I’m actually gonna get back to writing in the next couple of days, but as of late I just haven’t found the time. I’m currently in Idaho after driving cross country to visit my mom because on January 19th she/we got the news that the Docs are out of options for treating her cancer. Don’t worry, another… longer… video that I made at the rest area right before Boise will be coming of me babbling about why I just drove 2697.1 miles… and of the shift my thoughts took after being in the “Cute Little Jeep” for two and a half days with nothing but my thoughts. (That’s a lie… I had music, a sleeping bag, instant coffee, phone calls and Facetime with friends and family, my guitar, my camp stove… and Squishy.) For today though, I thought I would start with when I was doing laundry as I was getting ready for the road trip. Who knows, maybe someone will find my “Housekeeping Tips for Widowers” helpful…?! (Martha would probably be appalled by my directions and fitted sheet folding abilities, but Snoop would probably be in the same frame of mind as I was in and realize… it’s just a fitted sheet.)
My plan was to grab some Indian food from the house in WRJ… (it’s literally a house that sells take-out)… but when I was eating my salad for lunch in the driver’s seat this afternoon, I saw there were only twenty-five more miles until I hit 100,000 in the (my) Cute Little Jeep! Of course I Google Mapped it… (or used whatever app it is that shows me how to get from here to there)… and my phone told me that it was only twenty-FOUR miles to my house! So, needless to say, I decided against getting the super tasty Indian food to hopefully maybe make the memory of pulling into my driveway… of arriving Home… when those five numbers turned into six! And… well… it did!
I’m pretty good at attaching all sorts of significance… to all sorts of things. 100,000 is just a number. A car… even a Cute Little Jeep… is just a car. But we use numbers, such as 100,000, as milestones… they allow us to chunk up our lives. Kateri is attached to every memory, feeling, thought I have about my Jeep because it is the first brand new vehicle we ever bought! It was a big deal to us… we had just bought our first home and were somehow able to by a spanking new Jeep! Inch by inch… over the years… we kept working towards the life we wanted… towards our Hopes N Dreams. For people like us, with the life we lived, buying a car in which you don’t have to worry about the radiator blowing, or fuel pump leaving you stranded, or the window not rolling up when you accidentally hit the down button… and it’s 3 degrees out… is one of those moments in life where it makes you feel as though you’ve “arrived”… or “grown up”. It was a time in my life when “The Struggle” seemed to finally be dissipating. Fuck… life was good! WE HAD CHICKENS FOR CHRIST’S SAKE! (…sorry for using the Lord’s name in vain) Things were humming along!… until they weren’t anymore. So ya… I guess I can say that a car is just a car, but nothing is that simple. Seeing my odometer hit 100,000 miles is an opportunity for me to remember the memories I have with this vehicle during my life with Kateri… and in my life since. 100,000 miles is a lot of ground to cover… which would take a long time write down… so here’s just a few of those miles.
Widower Notes n Thoughts… about my Cute Little Jeep:
I’m really diggin’ that it turned 100,000 right when I got home. It’s just one of those cool coincidental things… that provides me with a pretty cool memory.
Driving the Jeep home from Burlington right after agreeing to pay for it over 7 years, we opened the sunroof on the interstate… just because we could. We noticed it didn’t shut the first time we tried and thought it just had to do with the wind. It still doesn’t shut sometimes… and I still haven’t done anything about it except awkwardly pull it shut… sometimes. If I have a friend in the car with me and it doesn’t shut… I sometimes ask them to help..!
We took the “Sky Roof” off in the parking lot of a laundry mat where we met up with our friend Keith to take him for a spin in it. When we hit the highway at 70 mph, we didn’t think the interior roof was gonna make it from the wind current bouncing it up and down! It survived… I guess Jeep had thought about that.
Beach trips with friends… and beach camping trips with friends. They were fun… and can be entertaining when your friend get snippy with the campers in the neighboring camp site. We also learned that it’s a tight fit in the Cute Little Jeep with four people… and beach supplies… for four people.
Studded snow tires. Kateri bought us our first set of studded snow tires a month before cancer. Where she bought them from, the people let her lay on a couch because she had such a bad headache… which turned out to be tumors in her brain. Those tires are on their last winter.
