when moving back into Knight. I have to admit, I was nervous to move back in. Excited. And nervous. I so missed living in my cozy home. I missed the warmth of my surroundings. I missed the simplicity of my small space. I missed being able to see out from every direction. And I missed being able to pack it all up in a short time and move on to different views in a new place. But I was nervous all the same. The last time I’d been in the RV was for the mad sprint back to Illinois to get out of the Oregon rain, when I was consequently slammed into a brutal winter with frigid, deadly temperatures and winds. In Oregon, Knight had become inhospitable because of the moldy environment the rain had created. I hoped that the steps I had taken had been enough to make Knight the friendly, welcoming home I’d known prior to being overtaken in Secret Camp. But I had no real way of knowing until moving back in. And it’s spring. The rainy season. I had an additional anxiety over moving the cats back in. Would they still love being in the rig? Or would they feel confined after having a bigger space to live in than they’d ever had before (other than when they each had experienced living life entirely outside as stray, abandoned, or feral cats in their previous lives)? And how would Ifeel moving from a house back into Knight?
Winter in Illinois has been a long one. Today, it feels still present as the temps sit below freezing and the wind howls out of the north, making it feel so much colder. I used to love winter. I used to love rain. I think I still do. But right now, we sit on the cusp of April and the calendar said spring arrived a week ago. So, my four-season soul is telling me it is time. Time for flowers and green buds on trees. Time for light or no jacket temperatures. Time for the greening of the grass and the buzzing of bees. Lucky for me, the forecast says it is arriving for real this coming week. I am ready for it. I am ready for time outside and open windows. Fresh air smells and breezes blowing through the rig.
The cold and the sometimes rainy, sometimes snowy precipitation of the last two months kept me inside and hunkered down. I was unable to do the work I needed to do on Knight until the last week or so before moving back in. But because of that, I had plenty of time when I first got to my parents’ house to finish writing a book I had started writing back in the fall. My first novel, and the first in a planned trilogy. Writing this blog has been a great creative endeavor for me, and it gave me the courage to put words out there in the form of fiction. I cut my teeth on a children’s book, and then dove into a full-on novel. When I went out on the road, I had thought I would write a book, but I did not dream I would write fiction, let alone a children’s book and a YA novel. But now that I’ve done it, I’ve found how much I love to write fiction.
When I was young, I wrote creatively all the time. I wrote and I read. I used to have to be told to put my book away and be social. I carried a book with me all the time and everywhere. Any free moment I had, I’d escape into the world living in the pages of whatever book I was currently reading. When I did not have free time, I made it, eschewing conversations with family while on vacation or reading while eating, in order to find out what happened next. I was a journal writer from the age of about eight or so and I also carried around a notebook or loose scraps of paper on which to write imaginary scenes or stories that would pop into my head. No one read these things. They were purely for my own entertainment. As I got older, the creative writing stopped. When I got to grad school, the fiction reading stopped. While I got back into reading fiction after I graduated, I was completely surprised when I felt the desire to write fiction. I was also intimidated by the thought. But once the ideas for both books popped into my head, there really was no question for me as to whether or not I’d pursue them. And now they are done and it’s time to start book two in the trilogy. (Check out my “Books” tab where you will find the links to both books on Amazon.)
When we first moved ourselves into my parents’ house, the cats had a difficult time adjusting to all the space. They seemed to be disconcerted with not knowing where one another or we were. Towards the end, however, they discovered the fun in chasing the laser light around an entire floor or chasing each other up and down the stairs. Towards the end, however, I was very ready to move back into my home. I had to do several things to get him ready, and I had less than a week to get them all done because the weather didn’t cooperate before then. But, with the leak in the bathroom fixed, new faucets in the bathroom and kitchen, the switch for the porch light repaired, a new bed with airflow netting under the mattress, mold killing primer on wood and touchup paint, we could move back in.
