Go West Middle-Aged Broad


How I Learned I Didn't Need Directions To Find Crazy On The Map


Day 1

It was a year ago today we watched the moving company pack our belongings on their truck, bound for California.  It is never an easy decision to make.  Picking up roots and moving 3,000 miles is hard if it is just one person, it is nearly impossible if you are a family.
So pack up we did.
We said goodbye to friendships we had formed over the 6 years as Joisey transplants in No. Va.  We gave away tons of "keeping up with the Joneses" items to charity, and put the "For Sale" sign on the front lawn.
Have you ever tried to pack enough stuff to clothe 2 adults & 1 tween for 7 days, a mid-sized dog with their bed, food & bowls, plus the things you just have to have to live in an empty house for 2 days until a moving company arrives with your stuff, into a mid-sized 4-door sedan?  It is possible.
If it wasn’t, no one sent me the memo, so I tried anyway.
We spent that last day in the old house with dear friends who had come to say goodbye and make leaving easier.  They stayed and watched with us as movers took items one by one and loaded them on the truck.  They stayed and had lunch with us while we still watched them take items, one by one, and load them on the truck.
By 1 pm, the novelty had worn off.  It was time to hug and get buns in cars and get on the road.  The moving company used a different stopwatch.  Finally at 2 o’clock we were all able to get on the road.
Stressed as to how to make it well into Ohio before nightfall already started in my head.  Why?  When you have a dog that gets car sick and you are taking off on a 3,000 mile journey, you must have a plan.  Say what?  Yes, I was getting in a car for a cross-country trip with an ADHD tween and a dog that gets car sick.  God help me.
Thankfully, I had an old and dear friend volunteer to take the drive.  She and I had been discussing how the better half had offered to fly back from his first month in California in his newly acquired job that was taking us across country.  I told her of our differing opinions on how long a cross-country trip should take and the likelihood of divorce by Chicago.
Never one to shy away from a challenge or possibly good adventure, the friend offered to be the 2nd adult for the trip.  Bless her soul!  Here was someone as kooky as me.  Someone, who would also love to stop and see that giant ball of twine just 2 miles ahead at exit 357.
So off we 4 go on the road to California.  Full tank of gas, last bathroom trips, one last look around the house we had loved for 6 years, and we were gonzo.  One last drive by the elementary school up the street that had housed friends, acquaintances, and a great sledding hill out back.
     
Traveling up the Virginia By-Way system through Loudon, and over the rickety bridge into Maryland, we are on our way.  Being easily distracted, we stop at the first Dunkin Donuts we see in Maryland for iced coffee.  This is a must for east coasters, and little did we realize something not widely available past Chicago.
    
This part of Maryland is beautiful driving.  Finally crossing the border into Pennsylvania, we stop and let the dog out for a quick stretch and bathroom break.  Pulling out my listing of dog-friendly hotels on Rt. 80 we start calling ones in the Youngstown vicinity.
We figure that we can make it that far before it gets too late and leaves us enough time to walk the dog, feed the dog, walk the dog again, and make sure all food is digested prior to hitting the road again in the morning.  Did I mention I have a dog that gets car sick?
Evidently, Youngstown, Ohio is the center of some convention of who knows what this time of year, and it takes several calls to find one with a vacancy.  Whew!  Now, to get there.
We see our first night’s sunset over the Pennsylvania turnpike, and finally pull in to Youngstown at 10pm.  Driving down a service road next to Rt. 80, we finally see our hotel, right across from a truck stop/motel/strip joint.
Now, packing up the trunk of the car was like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle.  I got it all to fit perfectly and the lid to close without fear of it flying open at highway speeds.  Trying to get out just the bags we needed for the night in the dark of the hotel parking lot?  Near impossible.  Repacking it?  That is fodder for day 2.

