HARD TO TELL where we are, but this handsome farm looks like mid-America. We shot the photo somewhere between Syracuse and Gary, Indiana -- every place in America seemed to have its own personal magic.
In the first episode, Don and Lorry Norris conceived an idea of seeing the whole of the United States from a motorhome, trailing their small Honda Civic. At this point in the story, they have bought their new/used 27-foot Class C, attached a car-caddy and the Honda, and have reached upper New York state -- they have survived the first two days!
We wake up from our second night on the road and find ourselves in a motorhome! Outlandish! What are we doing here? Where are we? It takes a few minutes to gather one's wits.
We vowed to return to Glimmer and Glisten -- Glimmer Glass State Park, someday. It is a magical place, in a land of magic. Upstate New York is gorgeous. We continued to mosey along old Route 20, lackadaisically, for a hundred miles at a casual 45 or 50 miles per hour. We can afford to take our time now that we are officially retired. And it took some time just to realize that we had left the hustle and bustle of Boston far behind. Now we poke along, stop at a fruit stand because we were traveling at a reasonable speed, and wave to the people, and smile at the cop in the speed trap. He is almost asleep for there is virtually no traffic.
One thing is for sure: We never got busted for speeding. We did, however, catch hell a couple of times for putting our 50-foot rig in places too small. Hey, one makes mistakes.
Along the Erie Canal, Amish farmers trot their bodacious Belgians, perhaps for the sake of the tourists. It is a nice scene.
At the end of Day Three we find ourselves parked beside the barn of some old friends in Fayetteville, NY, Glenn and Iona Reis. They are some kind of relatives, or in-laws, it gets complicated. But more, they are good friends, and invite us to stay in their lovely old home -- but no, we are now getting settled into the motorcoach mode. But we do take advantage of Iona's fabulous dinners, then participate in canning some of her home-grown fruit. Why not? It's fun and it's a learning experience. So we stay an extra day. So what. We're not on a schedule.
We are wanderers now. We have to overcome the urge to jump in the van and start driving again -- it is a hard thing to slow down, to take time off, to relax, to count the stars and drink the local wine.
When we do decide to move on, it is still over the back roads of New York, wandering southwestward towards the wine country around Hammondsport. Now that was a super-special day. We visited five different wineries, but by the second, at ten in the morning, we embarrassed ourselves at the wine-tasting by getting the giggles. We just couldn't stop giggling. People watched, and smiled.
It wasn't just the wine. It was the slow realization that we are free and on our way, doing something we had thought would never come. We had arrived.
And we bought some tasty varietals at Bully Hill Winery, which was then being run by the renegade son of the owner of one of the factory-type wineries. Good fun, a special tour of the steeply rolling fields, picking juicy grapes, and sipping six different wines. Put Hammondsport and the Finger Lakes Region on your list; it is really a fun time. And remember: Bully Hill wine.
The route westerly from Hammondsport to Erie on the lake is through more magic country. Rolling hills from which you can see forever. Neat little New York villages, quite different than New England. Lots and lots of lawn, lots of clean, and much beauty, but different. The road now parallels the New York-Pennsylvania state line, and we shortly rejoined I-90 --- yes, an extension of the Mass Pike, with all its terrible traffic.
There's no avoiding I-90 through Erie, right through Cleveland (hey, we have to go there, but we don't have to stop) where we pick up a side road, the old highway along the lake, heading generally toward Toledo. We pass thru Sandusky and Port Clinton, and nearby we find Harbor State Park on a long peninsula out into Lake Erie. It turns out that this place was once a Civil War prisoner-of-war camp, so with interest piqued, we squirrel our rig into a pleasant campground.
I am quite sure a cousin spent some time here 150 years ago, having been captured during a Reb raiding party somewhere along the Tennessee. One thing about this camp: It was for officers only, many of whom were paroled to mix with the local gentry, provided they report back to "camp" before dark.
Our rig looks smaller than it was in my mind. The fact is that, with the Honda and car-caddy attached, we were just under 50-feet long. Don't let the mountains confuse you -- we took this picture in Wyoming, certainly not Ohio.
This is the beginning of our country's central plateau, where hills are only a few feet above the valleys. And we dread the thought of I-90 with its eighteen wheelers and speeding automobiles. So, we turn south on county roads which appear to be going in our direction. We'll get to see more of the country and meet more people.
The land is flat and the corn is high. The dry stalks rattle with the breeze. Our elevated view provides little advantage, for things look pretty much the same, except the towns. They are different than New England. The architecture is different. They are old, but old is a hundred years. The roofs are flatter, the barns are, uh, different. Lower, maybe. You know -- different.
There comes suddenly a very violent wind and rain storm on this plain, and we suddenly come to a blind intersection of rural roads in the middle of old, tall, yellowing cornfields -- except there are flashing red, orange and blue lights, and people, and a fire engine and ambulance, sparkling in the heavy downpour. There are bodies, but we try not to look, and follow the officer's directions around the two crumpled automobiles.
How could that happen, out here in Nowhere. Two roads, a storm, and a terrible accident. We hadn't seen a car for twelve miles.
