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Road Trip: The Plan

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…

Money.

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!

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Posted by on August 2, 2015 in Road Trip

 

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The Epic Road Trip

The road trip is over! A success! Over 5100 miles and thirteen states later, Grace and I made it home after thirteen days on the road.

My record of this journey did not work out like I had planned. I had intended to blog at the end of each day, posting whenever I had WiFi access. I had planned to make more use of Twitter and learn that system.

Neither of those things happened.

It turned out that all of my energy went into driving and interacting with Grace, which was the point of this trip, anyway. Whenever we arrived at the end of the day wherever it was we were going, after setting up housekeeping, all I wanted to do was sleep. I had no energy left for anything more than cursory longhand notes of the day’s events in my notebook.

I did post on Facebook frequently through the trip. Facebook is simply my default social media for off-the-top-of-the-head notes, comments, and observations. Twitter got left in the dust.

I think this lack of writing production on the road will make for a better road trip story in the long run. If I had managed to post every day, it would have been a basic travelogue, telling the bare bones of where we had been and what we had done. That could be an interesting story, but I realized after a few days that there was more to this trip than I had realized.

On Day Five, old CCC friend Mike Rivera replied to a Facebook post by saying, “George, what is this trek across the country about?” I was pressed for time and didn’t feel like repeating the full answer…Grace wanting to see where I grew up, adding a Seattle leg to make the trip more interesting and more epic…so I gave Mike a short smart-ass answer: “Mid-life crisis”. As I drove the rest of the day and thought about it, I realized that my smart-ass answer was closer to the mark than I had realized.

Writer’s manuals tell me that ‘theme’ is an important part of writing. They also tell me that a writer does not always see the theme until after the project is well under way. After the project is under way, then a writer can see the glimpses of theme emerge during the process. Apparently this is true in life, as well. I did not recognize the ‘theme’ of this adventure until it was almost half over.

Grace had asked to see where I grew up. We could have flown to Chicago and done that. It would have been cheaper and quicker. However, she also wants to visit other states. I don’t think flying over them at 30,000 feet counts, so I got the idea for the road trip. I’ve been along the I-80 corridor between Chicago and San Francisco several times, so I added an extra leg to Seattle for three reasons: to visit a dear friend I had not seen in too long, to add more states to Grace’s ‘been there’ list, and to make the trip even more epic.

‘Epic’ was going to be an important part of this trip. I was determined to do something big, dammit!

Right away people thought it was a crazy idea. Some people questioned whether my back would stand up to that kind of a trip without spasm-ing out and incapacitating me. Some people looked at my 1994 Nissan pick-up truck with no AC and questioned whether the truck would make it. People doubted my truck’s reliability when I took it on a camping trip to Colorado in 2002, and it made it through that trip just fine. I had no reason to think it wouldn’t make it through this trip, either.

I had things to prove to other people, but more importantly, I had things to prove to myself…that at fifty years old, I could still plan and execute a big adventure.

There was my theme.

Now I could write.

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2015 in Road Trip

 

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Great Road Trip of 2015: Day One

Before I get to day one…

I’ve been surprised at how hard it has been to get Internet access on this trip. I even struck out in Seattle, of all places, and you will find out more about that in the Day One story. Meanwhile, the focus of this trip has got to be spending time with Grace and making miles to Illinois. Getting Internet access has had to take a back seat to those goals. With that in mind, I cannot promise daily updates, but I will eventually cover every day of the trip.

On to Day One!

We got off to a great start on Saturday morning. We got out of the house on time (relatively, for us). We had to make a couple of stops in Redding for fuel, banking, and picking up last minute supplies. We cleared Redding by eight o’clock, and my target was to arrive in Portland between three and five.

I am still learning to estimate my long range drive times with some lumbar issues that have appeared over the last few years. Among other things, arthritis has set in upon my lumbar, and it can go out of whack pretty easily. My chiropractor has always told me that I can do these long drives as long as I stop every hour to get out of the vehicle and stretch. Yeah, well…this is ‘advice’ right? Not a law? These days I stop for a stretch break more often than I used to, but still not as much as Dr. Moore would probably like. We’ll see how that goes. People had told me that it is an eight hour drive from our house to Portland. I was hoping to get to Portland between three and five in the afternoon, depending upon how often we had to stop for my back.

