Island Living, Canadian Style

Per typical for us, planning for our latest road trip began with a couple of destinations in mind, then grew organically as we thought of more things to do and then strung it all together. When all was said and done, we were gone 50 days, traveled over 8,500 miles, visited 14 states and 4 provinces (Canada).

The primary impetus for the trip was to visit our friends Sted and Robin, who invited us to spend a couple of weeks with them on their island on Georgian Bay, in Ontario, Canada. Yes, they have their own island and compound where they’ve spent every summer for the past thirty years.

Sted and Robin also have a home in Annapolis, MD, which they generously opened to us while our son attended the Naval Academy, and which basically became our second home for four years. Sted and my husband rowed crew together as midshipmen at the Academy, but we became close friends with them during our son’s stint in Annapolis.

During the many hours we spent with Sted, he spoke tenderly about Georgian Bay. His grandparents and parents owned lake cottages there, and he recalled how summers in Canada were his fondest memories from childhood. Many friends and relatives from Cincinnati, OH (his hometown) also summered there. Shortly after turning 40, he talked Robin into buying their own place on Georgian Bay, and they have spent every summer there since. Their four kids and 7 grandchildren grew up going to the island. It was always clear to me that Georgian Bay is key to Sted’s heart, and only by visiting would we truly know him.

Our ride is here!

Our ride is here!

With that in mind, and dearly missing Sted and Robin since our son graduated, we accepted their invitation to visit the island this summer (not an easy proposition since we live in Southern California).   In late July we left home for our trek across country on the Lincoln Highway (see my previous post The Lincoln Highway for that part of the trip). On August 11, we pulled into the marina at Pointe au Baril, ONT, parked our car, and waited for Sted and Robin to pick us up. Ten minutes later, they appeared in their 20-ft motor boat, loaded our suitcases and took us to the island.

The island

The island

After hearing so many of Sted’s island stories, I had a mental picture of the place, but didn’t know exactly what to expect. I had imagined a bay, with the various cottages in a rather straight line along the water. Instead, we discovered a vast body of water (Lake Huron) with inlets and islands dotting the bay, requiring navigation through a maze of twists and turns. Their island compound was about what I expected, but more comfortable, although not at all ostentatious. There was a dock for the boats, then a short walk up to the main cabin (where we stayed). They have two small guest houses (for their two daughters with kids) and their own small cottage on the opposite side.

The view from the main cottage

The view from the main cottage

We spent 12 blissful days on the bay, and got a real taste for island living. Every morning, my husband would go down and take a dip off the dock (it was a little too chilly for me, but I never tired of telling him to go jump in the lake). We woke at our leisure, made our own breakfast and lunch, and then had dinner together. There was no TV, and unless we had something planned, we spent our days reading, writing, talking, or napping. One day, we took Sted’s large boat out to Western Island harbor, jumped in the water, and grilled hamburgers and hot dogs onboard for lunch. Another morning, my husband joined Sted’s mens’ kayaking group for a morning paddle. As I waited on the dock to take pictures, I was astonished to see an armada of old guys in kayaks sweep around the bend. Later in the week, I reprised most of kayak route with my husband and Sted. The up-close views of the landscape and wildlife were breathtaking from the quiet of a kayak.

Another beauty of life on the bay is that, as an alternative to the solitude of the island, one can enjoy an active social life. During our time with Robin and Sted, we accompanied them to two cocktail parties, one dinner and a morning Bible study on other islands. We simply dressed up (a little), got in the boat, and motored over to the other island, where we were typically met at the dock by our hosts, who greeted us and helped tie up our boat. On our last Friday evening, Robin and Sted hosted a dinner party, and we spent a fair amount of time helping them prepare. We learned that menus are often driven more by what ingredients are available in the cottage, or at the small store at the marina. The only alternative is to take the boat to the marina, pick up the car and drive 45 minutes to the grocery store in the nearest town.

As comfortable as our island stay was, we were appreciative of the hardiness and resourcefulness of the Bay community.   Each island must be largely self-sufficient. They each have their own septic and power systems, and many don’t have electricity. Any large equipment for repairs or building must be brought in by barge. To go anywhere off the island requires a boat trip – day or night, good or bad weather – and most residents, from older kids to adults, are skilled in boating. Robin talked of her first few summers on the island, unfamiliar with water life, when she was basically left to fend for herself (when Sted had to return to work for several weeks) with four small kids and a boat. She learned ingenuity, but she also learned the mutual dependence of the community. We witnessed firsthand how the residents support each other, be it borrowing items, coordinating rides, or sharing information. On the morning that the guys went kayaking, Robin volunteered to make the coffee for their post-kayaking breakfast at a cottage with no electricity. We woke up early to start two large percolators, filled several large carafes with coffee, and waited with them on the dock for the hostess to pick them up in her boat.

Sunset on the bay

Sunset on the bay

Our time on Georgian Bay was a gift on so many levels. It was beautiful and relaxing. It was a joy to spend time with Sted and Robin. It was fun to meet their friends and enjoy a taste of the Bay social life. Most of all, it was a profoundly special experience to be invited into, and enjoy, the cherished place of a dear friend’s heart.

Texas!

We just finished a three-week road trip, two weeks of it in Texas. Our excuse this time was to visit our son in Corpus Christi for Mother’s Day weekend. And since we’re retired, our thought process went, why not make it a road trip and do a little exploring?

Our rather random itinerary

Our rather random itinerary

We were pedal to the metal to get to Corpus Christ in time, but then took our time meandering home. Even so, it’s a big state, and we only scratched the surface. But, after a full two weeks in the great state of Texas, here’s some of my take-aways:

Everything is big! The state is big, the roads are long, and the steaks are huge. It was important to plan stops carefully as it’s a long way between towns and there’s extended stretches with no cell coverage to check hours and options. One day we visited Fort McKavett State Historic Park, which was 17 miles west of Menard. When we arrived in Menard at 11:30 am, it seemed too early to eat, so we continued to the Fort. When we returned at 2:10 pm, our lunch spot had closed (at 2:00 pm), so we continued to the next town. We reached Ballinger at 3:05 pm and found everything there shut at 3 pm.  It all worked out, though, as that night our appetites matched our massive rib eyes at Joe Allen’s Steakhouse in Abilene.

The weather can change on a dime. Being accustomed to Southern California, where we never think to check the weather before going out, I was surprised at how often, and quickly, the weather can change in Texas. We had a beautiful Saturday in San Antonio, and decided to drive to Austin on Sunday. About halfway there, we suddenly hit torrential rain. We had the windshield wipers working on high gear, and still couldn’t see ten feet in front of us. We continued our snail’s pace and got there safely. Fortunately, we were going to the LBJ Presidential Library, a perfect rainy-day activity. By the time we finished, it was bright and sunny again.

Texas wildflowers

Texas wildflowers

The wildflowers are spectacular. As we drove through the hill country of western Texas, the countryside was strewn with vivid displays of wildflowers in every shape and color. I especially loved one type of wildflower that had a red center and bright yellow petals. I’m not sure what it is, but it made me very happy.

Texans are friendly. People were very sociable, proud of their towns, and eager to talk to newcomers. My husband has a habit of blurting random things (like “looks like you got your hands full!”) to complete strangers (a habit our son found mortifying as a teenager) and he fit in perfectly. They’d smile and blurt right back, or even blurt first. When we ate at Joe Allen’s Steakhouse, the Texan with the boots and hat at the next table looked over at my steak and asked (loudly) what I was eating and if I wanted to share. I smiled sweetly and said, “Get your own!” which caused the whole group to howl with laughter.

One day we stopped in Beeville, where my husband did his advanced flight training in the late 60’s. The former Navy base is now an eerie ghost town, with the structures and runways still there, but abandoned. As we were leaving, we came across the general manager. When my husband explained our situation, he smiled warmly and offered to give us a personal tour of the old base. The GM, who turned out to be the same age as my husband and grew up in Beeville, was a wonderful host as he drove us around for almost an hour, filling us in on the fascinating post-Navy history of the facility.

Texas made my hair curl. I could gauge the humidity by my hair. The whole time I was in Texas, my hair was abnormally curly. I gave up trying to style it. I’d wash it, brush it out of my face and then let it go wild. Some days, I closely resembled a French poodle. I noticed that the further from the gulf coast we drove, the straighter my hair. If I ever lived in Texas, I’d need to learn and incorporate some humidity-busting tricks into my beauty routine.

They talk funny in Texas. This is one accent I really enjoy. For some reason, stories are funnier with a Texas drawl. And they seem to really enjoy spinning their yarns. In our conversations, there was rarely a quick answer to anything. Instead, there was usually a “great story” that bolstered any normal response, and I didn’t always understand the connection…but the tales were always entertaining. And the word “y’all” is sheer genius.

Thank you, Texas, for a wonderful trip. And y’all take care of my boy, you hear?!

The Best Trip Ever

Whenever someone asks me which was my favorite retirement trip so far, my answer is usually “The last one!” But, I have to say, with all due sincerity, this last trip may have really really truly been the Best. Trip. Ever.

Looking back, one of my stated goals, in my quest to be ‘Alive and Well’ in retirement, was to “discover rewarding activities that feed me physically, spiritually and emotionally.” In part, to pursue joy and beauty in my world.

In thinking about our last adventure, a road trip from the Pacific Northwest (Washington state) down the Pacific coast to California, there were so many elements that I’m recognizing are the building blocks (for me) of pure happiness:

Travel Bliss. Many urged me to find something my husband and I would enjoy doing together in retirement. We don’t have many common hobbies (other than our son, who technically shouldn’t be labeled a hobby) so we’ve experimented with a few of the obvious things, like hiking, biking, golf and tennis, with some success, but none of them a home run. Our “thing” seems to be travel, especially driving trips.  Some have marveled that we can be cooped up together in a car for weeks at a time, not only without killing each other, but actually enjoying ourselves. A very odd and magical thing happens on the road, and we actually seem more compatible. We have a sense of freedom when away from the responsibilities (and the unfinished projects) of home, we enjoy similar sights and activities, and we work well together as a team. With each trip, we fine-tune our processes (preparation, packing, etc.) so our travel has progressively become more fun and less stressful. On our last trip, I was particularly struck by a profound sense of joy and gratitude to have a partner, in my husband, with whom I can experience these great adventures.

Girl Time. An added bonus was that this trip started with girlfriends. I initially left home with two female friends on a two-day road trip (see my previous blog The Girls Road Trip), then spent the weekend in Sunriver, Oregon with four girlfriends. After the weekend, my husband drove up to join me. First of all, this set-up was brilliant in that I avoided the whole joint packing and departure step – by far The Most Stressful part of any trip with my husband. But more importantly, our girls weekend was pure joy and beauty in itself. Beyond the beautiful location, shopping, cupcakes, giggling, and super fun activities (like canoeing down a river á la Lewis and Clark), there was something restorative, which blessed me deeply, in being with close female friends for an extended time.

Connection with Friends. After the girls weekend, most left, one stayed, and my husband and her husband joined us for a few days. We had not previously spent extended time together as couples, but we had a delightful time getting acquainted and playing together as twosomes. We rode tandem bikes, frolicked in the pool and water slides, went for ice cream, and generally enjoyed an extended, enchanted old-fashioned double date. On our next stop, we had lunch in Portland with a college sorority sister I hadn’t seen in thirty-five years. In Seattle, we were treated to a lovely dinner with three of my favorite former work colleagues and spouses (at the charming Bainbridge Island home of one of them). The next day, we traveled via car and two ferries to a fairly remote location in Washington to visit a good friend who previously lived around the corner but moved a few years ago. We spent the afternoon touring her new town and savored a fresh salmon dinner together. Rekindling long-lost or neglected friendships or spending time and deepening bonds with current friends, has proven to be one of the best parts of retirement. I’ve met a few new friends, but I have mostly cherished the opportunity to spend more time with the people I already know and love. I generally only spend time now with the people that I want to. What a marvelously liberating realization that was!

Family Time. Our first stop after Sunriver was a 3-night visit with our niece and her family in southern Washington at their new house. Our two adorable little grandnephews had grown leaps and bounds since we last saw them in May. I played as much as I could with the boys (until they wore me out), and we had great unhurried conversations with our niece and her husband. Finally, our last stop before heading home was a night with my sister-in-law in the Bay Area. She and her husband are preparing to sell their house, which was the site of many family gatherings and weddings, and we enjoyed reminiscing. Time to visit with family across the country has been another unexpected blessing of retirement. Since we are essentially on our own (as far as family is concerned) where we live, the more frequent contact with family has been precious.

