At Home No Matter Where I Am

When one moves to a new house or apartment, it seems to take forever to get settled in, but when one lives more of a nomadic life, it takes almost no time to become entrenched.

I’ve been housesitting for about seven weeks now. The owners will be returning in a few days, so I spent yesterday morning clearing out the bulk of what I’ve had here with me and settling the items in my cleanstorage unit. Admittedly, many of the things I stored were purchases for my upcoming camping trip, such as my tent and camping lounge chair rather than items I’d removed from storage for personal use. (BTW, that folding lounge chair is huge!! It folds up way bigger than the specs said, and barely fits in my car but will be a great camp cot.)

It feels funny buying things. I don’t like shopping, don’t like “things” and yet, my upcoming road/camping/hiking trip is so far out of my normal lifestyle that I have very little that translates from a sedentary life to a mobile one.

I’ve been getting most of the stuff I need online. Whenever I go to a sporting goods store, I can’t find what I want and can’t find anyone to help me. But I can research online without trudging down huge aisles of stuff that I don’t want and that wouldn’t fit even if I did want. Besides, some of my gear comes from specialty companies, such as Pacerpoles and Solo Stove, a camping stove that uses bits of twigs for fuel. Not that I plan on cooking (I don’t cook now, at least not much), but it will be nice to be able to have a warm drink on a cold night and to have a hot water bottle to warm the bed. (I’m chilled at night now, and it’s a torrid 72° in the house. But then, I’m adapted to the heat, and — fingers crossed — I’ll adapt to the cold.)

I’ve been spending so much time preparing for my trip that it didn’t really hit me until last night that I’m planning on camping in the winter. Winter? I must be out of my mind, especially since this will be my first attempt at such an escapade, and most especially since this will be an El Nino year. Even along the southernmost border, the weather could get very cold and very wet. Eek.

And yet, why not? I will be staying with friends along the way, and in between, if it’s too wet for camping, I can get a motel. Besides, it’s all about the adventure. Seeing what I can do with what life throws at me and seeing what I can throw back at it.

Still, I will be prepared for emergencies, if not mentally, then physically, with a carload of warm clothing and survival gear. And, of course, I’ll have my phone, along with a solar charger (assuming there will be some sun somewhere) and an external battery. With a phone, I should be able to keep track of the weather, even if only sporadically, and make plans accordingly. Adventure is one thing. Danger is something entirely different, and it’s not on my agenda.

I seem to be getting far from my original premise of this blog about how quickly I manage to get settled in now that I’m sort of nomadic, but perhaps I’m still on target. After all, no matter where I am, there my home will be, and it will be nice to feel at home wherever I am.

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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.”)

Building a New World for Myself

When a writer builds a world for her novel, she can either begin with the known earthly world and add details to make it her own, or she can create a world from scratch, building the world from the outside in. First, the broad view of how the world looks, smells, feels. Second how the inhabitants make this world their own with cities, farms, and designated wild areas. Third, the infrastructure of this world — the basic divisions of society including cultural, racial and governmental . Fourth, the creatures of the world and how they relate to their environment and each other. Finally, the minutiae of life in this special world — how and what the inhabitants eat and drink; how they deal with bodily waste, move around, survive, find comfort.

heavenI  frequently think about a writer’s need for worldbuilding now that I am carving my own world out of the known world. I’ll be leaving in a couple of months for a road/camping/hiking trip, and though the first three steps of worldbuilding are already in place (I am going adventuring to see what is there, not creating the environment itself), I hope to find new ways of relating to the world and its creatures. To this end, all the minutia of life in this new world has to be thought out.

For example, when some people take off on such a trip, they acquire a recreational vehicle, a home away from home that is larger and more luxurious than the places most of the world’s population live. Other people go minimal — taking just what they can carry on their backs.

Me? I’m far from wanting the conspicuous consumption of the monster RVs, or even the convenience/inconvenience of a camper, but I’m also not yet ready for a minimalist adventure. I will have a car (though my automobile is rather minimalist, now that I think about it. An ancient VW Beetle is about as minimal as you can get and still be driving an enclosed vehicle). I will stay with friends occasionally or in motels when inclement weather so dictates. But for the rest of it, I have to create my own world. What sort of shelter will I use? How will I stay warm? What will I sleep on? How will I deal with body functions in the middle of a frigid night? What will I wear? What will I eat? How will I cook? How can I create a modicum of comfort?

