In over sixty days of travel, we have only had one experience where we felt unsafe. And that was in Parsons, KS. We were feeling pretty blissed out after finding that awesome free campground in Western Kansas where we had spontaneously decided to spend the day. That bliss, however, was quickly erased as we faced insanely gusting winds the entire way across the flat state. The wind made Hazelnut extra nervous, as every semi we passed (far more than half of the vehicles on the road) shook the RV dramatically. The day was long, and a bit stressful. We were committed to get through as much as Kansas as possible, so we drove until just before dark when we found a county campground near the freeway that seemed safe enough. It wasn’t until darkness set in that I started to get the feeling of unease. When I walked the dogs, I realized that half of the people at the campground were permanent residents who had come upon hard times. The campground sign noted a seven day limit, but after talking with one of them– a kind Kansas man who had sold his home and had nowhere to go, so he’d been living in the campground for months– and looking at the permanency (broken down cars, etc.) reflected on several of the sites, it was clear that people had been staying for a long time. There was a tent next to us whose occupants had no car or transportation.
I came back inside experiencing a very conflicting feeling. I couldn’t shake my unease, but I also knew that I didn’t want to judge the situations around me. There was no reason to believe that we were in danger. No reason to assume that those in hard times were a threat. But the hair on the back of my neck was raised. When you are traveling in unfamiliar places, you cannot help but by hyperaware of your surroundings, and you cannot push away your intuition. I had not felt creeped out once the entire time we had been traveling– why was I feeling unease now?
We talked about it, and debated our options. Jordan, unbeknownst to me googled crime rates in the area (he told me the next day that they were high). Still, we decided that it was safer to stay and be vigilant. It was dark, we had already driven a day that was too long, and we had nowhere else to go. We set up the RV so that we could quickly drive away if we felt like we needed too. Then we made sure everything was secure, turned off the fan so the dogs could do their barking thing, and went to sleep. Bailey woke us up with a single warning bark around 4 in the morning, everything was silent for a moment and then we heard raised voices coming from the tent next to us– inaudible sounds broken up by cussing. The fight lasted for several minutes, maybe more. We listened quietly, now wide awake. The campground fell into silence again but it was hard to go back to sleep. We decided to drive away as soon as there was enough light.
5AM saw us back on the road, our adrenaline pumping. We were filled with immense relief to be out of the situation and moving again. In hindsight, like I said before, I think we were safe enough. I still feel guilty for judging the people who were there. They were drenched in hardship and I was just a privileged traveller, driving through. With everything that has gone on in our country over the past few years, I felt hyperaware of my judgement and my identity in conflict with the area around me. It felt wrong for me– a liberal from both coasts– to have such judgement for this corner of middle America. I was scared of their potential guns, their potential drug abuse, their potential feeling of not having much to lose. All of these things unfounded. Still, I knew I couldn’t ignore the strength of the unease I was feeling. It has been an interesting conflict to think back on, a moral dilemma, a question of what even is intuition in a situation like this if not only preconceived triggers, judgements, and egocentric notions.
By dawn we were out of Kansas, and into Missouri. As we approached the border, the scenery shifted and we were quickly overwhelmed by the beauty of the “the show-me state.” Grassy plains yielded to the rolling Ozarks and by early afternoon we were tackling the climbs and falls of the Mark Twain National Forest roads. We were not expecting to tire out the big mamma’s brakes in MO but man in the two hours we spent driving into the M.T. National Forest we climbed and dropped through some nasty grades. The final descent into the campground made our brakes smell and it was a huge relief to settle into the gorgeous valley at the Sutton Bluff campground.
If you were to tell me at the start of our trip that one of my favorite places would be in the middle of nowhere Missouri… I wouldn’t believe you. But this was seriously one of my favorite stops we made. The campground was beautiful and nearly empty for most of the time we were there. This was also the first stop we made that felt like being back on the East Coast, which made my heart surprisingly happy. Even better, it was the first place we went that had absolutely no service and that was such a welcome relief.
We woke up the next day and made a huge campfire breakfast. We wandered the river with the dogs, and hiked stretches of the Ozark trail. I oo-ed and aww-ed at the way fall had touched every corner of the landscape, took too many photos of the leaves and the light, I sat and really wrote for the first time in a while on a picnic bench covered in fallen leaves.
The next day we biked four miles up the paved road and then four miles down the Ozark trail. It was my first time mountain biking and I looooved it. I fell twice, my legs were bruised and battered and my whole body was sore the next day but it was so fun. We were sad to leave Missouri but felt so grateful for choosing to go so far off the beaten path. The day we left Missouri the temperature had dropped into the low thirties and we braced ourselves for a stretch of cold that would follow us for quite some time.