Jim – last one.

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 8.50.13 PMFor anyone who is my Facebook “friend” and has been following my Dory travels, you will know the name “Jimmy Gunn”. You also probably saw that he passed away this week. If you knew Jim at all, you are aware of the magnitude of the loss of this crazy, amazing, goofy, loving person. Even those who only knew him from my page got a sense that this was someone special. As another dear friend put it today at his funeral service: “Some people are more unique than others.” Yes, that is spot on. And yes, he not only modeled the glory of what it looks like to embrace your own uniqueness, but he encouraged, persuaded, nurtured and sometimes needled or flat out demanded the same from those he loved. He had a way of knowing exactly what scared you and went right for it, forcing you out of hiding. He was infuriating that way.

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 8.25.15 PMI’ll give you an example. I used to wear make up all the time through high school and college. It was more for acne cover up purposes than for any beauty enhancement, but I was sensitive about it. So we were doing one of Jim’s crazy shows and in order to develop a bond between myself and the actor playing my brother, he asked the guy to run his fingers on my face. I could have smacked him right then. (I’m not 100% sure I didn’t) He knew that would tick me off and that’s why he did it. I went and washed off all the make up and endured the exercise. I can’t honestly say it forged an intimate connection with the actor, either on or off stage. but I’ll tell you that I stopped wearing make up after that. If it was going to bug me that much to cover something up, I figured it would be much easier to just put it out there. And that has always been true.

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 8.22.08 PMAs another friend reminisced, Jim got a bunch of us insecure teenagers to perform improv before movie showings at the Varsity Theater. He got us to perform for huge festivals. Improv. You know, where there are no lines or safety nets. He got us on TV for that. He got me to perform every female role in “Hamlet” for a production where the concept was that this was a therapeutic psychodrama set in a mental institution. But it went wrong and the inmates took over. Honestly, I think the entire production was staged for the sole purpose of giving him the opportunity to do the “To be or not to be” speech backwards. Because.

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 8.24.00 PMJim was fearless. And in his own writing, he described himself as lucky. This is a person for whom life was never a given. He endured unbearable tragedy and endless medical challenges. And yet, he’s the first to point out that it’s awesome to be on dialysis because you don’t have to pee on long road trips. If that is not the ability to find a silver lining, I don’t know what is. All time to him was bonus time and he lived his time well.

So this friend of mine, who pops back into my life periodically, especially when it’s really important, started playing this game with me on Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 9.46.15 PMFacebook during the cross country trip. I posted pictures of obscure things, like rest stops, or gas stations, and he started figuring out where I was. I got more challenging with my shots, trying to leave out clues like sign posts or business logos, and he STILL kept figuring out where I was. Others on my page began openly speculating that he was somehow tracking my car. Or pulling GPS data from the images. This became a daily activity and I could tell he looked forward to the sleuthing as much as I looked forward to being blown away that he’d found me once again.

What I heard today from his wife is that this game provided him with a much needed distraction. He knew this latest surgery was going to be serious. But rather than sit around and dwell, he created a game that not only reconnected the two of us, but entertained and fascinated a whole new network of people. He was holding my hand while I was scared and out there, and he let me hold his.

I’m posting this tribute here because this person in my life lived the “carpe dory” motto more fully and passionately than anyone I have ever known. And he was a huge part of this voyage. I will post every one of the pictures I took along the road for him below. But one final shot I snapped today. It is the last one; a final rest stop.

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Where am I Jim? I’ll give you a hint even though I know you don’t need it. I am in the place my heart will go from now on any time I need to be brave.

If I could play background music to this post, I would have you listen to “Don’t Be Shy” by Cat Stevens. That might very well send this gushing post over the top though, and this is the sort of expression I would expect to get back:

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“What the fuck was all that?! I hope you’re done now. And seriously? Cat Stevens?”

He never did tell me how he was figuring these pictures out. We were supposed to have dinner after he had recovered where he would tell all. I think I needed that future promise because I could sense this was a biggie. Perhaps it’s better not knowing actually. He was just magic. Or a secret CIA operative. In which case, he has simply gone off grid after a very long undercover operation. Neither would surprise me a bit.

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Home

And here we are at last! 40 days from the morning I set out with an overpacked car, I returned with the trailer we’ve coveted for a year. Dory has arrived at her forever home.

IMG_4861We got to sleep in and relax a bit in the morning and that was lovely. It’s always nice to be in a site where you can look out the window and see trees. I had a couple of interested people asking questions about the Alto, as well as the Caravan Mover. She’s definitely a unique little beauty.

