Road Trip

Gina looking fierce in front of unwanted graffiti

Gina looking fierce in front of unwanted graffiti

Loading the car for a road trip used to be simple.  It was a matter of throwing in a small bag with some clean underwear, a change of clothes, maybe some special face soap, and, of course, my purse.  Now, it takes a whole lot more.

This would be a little more timeless without the sunglasses

This would be a little more timeless without the sunglasses

There’s the additional wardrobe required for business meetings.  This, of course, must be accompanied by additional baggage required for a laptop, a phone, a tablet, 3 chargers, headphones, business cards, and miscellaneous forms of paper.

Then there’s the additional wardrobe required for hanging out with friends and encountering a variety of social settings.  Limiting myself to 2 pairs of shoes is quite a challenge.

This reminds me of the kinds of photos my grandparents used to take

This reminds me of the kinds of photos my grandparents used to take

But the mass of what I loaded into the car was photography equipment.  It took two big bags of stuff plus my tripod–that’s without my umbrella stands.  Had I brought Tisen with me, the volume of stuff would have doubled.  Fortunately, my husband is taking care of Tisen for a few days and we’ll meet up later.

I managed to get the car loaded in one trip with my husband’s help.

I like driving.  At least, I like it until miscellaneous body parts start going numb, my shoulders start burning, and I realize I’m clenching my jaw like I’m performing one of those rope tricks in a circus where a lady is spun and swung all over the place while she bites on a rope.  Then, I would like a more comfortable seat and perhaps a massage.

I keep thinking I should make the drive at a leisurely pace, stopping to shoot interesting sights and exploring the area each time I stop.  Unfortunately, I never have that kind of time to get from one place to another.  This time, I opted to drive a few hours the night before I needed to arrive at my destination.  Then, I stopped at a hotel for the night before driving the rest of the way.  This divided the drive up nicely, allowing me to get a decent night’s sleep and also to miss rush hour traffic outside a major city in the morning.  Had I not stopped, I would have needed to leave by 5AM to make sure I got to my meeting on time.

Gill and Gina looking strangely contemporary in this tintype-effect Hipstamatic shot

Gill and Gina looking strangely contemporary in this tintype-effect Hipstamatic shot

After doing my work stuff, I got to have some time to relax with my hosts, who we like to call Gina and Gill.  It’s a beautiful sunny day for a change.  Gina and Gill have the perfect porch for a sunny day.  We ended up hanging out on said porch, enjoying the warmth and the breezes.  I decided that the big front porch on their 100+ year old house was the perfect setting to pull out the Hipstamatic app and use the tintype film.

After taking a few shots of Gina and Gill on the front porch, Gina and I took a little walk where we found some unpleasant graffiti to shoot her in front of.  I like the urban look.

The Deserted Office, Desserts, and Death

Today is Wednesday.  No workout this morning.  No face-to-face meetings scheduled.  But my calendar is full of conference calls.  When Pat drops me off at the office, I go upstairs to discover an empty floor.  Those who were there the day before are all either off, working from home, or traveling today.  There is no one to say hello to, no one to catch up with, not even anyone to ignore.  I find this oddly distracting.  Given that I even have calls through lunch, I find myself wondering why I bothered to come in at all.  I do not rate a window office, so I sit in my empty office with no view and miss my home office with a fantastic view.

An interesting thing I have learned about myself in the age of ADD:  I need low-level distractions in order to focus.  It’s as if I need to give the “Squirrel!” part of my brain something to do so that it stops nagging at the rest of my brain when I’m trying to concentrate.  Background noise at the office helps.  Just knowing there are people outside my door helps.  When I work at home, I have an easier time remaining focused on an intense task when my husband is home doing something on his own than if I’m home alone.  I’ve found that listening to music helps in the absence of other distractions, but that’s not possible when on conference calls.  Within an hour, I am coming out of my skin.

I don’t know what exactly it is that I experience when there is not enough going on at once–is it anxiety, boredom, hyper-activeness?  I’m not sure.  All I know is that I begin to work on one thing, I think of something else and open that, then I think of something else and open that.  All while I’m on a conference call.  Before I know it, I have about 40 documents open, 8 instant message conversations going, I’m halfway through answering 9 emails, and I’m in a complete state of confusion as to whether I’ve actually accomplished anything or not.

