Mary & Christine’s Big Adventure- Part 1

Some would say that dragging my 79-year-old terminally ill mother on a road trip, totaling 3,781 miles in 16 days across 11 states, was a bad idea. But here’s the thing…

It was her idea.

When I decided to provide my mother with one last great vacation, I asked her to answer three questions:

Q1: International or domestic?

Cruise ship naturally came as an early choice due to ease of travel for someone with limited mobility. My mom broke her hip some years before and now has trouble walking long distances. But she also has anemia and immunosuppression due to blood cancer (MDS). Cruise ships can be disease farms.

As much as she wanted to go to Europe (Ireland) or some far flung island in the pacific (Hawaii), if anything were to go wrong medically, we were much better off remaining in the lower 48 where I could just make a U-turn and go home.

A1: Domestic

Q2: Do you want to go somewhere new, somewhere you have always wanted to go yet never had the chance? Or do you what to go places you’ve visited in years past for some nostalgia?

“Well, I don’t know!” was her answer. She wanted to go to Crater lake in Oregon (new). She wanted to go to Montreal to visit the cathedral (old). She wanted to go to Charleston to visit Fort Sumter which she missed last visit (old). She wanted to visit historical sites in Texas (new).

A strong idea came back to visit Amish country in Pennsylvania, something she’d seen a lot of on TV. It took a few conversations to really help mom understand that this was very likely the last big trip she would take in her life. I wasn’t subtle.

“Mom, do you really want your last road trip to be a visit with weird religious luddites?”
“Well, no… let’s go Southeast to Pensacola and Charleston.”
“And Savannah. I’ve never been. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
“And Savannah.”

A2: Nostalgia tour

Q3: Do you want to travel and stay in one place or do the usual ‘Mounts Family Vacation’ where we jam in as much activity as possible?

I don’t even know why I asked other than as I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate slowing down while I am not at work. But my mom’s retired life is slow all the time, so she wanted to speed it up a little. There is just so much to see and do in the world and never enough time to take it all in.

She wanted it all. I accommodated.

A3: Two weeks of insane travel with the buffer of a four-day July 4th weekend for me to be a slug and recover.

And so, on June 14th, I set out to Peoria, Illinois to visit my family and strap mom into my Chevy Spark ‘Lorraine’ for the long haul. Our route took us south to Nashville, TN; Birmingham, AL; Pensacola, FL; Jacksonville, FL; Savannah, GA; Charleston, SC; Asheville, NC; and Columbia, IN. I dropped mom back home and made my final destination of Minneapolis, MN on June 29th.

The ‘dogs’ of the trip included a hotel in Jacksonville that smelled of wet cigar ashtray; an overbuilt tourist trap blocking the view of the Atlantic; a harrowing drive across South Carolina where the interstate needs to be six lanes but is only four; and the free Georgia state map that mom found so disagreeable, she complained about it for three days.

But the rest was wonderous with surprises and small blessings. And mom was a trooper. We were not able to do as much physical activity as I would have liked but we went on a lot of tours and got to see what we wanted- by trolley, by boat, by horse driven carriage. And for the activities that I wanted to do but mom could not, she encouraged me to go anyway and sat with a crossword puzzle as I made the treks without her. Good mom.

I took about 2,000 photos as is my habit and will post the highlights of this adventure in the coming weeks. I hope some of the joy we experienced while making this journey reaches you through these travel logs.





-Copyright C.M. Mounts, July 2019

Life’s a Beach

We arrive in Pensacola
Florida in the usual fashion
Hurried desperation relax
Camp in the woods
Early morning sound of sea
Roar in the distance
Pink swimsuit
Red plastic pail, blue shovel
Smell of new overwhelmed
It means one thing:
Sandcastles
March in flip flops
Too hot black asphalt
Burned feet camp store
Dunes
Taller than my eight-year-old self
Green grass grows waves
Wooden boardwalk wind
Gulf of Mexico
Definition of heaven
White sand beach
Ocean solitude
Clear water sun
Sand dollars

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, November 2017

The Great Wide Open

More than one person has said to me- take time. Be with your mom before the cancer makes her really sick. Plan a family vacation somewhere and make some quality memories together, one last time. We’ve been talking about what that might look like in practical terms of time, money, stamina, and risk of viral infection.

I love to travel. I am willing to travel just about anywhere in the world, for almost any length of time, for almost any reason. I am an adventurer at heart, an international explorer. One of the greatest gifts my father gave to me was his love for travel. It made me understand that there were other places, with a lot of other people who did not look or act like me.

Nothing held more interest for my dad then just getting out and seeing the USA. His career gave us the ability to take two big vacations a year. These trips were what I would describe as ‘The Bill Mounts Family Vacation’. They were characterized by an extreme urgency to see everything you could possibly see in the short time allotted. Two weeks was just not enough time to sit and relax. We had to go, go, go and went, went, went we did.

