Cochita Campground, New Mexico

When I got to this campground, the ranger station was closed but a sign on the door said to find an empty campsite and return to the station at 4PM to check in. I drove around, picked out the best site, and returned at 4. I had to wait behind another pair of campers who hadn’t found a site, but finally the ranger turned to me.

Somewhat apologetically, because the people in front of me were still waiting to get a site, I said, “I took 25, if that’s okay.”

The ranger frowned. “Twenty-five is the worst site in the entire campground.”

“Oh? Why is that?” I asked, wondering what I’d missed. There’d been probably a dozen sites available, but 25 had been easily my favorite.

“It’s short. It’s narrow. It’s steep.” The ranger was looking at me like maybe I’d told her the wrong number.

“Ah, yes,” I said. “It is all of those things. I imagine people don’t like the steps down to the picnic table much, either. None of that matters to me. Twenty-five’s good, thanks.”

The people ahead of me, still waiting, said, “What does it have?”

“A view,” I replied.

Site 25 at Cochita Campground

a sunrise view

The view from site 25. (Standing in the doorway of Serenity, specifically.)

And what a view it is. New Mexico has fantastic clouds.

New Mexico also smells really good. I noticed it first at Bluewater Lake, but it’s even stronger here. I think it’s juniper, but it smells like Christmas and winter and wilderness, all at once.

I’m staying here for another couple of days, mostly because the writing has been going well, if somewhat annoyingly. I keep thinking I can get back on track with a previous revision and re-use some of the 450 pages that I’ve already written and then discovering that no, it doesn’t quite work. I am not quite rewriting this version from scratch, but it’s getting close. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the kayak scene, which I love, is going to be completely different by the time I finish, but I’m still determined to keep the bear scene. I might get to it today — well, no, probably not, but I could get to it tomorrow or Monday — so someday soon, I’m either going to be really frustrated and throwing things at my walls or bubbling with satisfaction. Fingers crossed for the latter.

Bluewater Lake State Park, Bluewater, New Mexico

Yesterday, I followed a rather circuitous route to this park, which resulted in me once again turning a three hour drive into a five hour drive. How do I manage to do that so often?

In this case, I followed the wrong gps. It turns out that Bluewater State Park has two sides to it and two campgrounds: one is entirely primitive, meaning no power or water, and the other is a more typical campground with some hookups and more paved sites. I went to the primitive side first, not on purpose.

I did think about staying there once I was there. It was really remote and I would have been alone by the side of a lake, which could have been thrilling. Except it was raining. Sort of a lot, or at least it felt like a lot. And I didn’t want my thrill to be something like “got stuck in wet dirt and couldn’t get out” or “got caught in a flash flood and drowned.” Sometimes anxiety is irrational and sometimes it’s sensible. It felt like sensible anxiety to me, to head to the more developed side of the park, and be on top of a hill.

a portion of a double rainbow

Rainbows over Serenity

Along the way, I passed a Walmart and thought, “Oh, I really need to go there.” And then I thought, “What for?” and kept driving. I was trying to save the contents of my freezer, so I basically cooked everything in it while I was in Homolovi Ruins. I made shrimp fried rice with mushrooms and pea pods; shrimp scampi over gluten-free pasta; two sous vide chicken breasts; sous vide steak; and blueberry, apricot, and apple crisp. The latter was the best I could do for the fruit that had frozen then defrosted. I’ve got enough food cooked for another two, maybe three full days.

Answer: for water, drat it. I got to Bluewater Lake and a sign on the gate said “no drinkable water.” Alas, I did not replenish my water supply, so I’ll be moving on today. And I suspect that my one night stay at this park is not enough for it to be memorable. Ten years from now, the above picture will be the only image I’ve got. But a double rainbow — even if only partial — is special enough to be worth something in the memory banks, I hope.

It would also be memorable, of course, if I’d seen the wild horses that are known to frequent the park. It was one of the reasons that I wanted to come here. I’d love to sit in the van and write and watch wild horses right outside the window. Wouldn’t that be cool? But the only evidence of wild horses I’ve seen is the copious quantities of manure that Zelda has been very excited to step in. Yuck. Fortunately, she hasn’t tried rolling in it, but I think I’m just as happy to move on before she does.

Homolovi Ruins State Park

sunrise facing west at Homolovi Ruins State Park

Sunrise facing west

This morning’s sunrise was un-photographable facing east. Or rather, the photograph was dull — black ground, then a line of bright yellow and gold, then blue above. It didn’t convey at all how pure and clear and bright the morning was. The above photograph was facing to the west, with the sun directly behind me. At, I believe, 6:09 AM.