IMG_4862The drive over the Sierras took all my concentration. I recalled the towing presentation from the rally and made sure to brake with the transmission, rather than the brakes. So I was in “sport” or semi manual mode the whole time. Worked perfectly, but I needed to pay close attention to rpm levels as well as speed. The roads are windy and there are fairly steep grades most of the way.

IMG_4865I got a little pulse of nervousness when we got to the CA border check until I remembered this was not a real border check. This was the “Do you have any fruits or vegetables?” check. No paperwork or electronic manifests required.

It was clear that California was just as I had left it: not a drop of rain in sight. Lovely blue skies, but wow, everything looks like a tinder box. Such a shame we can’t just even some of that midwest rainfall out and spread it around a little.

On our descent, we started hearing a ticking sound coming from the back of the car. It sounded very much like a time bomb. And while we knew we had not packed a time bomb, it was annoying. We eventually pulled over to check it out and discovered things in the back had shifted and something was pressing on the lighting button on the grill. There was no propane connected of course, so it was just making continuous sparks for no reason.

IMG_4873Ah yes, I remember Sacramento traffic. It’s not a happy thing and I was glad not to be traveling in the Eastbound direction like all the other poor saps going to Tahoe. Sadly, when we are one of those cars taking Dory up to Tahoe for the weekend, this is what we will be going through.

I had a little moment of overwhelm when I saw Mt. Diablo for the first time. It hit me then, how far I had gone, how long I’d been away, and everything I’ve seen and done since the last time I was here in this valley.

It’s good to be home.

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11752567_10206123506460539_920749562638470520_nSeeing Richard again was awesome. Of course. We both felt it was a little surreal to have Dory home. We showed her off to the neighbors who had kept our kids and home safe and well monitored in our absence. We got them a pot, so… we’re even, right?

Before I was going to be able to relax, I had to know if there was any way we could get Dory in the garage. I wasn’t at all keen on the notion of leaving her outside. So we started maneuvers with the Mover. As we feared, the bottom of the driveway proved to be a problem. Whether we tried “butt” first or “face” first, the bumper was going to hit either the driveway or the street. We did a lot of maneuvering. Finally, we got some planks under one of the wheels and approached in kind of a slanty way. I’m pretty sure those planks were not rated for 2,000 lbs, but despite significant creaking, they held and she made it over the low part. Then it was an easy climb to the top.

Now the question was whether she would clear the garage opening. We had to disconnect the door from the opener in order to get it all the way up. Then, we lowered the tongue as far down as it would go and we just creeped forward as slowly as possible. I don’t think there was an inch to spare at the highest point, but she cleared! Once in, we were good to go and we could lower and reattach the door. We’ll need a new garage door opener, but it looks like we won’t be needing major reframing. IMG_4881

Hey! We have a trailer in our garage!

The rest of the day we just spent playing in Dory. We unpacked Bruce, washed towels and clothes, and generally enjoyed being home and together. What an adventure this has been. And the further adventures have just begun!

Total miles: 194.6, Engine time: 3 hours 51 min, 18.8 mpg

TOTALS FOR THE WHOLE TRIP:

Total miles: 8,417.2, Engine time: 99 hours, 59 min, 18.9 mpg

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To Verdi

Tonight is the last sleep of Dory’s maiden voyage.

I feel mixed, ambivalent even. I am ready to be home, but if Richard had stayed the whole time, I’m guessing I could have been happy out here a lot longer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad the kids came and kept me company. I don’t think I would have liked soloing as much. But Dory was really meant for two and it’s hard knowing Richard is all sad and lonely waiting for us to come home. So in that sense, I am content to call this a wrap and start looking for weekends as soon as possible where we can do short excursions.

IMG_4837Today’s drive was all about Nevada. There’s a beauty to this place, but the first word that comes to mind is “desolate”. Highway 80 runs through vast expanses of not much to see. You could call it awe inspiring in its consistency, but you can’t deny it’s a long day of driving if you go end to end.

IMG_4848We punctuated the drive with a stop at a very unusual place. I’d probably seen it many times but it comes at you fast on the highway, and before you know what you’re seeing, you’re past it. On the trip out, I mentioned it and my dear friend, Jim Gunn, figured out what it was that had caught my eye (even though I didn’t give a very good description). The place is called Thunder Mountain Monument and was built over many decades by Chief Thunder, Frank Van Zant, as a monument to the suffering of the Native American people. The art here is a statement and is formed using cement and “white man’s trash”, or discarded items found within 50 miles of the site. Others, particularly 60s hippies, helped with the creation of some of the sculpture, but the vision was singular and its purpose was to convey the sadness and despair of generations of native people. As such, it is a disturbing, yet beautiful, sight to see. I’m glad to have taken the short detour.

