Notes from the road: These notes are from the road trip diary, made when I first picked up our tour van and took off on the "Shake Down" cruise.
Mary Boone Wellington
I headed out all bright and chirpy to pick up my new road trip van in Las Vegas the week before Thanksgiving. Planning a shake down cruise up to Portland Oregon for my birthday and Thanksgiving with my daughter and family, intending to send daily notes from the road–but events overtook me. . Now I am halfway back across the country in Wyoming and just now have a minute to catch up, but that is only because I am inexplicably wide awake at
3AM. Oh well, no time like the present. I’m going to give you the short version of the trip so far and maybe then I can go back to sleep.
Day one: Depart Whitefield at 2AM for the airport-now that’s early! You know you have a good friend when they are willing to drive you at that hour! Many thanks to Jane. Arrive Las Vegas 10:27AM
Bad news, the van has not yet arrived-the truck that is carrying it broke down. Not a confidence builder. I decide on a good attitude, because I’m just too tired to throw the hissy fit that would be appropriate and anyway that wouldn’t get the van here any sooner. Could this be the better mood of older folks I have heard about kicking in?
Day Two: I got a swell car for $13.00 a day and an even more swell hotel for $118.00. Mid-week in autumn in Las Vegas is apparently off-season, way off! I wandered around my suite in the Trump Hotel, weighed down by a robe so plush and heavy, it trapped me on the sofa for hours after a soak in the Jacuzzi tub so big that when the jets came on I lost my moorings and shot across to the other side. I could have done laps. I was tired anyway from walking across the marble bathroom that was, I swear, bigger than my house in New Hampshire. If you have to be stuck in a town known for its lack of independent bookstores, try to make it Las Vegas.
Day Three: No sign of the van and my leisurely trip to Portland with scenic stopovers at Lake Tahoe and Mt. Hood was looking like a forced march if I was to arrive pre-birthday and miss the holiday traffic. I shopped for some housewares (van wares?) I thought I would need and fretted a bit.
Then, just before bedtime-good news-she arrived, late, dusty, with another van on the truck for company and two very tired drivers, but she was here at last! I scuttled right over for a peek and fell in love! The Free Spirit SS was all I had dreamed she would be; I named her Little Bird. I poked around and marveled while the guys at Wagon Trail RV got to work on the final prep so I could take off first thing in the morning.
Day Four: I’m off! Just a little skittish that I have not even gone for a test drive, I head off across the desert on my new route north that has all the frills removed, stripped down for speed and avoiding the new snow up Reno way.
Little Bird feels fine, cruising quietly, smoothly, in a stately sail up the highway. The mirrors are great, I can see all the traffic and I’m so high up in the seat I feel there will be no surprises, as I head for the distant ring of mountains. All is well with the world as the odometer clicks over to 50 miles; my first ever new vehicle is a winner! Bliss! Until the first gust of wind hits.
I’m going to take my time describing the adrenaline gushing terror that floods me as the van skitters sideways and rocks back into line. Not a fan of being out of control on a normal day, today I’m all keyed up and looking at 3600 miles on a road I pray is not a windy one. I grip the seat with my butt cheeks and my thumbs turn blue from their clench on the wheel. Hoping to cut through the wind more assertively, I speed up, but that is worse. I slow down, but then the big rigs fly past me and there is a new backwash of breeze to deal with.
Squinting into the distance, I pray the mountains ahead will shelter me from the wind. As I get closer there seems to be a white something or other all over the near peaks-wait is that snow? No, not snow-the white is a haze of windmills, thousands of them. Cool, I think, I should take pictures for my grandsons. Very cool, windmills. What! Windmills? Than means wind. Yep, wind and mountain twists and turns as the big rigs fly past me I sweat and clench and grip the wheel in terror. Fun, fun, fun, and I have 7 more hours of this ahead...More to come, but, at the risk of spoiling the suspense, I survived and continue to drive on, visiting bookstores galore on my way.
Day Five and Onward: I made it to my goal city in Northern California and fortified by a healthy draft of wine, I ate dinner in my Little Bird and tried to hit the hay. No such luck, the sofa bed was stuck in the four-foot long position, so very tired indeed, I curled up and slept anyway. In the morning I headed off, a little more familiar with the smooth ride and wind alerts and headed up the Cascades for Portland. Along the way I stopped at a few RV dealerships where I got the sofa unstuck and the cap to the wastewater replaced (note to self…the curbs are not meant to be driven over as they tend to scrape off anything dangling down, like the cap to the waste water.)
