Recently, I celebrated a birthday. My friend and one-time traveling companion, Johnie Stark, sent me a card with the message: “Because of you, I have many happy and fun memories.” Oh, my. What experiences we share!
Both of us widowed, Johnie and I traveled in my motorhome to The Rally in Georgia one spring, and later in the summer, to Moscow, Idaho, for the Annual Life On Wheels Conference. For the two and a half years I traveled solo, I was blessed with two fun-loving and compatible companions. My first summer alone, Jo-Ann Carmack rode in my passenger seat. When I alerted my fellow-instructors at Life On Wheels that I was bringing Johnie the second summer, they all speculated that “Johnie” indicated a male companion. Were they surprised!
Johnie and I had lived as neighbors when our children were preschoolers. Although our lives had traveled in different directions, we have the kind of friendship that picks up immediately whenever we’re together. We left Arkansas like two giggling runaway teenagers.
Our route took us through Kansas City, an unsavory part of the city where folks were building up steam for a Saturday night. People stood in the street and tires screeched around corners. We told Spot to stand at the windshield and look fierce. He wagged his tail. But after the bustling city, we passed through rich farmland. Wind smoothed prairie grass on the rolling hillsides like a hand rubbing the nap on velvet. Following I-29 along the borders of Iowa and Nebraska, we drove past old, white two-story farmhouses with barns that we wished could tell their stories. Whenever I felt sleepy, Johnie played “flight attendant” and served me candy, Pepsi, popcorn, and even a cold cloth to stave off drowsiness. She loved turning on the generator and popping corn in the microwave as we sped along the Interstate.
We turned onto I-90 and traveled across South Dakota, where we trained for Cheyenne Days in Wyoming on the bucking bull at Wall Drug… although our timing was off for the big rodeo. We stopped at Custer State Park, and Johnie shot her entire cache of film on pictures of buffalo. We watched sunsets unfurl like pink cotton candy across the western sky.
Right on schedule, we motored across I-90, having breakfast in South Dakota, lunch in Wyoming, and dinner in Montana. Under Montana’s Big Sky, we traveled through mountains covered in boulders that looked as though a giant hand had up-ended them. Yellow and purple wildflowers lined the highway and speckled huge tracts of grazing land. At Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, we dropped south to the rolling Palouse surrounding Moscow. We arrived at the University of Idaho campus a week prior to the conference and settled into our dry camping spot alongside my fellow instructors. The week of classes, we moved onto the grassy football practice field, where we had electricity and access to water.
Although we arrived at the campus with a full fresh water tank and empty gray and black water tanks, Johnie and I were the only ones in our group who pulled out three times that first week to drive cross-town to empty tanks and take on fresh water at the Latah County Fairgrounds. We told our friends we were going to Wal-Mart because the motorhome would stash more purchases. A complete cover-up because we never wanted anyone to think we were not savvy in conserving water. I think they believed us!
Mixed in with our adventures, we had misadventures such as accidentally locking the steering wheel of my tow vehicle and blocking another motorhome at a gas station. We turned everything upside down looking for door keys that were in Johnie’s purse. And Johnie lamented about others seeing her without make-up in the University’s shower room in the gym. However, she realized the advantage of using the school’s facilities when she once lathered up in the motorhome shower—and then had no more water for rinsing.
Possibly, the most-repeated story involves Spot and a cat. While we dry-camped on the campus, a few dog owners improvised a “doggie park” on a ball field. With fencing on three sides, we could let our animals off their leashes—and guard the openings at one end.
One morning, a woman who had registered for the conference brought her little three-month-old black kitten out to the dog’s playground. She sat the tiny fur ball at her feet and said she wanted Quincy to get accustomed to dogs. Immediately, Spot circled and the kitten climbed his owner’s legs. He ran round and round the woman, barking and leaping. Trying to grab his collar, I chased his tail yelling “Spot.” The kitten hissed and arched his back. Quincy clawed up his owner’s body and across her arms, leaving long scratch marks—and a trail of poop down her side. As she backed out of the dog area, I distracted Spot alongside the fence and snapped on his leash. Johnie stood watching—and laughing—at this side show from behind my motorhome’s windshield. As badly as I felt for the cat owner’s scratches, I could not believe she took a kitten into an area of dogs. However, the scene Spot, the cat, and I made woke our neighbors in the temporary campground—and created a memorable moment in our trip. I doubt the kitten ever became friendly with dogs!
The following summer, my friends speculated about who I would bring to Life On Wheels. However, three of them had traveled cross country to my wedding in February, so they knew my travel partner would be Lee. A few others, tongue in cheek, asked who I would bring the following year. As much fun as I had with both Jo-Ann and Johnie, Lee is a keeper—my permanent travel companion. Our misadventures may not make funny stories, but our adventures together cannot be matched.
Traveling in their motorhome several months each year, Arline and her photographer husband, Lee Smith, make their permanent home in Heber Springs, Arkansas. She currently is a presenter for Workamper Rendezvous, sponsored by Workamper News. Arline has dozens of magazine articles published, as well as five books: “Road Work: The Ultimate RVing Adventure” (now available on Kindle); “Road Work II: The RVer’s Ultimate Income Resource Guide”; “Truly Zula; When Heads & Hearts Collide”; and “The Heart of Branson”, a history of the families who started the entertainment town and those who sustain it today. Visit Arline’s personal blog at ArlineChandler.Blogspot.com