Day 2

“Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey!”
Huh?  What?
“Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey!
From next to me I hear, “Mom, make it stop!”
That was our wake up alarm sound we set on J's cell phone’s alarm clock.  We had set the night before to make sure we didn’t oversleep.  The dead couldn’t oversleep to that!
Welcome to Youngstown!
Get kid up and in the bathroom, while I fumble for the dog’s leash and take her for morning walk.  Come back from poopie patrol, and get kid in gear getting dressed and his stuff repacked, while J had her turn in the bathroom.  Then my turn to shower, dress and repack bags, dump dog’s water dish, and grab dog bed and armful of bags.  Off to car trunk for repacking session.
This would become daily morning drill for 5 more days, not because it was such a winner, but because it worked.  Anything that works on the road, you stick with.  Don’t fix what isn’t broken, as there are more pressing issues just around the bend at any moment.
How do I know this?  I know this because my mother spent the weeks leading up to our road trip calling me each day to give me another “on the road” just in case tip.
Make sure you bring flashlights.  Really Mom, why?  Well, you never know if you will wind up pulling over someplace dark.  You are travelling through the Midwest & Rockies during thunderstorm season, you don’t know if the hotel will lose power.  Ok, had to give her that one, flashlights, check!
Make sure you bring a fresh roll of duct tape and some scissors.  Huh?  Ok Mom, really, what in the world would I need that for?  Well, in case you blow a hose on the road, you can fix it with the duct tape and keep on driving until it is safe to have it repaired.  Smart thinking Mom, duct tape and scissors, check!
You know you will be out in the middle of nowhere for a good part of the trip.  You should bring bug spray. Yep, cans of bug spray, check!
Glow in the dark sticks, rolls of paper towels (in case dog who gets car sick, does), zip lock bags of a week’s worth of dog food, dog treats, dog water bowl, dog food bowl, snacks for humans while on the road and not wanting to spend extra money.  Extra plastic shopping bags for poop patrol, I pick up after my dog even if we are in the middle of nowhere.  One whole bag of nothing but toiletries, prescription medication, over the counter medication, and first aid supplies.  Three duffel bags, my laptop, a bag of towels, and two blow up beds sans air flattened to their limits.  One of those space bags with two sets of bedding including pillows just to round out the mix.
All these things were packed in my trunk when we left Virginia.
Some of those things got taken out in Youngstown in the dead of night.  It was now my task to get them all back in the way they had been so the trunk closed tight enough to NOT see my belongings trailing out behind me should we hit a bump in the road.  Thank goodness the dog’s bed, the small cooler and all the kid’s toys were in the back seat.  Not to mention J’s laptop, our purses and camera bags or I would never have had a sucker’s chance.
So you are still wondering, how did you get it all repacked?  Well, sometimes the only way to make something fit the way it had been is to go back to the beginning.  One by one, everything back out of the trunk and laid out in the parking lot.  To passersby, it must have seemed chaotic, but in chaos there is beauty.   At least that is what I said silently to myself as I rearranged the bags of stuff.
It was at moment I remembered George Carlin’s routine about stuff.  Tempted as I was, I couldn’t leave any of it on the side of the road, what if my mother was right and I needed something?  So repacking commenced.  Trunk done, humans and canine in the car, car to gas station for the day’s first fill up.  Goodbye Youngstown.
It had been our intention to make time that day and get to Rockford, IL and the pre-booked hotel room before sunset.  In other words, J drove.  She has two brothers in law enforcement and a gold shield card in her wallet.  For those who don’t know, this is a get out of jail free card for the holder, provided you don’t actually kill anyone.  Funny how that gives you a false sense of invulnerability.
Somewhere past Sandusky, going along at our own merry pace, we are spotted.  Jeannie being the skilled speedster she is, eases off the gas, doesn’t hit the brake and keeps with the rest of the traffic stream.  I pull down the passenger side visor to open the mirror so I can scope out the rear view.
On a bright sunny day, those cherry-tops don’t seem as bright.
Problem?  No problem, J is carrying the magic card.  Kid in back seat starts to scream, “Oh man it’s the cops!  Is he going to arrest us?”
I’m calming the kid down now, telling him that they aren’t going to arrest us, but please keep quiet when he comes to the car.  Poor kid usually gets driven around by me, the original grandma behind the wheel when he is in the car so he has never been through a traffic stop.  Check off the first new sight I got to show him on his summer adventure.
Now it is a matter of some confusion as to how fast we were actually going.  The Ohio state trooper who was kind enough to make our hum drum morning more exciting gave us an approximate.  “Did you know I clocked you at 85 or 86 miles per hour ma’am?”
Well, which was it?  If you aren’t sure, how can you give us a ticket?  Doesn’t your little machine read out how fast the poor son of a bitch was doing when totally screwed up his day?  These are all valid questions and all being asked of the trooper, in our minds.  Do you think us as stupid as we look?
He asks for the requisite paperwork, some of which I provide since it was my car, and some of which Mario Andretti hands over, the gold shield card being part of her stack.  He looks at my registration and insurance card, all good.  He looks at her license, over to her, makes sure it is her, moves on to her get out of jail free card.  He takes one glance at the card, hands it back in to me and proclaims with a snort, “I don’t need that!”
As the trooper is walking back to his car, the stream of expletives that comes from the driver’s seat of my car was one for the books.  I wish I had the forethought to use the voice recorder on my phone.  True to the story of my life, day late, dollar short, I did not.  Thankfully it didn’t take trooper Bob too long to check that my car was in fact, my car, that J wasn’t a criminal evading the law, and let us go on our merry way.
Thankfully it wasn’t long before we could say, “Goodbye Ohio, Hello Indiana!”
    
