Back pedal with me a bit - back to the start of the Yoga Animalia Project journey on July 25th, 2015.
Well, it really started much earlier than that, like three+ years earlier when the concept of visiting and photographing all the farmed animal sanctuaries first entered my brain. But the important bit for right now is that after all that time, all that hesitation and indecision, I finally sat myself behind the wheel of my new-to-me 34-foot RV, christened Katie Kowhugger (in honor of the amazing human who is one of the people largely responsible in so many ways for this journey being possible) though as you will see, she earned another, less favorable, moniker.
With all my printed art safely stored on board, I set off with The Traveling Yoda as my copilot. We were D.C.-bound for the Animal Rights Conference where I would have a booth for the second year with the Yoga Animalia Project. Along the way I hoped to stop and see some family and friends, enjoy the scenery, and make my way diligently toward the east coast.
I'll tell you what could go wrong: just outside of Flagstaff on day 1 of travel, Katie Kowhugger decided to stall out. Luckily traffic was slowed by construction so I was able to ease off the road onto the too-tiny shoulder (Katie is 8 feet wide for those picturing the ease of fitting a car onto the shoulder) after about five minutes of start-stop incremental movements. Several hours after contacting roadside assistance and feeling a skosh sea-sick from Katie's rocking as traffic whizzed by, a very nice gentleman was finally able to get my RV hooked up to his tow vehicle. Katie did not make this easy on the poor guy, and thus was her Diva title established.
After a thirty-mile-an-hour tow to the repair shop, Katie and I arrived in Bellemont, AZ at Bellemont Truck Repair & Towing in the late evening. I parked in their lot and passed out. Hurray for taking your bed with you.
The next day they were able to get me fixed up with a new alternator, a minor miracle considering it was Sunday, and I'm quite grateful for the crew at the shop for being there. While waiting I walked and tried to be all meditative and not panicked. It sort of worked. Cost of repair: $550; cost to sanity: stress of delay.
I stopped for a quick vegan grub fueling at the Whyld Ass in Flastaff, some more walking meditation, followed by a joyous photo opportunity with a painted cow friend.
Getting into Albuquerque Sunday night came with a wash of relief yet also irritation for the short amount of distance traveled. My walking meditation hadn't ameliorated the anxiety about getting to the Animal Rights Conference in D.C. by Thursday for set up. However I was hopeful I could still at least see some family in OK, though my planned detour to Missouri and friends was out.
On Monday I was in the middle of a rather empty stretch of the 40 between Albuquerque and Amarillo when I decided to stop for needed caffeination. Katie stalled out on the offramp. I think panic tried to assert itself on my brain, but mostly I was just too tired by the first ordeal to feel much. I might have called her a behemoth at this point.
Another roadside assistance call and several hours wait later, I was on my way backward to San Jon, NM and a repair facility. This experience was markedly less pleasant than my time in Flagstaff, which is a cool town; San Jon, NM is essentially the repair facility and the neighboring one it wars with, plus a convenience store. I also felt extremely taken advantage of since I had little choice but to pay for the brand new fuel pump they said I needed. Cost of repair: $1800; cost to sanity: gray hairs and ground down teeth.
I am sure there is something of redeeming value along that stretch of the 40, some beauteous flora or fauna or experience, however my only thought as I left San Jon, NM behind was of relief to be gone and driving east again. I take that back, there was one beautiful being I met while waiting for Katie to be fixed:
Just as I was entering Amarillo, TX I saw a highway patrol officer behind me, and then his lights flashed. As if pulling Katie off the freeway wasn’t challenge enough, I had to do it while a law enforcement professional followed me. I had read previously that it was always a good idea to get out of one’s RV so you weren’t towering above the officer from the doorway. This I did. He was cordial (and as a bonus, cute), explained that he had pulled me over because I was swaying on the road a bit and riding on and over the solid white line on the right hand lane’s edge as he observed. I offered the truism that I was still fairly new at driving an RV, and provided my registration as proof to that fact. Seriously, Katie is like 11 feet tall, she sways like a drunken frat girl in the slightest breeze despite her rather, uh, prodigious, weight, and it takes a lot of effort mentally and physically to keep her heading mostly straight. Since I was chipper and alert (stress proved useful at this point), he could clearly see that I was not drunk, nor was I exhausted and making poor driving choices. He let me off with a warning. Thank the spirits.
This experience would have been nerve-frying enough, but (and this is when Katie earned the full moniker of the Behemoth Diva) as I started her up to leave, my check engine light came on for a third time. I’m sure there were expletives, there might have been a freak out, I honestly can’t recall fully. However Katie had not stalled again, so I determined to keep driving and at least get to Oklahoma City where options for repairs would be better.