Satellite radio! And a decent stereo! We had a lot of fun with music… and were amazed by how many times Yah Mo B There kept coming up. Today, if I’m on certain stations… it still comes up… and I change the channel. Kateri and I would joke about how often if played. Now I just find it annoying.
For three days I drove across this country in it, sleeping at Rest Areas and eating out of a cooler during the election so that I could see my mom during a pandemic. I love that I had that experience with this vehicle.
Kateri made the monthly payments on our first new vehicle ever… but would rather drive her 2001 Toyota Tacoma (which is rusting away next to the Cute Little Jeep in the driveway) to work everyday on the farm. Her dream car was a Toyota with a wooden bed… she was pretty awesome… and hopefully one day the Yota will get there.
I remember helping her into the back seat, running inside to grab towels and another blanket (or something), coming back out to her having thrown up… and other stuff… because her colon had given out from either the cancer or immunotherapy. I helped her out of the back seat… got to the front door… stripped her clothes off and threw them in the snow covered back yard… cleaned her up… and called an ambulance.
Heated steering wheel… that’s all I should really need to say… they should be standard in every car…!
Again… I wish that there would be some sort of little celebration on the dash/screen/odometer thing when it hits 100,000 miles… it would just be fun.
I’ve had this Jeep for four years. Although Kateri experienced our brand new vehicle for just one of those years… I’m so glad that she (we) had that experience. From the “wheelin’ and dealin'” to the last time I drove her in it on the way to the emergency room… it provided us with the comfort of not worrying if we’ll get to our destination… even if we weren’t sure of where we were heading. A 100,000 miles is a lot of ground to cover. Ya, you can say it’s just a car, just a truck, just a whatever… or you can focus on what you’ve filled that vehicle with as the miles slowly pile up… whether it be physically or metaphorically. You can fit a lot of memories into 100,000 miles… and even though some of those memories are difficult for me to remember… they only make up a few of those miles. I’m fortunate… I have a lot of good memories of Kateri and this Cute Little Jeep, which will help me as I drive through the next 100,000 miles of life… making new memories… without her in the passenger seat.
I love that this is the one video I have of Kateri in our Cute Little Jeep. It’s just sooooo Kateri. This was New Year’s Day 2018… 16 days after they found the mass in her brain. She was at the very beginning of her four month and three day Dance with Cancer. (Sorry, but Youtube let me know that if you live in Iran, North Korea, Cuba, or Syria… this video is blocked. You know… just wanting to keep all my followers in those countries informed!)
I’ll admit… leaving Vermont to drive across our country to go see my mom took up quite a bit of mental space before I even hit the road! Some of it was emotional considering I haven’t seen her in almost a year… and she has cancer… which was the reason for the trip in the first place. But this post isn’t about the time I spent on the couch with her talking, sharing pics, watching the election, eating meals from my childhood, playing guitar for her and my dad, laughing, crying, or uncomfortably watching the new Borat movie together. Nope!… this is about the drive. This is me leaving my home for the longest period of time since Kateri has passed. This is about being in my cute little Jeep Renegade for 130ish hours with nothing but what I brought (which was a lot!)… during the election… in a Pandemic… to visit my mom… and my thoughts.
When the pandemic hit, it never really affected my life too much. I live in the middle of nowhere, I don’t live with anyone, no one comes over except my girlfriend… who works from home. I’m a homebody to begin with… and don’t really care to socialize! For me, in this new widowed life, the pandemic has actually offered a little reprieve from the onslaught of the world. That was until I realized I hadn’t seen my mom in almost a year… and she lives on the other side of the country! What would’ve normally been a quick little drive to Burlington or Boston to catch a flight, hang out in Idaho for a few days, and then fly back had turned into something a little more complicated, with heavier consequences attached to it. But we do the things we gotta do for the things we feel are important, which is why I decided to drive instead of fly, to eat/sleep in my car, and to only stop at rest areas and gas stations… as well as packing a bag filled with hand sanitizer/wipes, masks, and gloves!… so as to eliminate any of those nasty little Rona germs. So far so good!