This was the view from our breakfast table at the Lake Crescent Lodge in Washington

This was the view from our breakfast table at the Lake Crescent Lodge in Washington

Breathtaking Scenery. On top of everything else, the landscape of the Pacific Northwest was arguably the most beautiful of any of our trips. At times I was stunned by God’s creation so spectacularly laid before me. We took scenic ferry rides; saw rain forests, waterfalls and redwood forests. We stayed in historic national park service lodges. We saw a long list of wildlife – gray whales, seals, seal lions, sea otters, sea elephants, elk, deer, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, fox, bobcat, bear. We went for long hikes through forests and walks through picturesque small towns. A refinement that worked well was to plan shorter daily drives with plenty of time for active stops (walking, hiking and physical activity). On previous trips, we’ve found that long unbroken stretches in the car not only wreak havoc on us physically, but also inhibit us from truly experiencing the land we are touring.

To summarize:

Travel Bliss + Girl Time + Connection with Friends + Family Time + Breathtaking Scenery = Best.Trip.Ever.

WHAT COULD BE BETTER THAN THAT?   Just ask me after our next trip.

The Girls Road Trip

I love road trips. I’ve been on many with my husband and have become quite accustomed to the drill. I recently completed a two-day 800-mile road trip with a couple of female friends.  I knew almost immediately it was going to be a horse of a different color. We barely made it 80 miles when someone needed a bathroom break, we stopped at an outlet mall, and, three hours and untold dollars later, we were finally back on the road.

The start of our Girls Road Trip. All smiles following on boarding and loading.

The start of our Girls Road Trip. All smiles following expedited  loading/onboarding process.

The dissimilarities between husband road trips and girls road trips were striking and amusing. If I were a sociologist, I might explain the cultural, biological and psychological reasons. But I’m not, so instead, I’ll present my, cheeky, light-hearted, and completely non-scientific compare-and-contrast observations.

 

Husband Road Trip Girls Road Trip
Preparation Required Extensive. I prepare detailed itinerary, with destinations, stops and activities; then submit to husband for navigational planning.  I must be ever ready to respond to random “where, when and how” questions (which means committing said itinerary to memory). Minimal. As long as we know where we are headed and what day we get there, we’re good.
Ease of Departure Low. Actual departure typically 2+ hours after estimated time; follows a stressful and complex on-boarding and loading process. Mood out of gate typically tense. High. Actual departure time same as estimate, onboarding process a snap, all in good spirits on embarkment.
Driver open to passenger instructions Minimal. Unless collision with incoming vehicle is imminent, better to keep suggestions to myself Maximum. Driving considered group activity with suggestions (“look a gas station!” “hey, there’s where we turn”) appreciated
Permissible stops Minimal. Mainly to eat or pee (but only if medically necessary) or other planned stops. Maximum. Mainly to eat, pee, Starbucks or shop, but really anything goes.
Sight-seeing stops Usually outdoor or museums (preferably military, not art); NO shopping Usually indoor, maybe museums (preferably art); shopping always
Likelihood of making planned stops Very high. If stops are programmed into itinerary, we will stop at each one, according to schedule.   Even if it kills us. One of the benefits of doing the planning is that we go where I want to go. Mixed. Depends on what “group” wants to do. High likelihood planned stops ditched in favor of shopping. Even if it kills us.
Activities enroute Listening (and singing to) loud music or “can’t miss” sporting events, talking when necessary Talking constantly, with occasional breaks for audiobooks or podcasts
Potential Conflicts A big game (e.g., Navy, 49ers, or Giants) may take precedent over planned activity. (Or I tour while husband listens to game.) Frequent calls from husbands, kids (usually daughters) given high priority and may cause stops or detours.
Syncing with time estimates Usually make up for late start with aggressive driving and total ban on stops. Somehow complete trip within 30 minutes of time estimate What time estimate?
Number of GPS devices used on board At least four – car GPS, Garmin and two iPhones. Oh, and a radar detector. Just one iPhone.   (We don’t know how the car GPS works and no one brought their Garmin)
Overall trip satisfaction High. I get to see lots of things and spend time with my husband. High. I may or may not see much, but I get to shop, talk, and spend time with my girlfriends.

 

How Route 66 Made Me a Better Person

After a short time of rest and recovery, I’ve come to the conclusion that our Route 66 road trip was a profound and life-changing experience. Not to be overly dramatic, but the sights, sounds, people, food, history and our shared adventure contributed to an extraordinary journey of discovery. And it just might have made me a better person.

