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Phils photo of 478.

Richmond to Corvallis - Ten Days or Bust

   Odd Tales and Strange Stories

Richmond to Corvallis - Ten Days of Bust

E-mails from Phil Crow
with intro and responses
by Clint Crow

In the fall of 2001 my brother Phil got this great idea. He had a garage full of his daughter's, my niece, Susan's "priceless posessions" in Richmond, Virginia which needed to go to Susan's new home in Corvallis, Oregon where she would be studying for her doctorate at Oregon State University. The estimate from the moving company was $2400 which Phil figured was the budget for the trip.

The plan was to rent a Ryder truck/van and drive the stuff out.

Poor Phil. He had spent the last half year working day and night, through weekends and holidays to install a new computer system, that when done, would pretty much put him out of a job. At the same time, the company also mentioned that if he didn't use the remaining two weeks of vaction time by the end of the year he would forfeit it. But of course, because they were working night and day on this new system he wasn't allowed to take any time off. He was caught in the good old big corporate catch-22 loop.

Well, after the big cut, with the winter holidays coming Phil worked out a deal with his boss to stay and continue to resolve the many problems that you have with a new system instead of abandoning them and taking his well deserved vacation time. In trade his boss agreed that he could take the time in January, which was when he planned this daring trip.

Oh, and his plan included suckering his little brother, me, into flying out so I can help with the adventure.

Why would I ever agree to partake in such a foolish plan in the middle of the winter, you say? Fun and adventure. The call of the open road. All the beef jerky I could eat, not to mention lots of tequila. No. I understood it was more than that. It was a chance to bond with my older brother who as adults we have lived so far apart, on opposite sides of the country. And I also understood his need to break out from the pending gloom of uncertainly about his job. Maybe I couldn't solve that but al least for a few days we could probably forget about.

Not buying any of this, eh? Well, okay, the thing I couldn't resist was a train ride, in the snow, on the narrow gauge railroad in Durango, Colorado. That, for me, is worth a 3600 mile drive in a lousy rental van cross country in the dead of winter. So one gloomy January day, far too early in the morning I found myself headed to Sea-Tac Airport.

From there our story is told out in a series of e-mails we shipped back to our family and friends. All DAY entries are from Phil. And the others are from me, Clint Crow.


CORVALLIS - Day 1 - Phil

I had a dental appointment on Wednesday and fell asleep in the chair. Here is what I dreamt.

I know we have been planning this trip for months now but everything seems to have jammed up and suddenly its happening. Clint's plane gets in at 11 PM in Norfolk. I know that $98 internet fare from Southwest sounded like a bargain at the time, but 11 PM! What was I thinking? But I'm pretty sure I can pick him up and get back to Chester in time for some decent sleep before we get the truck and pack up Susan's stuff for the trip to Corvallis. I make a mental checklist of everything I need to do .. rent truck, make motel reservations, get maps, that's pretty much all there is. We have planned the Southern Direct Route right out I-40, the one that goes through Durango, so we really don't need any maps. I have dug out the Indian Country map I bought in Page, AZ for the shortcut through Durango, the rest of it is pretty mindless. We decided we don't need to go through New Orleans for the pre-Mardi Gras celebration, and we don't need to go to Denver to see Rootie or Adele (neither of them know we are coming).. Except for the excursion on the Durango and Silverton, we'll pretty much stick to the agenda: Knoxville, Little Rock, Amarillo , Durango, Flagstaff, LA, and Sacramento. Did I leave one out? Corvallis In Ten Days or Bust. Sarah was nice enough to do up a big poster for us which we'll adhere to the back of the van with Duct Tape.

Clint was going to bring the Kruizer Boom Box, but I can't remember if he is or not. I told him the Ryder Trucks now days are things of beauty: A/C Automatic Cruise Control AM/FM Stereo with a cassette player. My friend Marshall tells me his trip to Chicago was perfect and reminds me not to get a diesel, the gas trucks are more powerful. We'll toss in a couple of sleeping bags just in case- it is winter you know, and off we go. Not a care in the world.

I haven't touched Susan's stuff since the movers came out for the estimate, but I mentally run down the inventory: Most Valuable Item: the futon, followed closely by the big plastic chair, TV and VCR, the Bike and the Bed. Everything else is optional: school books, nobody reads those after the course is over, book cases, lamps, chairs and tables. You can always scrounge around for these, dishes, clothes, if she hasn't needed them by now-- So I have rented the 10 foot van figuring if it doesn't fit we really don't need it. It took a 15 foot to get it into the garage, but her new place is really small and I'm not worried about the overflow.

I check the weather channel- clear sailing to Texas where a big L is sitting right on the border, a little bit of white and pink right around Sante Fe, but I'm sure that will change by the time we reach that part of the country. Ooooh pink is ICE! I make a mental note of that and vow to check the weather channel each morning for an update.

My head is hurting now with all this thinking. I do make a mental note to be sure I have everyone's e-mail addresses. I'll be taking Susan's old laptop along to keep notes on our journey and sending updates as frequently as I can.


CORVALLIS - Day 2 - Phil

I had a dental appointment on Wednesday and fell asleep in the chair - here is what I dreamt -

Day 2

Boy my head aches - the alarm is ringing - it's 5 AM and my head is pounding. Clint's flight was late - go figure - after the 9/11 disaster, security is very tight and - well - Clint has been working day and night to get all his orders out before this trip - he looks a bit haggard to begin with. We both decided to grow beards for this trip, and I guess the stewardess asked him a question he didn't understand. Next thing you know they have pulled him aside for a few "routine" questions. After the routine strip search and a thorough check of his carry-on, they find nothing unusual, and allow him to board the plane.

The stop in Las Vegas was not quite so easy. A bunch of Elvis impersonators got a little rowdy and started a fight. Clint swears he was just sitting there minding his own business, but we all were a little suspicious of that story. The scuffle resulted in a two hour delay leaving Las Vegas, plus another embarrassing strip search. This time the carry-on search reveals the yanker-thing from a slot machine - which he swears wasn't there before the scuffle. Needless to say, they wouldn't let him take it with him. The rest of the flight was uneventful, except that the rest of the passengers kept staring at him - like it was his fault.

He looked pretty unhappy when he got off the plane but just knowing that we are starting this wonderful journey to Corvallis was enough to bring a smile to his face - even with the scraggly beard.

Another sore spot I';m afraid. I started growing my beard a couple days ago and was shocked to see how white it was. Then it started itching and well - that was it for me. Now he's after me to let it grow out. I'll never make it as a mountain man for sure.

Southwest had misplaced one of the bags which I found out later was the Kruzer Boom-Box. The wires for the power supply arrived ok, but the big woofer and some smaller speakers was missing. After calming down, we all agreed it wasn't a total disaster, after all, his clothes arrived OK. Then he remembers he wrapped his extra underwear around the woofer to keep it from getting damaged in the big 939 (one of his packing boxes.) Not a great plan, but we calm him down and remind him he can always borrow some of mine for the trip.

The airport was pretty well shut down by the time we got through the Lost Luggage routine. The two hour drive to Chester got us in bed by four and - well, that's a whole hour of rest before we need to be up and at the truck rental place.

What a mess - the nice clean truck I rented last time is apparently reserved for local use only. The one for cross-country hauls is at least a hundred years old. It is only a 10 footer, but it handles like an army truck going up a steep hill. No automatic transmission either - just the bare bone necessities - cigarette lighter and a radio. The ashtray is gooey from a million cigarettes and the stink is more than us non-smokers can endure. The rental guy apologizes and explains that they just send out what the dispatcher sends in and this is all they got. There are about a half-dozen newer looking trucks sitting on the lot, but all are either broken or reserved for local use.

The truck runs like a charm though, and once we get used to the shift pattern we are off like a rocket. A little noisy for sure, but definitely fun to drive. And once you get it into 4th gear on the highway - it is just like cruise control.

We finally get Susan's stuff loaded by eleven - about two hours later than our scheduled departure. Naturally it doesn't all fit in and we end up unpacking all the boxes to see what is in them. The boxes marked "Contents of Zippy Trunk 2001" and "Sarah's room 1997" were inadvertently included with the rest of Susan's boxes. We take them off and re-arrange a few things a couple of times until it fits just right. All is OK until we remember the futon! It was downstairs in the family room and - well we just forgot. Needless to say the second repack was much more difficult, but with the futon folded down, it really doesn't take up much space. The ten speed mountain bike does. With cunning ingenuity we attach the bike rack to the front of the truck - adding a magic extra cube to our load.

A little bit of duct tape adheres the "Corvallis In Ten Days or Bust" poster to the back and we are ready. Just enough time to say our good-bye's and type up this note and we will be off on our adventure. Only 4,200 miles by our planning tools. My head is aching again, and Clint doesn't look too good either, so we draw straws for who drives first leg - to my relief it is Clint!

Next stop - Knoxville!

CORVALLIS - Day 3 - Phil

Hello everyone-sorry about the word document ... I can't imagine why AOL is not liking my letters. Clint thinks it is Susan's old laptop not liking the jostle of the truck but I think it is something more sinister. So I tried copying it to WordPad and then through AOL spelcheck so - here it goes.

Day 3

What a night! We are at the Memphis city limits now heading for Graceland. The new truck is much better than the old one and even though it doesn't have cruise control-- but we have found that if you wedge a sandal between the gas pedal and the transmission hump it's about the same thing.

We were real lucky they gave us a new truck too. Clint says it was my fault for not telling him it was a diesel, but my position is that the gas cap is clearly marked "Diesel Fuel Only." The newer trucks have those funny holes to keep us idiots from making stupid mistakes, but this was an old truck and -- well - Clint wasn't wearing his glasses. I know, he doesn't wear glasses, but you either take the contacts out and soak them or put on the glasses. Besides he was too interested in buying the confederate flag at the convenience store. It is amazing that we made it all the way to Hickory before the engine started acting up. We knew something was wrong because it started backfiring and jerking back and forth. Everyone was staring at us in this old beat-up yellow truck with a full size confederate flag tied to the bike rack on the front … jerking and bucking like a scene from-Smokey and the Bandit.

Anyway, we waited along the highway for an hour until an NC State Trooper stopped to help. He was unimpressed with our situation and started sniffing around the back of the truck, looking for something wrong. Maybe it was the sign "Corvallis In Ten Days or Bust" that made him ask to see what was in the back. Maybe it was Clint mimicking his southern accent -- whatever. I guess we should have expected that the load would shift a little, and we were careful, but as soon as the gate comes up, the big plastic chair hurls out of the darkness like an unleashed hound. Now I have a lot of respect for State Troopers and realize they must be ready for any possibility -- including big brown plastic chairs hurtling out of the back of a truck -- but I do think he was a little hasty in assessing the situation.

A quick check of the truck revealed no hidden Mexicans behind any of the boxes. In fact the only unsecured object in the whole truck was the chair -- but I guess they don't believe in random sampling in North Carolina - all the boxes were checked for little Mexicans by North Carolina's elite corps of sniffer dogs. The dog went nuts in the cab and we thought we were goners. Who knows what the thousands of previous renters had stashed away in the cab. We were relieved to find the object of his attention was the ash tray, and that the purpose of the search was to find illegal cigarettes -- not Mexicans at all.

When the Ryder Truck Road Service tow truck finally arrived, the troopers were convinced we were just honest travelers and let us go. It was great having the handcuffs removed and I actually enjoyed the attention. Clint however, was very upset at his third search in two days -- plus the hoots and curses emerging from the huge traffic jam that was building with all the trooper cars, the ambulance, and the canine corps assembled along I-40.

