Monday, July 25, 2011

In a Van, Down by the River

Andy and I spent most of last week on a business trip to Las Vegas. The kids stayed behind with various friends and the two of us were alone for a week. Wow. That doesn't happen often. I don't remember it ever happening in the fourteen years we've had children, come to think of it. While I could have come up with a better choice of destination (Las Vegas in late July? Seriously? While the rest of the nation broils in a freak, unexpected heat wave, everyone knows exactly what they are getting into when they come to the Mojave desert at that time of the year. The AVERAGE daytime temperature for Vegas in July is 106F.), the trip was a real treat for us and felt like quite the romantic getaway.

Our idea of romance may not be completely typical, however.

The trip was being paid for by The Woodworking Shows, as we were there working in their booth by their invitation. The only expenses that weren't being covered were our overnight stays on the drive there and back. We can't really fly when we do an event like this because we are bringing furniture to display and tools to work with. Since those two nights wouldn't be covered, and we planned to drive long, hard hours to get there and back quickly, and we hate paying for a hotel stay when we really only need a place to crash for a few hours anyway--we decided to camp in our van.

On the way down, we made it to the aptly named town of Caliente, Nevada (Spanish for 'hot') by about 10 PM. Coming out the southern end of the town, we began to look for a place to pull off--someplace out of sight of the highway, hopefully, and with some privacy provided by trees or boulders or the like. We drove for a bit and then found a perfect turn off. It appeared to be a little-used road and after driving for only a short bit, it became very well-sheltered with hills, boulders, joshua trees, assorted cacti and sage. Just as we were about to park in a nice open stretch surrounded by cover, however, Andy stopped short and peered over the dashboard at the ground in front of us, lit by the van's headlights.

"Is that SAND?" He got out to check it out and came back with worry in his face and voice. "It's deep, soft sand and we might just be stuck."

He shifted into reverse and attempted to back up the gentle hill we'd been driving down. The wheels spun, issuing a very small, localized sand storm behind them. No one even knew where we were. We didn't even know where we were, apart from...somewhere south of Caliente on an unmarked road, out of view from the highway and out of cell phone coverage. This was less than ideal.

Andy exited the vehicle again and began to rearrange some rocks under the tires. This time the tires gripped enough for us to back up and we breathed a sigh of relief. We were still facing the wrong direction, though, on a very narrow one lane road in soft sand--getting softer as it stretched out in front of us. It was while we pondered how to get turned around and out of there that we realized exactly where we were. We were in an arroyo, a dry river bed. No wonder it was hilly around us and had an abundance of trees and desert foliage.

We were in a van, down by the river.

Any Chris Farley fans out there will appreciate the absurdity of it all--but please hold your laughter until we can figure out how to get our massive conversion van out of the soft sand. We had to back up for quite a while--me walking beside the van, trying to dodge sage brush in the dark and yelling verbal instructions to Andy, who of course can't shine his headlights toward the rear. Eventually, we reached a turn that was just too tight to attempt in reverse and he had to attempt a three point, uh, rather a six or eight point turn. This is not advised in soft sand. More rocks, more prayers, more shouted instructions, and we got it turned around. Once we were pointed the right way and ever so slightly downhill, we decided to call it a night and get set up to camp.

Whew. You may laugh now at the Chidwicks, living in a van, down by the river--on our way to a show where Andy functions as a motivational speaker, no less.

The back seat of our van folds down to a bed of sorts, although it seems to be designed for only children. It is not long enough for me, at five foot nine, to lay all the way across it in any position other than diagonal, so putting two adults on it is...again...less than ideal. Andy had solved that problem by bringing along our queen-sized air mattress and then piling luggage and crates of tools in the cargo area just high enough to support the mattress at one end. The van was precisely the right width and the solution seemed ideal.

We rearranged the luggage, blew up the bed, fitted it awkwardly with bedding, tossed our pillows into place, then finally poured ourselves glasses of wine to sip under the spectacular desert sky, admiring the Milky Way and the dark silhouettes of the joshua trees against the horizon. The huge yellow half moon dodged in and out of a few wispy clouds. Our suite may have been less than sweet, but the balcony boasted a heck of a view.

Wine finished, trips to the...ahem...outhouse completed (watch where you squat in the desert), we climbed into the van. With the additional height of the air mattress there was very little headroom left--about eighteen inches, perhaps--not enough to sit up in bed. We opened all the windows against the lingering desert heat (even at 10:30 at night the temperature was close to 90F) and tried to make the most of our stuffy and cramped situation, grateful that neither of us is claustrophobic.

At some point in the night, the air mattress began to leak, leaving me, the lighter of the two of us by a good 80 or 90 pounds, balanced precariously on an angle. He, of course, sank down and all the air was forced to my side. It was far too hot to cuddle all night, so I spent much of the night trying to climb up and away from my sleeping husband. Just before sunrise, the air temperature cooled enough that I could give up my struggle and lay pressed up against the Man without getting sticky and sweaty. I fell into an exhausted sleep. When the sun was high in the sky, we decided to finally get up and drive on. It was getting warm already and it felt quite late; we needed to get on to our destination and couldn't afford to be sleeping in. After another trip to the 'bathroom' and a little repacking of our van, we climbed in and started the engine. The clock on the dash informed us that it was not quite seven.

We laughed, put on our sunglasses, cranked up some music, and drove on to the next town in search of breakfast and a sink in which to wash up. We arrived at the Las Vegas Convention Center at 10:30 AM, ready to set up for the show that would start the following day.

To Be Continued...

(For Part Two, click here.)

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