Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ten Years Ago Today

On this date in 2001 I departed Northampton to begin my drive across country to meet my then wife who have moved almost two months ahead of me. I piled the last of the belongings from our home, my beloved Niya cat (5/1995 - 12/2010) and a heavy heart.

The next morning as I was leaving Buffalo, news of the first attack made my ears. An already surreal experience suddenly became more so than I could have ever imagined. I wrote an email to friends most nights from the road. I am pasting that collection of ramblings, unedited here. Make of it what you will.

My Travels Thus Far – September 12, 2001

Hello all,

Well. To say that my last few days in Northampton were surreal would be an understatement only made more surreal by driving yesterday.

I left Mass on Monday morning, landing in Buffalo later that day. I was entertained by my friend and their lovely daughter, fed a wonderful meal and had a good sleep. Well, good except that like a child my cat woke me for no apparent reason at 2:30am. Darci and I blithely chatted in the morning with no tv on so I had no idea what my day would bring on

Tuesday morning.

I plotted my day's journey expecting to land in Elkhart Indiana to stay at my brother-in-law's. I checked voicemail and had already received 2 messages informing me of event. I called Chris who filled me in while I listened to reports on the radio.

As I traveled west listening to the reports I felt like I was lost in "The War of the Worlds" as I had no picture of what was happening. At times it was had to drive because growing up in NYC it was impossible to imagine that the towers were gone. It seemed too terrible, too unlikely, too frightening in the unknown of it all.

Upon landing in Elkhart I finally saw the pictures. I was grateful that I was so tired, too tired to have too much emotion.

Today, Wednesday I landed in Milwaukee, a slight detour from my destination to see my mentor. So far it's been a lovely visit and Niya is especially making their home, hers. Except for their dog, who wants to be her friend (he's a 9-year-old miniature collie who's losing sight

and hearing and has an injured leg). I intend to head out fairly early in the morning and my goal is to make it to Des Moines Iowa. The day after that I hope to end in North Platt Nebraska. Depends on caffeine intake, enough sleep and how much my cat objects to the hours in the car.

I will continue to update when I can.

Travels – The Next Installment 14, September 2001

Hello dear ones,

As I continue my drive National Public Radio has been a consistent companion along with my mostly sleeping cat. Occasionally Niya will comment on apparently nothing at all, perhaps she disapproves of my music choices, or is voicing distress over our political state.

I have surpassed all my goals for driving so far. As of today, Friday, I have driven over 2000 miles! The views have been amazing so far. The variety and beauty of this land is so vast. Indiana is unbelievably flat and filled with cornfields. The route from the South Bend, IN area to Milwaukee WI was mostly boring, crowded, citified and had way too many tolls! Niya especially hated the tolls - I had to open the window each time, which elicited, each time, a disdainful yowl. However, leaving Milwaukee and traveling the southwest section of Wisconsin was really how I think of Wisconsin - gently rolling hills, farms and cows.

Iowa was so incredibly gorgeous. Lush hills and valleys, absolutely bucolic, green, the living vision of fertility. The same day I left Milwaukee and drove through Iowa my goal had been to make to Des Moines, but I was in a groove and kept driving til I has in Omaha Nebraska, 525 miles total! I found a slightly skuzzy motel room with a lovely view of a construction site right in the "back yard". I realized I still had not seen one plane up in the skies the entire trip.

Today I drove with the aim of ending in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The evening before I could not believe how boring, industrial, and ugly Omaha was, at least what I had seen of it. I flopped in the bed and was blown away by the fact that I was in Nebraska. It seemed so weird. I mean Nebraska! But oh how wrong I was about the beauty that Nebraska holds.

Driving through the state was incredible (I think I am so road tired that I am running out of adjectives - sorry!). I had thought that in Iowa one could see for miles - it's nothing compared to the land view in Nebraska. It was like looking out the ends of the earth. What's really amazing is that you are not looking from the vantage point of height like in the New England; it's all so level. Sometimes the large expanse of nothingness (not truly of course, but no cities, no buildings, etc) seemed scary, claustrophobic. There was a small farm, small house and a barn or two surrounded by acres and acres of tilled land. And beyond the tilled land - nothing, except for the highway on one side.

And the view of the skies! So awe inspiring. I could see the storm I was driving into for miles ahead. When it seemed like I was right under it, I still wasn't, but also to the right I could see beautiful clear skies with wispy clouds. The vista was so all encompassing of the different weather conditions. Further into the state hills appeared with shrubs scattered on the surfaces. In the distance the shrubs looked like a man's stubble on the planes of a face. About 40 miles from the border, up on the left is a large silhouette of a coyote up on the hill. Quite amusing.

