EXCURSION 11: Joshua Tree National Park

by | Feb 2, 2023 | Road Notes

The campground was stark and curious. Hardly seems “National Parkish,” at all, but in the morning we discovered that we were camped where the rock climbers come to train.

Life can be a funny, meaning, mysterious and odd.

Our last trip in the Storm Bus was way back in the Fall to Onion Valley. Michelle stayed home and I was able to spend a bit of time with my daughter Mikaela.

At that time, Michelle was sleeping pretty well, which she had been doing for many months. Years, really. She had always amazed me all the way back to when I first met her. She would lie on her back and… not move, like, all night. Meanwhile, I would toss around like a pan-fried chunk of wild bison.

This persisted—our habits—all through the early years of dementia. She still slept like a soft statue, though now on her side.

I was quite silently smug about this with my fellow Alzheimer’s caregivers, clicking on the proper “care” emoji when they complained of nights of shattered sleep, like they were living in a bombardment. “Ha, ha!” I thought. “No problem here!”

Then, a few months ago, her sleep became fractured, no, not fractured, metronomically irregular, like an arrhythmia. It had gotten to the point that she would awaken ten or more times a night.

I can wake myself up on my own, thankyouverymuch. Sleep and I have always been just acquaintances and I rely on my ability to nap at any time anywhere to make up for the “staring hours.” (I once slept standing between cars leaning into a burro on a second-class Mexican train.)

But this had started to really wear on me. She would often wake me up, making her signature trill, when I was deep, deep into some strange dream. I would come to the surface and want very much to know what the outcome of that mosaic was, but it fumed away, like a moist breath and I was left only with the hard wish for surcease. I just wanted to sleep. Some nights I thought I was going bonkers, torn between sleep and wake, getting her juice or nuts, adjusting her feet or position, singing her a lullaby or saying soothing things to sooth both of us.

Action was needed and I had this odd idea. Could a simple change in rhythm, environment, pattern, change her in some way, reset her? Bereft of great ideas, I seized on this one. It was worth a try.

But it seemed to be a total failure. The drive was okay till the last 90 minutes and she was wailing and inconsolable to the point the ear plugs came out. “We’re almost there.”

And we found a cool site, up against the Flintstone rocks at Indian Cove, and got settled before dark. We were both smiling at dinner time, enjoying some fajita-like mixture I seared-up and side-dished with mashed potatoes.

Mo was alive with vital attention and peace, at home as long as he was with us.

Then, the attempt at sleep. Oy. Too cold for Michelle to sleep on the cot outside so it was the Bus for her and the cot for me. She never really settled, and I can attest that when the REI sleeping bag says, “Good to 20 degree,” it is accurate. When it went below that the cold reached in. Then, Mo was courted by the local coyote committee. The wanted to lure him off to share a meal. We know what kind of meal we’re talking here.

So, the night was, in a word, kind of a disaster. I “awoke” off-kilter in the much warmer Bus and decided, almost instantly, to go home. One more night of this and I would be running out as a sacrificial meal for the wild beasts.

The campground was stark and curious. Hardly seems “National Parkish,” at all, but in the morning we discovered that we were camped where the rock climbers come to train. Nearby was both an outhouse near a dirt lot filled with vehicles beneath a moderate cliff—just a big rock, really. I headed over to the former to do what I must do, curious how I would respond to climbing now that my fear of heights has abated. But there was such a crowd, and I had other responsibilities.

A young man was going in the outhouse, so I had to wait. He was in camo and so were about 20 others. “We’re stationed at Pendleton. Just here for Special Forces training.”

I could tell even before he told me that they were real soldiers, their flat stomachs and youth were a dead giveaway.

Poor guy kept going in and out of the outhouse. I waited, letting Mo, who matched their desert Camo to a T, work his friendship magic. I wondered if I tried to climb the face if he would try to follow.

They went into military training mode, fully at ease and paying attention, and we were soon packed and in Storm, who continues to perform with the consistency of the Rockettes.

The drive home was like the drive there. Four hours of half peace and half wailing. But we were home and Michelle seemed very pleased. I was thinking that it was a bust, the whole thing, trips of this nature were a bygone dream, and that it was a valiant but fruitless attempt.

But life is funny. For the first time in months, she slept the night through without waking. I did, probably needing a reset of my own, but she didn’t move, not an inch all night. And the next night? The same thing, still and calm and… sleeping the whole night through.

I’ll be an SOB, it worked!

Mo sighs at my feet, perhaps dreaming of joining the Unit. Michelle lies in her bed beside me, perhaps about to spend another night in stillness and sweet dreams, or to toss and turn and trill, but at least I know that it worked. For now.