Flying with the Falcon

Begin the New Year with More Than Resolutions

*Photo taken near Ely, NV. 

Social media is full of New Year’s resolutions right now, an infinite number of promises people will probably break in less than a week. Why are we so willing to give up on taking care of ourselves? The layers of suffering we inflict on our own bodies, minds, and spirits are incredibly heavy. In the last several months, I’ve been getting very serious about getting my mental and emotional house in order—even though I have actually been working at the problem for a long, long time. Like since I was a teenager. And I’m middle-aged now. Interestingly, something about traveling had a lot to do with it. Ever since Michael and I hopped into our truck and drove to Casey, Illinois to pick up our Airstream, my life has been drastically altered. Obviously, traveling across the country is going to change anyone’s life, but when we traveled, we stayed away from our hometown for a long time. Years. Throwing miles and miles in our rear-view mirror became so much more than just a fun adventure: it became an opportunity to realize the mirror would force me to see myself in stark relief, and the dark places in my head finally got yanked out into the bright Nevada sun.

I’ve made arguments on this blog on plenty of occasions that travel will benefit anyone who gets out there to see beautiful things in our wondrous world. What I don’t think I’ve explained very clearly is how the world changes you when you make yourself a part of it with fresh eyes. Staying rooted in one place your whole life isn’t a bad thing—lots of people happily live in the same town their whole lives—but if you want to really explore who you are and what you want out of life, the road will show you. Countless movies and books and songs and poems have been created to describe the experiences of people who went on life-changing road trips. It’s not just to give us all a sappy night out or a cutesie song to sing at school events; it’s to send out a message that the road will change you if you allow it, and if you don’t, it might just wreck you. When Michael and I first came out to New Hampshire for his first travel job, we loved it here. But our travel adventure had just begun, and we were itching to get out and see where else we could go. We never really intended to go across the country right away because we weren’t sure how much we would like the travel life, but then the jobs Michael found on the East Coast weren’t paying as well as those out West. It became necessary to follow the money, so we ended up in Ely, Nevada. Holy cow, was that strange.

Our first month of living in Ely came as a rude awakening. Both of us struggled with normal, everyday things like making the bed or walking up a slight incline because the altitude is 6,500 feet. When you’re coming from about 1,000 feet or less, that’s a lot of height to gain. We struggled with everything for a while because we weren’t used to the thinner air, and then it wasn’t very warm. Like many East Coasters, we had absolutely no idea that Nevada is the state with the most mountain ranges in the contiguous US (only ranked behind Alaska for the most peaks), nor did we realize that much of the West is high elevation and quite cold. Living in our Airstream in what amounted to winter right away was not easy, but we managed. We’re resourceful. What really made the trip to Ely hard, though, wasn’t the elevation or the weather, but the fact that the town was so isolated it took three and a half hours to get to the next town. The local grocery store was always out of things, even staple items like bread, milk, and eggs. Sometimes it would be a week, sometimes longer before shelves would be restocked. We only found one restaurant—a pizza joint—that had food either of us was willing to eat. In general, the town had little to offer in terms of entertainment, either. While we were there, I generally went out and explored the wild places near town. If nothing else, Ely had lots of hiking. It’s the only thing I miss, and surprisingly I miss those wild places now. They grew on me while I lived in that lonely, forgotten place.

After Ely, we next ended up in the Carson Valley near Lake Tahoe, very fortunately stationed just below the chain of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and every morning when we woke up we pinched ourselves over the view. Even in Ely I would pinch myself to see the mountains across the road from our RV park, and I studied the odd cloud formations that formed around the mountains, creating strange patterns of rainfall, wind, and visibility. While living in the Carson Valley, we were introduced to wildfires, even occasionally seeing them up close. It’s an eerie sight to see the hills glowing red at night while the fires burn through the brush on the mountainsides. Once a set of fires were started alongside the road near our RV park, and on each side of the park the fires were burning close to the gas station and propane tanks. The firefighters were hasty about getting those fires extinguished rapidly, and we were thankful. Meanwhile, Michael worked his hours at all these hospitals, and I worked hard on my writing, and after a while I got lonely. Even though I loved the road, loved the places we were exploring, and truly felt amazed by how much I began to feel a part of all these places, I realized I took for granted the relationships I had when we were rooted in one place. And yet, at the same time I began to change. I became more of who I always was meant to be.