At least my phone thinks it was 6:09. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. Arizona is in a very confusing time zone that I think translates to “whatever time we want it to be and probably not the time you think it is.” (They claim it’s Mountain Time without Daylight Savings, but are we saving the daylight when we spring forward or when we fall back? I know I should be able to figure this out but it feels too much like rocket science. Maybe after some more caffeine.)

I wanted to write more about the Grand Canyon yesterday and I just did not feel well enough. I spent most of the day in that state of recovery from stomach misery where I was hungry but not hungry enough to risk eating and then when I finally did risk eating regretted it.

I also have had a sequence of refrigerator screw-ups that make me really sad: first, I accidentally shoved the fridge up to 7, its coldest level. I’ve done that before — it’s easy to do when stuffing the fridge too full — and it’s so annoying. Everything on the top shelf freezes solid, everything in the middle comes close. Sometimes some of the produce survives but not the most delicate things. Cucumbers and salad greens really don’t like being frozen.

But then, just to really screw up my food supply, when following the instructions to get my generator going again, I turned the fridge off. Not a big deal. If I had just remembered to turn it back on again. Gah. I was miserably sick if that counts as a stupidity defense. But everything in the fridge has first frozen and now defrosted. I’m trying to save what can be saved and acknowledge reality on what can’t, but it means my food choices are more limited than usual. Fortunately, I’ve got plenty of rice, which is probably the only thing I ought to be eating right now anyway.

But back to the Grand Canyon! On Friday morning, I went and found propane, and then took the dogs on a scenic drive. It was a beautiful winding road and a beautiful day. I looked at the Grand Canyon and was awed. And then I moved on to the next spot and looked at it again and was… well, a little less awed. And then I moved on to the next spot and looked again and thought, yep, canyon. Big hole in the ground. And then I moved on to the next spot and started looking at the people around me and wondering what their stories were and making up stories for them and glanced at the canyon. Yep, beautiful. By the time I finished the scenic drive, I was over the canyon. It is quite spectacular and you have to admire it, but once you’ve seen it, it’s seen. It was what I expected it to be.

I was feeling sort of sad about that as I returned to the campground. Here is this amazing, incredible spot — truly, one of the wonders of the world — and I’m already jaded about it. I’ve seen it in so many pictures, read about it in books, viewed it on television — there is no mystery. No wonder.

And then, when I was waiting for the ranger so I could check back in (I’d had to move campsites), I saw this squirrel. Weirdest squirrel ever. It was the second time I’d seen it (or its cousin). The first time had been from a distance and I hadn’t even been sure it was a squirrel. I thought maybe it was a tiny skunk. It was black, with a pure white fluffy tail. And from up close, it had the funniest ears. Not quite rabbit ears, not even close to the rabbit ears on some of the jackrabbits I’ve seen out here, but big ears, much too big for a squirrel. What the heck? I couldn’t get a picture of it, because Zelda was with me and the squirrel was not dumb enough to stand still to let Zelda investigate, but I asked the ranger.

Me: “That squirrel with the white tail, is it some kind of genetic fluke? Part albino? Or do you have special squirrels here?”

He didn’t laugh at me, but he did smile. Yep, they have special squirrels. It’s the Kaibab squirrel, found only at the North Rim. (The Wikipedia pictures are not as cute as the real thing: if you’re really interested, try a google image search for much better shots.)

That brought back every bit of the sense of wonder that I had when I first saw the canyon in the morning light. R was animal-obsessed when he was little. We watched vast quantities of Animal Planet, plus Zoboomafoo every day — I actually got a TiVo, one of the first DVRs, because not making it home in time for Zoboomafoo stressed us both out so much. And yet here was an animal that I’d never heard of, never seen, in my own country. In a major tourist destination in my own country. It was so satisfying. It felt magical.

So, Grand Canyon, two thumbs up. Worth the drive.

Homolovi Ruins State Park, also two thumbs up. I haven’t seen the ruins yet, because I have not been up for much in the way of long walks. Z and I headed in that direction this morning, but I cut it short when I started feeling tired. Total walk was a mile and a half, so not nothing, but I’m really not interested in pushing myself. I will, however, have a second chance and maybe a third, because… well, because I’m not interested in pushing myself. This is a nice, peaceful, quiet campground — big sites, reasonable showers, excellent internet signals, electricity — and so my big plan for the day has turned into “drive back to the ranger station and pay for another couple of nights.” The weather has been lovely, daytime temps in the 70s, nighttime temps in the 30s, and at night, the stars go on forever. I know this because both of the dogs seem to be as confused about what time zone they’re in as I am and have decided that 4AM is the appropriate time to go out. I’m not terribly happy about that, but at least it’s meant seeing some beautiful nighttime skies.

