America The Beautiful

It’s been a little over 18 months since Cheryl and I realized our time in Denver was over.  We were broke, and losing our house, and had come to the realization that the Lord had basically closed all the doors for us in the place where we met and fell in love.  The decision was made for us as to where we would spend the next phase of our lives.  We had started praying about whether to move in with my mother in Los Angeles, in the house I grew up in, since quite a while before I lost my job (May, 2009).  We actually started praying about it back in 2007 after we went on a cruise with mom and my sister Toni and brother-in-law Rod, because mom had just had three major medical procedures that year and she was knocked down severely.

Mom’s condition, and the Lord’s closing of doors made our decision, but it still didn’t help with the actual logistics of moving us from Denver to Los Angeles.  We had no money to pay movers, and that pretty much decided how much we would take.  But, on the other hand, we had a 1950 Chevy in the garage, two cars and two motorcycles for which we had to figure out dispositions.  We decided to sell our Honda CR-V (Cheryl’s birthday present from 2001) and my old BMW R80/7 motorcycle (my first road bike!).  With that money, and some help from mom, we were able to scrape together enough money to buy a trailer to move us from Denver to Los Angeles.  I did tons of research and came up with trailers manufactured in Georgia as the “Best” to suit our needs.  So, over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2010, we made a trip across America, to see my daughter Talya and son-in-law Michael Effler in Baltimore (at Ft. Meade where Mike is stationed).  We also were able to head down the Eastern Shore (Virginia) where Cheryl’s folks are and spend some time with them for the holiday.

What a trip it was.  We “Saddled up” and packed all our gear for a 2-week adventure into our Tahoe.  We had to get work done on it first (naturally).  In spite of the truck being only 6 years old, the brakes on it were shot – completely (rotten rotors provided as original equipment by GM), as well as the ABS pump went out on me about 2 winters prior.  I kid you not, GM makes crap these days.  I started doing research to try and find a replacement ABS pump for our 2005 Tahoe, and I found that it might have been any of 5 or 6 different models.  Those were just the models of ABS pump that Chevy used for trucks that year!  What a total SNAFU!  Gads, no wonder they lost so much money for so many years, no standardization, different assemblies on the same vehicle, just utter crap!

We had to also diagnose and fix an electrical problem that had been plaguing us on that truck for several years.  It would not work properly with the lights on for some reason, the turn signals went wild, and a few other symptoms that ultimately we diagnosed as rotten grounding.  The mechanic spent a couple hours trying to figure it out, happily he had seen it before, so knew what and where to look to find the bad ground wire.  It still failed several more times, once on the trip, at which point I just liberally sprayed WD-40 all over the wiring harness attached to the negative post on the battery and it finally went away for good!

Lastly, I upgraded the sound system so we could at least play songs off my iPhone easier.  With the car all set, and Jenica taking care of the animals back home, we got out of Denver on a chilly later November morning headed east on I-70.  We had no idea that first day would be the most exciting driving conditions, you just never know quite what to expect it seems.  It started chilly and clear as we left Denver, and we made good time heading east, past Limon and on towards Kansas.  Near Kansas, there is an area that is known for foggy conditions, and that morning we had what is called “Freezing fog” where when we got to it, just as the sun was coming up, all of a sudden I’m driving along and the windshield just goes opaque with ice!  *YIKES!*

Fortunately, I’ve driven in many conditions, some very difficult, so it didn’t freak me out, and I was able to maintain control while slowing down, and avoid being rear-ended all at the same time.  Cheryl was asleep, and awoke when I slowed and cranked up the heater/defroster to FULL!  She didn’t freak either, I simply rolled my window down and drove that way for a couple minutes, until I had a small “porthole” in the windshield to see through.  Then, after about 15 minutes of full-defrosting, the windshield finally was clear enough to proceed at normal speed, and by then we were out of the freezing fog anyhow.  What a freaky thing though!  I’d never, in 37 years of driving, seen that before!