Here are some things that made the journey especially meaningful:

1) Our Route 66 trip was an expedition

There are a couple of fundamental things to understand about Route 66. First of all, it doesn’t formally exist anymore. Route 66 was officially established in 1926, consisting of a patchwork of roadways. The “Mother Road” was changed and re-routed over the years, and finally, in the mid-1980’s was officially decommissioned as the Interstates replaced the older roads. Secondly, it takes diligent research and work to follow Route 66 since there are multiple variations, much of it is unmarked and some of it no longer exists. Based on our library of guidebooks, each night my husband (like a modern-day Meriwether Lewis) would plan the route for the next day, download it into the Garmin, and I (his faithful William Clark) would plot lunch, dinner and sightseeing stops. This was no casual road trip.

Our Route 66 Itinerary showing our stops

Our Route 66 Itinerary showing our stops

2) We were purist in our route selection

Since there are multiple variations of Route 66, the traveler has many options along the way: the older routes (usually frontage roads and business routes, but in some cases dirt or gravel roads), the newer roads (which sometimes included 4-lane Interstates which replaced Route 66) or some combination. We opted to mostly navigate the older roads (including some dirt) and use Interstates only when absolutely necessary. This meant we could rarely travel more than 150-200 miles per day, but it took us through small towns and countryside we would never have seen from the Interstate. And we can now proudly claim to have traversed the true Route 66!

3) Route 66 produced a vivid lesson in American history

Driving Route 66 westbound was a fascinating and experiential living classroom on American history and culture. From Chicago through Missouri, we encountered much of the odd kitsch that I expected from Route 66. There were vintage gas stations, cars and motels; a host of giant objects like muffler men, hot dogs, rocket ships, rocking chairs and neon signs, designed primarily to attract attention and lure customers. From St. Louis and especially Oklahoma westward, though, Route 66 really captured me, as it became the story of America’s westward expansion, growth pains and migration. We visited excellent museums that brought to life narratives of the pioneers in covered wagons who bravely crossed rugged western trails (precursors to Route 66), the “Okies” and other human casualties of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression (and their courage, grit and determination in the face of tremendous hardship), the traditions and repatriation of Native Americans, and the history of American vehicles – from covered wagon to Model T to Corvette. As we drove Route 66, which, unlike the Interstates, follows the natural contour of the landscape, resulting in curvy, winding roads and steep grades, we were overwhelmed as we considered what it was like for an entire family to drive these roads with all of their belongings strapped to a Model T with no air conditioning, unable to go more than 150 miles on a full tank of gas. The experience made the tales of American 20th century travel and migration fly off the pages of history books.

4) The landscape was spectacular

On the same day that I took my favorite silly photo of the trip (standing on a corner in Winslow, AZ) we also saw the Painted Dessert and the Petrified Forest.   We went from the lush green and plains of Illinois and Missouri, across the legendary Mississippi River, to the Great Plains of Oklahoma and Kansas to the cap rock and Staked Plains of the Texas panhandle to the purple mountains of New Mexico, and the deserts and mountains of Arizona and California. We saw the southernmost end of the Grand Canyon near Flagstaff. I was left in awe of the Creator of this masterpiece as well as the adaptability of the settlors of such varied habitats.

 5) We learned the importance of roadways to towns

Route 66 demonstrated that roadways are like rivers – when they are re-routed, the effect on the inhabitants is dramatic. In many cases, we drove on frontage roads or business routes right alongside the busy Interstate. Elsewhere, Route 66 was far from major highways. In all instances, there was little traffic on non-Interstate sections of Route 66, and we drove through small towns that the Interstates now bypass. Some of these small towns are surviving solely from the resurgence of tourism on Route 66; others have become eerie ghost towns; still others either ruins or completely vanished. We learned and saw first-hand how decisions (some quite political in nature) as to routing and exits of Interstates impact the very survival of these small towns and their residents. We heard story after story of occupants or even entire towns forced to relocate due to re-routing of roadways over the years.   The ubiquitous abandoned gas station we saw on every stretch was like fossilized evidence of the fluid nature of the Mother Road.

We also realized how much one misses when traveling solely on Interstates. We enjoyed seeing small towns and always made a point to stop at older establishments for lunch. We learned a great deal about the towns’ histories and cultures by talking with waitresses, proprietors and others we met. At the Lewis Cafe in St. Clair, MO, the waitress told us most of their Route 66 tourism business is now European, who see Route 66 as a uniquely American adventure and love eating at the old diners and staying at the old motels along the way. That news was surprising to me (Route 66 was hard enough to navigate without a foreign language in the mix and driving on the opposite side), and a little sad that fellow Americans are not taking the time to experience Route 66. In an older section of Albuquerque, NM, at Mary & Titos (est. 1953), a small hole-in-the-wall family-owned restaurant, we were treated to what was arguably our best meal of the trip, their award-winning carne adovada. The founders’ grandson gave us a detailed account of the peppers that are key to New Mexican cooking, and told us that many of their cooking staff have been constant for over 30 years and that few of their recipes are written (“its all in our heads”). Route 66, like a river, took us on an unforgettable passage through the core of America.