Worst day of the past 14 months…

Today has been, without a doubt, without even a close contender, the worst day of my journey so far. I’m not sure I even want to write about it, because I don’t feel well enough yet to feel like it’s over. But I’m safely camped at a nice campground, staying here for two nights, plugged into electricity, and it’s only 4PM, so maybe I should just be counting my blessings instead of mourning my misery.

I woke up in the night to stomach pain. Indigestive-type stomach pain. At first it wasn’t so bad, I wondered what I’d eaten. But it got steadily worse and worse until I was tossing and turning and trying to figure out how I could possibly have given myself food poisoning. I was going down the list of every food I’d eaten, trying to think how it could have been contaminated. Was the pesto too old? Did I not wash the radishes well enough? Was the water in my tank — which I don’t drink but did use to wash the vegetables — contaminated somehow?

At various points through my entirely sleepless night, I wondered whether I could be having a heart attack, whether I was dehydrated, whether it was my gall bladder, whether I had a kidney stone, whether I needed an emergency room, whether I should be calling a ranger for help. I checked my own medicine cabinet for something, anything, that would relieve some of the pain and found, unsurprisingly, nothing.

The dogs were, of course, as restless as I was. My squirming around trying to find something like a comfortable position kept them on the move, trying to get back into their own formerly comfortable positions. Eventually B wanted to go out — still dark and temperatures in the 20s. I didn’t even care. I was awake anyway and thought maybe the cold air would help. It didn’t.

Then, of course, Z wanted to go for her walk. Really wanted it. We’d had a terrific walk yesterday and she loved the cold weather. She was bouncy and energetic and all ready for morning to begin. I eventually wound up literally snarling at her, because I was face-down, knees to chest, some sort of modified child’s pose, trying my best to breathe, and she kept sticking her nose under my arms and trying to lick my face. But even the sweetest dog understands a snarl; after that she curled up on the dog bed and watched me attentively, trying to decide what I was doing and if I was ever going to take her for a walk.

Answer: no. I wasn’t sure I had walking in me.

But I did let her out on a tie-out, while I tried to decide what to do. I was pretty sure at that point that I had food poisoning. I didn’t know how I could have food poisoning and it was obvious that I was just going to have to throw away everything in my fridge because I had no idea what had gone bad, but what else could it be? And there’s no cure for food poisoning. You ride it out and stay hydrated. Not fun, but it’d be over eventually. Unfortunately, my reservation at the North Rim was over and the campground was completely full, so I needed to move on. But there were other campgrounds nearby — maybe one of them would have room.

I did one thing at a time. One item put away, one job done, punctuated with sitting on the floor and rocking. It hurt. It really, seriously, fucking hurt. It felt like my intestines were tying themselves in knots. Not to be too graphic, but my system had completely cleaned itself out except for copious amounts of gas. Ridiculous amounts of gas. I could have won a belching contest against a world contender, but it only ever alleviated the pain for a moment or two.

And then I realized — yesterday, my bag of gluten-free crackers had inflated. It was really strange. I had to pop it to open it. And the top popped off my plastic container of balsamic vinegar as if expelled by an invisible force. Gas, in other words.

Could I have altitude sickness? In what is not irony, because it is not funny, I’d worried about R facing altitude sickness when he went to Colorado, but it had never even occurred to me that I might get it. Was the Grand Canyon even high enough to get altitude sickness?

Unfortunately, I had no internet and no cell service to find out. Also unfortunately, my generator refused to start when I’d tried to use it to make coffee the previous day and my computer was totally out of charge. But if my problem was altitude sickness, then finding the nearest campground wasn’t going to be useful: I needed to get to a lower elevation.

I started driving. After an hour, I stopped and took a nap, because yes, the pain eased off some. Not entirely. I feel like someone punched me in the stomach a bunch of times and food is unfortunately still not an option. (I tried. Bad idea.)

And then I kept driving. Because the generator wasn’t working, I didn’t want to stop until I’d found a place with electric hook-ups, so I could charge the computer. And I definitely wanted a place with some decent cell reception so I could look up generator repair & altitude sickness & elevations of my projected destinations. And I also kind of really wanted a pharmacy to get something, anything, that might help me feel better. Plus, I was having a caffeine withdrawal headache, which only added to my misery.

