Thursday, July 31, 2008

Day 9: St. Louis to Grove City, OH

This morning we crossed the Mississippi River, a milestone in our road trip that is losing its charm as the days wear on. The dog must think she has been adopted by a couple of nomads and seems to have consigned herself to the possibility that this will be her reality for the rest of her life: traveling from hotel to hotel at 7 hour chunks of drive time a day. Depressing to say the least. But the end is in sight.

We listened to Stufjan Stevens' Come On Feel the Illinoise, a gift from Garrett from a few Christmases ago. It was great to see some of the town names mentioned in the songs along the highway and on the map. Great album.

Pulling off the road in Haute Terre, Indiana, we drove up and down the strip looking for some place authentic and local to eat. Defeated, we ended up at a Quiznos. Part of the fun of having a dog is the exclusion from restaurants and other establishments, so you get to improvise and find someplace, preferably shady, where you and your hound can sit down for a spell, have some lunch and a bowl of water, and get off the road for a bit.

I drove a couple blocks back from the main road then cut right for six or seven blocks. Just as I was about to give up I spotted Fairbanks Park. What a perfect place for a picnic, with a nice river flowing lazily next to it, plenty of covered picnic spots, and some public art.

Additionally, the Chauncey Rose Memorial Plaza was at the park, too, opposite an amphitheater.

Chauncey Rose was an all-around good guy and local hero. He left money to build an orphanage and a hospital for the poor. Meg thinks he looks a bit like Zoe.

GeekGas reports cruddy gas mileage today, probably attributable to high speeds coming into St. Louis before the heavy rains hit. 33.0473 mpg over 285 miles. I think the second tank we worked on today should get better mileage; we'll find out when we fuel up tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Day 8: Yukon to St. Louis, MO

There was so little so see on this leg of the journey that we did not really take any photos. No cool roadside attractions, no historical markers, nothing. To keep the miles moving Meg and I read to each other from Short Bus, getting through four chapters. We also saw the sign above on a semi truck, "This company was built on the vision of a blind man," which I found to be pretty inspiring and fitting with Mr. Mooney's tale. So I think this post is going to be a little discussion on the powerful message of this book.

It seems that every time Meg or I read to one another from this book that either one or both of us end up in tears by the end of the chapter. It is that touching of a book. The tears come from the cruel way society treats individuals with learning differences or different physical abilities, but they also come from the stories of how the individuals Jonathan Mooney meets overcome or transcend what society sees as limitations.

Yesterday's readings made me think about the Autistic young woman with whom I had a conversation at the Grand Canyon. She was very inquisitive and asked me many questions related to geography. I was happy to oblige her questioning. I have found that after working with students on the Autism Spectrum that I can pretty quickly pick up when an individual is Autistic and have an appropriate conversation with her or him. In this case I was more than happy to talk about Maine, the Atlantic Ocean, New Hampshire, and our respective experiences in these places. However, as the conversation continued I could sense her parents' discomfort: they said, "Oh, she's the question woman," to me as a way to explain the incessant questioning. I said I did not mind, but the parents were clearly a little exasperated (there are a lot of people to talk to at the Grand Canyon, after all) and perhaps even a little embarrassed.

Talking with Meg about the experience, we compared it to some of Jonathan Mooney's experiences on the short bus. Typical people might not have treated the young woman as well, recognizing that she was different and fixating on her differences, rather than the similarities. They might have thought her questions about Maine, being asked from Arizona, were "off topic" or such non sequiturs as to not warrant a response. However, I enjoy these seemingly random conversations because they help reveal the interests of the Autistic individual, the "thing" that they are "really into" and the topic with which you can easily engage the individual. Oftentimes when I first meet an Autistic person I will ask her or his parents, or the student her- or himself, "What are you into? What's your thing?" Making this connection show you value the person as an individual, not as a curiosity.

So next time a person comes up to you asking questions about your Maine shirt, oblige her or him: you might just learn something new about the world and yourself.

