The Odyssey Westward: Travels Part 1

Go my sons, put away your books.  Buy yourself stout shoes.  Walk the hills, the mountains, the valleys and the deserts.  In this way, and no other, can you learn of the world and its ways.

–Paraphrased from a quote on a 3 x 5 index card clipped to the dashboard of a ’60s VW driven by a California fellow named Fritz.  I spent two summers camping and working in the remote regions of the Juneau Icefield, Alaska.  We were field assistants for two geologists.  I have not seen or heard from Fritz in over forty-five years.  Fritz, if you’re out there, you challenged me to give meaning to the quote you had in your car.  The passage was credited to a “Severinus”.

–I would like to dedicate this series of posts to:

  • My brother, Chris.
  • My daughter, Erin, Bob, my son-in-law and my grandson, Elias Muir.  They are on a journey as well.
  • My son, Brian. who is on the pier, ready for the voyage of his life.
  • My wife, Mariam, for being beside me and sharing this trek, in life and on the road.
  • All my family, friends, lovers and followers who have stood by me.

I don’t know why you say good-bye…I say hello.

–The Beatles

I am at the beginning of a cross-country drive to Orting, WA, near Tacoma.  I am going to visit my daughter and 8 month old grandson.  My wife and I are pulling a small RV (an R-Pod).  It’s cheaper than dozens of motels and we can eat the food we want to eat.  I’d like to say we can shower, but a shower it isn’t.  I can wash my hair if I get on my knees and worship the plastic booth and toilet using the spray extension.  [Memo to self: keep the toilet and booth clean].

So, why am I doing this? After all, I’ve driven from the Seattle area back to New York State before.  Several times.  But I was young then, and stronger and more able to stay awake for long stretches of time.  I just turned 66 years old.  I don’t have the stamina I had then.  Tent camping was an option, but the schlepping factor and the rainy nights on the Great Plains put an end to those thoughts.

I want to use this opportunity to see the heartland of the USA, in the way John Steinbeck (Travels With Charley) and William Least-Heat Moon (Blue Highways) did.  On the “blue highways”.  I want to see the silos, the endless cornfields, the infinite acres of wheat, the amber grains, the greasy-spoon diners, the cowboy bars, the honky-tonk, the music festivals, the fruit stands, how Autumn comes to the grasslands and Rockies, the virtuous farm girls sitting on split-rail fences wearing bandanas around their sun-burned necks (and those not so virtuous with partly unbuttoned calico blouses) and to see the sunset and rise from vantage points I haven’t seen in decades.

Friends! Stick out your thumb and hitch a ride with us.  We have no backseat, but we’ll squeeze you in somehow…and together we can point out the interesting sights together.

You only go ’round once in life…or maybe twice.

But who really knows?

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To be continued.

Judgement Day at the RV Park

Judge not, lest you be judged.  —  The Bible

First let me say that the story you are about to read is being told to you in a non-judgmental way.  I’m only telling it as I saw it.  Simple as that.  Do unto others…that’s what I say.  I’m as open-minded as most good liberals are.  I do not judge people by their looks or their actions, but if I do, it’s mostly by their actions, that’s all.  And maybe by the weird color of their hair or the number of tats.  Hey, live and let live, that’s what I say.

We were only forty-two miles from home.  It wasn’t terra incognita but the road was one we had driven only a few times before so it was basically unknown to us.

The RV park was beside a babbling brook (it really did babble), but the really nice spots were back-ins and not pull-throughs.  We were on our maiden voyage to try out our new little camper.  Its called an R-Pod and it’s about as cute as a Junior Varsity Cheerleader, or maybe even a Prom Queen.  I wasn’t used to backing the thing in any size space so we chose a pull-through.  No fuss, no headache.

On one side of the park was a large field of newly mown hay.  On the other side, beyond the aforementioned babbling brook, was the road that led north to Canada.  On the way to Canada was a Native American Casino.  I had a strong feeling that most of the cars were going to the gambling mecca of upstate New York.  Those stuffed in the cars were in a hurry to drop the tokens into the slots or lose big at the Blackjack table.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.  “Whatever floats your boat”.  That’s what I say.

We unhitched and leveled the trailer, then chocked the wheels and opened her up to air out from the long, slow drive from our home.  And that’s when we started to camp.

