The rhythm of the journey

Sunday, August 3, 2008

by Mark Langenfeld

July 24, 2008

We are well into our trip now, and while the nature of this type of travel never gets into a routine we do find ourselves into a certain rhythm of the journey. We don't know in the morning how many miles we'll cover or where we'll stop for the night or what we'll do during the day or what we'll discover. We began the trip with a preplanned route, which AAA in Cape expertly mapped out for us, in detail, for the entire trip. Our TripTiks have been a tremendous asset for us throughout the trip. Yet we promised ourselves that we would always leave ourselves open to random opportunities as they arose.

That included a route modification to Durango, Colo., the Ice Cream Museum in LeMars, Iowa, and sailing on Chautauqua Lake in western New York. My favorite style of travel is unstructured. Usually we call ahead for motel reservations just a few hours ahead of our arrival somewhere. We've had anxieties a few times when the first four places we called were all booked, but we've always found a place to stay. Such are the adventures of spontaneous travel!

Arriving in Maine was a marvelous feeling. Eight days earlier we were in Oregon at the West coast. I taught for a year in Maine just after finishing graduate school. My wife and I loved our year in Maine, and we've been amazed that we never have gotten back there in the 27 years since. So for me, it felt great to be back in the state. Julie's and my major goal upon arriving was to have lobster. We had Dungeness crab in San Francisco so we had to have lobster in Maine. It just felt right, and it sure tasted fine, too!

We awoke early the next morning and spent time on the beach. Kittery Beach and York Beach are the best beaches in all of Maine; much of the coast north of there is really rocky. We strolled in the Atlantic waters and watched the surfers in wetsuits. Submersion swimming would wait until we got south to the warmer waters of New York. Our bicycles came out of the trunk and we bicycled along the Maine coast to Nubble Lighthouse while wearing our lobster bibs as capes in the "Super Lobster" theme.

That re-enacted a scene that I first played out with two college buddies in 1972 along the same Maine coast. Julie got to hear some of my great stories from that earlier adventure. This trip has been a sort of time machine, evoking memories of parents and friends and past adventures even as we build this father-daughter adventure.

After Maine we got a taste of the Big Apple. We've seen wild beauty throughout this journey and I love mountains and rivers and canyons and deserts. I find beauty in all of those. But big cities are just as much a part of the mosaic of this grand country as the wild places. We drove into the Big Apple approaching from Connecticut on the Merritt Parkway. This was Julie's first visit to the city, and there's no better way to be introduced than to be hosted by a lifetime New Yorker.

We met my graduate school friend Julie C in Queens then drove into Manhattan with me in the driver's seat and Julie C as our navigator and guide. Since I really wanted Julie L to experience the city from the driver's seat, we swapped seats on Fifth Avenue and then she drove along Broadway, too. Times Square! Chaotic traffic, yes! A 16-year-old Missouri driver negotiating Manhattan! Julie did great.

After dinner we strolled to Union Square, Washington Square and Gramercy Park. There was a delightful drizzle while we walked and we had just a fabulous time wandering the streets on foot as if we were native New Yorkers. The next morning we had bagels and lox while seated at Jones Beach on Long Island. Maybe you didn't know it, but New York is a water city, water is around you everywhere, boats are all over, and we loved it! We only wished we could have rented a boat and gone sailing.

Later, we visited the site of the World Trade Center and the adjacent St. Paul's Chapel. Hearing first hand from our friend Julie C about what life was like in the minutes and hours and days and years following the attacks on the TowersÂż. we have a whole new perspective. One thing that Julie C emphasized to us, as she did when she was interviewed on Polish TV days after the attacks, is that the entire world suffered, not just the USA. While the buildings were on US territory, the list of nationalities that suffered casualties includes the entire world. The sense of sadness is still palpable in the area around the site.

Our departure from NYC took us over the George Washington Bridge, serving as the opposite bookend to the Golden Gate Bridge in Frisco. This time I drove, and Julie handled the navigation. In short order we added New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Washington DC and Virginia to our state count before stopping for the night near the Great Falls of the Potomac River. All of that after 4 p.m.! The East, where states come fast and easy.

A few days later as we dropped down from the Skyline Drive we stopped by the National Park Office at Shenandoah National Park. We had something to return to the Park Service. You see, we were loaned a canteen full of water in Death Valley when we were dealing with our engine running warm. The California officer told me I could return it to any Park Service office. So, we walked into the office at Luray, Va., to return it.

Ranger Haley, who was working the desk, didn't recognize this type of canteen but she made a few phone calls. Apparently this style isn't commonly used in the East. Still, she promised she'd see that it got properly returned. She mentioned that it was ironic that a ranger from nearby in North Carolina was moving out soon to work at Death Valley. I suggested that maybe he could simply take it along and perhaps even return it to the very officer who loaned it to us a few weeks ago in a moment of need. Isn't it fascinating how our interactions with individuals end up having so many connections! I'm hoping to hear from Haley through a blog comment that, in fact, her colleague will be delivering that canteen back to Death Valley.

As I write this we're in South Carolina, our 40th state. The countdown is in high speed

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