So many details!

I’m not going off on an expedition to a remote corner of the galaxy, where I need to bring everything for survival. I probably will never be more than an hour or two drive from civilization, where I can rectify any oversight or under buying, but still, the point is to be as self-sufficient as possible. Or maybe not. Maybe the point is to prepare as best as I can and see happens.

One of the things I want to seek on this expedition is darkness, places that are far from the light pollution of cities, where stars are so numerous you feel as if you are falling up into the sky. Last night I had a vision of myself in a lounge chair, lying under the stars, and letting myself fall into the infinite sky. Romantic, I know. The truth is probably more dangerous and uncomfortable — frigid temperatures, no protection from the small creatures of the night, and none from the large bidepal ones. But still, I’ve been searching for a strong and comfortable folding lounge chair to make my vision a reality.

Other details I still haven’t worked out, such as disposal of body waste. I had planned on getting a portable camp toilet since I’m not sure I have the muscle tone to squat for as long as I would need to do to my “duty,”  but so far I haven’t found one I like. Maybe plastic bags and kitty litter would work. And maybe I am stronger than I think.

Some people find my preparations amusing, and to be honest, sometimes I do too. But I also find the mental exercise a challenge — rethinking every part of life to see what the alternatives are.

In this, too, my preparations reflect the way a writer builds her world, because isn’t writing about rethinking life as we know it to see what the alternatives are?

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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.”)

Keep On Trekking On

I’ve been following a few women’s hiking groups on Facebook, one each for the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the John Muir Trail. I joined these groups when I thought there was a chance I would be thru-hiking one of the trails, but I really don’t think I have the strength, stamina, or will to attempt such a massive project. (The food planning alone is staggering, considering that you have to plan for six months, and in some cases, have to send the food on ahead and hope you get to it before desperation sets in.)

WANDERLUSTThough I’ve set my sights on a smorgasbord of shorter trails, working up to multi-day backpacking trips, I’ve kept up with the groups, because you never know where life might take you. (At least I don’t where life is taking me. You might have a better concept of your path than I do of mine.)

I’ve paid particular attention to discussions about gear. The trouble is, the advice is so conflicting, it’s almost impossible to sort out what would be best for me as opposed to what is suitable for younger, fitter, thinner women. Most of the gear I have purchased I found on my own, though I still don’t know if it will work for me. The tent I got is a backpacker’s dream, lightweight and easy to set up, but a bit claustrophobic for general use, so now I’m looking for something a bit larger for car camping, where perhaps I would have room for some sort of folding lounge chair. Conversely, since the sleeping pad I got is a bit heavy for backpacking, (though that’s what it was intended for), I’m looking for a lighter pad. And a warmer sleep system.

Recently I’ve been researching trekking poles since I need new ones. (I only have one that’s about worn out, and my hikes in the Redwood Forest proved the necessity for two). I’d just about decided to get a couple of the one I am now using when I noticed a brief mention of Pacerpoles in one of the groups. I immediately went to the Pacerpole site, watched the videos, read the theory, and was sold. Oh, my. These poles are completely different from regular hiking poles — they work to keep you upright, better balanced, and better posture, as well as allowing for a normal arm swing. Although the poles are not ultralight, apparently, the way they work, they don’t demand extra strength or energy. But they are only available from Britain.

No problem. They ship anywhere, and shipping costs are included in the price. And PayPal so kindly sent the euros to the Pacerpole folk so I didn’t have to worry about currency exchange. A few minutes ago, the Pacerpole folk emailed me. The poles are coming via Royal Mail. How cool! My first international mail! Well, my first overseas mail — I have had Christmas cards from a friend in Canada.

What cracked me up is the Pacerpole people sent me homework to do while I’m waiting. Videos to watch, information to read, proper body form to practice. Now I just have to wait a couple of weeks until they get here.

