Entering Construction Zone

Camper

That’s me, sitting in front of my grandparents’ camper. I am pretty sure that is not my coffee.

I’m taking a break from traveling, although I don’t want to take a break from writing (there’s so much that’s happened that I haven’t written about yet!). I realize I’m already taking a break since there’s never any time, but I have hope for some open windows of writing time soon.

My house has been under construction for the last two years and it’s in the final stages (I can hardly believe it). Even though I’ve got a full crew of people working on it, I feel like I’m working on it full time too — getting all of the loose ends figured out and tracked down and fixed.

I’ve moved in and if you’ve ever lived in an RV or a house under construction, then you know the particulars of day to day living have a lot in common. I didn’t have a shower for the first month and a half, and I couldn’t drive my house to the nearest truck stop to take one. Instead, I relied on the gym and the kindness of friends.

There’s also only so much you can cook with a microwave and single burner hotplate, no prep space, no dishwasher, and only a tiny sink. And only so much you can store with a tiny refrigerator.

All of my RV experience has been put to good use, although I miss my snug cocoon  and waking up wherever I want every day. Also countertops and running water.

Kitchen

 

Peach Ice Cream Is Finally Here

One of the great joys of driving through the United States is the vast variety of billboards and signs: hand written diatribes, blinking traffic directives that warn of wildlife, the absolute assurance to you, the captive driver, that the attraction at this exit is nothing you have ever seen and to miss it would be the aching loss of your life, your haunting regret, the ultimate betrayal to your children, so patiently sitting in the back seat in hopes of only petting a buffalo or walking beneath a real teepee.

My great regret is that by the time I see the sign, it’s almost always too late to take a photo. Almost always, but not always always.

Of course, this trip isn’t the first time I’ve wanted to capture the wonderment of road signs. For instance, I came upon this great sign when driving around Iceland last year (in a rental car; not in an RV). In case you can’t tell, those two cars are about to hit head on at the top of that hill in a fantastic imitation of every great three stooges sketch, but with cars instead of each other:

iceland road sign

I took this picture at a rest area in California last year. It’s still one of my favorites:

rock throwing

Here’s one of my least favorites, at a rest area in the south earlier this year:

snakes

This isn’t exactly a sign, and it’s not exactly on the road, but it entertained me, nonetheless (this was at my very first parking lot overnight).

parking

Some signs are direct, if inexplicable (this was my welcome to Nevada):

murder

You learn about lots of cash making opportunities you had no idea existed:

antlers

I like when whoever writing the road signs takes a more personal approach:

2014-08-14 14.47.43-1

Stillwater, Oklahoma must be the only place where video rental stores are “growing”, right?

video stores

Oklahoma also has dueling trash cans:

fish only

no fish

You learn about things you never knew were all you ever needed:

frito pie

You pass places you’re too afraid to venture into alone:

precious moments chapel

I admired the childlike enthusiasm:

peace ice cream

Sadness!

water trampoline

This isn’t so much a sign as a cornerstone for a hopeful life against all evidence to the contrary:

blind faith

More snakes in Florida: a kinder, gentler set of signage:

snakes

And then there are the signs, such as in Savannah, which teach you about city laws you otherwise would never have even dreamed existed:

fireworks

And then other times you learn that not every town has the same kinds of street names as you do:

street signs

I did not have time to stop:

pork center

I tried to stop. If only time weren’t ever stretching away from us.

porter sculpture park

s

 

A Life of Quiet Contemplation. And Taylor Swift. Also Hank Williams. And Night Vale.

I’ve driven over 11,000 miles in 4 months. Surely plenty of time for quiet contemplation. Just me and the road. The vast skyline. The mountains. Rolling hills. Endless fields. Coastline.  Long stretches and winding curves. Woods and lakes and bridges and silence. The perfect foundation for pondering life and sundry related life-type topics.

the road

Well, yes.

Just one tiny problem: I can be a slight bit obsessive. Just a little.

Like for instance, maybe I’m driving down the road and I need something different to listen to, so I put on some classic country and pretty soon, I’m rolling along to the sounds of Hank Williams. And then I think, huh, Hank Williams. What exactly was that guy’s story? I mean, like I know he died young and I’ve seen Hank Williams Jr. in concert back in the day, so I know he had a kid, but like, why don’t I know more about him?

