Long distance van travel, camping, outdoors 24/7, unknowns, weather, and solitude are just not everyones cup of tea … although for me that cup of tea is usually around 10:30 each morning!
I’ve been in Illinois the last few days and asked myself, am I having fun? Despite the cold weather in Colorado and Nebraska, I had plenty of places to visit and birdwatch during the day with occasional sunshine. Time in Iowa, Illinois and Ohio is pushing me to my wits-end with damp, cold, gray weather! Worse yet, the rain! I don’t mind bundling up for a walk in cold or even windy weather, but rain …yes, I do mind! That calls for time to see a movie: I saw “Coda”. (It’s a good one to watch at your local theater or Apple TV.)
My battery for charging my electronic devices, Goal Zero Yeti 150, died. Sure I could plan library stops to charge all my electronic devices, or as I recently did … asked for a lunch booth near an electrical outlet. I have only been charging my phone in the van. All batteries are having a difficult time with the cold temperatures. Thankfully I am warm at night under my layers: flannel sheets, fleece and fiberfill blankets, sleeping bag and with thermal underwear, alpaca socks and hat on! (I know when backpacking I would have my fuel canister, clothing and whatever else under the covers with me, but I have not done that on this trip yet. I have to draw the line someplace to realize I am in a van and not a tent!)
In 2019, I bicycled through parts of Iowa, never spending much time by the Mississippi River so I purposely chose to visit this area on this trip. Since weather is not allowing me to bicycle ride, I drove south on the east side of the river, crossed it and then north on the west side. Loud Thunder Forest Preserve: birds smart enough to shelter somewhere out of my sight, except for 2 turkey vultures on a dead, roadside deer. Fairport State Recreation Area: I took time for my cup of tea, writing back to Goal Zero rep, increasing cell data on Ipad as I warm it on my chest (battery is struggling with the cold temperature), looking at upcoming days of cold weather and making alternative plans.
The good news is I am not tenting! The van does provide a certain amount of protection from the elements … the wind rocks me to sleep and I have no worries of rain drops leaking in. However, as I see people in heated RV’s, turning their TV on to watch whatever, I think to myself … hmmm … am I having fun? It takes a certain personality to handle unknowns such as weather. I do awake each morning under warm blankets in my van, wonder and observe, is it as cold outside as in the van? Is the sun shining? Is the wind blowing? Will my fuel canister light so I can make breakfast? Even as I look out the window I do not know every answer … and then I step out of the van … and immediately know what I will do for the day The best thing about the van is I carry everything with me so I can cook, relax, and travel anywhere to make a day work for me.
One thing I realized with the van is I only have to arrive at a campground when I am ready to sleep. Having dinner, preparing the bed area, finalizing my communications and planning for the next day can all be done anywhere. I discovered I was leaving the mat and step stool outside my van door at a campground when the weather had been nice in the morning, but on questionable weather days I take them with me … subconsciously thinking, I don’t need to return here if I do not want another night at this location; I will lose the cost of the campground that night, but I may have found something or weather better elsewhere! (Have never had to actually do that, but who knows, it may happen!)
The cost of everything has gone up. Let’s skip the gas price discussion for a moment. I discovered family restaurants at breakfast or lunch are the best deals. For maybe double the cost of a fast food joint, their prices are up too, local restaurants provide huge meals! A Reuben sandwich is my favorite and when I had fries, and cole slaw and soup, wow! Plus I received a discount because I paid cash.
Back to the gas prices. When my Mom asked if I noticed the price of gas, I told her if I thought about it I would not be visiting her. However, truth be told, I did think about it and am doing my own little experiment. I purchased a basic Costco membership to possibly save money on gas. First challenge: find the Costco gas station on my route, 2) guess which will be the fastest line at the pumps, and 3) compare the Costco price with local price to determine savings. So far I have saved money, especially if filling with an almost empty van tank. Unfortunately, not many Costco stations on the east coast, but I can continue to save money when I return home since a Costco is a few miles away.
I have not been motivated to take many photos. Plenty of birds have been observed but the rainy gray sky is not exciting me for any photography. This morning I saw great blue herons, Canada geese, a pied-billed grebe, robins, ducks, red-winged blackbirds and grackles … all noisy while I made breakfast. A northern cardinal flew by and I wondered if it was the same one I saw the previous night singing its heart out. My campsite is in-between 2 lakes so plenty of water birds to observe.
Another day I drove on the west side of the Mississippi River. There are parks and places to watch river action near the locks and dams. I will return to this area to bicycle ride when the weather is warmer. So many bicycle trails come through this area which was my reason for stopping here to cycle, but 45 degrees and windy weather is not my idea of a fun day.
Although not cycling did provide me time to locate help for my Goal Zero Yeti 150. Batteries Plus set me up with a new battery on the spot for about $20 more than if I had it shipped to some place on my trip. It’s true, you pay for convenience and now I do not have to make library stops to charge devices.
As I look out on the lake where I am camping, there will soon be white caps on the water. Fortunately this morning I did take time to birdwatch and photograph some of the birds. Here are photos from these past few days. The answer to my question at the start: I am having fun, but I’ll have more fun with friends, family and warmer weather!