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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Route 66 in our '67 -- End of the Line!

Starting time: 7:15 AM MST, Flagstaff, AZ
Starting mileage: 59382
Yesterday's mileage: 617

Whether due to the change in time, an unusual amount of traffic noise, or just anticipation, we were up and out early this morning for our last leg of the seven-day trip.

Some more history: Chris bought the Duchess sight unseen, off eBay, where it was listed through a dealer on behalf of a client. The gentleman had owned the car for 25 years. About 14 years ago, he had shipped her from his home in Northern California to his summer home in Nova Scotia, where she became the "summer driver," until the gentleman grew too old to drive and reluctantly decided to sell her.

No garage, so the Duchess gets a blankie for the night
Chris and he spoke for hours over the phone prior to the conclusion of the sale, and one of the funniest moments was when, at Chris's instruction, the old gentleman and his daughter, armed with an iPhone with Facetime, gave Chris a virtual test drive. ("Okay, now start the car. Zoom in to the oil gauge. I make that about 42, is that right?...Okay, now give her some gas...")

The mountains towering over Flagstaff, first thing in the morning
The Jaguar was shipped from Nova Scotia to Boston, where the dealer was located, and Chris traveled there to bring her home to Southampton. She had about 55,000 original niles on the odometer at the time and came with a suitcase full of pedigree, including original bill of sale and all mechanical records, the original toolkit including a quaint grease gun, and a box the size of an undercounter refrigerator full of spare parts. Chris pored through all the records like an archaeologist, using them to compile his own list of questions for our mechanic in Southampton prior to our journey.

One of the things he found was that when she was made, she was shipped directly to a luxury car dealership in Beverly Hills. The keys were attached to the original leather keyfob with their logo on it, and that dealership is named on the license plate surrounds still on the car.

So, like me, the Duchess is going home. And I swear she knows it. Each day it seems she purrs a little more contentedly, and her ride becomes that much smoother. She is heading back to the sun and warmth where she "grew up" to become our winter driver. I swear her performance increased 1.5 MPG once we hit the state line.

I am a California native and very proud of it, but I have to say, of the entire journey coast to coast, the final approach through the Mojave Desert is the ugliest of all. Okay, you either love the desert or you don't, and I don't; even banked by majestic foothills and mountains, the floor of the desert is flat and featureless, with sand and rocks and scrub and Russian Thistle (tumbleweeds to you). We laughed because when we encountered the California Welcome Center, it was 150 miles from the state line, not the two to five miles that was customary in every other state we'd passed through. I figure that's because until you get to Barstow, CA (and, in my not so humble opinion, not even there), there is certainly nothing welcoming about the landscape.

Except that you can open the wind wings and enjoy the breeze, even in December.

Cresting the long grade of the Cajon Pass on the west side of Victorville, heading into San Bernadino the Duchess took in stride, despite the rotten roadway (Caltrans had apparently added another lane to the existing road while imperfectly scrubbing out the previous lanes). Nine months of the year, I drive in the tiny Hamptons, so my first few days (weeks?) of California driving are an exercise in recovering my nerve, and going over the pass was a bit of a white knuckler. Cars and trucks sped by us on both sides on the 6% downgrade even with the choppy, weather-beaten roadway.
I don't want to live on this street either.

Some observations en route:

-- Descending from the mountains in Flagstaff, we encountered the first instance of skunk as roadkill. This is common out west, but I have never seen or smelled a skunk out east. Maybe they don't grow there?

--Similarly, until we hit the Arizona state line we had not had even a single bug killed on the windscreen. Maybe bugs hibernate in cold climates.


--Sign advertising what food was available off the next exit: "Roadkill 66 Cafe." (Really!!!)

--The smell of eucalyptus as we approached Laguna Canyon!!

And we made it!!!
Safe and sound. Unpacking at our winter home!
Arrival time: 2:35 PM PST (3:35 MST), Laguna Beach, CA
Ending mileage: 59844
Today's mileage: 482

Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Friday, December 5, 2014

On Route 66 in our '67: The Classic Experience

Starting time: 7:45 AM CST, Amarillo, TX
Starting mileage: 58744
Yesterday's mileage: 571

The mesas of Arizona
These are the long days, on long, mostly straight intertates with few outposts of civilization. The hours en route are artifically shortened by the fact that we are gaining time as we head west.

Amarillo was shrouded in cowshit-scented fog as we pulled out onto the westbound highway this morning before 8 AM seeking a place for breakfast and coffee. Except that we hadn't realized we were staying on the western edge of town, and within a mile we were once again on the open road with not even a truck stop in sight. Thankfully, almost as soon as we cleared the city limits the dense fog lifted, exposing unpopulated prairie as far as the eye could see, broken only occasionally by things like a small windfarm or a stockyard. I am VERY cranky when I don't have coffee and some food in the morning, so between that and the fog, the fifteen or so miles to tiny Vega, TX, where we filled both the Duchess's tanks and our own were pretty tense indeed.

Sign on the road: "Don't Mess up Texas! $400 fine for littering."

One of the metal sculptures along I-40 in New Mexico
Shortly after you cross the state line into New Mexico, the landscape changes, with the famed colored sandstone mesas rising in the desert. Overpass bridges are cast in colored concrete and decorated with bas-relief Native American symbols. Large sculptures in copper, bronze, stainless steel appear every so often along the sides of the highway, especially near larger towns like Albuquerque and Gallop. Albuquerque's interstate highway junctions, cast in shades of salmon and sky blue, are works of art in themselves. We laughed to see a tumbleweed snowman perched on the side of the road.

The bizarre vending options in a truck stop in New Mexico

But between the far-flung towns, scenery is pretty monotonous on the road. Which makes the stops for gas and snacks an event that the truck stop retailers have learned to capitalize upon. At one such stop, called Clive's Corner (no corner at all. It was the only thing off the offramp, at an intersection of I-40 and a road that led north to Santa Fe and south to Roswell), the building contained a Subway, a convenience store, and a souvenir and gift shop the size of a supermarket. The merchandise included every form of tacky souvenir and "Indian" crafts mostly made in Mexico or China.

"Indian Village," near the AZ/NM border
Whereas New Mexico seemed to want to emphasize the artistic, Arizona's interstate commerce seemed determined to invoke the classic era of the Route 66 road trip, with (intentionally?) kitchy Navaho trading posts (advertised for ten miles on either side with dozens of billboards), or stylized forts, or crumbling circa 1950's camper/RV parks. Anything to draw the family with a backseat full of bored children to a stop. (I know. We were those children 40 years ago.)

All the highways we have thus far travelled are part of the Eisenhower Interstate System, created as a result of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. US Highways MapAs you can see by the map, this is a vast system of roadways, almost all of them kept in great shape. (New Mexico has periodic signs informing you what a stretch of roadwork is costing, and when it is slated to be completed.) And no wonder. It is said that every item we buy has been on the interstate system at some point. Eisenhower considered the act one of the greatest accomplishments of his two terms in office, and historians agree.

On a related subject, one of the sights common along Rte 66 are the freight trains that seem to always be heading east. Often these trains are several MILES long, and the cars each contain a double stack of shipping containers, pulled by four engines. Less frequently, we'll see a train loaded with coal or perhaps other minerals. Again, these trains can be two hundred cars long. It is mind boggling, impressive, and very humbling to see what must be unimaginable quantities of goods being transported over this vast nation.

The long days' travel across plains and desert does not prepare you for the fact that you are actually the time we were partway across Arizona the elevation was 5000 above sea level. And then, most surprisingly, you rise from the desert into a forest which surrounds Flagstaff, AZ, a pine-covered outpost 7000 ft above sea level.

That's our stop tonight.


Arrival time: 6:15 PM MST (7:15 CST)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

On Route 66 in our '67!

Starting time: 8:40 AM CST, Topeka, KS
Starting mileage: 58173
Yesterday's mileage: 325 miles

MADE IT!  Now on to California!!!
 I have a confession. Semi trucks give me panic attacks.

Yes, Doctor Freud, I can trace this back to my younger days. I was in my first year in college, driving the second-to-fast lane on the 57 Freeway from Cal State Fullerton to my job at a restaurant in Tustin, CA on a rainy day in November. A double-trailered semi truck in the slow lane of the six-lane highway hit his brakes and they locked up, and on the slippery road he lost all traction. He careened across the six lanes of traffic, hit the cement center divider, and slid back across the freeway. His second trailer fishtailed into the front quarter panel of my 1966 Mustang GT, sending me spinning into traffic. My car stopped spinning facing north on the southbound freeway, and I said a quick prayer that all those cars heading straight at me would stop and...they did. Shaking, I drove off the freeway. Indented into the driver's door and front quarter panel was a perfect mold of a semi's large dual wheel. The frame of my Mustang was buckled, the driver's side now only 2/3 of the width of the passenger side.

But I didn't have a scratch on me.

Thirty years later, I still feel my heart race in instances where I am sandwiched between a semi truck and a concrete divider on a highway. This is especially true when driving through large cities, where the big rigs seem oversized and out of place amidst the spaghetti junctions. When traffic is feeding from many directions and the roads are curving in a way that the trucks seem likely to either topple or merge into me, or when I'm driving through constricted areas of road construction, I start to feel short of breath. It's a challenge that still confronts me during a road trip.

Chris, Ron & Betsy and the Duchess, bathed and
well rested  after her garage accommodations
Anyway. So this morning at eight AM, before we left the safety of my cousins' house in Topeka, Chris took the Duchess to a mechanic to check the oil leak situation.

"Sure," the guy said, "I can look at that for you right now," and he put the old girl up on the lift. Diagnosis? Yes, there is a little leak. Prognosis? No, it isn't a threat, or something we need to address before we reach our final destination. Watch her, he advised, check her at gasoline fill ups, add oil when needed, and enjoy your trip.

No charge. I love Midwesterners.
What is "Red Dyed Diesel??"

So, Chris added one quart of oil late this afternoon, and we inflated the tire pressure to 36 psi (which we should have done in the first place, as this is recommended pressure for touring while fully loaded). Immediately noticed a much smoother ride as we headed south on I-35 towards Wichita, then west through Oklahoma to Texas, through miles and miles of open prarie or farmland.

Lots of cows. Lots and lots of hawks. Sort of surprised to pass a field in Oklahoma with cotton boles still on the leafless rust-colored stalks. I didn't realize cotton grew this far west.

It was a long but exhillerating day of driving. We made it over 500 miles, stopping only for gas and coffee, with Lucas Davenport keeping us company on our audiobook.

The final hour was hair-raising, as we journeyed through northern Texas in pea-soup fog, unbroken by any lights of towns.

And here's when the semi trucks redeemed themselves for me. Unable to see more than 300 feet ahead, we were eventually passed by a big rig. Tucking in behind him, Chris sped along in his slip stream, mimicking anything he did. And I felt safer, surrounded by the big rigs. Fog or no, that lead trucker kept on at 75 MPH (!!!) and Chris gritted his teeth and followed him with blind trust until the mist lifted as we reached Amarillo.

It was a white knuckle ride. We really needed a glass of wine tonight!

Arrival: 7:13 PM, Amarillo, TX

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Destination: Route 66 in our '67: Life in the Slow Lane

Starting time: 8:45 AM CST – St. Louis, MO
Starting mileage: 57843
Yesterday’s mileage: 470
Average MPG: 15.9 MPG

We stayed last night at Embassy Suites Downtown St. Louis, in a phenomenal old building that had been built in the mid 1800s as a department store, After several iterations, it was most recently a Dillard’s, which closed in the 1980s. The ceilings in our room were twelve feet high (and you really appreciated that height when you looked at the floor-to-ceiling curtains; what do you suppose was the yardage required per room...?) Complimentary happy hour and breakfast were served in what they called the Atrium which was, remarkably, NOT on the first floor, but rather on the fourth floor (of five). This is a picture of it, which fails utterly to capture the magnificence of scale.

