Hello, readers!

Hello, readers!

I am not currently on the road. Please check back in 2022 for my next trip!

Cheers,
Kelly

Thursday, November 18, 2021

8/13 - 8/14 – Exhausted (and It Always Rains on the Last Day)

 8/13

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Now we’ve gotten to the depressing part of the trip. The part where I’m just driving… and driving… and driving… until I get home. You’d think that by now I would be better at finding interesting ways to break up the west Texas monotony, but I just haven’t.

At least this year I opted to break up the drive into a day and a half to reduce my misery a bit. The plan was to spend a leisurely morning in Santa Fe, drive 6 hours to Snyder, stay there for the night, and then leave the remaining 4.5 hours for the next day.

There’s a couple reasons I did that. The first kind of makes sense at least: I didn’t feel like driving 11-12 hours on the last day, because that’s a long drive and I get tired. But the second reason (which is actually kind of the real reason that I opted to do this) is much dumber: it always rains horribly on my last day headed home, and I wanted to find out if I could only get rained on for 4.5 hours instead of the full 11 hours.

A spoiler: I had no such luck limiting the amount of rain I had to endure.

But I’ll start at the beginning. I’m rolling the 8/13 and 8/14 posts into one another, because the long drive across Texas is really not remarkable at all. And quite frankly, very little of note happened to me on Friday the 13th, which was a little surprising!

I took my time getting going in the morning, like usual, opting to go to a nearby breakfast diner (the Pantry) for a huge and all-too-filling brunch. You really have to fill up on food when you’re in New Mexico, because the green chile just isn’t the same anywhere else in the States. So I had a gigantic chorizo and green chile omelette, which of course came with pancakes and fruit and bacon and all kinds of other stuff. Once I had polished that off and was feeling suitably bloated, I hit the road! Nothing like driving when you’re imminently about to be in a food coma.


Fortunately, it was a gorgeous day, with those beautiful giant fluffy New Mexican clouds drifting across the sky. I spent the first few hours of driving thinking that I was, indeed, going to successfully avoid a large part of the rainstorms that usually plague me on the last day of driving.




Boy, this is what you call "big sky"





But you all know that that’s not how this works. I always encounter blazing heat on the way out of Texas in early August, and hit massive storms on the way back in. And apparently, that applies no matter how many days I take to get back to central Texas.

So, here’s a couple photos of what my view looked like for a couple of hours of the drive:


Wow, traffic barrels, semi trucks, AND rain! A trifecta of grossness!



Wow! Terrible!

Fortunately, Jane and I have endured many, many terrible Texan rainstorms, so it’s not too much trouble. But less fortunately, this year my tires are on their last legs, and wouldn’t you know it, old hard tires are not the greatest for hydroplaning resistance. So, things were a little more white knuckle than I would have liked.

The storms cleared up in late afternoon, just in time for me to pass by some massive windfarms. I know that some people find the wind turbines terribly unappealing. But I just don’t. I think they look like giant minimalist-modern pinwheels, lazily spinning away their days in currents of wind far above my head. Pristine white, they are picturesque in their gleaming uniformity, scattered across the landscape in such a way as to appear both arbitrarily planted and systematically placed. There is something just truly beautiful and completely alien to them. They seem like something that couldn’t possibly have been built by humans – rather, they are sized for giants, behemoths that must surely stride the vast landscape when we aren’t looking or when we’re fast asleep. 







I always find the windfarms out here to be particularly enthralling, as they are built to share land in tandem with a myriad of oil wells. The turbines tower over the landscape, reaching into the skies to harness the power of the heavens even as pump jacks peck at the ground methodically beneath them, hard at work extracting what lies beneath the surface. It is a fitting juxtaposition of the old and new, a perfect cross-section of the continuation of humanity.


