14 October 2010

Blowing Off Steam

I’m happy to report that the last two days of my cross-country trip were extremely easy when compared to all the other days of the trip. Without any of the impediments of the first five days, I made really good time. Yes, there were sections of highway where there were slowdowns because of road construction. One of the things I noticed on this trip is that when you are out west in Nowheresville, they may close an entire lane of traffic on the interstate, but they don’t bother to lower the speed limit or not much anyway. Sometimes I had to follow a queue through a construction zone for miles on end, but we were all barreling along at 65 or 70 mph, even me and all the bigger trucks out there. Plus I never saw anyone hitting their brake lights. Oddly enough there were no mishaps through all that, and yet once you got farther east they made you slow down to 40 mph, even in places where there was no more traffic than there had been out west and no construction workers in sight. I find this intriguing and am still puzzling over it. 

Once I was not being blown or sprayed off the road, I found Nebraska to be downright pretty. The day before when they were hosing down my windshield and blasting me off the road with high winds, I hadn’t had the opportunity to notice how pleasant the scenery was. Silly me not noticing something like that. I guess I was simply too preoccupied with getting my cats and myself out of there alive. Go figure.

I had a most pleasant and boring fifth day of travel and stopped in Columbia, Missouri for the night. I decided to tackle St. Louis early in the day. I felt a little trepidation as I neared this metropolis, having a history of mishaps and travel delays there, whether I was in a car, truck, or airplane. So I slathered on an extra layer of angelic protection and proceeded with caution. I was using the air conditioner only periodically still. After one time when I’d turned it off and started up an incline while driving through the middle of St. Louis, I noticed smoke coming out the air conditioning vents. While I’ve seen that phenomenon before, I wasn’t entirely sure that it was only condensation from the air conditioning that had just been switched off again after a long period of running it.

This was, after all, the St. Louis where I’d had to stop and get the air conditioning fixed on the Ryder truck I was driving out to Seattle from Asheville because it had broken down and I’d been sweltering all afternoon in a hot truck. The same St. Louis where we’d stopped at an Olive Garden for dinner and a waitress had dumped an entire glass of iced tea onto my chest and lap. Much to her surprise, I looked up at her horrified expression and said ever so calmly, “Thank you. That’s the nicest thing anyone has done to me all day.” Boy, was she shocked. But it was the truth. I’d been freaking hot all day, and after being doused with a big old glass of iced tea, I felt considerably cooler. Soaked through to the skin perhaps, but cooler. Then after dinner we’d gone back to get the repaired truck, but as we made our way around the city trying to find a place to stay, our vehicles got separated and we had no idea where the other vehicle was. The car lights we’d been following turned out not to be our friend’s van after all.

This was in 1993, before the days of everyone and his brother having a cell phone. After a futile attempt to relocate the other vehicle, we stopped the truck, and my partner at that time called the police to report our whereabouts and to check to see if our other party had done the same thing. The driver of the other vehicle, who had my partner’s children with her, was my lifetime best friend, Jan, who is quite likely to surface again in other stories, particularly now that I’m back in Florida, and staying with her for the time being.

We had gotten separated briefly in Louisville (maybe the connection here is Louis!) where we’d had to circle the city twice until we caught up with each other. We decided then that if we got separated again, we should simply stop and call the police to report our positions. So we were delighted though not surprised to learn that she had already called the police to report her whereabouts. They gave us the phone number of where she was. She’d stopped at a hotel and booked a room because the little girl had gotten stressed out when she’d gotten separated from her mother. She ended up hurling out the window (though not totally out the window), and was very upset.

Once everyone involved had gotten to talk to everyone else, we decided to stay where we were since it was late and wait until daybreak when it would be easier to locate each other. Next morning we met up at my friend’s hotel and resumed our journey. Other than the brief separation in Louisville, the St. Louis fiasco was the only truly difficult thing that happened on that trip, so you can imagine that I didn’t have fond memories of that city. Then in later years when I had gotten stranded overnight at the St. Louis airport on a flight from Orlando to Seattle, my distrust of St. Louis had deepened. Either on that flight or another one, the St. Louis airport lost our luggage on the way home, which is why I never check all my luggage. I carry on a backpack with a complete change of clothing. Just in case.

From a driving standpoint, St. Louis is a bit of a logistical nightmare. It is called the “Gateway to the West,” but really it’s more like the gateway to disaster. Multiple interstates converge there and trying to puzzle out how to get from where you are to where you want to be can take some time and concentration, something you have very little of if you are driving and trying to navigate all at the same time. God help you if you reach St. Louis at rush hour.

I had stopped the night before not too far west of St. Louis so I could avoid that unpleasantness. It was still early in the day when I started approaching the big city of scary interchanges with only my cats to help me navigate. Before I got too close, my sweetheart called my cell phone from England while as I was driving on a new bypass that I must say was a sound improvement over the way things used to be. I had memorized the route the night before because I knew what I’d be facing when I reach this city and former bane of my existence. So I talked as long as I could and was about to say that I needed to hang up because I had to focus on the road when the phone suddenly went dead. I didn’t know what had happened at the time, but it couldn’t have happened at a better moment because I needed to concentrate on making it through St. Louis without mishap. I think that may have been the angel protection working. They were saying to me, “I know you want to talk to her, but you really need to pay attention right now.” So they cut us off without warning. Okay then. I stuck the phone back in my pocket and paid close attention.

Now that you know where I was coming from in regards to this city, you’ll understand why the next scenario caused me some consternation. As I started through the heart of St. Louis I noticed smoke coming out of the vents on the dashboard. Not one to underestimate the power of St. Louis to cause hiccups in my travel plans, particularly on a trip that had already proven to be a bit of a nightmare, as soon as I could I pulled into a gas station where I’d be able to turn truck and car around easily and dug out the phone number for the truck rental place.

The guy who answered the phone was puzzled but suggested that since the radiator wasn’t overheating, I should drive on and call him back if anything else happened. Ahem. I stifled the urge to ponder what else could happen because I simply didn’t want to find out. I hung up thinking that had been a pretty unproductive phone call. However, I drove on and figured out that it was only steam blowing out because of the condensation that had built up from running the air conditioner. I noticed that it did that only when I turned off the air just before going uphill, which is something I’d taken to doing for the purpose of conserving gasoline, though why it had chosen St. Louis to exhibit the whole blowing off steam routine for the very first time was a puzzle. I think if it had started doing it anywhere except St. Louis, I would have simply watched it and figured it out without having to make a panicky call to the service people, but I wasn’t about to take any chances. I was in St. Louis after all.

Beth Mitchum is the author of five novels, one collection of poetry, and one music CD. Her works are available at Amazon.com through the following link: http://tinyurl.com/bethmitchumbooks

13 October 2010

Trial by Wind and Rain

Athough the next major event that happened shouldn’t have been a surprise, it was. I had been lulled into a false sense of complacency the day before when I had gotten to drive all morning without anything else happening to impede my progress.  We’d gotten the rest of the way through Wyoming and deep into Nebraska, another state that felt very long because I was driving from one end to the other. We'd had a good night of rest and were ready for another day. The kitties cooperated a little more. Anjolie did much better because we’d stayed in a place that was obviously designed for kitties who like to find hiding places. There simply were no places for her to hide so she was easy enough for me to capture and load into the truck. Once we were all loaded, we headed on our way. It was a comfortable temperature and while I probably ran the air conditioner part of the day, I didn’t need it much of the day. In fact it was rather cloudy and it looked for a long time like there was some sort of stormy weather system ahead.