Half hour in to Indiana, we see Harley Davidson signs for Sturgis, MI.  We remembered hearing it was bike week somewhere but for the life of us, couldn’t figure out why we didn’t see any.  Yeah, well we aren’t the brightest of gals when it comes to biker smarts and knowing our Sturgis’.  More on that another day.
Indiana is thankfully uneventful, as is our entry into Illinois.   Somehow we missed the Welcome to Illinois sign, but caught the Chicago sign.
All along our trip to this point, our dear old friend Dunkin’ Donuts has been our companion.  Anytime we have needed a cup of liquid energy, it has been there, waiting patiently to obey our command.  As we enter the skyway into Chicago proper, we see a Dunkin’ Donuts too late to make the stop for a cup of refreshment.  One of us comments, no worries, we will stop at the next one.
That was the last Dunkin’ Donuts we saw for the rest of the trip.
     
We were in bumper to bumper all the way through Chicago, but it allowed us time to take pictures of New Comiskey Park and the Sears Tower.  The rest of the day was thankfully uneventful all the way to Rockford.
Red Roof Inn check-in, walk the dog, unpack the trunk again, dinner and a quiet night.  All was right with our adventuresome quartet.  Don’t forget to set the alarm; we have some meandering to do.  Cheese heads, Land-O-Lakes and South Dakota (better known as the first state on the trip with no AT&T cell service) wait on the morrow.

Day 3

“Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey!”
We have to change that alarm tune.
Third day on the road, second wake up not in our old home and not feeling out-of-place yet.
Up and at ‘em for this morning’s drill of dog walking, motivating the kid, and showers all around.  Trunk repacking getting easier now, only having to take out half the contents in order to maintain status quo.  In another week, I will have this down pat.
Gas up the car and off we go, Goodbye Rockford, IL!
Crossing the border in to Wisconsin, we were itching for our first world’s biggest cheese curd museum.  We had forewarned the youngest member of our party that we would be stopping for any and all roadside attractions that caught our eye.  If it didn’t relate to a YouTube video or Nintendo game, he had no interest.
        
We found our first victim half way through Wisconsin at Castle Rock.  It was formed when the glaciers receded after the last ice age.  It wasn’t a giant cheese curd, but it was a good excuse to stretch our legs and explore.  Legs stretched, dog walked and watered, protestations on how “this isn’t fun” logged from kid, and off we were in search of our next find.
    
Miles and miles of wind farms litter the Minnesota countryside.  They go on for as far as they eye can see.  Why this type of self-sustaining energy isn’t more prevalent across our country I have not the answers.
    
Did you know there was a museum devoted to Spam?  Neither did we until we saw the road sign in Minnesota.  When one encounters such a find, they are compelled to stop.  Admit it, you would too.  There is even a diner across the street with a Spam theme.  Again, the kid was unimpressed as he had no clue what Spam was.  His generation has a whole different definition of the word, and it isn’t capitalized.
After a quick stop for gas and food, our brave foursome was again on the road.  Off to find adventures in this brave new world.  Wait, wrong book.
Finally we cross in to South Dakota, land of no cell service.  That isn’t the official state nickname, but if you are an AT&T wireless customer, it might as well be.  Five miles across the border and goodbye service.  Thankfully my trusty travelling companion was a Verizon customer, so a connection was still within our grasp to the outside world while on the road during the day.  This was a comforting and calming thought, until the phone rings with the kind of news you don’t want to hear.
After a quick gas up and some pictures of a wayward dinosaur, we are on the road and see a sign for Buffalo Ridge 1880 Cowboy Town.  So we stopped.  There were buffalo out in the fields sleeping, a fake gold mine, and a creepy biker dude patronizing the gift shop that doubled as a packaged goods store.
            
We set off to take some pictures, because without pictures, who would believe you were stupid enough to stop and see crap like this.  Click, ooh look at that, click, don’t miss that one over there, click.  Let me get closer so I can put the camera through the fencing, SNAKE!  Huh?  Where?  There!  Crap! Run!
Back at the car we noticed a somber sight.  Somewhere along the way we had become road killers.  We murdered a butterfly.  We bowed heads for a moment of silence, then remembered the snake behind us and booked tushies.
On the road again we see that we are only 60 miles from the Corn Palace, another can’t miss tourist trap.  Ok, we’ll bite.  It’s getting late and we have no hotel reservations yet so we can see the corn and get a place to bunk down for the night.  It is summer in the Midwest and the days are long this far into a time zone.  We check into what we renamed Bug Motel, drop bags and dog, and go in search of the world-famous Mitchell Corn Palace.
                