Turbines overlooking some old dinosaurs

My old dinosaur and I did finally pull into Snyder, TX in the evening. Not much to do in town, but that’s okay; we were just there to find somewhere to bunk for the night. I did catch myself considering the fact that if I pushed on to Austin that night, I could be home by midnight. But the point of splitting this run up into two days was to find out if it would rain on both days! And knowing this drive like I do, I knew that more rainstorms would inevitably whip up if I decided to keep moving – and driving through extremely rural west Texas in a pounding rainstorm at night is not on my list of fun things to do. So, I picked a reasonable hotel and bedded down for the night.

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Saturday, 8/14

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The following morning was another slow one, mainly due to the rainstorms in the region (of course). The radar showed them clearing by late morning, and I saw no reason to drive in the rain any more than I had to, so… I didn’t! I only had a “quick” 4.5-hour drive to get home anyways.

I took off at about 11 AM and everything was sunshine and butterflies. I had timed the rainstorms perfectly and it looked like I was going to successfully miss all of the big storms on the way home. Awesome!

You all have probably noticed the odd wording of that statement, and deduced that Something Happened. Which, of course, is true.

I made it about 30 minutes down the road and got just on the other side of Sweetwater, TX, when disaster struck! And by “struck”, I mostly mean that actually I hit something, not the other way around. There was a big ole pile of roadkill in the middle of the road and I attempted to straddle it instead of swerving. Turns out that was not a good plan, as it was a bit… sturdier… than expected. After passing over top of it, Jane very unexpectedly (well, truthfully somewhat expectedly) sounded like a very loud straight-piped diesel truck.

I pulled right over on a convenient gravel driveway and crawled under Jane to investigate. And wouldn’t you know it, but that stupid driver’s side muffler had gotten yanked right off. AGAIN. This happens about once a year, because that particular muffler always wants to hang a little low and I wouldn’t say that it’s particularly well-connected. Some of you may remember that several years ago I managed to yank this very same muffler off the car by hitting a puddle, of all things. And it has certainly been off several times since then!

Anyways, normally the fix is to just stuff the muffler back onto the intermediate pipe and proceed on with the day. But apparently the exhaust system had REALLY had enough of me doing this, as this time the exhaust hanger rearward of the muffler snapped right in half. I quickly discovered that without that hanger, the muffler hung about an inch off the ground when reinstalled. Given the number of obstacles in the road on any given paved piece of west Texas, I figured that proceeding with the muffler this way would be a great way to hook it off the car AGAIN very quickly. Quite frankly, I’m surprised that the pipes and muffler have never wadded themselves up under the car, and I wasn’t about to push my luck on this one. So, the problem was that I needed to figure out some way to patch the hanger up or jerry-rig a replacement, and it needed to be good enough to get me several hundred miles without me worrying about it.

Eyeballing around the interior of the car didn’t yield any good materials for a confidence-inspiring fix, with the best candidate being a short length of wire hanger. That hanger ended up not being long enough to wrap around the exhaust pipe, so that was out. So, time for Plan B, which relies on me using some good old Southern sweet-talking charm to convince someone to bring me what I need.

I called the local Ford dealership first, as sometimes they can be persuaded to help a classic Ford in need. No dice. Then I tried a local wrecker, then Autozone, then Carquest, then NAPA. At NAPA I had some success, as a local mobile mechanic happened to be in the store at the time that I called. They handed the phone over to him and I was able to get his contact information, but his response was not inspiring – something about “he could bring me the parts I need after he does some stuff on his project car”. Hmm, I guess my sweet-talking skills are rusty.

So I called AAA to see about getting a tow – shamefully, my second of the trip – the entire 2 miles back into town. All I needed was a roll of exhaust strap, which could be found anywhere, but sometimes you just have to do things the hard way I guess. I was still pretty peeved about having to do this though.

Well, AAA contacted a local wrecker, who then called me to confirm my location. I asked him if he could just bring me a roll of exhaust strap and be done with it, to which he replied that he couldn’t do that without losing his job. Fair enough. But then he finally came through with a ray of hope: he said he “had a guy” who could probably help.