It had only just begun to rain a little bit when I noticed an eighteen-wheeler starting to pass me going up a slight incline. When he had just barely passed me, we both were hit by a huge blast of wind that sent both of our trucks onto the right shoulder of the road. The truck very nearly hit me when this happened. Had the blast come a couple of seconds earlier, it would have driven the tractor-trailer into the cab of my truck on the side where I was sitting. We both struggled to bring our rigs back under control, once the wind blast was over. Quite honestly I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to get my vehicle under control first. My relief at getting safely back onto the road quickly dissipated when I looked up to find that the truck driver in front of me was trying to keep his rig from jack-knifing. Given that he’d just barely gotten in front of me when we both got blown off the road, you can imagine how close I was behind him still. I tried to slow down right away but that was no easy task given what I was driving.

Before I even had time to say a prayer, he suddenly got it under control. It was so fast that I don’t know how he did it. I think we both had angels giving us a hand because it was apparently not his time or my time to go. I was very aware of how close I’d just come to being the filling of a truck sandwich. It probably would have been quick but unexpected to be sure. Why should I have such a sudden urgency to get to Florida only to end up another highway fatality? I knew that wasn’t in the cards, so I focused my attention on the road in front of me. The rain was picking up, and the truck was moving on down the highway in front of me.

The winds kept gusting, and the rain came down like a fire engine’s hose was being directed at my windshield. I couldn’t see to drive safely yet there was nowhere to go that would be any safer, given that no one else would be able to see either. After at least a half hour of blinding rain and heavy gusts of wind, I finally spied a rest area ahead and pulled into the area where the trucks were parked. There was only one space left, so I slid into it and waited for the rains to slow down enough for me to head to restrooms.

Once inside the facility, I ran into another woman who was as perplexed about the weather as I had been. An hour or more earlier, when I had seen the weather system miles ahead of me, I had phoned my mother and asked her and Amy, my niece, to find out what on earth was going on in Nebraska. They both assured me that the forecast was only for thunderstorms, yet this was anything but your basic thunderstorm. I have lived through hurricanes in Florida and wind and ice storms in North Carolina and Washington, and the kind of blast I’d been hit by was the stuff of weather disasters. Finally I heard from the weather station video at the rest area that they were calling for high winds in Nebraska. Uh huh. I was pretty sure that we had already noticed that part. What I wanted to know was if there had been any tornados spotted in this crazy weather system, but no one seemed to have any answers. I called my mother again, and still the Weather Channel was not reporting anything amiss. Not until hours after it had started did any news trickle into the weather stations. Okay then. I was obviously on my own.

If no one knew we were in the midst of a hugely destructive storm, how could I get any clues about where I should head other than where I was already? A few hours back, I had approached the exit to another interstate that would have taken me south to the next interstate that would have taken me east again. I had a nudge to take the southerly route, given the storm I could see in the distance, and I guess I should have listened to the nudge, but that was after I’d already called home to find out what kind of weather was ahead of me. With no indication of severe weather being reported ahead of me, I had to conclude that it looked worse than it actually was.

Once again in my life, I had encountered the message to trust what I see myself in nature and to heed my intuitive nudges over listening to the weather reports. Those folks can’t be everywhere at the same time, and apparently they mostly report weather. Predicting weather is not all that easy. When I had gotten snowed in for two weeks around Christmas of 2008, I would have been a lot worse off if I hadn’t listened to the nudges to stock up on food supplies for myself and my cats. The forecasters weren’t calling for multiple storms coming in back to back for a week or more. They were just calling for one snow storm.

By the time it was over, no one could have told you exactly how many storms in a row had rolled over us. They sort of all merged into one massive rolling storm that lasted for a week or more, instead of multiple little systems, each one delivering its own sleigh full of snow, ice, wind, and more snow. Fortunately I didn’t lose my electricity that whole time, and I never ran completely out of food supplies even though I had felt a little silly at the time stocking up as though there weren’t going to be any stores open for the next week. The stores were there all right. I just couldn’t get to them easily any more and neither could anyone else because for the first few days, the snow plows we did have on hand couldn’t keep up with the demand. Even the big city of Seattle came to an abrupt halt for a week.

The key to surviving strange and unpredictable weather occurrences lies in listening to that inner urging to do something different from your normal routine. The urging will either be suddenly strong or it will be a constant nagging, depending on how much time you have to act on the intuitive nudge. Had I gone the other way, I may have missed out on the worst of that weather system. At the time, the nudge was less urgent but presented as an option. Although I didn’t take it, my life didn’t depend on it that time, but when the nudges are particularly urgent, your life may very well depend on it. While it may not turn out to be a life-threatening event, it might be a less stressful option. I think I probably would have hit rain anyway, but perhaps it would have been less intense, and I could have skipped the close encounter with the semi. There’s a lot to be said about avoiding stressful driving conditions, which is why I got off the road early that day to avoid catching up to the terrible storm I’d let pass over me during my break at the rest area.

Once it had cleared, and I’d gotten back on the road, I discovered that the ominous black wall of scary weather wasn’t moving very fast. I was on the phone with my mother for a while giving her my location and where I thought I might have to stop for the evening. It was early yet, but I was barely staying behind that storm, and the last thing I wanted to do was to run into it again after dark.

She and my niece figured out a good place for me to stop for the night where they accepted kitties and had internet access, so I called it a day at dinner time. I ate a real meal that evening while my cats sat in a much cooler truck with the windows cracked. I had to confess that the scary weather system had made it much cooler than it had been even after the first cooling that had accompanied the hailstorm in Wyoming.

That night after we were unloaded, we all had a much better night’s sleep. I was very grateful for my family’s help at finding cat-friendly accommodations, and I was grateful to be alive. Although I had been calm enough during the wind storm, the battering rain had really been tough to deal with because of not being able to see anything beyond my steering wheel. I was glad to be able to relax earlier in the day. The cats were in heaven because they were allowed to romp around the room again after a much shorter day of being cooped up in the cab of the truck.

Beth Mitchum is the author of five novels, one collection of poetry, and one music CD. Her works are available at Amazon.com through the following link: http://tinyurl.com/bethmitchumbooks

Getting Down to the Wire

Now you’d think that the blown tire on the side of a Wyoming interstate and hours and hours of waiting to be rescued would be enough. Add to all that the time spent waiting for two new tires to be put on my car, and you’d think as I did that it was about time for things to start going my way for a change. But no, it seems not.

Tony, the fellow who had replaced my tires and helped me put my car back on the dolly where it belonged and plugged in all the cords to make the electrical system work, noticed that the wheel of car dolly was less than stable. One of the holes where the bolts attached the wheel to the vehicle was hollowed nearly all the way so you could have lifted the tire off over the lug nut if that had been the only one on the dolly. Fortunately it wasn’t but it still looked none too safe, considering that the bolt next to it had no lug nut at all. Ah, now that looked like an easy fix. I asked him if he had a lug nut he could put on it. One loose bolt was one thing but two loose bolts was definitely tempting fate, and given the trip so far, I wasn’t interested in doing that. Tony did indeed have a few spare lug nuts lying around the shop so he tried a couple of them and found one that had a tight fit. That solved that problem for now. I was almost ready to get back on the road. They just needed for finalize the bill, and I could get my car keys and hit the road again.

