The F/A-18 Incident

We’ve had a relaxing couple of days in Virginia Beach, which we’ve needed badly. It feels strange to not be either getting stuff done or putting miles behind us, but that’s not what van life is supposed to be about. We got Trisha some skates so she could take herself to the beach. We’ve also enjoyed some yummy food and local brews at The Whiskey Kitchen. Finally, we’re finally able to slow down, relax a bit, and start getting used to this new life.

The same goes for Lister. He’s always lived exclusively inside an apartment or house, and never been an outdoor cat. Now, anytime the doors are open (which is basically all the time except when we’re gone or we’re sleeping overnight), he gets hooked to a 25-foot tether clipped to the van. He has that whole radius to run around outside, or to retreat inside. It’s long enough that he can get all the way to the back of the van to use the litter box, or just hide.

Lister is a highly adaptable cat, and van life is no exception. It didn’t take long for him to climb out and follow his nose to the end of the tether yesterday evening. I decided to encourage his exploration further by grabbing a leash, substituting it for the tether, and letting him guide our walk basically anywhere he wanted — except the creek running through the back of the campsites.

A fun aspect of the Virginia Beach area is the strong Navy presence here. You’ve got ships and submarines in Norfolk, plus Oceana Naval Air Station, which is almost across the street from the KOA we’re staying at. At first the frequent air shows were fun, everything from Blackhawk helicopters to F/A-18 fighters, and even a V-22 Osprey. Tonight, however, the air show would not be as fun.

We were about 100 yards away from the campsite when an F/A-18 started making several low, fast passes. Ordinarily I’d love this, but the loud jet engines scared the bejeezus out of Lister. He darted back toward the van, bouncing off the end of the leash repeatedly. He nearly slid out of his harness, he was pulling so hard, and I also spilled my beer. I abandoned my beer to finally grab him with both hands and carry him back to the van. Being held was somewhat comforting to him, and the van was where he was trying to go in the first place. Trisha took over holding him while I went back on a search and rescue mission for my beer, because littering and alcohol abuse are bad.

He hasn’t come outside much since then. Those big scary roaring flying dragons are still around and will be until we leave Virginia Beach. At least he calmed down significantly as soon as he was back in the van. Already, he understands that the van is now home, the safe place he can always go back to. Even when he freaked out, his instinct was to run back home, to the van.

We’ve taken some steps forward, but he took a few steps back tonight. I can’t say I blame him. He’s never had fighter jets blasting overhead before. If you don’t know what they are, they can sound pretty scary. He’s a pretty resilient cat, though. I’m hopeful he’ll overcome this setback with time, and complete his final evolution into van cat.

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