Last night (September 20th) a friend came out to my house for dinner, and in our conversation, as I recounted my travels, we realized it had been exactly a year ago to the day that I’d walked out of my empty house for the last time and spent my first night in Roadcinante.
I’d found a campground several miles north of Boone that you drive to by going up a narrow winding road that gradually climbs, then turning onto a gravel road that weaves higher still and delivers you out onto a large wide turtleback, thick trees surrounding the cleared area on all sides. The bathhouse was clean and new (the campground was four years old) with a lovely outside stainless steel double sink for doing dishes, and several tepees dotted the landscape.
I met one of the managers in a nifty little log cabin, where I checked in and bought some firewood. There were four or five other vehicles scattered around, which meant the place was about 2% full.
It’s funny to recall how shy and inept I felt. How I parked on my patch of grass and used the angled pieces of 2 X 4’s that Pastor, her previous owner, had made to put under the tires so that Roadcinante would be level (this took some doing – first this side, then that, stopping to check the level indicators fastened to the dashboard and the driver’s door, until both bubbles seemed satisfied to hover in the middle of their respective glass tube) and then pulling out the thick cable and fastening the giant three-pronged plug into the heavy rectangular surge protector, and then taking that giant three-pronged surge protector plug and pushing it into the 30amp receptacle affixed to the small metal pole at the corner of the site and flipping the switch to “on.”
I felt a little giddy, watching the bounce of the needle on the power gauge as electric power flowed in. I switched the refrigerator over from propane to electric and then opened the back door and pulled out the wooden drawer where I’d stowed my blue umbrella chairs, and lifted out one of them. I took a cold beer from my fridge and opened the chair, placing it in a shady spot under a towering oak and several smaller maple trees, and I sat down and surveyed my domain, trying to keep my cool, trying not to lose my shit completely.
Yeah. That’s right. I just moved out of my house into a nineteen-foot van. Mmm-hmmm. My dogs and I have nowhere to live now, except this nineteen-foot van, which I’ve committed to do for the next year, moving out of my house to do so. And then: ohmigodwhathaveidonesweetjesusmarymotherofourlordwhattheacutalwhatwasithinking…
And it went on from there. Me trying to hold it together and keep the internal screams to a dull roar. I tried to read but could not concentrate. I tried to write but the words got stuck somewhere deep inside so I couldn’t cough up a single coherent sentence. As the sun sank behind the trees, a damp cool descended, long shadows creeping toward me on all sides. I made a fire, my very first one ever, and wonder of all wonders it was a doozy.
I pulled out some ground beef, onions and potatoes, carrots, green beans, squash, riffing on whatever was in my fridge, and used the picnic table as my outdoor kitchen, chopping and mixing and tossing the whole thing into my cast iron skillet with some olive oil and salt and pepper and Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute, nesting the skillet into some hot coals. Then I opened another beer and pulled my umbrella chair next to the fire to tend it and my dinner, with the dogs’ bed beside me and Connor and Beasley milling around, wary of the scary flames but also appreciating the warmth.
I knew just how they felt. I was trying to make friends with the whole scary notion of my sojourn, frightened at the looming prospect of the next twelve months of unknowns and at the same time drawn, like to the fire, by the heat and excitement of the adventure that lay before me.
Dinner was good, very good. Clean-up took longer than I’d thought. By the time I’d tidied everything and removed any food traces to discourage wildlife visitation (we were definitely high enough and sparsely populated enough for bears), the sun had disappeared, which made the surrounding woods seem darker and closer. One by one, lights went out in the several RV’s up over the turtleback. I added the two remaining logs to the fire, sending hot sparks up into the night, and pulled my chair closer, leaning toward the flames and away from the cold air. The dogs huddled closer, too.
We sat there, silent, staring, and as the sky grew darker, the stars glittered ever more brightly. That was right around when a kind of peace settled over me, as if someone had, in passing by, paused to wrap a cloak around me. I felt cocooned by the dark rather than fearful of it. I felt comforted by the solitude rather than antsy. I felt satisfied with the simple meal and the song of the owls and the scurry of small critters along the forest floor. I felt relieved to be out of my house and on my way.
We slept well that night, the dogs and I. I had no way of knowing then how amazing my journey would become. I had no way of knowing the wonders I’d see along the way and the wondrous people I’d cross paths with and how I’d be enriched by all of it. I also had no way of knowing there would be many more times of questioning my own wisdom, wondering at the decision I had made and the pilgrimage I had undertaken, even in the very middle of doing it.
Last week I had the distinct privilege of speaking at Wingate University’s Fall Lyceum event, offering readings from this “Chasing Light” blog and hanging around after to visit and talk with students. One young man asked me straightaway, “Would you do it again?” and I answered without hesitation, “In a heartbeat.”
And I would. Even with the doubts and fears and second-guessing that could at times be paralyzing, I would do it all over again. I feel so fortunate to have been able to make the trip. And while I am still digesting, revisiting, sorting through notes, working on chapters for the memoir, pulling together that book proposal, in the very back of my mind in a teeny tiny corner with its hands sweetly folded is an awareness, a very quiet one because I have asked it to sit patiently for a while, but an awareness nonetheless that somewhere up in the road ahead is another journey, a different kind, who knows what kind right now? But it’s out there somewhere, waiting its turn. And now I know for certain – it will call to me when the time is right. And of course, I will thrash a little and angst a moment and then answer, “I’m in. Where to now?”
Today is the last official day of summer. Tomorrow, some time around 4pm in the afternoon in my neck of the woods, the Autumnal Equinox will occur, when the sun shines on the equator and night and day are divided nearly equally. Meanwhile, sweet Mother Earth continues her spins around the sun, and the sun, together with all its orbiting planets, continues in its spiraling forward-moving dance, ferrying us all along, on and on into the universe.