Sleeping on the Road

As I travel in the Stew Wagon, people sometimes notice that it’s outfitted for camping, both urban and rural. One of the questions that comes up is, “Where do you sleep?” They arent referring to whether I sleep in the vehicle. That’s a given. It’s about places where I stop for the night, and how it works out. You might be surprised to learn that there really are a lot of options.

National forests and BLM land are fabulous options. They can be awfully rugged, though. For some, you’ll need 4WD or AWD. The more popular ones, like Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone, have easy roads and well developed campsites. Most even have toilet arrangements and fire pits or grills. Some are free, but none are expensive.

Many rest stops, along interstate highways, allow overnight stays. They have restrooms, and some have WiFi. If you have a van or RV, you can easily cook, but I wouldnt set up a grill.

Truck stops can be an easy solution. Once again, full amenities, and if you want to spend the money, waitstaff for your meals. The main thing here, is to ask. Some truck stops dont like RVs, campers, or vans hanging around the parking lot. It’s better to know, up front, than to have somebody bang on your door in the middle of the night.

Some large retail chains, like Walmart and Cabella’s, are also traveler friendly. Once again, Ask.

Most of the time, I do either of two things; I pull into the parking lot of a hotel, or I drive down a country road. Both have their advantages, but I prefer the country road, for reasons I’ll explain later.

If I’m staying in the city, hotel parking is excellent. They’re accustomed to seeing vehicles that look like they’ve been on the road. Also, the good lighting helps keep burglars from getting curious.

My basic motto here is, “In late. Out early.”  Getting in just before bedtime is excellent. There are plenty of places to spend the evening, until then. (I’ll post about that some other time.) I’ll usually park somewhere in the middle of the lot, where I wont attract attention. Then I cover the windows, set up the bed, and settle in.

The morning routine is basically the opposite, with a couple of additions. I dress, comb my hair, make the bed and take down the window coverings. After that, I lock up and go inside for a bathroom break. Depending on the situation, I might grab a cup of coffee on the way through, but I’ve learned to ask for this, as well.

Once down the road a few miles, I can find a wide spot and pull off. Then I’ll set up my little Coleman stove and cook up a quick breakfast. If I have them on hand, that can include eggs and sausage, or bacon. Otherwise, it’s usually oatmeal with mix-ins like raisins, nuts, or whatever else I have. Fruit is usually on the menu, and always coffee.

I dig waking up in the country, though. It’s usually quiet, and smells are marvelous, depending on the season. No matter what, they’re different from the city. Most times, I can light the little stove and rustle something up, while the sun rises.The morning routine for boondocking down a country road is similar, except there’s no indoor plumbing, so the bathroom break can be a little breezy. Days when the weather is contrary, I’ll drive until I find a truck stop or convenience store, where I can use the facilities, and maybe a microwave. If I have a few extra bucks, I might find little coffee shop and buy breakfast. Maybe it’s chauvinistic, but a pretty smile and a good old cup-o-joe can set the tone for the whole day.

Some people think I’m crazy, but if you’re a bona-fide Vagabond at heart…you get it.

God bless you all. Live in the Present, and keep your Go on.

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Re-connection

The past few weeks have been a time of re-connection, as people from my past life begin to emerge from the ether. It’s a strange thing, to speak to them again, after so much struggle and change. I’ve heard it said that you pick up where you left off. That has not been the case. None of us are the same. We each have faced our own flames, and been transformed by the process.

Today, we all are on the doorstep of new futures. Our paths may run together, for a while, but they will be parallel, not the same.

Personally, I’m just opening up. There is no agenda, apart from places that I want to go. Of course, I will meet interesting people. We’ll share stories, laughter and tears. There will be enough helping to go around. My heart is longing for those days.

Some people cling to the past. They’re keen to pass down the traditions of the elders, carrying the torch from those generations to the next. I am not one of them. Let the past be the past, is what I say. Look to the future and enjoy every day that comes. You can never go back.

Oh, there’s nothing wrong with a little reminiscing. Stories about “The Old Days” are entertaining, and educational. I just dont care to drag those things along as I continue this journey. They can be wind in my sails, but never an anchor.

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Dont be misled by my view to the future. I am, by no means, excited about the direction of Humanity. I’m talking about my personal path. As a species, I continue to be perplexed by our unending desire to separate ourselves from the Creation that surrounds us. We live in a majestic and mind blowing world. Rather than embrace it, though, we look at it as a planet sized repository of things that we can use, without forethought or reflection. While I love people, individually, I tend to dislike Humanity as a whole.

