An Auspicious Beginning

I’m beginning the countdown to adventure. This Saturday, I will be leaving on a cross-country trip — camping, hiking, backpacking, and meeting online friends for the first time. So much excitement (and trepidation) ahead of me!

To give myself the best send-off, I will start my trip at the most felicitous place I know: the intersection of Happy Trails Highway and Tao Road. How can that not be an auspicious beginning?

Yep, there really is such an intersection, just a scant four miles from where I am staying. Since the street signs are barely visible in the photo, I have blown them up so you can see them a bit better.

Happy Trails Highway and Tao Road. Such a great place to begin a journey, a quest for life and joy.

Happy Trails Highway and Tao Road. Such a great place to begin a quest for life and joy!

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Countdown to Adventure

I will be leaving in exactly six days to make the journey I’ve talked about so often, and I have a confession to make. I’m . . . well, I’m not exactly afraid, but I am apprehensive. I have never done anything like what I am going to be undertaking. I only camped once as a child, and certainly never by myself. I have never driven cross-country by myself, and definitely not in an aged car, no matter how well restored. (And there is a matter of a mysterious leak onto my leg when it rains that no one can seem to find.) I’ve hiked by myself, but always with others or close to where I was staying. I’ve never slept under dark skies where the stars are so brilliant and numerous, you feel as if you are falling into the void. I’ve never backpacked and still don’t know if I can. And, I have never found joy in the discomforts of travel.

But, despite my trepidation, and maybe even because of it, I am starting to feel excited about my adventure. So many “never have”s to be done! So many wondrous sights to see. (I just corrected a typo. I wrote “many wondrous sites to see,” which makes me realize how important this trip is. Even with my data being severely limited, I still spend too much time online. Now it’s time to explore offline territory!)

I am as ready as I will ever be. Despite the age of my VW bug, it’s as reliable as possible, with a new engine and transmission, new paint, new brakes. (As a test, I took a couple of drives “down the hill,” over an often foggy pass to the more populous area of the county along a congested five-lane highway riddled with road construction detours and delays, and the bug sailed along as if that treacherous road were a lazy river.) I have a carload of equipment, some of which I hope never to have to use because those items fall under the category of “emergency.” I have clothes for both winter and summer, insulated sleeping pads and camping quilts rated for a much more frigid climate than any I plan to travel. (I sleep cold, or rather, I don’t sleep cold. If I’m cold, I shiver all night.) If I can’t get warm, I have a nalgene bottle to use as a hot water bottle and hand warmers to tuck around my long-underwear-insulated body. I have at least a week’s worth of food. (Which reminds, me, I need to get several more days worth of water.) I have hiking poles and even a bear canister to protect my food if I spend the night away from my car in bear country. I have lanterns — solar lanterns and small battery-powered lanterns as well as a head lamp. I have word puzzles and pencils, paper and a printout of my WIP. I have maps and guidebooks, a binder full of notes, a head full of research. And I have a solar charger and an external battery for my phone, so as long as I have any sort of signal, I will be prepared.

Yep. Prepared. For anything. At least, I think I am. And if not, well, I’ll figure it out. (It’s hard to prepare for something if you don’t know exactly what that something is.)

Some people have found my preparations amusing, and I suppose it’s possible I’ve gone overboard, but this is not supposed to be a death march. It’s a journey into life, a quest to find joy in the rubble of my sorrow. And being prepared, even overly prepared, leaves me free to experience whatever comes without the trepidation I currently feel.

Note: I will be heading east across Interstate 10. If it’s warm enough on the return trip several weeks from now, I will be traveling on a more northernly route. If you want to meet for lunch or something, let me know, and I’ll put you on my list. (If you’ve previously expressed an interest, you’re already on my list!)

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Making Do in a Throw-Away World

In three days, my car will be 44 years old. It has never had another owner. I have never had another car. Despite people telling me I need to get rid of such an unsafe vehicle and upgrade to a modern car with all sorts of safety features unheard of four decades ago, my VW bug still runs. And with its new engine, it should keep going another 100,000 miles or so. Someday, I am sure, I will have to get a new car, but meantime, the two of us keep chugging along, unsafe or not.