Meantime, I’m preparing for my road trip across the southernmost part of the country. I’d hoped to be more spontaneous, just stopping upon whim, but I know me — if I didn’t make plans to stop, I’d get into the car and drive until the car needed to be filled with fuel and my bladder needed to be unfilled. And then I’d just keep driving to the next pitstop. Since that is not what I want on this trip, I am researching various National Parks and Monuments with campgrounds and hiking trails along the way. I might not visit any of those places, but at least I’d have shorter driving goals, with a hike to look forward to if whim doesn’t stop me anywhere else along the way. (For those of you who like to plan, you’d be so proud of me — I have a notebook with maps, camping information, hiking trails, and any other information that would be helpful, such as food storage tips to keep from attracting mountain lions. Eek.)

I’m hoping by the end of the trip, I’ll be a seasoned camper, maybe even backpacker, and then . . . who knows. Probably back to dance class for a while to unkink and restore myself, while I replenish my supplies and get my car tuned up for whatever comes next.

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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.”)

Waiting for My New Life to Begin

I never had much of a yen for travel; I’m too much of a homebody. I wouldn’t mind seeing exotic places, but it takes too much time to get there, and plane travel is simply no fun. Still, the only way I’ve been able to make sense of the death of my life mate/soul mate and my ensuing grief is to do things that I wouldn’t have done if he had lived. Since he had been sick so long, we hadn’t been doing much, so it leaves the whole world open to me. I’ve visited museums and art galleries, taken day trips and plane trips, gone to county fairs and other festivals.

I’ve even done less edifying things such as putting together jigsaw puzzles. I’ve always hated jigsaw puzzles. They seem so pointless, but in a world where everything now seems pointless, they make as much sense as anything else. And, oddly, for such a structured activity, jigsaw puzzles seem to be stimulating my creativity. I’ve been trying to do whatever I can to create new pathways in my brain, to get out of the cerebral ruts I’ve gouged for myself, and the puzzles are doing the trick. Maybe it’s because of the pattern recognition skills? For whatever reason, I’m getting interested in writing again. I even printed out my WIP (which has been stalled for so long, I call it my work-in-pause) so I can read it and see where I am. It’s a silly story (was meant to be silly) and I haven’t been in the mood for silliness for a very long time, but poor Chet has been incarcerated in the human zoo long enough. It’s time for me to let him move on.

One day, I’ll be moving on, too. Right now, I’m taking care of my 95-year-old father, but when he’s gone, I’m going to have to figure out where to go next, both geographically and mentally. Where do I want to be? Who do I want to be? Tough questions, both of them.

I’ll be in a unique position, though, free of responsibility — except for myself, of course. I’ll be continuing my quest to try experience new things, to do that which I wouldn’t have done if my mate were still alive, and so far, such plans entail travel (and a means of making money to pay for the trips).

I’ll taking a cross-country road trip with a bereft author friend, perhaps to check out book stores and do signings, but mostly to run away from our sadness and look for fun. She wants to visit Times Square and other such populated areas. I’m more interested in bucolic spots.  Should be an exciting and eclectic trip.

Another friend wants to take a bus trip. Greyhound offers a pass for unlimited travel, so we would go wherever we wished, get off the bus whenever we wanted. Her desire is to see Washington DC and Cape Cod. Sounds good to me. I would never have chosen either of those destinations, which is the beauty of such a trip. I want to do things and go places I would never before have considered.

And still another friend, my first ever online friend, wants me to visit her in New Zealand. The thought of such a long plane trip makes me cringe. Besides, last year I flew to St. Simons Island and Seattle, so air travel holds no novelty. But . . .! She told me I could go by freighter. I had no idea such travel was still possible. It takes approximately two weeks to get to New Zealand by water. Just think of it — two weeks on the open sea (well, four if I return by freighter). A real voyage. And perhaps a voyage of self-discovery?

That pretty much covers all methods of travel except train. So, of course, I’ll take a train trip. A long one. And go first class — rent a room. Where will I go? I don’t know, but it will be somewhere I’ve never been before.

It sounds exciting when I tell people of such things, and yet these experiences don’t make up for a second of my mate’s being gone. But still, I have to do something, so I might as well experience life to the fullest. Or, at least plan to experience life. I’m still waiting for my new life to begin.