What the Journal Says

There is a stack of tattered spiral pocket notebooks I keep deeply tucked in my desk drawer, wrapped in a couple layers of plastic. The handwritten notes begin on May 23, 1970 when my mother, two years before becoming such, records the day my parents purchased an Ozark topper, had it loaded on their truck bed, and drove straight to Interstate State Park for their first camping night. My mother’s parents were right there with them on that monumental day, helping them install the curtains and set up their new camping life. I’d spend my first night in that camper at the age of five months. “Melissa seems to take to camping ok.”

The entries, which had become much less regular, end July 12, 2001. My parents hadn’t camped in years. That weekend they towed the pop-up trailer they’d upgraded to the summer of 1975 after my brother was born, to the family favorite spot at the local state park for a couple of nights of trying to restore calm in the middle of dealing with a storm of health concerns. The last thing written in this thirty-one-year tale of camping and travel is a post script— “Mom is in process of diagnostics now, possible malignancy too?” At the bottom of the page she notes they have towed the trailer 41,100 miles. Those were its last miles. By 2013 three of the four individuals that set out to purchase that pick-up topper in 1970 were all gone, cancer took them. The notebooks contain the stories that form my childhood. The memories of camping and seeing the county, often with my grandparents, are the powerful flashes that alight when I am packing our gear for another day of living as if the next one might be the last entry in the travel journal.

My parents had been married for two years when they purchased their camper “after some deliberation over the matter.” We will have twenty-two years of wedded bliss under our belts in September. Our travel journals are recorded in miles walked rather than driven. Our cache of tents to match the adventure has always served us well. Something changed in the past year. The desire to upgrade our wanderlust lifestyle has hit along with my need for a set of reading glasses. We started the research process. First it was a trailer, but we ruled that out quickly after realizing it would be miserable to tow such things the places we like to go. Then we fell in love with truck campers and joined Facebook groups to track down the best options for our four-season travel ambitions. We even sat in a few models and had hypothetical cocktails in tiny spaces to see if the life was for us. We grew skeptical. Our deliberations took a U-turn and came back to tents, albeit there is a hatched plot to take the tenting to a new elevated dimension.

I’m packing up two of our tents and a lot of gear for time in the Tetons next week. My mind wandered back to the first trips I made to Wyoming. I pulled out the journals and flipped back to 1989. I thought I knew all the details, to include the fact I’d “chickened out” on writing the entry on one of the days. I never did put my own handwriting in my mother’s journals. I think it felt invasive to add my voice and scribbling. This morning I spent time plotting out our routes and a swing through Thermopolis for our itinerary. I told Stephen I knew I had been through there but did not recall anything beyond driving through the town and a peculiar smell that lingered with me. My mother’s writing informs me otherwise. I have picnicked at Hot Springs State Park and experienced a van breakdown on Bighorn Pass. I’ll look forward to repeating the former soon.

My mother kept journals that recorded the other thoughts and frustrations of her life. I wanted nothing to do with those when the time came to save her things, realities of relationships need not be remembered. Camping and travel was a bridge we could always meet on. I eagerly swept these pages into my possession. I know that my reaction to being on top of Rendezvous Peak on June 14, 1983 matched hers— “The view was spectacular.” That view never disappoints and we keep going back for Teton vistas and memories to write in the journals, just not with a truck camper, yet.

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