Geek Gas reports 35.4655 mpg over 280 miles, then later in the day 39.9167 mpg over 345 miles. As things flatten out I hope to see good high gas mileage like this. By the way, for those keeping score at home, the average mpg thus far is 37.3508 miles per gallon.

Day 7: Albuquerque to Yukon, OK

This was the beginning of the leg of the road trip that our mover Mike warned would be boring and without much visual distraction. He was right. Leaving Albuquerque we continued to climb in altitude for a while. Finally we leveled off and moved into the flat, flat, flatness of eastern New Mexico and western Oklahoma.

There was very little to break the monotony of the voyage. When lunch finally came around we had to find a place to eat since we had not bought groceries on the way out of Albuquerque as we stayed by the airport, where there weren't any grocery stores that we could see. We were ready to settle for Subway, which has reached a near ubiquitousness (and which, in the grand scheme of food on the go, is probably a good thing), when we noticed a local enterprise that looked promising: Texas 2 Step Gourmet.

Intrigued, I went in and got us two "John Wayne" sandwiches: beef brisket on a bun, cheese and onions optional. Delicious. The shop was chock-o-block full of hot sauces, Texas memorabilia and other cooking goods. It's a hard draw, but being in the middle of nowhere has its advantages: it is something to see where there is little to see.

Right off I-40 is a great piece of outsider art, the Cadillac Ranch, situated in a corn field. There are no brown signs to announce its presence: you had better pay attention.

You can get off I-40 and double back to reach the field. A sign warns not to paint anything on the road side of the fence, as it is Texas property. The cars are covered in unbelievably thick coats of paint: they seem to be more paint than steel at this point.

Somebody handed Meg a Sharpie, explaining somebody else had passed it to her and Meg was to pass it on. Meg added our names to the monument.

As we raced from a big lightning storm in western Oklahoma, swarms of dragon flies hovered above the highway. It was crazy to see so many in one place.

We ended up at Henry Hudson's, a local where Meg got a weird vibe but where I enjoyed the sights and the food. It was a good end to a long day.

Geek gas says 38.4521 mpg over 312 miles: gotta love the flatlands.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Day 6: Chandler to Albuquerque, New Mexico

We said goodbye to Adam, Jody, and Tyler, who was upset to see Zoe go.

While Meg bought some groceries, Zoe learned to pilot a helicopter and also drove the Bat Mobile.

Are all the adopt a highway signs along the highways of Arizona places where people wiped themselves out, or is it a tradition around there to adopt a stretch in memory of somebody? Because if it is the former people are killing themselves about every five miles or so through here....

We passed through a bunch of high mountain passes. The altitude was a killer: we both got good headaches. However, the sights were beautiful.

As we moved into the high desert we saw some of the Big Puffy Clouds that Ricky Lee Jones and The Orb spoke so highly of.

Along the way we stopped at Petrified National Forest. There were petroglyphs here that we wanted to see, along with Pueblo Puerco, a settlement that was inhabited from 1100-1200 and again from 1300-1400. It was harsh, windy, and hot, and it was hard to image eking out an existence in such a place. The ruins were impressive and the petroglyphs were a glimpse at an unknown people and narrative.

There was also a little monument to the old Route 66, now replaced by I-40 on which we were traveling. My friend Allen recently completed a project with the president of Pepperdine, so it was cool to make that connection with his work.

We also crossed the Continental Divide, a milestone in our journey east.

We went out to an awesome dinner at 9:30 pm at Cervantes, which had the best northern New Mexican food Meg or I had ever had and an awesome waiter, Victor, to boot. We were the only people in the restaurant, since it was supposed to close at 10:00, but a family showed up shortly thereafter and we ended up striking up some good conversation. The father explained that the cuisine at Cervantes was authentic North New Mexican, and that one was unlikely to find such food outside of this region. This was the best culinary treat so far!

When we checked into our hotel, we were very pleased to find that we were booked into the Nixon Presidential Suite.

Tricky Dick himself visited me in my dreams and helped me slumber peacefully all night long.

