You Can’t Go Back

October 27, Willard, Utah

When riding down the road, Bill is most likely to point out a cool old car–he has a magical ability to name the model and year of any American car from the 50s or 60s after taking the briefest glance. I’m more likely to point out a hawk, or interestingly-formed tree. It’s safe to say we’re attracted to somewhat different things.

Leaving Woodstock in October instead of September meant giving up our planned visits to national parks along the way. We’d stayed in campgrounds across the country, usually within earshot of the Interstate. We’d spent one night in the parking lot of what claimed to be and may well have been the world’s largest truck stop. Bill loved it. I thought it was an interesting shopping experience that didn’t entirely make up for sleeping under bright lights, listening to semi trucks pull in and out, and walking inside at 4 am to use the restroom and being the only female in the place.

So I was delighted when, after we finally escaped Wyoming and crossed into Utah, Bill proposed spending the night at a state park. Willard Bay State Park, right by the water. It looked like it would be lovely in daylight, although we would arrive there in the dark. Bill called ahead and was told there would be someone there to check us in until 10 pm. It sounded great.

Except.We crossed magnificent, empty landscapes, stopped several times in what an old friend would have called “Butt-Fucking Egypt,” IOW, the middle of nowhere. Places where we drove for hours with no sight of anyone or anything except the occasional, isolated house. (How does anyone live here? I wondered.) We stopped in convenience stores that offered the only sign of commerce for hundreds of miles. We found our way to the town of Willard, Utah, but then we got lost. Our trusty Magellan (Ellen the Magellan) led us to the state park–eventually–but the park had a few entrances stretched over several miles and no indication as to which one led to the campground.

So we guessed. We picked an access road. It looked like it went near the water, though it was tough to see far in the dark. We followed increasingly rural roads through brush and bushes. Bill struggled to work our way around tight turns. We began debating whether we were going down a geographic rabbit hole but the debate was settled when the road Ellen sent us down proceeded through a small, square tunnel. Even if there was a campground on the other side (which seemed doubtful) there was no way the trailer, or even the van, would fit into that entrace. We had no choice but to turn around.

Except. Could we turn around? it was exceedingly unclear. This was a narrow dirt road and, especially now that we had the load levelers in place to reduce the trailer fishtailing on the Interstates, neither backing up nor making a tight turn was particularly possible. Bill is remarkably good at this stuff. I got out and did my best to help direct him. This took a very long time because I somehow always wound up on the side of the van where Bill was unable to see me in the correct side window and there was no way he could hear me over the engine.

It took about 45 minutes and we flattened a few bushes but we finally managed to face around and drive back up the road in the direction from which we’d come. We started seeing signs for the campground, drove up what seemed to be the right road, and had to do another lengthy turning-around maneuver in someone’s driveway. But then something miraculous happened: The campground was right in front of us.

Except. There was no one in the check-in building, nor anywhere in sight, even though it was not even 9 pm. Let’s drive in and see the campsites I suggested, so we did, although by now Bill was understandably gun shy about pulling into any space he might have to back out of. Plus, to spend the night, we would need a public bathroom. One thing we’d learned in our weeks of travel was that the bathroom facilities in both the trailer and the van weren’t quite ideal. In the interests of simplicity and not having to cope with the whole dumping-out thing (not that there’s anything wrong with that) we’d been staying in campgrounds and requesting spaces near the bathroom ever since Cleveland.

As we wove in and out among the camping spots, between trees and shrubs in quiet darkness I thought a night in the woods would be quite a lovely thing. “There’s a bathroom,” I announced, pointing. “Want me to go see if it’s unlocked?”

He did not. He did not see hookup stations or spaces he could easily “pull through” as the vernacular goes. Also, he was pissed off. At the camp and the attendant who was supposed to have been there, at the state park and its incompetent signage, and perhaps at the whole damned Bay. So we drove on out of the campground and retraced our route back into the city of Willard.

By this time most everything was closed, except for a Flying J convenience store/truck stop. In my view, Flying J is sort of a poor man’s Truck Stops of America, but in some of these Western states, that seems to be all there is. Anyhow, there between the forlorn-looking hot dogs and the hallway to the washing machines we learned that, yes, Flying J permitted RVs to spend the night in its parking lot. Also, there was a KOA somewhere a few miles away although whether we’d be able to find it and whether it would be open to receive us at this hour were unknowns.

What to do? Sleeping in a campground seemed more appealing than sleeping in a truck stop. On the other hand, we were both exhausted, and we were here. And I was fairly grumpy. So I said, “I don’t care.” In retrospect that was a mistake.

Bill chose what seemed like the darkest place in the parking lot, in the shadow of a yellow schoolbus that for some mysterious reason was also spending the night. Then we climbed into bed.

Sleeping in the van is usually quite comfortable. First of all, we have our very own queen-size memory foam/latex mattress that we got on deep discount but normally costs $3,000, as well as our cuddly cats. Also, the van has a fantastic heating system and although our mattress covered the heat vent, during his week alone in Cleveland, Bill serendipitously happened upon a fabricator at a McDonald’s who agreed to make a single small duct so that now the heat was piped from underneath our mattress and blasted into the van at large. Toasty. Cozy.

Except. For the heating system to function, the van needed to be plugged into an electrical source and of course the Flying J parking lot did not offer such a thing. I had come on the trip with a great fear of being cold at night, so I was super-prepared with a plush sleeping bag we’d picked up at our LL Bean escape and also a pair of flannel pajamas and a wool union suit. I even had little fur booties for my feet. So I snuggled down and was just fine, but I was the only one. Around three in the morning there was a general commotion because all three cats plus Bill were too cold to sleep. Miri had wandered toward the front of the van where Bill didn’t want her to go because of her occasional but distressing habit of peeing on things. Being sleepy and muddle-headed he had picked her up without thinking how he was handling her. Off balance, she had flailed and scratched him near the bridge of his nose. By the time I was jolted awake, everyone involved was deeply upset.

“You know better than to pick up a cat like that,” I told him. I didn’t bother to point out that trying to keep Miri from exploring the limited space she had in the van was a hopeless endeavor, not to mention that I’d been religiously spraying the place with anti-pee pheremone spray which seemed to be working. Instead, I did what I usually do when awakened in the middle of the night: I got up to go to the bathroom. In this instance that meant pulling on my boots, winter coat and hat, and hiking all the way across the parking lot while hoping no one would make too much of the fact that my pants were actually pajama bottoms.

“How’re you doing?” asked the clerk brightly as I entered the Flying J and made a bee line for the ladies room. Observing company policy, I’m sure, but at that moment it made me feel suicidal.

“This the last time we sleep at a truck stop,” Bill announced when I returned.

I don’t think there’s anything he could have said that would have pleased me more.

Image: Shaun Fisher via Creative Commons

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