A chapter in an occasional series of posts documenting an autumn 2021 road trip through the Midwest.
Throughout the years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve often searched for new blogs to follow. Maybe I was looking for something in my areas of interest; history, photography or politics. Maybe it was a search for new ideas, new approaches, or new formats. Or maybe I’d just stumbled on to something that intrigued me, something completely out of my normal area of interest.
Somehow I found Susan Richardson’s, Stories From the Edge of Blindness, in which she documents her struggles and successes in dealing with Retinitis Pigmentosa. The blog so captivated me that I went back to her archives, starting from the beginning and trying to catch up as her story continued. I think I covered eight years worth of posts in a few months.
Eden Baylee. I think I found her blog in the comments section of Yeah Another Blogger. A published author, Eden’s blog includes a regular Music Monday and an occasional 800 Word Story in which she collaborates on a short piece of fiction with author Bill Kirton on a topic that they apparently pull out of a hat – or somewhere else. It amazes me that they can do that.
She also has written about social and political issues that have personally touched her. I wish she would write more of those.
She has, as she says in her bio, a dry sense of humor and a penchant for profanity, and I love both. Whether she likes it or not, she’s become my writing mentor. She gained my undying affection when she called Neil Young a wanker. We’ve since become good friends and confidants.
I’ve met two bloggers in person.
Michael Scandling, publishes the AMAGA Photography Blog. His minimalist and impressionist seascapes are mesmerizing.
I met Martin Fredericks in Fargo, North Dakota. He publishes IV Words, a blog about climate change and our current and worsening environmental crisis. It’s an eye opening site, that can be at times frightening and at other times, inspirational.
There are too many other bloggers to mention here in the body of this post who I’ve read and have been following. I’ve included those at the end of this post.
And then there are the others. The posts that I’ve stumbled upon and that have, as the saying goes, “wowed” me. I’ll read a piece, and find that it’s months or even years old. And so I search for the newest post.
I click on the heading to refresh the site to a new post and it comes up with the old post.
Is that all there is? What happened? Did the writer lose interest? Move on to write another blog on another platform? Or is it something worse?
This great work stopped in midstream. Gone with not so much as a friendly “goodbye” or a brusque, “I’m done with this shit.”
It’s like the sign on the shop window, Back in 10 minutes. When did the clock start? A minute ago? Fifteen minutes ago? Yesterday?
It’s frustrating and disappointing.
Good blogs shouldn’t fade away into nothing, they should have a series finale and damn it, they should have a climax.
And that is what this post is.
It’s been ages since I’ve posted anything and there’s a reason for that.
I’m writing this in room 208 of the Quality Inn, in Grayson, Kentucky, just 30 minutes from the West Virginia state line.
After Cora and Lexi and I returned from our May/June road trip I got hit with a malaise. I lost interest in keeping up with the things that I should’ve been doing around the house.
The doldrums actually started to hit me as our road trip was winding down. By the time that we got to Hood River, Oregon, I was starting to get the “we’re going to be home soon” blues.
That road trip was often exhausting and sometimes trying, like the time I thought Lexi had broken her leg, or the time Google sent us on a wild goose chase in the desert.
Cora and I will never forget the filthy, disgusting motel in Missoula, Montana. It was the one that banned Lexi from entering the motel through the front door. I wanted to tell the desk clerk that Lexi could take a dump in his filthy lobby and it would represent a marked improvement.
Still it was like nothing we’d done before – and I needed more. Not just more but, MORE, something on a grander and more exciting scale.
Cora was perfectly ready to get home and Lexi was probably ecstatic about being able to romp in her backyard again. I wasn’t at all satisfied.
It was during the final leg of that trip, that I asked Cora if she would mind if I took another road trip, on my own, through the Midwest. She gave me her blessing but probably had no idea what she was giving me permission to do.
I aimed for the week after Labor Day, when kids would be back in school and there would be fewer travelers on the road.
It was going to be great blog material.
And then just before leaving I thought that it could be book material.
I know, it’s been done. John Steinbeck did it in Travels With Charley, although since then it’s been revealed that parts of the book are fictional. Even Steinbeck’s son called bullshit on certain sections.
