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

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