After a two-week hiatus from my journey I return to continue on blissfully unaware of what is lurking ahead of me….
I had taken a two-week hiatus from my journey. Upon learning that my family was going to merge resources in order to fly me home for Christmas, I dropped the van at a storage unit in southernmost Oregon and began making my way to the Medford International Airport. I was appreciative to see friends and family as this past year on the road is the longest I have ever been away from any of them. However, being back home made me realize how much I need to be doing what I am doing out here on the road.
I land back in Oregon knowing I will miss the familiar loving faces but feeling rejuvenated and excited to be back in my element: in my trusty ol’ Westy on the long road south. I am heading to Rubbertramper Rendezvous in Quartzite, Arizona to gather with a tribe living life freely on the open road just as I am. After five or six hours of driving I am exhausted and find a nice little hideaway just off the road. I wake up at five a.m. to a light rain and decide I better get going as the ground was kind of soft to start with and I don’t want to risk getting stuck.
I crank the key. Nothing. ‘Am I out of fuel?’ It has been a while since I stopped. I get out and hitch my way to the nearest gas station. (My fuel gauge is broken, among other things.) A CalTrans worker who makes alpaca fur hats and scarves gives me a ride and shares encouraging words about continuing my journey no matter what comes my way. I get back and put the gas in the van and give it a go. Nothing.
I blame it on the fact that I have been having an electrical drainage and assume the battery is dead. I wander up and down the street looking for someone to ask for a jump, but this road is a ghost haven. I breakdown and call a tow company to come give me a very expensive jump start. Still nothing.
The tow truck driver offers to drive me to town and tells me not to worry, that he will help me figure this out. He takes me to a coffee shop where I learn about the beauty of this small town I have accidentally stranded myself in. Burney, California is a population 3,000 town in the foothills of Mount Lassen, Mt. Shasta, and Mt. Burney. The serene mountain ranges sits like a backdrop to the cozy one road community. This town is emanating vibes of comfort and hospitality. It is a town stuck in time in the most beautiful of ways.
The lady behind the counter introduces herself to me as Bonnie. She is an outgoing and sweet woman whose pure energy is almost contagious. She instantly opens up to me about her challenges in life and about the beauty in it all as well. Bon introduces me to every person that walks through the door and tells them my story. In the half hour I spend here I swear I meet the entire community of Burney, California and am instantly taken in as one of their own. In that short time at the Wholey Ground coffee shop (which is also the town church, community center, gym, and office space) I am given all the coffee, conversation, and compassion I could ever hope for. I am invited to stay in multiple people’s homes if things didn’t work out and one generous woman even left and came back with a breakfast sandwich for me!
The tow truck driver’s sons go back out to the van with me and try getting it started. When it is clear that it isn’t going to be such an easy fix they use their truck to pull Big Blu from the quickly forming mud pit she is parked in and out onto the road. Their father, John, tows me into town to his shop where he spends the rest of the day trying to diagnose the problem for me. He diagnoses it as a bad starter and takes care of all of the arrangements for me. I stay with his family that night who show me remarkable kindness and hospitality.
His wife and grandson, Regina and Brandon, made an apple cake and present it to me with a big teddy bear. Amid all the troubles I am having I can’t help but laugh and be filled with joy. While blowing out the candles the thought occurs to me that had I not become ‘stranded’ in this town, I would have spent my birthday alone driving down the highway. Instead, the throws of life (and the unreliable tendencies of a 37 year-old vehicle) have forced me right into the hands of the friendliest type of people. It occurs to me that ordinary people DREAM of experiencing these kinds of things in life- to travel to small towns that are out of their ordinary daily lives and to get to know the people who live there and the culture and customs of somewhere different than home. This realization continues to reoccur as I spend time with locals and see their favorite spots to escape into nature near town, learn about their past lives, and enter into their homes to take a glimpse at their private lives and what makes them who they are today. What most people consider a vacation, or an experience, is my version of a hardship. This privilege really shows me how much life has changed since I have made the decision to follow my own path, and write my own story.
Though it seems that even as the author of our own stories, we can’t always predict or control what is around the next corner. After going for breakfast in town with a kind local who I met at the coffee shop the day of my breakdown, I wander over to the mechanic shop to see how things are going. I am just in time as he has just finished up and is getting ready to fire her up. He cranks the key… and nothing happens. He cranks it again and she starts to purr like she’s ready to go… and then… nothing. ‘How could this be?’ He fiddles around in the engine a bit longer and then presents the news to me.
Continue reading: The Beginning of the End of an Era: Part 2