A Fair Swap: The Excursionist I

On Friday, February 1, Mariam and I will be exchanging this:

[The Hudson River on January 26, 2018]

for this:

[The Yorkshire Dales, England]

It’s a pretty fine change of scenery if I do say so myself.

Once upon a time, back in the day, I loved winter.  How could one not love winter…when you’re twelve years old and you’re skating on the Brick Pond in Owego, NY?  I had a toboggan, a sled and the ability to make a superb snow person.  I owned a pair of old snowshoes with leather hide webbing.  An Eddie Bauer Arctic Parka hung in my closet…and still does.  I camped out in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks when it was -28℉.  My ice skates, black and weathered, hung on the wall leading to our attic.  Every time I would pass them, on a stifling day in August, I would think of the coming winter and the frozen pond only a few hundred feet from my front door.

I couldn’t wait.

Then in 1974, a personal tragedy visited me while hiking in the Adirondacks and winter became a little darker in my heart.  I no longer saw the snow as pristine and pure and calming as I had for almost two decades of my life.

The years went by.  I woke up one morning and looking into the mirror, I saw a middle-aged man looking back at me.  The salt & pepper hair had gone mostly gray.  My back hurts after shoveling.  My skates no longer fit.  my bones ache and my muscles get sore when I am forced out of our house to deal with a two-foot snowfall.  Winter no longer holds a spell over me.  I layer up with wool and fleece because I always feel chilled.  I love to watch the snow fall slowly onto the lake near our house.  I love to walk in the moonlight, feeling the peculiar crunch of the ground on cold nights.  But where I’d really rather be is sitting near our wood stove and reading a Nordic Noir novel.

In the mid-1980’s, I spent a year in Dorset, England.  It changed my life.  Footpaths and pubs abound in the chalky hills of Thomas Hardy country.  The mossy gravestones surround the mossy churches.  And, the green is breathtaking.  England may not have the twenty-eight shades of green that cover my beloved Ireland, but it’s a close second.  Sometimes, at our home in the Adirondacks, I will gaze out of the large window that faces Rainbow Lake and see a monochromatic world.  My eyes strain for some color.  A last brown leaf on a dormant maple or even a patch of blue sky beyond the leaden skies.  But no, it’s a world of white and gray.  I yearn for a dandelion or a trillium…anything with color.

So, we’re off to spend the remainder of the winter in Dorset, hosted by friends I met in the 1980’s.  We plan on doing a lot of walking, and I will carry an L.L Bean pole to lean on if my back begins to trouble me.

I guarantee that there will be a stone wall to sit on and rest.  There will be a quiet pew in a forgotten little church in a out-of-the-way village where I can write in my journal.

Yes, I will sit in that quiet pew and think about trading white for green, mild days for thumb-numbing cold mornings and ice for muddy footpaths.

And, I shall have some peace there…without fleece, without down and without cares.

 

Advertisements

Roadside Attractions From The Rearview Mirror

compassRose

I feel like I’ve driven half-way around the earth’s diameter.  Actually, according to the odometer on the red Ford Escape, we did indeed travel that far.

Our total distance driven, including side trips for sight-seeing, came to an astounding 13,589 miles!  If you’re into engine care and maintenance, that’s would be three oil changes (and filter, of course).  And, as we pulled into our driveway, we were overdue for a fourth change.

I walked into the kitchen and saw the calendar next to our Samsung refrigerator.  Take a look:

2015Calendar

That was our departure date, October 15.  I see it was a Thursday.  I took the calendar down (I was thinking there was something superstitious about leaving old calendars on the wall.  I only see them in Auto Repair Shops and they have Betty Page photos and the dates are around 1956 and the guys that work in some of these places often have seen times of hard luck).  It took me a day to locate the 2016 calendar I bought (20% off) at a Barnes & Noble store in Texas.  The theme is Circus “Freaks”.  Changing calendar themes from Vintage England Travel Posters to The Circus Sideshow must say something about my change in tastes.  The sideshows are vanishing from America…but there will always be an England.

Unusual things and marginalized people have always fascinated me.

Don’t ask.

So, here’s the new calendar:

AprilCalendar2016

In case you can’t read the dates very well, we got home on April 1.  I was so exhausted and sore from driving that I didn’t find anyone or anything to play a prank on.

But, the Tattooed Girl will brighten that corner of the kitchen until May 1!  This brings up an interesting thought…this sideshow girl was once considered an oddity…she made her living exhibiting herself in a circus.  At least half the baristas in the Starbucks I visited had tats far more artistic, exotic and erotic than our Miss April, 2016.

