Change Your Backyard
WA, ID, MT, WY, SD, MN, IA, IN, IL, KY
Every now and again I get these inclinations to do something adventurous
and on a grand scale: like taking a position in the company that
required me to relocate to a country when I’d never been abroad before;
or leaving my career job to live in a Eurovan and travel the world to
explore and rock climb full time.
My latest adventure was my desire to spend some time in Kentucky
climbing. My options were to
drive, live in the van or fly and rent a car. The drive and the flight
cost were comparable so it came down to how much housing and the car
would cost. The van won, but it meant I would have to drive across the
country, which I had done twice before, but never by myself.
The week leading up to my departure was chaotic. There was a lot to do
before I left and I had caught a nasty bug that undermined my ability to
fully execute on my plan.
Appointments were dropped or rescheduled; I missed a bit of work, which
put me behind in what I had wanted to accomplish; and in the end, I had
to delay my departure by a full day and then some. This was a costly
decision, but necessary.
The upside to the delay
meant I could take my nephews climbing. They had never climbed outside
in Seattle before and I wanted to share that experience with them.
I didn’t get to climb much, but I had a wonderful time watching
them. They are each very good at it, and approach climbing with
different styles. In my opinion, the oldest holds the most promise for
the sport, though he claims he’s not interested in pursuing it.
I left Sunday
afternoon, well into the day and much later than I would have liked.
Taking the delays in stride, I headed off on my adventure East. Taking
the 90 across is convenient because you don’t have to think about where
you are going, you just drive. There was heavy rain all the way into
Montana, but fortunately, exceptionally good weather the entire rest of
Driving across the country
leaves a lot of time to daydream.
To avoid this, I dug up an old ebook, one I’d already listened to
on a prior cross country trip. To my surprise, after the first few
chapters played, I realized I had forgotten most of the story. I was
relieved to find it enjoyable to listen to a second time.
With the ebook playing, Ken Follet’s
End of the World, time went by
quickly. I made really good progress the first 2 days, sleeping in
Billings, Montana the first night and Sioux City the next.
I couldn’t drive straight through
because I was working during the day and driving only in the early
morning and at night. Having delayed my start meant I was in the middle
of my journey when I had to cut back on driving because my work became
more demanding. For this night, I got a hotel in Minnesota.
Working on the road
can be a challenge. Fortunately, I have the van. All I really need is
reliable internet and a reasonably quiet location. One day, my backyard
was a rest stop with wireless internet where I looked out over Big Horn
National Forest and it’s mountains.
Another day, I sat next to a Laundromat offering free wi-fi and
was so hungry by the end of the day that I sampled t he local pizza joint
next door. It claimed to be the best in town, albeit the town was quite
small. The pizza was tasty but the to-go box was not user friendly,
especially when I was expecting a lid to pop open while driving. Their
box was a puzzle with custom flaps, folds and insertion points that made
it nearly impossible to maneuver with one hand.
The last two days
after this point did not go as well as the first part of the trip. I was
definitely tired of driving, but I had many hours left ahead of me. And,
now that the west was behind me, I missed the no-nonsense direction of
the 90. Road names were changing and I had to pay attention to exits.
Nevertheless, I threw out the written instructions on accident, got
confused multiple times at various interchanges and found myself lost on
at least 3 different occasions. The first time, I circled the direction
I was to take, stopped, cross-examined the map against my streets and
trips application and finally headed off on the right path.
The second time this happened, I thought I must have passed the
interchange (not realizing the spoke and wheel model employed) and
exited too soon. I found myself fueling up in a very sketchy part of
town with a young man goggling at me. He hung around outside the door of
the cashier while I was paying and I really wondered if I would have to
deal with him before making my exit.
Fortunately, as I signed my paper, he went off and I never saw
him again. The last time
this happened, I was looking for a place to crash and ended up circling
around the area taking alternate freeway routes accidentally before
finally exiting and holing up.
