Living in a Van Down by the Lake

For me, driving is very therapeutic. It always has been, even back to the days before my license, when the 20 minute drive between Golden Valley and Minneapolis was part of my weekly routine. I’m more apt to get lost in thought while driving, and I’m often saddened when I have to turn off the radio, unbuckle and get out of my safe little traveling vestibule once I’ve reached my destination.

Driving 7 hours my first day on the Vermont biking trip was no different. I drove a 15 passenger van (empty) up NY to northern Vermont and the border, dropped off the U-Haul attached to it, and then headed to Burlington. Besides developing a much deserved loathing for the Maroon5 song “Payphone,” I thoroughly enjoyed the time to myself and my thoughts. I guess it’s the introvert in me. And, of course, I was driving through places I’d never been before, gaping at the outcroppings of rock and rolling mountains that followed the highway, and smiling when I couldn’t understand the radio station because, wow, it was in French! I also did a little wave when I drove by the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center.

Most of my time on the Vermont trip was spent in that 15 passenger van. Because the kids weren’t going to need it until they reached the border, my stuff was sprawled out across all the seats, my little jar of emergency peanut butter in the cup holder along with a container of salsa (for which there was also a bag of corn chips in the passenger seat). I soon developed an efficient method of driving ahead of the groups as they biked along Lake Champlain (gorgeous), spotting the picturesque photo ops, unbuckling and popping out to snap their photo. Once, a group thought there were TWO photographers following them because I managed to pull it all off in a quarter mile.

As per Overland’s suggestion, I brought each of the groups (there were two) cold treats before I spent the day with them. Instantly, I became the fun aunt of the group, and they loved seeing me on the side of the road. At night, they asked me peculiar questions (my favorite was, “What was the first sentence of your college essay?” — they were twelve-year-olds asking me this, not seniors in high school) and cooked me dinner. If I didn’t eat enough, I could always escape to my van or a nearby coffee shop.

One day, I did exactly that. A bit of rain rolled in on the 4th of July and, deciding that I couldn’t take photos in the rain, I drove back to North Hero where I knew the cute little general store/coffee shop had wifi (and amazing parfaits). There’s a push at Overland to upload photos on a daily basis, so I thought I was being vigilant and using my time wisely.

Little did I know that would be driving into a torrential downpour. Wind blew even more water of the lake; every time I would stop the van, a wall of water from the roof would drench the windshield and momentarily obscure my vision. I tried saying the Lord’s Prayer in English, then Spanish (I could only get halfway) and then I made sure my phone was within arm’s reach, just in case anything happened. The drive that had taken me 20 minutes before now took twice as long, and when I arrived at the coffee shop, the only seat with an outlet nearby was across from an older man. I asked if I could take it, sat down, and started uploading. Of course, then the sun decided to come out.

And then the man decided to chat with me. He said that his 22-year-old daughter (oh, he must be sane, right?) had the same laptop and camera as me. He had a bit of an accent, and said he was from Bern, Switzerland. He showed me photos of the flooding in Bern on his iPad. I mentioned that I had been to Interlaken. He scoffed and said that everyone goes to Interlaken. I said, of course, because it’s beautiful. He agreed.

And then he asked me if I knew about crop circles.

“Like the ones in Scifi movies?” I asked.

Yes, sort of, he said. He showed me a picture on his iPad. But not the ones in the movies, the real ones. He said he was going to see some in England next week.

“Wow, cool,” I said, not sure how to respond. “Do you get to see them make the crop circles?”

He was appalled by this. Of course not. No one knows how they are made. They happen overnight.

“But someone makes them,” I said with a smile.

“Well, if you know who makes them, you should tell them!” he exclaimed, and immediately I realized the ignorance. Not his ignorance, but my disregard for something he believed in so much that he was willing to leave his family and friends for two weeks and spend thousands of dollars just to see them.

I listened politely as he talked about the strong magnetic field in the area, how the crops remain undamaged, and how the symbols mean various prophetic things. I then glanced at my watch, said I had to be back for dinner, and quickly packed up my stuff and left. Maybe he was just a crazy old man anyway.

That night, I didn’t manage to set up my tent in time, so I slept in the van. It was sort of metaphorical for how the whole trip went – I spent a full day with each group, but it really wasn’t long enough for me to become one of them. I was definitely the outsider, with different and more posh accommodations. I didn’t understand their inside jokes from the bike trip, because I spent most of my time thinking about my own thoughts and chasing my own crop circles from within the confines of my traveling home. But they listened to my highs and lows of the day anyway, and they laughed at my story about the crazy old man from the coffee shop.

I wasn’t entirely satisfied with my photos from the trip. I had taken plenty, but there was a quality missing – a disconnect. As my next trip proved, it was probably the result of me living by myself, in my van down by the lake.

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