Sunday, May 30, 2010

Road Trips

Put the Lewis & Clark trip on the front burner for this coming December. Washed out a few years ago, and that's long enough. Time to see Astoria.

This past December I took a drive to the Grand Canyon that has somehow found its way into my DNA. Road trips are always similar in some regards, but they're always singular too. I loved my trip to the Grand Canyon. One of my favorite road trips ever.

They're all unique.

I can close my eyes and vividly recall what it was like to travel from Kearney, Nebraska to Denver,Colorado completely amped up on chemicals and Thai stick in the winter of 1978. I'd stupidly decided that it wasn't "that much farther" and I felt "wide awake" so I cut southwest off of 80 onto 76 and popped Brothers and Sisters into the 8 Track of my 1973 Le Mans Sport Coupe.

Left Naperville that morning at 7:30 and had blasted across western Illinois and all of Iowa by 2 in the afternoon or so. Somewhere around Joliet I'd started smoking the Thai sticks, and by Davenport I was eating green and clear capsules of I have no idea what. As I crossed the Missouri River into Nebraska, the sun was shining and I was averaging something like 70 mph. Averaging. I was jumping off at exits, putting the fuel nozzle in the side of my car, running inside the gas station to take a piss and buy 3 more cans of Pepsi, and running back to the car to catch the last few drops of the fill-up.

Back inside to pay. No pay at the pump in those days kids, they used that big cachook-cachunk machine to "swipe the credit card" and then manually checked it against that month's booklet of stolen/invalid cards. Run back to the car, hop in fire it up, and away I went. That took time god damn it! I was in a fuckin' hurry!


I have no idea. I was 19. That's all the explanation I can give you. There was a baggie of Thai sticks laying literally ON the passenger seat of my car, a vial of green and clears right next to them, a nice reefer pipe resting conspicuously in the ash tray (which came with the car in those days), a Rand McNally Atlas on the passenger side floor among the empty Pepsi cans, and two ounces of pot in the glove box.

I was going to visit my friend Chris, who'd moved to Littleton, a town nobody had heard of in 1978. I'd left Chicago at 7:30AM expecting to stop about halfway, or whenever I got tired. Solo cross country driving is a lot about knowing when you're getting too tired to drive. Well, the halfway point between Chicago and Denver is roughly Omaha, and there was really no way on earth I was going to pull off the road at 2 in the afternoon. Hell, I was about to cross into another time zone to boot. So I kept driving.

Nebraska is a very wide state. I was going to be traversing about 80% of it before cutting south off of 80, thank god finally, onto 76 and into "Colorful Colorado." By the time I passed Grand Island I was eating more speed, just to be on the safe side.

Kearney. More Thai stick and gas. More Pepsi and another speeder.

North Platte, well shit, I'm almost in Colorado. I'm still fresh. I'll just keep going.

300 miles is a lot of miles after you've driven already 700 miles.

By the time I was driving south on 25 heading into Denver, I was trying to decide if I should grab a hotel room and show up at Chris's house Sunday morning, or just go straight there. I was 19. The look on Jane's face when she answered the door at 10:30 (Mountain Time) was priceless. My best friend's mom. Hadn't seen her in a year. She took one look at me and just shook her head, as if to say, I love you Mike, but you're a fucking idiot.

I think my eyeballs looked something like ...OO....

Zakked out of my skull. I'd covered something like 1050 miles in around 16 hours.

The only time I've ever gone longer solo, non-stop, was when I drove home from Ft. Myers the year my dad died. That was 20 years after the Denver Road Trip, and was about 75 miles longer. Not nearly as much fun as the Denver trip, and I didn't average no 70 fucking mph either. Left Florida at around 7A, and pulled into Brookfield at around 2 A the following day. Dead fucking tired. Maybe because I was 39 and not 19. Maybe because I wasn't eating chemicals. Maybe because my mind was on my dad, and not on Kentucky. Who knows....I was wiped. I should have stopped in Louisville.

So now, 30 years and dozens of road trips after my psycho-trip to Denver, I find myself planning another one for this coming winter. I feel no sense of urgency like I did back then, and that's a good thing. I can think of unique things about every road trip I've ever taken. Every fucking one of them meant something to me at the time, and thus, etched themselves into my memory.

Fishing trips to Canada. Camping trips to Wisconsin. Ski trips to Snowmass. Family vacations to Florida. Driving across New Mexico in '76 when the news broke that Richard J Daley had died. My aborted attempt at a Northwest Passage that ended in North Sioux City,SD in 2007.

And that's the road trip that I'd already decided I was going to make this winter. Chicago to Astoria.

Illinois to Oregon.

Carve my initials, like Clark, in an alder tree.

MK, by land, 2010.

But now, actually for about 6 months now, I've felt a gravitational tug pulling me back to the southwestern United States. Specifically, the Flagstaff/Williams vicinity of Arizona.

