End of the Road

Location: 37,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean
Miles: That particular bit of information is currently buried in the baggage compartment

There are different kinds of road stories, I suppose. The good ones have some kind of transformation take place in the course of the narrative – perhaps the driver has gained some insight into his nature or the nature of the world around him. Occasionally they even get where they’re going. I imagine, compared to actual literature, that this narrative is one of those where you’re getting close to the end but there’s no real end in sight. As you read along you start to realize that there aren’t many pages left, and barring a jarring deus ex machina or a mighty epiphany (“Flossing is the answer!”) you’re going to be pretty pissed off when you get to the end of the book.

On the penultimate page our hero is hurtling across the heartland, thinking deep thoughts. You turn the page, and it just says, “And then he stopped.” You blink at the sentence, feeling gypped. “That’s it?” you ask the book, but the book just sits there, ignoring your ire. “And then he stopped.”

You think back over the stories within the narrative, looking for something you might have missed the first time. Sure, the individual bits are occasionally interesting, but what do they add up to? Is there a motion, a progression of any sort? Is there a grander metaphor? What if the road is life, the car is the soul, and the destination is death? That sounds poetic enough, but then what does “And then he stopped” mean in that context?

And then I stopped.

Not that I ever expected to find anything out on the road beyond a few stories to tell, which will probably make me insufferable in conversations for a while. (“That reminds me of when I was Calgary during the Stanley cup…” Oh, yeah. It’s not going to be pretty.)

The only thing more annoying about getting to the end of a book only to find it doesn’t end is discovering that there’s a sequel and nobody told you. You have to buy a whole nother stinkin book to see what happens next. But what if it doesn’t end there? How many volumes will you buy before you just throw your hands up in disgust?

And then I stopped, and got on a plane to Prague.

To be continued…

Ely (rhymes with mealy) redux

I woke up somewhere in Kansas. The benefit of 25-hour days is apparent, by shifting one time zone per day I have been able to keep up a pretty good pace and still get up reasonably early. I walked across the parking lot to collect my complimentary breakfast and the first thing I noticed was the cloudless blue sky. The second thing I noticed was the cold. I tried blowing vapor rings in the still air, as always without success. The sun shone down like a cold, hard, diamond.

After a pleasant breakfast I hit the road, top up, windows up, and heater on. Before long I was hurtling across the high plains, especially appreciative of the higher speed limit when I crossed into Colorado. The fields were lightly covered with snow, which on the lea side of embankments had formed curvaceous structures. I snapped a couple of pics on the fly and then flew on.

I was still one hundred miles shy of Denver when the first snow-capped peaks rose over the horizon. Passing through the city was easy enough (note: I did not have a chance to tell you yet that St Louis drivers are the worst I encountered on this trip) and up into the mountains I went.

Wow! I’ll say it again: Wow! Interstate 70 west of Denver is a minor engineering marvel through some unbelievable scenery. Finally I just had to put the top down. I got out of the car to stretch and had quite a headrush. Who stole all the oxygen? I seems I was almost at Vail Pass (10,600 feet). Heading down the Western Slope I stopped in Vail to put on my jacket. Later I stopped for lunch and couldn’t get my fingers to work. The top went back up.

I’d never been through that part of eastern Utah, and boy does it look cool when the Sun is going down. I took a couple of pictures. Somewhere east of I-15 I left I-70 and headed out into the little-road version of the desert on Highway 50. Once it got dark I only stopped once more, to see what a 30-second exposure of the vast night sky would look like. I’ll let you know, but in retrospect I think I messed them up. I had to turn off auto focus but I don’t recall manually setting the focus to infinity.

Heading out into the desert night, I saw a sign that said “Next Services 110 Miles”. No problem, I had plenty of fuel and the car was running perfectly. An hour later I passed a sign reading, “Next Services 40 Miles.” I had to laugh. I wonder how many people have seen that and thought, “Man, I’m not sure I can make it 40 miles,” and turned back, only to see another sign 30 miles later reading “Next Services 40 Miles.” I mean, sure it’s good to know how far it is to the next gas station, but just what are you going to do about it? Perhaps the sign should have said, “Next Services 40 Miles. If you’re not sure you’re going to make it, pull over while you still have gas to run your air conditioner and get help.”

Now I’m in Ely (rhymes with mealy), drinking with the Lord, as Pants says. The Casinos are close by and the beer is free there, but I have no time for cards tonight.

I’ll put up the photos (and add a couple to this post) later. The top was up and the windshield dirty, so there aren’t very many good ones.

Take Me Home, Country Roads

Location: Grayville, Illinois

I wanted to cover a lot of miles today, but I didn’t want to retrace my steps. I chose a more northerly route through America’s heartland.

Add Highway 52 in Virginia to the list of tops highways in America. It was a sunny morning and the car and I were in fine fettle. I headed north from Winston-Salem with a full tank of gas and a desire to see the world. I flew around the curves, through clouds of leaves, slowing down for pretty little towns with their pretty little churches. I was awash in the smells of the land.

Not far out of the city, before the road got really interesting, there was a smell it took me a moment to place. Tobacco. Sure enough, the next exit was Tobaccoville. North I went. The road got twisty and turny and the air was heavy with the smell of leaves decaying, making the rich loam that would slumber through the winter and fuel the spring. I turned off the tunes in favor of birdsong. Passing through one of the little towns I breathed in the smell of fresh-mown grass as I passed an old man on his tractor.

One cool part about this stretch of highway 52 is that it is not the best way to get from point A to Point B. There is I-77, which is much more efficient. There were stretches of several miles of perfect driving road in which I saw not a single soul. Sure, I’m trying to cross an entire continent, but I wanted to see more of what the east is like. What are their contributions to the new pantheon?

Interstate 77 turns into a toll road in West Virginia. I’m a cheap bastard, and I was having fun on 52 so I decided to stay to the little road. I’ll tell you this, I don’t know what the West Virginia Turnpike costs, but if you’re trying to get anywhere it’s worth it. Highway 52 in West Virginia take you along a rail line, through little coal towns nestled in valleys, strange combinations of postcard views flanked by run-down and abandoned buildings. (According to a political ad I heard more than once today, West Virginia is the only state whose population has declined since 1950.)

As I passed the mines I was met by the acrid, acidic smell of the coal, and in one town I saw a man whose job it was to scrape the coal dust paste from the street gutters.

On this part of the highway there is no alternate route, and people drive at a maximum of 45 no matter what the posted speed limit is. I spent long, long hours watching the ass end of mal-tuned pickup or a Buick with no visible driver. I lost a lot of time, but now that I’m here I’m glad I did it. I’d read about that country, but I’m glad I got a slow view of it, even if it was a driveby. I drove by a lot of photos, but that would have slowed me down just too much.

The final smell I picked up driving top-up in the light rain as I drove through southern Indiana in the darkness. Fertilizer clogged my nostrils. It was worse even than Clovis.