And I never upgraded to DVD or Blue Ray or any of the other modern movie machines. I still have my 20-year-old VCR. Still have a collection of VHS movies I inherited from my deceased life mate/soul deskmate. I see no reason to upgrade because the stories are still the same no matter what machinery is used. Besides, watching those tapes — the tapes we watched together — makes the experience special in a personal way. If ever the tapes are destroyed (and since they are stored in a non-controlled environment, it’s entirely possible), I will get rid of my VCR but will not upgrade to a DVD. (Though come to think of it, I do have DVD player I have never used — it belonged to my parents. But it is packed away, as is my 20-year-old television.)

So, it should come as no surprise if I tell you I have an aged computer, though the idea of an eight-and-a-half-year-old machine being obsolete boggles my mind. The PC is still shiny new. Still works as fast as it ever did. Still does what I ask of it. Still gives me great pleasure just to contemplate its arrival in my life. (It was a gift, unbelievable and unbelievably awesome.)

But now its very life is threatened.

I must be one of the very few who like Vista, the operating system that was new when I got the machine. I loved the ease of operation, the graphics, the feeling of power beneath the hood. (Most of that power lies dormant. It was supposed to be able to tie all sorts of media together, and I only used it as a word and photo processer, a means of browsing the internet, and a portal to my blog.) Microsoft will only support Vista until April of 2017, and already the ramifications of that non-support are showing. Internet Explorer can no longer be updated. The most recent manifestation I have available is IE9, and WordPress as well as a few other treasured sites no longer work with IE9. Most recently, Google has announced that as of April 2016, Chrome will no longer support Vista, which means that Vista machines using Chrome will be exceedingly vulnerable. I can still use Firefox (though I never did see the greatness that others do), but then . . . ?

I suppose then I’ll have to get a new machine, though I really don’t want to. By next year, Windows 10 will itself be aging, so I won’t have the full lifespan of the system. And if by chance Windows 11 is available, well . . . I don’t look forward to using an untried system. Mostly, though, I don’t like being penalized for taking care of my machine. Don’t like that it has arbitrarily become obsolete.

And especially I don’t like feeling that my most cherished values — conserve, use up, make do, leave a light footprint upon the earth — are also obsolete.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Packing

After I told a friend I was going to be leaving at the end of next week for a cross-country trip, she asked, “Are you packing?”

“Mostly finished,” I said. “Just have to pack the car.”

Another friend laughed. “She didn’t mean that kind of packing.”

A moment of confusion, then the light dawned. “No,” I said. “No gun.”

The second friend said to the first, “She doesn’t believe in guns.”

Rifle TargetThe truth is, I have no objection to guns or any weapon. I certainly don’t believe in gun regulation — there is too much government interference in our lives now. As for me, personally, I realize we have a right, perhaps even an obligation to protect ourselves from harm, but I don’t want to own a gun. (Though I did enjoy my experiences at a local gun range, shooting a variety of firearms. Was actually pretty good at it, too, for a beginner.)

Any weapon you have can potentially be used against you. Even worse, you carry a weapon and are so aware of carrying it, that it changes things, maybe even attracts unwanted energies; you don’t carry it at all, so it does you no good; or you become so used to carrying it that you no longer remember you have it, which brings about a dangerous situation as you fumble for your gun or knife or pepper spray. (Well, maybe you are different, but that’s how I am. I did think about getting pepper spray or hornet spray, but unless you know how the wind is blowing, in the confusion of a confrontation, you stand a good chance of having the stuff blown back into your own eyes.)

Even if I were able to do everything right and were able to protect myself with a gun, I doubt I’d shoot it. I do not want that sort of karma, even if it’s justified. Besides, knowing me, there’d I’d be, holding my puny gun on the villain, and wondering if it were cosmically correct. What gives my life more importance than his/hers? Is this really how I want to live my life? Is this how I want to die? And while my mind is going round and round and round, the villain would do whatever it is that villains do. And so that expensive bit of weaponry would be worth no more than a cap gun.

Still, I am going to be packing — packing a smile. A recent fortune cookie told me, “Your winsome smile will be your sure protection.”

And if my smile isn’t enough, well, I am taking a pen, and a pen is mightier than the sword.

So, see? I got it covered!

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

I Need a Vacation From Civilization!

I miss small stores. Miss the individual touch, the smiles, the thank you’s. I realize in many cases these courtesies were coerced, a condition of employment, but still, there was a feeling of one’s patronage being appreciated.

Now, at best, the clerks seem to think we need to thank them for deigning to wait on us. At worst, we are left to wander vast aisles unassisted, with only vague hopes of finding what we need.

