Sunday, July 24, 2016

San Antonio Texas to Atlanta Georgia . . . Long Lonesome Highway

San Antonio Texas to Atlanta Georgia . . . Long Lonesome Highway

The next morning we awoke, a friend, Cory who was on temporary duty for training in San Antonio from Virginia came over so we could go out for brunch and celebrate my daughter’s birthday.  The place we picked was a German waffle type house.  The food was great and the service was quick and attentive. We took her car in for a wash and headed back for the house to hang out and chill for the afternoon.  We made supper and played board games that night. 

Since my air conditioning in my rig was not working properly I checked with the local Sears Auto Service center to see if I could get my oil changed and my A/C recharged.  We took it in on Sunday morning and dropped it off then ran several errands before picking it up again in late afternoon.  I had everything packed up and said my goodbye’s early Monday morning leaving San Antonio for Mobile or maybe into Atlanta depending on how I felt or what time I arrived in Mobile.

Hitting the road at seven in the morning put me through San Antonio before traffic started building allowing me to go from the northwest side of the city to the east on interstate 10.  There were many vehicles on the road but things were moving a the posted speed limit so other than those changing lanes it was not a difficult transition through town.  I figured I would get between San Antonio and Houston before I would stop and get coffee and something light to eat.  My daughter told me to stop at Buc-ee’s a truck stop convenience store that I would pass in about an hour or so.

It was not hard to miss the location was coming up soon as the billboards along the roadway were cute and comical to say the least.  Most depicted the company logo, a beaver, with a catchy phrase, like: "The Top Two Reasons to Stop at Buc-ee's: #1 and #2" or "Restrooms So Clean, We Leave Mints on the Urinals".  The two I thought were funny: "Don't worry, P happy" and "If It Harms Beavers, We're Against It!"

I started hitting thunderstorms just east of Houston and the first one was a gully washer where you could not see the vehicle in front of you as everyone slowed way down.  It lasted for about twenty miles and slowly cleared back to bright sunshine for another hundred miles.  Most of the thunderstorms were small local ones where you drove through it in about fifteen minutes or less and then back to sunny conditions.

I was driving past Lota, Louisiana (LA) when I noticed road signs for two competing adult themed stores.  Every few miles there would be a sign for one or the other promoting their wares.  Some of it was graphic and more than the normal person would want to know or see on a billboard.  They ranged from adult toys to costumes to oils and lotions. Just about anything the traveler could want along their journey and conveniently located right off the highway with easy access off and then back on the freeway.  The first one I passed at 11:45 AM was called the Lion’s Den with the lion head logo as part of their advertisement. It seemed classy enough compared to the other company’s signage.  What I found both interesting and strange was there were five cars parked out front that early in the morning. What does one shop for at such an early hour?  Should you wait at least until after lunch to visit your local adult store so you can eat before handling anything you might not want to dirty your hands with?  These were the type of questions running through my brain during the short five mile drive to the other store’s location. At the next exit in Eunice, LA the store’s name was Acadina’s which had three vehicles parked outside.  If one assumes that one vehicle at each location is for the person who works there then there were still six vehicles between the two stores. What makes the Lion’s Den the busier store? Is there some or something “special” going on that I might have missed reading on the billboards? Inquiring minds want to know these things on a fifteen hour drive along this southern highway.

The rest of the journey across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia was rather boring other than the rain showers. I was making good time crossing the Mississippi River at 2:30 PM and the Alabama State Line at 5:05 PM.  I made the turn from I-19 onto Interstate 65 at Mobile at 5:30 PM and it was sunny skies and warm temperatures.    

There were still miles and miles to go before arriving in Atlanta with Montgomery Alabama changing interstate highways again from I-65 to I-85 heading toward the Atlanta airport.  I arrived in Atlanta just after 11:30 PM after driving over sixteen hours and 1,035 miles from San Antonio.
I will make a brief stop at my sisters before heading up to Asheville North Carolina in the afternoon.

Until the next horizon . . .


Saturday, July 23, 2016

West Texas Highway

West Texas Highway      July 15, 2016       

I arrived to the rest area just east of El Paso on Interstate 10 at 1:20 am.  Got out and walked a bit to stretch before getting a few hours’ sleep.  It was still very hot at 102° I parked among fifteen to twenty vehicles and tractor trailer trucks rolled the windows part way down to allow any breeze to flow through the vehicle but to be honest there wasn’t any for most of the night.

I awoke about four in the morning took a quick walk and bathroom break and hit the road once again. It was nice in that with no working air conditioner the windows down provided much needed cooler air to cool me off and be somewhat comfortable.  The highway was mainly deserted this time of the early morning and I could see the first inklings of first light the eastern horizon.  Slowly the light changed hues from the blackness of nighttime to a dull grey then as the sun was closer to the horizon and the rays raced a crossed the sky it changed to purples then orange to red.  The few clouds were starting to glow and change colors becoming bright orange as the sun was just popping over the horizon.

I was driving very close to the Mexican border for about one hundred miles with the USA ending about a half mile from the highway and Mexico across the river and mountains to my right.  My AT&T carried texted me a message, “Welcome to Mexico, say goodbye to roaming charges . . .” I can only assume that the cell towers in this area are on the Mexican side of the border and they can make money from travelers passing through El Paso.  Luckily I did not have anyone to talk or text with at four in the morning.

I could see lights in my rear view mirror approaching from a long way off and several looks later the vehicle was almost on top of me.  Less than a minute later a white dodge challenger passed me going very fast.  It reminded me of the movie Vanishing Point, the original movie in 1971 and remade in 1997 where a white challenger raced across Colorado and several other western states out running the police until a final confrontation.  This white challenger passed by and quickly left me in his dust as I watched the taillights slowly fade away in the distance ahead of me.

