So the cat’s out of the bag. At least it is if you came to Saturday Morning Live improv this past Saturday, where Dixie and I got to be students for a change (way fun!) or if you were lucky enough to get tickets to see Improv Playhouse in Santa Cruz on Friday night. But we’re home. Safe and sound. And a little tired. And in need of some assimilation time. I think it’s safe to say if you did a brain scan on me, all you’d see is scrambled eggs. I have learned so much about the demographics of our country, the geology, the history—and about myself, of course, but the information is all still a disorganized mess.

The stats:
90 Days on the road
10,639 miles traveled
31 states (and a bit of Canada)
55 places where we stayed at least one night

At least 85% of the time, we were outside. Outside. In weather. We experienced everything from hot-buggy-90% humidity to van-shaking desert winds to light dustings of snow to rat-a-tat-tat hail, and buckets and buckets of rain. Man, the east coast was soggy! But the east coast also served up fireflies and thunder and lightning, two things I’ve missed since moving West. (A side note: Everywhere we went, locals told us the weather was unusual for the time of year. Make of that what you will.) I think part of our decision to come home a bit early was that we were ready to be indoors. What luxury! Another was, and I’m embarrassed to admit it: we got tired of learning. It’s true. Every day presented new challenges, new fascinating not-to-be-missed bits of information about where we’d landed. By the time we’d circled around to Oregon, I’d stopped trying to identify the birds, the rivers. It was a bird, a river; that was enough.

That said, this trip is one of the coolest, most memorable things I’ve ever done. And instead of giving me the satisfaction of having checked something off my bucket list, it’s only added more to the list: all the things we didn’t see: the everglades, the pueblos in northern New Mexico, the panhandle of Idaho, most of Montana. The list goes on.

Buffalo Bill State Park, Cody, Wyoming

Before taking off, there was so much to think about, which in my case translates into so much to worry about. What if we got stuck out in the middle of nowhere, no cell service? Maude, our Chevy conversion van is a ’91, for God’s sake. Could we trust her? Or what if we had an accident? What if some semi driver, focused on his cell phone, swerved into our lane? (This actually happened! But thanks to Dixie’s quick reflexes and a broad emergency strip of road, we escaped that catastrophe.) Or what if one of us got sick? Or hurt? In particular, what if it was Dixie? If I were the one to go down, Dixie would know just what to do. She’s like that, good in an emergency. But if she was the one losing blood or lying there unconscious… well, it would be me that had to step up and play hero. All I can say about that is, Yikes.

At the surprise going-away party thrown by our Fun Institute students, one of our friends entertained us on his guitar. “Join in!” he encouraged as he sang the Beatles’ song We Can Work it Out. And I did, sang my little heart out, “Try to see it my way…” But he’d unknowingly given me a whole other thing to worry about: What if we drove each other crazy on the trip?

Amazing water sculpture at Belknap Hot Springs, Oregon

Well, we’re back. And besides the swerving semi, none of these terrible things came to pass. We did have to get our U-joints replaced in South Dakota, but that was just a couple of hours out of our lives. And it was cheap too! (Nothing like leaving California to see what real-world prices are like!) And we did have moments of bickering, but not too many, and as usual we untangled the knots pretty quickly. In retrospect, it was great for our relationship. Here we thought we knew each other so well…

Part of my personal reason for taking the trip (besides turning 60 and wanting to do it while I could still walk!) was to gain perspective on my life. Was I leading the life I wanted to lead? Was I happy with my choices? I am happy to report that, on returning, I can answer a resounding YES to both those questions. Traveling made me really appreciate what I have here in Santa Cruz: friends, community, great neighbors, a town I really love, the ocean, the redwoods—and great weather! No mosquitos or gnats or blackflies!

Another beautiful sculpture at Belknap

But the trip definitely provided some life lessons, the biggest having to do with trust. Each new place we landed meant planning where we were going to go next. In some respect, on this kind of trip, we had to. What direction did we want to go? Was there someone or someplace we wanted to see, some weather we wanted to skirt? We’d pull up weather apps, pull up camping websites, crack open travel books, research national monuments. Weekends were the trickiest. Campgrounds would fill with weekend warriors and their bike-riding children. Ginormous trailers and RVs toting paddleboards, kayaks, ATVs would fill the place. And, unlike us who were flying by the seats of our pants, these weekend warriors reserved their sites—sometimes a year in advance. So we had to find first-come-first-serve sites, or BLM land, or just get lucky.

