Thursday, 29 September 2016

My First Day - It's Only Just Started.

I'd not been on the road fifteen minutes and I was already hating it.  Overheated, no music to calm me down, and no control over the frightening ways the vehicle was being moved around.  And no experience of how to handle it.

Other than hearing Jason's voice in my head "if she starts to wobble and you try to compensate, you're dead."

Great.  I'm dead.  Fifteen minutes into the trip and I'm dead.  This is not ok.  Not at all.  And I am terrified. 

And, that, you guys, was kind of as good as it got for the day.  As in, it only got worse.  Yep.

I'd planned out routes using Google Maps and while initially Jason and I figured three hours of driving a day would be a reasonable amount for me, I was now running late (I had a hotel booked for this night waaaaay down in California... seeing as I was supposed to be arriving Saturday, but... well, chuck that in the "money that got thrown away" bin and, well, yeah) and thought I would push a bit further each day to make up for ... things.  I'd made a couple of routes, one the "short drive" route, the other the "longer" route and as the day progressed (in a combination of slow motion and never ending high speed horror) I realized there was no way I was making the "longer" route.  So I headed for the stopping point I'd planned... a site near Mount St Helens.

Washington state, for whatever reason, seems to take forever to get through.  I find this frustrating, and because it always looks like a short, squat state, the idea that I wasn't going to even get out of it on my first day was disheartening.  But I was also stunned by how difficult it was to travel.

Jason, at some point in the planning, had tried to suggest that the time line google maps suggests is actually several hours short of what the trip would actually take.  He pointed out that the google maps time doesn't take into account several things... like traffic, or speed, or pee breaks, or gas breaks, or stretch your leg breaks (etc) and when he mentioned this I just kind of shrugged... whatever.  I wouldn't take any more time than google maps said, that's why they're google maps.. they KNOW stuff.  So from where I landed to where I was going, Google maps said it was four and a half hours.  So let's be generous and say five.  I'd left the Safeway (with no ice!) around noon, so I'd be getting to my camp spot by five.  In my mind, that was early enough in the day that I could actually keep driving if I wanted to... maybe make it to an Oregon spot after all.

But, yes, this was all thought out before hand... and typed into the GPS before I got on the road and found out I was probably going to die every damn minute.

One of the things about entering Washington state where I did is you don't have a lot of driving choices.  You can go down the 101, or you can go along the coast.  (Or other longer routes beside the 101 but I'm simplifying.. )The coastal route was the initial (months ago) plan but I now had no time for pretty, slow drives, and the "other route" was an unknown to me and as I was trying to cut down time as much as possible, the 101 to the I-5 (big, main highway, fast and straight) it was.

So once I got.... I dunno, off whatever portion of highway buffeted me with crosswinds and whatnot, I headed into what should have been quieter, no longer double lane forest lined roads.  I had never been there before.  Ever.

But hey, that's what GPSes are for.. it was leading me the way I had/needed to go... so just keep trucking I guess.  (Turns out it was the exact same route Connor and I have taken every year... things just look so different when you're driving.. it's crazy.  At one point, I had just finished calling Jason ... from the side of the road, I'm not a moron...  and telling him that I had NEVER been on this road before ever, which wasn't helping when I got back in the van and drove past a place Connor always points out on the trip.... Oh... guess I have been on this road before... weird.)

And this particular portion of the road was so much more stressful than the high winds (at least in my mind) "big" highway portion of the drive.... because now there was nowhere for people to pass me.  And it was windy.

Not windy as in wind blowing, but windy as in twisty.  Curvy... mother trucking curves on a road with people pushing behind me and me doing my best to keep up to the speed limit while not dying.

And seeing the occasional sign that said "slow vehicle pullout ahead" but going so fast I couldn't see them in time to pull into them and even if I had I would have likely slipped on the gravel and had some kind of accident.  So it was awful.  It was awful because I didn't feel like I had any safe control of the vehicle.  I was barrelling along, trying to keep myself on the road (Oh, hi rumble strips!  I appreciate you but you scare the bleep out of me and now everything's vibrating and I have to try not to yank the wheel too hard away from you FUCK) while avoiding the oncoming RACING traffic and it's dark in here because trees and winding and I don't handle the curves well and I can't even pull over to let the angry people pass me and holy hell this is awful.  It would be awful if there was no one behind me but there are people behind me and I'm literally scared for my life every time I hit a corner.

Oh, and please, let's remember there's no music.  There's nothing but the open windows making noise and the fact that my lips are cracking because I can't reach for my water bottle and I can't let go of the wheel to wipe the hair out of my eye or take off the sunglasses and this is horrendous and terrifying and I can not keep doing this.  Plus it's hot and I'm covered in sweat in the most uncomfortable way and this van isn't even comfortable to sit in and everything hurts and what... it's been not even an hour?  And I'm supposed to keep going?  Screw this.