6) We had a terrific time together

I have to admit, I was a little nervous about the prospect of being cooped up in a car for at least 20 days (counting both eastbound and westbound trips) with another person (even if it was my loving husband). The potential was there to really get on each other’s nerves.

But I must say, like Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, we made a great team!  There was one day where we almost killed each other – the first day we embarked on Route 66 from Chicago. That day, I realized a Route 66 expedition ideally takes four people (the driver, the navigator, the tour guide and the photographer) and that I had three of the jobs. All was going well until we got lost in a cornfield somewhere in Illinois and an argument between driver (husband) and navigator (myself) ensued.   The situation was effectively remedied over dinner that night, when I politely tendered my resignation from the navigation committee. From then on, my husband planned and programed the routes, and followed the GPS.   That freed me to take pictures, look for and point out sights along the way (although I did try to keep an eye on the map, just in case).  Our revised system worked splendidly for the balance of the trip.

The important thing was that we worked well as a team – we enjoyed each other’s company, we resolved any disagreements that came up, and we completed the trip with an enormous sense of shared accomplishment. Although we were tired and looking forward to getting home by the end, we were surprised to both feel a real let-down at the trip end, and we almost immediately felt an itch to get back in the cherry red Traverse……..and do another Road Trip!!!!!

 

A Case of the Route 66 Blur

So sorry, gentle readers, that I have been neglecting my blog.   We recently returned from what can only be described as an Expedition, and I have since been in recovery mode. I’m also apparently suffering from what the self-appointed welcome guy in the Route 66 kiosk on Santa Monica Pier termed “Route 66 Blur.” This means I have a hard time recalling, for example, which waitress in what restaurant in which town in what state on which day said what. In keeping with my current mind state, this will be the first post in my as yet uncertain number and topic Route 66 series. Perhaps writing about it will help me sort it all out.

After wending our way across the U.S. in our cherry red Traverse on Route 50, we spent about a week in Annapolis, MD, visiting our son. We then drove, via Morgantown, WV, Columbus, OH and Indianapolis, IN to Chicago, and the eastern terminus of Route 66. We spent a day sightseeing in Chicago, unintentionally crashing the annual Memorial Day Parade, and then we embarked on our westbound Route 66 expedition.

All I know for sure is the following. We left Chicago on the morning of Sunday, May 25, and we pulled into Santa Monica on the evening of Sunday, June 8. Our son was unexpectedly in Oklahoma City for summer training so we spent an exceedingly entertaining weekend somewhere in the middle with him in OKC. (We even went to an NBA Playoff Game between the Thunder and Spurs.) We traveled through eight states between Chicago and LA. I loved Santa Fe, NM, and Williams, AZ, and my husband and I had an excellent experience together on Route 66, with the expedition leaving us with a sense of accomplishment and itching for more road trips.

However, beyond that, my memory is like a super-charged kaleidoscope. I remember giant muffler men and roadrunners and lots of diners and neon signs and frontage roads and hamburgers and hotel rooms. But it is all a bit jumbled. I spent several hours this week reconstructing our actual itinerary and looking through my thousands of photos. There is still one hotel and one dinner restaurant that I cannot peg for the life of me. But I have my MasterCard bill for further research.

On our Route 50 eastbound trip, we had a travel plan pre-mapped that we largely stuck to. On Route 66, however, we quickly learned we couldn’t travel nearly as far each day due to the road conditions and the complexity of the routes, and we wanted to be flexible. Each night my husband would plan our route on the computer for the next day and then we’d both still watch like hawks to ensure we didn’t get lost. (This left little time, energy or access to the laptop to do any blogging in case you were wondering what happened to me.) Even so, we had a couple of close Stephen King-like calls, where we were temporarily lost on remote backcountry roads amongst creepy grain fields, expecting children with pitch forks to emerge and corner us.

