Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Day 3 - Texas: The Setup

I needed to get to south central Texas to visit with Economic Development people in anticipation that Seethuma's Lab would likely be sited somewhere around Houston. 

First stop though was Dallas.  I decided on the 'southern' route as it would give me the most Interstate driving.  Going through Fort Worth and Dallas during rush hour was going to slow me a little at the end of the day.

I was here to meet nephew Erik but he was tied up with work until the late evening so we planned on getting together for breakfast before I turned south.

The plains of Texas offer about the same as New Mexico, ie not much.  Only one view was worth it and it only lasted a few moments, coming out of the high plains of Western Texas to the plains of Central Texas east of Abilene.  Trust me, it wasn't worth the wait.

I'm sure you can see the difference.....not.

There is one thing that I have seen a lot of on this first couple of days that I would see a lot more of:

Wind farms.  Lots of wind farms.  And with VERY few exceptions, more than 3/4ths of those turbines were NOT moving.  Blame the weather, blame the time of year, but I saw a lot more statues than moving generators.

I pulled into Dallas just about 7pm and settled in after a burger and a Fanta.

Day 3 is done.

Day 2 - A Brief Pause

I knew before I got to Clovis that Christopher, Rosann and the girls were going to still be there visiting his parents.  I had surprised Chris and family in Vegas earlier in the month on their way to Clovis but I was going to enjoy a slightly longer visit with them here.

I needed to spend time with Steve to discuss family business but also to reset the clock for the rest of the trip: A sequence of events that would put me in Atlanta at the right time.

After a good night's sleep to recover from the previous 36 hours, bacon and eggs cooked by Steve's wife Marietta along with some pancakes hit the spot.  Steve and Chris were already at work on the back porch when I finished breakfast.  We spent the next several hours basically picking up talking where we left off the night before.  But, we had a whole day and I suggested Rosann and I take the girls to the Mall and wander for a while.

Clovis is not a big town.  It is a military town but Cannon AFB is kind of a backwoods base. And during the heat of the summer, people have a tendency to stay indoors.  It's mall is small and not well endowed.  Still, it offered a few places to stick a head into.

After, we got some drinks at Sonic and headed to a park to enjoy the afternoon.

A little bit of watching the ducks and geese and people fishing in 90+ weather.  And we were ready to go back for some dinner.  The plan for the evening was a rematch of the miniature golf round we had in Las Vegas.  But afternoon thunderstorms are common on the plains and Clovis is close enough to spawn it's share.  By early dusk we were surrounded by nature's light shows.  And fortunately, we got our round in while also getting some go-cart time in.  Ok, "I" didn't race the go-carts but the rest did!

While the surrounding areas were dealing with flooding and violent storms, we were in the eye of the storms and enjoying a warm humid summer evening with a nice breeze.

If you remember the scene from Twister where they were near a Drive-in Theatre getting drinks then you will get an idea of what we were dealing with....minus the tornado crashing the party!.

It was an enjoyable visit and time with family.  Tomorrow, back on the road.

Day 2 is done.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Day 1 - The Starting Gun

Crossing the desert southwest during the day, in the summer, is an exercise in man/machine balance.  The road surface can be hot enough to cook food on and tires can actually get softer as you travel, especially at speeds over 70mph.  And the Sun beating on windows can challenge even the best air conditioning.

So, I cheat.  I make the first day of travel east at night.  Now, the air temperatures don't moderate that much during the peak of the summer, but surfaces tend to let off their heat quickly making it a little easier on the vehicle performance.

I got up as usual and planned on a good nap late in the afternoon.  I left my packing for today because I knew it wouldn't take long.  Except, well, it did.  I started thinking of temperatures and potential weather changes and then tried to minimize the amount of clothes for each potential situation.  Over the years of traveling with CJ and Victoria we had a pretty good system: one big suitcase for Victoria and me, a small suitcase for CJ and a bag with all the toiletries.  A snack bag rounded out our needs.  I was only 1/2 way done packing and the big suitcase was full, as was the small one.  I thought I had a garment bag but had to borrow one for my dresses (just 3) and suits.  But the rucksack bag that had NOTHING but shoes and purses was just nuts!  Sigh....this wasn't going well.  Adding makeup and jewelry and toiletries, and since I was driving, a makeup mirror and light added two more bags.  By the time I was done: two suitcases, garment bag, three overnight bags, a rucksack bag, a book bag, my laptop and two pillows.

