Here are some of the highlights.
Below you will see a couple of pictures of the Archway Monument just east of Kearney, Nebraska. This is my almost obligatory stab at the brain trust who came up with this wonderful idea, and decided that the best place to put an exit for this monument to history on the plains, would be over a mile past the structure. Yep, no immediate exit available to view something that cost a whole lot of money and has brought back probably far less, because someone couldn't figure out that it would have good if they would have installed a friggin' driveway.
I will continue to make fun of this until someone changes the ordinances or whatever there is as far as red tape, so that they can actually make money off the damn thing. It looks kind of cool when driving by. But not cool enough to drive by and then have to drive back to.
My journey changed a bit this year versus last year. I actually had to leave on the 23rd of December 2009 instead of my planned date of the 24th, due to a winter storm that was approaching from the west. Even when I left at that point the weather had already taken a bit of a turn for the worse as the highways were getting a bit slick. So, I headed south through Kansas and into Oklahoma City, taking an abrupt turn to the west where I went through the panhandle of Texas, then New Mexico, Arizona and then California.
This reminds me of conversations I have had with fellow members of the media, who ask me if I took this interstate to that interstate and this other interstate as my choice of roads to my destination. My usual response was "I have a GPS. I don't have a clue what road I was on. It says take, I take it."
That blind loyalty would get me in a bit of a pinch on my way home, as you will read later.
Well, this time around I actually got to go through the mountains of Colorado and Utah. There was a winter storm at the time I left, but who would have known, it was in Oklahoma and Texas.
So, I went through the mountains, and let me veer off on this for my first diversion, my rant which is both an acknowledgement of the history I may have made, and the frustration I had with a vehicle that is about as mountain worthy as a covered wagon drawn by house cats.
The history I made has to do with a reference I often make about things which I deem impossible. I will say something like "this is about as likely to happen as getting passed on the interstate by someone driving a Buick."
I am proud to say I have single-handedly squashed one of my own favorite sayings, because in the span of about 3,000 miles I might have gotten passed...ohhhh....four times. Something like that. I don't like getting passed. It makes me feel I am not making the most out of the time I am spending driving. So, if someone passes me, I speed up. Mostly because I figure if I am going to speed, at least make the odds of me being the one who was caught, no worse than 50/50.
Insert joke "here."
OK, the other issue was the fact that yes, this was indeed a Buick. So passing wasn't easy, but passing in the mountains or even climbing up the damn things was basically an experience of this symphony of downshifting the car insisted on doing. But the problem with this thing was, when it downshifted I swear it started going slower.
Great gas mileage and a wonderful experience altogether, but if you have a Buick in the mountains just get out of push the thing up the hill. It will be easier and less stress on your ears.
One thing about the mountains which some may not know if they haven't had the "pleasure" of driving through them. For those who do live in those areas or have frequented those areas many times, what I am about to say is rather uninformative:
Fog is nothing more than clouds
Yes, a revelation. Not one I came by just recently. But the reality of it was never so unforgiving or as on display was it was in this trip. In the picture below you will see me traveling the interstate and far up in the distance you see clouds. But they aren't in the air. Well, I guess they are. I mean, our elevation wasn't exactly at the level of Lincoln, Nebraska. But anyway, there it was, a big fluffy white wall of death or at the very least, an annoyance of spectacular proportions.
About two miles away, but you can see it in the distance. I'm
driving into death.
Closer still. It's like a scene from some horror movie. Maybe the one
called "The Fog?" Nahh, too crazy.
You can see over to the left a vehicle escaping from what I thought
may very well be my impending doom.
I'm in it now and there is no escape, no solace and no damn truck stops
The one thing I hate about fog is that no matter how fast or slow you drive, it's the same. Same density, same visibility - everything. The only advantage to driving really fast is so that you aren't in it as long. But when it comes to fog on the plains as you see in dear old Nebraska, that fog could last for a hundred miles or more.
Not in the mountains.
The fog can last five miles or five feet. It can go for seemingly an hour or a matter of seconds. One instant you are drenched in a fog that barely allows one to drive with any sort of confidence that they won't suddenly hit a semi, a van or some of those wandering pot heads from Boulder. The next instant it's clear as a bell.
And I am out of it. YEA....and oh great, another one. That's a nutshell of what it's
like driving in the mountains, folks. Stay away. Stay faraway. Screw Vale, it's
not worth it.
Quite disturbing, and a bit embarrassing as I would find out. I actually stopped for the evening in the mountains, because I was tired, the fog was thick and I thought I had just about enough. I was sure the fog or I should say, the clouds, would have lifted at this point just as it does on the flat lands.
It didn't. It was actually worse when I woke up. The cloud didn't go anywhere. It was like that line of nerds waiting to get into see Star Wars 42, the sequel-prequel-something-quel. So, I ventured out, a little disgruntled, but steadfast in my determination to get through this pasty haze no matter how long it would take me.
It was gone even before I got out of the city limits.
Like a mile, maybe. Probably not even that. If I would have only driven last night just a bit further I would have found myself in a gloriously clear night.
But I digress
So, I drove on, and at this point the drive became a bit boring, to be honest. I know what you are thinking. "Steve, how could driving 14 or more hours in a row be boring? Think about all the things you could see, all the songs you could hear and how many disgusting restrooms you would get to smell in that span of time."
Yes, that's true, and speaking of music, that got me to thinking of what I will now refer to as Steve's grand epiphany that will change the face of academia forever.
You listen to music while driving, yeah? Thank God for satellite radio, by the way. I have driven through enough vacant parts of Iowa, Idaho and other places to know that if you don't have Sirius, XML or whatever it's called, you will be listening to either a Spanish Polka Station or an evangelist. Not that I have a problem with either, but when I am driving for double-digits in hours, I don't want to hear Polka. I certainly don't want to hear Polka I can't understand. And the only thing I want to be saved from at that moment , is this need to slit my wrists just to see color.