William Least Heat Moon did it in his book, Blue Highways, the epic travel journal of a man who lost his job and his wife at about the same time and decided to get in his truck and go. I mean, that’s what I would do.
I’m certain that a few thousand others, both writers and hacks, have also taken a crack at the long road trip narrative. Some have succeeded and most have failed. I’m told that’s the way it is with trying to write a book and I figure that it’s better than even odds that I’ll end up with the hacks. But, as the man said, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Today marks the end of my fifth week. I flew into Omaha, Nebraska, on September 10th and have driven through parts of Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, West Virginia and now here I am, room 208 of the Quality Inn, Grayson, Kentucky.
I’m going to Milan, Indiana tomorrow and then two days in Goshen. I have to stop by the Indiana Dunes because I promised a couple in New Harmony, Indiana that I would do so. In fact I’m going to take a photo of it and send it to them.
At times I forget what day it is. One day I accidentally made a reservation for the wrong two days in Lansing, Iowa. I got it figured out soon enough that the owner was able to book another guest and I wasn’t out any money.
I’ve already lost track of some of the places that I’ve been.
There’ve been many days when I got lost and found myself pulled off the road next to a cornfield, looking at the map, scratching my bald head and uttering a, “Where in the fuck did I go wrong? Where in the hell am I?”
Sometimes sheer shithouse luck has me back on course.
I’ve been using a voice recorder, taking notes in a journal, and of course, I’ve been taking photographs, with both camera and phone.
Early on I was putting together posts, unrelated to this trip, to publish on my blog. It was taking time, adding to fatigue and causing a fair amount of unneeded stress.
Everything seemed to be going fine until one afternoon when I was on my way to Duluth, Minnesota, from Eveleth, Minnesota. I stopped and went to erase a single entry on my recorder and accidentally erased everything. Every – fucking – thing.
I was despondent. I’d already backed up some of the material in Google Docs or in my hand written journal. The rest was gone.
The deleted material included a long conversation that I’d had with blogger, and now author, Martin Fredericks. I’d stopped to have lunch with him in Fargo, North Dakota.
I was anxious to learn from him what it’s like to be a liberal in a blood red state. Not just a liberal, but, to add an enhancement to the crime, a tree hugging liberal. It was excellent material for a book. It was, up to that point, the crown jewel – and it was gone.
On my way through Duluth, to my final stop of the day in Mondovi, Wisconsin I called Cora and told her what happened.
“I’m coming home. I just don’t have the heart for this anymore. It was a dumb idea. I’m too old for this shit anyway. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’ll make my way back to Omaha and book a flight.”
That night, I exchanged texts with Eden and she started easing me back from the ledge, though I still had only one foot back in the window. Over the course of a day or two she’s pulled me back in and shut the window.
The next day, while driving about the Wisconsin dairyland, I thought things through. I would have to ask Cora for an extension.
That afternoon I was lost in the alphabet soup of the letter designated Wisconsin county road system, looking for a little town called Whitehall when I got phone service and called Cora.
As I drove and we talked I stumbled on to Whitehall. I parked in the lot of the stout, stocky, Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church.
Every town in Wisconsin has at least one Lutheran church. Sometimes an extra one or more. You never know when an extra might come in handy.
We talked about the usual random things. How was I doing? How was she doing? Did she call the contractor? Was I being safe?
Finally I took a deep breath.
“I’ll be back by your birthday.”
“My birthday is Halloween.”
“I know. I just need to see this through.”
“If something happens that you need my help with or if you just want me to come back, say the word and I’ll make my way back to Omaha and fly back.”
We said goodbye.
I sensed some sadness in her goodbye. She seemed hurt and I felt like a shit heel.
I sat in the parking lot for a bit, wiped a tear and still wondered whether or not I should just cut it short and go home.
I was feeling tired. Tired of lonely days, days when I’ve missed Cora terribly. Days when I’d had enough of lugging a suitcase around. Tired of eating canned chili or ramen for dinner or stopping to make a sandwich, stopping along the way from somewhere headed towards somewhere else.
