Tales From The Roadtrek #1

My favorite essayist, E.B. White, would often begin a story with a wandering tale about what he was doing at the moment of his writing: lying in bed sick, listening to the pigeons on the ledge of his New York apartment; lying in bed sick–even though he was a very active man when he was well, he was often sick, having a poor constitution–at his home in Maine, listening to the mourning doves in the tree outside his window, and so on.

I am one-and-a-half days into a two-day reservation at Hamlin Beach State Park, which is in New York State due north of Rochester, on Lake Ontario. I arrived near dark last night, having taken a bit of a tour through my old haunts here in this town of bitter sweetness. Here I did my hellish residency in Pediatrics, got divorced, got my first job as Director of a Pediatric Emergency Department on the merit of my performance as a model prisoner of the hospital known as The Gulag, where residents who were out of favor with the Powers that Were and Are Now In Their Graves–which is too bad, because I would like to give each and every one of them a piece of my mind for punishing me for being sick—were sent.

It was meant to be a punishment, and for some it was.

As for me—I was right at home.

The Gulag’s other moniker was the Knife and Gun Club. It sat right in the heart of violent gang land. Crips ‘n’ Bloods. Each with their own highly honed style of maiming and/or killing members of the opposing gang, if they could; and they did.

It felt just like Chicago to me. Many nights in my Upper Clark St. apartment, lovely and cheap, we would have to creep around on the floor lest we meet the fate of those who are struck by stray bullets during yet another gang war taking place in the park across the street.

I had been banished to the Gulag’s Emergency Department for seven months, so I simply moved in when the existing director bailed out. The Gulag was just my kind of place. I stayed and played for another two years.

The campground—we’re back to Hamlin Beach now—is at least a half-mile from the actual beach. That is just fine with me, because several weeks ago I camped at an absolutely dreadful campground on the Jersey Shore (New Jersey, not Jersey in England). The place had all of the unpleasantness of Eastern beaches, except the beach itself—for that, you had to drive twenty miles.

But no need. The campground featured plenty of coarse and painful sand that blew into everything, causing normally decent food to become dangerous to the teeth. Sand fleas, sand flies, fire ants, and, I discovered in a most unpleasant way, a medium-sized member of the spider clan that is perfectly camouflaged to look like the sand it dwells in. Well, not all of them dwell in the sand; some have moved into my camper, and now it is a game of “I squash you if I can catch you before you bite me, you little bastards.” I have no idea how to get rid of them without poisoning all of my tiny premises.

Anyhow. We return to New York State. The Lake Ontario beach is at least a half-mile from the campground, as I have already mentioned. Today I set out on foot, with my big sun hat and heavy multipurpose walking stick (the one my father, of blessed memory, cut from a rhododendron branch that had been climbed by a vine, causing the stick to be shaped in a mesmerizing spiral).

I found some pretty trails winding around toward the beach, only some of which were carpeted with poison ivy. The rest were nice dirt trails covered with pine needles. [After-note: did you know that eucalyptus oil is very effective at quelling the itch from poison ivy?  Good thing I happen to have some.]

After a delightful meander, I found myself on the strand of Lake Ontario. I mused on the fact that even though I left Rochester in 1992, Lake Ontario still lay sloshing in its glacier-carved bowl in the Earth’s crust, same as if I had never left. Fancy.

I watched the early evening swallows swooping and scree-ing together, something I have always loved to see. The gulls stood fat on the water line, gobbling the bounty of lake mussels–a bad creature imported on the hulls of the great ships that make their way from the Atlantic into the Great Lakes by way of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, which have wreaked havoc on the lakes’ ecology by way of competition for nutrients. But the gulls love them. I was struck by how many more of them—mussels, not gulls—there seemed to be, judging from the mess of them on the beach, than there were the last time I was here, so many years ago.

My eyes kept straying to the water, and every time they did, I felt the familiar nothingness come over me.   Actually I didn’t feel anything. Only in retrospect do I realize what must have happened.

The breeze picked up as the shadows lengthened, and as the chill ran down my spine I turned to walk back to the campground.

I walked and I walked and I walked, and at some point realized that I had become disoriented in the process of trail-meandering, and had wandered too far to either the East or the West, I wasn’t sure. So I kept on walking straight, figuring that since I was on the road that bisected the park, I was sure to come upon a sign eventually.

Only problem was, my legs were tuckering out. Nowadays when I walk too far my legs start feeling stiff and weird, and they hurt. Well, they were hurting, all right, and I really did not want to keep on, and was thinking of sitting down in the grass on the side of the road; but since it kept on getting dark, that did not seem like such a good idea. It is better to be lost in the daytime than at night, don’t you think?