Spending so much time away from where we had lived for so long really drove me to be more open and vibrant. Without expectations of the familiar people in our lives, it’s easier to just be who you want to be. No one is going to walk up to you and ask why you’re acting so strangely, because they have no idea what you used to be like. They only know you in that moment, and then you may never see those people again. It’s both delicious freedom and terrifying loneliness. And in that loneliness lies your lack of self-love, your willingness to accept less than you deserve, all the promises you ever broke to yourself, all the opportunities wasted. You both free yourself and have to face what you have allowed to happen over the years of your life. All the crud you allowed to be heaped upon your heart, it all rises to the surface. My poor, wonderful husband had to listen to me rant about the misery of my soul on many occasions over our time on the road, and he was mostly very patient. What I came to realize is that I had work I needed to do to clean house so I could start living the life I was meant to live, instead of the life everyone else expected of me.

Now that we’re sort of full circle and back in New Hampshire, it’s a good time to get my house in order. We have plans to build our tiny house in the woods as soon as we save enough to buy land. The plans for the house are hanging on the wall, a constant reminder of where we want to go. I’m meditating my brains out so I can clear my mental clutter. Recently I decided to go on a news diet so I could stop hearing constant negative streams of information, and instead I listen to either music or audio tracks of inspiring thought leaders like Tony Robbins, Jim Rohn, and a wonderful Instagram account called Her Namaste Life. I don’t always agree with everything they say, but they reinforce the positive thought processes that are instilling in me a new sense of purpose, a means for letting go of the past, living in the present, and enjoying my life instead of always wishing for the future to hurry up and get here. No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to start really living your life. What I love most about what I learned from the road is the fact that I fell in love with this country in a way I never expected, and now I feel as though Nevada mountains are as much a part of me as Western New York hills and New Hampshire forests. My heart grabbed onto those beautiful places, the endless miles of empty desert, the caves, the rock formations, the rivers, and especially all the animals we saw roaming through all of it. I loved every minute of looking out the window of our truck to take in the open spaces still left, smiling to see our Airstream coming along behind us. I am so ready to do it again. This time, I might even be ready to do it with my head on straight.

Listen, if you’re in a place in your life that allows for you to travel, don’t hesitate. Get out there and see the world. I think about how so many astronauts have come back from their trips to outer space and felt a new sense of awe and responsibility for the planet and all its peoples. Their hearts were ripped open by seeing the earth from space. When you get on the road and roam the countryside, travel to new places, have to contend with new situations and people, and you’re totally out of your comfort zone…it changes you. The air you breathe will smell different, the weather will surprise you, the plant life will make you wonder, and you’ll be uncomfortable in the best possible way. Nothing will be the same after you step onto the dirt of a new place. It gets under your skin and becomes a part of you. Because it’s part of you, your heart will want to take better care of it. While you stay rooted, we forget to look at the beauty of where we live. We forget to see the things we see every day, but even if you’re good about paying attention, the familiar allows us to take things for granted. Getting out into the world once in a while can give you a sense of both how big and small the world is, and how very important it is to treat it with love. Step gently in the desert to avoid killing the biomes in the sand. Keep hands off the ancient trees so they might stay healthy and live another thousand years. Only slip your canoes and kayaks into the clear lakes so they can be free of the oil and gas of motors. Pack out your trash in the woods. These little loving gestures make such a huge impact to save the wild places of our world, and if you see these places, you won’t want to spoil them. They become part of you, and you are part of them. We are one. We give and take. Oxygen and carbon dioxide. Water and air. Rain and soil. Ocean and land. Humans and plants. We rely on each other, and it becomes so clear when it’s you and a ribbon of road that leads into distant mountains capped with snow.

Instead of a new year’s resolution, maybe try new things, or maybe jump into a love affair with finding out who you really are. Forget the gym membership and that stupid diet. Eat your vegetables, drink your water, and go for the road trip. You only live once, and you never know when your time will end. The world is here for you. Really, it’s all for you. Go enjoy it.

