Adventurous vs. Disastrous

I find it strange that I like camping. I have always been a reader, not a doer, and I have always preferred being comfortable. Despite all the improvements in camping equipment, camping is not often comfortable. In fact, it can be downright miserable when you factor in adverse weather, inconsiderate neighbors, and insects. My last foray into camping included such unpleasantness as lawn mowing operations, interminably screaming children, aggressive dogs, and even more aggressive spiders. (They happened to find two places I missed with the insect repellent — jawline and knee — and one place I never even thought of putting it, the top of my head that’s still healing from my tumble down the stairs. ) I suppose the bites could be from my old nemesis, mosquitoes, but the ping-pong-ball-size swellings indicate otherwise.

And yet, with all that, I came away from that last night in Kansas at Meade State Park with a feeling of satisfaction. A feeling of being soul-fed.

Even the horrendous day of driving afterward seemed more adventuresome than disastrous. After all, if I had wanted to zoom across the country problem-free, I would not be driving a forty-four-year-old VW bug.

Heat, hills, head winds were too much for my air-cooled engine. It vapor-locked on me, once when I was driving, and once after I stopped for gas. (I had to push it into a parking space and wait until the engine cooled.) To be fair, the fault lies not with my poor old car but with modern gas and its low burn point.

As I sat in there in the blistering heat, looking around unsuccessfully for a bit of shade, I couldn’t help thinking how nice a bit of rain would be. As if on cue, the wind blew in a few clouds to offer me and my vehicle shade, and after we were back on the road, rain came. Not a lot, just enough to take the burn out of the over-heated air. And so I was able to continue my journey for a while longer. Actually, a lot longer. Five states worth. The only state I drove all the way across that day was New Mexico, but I started in Kansas, caught the corners of Oklahoma snd Texas, and stopped for the night just over the Arizona border. I wimped out and stayed at a motel. The bug bites worried me, and I didn’t want to risk more bites. Nor did I want to have to worry about my car not starting if I were in the wilds. Actually, it probably wouldn’t have been in the middle of a wilderness area but in a state park, which brings me to my final excuse for staying in a motel. Although I never felt unsafe in a national park, staying in a state park made me feel vulnerable. It was too close to civilization and access was too easy for anyone out looking for mischief.

I’d better get going while it is still a bit cool out. See you on down the road.

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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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Down on the Bayou

I hadn’t camped for a couple of weeks — a combination of visits with friends and bad weather — so I looked forward to my first foray back to tent living. The campground was full or rather, almost full. I lucked out and got the last space at Davis Campground on the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi. I had no idea tourism had picked up, but apparently this week hordes of people are on the move — spring break, Easter break, the last foray of the snowbirds, and the spectacular weather.

Since I could only get a space for the one night, I was glad of the new tent I had purchased. The big tent is too much trouble to set up and tear down for one night, and I feel vulnerable in my backpacking tent among the RV behemoths, so I needed another tent for one night stands. The new tent worked perfectly, though since the campground was surrounded by wetlands, and the land itself was saturated, I did experience a lot of condensation. And I was cold. (The temperature got down to 40 degrees, maybe even lower.)

The trails in the park were short, mere walks instead of hikes, but they suited me since I hadn’t done much walking recently. I could feel myself smiling as I wandered — I seem to be much happier with my feet planted solidly on the ground. And the stunning views, of course, contributed to that feeling of well being. Best of all, I saw an alligator on the shore of the bayou! I had seen an alligator just a couple of days previously, but the poor thing had been designated a town mascot and was being held captive in a large cage. The free alligator didn’t act any different than the penned one. Both just lay there looking prehistoric, barely even twitching as people stared at them.

And I realized something. Even though so many places look alike, it is the moment that makes the difference. Watching a particular alligator in a particular marsh separates that marsh from all the rest. Or seeing a particular leaf on a tree separates it from all the rest.

Adding to my own peculiar moment, when I got back to my campsite after dark, the men in the sites on either side of me — strangers to each other — came to look at my car. They each had a flashlight and scrutinized every inch of the body and engine. Like boys in a toy store.

And maybe that’s all any of us are — children in a toy store, grabbing whatever experiences we can.

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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.”

Ready to Move on Down the Road

After four days of hiking on the hard sandy beaches of the Padre Islands, listening to the waves come crashing in, watching long streams of brown pelicans fly maneuvers over the gulf, feeling the weather change from misty and windy to clear, sunny, and windy, I am ready to move on down the road.

Ready for whatever comes next.

Today marks four weeks on the road (though I haven’t actually spent much time on the road. Ten days were spent visiting friends, and several days were strictly camping with no traveling at all).

I have enjoyed all phases of my journey so far, though some of Texas’s back roads got a bit tedious. Mostly I just coasted along at fifty-five miles an hour and let the road warriors fight for supremacy among themselves.

