An Unannounced Escape

A warm recollection this morning from five years ago today:

The first three cars from the first trip, as first united in San Diego.

And on that note, one year ago today:

A tired Celica greets two new travel companions in Tacoma.

The world looked a little different then — the bulk of 2020 so far has passed at my desk, adventures largely digital. A friend recently managed to get me hooked on a video game called Red Dead Redemption 2 and it turned out to be dangerously infectious in an unanticipated way.

Rolling open plains, high cliffs, snow-capped mountains in the distance.

I want to be where he is.

So I’m setting out to find it. Mostly on a whim.

But on the way: an unplanned detour in entirely the wrong direction for rock climbing over Labor Day Weekend as I cave to peer pressure. As I anticipate this to be yet another overtime week with a pair of project kickoffs, my usual routine of driving at night would be difficult. So I’m getting an early start and plan to impose myself on a friend in the area to spend a week at his desk instead.

I’ve packed for lows in the 40s, highs in the 100s with scattered rain, remnant hurricane, fire, and snow.

Two Day Hellride, The First

The two-day run to Charleston passed quickly thanks to hours of dizzying interstate and an engaging assortment of podcasts. I took a rural route through Palestine/Tyler to Texarkana to avoid the worst of 35/30 and it was really nice. Might make a fun camping spot in cooler weather.

I made a brief stop in Murfreesboro near Nashville for lunch with friends. I encountered a ferocious water beast.

After our walk in the park, we picked up takeout from a burger joint on the Square that refuses to put vegetables on burgers. Teenage me would have been equally excited at the prospect and puzzled at why I would have even asked.

The rest of the drive went well enough. I took the shorter route, having stayed a while in Tennessee. The sun set as I barreled through Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail and over the hills into West Virginia.

Coffee, Reviewed

My dear friend and gracious host doesn’t share my chemical dependencies in the mornings. So I brought instant coffee with me. Don’t judge; it’s 2020 and we’re all making the best of what we have to work with. I went looking for Mount Hagen, the instant coffee that George brings on our more rural excursions, because it’s surprisingly acceptable. But I couldn’t find it, nor could Amazon get it to me in time. As I wandered the aisles of my HEB, I found this brand that I’ve seen at REI before. If it has REI’s blessing, I figured it was worth a shot.

It rises far beyond instant coffee’s reputation as a general concept, and it does the job “medium,” as Evan would say. Although any box that has to go out of its way to affirm its achievement of a basic expectation (“It actually tastes good!”) is immediately suspect, it actually does taste good beyond decent. I am legitimately impressed. A strong palette of “yeah it’s coffee,” modestly aged on the burner, with subtle notes of airplane galley. Luckily, I drink motel room sludge black with confidence, conviction, and desperation. The first step is admitting you have a problem. The second step is instant coffee.

3 of 5 stars, a solid recommendation for anyone under duress.

First of the Month

Harsh truths revealed in the monthly rollover of the bullet journal. This is the to-do list for today as of 10am, with everything that rolled in from last month added to things I woke up realizing I needed to do. And it all has to happen before Friday. How soon is that, again?

An Encounter in the Hills

As a sign of the apocalyptic nature of “These Unprecedented Times,” I have taken to running after work as a way to make my feet as tired as my brain. Even I have to step out from behind computer screens once in a while. And I enjoy exploring the “real” side of places I visit. So I’ve been running the neighborhood.

Google Maps, which I always take with a grain of salt, promised me that I could make a big loop because one road links up with another at the back edge of two adjacent neighborhoods.

That ain’t a road, in my humble opinion, but I sure almost slipped down the slimy concrete trying to make sure. It goes through a ravine and up to a house that seemed keen on maintaining their privacy.

I aim to please.

I turned around and went back the way I came. Then I started to hear shouting up ahead. A dispute between across-the-street neighbors yelling about each other sabotaging their respective dilapidated trailers. I passed between them looking directly at my feet with my music paused, hoping to draw as little attention as possible. One of them seemed like he was trying to rope me into the shouting match to take his side, but I decided I couldn’t hear.

Not one of the trailers in question, but not far off.

On the last stretch, I got chased by a yappy chihuahua mix until a posse of guys with beards longer than my covid-hair looked up from trying to repair their car and chased the dog back to the little old lady on the corner who was trying to call it home.

Maybe I should stick to rock climbing; it’s safer.

At The New

After hiding out working for a week in Charleston, I joined the rest of my group who had slowly assembled in Beckley for a long weekend of climbing along the New River Gorge. It was good to be outside, among friends, and away from the computer for a weekend, but my climbing definitely isn’t where it was before covid slowed us all down. I had a couple good climbs and a few that I’m gonna need another crack at before too long, to prove to myself I can do it.

Gateway to the West

As a smug point of pride, I usually don’t use a navigation app for long drives. I like knowing where I’m going and getting there on my own. So I’ll admit my screw up.

From Fayetteville, the route is simple: take I64 west to St. Louis to catch I70. That seemed easy enough. As I stopped in Louisville, Indiana for gas I noticed mile marker 120, meaning I was only that far from the next state. And all the highway signage had been pointing toward St. Louis. And St. Louis is another border town. So, pleased with my faster-than-expected pace, I booked a night in west St. Louis and got back on the road. Shortly after, I saw mileage sign for St. Louis reading more than 300 miles. Because St. Louis is on the border… of Illinois. I forgot an entire state and booked a non-refundable hotel room four hours away when I thought it was less than two.

But I suppose it’s fitting that Roadtrip Part 2, Day 1 starts in St. Louis, the Gateway to the West. Because I’ve decided that’s where I’m headed.

So I’m in a wedding here next month and was just sent instructions for getting measured for a tux. Though I could do this anywhere, I was surprised by the coincidence that the shop we’ll be using was about half a mile from my hotel, so to amuse myself, I took care of that before leaving town. Dressed in ratty roadtrip jeans, a West Virginia t-shirt, and my mask, I got measured for this swanky getup.

Where to?

So back to this silliness.

If one were to twist the United States to fit into the world map of this video game, you might mistake climbing at the New for time spent in Roanoke Ridge along the east edge of the world, with its the dense forests, sheer cliffs, steep hills, and occasional hill people.

But horseback riding through snowy mountains and snow-fed rivers is northwest of Valentine in Ambarino. And the canyons and mesas of central New Hanover remind me of many an overlanding adventure. I’ve decided those map best to the Rocky Mountains and the Colorado Plateaus of the Four Corners, respectively. But Colorado is on fire and New Mexico is asking travelers to stay away given their own covid load. So where to?

What are the Tetons like this time of year?