I noticed that the sun had shifted and that the cab was no longer completely in the shade so I hopped back in the truck, cranked it up, and turned the air on again to cool down the cab so the cats would be okay while I went back inside. I followed Tony back into the store to run my credit card. When I returned I realized with a touch of horror that I’d locked both truck keys in the truck with the cats. While Dustin was a most helpful cat, he had never overcome that lack of opposable thumbs handicap. Not that he hadn’t tried, but I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to be able to help me out here.

I’d been in the habit of keeping one of the truck keys on my car keys and one with the truck key ring so I could lock the cats in the car with the engine running and air conditioning cooling them while I made pit stops of one type or the other. I always took the car keys with me so I could activate the car alarm and lock the doors on it when I left the vehicles unattended. After all, the car was full of my belongings. I couldn’t leave the car alarm engaged while driving because all the jarring from travel would have set off the alarm multiple times a day. So I had a system already by this point in the trip. Only in removing my car keys for the tire folks meant separating truck key from car keys. In hindsight, I realize that was a bad idea, but hindsight is always based on the very experience you were trying not to have and did anyway.

So, yes, I had gotten back out of the truck, and somehow locked both keys inside. One was in the ignition so the cats would have air conditioning while I went back inside, and the other was wherever I’d stowed it in the cab when I had detached it from my car keys. Okay then, now what? I walked back inside and approached Tony, my angel of the day. He came out with a can-do attitude and a wire hanger and went to work trying to pop the handle up. Only it didn’t work despite the fact that I had so cleverly left the windows cracked and the air conditioning running. My absent-mindedness was working for me and against me at the same time.

After several unsuccessful attempts, it dawned on Tony that the truck was a Ford and therefore the handles pulled inward rather than upward. So he went back inside and brought out only a few less than a bazillion wire hangers and painstakingly twisted them together one at a time until he had a long, fairly inflexible wire contraption that could stretch across the width of the cab from window to window. He inserted his high tech wire gizmo and instructed me to catch his contraption on the other side with a single wire hanger, which I could lower onto the door handle. I did as he directed, he gave a quick yank on his side, and voila! The truck was unlocked again. Yay, Tony!

Thank goodness his day was coming to an end and the service area had been quiet except for me and my seemingly never-ending series of conundrums. He was in no way taking attention away from anyone else while he focused on solving problem after problem for me. He was definitely my earth angel that day, and I told him so. I’d met a lot of friendly and helpful folks that day in Wyoming, but Tony was by far the most helpful and resourceful of them all. Turns out that he used to be an engineer at some big company in Oklahoma but for whatever reason was now working in the automotive department of Walmart in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Their loss and Walmart’s gain is all I can say, though the man’s talents are not being fully utilized.

Now that it was dinner time, it was time to push on down the road.  It had taken six hours to solve the problem of the flat tire in Wyoming. Ahem. How ridiculous. But still it was time to move on. I called my mother again and inquired if she minded if I just stopped in Wyoming and unpacked my bags. I’d already had enough, and I was nowhere close to getting to the end of the trek through Wyoming. I still had miles to go before I could sleep. Several hundred to be more exact. She did object, so I pushed onward. I drove for I don’t know how many more hours and finally stopped near Laramie or Cheyenne, I think.

Beth Mitchum is the author of five novels, one collection of poetry, and one music CD. Her works are available at Amazon.com through the following link: http://tinyurl.com/bethmitchumbooks

Trial by Tire

It was a perfectly normal day when it started out. Well, no, it wasn’t, but I was trying to make it feel like a perfectly normal day of perfectly normal and boring driving. It was boring for a while. After the brief hailstorm and wonderful cool down, thanks to the angels, I hit the road again sans air conditioning, smiling and happy to be with my kitties and happy to be sucking up less gas in the truck.

I rode on for miles and miles up and down long stretches of highway all morning, thankful for the boring nature of it all. I was completely perplexed when out of the blue a tattooed Harley rider and his equal tattooed female companion pulled up beside me and started gesticulating wildly to roll down my window. Once I did, they yelled and gestured that the tire on my car was in the process of blowing out. Wide-eyed I thanked them, slowed down quickly, and pulled off the road as far as I could on the rather narrow concrete shoulder. After I waited for the light traffic to clear, I hopped out of the truck to survey the damage and was startled to find that not only had the tire blown to hell and back again, and I was nearly down to the rim on that wheel, but the loose flaps of rubber had battered that rear panel, chipping paint down to primer and beyond. The trim piece had also been knocked loose and was dragging on the ground. All this destruction and I never heard or felt a thing. Not once did the truck even hiccup with all that wild activity going on back there. If it hadn’t been for the helpful Harley riders, I probably would have gotten down to metal and sparks on that wheel before I noticed it. As it was, I was perilously close to that point.

While I know how to change a tire, I was concerned about several things. First of all, my back was still trashed so I didn’t know how much strength at the moment I had for torquing the crow bar to loosen the lug nuts. Second, I was only a couple of feet away from the highway traffic out in the middle of Wyoming. While that meant not very heavy traffic, it also meant that people were driving 70-90 mph. Ahem. You might remember the blog in Slices of My Life: So Far, where I mentioned my attempts on one cross-country road trip where I’d tried to see how my little Honda Civic handled at speeds approaching 100 mph while passing boringly through this state. I was in no mood to become road kill and leave my sweet orphaned kitties sitting in a truck cab in the middle of nowhere. Third, I wasn’t sure the jack would hold the car steady when it was on an incline attached to a dolly that was suspending the front tires off the ground.

So instead of doing what I normally do, which would be to get to work at solving the problem manually, I did what most sane people do when they’re in a fix on the side of the road. I called 911. I got back in the truck cab, dialed the emergency number, and tried to explain to the dispatcher where exactly in Wyoming I was located. I knew what town I’d just passed and what town was coming up, but that left a pretty good stretch of road for them to scour. They went to work on the problem and we hung up.

Then I called my mother. When she answered the phone, I said those magical words that no mother wants to hear. “Now I don’t want to alarm you but…” Of course you know she went into an immediate adrenaline rush. I told her what was going on and assured her that everything would be all right. I felt perfectly calm about the whole ordeal and did for most of that ridiculous day. While I was still talking to her, the highway patrol called me, so I quickly hung up to take their call. Since they couldn’t figure out exactly where I was, the patrolman asked me if I was comfortable with getting out of the vehicle and waving at passing motorists. I affirmed that I was cool with that, and I was, particularly because the angels had been cool with me and had already turned the heat down on the entire state of Wyoming. So I jumped out and did my distressed motorist dance routine on the side of the road.

I’m so not one for theatrics, and I was feeling utterly calm, so I had to wonder if I was at all projecting any sort of damsel in distress persona. I was pretty sure I wasn’t and probably appeared more like a calm, cool driver who suddenly felt the urge to do a few jumping jacks on the side of the road to restore circulation from all that sitting. Whatever the case, a van pulled up behind me and came to a stop. That in itself was perplexing, given that I was standing on the shoulder well in front of the truck to lessen the chance of someone veering into the lane and creaming the crazy lady doing jumping jacks on the side of the road.

A middle-aged man and woman got out of the truck and asked me if I was all right. They told me that they’d seen the blowout from across the highway and had gotten off at the next exit to backtrack up to my position to offer help. Well, God bless their pea-picking souls (spoken with my best down home country folk accent), the Good Samaritans had arrived! The woman actually had a friend who worked on the police force in that county. She called her friend and gave her mile marker info and asked her to call the Wyoming Highway Patrol with that message.

