Week 25 - Hadley

Well, Punkin was pretty much ready to hit the road, and the forecast predicted a stretch of sunny weather perfect for drying out gear, so I decided to spend the week transitioning from sedentary life back to nomadic life. I moved out of my canvas tent and into a more portable one, just in time for a cold and rainy Monday that let me test out my foldable wood stove, which heated the tent well in short bursts. The stove's a bit temperamental and I'm still learning to use it, but heat on demand makes a nasty day so much more tolerable. Even if I only run the stove occasionally, just knowing I can get warm and dry when I need to is very comforting. The tent is also a new style for me; it's a tepee with a single pole in the center and no floor, and there's an inner tent hanging from the top of the outer tent, just big enough for a bed, with mesh walls and a waterproof floor. There are a lot of things I like about this setup: the inner tent can be hung from a tree branch in nice weather, it's easy to integrate with a tarp to make a porch, and there's no problem with tracking dirt or sand inside since the floor is the ground. I'm still figuring out where to put everything to make the best use of the limited space, but I think another week or two in it and I'll have a solid system. Monday's rain came with strong winds, and the tent withstood them well, as I expected it to since it's just a cone with no vertical walls for the wind to push on. I adopted the slow way of moving camp: whenever I really needed something, I would go get it from the big tent and not put it back, so that anything left in the big tent after a few days was probably not needed for the road.

Early in the week, some strong emotions came up, and it made me realize that I'd been suppressing them while living indoors. I think what happens is that when my physical needs are easily taken care of, it feels nice and relaxing at first, but it also offers me the temptation to ignore my body and my emotions for a while and distract myself with entertainment. When I'm camping, I'm constantly forced to pay attention to my body and take care of its needs, and I think that's good for me because it counteracts my habit of dissociating. At some point I hope to be able to have enough practice being embodied that I don't always need external discomfort to remind me, but for the moment it's a useful set of training wheels. My parents tell me that as a baby I was calmest when I got a lot of novel stimulation; when I was a toddler they traveled around Europe and carried me in a backpack, and as long as there were things for me to see I was no trouble at all. I think maybe I'm still that way to an extent. When I was living inside I found myself looking at the news several times a day, but being outdoors is an easier and healthier way to feed that appetite, and when living in a tent I have no desire at all to check the news (although I do check the weather forecast pretty frequently).

In the middle of the week there were three glorious days of sun, and I spent the mornings at work and the afternoons socializing and packing away all the things I'm not taking with me. I cleaned out the mud hut, and cried over a bin of ratty old clothes that HW and I used to wear. I knocked down dozens of mud dauber nests and one big paper wasp nest, swept the floor, and started organizing things for storage. The canvas tent got spread in the sun to dry and packed away with the wood stove, pots and pans, and other bulky stuff. By the end of the week, the camp in the field was clear, wild bulbs sprouted neon green from where the tent and food bins had been, and the latrines trenches were covered over with red dirt sprinkled with dead grass.

One day my friend AA came over with his truck to adopt Kiddo, and after taking a spin down the driveway he came back with a huge smile on his face, and I knew Kiddo would be going to a good home. We all had tea-time in the sun with my parents and GB. It was wonderful to be able to socialize outdoors again after such a long stretch of cold and wet. Another day JH came over to hang out, and we had a good conversation while rambling around the land. SS had come over to dig the garden because GB, who would normally do it, is now far too pregnant. It felt like a little village come back to life, and everyone's spirits seemed high. I helped AP move drywall, spray-painted the side racks I made, read some math history in the sun, and had a wonderful dinner with AP and GB of from-scratch Mediterranean food in honor of the weather. Home cooked food can be transcendentally delicious after a week where canned beans are one of the more exciting ingredients (I was trying to eat down my stores before leaving).

By the time the rain came at the end of the week, I had packed up everything and moved into the mud hut so I could take off with dry gear on Sunday morning. On Friday night I woke up and smelled a skunk, which I think had been nosing around a tuna can I left outside the open doorway and perhaps panicked and sprayed a little when it realized I was inside. I spent Saturday making final preparations, and hung out with RM in the garage for a while, which was nice because I got to say goodbye for the moment, thank him for letting me use the space, and tell him how much I'd learned from him about both the method and spirit of working on engines. I also went into town to see AC (aka Santa) and show him how Punkin (aka The Red Baron) had come along. I wound up visiting with him and his wife CR on their back porch; they were very observant and asked a lot of questions about the details of what I'd done, and we talked a bit about travel and travel writing. They said they'd add me to their prayer list, and AC blessed Punkin and told it to take good care of me on the trip. I felt incredibly lucky to have wound up with a bike with so much character and such a good story, and also to have met such delightful people in the process.

As soon as I post this I'll start on my final packing, getting ready to take off in the morning for North Myrtle Beach to visit some friends on my way south to Florida. The plan is for this to be a bit of a shakedown cruise, and also a way to wait in a warm place until the season changes enough to allow me to head up north.

Things I Learned

  • My awesome zipperless sleeping bag (a Sierra Designs Frontcountry Bed) has a sleeve in the bottom which is perfectly sized to hold my Crazy Creek chair as a sleeping pad OR as an assembled chair. I'd been using the sleeping bag and chair together while working, but without putting the chair into the sleeve, so that every time I sat down I had to spend a bunch of time adjusting things. Some genius at Sierra Designs deserves kudos for that design choice. But unfortunately that sleeping bag is just too bulky to take with me, and I'll be returning to my less luxurious down bag until I can get something better. They make a Backcountry Bed as well, which is down-filled and packs small, but it's been out of stock for many months.
  • Reading Black Elk Speaks, I found out that the Lakota called January "the moon of frost in the tepee". It was in February, but I experienced this myself, when the condensation on the inside of my tent froze and rained down like snow.

Wonderful Things

  • Birds on the move: flocks of bright blue ones feeding in the bushes, crows mobbing a hawk, and geese honking their way across the sky.
  • A pine branch with a drop of water at the tip of each needle, reflecting the sky.
  • The sun breaking out suddenly, raising clouds of steam from the side of the wet tent.
  • A chorus of spring peepers singing under a full moon. This was a sound I often fell asleep to as a child.

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