Six Month Reflection

It’s almost impossible to believe that today marks six full months of travel. If you had told me this time last year that I would be in Bulgaria, having been on the road for 26 weeks, been through 15 countries, seen countless incredible sights, made so many wonderful friends, and managed to add seven more dogs to my Menagerie (oops), I would have rolled my eyes and told you you were crazier then I am, and that’s saying something. Yet here I sit, tucked in the little caravan that has been my home for the last six months, and I have done all of those things and more. It’s weird to contemplate how different my life is then I thought it would be a year ago, and more, to really grasp how I feel about the changes.

I “knew” travelling with all my animals around Europe with no plan and little money was going to be challenging. Everyone knew that. But I had no idea just how plain hard it would be. I could never have anticipated the stress involved with not being able to afford campsites, food, gas, and vet care. I couldn’t have known how often we would be coasting in to a truck stop on the last fumes of gas, or what it would be like to not be able to find any rest stops as the last rays of sun were setting behind yet another mountain. When we lost phone service and reliable WiFi we faced a generational challenge that I know our parents would have laughed at… but you can’t find truck stops on a map!!

The reality of six large dogs and five cats cooped up in a tiny caravan and car is actually brutal… there is nothing fun or exciting about it. It’s dirty, hairy, smelly, and crowded. No amount of vacuuming or wiping down can keep the sheer volume of animal at bay. On the days when there’s no place for off leash walking, the dogs pick fights with each other and the cats to work off energy. Or they bark incessantly until your head wants to explode and you can’t think straight.

I’ve struggled with nightmares and insomnia for years due to PTSD, but on this trip sleep has become a distant memory. The few hours I do catch are often interrupted by high beams at truck stops, drunks throwing up in front of the caravan, or dogs and cats simply stepping all over me in an effort to find a place to lay down. And the fact that I haven’t had any sleep doesn’t stop the fact that they all want breakfast, potty breaks, and walks at the crack of dawn. There’s no option to just throw the door open and let them run around the yard for a bit like back home… it requires fully getting up, getting dressed, putting on leashes, yelling for everyone to shut up and sit down so you can do all those things, and then being dragged out the door and across a parking lot to the nearest grass so the business can get underway. This is rain or shine, snow or blazing heat, day and night. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve closed my eyes and wished myself back to England in my great big house with my huge fenced garden and a husband to lean on when it gets to be too much for me. That’s not an option out here on the road so we just get on with it, albeit with plenty of griping and swearing at the animals and at each other when Trav and I have reached the end of our ropes.

Other challenges are more unexpected. Laundry has been our biggest shock. Laundromats such as we have back in the States are not a thing through much of Europe, especially not in small town, rural Europe where we spend the vast majority of our time. We can go a month between finding laundry options and while I have enough clothes to get through it, poor Travis suffers. More, the bedding suffers. Usually I would change sheets once a week at minimum… I’m used to hair but this is a whole different ball game and it drives me crazy. Showering is another issue. In countries with good truck stops we did okay, but when we entered the Balkans, things weren’t so easy. Here in Bulgaria we have access to a house and shower, except it’s winter time, and the pipes freeze regularly. We’ve gotten real good at washing by baby wipes or showering in 60 seconds when there’s enough hot water to do so. They claim that not washing your hair too often is actually good for it… well mine is being put to the ultimate test; I’m not sure I’m impressed.

The reality of life on the road is that there isn’t a lot of what you see in the photos or on those travel shows. We sight see once in a blue moon and in some counties have missed the best sights altogether because they aren’t practical with dogs in tow. It’s not one big adventure day to the next; most of the time it’s just trying to stretch the last few dollars to feed us all until next month’s pay check and be able to afford the gas to get us to the next country or safe place. It’s wondering how to cook food with no stove and no place to start a fire, and how to stay warm with no electricity when the temperatures drop below zero (the animals are real helpful there)! It’s never knowing where we are or where we’re going next, and often not being able to read the signs that are directing us there. It’s a lot of communication by hand and Google translate and often knowing that neither party has a clue what’s been said. It’s hard and it’s depressing and it’s frustrating and it’s often lonely even with each other and the animals for company.

But all that being said, I wouldn’t take back a single moment of the last six months. We maybe be living rough, we may be taking the longer, tougher road, but damn are we living life to the fullest. No one can say that we haven’t taken the bit in our teeth and ran with it.

