April 7, 2016 – Selah, Washington
Deciding exactly when a journey begins is as puzzling as determining when exactly life begins. I’ve no certainty about the latter, but a journey may begin with an invitation, an itch or an idea.
The journey I’m on began not on the morning when, after endless packing and organizing, I finally locked my front door and climbed into my van, where my two dogs waited expectantly. This journey began on a bright afternoon in June 2009. Grieving the recent death of my mother and a year-and-a-half earlier of my husband, I was driving with a friend from Washington state to Biloxi, Miss. On that particular afternoon, we were in West Texas, where she took me to see the wooded, undeveloped land she and her husband had purchased. My friend said they didn’t know quite what they’d do with the property, maybe build a small house, maybe just set up a travel trailer. I immediately envisioned visiting in my own little RV – nothing bigger than a van, something I could maneuver easily. That tiny seed of an idea stayed planted in my mind, nurtured every time I spotted a camper van on the highway. That could be me, I’d think.
Now it is. My journey is taking me across the country and back, no more than 250 miles a day. It’s all about connecting with family and friends who have scattered themselves in far-flung places. I can’t see everyone I’d like to. No time for California, Arizona, Colorado or the Northeast. Maybe next year. The seed for the next journey is already planted.
April 8, Baker City, Oregon
Under the influence of William Least Heat-Moon, on my second day out I broke my self-imposed rule of driving no more than 250 miles per day. I clocked nearly 400, finding myself on a road of no return and no stopping.
Heat-Moon wrote the classic best-seller “Blue Highways” in 1982, championing back roads that meander between small towns. On his map, those roads showed up as blue. On mine they’re a shadowy gray. Having no appetite for the blandness and pace of the interstate, I chose instead to cross Oregon through John Day country. I’d heard and read about this geologic marvel but never visited.
It’s not just the extra mileage. Instead of averaging 70 mph I was lucky to hit 40 on roads that curved along the hillsides like a confused boa constrictor who couldn’t decide which neck to strangle. My own neck was aching as I gaped through side windows at massive rim rock formations. Intricately sculpted by the wind, they tower against the sky, more majestic than the grandest cathedral spire.
As one travels from west to east, colors and shapes change – first massive umber pillars; then gray gargoyles, individually characteristic; finally a multitude of colors appear: pink, deep rose, blue-green. The carvings diminish in size, encircling massive hillsides, tier upon tier, like pleated ruffles on enormous dirndl skirts.
My gas gauge approaching E, I stopped in the town of Spray, paid a premium for unleaded, and learned I still had a good three hours of driving to reach my planned destination. I wearily pressed on. Blue roads are beautiful and seemingly endless.
April 10, 2016 Twin Falls, Idaho
Many of you have cheered me on, writing, “Enjoy your adventure.” Truth told, I want only to venture. I’d like to skip the “ad” part, but adventures come anyway.
Like the night I took the dogs for their final potty break before bedtime and locked us out of the van. I scrambled under the rig to find the key that was supposed to be hidden there. It wasn’t.
Midnight. RV park dark. Everyone in bed. No help in sight. Only because I’d needed the flashlight ap to walk the dogs, my cell phone was in my pocket. Embarrassed, I called 911, and the sympathetic dispatcher gave me the number of a tow truck operator.
“Sixty bucks,” said the tow truck guy.
“Fine,” I said. “I have AAA.”
“You’ll have to pay me up front and work it out with them later,” he said. Still fine.
While I waited, shivering slightly because I hadn’t bothered with a jacket, a sheriff’s deputy called. He wanted to know if I was OK and if he should come out. I declined, but bravo, Twin Falls County, Idaho!
The tow truck guy showed up in a pickup with his wife and dog. Wasting no time on conversation, he looked at the wing window, selected an instrument from his impressive collection, and had the window open in seconds.
Later, just as I was falling asleep, the thunderstorm that had been threatening for hours hammered my metal roof with rain. I snuggled deeper into my sleeping bag and thought gratefully, it could have been so much worse.
