October/November 2015

Collection Time

A dozen or so states in a month… welcome home! 

We’re back in the States, and out collecting things.  We left the Tiger on the dock in Southampton, England and then flew into Phoenix mid-October, after a long and varied plane trip that started in London and took us to Arizona by way of Frankfurt and Seattle.  After a couple of days of trying to get our act together (and rid ourselves of the aftermath of some other collectors — packrats who kept warm in the engine area of our little tow car while we were away), we were ready to hit the road.  We were off collecting things; first stop?  California.

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Heading for the coast, we had a great route planned, quickly snuffed out.  We wanted to take a pretty, quiet back road through Death Valley.  Wrong.  Road flooded out and impassable.  We were forced to alter our route not once, but twice due to torrential rains that were pelting Southern California, but we finally did arrive at our first gathering place.

So what are we gathering, you might ask?  Well, in California:  our motorcycle, being stored by friends in Santa Cruz.  Some new-to-us books from our favorite used bookstore in Auburn, along with doggy kisses from Jazz and Sierra nearby.  Yummy Sylvester’s hamburgers in Atascadero.  Fun discussions about adventure travel in various parts of the world.  All this in conjunction with hugs and giggles with various friends and relations on a quick swing through the state and then out over Donner Pass and into Reno, Nevada.

Reno is the start of our favorite cross country road in the United States. Highway 50 runs from Reno all the way to Maryland.  It’s called “the loneliest road in the US” and really does live up to its name.  It’s also one of the prettiest, at least as far as east of the Rockies.  It was late fall, trees were turning and we now have lots of lovely pictures to add to our collections.

We must admit that, leaving Reno, Highway 50 does take a few miles to get up to snuff.  No one has ever said that Fallon was the Garden Spot of the West, but the fuel prices are great there.  So you have to trust that things will get better soon.  And they do.  Just keep on trucking until you’re coming into Austin (no-no-no, not all the way to Texas; it’s just  another 50 miles ahead, silly!) in the Toiyabe Mountains, where the flat turns to uphill and lots of great twisties.  We spent our first night parked in a lonely pull-off outside town; at 6644 feet it was mighty chilly.  The next morning was bright and clear and our first day full of trees turning yellow.  Just beautiful.

Moving eastward, we saw our first snow shortly before the Utah border, near Ely.  We stayed that night just outside Delta, Utah, at the Fort Deseret National Historic Site, with the ruins of an old mud fort from the pioneer days.  Pretty cool.

Highway 50 joins I-70 for about 200 miles of incredibly scenic rural Utah, with rock formations, narrow canyons, changing colors and massive erosion.  This area is a bit north  of more famous Moab and Arches NP, not to mention Flaming Gorge, a personal favorite.

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In case you’re getting tired of the scenic tour, we wish you’d been with us to share some splendid melons we bought alongside the road just coming into Green River, Utah.  The sandy soil is just perfect for them.  Munching away and seeing the beginnings of the Rocky Mountains off to the southeast just ain’t too shabby — a nice memory for our collection.  We kept going, wanting to reach Montrose, Colorado before nightfall.  Montrose is special to us.  We’ve stopped there several times over the years when crossing the Rockies, the first time on a motorcycle ride to the East Coast back in 1998.  Wow — 17 years ago; the place hasn’t changed one bit.  

Montrose is the start of a killer section of road.  First along the Gunnison River, rather bleak but with great peaks straight ahead, then up over Monarch Pass, our favorite way to cross the Rockies.  We started seeing snow on the ground at about 8600 feet; soon it started clinging to the branches of the Aspen trees, which had already lost all their lovely yellow leaves.  Rick loves driving this pass.  We reached the summit at 11,300 feet, then gently drifted down the mountain about 10 miles to our home for the next couple of days with friends who live just about that far down the pass from the peak, at 8300 feet.

Pat and Mike have lived here for over 20 years: in a great spot in a great house filled with treasures from their travels over the last many years.  We met them in Mexico, and collect  time with them whenever we can manage to cross paths — our last visit was lunch at Mamacita’s in Fredericksburg, Texas, 3-4 years ago.  A real treasure of a place to eat, I might add.

We only barely caught up with them this time, as they waited a few days for us to arrive — they were heading out to Mexico and Guatemala for the winter.  We left on Monday morning, and they departed the following day.  It was great to see them.  

Sad to say, once you’ve left Pat and Mike’s it’s all downhill from there — literally.  The highway drifts to further and further lower elevation, albeit through lovely country following the Arkansas river through Royal Gorge.  After awhile you end up in Pueblo, a nice enough town on the edge of the plains, but definitely no longer in the beautiful mountains.  Now you’re into the Great Plains and approaching Kansas.  Along about here we always make the comment that folks always have a certain image in their minds about Colorado, but that image doesn’t include the eastern half of the state unless they’ve actually been there.