So then I listen to every song Hank Williams sang ever, and then also every Hank Williams Jr. song just for good measure and I think, wow, Hank Williams Jr. really had a fixation on his dad and on explaining over and over that he was his own person.

So then I have to download biographies of Hank Williams and Hank Williams Jr. and Hank the third to my iPad and read them all. And I find out that Hank Sr. died when Jr. was just a baby so he never really knew his dad, but his dad’s nickname for him was Bocephus (ah, so the Bocephus stuff I remember from the 80s now makes a lot more sense) and his mom used to dress him up like his dad when he was a kid and have him sing his dad’s songs in his dad’s style and he got super popular doing that and all of country music who missed his dad gathered around him (and OK, all that “sorry I’m not my dad stuff” makes more sense now too) and then he went all rockabilly rebellion.

Then, once I know everything there ever was to know about the Williams family, I start listening to the Welcome to Night Vale podcast. You’d think I’d listen to educational podcasts so I can learn as I drive, or relearn Spanish but no. Night Vale. (I mean, also yes. But mostly not yes.)

So I listen to every single Night Vale podcast in order, plus the live shows, which if you’re counting, is around 60 episodes. And then I am bereft. So I have to listen to them all again. And privately mourn that I didn’t learn about the show earlier when they were not quite so popular and were still accepting submissions for show scripts.

night vale

(source: http://nightvalequotes.tumblr.com/image/57464480116)

But then sometimes I’m on a pretty long stretch of road with no cell coverage. So I fall back to whatever songs are downloaded, which at the moment mostly consist of those on Taylor Swift’s new album. I construct a a complicated narrative for Tay and Harry, two paper airplanes flying. Which I’m happy to describe in meticulous detail if I get overwhelming requests.

Track 12 #1989lyrics #TS1989 #5DaysTil1989

A photo posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

So now you see why I don’t spend much time on quiet contemplation. My mind is WAY too busy with other things.

If I Believed In Puns, I’d Write Something Clever About the Badlands Here

I know. You think my life is all miracles of nature and a life fully lived and exhilarating freedom and adventure. Majestic vistas, interesting strangers, the glory of sentence fragments.

But no.

I mean, yes.

But also no. Sometimes it’s not any of those things at all.

I’d been wanting to check out dispersed camping: that is, driving up to the beauty and isolation of public lands and staying as long as one likes. Lots of national forests have free camping at what they call “primitive” sites, which are designated RV sites but with no hookups. Dispersed camping is a step beyond. You just drive out onto public lands and stop anywhere.

I drove out to the Fort Pierre National Grasslands in South Dakota, admired the beauty and splendor, etc., and drove down a dirt road that ended with grasslands, a no hunting sign, and a group of white-tailed deer.

ft pierre grassland dispersed camping

I had been driving away from the malevolent cold, and it was a fantastical 68 degrees. I had full bars of 4G. The sun was setting. Life is wonderful.

Grasslands boondocking

I checked the weather and saw that the cold had decided to chase me down and temps were going to plunge overnight. I figured I should turn on the propane so the furnace would be ready when I needed it. I walked outside, scaring the deer who adorably bounded away, and turned on the propane. I heard a faint hiss. And the vague smell of propane. Wait, is that right? I turned off the valve and the hiss continued. For about ten minutes.

Dear readers, truth is hazy and shifting and ethereal but one truth never changes: it’s difficult to enjoy nature when mixed with terror of a propane explosion.

I asked the ever-reliable Roadtrek Facebook group what they thought. They did not think much that was good. I called a nearby RV repair place. The guy I talked to said it was probably a leak but it should be fine if I just left the propane off. I could have it looked at in the morning.

It’s not as easy as you might think to have a restful night’s sleep with the looming threat of explosion and/or slow poisonous death.

I thought I might make the evening more peaceful by removing the skylight covers so I could enjoy the night sky (mostly void, partially stars). A couple of days earlier, I had been driving down the highway and heard what sounded like a great shattering above my head. Which is weird, right? I pulled over at the first exit and checked everything. Nothing was out of place. Nothing was broken. So who knows, I drove on.