Surprisingly, I haven’t been as alone as I expected. At most campgrounds I ended up talking to people, some for quite a while, even exchanged blog information or telephone numbers with a couple of people. Since so many of us at this particular campground are leaving today, we had a farewell bonfire on the beach last night. I felt sad to leave my newest friend, though we are so simpatico, I am sure she and I will meet up again someday. But the journey beckons, and I have a new new/old friend to meet in Austin. (The visit in Austin is with a sister in grief who has been my support during the past six years. This will be the first time we meet in person, a meeting that is long overdue. I’ll also be meeting another Indigo Press author — Norm Brown, who wrote Carpet Ride.)

It is funny that people are both the best and the worst of this journey. There are great folks who are eager to learn about others and share the journey. And there are those who have no care for anyone but themselves. They run generators and use bright lights all night despite strict rules against such usage, and they think leash laws don’t apply to their nasty little beasts. Luckily, these folk are in the minority, and I haven’t let them ruin the wonder of my adventure.

And what an adventure I am having!

Even better, there is more to come. I’ll check in when I can. And when I can’t get in touch? Know that adventure is coming my way.

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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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And So the Adventure Begins

I survived my first night in the “wilderness.” I use quotation marks because although Joshua Tree National Park is considered a wilderness area, the campgrounds are anything but. Lots of human-made noises — loud talking, shrieks of laughter. The pounding of axes splitting wood. The crackling of fires burning. Dogs barking. And there are lots of bright lights.

The only thing wild is the wind. I was going to hike today, but the wind is so strong, it’s hard to stay on my feet. I’m hoping this is just a morning wind and things will calm down later. I have no idea if this tent will survive the day. It’s trying to pull up stakes and move to another spot. I’d leave, but I paid for two days and, more importantly, I don’t know if I could “untent” in this weather.

The most interesting experience so far was my late night/early morning nap under the stars.

When I woke at 2:30 am, I noticed that the light coming into the tent was diffused, and since I knew this was new moon time, I realized the light must be starlight. I debated a few minutes about going out — I was exhausted since I hadn’t slept much, and although I was cold, I hated to lose what warmth I had. But I reminded myself this is why I’m here — to experience that which I can’t experience in the city — and so I dragged my mat and quilt outside, laid it atop the picnic table, and settled myself on my back.

And oh! What stars! It has been years since I have seen so many stars. I lay there for a while, watching the little dipper drift from right to left and tried to comprehend that what was seeing was the effects of the earths rotation. The frigid wind finally drove me inside.

I took a short stroll this morning, and now I’m trying to decide if I should take on the wind and go for a longer hike or if I should stay here and wonder if the tent will hold.

This wind reminds me why a small tent is better than a large one, but considering that I’ve never camped before, I wanted to be able to stand upright and not have to deal with the claustrophobia of a tiny tent. I might have to rethink this.

Another item that’s iffy is the black base layer I am wearing. It’s made in two layers, and the outer layer is supposed to be merino wool, but considering that it turned my sleeping pad black with wool dust, I get the impression it’s a cheap wool. Still, the pants kept my legs warm, so there is that to be said for it.

I’d planned to blog every day again, and though I am writing this as planned (Saturday, Feb 6), I don’t have a signal so I can post it. I hope you weren’t worried.

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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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The Last Few Days of a Settled Life

Such a strange transitional state, these last few days of a settled life. I’m at my computer, perched on a stool at the kitchen counter, which is the only table-like surface in this empty house. (I’ve never quite got the laptop aspect of a laptop computer. Too much heat on my legs, and too hard to type.) Because of the uncomfortable stool, I have to get up every few minutes to stretch, which makes it hard to think. It’s a good thing, then, that I have nothing to think at the moment.

I had lunch with a friend this afternoon, who half-jokingly told me I could stay at her house when she took a trip, and as soon as I accepted, the joking tone disappeared. She’s delighted to have someone stay there when she’s gone. An empty house is an unstable house. What if a pipe breaks? What if the plants die? Well now she doesn’t have to worry. (Unless, of course, the plants commit hari-kari to get away from my black thumb and what they might see as a tortured death.) The dates are unspecified as of yet, but it will be good to have a plaangelce to alight for a couple of weeks.

Someone else told me about a “trail angel” job opening up. The usual trail angel (someone who helps those who walk the long-distance national trails) can’t do it this year, and he is looking for an angel to fill in. I don’t suppose I could be called an angel under any circumstances, but what an interesting experience for a writer — a completely different point of view about thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I can’t commit to the whole time (because of the afore-mentioned house-sitting situation) but maybe he’d be willing to let me do just a few weeks.

A nomadic life, at least for now, seems way more exciting than simply renting a room or even an apartment. Every week or two, circumstances would change, and perhaps new choices and challenges would present themselves, including teaching myself the rudiments of camping and backpacking. (There are all sorts of programs and books available, but only I know the circumstances of my needs, and in the end, everyone has to hike their own hike.)

