Navigating around fires

Ever since Boulder, we’ve been trying to figure out whether or not we’re going to California from the north (dotting around forest fires) or through the south (dodging heat domes and forest fires) or if we just bypass the west coast, hook back around the front range in Colorado and head straight to Montana. Of course, Montana is dealing with a record number of fires, too.

One of the main themes I’ve been working through on this trip is fear.

You can drive over tumbleweeds

When we pulled into Moab, having driven three hours from Mesa Verde, it was dusk. As we travelled on the last stretch of highway, literally 5 minutes from the Moab Koa we were heading to, we were met with huge gusts of wind coming straight at us. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Enormous tumbleweeds rushed toward Dolly, we ran them over, there was nothing we could do as we headed straight into the wind.

While Eric’s reaction was “cool! Real world tumbleweeds!” My mind went into worst case scenario mode. I imagined huge chunks of metal rooftop coming at us. There would have been nowhere to go.

Now, I’m one of those people who has imagined many dire situations and how I’d react to get myself safely through them. It comes from a childhood spent with a hyper vigilant father whose PTSD came through in his parenting by teaching us how to be “prepared.” Know your surroundings. Always have an exit. To this day the first thing I do when I enter a room is look for all the exists.

But driving in those winds, i came face to face with one of my imagined scenarios: swerving out of the way of oncoming debris from a storm. It was very clear that in no world could we have avoided something coming at us that fast. Swerving the vehicle alone could have been disastrous.

We made it down the highway, after plowing over tumbleweeds, and pulled into the KOA. The office was closed, but our registration was on the wall. We found our camp spot and pulled in. The winds were howling. We could tell we were in a valley, protected on one side by a huge cliff wall. I hooked into the WiFi and pulled up the radar and local weather. Apparently we had just driven through what they were calling a microburst storm with 70mph winds. The high wind warning was still in effect for another half hour because another line of storms was coming through. I was scared. And I wasn’t hiding it well from the girls.

Fear and safety

Somehow, at the moment, driving into the wind had felt safer than being parked. The skies are so big out west, and so the storms that roll through feel larger than they do back home. I got out my compass and noted that we were parked perpendicular to the line of storms I saw heading our way on the radar. Me being me, I had read that an RV is safest in high winds if you point the RV into the wind… I wanted to move Dolly until the storm passed.

Eric thought I was crazy and didn’t want to move the RV. So I sat there, as Dolly shook in the wind, looking at the radar, praying that the big red blob heading our way would change course. There was lightening all around us. The thunder echoed off the cliffs. Hazel looked at my radar map and said “sometimes phones are wrong, right?” I said: “yes, sweets.”

The storm passed us by. The winds were wild but nothing like the winds we drove through. Eric savored the evening while I recovered from feeling petrified. I sat in the drivers seat and watched the lightening fade into the distance.

So yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about fear. How it informs my decisions. How it sometimes keeps me and my girls safe. How it can take over, fogging everything else out of view, leaving me unable to act.

Now we’re driving through Utah, on or way to a KOA on the border of Utah and Nevada. We’ve decided to push through northern California, taking care to dot around the fires. I don’t feel great about it. But I’m not sure I can trust my fear on this trip. I think I have to surrender to it a little—to the feeling of being on the edge of “safe.” If my children weren’t with us, this would be much easier for me to do. But, I think it’s probably good for them to learn how to push through fear, too. And to see me do it.

As a friend of mine likes to say: we can do hard things. I’m a mad map woman now, comparing updated fire maps with heat maps and storm systems. But, if we’re going to drive through Northern California, I want to know where the fires are. There’s a difference between being paralyzed by fear, avoiding something because you’re scared of it, and facing your fears while letting them inform your path. I’m choosing the later.

Salt water pool oasis and desert heat

The stay in Moab ended up being one of my favorites so far. The campground had a gorgeous salt water pool and we were surrounded by salmon colored cliffs and striped mountains. The girls loved it, too. They both agreed the trip was worth it, if only for these days in this beautiful valley. So, even tho it started with me being absolutely petrified, I was glad we were there. So many things on this trip have been scary, and yet we roll on.

When I stared at the cliffs surrounding us in Moab, I kept seeing a line of giant Native American elders and warriors lining the edges, looking out over the valley—offering wisdom and a connection to the history of the land we were on. It was a stunning view.

We drove out of Moab on Friday afternoon, after a morning of mostly successful work meetings (Eric published a new travelogue and a few new podcasts), and headed to Arches National Park. We meandered through desert switchbacks, and red sandstone formations. We hiked to Windows Arch. It was so beautiful and rugged, but hot. 97 degrees. Probably a cool day for July in Arches, and even tho we drank a ton of water, Hazel got a little overheated. When we got back to the RV, her face was bright red. I gave her water, apple juice, and two ice packs: one for the back of her neck and one for the top of her head. She cooled down, ate some fruit and slowly returned to her normal color.

Iris sat up front in the RV while we meandered switchbacks. I heard her say to Eric: “drive slow, please. You’re dealing with Mommy 2.0” — ha! I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. Hazel laughed, too, and so did Eric.

Right now we’re traveling north to Salt Lake City in the dark. Dolly’s noisy on the highway. I’m leaning against the window typing this on my phone with my right thumb (please excuse all typos and punctuation faux pas). The girls want a hotel but they know we’re headed to another campsite in the dessert on the border of Nevada.

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