About thirty minutes later just after sunrise I noticed way ahead the flashing lights of a police car.  Stopped on the side of the road were the Challenger and a Texas Highway Patrol Car, black with the white hood and top.  It looked like a Dodge Charge as I passed by as the trooper was issuing his ticket. I continued on and climbed a hill and lost sight of the flashing lights in my rear view mirror of the Challenger.

I was going along the sun was directly in my eyes as I drove east making it difficult to see and having to use my visor to block the sun.  I was hoping the sun would hurry up and rise above the horizon.  It was starting to give me a headache but I could see that miles down the road on the horizon there were clouds building into an early morning thunderstorm.  Every once in a while I could see the flash of lightning from cloud to the ground.  It would be probably about an hour for me to drive to get into the clouds and possible rain but was hoping it would cool things a bit.

As I was watching the storm build I noticed the Challenger coming up from behind me once again passing me quickly and zooming off ahead of me.  I kind of chuckled as he passed as his speed had not really slowed down and he was off to the races.  I watched for several minutes as he vanished from my view point.  About twenty five minutes later I could see up ahead the flashing lights of a Texas Highway Patrol car and this one had stopped a white Dodge Challenger.  As I drove by I could see the trooper talking to him and issuing another ticket.  It was funny that I was driving the speed limit and was making better time than the Challenger a tortoise and the hare moment and laugh for me.  It helped to amuse me on the long boring drive along the West Texas Highway.

By nine in the morning I was just getting into the rain and shortly the thunderstorm.  It was a nice soaking rain that was not a gully washer but enough water that you could see the highway but needed the windshield wipers going constantly. I drove on for about an hour before I had to stop once again for fuel. I was on the back side of the storm as the rain was very light as I pumped gas.  There was no awning over the pumps so it felt good to have the cool water droplets hitting my shoulders as I cleaned the windshield.

Just as I was finishing up and was about to pull out of the service station and back onto the highway who should be coming off the exit ramp but the white Dodge Charger.  I was wondering if he needed fuel or just time to cool off after the two traffic stops.  I bet those would be expensive fines if he was clocked at his true speed on the freeway.  I continued back up the on ramp and heading southeast toward San Antonio.

My long drive across west Texas for the most part was boring and uneventful other than the Challenger.  The scenery is mostly desert with light brown hues scattered with small scrub trees. I did not see any cactus along the way but there were many in Joshua Tree NP.  There were a couple areas where there were wind turbine on the ridges and oil rigs pumping away.

I needed fuel once more before I arrived in San Antonio so stopped at one thirty to grab some lunch and get gas for the last leg to my daughter’s house.  When I arrived at three thirty that afternoon she did not know I was coming.  She was told earlier that morning that a package was supposed to be delivered between three and four.  I parked on the side of her house and walked up to the front door hoping she would not be in her office overlooking the front yard.  I wanted to surprise her for her birthday on Saturday and she thought I was still in Oregon but would be driving down to Atlanta north of her going through Utah, St. Louis, and Chattanooga.  I talked to her on the phone the day before and she thought I had not left to head down to Atlanta after my brother in law’s death.
I rang the doorbell and she looked through the peephole (thinking to her-self that’s my day but knowing I was still in Oregon).  She opened the door and was totally shocked that I was standing in front of her. She screamed and my grandson hollered from upstairs and bounded down the steps to greet me.  We hugged and she kept saying she could not believe I was there. We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon and evening catching up on things and their upcoming move from Lackland Air Force Base to Travis AFB in California.

I looked forward to the visit even though it was short and sweet.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona

Day 5     July 14, 2016       Standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona

I’ve made a concerted effort to experience as many of our National Parks as possible along the way. During my travels I have grown eternally grateful for the thoughtfulness of our forefathers in setting these precious lands aside for future generations to enjoy in their most natural state. Can you imagine casinos along the rim of the Grand Canyon, a shopping mall at the base of Half Dome in Yosemite, or subdivisions working their way up the Teton Mountains?  I can, which makes me all the more grateful. 

It’s not hard to tell how this park got its name! The landscape was littered with jutting boulders, scrubs and lots of Joshua Trees! The park is actually divided into two habitats; the western half is Mojave Desert with elevations above 3,000 feet and the eastern half is Colorado Desert with elevations below 3,000 feet. I would discover the following morning just how different these two habitats were.

One of the grandest vistas in the park is the San Bernardino Mountains from Keys View, at 5185′ elevation. I traveled past the area I wanted to camp to see this vista as I was told it was worth the drive. I was there along with several other people early in the evening before I set up camp. Before sunset I made my way back the few miles through the park to Jumbo Rocks, where I scaled to the top of one of the large rocks with a young couple I met there. We enjoyed light conversation and a colorful sunset together, and I was thankful for their help in getting myself safely back down to the desert floor! I set up camp and settled in for the night. 

I have been looking forward to this day for several weeks and have debated with my friend Russ whether or not to take a detour on my journey too travel a half day off my original route to make this trek to the desert. It really was a no brainer but I think I needed a sounding board for validation that it was not a crazy thing to do.

Waking up in the vast desert of Joshua Tree National Park is a unique experience in its vastness, desolation, any distinct beauty.  Rock formations are everywhere, some small boulders while others formations are bigger than large multistory buildings.  There are those you admire from afar while others you can climb up on for a different vantage point in an elevated position.  The park terrain varies from some mountainous regions to high desert and rolling hills.  The distance between rock formations or other landmarks is very deceiving as it is very much like Alaska where depth perception is skewed in the vastness of things.  What looks like it may be a mile away is maybe four or five maybe even twenty or more but still looks like it is a short walk or drive to it.  You could easily hike for an hour and not be close to what you thought was just up ahead.  That is part of the beauty of this place. It changes with the time of day, light conditions, heat off the tundra (not sure if that is the right terminology for this area) creating mirages in the distance.  It is big, it is vast and the vegetation and wildlife have to endure harsh conditions to survive.  For me, hydration on my hike was the main thing to endure the heat of 100° at daybreak and climbing as the early morning and the light of the sun heated up everything around me. I made my way past Skull Rock which looked like a skull semi-buried within the other rocks around it. 

