On Camping Cold and Alone

I remember when I was a little girl I took a motorhome trip with my father. One night I insisted I sleep by myself in a tent outside. I wanted to feel alone in the wilderness.

“You’re not going to like it,” he said, exasperated. But, as always, he let me learn my lessons on my own. it sticks with you better that way.

That night was the coldest of my life. I woke up with ice for bones. My joints ached to bend and I longed to return to the motorhome. I broke myself free form the tent after much deliberation only to find the door to the motorhome locked. He must have locked it without thinking. I banged and banged on that door to no avail until I eventually slinked back to my lowly tent to await the morning. Since then, camping for me has always been associated with the bitter cold.

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A little (much) later, in college, a few friends invited me on a camping trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia. I asked if it would be cold and they assured me I wouldn’t.

“Bring a light jacket at most,” they said.

To their surprise, not mine, it rained and then snowed that spring break in the mountains. Almost immediately upon our arrival. Despite my asthma, I built our fire int he rain and then snow as they held a tarp over the pit and my sopping hair as if it were a veil.

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Never once have I found camping miserable, only darkly humorous. I’ve found living difficult moments like this is something learned. Over small things, I am a complete nut. I can worry about anything that shouldn’t be worried about. But when it comes to hypothermia, count me in for the “experience” of it all.

This morning I awake in the rockies on the side of a small cliff, ten crusted with ice. I put my pants on in my sleeping bag, make a small fire by my tent, and squat over it for a while to warm my backside. It’s the calmest I’ve felt in weeks.

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Camping alone is a certain type of boring. For most of it, I forget consciousness and I meet my needs. There’s collecting firewood, making a shelter, eating. None of this requires much thought. I spend a lot of time sitting and staring like, I imagine, other animals do. Without service, without people or music or anything that could interfere with my just-being save a book, I’m in a rare state of complete non-performativity. I am so largely defined by how I want to be perceived that the impact of this state on my actions and thoughts are insidiously omnipresent. I strain to be who I want to be instead of who I am. Camping alone, I forget to be me.

Steinbeck, in his travelogue Travels with Charley: In Search for America, also noticed this shift in self-perspective when he was alone. He called it a reversion to the pleasure-pain basis. “The delicate shades of feeling, of reaction, are the result of communication, and without such communication they tend to disappear.” Steinbeck is wary about isolation, concerned only with how it “diminishes the subtlety of feeling” that comes with social performance.

Right there: social performance. That’s the difference between Steinbeck and I. What he calls subtlety of feeling I call performance. One insists on the sincerity and selfhood of this state and the other insists it is a mere performance of an identity. As someone who has been to more new schools than grades, I’ve always known how to adapt my identity. I did this to the point where I didn’t know what my identity was other than a fluid that moved from social circle to social circle, molding to their shape.

But it’s not only this experience that has shaped me in this way. Social media has also done this to all of us: all of our interfaces implore the performance of self in a multiplicity, as if bundled together they are the verb-form of a fractal mirror. Analysis turned inward is a constant for those of us who use regularly tune in to social media. The irony is, this analysis is often directed to the inwardness we are trying to project, and not our inwardness at all.

And so I go camping. I: not-bored, not on display. Completely myself. It’s wonderful.

 

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How to Survive the Million Dollar Highway Without Your Brakes*

(Do not do this!)

I have not always been a careful driver. My brakes have taken a beating. So before heading to Ouray to begin my drive through the Million Dollar Highway, I stopped in Montrose just to see how damaged my poor Betty the Buick is.

Consensus: pretty bad.

My rotors could not safely be filed down and my brake pads were a few millimeters to nonexistent, Wayne assured me. He took me out back where poor Betty was being manhandled and defiled by a car lift and a mechanic. Wayne asked me if I wanted to replace the pads and rotors for $700. I laughed.

On the bright side, though my front wheel treads showed need for replacement, my back tires were looking good. I thanked good ol’ Wayne and the mechanic and rescued Betty from her shame.

And on we went.

So, if you’re like me, relatively ballsy and trying to save money, here’s how you survive the Million Dollar Highway without touching your brakes once.

Use your gears! Crank that baby into a lower gear instead of pressing your brakes when you’re going down that super dangerous mountain. Make sure to keep your RPM at a normal speed, though, I make sure to keep it under 2.5. And check your engine heating!

Turn on your air conditioning and radio and anything else you got! This will put pressure on your transmission and help you slow down.

Roll down your windows.

Hope for the best.

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*I am not a professional in fact I’m barely an amateur so take my advice with caution.

** I felt comfortable doing this because I had to and because I wanted to make sure my brakes were available to me if I needed them so I was conserving my brake pads. Also, I kept one hand conscious of my emergency brake the whole time.

Roadside Update

When driving cross country there is nothing better than road side convenience. I pulled over to get my breaks looked at and next to the shop was a laundromat. I haven’t been wearing a lot of clothes, since I don’t have many, but the ones I do have are absolutely filthy thanks to the last two weeks. The laundromat even has WiFi so I got the chance to write this and my other posts which are on Colorado.

