TeamRaymond Across America - Day Five

Posted by: elraymundo at 10:10 am on Saturday, April 19, 2008
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Travel, Jeep

Blanding, Utah
Written from bed in room 220 at the Comfort Suites
Miles today: 466
Total miles: 2719
Number of states: 13
Number of McDonald’s stops: 2
Today’s route: Denver -> Moab, UT -> Blanding, UT

Greetings from Blanding, Utah!

It was dark by the time we pulled into Moab, which sits just outside the gates to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The place was crawling with people - not at all the sleepy, laid back town we visited on our spin through the southwest last year. We drove up and down Highway 191, the main drag that runs through town, and every motel - and there are a lot of them in Moab - was full. Even the mangers out back had no vacancy signs on them.

At the Comfort Suites we spoke with the maintenance guy, who was pulling night desk duty. He confirmed that every bed in town was claimed. There was a Jeep Jamboree in town all week, and some other event which included tail-gating in the motels parking lots and it was also a three day weekend for parents and kids due to some school holiday in Utah, so Moab was just overrun with people. He suggested we try Green River, which would require backtracking an hour the way we came or Blanding, which was a little more than an hour further along our planned path.

“We could just push through to Flagstaff,” I said.

“You could if you were on meth,” said the maintenance guy.

So Debra called the Comfort Suites in Blanding and we thanked the maintenance guy for letting us use the rest rooms and for his offer of coffee and cookies and we headed over to Pasta Jay’s for Tortelone Alfredo with chicken, which was just as delicious this time as it was when we ate it last year after the Death March up to Delicate Arch. Then we piled into the Jeep and rolled into Blanding for our night’s rest.


There is a lot more highway patrol activity in Colorado than in any other state we’ve been through. I didn’t see any highway patrol cars in Wyoming, South Dakota or Iowa. There was one in Minnesota and perhaps one in Illinois. But as soon as we got to Colorado, the cops were everywhere. In a single one-mile stretch there were three of them with cars pulled over, issuing tickets. They were hiding behind overpass pillars, parked on the side of the road aiming radar guns at oncoming traffic, and slinking around through traffic. It was like an infestation.

The drive through the Rockies was incredible, though. Wyoming was pretty with its sage-colored scrub and wide-open Old West landscape of buttes and mesas and plains, but the drive through the mountains…wow! April is the perfect time to make the trip - the roads are clear but the mountains are still flanked with pristine fields of pure white snow. Dark green fir tress march down the sides of the mountains to the roadside and we saw several big horn sheep grazing along the way. And the twisting road through Glenwood Canyon, winding among towering, rugged cliffs alongside the Colorado River was breathtaking. And we had perfect weather during our drive - with cloudless, azure blue skies - while the syncopated zik zik zik of bugs splatting their guts all over my windshield played a road trip symphony.

The landscape changed as we emerged from the mountains and western Colorado slowly changed from towering, snow-capped mountains and forests of firs to the rugged, jagged, red-soiled canyon country that Utah is so famous for. We drove on into the evening, and as we crossed into Utah we watched the sun set with a brilliant orange glow behind a distant mesa.

We’ve got a long day ahead of us today. We decided last night to try and push through all the way to Palm Springs in one shot from Utah. Along the way we’re hoping to see Valley of the Gods, Monument Valley, some dinosaur footprints in Arizona, the Grand Canyon and Sedona. So wish us luck! Here’s a link to our itinerary for today.

TeamRaymond Across America - Day Four

Posted by: elraymundo at 10:49 am on Friday, April 18, 2008
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Travel, Friends, Jeep

Denver, Colorado
Written from Mark’s office in his home in Parker
Miles today: 376
Total miles: 2252
Number of states: 12
Number of McDonald’s stops: 2
Today’s route: Hot Springs, SD -> Chugwater, WY -> Cheyenne, WY -> Denver

Greetings from Denver, Colorado!

Debra and I stopped at a McDonald’s in Iowa the other day for a restroom break and a snack. I looked around at the employees and the customers and realized we were in Racial Homogeny Central.

“These white people all look the same,” I whispered to Debra.

She, being ultra-PC, smiled knowingly and didn’t reply.

