Once upon a time (May 2006), I relocated from Olympia, Washington to Palm Coast, Florida. For those not familiar with the geography, that’s a diagonal move across the USA of approximately 4000 miles/6500 kilometers.
When the subject of the trip came up, both before and after, most everyone agreed, “That’s a long drive!”
I would chuckle and reply, It’s all down hill once you cross the Continental Divide!
The trip was motivated by family considerations. That’s another story. As a very special bonus, for a large part of the trip, I had the company of my twenty-six year old son.
He was done with his season of instructing snow boarders in Park City, Utah and was en route to, Argentina. That’s another story, too. Briefly stated he likes winter and they have theirs when we have summer; and he had met a wonderful woman from the southern part of the Americas, in Park City.
Our intension was to drop by the Atlanta, Georgia airport where he could connect with a jet.
I had an elaborate plan and had charted a scenic route. We held to those ideas for about four hundred miles. Then we just drove from were we slept to breakfast and then to another place to eat and another place to sleep.
My well laid out itinerary had us staying the first night in Gallatin National Forrest, just north of the Mammoth Hot Springs entrance to Yellowstone National Park. We overlooked the time zone change and underestimated the time distance ratio.
We missed the campground that dark night.
The fail safe backup was that we would just end up in Yellowstone. I had wanted to get there during daylight to pick a nice spot for the tent.
Best laid plans and all that.
I had never been to Yellowstone. I had heard that there were bears there! I have a modest bear phobia. Normally I call it a healthy respect, but in truth it’s more of a primal fear.
After a long day on the road, which included one near fatal encounter, we settled into a deep sleep. (We were narrowly missed by a huge tire as a Semi practicing detachment crested the Montana pass.)
You picked a fine time to leave me loose wheel …
It was barely light when I was yanked from my sleep by the sound of heavy breathing. Not heavy breathing like a nasty phone call. Heavy breathing like a bear checking to determine if we had any candy bars.
I’m of the Love or Fear school of crisis management. So, I just lay there silently singing, Love, love, love, love… as an addendum to the ever popular ditty, “The bear WENT over the mountain …!”
I successfully lulled myself back to sleep for at least eighteen seconds. Then I noticed my son stirring.
Hey, there’s a bear out there! You didn’t bring any food in here did you?
My son wakes up very slowly.
“Nah! Come on!”
He poked his head out and started laughing.
“You better get your camera! They’re pretty big!”
I got somewhat more anxious.
Then he said, “Relax dad, it’s just a few of Buffalo.”
To which I responded, Well, they have pointy horns!
He reminded me that they are vegetarians, so we got out of the tent and took their picture.
It was in an adjacent town that we learned to mosey, as we window shopped and looked for burgers. So, after lunch we moseyed on down to Tetons National Park.
We found a great campground there. We were headed into the back loop when we started to encounter old snow drifted across the road. Just little patches that were a foot or so deep. They were somewhat dense and my car was so loaded down we dared only plow through a few. We did make it back to where we couldn’t see the smoke from our neighbor’s fire.
We set up the tent, collect a huge pile of wood, built a gigantic bonfire, got out the lap top, downloaded all the days digital photos for review and editing; which I did as my son called his girl friend in Argentina with his cell phone.
Twenty first Century Camping! For the rest of the trip we kidded about getting a satellite dish for our next adventure.
We went southeast down through Wyoming. That’s where the deer and antelope play. Deer are pretty normal looking, but those antelope look alien, to me. I realized that I had been conditioned to only seeing them in a zoo. Most of them lay around waiting for rain, but I actually saw a few playing. (I leaned that antelope can run 30mph. None of its modern predators can top 20mph, but once upon a time there was something that helped it evolve that speed. Probably some kind of bear!)
As for the “It’s all down hill once you cross the Continental Divide!”, that turned out to be a relative statement, which applied only to water. We zigzagged across that Divide several times.
If you haven’t traveled through the West there is a very big bump in Colorado (10,000 feet/3050 meters. Once we crept to the top of that pass, it was much easier goin’ until we hit our first traffic jam in Denver. Kansas was a breeze because off the tail wind.
I found it substantially more enjoyable to have my path obstructed by buffalo and bear watchers than a morass of carbon monoxide spewing monsters. C’est la vie!