The road we chose over Ohio and Indiana is a series of stairs. Go west, turn north, then west again. Then south a bit, then west again. Why, we wonder. No hills. No impediment to going straight. But the pattern does break the cornfield monotony. And the towns certainly are different. I can't really say why, but I know I'm no longer back east. No trees, no forests. Maybe that's it. We are at the beginning of the Great American Plains.
The people we come across are lovely, friendly and helpful. They are unrushed, and will take time for a stranger. They are lean, farm people. They will ask where you are from -- they know where you're going, West -- and the directions they give are explicit. Not like at home, where roads follow valleys and straight is a matter of a few hundred feet. Here, in the midwest, flat is a hundred miles.
But they are good people. More outgoing than New Englanders. And of course they pronounce their R's, which got lost in New England centuries ago.
The road west we chose was Route 6, then Route 30, local highways south of the Interstate. At one point we come to a town where our motorcoach was made. We hadn't planned it that way, but there is the plant. We wave and keep going, looking for something more interesting. There is a hint of monotony.
At last we find it. We are now south of Gary Indiana, but there, on the right, is this glorified red barn, huge, bright, and commercial. But it is so inviting and the parking lot is so wide that we stop. What the heck. It is, after all, a tourist stop. And a welcome break.
This part of America is different. Mostly wide open farms, and concentrations of really heavy industry, especially around Chicago. We'd been to Chicago, and we know it is no place for a 50-foot rig, but then getting around it is no picnic either. It is work. The metropolis spreads way out here, with its traffic congestion, traffic lights, and impatient drivers. It's like any city, I'm thinking. Too many people, not enough space.
We skirt the city and turn northwest, keeping to rural roads. We could make better time on the expressways, but that would shorten my life a little. And we wouldn't see anything, either. Joliet, Illinois, with its huge prison, is just down the road, by Aurora, DeKalb, Rockford.
And suddenly, there is Wisconsin. No bells, no whistles, certainly not on our back road. But there are hills, and valleys, and eventually dells. There are neat farms, and nothing is on the level, and everything has its place, and it is beautiful. It is pastoral. There are cows, everywhere. And cheese factories -- which are nothing more than barns.
One lardaceous farmer of Swiss descent (there's a lot of them where we went) still had a European accent, I thought, but no, it was local. The whole town talked like that. He invited us into his modern barn and gave both a tour and a lecture -- on how the Mafia had taken over all the big dairy companies and were trying to put the little guy out of business. Furthermore, he said, the government was just sitting by, watching this happen. Hmmm.
We searched for and found the grave of a cousin who had been wounded at the battle for Island Number Ten, and died here in prison at Camp Randall -- now the campus of the University of Wisconsin.
Reaching Wisconsin was a milestone for us, for we had crossed the great flat plain and were among the hills again. Great. Beautiful. A special beauty here. Different, clean, neat, few woods so you can see far away. Gracious people, smart and inspired, just like other Americans. No wonder we prospered.
It is now September 16, our tenth day of our first year of retirement. We are surrounded by cows and are having six different cheeses for dinner. Ah, we are retired!
We have adjusted to living in the motorcoach. Everything is tight. But we are only two in a unit made for six, so things are managible. Only one in the bathroom at a time. We hold hands from our separate bunks on going to sleep. The kitchen is adquate but we never once used the oven. The 'fridge works okay, but takes some adjustment. We have a nice table for eating and writing, or playing cards. There are two swivel chairs, behind the passenger's seat.
So far everything mechanical has gone well. The Civic is still there, and we are getting accustomed to driving it up and down the car-caddy ramps, and affixing the nylon straps to its front wheels. One plans ahead for hot showers -- firing up the water heater is an outside job, but Lor reads the instructions while I fiddle with the hardware. We get hot water. The weather has been good, but it is getting colder.
We find that emptying the waste container is necessary about every third day, or whenever one gets to a state campground that has such facilities. We hook up to local water systems for bathing and washing, but maintain our separate supply of Melrose water for cooking and drinking. There's a big plastic tank under the lounge seat.
We're not exactly on a budget, bur we can't afford to be spendthrifts either. So we look for local restaurants, perhaps too often; when we cook, we try to shop locally, and eat the fare of the area. We don't gain weight, for some reason.
Our little 12-inch color TV works okay if we raise the mast antenna on top of the unit. Only once did I forget to lower it, and every motorhome going in the opposite direction blew a horn. We finally got the message. And yes, we used the CB radio now and again. I can't remember our user name -- or was it moniker?
What bothered me most was the fact that my bunk bed was six feet long, and I am six-two. So I could not straighten out, without putting my feet out in the aisle. For a whole year. And in mid-September, we hadn't needed any heat.
Most of our excitement at this stage was off-loading the Honda, and driving to local attractions, historical sites, and just plain rubber-necking. We enjoyed stopping at the local diner/restaurant and having conversations with the local folks. We learn that way. We learn about other Americans, and we really like what we see and hear. We are an innovative people, friendly, courteous, ready to lend a helping hand.
It sure makes one glad to be here, in America.
Not even two weeks into our journey, and we are elated, almost continually. This place, this America, is just unbelievably beautiful, not only in its physical appearance, but in the attitude of its citizens.
We are drenched in enthusiasm, and wonder why we've never done this before. Eleven days behind us, ten months to go.
To be continued in the April issue of the Mirror.
The Melrose Mirror, March 1, 2002