Road Trip America Day 1 – Five states, three heaping plates of barbeque, one sunrise, and too many cheez-its

As I write you, it’s 9:33 PM on May 9, 2011, and we’re trudging through Texas towards the outskirts of New Mexico after a tasty pit stop at Taco Bueno just outside of Dallas. The bulk of our day has been spent in the Pilot, which has already proven itself to be a worthy road trip vessel.

The morning began with a blur; I was too caught up in my residual freelance work to catch any sleep before our 5:30 AM departure from Tallahassee. Niko promised me bacon for breakfast, but all I got were two soggy hash browns from McDonalds – yuck. Every time we eat fast food, we vow never to touch it again, and yet somehow convenience always sucks us back in. Fortunately, the scenic sights on the road offered an easy distraction from my greasy belly.

Our route today was an exhausting maze. We started west on I-10, meeting Steve at the DeFuniak Springs exit to snag some ropes and draws. After that we popped through Alabama, traversed Mississippi, skirted past Louisiana and rode towards the pink hued sun as it set over Texas. Have I mentioned how amazing this Texas air is right now? It’s warm, but dry, and breezy and cool, but not chilly. It’s perfect.

For this trip, I decided to dedicate myself to two little projects to help preserve thus experience: First, I am diligently tracking our route on the enormous atlas my dad donated to the trip. Our path is brightly highlighted on both state pages and the big country map. Second, each blog post will have a short list of 5 daily experiences (sights, sounds, tastes, random billboard quotes, etc.) – hell, the entire post for some days may just be a list like this.

Here’s your first top 5 of the day:

  1. The crazed wild dog sitting in the thick thistle and wildflower patches between the east and west bound lanes on the interstate in Texas. His patchy-colored fur complimented his wicked eyes that pierced the lanes of traffic in defiance, “yeah, I crossed all those lanes, and I’ll do it again!”
  2. Lunch at Goldie’s Trail Bar-B-Que in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Quite possibly the best baked beans I’ve ever had, this place will be getting its own blog post next week!
  3. Niko spotted an enormous 13-foot Santa figurine peeking out of the woods off the interstate in Texas. – Who put him there?
  4. Little fields, patches and sprouts of skinny golden sunflowers and bushy purple blossoms lining the edges of the roadways throughout the southeast. It’s the floral personification of Brooke and I, and it made me miss my roommate terribly.
  5. The quirky cashier from Taco Bueno near Dallas, who chatted up every single customer and walked around the dining area to continue conversations left discarded at the register. She has a bright future in sales if she ever ditches the taco biz.

Next up: We’ll be finishing this first big haul through the tip of New Mexico and up southern Colorado, then we’ll time in Denver with old Tally Rock Gym friends, for a few days of bouldering, microbreweries and delivering the huge wooden wine cellar we drove up from Tallahassee.

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Bittersweet Homecoming

Friends, the time has come for the climbing adventure crew to make our return to the flatlands and humidity of Florida. As I write, McGoo is steering us through Alabama – our ETA in Tallahassee is about 4:30 AM. But let me digress to Wednesday evening.

After my update describing our arrival in Colorado Springs, we went on a wild goose chase to find the Dakota Hot Springs campground. We finally found it a few hours past nightfall, and were shocked to realize where we were: a clothing optional concrete pool, fed by the sizzling waters of the hot springs. It was a comical experience to say the least. We cooked up a pasta dinner, leaving me too exhausted to dip into the springs until morning.

Niko and I woke up around 7:00, and promptly plunged into the warm morning water. It was a much needed bout of relaxation. Despite the view of leathery pancake boobs, the hour spent floating around in Niko’s arms was the perfect cure for my road trip frustrations. Once the rest of the crew awoke, we made a quick breakfast and headed back towards the Garden of the Gods.

Once again, we spent a good portion of the day trekking across rocks in search of decent routes. We finally hiked out to “The Snake Pit,” which was home to a number of good problems. We met a charming boy, Ryker, from Hueco, Texas. A fellow creative writing major, and V3/4 climber, we instantly bonded as I snapped away some pictures for him on his camera while he climbed. Our fun was cut short by a sudden rainstorm, which left us scrambling back to the Jeep with soaking wet gear.

This is the part where we retreat to Golden Corral – see the post below for details.