After erasing my recording I made the decision that I couldn’t serve two masters and I decided to put this blog on hiatus. At this point I have no plans to document this trip on my blog. I just want to concentrate on putting this into a book.
This trip, and my impressions are only the barest of bones that will need to be fleshed out when I return. I’m not certain if I’ll resume the blog while trying to put a book together.
I’d originally decided to jump off of Facebook for the duration of the trip or longer but I realized that Facebook is how Cora travels with me. So I reactivated Facebook a day after I’d deactivated it.
After this post, I may come up with one more post, based on some reflections that I’d had as I drove away from the Field of Dreams ballpark in Dyersville, Iowa.
I still have a lot of material left from my spring road trip that is yet to be published so I’m looking at this post as more of a season finale than a series finale.
Tonight marks the end of five weeks on the road. On the 22nd of October I get back on a plane for home.
Today I drove through the hollers of Appalachia, in West Virginia. As usual I got lost one or two times and Google Girl got lost as well, having lost her data connection. I don’t yell at Google Girl the way I used to. I used to abuse her terribly.
A few weeks back I was walking through the Quincy Mine ruins in Northern, Michigan and I was carrying my phone in my pocket. When I got back and started the map guidance, the instructions were delivered in some different tongue. Turned out that while my phone was in my pocket the settings had changed.
I knew what languages it wasn’t. It wasn’t Spanish, Italian, French, German, Japanese, Korean, or Chinese. The problem was, I didn’t know what it was and, worse than that, I didn’t know how to change it back. Even the voice was different.
I struggled with this interloper for two days until I figured out how to bring my Google Girl back.
When she was back I promised her that I would never cuss at her or call her vile names again. And I’ve kept that promise. Even if she has screwed me a couple times and taken me on the long, unscenic route.
So with Google Girl lost today, I turned to driving until I could come to a town that could help me get my bearings on the map.
Crum, West Virginia, isn’t much more than a collection of ramshackle homes, double wides and trailers. And a Baptist Church of course. Every town in the hollers seems to have at least one Baptist Church and sometimes two or more. A self respecting holler can never have enough Baptist Churches.
Crum also has a post office and I’d never have known that Crum was Crum without the name on the Post Office. I found where I was on the map and how to get to a major town from where I was.
I climbed out of the hollers and lo and behold the road ended up in a city. I had no idea what city I was in but I could tell by the signs and banners that it was the hometown of Marshall University, the school made famous in film.
I stopped to get something to eat. While walking I tried to find something that would tell me where in the hell I was besides the hometown of Marshall.
Cora was on the phone.
“Where are you?”
That had become the oft asked question.
“Hell if I know. It’s the town where Marshall University is. You know, the movie?”
“I can’t remember.”
Well, I could place the movie but not the town and the sorry thing about that was that I was walking through its very streets. I finally found out the the easy way – by asking someone.
“Huntington,” I told Cora. “Huntington, West Virginia.”
“You’re in West Virginia?”
“Been driving through it all morning. “
After lunch I walked to the bank of the Ohio River to relax for a bit. This is what I wrote in my journal.
Huntington has a riverside park and a river walk, as every self respecting town next to a river should.
The park, following the course of the placid Ohio, is a long stretch of green, shaded in places with trees. The park has two paths, benches, picnic tables and swinging loveseats, like the ones you see on a porch. People come to walk their dogs, walk their kids or just walk themselves. They jog, practice martial arts, read, or, as in my case, enjoy the peace.
I had come for just a quick look but I decided to stay longer. I find peace near the water and at that very moment I needed a good dose of peace. At home I might be at the ocean but in a pinch, this pinch for instance, the Ohio River would do just fine.
It occurred to me that I was marking five weeks done, with one left to go.
It also occurred to me that this marked the farthest east and south that I would go. Henceforth I would be going north and west till Omaha where I would get on a plane and go home.
I looked in front of me, across the river to Ohio, at the custom built A-frame houses. Behind me was Huntington and behind Huntington was the abject poverty of the hollers.
I thought about the ridiculous irony. The people in those A-frames and the people in the hollers, people separated by a few miles but living in different worlds, voted for the same guy for president. How does that work?
The people in Huntington? College town so that was probably a split. Or maybe Biden squeaked by.
