Tuesday, March 7, 2017

REMINISCING: A Grand Adventure Part 1

I think everyone has one great adventure before they kick off the mortal coils of life. Sometimes, you do it when you’re really young. Sometimes, you wait until the kids are all grown, moved out, and you’re retired from the working life. I did mine at what could likely be considered a terrible time, but it was a ton of fun. I would do it again, but it becomes much more difficult when the kids are still as young as mine. When we retire, we will be on the lookout for our mutual great adventure.

My brother is seven and a half years younger than I am. Honestly, while growing up, we didn’t get along that great. I was territorial. It was my room that he was invading, and my desk that he thought he could go through. I got upset one night and moved into the basement. I needed my own space. However, as we got older, we started getting along much better. He wasn’t that annoying little interloper anymore. I think all older siblings go through that.

After my brother moved out of our parents’ home, he moved in with my sister for a little while. At some point, he realized that his options in Western New York were not as great as they could be elsewhere. His best friend was in the Air Force, stationed at McChord Air Force Base in Seattle. Maybe there were better opportunities on a different coast in a different city.

It was October 2003. That month is one that will forever burn in infamy for our family. The month began with me being laid off from Adelphia the day before our sixth wedding anniversary. At the same time, Wendy’s dad went to the hospital for what turned out to be the final time. In the midst of all that, Wendy told me she was pregnant. We didn’t know it was twins right away, but we soon sure did.

Wendy’s dad passed away on Halloween that year. A couple of days after the funeral, my brother was telling me that he was moving across the country to Seattle. My mother was concerned about him driving that far by himself, and offered to pay for my plane ticket back to Buffalo if I went with him on his adventure. So, a week or so after my father-in-law’s funeral, I announced to my newly pregnant wife that I would be spending Thanksgiving on the West Coast. Thankfully, it worked out well.

My brother packed up a Chevy Cavalier and I jumped into the passenger seat. He had everything he owned in that little car. How packed was it? I went nearly 2,000 miles in the passenger seat with my knees higher than the dashboard. Every available space was occupied by some box of something. In the passenger seat well was filled with snacks and a cooler for waters and sodas.

Our first stop was in Toledo, Ohio, where we grabbed a quick bite to eat. We went through Chicago around midnight. We couldn’t see the top of the Sears Tower, although I really tried. It was covered in fog. Of course, no cross-country trip can be complete without at least one detour. And our detour was an epic one. We were going to drop in at Lambeau Field.

As a longtime, diehard Packers fan, there was no way I was going to drive all the way across the country and not stop in Green Bay. After a long drive, we tried to sleep in the parking lot of an apartment complex in Sheboygan. We didn’t sleep for very long, and saw the sun rise over the lots surrounding Lambeau Field. It was pretty cold there, but a very cool sight. I still have the Brett Favre stocking cap that I bought at the stadium.

Leaving Lambeau, we didn’t want to backtrack to get back to the interstate. Looking at the atlas, we thought that we could take some state routes across Wisconsin to meet up with Route 90. It appeared that it would be an easy drive. It ended up being an all day drive through the farmland of Wisconsin. We saw a lot of cows. It was like driving across New York State by utilizing Route 31. While it was interesting, it was not a lot of fun. It took a long time, but it was an interesting part of the country that we wouldn’t normally see on a regular trip.

We crossed the Mississippi River at the border of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Northern Minnesota was having a big snow storm, so we skipped visiting the Mall of America. We finally ran into our own snow as we were heading into South Dakota. It started snowing so hard that we had to leave the interstate and get a hotel room for the night. We were holed up in Chamberlain.

The next morning, it was cold, but the snow was done. And it was icy. As we crossed the Missouri River, we had to descend down to the floodplain to cross the bridge. That was a little bit hairy. But we were on our way. After seeing signs for several hundred miles for “Free Water” in Wall, we had to make that stop and get our free water. It was definitely worth it. So was the Bison Burger that I bought for dinner.

My parents had been out in South Dakota for events in August when it’s really hot. They told us we needed to visit the Badlands. So we did. I have never experienced that ever-loving cold before. It was brutal. While it may be 120 in August, in mid-November it was 25 below without the windchill. And it was windy. It was so windy, that the window protectors above the door windows ripped off the car. It was cold. Cold, I say.

The area is beautiful. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It was a wonderful side trip even if we only left the car once while in the park. When we got to Rapid City, we had finally had enough of the snacks and cooler. Both were tossed into the garbage at the gas station. Suddenly, I had a lot more legroom for the rest of the ride.

Mount Rushmore was on our bucket list so we had to stop there since we were so close. Again, the scenery was beautiful. When you see a picture of the four presidents on the internet or in books, you think they’re absolutely huge. Let’s not mistake anything. They are huge. The rest of the world around them are so massive that it makes the carvings look smaller in contrast. It was almost as cold as the Badlands. Looking at the photos, my brother and I look frigid. We were huddled against the wind.

After leaving Gutzon Borglum’s masterpiece, we continued westward, young men. We drove through a short part of Wyoming just at sunset. When Katharine Lee Bates wrote “purple mountain majesties,” she must have been thinking of some of these grand scenes in the West. Wyoming was absolutely beautiful. I still wish we were able to stop and enjoy more of the scenery. It was definitely the most beautiful scenery of the entire trip.

And then we got to Montana. Montana is a long, long story. It’s a story for a part two. I realized as I was getting to this point, that the story was getting rather long. I still have a lot to tell about this trip, but at the rate I’m going, there are still three or four pages to go. No one will sit there and read that all in one sitting. So, I’ll see you next week with part two.

Another note about this edition of Reminiscing. This was supposed to be published on Sunday like normal. However, after a long weekend of hockey and a special appearance by Howie Balaban, I didn’t want to overwhelm myself or our readers. I hope you keep reading as I keep writing. I just wish I could find my photos from the trip...

Craig Bacon thinks his life is one big adventure. It is full of laughs and smiles. And it should always be at the edge of your seat.