Anyway, so you listen to these songs, and I know everyone has done this. You hear the song, and you can sing along, uttering every single word in time. But if someone were to ask you to recite the lyrics of that song off the top of your head without the song playing, you probably wouldn't even get one verse correct.
What a great teaching tool that is, don't you think? It's the secret to bridging that gap between having no knowledge of a subject you detest even talking about, to the point of comprehending it completely, even if you still think it *****.
Look at the retention you didn't know you had. Words you couldn't muster consciously, somehow come out as a geyser of information at the mere cue of a rhythm and music that doesn't make you throw up in your mouth.
If only Buddy Guy had been my Algebra teacher, I wouldn't have flunked.
Back to the satellite radio, these cars are so advanced and all that, they will actually display the name of the song as well as the name of the tune. But I found that they have a certain limit on the characters for the main display. To see the entire song and artist and even the year it was released, you have to hit the "info" button.
For the sake of context, sometimes it's best to do that, so you can get the idea of what a song is really trying to say versus what the display says. There is a song called "Let me blow ya mind" by Gwen Stefani and Eve. The following is what the title reads on the main display.
Actually, both probably mean the same thing, but I'm just sayin'.
Back to the trip, it was pretty uneventful from that point forward. I was a bit worried leaving that I might end up under water, what with all the rain the California area had gotten. Turns out they weren't the only ones as I ran into some fairly drenched areas in Nevada as you will see by the following picture. But everything was fine when I got to California.
OK, so that was the trip up, and now the trip back, one which did take me the southern route, the longer route, because there were storms in the mountains at this point. And the weather forecast for my drive was clear sailing all the way.
Well, I guess I shouldn't say that. I should say that it probably would have been clear sailing all the way if I had just heeded a very valuable piece of advice given to me by someone who obviously found themselves in the position I would soon:
BEWARE THE GARMIN!!!
This is the road I was on, before Garmin struck
I will be the first to admit that I follow the thing blindly. If it says go left, I go left. If it says go right, I go right. And even when I am on a perfectly fine interstate, and it suggests another route to cut off some time, I'm all for it.
The next time you hear that automated chicky poo utter "better route available", DON'T PRESS THE BUTTON. DON'T DO IT.
OK, go ahead, but don't blame me if you end up somewhere you didn't expect.
For me, I was super happy at the point where I was going back. The road was good, the weather was pretty darn awesome and a deer which flashed in front of my car, actually got hit by the semi which was immediately to my right.
Yes, I know, I should feel bad for the deer. I do. I feel bad for all of deer kind. With that deer now a hood ornament on a Peterbilt, there are only 455 million deer left in the country.
Give or take
And I was in a rental. I see a deer flash in front of me, but not hit the car, you ain't going to get that smile off my face for weeks.
Or, in my particular case, about 300 miles.
I did it. I admit it. I did it. I was driving along and here it came, that computerized wench sputtering to me in that monotone voice "better route available." Hey, I was leading a charmed life at that point, and when I looked at my estimated time of arrival in Lincoln at around 10:44 AM the next day, I didn't think it would hurt to knock a few minutes off.
Well, what do you know, I hit the button to accept the better route and lo and behold an entire hour just got wiped from my trip.
YES, DEAR GOD, YES.
An entire hour wiped off with just a click......sort of. At that point I loved her voice. I felt like going to Jared.
If you didn't see the commercial and don't get that joke, don't bother. Just wipe it from your memory and move on.
Either way, here I was driving and no, it wasn't the interstate. But Garmin wouldn't steer me wrong, even if it was taking me to some road which was called a "spur."
Either way, I drove very happy with the knowledge that there were no mountains in my future, not a lot of windy-bendy roads and best of all, no damn snow.
Yep, that's where I ended up and yes, that's a road or what there is you can see of it under the cakes of snow and ice. Garmin had given me a shortcut alright. Right through some friggin' set of mountains which went on forever.
And they just kept going up, and up and up. It got to the point I thought that here I was at the top of this God forsaken place which I am sure some people refer to as a paradise, and it's below freezing, roads are covered and I don't know that there is an end in sight.
Honestly, I would have felt better if that stupid GPS had said instead "I want to play a game."
You'll drive where I tell you to and like it!!!!
At least then I would expect what I was about to get.
I actually got passed by some dude on a tractor. Oh yeah, Mr. four wheel drive, snicker, snicker, tee hee.
And all while passing me I am sure he's thinking "Hmph, a Buick."
All my efforts. All my subtle bends of the speed limit. Wasted.
For the rest of the trip, it was blissfully uneventful. Yes, there was this group of wedding partiers at my stopover on my drive, who had to be sent to their room by the resident security guard who was from Scottsbluff, if you can believe it. And I couldn't help but be a little misty as I drove down the historic Route 66. But that was it. It was a bee-line to Lincoln, and I have to say again about this Buick that it was about as gutless as they come, but the gas mileage was unbelievable. I made it from Oklahoma City to Lincoln on a tank.
How about that? Go ahead, check your google maps. It's like a gazillion miles, give or take a zillion.
It was a good trip, but it got me to thinking about these kinds of trips and my insistence at driving them versus flying like everyone else. I haven't done so because I have too much crap. It's just too much crap to trust to the airline that they won't destroy it and glue it back together before it gets to me at the luggage receiving area at my destination. Oh, and while the cavity searches can be quite entertaining, I don't like that funny walk I have for the next two days.
Use some KY for God's sake. I'M ONLY HUMAN
Either way, it was fun, interesting and all that. Just what a drive should be.