I had many errands to run today, and for some reason, each turned out to be a nightmare in its own way. I went to a gas station and pumped my gas, but the pump didn’t turn off when the tank was full. Gas gushed all over my car, puddled on the concrete, dripped on my shoes. They blamed me, of course, saying I wasn’t holding the nozzle tightly enough against the car. They said there couldn’t be anything wrong the pump, that it had been fixed, and the technician had just left. Hmm. A coincidence? I think not. They didn’t want to refund the money for the spilled gas, wouldn’t do anything to compensate for the mess. I cleaned up my car as best as I could, and went to the “hardware” store.

Onsecretce upon a time, hardware stores were small operations, selling nails and screws by the piece, run by folk who knew every single item in the store, where to find it, and how to use it. Hardware stores now are gargantuan, with nary a single nail in sight. (Packages of nails, of course, but not bins full of unwrapped items.) Not that I needed nails, just using it as an example. What I needed was a bit of weather stripping for the hood of my car. Every person I asked sent me to a different aisle. One woman finally said I needed aisle number 7, and that she’d send someone to help me. No one came, and of course, there was no weatherstripping anywhere on those shelves. I looked down the next aisle, and when I still couldn’t find the product and couldn’t find anyone else to ask, I stood at the front of the store and all but shouted, “Can someone please help me?”

A woman hurried over to me, shushed me, and said she’d be right with me. I said, “Where can I find weatherstripping?”

“Aisle nine,” she said, and turned away.

“No,” I said. “I have been sent to aisle seven, eight, six, four. I need someone to help me.”

“When I get a chance, I’ll meet you there.”

I finally found what I needed, and eventually she did show up. She told me her name and said if I ever came back for anything, to ask for her. She’d be my personal shopper because, as she said, “We can’t have customers making scenes.” What scene? Asking for help is making a scene?

She also said that before I applied the weather stripping, I’d need to clean the area with rubbing alcohol. She said they didn’t sell rubbing alcohol, so I’d have to go to a drugstore.

After I rung up my own purchase (couldn’t bear dealing with another clerk), I went to a “drugstore.” The drugstores of my youth were completely different from drugstores today. Most were small, individually run stores, with . . . well, whatever. Doesn’t matter. Like hardware stores, most drugstores today are corporate megamonsters, with few sales personnel in sight. I finally had to go to the pharmacy to ask where I could find rubbing alcohol. I went where directed, but all I could find was isopropyl alcohol. Back I went to the pharmacy. “Is isopropyl alcohol the same as rubbing alcohol?” I asked.

“They work the same,” the heavily accented pharmacist said.

“But are they the same thing?” I asked.

“They both disinfect,” he said.

“I don’t want it for a disinfectant,” I explained rather testily. “I just need to know if isopropyl alcohol is the same thing as rubbing alcohol.”

A woman behind the pharmacist counter gave me a dirty look and said, “He already answered you.”

Um. No. He hadn’t. By then I was frustrated beyond belief, so I turned away and did what I should have done in the first place, checked the internet.

Oh, my.

It’s definitely time for me to take a vacation from civilization.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Around and Around I Go

My New Year’s resolution to write more seems to have sputtered out before I ever got a chance to make good, but the year is still new. I have more than eleven months to find a way back to writing more. Contrary to popular belief, New Year’s resolutions are for the entire year, so if you think you’ve already broken your resolutions, think again. Try again. That’s what I’m going to do.

Ferris WheelStill, it’s hard to write if I have nothing to say. About the only things going on in my head are plans for my journey across country, and sometimes I’m embarrassed to continue writing about those plans and preparations. I’ve been talking about some kind of epic journey for years, though the scope of the journey has changed. At the beginning, it was about going to bookstores across the country to promote my books, and to that end, I bought all sorts of authorish clothes. Flowing tops. Colorful scarves. Dramatic hats. When that fizzled (I wrote to all the independent bookstores in the country and received not a single response) I got the idea of an epic walk, such as the California Coast Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, or maybe even a walk across the country. When I discovered the impracticalities of such an epic hike (impractical for me, that is, since I can’t carry a heavy pack), I decided upon a cross-country trip, camping and hiking as I go — a sampler of possibilities.

