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  • With less then two weeks out from the launch of my road trip, it seemed appropriate to get camping gear out for a run through. Sadly its been maybe a year since I slept out in the forest.

    You will know what I mean when I say a "dry run", right? On looking it up (best suggestion is from World Wide Words) I come across suggestions the phrase comes from the word for arroyo (familiar here in Arizona as a dry creek bed in the desert), putting bricks down without mortar, to the kind of firefighters tests done without water-- all of it is seemingly linguistic speculation until it was used by the military in 1941 “The occasion was a ‘dry run’ for the maneuvers that will begin within the next ten days.”

    My operation is in the Coconino National Forest near Knoll Lake. There are a number of these Rim Lakes that are closer to the main roads, but I chose Knoll because it is a minimum 30 mile gravel road drive from the nearest pavement- and I have never been there.

    I've taken the style of dispersed camping in the National Forests as a common thing; yes you can go to a Designated Campground and Pay Money To Camp Parked Next to a Humming RV and a Loud Group of Rednecks. But if you venture out on the logging roads, a bit farther, you are free to camp anywhere you can find a spot.

    On my trip I did not find this as an option in the Canadian forests and a few places in the US on the east coast, I did not find nearly the network of roads and space we have here in Arizona.

    I left Strawberry in the morning of a Sunday, another typical cloudless blue sky day number 43 in a row. Going north on highway 87, the road that takes you to Winslow or Flagstaff, I make a diversion to the right for Forest Road 300, the Rim Road- a well maintained gravel road that skirts the edge of the Mogollon Rim.

    Driving along what is supposed to be the edge of a plateau makes it sound like it is smooth as a tabletop, but there is a fair amount of undulation, swerving in and out of the crevices that cut into the Rim, over hills of burnt stump remnants of the Dude Fire of 1990, and 30 miles of tree sky unbroken by any sign of human development (no homes, no convenience stores, no cell signal, no telephone poles, no trash, nothing.

    In a way the drive filters out much of the outside world, and save for a few other passing cars (very few), I could say I own the forest.

    On getting to the lake, it passes through one of those pay for a table campgrounds- actually it is not too bad and few people are there. I park at the edge, and put the kayak on for an hour or two of paddling and exploring the arms of Knoll Lake. It's not exceptional, but is very peaceful. Like the other lakes here, the lake is in a small canyon creek that has been plugged with an earthen dam, and it catches the run off of the rain and snow that do interrupt the blue sky days. Well, this is the edge of a plateau, it actually dips gently north, so the big storms that swell up over the desert below dump a fair amount if moisture at the top which rolls north.

    I opt to go back the forgotten numbered dirt road that brought me to the lake. This is the part that intrigues me about camping in the open forest, the decision process, the mental marking of "this one is okay if we do nto find a better on" and the repetition of that recursive process until we have a jumbled linked list of spots. When my ex and I would come up here with the kids, we would joke about taking 90 minutes to drive from Phoenix to the mountains and another 90 minutes just to pick the perfect spot.

    I actually do not have to go to far or spend a whole lot of time finding a nice clearing that has good cover shade from some tall older ponderosa pines (you want some good coverage from the sun as it moves across the sky).

    Setting up is always fun. A small 2 person tent takes no time to pop up, and I am luxurious on a solo trip with 2 inflatable pads. The nice thing about camping this time of year is there is no chance of rain, so I can sleep without the fly on the tent and have a starry view, because the Milky Way puts on a night show here that would make Broadway feel inferior. I never even saw the splash of galactic cosmic stuff across the sky when I grew up on the East Coast- there's too much light there.

    I've got my camp table, and a new stove to try out, I have... um I forgot what kind of meal I brought, but likely some pasta combo. And there is cold beer in the fridge. I have no time table, I sit in my camp chair and read, I walk around with the camera and find odd looking flowers and towering trunks of trees.

    And there is a pleasing minimal back drop of sound, just the gentle rustling of leaves, sometimes the cry of a distant crow, the wind weaving through pine needles.

    It's all peaceful, maybe a bit too peaceful. Maybe even creepy.

    At some point I have to turn on a little bit of rock music on my ipod (portable speakers).

    But here I am, free of schedules (I could stay one night or 5), free of responsibilities, free as in completely fracking free.

    I should say, fortunately free.

    Driest of dry runs runs dry.

    I am using Cowbird to share the story of a 15,000 mile road odyssey I took in 2011, which started with me quitting my job in March and setting out in June for a loop around the US and Canada. It's less of a day by day narrative and more of an attempt to tell a story of the story, with some amounts of imagined bits that emerge on looking at the media from the trip, including the more than 1400 images, videos, and audio files collected in my digital time capsule, the Storybox.
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