I had to cancel meeting up with my family living in northern Oklahoma, because now the timing to get to the conference in D.C. was reaching a critical point, and I had to make the decision whether to stay overnight to try and get repairs in Oklahoma City and lose valuable (and cooler) driving time, or keep going through the night. Looking at options ahead, I realized I might be in for expensive repairs, both in time and cost if I broke down for a third time beyond the city reaches; there wasn’t a whole lot of options after I left OKC. I parked near a Home Depot at about midnight that evening when I finally got into the city, researched a repair shop, and tried to sleep.
Stirring the next morning with plenty of time to get to the chosen repair place as it opened, I first went into the Home Depot to get a few items including pegboards for a new version of my booth display. The employee who helped me was so kind and helpful, and flirtatious, that I started the morning more hopeful and cheerful than I otherwise would have.
Maybe it was this positivity, but as I started Katie up the check engine light was nowhere to be seen. I tried it a second time, disbelieving, and still it remained off. I decided a repair shop visit was still wise. Wise maybe, but aggravating assuredly. I proceeded to four different repair shops that morning, each one directing me on to the next because they didn’t work on that specific problem, or were too backlogged to assist me. Finally the receptionist at the fourth place took pity on me, maybe because I looked like a crazed person about to lose his composure by then or because she is a nice lady, and called her service manager to describe the issue to him over the phone since they were booked solid and couldn’t look at Katie in person. The suggestion was made by how I described all my recent issues that it was just an oxygen sensor that had been malfunctioning, but been purged since I stopped. I crossed my fingers, prayed to a few different deific manifestations, and got back on the road four frazzled hours later.
This is the point where the third time proves to be the charm: Katie Kowhugger chugged along the 40 and didn’t stall on me again.
After a brief stop in Little Rock, AR where I thought the 95 degree with 95 percent humidity was going to kill me, we crossed the Mississippi River into Memphis, a joyous experience, because all that water not evaporating immediately was so novel to my desert-born self. It was less novel when outside the RV and the sweat was pouring over my skin. I discovered on this portion of the trip that Tennessee is a very LONG state, and I was not as near to my destination as I needed to be. That drive through Tennessee I mostly remember for how long it took, how many extra miles I tried to manage after driving twelve hours, and, blessedly, green things. I finally had to stop before getting to the Virginia border and pass out.
Virginia is also a long state, especially following the 81 that brought me up away from Knoxville and into Virginia proper. I really don’t know where the eastern states got all this space since I was under the impression it was all compacted and faster to zip around once you got away from the expanses of California and Texas. The lengthy trek through southern Virginia I only really broke up by trying to visit a vegan restaurant in Abingdon (which I forever could only remember as Abbadingdong) and failing utterly after finding myself in the too-tiny streets of its downtown, trying not to have a panic attack as branches scratched across Katie’s roof and I searched for the relative safety of the two-lane freeway.
By the time I was in Virginia, I realized there was absolutely no way I was making it to the conference in time for Thursday set up, and had resigned myself to postpone my frantic activity for the following morning versus frantically driving to try and make even a part of set up. Joyously that decision somewhat alleviated the stress of driving, and at about midnight I rolled into the parking area of the Hilton hotel in Alexandria, VA where the Animal Rights Conference would be held, exhausted and relieved to be stationary.
I am finally writing this blog post more than five months after this cross country trek occurred; it is New Year’s Day of 2016 and I am in the umpteenth Starbucks of my travels in Savannah, GA. I have been trying to determine the immediate next steps to best continue photographing the remaining farm animal sanctuaries, and, surprise of all surprises, stressing about it. My funds are running low, Katie needs some important repairs, and my wheels are tired. But I am happy. The issues will resolve themselves, support and guidance will arrive when least I expect it, and I keep reminding myself to go with the flow and trust. It took me these months to put this story into words, partially out of logistical distraction, but also because I was being a bit superstitious writing about the repair issues thinking Katie would retaliate with more problems. However New Year’s Day seemed like a good day to reflect on what has passed in order to make space for what is to come. Looking forward into 2016 I vacillate between a bit of anxiety about the unknown, but also excitement. This quest will continue, perhaps after a pause, perhaps without, but with the joy that I have found in connecting to sanctuaries and the individuals who reside there. My 2016 wish is to live with my heart open, accepting the good and the less so as it shows up to support and challenge me, and I wish that for everyone too: that we all live whole-heartedly and cultivate our compassion. To a joyous 2016!