She's a Writer, Artist, Publisher...

After a Lifetime in Large Urban Areas, this West-Coast Urban Girl has moved to the Country to start a New Life in a Small Town in Vermont... Watch her bumble her way and conquer!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Great California to Vermont Trip Report - PART 2

...Read Part One Here...

It occurred to me only after half an hour into the trip that mom and I were in such a state we'd forgotten to say goodbye to the old house, or to even do a drive-by to look at it one last time. The Russian custom in saying goodbye to a place, and also before embarking on a trip, is to formally sit down, even for a couple of seconds, officially (everyone present has to do it), then get up and go.

We'd done it when leaving Russia. We totally forgot to do it this time.

Oh well...

The first 30 or so familiar miles were still in the city, driving the 101 to the 134 E to the 210 E toward San Bernardino county out of LA County, passing my alma mater Pomona College in the dark, and feeling weird and dislocated and utterly homeless and driven to move forward, with cats screaming in the back, and dogs shifting around, and mom in a furious semi-shock. There was some lighted road work on the 210, familiar California cities flashing by in the dark, then we finally ended up, thanks to the very nice directions of the GPS, on the I-15 headed toward Las Vegas.

Here is where the freeway road got to be a narrow four lane highway (two in each direction) and very dark.

In the absolute darkness, without any landmarks, with only the car or truck night rear lights in front of us, we were driving through the California desert.

It was very hot even at night, and I realized gradually that it was a GOOD THING we were driving at night, because if this is how hot it was NOW, during the day it would have been dangerously BURNING INFERNO hot for the animals, and the old jeep.

The first scary testing moment was coming up -- the first pit stop. Mom had taken some water retention pill or vitamin for the trip, so despite her expectations she was holding up very well, and only had to stop to go to the bathroom around 9:00 PM, somewhere halfway to Vegas.

The difficult part was to unload the dogs and see what way they would behave.

We had stopped at a gas station, my tank was half full, I filled up, mom and I used the decent restroom, then we took Robin and Charlie and walked them near a sandy gravel area near some truck stop, past truckers resting and talking, and they both peed on the gravel (the dogs, not the truckers). Then we got them back in the car (again, I manually lifted them in), and we got back on the road with the GPS "recalculating," then being its wonderful self and properly putting us back on our itinerary.


Back on the road, we were seeing more and more Vegas and brightly lit gambling casino billboards.
It was around 10:00 PM, when mom and I decided I should call the hotel in Utah to let them know we were running late. So I used my cell phone for the first time on the road, and called in, and they said it's OK, they may probably switch us to another room, but since I used a credit card, we were guaranteed a stay. So with that settled, we continued onward in the dark. Mom was sort of dozing or sleeping in her seat, and the poor doggies were sort of passed out or nodding in the back seat, and the cats lord knows what.

I was surprised there was almost no clear border designation, no "Welcome to Nevada" notice, and I was not quite sure when we crossed from California to Nevada, it was kind of weird. Maybe all the Vegas billboards confused and distracted us.

But I guess at some point we had indeed entered Nevada.

It was at that point that I believe is when we first noticed signs about driver safety and that it was the State Law to change lanes to the left when you saw an accident or someone parked on the shoulder -- something we never had to do in California, where there's an accident every 5 miles and you just squeeze on by, and usually do the curious lookie-loo (as in, stare at it like a train wreck) -- if you had to change lanes every time you saw one you'd create more accident pileups, not to mention you’d never get anywhere.

In any case, now I had another thing to worry about, to remember to pass to the left when I saw stalled vehicles.

I kept driving.

Then finally about an hour later, there was Vegas, blazing in the garish splendor, and although I was looking for the famous "Welcome to Vegas" sign, I also never saw it. We were stalled momentarily with night road work, then continued, past the Strip and casinos, including the Bellagio which mom was happy to see (for some reason she had seen it on TV and wanted to see it in real life), so she got a kick out of it, driving right by on the freeway, then we continued past other city landmarks, I waved hello to Circus Circus from the distance (I had stayed there back in the 90s during Comdex for my day job).

Then, about half an hour out of Vegas I decided to fill up on gasoline again, having about a quarter tank. I took a somewhat abrupt turn off the highway onto the exit and into a very empty gas station, and as I did, there was some kind of noise in the back, and it turned out the rose cuttings terrarium had slipped down and fell from the top of the cage onto the back seat on top of Robin.

I thought, OH SHIT! And got out, but when I looked fortunately it was amazingly intact (and Robin looking mildly surprised), with the clear top cover shifted a bit, and some soil spilled out. I righted it, patted down a few plants, then put it back up on top of Murray's cage, vowing to really CAREFULLY slow down the next time.

