Day 24. Making friends with felons.
I got to a point today driving down the road that I felt like I needed an Eckhart Tolle intervention. There was little BEing going on. Instead, I was thinking and worrying. As an antidote, I started listening to the Power of Now. Regardless of how many times I’ve listened to or read that book, each time it feels new because I’m in a new spot.
I concluded that there have been too few moments that I’ve let my mind rest on this trip. I’m frequently worried. For instance: I don’t have a reservation. Am I going to find a spot? What’s the best day to travel to be able to find a spot? Will the spot require me to back up because that’s just a damn disaster? How far should I drive? Should I stop for gas yet? What speed should I drive? My thoughts exhaust me.
So Eckhart immediately reminded me that thinking is a sickness. And it was calming to be reminded. Be here now. Let it go.
BUT, I was headed from Monticello to Lone Rock, Utah and the wind was wicked. There were walls of sand dancing and the view was a muted, hazy as if someone had climbed in my vehicle and hotboxed it. THIS was no time to give up on thinking. It required both hands on the wheel, paying rapt attention to the trailer's behavior.
I had just left Kayenta…. I stopped at the gas station because I wasn’t sure where the next one would be and I was thirsty and hungry. I had, once again, started my day and skipped the eating part, instead focused on a French press and packing up camp. I woke to the sun just peeking over the horizon and a vehicle about 50 feet away – interesting because I hadn’t heard it arrive. It was the one thing I had worried about the night before: Is someone going to arrive and take up the minimal space I had to make the turn necessary to get out? A fisherman. I gave him a heads up that I might need him to scooch his vehicle over. (He ended up borrowing matches, telling me he was going to smoke some weed, moving his vehicle for me, and guiding me on the way out.)
I had found the spot the day before when I went scouting back up the mountain (yes, the mountain that I had to reverse down) to find my next spot - searching without the trailer is so much easier. I went a different direction based on a recommendation from some DNR guys. I checked out some of the official campgrounds but they were full so I headed towards the lakes they mentioned. Monticello lake was ringed by a handful of pullout spots that were questionable. The would require a tight turning radius and I’ve learned that I’m overly optimistic about my turning radius so I wasn’t loving those options. I saw another spot across the lake that had an opening that appeared to be adequate so I ventured back onto the main road and turned onto the dirt road - no sign marking it. The spot was stunning but just on the threshold of allowing turning around with the trailer to be comfortable. This was my spot though. I was willing to risk it. How could I turn it down?
So back to the gas station in Kayenta…. I opened up the camper to get a piece of sharp cheddar. I had been thinking about that cheese for a while….and then some chicken drumsticks that I had cooked the night before. I sat in the doorway of my camper with an atlas in my lap, phone to my side because I miraculously had a signal, and iced tea. With a two-handed firm grip on a drumstick, I was enjoying the refueling for me and my vehicle. It felt good to stop and just hang.....and reconnect: Facebook, Snapchat (my kids), Whatsapp, text. The view was not great…but the people watching was good....the comings and goings at the gas station.
I was approached by two Native America men, separately. I had just mentioned to my kids that most of the customers were Native American. It’s interesting to me to be in a place where I’m the minority. Makes me think. Both men were chatty, asking where I was from, sharing their perspectives of the area, where they were from but the second one lingered too long, asked too many detailed questions, and eventually started extolling the virtues of Trump which I couldn’t tolerate. I told him that he could speak all day long about how Trump is the man and he'd never make a dent in my utter despise of that man. And that he makes me wish there was a hell. And I would never put a sexist, narcissistic, racist, imbecile on a pedestal no matter how many of my fellow Americans did. He asked if I could just give him a chance to make his point, and I said no. I had lost all patience. I immediately locked up my camper and headed towards my vehicle.
I was texting a friend about my encounter when a Native American woman pulled up next to me and said, “Hi. I wanted to ask you something.” I immediately thought, “Oh shit. Is this going to be one of those situations where someone asks me for gas money?” She went on to say, “That man that you were talking to…What did he want? He’s a distant relative of mine and he’s not a good person. When I saw him talking to you and noticed that you had a camper, I knew he didn’t know you, so I turned around to check on you. I’m worried that people like him can create a bad perception of what Native Americans are.” So, we talked. She had a 5yo in the car that was bopping all over as we talked. She told me that the guy I was talking to had spent the majority of his life in jail. She told me that her relatives warned the younger people to stay away from him.
She wanted to know what he said. I told her he talked about: wrestling wild horses and taming them, traveling the country and working, being an advocate for AIM (American Indian Movement), selling herbs that work better than the vaccine and that the vaccine was putting bad stuff into our bodies, and how Trump was villainized for just revealing how things really are, including the reality of how men treat women.
I was incredibly touched that this woman had taken the time to check on me. I learned about her family, their traditions, how she invites Anglo people into their traditions, how natives are losing their culture and language. She asked about my trip saying that she yearns to do something similar. I was continuously thankful that she took the time to check on me and delighted by our chat. I wish I would have gotten her name.
I returned to the road, not completely sure where I was going. My target was somewhere close to Lake Powell. I had messaged with a woman on fb that was staying there, entertaining the possibility of meeting here - but she had moved to another location. She told me that it was crazy busy - Memorial Day weekend. The holiday combined with the surge of people camping due to Covid made traveling without reservations more dicey. I had resigned myself to boondocking on one of the highway pull-offs if it was necessary. The real challenge that lay in my mind was making it to Lone Rock campground. Tom and Robin told me it was beautiful. I didn't know if it was going to be full too. I passed the coral pink sand dunes that they had told me about. Smiled. Amazed that a conversation with strangers put me there in that moment and set me off on a destination.