Let me tell you, everyone has “a guy” for some things, and they are always exactly the person you need.

This particular fellow’s “guy” was named Brady. The wrecker gave me Brady’s contact information and said he’d hold on coming by to pick me up, as I was still kind of betting on the NAPA mobile mechanic. About 30 minutes passed with me going back and forth with this mobile mechanic, getting progressively more pissed off, when a guy showed up in a truck. It was Brady, and he had come straight from O’Reilly’s with a roll of exhaust strap and some spare hardware. Bless the man. I told the mobile mechanic to go kick rocks, and Brady and I got to work.

Now I told Brady that truly all I needed was the parts and that he was free to go, but he insisted on staying to help out. So the two of us wriggled under Jane, stuffed the exhaust system back together, used the exhaust strap to hang it back up in place securely, and then gave everything a good shaking to make sure it was sturdy (it was). Thankfully, none of the roadkill I had hit was plastered to the underside of the car, so at least we didn’t have to deal with that adding insult to injury. Nevertheless, we did end up quite covered in dust and rocks, but Brady didn’t seem too miffed. He was just happy to help out. And that, my friends, is why Brady is “the guy”, probably to quite a lot of people.

After we got Jane all patched up, we paused to shoot the shit for a while - an essential component of any hot rod repair experience. Eventually we both realized we had places to be, so I promised Brady a beer if he ever finds himself in Austin, we shook hands, and off I went, ready to run over more piles of roadkill.

Well, I didn’t run into any more piles of roadkill. What I did run into was… yep, all of the rain bands I had been trying to avoid.

For the most part, the rest of the day was spent inside a rainstorm of varying magnitudes. So my view looked like this for a few hours:


This photo actually taken during one of the light points in the storms, and you can tell because you can actually see the road and the lines on the road through the windshield!


At one point the storms got to about the worst I’ve ever been through, and I pulled off at a Whataburger to sit them out for a bit. Normally I would try to push through, but the problem was that I was getting stuck in the same rain band for long periods of time and because road conditions were so bad, it was nearly impossible to escape them as we were traveling at similar speeds. Jane is a trooper, but the roads were very seriously flooded and visibility was somewhere around 10 feet at best. Not a good situation with a muscle car with no safety/traction systems to speak of, especially riding around on old questionable tires. And ESPECIALLY with an exhaust system already known to be easily removed by standing water! Sitting in peace with a milkshake and a book for a half hour waiting for a gap in the storms seemed a small inconvenience in comparison.

Eventually we did get back on the road for the final leg into town. The rain had mostly subsided into drizzle, which is wonderful to drive in. And then, an hour outside Austin, we hit “the bubble” – the point where storms seem to disappear in the Hill Country, leaving behind nothing but sunshine and beautiful weather. And that was even more wonderful to drive in.


Ah, Hill Country, how I love thee.

Jane and I finally arrived safe and sound early in the evening, some two hours later than anticipated. But hey, not bad for a day so fraught with pitfalls. Just like always, Jane ran me home faithfully (well, more or less) despite the circumstances. And just like always, I trusted her to do it. It wasn’t a peaceful, relaxing last day of driving, but sometimes that’s just how it is. We made it through anyways. And hey, I found out that even if I split the long last day of driving into two days… it’ll still rain both days, not just the second. I can’t say I’m surprised by this revelation at all.

Now, Jane is ensconced in the garage, and I’m ensconced in the house, sorting through all of my gear and unpacking. There’s quite a lot of melted trail mix in my stuff, it seems, and I’ve just found the bag of clothes that I was looking for for the past week. It’s pretty incredible how much stuff fits in Jane, despite her small size.