IMG_4854We then pretty much booked it to our site for the night. We’re in Nevada, so it’s obvious we would only be able to find campgrounds with accompanying casinos. This one is pretty nice. It’s the Gold Ranch RV Park (and Casino) very close to the California border. The thing that is nice about it is its proximity to nature. It is situated up against the foothills of the Sierras on one side and it’s like a taste of camping yet to come. Now, my ideal campsite would not necessarily include Highway 80 running along the edge, nor would I especially opt for any sort of casino, neither walking distance, nor shuttle service distance. But, along one side, I see the trees and telltale signs of California and notice even the clouds overhead (apart from not raining on me) have that wispy, coastal look. This is the nature I’m going to be hunting for weekend breaks. That is going to be Dory’s primary playground. That, and the coast. Of course.IMG_4859

I will do a final post tomorrow, plus, I’ll probably do some kind of post voyage wrap to include what worked, what didn’t, what we used most, and what’s for sale.

In the meantime, I shall enjoy sleeping in tomorrow and will look out the windows on the side that has trees. And when we get home, we’ll have to figure out where to park our baby until we can get her in the garage. That’ll be fodder for several blog posts I’m sure.

Total miles: 406.4, Engine time: 7 hours, 5 min, 15.8 mpg

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To Wendover

IMG_4807It’s amazing what a difference a good night’s sleep can make. I slept very soundly last night and I think the others did too, or at least better than they had been. We were much more chipper this morning.

It was an easy departure since I hadn’t bothered to unhitch. The site was very level so I just hooked up power and water and stabilized. I overheard the meanest sibling conversation ever in the campground bathroom. Two little girls were in there and one was beside herself, sobbing. Between sobs I could make out that she had probably been responsible for locking  their family’s keys in the car. Older sibling says, in an overly dramatic, shocked voice: “YOU locked the KEYS in the CAR??!!” Younger girl sobs: “NO!! You not be mad! Mommy mad! Not YOOOOUUU!” Older sibling is clearly heartless and replies, “Oh I can be mad too! YOU ruined our WHOLE ADVENTURE! It’s ALL YOUR FAULT!” Wow. That’s hard core, man.

Our first pit stop was at Little America, famous for its soft serve ice cream cones. It was a little early for ice cream for me, but Darren had one. I was happy to find an air hose to top up the tire on the driver’s side of Dory. It had been looking a little less full and read 40 psi when I checked. Should be 45. The trouble was finding a place with easy access to an air hose, but Little America is a full service joint and had two, positioned nicely for trailers.

IMG_4814We had more on and off rain during the drive. I’m trying hard to pull the clouds with us all the way to the West Coast (apparently). There wasn’t a whole lot of excitement for most of the day. We found a Whole Foods in a lovely ski resort town in the mountains just above Salt Lake City and that was kind of exciting. We had a late lunch there and stocked up on things we’re used to eating.

IMG_4818Passing through Salt Lake City, I was keeping very alert because there are lots of interchanges. I was more focused on that than gas and by the time I left all the city stuff, I was coming up fast on the salt flats. I started really paying attention to the “Range” screen, indicating how much farther I could go with the gas in the tank, at around 100 miles of distance to go. The range screen read around 120.  I’d be cutting it close, but would likely make it. I don’t like cutting it close so I started looking up nearest gas stations just after I’d entered the straight, flat, salty part. Sure enough, multiple search engines were telling me all the stations were at least 20 miles behind me. Darn it. So I had to choose whether to turn around and double back, or trust that the range would beat the miles to go.

I decided that I dislike doubling back a lot. Perhaps a personality flaw.

We rolled along for a little while and then the wind started picking up. Headwinds. Big time. I could see a storm was blowing in across the flats and I could feel the car being pushed around. Thankfully, there was really no additional effect that I could feel on Dory. Like, she wasn’t swaying, nor did it feel like the wind was catching her any more than the car. But I could for sure tell we were up against some serious resistance.

One thing I knew about headwinds: it kills your gas milage. So…. I started seeing the gap between our range and the miles we had to go getting smaller, and smaller. I saw multiple cars pulled over to the side and I’ll bet you they’d run out of gas. There are NO services along that stretch of road. I knew it was coming and still got myself into potential trouble, so if you come upon it unaware, it would be easy to get stuck.

Crunch time happened the last 50 miles. This is when I was no longer confident that we’d make it and the range indicator just kept declining faster and faster, as I kept driving slower, trying to minimize the effects. It was also too late at that point to turn around. I reminded myself that I am paying for roadside assistance and “stupidly getting into a pickle” is, I believe, one of the things I am paying them to save me from. I have only run the gas down far enough to see the light come on two times. Today made number three. At that point, it’s just drive and hope and get ready to pull over if needed. Oh yeah, it was raining during this last bit. And did I mention the crazy wind?

