Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Forty-nine days on the road together? Not so bad. Really.

We recently returned to our rural Oregon home after a seven-week 10,000-mile cross-continental road trip (and back) in a class B - that means small - Roadtrek van. Holy moly! 10,000 miles! Just the two of us! (In the serious RV world, our trip is puny. Lots of Class B RV people practically live in their vans, along with their dogs, cats, and significant others. And they do so for months!)
A selfie taken near Yellowstone National Park in October 2008, our first road trip after PK's retirement.
Lots of folks express envy about our adventures, but, at the same time, others are horrified, incredulous, appalled, repulsed, terrified, or nauseated at the prospect of spending that much time in close quarters with their mates.

Here's a representative comment, uttered (sputtered?) by a dear friend in a long-term loving marriage. (A woman. Men don't confide in me like this.)

She said:  I can't imagine spending that much time with "his name." I'd go crazy! How the hell do you do it?

My friend is in a niche demographic of much-appreciated people who read my blog, which includes retired boomers who travel, or who would like to. People who love to cook, garden, and who relish life. People I've known forever. People I love. People I don't know but would like to. People, who in one way or another, have something in common with me, and also with each other.  

Most of us have been married for decades and have weathered all kinds of storms. We've survived raising kids, or deciding not to have them. We've had disappointments along with successes, and health issues that scared us.

We've rolled over at 5 a.m. to negotiate whose turn it is to take the dog outside, argued in the grocery store about whether to buy the organic chicken or the tofu, and evaluated and re evaluated our relationships, in the end, deciding to stick together.

It makes sense, after all the years of grind and grit, growth and giving, love and lust, struggle and survival, that we should cash in as we arrive at the golden time of life. And it really is golden.

Topped by gray hair and oddly outfitted with saggy necks, we're now holding hands as we navigate aging, a most challenging journey that requires a rugged 4WD and trip insurance, currently not available.

Could there be a more perfect time to extract ourselves from our comfort zones to embark on really really long and exotic road trips!?

Well, maybe not everybody is ready, but we are. PK and I have determined to log as many miles and experiences as possible before we're forced to acknowledge that we're inexorably approaching the glowering edge of the flaming pit of death.

I know, "flaming pit of death" sounds bad. It is bad!

I thought I saw the glowering edge a year ago when I was diagnosed with melanoma. Talk about sounding bad! All is well now, despite the fact that "invasive" and "metastatic" were part of my initial diagnosis.
Here's someplace I didn't want to travel. A radiology lab in a regional hospital watching glowing radioactive stuff light up my lymph nodes to guide a surgeon who was to carve me up a few hours later. Welcome to the Cancer Club 
The month-long drama of thinking we might be in for a life and death struggle jump-started us, invigorating the travel bug.
See Back from Cancer's Brink - 10 Lessons Learned

A week after the results of my surgeries came back benign, we bought a 2010 Roadtrek, and a week later we were chasing the super bloom in Death Valley.

Life is grand as we enjoy freedom, health and vitality. PK is only 67, while I am 71. I used to worry about our age difference. Now it doesn't bother me, except on paper, where it seems he has the youth advantage, but in real life, we're very much on the same page.
Not exactly a typical camp spot, we're at a very special place on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.
Well, we're not always on the same page, which brings me to how we tolerate endless days together without a break. It's true that we bicker. We sneer. We roll our eyes, suppress emotions, lash out and so on. On our 49-day road trip
we squabbled a few times, mostly about whether we should follow our plans or our hearts when unexpected opportunities arose. Our heads were not always aligned. Outcomes were about 50/50. We have not filed for divorce.

We had rainy days. In New Brunswick we hiked in raincoats after spending a long morning listening to the deluge pound the van's roof and deliberating, in a friendly way, about whether we should leave a day early. We'd paid for two nights. We stayed. It was OK.
Rainy day hike, Fundy National Park, New Brunswick. Red chairs placed in random spots in parks across the nation are courtesy of the Canadian National Parks.  We love Canadian parks!
When van-bound by weather or darkness, I read and/or write and always have photos to work with. PK has maps to study, books to read, and music.

Every now and then, we stream Spotify on a cell phone that blasts over our robust sound system, burning up cell data as we enjoy a bit of a dance party.

On the road, PK prefers to drive. I fill in when he needs a rest.
I cook. He cleans up. Just like at home. Division of labor is understood and pretty much undisputed.

On long travel days, such as during the tail-end of our recent trip when we were booking it to get home, we listen to books on CD, or music, or public radio stations, and time and miles. Sometimes we even have a conversation!

Mostly we've adjusted, after nearly 40 years, to the comfort of one another's company. I believe we appreciate one another more with every passing year - and mile.

Spending extended together time in a small space is offset by moving through space and time, landscapes and cities, most of which we've not seen before and which are always of interest and beautiful in their own ways. Even the low-key locales, not destinations but places we must traverse to get where we want to beKansas? North Dakota? Eastern Montana? Ohio? Missouri? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. All good!
Ohio! In the middle of the afternoon! An iPhone photo through the windshield.

A sorghum crop slashing across a Kansas landscape. This day featured 40 mph sustained sideways wind with gusts to 50 mph. Fun! We drove about 500 miles, as we were on our homeward push.
In Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota. 

Oh yeah! North Dakota is walleye country!
Most often we camp in pleasing spots where we can spill out and set up our little table, unleash our bikes, or lace up the hiking boots and tramp around incredible places, only to return to camp, uncork a bottle and relax in our REI camp chairs. 

Real, but blurry, life in the van. One-pot dinner on the propane burner. PK prepping for the next morning, and for putting the bed together. After all our years of tent and river camping, our Roadtrek is extreme luxury. When one of us is working in our limited space, the other is outside or viewing van life from a swivel chair in front. 
Active retirement is a privileged state.  We've enjoyed an occasional music-centric cruise, and are booked for a trip to the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador later this month, making up for having to cancel the same trip last year due to melanoma. But soon after our return, we'll be driving the Roadtrek south to the Baja Peninsula and the beautiful bay at Loreto, where seabirds, dolphins, and blue whales rule.

Few people have a home on the road and also a sticks and bricks home to which they can return. We're fortunate, and we never take it for granted. I've wanted to live this life for most of adulthood, during all those years working and raising kids, and now I'm incredibly grateful that we've made it happen. 

I can't complain about squeezing into a small van and traveling the plains and deserts, mountains and seashores, cities and villages in close-quarters in the company of the man I've spent the past 40 years with building this wandering life.

Photos from the early 1970s in the first year of our relationship, the ONLY photos of us until we had a child in 1977. The red and white Landcruiser was our first RV (!). PK removed the backseats and made a platform bed with storage underneath. A plywood box on top made additional storage. 
Photo credit: Pat Teel
Earlier posts about Road Trip 2016

Meeting a time traveler on the road