Exhausted, aching, nauseous, I kept driving and driving. Watching the odometer. One mile at a time, that’s all I needed to do. And then another mile. And then another. I kept checking my cell phone as I drove for a Verizon signal that didn’t show up. I hate the No Service message. I get it less often with Verizon than I do with T-Mobile, but it’s still awful.

It was the longest drive through pretty scenery ever.

I wound up driving straight past Flagstaff — at 6900 feet, I could tell from how much it hurt that I wouldn’t be sleeping there. I’m now at Homolovi Ruins State Park and it’s still a little too high. At 4900 feet, it’s exactly where elevation sickness can start. I think I’d probably be better off a few hundred feet lower. But there’s electricity and a cool breeze and hot showers and I was seriously wiped out. I just couldn’t keep driving.

I still feel worried about eating any of my food — maybe this is food poisoning? — but I’m pretty sure from the way my body responded to the hills and valleys during the drive that nope, it’s altitude sickness. It really, really sucks. I thought altitude sickness was a headache, but wikipedia assures me that nausea and “excessive flatulation” can go along with the headache.

And you know, I know I should count my blessings: the worst day of my journey did not include an emergency room, a morgue, the police… it could have been so much worse. But it still sucks and I still feel miserable and I really wish someone would miraculously show up and deliver some soup and painkillers.

On the good news front, though, the Winnebago Travato Facebook Owners and Wannabees Group totally came through for me on the generator. Turns out the generator also suffers from altitude sickness, which is fine, because I am never going near a mountain again. (Probably not true. Probably a situational exaggeration. But I’ve definitely lost all my Colorado enthusiasm for now. Maybe I’ll be taking the southern route back east.) Ten minutes of reading old posts and I found exact instructions for how to get it going again. (Thanks again, Jake!)

I really want to write more about the Grand Canyon, but there is a bee buzzing around the van. Seriously, universe? Seriously? But I am going to go help it find freedom or else mercilessly slay it, ideally without getting stung. And maybe tomorrow I’ll try to write some more.

North Rim, Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon from a distance at sunrise

The Grand Canyon looking grand.

From before this adventure even began, the Grand Canyon was my destination. I wanted to scatter the last of my mom’s ashes here. It felt like a way of honoring her memory, of thanking her for how much she encouraged me to be adventurous and to take risks.

This morning, Zelda and I took a 1.5 mile hike from the North Rim Campground, which is set in a pine forest, to the Grand Canyon Lodge, which overlooks the canyon. I sat on a bench there, Zelda enthusiastically appreciating all the miscellany of smells (in other words, being a totally non-peaceful pain) and admired the view and remembered my mom.

R gave me a candle for Christmas two years ago that said, “Home is where my Mom is.” Then he told me he hadn’t noticed what it said before he bought it and he just liked the smell. Ha.

I reread A Gift of Ghostsyesterday. I was looking up something specific — oh, my initial description of Max. I wanted to be sure that I got it right in Grace. But I wound up re-reading the whole thing. It was odd timing, I guess, because Zane’s scene at the end, where he knows he has to let go of his mom, knows he has to say good-bye… well, maybe that’s what brought up all these feelings of mine today.

But I really didn’t expect the Grand Canyon to inspire so much emotion on my part. I pictured — well, a crowded scenic overlook. Lots of tourists. Dry, sandy air. A big hole in the ground. Instead, I got a quiet bench, total solitude, the sun rising in the east, storm clouds overhead, a deep chill in the air, a happy dog, a fantastic view, and an unexpectedly intense burst of grief.

In all of my dozens of versions of Grace, I have never managed to write the ending. I know what I think happens. The path there changes, but the ending never has. But every time I get close, I go back and start from the beginning again. I want to say that maybe that means it’s time to work on a new ending, one that doesn’t involve letting go, but every time I consider that choice, it feels wrong to me.

Letting go and moving on, those are right things. Those are good things. But I need to make room for the reality that letting go doesn’t mean not grieving. Letting go doesn’t change the pain of the loss. It just acknowledges the pain, accepts it. Maybe even embraces it. I think maybe Grace needs to cry. A lot. (Not the story, the character.) I think maybe a huge part of my Grace problem is that Grace cannot get to her happy ending without really, truly facing her grief and sorrow and loss, which was never part of my plan. Huh. Well… I guess I should be working on Grace right now.

Meanwhile, the North Rim campground — more forest than I expected, quite spacious, lots of people in appropriate winter attire, seriously cold. And my generator has decided not to work, which does not make me happy. Also I am almost out of propane. No internet, too! So today is going to include a search for propane, a scenic drive, and — given the current lack of electricity — probably not actually much more writing. Oh, well. I bought coffee at the general store, because of my own lack of propane and non-functional generator and they give free refills all day, so maybe I’ll drink lots of coffee and knit. And think more about Grace’s grief.

