The Road Trip to Empowerment
Updated: Jul 7, 2021
In early June, I headed out on my first long-distance solo road trip with Luna. We were booked for five glorious nights at the beautiful Daingerfield State Park. The outing had been planned for quite sometime and included meeting up with a small group of friends lovingly referred to as the Real Outdoor Women (ROW) group. Once upon a time (read before COVID), this diverse group of amazing women gathered on a semi-annual basis at various locations around Texas for an extended weekend to camp, hike, kayak, paddle board, fish, cook out, craft, hang out, and just enjoy each other's company. We'd become friends by a process of osmosis, melded together by our repeated attendance at an equally amazing semi-annual event, Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW), hosted by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). After truly becoming outdoor women through several year's worth of expert tutelage by the TPWD staff and volunteer instructors, we figured we'd graduated to the status of real outdoor women and so began scheduling our own outings to practice our mastered outdoor skills. It was all in good fun, but unfortunately COVID put a pause on all those shenanigans. I invite you to check out the amazing Texas BOW program. Also, check out a couple of my friends' fantastic blogs about their own personal BOW experiences at RedShoesRedWine.com and CluckHowlCrow.com. You may find some inspiration to start your own shenanigans.
Needless to say, I was excited to be joining up with this group again. But given the time I'd been away from them and the nature of the world, I was also apprehensive. I had managed to avoid large crowds having mastered the art of social distancing, and I had been pretty isolated up to this point. Although I had missed them, the thought of being in a group was rather unnerving for me. So, with that self-imposed anxiety along with the anxiety of a solo, long-distance trip with Luna, I had already begun to doubt my decision to go. But, we'll save that analysis for another time. Right now, let's just begin with the trip itself.
It was a dark and stormy night. No. Not really. I've just always wanted to write that. It was actually a clear morning with a cornflower blue sky. Luna was hitched to my car and sitting in front of my house, raring to go. My stomach was in knots. Besides still having some last minute packing to do, I was about to embark on a 700+ mile roundtrip journey all by myself. Yes. I was meeting some friends there, but the onus to get there and set up camp was all on me.
I'll admit that I'm a wee-bit spoiled by my Darling Husband (DH). Up to this point when I've taken Luna out, I've had help. Actually, I've been spoon-fed. Unrequested, DH swoops in and helps me set things up. Sometimes, he's even retrieved Luna from the campground and towed her back to the storage barn, releasing me to hurry home to spend time with Maddie and Abby Normal. Yes. I'm a princess. However, he's been gently nudging me to go solo, continually telling me that "You've got this!" On this sunny morning, I didn't believe him, and my anxiety was confirming my doubts.
I'd wanted to leave early. Daingerfield State Park is about 6 hours and 53 minutes at the posted speed limit from San Antonio. When traveling in or pulling an RV, you should allow for additional travel time as many times you're unable to travel safely at the posted speed limit and/or you should stop more often to offset any fatigue. I already knew I had a long way to go. Being a solo towing newbie, I also didn't want to push myself too hard. So, I decided to break the trip from San Antonio to Daingerfield into two days. I booked a stopover site at the half-way point in Corsicana, about 238 miles or 4 hours and 20 minutes (at posted speed), to stop for the night. I would later find out that was a mistake. It's not that planning for a stopover for a potentially stressful trip isn't a good thing. It's that the place you stay over needs to be restful, allowing you to decompress. I wasn't that lucky.
Normally, my slow starts for trips are due to an anxiety-fueled procrastination habit. On this morning, that wasn't the case. My neighbors had taken notice of Luna. And, one of them wanted an up-close and personal tour. I was delighted to accommodate her, enjoying the distraction from my monkey mind. I was in no hurry to leave, so I spent the additional time in wonderful conversation. It was a pleasant diversion. After giving my best dog and pony show, I finally got on the road about 9 a.m. As all good travelers should do, I'd planned out my rest stops. Traveling up Interstate 35 afforded me the opportunity to stop at not one, but two Buc-cee's and a very nice State roadside park. For the uninitiated, Buc-cee's is the Disneyland of convenience stops for travelers. You must set limits for yourself when entering or you'll exit after several hours with your arms laden with pounds of high calorie snacks and several hundred dollars worth of Buc-cee's branded t-shirts and coozies and Pioneer Woman inspired kitchen ware! You have been warned! At each stop, I texted DH, announcing my arrival and success on that leg of the journey. I was, of course, met with loving words of encouragement.
The first 100 miles or so, I was a bundle of nerves. Every time a semi would pass me, I'd grip the steering wheel with a death grip. Nothing happened of course, but my anxiety assured me that it would. I'd pulled Luna short distances before, but I'd managed to work myself up to a mini frenzy on this particular morning. However, after a nice Buccee's BBQ sandwich, a Big Red, and my favorite tunes, I began to relax and enjoy the trip. I traveled well below the speed limit to remain safe, so I arrived at my stopover destination in Corsicana around 4:00 p.m. that afternoon. Actually, it was too early. I had lots of time on my hands. Not a good thing.
