Route 66 :: June '97 -- October '97

Subject: Escape from NJ — Part I
Date: Mon, 18 Aug 1997 04:51:39 -0700

07:40 Elon, Virginia :: 11 AUG 97

Mom. Thank-you thank-you thank-you - and Dad, God rest your soul - for getting me out of Lakewood, New Jersey *before* I was able to realize how awful it is there.

Central New Jersey, where I spent those 'formative years' between the ages of 4 and 12, is a black hole of commercial strip-ways. Mile after mile of 2 to 4 lane highway banked on both sides by enterprise: fast food, strip malls, gas stations, gizmo supplies, bars...rarely a pretty, or even tasteful building in the lot. Traffic signals seem placed specifically so a truck pulling a '35 fifth wheel must stop for every light, and there are scads of traffic lights. It is a soulless, marvel-less place, one of those rare spots in my Rand McNally road atlas where the thick blue interstates are preferred over the thinner red through roads that had up to this point almost exclusively indicated country roads meandering through the occasional quaint village or pretty little town. I'm not sure where the country began turning ugly but by the time we reached Princeton the happy college town seemed an oasis. After another couple hours of stop-n-going in the ugly terrain, Louise and I gave up and took the freeway to Howell Township, where we had lived from the mid 60s through 1972.

A few of you need to know that Louise, a year younger than myself, is the eldest of my three sisters. She is partly responsible for motivating the current voyage around North America. Rather, moving her loot from the soon-to-be-sold family home in Gilford, New Hampshire was the motivator. She asked if I might not be willing to take the truck cross-country to move a few items of furniture from the old house down to Columbia, South Carolina where she's now an Assistant Professor in Education. (Yes, there's a Doctor in the family.) Vancouver to Gilford is a bit of a trek just to move some furniture, but I've had in my head this project of documenting Route 66 for quite a while and Louise provided the excuse for doing it sooner rather than later.

So now Rolling Thunder is packing a lifetime of memories and a few newer, useful things. The fifth-wheel is stocked to the gills with boxes containing I'm not sure what; the studio at the back can only be reached by giant-stepping over boxes and furniture. On the truck's roof rack we've stacked the rattan couch and loveseat, mummified in 100 feet of plastic sheeting and seven rolls of duct tape. A big blue tarp had to suffice for a sarcophagus. The truck's profile is now slightly taller than the trailer. My bicycle, the roof rack's usual occupant, gets stowed in the trailer's entranceway while underway.

22:56 Louise's house; Columbia, South Carolina :: 14 AUG 97

So far, I can characterise this trip as a scoot from point A to point B. Not a week's gone by without stacking up the kilometers on the truck's odometer. But there's also been something of a nostalgia flavour too. Part of the Vancouver to New Hampshire route retraced the westward journey that originally brought me to Whistler way back in, oh god, 1981. But that was minor nostalgia.

11:00 Louise's house; Columbia, South Carolina :: 16 AUG 97

Leaving the Rockies is a much less profound experience than approaching that massive wall from the direction of Calgary. Pop. You're out and into the rolling terrain in which badlands sometimes lie hidden. Fifteen years ago, I left Calgary in a late September Blizzard. This time, mid-July, the weather could only muster up a brief hail storm.

It was Stampede time in Calgary and so there was a necessary trip to the Stampede grounds. The Calgary Stampede is really not so different an experience from any of the world's dozens of agricultural fairs held in urban settings. Fried food, a variety of musical stages, the arcades and joy-rides and hawkers: we have these at Vancouver's annual Pacific National Exhibition, or Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition. But what Vancouver and Toronto don't have is the rodeo. I only managed to spend a single evening at the stampede, but I did catch several heats of the chuck wagon races.

Chuck Wagon Races? Four wooden wagons, more like souped-up, man-size toy versions of the wagons used to settle the west. Each wagon pulled by four horse power. Each wagon team accompanied by four outriders astride their own horses. From a standing start, each team loads an object into the wagon (a barrel or stove or something) and they're off, once around the track. I could spend more time trying to portray the excitement of watching these chuck wagons bomb around the track, manoeuvring for position, sometimes busting through the tinniest of gaps to overtake the leaders...most of the races were close and coming off the last corner in first place was by no means a guarantee of a win. 32 horses closing on the finish line, 16 of them hitched to wagons. It was much more fun than I'd expected.

But the real rush came the morning I left. Rolling Thunder was tethered in a parking lot at Canada Olympic Park (when it wasn't in the shop having all its tires replaced). It being Stampede, the KOA and other RV parks were full up and so the site for the luge, bobsled, nordic jumping and freestyle skiing events, Canada Olympic Park, served the overflow. For $15/night there was no water, electric or sewer available but they did give out 2for1 coupons to ride the last 400 meters of Olympic luge run. So, after getting everything ready for departure, I walked over to the luge and gave up $13 and one of my two coupons in exchange for two rides.

Everyone's familiar with bobsled, right? Well, luge uses the same track. Rather than sitting up inside a little fuselage, however, you lie flat on your back on a little sliver of sled with two long runners that curl up like elf shoes at the front of the sled. You cradle the elf-shoe tips between your legs just above the ankle and use them to steer-pressure on the right tip with your right leg turns you left. When the track's clear of the previous rider, you're launched feet-first down the track.


Top speed's something like 35 or 40 miles an hour when you start this low (the pros, starting from the top of something like 1800m of track, reach nearly double that), but that's plenty fast on a narrow track with your helmet-clad noggin just inches from the ice. On the first run I bombed down the track, bouncing off a couple walls pretty hard, but still managed a respectable time. No wall bounces on the second run and the timer at the bottom asked "where are you from?" Er, Vancouver. Apparently they keep a running tally of the best three times for the day, and I was now holding the gold medal...for *Canada*! (Visiting Americans tend to fill up the winners board most days. The track workers were glad to have a Canadian up there, for a change.)

I still had another coupon...two rides later I had swept the medals. My times lasted out the remainder of the morning while I chatted with the timer, Cathy, on a beautiful Calgary day. During the winter, Cathy's an official for bobsleigh and luge. (Never asked her if she travels with the sport.) Through the summer she spends a couple days a week volunteering on the track (all the other workers are paid). We made pleasant conversation between lugers from Canada, the US, France and Germany.

By the time I could rouse myself to leave, it was 1:30 in the afternoon, and my times were still standing. Through the day, the track frosts with the heat and slows down. By this time, I figured the times would stand, but as I left I dropped my toll-free phone number on Cathy and asked if she'd let me know how it turned out. The next day, my messages included one from Cathy: shortly after I left someone took the gold but I still had bronze and silver.

~~~ Responses Sought ~~~

War, he sung, is toil and trouble;
Honour but an empty bubble.
Never ending, still beginning,
Fighting still, and still destroying.
If the world be worth thy winning,
Think, oh think, it worth enjoying.

  graphical element John Dryden
Alexander's Feast (1697)
Sure, winning isn't everything.
It's the only thing.
  graphical element Henry 'Red' Sanders
In Sports Illustrated, December 26, 1959
(Often attributed to Vince Lombardi)