As I was unloading the van, I couldn’t help thinking that this was probably my last trip of any significant distance to anywhere in the U.S. of A. It was the realization that since I was now solely dependent on the walker, any lengthy trip would be quite arduous. It was a bitter pill to swallow, recalling all the memorable odysseys that I had made criss-crossing the continent, from Key West to Seattle, from Bangor (Maine) to San Diego. All in all, I touched base in all 48 contiguous states (yes, even North Dakota) spanning 26 years and covering more than 192,000 miles, averaging nearly 7,400 miles a year.
The most incredible year was 1986 when I literally motored some 16,000 miles from coast to coast, a feat that was not done with one swoop of the country. First of all, from late June to Labor Day I traveled 11,000 miles through 22 states, all but two west of the Mississippi River – Illinois and Wisconsin. It was one grand journey, meandering through uncharted territories (at least for me) and visiting numerous old friends along the way, including several ex-high school classmates.
By mid-September, I became captivated by my beloved Boston Red Sox surge to win the American League pennant. I suddenly got the urge to make the “trip of a lifetime” to see for my first time ever a ballgame at the hallowed Fenway Park in the heart of Beantown. Throughout the 1700-mile odyssey to what I liked to call the “Mystic Far East”, I was consumed with anticipation as to what lay ahead at my final destination.
After taking time to visit old friends in Little Rock, Memphis, Knoxville, and New York City, I finally made it to Boston where I found an ideal overnight parking space in front of the Marriott. The hotel was located just across the Cambridge River from downtown and within walking distance of a trolley stop. After watching the local WNEN news on my 9-inch B&W TV, I retired under the covers with the outside temperature on my thermometer reading 58 degrees.
In a capsule, I spent three glorious days sightseeing in the “Cradle of America’s Civilization”, but, of course, the ultimate experience was walking up the entrance ramp in the right field bleachers and seeing spread out before me the venerable 1912 ballpark with its storied 37 foot high “Green Monster” rising ominously above left field. As I settled in my seat, I found myself fantasizing my idol Ted Williams positioning himself out in left. The elderly gentleman next to me was sporting a dark blue cap with the classic red “B”, so I leaned over and jokingly asked, “Come here often?” He gave me a disbelieving look and said, “Are you kidding? I’ve been coming to Fenway ever since Ted William’s rookie year in ’39. “I replied, “Betcha didn’t have to drive 1700 miles like I just did for my first visit to “The Fens”. I’ve been a devoted fan of the BoSox for 37 years (since 1949)”. Ol’ Jesse and I hit it off just great.
To say the least, it was three memorable days spent amidst the aura of one fabled ballpark, one that I had only previously seen occasionally on newsreels and TV. I failed to find Jesse during the second game (seats in the bleachers were unreserved), but luckily I was able to hook up with my new friend for the third and final game as we regaled in a reunion of sorts. As we were swapping stories of the past Red Sox most memorable moments, it occurred to me the game of baseball had a magical touch that could bring together complete strangers. It was a wonderful feeling. My last words to Jesse were, “This could be the year.”
The Sox lost the third game, sending the Champion Series back to Anaheim with Boston leading three games to two. It took me a week to get back home, and the timing couldn’t have been better to catch the fall foliage at its peak. Since I had been “camping out” in the chilly hotel parking lot, I thought it was about time to treat myself to a nice warm motel room. And besides, I was able to watch the seventh and final game, won by the Bosox on Dave Henderson’s dramatic late-inning homer. What a fitting ending to a beautiful trip!
The year 1986 was the granddaddy of them all as far as traveling so many miles (16,000) through so many states (38 in all) was concerned. In terms of discovering America for the first time, the ’86 trips were rivaled only by my maiden voyage in a new Chevy van in the autumn of 1981. When I headed west from Denver, I had no idea what to expect out in the hinterlands of the U.S. of A. What I discovered was a whole new world of natural beauty that I had previously only assimilated with names on a map.
