Driving out of the Keys, I felt as always a mixture of excitement at the prospects for the immediate future and a slight sense of missing out on those parts of keys living that cannot be reproduced elsewhere. I left work at two in the afternoon and got home with those last few pre-departure details to organize, remembering to unhook the van from the household current I managed to electrocute myself as I forgot the inverter onboard sends electricity both ways. My right forefinger and my tongue tingled for a few minutes as I hopped around waiting for a heart attack to fell me and end my pointless existence, yet as I looked at a colorful world through tears of painI wondered if perhaps I had enhanced my natural senses rather like the delicious Dilaudid of happy memory but everything went back to normal, especially as my wife never heard my yelp of pain when I grasped the still live outlet in my right hand. What a dumbass, I thought to myself as I coiled the now lifeless cord, thinking how little trouble I had ever had with my shore power cords on boats. Van life requires its own set of skills and we are on a rapidly arcing learning curve.
The plan was to drive as far as possible Tuesday night to make for a short easy drive on Friday to my sister-in-law's place near Asheville in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Normally it's a 16 hour drive from Cudjoe Key but the van stays closer to sixty than 75 mph so Google distances take longer than I expected. My first van life lesson. It was a Good plan suffering from Poor execution as it turned out. Rusty has yet to get used to the van which makes weird noises as we run over bumps and the engine roars unexpectedly giving our nervous dog no peace which is unusual for Rusty who lies like a dead dog on the back seat of the Ford Fusion. He likes time to get used to things so time is what we will give him, especially as we ourselves need time to get used to this new way of traveling. In the era of coronavirus our roadside activities are curtailed anyway and we on this trip we shall rely more on ourselves than outside entertainment and I know we will miss it. Snacks from the fridge are much healthier but much less eye popping than some fo the objets on sale in southern convenience stores. Pickled pigs trotters have been on my list of things to try when I am too drunk to notice what I am eating. Not on this trip will my curiosity be satisfied.
Mask wearing seems spotty judging by what we have seen at gas stations and rest stops, and avoiding non mask wearers is exhausting and frustrating. That the debate about the value of masks grinds on gives me little long term hope for humanity. as it seems a small enough burden. I have to say that the simple of act of driving makes the world feel normal. Sitting high up in my Promaster van the world outside looks as it always has done, no change, no pandemic out there on I-95. It is oddly reassuring to be taking a road trip.
I drove until one in the morning, remembering similar journeys by car and of course by motorcycle, and here I was now with my family asleep in the back, a BBC radio drama on the Bluetooth connection and the cabin temperature perfectly regulated against the outside heat and humidity of a Florida summer night. We arrived at the rest area where I took a wide open spot in a parking lot constrained by construction where all types of vehicles were mixed in together. No one was wearing face coverings at the toilet facility where we scuttled in and out like masked bandits. We try to use our portapotti for needs of last resort, like a two in the morning call of nature. Mostly its nice to know its there for emergencies. Very civilized travel.
When we were out sailing my wife and I liked to anchor where we thought we could get away with it, frequently trying to ignore the guidebook's recommendations which were always specifically marked on the sketch charts with a little ink drawn anchor. We noticed how sailors on the Mexican Riviera liked to park their boats right dead on Charlie's recommended spot. Our choice of anchorage in the van became a Charlie's preferred anchorage by morning as we clearly had the best spot in the rest area, hemmed in by a whole bunch of late arrivals. Gannet 2 proved herself once again by blocking all outside noise including the rattling generator of the 18 wheeler that slid in next door about 2 in the morning. I think they packed Gannet 2 with serious insulation when they built our conversion.
Rusty and I were out walking the vast expansive rest area when Layne sent me a text saying she needed help. I hurried Rusty back and found her standing to attention with her slide out pantry pushing her hard in the back. The shelf on which the slide out pantry is built had come adrift making it impossible to close. We held it half closed with a bungee after we emptied the shelves which was when I noticed something. Custom Coach Creations was 44 minutes away according to Google and as I drive The Golden Van rather more slowly than average I told them we'd be there in about an hour. One missed turn later we showed up and Dave the magic carpenter set to work and fixed the whole thing. Done under warranty in 15 minutes. Back on the road we passed our rest area four hours after our intended departure but who cares, all was well I with the world and my sister-in-law had Indian Igli ready for dinner whenever we arrived. Igli is a rice dumpling with curried vegetables on top and it was excellent even if we got there at eleven o'clock that night....Long driving days in defiance of my plan to smell the roses and take it easy on this pandemic vacation.
Rusty made his own statement by stealing Layne's breakfast wrap when she put it down to do something, the first time he has done that perhaps because he was hungry, unlikely, or making a statement about van life, I don't know. While she set to and found more prosciutto and cheese and a tortilla in the fridge I took Rusty for a walk. Once again the little tyke refuses to be taken for granted. There was no point in yelling at him.
Upon hearing about our retirement van a friend of ours in St Petersburg decided to get one built for him, triggering a latent impulse he had been nurturing for a while. Dale got the last Promaster van Custom Coach can sell for this model year. Amazon is delivering in its own vehicles and has bought the entire national stock of Promasters, Ford Transits and diesel Sprinter vans this model year. I feel lucky we got to order ours with our optional color last year and get it done before the virus and Amazon make things so difficult for everyone else.
Rusty meanwhile tucked himself up under a van awaiting conversion and like the good stray he used to be, stayed out of trouble. Even when I called him to come out and get with the program he sat tight wagging his tail slowly and wondering why he had to move. He only came, and reluctantly when we started to back up towards him. He rides mostly sitting under my wife's legs, popping up when we change course or hit a bump and he looks out of the passenger window over her knee with profound interest. I hope he settles down but my idea of him laying in bed looking out the back windows which are at eye level has only been realized when one of us lays there with him.
Layne took the wheel outside Jacksonville and drove through Georgia while I slept the sleep of the just with Rusty curled up next to me. I hope he learned from my sterling example that van noises are no bar to sleeping soundly. The nap set me up to keep on driving though South Carolina into the mountains as dusk, that lovely long drawn out northern dusk settled over the Appalachian mountains.
The winding mountain road to Celo community on State Highway 80 from Burnsville was wreathed in wisps of fog giving incoming headlamps a Transylvanian twist as they approached dipping and weaving on the impossible winding ribbon of asphalt. In the best of cars, or on the nicest of motorcycles the speed limits in the mountains of North Carolina are a nonsense in my opinion, designed to make visitors from Florida feel small. I ask you: 55 miles per hour? Here??? I muttered to myself as I set. to dodging wet patches and fog patches and weedy patches as the locals smoked by in a blur of speed. I pulled over when I could but in the foggy dark it was impossible to tell which opening in the side of the highway was a driveway and which opening was a plunging crevase of doom.
Finally we arrived in the self built Hansel and Gretel cottage Bob and Geeta have lived in for half a century in Cell community and with a struggle, after riding the wild gravel approach road through the rhododendrons I parked more or less flat and turned off the engine. Rusty leapt out and settled next to the van, front paws crossed watching the world go by while listening to the night sounds. He ignored us, socially distanced around an outside table eating Indian food and drinking beer and bourbon and talking nineteen to the dozen until sleep overcame us and we filed out to the van while the civilized people retreated inside the house. Silence descended except for the sound of dog and woman snoring and me typing.