Only now I removed one of the skylight covers and found this:

roadtrek skylight

Well at least the loud shattering sound made sense now.

The next morning, I drove to an RV repair shop in Rapid City. And here’s where I start making snap judgments based on little information and skewed experience. Because I’m sure Rapid City is a lovely city with lovely people if I just get to know it, but Rapid City did not endear itself to me.

The guy at the repair place said he couldn’t fix either problem and gave me the addresses of two places that could. He said the propane leak was in fact a leak, but had to be taken care of by a propane dealer and the place he was sending me to would fix it for sure. He said he was also sending me to a glass place that would appear to me as though it dealt with residential glass, but that actually was great with all kinds of crazy sizes of windows on RVs and he sent people there all the time and they were the best. They’d have me fixed up in no time.

Well, sounds good so far. What a wonderful day!

“Wait, who sent you here?” Said the propane guy, hostile and aggressive, clearly irritated that someone was interrupting his day. “I don’t have anyone here to work on that.” Well, OK then. I asked if he had any recommendations. He called a guy. The guy declined to help. Propane guy number one I guess assumed I could hear the voice on the other end of the phone because he didn’t relay this information. He just looked at me with the kind of stare that means “why are you still here?” or maybe “how did I get saddled with this lady’s problems?”

Onward to get the glass fixed. Maybe the propane guy called ahead because the glass guy was in solidarity. “We don’t work on RVs.” I tried to explain that I didn’t actually seek him out to cast evil into his life, but just that the RV repair place had sent me over. He said maybe someone could put repair tape on it only everyone was at lunch until 1 (it was 12:50), so…

I was in the middle of asking if someone would be available at 1 to do that if I waited when he got a call. Without a word, he started talking on the phone as though my mouth were not open in mid sentence. I waited a few minutes until it was pretty clear he was going to stay on the phone until I left.

Dejected, I trudged on. I called another propane place, a bit down the road. They tried to patiently explain that I had an RV. I needed to call an RV repair place to get my RV repaired. They gave me a number. I called the RV place. They patiently explained that I had a propane issue and needed to call a propane place to get it fixed. I tried explaining the infinite loop I had found myself caught up in. The person on the phone seemed sympathetic, but ultimately unhelpful.

I drove on, fueled by a new goal: to get out of Rapid City. I really needed to get some work done and my whole morning was taken up in futile wandering so I figured I’d drive on a bit, find a place to work and once I was caught up, evaluate my best next step.

I spent the next five hours driving down a lonely road with no cell signal and no towns. After a couple of hours, I stopped worrying so much about the impossibility of getting work done and started worrying I would run out of gas. I finally followed a sign to a gas station at some point off the endless road, so at least I was able to continue on.

The point I’m trying to make here is that I left the infinite loop of Rapid City only to end up in the hundreds of endless miles of no propane repair, no cell service, and no handy public libraries. So I kept driving.

(If you wondered why I was late in returning that email, well, there was the infinite loop and also the endless road. I have wifi now. So expect to hear from me soon.)

Mostly, it all looked like this:

Montana

Although sometimes, it looked like this!

montana elk

I finally made it, in the dark and cold, to a truck stop. And discovered that my down comforter keeps me surprisingly warm on cold nights.

Before all of the infinite and endless, I drove through the Badlands, where I saw lots of prairie dogs and whatever these guys are:

badlands

Also the actual badlands:

badlands

The thing about working while living on the road is that you still have to do the actual work. You can’t just flit from propane dealer to RV shop to National Park no matter how attractive that proposition might sound.

Which brings me to Bozeman, Montana. Or, that’s what brought me here I mean. I found this little resort in the middle of nowhere with great wifi, lots of comfortable rooms for working from, a fireplace in my room, and — get this — a soaking tub. I immediately booked a second night. I’m the only guest here. I got here in the middle of the afternoon, starving, and they made me soup and salad and hot tea.

Sure, that whole propane and glass situation still needs to be worked out, but for now, I’m going to take a bath and enjoy the view from my window.

bozeman mt