Up For A Ride? by A. K. Buckroth (Anthology story for NCPA Beautiful Americas, 2022, www.norcalpa.org)

This story will assist in reclaiming and heightening the free spirit of adventure. After months and months of social separateness due to a world pandemic, the ultimate decision to regain positive self-affirmations became all inclusive: independence, self-resilience, even a dash of infallibility.

Thankful to not have been physically affected by this ongoing pandemic and its variants, I forgot that I possessed these qualities. The large decision to move, to go away, to get out gave my husband and I the shared passions of traveling. Our dog would be embraced in this decision. Getting in the car and going. Our physical years, tainted with aches and pains, would not hold us back. The aching stiffness of arthritis being a factor in each of us would not dissuade this decision. Freedom is a highway!

Therefore, my husband’s and my dream of driving cross country – to literally re-locate in the State of Virginia ─ came to fruition.

Cash, our totally white, long haired Parsons Terrier had recently tallied his twelfth birthday. Adopted at the age of three months, his existence easily filled our empty-nest. His slower running and jumping abilities became enhanced with a soft, chewable, once-a-day “happy joint” tablet. They worked! Hmm. I often wondered if I should chew and swallow one of these tablets. However, running and jumping at my age seem laughable!

Family members residing in Virginia called to us: a daughter, a daughter-in-law, two very young grandchildren and numerous relatives and friends dotted along the East Coast of the United States from Maine to Florida. Also, the intrigue of a lower cost of living became a greatly rewarding thought; baby-sitting along with tutoring the grand babies, bonding would become  memorable for all involved!

No other reasons or rationale would be necessary. We’re doing it! We’re going!

Before the Sacramento house was placed on the 2021 “sellers market,” I signed up with two leading online real estate companies: Zillow and MLS. Two Real Estate Agents were contacted – one to sell the CA property, the other to share a ‘virtual tour’ for a VA property.

Do not doubt the numerous tasks to consider before hiring Real Estate Agents in each of the two states. Final ‘escrow’ has important requirements to foster peace of mind: inspection reports; fixing what needed to be fixed; change of address forms; hiring a moving/hauling company; yard sales; purging; packing, and then, wait for it… more packing. Quality time spent with numerous friends became all important.  They were made aware of this five-year dream/plan that turned into seven years.

Overwhelmed with the physical and emotional chaos of this decision, the last of three vehicles became packed with a canvas sack belted to its roof and our dog’s bed comfortably spread on a portion of the back seat. I thought of the similarities of the conestoga wagon days in the 1800’s having to cross this continent. Courage became an important factor.

Due to the continuation of the viral pandemic and its worsening increase of lives lost as televised in the southern states at this time, we chose to drive the northern route across the United States.

Vaccinated and boosted, peace of mind existed with our numerous facial masks, cleansing cloths and hand washes. “Social distancing” would remain a constant determinant.

When the California house sold, we had to leave. We had no place to go but forward.

It was 59°F when leaving the state at noontime on January 5th, 2022. The odometer read 95,495 as we begin the designated route to Virginia. My husband as the main driver, my co-piloting skills involved keeping track of map locations; supplying snacks and refreshments from the back seat cooler; listening to Cash’s breathing as he hunkered in the back seat; reporting the sights to include cows, horses and/or sheep; searching for hotels along each locale; calling for pet-friendly room reservations; and whatever else may have been required.

Exiting CA on I-80, we passed through beloved towns and cities such as historical Auburn, Lincoln, Placer, Newcastle, Grass Valley, and others. Reassured memories of repeated visits to each city flooded our hearts and minds. For instance, Lincoln features some of the best entrepreneurial Thrift and Consignment shops I had ever entered. Its downtown area carries the scents of freshly baked quiche in one place, cupcakes in another, or home-made eateries, each neighboring the other.

Placer and Newcastle were home to fresh garden vegetables for purchase. I often favored freshly laid eggs along with the purchase of butternut squash, the purple-est of purple eggplants and a cabbage the size of a basketball. Truly.

The city of Colfax, California, with its rocky terrain held a favorite memory of gold-panning. Yes indeed! Just like in the 1800’s, my husband and I borrowed equipment to accomplish this adventurous task in the fast flowing, deliciously clear Bunch Creek. Requirements included a deep plastic pan with a ridged bottom plate that was designed specifically for gold panning; some small glass vials to store our gold find; a fine strainer; and a picnic lunch of home-made egg salad sandwiches and tall thermoses of ice water.

At one point, I meandered into the fast flowing creek, knee-deep, to splash the cold water on my face and arms. It nicely refreshed my skin. We not only appreciated the continuous, melodious sounds of the creek’s steady flow, but after six hours, a very small portion of each vial held gold chips.

Continuing on to Reno, Nevada, memories of a friends’ daughter’s wedding became a fond recollection. Never having been there and not having seen the parents of the bride for a long time, we looked forward to this trip.

Keep in mind, there are seventeen different mountain ranges in Reno. I did not know which we had to traverse to get to the final destination, but we got there with a trusty set of snow tire chains.