Flying with the Falcon

Wacky Weather and Other Traveling Woes

*I already inserted an addendum near the end of my original post, but now that we are stuck in Vernon, Texas for a day to wait out storms I will also add that last night we encountered icy roads too treacherous to continue onward. Though I wanted to post the last two nights, I have been too busy managing the many issues we’ve had while traveling. It’s been wild and wooly, but we are safe and hunkered down for a bit. More to come next week! Photo taken on the way to Amarillo, TX. Spatters from our encounter with snow still on the window.

Sunday Michael and I left the Carson Valley with our beloved Aluminum Falcon in tow. We took Saturday to button up the Airstream and pack away all the loose items sitting on countertops, remove the skirting Michael created to cut the cold wind under the trailer, check the tires on the Falcon, and hitch the truck to the trailer the night before leaving. If you happen to be an RV owner, you probably recognize these common items on a long list of checks one must do before traveling. Once we felt certain all the cupboards and drawers were secured (or so we thought, ehem), the pipes bled, and the loose furniture strapped down inside the Falcon, we checked out of the RV park we called home for eight months. It’s hard to believe we lived in the Carson Valley that long. After that amount of time it creeped into the realm of what feels familiar, and both Michael and I will miss the gorgeous chain of mountains across the road, those snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Of course, we will miss the sunshine—we both were glad to avoid the snow of the north—but we will also miss the wonderful community of people we got to know while in Carson.

Unfortunately, our plans to leave on Sunday morning did not anticipate the high winds we drove through the entire day. From Carson Valley we drove south to Vegas, hammered by wind the whole way south through the state of Nevada, which drove our gas mileage down into the single digits at times. Our truck on its own gets between 20-24 miles to the gallon on the highway when not towing anything, but typically the mileage drops down to between 10-15 miles to the gallon when towing the Falcon. That wind really dug down into the gas tank. I suppose we could have waited to leave for another day, but we had everything packed and ready. Thus, we fought the wind all the way to Vegas, where we stopped at Ikea to pick up some window dressings and a sink for the bathroom. Why, you may ask? Because we have finally determined it is time to renovate!

After living in the Falcon for a year, it’s showing serious signs of wear and tear. I mean, even an Airstream will start falling apart after 30 years, no matter how well it’s been treated over time (see my post on the pros and cons of living in a used Airstream). With some water damage from the leaking AC unit, as well as leakage from a mystery location under the shower, coupled with humidity issues from condensation in the cold weather, we have been worried about rotting and mildew. Since Michael could not secure a contract with any of several positions to which he applied, we have absolutely no plan for where we need to be anytime soon. A job in Bradford, PA looks like it could be promising if Michael can renew his PA license soon (though he had a snafu with it, which he hopes we can remedy if we go back to our current home base of Olean, NY). We shall see what happens when we get back east and secure a spot to park and start ripping the guts out of the Airstream.

In the meantime, we are planning to enjoy our drive across the country, a last fling with warm weather and sunshine which will hopefully sustain us through the last leg of winter in the north. At this very moment we are driving through northern Arizona toward Flagstaff, where the weather says it’s snowing. Sigh. Perhaps we won’t get that sun and warm weather. At least the scenery is beautiful. Honestly, we have seen a sweeping change of landscape since leaving Las Vegas (as a quick aside: if you take your RV to Vegas, we stayed at Arizona Charlie’s for a low price of about $35 with full hook-ups and a pull-through site, which is much better than prices anywhere else, and was nice and clean). Around Vegas, the mountains have a stark sort of beauty in their craggy brown rock, which is occasionally striated with sedimentary coloration, though the scenery is largely brown with some areas studded with shrubs, palm trees, and Joshua trees. At times in Nevada it looks positively Martian, with oasis-like green mostly clustered around areas where people live and plant trees for shade or landscape to make things look more hospitable. And Nevada in general is not all warm like the area around Vegas. In the mountains, one gets plenty of cold weather and snow, even though the climate is dry and mostly sunny.

