I’m about to leave on my first trip since starting this blog. I’ve been traveling the country since 2016 in my little Honda Element because I am a touring musician. Now I know I need to take some trips where music is not the focus, and this is the second of such trips (the first being King’s/Sequoia National Parks in October). These trips afford me the opportunity to exercise my independence, build confidence and problem-solving skills, and learn to cope when the inevitable autism attacks begin. They also help heal months and months of living on the edge of the autism knife; burnout from holding myself together. Ecopsychology is the study of how the natural world interacts with the brain and mental health. For me, these trips equal long periods of solitude in quiet, natural places. When I’m out there, I don’t have to monitor myself because there is nothing in my way. Breathe deep the woods. Breathe deep the salt-sea air.
Before the tranquility begins, there is a lot to keep track of as an aspie on the road. Preventative measures are always preferred over in-the-moment band-aids. I have to pay attention to how much social interaction I have, how much sensory input I’ve taken in, and I have to keep a constant check on my thoughts and anxiety levels. Gas station fumes can set me off, as can the bright sun. Monitoring these feelings in my body and the thoughts in my brain is so important, and I typically have a difficult time doing it. (It’s exhausting).
The first crucial step to success is prep at home. This involves writing 3-4 lists that will help me get everything I need in the Element. I list all of my clothing, all of my camping equipment, my aspie coping stuff, food, and toiletries. I’ve done trips without these lists and I always seem to come up short. Another reason for the lists is I don’t always understand how to prepare for the climate I’m heading to. My wife can check over the lists and make sure I have the right type of clothing (I’ve bought far too many sweatshirts and jackets on the road because I didn’t think it’d get as cold as it did). Yet these lists alone are only part of the prep.
Perhaps the most important document is my itinerary. I must research my trips thoroughly, often making reservations at campgrounds months in advance, so I can get the right site for me. I spend hours on my computer trying to find the perfect site: one that seems a little more secluded, one that is away from all the mammoth RVs and their generators, and one that’s away from any main road. Bureau of Land Management lands allow a lot of solitude at their sites, but they usually don’t accept reservations and I don’t like flying by the seat of my pants.
After making the reservations and lists I begin to research my activities. We have so much information at our fingertips, so this step is a lot of fun. For example, on my upcoming trip I want to focus on birding the California coast. I was able to use my Sibley’s book as well as the Audubon website to find my perfect locations and do a search and study of the common birds in those areas. I have been listening to bird calls and reading up on behaviors, nesting, and climates to find the birds I’m looking for. I also research which trails will be most appropriate for my fitness level and aesthetic interests.
All of these things go on my itinerary. I schedule my days both tight and loose. What I mean is, I lay out my activities in a fairly uptight manner, but I don’t feel married to them on a particular day. Because if it’s been pouring down rain for 7 days and I’m tired of it, I’m allowed to head inland to the dryer parts of the state to relax and let the sun recharge me (like Superman).
I must also have backup plans in place. Who is a safe person if I get caught in a cycle of meltdowns? Who can I rely on to be a comfort and a nonjudgmental presence? Where can I go if I become to overwhelmed by camping/living in the Element? Where is the closest mental health emergency room? What can I do when plans change quickly?
Being on the road means almost anything can happen. Best laid plans are often the first casualty on the road, and I have to be ok with this. My wife and I do a lot of visualizing in order to prepare for any mishaps or unexpected obstacles. This allows me to pretend and practice these damaging situations in a safe space, so I can be prepared for them if they happen in the real world. What happens if I run out of gas? What if I get into a fender-bender? What if cell reception goes out (this happens all the time, thanks ATT)? I picture these calamaties in my head and practice how I would react and the steps I’d need to take to get back to a safe space in my mind.
Packing day arrives quickly. My car has to be completely cleaned out before I begin setting up the bed and drawers system I have (it’s like a little cocoon). I use my lists when packing and then again after all the packing is done. I prefer to have the Element ready to go by early evening the night before leaving so I can just hop in and go the next morning.
It doesn’t usually work out this way; I have difficulty getting everything ready on time, and for this reason I always leave an extra day if I can’t leave when I originally wanted. It takes the pressure off and I’ve had to utilize it more times than not. The only bad thing is I know that I can leave a day later, so sometimes it can enable laziness.
I’m going to get back at this packing business. Thanks for reading. I hope you understand how difficult it can be to just get out the door. It’s absolutely the hardest part and I have to fight my subconscious that wants me to say, “Fuck it. I don’t need to go on this trip.” I have my gloves on. Always.