The First 30 Days … What I’ve Learned

02 Jul

Another week’s gone by. Frank and I have picked up and moved again. From now until July 14th, we’re at South Toledo Bend State Park, almost 20 miles due west of Anacoco, Louisiana. The site itself is wonderful – it’s the biggest one we’ve had yet. We have a view of Toledo Bend Reservoir through the trees, although we’re a little ways from the water edge and can’t walk directly down to it. The site’s surrounded on 3 sides by trees and bushes, but we’re nowhere near as isolated as I felt we were at Chickasabougue Park, our last “home”.  It’s sort of a cross between the last two parks – more proximity between the campsites, but more shrubbery so you’re not right on top of each other.

The park’s 55 campsites have already begun to fill up for the Fourth of July holiday, although the spaces immediately around me are still awaiting their tenants. I expect to see new neighbors this evening … tomorrow morning at the latest.

frank storm

Here’s Frank, during yesterday’s storm … in the back corner of the tent, underneath his bed.

We’ve had nothing but thunderstorms the last week. They seem to have followed us from Alabama. Frank’s had a real tough time of it, despite a little help from the valium. Yesterday afternoon, in the midst of a pretty intense cell … the winds blowing the tent made me feel like I was experiencing a 6.0 quake back during my days in San Jose, and the thunder was unrelenting for about 20 minutes or so … Frank gave me a look as if he was saying, “If you tell me ONE MORE TIME that, ‘It’s just rain. We’re okay,’ I’m going to bite you!” NOAA says we should have a respite for the next week though, so knock on wood that happens.

Anyhow, back to the subject at hand: We’ve been on the road for over a month now. In some ways, it seems longer than that. But in reality, I almost feel like I’ve been taken out of time. I’ve just been experiencing the days individually. I find that I’ve lost track on several occassions as to what day of the week it was (apologies to my buddy Eric, who’s had to endure me missing a couple of our regular Tuesday morning phone calls). I don’t have my laptop on all the time, nor am I really looking at emails that much on the phone, which hasn’t helped in that regard.

IBut now that Frank and I have been camping for over 30 days, I’d like to share some of things I’ve learned.

1. Planning only gets you so far. Yes, there was the one issue with Meaher State Park not being as advertised. That’s the obvious thing. But other things have cropped up, too.

Because of the heat, we’ve spent more time in the car, so I can keep Frank cooled down. The side benefit is that it’s reignited that “love of the road” I’ve always had. The day trips we took in Alabama were wonderful … not just for where we went, but for the feel of being out on the road! Frank’s enjoyed it – he’s alternated looking out the window and taking naps in the cool a/c. I’ve discovered he’s infatuated with big rigs. He’ll hear one coming from behind and turn around in the seat to watch them roll by. Funny – you’d think that as fearful as he is of thunder, that would translate to being afraid of the noise, but that’s not the case.

Doing the day trips has had an impact on my budget, though. I’m way over on the gas and food allowance, having done a bit more fast food than intended. I didn’t cook a single meal in Alabama. I’ll need to fix that, otherwise I’m not going to be able to survive on just my Social Security money.

The cooler hasn’t done as well as originally intended, either. I’m having to buy ice at least every 3rd day. Not a big deal, but I’m a bit disappointed. Hopefully that improves once we’re out of the southern heat.  I also had to buy a tower fan to help with deal with that heat  Thank the Lord I was able to find room for it in the car along with the other gear I started out with.

Other than that, everything else has been more or less according to plan as far as the supplies and gear I thought I’d need.

2. I like the solitary life. I cant say that I’m not lonely … but I’ve felt lonely most of my life, even in the midst of family relationships. This is decidly different from being locked up in an apartment, however.  It’s not just me and Frank. There has been an abundance of animal life around us and I have enjoyed being a casual observer of all of these creatures.

I have to engage people more with this lifestyle, too. Much more so than confining myself to an apartment and ordering food in. There are people walking by with their dogs … who invariably stop to chat when they see Frank wagging his tail at them. Then there are the rangers who stop by on occassion, the store clerks, and other miscellaneous people I’ve come in contact with. But I like that I can engage them on my terms knowing they’re going to be gone and I won’t have to deal with them again. I feel a little sad, acknowledging that. But I think that’s something I’m acknowledging at a conscious level for the first time.  I guess it’s a matter of trying to “trust” again, despite always feeling like I’ve been kicked in the teeth whenever I’ve let my guard down in the past.

I know I feel more at ease. I can sit and enjoy the scenery with Frank without worrying about anything else that has to be done or what anybody else expects me to do.