After passing the town greeter, an advertisement for Chef Louis’ restaurant on the side of a giant steer, we find our destination.  A kitschy roadside attraction in all its glory, along with the prerequisite gift shops and $4 ice cream cones.  None of this mattered; we were touring a museum with murals made of corn cobs, what beats that?  Truth be told, and say what you will, it was pretty neat.  You don’t find things like that in cities or suburbs for a reason.
    
After stopping in a gift shop so our virtual traveling companion could have her picture taken in some bling, we went in search of some local food.  My son got to eat in his first real truck stop, flies, drinks in mason jars, and toothless truckers included.
With full bellies and tired legs, we finally retired back to bug motel for last doggie walks, flying insect killing, some wireless uploading of trip pictures and a good night’s sleep.  Bug motel came with a free gym, or at least free workouts.  Last chore of the night was me, with my sneakers on my hands as swatters, jumping from bed to bed, over and on furniture, killing things with wings.  Moths, little mosquitoes, bigger mosquitoes trying to eat the little mosquitoes, and assorted other things with wings.  At least it was entertaining to the kid and the dog, never let it be said our road trips don’t come with entertainment included.
The only lingering issue to be resolved was picking a new tune to be our alarm clock.  We all agreed that a new one was well overdue.  After listening to our choices, one in particular tickled the fancy of a 10-year-old boy just learning how much fun it was to hear other people say words he would taste soap for trying out.  Always aiming to please our Love Boat passengers, we obliged.
New tune chosen and alarm set.  The next day was planned as a jam-packed tour of the black hills and Mount Rushmore.  Turns out there are two Sturgis’ and our timing wasn’t off for once in our lives.  But that is a story for day 4.

Day 4

“Get your a** out of bed!”
“Did you hear me?!?!  Get you’re a** out of bed!”
“Get up! Get up!  We got stuff to do today!”
THAT was our alarm ring tone for Day 4 on the road.  It got us up and out bed quickly, and gave the kid good giggles.  Morning routine quickly accomplished and over to the office of bug motel to check out.  On the way out of the office, we start noticing bikes everywhere.  Not just any bikes, but Harley Davidsons.
    
Interesting.  Speak to a few bikers, take some pictures of their bikes (notice dead bugs on ground-hence bug motel), and come to find, yes Virginia it IS bike week and you ARE headed toward the RIGHT Sturgis.  Against the story of our lives, we are at the right place at the right time.  Never in my life would I have pictured being in the Badlands and the Black hills during bike week, but it is also one of those bucket list things you just have to experience.
Turns out it is ok to experience it from afar after a certain age, more on that later.
Back on the road again, Route 90 west was starting to fill with more bikes.  Sometimes a picture is worth a 1,000 words, this one is worth 500 lbs if it is worth a conjunction.
    
Cemeteries, especially old or odd ones have always fascinated me.  J loves them too.  We saw one on the side of the road and had to stop for a few clicks of her camera.  Kid and dog didn’t see the value.
            
The Missouri River weaves its way through and around South Dakota.  At the southern border it even widens to Lewis & Clark Lake.  When it crosses where Route 90 is, it is called the Missouri River Bridges of South Dakota area and has a small Lewis & Clark Memorial.
It also has poisonous snakes.  After our encounter with their cousins a day earlier, I opted to not walk the path and stay with the kid and the dog.  J, ever the adventuress, followed the path of bravery.
            
Before you get to Badlands National Park, there is a small town of Murdo.  It houses another of the Kitschy places in America.  The 1880’s replica town, better known to us from that day forward as Cricket Town.  They have a wagon pulled by a donkey, and driven by a real character.  When people would take pictures of him and the wagon he would yell, “Hey, you shot my a**!”
Oh, the Wells Fargo Wagon is a comin’ down the street; please let it be for me.  I thought about getting on, but then I would have missed some of the best parts of our 3 hour tour.
    
When you first get in to South Dakota, you start to see signs for the “World Famous Wall Drug Store”.  You see them for 300 miles, or so it seems.  When you get to Badlands National Park, you finally get to Wall.
    
The neat thing about Wall is that they have a main street that becomes a sea of Harleys during bike week.  You have not lived until you stand there in front of Wall Drugs while hundreds of bikes roll down the street and you feel the earth rumble under your feet.  The rumble grows so loud at times, it travels from your feet, up your legs and you can actually feel the rumble in your core.  I do not possess the words to do it justice.  If you ever have the opportunity, it has to be experienced firsthand.
Today was the kind of day you can tick things off your list at a pretty quick clip.  Then you see signs for Mount Rushmore and realize they all pale in comparison.  I have experienced this so I can honestly say, your idea of how awesome Mount Rushmore is, is nowhere near as awe-inspiring as it really is.
Driving through the tourist area filled with motels and bars below the monument is twisty and the little town is cute and quaint.  At any time of the year other than during Bike Week.
During Bike Week it is wall to wall people, bars filled with bikers and their gals, the second floors filled with gals in all manner of dress, and in this case undress.  I am still praying to this day the kid wasn’t looking up for half that drive through.
It is also at this moment I realize how old I am mentally and physically.  Though it was thrilling to come through during this week of all weeks of the year, I am way too old now to have been anything but a tourist.
So you get through town and start winding your way up the mountain.
This is the first time we get to see what is waiting for us at the top.
We find parking, get our cameras, and go meet John, Paul, George & Ringo.  We stopped on the way in and spent a moment at the plaque honoring all the men who died to make this monument.
There is an amazing walk of presidents that twists and turns under the fa├žade with stops giving you vantage points to click pictures of each president and bios.  If you get the chance, walk it.  I am just going to show the pictures below, descriptions are not necessary, and words don’t do them justice.
                                    