I post this as another adventure unfolds. Stay tuned.
April 11, 2016 – Provo, Utah
Riding shotgun with a tow truck driver can be reassuring, and Faybien (he says his mother loved the ‘50s singer but had her own way of spelling) was one of several reassuring people I had the good fortune to meet on a day when I was feeling unsure.
The whole thing started when my van wouldn’t. Joe, a resident of the RV park where I’d spent the night, heard me futilely cranking and offered before I could ask: “Need a jump?” The jump didn’t work. While I waited for the tow truck, Joe introduced me to his wife Marcyne, who weaves hats for hospitalized children. She pays for her yarn by selling hats for $10 to people like me. I immediately ordered one in royal blue.
Jim, first tow truck driver of the day – second of the trip, arrived with a quick and simple solution. He banged on the gas tank and got things flowing. I was elated for about a mile, when the motor died again. Joe appeared out of nowhere and recruited two strong and attractive young women he knew to help push me out of traffic.
Then came Faybien. Loading the van onto his truck was an intricate job that he handled with the precision of a watchmaker. As we drove, I learned that he has a powerful work ethic, which is necessary because he’s supporting nine children (two sets of twins in there) and a nine-bedroom home.
Faybien delivered me into the hands of Tunex (in Springville, Utah), making it clear that they were to get me back on the road pronto. The crew worked into the evening installing my new fuel pump. I returned to the RV park, where Marcyne was waiting with my royal blue hat and a hug.
April 12, 2016 – Carbon County, Utah
The historical signs at a pull-off along U.S. 6 need updating. The highway winds down a deep canyon in aptly named Carbon County, an area with a rich mining history. The largest sign, erected by the Utah Department of Highways, is undated. Weathering and wording indicate it’s decades old.
Mines at this site, the sign says, were leading producers of coke and coal, especially vital during World War II. The sign promises that vast reserves, including oil shale and tar sands, are still to be developed, and coal is “destined” to be a major component in energy production.
Smaller signs depict various events. In 1897, Butch Cassidy and accomplices robbed the mining office, hauling off more than $8,000 in gold and silver.
In 1924, 171 miners were killed instantly in the Castlegate Mine Disaster. Another miner died later during rescue efforts. The majority of the miners killed were immigrants, 159 were married, leaving 417 dependents including children and “expectant mothers.” As recently as 2000, in the Willow Creek mine explosion, two miners were killed and eight hospitalized.
The final sign is about the large coal-fired power plant further down the canyon. Erected in the 1950s, the sign says the plant burns 1,800 tons of coal daily, serving 300,000 people and employing 100.
Only it doesn’t. The plant closed last year because of stricter federal emission regulations. The Deseret News ran a story about the closure at the time and quoted plant manager Kyle Davis, who’d worked there for 38 years and whose grandfathers were both coal miners.
“There are a lot of us who have invested a lot of our life here,” he said. “It’s like losing a friend, or a death in the family. You mourn for it.”
There’s been plenty of mourning in that deep canyon.
April 13, Pergosa Springs, Colorado
A police car followed me as I pulled off Highway 84 into the Last Resort RV Park, where I’d made reservations. Oh, great, I thought. Another adventure. But the cop turned down a lane as I stopped at the office to register.
Traveling alone, even with two dogs, I stay in RV parks solely for security, sacrificing privacy and space. In most parks, your neighbor is an arm’s length away. If you want solitude, you crawl into your RV and shut the door.
At the Last Resort I had my choice of being “in the circle,” cheek by jowl with the big RVs and the amenities of water, sewer, power. Or I could camp in a meadow next to the Blanco River, where I’d have only electricity. Other than some tent campers a hundred yards away, my dogs and I had the meadow and riverbank to ourselves.
I was just getting settled when I spotted a man walking casually but purposefully across the meadow. Obviously the owner. “TJ” wanted to make sure everything was OK. His wife had checked me in just as he was coming home from his day job as a police officer. He hadn’t pulled in behind me because “I didn’t want to freak you out.” We chatted, he played with the dogs, and then mapped my route to my next day’s destination along “blue highways” that he promised would save time and “it’s beautiful.”
I fell asleep that night listening to river water splashing on rocks and feeling oh, so secure.
April 18, 2016- Fort Sumner, New Mexico
I ate the most expensive sandwich of the trip, so far, at the Rodeo Grill, a low-slung, cement block restaurant in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. The beef brisket sandwich was featured on a handwritten whiteboard as the day’s “special.” I asked the waitress why the “special” cost nearly twice what a hamburger would. She shrugged and mumbled that “we smoke our own brisket.” It arrived on a homemade bun. The price was right.
Fort Sumner embraces Billy the Kid as its premier tourist attraction. There’s not a Billy the Kid museum, but two, plus the “authentic” gravesite of the outlaw who, it could be argued, was more a victim of his time than a truly bad guy.
Still, Fort Sumner resident Raymond Samora has his own ideas about who warrants recognition and honor. Ten miles north of town, on a desolate stretch of U.S. 84, Samora created and financed a rest stop to honor veterans. He was moved, according to a 2012 article in the Albuquerque Journal, by the Navy SEAL team that killed Osama Bin Laden. He decided he needed to “do something.”
He didn’t keep track of expenses, which included running power lines to the remote site and paying for electricity that lights American flags at night. Samora installed trees, picnic tables and granite markers dedicated to the SEALS, President Obama, Gov. Susana Martinez and all veterans.
The sign that especially moved me said this: “My fellow veterans, here’s a tree that will give you a little shade and some light at night. It’s all for you veterans on the side of this road … Watch your 6 at all times.“
I’m not a veteran, but I didn’t even have to Google it to figure out what it means to “watch your 6.”
April 23, 2016 – Texas
Stormy weather in Texas convinced me to wait in New Mexico for two days before crossing into this land of plenty, or do I mean plenty of land. I’m not a newbie when it comes to crisscrossing this vast state. It’s my fourth time through Texas. For drivers like me who relish rural byways, Texas is rich with “farm to market” roads. You never drive directly from point A to point B, but angle here, then there, eventually finding your destination.
Even though the weather had improved, the country roads I took to my first destination were deep in mud, in some places underwater. Two nights in a row, my dogs and I more or less slept through storms with thunder that vibrated our bones. The lightning was so bright, I didn’t need to open my eyes, much less the shades, to see it.
At the “Frontier Texas!” museum in Abilene, I was reminded to stop whimpering about the small setbacks I experience on the road. The high-tech museum gives visitors a taste of what it was like to travel this country back in the day. In a darkened room, voices, images and noise come at you from all sides – coiling rattlesnakes, stampeding cattle, marauding enemies. Holographic figures, seeming to speak from the grave, narrate tragic stories of deprivation and death.
Contrast that to driving along paved highways bordered by Texas’ famous wildflowers. The variety of colors and blooms is so extravagant, it’s like journeying across an intricately woven Persian carpet.
A little more than a century since frontier days and a woman alone can travel safely, confidently through this country. As I drive I tune in to the national political discussion, and I wonder, why do we insist on being so afraid, so angry?
20160425 Waskom, Texas
We travel so we can learn about new places and the people who live there. If we’re lucky, we also learn something about ourselves. Yesterday, along the road, I learned that I don’t like open-ended journeys. I discovered I need to know when I start out each day, exactly where I intend to end up. I don’t always get there, and if I don’t reach the destination, I can adjust. But having no destination in particular makes me anxious.
My stomach tight, I was headed up Highway 79 as it angles northeast across Texas. Prior to this leg of the trip, I’d spent hours on the internet, planning my route, reading RV park reviews and making reservations. I hadn’t had adequate internet access to plan this next leg and hoped to become an impromptu traveler. Turns out, it’s not in my makeup.
I ended up staying in a dump of an RV park. There were no amenities other than water and power. The place was not set up for itinerant travelers but was filled with older trailers, permanently parked, duct tape holding windows in place and blankets serving as curtains. It would have been a great place for meeting interesting people, but the folks didn’t come out of their trailers. I briefly met my next-door neighbors, who were curious about my dogs and friendly enough.
I didn’t feel unsafe, but I didn’t feel secure. I pirated wi-fi from the Quality Inn next door, checked reviews and made a reservation for the next night: Miss Ellie’s RV Park, Waskom, Texas. Humming the old ballad, “I know where I’m goin’,” I enjoyed the 241 mile drive to Miss Ellie’s. It’s not posh but has clean restrooms, roses and internet. I’ve made reservations for the rest of the week.
April 27, 2016 – Vicksburg, Mississippi
Rumbling thunder seemed like an echo of long-silent cannons as I drove through the Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi. Rain pelting the windshield, I inched my way along the 16 miles of curving road that traces battle lines of the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg, a turning point for the Civil War.
Abraham Lincoln considered the heavily fortified and seemingly impregnable city on a bluff above the Mississippi River to be the “key” to ending the war. Robert E. Lee referred to it as the “nailhead” that linked the supply route from river to railway. Both knew the city was vital.
Raindrops had just begun to fall when I emerged from the visitor’s center before starting my drive. There I’d watched a movie about the series of battles that led to the fall of Vicksburg. Even with those horrors graphically in mind, the park today is deceptively peaceful, lush with trees, tall grass framing the idle cannons. Each turn of the road reveals yet another towering monument, plaque or statuary: 1,340 in all.
Rain was pouring when I reached the monument I most wanted to photograph, a touching depiction of black soldiers who fought for the Union at the Battle of Milliken’s Bend. The former slaves had inferior equipment and minimal training, but won high praise from Union military leaders for their courage. I took a photo through my rain-splattered windshield.
The rain stopped just as I reached the cemetery. I put the dogs on their leashes and walked through the aged tombstones, most of them engraved with the words, “Unknown U.S. Soldier.” Seventeen thousand Union soldiers are buried there, about 13,000 of them unknown. Five thousand Confederate soldiers are buried at nearby Cedar Hill Cemetery.
The damp air was heavy with the scent of honeysuckle.
April 28 – Selma, Alabama
I don’t much like driving across big bridges, and I very much don’t like walking across them. Nonetheless I drove to Selma, Alabama, planning to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
It wasn’t the movie “Selma” that inspired me. I first visited the South at age 18 in 1962, three years before the Bloody Sunday conflict at the bridge. Freshly graduated from high school, I’d been aware of Jim Crow laws yet this naïve Yankee was shocked to experience the reality. Especially disturbing was the mindset of people I was working with in a church youth program. They insisted segregation was just and necessary.
I always wished I’d become more active in the civil rights movement instead of returning to the North (where discrimination was also real but more subtle). I watched the marches on TV from the safety of my parents’ living room.
I wondered whether Selma had embraced this troubled chapter in its history. Turns out it’s a huge tourism draw. The glossy “Visit Selma” magazine lists the bridge as No. 1 in its Top Ten Sights to See. There’s the annual “Bridge Crossing Jubilee,” a National Park Service interpretive center, the Voting Rights Museum, the Bridge Gift Shop, and of course you can buy t-shirts.
I stood at the foot of the bridge, hesitant, fearful of the four lanes of traffic speeding next to the broad sidewalk. A blond man, 40-ish, his face red from the heat (as was mine), was just coming off the bridge and remarked to me, “Cool, huh!”
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“Did you walk across?”
“Sure did,” he said. “Fifty years too late, but it still means something.”
He was right. I walked the bridge, and it meant something.
May 2, 2016 – Hendersonville, North Carolina
If a journey is to mean anything at all, it must involve getting lost. You can know where you are but not where you’re going, or you can know where you want to go but not how to get there. You might not know where you are nor where you’re going. Some people live their lives that way.