And at a certain point in this death road of curves and pullouts I can't slow down enough to get into I see a turn to a building on the left and I turn off and into their parking lot.  Which is when I call Jason.

And I try try try to explain how awful this is, while I sit in the shade in the back of a parking lot in the middle of some Pacific Northwest forest you have to basically die to get to, I feel completely screwed and stuck.  Because I'm not going back that way.  And I do not feel safe or comfortable enough going forward.  And as I'm sitting there trying to calm down talking to him time is ticking away.  I do not have time.  I need to get places.  Why am I doing this?  This is stupid.  It's NOWHERE near fun.  Like, at all.  And not only is it not fun, I hate it.  Oh, and not only do I hate it, it is completely unsafe.  Like, I recognize this.  I know that what is happening is unsafe and I am at a real risk of being so un-prepared for this drive, in this vehicle, that something bad may end up happening.

Jason listens (I have no idea what I said) and reminds me the speed limit signs are the MAXIMUM one is supposed to drive and that I should not be trying to drive them.  He tells me that neither myself nor the van will do well at those speeds and that I should not go over 50.  At all.

Well, I've already been over 50 several times (miles, by the way, and the van's spedometer is in miles anyway so I can't even mentally tell myself "hey, that's quite fast, it's X km", because I just see 50 and it's what the sign says and what people are pushing me to do and I can't not) so screw that, and I try to explain to him the pressure I feel from the vehicles behind me.

He tries to explain that they know I'm a big, old, slow, camper van and aren't expecting speed.  I tell him he's not here.  He's not seeing or feeling what I'm going through and I can't slow down.  I just can't.  (I hear myself say it and the logical brain says Oh Victoria, of course you can, but I really really was not able to go any slower than what the posted signs and pushy flow of traffic wanted.)  Again, minutes tick away... I tell him I HAVE to go.  I head into the store, pick up some cans of propane (because the Safeway didn't have them either... or much at all really) and I tell her how scary it's been on the road and how awful people have been.  She nods and agrees, and tells me how bad it was for her her first year working here but that it's better now.  Somehow this makes me feel a bit better... that it's not just me.  That these roads are not fun or easy to drive.  But it doesn't make them go away.  I still have to push forward.

So I get back in.  And I try to keep going.  While trying to keep on the road, while maybe trying to sort of kind of go a bit slower.  It helps if I look in my side mirror less (can't see the person on my tail) but I feel I need to know who's around.  At times, there is no traffic behind me and I slow a bit and it's easier.  Still not good, but easier.  It is scary.  And so curvy...windy.... I am miserable.

And we turn one corner, see cones, and there's a flipped semi.

Yes.  An entire, large, however-many-wheeled-semi fallen over on to its side.   And it's this very frightening and visceral reminder that I do NOT have to go fast.  He went fast and that feeling I keep having on the corners of maybe tipping?  Yeah, he did that.  A professional driver tipped on these roads.  I could too.  I need to be careful.  This is a sign I feel I can take that it's ok to slow down.  Take those corners in a way that won't have me ending up like he did.

This doesn't calm me.  Just frightens me more.  Because the fears I had in my head of losing control of the van are now made all that much more real.  A flipped semi.  I'm not comfortable.

I'm really, looking back now, not sure what state of mind I was in.  It wasn't good, and I most likely shouldn't have been driving.  I take some small comfort now in the fact that I'm a good driver.  I'm a safe driver and I was *more* than paying attention, so perhaps my "better than some" driving skills allowed me to be average under these circumstances.

I've sort of smushed together the rest of the day.  At some point I got out of the woods (heh)... I mean, literally out of the woods and on to the main, big highway.  Which was a bit less terrifying than the windy roads because at least I could be in the "slow" lane and let people go around me but I still had trouble not just staying with the flow of traffic and felt I should keep at the speed limit.  (Which I now know was fast... like I was probably going 100km an hour or more and, well, I didn't enjoy it.)

I hated the driving.  The physical discomfort alone was enough to make me miserable.  Again, I was overheated (it being upwards of 35 degrees INSIDE the van, with the sun ROASTING me through the massive, un-tinted front window) and I was dehydrated (couldn't reach for my water bottle when driving, or anything) and my stress level was at the max... with no music, and the windows wide open to try to cool things off (just the front windows, the other windows in the van still being sealed shut, minus the one Jason managed to get open, cracking it in the process, but that didn't actually give any air flow while driving) but all they did was make noise and allow me to hear vehicles passing at high speed.  Even when I was going the speed limit!!!

