Friday, May 28, 2010

Some Things Are Different

Of course I was not thinking that living in Utah is the same thing as living in The South. If for no other reason, the humidity alone will make my hair all sorts of different! But so far, although some things are asking for adjustment, I don’t feel like I live on “Planet Utah”, as an acquaintance of mine suggested. She said: “I’ve worked with people from there. They are so different, they’re like living on another planet. I swear they should require a passport to go visit that place”. Not so much, in my opinion.

Sure, some things are not the same. Like you have to get your car checked out for emission levels before you can register it. And there are no personal property taxes, either, I have heard, but need to look more into it. I just got my bill for the NC car tax, and need to pay that, but then, a couple of days later, the car will be registered in UT, so … pretty inconvenient!

We all knew that the weather will be much, much different, but I never expected the wind to be quite so strong! Must be the position of our house, in the valley, and right before the open desert starts, or something, but when it’s windy out there, it sounds like a tornado! My cats are not used to it yet. And we get this noisy wind pretty regularly, almost daily! It is so strong, it was blowing the screens on our bedroom windows so noisily, we had them removed.

Speaking of the position of our town in the mountains and of the wind: when it’s not blowing, all the smog from cars, industry, households, even from California maybe (have to check on that) gets trapped in the valley, and we get this thick smog thing, like fog, but thicker and nastier, totally unbreathable that hides everything around that’s further than say 50 feet. It’s brutal. You can still go about your business like a normal “cloudy” day, but it looks horrible. And this is apparently “normal” around here. Just another “weather event”. Looks very unhealthy.

My back yard: before and after "the smog" came in

Another “different” thing is the stop lights at the end of ramps on the highway: if you take an exit to go on the highway, sometimes, there is a traffic light at the end of the ramp, right before you merge onto the highway, which is on (especially at rush hours), and turns red for every car that reaches the highway. Every car has to stop, and if it turns green only ONE car is allowed to merge on the highway! That’s supposed to make the traffic flow smoother. Haven’t caught one yet, but man, sounds like it does the opposite!

And speaking of traffic! Till I moved here, I thought I drove fast. All my friends thought I drove fast! Oh, God! I am the slowest poke on these highways! People are flying out here. My husband says it’s because it’s The West, and the spaces are so vast, people think they can go however fast, there is no stopping them – but I don’t know. It scares me. And I never thought I’d ever say that speed could scare me!

I was very pleased to find that the fast food store inside of WalMart is … Subway! In North Carolina (or Greensboro, at least), it’s, of course, McDonalds! Like I said before: the further you travel out West, the more health conscious people seem to get … Lovely! Although remember: Subway is great, except for the breakfast!

Of course, I will say a word or two about the whole “Mormon culture”. But not too much. Or not too much judgment here! After all, I am in their backyard, not the other way around.

It is still very eerie to me to go to a restaurant on a weekend and to be virtually the only person in a packed establishment ordering an “adult beverage”. Feels very odd! Sure, it’s legal, but you feel in complete minority! They say the beer they sell in stores here is 3% alcohol or less, and I believe there is something … different with it, because I can drink up to five and I feel nothing. Nothing other than a full bladder, sure! Just strange …

And for the life of me, I thought Greensboro was a “family oriented area”, a great place to raise a family, and always felt like it’s definitely not a good place for singles! Well, I have never, anywhere I have lived, seen kids outnumbering the adults everywhere! In any store you go, there is an average of 3 kids for every adult you see, and that’s not an exaggeration! And usually, if the adult is a woman, she’s usually pregnant! There is nowhere you can go (except the “hippie”, alternative areas of Salt Lake, sure) where you don’t see kids, or hear them, either talk loudly, or scream, or just chit chat in their crystal voices! Kids – everywhere!

The median age of Utah county residents is just barely over 23! Sure, there are two universities here, but there were at least four colleges in Guilford County, and according to the 2000 Census, the median age there was 35! 23, folks! That’s a baby! Or, thousands! Anyway, lots and lots of kids – you get the idea.

Another random observation is that almost every house has a camper. Forget that every house has a 3 car garage and at least 3 cars parked outside of the ones in the garage! Every car has a camper. This weekend, being a Holiday weekend, there was nothing else on the highway but Winnebago-s! Happy trails, is all I’d say!