Complicating this state of task-hopping (let’s face it, there’s no such thing as multi-tasking) is the memory factor.  Another thing I’ve learned about the scattered mind combined with a faulty memory is: when I start to do something, it often creates a memory of having done it.  Whatever the function is in my brain that checks of to-do items, starting a task can trigger that little check.  Once the item is mentally checked, I forget all about it.  So, the more task-hopping I do, the more items I’m at risk of believing I’ve completed when in fact, they are only partially done.  To combat this, before I close things, I carefully look at each window I’ve opened, figure out why I’ve opened it, and then determine if that item is complete or not.  When I have a day like today with back-to-back conference calls where I’m able to just listen for my name during the first one (giving me the opportunity to open a lot), but the rest of them I have to listen and participate (preventing me from finishing anything I opened during the first call), I will often get to the end of the day and not have time to do a graceful shutdown, so-to-speak.  Then, I put my laptop to sleep and hope it will wake up later and that I will remember where I was with all the stuff that’s still open.  Of course, the more stuff I leave open, the more likely my laptop will hang and require a reboot, which essentially reboots my memory right along with the laptop.

It’s the end of the day, we have dinner plans with friends we haven’t seen in two months, and, as predicted, I have too many things open and must put my laptop to sleep and clean up later.  Given that our friends are expecting a baby in about 2 weeks, I imagine we will not be out late and I will have time for this tonight.  But, I hate going to dinner with things hanging unfinished both on my laptop and in my mind.

After a day of isolation, getting together with friends is even more welcome.  Our friends include a little one who arrives in his mother’s arms half asleep.  I try to remember what it feels like to have to jerk yourself out of sleep, rouse yourself and be social.  He’s only 4–too young to have learned that skill set yet.  He wants to be held by his mother, tiny and nearly 9 months pregnant.  She holds him and I wonder how that’s possible.

Our small friend does come to life during dinner.  He makes it through his meal with the promise of ice cream dancing in his head.  There is a Graeter’s next door.  Even though we still have Graeter’s in the freezer at our hosts’ house, I am just as excited about going next door after dinner as the 4-year old.

Outside, there is an event for a dog rescue.  One woman has a tiny Chihuahua on a leash.  He poops toothpaste-consistency yellow poop on the patio without his owner noticing.  I think back to our Mastiffs and how I used to tell my friends that with Mastiff poop, you worry more about tripping over it than stepping in it.  The Chihuahua’s poop is about 1/40th the size, just like the dog.

I watch as first one dog steps in the soft pile, then another.  I tell a volunteer and she gets out a bag, but before she can clean it up, the Chihuahua owner steps on it, completely covering the mess with her Ugg boot.  Amazingly, when she takes another step, it’s as if the entire pile has desinegrated and been absorbed into her sole and the patio pavers, leaving only discoloration behind.  The volunteer looks at me and says, “Was it her dog who pooped?” I answer in the affirmative and she winks and says, “Retribution!”

After enjoying a scoop of pumpkin pie ice cream, watching the dogs, and watching our small friend attempt to play “Cone Hole” (Graeter’s humor–an ice cream place’s name for “Corn Hole”), we say our good-byes and head on home.  It’s barely 8:00PM.

When we arrive at our hosts’ house, we eat some more ice cream and talk about the news of Steve Jobs’ death.  Oddly, I feel more likely to buy an iPhone 4S because Steve Jobs died.  There is no logic to this and I cannot explain it.  We ponder what the impact will be on Apple and whether they can continue his legacy when he was so heavily involved in the details.

I find myself wondering what his personal life was like, if he was happy, if the legacy of Apple was worth whatever he sacrificed.  I wonder what was most important to him and if he believed, in the end, that he lived his life according to his values and his priorities or if he struggled with regrets over the things he didn’t do.  Then, I begin to wonder if building something like Apple is more or less important or valuable than building a family or anything else that someone dedicates their life to.  But, this is too deep for contemplation right before bed, so I let the thought drift away as we say our goodnights and head upstairs.

Going to the Woods

Having decided to spend Labor Day weekend in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, we first have to make it there.  As we head out of Chattanooga with our entire plan being:

  1. Drive to South Entrance
  2. Find an available front-country campsite
  3. Hike,

I am somewhat nervous that our trip will implode.  But as we head off of highway 75 and into Cherokee National Forest, I have to relax.  The woods surround the roadway and we drive along a river that appears to be a popular white water rafting destination.  I give up counting rafts after about 50–the river is swarming with them.  I’m glad we’re not rafting today–it’s a bit too crowded for my tastes.  But the people in rafts all smile and look happy, which is the point.  As we twist and turn along the river’s edge, watching rafters, kayakers, and fishermen, we realize we haven’t had lunch.  Just about that time, we see a large lodge-like building on the edge of the river just ahead.  We pull in and discover a visitors center at the 1996 Olympics Kayaking course.  The river has been altered here to create an olympic shoot of rapids that probably all have special names, but I’m afraid I didn’t take the time to read all of the signs explaining the course.  We watch both kayakers and rafters take the course one-by-one.  One man in a kayak rolls over in the middle of a big rapid, but bounces right back up again, looking like he meant to do that.  I like kayaking in sea kayaks–the kind that you couldn’t roll if you stood on one edge and jumped up and down.  The notion of being tied into a boat and hanging upside down in rapids just doesn’t appeal to me, although I suppose it’s something I may end up learning how to do someday just out of shear curiosity.  (What’s that about cats?)