So, I came home again. It has been wonderful to be back in my cozy little space. The cats have been joyful, especially Gatsby and Bubs. It took Arlo and Nola about a day, and then they, too, were back into the groove and seeming happy and contented to be home. We aren’t leaving the area for a while, but we are camped for now at a nearby campground with Knight overlooking a little pond with geese and ducks already hanging out. It has rained a LOT the last few days. It felt a little like the coast of Oregon again. Except colder. But Knight seems to be holding up in the rain. And after tonight the overnight temperatures will not be dropping below freezing and the daytime highs from Tuesday onwards, at least according to the weather app, will start to climb into the upper 50s and lower 60s. The chairs and awning will come out, Gatsby will chill on my lap, and we will watch as the flowers start to pop out of the ground, the leaves begin to bud, and the grass goes from straw brown to soft green, as the birds flit about the trees and the bees wake up. Oh yeah. And we will have to have our plan for how to get the cats to the storm shelter if the sirens sound, for it is April in the Midwest…
I’ve been back in Champaign for one month now. It’s a strange thing being back. I’ve done this before, left for a while and then returned for a stretch of time longer than a week’s visit, and I always have this odd feeling of disconnect from the place I grew up. Usually, though, it also comes with feelings of nostalgia. Perhaps I wasn’t gone long enough this time, but those nostalgic feelings are missing. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly elements of Champaign that I find I am really happy to take advantage of again now that I am here. Like shopping at the food co-op. I really missed my co-op when I was on the road. I found others, in sometimes surprising places, but the one in CU is exceptional. I have yet to see another one with the selection here, especially with the vegan options in the bakery and deli. So, I will miss that again when I leave. And, along with that, I will miss the ease with which I could get my favorite vegan burger, not at the co-op, incidentally. It’s been great to reconnect with a few people here, as well. Most especially my former students. That was pure joy. But on the whole, I find my nostalgia is for the road, my longing is to be back out there again.
Oh, to be back out there again. When I made the decision to return to Champaign for a few months, it was not without some fear and trepidation. I was afraid of getting stuck here. It is nothing against Champaign. It’s a great little town in so many ways. It is more about my own soul and where my passions reside. It was something to overcome the idea that coming back here did not mean I had to stay here. That I could pick up again when my designated time was up. That my home sits out in the driveway of my parents’ house right now, and, in April, I can point it where I want it to take me. Which is, oddly enough for me, the desert.
The desert. In earlier posts from my travels, I spoke of my newfound love of the desert southwest, especially in fall. I soaked in the contrasts of red, yellow, and green. My eyes were drawn to the ruggedness of the landscape against a backdrop of big, blue skies. Yet, when we made the decision to go to Oregon, I could not wait to see the lushness of the rainforest and the wildness of the ocean. It was time for that change of scenery. The wildness of coastal Oregon is a different beast from the wildness of southern Utah. Both are amazing. Both stir the spirit. I look forward to going to the coast of Oregon again, just not in the rainy season. But now, the desert is, once again, beckoning. I am ready for warmer temperatures. Yes, this girl who would have never, ever spoken those words in the past is now saying them. I was always a cold weather person, preferring winter and fall over spring and summer. Life on the road has changed me, even in just six months. Now, sitting in February in Illinois, I dream of the warmth of the spring sun on the rocky mountains of New Mexico. Things can always change. People can always change. Even at nearly 50, I have changed.
50. Half a century. A long time to live through the eyes of a child. I can remember when I thought 50 was old. Now, I am reflecting on that timeless observation that even at 50, I feel I’ve only been here for the blink of an eye. And while I’ve changed, inside, I feel in many ways like the same girl I was as a teenager, or younger even. Some of the same insecurities and vulnerabilities still arise in me regarding my place in the cosmos and my relationships with those around me and with myself. Some passions and dreams have changed, while others have remained constant. My perspectives and ideas have certainly shifted, formed, dissolved, and reformed a thousand times over the course of my lifetime. I’m sure there is more of that to come. I count on it. In terms of Earth time and Universe time, 50 years traipsing around on this planet doesn’t even count as a blink of an eye.
In the blink of an eye. That is how quickly things can change. I was reminded of this a few days ago. I have largely been absent on Instagram since coming back to Champaign, only touching base there briefly and occasionally. One evening, I was doing just this when I came across a post that revealed the passing of an old friend. It was a shock to make this discovery through an Instagram connection who I did not even realize was friends with this particular friend. I am not on facebook much at all, so I had missed the news there. This friend was a person who embodied joy, with a laugh that was infectious and light and from her heart. We lost regular touch over the years, but at some point, got reconnected over facebook. We had lunch not too long ago. At least it feels like it was not too long ago. Last year, I think. We caught up over all the years’ events. She talked about her stage four breast cancer and how, when nothing else had worked, she had changed her diet and had been declared cancer-free. I had thought just a week or so ago that I should contact here while I was in town to make that trip out to the farm to visit and to meet her family. So, this news of her passing was a surprise. And it got me thinking.