The same friend (the one I had lunch with today) told me I was so very brave to go camping by myself, and I had to remind her that I am still all talk. I have yet to step into a tent or climb into a hammock, though I did sleep on the floor last night because I felt too lazy to drag the old mattress from the garage (where it had been stored) to the bedroom. Besides, sleeping on the ground will be good practice, though the half-dozen or so pillows I used to prop myself up probably defeated the purpose. Maybe a hammock would be better than a tent, but how does one hang a hammock in the Redwood Forest?

So many things to learn! So many places to go, trails to walk, parks to visit. And dances to dance. (The good thing about housesitting for my friend is that I would be able to take classes again!)

All of those things are still just words on paper, but someday . . . someday . . . the tug of adventure will call me beyond words to the reality.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Countdown To Homelessness

Such a very strange time in my life — this countdown to homelessness. Strangest of all is that I, a world class worrier, am calm — even happy — about the whole thing. I do have occasional brief moments of panic and just as many moments of excitement, but mostly I think my situation is . . . amusing. Yes, that’s the word. Amusing.

I find myself musing about the future. I find myself bemused by the chain of events that lead me here. I find myself smiling in amusement at the possibilities of an uncertain life. And the necessary research keeps me amused for hours.

desertOddly, I am quite content with the thought of living nowhere in particular, but the truth is, as long as I am alive, I do have to be physically present somewhere, and that does give me pause. There is no place I really want to be, and the thought of being anywhere in particular spooks me.

The main conflict right now comes from my desire to continue taking dance classes, but unless I find a place to stay here, I will be heading out. (Maybe just for the summer or until I can find a place here. Thanks to the internet, every place is everywhere, so I don’t have to be present to continue looking.) I have offers of places to stay in an emergency, and I will probably take people up on their offers since I have promised to continue taking classes until June. (We have a performance at the end of May — a Hawaiian War Chant and a trio of Tahitian Apurimas. I love both these pieces. Energetic and so very exotic!)

I am leaving future to the fates, God, the universe . . . whatever you choose to name the Great Unknown. If I find a place, I stay here in the desert. If I don’t, well, I have friends to meet all over the country, and actually, all over the globe. But specifically, I have offers of places to stay temporarily in Northern California and Texas. Invitations to hike in Door County. Lunch in Ohio. A dear friend in Louisiana to connect with. An old friend near Tucson to reconnect with. A friend to meet in Quartzsite (and maybe even a place to stay if she hasn’t sold her RV.) An invitation to visit a friend in New Zealand. Plans to meet a friend in Australia. (If you want to be added to this list, please let me know!)

To be honest, considering the state of my finances, I should get a job, but there’s nothing much I’m suited for except looking after the sick, old, and dying (it’s all I’ve done the past 10 years) and I’m ready for LIFE.

I’d considered getting a van and turning it into a camper, considered getting a larger car that I can sleep in, but somehow (not sure how, exactly) I decided to get my ancient VW Beetle restored. It started with my wanting a paint job so I wouldn’t look like a bag lady living in a decrepit car, but no place would paint a car with rust even if I signed a waver, so the rust had to be removed, and if I did that, I might as well have the dents fixed, and if I did that, I might as well . . . see? Somehow it all just happened.

And somehow, my future will just happen, too.

I do love the idea of traveling around the country in my bug, visiting my online friends, camping out in remote and not so remote areas, getting a feel for the world and my place in it. (Maybe preparing for some sort of epic walk while I’m at it.) Since I have no experience camping and have no gear, there is a whole new realm to get to know. Where can I tent camp for free or almost free? I don’t want to be around RVs, won’t need the same sort of amenities, and wouldn’t really be a part of that culture, anyway. And I definitely don’t want to camp in the middle of a busy campground. So I’m researching tent campgrounds and camping equipment. I covet the eight-person tent I saw — multiple rooms, plenty of space, even a closet! — but it seems a bit impractical. There are wonderful camp toilets, but the practicality ends with the cost of the liners and fillers. They would be fine for a week or two, but months? No. Way too expensive. So, lots and lots of research!

Whether or not I ever do any of this — camping, traveling cross-country, taking a freighter to New Zealand, staying here and continue taking dance classes — it’s a true experience rethinking what is necessary for both my comfort and safety. The internet is a necessity, of course, but I can use my phone to post my blog (which I would do whenever I could find a signal) and use truck stops and other public places when I need to use the computer.

If I’m traveling in my car rather than on foot, I’d have no problem carrying enough food, water, shelter, pillows whatever I need for comfort and cleanliness. But safety? Eek. I just read about a guy sleeping in a tent who had been bitten in the head by a black bear. Oh, that is so not on my agenda!! Nor are ticks and miss-quits (as a friend calls mosquitoes because they never miss and never quit). So more research needed!

Do you see what is most important to me? Internet, comfort, safety, in that order. Hmmm. Don’t quite know what to think about my priorities. Might have to research that too.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.