I made a light breakfast, some coffee and loaded my vehicle to depart for vast and distant horizons before me.  I was on the road before nine in the morning heading out of the park at the Twentynine palms entrance and headed toward Lake Havasu Arizona.

I came into an area south of Lake Havasu where there were vast farm fields.  I do not know what they were growing but it was small green bushes about a foot to eighteen inches high.  What struck me before I really noticed the fields was this area was full of yellow butterflies.  Literally there were thousands and thousands of them along the road hitting my windshield causing me to use the windshield wiper fluid to clean off the yellow stains on the windshield.  After a couple of cleanings I took the time to look into the fields and all the green bushes were covered in butterflies. The vastness of miles of green with a yellow hue was amazing.  The roadway was covered in butterflies flying around working the fields on both sides of the highway. I drove along this area for about thirty minutes hoping I would not run out of wiper fluid before exiting the area.

I went through Havasu City and could see Lake Havasu with many boaters having an early start to the weekend even at this early hour.  The tourist attraction “The London Bridge” was just off the highway and led over to a small island. It was not inviting enough for me to stop and with no cowboy in sight I continued on my way.  It was not long before I hit Interstate 40 just north of town and headed east toward Flagstaff.

Going across the high desert of Arizona I was continually climbing as I approached Williams and Flagstaff. I saw another lone bicyclist just stopping at the top of a good incline so I once again stopped and gave him a cold bottle of water.  He was very appreciative and surprised that someone would stop with the offer.  I talked for a few minutes while we both hydrated and wished him well on his journey from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon then to Flagstaff.  I climbed to the Arizona Divide at an elevation of 7375 feet above sea level.  The vegetation just before Flagstaff changed from the desert scrub bushes to small trees at first then full size cedar and evergreen type trees.  The light browns in the landscape slowly turned to green as I approached the city.  It was a welcome change as the last few days had seen little in the form of green vegetation except farm fields as most of the terrain was sandy and void of anything with size other than the scrub trees.  Joshua Tree had some as well as tall cactus but still had the distinct light brown and sandy hue tones to everything set against a blue sky.

I stopped for fuel and lunch in Flagstaff and found the first sign of southern cooking in a long time, a Cracker Barrel so naturally I had to stop in for some sweet tea and good home cooking. My waiter was named Joshua and we talked about my being from Alaska traveling to the southeast.  He was very polite and a local boy getting ready to go to college soon. After my lunch I asked the manager, Amy if they could go outside for a photo with Placido Flamingo in front of the sign and they agreed. Outside we talked a bit and they were wonderful snapping photos and talking about my adventure so far.  They wished us well and went back inside so I continued my journey to Winslow Arizona.

The purpose of my detour and the excitement of the day was to visit the Standing on the Corner Park in Winslow Arizona made famous by Jackson Browne and Glen Frey (The Eagles) in the song Take it Easy. “Well, I'm a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and such a fine sight to see 
It's a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford slowin' down to take a look at me”

There is a park in Winslow with a statue of Jackson Browne, standing on the corner and a mural behind him of a girl in a flatbed Ford.  There was also a real red Flatbed Ford parked on the street and in the street intersection an emblem of the old Route 66 highway marker logo.  

It was pretty cool how the city had put this together and it was a no brainer for me to go to such an iconic place.  It would be like going to London donning the clothes and walking the crosswalk across Abby Road like the Beatles picture.  It would be a half day transition off I-10 to I-40 then driving diagonally across Arizona southeast to El Paso Texas.  By the time I was headed off the interstate highway I-40 and turned onto Highway 180 it was five in the afternoon.  I knew it would be a long day as in a few hours the sun would go down nighttime filling the horizon and another five or six hours driving time to reach El Paso.

I was again in the high desert near Edgar Arizona when I hit the Alpine Divide 7006’ above sea level and the mountains with the sun getting low on the horizon.  There were several fields with herds of elk eating late in the afternoon.  There were two fields that had over 200 elk either eating or sitting in those several hundred acres.  

The sky and clouds were starting to change colors from the deep blue of the daytime to the orange and pink in the clouds with the sky hues slowly changing as darkness set in.  In the low light as total darkness set in I found myself coming around a curve to find a large elk running out across the road in front of me.  I hit the brakes, swerved to the right at first as the elk appeared to attempt to stop only to continue to dart in front of me.  Visions of the moose encounter near White Horse, Yukon flashed before me.  I heavily braked and several items in the rear of my vehicle made a beeline over the seats and into my lap, the floor, or onto the cooler in the passenger seat. I barely missed the elk and for the next 40 miles kept thinking I was seeing something else run out in front of me.