The Rider outlet in Asheville was very nice -- but they were out of 10" van and had to give us a 15 footer with a gas engine this time. Much better, and lots of room, and no extra charge either which we thought was great. They wouldn't help us move the stuff from one van to the other though. I must say, those boxes keep on getting heavier. While I'm in the bathroom, Clint arranges the extra five feet into a mini-living room, with the futon holding back the rest of the stuff. He even put a nice patch on the big plastic chair with the duct tape. As we are pulling out we realize the "Corvallis In Ten Days or Bust" sign is still on the other van.

By now it is really late and we are exhausted from the days events. We consider staying in the back of the van but it is getting chilly and I've made reservations at the Motel 6 in Knoxville, so off we go. It is nearly midnight when we get in, only to find the reservations are in Knoxville Kentucky about 600 miles north. My fault! I don't know what I was thinking - Kentucky-Tennessee - what's the big deal? Fortunately they have room at the inn so we crash and burn right there.

It was really hard getting up in the morning and we are half sick from the burritos we bought at the convenience stores yesterday. The constant humming of the tires and bump bump bump of the pavement is driving us nuts. The radio is working but doesn't seem to get many channels. Clint begs to stop at a good place to eat, but I am determined to stop at Graceland and it closes at three this time of year -- if we hurry we can just make it. Clint isn't so sure, what with the bout with the Elvis impersonators in Las Vegas. But agrees to go along for the hell of it. Besides, I know a great rib place in Memphis.

Hey - there is a CompUSA - we can stop and send this off before we hit the mansion. Hopefully everyone can read this one...

Hi, this is Clint,

I'm finally coming to again. Boy, that jet lag is something. It's a killer going east. Everything seems like a dream. How'd I get talked into this?

I would have written sooner but Phil is hogging the laptop. He even types on it while he is driving! Right now we are at a reststop and he is in using the facilities. Sometimes he even takes it in there with him. I don't know what he is doing- and I don't want to know.

Phil's extra cheap fare flying out sure was special all right. I think the plane I was on was headed back to the shops for major repairs. I was seated right under the landing gear and you know how they sound when they come up- well, this poor thing cycled three or four times before with a loud thump they finally seemed to close. I noticed outside the window, there was a hatch on the engine that came open and I entertained myself watching it flap around. After our snack, a bag, no, not even that, maybe a half handful of stale peanuts in a Dixie cup, when I looked out again the flap was gone. Then when we landed and stopped, I could see this big red tag on some sort of pump inside there. I was happy about changing planes though the next one wasn't much better.

Boy, those lines at the airport are awful. You were right Dad, we should have left at 4:30 a.m. Next time I'll listen. Whadda ya mean, next time? I'm never flying again in my life!

At the airpot everything was fine until the guy behind me (at least I think he was behind me) tripped over the extension cord powering the metal detector machine. It wouldn't have been a big deal except it popped the circuit breaker and turned off all the lights. In the darkness they figure Bin la Din might have snuck through or something so the clear everyone out of the terminal, searched it with dogs and finally, three hours later, left everyone back through. Well, in the long wait I sort of got hungry and, well, okay, yeah, I was a little bit late getting back from McDonalds.

Still, there is no reason for them to loose my luggage. I guess Phil told you, they lost my speakers. And my tapes!! As it turns out the truck has a AM/FM/tape player. We picked a few tapes up at a rest stop but it was all country and western. The only one I liked, Willie Nelson, got jammed and kept playing "...n the road agi... n the road agi... n the road agi..." over and over really loud. And it wouldn't turn off. We tried getting it out but then the radio started smoking. Finally, the fuse popped. We still smell like burnt electrical stuff! I hope Ryder doesn't blame us. Oh well, Phil signed the papers, not me.

I want everyone to know I don't hate Elvis. It's Elvis impersonators that I hate. Especially the what if he was still alive impersonators. Some of them take way too much liberty. Besides, some things should be left to the imagination and NOT acted out. At any rate, I strongly suggest you avoid Las Vegas in the week surrounding Elvis's birthday. Enough said.

Man, Las Vegas sure has changed! It's like tripled in size since I was there last. I just looked crazy from the sky. I wasn't sure where I was. There was another delay at the airport there. I won't bore you with the details. I did win $200 in the nickel slots. Yeah, they have them right there inside the aireport! The guys at the metal detectors weren't very happy about it when one of the buckets of nickels tipped over on the conveyor belt and jammed the x-ray machine. Hey, it wasn't my fault! They instructed me to put them there. Then this bogus Elvis started pocketing some of my nickels. I couldn't believe it. Elvis never would have done that. Then everyone got made at me for picking on Elvis. It's all a blur from there. All I know is half my nickels are gone. Somehow I made it onto the flight and we were I don't know how many hours late.

Some how we fit everything into the van. I seem to recall seeing a picture of Phil and Susan in front of the truck they used to bring everything down to Chester. It was much larger. Well, we crammed everything into it. Well, almost. The bicycle is strapped onto the front. I hope it makes it. It sort of got tangled with the speaker box when we were backing out of the drive-in this noon. Unfortunately, Phil didn't see that it had gotten pulled off when he began to pull forward. We bent the handlebars back and it should be alright. Those mountain bikes are tough.

I really don't know what happened the first day. Like I explained to the NC State trooper, I thought Phil was driving. If it weren't for the fact that we were one mile from the Tennessee state line, my Washington State driver's license, and Phil taking over at the wheel I'm sure he would have run us in. Fortunately, there was a report of "shots fired" over the radio that seemed to get his attention.

Other than that the day's events are very hazy. I do remember pulling into the hotel in Knoxville, another Phil-special. The Lazy-Z-Z-Z Ranch or something like that. Half the neon lights were burned out. Good thing I was really tired or else the party around back really would have bothered me. Or the constant pounding on the door next to us. This guy had a lot of friends. He must have been tired too because most of them only stayed for a minute or two.

Oh, here comes Phil, finally, okay, I'll report back later. Oh, he bought some more jerky, good. We skipped breakfast.

n the road agi- Clint

Day 4

Clint still isn't speaking to me, and I guess I can't blame him. How was I to know that Bill Clinton's presidential library was opening this weekend, and that every redneck in Arkansas would be in town? Little Rock has five Motel 6's (five!) and who would have guessed they would all be booked? In fact, it seems every motel within 60 miles is booked! But after the fiasco in Knoxville, I figured I really didn't need a reservation, after all it is the dead of winter. And no jokes about that library either … I mean … didn't the man go to Oxford or somewhere? He must have read some real books there?

Anyhow after checking out at least a hundred motels, we made a wrong turn in the dark and headed off on the wrong road (I-30) towards Hot Springs. I said something about no problem we can take a short cut through the Ozarks and now Clint is mad because it might make us late for the free steak dinner at the Big Texan in Amarillo. I can't believe he's still hungry after the pig-barge in Memphis.

As I mentioned, we barely made it to the last tour of the day. Elvis's birthday was January 6th and this is the 25th anniversary of his death which is like the convergence of the sun and the moon as far as Elvis-worshipers go, so the crowds had been crazy for three weeks now and the security staff was worn out and not paying much attention to me and Clint trying out the couch in the Jungle Room. I just love this room with the green shag carpet hanging down from the ceiling and the couch just sucks you right in. We were just talking about Elvis and how Mom would turn Hound Dog up on the radio in the '56 Chevy and ask us if we liked Elvis and I would say 'sure' even though I couldn't figure out the lyrics. Of course Clint was just a little drooler at that time and was probably more interested in pulling used chewing gum off the floor, which was why he was in the front seat all the time and I was in the back. By the time we started liking music it was the Beatles and Elvis started doing bad movies and getting fat. It would be years before we would discover that the Beatles got their start doing Elvis songs in German nightclubs. Anyhow we were overcome by nostalgia and sleep deprivation and might even have taken a tiny nap …

It wasn't a long nap either. One of us must have set off the motion sensors because suddenly we were surrounded by Security … and not the nice ones you see during the tour ... these guys are rejects from the Tennessee State Police goon squad. They take us to the 'Security Area' for interrogation and a thorough search which I didn't particularly enjoy this time. I know Clint didn't either, but he won't talk about it. Now every time a song comes on the radio that even vaguely resembles an Elvis tune he snaps it off. Since we are in Arkansas, this is just about every tune on every channel. No more Willie either. By the time they release us it is really late ... that's when he went out to the truck to sulk while I bought a snowglobe of Graceland for Stephanie and a nice replica of one of the King's phoney police badges. So to cheer him up I told him I stole it from Sgt. Bullhead and now he wears it everywhere.

We parked the van in the parking lot of one of the historic Hot Springs bathhouses, which made Clint a little nervous. He kept on mumbling something about the Mackenzie Brothers coming after us, so we headed back towards the interstate and found a really cheap motel near a wooded area. I know, pretty dumb idea leaving the gate up just a bit. I thought for sure that skunks hibernate for the winter. We were able to shoo him out of the van all right but not without a fight and I'm afraid the futon took a direct hit. Hopefully it will air out by the time we get to Corvallis.

The bad news is I wasn't able to talk Clint into stopping at the bathhouse this morning. "There's this real hot spring in Alaska where you hike through the snow to get to the pool of steaming hot water coming straight out of the center of the earth …this is no HOT SPRING!" and so on. I think he made some of that up, but he did go to Alaska once so it could be true. Anyway from staying up all night watching "chimpionship wrestling from france", and not shaving for a couple of days, we both look like hell, plus with a little dose of skunk we smell pretty bad too. So we'll just leave the window down and enjoy the Ozarks as we head up toward Fort Smith and the interstate.

I'll send this note from one of the coffee houses in Hot Springs … I don't think there's many e-mail outlets between here and Amarillo so I'd better send them when I can. I'm not sure but I think he's been messing with the laptop too.

Hi Again,

I'm waiting outside Graceland for Phil to show up. They were closing and he, per ususal, had to use the bathroom. I warned him that I thought that bathroom was one of the displays and the public facilities were downstairs. But he couldn't wait. I got escorted out by a very unhappy guard. It seems someone was seen "carrying on" in Elvis' bed and he couldn't figure out who it was. All he knew was the boss was mad at him. We were in line with these four coeds and I never thought that line would work for me. What can I say?

Graceland is impressive. I especailly like to police badge collection. And the gold records. You can almost see the King walking around the place. It was truly his palace.

We started out the day skipping breakfast. The Lazy Z had no alarm clock. We left a wake up call for 7 a.m. but apparently our phone didn't have any ringer, if they even bothered at all. Phil blamed me, but like I explained, I'm in total jet lag. I shouldn't be trusted for anything. Still feeling it today. We finally left at 9 or so. Skipped breakfast and everything.

I really ich, should have taken a shower, even if the water was brown as coffee. I just couldn't get over the smell. What have I gotten myself into? I'm sure it will get better. At least the weather is cooperating. There was a little bit of snow back in the mountains but we seem to be out of it now. It's supposed to be 60 today. I've got my fingers crossed.

We made a really big mistake today. Appearently, somehow it seems gasoline got put into the tank of our diesel truck. Phil says I did it but I'm not sure. He's being mean to me. I swear I'm doing most of the driving. And with the jet lag I don't know what I'm doing. It all seems like a dream. I remember Phil telling me what a great trip this would be- a chance to see America, the real America. Not the America you see on TV or in magazines... but the real thing. It's sure real alright. I just read the written warning from NC Trooper S. L. Owdowne. It says I'm not to return to North Carolina EVER, with ever underlined. Can he do that? I sort of liked North Carolina. That just counts for the mountains, right?

