A couple months ago I was riding home from an event after dark and noticed a small RV backlit by the lights of a gas station. I imagined I saw lightning flash in the distance. Something about this brief moment made my heart lift. I’ve lately been trying to get real intentional about anything that lifts my heart or buoys my spirit. So when a moment as such appears, I take note.
I soon mentioned this moment of heart-buoyancy to Brandon. Would he have any interest in joining me on an adventure involving a recreational vehicle? He said yes. I asked my parents if they’d watch our girls while we road-tripped; they said yes too. And the plan was in motion.
One thing. B and I experienced the apex of a crisis in our marriage about 2-½ years ago. A wedge was driven between us so deep and with such magnitude, the pain of it still reverberates, the losses still shake me up, and the grief still lurks. Letting you think we were jaunting off across the nation with our most difficult decision being where to stop for dinner is a different story than knowing we’ve experienced relational trauma, then chosen to ride in a confined space together for two weeks without the distraction of three kids and our high-strung dog. Two different stories, right? It makes sense I might have been anxious about this plan to galavant about – both of us first-time towing an RV, trapped with each other and all our feelings for days on end – but honestly, I wasn’t. As B uttered early on in our trip: “We’ve done harder things than this.”
We delivered the girls to my parents, and picked up the R-Pod trailer in the sweltering heat of Fort Worth. From there we drove to sweltering Amarillo, calling an RV park on the way, making a reservation, and initiating our first round of hooking up water and electric, unhooking the tow, pressing various buttons, and arranging various items. After settling in and crying a few tears (all the things), we visited the iconic Cadillac Ranch, and I started marking down every time one of us hummed Extreme’s classic 1991 tune “More Than Words” (catchier than you’d think).
Next morning we stopped by the stunningly blue Blue Hole in sweltering Santa Rosa, NM, and later hooked up at Monte Bello RV park in Taos on the southern end of the Sangre de Christo Mountains. The sparkling, inky night sky was spectacular. As I lay there wondering about my life circumstances and experiencing another bout of grief, I glimpsed a star streak across my tiny rectangle of a window. It felt like reassurance from the Divine.
Crossing over the Rio Grande Gorge and into Colorado the next day, we drove through a bustling Pagosa Springs and Durango to our next overnight stop in Mancos.
With its tiny modern library in the woods, welcoming bakery boasting delicious food and adorable cross stitchings (and the owner offered me a job for $25/hour?!), hippie grocery store with all my preferred brands, the coolest print shop, our cozy RV park bordered by tall lanky trees, and a babbling river meandering around it all, Mancos ended up being my fave stop. The trash receptacles specially-designed to deter bears didn’t even rattle me.
From there we took a day trip to Mesa Verde National Park, famous for its centuries-old cliff dwellings built by the Ancestral Puebloan people. This is where the keys to our vehicle slipped from my grasp from atop one of the cliffs, over the chain-link railing into near oblivion. The keys hung on though, and B hopped the railing to rescue them from the perch several feet below (thank you o’ ledge of wide berth).
We had planned to drive up through Moab, UT for a visit to Arches National Park but the forecast temps in the 100s put us off. So we meandered back east and north through the mountains towards Boulder, discovering Treasure Falls along the way (time to hike!) and passing the ski resort of Wolf Creek. In Buena Vista I searched Hwy 285 for the past residence of my Uncle Goober and Aunt Polly, who once lived in a mountainside home backing up to the Arkansas River. Our 17yo son called to say hello ❤️
As we drove northward – navigating gas stations, curbs and mountain roads while towing a trailer – we came to ascertain that Boulder has a ban on urban camping. After multiple calls to nearby state/national parks (all full), we finally found an available alley on HipCamp (like AirBnB but for campers) plugging into the back of some guy’s house in Denver. We rolled into sweltering Mile-High City, exhausted from driving and calling ALL THE PARKS, backing the RV into a tight spot off a city alley. Then realizing we needed a converter to plug our 30 amp trailer into the host home’s standard 20 amp plug. (amperage conversion – *things you need to know when pulling an RV* – boring as heck until you realize that a converter means electricity which means AIR CONDITIONING) So we took a festive little hour-long side trip to Walmart, Lowe’s and Home Depot hunting for a converter. >enter several rounds of diaphragmatic breathing< It was back on the alley as I sat sobbing in the car (all the things!!!) while B fiddled with the items purchased from Lowe’s that I heard a tap on the window: “There was a converter in the trailer all along.” So. We got electric hooked up, then had ice cream for dinner and went on a long walk. Back at the camper, I said something about being surprised at the proximity of the Winter Fork ski resort to our home in Texas (about a ten-hour drive). Winter Fork? B questioned. You mean Wolf Creek? Oh. Yeah. Wolf Creek. Maybe it was travel delirium but we both laughed wildly at however my brain came up with ‘Winter Fork’.