On the way to Redding, I made a fun discovery in my truck. When I bought the truck, I hung my half-heart pendant from my rear view mirror. (Patsy, of course, has the other half.) Other things have been added to the half-heart pendant from that mirror over the years. I threaded a piece of green yarn through a metal tag from a pair on Wolverine boots I bought and hung it from the mirror. My kids hung a Batman toy. Over the years, these things have aged in the sun and gotten tangled together. Batman looks like he was in a bad whaling accident and got tangled up in the rope from the harpoon. I had intended to take everything down but the half-heart before this trip, but never did. As Grace and I headed to Redding, we had both windows down, which I never do when driving alone…which is basically all of the time in the truck.

We discovered that with both windows rolled down at highway speeds, Batman gets caught in the cross breeze and swings wildly around under the mirror. Batman dances!

We made a couple of stops in Redding, and then headed north. After passing through the coniferous forest between Shasta Lake and Mount Shasta, we passed north into the high desert of the Klamath River basin. Green gave way to brown. Tall, green pines were replaced by short grey-green sage and brown grasses. We stopped for a back-stretch in Yreka, after about an hour and a half. The high desert gave way to green mountains again across the Oregon border as we climbed Siskiyou Pass through the mountains south of Ashland. High desert showed up again between Ashland and Medford.

After we passed Ashland, Grace started experiencing some discomfort in her side. The pain was concerning at first, and I thought the trip was probably going to be over before it even started. We figured out that the discomfort was caused by the Nissan truck’s bench seat, and she solved it by putting her pillow behind her back.

We stopped for fuel in Grants Pass. Beyond here, everything was new ground for me, and it will be until we reach Wisconsin. One feature of Oregon’s topography that I noticed on this trip is that Oregon is crossed by rivers heading roughly west to the Pacific Ocean. Travel north on I-5 across Oregon is accomplished by climbing a ridge, dropping down into the river basin and across a flat, then climbing the next ridge, and down into the next basin. Repeat until you get to the Willamette Valley. The Willamette River flows north into the Columbia River. When you reach the Willamette Basin north of Eugene, I was reminded of driving down the Sacramento River Valley in California. We drove up a broad plain with the mountains pushed back to the east and west.

We arrived in Portland around four o’clock. Success!

Then we had to meet our two goals of visiting Powell’s City of Books and Music Millennium. I hate city driving.
Fortunately, I have had extraordinary success with the mapping app that came installed on my Droid phone. I knew this app was good when it could get me around Arcata, California and never send me the wrong way up a one-way street. My Droid served us well in Portland and got us right to Powell’s. Grace was also awesome in relaying the Droid’s instructions to me, and looking ahead on the map to confirm where we were going. She is a great navigator! One thing that not even the Droid could do, however, was get us to an open parking spot. It took the better part of a lap around a few blocks to find a spot, but we made it.

Powell’s is simply incredible. Powell’s is the kind of bookstore you would expect to find on Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. The bookstore literally fills a city block. When you enter off the street, it doesn’t look that big. Then when you go through a door into the next room, you begin to see how truly massive it is. Rooms ahead with books. Stairs to the right going up to the Coffee Level, and more books. Stairs over there branching off into other rooms. Go through this door and find two more rooms. A person could get lost in there!

I found one out of print writing book by Rita Mae Brown which I used to own but lost. I had been looking for a replacement for some time. We found one book from a list Patsy had given us. Grace found a few books, and gave book advice to another young adult trying to choose between several books.

The Droid got us to Music Millennium, too. This store was a replay of Powell’s, but with music. You enter into a small room loaded with CDs. As you look around and go through a door, you find another small room loaded with CDs. As you work your way to the other side of this room, you find a door, a short set of steps, and another room packed with CDs. Past this room, you find a room packed with vinyl records. And another room of vinyl! A person could go broke in here!

After we spent our money, the Droid got us back to I-5 North. (Grace says we need to find a more respectable name for our mapping app than ‘The Droid’.) We stopped for dinner in Longview, and then considered our options.

I had planned to camp in one of Washington’s state parks north of Longview and get to Seattle in the morning, driving through Rainier National Park. We would get a room and visit with my friends Doug and Erlene, and then do our sightseeing on Monday morning. We would leave for Montana early on Tuesday morning.