See, because last December I went to the Grand Canyon, but 0-0 visibility kept me from seeing the Grand Canyon. I felt it. I knew it was right there in front of me. I sensed its immensity. But, I didn't see it.

In discussing my December trip with my good friend Rick, I'd flip open my Rand McNally Atlas and ask him questions about 20/26 heading out of Casper, or Rte 12 out of Missoula heading west. The Lolo Pass that Sacagawea hipped Bill and Meriweather to. Rugged country that I absolutely must see. As I'd listen to Rick describing these stretches of visionary enchantment, my eye would wander down to the lower corner of my map. The Grand Canyon.

I figured it's about 2100 miles from here to Ft. Clatsop in Astoria.

So that makes it 4200 miles if I just turn around and come home after dipping my toe in the Pacific Ocean. Now, it's only around 1200 miles from Portland to Flagstaff, and another 1700 miles from Flagstaff back to Chicago.

Chicago to the coast. 2100.
Down 101 along the coast of Oregon and California and over to the Grand Canyon. 1200.
Grand Canyon to home, another 1700.

Don't know about you but that looks like a 4200 mile drive vs a 5000 mile drive to me.

I can do both, and I can do it in about 10 or 12 days.

Suddenly this road trip is taking on added significance for me.

Day 1- Sioux Falls.
Day 2- Casper.
Day 3- Tetons/Yellowstone/Missoula.
Day 4- Lolo Pass. Portland/Astoria.
Day 5- Toe in ocean for an hour or two, and then straight south down the coast. A thousand miles of road I've never traveled. Pacific on my right, and the US on my left. The Oregon Coast.
Day 6- Coast of California. Carmel. Monterrey. Pebble Beach. Big Sur. San Fran. Yosemite.
Day 7- Jog east somewhere to be decided. Desert. Scrub. Death Valley? Bryce? North Rim? Williams.
Day 8- Grand Canyon. Spend at least a few hours there. Head East. Tucumcari,NM Motel 6 on Rte 66 ....again. Nice people.
Day 9- The dreaded Texas Panhandle. The misery of Oklahoma. And....Joplin,MO again.
Day 10- Chicago.

That's 5000 miles in 10 days.

I have absolutely no problem driving 500 miles in a day, although this will be the first time I've tried doing it for 10 straight days. And here's where 2010 is different for me than 1978; I'm in no hurry. If it takes me 12 days, or 14 days, I don't give a shit.

Every road trip is similar to all the others, but they are all unique in some ways as well. None is exactly like any other, partially because we are different every time we take one. I had no hesitation to dash across Nebraska in winter, with no cell phone, no 10K in wallet plastic, no thoughts of taking it into a ditch in the middle of erehwon back in 1978.

I wouldn't dream of doing that now.

I was bulletproof in 1978.

I'm not bulletproof now. (I don't think I was then either, in hindsight.)

But I can feel something special already about this trip. As I look at it on an atlas of the US it looks just right. It looks fucking huge, and long, and memorable.

I have decided that I'm going to do this. I think it's a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, unless I decide to do it again next year, in the reverse direction.

Any suggestions anyone might have for worthwhile side-trips is appreciated.


switters said...

wow. really well done, m'boy. do it. also liked that hockey game last night. but you should tune in nbc right now.

Schmutzie said...

I am so jazzed for this trip I can't really put it the way I want, so I wrote this thing....

Saturday night was my Blackhawks, yesterday afternoon m'boy Dario won his 2nd Indy 500, talked to Rick in his truck somewhere in Montana for about an hour to tell him about my plan, woke up this morning to Park Ridge's Memorial Day Parade out my window, coffee/breakfast leisurely morning of mindless TV at the apartment, along with some coverage of Roland Garos along the way. Now it's over here to the office to check email & do my crossword, pick up a bottle of chianti at Trader Joe's, back home for the 7PM puck drop of game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals. I could get used to these 3 day weekends Swit.

Cindy said...

Oh what a trip! Here's my two cents:

Fargo is a must see, must stay city. The downtown, not the sprawl. Stay at the HoDo (Hotel Donaldson). From there to Medora ... then Montana, and go by Pompey's Pillar.

Helena, MT is a fabulous place, stay downtown ... HI gave us a rate of $89 and breakfast coupons.

Although, I loved South Dakota too.

Okay, you also need to listen to Joseph Marshall read his book "The Journey of Crazy Horse" ... start it just after you leave Illinois, and you'll cry your way to the Pacific.

In a good way.

Schmutzie said...

Thank you thank you Cindy.

I'm a Motel 6 guy myself. I've already figured out which ones I'm flopping at. You can't beat 33 bucks, and they're clean enough for me. I have had zero problems with M6. No frills, but the Cable TV has a remote, and the sheets are clean, which is perfect for an idiot like me.

Can you believe Pompey's Pillar (Tower) was just made a National Monument in 2001? Sheesh!