That was very late in the night when I expected people to be
sleeping, but there was a lot of traffic and people about. This made for
an uncomfortable rest because I wanted to remain unnoticed but anywhere
I went, someone was there.
the e-book, there were times when my mind wandered. For instance, in
Coeur d’Alene, I remembered my old triathlon swim instructor who used to
race there and I tried to imagine where his race might have traveled as
I passed. In Montana, I remembered the night I crashed my good friend’s
van and how he, his girlfriend and I had to abort our attempt to be in
Cleveland when the Tribe went to the World Series. We had to fix the van
in town and turn around. My poor friend and his girlfriend had already
driven from San Francisco to Seattle to pick me up. The blizzard we
encountered was completely unexpected (to us) and assisted with the
cause of the accident. I
remember how awful I felt and embarrassed because I recall feeling more
confident about driving in those conditions and even offered to take the
wheel at some point. Fortunately, no one was hurt, despite the 180 on
In Sheridan, I looked out over Big Horn and thought
of my friends in TenSleep. They had already left for the Red and I
imagined they were already there, probably acclimating by now. In
Minnesota, I thought about my grandmother’s stories of how she met my
grandfather. It always started something like, ‘there was a bridge that
we used to cross.’ This bridge connected Minnesota to Wisconsin.
My grandfather apparently lived in Wisconsin, just beyond that
bridge. In South Dakota, I
marveled at how little development there was along that I-90 stretch. I
kept strict watch on my fuel gauge and held my breath those last few
miles until I found civilization and a fuel stop. At one point I had to
stop to adjust something in the van that had come loose. I pulled off
into pitch darkness. There was no one on the highway and no one and
nothing along this exit. As I stepped into the back of the van to make
the adjustment, I could almost hear my heart beating as it seemed to
have moved and was putting pressure in my throat. At the same time, my
stomach felt sick with unease as if I expected someone to jump out of
the darkness and attack me in my vulnerable state.
At some point my Visa stopped working at the pump
and I had to pay inside all the time. This was a bit inconvenient and
led to the most interesting human interactions of my trip, but it also
meant I was weary of stopping at fuel stations late in the night,
especially since I was driving on west coast time the whole way. This
particular night it was clear I wouldn’t make my target destination on
the tank of fuel I had. As I came into an urban town in Illinois, I
decided to camp there for the night and thought of my Aunt who used to
live here with her family. I had visited her here several times. I
recalled the first time I went to see her. My boyfriend and I drove 8
hours, which at the time seemed forever to me. I marveled at my Aunt’ s
Victorian home, her choice of music (Bonnie Raitt stands out),
her living Christmas tree, and even left a sleeping bag there on
accident. I also remember my
internship at the University of Illinois and training for a triathlon in
the lake behind her house with my cousins who are fishes. I remember the
wicked storm that crossed through and all of the tornadoes that hit just
before I arrived. And, I remember those last few moments with her before
saying goodbye, when my cousin and I awkwardly thwarted her attempt to
cut into a scarf. I remembered her fondly and wished very much that they
were still there. The town
didn’t seem very safe for me that night and I hardly slept. Had I been
sure I could refuel, I would have driven until sunrise.
Continuing my travels, I remembered old friends who
were from Iowa and that led me to reflect on the relationship I was in
at that time. I miss him sometimes. I’m also reminded of dining on the
waterfront in downtown Portland with my other Aunt and her family. We
had been overheard discussing something and a pair of elderly strangers
piped in a remark. When they asked us where we were from, we said Ohio,
but when the man suggested something about Ohio his wife cut him off
saying we were from Iowa, not Ohio! My family and I looked at one
another and smiled. None of us corrected her. That incident still puts a
smile on my face.
Finally making my way into Kentucky, I see signs
for Cincinnati. I won’t be making a trek to Ohio on this part of the
trip. I consider what visits are going to be like now that my sister and
her family have moved and one of my nephews is now in school out of
state. I also think of my
old room mate who moved back to Kentucky and was recently engaged. I
think it will be fun to catch up and meet his fiancée.
Welcome to Kentucky and I’m crossing the Ohio River
and looking out at downtown Louisville. I’m remembering the slugger’s
museum visit and such that we toured when the Canadians were in town a
few years ago. I also remember the BW we stayed in near the climbing gym
as I sit in the lobby trying to find a low cost hotel in the area. It’s
my last hotel stay. I have a lot of work, some laundry and such to do
before heading into the gorge. I’m tired from not sleeping well the
night before and my tolerance for mishaps and such is low. My nerves
have been on edge for too long and I need a restful night to shake it
off and regroup. I won’t make the
climbing gym tonight as planned.
62 chapters into the e-book, and the book and the
journey are nearly over. I've seen
the Mountain Peaks of the west, rolling foothills, lakes, streams and
the mighty Missippi and I've marveled at the landscape shifts that
became pasture land, corn fields, rolling hills and meadows. I've even
experienced west coast, mid-west and souther culture with the Cowboy
hats of the mid-west to the southern flair of Kentucky. I live in a
Thanks for reading and safe travels to you!