“Settling In, and Blowing Out”: Episode 5 of The Rocky Mountain Rubber Tramp

Finishing and filling the shed was a necessary chore for living in the high timber, but proved a little strenuous after all the other labor of moving out, digging in and cleaning up for camper life.

“Yowza, what a past couple of weeks this has been. In the course of packing, hauling, storing, hauling, digging a septic tank, clearing a couple loads of brush and building lofts and benches in the shed, my back had had enough. I pinched my sciatic nerve and suddenly the world changed: I couldn’t sit, sleep, stand or walk without shooting pain. I went to the chiro (Stupid!) six times, and that just ended up making it worse. I didn’t sleep for three nights before I finally decided it was time to see a medical doctor.”

— Journal entry: Thursday; July, 12th, 2018; 6:20 pm. In my camper, Cochise

I’m afraid we’re going to have to take a trip to the woodshed. There’s a lot of work to be done! Those were the words that woke me each morning as the month of June was drawing to a close. Unless I wanted to incur the additional cost of another month’s storage rent, at $130 and some change, I had to put some lofts, work tables, a closet and as many shelves as would fit into the shed — which a contractor had built because my back wasn’t up to standing walls, hanging siding and putting up rafters and metal roofing panels. But it was just a shell. I reckoned I could flesh out the guts and finish the interior. That turned out to be not one of my better decisions, however. And, as a wiser, old boss would often tell me: Life is about the decisions we make. He was right.

But with the blurred vision of too much Teutonic ancestry, I just put my head down and bolted forward like a rushing Hun. It often worked in the past, so why not? What I should have realized was that if it pained me as much as it did loading several 4’x8’ sheets of plywood and half-score pieces of 2”x4” lumber into my utility trailer, how would it feel humping these sheets up into the rafters and bending and lifting and squatting and kneeling and grunting and cursing to finish the shed and fill it with boxes of books, scads of camping gear, wardrobes of clothing, crates of tools, and all the other flotsam and jetsam of my life’s wanton voyage that I was unable to separate myself from when I “dematerialized” in preparation for living in a camper? But I never gave it a thought… Silly me, eh?

I was able to set up the shed and empty the storage space, however, through brutish determination and a continuous crescendo of grunts and blasphemy bathed in cheap barley pop and legal botanicals — and much to the chagrin of my dog Rambeaux, who seemed to think I was doing this all for her, for some reason. I’m not sure why I thought that. Must have been the cheap barley pop and legal botanicals, but I digress…

Proud as I was of pushing through and punching out the job, I nevertheless felt the need for a little bit of the ol’ R&R. I was inclined to recline, so I scampered into the camper and went horizontal. I got stuck. When my lower back muscles finally got some rest they decided to get a little recuperative respite as well. So, they did what overtaxed muscles do on overaged bodies. They went into contraction. Damn lower back muscles. Damn contraction. Damn, damn, damndamn.

Nightfall cast its dark blanket upon the land, and I felt the gripping omnipresence of being completely alone. In the woods. On a mountain. 10 miles from the Village, with no cell phone service. I tried not to worry. I failed. Quite miserably. If only Rambeaux, my dog, was Lassie I could have sent her off to get help from Timmy, but she didn’t understand my urgent requests: “Get help, Rambeaux. Get help!” She just looked at me with that goofy expression on her face, ears up like a bat’s and wagging her tail as if it was the backside baton of a maestro leading Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Crazy mutt. Gotta love dogs. I do. Not the little yip-yap critters with the Napoleon complex who can’t shut up without risking their existence, irritating and conflagrating the most noble of personages. I can’t stand those micro-canine excuses for rodentia with the chatter-hammer yammerboxes. But again, I fear I may digress…

Rambeaux

Back to the Darkside. I bid you welcome. Never in my life had I experienced that depth of fear. I didn’t necessarily think I was going to die, but I realized the cold, stark reality that that shit could happen. I wouldn’t be able to help myself, and I was the only self that was there, except for the dog, but…

I settled in. Lying on the mattress complex that came with the camper: an oversized, worn-out futon and a piece of memory foam. Not what you want for a bad lower lumbar. No sleep. Ditto the next two days.

Fortunately, I had electricity. Alternating current (aka AC), not that direct current (aka DC) that Thomas Edison was all about. Good thing Tesla won that binary decision, that algorithm. (Not talking about the car manufacturer, but the Italian fellow who was Edison’s contemporary. Quite the scrappers, those two. I say Google it. They would tell you the same.)

With electricity, I had a working laptop that allowed me to lie in the weeds and try to seek comfort through watching movies. So, I did that. Westerns, Lord of the Rings, historical documentaries on William and Clarke’s Corps of Discovery — all that stuff. Slowly, the nasty little muscles of the lower lumbar decided it was time to lighten up. I f’ing agreed. It took a little more time than I had budgeted for such unforeseen events. But, more’s the pity.

