My first two weeks van-tramping with Pippa in Chance the Camper have overflowed with learning.
First of all, I’m exactly the same person I am at home. Exactly the same, only less frequently groomed. I’m not sure who I expected to find out here but I do know that I was not transformed into a 22 year old bohemian beauty with perfectly elegant feet and sun-kissed tresses and I’m quite sure no amount of patchouli is going to fool anyone. I’ve stopped trying to put my feet into my “out-the-back-hatch” pictures for Instagram. A hobbit’s foot is a hobbit’s foot no matter what filter you use.
I get up early; I go to bed early. Just like at home. I take all day to drink a cup of coffee, which I warm up at least three times. I still talk to myself, and my laundry (my grandmother talked to HER laundry – we like to say in our family that it is HEREDITARY and completely normal) I put things in order, frequently. Sometimes I cry when I mean to laugh, and laugh when I mean to cry. I feel compelled to understand the recycling guidelines in each community I pass through. I wave at people walking down rural roads and I still like to know, generally, who my neighbours in the next campsite are.
Aside from the shocking realization that I appear to have brought myself on this adventure, there has been some practical lessons learned. Never drive away from a campsite without doing a complete walk-around of the van first. I won’t dwell on the calamitous, but neglecting to do so may result in uprooted trees or flat solar panels. Tarps, interestingly, have no natural stretch to them. Damp shoes, once run over, require a full day to expand into their previous shape.
Canadian Campgrounds are essential endless one-way driveways. I’m usually safe to assume I’m going the wrong way, and turn around before going too far. I’ve learned people are kinder to me than obligated, even by Canadian custom, to be.
At some point in the last two weeks, toilet paper became obsolete. Wet Wipes are where it’s at and I now have four (4!) handy decorative dispensers full of the magical clothes on board; one in each wing of the van. Because, if I’m in the south wing kitchen, I can’t be wasting all that time going to the west wing pantry for a cleaning cloth.
These magical little wipes remove crusties from Pippa’s eyes, clean her little feet, wipe dead mosquitoes from the van ceiling, clean soot from my eyebrows, and that’s not all! Pippa can shred one if she is bored (when supply levels are high of course), I can tidy up my own hobbit feet before crawling under my duvet and, of course, there is nothing like a wet wipe when the need is greatest and most pure. If babies could talk, they’re have told us all to ditch the two-ply a decade ago. My last three rolls of ridiculously outdated toilet paper were starter fuel for my last campfire.
I’ve discovered Abeego beeswax food wrap. If, like me, you get tired of damp air sucking the life out of the cardboard boxes designed to house your saran wrap, try this stuff on your next road trip. It’s made of fabric saturated with wax, and wraps beautifully around vegetables or bowls, using the heat from your hand to mold it perfectly to the required shape. I have three. They fold into tiny squares when not needed. They are totally reusable and clean up with just a rinse of warm water. They work really well, smell nice, are gentle on the earth and take almost no space. You can’t tell from the picture, but this is actually moulded perfectly around my favourite square bamboo bowl.
I will never travel without a paper map again. It’s one thing to have GPS, and yes, it will deposit me where I need to go. But there is nothing like sitting at a picnic table in a dying light, plotting my travel strategy for the next day with the whole region laid out in front of me, like a Kingdom. My Kingdom. (I blame Game of Thrones for this image) GPS doesn’t care that I prefer to travel down rivers and alongside lakes. A paper map cares. It’s a partner, not a dictator.
I discovered my “sweet spot” mileage-per- day is about 350 kilometres; 217 miles for my American friends. Less than that, I am restless to go further before nightfall, much more and my hip is angry and my thoughts turn toxic. 350 kilometres per day (on travel days) means Pippa and I stop any time we like, my thoughts remain full of unicorns and we still reach our destination for liver snacks and a night-time walk.
I’ve learned never to say “Were almost there!” to a dog who wishes she were already there. I don’t drink anything after 6 pm. Black-out windows in the woods are dumb, and I’ve put them all away. Ok, they fell down first, THEN I put them away and called them dumb. But still, they are kinda dumb in the sorts of rural settings I’m in. (They will remain dumb until I have them hung into submission for which I have a plan)
If I lie with my head at the back hatch, I get a cosmic experience on a clear night I should have to pay admission for. It’s like having a front row seat to some sort of celestial concert.
I’ve learned to take sign-reading seriously and am extremely grateful when they leave nothing ambiguous to my imagination. You will be relieved to know, I am taking steps to stay safe in Alma, NB, where there crustaceans are trained to cross only in designated areas.
Finally, I’ve learned my poor brain is still a pretty cluttered place (wherever you go, there you are) but the sounds, sights and smells of nature act like a happy, whistling cleaning lady who arrives on a daily basis to take care of cobwebs and dust- bunnies on my behalf.
It’s still a little cray-cray in there but it’s definitely cleaner than it was, and for the price of a tank of gas and a campsite she promises to show up again tomorrow.