weath·er-beat·en /ˈweT͟Hər ˈbētn/ Damaged or worn by exposure to the weather.
Spending most of 2022 so far dealing with weather left me a little less resilient than usual. So settle in for a longish read about me vs. the weather, a little play in five acts and six lessons learned.
Act 1: February & March
In February, it was super-cold, hanging out in the teens and twenties for a while there. And the wind was neverending, pushing and pulling at me and at the Alto, waking me up, rocking me back to sleep, getting in my eyes, dust everywhere in the trailer. There were days I didn’t do much walking or hiking because it was just so freaking cold and windy.
By March, the weather in New Mexico had warmed up into the 30s overnight and 50s during the day, but the wind was still unrelenting. By mid-March I was ready for warmth in way southern Arizona. I just didn’t expect so much of it: 95F heat, unrelenting sun, and, yes, more wind. So much wind. Putting up the awning in the morning for shade just meant dropping it a few hours later when the wind returned in the afternoon. With no hookups, it was too hot inside the Alto by then, so I’d huddle in the few feet of shade afforded by the side of the Alto that wasn’t being blazed into a furnace. (Pro tip for Twin Peaks campground: position your trailer door-side very close to the edge of the asphalt strip so you have more room on the shady side.) When I had first arrived, I saw everyone on their shady side and it didn’t take me long to figure out why!
Related Link: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument)
With liberal doses of ice cream and 12v fans, I got through that stay and headed back to Arizona for a family reunion before starting my slow eastward movement that would last till August or so. (When I say slow, I mean slow, people!)
Lesson 1: Cold ice cream actually can make you feel cooler, in body and in spirit.
Act 2: April Ups the Ante
In my little brain, April means the start of Spring. And it believes this despite having three feet of snow dumped on the ground one April Fool’s Day when I lived in Boston. It believes this despite the grey skies and endless rain of an April in Seattle. And it believed it despite the searing heat of Organ Pipe that seemed to skip entirely over the whole concept of a mild Spring season. Silly brain.
After escaping alive from the inferno that was Organ Pipe, I spent two nights outside Tucson I had hookups (I love my Alto’s air conditioner at times like this) and a fun brunch gathering with friends. Both went a fair ways towards resetting my somewhat shaky emotional state.
From there, it was on to the family reunion in eastern Arizona, where my dad grew up and some of my cousins still live. For four glorious nights, Breeze the Alto sat in the hotel parking lot under a bright streetlamp and I enjoyed the luxury that was a oversized hotel room with couch, two beds (!), super-cold A/C and – my favorite part – a shower with endless hot water. Oh, yeah, I also enjoyed my cousins and my brother and sister-in-law who came all the way from Wisconsin. We had a great time with each other, hearing songs sung by cousin Steve, stories from our eldest cousins Reed and John, and visiting the farm in Duncan where my great-grandparents had lived a century ago.
Lesson 2: Hanging out with family makes any weekend better.
Lesson 2A: Reunions are worth the work, especially as you all get older.
Related link: Sunday Serenity: Grateful
Those first two weeks of April were a much-appreciated respite from the winter weather. And then? I went back out into the maelstrom. I stayed two nights at a campground outside Safford after the reunion, waiting out the steady 25 mph wind, with gusts up to 40 mph. The wind finally let up enough that I could safely transit over to City of Rocks, one of my favorite spots, and then up to Caballo Lake, that place of my coldest winter nights. But, I consoled myself, it was April after all, and I was on my way eastbound and Spring-bound.
While the weather had indeed warmed up in New Mexico, the wind had only gotten more feisty. Being outside almost anywhere meant having grit in your teeth and hair after a few minutes. Not my favorite thing, I’ll be honest, so I spent more time inside the trailer than out. I’m not claustrophobic in small spaces, but I was getting bored of sitting inside so much when I have a really nice chair for sitting outside. <insert longing sigh here>.
From Caballo, it was up to Coronado Campground, north of Albuquerque. A county facility, it has a lovely view of the Sandias. It was also windy, to the point where I had to chase down the empty plastic container I’d set outside earlier in the day. While I was in close proximity to the big city, I met up with a friend (Hi, Brigitte!) and the Ridgeline had a nice spa day getting all sorted out for the Spring season. I didn’t realize it then, but I could have used a spa day too.
Act 3: Smoke & Wind
I headed up the two-lane road that led to Taos, planning on four nights at an RV park so I could meet up with camping buds who had a monthly airbnb rental. They’re fun to hang out with, they have two great dogs, and Diane is an amazing chef. And, yes, we had fun and told stories, enjoyed a few meals together, and exchanged plans for the summer (them off to Colorado, me to the Northeast). After a few weeks of solo travel, it’s always soul-nourishing to meet up with friends.
Back at the RV park, though, it felt like a different world, full of furious wind, rocking the trailer so much I actually filled up my fresh water tank to add weight to the bottom half of the Alto. (I might have also googled “how much wind does it take to blow over a small trailer” but I didn’t like the answers so I closed the laptop.) Once again, this was no place for an awning or for sitting outside in the comfy chair.
And then, as James Taylor sang so sweetly, “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain” — rain in Taos and fire in the mountains to the east. By my last day, the smoke was hanging in a haze over the route I had planned to take the next day. The fire changed those plans, making me do two sides of a right-angle triangle instead of taking that shorter third side. 150 miles, back down through the traffic of Santa Fe, instead of a scenic 100-mile drive through the mountains.
Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fires as of May 28, 2022.
Acres: 314,228 | Containment: 48% | Total personnel: 2,950
Start Date: Hermits Peak: April 6, 2022; Calf Canyon: April 19, 2022
I managed the drive to Santa Rosa, NM, without too much wind, although I did pull over once to let a seriously tall dust devil work its way from one side of the highway to the other. It was maybe three stories high and moving pretty fast so I didn’t want to bet that my rig could just drive through it. Santa Rosa was pretty, although the smoke from the fires (now west of me) were a low-hanging reminder of the too-early start to the 2022 fire season.
Related Link: Eastern Plains of New Mexico
Lesson 3: Taking the long way is a good choice when the short way is full of fire.
From there, it was another 100 miles to Oasis State Park, a one-night stand before heading into Texas. Once again, it windy in the afternoon, shaking it up as per usual. By this point, I had completely changed my moving day routine to be out of a site by 8-9 AM and into the new campground before noon. The wind showed up like clockwork by 1PM most days, so early transiting meant less wind and worry. By 8AM the next day, I was on my way to the Texas Panhandle to explore the canyons there. I hadn’t counted on 90F days and crazy burn time warnings, though.
Related Link: Canyons of the Texas Panhandle
I will always remember Palo Duro as the place where I learned a plastic water bottle (think Aquafina or Dasani) can double as an eye wash when you have a speck of dirt lodged on the surface of your eyeball and blinking and eye drops don’t budge it at all. It was Saturday after 5PM and if the water bottle trick hadn’t worked, my only option was the ER 15 miles away. I got lucky, the force of the water in the upended bottle washed out the speck and the little bugger didn’t scratch my cornea.
Lesson 4: I’ll never disparage a dispoable water bottle again.
Lesson 4A: Always carry an eyewash kit in the medicine cabinet.
Act 4: Losing My Religion
After two short stops on the Texas Panhandle (in or on the Panhandle, I don’t know…), it was time for my first new camping state in a while, Oklahoma.
I had never actually been to Oklahoma in my entire life, and now I know why. I don’t like tornado watches or severe thunderstorm warnings with details about hail the size of golf balls or grapefruits. I left my “go bag” packed my first three days in Oklahoma because the alerts were a constant pinging on my phone. Here’s one example of why those alerts were pinging. One thunderclap right over my head was so loud I jumped involuntarily, and then I ran the last 20 feet to the trailer.
By the time I moved east to Oklahoma City, I was over all of it: cold, heat, wind, thunderstorms, alerts, everything. When I checked into an RV park to find this forecast staring back at me on my phone screen, I almost burst into tears. I’d had enough of shitty weather. The wheels had come off this particular bus (or trailer) and I couldn’t face hours of droning A/C and trying to keep the Alto cool in high 90s temperatures while I sweated inside with a portable fan blasting lukewarm air at me.
I looked up from my phone and stared at the three-story Best Western right next to the RV park. It took all of 2 minutes before I decided to walk over and make a reservation. I needed a break from the weather, from the anxiety that I’d let build up about the wind. I needed to step out of the Alto and reset my mental health for a few days.
Lesson 5: Full-time vagabonds need an emergency fund (or credit card) for times like this.
Act 5: Regaining My Resilience
How stressed out was I? It took three nights in the hotel before I could sleep soundly through the night, I was so used to being woken up by wind or alerts or both. I fully enjoyed someone else making me breakfast, having a big-ass TV-screen, and a soft bed that didn’t shake in the wind I could see (but not hear!) howling outside my window. I stayed two more nights just to stock up on sleep and save myself another 90F day on Thursday. If you’ve wondered why the plethora of museum posts lately, it’s because that was how I survived: a new museum to check out every day, taking me to different “places” rather than focusing on the weather.
By Friday, I was feeling much better and actually looked forward to getting back in the Alto and taking off for parts unknown (at least to me, which was eastern Oklahoma and the Ozarks of Arkansas). Driving along back roads, keeping a weather eye on the storm running ahead of me (I was on the tail end of it by plan), I made it to my lakeside spot north of Tulsa with hands that didn’t hurt from gripping the steering wheel to hard and a stomach that wasn’t tied in knots by the wind. Two days later, this forecast didn’t bother me at all, I just closed the windows and stowed my stuff before the thunder rolled and the rain fell.
I realize now I pushed myself too hard to “just keep going” when I really needed to opt out for a few days or a week out of the wind and weather. Being a vagabond doesn’t meet toughing it out to the point of collapse; it means having adventures AND taking care of myself.
Lesson 6 (the most important lesson of all): Keep on eye on me as well as on the weather.
I wrote this post camping in the Ozarks east of Bentonville, Arkansas, sitting under a canopy of tall trees, listening to the wind make a slow, sweet song with leaves and branches. The sunlight filtered through, occasionally making me move my comfy chair to a more shady spot. I’m looking forward to my upcoming adventures (springs, quilts, chapels, and more!) along with the possibilities of getting my kayak on the water a few times. This was, to end on a good note, the most enjoyable day outside I’ve had in the the last several weeks and I enjoyed it immensely. The kid’s doing alright.
You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows