I announced my departure from Wooster with a heavy heart . It had become my home , the first time in my life that I had chosen a place as my home. Regardless of the occasional vituperic outbursts at home about folks hating it , I loved it, loved the small town feel , loved the friendliness and the warmth of the people who welcomed me into their lives and their hearts, the change of seasons , the fall colors and even the brutal winters. Working at the city of Wooster was also a delight , I had managed to make several friends for a lifetime. I had worked the longest among my 7 jobs so far ,almost 10 years of my 19 year career . Several of my friends met me for lunch or dinner over the next two weeks .
Time passed on rather quickly and I reached the end of my serving time at the City . There was a touching send off on my last day which simply exacerbated my agony. But I trudged on with packing. The movers finally came and moved all my stuff out and then finally the day of reckoning came . I bid adieu to my house with a heavy heart .
I was excited when I got on the Ohio turnpike . Years earlier , I had read Stephen’s Ambrose “Nothing Like It in the World” . A delightful history of the transcontinental rail road that was built to connect the east coast with the west after the Civil war. After the civil war, the feds gave loans to build a Trans continental rail road. The Union Pacific built westward from Chicago using Irish chain gangs and the Central Pacific built east from California using Chinese chain gangs ,without the Chinese knowledge of gun powder, it would have been impossible to tunnel through the Sierra Nevada. It was a task of awe inspiring engineering and an ultimate triumph for surveyors who used line of sight and rope to meet at one spot namely Promontory, Utah . Almost a hundred years later when I 80 was being built, the surveyors using aircraft and helicopters ended up choosing the same route . Here was my opportunity to retrace history. I-80 itself has a lot of interesting tidbits that are fascinating such as the longest stretch of straight road , the longest section of road that has no exits . The intersection of I-75 and I-80 around Toledo is called the Heartland of America though we are far away from what would be the geographical center of the country.
As I entered Indiana , it was snowing down and as I proceeded on , I was grateful for the snow plow crews that kept the roads clean so I could proceed at my regular breakneck speed . Indiana passed by without a whimper , ironical that it was the first time that I had gone to Indiana after 15 years in Ohio . Entering Illinois and I had to bid adieu to I-90. I-90 runs together with I-80 inside Ohio and Indiana but then it goes on northwards through Minnesotta , Dakotas , Montana , Idaho and Washington . I was supposed to have lunch with an old colleague in Chicago but she had not responded in time . Just as well because I could not afford any more delays. Hopefully another road trip is in the cards, on I-90 from Seattle to Boston . I was amazed by the number of windmills in Illinois . I did hear some comments about Chicago being a Windy City but I always figured that was due to the corruption in the 20s and 30s rather than any geographical features but who knows
Unfortunately by the time I exited Illinois and entered Iowa , it was dark and I could not see squat . But undaunted I made a pit stop to see the mighty Mississippi and got to see a Civil war battleship . It dawned on me that as much as the civil war fascinated me , I had never seen any civil war relic or monument other than some bullets that some of my family had showed me in the past . I had passed Gettysburg dozens of times , and Bristol is just a couple hundred miles from the Shenandoah valley but I was always promising myself that I would stop one of these days . “One of these days” is yet to arrive and now I have managed to move myself 2500 miles away. “One of these days” is probably the most dangerous lie that we tell ourselves.
Driving in the dark and especially while it is snowing is a dangerous business . Traffic screeched to a dead halt in front of me, reflexes honed by long years of driving in snowy and icy conditions stayed me in good stead. After a long and snaking crawl , we found out the reason for the traffic jam . An idiot who had no idea how to drive in snow !!!. Another waste of an hour when I did not have an hour .
I finally entered the city of Des Moines which seemed to be getting a skiff of snow, in no time , I started fish tailing . I had debated meeting my cousin’s husband who was in Des Moines but I quickly gave up the idea . Driving like this , I wont reach Omaha until the next morning if I decided to take a 20 mile detour to meet him . I could not comprehend why the snow plows in Des Moines could not keep the streets clean . I have lived in Wooster for 15 years and with the exception of snowstorms , I have never seen roads this bad .