Despite GPS and a library of maps, I am regularly lost. Often it’s because I blinked or looked in the wrong direction and missed a crucial road sign. When I was driving through the spacious Jicarilla Apache Indian Reservation in New Mexico, I had to backtrack 20 miles because I missed the turn for a shortcut someone had told me about.
I still couldn’t find the right road and asked for directions at a gas station across from the casino. I ended up on a highway so forlorn I saw no other vehicles for miles. When I finally stopped to give the dogs a walk, a battered pickup truck pulled up nearby. Out stepped a Willie Nelson-looking guy. I nervously put the dogs on leash as he approached us.
“I heard you asking for directions at the gas station,” he said, “and I just wanted you to know you’re on the right road.” I barely had time to thank him before he jumped back in his truck and drove off.
Hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina this week, my hosts and I missed a sign pointing to our goal, Bridal Veil Falls. We ended up at Grass Creek Falls, then hiked back to the sign and on to Bridal Veil. We covered more territory than we thought we would or even could and saw two beautiful falls – all thanks to getting a little lost.
May 7, 2016 – Paducah, Kentucky
If you ever get a chance to visit the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, gird yourself for disappointment. Not from the exhibits! I was thrilled by the creativity and skill on display. I was dismayed by a few comments I heard from others.
“All the TIME that went into this!” a woman exclaimed as she examined intricate stitchery. Could she think of more practical things to do with all that time? Would someone gazing at a Rembrandt exclaim, “All that TIME spent applying those little daubs of paint!”?
The museum, which claims to be the largest fiber arts museum in the world, is celebrating its 25th anniversary with the “Gala of the Unexpected,” a contest in which quilters were invited to use unusual materials – with a top prize of $25,000. Artists are from all over the globe. Many quilts offer pointed reflections on the state of the world. In her commentary, one quilter said she likes to walk but hates litter. She picked up beer cans, flattened them and stitched them into her quilt. Where others saw ugliness, she saw possibility.
“I sure couldn’t sleep under that!” complained a male visitor.
“They’re not meant to be slept under,” his wife gently admonished.
“Well, my grandmother wouldn’t agree,” he insisted. “SHE knew what quilts were for.”
Among my favorites is a quilt with deep pleats, making it three-dimensional. It’s titled “The Elephant in the Room.” As you approach the quilt from one side, you see simply a table. But from the other side, the table becomes an elephant. People avoid acknowledging the elephant in the room, the quilter suggests, and our disagreements are often a matter of perspective.
“Maybe we should walk around to our neighbors’ viewpoint,” she notes, “ and give it a good look.”
May 7, 2016 – Ohio River
As you drive cross-country on the interstates, you find every city surrounded by an identical menu of chain restaurants, literally from A to Z: Arby’s to Zaxby’s. I suppose it’s comforting to know what to expect from a restaurant. My favorite part of a road trip, however, is getting the real flavor of a place by eating in local, homegrown restaurants.
This is especially true in the South. Southern food is as much about place as it is about taste. Nothing compares with that taste when you’re in the right place: Fried catfish, crisp as a starched collar on the outside, tender as a love letter inside. Gumbo that delivers a thousand flavors mingled in each spoonful. Barbecue and more barbecue, because no two barbecue recipes are the same. In one restaurant I chose an entrée of mixed, deep-fried vegetables. I was expecting the okra, but deep-fried pickle?
Walking into an out-of-the-way restaurant is a gastronomical gamble. Guidebooks are helpful, but mostly it’s luck – both good and bad. Luck was with me at the Tomato Place in Vicksburg, Mississippi. It disguises itself as a roadside produce stand. Inside is a restaurant so tiny, the kitchen is in a separate building. The décor is a hodgepodge of eclectia, and the po’ boy is rich.
Ordering breakfast at a small cafe in Tennessee, I asked what the specialty was. The waitress’s eyes brightened. “We have chocolate gravy and biscuits!” Intrigued, I ordered it. Imagine warm chocolate pudding that didn’t quite set up, poured over biscuits that didn’t deserve to be treated that way.
