As you slowly wake from a dream you will never remember, something seems strange and out of sorts to you. And as your eyes open, eventually focusing on the ceiling of your tent, you remember that you are not at home – rather you are sleeping next to your brother and the chill morning air is creeping down into your sleeping bag. You pull the bag tightly around your neck and look over at him. He’s crammed against the side of the tent and has worked his way down into the corner. Despite what looks like a very uncomfortable position, he is out like a light. So, you turn onto your back to look up through the mesh netting at the brilliant green trees that spread like a canopy above you. And as your mind clears away the fog of sleep, you suddenly realize it is Memorial Day.
It’s a day that gives you mixed feelings. In one way, it is the best of feelings. Memorial Day, to you, means camping. Getting together with other family members and heading up into the mountains. Three days of freedom and school-end just around the corner.
But Memorial Day also means that the fun is over.
The view from our trailer
After a really nice long week in Philadelphia at Earle and Jenn’s for Mother’s Day, we decided to head south. In the space of about four hours, we tripped through parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, eastern West Virginia, and finally, western Virginia. That is amazing to us Californians, where we live in a state where you can drive for over twenty hours and still not get out of it.
If, after reading this title, you thought that perhaps we had somehow managed to drive up into the upper Yukon where the days are incredibly short during the winter, and the nights incredibly long – well you would be mistaken. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have not ventured into the cold white north, although the lack of any blog posts for a while, might have you wondering if we had fallen off the face of the earth. We have not.
Imagine, if you will, that you are staying in the River View RV Park in Vidalia, Louisiana. Your companions are your wife, Sandy, and one of your dogs you’ve chosen to bring along on your trip – a little yellow-brown mutt named Pippin. It’s been a busy morning working inside your trailer, so the dog needs a walk. He’s an old dog – almost thirteen years – and he needs his exercise. Lately you’ve noticed how he’s changing. His muzzle is turning gray, and he can’t jump down from the higher places anymore. And his legs shake sometimes like he is shivering. For the umpteenth time you think to yourself, “He’s got Barkinson’s Disease!” and you smile to yourself because it is so typical of your jokes. Not too funny… and told way too many times. You can hear your twenty-something daughters groaning within your head. “Failboat, Dad!” You are embarrassing them again – and they aren’t even here.
So, you bundle up, knowing it’s cold outside, and decide to take him for a walk.
You hike across a field and straight up the levee to the river. Well, not just any river. THE River. The Mighty Mississippi River. And today it is looking very mighty indeed. Looking across nearly half a mile of fast running water, you can see Natchez, Mississippi on the other side. The water itself is cresting at 56.6 feet today. You know this because every day the digital sign next to the bridge shows the water level. You also know that this is eight feet above the flood level of 48 feet. The Mississippi is swollen and deep and angry. Large logs and other types of flotsam rush past, and what shoreline there is, is covered with branches, leaves and the trash of humans. The river barges fighting their way upstream look like they are hardly moving. If you walk upstream you can actually walk faster than the barges can move under the Natchez-Vidalia Bridge far above you.
Perhaps one of David Bowie’s most famous songs, the title for this blog comes from one of the lyric lines from Mr. Bowie’s first hit, Wikipedia “Space Oddity” released in 1969 and his first hit. I didn’t know until I did some research on Wikipedia that the song was released just five days before the Apollo 11 launch, and just ten days before the first lunar landing. The BBC refused to play it until the Apollo astronauts had returned safely. Perhaps an oddity in itself, the song was ranked third on iTunes fourteen days ago (forty-six years after its initial release) when it suddenly had a surge in sales due to David Bowie’s death two days earlier.
At the ripe age of 57, I have realized, for the first time, just how lucky I have been over the years when it comes to holidays. This year, for the first time, I wasn’t home for Christmas and Thanksgiving.
I first started thinking about what it really means to have a home in the first month of our Airstream adventure. As we took off and headed down south through California, I realized that what we were about to do wouldn’t result in us returning home anytime soon. And as we moved from town to town I also realized that there were things that I had taken for granted.
At the time I started writing about spontaneous decisions and where they led us, I thought that those forays into spontaneity would be somewhat infrequent. Since a few weeks ago, I can honestly say that we have succumbed to somewhere between six to a dozen “spur of the moment” decisions… and all have led us to new adventures and some great experiences. In other words, we have moved away from the “carefully planned” and have fully embraced the “impetuously make it up as we go along”. So, with this blog, I will officially move away from spontaneity as a theme. We are huge fans, but it has become common for us, and is more the rule now than the exception. Lately, any story I might tell could fall under this heading, so this is the last for a while.
Our original plan had us traveling from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Carlsbad Caverns, much farther to the south. But while we were in Santa Fe, we happened to see a brochure for White Sands, New Mexico and it looked interesting. So, why not stop in Las Cruces along the way and check it out? Change in plan! So, off we headed, checked into a combination hotel and RV Park (no one would want to stay in the hotel, but the RV Park was okay) and we spent the night.
The mountains near White Sands
Spontaneity leads us to an unexpected adventure
We left the Valley of Fire, outside of Las Vegas and started East again toward the Petrified Forest – which was our next stop. After several hours of driving, Sandy decided she had had enough, so we started looking for a place to stop. She found what looked like a State Park, so we pulled off the road, only to NOT find it. All we could find was a golf course. The road was narrow, and before we knew it, we had doubled back under the highway again and ended up in Williams, AZ – a town we knew nothing about.
One of the fringe benefits we hoped to gain while traveling around the country was added spontaneity in our lives. There is a certain degree of comfort that I gain from regimen (Sandy – not so much), and it has taken me a while to realize that “stirring the pot” so to speak, is a lot more exciting. For me, it is a good thing to get out of my comfort zone, even if it is a little, well… uncomfortable. I also realized that, for many years, my life sort of drove me as opposed to me driving it. There were always job responsibilities, family responsibilities, and (of course), the responsibility to have fun in between all of the other responsibilities. This left very little time for serious, spur-of-the-moment decisions. As such, I have been trying, and not always too successfully, to NOT over plan everything.
I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, so I had a lot of opportunity to spend time at Yosemite. My earliest memories of the park go back to about the age of four. I climbed Half Dome for the first time around the age of eleven or twelve, and have probably climbed it close to ten times since. My family spent a lot of time in Yosemite, and I was lucky enough to introduce it to numerous friends over the years. I love Yosemite like no other place.
Which leads me to a sacrilegious statement: Zion National Park is at least as awesome. There. I said it, and I still don’t believe I can say it. It feels like I am letting an old friend down. But after two different trips to Zion, and a total of half a month or so of days in the park, I have to say that this place is amazing.