July 17/Day T-minus 1.
I’ve been thinking about it for years. For decades. In fact, the idea goes way back to the late 1960’s, when for $250 I bought a dilapidated windowless ’57 VW Microbus that had been used as a janitorial supply delivery truck in its previous life. It reeked of disinfectant and its bare steel floor was rusted through from the sloshing of spilled cleaning agents and chemicals. It could cruise at a top speed of 45 mph but I rarely ran it up that high because of the ominous shrill complaints emanating from the transmission.
My plan was to throw an old mattress and a Coleman stove in the back and tour the U.S. Gasoline was 19 cents a gallon; I figured I could travel indefinitely on the few dollars I had scraped together.
However, Vietnam intervened and the project was never undertaken.
But that was then. Now that the stars have aligned and the Oracle has spoken, I'm at T-minus 24 hours from leaving on a 6,000 mile grand circle of the American West. Traveling solo, I expect to be away from home and family for about 10 weeks.
Honestly, it’s a little intimidating.
That’s a lot of windshield time, even for an inveterate driver like me. Planning—without overplanning—is crucial. I’ve been in various stages of preparation for a year. I prefer to set a basic itinerary but still want plenty of opportunity to get out there and just follow my nose. After all, you can’t get lost if you don’t care where you’re going.
What have I been doing for the past year? Making sure the camper is tuned up; settling on a GPS solution; making lists of must-have take-alongs (you know: jumper cables, baling wire, duct tape, hammer); learning to operate my camera in creative/manual mode; familiarizing myself with a new wide-angle lens; reading up on local history and points of interest along the way; thinking about communication to home; estimating costs; getting the truck inspected and serviced; finalizing my will; securing enough medication to last an extended period; developing an itinerary; loading the camper—all these have now been accomplished with increasing urgency as liftoff approaches.
Finally, I’m reading to roll.
NOTE: As you may notice while moving through the site, if you click on a picture you’ll see a larger version of it.
First Day on the Road
The goal is to reach Palo Duro Canyon State Park near Amarillo. At 475 miles the ambition is rather modest, though much of the travel is on slower state highways, not the Interstate. No matter, however. I really want to hold speed to under 65 anyway, mostly to conserve what fuel I can. The only memorable time I have on this first leg is in Lubbock, where I happen to be traveling Interstate 27 for a few miles.
In every other town or city I’ve been through on an Interstate, there’s at least one, and often several, gas stations at every exit. In Lubbock I find none. When I reach the far edge of town I know I have to turn around and hunt one down, because I’m running low on diesel. So I run a random pattern up and down streets lined with motels and franchise fast food places—the kind of landscape where you’d expect to find fuel. Only after about 30 minutes do I find a little second-tier station, where I finally top off the tank. Of course during the whole episode my lovely GPS lady keeps “recalculating” and insisting that I turn right at every intersection.
Next time I’ll shut her down.