Also, I cannot close before I say a word about coffee. Sure, you all know that Mormons don’t drink coffee. So, with nervousness in my step, I approached the coffee aisle at WalMart and then at the neighborhood grocery store. The size of the coffee display is probably half of what you see in NC or anywhere else out East. The Millstone coffee my parents love has only the baby 1.75OZ vacuumed packs available at WalMart (very, very small selection, about 3 flavors which don’t include my parents’ favorite) and there is no Millstone at the grocery store. I couldn’t even find the Folgers vacuumed pack I drink – only the plastic canister one. More expensive, but it’ll do! And my parents thought it’ll be trees they’ll miss in Utah! Ha! But good news for the coffee shop snobs who would like to visit: there is Starbucks!

But as always, I am looking forward for more differences! I am learning new things, even just at the checkout counter and at the grocery store and intersection level! So, I am happy. For now. I bought a couple of “Western” magazines (sort of similar to Southern Living, I’d say) to learn more about living out West. I cannot wait to discover the possibilities!

Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Settling In

You would never think one has so much to do without a job, or kids for that matter, but you would be wrong. I told someone last week that when they invented the saying “a woman’s job was never done” that woman was probably moving! I swear to you, I will never see the end of unpacking. I packed my house up in NC in a week. Well, I have been unpacking for a week, also, and I am nowhere near done.

My new house looks like a storage facility threw up in it! Nothing is orderly. Everything that came out of boxes is stashed up, in less trafficked corners, apparently “out of the way”. But nothing can be out of my visual way, so to me, they’re just as bothersome as if they were piled up in my bed!

I know for some folks this could sound boring – just unpacking all day long, day after day, but to me, it’s a mission! I cannot settle in before everything has a designated spot and is out of my (or our) way.

Although the whole unpacking and cleaning business has been sort of stressful (and unsettling), on the other hand, I have been really enjoying just being here – if that makes any sense at all.

It’s been a life long dream to live in the mountains. Any mountains. A very dear childhood friend of mine used to tell me that “to love mountains you have to listen to them with your heart. Not with your ears, nor look at them with your eyes. Just feel and understand them with your heart.” My heart is filled with so much joy every morning, from looking at so much beauty! And every trip, however short, to the grocery store, or a place to eat, is an occasion to be breathless just by looking at the world around me. No effort needed.

Someone at my old job used to say about the Provo area that you can literally see mountains everywhere around you, out every window in the house. It’s true! You never forget you’re in the mountains. Everything is so beautiful out there, at the horizon, anything that’s in between you and that doesn’t really bear importance at all!

This weekend Aa. and I went for a walk on the Provo River. It was sort of eerie to me, because it felt very much like spring. And I have seen spring. And summer, this year – lots of them, this year, in NC. So, this was like somehow I turned back in time and landed in spring again!

The fresh, timid green of the trees, the chill in the air, the loud birds happy to be out and about again, the bubbling mountain river, rich and muddy with melted snow, everything spoke “spring”. No butterflies yet, and very few blooms.

I was so thrilled to find out that two of my most favorite plants are doing very well in this climate: grape vines and lilacs! The lilac trees were in full bloom, and beautiful purple, and the grape vines, although I didn’t take a close up of them (the owner was right behind the fence!), had fresh leaves and they were healthily hanging on to the fence! Yes! Next year, I’ll be all over those in the nursery and they’ll come home with me!

I will have to say that although I am not a humidity hater, like my husband, it is nice to be able to be out there in 80 degrees and not feel like you’re breathing water! The air is crisp and clean. They forecast pollen every day here, but I don’t see it, and don’t taste it in my throat and mouth like I did in NC! It’s very different.

I’ve managed to stop for a little bit and shoot some views around the house, as well as on the Provo River Parkway trail. The mountains, the lakes, the fast streams and the ages old surroundings all whisper familiarly to me that I am home. It’s a nice feeling, my heart says. Click here for these shots.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Crazy Hair, Crazy Comments

I have been known to cause folks to make the weirdest comments about my hair. For some reason, my hair prompts people to come out and talk to me in not so usual ways. Some times the talk is complimentary, sometimes kind, sometimes pitying, always somewhat interesting.

I tell this to my closest friends, and I feel that they think I am showing off, trying to point attention to me, when I “brag” that random strangers pay attention to me because of my hair.

