When my husband Eric and I set out with our dogs on a three-day trip, I had specific expectations. I was determined to get back out into nature, start camping and find beauty in my surroundings. Instead, the Lone Star State had an emotional lesson to teach me.
We hit the road from Austin, heading west on the six-hour drive to a town in the desert called Marfa. Most of our journey was spent on Highway 10, a long, flat stretch of road that crosses Texas. The barren landscape allowed us to see for miles in all directions and it gave me the chance to see a downpour ahead. The rain was sheeting, moving quickly towards us, and we drove right through it to reach our accommodation just outside of the town. I had booked us a little hotel for the first night because we knew we would arrive late and setting up camp in the dark didn’t sound like fun. Behind the tiny adobe building, the sun peeking through the clouds was starting to set.
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"The barren landscape allowed us to see for miles in all directions and it gave me the chance to see a downpour ahead"
Everything looked deserted. We rang the bell but nobody came. Eric dialled the phone number on the door.
I began to have a sinking feeling that I had messed up. You see, I have a habit of clicking ‘confirm’ before double checking when booking things (I did this not even two months before, with a plane ticket). I reached into the car, searched in the glove box for the printed reservation and sure enough it confirmed it: the date said the fifteenth of February, not March. I felt like I had physically been kicked in the stomach. I couldn’t decide whether to be mad that I had lost a hundred dollars, or just embarrassed. I took a deep breath, standing there in the expansive wide-open of the dessert, and turned to my husband.
“Babe, hang up. We don’t have a reservation”.
He looked at me and knew that I had done it again.
This is the moment it could have gone south really fast. Back in the car, I could tell he was irritated, and I was mad at myself – but we had a bigger problem. We had no place to stay and the sun was setting fast. Without realising it, we were agreeing what to do next. It was as if we had subconsciously decided to not bicker about it. At that moment, I was consciously deciding to not even think about the money lost. No matter what happened on this trip, I was going to do my best to roll with it.
The next thing I knew, I was driving ninety miles per hour down the road towards Fort Davis State Park, where we had a campsite reserved for the following day. We had no idea if there would be a camp spot spare, but we were planning there would be. There wasn’t another car on the road, just us and the setting sun to our left. The red and purple colours were streaking across the sky and even in the mishap we could see the beauty. I looked at Eric and told him “it’s an adventure”.
"I was driving ninety miles per hour down the highway. There wasn’t another car on the road, just us and the setting sun to our left"
We were lucky: the campground was packed but we found a spot. Eric set up the tent by the blinding car headlights. I put on my headlamp and fed the dogs before I unloaded the car and got dinner started. By ten o’clock we were eating, and by half past ten we were climbing into our sleeping bags. In the dark, Eric turned to me.
“This is much better than a hotel” he said. I agreed. Deep down, I was glad I had messed up because our trip started with us pulling together to make the most of the bad situation. As I dozed off, I noticed my phone had no cell service or internet connection. We were off the grid and it was liberating.
From that moment on – no longer distracted by social media, my computer and the endless emails – it was an opportunity to be completely present. Back home, our mornings begin with the task of brewing bulletproof coffee, made with butter, MCT oil and heavy cream. I practise the ketogenic diet to help control my epilepsy, and the coffee is a huge part of getting my fat ratio for the day. But we were without my fancy coffee maker and blender, so we had to improvise. Eric manned the tiny propane stove as the wind kept blowing the flame out. I took the ingredients and added them to a shaker bottle. When the coffee was finally steaming, Eric poured it into the bottle. I screwed the lid on and began to shake it like crazy – not quite blender magic, but it got the job done. It took longer than it would at home and the inconvenience taught me a bit of patience.
Each day we did the simple tasks of making coffee, cooking meals, tidying up the campsite and planning the outing for that day. I found myself being slower in my tasks and because I had no distractions, I was more conscious of what it took to do them. Each night we played dominoes and drank coffee until the sun set. Life was unhurried, and my mind and all its thoughts had slowed.
"It was dry, brown hills and an endless wind that blew dust in your eyes. The vast space was so disconnected from the world"
But the West Texas landscape didn’t meet my expectations and it felt like an endless dirt pile. We had a dusty campsite riddled with gravel and a creek that was bone dry. I missed the lush green landscape of the Pacific Northwest, the endless mountains of California and the smell of a coastal breeze in New England. Instead, it was dry, brown hills covered in prickly bushes and an endless wind that blew dust and dirt in your eyes. It was not the beauty or amazing camping experience I was hoping for.
But I found that the vast space of West Texas was so disconnected from the world, I reconnected with myself, my partner and the small moments. All it took was stripping everything back to find the simple pleasures: a good camping meal; a twelve mile hike with the dogs; a few big rocks to climb. And quality time with my husband.
We climbed into the car on our final day to take the long drive back to Austin, and I looked around me at the wide-open space and the endless blue sky. I took a mental picture to save in my mind, inhaled, breathed in the peace around me and tucked it away in my heart. I decided that I could revisit that moment at any time. That when life was stressful or overwhelming, I could hold it in my heart and mind. Peace in West Texas was a state of mind.