About an hour later in the darkness another elk ran out in front of me which again I was able to slow down swerve and miss the animal but it made me mentally tired thinking other animals would be darting out in my path over the next few hours.  It was nerve racking for a time but eventually I made my way into Silver City, New Mexico to stop for fuel.  It was about 9:15 PM and I took a few minutes to reorganize things after the two elk incidents.  I was not in a hurry to get on the road but I knew I wanted to continue on so I could stop for the night soon as it had been a very long day.
I drove a few blocks leaving Silver City when I saw the red/blue lights of a patrol car across the street turn on and I was the only vehicle on the road so I knew I was about to be stopped.  It looked like the same patrol car that passed me as I turned into the gas station a few minutes earlier.  I pulled over as he made his U-turn to pull in behind me.  I had my windows down as he approached from the passenger side shining his flashlight on Placido Flamingo in the passenger seat on top of the cooler.  He shined his light all around the front trying to figure things out before he peeked in and asked me for my driver’s license and vehicle registration.  He asked if I knew why I was being stopped and I jokingly said Alaska plates and he laughingly replied I was doing 39 in a 35 mph zone.  I said Ah, I knew I was coasting down the hill but did not realize I was over the limit.  He took my items back to his car and ran me through his data base.  I felt like I was in a rerun of Alice’s Restaurant as I waited for him to return.  Oddly on my playlist while sitting there was the Keith Urban song, “Fell in Love in the back of a cop car” which was still playing when he returned my license to me.  He laughed at the song and told me to watch my speed, be safe and to have a good night.  I told him to be safe and thanks.  I asked about a picture with Placido Flamingo and he quickly said NO and returned to his cop car. I slowly pulled away and into the night as I drove out of town.

I continued to drive and just a few miles before I was back on I-10 I hit a stretch of highway where there were hundreds of jack rabbits either along the road, standing in the road, or running across the road.  Flashbacks of the two elk incidents flashed through my brain as I tried to swerve to miss the rabbits.  This stretch lasted about ten miles with rabbit after rabbit being narrowly missed as we both tried to make our way through the night.  In the end I missed most of the rabbits but in the end I hit two rabbits. 

I finally made my way to I-10 once again and approached the lights of El Paso in the distance.  The drive through town was a mixture of modern and old west Texas with the highway having neon lights as art along the drive.  The road construction slowed things down but with the light traffic it was a breeze to make it across town.  I knew there was a rest area on the east side of El Paso and that was where I planned to stop for the night.  I finally pulled off the highway at 1:20 in the morning, rolled the windows down to let in any breeze while I tried to sleep for a couple hours.  The temperature was still 102 degrees.

It was not a very sound sleep but eventually I dozed off for a bit.

Somewhere on West Texas Highway good night . . .


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Paso Robles to Joshua Tree NP via Palm Springs California

July 13, 2016       Day 4     Paso Robles to Joshua Tree NP via Palm Springs California

It was a wonderful morning waking up at daybreak on a hill among the grapes. I have to say last night was a unique experience being alone within several thousand acres of grape vines in the vineyard, the sky opening up to stars.  The moon had been up most of the afternoon and had set just before the beginning of dusk so it was a perfect night to view the heavens.  The lights of town were several miles away so did not cast extra light.  The slight breeze brought with it several different scents during the night.  Most were somewhat expected with the slight smell of the fields and cattle but occasionally you could smell the salt from the ocean maybe fifty miles away. The different grape varieties also had distinct smells after one concentrated on them.

I had a great night’s sleep which was needed.  I just blew up the air mattress threw it on the ground and with pillow in hand eased into a wonderful sleep.  No sleeping bag, no tent, or anything that could take away from where I was.  I was up and out before any of the farm workers arrived and headed into town for a cup of coffee and something to eat.  I found the coffee but nothing struck me that I wanted to order and the one fast food did not appeal to me at all.

Heading out of town I drove by several other wineries including the Hearst winery which was miles away from the castle overlooking the ocean.  It also had a café there called Jack Ranch Café and the parking lot was full so I decided to go in for a bite there.  It was fast and good food for the typical breakfast menu but there was also a great selection of fresh fruits.

It was about a forty or fifty mile drive from the vineyard to the interstate Hwy 5 and as it went from vineyards on both sides of the roads to more agricultural farms there was a large sign on the side of the road that read, “Food grows where water flows!”  I would think with the water conservation going on in California there are issues about using water to irrigate the crops.  It is a two edged sword, without the water there is no food, with water the food but the debate on whether it is the best use for the water in the area.  The temperatures were steadily climbing from 70 that morning through the eighties, into the nineties and then broke 100 degrees and continued to climb. I noticed that there was fluid pouring out of my body . . . what was this as it had been so long since I had sweated.  The humidity was high along with the temperature so everything in my body was flowing water.  I remembered the sticky feeling I had not missed for so many years now.  Having the windows open and some air flowing around me evaporated most of the wetness but it was a strange feeling to once again be profusely sweating.

Energy is another hot issue in California and it struck me funny that within a ten mile drive there were huge solar arrays on one side of the road, maybe a thousand acres or more then it quickly changed to at least a thousand conventional “West Texas” teeter totter oil rigs with most pumping away.  I guess both have their place.  It was odd to me seeing them so close to each other I guess co-existing but both producing.

As I approached the interstate it was very apparent the smog was awful.  It was a brown haze that covered the mountains, valleys, and fields.  It differed from the haze found in the south during no or light wind periods as this seemed a much thicker haze, it had a stale air smell to it in some areas as I drove about a hundred miles toward LA then east toward Palm Springs.  At one point I had a small vantage point while struck in traffic to view the buildings in downtown LA.  With the LA smog it looked like a grey ghost town of buildings.  It had an eerie look to it reminding me of a Stephen King novel.  It was not a very inviting place to visit on this day and hopefully when there is some wind it blows the smog layer away revealing a much prettier city and location.

As I headed east on I-10 to Palm Springs the temperature was over 110 degrees.  One of the things I discovered while driving was in Alaska I never used the air conditioner on my vehicle so today when I turned it on it didn’t really do anything to cool things down.  Maybe a little bit but it was just blowing “cooler” warm air out the car vents.   It is something I will need to check out before I continue much longer on the trip because it is going to be summer for a long time as I make my way to the southern states.

The view as I drove farther east and climbed over the mountain range was clearer but still a little hazy. You could see much further and the air was just hotter than one expects.  The desert had a dryer heat so I was not sweating like earlier but against the seat back I could feel the beads slightly flowing down my shirt.

