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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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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