Sand Hollow State Park, Utah

When I left off, I was driving around, grouchy and frustrated. Also hungry, confused about what time it was, and too damn hot. Both dogs were panting from the heat, even with the AC running as high as it could go. Finding a campground with electric hook-ups felt like a good idea. I’d passed a couple of signs for state parks on my way to Zion and according to the Allstays app, one of them — Sand Hollow State Park — had some sites with electricity. I couldn’t make a same-day reservation and it was already after five, but it was close enough that I figured it was worth a try.

Total, total score.

Campsite picture

The ranger who assigned me my campsite asked if I was okay backing in. Ha. This site is huge and paved and the easiest parking job I think I’ve ever had.

Sand Hollow is a newer park, I think. The sites in the westside campground are spacious. They include water, electric and sewer hook-ups, a shelter, a picnic table, a grill and a fire pit, plus plenty of room, both to park and have loads of stuff or loads of people. Seriously, there’s room around the fire pit for a twenty-person party, easily.

And the view is unbelievable. My site is at the top of a low hill, surrounded by mountains, a lake to one side. At night, the stars are amazing, but there’s also a town in the distance, so a sparkling necklace of house and traffic lights. Darkness here is beautiful. And the sunrise went on forever.

panoramic sunrise

Sunrise at Sand Hollow

Also, it’s been months since I had a water hook-up and it feels incredibly luxurious. I was pouring the requisite two inches of rinsing water into my dishpan yesterday and thought, oh, wait, I can use the sink. I actually laughed at myself because turning on the faucet and watching water come out made me so delighted. Running water! How exciting! But I haven’t had a water hook-up for most of the summer, so I’ve gotten used to using water jugs and being really conservative with my water use. I’m not being wasteful, of course — it’s still a desert, despite the big lake within walking distance — but it was nice to just thoroughly wash the dishes.

It’s also nice to sit still for a couple of days. It’s amazing that I’ve been doing this for over a year and I still haven’t figured out the best travel pattern for me. Maybe that’s because it changes? But I really don’t want to travel multiple days in a row if I don’t have to. Even if the drive is only a couple of hours, it’s tiring.

And no drive is ever only a couple of hours — packing up to move, then setting up at the destination, plus usually errands in the middle — always turns a drive into a day’s adventure. My shortest drive of this current journey was from Fossil Falls to Calico Ghost Town. I knew where I wanted to go in the morning, so wasn’t spending time along the way figuring it out, and the drive was under three hours and yet somehow, at the end of the day, all I felt like I’d accomplished was the move.

I also have to remind myself that I am not on an extended vacation. I read blog posts from fellow RVers who are visiting attractions and restaurants, hiking and kayaking and adventuring, and I feel like I should be doing more, more, more. But that’s not my version of #vanlife and not even the life I want to be living. Today’s adventure — taking a leisurely walk with Zelda around the campground, sitting in the sun while I ate my granola and yogurt, trying to meditate, looking at photos, writing a blog post — this is a good adventure. A really good adventure. If it includes some good words on Grace (yesterday I was seriously and maddeningly stuck, Max would not behave the way I wanted him to, grrr…), then it’s a great adventure.

And a great campground. If I didn’t have Grand Canyon reservations and a yearning to be back in Florida by the holidays, I would wander up to the front office and extend my reservation for a few more days. But tomorrow will be laundry and groceries (including buying new leashes for the dogs because somehow I mysteriously lost them between Calico Ghost Town and here), and then the North Rim.

All the gory details

I woke up yesterday morning and thought, wow, this looks like the scene of a crime. If I mysteriously disappeared, I wonder what the police would think when they investigated? It would have been a perfect location for it, too: the campground at Calico Ghost Town, a little east of Barstow, CA.

Calico cemetery sign

The cemetery would be an excellent spot to discover a dead body. Or rather to have a character discover a dead body. In real life, I’d really rather not stumble across any corpses.

At a busy time, the campground would have been the kind of place I hate: sites close together, basically a parking lot, with minimal outside room between one site and the next. But on a Sunday/Monday in September with no special events at the ghost town, there was plenty of room. I think there were about six campers/tents total in a campground with room to accommodate a couple of hundred. Perfectly comfortable.

And a deserted desert campground next to a ghost town? It’d be an excellent paranormal/horror setting. Or even a mystery/thriller. The town is cute enough that you could even do it as a cozy.