Many of you readers don’t know me so let me point out some things about my experience:  I have been camping since I was five.  I’ve hiked the High Peaks, X-country skied, snowshoed frozen lakes and kayaked waters both sweet and smooth and rough and wavy.  I’ve been to Alaska, the Last Frontier, where I did some mountaineering for a few days.  I’ve rock climbed in the Gunks and canoed in the General Clinton Canoe Regatta from Cooperstown to Bainbridge (about seventy-five miles, and let me tell you…).

Bottom line here is that I’m no stranger to tents and sleeping bags, but this RV camping was a new experience for me.  However, I’m a quick study if I do say so myself, so if I can climb the big boys in Alaska, then I can handle the trailer thing.  When we bought it, the dealer tried to explain the difference between black water and drinking water.  I was gazing at the puffy cumulus clouds when he gave us the details but I was too busy trying to see if the clouds made funny shapes like Idaho or (God forbid) Florida.  The dealer interrupted me as he handed me the keys.

“Good luck,” he said, looking at me like I was from New Jersey or some other strange place.

I looked at the keys, the R-Pod and the car.

“Hey, aren’t we supposed to have the trailer hooked up to the car or something?” I asked.  He seemed to hesitate a tad and just stared at me.  Maybe he’s Canadian or whatever and doesn’t understand what I’m asking, I thought.

And there’s nothing wrong with being Canadian just so long they know what horse they’re saddled to, if you catch my meaning.

While he explained how to attach to the car, I watched the teenage girl riding her lawn mower across the road.  I figured I’d pick up on the finer points later on when I needed to.

We drove off.

So here we are in this RV park.  Being as I’m so accustomed to solo wilderness experiences  (I once went off the trail ((on purpose)) at the Bronx Zoo), I felt crowded in by the big newer models.  Our R-pod looked like a VW Beetle in a parking lot of 18-wheelers.

I took a walk around the loop drive to check out the other units.  Right away I saw the thing that bugs me the most.  It was a “family” trailer and written on the spare tire cover was this:  Hi! We’re the Trouts.  Ken (pilot) & Florence (co-pilot).  With Little Ken, Dottie, Fran, Stevie, Wally and our youngest, Lake.  Oh, and “Puff-Puff” and the “Twinkster” On the road again!!  See ya around the bend.

I really dislike the “billboard” about who was inside the Winnebago.  But, not that there’s anything wrong with all that.  It’s just not where I’m coming from, if you see my point.

Like I said, I’m a very nonjudgmental person.

A few steps further down the lane I saw a “heavy-set” guy sitting in a folding camp chair drinking a Bud Lite (the next day he was in the same chair but he had switched to Miller Lite).  As I passed by, his friend, brother or maybe a cousin was reaching into the storage compartment.

I slowed down and pretended to look out and admire the highway across the babbling brook.  Then I saw that he was pulling something out of storage.  I couldn’t have been more shocked if he had pulled out a dozen illegal migrant workers from Juarez.

Now if you are a person of, shall we say, delicate sensibility, or are easily frightened, then I would advise you to read no further.  You can go back to playing Words With Friends and I would never know, would I?

Not that there’s anything wrong with Words With Friends, mind you.

Ok, so he pulls out, what looks to me like some kind of farm tool.  It’s a lawn mower!  Yes, he pulled a lawn mower.  I know what you’re thinking, but don’t be judgmental.  He began mowing around his trailer!  I had to lean against a tree and try to keep my breakfast down and not vomit all over an empty BBQ pit.

I was promised a “wilderness experience” (I think I read that on the pamphlet) and I get, not a sighting of a warbler, but a guy from Akron or someplace like that mowing his campsite!

I thought about demanding my money back but the thought of re-hitching the R-Pod was too much.

Feeling like I was going to swoon, I went back to our little camper and lay down on the bunk and held my head.

Then it occurred to me that there really wasn’t anything wrong with mowing your campsite.  To each his own, is what I say.

When it came time to go back home, we packed everything quickly.  I tossed the lawn chairs on top of the camper and secured them with a K-Mart bungee cord.  We drove off.

I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the big trailers in the distance.  I muttered a few things about the inexperienced, the “pansy” campers, the “Casper Milktoasts” of the wilderness.

I looked back one more time and caught a glimpse of two lawn chairs bouncing along the left shoulder.  A few cars had to swerve to avoid getting hit by the projectiles of aluminum and plastic.

I shook my head in disgust.  Another beginner out of his league.

But there’s nothing really wrong with that.

[This is not my photo and this is not the campground beside the babbling brook.  I take no credit for the image.  I would post my own, but I’m having a hard time trying to figure out how to use my Coolpix.]

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