Although this trip was shorter than my usual yearly jaunt, both in length of time and distance traveled, it is just really good to be back on the road and feel “normal” after being all cooped up for the past year. I was so glad to be able to attend my friend’s wedding in person in Denver, and to get to visit with all of my other friends in the area, many of whom I haven’t seen for years! And truthfully it was actually very nice to get to take my time going places, too – usually I have a mad dash to Reno and back that leaves me with little time to mosey around and hang out if I feel like it. I much prefer a more lackadaisical free-form style of traveling whenever possible, and I think I have lost sight of that in recent years. It is getting harder and harder to travel spontaneously, without reservations ahead of time, but going to smaller lesser-known attractions, as I did on this trip, helped mitigate some of those issues. That’s something I’ll have to keep in mind in the future – I’m sure I’ll keep going to Reno to see friends, but maybe I’ll make it an every-other-year thing so I have more time to explore other nooks and crannies in the country on off years. I’ve seen many incredible things over the past 7 years of traveling with Jane, but I have an entire continent to explore and there’s always more to see.   

For now, though, I will return to everyday life, feeling refreshed and ready to tackle whatever comes my way. Tomorrow, I’ll deal with the coolant problem – it seems like a very long time ago that I blew that core in Lubbock, but I know the coolant is still lurking in the carpet. I can smell it! Ugh. I think I’ll powerwash the carpet to see if it can be salvaged. It sounds like it’ll be a fun endeavor, at least. I’ll throw my flip-flops in the mix too, as they are still woefully saturated and starting to smell very odd.  

And so starts the next Kelly-Jane adventure. It’s always something around here.

Until next year's road trip... Kelly signing out.


**End 2021 Road Trip Blog** (and apologies for the extended delay in posts)

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Santa Fe Skies

8/12/2021 - Well folks, this post is longggggg overdue, but life sometimes gets a little busy! Anyways, here's one of the two last posts in this year's blog series.

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A thick carpet of wooly gray clouds hung low over Raton this morning as I got up and slowly prepared to get on the road. Jane sat out in the parking lot having an equally slow morning, condensation sliding lethargically down her sides to pool on the ground. It’s a bit chilly up here in the mornings, and it can be hard to work up the motivation to get going, especially with the cloud cover. But eventually the sun did break through, turning a gray morning into one of vibrant blues and greens.

Jane and I hit the road, heading south with Santa Fe plugged in as our destination. True to form for New Mexico in late summer, the cloud cover broke apart rapidly, leaving behind only puffy picturesque clouds in an azure sky. The plains sprawled out before us and around us, interrupted only by the sunflower-lined road cutting a winding track through them. A cool, crisp breeze whipped through Jane’s window, bringing with it the scent of the distant mountains. It’s times like this that I wonder why I don’t live here. Surely, if I did, it would be impossible to ever have a bad day.




After a short drive (for us, at least), we pulled into Santa Fe. I was ready for an afternoon of hiking, but apparently the weather had other plans! I headed to the Dale Ball Trail System over on the east side of town with the intent of hiking a few of the local ridges that overlook town. After miraculously finding a parking spot, and meticulously hiding my most important belongings (like you can really hide anything in a 1960’s car that’s loaded to the brim with camping gear), I set off up the trail. For a while, I was able to hike in peace – and there were lots of fun things to look at!

A tiny horned lizard! 

Metamorphosed boulders!

But as I approached the top of the ridge, the thunder started to roll. I pulled up the weather radar to look at the afternoon storm systems, kind of eyeballed their distance from me compared to my distance from the mountaintop, and concluded… that I would not make it to the top without getting hit by lightning. Lightning really doesn’t mess around out here, you know. That was something I had to learn after living on the East Coast all my life, where lightning is fairly innocuous – out West, lightning is deadly, especially if you’re on a high point.

So, in an attempt to not invite too much disaster (you know, only a little disaster instead), I poked around the trail system below the ridgeline about halfway down the slope. I kind of just had the wiggles after driving for two days, so I was really very interested in staying out and walking around more. And that’s how I ended up drenched as the storm bands hit, exactly as my weather radar app had predicted. Hmm. It was kind of scenic, though.


The rain bands coming in


View towards town through the rain - not raining yet in the valley!

