On the Road

“I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.”
                        from On the Road, Jack Kerouac

I moved to Oregon to be near my grandchildren when they were toddlers. It was a joy to watch them grow up, and a delight to see the wonderful young adults they’ve become. My last week in Oregon I spent as much time as I could with them and friends who are dear to me. They are an interesting mix of people who helped me walk the path of life, sharing laughter when life was happening as one would wish, and giving encouragement during the rough patches. I will miss them all, but it’s time to move on.

Wanting to see a part of the country I’ve never been to, I take Highway 90 across Washington, through Idaho, and into Montana. I spend the first night in Ellensburg, WA, a charming community along the Yakima River. It’s an agricultural region, and the main crop is hay and other forage, ninety percent of which is shipped internationally. It is also the home of Central Washington University. I love the architecture of the town, a mix of Italianate from the time of its establishment, to Art Deco of the 1930s.

I have dinner at the Palace Café. From the front window I see the Davidson building down the street, under a bright blue sky. A dark cloud hovers along the side street. It begins to rain and the wind kicks up. There’s a flurry of whiteness outside. For a moment I think it’s a blizzard, and then realize that it’s petals from the flowering plum trees drifting in the wind.

I want to spend the weekend in Coeur d’Alene, ID, but accommodations are too expensive. I stay in Spokane instead. In the morning I drive to Coeur d’Alene. When I arrive, the Women’s March for the Right to Self-determination is in progress. It’s a cold, dreary, misty day. Women of all ages march, some are pregnant. Men march with them. They chant, “My body, my choice.” The truck in front of me has an American flag flying from the tailgate. The man driving it sticks his head out the window and shouts, “If you have a baby in your belly, you’re supposed to keep it!” He turns left and zooms off.

People across the street shout, “Murderers!” In one hand they hold an American flag, in the other, a picture of Jesus.

Now I’m behind a car with California license plates. We stop at a red light. A woman from the non-marching side of the street screams, “Go back to California you #%^&*@!

I find a place to park, but by the time I walk back to the main throughfare, the parade has passed. Only the flag toting, Jesus-picture-carrying-mob remains. In the store windows are signs, “Idaho Wild & Free. It seems ironic to me that people who pride themselves on personal freedom, would deny others the freedom, and right, to make decisions that affect only their personal lives.

I walk to the lake. It’s beautiful but looks forlorn, or maybe it’s me who is forlorn. I get in my car and drive back to Spokane.

On the TV in the lobby of the hotel where I’m staying is breaking news of a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York. I’m heartsick. What’s become of this country? Why can’t we be civil with each other? Why can’t we just get along? We all want the same thing, to be able to sustain ourselves and live peacefully in our homes, the love of our family and friends, to have pleasant interaction with our neighbors, and that includes the world at large.

I spend the rest of the day walking along the Spokane River on the Centennial trail. The river is running high and fast from the spring melt; the trail is beautiful and peaceful, with touches of whimsy.

A River Runs Through It

Missoula, Montana surprises me. I imagined the weather would be cold, with clouds hovering over an old western town in the heart of a city of modern buildings, and filled with cowboys. When I arrive, it’s sunny and seventy-two degrees, and I don’t see any cowboys. It’s Sunday and the town is quiet, but restaurants are busy. Even though it’s the second largest city in Montana, it has a small town feel. It’s home to the University of Montana. I’m told that it’s graduation weekend, but there are no signs of celebration.

I have dinner at a restaurant on the river, then walk along the riverfront trail. I cross a bridge over the Clark Fork River, the river that runs through it, and walk around the Hip Strip. People are sitting at outdoor tables in front of bars and restaurants. There is a line to the corner of families waiting their turn for ice cream at the Big Dipper.

Bicyclists ride by and I watch someone in a kayak playing on Brennan’s Wave, a manmade whitewater wave. I cross the river again at the Higgins Avenue Bridge, and then walk in the opposite direction, back to the motel where I’m staying.

The sky becomes overcast. I’m disappointed because I’d hoped to see the full moon rise, and watch the Flower Blood Moon eclipse.

Every fifteen minutes, a train runs behind the motel I’m staying at. It isn’t just the clickity clack of the wheels on the railroad tracks all night, but also the whistle that blows as it passes my room that startles me and makes sleep impossible. I get up and search the internet for different accommodations. What few rooms that are available are well over two hundred dollars a night. When I started planning my trip in February, I was shocked that prices were sixty to eighty dollars a night more than last summer, but they’d increased even more in the past few weeks. I decide to leave in the morning.

I’d planned to stay a few days to hike the Lolo trail and explore more of the surrounding wilderness. During my journey last summer, I realized that what I really want to do when I travel is to camp in the arms of Mother Nature. I’m working on building the courage to camp solo. When I’ve conquered the hesitance within, I will re-visit the Missoula wilderness.

Big Sky Country

The sky is big in Montana, and it is more than blue, it has a tinge of violet, and appears to curve above me rather than at the horizon. Driving beside sparkling streams, the mountains seem near, yet far off. They aren’t gently rolling and crested, but jutting and oblique, and purple, not verdant. My eyes feast on the beauty as I drive across the state. I wish there were places to pull over to take photos.

When I left on my trip, I was warned that Montanans drive fast. The speed limit does go up to eighty miles per hour, and slows down to sixty-five when passing by towns. I stay in the right lane and I’m surprised that Montanans do, as well. It seems the left lane is used as it’s intended, as a passing lane. Drivers stay well back, there are no bumper huggers, and if they want to pass, they don’t cut in front after passing, but put distance between the vehicles before returning to the right lane.  Yes, they drive fast, but I think Montanans are the politest drivers I’ve encountered on the road.

Billings is the largest city in Montana and the most industrialized. I spend the night and then take HWY 25 down into Wyoming. It is more rolling than flat. I hope for a glimpse of the Grand Tetons, but it’s too far east of them. I promise myself to visit Yellowstone National Park in the fall. ***

I spend the night in Casper and I’m up early, eager to get to my destination.

“I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.”

                        From On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Denver is a big sprawling metropolis with a heavily trafficked, multi-laned freeway system. It reminds me of Los Angeles, the center of a spiderweb of outlying suburban areas. Castle Rock is one of those suburbs, a half an hour south of Denver. It’s seventy-eight degrees the day I arrive, the next day it’s eighty-eight. The temperature drops to twenty-six degrees overnight and a foot of snow falls.

It’s good to be with my son, Paul, and daughter in law, Heather. I’m adjusting to fitting in with a newly formed family as well as a new environment. I join a writer’s group to meet people, hike in the beautiful mountains surrounding Castle Rock, and watch my new life unfold.

***As I write this, all entrances to Yellowstone Park are closed. An unusual amount of rain and spring snowmelt caused severe flooding of rivers, eroding roads, collapsing bridges, and sweeping homes into swiftly running streams. The greatest damage is to the northern entrances to the park. Until damage is fully assessed, those portions of the park may be closed for the rest of the season.

Forest fires have swept New Mexico since early April. The Black Fire in southern New Mexico has consumed over 3212,00 acres and is only 47% contained.

Because of severe drought conditions, Mendocino County, CA is running out of water.

It seems the weather is becoming more and more extreme. Extreme conditions mean extreme actions must be taken to bring humanity back into balance with nature. We need our political leaders to stop bickering with each other and work hand in hand with leaders of industry to focus on resolving these serious issues, and as individuals, we must live lightly upon the earth. I don’t like thinking about the consequences unless we act swiftly and soon.

3 thoughts on “On the Road

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