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The Big Trip: Week Four

I would say that all-in-all, I've been pretty lucky. The van has run better than I could have expected, Dakota only got van-sick once, and most of the places I chose as overnighters, were stellar. Walt took a month off from work to hold down the fort, and other than a lot of rain, he tells me that all is well.

Day two: I really shouldn't be surprised that what you see in a brochure isn't always based on fact. I'm writing this on Monday from Tucumcari, New Mexico, but we'll talk about that in a minute. On a happier note, I took two rest days in Albuquerque this weekend at a lovely KOA on the east side of town. Can't say enough good about this place from the service to the surroundings, it was stellar. I had a lovely Mother's Day. The management offered a beautiful breakfast buffet, in which I didn't indulge, but it was still thoughtful. What really made the day was that my kids and Walt conferenced me in on a call as I opened my Mother's Day gift. Throughout this trip, Walt has left a brown paper gift bag with a laser engraved heart indicating the date I was to open the gift. This week's heart read "May 12." Inside was a beautifully engraved puzzle box, and one of the keys to the box had the engraved birthdates of all four of my kids...and a mother's ring.

They're such good kids. And he's a pretty sweet guy. Dakota and I topped the night off with a YouTube movie and popcorn. Not a bad Mother's Day.

This morning (Monday), we set off after breakfast and coffee with cool blue skies and a full tank of gas, headed to Tucumcari.

There's nothing special in Tucumcari, not that I've ever spent any time here, but I associate it with Santa Rosa and Las Vegas, New Mexico as being a trouble spot...once in 1975 when the transmission on my Chevy Vega died outside the Stucky's on Route 66 eastbound from Santa Rosa on the way to Dallas from San Francisco with my 15-year old friend, Mona. The second troublesome event was during an aircraft delivery from Rogers, Arkansas to Lake Havasu, Arizona in a Remos light sport aircraft. Evidently, those early aircraft were known to have problems with the fuel pumps, so the company sent a technician along with me with a spare pump in his pocket. I will tell you that it's very difficult to change a fuel pump in flight. We had an unscheduled, but safe landing in Las Vegas...but I'll leave airplane stories for another time. I'm not superstitious, but having a history of being trouble spots, I decided on the most risk-free camping option: a KOA.

Go ahead. Click on the link above. Looks nice, doesn't it?

I pulled in at 11 am with my teeth still rattling from hitting every pothole on I-40 only to have the attendant, the new owner, say "You're early. Not sure I have a spot for you." I craned my neck around the desk overlooking an empty grass and gravel lot and replied:

"You have three campers."

"Yeah, but the utilities don't work everywhere."

"When is check-in?"


"I'm pretty tired...I'll find someplace else then, thanks."

He smiled as to say "Good luck with that." but pulled out a dog-eared sheet of paper and nodded. "Your space is empty."

"Great. Okay if I settle in?"

"Sure thing," and he handed me a black-and-white map of the campsite and an Otis Spunkmeyer cookie.

"Thanks for the cookie." I replied thinking that maybe I was being a little harsh.

"There's two of um in there."

I nodded wondering if he wanted me to return one since I was travelling alone, but took both cookies and headed to my spot.

I included the one shot in the middle because it shows the mountain as it really looks. See any other campers around? Me neither.

Remember in my previous posts that I mentioned the wrath of the travel gods when I got a little uppity about my surroundings. Yeah, well. I put the sun awning out because, well it's late spring in Tucumcari and there's no shade, made myself some lunch, and sat down with Dakota and gave thanks that we were not still bouncing off potholes on the interstate and, you guessed it, a gust of wind swept across the mostly empty lot and upended my sunshade clear over the top of the van, rendering it...well, it's dead. My sunshade is dead.

With the supports broken, I couldn't retract it myself and so ran for help. A nice man (their only maintenance man) named Bill ran the winch while I took the place of the now-broken support arms and held the sunshade out and away from the van, and huzza, were able to retract and stow the canopy. Hopefully the brackets holding the unit to the van remain in place until I get home. I thanked Bill and offered a silent apology to the travel gods because this is Tucumcari and it's still spring and we've already talked about the winds enough.

Day three: I wrote a supplemental blog to sum up the tale of the windblown awning and so won't rehash the ending here. Suffice it to say that Dakota and I survived, the awning...not so much.

