I Promised Myself I Wouldn’t Do It, but I Did It Anyway

When I started on this journey, I promised myself I wouldn’t overtax either my car or myself. I planned to take it easy, to stop frequently and not to drive more than two or three hours a day before setting up camp.

Apparently I am not good at keeping promises to myself.

I felt excited yesterday morning as I headed to Big Bend National Park. I’d been interested in the place ever since I found it high on a list of dark sky parks, parks where there is so little light pollution, you can see deep into space, and I looked forward to spending a couple if days exploring.

Although Big Bend was only about three hours from the motel where I spent the night, it felt as if I’d been on the road for many more hours than that, probably because the day was so very hot and there was so very little to see — miles and miles and miles of uninteresting desert. I suppose if I hadn’t spent more than a thousand hours hiking in the Mojave Desert the past few years or if I hadn’t recently been wooed by the colorful Sonora Desert in Arizona, I might have been more impressed. (Though I was thrilled to see a few bluebonnets lining the road in places.)

Oddly, as soon as I hit Big Bend, my car started acting up. The cheap gas I had to buy probably had more than the usual amount of ethanol, and my car hates ethanol. Also, since there had been no place to stop, I’d driven straight through to park headquarters, and when I restarted the car after checking into the park, the poor thing was vapor locked. (I just googled “72 VW vapor lock,” and found that apparently vapor lock happens more frequently when it’s getting time to have the valves adjusted, and it is getting close to that time.)

But, trooper that my bug is, as soon as it worked past the vapor, it did fine, but I started acting up. I drove more than an hour around that immense tract of land looking for an available campsite in the far-flung campgrounds, and the only ones available were cramped together in a partly flooded open lot. For some reason, the whole situation made me feel uneasy, I had lost interest in the park, and I simply didn’t want to stay.

So I left.

By the time I finally found a room at a time-warped but very quiet motel in tiny town fifty miles from anywhere, I’d been driving for more than seven hours with just a couple of quick stops for gas at unattended gas stations. (Yep, just isolated pumps. Nothing else. There truly is not much here in southwestern Texas.)

The tediousness of the drive today made me exceedingly grateful I gave up any idea of walking across the country. Even if the logistics weren’t ridiculously difficult to figure out, the terrain would be impossible. It was hard enough driving through this vastness: walking it would be deadly.

I’m wondering what today will bring. Big Bend was my last planned stop. Except for a couple of arrangements for meeting up with friends, I’ll be winging it from now on. I hope I do a better job of taking it easy than I did yesterday.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Still Trying to Learn

After spending two freezing nights in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, I decided to spend a night in a motel. Although I didn’t sleep any better inside than outside, I feel rested and replete. A movie last evening amused me, though why I enjoyed all that destruction in San Andreas Fault, I haven’t a clue except perhaps that for the first time in five years I am not living a mere ten miles from the fault. And a complimentary breakfast this morning restored me. (Gotta love a waffle shaped like Texas.)

Now I’m about to head south into what I hope will be warmer nights. (It helps that the region is going through a warming trend.)

And if the nights are still too cold, I can always double tent again.

When people would ask me what I will do if it gets cold at night and I’d respond that I’ll put my packpacking tent inside my big tent, they either laughed or stared at me in confusion. Whoever heard of such a thing? But other people subsequently recommended it, and it worked. It was only in the early morning chill that I got too cold for comfort. I also discovered something vital. Those temperature ratings on sleeping bags and camping quilts are the temperature the bags will keep you alive, not comfortable. I still have to work on the comfort factor. Maybe a sheet? I really do not like the feel of nylon. If I put the sheet over top the camping quilt, it might help to hold the warmth in and would feel more comfortable tucked beneath my chin.

I’m still working on quicker and easier ways to set up and tear down camp, still trying to learn the best way to live as normally as I can in my abnormal (but rapidly becoming normal) lifestyle.

I’m also using more of my equipment. I actually got out my little Solo stove the other night to brew a couple of much needed cups of tea, and the stove worked great. I used Heet for the fuel, a secret I’d learned online. Not only did the water boil rapidly, but the fuel didn’t blacken the pot as twigs would have done. Heet is also cheap and easy to pour, and can be used when the burning of twigs and other botanicals is forbidden. (So far I have not camped any place where you can gather wood to burn.)

I have learned a few other things: never pass up a chance to do laundry, and in the sparsely traveled areas, never pass up a chance to get fuel or use the restrooms. (Believe me, if you stop on the side of a seemingly no-traffic road because of a urinary emergency, as soon as it’s too late to do anything about your exposure, there will be a near traffic jam.)

Well, time to get packed and move on down the road. See you in Big Bend National Park.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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