Redefining Success…

Earlier today, I started writing a post for LinkedIn, with this same title. I’ll probably finish it, but this one is completely different. That article is about a social movement that I’ve observed, especially among Millennials who are choosing alternative lifestyles. This one is about me, doing the same thing. (wink)

You already know that I travel the country in my Stew Wagon, meeting people and learning on the road. Over the past year, I have learned more than I can even share, and I’ve met some of the most amazing people. There was a woman who was going to skydive in memory of her father. A man who traveled with a carnival, until his van broke down. Two guys, hitchhiking from Seattle to New Orleans, just to see the sights. Last September, I drove up to Standing Rock, ND. On the way, I stopped for gas at a little mom and pop convenience store. It had a sign in the window that read “Casino”. When I went inside, I found that the Casino was a card table, set up in the middle of an otherwise empty room, where four guys were sitting around swapping stories, and playing five card draw.

On that North Dakota trip, I stopped along an old farm road. It was a beautiful, clear night, and I could see an unbelievable distance across the valley. As I lay in the Stew Wagon, waiting for sleep, I could see the lightning of a far away storm, tiny and marvelous in the darkness. The thunder of it woke me, a few hours later, and I continued on, but I’ll never forget the beauty of that sight. If I were still saving my money, so that I could afford to travel, I’d have missed it.

The truth is, I’m already doing the thing that other people are still saving up for, only I’m doing it better. See, they’ll save up and fly somewhere. They’ll stay in a fancy hotel, and visit all the touristy places…and they’ll never meet the Skydiving Woman, or the fellows in the Casino, or the people at the camp in Standing Rock, ND, or see the lightning in the dark of a September night, from fifty miles away. Where’s the fun in that?

Successful? Yes, I am. Only, I’m doing it better.

Still working…

I havent gotten back to the RV since I last posted. The owners of the property, where it’s parked, have given me permission to work on it, in place. That means I can get all of the fluids and filters changed, etc., before I have to move it. What a relief that is.

New Projects

There are a couple that I think you’ll be interested in. One is called a DoodleBoard, and will be a great thing to sell on the road. Cant wait to show it to you.

The other is more philanthropic. Wines for Humanity is a marvelous way to make a difference to people in your neighborhood. Doing wine tastings in people’s homes, I raise funds for charity. Although I took last year off, in 2015, my friends and I were able to raise enough for over 10,000 meals. That’s substantial. Beginning a few days ago, I began working to see what we can do in 2017.

 

Reveal

Well, today’s the day. In my last post, I told you that there was a surprise. This is it!

A 1981 Ford Econoline E350 Mobile Traveler, and man, does it need some work. It’s okay, though. It’s a gift, from someone who wants to help me achieve the things I’ve never been able to do before. Now, you may say, “Wow, Don. I think I’d pass on that one.” Would you really, though? Here’s what I say.

TANSTAAFL!

There aint no such thing as a free lunch.

See, here’s the thing. This vehicle represents the future of my Vagabond Life. Is it in rough shape? Obviously. Is it going to cost a lot to fix it up? More than likely. Will it take a long time? Definitely. Am I going to let those things intimidate me? Not on your life.

I’m excited for the possibilities. The interior is in pretty good shape. According to my benefactor, everything works – heater, lights, refrigerator, stove, etc. The junk inside was left there by some homeless people, who squatted in it for a while. He has promised to clean it out before he turns it over to me. After that, it’s all on me.

“That’s a big project, Don.”

I know, but I’m not alone in this. There are people in my life I can go to with questions about RVs and campers. One friend even works for an RV storage lot, so I’ll have a place to keep the thing, while I’m working on it.

I already know that the waste tanks need to be replaced, but that isnt an immediate concern. A composting toilet and Planet Fitness membership will get me by. So, I’ll drive it to the storage place, flush everything, and replace the fluids belts, points, plugs, condenser, and wires. Next, comes the first major expense – tires. I looked for a date on these, but they’re mounted with the code on the inside. If they’re too old, I’ll have to replace them. I’m not looking forward to that.

In any case, the perspective has changed on my Vagabond Life. A year ago, I had given up and was simply waiting to die. So many things have changed. Today, I’m excited and encouraged by the prospects that lie ahead. I’ll keep you posted.

Now, you get out there and get your Go on.

 

Four months is too long, and a lot has happened…

It’s surprising, how quickly time seems to pass. Seems like only a couple of weeks, since I was in North Dakota. I dont know where to begin to tell you about what’s happened between then and now. The Stew Wagon and I have made trips to Oklahoma and Wyoming, and to the top of Jones Pass. There’s more travel on the agenda, now that the holidays are over. I also have a Big Surprise! I know you’ll be astonished, and excited for me. Now, though, it has to wait, because I need to get pics.

