My Sentimental Journey Part 1

My Sentimental Journey – 2011

Several years ago I got the idea to take a trip across the country visiting places I wanted to see and places I had lived or had fond memories of.  I hung a map of the US on one of my bookcases and scribbled various points of interest.  Years went by and we moved and the map came down but not the desire.

I am writing this account of my trip for myself. I am publishing it for anyone who is interested. Several people I have told about my trip have asked if I had read “Travels with Charley” by Steinbeck. I had. I also read “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat Moon. And I had read a series of articles in the Ashland Daily Tidings by Don Dolan when he took his trip across the country. And I read a blog by a family I met trying camping with Lucy several years ago. They had sold their house bought a truck and an Airstream trailer and took their 8 year old little girl for a trip of a life time. They visited unusual places. Their trip is chronicled at “http://ayearabout.wordpress.com.” I don’t think this journal will be like any of those.

So here we go. Friday morning, the eleventh of March, 2011, at 9:15 Lucy, our dog, and I set off across the country. We are going to visit people and places for the next four or five weeks. Our itinerary will take us to Janet Martin, Michele’s sister in law in Truckee, CA, Erica Burkett and her family near Reno NV (she’s Michele’s niece) The Hot Springs campground in Beatty, NV, the new bridge near Hoover Dam, the Murrah Memorial in Oklahoma City. Then we will meet Michele at the airport in Atlanta. We’ll see the cherry blossoms in Macon GA, Savannah, GA, Charleston, South Carolina, The Blue Ridge Parkway to Winchester, VA, a week in Washington, DC and then Michele flies home and Lucy and I continue on to New York to see my cousin, Boston to see my niece and nephew, Chicago, Omaha, NE to see Michele’s cousin, Judy and her husband Joe, Denver to see my old class mate, Nick Nikkel, and home.

I’m writing this the evening of the second night on the road at Baileys Hot Spring, Beatty, NV. I just spent 20 minutes in a hot spring and am feeling very relaxed. Earlier I was feeling a little crazy, like I used to get at the end of a day commuting to or from Livermore from Ashland.

I wanted to travel the “Blue Highways,” the roads less travelled. I told the GPS to avoid highways thinking that that would keep me off the interstates as much as possible. We weren’t five miles from home when the GPS started giving me bad advice. At the end of Siskiyou Blvd it wanted me to take a left onto route 99. I wasn’t about to go cross country across and perpendicular to Interstate 5 so I ignored its advice. 15 minutes later it told me to get off I5 at Hilt. That was OK because I wanted to stop at the liquor store there to see if my lottery tickets had paid for the trip. ($40 invested in tickets returned $1 in winnings, not my best investment.) I wondered where it wanted to take me because there is nothing at Hilt, Well, it told me to gat back onto I5. I guess it thought if I wanted to avoid Highways I could avoid a bit of them by exiting and returning at every off ramp. I don’t know how it wanted to take me to Janet’s house. I see now that I should have stopped and checked its route. It might have had a better idea of how to get to Truckee than I did. I took 89 and ignored the GPS trying to get me back onto I5. I decided to give it another chance as I was driving down 395 from Susanville. Everything was going fine and we were having no disagreements when the GPS told me to take the Janesville Road. (I think that was the name of the exit.) I got concerned when what was ahead was snow covered mountains and a sign that said “Janesville Grade 20 miles ahead.” I remember the family that got caught on a snow covered road that their GPS had suggested. I stopped and looked for a California map. Oops! I had emptied all my collection of maps before this trip because I didn’t need them anymore. I had a GPS! I zoomed out the GPS and saw that its route was just about as long as going trough Reno. Then the GPS told me that my route was an hour quicker than the one it had picked.  I had told GPS to pick the shortest route rather than the quickest. That almost cost me a trip to the snow it later cost me most of the hour I had saved. Being that I was ahead of schedule I thought I’d visit Trader Joe’s before going to Janet’s. The GPS took me straight through downtown Reno and showed me a red light on almost every intersection.

