Standing Still

Home again, and I’m finding my balance. After two months and five days of travel, I’m in my own bed, my own kitchen, again. The RV doesn’t quite rest, or cook, the same. Still, it offers options the house doesn’t. Haven’t found a way to put wheels on this 90-plus year old home yet.

Ketchikan in September can be wet and wicked, or beautiful, as the past few days have been. It’s perfect fall here, cool, with that certain something in the air that tells me, more clearly than the calendar, that summer is done and October is around the corner. I celebrated by pulling out a few of my favorite things: pumpkins, and a cozy recipe or two, and an arrangement of oranges and browns for the dining room. I put away a few things. Summer clothes and sandals are stored, suitcases are emptied, backpack cleaned out. The fridge is restocked.

The externals are tidied up. Now comes the mental game of tucking back in. Back to work, back to routine. I used to have a hard time doing it after a week or ten days away. But with the new rhythm to life, I have to be more flexible. I kept a few threads of work going while we traveled, the beauty of email and internet access, even if it was somewhat fractured. But the majority of what I do, how I make a living, was on pause while we were going full speed. Funny how incompatible pieces of living can be.

I’m still in the process of creating this life for myself. My husband is more practiced at it, has been doing it longer. For me, the on-again, off-again of work and travel is still a novelty, still a little unsettling. I don’t have it down to a science. I don’t have an automatic feed for employment. The travel is the easy part. Who wouldn’t enjoy rambling for weeks at a time? As long as the money holds out, sign me up!

But on the other end of the trip, I am spent. I love the road, the new places, re-visiting old favorites, and seeing family and friends along the way. That’s a joy and a privilege, and one I don’t take for granted. But at the end of movement, I crave stillness. For a time, I need a time-out.

I am grateful for internet I don’t have to search for, laundry I don’t need quarters for, a full size kitchen, the homey tasks of tidying and puttering that are small in meaning, yet oddly satisfying to my down to earth self. After the last two weeks in Canada, I appreciate using my cell phone without cringing at the added fees for an international call or text. I loved hearing French in Quebec and Montreal, but I’ll admit it’s nice to hear English and know what is being said. I can even admit that I’m ready for a little predictability again.

If I am broadened by travel, home is sweetened by travel. I know that after a few months, I’ll be rested up, ready to go, excited to look at a map and make a plan. But for today, it’s ok that my big outing took me to the hardware store and to get a haircut, and that I’m on deck to make dinner. For now, the everyday has a new glow about it, and it will take more than a few weeks to wear off. For today, I’m standing still.

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”  ~anonymous

                                          Nomads on the road

                     A Quebec landmark, Chateau Frontenac

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Hot!!

Hmmm…was it only a couple of weeks ago I was complaining about being chilly in July? Well, change of states, change of complaints! Let me tell you, Arizona and Nevada, which we’ve just driven through, are ovens! Not that this is a news flash to anyone…I just forget the impact of this heat until I’m experiencing it again.

We flew down to Phoenix last week and shuttled to Prescott, where the RV and Rob’s little pick-up have been stored. After almost a year of sitting, there were a few things to take care of. In spite of our best efforts to leave both vehicles travel ready…we even left solar panels plugged in to the batteries to keep those charged…we had two days of maintenance to deal with. Turned out that the RV batteries and the truck battery had to be replaced, and we had some other minor repairs. Got the oil changed in both vehicles, and made a run to the grocery. This is a house on wheels, you know, so it has to be stocked.

We have a class C RV, which Rob drives…I think I’ve driven a total of about 10 miles, on a straight stretch, and that will be my first and last…I’ve told him if anything happens to him, the RV is a goner…I won’t be driving myself around the country, thank you very much! I’m driving the little pick-up. These vehicles traveled down from Alaska separately, and we’ve never traveled extensively using them together. After taking a good look at the cost to add a towing package to the RV and the truck, we decided it is more practical to caravan. Not ideal, but worth it to have a separate vehicle for exploring when the RV is set up at a campsite.

So…we are driving, in July, through the desert Southwest. Our goal is northern California, southern Oregon. We want to do some exploring in those regions. But first, we have to get there. As long as we are driving with the AC on, there is the illusion that the weather is pleasant, the sun is just a nice accent to the day. But stop for a few moments, get out and feel the absolute roasting heat and the almost physical impact of the sun, and I wonder, again, how anyone managed to settle this country. How does anyone who has to work outdoors do it? Is there anyone who lives here without air conditioning? And if so, how?  I have a pretty high tolerance for heat, and I rarely sweat. Let’s just say in this heat I need a little more antiperspirant than usual. So if I’m feeling it, I know it’s bad.

