The Best Laid Plans

lake

Packing the carReally long post about our Utah adventure with lots of pics starting at the Enjoying the Trip for Real section below (click that link if you want to jump straight to that section).
We had a good plan. A great plan, I dare confess. But you know what they say:
 

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry

Originally our plan was this: Columbus, Ohio, then a hotel as we headed west, wherever we were, then Utah then Vegas, then California, then New Mexico, then a hotel somewhere, then Illinois, then South Carolina, then North Carolina then Maryland, then West Virginia, then back to Houghton, then home.
All in four weeks. This was all part of our Anniversary travel plans.
Now? – Hotel in Iowa, hotel in Wyoming, CJ and Lauren’s in Utah then hopefully a hotel somewhere then Missouri then a hotel somewhere then Houghton then home. Or maybe just a flight home.
It started changing a bit ago. We realized that California and Vegas might be better in a later trip, but we would decide that last minute. Then Ohio and New Mexico friends had some life happenings that made it a less-than-ideal time to visit.
No problem. We re-routed, but that made us hit South Carolina at a bad time for the people we were visiting there. So we shuffled, and all was kind of working out for Plan B, but the trip was getting shorter. Still fun, though.
On Thursday we left our home in northern NY with a carefully loaded vehicle, as we headed to our home in western NY, initiating our Grand Adventure.
We had items from the north house coming to the west house for the annual Memorial Day yard sale. This was carefully separated from items we were going to bring to Hudi and Zeb as we stopped at the camp they were working on at the tail-end of the Grand Adventure. And this was all topped off with items for CJ and Lauren, who we were going to visit near the beginning of the trip.
It was clock-work. From Thursday to Wednesday, we held the yard sale at the western NY home and did a bit of cleaning, and I did a ton of socializing. While I am happy living where I live now, it’s good to see my old friends again. On  Wednesday I drove over to Lauren’s family and picked up the wedding gifts that were set to make a cross-country trip to their owners. The plan was to leave at 4am on Saturday so we could get well beyond Chicago in daylight.
Thursday we continued to clean and socialize, then topped off the day by attending the WordPress meetup in Buffalo — we used to be regulars there before our move so it was nice to be back. Then Friday morning we loaded the car with our gear, the gifts for the Utah folk and with Hudi and Zeb’s belongings. It all went so smoothly I was able to visit more friends in the afternoon, knowing everything was in order.
Since I  had a full load, I drove slowly and smoothy, and all seemed idyllic as I pulled into the driveway and parked. We had a lovely last evening and got to bed early. By 4:10am  (yes, a little late), we closed up the house and headed out to the car, ready for the Grand Adventure. Only to find out that a horrible noise was emanating from under the hood. Chris checked it out and all of our power steering fluid was gone, aside from a few drips.
Nothing we could do about it in the dark so we went back to bed for a few hours. Later Chris checked it out (and those of you who know Chris know that if anyone can fix a car, it is he). No go. The trip was officially getting pushed off. I called a car rental, and they told me they had a car for us and would come pick us up. We planned to leave our own vehicle at a local place to get repaired. Plan C.
Then we got a phone call half an hour later. No rental available until Monday, and we were out of the pick-up zone. We’d have to get ourselves there. No problem, Fortunately the car was not dead in the water. We just had to keep pumping fluid into it. Plan D – Drive to the car rental, making sure we were there  by 8am when they opened to maximize our traveling time for the day, then drive back home, re-load the new car, drop our car at the repair shop so it could be fixed while we were gone then head out (hopefully by noon).
As a weekend worker, it didn’t faze me all that much. I just worked in the house instead of the car as originally planned. And this gave me the chance to see some of my friends one last time in church and on my daily walks. When I came back from Saturday’s  walk, it was only to discover that Chris had driven to the town half an hour away to get some necessary car parts for a patch repair. Things were looking up again. Plan E. We hoped to leave on Sunday. But that was not to be, either.
The patch worked in that the leak stopped, but the pump began having issues. The car was speaking languages I had never heard before. Not ideal.
Plan F – back to the rental option. But now we’re thinking  about it more. How can we make this more cost effective? The first move was obvious. Cut out the second half of the trip. No southern route. But how do we get the gear to Zeb and Hudi? That worked itself out. Friends of theres were driving down in a couple of weeks for a training, and they graciously agreed to take the essentials to our boys.  Then the car itself. We needed to rent an SUV since we were taking a bicycle out to Utah, but we could get a cheaper car on the way back. Or we could fly back to Syracuse then  grab our truck and head back to the western house another time to deal with our car. So many options.
Monday morning hit with questions still on our mind. At 7:10 we prepared to drive out to get the rental. Chris started the car, and it made no noise at all. No leaks, no pump issues. Nada.
Being  the tightwads that we are, we entered Plan F. Pack only our personal essentials in case we had to fly home, grab the kids’ presents and hit the road. After all, Chris pointed out, there isn’t a whole lot of turning between NY and Utah. It’s a pretty straight shot. Still, we planned on coming straight back after Utah since the car would most likely not stand up to the twists, turns and hills of the south.
All was great until Cleveland, OH, where the car began some very loud protests. We needed gas anyway so we limped off the road. When we re-booted the car a bit later, all was fine again. I did have the thought that perhaps the air conditioning we had on put too much stress on the engine. So we kept the air off and put down the window.

