On Wednesday, Courtney and I are driving to Calabash, North Carolina to spend Thanksgiving with my parents and some family friends. We hope to leave Wednesday evening to get a few hours of driving out of the way so we can get there reasonably early on Thursday, which brings me to the subject of this post: my extreme distaste for hotels/motels. It’s not just the crapshoot of will we or won’t we find discarded drug paraphernalia scattered about our room (true story: Travelodge, Asheville, NC; they didn’t even have the decency to leave behind any of the actual drugs). Really, I just hate the idea of spending money just to sleep somewhere, especially when I’m not all that picky about where I lie down for the night.
I take that back: I am picky in that I’d rather sleep somewhere that’s just an organic kind of dirty rather than the human filth of hundreds of strangers before me. I spent a summer working as a housekeeping supervisor in Yellowstone National Park during college and believe me, those joints ain’t that clean. The bedspreads are probably cleaned every three months. Imagine all the bodily fluids that accumulate in the interim. Even that wouldn’t bother me too much, though, if they didn’t charge $50 a night at the budget places for the pleasure, let alone the more expensive establishments that, I promise, are no cleaner.
You’ve probably already guessed as much, but I prefer to dirt-bag it. It’s easy out west, of course, to find legal camping spots because most of the western part of the country is comprised of public lands. Between here and the Rockies, though, in the great privately-owned wasteland, I’ve managed to unroll my sleeping bag in at least nine different places, not counting that rest stop in Fort Smith, Arkansas where I never left the driver’s seat. All were very close to my route of travel, most were established campgrounds, and none of them cost me a single penny. Sometimes I’d throw up my tent, other times I’d make room in the bed of my truck, and a few times I’ve just slept on a picnic table.
The rewards of this style of travel are many and go far beyond saving a few bucks. I’ll never forget the sunrise on Ottawa Lake in Kansas, or the view of Longs Peak to the south from the eastern plains of Wyoming. There’s a state park and campground west of Oklahoma City situated in a narrow red-rock canyon. I didn’t even know they had canyons in Oklahoma. And there was that one spot right on the bank of the Missouri River in Nebraska, not another soul around and an eerie fog hanging over the water, the distant sound of dogs barking the only thing disturbing the stillness…
I think that last one may have been embellished somewhat by my memory, but that’s how it felt, I’m sure. I was never looking for anything more than a place to close my eyes without being bothered, but I ended up having an experience each and every time that was much more memorable than watching HBO in Motel 6 with the drapes pulled tight and the tractor-trailers screaming by all night just a few paces from the door. Of course, all of those experiences were solo, and I’ve got my lady-friend to think about on this one.