Hurray! I had been found at last. Or at least my co-ordinants had been more closely determined. The couple offered to change my tire for me, but I declined since it meant exposing them to the highway traffic and the other factors that made me think that this was not a normal flat tire situation. I didn’t want anyone to be harmed in the changing of my tire, so I thanked them profusely and after a few more minutes of chit-chat, they continued on their journey, no doubt with a warm glow in their hearts. They certainly should have a warm glow since they probably had cut down considerably the amount of time it would take before the highway patrol arrived. Bless the Good Samaritans wherever they are. May the angels in charge of weather adjust the outdoor thermostat for them on any day of their choosing.

While I was standing there talking to my Good Samaritans, a burly FedEx truck driver had been walking down the hill from where he had finally managed to stop his freakishly large triple trailer load when he saw me waving at him from the side of the highway. In my distressed motorist routine, I had focused my efforts on truckers because they knew the highway better than anyone, they had CBs, and they knew to check for minor details like mile markers when there was a distressed motorist practicing cheerleading skills on the shoulder of the road. We had a brief discussion amongst all of us and ascertained that I should be rescued soon by the knights in white Crown Victorias.

I had to chuckle at the incredibly nice FedEx trucker because he laughed and said, “You see how long it took me to stop that rig. Makes you wonder why people think they can cut us off on the highway and expect us to be able to stop quickly.” I had to agree with him because the rig I was pulling, while not all that heavy and certainly not very long, took a noticeably long time to stop. When I had moved to Washington in 1993, I had driven a very loaded down 27-foot moving truck from Asheville, North Carolina to Seattle. It had taken a stupidly long time to stop that heavy truck, so I knew well what he was talking about and marveled that he had stopped at all. I thanked him enthusiastically too and assured him that all would be well soon, now that the troopers were heading my way.

Before this trip, I had already had a healthy respect for truck drivers. I’ve spent a lot of time on the road over the decades, and I always do my best to give them plenty of room to drive those big rigs of theirs. Because of the size of the combination of vehicles I was driving, I had to use the trucker parking lots so I could always be sure that I could pull through since backing up was such a nightmare. I know my truck looked like a toy compared to theirs, but I felt a comradery with them anyway because I was seeing the road through their eyes again after fifteen years of driving only the small Honda Civic I was now towing.

After I bid all my lovely helpers a fond farewell, I climbed back up into the truck to check on my sweet felines, who were slumbering as though sitting on the side of the road in a broken-done rig was nothing to break stride for, much less interrupt a perfectly good catnap in a comfortably cool truck. I called my mother again and found out that she’d talked to my insurance agent as I had asked and had determined that I did have emergency roadside service through them. I thought this was true, but I’d never had reason to use it. Then I went back to waiting for the Crown Victoria to appear in my side mirror.

It took a while, but said Crown Vic, bearing a decidedly young highway patrolman, pulled up behind me. I got out and greeted him. He asked me for my drivers license, so I produced that while he took down my information and did a routine check on me, no doubt to make sure I wasn’t a fugitive from the law who’d had the bad luck of having a flat tire on their towed car in B.F.E., Wyoming. I retrieved my license after he’d determined that I was relatively harmless, and we chatted about the safety issues of changing a flat tire on the side of the road when it was attached to a dolly and only two feet away from the speedway. We chatted about a lot of things actually. I was beginning to learn that people in Wyoming are very friendly and like to talk.

I told the officer that my insurance company would pay for towing or emergency roadside service, so he called the local emergency roadside service fellow while I cleared out the back end of my car. It was loaded down with emergency preparedness gear. I’d lived in Western Washington long enough to know that you never know when an earthquake or winter storm or some other unforeseen cataclysmic event might strike, so it was best to be prepared for all occasions. I’d had several occasions to use that gear for non-cataclysmic events, so I left it in the hatchback year around. Once the gear was out of the back end of the car, I extracted the car jack, crow bar kit, and ridiculously tiny donut tire.

The trooper surveyed the tire-changing tools with a skeptical expression. He agreed that changing the tire out here was not a good idea, so we chatted a while longer until we ran out of things to say, and he decided that he really should get back to catching bad guys or something. So he drove off again while I awaited the tow truck by myself. I went back to the relative safety of the cab to wait some more.

When the emergency guy arrived, he took one look at the tire-changing gear and said, “Yeah, no problem. I’ll just change the tire for you here. You don’t need a tow.” He’d positioned his big tow truck so you have to move over a little bit away from the shoulder so you wouldn’t hit the truck. That accorded him a slightly improved margin of safety, although he remarked when one driver got too close for comfort that while he liked his truck, he didn’t mind if the careless driver bought him a new one. Without the relative safety of the truck he might have been the one getting hit. At any rate, he finished the job in short order, and I gave him my credit card information so he could run the card when he got back. Then he told me where there was a place at the next exit where I could get a new tire. He even followed me there to make sure I made it. I was glad that he did because the little donut tire was going flat by the time I got there. It had to be aired up again by the people who put two new tires on the back end of my car because the other tire also had dry rot, which was what had caused the first one to blow.

I knew the tires were old but I’d checked them before I left and they still had a lot of tread left on them. It’s true that I hadn’t driven much in the two years since Waldenbooks in Seattle had closed. That’s where I’d been working last when I’d had a significant commute. With the loss of that job, my driving time decreased hugely so my car had spent a good deal of time in the garage simply sitting there looking pretty. I suspect they were right about the dry rot.

When I pulled up to the service area, I was instructed to circle around back. I was told that I would have to unhitch the car so they could pull it into the garage for repair. Yippee! The very thing I had not wanted to do. I had to unhitch the car, drive it down off the dolly, and then hitch it up again when they were done. You can imagine the sardonic smile on my face.

After much fiddling and racking my brain to remember everything Lindsay had showed me at the truck rental place when we’d hitched up, I finally figured it out. I had been, you may recall, completely wiped out and on the verge of heat exhaustion at the time. So I asked the angels for help with this nonsense and somehow managed to do it right. I backed the car down and pulled it carefully around to the car bay. The fellows took it from there while I checked on my kitties to make sure they were okay. It still was not too warm out so I cracked both of the windows and left them in the truck under the shade of the building while I went inside the store to talk tires with the gal at the counter.

In the process of ordering tires, I had to give my zip code so I gave them the one for my mother’s house in Winter Park, Florida. The woman looked at me incredulously and asked if that was Winter Park. Startled that this woman in Wyoming knew about Winter Park, I confirmed her suspicions, thus beginning a reunion of two women who were roughly the same age and had grown up within a couple miles of each other and whose mothers still lived in the same community. Go figure. We hadn’t gone to the same high school because of the zoning lines, but she knew about my school and I knew about hers. It was one of those moments when you are slapped in the face with the reality of how few degrees of separation there are between most of us.

I was puzzled as to how she’d ended up in Wyoming of all places, but then again, I’d wound up in the Seattle area, so there you go. While I’m pretty certain that there is a secret worm hole between Seattle and Orlando, I have yet to discover its exact location. Somehow the two cities end up connected in so many ways that they could be sister cities. Believe me, if I ever find that worm hole, I’ll be set. Then I’d be able to pop back and forth between my original home town and my chosen home town.

At any rate, this woman had found a very friendly place to live. The weather in Wyoming must be about as antithetical to the weather in Winter Park as you can possible get south of the North Pole, but I couldn’t argue with how nice the folks were in Wyoming. You definitely got the feeling that these people had your back. Unless of course you were Matthew Shepard and gay. Then, I suppose, all bets were off. However I will say that the community where he lived was completely shocked by that tragedy, so perhaps the young men responsible for Matthew’s murder were not at all representative of the culture as a whole.

