The Nitty Gritty, Dirty Beautiful Stuff of Travel

Often, when writing and talking about travel, folks talk about and the things they enjoyed, what made the moment special. Well, last week was real special. We had some of the best and worst travel experiences all in one week. As a rule, I think it’s important to share the nitty gritty parts of life, but its especially important to acknowledge them during this “season of life” that’s pretty dang dreamy and privileged most of the time.

This is a long one, but it’s full of little gems and real life insanity. Just consider this a Little Golden Book for adults way in over their heads. The life lesson of this board book is that travel seems to expose the raw parts of the traveler but it also reveals the humanity of those you encounter.

How it all began…

A couple weeks ago, we left Austin. Austin was great, it was cool, it was full of nice people and great food and drinks. But, there were tornado watches and insane thunderstorms for days and we just didn’t hit the flow as they say. We awkwardly bobbled around the city and irritated each other. We were ready to leave.

So, we drove west. As Heather grew tired, I began searching for a place to rest our little heads for the night. Walmart, bring it on. Wait, HARK! I see a State Park on the map, but no mention of camping. I call, talk to Ranger Ron, and he tells me that while they no longer allow camping, just come on in and he’ll hook us up.

We had no clue what this meant, and as we drove in the gates, I’m remembering he said “you will be locked in until 7am” just so you know. I’m thinking…some guy I’ve never met…two women…is this the dumbest thing we’ve done yet?

Sunrise from Big Spring State Park in Texas

Turns out to be the best thing ever! We roll up next to another camper (yay! always a good sign!) and Ron heads over with a water hose and hooks us up to the electric. We meet the other camper, a month-long resident building trails in the park, and end up talking to both of them for a long time. Ranger Ron showed the native plants, and animals and even came back later that night with a bag of Texas Pecans. The people were mind-blowingly kind and the camping spot was roughly 20 yards from long range sunrise and sunset views in either direction. It felt like hitting the random do good-er jackpot.

We thought we had finally hit the flow…

So we drop a donation in the box and head toward our next stop: Carlsbad Caverns National Parks. As we leave, our one-night neighbor mentions it would be windy that day. I look it up, and see a wind advisory for the park, but just tell Heather to take it slow if she feels the wind pushing us at all.

Everything is fine until we are on the last stretch from the last town to the National Park entrance. 17 miles of road with a 75 mph speed limit. As we get closer, the winds pick up, and there are moments when the dust is blowing so hard that we are driving in a white out for a few moments. Ladies and gents, this is not considered safe driving. There is nothing but campers and truckers going 80 mph as we white knuckle it down the road with our flashers on.

Once we get to the park entrance, there is an RV park, a store and a hotel. That’s it. I’m too freaked out to get out of the car, I’m losing my sh*it, some would say.

The car is literally bouncing around as the trees bend backwards; it’s apocalyptic. Heather gets out and has to use all her strength to shut the door against the winds and walking is like moving through mud. It’s insane. The National Weather Service says the gusts are hitting 50 and 60 mph…and the RV Park won’t let us in.

There is no power so they don’t want anyone else hooking up. At this point, I’m silently crying in the front seat. Heather takes charge and moves us across the street, behind the hotel to block some of the wind. There we stay for 3 hours, with the windows cracked due to the heat, getting covered in dust and dirt. The dogs are hot and panting, everything is bouncing and swaying and we just…lay there.

After the winds died down, I went back to beg the RV park to let us stay. No way in hell was I making that 17 mile drive back to town. We were at the park entrance, but couldn’t go in – we were stuck! They decided to let us dry camp (no hookups) and we spend the night getting smacked around by what were reported to be 80 mph winds that night.

I’ve truly never been so scared. Campers are not made for this. But the lesson I learned was: I can do hard things. It was seriously hard for me to not completely lose it. I felt like an idiot for ignoring the wind warning and felt completely stranded.

Thankfully, the next day the winds had died down so we enjoyed the National Park and got the hell out of there.

We seriously thought that had to be the low point for the week…

Somehow, we did another stupid thing. Well, Heather told me I can’t beat up on us too much for the Carlsbad thing. It was a freak “weather event” for them and everyone was surprised by it. Anyway, two days later we are en route to Santa Fe. Heather drives and I navigate, obsess over gas mileage and gas levels. Except, this morning, I didn’t. We totally miscommunicated and got stuck.

Yep, out of gas on the side of the road. There is a 100 mile stretch between Roswell and Santa Fe with no stops. Absolutely nothing. I’d read a lot about the west, how the states are huge and rural and spread out. And that you need to get gas every chance there is. Yep, do that people!

The view from the side of the road

As I’m realizing we won’t make it to town, we decide to pull over. We’re trying to decide if we could leave the camper on the side of the road or just flag someone down and hope they have a gas can. So I sheepishly start staring down trucks and truckers. Obviously that doesn’t work.

Finally, I look at Heather and I’m like – I’m just going to go for it. And I start waving. It takes a while but someone drives past us, crosses the median, drives back, crosses the median again and pulls up. An angel named Cody offers to drive the 35 miles to the next town, buy a gas can, fill it, and bring it back. It’s truly unbelievable, but that’s exactly what he did. While texting me updates along the way.

He truly and completely saved our butts. (I wrote about the kindnesses we were afforded by strangers in Hawaii, and it seems I needed a reminder.)

It’s been one hell of a week…

A jaw-dropping free campsite with hookups and amazing folks who took a lot of time out of their day to connect with us. A wind storm that totally derailed me and taught me that you really can’t beat mother nature. And, finally, a person who didn’t know us but performed an extreme act of kindness for us, on the side of a desolate highway.

I’m going to get mushy for a second, but these are the things I will take with me when this season of life is over: people are inherently good, even though My Favorite Murder makes me wary and cautious. I can be strong, even when I’m scared sh*tless. Oh, and my wife is a badass.

1 Comment

  1. Darlene Rowe
    April 23, 2019 / 5:27 pm

    Definitely a memorable few days and lessons learned!

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