Shortly after Roque finished work in mid-August, I received the news that I was able to retire as of October 1 rather than wait until November 1. Initially, this news left me with anxiety rather than a shout of celebratory delight. I was conflicted by the news: Wouldn’t we benefit by additional salary? Didn’t my clients expect me to stay through the month of October? Would this affect our schedule for packing and departure? Drawing from lessons learned from Roque, I decided to sit with this news over the Labor Day weekend and at the end, concluded that leaving work a month early had more pros than cons. My clients were already in good hands with my replacement; reducing work by a month mean fewer nights spent in the sea of brake lights that has been my commute for many years; and having an additional month to pack, organize, prepare and spend time with friends, city, and family was welcome. I decided to make the plunge and have been instructed not to look back.
Having some vacation time to burn, I left work at the end of September and shortly after, we headed out from DC on a road trip planned several months earlier to Chicago, with stops contemplated with family in Cleveland, then onto Toledo/Detroit, Pittsburgh and a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater before returning home. The trip had multiple purposes for us since we could visit these northern cities while the weather was still hospitable (these destinations were on the original road trip plan for Alaska-to-Panama) and it provided a perfect opportunity to test more equipment acquired over the past several months.
The initial part of the trip (Cleveland and Chicago) was spent in homes (family and AirBNB) and the other parts were planned for camping. On board, for the first time, was gear accumulated for the DC-Alaska-Panama and 5 of the 9 nights on the road would be spent in campgrounds, testing gear as well as seeing the sights. It would give us practice with urban stops, where we needed to bring much of the gear inside to prevent against theft, and rural stops with proximity to places we wanted to visit. It seemed a perfect opportunity for testing our gear and road-readiness.
After visiting in Cleveland and Chicago, we traveled back eastward toward Toledo with the goal of spending some time seeing some of where Roque spent his residency some 30 years ago and touring some of Detroit’s sights. We chose a campground at Maumee Bay State Park, just outside of Toledo and on Lake Erie and stopped in to chose our camp sight once we arrived in Toledo. We had experienced intermittent rain on the road from Chicago but were lucky to have a break in the rain as we began to set up camp — a break that, regrettably, didn’t last through the entire camp set-up. We were lucky that the rain was light but by the time we set up the tarps, screen house and tent, we were fairly wet and the sun had set so the dampness of our clothes meant we were pretty chilly. My McGuyver husband, knowing that a campfire would be fairly futile at the time, lit the camp stove and there we sat, darkness around us, making PB&J sandwiches by the fire of our propane stove. We moved from testing to testiness in the span of a few short hours but the warmth of the 2 burner stove helped, creating enough heat to renew our senses of humor and gratitude that we were, at least for that moment, dry beneath the tarps and about to become warmer under the sleeping bags and the dryness of the tent.
This,too, was not long lasting, and we awoke in the early morning hours to the knowledge that the overnight rain and wind was so fierce as to have allowed for the tent and tarp stakes to come up from the soggy ground and caused the tent to nearly collapse upon us (to say little of the now-collapsed tarps that came crashing down on our kitchen and dining area). Unflappable and ever-positive Roque pulled on clothes, ventured outside and secured the tent adequately enough to allow for another couple of hours of sleep, notwithstanding the leaks that we were experiencing in the tent, wetting portions of our sleeping bags and pillows in ways that made us contort toward the dry areas where we could continue to catch a few additional zzzz’s. I fell back to sleep composing some of this blog post in my head, wondering how I would explain our continued willingness to camp while traveling en route to Alaska and then to Panama, having just experienced the misery of rain soaked tents and uprooting of support stakes. I admit to some feeling of dread as I considered the days and months to come.
The dread left me during my sleep but the testiness returned when we awakened fully for the day to inches-deep puddles in the tent, soaking my hiking socks past wearability, and requiring us to remove all of the tent contents to sweep out the puddles and begin, again, the task of setting up our campsite – with new tarp placement, many efforts to re-stake the tent and tarps to securely hold these items in place, and to try to dry out various pieces of our camp gear (thanks to momentary breaks in the the rain).
The rain continued through much of the day but we remained dry and warm while touring the Toledo area, by car, and the Toledo Museum of Art, a fabulous (and free) museum that few cities are lucky enough to boast of, by foot. It was a great day, even if not a dry one, and it was topped off by a cooked meal at the campsite that far exceeded the culinary skills required of the previous night’s PB&J sandwiches. We retired to our tent with full bellies and an optimism amplified by some liquid courage imbibed with dinner.
Waking after night 2 in the rain, we found more puddles in the tent and our bodies achy from the nocturnal contortions created by our sleeptime avoidance of the drips caused by the leaks in the tent seams. Over breakfast, we talked about the day and built into the plan a trip to the store for deeper tent stakes and how we might try to re-seal the seams of the tent – the obvious source of the leaks. As we left the campsite for the trip to Detroit, the rain of the previous several days turned into glorious sunshine, immediately brightening my spirits and reminding me of why I love to camp: living in the outdoors, dining next to the trees, with the sounds and the smells of the fresh air around me, makes me happy and the simple act of sitting with a book, the quiet broken only by the sounds of nature, fuels my spirit.
Spirits fueled, our day in Detroit, spent at the Motown and Henry Ford Museums, ended with a trip to the camping goods store for more tent stakes and while there, we relented and opted to buy a new tent rather than attempt more repair/restoration of our tent, recognizing that it had served Roque (and later me) well and couldn’t be begrudged for the previous decade+ of service. Arms filled with the new tent and additional heavy-duty stakes, we quickly set up the new tent and immediately appreciated having an entry “foyer” into the tent that allows for floor mat and entry stools where we can now sit and remove our boots/shoes before entering the tent. Having never had a mud room, I was beside myself with happiness about our ability to keep the tent floor clean and dry. Ah, the little things that make me happy!
Testiments to Testicular Fortitude
Nights 3, 4 & 5 in the new tent were dry and comfy and secure, spent at Maumee Bay and then Ohiopyle State Park in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, a short couple of miles from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Through the trip, we continued to refine campsite placement and design, adapting to the change each campground/park presents, tweaking aspects of living that made improvements in comfort and ergonomics. Each camp set up and break down becomes easier, faster, more organized and streamlined. Our gear worked beautifully – our solar-generator-refrigerator set up were HUGE improvements over ice cooler and the charging of devices in the vehicle and permitted us to cook while stationary and picnic while moving. Armed with new heavy-duty stakes, the putting up of tarps, tents and screen room was improved and strong. Our cots kept us off the ground, with no mid-night need to reinflate the mattress, and the foam on the cots made for comfortable nights of slumber.
Comforted by the adequacy of our gear, we returned home feeling that we had survived this test with adequate grades. This trial run reassured us on many levels and prepared us, at least some, for the flexibility and fortitude that will, no doubt, become essential linchpins for our overlanding travels. Once home, we discarded extra gear, focused on the packing that will be needed to ensure space for everything once we leave, and have begun the task of wrapping up our DC life in exchange for the nomadic existence we are excited to start and a life in retirement that we have yet to embrace.
Will these be the end of our tests? Surely not but we are no longer untested, detesting the contests that make us grown in protest.
Whose groaning now? 😉