After watching for a while and even getting a few shots, we walk into the downstairs of the visitors’ center and find a cafe.  The man and teenaged boy working there appear to be father and son.  The son pitches their curried macaroni salad and baked potato salad enthusiastically as well as their “vintage” sodas.  We get one of each along with a ham sandwich, a grape Nihi and some specialty root beer.  I ask the teenager what year it was made.  He looks puzzled and I remind him that it’s supposed to be vintage.  He cracks up, revealing a mouth full of gums.  It’s nice to make a teenager laugh, especially when he might be self-conscious about his smile.

Selecting a table with a view of the kayak course, we discover an interesting large insect parked on our table.  I’m not sure what s/he is–but it’s large and green with the longest antenna I’ve ever seen.  I get out my macro lens and do my best to shoot it without making it move.  I didn’t have much to worry about–I don’t think an earthquake would have gotten that guy hopping.

The teenager brings our food to us and we settle down to eat.  The curried macaroni salad is more interesting than most macaroni salads, but it’s still macaroni salad.  The baked potato salad tastes just like a baked potato with sour cream and chives.  It’s really nice.  We finish our food quickly and sip on our sodas (we can’t call them “pop” anymore now that we’ve moved out of Ohio) that taste like they were definitely made recently.  I have a craving for ice cream and the cafe has a freezer full of frozen treats including Ben and Jerry’s ice cream bars.  However, we decide to use the restrooms before getting ice cream and when we return, about a dozen people appeared from no where and lined up to get food.  Deciding it’s not worth it to wait in line, we head back towards the car.

As we come up the steps to the parking lot, there are several people coming towards us.  Two of them are shirtless young men who look like they spend all of their spare time in the gym.  I really barely noticed, but I catch my sandal on a step and trip going up the stairs, which, of course, makes Pat think I’m so distracted by these shirtless wonders that I can’t walk straight.  Pat has known me for over 15 years and he’s seen me trip going up stairs about 90% of the time, so we both know that the fact that this time there happened to be a couple of shirtless men on the stairs at the same time is completely unrelated, but both of us laugh hard at the sheer silliness of it.

We return to the car and head on up the road.  When we get a stretch that is traffic free, Pat opens it up a little and enjoys the enhancements he’s made to the car over the years.  It’s a fun car to drive.  Pat is the master of making cars last forever and this BMW is no exception.  Plus, we’ve invested a little money into making it more fun, so Pat gets his money’s worth as we lean into the turns on sticky tires and a sport suspension, accelerating out of each turn with verve.  Unfortunately, the break in traffic doesn’t last long, plus, it’s getting hot enough to require air conditioning for comfortable driving and air conditioning just ruins the whole driving experience.  Pat settles back down and I get comfortable in my seat, finding my eyes closing with a full stomach and the sunshine coming through the glass.  Sometimes I think that if I could put a bed in a car, I would sleep a sound 8 hours every night.  I lean the seat back and give in to the need for an afternoon nap.

Weekend Road Trip

It’s Saturday morning and I manage to sleep until 6AM–woo hoo!  We are leaving for Great Smoky Mountain National Park today and we have no plan and haven’t started to pack.  First, we decide we will camp, but not backpack.  This tells us what we will need.  Next, we decide we will enter the park from the South side, which tells us how we will get there.  Next, we head for the storage room and start digging out our gear.  Most of our camping gear is neatly packed into our two backpacks, but my sleeping bag and the camp stove are missing.  Back in the storage room, we dig up my sleeping bag, stored full and puffy in it’s large storage bag so that it doesn’t lose loft.  I love my sleeping bag.  It’s a Western Mountaineering down, water resistant bag that weighs next to nothing but manages to keep me warm in sub-freezing temperatures.  I toss the big bag in the air a few times just to appreciate how light it is.  We find the camp stove (well, it’s really a super-light single burner that screws directly onto a small propane tank) in a plastic storage container that also has bug spray, an extra flashlight, wet wipes (a must for camping), and two super-absorbent, fast-drying camp towels.  We collect our booty and return down the hall to our apartment.