I drove over the Lake Powell bridge - wow! So many people. I noted the spots along the highway that marked in iOverlander (my backup sites). But I kept going. The idea of camping on a beach felt like a goal. When I arrived at Glen Canyon, there was a line to enter. My National Park pass saved me the entrance fee and it was $14 to camp. I asked the ranger if she had any advice for a newbie, whether there were spots of the beach so I didn't get boxed in. She said I could park anywhere I wanted but she gave clear direction at least three times that it was at my own risk. As I approached the beach, I looked at all those other people out there and thought, "If they can do it...." I skipped the exit for the higher, harder ground and plowed ahead. My vehicle has a sand setting, right? That should take care of everything!! Well, I got stuck. Never having driven in sand before, I didn't know that you should maintain steady speed. I kept pausing to think, "Is this the right spot?" My tires were spinning. If I were on snow, I would have gotten out and pushed from the driver's door. But this was sand and my vehicle plus my camper probably weigh around 10k lbs. No cell signal. No way to Google tips for getting out of sand. So, I thought maybe putting something under the wheels might wand wedged them under the tires, hoping they would catch enough to get me over the hump. I got out my leveling blocks. No success. I quickly realized that I had no idea if I was just making things worse. I needed help.
That may sound like a simple statement but there was a lot of emotion in that moment. I had taken a chance and I had failed. Was it a stupid decision? Was I a fool? Was I pushing unnecessarily? Were people going to roll their eyes at me in disgust because I was another damn fool out of their league? I had an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn't spend a lot of time in those thoughts. I was tired and I wanted to be done for the day. I could wait until morning...but that's so not me. I can't have something like that hanging over me without distracting me. I needed to get out of the soft sand and either leave the park or find more solid ground. So, I started walking towards the other RVs. I was looking for people that looked like they knew what they were doing. There was a bit of a compound set up with 4 RVs arranged. They had a middle area for their group to congregate and they had all the gear. There were twenty-somethings sitting in chairs drinking beers.
Me: "You guys look like you've done this before. I wonder if you can help me. I'm stuck." These guys immediately got up to assess the situation, walked over to my vehicle, walked back to their site, gathered their cousins, got their truck, got a chain, piled in the back of the truck, and pulled up to my vehicle. One of them popped out of the back of the truck, onto the sand, checking under my vehicle to see where they could connect the chain. Not having quick luck, they decided to push me. They told me to get in the car, put it in reverse, and apply gas when they told me. Go! Instantly, they had me over the hump and they urged me to keep my foot on the gas - going until I reached harder ground. Then, they offered guidance on the best route to stay on harder ground. I did learn that they have a family reunion every Memorial Day at Lone Rock and this was the busiest they've ever seen the park....AND that they typically help 5 or 6 people who get stuck. (So, I'm not so reprehensible.)
I found a spot to park on harder ground and set up camp but my equilibrium was off. I was wondering how I was going to make it up the hill in the morning. It looked like there were a handful of "roads" that were options and I was trying to study people's choices but people were coming, not going. It was late in the day and everyone was setting up camp. I tried really hard to tell myself to worry about it in the morning but was completely unsuccessful. A ways away, I saw a couple in chairs getting charcoal ready for dinner so I approached them and ask them if they knew the best way out...told them that I was worried because I got stuck. They were first-timers at the park too but I could see them noting to pay attention - like they were going to collect "the data" for me. Another great chat. She was originally from Colorado, he was from Mississippi. They now live in Mississippi. He had never seen the southwest and she told him that if they didn't travel there, she was going to leave him. The had a comfortable way of joking with each other. There was talk of kids, grandbabies, work (she owned an art studio for 20 years), travel plans (past and present)...and then the persistent fascination with the fact that I'm alone. It's almost always equated with bravery, something I scrunch my face about...and usually respond quickly with, "or stupidity." I finally dismissed myself after seriously coveting the steaks they pulled off the grill. I needed to eat. I cooked but I couldn't shake off the anxiety.
There was virtually no signal on the beach. It would pop up for 30 seconds, half a bar...and disappear for an hour. It was adding to my anxiety. I hadn't told anyone where I was. Then, I looked out my window to see flashing lights on the hill into the park. Whatever happened wore on well into dark. At least 7 emergency vehicles were there and then a copter landed and took off. The road inside and out of the park was blocked. Vehicles lined up in the night. Eventually, they were redirected to circuitous routes. Hours later, the lights stopped. But all of this just added to my anxiety.
Here I was making dumb decisions and getting stuck in the sand. Maybe I should stop pushing myself. Someone got hurt just driving down the entrance road. (Now, I forgot to mention that there were idiot antics on my drive in. The road that you're supposed to traveling 15 mph....and there were guys on the hanging outside of vehicles - screaming. Stupid. I shook my head.) But the idea that people were hurt made me spin out on all the bad things that could happen. I wondered if my kids were ok. I hoped that Ben wasn't doing anything stupid on his road trip. I texted Cate, "Are you okay?" My signal immediately disappeared. I didn't go to sleep quickly that night.