Well, I got to Janet’s only five minutes late, but the guy who came to the door wasn’t Janet. He was the guy who rents Janet’s house. She lives in her other house! Michele had given me the wrong address. A few minutes later I got to the right house and had a nice visit. Janet was amazingly composed for a woman who had lost her husband less than two weeks before.

Before the night was out GPS got me again. It told me to take the first exit from the round-about it neglected to tell me that it meant the second round-about, not the first. In all the confusion I neglected to watch my fuel gauge.  Until the low fuel warning light came on! It took me forever to find a gas station. I needn’t have worried, I still had three gallons left.

After a brief visit with Erica and her husband, Nathan, Lucy and I slept in the camper in their driveway. This morning we met their two year old son, Elijah. What a beautiful little boy. I gave Nathan and Elijah a tour of the camper. Later he told Erica that the camper had a bathroom and a bed and trash. I guess I should have put more stuff away. From the mouths of babes!

When I filled the truck’s tank the night before the pump stopped at $80 and the tank wasn’t full. When I left Erica’s I noticed that I had only traveled 11 miles from the gas station. The GPS said that it was 8 miles to route 395. I decided to double back and get the good price gas to fill up rather than get a higher price out in the boonies to which I was headed. Oops! The GPS was taking me out of their town by a different route than we had taken in. In all, I wasted 32 miles trying to save a few pennies a gallon. Then gas was cheaper down the road in Carson City. Not my worst investment but not my best.

Later in the day I made the mistake of not turning back. I passed a sign just south of Walker Lake. It said something to the effect “Navy Underwater Demolition Test Site.” I wish I had turned back and gotten a picture of that sign in the middle of a desert a hundred miles from any navigable water. The ride was perfect. It was a meditation in motion. Snow capped mountains, rugged rocky outcroppings, desert, long stretches of road with no traffic for miles in either direction. At one point I caught myself working on the cradle I’m building for Shonnon’s baby. I have an intricate milling job to get the bottom rails to also support the bottom of the cradle. I was deep in thought about the various cuts I will have to make. Then I thought of Huxley’s “Island.” “Here and now, boys, here and now!” The parrots were taught to repeat to remind the inhabitants to live in the here and now. I put away my thoughts of next month and went back to enjoying the scenery. Is it God forsaken or God’s country? It is quite amazing.

Day 3: Beatty to Meteor Crater: Daylight savings time came in last night. We didn’t change our clocks right away. We got a leisurely start. I threw the ball for Lucy and we had our breakfast and disconnected the camper and got on our way to Hoover Dam. More deserted highway. 395 does not get a lot of traffic 30 miles or more above Las Vegas. It is mostly one lane in each direction with an occasional passing lane on the steeper grades.  Then we got to Mercury. Mercury is a small settlement about 60 miles north of Las Vegas. The sign said “Divided Highway Ahead.”  And suddenly the traffic that couldn’t fill 2 lanes was spread out over 4! 40 miles of empty highway until we got to about 20 miles above Las Vegas then everybody joined us. I have been used to travelling in remote, sparse areas. Las Vegas freaked me out. Too many cars going too fast and passing too close. After Henderson it eased up but only for a bit. Boulder City’s approach to Hoover Dam was stop and go, mostly stop. I don’t know why there was such a backup. I saw nothing where the traffic started moving again.

To get to Hoover Dam one must submit to being searched by Security. It was reminiscent of going to the lab but these guys were no so thorough. They didn’t even climb into the camper much less open the drawers.

We pulled into the parking area for the walkway over the new Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. Wow! What a sight. If you floated the Transamerica Pyramid on the Colorado River it could pass under this bridge without touching. It is 890 feet above the Colorado River. The arch spans 1060 feet.

This is my picture of the bridge from the dam.

This is a picture of the bridge while it was being built. For more details visit “www.HooverDamBypass.org”

We walked onto the new bridge and took some pictures of its superstructure. Then we drove over the Hoover Dam. I parked on the Arizona side and walked onto the dam and took some more pictures. Then we drove back over the dam so we could drive over the new bridge. It is so big and still so delicate. What an adventure.