But they stop thinking that (I hope), the minute they spend more than an hour with me in public places and see for themselves what kind of “attention” my hair really attracts. It’s like a magnet for some conversations you would rather never have!

One comment that I got yesterday, though, surprised even me! Usually, the comments are about the color, the frizz, the fullness or the “too much”-ness, questions about what products I use or who do I take after, or where I get it styled (I don’t!), or why I am not coloring it to cover the gray.

Well, yesterday, I was walking hand in hand with my husband on the Provo Parkway Trail, me with camera around my neck, he, with one around his wrist. And this middle aged, very … uumm … “well preserved” lady, with colored red-purple hair, on roller blades, with some sort of a “purse” dog in her arms, just rolled on by, with this comment: “Wow! I have always thought people with curly hair like that are very smart. Back at UVU (Utah Valley University, for those who don’t know, or the “other”, or “non-Mormon” university here), there were always these guest speakers that would come in with pretty curly hair like this, and you would just know, they were very smart.”

And she continued rolling. This was not a question, nor did she wait for much of a reaction from me. Just rolled on by …

All rightie then! What do you say to that, I wondered?!

I did have one question: what do you say about middle aged women with naturally curly purse dogs that they choose to have shaved ?! What to think about those people, guest speakers or not?! Hhmm … I could not ask, but I guessed she either didn't want a "smart" dog, or her theory didn't apply to those

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

From NC to UT – A Trip of a Lifetime

Conclusion and pictures

So, what will stay with me from this trip? I am sure I’ll forget soon the sequence of all the states we have driven through, or the detail of what river flows through what city. I hope not, but I know my brain! The beauty of the land will not leave me, though. That will stay with me for a while.

I have always known, since I moved here, over 12 years ago, that America is beautiful and so diverse you will never miss any kind of landscape even if it were that you would never leave the continent. Every year that I have been here, traveling more and more of its vastness showed me the truth of that statement. And this trip crowns that, I would say. We have not seen the ocean on this trip, but we saw everything else in between.

There is a beauty of every form of relief! There is a calmness and a peace of the vast plains, and a quietness of every small town. You feel every stream and every rock bubbling with stories of times past. There is a beauty of the tall mountains, where you feel dwarfed and vulnerable, an awesomeness of every snowed peak! A higher presence is felt in everything that you know you cannot control – the winds in Kansas, the relentless rock falling in Colorado! You understand that you will have to let nature take its course. And then you’ll watch how She decides to re-arrange this land.

The green of West Virginia and Kentucky will stay with me. The aridity of The Plains, the never ending farmland, and the various vegetation between Kentucky and Colorado will stay with me – everything from oak trees, ash, fields of wheat and corn, junipers, pine trees and prairie grass to tall aspens.

The “funny” roofs of The Plains will stay. They have more “round” roofs than anywhere I have ever been. The active and poor looking coal mine towns of West Virginia and the deserted, closed, also poor looking mineral mine towns of The Rockies will stay.

The absence of planes and the constant presence of trains everywhere we drove through will be a permanent reminder that train tracks are what opened up The West, and will be for a while. They feel like such an intrinsic part of the landscape. The “ghost farms” and “ghost train stations” will live in my memory as my own experienced reality of The Wild West! I have seen with my own eyes the sets of many movies I grew up with about the making of America. It’s humbling!

Even if the location will be blurry after a while, the unusual names of towns, streams and streets, such as “Paris”, “Winchester”, “Quebec Street”, “Voda”, “Balta” (the latter are Romanian common nouns), “Grizzly Creek”, “Lick River”, and “No Name” will stay, for sure.

The knowledge that the state of Colorado is not all pine tree and mountain heaven will definitely outlast this trip! The mightiness of human construction, as seen in all the bridges that cross all our huge rivers (The Ohio, the Missouri, the Mississippi, The Kansas, The Colorado and Green River) as well as in the tunnels that we drove through, piercing through hundreds of feet of mountains will not be forgotten.

Although I have no picture document of it, the reminder that there is “free land” available out West will stay with me. The desperation of hundreds of empty billboards begging advertisers to buy space all over The Plains will always be a sad reminder of the status of our economy now.