I now have more gear than might be practical, but I need to be prepared for many eventualities. This is supposed to be a fun trip, not a death-defying adventure. Though, to hear people’s warnings, any trip a woman takes by herself defies death. I have heard so many warnings that I no longer listen. If I heeded any of them, I’d never set out. And that would be a sort of death in itself. It would be bad enough to give in to my own fears, but truly stultifying to give in to other people’s fears.

And I have plenty fears of my own. Well, not fears. More like trepidation. Worry. Can I really do this? Take off with no firm plans? Camp out despite dire predictions for unprecedented storms? Go hiking with no support system? Deal with all sorts of physical discomfort? Live with unfamiliarity for weeks on end? Stay with people I only know online?

I tell myself I’ll be fine once I’m on the road and have set up my first campsite. I know challenges and great wonders are in store for me if I have but the courage to go. (And then, of course, I’ll be fulfilling my resolution to write more, because I’ll have things to write about!)

I still have to have one more thing to do with my car (the new engine needs to be checked and the valves readjusted), and I’ve paid rent until February fifth, but then . . . do I stay longer, or do I go? I don’t particularly want to spend another month here in this doghouse (the people who own the house where I am currently staying have seven dogs, one of whom hates me and has tried to attack me), but then I worry I will be leaving too soon and will heading into winter storms. (Of course, if I wait too long, I’ll be heading into summer storms and have to deal with heat besides.)

Around and around I go. Aren’t you glad I haven’t been writing more?

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Dreaming of a White…Tiger

My untethered life is getting weirder by the day. I thought the last place I stayed was strange, with an incipient serial killer as a roommate, an old folks gated ghetto for a neighborhood, and a Gestapo-like management company that kept track of who was doing what.

I’m being dramatic. It wasn’t that bad. The roommate was just a . . . well, I don’t know what he was, but I don’t think he had killer instincts. Too lazy. And I seem to be the only one who found the neighborhood depressing. (People tell me that I should be careful what I say since I too am old, but I want more for myself than a life full of road bumps, cinder block barriers, and people who have nothing better to do than mind other people’s business.)

tigerI did learn something, though. I am a nester. It didn’t take me long — a day or two of housecleaning and moving things around to make room for me — until I felt at home. (Because, wherever I am, there I am.) Though I have to admit that when I was evicted by the management company and told I had a week to get out, I couldn’t stop smiling. It felt good to be untethered, unnested and stagnation free.

I don’t suppose it will take long before I am used to this new place, but the trouble is the dogs. Well, one of them. One likes me, one wants nothing to do with me, two can take me or leave me, two live in the garage, and one aggressively hates me. Which means either he or I is always segregated behind closed doors. And dare I admit an embarrassing truth? I fell out of the very high, very narrow bed. That sure woke me up in a hurry! Interesting times.

If I can come to an accommodation with the place, I might stay until March. If it continues being uncomfortable, I will leave for my trip at the beginning of February. The later I leave, the better the chances of taking a more northernly route back and might even allow me to bypass some storms. The earlier I leave means the earlier I get to begin my adventure. Either way, I’m ready. Or mostly ready. It turns out I have two carloads of stuff — car camping and backpacking equipment takes up a lot of space in my tiny car. And then there is the stuff for a more civilized life, the original trip I’d planned years ago. Nicer clothes. Computer. My books to sell. Hats for fun and class. So now I have to cut back to a more reasonable level, though it will still seem like a surfeit of stuff.

People keep telling me they admire my courage and my sense of adventure, but the truth is, I am all talk. I still haven’t taken a single step or driven a single mile on this epic adventure. Perhaps I will earn admiration. Maybe I will always be talk. It’s possible that I will get in the car, drive to the other end of the country in a few days and don’t stop to see a darn thing. (That’s how I usually travel.)

But in this case, the destination isn’t the goal. The trip is the goal.

And I am slowly becoming the person who can make such a journey.

Last night I dreamt of a white tiger. (And lots of dogs.) Apparently, a white tiger is an auspicious sign, and means the dreamer has a powerful patron, a friend that always supports her, and also that she has dealt with all her inner doubts and come to a decision.

The tiger didn’t tell me what I decided (the dream ended when I fell out of the damn bed), but since I was walking (the dogs were following along but the white tiger twice passed me going in the opposite direction) I presume the trip is on.

I’m hoping I have the courage everyone seems to think I have.

