Everybody following this blog or my Facebook page knows how the idea for this road trip started: Grace asked if they were ever going to see where I grew up outside of Chicago. There is a ‘rest of the story’.
Grace has had the ‘Traveler’s Bug’ for some time. She wants to go places and see things. She wants to visit other states and countries. She wants to go to Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon. She has managed to visit two other states: Nevada and Oregon. She went with me on a work trip to Heenan Lake to pick up some cutthroat trout eggs. The route to Heenan Lake follows US 395 south out of Susanville and into Nevada, through Reno and Carson City, before turning back into the Sierras of California. Grace and I also took a day trip once up into Ashland so she could see the town and notch another state.
Like I suspect happens in most families, we often make plans that never actually happen. There is almost always a good reason for plans to fall through. Work commitments arise. Other life events intervene. The most common reason for Parker family ambitious plans to fall through is lack of money. (Fish Hatchery Manager I’s don’t make as much money as one might think.) Sometimes the reason is as lame as “I’m too tired right now”. Grace knew that even though I had proposed this trip, summer was a long way off and lotsa things could happen between now and then. She thought it was a fun dream that would probably never happen. I could see it in her eyes. I knew our experiences, and I knew this was one dream that I could not let wither and die. I had to show Grace that Big Adventures can happen. I had to make this dream a reality.
The more I thought about this trip, the more I wanted to do it. I hadn’t been home to Round Lake since 1989, and I had only seen a few people then. I looked at our family calendar and work calendar. The best block of time that wasn’t going to interfere with work or school was going to be the last two weeks of July. I threw the idea out to Patsy. Her biggest question: How are we going to pay for this? A valid question, and I didn’t have an answer yet. I figured that would still work itself out, but I needed to get the ball rolling on planning, so I told my boss I needed to use vacation time for those last two weeks in July. Not a problem. I have been working for the State of California for so long that I am accumulating vacation time faster than I can normally use it, and we are only allowed to carry 640 hours on the books. I’ve been maxxed out for a few years, and our bosses are regularly reminding us to clear some of that ‘V’ off the books. This would be a great time to burn 80 hours in one whack. (I’ll have it all earned back in six months, anyway.)
I told Grace the plan so far. She was excited that I was committing to the time off…but…
Look…we’re not broke. Far from it. However, when I retire, we are going to have to move out of the state housing we have lived in for fourteen years. We still haven’t bought a place to retire to because we still aren’t really sure where we want to go. Saving is tough for any one-income family in California, and this trip was going to have to be done without touching any of those savings.
I still wasn’t sure how that was going to happen.
Another issue was my truck.
My truck is a black 5-speed 1994 Nissan pickup with a shell and no air conditioning. I bought it from a friend around 1997. I drove it a lot when we lived down in Antioch, and even for the first few years we were here at Darrah Springs. I drove it out to a camping trip in Colorado in 2002. It’s a great little truck. Our family car was a Ford Taurus station wagon, and the truck was more fun to drive. When we bought our first brand new car from a dealership, a 2004 Toyota Camry, the ‘fun factor’ changed. The truck sat idle for weeks and months. Maybe even a year at one point. The only time I drove it was when I needed to haul loads down to town or around Manton. A vehicle sitting idle in NorCal’s blistering summers ages more quickly than a vehicle that is driven regularly. The truck’s head liner started coming apart and falling down. The steering wheel started cracking and peeling. Some mud dauber wasps got into the ducting. They daubed some mud nests which clogged some of the vent controls, so only hot air blew out of the vents. I decided to change that last year. I had the fluids replaced, and replaced all of the belts and hoses. It was running fine. It just stayed a little warm in the cockpit, that’s all. Some people made wry comments about the odds of the Nissan’s surviving the type of road trip I was planning, but I knew it would be fine.
Money, on the other hand…
I also got to thinking about the trip itself.
While my family lived in Round Lake in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Dad’s family lived in New Hampshire, and Mom’s family lived in California. Every summer we drove to one coast or the other to visit them. I had traveled the American Interstate System in a straight line from San Francisco to Boston. More than once. A trip straight to Round Lake and back would be all new territory for Grace, but would cover ground that I had already seen. However, two parts of the United States I had never seen were the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Plains. A side trip north would be interesting. And two dear old friends of mine, Doug and Erlene Johnson, lived in Seattle. Why not tack a side trip to Seattle onto the adventure? I proposed the idea to Grace. Now she sounded really excited. She has recently gotten into the Seattle music scene, and jumped at the chance to visit Kurt Cobain’s memorial bench. I originally thought about hitting Seattle on the way back from Illinois. Round Lake was the main point of this trip, so the obvious plan was to achieve the primary goal first. Then I got to thinking…after spending all of that time on the road getting to Round Lake, and then spending a few days in strange housing, we probably would not have the ambition for the longer drive to Seattle on the way back. Why not hit Seattle first, on the way out? Then when we finished in Round Lake, we could just make a mad run for home. That became the plan.
There was still the money thing. We expected a Federal tax refund. At first I thought I could dedicate the entire refund to the trip, but other expenses elbowed their way in on the money. Okay…with the remainder of the refund money, at least I had a starting Trip Kitty. Like I suspect other people do, I save change out of my pockets into a jar. When the jar is full, I roll it and cash it in. This could be a hundred bucks. I kept throwing change into the jar. Grace saved from her allowance. She also saved the recycling money she earned from crushing all of our CRV cans. We both had a start on spending money for this trip.
A final factor on this long range trip was the state of my back. This was another legitimate concern. I have arthritis and some degenerative issues in my lumbar. When it spasms, I twist over to my left and cannot stand up straight. Working a clutch becomes misery. The slightest thing seems to be able to cause it to spasm. Sometimes just sitting down wrong can cause a flare up. I was not going to afford any flare ups while trying to drive a stick shift across the country. My chiropractor, Dr. Michael Moore, said I should be okay on the trip as long as I stopped every hour to stand up, walk around a bit, and stretch. Even a five minute stop would help. Oh, the crazy ideas Dr. Moore comes up with! If I stopped every hour, I would never get anywhere. Okay…I’ll stop more frequently than normal, but I don’t know about this ‘every hour’ business.
The uncertainty about my back meant that I had a hard time committing to a solid itinerary. All of the trip advisors I consulted…both real and virtual…gave me drive times that involved driving straight through and stopping for nothing other than refueling. I was confident that I could get to Portland, Oregon in one day, but not so sure that I could get to Seattle. Grace and I had a couple of things we wanted to stop and see in Portland, including Powell’s City of Books . I planned to camp across the Columbia River in Washington. We could get to Seattle the next day, get a room, visit Doug and Erl, sightsee Seattle the next morning, and then hit the road. I looked at on-line mapping sites to compute a roughly eight hour drive from Seattle. That put me in Missoula, Montana. Good camping country! Eight hours from Missoula on the route to Chicago put us in Sheridan, Wyoming. And look at that! Custer Battlefield is right on I-90 just a few miles before we get to Sheridan! Something to stop and check out on the trip! Eight hours from Sheridan put us in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and eight hours from Sioux Falls put us in Chicago. Well…Round Lake. I now had a rough itinerary, but did not know yet if my back would be able to keep it.
And then the final piece of the Money Puzzle fell into place. The State of California made managers and supervisors a one-time offer to cash out some accumulated vacation credits. We could cash out up to forty hours of leave. And there it was. Adding one week’s pay to the rest of the kitty meant I had enough cash for the trip.
This was really gonna happen!