Getting a little R&R in Cochise with Rambeaux, alone in the woods, out of earshot and cell service at 9.000' a dozen mile south of the Wyoming border in the Colorado Rockies.

My mind drifted. I miss that. Occasionally, however, it would drift bad. I had fears. We all do. Deal with it. I tried. Lost. Imagined myself passed. Alone. In a camper on a mountainside. Way up, near Wyoming. No one knows. The dog wonders who will fetch food and water. By the time the neighbors alert the sheriff’s department — which will be in spring, when the neighbors return — my body will be a decomposing corpse in a dried puddle of my own excrement. And what of Rambeaux? What will she do? Actually, I don’t really want to know. Hopefully survive.

But, that didn’t happen. (As Mark Twain said, “Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe.” He was right.) I was flat on my back looking up in my camper, wondering WTF was going on. Several days passed…

When I felt able, I clambered into BroBo (the Bronze Bomber — my Nissan Pathfinder) and headed down the mountain. The good doctor checked me out, confirmed the sciatica and (most importantly) gave me some muscle relaxers. I didn’t want any opioid pain blockers, so I got something milder. I really just wanted the muscle relaxers. They mellow the spasms. Damn spasms. They’re the worst. I can deal with pain. Just not in electrical spurts.

I return to the camper, but little comfort. The bedding is too soft, even with the medication. I don’t sleep. That sucks. After a few days more, I’m able to get up and head down into Fort Collins to buy a cheap twin-size mattress and buck it up into the camper before dark. Jolly good! I get rest.

As soon as I feel straight, I do what I feel needs to be done, and maybe a little bit more. I take the trash to the compactor at Basecamp, get water at the community spigot, check my mail and my favorite fishing hole — catching the same stupid rainbow that I eventually named Phil (or Filthy Phil, when I couldn’t catch him) and generally acted normal. Again, not one of my better decisions.

A few days later I was back in spasm-land, and had to measure my steps. I made an appointment with the Doc in hopes of getting better meds. He started me on the weak, but I was ready for something a little stronger — especially for the spasms, which were not getting better. I struggled into BroBo and busted down the mountain. I made the 10 miles to Red Feather before pulling over at West Lake prior to heading down the hill. F’ing spasms were getting a little out of hand. I had to get out of the truck. Then I got stuck. Again. This time vertical. But no better. Quite worse.

I bothered around walking in the parking lot, looking to find the key to loosening my lower back. No luck with that. Damn. I tried getting into the vehicle but couldn’t find comfort from the spasms. Damndamn. I milled around and the situation felt worse.

A sheriff’s truck was perched across the road, letting visitors know that there is law in this town. The Village. I whistled and hailed them, and they responded. The County guys called the Village guys, and soon there was the big-box ambulance from the local fire department. These dudes were cool. But, they couldn’t really help me. I needed some medication. I ended up with more than I wanted. Happens here. In ‘Murica. Ya.

A different colored big-box ambulance was soon rambling up the highway from Fort Collins. Oh well, glad I have insurance. I get gurneyed and loaded into the back of the box. Then I got loaded some more. The ride down the mountain was bumpy at best, especially laid up on your back with spasms.

I was looked at and x-rayed in the ER, and the good doctor told me that in addition to sciatica I had a little rheumatoid arthritis in my lower back. He gave me a shot of steroids or something, wrote a scrip for heavy-duty muscle relaxers and non-opioid pain relievers, then sent me on my merry way. I straggled out after paying what I could, and it was at that moment I realized I was a long way from home.

Fortune blew kind winds. I knew an Indian princess in Fort Collins and she consented to take me back up to Red Feather and BroBo (one of the local EMTs took Rambeaux back to my camper. Gotta love the local EMTs!). I waddled back to Cochise (this camper) and lay upon the mattress after knocking down some Flexeril (muscle relaxers). Again, I got stuck. This time, in a good way. Or so it felt. A dazed and confused moment of concern and happiness all rolled into one. I could feel my lower lumbar unburdening itself, as I had done to live this way: In a camper. In the woods. Way up near Wyoming. Nine thousand feet. No phone. All alone. Yaboy!

And when you are alone — truly alone — you close your eyes and quiet yourself, and seek the greater presence about you, the presence you feel come down upon you like a warm, liquid blanket. Then you hold tight. Breathe. In through your nose. Slowly. Out through your mouth. Clear your lungs. Now, you open your eyes and speak. You speak to the presence. The only thing there.

Quite frankly, I put my faith in a greater power that I can only imagine, more than anything I have ever seen. But, I ain’t done lookin’ yet…

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Kurt Buss

I’ve been writing for publication since it was done on typewriters, oh so long ago. I try to bridge the gap between the then and now of being a Baby Boomer.