I could see the familiar sight of many wind turbines on the horizon leading into Palm Springs. There are many days the wind funnels around the mountain and across the desert making it a wonderful place for literally thousands of wind turbines spinning producing a cost effective and clean energy source.  Both sides of the highway have the wind turbines.  They are in the fields, on the rolling hills just outside of town and leading out the road to Twentynine Palms and the northwestern entrance to Joshua Tree National Park.

I veered off the interstate onto highway 111 leading into main street Palm Springs.  I stopped at the welcome to Palm Springs sign leading into town so I could take photos of Placido Flamingo in front of the sign.  There was a cable television installer truck across the street who was intently watching me and my actions with Placido.  He started to cross the street possibly to help take pictures but then turned around and got back into his truck. He smiled, waved as I drove off into downtown PS.  

I was headed to take photos with the large statue of Marilyn Monroe but as I approached the corner where she had been on several previous trips but it was a big construction zone with a new large hotel being erected on the site.  I looked up and discovered that the statue was now in New Jersey on display and the Palm Springs City officials are trying to work out bringing her back permanently.  It was too bad she was not there as it would have been another great photo of Placido’s travels.

I headed out of town and stopped by a local Mexican grocery store to get some supplies before heading out to Joshua Tree to camp for the night.  I bought some fresh salsa, chips, water, ice and other items and got onto I-10 heading east for about 40 miles to the park entrance.  When I was at the store I noticed one of my straps holding my five gallon can of gas had come off so proceeded to re-strap everything.  All appeared tight and I hit the highway but about ten miles from the turn off into I heard a loud slap on the side window of the car, looked into my rear view mirror to see the red gas can hitting the highway and bursting splashing the contents all over the highway.  There was no one around me so luckily it was not damaging anything and the contents did not explode in the heat.

I stopped for photos at the sign to the park entrance, entered using my America the Beautiful Pass and proceeded to the ranger station at Cottonwood and drove past the camp ground and Mastodon Peak where I had previously hiked with a friend several years ago. I drove for a while up towards Twentynine Palms entrance and stopped in the Queen Valley at the Jumbo Rocks Campground. The temperature entering the park was one hundred fifteen degrees so I took my time setting up camp and kept hydrating.  I decided after setting up half the tent that it was going to be too beautiful a night to sleep inside one and proceeded to tear it back down stow it and pump up my air mattress to lay out on the ground.  I had my chair, a campfire just as nightfall approached and great food for the night.  Not probably the healthiest but it was great chips/salsa, a few beers, and some Mexican food from the grocery store.  Enjoyed it as I sat there watching the heavens open up after darkness set in.  My eyes adjusted after about thirty minutes then it was an amazing light show of stars, the Milky Way, several recognizable constellations and a slight warm breeze.  Relaxing alone in the darkness, I could hear the sounds of several coyotes in the distance but no other campers or people around that I was aware of.  There was total solitude with my thoughts, my music, and God’s show in the heavens, another enjoyable evening on the road. The two small bundles of firewood I had carried from Alaska were down to glowing red embers when I lay down to sleep for a few hours.  Other than the air mattress this was like the old west during the cowboy nights on the range.  Deathly quiet most of the night with the occasional nature sounds, a gentle breeze and a blanket of stars overhead to soothe me to sleep. 

I awoke about an hour before first light and prepared for a several mile hike.  Flip flops traded for hiking boots, plenty of water in my hydration day pack, and a couple snacks. I left the campsite and hit the trail just after first light and made the three and a half mile trek returning to my rig just after the sun broke the horizon.  It was still hot but was enjoyable before the sun heated up the countryside.  I was on the road before 9 AM heading toward Lake Havasu and interstate 40 heading east to Winslow Arizona.

Mark Evans and I have a kinship for traveling adventures alone meeting new people along the way.  It is mostly freeing but at times I feel at a loss not sharing this adventure with someone.  Writing this travel excerpts is my way of sharing the travels with everyone.

Until the next bend in the road . . . in California, Arizona, New Mexico and into Texas . . .


Friday, July 15, 2016

Go ahead . . . Make my Day – July 12, 2016

I’m getting behind in my writing as I have been doing more driving than taking time to sit down and write but I will try to get back on course over the next couple of days.  This post goes with the photos from Tuesday, July 12, 2016 going down the Pacific Coast Highway.  I was writing this later that night after a wine tasting and invitation to spend the night in the vineyard so excuse me for the pause in this but decided to leave it in anyway.  I was typing this sitting in my Margaritaville chair under the stars.  It was a good night.  Here goes . . .

I started the morning in Santa Cruz by the ocean with a nice cup of Bailey’s coffee and the smell of bacon on the camp stove.  It was a little chilly but not bad as the wind had died down overnight. The morning fog layer quickly burned off and the sun was out shining brightly.

Yesterday’s drive along the coast had a couple of issues that needed to be dealt with before starting this morning.  The rack carrier on the roof with all the road up and downs, left and right turns had several times yesterday forced the rack, pod carrier, cooler, and five gallon gas can to slip to one side.  It had shifted over the edge of the roof on the driver side so that the gas can and cooler were almost blocking the doors.  The whole rack shifted and had to be pushed back over the vehicle roof and the U-bolts holding it to the roof rack had to be tightened.  The road curves with the sharp turns and elevation changes caused the shifting.  About 20 minutes of maintenance before starting should do the trick.

I left around 10:30 am and topped off the gas tank since stations were few and far between.  It was only a couple of miles to get on the freewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

Apparently I fell asleep while writing this, sorry. 

It was only a couple of miles to get on the freeway and the road quickly opened up to farmland with many working farms, several had migrant workers picking or working the fields.  There were many local fruit stands or vegetable stands along the highway.  I was shocked at the low prices and thought I should buy large amounts of fresh produce and send it up to Alaska.  Avocado's were less than ten cents each and fresh sweet corn ten for a buck. Almost everything was 10 for a buck, crazy.