We debated whether or not to let the dogs out and decided they would be okay for now, and no one was interested in water. So I just got gasoline, checked the cats (they had gotten quiet, but were stunned but okay), and we got back on the road.

The next many hours are a sort of a haze of monotonous darkness, watching the two red rear lights of some car or truck ahead of me, passing some occasionally, being passed by others, and just driving forward in a straight line, then curvy line, hillocks, whatever, all really dark.

Good thing I am a night person because I had no problem whatsoever driving at night. In fact, with less glare, I prefer it. As long as there is some light, such as a car ahead of me, it’s just perfect and peaceful.

The trick is to find a car that is going at about the same speed as you, and just a little FASTER than you, and follow it. I call it the Buddy Car, since it is a good way to keep up and not space out and slow down. I noticed that (maybe because I was so tired overall) my natural tendency on this trip was oddly enough NOT TO SPEED but to slow down and to go the speed limit, but I knew I had to make good time and for that I had to exceed it just a bit on the average.

And now, a word or two about the GPS -- did I mention how much I LOVE IT?

The GPS constantly displayed the speed limit and my actual speed right next to it, and it was so amazingly helpful, since it was like having an autopilot! I would keep my eye on the GPS display all the time and on the total destination arrival time it estimated, and I tried to make sure it did not increase. Whenever we took pit stops naturally it had to increase, and at this rate we were due to arrive later and later, some time around 3:00 AM, then 4:00 AM, then 5:00 AM.

Then, there was roadwork hell.

I have no idea when we had left Nevada or scraped the tip-top of Arizona, or entered Utah, but we must have, and then there were miles and miles of narrowed one-lane road work and night-work-lit portions of highway, and cars flashing by in the other direction and ruts and horrible unpaved road, and lots of scary narrow curves. Then, finally I started to see a vague change in the nature of the darkness, and then shadows appeared and the landscape was definitely Utah -- big rolling hills and weird patch vegetation emerging out of night into deep blue shadow.

At that point I got to thinking that hey, I was in the home state of my friends Brook and Julia West!
It was still too dark to really see anything, but it was definitely pre-dawn, and I knew we were about to arrive soon, to Beaver, our first hotel stop.

Eventually the GPS announced the approaching exit, we drove down it, and then took a few turns down small country lanes, and there was the Best Western.

I parked the car, got out into a surprisingly crisp and COLD morning, then went to the lobby, where a woman at the front desk checked me in and said that unfortunately the room was on the second floor (originally when making the reservation I had asked for a first floor, but since we’d lost the original room, it was the best they could do), and they didn’t have anything on the first floor. I gave my card, took the keys, the nice doggie treats and complimentary poop scoop baggies the hotel clerk provided as a friendly pet courtesy, learned that checkout was at 11:00 AM, but she told me it was actually okay if we checked out later since we got there so late and she wouldn't charge me (nice lady), and that there was a complimentary full breakfast. I told her, thanks we are probably going to miss it and sleep in, and went back to the car.

The first thing we did was get the dogs out of the car, and we took them for a bathroom walk around the pet friendly hotel, in the pre-dawn bluish light. They even had a nice grassy designated pets area, where Robin and Charlie peed.

Then we began the ugly and terrifying process of unloading stuff out of the car, first the doggie bedding, and mom and I went upstairs (two flights, very hard on the knees and especially poor mom) and we opened the hotel room and it was like HEAVEN -- toasty warm after a freezing outside, and clean and cozy, with two beds and fridge and microwave. We spread the doggie liner stuff all around the floor, and then went to get the dogs themselves, the HARD part -- tried dragging them up the stairs, and they could BARELY make it. I think Robin was afraid of heights, and these stairs were the see-through kind between the rungs, and he was SCARED. At least blind Charlie couldn’t see it, but he also resisted.

Another nice older man who was staying in the hotel a few rooms down tried to help us get the dogs up the stairs, but we thanked him and said best not, since the dogs were unpredictable and could bite. And so with much difficulty we pulled and prodded them up the two flights (at some point I think I bodily carried both Charlie and Robin, and mom too, LOL, as she barely made it up the stairs), and locked them in (the dogs, not mom), then went back down for the cats.

OK, there was NO WAY we could carry those large metal cages up the two flights of stairs.

So we had to carry the cats manually.


