Ten Thousand Miles

On February 6, 2016 — a cool but sunny winter day — I set off on a cross-country trip. I figured the 7,000-mile round trip would take about three months, but because of zig-zagging through different states and going further north than I had planned, I have now been on the road for almost four and a half months, and I have driven over 10,000 miles. I am still 1,300 miles and perhaps two weeks from returning to my starting point, a small city in the high desert of California.

The most shocking revelation to me is that I won’t be returning to cool winter desert temperatures but to intense summer heat. Funny how the mind works — somehow I thought that I would be looping back to the beginning, that no time would have passed. It’s not that I expected nothing to have changed — in fact, I am a bit worried about returning to dance class knowing how far behind I will be — it’s more that this has seemed such a timeless journey. Wherever I have gone, there I was, living in the ever-present moment. But the world has kept turning and the seasons have kept churning without any regard to me and my travels.

It’s an amazing thing, all those hundreds of hours spent driving. Thoughts and emotions drifted tbrough my mind the way the scenery drifted through my body as I drove. (Scenery seems to be out there somewhere, something apart from us, and yet we are a part of it. Vibrations of light impinge on our retinas, allowing us to see. Sound waves reverberate in our ear drums, allowing us to hear. Particles flow through our nose, allowing us to smell. The fabric of the scene — the air — swirls around our body and through it, allowing us to feel our surroundings, to breathe it, to become it.)

It’s all very zen-like, this driving. It became a thing in itself, not just a means of getting to my various destinations, but a separate reality. Just . . . driving. Feeling the passing scenery, watching the passing thoughts.

So what did I think during all those miles? Not much. If you let thoughts drift in, note them at the moment, then leave them in the dust as you continue driving down the road, they obviously don’t remain with you.

I wanted a lot from this journey — wonder, joy, change, wisdom, focus, direction, all of which I have found. Particularly direction. Ever since the death of my life mate, soul mate, constant companion, I have been adrift, looking for a bedrock upon which to build a new life. And in the midst of all the drifting thoughts, it came to me. The three w’s. That’s where to begin.

Before I got a computer and the internet, during a time of great upheaval in my life (the first unacknowledged sense that Jeff was pulling away from life and me, along with a growing numbness to the coming death of “us”), I kept to the discipline of those three w’s — walking, writing, weight lifting. I’d gotten away from these three daily activities for various reasons, though they had been a comforting (but not always comfortable) part of my life.

I’d hope that on this trip I would get back into walking and writing, but both have pretty much dropped by the wayside. I would like to try to get back to those three w’s, though it’s easy to make such a determination when there is little opportunity for any of them. But maybe, this summer . . .

I have come to another realization — there is no need to choose between a settled or a nomadic life. During this trip, I have often stayed in one place for a while, sometimes a week or two, sometimes a few days, and once for three weeks. So finding a place to stay in the high desert for the summer will be just a longer hiatus in my continued journey.

Although 10,000 miles seems like a lot, there is so much I haven’t seen, so much I haven’t done. It would take a year to experience what any one state has to offer, and on this trip I caught mere glimpses of 21 of the states. I didn’t see many of the greatest tourist attractions and passed by probably thousands of little-known attractions. I also didn’t camp or hike much, didn’t get an intimate feel of many wilderness areas. All joys still to come.

Currently I am in Wellington, a small town in southern Kansas, visiting in real life a friend I met on Gather, that fabled but extinct social networking site. Then . . . who knows?

One of the many things I wanted from this journey was to become more spontaneous, and that I have done, following whatever whim and invitation that has come my way, so perhaps I will do as I have planned — scooting the rest of the way back to the desert to settle in for the summer with my 3 w’s.

Or . . . perhaps not.

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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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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.”)

A Thousand Miles From My Cool Green Home

Three or four times my life mate and I packed up everything and moved without any idea of where we were going. I remember the looks of non-comprehension mixed with envy I’d get when I’d tell my new acquaintances how we ended up where we did, especially if those people were dreaming of leaving that very place. Perhaps it did seem a bit strange that we were so foolish or so daring to move from a place with no destination in mind and no clear plans of what to do when we arrived, but we always hoped for a better life for us. Those hopes were not fulfilled, at least not in the way we wanted, so it amazes me we took the leap so many times.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget how free I felt when we left a place behind and set out for an unknown future. It felt as if the whole world lay ahead of us, and anything was possible. Once we spent the night in a motel at the truck stop in Nephi, Utah. We had no worries at the moment, nothing to do, nowhere to go, and we talked about how much fun it would be to live there at that truck stop. (Sort of like an upscale version of Bagdad Café, though this was long before the movie was filmed.) Staying wasn’t practical at the time, and so we found a place back in Colorado to settle down for a while. And the web of everyday life began to entrap us once again.

Eventually we stopped taking those trips into the unknown, though we’d still occasionally look for that ideal place. One planned trip took us to eastern New Mexico. We were standing in the middle of a dusty town — no more than a crossroads, really — and he seemed unexpectedly peaceful as he looked around that wide empty space. There were no places to rent, of course, and nothing for sale, and even if we had found a place, the nearest grocery store and library were a long way away, which would have made living there a logistical nightmare, and so we returned home. By then, all the trees and bushes we’d planted had grown up and leafed out. Our place looked cool and green, and the blue Colorado light seemed soothing after the yellowish glare of that little town.

We never moved again. His illness eventually trapped us, and then he was gone.

I am now a thousand miles from that cool green home, and a million miles from him. He no longer has a say in what I do, but still, I wonder what he would think of my plans to live a nomadic life — living nowhere and everywhere. Would he remember the times of freedom when we were temporarily untethered, and be glad for me? Or would he think of my being rootless and alone and be sad for me? I know he’d tell me to be careful, to be smart, to be alert.

I just wish I could hear him give his warnings in person, but then, if he were here to advise me, I wouldn’t need to be considering such an adventure, such a leap into the future.

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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.” Connect with Pat on Google+