Oh, sorry, I was sort of changing the subject, wasn't I? Yeah, I filled the truck up with gas, oh, I mean diesel fuel. It was diesel fuel. I remember grabbing the green handle. Hey, you don't suppose something happened back at that hotel. Those bikers that the police chased off might have come back. Put something in the tank. But why would they pick on us?

No, I think it was just this piece of junk truck's time to go. Do they ever do any maintenance of them? I tired to check the oil level and the dipstick wasn't even there.

It sure was a pain reloading everything into the other truck. I sure hope Susan appreciates what we are doing. I don't know what's in all these boxes. The one's marked "lab samples - do not remove from protective sheilding" sure are heavy. It doesn't hurt them to be dropped does it? I told Phil we should park the trucks closer together but he claims he suffers from clostriphobia. But he sure likes going to the bathroom.

The new truck is much better, bigger. So we didn't have as much trouble fitting everything in like we did in the old one. I've been buying some souvineers. So far I have a gross of M-80s and about 100 cherry bombs. I got a really good deal on a case of regular firecrackers too. I was afraid the police dogs were going to find them but then I remembered they were legal in the south. I hid them in a box of Susan's underwear just in case. No one will look there.

Well, I'm going to go look for Phil. Man, we gotta get going. It's still like 200 miles to Memphis. Phil says we'll stop there and eat ribs. Yum, I'm already starving. Where is he? Oh, some police cars just pulled up. Wonder what that's about?

Talk to you later.


Just a quick note.

We made it into Little Rock, at 3 a.m. I think. Phil is downstairs complaining to the night clerk that the only station we get on TV "isn't appropriate" (for my viewing, I think). I don't see anything wrong with it. There are these two midget wrestlers, they speak French, I think... What kind of hold is that?? Ah, I'm going to bed anyway.

Just as I was getting out of the truck to see what all the commotion was back at Graceland suddenly Phil appeared out of the darkness, he yelled to jump in, which I did, and off we drove. I asked him what took so long and he said he got caught in a line at the souvenir shop. Then he pulled out this really cool police badge and said I could have it. It's the best trip souvenir yet, though I really like the Confederate flag we've got draped across the bike on the hood. A lot of other's seem to like it too, they honk and wave, pointing to the hood as they pass by. There's sure still a lot a patriotism for the Confederacy down here.

We just made it into Memphis in time for the barbecue. Wow, was that good. Phil insisted that we both have double helpings though I regret I let him talk me into the "extra-extra-hot" sauce. It tasted great the first few bites but then you couldn't taste, see or feel anything. Even the tequila shots had no effect on calming the fire. We even tried a couple of different kinds of beer. Nothing helped.

Phil made a few wrong turns leaving Memphis. Little Rock was only 130 miles away from the BQ joint but after driving "the scenic route" for over two hours I thought I noticed a sign behind us that said in was 175 miles to Little Rock. How could that be? Why he insisted on taking the scenic route in the middle of the night driving a Ryder truck I'll never know. But at least he was driving which allowed me to catch up a little on my sleep.

I had a very strange dream. I forget exactly what happened. Something about a canoe trip down this lost river. I do remember there was some really good music. These two musicians sort of had a duel, one on guitar, the other on banjo. It was pretty good.

But finally we made it into Little Rock. Strange, my clothes are all wet and I swear I smell like a swamp or something. I'm going to take a hot shower before I go to bed. Tomorrow's going to be a long day, we have to go all the way across Oklahoma to Amarillo, Texas. I never been in Texas.

Oh man, the one midget wrestler has the other in a scissors head lock. He's sure squirming to get out of it.

See you later,



Whoo-ee as they say here in Texas. I bought my cowboy hat at the Wall-Mart in Amarillo while Clint sat in the van. He's not feeling too good after last night -- nothing serious -- just the usual ate too much drank too much! My head still hurts too, but at least I didn't actually try to eat the 72 oz 'free' steak at the Big Texan. The catch is there is a time limit on eating this bad boy … you have to clean your plate in one hour … he almost made it too. That and the whiskey had him up all night. The tire noise is noticeably better too, that tire must have been ballooning since Asheville. We just thought that thump-thump-thump was the road.

We would never have known it either if it hadn't been for the tiny mistake coming up the 'back way' to Ft. Smith. I'm driving and Clint is reading the map. I won't say it was his fault but I already mentioned that glasses thing so let's just say the map makers had our road going the wrong way and we followed it. I was suspicious we were going the wrong way because the pavement turned to gravel and eventually to mud. Clint insisted this was a Ozark Highway and was pointing to the tire marks in the fresh mud when the tire blew. No place to pull off either.

I had to pee really bad and left Clint to change the tire right there in the middle of the road.

As I'm taking care of business I get this really creepy feeling that someone is watching me. So I turn around real fast like they do in the movies, not really expecting to see anything, and there's this guy just standing there. Needless to say I jumped about ten feet in the air … shouted something incomprehensible and zipped up real quick.

"Whachew want?" he asks. I don't know what to say, having seen too many movies where flatlander tourists get hacked to bits by crazed hill billies. I'm about to compose my response when I'm saved by Clint cursing about the tire iron "blikity-blank cheap crap…" or something like that.

I head back to the truck to get Clint so he can be hacked to death too... I know the guy is following me, but I'm scared to look. As I come out of the bushes Clint turns, tire iron in hand... four days of beard, scruffy as hell and smelling slightly of skunk and a bright shiny po-lice badge pinned to his chest...

The guy stops in his tracks, looks at Clint, looks at the badge, looks at the Stars and Bars drooped over the front of the truck. Then he starts grinning... grinning so bad you can see his missing teeth.

"How muchew want?" he says.

The rest of the trip into Amarillo was pretty boring. We only had $23.50 in cash after the last jerky stop and we didn't bother asking if he took checks. He wanted $25 for two gallons in well-used one pint mason jars but we were able to barter the rest for the Graceland snowglobe. Poor Steph.

We waited until we hit Amarillo city limits before we tasted any. I was driving so Clint had a bit of a head start one me. Next thing you know he's ordering the 72 oz 'free' steak at Big Texas and sneaking sips from our stash of moonshine.

I don't remember where we are staying tonight, but we have sworn off drinking and eating for the rest of the trip. All I know is we are heading west on I-40...

What happened?? Oh boy, my head hurts! This morning I realized we're in Amarillo, Texas, not Little Rock. How could this be? I seemed to have lost a day.

My head is pounding, my teeth hurt, and my stomach feels like there was a rodeo in it last night- sort of tastes that way too.

Phil is walking around with a big cowboy hat on in his underwear. Ever time he walks by the mirror, he stops, and challenges himself to "draw". "Dr-aaaa-w", spits on the ground, and stuff like that. Oh god, what happened??

Oh man. The whole room is spinning around. I just knocked over a mason jar and the carpet is smoking where whatever was in it spilled. Oh, I feel... sick...

Sorry, I gotta go.



I can't believe it! We actually made it to Durango … and before midnight too. There is no Motel 6 in Durango so we are forced to pay the big touristo bucks. This is turning into a year-round tourist attraction with the narrow gauge Durango and Silverton, the winter skiing, and Mesa Verde just up the road. We have decided to cough up the big bucks and splurge for the de-luxe room at the Hotel Strater … the fancy brick one that overlooks the scrap pile behind the D&S yard. What a view. Clint is glued to the window, I can't get him to come out for dinner or TV or anything. He's holding up pretty well too considering his loss, and after last night we aren't really up for drinking either.

We have managed to salvage most of Susan's things after the fire, but I'm afraid the case of M80's and what ever else he had stashed away back there plus all of poor Susan's underwear … are a total loss. Of course, Clint is blaming me again. After all, I was driving when we were passed by Amtrak's Southwest Chief coming out of Las Vegas, New Mexico heading for Lamy at about 90 miles an hour along I-25. I swear, I don't know what came over me, but next thing you know I'm catching up with the engine. The van motor is moaning as we weave in and out of traffic but who cares. Just the sight of the big train winding up the side of the mountain is worth the risk of a ticket. Clint isn't all innocent either, hanging out the window like that taking pictures. We were just at the summit of one of the last hills coming into Santa Fe when the engine died.

I'm just mortified of course. I'm trying to think of how I'm going to explain ruining TWO trucks during one trip, plus having to haul all those boxes to another van. And I'm not paying attention to Clint who has gone around to the back to take a nap on the futon. That's what he told me anyhow. Next thing I know I hear a loud Pop then PopPopPopand Bang! By the time I get out of the cab and around to the back smoke is billowing across the highway. Cars and trucks are stopping to look at Clint frantically swatting at a box with one of Susan's pillows. We had it pretty well under control until one of the helpful gawkers grabbed what he thought was a mason jar of water and next thing you know …

The boys on the fire truck got a little carried away when they put out the fire. I don't think it was necessary to soak all the boxes, just the one that were smoking, but I've got to admit that the sight of an ethanol-fed firecracker-enhanced truck fire is a sight to see, especially with women's underwear flying through the air and all. The firemen went a little nutty for sure but I suppose caution is necessary when dealing with flammable liquids. At least the futon doesn't smell like skunk anymore.

The New Mexico police were a lot nicer than the ones in North Carolina for sure. They kept eyeballing Clint who looked guilty as hell, but let us go with a warning. What a relief! We felt pretty good until the Ryder Service truck showed up. The guy was more worried about the fire damage on the truck until he found out that wasn't the problem to begin with. He makes a quick check of the motor and the gauges, goes back to his truck, and brings out a five-gallon gas can. Sure enough, we had been so intent on following the train that I completely forgot we needed gas back at Tucumcari and hadn't wanted to pay the $1.30 for a full tank.

We stop for gas in Santa Fe and a quick snack at the Coyote Cafe. The rooftop cafe is closed and the prices downstairs are outrageous. Clint is balking at the $10 burrito and we're still not really hungry. Everyone is looking at us too. I guess we looked pretty spooky with all the soot and grime from the fire and everyone else is all dressed up in southwest chic. So we skip dinner and head out for Durango. There are only glimpses of snow along the roads from last week's storm and we make it in to town with no problems.

Tomorrow is going to be pretty exciting. We are going to ride the D&S up Cascade Canyon to see some snow!

Now I'm mad, REALLY MAD!!

Phil was smoking that stupid cigar he's been chewing on ever since Memphis. He went back "to check on things" in the back of the truck and fell asleep on the futon. Next thing you know the truck is on fire. Now he's blaming me! What really pisses me off is I lost all my fireworks in the conflagration and subsequent hose-down by the local fire department. This is unforgivable.

Fortunately, we have arrived in Durango.

I am never going to drink again. Even water is too strong for me. I've learned my lesson. That moonshine doesn't sneak up on you, it captures you and carries you off into dark places you don't want to go. Phil thinks it is funny but I'm not laughing.

A nice woman at the rest stop gave me a copy of The Watchtower. I think there is still hope. Well, we'll go one day at a time.

Right now we are in Durango, in a hotel right across from the Durango and Silverton RR Depot. I can see whiffs of smoke and steam rising from the roundhouse. Later on I think I'll wonder over and check it out. Phil is in the shower and I'm next. I can't wait to get this layer of road grime, soot, and all scents of the ugly past washed off of me. It's at least an inch thick.