I have been having power ( or brain) problems. Last night I didn’t notice that I hadn’t inserted the power cord for my computer all the way.  Fortunately I save my work frequently so I didn’t lose too much when the computer quit when its battery ran out.  I also didn’t notice that the power supply for the cooler was not supplying power. The plug is tricky and if it is not wiggled just right, no juice! Tonight I was careful to plug in the power supply for the computer but I didn’t notice that it wasn’t charging. And I forgot that when the guy at the campground showed me the outlet into which I was later to plug in the camper he remarked that the breaker was turned off! So, again, I lost a lot of my work. I promise to be more careful tomorrow. I’ll make different mistakes, then.

Day 4: Meteor Crater to Santa Rosa NM: We left Meteor Crater Campground at about 9. Soon I was repeating “Wow!,” “Ahhh!,” Wow!.” The scenery was breath taking. There are two geologic structures in the Rogue Valley called Upper and Lower Table Rock. They are quite impressive. In Arizona they’d be kiddy table rocks. We passed The Petrified Forrest and The Painted Desert. I was exercising my neck muscles all day first to the left then to the right. And the trains! Route I 40 runs parallel to a pair of train tracks. It seemed to be one freight train after another. I noticed a lot of JB Hunt and Swift logos and then realized I haven’t seen so many of them on the roads. Could they have switched from highway to railway? What a great way to save fuel. Then around Grants the flat plain we had been riding through between the Mesas and buttes was pock marked with lava fields. I saw no sign of a volcano, but miles and miles of rough black lava fields. After Albuquerque the scenery settled into rolling hills and flat plains, not exciting, but beautiful none the less. For a while today I let my mind wander to what could have been. I kicked myself for not being more persuasive with Michele and talking her into the whole trip. I’m sorry she missed the sights I was seeing and I missed not being able to share them with her. I surprised myself with my effusiveness when I told her about my day on the phone this evening.

Day 5: Santa Rosa to Shawnee, OK: Shawnee: In my world, trees have trunks and branches,  bushes have multiple stems from one base. I don’t think I saw a tree from California to 50 or 100 miles into Oklahoma. None in Texas.  I was 150 miles into Texas before the first “Rest Stop.” There had been “Picnic areas” and “Parking areas” but no “Rest Stops.”  The picnic areas and parking areas had no toilets! I was beginning to believe that Texans didn’t defecate. Which reminded me of the story about the 400 pound Texan who died. Someone asked the undertaker how he was going to find a coffin big enough. “No problem. We’ll give him an enema and bury him in a shoe box.” But, back to the rest stop: The one Texas Rest Stop was outstanding with terrazzo floors and faux granite walls between the stalls. It was clean and beautiful, if not worth the wait.

Day 6: Shawnee to Hurricane Mills, TN: The trees changed as we went from Texas to Oklahoma to Arkansas to Tennessee. They became more tree like, with trunks and branches. The further East we got the more green we saw, both in  the fields and in the buds of the trees. Also we saw more and more trees in bloom. Between Texas and Tennessee I only saw two places along the freeway that had daffodils, the second had bunches and bunches about 50 feet off the freeway. Riding through Oklahoma the land was flat and I could see to the horizon most of the time with few geologic structures or trees. Arkansas and Tennessee had hills rising more and more the more east I got and the trees enclosed the freeway so that most of what I saw was trees in various states of waking from winter. Gray, slightly green or red or covered with blossoms. And the Kudzu. I’d heard about it but this is the first time I’ve seen it. It’s like a blanket over fences and bushes and trees. At this time of year it has no leaves. It looks like giant spider webs.

