In early October, I drove to a friend’s wedding in Missouri, requiring fifteen hours behind the wheel. When I was young, I would have made that trip with only two fuel stops, and perhaps twice that many fast food stops. Leave before breakfast and arrive before midnight. No problem. Sadly, in my “advanced years” I can’t drive more than five hours at a time without standing up to give my brains a rest. What I now lack in stamina required me to compensate with strategy, planning three five-hour drives to get there. That worked out well in both directions, and the wedding was huge success.
During my many hours on the road, I found myself traveling down two lane highways that connect almost-forgotten small towns. These are the kinds of roads my family traveled every summer as my parents took us on vacation. The vast freeway system you take for granted hadn’t even been built yet. That’s how old I am. Eventually we camped in all forty-eight of the continental United States. I spent much of my drive time remembering experiences that haven’t crossed my mind in decades. And because much of the territory I crossed was rural, it was not uncommon to smell smoke from a wood fire burning nearby. I began to ache for the good old days.
That’s when I got a phone call from a friend, inviting me to spend the weekend on his rural property ninety minutes west of Austin. Several people had been invited, and I was told that I could bunk for the night in another friend’s RV if I wanted. As you probably know, I was a Boy Scout for twelve years, and a Scoutmaster for an additional ten years. Sleeping under the stars is something I take for granted. In my prime, I was a clone of Burt Reynolds’ character in Deliverance. Rugged and as tough as they come. As my brothers and I went our separate ways, I eventually inherited the family tent that my parents bought from Sears when I was five years old. Stop and reflect for a moment that this tent is older than most of the people reading this post.
Anyway, I began to wonder if I still had what it takes to commune with nature. I told my friend that wouldn’t be needing the RV bunk, because I planned to set up the family tent, and sleep on an air mattress again. I became very excited about this new adventure, and I planned my menu and equipment needs for several days in advance. The weather had been cold in Texas, but the forecast was for warmer weather over the weekend. I arrived Saturday morning and was greeted by warm weather and several friendly faces. We spent the day exchanging personal stories of past adventures. Then as the sun went down it started to get cooler – as expected. Chatting around the campfire was precisely the kind of experience I had been longing for. But eventually it was time for bed.
I had prepared to keep myself warm overnight, however I never anticipated that the temperature would drop to near freezing. As a Scout, I had camped out in the snow more than once. One experience required us to shovel snow just to find the ground, and then we had to build fires where our tent was going to be, just to thaw the ground enough for us to pound the tent stakes in. However, my aging body doesn’t generate the heat that it used to, and I began to regret my decision to rough it. I have often said that success is defined by not getting yourself into trouble that you’re not smart enough to get yourself out of. So rather than suffer miserably all night, I reluctantly admitted my mistake, and I drove to town and rented a motel room. A motel room with a heater, of course. It took almost 30 minutes for the room to get warm enough to grow African violets, but only five more minutes for me to fall asleep.
So, unfortunately, the answer is, I do not have what it takes to commune with nature anymore. Because of my unfortunate heart condition, I just don’t have the energy and stamina required to defend myself against the forces of nature. It is difficult to admit that I am in the winter of my life, and that all of my best days are far behind me. However, “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.” Just think of me whenever you hear Frank Sinatra’s classic, “I did it MY way!”