Now that we are settled, not at home but nearby, and I have a little time to relax and reflect on our cross country journey, I find the horror and misery of the trip fading and being replaced with happy memories. I even look forward to travelling more. I cannot wait to visit Montana, my father’s family’s home. The Pacific Northwest beckons. And my next destination is absolutely Maine, home of my idol, Stephen King.
For now though, I am just going to look back on the memories I recently made and the one thing that stands out the most is Colorado.
We woke on a Wednesday morning in Beaver, Utah and set that day’s goal for Denver, Colorado. According to the GPS we would arrive at 7:30 PM. Yeah. Not so much, but we will get to that. Since we had finally dropped our load and the roads in Utah were fantastic, I volunteered to drive. I crossed Utah without incident and made it exactly one mile into Colorado. The change in terrain was immediate and drastic. Suddenly we were on top of the world with no guard rails! I pulled over and let Tim take the wheel again and that was definitely the right decision. We wove our way through the Rockies for the rest of the day and late into the night. The GPS continuously readjusted its time frame. 8:30. 9:30. 10:30. Even Tim, who is a confident and experienced driver, was driving at about half the speed limit. We finally decided we needed to get a hotel room for the night but were unable to find a room, even in Vail! So we forged ahead. And that’s when it started to rain. We pulled into a rest area determined to just sleep in the car until dawn. So naturally, the rest area had an hour parking limit. Again, we forged ahead. Mostly it was a nightmare driving the Rockies at night, but there were highlights we enjoyed; the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel was especially enjoyable because when we emerged on the far side, we had left the rain behind us. Glenwood Springs was lovely and graced us with a beautiful rainbow. And it was really, really cool to cross the Continental Divide (especially since it meant we were halfway home!).
We stopped for the last time around 11PM, ate dinner and forced ourselves into making the final push for Denver. This leg of the journey is when I learned that Colorado has quite the sense of humor. As we finally spotted the glittering lights of Denver laying ahead of us, we also spotted this:
And then this:
It didn’t scare us though; we had finally reached our destination. At 12:30AM, a full five hours later than the GPS had originally indicated. We checked into the first Motel 6 we came across and passed out. We woke the next morning, bright, early and horribly ill. Now if you scroll back up and take another look at the Loveland Pass/Continental Divide sign, you will note that the elevation was near 12,000 feet. Turns out there is such a thing as altitude sickness. Who knew?! The symptoms were mostly flu like with awful headaches. It was tempting to take the day off and stay in bed, but there was something very special awaiting me in Denver.
Three years ago, my dear friend Lynne set off on a year long cross country trip (she’s tougher than me) and finally settled in Denver. So we forced ourselves up and out and headed downtown. Lynne is the only friend we had the opportunity to visit along the way and it was totally worth it. She took us on a walking tour of her very cool neighborhood; we saw a real life hooker (pretty shocking for this small town girl) and a cannabis dispensary. We spent the afternoon catching up and then headed back to our hotel to “nap”. That nap of course wound up lasting all night and we woke the next morning feeling even worse than we had the day before. So we chose to cut our Denver visit short, in favor of descending to a lower elevation and set our sites on Kansas. Before we left Colorado behind, though, the state surprised us with one more of their uniquely, hilarious signs.
On I-70, the mile marker sign for mile 420 has been replaced by mile marker 419.99. The reason? 420 is an iconic number to the many potheads who have flocked to Colorado since they legalized marijuana in the state. After replacing the sign numerous times following thefts, they decided to eliminate it altogether and replaced it with 419.99. Hands down, Colorado has the most clever road signs in all of America. Thank you for that Colorado. Hopefully some day I will only remember Lynne and the signs, and forget the horror of driving the Rockies at night in the rain and the misery of altitude sickness.
Five weeks ago, we set out in our RV for our first cross country trip. The destination was California; the point was to deliver a tow behind pizza oven and four cabinets to their new owners. Murphy’s Law ruled the trip from the get go. We broke down four times between our home base in South Carolina and Mississippi, where we finally blew the motor in our 1984 Winnebago. We regrouped in Tupelo, Mississippi, rented a truck, loaded up the dogs and set off again. The rental truck, a 2015 Tahoe, got us all the way to our destination and home again but that doesn’t mean the trip was without a hiccup or two. The following is a few of my best travel tips, guaranteed to keep any road weary travel from pulling out their hair.