Oh, I didn't tell you about the wild ride over here. After stopping for lunch at this, I think, too fancy, self-glorified taco stand we headed north to Chama, where the real narrow gauge railroad is, the Combres and Toltec. Being somewhat more out of the way and at a higher elevation the C&T shuts down during the winter. Still, it is worth a look. The C&T is a little more laid back than the Durango outfit. In Durango they won't let you do anything. Everyhting is posted, No Trespassing, No this, No that. They have two rules at the C&T, don't climb on the equipment and don't enter any of the buildings. Other than that you have free rein over the place. There was a little activity in the roundhouse where they are in the process of rebuilding one of the steam locomotives, otherwise, the place was deserted. Chama really comes to life when the locomotives are steamed up and busy at work. A friend and I rode the train here a year ago in the Fall. It was really great and we highly recommend it. But alas, it's all but shut down during the winter.

After a few photos of the desolate scene we headed norhtwest for Durango. I warned Phil that the roads ahead were windy and mountainous. He said no problem, he'd take it easy and reassured, I took a nap. The hum of the motor winding up and down, the slight squeak of the brakes now and then quickly put me into a deep sleep.

Carmalita I think was the most talented in the dance troop. They were fresh up from San Francisco. We had never seen anything like their show before. Somehow we managed to get front row seats, some sort of package deal with the railroad and hotel. Carmalita had this great smile. I was instantly mesmerized. I couldn't take my eyes off of her. She wore a bright red and deep black dress, one of those things with lots of ruffles and understuff. As they danced across the stage her black silk legs kicked in and out. If I had a gun I'd shoot holes in the roof. No wonder they made us check them before we entered the room.

After the show I got my nerve up to go back stage and introduce myself. After bribing the bouncer I stood in front of her dressing room door. A bead of sweat dribbled off my forehead as I knocked on the door. It opened slowly...

SUDDENLY we are spinning around and around. I reach out for something to take hold of, thinking, okay, okay, I confess, I took another snort off the mason jar and God, I promise, never, never again. There's a wild tilt to the nose of the truck and then a bang in the back. We crash through a snow bank and come to rest in the middle of a farmer's field.

Phil looks at me and I look at him, both wide-eyed, and I say What happened? Phil stutters, D-d-didn't you see the ca-ca-cow? Cow, what cow? The one in the road.

Cow? I didn't see no stinking cow. Of course I was deep asleep dreaming of, well, she's long gone now. But no, I didn't see any cow. Phil swears this big white and black cow jumped right out in front of him and the only thing he could dow was swerve around it. I looked back up the hill we had been coming down and I couldn't see any cow, nor anything that looked like a cow. I don't know, maybe there was a cow, maybe it jumped back off the road and is hiding back in the woods, waiting for the next car to come down the hill.

We inspected the truck for damage. Phil was lamenting perhaps it was a mistake to wave the insurance thereby saving himself $78. Seventy-eight dollars sounded pretty cheap right now. Fortunately we couldn't find any specific (new) damage to the truck. Susan's bicycle must have absorbed most of the blow from the stacked rail fence that we blew through on our way into the icy field. My poor Confederate flag was torn and tattered, not so bad it can't be repaired, but its certainly battle worn now. And there was an odd smear of vegetable matter, sort of a mixture of decomposed grass and mud smushed together, only real stinky. We didn't know what the heck that was or where it came from.

Well, we quickly looked around. It was about dusk. No one seemed to notice this big yellow Ryder van/truck parked out in the middle of a field. So we hoped back in and drove down to the corner, opened the gate, and continued, this time more cautiously, on our way.

I finished the drive into Durango.

We checked into the Strater Hotel. It was built in 1887 or something like that and they have it all dressed up in that period. I can imagine Durango was some place to be back then. All the riches made and lost. The railroads being built, hotels like this springing up. Hand-shake deals and gun shots. Dance hall girls.

Wow, we made it. Tommorrow's the train ride.

Wonder when Phil's going to be out of the shower? Man, he's been in there for an hour. Oh, there's someone at the door. Okay, bye, gotta go.


The knock at the door was the house maid. She was a cheerful little thing, I couldn't help think that I had seen, or perhaps met her before. She was there to turn down our beds. I couldn't help notice. No, I'll be honest, I stared as she preformed her nightly duty. She wore this petite red and black vintage chambermaid's uniform. Upon completing her chore she asked me if there was anything else she could do. I was practically speechless and nodded no thought I really wanted to say yes, marry me. Boy, I've been on the road too long. I took a ten dollar bill out of Phil's wallet, I hope he doesn't mind, and gave it to her. As she turned to leave I caught a glimpse of her name tag which I hadn't noticed before. It said C-a-r-m- - - something. No, it couldn't be. Before I could say anything more she was gone.

Finally Phil came out of the bathroom and I was able to take my bath. Oh, that was so nice. Once again Phil has me pissed off though, as I found he used all of the bath towels and left me with one fresh hand towel to dry off with. Oh well, at least I'm finally fresh and clean.

We walked up the street to an old saloon restaurant and had a very fine meal. Phil wanted to stay and have drinks but I refused. I just can't take it any more. Just the thought of it made my stomach cringe and my head pound faintly reminding me of the past few days. Instead, I suggested we go over to the roundhouse and check it out.

So we walked over, and like I said, Durango isn't as friendly a place as Chama is. There are no fences in Chama. No signs saying keep out. Of course Chama is a much smaller town than Durango. Durango is full of people, vacationers and tourist. You can't trust any of them. The fence surrounds the yard so it's impossible to get a good view of what's going on in the roundhouse. At our best vantage point there's a stupid set of box cars blocking out view. These guys can't do anything right. We walk around looking for a better view point and find nothing in the darkness. We are walking along and suddenly I realize I'm talking to myself. Phil has disappeared.

Phil, I call out. Nothing. Phil. I hear a muffled noise back behind me. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Should I yell Phil once more? Or will that lead the bandito's who have waylaid my poor brother back to me? Or what has happened. They'll get me anyway so I once more call out to him. A shadowy figure comes out of the darkness and startles me. Quickly I realize that it is thankfully on the other side of the fence. Then just as quickly I realize that it is Phil. You a-hole, I chuckle. What the heck are you doing scarring me like that? He informs me that he has found a way in and leads me back to a hole in the fence. There are no signs around on this side and I could see ourselves explaining to the police, and later on to the judge, we didn't know you weren't supposed to go in. It was an attractive nuisance and the railroad should be held accountable, not us! Or something like that.

No matter, curiosity got the best of me and I followed my big brother into the train yard.

We walked down the tracks keeping ourselves hidden between the cars, heading towards the roundhouse for a better look. Finally there we stooped down to take a better look. Some of the engine doors were opened and we could see the dark silhouettes of the steam engines inside. Ooh, this was really cool. Sort of like spies we decided our mission wouldn't be complete until we go a better look. So we snuck forward. I was following Phil. I should have warned him because I knew it was there. I thought he knew too. But we are crouched down, slinking along, when all of a sudden- Phil disappears. Well, not exactly. With a loud thud he hits the bottom of the turntable pit. Ouch, that must have hurt.

!@#$%&*, and a few other such words mutter up towards me. Are you okay? I whisper down. Yeah, I think so, comes the reply. Except he's now covered in oily muck. Ow, my arm hurts. I've jumped down to help him up. He seems okay. Just when we're ready to decide to give up this folly a bright light shines down upon us. Shit, we're busted.

I can see the police tossing us into the squad cars, the interrogation, the mismatched stories (should I lie or tell the truth?), the fines, the lawsuit. Banished from Durango forever!

Mac shines his large flashlight down at us and laughs, Boy, I'z caught me some big ones ta-night. We know there's no way we can climb out and get away. We just smile and shrug. So, you wanted to take a look at the locomotives? He correctly inquires. Reluctantly, we admit that yes that was our intention. Shee-, Mac says, Why didn't you just come over to the fence and ask?

Why didn't we?

He helps us up out of the pit and explains that he's been working for the railroad long before it became a tourist line. Nearly sixty-some years. All his life. He started out as a crew caller at age twelve. He was always hanging around anyway so the yard foreman gave him a job. When he was a bit older he learned how to tend the locomotive fires overnight, the same job he's doing now. But for fifty years he was a locomotive engineer. He had stories to tell.

He brought us into the roundhouse and left us climb up on each one of the resting beasts as he explained their individual stories. Oh that one there, I never liked her much, no one did. She was too hard to fire. Either too hot or too cold, never could get it just right. Or that one, the day she derailed right at the top of the canyon, teetering towards a hundred foot fall. Mac was a hero, refused to jump as he realized his weight was the only thing keeping it from toppling over. We figured he was exaggerating a little on that one, but Awed, none the same. They were good stories.

Mac would have kept us there all night but the $120 hotel room and beds were beginning to call us. Finally, at about 3 a.m. we said goodbye to Mac and excused ourselves.

We've got a train to ride tomorrow!

Good-night, Clint


I'm back at the dentist again today and he's chipping away, and I swear... this is what I dreamed...

Day 7 - Durango and Silverton

What a great day. Clint is grilling the steaks on a toss-away grill at the edge of the parking lot. It's still snowing but who cares. We got some great smoke, steam and snow shots and between the two of us we have about a dozen rolls of film to develop. We decided to spend the night here rather than go on to Flagstaff today, partly because it is a six hour drive over slick desert roads and it is supposed to snow some more tonight. The other reason is our train buddies keep showing up. Apparently Clint invited everybody on the train over for steaks which is good because I'm not sure the meat will keep until we get to Corvallis. We have two big coolers left … but one is only half full now.

I told him there was a cow, but he didn't believe me. Fortunately one of the hotel guests was looking out over the parking lot and saw the carcass lying on the roof of the truck and called the front desk. If this had happened in Virginia the troopers would be after us, but since it is Colorado they just told us where to find a good butcher and by the time we got back from the train ride it was ready.

The trip up to Cascade Canyon was a blast! The canyon is cold in August and this time of year it is frozen solid … every snowflake stays put until the May thaw. Winter wonderland with the steep cliffs and the train chugging along the cliff along the Animas River … definitely worth the trip .. especially from our seats in the cab.

Yep…in the cab. I'm standing around watching them back the 478 out of the engine house … and not minding the inch of slush around my ankles when I notice Clint has wandered off again … I knew he was disappointed it wasn't one of the K28s, and I figured he was going off to complain. Next thing I know he's introducing me to one of the conductors and telling me how he knows the guy from the BNSF convention in Montana last year. Next thing you know we're up in the cab checking out the backhead valves and levers and acting like we know what they all do. Gus the engineer is showing Clint how the reverse gear works and I'm enjoying the warmth of the firebox. I hear Clint accidentally mention that he writes articles for "Mainline Modeler" and the next thing you know we have front row seats for the trip up the canyon.

The winter trip only goes halfway to Silverton and back, but it takes twice as long due to the snow and ice. There's no heat in the cab except what blasts out of the firebox and by the time we reach the Wye we feel like frozen hotdogs.

The ride back is in the warm comfort of an enclosed car where Clint tells stories about the ride and how he likes the Combres and Toltec better. The car load of die-hard Durango and Silverton fans are just about to lynch him when he comes to his senses and invites them over to our place for dinner.

Tomorrow… Indian Country!

Oh...I have a photo to prove it...

Phils photo of 478.

Oh, I'm a little behind. Phil has been hogging the computer again. I haven't told you about the train ride. As luck would have it, finally, we've had a perfect day. Nothing like a train ride to put your worries behind.

It started at 7 a.m., though we were hardly rested from our adventure deep into the night before. After a shower, we stopped back at our favorite saloon for breakfast. Phil had the special, though I still think he doesn't realize what they were, Rocky Mountain "oysters". Yuk, not me, I had the Durango scramble. Then we were off to the train yard, this time legally.

