Monday, July 19, 2010

Trip: Other Thoughts

There are observations that don't fit in with any particular day or event on the trip, and yet were a significant part of the experience. They needed their own spot in a blog where the trip was organized chronologically.

For example: smells. It was a subtle thing, but under the big pines of, say, Rocky Mountain National Park or Flaming Gorge, there was the delightful scent of pine in the air, the kind that can never be replicated by an air freshener, which only manages to produce something repellent. In sagebrush country, that was the predominant scent, although dust and dry air tried hard to mask it. And for some odd reason, the minute we crossed the border back into Minnesota, the air smelled sweet, the lovely scent of cornfields growing and nearly ready to start tasseling. I hadn't noticed such an abrupt change in the content of the fields, but my nose told me otherwise.

My favorite summer scent was missing, though my eyes told me otherwise. I refer to sweet clover, those tall plants along roads and fields and even mountain meadows with the spikes of tiny yellow blossoms. For me it is the forgotten scent the rest of the year that, once noticed, says summer is truly here. One trip in the badlands years ago when the rest of the gang was out doing something, I just sat in the car downwind of a large planting of it and simply inhaled deeply as possible the whole time. This trip I saw it all over but nearly never smelled it, possibly due to the dryness of the air. Or perhaps the nose, vain as I am about its capabilities, formerly as strong as my mother's used to be, is simply growing old. That would be a tragedy.

There were some stark differences in crossing state borders. Going from Nebraska to Colorado, it was geographic, and as stark as flipping a switch, going from cultivated fields to open range lands. Changing from Iowa to Nebraska there was an abrupt cessation in wind turbines, from dense wind farms to nothing. I had to think politics played a large part in that, since the wind certainly isn't that choosy. Speaking of politics, once out west there was a whole lot of conversation that assumed everybody in the room was a Republican-of-course. I've had a lot of training in holding my tongue, and was raised with the idea one doesn't argue politics or religion with the one at whose table you are being fed. But everybody in the room was not a Republican!

I have to think politics had a hand in another difference. Road construction was ubiquitous. However, here in Minnesota there are nice orange signs posted informing the passerby that this project is funded with ARRA funds, better known as the Recovery Act. I can't recall a single such sign out west. Are they finding other funding or just not posting the signs, something my daughter informs me is illegal? I hear callers to radio shows expressing their views that there are no new jobs out there from the government spending money, but perhaps it is a lack of signs telling them when they are passing an ARRA project?

Another thing I thought was universal country-wide is accessibility. Apparently I was wrong, especially when it comes to camping facilities. The world seems to assume that only the young and able like to camp, not just when it comes to bathrooms and showers, but walkways and paths and scenic attractions. More ramps and fewer barriers are needed. We boomers grew up on camping, not all are rich enough to travel more expensive ways, and we are aging. Those who run accessible campgrounds and who can point out accessible trails and visitor spots, and advertise that about themselves, should do an increased business in the future. Then those of us who are reluctant to travel can be assured there is a place for us to enjoy a favorite activity. We'll beat a (gently sloped) path to your doorsteps. (Steve and I have fantasized about winning the lottery, using the proceeds to set up a travel bureau specializing in locating and/or developing accessible travel spots around the country.) I should repeat that the handicapped camping spot we had at Rocky Mountain National Park was terrific.

With no AC in the RV, I came to re-appreciate something now long-disappeared from cars: wing vents! Why do we no longer have them? They are great at funneling outside air into the vehicle without messing up hair, the way an open window top does. Our RV is actually so old it has them in it. Will somebody out there please bring them back?

While I learned something about my fellow travelers, I also learned some things about myself on this trip. I can get so focused on the best way to do something, meaning the most efficient or logical or best use of a space, that I can forget about the other person who is trying to accomplish the same thing in a different manner. I can get cranky, impatient, forget we are all adults and all trying to be helpful, and become simply trying. I needed to apologize several times: slow learning curve. It seems to be something that gets worse as I get older: after all I've had all these extra years to figure out the best ways for myself, and forget that knowledge does not travel by osmosis, and that just as I had my own opportunities to figure things out - sometimes very slowly - others should get theirs. It's embarrassing, actually, not living up to my own standards of perfection. Not that I actually ever do, of course, but usually not so publicly.

Speaking of fussy, the older I get the more fussy I am about where I sleep. The slight elevation difference in my bed from side to side was more than an annoyance at first. I couldn't prop myself too well against the slope, since that would have meant using my bad shoulder. A bit of sleep deprivation helped cure that somewhat, but it's still great to be home in my own bed. If one could take the home bed along when traveling, it'd be so much better.

Sleeping while camping is further complicated by sleeping bags. I'd gotten a new one for this trip, made by Eddie Bauer. I was intrigued by the statement that it was good for either hot or cold weather camping. I thought they meant it had a removable liner, like a bag inside another bag. That wasn't it at all. What it had was a removable cover, zipping down both sides. The first couple nights I absolutely hated it. I couldn't figure out what to zip or not, where to insert myself for comfort, how to keep my feet from poking out the bottom, and why I needed the hood part over my head under any circumstances. I didn't want to get into the main part of the bag because that has a flannel lining, and those are designed to prevent the sleeper from rolling over in the middle of the night by sticking to whatever you are wearing. They may be better - I say may - at staying out of the zipper than nylon linings, but I find no other use for them. However, the extra piece is nylon on both sides, nice and slippery so you can move at will. Then, once I figured out to zip both sides of the extra piece partway down and pull it back up like a blanket, using the hood part like an extra pillow, I was all set for a comfy night's sleep and fell in love with the bag. The exposed feet part I dealt with by scooting the sleeping bag a bit farther down on the bed so the end dropped down, keeping the feet covered by using gravity.

I also learned something about how I compartmentalize. Once on the road, I could completely shed thoughts of home and responsibilities there. Something would jog me into remembering to call and check in on how things were going and give updates on our progress. It was otherwise put completely aside. In that sense it was a true vacation. However, once back, I am periodically flooded with mental images from the trip. It could be the mountains, or one of the animals, or a meal around a campfire, or any of a number of things, and not just while I've been recapturing the memories blogging about them. I'll be driving down the road and suddenly remember some part of the trip that I enjoyed, being both places at once. It still hangs with me, almost as if I'm back on vacation for a moment. So: cut off what you're escaping from, but bring the escape back with you. It seems like the very best way to compartmentalize.

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