The Wyoming state legislature certainly sprang to life immediately afterwards trying to pass a hate crimes law. While it was a long time coming, the federal law based on the original Matthew Shepard Act was finally passed after President Obama came into office. The two perpetrators of that hideous murder, for a time, had been incarcerated at the state penitentiary in Rawlins, Wyoming, just east of the place where I got two new tires put on my car after breaking down on the side of the road. Talk about your degrees of separation. That was fewer degrees of separation than there had been on that blown tire.

Peace to you and your family, Matthew.

Beth Mitchum is the author of five novels, one collection of poetry, and one music CD. Her works are available at Amazon.com through the following link: http://tinyurl.com/bethmitchumbooks

What the Hail?

I don’t want anyone to get the impression that my trip was one disaster after another. It was very stressful at times, and it was very boring at times. But it was also funny at times. It was the overall effect of exhaustion from moving and packing, a re-injured back, extreme heat, and trying to get my cats into a gentle routine that made the first part of the journey so incredibly difficult. Our lives together heretofore had been pretty blissful as far as the two younger cats were concerned. Dustin had certainly gone through a number of difficult moments with me in the fifteen years plus we lived together, but the younger kids were most likely under the impression that the scariest thing about our lives together was that a baby came to stay for the day several times a week. Or that their much older sister had gotten sick suddenly and died rather unexpectedly the Christmas before.

On the plus side of the trip, I had gotten to go back to Cannon Beach and take some wonderful photographs, which in my book is a simple but wonderful pleasure. That it followed an hour-long battle trying to get Anjolie in the car in no way dampened my enthusiasm at being able to spend fifteen minutes or so at a pull-out, taking in the beauty that is so evident along the Oregon coast. That I got great photos from that shoot was priceless to me. That it was really chilly during that time was positively sublime. I haven’t felt that cool and contented with the weather since then, but no matter. The point is that the trip had its moments of fun and splendor as well as all the other stuff that happened.

So what does any of this have to do with hail? I’m getting to that. Suffice it to say that by the fourth day on the road that I was already fed up with the heat. I had entered Wyoming soon after that day of the trip began. I rejoiced in having left Oregon behind finally but I wasn’t particularly looking forward to having to drive all the way across Wyoming. There are moments of beauty along Interstate 80, but mostly it is a place of rolling sage brush. While I think the sage brush is pretty, it does get old after awhile and the only real break in the never-ending tumbleweeds are the watering holes scattered randomly along the road until you get near Laramie and Cheyenne where things get more picturesque.

As it approached mid-day, I could feel the temperature rising again.  I pulled into a rest stop in Nowheresville, Wyoming. I locked the kitties in the cab with the engine running and the a/c blasting and went to use the facilities. I texted my sweetheart while I peed, using my multi-tasking skills to the max, and after washing up in the sink, I started to head back out to the truck.

Before I’d pulled into the rest area, I’d asked the angels to cool it down at least ten degrees. I suggested helpfully that maybe they could lasso a few dozen clouds and lash them to my truck cab so we could ride along in the shade. Having made this trip a few times before, I was painfully aware that for at least a thousand miles of this trip, there is absolutely no shade anywhere. I knew I was burning buckets full of gas every day I had to spend running the truck air conditioning nonstop, but the alternative was unthinkable. Even if I didn’t end up with a heat stroke, or at the very least, heat exhaustion, it was definitely not safe for my cats to sit in the cab while I went in for even a quick break at a rest area.

Imagine my surprise when I came out of the restroom to find that it had not only suddenly and inexplicably clouded up, but it was also starting to hail pea-sized hail. I stood there with a couple of other women under the eaves and chuckled to myself. I had not considered frozen precipitation as a way to cool the air outside, but the angels had apparently. That tickled me no end, so I shrugged off the light pelting of the hailstones and trotted back out to the truck. Once inside, the hail let up, and I drove off still laughing at the cosmic joke. I have to state for the record that from that moment on, I never felt hot again for the remainder of the journey. I still had to run the air conditioning half the time, but even when the events of that afternoon began to play out, I didn’t have need of the air conditioning much of the remaining days of the trip.

Beth Mitchum is the author of five novels, one collection of poetry, and one music CD. Her works are available at Amazon.com through the following link: http://tinyurl.com/bethmitchumbooks

Not So Silent Night

The third day of driving was much more uneventful, and trust me when I say that you want a cross-country trip to be uneventful. This was not meant to be a long, drawn-out trek across America, although it turned out to be. Other than my jaunt down to Cannon Beach, which despite the difficulties with Anjolie and getting the truck in a bit of a jam had been very much worth it to reconnect and say goodbye by means of a photo shoot. I meant to travel as quickly and as directly as I could across America. I was towing my car and traveling with three cats. This was not a situation I was evenly slightly interesting in prolonging any more than necessary. 

I finally drove out of Oregon, across the broad part of Idaho, and down into Utah. Late that night, I found a nice hotel in Trementon, Utah, but they didn’t accept cats as guests either, so I had to leave my sweet babies in the cab for a second night in a row. Don’t you know that those cats were now convinced that not only had I stuffed them in carriers and driven away from our home in paradise, but now I was going to force them to live in the cab of a truck for the rest of their lives? Oh my gawd! If I hadn’t been so tired from pushing on that day to make up some of the lost time, I would have driven onward, but I couldn’t get going and it was already cooler so I knew they’d be okay if not exactly happy about the whole cab camping trip that would have sent them to a therapist if they had been humans.

Fortunately felines are way more resilient so they scrambled out of their hiding places when I laid out the evening’s fare before them. I cleared their litter box again, freshened up their water, and did that best I could to make their accommodations as tidy and comfortable as possible given the close quarters of the truck cab. I cracked the windows again, hauled my luggage across the sand pit of a truck parking lot, and retired to my room on the third floor. I was delighted that the room overlooked the parking area, so I could actually check on the truck at least without going out in the middle of the night this time. I did this exactly once and then passed out on the bed after a delicious shower.

The next morning I forced myself to leave the lovely and comfortable hotel room I’d found last night. After a free full breakfast, I stumbled back out to the truck to find paw prints of a canine kind on the passenger side of the cab along with a smaller set of prints, which looked distinctly like raccoon prints. Ahem. So a dog had treed a raccoon on top of my truck? I guess that should be trucked the raccoon but that sounds like it gave the raccoon a ride, something more on the friendly side of life. Okay then. Needless to say I wasn’t the least bit surprise to find the cab of the truck in a disastrous state, no doubt from the chaos that had ensued with the arrival of a barking dog and the scrambling raccoon. Three felines stared accusingly at me. Even Dustin looked as though he’d lost a bit of faith in me. I apologized profusely while they dined on breakfast and got lots of cuddles and soothing noises from their truly remorseful mother. I vowed then that for the remainder of the trip, my cats were coming inside with me if I had to sneak them in one by one. I’d smuggled a cat into a hotel room before inside a pillow case along with the pillow. I’d do it again if I had to, or I’d stay in the truck with them in a campground.

Fortunately after hearing the tale of the dog prints on the side of the truck cab, my niece and my mother figured out how to get online and scout ahead for cat-friendly hotels. It took a little planning and regrouping when I began making better and better time, but each night for the remainder of the trip they were able to find not only cat-friendly places for me to stay but also ones with AARP discounts and sometimes free pet stays and free breakfast for me. I hadn’t been eating real meals more than once a day on the whole trip, so being able to start out with a decent breakfast at least was nice.

