To quote my mother when I was young, she would say “If you want to get something done, don’t dilly dally; put your mind to it and get at it.” That was my intention when I said goodbye to my friends near Perth, Ontario, on October 31st with my newly repaired trailer and started my sojourn to Sedona, Arizona, and to get there before the snow starting falling on the high plains of Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. My journey took me over 4,550 km in 12 days, one of those days was spent entirely at a Walmart parking lot somewhere in Pennsylvania gathering my wits and rallying enough courage to go back on Interstate 81 after a harrowing drive the day before. My longest day on the road was from Elk City, Oklahoma, through the Texas pan handle to Albuquerque, New Mexico, a gruelling 650 km hauling a travel trailer across what is known as Tornado Alley. While driving near Flagstaff, Arizona, I saw a sign for Los Angeles. It was at that moment that I realized just how far I had come in a few days.
During this time on the road traversing the continent not only was it difficult to find internet connections to stay in touch with concerned people but also I had very little time to write. I was on the road early in the morning, took only two or three breaks at rest areas and gas stations throughout the day, and spent the remaining daylight hours, if there were any, making a meal in the trailer before I collapsed in bed. I want to thank all those friends and family members who took the time to send me emails, for without your support and encouragement this journey would have been a very solitary experience. I took great comfort in reading your well wishes and wonderful comments on my blog.
In the days ahead I will have more time to write and intend to have more posts on my blog. I would like to share with you some of my experiences while on the road and experiences yet to come. There were many things that sent delightful shivers up my spine, many things that frustrated me, and many wonderful images to see of a continent so varied in its scenery with each state offering its own particular beauty. On the way, I survived an earthquake, tried to sleep through vicious thunder and lightning storms, felt ferocious high plains winds rock me to sleep, strained my neck and eyes for miles and miles watching for tornados, drove over highways that were just cleared of heavy snow, shook brutally over boob-bouncing stretches of highway, went on a wild goose chase in the mountains of Tennessee looking for a campground, descended an icy narrow steep canyon with hairpin turns that took me down 4,000 feet in elevation in less than 20 miles, and got lost more times than I would like to admit.
At the Border
The border crossing into the United States at Thousand Islands from Gananoque to Alexandria Bay near Kingston, Ontario, was surprisingly picturesque – a series of low bridges joining small islands that dotted a narrow part of the St. Lawrence River. The islands were obviously a popular recreational area, for as far as I could see from the bridges, there were jutting wharfs and docks, pleasure boats gently rocking in the morning calm, and lavishly built cottages hanging from the cliffs and shorelines. To my surprise, the U.S. border official did not look in the trailer, but she asked me in three different ways throughout our five- minute conversation if there was someone else with me. She seemed intent to establish that I was not by myself on the journey to Arizona. When she asked if I had anything to declare, I replied “I have a bag of very dry garlic because it’s been in the back of my car all summer, a container of frozen blueberries that I picked myself and will die if you take them away from me, and three spongy carrots in a plastic bag marked “Produce of Canada” that I don’t mind relinquishing if need be.” Before my last words were spoken, the officer raised her hand towards me holding my passport. With a broad smile and hint of envy, she said “Have a wonderful winter down there.”
Trucks, Trucks, and More Trucks
Trucking is alive and well in America! There wasn’t a day of travel when I didn’t encounter trucks behind me, to the left of me, and ahead of me and sometimes all at once. Truck traffic was the heaviest along Interstate 81 from Syracuse, New York, to Knoxville, Tennessee, a relentless barrage of 18 wheelers gusting my trailer from side to side from morning until night while both of my hands gripped the wheel for fear that a truck would blow me off the road. The faster they snuck up on me from behind, the wilder the ride. Just when I thought I had a chance to grab a snack or adjust the radio, a truck would appear out of nowhere and rattle my tail. A CD put on in the morning had to
play over and over until I had a chance to stop at a rest area to change it. A sign near Harrisonburg, Virginia, said “Heavy Truck Traffic”, and I muttered to myself “No shit!” Driving this heavy traffic route felt like an out-of-control treadmill where everything was moving so fast that there was no time to read a sign or take an exit for fear of getting side swiped with cars darting in and around you changing lanes before an eye could blink. The interstate rest areas were my respite, but even then I was surrounded by trucks that never shut off their loud rumbling engines. The air I breathed only started to smell fresh when I reached the open roads of Arkansas.
My first day on the road took me as far as Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where the local Walmart had a half dozen other RV’s already camped out at the far end of the parking lot along with a couple of 18 wheelers. It would be the first of many evenings on my journey in similar surroundings. I soon learned that not only is Walmart a safe place to rest for the night but also it is expected that RV’s and trucks stay there. The tall dark blue Walmart mall signs were like a homing pigeon’s beacon that I learned to trust and rely on. To find a Walmart store, I asked a truck driver at the last rest area of the day’s drive, as they all know the store locations and exit numbers.