I made it to Portland a day later and pulled up in front of my daughter’s house where I played with my grandsons, had a bodacious birthday then Thanksgiving dinner and plotted my course across the country.
A few days later I cruised off into the Columbia Gorge, (with a massive headwind) to my first independent bookstore visits. Klindt's Booksellers & Stationers in The Dalles, Oregon is a cool little shop that sells not only books, but great toys and gifts all arranged invitingly on their creaky wooden floors. I especially love that many independent booksellers are located on main streets of smaller towns with a walk-able feel and, equally important for the big van drivers among us-easy parking right on the street. They agreed to accept a copy of “Hope I Don’t Die Before I Get Old” to review and I felt the whole trip had been worth it. If you are in The Dalles, Oregon area, do stop by Klindt’s Booksellers.
Continuing my first leg eastward to New Hampshire, I stopped at Sunflower Books, Etc. in LaGrande and Betty’s Books in Baker. I met lovely people, did a bit of Christmas shopping and dropped off a few more copies of our book. Betty’s Books bought four copies outright, so you can go right in and get one for yourself there! We spoke of a return visit and the big plan for a future bicycling book tour and with Little Bird as the backup van it really began to take shape.
As I cruised through the eastern half of Oregon, I felt pleased with my progress and impressed with the landscape, both the natural beauty of the mountains and the vibrant small towns that somehow felt like home as I passed.
Next day I scooted my way across Idaho and found Boise to be a nice surprise. I found cozy homes and broad streets, easy to navigate, with nifty shops. Hyde Park Books was a neat little shop staffed by friendly people with some very interesting titles displayed. After a chat we agreed that Boise should make the list for a bike tour stop and I bought a few books to read along my way. Buying books is a hazard of stopping only at gas stations and bookshops but one I happily indulge. The Little Bird has lots of room to stow my collections and when road conditions are bad, I am comforted by the notion I can just pull over and have a nice read till the weather or traffic clears.
The road through Utah to Wyoming made up my next day's travel. Avoiding big cities, I bypass Salt Lake City leaving it for the next tour and skip ahead to Laramie. There I found a unique pair of shops, the first floor contained Night Heron Books and Coffeehouse where I had an excellent Bison Rubin sandwich and looked around their good selection of used books. Upstairs was the surprising Personally Recommended Books/The Second Story that sells new books. They have a lovely children’s book room and all the latest books-including Hope I Don’t Die Before I Get Old! If you are in Laramie, do stop by. Right next-door is the Chocolate Cellar where I got an excellent dark chocolate caramel turtle for the road. It was so big, it lasted me three days and got me through some knuckle biting driving.
And so on across the country till I arrived back at my own little home in the North Country of New Hampshire once again. It was a wonderful trip and a super shake down cruise. I got through every challenge and fear so I am comfortable and happy in most driving and overnighting circumstances. Except for one, that is. Snow and ice-the local hazard that is guaranteed to catch you out when you live in the mountains, climate change not withstanding.
This morning I set off for a short trip to Boston under clear skys and cool temperatures. A little snow was predicted, but figuring I was headed south where the temperature is usually warmer, I thought there would be no problem. Wrong. The snow began in Franconia Notch, where it is, I swear, always snowing, so I worried not, and kept driving south. An hour later, as ice caked the windshield and I passed the blinking signs warning me of the severe winter storm (no kidding), I decided to pull off the road and parked at a convenient Dunkin Donuts with WiFi.
Thank you Mr. Dunkin! I am safely parked, drinking my own espresso-(sorry Mr. Dunkin) and updating my web site. Meetings cancelled by weather, I have a gloriously free 'snow day.' Confined to my spectacular little home and office on wheels for the duration, I am supremely glad I went ahead and bought Little Bird. Having now completed the last of the road terrors that worried my mind when I bought her-rain, wind, fog, sleet and now snow-I am ready for what comes and planning the next road trip. I hope you will follow along with our adventures-we will keep you posted!