All of our gear is spread out on the floor, looking much like an explosion.  We sort through what we need for camping in the front-country from what we only need for back-country.  Having decided not to backpack, we need less stuff but don’t have to worry so much about how much space it occupies.  We thought we were going to take our mini-van so that we’d have the option to sleep in the van if the weather turned nasty, but the front brakes were making some nasty noises when we drove the day before (making Pat extremely angry since he’d just had the brakes done a month ago and the dealership had ensured him the front brakes were fine) and we decide we’d better take the BMW.  It’s a small car and we don’t want to have to leave anything valuable sitting in the seats, so we debate whether we should roll the sleeping bags into their impossibly small stuff sacks or leave them in their storage bags.  Deciding they will fit in their storage bags, we move on to packing clothing.  I grab two pairs of hiking pants, a couple of high-tech T-Shirts that will dry fast when wet.  Then I choose some bra tops that are comfortable for hiking, my five-fingers trekking shoes, a pair of socks for night time, and the world’s most comfortable underwear, Ex Officio boy-cut briefs.  Normally, I would not mention my unmentionables, but these are just so awesome for the active woman that I can’t help but share.  I slip on a pair of cropped hiking pants and tank top along with my Chaco Z sandals.  I grab my 1-quart zip lock bag of toiletries from my trip to New York and remove the items I won’t need while camping.  I stuff it all into a reversible stuff sack that has a nice fuzzy interior that can be turned inside out and stuffed with the perfect aount of clothes to make a nice pillow.  Since we’re not worried about weight this trip, I throw in my neck pillow.

Now that my gear and garments are ready to roll, I focus on water.  Unfortunately, our faucet is one of those sprayer types that you can’t attach a water filter to.  I filter 2 gallons of water through our filter pitcher and fill two large water bladders for our day packs and a gallon jug to take with us.  We drink a lot of water when we hike.  Since we can’t carry the gallon of water with us, I also prep our backpacking water filter that will allow us to safely refill our bladders from any stream should we run out.  I’m a little paranoid about hiking.  Maybe not paranoid given my proclivity for hurting myself, but I like to make sure I always have a first aid kit, emergency blankets, and plenty of water.  I figure that ensures we can survive any accident for at least 3 days.  Even when we are taking short, easy hikes, I like to know that we’re prepared for disaster.  Maybe I’ve read too many stories about hikers who died from hypothermia after a minor injury laid them up on the trail, but I want to know that I will be able to stay warm, dry, and hydrated even if we’re only a couple miles from help.

Having gathered together all the necessities save food, we load up the car.  Pat decides to take two trips.  I wait for him outside, keeping an eye on the car now that I’ve put my backpack containing my camera gear in the front seat.  He returns with the last load and we pile in and head out.  I am practically bouncing in my seat as we head out of town.  While part of me is so tired I want to lay around all weekend, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to spend a long weekend in the Smokies.  We talk about what we will do when we get there, since we still have no real plan beyond getting there.  Our first goal will be to find a campsite.  I’m somewhat worried that with it being a holiday weekend, there won’t be any available.  We also stop for gas and stock up on snack food so we can go straight from getting a campsite to going on a hike.  It’s taken us so long to get out the door that we won’t get there before 3PM.  I don’t want to miss out on a hike just because we don’t have any snacks to take with us (another little paranoid thing I have–unless I’m hiking in a metro park, I want to make sure we have some food on us).

It strikes me as funny that we spent so much time rushing around to get ready, yet we don’t know what we got ready for.  I pull out my iPad and start digging through old emails, trying to find the name of a trail a friend recommended to me.  Unfortunately, I’m not able to locate it.  I figure I’ll have to ask again and we’ll catch it next time.  I download an app that is supposed to help with planning a trip to the park, but it has little information about hiking trails.  I do searches and try to figure out where we should go when we get there, but in the end, I have to sit back and relax and assume that it will all work out.

Defining Home

I’ve made up my mind–home really is the place where you have your own bed.  Set aside the view from our apartment, the endless things to do, the relaxing walks by the river–those are all things we would enjoy on vacation.  It’s our bed that I look forward to returning to.  I find it odd that after 40+ years of living in Columbus, moving my bed makes me feel like I’ve moved my home.  Leaving behind good friends and the opportunity to see those friends makes me sad, but in a world where I can text, Facetime, Skype, Facebook, email, and call from various devices and at no extra charge, it’s hard to feel like I’m really leaving anyone behind.  It’s the bed that calls me home.