Show Some Love for LOVE’S
With over 200 locations nationwide, Love’s truly is a traveler’s best friend. You can always count on Love’s for safe, quality fuel at reasonable prices. They always have a variety of food choices and a wide selection of incidentals essential for any successful road trip, from phone chargers to tampons. Many Love’s feature pet areas for your furry friends to stretch their legs and showers for filthy men who have spent hours under the RV. On more than one long, lonely stretch of road, the Love’s sign in the distance gave us the strength to push on a few more miles. And if that isn’t enough to convince you, the friendly staff at Love’s is more than happy to unlock your rental car, free of charge, after your furry family locks you out.
Get Off The Beaten Path
Due to budget and time restrictions, the first half of our trip was spent strictly on America’s vast and awing interstate system. With a little more freedom, the trip back home allowed us to be tourists a bit. My first recommendation: stop at every scenic outlook! There’s a good reason the government chose to spend the money to provide these spots. They provided the most beautiful pictures from our trip and gave us a chance to see amazing landscapes not visible from the highway. My second recommendation: just go ahead and fall into the tourist trap!!! By far my favorite stop of the trip was at Prairie Dog Town in Kansas. We first saw the signs advertising the world’s largest prairie dog and six-legged cows about an hour before stumbling on this micro-zoo. Owned for 45 years by a Vietnam War veteran, this project is clearly a labor of love and just made me feel good about my fellow animal loving Americans. As a matter of fact, the place is for sale, but only to the “right person”, someone willing to love and care for these buffalo, peacocks, wolves and all their friends. So if anyone would like to invest $300,000 I will gladly pack my red shoes and change Violet’s name to Toto and head for Kansas!
Motel 6: They’ll Leave the Light on for You and for Fido, Too
Halfway through our journey in Los Angeles, sitting in the parking lot of the second hotel to reject us that night due to their pet policy, exhausted and hungry, I made the most thrilling discovery of the trip, possibly my life. With the exception of one location in New Jersey, all Motel 6’s take pets. For free. Seriously, pets stay free. I don’t really think there’s much more to say, but for those of you who need more convincing, I’ll continue. If it’s luxury amenities you’re after, just keep driving. But if you are looking for a clean, affordable place to catch a little shuteye and a shower, Motel 6 is your home away from home. Motel 6 consistently had the lowest prices all across America and we never experienced any problems like noisy neighbors or dirty rooms. As a pet owner I especially appreciated that many locations have forgone carpet in favor of easy to clean hard surfaces. As a traveler, I appreciated the comfortable beds and endless hot water. The killer sunset from the heated pool in Beaver, Utah didn’t hurt either, much like the cheapest room of our trip, which we found in Las Vegas just minutes of the strip.
Knowledge is Power
Opportunities to learn abound along the road. Welcome centers and rest areas often have educational postings and displays. We learned about plant and animal life indigenous to the Rockies while waiting out a late night storm. I got to say, ” hey honey, come look at this poop” while learning about animal scat in the ladies room of a welcome center in the Mojave desert. Tim was mortified; the park ranger amused. In Utah, we visited the St. George Dinosaur Discover site at Johnson Farm. We got to lay our hands on real dinosaur tracks perfectly preserved at this sadly underfunded historical treasure. I had a close encounter with a vicious and beastly lizard on a roadside in Arizona when we stopped so I could see how the mountain felt.
Every stop is a chance to gather a little knowledge and everyone knows knowledge is power.
We are still busy packing and preparing ourselves, the dogs and Minnie Winnie for the road, but we wanted to take a moment today to share our armageddon playlist.
In no particular order:
1) Its the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine), R.E.M.
Sales of the 1987 single soared leading up to the highly anticipated Mayan apocalypse on December 21, 2012.
2) Don’t Fear the Reaper, Blue Oyster Cult
Rolling Stone’s Song of the Year in 1976, Stephen King quotes lyrics from Don’t Fear the Reaper in his legendary apocalypse tale, The Stand.