I thought about how the trip had failed in regards to politics. I really wanted to talk to locals about politics but with the general mood…
It took me five weeks to get here.
At the other extreme, the northern extreme, I’d been to Copper Harbor, Michigan, just about as far north as I could go in the Continental United States without swimming to the middle of Lake Superior where the big lake becomes Canada.
The humidity and sun had made me drowsy and I wanted to go home to take a nap. But something held me there by the river. I knew that the moment I rose from that bench and put the river behind me, I would be starting home, marking the beginning of the end of my journey.
I’d hit the halfway point in time two weeks prior, but that didn’t affect me so. This time I felt a melancholy. There were times when I was exhausted, other times aggravated and every day I missed my family and my dog.
Now I was already starting to miss this journey. It was like reading the last few pages of the book you never want to put down. The author blessed you with characters who had become your friends. You were their confidant and you never wanted to part ways with them, but you also knew that the dwindling pages meant that your days together were numbered.
On the drive back to the motel in Grayson, I thought about what was behind me. I couldn’t even remember the names of some of the towns I’d laid my head in.
I remembered Montevideo in Minnesota, but that was only because it shared the name with the city in Uruguay. I couldn’t remember the town that I stayed in between Escanaba and Copper Harbor, the one where the nearest grocery store was 14 miles down the road.
But I did remember some of the people.
There was Francis, in Lansing, Iowa who was building a riverside shrine to honor his wife.
There was the couple at the Field of Dreams ballpark who let me play catch with them so that I could say that I had “a catch,” at that field.
There was Sue, in Upper Michigan, who was learning the motel business on the fly after her niece was badly injured in an auto accident.
And of course there was Jim in New Harmony, Indiana who I spoke with for the better part of an afternoon. We sat on the porch of his rooming house and watched the rain pour and the lightning flash.
Jim told me that William Least Heat Moon, the author of Blue Highways, finished his journey there in New Harmony.
“Right down there near the old bridge.”
It dawned on me that maybe it would be appropriate to write my final journal entry in Omaha at the bank of the Missouri River.
Below are a few photos from the journey.
Thank you to the readers, the regular, the occasional and the ones who read one or two posts and then moved on.
Thank you to the bloggers who have inspired me and entertained me. I’ve been remiss in reading posts because I’ve just been too immersed in driving, writing and trying to catch a few moments of TV in order to mindlessly unwind.
Below is a list of bloggers who I’ve been following or have followed me.
IV Words – The Progressive Perspective
Stories From the Edge of Blindness
In 2002, Retinitis Pigmentosa changed my life. This is my story of a slow approach to darkness.
Yeah, Another Blogger
An Arts-Filled, Tasty And Sometimes-Loopy Jaunt Through Life
Travel With Me: Travel Snapshots From Toonsarah
AMAGA Photography Blog
Words about pictures by Michael Scandling
Trying to Understand My Nikon D7100
…i choose this…
T Ibara Photo
一枚の写真は一千語に匹敵する／A picture is worth a thousand words
Following the Path to the Past
looking through the lens
The Observation Post
mistermuse, half-poet and half-wit
PLANET EARTH NEWSLETTER blog
30 PLANET EARTH groups will be showcased in this blog
WONDERING. WANDERING. WHATEVERING.
Clear Air Turbulence
For Navigating Fear & Commanding Life
Anne the Vegan
Cee’s Photo Challenges
TEACHING THE ART OF COMPOSITION FOR PHOTOGRAPHY.
My Black and White World
Photography And Lifestyle
Mavis’ blog about pets and life including Africa
It’s written by Casey
Lex and Neek
Journeys into Fun
On family history, parenting, education, social issues and more
VIEW FROM THE BACK
RAMBLINGS OF A RETIREE IN FRANCE
A Literary Bent
All about books, the people who write them, sell them and read them…reviews and news, travel and photography.
Audrey Driscoll’s Blog
peace of life today
Nes Felicio Photography
Notes From the Underground
Simplicity on the Road
Robby Robin’s Journey
Reflections of an inquiring retiree …
The World Is A Book…
Big Blue Mouth
poems of whimsy and optimism