But first we have one chore to take care of. It seems someone has pointed out that we have a cow body on top of our roof. Sure enough, it seems there was a cow. Killed instantly and we ponder what to do. One of the locals mentions that his brother in law operates a butcher shop and is right down the street. Sure enough, its no problem having the cow dressed out. We work out a deal where we get two coolers full of prime beef cuts and the shop takes care of the rest, even trade. Actually, they made out great on the deal but we knew we were skating on thin ice as to the unknown origin of this- windwall.

We were out taking pictures of the locomotive as it moved from the roundhouse to the front of the train. Phil leaned in to take a close-up of them coupling, and I think he said something along the lines of asking them if they knew who C. C. Crow was. Hey, he's that model railroad guy who writes for the magazines the conductor said. Next thing you know we are invited on board for a cab ride. Poor Phil, they immediately put him to work shoveling coal. I didn't know what the heck I was doing but the engineer talked me through the controls, and with a long blast of the whistle, whoooooo-whoo, off we go.

Slowly the old iron beasts coughs out chuffs of steam and smoke, the driving rods walk back and forth as she crawls her way down the back alleys of Durango. A dog barks as we pass by, cars stop and faces turn, as they have for one hundred years on this daily occurrence. The hot white steam cloud rises into the crisp morning air. I pull the cord and whistle loudly and each crossing. Phil shovels away.

The engineer shouts instructions to me, and explains what we are doing. A little more water, he taps the sight glass and points the where he wants to bubble. I shake my head yea but I'm not really sure what I am doing. He quickly twists another knob and I dumbly smile. A little more throttle now as we are heading out of town.

The morning air is speckled with bright white clouds and patches of blue sky. It promises to snow, how soon- we don't know. Outside of town there's five or six inches of old snow. It's melted off the trees and streets, not particularly pretty. No matter, we're in Colorado aboard the Durango and Silverton snow train. Our destination is the high canyon of the Anamas River. A spectacular spot, unparalleled by practically any other.

It takes several hours to get up there. Our speed is nearly half of what it is during the summertime when three trains daily make it all the way to Silverton, some 70 miles or so north of Durango. There is a wye, a three point turn around just south of the canyon. We ease the train out onto the most spectacular point of the canyon. Okay, that will do, I ease off the throttle and the engineer has set the brake. Poor Phil has shoveled coal all the way. In appreciation the engineer asks if he'd like to back her out. Of course he would, as excited about the event as he was to finally drop the shovel. So we traded places.

What's so though about this, as I banked the bed of coals with a few scoops full. Well, of course it was easy, we weren't going up grade and we weren't moving. With another whistle blast, whoo-whoo-whoo, we signaled our intention to back up. Easing the throttle out and engaging the reverse gear with a lurch we began to move. Not bad for a rookie the engineer snorted. Before his words had faded away Phil is tugging on the throttle more, he claims because his camera strap has caught on something, the wheels spin wildly. Stop, stop, stop the engineer yells, grabbing the throttle and fighting Phil's pull in the other direction. What the heck are you doing? Phil is pointing to his camera and motioning to the strap and the engineer figures Phil wants his picture taken. Being a good sort of fellow he complies and put the incident behind us. He gently guides Phil to bring the train back down and stop on the wye's tail track. Okay, it's lunchtime.

We thank the train crew for their kind hospitality and climb down to return to the coach where we enjoy the box lunch. The other passengers wonder where we've been, getting on for just half the trip, but our soot covered faces reveal the facts that we have been having our fun. We start a conversation with the group beside us, discussing the differences between the D&S and the Combres & Toltec. While this trip has been spectacular I maintain that the C&T is slightly more scenic, rising from the desert in Antinito slowly up into the high country, and the railroad is more visitor friendly, though we certainly have enjoyed their hospitality this time. Plus they are doing a lot more to preserve there equipment. The guys don't buy my argument and vigorously voice this to the other passengers. They are ready to toss me from the train when I retreat telling them I was only fooling. The Durango and Silverton is the best tourist line in the world. To calm the fires even more Phil invites them to our steak cook out this evening. I guess we are having a steak cook out then. We were friends with the whole car from then on and as people wondered through the train word got around, I think to everyone on the six car train. We probably had enough beef. It was a big cow.

It began to snow on our way back down. Midway it seemed almost like a blizzard and we began to fear the worst. What if we get snowed in. What if it snows like this for six days? There was soon a run on the snack bar. Everything was gone including the candy bars no one had wanted all summer. The pop was gone, so was the beer. Just about the the time the second wave of panic hit just like that the clouds parted and the sun shined. We couldn't believe it but then we remembered we were in Colorado. If you don't like the weather, just wait a minute, and it will change.

The valley was covered in a beautiful veil of fresh snow. Around every corner was another picture. Good thing we finally made it into town, we were running out of film.

Upon arrival we climbed back down and ran to the front to take a few last looks and shots of the locomotive uncoupling and running around back down to the roundhouse. We waved to our friends in the cab one last time and headed back to the truck.

Our original plan was to head west to Flagstaff but we are expected to provide a barbecue and the forecast is for snow.

After picking up the beef steaks we stop at the grocery and buy a small grill and a couple of bags of Kingsford. Phil wants to buy the cheap stuff but I insist, if he wants me to grill, it's got to be Kingsford. It took a little bit of doing (throwing on more gas to an already lit grill) but eventually I got it going. I don't think the hole in the hotel parking lot will be noticed till spring, and we'll be long gone. I swear, I must have cooked 100 steaks. Everyone sure seemed to enjoy them. Fortunately, I guess because it was so fresh, it didn't need to be cut as Phil goofed up and bought two boxes of plastic spoons instead of knifes and forks.

Well, another big day tomorrow. We are headed into Indian Territory, desert and slick rock, my favorite place.

Day 8

I'm not sure if I'm driving the truck or the truck is driving me. The cow skull looks great on the front. kind of a spiritual guide-on leading us on to Corvallis, the end of the universe, provider of all knowledge, and our meaningful reason for being. We have been driving around downtown Salt Lake for an hour looking for the "Mackerel Snapper Choir" as Clint calls it. He's doing that chant again … either that or his cough has turned to pneumonia. The Navajo sweat bath was supposed to help, but I think it will take more than charms and cactus buttons to heal him.

Well, we somehow missed Flagstaff. When we left Durango, Clint had the Indian County map put out by the AAA of Southern California stretched out over the dashboard, all marked up with highlighter and scribbles.

"We ain't taking no freaking tourist route," was all he would say.

And we sure didn't …. Straight through the desert on roads that weren't meant for a moving van for sure, but he seemed to know what he was talking about … "follow the road to Hovenweep …" bumpety bumpety bumpety bump … after a couple of hours I think I'm going nuts and he's fast asleep again. When we finally hit Lake Powell he goes nuts … accusing me of missing the turnoff ... like it's my fault. But the country is beautiful … snow in the desert…who would have thought it. When we finally get to Page we check the maps again … the laptop tells us the shortest way to Corvallis is through Salt Lake City … we are suspicious that the computer doesn't know about the all the shortcuts we see on the map, but what the heck. It couldn't be worse that what we just went through could it.

We miss the shortcut to Kodachrome Basin and have to circle back to find it. The ground is frozen so we shouldn't have to worry about getting stuck in mud. Got plenty of gas, lots of meat to eat, and plenty of daylight. What the heck ... if worst comes to worst, we'll hike out! The truck is great on the hills and drifting snow … we were doing pretty good too until we hit a creek bed and fell through the ice.

Fortunately we were surrounded by Indians and saved from ourselves. The Indians were unimpressed with our predicament, but were apparently used stupid tourist tricks. It is hard to believe people actually live out here … hundreds of miles from the nearest convenience store. The nearest McDonald's we know of is in Kayenta. The nearest Wall Mart is in Salt Lake City. In between is nothing. The guys are well equipped for self sufficiency and find a chain in the back of their truck. A little tug and a lot of lifting and the truck is free again. They politely refuse offered money and are just about to go when Clint thinks of the coolers.

There is enough meat in there to feed a small army, and the guys suggest we go with them to a meeting house for the party. The meeting house turns out to be in a little town called Boulder, Utah and technically we aren't on the reservation, but the folks show up anyhow. Word gets around that there is a party, and next thing you know, the steaks are on the fire again, and we are listening to Indian stories. Not the Indian stories we heard growing up in Ohio either, where Kit Carson was a hero. Stories about reservation life, and relocation's. Being run off by uranium mines … not the miners, but the radioactive waste. There is dancing too and Clint is doing a pretty good snake dance.

They let us stay in the hall overnight, but we stay up pretty late feeding the fire in the potbelly stove and telling stories. I'm sitting there minding my own business when one of the guys offers us the cactus and the rest is pretty fuzzy. I remember thinking this stuff isn't working … and the next thing we know we are in the backyard sitting in the steam house and running around in the snow naked!

I kept having all these weird dreams all night and I think Clint was too … he kept moaning and muttering some name …"Carmalita " ... or something like that. I thought it might be the cute little Indian maiden he was chasing around last night, but I forgot to ask and now he is too busy reading street signs in downtown Salt Lake. I think we are looking for the torch but someone tells us the torch is in Seaside California right now and not in Salt Lake. Clint looks disappointed but then brightens up and starts asking where the luge run is. So now we are on a short detour heading up to Utah Olympic Park … not exactly on the way to Boise where we are supposed to spend the night … this is going to be a long day!

Unfortunately I woke up with the start of a cold. A nasty itch in my sinus that I know is only going to get worse. Oh well, nothing I can do. I think I know how I got it, besides all these odd hours and evil things I have been doing to myself, the long ride in the open air locomotive cab, both freezing and frying at the same time, and what probably really did it was standing around in the parking lot grilling those steaks without any boots on. It would have been fine except the fire melted the snow and my feet got really wet-- Well, like I said, nothing I can do now.

I've traveled the southwest many times on my motorcycle. It's a great machine, a 1979 BMW R100S, twin cylinder, perfect for the open road. Not quite so great on the sandy back roads. I'd push my luck, and have on many occasions, sometimes foolishly, but my buddy Rooti really frowns on such things, and for good reason. Last time I saw Rooti, we were in Bryce Canyon, he was headed for home (in Boulder, Colorado) with his tail between his legs. His bike was in the back of a U-haul van. We were riding around for days on some of those dreaded back roads and the endless washboard got the better of his machine. First he noticed a crack in his rear luggage rack. It was fun watching it, ever stop we noticed it was getting bigger and bigger. Then the bolts on his headlight rattled out. Finally, we were on our way up to the grocery store or something and his gearbox jammed up. Stuck in false neutral with no way to shift it. After scratching our heads- we always wondered what you would do if your motorcycle broke down out in the middle of nowhere, and this certainly qualified as the middle of nowhere, we went to the nearest town and rented a U-haul van. Actually, they didn't have one there but found one for us about 100 miles away. Poor Rooti. Fortunately, if there's anything fortunate about ending your motorcycle trip 500 miles from home, driving a U-haul van, it was at the end of our trip. It might have lasted one day longer if this hadn't happened. I could have followed him back but headed for home instead. Following a U-haul truck up the Interstate at 50 mph didn't have much appeal.

Anyway, here we were in Durango with all this desert to explore with four wheels. Not a 4x4 but close enough. I always wanted to see what was down here, over there, and up that road. Yeah, sure, it was safe. People do it all the time. Besides, it's a lot straighter route. See here on the map. No, I don't know why the highway goes way up that way, or all the way down there, when you can take this way right across.

