By the time we hit the road to leave Taos and head to Florida, we had lived full time in The Red Chile Pepper at Taos RV Campground for 12 days. The good part about living in a camper when you are on crutches with strict instructions not to let your broken foot touch the ground, is that it is a very short distance to get to everything with something to hang onto all along the way. Hobble to the bathroom, hop to the kitchen and collapse back onto the bed or bench. Better than an actual house. The hardest part is having to sit on your butt to get in and out of the thing.
Our Pueblo friends arrived the morning of April 30 to help us get underway. We were beginning to worry that my Prius, Malbec (Merlot is the Road King), might have difficulty getting over the mountains. We decided that they would pull the utility trailer over the pass with their truck and down into Mora. At a gas station there, they re-hitched it back to the Prius. Our last view of Taos and friends were of Joe and Henry, waving good-bye as they drove back over the pass. Thank you, guys!
From Mora on, the geography was gentle, flatter and steadily declined in altitude. We told Wendy that she could take off and head home if she could go faster. However, still wondering whether Malbec would be okay pulling its heavy load, she stuck with us, so we all had a slow first day.
This was Bernie's first real towing of anything bigger than a pop-up camper and he was nervous. What was supposed to be a fun, leisurely camping trip had turned into a white-knuckled, let's-just-get-there kind of trip.
And then we crossed the line from New Mexico into Texas. To both of us, it was a reality blow. We were really leaving New Mexico.
To Bernie, it was a heartbreaker and to me a guilt trip. We were leaving because of my body's inability to adapt to the dryness, and because of Bernie's love of me. That's heavy. We drove in heartfelt silence and tears for a while.
My job was to navigate and find campgrounds along the way. I soon got us memberships in KOA and in Good Sam's Club, two organizations which give you discounts and directions. Since we'd gotten a late start this first day, we thought we might make it no further than Tucumcari, but by the time we got that far, we were rolling along pretty well, so we landed instead at an KOA campground in Amarillo, Texas. We put our friend into a cabin, and we had a big pull-through for our first night out on the road.
What, you might ask, about the third member of the family, Bitty Bob? Naively, we thought she'd be happiest traveling in the camper with her food and litter box. Partway through the trip, I decided to go back and ride with her, giving me a chance to put my foot up.
Much to my horror, riding in the Red Chile Pepper was like riding in a tin can pulled behind the car on a string. All Bitty and I could do was hang on. She found a tiny place under the closet over the bed, which, when she squeezed in, helped hold her in place. She shut her eyes and dug in, unable to even think about getting to food or litter box. Nor could I.
The next morning we took her into the car with us. We already knew that if we locked her into her cat carrier, she got carsick. So, I allowed her to be free-ish, on her leash to keep her away from the poor driver and to keep hold of her. In her pitiful crying and roaming, she would occasionally hit the window button of the back windows. If not in a harness, she might have been out the window. Every morning from then on, she spent the first couple of hours crying and roaming the car. But by noon, she settled into the routine and would either crash on my lap, or on the seatback behind Bernie's head.
She enjoyed the camper as much as we did. While Bernie had the labor of setting up and breaking down the camper, our friend would walk Bitty Bob and I'd try to find a picnic bench to sit on. No, it was not the trip we'd envisioned when first we bought the camper.
Texas is a big state. By our second night, we landed in a high-end park called Fernbrook Park in Longview, Texas. As I found my picnic bench, we began to hear what we would hear multiple times over the next couple of weeks. "Did she kick you?" or, "You shouldn't have kicked him so hard!"
When it turned out the electric box didn't work on our assigned spot, several people, including a man in a walking boot who, unlike me, could actually walk in it, helped us shift to another site. People were lovely all along the way.
In Mississippi, to keep things interesting, my temporary caps fell out again. We gritted our "teeth" and kept on. The third night we landed at Isaac Creek Campground near Franklin, Alabama, the most natural of all the parks we'd been in. But we had to wind miles through the woods to find it, our first real adventure.
This was the first evening that was warm enough we wanted to open the windows wide and let the fresh air in. It had been too cold until now for more than cracking the windows.
But, Toto was no longer in Kansas. Most of the U.S. has bugs, not New Mexico. Bitty loved chasing the flying insects that managed to get into the trailer.
As we were about to settle into sleep, she launched herself at some little thing hovering around the window over my side of the bed, and to all of our surprise, most of all hers, she blew through the screen and clung, half in, half out of the camper. I managed to grab her before she fell.
Our lovely new camper has very special screens, which you can pull up and down and are tucked into the sides but have no framework. This doesn't work for camping kitties.
Exactly 1,720 miles from Taos, we pulled into the driveway of the Florida house, the evening of the next day. Bernie, upon whose shoulders the labor of the whole trip had fallen, turned to me and said, "I'm so glad to be in Florida!"
Proof indeed, of a grueling, exhausting trip, though made successfully. We decided this is no way to camp. We will not do it again until my foot is healed and I can be more actively involved. But the first leg of our journey to find a new home was successfully completed.
This periodic feature will appear next in the August Travel section of The Taos News. We'll be following along on Charlene, Bernie and Bitty's adventures. Linnartz was a long-time business columnist for The Taos News and Johnson wrote the Esoteric Astrology column in Tempo.