To say that my first official day on the road was full of trials is an understatement (thanks Cindy). Tropical storms led to delays, a rough go at my first solo camping trip, and untold frustrations. The entirety of my first 24 hours into this new way of living led to a multitude and varied amount of ways my brain tried to tell me how stupid this idea has been. I thought about giving up, about retreating home with my tail drooped and ready to admit failure; but this isn’t a tale of giving up.
I left my friends place around 11 am. My bags were packed, my checklist thoroughly combed over, and I was off. The first couple of hours went by without a hitch. I hit the Louisiana border and felt like I had overcome my first (and biggest) hurdle. Anyone who has ever lived in central Texas understands exactly how difficult it is to leave that state by road. Finally, I had made it and there was no going back now. The sun shone brighter, the sky was an amazing shade of blue, and there were a few puffs of clouds dotting the sky. It was my perfect day.
I still had my concerns though. Tropical Storm Cindy still wasn’t done with the coast just yet, and I had to be ready for any severe storms. Mother nature is a mischievous old gal, waiting until I was crossing the treacherous Atchafalaya Basin Bridge in Louisiana. For those of you not familiar, it’s an 18 mile (yes that is correct) stretch of bridge crossing Louisiana’s marshlands. There are only 2 exits across that entire stretch. That’s when the sky’s opened up and let forth their deluge. I couldn’t see more than 40 feet in front of me, but with no exits in sight, and barely a shoulder on either side, I had to push forward.
Once the storms cleared, I witnessed such a beautiful landscape though. Swamplands, skies and water so clear I almost couldn’t tell them apart, and a sigh of relief greeted me after my trial.
The biggest change I noticed after leaving Texas was the lack of billboards dotting the landscape. I had become so accustomed to signs and truck stops that my internal compass started doubting itself, only getting reassured that I was still on the right track slightly before entering the next city. It made for such a pleasant drive though. I hit a few more minor patches of rain, but finally, as the sun was setting, I had reached my destination.
I had decided that I would camp out for the night at the Tuxachanie Trail head in the De Soto National Forest in Alabama. I had hoped to be out there sooner, but the weather fought against me. As I pulled up, a light drizzle against my windshield, I regrouped. Checking the weather report showed me that the rain would continue until 9PM, only 30 minutes away, so I rested and prepped. Once the rain had cleared I gathered my headlamp, stretched the rain cover over my bag, grabbed my dog, and decided to set out. Nervously I proceeded into unknown territory, guided by the small beam before me intent on finding a clearing where I could set up camp and rest for the night.
I wandered onto a small side trail and found a dead end where it appeared that others had camped before me. I couldn’t hear any water running around (for legal and safety reasons because of flooding in the area) and this clearly wasn’t an official trail so I decided to set up. I unpacked my lantern, tent, and anything else of use and set to assemble camp.
PSA: if it’s been a while since you last set up your tent, make sure to get some practice before you go on an excursion, especially at night.
This is the advice I should have remembered, but my excitement and haste removed it from my mind although I did remember to pull out my poncho as a base layer before setting up my tent (thanks Dad). After 15 minutes of frustration I realized that what I believed to be the base layer built into my tent was actually the rain fly. Yes, I had been attempting to set my tent up upside down the whole time. Frustrated, I contemplated packing back in and just sleeping in my car until morning, but I wouldn’t be defeated. Not on my first night. I realized my mistake and flipped the tent, and got it set up just as another shower started to roll in. I frantically grabbed everything and tossed it into my tent, built for one, and dove in without hesitation.
Once safely in, through a combination of determination and obscure flexibility, I adjusted all my gear so that the pooch and I could settle in comfortably, but sleep didn’t come easily. Every aspect of my horror movie-esque imagination started kicking in. Would I hear a machete wielding serial killer approach? Would he make it quick and painless if I didn’t? I kind of hoped so, not wanting to be the guy dragging himself on the ground while my attacker menacingly sauntered towards me. Eventually the sounds of frogs, crickets and the occasional shower lulled me off though. Thank goodness.
My slumber was cut short though, and by something wholly new to me. I woke in a panic. Feeling trapped and claustrophobic I grabbed for the top zipper and pulled it open, shoving my head through the bug net and past the rain fly. I’m not typically one for panic attacks of any kind, and every thought about machete wielding killers became a walk in the park compared to this new and fresh hell. After sitting for a while, adjusting and telling myself that I was fine, I proceeded back to sleep. An hour later I was awoken by the same intense feeling of suffocation and terror. This time, I put back on my boots, got out of the tent, and checked my stakes wondering if maybe the tent had sagged due to the wet soil I had planted in and, sure enough, it had. I reset the tent, but as I was climbing back in I realized that, in my haste to get out of the rain, I had dove in to my tent the wrong way. I had been sleeping where my feet were supposed to go, and vice versa.
By this point however, my boots had muddied up the area where my head should have been, claustrophobia free. I decided it best to pack in and head back to the car. Defeated. Wet, sweaty, tired, and angry I trudged back to the car with my pack and dog (since she refused to walk) on my back. I figured I would sleep for another hour or two and then head out, but sleep wouldn’t come so I pulled myself together, turned the car on, and hit the road destined for Florida and sunnier days ahead. That’s exactly what I got.
The sun was rising as I hit Mobile. With the fresh new light, I shed my frustrations at the past night, instead choosing to laugh at my haste since I should know better. With each mile, I felt better about my next adventure. Planning every scenario with contingency after contingency to be ready for anything life or nature has to throw at me.
With my early start, I decided to take it easy to my destination. Taking in the scenery, and frequenting rest stops (I was surrounded by old couples there and it was adorable), I finally reached my destination. 14 hours, several hundred miles and a whole array of derailments later, I had made it. The second major hurdle in this journey had been cleared. I spent my evening with a close friend I hadn’t seen in years, eating Chinese take out and watching kids movies. These were the moments I was seeking.
Here I am, the next morning, eagerly awaiting the afternoon where I get to cross a big one off my list. Today, I’ll be seeing the ocean for the first time (because the Gulf of Mexico doesn’t count), meditating on the beach, and learning how to love my life again. It was a hard fought road to get here and I was constantly doubting myself, but through perseverance and courage, I have arrived with a new found lease on life and a few valuable lessons.
Happiness is a state of mind. Finding peace amidst the unknown; being able to face every misstep with grace and tenacity. It’s about finding the beauty in the mundane and fully appreciating it for exactly what it is. Like focusing on the small missed stroke in a painting instead of admiring the grandeur of the whole piece. A simple drive can be transformed into a whole experience if you change the mindset in which you approach the situation. My first day on the road exemplified those ideas to me in such a blunt way. A delayed trip due to severe weather meant I got to spend quality time with my best friend. Hasty decisions led to preparedness for future outings. All in all, my life is great right now, and it wouldn’t be this way had I not had to pass through obstacles to get here.