I have experienced California, taken Amtrak passenger train service
across the Southwest and through the Rocky Mountains, flew 30,000 miles above The Great Plains, but the most thrilling adventure was a journey to Portland, Oregon following portions of the Oregon Trail that brought pioneers in covered wagons of a past era to a better life. Before embarking, a mechanic goes over my modern wagon, the same 1980 Volvo DL
driven from California to St. Clair Shores, Michigan in 1997 checking tires and brakes, the engine, cooling system, and other vital portions with assurance it can make the 2400-mile trip adding that anything can happen, anytime.
Saturday, May 2, 1998, 9 a.m. Midwest morning air fresh and sweet from midnight rain, overcast skies with a humid touch I say goodbye to family, climb into the Volvo and begin a five-day voyage with stops at Motel 6 in hot and muggy Davenport, Iowa and North Platte, Nebraska, mountainous Rock Springs Wyoming, and Boise, Idaho. The goal is to drive eight hours a day starting early, rain or shine, reaching each destination, hopefully, by 6pm only stopping to stretch and refuel.
With reservations confirmed and the car packed up to the windows with personal belongings I merge onto Interstate 94 west; right away I sense this may be the last time seeing the hometown and imagine those pioneers traveling west during the “Great Migration” felt the same even more so as going back, then, would have been arduous. The continuous hum of rubber on road mesmerize as I stare out the windshield lost in the past year and the life I once knew in Michigan heading toward a new world in Oregon. The skies over southern Michigan clear (as if passing through an invisible wall) giving way to sunshine, warmth, and massive traffic through Gary, Indiana (at the southern tip of Lake Michigan) where I switch to Interstate 80 near Chicago and on into Davenport.
Pulling into the Motel 6 parking lot at 6pm, nine hours and 500 miles after leaving St. Clair Shores I check in and call Dad to let him know, aside from the traffic near Chicago, all went well this first day. Later while watching the news and in an unguarded moment suffocating loneliness and homesickness creeps into the cramped room so what better time to reconnect with a short walk to a local restaurant for dinner. The Village restaurant is spacious and noisy which is music to my ears after eight hours of rushing wind and no one to talk to, and the tasty meat and potatoes meal sends me back to the motel with spirits soaring and looking, excitingly, for the next leg to begin. Settled in for the evening the past year replays: assisting Dad with the front and back yard cleanup of his home as it gradually became a tangled mess of weeds after Mom passed away unexpectedly in 1985. The summer evenings in the backyard in conversation, reconnecting with friends and family, and a trip Dad and I took to Atlantic Mine at the base of the Keweenaw Peninsula in Northern Michigan, he to visit his sister and me to explore the regions copper mining and family history.