photo by Sheri Dixon

Monday, June 23, 2014

Weird. I Thought I Already Had a Home

Dear Oregon,

It's not you. It's me.

I admit, we were swept away and delayed for hours by the Magic that is NW Washington state. We didn't plan it. It wasn't intentional. We were going to dabble our toes in Seattle and just to the north and west of there and head your way- spending a leisurely day enjoying your pleasures from North to South before checking into our hotel at a reasonable hour.

But Washington whispered, "Just one more ferry- look! If you take the Edmonds/Kingston at 12:20 I can show you things. I can show you Port Gamble with its historic buildings and cemetery on the hill, I can show you the glittering blue diamond water of the Hood Canal where eagles soar in front of the backdrop of Mt. Ranier rising seemingly out of the depths of the water. That will be out your left window while the huge pines and giant fronds of ferns brush up against your right. For miles and miles and miles. Here-take a right in Hoodsport clinging tight to the water and drive up this mountain- skirt Lake Cushman and take the two lane to the one lane to the dirt road. Right here, at the Staircase Ranger Station which IS the end of the road, get out and start walking."

"The ferns are waist-deep while tiny little flowers blanket fallen logs in shades of pink and white and yellow- rhinestones grown into the pattern of green mosses. Now look up. Can you see the tops of these trees? At their very narrowest top they are as big around as the biggest oak in Texas. There is no hugging these trees- arms spread wide barely make the slightest arc around the base of the trunks."

"Listen- nothing but the sound of the wind, the cacophony of water roiling over and around massive boulders in the river- watch the Canada gees teach their offspring to navigate this highway, patiently and over and over again the parents take them through the smaller milder sections till their charges can stay upright instead of going toes-up for a second and then bob rightside up; blinking the river out of their eyes and sneezing it out of their nose...and then they move to ones a little bigger and faster and repeat."

"Can you imagine dinosaurs living here?"

"Can you imagine bigfoot living here?"

"Can you imagine yourself living here?"

Yes. Yes. Yes.

So I'm sorry, Oregon- all we managed to see of you was black highway and a truck stop for gas. We did drive through Portland at night and it was beautiful. Alec said that a friend of his 'warned' him about Portland- said it's nothing but homeless people and hippies. We made a wrong turn and ended up down inside for a few minutes and that was a pretty accurate description. Alec's comment- "Ah. So it's Big Denton. Cool."

I'm sure today will show us that you are every bit as beautiful as Washington. And I know that you managed to charm me with your mandatory full-service gas station attendants.

Me- "What? Really? I haven't seen full-service in over 30 years. Are you SURE?"

Attendant- "Yes, ma'am. And thank you for not threatening to shoot me like the last Texan who pulled in here."

But Washington laughs at your attempt to woo us away from there.

Washington whispers, "You have good friends here, the social climate is as appealing as the actual climate, the part of me you fell in love with is driving distance to...everything while being remote and magical- you know you've found perfection."

And then Washington smiles and adds, "And as of July 1- recreational weed is legal here."

Damn you, Washington. You know you had me at Temperate Rainforest...

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Trip of a Lifetime

Yes kids, it's that time of year again. Time for the Dixon Family Walkabout.

And lemme tell you- the level of fear in the boys' eyes as I fanned the 25 pages of Mapquest routes and 50 pages of printed out info concerning our hotel reservations, park information and other assorted places we're going to stop has never before been seen.

I believe I may have outdone myself.

And that's saying a lot.

I came to my roadtrip-planning mania genetically, through my mom. I didn't get her perky little nose with freckles sprinkled across it, but I did get this.

As kids, we took road trips to wherever the NPPA's convention was being held- National Press Photographers' Association, my dad was on their board for a time. As a board member's family, we got breaks and freebies once we got there as far as hotel and whatnot, but we just had to get there. Press photographers don't make a whole lot of money.

So we'd roadtrip. We roadtripped to Pittsburgh and we roadtripped to Florida. We trained to LA, losing a/c just as we got to Arizona on our way back. We took a cooler of food and ate lunches at rest-stops and roadside parks. We traveled on the dust of a shoestring budget, but we went EVERYWHERE.

My first husband didn't understand this. His family was much more well-off than mine, but they went to the same cabin on the same lake the same week of every summer. He declined to do the Yearly Road Trip.

We don't speak of my second husband.

Ward has always been into road-tripping. At 16, his parents let him drive, alone, to Cape Canaveral to see the liftoff of the first manned spaceship. From Texas.

At 19, he took his baby brother (aged 13) to Yellowstone.

His first wife was not into road-tripping.

We're a match made in Heaven, ya'll.

