“Memories…Pressed between the pages of my mind…”

They say you can’t go home again, but this past weekend, I did. To Three Rivers, Michigan where I lived from age 12 to 24. My high school class had our 45th reunion. I hadn’t been back since our 11th reunion. (Yeah, we were a bit unconventional.) I had a wonderful time.

Friday night we met at the home of a classmate who lives out in the country. Everyone brought snacks and their own drinks. For me, it was wine. We talked for hours. It was so good to see people who I hadn’t had contact with in over 30 years. Our hosts even let me camp on the property that night. Thank you, Gary and Mary!

Then Saturday morning we toured the building that used to be our high school. It now Riverside Church, a non-denominational worship center that has many community outreach programs. And it just happens to be run by one of our classmates. The building was really changed from when we suffered through the angst of high school. (Well, I did anyway) It was fun trying to guess what each room used to be. The gym was easy; it has been kept almost intact with the basketball hoops and floor markings and is now used for the church services. Even the bleachers were still in use.

Saturday afternoon I wandered around the area. Spent some time at the county park just outside of town. It has lovely hiking trails. Took pictures of my old house. Walked around downtown and visited the used book store. It’s called Lowery’s and it’s huge. They bought out five shops along the main street and combined them, leaving the original storefronts so you don’t know how big it is until you get inside. The décor is innovative and fun. This is a picture of the stairway to the lower level.

I controlled myself and bought only one book (pat on the back).

Then Saturday night was the actual reunion dinner. It was pot luck (I took a fruit platter). Saw even more old friends. Connected with classmates that I didn’t hang out with and they became new friends. So nice. We had music playing from our childhood and youth. I even contributed a few CD’s. The food was great. Although, surprisingly, there were very few desserts. We must be living healthy lives LOL.

Sunday morning, some of us met up again at a restaurant for breakfast. It was out at one of the lakes that surround the city. I remember as a teenager I was happy that my parents knew several people who had a lake house. Had to keep that tan, ya know.

All in all it was a satisfying weekend. I shall definitely go to the next event. We’re going to celebrate our 65th birthdays together.

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Safety First

How safe is it to travel alone?

Actually, pretty safe. One thing I saw over and over during my research phase was that Rv’rs and truckers are the friendliest and most helpful people on the road. If you ever need anything, ask a nomad!

But there are several tips about being safe on the road. Here’s my list.

  1. Remember the RV maxim – “My house has wheels.” Pay attention to your intuition. If a place looks dicey, if a person seems dangerous, listen to your inner safety director and leave. Keep your keys with you, even when you sleep.
  2. Be prepared. Remember the first aid kit, extra flashlight and batteries. But even if you forget something,  getting supplies is easy. I think every small town with a population of at least 500 a has dollar store. And a Subway!
  3. When you don’t want to pay for a campground or motel, truck stops are good for parking overnight. And, as I’ve said before, Walmart welcomes travelers for overnight stays. Both are well lit and since they’re open 24 hours there are always people around.
  4. Use your electronics.  Get the apps that will help you. I use Allstays which pinpoints on a map all the places an RV or camper can spend a night, campgrounds, Walmarts, truck stops, etc. It includes reviews by other users so you can pick the one that best suits you. For directions, use Google maps or Waze.
  5. Pay attention to the weather. Be aware of severe conditions by using the weather app on your phone or other devices. Most them have weather maps you can use to determine which direction to go in.
  6. If it’s hot, stock up on water. Your air conditioning won’t help you if you get out of the vehicle. Always carry a water bottle with you when exploring.
  7. And speaking of exploring, know your limits. Unknown territory is always risky, even if it looks easy. Tree roots, mud holes, and sticker bushes are plentiful everywhere. Use a walking stick or pole. It helps when going up and down steep hills. Wear walking or hiking shoes or boots, long pants, and sleeves, even when on a path.
  8. When you’re traveling, always let someone know where you are. I text a sister and a daughter every night and tell them where I’m staying.
  9. Cell phone coverage is NOT continuous throughout the country. Carry a hotpsot from a different company than your phone or a cell booster.. To find out about using electronics while traveling I think a good source is the blog of  Technomadia.com. They are a nomadic couple who run an online business specializing in this field.
  10. And if you’re afraid of being mugged out there in the wilderness, just remember: criminals are not going to go wandering around in the woods to find someone to rob, they’ll stay in the city where there’s big opportunity for little effort.

