It’s Time

This is one of those days when I don’t have a clue about what to write. The words will come as I compose. My life was very different this week, and I wound up driving a lot of miles. The driving only woke me up to the fact that my body has changed since 2015 which is the last time I undertook a major drive of 1850 miles in one stretch. I’m not so sure I would be able to do that as well as I did back then. The last six years have been somewhat stressful on my system. Today, as I took my walk, I decided that I must undertake a vigorous training program to get into shape to take another driving trip. A few months ago, I posted my thoughts about taking one last trip around the United States by car before I hang up my driving gloves for good. Before my post was completed I decided that maybe that kind of effort has gone and left me behind. Driving around the perimeter of the USA and up and down a few times in between to cover all the points I would like to revisit added up to a bunch of miles that would take weeks, no months, to accomplish. It would be the ultimate “Burning Gas” post.

This week I kiddingly told my daughter that this kind of trip would be best taken in a sleeper van, camping along the way covering the warmer southern states in the winter months and then heading to the northern border for the summer and fall. Surprisingly, she agreed with me. Over the years, I have done this trip, mostly camping along the way, except I did it in two week stretches covering a period of twenty-five years. Ask my kids about it. A couple of them have never traveled since, and another took up discovering the world with her girlfriend. None of her trips were by car. She wised up and learned from the boring miles she spent in the back of the van as her father had to make the miles to a new destination. She learned that what took me days to cover by driving she could do in a few hours by airplane. The difference between us is that on my trips, I saw and savored every mile of the country in between destinations. She slept as she flew over the boring oceans between her destinations. I tell people that one has to experience the space of this country by driving across the Midwest. The vast flat plain between our home in Illinois and the Rocky mountains was always a bore that even I would have done differently if I could. I remember very vividly dreaming about how nice it would have been to drive our van and trailer onto a railroad flat-car and to navigate the plains by train. There actually were some services that provided such accommodations between the east coast cities and Florida, but I don’t think they exist anymore.

I stopped driving trips when I neared retirement. It was time for Barbara and me to take the easy way, we flew to dream destinations at home, in Europe, and the far east. That didn’t last very long because she became sick and died within months after I retired. To honor her memory, I took a solitary driving trip to our dreamed about winter residence. The driving alone part I vowed never to do again. During that trip I thought about all the long distance truckers who spend their lives driving their loads from a to z daily logging five to six hundred miles over and over again, living and sleeping in truck stops or the back of their tractors. I decided I could never have made a living as a truck driver.

After a couple of years of living alone I found a new partner who wouldn’t fly. So I took up driving again, and loved it. She turned out to be a very good travel buddy, never complaining about the hours, or the monotony of covering miles. We toured the western United States and Canada east to west over our ten years of good life together. We spent the last five years keeping each other company as she ever so slowly descended into the inner depths of her mind.

I have my first wife Barbara’s advice to me from her death bed embedded in my brain, “it’s time to get on with your life.”

Adventure Is Dangerous But Boredom Is Lethal

A friend called me Saturday evening and said simply, “come pick me up.”  She was seventy miles away. I didn’t hesitate, I put on a shirt, got in the car and drove to get her. Earlier in the year we had made a deal. Basically, I would let her stay in my house so she could become independent of her son. It took her four months to finally make it happen. On the ride back to Frankfort, we discussed her need to de-stress. I told her, you need an adventure. “What is adventure,” she asked? She is from a foreign country and can speak well enough to make a living, but every once in a awhile she will stop dead and ask the “what is” question about the meaning of a word. I am becoming a better linguist as a result of it. Having to define the meaning of words which are natural to me is quite a challenge. I defined adventure as a trip or activity that is  new and exciting. I was dead on Webster correct except for one additional descriptor, “new, exciting, and possibly dangerous.”  I explained to her that adventures stretch us and make us think about life in a new way. An adventure can be exciting, like taking off on a whim at sundown on a Saturday night to drive to the far north side almost to the Wisconsin border in the dark on roads, and through towns I am not very familiar with.

Normally my adventures are quite tame compared to that one. Like for instance taking my car to get emission tested in another town from the one that currently shut down and converted to COVID-19 testing.

I read a meme describing adventure is dangerous but boredom is lethal. Complacent activity doesn’t move the blood like adventure.

All my life, I have enjoyed taking adventures, mostly bicycle trips. There is nothing like the thrill signing up for a one week long bike trip with twelve thousand other crazy people to ride from one border of a state to another. The whole thing takes ones mind off of the stresses of daily work which tends to get a bit stressful at times. Once you punch out of the job and head for the car packed with your equipment and bicycle your stress level changes from the job to the new adventure. Excitement and adrenaline takeover the body, and you move forward, away from the stress that was grinding on you.

My friend recently had an illness which consumed her body. For her entire life she has been healthy, robust, active person without any complaints and then painful joints hit her like a ton of bricks. Lots of tests, and pain later the doctors concluded that she had fibromyalgia. She never heard of it. She asked where does it come from? Believe it, or not they couldn’t, or wouldn’t answer her question. Being naturally curious she searched the internet rigorously until she learned that one cause of fibromyalgia is stress. What stress? she asked herself. I listed some possibilities: you were unemployed for three months and couldn’t find work, there is friction between you and your son with whom you have lived for over twenty years for starters. It all adds up, some of the stressors are tiny, but I believe they are additive. Your cup fills with stress and when it reaches the rim it causes your body to react with pain.

I ended my adventure by driving home in the night. I missed a turn at a round about, and wound up giving my GPS a workout. Eventually, the stress of being lost changed to being comfortable in the dark after I began to recognize where I was.

