Sunday, February 19, 2023

The Joy is in the Journey

My Best Half and I have had enough of winter, ice and cold. So we decided it is time to take a trip South for a bit to see the sun, go where it is warmer and maybe even feel the ocean or gulf breeze on our faces. And now to figure out the packing for us and two canines. And Also to figure out where to go.

This week we have been looking at extended weather forecasts for the Southern United States. Anywhere from Florida to Arizona. Anywhere where the temps may climb above 50 degrees and there is no snow or ice to slip and slide on. 

We have spent the past few weeks also debating taking the C.O.W. (Cabin On Wheels) or just taking the conversion van that has a bed in the back and some storage under the bed for cooking stuff and backpacks. Are we planning to go and park for a few weeks someplace warm…or are we going to travel cross country and see lots of stuff? That is what it boils down to for deciding. 

After a small discussion about how to travel, we decided the van alone would be fine for heading South. The C.O.W. for us is more of a place to stay and base camp up North. While it is a great little home away from home, it isn’t really needed as much for cross country travels like we do.It was great last year taking it to see some of the family in El Paso and staying for 3 weeks, but this trip we are planning a few days stay here and there. So the plan is to pack up Hannah Savanna ( the conversion van) and hit the road. We are still slightly up in the air, but it seems to be we are leaning to the South West .

So now to plan for packing for a road trip with just the van. A van that we will sleep in and cook out of at times when we are parked. A trip through the cold freezing weather on the way to warmth. And a trip with possible freezing temps on the flip side back. So packing for 2-3 climates is in order, I am thinking. That being said, the packing will need to be compact enough that we can stow everything away and still have room for 200 lbs worth of dogs who like to sprawl out everywhere. 

First thing needed before any packing will be to clean out the van. You see we had to have some part put in it last week and the whole engine cover was taken off to get at the fix. Which meant that the little table and storage area under the table had to be moved to the back of the van. And the nice runners and mats I had positioned to keep snow, salt and mud off the carpet up front also got flung to the back of the van. So before any packing, putting Hannah back together was the first order of business.

While there wasn’t much to clean and put back together, in the 10 degree weather it was to say the least…difficult. The plastic custom cut mats for the driver and passenger seats were just like they were left when they were flung backwards. They were frozen in unique and bizarre shapes. Not even close to how they should be placed around the front floor of the van. 

One of two things would need to happen…bring them all inside to thaw and rush back out to install them before they refroze, or just wrestle with them and get them sort of in place. Then blast the heater when we went to town for gas and press them in place. I chose the latter, only because the van was parked away from the house and I didn’t feel like making 3 trips back and forth to the house. Our driveway is glare ice and I was pretty much convinced I would wipe out on one of those 3 trips back and forth to the house. I don't have much faith in myself to stay in an upright position when walking this winter after 2 previous wipeouts.

So after what seemed like forever and freezing my bare hands trying to “shape” the mats, I finally got them smashed down enough that we could take it and go to the Kwik Trip. By the time we got there the mats were all pliable and put down in place. 

So here it is a few days later and I need to start seriously thinking about getting any of the things we will need for the camping part packed. For the most part I’m thinking of a cookstove and the camp cook kit and 2 mugs. Just enough to boil some water for coffee or tea and maybe heat a quick meal in a kettle. Otherwise most of the foods will be easy stuff I can store and open on the spot. And of course, there will be some eating out at local cafes and places. I always enjoy that part of vacation. Except once when we were in Louisiana and I ordered the Cajun platter.

We were at a local bar and grill in a tiny town way down in South Louisiana along the Gulf. I had always wanted to try local Cajun food and not just the box rice from the stores up here or a chain restaurant . 

When I got my meal, it looked incredible and smelled delicious. On the platter were 3 or 4 different seafood items and some hushpuppies and rice. I dove into the meal and within about 15 seconds, I truly thought my mouth was going to explode. Cajun food down South is nothing like what you would get in Minnesota where we don’t exactly spice our foods with heat. This food burned all the way down my throat and into my stomach, my eyes were tearing up, and I could barely speak. I washed it down with water, which is the wrong thing to do. I should have ordered milk. 

All the while that I was tasting each food item, praying the next wouldn’t be so spicy, my Best Half was thoroughly enjoying his non-Cajun meal watching the entertainment across from him where I was sitting and breathing fire from my mouth. I learned that night, I will never order Cajun food from a local place down South. 

But as usual I have digressed. Back to getting ready to head out on a vacation. I decided making a list before I start packing may be more beneficial being we are probably  traveling through 3 seasons. I will need to pack for temps 0 to 70. And we will mostly be camping in the van. 

I decided to work from the outside in, meaning a list of the stuff we will need for the van and sleeping in it down to the last list of packing our clothes for the change of temps as we drive down and then heading back into Winter. Last year coming back from El Paso we went from 65 above when we left Texas to -11 below when we got to Kansas. It was brutal. We had driven too late to find a place to stay so opted for a truck stop. And our gas furnace did not work. Needless to say, that was the morning we woke up to the 2 dogs burrowed under the sleeping bags with us. The keeping one paw on the ground rule when snuggling went out the minute the temperature went below zero. It definitely was a 2 dog night, they helped keep us warm that night. 

I have come to realize that half the fun and stress of taking a trip in the Winter here in Minnesota is more of an adventure than the actual trip sometimes. The prepping for all kinds of temperatures, and getting the vehicle ready is half the journey. The lists, the digging out stuff to take along “just in case” and the survival packing all play into the bigger picture of the trip. I remember the last lines of a poem I once read that said, “the joy is in the journey, not at the journey’s end”. I guess this holds true oftentimes in life as well as in packing for a Winter trip to who knows where. We may not know where we are going, but we’re making progress to get there. 

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