Dirt Averse

March 19, 2019

by Jenny Hohner

I am dirt averse. When asked what item in the van I cannot live without, I usually stare off in the distance and hope I appear deep in thought. After a moment or two, I shrug my shoulders as if to say, there are too many essential items to pick just one. I lack the courage to give my true answer: I wouldn’t have lasted a month in the van if Joe hadn’t placed an order for a handheld Dyson vacuum.

We started our trip with a tiny whisk broom — an ineffective cleaning tool when you’re living in the out-of-doors with a dog. Every time I pulled out the broom and attempted to create a clean spot, Joe would say, “It’s a lost cause. Give it up. You’ll have to adjust.”

I couldn’t. Having to wipe bits of gravel off my bare feet at night before crawling into our double sleeping bag was too much. As in, too much of the natural world creeping into my living space. When our older son, Josh, camped with us for a week last November, he took one look at the van floor and asked, “How can you live like this?” Josh exists in life’s proactive lane, so he pulled our gray area rug out of the van and shook the dirt out. A process that lasted at least five minutes. Josh has a high tolerance for both dirt and disorder. If he thought the van floor was dirty, I knew our standards for cleanliness had dipped too low.

My youngest brother, who’s parenting a toddler, suggested the Dyson. A 30- minute charge yields five minutes of cleaning power. If I’m a speed queen I can use the vacuum to tidy up our 70 square feet of living space in just under three minutes. My goal is two cleaning sessions per charge. The vacuum can only be recharged while we’re driving. It uses the same power port as our Garmin GPS, so to charge the Dyson we also have to know where we’re going.

The Dyson has improved my quality of life on the road, but even with a full charge, somedays it’s not a match for Molly, our Portuguese Water dog. This week we are camping in the Moab, Utah area along Kane Creek Road. The campground is in a valley lined on both sides with crumbling mesas. The mesas are topped by a majestic layer of red sandstone that appears to be weeping piles of green and red rock. With the bright blue sky as a backdrop it’s a beautiful spot. There aren’t any official hiking trails off the campground, so we started our walk today across the valley floor. Molly’s fur and feet kept picking up stalks of dried prickers, so we started walking on the ribbon of brown road that dipped out of sight. When hiking, Molly wears a red vest — the vest increases her visibility and is equipped with a handle. Joe can easily bend down and pick

Molly up if we encounter an off-leash dog or other hazards (such as wild animals, red anthills, or fields of cactus).

Around the bend the road disappeared beneath the brown waters of Krane Creek. We walked to the water’s edge. While standing on the muddy bank, and trying to decide if we wanted to venture into the brown eddies, a voice behind us called out, “Hop in the back and I’ll give you a ride.”

We turned to see a man in a white pick-up truck with a German Sheppard in the back seat. I hesitated, wondering how we might re-cross the river to return to our campsite, but Joe answered for us with, “Thanks! That would be great.”

Climbing into the back, I tried to remember the last time I rode in a pickup. Joe lifted Molly up with her vest handle, then climbed in. The three of us found spots around a brand-new washing machine strapped down in the back. I wondered where in this wilderness someone was living with the amenities of power and water.

We spent the afternoon exploring the valley via the road. It was warm in the sunshine, and we were sweating in our short-sleeved shirts. On our return trip, a string of SUVs and ATVs drove by us, but we weren’t offered a ride back across the creek. Watching the vehicles speed thru the water we learned the creek was about knee-deep. We waded through the cold, muddy water one at a time. I went first. Joe carried Molly so her feet stayed dry and mud free. Molly rested her chin on Joe’s shoulder as if to say, thanks for the ride.

Back at our campsite, Molly pawed at Joe until he removed her hiking vest. Once free, Molly rolled around in the red dirt like a cyclone until her black coat was a shiny brown. Joe couldn’t help laughing. I’ve never seen her so dirty. Before letting her into the van, we tried wiping off her coat with damp rags. We used both sides of our last four microfiber cloths. I tried to convince myself that she was now clean enough to share our bed. I guess that internal dialogue falls under “Lies We Tell Ourselves to Survive.”

Like most of her canine friends, when Molly stands up she gives herself a vigorous shake. A shake that now filled the van with an indoor dust storm and covered everything in a fine, red, gritty mess. That’s life on the road with a dog — unconditional love and more dirt than a Dyson can handle.