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Living On the Road
And figuring out how to take care of myself
I unzipped the window of my tent at six o’clock this morning and watched a golden sun climb into the sky. The flute-like notes of a hermit thrush floated through the high boughs of the spruce trees overhead. Baxter curled up against my sleeping bag, pressing her warm back against my legs. A crow cawed, someone’s generator hummed in the distance, and the toilets in the bath house next to me interrupted with a loud swoosh every few minutes, followed by the creak of the swinging door.
I’ve been living in a campground for the past week, and I am loving it. I say “living in a campground” instead of “camping” because I’m not here for a quick weekend of roadside tourism and campfire s’mores. Like my trip to Cape Cod a few weeks ago, I’m practicing how to live a life on the road: figuring out how to get a good night’s sleep, where to shower, what to eat, and how to manage two dogs while living out of a car and a tent.
I booked this campsite at Acadia National Park in Maine the day reservations opened two months ago, and I’m here for ten days. I was afraid it would be too long, but it turns out it’s not nearly long enough. I have three more nights before I head home, and Seth is coming tonight to join me for the weekend (to indulge in the more traditional camping rituals), so it feels like my solo trip is ending today, even though it was just getting started.
It’s been challenging in ways that are embarrassing to admit. My first night here I learned that the privately-owned coin-operated shower house across the street was closed, and after one night with sweaty unwashed hair, I spent the next day searching for a solution: did an acquaintance with a summer house nearby happen to have a hide-a-key? No, and her water was still off for the winter. Was there a secluded spot at the end of a dirt road where I could strip down and hang my SunShower from a tree? Not in the middle of a busy national park, and not when it’s 40 degrees out. Thankfully the gatekeeper for the campground solved my problem: a weekly membership at the local YMCA for $53. It has been worth every penny, and I’ve done some lap-swimming in the pool as a bonus!
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My second major problem is feeding myself. At home, Seth does all the grocery shopping, meal planning, and cooking. I am truly spoiled. He rescued me from a life of microwaved veggie burgers and nachos (the menu of my 20s and 30s).
I had grand designs of learning to cook on the road, except I skipped the learning to cook part and went straight to the oh-shit-it’s-9pm-and-I’m-starving-what-can-I-eat-NOW part. There’s a longer story behind my problem with feeding myself, but the short story is that I get extremely stressed and overwhelmed by the steps required to plan, prepare, and clean up meals, and I routinely forget about eating altogether until the hunger turns me into a raging beast that must be fed immediately. By the time I realize I’m hungry, there’s not even time to make a sandwich, let alone cook a pot of rice and mix up a stir fry. I must grab whatever is in sight and eat it before the gnawing hole in my stomach dissolves me from the inside out. Seth helps me through these moments at home by cutting up some slices of watermelon to hold me over until dinner, and leaving lots of yummy leftovers for me to microwave. But there is no microwave in camping, so my number-one survival strategy is off the table. This leaves take-out, which is expensive in a fancy resort town like Bar Harbor. I can justify it for a weeklong vacation, but I need a more budget-friendly solution for the months-long road trip I’ve been dreaming of.
Last night at 8pm I decided I had the time and energy to try my hand at cooking something. I donned my N-95 mask to brave the local supermarket (it was literally my third trip to a grocery store since the pandemic started, due to my Covid anxiety). I had in mind a simple stir fry, the kind I used to make in college with like three ingredients. I walked about 50 feet into the grocery store and was delighted to find a refrigerated case of already-cut-up vegetables (part of the challenge of cooking while camping is having nowhere to wash and prep food). Then I stared at the produce display for 45 minutes, calculating that by the time I bought separate cellophane packages of broccoli, snow peas, peppers, onions, and tofu, then heated up a pre-cooked a bag of rice, I would be up until midnight and it would cost more than the takeout I was trying to re-create. I spent $80 anyway on the veggies, a few salad fixings, and some spices. Then in the parking lot at 9 PM I called Seth in an absolute panic because the gnawing pain had just arrived, I was still 20 minutes from my campsite and at least an hour away from food being ready, and now all the restaurants where I could’ve gotten takeout were closed. He suggested that I have a snack, so I sat in the parking lot and ate cold vegetable biryani leftover from the Indian restaurant. I arrived at the campsite exhausted, and only then remembered I had bought two extra burritos with breakfast that I was saving for a hike the next day. I devoured one of them, then stuffed the groceries in my tiny fridge, brushed my teeth, and crawled into my sleeping bag.