Throughout the journey, however, I learned to overcome several Walmart challenges, the biggest one being finding a flat spot so cooking an omelette didn’t turn into scrambled eggs and sleeping in my bed didn’t mean rolling out of bed. Some nights I slept with my pillow at the foot of the bed so I didn’t feel upside down in the morning. Every store has what I now refer to as a “Walmart slant” where the parking lot is slanted, sometimes away from the store and sometimes towards the store. I discovered over time that it’s also important to park where there is the least shopping traffic because most of the Walmart’s here in the States are open 24-hours. The bright lights of noisy cars and rumbling pickups can also be a hindrance to sound rest. Then there’s the problem of where to dump dish water and the yellow contents of my blue bathroom bucket each morning if I felt too proud to carry it in to the store’s restroom. I didn’t want the extra weight of hauling full tanks. Therefore, I always searched for a spot to park along the edge of trees, near bushes or a grassy meridian.
Now that’s a lot to think about when you roll into a Walmart bug-eyed and exhausted from a long day’s drive, especially in the dark. It involves staying alert, having a keen eye, and driving around the circumference two or three times to thoroughly examine the environs until all conditions are met to the best of my ability. If you’re the first RV to arrive that day, there is added responsibility to make sure it is acceptable for the other RV’ers who might arrive later, for without fail, we all ended up in the same area, a fraternity of travelling strangers silently banding together for rest and comfort under a Walmart sign.
Now I know it’s not fair to single out one state and complain about it, but this is my blog and I can complain if I want to. From the moment I set wheels on Oklahoma soil, I had a very eerie feeling and I kept saying to myself over and over all day long “Can’t wait to be out of here.” There was something about the place that gave me the creeps. On a local radio station I learned of a 5.7 earthquake that occurred near Oklahoma City the evening before. Perhaps hearing that news started sending the willies up my spine, I tried to convince myself.
My eerie day on the Oklahoma roads started out with a strange-looking man at the first rest area walking all the way across the busy parking lot straight to my car asking me if I would sell him two cigarettes. All the traffic on Interstate 40 seemed to be going in the other direction. The radio stations were filled with doom and gloom talk of earthquakes, earth shifts and planet Elenin breaking up. The countryside was relatively flat, browned from fall frost and desolate looking with many run-down farms along the highway. The rest areas were shabby and lacked facilities, and on and on my day progressed, a stark contrast to the lush green beauty, rolling hills and vibrancy of the New England states.
That evening I felt myself needing more reassurance and security than a Walmart parking lot could offer, so I splurged and stayed at a KOA in Checotah, just east of Oklahoma City. After I registered and set up in my camping spot, I decided to walk down a short trail from the KOA to Lake Eufala while there was some daylight. The lake itself was very morbid looking with its low level of murky water and dead trees jutting out of the surface for as far as I could see. Before I got to the water’s edge, I had a very strange feeling that someone was watching me. As I turned around to get away from the spine-chilling feeling and go back up the trail, I walked right into a ghost, or the entity walked into me. One way or the other, it gave me cold prickly sensations over my whole body and prevented me from moving. After I told it to piss off and leave me alone, which it did, I ran back up the trail, hopped into the trailer at lightning speed, and quickly locked the door.
A few minutes later I started to make supper. Suddenly, the trailer started shaking gently back and forth for about a minute. I hesitated to think that someone was trying to scare me or that I was experiencing poltergeist. I timidly opened the RV door to check the wind only to find dead calm. I acknowledged to myself that it was going to be one of those weird evenings. It was only later at the camp restroom that staff told me it was an aftershock from the previous day’s big quake. They also told me not to go down to the lake at dusk because weird things have been known to occur there. Thanks for the warning. To end a perfectly creepy day, I fell asleep during a vicious thunder and lightning storm that again shook my trailer, blinded my eyes with brilliant light, and pounded torrential rain on my rubber roof.
I began to take all the events of the previous day personally until I stopped at a gas station in New Mexico. There I met a man who was a former minister and who studied paranormal activity all over the southwest. He told me that Oklahoma was notorious for its unfriendly spirits saying “Just a feeling of not being very welcoming”. A young black woman overheard our conversation, but not all of it, and asked me “What is Oklahoma like? I’m going there to start a new job.” I lied and got back in the Buick.
The End – But More to come
I finally made it to Arizona and am presently parked in a private RV campground in a small community located on a high ridge near Sedona. The village is centrally located in a valley that is surrounded by three mountainous National Forests – Prescott to the west, Tonto to the south, and Coconino to the east. It was a great feeling to finally take the trailer hitch off the Buick, knowing that I can now use the RV toilet instead of my familiar blue bucket, and using water freely from my RV taps instead of safeguarding a few precious gallons for days. No more camping on the road for a while.
During my first full rested day here, I drove to Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek. No words can express how magical a place Sedona and area is with its gigantic red rock shapely formations towering over the town, the earthen adobe structures lining the streets and clustered around the entire countryside, glamorous-looking shops and restaurants, cactus and yucca plants claiming space along the roads and wide open hillsides, and red-soiled dirt trails that lead into the wilderness.
The day that I arrived held something special for me. I was nearing the end of the drive down the steep icy Oak Creek Canyon from Flagstaff to North Sedona. The canyon began to open up to let late afternoon light in, and I looked up towards an overcast sky to see a rainbow. As I leaned forward to peer through the windshield to see more, I discovered that the rainbow was straight down from the sky. There was absolutely no bend in it at all. It was as if the clouds parted to let something very special shine on Sedona. Several people I talked to today had heard of this phenonenom and also said that it was a sign for me, but noone offered any explanation. Only time will tell.