From New Hampshire, I headed into Maine, to my first big meet-up of fellow Travato owners from the Travato Owners & Wannabes Facebook group. (Serenity, the camper van I live in, is a Winnebago Travato, for any new readers out there.) 

I arrived on Thursday, a day earlier than most of the others, because Gary, an online friend from the group, had offered to teach me how to change the oil in my generator. It was the first order of business when I arrived and involved raising the van on ramps, crawling under, draining the old oil, and pumping in the new oil. Gary did all the hard work, I mostly watched and chatted.

Conclusion – yay, I don’t need to change the generator oil for another 150 hours of generator time and yay, now I know I will probably not be doing that by myself. Ever. I paid $125 to have it done the first time it needed doing, which seemed expensive for an oil change, but now I’m thinking was a good deal. Of course, not nearly as good a deal as watching Gary do it, but I definitely owe him a bottle of wine. (Thank you, Gary!)

The rest of the attendees started arriving Friday morning and continued coming and going all weekend long. The spot was beautiful – a house on a hill owned by Trish, a stained glass artist, with incredible art inside, wide porches outside, surrounded by fields of wildflowers, and enough parking room for 20 or so vans to line the driveway. And the company was delightful — interesting people, doing interesting things, all of us ready to talk about our travels, the places we’ve enjoyed, adventures on the road, ways of living in our vans and mods. Many, many mods. (Aka modifications to the vans.)

scenic view with blue sky and wildflowers
The view from Trish’s hill.

Also, of course, our own lives. On the first day, I wound up sitting with two fellow dog owners, Deb & Ken, talking about journalism, editing, the years, raising kids with learning disabilities, writing books… and after a couple hours of conversation, Deb said, “Hey, we’re going to be on the road for the month of September, if you want our driveway, it’s all yours.” I think I probably blinked a few times. Seriously? They live in Maine, across from a river, with bald eagles living in their trees… so, so tempting. 

That night, everyone brought out their camping chairs and we filled the porches while we ate potluck appetizers and desserts. The next day, some people wandered into town during the morning, while others hung around the house. In the mid-afternoon, Trish collected lobster orders and we all ate corn, grilled vegetables, and fresh Maine lobsters with butter. Afterwards, some people played cards, some played music, and some listened to the music. I was the latter, but there was lots of laughter from the card players — apparently, the Travato owners group’s card game of choice is called Five Crowns and I am definitely going to have to learn how to play someday. 

The next day, a few more people arrived and a few people left. Trish made a delicious lobster chowder for lunch for us all, and in the evening, people set out salads and snacks for another potluck. After dinner, we all carried our chairs out to the firepit in the front lawn and sat around a glorious campfire, toasting marshmallows for s’mores and listening to Faith and Daniel Senie sing and play. 

I feel like I spent a lot of my time following Zelda around as she roamed. She was a busy, busy wanderer, which was… well, interesting? My time with her feels so precious to me now and I want her to do what she wants to do. I don’t know how many days of wandering she has left, so I really don’t want to shut her in the van alone, which she is usually unhappy about, or tie her up. But I don’t know that anyone would ever have guessed she was an old dog from the way she behaved, except in that she stayed very clear of the more boisterous dogs. She didn’t want to play. But she did want to sniff every single solitary blade of grass and explore every corner. Fine by me. But one of the dementia problems is that she doesn’t respond to voice commands any more, although she still understands her hand signals, so I can’t trust her to come when she’s called. It meant a lot of interrupted conversations as I jumped up to follow her around. 

On the last day I was there, I picked up some bruises. I actually took a picture of my bruised knees, which I am not going to post, because ugh, who wants to look at bruises? But whenever I stumble across it in the future, I am going to pat myself on the back.

So the story is: Trish had warned everyone that animals were welcome but that her dog, Rosey, chased cats and any cats would need to be kept in their vans.

On Monday morning, Rosey spotted a cat sitting in the doorway of her van. 

As long-time readers know, last year Zelda was attacked by another dog. It was the fastest, most violent, bloody experience of my life — out of nowhere, aggression and blood and screaming and fear, and for Zelda, pain and shaky trembling and near-death— and I had some post-traumatic stress afterwards. I worked on it, because I didn’t want to be afraid of dogs, but I definitely became wary, aware of how quickly a dog could do deep damage, and tense around bigger dogs. I think my time in Arcata helped me get over the fear, because occasionally I had that reaction to Riley — when he moved fast or unexpectedly, my heart rate would soar, my breath would catch. He turned out to be the sweetest, softest, loviest dog imaginable, though, which helped me work my way through the anxiety. 

And that was good, because when Rosey went for the cat, I went for Rosey. Even as I jumped on her, I knew that if she turned around and went for me — which is a not unnatural reaction for a dog in a fight who feels herself being attacked from behind — I was going to get hurt. But I didn’t let the fear stop me. And yay, Rosey didn’t go for me, and I didn’t get bitten, and the cat escaped and was unhurt and Rosey was unhurt, too. She didn’t even get scratched. A couple hours later, she came and snuggled up with me on the porch, letting me give her lots of rubs and scratches, so she didn’t hold a grudge either. I didn’t realize that I’d landed hard enough to bruise my knees until the next morning, when I rolled out of bed and said, “Ow, what the heck?” But I’m pleased with those bruises, because they are a symbol of recovery from fear. I like that in a bruise. 

Moving on, later on Monday I headed down to South Gardiner and Deb & Ken’s house. I had a lovely afternoon/evening with them, sitting in their front yard watching for eagles and chatting, and then sharing their dinner. And temptation accepted! I’m going to spend September in their driveway, working on the book (finishing it, I hope) and watching the eagles. And the loons and the hummingbirds and the river. I’m pretty delighted with the change in my plans. I might even manage some kayaking.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, I drove to Rockport to spend some time with my friend Barbara (first pausing at a rest stop on the New Hampshire highway to have lunch with Pam and S). More about that later, though, because this blog post has gotten long and our lunch plans — steamers? not something I think I’ve really had before — are beckoning.