Enjoying the Trip for Real

I have to say that Plan F is a winner so far. We had planned to drive 8-10 hrs that day, but felt so energetic we easily hit 13 hrs and settled in a lovely, very affordable hotel for the night (yay, hotels.com!). Same deal the next day (except maybe 11 hrs of driving). Chris met wonderful people in the breakfast room (I was sleeping), and he heard then shared with me some fun travel tales, and we felt the camaraderie unique to road warriors. It makes me look forward to more time traveling by car in my future.
Chris particularly liked celebrating signs of Omaha and listening to the Counting Crows.

And I loved the windmills.

Windmill

We both loved the sculptures we saw  along the way.


The trip was blessed for sure. We were about 20  minutes ahead of the rush-hour traffic in Chicago (we saw it in our rear-view mirrors), had perfect hotels along our path, met friendly people, and dodged flooding (storms on the front and side of us, but not where we were). When the sun could have been pretty intense and challenging, clouds appeared and gave us shade. We even got a rainbow leading us to our hotel on one occasion. Perfection. The hotel doesn’t look like much outside, but it was very  pleasant inside.

Uncle John and CJ would have loved the trains by us.


The scenery was getting more and more incredible, and the queues were under control at work so I asked my team-mates if they minded if I took the day off. They quickly gave me their blessing. (I have the best job on the planet.) So we spent Wednesday gawking out the window, marveling in the beauty of creation from the greens and purples of sagebrush to the browns, whites and reds of the sand on the hills, amidst rock formations that rivaled the work of any sculptor I know. A crowning glory? The snow-capped mountains in the distance, which set my soul free.

Even better, each turn of the wheel was bringing us closer to CJ and Lauren. And the car was making it through the trip!
CJ was at work, and we had to drive right by the work-place on our way to their home so we stopped in only to discover that he was about to sign out  for the day. We were able to grab a bite to eat with him before he headed out to Salt Lake City for a Virtual Reality event, where he was demo-ing the game he has been working on with his co-workers. I was going to take a picture of him, but didn’t want to embarrass him in his work zone. Now Chris and Lauren say I should have.  Oh well, next time 🙂
Chris and I headed to the house to unload the gifts and reunite Lauren with her bicycle and the hatchet that Hudi gave her at CJ and Lauren’s wedding.
bicycle delivery
Yesterday we hiked the Stewart Falls trail with Lauren while CJ worked again. Aunt Anne would have loved the waterfalls.

Here’s a slow-motion view of those glorious falls:

I did a little bit of damage to my knee making going downhill a bit tricky on the way back. It was pretty funny. We were panting along, red as anything, trying to not limp too much (while going downhill, mind you. Not up-hill), and occasionally stepped aside while people grinned a “thank you” and RAN by us going up-hill. Talk about humbling.
My favorite quote of the day was from Chris:

We are cross training. Crossing our fingers and hoping we make it to the car.

After that hike, we walked through town a bit then stopped at this vintage ice cream place that I just loved. The ice cream rivaled European gelato. Not to start a fight. Just subjectively sayin’.


We were a  bit dirty when we got home so we cleaned up and rested (well, Chris and I rested. Lauren went off to choir practice). The kids came home at 9:30 or 10 and we yakked until midnight then I turned into a pumpkin.
Today we were supposed to go sky diving then tonight we were going to go swing dancing with friends. Sadly, the sky-dive place shut down due to high winds, and the swing dance plans fell through (might be a blessing with my knee pain), but you know what? It doesn’t matter. It’s so awesome being with CJ and Lauren it just can’t go wrong. So instead of high-energy adventures, we are yakking, blogging, reading, and finding homes for the wedding gifts within this flat. Very nice.
I realized that since CJ has been working for most of this visit so far, I don’t have pics of him. Here’s one to rectify that (who has morning hair? lol):
IMG_3098
Now we have all taken off work for the rest of the visit so we can enjoy time together. And that, my friends, was the beginning of our Grand Adventure. The big question is — will the car make it home? Time will tell … That adventure begins on Sunday.