I hope in several years this will be a national trend, but for now, it’s evidently a Western one: you hear about more sustainable sources of energy, but you’re not aware of how serious people are about it out East. I have never seen these many windmills and solar panes as I have seen from Missouri to Utah! It’s really a revolution, in my book. Quite a new thing for me, I’ll have to say!

One trend that connects all the states I have been in or through is the overt religiousness of folks. I thought the “Save your soul today” signs are a staple of The Bible Belt where I have lived for the past 12 years. But nope. There is someone looking to save your soul even in The Prairie!

And speaking of that. Most of you know about the “no alcohol on Sundays” rule, or at least “the no alcohol before 12 PM on Sunday rule”, as in NC – a rule that I have always had trouble understanding how it could prevent anyone from drinking, but that’s another story altogether and entirely. But how about this: in Colorado, you can buy alcohol on Sundays, but only a six pack! Not a single bottle, not a 12 pack, not a case! A six pack only. Now, you explain to me how is that meant to discourage people from drinking on Sundays?! “Sign up here for Eternity and you can have a six pack” – no, that’s not a real sign, I just made it up.

One thing that surely will forever stay with me, should anyone have had any doubts about it, is the love of the road, and the permanent propensity to get in the car and head for the open horizon! If this trip taught me one thing, it was that no matter how close the quarters, how dinky the hotel rooms, how stressful handling of the pets who hate to travel are, I will forever be in love with being on the go! I will forever love seeing what the next curve in the road has to offer, and what the lens finds to peek into next. This trip only stirred up in me the travel bug, even more than before.

I cannot wait to climb that next mountain or be amazed by the next sunset, or stormy sky. It’s such a blessing to come back home with the retina full of beautiful places and the mind full of memories.
As long as the car will have wheels and as long as I’ll have breath in my lungs and a relatively able body, the traveling will go on. No matter how far or how close I’ll have to go, I’ll soak into the wonder of every yard traveled. And that’s a promise!

One of my most favorite pictures from this trip is below – a house in the wilderness when we just entered Utah from Colorado. The light on it is just so serene and out worldly! Please click on it for the pictures from this trip. And please forgive the quality of some pictures – I can only shoot so clearly from a car moving at 80+ miles an hour.

A "ghost house" speaking of past, present and future, at the border of Colorado and Utah. Please click on the picture for the whole album.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Going West #3

May 10, 2010 – Home

Finally, we can walk barefoot on clean floors. We can walk in and turn on the lights without sanitizing first. We’re not grossed out by touching the remote. I can put the purse on the floor and not think any cooties are going to eat it up. I can take a shower without cringing. Yep! We’re finally home.

After driving like crazy the day before, so as to avoid the forecasted tornado in Kansas (it did finally hit Oklahoma), we got just barely into Colorado last night . We also learned on that trip that weather forecast is ever so relative. On the Weather Channel on the morning of our drive through Kansas, we were told “there are 50 and 60 mile winds in Kansas, which are strong enough to down trees”. But as we were making our way through the windy state, the radio dj (evidently a local) said “it’s a little breezy out there, but other than that, a beautiful day!”. Considering the soreness in my arms trying to drive through those winds, I can tell you it was a little more than breezy!

This morning (Monday), with 600 or so in front of us to cover, we headed towards the mountains. The mountains were barely peeking at the horizon line already, but once we got just past Denver we were in the middle of them.

What beautiful country! Maybe I am biased since mountains are my kind of heaven, but the scenery was breathtaking. Tall and steep, and covered in rock or snow, or pine trees – the colors and different “textures” was a delight for the eyes. We followed the Colorado River a while on I-70 West, to Grand Junction – and the canyons it forms are spectacular. I have not seen The Grand Canyon, but I can only imagine how impressive it must be since these relatively un-famous and non-descript “baby” canyons were leaving me speechless.

There were roads, and train tracks and mountain streams with waterfalls all crammed in the narrow valleys, there were wild sheep on the side of the road, and fresh, yellow spring flowers blooming all over the place. The sky was just a peephole above our heads as we drove buried at the bottom of the steep cliffs. We saw signs of “massive deer crossing”, as well as about eagles flying over the highway everywhere. We were in wild country for sure – close to the beasts and the skies.