3) All Along the Watchtower, Bob Dylan
Famously covered by Jimi Hendrix in 1968, All Along the Watchtower is featured on Battlestar Galactica, where assigning numeric values to the song’s notes spells out the coordinates for Earth bringing the last few human survivors home.
4) The End, The Doors
Originally written about a break up, The End eventually evolved into the 12 minute track featured in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film, Apocalypse Now.
5) Eve of Destruction, Barry McGuire
A protest song, written in 1965, Eve of Destruction is littered with political references pertinent to the time, including the Alabama race riots and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
6) Radioactive, Imagine Dragons
Called “strangely intense and abrasive” by IGN, Radioactive became the best selling rock song of all time in the United States in May 2014.
7) Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival
Writer John Fogerty says the song is about “the apocalypse that was going to visited upon us” and has been known to sing the commonly misheard lyrics, “there’s a bathroom on the right” during live performances.
8) 1999, Prince
In 2007, Prince relented and allowed the apocalyptic party anthem back onto his set list after vowing following a 1999 New Years Eve concert to never perform the song live again.
9) Zombie, The Cranberries
Written in 1993 about victims of an IRA bombing, Zombie is loaded with warnings of the dangers of war.
10) Gimme Shelter, The Rolling Stones
Inspired by the Vietnam War, Gimme Shelter has been used in countless films and commercials and covered by too many artists to count.
After months of endless shopping, four weeks we purchased our first recreational vehicle. The rolling home we will use to visit 49 states and two foreign countries at least. She’s a 1984 Minnie Winnie and it was love at first sight.
To say this has been an educational process would be severely understating the situation. We needed to be sure our traveling home is safe to begin with. New tires are the first no brainer. Easy enough, right? Nope! It turns out that the tires we need quit being manufactured long ago. For five long, fruitless days we searched along with Good Sam and countless tire shops. Finally, we drove an hour away from home to Savannah, Georgia and searched junkyards until we found 6 modern 8 lug 16 inch dualie wheels. Eureka! Problem solved. We got new tires on them and squished ourselves and all six giant wheels into our tiny two door Mercedes. We had a mobile repair service come put them on in our yard and finally felt safe to journey onward.
The Great Tire Hunter of 2014 wasn’t the only time and resource consuming project going on this last month. We’ve had fluids to change and belongings to sort through. We’ve never felt a joy so pure as the moment we fixed that closet door. And who could forget our first dump site (and the missing hose we must have lost along the way)? We’ve begun the process of moving in and made huge strides in the exterior overhaul. She’s black now and with some fun additions she will be ready to take on Armageddon. Check back for more on our renovation projects later.
All this hard work has led us to a rainy Sunday afternoon, at Hunting Island State Park in Beaufort, South Carolina. We are out in the Minnie Winnie with all three dogs for an overnight test run. We have marshmallows, we have power and water, we have board games. We were pleased to not encounter any issues either in transit or during set up. Everything we have loaded up thus far stayed where it was supposed to. The new tires vastly improved the smoothness of the ride resulting in a much quieter ride. We still have some kinks to work out, like how to work the hot water heater, but all in all we are feeling pretty confident we can handle whatever North America can throw at us.
We are taking the day off to celebrate our anniversary, but we thought you might enjoy a peek at some of Myrenthia’s favorite books, which inspired her love of preparation and survival.
5) The Dark Tower, Stephen King, 1982-2012
While not strictly apocalyptic, The Dark Tower series is predominately set in a future version of our world that has been devastated by a cataclysmic event.
4) On the Beach, 1957
Set in Australia, On the Beach focuses on select individuals and how they cope with impending death as radiation makes its way to their homeland following a nuclear war.
3) The Road, 2006
The Road follows a nameless father and son as they search for safe haven following an unspecified apocalyptic event.
2) Swan Song, 1987
Swan Song carries an inspirational story of hope in the midst of the devastation as Swan and her companions travel post apocalyptic America.
1) The Stand, Stephen King, 1978
The Stand follows a broad cast of characters as they travel, reestablish civilization and engage in the ultimate battle between good and evil in a world ravaged by plague.