After finding a parking spot and removing the tire chains, we had to cautiously walk through a foot of snow on that early March afternoon in 2006. Departing the warmth of the Sacramento Valley, the snow had been unexpected. Our fancy attire did not include snow boots or heavy jackets so we had to make the best with what we had. All in all, the wedding became a lovely affair, of course, with the pink champagne a concoction of unending and laughable bubbles. After a time, I believe these bubbles warmed my toes.

Back on course, the dirty, snow-bordered interstate of Nevada became drab and boring. I picked up my book regarding different lifestyles and continued reading. After having completed two chapters, we quietly arrived in Winnemucca, Nevada that evening at the “Winners Casino Hotel.” Never having heard of Winnemucca, the name itself awakened my attention. Winnemucca lies in a valley surrounded by peaceful looking snow covered peaks. Once out of the car, I did a 360° look about to view this awe-inspiring landscape. Its cold air tasted clean.

Checking into the hotel at 7:00PM, my husband and I were able to get Cash settled before we wandered off to the casino for dinner. The menu advertised home-made entrees that appealed to our appetites. For instance, a favored vegetable omelet for dinner with sourdough toast one day, a platter of spaghetti and meatballs for lunch the next day, and an energizing Reuben sandwich at one point helped to energize us.

The bright and colorful flashing lights of the casino invited us to walk about its hall and play a couple of one-penny slot machines each. After a half hour, I walked away with $2.70; my husband walked away with a whopping $7.20. We were happy.

Cash delighted in the separate “grass and dirt dog area” close to the parking lot. The road side rest stops did not allow him, or any dog, to run freely, of course. Ten minutes of this type of happiness in freezing temperatures made a large difference in his attitude. After having been in a moving vehicle for hours at a time and having to refamilarize himself with different motel/hotel rooms each night, his happiness made us happy.

Due to the cold, I wore my midi-length lined coat, a knit cap and gloves while Cash remained covered in his multi-colored doggy sweater.  His swift wagging tail and open-mouthed smile told me he was happy after each walk. This is always a good thing. His collar and leash, food and water bowl, along with a small sack of kibble and his favorite beefy treats, were easily accessible to us. A pleasant two-night stay here refreshed our minds and bodies.

At 10:15-ish AM driving through Winnemucca, Nevada, the car’s bright red “engine light” beeped. It displayed itself on the dashboard. Its relentless brightness frightened us. We left the Interstate for an automotive retailer. Inquiring at the sales counter, the clerk strongly suggested that this problem sounded like “the fuel pump needed to be replaced. There is a dealership up the street that would take care of this problem for you. We do not carry fuel pumps here.”

Dealership?! Arrgghh! And uh-oh! I have always found the term ‘dealership’ to be frightening in and of itself! Intimidating. To be avoided at all costs!

A different retailer suggested that we buy a “Code Reader.” Doing so, my husband plugged it under the dash board near the steering column. That looked easy enough and it read  the fuel pump needed assistance. Holy ____!!

In total denial of this quandary, refusing to face the expense of a dealership or trip delay, I opened the glove compartment and pulled out the automobile’s glossed informational book. Looking up this problem, I found that the gas tank cover could be improperly placed. It was.

Holy moly! With a quick opening and closing of the fuel tank’s cover, the red engine light went out, gone. Yay me! So simple a fix. Thank goodness I kept that book!

Breathing steadily, we remained onward bound. Goodbye Sparks, Nevada. Salt Lake City, Utah, here we come.

$39.50 worth of gas in the tank, areas of rest, food, and sleep were few and far between. About 420 miles from our CA home, more freezing temperatures would be upon us. For instance, 8°F in Northeastern Nevada grew into a whopping 28°F 238 miles later. The “Great Salt Lake Desert” greeted us inside the border. To me it appeared rather unappealing. The numerous acres for which it was called remained dry, tannish white in color, flat, looking salty. Very different. Unhealthy. Not a lake at all. It bore no water. It appeared purposeless. No signs of life.

Darkness fell upon us as we arrived at the outskirts of Salt Lake City.

The city lights in this unfamiliar place glared at us. Neither of us could read the street signs. The highways, freeways and surface streets were overcrowded, too busy for us to attend to sign reading. Gasping as if hyperventilating, Cash told us he needed to get out of the car. Pulling into the University of Utah’s expansive and well-lit parking lot, I took Cash out for at least a fifteen minute walk while my husband used his cell phone to find a hotel. Three pees on two parking lot trees and one poo later, I nestled Cash back into his car-comfort zone. We needed to hunker down. To chill. To eat. To sleep.

The Salt Lake City Hilton Hotel, at $130.00 per night with a one-time $75.00 pet charge, taxes not included, located a block behind us, had an available room.

Definitely not pet friendly for that price and over our agreed upon hotel allowance, we had no place else to go with our over-exhausted minds. We were given a 3rd floor room at the end of a 100-foot long carpeted hallway leading into a room with two queen size beds.

Cash became jittery inside the elevator to get there, this being his first ride. Looking at each of us bright-eyed, then staring at the door in breathless wonder, he jumped out as soon as he became able. His pleasant personality returned when realizing solid ground was there. Many more opportunities brought him to have to ride the elevator. He did not care for any of them. However, bathroom breaks are important.