And of course, one of the attractions of the Embassy Suites was the fact that it offered valet parking for the Duchess. The head valet, who stated "There hasn't be a car in forty years that I couldn't drive," needed instructions how to start her (it's a push button start). The valets this morning were so taken with her they were taking selfies in her front seat, hahaha.

While the selfie photoshoot and morning checkup was taking place in front of the hotel, I went across the street to get lattes at Starbucks. A serviceman in camo came in behind me,

"I want to get his drink for him," I said to the clerk, offering my card.

"That's okay, I've got it," she answered.

I love it - arguing over who gets to comp our military a cup of coffee. Just warms my heart.

Today's comparison of newer technology vs. old:

Pro: The Duchess has a vent that, when activated, a little door pops up right outside the windscreen to suck in air. Perfect for when you want a little freh air without the noise of an open window or even that of the wind wings (which for some reason sucks in the smell of gasoline).

Con:The Subaru has a feature that beeps at the two-hour mark when you've been driving, presumably to prevent driver fatigue. This has always been our signal to pull off, get a coffee, change drivers. But of course, the Duchess doesn't have this, so unless it's time for petrol, I have to practically wrench the steering wheel out of Chris's hands, LOL.

And when I's life in the slow lane. Everyone who knows me knows that I talk fast, walk fast, drive fast. I honestly cannot remember the last time I observed the speed limit, especially on a highway. Usually when it's my turn to drive, we're doing 80 MPH. On this trip, I rarely crest 70 MPH. Cars and even semi trucks are passing us all day long. This is literally a letting go for me. Even without music or a book on tape to listen to, even with just the sound of the engine purring, it is a lesson to me in letting go of the anxiety that we have to be somewhere on a certain schedule...a lesson I have struggled all my life to learn.

Today is a short day, as we drove only to Topeka (just short of six hours, as opposed to eight hours plus), where my cousins live. Really wanted to stop in and see our friends Shawn and Chris in Liberty, MO for lunch, but as per the above, I am still finding it difficult to estimate the time vis-a-vis the slower pace. My cousins Betsy and Ron have kindly cleared their garage for the Duchess's comfort tonight, and not only did Chris take the opportunity to give her a thorough once-over ("what IS that odd noise that sounds like the compressor is on...?"), he immediately borrowed bucket and water and gave her a quick bath. Cue the eyeroll...

Noted on today's drive:

--In the bathroom in a truck stop in Missouri: After passing through aisles thick with junk food (Funyons, pork crackling, fifteen flavors of beef jerky, jumbo bags of candy) I find a SCALE in the restroom that will give you your weight and horoscope. I wonder how often it gets used.

--Advertising for Progressive Auto Insurance (that annoying Flo!) in a Kansas tollbooth, directly over the ticket dispenser: "Slow down for Savings!" WTF!? Is there ANYTHING that doesn't have an ad on it nowadays!?!?

--Another place I don't want to put on my return address labels:

Gotta run -- lots of catching up to do with family before we crash for the night!

Arrival: 3:10 PM, CST, Topeka, KS

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Destination: Route 66 in our '67 -- via Route 64

Starting time: 9:00 AM, EST, Huntington, WV
Starting mileage: 57368
Yesterday's mileage: 436
Yesterday's average gasoline MPG: 15.4

Chris would write this blog using the four lines above, period, no commentary.  Well. I always say that the reason I write novels as opposed to short stories is that I can't even introduce myself in 500 words.

Something that differs this year from our previous trips: As we approach the end of the driving day and need to arrange accommodations for the night, Chris gets on the phone to ask the various hotels if they have secure covered parking available. This definitely separates the men from the boys, so to speak, in the hotel world. All the classic motor hotels--out. After about the third call, he's asking the clerks if they know who in town DOES have covered parking. With last night's endeavours we ended up at a Holiday Inn Suites (suites!? what a misnomer that was), but it was in a fun part of town due to Marshall Univeristy's student population, and we found a great restaurant right down the block called Le Bistro.