Going south from Vegas toward Kingsman, AZ is the road to Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam. We opted not to stop, since we did those sights back when we married five years ago. It was still fun to ogle the marvel of the mountains and canyons there as we drove past, and if you haven’t been to visit, I recommend going. The dam is massive and impressive, and the area is absolutely gorgeous. Lake Mead is a popular tourist spot, as is the dam, so expect crowds anytime of year. Once past the lake, continuing toward Kingsman, the shape of the mountains changes from the canyons to flatter land below the peaks, and then as you gain elevation going toward Flagstaff the air gets colder and the juniper and pinyon pines fill in the undulating skyline. Though we left a cold morning in Vegas behind us, I had hoped the day would warm as the hours crept toward midday, but fortune did not see fit to reward us with nice weather on this leg of the trip. While we lost an hour crossing the state line to Arizona, we lost about 20 degrees, and then gained roadside seats to a dusting of snow on the yellow-hued grass. The rounded peaks stretching away in the distance had been clouded by falling snow and speckled with the stubble of dark evergreen growth that reminds me of a beard started several days ago.

Approaching Flagstaff, I am reminded of our trip to the Grand Canyon years ago. We stayed in Flagstaff to be closer to the South Rim, which is the only access to the park in winter months. Since it was cold and snowy when we visited in January, hardly anyone was there. It was actually rather nice to have the whole park to ourselves as we walked along the trail next to the canyon, snapping photos and being generally awestruck. Again, since we already visited this National Park a few years ago, we do not plan to stop there this trip, though I highly recommend making the effort to drive from Vegas if you have the time for this side trip from Sin City. It only takes a few hours to get there, and it is well worth the time. On the way to the Grand Canyon you can stop and see the Hoover Dam, too.

We had hoped to stop to see the petrified forest while traveling along Route 40, also known as old Route 66, through Arizona. For a short time we dithered over whether or not to make the trip up the road to see the painted desert as well, but when we checked maps it was hard to tell what kind of road would lead us there. Without being certain the road would be in decent shape, we didn’t want to risk the Airstream having to bump along on potholes. So we chose to just stop at the petrified forest, which is a National Park, and right off the highway. Then somehow our day of driving got eaten up with too many stops we needed to make for a variety of reasons I can’t even remember (one of which was a rest stop which turned into sweeping up the glass of a broken dish which had sailed out of a cupboard after a rough patch of road). Snow began to fall in earnest, and then by the time we arrived at the park entrance it was already closed for the day. Sad face.

After the disappointment of missing out on fun, snow became a serious issue. We planned to drive to Albuquerque to spend the night there, but between the park and Gallup, NM the snow started to fall so heavily we could barely see. It built up on the roadway in icy slush, and our pace slowed down to half what it should have been. At that point, we made the decision to stop at Gallup for the night, rather than fight hours of snowfall and dangerous driving conditions with the trailer. Thus we ended up at the USA RV Park in Gallup, right off the highway. The park was convenient and about the same price as the park in Vegas for full hook-ups, so we were happy. One downside with the weather: no water or sewer overnight. When it gets below freezing, anyone who full-times in an RV knows you have to take precautions to prevent things from freezing. When the fresh water hose sits directly in the snow, you have to wrap it in heat tape and insulation. Since we really had no desire to waste time with such measures, we chose to go without the hook-ups for water and just used the jugs of water we purchased at the store earlier in the day. The stove helped heat the Falcon up to a nice toasty temperature before bed, since I baked sweet potatoes to eat with dinner. Hooray for baked potatoes!

Without water, we waltzed out our camp cooking skills to wash dishes and hands and brush teeth, and then in the morning we went to breakfast at Denny’s after a cold splash of water on the face. Leaving Gallup we encountered more snow, though the road stayed clear. We once again revisited our travel plan for the day, as the weather looks to continue for a while. Neither of us wants to drive through snow and go without water again if we stick with our plan to go to Amarillo, TX. Going south for warmer weather sounded like a good plan, but it will add a lot of time to our driving across to North Carolina, where we hope to visit some of Michael’s family on our way back to Olean. In the end, we stuck with Amarillo, but I hope the weather will be better than it looks in the forecast. Out my window right now I see vast stretches of yellow grass stippled with stubby round evergreen bushes, and the occasional flat-topped rise of red rock. I find it odd and amusing to see the abandoned small settlements alongside the roads here in the Southwest. In the Northeast, such structures often get overgrown with plant life or rot from all the snow and rain. Here, they survive much longer, like ghosts from mysterious lives of unrecorded history. No textbooks know the names of the people who lived in these long-abandoned homes, hunting and mining camps, even entire towns. They stand against the harsh winds and blasting sun, echoes of life whose purpose crumbles beneath the cries of hawks and falcons.

