Farewell Tour '95
Why do I call this a “Farewell Tour”? you're probably wondering. What was I saying farewell to? Well, the answer to that is really quite simple; I was saying farewell to life in the United States, at least for what would probably be (and indeed ended up being) a considerable time. A couple of months earlier I had finally received a “real” visa for Brazil, something other than a 90-day tourist pass, and I was preparing for my first real term on the field (see Billiard's Work).
The first part of this journey largely followed the same route as Life on the Road '89. I left Tucson in my Nissan Pulsar and drove north and east through Arizona, cutting through the corner of New Mexico and on into Colorado. From Colorado I headed into Nebraska. It was at this point that this trip diverged from the previous, since I did not then turn north into the Black Hills, but rather, continued east, on into Iowa, then into Minnesota and finally Wisconsin, where I finished the first half of this journey at the home of my sister and brother-in-law.
The second half of this trip was notably longer. At this point in my life I had already visited all of the Lower Forty-Eight states except for a few up in the New England area. I decided that it was time for that to change, that it was time to complete my tour of the Lower Forty-Eight. And so I drove up through the upper peninsula of Michigan and into Ontario, then went east into Quebec (“parlez-vous français?”). From Quebec I went down to Vermont (where the transmission on my car froze up; for all I know the old tranny is still sitting in a junkyard there!), then east through New Hampshire and into Maine. Then I went down the coast before turning west and making my way back to Texas, where I finished packing and left for Brazil.
Here is the state-by-state breakdown of the Farewell Tour. Sorry, no dates this time. It's been many years, and I don't have anything to use for reference. Also, no pictures. My disc camera was broken, and the Age of Digital had not yet arrived.
I couldn't leave Arizona for the next umpteen years overseas without first spending some time in my favorite places. So I began the tour by going up to the White Mountains and camping up at Big Lake for a couple of days. My favorite trail is the West Baldy, which runs alongside the Little Colorado River in a green, forested valley, beginning at an altitude of around 9000 feet and going up from there. The air is wonderfully cool and I had a couple of very pleasant days hiking and just getting away from the desert heat and city life. A fond farewell to a great state.
After leaving Arizona I followed the same basic route that I took back in '89, up through the northwestern corner of New Mexico. One difference was that this time, not being in a hurry to get to a wedding by a particular date and time, I took a side trip to Four Corners, which is, as you probably know, the only place in the U.S. where four states come together at a single point. I was surprised to discover that the actual site itself is in the middle of an Indian reservation and is completely operated by Native Americans. I had lunch there, and made a point of setting a can of Coke on the exact four-state intersection spot before drinking it. Okay, so I'm weird…
Later, I passed through Wolf Creek Pass. Even though the date was well past the middle of July, there was still a couple of feet of snow under the trees! Even out in the open there was nearly a foot in places. Needless to say, I wandered about among the white stuff, making and throwing snowballs. Since I was preparing to head down to Brazil, it was a good question as to when I would again see snow.
That night I camped at high altitude in an overflow area alongside a mountain stream. The air was chill and somewhat rainy, and that was the first time I began to suspect that my tent was no longer as water resistant as it originally had been.
Coming down from the Colorado mountains I entered the inferno that had been gripping the Midwest for several days. In passing news I had heard about the heat wave, about people dying in their apartments in places like Kansas City for lack of air conditioning. Now I was there. Fortunately, the heat wave was starting to dissipate somewhat, and I ended up passing north of the worst of it. Nevertheless, I spent my first night ever in the state of Nebraska, at a place near Kearney. It was a different sort of camping than I was accustomed to, with only a few trees and no mountains. It was a place to spend the night.
I hadn't slept well the night before; my sleeping bag is heavy and the night had been warm. And driving from Nebraska into Iowa was mile after mile after mile of straight highway, with the Great Plains spread out as far as the eye could see. By the time I was entering Iowa I was nearly falling asleep at the wheel. Driving and sleepiness: dangerous combination! As the hour was approaching noon, I forced myself to stay awake and started keeping an eye out for the nearest rest area.
After lunch I did something I don't normally do. I lay down on top of a rest area picnic table (in the shade, of course!) and fell asleep. I must have dozed for nearly an hour. Fortunately, the authorities don't frown on such behavior; they probably frown more heavily on people falling asleep at the wheel and causing a wreck. At any rate, the nap was just what the doctor ordered, and I was able to continue refreshed in the early afternoon.
