Category Archives: LA Freeway

Posts about a trip I made out west. Maybe posts about other travels too.

350 miles to home


It was not as far from the dining hall to the lake as I remembered.  In fact, nothing at camp was as far away from anything else as I recalled it being.  People laugh at me sometimes when I say this, but it was a weird sensation to have.  I had not been back to camp in probably 10 years.  Stopping by on the last day or so of my trip across the country was a profound grounding in the past.


The first real recognition I received was around Friday night campfires.  Being a “Lodge Spirit” or getting an activity award was a striking contrast to home where I played rope-a-dope and kept myself out of sight as much as possible.  After 7 years of watching older kids be called to stand in front as “Lads,” I was on top of the world when my name was called.  And now the whole place seemed smaller, but not necessarily diminished.  It was from then on to be a place in my memory more than anything.


Continuing east, toward home, I spent the night at the Eastern U.S.’s answer to the Grand Canyon: the Big South Fork.  Having driven past signs for this place over several years, I had never bothered to turn off.  Maybe the trees keep people from staring the way they do at the Grand Canyon, but the forces of nature are in just as much evidence here as in Arizona.


Following my last night camping on this trip, I decided to take a short hike before heading to my brother and sister-in-law’s place in Knoxville.  There was a short loop, clearly delineated on the map.  What could possibly go wrong?  Not thinking that food or water would be an issue, I began what would turn into a 20 mile hike.  Which can be done, if one has to, but it is not recommended.


Leaving out of Knoxville the next morning, it was exciting and bittersweet to return home after 3 weeks away.  After getting lost on the Asheville Highway for a while, I meandered down to Cosby and then followed a gravel road around the northern end of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It seems that a few folks have been able to hold off the Federal men to this day, and still plant tobacco in small plots.  I had seen many mountains that were new and exotic to me, but these were the familiar hills and I was glas to be home.

In the middle of Tennessee


002 The railroad ran right in front of my grandparent’s place.  In fact, it still runs there but the place does not belong to my grandparents anymore.  Fortunately, them what bought it didn’t develop it, but I can’t go there anymore, which is a little strange because we would go there every Saturday night.

003We would rummage through the chicken house, where there were no chickens any more but a whole lot of junk.  It’s amazing we did not get tetanus or snakebit.  There wasn’t a whole lot of junk to be found, but we were just kids and it seemed like a treasure trove.  When we got a little bit older, we would smoke out back.

007On Sunday we would get up and go to church.  Sometimes we would usher.  Occasionally we would go to Sunday School.  We always went in the right-hand door.  We were not the kind of people who would go in the left side.

004After lunch, Pappy would pick us up and bring us home.  Maybe we would play football in the field for a while first, or throw the trash into the gully.   Eventually we wound up back in the cavernous, silent house.  I did not realize at the time that the house was huge.  I will never be able to afford to live in a house so big.  You really can’t see any of it because of the trees.

006On Monday, and usually most of the rest of the week, I’d go to school.  Public school up through the 8th grade, but one of us was almost always a student at the place where my father and two of my siblings were valedictorian.  A third would have been in the running except he cheated on a test.  I almost failed English freshman year.  Nobody at home said a word about it to me.  The school still exists, but this building has almost collapsed.

005Several days of the week after school, I would go to work.  The first person other than my father to give me money for doing things was the owner of this Baskin Robbins franchise.  I do not remember his name, but his assistant manager was named Michael Bufundo.  Last I knew, Michael was still assistant manager 20 years later.  If you take the key and go through the arch on the left, there is a little courtyard which was a nice place to smoke.

008The Methodist minister for whom I am named used to pastor this church.  He was long gone by the time I made the scene.  The man who had this cure when I was in the area was the scion of a local family who had spent much of his adult life in California and dated Candice Bergman at one point.  Despite turning 60 that year, he let me come stay with him when my parents split up.

001This I “discovered” when I was living with the pastor.  It was built to provide water to steam locomotives in the nearby train yard.  When it became obsolete in the world of transportation, my biology teacher among others worked to have it preserved.  If I lived there now, I would go visit every day.

When I arrived from St. Louis, I spent a few days “home.”  There is no changing the fact that if you are lucky enough to spend most of your childhood in one place, that place will always be home no matter how long you are gone.