I needed Skycap just to get everything TO the car...

Unfortunately, work beckoned and I spent 2.5 hours getting petitions ready that I had not planned on doing.  Along with packing and getting the car ready, it was already 5pm and I really needed a shower. I tried to relax in my chair but if I was leaving by 7pm I didn't really leave myself any time for a good nap. I ended up resting, but not actually sleeping for 45 minutes before getting up and getting myself ready.

7pm came and went with me still sitting in Lemon Grove.  I kept looking at the map of the first leg and realized I was going to be getting to Las Cruces really early.  I had touched bases with Deanna to have breakfast but if I left at 7pm, I'd be getting to LC around 6am.  So, I ordered a couple of pizzas for me to have something to eat and to treat my neighbors for the loaning of the garment bag (that one of them had to go to their storage unit to dig out!).  I ate half a pizza.

I finally hit the road by 8pm with a full stomach and tank of gas.  Oh, and a large Fanta Orange from McDonalds.  That orange was going to be a permanent companion on this trip but I did have my water bottle full and available too.

Trip counter set to 0.  Interstate 8 just a short jaunt away and into the mountains I plunged.  It would be dark by the time I got over them and faced, the desert.

It was in the 90s today in Lemon Grove but here, at 9:30pm, it was 105.  The temperature would not drop below 100 for the next 6 hours.

Traveling across the desert at night is not much different, if cooler, than doing it during the day.  There is nothing to see except vast expanses of barren mountains and scrub brush covered sand.  Hundreds of miles of the same scenes.  Now, if you've never been to the desert, seeing it for the first time is interesting.  I even recommend doing it, during the day, during the summer.  Get somewhere in the middle of it and get off at an exit ramp (there are plenty going to ....no where) and step out of your air conditioned car.

It's a DRY HEAT.

For people used to humidity, it will literally shock you.  My response to 'its a dry heat' is to suggest sticking your head into an oven.  It's a dry heat too.  Well, if the temp is 110+ and the Sun is shining, you'll get a good feel for the next turkey you stick in that well prepared oven.

Traveling alone, on empty stretches of desert highway seems to scare some people.  I find it relaxing.  No music or radio.  Just relax and enjoy the silence....as silent as your car is at 75mph.

Lest you think there is nothing to see if you travel during the day, at least via I-8, there is a place in the desert where it is not brown and shades of sand:

We are so rich, we plant crops in the desert.

Once I passed Gila Bend I would be covering new ground for me.  Normally I would cut north at Gila and head for Phoenix before heading even further north to Flagstaff before heading further east.  But shortly I-8 would merge with I-10.  I-10 and I would cover lots of new ground on this trip but only in segments.

Tuscon was the first stop for gas.  I wasn't going to need it but from Tuscon to Las Cruces, in the middle of the night, my options for gas were going to be limited.  A full tank in Tuscon was going to get me to Las Cruces and beyond.

About 100 miles west of Las Cruces I realized I was still going to be REALLY early.  I had made good time and figured this was a good opportunity to take that nap I had missed all day Friday.  I pulled off and took a good hour nap.  It had finally dropped below 100 and was in the low 90s.  With the breeze and the windows open it was comfortable enough.  Adding in the time change to Mountain and I pulled into Las Cruces at 7:30a, 8:30a local.

I woke Deanna up and got her suggestion for where to meet into Maps and plugged into The Shed.  Like most 'neighborhood' places, it is not a tourist's place.  Deanna came in and we settled into catching up.  For some reason I thought her sister Michelle was in Clovis but nope, she was in Las Cruces too but was working and we couldn't see each other...but I would get a chance to see her shop!

Turned out Michelle was at the shop when we stopped by and I got a tour and a short chance to catch up with her.  While I was saying my goodbyes, their brother Christopher called me.  I left the girls and by 10a I was back on the road talking to Chris and off I-10 headed for my first 'stop', Clovis NM.