Although today’s trip was probably the most visually beautiful (at least for us, mountain folks), it was probably the second most challenging (only to the winds of Kansas) as far as driving went. I thank Aa. for driving the whole lag, as he wanted me to be the designated photographer through this beautiful land. The road was almost exclusively up hill and very curvy. The traffic, especially the tractor trailer one, was making it that much more difficult. There were notes about falling rocks everywhere, and emergency crews working diligently to clean up the debris and stop the falls.

I got hardly any pictures of the Denver skyline, because the cats were very, very upset today, making a ton of noise, so I was trying to appease them. Our guess was that their ears were plugging up fast like ours were, but we’ll never know for sure. We stopped in Vail for lunch, and we drove on through snow flurries after that.

Snapping away, we drove past the beautiful, pine covered mountains of Colorado, and slid into the somewhat flat desert of Utah. The landscape is once again breath stopping, but of a different nature: majestic rocky formations are seen in the distance, in all sorts of shapes, shades and colors. And very little vegetation is to be seen here – other than the yellow flowers and some prairie grass. We were wondering even what are the cows eating, as we saw no human settling for miles, but many a cow herds. What are they drinking, too, was another puzzling question. It’s a very arid and rough sort of land, South-Eastern Utah is.

We were glad to finally be in the driveway. We made it fine, with cats all intact, albeit cranky, tired and ready for some real food. By the way, the new Subway breakfast they advertise is absolute crap. Pardon my French, but it was the worst thing I have eaten in a long while! And when they have to “cut” the “eggs” (some kind of round, tortilla looking “thing” they call “eggs”) in order to make you a sandwich, you’ve got to wonder what in the world you’re actually eating. It was like plastic food melted and gone bad! It was pretty gross! So, we were ready for some real food when we got home. And thank God I have a foodie husband who knows about good food, because he had home made potato and bacon soup in the freezer waiting for us, and Honey Baked ham for sandwiches!

It was in the low 50’s when we finally got to Spanish Fork – definitely not the 90 degrees we left NC with. But it’s never disappointing to have two springs in one year, is it?!

I’ll work on the pictures next, and hope you guys will enjoy those as well as these updates.
Aa. and I thank you all for keeping us in your thoughts while we traveled for so many days! We have a beautiful country, and this trip was such a lesson, in so many ways: geography, history, traveling, family and last but not least love, too! Truly one of those once in a lifetime opportunities that was imposed on us by life circumstances, but one we embraced with all the optimism we could muster.

Tired, but happy - on the front porch with the three kitties:
we made it to The West!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Going West #2

May 9, 2010 – Limon, CO

All right. All this driving is getting to us! No, not like you might expect, we’re still friends! We still very much love each other and love being together – after all, we never lived in the same city before, so this is a great gift to be able to spent this much time with each other! But we’re being extra, super duper silly! We’re laughing out of anything, and we just create our own jokes, because, well, no matter how wonderful this land of ours is, after 1100+ miles of driving, one is bored!

We’ve driven on today, from Missouri through the big, great (and trust me, it is great!) state of Kansas onto Colorado. Missouri was more of the same flatness mixed in with green from yesterday’s trip through Indiana and Illinois. Kansas City had a beautiful skyline. We found out only tonight that Kansas City, MO is called “The City of Fountains” because, with over 200 fountains, it is second in the world to have the most fountains – second only to Rome!

It’s set, as most Midwestern states, on a big river – this time, at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers. Again, beautiful, very well built, massive and majestic bridges.

Kansas City, KS, was the city next door to Kansas City, MO – it felt like the same city, cut in two by a street appropriately named “State Line Road”. But, according to the online Wiki, it’s not the same city – they are adjacent cities, and evidently, in separate states.

After that, on we drove towards the heart of Dorothy’s State. It is every bit they tell you it is: flat and as long as you can see there is nothing but farmland! There are some homes, and some gas stations, every 40 miles or so, let’s say … but for the most part, you see nothing but sky and land. It made me think of The Florida Keys, with the only difference, of course, being that instead of miles and miles of water, you see miles and miles of land here!

Topeka was the only other “big” settling on the way, set on the Kansas River. It seemed as if it is a small city – we passed it on the highway in no time.

After that, it was lunch in Junction City, KS. Just a handful of fast food places, hotels and few homes, to offer a stop to truckers, really.

And then, there was nothing. They told you the world is round! They lied! You go to Kansas and you see for yourself. Flat as the back of my hand, I tell you! So flat, and so many miles through it, we almost lost it. The unusual findings continued. Some exits told you what settling there is but then mentioned “No Services” at the bottom. So, why take the exit?!