It got me thinking about how things always change. We never know exactly how, and we never know exactly when. The only thing in this world that is permanent is impermanence. The one thing we do know is that we are only ever guaranteed the moment we are currently in. We westerners have such a tough relationship with death, on the whole. But we are all going to get there. It’s inevitable. While hearing the news of my friend’s passing was surreal and difficult, it also made me think about how lovely it was that she had the extra time that she did with her family. Death has something to teach us about life, if we let it. What would we do differently if we knew that today was our last day on Earth? How might our life change if we lived each moment as if it were our last? Each and every moment is unique. You will never get that slice of time back. Even the hard moments. They pass too. There is beauty in this truth. There is also freedom. So, what if we were grateful for each moment we have? What if we were present for each moment we exist? How would that change our perspectives and our relationships with one another and with ourselves?
How would it change you?
9 days, 1 blizzard, 1 blowout and 6 new tires, a protesting brake, and 2700(ish) miles later…
Gold Beach, Oregon, to Champaign, Illinois, in nine days. The original plan had been for six days, but the original plan did not involve obstacles. Reality did. We were in a race against the weather and an appointment scheduled for the 29th. Our chosen route was to head south and then across to Reno, where we’d pick up I-80 to zip through Nevada, Wyoming, and Nebraska. We chose this route because the weather looked to be amiable for that drive when we headed out and there were fewer steep inclines and declines to deal with than I-70 across Colorado. Even the wind was supposed to cooperate, which was a big deal for me driving a 30 ft long 12 ft high beast (I say this affectionately). I do not have a fondness for driving I-80 across Nebraska in the winter, as my one memory of doing so involved an accident on black ice. In college, friends of mine and I were heading to Colorado to go skiing. My roommate and her boyfriend and I were in my car. There were five guys in a Suburban. Alyssa was sleeping in the front seat. Mike was driving and I was in the back seat. Somehow, Mike and I both managed to look in the rearview mirror in time to see the suburban skid sideways, then fish-tail a couple of times, before flipping over and landing in a concrete-lined ditch. No one was hurt, but the Suburban was totaled, and we spent the night in the hospital while the guys were checked over, just in case. We ended up renting a station wagon, as it was the largest thing left, and somehow fitting ski gear and eight people in my VW Fox and said station wagon. We made it, but since then, I’ve had an aversion to the idea of driving I-80 across Nebraska at any time of year, but definitely mostly in the winter.
But it seemed the weather was going to cooperate. And it did appear to be a better course than the mountains in Colorado or the extra-long drive to head south to I-40. I swallowed the lump in my throat and butterflies in my stomach upon acknowledging that this did appear to be the best way to go. Mother Nature had other plans from the start, though…
We opted to leave a day earlier than originally planned. Unfortunately, this meant a drive down the coast through torrential downpours and over winding and bumpy roads. Our “short” drive took a loooooong time. As I said in my previous post, we did wake up to glorious sunshine and a spectacular and scenic drive the next day. It was also a long drive due to the slow procession through the mountains, but it was beautiful. We had to wait for clearing weather and roads in the Sierra Nevadas. Also a stunning drive, with the sunshine and snow-capped mountains. After spending the night in a town east of Reno, we had a choice to make. I was awake for hours in the middle of the night looking at weather conditions and forecasts for our chosen route. It’s winter. The weather can change rapidly. To my horror, I was finding that I-80 was closed to light-weight, high-profile vehicles (that would be me) in parts of Wyoming due to severe blow-over risk from high winds. They were also reporting icy roads, including areas of black ice, and blowing snow. Nebraska showed sections of ice or snow-covered roads as well. It was supposedto get better in that the winds were supposed to die down, but it seemed clear that it would be too risky to count on that. I looked up I-70 conditions in Colorado. Ice covered, nearly the entire way across the mountains. Again, conditions were supposed to improve, and many towns were predicting above freezing temps during the day, but at the highest altitudes? Well, that might not be the case. Colorado has this great thing where there are cameras placed all along their roads and you can see current road conditions at these various locations. What I saw through the lens of many of these cameras made my stomach lurch. I could not imagine conditions clearing up enough in a day to make the road comfortable for driving Knight over.
We wouldn’t hit the mountains for two days, but it seemed clear that we had to make a call that morning, sitting outside of Reno. We decided to head south to Vegas and then to Kingman, Arizona, where we’d catch the I-40 to Oklahoma City, and then the 44 to St. Louis. This should have been a comfort. Elevations wouldn’t be as high. Temps during the day would be warmer for the cats in the back of the rig. But I-40 is a trucker route and the roads can be in not-so-great condition. I still relaxed a bit. It was better than the alternatives. We headed south. About 50 miles from our intended stop, I got a high pressure reading on one of the back tires. It jumped up instantly from 90 psi to 96 psi. We pulled over, but I couldn’t see what the problem was. It was an inside tire, so it was difficult to see, but all seemed okay, even though the tread was worn, and it was obvious new tires would be in order before we left Illinois to head out again. We let the tires cool and started off again. The pressure started climbing again. We ended up stopping at a small, middle-of-nowhere town. I changed all the batteries in the sensors for the Tire Pressure Monitoring System, thinking perhaps this was the issue. It wasn’t.
