the (often) meandering travels of a student anthropologist
The morning I spend with my friends will be a bright spot in the coming days.
The weather is sunny and mild. Their company is a balm to my ragged spirits. I am coughing, voice hoarse, and my energy is low–but feel comfortable I am no longer contagious. Nevertheless, I hug them goodbye gingerly as, at noon, waving off offers of lunch, I take my leave. I am anxious to make Trinidad before the sun wanes, give Juno a good test run, and before that I need to find a Discount Tire.
I can check the air in my tires, but to have the back duallies aired, I need a shop with an angled chuck. Most gas stations, even truck stops, have only the long straight ones that won't fit in the tight space between the rims.
Once there, the bad news is a cracking sound on a low inner tire, when he goes to air it up, gives the technician pause. He recommends we pull the outer ones and check the valve stem. The worse news is that the inner tires, which I wasn't able to visually date, are not new like the other four. They are, in fact, over 16 years old.
I am shocked that Juno has been halfway across the country and back without a blowout. $400+ dollars, two new tires, and several hours later, I am back on the road, alternately feeling more confident, and then kicking myself for not having them pulled in Asheville. In my rush to get out of town, I had made the error of trusting the previous owner's word that he'd replaced all the tires. Safety has been my motto since day one, and this is one of the most critical aspects of RVing. Blowouts are not only harder to handle in heavy boxy rigs, but can cause major damage to anything around the wheel well when they go. I'm fortunate the consequences of my poor decision wasn't more serious.
Hmmm. I haven't actually been left stranded on the side of the road yet–and those tires held up for over 2000 miles. Maybe Juno doesn't hate me?
My trip south continues more slowly than planned, winter dogging my heels.
I overnight two nights in the Trinidad Walmart parking lot due to high winds, and wake up the second morning to snow. I have stayed warm, running the furnace, but my 100AH (amp hour) battery is now discharged belowe 60%. That is the lowest a deep cycle battery should be pushed, at least on a regular basis, before recharging. I'll need hookups tonight if I don't drive enough hours to recharge if fully through the alternator. Nights in the low twenties are forecasted for the coming days. Fortunately, the day is bright with sunshine, and the roads are clear by 10 o'clock.
I make good time today, and surprisingly, with no complaint from Juno. I am grateful. The scenery through northern New Mexico is nothing short of stunning, and I slowly relax into the hum and rhythm of driving. The far mesas and mountain ranges bring to mind a tableau I can easily imagine dinosaurs roaming.
For the first hour, through the Raton Pass, I am still in somewhat known territory. I've driven this way before, although it's been fifteen years. Another hour later, continuing on I-25 as it turns west, however, I am now, for the first time on my trip, venturing into the unfamiliar.
In Travels With Charley, John Steinbeck wrote "“In long range planning for a trip, I think there is a private conviction that it won’t happen. As the day approached, my warm bed and comfortable house grew increasingly desirable, and my dear wife, incalculably precious.”
I found this to be true leaving Asheville in mid-October. The home I share with my mom had felt confining and burdensome for years, yet, as the last months of summer waned, Juno's renovations in the last stages, it suddenly felt like a sweet haven. And, then leaving Denver, I felt that loss again, despite never having any nostalgia for the city when I moved from it almost a decade earlier. Suddenly, the congested streets and harsh asphalt slab of a familiar grocery store, not even a favorite one, felt treasured.
As I move past this boundary of my experience, however, for the first time, a feeling of excitement pierces through the slow-lifting fog of my nursed anxiety. This is what I remember about road trips; the wonder of a dusty and bug-smeared windshield pushing not just forward, but out, somehow, and breaking through into new sky.
Because Juno is doing so well I push, until the light starts to fade, on to the Dancing Eagle Casino in Paraje, New Mexico, about an hour west of Albuquerque.
The casino sports a dedicated RV park, and while its gravel and dun-colored concrete-walled parking lot is initially a bit of a disappointment, I make it my home for the next four nights. Once again, amenities and resources win over scenery. The first night's temperature dips to 13 degrees, and my flu lingers. For just over $11.00 a night I get full hookups–electric, water and dumping. Additionally, the wifi is strong, there are daily shower vouchers for the truck stop across the street, a clean and inexpensive laundromat in the office, and I can walk to a well-stocked grocery store. Read my RV Parky review here.
There is even a designated and fenced dog area, although to my eye it is a forlorn and desolate corner by the garbage bins without even a bench to relieve the eye or legs. Freyja doesn't mind–it has other doggie smells–and, subsequently, I think she finds it more interesting than the long, broad, and empty sidewalk I try to cajole her down towards the far town. Everywhere else, other than pavement, are inhospitable stretches of nasty sand-spurs, fierce dry grasses, and ground pebbled with rocks that turn clumsily underfoot.
I never partake of the showers. The first day I find them under repair for a busted water pipe, and discover I can adequately sponge bathe with water heated from the tea kettle, and even dry my hair. I wasn't sure the circuit would stand up to my electric-hungry blow dryer.
I continue to suck on cough drops and blow through boxes of tissues. Bundling up against the cold I walk Freyja and then hide again in my cozy haven. I spend my time on the internet videoing, watching Netflix, and trying to catch up on schoolwork. The semester will be over soon.
On the second day I restock at the grocery store, and on the third I try out the casino. I learn by trial, and much error, how to play slots. I lose $5 and in consolation treat myself to a spicy ground meat and refried bean frybread in the restaurant.
Sadly, it was a poor choice and requires ketchup to resuscitate. The beer however, a Happy Camper IPA, is delightful. I indulge in two. Finally, I polish off my meal with a 'black forest' banana split. I make my way through a third of the gooey, sticky wonder, and sit back, overly-stuffed, looking out at the interstate and feel again, the pinch of loneliness. I have pushed myself to do the tourist thing, but alone, with no one to share the experience, it seems the pale shadow of an experience. Emboldened by the beer I play slots again on my way out and lose another $20.
Walking Freyja I often stop and chat with a truck driver that is broken down and staying at the park while he makes his repairs. He is waiting for a radiator to be delivered. A short congenial fellow, around my own age, with a weather-beaten face, graying beard and hair pulled back into a short pony tail beneath his cap, he also travels with an aging dog. We chat about the circumstances which have put us on the road and it sounds as if he has little more than that dog for solace. He spends long days driving, a large monthly payment to pay off his rig, and he's encountered a string of recent repairs that have left him without savings. There was no home with a wife waiting for him. He'd been retired he said, living well on the banks of the Sabine River in Texas in a nice trailer, with a couple of vehicles and working two days a week for his brother as a machinist. Then a flood wiped everything out–his home, cars and more critically, the shop. Too old to rebuild, his brother said, so my new acquaintence took what he had, put a down payment on the rig, and went back to the road. He didn't enjoy it, but it was what he had to do, and it's what he knew. Short haul didn't work out, so he was doing long haul. In three months he'd have the truck paid off, but didn't know if he was going to make it. If he had to pay for another repair, he'd just have to park it and walk away.
The last day is warmer and I find my self shedding my jacket in the afternoon. I'm renewed, the laundry is clean and a sewage smell from what I assume coming from the dump hole next to me where a fifth wheel has parked (and assumptions are, in my experience, generally wrong as I will find out in an upcoming post).
I'm ready to leave.