The last-minute packing is ill named: more like last five hours. One more box becomes six. Finally, at about noon, tank full (there goes the first Benjamin), tires full, van damn near full (too much stuff!), we pulled onto Rte. 110 and began our six-week, 7,000-mile summer road trip. Husband Bud, son Cole (7), dog Otis (aka Odie), and cat Paleface (aka Pacey) all crammed in one white Ford van.
Taking the cat is a definite gamble, but he traveled great when we made the reverse odyssey, moving to LA from Miami Beach last August. We all took a lesson from Pacey’s Zen chillness. He’d never been in a vehicle except for those despicable trips to the vet, and he just lounged into the flow. He was a little less obliging this morning, purring when I plucked him off the floor of our empty San Pedro flat but immediately trying to bolt out the door once I put him in the van. Then, as we aired up the tires, he and Cole stood on the back of the bench seat, kings of all they purveyed.
Cole is ecstatic to be heading back to Miami to see his friends and sisters. He was dancing and singing in the back, a little something called “Goo Goo Ga Ga” he made up on the spot. We regress when we’re happy.
Our journey is taking us to Miami, stopping along the way for some visits and sightseeing. Then a few weeks back in our old stomping grounds. We’ll head up to Wisconsin for my dad’s 75th birthday, then to the Upper Peninsula (Michigan) for a couple of weeks of family and friends and woods. Then we book back home so I can start my new job Aug. 15. We’ll wind up at our new apartment, down the street from and closer to the beach than the one we just packed up and pulled out of. 7,000 miles to move two blocks.
Sounds fun, I think. Except we’re doing this on a meager budget — lots of relying on the kindness of couches, camping, and sleeping in the Econoline van that Bud has turned into a rough RV. In fact, if Bud doesn’t make a few thousand while we’re in Miami and Michigan, we’ll be washing dishes and Cole will be busking “Goo Goo Ga Ga” for gas change. No boutique hotels or glamping on this trip. This is how you have to travel in 2010, when you work for industries devastated by what Richard Florida calls “the Great Reset” — which feels more like getting booted than rebooted. We’ll be counting our pennies and eating lots of PB&J. And blogging as we go.
We were mostly trying to make up for lost time today, heading for Barstow and 40. We did take one spontaneous detour, cutting off a corner of the Interstate in favor of the old route 66. “It might be windy — looks like there’s a mountain in there,” I warned as I looked at the map. Ha. The 60 miles were like a bird’s nest made out of hairpin curves. The road was tiny — no way two Hummers could have passed each other. Every other sharp corner was marked by a cross. It was certainly scenic, especially Oatman, a Western town where the cowboys now ride bikes and burros still wander freely down Main Street (lots of burro dung and flies). There are a bunch of old-style frontier storefronts from which to buy ice cream, postcards, and beer. Reminded me of Pioneertown, but more so. And there are still working gold mines nearby. The detour put us behind schedule but was worth every stomach-lurching twist.
Even Cole, the perpetual skeptic, had to admit: The canyon is pretty damn grand. We biked up to the South Rim first thing this morning. You can’t get a sense of the scale of that expanse from any kind of reproduction — the Grand Canyon is not something you can experience virtually. Starting our trip with a seventh wonder of the world seemed like a good reward for all the work leading up to our departure. Just hope it isn’t all downhill from here.
The starting out logistics of our trip sucked. Way too much stuff was crammed underfoot in the travel area of the van, instead of underneath the bed. We left too late and arrived at the park after dark, hungry, tired and irritable. And that’s just how the grownups felt. Mea culpa: I can be such a bitch. Bud likes the feeling of being stowed inside a boat, but I kept bumping against sharp corners and losing the things I need in the things we don’t need.
So we spent the afternoon reorganizing the van. Structural rule: Only have what we might use while we’re driving accessible from in front. Anything we need at night, once we’ve stopped, stow underneath. Like do we really need access to all five containers of coffee and coffee makers Bud brought? Better question: Do we need five at all? Now we have room to maneuver, and I feel much less bitchy. Though Bud will have to wait until he has access to a saw to cut the sharp corners off the table he made. Never really thought about it before, but now I know why boats and RVs have rounded edges.
But before work, play. We hesitated about bringing our bikes; we have to take them off every time we want to access all the stuff we just put in back. We’re already happy about that part of our load. By 9 a.m. we were pedaling off to the rim — rather than fighting traffic or waiting for shuttle buses. You’re not supposed to ride on the rim trail, but for the first mile-plus leg, it was mostly empty, so we were happy scofflaws. Then we hit civilization: lodges, gift shops, busloads of Japanese tourists — I know the latter’s a cliche, but it happened to be true.
Cole was already tired, cranky. His legs hurt, he couldn’t walk — and the next jaunt to Maricopa Point had to be walked. A trip to a souvenir store to buy a stuffed ram hadn’t satisfied his consumerist, electronic lifestyle. He wanted to shop, play his DS, watch a movie — anything but have to look at a 7th Wonder of the World some more. We could have let him ruin our day. But we didn’t. We made him walk, and eat, and stop whining. And finally, after many tears and a forced march, he tapped into some Bakugan spirit energy. By the time we biked back to Mather Campground, he was shouting at me to catch up — as I could barely move my knees up and down.
As soon as we got to the campground, we spied a bull elk wandering among the sites. We’d passed a cow a few minutes earlier. They’re amazingly docile. The bull grazed past a man lying outside his tent with a jug of OJ beside him, seemingly recovering from the night before. “Does that guy even know it’s there?” I asked the man taking pictures next to me — okay, he was probably Japanese, but apparently he understood English, as he cracked up.
We set up our Wal-Mart three-room tent today for the first time. It’s typically American supersized, like an overstuffed LaZBoy or an SUV. Way more than we need right now, but it will be excellent for our two weeks in Michigan, when we’ll be camping on our Lake Superior property.
All in all, a good day. And pretty cheap: spent $22 at a gift store, $13 of it Cole’s own money, the rest for Father’s Day. Paid our $18 camping fee a month ago, and our National Park pass came in handy yesterday.
Happy Father’s Day.
A huge forest fire north of Flagstaff forced us to detour through Hopi and Navajo country — again, the unplanned route was time consuming but worth it. Painted Desert (sculpted too — piles of rock look like statues), plummeting canyons, and plains the soft, silvery green of sage. Outside the Hopi Cultural Center, in Second Mesa, five men were beating in unison on one drum and singing/wailing in transcendent five-part harmony, powerful, full-throated singing. Cole climbed with two small children up a tree. Then the drummers gave us fruit and popcorn; hadn’t they already given us the gift of music? All we had to offer in return was some water and chocolate-covered almonds for the kids, until we finally managed to break a 20 at the center. I wasn’t sure what was more insulting: to pay them, or to not pay them. No question it was worth $10. But somehow we just left Hopi country without me getting any of the silver and black jewelry I’ve wanted for years. Damn budget.
We’ll just have to go back. At the cultural center, we saw a replica of a pueblo village that’s still in operation. Walpi is about 12 miles east of the center. There are no signs, but you can see it high up on a hill. We couldn’t take more time to go visit it, but apparently there are tours. Some day we’ll make it back.