I figured Peducah, Kentucky, was the end of genuine Southern fare, so I indulged in dessert. The bridge across the Ohio River carried me away from the South, but the taste of pecan pie lingers still.
May 12, 2016 – Baraboo, Wisconsin
My 72nd birthday was strictly for the birds – or specifically, cranes. Majestic, fabled and endangered, cranes can be found on five continents, but there’s only one place on earth where you can see all 15 species alive and well: Baraboo, Wisconsin.
I was trying to decide how to celebrate my birthday when the RV park manager mentioned I might want to spend a little time at the “crane place,” down the road. I spent hours wandering through the International Crane Foundation headquarters.
Nestled among rolling farmland, it’s more than an aviary. The foundation guides a complex, global effort to save the world’s cranes. The work ranges from developing scientific methods for propagation to negotiating with governments and various groups worldwide to sustain migratory habitat. An example, close to home for me, was announced in March. The Columbia Land Trust, partnering with the foundation, acquired 541 acres of Columbia River lowlands to provide forage for the 4,000 Sandhill Cranes that migrate between British Columbia and California. One of my favorite spring/fall events is hearing those cranes calling as they fly impossibly high overhead.
The Whooping Crane is perhaps the most dramatic turnaround. Down to 21 birds in the 1940s, the species is slowly recovering. They’re even beginning to propagate in the wild again thanks to innovative biologists and some fostering help from Sandhill Cranes.
Resident cranes at the headquarters are well protected from their human visitors by fencing and netting. Cleverly designed open areas allow visitors to sit and observe the birds, some up to six feet tall, strolling elegantly through grass and ponds. As I walked along a wetlands trail, I experienced the same feeling of awe I’ve had when entering a grand cathedral. The best gift on my birthday was the perfect peace of Nature, alive and thriving.
May 14, 2016 – Mound, Minnesota
Driving through Minnesota, state of my birth, I stuck pretty much to one roadway: Memory Lane. My childhood—until age twelve-and-a-half, when we moved to Washington state—was spent in the small town of Mound, some 25 miles from Minneapolis. Just about every place name in the state has a ring of familiarity. My family either visited, drove through or had friends across the state.
The last couple years before we moved, I commuted via Greyhound bus every Saturday morning to Minneapolis for piano lessons. I knew that route by heart. But it doesn’t exist anymore, buried under a confusing snarl of freeways and interchanges. If it hadn’t been for GPS, I never would have found my hometown.
There were no familiar landmarks, nothing that made me feel I was coming home, until I saw the lake. Minnetonka is ninth largest of Minnesota’s fabled 10,000 lakes. Minnetonka is not a big, open expanse of water but a collection of kettle lakes and inlets, linked by channels and marshlands. It winds itself like an errant scarf among the thirteen towns that hug its shores. When I rounded a curve and saw that first shimmering blue bay, I finally knew where I was.
I recognized downtown Mound only because of the two bays that adjoin it. Other landmarks of my childhood had disappeared. Still standing though, neat and tidy, was the house where my family lived—then a Lutheran parsonage across the street from the church where my dad was minister. The yard is smaller, ceding lawn to wider streets. No one was around. Blinds were closed on the upstairs bedroom windows, but I looked up and smiled at the girl who spent hours gazing out those windows at her daddy’s church and the whole known world beyond.
May 18, 2016 – East Twin Lake, Minnesota
If you were to fold a map of Minnesota in half, both vertically and horizontally, East Twin Lake would be at the centerfold—except that it’s such a small lake it doesn’t appear on the map. Still, to my mind, it’s the most perfect of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes (there are really 11,842, according to Google).
My most cherished Minnesota memories are of the halcyon days my family enjoyed at East Twin as guests of Aunt Shirley and Uncle Herby, who built two cabins on what they called “Powwow Point.” Shirley and Herb weren’t our biological aunt and uncle, but they were so integral to our family, we used the titles as a courtesy.