Hoover Dam Overlook, Nevada

The views are spectacular. The terrain varies so much…it’s mostly desert, but there are stretches that have more vegetation, more mountains. There are areas that look like moonscape. But it’s all big, huge, massive. No doubt about it, this is an astonishing land. Photos don’t do it justice, not by a long shot.

Driving through, I’m filled with admiration. Sometimes for the scenery, but mostly for the people who made it here. I always come back to the same thought: I would have been a failure as a pioneer. I would have been a cautionary tale with a marker along the wagon trail.

But there were obviously many people who were successful, and it is thanks to them that we can drive through now and find roads, restaurants, gas stations (although there are some stretches that have signs posted…the next gas is 70 miles, 100 miles, etc.). On one lonely stretch in Nevada, we missed a turn and had to decide…go on to the next opportunity for gas, or turn around and try to get back to the last one? I was beginning to see the buzzards circling…And this was in an area that my phone discouragingly said “no service.” Hard to believe there are places where cell phones don’t work, in 2012!

Happily for us, we made it to the next town, the next gas. No need for dramatic rescue. But it does make you realize the heat and isolation are real, and not to be taken lightly.

I had a similar epiphany when we lived in the Arctic…amazing that people survived, and even flourished. I have talents, but I don’t think mine extend to outsmarting the cold, or the heat. So I’m just grateful to have come along at a time when these challenges were already conquered, and be thankful for heaters in Alaska, and in the desert, thrilled to have air conditioning.

Mono Lake, Lee Vining, CA

On the road again

View of I-70 as it turns North at Copper Mount...

Icy I-70

I miss the road. Mythic in the American psyche, the open road calls to us, beckons us to the next chapter, the next adventure, the grocery store. Ok, the last one wasn’t so romantic. But most of my life, that’s where my road has taken me.

Oh, I’ve had some amazing journeys. I remember moving cross country with three-week old Alex, driving toward a new house that I had never seen, twelve hundred miles from family and the world I had known. Turned out to be a great move, and the launch of our family. Forced us to be independent, to be us.

Then five years later, we drove to another new home, this one in Midland, Michigan, and driving across Colorado in February, we crossed Vail Pass, and my car went skidding on an icy patch of interstate. We were caravaning, Rob and I, he with our dog and one child, me with the other. I did a complete 180 on the interstate and came to a stop facing oncoming traffic. I still don’t know how I turned myself around and got out of there before I was hit. But I did it, passing Rob like the wind in a panic. Somehow we made it down to Denver, and I think we had stopped for dinner at a restaurant before I stopped shaking.

Over the years we did a number of cross country trips back to see family. Stephanie was in her permit driving phase on one of those trips, and I had taken the kids back to see family. I sat in the front seat next to her, carefully monitoring her driving skills as we headed west on I-70. The thing about I-70 is that so much of it is the same. After a while I got sleepy and nodded off. When I woke up we were headed east. She had come through some exit options and had somehow managed to turn us in the opposite direction. Fortunately it was a short nap.

One of our epic journeys occurred only a couple of years ago when we drove a 30-foot class C RV down from Anchorage, crossing Alaska, Canada, and 17 states, on a drive that began in September and ended in December. We had never driven an RV before. Rob practiced turns in a parking lot with the RV salesman before we left. We had the dogs with us, and we were novices at everything we were doing. But we did it. And I’m pleased to announce I drove that vehicle. Those ten miles of Texas interstate were the longest of my life. But I drove them, and no one can take that away from me!

I have a short commute, living on a small island. I live in town, and although the paved road goes from the north to south and stretches about 20 something miles in all, my trip to work from my neighborhood is only about a mile. I can hardly get through a song on the radio. And I don’t get much talk time in. In the past, time alone in my car has been an opportunity to talk things out, to plan my day, to hear myself think. But I must have larger issues than a mile’s worth. Can’t get through much in that morning drive.

There are some advantages. I only fill my car about once a month. When I’m asked about the price of gas, I don’t even know what it is. I fill my tank so rarely that when I need to do it, I just put gas in the tank. Of course, it’s all a matter of perspective. The price of gas for an airline ticket is just a wee bit more expensive. Tickets from Ketchikan to Phoenix are running about $1,000 right now.

This week is a reminder of what I like about the road. Anticipating a return to life more connected with driving, I realize I’m ready. And if you should pass me having an animated conversation with myself, just know I’m working something out. Just me and the road.