The Journey Home

I spent the past week at the Free Spirit Gathering in Darlington, MD. I had a good time.

This time was particularly special for me because I camped with the members of the Wicca group I teach. I’ve camped with members of my "clan" before; people who either trained with me or were taught by the same teacher(s). This was the first time I camped with a network of folks whom I had brought together. It felt good.

Unfortunately, the journey home from Free Spirit was not so pleasant.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I purchased a yurt and planned to use it for camping at Free Spirit. The yurt is bulky and its total weight is 150-200 pounds.  I tied it to the roof of my car in order to have enough room in my car for my other supplies.

In driving from New York to Maryland, I had no particular problems with the tied-down yurt.  That was not true on the way back; there were some differences in the way I tied it down, but I had thought they were minor.  Apparently, they weren’t.

I was driving on I-95, talking with H on my (hand-free, of course) cell phone. (That would be worth a blog post in and of itself. She was lost trying to get to Long Island, a sufficient inspiration to put her in fine scatalogical form.)  I heard something come loose on the roof of my car and start flapping around.  I slowed down, pulled over to the shoulder, and got out of the car.

As I did so, my sneaker slipped off my left foot.  I don’t know how it happened; probably it became loose during the process of packing up while I was still at the camp site.  I slipped, tripped, and fell.

I pulled over as far as I could on the shoulder, but I’m 6’4" and I fell flat down on the ground.  My head crossed over the white line that bordered the shoulder and into the right-hand traffic lane.

The speed limit was 65, which of course meant that everyone was going at 75.  If any car had passed by in the right-hand lane in that moment, and had been just a trifle careless, I would not be typing this now.

I panicked, but not unintelligently.  I quickly crawled back into the shoulder area, pulled myself up on the side of my car.  I said to H, "I can’t talk to you now.  I’ll call you later."  I turned off the call and put the ear piece in the car.  Then I walked behind my car, still shaken from my close call.

As I slowly got up, a vehicle from the Maryland Department of Transportation pulled up behind me.  It arrived not more than 30 seconds since I had gotten out of my car.  If anything had happened, at least there would have been some help.  A guy out of the car, asked me what happened, and offered to help.

Apart from my wits, I was no worse off than a scrapped knee.  I thanked him, and shook his hand. 

Thank you again, Maryland Department of Transportation.

I checked my tie-down job, fixed the loose bungee cord, and added a couple more.  I felt the load was more secure, though I was still shakey. I started the car and continued, going 5-10 miles below the speed limit.

I did not get far.  As I crossed a bridge, I heard a "thunk" from the top of the car.  Passing cars started honking and their drivers pointed towards my roof.  I slowed down even more and pulled over as soon as there was a shoulder.  I got out of the car, very carefully this time.

My supposedly-even-better tie-down had slipped somehow.  I knew I had to disassemble part of the set-up in order to put it in better shape.

As I was messing with bungee and tarps and the yurt fence, another car pulled onto the shoulder in front of me.  Badger got out of the car and offered to help.  I knew Badger; we’d first met two years ago at Free Spirit and had had some interesting conversations.  This year, Badger had been part of the Free Spirit staff, working as Security.  She was still wearing her sash and badge of office as she walked up to my car.

Together, we re-arranged the yurt into a more stable set-up.  This time I used all my available bungee and made sure that nothing had any room to flap. 

Thanks again, Badger.

I drove on.  I felt my tie-down was now much more secure, but I didn’t take any risks.  I kept in the right-hand lane, 10 miles below the speed limit.

I got off at the next highway rest stop, both to take a break to calm my nerves, and for a more leisurely check of how well I tied down the yurt.  While I was there, O and his family also came to the rest stop.  I’ve known O since 1995; he and I are in the same Wiccan clan.  He met his wife at Free Spirit, and his daughter has been going to Free Spirit literally since before she was born.  They had also just come from the festival; they had left much later than I did, but I’d been traveling so slowly that they just caught up with me.

I may not be handy with physical hardware and tieing down tents to roof racks, but O is.  I asked if he’d inspect my job, and he agreed.  He tugged on it from all four sides and tightened a couple of bungees, and confimed that it was secure.

Thanks again, O.

I continued on the highway.  Again: right-hand lane, 5-10 miles below the speed limit.

I cross the border from Maryland to Delaware, then from Delaware to New Jersey.  I stop at the first rest stop in New Jersey to take a 20-minute nap.  I continue on the New Jersey Turnpike, get off at the following rest stop to get a diet soda… and met up with O again.

My travel karma had somehow transferred to them.  O had been rear-ended by another car, and had lost part of his back bumper.  Fortunately, no one involved was hurt.

They had stopped at this rest stop to have lunch, and I joined them even though I didn’t get any food.  I just wanted to hang with them for a while.  It completed the process of calming my nerves from that dangerous fall.

I didn’t get any details about their accident, but I learned that while O and the other car had were on the shoulder, both folks from Free Spirit and some Orthodox Jews had pulled over to offer some help.

Thanks again, to O and his family, for helping me make the rest of the journey home in a mindful and grateful state.  Thanks again, world, for keeping them safe.

I’m back.  They’re back.  The great network of people, whether based on MD-DOT, FSG, Wicca, and humanity helped get us back.

Thank you all.


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