Or course, the real story of my personal crime scene was nothing so interesting (or depressing, I guess, depending on how you look at it.) As pretty much everyone I spend time with discovers, I am prone to bloody noses. Generally, my nose just starts dripping blood, a little gentle trickle. I feel a hint of wet, touch it with a suspicious finger or two, and yep, blood. It’s happened in stores, in restaurants, in friends’ cars, anywhere, everywhere. FYI, if you start dripping blood all over the floor in a public place, otherwise lackadaisical sales clerks will run to get you tissues or paper towels. It’s usually not a big deal — a couple tissues and it quickly stops.

Exception: the night before last. I think it might have been because the air was very, very dry in southern CA, but in the middle of the night, the blood just started gushing. Of course, it was dark and I couldn’t find the tissues and I was camped at a place where the van wasn’t connected to water, so I couldn’t just turn the sink on, and the dogs were underfoot — I wasn’t worried about it in the middle of the night, but in the morning… yeah, it was gross.

It really would have made a good fake crime scene, though. Especially because I also had my vacuum sealer out to store some chicken for later sous vide cooking. Vacuum sealers are great for storing food and really handy for sous vide cooking, but as I learned in Arcata, they’re also an essential tool for major drug dealers. Ha.

But I cleaned it up, of course, then took a shower (with much gratitude at being in a place where I could easily take a shower!) and dumped the trash with its excessive quantity of bloody tissues and paper towels, then headed out. We started with a visit to the ghost town, Calico. I’d arrived the afternoon of the previous day but it had been so hot that I just plugged into the electricity, turned on the AC and waited for it to cool down. A metal box is not a good place to be when the temps are in the 90s. But pets are allowed in the ghost town, so before moving on, we went and wandered around a little. It didn’t feel very ghostly. Mostly because even early on a Monday morning in September, it was filled with tourists — two busloads of them beat me there!

By 10 AM, I was in the van, ready to move. Suzanne and I had mapped out a route to the Grand Canyon back in Arcata. At the time, it sounded fun to take the scenic routes. And I’d thoroughly enjoyed at least some of said scenic routes — 89 around Lake Tahoe was well worth driving. But I was starting to get really tired of spending days behind the wheel. And I was also seriously mourning gas prices. It was over $4/gallon at places in CA as I drove south: in a vehicle that gets about 15-17 mpg, that starts to add up fast.

Plus, it occurred to me as I looked at my GPS, if I gave in and let the GPS take me where it wanted to go, I’d drive through Nevada and Utah, adding two more states to Serenity’s total. That’s a silly reason, I know, but… well, it amuses me. I’m up to 36 states as of yesterday. By the time I make it back to the east coast, I’ll only have 6 left in the continental United States that I haven’t driven though in Serenity: Delaware, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Michigan.

So, in the interest of gas prices, less driving time, and a meaningless checkmark on a list of states, I took 15 up through Las Vegas and across to Utah. In St. George, I started trying to figure out where I should stay. Alas, I fell for some wishful thinking. The Reserve America app, my favorite app for finding cool campgrounds, said that walk-ins might be available at the campground inside Zion National Park. I took a chance that they were right, had an absolutely beautiful drive, but gave up before I even made it to the campground.

The park was packed with people. It was Mt. Rushmore all over again, not quite so kitschy, but definitely an absolutely thriving population of tourist attractions. Nice ones — in a different life, one that included more money, cooler temperatures, and an assurance of dog safety, I would have loved to wander around the town that leads into the park. As it was, I stayed stuck in traffic long enough for all my appreciation of the incredible beauty to turn into grouchy annoyance and tired frustration. Then I made a u-turn and drove back to Hurricane, Utah, trying to figure out a good place to spend the night.

A good place to spend the night when the temperatures were in the high 80s needed to include enough privacy that I could run the generator to keep the dogs cool without feeling guilty about my neighbors or an electric hook-up.

Long story short, I found it. Electricity and more! But I will write about it tomorrow, because somehow it has already become mid-afternoon. Where do the hours go?!

On fear

Yesterday, I did not pick up several hitchhikers.

Quite recently I told a friend the story of the last hitchhiker I ever picked up, about eighteen years ago, and how he was the last hitchhiker I would ever pick up. It’s a longish story, but the short version is that I spent the ride letting him believe increasingly elaborate lies, because he made me seriously nervous. I dropped him off and drove away feeling incredibly lucky that I hadn’t wound up a statistic, disappeared, probably dead.