I didn’t realize how multi-cultural and multi-ethnic northern Virginia was until we got to the Midwest. I mean, I knew most of the people in the Midwest were white, but it didn’t hit me how abundantly white the area was until we were standing in line at that McDonald’s waiting to order. I mean, not only were all the people white, they were the same kind of white. There were no Italian- or Greek-looking white people in the restaurant. Everyone - except Debra - looked like they were yanked up out of Sweden by the hair and plopped down into the middle of Iowa to serve fries.

When we drove through Ellettsville - the über-American small town in Indiana - Debra looked around the place and said, “I bet there’s not a Jew around here for miles…”

So, anyway, not to belabor the point, but if you ever need to know where all the white people are at, look in the Midwest. The place is jam-packed with them. :)


Jonesing for a yummy, home-made cherry pie? Stop at the Sinclair gas station in Orin, Wyoming. Not only can you get a cherry pie that will knock your socks off, but you can eat it while looking out over a sweeping panorama of rugged Old West scenery that stretches for more miles than you can count. And on top of all that, the Sinclair gas station signs still have that really cool big green dinosaur on them.


Jonesing for some really yummy chili and a malt or shake made the old-fashioned way? Stop at the Soda Fountain in Chugwater, Wyoming. The town is just north of Cheyenne by about 45 miles and still has a soda fountain so authentic (it’s been there since 1914) that, were she still alive, you might expect Lana Turner to breeze in through the doorway. And they serve local-made Chugwater Chili which was deeeeeeee-licious.

Chugwater is mostly deserted now - the population shown on the sign as you roll into town is 244 - and apparently it was a bustling place until the Interstate went through in the 1960s. At that point, traffic on the old highway that was the main drag through town dried up and the town shriveled. Now the townies drive to Cheyenne (45 miles) or Wheatland (25 miles) for their groceries. But they still have their Soda Fountain - yum!


Last night at dinner, Sam, Mark and Keri’s daughter, looked at me with big wide eyes and said, “I have a boyfriend. His name is Sam, too.” Sam is 5 years old.

“And what are his plans for the future?” I asked Sam.

“We get in trouble. We play in class,” she said. Then, “Jessie has a boyfriend too.” Jessie is three. “Jessie’s boyfriend is named Mason and he squirts mustard on his butt. And he squirts ketchup on Jessie’s butt.”

I really don’t know how to wrap this up. So I’ll just stop.


TeamRaymond Across America - Day Three

Posted by: elraymundo at 10:53 am on Thursday, April 17, 2008
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Travel, Friends, Jeep

Hot Springs, South Dakota
Written in room 120 at the Super 8 Motel
Miles today: 450
Total miles: 1876
Number of states: 10
Number of McDonald’s stops: 2
Today’s route: Sioux Falls -> Hot Springs

Greetings from Hot Springs, South Dakota!

We’re parked at the Super 8, which sits right next to the Mammoth Site. We’ll be heading over there in a bit to see whatever there is to see wooly mammoth-wise.

The weather was mostly junk yesterday. No rain, but lots of grey clouds which did break up some in the late afternoon. I was hoping for some good, low-level evening light when we passed by Mount Rushmore (the photo-geek in me wanting his photo ops) and even though we didn’t get it, the carved face of the mountain was still awesome and inspiring. Even from the road outside the park the sight of the sculptures in incredible - especially the way they pop out from behind the trees as you round a bend in highway 16a when coming south from Cedar Rapids. It’s just incredible.

The road continues winding through the Black Hills with the mountain on the right, and every once in a while the clouds would part and the dark green hills would light up with evening sunlight. We didn’t stop at Crazy Horse this time, having seen it and climbed to the face a couple of years ago, but we did see it from a distance…Crazy Horse’s arm pointing forward out over the neck and head of his war horse.

Also along the way yesterday we took a drive through the Badlands and then up to Wall, where we stopped at Wall Drug for donuts (we ate A LOT of donuts at Wall Drug when we were there in 2005). Unfortunately, the time of day and the grey skies made photography in the Badlands pretty much useless, but we did enjoy the drive among the rock pillars and spikes and needles and buttes and mesas and never once did we see an anvil crashing on a coyote’s head.

Then again, we were probably in the wrong area for that. Maybe in a couple of days, when we get to Arizona.

Today we’re heading south and a little west from Hot Springs. We’ll slice through the very eastern edge of Wyoming and down through Cheyenne on our way to Denver, where we’ll stay with Mark and Keri, their three daughters, one dog, cat and obscenely-stocked wine cellar.