The rest of that day was relatively uneventful, until we got near St. Louis, our destination for that first day, we passed through Kansas City on the way, and neither of us had been there before.  I kept checking the air-pressure in our tires as I knew that would greatly effect our mileage, and I carried a good quality electric pump to keep them properly inflated (you lose air-pressure coming down from Denver’s 5,200’+ altitude to sea-level).  Oh, that reminds me what else we had to pickup to make the trip, I had installed air-shocks on the rear, along with we had to purchase a heavy-duty load-distributing hitch for the Tahoe in order to be able to pull a 10,000lb trailer.  Anyhow, we got near St. Louis after dark, and it started pouring rain on us.  We are talking torrential downpour.  It was rush-hour, and the roads were crowded, but going the other way, we were headed into the city.  We made it to our hotel, a nice place, cheap rates during the week on for some reason, and we went out and had steak that night, on a coupon we had from somewhere or other.

The next day, our destination was Louisville, so we got up and left St. Louis early, trying desperately to find a post office for some reason, it took us an hour to find the dratted place when it was just 2 blocks from our hotel, we should have walked.  So much for Google Maps.  I tell you, sometimes it’s just better to ask somebody than rely on stupid technology!  Google maps had us like 4 blocks away from where the post office actually was, isn’t that lame?  Anyhow, we did get out of there, and got rolling eastwards again.  I’m trying to remember all the states we passed through, there were so many.  I counted them and it seems to me there were 19 if I remember right.  I would like to have visited more states, and more during daylight as well, but it just wasn’t possible given that we were not “sightseeing” but rather trying to get to my daughter’s place in time for Thanksgiving on Thursday.  That’s right, we left on a Monday morning, so now it’s Tuesday and we headed out of St. Louis.

Dang, I’m remembering it while I’m typing!  I can’t believe I almost forgot about us visiting the Arch. We did manage to sneak in some sights along the way, and the Arch was just too much to miss.  It was a cold day in St. Louis that morning, we pulled off the highway and into downtown, down near the water on the Mississippi River, and we parked on the bank of the river.  Apparently, when the water is low (most of the year) they just use the embankment / levee as a large parking lot, so we parked and walked up to the Arch.  We didn’t go up inside it, since we only wanted to spend an hour there, but we marveled at the architecture, and the beauty of such a simple (conceptually) structure that was so pleasing to the eye.  The surface of it literally shines in the sunlight and we spent some time there warming up and being warmed by the glow off the Arch.  Then, we got our gas and headed on out of town this time on into Illinois (right across the river).  The river was moderately low, typical for November probably.

Illinois was uneventful.  The only thing I noticed about Illinois, that part of Southern Illinois I guess, is that it’s all farmland.  All rural, all agricultural.  That’s good, that’s what I expect to see in the heartland.  Things didn’t look too bad, not yet anyways.  We hadn’t noticed too much about St. Louis, Kansas City had seemed dirty, and unkempt to us, but we barely got off the highway there, and just to get gas.  But the Chief’s stadium was unimpressive, and seemed old and tired somehow.  The area where we had gotten gas was a run down neighborhood filled with liquor stores and cheap eats, most of which we probably would avoid unless somebody told us it was good, know what I mean?

Anyhow, downtown St. Louis was equally bad I suppose, mostly derelict buildings down by where the arch is located, not many businesses doing well down there, as in most large cities I guess, especially back in late 2010!  Farmland looked much better to us, but somewhere along in there we did begin to notice things, signs that America was in trouble, deep trouble.  You notice little things, not at first, but after you see them often enough, they begin to form patterns.  Like the liquor stores all over the place.  Signs on the highway for the lottery.  Signs on the highway for adult bookstores, and adult video stores.  Advertisements for truck stops that tell you that you can get anything at the next truck stop, pretty soon we began to notice that indeed, many of the adult video stores and book stores were integrated into those truck stops.  How sad.  Get your gas, you liquor, your fast food and cigarettes, oh, and while you’re at it, get some sex to go.  We live in a depraved time.