Everything seemed very uneventful; it made me wonder what people living in the few farms we saw, or people who are manning the oil pumps and the windmills will tell you. What are their stories, here? Other than rattle snakes, coyotes and tornadoes? What else is out here? Of course there is, I am sure, a whole world – but not much is visible to the traveler from the speed of the car.

We drove through Russell, KS – the birthplace of Bob Dole. We drove past some Prairie and Pioneer museums and monuments, but not much else.

One exit boasted “Point of Interest. Next right”. We laughed hysterically! ‘Point of interest’?? They could not quite name it?! What was it? Then, we saw this building which looked like a lighthouse (I am telling you, it was not Fata Morgana or anything!), and it had a sign up front saying “ See 6 states”. I guess that was “the point of interest”?

We even saw wineries on the road! Wineries! Even The Oz Winery. A winery Outlet, even. Kind of puzzling.

We rushed like bats out of hell (this time, almost a literal “hell”) through Kansas today, considering the tornadoes they have in the forecast starting tomorrow. We got to Colorado, which is typically outside of the “tornado alley”.

The most incredible feeling though was when we saw signs for 5000+ feet elevation! We could not see the elevation! We could “feel” it in the popping of the ears, but no mountains or hills were in sight.

Towards the end of today’s trip, right outside of our Quality Inn in Limon, CO, I saw the mountains, peeking way in the distance! I almost cried with excitement! We’re not far! About 600 more miles and we’re home. Although everything is very interesting and very different, and eye opening, I am looking forward to home. And I am sure the cats are too, although, I am speechlessly proud of them! They are wonderful! They’ve gotten into their routine and they are just easy!

One more day! And the big adventure is behind us. Thanks, to all, for “being” with us. Even in spirit! We miss you!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Going West #1

May 7, 2010 – Barboursville, WV

Exit 20 on I64 North – that’s where we are. Barboursville, WV.

We left Greensboro today, on our Western adventure. We are headed to our new home, in Spanish Fork, UT.

The movers came as scheduled, somewhere between 8 and 9 AM – which to snoozy me meant a pure criminal wake up call. Especially after a whole week of packing, and working, and calling places, and errand-ing, and of course, my least (much to all your disbelief!) favorite thing: worrying

The movers were prompt, but not very fast. They did a thorough job, though (so far), so I should not complain! We were freed of belongings and to lunch around 1.30. Our fast food adventure began in Greensboro, at Chick-Fil-a.

A couple of sandwiches, and another two hours or so of chores later, we headed West on I40. With the cats. Ah, the cats! We packed all three in each of their carriers, and off we went. Crying, screeching, screaming, and us adults ignoring it all, we started our big trip.

We had no idea how far we were going to go today, or what states we will cover. We went through North Carolina, bidding Mount Pilot farewell (no pictures from NC since I was driving), then, we crossed briefly into the Western tip of Virginia, en route to Charleston, WV.

Cats gave up and got quiet, mercifully! We chatted and enjoyed a beautiful (albeit terribly bright) sunset through our mountain drive.

West Virginia is beautiful, indeed! Mountains everywhere, lots of bridges, and tunnels, lots of toll roads, too. As usual, the money they collect seem to make no sense, as the roads are not at all good! But it must be for all the bridges and tunnels!

The Capitol building in Charleston is exquisite (what you can see from the rush of the traffic and from off the highway), but we could not get good pictures, as we were blinded by the sun. Its setting in the middle of the hills is beautiful, as well.

We stopped at a Comfort Inn for the night, and let the cats roam free. They are skittish, and hissy, but at least one of them is eating and lying around as normal. Maybe the others will join him. Hopefully, this will be their new routine and we won’t have too much trouble with them. We hope.

I will have to mention of few words of thank you for WV, not only for a beautiful state, but for a clean hotel room, even a clean “pet friendly” hotel room, off the highway! These places are not always easy to find.

For dinner we had a couple of Taco Bell combos, but we’re not sure what they were. A soft taco and some sort of other “chicken wrap” thing. Delicious! Or at least any food tastes that way when you’re tired, hot, on the go and very hungry!

Tomorrow, we’re off to the next state: Kentucky, and who knows what else from there!

