Until this week I had lost my camping moxie, it was utterly gone. I didn’t ever want to be in a campground again. I no longer trusted my tent after seeing how flimsy it was in those gale-force winds in Death Valley. I was worn out by all the struggles with that wind, I had no energy left. The arthritis at the base of both my thumbs flared up dramatically with all the putting up and taking down of the tent, and whatever is wrong with my shoulder got worse too. I’m still going to physical therapy twice a week and doing exercises every day to try to get hands and shoulders working properly again without pain. I’m full of resentment and I blame it all on my tent. Chronic pain is exhausting and it affects every part of one’s life. It makes me very grouchy.
It was too hard in Death Valley, too much work, too uncomfortable. I was sure I no longer had the ability to do the kind of traveling that for years has given me so much pleasure. I felt downright old, as though a whole inspiring lively part of my life had come to an abrupt end. I was tired, full of aches and pains and complaints, and I didn’t ever want to leave my comfortable house again. Good lord! It was awful. I was miserable.
And then one day I found myself sitting at my computer, scrolling through pages and pages of different kinds of trailers. I found the ones I liked, then I looked through pages and pages of craigslist and ebay and RV dealerships, trying to find the best deal. I even read lengthy chatroom discussions about small trailers, and I became knowledgable about batteries and stabilizer jacks and torsion axles and upholstery colors. I was an online traveler now, wandering in the world of trailers, a ghostly figure sending out emails which asked “Does it have brakes?” “Please describe the flooring” “What size wheels?” “Does it smell?” “Do the windows open easily?” I became best-friends-for-an-hour with people who restore vintage trailers, hearing all about how they’ve retired from teaching or lawyering and now they just love finding an old beat-up trailer from the 50s and making it look like new, and wouldn’t I like to drive to Minnesota and see (and buy) the one they just finished?
I started having compelling campground fantasies in which I saw myself sitting warm and snug inside some little wonder while the wind and rain lashed at the windows. I began to question why I had ever bothered with a tent, this seemed so obviously the way to travel comfortably in any weather, at any time. I was no longer miserable, in fact I was once again chomping at the bit to buy a trailer and get going. Internet therapy!
At last I found a small trailer that I liked that was only a two hour drive away. This would be the first actual one I would see in the flesh. I talked Mike into going with me since he knows all the right things to look for and the right questions to ask. Such a unique relationship he and I have: one day our friendship of thirty years blossomed very suddenly into a wild passionate flower, and after eight years, when winter came and the flower died, we went our separate ways. Now enough years have passed since our love affair that we seem able to be friends again. Friendship that follows a romance is so very different from any other, it’s truly unique in many ways. I treasure it and hope it lasts.
I was practically jumping out of my skin with excitement as we got near to where the trailer was. In my mind I had already bought it, it was mine. It was thrilling to imagine having that new toy, and also to imagine no longer having to spend hours in front of my computer looking for one. I was good and ready to put all my attentions to something new.
I want to make it clear that when I say “small trailer” I mean really small, like 10 feet long at most. I feel defensive because of all my rants against all the huge RVs that have taken over the campgrounds. When I was doing The Search I had to scroll through hundreds, maybe thousands, of pictures of enormous greyhound bus size RVs to find one tiny little trailer that might interest me. Their assault on my eyes online was almost as bad as their assault on my eyes in the campgrounds. See? I’m still ranting about them.
It turned out to be instructive to see a real live trailer. I sat in it and felt cozy imagining that storm lashing the windows. But when I imagined what it would be like to have it behind me on the road, reality entered the equation. Pulling something that big would take away the feel of freedom on the open road that always gets my heart racing. I would always be concerned about it back there, and I’d always see it in my rear-view mirror. My chances of bumping into something when backing up would increase many-fold. Even though small it’s a huge hunk of metal. Suddenly, for the first time since I was in Death Valley, I had a rush of warm feelings for my tent. It was at that moment, seeing an actual trailer, that my tent-antagonism began to thaw.
I chattered to Mike non-stop all the way home. He’s patient about listening to me go on and on, and I found it helpful to hear myself talk about all the pros and cons of tents versus trailers. Into the mix I threw the fact that I had just bought my new car. I hadn’t yet explored all the possibilities that it might offer in wind and rain. I gave short shrift to the realization that I should have bought a van, not the Outback, because Buyer’s Regret is too painful to spend any time with. (But just think: I could have put in a little bed and a place to cook, and had it all in one vehicle. Damn!).
By the time we got back to the Tucson area I had made my decision: I will camp as usual this summer with my once-again beloved tent, and I’ll figure out all sorts of ways to make the Outback as comfortable as possible for the times that there are gale-force winds and driving rain. I can still buy a trailer some day if I want to, but this isn’t the time. Decision made: what an incredible relief.
We found a little place to have some Mexican food. As we clinked our beer bottles together Mike said “Here’s to the simple life on the open road.” In a rush of feeling I remembered that that’s exactly what I love about tent camping: living simply, living differently. I cannot wait to get going on this summer’s trip, just me and my tent.