Next morn we sat at a coffee shop in downtown Denver, still looking for a place to camp anywhere near Boulder, and my city-girl self relaxed on the shady sidewalk watching the passersby, having no worries about bears lumbering down the street. HipCamp came through again and we found a host in Nederland, about 15 miles west of Boulder, up into the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The drive from Boulder to Nederland was jaw-dropping beautiful. We stopped at Boulder Falls where the river crashing down was so loud the only sound that pierced it was a young girl laughing.
We pulled the RV onto our host’s land for a couple of nights and had our first experience “boondocking” (no hookups to electric, water or wifi – you know, like ACTUAL CAMPING). B asked our host if we might see any bears, to which our host replied: “There’s a chance you could see them…but really you should be more worried about moose…and all variety of mountain cats…cougar, lynx, bobcat and so on. Also fire.” Maybe it was the altitude, maybe it was being so far from our kids, maybe it was our host’s rapid-fire listing of all the regional dangers – but there may or may not have been another flood of tears. “It’s 3pm, Brandon – time for my daily meltdown.” But we were in the Colorado mountains for goodness sake! We regrouped, played Kanoodle and Bananagrams, and discussed how we probably should have told someone our location in case we were carried off and murdered by some woodland creature.
In Nederland at CrossCut Pizza we met bright-eyed, effervescent Jesse who I liked because he knew what I meant when I ordered a “gingy” and was clearly enthused to show off the beard he’d been growing underneath his mask during the pandemic. At Salto Coffee Works we met Amy who had grown up in Austin and studied marine science at the University of Hawaii but had followed a man into the mountains. I bought a mood ring – a variety of gorgeous blues – which supposedly means I’m “calm” and “relaxed” but it hasn’t changed color at all in the past week so I’m thinking it might not be the most accurate measure of moods (or maybe I’m more calm and relaxed than I think).
We drove back down into the rainbow-flag-flapping Boulder, walked the outdoor Pearl Street Mall, visited the city museum, beheld all the uber-chillax canines traveling with their people, and – after looking at median home prices – realized our chances of ever buying a house in Boulder are slim to nil. #realitycheck #loveislove #realisreal Brandon went on a solo hike, and I spent a few hours in the library. When we got back to the RV that night, we admitted we were both missing our kids and decided to head back to Texas early.
Packing up and driving through the mountains towards Colorado Springs, we noted all the small towns, wondering if we could make a home in any of those green, scenic, temperate places. The skies were overcast and misting, the mountain air cool. I felt light in step as we strolled around Garden of the Gods, maybe because of the weather. Maybe because we were heading home. At our campground, I wiggled through the bowels of the trailer contorting myself like a ninja yogi to unlock a jammed deadbolt on the door and momentarily felt like an action hero. Next day we drove to yet another HipCamp site, back in Amarillo, me conversing with our interesting, inspiring host for an hour-and-a-half as dusk fell. We hit up Palo Duro Canyon the following morn, then drove onto Possum Kingdom Lake, where it felt appropriate to watch the sunset over the water on the last night of our trip.
Takeaways. Driving only 5-6 hours a day allows time for hikes to unforeseen waterfalls (40-something fannies can only handle so much prolonged sitting anyway). Yelp and HipCamp are our friends. I slept better than expected. When it comes to towing an RV, hooking it up, backing it up, finding a campground, finding a restaurant, dumping the poo tank, and loosely harmonizing on “More Than Words” (we crooned it approx 58 times), B and I partner well. Having a partner makes finding a remote campground and dumping the poo tank easier. Apparently I’m a Bananagrams champ. I love meeting new people in new places. Make sure all the amperage converters are stocked. The sound of water cutting through a canyon down a mountainside regulates my emotions. The grief will come (don’t resist), the joy will come (don’t resist); feel and acknowledge them both. If you try to make reservations at the Winter Fork ski resort, you’ll never find it. I can shimmy through the underbelly of an RV if necessary. We’ve done harder things than this.