Phil's knuckles turned white with a panic grip on the steering wheel as we dropped down the first leg of the switchback. Isn't this cool?, I shouted enthusiastically as I take in the panoramic view from our 1200 foot vantage point. The wild scrabble of canyons inside canyons unfolds before us. There are a number of these spectacular "dugways" throughout the region. The Mokee is one of my favorites, or the switchbacks on the Burr Trail, or those to get down to the White Rim. Well, it was a little icy. Phil did a great job not allowing the van to get too far out of control. I was only scared once. Good thing that boulder stopped us. There aren't any guardrails of course. Just 1000 foot drops. Road Runner and Coyote land for real.

I close my eyes for one minute and Phil has managed to miss another turn. I'm not sure where the heck we are. He's insisting on taking a road to Rainbow Bridge. Rainbow Bridge, I exclaim, Rainbow Bridge is a natural bridge, a stone arch, not a highway bridge across the Grand Canyon. But he insists. All right I say, and sit back for the bumpy ride to no where. Sure enough, after many many miles down a gravel road, and many more down what could only be described as a trail, we end up at Rainbow Bridge. Phil doesn't believe his eyes. It's just like I said, a natural bridge, a sandstone arch, a very large one, but it doesn't go across the Colorado River. Actually it's Glen Canyon at this point, and it's flooded with the waters of Lake Powell, about a mile across.

The one ranger who is on duty is so excited to see us. Mid-January is not exactly the height of the tourist season. He's so excited he only scolds us a little for driving the van over the by horse or by foot only trail. He wants us to take the official tour but we only have time for a quick look and a few snapshots. The poor guy, he almost cried when we left. I noticed that the last visitors to sign the guest book were back in November.

Phil decided that the quickest way to Corvallis was now up through Salt Lake. If we were going to change our route I thought Rt. 50 straight across Nevada was the way to go, however Phil correctly pointed out with the luck we have been having with the Ryder van we'd better stick to a more populated route. So north it is, to the Interstates. I hate Interstates. Unless you're in a hurry. And I guess we were in a hurry. Ryder only gave us ten days. This wasn't a motorcycle trip anyway.

After back tracking we made our way around the south end of Lake Powell. I don't know where Phil got this map we were reading but it didn't even have Lake Powell on it. Phil missed the turn off to Kodachrome Basin which wasn't easy to do, when we found it again I pointed out the ten foot tall sign.

The van was doing really great until we got to the ford of the river. It would have been fine if it was either colder or warmer. If it was colder the river would have been completely iced over and therefore more solid. Or if it we warmer, then of course we would have just forded the river at this shallow spot. However, it was only half frozen and we got stuck half way across. Maybe if we were going faster. No matter, we were stuck. This time we were definitely out in the middle of no where, we were definitely screwed now.

We hadn't seen a sole all day, except for a car or two on the main highways or of course that poor ranger, but he was long gone many miles behind. After inspecting our predicament and figuring the only thing we could do is ride Susan's mountain bike out of here we heard something in the woods. As we listened, we heard lots of things, all over the place. We were surrounded. It was giggling.

Giggling? It turned out there was a bunch of Indians who were out gathering pine nuts or something like that. They thought it was hilarious that we gringos had gotten our van stuck in the river. That was a sign of good luck they all said. Good luck? We wondered, probably theirs. One by one they assembled and soon there were enough to easily push us out. I was busy doing winky-eyes with one of the Indian maidens while Phil was talking to one of the elders. When we got into the truck Phil informed me that we had been invited up to their lodge. This sounded interesting. Until the part about me grilling 100 more steaks came out.

Well, it wasn't that bad. I grilled a bunch of steaks and then I'm not sure what happened. We were invited into the sweat lodge and given some spirit drinks. The heat combined with them and my cold, I was having these wild hallucinations. Something about setting a new world's record in the luge. I remember we were driving around and around, Temple and Beehive Ave., there was a choir singing, we were in trouble for entering some shrine or something, and our ancestors were, I'm not sure that angry is the right word, concerned, they kept shouting for us to get out, get out, save yourself while you still can. I open my eyes and Carmalita is there. I reach out for her and all of a sudden I'm rushing down this icy slope on a tiny sled at what seems like a thousand miles per hour. Swoosh, into another turn, then another. Next moment we are back in the van driving aimlessly around, looking for "the light". I don't know what any of this means.

Back when I was a little kid, I used to get terribly ill. I'd have these terrible dreams. Something about doing something, innocently, that cause death and destruction. The whole town is after me. I wake up, hiding on the floor under my bed. The FBI agent is right there in my room, looking for me. Suddenly I realize that I am going to be sick to my stomach. I don't care if they do catch me, I'm going to throw up. I get up and run into the bathroom and if I'm lucky, make it to the throne in time.

This used to happen all the time. Especially around the holidays. Finally, I figured it out. It was the oyster dressing, an old family recipe my mother used to make for the turkey. It was really good. Only I was allergic to it. Really allergic to it. I'd have these wild dreams and gurk-up violently. My mother thought I was wrong, blaming it on all the candy and excitement but I knew it was the oysters. I just knew. Poor Mom, a few years ago she started getting sick. Yep, every time she had oysters.

So, maybe those Indians gave us oysters of something, though I never threw-up. Man, everything was spinning around, time was disjointed. I'm not sure what was real, and what was a dream. I liked the part about Carmalita and the Indian maiden fighting over me though.

Olympic Park

On our way north we stopped in Salt Lake City to pick up some of Phil's favorite beef jerky. He goes through it like candy. Well, next door to the jerky shop I noticed there was a sale on Flexible Flyer sleds.

When we were kids we had this six foot Flexible Flyer. All four of us kids could fit on it. When we were older, living in Connecticut we used to spend hours and hours sliding down the hills behind the house, either down the street unless they had sanded it, or through the woods where we had groomed a run, or from behind the next door neighbors house down onto the pond. A little hosing and these turned to ice and very exciting runs. We'd be flying down the hills with visions of San Moritz, or the two man bob sled, or winning the Olympics.

One thing lead to another and before I knew it I was strapping on my brand new deluxe 2002 Winter Olympics limited run Flexible Flyer to the top of the van. Phil was not wise to this as I was all done by the time he returned with the jerky.

Hey, we're here, only a few miles away from the Olympic Park, why not go up and see it? I volunteered to drive deep into the night to catch up on lost time. I think Phil really wanted to go too, especially when we saw a bus load of the Swedish women's curling team turn up the Olympic Parkway.

Unfortunately, we were unable to keep up with the Swedish girl's bus when they took a turn into the well guarded housing complex but we were able to roam around on the public roadways. After many turns we found ourselves at the end of a road high above Park City. We weren't quite sure exactly where we were but we knew the bob sled, luge and ski jumps were around here somewhere, close. We must have been on a service road or something as there were no signs or lights. But we could see a glow just around the corner. Well, lets get out and take a look.

As we got out Phil finally noticed the sled strapped to the top of the van. At first I thought he was going to get mad at me but then he said, We gotta try this baby out!

In a moment we were gliding down the trail beyond the end of the street where we had parked. It was a nice gentle slope curving around a corner of the mountain side that was blocking the view that soon appeared before us. The entire Nordic events, ski jumping and sledding complex spread out before us. There was no better view anywhere. It was amazing. We could see little figures jogging around the Nordic track, jumpers flying off the hill, actually two hills, one huge, one huger, and over there was the bob sled run, winding down the hill like a pretzel. Unfortunately while we were admiring the view we failed to notice that we were still moving, faster and faster on the sled, and before we could do anything about it we were on our way down a 70 degree slope. Screaming at the top of our lungs, of course.

Well, the descent was nothing, what lay up ahead was even more frightening, the lip of the 120 meter ski jump! Just then everything went to black. Black. Was I dreaming? No, I still had a tight grip on my brother Phil, it seemed like I was weightless and sitting on a sled, going 100 mph. Someone had turned off the lights. We could see a lone Jeep Cherokee leaving the parking lot as we sailed through the air towards our unknown destiny.

I'm not sure what the aerodynamics of a Flexible Flyer with two grown men on it are. You'd think we'd drop like a rock. But we kept sailing and sailing down, down, downward. Then like a feather we touched down and as our weight returned we glide back up the run out shot in perfect form. We couldn't believe it. That was the most fun we have ever had in our life!

Of course now we looked back up at the behemoth mountain side and shuttered just at the thought of walking back up there, but of course we had to, to get back to the van.

It was quite a trek. And it was dark out. We had to guess at the way. Finally after an hour we made it to the top, or so we thought. Apparently we had taken a wrong turn. We were at a pinnacle. In the darkness below we could barely make out what we thought was the beginning of the ski jump we had just jumped off of. We figured if we sledded down from here we might have enough momentum to carry us back around the corner to the van. Well, so we thought. What we failed to realize was that there was an icy swoosh in between us which, when we hit, grabbed us off course and took us around the other way.

Once again we found ourselves totally out of control, flying down the mountain side. The swoosh carried us down and mercilessly spilled us out into a parking lot. Unfortunately our speed was so great that we soon found ourselves all the way across the flat spot and into some sort of compound. It was occupied.

There were Olympic sledders all around us. Bob sleds, luge and skeletons. Apparently it was a practice session. We sort of waved at the guys as we sped through. Before we knew it we were at the top of the course and fortunately, no one was in our way. Down we went. It was fairly straight at first, then a sharp bank left, 180 degrees, dropping down fast, then into a right, straight, a little jag, then a breath-taking left turn which eases off then into a sharp right easing off then into a huge sweeping right hander straight again and then a final right turn to the finish. We go flying through in record time. The announcer is going crazy over the loud speakers. The only thing that was missing of course was the crowds. We shot through the slow down area, not slowing because we didn't have any brakes and neither of us was going to drag our feet. There were a bunch of hay bails at the end which we just shot through. By now I had my eyes shut so I don't know exactly what happened but we wound up inside a team trailer.

Phil thinks they were Norwegians but I think they were Poles or something. They were as surprised to see us as we were them. We couldn't understand a thing they were saying and I'm sure they didn't have a clue what we were saying. They loved our sled though. They were ooing and awing, their technicians were measuring and studying, thumbing through the rule books and scratching their heads. I think they thought we were the US team's new secret weapon. In the background we could hear the confusion in the announcer as he was asking anyone who knew who the mystery sled was who had broken the track record in half to please come forward.

Somehow we got the fellows to take us back up to the top of the hill where we found our van. As a consolation prize for doing so we gave them our sled. They were overjoyed and quickly cloaked it and locked it up in the trailer. I hope they don't try to use it in the Olympics, there must be a rule against it.

My version of Olympic Trails (Naturally, I like mine better)

Day 9 - Pocatello

For those of you watching the weather map you would know it's snowing out here. Nothing new for us of course, but the heavy interstate highway has trucks jackknifed all over the place, so we pulled off the road in Pocatello.

Now I'm not gonna say anything bad about Pocatello, but let's just say that Hopewell looks like the Magic Kingdom by comparison, especially in the mud and snow.

Just as well, because I don't think poor Clint can take another bump with his leg propped up like that. It's tough on me too because I'm the only driver now. I spend most of the time daydreaming about how to rig up the cast so he can get to the gas pedal with his good leg, but least we are close enough to Corvallis we could walk if we wanted, ha ha ha! (Clint hates it when I say that).