I’ve bathed in a lake in Denmark and stood on the spot where two seas meet. I’ve traversed most of Poland in an attempt to enter the Ukraine (which admittedly failed). But I’ve walked the castle in Krakow and gazed through the gates of Auschwitz. I’ve ridden native horses in the Czech Republic and watched traditional song and dance at one of their local village fairs. We made friends there, from both the Czech and from all the way from China. In Austria we may have seen some of the worst of life, but we also saw some of the best. I drove Standardbred racehorses and summitted my first mountains. I rode in ski lifts with my service dogs and danced on the streets of Hallstatt with Wasi. I saw Vienna through my family’s eyes, rediscovered Austria’s beauty through them when it had all gone a bit sour. The friends we made it Austria will be ones we keep for life: we’ve revisited some already and have others coming to see us next month! I finally made it to Italy, and the magic of Venice. There’s more to discover there but at least I got a taste. A dear friend joined us there and made it all the more special.

Entering the Balkans, we had no expectations, no ideas of what life would be like here. In Croatia we were introduced to Rakia (ewww by the way), perfect beaches and the friendliest people around. Bosnia and Herzegovina stole my heart with its unexpected charm and harsh mountain beauty. There I rode horses free across lands littered with the ruins of ancient people’s. The recent tragedy only made the people’s determination to move forward all the more inspiring. We lived in a town that had been at the center of the war, where houses still bore the bullet holes and bombed out craters of the violence. Our hosts there has experienced the war first hand, one on the front lines, another having to give up his eight month old daughter to keep her safe. The shadows of what they lived through was often still visible in their eyes and their hard exterior, though when you got to know them, they were people just like us who wanted peace and prosperity just like people everywhere. They shared their stories and it was impossible not to feel their pain. It was humbling and frightening and inspiring all at once.

Our time in Serbia was too short but we reunited with one of the friends we made in Austria and he shared life there with us. We met his family, had dinner made by his grandmother (amazing by the way). We helped move a (very large) pig and played with some piglets. Our friend shared his family’a story with us, how life had improved for them but there was still more they hoped to do with the house. We talked about the protests in Belgrade and how politics are the same no matter where you are in the world. And again it was brought home to us how very alike people are, no matter where they may be… we’re really all the same at heart.

Now we’re in Bulgaria. In the last six months we’ve rescued two dogs and successfully rehomed one. The second dog has a home waiting for her when she weans her puppies. Somehow I’m once again raising a litter of six puppies born on my bed, nearly seven years exactly since my Nefsi was born. I was just divorced then too; how’s that for life coming full circle? My own dogs and cats are happy and healthy. Wasi will celebrate his one year birthday tomorrow; he will have spent exactly half his life living on the road. That’s one well travelled pup! We lost our precious Sami but we’ve never forgotten her, not even for a moment… she’s still apart of our Menagerie in spirit.

I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know where we will go when our time in Bulgaria is up, or how we will get there. Outside factors have made life all the more difficult right now; especially financially, but I imagine we will get through it. I long to return to England, to my horses, my friends, my life there, but I know it’s not possible right now. There’s so much more to see, so much more to do, and we’ve finally gotten the hang of this life on the road so I suppose we should take advantage; lord knows I’ll never do a trip quite this way again! But it’s certainly been one hell of an adventure so far, and I’m glad it’s not over yet!

Happy New Year

I know I’m late and that I’ve been absent for a few weeks. Suffice to say, when I can’t get my happy pills, just waking up in the morning and dealing with my dogs tends to be all I can handle in a day. That and the fact that my thoughts always turn rather morose during those withdrawal episodes kept me from wanting to write and bring everyone down with me. But I’m happy to report that good old Bulgaria has an unlimited supply of Zoloft and I have stocked up for the foreseeable future and after about a week back on them, I’m feeling much more myself again!

The last few weeks have been mostly quiet to be honest, so I haven’t missed much. We’re nicely settled in to our routine here in Gabrovo, though admittedly that routine has including a rather hermit-like existence for myself as I’ve been on puppy watch! I’ll go in to more details on her own post, but suffice to say that we have our second rescue dog of the trip, along with the seven adorable puppies she gave birth to yesterday. I know, what in the hell were we thinking. Stay tuned!