The Amazing Yellowstone, where the land is on fire.

But despite all our planning about where to land next, our best stops were often a result of chance. Like how we found Belknap Hot Springs, tucked into the lush Cascades in Oregon. We’d pulled over at a rest stop in deserty eastern Oregon because I had to pee. While waiting for Dixie to come out of the vault toilet, I got talking to a guy who was traveling with his fiancé back to Idaho. “Belknap is a must see!” he said. And boy was it! Hot springs, gardens, and the wonderful Snake River. Or there was the Lakota gal we talked in South Dakota. We were stopped for road construction, the first car. She was holding the stop/slow sign and strolled over. I let down my window. We chatted. I told her we’d just come from Pine Ridge Reservation. She told us to check out Devil’s Tower, which still stands out as one of the highlights of the trip. Stunning scenery! And camping among the teepees of Native Americans who’d come to pay their respects to the sacred ground. Or there was the heavily tatted guy we talked to at a gas station in southeastern Oregon who told us about some BLM land called Chickenhomony. Eight bucks for a night at a desert reservoir. Had the place mostly to ourselves. Or the gorgeous Superstition Mountains in Arizona, which, after hours of driving in a wind-fueled sand storm, we more or less stumbled upon. These were the gems of the trip.

Were we glad to have our cell phones? Yes. Do they really make travel a better experience? Hmmm… Mostly yes. Especially on our way to my sister’s in Annapolis, driving the interstate through trafficy Washington DC, at night, the windshield wipers going full speed, the spray from passing cars and trucks blinding us for seconds at a time. Sacagawea, my GPS, was a lifesaver! So was the weather app when deciding crucial things like awning or no awning. It kept us from having to climb out of bed in the middle of the night to roll it up due to high winds. And getting texts from friends was awesome. HOWEVER…. Let me give you two scenarios. You see which you think sounds like more fun.

Yellowstone. Dixie and I are strolling the geyser boardwalk. It’s our second day on it because one day just wasn’t enough. Watching the earth bubble and roil is stunning. Dangerous. Exciting. Surprisingly colorful. Then, miracle of miracles, a geyser they’ve named The Castle explodes right in front of our eyes! It’s incredible. Thousands of gallons of boiling hot water shooting upward and cascading down over the built-up sides. We sit. We watch. We are mesmerized. And feel so lucky it happened right when we were standing there.

Contrast this with what we come upon about a half an hour later. A ton of people all standing by a seemingly dormant geyser. They are grumpy. Complaining. Why won’t it go off? A kid tells his mom he’s hungry and wants to go have lunch. “We can’t leave now,” she snaps. “We’ve waited this long.” I hear another person whine, “If we wait too long we’ll miss the beehive geyser.” Another complaining that Old Faithful really screwed them up when it went off early. These tourists have geyser apps that predict, within twenty minutes (give or take an hour) when different geysers are going to blow. “Give it a break,” I tell the woman next to me. “It’s nature.”

The Castle, Yellowstone

What I’ve learned is, sometimes it’s best to just trust what the world has to offer us, on its own. Sometimes it’s great not to know. Or to trust the guy at the gas station, or our intuition, our timing. The world is a fantastical place and has so much to offer, and if we stick to what is “known”, what we think is a “for sure” we might just be missing out on the magic of chance.

Our mantra on this trip was no mistakes, which Dixie says sounds an awful lot like Namaste. And what we meant by that was, to take it as it came. No regrets. Be in the moment, with the moment, whatever that moment is, even if it’s a missed exit, or a worn-out U-joint.

The Living Room

So those are my thoughts for today. Remember, live the love. It’s all we’ve got. And, trust in the universe!

Also, if you haven’t already, check out my newest novel, Perfect Little Worlds. If you like it, I ask this favor of you: please recommend it to a friend, or write a review on Amazon, or post something on social media. It would help me loads. Thanks!

Roadtrip USA: Day Eighty-three