I was to have been in Illinois at PSG (Pagan Spirit Gathering) until this coming Sunday, home the Monday after, but things did not go according to plan.
When do they ever, really?
It began well enough with our only-slightly-delayed departure on from Casa de Crazy on June 12 - I wanted us to be on the road by 5:00 in the morning but we wound up pulling out closer to 6. We stopped for water then hit the highway and managed to avoid the worst of the city traffic and get well away before things got hairy. I do not like towing the trailer in heavy traffic!
My friend A and I, along with the kids, managed to haul ourselves on up to Illinois in good time, stopping in our usual place in Effingham in good order, even managing to take the kids for a swim in the motel pool before dinner.
Saturday we got on the road in good time, but that was the extent of things going right.
First, the AC in the front of the van wasn't working. Thankfully we had rear AC and the morning was overcast, but it was still not entirely comfortable. The, we stopped for fuel and had to put air in the shocks because I was experiencing tire rub on the passenger side of the van every time we hit a bump.
On the road again.
Then the passenger side trailer tire blew. It did not blow as spectacularly as it could have, nowhere near like the last time one blew out a few years ago and we lost a fender AND shorted the entire electrical system, but it blew.
Perhaps I should mention that I had never before changed a tire. Ever.
I let K2 know what happened, and she and her crew generously turned around and headed back to rescue me. Meanwhile, I thought it would only be polite to get the jack out, dismount the spare, loosen the lugs on the flat, and generally get everything ready for a change. Just as I was jacking up the trailer with the marvelous jack that comes with the Astro van (just one more thing to love about them), an Illinois State Trooper named Shad (I asked his name, of course, because one does not simply call one's erstwhile rescuer "Hey, you") stopped, got his four armed lug wrench out, and lent a hand. With his help, I was able to change the tire, save K2 a few miles on her turn-around, and get back onto the road.
About an hour later, we stopped for fuel and I checked the spare (which was, in fact, a full-sized trailer tire) and looked at the remaining tire. I was not reassured by the condition of the original and resolved to change it once we were on site and had the trailer emptied.
Meanwhile, we needed to put air in the shocks again, because tire rub.
Putting air in the shocks was largely useless, because as soon as I did, it all hissed out again when the coupling...er...uncoupled. I did not help it fall to pieces - like me, it did that just fine on its own.
That was A Very Bad Thing, and while I tried to fix it, I lacked the tools and time to get it right...so, no rear shocks, towing a terribly heavy trailer on the infamously horrid Illinois roads. Okay, we could do that.
Then the driver's side trailer tire blew. In all fairness, it was a marvel that the thing hadn't gone to bits ages ago. That's the last time I trust the dealership when they tell me it's good to go - from now on I do as I have always preferred to do and inspect tires VERY carefully myself before I go anywhere.
This time, I was working on the traffic side of the trailer. It was hot, relentlessly sunny now, and I was already sore and tired from the last tire change. People were NOT moving over a lane, even when it was clear and they could do so easily and safely. Cars and trucks blew past alarmingly close at high speeds. Luckily, I have spent a few minutes working turns at the track and was...mostly...unflapped.
I got to work - first we had to unload part of the trailer to get the second spare (and I will always, ALWAYS, travel with two trailer spares because THIS!!!), then A watched traffic while I loosened nuts and got to jacking.
A kindly fellow named Benji stopped to lend aid, and I was not even the tiniest bit annoyed at his blatant sexism, because hello? One does not lecture one's kind rescuer on feminism and the use of sexist language while he's sweatily, gamely, changing one's rather blighted tire.
And when he was finished (he INSISTED that I let him do the job, and who am I to argue in the face of heat exhaustion and the desire to bawl???), he plied us all with Gatorade because he was concerned about our well being. How awfully sweet!
I didn't tell him I loathe Gatorade. I think I made a weak excuse about waiting until I cooled off a bit to drink it as I was worried about the deleterious effect of an icy beverage on a hot body.
On our way again, we winced, clenched our various body parts, and prayed every prayer we knew to pray that the constant tire rub at every bump or change in pavement surface would not land us with another flat, this one considerably more difficult to change given the location of the van's spare underneath the fully loaded van.
AC struggling, shocks failing, van tires making a horrid sort of screeching, whooshing, dissonant noise every time there was a bump, and with no spares to spare for the trailer, we limped in to Stonehouse Farm.
We got signed in, pulled into our spot, and commenced to unloading and setting up what would eventually be a 10' x 40' vending/camping site, our home for the next ten days.
It rained a little. We set up anyway. Sprout shucked her clothes and frolicked in the rain and mud. The Evil Genius spent the day alternately barfing and sleeping anywhere he could lie down (including in the emptied trailer on the hard wooden floor).
We continued setting up.
I rubbed the bottom of one of the toes on my left foot raw before remembering that wet feet and wet Crocs while setting up are not a happy combination. Then I dropped a 6' grid panel on my right foot, on the middle toes, which broke one toe and cut me a little. Ouch.
We ate something, I can't recall what because I was so tired but I know it wasn't health food, and went to bed.