The property was ultimately sold, and it’d been 60 years since I’d seen the lake. I drove with trepidation, fearing the worst kind of development and degradation. Yet present realities cannot destroy cherished memories.
My greatest concern was just finding the place. The lake wasn’t visible from the highway and required turning onto an obscure, dirt road. I was further confused by a highway construction project at the vital spot. The two-lane highway is being turned into four. I steered my way through massive earth-moving equipment and miraculously found a tiny arrow directing me to Powwow Point.
At the end of the dirt road, instead of two cabins were four modest homes, two of them possibly expanded from the original cabins. A satellite dish sat where we used to pitch a tent. Despite the nearby highway work, it had an aura of peace. East Twin Lake glittered like the jewel it is. I remember sunfish gently nibbling on my bare toes as I dangled them in the water. Another generation is no doubt dangling toes in East Twin Lake, and sunfish are still nibbling.
May 21, 2016 – Somewhere near Crazy Woman
In Wyoming, I stayed at an RV Park named “Crazy Woman.” Then I crossed over Crazy Woman River. A variety of myths, some quite grisly, supposedly explain the history of the name, but I figured it was appropriate for me.
It mystifies me that none of my family or friends initiated an intervention when months ago I started talking about making this cross-country sojourn with two big dogs, one a nine-(now ten-)month-old puppy. Nobody said, “Are you crazy?!” Yet I don’t know how many times I’ve muttered to myself during the trip, “This is crazy.”
If I’d taken just the older dog, Daphne, it would have been a mellow journey. We’ve been together nearly eight years, and we understand each other. The puppy Tawny, named for his color, is not interested in understanding me nor any of my wants or needs. He has his own agenda.
Tawny was rescued, half-starved, by my friend Shana, who loved him at first sight but gave him up because she already had two dogs. I’d been thinking about getting a second dog—another lab maybe, and most certainly a female. As I said, Tawny has his own agenda. He has such a mixed ancestry that the vet listed his breed as “other.” You can’t help smile just looking at him. One ear points straight up while the other flops forward. He’s smart, gregarious and willful. His naughtiness makes me sigh; his antics make me laugh.
Visiting friends with one dog in tow is asking a lot of your hosts. Bringing two dogs tests hospitality beyond all bounds. Yet all have been accommodating, even as Tawny reshaped their landscaping with his penchant for digging. You don’t have to be crazy to travel with a puppy, but it helps.
May 26, 2016 – Omak, Washington
Seven weeks. 8,555 miles. Twenty-two states (though I really shouldn’t count North Dakota, because I clipped just a corner of it between Minnesota and South Dakota.) Approximately 196 plastic bags of dog poop picked up and discarded.
I could probably figure out how many gallons of gas I burned, but I’d rather not. I feel guilty enough about my carbon footprint without doing the numbers. And I’m just one small drop in a sea of RVs that floods our nation.
I recall thinking, during the gasoline shortage of the 1970s, “Well, that’s the end of those big, gas-hog Winnebagos.” Hah. The latest figures I could find was from the RV Dealers’ Association, which says in 2013 manufacturers shipped out 310,000 units. That’s just one year’s worth and climbing. In a 2011 survey, 21 percent of American households indicated they planned to buy an RV at some point in the future.
John Steinbeck may have unintentionally promoted this vagabond lifestyle in 1962 with his classic, “Travels with Charley.” Charley, a poodle, was Steinbeck’s companion as he drove a custom designed pickup with camper across the country. Intrigued by American mobility Steinbeck wrote, “Could it be that Americans are a restless people, a mobile people, never satisfied with where they are as a matter of selection? The pioneers, the immigrants who peopled the continent, were the restless ones in Europe. The steady rooted ones stayed home and are still there.”
On my final day of travel with home as the finish line, I felt the wind at my back and drove 453 miles—about twice my usual goal. I pulled into my carport remembering my friend Cindy, who before she died from breast cancer was a world traveler and excellent photographer.
“The best part of any trip,” she’d said, “is coming home.”