The most powerful thing that happened, was the death of my mother. Details arent needed here. I just think that you need to know, so that you can understand why my silence was so long. It was on the day after Thanksgiving. I drove down to be with her, and stayed until she was gone. As you may imagine, my mind wasnt on photography, although I did take one pic, when I woke up Saturday morning. It’s the one you see above.

After Mom’s last breath, I closed her eyes, kissed her one last time, and called the nurses in. There were some documents to sign, and a couple of other things to do. When they were taken care of, I gathered my things, went out to the Stew Wagon and started home, driving until I had to sleep. The photo you see, is where I woke up. For me, there is not a better place to awaken, than parked on the edge of a corn field, with cattle all around.

Since then, I’ve been kind of collecting myself. It’s only been in the past few days, that I’ve begun to feel some way towards normal. I dont know what’s on the path from here, but it wont be the same.

Thanks for following. Till next time, Keep your Go on.

A Day at Standing Rock

Standing Rock, North Dakota, September 9, 2016

The early afternoon of September 8 was beautiful, in Denver. The sky was blue, with scattered clouds. The air was warm. So, I anticipated a nice drive, as I accelerated onto I-25. For over a month, I had been planning a trip over the Continental Divide. I would begin in Grand Lake, Colorado, spend a couple of nights in Rocky Mountain National Park, drive over Trail Ridge Road, and wind up in Estes Park to cover the Scottish-Irish Festival. Like a lot of others, though, my plan changed when I saw sensational reports coming out of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, in North Dakota.

To shorten the story, I’ll just say that I got sucked in by the media. Democracy Now had shared images of protesters being bitten by security dogs, and bulldozers destroying native land, so I decided to drive up there and see for myself, what was going on.

I drove until about 11:30 PM, and slept in the Stew Wagon on Old Highway 212, in South Dakota, about a mile from where it intersects SD 212 proper. The next morning, I drove up to Fort Yates, and ultimately, Standing Rock. As it turned out, I was not the only person who had been motivated by the internet coverage. Checkpoints had been set up, to monitor the line of cars now flowing into the camp. About a quarter-mile from the entrance, it became visible, spreading out below me as one might imagine a tribal camp to be.

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Turning onto the red dirt entry road, I could see the flags. Many different tribes had come, and were represented by flags on tall poles that lined both sides of the lane. To my right, was a flat place, which was the gathering area. It was crowded with people, and someone was making a speech over the loudspeakers. I was aware of wood smoke from small campfires that burned in holes outside individual camps. Colorful tents lay, without order, across the valley floor, some with their own flags flying on makeshift poles. Many of these were Stars and Stripes, hung upside down as a sign of distress, not disrespect. (I’ll leave it to you to research Flag Protocols.)

I learned this from a man named, John. He was flying a Wounded Warriors Project flag, which intrigued me. I wondered what the connection was between them and this situation. His response was considered and eloquent. He looked around the fire, at the others seated there, and told me that they had all served and been wounded. He explained that they wanted others to understand their viewpoint. “We only have one Mother”, he said, “and we have to take care of her.” After some conversation, I asked what he thought of the upside down flags. “That’s a sign of distress”, he replied, “not disrespect. These are distressed people, and they’re expressing that to the government.”

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Finding a place to set up the Stew Wagon, I settled in and began walking up to the media tent, where I would register and pick up my Media Pass. On my way there, I met a young couple who granted me a brief video interview (watch for it on YouTube). We talked for a few minutes, then I continued on, up the hill.

In all, I’d been in the camp around forty minutes, when the announcement came. I was about half way to the media tent, when the tone of the speaker changed. His voice became a little higher pitched and louder, and he spoke more quickly, as he read releases from both the Whitehouse and the Army Corps of Engineers. The construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline had been stayed until further investigations and negotiations could be completed. The Corps apologized for its actions, and acknowledged that it had acted outside of its authority, by allowing the oil company to move onto Native land.

Victorious cheers went up all around the camp. People leapt onto horses and rode around the camp, shouting to one another, sharing their excitement. Others went from tent to tent, talking about this marvelous turn of events. Prayers of gratitude were offered. More speeches were given. Thanks and congratulations were expressed all round. It was an extraordinary moment in time, but it didnt last long. Within the hour, the camp began to diminish, as people took down their flags and tents, packed up their vehicles, and headed home, proud of what they had helped to accomplish. They could continue to celebrate on the road.

My own response was mixed. I was happy for these people, because I truly felt that they had been wronged, but I was also a little let down. I had traveled a long way, to cover this momentous event, and it had ended so abruptly that I didnt have the opportunity to dig into the meat of it. So, I hung out for a couple of hours, taking pictures and talking to people. In the end, though, I decided to take off, as well. I’ll write more about that journey in a different post.

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