Incidentally, I should say that as bed and breakfast owners, our road trip travel style is exactly opposite that of our clientele. We don't plan ahead more than 2 hours, and more often than not select a chain hotel that offers a clean room and a king-sized bed and free WiFi. If they offer a free breakfast, that's a bonus, except that it's almost always so marginal we wonder why we bother.

Anyway, so pre-take off this morning, Chris gives the Duchess her morning once-over, and she needs oil. Quite a bit of it, in fact. Out of the boot he pulls three quarts of oil (you didn't think we traveled without it, right?) and she takes all of that plus another quart when we stop for gas and one more this afternoon. There's no evidence of blue smoke, no change in oil pressure and she's running great, but there is a tiny leak that he can see, so we'll keep giving her the good stuff and count ourselves lucky. Hey, maybe it's her equivalent of wine.

Took off into an overcast morning on the Ohio River, and following Siri's instructions (Chris has a British-accented Siri) crossed the river into Ohio for exactly eight minutes, re-crossing into West Virginia and picking up I-64 W towards Louisville. Siri thinks we'll make St. Louis in 6 hours, 4 minutes. We'll see.

Scattered showers during the morning as we entered Kentucky. The eastern approach from I-64 is a poor indication of the state, as we passed a large oil refinery belching smoke and fumes into the foggy morning air. Eventully, this gave way to Kentucky's storied gentle rolling hills covered with winter yellowed bluegrass pastures of cattle, and pristine white horse barns trimmed in black. We passed the Kentucky Market which offers a venue for handcrafted merchandise (good thing we don't have any room in the Duchess's boot). Where the road cut into those rolling hills we found dark rock which sprouted periodic natural waterfalls. Signs advertised the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, including Four Roses, Wild Turkey, and Woodford Reserve. The latter I have toured in a previous trip with was sublime.

The Bose's battery died about three PM, leaving us to explore local radio or meditate to road sounds for the balance of the trip.

Pro: The old car smell of leather,the burled walnut dash and trim. (Which I keep knocking every time I see a car broken down on the side of the road.)

Con: No cruise control. You don't miss it until you don't have it, but I find that several hours of pushing the accelerator down manifests as a pain in your mid back, so changing drivers every tank of gas is manditory. (Long distance haulers must have cruise control. Or really good chiropractic plans.)

Noted en route:

--I don't want to live here:

--On a posted downgrade, in the rain, a highway worker is sauntering SLOWLY across the two lane highway, some form of laser tool in hand. Seriously? Is he trying out for the Darwin awards?

--The Freedom Biker Church, Huntington, WV. "Let's Ride!"

--a pair of brass balls on a white Kia Spectra. (That we passed. Haha!)

--Kentucky license plates say "In God We Trust." Which goes along with all the Bible and Jesus radio stations we've been finding the last three days. Yes, this is the Bible Belt!

This will be our most prolific X'ing off of states traversed in a single day --six, including that eight minute jog into Ohio: West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri,

Siri, however,was way too optimistic...our actual travel time was eight and a half hours, stopping only for gas and coffee. (No Denny's for us. We carry munchies in the car; a throwback to my memories of my family's roadtrips in my childhood.)

Arrival: 4:30 CST (5:30 EST), St. Louis, MO

Monday, December 1, 2014

Destination: Route 66 in our '67: Almost heaven?

Starting time: 8:40 AM EST, Baltimore, MD
Starting mileage: 56922
Yesterday's mileage: 282 miles
Yesterday's average gas mileage: 13.2 MPG
Chris and Andrew just before today's blast off

Growing up, my family seldom ate out. Mom cooked dinner every night (don't get me started on that). So on a road trip to visit the extended family, it was a great treat to stop for meals in Denny's restaurants, where the paper placemats showed a map of the USA with little stars representing the chain restaurant's widespread presence. I used to use a crayon to X off the states we'd journeyed through.