With full bellies, we decided to press Southeast. We drove through the merciless winds of Kansas, and it is at this point that all hell breaks loose. Jeff and I commented to each other about the noisy straps of the crash pads flapping around insanely in the wind. It wasn’t until we pulled over for gas that we realized the Kansas wind had completely unzipped our rooftop cargo bag that carried all our belongings.

McGoo was riding in the passenger seat, and as he turned to exit the car, we both saw the flap of the bag hanging limply down across his window. “Oh, shit.” We were both too frightened to inspect the damage.

Miraculously, it wasn’t a total loss. Everything we had was exposed to the demanding gusts of dry air, and yet only Jeff suffered missing items. His damage was bad; he lost his sleeping bag and every item of clothing he brought on the trip. Still, we are blessed that we didn’t lose more.

To add insult to injury, as the night pressed on, McGoo fell extremely ill. Plagued by a fever and cold sweats, we let him restlessly attempt to sleep as Niko and I drove through the night. I took up the later shift, commandeering the Jeep until the sun rose over Oklahoma. At the point where I could no longer continue driving, my exhaustion gave me away to McGoo’s illness.

I can’t remember the last time I felt so miserable. My body constantly jolted between cold chills and hot sweat, and my stomach churned like a butter mill. Then the Jeep seemed to have AC issues, so Jeff insisted that we drive without it on. I seriously contemplated tying myself to the back of the Jeep and ending my misery. It was horrible.

We pressed on until Memphis, Tennessee. Unable to contain our hunger, we pigged out at Lil’ Anthony’s soul food joint in the bluesy downtown area. I ate the most delicious homemade veggie burger I have ever tasted, and the boys ordered short stacks of the biggest pancakes we have ever seen. Refreshed and revived, we headed back on the road. It was decided that we should cut the trip short, because our illness combined with the sweltering southern heat would not have made for a pleasant day of climbing.

I can’t wait to get home and take a long shower to cleanse myself of the filth of two weeks living on the road. Most of all, I’m excited to be reunited with Starsky, my darling Black Moor goldfish. I’ll give you a final road trip update tomorrow, and then it’s back to writing about my sunflowers and Tallahassee adventures.

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Welcome to Utah

Folks, we have entered Utah. The crew just drove over the exciting Flaming Gorge Dam, which brought us all out of our sleepy comas. How McGoo has stayed up driving this whole time – I do not know. Perhaps the adrenaline from almost plowing down a group of infant deer has left him jolted awake.

All I know is, I need some serious sleep. Utah is a desolate land of creepy gas stations, but at least the state welcome sign had a sweet dinosaur on it.

I promise a more lively account of my travels in the morning! Sweet dreams readers.

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Ode to Driving Buddies

One of my favorite things about making the drive from the panhandle of Florida all the way down to Miami is making driving buddies. You know what I’m talking about – a fellow driver with whom you keep pace and take turns being the leader while speeding. It’s an adult buddy system at its finest. Yesterday, I had my favorite driving buddy encounter thus far.

This man was everything that the greasy-haired boys in the Rock Gym aspire to be when they grow up. He rode an ancient motorcycle, which was loaded and strapped with tattered tent gear, a musty sleeping bag, and I couldn’t even fathom what else. His wiry silver hair billowed out behind him like a cropped mermaid’s mane, and the frills along the seams of his cowboy pants slapped around in the wind. I couldn’t see his face through his helmet, but I imagined leathery tan skin, wrinkled most around his mouth from all the smiling he must do.

As I passed him on Interstate-10, I rolled down my window and flashed him the peace sign. He nodded in approval and waved back. He pulled his motorcycle behind my Scion, and for about an hour we rode together, with me breaking the wind for him. He kept tugging at the bootstrap on his left side, and every time he leaned over it made me anxious. What if he lost balance? I found myself wishing I could signal him to pull off at an exit, so I could buy him a cup of coffee, or a pint of beer, and spend a few minutes finding out who he really was.

After my time spent fantasizing about this intriguing man, and where he was headed, the road forked and we were forced to choose between I-75 North or South. My journey urged me southbound, and his tugged northward. With an unceremonious switching of lanes, we parted ways.

Driving buddy, you were one-of-a-kind. I wish you well on your travels, and hope that the wrinkles around your smile only deepen with time.

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