We headed out the next morning. All the tires read in normal ranges. I kept an eye on the trouble tire from the day before. The pressure increased to levels above the others but did not hit that critical level from the day before. However, 30 miles outside of Vegas, the rig started vibrating. Or it seemed something on the rig was vibrating. Quite loudly. Pulled over on the, thankfully, wide shoulder. Couldn’t figure out what it was. Double-checked the tire pressure with the manual gauge. Everything read close to what the sensors read. So, we took off again. The vibrating was still there. I was only going about 30 mph because I was still trying to figure out what was going on. And then there was the loud, explosive boom. The sound like a gunshot. I knew immediately what had happened, so I pulled quickly over to the side of the road. Gail said later that pieces of tire actually flew over the top of her car. We were 27 miles from Vegas. Traffic was fairly light, and the shoulder was fairly wide, but it was still nerve racking to hang out there while waiting for help to come, which it did, 1.5 hours later. Another 1.5 hours and I had two new tires on the driver’s side back axel. While those tires were being changed, we decided not to risk another such incident and go ahead and get the remaining tires changed. We made arrangements to go to the shop for the same business who was at the time changing the tires on the side of the road.
When we arrived at the shop, it was busy. We had been told they could get us in and out quickly, but that apparently was not going to be the case. We waited. The cats did marvelously well with all of the noise and commotion going on in the very busy lot where tires were being changed on trucks and semis were pulling in and out getting weighed or stopping at the shop for various reasons unknown to me. I think the cats did better than I did! I tried to be patient. I really did. But when it was supposed to be my turn, as in every other truck that had been there had had their tires changed, I was at the end of my patience. No one had been in the bay when we arrived, so I knew there was no one waiting for other services besides the tire services when I arrived. I had been waiting ages, so I went into the shop and asked one of the techs how much longer it would be. I was informed that he had been left on his own to do everything, but that I was next. He was obviously agitated (and understandably so!). However, as he was rolling up the tires for the rig, another guy stopped him. I overheard the conversation. He was telling the kid that he needed to do the oil change before he changed the tires on my rig.
No. Way. I intervened. I had been waiting for well over an hour. He tried to tell me that the guy waiting for his oil change had been waiting longer. The only thing is, this wasn’t the truth. No one had been in the bay when we arrived. I told him this. The tech agreed, so he brought me to the supervisor, who had been the one to change my tires on the side of the road. The supervisor also knew no one had been in the bay, so he sent the tech on his way to change my tires. The tech was still agitated, but appreciative of my intervention, as it seemed that he was having a challenging end of his day. He told me he was staying overtime to make sure my tires got changed. So, I didn’t complain when he stopped for a couple of minutes to take a few drags off a cigarette before continuing with the work of changing my tires. As time rolled on, it became obvious we were going to be staying in the Vegas area. Fortunately, we found an open spot in Henderson. Vegas RV parks at this time of year can, apparently, be packed to the gills. We felt lucky to find a spot. After 8 hours of dealing with the tire issues, we were able to make our way to the campground and then to grab some food for dinner.
The next day found us in Gallup, New Mexico, where the overnight low was 15 degrees. Brrrr. We managed to stay plenty warm enough overnight and prepared to hit the road at 7 a.m. the next morning. Except...
Except that one of the tires read 55 psi, while the others were at 68-71 psi. It was the last tire the tech put on, and I happened to witness him having difficulty getting the air valve extension onto the valve. I was immediately suspicious of this, as I’d seen him retrieve a tool from the shop to help him get it on. This was a Saturday. The truck stop we went to had truck tire service. They legally could not work on RVs but were nice enough to check the tire and said that the leak was definitely coming from the valve area. He could hear it. Seriously?
