I’m still wrestling with the strange feelings resulting from the start of this new trip. Being back in the Airstream that we called home for so long is like going back to Mom & Dad’s house after having moved out. It’s not the same. It seems smaller. It looks worn, as if someone else has been living in it since we stopped. Everything is familiar but different somehow. Perhaps it is true that you can’t go home again.
I never did aspire to live in a trailer, I aspired to travel, and the trailer was merely the means. Now that the major travel is behind us, the trailer is more of an artifact or a memento of that trip, like a big scrapbook. Re-entering it is like walking down the corridors of your old high school; still the same but not the place you remember. It was so important back then, but now it is a piece of the past. I tell myself that we lived here for three years but I’m having trouble convincing myself. Did all of those things really happen to us?
I suppose that sensation arises because the experience was built from a million individual moments, none of which can be reproduced (and even if they could be, it wouldn’t be the same). It was never about the trailer. It was always about the thrill of discovery. We were always entering unknown territory, both geographically, intellectually, and as a family (watching Emma grow up). We can come back to the trailer, but we can’t come back to the experiences and the way I felt the first time. We can only move forward to something else.
Another difference now is that our current trip is more about the friends we want to see along the way, and the business we need to conduct. No longer are we free-wheeling full-time travelers with no fixed address and no deadline to end our travel. This trip has a schedule (a loose one, to be sure, but nonetheless a schedule), and a very specific set of tasks that I need to complete along the way. We know we will be back in Tucson by a certain date. We are not as free to roam as we once were.
On the other hand, I can try something I rarely got to do in the full-timing days. Because I’ve always worked in the Airstream, and because the first couple of years of travel were coincident with a very tough developmental period for the magazine, I have generally worked seven days a week as long as we were aboard. I rarely took a vacation for more than a day or two, and never was I far from my computer, my cell phone, and my obligations.
Now, since home base is in a house and Airstream travel has become an occasional thing, I can begin to treat the Airstream as other people do. It can be a true “getaway.” We can leave the office behind, pack up the toys, and zip off for a few days to decompress completely. That may seems rather evident to most people, but for us it is a novelty.
We are now in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, in southern California. A few Airstream friends have joined us here, including Terry & Greg from Tucson, Bill & Larry (with whom we camped here a year ago), and David and Ariadna (who followed us from Picacho Peak). Also here are two other Airstreams, one of which I recognize from its Big Red Numbers as a fan of the magazine, so I’ll go introduce myself tomorrow.
Monday brought a heap of tasks for me to deal with urgently, so I triaged them Monday night after our six-hour drive, and set aside Tuesday to spend in the office dealing with everything. Eleanor and Emma spent the day out with our friends, leaving me alone to get it all done in quiet and warm desert sunshine. Having gotten most everything under control, I am going to switch to vacation mode for the rest of the week and test my theory about converting my mental picture of the Airstream into a getaway vehicle.
Anza-Borrego may be the ideal place to do that. You cannot be uptight in this place. It is too wild and open, too beautiful and too peaceful. There are hundreds of square miles of trails and 4WD roads to explore. Bighorn sheep lurk in the canyons just above us, and shaggy palms are rustling in the occasional breeze. Tomorrow I will take anyone who wants to go out for a tour of the backcountry and spend the day with family, friends, a picnic lunch, and my camera. It will be a starting point for the next phase of our traveling life. Let’s see what happens.