It’s been a wild ride the last week. I was in Denver and then Cañon City . I even briefly spent some time in a little town called Victor. Colorado has done a number on my heartstrings, which is half the reason why I have been having a hard time writing my next posts which are about it. The other half is related to insobriety. I mean, I’m in Colorado!

I’ve been visiting friends old and new, camping, and garnering supplies. My car is doing well, knock on wood.

Keep an eye out for my posts on CO! I promise they’re coming. Also, I have some other ones in mind such as road playlists and how to travel for free.

 

Nebraska

Nebraska, I only drove through. As Great Aunt Jan says, “It’s a long state.” From Iowa I made my way across the width of it, stopping only to sleep near Nebraska’s edge. I pulled into (what else?) a Super Walmart in the town of North Platte and cozied myself in the back of my car once more, still not tired from all the driving. I’m afraid of that day, but I don’t know if it’ll be tomorrow, in three weeks, or months.

But: the Nebraskan drive. Driving West in Nebraska the sun doesn’t only just set once. The day I spent moving through its hills the sun set and rose with the hills. More than I could count. The lulling rise and fall made the day’s end a slow rippling of a final descent unlike the common continuity from day to night elsewhere.

I rolled down my windows and the smell of ruffling grass, freshwater, and wet rock poured in through them.

And then all of a sudden a town, full sized. I parked and went to sleep.

Two Nights in Wilting, Iowa

A day in my dad calls while I was, what else, driving. “You know what’d be nice?” He said. “If you visited your Great Aunt Jan.” This was his way of pawning off his familial guilt. You know, the one garnered from lack of acknowledging the existence of one’s distant relatives?

DSC_3943.jpgGreat Jan lives just outside a small town in Iowa called Wilton in a small housing complex of made up of 15 units. I call this housing complex Wilting, Iowa because it’s made up of 15 elderly people who stay alive by tending to the small five by ten patch of garden each one is provided outside their front doors, especially Mary-Anne. We’ll get to her in a second. Wilting: gnats more prevalent than dust in heavy summer air and the only thing more prevalent than the gnats was the gossip. For a housing complex so small there was a whole lot of news to talk about. As Great Aunt Jan says: “anywho,” the whole town might well have been Wilting, Iowa.

Great Aunt Jan is your classic super scary, soft-spoken, self sufficient mid-American relative you always forget you have until a few days after your birthday when your parents call you at college to inform you of that relative’s annual birthday card. The first and last time I met Jan I first met her she was living in an old farm house in the middle of nowhere complete with rusted key holes and a dial up phone in the basement. I didn’t know then whether she’s going to kill me in my sleep or make hash browns in the morning and I still don’t. Her stone-cold demeanor suggests both.

I got in around two in the morning. Just as I was falling asleep, around three, the train went by. At least I thought it did, but then I realized it was someone playing the accordion in the other room. Except there was no other room other than the one Jan was in and there was no way she had gotten back up to do a diddy. That’s just not how Jan lives her life. The accordion was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard through a wall, melodious and getting louder by the second. Turns out it was the train. It might as well have been coming into town through her front door and breaking through my rem cycle.

Let me tell you more about Jan. Doilies on everything, even the shower curtain. She’s one of those people that has never questioned the fabric of their existence as it’s “nothing to worry about.” She talks in monotone no matter what and she talks nonstop, never saying the same thing twice. Her stories always have a beginning, middle, and punchline-ending. She has a story for everything I say and everything I don’t say. On the first day I asked if I could borrow a can opener and the price was one anecdote about a female relative or other, how when they were once young, running away from home, but had not gotten very far as they had to come back for a can opener. Surprisingly accurate in my case as well. Always remember a can opener, kids. So when she started talking about what’s been up in Wilting, of course I was interested, but only half paying attention. Well what was up was a kidnapping.

Now Mary-Anne is the tenant in apartment fifteen. As I was grabbing Jan’s mail my first morning at Wilting I couldn’t help but notice the garden outside of M.A’s (M.A for Mary-Anne, but also for MAstermind) door. It was the most catered to, decorated, and extravagant one in Wilting. Well behind every beauty there’s a beast.

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Mary-Anne’s gaudy garden

Great Aunt Jan loves her tulips. Her garden is probably one of the sparsest in Wilting, but that’s because she knows what she likes and she doesn’t compensate for anything else. Jan is a no-frills kind of gal (except for the doilies). But when her tulips weren’t coming up this season she got worried. This poor woman went to dig them up one day only to find they were missing. Not only were they missing, but the container she put them in was missing as well.

A few days later, M.A. strikes up conversation, claiming she hadn’t stolen Jan’s tulips. Jan hadn’t yet mentioned her tulips to anyone. M.A. had gone, in the middle of the night, and dug up Great Aunt Jan’s tulip bulbs, straight out of the ground. This is how badly M.A. needed to live through her plants.

Another time, Jan’s lilies started showing up in the garden of M.A. When confronted, M.A. shrugged and said maybe the wind blew them over. They both knew very well that Jan’s lilies didn’t grow from seeds.

But Jan assured me, this Mary-Anne is a charmer. So here’s what I learned in Wilting, Iowa: Watch out for those charmers and don’t move to Illinois. It’s one of the most broken crooked states there is, but only after Wilting, the home of the #1 bulb thief Mary-Anne.