I've been gone for a while. But I'm back.
I've got a little time on my hands at the moment, and I'm putting it to good use.
It'd be easy to define the 14-day, cross-country drive that concluded yesterday as simply a "road trip". It would also be easy to explain why someone would drive 7,000 miles over two weeks simply because they chose to as temporary insanity. However, simple descriptions or explanations for complicated things inherently fail to explain them, and in this case that would be very true.
In it's original inception the trip was simply a drive from here to Texas to see my son and my mom. It grew from there as an opportunity to go to Phoenix to retrieve some of my things from my storage unit. And it took full bloom when my dearest friend started discussing possibilities of bringing her two oldest teenage sons to Los Angeles.
Over the past two weeks we crossed 19 state lines, and covered two countries. We visited a family namesake in Alabama. We drove through Biloxi MS and New Orleans. We stopped at the Alamo, and visited with my son in Austin. We retrieved some of my things in Phoenix. We spent a couple of days in LA/Hollywood with side visits to San Diego and Tiajuana, Mexico. On the way home we visited Death Valley, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. To think back over it now that it's over it amazes me that we covered so much ground and did so many things....my simplistic explanation of places doesn't begin to cover the breadth of what filled our days.
Most importantly, the trip provided unique "bonding" time that money just can't buy. Honestly, I don't know many people with whom I'd want to be stuck in a truck for two weeks straight. I can think of many scenarios where trips like that actually end friendships - of not even talking anymore by the time you got home. But there was none of that, and by the time we got back to Charleston yesterday the group of us had developed a sense of "team" the translated into everything from waking to packing to driving to meals....we had things down to a science. The truck was roomy and accomodating for everyone, and the kids had fans, power for their laptops, and other creature comforts for making long hours in a vehicle tolerable.
My enduring memories will be simple ones. Of stopping at the beginning and having the auto parts guy change a fuse. Of listening to the Comedy channel on Pandora and the entire car laughing until we had tears in our eyes. Of crossing the Mississippi River...twice. Of stopping for dinner at Maggiano's in Beverly Hills. Of planning the trip at the beginning of each day, and then watching it unfold. Of seeing two young men experiencing a little of Las Vegas for the first time. Of hotels, road food, friends who stepped up and helped, and of people in my life who ended up disappointing for one reason or another.
One special memory will be of the night we spent just outside of Death Valley. We had left LA in mid-afternoon, and by sunset we were working through the logistics of where to stay. Part of the reason that we all traveled so well together is that we're all flexible about driving until we got tired, and making sleeping arrangements on the fly. As we worked through the options on our iPhones we found we only had a few to pick from, especially for a room with two beds that would accomodate all of us. We ended up making a reservation at the Best Western in Lone Pine, CA.
By the time we arrived it was almost 11pm, and we had relatively low expectations. The reviews for this particular hotel were positive, but when you're traveling and stop in small towns I've learned the hard way that you just never know. When we arrived we found that hotel was nice, the room was spacious and comfortable, and other than our night at the Mirage in Las Vegas I can't think of a better room for our entire trip. But the thing that made it wonderful was the next morning.
Since it was dark when we arrived we had no idea what was around us. But when we stepped outside in the morning we realized that we were at the base of Mt. Whitney, and watched sunrise change the color of the mountain from red to orange to white. It was one of those times when outcome far outdid expectations, and something I won't soon forget. It was the perfect way to start a day that included the beauty of Death Valley, and ended on the Strip in Las Vegas.
This trip was about the kids as much of more than it was about adults. When the boys got added to the equation is significantly changed the tone, and it impacted every aspect of everything we did. But as the trip fades from recent memory to nostalgia my memories will be of the kids - of helping them develop memories, see things and do things, and experience the breadth of this country, in ways that they'll never forget. You don't get many chances in life to do those kinds of things, and it was an honor to be part of it.
The weather was awesome for the entire trip....one brief shower but otherwise beautiful. It reached 113 while we were in Phoenix....it was 109 in Death Valley. The heat in Las Vegas surprised the kids, I think. I got into a pool as often as I could to shake off some of the driving.
The drive also provided an opportunity to bond with my new truck. As a new truck driver, covering that kind of mileage together helps to get to "know" one another. The truck did great...it was comfortable for all 4 of us, it handled well....I couldn't imagine it being any better. And I never noticed how many people own pickup trucks before....now that I have one I see them everywhere. I'm still learning how to park it - that's a work in progress. And I still don't know how to gauge where the back of it is so having somone help me back into parking spots is still helpful. As I type this I'm at the Toyota dealer getting an oil change and a thorough washing.....it needs some serious loving to clean all the bugs off.
I also learned a few "deeper" things. The trip reinforced for me the feeling of "home" that I've developed here in Charleston. We stopped at two places that have been home for me in the past and although there was a feeling of familiarity and of comfort - neither felt like "home". So as we crossed into South Carolina yesterday afternoon the comfort of actually being "home" was a real one. And the first place we headed when we got back? The beach. We wanted to touch the water to officially complete our coast to coast to coast trip.
I'll share some photos when I've had a chance to download them and I'm not on this public computer.
My "down-time" will be short lived. I'm scheduled to fly to Vancouver on Thursday to meet up with a friend for a week of hiking/camping/photography in the Canadian Rockies. It will help to offset the effects of sitting in a car, getting no exersize, and eating "road" food for a couple of weeks. I can't even remember the last time I was at the gym, and I feel bloated and out of shape. A week in Banff National Park should be just what the doctor ordered.
This particular friend and I get together every year for a week of wilderness, hiking, camping, photography, and just....getting away from it all. It started in 2007 when we visited Glacier National Park together (photos). In 2009 we did Arches National Park and Canyonlands together in Utah. In 2010 we went to the Wallowa Mountains in Oregon. I'm very much looking forward to our upcoming adventure.
So....with all that going on, today is all about catching up. I'm running errands, returning email, making phone calls, and generally re-engaging with the day-to-day "stuff" in my life after disconnecting for a little while. And as wonderful as these past couple of weeks have been it was actually wonderful to sip a glass of red wine and relax at "home" last night. And, to wake up in my own bed this morning.
Ah....the simple pleasures.