I certainly have the gear.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Living an Inconvenient Life

I asked a friend why she hated camping, wondering if there was something in the equation I am missing. She said it wasn’t just having to deal with the weather and the bugs, though she didn’t like them at all. It was more the inconvenience of the experience. Nothing was . . . well, nothing was convenient.

cleanWe live in a society of convenience. Most of us live in solid structures, with roofs and walls that keep out the weather. We can adjust the inside temperature, our personal “weather,” however we wish, no matter what is going on outside our walls. Body wastes are quickly dealt with by the push of a button, so we never have to consider how our bodies work — the in and out of the various substances we call “food.” We neither toil nor spin (most of today’s “work” is far from backbreaking, taking place in front of various machines that remove one sort of toiling out of the equation, and add in another sort of toil — toil by tedium).

We don’t even have to entertain ourselves — there are televisions and computers, movies and shows, books, music. All available to us at the touch of a button without having to crack a single drop of mental sweat.

I am certainly not adverse to convenience. I have lived a life that while not exactly luxurious, has certainly been one of comfort. Not financial comfort because I’ve never had much, but physical comfort. Warm beds, even when they were simply mattresses on the floor. Piles of comforters to snuggle under. Stacks of books ready for perusal. Good food made from scratch.

And yet . . .

There is more to life than comfort and convenience. Or at least, that’s what I surmise. I am still in the zone of comfort, though I am preparing to step out into the raw world to see what it has to offer. Maybe nothing. Maybe I will hate the inconvenience of it all, the struggle to stay warm without electricity or heat, the attempt at living a more wild life. But the truth is, I love the idea of it, and I especially love the preparation and how it makes me look at everything from a different angle.

When preparing for an extended road/camping/hiking/backpacking trip, you have to look beyond the daily conveniences and find other ways of doing simple things. Some people take to RVing, but that is not for me. RVing seems like more of the same — convenience and comfort, though in a mobile setting. I’m more interested in the basics. What I need for survival. What comfort I can’t do without. What is important, and more importantly, what can be left by the wayside. (Figuratively speaking, of course. In a “leave no trace” philosophy, one leaves nothing by the wayside.)

It seems silly to have amassed a carload of gear in what is supposed to be a trip into simplicity, but there are vast numbers of goods to make things even simpler. Tents. Sleeping bags, pads, and quilts. Ready made food. Tiny but functional stoves. Emergency equipment and rations. Although I have a vision of myself as another Peace Pilgrim, setting out with nothing but a comb, toothbrush, map, and pen, I am smart enough to know that I don’t have the faith such a venture demands.

Someday, perhaps.

At the moment, doing a more traditional trip is still plenty wild for me, especially considering my lack of experience. I do know how to use most of the gear I have, though. I know how to walk. Know how to be by myself.

Oddly, the thing that worries me the most about living an inconvenient life is what to do with all the time freed up by the simplicity of it all. I don’t intend to drive more than a couple of hours a day. Can’t sleep more than eight hours. Am unable to walk more than three or four hours. (Even less if I am carrying extra water and a few items in case of emergency.) Assuming the inconvenience of setting up a home every day takes up another hour or even two, there is a whole lot of time leftover. A minimum of eight hours.

What does one do with such a surfeit of time? No movies, no books, no music to fill it. No dance classes. No housework (not that I do much of it now). No errands. I will have pencil and paper, of course, but still, there will be one heck of a lot of time for . . . I don’t know what.

I guess I’ll find out.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Whatever Comes My Way

I spent the morning buying food for a cross-country camping/hiking/backpacking road trip — dried fruit, nuts, protein bars, foil-packed tuna, even a few freeze-dried meals from the sporting goods store. When I got back to the house where I am staying (for the next two months, or so I thought), the manager of this manufactured-home park accosted me in her silly plastic-wrapped golf cart and told me I was here illegally and that I had a week to clear out.

“Illegal” seems a bit harsh since I am here by the owner’s permission. Apparently, however, my being here breaks some sort of park rule saying that non-owners can only live here if the owner is in residence. What it comes down to is that, illegal or not, I have to leave in a week.

old manThe people I’m renting from have a small room in another house they will let me move into for a couple of weeks. It’s in a home for old people who need care and I won’t have my own bathroom, so it’s not an ideal situation by any means. It might not be particularly admirable of me, but I cannot handle being around the sick, old, and dying. I’ve had too many years of that, and now I need to feel alive while I still have a bit of youth left in me. (Well, I suppose it’s more accurate to say while I still have a bit of middle age left in me. People keep reminding me that I am no longer young.) People also tell me I am too sensitive, and that is true. I feel for those folks, which makes it all the harder, but they are not me, and I am the one I have to be.

