IT APPEARED OUT OF THE DARK on a lonely Arizona road a large, black Angus steer, standing in the swath of my headlights, turning to gaze curiously at me as my foot moved so, so slowly from the gas pedal to the brake. Then, with a swift, sudden FWOOMP! — everything changed.

— — — —

My life on the road had begun few years earlier when itchy feet prompted me to finance an aging GMC Safari van I christened LaVanne, and fit it out with a hammock, a butane camp stove, and a 5-gallon bucket. I said so long to my family and travelled to the desert to learn from old hands how to live as a nomad.

The people I met there became a new kind of family. But things went wrong right away–and every time, people I barely knew saved me from winding up on the streets.

First, there was the flat tire. A van dweller I had just met drove me forty miles to buy a new one, and another man changed it. Later, when I went inside to sleep, I discovered an envelope taped to my steering wheel. A hundred-dollar bill was inside. Nobody in camp would cop to leaving it there.

Months later, LaVanne sputtered to silence on the freeway outside of Albuquerque. The bill to fix it came to far more than I had. Feeling hopeless, I put out a call online and in less than 24 hours, generous friends, and a few strangers, came to the rescue.

But it wasn’t long before LaVanne went silent again. Once again, I was sure that my three-month-old puppy named Scout and I were destined for homelessness… until another miracle happened.

That day, I walked Scout in a Chevrolet dealership, waiting for my van to be fixed. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was going to be told soon that I needed a new engine at $5000. Tonight, if a miracle didn’t happen, I would be on the streets. On our walk, I spotted a beautiful white van. I had to look at the price tag: $24,000. Oh, well.

But a salesman saw me looking at the van, and well, you know how car salesmen are.

“Why don’t you take a test drive?” he said.

I laughed. “There’s no way I could get a loan for this.”

“Go ahead. Take it for a spin anyway.“

I couldn’t resist. So, while the salesman held onto Scout’s leash, I got behind the wheel. The van drove like a dream. It had all the bells and whistles—cruise control, a backup camera, loads of room to spread out in the back.

“Like it?“ the salesman asked when I returned.

“Of course,“ I replied with a wistful last glance.

“Let’s see what we can do.”

A few hours later, with Scout beside me watching the road ahead, I drove away in our new home wondering what the hell just happened.

I named her Dorothy, for my mother. Eventually, she took us to Zion, Standing Rock, Minnesota, Canada, up and down the West Coast — until that dark night in Arizona when she came to a crunching halt in front of a looming, black cow.

Slow motion stopped and normal time returned. Stunned, I sat behind the smashed-in front end of my big white van. Everything — my bed, my camp stove, my bucket toilet, and my dog — had slid to the front. Scout was panting, frantic to get out, but at least she didn’t seem hurt. Neither was I except for a tiny scratch where my knee had hit the dashboard. I tried to open the door but it had buckled in the crash and wouldn’t unlatch. I couldn’t get past my frightened dog and the now-destroyed contents of my life to get out the passenger door. I found my phone and called 911. Police arrived in minutes and helped us both get out. The dead cow lay in the dark by the side of the road.

Dorothy was hopelessly smashed.

One of the many friends I had made in five years on the road drove from California to help, and shocked me by giving me her van, an aging, blue GMC Vandura — with a coveted high top. I couldn’t believe her kindness — or my luck. I named the van “El Milagro” (Miracle in Spanish) but he needed a lot of work.

Later, I met a retired cop named Lou who made an amazing offer: he and his wife, part-time RVers themselves, wanted to help nomads like me on our journeys. Lou was an amateur race car mechanic, and offered to do needed repairs on my van for just the cost of materials, no charge for labor.

By now, I had learned to gratefully say, “Yes, thank you,” and also started to trust that somehow, things would work out. Something was going on here. It was beginning to feel like the Universe actually wanted to help. Could that be true? Maybe, I thought as I drove to my revitalized van eastward, the Universe is really just people who fall in love with a dream and want to help make it come true.

As I wandered, the pandemic began to sweep across the country. I accepted a close friend’s offer to share her rural New Mexico property thirty miles from Taos. It seemed like a safe place to wait out the lockdown, and the view of the Sangre de Cristo mountains was spectacular. 

But eventually, my friend decided to sell her property and move to lower ground. I wanted to stay, even if it meant camping in El Milagro in the woods for the summer and traveling to the desert in winter. I was determined to find a way to make it work. And then, miraculously, it did.

“Honey, you’re getting older,” another friend said. “You need to be comfortable.”

I couldn’t argue with that. 

She insisted on buying me a sweet, vintage travel trailer that had appeared as if by magic on Craigslist. I asked a neighbor if I could rent a small space on his property on the edge of a national forest.  Scout and I had finally found our home. I named her Princess Margaret, btw.

That was almost two years ago. Now, we walk in the forest and I marvel at my luck every day. But I’ll be honest: my feet are starting to itch again.