Adventures at home, abroad, and online

Category: Cross Country Page 1 of 7

Roadtrip: Day 1, Norwich VT to Harrisburg PA

Memorial Day: the busiest road travel day of the year, and the start of my voyage. Not the best planning perhaps, but it had to do. I left Norwich with Jared, and we drove the first four miles together before I dropped him off at his house. It was a bittersweet goodbye; this should have been our trip together, and it was only due to the vagaries of scheduling that we could not enjoy each other’s company. Maybe next time. Until then, this is my story and we leave this character for his own voyage.

Three hours to Boston, my first time driving in the city where I’ve lived for the past three years. I missed the exit to Cambridge; an inauspicious start. I circled around through Government Center and cursed the designers of that impossibly ugly City Hall. Picked up Chase and Marko at precisely the appointed times, and we were off. That is, once we could find an on-ramp to the Mass Pike. What should have been a few easy turns ended up being a trip through Brookline and into parts unknown. Things were not starting well, but spirits remained high.

Our first fillup was in Southbury CT, the state with perhaps the highest gas prices on the East Coast. We had been warned to avoid paying the steep taxes, but we funded some poor Connecticutian’s college education at $3.15 per gallon. Marko maintained that this isn’t expensive at all compared with his experience of nearly $10 per gallon in Britain. Impressive, but the price still shocked Chase and my American sensibilities. Marko was intrigued by the first full service station he had seen, although he disputed the economics of paying some poor shlub to breath fumes all day.

Had lunch at a stand somewhere in CT; onion rings and a burger, the perfect authentic fast food. Went through New York and eastern Pennsylvania without incident. Some interest in visiting Gettysburg on the way past Harrisburg, but no agreement. Much discussion of the suitability of the -burg suffix for town names in a place where the Germans left long ago.

Arrived at Ken’s house to steaks and wine, as expected. They were delighted to see us, and it was wonderful to have someone else ask the penetrating questions of Marko, so I didn’t have to. Later some of Allie and Jackie’s friends arrived, and we were soundly beaten at Pictionary. I had some difficulty at drawing, due to my handedness and general lack of artistic ability. I was able to decipher some of Chase’s scribblings due to our long hours doing problem sets together.

Roadtrip: Day 2, Harrisburg PA to Springfield IL

Left Harrisburg, drove the PA Turnpike to Pittsburgh, paying ten dollars in tolls along the day. Met Grandpa Eddie for lunch at an authentic diner. Marko ordered an open face turkey sandwich, and then tried to eat it with his hands despite it being covered in gravy. A fork and knife was requested, and he ate like the civilized bloke his is. Sally gave us some wonderful cherries, which were devoured somewhere in Indiana. Grandpa gave us precise but convoluted directions back to the highway, which we followed for perhaps five minutes. We then relied on our own map reading skills and interpretation of street signs. We eventually found our way across the Pitt bridge and tunnel, and were headed west again.

Crossed briefly into West Virginia, causing some consternation from Chase as to my direction finding abilities. A consultation of the map revealed that this was the tiny spine of that state that pokes between Pennsylvania and Ohio, and that I was not as incompetent as it may sometimes seem. We stopped at a rest area in the ten miles we were in WV and made some derisive comments, which were not appreciated by other travelers. Back into the car before we got strung up, and into Ohio.

Around Columbus, Indianapolis, and countless other cities which did not arouse the slightest bit of interest. Dinner in at a Bob Evans somewhere in Indiana. Ordered an entire peanut butter pie for dessert, upon calculating that three slices would each cost $2.99, whereas a six slice pie would cost $9.99. Our engineering sensibility was greater than our appetite, and we had to request a pie tin for our booty. Arrived in Springfield to Chase’s adoring parents, not too late for some relaxing conversation around the television.

Roadtrip: Day 3, Springfield IL to Wilson Lake SP KS

Awoke to bountiful breakfast prepared by Mrs. Cooper, egg casseroles, biscuits, fruit and turnovers to spare. Met Natasha, soon to graduate high school, and remembered how far we have come in the last three years. A little further to go in the next year, and then our own graduation and introduction to the real world. No need to worry about that now, still have the summer to relax and plan for the future.

Left Chase in Springfield, and set off just the two of us. Slightly easier to hold a conversation with just two, no one set apart in the back, but also no one to pick up the silence. I’m quite comfortable in silence, but unable to tell if my companion is, and so can lead to awkward moments. None with Marko, and so we were well matched.

Lunch in Kansas City, Missouri or Kansas, I can’t remember. Our guidebooks each recommended a single place in the whole city, and so we had to find it. The midwest’s best barbecue at Arthur Bently’s. When a 300 pound (20 stone, to use Marko’s units) black man wearing a Chiefs jersey entered, we knew we were in the right place. Had a giant pulled pork sandwich on Wonder Bread with cheap local beer. The wall was adorned with celebrities enjoying Arthur’s ribs, including an sinister looking John Ashcroft.

Onward through Kansas, passing by the Oz museum, as we were still in Kansas and hadn’t a pair of ruby slippers. Drove through a wicked thunderstorm. Attempted photographs of lightning, but my reflexes were never fast enough to capture their fury on film (or 4 GB Microdrive, but that doesn’t have the same ring to it). As quickly as the storm rose, it passed, and the stars appeared. Stopped at Wilson Lake state park, the site of perhaps the only lake in all of Kansas. Marko spent his first night in the car, and I set up the tent in the dark, and climbed in for a fitful sleep.

