Saturday, May 10, 2014

On the Jeep's Pedicure, Bravery, Stupidity, and Gendering Travel

It's a rainy Thursday in Fargo and I'm getting the maintenance done on the Jeep, stuff I knew was coming, but that doesn't make it hurt any less.  There's a table in this Tires Plus, thank goodness, so I can spread out my maps and try to figure out how far I can--and should--drive in a day to get where I'm going.  So far, the only thing I know is that I'm going to Thunder Bay on the first day and beyond that, I don't know. I'm thinking Sault Ste. Marie on the second day, but it gets less clear after that.

They're very nice here, though the men clearly think I'm nuts.  The first guy said I was nuts for teaching English and liking tea (and hating coffee)--and then as I spread out my maps and set up my iPad to connect to AAA, he wanted to know what I was doing, so I told him.  I'm nuts for camping alone too.  But he grinned at me and said, "Any other dumb questions I can ask you? You seem like an interesting person."

The world of people I encounter seems to be firmly divided into two camps (no pun intended):  the camp that is in the Admiration/Bravery and the You're Nuts faction.  I don't know what to do with either of them. It's going to be something that won't ever go away, but I never know how to respond. I've never felt brave and I know I'm not nuts.  But the world is not wired to understand the solo person, let alone the solo woman.

I know that the Jeep is about to hit the 100,000 milestone and that's a painful one.  And I know I need to do all that preventative maintenance before I leave.  Today, I'm getting the tires rotated, balanced, and aligned--and I know that the rear brakes need to be replaced. Whether it's just pads or pads and rotors, I didn't know.  Apparently, it's worse than I thought and my rear brakes wouldn't get me to Thunder Bay. Yikes. One of my recurring nightmares is the brakes in the car failing, so that would be good to fix.  And the front brakes are rusted (thank you, salt on the roads) and should be replaced before too long, so might as well just get them done together.

Dad and I can do the spark plugs and replace the dead headlight when I get to the Cities.

 But I also have some painful fluid flushes and leaks to fix when I get to the Cities.  It's 100,000 miles. And then there's a leak in the transmission line (I have to look at my notes to remember where) and one in the front differential and my heater fan only works on the 4 setting.

I always feel like I need to be on my guard when I'm getting stuff fixed on my car, because I always feel like I'm treated like a girl. And I don't know enough about terms and such to know if I'm being taken advantage of--or talked down to. But at least I could tell the guy--who's very nice--that I knew about various things and would take care of them myself (ahem, or have Dad show me how to do them myself).

I don't know if it's the end of the school year and I've reached some sort of emotional threshold, but I seem to have reached it.  I'm sick and tired of it being okay to tell me that you hate my profession five seconds after meeting me. My friend the math professor says it happens all the time to him too.  We don't say, hey, what a coincidence, I hate mechanics! Of course we don't say that.  I've reached my threshold of people telling me how brave I am. I'm tired of people telling me I'm crazy. I know these words have become euphemisms and the people who say them to me are perfectly nice human beings. But I'm not brave. This is my life. And I'm not crazy.  This is my life.  

How have we come to be arbiters of sanity? What hallmarks of society make that possible?  I already know I operate outside societal norms that make people look at me weird--I'm thirty five, solo (not single, there's a difference), and I have never wanted kids.  If we're using that measure, I think that people who have kids are nuts.  We might tell a woman who starts a business how brave she is taking that risk, but we wouldn't necessarily say so to a man. I also know that my sensitivity here is wrapped up in my education, the things I cannot now unsee. 

I can't escape the feeling that the whole bravery and stupidity thing is wrapped up in gender.  I doubt that many of the men who travel or camp solo have ever heard that they are brave or stupid for doing such a thing.  I got the same sentiment when I started traveling alone to Ireland. And I wish it didn't bother me, but it does.  I think I'll spend some good time on this trip exploring the roots of the bravery and stupidity ideas--and why it bothers me so much--and maybe I'll come to some kind of conclusion.

We'll see.  

Solo camper friends, how have you encountered the bravery and stupidity?


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  2. I tried to edit my comment, due to spelling, and could not see where to do that. Anyway, found your blog by accident and enjoyed scrolling through the history of you and The Scamp. I traveled across the continent last year in a little van with a bed in it. Enjoyed every mile! Plan to do it again, going north around. Lake Superior. Looking forward to following your journey.

  3. Welcome aboard! If you're looking for some good northern Minnesota/Lake Superior spots, let me know!