If you read last week you know that 3 of us officially ended the bicycling part of our trip in Cambria, California. We spent 65 days pedalling from Pennsylvania to California in order to cover somewhere in the vicinity of 4000 miles by averaging 70 miles per day on the days we biked. We did have days off here and there and the week spent in Yellowstone. From Cambria we drove further south to the Los Angeles area. I spent a few days visiting a friend who had moved to Fontana before rejoining Gus and Mr. Lime who were visiting another friend in San Bernardino (the friend I mentioned yesterday who gave us the tea set, actually). We did some of the obligatory tourist things by seeing Universal Studios, the Chinese Theater (is it Mann's, Grauman's or what by now? I don't remember which it was back then), and we bought one of those books of maps to drive around and look at the homes and former homes of movie stars. All I can say is that of all the places I'd seen all summer, LA felt the most foreign so far. When we drove into the hills and looked down on the city and saw the thick blanket of smog covering everything I was fairly grossed out. It was great to see friends though and fun to be able to say we'd been there.
Finally it was time to head east in order to get back to school. Where as we ambled along at such a slow pace getting to California we now sped along at an unreal clip to reach Pennsylvania. We left LA and headed toward Las Vegas. We were driving at night and saw this eerie glow on the horizon for a ridiculous amount of time before we ever reached it. We hit Las Vegas at 1 AM and decided to just drive down the strip to say we'd seen it before we gassed up the car. Las Vegas at 1 AM made this 18 year old girl think she'd slipped down the rabbit hole. It may as well been 1 PM for all you could tell on the strip at that hour. The lights made it bright as day and the number of people milling around at that hour was pretty much like I'm sure you'd see in the middle of the day. The taxi cabs had ads on them so you knew where to go see live nude girls. I certainly wasn't in Kansas anymore...actually I never have been, it's one of the states I've never set foot in..but I digress. I was perfectly happy to not bother getting out of the car. A hundred kajillion megawatts of neon in the middle of a god-forsaken desert held no allure for me. If I wanted to see a live nude girl I'd find a mirror. Meh. Thus was my first visit to Vegas which lasted all of maybe 20 minutes. Many years later a one week visit did little to improve my assessment of the place.
We really just wanted to get home by now and it was decided we'd only stop for bathroom, gasoline and food. If those 3 things could be taken care of at a single location that was also the goal. Oh, and we wanted to see the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon too. So we devised a system. Whoever was driving would do so until gremlins started to threaten their sanity or the navigator caught their head nodding. Then the driver would move to the back seat and sleep, the sleeper would become navigator, and the navigator would become driver. So how long do you think it takes 3 people to get from California to North Carolina (where we would visit Mr. Lime's mother) with this system, and figuring in time to see those two major sites? Any guesses? Oh, come on, be brave.....the answer is (drum roll please)...3 days.
We saw the north rim of the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon (roughly 300 miles apart from each other) in the same 24 hours that included Las Vegas. Our visit to GC was not unlike the scene in National Lampoon's 'Vacation.' Picture us standing at the edge, 'Wow! Big hole! Ok, let's go. Daylight's burning.' Doesn't Mr. Lime look like he is contemplating jumping in? When we got to BC, Gus went for a hike. We couldn't find him and for a moment I think we contemplated leaving him. Sorry, Gus.
From Bryce Canyon we found our way back to I-40. I-40 is an interstate highway that runs from coast to coast. It is flat, straight and pretty much devoid of much to look at. I am pretty sure that had we not made the detours to GC and BC we could have just gotten on the road in California, tied the steering wheel so the car wouldn't turn at all, put a brick on the accelerator, and made it to the east coast just fine. Now consider that we were in a Citation. This is a small car folks. It was August, the month during which asphalt temperatures are just a degree or two under that of the sun's surface. Did I mention the car had no AC? Well, it didn't. Interminable hours on a road through the desert in August with no AC, and no stops for sleep in a bed or showering. Oh yeah, it was more fun that 3 people should ever be allowed to enjoy.