Roadtrip: Day 4, Wilson Lake SP KS to Mesa SP CO

Woke with the sun and called home while Marko slept. Chatted briefly with our neighbor, a young man from Delaware traveling to Seattle with his dog and a bike on the back of his car. Nice to see that we’re not the only ones enjoying the ride across the country.

Wilson Lake SP, KS

Wilson Lake, the only one in Kansas

Drove through miles of empty Kansas grassland, discussing the American condition and the suitability of farm subsidies. Stopped for lunch at the Real Country Grill in Wakeeny KS, only a spot on the map, and less of a mark on the land. Only a gas station and a place for grub, although some of the best biscuits and gravy I’ve ever had. Far and away better than Bob Evan’s, and a rival to Ruth Powell’s. Cruised across the rest of Kansas, and into Colorado. Excited to see a new state, although little changed until Denver. Through that city, and stopped on the other side at Dinosaur Ridge. Nice to stretch our legs in the cooler mountain air, and see some three toed tracks across ancient seashores. Incredible how much the landscape can change over geologic timescales.

Back in the car, up the mountains and happy to be done with the flatlands. Planned on stopping to commemorate the continental divide, but passed it in a tunnel on I-80, and got to Vail before realizing our misfortune. So no ceremonial marking of that great watershed event, only the knowledge that it was all downhill from here.

Lunch in Grand Junction, CO. Stopped to ask for recommendations for “cheap, local, tasty food” at the youth hostel, and some wise-ass offered Taco Bell. Instead went to an excellent pizza place almost under a bridge. Got an excellent large “all-the-way”, with anchovies and Avalanche on tap. Almost finished the damn thing, but we each gave up on our last piece. It made an excellent breakfast the next morning.

Mesa SP, AZ

Mesa Lake State Park (more TBP)

Through Glenwood Canyon, an impressive engineering feat, and a lot of fun to drive. Turned off I-80 at Mesa, expecting a short drive to a campground. Ended up ascending nearly 4,000 feet to the top of the aforementioned Mesa, and nearly running out of gas. Stopped at Jumbo campground, which appeared closed due to the tree across the entrance. But that wasn’t enough to stop the other occupants, and so we joined them. Met three men around a campfire, next to their motorcycles. They had plenty of bourbon, and offered to share. We weren’t about to turn them down, and we joined their party. It turns out they are aircraft engineers at Boeing, and one of them was MIT Aero/Astro class of ’65. We shared stories of our alma mater, and discussed how it had and hadn’t changed over the last forty years. Four drinks later, after exhausting all possible topics of conversation, I stumbled to the tent, and shivered my way to sleep in the cold mountain air. Although I was wearing a well insulated jacket and sleeping in a down bag, I faired better than Marko, who had only a sweatshirt and the car to keep him warm. We resolved to sleep at lower altitudes in the future.

Roadtrip: Day 5, Mesa CO to Salt Lake City UT

Woke and said goodbye to our engineer friends. Coasted downhill to the town of Mesa, and bought just enough gas to get back to civilization, where prices would be more reasonable. I hit a small rodent, which died in a valiant effort to cross the road. The first time I’d killed a mammal, and the experience didn’t phase me a bit.

Window Arch

North Window from Below

Out of the rockies and into Utah. Turned off the highway to see Arches National Park, which was worth every extra mile. Red rocks curved across the brilliant blue sky, created only by erosion, not a divine architect. It was great fun to climb on the slickrock, up to the ceiling of one of The Windows, and peer down on the desert from above. Very interesting to see the multitude of foreign tourists coming to see the best of America. A group of elderly German folks was as impressed with the scenery and astonished by the heat as I was. We had a moment of cross cultural understanding over the one water fountain in the park, as we both drank happily from the spigot.

Leaving Arches, we ventured further south to Moab, the home of mountain biking. Lunch at an excellent diner, with an ice cream bar inside for the perfect dessert. A patron there suggested we stop at Dead Horse Point State Park, and we followed his advice. It would be only a short distance out of our way, although 25 miles later we disputed that claim. Atop a mesa, looking down on the Colorado carved lanscape a thousand feet below, we didn’t need to see the Grand Canyon. The mesa came to a neck only five yards wide, which according to legend, cowboys used to trap wild horses, culling the strong ones and leaving the weak to die in the harsh sun far above the river below. Seems like bad business practice, and is probably exaggerated by time.

Marco at Deadhorse Canyon

Taking a panorama (TBP)

Back on the road, and north to Salt Lake City. Took a cutoff through Price, on what we would learn was the deadliest highway in the country. The police officers who stopped us were quite clear that our speed needed to be controlled on the sweeping downhill curves, and we were let go with a stern warning. I guess our stories checked out, and Marko’s accent made us seem as the naive travelers we were.

Keeping our speed in check, and on the lookout for law enforcement, we rolled into Salt Lake City at nightfall. We checked into a cheap downtown motel, showered, and went off looking for what fun there was to be had on a friday night in the Mormon capital of the world. We found a single bar within walking distance, that closed at 11:30. We drank quickly, and were kicked out into the night. Perhaps there was more fun to be had, as the crowd in front of a club indicated, but we were tired and in no mood for dancing.

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