Geek Gas says 35.8566 mpg over 216 miles: this part of the trip was through some pretty steep passes in Arizona that were absolutely beautiful. 39.4095 mpg over 307 miles: the flatlands of western New Mexico paid off with better gas mileage.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Day Five: Hangin' with the Burkers in Chandler

We headed over to Maricopa, AZ, to the build-site where Adam, Jody, and Tyler's new home is being built. We took a look at the slab and Adam and Jody walked us around to explain what was going where. Afterwards we toured a couple of model homes for the development to see all the various configuration options.

Afterwards we went over to Jody's parents' home to take a dip in their nicely cool pool. We even got in a game of Marco Polo.

They have two dogs, a pug and a shitzu, who Zoe got along with and played with.

After swimming Tyler and Tim entertained us with Tim's organ, which made all sorts of cool sounds. Tyler liked the train sound and the reindeer bells.

When we got home we were pretty worn out from playing in the pool and being out in the sun. While I worked on the blog Meg and Tyler played with Play-Do.

It wouldn't be a trip to Arizona without a little scorpion hunting! We went over to Jody's brother Dave's place. He has a LED blacklight flashlight and when you shine it around, the scorpions phosphoresce.

It was great to be off the road for a day, to get to spend some time with the Arizona contingent of the Burker clan, and to splash around in the pool. Tomorrow we get back on the road to head to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Day Four: Cameron to Chandler, AZ

Meg finally fulfilled a dream and we visit the Grand Canyon on our fourth day of the road trip. The weather could not have been better: it was overcast, probably in the low-eighties, and the perfect weather to take a walk along the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

We walked about a mile along the south rim until we reached the hotel and the Hopi House.

Waiting for Meg to use the restroom, I had a great conversation with a young woman who I think has autism. She spotted my Maine t-shirt and talked to me a bit about Maine, the Atlantic Ocean, and New Hampshire. She had not heard about Waterville, where Colby College is located, so I told her a bit about that. She asked me why there were so many trees in Maine; I hazarded a guess and suggested it was the proper soil and climate that allowed so many trees to grow.

As we drove through the Navajo Nation Reservation we happened to catch on NPR a great Native American radio program. They were riffing on the idea that the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of Native Americans in a landmark decision due to be decided in August, 2008. In this episode the judge ruled that the accounts that the government is supposed to maintain for Native Americans had been mismanaged to the tune of $58 billion in rewards. Various "characters" called in with suggestions as to how the government might raise the money for the settlement. Surrounded by the poverty of the reservation we drove through as we listened to the program, it was grimly ironic in a black humor kind of way.

From the Grand Canyon we headed south to Sedona since everyone we talked to insisted that we had to visit. I finally broke down and purchased some buffalo jerky. It was really delicious.

It was well worth the trip to see the beautiful surroundings.

It was considerably cooler down in the canyon and it seemed like all of Arizona was taking advantage of the river and the shade.

From there it was not too long of a trip to Chandler to see Adam, Jody, and Tyler. Zoe and Tyler got along very well, and Tyler was a big help with walking the dog.

We finished up the evening with some Wii Fit and some Guitar Hero.

Gas Mileage for the day according to GeekGas: 35.6489 mpg over 253 miles. Again with the hills and the higher speeds our gas mileage slipped a bit.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Day Three: Fillmore to Cameron, AZ

We got up at seven a.m. to try to beat some of the heat in Fillmore, Utah. We headed south down Main to reach the Territorial Statehouse State Park, shown above. The weather was perfect, probably in the low eighties, and the grass was cool on Zoe's belly:

We walked around the park for a while and read the plaques and displays. The thing I found most interesting was the masons carved their initials into the stones used for the building, expecting they would be covered by plaster when the building was completed. I found this one at the top of the building with the same initials as my mother:

Meg found it interesting that Fillmore was indeed named after Millard Fillmore, as suggested by her mother the other night when they spoke about our itinerary. There is even a Millard county.