Treasure in the Southern end of Appalachia

While those of us who work for Automattic, Inc. have an open vacation policy (no set number of days per year), we are encouraged to take at least 25 (paid) days off. Love that! And yet I realized that I have only taken about six of those days, and I’ve been here for a year on Sept. 15. Oops. Reflecting on this, Chris and I realized this was the perfect time to visit relatives we have been trying to get to for several years now.

Earlier this year, we visited my parents and sister in Pennsylvania. In early June we visited cousins in Maryland. In July we checked in with my cousin and his wife in Boston. For August, we decided to take two weeks off and have some eclectic adventures. Our first stop was traveling south (after a golf game with my co-worker, Sam, and our friend Amy) to visit my aunt and uncle.IMG_20150829_153045315

I do believe I took the longest road trip I have ever been on last week. Certainly in my almost-24 years of marriage. Chris and I petted our car, told it what a great job its been doing over the last few years and encouraged it to keep that up as we journeyed from one end of Appalachia to another point in the mountain ranges of North Carolina. Whenever we have a trip that entails over 8 hrs of driving, we generally hit the skies. This time, we hit a hotel instead, breaking the 11.5 hr trip in two. It was a good idea, although we figure we might sleep in the back of the mini-van at a state park next time we do that.

It’s unusual for me to get sick, but I was nailed with a nasty cold after camp week, and my body was still dragging, although the cold had broken a week prior to this visit. When my aunt asked what we might want to do (museums, tourist attractions, etc), I commented that all we wanted to do was sit and relax and see their world at the other end of Appalachia (I always pronounced that as apple-long A-cha, but apparently it’s a short “a” such as “throw an apple at-cha.” The things I learn. To our great delight, this is exactly what happened. We arrived at their house around 4:30 pm on Sunday and sat and yakked until 1 am when we forced ourselves to go to bed only to wake up the next day and start the gabbing all over again until the wee hours of the next morning.

This chattering was only interrupted by occasional naps (I was so relaxed, I took TWO naps the first day I was there. Talk about luxury) and by the serving of amazing food. We had pulled pork with coleslaw on it the first night (with a side of fried okra) and we also had livermush and shrimp and grits (yum!!!). Aunt Anne served up a feast each morning. Her idea of a light breakfast is several cereals, some sort of cooked egg, livermush, sausages, bacon and some sort of toast/muffin/coffeecake. My idea of breakfast (coffee only) was tossed to the wind. Amazing. I might need to reconsider this breakfast concept.

Uncle John’s brain is a treasure trove of history just waiting to be tapped. I swear he saved me back in the fifth grade when he tutored me in history. He took me beyond the dates to the actual stories, making the human connection that fed the love I have for history to this day. That hasn’t changed a bit. He still has the knack and has passed on this gift to his son. My cousin John $ regaled us with fascinating tidbits of life in the hills and the history of the Cherokee. I am more familiar with the Seneca nation so it was fascinating to see the similarities and differences in the tribes from different parts of Appalachia.

Chris, $ and I met my uncle’s cousin as well. Peter was visiting from Illinois, coming back to the mountains where he grew up for a dulcimer meeting. He blogs about his music, and to our delight, he gave us a mini concert.

I think I will write a post about this in the future so I won’t go into too many details here, but the musical conversation was very interesting and inspirational. My aunt did a nice writeup on the visit on her blog page.

On our last full day there, $ took Chris and me off to play in the mountains. We hiked for several hours through incredible views. I saw fantastic fungus and fresh-ish bear scat in addition to tempting camping spots. My biggest regret was that we hadn’t packed sleeping bags and planned to stay longer. Now we know for next time.

We completed the perfect day by going to a fabulous Mexican restaurant then headed back to the tranquil house for more yakking before hitting the hay. Wednesday morning came all too soon, and we pushed off leaving as long as we could. Aunt Anne kindly played the piano and sang The Angel Gabriel at my request. If you ever want a glimpse of heaven, you need to hear her beautiful, clear voice singing that.

Topping off the trip, we stopped in PA on the way home and visited with my niece who is in college there. We had such a nice visit, but I forgot to take a picture 🙁 Next time… We also hit the Buffalo WordPress meetup as we journeyed homeward. Now I have one week left of my vacation. The car did great, and we are so proud of it. So much to see and do, and lots of relaxing with loved ones on the agenda. We are blessed.