Next morning, more rain. I got the vending area and our camping area set up, working slowly and steadily all day. A helped by keeping the kids out from under foot (don't underestimate the value of that!). The camp and vendor's row grew up around us and it began feeling more like the event we know and love.
The food vendor across from us (Brandon, Big Guy's Sausage Stand) was nice fellow and let me run a tab because I had no cash, and we had a lemonade and a few snacks and the kids found old friends and played and we endured the wet with hopes of a drier tomorrow. He remembered my kids, and asked how Mum was doing. He seemed sorry she wasn't there.
The constant rain in the area had saturated the ground, so instead of simply running off or draining, the rain formed puddles, rivulets, bogs, huge expanses of mud and muck. Everyone on site took it in stride and accepted that there would be a lot of wet shirts, dirty clothing, and muddy feet, a lot of cleaning up to do.
Monday is didn't rain. It monsooned. It poured. So much water everywhere. Campers had to be relocated. Cars had to be moved. It flooded. A lot. Redundant? Nope, not in this case. We were in our usual spot, on slightly higher ground so we were fine, but so many people lost their gear, had cars totaled, had to rely on the community for which the event is known for places to sleep, food to eat. So many more people pushed cars out of parking, out of the danger zone, and offered to help move camps, do what they could to get everyone to safety.
Half of the campground was submerged under many inches and sometimes feet of water.
On Tuesday morning, they announced that, for the first time ever, the event was shutting down early. I believe it was the right choice - the water would be rising when the next wave of storms came through and it was already compromised by the contents of flooded port-a-potties, trash, runoff from other places. It was absolutely the right thing to do, but it hurt.
They asked the vendors to stay open so people could distract themselves with shopping. We had that one day of open business, and that was it. So many vendors and musicians lost their butts on the week.
I admit, I cried a little - our beloved event was closing, and while I wasn't so worried about my business or family, what about my friends? How would they pay bills, get home?
I had to ask Mum for help. She came through like a champ, like she always does, like a mother would.
My band was there to perform, but with the cancellation we lost our concert dates.
We decided to perform anyway.
The other musicians at the event decided they would, too.
We joined forces and put on a four hour show that was almost entirely wall to wall music. The two exceptions were the community meeting that took the shape of a few announcements and updates, and a story-telling by Janet Farrar. Each musician/group performed two songs and acted as additional backup for the others. We ended it with a tremendous jam session, just as we'd begun it.
It was quite possibly the best musical experience I have ever had, to date. For me, anyway, it made all the prior hell worth the trip.
The next morning, we packed. And packed. And packed. My friend A did yeoman's duty because I didn't have a lot left in me. Seriously, she saved my bacon - I'd still be packing if not for her.
Phil's Grill made soup and gave it way to anyone who wanted it. We wanted some. It was delicious. Everyone helped everyone and it was amazing.
By Wednesday evening A and I were exhausted in every way, but we were ready to go. We decided to leave our other friends behind and head on to the hotel where we all hoped to stay for the night, perhaps letting the kids swim in the pool and certainly washing off a few of the many layers of mud we'd acquired over the last few days.
Our friends didn't make it to the hotel - they were far longer than we'd anticipated in their own packing, and didn't get as far as we did.
We decided to take an extra day to get home, take it easy on ourselves. We started late and drove at reasonable speeds (yes, Mum, really). Maybe our friends could join us that night.
They needed to get home, though, and pushed through, so while A and I played tag with the kids in the hotel pool, they kept driving.
Late in the night (or early in the morning, according to perspective), one of our friends had a trailer tire blow out.
I wish I was kidding.
They managed to deal with it and start home again today, but then their truck overheated from sitting in 100+ degree weather and Friday traffic in Atlanta and another friend valiantly drove out to rescue them, despite his own exhaustion from this trip.
Finally, finally, everyone is home. Finally, finally, laundry is being done, feet are clean, clothing is dry, and we can look back with awe and wonder at what we experienced, what we did. Finally, finally, we can begin the long process of cleaning, of assessing damage, of recovery.
All in all, I'm better of than many - while the loss of a week of business pains me, I won't lose my house over it (thanks, Mum) and we won't starve or even go hungry (I have almost all the food we brought to eat while camping). I can turn my eye towards the next (and last) event for the year and make ready for that. I hope I may be forgiven if I ask the weather gods to refrain from wetting us down quite so enthusiastically at THAT event!
I need to have the AC and the shocks fixed on the van. I need to get two new spare tires for the trailer. I need to tend to my infected toe (really, who knew that slogging around in muddy fields for days on end could cause an open wound to get infected? Hush...) I need to figure out how the hell I will pay the bills between now and then, and buy groceries for the trip, and wash the mud off of everything, and get all the sewing done.
But for now, for tonight, I need to rest, to sleep, to take tomorrow and use it as a day to simply breathe and find my composure again.
Blessings on those who acted as wardens for our collective safety at PSG. Blessings on those who ignored their own flooding camps and helped rescue others. Blessings on those who offered places to stay as we all made our weary ways home. Blessings on those who lost much and on those who are even now trying to mitigate the loss. Blessings on the people who pulled together and became the embodiment of what community is.