Meg planned a route that took us through Zion National Park in Utah. On the way into the park proper, we stopped for lunch at the George A. Barker Springdale River Park, a beautiful respite from the road with a nice river running alongside the park. There were picnic benches under nice shade trees.

Additionally, there was a nature trail and dog park across the bridge from the park:

We took a walk along the trail that meandered alongside some big hills. It was stunningly beautiful.

It was about five hundred degrees out. Zoe and I nearly melted.

So we hopped back into the air-conditioned car and headed down the road to Zion National Park. Words fail to describe the views and geologic wonders.

Afterwards we crossed through some pretty rough weather, but Meg piloted the car like a champion.

We finally made it to Cameron Arizona's Trading Post. We walked Zoe, had some dinner, and were rewarded with a great view and a beautiful sunset.

Gas Mileage for the day according to GeekGas: 33.345 mpg over 190 miles; 41.3415 mpg over 196 miles. I think the sudden drop in mileage on the first tank of the day way due to the 75 mph I drove for a bit in haste to reach Fillmore yesterday, as well as some of the long slow grades we climbed yesterday to get there. However, we finally broke 40 mpg today! I feel hopeful that once we get out on the open plain we'll be averaging above 40 mpg.

A little more about the car. It has a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder DOHC engine. We have also been running the air conditioning since we went over the pass into Eastern Washington. Before we left we averaged around 28 mpg on the highways and running around town. The high gas mileage can be attributed to keeping the speed between 65 mph and 70 mph. As shown, driving 75 mph really affects the gas mileage. Taking it slow, we are....

Day Two: Caldwell to Fillmore, Utah

After a fitful night sleep with the snoring of sweet Zoe to keep us awake (how such a small dog can produce such resonance deserves advanced study), we drove back towards The Dutch Goose through the Caldwell Historical District. This was an amazingly beautiful stretch along Cleveland Boulevard that appears to have been built around the turn of the Twentieth Century, with many Craftsman-style houses that were in beautiful shape, tall shade trees, and a feeling of a different time.

We found some amazing coffee at the drive-through Dutch Bros. Coffee, whose staff was upbeat and excited to talk to us. We took our coffees down the road to The College of Idaho's beautiful campus.

There we ran into a couple of basset hounds that really dug Zoe.

We got on the road again and headed towards Fillmore, Utah, the first capitol of Utah. Our trip to Fillmore was a bit auspicious because of the date. The Mormons, led by Brigham Young, came into the Utah Valley through Immigration Canyon on July 24, 1847. Brigham Young announced, "This is the place" and he and his flock settled. Today it is celebrated as Pioneer Day in Utah, a holiday bigger than the 4th of July, according to my mother, who grew up in Utah.

Along the way we stopped at a rest-stop to have a picnic lunch. They had some really cool picnic stations scattered around the property, which also had a sign explaining that the modern location was on the edge of a prehistoric salt lake.

Additionally, there are many ferruginous hawks in this part of the country. Evidently they nest in the area near the rest stop. There were also juniper trees all over the property.

Another cool wildlife feature in Idaho was the prevalence of birdhouses mounted on the back of highway road signs. I am not sure what kind of birds they are housing, but it is a cool project.

Today we read out loud from Jonathan Mooney's Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal, the author's tale of his personal triumph of overcoming society's label of being learning disabled along with his travelogue of piloting a short bus on a cross-country loop around the country talking with other people who have been similarly labeled. At times leaving us nearly in tears, other times laughing out loud, this is a must-read.

We ended up ordering in room service at the Best Western Paradise Inn Resort in Fillmore where we stayed, which was quite tasty after a long day on the road, and we watched the end of Galaxy Quest on cable. After dinner we took Zoe for a stroll and witnessed a fine fireworks display at the trailer park in honor of Pioneer Day.

Gas Mileage for the day according to GeekGas: 37.3729 mpg over 305 miles; 38.5952 mgp over 311 miles. Meg and I are very impressed. We're keeping it around 70 mph top speed, though every now and again we hit 75 mph to pass a truck.