The odometer, which read -0- when I pulled out of my drive early morning on August 1st read 7999.9 when I parked in my garage and turned off the engine of the Jeep 52 days later, at 2:30 p.m. on September 21st, to be precise.
I had just completed an ALMOST 8,000 round-trip drive from literally coast to coast in 52 days, stopping to visit many wonderful friends and family members along the way and got to see and enjoy so much of this fabulous place we who live in American call home.
So as this portion of my blog is drawing to a close, I am going to list, in no particular order, what I learned, what thought about, big decisions and what's going to be my 'next big adventure!'
• Those who said 'I was so brave' to take this trip on my own didn't know what they were talking about.
Driving is driving - no matter what the distance. You watch out for the other guy, don't drive when you're tired, take numerous breaks, stop at every opportunity to see, taste and enjoy the different towns and states you are passing through. Be friendly and smile lots - you'll be amazed just how welcoming and friendly perfect strangers are when you greet them with a smile and show interest in their home town.
I never once felt I was in any danger (except driving down the Tioga Pass in Yosemite and that was my own personal fear of falling off the edge). No one ever approached me or tried to pick me up (darn) or acted inappropriately, whether in a restaurant dining alone or in any of the hotels and motels I stayed in on the road. I met complete strangers who shared great stories about their lives and even ones who welcomed me into their homes! I made memories that will last a lifetime.
• Learned that by being a right-handed person/driver that your left arm will be the one hanging out of the window most of the time and by the time you reach the West coast, your left arm with be much tanner than your right - which people will actually comment on.
• Learned that a shower curtain is a wonderful thing to carry in a semi-topless Jeep. It's the perfect size to tuck behind the seat backs and cover both seats when it rains.
• Realized it would have been smarter to pack the full-sized tarp I left in the garage at home. It would have covered the entire car and tied down with bungies - eliminating the how-to successfully get rid of the large pockets of water the bikini top collected each time it rained which usually ended up pouring down between the roll-bars and the doors, onto my legs, arms and flooding the floorboards. Oh well...
• I over-packed. But what woman doesn't? I was ready for any type of social outing and even though I did get to 'dress up' for several occasions, never got to put on my 'little black dress.'
• I gave myself a pat on the back for not shopping so much that I couldn't get the suitcases in the back.
• I am thrilled that my cousin Robbie insisted, and I really didn't want to take, a Tupperwear bowl along for the ride. It was where I stored the wonderful fresh-ground and very odiferous chilies I bought in New Mexico.
• An open-air car, be it a Jeep or whatever, does not lend itself to radio music or even iPod playing/blaring. The wind just overpowers the music. But it does give you long hours of thinking time - which really is a very good thing.
• GO WEST! If you haven't traveled through our Western states of WY, MT, UT, NV, NM, AZ and even CA, you PUT THESE ON YOUR BUCKET LIST OF 'MUST SEES.' The air is different, the sunsets are glorious, colors are muted but in some ways more vivid, the mountains rise up and the clouds come down to meet them. The food is even different. And the wide open spaces are breathtaking in their beauty and vastness. Do not miss seeing these before we cover them with cement and build another parking lot!
• Hug your grown children often and visit them even more often. Don't let being clear across the country keep you from driving your kids crazy at least a couple of times each year! Be amazed at what wonderful adults they turn into.
• Drive the back roads and stay at the 'mom & pop motels.' You'll get great service and meet some really fun people - and pay a whole heck of a lot less than at the big chain motels. Just remember to ask to see your room BEFORE you pay for it. And if you aren't pleased, there is always another just down the road a piece.
• Face your fears. As I've gotten older, I've come to dislike heights and drop-offs without guard rails giving me some semblance of safety. There were numerous times during this trip where I was driving over VERY high bridges and along large canyons that went down and down forever and my hands turned white on the steering wheel from gripping it so hard. I did it. Don't want to do it all the time, but when necessary, I Can Do IT!
