Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Home again, home again, jiggety jig!

So we're home now, and have taken some time to settle in.  The last leg of the trip was a series of celebrations- friends, family, fun, and all tempered with concern about whether we would make it over the Tejon pass, up the "grapevine" into the LA area. It's a long upward grade, and many cars overheat.  But we took it after midnight, and even took the precaution of unhooking the tow car and having me drive it separately over the roughest part of the road. And so we made it home, to a joyful reunion with our housesitting son Jared and our two dogs, early on September 1, 2011 after 28,712 miles driven since April 7, when Joe set out for his three weeks in Florida before starting out with Arby (the motorhome), Toad (the tow car), and me on April.

On reflection, I focus on two emotions -relief and pride: we made it.  I am amazed at Joe's persistence in the gargantuan task he set before himself.
The logistics of scheduling required 300 hours of his time, even before setting out to make appointments.  On the road, there was constant monitoring of the details of each appointment, and thank you notes to be sent, as well as constant blogging.  I got tired just watching him handle all this!

Though he's never enjoyed working with the mechanical operation of vehicles, he set himself to solving the entirely expectable problems involved with operating a 17 year old vehicle that has so many variables and vibrates constantly on the road.  He had put together a far-fetched project that JUST might work.  And he made it work.

He did virtually all the driving, as well as the physical setting up and breaking down of camp, which is the least attractive part of RV travel, and it was a nearly daily routine in some parts of the trip. He is a great driver, having had no collisions, and evading difficult situations in traffic and in tight driving spots.

For my part, I had researched and prepared by making sure we had certain safety measures covered.  We installed an electrical circuit surge  protector, which would manage power surges.  The sheer number of parks we stayed in made it quite likely that we would run into power problems, and we did.  And when we did, the problem was minor, as the variable electrical current only affected us briefly.

I made sure we had a water pressure regulator, after researching that very high pressure could tear the plumbing apart.  And we did hit high pressure, and the regulator did its job.

I helped with navigation, using the iPad 2's Google Maps feature, which for the most part worked fine.  There were occasional glitches, like the post office branch in Des Moines, Iowa, that according to the app was in the middle of a corn field. (It was housed in a Walmart, across the road from the corn field.)  A little common sense got us through these slight mishaps.

One function we had prepared for but didn't use- the sound system.  We had upgraded it to be very pleasant, but failed to project just when we would want to listen to it. Road noise prevented enjoyment of music, and when we were stopped, we mostly wanted to concentrate on the writing.

So instead of listening to music, or even to audio books, we fell into a pattern of his listening to me read aloud.  I read at least eight full books over the course of the trip, about two per month.  I enjoyed his reactions to the situations, and was glad to have him share the book experience with me.  I remembered not being able to read aloud to my classes for more than ten or fifteen minutes before I felt a strain on my voice.  Not true now-- I guess retirement took away vocal stress!

So, what now?

This phase of the project, the physical travel, seems quite done.  I've shampooed the rugs,  washed and polished the RV, and we're cleaning out cabinets.

I think we may be done with the RV lifestyle for a little bit.  Arby turned out to have lots more room than we realized, and lots more than we needed. We'll likely be finding another owner for our beloved home of the last four months.  I was surprised to find how much I liked the idea of coming back to Arby after we'd been staying with friends for a few days.   I slept well in the motorhome, and neither of us got sick at all, and actually slept pretty well - largely because the air conditioner was functional after we got the generator fixed in Louisiana!

We do like touring the United States, probably more than foreign travel, though I'm definitely looking forward to traveling with cousins for two weeks to France next May! There are endless delights in America. So many times we wished that we had the time to linger in delightful places, but we were on a mission, and the schedule was the highest priority.  We did see many terrific places, but only when we realized that we occasionally did have extra time to just relax and explore a little.

We're not ruling out getting back to an RV lifestyle somewhere down the road, but Joe's professional schedule rules out much time for that in the next year or two, and Arby's meant to be on the road, carrying someone to a delightful adventure.

How has this changed our life?  Some.  There's media attention; he's used to giving interviews, and it all feeds back into his goal of writing books that will be of interest to readers.  He's picking up his major league singing schedule again, after letting that rest for a few years.  He has already sung in 20 major league stadiums, and will likely challenge himself to get bookings for as many of the remaining stadiums as possible.

And will he get listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for his amazing feat? Sadly, no. To get listed, there would have been official signs for each of the appearances- something that would have needed to be arranged in advance. It wasn't a goal, so it didn't happen.  

But a terrific outcome was to appear a few years after: Joe created the Institute for Baseball Studies, a resource for scholars of the history of baseball and its cultural meaning.  On January 16, 2015, the Institute had its Grand Opening, and became the first scholarly institute for the study of baseball to be associated with a liberal arts college in the US.  Learn more at www.whittier.edu

Reading aloud to the driver

I'm very lucky; I don't get carsick, even when I read in the car.  That attribute is key to my enjoyment on this four month journey around the country. I'm a compulsive reader of a rather wide variety of texts: magazines, books, newspapers, and even, in desperation, cereal boxes. 

When asked what book I'm currently reading, I have to reflect on the stack of books on my bedside table. Which to claim? My habits in this regard are disturbingly like my tendency to greatly enjoy channel-surfing on satellite signals on the TV or internet surfing on any of a number of computers in my home. I would claim ADD but it's not true.  I'm just interested in everything.

To prepare for this jaunt across country, a few months ago, I began reading aloud to Joe in the car.  We began with a series of, a delightful series by Mark Schweizer’s "Liturgical Mysteries", in which a small town chief of police / church organist ingeniously solved murder cases in his small town North Carolina town.  The truly funny stories made the 35-minute drive to and from choir practice in Tustin very enjoyable.  Discovering that many others had enjoyed the same series intensified the fun - we could mention key words for funny scenes and everyone would bust up.

On the recommendation of a choir friend, Lee Ditkowsky, I read travel accounts to Joe, most notably "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson, a masterful author that every other habitual reader seems to have discovered much earlier than I.  Chalk that up to my tendency to read more vintage books, such as Sigrid Undset's 1928 Nobel Prize winner for literature, "Kristin Lavransdatter", my first choice after retirement; it's a three volume saga that you'd have to set aside some real time to stay on top of it. I was just as fascinated now as when I last read it at the age of thirteen, by its keen observations of daily life in medieval Norway and its characters' emotions. 

That saga was too long for car trip reading aloud, and both Joe and I wanted to brush up on writing narratives, so what better way than to read narratives, particularly of travel?  The writing voice has much in common with the speaking voice; one can pick up a rhythm and sense of organization from excellent writers much as an accent is picked up by listening to daily conversations.

By chance we picked up Charles Kuralt's "A Life on the Road", which was was a particularly good preparation for short vignettes suitable for blogs, and provided tips for RV living to boot. But now the current read is back to Bill Bryson – “At Home – A Short History of Private Life”.  It’s an amazing compendium of easily understandable explanations for things we’ve always wondered about – such as why salt and pepper are so highly valued as to be the only two flavorings to be added to the table.

If we don’t write as often as we had planned, it is definitely going to be because we are reading more than we expected.   As much as the travel and discovery of new places is enchanting, this bookaholic draws new delight from each page of a good book.