So that’s my list. If you have anything to add, please do so in the comments. I love hearing your ideas and suggestions.

Westward

This latest road trip is through the Great Plains.

I started out from Cincinnati and got as far as Monticello, IN where I spent the night. There is a beautiful little city park there.

I spent some time on Route 66 in Illinois which you can read about here.

Driving through Iowa and Nebraska was …um…boring. There’s lots and lots and lots of fields. But at least the clouds provided some scenery.

              

Next big stop was the Black Hills of South Dakota. Mount Rushmore is located deep in the forest, up a few mountains. (Why can’t they put the good stuff at the bottom of a mountain!?!)

It was as impressive as I expected.

And there is other stuff to see there. The sculptor who created the monument, Gutzon Borglum, had a studio nearby where he worked on smaller versions to show the workers how to sculpt the rock. He lived there for several years as he oversaw the project.

The day after that, I turned back east. I stopped at Wall, SD where there is a drug store. Wall Drug has been a tourist attraction for as long as I can remember. And “tourist” says it all. It’s one big mall with a western theme. Many shops – and yes, one is a drug store –  loaded with Western clothes, books, gear, souvenirs, and whatever.

Then Badlands National Park. Wow! Scenery galore.

The road runs up and down the hills and through all the rock formations.

There are many points of interest where you can park and look out over the canyons. One was a place that explained the fossils found there. I didn’t know that modern paleontology began in the Badlands when a fossil of an unknown animal was found there in the mid 1800’s.

One thing I did not do was walk the trails. It would have been really interesting to wander through the formations, but it was 100 degrees that day and no way was I going to spend hours in that sun!

After more driving, I landed in Walnut Grove, MN. If the name sounds familiar it’s because that’s the town where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in the book and TV show Little House on the Prairie. There is a museum all about her life. It includes information on all the places she lived. And I had forgotten that she became a writer long before she wrote the books. She was a journalist writing about farm life for newspapers and was nationally syndicated before she decided to write her own life history.

And now I’m headed home to give Vincent a good rest.

Getting My Kicks on Route 66

I had a picnic lunch here, a restored 1950’s gas station.

I recently spent most of a day driving along “The Mother Road.” That’ s what they call Route 66, a now defunct highway that is a legend of Americana.

Route 66 was created in 1926 as a direct route from Chicago to Los Angeles. It was heavily used until the interstates became the faster, more popular way to get across the country. But people who loved the Road still used it until 1985 when the last section was decommissioned by the government. It now is mainly a historical by-way that is not an actual numbered highway.  To drive the whole way you must use roads built later that run alongside the original road, now badly dilapidated and overgrown.  Also many sections are gone entirely and you need to go onto parts of the interstates that replaced it.

I went to a museum in Pontiac, IL that has several rooms full of information.  Exhibits contain items that come from places along the route, including Steak and Shake which began as a Route 66 roadside diner.

          

There are many people that are associated with Route 66. One guy, Bob Waldmire, was known as an advocate for the road. Bob actually grew up living on the route. His parents owned a diner in Springfield, IL. (Side fact: his father is credited as inventing corn dogs.) He watched the cars going off to faraway places  and decided he wanted the adventure, too. He traveled it for 20 years, working as an artist. Many route maps are illustrated by him. He drove a VW bus made into a camper van and was considered an old hippie. (yes, there are others besides me LOL)

Bob was the inspiration for the character “Fillmore”, the VW van,  in the Pixar movie CARS.  You do know that movie is about Route 66 and how the small towns were bypassed by the interstates, right?

I also learned about “walldogs.” These are the people who paint the giant advertisements on the sides of buildings. They worked along Route 66 a lot and, of course, all over the country. This is a fascinating subject that I am thinking about incorporating into the novel I’m writing. Being a walldog is an ideal job for one of the characters. More details will follow in a few days on my writing blog.  

Interestingly, there was nothing at this museum about the TV show, “Route 66, that was popular in the 1960’s. I thought it might be mentioned, but I guess they wanted only factual information. There are other museum along the road and maybe they have something on the show.

All in all, I drove about 80 miles north from Genoa, IL to Joliet. Route 66 actually begins/ends in Chicago, but I didn’t feel like driving in the city. I really want to drive the whole route, but for now, parts of it is all I can manage. But someday…