• In reference to the above, I realized that I am 65 years old and am only getting older. I thought about my dream to buy another RV and just drive until I can't drive safely any further and realized that I probably would have had a heart attack if I had been driving the Tioga Pass in my 30' Winnie towing the Jeep along behind. I really don't think, no, I know I would not have seen this stunningly beautiful part of Yosemite if I had been driving an RV this trip. Which made me think...maybe it's time you give up that dream and find another. I've had my RVing days - a fabulous year and a half of them and I loved every single minute of that time. But looking at what I paid for gas on this trip, Yikes! and that was just for a car. So RVing is not an inexpensive way to live and staying overnight has risen in just the year and a half I've been away from it. The average now is $40 for a nice place. That adds up quickly.
• Speaking of gas! Thought you would like to know that the 'gas portion' of the trip was $1672.22. That's driving a 2001, 6 cylinder, Jeep Wranger with a 15-gallon tank getting approximately 15 miles per gallon. Yes, I know, I need a much more fuel-efficient vehicle the next time I decide to do this!
• So now that I put the RV dream to bed, I thought long and hard about returning to Wilmington and my beautiful little house by the sea and I realized I am not happy in Wilmington. I love my house but I don't love Wilmington. I've been here 5 years the first of October and I have made very few friends (you can count them all on one hand and not use all your fingers). Those that know me know that I'm an outgoing, friend-magnet type person so might find this weird. I do. But I realized that Wilmington is a retirement and vacation destination area. The retirees are for the most part 'couples' and let me tell you, they DO NOT welcome single/widowed/divorced women into their circles. If I were a single man, much different. But single women are seen as a threat! Can you believe that, at my age? And would I even consider one of their husbands in my house, let alone my bed 24/7? NOT!! I also miss things like good, live theater and musical performances, outstanding museums, big libraries, great shopping, movie art houses, and real ethnic diversity in the people on the streets and in the choice of restaurants. None of that is available here - and really not in any of the big cities here in North Carolina.
So I started thinking....where I have lived that I was the happiest? That everything I just listed was available? That I had a group of friends there for years and years? That I could afford? (Sorry San Francisco, no matter how much I love ya, your too rich for my pocketbook.) That had major public transportation and major airports with direct flights anywhere in the world, anytime? That my boys might come to visit? That had the best football team in the America? Well, that I'm sure gave my choice away....
Watch out Chi-town, I'm coming back home!
Today I put my house on the market, contacted a rental agent in Chicago, called my friend Cathi and told her I would be taking advantage of her open invitation to use her guest bedroom while I re-acclimate myself to the city. I learned that they have re-named several of the neighborhoods! Even re-named a couple of the expressway. Why?! Planning to spend my last, warm winter here, unless the house sells immediately, which I doubt in this very depressed market, and move when the crocus peak their heard through the snow and start blooming up North, which should be March or April. Thinking of selling the Jeep as you really don't need a car in Chicago. With iGo and ZipCar lots all over town, I'll use one of these when I need to go someplace specific that isn't accessible via the "L", the bus or the train system. And for distance driving, there is always Enterprise.
I can everyone of you saying 'THE WINTERS ARE AWFUL! WHY ARE YOU LEAVING THE SOUTH and returning to SNOW & ICE?' Well, I really have missed 4 seasons, even snow. And I am perfectly content letting the bus and "L" drivers drive me where I would need to go during those days or just staying curled up on the couch with the kitties reading a good book. Also, I have an awful lot of family and friends that live South and I will most certainly plan my annual visits to their homes during the cold winter months!
I'm excited and know deep down that this is the right decision. It's the right time and the right place for me. So on those words, I will end this daily (almost) writing of MyHomeOnTheRoam for a few months, but will resume it again, for those interested, when I get down to the nitty-gritty of moving. Hey, I might even write about my upcoming visit and the neighborhoods I like and don't like. You all take care and be good to each other....
Until the next time.....