Driving became less boring and more stimulating shortly thereafter when I left the Interstate for a back road, heading north toward Minnesota. The corn was getting tall and at times it was like driving between green walls. A very pleasant country jaunt, to be honest. Eventually, I arrived in Spencer, a small town in northwestern Iowa.
I absolutely had to get out and see Spencer. This was a bit of family history. My dad grew up in this part of the country and spent a lot of time here. One of his relatives used to own a good portion of the town. This was the first time I had ever been here.
I left Spencer in the late afternoon and at nearly 6:00 PM found myself in a state park on a lake near the Minnesota border. Thunderheads were building up, but I managed to pitch my tent. Then it started to rain. Then it started to pour. Then the park employees came around to herd everyone over to the bathroom, which served as a tornado shelter; a tornado had been spotted in the area. We waited it out while water cascaded from the sky in sheets. No funnels, and eventually the rain stopped and the sun came back out and it was warm again. When I returned to my site I found that my tent had collapsed, totally soaking both it and my sleeping bag.
Fortunately, at that time of year the sun doesn't set until around 9:30 or so. So believe it or not, in the couple of hours left before nightfall I was able to re-pitch the tent, drape the sleeping bag over the picnic table in the sun, and dry everything out. By the time I hit the sack it was as dry as if there had never been any rain.
My time in Wisconsin was basically an intermission. I didn't do any camping. When I left the Iowa state park I went north some 10-20 miles into Minnesota, picked up the Interstate, and headed east into Wisconsin. I remember someone roaring past me on the freeway shortly after crossing the border, and then seeing that same car stopped by the side of the road a little while later with a state cop writing him a ticket. I had out-of-state (Texas) tags on the car, and someone commented that the Wisconsin state cops had their eyes peeled for out-of-state speeders—they'd probably love to bust some uppity longhorn!—so I carefully watched my velocity.
My sister and brother-in-law live not too far from Green Bay. I arrived at their place sometime in the early afternoon, and stayed with them for several days. Again, since I was getting ready to head to South America and had no idea as to when I would be back in the States, I thought it good to spend some time with the only family I have left. They appreciated it, and we had a good time. I enjoy visiting there, not only because it's family, but because I like the area and the people. It's good old “grass-roots America”.
After spending some time in grass-roots America, I did what a number of citizens of the U.S. of A do; I decided to leave the country for a short visit to Canada. I had been to our northern neighbor a couple of times and had always enjoyed it. But this was my first time in Ontario; I had always visited further west before.
I crossed the border at Sault Ste. Marie, then headed out of the city as quickly as possible on the main road heading east, Highway 17. That night, I stopped in Chutes Provincial Park, a nice little place to camp that also had a bit of history. A pleasant little river provided opportunity to rest and reflect.
The next day I saw proof that road construction is not limited to the U.S. I encountered the ubiquitous phenomenon at least twice. After passing Ottawa I drove until I was nearly at the border of Quebec, then stopped and spent the night at Voyageur Provincial Park.
At Voyageur I definitely encountered French! Although she spoke English, it was obvious that the young lady at the gate was a native speaker of the other Canadian national tongue. While setting up my tent a bunch of young people walked by jabbering in French. And while I was walking a car pulled up and the driver leaned out and chattered at me in French. It took me three tries to dredge up some of my extremely rusty high school Frog (the first time it came out English, then Portuguese, and finally a bit of français). Believe it or not I was actually able to communicate well enough to answer their question.
Before I actually got to Vermont I passed through Quebec. Here I discovered that the vaunted Canadian bilingualism ends at the border. Across the rest of Canada you find signs, etc. all in both English and French. But once you cross into Quebec, with few exceptions it's all French. Fortunately, I was able to either read or decipher everything of importance, and so I had no trouble traveling the countryside.
I reentered the U.S. at the border of Vermont. This was the first time I had ever been in this state, and I found it pleasant and green. Temps were very comfortable. I stopped at a rest area to have a picnic lunch and the air was clean and fresh. (I also noticed that Vermont is apparently popular with French Canadians, since at both of the tables nearest me all I heard was French.)
The only bad memory of Vermont had nothing to do with the state. I had left the freeway and was heading east, climbing a hill, and decided to downshift out of fifth gear since the hill was a bit steep. The shift lever refused to move. I pulled off to the side of the road and tried working it around, with absolutely no success. After a while a state cop came by and asked if I needed any help. He called a fellow that they used to work on their cars, who came out and towed me back to the nearest town.