Forty-five minutes later, Chris was off the phone and I needed to stop in Alamogordo.  I was getting too sleepy to keep going so I pulled into a parking lot and crashed for 45 minutes.  Long stretches of nothing were now getting to me.  Even if the 'nothing' was actually, something:

I wasn't going to need gas before getting to Clovis but I was going to be under 100 miles left in the tank.  Exactly how much I would have left was going to be an issue.  Turned out that I got the 'Low Fuel' warning just 5 miles outside of town.

The issue was...I didn't remember Steve's address (my brother in Clovis whom I kinda just assumed I could crash with!), AND...my phone had less than 5% battery.  I waited til I go into town before calling and he told me to go to 21st and turn.......phone died.

He wasn't home and figured where I was approximately and got close enough to watch the road for me.  We saw each other about the same moment and I followed him the rest of the way to his place.

Oh, I would have turned the wrong way.

It would be the 2nd longest distance day of travel but at the time I figured it to be the longest time : 995 miles from my house to Steve's.  It had been 21.5 hours since I'd left Lemon Grove.

Day 1 done.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Day 19 - The Search for Victoria's Final Resting Place

Waking up in Kearney the Sun was shining but the haze of humidity made it look like fog had just burned off.  I dressed and packed quickly.  This was going to be a big day of driving.  I didn't get to North Platte as planned but was surprised how close to Denver I was.  I had planned to reach Denver by lunchtime and even stopping short of North Platte was not going to harm that plan.

I got a sausage biscuit, milk and a Fanta and was on the road by 8:15a.  I looked at the mileage and figured on lunch and gas in Denver.  I wanted a full tank heading into the mountains.

As noted, Nebraska doesn't offer much scenic awes.  And the western part of the state is no exception.

The only odd point is that the time zone change doesn't happen at the state border but well before it.  Maybe they just wanted to be considered 'Mountain' to alleviate the 'plain' landscape.  But VERY shortly after crossing into Colorado and getting off I-80 and onto I-76, the landscape changes and we start our slow climb into Denver.  Five thousand feet over the next almost 200 miles of bare rolling hills and bad radio reception.  I hate this stretch.

Not for the lack of views, but because I got a very expensive 30+ miles over the limit speeding ticket on my very first drive through here back in 1978.  Assholes.  I had to travel to the courthouse and pay the fine before being allowed to continue.  It was my SECOND ticket in as many days.  The other was of course in....NORTH PLATTE NE!  I really hate this stretch and though I've driven it 5 or 6 times since without incident...it still grates to this day.

I got to Denver (Alt 5,278': Basically from this point all location signs have ALTITUDE instead of POPULATION figures!  It is more relevant as most places in Colorado are small towns) around 1pm and spent 45 minutes getting some Arby's new Kings Hawaiian Bread sliders, a Fanta and gas.

Maybe it was the weight of the gas or the thinness of the air, but the 'get-up and go' of the car had definitely left.  I climbed out of Denver to Loveland Pass mostly in the right lane as a slow-poke.

And the mileage hit - DAMN! -  as low as 19mpg on some of the climbs.  I didn't start looking for my target sign SCENIC DRIVE until I passed Vail.  By then I noticed that the average mpg was actually better than I expected, over 38mpg.

Okay...not fair showing it as I saw it...during the summer.   Here is a shot of it in the winter.  Just know I've never been there then!

Loveland is generally the last stop if winter storms are slamming Colorado's mountains.  They close I-70 and turn everyone around.  Chains are required to be carried by trucks.  The Pass is dominated by the Eisenhower Tunnel through the mountains.  The tunnel is 800 feet below the Pass' 11,990 foot summit.  I have a picture of me at the actual summit sign taken by Victoria during our 1994 trip through the area.  It is not the only tunnel on this stretch.  Mountain tunnels amaze me.  As a feat of engineering they are more difficult than building 100 story skyscrapers.  Note we have a harder time going to the bottom of the ocean than into space.

I stopped at Grizzy Creek reststop to get ready for what I expected to be a 3-4 hour run in the mountains with no services.  The stop is buried in the canyon along the Colorado River. You can jump into the river, drop a raft or kayak or just walk on the rocks along the bank - something I did with CJ on the trip we found Victoria's Resting Place. Amtrak's California Zephyr runs along the river too and it was passing as I got out of the car.  I waved at it's Observation Car but didn't see anyone return the gesture.  Rafts were making their way past the stop at the same time and I knew from the last time in the area, the water was cold!  A map in the building gave me hope that my goal was soon to be in reach!