The only good thing to come of it is that it is a real chick magnet. Yep, the chicks dig casts! Whenever we stop, he sits himself down in a conspicuous place, puts on the ID tags from Salt Lake and waits. It doesn't take long before some young honey notices him sitting there. Next thing you know, there are a half dozen girls hanging around. Weren't you on TV?, they ask. Then he grins through the scruffy beard and says in that fake French accent of his, "May wee!" I think he's taking advantage of the situation, but then again, I wouldn't trade places with him for anything.

It all started with that crazy trip up from Boulder. Parts of it are starting to come back now. The skinny road over the ridge of Hell's Backbone is bad enough in summer, but winter! I don't know if it was that funny cactus we ate or if it was just plain beautiful, all those red rocks against the white dusting of snow was pretty incredible. How we ever made it out of the mountains is beyond me. Things were going pretty good until Clint went on this luge frenzy.

With the Olympics only 20 days away, and time trials underway, everything is pretty well marked. We found the luge run fairly easily up in the Utah Olympic Park (what an original name.) Security is pretty tight, and I must admit a Ryder truck with a half-eaten cow head draped in a confederate flag and mounted on a battered 10-speed might edge us towards the "suspicious" side. We get in the special treatment lane so they can check the undercarriage and ask twenty questions.

We are just about to give up and continue our journey to Boise when some guy with a clipboard asks us if we are the guys with the skeleton. I look at Clint, he looks a me, we look at the cow head, then back to the guy with the clip board.

"Yeah, that's us," we chorus.

Never argue with a guy with a clipboard.

Next thing you know, we're in the security shack getting our vendor id tags. Pretty cool too. They look just like the athlete's except for the bold "VENDOR" on the bottom. Clint of course has his folded so the chicks think he is a ski bum. Later we find out that a skeleton is what they call that little sled. duh? I swear we didn't know.

So we're standing there minding our own business, watching the athletes prepare for their trials. The most exciting place of course is at the start. A good start makes or breaks the race, and we are paying close attention to the starts, when someone starts yelling at us. It's the guy with the clipboard! We are just about to run when we finally figure out he wants us to check out the runner on one of the sleds.

"Sure", Clint says confidently. So he's laying on his belly, on the sled, tinkering with the rear sled alignment like he knows what he is doing. Now I'm not certain what happened next. Some of the newspaper accounts mention a crazed husky dog charging out of the crowd. Personally, I think whatever it was looked remarkably similar to the cute Indian girl he was hanging out with last night. Others said it was just a strong gust of wind blowing someone's coat off a hook up at the café. Whatever it was, Clint swears it had bad breath and sharp teeth.

Next thing we all know the sled is hurtling down the course with Clint hanging on for dear life. By the time I get down to the bottom of the course the ambulance has arrived. None of this would have gotten any attention at all except that he did the run in record time. It wasn't official of course, because he was face down. But now all the other athletes want the rules changed so they can ride upside down too. It caused quite a stir, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if everyone is riding the skeletons upside down and backwards in the 2006 winter Olympics.

Well, it's time to get on the road again. I'm pretty sure we can still make it to Corvallis in one day unless we have to stop again. I can't believe this trip is almost over. It'll be good to get a good nights sleep at Susan's. Our only worry now is that we can find her house.

The Last Leg, I think

Thump-thump, thump.-thump, thump-thump. I'm bored. We've logged 3045 miles so far on the trip. Some have been good, some, like these, well, thump-thump, thump-thump. That's about all there is to it. Traveling across the belt of Idaho in the middle of the winter is about as interesting as thump-thump, thump-thump. If it was the summer time, or if we had more time, we'd go north up to the Sawtooth Mountains, camp at Stanley Lake, and hike up Iron Creek to the wilderness and do some fishing. It's all buried under ten feet of snow right now. Hum, maybe next summer.

We went another 100 miles out of our way. For some reason Phil took I-15 north to Pocatello instead of the I-84 cutoff. I'll never understand why he doesn't get a map. But then again, we were going to take the southern route so all the maps he grabbed from AAA are of that. He doesn't listen to me, so I give up. And just count the bumps.

We cruise along at 85. The truck's used to it now. Or maybe we are. At first it seemed to resist, screamed loudly, awfully, we thought it was going to blow-up. Now we don't care. We've got to get to Corvallis. We aren't even in Oregon yet. Thump-thump, thump-thump.

I thumb through the Official 2002 Olympic Events Program we picked up. It's pretty interesting. There was a whole case of them sitting there so we said why not. We've been handing them out to everyone we meet. Our good will gesture. You've got to do something to be entertained.

At Twin Falls we went over to check out the site where Evil Kinevel failed to jump the Snake River Canyon. Evil had rocket power but we figured if we could get enough speed up in the van we could probably make it across. Maybe with a little tail wind. The wind was right in our face so we decided to come back later when conditions were more favorable. Besides, we had "priceless possessions" to deliver. Well, what was left of them.

In Mountain Home I took Phil to see the Milwaukee Road electric locomotive that's on display there. We spent about half an hour looking for it. I mean, how could you loose a 586,600 pound locomotive that's painted bright orange? I remember, it's supposed to be right about here, right in the middle of town, on this side of the road, in a park. We circle around town, up and back twice, then ask a kid at the gas station where the locomotive went. He looks at us like we were crazy, and runs into the convenience store to hide.

Then I realized I've made a little mistake. It wasn't Mountain Home, Idaho, it was in Deer Lodge, Montana. What was I thinking?? It was kind of the same longitude. I was just off a few rungs of latitude.

I didn't admit this to Phil. He was still upset because I didn't tell him sooner about the I-84 cutoff. Man, I did tell you... but what's the use? When I was a kid, I was borderline dyslexic. I suppose I still am, like getting states mixed up. I can't believe they moved that train.

We blew by Boise. By Nampa, I was telling him about the neat train yard there but he didn't want to have anything to do with another wild goose chase. And for sure we weren't going to get off the highway to go check out a neat depot I had once seen in Weiser.

Idaho is a neat state, but you have got to get off the stinking highway. Go north to Riggins, camp along the banks of the Salmon River. Take Lolo Pass across to Missoula. St. Paul Pass to Avery... We'd never get to Corvallis. But finally we make it into Oregon. The exciting part is the sign. Then it's back to the monotony. Thumpity-thump, thumpity-thump. At least the sound had changed, a little.

We pull into Baker City. Phil wants fresh donuts. There has to be a good bakery in Baker City he says. Hey, there is. We get a dozen mixed. And some soda pops.

We are burning hi-octane fuel.

Phil gets really pissed when I insisted on taking the scenic highway instead of the interstate. I'm sick of the interstate. Besides, this way follows the railroad. Fortunately there's no other traffic going our way so I'm able to catch up with the train which is going 70 mph. I don't know if the van has ever gone this fast before. I was too busy keeping my eyes on the road to notice how fast we were really going. All I know is we caught up and passed her. Phil was sticking his head out the window the whole time taking pictures. You'd think he had never seen a Union Pacific freight train before, but of course he's from Richmond, so no, I suppose he hasn't.

From there we paced the train into La Grange at a more reasonable speed. It's dinner time.

We cruise around looking for the best place in town. I point out the Wagon Wheel next to the Oregon Trail hotel me and my friend Steve had stayed at last time through. It's ordinary but okay. Chan's China Hosue (sic) is closed. And we think about the burrito express wagon but circle back to the Wheel.

It hasn't changed much since we were there over a year ago. The dining room is still closed off, being cleaned by the same scrawny guy. Two customers are seated at the counter, finishing up their pie, smoking cigarettes and sipping coffee. We take a booth by the window, instantly soothed by the cool soft cushioned seats, springing lightly, and noticeably still compared to the now too familiar hard buzz of the van seats. Wow, this is great, as we both sunk in. Ahh. My little brain is still vibrating at highway speed.

The waitress, I think the same as last year, brings us menus and tall ice waters. Cheeseburger, fries and a chocolate shake. Make that too. We look across to old hotel, watch for the little traffic that comes in on the old highway. Not much going on this time of year. Probably not much anytime of year.

We gobble down the burgers and fries, and savor the shakes. Old fashion, made with hard ice cream, delicious to the last drop.

After gassing up, Okay, I know a short cut. Well, okay, it wasn't a short cut, but it followed the railroad. La Grange is at the east side of the Blue Mountains. The railroad climbs the steep Grande Ronde River canyon for several miles out of town before it takes a side canyon towards Meecham Summit. Per usual it is clogged with trains slowly trying to move in both directions. We don't have to but we follow the service road out to a huge pile of snow where the line continued on without us. Even I know there is no way to continue on though I think, well, maybe if we jump down onto the tracks...

No, that's just asking for trouble. We have precious cargo to deliver!

So we return to the interstate. It's slow going. The high overcast has given way to flurries which is now pretty much sustained. Great, there must be a good storm pushing in against the coast. The run up the Gorge might not be such an easy one.

Sure enough, when we reached the summit, there were flashing lights and flares. Get off here I tell Phil, and he follows the trail lights of a lone pick-up up the exit ramp. Turn right. We follow the road down to where it meets up with the train tracks. Past the bar that seems to be doing lots of business.

Not tonight.

We follow the old highway, past the campground, to the top of the old grade. The snow doesn't look too bad but it hasn't been plowed for quite a while. I don't know man, this road is pretty steep and windy. A lot of fun on a motorcycle in the summer time, but, now, during a snow storm. Better pull off here and check.

We hop out and inspect the conditions. Good thing we do. Phil falls flat on his ass. I'm laughing so hard I almost follow him. There's a nice coating of ice below the fresh layer of snow. This is hopeless. What the heck are we going to do now? As we are climbing into the van a police car rolls up and confirms the road is closed. He's putting up the barrier now. Best bet he says is to go back to La Grange and see if we can find a motel. You might be here a few days.

That doesn't sound good.

We turn back. A little further. Pull in here.

We enter the bar and everyone looks up, not sure what to think. More strangers. More strange that the rest. The place is packed, full of wayward travelers, one telling the story of being the last car up the hill from the west. It was a mess, jack-knifed trucks everywhere, people stuck in the ditch, smash-ups. We order a couple of beers. The bartender, Molly, winks at me, she remembers. I wasn't sure if she would.

Was it five or six years ago? I don't know. I stopped in one night, on one of my solo runs home, to buy a couple of beers to take back to camp. While I was there a couple of the locals got in a argument about something foolish over the pool table. One threw the cue ball at the other and of course missed and it was sailing through the air right at poor Molly, or if she ducked, right at the top shelf of her bar. We couldn't have that so I reached out and grabbed the ball. I was an instant hero. For nothing really, but got free beers all night. Come to think of it I had a beard back then too, so yes, she might recognize me.

Where you boys headed she asks? Corvallis! Shoot, you gotta a long ways to go. No kidden. We gotta get this stuff unloaded and the van back to Ryder before noon tomorrow. With this weather, you're never going to make it. She turned the TV onto the the weather station and soon enough we saw the maps and latest satellite loops showing the jet stream feeding storms moisture right up the Columbia Gorge towards us. It was totally hopeless. Looks like it will be this way for days.

'Less Gene can help you.

Gene?? Turns out Gene is Molly's husband. Yeah, but you gotta keep it quiet, there's not enough room for everybody. Turns out Gene is the maintenance foreman for this district of the railroad and it just so happens he's got a flatcar down at the siding that he's sending into to Portland tonight. There's not really any reason that he can see why he can't put a few stranded motorists on board. After all, he's retiring in a few days.

In that case, maybe we'd better get us a few more beers. We also remember the cooler of steaks we're still hauling and unload a few dozen on Molly who is over joyed as the unusual crowd has devoured everything is sight, including the tuna fish burritos that have been in the freezer for who knows how long. We decline her invitation to grill a steak as we've just eaten.