Once on the road and thinking about sleeping in my own bed, I find myself anxious to get there.  Unfortunately, the road isn’t so cooperative.  North of Cincinatti, we are snarled in a traffic jam that brings us to a dead stop.  I make good use of the time (since Pat is driving) and pull out my new Verizon MiFi.  I manage to get online and get a bunch of work done as efficiently as if I’m in the office.  Even Sametime (Lotus instant messaging) works flawlessly.  Pat decided to get off the highway and we drive through small towns trying to find a way around the traffic jam.  My wireless broadband hotspot keeps me connected through the whole thing.  After spending about and hour and half in the traffic and another half an hour half lost and working our way back to the freeway, we once again cruise along at highway speeds.  I continue working for a couple more hours with childlike amazement that I can instant message and email and surf uninterrupted as we speed along the highway.  Having worked in telecom for many years prior to my current job, I know too much about what can go wrong to not be impressed by the technological advancements that allow for this moment in time when virtual presence can be maintained from virtually anywhere.

Pat gets tired of driving and we change seats once we make it into Kentucky.  It’s the first time I’ve gotten behind the wheel in nearly 3 weeks.  I set the cruise control and enjoy the feeling of driving for several hours.   I am surprised that it feels no different.  I don’t know why this surprises me–I have gone for weeks without driving many times in my life.  Years ago, when I used to have a job that involved traveling internationally for weeks at a time, I would go without driving for as long as 6 weeks.  I am reminded of a trip to Italy when, after having been there for 3 weeks, I rented a car since it was over Easter and the colleague who normally drove me was on holiday for a week.  Driving in Italy definitely felt strange.  The last day my colleague was still with me, we decided I should drive to the office so I would learn the route (since I never seem to pay enough attention as the passenger).  When I went to enter the freeway for the first time, I started accelerating on the entrance ramp, preparing to merge.  My colleague started screaming, “No, Dianne!  No!  Stop!” as I looked over my left shoulder for a gap in traffic (which I couldn’t find).  When I turned to see why he was screaming, there was a concrete wall dead ahead of me.  I screeched to a halt just in time to avoid slamming us into unforgiving concrete.  My colleague was sweating.  This was my second trip to Rome and even after having ridden with him daily for a combined 6 weeks, I had failed to realize that Italian entrance ramps aren’t designed for merging.  I’d always wondered why he stopped before trying to jump into traffic moving at a high rate of speed!  I quickly learn how to go from a standstill to moving into traffic going 80 KPH in an under-powered sub-compact Italians call a “medium” sized car.

But this is not like driving for the first time in a foreign country.  In fact, even the things that annoy me remain the same.  I am particularly annoyed by people who change speeds dramatically.  This phenomena is heightened by the fact that I am on cruise control in a vehicle with a powerful enough engine to make it up the hills going through the Kentucky mountains without much change in speed.  Others seem to slow down 10 MPH or more going up the steeper hills and speed back up coming down.  I understand when trucks carrying heavy loads crawl slowly up hills, but when a car whose average speed is only slightly slower than mine keeps passing me on the downhill only for me to have to pass them again on the uphill, I get annoyed.  Perhaps this annoys me because I want to feel like I’m making rapid progress towards home and the repeated passing of the same vehicle gives me the sensation of going backwards.  I do not do backwards well.  Ask Pat.  He frequently teases me about my unwillingness to take a route that includes backtracking, to go back for something I’ve left behind, or to change my mind once having set a plan into motion.  It’s one of life’s lessons I retake on a daily basis, yet I seem to always end up in the remedial class.

We make it to Knoxville before I find myself growing too sleepy to drive safely.  After a pit stop at Burger King (see previous post), Pat takes the wheel for the final stretch home.  I try talking to him to keep him awake, but quickly find myself slumping over, my head drooping towards the window.  Each time I reawaken, I imagine what my slack face must look like to drivers that we pass–head bobbing, loose jaw, closed eyes.  I wonder if I look like I’m dead.  I try my best to stay awake, knowing that Pat is fighting sleep too, but I suspect my parents used to take me for car rides on nights I couldn’t sleep and the feel of being on the road well past my bedtime still hypnotizes me.  I tell Pat to stop and sleep for a bit if he can’t stay awake.  He says we’re almost home; it would be weird to stop now.  I say, “better weird than dead.”  He laughs, which energizes him for a few minutes at least.

We do make it home safely.  Tired and groggy, we pull our bags out of the car and make our way into the lobby of our building.  I enter the access code four times before it works, giving me a moment of panic that we’ve forgotten the code and we’ll be stuck outside sleeping in our van after all.  We make it to the apartment, drop our things, brush our teeth and fall into bed otherwise un-groomed.  Ahh!  The bed!  It is good to be home.