Perhaps you’re wondering where this crazy ride is going to end.  So, here’s the deal.  As you might have surmised, we’re on our way to Florida.  You see, we didn’t just park the Tiger at the dock in Southampton to spend the winter; we could have found a much better place to park the old boy than that.  No sir, Tiger is at sea, or to use a more current term, is cruising.  We’d made arrangements to ship the Tiger back to the United States.  It’s supposed to arrive in Jacksonville on November 19, and we’ve brought all the rest of the family with us in order to give him a proper welcome home. 

“The rest of the family?”  Well, by now we’re a bit of an entourage:  we’re driving the larger motorhome (aka Fred the Foretravel, a 34-foot classic American RV), with the motorcycle on a rack attached to the back; and towing our small Honda car, a great runabout.  We do tend to take up a bit more space than when in the 19-foot Tiger, but just look at us as a Commanding Presence.  However, to be perfectly honest, we do have to take a careful look at the Burger King parking lot before swinging on in!

Well, where were we?  Leaving Pueblo.  It was time to leave Highway 50, too; time to start making tracks for Tulsa, Oklahoma and friends we’d not seen in many a year.  A direct route there would take us straight across the Oklahoma Panhandle, through several small farming towns that have hardly joined the 21st Century but are a pleasure to visit.  They give us a sense of “real America.”  By the way, Highway 50 continues across Kansas and Missouri on its way east and continues to be a pleasant ride through the heartland.  We headed south at this time in order to head for Tulsa and because fuel prices are lower in Oklahoma.  By the way, this is a good time for a cross country jaunt such as we are taking.  Fuel is lower than we’ve seen in many years.  This is true everywhere, but there are still differences between different states and we try to look ahead in deciding where to fill Fred's one hundred gallon tank.

Sadly, before we ever got near Tulsa we spent 4 days in and around a repair shop in Springfield, a small but nice little community in rural southeastern Colorado; ‘bout fifty miles south of Lamar.  The Foretravel died just as we reached the edge of town.  We lucked into a good guy named Quinten who was willing to tackle the problem; enjoyed a couple of great lunches at the Trail’s End restaurant around the corner; made two parts runs up to the diesel shop in Lamar; collected (and paid) a large bill; and then were on our way again.  Oh?  You want to know what went wrong?  It was a loss of pressure in the air system that operates both the suspension and the brakes… fairly important stuff.  The problem turned out to be caused by a failed air drier.  Not to be confused with a hair dryer, or a clothesline, for that matter.  An Air Drier.

Without further incident, and after plenty of time listening to corn and sorghum futures discussions on the radio — along with way too much of the new Country & Western music, which is just as bad as they say — we got to Tulsa and enjoyed catching up with our buddies there.  

By now we were on a schedule, wanting to get to Florida before La Tortuga.  We dropped down through Arkansas toward Alabama.  How to know you’re in Arkansas?  We drove along the Pig Trail Scenic Highway; passed by the Hog Trough Liquor store; and saw signs saying “Road unsafe when under water.”  Now, don’t get us wrong; we really like Arkansas, a lot.  But it’s great collecting new memories of the sights we’ve seen and new reminders that the US continues to be a wide and varied place; thank goodness for that.

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We’ve ended up in cotton country, in southern Alabama, down by the Gulf Coast.  It’s been humid and quite warm at times, and we experienced a severe storm one day, complete with  flooding — that was the day we decided to drive over to Mobile for some shopping and lunch at Sonny’s BBQ.  At one point we had to get off the road and wait for it to calm down a bit.  An experience we probably could’ve done without, but the lunch was great.

The cotton is almost all harvested by now, in late November, but we have seen some of it alongside the road, along with a bit of corn and other crops.  It’s too early for the new crop of oranges to be here, but the tangerines are to die for, and they make great juice for breakfast all by themselves.  We’re doing just fine.  Celebrated Rick’s birthday the other day by having breakfast at the Magnolia Blossom Cafe, a local favorite.  She brought Rick his pancakes complete with a candle in the middle and followed that with a boxed treat to take home.  That’s what we like about the South.

One bummer.  We’ve learned that the Tiger has been delayed out there on the high seas, and won’t arrive in Florida until early December.  Makes us pretty unhappy, but we’re finding things to do with ourselves (besides eat).  We figure we’ll head over to Florida about the end of the week, just for a change of scenery, and be closer to port just in case our ship actually does come in.  Keep your fingers crossed for us, okay?

Have a great Thanksgivin’ y’all.  Rick and Kathy and L’Entourage

© Rick & Kathy Howe 2001-2018