This period of having zero responsibility (other than taking care of the two of us) has been magnificent! I can sit and watch all the activity going on around me and enjoy it. As I type this, a cardinal has come over to sit on a branch a few feet away … and I can actually take a few moments to watch him withoyut feeling like I should be doing something else! Yesterday, I stopped the car because a big turtle was crossing the road. I let Frank out to look at him and it was hilarioius. He didn’t know what to make of this big, moving box with legs. I wish I had my camera in the car with me … it would have made for quite a shot! A jet black squirrel lives nearby, too.  I’ve tried taking a picture of him, but he’s just been too fast for me.  Funny, the only place I’ve ever seen one of them has been in the Colorado Rockies.  I didn’t know they lived oustide of that region of the country.

3. I am a creature of habit. To a great degree, I’m still “me”. I’m messy. I don’t do a very good job taking care of myself. I don’t like “chores” and put them off as much as I can. But as I said in an earlier post, this lifestyle has put me in a position where those things can’t build up and become so big as to add to my anxiety. You can only be so messy if you’re having to pick everything up and move every two weeks. I’m getting more sleep than I was. I’m back to fixing meals since arriving at Toledo Bend, if only because there’s no other options out in the boonies.  I’ve lost at least 35 pounds, possibly 40, since setting out on the road, so that’s a good thing.  At least the “mindless eating” habit has been addressed.

4. I’m able to handle my anxiety a bit more. The attacks still come, with horrible frequency. They’re mostly confined to night now, when I’m lying in the tent without the distractions of television and the internet. I’ve had to cut my internet usage quite a bit since leaving Georgia. Neither this site or the last one offers usable wi-fi so I had to up my data plan on Verizon to accommodate that. I have 6GB of data, but am jealous of how I spend it. I haven’t visited any of the gaming sites that used to occupy up to 4-6 hours of my day.  The good thing is that I don’t miss them.  Not a bit.

I’ve taken to the breathing exercises I used to do and they’ve helped to some degree with the attacks.  Larry’s had to put up with a few more evening phone calls, too. Frank, as usual, has been a Godsend. He is right there in my face when he senses that an attack is underway. I don’t know what it is that I give off, but whatever it is, he senses it. I wish that I could do a better job returning the favor to him during thunderstorms.

I have made an interesting observation though. When Frank’s having one of his “terror” attacks in a storm, there’s nothing I can do to help him. He refuses any comfort. He doesn’t like me holding him on my lap or petting him. All he wants to do is get in the furthest corner of the tent and lay there (as you can see in the photo a little further back in this post), with his heart and breathing going a mile a minute. The thundershirt and the valium only go so far.

That’s the way my attacks hit me, although I suppose they’re “inner” thunderstorms. And despite all the logic that man’s been blessed with, I’m not better than a “dumb animal” is when one of those attacks hit. Like Frank’s valium, the breathing exercises only help to a degree. I am completely consumed when I’m in the middle of an attack.

Frank helps me, by “being” there. That’s all he has to do. He doesn’t offer words (they don’t do much good anyhow). He’s just there until I calm down. I’ve taken to doing the same for him. The last couple of days, I’ve just laid down next to him in the middle of the thunderstorms and put my arm around him. I try to breathe slowly, hoping he picks up on the rhythm so it might help to slow him down.

frank after storm

Here’s Frank about 45 minutes after the first photo and after the storm’s ended. “Storm? What storm?”

One thing Frank does a LOT better than me. He recovers nicely. Once the storm’s been over for a few minutes, he stands up, goes over and takes a few swigs from his water dish and then heads either back to bed for a nap, or over to the door of the tent, wanting to go out. As if it never happened. I’d LOVE to be able to recover like that! Maybe as time goes on …

5. Southern summers are almost as unbearable as Nothern winters.  This has been a tough month.  I’ve had my fill of heat and humidity.  It’s almost got me to the point where I’m entirely re-thinking my plans for next year.  Not sure if Tennessee and Virginia are the best places to spend my time.  I may be completely disregarding the East Coast and heading west sooner than anticipated. Next summer may find me in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  I’ve never been there before … Frank will be fully recovered by then (again, knock on wood) and there’s some pretty good fishing up there.  In general though, the whole “climate change” thing has me a bit concerned.  I’m worried now about what it’s going to be like along the Texas Gulf Coast next March.  Am I going to be dodging major flooding like what Texas has had to endure over the last few months?  Granted, because of the domicile thing, I’m going to have to frequently return there.  I’m just wondering how that’s going to work out.

6. I’m still very political … but thank God I’m jealously guarding my 6GB of data. Given the uproar on my Facebook feed over the two most recent Supreme Court decisions, I might not have survived sitting alone in an apartment in Charleston. I’d have been in the midst of all the uproar over the ACA (aka “Obamacare”); arguing about how heterosexuals have done more damage to the “traditional family unit” than homosexuals ever could; and spewing my own venomous opinion on Scalia’s and Thomas’ suitability for the highest court of the land.  But I’m not.  I’ve been forced to let it all go.  Hopefully I get to the point where that continues even when I do have suitable wi-fi!  ;o)

7. Re-establishing my faith in mankind has gone easier than expected. An interesting thing happened this morning. I was up at one of the very few “service” facilities here at the camp. The closest one happens to be undergoing renovations, so there’s only one bathroom / shower … and they’ve decided to alternate times for men and women. Yeah, that works great, by the way – YOU try telling my digestive system, “Well, it’s women’s hour now, so you have to wait until 11 o’clock before you can use the toilet.”