Finally, we saw the lights of the Blessed truck stop in the distance. 8 miles, 7 miles….. When we rolled into the station, the range indicator said I had a whole 5 miles to go! Gravy. My dad used to love that stuff. I hate it. A perfect gas fill for him is when you roll into the station on fumes. I think he believed that was “efficient” or something.

Here’s another reason I love my car: the pump said I put 17.8 gallons in and I happen to know it is a 19.5 gallon tank. I believe that is intended as a cushion for stupid drivers and I will try to erase that knowledge from my memory to prevent me from thinking I can push it farther next time.

IMG_4829Our site is a little less crowded, though I wouldn’t call it scenic. There was a nice view where I could watch the next set of storms roll in over the salt flats. I’d meant to stop and take pictures against the white landscape, but it wasn’t the most relaxed time to do that. Oh well.

Tomorrow we shoot for Reno.

Total miles: 300.7, Engine Time: 5 hours, 44 min, 15.2 mpg <— headwinds!

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To Rock Springs

IMG_4790Ok, here’s the thing: there is far more water in the entire mid section of the country than it needs. California is dehydrating like a Napa Valley raisin. We clearly need a pipeline. Or else we need to tip the continent just a little so the runoff from the flooding rivers and highways can just slosh right over the Sierra Nevada.

IMG_4797We spent a good deal of the day driving through rain. It ranged from pleasant enough, to ok, to Holy Sh%t!! No hail, so there’s a plus. Also on the plus side of the daily ledger, I hitched up really well this morning! I swear, every step went right the first time, even the locks. That high carried me through the fact that 100% of the process was done in the rain. One of the most helpful tools I have discovered for hitching turns out to be a hair band. I swear, I really didn’t realize how irritated I was all the time about my hair falling in my face until I experienced not having that happen. I appreciated this especially when handling the dump hose. That, I have found, is the moment I most want to not be using my gloved hands to push hair out of my face in order to see what the hell I’m doing.

IMG_4791We stopped in Cheyenne for a lunch stop and we seem to have arrived either just before or after “Cheyenne Days”. We heard some kind of gun fight going on but didn’t bother to go check it out. We were all actually pretty tired today.

IMG_4802Another stop along the way was the Lincoln Memorial at the highest point on Highway 80. Without trying to explain too much, Darren and Samantha have had this running bear joke for years. Darren calls Samantha a bear. That is the essence of the joke. You would not believe how much mileage he has gotten out of that over the years though. So imagine his delight to find a huge stuffed bear in the visitor’s center. He texted a picture of that bear to Samantha 29 times. She counted. He’s making it an even 30 as I type.

IMG_4806By around 6, we were pulling in to the KOA in Rock Springs and I was super tired and ready to stop. On this kind of a trip, we are not looking so much for scenic camping spots by idyllic lakes. We are looking for something convenient with hookups for water and electric. For this one, there is at least a pretty view of some mountains as a backdrop on one side. Behind us we have a lovely view of a couple of giant tanks storing something I’m sure is not toxic. We’re sandwiched between a line of big rigs and a van pulling a motorcycle. “Camping?” you say? “Becoming one with nature?” you ask? Not really, no. But as hotel rooms along the road go, this one is awesome. We pull the curtains closed and inside we have our own food, microwave, dishes, and bedding. WAAAAYYYY better than the pit stops I was making at the start of this journey. I love this so much. Even sandwiched on gravel between the big rigs.

We will be shooting for Wendover tomorrow, and then probably Reno. And then home.

Total miles: 374.9, Engine time: 7 hours, 18 min, 16.3 mpg

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Scottsbluff

Today was a day of rest and contemplation.

IMG_4767Darren rang in his 21st year with very little fanfare. He had no interest in going and getting a drink of any kind, nor did he really want to make a big deal of it. But really, he’s always been that way about his birthday. Give him a donut and a lazy day and he’s pretty content.

I must say, I do like staying in one spot for more than a night. It is nice to not hitch and go in the morning and instead to just go slow with coffee and getting dressed and all that. In fact, we didn’t really go anywhere until lunch time and we went to a place named one of the 10 best restaurants in Nebraska. It’s called the Emporium and, to be honest, it’s a little surprising to find it here. The decor is very upscale and the menu is every bit “big city”. Very nice crab cake brioche sandwich for me. Darren and Samantha had BLT salads that they both reported were yummy.