By the ripe old age of twelve, I had traveled to no less than forty states. I had been to innumerable national parks- Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Petrified Forest, Red Wood Forest, Rocky Mountains, etc. I had been in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, and Pacific. I had been to countless museums, forts, State Capitols, wayside historical markers, tourist traps, national monuments, scenic overlooks, zoos, amusements parks, etc.  Once dad died in 1985, our annual family vacations stopped for the most part.

Mom did take me to Hawaii…

So, where do I take mom for that one last ride? From my perspective, the most obvious choice is Florida. Dad was in love with Pensacola. He was stationed there during his time in the Navy and my parents planned to retire there. It feels like we visited every year while he was still alive. We camped on Santa Rosa Island, played on the beach, visited Fort Pickens, Trader Jon’s, the National Naval Aviation Museum, and wherever else dad wanted to feel nostalgic.

That was all before the island was built up with hotels. You could still collect sand dollars, starfish, and seashells. We even picked up a couple conch shells once. No one was combing the beach at the break of dawn collecting them all to sell. I have very clear memories of the smell of orange blossoms and the feel of the white sand beaches. I count them among the happiest memories of my life.

But that was Pensacola of the 1970’s & 80’s. It begs the question: could a trip to Florida today ever live up to those memories? And does mom want to go where dad would have chosen? Or does she have one last great adventure in her, one last uncharted destination, one unfulfilled wish?

It remains to be seen. And it may come to more than one trip this year with the various members of my family. We may not all be able to get the same time off. Quality time with more intimate groups of people might be a better way to go. And if we end up hanging around the mid-west… well, at least we won’t get lost.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2019

Travel Log: Thunder Bay, Ontario

June 8-11, 2018 ~ 840 miles

Minneapolis, MN; Duluth, MN; Two Harbors, MN; Grand Marais, MN; Thunder Bay, ON

It’s still under debate whether or not I had visited Thunder Bay, Ontario before last weekend’s trip. The confusion is about whether or not I was included in what family lore now refers to as the ‘vacation from hell’. I would have been less than one year in age, if I was alive at all, and somehow being present as an infant or a toddler with no memory of anything or anyone still counts as me having visited. For further explanation of that logic, I will refer you to my mother…

Mom has cancer, again. On May 23, 2018 she was given the diagnosis of Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) which is a group of blood cancers sometimes referred to as ‘pre-leukemia’ and requires chemotherapy. Since the effects of the chemo on her life are yet unknown, she made the decision that she wanted one more vacation before she might become unable to travel. It had been about 45 years since her last trip to Thunder Bay and since I live in Minnesota, off we went. Continue reading “Travel Log: Thunder Bay, Ontario”

Great American Road Trip- Part 8

Friday, August 4 ~ MT (740 Miles)

East Glacier Park Village, MT; Choteau, MT; Great Falls, MT; Helena, MT; Butte, MT; Bozeman, MT; Billings, MT; Miles City, MT; Glendive, MT

Saturday, August 5 ~ MT-ND-MN (619 Miles)

Glendive, MT; Theodore Roosevelt National Park; Dickinson, ND; Bismarck, ND; Fargo, ND; St. Cloud, MN; Minneapolis, MN

On my last night in Glacier, I wake up in the middle of the night, draw the curtains back, and there above the mountains is a blood red moon. This has been quite a journey to the west coast and back again, to loving family and friends, kind strangers, and thousands of miles of scenery. It’s been a journey through my past, present, and future. A journey through past lives and bitter regrets, childhood memories and dreams forgotten. It is a solitary pilgrimage of closure, an end to many things.

I am finished. I will coast home. These are travel days not sightseeing days. I had planned to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota but I am just too exhausted. Forget touring, I need rest. The climb to scenic point whipped me out and resulted in an impressive case a heat rash on my legs. Over the boot cuff under my socks are the worst of the red, blotchy, itchy welts. It will take days to heal but as I head home to my office worker life, it will at least get no worse. I have a final breakfast with my niece and her husband and I am on my way. Continue reading “Great American Road Trip- Part 8”

Great American Road Trip- Part 7

Tuesday, August 1 to Thursday, August 3, 2017 ~ MT

Glacier National Park, MT

Rough night. It’s 6:50am Mountain Time but I just drove from Pacific Time, so it is really 5:50am for me. I was up and down all night and though the cabin is locked tight, the gurgling of my own tummy scared me awake. Geez, I need to lighten up. I just don’t do well sleeping in strange places. There was a mouse scratching around in the bag that held my loaf of bread. I guess I can’t blame him but he was so loud, I wasn’t sure he was a mouse!

Still, from the desk where I write I have a view of the mountains bathed in the light of the sunrise. Free range cattle wander between the cabins with their calves. There is a chewed-up granola wrapper on the bathroom floor. I am in Montana, the wild west, and I am staying in a cabin on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. I have three days to soak in all the raw natural beauty, history, and culture of this place.

I drink coffee in my cabin as I wait for the shower to warm up. I am on the far end so I have to run the faucet for a few minutes in order to get the hot water all the way through the pipes. At least there is hot water and porcelain indoor plumbing. People who think this is roughing it have never completed a long-distance cycling tour where sleeping in a tent and peeing in cornfields is the norm. Continue reading “Great American Road Trip- Part 7”