We drive through the right Sturgis on the way out of South Dakota.
Hello Wyoming!
    
You can’t come all this way across the country and into Wyoming at this part of the state and not stop at Devil’s Tower, said a good friend of mine.  So we stopped.
After our whirlwind day of adventure, we finally pull in to Gillette for food and sleep.  Alarm set for more adventure ahead of us on Day 5.  Lots of national parks to see in Wyoming and California still waiting for us.

Day 5

“Get your …
Ok, we all know the alarm clock drill.  We hush up mammy Yoakum and get to our morning chores.
At this point the earlier hassles of trunk repacking are a memory, we have a system down now.  Instead of duffel each for me and the kiddo, one is for clean and one is for dirty.  Voila, only one duffel a day needed.
The only hitch in a full trunk is no souvenir shopping.  No place to store anything larger than a magnet.
So off we go back on to Route 90 west headed for our next adventure filled day.
As you head west in to Buffalo, Wyoming, you see signs for the scenic route to Yellowstone National Park.  Scenic in this case meaning really far off the beaten path and adding an extra hour or two to your trip.
Does this faze us?  Not at all, we are hearty adventurers looking for exciting new things and California will still be there whenever we get to her.
    
Turning off Route 90 in Buffalo you get on Route 16 and find the world’s best named liquor store and matching creek.
    
You also find a road, well, see for yourself.
            
Thankfully that doesn’t last long and you head in to Bighorn National Forest.  Great views, pictures are better than words here again.
Leaving Bighorn you get to meander through some of the best named towns you will see.  Ten Sleep, McNutt, and Thermopolis, which is so metropolitan for this area they even have an East Thermopolis.  From there you head north towards Cody, but not before travelling through Meeteese.  Kid you not, that is the name of a town in Wyoming.
Heading west from Cody we entered the first of three national parks that would consume the rest of our day, leaving us little time to remember to book a hotel room.  Sometimes seat of your pants traveling takes you to places that enter the “you can’t make this sh*t up” club.
        
Shoshone National Park is expansive and beautiful.  Mountains and trees as far as the eye can see.  As you travel through it is as though the trees are touching the sky at points.  Again, pictures are better than words to describe.
         
When you think that the landscape cannot get any more picturesque, you enter Yellowstone National Park.  The route in from the east is really neat.  You go through three tunnels cut into the mountains.
        
As you enter the park proper you are greeted by a series of natural waterfalls on the side of the road, the last of which is dedicated to Lisa and Hannah.
    
Once you get past the falls, from this entrance you are on the far side of Yellowstone Lake.  This area was razed by a fire nearly 20 years ago but looks like it was just yesterday from the lack of new growth.
Rounding around the lake, we get our first glimpse of a local resident.  I made J stop in the middle of the road to take that picture, for which she got a scolding from a park ranger.  She HAS to learn to make friends with local law enforcement better on this trip.
        
Growling bellies getting the better of us, we find a spot by the side of the lake and have a picnic lunch; Yogi & Boo-boo didn’t show up to share our basket of goodies.  Invitation must have gotten lost in the mail.
The Continental Divide crosses the park in three different places.  This is where it crossed at the highest point, 8391 feet.  The adults in our expedition were duly impressed with this fact, the jaded kid was not.
The whole area leading to and from Old Faithful is littered with hot springs.  They are really neat to look at and take pictures near, but true to their name, it gets very hot standing next to them for more than a few minutes.
    
Finally we make it up to Old Faithful at about 6pm.  Being the middle of the summer, and far enough west in a time zone, there is plenty of daylight ahead of us.  Thankfully we are able to not only find spots on the boardwalk viewing area, but are in time for a pretty good show.
On the way back to the car we see this guy trying to hitch a ride out-of-town.
Headed south out of Yellowstone we get our first glimpse of the Tetons.
           
