You know how you feel when you’ve been going non-stop, pushing yourself and getting no sleep and eating everything you’re not supposed to and just feeling generally exhausted, and then suddenly your full day becomes empty and you realize you’ve been holding your breath and now you can breathe?
That was Day 4.
It was an overcast Monday morning, but we didn’t care. We were free! Our next scheduled stop wasn’t until Thursday in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We had three days before our expected arrival at a quaint B&B in Old Town. Three days with nothing but open road and sleeping under the stars and….
Wait – where were we going to sleep? We didn’t have any campsites reserved. What if they were full? What if the sites sucked? What if it was too cold? It was FEBRUARY, for goodness sake! What if what if what if what if
Breathe, Theresa. Just breathe.
I inhaled. Exhaled. Let go and chose to just be present. Everything would work out. I knew that from the first moment we started planning this adventure. It was too big, too important to me personally to let anything get in the way.
Nine days before we left we had no car – and on the eighth we had our perfect road trip vehicle. We didn’t have a single part of our return trip planned, except for camping at Joshua Tree (and even that was a general idea and not a plan), until we’d already completed the first half. A freelance client paid in full one minute after we left home, a payment that made everything after that possible.
This trip was an adventure in the possible.
It was midmorning when we left the hotel. Our destination was the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and we headed west. It would have been faster to head north to I-40 and then take I-44, but not by much.
We would have saved a whopping sixteen minutes and would have dealt with construction and traffic and the desolate anonymity of the homogenous highway. Sometimes slower is better.
Our route took us into the Chickasaw Nation. Since entering the state we’d already driven through the Cherokee Nation and stayed overnight in Choctaw Nation. Before we crossed into Texas we’d travel through the Comanche and Kiowa Nations as well.
Oklahoma is Indian Territory, with 38 federally recognized Native American tribes in the state. The only state with more is California, with 104. Oklahoma is now home to so many different nations because it was the end point of the Trail of Tears, and chunks of land were designated as the official new homeland for the ones who made it. It was considered too far out for settlers to ever want, until they did.
We picked up OK-1 and exited at the lone two-lane tollway in Oklahoma, the Chickasaw Turnpike. A scant 13.3 miles, it was the only tollway we encountered during the entire 6,479-mile trip, and it was only seventy-five cents. Score another round for the back roads.
We stopped at the Chickasaw Nation Welcome Center and picked up some locally-made beer bread mix to go with the Choc beer we’d gotten at Pete’s Place the night before. I envisioned baking it in my iron skillet dutch oven over one of the many campfires we were sure to have. Then we made the obligatory visit to Bedré Chocolates.
The bread mix ended up making it all the way back home with us. The beer and chocolates, however, did not.
We made our way westward, through gnarly-branched trees and squeaking, nodding pumpjacks; through plains of rolling hills that seemed more vast than the open horizons of home. We passed ranches and horses (“Horsies!” I’d shout every time we passed them.) and as the miles accumulated the trees thinned and the terrain flattened.
Then, as we neared our first campground, the clouds disappeared but for a few wispy bits of fluff in the cerulean sky.
I was looking forward to the next few days, even though camping is not exactly a restful undertaking. Everything you do requires work, from putting a roof over your head to making coffee.
You even have to plan to go to the bathroom, because if there’s a facility, it’s usually several hundred feet from wherever you are, and if it’s somewhere closer and, ahem, more natural, you have to ensure you are completely hidden from other human beings and nowhere near poison-anything.
Our preference had always been to camp for at least three nights in the same place because of the effort required for setup and breakdown. On this trip, we’d be in a different place each night.
And I couldn’t wait.
We’d traveled more than a thousand miles, had crossed from plains to highlands to plains again, had stayed in a cabin and a hotel and a motel, and now we were ready to sleep in a tent and wake up in time to see the sunrise. We were ready to hike and take our time and just…breathe.