Our holidays here in Bulgaria were wonderful, aided by the fact that our hostess has already become more family then friend. We were included on all the festivities, and they even bought us some Christmas gifts. I managed to watch White Christmas on Christmas Eve, my personal tradition, and made everyone some American chocolate chip cookies.

Christmas morning Travis whipped up some an awesome American breakfast (we shared lots of home with our friends this holiday!) of pancakes, eggs, and bacon and of course, mimosas! I engaged in a game of monopoly with Sky, which I was obviously winning before we gave up. The kids were thrilled with their presents and I was so touched when we got ours. We also spent lots of time FaceTiming back with our own families back home, and I admit to more then a touch of homesickness.

The week between Christmas and New Years was marked by warmer temperatures and mostly by me complaining about the overwhelming amount of mud in the caravan. I can deal with a fairly high degree of mess/dirt, obviously, or I wouldn’t be able to travel like this with my animals, but even I have my limits. Mud, especially of this heavy, clay variety that sticks to everything and doesn’t easily brush or vacuum off is enough to make me break out into a full blown panic attack, which I did multiple times. Thankfully, Nefsi may be retired from public access work but he’s still on point at home and he was able to bring me around before I lost my mind. Wasi is doing his best but his idea of disruption is currently to launch himself in to my arms and slather me with slobber… a would be effective tactic except I hate dog kisses and it makes me even more strung out. We’re working on it, he will get there.

For New Years, Dee and I struggled to stay awake until midnight and ended up cuddled up in her bed with six dogs and who knows how many cats about two hours out. However, thanks to Wasi’s insistence that he could also fit (he couldn’t) and his repeated attempts to do so (I still have the bruises), we weren’t able to succumb to sleep before the year changed. We rang it in with sparkles and lots of noise and then hightailed it to bed.

Now we’re a few days in to 2019 and I’m taking a moment to look back over the last year. It’s been a long one, with some incredible highs and some seriously low lows. I want to say the ups outweighed the downs but honestly, I think it probably came out pretty even. All things considered, that’s better then expected so I’ll take it. I do know that I’ve had one incredible experience after another this year, from filling a lifelong dream of riding racehorses in Newmarket, England to taking the leap and embarking on this insane tour of Europe with my furry family in tow. No one can say that I’ve let PTSD take life away from me, that’s for sure, and since that’s my daily goal, I’m satisfied. This coming year I’m hoping to find a bit of the opposite of what I found this year: less questions and more answers, less drama and more peace, less restlessness and more stability… most of all, though, what I’d like to find in 2019 is a home to call my own, where I can reunite my horses, safely house my dogs and cats, and never have to worry about losing it all again. So here’s to that!

P.S. I also want a really good vacuum this year… my life in the caravan would be so different with a really good vacuum 😂!

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Lighting the Fire

I lit my first fire today.  That may seem like a small thing, but for me, it turned out to be a rather monumental occasion.  I’ve never lit a fire before, like ever in my whole life.  I’ve been avoiding trying since Travis left, I thought because I was afraid of burning the cabin down.  But the temperatures are dropping, and its raining on top of that, and I really hate being wet and cold, so I knelt down in front of the fireplace and got to work.  I think I might have avoided it for longer if I knew what was coming.

Travis taught me how to build the little wood teepee, make space for the white accelerant block thingie, open the little drawer underneath for air flow and how to wait until those pieces caught before adding one of the bigger pieces of wood.  So I did all those things, crouching there shivering and hoping things would go smoothly.  Everything went along fine until I added the big piece that would actually create some heat… then things just sort of died out.  So I started the whole process over again, trying to remember if I’d forgotten anything, and wishing fervently that someone was there to help.  It was when my consciousness caught up with my wandering mind that things started to go really down hill.  Because I realised I wasn’t wishing for an faceless helping hand, or even my cousins familiar face… I was wishing for a man I’ve spent this entire trip trying to forget, and god that was galling.

I froze there, crouched on that hearth and tried to tell myself it made perfect sense I’d be wishing for the firefighter I married while I was trying to light a fire.  No big deal.  But it was a big deal, a betrayal of myself by myself, and in the moments that followed I stopped shaking from cold and started shaking in anger.  I started prodding the fire with a kind of pathetic desperation, as if getting it to stay lit would release me from the heartache that was threatening to overwhelm me, but it was too late, the thought, and the emotions it brought with it, had already taken root.