A certain madness begins to set in. The road wobbles in front of your eyes. The stench of your car mates slowly roasting alive in a metal can flying through the desert assaults your nose. You would consider selling your soul for a radio station not playing country/western music. And the road stretches on and on and on and on.....and on. One of my shifts was the panhandle of Texas. My entire goal was to hit Oklahoma because when the scenery never changes the only way to mark progress is checking a state off the map. I was coming to the end of my thinly stretched sanity when I begged Gus to get out the map and please, for the love of God, tell me how soon we'd be reaching Oklahoma before I completely lost my grip on reality. He looked at me in amazement and said we'd crossed state lines an hour ago. I was sure he was messing with me. He insisted. I argued. He got out the map and showed me where we were. I veered over to the shoulder, got out and kissed the ground, opened the back door, kicked Mr. Lime out, handed Gus the keys and said, 'Goodnight. Keep the radio low.' I don't remember anything else until Little Rock, Arkansas.
*No reason for these pictures from Universal Studios to be here except to represent my tenuous grasp on sanity and to give you something to look at, which is more than we had on I-40.
We sped across Arkansas and were really disappointed to find I-40 cuts the long way across Tennessee but were glad to see something green at least. We finally hit North Carolina where we would make a stop at Mr. Lime's mother's house for a couple days. I was so looking forward to a bed and a shower. Don't you know, we came upon a traffic jam. Vehicles were backed up for miles. Bumper to bumper we crawled along at at rate slower than the bicycles could go. We began to descend a hill, saw the corresponding rise after that, and noticed the cause of the back-up. It wasn't construction. It wasn't some grisly accident. It was two tractor trailers side by side inching up the mountain. Neither one willing to drop back behind the other so people could get past in the other lane. I was suddenly energized by violent homicidal rage as the promise of of personal hygiene and being able to unfold my limbs during a state of blissful unconsciousness was delayed by a couple of dopes having a test of wills.
We finally reached our destination and Mr. Lime said we'd have to meet his mother at her workplace so she could give us the house key. He insisted we all go in to meet her, unbathed for three days, exhausted, and smelling to high heaven. This is where I pause to remind you all Mr. Lime and I were not married yet. I had never met his mother. His previous girlfriend was a well bred, upper class Long Island girl who was much beloved by my future in-law. Now he is bringing this stinking girl into the very swanky department store where his mother works. Great first impression to make, no? To her credit, she welcomed all of us warmly in spite of our pungence.
We spent a few days there. I basked in the unparalleled joy of running water and inner spring mattresses. We took off for Pennsylvania refreshed and arrived with a couple days to spare. I moved into my dorm room. Gus went back to the dairy farm where he was living. Mr. Lime found a new apartment and we all started classes. Mr. Lime decided, however, he needed to sell the Citation. He couldn't bear to look at it anymore after the summer and the return trip. I thought that odd since Gus and I were the ones caged in it, but hey, it was his car. He wanted to unload it fast so I told him about the farmer's market near my house that had an auto auction. We drove to my mom's for the weekend, went to the auction, and sold the car.
We walked around a while as I pointed out the local oddities. We took a seat on the bench whose previous occupant for many years would more accurately be described as the bench's permanent fixture. Week after week the guy sat there in all his greasy, pot-bellied glory with his special glasses that had sides shaped like ladies' legs as he leered at the real legs passing before him. He wasn't completely lacking in class. After all, in the winter he added tiny legwarmers to the glasses. Thoughtful touch, no? And so it was as we sat on this very bench, reflecting on the summer and what had happened and what it all meant, that Mr. Lime asked me to marry him and my jaw dropped to the peanut shell covered floor. When I regained voluntary control over my temporo-mandibular joints and realized he was completely serious I questioned his sanity, told him I had no answer and staggered out of the place muttering like a psych ward patient whose Thorazine levels are not quite right. In other words, I behaved like a significant number of the patrons of the Farmer's Market.
Last week a couple folks expressed dismay at the impending conclusion to this tale. Fear not, I have one more week of travel drivel to pour out since I got the return trip but not the loose ends tied up in this post. Tune in next week for tales of melons, mandolins, and making up. For those of you sick of this series, fear not, the end is near.