Not one single vehicle came down that road the whole time I was dragging myself along, grateful for my walking stick, which was by now doing yeoman’s duty by way of holding me up. I prayed and prayed for a park ranger, but unlike taxis in Jerusalem, which arrive if one prays sincerely, no park ranger responded to The Call.

At last the answer to my real-time prayers came along in the form of a Border Patrol Officer in a Jeep. I flagged him down and told him that I was looking for the campground. He grinned and pointed–the entrance, which was only a quarter mile away, in the very direction in which I was hobbling, appeared out of nowhere. Perhaps he was a wizard or a saint, and he either conjured it or performed a miracle.

Or, perhaps, had I simply kept on, I would have arrived at it in a few more minutes of agony and confusion, but Heaven sent this uniformed angel to relieve my mind.

(Still, I would have taken that Jerusalem taxi. At least I wouldn’t have had to walk any more.)

I still had a mile or so to negotiate until I arrived at my campsite, so I continued to put one foot in front of the other, trying to ignore the mounting pain and stiffness, until I finally reached my little motorhome and collapsed on the bed. My legs felt as wooden as my walking stick, although not nearly as useful.

Even now, hours later, if I try to move around much my feet go into painful scrunched-up spasms. One of these days I will get around to going to some doctor about this, if I can find one who is not a dimwit. if you are a fellow doctor who is not a dimwit, then a) this does not apply to you and b) please be in touch immediately.

Two Days Later

I think I must have had a bit of a hypomanic episode the morning I left Lake Ontario and headed straight south on Rt. 15 to pick up I-86 West. At 4:30 am my eyes popped open. I wasn’t sleepy.   Odd, even though I had passed out at 8:30 the previous night after the unplanned hike. My biological clock usually has me waking up between 8 and 9.

I have managed to wean myself off the dreaded Zolpidem (Ambien), and now instead of being forced to sleep for 12 hours at a stretch, my body seems to be tentatively investigating what her normal sleep pattern actually is. It’s delightful, really, to lie in bed with the lights off, listening to whatever is around me, whether it be tree frogs and whippoorwills, or semi trailer trucks roaring in and out of the truck stops I like to lay over in, like this one, two-thirds of the way toward the Western boarder of Indiana; and drift gently off to sleep, rather than literally passing out from drugs. Takes some getting used to, though.

Day before yesterday, I drove 400 miles, and enjoyed every bit of it. Blue skies, gorgeous mountains, farmland, Amish settlements, elaborate barns, simple houses.

Bivouacked at a truck stop, and was dismayed to find that unlike most of its kind, this Flying J did not have a special overnight parking section for RVs. Even the trucks were stacked up two to a space.

There were a few “regular car” spots over in a corner by the entrance of the truck lot. One space open there, better grab it. I pulled as far in as I possibly could, because my position was just beside one of the fuel lanes.

Yeah, OK, it sucked, but I was so tired from my hike and my long drive, I was grateful for the privilege of parking overnight without the dreaded 3 am knock on the door, lights flashing in the windows–fairly predictable if you park overnight just anywhere…so I’ll put up with a noisy, stinky truck stop where my sleep is unlikely to be rudely interrupted.

All evening I drifted in and out of sleep, frequently jarred awake by the ka-BAM, ka-BAM of the trucks running over a piece of broken pavement 5 feet from my van. I had to do some emergency self-NLP in order to abort the full-fledged panic attack I felt coming on.

Fortunately, the noise settled down and finally stopped at about 11. I learned something new about trucking: there are two kinds of drivers, the day ones and the night ones, and they change shifts at about 11 pm.

I marveled at the connection.

Before I had diagnoses and meds and sleep, I used to like to do my long distance driving at night, especially if the trip involved crossing deserts or long stretches of the Mysterious Midwest flatlands. One cornfield looks about the same as another to me, friends.

At night, the highways belong to the trucks. So many trucks come out at night: in places they’re bumper to bumper at 85 mph.

In a regular car that’s terrifying. It feels as if they don’t even see you–that they will just run right over you.

When I got my big Dodge truck and 33 foot horse trailer (with full living quarters) I got started with CB radio. Suddenly the highway exploded into a whole new dimension.

“Hey J.B. (J.B. Hunt is a trucking company), keep an eye on that four-wheeler (regular car) on your left lane. Looks like he wants to pass you.”

“Thanks, good buddy. You got anything good to listen to?”

“Wellll, just a couple o’ them Jeff Foxworthy tapes. He cracks me up!”