I headed for Carmel by the Sea and the Hog’s Breath Inn, a restaurant once owned by Clint Eastwood.  I was going by there to have a drink toast to my brother-in-law Doug Coker who passed away suddenly last week as he was a big Clint Eastwood movie fan.  It seemed fitting to toast to life.  He will be missed by all of us as he touched everyone’s life with his sharp wit and funny sayings. Just after leaving Hog’s Breath Inn I received a text from Ashley my niece who wanted to thank me for Doug’s eulogy and was looking forward to seeing me and hearing stories that Doug and I had over the years.

I made the short drive down the mountain (hill) to Pebble Beach and the golf course and made my way along the famous 17 mile drive which winds around the golf courses, the rugged ocean and beaches.  I stopped at Pebble Beach so Placido Flamingo and I could put our “Toes” in the water in the Pacific Ocean.  We created quite an event as people were coming up to me to find out about the Flamingo and the photos.  Several have started following the “Where’s the Flamingo 2016 Tour” including a CHIP’s officer who took a photo with Placido Flamingo.  Thanks Officer Chaty for the picture and hopefully you will not get too much flak from your brother’s on the CHP as several have chimed in on FB.

I stopped several times for photos along the way on the self-guided tour on the 17 mile road as it winds its way along the ocean.  Beautiful multi-million dollar houses lined the drive with many either being remodeled or finished.  Extravagant mentality at its finest, people with too much money on their hands who could do much to help other and they probably only live there part time.

I wanted to have a photo of the world famous “The Lone Cypress Tree” on a rocky perch over the ocean which had survived winds, rain, and storms over the years.  It was a “hang in there moment as everything will be alright” if you just stay the course and overcome all the things that hit you in life.  A nice family took the photos of Placido and I which I wanted to get their information but they left quickly.  Thanks again and hopefully the wife’s picture with me turned out ok.

After leaving the 17 mile drive and heading south on the Pacific Coast Highway toward Big Sur I shortly came upon an area called “Carmel Highlands” with an elevation of 184 feet.  I don’t know if I have been on the road too long but it struck me funny that it was barely above sea level.  Maybe another name would have been better.

The road along Big Sur was winding and climbed and descended along the edge of the mountain.  It slowly climbed from several hundred feet to several thousand feet above the water.  The sheer cliff on the roads edge would probably make many people uncomfortable if you were the passenger and had time to look over the edge.  It was breathtaking when you had the opportunity to stop along the way which there is many.  Small parcels to pull off to allow passing were everywhere and many people did so allowing faster cars to proceed at their own risk.  The speed was slow around 20-25 mph most of the way with some areas in the 45 mph range but then you slowed to 15 to make a turn or sharp winding curve.

I stopped twice at the two bridges, the Rocky Creek and Bixby Bridge to take photos and see the magnificent work from the 1930’s when they were built.  Both sit several thousand feet above the ocean with large rock formations (most of the coast is like that) and waves crashing onto them.  Even with the wind and high above you could still hear the crashing water sounds from below.  It is hard not to stop and take photos as with each curve and pull off it seems like this rock formation or size is different from others taken.

I finally got to the stop I had been waiting for the McWay Falls at the Julia Pfeiffer State Park.  The entrance and parking lot were full but cars were parked for about a half mile in both directions. I was lucky to find a spot as a vehicle pulled as I drove up.  It is about quarter mile walk along the cliff above the lagoon where the water fall comes off the mountain and falls into the beach lagoon.
It is a long slow drive from the JP State Park down past the Hearst castle sitting on the top of the mountain.  I flew a hang glider over the castle in 1975 on a trip to California so it was interesting to see it from several miles away as I approached.  

There was a Cruise America RV who refused to pull off and let anyone pass so a gaggle of vehicles were slowly going behind him for miles.  I was in the number four spot and could easily see the frustration and hear the horns blowing as opportunity after opportunity for the RV to pull off was passed by.  I could see both in front and behind me in the mirror the hand gestures and hand slamming on the steering wheel by the other drivers. After about two hours following this idiot he pulled off into Elephant seals viewpoint on the beach.  It was my last stop on the coastal road below the Hearst Castle. I pulled into the parking space next to the RV so was curious to see who was driving.  It was a family in their 40’s so not what I thought it would be.  There were many Asian families who stopped at every turn off for photos and I thought it may be but the fact they had not stopped pretty much ruled that out.

There were hundreds of elephant seals lying on the beach in two spots.  Only one was close to the water so that was the only one I saw with any movement other than flipping sand by those just plopped on the beach.  A lot of people had stopped and were looking but nothing really to see.
I decided I had driven enough of the Pacific Coastal Highway and it was a short drive to where I could turn off and head inland across the mountains.  It would be a several hour drive to I-5 and I figured I would find a place to stop along the way as I was heading toward LA which I would by-pass and go to Palm Springs.

I discovered I was in wine country as there were multiple vineyards with acres and acres of vines on each side of the road. I decided I would stop at one to do a quick tasting and get a local wine for the road.  I stopped and met a nice couple who did the tasting as it was late afternoon and they were almost at closing time at the end of their day when I arrived.  As we talked and they discovered more about my trip they suggested we go out into the vineyard to enjoy a bottle of wine together.  As the sun was setting I told them I needed to head out and find a place to park and camp for the night they suggested and showed me a beautiful spot on top of a hill in the vineyard where I could see the town of Paso Robles several miles away.  It was a beautiful night under the stars sitting in my Margaritaville chair and sleeping a restful night’s sleep.   I hated leaving the next morning but had to be out before the workers arrived.  Thanks so much for a great evening and hospitality.

What an incredible day with many bends and horizons, some awesome sights seen and wonderful people met along my journey.


