My months of traveling high up in the mountains, soaring from mountain range to mountain range, ended on the shores of the WalMart in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was the perfect ending.
I was on my way to visit friends in Colorado, it was a long drive, and I planned to stop for the night in Cheyenne. I had written down the directions for a campground nearby and, since it would be just for one night, also for the WalMart there. I had heard over the years of people pulling in to WalMarts in their RVs to spend a night, and the whole idea of it had always seemed repulsive. But this time I had found myself writing down the address, almost as though someone else was working my writing hand.
When I got near Cheyenne I realized it was time to make a decision: the campground meant turning west, the WalMart east. I imagined myself driving up into the mountains, finding yet another lovely remote quiet campground in the trees by a stream. Then I imagined turning into the town, parking amongst a sea of cars and trucks, surrounded by lights and noise and people, and my heart jumped with excitement.
First I treated myself to dinner in a crowded little restaurant. Driving around a city with a trailer attached to the car is tricky, I have to think ahead. Is there room to park? I need either two empty spaces in front of each other, or a long enough stretch somewhere, usually in back. And is there an easy way to pull out of the lot without having to turn around in a small space? I always make the cars in back of me wait a minute while I scope out a place before entering. The food in the restaurant was good, but even better was all the chatter swirling around me. I was back with my herd!
I spent the rest of the evening in a Barnes and Noble, catching up on the books that had come out since I disappeared up into the mountains. It was wonderfully crowded and I wove in and out amongst the groups of people, hardly looking at the books, getting that sense of many bodies close around me, even lightly brushing into a few as I passed, stopping to listen to all the voices, the overlays of chatter. Had anyone been paying attention I may have seemed like someone who needed close watching, just in case.
Then it was time to get ready for the night. I drove around the WalMart parking lot until I found a spot where one of the too-bright lights wasn’t working and pulled in there. There were no trucks wheezing in the lot, thank goodness, and lots of cars and even a few RVs. I parked, got out of the car, and walked the three steps into my little trailer. My bedroom is always at the ready, all I had to do was pull the curtains and put on my pjs.
Right away I fell into a deep sleep (I’m an ace sleeper) and woke up four hours later, as usual, before falling into another deep sleep. I usually stay awake for an hour or two between those two sleep cycles. I understand that this is how people in sleep experiments begin to sleep when they spend weeks in a dark cave. Usually I read or write during my awake time, but this time I lay in my cozy bed, marveling at the situation. I was in a WalMart parking lot! After months in the most pristine awe-inspiring beauty I’ve ever seen.
I became aware of people talking, laughing, footsteps all around. I raised my head and peeked out the window by my pillow and watched the wee-hours’ WalMart scene.
I was right smack in the middle of the two a.m. hub of Cheyenne, Wyoming social life. The parking lot was full, there were people all over. They were pushing carts full of stuff, or walking eagerly towards the entrance, getting in or out of cars, or standing around talking to each other. An elderly couple got out of their car right next to my bed (little did they know) and walked arm-in-arm towards the store, smiling at each other with what looked like shopping anticipation. A sad-looking mother maneuvered two sleepy young pajama’ed kids and a baby into a cart and took off for the entrance. One couple were near enough my bedroom window so I could hear their argument as they got back into their car: he wasn’t making enough money all because of his crappy friend Larry. A woman in a black business suit and frilly blouse stood uncertainly right by my window, maybe trying to decide if it was worth the long walk to the entrance in her very high heels. And this was all taking place in just my tiny spot in that parking lot. I was right there, in the midst of it all, in my pjs, in my bed, in my very own bedroom.
So this is how it ends, I mused, as I lay back down on my pillow. I had wondered. I had even wondered sometimes if it would end, I was loving my nomadic life in the mountains so much. I began thinking back, seeing if I could go from campground to campground, chronologically. Number one was up in the Sierras outside Lone Pine, with Mt. Whitney in my direct line of sight right from this same bedside window. The last campground was outside Red Lodge, Wyoming, on the side of The Beartooth Highway, and there I had been invaded by mice. As I started to fill in the campgrounds between those two I found myself almost teary with longing and regret. I was already nostalgic. By the time I reached campground number eleven I must have fallen back to sleep.
The next morning, after making a pot of tea and getting dressed, I opened the trailer door and for a moment surveyed the exotic asphalt landscape around me. I took the three steps to the car door, got in, and drove off into the next segment of my life.