We've been all over, several times. Alec has been road-tripping since before birth. After one trip to Wisconsin we found out when we got home that we'd had a stowaway. He's got 34 states on his list of 'States Visited', and this year, we're fixin' to add another 8, leaving only Alaska, Hawaii, the far Northest tiny states, Florida and Michigan.

You know- those states that aren't really 'on the way' to anywhere.

We all three of us have the desire to 'go', even though I'm mightily terrified of flying and I know that I'm going to have to get over that soon- there are too many places we want to see that require it...we're running out of contiguous states.

People ask me, "So where are you going?" and I say, "Everywhere".

They sigh and try again. "What is your destination?" I answer, "We don't have a destination- we have a turn-around point."

Because that's the great thing about driving. You can see a ton of stuff on the way there and home. A ton.

Check out for just how much there is to see. I've found things within 20 miles of our house I never knew existed. I figure out where 'lunchtime' will be on our route and key in that city's name. It's awesome. We've lunched at the World's Largest Ball of Twine (Cawker City KS- and Alec got to add to it), the Sock Monkey Museum (just west of Chicago) and in front of Santa Anna's leg (Springfield IL).

Because that's the sort of fabric America is made of, ya'll.

A few years ago I figured out that for LESS than the cost of a Days Inn or Econolodge, there are places to stay the night that add to the trip instead of merely being a place to crash and shower. Look up hotels in your desired area and then scroll way, way, way down past the chain hotels and motels and you'll find the independent mom and pop lodgings- there's even a website for that- . I generally check the reviews at Travelocity to make sure they're not 'rent by the hour', but so far we've been nothing but thrilled with the places we've stayed.

We've stayed in a yurt in Arkansas, a llama farm in Wisconsin, and this year we'll be staying at 2 pheasant hunting's off-season. Although we had to really think twice about what would be better- a Days Inn right on the interstate or a cabin in the middle of the Kansas rolling hill is chock full of tough choices...

We stay in a lot of historic hotels. They're generally located conveniently and the staff usually consists of people who know the history of the place and love it. We'll be returning to one this year- the Kalispell Grand in Montana. It costs less than the Kalispell Motel 6 and is just a few blocks away from it. Motel 6? Or...this? From the Canadian border to New Orleans, so far none of them have let us down.

While most of the time the Travelocity reviews are spot on (and brutally honest) I have to laugh at some of the reviews regarding historic hotels; a lot of them on the National Historic Registrty. 'Everything very out-dated', 'In desperate need of updating', 'Small rooms', 'Shabby'...Apparently some people are unaware of what 'historic' means.

We travel instead of. Instead of going to the movies or going shopping. Instead of paying for haircuts and manicures. Instead of participating in almost any other hobby other than Alec's guitar and art lessons and my going to guinea pig shows. We do without so we can do this, and we have the blessing of having Joe to care for the farm while we're gone and who very generously adds to the travel fund because he knows how important it is.

Even on a shoestring, it ain't cheap. But it's important.

It's important because it gives perspective. Humans get entrenched in their little worlds and come to believe that how it is within their field of vision is how it is everywhere. Oh, sure you see all sorts of stuff on TV and the internet from all over the world but it's not real. It's on the TV or internet like soap operas and 'reality' shows.

You have to Be There.

You have to Be There to get a feel for a place; feel the weather, hear the sounds, smell the smells and eat the food served by the very real people who live there- people who are different from the people at home while being the same as all humans are the same- to feel the connections and differences all at once.

It's important to realize that all the above cannot be achieved by staying in chain motels and eating at chain restaurants and only seeing the 'touristy stuff'. Oh, sure the accents of the clerks will be 'funny' and there will be minor regional differences on menus, but other than's as enriching as just watching it on TV.

Empty brain calories, ya'll.

And time is short. Our family knows that time is short at all times and in the best situations. I'm typing this as Ward gets his yearly 'noes to tose' PET scan, lab work, and chest X-ray to be sure he's still OK, that he's not harboring a stowaway of his own in there...a very unwelcome one.

Even without that spectre, just the normal stuff of living- will I always have the ability to take off a few weeks in a row to do this? Will we have the money to do so? Alec is 14- he may have a summer job starting next year and not WANT to go...

Life is change. For good or bad, life is change and it changes in a literal heartbeat; a fact that's been pounded into us over and over and over again.

So look out, America- the Dixons are hitting the road again next week for over 6,000 miles. Seeing friends along the way, stopping at five National Parks and at least as many obscure attractions, eating out of our cooler or at locally owned places and staying in historical hotels and motels along the way- places that are literally one of a kind in all the history of everywhere.

The Trip of a Lifetime...but we know they all are.