What I am hoping is that we’ve seen the last of the fierce headwinds that have blown since Indiana. On the ocean crossing to Antarctica last year we learned that fetch is the distance across which wind can blow unobstructed. Since wind causes waves and waves cause rough seas, fetch is a good thing to understand when sailing. Well, from the Rockies to the Appalachians there is nothing to break the wind - meaning that there is a hell of a lot of fetch in the oh-so-flat Midwest. So driving a canvas-topped cube at 85mph into super-strong headwinds has not been fun. I think we’re getting about 5 miles to the gallon as a result of the wind resistance and the sound of the wind inside the Jeep has been FEROCIOUS. The guys at the dealership said they had fixed the air leak where the canvas top meets the top frame of the windshield. The fact that Debra and I have to shout to hear each other over the wind noise tells me that the dealership guys don’t know squat about fixing air leaks.

And so it goes. But we’re having a good time.

Ok, we’re off to see the Famous Woolly Mammoth of Hot Springs. More tomorrow!

TeamRaymond Across America - Day Two

Posted by: elraymundo at 9:54 am on Wednesday, April 16, 2008
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Travel, Friends, Jeep

Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Written from Carla and Colin’s guest room
Miles today: 787
Total miles: 1426
Number of states: 10
Number of McDonald’s stops: 2
Today’s route: Bloomington, IN -> Peoria, IL -> Davenport, IA -> Albert Lea, MN -> Sioux Falls

Greetings from Sioux Falls, South Dakota!

La Raymunda and I are staying with Carla and Colin in their sprawling mansion behind the driving range. This place is HUGE! And their bath towels…mmmm, plush!

(I’m downloading last night’s episode of American Idol as I write this so we can watch it in the Jeep as we drive across South Dakota to the Badlands.)

We drove 787 miles yesterday, which, together with the previous day’s drive of 638 miles, puts us more than 1400 miles into our trip in just two days. The good part is that the boring parts of the trip are largely finished (sorry to anyone offended, but Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and southern Minnesota just aren’t very exciting) and we’re looking at five days of short trips through much more interesting parts of the country. Coming up: the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, the Rockie Mountains, the red rocks and canyons of Utah and the Grand Canyon. I’m really looking forward to the next few days of the trip.


Ellettsville, Indiana sits just outside Bloomington on IN-46. We used that and IN-231 to get us to I-74 which took us up diagonally to the northwest through Illinois to Iowa and I-80. The town is quintessential Americana, at least judging by the view from the road. A small, wooden, white-spired church just off the main drag, clusters of homes with large backyards dotted with swingsets, a clean, tidy brick fire station and flags fluttering from flag poles.

“Wow,” I said to Debra. “This town is so America.”

“I was just going to say that,” she said.

“This is the image of ourselves we like to portray.”

“Mm-hmm,” she assented.

“As opposed to that other one with the guns.”

On another note, we had a lengthy discussion about which route to take through Iowa to get to Sioux Falls. Debra spent and hour or so plotting and measuring different routes and found that they all came out to roughly the same distance. So when she asked if I would rather go to Sioux Falls via Nebraska or Minnesota, I chose Minnesota. Not only did I grow up there, but it makes a much better story to say that you drove from Washington, D.C. to LA via Minnesota. You know, because most people think Minnesota is in Canada.

One final note (I hope) on the odd products sold from the condom vending machines in the roadside men’s rooms of America. I’m not convinced that the makers of the products are aware of what is actually going on down there when two consenting adults engage in amorous enterprise, because in a restroom in Indiana they sell a product called the Tickle Ring, which looked like a dog collar that Sid Vicious would have worn. It had three rows of spikes - made of latex, I hope - circling the ring that apparently enhance one’s experience. “Studded for increased sexual pleasure!” the label claimed. Studded? Oh, the humanity!

And with that final salvo we are off to have breakfast, or perhaps brunch, with Carla and Colin (thanks for letting us crash with you!!) and then bid them and their lovely mansion and their plush bath towels au revoir as we continue west to the Badlands and our night’s rest in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Along the way we’ll pass the Corn Palace, Wall Drug (whose first billboard we spotted in Minnesota on I-90 - “Wall Drug…only 355 miles!”), where we’ll get a maple-frosted donut, the Badlands and perhaps Mount Rushmore, which is equally stunning in the daytime or at night.