Day 7: Hurricane Mills, TN to Atlanta/Forsyth, GA:  I found Hickory nut shells in the campground dog walk area in Hurricane Mills. I don’t remember ever seeing a Hickory tree before. The campground does not bill itself as being in Hurricane Mills. It says it’s in Buffalo. But the GPS says there is no such place as Buffalo. There’s a Buffalo Valley, but is nowhere near Hurricane Mills and the campground in “Buffalo.” The Exit from the freeway says “Buffalo.” My bet is that the campground didn’t think that “Hurricane Mills” would do as much for business as “Buffalo.”  This morning was to be devoted to making the camper habitable for Michele. I changed the slats in the blind behind the table. Seemed like a good idea at the time. It would be a difficult job to take out the old blind and install a new one. When the job was done and I tried to raise the blinds I found that the new slats had holes for the pull strings about a quarter of an inch away from where the old ones were. It made ascent and descent not impossible but difficult. Then we were on our way. We had little time to spare if we were to get to the airport in time to meet Michele.  But I was not about to let a rush interfere with my enjoyment of the trip. Nashville, Chattanooga, more Wow! Trees! On this trip I came to realize that there are no two trees alike. They are all different. The land through Tennessee and into Georgia is gently rolling with few cliffs or bluffs except where roads or rivers have carved them out. The cliffs we saw displayed many layers of sedimentary rock. Each layer probably not more than a foot thick. Thinking of geologic time made me feel very insignificant but very much in awe. We saw many flowering trees. Maybe cherries heralding the Macon festival. They were mostly round like white balls on a stick but some were more pointed like arrows with rounded bottoms. As I drove I was experiencing a wonderful sense of calm and peace and tranquility. The calm and peace were not broken by traffic or the frantic push to get to the airport on time. The speed limit was 70 and I was driving at about 69. Suddenly I noticed the traffic in front of me was stopped! I jammed on the brakes and checked the mirror. There was a semi bearing down on me. I started to pull off onto the shoulder until I saw that he had successfully stopped. There was a lot of smoke coming from his trailer’s rear tires and the trailer had swerved and was at about a 25 degree angle to the line of traffic. Traffic was stop and go for about twenty minutes. I am trying to enjoy every moment and I have been mostly successful. I noticed my language was not always what my mother would have approved of. I think I will try to filter some of my words. We got to Atlanta on time. Even had to circle the airport arriving area several times before Michele made it from the plane to the baggage pickup area. The dynamics are much different t with Michele here than when it was just Lucy and I. Rumicubes games instead of typing at Word.  But my peace and smile abide. I even accepted Michele’s anger that I had not made reservations at campgrounds for the week we’re in the truck. I don’t want to commit to being a certain place every night. I want to play it by ear and if we can’t get in a campground, there’s always the Walmart parking lot. We ate at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, had to try it just as I had to try a Waffle House. It was not great but not disappointing either. Wow, people in Georgia are wide.

Day 8: Forsyth/Macon: Even as we watch, the trees get greener. But our purpose in Macon is to see the Cherry Blossoms. They are white and they are everywhere. There is a “Cherry Blossom Trail” map that we got at the info center. A woman Michele met while she was taking pictures said that they get Pink later. I saw a few trees tending toward pink. On the Cherry Blossom Trail most mailboxes had pink ribbons attached; many houses had cutouts of pink poodles in their front lawns.

Day 9: Macon to Savannah, GA: We got to see what that woman meant when she told Michele the cherry blossoms turn pink. The trees that were white yesterday were turning pink today. Michele toured some old houses while I got some supplies to fix up a gadget to remind me if the cooler is not being powered. Lucy and I drove around a bit and saw some beautiful old mansions from the days of the old south. A lot of them are split into apartments now. Some had “For Rent” signs in front.

About danielcfischer

Loyola School in NYC, Georgetown University, Shrader Sound, ACF Electronics, National Staffing Consultants, Univac, Applied Data Research, Western Union, Wells Fargo, Prometheus Products, Access Master, GasTech, Lawrence Livermore
This entry was posted in Biographical Essays. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to My Sentimental Journey Part 1

  1. David Teegarden says:

    Hey, Dan, thanks for blogging your trip! I’m fascinated. Do you know the term ‘shunpiker? We read it on a web site about frugal RV travel; the web site is a very worthwhile resource. David T.’

  2. Miki Smirl says:

    Dan, following you on your journey is a fabulous treat. I’m glad you’re sharing your experience. Tell Lucy I’ll be caring for her later this month, and she can “sing” to me any time. It’s a wonderful thing to hear of a man and his dog traveling in “their” truck cross country.

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