Culture changes…but, as I said, there will always be an England.

So, let me run the numbers.  Using the above dates, we spent 169 days out there…somewhere out there, driving, camping, hiking or just sitting on a beach.  This come out to 40.6% of a year.  Nearly 41% of a year of my life has just been spent looking at things.

We emptied the r-pod (we’re going to sell it, but it needs a few repairs first) and I piled our guides and maps and memorabilia on the floor.  Of course, I arranged everything to look haphazard and casual, but every pamphlet and sticker and book and CD is carefully placed to give you an idea what we accomplished.  I probably should mention that I couldn’t find most of the guide books and National Park maps and tee-shirts that we purchased along the way.  They’ll show up sometime in late July.

GuidesOnfloorFromTrip

I even re-highlighted my route on our Rand McNally.  Here it is:

Atlas

I’m aware that it’s hard to see clearly, but you only need to see the orange line and the green/blue line.  The orange line was our route to Palm Desert, California.  This is where we made a turn on a highway that was surrounded by wind-mills, and began to set our course eastward.  That’s the green/blue line.

Far be it for me to brag, but I do think we took in a pretty good chunk of the lower part of the Lower 48.

If you’ve been following the many blogs I sweated and struggled to produce for your entertainment, you will know that I did accomplish quite a bit more than just fill up the memory chip in my digital camera.

I became certified in sailing (any keel boat up to 30′).  I posed with Miss Sonoran Desert Queen (and she put her arm around me willingly and eagerly…as she thought of her long deceased grandfather).  I saw my first rodeo, an American child’s dream (if you were raised in the 1950’s).  I saw the graves of dead outlaws and B & B’s that were former brothels.

I drank Tequila in a bar in Juarez, Mexico…the same bar where Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Steve McQueen drank.  I tried to feel their spiritual entities, but looking for the nooks where they sat and kissed and drank, only led me to the men’s room.  We crossed the International Bridge from El Paso.  I looked down at the line of defense our government has built to deter (read ‘keep out’) illegals.  The trenches, fences, walls and razor wire reminded me of the Berlin Wall or the Maginot Line.  I was struck by the seven inches you unknowingly step across that separates two cultures that are so close yet so far apart.  I also did this on a day when I was in constant FB messaging with my son Brian.  I pleaded with him to dig into his iTunes for Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues”, so he could, somehow in the cyber-world, be connected with me as I walked across the border bridge…and he would, at that same moment be listening to:

When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez and it’s Eastertime too.  And your gravity fails and negativity don’t pull you through, don’t put on any airs when you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue, they got some hungry women there, and they really make a mess outta you.”

We crossed the bridge.  Brian said he listened.  But it wasn’t raining and there’s no Rue Morgue Avenue in Juarez.  I did find a Mexican busker who sang Cielito Lindo for us, but no hungry women.  But, I’m not such a dreamer to believe that there are really no hungry women in Juarez…or hungry children…or hungry old men who sit and smoke and drink and think.

Sometimes facts get in the way of a good story.  For me, I have to immerse myself in a landscape, get my hands dirty, my mouth full of dust, get pricked by a cactus or bitten by a scorpion to fully understand where it is that I am standing. If I’m in Mississippi, I listen to Delta blues, if I’m in Texas, Bob Wills goes into the CD player.

Anytime on this trip, “Happy Trails” would be a welcome tune.

I drank a Lone Star beer at the Broken Spoke in Austin when Mariam, my friend William McHone and myself took lessons in the Texas 2-Step.  I even bought a pair of cheap cowboy boots for that night.  I didn’t do very well.  I have no sense of rhythm…only the desire to move around the dance floor to the sound of Texas Swing…and hold my honey in my arms.  I still have the boots, but I still can’t dance the Texas 2-Step.

I saw things that made me cry.

I saw acres of cattle, with no place to graze, penned and waiting to be herded to the killing rooms.  The miles I drove past these death-camps smelled of cow shit.  I wondered if it was their diet…or their fear.

I saw shanty-towns of the most squalid poverty and hopelessness.  I saw Native Americans reduced to playing “Indians” for the tourists…like me.

When we entered a National Park, I flashed my Golden Pass, which allowed us, as seniors, free entry.  I pondered the situation of an average family with four kids paying close to $100 to see the extraordinary landscapes that really belong to all of us.