Seriously? We tried the shop they suggested. It was supposed to be open. It wasn’t. No one was answering the phone, and no one was anywhere to be found on the grounds. We went back to the campground and called roadside assistance. They found an open shop for us but said that they wouldn’t cover anything other than taking the extension off and filling the tire because the extension was an aftermarket piece. But they did find an open shop who could help us. I was not at all happy. This shop did get us in right away. Sure enough, a seam on the extension was broken, most likely because the tech had overtightened it with that tool he’d retrieved. Steam was coming out of my ears at this point. And then I was shown the kindness of a man who ran a shop and knew of my plight. When he rang up my ticket, he charged me $12 for a new extension. That’s it. He charged me nothing for the hour it took his tech to do the work. When he told me the cost, I had the hardest time not weeping from the sheer kindness of this act. Just when I was at the end of my rope. I wanted to hug him. But I knew if I did, I’d lose it. I could barely thank him enough without a quaking in my voice and tears escaping from the corners of my eyes.
We were off again at 9:20. Two and a half hours later than planned, but it still we could make it by Monday. Which would be just in time. If we drove far enough over the next two days, we could have a shorter driving day on Monday. We could arrive in Champaign early enough to beat the high winds and dropping temperatures due to hit early afternoon. Sunday’s drive was long, but uneventful, until it was time to stop. Pulling off on the exit, and coming to a stop, produced a very loud groan of protest from one of my brakes. Was this ever going to end? The brakes gave no indications of trouble prior to this point, but we hadtraveled a LOT of miles with a fair number of steep-ish descents. It shouldn’t have been surprising. After much discussion and conversations with family members who know more about this sort of thing than me, we decided to push for home. We had five more break pads still functioning just fine. Funny thing was, once we got started again, the brakes quit making any sort of noise. Maybe they’d just been dirty from the windy, dusty desert conditions. I don’t know. I’ll find out in the spring when we check them all.
We left Springfield, Missouri, for our final stretch home. It looked like we’d make it just ahead of the high winds. It felt like smooth sailing. I-44 was in better condition and had fewer truckers than I-40 (which had been treacherous at times due to BOTH scary bad road conditions and scary fast and numerous semis). The traffic around St. Louis was light enough. We decided to head up to Springfield, Illinois, and then east to Champaign, just in case the winds arrived a little early. This way, they’d be at my tail, mostly, rather than directly broadsiding me. Or so I thought. Just 12 miles outside of Springfield, I slammed into a brick wall that was the wind. After breaking through this brick wall, the wind hit hard from the side. It had arrived early. Very early. Turning east onto I-72 didn’t help much, except for short stints. It was a terrifying drive, much like the one through the grasslands in South Dakota, except four times as long. As I drove, I did battle, and feared that with any given gust, I’d lose the battle and topple over or blow off the side of the road. I was sooooo close to my destination. So. Close. Yet it felt we’d never get there. It was a tough place to be. The winds would only get worse through the remainder of the day, and the temperatures would plummet. So we kept on. And finally arrived. Frazzled. Fraught. And Fried. But safe.
Knight has more complaints. And I hope he survives this deep freeze without any more injuries. But we are all safe. Over the course of the 9 days, 2700 (ish) miles, and almost daily obstacles, I wondered at my course. Was this what I should be doing? Why did the universe seem to have it out for me? Was it bad karma? Should I not be going to Champaign? I was looking at the drive with an entirely negative perspective. I saw everything that went wrong. I saw the obstacles and the delays, the setbacks and challenges. In my rant against the universe, I got caught up in seeing the obstacles that life always throws in our paths as some sort of evidence that the universe had it in for me, rather than realizing that we actually overcame all these obstacles. We all got home safe. Each time something went wrong, we got through it. Each time something went wrong, we had a safe place to stop, or we were just outside of Vegas where help arrived quickly (I’ve heard horror stories of people waiting for hours upon hours for help or help never arriving or being stuck on the side of the road with no cell service to even call for help) , or we actually found a place to stay in a city that has few options for RVers this time of year, or a kind man only charged me for a part an not labor because he knew of my misfortune, or I managed to get to my folks’ house without the rig tipping over or blowing off the road…the list goes on. When I shifted my perspective, I realized that in each situation things could have been oh so much worse. Life will always happen. Obstacles appear on every course. We can choose to see the obstacles as evidence of how unfair life is, or we can choose to see the lessons those obstacles have to offer and our tenacity at getting past them. It’s that tenacity that brings us forward to new opportunities, opening the door to possibility, opening our eyes to choices and dreams and a life truly lived. 9 days, 1 blizzard, 1 blowout and 6 new tires, a protesting brake, and 2700(ish) miles later…I feel fortunate, and I feel oh so grateful. We are here, we are safe. Knight is intact and I have the opportunity to tend to his needs and get him ready to roll again in April. The road is already calling me again, but until I can heed that call, I will use this time to catch up with family and friends, get Knight ready, finish the book I am writing, and enjoy the moments I am given between now and then.