I’d like to be able to say that I got that fire lit and burned my ex-husband in effigy on my first successful fire.  But that’s not what happened.  Instead I spent the next thirty minutes lost in a smoky haze of painful memories and seething emotion.  I wanted to be angry with him, with the man who had deserted me, a man who cheated on me, stolen my best friend, lied to me, left me homeless and in tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt knowing that I was in no position to find permanent housing or a real job.  I wanted to feel hatred towards this man who hadn’t been able to love me, who hadn’t even tried to love me, who had emotionally abandoned me when I came forward about my rape, who had degraded me for having PTSD and never once sought to understand the depression and anxiety that plagued me.  Most of all I wanted to stop feeling anything, anything at all, for the coward who broke my heart.

But though I tried to concentrate on all these perfectly valid and anger inducing attributes of this man I’d been married to, it wasn’t anger I felt as I stared in to those sputtering flames, it was grief.  Still, after all this time, I was grieving the loss of love.  Because still, after all this time and despite all those disappointments and failures and just general shitty husbandness on his part, the emotion that I feel most strongly when I think of him is love.  I stopped prodding the wood and sank down fully in front of the fireplace.  This is why I had avoided building the fire, why I haven’t wanted to be alone, why despite the wonders of this trip I still find myself on the verge of tears more often then not.

I’m so tired of feeling this way.  I wake up every morning with him in my head, and go to sleep every night wondering how he is (even though I know perfectly well how happy he and I imagine soon to be wife number four are).  I came on this trip wanting to prove to myself that I wasn’t going to be one of those “empty shell people” they talk about in my favourite movie, Under the Tuscan Sun.  I’m no chicken shit after all.  I took my homelessness and debt and crappy job prospects and PTSD addled brain and dragged them on the adventure of a lifetime… what more can I do?  Right?

So why do I still feel like I’m the one who is a coward?  Why is my heart still aching for a man that didn’t love me, and couldn’t wait around long enough to let me heal and start to become the woman I wanted to be again?  After everything I’ve done the last four months, why am I still afraid to light the fire?  And how much longer will it be until I’m not?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, and I didn’t find them sitting there staring into the fireplace.  Maybe that’s because I’m asking the wrong questions, I don’t know.  What I do know is that as I sat there, wishing I could stop wishing for what I know can never be, I realised that I wasn’t staring in to smouldering ashes anymore… there were flames… the fire was burning.

And so, I lit my very first fire today, all by myself.  And maybe when I do it tomorrow, I’ll wish for that firefighter a little less, and the day after that, even less, until one day I won’t have to wish for him anymore at all because I’ll know I can light the fire all on my own.

 

A Late Beginning

Well, what can I say.  Surely I’m a prime example of what happens when good intensions meet superior procrastination.  We’re 120 days in to this trip and I’m only just now getting around to actually starting this blog.  I’d like to have thousands of wonderfully exciting reasons and activities that have kept me too busy to write up until now, but the simple truth is that I was not ready to write.

The first 120 days of this journey have been hard, sometimes heartbreakingly so.  While some of the difficulties have stemmed from the reality of travelling with 12 animals in a tiny caravan, limited financial resources, and absolutely no game plan, its really been the lingering emotional upheaval I left behind that has caused the most trouble.  They say you can’t run from your past, or hide from it, or otherwise put any amount of distance between you and it that will soften the blows or ease the hurts.  Well, the first 120 days have reinforced that lesson to a degree that I sometimes wonder is really necessary.  After all, I came out here seeking something, not running away from something, or so I thought anyways.

In any case, after 120 days, I’m finally feel ready to face the prospect of putting the details of my journey down in words.  I’m not sure exactly how I will approach this, so please bear with me.  Do I back track to the beginning and relive those first few months until we’re all caught up?  Do I start here, fresh,  in hopes that not rehashing the hardships makes for lighter, more enjoyable reading?  Do I just intertwine the pleasant travel memories that already are into part of the stories going forward and forget the emotional exhaustion that almost drove me to give this journey up?  I suppose we will just have to wait to see.  But however things go, this is my new beginning; late, but finally here.