Fast forward to 1992, when Chris took a job in New York and we relocated. I envisaged that Denny's placemat map and thought, YEAH! Just think of all those little bitty New England states I'll be able to easily cross off my list! --Well, the joke is on me: Not only are those states not quite as little bitty as I envisaged them, but when you live on the end of Long Island, it takes two hours to get off the island in either direction (west towards New York City, or north by ferry to Connecticut). Still, the first time we drove eight hours to Maine I joyfully crossed five states off my mental Denny's map. Imagine! Five states in eight hours!

I've since learned that none of the states are as small as they might look on that relief map of the USA we created of flour, salt and water back in third grade. Pennysylvania, Chris and I know from experience, takes nearly a whole day to cross east to west. And today we found that Maryland, which I used to think of as a little state, only a little bigger than Delaware, has a long squiggly comet-like tail on the west side of Baltimore that goes on forever. (Though a really pretty forever, I might is the gorgeous rolling landscape of West Virginia.)

My brilliant navigating first thing this morning netted us a Starbuck's on the outskirts of Baltimore. Problem was, we lost an hour trying to find our way back to a place that had highway access. (Score -1 to Apple maps for failing to note where the onramps are, as opposed to where streets simply crossed the interstates.)

The last three years we have done this cross country trip in our 2009 Suburu Outback, loaded with all the fun options available to it. All of which I have grown used to taking for granted. Until this trip. Examples:

Pro: The Duchess has extra comfy seats...actually more comfortable than the Subaru, even taking into account the latter's lovely heated seats.

Pro: I actually like the fact that you hand crank the windows, This means when the other person is pumping the gasoline (two seven gallon tanks, one on each side) or visiting the loo at McDonald's (where you can count on clean bathrooms), the other can actually crank the car window down without the key and get fresh air.

Con: No cup holders. (Where are those Starbuck's lattes supposed to go?!?) Note our work around:

Con: No CD player, no auxillary audio jack to which I can attach my iPod and/or Audible books on tape. Work around:a travel Bose system perched on the suitcases in the back seat. (Very cool: the ability to aim a remote over your shoulder and change or increase the volume of the music.)

Today's particularly appropriate lyrics:

Sharing horizons that are new to us
Watching the signs along the way
Talking it over, just the two of us
Working together, day to day...

(Sidebar: A question to other iMatch users--do you think they add songs to your playlists that they think you might enjoy, like Pandora does??? No way, no how (!!) that Mariah Carey or Elvis appear in MY iTunes library.)

From the time we merged onto Interstate 68 from Interstate 70, the rain began, and stayed with us the remaining six hours or so of our driving day. Rain is only second to snow as regards the sheer miserableness of driving through it, but I have to say the Duchess came into her own in the precipitation. Yes, the windscreens fogged up somewhat and the tiny (11 inches!) windscreen wipers slogged valiantly through the relentless rain, but I felt entirely safe and grounded regardless of the slickness of the highways. She's a heavy car, made heavier by our trunk full of luggage, but she's got a low center of gravity and hugs the wet roads as though she was made for them. (Which, of course, she was. After all, she was built in England, no stranger to rain.)

Noted on the drive today:

--The woman in Baltimore bringing the pink Christmas tree to work (with her matching handbag).

--Cumberland, MD, where "Chick-fil-A" is a destination worthy of special signage from the offramp through the town.

--also in Cumberland, MD: finding premium gasoline for $2.93 a gallon.

--Cresting "mountains" where the summits merited state highway signage proclaiming "Elevation: 2780 feet [above sea level] and the Eastern Continental Divide." ROFL. The primary reason we are taking this route west is to avoid the summits of Vail Pass in Colorado (10,662 feet) and even the high deserts of Nevada and California (the aforementioned summit of Cajon Pass is 4190 feet).

--Amusing place names: Flintstone, MD and Nutter Fort, WV.

--Billboard: "PIE HOLE: Delicious pie-flavored Whiskey!"(West Virginia)

--Billboard advertising a gym: "Pay Diddly for your Squats!" (West Virginia)

In my ignorance, I'd hoped to make Lousiville, KY, tonight...another 200 miles beyond where we actually stopped. In the Subaru, it was probably doable. In the Duchess, not so much. Especially in the rain.

Arrival: 5:20 PM, Huntington, WV