I laid a flower at the grave of a prostitute in Dodge City, Kansas…a luckless young woman (somehow, I prefer the term “Soiled Dove”) who died from an infection caused by bar-room brawl over a cowboy, or was it Bat Masterson, or a banker, or a lover.

I placed another flower at the grave of an old friend of mine who died forty-some years ago.  He died and I lived.  We were hiking the same trail in the High Peaks.  I lived to return to his grave and place that Adirondack wildflower I had picked months earlier.  Now it was dried and withered from months on the road.  A flower from the mountains that were his last views of his life on this earth.

I saw an elderly man after he tripped on the curb outside a 7-Eleven.  He was bleeding.  The EMT’s were all over the situation.  But…was I seeing myself in fifteen years?

I saw a woman crying while she sat an outside table at one of the thousand Starbucks we visited.  She was alone in whatever sorrow had overcome her.  It took me days to get the image of her heartbreak out of my head.

I saw another woman crying in a bar.  She was with a male friend.  What happened?  Was she leaving him?  He leaving her?  I couldn’t tell, but the scene made me turn away.  I sat in her seat more than once in my life.

I cried one afternoon in the countryside outside of Dallas.  It didn’t have to do with the trip, directly.  I was driving to visit a large cemetery about fifteen miles southwest of the city.  I was listening to NPR and I sat up straight in the seat of the red Ford when the radio host announced that David Bowie had died.  I mulled this over for a few miles.  I realized I didn’t have any Bowie music on any of my playlists.  Then it happened.  They began a segment of “All Things Considered” with the opening riffs…the soaring chords of  “Let’s Dance”.

I didn’t dance.  I pulled over onto the shoulder and wept.  I wept for the lost talent, the lost beauty, the lost art…and another lost member of my generation’s music.

But, I saw sights of jaw-dropping beauty.  Rainbows that lasted over an hour.  Rock colors I never knew existed.  Canyons and valleys and washes and rivers, many that are famous and many that are unnamed.  Actually, I think nearly everything in the world has a name, I just didn’t have the right map.

When you travel, always have the right map.  It doesn’t have to be of any place you’re planning on visiting, but it’s good to have the map anyway.

There are maps of the wild and empty deserts of Arizona and California.  And, there are maps that exist only inside one’s mind.  These are usually the most interesting ones to use as guides.  Landscapes, towns, roads, Interstates, trails and horse paths can change with a sudden rainstorm.

But, the map that has your heart and soul and restless spirit as the compass rose…those are the maps to carry.

You can’t buy them on Amazon.  You were born with them deep in your chromosomes.

FinalPicAtEndOfTrip

Dear Moxie…

Moxie

So long, honey baby

Where I’m bound, I cannot tell

But goodbye’s too good a word

So I’ll just say “Fare thee well…”

–Bob Dylan “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right

Dear Moxie,

We’ve been through a lot in our short life together, Moxie.  But there comes a time when the best thing to do is to face the reality and know when a relationship has run its course.  I can’t say that our life together has been without discord, without anger, without frustration and without mistakes.  I can honestly say that I made most of the effort to make things workout…it was you, in the end, that failed me one too many times.  It was you who left me sitting in my car, in the rain, in the snow, at a strange crossroads in the middle of a strange and lonely landscape or left me in my car, angled halfway into a “one-way” street…and I was going the wrong way.  It was you, Moxie.  It was you.  I coudda been a contender, but you left me with no direction home, even when home was a cheap motel in Rutland, Vermont, or an RV park in Austin, Texas.

I know you tried your best…with what you had to work with.  I fully understand that you always thought you were following directions from the Heavens, and in your own way, you were.

It was a strange threesome, me, my wife and you.  When we first started bringing you into our lives, I, as a male, thought I heard a certain hint of seduction in your voice when you told us what to do.  But, over the years, that sultry quality has given way to a more mechanical, robotic voice…Moxie, you lost your passion.

Maybe it was the name you resented?

When we first had you in the seat between us…when we would leave our home for a long strange trip, we didn’t know what to call you.  You didn’t come with a name.  You were a voice without a soul behind it.  I wanted to give you a little bit of a tawdry history, make you a scarlet woman, a gypsy wanderer…so we came up with Moxie.

All Moxies are a little sassy.  No one names their librarian-to-be daughter, Moxie.  They named her Grace or Rose or Helen.  But, you were always a Moxie to us.

But, as I said, all things must pass.  Please don’t take this as an insult, but there are newer models available.  Sleeker and more savvy.  More feminine with a sexy voice to match.  More power.  Faster (although, in your day, you were plenty fast), but we need our new model with more memory and more color…more glamor, more bang for the buck and more bells and whistles for a man-of-the-road like me, who can fall into white-line fever at the drop of a toll token.