TeamRaymond Across America - Day One

Posted by: elraymundo at 7:36 am on Tuesday, April 15, 2008
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Random, Liquid Diet, Mystery Fawn

Bloomington, Indiana
Written in the kitchen of Lisa’s studio apartment at 6:30am while Debra and Lisa sleep
Miles today: 638
Total miles: 638
Number of states: 6
Number of McDonald’s stops: 2
Today’s route: Great Falls, VA -> Cumberland, MD -> Wheeling, WV -> Columbus OH -> Indianapolis, IN -> Bloomington

Indiana is flat. Flat like the Netherlands. Except if you kick a hole in a wall of dirt in the Netherlands you’ll put the entire country under water. No such risk in Indiana. But they might make favorite son John Cougar Mellencamp sing at you.

We arrived in Bloomington at just past 9:00pm last night with 638 miles under our belt. Lisa walked us to an Irish pub, the Irish Lion, where we ate dinner and each drank a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale. It was our waiter’s first night on the job and, while we ate, his trainer had him sampling the pub’s various beers. By the end of our dinner he was smiling a lot, and when he picked up our signed credit card receipt he pointed to some stacks of pint glasses and said he had been sampling beers from each. There were six stacks of pint glasses.

Some notes from the road:

Mile 0 ~ 8:47am: Debra had a hard time leaving the house. Sitting in the Jeep in the driveway, looking at our house and pulling away was really tough. It was our first house and when we bought it, it was just another vinyl-sided box in Northern Virginia. All the walls were off-white and, after about four months of living there, Debra hated the place. Then we put in hardwood floors, painted all the walls, hung French Doors, remodeled the powder room and made a whole host of other changes and over time it became home - our home. And over 28 combined years (ye gods!) of time living in Virginia, we’d both put down roots with people that we cared very much for. Combined together, leaving the house and leaving friends made a pretty potent emotional cocktail and pulling out of the driveway was difficult to do. In fact, we only got as far as the Bloom grocery store around the corner before I pulled over and we talked things through and I reminded Debra that we have friends and family in California, too, all of whom love us and are waiting for us. That conversation helped and we managed to drive away from the neighborhood. But it was with a knot in the gut.

We drove through Cumberland, Maryland, on I-68, and I explained to Debra that the Cumberland Gap was where the early pioneers broke through the Appalachians and into the wild lands of what is now Ohio. I think it was round about there that Davey Crockett killed him a bar when he was only three. (I think only my parents and other readers over the age of 50 will get that reference - and that’s no typo on “bar”. :: :smile: ::)

Mile 150: Crossed the Eastern Continental Divide. From now until we cross the other continental divide in Colorado, all water will flow to the Mississippi and out to the Gulf of Mexico, as opposed to the Atlantic, where the water flows on the eatern side of the divide.

We stopped at a McDonald’s in Cumberland to use the restrooms. In the men’s room they were playing Duran Duran and, as a result, the next hundred miles of Appalachia were driven while humming Hungry Like a Wolf.

Mile 166: We passed under an overpass, across which ran Pig’s Ear Road. I thought of Tiffany Taylor, who grew up in Cheeks, Texas, where they have a road called Burrito King Boulevard (seriously!) and another road called Pig Nut Road. So, Pig Nut Road, meet Pig’s Ear Road.

Mile 176 ~ 12:40pm: We passed into West-by-God Virginia.

Mile 220 ~ 1:41pm: We passed into Pennsylvania. At this point I was in the midst of three consecutive conference calls, trying to assist with an email migration while struggling to keep a decent signal and wondering when the grey, brown and leafless trees in the Appalachians would bloom and turn green.

Mile 500 ~ 6:50pm: We stopped for gas in Lewisburg, Ohio. On the wall in the men’s room, above the urinals, were two gun metal grey vending machines selling condoms, which one can buy by dropping fifty cents into a slot and turning a knob - like a gumball machine but with rubbers. Anyway, pretty standard truck stop stuff. Except this one made me laugh. “EAR PLUGS NOT INCLUDED” it said above a cartoon drawing of an…hmmm…how do you say in your country? an ecstatic blond woman. Below the cartoon the sales pitch continued: “If she’s a moaner it will make her scream! If she’s a screamer it will get you arrested!”

Wow! I thought. All that…for just fifty cents!

So I dropped in my money and the machine ate my quarter.