I got Murray first (I think), while mom held cage and car doors and stood ready to help me if he bolted. I took hold of him in an IRON GRIP, and carried him in a run in exhaustion (and on bad knees) up the two steep flights, and with one hand used the door card key, waited for it to bleep green while Murray dangled in one hand, limp and unprotesting. Thankfully the door opened, and I ran in, plunked Murray down somewhere and shut the door again, so he wouldn't bolt.

Then I went out and went back downstairs for Johnny, while mom waited (she couldn't go up and down the stairs anymore (not more than once).

Since Johnny is a huge strong young tomcat, who could squirm like crazy, I was SO TERRIFIED how I would manage to hold him and make it from the car to the stairs and up the two flights, and into the hotel room, AND open it with one hand again (mom couldn’t be there to open it -- remember she was downstairs to hold open the cage and door, and now was moving behind me up he stairs, but very SLOWLY, and it would not have helped to have her be upstairs either, since SOMEONE had to help with the cage door downstairs, and the jeep hatchback that does not stay open and falls down on my head and someone has to keep it open (mom).

Anyway, while mom held the cage door, I grabbed Johnny in a SUPER IRON GRIP OF THE JAWS OF DEATH, and thankfully he went kind of limp with terror, and I ran with him upstairs, and again, dangled him from under one arm and opened the hotel door with the other, it bleeped green, I rushed inside, plunked Johnny down, and he immediately disappeared under a bed or some chair. Silly chicken-cat Johnsie!

Them mom made it up the stairs, and I let her in, and we started to get ready for bed. But first we boiled some tea in the microwave, gave water to the dogs and cats, fed them at last, and poor Charlie was nearly passed out immediately on the various doggie bedding spread all around the floor, after having a tiny amount of water, and was in such bad shape I was afraid to give him the insulin shot dose, so just let him sleep. Robin was sort of okay, ate some, the fell asleep. Murray the cat was on the other hand so happy he rolled around on his back on the hotel beds in ecstasy the whole ordeal forgotten, while Johnny mostly hid. Mom and I ate several slices of some veggie meat substitute (a nice farewell treat of Field Roast Celebration Roast we bought at Follow Your Heart) on top of bread, after I ran downstairs a couple more times to get a cat litterbox, the suitcase and cooler and lord knows what, then we washed up and got into our beds.


We sorta kinda slept for a couple of hours. I remember cats crawling over me on the bed, and some kids running around and screaming very loudly outside the terrace and past our hotel door, but ignored it, forcing myself to relax, since as the SOLE driver, I HAD TO REST for the next leg of the journey after an insane sleepless day and night.

Then, only an hour later, a maid knocked on the door loudly with "Housekeeping!" -- Waaaah! It totally did not even occur to me to use the Do Not Disturb sign, so I blearily opened the door a crack, told the housekeeping, sorry please come back later, and put out the sign on the doorknob. Then I went back to bed.

We got up around 10:30 AM or so, I got a quick shower, then mom, then we took the dogs out for their walk, and they peed, and no one pooped, then we got back to the room, fed the animals, I gave Charlie his insulin shot, we had some more tea, veggie food, then started to pack stuff and reverse-order carry things back into the jeep.

First, I had to get the cats back into the cages. Murray was once again first, and he behaved, and I shoved him in the cage, and then he immediately protested with a MEOW -- poor guy sorta has the personality of Peregrin Took from LOTR -- silly and harmless and dear, even in the darkest of times he forgets easily and gets his Pippin humor back. And he had forgotten about the Ordeal, and apparently here it was again, the Evil Cage, and YOOOWL!

Back upstairs I went for Johnny, and this was again scary, as I held him TIGHT, but he was okay and he let me drag him and into the cage, at which point he to got mad and turned his butt on me as I locked him in.

But I locked them all in safely, then we loaded the dogs one by one, cleaned out the hotel room, no animal accidents, left a tip, then mom stood by the jeep while I ran into the hotel front desk to settle our bill, and it was okay with the pet fee added as expected, and then we got back on the road around 1:30 PM. I programmed the GPS to take us to the second destination for the night -- this one, a motel in Colorado.

It was a beautiful sunny day and lovely to see Utah's greenery and rolling hills, but I only enjoyed the view for about a mile on the highway because, EEEK! I looked at my fuel indicator and it was less than a quarter tank, nearly empty, and there were warning signs on the road about scarcity of gasoline for the next hundreds of miles or something -- so I absolutely panicked, and told mom to watch for any gasoline signs.