Monday, July 11, 2016

One if by Land . . . Two if by Sea

Today is going to be a little different pace than yesterday.  Zac Brown’s “I ain’t in no hurry today” is the theme.  Got up, made coffee with my Bailey’s to set the morning since it was slightly chilly about fifty degrees.  Hit the road about 9:40 AM driving south down Hwy 1.

You could see the fog bank off shore several miles and it seemed to be inching closer to the coast as I drove.  It was a very pretty drive with the road winding its way along the coast climbing up and down several thousand feet from sea level up the mountains.  Driving the coast is not a fast way to travel with average speeds about 35 to 45 mph.  There are stretches that 55 is the speed limit but it is hard to maintain any speed as you slow down for the curves posted at 30, 20, or 15 mph.

I drove about an hour past one of the places I was thinking about camping, Navarro Beach where the redwoods state park is just a few miles away.  As I climbed up one of the cliffs from the beach area there was a pretty steep incline as I noticed a lone bicyclist walking his bike up this steep grade?  He was about 2/3 of the way up as I spotted a small pull off about 700 feet above him so I quickly pulled off.  It was a great picture taking opportunity as I waited for him to reach me.  I took several photos with my camera and iphone as he pulled up to where I had stopped.  I handed him a cold bottle of water and greeted him and we started talking.  John was from South Africa and started his bicycle ride in Vancouver BC and was on his way to LA.  We talked for a bit before I headed off onto other vistas. 

I passed by the Organic Valley Farms close to Manchester CA.  It was interesting to see everyone working the fields and the logo on everything around the area.

I stopped around 11 AM at Lighthouse Point Arena to take photos of the lighthouse and the beautiful rocks and waves crashing onto them below the cliffs.  As you travel down this coastal highway it is easy to stop multiple times to take photographs of the rock formations in the ocean.  At one point today I had to tell myself, just how many rock/ocean/wave photos does one need to take?  There are just rocks, some with holes in them creating a tide pool splashing through as the waves break on the rocks.  Some “rocks” are a big as a small city block several hundred feet long and ten stories tall or more.

The fog layer was rolling in along the coast so I figured it would be a long day driving in the grey soup weather but it only lasted a few miles and cleared up.  The fog band was just offshore most of the day with small bands of fog that came ashore. It turned out better than I was expecting with only brief periods of fog to deal with.

I should have gotten fuel at the morning start but figured I would get something along the way.  Well on this roadway there are few places for any services much less gas stations.  I had almost 400 miles on this tank of fuel and was just starting to debate the five gallons of fuel on my roof and whether or not it would be needed. I pulled into a small community by the ocean called Gualala and several services.  The Exxon station was there so I pulled in and started pumping my gas.  Yes this is not Oregon and had to do it all myself.  They know they have you as the price was $3.05 a gallon.  $72.00 later my tank was full having pumped almost 23 gallons into a 22 gallon tank.  I probably would have been walking or pulling off the five gallons I have carried since Anchorage Alaska for emergencies.

Just past Jenner by the Sea was a small state park called Goat Rock where off in the distance I saw a lone hang glider pilot soaring over the cliffs.  I went through Jenner and past the tidewater marsh and started climbing up along the ridge line.  I found the cut off to the beach and the park and drove several miles to get to the cliff where the glider pilot launched.  There was a guy working on his paraglider chute but he has not anywhere close to preparing for takeoff.  I took some photos, a video and had another cup of coffee while watching him make his turns go out away from the cliff face to the front edge of the lift band and watch him lose altitude then turn back towards the cliff into the lift band again rising up over the take off point.

There were several neat places along the way; Duncan’s cove (I thought a great title for a book), Bodega Bay where I stopped for fresh oysters and also tried the BBQ oysters both were excellent at Nick’s Cove Seafood. 

I was making my way toward another lighthouse out on Point Reyes Station. It was a rough road drive the 20 or so miles out to the cliff where the lighthouse was. Not worth the drive or the bumps in the road as it was about a two and a half hours round trip out and back. It was totally fogged in so there was nothing to see.  On the way out I passed several working farms with cattle open grazing along the road.  I saw three deer on a hill above me grazing.  They looked up but continued to eat.  I noticed after almost an hours drive out there was a sign saying the lighthouse was closed Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  I know there are a lot of mad people driving all that way only to find out it is closed.  They need to put the sign as you leave town so you can turn around.  With the fog, bumpy roads and miles of “historical farms” along the way I didn’t think it was worth the drive.
I stopped briefly in San Rafael for ice and a quick bite to eat and realized all the curves had shifted my top pod, cooler, and gas tank on my roof.  It had slid slightly over the side of the driver’s side of the vehicle so I had to push everything back up where it belonged and then retighten all the u-bolts holding the wood rack to the car top rack.  There were too many curves, quick stops and shifting left and right over the last two days driving along the coast.

Right at six PM Placido Flamingo and I were heading across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.  We were going in the right direction as those going over to Marin County were bumper to bumper stopped traffic.  I noticed the tunnel leading off Marin and to the Bridge was named for Robin Williams who grew up there. There were many people on the side of the bridge on both sides riding bicycles, walking or jogging across.  I was totally surprised just how many were on the walk paths on each side.

After crossing the bridge I turned quickly off at the Presidio and through Daly City.  Traffic was back up and took about thirty minutes to go just several miles. It is a large Asian community close to the college, SFSU.  Through Pacifica and back onto CA 1 to Half Moon Bay where the fog rolled back in again.

Since I have been in California it is very noticeable how many Toyota Prius vehicles driving around.  They are everywhere.  I did several counts and it was averaging about 1 Prius for every 7 vehicles passing by.  Many times it was one out of three.