 

Amazing Adventure

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One of many items on my bucket list is to read the biographies of all the Presidents. So far I have read about twenty. The book I just completed is a piece of the life of Theodore Roosevelt. Imagine living a life so rich in accomplishment that a major adventure fills a book and is just a small part of one’s life.

Teddy Roosevelt had just lost the election to become President of the USA for a third term. He tried what is today described as a losing affair. Teddy formed a third-party he called the Bull Moose party to run against Woodrow Wilson a democrat who today is by some considered to be one of the greatest presidents that we ever had. Others, like myself consider him to be the father of American Progressivism, or Socialism. Nevertheless, Roosevelt lost big. In his recovery from the loss, he was talked into making a speaking tour of South America. To make a dull trip more exciting he chose to add an adventure to his itinerary. A friend talked him into an exploration of a little known river in Brazil. The friend imagined the tour to be an easy down river float with all the comforts of home, including chef cooked meals of extraordinary cuisine, and fine wines. Roosevelt’s biggest mistake was to trust the friend to plan and outfit the excursion.

While in South America giving speeches, he met a man known for exploring the Brazilian rain forests. The man, Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon, suggested to Roosevelt that his expedition explore a totally unknown one thousand mile long tributary of the Amazon called the River of Doubt. The adventure would allow Rondon to put this river on the map. The idea appealed to Roosevelt and the whole trip changed in character.

Author Candice Millard crafted an extraordinary narrative from details recorded by members of the expedition. The story keeps the reader interested throughout. This story would make an excellent adventure movie, but it is too big to tell, and was made into a series.

Prince Albert

             Grampa Jim left a ladder up against the farmhouse. It was a homemade ladder, and was very heavy.  I was too small to be able to lift it or carry it, so finding the ladder in place presented an opportunity.  Before I climbed up, I made sure Mom was doing something, and would not catch me easily.  Up the ladder I started.  Lifting my short legs up to each rung felt like stretching to my shoulder.  The first few rungs were easy. About half way up, I began to feel the bounce of the ladder.  I was terrified, but kept on climbing.  Once I got on the porch roof I felt safe again, as long as I stayed away from the edges and didn’t look down

            The main house had a gable roof.  The porch roof was flat but sloped down.  At the end was a door to access the attic of the house.  The door was square and low, and locked with a hook. It was easy to open. 

            I unhooked the latch, and pushed the door open. The space was the dark, and hot air hit me in the face.  It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.  I stepped onto one of the several boards placed across the ceiling rafters.  There was no insulation and the ceiling showed between the rafters.  One slip and I would go crashing through.  I was still small enough that I did not have to duck low to clear the rafters as I walked on a plank. A few steps into the darkness, I began to see the outlines of some very large, very brown leaves laying flat on the boards.  What are these and why are they here?  I asked myself. Then I remembered that Grampa had a few tobacco plants on the farm.  The dry brown leaves looked just like the tobacco I saw growing.  The attic was less of an adventure after that day, and I did not go back until much later, but for a reason.

            Gramps had a boarder living with him.  The rent kept Grampa Jim in Camels and his daily bottle of beer.  His name was Cszilag, Pista, which translated from Hungarian read Star, Steve.  For some reason, old country people call or refer to someone by the Sur name first, then their given name.  Steve Star became a central character in my life later on.  At this time, I got a brainstorm to play a prank on Steve.   He was a lonely old man who worked in the pickle factory in Coloma.  All we knew about him was that he liked to get drunk on wine.  He boarded with Gramps for many years.  When we came to the farm, Mom set the rules and he had to live by them or hit the road.  One rule was “no drinking”.  He lived up to the charge. 

            After supper, Steve enjoyed a smoke on his corncob pipe.  He sat on the log chairs under the willow and packed his  pipe with tobacco from a can of Prince Albert. The tin can was always in his hip pocket.  The Prince Albert cans were unique in shape because the fit into a pocket very nicely.  The hinged lid insured the smoker would not lose it, and it snapped shut.  Empty cans littered the house and yard.   Steve had a habit of leaving them wherever they became empty.  Gramps used them to store nails and screws, although they made lousy storage for those types of things.

            One day I asked Gramps what the leaves were in the attic.  After interrogating me about how I knew about them and lecturing me on the hazard of climbing shaky ladders, he told me it was tobacco.  Gramps tried the tobacco and did not like it, but left the leaves in the attic.  They were several years old, and so dry that the slightest touch caused them to crumble.  I got the idea to test the tobacco, but not by smoking it myself.  I found a Prince Albert can that looked new.  The ladder was still against the porch.  I snuck into the attic and crumpled enough tobacco to fill a Prince Albert can.

            While Steve was at work, I sneakily placed the can on his dresser.  The remainder of my day felt like eternity while I waited for him to come home.  We ate supper and he finally went outside to smoke.  He pinched a wad of tobacco for his pipe, and noticed that it was dry.  Smoking tobacco, I learned, is moist, even though it is brown from age.  He continued to fill and lit up.  It only took one drag for him to be convinced that something was seriously wrong.  I could not contain myself any longer and started laughing hysterically.  He looked at me as he puffed out and began coughing uncontrollably.  When he finally stopped, a string of Hungarian words, which I had never heard before came from his mouth. I can only assume that these were words on Mom’s list of ‘forbidden’s’.  At the instant that I burst into laughter, and Steve started cussing, I broke into a run. I ran as fast as I could to get away.  Steve Star had finally put it all together and was emptying the contents of the Prince Albert can on the grass.  When Gramps heard the whole story, he smiled.  When Mom heard the story, she scolded me for being so mean.

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