Once in Grand Teton National Park, we pulled over to take some pictures.  By the grace of whomever it is that sits on my shoulder and watches over me, I was lucky enough to experience sunset over the Tetons.  My everlasting gratitude goes out to that angel for allowing me to see that during my lifetime.
Sunset means it’s going to get dark and fast in the mountains.  Mario Andretti is behind the wheel once again, so she steps it up as the realization comes again that we don’t have a place to hang our hats that night.
Doing a pretty good clip through a national park at dusk didn’t seem like a bad idea, until the park ranger passed us going north.  You guessed it, a quick u-turn later and we made another friend.  This time the lights looked much brighter.
Park Ranger Bob walks up to the car, and tells us exactly how fast we were going this time.  No guessing for National Park employees.  Park Ranger Bob begins lecturing us on how many moose have been killed in the park so far this year by speeders.  We have on our best sympathetic faces while listening to these horrible statistics.
To this day I will never know if it was our pathetic feigned looks or the fact he just took pity on two women cramped in the car with a mid-sized dog, a tween and license plates from the east coast with the remnants of enough dead insects on the hood and windshield to prove we had really driven all those miles, but he let us off with a warning.
Thanks Park Ranger Bob!  We promise we won’t speed again here in the park.  True to our word we didn’t speed.  At that point the road was filled with enough people leaving the park that speeding would have been impossible.
We finally get in to Jackson and look for a hotel that is dog-friendly.  Pulling in to the first one we see, I inquire at the desk and sure enough they do have a room for us and love dogs.  That will be $175 for the night ma’am.  Ah, one second, let me just go out to the car and check with my traveling companion.
Back on the main road driving through Jackson we look for another dog-friendly hotel, $175 my foot!  I would sooner sleep in the car.  Half an hour later we are still driving south, looking for a place to stay, but I am too stubborn to have her turn the car back around.
We are driving south, and it is so dark that we can only see the road right in front of us.  When I say dark, I mean eerily kind of dark.  No one is saying anything, just looking around for anything that might jump out into the road at us.  J turns to me and vocalized what we are both thinking at that moment.  You just know we are driving through some narrow pass between two mountains, and that if it was daylight we would have some view.
Finally 40 miles out of Jackson we see a neon sign.  Bull Moose Saloon & Inn.  They are still open thankfully, so we pull in.  It is one of those rustic road-side joints.  Animal heads on the walls, big ol jukebox, stage for live bands on a Saturday night, and knotty pine boards on the walls.
They not only have a room, but the nice lady behind the counter takes one look at me and asks if we have eaten yet today and she will keep the kitchen open long enough for us to go stow our gear, walk the dog real quick and come on down for something hot to eat.  It’s 10:30 on a weeknight.  You don’t find this in the city, this is real America.  People caring about someone other than themselves.  Staying open a bit later because it is the nice thing to do.
That was the best greasy cheeseburger I had all trip.  I was so thankful for the hospitality I even gave the kid a handful of quarters to go play Pac man in the game room.
Full bellies, dog walked and fed, alarms set for our next day’s adventure and off to the land of wynken, blynken, and nod.  I fall asleep that night wondering what awaits us on Day 6.

Day 6

"Gimme back my filet-o-fish, gimme that fish, ooooh"
Yes, the kid picked today's wake up song too.  Grabbing the dog's leash, I head out the door of the Bull Moose Saloon & Inn for her morning walk.  Thankfully I had a camera on hand.
            
Waking up that day 40 miles south of Grand Teton National Park, I knew there were going to be sights to be had, but I had never imagined waking up to this.
    
Couldn't forget to take pictures of our middle of the night find of a motel.  Notice the board, they must have known we were coming.  How do you not stop here, discount beer, liquor, wine, food, lodging AND entertainment?  I joke, but I am thankful for the kind woman behind the desk and her generosity that night.
Pictures taken, car packed, batteries purchased for the car alarm key fob that decided to stop working, tank full of gas and we are on the road.  We are bound and determined to find a way out of Wyoming.  It was nice, but two days in any state is my limit.
    
Sights from Afton, Wyoming.  An arch in the center of town make of Elkhorns, and the local Ford dealership.
We finally ditch going south out of Wyoming for cutting through Idaho and down in to Utah, thinking we have all the time in the world.  Funny how you take time for granted.  I remember thinking then, that we had all the time in the world that day, and only had to make it a decent way into Nevada before having to stop for the day.
     
Sights in Idaho, we weren't there very long.
Hello Utah, our 12th state in 6 days.  Was it really 12 states at this point?  Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho and now Utah.  Oh wait, there was that quick jaunt in to Michigan looking for a bathroom and ending up in the wrong Sturgis. Make that 13 states in 6 days, and the day isn't over yet, unfortunately.
    
