I woke up on a beautiful cool morning (cool! for a change!) in the Monongahela National Forest and took Hops for a couple of miles on gravel roads and soggy trails. While we were out on the trail, an email came in from an author I greatly admire who very generously had offered, some weeks back, to read my thesis. She said she loved what she was reading. My heart was in a bit of a flurry from the high compliment from such a highly regarded source, but I left the email to answer later, from a proper screen with a proper connection to the internet. Back in camp, I cooked some eggs, washed dishes, and packed up for the day.
I drove into town and parked, made some phone calls, and answered the lovely email from the author. I bought groceries–and just to be able to park, leave Hops, and buy groceries midday was such a change and a beauty, this milder, more forgiving weather. I parked us for several hours at a state park’s picnic area, where the signal was a little stronger, and I got a little more work done, including prepping for another author interview that evening. I drove back into town for a burrito in the late afternoon, and parked at a trailhead to eat and read a book in peace.
Backing out of my parking space, I made a mistake. I didn’t see the ditch behind me, and Foxy’s rear wheels just slid in. I was in this trouble by a margin of less than a foot, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades; the van was going nowhere. I checked it out: the wheels weren’t dug in; there was matted grass, and not mud, under her tires. It all boded well, but still I was going nowhere. I dragged some rocks over and packed them beneath & behind the tires. I got a little traction, but still no progress. A nice man on a bicycle stopped and apologized for being unable to help. He consulted; we agreed on the prognosis. He advised I walk across a nearby bridge, over the Blackwater River, to a nearby grocery store (the same we’d already visited that day) for help. That had been my next plan anyway, so off Hops and I went.
At the store, we had to wait a few minutes for the right opportunity to come along. A big man in work clothes approached perhaps the biggest pickup truck in the lot. “Excuse me, sir? I… got my van stuck, just right there across the bridge. I’m looking for some help. Do you maybe have a chain or a tow strap on you?” Well, he didn’t; but he consulted a few neighboring cars and trucks, and then his buddies (they turned out to be his employees, actually) came out of the store–they were driving the other giant truck in the lot, parked end-to-end–and located a short but serious cable that we agreed might work. We convoyed across the bridge in two trucks, the four of us plus Hops. “Is that your van? No wonder you got stuck! Geez.” My new friend shook his head. “Looks heavy.”
It took mere moments to hook up truck to van, everybody accelerated on schedule, and Foxy was free and shipshape again. I shook the boss man’s hand briefly; they all accelerated off in a hurry, and Hops and Foxy and I were back on the road.
We went directly to the dollar store for Oreos, and when I came back out, my friend the boss man in the big truck was parked next to Foxy. I grinned and waved. “My name’s Von,” he said, offering his hand again. I gave my name. He said he’d turned around to come back: “I have a five-bedroom house just up here”–he pointed–“and you are welcome to come and stay. You could have a room for the night. If you need a shower, do a load of laundry. I just needed to come back and see.” He’s working as an electrical engineer in the area, on the big windmills. I thanked him again and again, explained that Hops and I were actually having a great time out here–we really are, especially now it’s cooled off so nicely–and we’re moving into a place next week and have just had a shower and laundry. He said, “Oh, you’re enjoying your last days of freedom.” He called it a blessing upon him, to be able to help. And we went our separate ways again, me still thanking him. I drove back to the picnic area with the decent signal, where I’d be conducting an author interview in another hour.
I was still shaky from the stress of having Foxy out of commission, and having to approach strangers for help. But I was also glowing with the pleasure of meeting such a decent human. Von was so kind, and I really appreciated his offer for additional help. I wish I’d gotten his address so I could send him a thank-you card or something. The kindness of strangers: always a beautiful lesson. I felt well cared for. And really, this calamity was a very small one: we were just a little bit stuck (admittedly, this is like a little big pregnant), and so close to town, and I just knew the West Virginia pickup-truck-driving men would take good care of us; and they did. It was a beautiful experience, in the end.
And yet still I was shaking as I set up for my author interview – which of course went beautifully, too, a lovely chat with a talented writer and a friend. Leaving the picnic area with my interview complete, I stopped for a beer at the local brewery just before closing, and traded brewery stickers with the nice young man behind the bar, just as his boyfriend showed up with a burrito for his (the bartender’s) dinner (yes, from the same burrito place; it’s a small town). Leaving the brewery with a single beer in me, I stepped into the delightfully cool air, where Hops was safely napping in the van. We drove into the dusk, back into the national forest, where we’ve made camp again for free at a spot that has begun to feel like home.
Just next week, I’ll be moving into a “real” home, one with walls and ceiling and no engine or tires attached. I’m looking forward to that next chapter; but gosh, on a day like this, when I’ve experienced all the emotions and played in the mud and seen the sun and felt the cool air on my face, this life looks pretty good. Right now Hops is snoring next to me and I have all of the van doors open and I’m about to crawl under the blankets, because the air is cool and slightly damp and we are the two luckiest creatures alive. Viva vanlife. And thanks again to Von, my guardian angel this Wednesday.