Late last spring, my wife, Susie and I received an invitation for a late summer party to surprise my sister-in-law, Julie, on her birthday. Even though the party was to be in California, there was no question that we would go. The only real question we had to answer was how we would make the 2300 mile trip. The answer to that became the subject of last week’s newspaper column which follows:
A TRIP OUT WEST.
Last week, my wife, Susie and I made a whirlwind trip to California to visit my brother’s widow on her 70th birthday. Whirlwind is not really the right word; we stopped doing whirlwind a year or so after we retired. In reality we have been planning the journey since I got an e-mail back in the spring from her son informing us of a surprise party.
My initial impulse was to make a real trip out of the occasion by pulling our RV, Fiona II, cross country and sightseeing along the way. The thought processes that I went through in deciding not to do that are too numerous to elaborate but did include considering 500 mile days behind the steering wheel and a 73, soon to be 74, year old spinal column.
There was also the matter of living in Indiana. Cross country trips should really start in Denver. A starting point anywhere east of the Mississippi river means that a road trip to the central part of the west coast will include a drive across the flatness of Kansas and/or Iowa, depending on your choice of highways. I have nothing against either of those states but with the exception of former President Herbert Hoover’s childhood home in Iowa and the world’s second largest ball of twine in Kansas, there’s not a lot to see along the way. Even with that, we could have taken Fiona II but the decision not to drive, however, was made for me. On the day that we made the choice on how we would get to California, fuel prices jumped about 40 cents a gallon. Regretfully, I set aside any plans for taking Fiona II that far, at least this time.
Our next option was to take the train and as Susie said when I mentioned this; “If you got the money, honey, I got the time.” Train travel requires both. I love riding the rails, though. In fact, I took the Amtrak Empire Builder across the northern part of the U.S. last year. However, I learned on that trip that the best way to travel by train is to purchase sleeping accommodations onboard; 50 hours of continuously sitting upright in a seat is impossible for my aforementioned spinal column. Having a place to lay your head for a couple of nights, however, is expensive, running several hundreds of dollars, depending on when you travel. Meals are included with a berth but since I’m on a diet, I didn’t want to have to eat 3 meals a day just to get my money’s worth. That meant curling up in a couple of empty seats on nights for 8 or so hours. This is great if you’re 10 , 20, 30 or maybe – if you’ve led a clean life – even 40 years old, but trying that when you have a Medicare card in your wallet means you will greet the sunrise looking – and feeling – like Quasimodo. Still, I love trains enough that I was willing to spend what little is left of our kid’s inheritance to get to California by train. However, the travel schedule would have deposited us in a deserted downtown Sacramento at midnight or later. Since Arnold Schwarzenegger is no longer Governor of California, he could not be counted on to be in town to rescue us if the need arose. The train was out.
That left only hitchhiking, airline travel or possibly wagon train options. The fascination that our entertainment industry has with serial killer stories has already left me with visions of Hannibal Lecter munching on my liver, prompting an end to any thoughts of thumbing it. Same with the wagon train; I have read the story of the Donner party.
So we ended up flying; my aversion to airplanes is already well known amongst my friends and my 6 regular readers so I won’t elaborate on that, either. The plane got us there without incident and my sister-in-law was taken aback when we all jumped out of our hiding places and yelled ‘SURPRISE’. The look of astonishment on her face was well worth the plane ride.
I just wish my brother could have been there to see that look.
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Does forsaking a long road trip mean that our vagabond lifestyle is coming to an end? I wish I had the answer to that question. We are getting older; after all, we’ve been at this almost 12 years. A friend of ours just sent me a note announcing that they are undertaking a life changing move from Jasper, Indiana to the Seattle area to be closer to their children. He used the term ‘twilight years’ in making the decision to relocate.
I really like that phrase,’ twilight years’ , but I don’t think we’re quite there yet.
A few days before our departure, I watched a PBS special on the Lincoln Highway that crosses the USA and right away, I wanted to cancel the plane tickets and get our truck ready for a cross-country drive. There are so many things to see once you get to mid-Nebraska on I-80.
One thing that gave me pause was that a section of the Lincoln Highway across Nevada is also named ‘America’s loneliest road’. Undoubtedly I would not have made a good pioneer because the ‘lonely’ part did not sound appealing at all. Common sense, or rather, the calendar finally prevailed. There was not enough time left before the party to mosey along, stopping to smell the roses along the way. It would have required a ‘hell bent for leather’ drive and I wasn’t up to that. So we flew and the only scenery we saw was the interior of the Denver airport and what may have been the great salt lake from 38,000 feet. I could not say for sure.