Cheers, from the road! Pictures will have to wait for a couple of days. Hotel wi-fi’s are not very fast.

May 8, 2010 - Columbia, MO

And we advanced a couple of more states. Yep, we’re in Columbia, MO right now, at a Days Inn, and of course in a pet friendly room.

I counted all the states we’re going through on this trip and we’ve got a total of 10. We passed the mid mark of that count today, but let me tell you, the longest ones are yet to come, so lots more to go.

Today, we drove through very diverse landscape, I’d say. We drove through the remainder of the mountains of WV, and then we rolled down into the smooth and wavy hills of Kentucky. Kentucky is so green. Everywhere you turned, just fresh green trees and pastures. Beautiful and lush pastures. It was a very restful drive through Kentucky, from a visual perspective. The cats were agitated though, for some unknown reason, so the auditory landscape was not as pleasant.

Everything in KY had to do with horses, pretty much – the license plates, the billboards, the horse farms, you name it. That and aging liquor. Louisville was impressive. Set on the Ohio river, it had enormous bridges that continued from way in West Virginia. I have not seen bridges this huge in a long while as I have seen on this trip. They are metal, and massive! The town itself looked, from the run of the Echo, as pretty much all big town look like: busy and tall.

We slipped into Indiana next. The landscape became more and more yellow and more and more flat. Indiana – or the little bit I have seen of it, in its Southern tip - was pretty non descript, I’d say. I did enjoy seeing lots of silos on lots of farmland, and beautiful plains of yellow flowers everywhere. Reminded me a bit of the farmland of Pennsylvania with the Dutch barns and red sidings or roofs of the houses.

Next, we were, almost without notice into Illinois, and then, Missouri. It was interesting to me that everything was very “vague” as far as naming went. Everything around us described a very approximate land of “the middle” or “the center” of something. We drove by “The MidAmerican Airport”. Just somewhere … in the middle of America, this airport was. That’s when I had my revelation that this trip is really, actually, happening. I am not longer in Greensboro. No longer close to The Ocean. I am crossing the continent. I am crossing its middle as I was driving. The vagueness of it all emphasized my own vagueness about what is really happening with every second of my every day lately. I am clear about the goal. Not so clear how I am getting there, you see.

Sitting on the Mississippi river, St. Louis was really beautiful, what I could see of it from behind the wheel! I was looking for my next turn in the road there, because thereabouts is where we got off I64 and took I70 onward. It had large bridges as well, but the show was stolen by The Gateway Arch . It was so shiny and looked “new” in the (again, as yesterday) bright sun, as if prepped for a party! Aa. thought it doesn’t look as big as you’d expect from pictures, but it looked pretty big to me! It was, for me, a symbolic entrance into The West, once again. And another milestone of realization.

We also drove by The St. Louis Cardinals stadium, another St. Louis staple. And a massive, and I mean massive sign of Anheuser-Busch beer. I almost drove into the side walls trying to get Aa.’s attention to take a picture of it. Hopefully, the pictures turned out, but as I have mentioned before – a bit of patience for those. The hotel’s wi-fi is not very speedy.

The fast food saga continued today. All they tell you on all the chat rooms online about eating nothing besides fast food on such a road trip is true. There is not much time for anything else. And traveling with pets, especially, is tricky on the amount of time you have for your stops. So, it was fast food day #2. I know it sounds cheesy but we had KFC in Kentucky, as I was (maybe subliminally?!) craving it; and we had Wendy’s chili and baked potatoes for dinner.

And thus, through good and bad roads, many a shiny, bright skies, mountains, hills and flat lands, medium flow traffic and lots of speed , music and great chats we ended up to our stop for tonight – Columbia, MO. When the places are not named vaguely (like Centralia), they were named with names familiar to me from NC and VA (like Danville, Burlington and Williamsburg), or SC, like the town we’re in for the night. Life still feels slower than out East. When we walked into the reception area of the hotel tonight, the lady was so thrilled and welcomed Aa. with “Oh, great! Finally I’ve got something to do!”, as she was sitting alone, listening to the radio, bored, eating popcorn.

We’re going to plow on through the big open road ahead of us, tomorrow, and try to keep awake, less and less worried, and just excited to be here, to be together, to be able to do this.

Miss you all, but we’re having fun!