Luckily in about 10 exits there was a sign for a Chevron (but not immediately visible from the highway), but we got off and the country road was sort of confusing, the GPS started saying "Recalculating" over and over (in a freaky way that drove me nuts) and attempting to give me new instructions to the next hotel. And so we ended up on some pasture-like road next to some kind of Heritage roadside museum of SOMETHING or other, where a nice older lady in beads and a sharp suit-like dress was giving a tour to a small group. I drove by her and the group and paused and asked if there was a gas station nearby. She said, turn here and there and there's one and also a Subway -- she proudly announced it as if the Subway was some kind of a major national landmark too. I thanked her and gratefully we drove a few hundred feet and indeed there it was, the glorious Chevron and Subway in one.

As I parked the car, the terrarium with rose cuttings had slid down again and landed somewhere on Robin's back (poor Robin) and there was dirt all over the seat.

I fixed it up the best I could, noticed one of the cuttings was wilting (but the others were fine) and then shook out the dirt from the bedding, put the poor terrarium back on top of Murray's cage next to a box of Russian grocery cookies and two packs of shower curtain liners, and some loose apple and a roll of toilet paper and went in to use the bathroom with mom. Then we got gas, and I got a veggie sub at the Subway and a yogurt for mom, bought mom and me peach Snapple iced tea to drink. We sat in the car and ate, while a nice young man, a gas station attendant, swept up the dirt around the floor that I had to shake out from the rear seat that had fallen from the terrarium, and there were some people having car trouble, and there were other folks getting gas and buying Subway stuff…


Okay, pardon this interruption, but I just heard a loud banging NOISE, here in Vermont.
After going to investigate -- apparently, Johnny, a.k.a Johnsie, the cat had FALLEN from an open window on the SECOND FLOOR, two stories down, into the wet rainy grass of the back yard!


Mom said the noise happened when he was trying to get back INSIDE, into a first floor open window, in panic, having jumped up and latched himself at the screen, but he could only rattle the screen and YOWL in terror.

So I just went into the really TALL wet grass, and called his name loudly near the deck in the back, and he ran like crazy into my arms and I grabbed him and carried him back inside.

* relief *

Silly, dummy cat.

Not used to being an indoor cat after being an outdoor cat for all these years….

That ought to teach him a lesson about NOT going outside (yeah, if only -- moments later he was back on another window ledge, wistfully staring at the sunny morning forest outside, wanting to go after all those birds…)

But how had he managed the amazing feat of getting outside in the first place? Apparently, that upstairs window is the only window without a screen, and I did not notice it and had it open, to air a room.

Now the window is safely shut.

Ok, back to the story…


Finally after eating the Subway stuff, we get back on the road and the GPS was happy to no longer have to say "Recalculating."

We started to drive some amazing scenic Utah routes, like the national park stuff, forget what it was called, something like "Fish Lake National Forest" with really tall forested mountains, and some strangely bare trunks on one (looked like it had suffered blight or a fire) then other buttes, then more forested curvy roads.

And eventually Mom started saying how it looked like Caucasus, and how Dad would like it if he could see it, had he been alive… We talked about it some.

Then, at one curvy turn of the road, I heard a loud noise in the back, and a bang, and Charlie growled and Robin started and shuffled.

The rose cuttings terrarium had gone flying again, slipped from the top of the cat cage and now was on top of Robin's head, and all over the seat.

I had to stop the car.

I slowed the car and drove onto the shoulder of the highway next to an exit, where it was a larger shoulder, and pulled over, and stopped.

I got out, with a bad feeling, and went to look, and this time it was not recoverable.
The rose terrarium dirt was completely all over the back seat and the poor dogs were covered with dirt and fresh green rose cuttings.

And -- mom had to use the bathroom.

With much unspeakable sadness, I let the dogs out into the gorgeous green shoulder of the road into the national forest and grass and shrubbery.

While mom stood and held the dog leashes, with a wooden feeling of loss, I collected the dirt and the rose cuttings and the doggie blanket, and shook them out, and dumped them on the ground, next to some other green shrubbery and grass.

For a moment I had a crazy idea of trying to plant them there somehow -- they were so fresh and green and ALIVE! Such a shame! But then I told myself, "Enough… just give up." So I just scattered them around. And left the plastic terrarium there too, and the doggie blanket, behind a shrub.
After all, the doggie blanket had been dad's old comforter once.

And now dad's special earth and special roses was being left here, in a national preserve in Utah.
How strange, that only moments before we were talking about how dad would have really liked it here.

As of we'd known somehow, BEFOREHAND, that it would happen, and he would have to be left here.