There is a lake that runs north-south from Idaho to Utah called Bear Lake.  It is high up in the mountains.  There are parts of the lake that are Caribbean Sea blue.  While we were up there it was odd, one half of the lake was under sunny skies, the other half under dark clouds.  Before we could get in the car the grey skies won out and it started to rain.  It was like the sky was crying way up there.  Sometimes Mother Nature knows more than she lets on.
Onward from Bear Lake and down into Utah towards Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake.  Turns out the Great Salt Lake is shrinking and really wasn't awesome to see.  Bear Lake was much more appealing.
I still had no cell service leaving SLC and into the Salt Flats.  J's phone was in and out, mostly in with 1 or 2 bars out here.  Somehow the important calls always seem to get through even with no bars.  At least they did today.
At this point in the day, we were all pretty quiet, no particular reason, just a lull in the excitement.  It is bound to happen when you have jam-packed days in succession and the Salt Flats, while exciting when you are testing or racing cars, isn't really much to look at.
Then J's phone rang.  Lull over, day over, trip over.  Well, okay, the trip wasn't over, we still had two more states to conquer, but being excited about seeing the sights was pretty much moot.
It was D, the long-time boyfriend of an old friend of ours from high school, L.  L and J had rented a house together a few years back for a while.  They had always stayed closer.  To know L was to love her and still not always understand her.  She could be so full of life and excitement one minute and quiet and withdrawn the next.  She had been that way since I first met her back in middle school.
D was calling J to let her know L had passed away.  The story was a bit complicated, and there were some questions as to some exact details, which are not for public reading.  I will leave it as, she lost her lifelong fight with her demons.
So here we are, driving down the highway, and well, I am still not sure how J kept it together.  She starts making some follow-up phone calls and sorting things out, at least in her head.
Hello Nevada, can you hear me now?
As we cross the border in to Nevada, two things happen.  The dashboard clock automatically changes to the next time zone, and I get cell service back.
The problem with the time change is that I have told the kid he can resume playing his DS at 3:30.  We crossed in to Nevada at 3 pm, except 3pm had just become 2pm.  My son, not one to miss a beat, sees this as he has been watching the clock like a hawk.
Protests begin from the backseat.  "Hey Mom, what just happened?  How did I just lose time?  Do I have to wait more time now before I can play again?"  It is at this moment I am thankful for Nintendo and the games they make.
J and I had phone calls to make, and the poor kid was surely not bound to have much more fun today.  I let him start playing early, feeling badly that the ultimate damper was just put on his awesome summer vacation move across the country trip.
Kid settled back into his games, I turn attentions to J.  All I want to do is be able to stop the car and give her a big hug and let her cry her eyes out, but that isn't J.  She isn't one have that kind of breakdown.  She doesn't do mushy.  Sometimes I have thought her emotions made of steel. I admire her for her composure and her ability to not wear her emotions on her sleeve.
J is angry now.  She is seething.  She was much closer to L and knows first hand of the demons and the fight.  There is nothing I can do to console someone who doesn't want to be consoled, so I drive.
We go through the motions for another hundred miles or so, no one is counting at this point.  We finally pull in to Elko, Nevada and find someplace to stay for the night.  Unpack, dog duty, and off for a pretty crappy dinner, all things being equal.
We head back to our room that night and know California awaits us the next day.  So does J's trip back to New Jersey the day after and wake and funeral no one had planned on happening.
Day 6 had turned out to be bittersweet for me.  One friend welcomed a baby girl in to this world, one friend left this world for the long goodnight.

Day 7

Morning on day 7 came with very little fanfare.  Animals are very keen to changes in the karma around them.  She had stopped eating last night so this morning’s walk was quick and easy.
Trunk repacked for the last time.  At this point it was taking mere moments as compared to the chore it had been at the start of the trip.  Car gassed up, bad pastries and coffee purchased and we were on our way.
Goodbye Elko.
According to the on board navigation we had 525 miles and 8 hours left of our trip.  We needed to get in to Fremont tonight, even against the husband’s protestations of arriving to the new house on Friday the 13th.  Bad luck had already reared its head; I didn’t care about the bad omen possibilities now.
The air beds I had been transporting across the country would be our mattresses until we could go shopping for new ones.  My king size had been 20 years old and moving was as good an excuse as any to finally get a new one.  The kid’s bed was also sent to the curb before we moved, having been used as a trampoline for 6 years, I felt it best to let it die a nice comfortable death in a landfill.
The thought of having to sleep on an air bed tonight was really a nail in the coffin of the sorrow I was feeling.  Already feeling melancholy I wasn’t looking forward to arriving in California now, and the thought of sleeping on the floor increased that feeling.
The ride through Nevada was pretty plain Jane compared to the sights we had seen so far.  Just dry barren mountains and sand.
            