A California-Style Amen

Posted by: elraymundo at 11:33 pm on Sunday, April 13, 2008
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Euphoria, Lotus Blossom, Travel, Jeep

I woke up at 7:11 yesterday morning and Debra was already out of bed.

This never happens.

I called her a couple of times and, when she didn’t answer, figured she was downstairs somewhere. I schlepped myself out of bed, threw on a bathrobe and staggered down the stairs. Debra was sitting out on the screened-in deck watching the sun rise, listening to the birds, and sipping a cup of coffee.

“Sunrise,” she said when she saw me. “What an interesting event.”

And then she cried a little. We’re moving, you see. To Los Angeles. Tomorrow. And she was saying goodbye to our house.

Although Debra has some packing left, the Jeep is more or less ready to go. We’re going to move ourselves out first and leave our stuff in the house while we try to sell it. Debra will stay in California for three weeks or so and then fly back to Virginia to orchestrate the movers and get our stuff onto a truck and out to LA. Where exactly we will put our stuff when it gets to LA is still up in the air. Probably storage, though.

I’ll fly back to Virginia once the movers have gone and then Debra and I will drive her little Nissan Sentra across the country together. I imagine we’ll take a mundane route to California with the Nissan, since we are taking a longer, more scenic route in the first trip out with the Jeep (from Virginia to Los Angeles via South Dakota and Wyoming).

Our plan is to be on the road tomorrow at 8:00am. (I have stressed to Debra that this means we are actually driving somewhere at 8:00am, not simply laying in bed considering, pondering or wistfully dreaming about driving somewhere at 8:00am.) We plan to spend our first night in Bloomington, Indiana, with Lisa, either on the floor of her house on an air mattress with her cat or in an as-yet-unnamed motel. My guess is it will be the motel. A Super 8 or Motel 6 or, if we’re lucky, one of those shabby, plywood-covered roadside dream palaces with a name like Thunderbird Lodge with a flickering “Free HBO” sign out front and a hard-luck single mother of three (”Life just took a bad turn after Jimmy’s accident at the saw mill…”) behind the counter in a red, white and blue sweatshirt that says These Colors Don’t Run! with tightly-drawn skin that creases vertically at her lips and who recommends, as she lights up another Marlboro, that we go see her girlfriend Peggy next door at the Denny’s and to tell Peggy that Marilyn sent us and then she’ll hook us up with a Grand Slam breakfast and bottomless refills of black tar heroin coffee.

And we’ll drive 10½ hours for all that. Well, and to see Lisa, too, of course.

From Bloomington we’ll drive about 13 hours to Sioux Falls to watch American Idol with Colin and Carla, and at that point the worst of the trip will be over. With most of the boring east-of-the-Rockies stuff behind us, we’ll take short 5½ drives the rest of the way until the final evening when we’ll do about 7 hours from Flagstaff to LA. Along the way, though, we’re looking to go by Mt Rushmore, the Badlands, a wooly mammoth paleontological dig and Mark and Keri’s in Denver, then cross the Rockies going westward to Moab and then south down through the red rock canyons, formations and arches of southern Utah before dipping into Arizona and turning west toward the Pacific again, hopefully with a side-trip to the Grand Canyon along the way.

aside: I haven’t seen the Grand Canyon since I was about ten years old. I suspect it is much the same as it was the last time I saw it. I’ve changed a little bit, though.

So La Raymunda and I have an adventure ahead of us. We’ve got a job - surprisingly I am (happily!) back at Time Warner Cable - and a house for sale and a new city to explore. When I first visited Virginia in 1987 I said to my Dad, “I would never live here.” So, of course, the Powers of the Cosmos formed a sinister plan to show me that I’m really not in charge of anything and stuck me here for 17 years.

Debra arrived here in 1997 with Road Runner, having just closed the door on her life as an opera singer and having decided to see what other paths she might wander down. Not long after, her path met my path and now, nine years after that happy merging of trails, we are leaving Virginia to the Virginians and heading to our ancestral home state to see what happens next.

And somewhere at the gummint there is a bitchy old one-eyed, one-legged troll whom I would like to thank, because without her actions seven months ago - malignant as they were - none of this new opportunity would have come to pass. So I’ll take your lemons, Evil Government Troll Lady, and give you back some delicious lemonade. Now can I have a California-style “Amen!” from the congregation?

“Guh-roovy, Brother El Raymundo!” they shout, slain in the spirit of synchronicity and many happy returns.