I feel like I should spoil the punch line of this story right away and admit that as adventures go, this one was pretty mild. It took place mostly in my imagination. But in my imagination, it was loads of fun.
So I was at a rest stop on 95, in North Carolina, maybe the last rest stop before the border? It was around lunchtime, so early, but I was looking for a place that would be good to stop around 3. I’d walked the dogs already, enjoying the feeling of forest, the humidity in the air that felt heavier and damper than Florida humidity. It wasn’t that it was worse, but the air felt still and thick, like no afternoon thunderstorm was going to rumble through to clean it out. I liked it. Wouldn’t want to stay in it forever, because the bugs liked it, too, but it was fun to feel the sensation of being in a different climate.
But as I looked for a place to stay, I started to get vexed. I didn’t want to park overnight in a parking lot: it’s too hot and the dogs need the air-conditioning. But I also didn’t want to spend $40-50 or even more for a place that was really just a place to rest my head for a few hours.
A campground that I’d considered staying in before, Lake Gaston RV, started to seem more and more appealing. It was still in North Carolina, only 45 minutes away from the rest stop, so it meant a short day, followed by a long day tomorrow, but a quiet afternoon on a lake sounded really appealing. Decision made, I made a reservation, called up the GPS on my phone and headed out while my phone considered the options.
Lesson learned: make sure to have the directions before getting on the highway. For some reason, my phone got very confused. It wanted me to “proceed to the route.” I would have loved to, if I had any idea how. For about five minutes, at 70mph, it told me that I was 600 feet away from my route. That had to be a lie. And then it decided that I was still in Florida. It would have been a fine time to have a navigator to figure out what the heck was going on, but Zelda didn’t seem interested in taking on the job.
So I got off the highway and looked for a place to park and figure out what I was doing. Um, note to self: Serenity is taller than a Honda Civic. I drove under some trees that scraped along the top, got flustered, wound up in some mud, couldn’t get the phone to work, had cars whizzing by… Finally I used the in-system navigation built-in to Serenity. It told me to turn around. But I hadn’t used that system and didn’t really know how it worked. I tried to get an overview, but that was a list of road numbers I didn’t recognize. All I could get it to show me was the line where I currently was, not the whole map. Still, it was the best option I had at that point and I really wanted to get out of the mud I was in before I got stuck. So I made a cautious K turn, hurrying and anxious, and headed out.
For the first ten miles, the drive was lovely. It was so nice to be off the highway. 95 creates the illusion that the whole country is exactly alike: McDonald’s and Shell stations and asphalt. Sure, the billboards advertise peaches and pecans in Georgia, but mostly one mile is the same as the next. Driving along a road of fields and little brick houses was so much more interesting. Sort of slow, but that was okay. After all, I wasn’t in a hurry.
And then the line along the map that I was following had me turn. Obedient to the whims of my electronic guide, I did. Onto a dirt and gravel road that led to a tiny bridge signposted with weight warnings. What? According to the numbers, I was still 20 miles away from my destination. Could this really be the road?
I hadn’t intended to go hours and hours out of my way. The original map I’d been looking at had made it look as if the campground was about twenty minutes off the highway. I was already twenty minutes away from the highway.
But I drove onto the gravel road. It was exactly like you’d think it would be — bumpy and dirty and kicking up a cloud of dust as I puttered along at about ten miles per hour.
And suddenly I knew where I was — in the beginning of a romance novel. When the photographer or journalist or whatever she is — not quite TSTL, but maybe borderline — follows bad directions and winds up on the farm owned by the good-looking curmudgeon with the heart of gold that she mistakes for a hired hand. Except, no blizzard. Really, to be a good romance novel, I would need to be destined to get trapped on the ranch and that means blizzard. No blizzard, no romance.
Okay, so maybe I was in a thriller. I follow the wrong road and see something mysterious. Mostly I was seeing lots and lots and lots of green leaves, I was clearly in the middle of nowhere, but maybe I’d see two suspicious men exchanging an envelope. And one of them would look vaguely familiar. They’d see me, too, and then I’d be in danger. They’d know they had to stop me from revealing their meeting. And ha, innocent old me, not only am I driving a distinctive vehicle, I put a name on it. All they’d have to do is hunt for the van named Serenity. (Have I shown you a picture of the name yet? For some reason, none of the pictures ever turn out, but I will do that soon, I promise.) Strange men would start following me, a car with heavily tinted windows would try to force me off the road. Except seriously, there was nothing on this road and no other people but me. And wouldn’t the suspicious men meet in a less innocuous place? Or maybe at night?
So maybe I was in a horror movie. The forest had a great vibe for that — beautiful, innocent, flourishing. What darkness might it be hiding? I’d be trapped on the road, lost, and I’d go up to the spooky house, the one with the porch that creaked as if someone was walking on it when no one was there. And then… yeah, no. We did not have enough characters for a horror movie. Plus, dogs. Who would write a horror movie with dogs in it? B would not be a good horror movie victim — he’s just too pitiful, especially right now when he’s been chewing off his fur. And Zelda might be a good character in a horror movie — she’d be the dog barking furiously at nothing — but I would never ignore her if she were barking furiously. I’d pay attention. We’d leave. End of movie in the first act.
That left… murder mystery. And sadly, the only way that storyline made sense was if I was the victim. The innocent shower taker at the Bates Motel; the empty van still running, abandoned in a field; the body washed up on a beach. The story would open with me, but then jump to the world-weary detective, burned out on the job but determined to solve this one last case, the greatest of their career.
And then the gravel road came to an end and I was back on a normal road, pretty much highway-ish, wandering through a small town, and eventually deposited neatly at the front of a very nice campground. There’s a pool, a gorgeous lake, loads of people, a tiny restaurant that looks out on the lake and serves food I can’t eat; golf carts and pine trees and red-clay dirt that thrills me because it’s not Florida dirt, not New York dirt, not Californian dirt. Not, in other words, dirt that I know.
Adventure over. But it was so fun while it lasted! Even though yes, what really happened was just that I got a little lost, it felt like a blissful twenty minutes of imagination churning.
I made up for my lack of true adventure by braving my kitchen tonight for the first real time. I’ve eaten plenty of cold food — my usual salads and roll-ups and plates of fruit and veggies — but it’s been too hot to think turning on a heat source made sense. But tonight I used both burners of the stove and made brown rice noodles, topped with a sauce of sautéed onion, garlic, black olives, green olives, salmon, avocado and arugula. It reminded me very much of when I was first learning to cook, about 16 years ago, and experimented with all sorts of strange pasta sauces. It would have been better if I’d added some chili garlic sauce, but I already ate my nightshades for the week. Still, it was entirely edible. And my stove worked the way it was supposed to, plus the hot water heater worked the way it’s supposed to. Yay! I like having my adventures be imaginary, not technical.
And now I’m listening to the rain on the roof. Loads of rumbling thunder, but it feels quite peaceful inside. I have no internet so can’t post this story at the moment, but maybe tomorrow when I’m in the midst of my long trek north. At the moment, I feel like I could stay in this campground forever, but maybe tomorrow’s campground will be just as pleasant.