The RV park will remain nameless. It's a fine little park for stopovers I suppose. However, my site was right up front, and the road noise from the busy highway was awful. To make matters worse, there was a high volume of traffic in and out of the park by what I assume was full-time folks who lived there. Sitting outside was not a pleasant activity. Luna and I were thrust into more of a spotlight than normal. I'm used to garnering a fair amount of attention with Luna. However, I became increasingly uneasy about the attention I was getting. Because of Luna's cute factor, I am often approached by neighboring campers wanting to know more about her. Usually, it's a mixed group with females taking the lead. This time, however, I was surveyed by several males, who made repeated walking trips around the area where I was camped, with one attempting, unsuccessfully, to engage me a couple of times. Despite all the activity, I set up my camp chair just outside my door, ate my dinner and caught up on some social media stuff all while keeping a watchful eye on the traffic.
Now, this is where I need to say a few things to the female camper readers. I constantly travel on my own and have solo camped many times. I belong to several all-female camping forums on FB. These forums serve a very valuable purpose, allowing many women the ability to ask questions and seek guidance without any fear of judgement or shaming. I've lost count of the number of posts I see by women who want so much to strike out on their own, but are terrified to travel and/or camp solo. Many seek support from the group and are met with an onslaught of advice, ranging from travel with a dog to travel with a gun. The main point to remember is that if you choose to solo travel and/or camp, you must always remain vigilant of your surroundings and listen closely to your intuition. According to police statistics, the majority of the sexual assaults committed against women are carried out by people they know. The risk of being assaulted while traveling is relatively low, but of course we all know it does happen. At the risk of seeming paranoid, paying some extra attention to your surroundings could save your life. If you want to feel more fully prepared or be more self aware, consider taking a self defense class. A free online resource that may be of interest to you is the Situation Effective Protection System (SEPS) Women's Self Defense Program. Your local police agency may often offer training for little or no cost as well. Of course, your level of situational awareness should rise and fall depending on where you are and who you're with. There needs to be a happy medium between being on high alert and having a nice, relaxing getaway. The happy medium occurs with some simple common sense actions.
When traveling solo on the road, you should always let someone know your intended travel route and never deviate from it without letting them know. Try to pre-plan your rest stops and check in with someone when you stop, even if it's just a quick text, letting them know when you arrive and when you're safely locked in your car and about to leave. You might go a step further and have a predetermined answer to a texted question arranged with your contact that would serve to alert them if someone attempted to use your phone to mimic you. When at public rest stops, take note of your surroundings and who's around you. When possible, don't park in between large rigs or in areas that you can get boxed in. Instead, opt to park in areas with open spaces allowing you to see your vehicle and/or rig upon your return. When headed inside for a restroom break, etc., don't walk too closely to other vehicles, especially big rigs and vans. Make eye contact with people and be purposeful in your actions. Also, there's something that I'm very guilty of doing of which we lone traveling females should be aware. You should keep your social media postings to a minimum, if you post at all. If you must post, don't tag your location. You can upload all those wonderful photos to your social media once you're safe and sound back home.
In some female Facebook camping forums, people suggest putting an extra chair out at the campsite or a pair of men's boots outside your RV to suggest that you're not traveling alone. If doing that makes you feel safer, fine. But, don't let it lure you into a false sense of security. Honestly, if someone is interested in you, I'm pretty sure they've watched you long enough to know that you're alone. So, just add some extra precautions to keep you from being caught unaware. Upon checking in at your campsite, make yourself aware of your surroundings and potential safety resources. Locate the restrooms or other fixed buildings incase you need to seek alternative shelter (this applies to weather safety as well). Take note of your fellow campers and their groups' makeup. Add the park's emergency or park police number to your phone. Keep your car keys next to your bed at night in case you need to set off the alarm. I guarantee the sound of a car alarm going off in the wee hours of the morning in a silent campground will get someone's attention. Also, forgo using earbuds on the trail and off; carry a whistle or high-pitched sound device with you on the trail; don't get absorbed in checking your social media feed or phone; don't drink alcohol to excess, if at all; get all the camping activities that may distract you, like outdoor cooking, showering and using the camp facilities, etc., done before the sun sets; and have an exit plan. If someone makes repeated passes near your campsite and you've become uneasy about it, don't be ashamed to take a photo of them or their vehicle and send it to someone you know with descriptive notes. Don't be ashamed to pick up and leave or move if your Spidey-sense kicks into overdrive. Don't be ashamed to ignore anyone who attempts to engage you. It's okay to be considered rude. If the person doesn't understand, then that's their problem. Your peace of mind and safety are paramount. There's absolutely no reason that, with common sense, preparation, and some situational awareness, a female shouldn't be able to safely travel or camp solo.