We stopped at a farm in Missouri for a couple of rejuvenating days. It takes a fair amount of energy to push all that asphalt and cement under the tires.
It was good to see my old friends and it was a special pleasure to soak in their huge bathtub.
From there we rolled on down to Georgia where we discovered that state parks lock their gates at nine o’clock. That was the only night we spent squished in our respective seats, fitfully seeking sleep. My son said it was good practice for his forthcoming flight to South America. I didn’t need any preparation for that type of event, but it is always good to practice empathy.
Once we started back down the road, we began commiserating about not feeling rested. We chose to saunter (almost said mosey; however, we were in Georgia) off 75 and take a nap on the banks of Allatoona Lake. We slept much better horizontally in the cool morning breeze.
Since we were so close to Atlanta with plenty of time to spare, once we awoke we moved over to a sheltered site on a spit jutting out into the lake. I had a recently released snow boarding movie that neither of us had seen. So, in one of those rare father son moments, with other fathers and sons fishing to the north, to the east and west of us, we sat snuggly at a picnic table and watched “First Decent” on the laptop.
The credits rolled, we packed up and trudged to the airport.
No matter which airport I have ever driven into, they all have that frenetic, borderline chaotic, energy. We had done so well earlier in the day with empathy that we decided to try patience and tolerance as a mid afternoon snack.
Patience and tolerance received mixed reviews. Next was the embodiment of poignant ambivalence. There was a wash of emotion as we parted.
I felt a strong desire to have some quiet time to reflect on our recently shared adventures, give thanks, down-shift and decelerate towards my new lifestyle.
I still laugh at myself, because the first thing I did was fill up the tank and loose the gas cap.
I was distracted.
It was only a short hop to the coastal town of Savanna. I arrived just before sunset. The tidal grasses were swaying in a gentle breeze and the sun was bathing them in ever darkening shades of gold. I was most impacted by the smell of low tide. It’s not the same as the Pacific. It was more pungent and reminiscent of clam digging days in Rowayton, CT’s Five Mile River.
That local is ever present in my memories.
I was headed to Palm Coast to share the final season(s?) of my Father’s life. He had stayed with his father in that river front Rowayton home and now it was my turn to sit with him.
The adventure was behind me. My son was reuniting with his sweetheart in Buenos Aires. I decompressed amongst the largest congregation of squirrels I’ve even seen or heard and re-affirmed my choice. Florida was familiar to me. I had spent ten years in the Ft. Lauderdale area. So, I was going back in time, as well as, ahead into a foggy future.
I hadn’t seen my dad in five years. I had last dropped by on my way out: from Pompano Beach to Olympia in 2001. His wife passed away a week after we visited. He was a shell of his former self – still had a hard shell, but I sensed it was now brittle with many cracks.
Yeh! That’s another story!
I was long accustomed to being connected to supportive people. I highly recommend it. I quickly made contact with groups in that area. One meeting would recommend another gathering and I soon was laying down my dollar all around the county and spewing my stories into a plethora of stranger’s ears.
It had repeatedly been suggested that I check out a bunch who met on Flagler Beach. There were two ways to get there: the short direct route over the toll bridge or the toll free long way around.
Hey! An adventure! … and I would save 50 cents.
The road was kind of dull. There were bunchs of scrub pine, not much development, some condos back off the road out of view, so some fancy entry gates, but mostly swampy. I was tooling along a nice straightaway; just being mellow; doing the posted 55. I happen to glance in my rearview mirror and was transfixed by the rate the car, way back there, was gaining on me. When I looked back at the pavement ahead … yikes … there was a big stick in the road. I instantly judge the best course was not to swerve, but straddle it.
Thump, thump, thump.
You guessed it! It wasn’t a stick. It was an alligator. I think it jumped when I passed over it. Then it was bounced around and was spit spinning out the back. I caught its aerial act in my side mirror. Coincidentally, that other car had rolled right up on my tail just as the reptile launched. Bam! It went right across their hood and smacked the windshield. (hahaha – instant karma for a tailgater.)
You shoulda seen the look on their faces.
They pulled over, so I stopped too. I had to back up a little. I got out and joined them behind their car. They had the beast on its belly and were pouring something over it.
What the heck is that? I asked.
“What?” condescendingly replied the wife, “You never heard of Gator Aid?”
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