As I’m trotting up, a fellow came out of the laundry room and I laughingly said, “PLEASE tell me it’s men’s hour!” He looked at his watch, then the sign, and laughed right back: “Alright! You’re safe! Let me get out of your way!”

After coming back out I saw him sitting in the laundry room with his wife and thanked him for the use of his watch. (As an aside, I need to find a farmer’s market and buy a couple of head of lettuce. I think I’ll just eat them whole – this lack of roughage in my diet has given me a newfound respect for natural childbirth!)

Don and I then struck up a conversation and when that’s happened before on this trip, the people I talk to immediately want to know all about what I’m doing. But this conversation was different in that for the first time it wasn’t all about me! When I told him that I was tent-camping, he showed me the tent in the back of his truck, mentioning that his daughter and son-in-law were joining them for the Fourth … and that they didn’t know they were going to be sleeping in a tent instead of his RV. We talked about “easy up” tents and how he and his wife started out tent camping before buying their RV. Throughout the conversation, we were able to “talk”. It wasn’t just an inquisition about my plans.  And that felt very good!

At one point, he finally asked, “So what made you decide to take this trip?” I can’t remember exactly what I said. In all honesty, I’m sort of ashamed … still … of the reasons why. But I know at the end, I said, “I guess it boils down to me just wanting to find a little peace.”

Don said, “Well, I don’t know if you’re a God-fearing man, but I’d like to say that there’s really only one way you’re going to find peace in this world.” I started to tear up. Had to hesitate for a minute. All I could say was, “Thank you. Yes, I know that. I guess this is what I have to do to get a little closer to Him.” He smiled and said, “Well, I will pray that you’re able to find the peace you’re looking for. Life is hell when you don’t have it.” (Tell me about it.)  But here was a guy who quietly offered a thought … in complete juxtaposition to the hateful rhetoric that has been spewing from various segments of my facebook feed.  Granted, we weren’t talking about any “hot” issues, but it was a very quiet, non-imposing and caring comment to make.

We talked a little about church and it turns out we’re both Catholic. He said, “There’s a prayer I don’t know if you’re familiar with – it’s called ‘The Prayer of Abandonment to God’s Providence’ …”

I was stunned. For about 5 years, I started every single day saying that prayer as part of my morning meditation, and told him that. Don suggested that maybe I could take that up again. Sounds like a good idea.

My Lord and my God; into your hands I abandon the past and the present and the future, what is small and what is great, what amounts to a little and what amounts to a lot, things temporal and things eternal. Amen..”


Posted by on July 2, 2015 in Musings


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6 responses to “The First 30 Days … What I’ve Learned

  1. jeanie maginness

    July 2, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    What a fun read ! Makes me smile 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ekurie

    July 3, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    Poor Frank! I will step up my prayers for him. The heat I think makes southern thunderstorms so intense. Those black squirrels are also in SC, the only place I ever saw any. Thanks too for the lovely prayer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ustabe

      July 3, 2015 at 3:32 pm

      I had no idea those squirrels were also in South Carolina as well, Ekurie. Like I said, I thought they were onlu found in the Rockies. Go figger. :o)

      Yes, I really like that prayer. I’ve found it’s much easier to say than it is to do, though. Hard to relinquish control … or rather the illusion of control. I’ve grown to feel that there really is very little control one actually has over their life. You can be cruising along and suddenly have the wind taken out of your sails. At least that’s the way it seems to have been in my life.


  3. Donna Edwards Suhl

    July 4, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    I believe this ongoing road trip is going to prove to be life changing for you, Jeff, in more ways than you could ever have anticipated. In the quiet and solitude of nature you will hear the voice of God, guiding and encouraging you to lean on Him, to give up all your worries to Him…so true, as much as we would like to think, we humans are NOT in control and when we have that epiphany moment and give it all up to the Lord is when true peace comes into our souls. I’m so very happy for you. xo donna

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Driftwood

    July 13, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    Your journey, even though I’m just stumbling upon these posts, is inspiring! And it never hurts to have a great beagle along for the ride! I think everyone is looking for some sort of peace, and I hope you can find more of it on your camping adventures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ustabe

      July 29, 2015 at 6:35 pm

      My apologies for not responding sooner. I’ve not been on the site for a while (as explained in the blog post I just added). I appreciate your kind words and look forward to exchanging comments with you on future posts.



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