At the end of Route 66 on the Santa Monica Pier, showing early signs of Route 66 Blur

At the end of Route 66 on the Santa Monica Pier, showing early signs of Route 66 Blur

In any event, when we arrived in Santa Monica, we already knew from our guidebooks that the official west end of Route 66 is unmarked and rather underwhelming. So we sought out the “66 to Cali” Route 66 t-shirt kiosk on the Santa Monica Pier and found Dan Rice, the self-appointed Route 66 Greeter who takes great joy in welcoming pilgrims who have just completed Route 66. He was responsible for getting an actual End of Route 66 sign installed on the Pier, and reports that he has personally traveled Route 66 twenty-nine times. We spent an hour or so (and $70 on t-shirts and Route 66 bottled soda) talking to him and his sidekick Ian, who at age 23, is already an expert. As we swapped stories about our adventures, Dan assured me that “Route 66 Blur” is common, especially for first-timers, and with a little rest and reflection it will all make sense.  It was a great trip – it will be fun to remember!

The Loneliest Road in America

And…we’re off!!! On the Great American Road Trip. Our first night was spent at my sister-in-law’s house in the Bay Area. The next day we crossed the San Francisco Bay Bridge and drove to Sacramento, where at twelve noon, ON THE DOT (not planned, but how dramatic!) we hit the start of Route 50 and the Official Route 50 Road Trip began.

 

The beginning of Route 50, just west of Sacramento, CA

The beginning of Route 50, just west of Sacramento, CA

From Sacramento, we drove to Fallon, NV. Our scheduled lunch stop was in South Lake Tahoe, CA at the Red Hut Cafe. The Guidebook urged a stop here at the circa 1959 cafe – the original of several locations. As we pulled up, the neon “Open” light suddenly switched to “Closed” and my heart sank, worried this did not bode well for our trip. I pulled out my iPhone ready to locate another restaurant, when I noticed 3 women milling about in the café and jumped out to talk to them.   These incredibly friendly women (who worked there) informed me that the café just closed but there was another Red Hut right down the street, which was still open. We proceeded to the other Red Hut and had a lovely lunch overlooking Lake Tahoe.

After tooling around stunning Lake Tahoe a bit, we continued to Fallon for the night (crossing the Nevada border at 3 pm ON THE DOT). Up to that point, I hadn’t covered any new ground. Beginning in Fallon, I saw new sights, including the Fallon Naval Air Station (which hosts the Top Gun school) where my son may be stationed someday.

The t-shirt I picked up at the Chevron station in Eureka NV

The t-shirt I picked up at the Chevron station in Eureka NV

Also beginning in Fallon is the stretch of Route 50 dubbed “The Loneliest Road in America.” By the end of that day, we completely understood the moniker. Between Fallon, NV and Delta, UT, we encountered 410 miles of generally straight road, sagebrush, mountain and blue sky. We rarely saw other cars or people. There was no Internet coverage. Our lunch stop was in tiny Eureka, NV, where our waitress told us that her entire graduating high school class consisted of 17 students. While the school offered sports, the students had to play all of them to field enough players for the teams.

The scenery was striking, but hour after hour of relative uniformity became monotonous. I amused myself initially by taking pictures with my iPhone. After 30 or 40 landscape photos looked identical, I switched my focus to Route 50 signs. I found myself increasingly dazed, and the Route 50 signs snuck up on me. It was not easy taking clear photos at 70 mph through the car window or windshield, with the reflection and the GPS and radar detection in the way. Add my trance-like state, and dull reflexes, and an extensive library of blurry Route 50 sign photos resulted.

 

The collection of photos I took with my iPhone on the stretch of Route 50 known as "The Loneliest Road in America"

The collection of photos I took with my iPhone on the stretch of Route 50 known as “The Loneliest Road in America”

My next coping mechanism was my Easter chocolate. After 6 dark chocolate eggs and a marshmallow patty, I felt alive again with the sugar coursing through my veins. After a couple more hours, however, the blood sugar plunged and fatigue really hit us. So we reverted to our secret weapon – Disney songs. For the next few hours, we sang along with our entire Disney Collection at the top of our lungs. From Sleeping Beauty to Jungle Book to Mulan to Pocahontas, we sang all the parts, amazing ourselves at our mastery of the lyrics (from all those years of Disney music when our son was younger).   We came alive!   We had fun! We were silly! Thanks to chocolate and Disney, the Loneliest Road in America turned out to be anything but, and a surprisingly splendid start to our Great American Road Trip.