A nice wet folded crinkly rock

When I had had enough of that, I headed back down the hill to the trailhead to collect an equally-soaked Jane. No problem, of course. At least, there wasn’t a problem until I got onto the roads in the eastern hills of Santa Fe. I then found out that the eastern hills of Santa Fe flood very badly when it rains and the roads turn into impromptu floodways. So, I once again played the game that I always seem to be playing with Jane in mid-August: the “is this puddle/stream/river shallow enough to drive through without flooding my car?” game. Ugh!

I made it down into town without mishap and checked in at my hotel, where I laid on the bed being cold and sopping wet for a while until common sense and the heater both kicked in. I kind of figured that I was done for the night, given the size of the rainstorms passing through, but things cleared up pretty substantially at 5 PM and I suddenly found my motivation again!

I went for an early dinner across the street – New Mexican Christmas-style enchiladas finished off with a round of sopapillas, of course – and then decided to go on another hike! This was generally a terrible idea as I was now full of enchiladas and sopapillas. But, whatever.

I headed back towards the east side of town, determined to find a trail that would give me (hopefully) nice sunset views over Santa Fe. Those spectacular New Mexican clouds were back again, and I was kind of hoping that they would stick around.





This time, I opted to tackle the Atalaya Trail, another popular trek on the eastern side of town. It’s quite a hike up the mountain (if you’re full of food, at least, maybe not so much if you’re not) but I had my second wind and I got up into the hills in short order. There wasn’t too much to see on the way up, beyond some pink flowers that were nicely lit in the golden hour.




At any rate, I’m really glad that I hoofed it, because I found a hidden overlook that proved to be a perfect spot to witness a truly spectacular sunset. The clouds had stuck around just as I’d hoped, creating a dramatic patchwork of blues and grays across the vast skies. As the sun slipped low on the horizon towards the distant mountains, its rays caught the remnants of the rains on the far side of town, refracting explosively and bathing the landscape in a brilliant crimson.













Too many photos of the same sunset? No such thing!

Standing up there in my secluded hollow, witnessing this incredible display, I found time to once again consider how lucky I am to get to experience things like this. It is sad to me to think that many people will never witness this raw beauty, will never experience the real scope of the world and discover how small they really are. But I guess they don’t know what they’re missing. Me, I know what I’m missing when I’m all holed up in my nice snug house in the city, so I watched the sun set wistfully, knowing that it’ll be one of the last truly stellar “wide-open” sunsets I’ll see for a long time. Tomorrow I’ll head on into West Texas, and the day after that I’ll be home in Austin. Moments like these on the tail end of trips are always bittersweet, but I cherish them more for it.

Kelly signing out.   

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Eastern Colorado is just Western Kansas

 8/11/2021

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Alas, I seem to be running out of vacation time, so I guess it’s time to head home. I’ve seen some beautiful Colorado mountain towns, traversed a gnarly mountain pass via 4x4 Jeep, driven through some sky-high mountain passes of my own, watched one of my best friends get married, and seen all three possible landmarks in southwestern Nebraska. Not bad, for a quick trip! I’ve still got one more stop before I return myself to Texas, though: Santa Fe, NM.

I had two ways to get to Santa Fe from Scottsbluff. The first: the highways of the Front Range, home to soaring spectacular views of the Rockies and about 3 million people all trying to go up and down the highway at once. The second: the tiny two-lane Highway 71, which spans the flattest, most boring part of Colorado, and consequently is traveled by absolutely no one.

Now, given that the Front Range ranks among the worst air quality in the world right now due to smoke from the PNW fires piling up against the Rockies (ask me how it makes sense for it to end up piled on the lee side of the mountains, but that’s air currents for you I guess), this was actually a very easy decision to make. Travel a very smoky, view-less road with a billion other people, or travel a very smoky, view-less road with no other people. Highway 71 it is!

I departed Nebraska at a time when the weather was actually clearing, so I got some cool views of the bluffs on my way out that I had missed on my way in.