So, unless something else happens to either delay or jumpstart my trip, I will be heading out in about three weeks. I am mostly ready. I still have a few bits of gear to get, such as a polyester hiking shirt. I only have cotton shirts, and apparently, one should wear polyester when one is backpacking because cotton loses its ability to insulate when it gets wet. To me, the solution is not to get wet, but I am trying to pay attention to wiser and more experienced folk. I also need some sort of hanging food sack, but again, I only need that if I am around various wild animals, insects, and rodents. And of course, there are none of those critters out in the wilds, are there?

I’m being facetious, of course. I know I need some sort of food protection if I am camping away from the car. (If the food is in the car, in an odor-proof bag, there shouldn’t be a problem.) I’m just not yet sure what sort of protection to get. A bear canister is overkill for most of where I will be.

People seem to be worried about my taking off in the winter (others are worried about my taking off by myself during any season) but it’s time for me to be adventurous. To see what’s out there in the big wild world. I do heed their worries, though I don’t have many of my own. If the weather is truly atrocious in three weeks, I might talk the woman into letting me stay a couple of more days, or I might get a motel somewhere along the road.

Or . . . whatever comes my way.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Preparing for Survival

I don’t really have anything to say. No insights to impart. No strong emotions to evaluate. No real progress in becoming . . . whatever it is I am supposed to become. I’m becoming older, of course, but since I’m not particularly becoming wiser, I’m not sure that becoming older is any sort of becoming at all.

And yet, I’m still trying. Still surviving. So that’s something.

roadSo far I’m sort of sticking to my sort of New Year’s resolutions. (“Sort of New Year’s resolutions” because the resolutions came first. The New Year was more happenstance than a cause of the resolutions.) To that end, I haven’t been eating sugar and I’m staying away from wheat. Both great successes! I am back to eating a large bowl of raw vegetables with a sprinkling of lettuce almost every day, so that’s good. Rain has kept me from walking much. And lack of something to say (or perhaps simply laziness) has kept me from writing. But mostly, I’m doing good.

I am still preparing for that mythical cross-country road/camping/hiking trip I’ve been planning for so many months. (Mythical because despite all my planning, I continue to be tethered in one place.) Since I’ve already taken care of most of the big items such as tent and sleep system, I’m concentrating more on emergency gear. I do not intend to be one of those people who get written up in Reader’s Digest, having cut off an arm to free myself from a rockslide, or gotten lost during a simple day hike and causing millions of dollars in search and rescue efforts.

To be honest, I think basic survival instincts are more important than emergency supplies. For example, from my wandering in the desert, I’ve learned that if I step off a trail to answer nature’s call, I need to mark the direction I came from. If I will eventually need to backtrack, I mark any fork in the road so I don’t have to guess which way to go. I use trekking poles to help with balance in treacherous areas, and I try to make sure my footing is solid before I move up or downhill. But just in case such basics aren’t enough, I’ve bought a loud survival whistle that includes a compass and a mirror for signaling. I got a Gerber Dime Tool and fifty feet of military grade paracord. Admittedly, I have no idea what to do with the cord since it’s not appropriate for climbing back up if I fall off a cliff (unless perhaps I double up the cord), but paracord must be important because it’s on every hiking gear list I’ve ever read. Add to these few items some waterproof matches (though I would be hesitant to start a fire; I can just see neophyte me accidentally burning down a forest), an emergency blanket, and an emergency medical kit, and I’m as prepared for an emergency as I will ever be. (I will have water and food, of course, and probably even a camping quilt for even the shortest wilderness hike.)

(I’m only a neophyte when it comes to emergencies. I’ve hiked hundreds of miles in various wilderness areas by myself though admittedly, some of the wilderness areas were pretty tame with only an occasional Mojave green rattler or a few coyotes to get the adrenaline going).

We’ve had a couple of days of a very cold deluge, which makes me wonder how I will deal with rain during my travels, but that’s what motels are for. (Supposedly the tents I got come with adequate rainflies, though why a rain cover for a tent is called a fly I don’t know. Perhaps because if you don’t stake it down properly it flies away.)

I have used up my daily quota of parentheses, so I’ll leave you with a quote I recently saw that I’m trying to take to heart, though it goes against my very nature: If you don’t understand, let it go. All part of my survival.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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