After a couple of beers we follow Gene down the hill and turn into the service road along side the tracks. There we find a car and a camper already loaded up on the flatcar. There's room for us and one more who shows up about a half hour later. Then we wait.

It's snowing hard now. Half asleep I watch the flakes fall endlessly down in little swirls. Two trains pass by eastbound. Other than that it is completely still. Snowplows pass by on the highway above us from time to time. I remember that there is a service area for them where they must be coming in to sand up. It's pretty busy.

Where's this train? It's been over two hours. About six inches of snow cover the hood. Phil keeps asking if I really know this woman. Yeah, and I tell him the cue ball story over and over again. He begins to think I am making it up. Those guys are up at the bar laughing their asses off at the stupid fools waiting down on the flatcar for a train to show up to take them to Portland. Like that's really going to happen. They do this all the time, every time it snows they talk a few suckers into this trap. No man, Molly wouldn't do that. Would she?

The guy behind us is out of his car lighting a smoke. Phil decides to get out and talk to him. Utto, this is bad, now the guys in front of us is getting out too and talking with them. Alright, I'll get out too, though I'm reluctant to climb out of my nice warm sleeping bag. Where are my shoes? Finally I'm out and go over to the now angry crowd.

Wait a minute, wait. I explain my cue ball story and then the one guy, Gus, who's behind us accuses me of being in on it. Says they probably have a pool going, betting on how long we stay down here on the stupid flatcar. Screw this! he exclaims and walks back to his car and starts to untie the hold-downs and kick out the chalks. The couple in the first car are convinced too and want to leave. Yeah, but where are you going? The road down to La Grande is probably closed by now too. The four women in the camper who've been out skiing don't believe my story but they don't want to move tonight in the darkness and figure it's best to stay. The only ramp off is to the back so the couple in front aren't very happy.

What a mess. Just after the guy to the rear goes roaring off, fishtailing all over the place, and the first couple have gone storming back to their car we notice a light off in the distance. It's a locomotive light. It's westbound. The first westbound we've seen tonight. It's cold complain the women, and disappear into their camper.

The train approaches slowly and stops. We figure now we're in for it. We're in lots of trouble. Or hopefully these guys will laugh their asses off when they see we are the innocent subjects of a mean joke.

Two figures walk up from the train.

Maybe if we pretend we are not here? They won't notice a car, a camper and a van parked on their flatcar? No way. We might as well get down and face the music. So, do we tell these guys the truth of try and make up some kind of story? Before we decide Gene says hello.

Gene! Man, are we glad to see you.

Yeah, this is Charlie, he's the conductor, we've made arrangements to pull you off in south Portland tomorrow morning. Hey, what happened to that other car? We tell him the guy got cold feet and decided not to go. All right, it seems a shame, there's not time to get another car on, we gotta get moving.

Oh, there's one thing, Gene tells us that he can't leave us ride on the flatcar. Great, we think, another locomotive cab ride. We'll never be able to sleep in there. Well, you could ride up front in the cab or you can ride in the dome car we are hauling. Yeah, it belongs to some hot shot but we talked to the crew and they'd be happy to have you on board.

We can't believe it. Sure enough, it turns out to be a luxurious sleeper dome car. This is too good to be true. We grab a few things from the van and climb up into our deluxe accommodations. This palace is incredible. DVD wide screen surround sound TV, fully stocked bar, plush seating, dining room. And two sleeping rooms. I want to hang out in the dome anyway so we give the roomettes away to the other parties. Both of which are truly apologetic for doubting my story.

They've cut the flatcar into the train and we begin to depart as we settle in to our new digs. This is really cool. We are only a few cars back from the locomotive so we can see ahead with the headlights. The snow is really swirling down, there's over a foot of new. A couple of the girls climb up to investigate the dome, asking our permission first. Phil is already asleep. They are headed back to Portland after skiing around at three different slopes for the week. Sounds like fun to me. The two downstairs were sisters and the others friends, all work for the same company. So, I ask, are you guys married? They laugh.

I tell them about our adventurous story and they laugh some more. Then one of the others, Sandy, shows up. Hey you guys, you gotta see this. What? She won't answer, just says follow me. You aren't going to believe this, as she opens up the door, revealing a candle lit room with a steaming hot tub, and Mandy, the other sister, sitting inside it with a big smile. Come on, get in, she exclaims.

No, no, I gotta, no..., they start pulling me into the room. Yeah, this is going to be fun.

I wake up in the morning with the gentle rocking motion of a passenger car. At first I am certain it was all a dream. Slowly, as I come to my senses one by one they reconfirmed that it was not a dream. There was an extra arm here, a leg there. Wow, what happened? I can't remember a thing. As I come to I realize that it's Phil's arm, and Phil's leg, yuk, get away from me. We are parked down by the railroad yard, in south Portland. How'd we get here?? Wait, where'd the girls go? What about the train?

Oh crap, man, we gotta get going, Phil says. Wait, I gotta pee. Opps, wrong thing to say. So does he. After we gather ourselves we are on our way, headed south to Corvallis, a little over an hour away. We're coming Susan! We're on our way.

Are we there yet?

So we are circling around Corvallis- "looking for Susan's car". So far we have been down about half the streets (twice I think). I can't believe Phil forgot her address. "Susan, Susan", he shouts out the window like that will help...

He's not talking to me and won't let me drive.

I think we should go ask at OSU- but I guess that would be too simple.

I hope we get there soon. I'm tired of this van. Besides, I want to see Susan's bog samples before they melt.

I am in the dentist's chair once again. This time to take the two little stitches out. Not a big deal, but there is a wait. I think back to my first visit here and wonder how Phil and Clint's wonderful adventure should end.

Day 10 ½ - Corvallis

We are just back from the Ryder dealer in Albany, about 10 miles from here. This is a pretty small burg if it doesn't even have it's own Ryder store. Clint stayed back at Susan's to sip lemonade and ice down the lump on his head where Gene whacked him with the cue stick. He's been whoozy ever since … keeps saying stuff about a long train ride…. And "How'd we get to Portland?" Good question too. He had us so lost with these shortcuts through the high mountain passes that a sherpa with a GPS couldn't find his way home. Then with the snowstorm building up they closed the road for good and we end up in this biker bar in the middle of nowhere. Ukiah, I think the sign said. I knew we were in trouble when Clint starts making a pass at the waitress. Next thing you know her husband, a big burly guy named Gene, comes out of nowhere and whacks him on the head.

Don't worry anybody, he's OK. Fortunately he doesn't remember much about the Umatilla County Jail. We had a little explaining to do after the scuffle at the biker bar. They would ask me a simple question and Clint would blurt out some outrageous answer. For example:

"I see you have Olympic, ID tags …" says the Sheriff.

"We won a gold medal for flying American," he would blurt out.

"He's delusional," I would say. "It was a world record for the skeleton."

And "So you guys are rednecks from the deep south?"

"Elvis is alive. He attacked me in Las Vegas…" Clint would stammer.

"We're not rednecks!" then I would remember the Confederate flag and the cow-head.

"Well, I guess we do have redneck tendencies … but Richmond is hardly the deep south…"

"Capital of the Confederacy…" Clint blurts out again. He's eyeballing the jailer with his good-eye while the other is wandering around the room looking for palmetto bugs.

"He from the deep south too?" they ask.

"Naw …Seattle," I tell them.

"That explains it…" they nod their heads.

They were just about to toss us in the poky for the night when the waitress, Molly or something like that, shows up and explains everything. Apparently her husband, Gene has a history of extreme jealousy. And when Clint bragged about how his BMW could beat out a Harley any day, I guess it was too much to bear. So now we are all pals. We agree not to press charges against Gene and they agree not to press charges against us.

"What did we do?" I ask with cautious indignation.

"Don't you know it's illegal to bring uninspected meat into the state of Oregon?" they ask, incredulous at our ignorance of the laws of Oregon.

We agree not to press charges, just to escape. They confiscate the rest of the meat too ... the nice New York strip steaks we were saving for Corvallis are now in the Sheriff's freezer. The snow is letting up just a bit and I lament about the road being closed.

"The road to Pendleton is still open, you might make it in this heap," they are making fun of our truck again. The drive back to Pendleton and I-84 was fairly uneventful, considering the road conditions. The crazies are all safe at home so the roadway is fairly clear except for the cars and trucks in the ditch. Clint slept most of the way. Every so often he would blurt out something like "Hot Tub!" and roll over. The interstate was much better and by the time we hit Portland it is all rain. It's about 2 a.m. and I'm not about to frighten any of our relatives at this time of morning, so I pull off the road somewhere south of Portland near the train yard.

When Clint wakes me up in the morning, he is nearly delusional, ranting and raving about the train ride. At first I think it is the whack on the head. It is now a deep purple and he looks pretty rough from the ride.

"Where's the train? Where's the babes?" he stammer's as he stomps around the ancient yard.

"Where's your cast?" I ask, suddenly realizing the cast has disappeared.

"What cast?" he wants to know.

Just then an eastbound freight rumbles by. An impressive sight -- four big bad babies pulling a hundred and twenty cars out to who knows where. I fight an urge to wave at the engineer. What the hell, I wave anyway. The guy looks and waves back … gee … I've seen that face before.

"Hey Gene!" Clint is waving frantically … running after the engines, camera in hand.

The drive to Corvallis is uneventful. I let Clint drive so I can find Susan's house. He thinks I don't have the address, which is true. I do have the satellite photo courtesy of MapQuest.com and it is just a matter of matching up the grids. It also helps that Susan has parked her car on the street.

"His…" she says cheerfully, "Where ya been?"

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

The movers are in the garage marking her stuff right now (I swear, I'm not making this part up) Soon it will be on it's way to Corvallis on a real moving van. It's sad in a way. I thought it would be fun to plot out the route we would have taken. If it weren't for the dentist and a computer system failure at work, it wouldn't have been this fun.

In a couple of weeks, Clint and I will be on the road again, this time to California. So when I send you an e-mail from Bakersfield ... how will you know?

We'll, gotta go. They're asking for the futon now.



The Disclaimer

The truth is, we never went on this trip. Phil blames it on his wife Janet, and Janet blames it on Phil. The budget ballooned beyond the $2400 when Phil waited too long to buy the $98 one way air ticket for me to come out. About a week before the departure date they also woke up to nine inches of snow on the ground in southern Virginia. Certainly not a good omen. So whether Phil came to his senses or his wife put her foot down (I was having flash backs of driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the wintertime, etc.) the trip was called off and the movers were called.

To make up for this shortfall Phil and Janet are coming out for a week the 1st of February and I talked him into staying an extra week and we'll take a road trip down to visit our Aunt Audrey in Oxnard, California. Who knows what kind of real trouble we'll get into on the way? It should be fun.

So just in case we have described some person or event that might be interpreted as real, forget it, this is all totally made up. We wouldn't want to get anyone, like the guy with the clip board, the moonshiner, the night watchman or the maintenance foreman, or anyone else in trouble for our wild imaginations. Well, maybe that guy with the clip board. Yea, it's all his fault! He's the guy. If you want to blame anyone blame him.

Hope you enjoyed the ride half as much as we did.


    and A FEW DAYS

    Motorcycle Stories


    Truth blended with Fiction

    T O U R   L O G S    

    P H O T O   G A L L E R Y    

    I N   T H E   G A R A G E    



  C. C. CROW     P. O. BOX 1427      MUKILTEO, WA   98275   USA