Now I feel like I should tell the whole story — why I’d picked him up, what the lies were — but it would take too long and it’s not really relevant. The point is that I’ve picked up several hitchhikers in my life, but I was resolved never to do so again. And I’ve seen a lot of hitchhikers on my way south. Oregon, in particular, had quite a few, none of whom fazed me in the least to drive by. I suspect that your average unshaven guy in dirty khaki does not expect a solo woman to stop for him. Indeed, would be quite surprised if I did.

But the first hitchhiker I did not pick up yesterday was not your average unshaven guy in khaki. He did have a beard, but also a bicycle that he was walking. He was older, gray-haired, and from his gear, camping. Probably on a long bike trip, and I’m going to guess that something had gone wrong, maybe with his bike, because he was trudging along, head down. I actually drove by him twice, because I took a wrong turn and had to backtrack, and the second time, he, clearly impulsively, stuck out his thumb. I kept driving.

For the next several miles, I alternated between feeling guilty and scolding myself for feeling guilty. I felt guilty because I think he probably needed help and I think I probably could have helped him. On the other hand, he was only three or four miles away from a town, and although traffic was scarce, there were definitely other people who would drive by. It wasn’t the middle of the desert. And I certainly didn’t owe him a ride. Plus, I really don’t want to wind up playing a starring role in a cautionary tale about hitchhikers.

But eventually, I started thinking about fear. Rational fear, irrational fear. Fear that stops me, fear that I face.

When I was in Seattle, P described me as bad-ass to one of her friends. I demurred. Nope, not me. I am actually quite cowardly. I tell myself scary stories all the time. I worry about everything — flat tires, getting lost, coyotes, alligators, bears, corrupt policemen, propane explosions, the end of the world — seriously, everything. If it is possible to worry about something, I guarantee I have worried about it. Mice carrying hanta virus, stepping on HIV-infected needles, falling off a cliff… I have it covered.

That said, I am trying, really hard, to live a life where I don’t let those things stop me. Yesterday, driving south, I stopped at a scenic vista overlooking Mono Lake. I admired the view, then used the internet to post a blog post, check my email, read some news, and look for a place to spend the night. I was driving along 395 and there were plenty of places, but I didn’t know how far I wanted to go, where I wanted to stop, what I wanted to do. Eventually, I kept going. A couple hours later, I stopped again. Decisions, decisions.

There was this place: Fossil Falls. A Bureau of Land Management campground. It sounded interesting. But also, maybe, remote. Isolated. Potentially… well, scary. I decided that I would drive through it and check it out. See what it was like. And if I didn’t like it, I would just keep driving. Maybe spend the night in a Walmart parking lot in Barstow. It’s funny that parking lots have become not-scary — I still remember how freaked out I was my first night in a parking lot, back in West Virginia, but that was a long time ago.

So Fossil Falls. Well, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

camper van against desert background

Serenity, looking very, very alone.

desert landscape

That little gray spot, barely visible, is Serenity.

Definitely remote. Definitely isolated. Definitely, well, scary. At least if you’re me and not the kind of camper who loves remote wilderness and doesn’t worry about serial killers and rabid coyotes. I felt like I could see forever and not see any other human thing. Just mountains and desert. When the sun set, I couldn’t see a single light created by a human being except for the ones that I’d brought with me.

This morning, B decided he had to go out at 5AM. I complained bitterly, but I got up. It was still dark, but with a sliver of crescent moon and the morning star. It was chilly, but not cold, so I made myself some coffee — instant, because I didn’t want to turn the generator on to run the electric coffeemaker — and sat outside on the van’s step to watch the sunrise. When it got light enough, I took Zelda for a walk, and we went and saw the falls. Fossil Falls because the water is centuries gone, but once upon a time, a river flowed through the volcanic rock. When we got back, I set up my chair and worked on my screen door while the sun got higher in the sky and it started to get warm.

a crescent moon

A sliver of crescent moon against the sky

I am so glad that I didn’t let fear stop me from staying here.

Which doesn’t mean I’m going to start picking up random hitchhikers willy-nilly. It’s not irrational to be careful about letting strangers into my home. But I’m not going to let fear drive my decisions, either. “Once upon a time, something bad might have happened but didn’t,” should not become a hard-and-fast rule for how I live my life. Neither should, “I heard a scary story about something bad that happened to someone else.”

But now, onward! I’ve got more driving to do, and somewhere along the way today, it would be a lovely thing to find a place with a shower. But hey, it’s been a while since I posted one of these, but if you have any Amazon shopping to do, starting here might earn me an affiliate fee, which would be nice for me. If you’re already supporting a charity through your Amazon purchases, use your own link, though — I don’t want my pennies to take away from someone who needs them more!