The beds became a pleasant resting place as we slunk under thick, fluffy white comforters. The softer than soft white down feathered pillows were a wonderful addition. A pleasant, deep sleep overcame each of us. As usual, Cash’s car pillows were laid close to our bed. The physical amenities here became a two-day stay.

I continue to think of Salt Lake City as a spider’s web, one that temporarily caught us in its web: many cross streets causing an over-extension of anxiety for a newcomer along with traffic noise and the stiff and sticky scent of automobile fumes. Unwelcome. Unfriendly. Sure, directional street signs were everywhere which made our destination more confusing as we had no time to read them! Crazy. We hope to never have to be there again.

Checking out at 10:00AM on Sunday, January 9th, we headed toward Wyoming. Somewhere around our arrival at the Wyoming/Colorado/Nebraska border at 12:45 PM January 10th, we drove through the Continental Divide at 7,000 feet. My ears popped. Fluffy clouds surrounded acre upon acre of bare flatlands. An occasional, lonely looking farm house or an out building came into view. The ground frozen, I could barely see the tilling lines for supposed crops. 942 miles from Sacramento, we still had a way to go.

Close to the Nebraska/Wyoming border, I insisted we stop for a hot dog lunch at a place called “Fat Dogs.” I bought the last two hot dogs that were readily available – with warmed buns, of course. Pasting ketchup, sweet green relish, and spicy brown mustard on each, I also grabbed two 18-liter bottles of electrolyte waters. Yum. Cash was given a soft, chewy dog treat with a small bowl of water, becoming satisfied for the time being.

Still on I-80 Nebraska, we headed for the Quality Inn sign we saw from the interstate. At 4PM, the warm rays of the sun being a continual imposter of the true temperature, I had to remind myself that January has always been one of the coldest times of the year no matter where I was on this continent, except maybe Miami, Florida. The temperature this day did not reach above 37°F.

The parking lot of this motel had not been thoroughly cleared of snow and ice. This first impression was not good. Remnants of light brown sand mixed with the once pure white snow made the area look dingy, deserted without other cars. I mentally accepted that we would get a room along with negative consequences. Pet friendly, the $84.00 per night would be acceptable.

All in all, the room appeared to be clean. However, I performed my usual thorough sweep of the bed looking for bed bugs, dirt, whatever; the bathroom area appeared clean holding bleached white towels and an extra roll of toilet paper. Important stuff. The noisy metal wall heater could be heard jangling as it warmed the room. I became grateful. This room would be okay for one night. Oh yes, the sheets smelled of bleach which is always a good sign to me. Clean and fresh.

After getting acquainted with the hotel’s outdoor surroundings ─ specifically a doggy area ─ the Virginia Real Estate woman gave us a call. She seemed very excited about having found us a house in Chesapeake, Virginia contingent upon our requests: three bedrooms, two baths, no stairs, on a quarter of an acre, in suburbia. Goodness knew that we needed a place to go! So, we agreed to partake in a “virtual tour” with her via our cell phones. This quaint parcel seemed perfect via the telephone screens. We made a bid. Located in Chesapeake Downs, Virginia, our plans to meet in person were scheduled.

Gosh, we became quiet assimilating these facts. So much happening so fast, our heads were spinning.

Back in the car on January 11, 2022, we left the ‘quality’ of Nebraska skirting the border of Iowa via I-80 through Illinois toward Missouri. We became reacquainted with “Black Ice” and saw a white Mercedes Sedan in a ditch below. We heeded that warning by slowing down to 55MPH from 70MPH. Good thing too. Not two miles from that scene, a tractor trailer laid on its side.

Our next stop for gas at $2.85 per gallon easily filled the tank. We continued, becoming somewhat feverish with excitement at the thought of actually putting a monetary bid on a home under such uncommon and unusual circumstances.

This is part of one of the ‘new world actions’ caused by the onslaught of COVD-19.

A Denny’s Restaurant outside Indiana became a welcome respite for a much needed warm meal. Cash enjoyed a brisk and relieving walk before gobbling his bowl of kibble in the parking lot. The steady late afternoon temperature of 45+°F slowly lowered itself as the sun began to set.

The sunset combined two shades of light blue with pink stripes dotted with wispy white clouds helping to reflect our happy moods.

Into Kentucky, I no longer paid attention to the highway street names. I was tired. I wanted this to end. I wanted to see the Chesapeake house. The Great Plains of America were blank…nothing growing, nothing specific or special to see. Not on a touring venue by any means, my husband and dog and I were on a mission…to prosper in Virginia.

From I-80 to I-29 into West Virginia a quick interim onto I-70, we made no time to stop, West Virginia became the quickest drive-through ever! I-64 brought us into Virginia. Welcome!

No more having to check mattresses for bed bugs, no more having to listen to the rattle of a hotel wall heater, no more listening to voices on a shared wall, no more worries about the car, the dog, the husband, the self and the wallet, we arrived in Virginia. Chesapeake, Virginia.

CA -> NV -> UT ->WY -> CO -> NE -> IA -> MO -> IN -> KY -> WV -> VA. Whew!


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