The River’s Deep and the River’s Wide

For those of you just tuning in, or otherwise not absolutely riveted by each and every post on this blog, this is a part of the continuing series of posts about a trip I took across the country some 12 years ago or so.  Stimulating, yes?  More so than a slideshow at your neighbors’ house circa 1978? Doubtful.  Anyway, there are more posts under the category “LA Freeway” if you want to know what has preceded this.


I decided before I saw it that I would not spend the night in Kansas.  There may be some wonderful people in the Jayhawk State, but it was a good call not to seek them out.  Having extended my stay in Colorado, I had to haul ass if I were to make it home on schedule.  Why being home on schedule was important is a detail which eludes me.  It seemed significant at the time.  So, I rushed through Kansas taking but the lone picture you see above and buying a shitty Counting Crows live album in a Wal-Mart in Russell.

I happen to like Counting Crows (no “the” correct?) but this album didn’t do it for me.  Something about Adam Duritz is best captured in the non-improvisational state of the studio.  Russell was no great shakes either, although no town should really be judged by the quality of the Wal-Mart out on the Interstate.  Rolling in and then directly out of Kansas City was kind of a bummer though because there seemed to be a lot more to that city than I had suspected.  Blind Will McDowell, the famous bluesman from Troy, NY, is now based in KC, so perhaps I will check him out there at some point.



It’s funny how you can be in a place, such as Kansas City, and believe you have no connection to it yet find that there is only one degree of separation.  After covering Colorado Springs to St. Louis in 15 hours, I was not up for another slog of Interstate miles on the following day.  As soon as I could, I found a highway that crossed from Missouri into Tennessee.  This crossing was so far out in the boondocks that I was not sure if anyone had ever really lived there.

As it turns out, this was native ground to the Subdude.  I turned left off of the Interstate to cross the Big Muddy.  Had I turned right, I would have almost instantly been in Hayti.  At the time I did not know the Subdude nor had I heard his multitude of stories about growing up in a slowly dying corner of the Mizzou panhandle.  Funny what a small world it can be sometimes.

Down to the Front Range


003Out there in the distance you can see it.  That’s the mountain that people would set out for when they left St. Louis with “Pike’s Peak or Bust!” written on their wagons.  It meant they had gotten to the West.  I found it by going east, and in another day I would retrace in 15 hours the route that took them 10 weeks or more.  Of course, they did not have I-77 the whole way.

15 hours is a lot of driving for one person on his own, but in addition to having been 25, I was enamored with Colorado.  A long day of driving seemed like a small price to pay for an extra day in the mountains.  Leaving Twin Lakes, I drove down through the Collegiate Range (so called because it contains peaks with names like “Harvard” and “Yale.”  As far as I know, it does not contain a Valley of Love and Delight.)  Destination: Colorado Springs.



Why Colorado Springs and not Denver or Boulder is a decent question.  Mostly, I had been to Denver and Boulder a few years before.  Between the presence of the Air Force Academy and the Olympic Training Center, I thought Colorado Springs must be a pretty cool place.  It might be for all I know, but I wound up outside of town for the most part.  Passing through South Park (yep, that South Park) and Woodland Park (where I could live), I descended to the Garden of the Gods before reaching this camp site in the Pike National Forest.


Before the time of being handy with the panorama machine, this was the best I could do to convey the 270 degree view.  The idea of camping in this spot was appealing, but a Nissan Stanza really had no place in this place and I had no interest in duplicating the feats of Christopher McCandless.  So I headed back to a more developed area for actual overnighting.


Once settled I did venture over to the Air Force Academy.  Maybe it was the  fatigues I wore most days in 8th Grade, but something about military academies fascinates me.  The Air Force Academy in particular is interesting because most armed services rely on ancient traditions, but the very idea of an air force is totally modern.  The campus of the Air Force Academy is totally modern as well.  Including its chapel, which gives the distinct impression of being made of propeller blades.  Inside there are protestant, catholic, jewish, muslim, and interfaith spaces for worship.  It is the most distinctive building on the campus.  I had not gotten into the habit of buying grey sweatshirts at colleges yet, and I still want an Air Force one.