In this instance, I was already constantly monitoring my surroundings. And, although I was hyper-aware, I didn't feel unsafe. Mostly, I felt annoyed and agitated. I had already communicated the activity to DH. The one person that I did allow to "visit" had arrived after-hours with his wife in their Class A rig. They parked right in front of my space while waiting for someone from the office to come and direct them to their overnight site, and we'd made small talk. Later, he passed by while walking his sweet puppy, and we struck up another conversation. During the next hour, I learned about his home, his profession before retirement, his health, his wife's health, etc. He was earnest and sweet. He and his wife were on their way to Iowa (his home state) to get some repairs done on their rig, traveling up from the Valley where they lived. I found the conversation was just what I needed to smooth my frazzled first-day travel nerves. Afterwards, I locked up by belongings and secured myself and everything I needed for the night inside my camper as night fell. There was a fair amount of traffic coming in and going out of the park after dark. Combined with the highway noise, the additional activity made for a restless night's sleep.
The next morning, I was up before dawn waiting for the first ray of light to appear so Luna and I could get on the road. My super-early departure meant I began my morning travel without coffee. I was grumpy. My mood was made worse by the 30 to 45-minute blocked traffic delay caused by a train parking on the tracks in the middle of town. I was driving directly into the rising sun which didn't help my coffee-deprived aching head. I grumbled a lot as I got started. But soon, as the landscape changed from scrub trees to pine trees and lush pastures, my grumpy disposition began to fade. The headache remained. Eventually, I stopped for coffee at an uncrowded gas station. While there, I loaded up on coffee and water and made a point to top off my fuel tank. It wasn't until I was ready to leave, that I faced another "first." A fellow in a large, loud diesel truck towing a work trailer pulled into the pump next to me, effectively blocking my forward departure. I would have to back up to get out or wait him out. He didn't look like he was in a hurry. Cue the dramatic music. I'd attended an amazing class on trailering and backing during one of the BOW events (a shoutout to the amazing instructor, Nicole!). However, I'd only practiced backing up a few times and never with an audience. I gingerly put the car in reverse and began easing backwards at a crawl making minute steering adjustments as I went. Before I knew it, I had moved enough to make an exit and managed to miss the concrete parking stop behind me. Yeah! I did it! All by myself!
The rest of the trip was somewhat uneventful, but very picturesque. I only got "lost" once outside of Athens and managed to make a quick adjustment to get back on course. A little side story about my time being lost. I was blissfully rolling along, listening to my music, when I heard a little voice say over the music, "Check your map." When I did, I discovered I was on the wrong road and incrementally heading away from my destination. I love it when the voice happens. Without sounding too woo-woo, I get what I call "cosmic thumps" all the time. I've learned to listen carefully for them and to them. Doing so has left me with some neat stories. I will most certainly have to share one or two with you at some point in our journey.
Approximately five and a half hours after leaving Corsicana, I arrived at my destination - the beautiful Daingerfield State Park. The super friendly park ranger made quick work of checking me in, and I made my way to my campsite (#13). It was a back-in site. Cue dramatic music again! Now, I had rehearsed my approach and back-in procedures in my head many times before my arrival using the park map. But, nothing prepared me for the real thing. Unfortunately, the campsite directly in front of mine was occupied, which prevented me from pulling up into it to get a straight line into my spot.
I pulled up as far as I could and began my backing and turning maneuver. Nope. Pull forward. Nope. Steer left. Inch back. Nope. Pull forward. Steer left or was that right? Inch back. Nope. Beep! Beep! Beep! I had left the reverse sensor on, and it was detecting the trailer as an impact object. So, now I had a constant loud and rude beeping disrupting my concentration as the car was trying to alert me to an impending impact. "Stop beeping at me!" I shouted. I looked around. Was anyone watching me having this meltdown? It's well known by campers that other campers break out the popcorn and grab front-row seats whenever new arrivals begin to park their rigs. Recounting tales of legendary RV parking or tent raising meltdowns is part of the camper's favorite fireside activities. As a matter of fact, I'm sure there's an old YouTube video of me somewhere out there providing plenty of comic relief to thousands while they watch me try to put up a newly purchased, straight-out-of-the-box screened shelter by myself on a very windy West Texas day. I didn't want to add to that playlist.
I was beyond frazzled. I was tired. I was cranky. I could feel the tears of frustration coming. Then, I just stopped. There in the middle of the road. I took a deep breath. I steadied my nerves. I heard a voice say, "You've got this." Only this time, the voice sounded strangely familiar like DH. I slowly maneuvered Luna right into the camp site. Whoohoo! I did it! All by myself. Well, there may have been some cosmic intervention. A silent mouthing of "thank you" was in order.
Now, it was time to unhook and set up. But, not before taking a much-needed break and reveling in my accomplishments. I'd just pulled my Luna 300+ miles across the State of Texas all by myself over a two-day period. I pulled out my camp chair and plopped down with my little container of cold cranberry juice while surveying my surroundings. I could hear a slight wind blowing through the towering pine trees. It was a rain-cooled breeze. The birds were singing loudly in the surrounding forest. I closed my eyes and felt the dappled sun on my face. Ah, yes. I could get used to this. I had arrived. I was in heaven. I was empowered.
Stay tuned for the next installment of the Daingerfield State Park Saga!