Being able to keep my kitties in the room with me was wonderful. We were able to hone our routine pretty well for the rest of the trip. I had only one more night when I had a problem getting Anjolie to come out of her hiding place. I guess after three days and two nights in the cab, she had resigned herself to living in the small space behind the passenger seat. When it was time to get everyone inside, she refused to budge, so once again I got the boys inside first so I could focus every drop of energy and patience on my terrified little princess.

I finally had to lean the truck seat the two inches forward that it allowed me, reach down behind the seat, grab Anjolie by the scruff on the neck, and lift her to the platform next to the seat. Then I held her there until I could shift my position and stuff her into a carrier. She was none too happy about it, but once she got into the room and realized that she could run around again, she was absolutely ecstatic. She and her brothers feasted on their dinner, slurped water like camels on a drinking binge, and ricocheted across the room like ping pong balls. I was never so happy to see such enthusiastic chaos in all my life. The best thing was that they’d stuck me in the “pet wing” of the hotel apparently and it was empty, so they could make all the noise they wanted, and they did until they wore themselves out finally. I thought that with this turn of events we had finally reached a turning point in our journey, but the next day’s adventures let me know that no, we’d only been allowed one day of respite.


Beth Mitchum is the author of five novels, one collection of poetry, and one music CD. Her works are available at Amazon.com through the following link: http://tinyurl.com/bethmitchumbooks

11 October 2010

Could This Be Hell?

I have made mysterious allusions to the grueling nature of the trip I made with my three cats from the Seattle area, where I lived for seventeen years, back to the Central Florida area where I grew up. Okay, so where I was raised. That I actually ever grew up is still a matter of some debate so we’ll leave that for the time being to the critics of this world. I make no claims to be anything more than a kid romping through the world while pretending to be an adult.

In the best of conditions, driving 3500 miles in a moving truck with a cab full of felines, while towing your car, is not an ideal situation. Should you ever find yourself in that position, I recommend that you take whatever measures necessary to get yourself and your cats out of that position. Immediately. It simply isn’t worth it, and it wasn’t because the cats were a problem. My cats were wonderful. Well, all except Anjolie who ranged from being terrified to distraught enough to wet herself to nearly comatose. While I did my best to keep them cool and allow them constant access to food, water, and a mini litter box, she simply withdrew into herself and refused to help me out with that whole saving her life routine.

One of the early days on the trip, I had to keep wetting my finger and putting droplets of water on the tip of her nose so she’d licked it off. After a few minutes of this, she finally realized that she was really thirsty, so she got out of her carrier and drank a little bit of water. That was one of the good days. On the worst day, she hid behind the passenger seat of the truck and didn’t come out all day. By the end of that day’s journey, she was so lethargic from dehydration, I had to reach behind the truck seat (no easy feat since it didn’t fold forward) and lift her out by the scruff of her neck onto the platform I’d constructed between the truck seats. From there I stuffed her unceremoniously into the cat carrier and took her inside the hotel room. Once she got in there and realized that she was free once again to run around, she ate and drank with her brothers, and came to life again.

For the first couple days of the trip, it was stupidly hot. I realize that it was summer, but it hadn’t been hot all year in the Pacific Northwest to that point, so for it to get blazingly hot on my last day of packing and the first two days of my trip was nothing short of maddening. Lest you think I’m being a wimp, a friend of mine who still lives there gave me the startling statistic that in an average year, there are only about 74 days a year when the temperature reaches at least 70 degrees in Seattle. That’s not a typo. It really does not get hot that often there, which is why I lived there for seventeen years. I am not a fan of hot weather. I’ve never pretended to be. It took moving away from Florida to make me realize that I wasn’t really a cranky, lethargic bitch. I’d just been hot for the first twenty-five years of my life.

All of you women who have gone through or are going through your perimenopausal years, please envision having hot flashes for the better part of twenty-five years in a row. Yes, there were a handful of cool or cold days thrown in there. Those of course were days when I was actually able to accomplish something, no doubt. Otherwise, I generally had to stay up late, waiting until the worse of the heat had dissipated, in order to have energy to do anything at all.

I recall clearly having to crank up the air conditioning in my house just so I could run the vacuum cleaner and do a little dusting. Then after a cool shower and a cool down period, I could turn it down again. Forget mowing the yard. I did it when I had to but I would wait until just before it rained or as late in the evening as possible. Even that didn’t help me completely. During my last summer in Florida I got heat exhaustion and was extremely sick for a couple of days. Since that time, I’ve done everything in my power not to get overheated. In spite of that, I’ve had several recurrences of heat exhaustion. If you’ve ever had the displeasure of having heat exhaustion, then you’ll understand my need to avoid it at all costs. If you haven’t, then you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that you don’t want to go through it. Ever.

I have no doubt that I was well on my way to another bout of heat exhaustion by the time I crawled into the truck, cranked up the air conditioning to refrigerator settings, and rolled out of Kitsap County. That the air conditioning saved me, I have no doubt. I can’t imagine having heat exhaustion on top of everything else I’d just endured.

So here it was, just after the 4th of July weekend, and it turned suddenly deadly hot. It went from highs in the sixties to nearly a hundred degrees. What my friend told me after this summer was over and along with that their best chance of seeing any more days where the temperature reached seventy degrees, was that this year had been anything but average. Apparently there have been only 54 days in 2010 when the temperature has reached at least 70 degrees. 54 days out of less than 300 days to this point in the year. At the time I was trying to pack the truck and car, I don’t think we’d had more that a handful of days that had reached 70, never mind 80 or 90. So for it to nearly reach 100 on my last day was nothing short of insanity and an odds-breaking phenomenon. May I say that I didn’t take kindly to this odds-breaking phenomenon? It was insane, and I was glad only to crawl into the air-cooled truck and drive as though my life depended on it. Probably because at that point, it really did.

Of course I didn’t get very far. The late start I’d gotten out of Kitsap County landed me in Tacoma at rush hour, during which there’d been an accident that had snarled traffic. It took me over two hours to get through Tacoma from my departure point in Silverdale. That was more than twice the normal time for that trip in reasonable traffic. However, I didn’t care. I was finally finished and whatever had been left behind was simply lost to me.

The four of us were packed like sardines in the cab of the truck. Dustin was chilling, the younger cats were perplexed, the traffic was stop and go, and I was towing my beloved Honda Civic in this ridiculous traffic jam. I didn’t really care though. I was too numb by that time. Too shell shocked. But I was starting to cool off, so that was a good thing. I finally stopped at a rest area near Olympia to call my mother to tell her that we had finally escaped just barely with our lives and were on our way at a snail’s pace. There’s that snail thing again.

Had someone been able to tell me that if only I had listened to the snail that had fixed itself to my door that I simply needed to stay put for another two days and wait for the tribulations to pass over me, get some rest, and start out fresh again, I don’t know if I would have even been able to process that information. I had plenty of people who love me telling me to stop and rest, but I was hot and exhausted, and all I could think about was getting the rental truck back on time. I have a thing about timeliness. I guess it’s a Virgo thing, but I don’t like to be late. In the end I was two days late with the truck, but quite honestly, had I left two days later until the events foretold to me in a dream had passed over me, or at least until I was more rested, I probably wouldn’t have been any more late than I ended up being anyway, and I might have arrived more sane and less drained of my life force.

Once in the truck, things improved somewhat for a while. I was able to reach Oregon and find my way to 101, the route I wanted to take as a side trip down to Cannon Beach, which is the setting of my first published novel, Driftwood. That area of the world has long held a special place in my heart and became my most regular mini vacation destination.

