Silver linings, Take 2… aka, Papa Pete’s Epic Journey

May 28th, 2020

It’s been said, and I can attest to at least my corroborating experience, that parenting is both the hardest and the most rewarding job on the planet.  Not sure where that puts grandparenting.  A close second?  Maybe not even close on the second hardest part, since you get to ‘give the baby back’ at night and avoid the sleep deprivation part. 

My most recent experience as a grandpa left me believing in the ‘close second’ theory.

My first grandson (after two recent granddaughters arrived) was due the middle of March.  I was due to arrive, after a 3,000 mile trip, a few weeks after my daughter’s home birth, to help out and support mom and dad’s return to work PT, but, as you may have guessed, COVID-19 interrupted my plans.

Back in March I did everything I could to still make the trip and arrive fully self-quarantined.  While flying was clearly out, I researched and discovered the path to traveling cross-country via wilderness camping using the AirBnB type app for this called Hipcamp.  Travel with all of my food in a cooler, a good shovel for taking care of my business like a ‘bear in the woods’ and pacing my trips so that I could manage the driving without risking my safety. 

BTV to Graton CA

While it didn’t work to make the trip back in March (that’s a WHOLE other story, for another day), I did just complete my journey on May 17th.  And epic doesn’t quite do it justice, though it comes close.  From “Sanctuaries” that turned out to be crack houses to a Rainbow Pond, John Muir experience, the trip ran the spectrum.

Leaving Vermont that Monday, taking the road less traveled through New York’s Adirondack Park, seeing nesting Bald Eagles, swooping Great Blue Herons and roads barren of civilization for miles and miles and miles, it was the perfect way to start the trip.  Even when Google Maps sent me on what felt like a wild goose chase through rural neighborhoods that were beyond ‘off the beaten path’, it took me forward in a way that I fully trusted and was rewarded with my trust.

Snug Harbor

My first night, just East of Erie, PA, in Findley Lake, NY, a little town just off of I-80, saw me driving into my first host, Snug Harbor, just as the drizzling rain was turning to hail and sleet.  No sweat, I was prepared to forgo setting up my tent and just sleep in the back of my car.  When I woke up the next morning my car was covered in snow, my feet were cold and I was happy to see blue sky and the sun just rising in the East.  I was thrilled to discover dry kindling and wood in the funky outhouse and was able to get a roaring fire going with just one match.  Coffee and toast from my 2-burner propane stove, propped up on my car hood and I was good to go.

Rainbow Pond

Second night was the most beautiful site.  Still only a handful of miles off of I-80 but a world away from the rest of humanity, Rainbow Pond was the snug harbor that Lake Findley promised but didn’t quite deliver on.  The weather here in Ottawa, IL, was near perfect, the site fully isolated and the pond provided the ‘nature tv’ (mating Canadian Geese, Great Blue Herons, breast-stroking beaver) that kept me raptly engaged while strolling around the pond or sitting in my camp chair.  Great camp fire with all of the firewood a guy could hope for and though there was no outhouse the dirt in the woods provided easy digging and covering and trees to hang my toilet paper on (ok, maybe TMI).

Night three was the trickiest, on pretty much every level.   What was headlined as “The Sanctuary” and billed as all of that on the Hipcamp site, and which I was sooo looking forward to taking advantage of after driving for three days, 22 hours of driving and 1,344 miles.  When I was almost there, but also in search of a gas station while running on empty for the past 20 miles, I phoned my host to see if I’d be passing a station before arriving in 15 minutes, instead of his personal message I got the cell carrier’s message, “this number has been disconnected”.  Not helpful.  Not encouraging. 

When I did pull up to “The Sanctuary” it looked like anything but.  Clearly abandoned long ago, with no more home, luckily his only neighbor was walking along his fence line and came to his farm gate to talk to me (though the sign on the gate read “Don’t Beware of dog, beware of Owner” written over an image of a machine gun).

“No, they don’t live there anymore.  Lot’s of police have been coming by.  I think it’s turned into either a meth lab or a crack house.”  OMG.  Just what I did NOT need, especially as it was getting dark and ready to rain.  I asked him if it’d be ok if I just parked by the side of the road and slept in my car, next to the crack house and he replied “sure, it’s not my land.”  And then, as an aside he said “if you hear the tornado sirens you should probably come over to my place and join me in my shelter.” 

Needless to say, that wasn’t my best night’s sleep.

Ranch Camp

My 4th spot was almost the opposite.  Friendly hosts who were available and helpful, offering me a spot on their beautiful, bountiful farm in the middle of the plains of Wyoming, just outside of Cheyenne.  Even gave me some farm, fresh eggs for my breakfast. 

5th and 6th nights were in the luxurious comfort of a guest suite at my step-daughter’s vacation house in Park City, UT.  A shower never felt so good.  And time with people, safely distanced of course, was also heavenly. 

Final push, straight through, from Park City to Graton, CA, an 11-hour, 788 mile beautiful stretch, over Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains, was the perfect final push to make it virus-free to my destination.  My first grandson.  Worth every mile, each of the cold nights in the back of my car, peeing and pooping in the woods, staying virus-free.  Worth every bit of it. 

My baby’s baby.  Life is sweet.  Even in the most difficult of circumstances.  Especially during the most difficult of times.