IMG_4761After that, I did some Dory housekeeping. I needed to replace a bolt that seems to have fallen off the bike rack and there are little odds and ends, like hanging shoes and the shower head better, that I’ve been meaning to get to. I also unpacked and shook out the awning that hasn’t been unpacked since the rally. Good to air that out. Also did the same for the tent that Darren has not been using. Oh well. At least I want it packed up nicely cause it kind of got shoved in when we were miserable and humid.

Rick and SanDee came out around 6 and got a tour of Dory. We then headed up with my mom’s ashes to the bluff. I can’t get over how beautiful it is up there. The sandstone has such a distinctive color and the erosion patterns make these crags and gullies that jump out from the vast expanse of green. We found a beautiful spot, overlooking the whole plain to the west. This is undeveloped country so the view is all peace. All nature. And it faces the sunset every day. Beautiful.

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Dinner was Chinese food at Rick and SanDee’s house. It is all of a two block walk from where Dory is at the RV park. They have (and always have had, it must be said) quite the menagerie of pets. IMG_4788Their dog Yankee is more of a small horse than any kind of dog I’ve ever seen. But it’s the Pomeranian who rules the house over him and their cats. Entertainment is watching a lion bodied Golden-doodle bark helplessly as a tiny Pomeranian chews his bone right in front of him.

Tomorrow we hitch and go. We’ve all decided we want to make a more or less straight shot toward home. It’s not that anyone is miserable (or at least no one is saying that), but I know I’m ready to head back. I miss Richard already and he misses Dory (and me, I assume) terribly. The kids seem to be enjoying themselves, but sleeping is hard enough for a young adult and quarters are close for sure. Best not to push this I figure. I don’t think it’s time to buy Depends and drive through the night yet, so at a reasonable pace, we should have three more sleeps after tonight before we get home. Friday.

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To Scottsbluff

IMG_4750Happy to be back in my second “home town” of Scottsbluff, NE. This is where both my parents were born and raised and where I spent many summers as a kid. My mom’s ashes made a 6k+ mile journey to get here and here we will be for two nights.

The drive from North Platte to Scottsbluff was really beautiful. We took 26, which is an old wagon trail route. The country is open and green with hints of light tan bluffs here and there. Scottsbluff is a landmark because its bluff is about the only thing for miles that rises above the even, flat surface of the land. As such, it was used to help guide settlers on their way to Oregon.

IMG_4756A funny thing happened on the way to the RV park. Yesterday during the drive to North Platte, someone passed us on the road and honked and waved. I didn’t know them and wasn’t sure if it was just an enthusiastically friendly driver, or someone who had an interest in Altos. We waved back. Later on Facebook, a guy in the Altoistes group posted that he had seen an Alto traveling westbound on 80. I let him know it was me and said he should come say hi if he was in the area of Gering. So he did! After we’d unhitched and were getting ready to head out for lunch, a man tentatively approached us and introduced himself. I gave him a little tour of the inside because he doesn’t have his yet and was wondering about the shower. What a very small world!

IMG_4759Lunch was at a place that couldn’t be more midwest if it tried. There were posters and pictures of cowboys everywhere. The tables and decor were sort of saloon themed and the first thing I noticed going to the table was that there were peanut shells all over the floor. They set buckets of them on the tables and I guess the expectation is that you just throw the shells on the floor.

The highlight of the day of course was seeing my aunt and uncle again after so many years. Facebook is an awesome way to keep in touch, but nothing replaces a real live hug. I love them so much and the whole place brings Mom and Dad, and Grandma and Grandpa, front and center in my mind. The colors of the landscape are part of who they were, and are, to me. I think about grandparents and lots of extended family, all here. So many 4th of Julys. So many miles covered in the car heading back and forth, from the time when I was very small. Endless hours of playing the alphabet game with road signs. And once here, days and weeks spent playing bumper pool in the basement or destroying my grandparents’ garage wall with poorly aimed darts.

IMG_4766My aunt and uncle’s house is lovely and many of the woodworked furnishings and picture frames were made by Grandpa George. He was such a character and I feel his presence in their home. He once lost a football bet to me for eight dollars and he handcrafted a wooden frame which he used to place eight silver dollars behind glass. So there.

I’ll have pictures of them in the next post. I was so happy to see them, I forgot to take any pictures except of their front porch. Tomorrow we get to be lazy and we will get together and have a little ceremony for my mom. Tomorrow is also Darren’s 21st birthday. I warned him he’d be turning drinking age somewhere on this trip and he honestly seemed fine with it. I still have the bottle of champagne given to us by Safari Condo. Maybe this is the time to pull it out.

Total Miles: 194.6, Engine Time: 4 hours 32 min, 16.8 mpg

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