In spite of the grime on the outside, and the moral filth on the inside, America is still beautiful.  We were very much awed and inspired by the Arch, and it revived us and pepped our spirits right up for the drive to Louisville that day.  We proceeded through Illinois to where we crossed into part of Indiana, just the southern most tip of Indiana mind you, right near the Ohio River most of that 150 or so miles, and then across a nice old bridge and on into Louisville, Kentucky!  Louisville, home of Churchill Downs, land of race horses, the start of what I would call the true eastern part of the country.  We didn’t notice that much at the time, but that’s the way it is I suppose, you pass from one culturally distinct area on into the next as you drive, and things blur together to where there are no distinctions, only later do you remember details and things stick out for you as I was saying above.

It seems to me that I should point out to you that Cheryl was somewhat dubious about this whole trip.  The thing she was nervous about was spending 2 weeks together (with me, her husband of course!) in the car, traveling 5,000 miles across America.  She was skeptical because our last couple camping trips had wound up disasters from her point of view:  “Sleeping in a tent in the wind and the cold and the rain is just too much!”  But, when tent-camping “How can one possibly control the weather” I asked her?  She didn’t (naturally) respond to that, rather simply told me she wouldn’t camp in a tent again.  So, now we’re off on a trip to buy a trailer, only it’s a toy-hauler, and not a camping type trailer, not only were we going to be in close quarters, spending money on hotels, but also we’d be bringing back something huge that had only one purpose:  To get us to California with whatever stuff we could afford to carry with us.

Cheryl’s fears aside, I had to plan the trip meticulously, timing the purchase of the trailer online and communicating with the manufacturer to assure there’d be one waiting there for us when we got there.  Then, we had to plan the “Route” to get us to the east coast to see our family, as well as get us south into Georgia and back to Colorado, minimizing stops, while maximizing “Sights” and also adjusting for the fact that we would be towing the trailer on the return leg and so wanting to reduce miles traveled since gas mileage would decrease, how much I could only guess at the time.  It turned out to be very bad, and I had to make mid-course adjustments on the return leg to further minimize miles traveled, since even towing an empty trailer is bad.  What surprised me the most was that when we finally towed a loaded trailer to California, we got better mileage than we had when the trailer was empty!  That’s non-intuitive for sure!

Anyhow, where were we, headed into Louisville, with about an hour or so of daylight left.  We headed downtown, through downtown, during rush-hour again (yes there’s some traffic even in Louisville) and then we headed out of town headed towards the east again, towards the University and Churchill Downs.  We had heard so much about the horse racing track, we just had to see it.  We wound up driving all around it, passing paddocks, stables, huge parking lots, a few open gates, and finally we found the front gate and entered and pulled up in front of the main entrance just as it was getting dark.  Wow!  What a beautiful place.  But, as in all things, the actual thing is often less than you build it up to be in your mind.  It was about a mile from the university, and somewhat connected to the athletic complex of the university (U. of Kentucky, Louisville).  We had passed the Nautatorium, about which I had heard so much as a kid.  I swam competitively as a kid, and Louisville was just one of those “Destinations” for swimmers, American swimmers to be sure.

But we took lots of pictures of the race track, and then headed off to find our hotel.  This time it was a bit of a cheap-o place, 2 stars at best, and it was near the airport.  We parked, got our stuff in there and then went off to find some dinner.  Now Louisville was the city where we had our adventure that I wrote about in another blog article that I called Walk In The Light so I won’t bore you with that story here.  Rather, let me just say that we must always be vigilant, especially when we are in a town that we don’t know, in neighborhood with which we are unfamiliar.  How quickly we can all get into trouble, without Jesus leading and guiding us, I don’t know what desperate situations we might have gotten into!

We got out of Louisville and back onto the highway the next morning.  Note that we were no longer on I-70, we had left that behind the previous day.  Somewhere in Illinois, actually right out of St. Louis, we had headed off a bit southeasterly towards Kentucky.  The road mostly held eastwards though, after splitting a little aways from I-70, so we were mostly just taking what I like to call a “Scenic by-way.”  That part of the country starts to be rolling hills and hardwood forests, it was basically that way from before we got into Indiana, and then across the Ohio river and on into Kentucky.  Kentucky on the other side of Louisville became even more hilly, though I suppose there are those from that area that would call them mountains.  We eventually did pass out of Kentucky and on into true mountain country, into West Virginia.  Talk about a wilderness!  We stopped in one very tiny town to get gas in West Virginia.  The gas station seemed kind of out of the way from town, and I was astounded when the gal who worked the checkout had no teeth.  I suppose I should not have been astounded, she was typical hillbilly or what we commonly associate with that part of the country I guess.