Kit Carson Campground, Toiyabe National Forest

wildflowers at Kit Carson Campground

Wildflowers at Kit Carson Campground

I hate sewing. Like, really, really hate it. Hate it so much that when I was sitting on my friend P’s couch, working on my screen door project, every other sentence out of my mouth included the words “hate” and “sewing.” Some of them included words that started with f, too.

But I really need a screen door.

I can’t remember what I mentioned about the screen door before, but the van came with a very nice (albeit fragile) screen that worked sort of like sideways Venetian blinds, folding up into a metal frame and maintaining the proper tension through string. From the moment I saw it, I didn’t think it would last long with two dogs, so I’m sort of impressed that I managed to keep for over a year. But back in early August, Zelda walked through it as if it didn’t exist, shredding one of the strings. From that point on, it was a lost cause, hanging loose and falling out of the frame no matter what I tried.

When I was camping with P and R, we took the remnants down and experimented, trying to see what could be done. How about a screen that rolled up? Ugh, clunky. How about one that swung loose? Fine, as long as the weather was perfectly still, otherwise useless.

It obviously was a project that required ingredients and tools, so we set it aside, but when we got back to Seattle, I started strategizing. Eventually, I bought a roll of screen. Some glue. Some magnets. Some different magnets. Some velcro. Some different velcro. I experimented with magnetic tape and spray-on adhesive and began to be grateful that I’d bought a whole roll of screen. That was deliberate, actually. I am not a crafts kind of person, so I anticipated mistakes along the way.

Finally, I had a plan, more or less. Two pieces of screen, separated in the middle. Strong magnets along the top, sewn into the screen. Velcro along the sides of the door, on the inner part of the seal, so it didn’t interfere with the door closing. Velcro on the screen, with the edges sewn over so they didn’t catch and pull. Tiny magnets along the bottom of the screens, to link to the door frame, but still be weak enough to easily push the screens aside to go in and out. And in the middle… well, something still undecided, but whatever it will be, it would probably work best with a seamed edge. Maybe magnets, maybe just overlapping screen.

It wasn’t a bad plan, but it required a lot of sewing. Yuck. Even more because of screw-ups along the way, like sewing in a whole row of little magnets without checking to see which direction they were magnetized in. Not a good idea. They don’t work so well when they’re repelling the door frame instead of attracting it. Duh.

I did learn something really interesting, though. If you’re a right-handed person, sewing is a lot easier and a lot faster if you work left to right, like you’re reading a book. That way, you can use the fingers of your left hand to keep the thread from getting tangled. If you’re a right-handed person and you sew right to left — the way I seem to — the thread is constantly getting tangled and knotting up. I suspect my mother, who was left-handed and loved to sew, taught me to sew the way that worked for her and neither one of us ever realized I was doing it wrong. By the time I finish making these screens, I might not hate to sew anymore.

And I’m getting close.

That’s because I’ve been camped for two delightful days at Kit Carson Campground in the Toiyabe National Forest, near South Lake Tahoe. It’s been awesome. The park is tiny — maybe a dozen campsites — and empty. There was one other camper here last night, but by 8 AM this morning, he’d packed up his tent and was gone. It was just me and nature. Beautiful nature, too. A stream, or maybe a river. Mountains, trees, flowers. Crisp air in the morning and sunlight in the afternoon.

Zelda and Serenity at our campsite

The campsite

And no internet. Minimal cell service. No electricity.

In other words, a distraction-free zone. After a long stretch of falling for ALL the distractions, it’s been great. I made good progress on Grace, finally finishing a chapter that I’ve been working on for a while. The new version is very different from all previous versions, which is both annoying and satisfying. And I made great progress on my screen door, which is getting close to being usable.

By the time you’re reading this, I will obviously have moved on, though (since I can’t post it until I do). I’m tempted to stay longer, but I don’t want to feel rushed on my way to the Grand Canyon, and my reservations are less than a week away. Six days, seven hundred miles: totally do-able, but not if I linger.

And I don’t want to base my driving decisions on speed. On my way here, I had to fight with my GPS to take the slow, scenic route, instead of the fast highway. I then ignored all sorts of roadside signs warning about construction and delays to stubbornly take Highway 89 around Lake Tahoe. It probably added at least a couple of hours to my drive, but the scenery along that road is gorgeous. It was so worth it. And earlier in the week, I drove on Route 1, down the Californian coastline — again, not the fast route, but wow, such a fun drive. I’m not sure Serenity was the best vehicle to be driving it with, but it was two-thumbs-up beautiful.

But I am feeling wistful about leaving. This feels like the kind of place where it would be nice to stay for days, to just settle in and write and think and breathe and be. Maybe next time!