{I intended to go ahead and post this yesterday as is, and then two nights ago as we were about an hour outside of Amarillo we stopped for gas and Michael noticed the door of the Airstream was open. He walked back to check it, and discovered several things: the door was bent so badly it wouldn’t shut, the lock feature to hold the door in place when open had snapped off, a dent in the Falcon’s side seemed to have been caused by the lock banging into the Airstream as the door slammed open while we drove down the highway, and probably half the rivets holding the door together had popped off from the force of the collision. Let me tell you, Michael was ANGRY. He swore like a sailor and started to threaten to sell the Falcon due to the door being broken—not unlike my own moments of losing my marbles over things like going without sleep or food for too long—and then he bent the door enough to close it so the latch would catch, followed by attaching a ratchet strap to hold the door shut until we got to Amarillo.

On the way to town, I Googled up a place to stop for the night (Overnite RV Park was kind enough to let us stay extra so we could work on the door, and we thank them very kindly), and found an Airstream dealership in case we could not fix the door ourselves. We rolled into town after dark and pulled into the Home Depot parking lot so Michael could go buy supplies while I walked the dogs around the downright bitter parking lot in the icy cold. Supplies in hand, we stopped at the Big Texan for a lovely dinner. If you are ever in Amarillo, you must have dinner at the Big Texan. It’s famous for being in the movie Guilt Trip and also on the TV show Man vs. Food. This place is rather more of a destination that just a place to eat, as the lobby/bar area has a delightfully fun Old West style shooting gallery, a lovely gift shop, and the most dangerous dessert counter you’ll find for miles. The dining room décor reminds me of Victorian style saloons you see in movies, with flowered chandeliers and wallpaper hung next to the heads of dozens of cloven beasts (ie: deer, elk, antelope, etc.). Minstrels wander through the dining room while people eat, stopping at every table to offer up a song of your choice. If you tip, they will play you another. If you are up for an eating challenge, you can attempt what Barbara Streisand’s character attempted in the movie, Guilt Trip, and try to eat the immense steak dinner in an hour. They have a timer over the table so the whole dining room can watch your progress, and if you eat it all, you get it free.

After dinner we drove to the RV park, and by that time Michael was just too tired and cold to try to mess with the door. We hung a blanket over it to keep out the breeze, and went to bed. Morning did not bring warmer temps, but after coffee Michael got to work on the door. Fortunately, he knows how to install rivets and has a good set of tools for at least small jobs, so he drilled new holes in the door, bent the center of the door frame back into shape, and managed to get the darn thing back in working order. It’s a little less shapely than before the accident, but at least it’s still able to function. We went to a locksmith to get a key made for the deadbolt to keep the door from slamming open again, as we never got a key for the lock when we purchased it, but no dice. For the rest of the ride back home we will have to ratchet the door closed, which is a pain in the neck. In any case, the Aluminum Falcon is living up to its namesake in its aged tendency for needing repairs. We don’t have a hyperdrive, but everything else seems to need work. All is well, however, even if we now are facing yet another round of yucky weather. We plan to go south now so we can at least be warm enough to use water. Camp skills are fine for a few days, but washing with minimal water gets old pretty fast.}

I shall keep writing as we drive, and share the pertinent details in my next post. When we gut out the Falcon, I plan to document the whole affair and describe the most interesting parts. It’s going to be an adventure, but also promises to be positively horrid at times, depending on weather and what we find when we take everything out of the trailer. Every construction job takes longer than you think it will, since rarely does everything go according to plan. It will all be worth it when we get the remodel done. Nothing beats a do-it-yourself project. After all, don’t you most appreciate the things you made yourself? When you earn it, you appreciate it more. To my left I see the beginnings of the rocky canyons we saw when driving out here last year, when this was all new to me. It’s amazing what travel will do for your perspective. If you have yet to get out in the world to enjoy it a little, stop waiting for the perfect time. Do it now. Make your plans. No matter how many chores you need to do, what the kids have on the calendar, or who needs you at work, all that stuff will still be there tomorrow. Take the time to refresh yourself and take a trip, even for a morning or afternoon. The world is a wonder. Go get awestruck, and don’t let the weather get in your way.