By Clint Norrell
My wife’s surgery was postponed six days before its scheduled date, August 31. She had jumped through all the pre-op hoops. Anticipation was acute. The voice on the phone said, “We’re sorry. The hospital is overwhelmed.” She explained that the unvaccinated and unmasked were responsible for the surge, and admitted, “It may be months.”
We had an October family reunion planned in Moab. It had already been put off a year. A flurry of emails had assured that everyone coming was vaccinated. Phone calls to facilities confirmed that protocols were being followed and our plans could be modified to keep us safe.
We had one last appointment on the calendar. It gave us preparation time. We’d leave within an hour after this last obligation.
The day before our departure, I asked, “Why are we only going for a month?”
We looked at one another blankly while the internal gears turned. After the pause, my wife answered with a question: “How long a drive is it from Moab to Florida?”
My eyes brightened as I came back immediately with: “Doesn’t matter … and there’s no unringing that bell.” We have close friends in Gainesville whom we’ve visited several times on our loops of the country. Most recently in the fall of 2020.
“I’ll make the call.”
My wife went to her iPad and opened the Boondockers Welcome app.
Boondockers Welcome has become the mainstay of our travel planning. It is safe, easy, and a good way to meet great people. When we need to get somewhere we may merely overnight. When we’re meandering, our preferred travel mode, we often stay longer. Hosts have entertained with happy hours, campfires, and one couple in Barre, VT, offered full hook-ups, recommended local attractions, and even cooked us breakfast.
On this ongoing occasion, we left our temporary home base in Oregon for the driveway of good friends in Vancouver, WA. We shared laughs over games and meals, then headed east through the Columbia Gorge. The hospitality of two nice ladies with acreage in Pendleton helped dissolve the stress of transiting a very windy, truck-filled day on I-84. Confident we left them anxious for retirement, we drove away under calm, clear skies toward Boise.
Twenty miles east, we were welcomed at a beautiful home overlooking a spectacular canyon. While we were plugging into 30 amps, Larry gave me a spare decorative cap to replace one I’d lost. He printed a map and description of a destination we might consider along our route, and he introduced us to a great app for locating dispersed camping sites. Later, his wife brought out two pieces of very good chocolate cake and suggested if we left a window open we might hear elk bugling in the morning. I did.
The only downside to our way of touring the country is having to say so many goodbyes.
As much as we love Boondockers Welcome, we miss making no plans, having no reservations, and not needing to worry about it. It may be a thing of the past, and maybe I need to get over it, but I do lament those many miles of simply wandering the back roads. I’ve been in all but two states. RV’d in all but four. Two because of oceans and two because hurricanes forced us to use inland routes.
I had good WFfi at Larry’s and used it to scan maps for the general direction of Utah. We still had a couple of weeks and there are many, many tracts of BLM land where dispersed camping is permitted.
We drove south to Bliss, fueled and dumped at Love’s, and parked among the big rigs for lunch. While sandwiches and fruit were being prepared, I asked Google for dispersed sites on the Snake. I clicked on one and sent directions to my phone. The drive seemed longer because we weren’t familiar with the roads and weren’t sure of what we’d find when we got there. Huge expanses of high desert, dotted with sage and bunchgrass, ball-like weeds in bloom with yellow flowers, and gray-brown dirt were interspersed with cultivated fields of green. We drove past the largest dairy operation I’ve ever seen. I was soon to discover where they got the necessary water. After miles of driving straight-as-an-arrow roads, where I think you could steer looking only at the rearview mirror, the two-lane twisted and drooped to the bottom of a gaping chasm.
A sharp right took us down a steep entry into Balanced Rock Campground. The narrow park lay between hundred-foot-high walls of stressed brown rock. A strip of lush green grass separated the gravel strip from a clear, slow-flowing stream. The canyon walls consisted of individual hoodoos, like stacks of river rocks, and clusters of columns that looked like marching soldiers joined at the shoulder. There were slabs of flat polished rocks bigger than pool tables on edge. Horizontal, vertical, and diagonal strata were exposed as well as evidence of twisting that would humble a master mason. In places, huge globs of solidified earth held a multitude of more dense stones, indicating volcanic activity. I was wishing my geologist friend was handy to explain it all.
We parked at the entry and walked the hundred-yard strip of park. Best to know you can turn around before gettin’ in too deep. Voice of experience. A couple of wide spots allowed three-point turnarounds. Nobody was home in the only occupied site, a single dome tent erected in a park that would accommodate a dozen. The only other vehicle was an empty government van. There were pit toilets and several hose bibs along a cable fence preventing driving onto the well-watered grass. Fourteen days max, but it was free.
We filled our water tank before unhooking the toad and set up in the end site, where we’ve stayed a second night. The weekend came and brought people. Class B’s, teardrops, and car campers have come and gone, hiked, prepared meals on picnic tables under metal shade canopies, and fished. One group came in several vehicles. They ate, drank, laughed and left. They were never unruly, just friendly background noise and campfire aromas. The night was silent. The canyon was very dark. Stars, that are seldom seen except at sea, from atop mountains, and in the desert.
Reflecting on how good I feel about road travel, and this one in particular, I watch out the window as sunrise crawls down the canyon walls as I sip coffee and two-finger henpeck at the keyboard.
I haven’t shaken hands, hugged, or stood closer than ten feet to any of the people I met here. Yet, I have talked to several. Two young women, from the government van, in boots, with knapsacks, were leading a dozen kids in their early teens in some kind of outdoor therapy. We told them we were getting some of that ourselves and were familiar with a couple of wilderness schools.
I met a relaxed young couple with big smiles. They shared having to sell their home rather than lose it after COVID took their jobs. The proceeds paid for a new Class B and some wiggle room. They found online jobs and said that they like their new lifestyle. May never go back.
The young men with the two couples camping together were fishing in front of their site. They were using fairly large spinning lures. I didn’t comment on their methods but told them of having seen dozens of suckers about a quarter mile down the trail from our site. Their eyes got even bigger when I told them of having seen a couple of beaver downstream.
A petite woman traveling alone in an overloaded Subaru walked past our site to the hard-packed path that parallels the stream. She was using hiking poles and confessed to having had a hip replaced three months earlier. We know about joint replacements and exchanged recovery reports. She voiced concerns about how to get help since she was alone. We discussed whistles and flares and satellite locators. We agreed Balanced Rock was a jewel, but no, we didn’t know about similar destinations to the east.
There were other conversations with friendly folks. No movie will ever be made about any of them either. In contrast to the depressing onslaught of “If it bleeds …” media reporting that fills the lives of stationary RVers, all of our face-to-face contacts with people have been positive. Maybe not as intimate as the day gone by, but good – and a lot better than waiting for the return of times past. Lemonade ain’t that bitter!
There’s more, but I gotta go. It’s a drive day.
See some of Clint’s recent cartoons. They’re wonderful.