“Yeah buddy, he do! Hey, if I see you at the Flyin’ J you want to look through my tapes and see if you wanna trade for somethin’?”

“Sure thing, good buddy. Ten-four.”

“Ten-four.”

It never crossed my mind that there might be an entire subculture hidden from those of us who drive around oblivious in our four-wheelers. And then there is the overlay of a subculture of land-bound humans who sit up all night with their CB radios talking to the truckers. They have colorful “handles,” or nicknames, and each of them has a persona—and an agenda. Luckily, CB radios have lots of frequencies, some public and some that can be rendezvou’d upon by mutual agreement. Dialing my way up the channels in order to chat privately with a friend, I’ve also come across some highly illegal activities right there in traffic.

I did merit some special treatment from the truckers when I was pulling my horse-hauler. Since I always made sure to politely introduce myself, I was graciously received by the pack of whining 18 wheelers hurtling along around me.

“Hey, good buddy, OK if I slide in in front of you? I got to get off at this exit.”

“Ten-four, little lady, you go right on ahead.”

He flashes his lights when I’m far enough ahead to safely change lanes. I flash mine twice: Thank You.

I haven’t got a CB in this little rig yet. I feel kind of funny about it, being only 22 feet long, as opposed to the 120 foot length of your average tractor-trailer combo. I’m going to have to swallow my pride, though, especially if I keep on getting up while it’s still dark.

Today I felt like crap all day long. Maybe that’s because it rained so fucking hard yesterday that I had to bail out at the first truck stop I came to in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I had wanted to travel another couple hundred miles to an actual campground, get a really good shower—my rig has a tiny shower in it, but there’s nothing like standing under a stream of hot running water for as long as you want.

I saw a couple of little baby tornadoes forming in the clouds, and the barometric pressure was bouncing all over the place. What else could make one’s ears pop on solid flat land?  But I had the SiriusXM Radio pegged on Classic Vinyl, and if The Big One had dropped down out of the sky and swooped me up–well, I guess that would have changed my channel, all right.  But it didn’t, and here I am, still.

The only place I could find to park turned out to be right over a sewer drain, which was flooding a bit because of the rain, so I spent the night inhaling noxious fumes.

Maybe that’s why I feel like crap today.

Didn’t even make 200 miles. Didn’t even get out of fucking Indiana.

I’m on U.S. Highway 24, Westbound.  Flying J again.

Oh well. Isn’t that what this journey is all about?

Roll with the punches.

Enjoy Paradise.

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15 Comments

  1. Loretta

     /  June 1, 2015

    Laura, you are a gifted writer and I enjoyed reading about your most recent adventure. Take care of yourself – no more drains or fumes if you can possibly help it – especially where a sudden downpour can change the landscape. (Drains swallow people when it rains too hard in Texas.) I hope you don’t have any other exhausting shifts in the time/space continuum like you did on the beach…

    Your story about travel and trucks took me back… Once upon a time, when I was a teenager with the passion and invincibility so characteristic of the immortal age of 17, I fell in with a group of truckers that criscrossed the prairies at night along with the Northern Lights and AM radio broadcasting from two or three thousand miles away. They listened to my story of how the love of my life had been so unjustly imprisoned in a penetentiary 600 miles away from me and using their CB’s they connected me with other drivers so that I could visit my beau every second weekend and still be back at work Monday 8 am. Every second Friday one of the truckers would be waiting for me for that weekend trip.

    One weekend my chauffer-d’jour had put in so many hours behind the wheel that he was dangerously tired – and that was the night I had my very first driving lesson. Yes, I learned how to drive on a Kenworth cab-over with 18 wheels to steer straight and 36 gears to choose between, carefully keeping the engine in a very tight 400 rpm range.

    Pretty soon those weekend trips became less about seeing my sweetie and more about getting another driving opportunity. When one too many lates on Monday mornings got me fired, I got my license – yes, the heavy weight truck operator license – the automobile drivers license was just a stepping stone two weeks before I qualified for the tractor-trailer operator’s license. I started “swamping” with my driver friends then I started taking the odd load myself – none of the trucking companies would have hired me, but the Owner-Operators that had their own rigs running for those companies had no problem hiring me. I was the first woman driving a big rig in my area (this was the ’70’s) and parts of the drivers culture accepted me just fine and I just out-shifted the guys that didn’t. It was a blast – I was very skilled and very brave and very young and invincible.