I stopped at one last lighthouse before Santa Cruz called Pigeon Point Lighthouse and hostel.  I debated staying there and not camp but decided to continue toward Santa Cruz for the night.

Tomorrow after some place to hit in the morning I am changing up my plans from my original thoughts.  I am not going to continue to Los Angeles and points south on CA 1.  I debate Palm Springs at 110 degrees right now and my plans to hike in Joshua Tree NP.

We will see what tomorrow brings . . . around the bend in the road.


Portland Oregon to Ft. Bragg California

Went out with several friends, Colin and Donna-Lee for my going away dinner so on the spur of the moment we decided to go to McMenamins Edgefield.  They had music concerts playing in several locations on the grounds.  There were many small bars tucked away all over the property.  We danced, sang, ate and partied until almost 12:30 so it was after one before I went to sleep.  I awoke at 5:00 AM to finish packing and loading my rig.

It was an emotional exit with Jan and Nate as I was holding back since the news of my bother-in-law’s passing.  As I left Portland Oregon it was 6:30 AM and the rain was starting to fall.  By the time I drove from Gresham into Portland to get on the 205 it was pouring.  The kind of rain that one expects of Seattle and Portland, in the south we use a term “it came up a big cloud” which usually means a gully washer.  With this pouring it brought with it a release for me with Doug my brother-in-law.  All the emotions, concerns, anxiety, and pent up anger all came out during the drive from Portland down past Salem.  For a couple of ours it was my own “trail of tears” as I released it all in the privacy of my rig with Zac Brown music playing along the way.

As I climbed and drove up Willamette Pass the markers for 1,000 feet, 2,000, 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 feet it started to stop raining with the clouds parting a little.  At the peak 5,128 feet and the ski resort I was done with my grieving for the time being and headed down the mountain towards Crater Lake National Park.  I passed a sign for Waldo Lake and wanted to stop for a photo with Placido for a Where’s Waldo with Placido Flamingo in southern Oregon.  It struck me funny after the last hour’s mood.

I stopped and took a picture in the rain with Placido Flamingo and drove to the ranger station.  The ranger as I handed my America the Beautiful Pass to the ranger he told me conditions up top along the craters edge road was miserable with fog and blowing snow at 11:15 AM.  I proceeded up the road for several miles reaching the loop road and turning toward the village along the crest.  It was snowing and foggy so you could barely see other vehicles coming toward you.  I stopped at one of the pull offs to see over the edge but with the fog could not see thirty feet down the cliff.  It was snowing as I got back in the car and headed toward the Redwood forests in California.   

I stopped for a photo at 3 PM at the California border.  I arrived in Crescent City and the Pacific Ocean at 4 PM and took a video and photos.  It was still overcast with some rain showers so I decided to continue towards what I knew were clear weather to stop for the day. I arrived at “The Avenue of the Giants” around 6:30 PM and proceeded to drive through the different groves of giant redwood trees.  It was still sunny and clear out but the thick canopy of trees made it necessary to turn on the headlights to navigate the roadway through the park.

At 8 PM I arrived at the “drive through redwood tree” in Leggett.  The lady working the entrance was very nice and we talked briefly before heading to the tree.  There was a nice campground there but I continued back to the coastal highway hoping to catch the sunset over the ocean.  I missed it by a few minutes but still had a beautiful view overlooking the ocean.  I stopped several places along the way as the light hues went from the reds, oranges, to purples and grays as the light faded.  I arrived in Ft. Bragg at 9:30 PM after a fifteen hour day of driving.  Almost 775 were miles driven with all kinds of weather for the day.  A new series of horizons will be around the bends for today’s drive.  Weather is clear, low 70’s so should be an interesting day.


Friday, July 08, 2016

On the road again . . .

Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes.  Sometimes again and again, which I guess is called growth.  I had started to settle into this nice place called Gresham, Oregon which still has a small town feel about it.  My friends here and the new friends I have made since arriving gave me a since of extended family and support during a time where it was a welcome change for me.

A few days ago my childhood friend, brother-in-law, brother, and all around great guy passed into the night going on ahead to scout for the rest of us remaining on this earth.  It was a moment several thousand miles away which still impacted me to the core of my soul.  Family is a funny thing, no matter how far away or how infrequent you may see them when something happens it is a time to drop everything, pack up and head to them to comfort, support, and be there in times of need.

Such is my life this week, stopping what I had going on, packing and planning an exit from this very nice place I was surprised to find and once again find myself on the road. Ten thousand more horizons in front of me till I find my way back to Atlanta which I left so long ago.  Probably several life time’s ago now which is strange for me to think about returning to my childhood area.  I do not look forward to the traffic and the many more people than I am used to for many years now.  I do it for love of family and a sense of purpose right now.

Placido Flamingo is packed up once again and ready to go, leaving early Sunday morning on a somewhat revised itinerary from my plans when I left Alaska three months ago.  No international borders to cross only thirteen states with the varied terrain, vegetation, and people along my way.  Hopefully there will be a few that I come across who are deserving of a story or mention but this will not be a leisurely trip across country but a somewhat forced march across the miles.

Thank you Oregon for the unexpected, wonderful place I found.  Thanks to all my friends here for the hospitality shown me during my stay.  Jan and Nate it was great being able to stay and work on the house sharing in your lives during this time.  The bee trips were wonderful and unexpected joys watching you all work the boxes and see the progress of the hives.  Colin and Donna-Lee it was great spending time with you and I hope to return soon.  To the new friends I have made while here it was great meeting making friendships and working with you along the way.

Life changes and we all have to adjust, adapt and make the required course corrections, recalculating along the way.  It is not easy but I guess necessary to survive and continue on. 

My theory on life is that life is beautiful. You have a day, and a night, and a month, and a year. We people change . . . we can be miserable or we can be happy.  It's what you make of your life. 

“I wonder what is around the bend” . . .