A trip across the width of America does not compare with what early settlers endured, but the enormity of picking up stakes and transporting one’s belongings is not easy.
I did not attempt a transcontinental move alone. My partner, Alice McCormick, managed all the packing for our large home and left me only responsible for belongings in my computer workroom. All the cardboard boxes and furniture were gradually stacked in our two-car garage.
On Friday morning, Sept. 12, our 2010 Ford Escape, aka Betsy, was packed to the brim, courtesy of a Vietnam Vet who has flown by the seat of his pants more than once. Betsy was jammed with two computer towers, monitors, keyboards and mouses; as well as suitcases, plants, miscellaneous bags, clothes, dishes, silverware, large stuffed pillows along with one potentially cantankerous tabby cat named Millie, including all the litterbox/food paraphernalia that goes along with properly managing a personable animal in her carrier. And yes, we had to make sure she could see us along the way.
There is not much to say about scenery during the exhausting, monotonous drive from eastern Pennsylvania, until our arrival in Colorado to spend a night with Alice’s son, Eddie, and daughter, Joanie. Our visit with them will be described in the next installment of this chronicle.
One lowlight along the way grasped my full attention. When we left Doylestown, and every time Betsy was turned on thereafter, her instrument panel warned we needed to check the fuel filter insert. The Ford Escape was not equipped with a gas cap; some devilish insert was meant to be an improvement. Instead, its apparent malfunction provided me with a maniacal degree of heightening uncertainty.
Our first overnight stay was at a Motel 6 in Dayton, Ohio. We arrived close to 10 pm, because of a traffic jam caused by construction on Interstate 70, where three lanes of one-way traffic were constricted into only one lane. One of the hazards of traveling after dark these days is running into overnight construction zones, some of which extend five miles or longer.
Most interstates throughout the East and Midwest have become overloaded with truck traffic, and the only logical solution for improving, or maintaining, these roads is keeping them open during the day and scheduling work overnight.
Alice and I were pleasantly surprised by Dayton’s Motel 6 kingsize bed and comfortable room. Even Millie liked it. The adjacent Waffle House provided an early Saturday morning breakfast, and we hit the road with fresh energy to navigate highways through Indianapolis, St. Louis and Kansas City.
Every expressway exit offered plenty of gas and fast food. But looking at the absurd physiques of long-haul drivers and other assorted travelers we left behind in Pennsylvania and West Virginia – and those we would encounter in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas – were a constant reminder of the wretched state of nutritious sustenance available on the road.
What is this disgusting legacy of corporate fast food being foisted upon an unsuspecting America in this country’s heartland? We ate warily and pounced upon any seemingly independent eatery when our appetites required relief.
Saturday night was spent at another Motel 6 in Topeka, Kansas. Dirty air vents, soiled blankets and a cramped room in an unsightly hovel managed by a cigarette-smoking, tattooed fat lady became obstacles to a night’s sleep. In the morning, Millie was more ready to leave than the near-comatose wrecks Alice and I had become.
A Sunday drive through the width of Kansas prairies and badlands are best forgotten, broken only by large windmill farms offering picturesque relief. The only highlight was a succession of billboards for 100 miles proclaiming an adult bookstore lay ahead. When we finally passed by it, we laughed to see a fundamentalist Christian billboard proclaiming the saving grace of God and Jesus on the backside of the bookstore’s identifying signpost.
A hundred miles before Colorado, the “Check Fuel Filter Insert” warning disappeared, migrating into a menacing CHECK ENGINE light. I started to become apoplectic, looking around at the uninhabited, uninviting landscape unfolding around us, with Alice trying to rally my spirits. I began to count the miles to Denver, wondering where we would break down and how this adventure appeared to be doomed.
Well, we didn’t break down, but we lost our GPS driving through Denver, plodding through the city’s expressways while keeping ahead of the expected traffic that would leave the Denver Broncos home game being played while Betsy continued to keep pace with the cruise control.
We skipped lunch entirely, as Alice sent text messages to her son in Bailey, Colorado, where the altitude was 8,500 feet – and I mean this literally and figuratively – high. With uncertain cellphone reception on both ends of Alice’s ongoing communication with son and daughter, we climbed US Highway 285 for 30 miles into the Rockies, hoping against hope a signpost would guide us into a safe haven.
I drove beyond the quarter-mile-long town of Bailey into a winding, scenic canyon where signs cautioned a private driveway ahead, a voice on the phone exalted, “Oh there you are; we see you. Turn in the driveway.”
I hit my brakes hard and barely stopped in time to keep from overshooting the turnoff, waited for oncoming traffic to clear and thankfully executed a sharp left turn into the dirt driveway of a settlers’ community nestled on a sloping mountainside.
We made it this far, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
This narrative accompanied by many photos continues on another page. Click here to read and see more.