Oh then Wyoming! So beautiful. Late in Nebraska and continuing into Wyoming the landscape is not as flat but marked with striking outcroppings of rock forming shapes and ledges. The road often takes such a gentle climb it's almost unnoticeable - except for the huffing and puffing of the truck. In Medicine Bow National Forest I drove through more rain, this time light, and then to my right the most incredible rainbow I think I've ever seen. It seemed so much wider than any other. Also I was able to see both ends! So beautiful and magical. In Arlington WY, there is an "A" up on a hill - I suspect it's not a state/city-sanctioned thing but it was amusing.

There were times where I am sure I saw more cattle than all the people on the road for at least 100 miles. Cows in all sorts of colors have been everywhere, along with sheep and bison (buffalo). I also saw deer or perhaps elk along side the road much later in the day. I have seen seagulls so far from a body of water. In Wyoming there was a body of water with lots of red floating somethings. The only thing I could think of was cranberry bogs.

Today I landed, finally, in Rawlins, Wyoming. I drive way past my goal by about 120 miles. Today mileage was 631. I was quite exhausted after all that. When checking into the hotel (much nicer than yesterday's) my hands were still vibrating. I have approximately 1150 miles to go. I don't know if I can keep the pace of the last two days - if I can I will be in my new, temporary home on Sunday and in the arms of my beloved.

Travels Continue 18 September 2001

Hello everyone

Sorry to be so long since the last post, I tried fruitlessly to post on Saturday night from Winnemucca Nevada but to no avail.

When I last left off I was in Rawlins, Wyoming, staying at a very nice Sleep Inn, a driveway away from a 24-hour family truck stop restaurant and gift shop. Gotta love the road. The morning fog was so thick that I could not see the interstate or the mountains just yards away to the south.

It was hard to imagine any fog could be that thick. After a filling but mediocre truck stop breakfast Niya and I became one with the road once again. After a short time on the road I passed a sign for the Continental Divide, elevation 7,000 ft. Wow. Here the area surrounding the road for miles was flat with mountains suddenly sweeping up, particularly to the south. Again the sky appears so vast out here. Today the sky was clear (once that pesky fog burned off, which it had by the time I finished breakfast!) with no sign of rain anywhere. Wyoming is incredibly beautiful. I want to return and spend time finding the towns that I know are contained within the twists and turns the roads off the interstate take.

As I was driving off to the right I passed a single elk or antelope or whatever member of the type of species occupies that area. He was so beautiful and close that I could see the markings on his horns as a buzzed by at approximately 80 miles per hour. (The speed limit is 75 mph in Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada - I wasn't speeding! honest. Okay those moments when I hit 82 or better maybe one could consider that speeding.) The animal was so still and beautiful in the midmorning light. The towns spread out more and more as I drove west and the mountains came into better view. In New England the mountains are so covered with tall growth that one doesn't see much of the crags and wrinkles in the rock that forms the massive eruptions. Out west in the distance the mountains seem to show the years of millieum written with their jags and folds laid bare to sun and shadow. The earth shows subtle changes in the reddish brown that become clearer as you drive closer, though it seems one is always still so many miles away from them.

Driving toward the town of Rock Springs the mountains jump alive with new colors, like a wide paintbrush clumped irregularly has colored the surfaces with white, taupe, and chestnut. Again the mountains are bare with little to interrupt the horizontal stripes. It is so beautiful and so startlingly to approach a town of some size for the first time in hours upon hours of traveling. The town's name while trite is so appropriate, the mountains seem to suddenly emerge in front of one while driving a previously flat forward view.

Somewhere along this route I saw a black shape on the side of the road and as I came closer I realized it was a cow, far from any others in a position that could only mean that he or she had wandered too far away and was now dead. This particular dead animal was sad to me, though I had seen so many animals killed by humans safely contained in steel. Maybe because cows are a herd species and this beast seemed so much closer to the road than other bovines I had seen.

Saturday afternoon I crossed into Utah, which seemed like a milestone in traveling this large expanse. For the first time this trip the mountains are right upon me and I am driving in what feels like a crevice between rock faces. Here the mountains show their crags but also have trees springing up and like colorful plumage on birds these trees are announcing autumn with yellow, bronze and red disturbing the green. Rather suddenly it seemed I was on the crest of what had surely been a large basin, which is now Salt Lake City with what just has to be a shrunken lake. As I entered the city limits I saw my first planes since I entered the Buffalo, New York region early Monday evening. Even though planes flying is so commonplace, especially for someone raised in New York City, which seems to always have at least a half dozen planes in the air at any given moment, today it seemed such an odd site and at the same time a triumphant gesture of new beginnings.