That’s a pretty unusual statement for me to make in reality.  Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t stereotype, nor will I pigeonhole folks to try to make them fit some “Preconceived” notion I have of who they are, or who I think they should be.  I’m pretty much one to take folks as I find them.  Everyone’s equal in my book, I don’t count someone “special” because of who they are, or who they think they are, and I don’t look down on someone just because they are broke or poor, or whatever.  So, I was a bit taken aback by the gal behind the counter at the gas station in rural W. Virginia, but I wasn’t shocked by any means.  Poor Cheryl had to use the restroom, and almost fainted because the place was so dirty and unsanitary.  Now that is hard to deal with for a husband!

If I remember right, I had to stop somewhere further down the road to let Cheryl find a “Cleaner” place to use the restroom, but that’s just something us husbands have to do for our wives.  We also started to see lots of trucks parked alongside the highways in that part of the country.  We might have seen the first ones in Kentucky, my memory is not great on that.  But there were lots of them (pickup trucks).  We didn’t figure that out until after we’d seen quite a number of them, but they were hunters, just stopped by the side of the highway, off in the woods a ways, hunting.  Gads, in the west, hunters have all the fancy ATV’s and such to head off down the trail, in the eastern part of the country I guess they just go a couple hundred yards into the forest, shoot their prize and haul it back to their truck.  Dang!  It was a bit un-nerviing, thinking that some fool might accidentally shoot towards the highway without thinking, but I guess they know what they’re doing.  Come to think of it, I’ve been shot at more often by drunken fools (city slickers thinking they’re having fun) trying to scare me than I have by hunters who are serious about safety and respect their guns and such.  The moral to that story is that guns and alcohol do not mix I guess.

Moving on, we drove up and down mountains for some time, eventually making it through, diagonally through W.Virginia and meeting the Maryland pan-handle somewhere around Cumberland.  Since my daughter Talya and Michael live in Maryland, we were nearing the end of the first phase of our trip, our goal was Baltimore, however, and that was still a good 180 miles (2.5-3 hrs) driving from there.  But, we were now coming down out of the Appalachian Mountains and down to the coastal plain.  We had quite a few hills yet to get through from there, but we were done with what easterners refer to as mountains.  We in the west don’t think much of them as mountains, but we forget they are older and more worn down than our “Young” mountains of the Rockies and Sierras.  It’s really not much use to compare them, they just are what they are, smaller versions of the bigger ones out west.

We got through the bulk of Maryland in good order, but being late in the afternoon the day before Thanksgiving, we ran into quite a bit of traffic as we got into the Baltimore area.  We bypassed Baltimore, but got off on some by-ways that really weren’t too fast either, but we did keep moving.  Now, Talya had given us great directions as to how to get to Ft. Meade, and which gate to get to and so on and so forth.  The tricky part about it is that is where NSA headquarters is located, and if you go in the wrong gate, they can give you a hard time.  So, naturally what did we do?  We went to the wrong gate.  We pulled in around 5p and the guy at the gate is astounded that we don’t have a pass!  I explained to him who we were, where we were going, that my son-in-law Mike Effler was stationed on the base and they in fact live on the base there and all, and they looked us over, checked the plates, and said “You guys drove from Colorado?”  a bit incredulously I thought, we assured them we had driven that far, and they had us pull over and then ran a security check on the vehicle and us, and then nicely gave us perfect directions to the gate on the other side of the base (nearly 10 miles away!).  But we did have to wait while they ran all those checks (about 1/2 hr).  Talya was on the phone laughing at us like “Dad, I told you not to go to that gate!”  I know,  I know, I screwed up, but it was a simple mis-understanding and we were soon back in the right place, and Talya met us at the other gate and off we went to their house in the on-base housing.

With that, I better quit.  This is getting quite long already!  I’ll continue this with a part 2 as soon as I can.  God bless you!


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