We don’t even have a name for our new model, yet.  But, it won’t be Moxie, so don’t worry.  You’ll always be Moxie to us…the only Moxie to have shared our lives.

I know someday, if things go south for us and time get tough, I’ll go back to looking for company in the honky-tonk  saloons, dive bars and all the gin joints in the world.  I may find myself on a ripped plastic covered bar stool next to you.  We may pass each other as I leave a juke joint and you’re just going in.  We’ll bump shoulders.  I’ll look down.  Will you speak to me?  Will the day ever come when you forget our relationship?  Will you be telling someone else where to go?  where to turn?  where to park?

I know this will sound harsh and cold and heartless, but your replacement has already made it to our RV bed.  It’s ready to go and seems eager to talk to us and lead us on new adventures along the highways and byways of our aging life.

Thanks for the miles you traveled with us, Moxie.  There’ll always be a place in our cigarette lighter to get a charge if you ever need it.

All you ever have to do is be a good gps to one man, one time, and you’ll make to the end of the road, babe.  I’d like to be able to exist without your services,  travelers relied on maps for centuries before satellites…but’s it’s a new complicated world out there.  It’s freedom I’d like to have.  After all, they say that ‘freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose’, but we all know that it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

Don’t think of this as the end.  Think of it as a well deserved rest.

Good bye and good luck, Moxie.  Sorry it had to end this way.

All our love and memories,

Pat and Mariam.

GarminUnitNew

 

Travels 27.1: Captains Log

There will be a posting after this one goes out.  When? I can’t say.  But, the next blog Travels 27.2 will be a concise explanation for why 27.1 is necessary.  It will reveal in bone-chilling, spine-tingling and shocking details, the series of wrong moves made by me, the so-called Captain, as we arrived at our home on or about 7:30 pm, Friday last.  I mean, why was I expected to remember that I had two bikes mounted atop the car when I attempted to pull it into the garage? Give me a break!  I had enough stuff on my mind, like getting into the house and getting Travels 27 out to my expectant fans.  Families had put off weddings and Bar mitzvahs to gather around the laptop and read the closing chapter.  Bowling tournaments were cancelled.  High school football games all across America extended half-time. Homecomings were delayed.  Guys doing some heavy making out behind the Grand Stand of the Owego Fair Grounds, stopped the biological urge and pulled out their Mini (iPad).  Internet cafes had extended their hours to allow the blog readers to drink more Mocha and Latte in anticipation of #27.

APPENDIX

  • Total miles travelled—–8,998.5
  • Average Mpg—–10
  • Duration of trip—–September 18 – November 8, 2013
  • Number of campsites—–47
  • Temperature range experienced—–96F to 27F
  • Number of states visited—–20
  • Approx. number of photos taken on two cell phones and a serious Nikon D3200—–320
  • Approx. number of times we dumped our “black water” tank—–10
  • Number of showers taken in the R-Pod—–0
  • Most awesome moment—–Looking into the Grand Canyon
  • Saddest moment—–The eyes of the Lakota people at Pine Ridge Reservation
  • Most frustrating time—–Being locked out of Yellowstone National Park during the stupid government shutdown
  • Most terrifying moment—–Watching how terrified my wife was on the Tioga Pass onto the Eastern Sierras
  • Least terrifying moment—–Taking a nap in the R-Pod with a Native American Flut player CD
  • Total number of times watches and clocks were changed by an hour—–7
  • Number of Audio Books listened while driving—–4
  • Number of MacDonalds Fried Chicken meals—–2
  • Number of times we were stopped by police for any reason—–0
  • Days snowed on—–3
  • Approx. number of rolls of RV toilet paper used—–9
  • Approx. number of compliments on the “cuteness” of the R-Pod—–12
  • Number of confrontations with hostile motorcycle gangs in the Arizona desert—–0
  • Number of rattlesnakes seen in road—–1
  • Number of “Beware of Rattlesnakes” signs seen—–1
  • Number of times Pat asked to take an RV break and stayed in a motel—–6
  • Number of motels we stayed in for an RV break—–0
  • Number of signs for legal brothels seen in Nevada—–3
  • Number visited by Pat (just to use the rest room)—–0
  • Number of movies on DVD brought on trip—–150
  • Number watched—–2
  • Most annoying thing encountered—–$20.00 to 25.00 admission fee to most National Parks (The land is ours…it should be free)

R-pod