    I got pregnant within a month of my sweetie’s release from jail, and that ended my truck driving career. Still, the joy of excelling in a profession thought of as a man’s domain never left me. I ended up going back to school so that I could raise my son. (Yes, I was a single parent before my son turned two.) I got my high school credits and then a Geology degree… and then got the chance to work offshore in the North Atlantic… occasionally being the first woman on board some of the semi-submersibles and jack-up rigs. In many ways it wasn’t much different from the truck driving experiences… I sure have some stories.

    Thanks for your posting – you took me back to a time where I felt powerful and it’s been so long since I’ve felt like that. I had to give up my career a few years ago because of a disabling illness and now I fight just to get out of bed some days. I’m trying to figure out how to take a page out of your book and buy an RV, pile the dogs in, and hit the road. Your story got me a little closer.

    I hope you find yourself heading west at some point – I’ll meet you in Montana, Idaho or somewhere in Washington State for coffee if you do…

    Reply
    • Holy mackerel, Loretta good buddy, we got a lot to catch up on…I think we better get with each other and have a coffee ASAP. I’m headed for the Dakotas now, after a few days’ layover in a camp in Peoria. Then Montana!
      If you want we can jump over to my private band, moxadox at gmail dot com, so we don’t have to bore all the Channel Tenners with our personal plans. Can’t wait!

      Reply
  2. glad you’re out there living. roll with it and enjoy it.

    Reply
  3. Hi Laura, Good to see you in spirits but suggest you to be more cautious.

    Hope the little lioness is good too

    Love & blessings

    Reply
    • Thanks, Ashu, caution means checking the next lane before moving over. But since driving in India is already a death-defying stunt, I understand your concern. As for potential “bad guys,” I have a few nasty surprises for them if they want to play games….they may win in the end, but it will cost them. I may be sick but I’m not helpless. How is my sweet Ashu?

      Reply
  4. God how jealous am I I can remember the truck stops well when I was going cross country,they were the best part of my trip,use to lo to stick my arm out the window and get the pull down signal and wait to hear there horn those truck horns are the bes
    Stay safe,enjoy
    Write down everything
    Sheldon

    Reply
  5. I am good dear and I just love your spirit, I may have fallen but I am not broken. Cheers to the female spirit.

    Reply
  6. It’s funny I was thinking about you today,Bam you show up. I been having trouble with my shoulder lots of pain,it sucks Laura,I have a mri tomorrow,tears don’t even come close to how I’ve been feeling,the pain is driving me to the wall. I’m so glad you showed up,so I can talk to someone who knows how I been feeling, I’ve been so low in my soul,it’s been hard just to put a day together
    As always Sheldon

    Reply
    • I’m sorry you’re feeling rough, Sheldon. I can commiserate with the joint pain thing. It can literally make you climb the wall. What did your MRI say (did you have it yet?)
      Sending healing vibes–Laura

      Reply
  7. I went for the mri today will find out Monday,it’s been a battle,I am sorry for you today two old f..t who can’t pass gas to save their life,come on Laura next time you get east you have to tell me,I’m not that far from Jersey, come Laura I know how you feel you just can’t stay there,I’m here too feeling

    Reply
    • Well I don’t know about you, but I pass gas just fine! :-D. Awe, I don’t know if I knew you’re on the East Coast. Darn, it would have been good to meet you. As it is I very much hope to stay Out West as long as possible. I’m feeling better-I went out for a walk and am now listening to all the different kinds of birds putting their babies to bed. Hope you feel better xxx

      Reply
  8. Enjoying reading of your cross-country adventure. Breathing noxious sewer gases sounds like NO fun, but your story is otherwise quite adventurous. Insect removal tip from my mom – a chemically sensitive 30-year non-Hodgkins lymphoma survivor – use Borax, a very effective desiccant. We used it when our son was an infant. He licked it up off the floor and Poison Control told us not to worry. For a human baby, it’s just an irritant. Email me at kittomalley at gmail.com for my phone number as you approach Southern California. I live in Mission Viejo. You could use our shower. O’Neill Regional Park is nearby and has RV camping.

    O’Neill Regional Park
    30892 Trabuco Canyon Road
    Trabuco Canyon, CA 92678
    (949)923-2260 or (949)923-2256
    oneillpark@ocparks.com
    Online reservations system, or call the reservations line at (800) 600-1600.

    I’m excited as you get closer to the Pacific!

    Reply
  9. It reads like your good experiences are far outweighing the negative ones right now, my lovely. My brother-in-law is a wagon driver here in the UK, he starts work at something like 2.30am, and is probably on the road by 4am delivering bread to supermarkets all over the place. I think if I were to leave the community, I’d look at getting my HGV licence.

    Reply

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