And then the lake. Huge and blue with sail boats, motorboats cruising. But again I couldn't help feeling that a million years ago this huge body of water was hundreds time this size. Though it's a salt-water body, the smell is of sulfur and not altogether pleasant. Not as strong as the sulfur springs I remember from my last drive out west. Since that trip was about 27 years ago I can't remember what state this was in. The piles of salt are huge, reminding me of the snow piles in parking lots of shopping malls in New England. These mounds are easily 4-5 train cars long and about 3 cars high. At one point there is the lake all the way right with train tracks the next few feet over, then a canal of water, then Interstate 80 heading west, another canal of water, the Interstate heading east bounded by more water. It's hard to believe that the road I'm driving on is solid enough for me to be on with my truck loaded with the remainder of my Massachusetts belongings causing it to sit at least 3 inches lower than usual.

Soon the landscape changes again and it is flat, flat, flat, with mountains so far in the distance that they seem to belong to another state. I've entered the Great Salt Lake Desert and the Bonneville Saltflats. To each side of the road is sand and salt with the only other color being the stones and rocks that are mostly black adding stark contrast. It feels wind blown like a beach but the only water is to the north, which one can't see from the road. In fact in looking a map now (to help recall the trip) is when I noticed that there is another lake.

Near the border there is a rest stop and my curiosity and the realization that I may never be here again cause me to do something I haven't done the entire trip. I stop. I get out of my truck for something other than gas, food or sleep. One can walk on the salt flats here. Perhaps it is a need caused by my alternative persona who is Tuareg, a people who harvest and trade salt. After parking I walk on asphalt, cement, pebbles and then the salt. It is hard and crusted, baked into a solid mass. There is a family with several kids being silly and running around, and making designs with the dark pebbles on the stark salt. It reminds me of recipes for things like salt-crusted cod. I reach down to try to scrap a few grains, it takes great effort. I rub the grains between my fingers, coarser than table salt, but nowhere near the size or clearness of gourmet salt from France.

I return to the truck happy I stopped, and happy that I am ten miles from Nevada.

Next chapter - Nevada the land of nothing.

The Journay Almost Complete – Nevada 18 September 2001

Hello again my patient readers,

Crossing the border into Nevada is a bit surreal. After the great nothingness of the Great Salt Desert there is the early foreshadowing of Nevada. There are casinos within the first few miles, and then nothing again. Only after driving about, oh maybe 100 miles do you come to a town of any consequence, Elko. There isn't much. Of course after all the times I've seen this during my journey you would think I would be used to it. Maybe it's because I grew up in New York City, but I continued to be surprised at how much nothing there could be in a town. Actually Elko had a "strip" with stores, strip malls and what-have-you but beyond what you could see I suspect there wasn't a lot more. To the south of the interstate there was nothing visible, to the north was the strip and I'm sure some side roads off into large stretches between homesteads. To the east and west the interstate. My goal for the day was Winnemucca, which I did succeed in reaching, 647 miles from the start of my day. Between Elko and Winnemucca the only town of note was Battle Mountain with billboards announcing the casinos. I cruised past doggedly in pursuit of Winnemucca.

I found a very decent place to spend the night but before sleeping decided that I really needed dinner. Okay I confess my brain was road dead. I got back in my truck and drive about a half a mile up the road to the Red Lion Inn/Casino/Restaurant. It was bright, smoky and noisy. Here I was finally in front of slot machines and unfortunately those one-armed bandits had elevated themselves beyond a simple pull of a lever. There were buttons and multiple lines upon which one *could* win. My eyes were tired and I needed food. There was to be no channeling my grandmother tonight. (For those that don't already know, my grandmother was famous for her low-level but consistent gambling - bingo, Atlantic City trips and lottery tickets. The day before she died she was in Atlantic City - she had won $400 that day. She came home and died before breakfast.)

Waking up on Sunday I knew I had so many fewer miles to go, and though Niya had persisted in keeping me barely asleep from 2:30am to 4:30am I was eager to complete my trip. I found a wonderful place for breakfast. If you ever find yourself near Winnemucca during anything resembling breakfast hours run, don't walk, to The Griddle. Great food,nice atmosphere, cheap prices and large servings. I would go back in a heartbeat even though it would mean being in Nevada.

The drive through Nevada on Saturday was remarkedly dull and apparently devoid of rational thought as it was almost impossible through the entire state to find an NPR station. Perhaps I was just plain tired of driving but it was hard to rejoice in the landscape here. There was just nothing. I drove for hours without seeing any indication of life form, not even cattle.

Today, Sunday, the mountains seemed more colorful. I listened to Patsy Cline and early kd lang. It seemed the best possible music for the day. Here too the colors of sand and white salt seemed prevalent. More endearing and less destructive forms of graffeti abound on the road - black rocks are formed into names and sayings on the sides of the road. Unfortunately they were hard to read if they are too close the road - the distant ones easier to read while speeding by.