I mean that's an aside.... I was going the speed limit.  Pushing myself and the vehicle to do so but I was going the posted speed limit and STILL getting passed.  Where is everyone going and why so fast?  Are the limits not there for safety?  For a reason?  It made me feel even slower to constantly be getting passed even though I was going faster than I was comfortable going.  Ugh.

And my mileage and gas situation confused me greatly.

Every time I stopped for gas (and it was a whole lot less often than I thought it would be) I would text the mileage and amount to Jason.  I tried to do the math myself but came up with really weird numbers that made no sense so I kept track but stopped trying to figure it out.  I filled up pretty regularly, partly because I didn't trust the gas gauge.  I used to have an older car and it would eat up the last quarter tank SO MUCH FASTER than the first three quarters... so I didn't know how the van's worked... it seemed to take a long time to get through a quarter tank and this made me nervous and suspicious.  I never got under half a tank and every time I filled up I was thrown by how little it cost.  Half of this giant (I assume) tank is under $15 dollars?  Why?  What is going on here.

So my mileage and gas costs had me nervy.  And terribly confused.  And by the time I was more than completely done with it all, I was still more than an hour and a half away from where I was trying to get to.  And it was already past six.

How on earth that happened, I have no idea.  Especially since I was driving TOO FAST and had taken the shortest route and tried not to linger when I stopped.  I mean I hadn't even stopped for food.  Not even sure I peed.  (Which I probably didn't have to because no frigging water all damn day, ugh!)

So then the next freakout came into full effect.  I was not going to get to the camp site before close.  Then where would I stay?

At the final gas station I tried calling the place, but no answer.  I told them I was coming but wouldn't make it and had no way to call them on the road while driving so I had no idea what to do.  I felt utterly helpless.  Sure, I was in a camper van and could, in theory, just pull over wherever and stay for the night but everything was packed.  Including the emergency pee/poop bucket and, well, I wanted a shower and some civilization.  Ugh.

I called Jason too, furious.  I was rushed, and had no idea how to reserve.  I asked him to help and he emailed them.  Which made me even angrier.  You EMAILED THEM?  Do you not understand I'm in small town America where an email isn't going to get instant response?  What good is you emailing them going to do and you said you would help this is awful!!!!

Somehow I arrived at the site.  And pulled in to some alternate universe full of country music and dogs barking and RVs and I was dazed.  Very relieved to have arrived somewhere.  And I stopped at the office and was extra relieved to see they had a late sign in.  Seems stupid now, but I didn't know.  Had asked Connor when we usually arrived at similar sites and he'd said dinner.  Their site had said they were open til 7 so I'd figured 7 was my arrival.  I'd made it at half past.  (Yeah... remember I *thought* I'd be generously there by five?  Not so much.  Two and a half hours of hell later than google said... ugh.)

I was trying to read my way through the late arrival stuff when someone came to the office and offered to sign me in.  I tried not to cry as I paid for the spot and listened to .. something and then I went back out into the country-music fuelled evening and drove around unable to find my spot.  Sigh.

Then I found it, somehow backed into it (got out, looked, eyeballed the tree, and managed not to back into it) and got out.


I was miserable.

Completely, utterly, in every way miserable.

And I couldn't even eat because to do so would mean cooking.  And to do so would mean moving everything out of the way to get to what I needed.  Fuck.

I sat on the floor and called Jason.  And I let him have it.  That's all I remember.  I remember being so angry with him and the situation and everything that I wanted to throw my phone and I said I was as angry as he gets (this is very very angry.)  I have never been that angry before in my life.  I was miserable.

Overheated, in a van that was still in the high thirties inside.  In a camp site that was not cool.  In a camping spot that didn't have a table or a seat and for me to eat or sleep I had to move stuff around and I didn't have the energy for that... nor was I willing to put my overheated body through more exertion.  It was awful.  And day one.  What had I gotten myself into?

Jason scolded me for taking the I-5.  I yelled back that that was the only choice I had and I'd still only gotten this far.  He asked me to take photos of the van at the base of Mt St Helens.  I lost my sh*t over that one.  Nevermind that I was NOWHERE NEAR the actual mountain (just in the area), I wasn't even going to get to see it myself and I was beyond exhausted and in this awful state and you want me to be artistic?  And do you a photography favour?  ARE YOU KIDDING ME????????  Clearly he had no idea how angry, upset, miserable and done I was.  I was never touching a camera again.

I also couldn't get wifi.  Not that it matters, but I didn't want to needlessly use data if I didn't have to.  I wandered to the.. whatever it was called room that had wifi reception and, oh glory be, it had air conditioning.  I sat for a while, letting myself cool down both physically and emotionally.