From Des Moines to Omaha through the dark snowy night was eminently forgettable . I was relieved to reach my dear friend Apar’s house at some god forsaken hour . Apar had stayed up . I put my kitties in his unheated garage . He was terrified that they might freeze to death and suggested that I leave them inside the cage and bring them into his basement . Never having experienced the Nebraska winters , I scoffed at the idea and left them and the litter box and food for the night . I had to choose between a frigid garage or locking them in a cage all night long , the sentiment of freedom won over basic survival that night.
The next morning , I saw the kitties huddled together in one of the corners , it must have gotten too cold for them. They seemed happy to see me , the food had not been touched . Never figured out if it was the cold or just a new place
Waking up early next morning , I headed out . Apar laid out the plan for me , he suggested that I stop at Cheyenne , Wyoming for the night and the next night at Reno . In the absence of any self made plans , I was more than happy to go along with his suggestions . I decided that I needed to find a audio book , finally found a Barnes and Noble and an accompanying Starbucks . Picked up Dante’s inferno and drove out , onto Cheyenne , Wyoming . I passed Lincoln , Nebraska , my uncle who is also my namesake had spent some time here , I pinged another friend who lives in Lincoln but it was too short a notice so she could not make it. I found out later that the stretch of i-80 after Lincoln is the straightest stretch of road anywhere in the American highway system and it runs about straight for almost 40 miles with veering just a few feet here and there . Unfortunately this geographical artifact also means that this is not a particularly photogenic part of the highway , it can get monotonous.
As I was driving , I found this archway and decided to stop and take some pictures . Apar had mentioned that as I get into Western Nebraska , I am likely to find more cows than humans and he was right on that one . I now see why I keep getting these flyers for Omaha steaks. I was happy to enter Wyoming but the landscape changed none too much and suddenly it was dark and I noticed with a thrill that US-30 was running alongside . US-30 runs through Wooster together with Old Lincoln Highway . I found a very interesting artifact on these highways . I found that the highways had gates that would close the entrance , I imagine that it is needed around here for those enormous snow drifts that I have heard about .Not too long after , I reached Cheyenne. I found myself a cheap motel and decided to stay there for the night , ironically I found myself on Old Lincoln Highway which again happens to run through the Wooster downtown , Massillon, Canton , Pittsburgh , Breezewood and other places where nostalgia hijacks me.
About 10 years ago I used to travel to Philadelphia for a major pharmaceutical company . I usually traveled on I-76/Penna turnpike but occasionally I would take US-30 until Breezewood . US-30 also passes through Shanksville which houses the United 93 memorial . Not too far from Shanksville is a large unassuming barn which has the following poem painted on its wall
Times square to the East
Golden gate to the west
For cross country travel
Lincoln way is best
I have a real inexplicable affection for Old Lincoln Way , later on I realized that I am not the only loony . I found a documentary on Old Lincoln Way at the library . I was disappointed that they hardly mentioned Ohio. And apparently every state that Old Lincoln Way passes through has a Lincoln Way association .
But I had more surprises in store for me ,I saw signs of I-76. I have driven the entire length of I-76 from NJ to Lodi,OH and seen the sign that states that it ends in Lodi. But apparently it gets resurrected around here , 1000 odd miles from Lodi and then goes to Denver . I was getting distinctly homesick , having been away barely 48 hours.I fed the kitties and scouted out for myself. Dinner was some dismal affair with country fried steak, biscuits ,gravy and hash, I retired for the night . I was too exhausted to go check out the city of Cheyenne.