Since I hit Reno in the morning I suspect I missed the glitter but perhaps I will see it another time. Here again I saw a couple of planes, still an infrequent enough sight that it surprises me. Suddenly I thrust into the Sierra Nevada mountain range inside the Tahoe National Forest. Here I am riding at great heights along the sides of mountains with bright rivers on one side and then the other. California, I am now in the state that is to be my home. It's hard to fathom - I'm here already and I'm finally here - all at once. Chris and I are talking on and off as I get closer. The drive becomes less important and the destination is everything. Almost. Suddenly I see hills again and again they are so different. Here the mounds are wheat colored, deep yellow, with the surface looking plush and velvety, mottled with trees,tall and deep colored. Again I marvel at how different these lumps of rock and earth can look. And then water to my right, stretched out before me, beckoning. Yes, this part the landscape is the thing that makes being on the coast, the west coast so marvelous. I can be so near water.

Chris and I agree to meet at off an exit near her office. I see the little red car she's been driving compliments of our friend Tracy (Suzi's partner). She gets out of the car, the wind blowing hard against her and I open my door to come out. We hold each other and I can feel her belly shake as she cries. She tells me that I smell good and remarks how long my hair has gotten. We release, go back to our respective cars and I follow her to the Richmond Field Station, University of California Berkeley - the place that has brought us both here, far from what had been home. 3207 miles from home.

Random Leftovers Thoughts from The Road 20 September 2001

Hi again. Bet you thought I was done ;-)

In Milwaukee I got to eat in the new baseball stadium. Obviously this was during the moratorium on sports so the field was quiet. This stadium is beautiful and smaller than the old one to enhance the intimacy and the immediacy of the game. It was built on the same plot as the old one but where the actual old ball field was is where they are building a little league field so the kids "can play where the greats played".

In Iowa: The Museum of the Danish Immigrant. Also, a Danish Windmill

Somewhere, sorry I don't remember: The Museum of the Mountain Man (honest!)

Billboards in Nevada: "Police hide behind these" (I saw two of these)

"Keep your eyes on the road - hard isn't it"

"The King of Cha-ching" - for the Silverado Casino, you just have to say it out loud - I did!

An exit in Nevada (recalled especially for Ann): Ramusen Road (I may have the exact spelling wrong)

In the middle of the Great Salt Desert in the distance is this tall narrow structure, I can't figure out what it would be, but I'm guessing something to do with radar, sonar - one of those -ars. But no, it's "art". A tall pole with various sizes of balls or globes painted with odd colors jutting out at irregular intervals and distances from the pole. Looks like it was done in 50's or early 60's but who knows. Also out here a random american flag stuck in the middle of nowhere. In the distance I think it was placed there for the recent world events, but upon driving closer this flag is faded and ragged - I have no idea why it's there.

Marking the mountains with initials of a city name is fairly common. I had seen what I thought was an unofficial marking in Arlington WY, I still think it was not a sanctioned marking as it was quite faint. I saw a distinct "C" in Carlin Nevada, and an "L" in Lovelock Nevada.

The colors in the mountains in all the states vary so much and are beautiful in their complexity. Peachy oranges, terra cotta, dusty mint green, ochre, gray-green, green, brown, taupe, white, chestnut, raspberry sherbet pinks and every shade leading into and out of these.

While I hadn't been worried about being on the road in terms of my safety (though others were) I was concerned about my ability to drive this distance and a tad antsy about my sanity with this much time alone (no offense to Niya). I felt completely safe in terms of bodily harm, getting scammed, etc. The truck held up fine. Until this trip I hadn't driven farther than about 250 miles/4 hours by myself. This trip took 7 days (Monday -Sunday) and 3207 miles. My shortest day was just over 200 miles, my longest day was 647 miles (which is way toooooooo long by the way). I have learned that my comfort zone is about 400-475 miles in a day, although the day of 525 miles wasn't too bad actually.

I have learned why people who only talk to animals the bulk of their day sound the way the do. You get used to the non-response so your linguistic style changes. That was scary. ;-) On Saturday I started to truly get a little lonely but at the same time more comfortable being by myself. I think that I could do a trip like this again, even longer and maintain my sense of humor. Next time I will take a little voice recorder because there was so much detail I forgot, even when I got to write the same night.

Well I guess that's probably all I can remember. Thank you all for listening to my little (okay, long) monologue.

Now that you no longer have to send travel prayers, Chris and I would like you to think good home hunting thoughts. I have seen 8 places already (today is Thursday morning) and driven by a few others. Still hunting. Once settled I will send you our new address and phone number(s) and extend invitations for you to visit, though I can't guarantee premier sleeping accommodations - hope you like the floor and sleeping bags ;-).


Hope you enjoyed the trip.