Crossing southern Utah, I drove through the incomparable National Parks of Capitol Reef, Zion, and Bryce Canyon. I was completely overwhelmed by the variety of geological formations ranging from soaring natural red stone bridges to massive granite outcroppings to delicate freestanding limestone pinnacles. Further west into Arizona, I just had to take a side trip for my initial visit to the Grand Canyon. As I was looking down and across the vast chasm, I couldn’t help but wonder how many hundreds of millions of years it took the mighty Colorado River to carve out such a natural phenomena. My belief that God was the Supreme Architect had just been solidified.
During my tour of California, I discovered a state that was endowed with an incredible diversity of natural wonders, from the seemingly endless journey through the arid Mojave Desert to a precipitous drive on the Pacific Coast Highway through the Big Sur where I spent one blissful night parked on the edge of the continent overlooking the infinite Pacific Ocean swallowing a setting sun.
The next day, I visited the Sequoia National Forest, a sanctuary for the world’s oldest and largest trees, some spiraling to the sky at heights of 230 feet with trunks 30 feet in diameter! Standing next to the base of one of the giants, I literally felt like a dwarf. According to historians, when voracious lumberjacks started felling the giant sequoias, the cuts revealed concentric growth rings that even astounded arborealists, who calculated the trees to have sprouted around the time of Christ’s birth! Fortunately, in the late 19th Century, naturalist John Muir who was way before his time as a preservationist, stepped in and proposed a moratorium on the logging industries’ indiscriminate cutting of one of the nation’s treasures. Consequently, Mr. Muir’s efforts proved efficacious in preventing any more sawing of Sequoias.
Later in the day, I made my way into Yosemite National Park, without a doubt the most popular vacation venue in California. The chance of finding a campsite was out of the question since, according to a forest service guide, Californians had to make reservations for a campground site six months in advance! I made the best of the remains of the day by touring through the awe-inspiring topography of Yosemite whose majestic beauty was thankfully documented in vivid black and white images by pioneer nature photographer Ansel Adams in the 1940s. He, along with John Muir, chronicled and championed the beauty and preservation of the nation’s wild and wonderful west.
After spending the night in a half-full campground just on the eastern edge of Yosemite where I confiscated a piece of memorabilia from the park in the form of a thirty-pound chunk of indigenous granite, I took off in a northeasterly direction through Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho. Before exiting California, I stopped for gas in Susanville where I bragged to the station attendant about “smuggling” a piece of granite out of Yosemite. He simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s no big deal. I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but it’s illegal to carry out any of the park’s natural resources. But don’t worry, I don’t think any state troopers will be chasing you down for your misdemeanor.” Well, that was reassuring.
I crossed over into Wyoming from Idaho to see my one last “undiscovered” natural beauty on the trip – the Grand Tetons, inarguably the most spectacular mountain range on the continent. Geologically speaking, the skyward-pointing rocky pinnacles were a sure indication that the Tetons were the youngest mountains in America, as compared to the Appalachians where eons of erosion had reduced the once prominent peaks to a humble range of low-profile mountains. The irony of that particular side trip was that as I was approaching the base of the Tetons, I looked up to discover that the entire range was enshrouded in a snowy mist. What a disappointment! Oh well, I did have recollections from photos, and besides, I could definitely count on les grande tetons still being there on my next visit to Wyoming.
I headed south through the picturesque canyons and mountains of the central part of the Cowboy State where I stopped at a general store in the middle of nowhere. After purchasing some necessities, I noticed a small black and white TV behind the counter that happened to be televising live the first space shuttle landing in Florida. The proprietor and I stood there amazed at what we were seeing, and I said, “You know, we are witnessing a landmark in space exploration.” I left there thinking what great timing it had been to experience such a momentous event.
Within a few days, I made my back to Denver having completed a 3,500 mile-odyssey through some of the most beautiful scenery I could imagine. It was like I had been inaugurated to the splendor of the American West. It truly had been a memorable journey on New Blue’s maiden voyage.
Well, enough of the postscript. I just wanted to share several of my most memorable journeys while they were still vivid mental recollections, not having transcripted any of the trips in a journal or on a tape recorder. It seemed my memory served me well. Happy trails.