But then I crossed into eastern Colorado… and, well, it looks like this:




Here’s the thing: many people don’t know it, but more than a third of Colorado (the eastern third, if you haven’t guessed) is actually awful. It might as well be western Kansas, and I cannot for the life of me figure out who decided to draw the state boundaries where they did. It would just make way more sense for all of the flat terrible corn fields to belong to Kansas. But I guess Colorado needs some agriculture of its own, so here it is:


Literally miles of dirt

Really, it’s kind of remarkable how FLAT it is. Even Kansas has more hills than this! It seems almost as if the Colorado Rockies soar to vast heights and swoop to deep valleys entirely to compensate for the featureless flatlands adjacent to them. And in a way, the dullness of the eastern topography plays counterpoint to the drama of the west, amplifying the impact of the mountains. Certainly, it makes for an increasingly interesting and exciting drive as you move from east to west – something that I discovered the few times I traveled between North Carolina and Colorado.

The problem, unfortunately, was that I was traveling neither east nor west today. I was traveling north to south. And that meant that I was trapped in this drab doldrum belt for… oh, about 6 hours. Not that long in the grand scheme of things, but certainly long enough for madness to start to set in.

Well, probably the madness was already there. I mean, I’ve driven 9 hours straight across West Texas – a similarly wastelandy-feeling voyage – so many times I’ve lost count. And I keep doing it, every year, so I must be insane. Whatever.

All this to tell you that I took very few pictures today, because all of the pictures looked the same:


Wow! Incredible! 

Fortunately, as I neared the New Mexican border, things did begin to improve a bit. With the sun low in the sky, the golden hour approaching, and the haze nearly completely dissipated, even wide grassy flatlands started to look nice again. You know, for as much as I remarked on Nebraska’s endless oceans of grass – I was never really complaining, because they were beautiful and had some topography to them. Rolling hills and bluffs and the like. It’s a lot harder to make a completely flat grass field look nice in a photo.




Finally, the flatlands gave way to hillier country. The haze lifted entirely, and those big fluffy clouds so characteristic of a New Mexican summer finally made a reappearance. Bluffs intersected by craggy ravines slid by in a blur, blending with the patchy scrub of the southern Great Plains.

As much as I love the craggy mountains of Colorado, I always feel more at home in this terrain. This is a space big enough for a vintage American car, a space where all that personality and drama and power can burst free and run wild. No slowing for other travelers or twisty, confining narrow mountain passes. No tedious traffic, no need to keep things quiet and contained. Out here, we can be as loud as we want – indeed, the landscape almost seems to demand it. It is a landscape that feels solid – not a constantly shifting, whispering ocean, as the plains of Nebraska are, where your own self can disappear into the void without a trace; but a place that calls you to be present, to feel the sun on your skin, the rocks under your feet, the wind across your face, and to see all of the subtle variances within those traces that speak of a complex world. This is the kind of place where the open road pulls you forward, always onward to some new intriguing sight right on the cusp of the horizon. And so onward we went.





Could it be...? Mountains in the distance?? Some actual topography to cross???

We closed out the afternoon with a drive through Raton Pass into New Mexico. It always seems a bit silly, to me, that this pass is named and carefully marked. It’s a fairly low elevation pass, with very gentle ramps leading to and from it that make it seem more of just a large hill. In comparison to all other Colorado passes, it’s as gentle as a lamb. But I guess it still is a pass, and maybe it’s a fairly sizeable one for New Mexico. Regardless, we cruised our way through, enjoying the beautiful scenery, and then posted up in a small hotel in Raton on the other side of the pass. 



I suppose I could have made it to Santa Fe all in one day. But truthfully, I just didn’t feel like driving 9+ hours all in one go to get there. Guess I must be getting old. Well, that, and lodging is substantially cheaper here, and I happen to know from experience that the Raton Microtel has really, really nice rooms.

So until tomorrow’s adventures… Kelly signing out.