We stopped at a rest stop in Winnemuca where the Humboldt River crosses.  It is part of the old California Trail system.  Trying to get the dog to at least take some water here was a chore.  It was at least since we stopped last night that she had taken water.  This was all affecting her badly.
Further along on our trip on the California Trail we spotted a sign we may have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque, or at the very least, Mars.
After passing through Reno, the quickie divorce capital of the USA, we head toward the NV/CA border.  It was bumper to bumper traffic all the way into California and up to the agriculture check point.
Hello California!  We were lucky to get a shot at all, as the bumper to bumper was caused by construction which at the very moment we were trying to take our “welcome to…” picture, started to move and we were serenaded by car horns.
The checkpoint was different for me.  They actually come up to your car and quiz you on what you are bringing in to the state.  Did you have fruits, vegetables, plants, where did you start your trip, and why are you coming to California?
I was in one of those states of mind that if she had said words other than “Welcome to California, enjoy your stay”, I was going to go Jersey on her.  I was in absolutely no mood for anyone’s bull and just wanted to get to my destination so I could relax on a floor.  The dog not eating or drinking was worrying me and I wanted to get J out of the car so she could get some rest before having to take red-eye flights back across the country that would make her change planes twice and not afford much sleep.
The Sierra’s are a very pretty area to drive through.  We got to see the truck scales on Route 80 that are the stop point when there is heavy snow.  J works for an East coast trucking company whose trucks always get stopped here and she frequently gets on the internet to see the cameras that stream the views.
We pass through Truckee and across the famous Donner Pass.  Table for 3 anyone?
Now we make our way down out of the Sierras toward Sacramento.  There are cut outs in the side of the road every few miles.  They are labeled “Runaway Truck Ramps”, and we found this a novel idea.
Approaching the Sacramento area we are again in bumper to bumper traffic.  It afforded me the chance to snap a picture of this guy on the side of the road.  I wonder how many people whizz by this guy every day and never notice him.
Approaching the bridges that cross the eastern part of the bay, we decided to cross the Martinez bridge and come down the more scenic valley on Route 680 than take Route 80 around Oakland and the traffic at what is now a Friday rush hour.  Driving through Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill into Dublin before crossing east on Route 580 and through Dublin toward Route 880 south we are struck by how pretty the whole area is.
Mountains on all sides, homes with amazing views littering the sides of the mountains, but cars, lots and lots of cars on the highway.  I wonder if this is all the time or just on Friday afternoons during rush hour.
We finally make our way down Route 880 south and pull of the highway in to Fremont.  The sign on the side of the highway when you enter Fremont tells you that you are 57 feet above sea level here. A big change from 8391 feet at the Continental Divide just two days ago.
Half a block from the house, the kid proclaims loudly he has to pee, NOW!  Finally pulling in to the driveway of the new house, and seeing his dad for the first time in a month, he rushes past him to find a bathroom.  He has officially christened the new house.  If that wasn’t proof of christening, the dog gets out and promptly throws up.
Welcome to California!
After hosing down the dog’s welcome gift, real welcome hugs all around are dispensed.  The better half has the look of the Cheshire cat on his face and can’t wait to take us on a tour of the place.  He must be terrible at poker, we knew something was up by looking at him, but had no idea of the wonderful surprises that waited.
Walking around the empty first floor, I felt badly.  He has been spending time in an echo chamber for two weeks, no furniture, and no family, not even a place to sit down and eat a lonely meal.  Playing tour guide, he brings us to the second floor.
He walks us in to the master bedroom and lo and behold, there is a brand new king sized bed waiting for us!  Walking in to the kid’s room, there was a brand new full-sized bed waiting for him.  Gone were the thoughts of going to find a hotel room for the night to allow J to get a decent rest before having to return east.  He is a wonderful guy!  He gets extra big hugs for that!
We get to the unpacking of the trunk.  Oh yeah, those air beds I lugged across the country, not needed now, so they were stowed right into the garage storage space.
The duct tape, scissors, flashlights, and bug spray come out and get put away, thankfully not needed but comforted by the thought they were with us.  Duffel bags of clothes, bags of toiletries/medicines/first aid supplies, bags of snacks, bottles of water, rolls of paper towelling, all the things we just couldn’t live without for 7 days on the road.
Some bad fast food and much-needed showers later we were all ready to not so much turn in for the night as pass out.  Dog was finally eating again, now that she had her whole family back together.  Kid had his brand new big kid bed, no more twin size for him.
All in all, we had a good trip across this beautiful country of ours.  We left the safety and security of the known and ventured out beyond our comfort zone and had some fun despite our fears.  The kid learned to be more spontaneous.  We all learned of the grandeur of the heartland.  We were blessed by the kindness of strangers.  We learned that sometimes goodbye really is and that life is precious and fleeting.  We also learned that old sayings really are true.
There is no place like home and that; home is where you hang your hat.






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