Pitstop done, the search intensifies!

Victoria and I passed through Glenwood Springs several times over the years and even CJ liked one of the tourist gift stores we stopped at once.  We occasionally thought of moving to the area just south of Glenwood and changing our last names to Snow.  The mountains are right in your face along the roads and snow is noticeable on the peaks year round.

I didn't really worry that the sign existed prior to Glenwood Springs but watched nonetheless.  At Glenwood Springs I noticed they had a CULVERS!  So I stopped and grabbed a doublescoop chocolate sundae with strawberries and settled in for the search. At the time I thought this was the furthest West Culvers had come but, nope...

It will be the next exit!  Ok...the NEXT exit.  For sure the next one.  Surely it has to be this one, we are getting closer to Grand Junction and I know that is too far.  I set a limit.  Parachute CO was too close to Grand Junction and if I didn't see the sign by then I was going back to Glenwood Springs and take 82 down to 133.  I was fairly certain that WASN'T the right path, but I didn't even see roads going south into the mountains anywhere. 

Forty-five minutes out of Glenwood I hit Parachute and turned around.  It has been 13 or so years since we were here, the sign could have been taken down, destroyed in the winters or I just plain missed it.  By the time I got back to Glenwood it was after 6pm and I only had two hours of sunlight.  Well, three actually because the local time was Mountain and my start had been in Central time.  I didn't change the clock on the car or my notes until I woke up in the new time zone.

Shortly after turning south on 82, I ran into roadwork that dramatically slowed me.  Miles and miles of work with huge (for the location) traffic jams.  I was even out of Fanta but didn't stop.  I finally made it to 133 and was the only car that turned off.  Two lane mountain driving is amongst the most scenic of drives and this was no exception but I also knew, KNEW I was not on the right road.

My only hope was I would come out on the backside close to the right place.  I eventually ended up the middle vehicle of a three car caravan through the mountains.

McClure Pass is just over 10,000 and a 3,300 ft climb out of Glenwood.

It was considerably GREENER when I was there! More than an hour later I hit Delta and knew I'd missed any chance of finding the right spot today.  I headed north to get to Parachute to double check the last stretch of road prior to Grand Junction and get some dinner.  It was getting dark and my choices were to stop in Grand Junction for the night and resume the search the next day or abandon the search this time and just head back to San Diego and more map work. 

I got a burger and chicken sandwich along with another Fanta - I'd been dry for hours and hit the road.  Full on dark as I planned to hit the I-70 / I-15 interchange and figured there'd be a place to crash there.  But before I could get there, I had to cross the STRETCH....

I stopped in Green River and got gas. I figured I could make it all the way, but I didn't want to risk it.  Believe it or not, I was getting 42mpg with all the mountain driving and I had 532 miles on the tank and it said I had almost another 200 still available.  Still, it was almost 10pm, dark and I was crossing a stretch of road with nothing on it.  Really, nothing.  There were times when I went 30 minutes without seeing another vehicle on my side of the road.

The Moon was getting close to full so, turning off my headlights I could just make out the road but at 70mph I wasn't going to risk it for long.  I DID get to see this though even in the darkness:

But the dullness of the ride at this point was not drowsiness inducing.  It was midnight and I'd been in the driver's seat for 16 hours.  Call me the Energizer....or I was just Fanta induced sugar alert.  My plan of finding a place to stay at the interchange was calling me.  I passed through Richfield UT that had plenty of potential sleeping places but I wanted to see how far I would have left to go when I made the turn....

Which had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING around it.  Sigh.  I was going to have to go some distance before finding something.  Fortunately not long.  Less than 30 minutes later I would pull into Beaver UT with a Super 8 right off the exit ramp and plenty of rooms.  It was 2am by my clock and 1am local. 

I had spent 16 hrs on the road, gotten over 40mpg on the gas and traveled over 1,000 miles in a single day.  It would be days before I figured out exactly how far I went: 1,082 miles.

2am.  Day 19 is finally done.