A lovely late-spring morning greeted us in Amarillo as we landed at the Fort Amarillo RV Resort. Oddly enough, the place was indeed resort-like. They have a huge gift shop that would rival any mall, a lovely water feature, the best five star dog park that I've ever seen, and a lovely water feature. I just proofed this and noted that I mentioned the water feature twice. It is a nice water feature. If there is balance in the universe it's that I only saw one 55 gallon trash container and there were only two stalls/two showers in the ladies room. Needless to say, I took my evening shower at 4pm before the rush.

Dakota and I are visibly road weary at this point. I'm going to have to remember how to tame my hair, fasten a bra, and put on mascara so I don't scare the neighbors when I get home on Friday, but I'm going to give myself a facial and manicure and binge-watch YouTube. I'll close out the day by saying that the nice maintenance man at the RV park helped me remove and discard the broken awning at no cost. He said that's just what he does...helps the campers. My faith in mankind just got a shot in the arm.

Day four: After coffee and kibble, Dakota and I hit the road to find a car wash. That's not something I've talked about yet, but the van is 10'3" including the air conditioner on the roof. Most spray car washes are 9'0 give or take, when you can find one. In Barstow, I actually had to pull in and wash the front of the van, then drive around the building and back in to wash the rear. But just like my laundry and bedding, I clean everything weekly, and Dakota and I nightly. Go ahead, call me a clean freak, but after a month in an 18' space with a dog, a little Lysol goes a long way to ensure one's sanity.

Tonight's stop is actually quite lovely. Foss State Park is about 100 miles west of Oklahoma City and just north of I-40 by about 10 miles. The area is clean and...deserted. I'm sure other campers will show up this evening, and so am taking advantage of the peace and serenity. And for the first time since we left on this trip, Dakota ran leash-free for a good hour, ensuring every rock and tree had been thoroughly sniffed.

Sandy Beach Campground, Foss State Park

Day five: Foss State Park was lovely. Dakota and I got the first rain since we left Bella Vista which not only washed the red dirt from our windows, we were lulled to sleep with the sound of thunder roaring across the lake. I never did get to see the dark skies I'd wanted, but I do love a good thunderstorm.

Speaking of the travel gods, you'll notice that there's only one other camper in the entire park...look at the far right in the photo above. And it looked to be deserted. Before I could catch myself, a little voice in my head said "Ooooo I dunno about being totally alone. I mean it would be nice if at least one other camper were in the park..." and low and behold the biggest fifth wheel /MAC truck/I'm going to keep you up all night rig I've ever seen comes roaring in...and parks right next to me. Several times. In fact, his rig was so big, after the fourth try, he squeals his tires in a frustrated exit and roars out of the park. Dakota and I looked at one another thinking that we didn't mean it. Alone in the park is fine. Totally fine. Sorry, travel gods, I'm a slow learner. Anyway, about 15 minutes later, the Big Rig returned and parked in the two campsites in the middle of the park with longer thresholds. I met the neighbors the next morning as I was breaking camp...salt of the Earth, and curious about me and my little van. I also met a young woman camping in her car with a little dog...she had just left Albuquerque and was headed to the east coast, a mirror of my trip. If she reads this, I hope she writes about her journey...the memories will incent her to keep exploring...this world, this life is truly a gift.

My next, and final stop, is Keystone State Park in Oklahoma, about 150 miles from home.

Foss State Park

Day six: Keystone State Park is absolutely lovely and the park rangers some of the kindest I've met on this trip. I probably didn't pick the best campsite, but the bathrooms were clean and newer that most of what I witnessed. Since this stop was just for logistics (sleep, mainly), Dakota and I didn't hike much. Plus, it was raining and with the rain, allergies. Having said that, I probably slept better than I had the entire trip, waking only to the call of a robin outside the window.

One thing I haven't mentioned in this travel log is traffic and any issues resulting from the traffic. Mainly, that's because I am the luckiest duck on the planet...there were no issues. The van ran well. Fellow drivers were respectful, and the only real traffic was in Burbank, until Tulsa where two drivers endeavored to run me out of their respective lanes culminating in my seeking refuge in the construction barrels. No damage to the van, but the trick is once in the orange-barrel cone of solitude, how to get out of the cone of solitude and back on the interstate. Luckily, a nice man in a utility truck slowed and blocked traffic until I could merge and be on my way.

Dakota smelled home a good 20 miles before we arrived. It rained in Arkansas almost the entire month I was gone and the wet earthy fragrance of leaves and bark and red dirt hung in the air, greeting us as we pulled into our neighborhood. I opened the door to the van and she darted first to Walt for welcome hugs, and then off into the woods to reconnect with familiar trees and rocks and all the smells of home.

I pretty much did the same.

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