It was easy driving the truck with a car in tow as long as I was on main roads and highways. Getting into Cannon Beach and traveling along Hemlock Street was interesting but doable, if a little harrowing in spots. The worst part is that the late start and traffic jam in Tacoma had so delayed my trip that it was dark by the time I got to Cannon Beach and was driving along the winding way beside the coast. There was a large resort I was going to try to pull into and check to see if they had a room for me. It was nighttime and cool again because we were on the coast and the fog was rolling in, as it does there. I was very comfortable with that.

What made me uncomfortable again was turning down a road I thought had a turnaround space so I could pull the truck and car through without having to back up in the dark and increasingly foggy night. Only it turned out that it didn’t go through unless I wanted to bounce truck and my low-clearance car over a curb. I was tempted, but I had already heard my car’s bumper scrape with slight bumps, so the thought of bouncing it over a curb was not an attractive one.

I pulled over to the side of the road and went over to where some restaurant workers were finishing up for the night and begged for some help turning the vehicles around. Finally a woman with some trailer-pulling experience agreed to give me a hand if some of her coworkers could help guide her. After a lot of effort and a 57-point turn, she got my vehicle pointed in the right direction. Noticing her server’s apron, I handed her a twenty and thanked her profusely. She tried to refuse it, but I told her that she had earned that tip so she finally acquiesced.

Off I went with my truck, car, and three perplexed cats back into the night. I drove the rest of the way through Cannon Beach until I got back on Highway 26 and headed for Tillamook and a hotel where I knew they had plenty of room to pull my vehicles through because I’d stayed there before. I had to steel my tired mind and body to drive along the winding Highway 101, which had been abundantly draped with curtains of fog. It was nearly one in the morning when I got there, and of course I had to park a long way away from my room.

I tried to carry my cats and luggage in quietly because it was so late at night. Everyone was fine with that except Anjolie, my sweet little terrified girl. So I took her back to the truck and took my boys in first. Then I came back with the luggage cart to get her and whatever else I still needed from the truck. I tossed my jacket over her to stifle the meows she’d let out the first time I’d tried to take her inside. To my surprise, she shut up totally. She was fine as long as she couldn’t see where she was going. Okay then. She trusted her mommy to take her wherever she wanted as long as she didn’t have to watch.

I finally got them and the luggage inside, and they prowled all over the room looking for places to hide. I convinced them that it was okay to eat, drink, and be merry, and they did so. I went to sleep while they romped happily around the room. The next morning when I tried to leave with them, I managed to round up the two boys pretty easily, though they were none too happy to get back into the carriers. Dustin got in first, and Bootsy followed his lead. Anjolie on the other hand was nowhere to be found.

I loaded everything else in the truck then located Anjolie behind the small refrigerator. Okay. No problem. I moved that out of the way and tried to get her, but she took off and ran under the bed. I slid the bed forward on the rails until it tipped forward. I could have reached down to grab her, but she had moved forward too. I couldn’t hold up the bed and grab her at the same time. After moving the bed up and down, backwards and forwards, a few times, I finally realized that I needed help. I went into the hallway and spied a young man who was just returning from taking his dog for a walk. I thought, okay, he understands animal issues hopefully. I stopped him as he was leaving his room again after putting the dog in there. I told him that I’d give him twenty bucks if he could help me get my cat into the carrier. I assured him that she wasn’t scary, but simply scared and smart and I needed more than two hands.

By this time she had gone back behind the little refrigerator again, so I flushed her out and she ran back under the bed. I slid the bed forward and tilted it again. I asked the young man to hold the bed up while I grabbed Anjolie and stuffed her into the carrier as gently as you can do that without allowing her to get the upper hand. I shut and latched the door to the carrier, thanked the young man, coughed up a twenty for him too, and loaded my smart little girl in the truck. I was glad to get in the truck and on the road again, realizing that at the rate I was handing out twenties I’d be broke before I got to Kansas.

I had learned a valuable lesson though. Anjolie really didn’t like that tiny carrier that used to be her older sister’s. Zuki was a Munchkin and didn’t need a big carrier, but Anjolie, while petite, really didn’t like the close quarters. Come to think of it, neither had Zuki. From that point on, I shuttled the cats in stages so no one had to use the small carrier. It got tossed into the car along with the little cooler I’d bought and everything else that hadn’t worked as planned so far.

I drove back up north to Cannon Beach so I could say goodbye and get some final photos. It was still really foggy that morning, but by the time I’d spent an hour (no exaggeration) trying to get Anjolie in the truck and drove back to Cannon Beach, the fog was just clearing, leaving behind a beautiful bluish-gray morning. I managed to get the best photographs I’ve ever taken of Cannon Beach.

Once I was back on the road, I dithered a bit over which route to take. After all the delays, I thought it might be faster to go south on 101 until I found a good place to cut across the country. Only in looking at the map again, I realized that I was probably better off going back to Portland and cutting across there and driving along the beautiful Columbia River Valley. I started off to do this, but after hitting a traffic jam near Portland, I had to get off to get gas. With the given traffic situation, trying to turn left back out of the gas station with a car in tow looked a bit challenging. Then I noticed a sign to the right that indicated that I could also get back to I-5 if I went that way, so I did.

After the world’s most circuitous route, which landed me finally at a rest area out in the middle of Hell, Oregon, I got out to make a pit stop and check the map to ascertain what planet I was now orbiting. I got back in the truck feeling relieved if not refreshed and asked the angels to give me a sign that I was in fact heading in the right direction. A few seconds later, there was a road sign that indicated that I-5 was still ahead in the direction I had been going. Ahem. Okay. Although it was at least 150 degrees out here, and I was driving on the world’s longest shortcut route, there were still angels looking after me. That was reassuring to say the least. Okay, so it was only about 105 outside, but I’m not kidding about that. It was hotter out there than it had been in Silverdale the day before when I was leaving.

Once I got back on the interstate, I realized that I needed to backtrack because of where the alternate route had taken me, so I headed back to Portland, got caught in bad traffic again, and then finally made it to Interstate 84, which would take me east across Oregon and maybe even allow me to leave this state. I’d been here since the night before, and I really didn’t want to stay here yet another night. At the rate I was going, it’d take a month to get to Florida if I didn’t pick up the pace a little bit. While I didn’t actually make it out of Oregon that night, I got pretty close, given the route I was traveling across and then down the state.

When I stopped late that night in Pendleton, I had to leave the cats in the truck because, while they did allow dogs, they didn’t allow cats to stay the night. I was in too tired to argue the injustice of that or hunt for another place at that late hour. It was considerably cooler by this time, so I cracked the windows enough to give them air flow but not enough to get out, and dragged myself off to a shower and a night of fitful rest. It is not easy to sleep when your furry children are locked in the cab of a truck. I got up once in the wee hours of the morning and went out to check on them.

Next morning, I had a big breakfast at Denny’s since it was right there next to the hotel. It was the first real meal I’d had in days. I had been snacking only on Raw Revolution food bars, and I was ready for something different. I ordered my food and sat in the truck and ate it with a little help from my kids. They ate only a nibble or two like they normally do, but they do like to know what their mommy is eating sometimes. Particularly when they’ve been cooped up in a truck for the past 24 hours. Anything to break the monotony.

Once we were back on the road, everyone got back into their self-designated places. Sometimes they rode in the carriers and sometimes they hid under the seats. After nearly sliding off one day, Anjolie decided the top carrier was not safe, so from then on she slept behind the passenger seat and Dustin periodically climbed into the top carrier for naps. Bootsy spent most of the trip beneath my seat, sometimes brushing against my ankles with his soft fur. At least I could reach in and pet him when I was getting in and out of the truck.