One big factor in my reluctance to commit to a solid plan was not knowing how far I could actually get in one day. On my Colorado camping trip in 2002, people who know the I-80 East route told me that I should plan to get to Salt Lake City in one day and call that good. I actually got into Salt Lake City by five o’clock in the afternoon, with plenty of daylight ahead and still feeling good, so I pressed on to Green River, Wyoming before stopping. I wound up getting to Fort Collins, Colorado within twenty-eight hours of leaving home. I never had a problem on that trip finding a room wherever I happened to want to stop for the night.

When I planned this trip, I knew I could get to Portland in one day, but not so sure I could get to Seattle because of my back. My back was still holding up fine when we stopped for dinner, and I still had plenty of energy.

As we discussed it and realized that Seattle was only two and a half hours away, we figured we could get to Seattle that night, get a room, and have all of our Sunday morning for sightseeing, visit with Doug and Erl, and hit the road Monday, giving us an extra day to get to, or spend in, Round Lake.

We went with Plan B.

We got into Seattle around eleven o’clock…and discovered that Seattle is not hip to ‘making-it-up-as-you-go’ type travelers. Motel after motel I checked with was full. Five of them. (Thank you one more time, Droid phone, for doing all that research for me! All I had to do was touch an icon on the screen in the mapping app and then press ‘call’.) Grace started worrying about having to sleep in the truck. The sixth motel I checked had a vacancy. We won’t talk about the head shops or tattoo parlors in the neighborhood. I bet Sam and Dean Winchester are in this motel someplace, on the trail of something supernatural.

And to top it off, our room location was such that even though we had ‘WiFi access’, the signal was so poor that it was useless. I suppose I could have complained, but by that point, our options were limited.

Take it from me…if you ever travel to Seattle in the summer, book your room well in advance!

Sunday was for Seattle. More on that next time…

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2015 in Road Trip, Sightseeing

 

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T-minus Twenty-Four Hours

This time tomorrow morning, Grace and I will be on the road.

All of the gear has been assembled. The plan, such as it is, has been roughed out. I’m making this up largely as I go. We will combine camping, motels, and staying with friends. Grace is nervous about the camping. She has never done anything more rugged than backyard camping, but she will be fine. I have not made any motel reservations. My parents used to plan vacations down to the last detail. They always knew exactly where we would be and when we would be there before we even left. None of that for me…at least on this trip. I want the flexibility to dawdle someplace if I want to. The friends we will be staying have only a rough idea of when we will be showing up. I’ll call them a day or so before we get there.

I am probably going to be useless at work today.

There is a sense of urgency for me about this trip. I am glad Grace asked last spring to see the place where I grew up. I am glad we made the decision to make the trip this summer. She is sixteen. She might not be so open about taking a trip lie this with Dad next year. This might be the last window I have to spend a large chunk of time with my little girl…who isn’t so little any more.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2015 in Road Trip

 

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On the Road

I’ve got a couple of half finished posts for the ‘Christianity and Homosexuality’ topic, but it’s going to be a while before they are finished. I’m getting ready to head out on a 4700 mile road trip with our daughter, Grace.

The evolution of a road trip–

Grace asked me last spring if they were ever going to get to see where I grew up in Lake County, Illinois.

“Do you want to see it?”

“Well…yeah.”

“Let’s do it. Road trip this summer.”

And that was how it started.

At first it was going to be straight across I-80 to Chicago, hang out for a few days, and back. I’ve done that trip several times, though. I thought about adding something different into the mix. Grace started asking about Washington State. Washington is not really on the way to Illinois for us, but I had never been farther north than Grant’s Pass, Oregon, and had never been in the northern Rockies, or the northern Plains states.

“Yeah! Sure! Let’s do Washington, too!”

Since getting to Round Lake was the primary purpose of this mission, I at first pictured getting to Illinois first, and coming back to California through Washington. Then I started thinking…after driving to Illinois and hanging out for a few days, it was quite likely that we would be tired and wanting to get home and cut Washington out of the whole trip. Why not go to Washington first? Then when we finish in Illinois, we can just make tracks for home.

So now the truck is checked and ready to go. Camping gear has been inspected. All systems are go…

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2015 in Road Trip

 

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