Yesterday I was driving home from Phoenix. I left much later than I intended. I had a couple of long phone conversations, went to the cell phone store and got a bite to eat...and pretty soon it was 4:00 in the afternoon. Great...rush hour. Oh well, I settled in with no worries and turned up my favorite Christian radio station that I miss so much. I didn't think I would get home before dark like I'd wanted, but I was trying to make it as soon after sundown as possible. Driving out of Payson I saw one of those huge digital signs and it said: "Crash 17 miles ahead. Road Closed."
Uh oh. Now what? All I could do was turn around. As I did, I realized that a road closure caused by an accident often has the makings of a tragedy, a fatality. I called one of my brothers and he got on the internet for me and sure enough, "Road closed due to fatality." I was so sad. I prayed for the family and friends whose worlds had just been turned upside down by a crushing blow.
Meanwhile, I was stuck. It was about 6:30 p.m. Road closures of this nature usually last 3-4 hours. I knew I would not be fit to continue the drive that late. Do I turn around, drive 2 hours back to Phoenix and do it all over again in the morning? Do I drive over 100 miles out of my way to circumvent the road closure? Neither of those options set too well with me. I decided to stay put for the night.
And thus I had my first adventure in solo van camping. I'm quite proud of myself, actually. Van camping is quite a sport. I drew on my husband's wisdom regarding choosing a spot. When van camping, you can't camp in what at first glance appear to be the ideal camping spots. Ideal spots first seem to be those that are dark and away from buildings, other cars, and people. We're thinking sleep here right? Nice dark place out of the way, right? WRONG. No indeed, we're talking safety here! In those cozy sleep-perfect places you're a sitting duck, an obvious camper, and an easy mark for people up to no good. My husband once woke up in the morning to graffiti sprayed all over the van and had to spend 4 hours scrubbing it off before he could continue his travels. On another occasion he woke up to someone attempting to siphon gas out of his tank in the middle of the night. The key is to try to blend in, look like your vehicle belongs there and not be too far from the company of other cars. Hotels and 24-hour stores fit the bill. You may have to sacrifice in the areas of lighting and noise but it's worth it.
I immediately scoped out but rejected some hotels en route back to the center of town. Too small, too crowded; I'd be noticed and possibly ousted. That's another concern. You don't want to have to get up in the middle of the night and go find another place to finish sleeping. So I headed for the Wal-Mart, hoping it was a 24 hour store. Yes! Wal-Marts often allow overnight camping. The always did. Then they didn't. And now they do again. I checked for signs to be sure. They said, and I quote: "No overnight camping after 24 hours." Huh? Well... I guess that means I can stay, right? Just so long as I don't set up camp, roll out a patch of AstroTurf, set up a lawn chair and stay a week, is, I suppose, what they're saying? OK, so one night's allowed. And looky there: a huge RV is parked with interior lights on and a man sitting at a table using a computer. Another traveller turned back by the road closure I presume. And a semi is parked over on the other side. I'd found my spot.
Next I went in search of an internet cafe. Found one - a combination ice cream parlor andcoffee shop, oddly enough (stark and bright, but with a couch) - and I spent the remainder of the evening online checking Facebook, email, and catching up on some blogs. Didn't have the "umpf" to post to my own, though. Thought it better to wait until the solo camp was complete to write about it.
And my first (and very likely, last) solo adventure in van camping came off without a hitch. After some initial activity of cars and people nearby, I settled in for what turned out to be a great night's sleep. I was tired.
So energized by my "big girl" success, this morning I took my time and visited a couple art galleries I'd found while cruising around town last night. I felt a little like I was on vacation, stuck out of town and all. I got home safe and sound this afternoon, saying a prayer as I passed the mark where I thought the accident had been.