To act wisely when the time for action comes, to wait patiently when it is time for repose, puts man in accord with the tides. Helena Blavatsky
There is a rhythm to life on the road. Stay in one place too long and the urge to move is overwhelming. Go too far, too fast and it feels too much like starting over every day.
I was in Arizona for a couple of months, spending the winter hiding from the record rain on the high desert in the Southwest. The ribbons of pastel pinks and blues that burst across the sky in the sunrises and sunsets quietly thrill the senses. The light during the rest of the day just beats you up. Starting hikes before dawn was just right. During the day, the desert in the Southwest is wind, sand, loud engines and big pick-up trucks. Empty lots of more sand, scrub and blowing trash punctuate the city landscape.
After a $2 ferry ride across Lake Havasu, London Bridge rises like a mirage in the early morning light. In the late Sixties, an American genius re-assembled the Victorian bridge in the middle of nowhere, in order to sell houses in the desert. It worked.
Now, in that desert, there are those tucked-away settlements where residents water substantial lawns on a regular basis and drive air-conditioned luxury cars to air-conditioned office buildings, but those people one rarely sees. For folks on the street, there seems to be a freedom out here in the desert, an unwillingness to conform. This must be connected to the huge skies and the enduring landscape.
I stayed along the Colorado river for a while. I had heard it was dying, but it seemed to be doing ok. The Salton Sea, however, is dying, salt and pollution are turning the water on the shore brown. It took me a week to bleach the smell out of my tanks after I took on (supposedly filtered) water nearby. Apparently, the lake was created by accident and has nowhere to go.
In some of these’resorts, huge RVs, costing $200, 000 – $400,000 dwarf my 24-foot Tioga Arrow. I can understand why this lifestyle is growing. These mostly older, retired couples have all the comforts of home and the option to live wherever they want. Warm weather is important of course, but I have talked to many who change locations several times a year, visiting friends and relatives. Some maintain a house, a home base and travel seasonally, but increasingly folks are going on the road full-time.
Finding myself without any sort of Wifi or cell phone connection was a wake-up call. There were times when I didn’t have access to the outside world, nor did I have photographs or words to work on. I would read for a while. I could meditate, because I have been doing that most of my life, but I am no zen monk. I was learning, in the morning, to watch the light fall into the hills and valleys. I was learning to watch how my mind jumps up and down over the course of a day, first this way and then that … watching to see where it might go next. And I was practicing a nap here and there, although I never actually slept.
There is a theme that emerged from the conversations I had with others on the road. Everyone was keen to share something new, something unexpected that they had encountered or a change in a previously known situation. Unlike many casual conversations, politics rarely came up. There is a certain awareness, a sense of the instability of life on the road that lends an air of respect to encounters with others. Since it is impossible to know what this life is like before you do it, it’s a good bet that most people got fed up with something and took life into their own hands.
By mid-December, I was back in Pismo Beach. I was planning on hitting the road north in the Spring, leaving the sand on the beaches and the desert behind. Trading wide-open spaces for rivers and forests. From what I remembered, life under those huge redwood trees is the opposite of life in the desert. In fact, as I shift from one environment to another, I am the only constant I am aware of (besides Alice, my 1996 Tioga). It’s not so much that I was changing as it was that I was emerging, amidst all this uncertainty.
There were moments, like this one, on the Pismo dunes, when I was looking at a landscape that had literally shifted a hill into a valley after a storm … feeling the power of the earth, watching the waning light from the setting sun slide off the dunes. I looked up as a white streak flashed across the sky. In my mind, I saw a couple of hundred people, walking around, going to the bathroom, reading airport paperbacks and working on laptops, speeding across the sky in a metal missile.
I couldn’t keep both observations in my mind at once. The sizes don’t match. I had to go back to the RV and take a nap.