Although it was still hot during the day, we were starting to hit our stride on this trip. When we finally drove out of Oregon that day, I began to have hope that we might actually be able to do this. How little did I know that the upheaval had only just begun.

Photos of Cannon Beach:

Beth Mitchum is the author of five novels, one collection of poetry, and one music CD. Her works are available at Amazon.com through the following link: http://tinyurl.com/bethmitchumbooks


If you happened to be one of my Facebook friends or have read my first collection of essays, then you will know that I absolutely loved my home in Brownsville, Washington. I didn’t want to leave it, but I had a very strong internal nudge to go back to Florida for a time. Not for the length of a vacation, but for a much longer period of time. Like several months. I don’t know how many, but I knew it would be at least three months. There’s no point in trying to keep up with rent on a place when you’re not living there, so I had to let go of my lovely rented house that sat perched on a bank overlooking Puget Sound, Bainbridge Island, and picturesque Brownsville Marina at Burke Bay. I loved living there so suffice it to say that only a very strong compulsion could make me leave. I had that, but it was all intuitive. I simply knew that I needed to be in Florida for a time as the next step in my life. Where I go from there is another matter.

It was not without a lot of internal struggle, but also knowing resignation, that I packed up house and moved back to Florida. I was really hoping to figure out how to get someone else to do the driving of the moving truck, but alas I didn’t figure out how to do that until I got to Florida and found a company who does that sort of thing and has locations near Seattle too. Ahem. That is information I would have loved to have had before I left. I would have jumped at it in a heartbeat. I really didn’t want to drive a moving van (even though it was smallish) all the way to Central Florida, towing my Honda Civic. I didn’t have enough belongings to hire a big moving company. That would have been overkill. So instead I packed the moving truck only about half full, hitched up my car, and loaded up my cats for the 3500+ mile trek to the Orlando area.

I had been warned in a dream that by the time I got near my mother’s house that there would be major upheaval. Okay. Thanks for that lovely thought. I’m glad I had the dream because at least I wasn’t all that surprised when the earth opened up and tried to swallow me on the trip out there. No, there were no earthquakes or volcanoes as indicated symbolically in the dream, but my world did buckle beneath me, and I did have to watch my step carefully. Only it took me so long to get packed up that apparently the dream time sequence shifted to much earlier in the trip.

Had everything happened when I was close to my family, it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad or as expensive. However, I delayed my departure for several days because I simply couldn’t get everything done even though I was working nearly nonstop. My back got re-injured on the first big loading day, and I couldn’t go at the pace I was accustomed to moving, so I had to make up for it by going at it for long hours each day. Even with that effort, I felt like a snail trying to move through molasses. In fact, so much like a snail did I feel that a real live snail attached itself to my back door and stayed there until I left. I have no idea what happened to it after that, but it was still there the day I walked out of there for the last time in the foreseeable future.

That delay in departure apparently shifted everything that was going to happen on the trip to the beginning of the trip instead of the end. Only I didn’t know that was going to happen. I was so tired from packing that I really didn’t know anything except that I didn’t want to pack any more, and I really didn’t want to leave my sweet home. Only I still felt strongly that I absolutely had to leave and go to Florida.

By the time I finally crawled into my car and went to the truck rental place to hitch my car to the already loaded truck, I was completely exhausted and very hot. Hot weather is a rare occurrence in the Seattle area. Super hot weather is even rarer. On the last day of loading, temperatures were in the upper nineties, which is absolutely ridiculous but sort of explained the whole molten lava theme I had dreamed about in connection with the trip. But as I mentioned before the whole nightmarish scene I’d been warned about was supposed to be at journey’s end. Only it wasn’t because I had delayed so long in leaving that I was already entering the earthquake and volcanic upheaval time where I had to watch my every step. I wish I had known that then. I don’t know if I could have stayed put for a few days until it passed or not because of how hot it got for a couple days, and my air conditioner unit was already loaded on the truck. If all hell had broken loose while I was still at the house, who knows what might have happened there. Maybe the snail on my back door was trying to tell me to stay put a little longer and I didn’t listen and paid the price.

Whatever the snail’s message, I was listening about taking things at my own pace. I had to go slow because my back would tolerate nothing more than my slowest speed. I wish I would have understood when the snail attached itself to my door and refused to budge. I should have done the same thing for a few more days. I’d already been driven to my knees several times literally while trying to pack. My leg muscles gave out several times from the stress on my back, and I would simply collapse wherever I happened to be, like one of those cheap little plastic toys with stringed joints. You squeeze the bottom platform, and it relaxes all the elastic strings, and whatever toy figure is on top of the platform collapses like a marionette whose strings have gone slack.

I could have stayed a few more days, which may have been plenty of time to allow the maelstrom to pass over me, and then perhaps the trip wouldn’t have been so long and harrowing. Whatever the case, I heard the clock ticking on the truck rental and felt as though I’d delayed as long as I could possibly delay. I’d just have to go at a snail’s pace to Florida, and that’s exactly what I ended up doing.

When I finally got the car hooked up, secretly hoping I’d not have to unhook it until the other end, I got in the cab with my cats after bidding an oddly fond farewell to the woman at the truck rental place. I was loosely acquainted with her because she used to work at the Red Apple grocery store in Poulsbo. Poulsbo is a fairly small town so if you shopped there a lot, you pretty much knew all the regular cashiers. We recognized each other, so when I left I gave her a hug, more to represent my hugging goodbye all that I had come to know and love about Kitsap County in particular and the Puget Sound area in general.

There was no one else present for this monumental departure on a long journey that would test me to my core. It seemed rather fitting that a relative stranger would be the only “family” I said goodbye to in that life-changing moment. In my seventeen years of living in the Seattle area, I had always lived and worked with people who had become my family through the connection of friendship and the general goodwill of the folks who live out there. True to their generous and kindly nature to the end, Lindsay gave me a cold can of coke and a bag of Sun Chips to restore me a little bit and then sent me on my way with a big, sincere hug.

I’m in tears now while I write this part. It may sound stupid, but I can’t find words to explain how much that meant to me in a moment when I felt like my world was coming to an end, and everything I had known as my life was slipping through my fingers. I had to drive away from all the friends, who had become my family in the seventeen years I’d lived out there, all in the same moment. It was as though someone had ripped my heart from my chest and chucked it back into the river of life. I could only watch as it floated away past familiar and much love scenery. There was nothing left to do but get into the truck cab, soothe my sweet kitties’ frightened voices, and start on my journey.

Since he was a seasoned traveler, I let my older boy out of his carrier first. Dustin jumped out and settled himself next to me on the platform I’d constructed for him because I knew he’d want to ride shotgun with me. We made this trip together before, although the last time had been in my car. He knew how to travel so he could lead the way. The younger two had not been in a car any length of time since I’d driven them home the day I adopted them two years previously almost to the day of that anniversary. They were pretty scared but I knew that if Dustin acted cool, then they would figure out eventually that mom had not taken complete leave of her senses. They did eventually get the drill of driving all day and romping through the hotel room all night, although it took most of that grueling trip to comprehend it completely. By journey’s end, however, they were also seasoned travelers. Dustin had done his job well.

Dustin the Seasoned Traveler

Beth Mitchum is the author of five novels, one collection of poetry, and one music CD. Her works are available at Amazon.com through the following link: http://tinyurl.com/bethmitchumbooks