I vaguely felt bad about littering. But there was nothing else we could do, no space in the jeep.
We walked the dogs near the shoulder in the greenery, while occasional trucks whizzed by.
Mom really had to go, so she went behind some shrubbery. And just as she was there, a pickup truck showed up out of nowhere, and drove up a road that was above us out of nowhere, just overhead, and, dear God, they must have seen mom!

Mom, to this day, hopes she did not moon the people in the pickup.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the timing and conjunction of these two unrelated events. (I did cry later, here in Vermont, that we had to abandon my father's earth.)

Anyway, we shook out the back seat as best as possible, loaded the dogs back in and mom, and got back on the road.

We talked some more about how dad's new spot here in Utah was so nice, and he would like it very much, just like Caucasus mountains.

Then we drove though some mild rain, and then back into more national fish lake forest (or whatever its name), and finally we got into some amazing country -- the famous red earth hills and buttes and the rock formations and Mount Zion National Park.

Mom and I were just stunned and amazed at the beauty as we followed the curves of the highway and saw emerging vistas like a Martian landscape in some places, with castles of rock and natural sphinx faces hewn out of granite, and vertical stalagmites, and striated layers…

As the day heated up and wore onward, the old jeep started to overheat as we were heading uphill, and I had my first automotive-related fear. It was losing power and I tried going into third gear, and still it felt kind of like it was really straining.

Fortunately we made it, and soon enough as the road went downhill, it got better.

 We got out of the national park country and stopped at a gas station to fill up, grabbed some more Snapple or other brand iced teas, and gave water to the dogs, an it was soon sunset. While still parked, I decided to call the motel early to let them know we were running late. The lady said no problem, and gave me a new room number and said the key would be left under a mat.

We set off again. And we were once again driving into darkness and I guess soon it was Colorado, and the Rockies.

But drat, again there was no "Welcome to Colorado" sign, so I have NO IDEA when the transition happened. In the darkness, the road narrowed, and there were portions of riverways, and then the Colorado River was on the left side of the road, dimly illuminated by a sliver of moonlight.

And this is when the SCARIEST portion of the trip took place.

First of all, like the night before, there was endless roadwork.

BUT -- it was worse.

These were steeply rising mountain roads, single-lane in most cases, completely DARK with no illumination except for automobile headlights.

And with sharp curves.

Normally I don’t mind curvy or steep roads.


And there was no light.

I tied to keep behind other vehicles so I could use their rear lights for illumination, but some of them were speeding like hell, especially the large trucks, and going much faster than I preferred to go on such dangerous DARK roads (while others crawled so slowly I could not afford to waste time going at their speed).

So for most of the time I was ALONE on the road with no other cars, except for sudden bursts of headlights from the other direction, blinding and shocking. I was creeping along in some places because I did not see the road, and the road had no paint to draw the lanes or anything, no sense of where the shoulder was, and sometimes only concrete walls popping up.

And then the car started overheating again, going up a very VERY STEEP stretch of incline, for many miles.

And, meanwhile, it started getting COLD. I turned on the heat for mom (although the windows were cranked open for the benefit of air for the animals).

Eventually, in the vaguely lighter portions of darkness, I recognized there was SNOW on the mountains around us, in patches. That's what those lighter patches were, not shrubbery but snow.
We were crawling up the Rockies, overheating and freezing at the same time, and I was terrified the jeep would stall.

But it didn’t.

Super trooper, awesome old jeep.

And then, I found myself a Buddy Car, also crawling along, occasionally flipping on its fog lights to better see the absolutely pitch-black road ahead of us. I followed it for about half an hour, until the road got better lit, more populated areas along the mountain sides, including apartment complexes and industry buildings, and we were finally going downhill.

Soon we were within Fort Morgan, the location of our motel for the night. After following the GPS directions as it told us to take this highway and that one, we got off the proper exit and we drove up to the motel, around 2:30 AM.

I parked directly in front of our door, found the keys under the mat, and then in the crisp darkness mom and I quietly took the dogs for a walk on the motel front lawn area.

Then quietly, we began the same tedious process of unloading as we had the night before.
Except, this time it was infinitely easier, with no stairs thank goodness, and on the first floor.
The motel room was clean and decent, though not as nice as the Best Western. We again put out the doggie bedding everywhere, the food dishes, etc.

Then I again decided against carrying in the heavy cat cages (we were so tired, it was so late, and the cages were stuck together tightly, and I didn’t want to make noise to wake people up), so I manually carried in Murray and Johnny, one at a time, with mom holding the door this time. Much easier, since it was literally about five steps from the car to the door.

We got into bed and passed out. Though, I could hear trains passing by often in the distance.

So we slept in Colorado.

... Continued in next post ...

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