Aside from feeding and bathing myself, the biggest challenge I face on the road is the biggest challenge I face at home: my emotions. The infertility roller coaster ride continues wherever I go. The beginning of this week brought hope that our recent IUI procedure would result in pregnancy. When I camped in Acadia this time last year, I had just found out I was pregnant. I spent a glorious Mother’s Day on the beach with my fetus inside me and my two pups curled up next to me, watching mamas walk by with babies and happy couples play with little ones in the sand. “That will be me a year from now,” I thought. But a year from now has come, and instead of strolling the beach with an infant wrapped to my chest, I sat alone with my dogs and watched the parade of parents and children, this time with resentment toward the life I may never get to have. The day my period started, I sat on a rock by the ocean and sobbed to Seth over the phone. Then I spent the next few days in the familiar routine of arranging lab work and medication in preparation for one more cycle, one more try, maybe our last. My hikes, my sightseeing, and my showers at the Y were scheduled around a trip to the nearest city for a blood draw and making sure I got back before the pharmacy in town closed for the weekend. For one more month, infertility robbed me of my freedom.
And freedom is my one consolation for not having children: being able to go where I want, when I want, and do what I want. I’ve been keenly aware of taking advantage of this while I can, and it’s the main reason why I’m obsessed with the thought of hitting the road if my fertility treatments end unsuccessfully. If I can’t have the life I’d planned, I’m sure as hell going to make the most of the life I’m given (though I may need to avoid busy beaches and other spots where young families hang out).
But sitting next to my grief and sadness is a glimmer of excitement. As Seth and I near the end of the approval process for adoption through foster care (assuming that we get approved despite our awkward home study visit), I’ve been looking back over the list of children waiting for adoption. Most of the kids listed on the website are the same ones that were there a year ago when I first started looking, though some now have tags like “On hold,” “Matching in progress,” or “Adopted!” A few weeks ago I found a video of a 13-year-old boy I hadn’t noticed before, and he caught my eye: he’s curious, loves to learn, and loves being outside. I can’t find out much more than that until we’re approved to move forward with the matching process. But over the course of this week I’ve found myself thinking of him often: what it would be like to climb the rocks at the edge of the beach to explore tide pools together; what he’d think of the hike up the granite ledges to views of the ocean; whether he’d join me for the short walk from our campsite to the cliffs to watch the sunrise over the Atlantic. I speculate what the conversation might be like with this boy; how I would teach him about trees and he would teach me about bugs. Then I remember: “Children affected by trauma need consistency and routine, especially with things like mealtime and bedtime,” the social worker said when I’d called to inquire. I need to get my act together. If I can’t even feed myself, how am I going to take care of a kid?
The weight of these interwoven threads—the fertility procedures, the four miscarriages, the prospect of adopting, the reality of childlessness, the longing for adventure, and managing my mental health in the midst of it all—twists my body in knots. All day long I notice myself balling my fists, tightening my shoulders, holding my breath. It’s as if my body is in constant battle with an invisible enemy. When I wake up every morning, my teeth ache and my jaw is sore from clenching my plastic mouthguard in a vice-grip all night (without it, I would have broken teeth). The hamster wheel in my mind runs so fast that when I make a half-hearted attempt at mindfulness or meditation, I have forgotten what I was doing within 10 seconds, and another hour of thinking will go by before I remember that I am supposed to be relaxing. Yoga hurts. Breath work feels like I’m suffocating. All of my mindset tools strain under the weight of these circumstances and the life-changing decisions I am contemplating every day: Can my body and mind tolerate one more month of fertility treatments? Would I be able to parent an adopted child while I am still navigating my own trauma and grief? If I set off on my longed-for cross-country road trip, am I closing the door on motherhood, or giving myself space to heal and prepare for what comes next? And how will I manage to survive without $50-a-week showers and $50-a-day take-out?
These questions screamed at me constantly for the first few days of my trip, just like they do at home. But something started to shift yesterday. I lay on a slab of granite at the tip of the Schoodic peninsula, dogs sidled up against me, with views of Cadillac Mountain across the bay, watching waves crash into the clefts of tan rock. As I focused on the rhythm of the waves and the way the sun illuminated the sea foam spouting through cracks in the granite, I noticed that the voices in my head quieted for a moment. My fists unballed and my jaw unclenched just a little. I felt the warmth of the sun on Baxter’s soft black fur. And then I woke up this morning, unzipped the tent window to let the sunlight in, and listened to the hermit thrush sing.
One week of camping has left me about 5% relaxed, so according to my calculations, I need at least six months sleeping under the stars to begin to recover my body and mind from the grief and trauma of the past few years. In another month or two, I’ll know if it’s time to move forward with my road-trip plans, if I’m not pregnant from our last-chance fertility treatments or ready to pursue adoption. For the rest of today, though, I’m going to set those thoughts aside, go for a hike, sit by the ocean, and figure out how to feed myself (and if all else fails, I already bought future-me those yummy burritos!).
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