I ended up camping in the mechanic's back yard that night, down by the creek, while my car was in his shop getting the transmission yanked out. He was able to find a used tranny for the same make and model of car and engine, and the next day finished replacing it. I was four hundred dollars poorer when I drove away, but it could have been a lot worse. My biggest regret was that this was essentially a whole day wasted, and I had planned on using that time to see a bit of northern Maine. That, regrettably, would have to be bypassed.
The sign at the border read “Maine: The way it ought to be.” I have encountered a few Maine-landers (as they referred to themselves) and have always found them to be interesting people. I also found their state to be interesting. Quiet roads wending their way through back woods, over old stone and wooden bridges, with small, homey towns scattered here and there. I made my way to a state park north and west of Portland, where I spent the night.
That night it was wet. A heavy cloud layer hung over the region, dripping and drizzling. No problem for me, except that by now I knew for certain that my tent was no longer water resistant. I managed to arrange things so that the dripping did not soak my sleeping bag. The next day I decided that that was it. I hunted up the nearest Wal-Mart and bought a new tent.
I went out to the shore the next day. I had read about places like Ogunquit in Stephen King novels, and of course knew about Kennebunkport, made famous because of our former Chief Executive, George Bush the First. The climate was nice and cool and the ocean wild and wet. The biggest disappointment was the large crowds and extreme commercialization. I simply prefer things simpler and less crowded. But now I can say I've been there.
After leaving Maine I had to pass through New Hampshire again; it's the only way to get to the rest of the U.S. from there. I continued on down through Massachusetts, yet another new state for me. I stayed just long enough to swing wide around Boston, avoiding the urban area. I also had the privilege of sitting stopped in traffic for 15 minutes waiting to pay toll. After Taxachusetts, I passed through Rhode Island, just to say I'd been there. Then came Connecticut.
Connecticut wasn't at all what I had expected. I guess I had a mental image of eastern states as being conglomerations of cities with open plains and farms in between. Well, the part of Connecticut I drove through was quite heavily forested. I ended up stopping at a state park to spend the night. While I was there, a conservation group gave a presentation of their views and practices.
As you have probably guessed, I enjoy nature and don't like seeing the environment raped. On the other hand, environmentalists have always disturbed me with their “worship nature” attitude and ideas that planet Earth would be better off if the human race just died out. So I was very pleased to find that the conservationists take a much more balanced position, standing for preservation from a private perspective, rather than working to eliminate everything that they don't like by crying to Daddy Government.
The next day I swung wide around New York City, feeling absolutely no need to immerse myself in its traffic and wall-to-wall sea of humanity. I drove south through New Jersey, which I also found to be pleasantly wooded, then wended through places like Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland, and drove the Beltway around Washington, DC. Although I had been born there 38 years earlier, I felt no need to visit.
Virginia was more of the same. Green and wooded, yet like all eastern states it left me with a sense of missing the West. I guess I've just come to love the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, and the feeling of being able to go for miles and miles and miles without encountering signs of civilization. Nevertheless, I was glad I'd at least visited.
I spent the night at a KOA near Front Royal, and for the first time experienced a campground more expensive than some hotels I've stayed in. It was jam packed with people and had all the amenities, including a heated swimming pool. Definitely not wilderness. But it was a nice break and a place to spend the night. Yes, I did take advantage of the swimming pool, since the camping fee remained the same whether I used it or not.
Tennessee is a loooooong state. At least, when you're driving from east to west. I had only traversed about half of its length (after making my way out of Virginia) when the day began to lengthen toward evening, and I once again found a state park to spend the night in. This one was a bit different in that it was set on a hillside above a lake, and all of the camping units were wooden platforms. It was really designed for RV's. However, I managed to tie my tent down so that it wouldn't fly away in the wind. Which we definitely had since a thunderstorm came through that evening. Before and after the rain I went down to the lakeshore, where I found some hiking trails to while away the remaining daylight hours.
Believe it or not, Arkansas is more than just the home of Slick Willy. It actually has some things it can be proud of. One of them is the state park system. After leaving Tennessee and entering Arkansas, I made my way over to Little Rock, then south until I came to Lake Catherine State Park.
This wasn't the first time I'd been here. In '89, following my summer in North Dakota, I spent the night here on my way down to Dallas. So when I passed through Arkansas I already knew about it. I had enjoyed it the last time, so I decided to spend my last night on the road here again.
The lake itself is good for swimming, and the campsites are excellent. There weren't too many people, and the weather was pleasant.
Here I finished my journey, arriving in Dallas, where I stayed at the International Linguistics Center near Duncanville, finalizing preparations for leaving for Brazil. A week later, my car sold and my goods stored, I was gone.
Copyright © 2005-2017 William R. Penning. All rights reserved.