I started off early enough and started heading west again . I had always heard that when you are driving West you dont see anything and then wham you run into the Rockies which signifies the end of Prairie country. I either fell asleep at the wheel or actually do not remember anything until I actually saw the Rockies and I was staggered by the beauty
This is the highest point on I-80 . It provides a beautiful vista . Indeed I was sorry to leave it . I headed on till I ran into the town of Laramie where I decided to stop for breakfast and coffee . It is a quaint little town and the fact that it is surrounded by mountain ranges makes it very appealing. I drove on from Laramie still taking in the breath taking beauty when I was suddenly captivated by signs for Flaming Gorge River . I decided this was it, my one chance to see it , I might as well take the detour and go . So accordingly I punched in Flaming Gorge river into my GPS which assured me that I was a mere 25 miles away . Thrilled at that wonderful news, I headed out . After 20 some miles , I am still in some town called Rock Springs . But undaunted I continued on , until the GPS announced that I had reached my destination . I was inside a strip mall . Puzzled , I looked around and I found “Flaming Gorge Automotive” . I pulled out my phone and searched for Flaming Gorge River again and this time my Android informed me that I was at least 2 hours away . It was a painful debate and eventually I told myself the lie that I will be back “one of these days” and headed on towards Salt Lake city.
As I drove on , my Android informed me that I had just passed the Continental Divide . Having a general infatuation for geographical oddities , I pulled over but I could not find anything spectacular . Years earlier , I had ridden my bicycle with my friends from Pittsburgh to DC and had encountered the Eastern Continental Divide which is the demarcation line for water to flow either to the Chesapeake bay or the Gulf of Mexico.
and it was a big deal but here there was nothing , not even a sign post. This continental divide is truly the big kahuna , on one side the water flows into the Atlantic and the other flows into the Pacific and it runs clear across both the American continents , from the Rockies to the Andes .
Pretty soon , I decided to stop at some small town on the Utah-Wyoming border for grabbing some juice / water and healthy snacks(read Jalapeno pretzels!!!) and accidentally found a frozen river that folks were using a skating rink
I finally came up to a fork where I could head on to Promontory or head towards Salt Lake City. It was not much of a debate there , I did want to see Promontory but I don’t expect to see much there, certainly not the famed golden spike but I have to see the Great Salt Lake . Pretty soon I was in Salt Lake city amidst the familiar bustle of big city traffic . I was relieved to leave it behind and see the Great Salt Lake which was frozen
At the end of the Great Salt Lake , I saw the Morton Salt Factory . Probably pumping salt to ensure that the Great Salt Lake stays salty ,dashed good idea if you ask me. Imagine having to change the name to the “Great Freshwater lake” and Salt Lake City would look awfully funny sitting on a freshwater lake. (Ok Bad joke but I could not resist!!! Too much Wodehouse from my childhood.)
Hopefully I will be back to Utah to visit and take in this beauty again. I entered Nevada and what is known as the high desert . My idea of desert is the scenes from Lawrence of Arabia with the sand dunes as far as the eye can see so this was a pleasant interesting fact
and decided to go feed myself. I found a Indian restaurant . The hostess was a blonde woman with a thick Eastern European accent. I tried to make idle chit chat with her and asked her where she was from , she tells me “Pooonjab” , it took several more attempts before I realized she was making a joke!!! She was saying “Punjab” . I grinned at the joke weakly and continued with the third degree , this time I was informed that she was Polish-Ukranian . Not knowing anything about Poland other than Kielbasa and Nazi concentration camps and nothing about Ukraine except for Chernobyl , I decided to drop the social act and continue with my food. My brother in law who is married to my cousin pinged me and informed me that Reno was a mere 3 hours from where they lived and I should stop by . I left Reno in the morning
My entrance in California was through the city of Truckee , ,quite dramatic . I am in the Sierra Nevada and as can be seen , it is just gorgeous country . I reached Sacramento in a few hours and made for my cousin’s place . After a sumptuous home cooked lunch , I proceeded on .
I finally reached Fremont later that day and had dinner with my dear friend, Manoj.
It has been an unforgettable odyssey 4 days , 2600 miles , 9 states; minus the sirens and the one eyed cyclops and all the other exciting things that Odysseus had encountered .
I am excited but also terrified of the changes to my life . I keep thinking of Red’s words in “The Shawshank Redemption”
” I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”
By the way that is the Pacific and while it is gorgeous , it is certainly not as blue as can be seen in the Shawshank Redemption!!! Perhaps they meant the Pacific in Baja California . Probably time for another travelogue