Sunday, August 7, 2016

Reflections on a Cross-Country Road Trip

The preview to a spectacular storm we survived
from a state park in Pierre, SD
We’re back now, after 40 days and 7,800 miles!  Of them 6,583 were pulling a trailer for 22 days to the East Coast and back.  I had thought that given the long days on the road we would have been able to put this trip into perspective by now.  However, the journey and our impressions of it are so varied that we can’t tie it up in a neat little package like we can some other shorter adventure at home or abroad. 

Visiting Kathy's Alma mater
in Grinnell, IA 
That said, we are left with a huge appreciation for our country’s sheer size, diversity, and beauty.  It can take two whole days just to cross Montana, South Dakota, or New York.  From vast vistas to congested urban areas, the scenery constantly changes along the way. With all the trucks, trains, cities, farms, and towns we encountered, we got a sense of just how huge our economy really is.  

Headwaters of the Missouri State Park, MT.
Lewis & Clark camped here, and so did we.

Wherever we went, we met friendly and interesting people from all walks of life and from all over the world.  (The most interesting was a mining foreman we met in Montana who worked 2,000 feet below ground in a massive mine that produces our baking soda.) 

Whether it's produce, tires, or this Tunisian Navy boat,
truckers haul everything.  This was taken at a rest stop on a
lonely two-lane road in SE Montana
We developed an appreciation and respect for the hard-working long-haul truck drivers who connect the dots of our economy, and who usually passed us with care or let us merge into their lanes, signaling when it was safe to do so. (We don’t, however, have much regard for the aggressive and rude Illinois and New York drivers.)

One of many spectacular formations
 inside Lewis & Clark Caverns, MT
Temporary repair job in Iowa.
The rough roads of MN, WI, OH, IL,
and IA took their toll.  
We got the heart-warming opportunity to observe America at work and at play, many of them doing their own mini versions of road trips.  Seeing kids playing in campgrounds brought back a lot of memories of camping trips when we were kids.  Our Airstream is a people magnet, so it was rare not to have visitors wherever we parked or camped.  

We got to better explore our country’s rich history and learn more about the struggles and conflicts that got us to this point.  It doesn’t take much to realize just how good we have it.

Finally, we got to spend 40 quality days together exploring, hiking, bicycling, camping, listening to audio books, music, the news, and marveling at the scenery.  The journey/process was more enjoyable than the destinations, especially watching the expansive vistas and scenery unfold before our eyes.  For all the reasons above and more, it was a privilege to do this. 

Of course, we had our glitches--a wallet still under 8 feet of sludge in a Wisconsin car wash, a damaged grey water tank, a fallen cabinet, Kathy's strep throat, my cold, missed off ramps and turns, backing up squabbles when backing into our campsites, and a close call with a failure-to-appear-for-grand-jury-duty-arrest-warrant scam in Montana.  But in the big scheme of things, those were minor.

View from entrance to Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park
Our favorite place?  We can’t say, as there were so many pleasant surprises.  However, we really liked South Dakota, and its people.  And we liked the Hudson Valley with its rich history.  The Berkshires in NW Massachusetts were a delight, especially because we got to spend time with family and experience some Boston Symphony performances outdoors.  Kathy would say that touring ten (yes,10) historic homes were high on her list.  The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland ranks near the top for both of us.
Another storm brewing on the Wyoming-SE Montana border
Our least favorite part?   Simply getting through the heat, humidity, heavy traffic, and construction in Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa.  Also, we didn’t enjoy the Erie Canal that much because of the hot muggy weather and the scenery along it didn’t change much. By then our ‘two-thirds rule’ kicked in, as it always does in the last third of any trip.

Our last and best campsite of the trip at
 Memalose State Park, OR on the Columbia River
Whether we vacation for three days, a week or a month, we get antsy after two-thirds of the time has elapsed.  We start to shift our focus towards home.  Returning home doesn’t have the same sense of exploration and adventure as going does, but it has its own special sense of anticipation and an appreciation of what makes home a home.  We’re glad we went and glad to be back!

Home just in time to celebrate Kathy's birthday at Trinity Vineyards 
and a goodbye party for our mentee Nati Zavala 
as he leaves for the Peace Corps.