Although I like to think that I have become much better at just rolling with stuff since I have become a widower, I’m still very much a “Planner” and “Worry Wart”. I was excited to have the chance to drive cross country again (Kateri and I did many a times, whether we were moving to and from Colorado or Wyoming… or just for a road trip!), but it had a different feeling for me in this new life. I was basically doing it alone for the first time since I did it in 2001 to come back to Vermont… to be with Kateri. That was a long time ago. A lot has happened in those 19 years. Times have changed. I have changed. Life has changed. This was gonna be a “New” experience in this “New Life”… and I approached it as just that… something “New”.
For the weeks leading up to my departure I wanted to get to a point where I felt comfortable leaving my Little Red Schoolhouse in Vermont for an extended period of time, and also tried to make it as comfortable as I could for when I got back. So I stacked my wood, mowed the yard one last time, cleaned the house from top to bottom, cleaned my car, borrowed a phone holder thing for the drive, did my laundry, pulled out coolers and camp stoves… and propane, paid bills, got simple little home security cameras so that I could see when someone was breaking into my house from 2,ooo miles away, cleaned the garage, cut wood… enough for when I got back as well, got an oil change (need another one!), packed clothes, packed old phones/iPad for pics to share, packed sanitizer, packed the Jeep… and then headed out at 5:30am on Sunday morning… with cake pops.
As a widower, much of my current life is still attached to my life with Kateri. Some of that is just natural (memories, emotions, my home and everything in it, for example), but some of that is also how we… as the widowed folk… hold on to and remember our loved ones as we slowly find ourselves in this new environment. I could’ve made this experience driving cross country as one big trip down I-80 memory lane… but that’s not where I wanted to be. I wanted to make this an experience for me… for Darren… recognizing that I would probably be hit with a few emotions as I pass the town Kateri grew up in, or remembering eating bologna sandwiches in the back of the Cherokee in Iowa during a rain storm, or passing under the Archway to the West for the umpteenth time, or when waking up in Wyoming… my second favorite state… and where I first met Kateri. That’s all just part of being a widower… you have memories of the times you spent with the one you love… and you’ve just gotta figure out how to have new experiences for your own personal growth, for your own well-being, and to hopefully make new memories that you can look back upon with appreciation, satisfaction, and fondness.
The Trip Out
I loved the fact that I was gonna take off for this trip across our country two days before the election with the goal of arriving at my folks at some point on Election Day. I love this country. I love how big it is. I love the diversity of the landscape and the people… the metro areas… the ruralness… the mountains… the flats. I loved starting off putzing through Vermont where I felt comfortable taking a piss (sorry for the crudeness… “peeing” just sounded… wrong) on the side of the road before I left my “Safe Space” and crossed the state line into New York… where I did not take a piss (no offense!) on the side of the road. I was excited to take that right turn towards the left side of the country… to be out and about in it… to have the visual reminders of the people and places that make it what it is… that make it special… and that also made me remember why I choose to live in Vermont! And yes… I missed a turn on my way to the interstate.
I made it through New York, PA, Ohio (ugh), Indiana, and into Illinois on the first leg of the trip… hitting a little rain/wind/slushstorm on the way. I thought about swinging by Niagra Falls since I’ve never seen it, but with the storm, not being allowed on the Canadian side, and the chance of other people being there… I decided against it. Again, my priority was to get to Idaho… without The Rona!
Prior to leaving, I looked up Walmarts (because I heard you can sleep in their parking lots!..?) and Rest Areas en route so that I would get an idea of potential sleeping spots. I figured I’d be able to at least get to Indiana… hoping to reach Iowa… but I made it as far Illinois. Even though it was a long day of driving (19 or so hours), I think I was still pretty energized about the trip when I pulled into the Rest Area to use the facilities and to grab a little shut eye… alongside a few of my neighbors who were on their own little adventures. I didn’t eat. I didn’t read anything. I didn’t “decompress” from the driving. I simply pushed some bags to one side of the car, laid out a yoga mat (nice try… but it didn’t do shit for padding), pulled out my sleeping bag and Squishy (Kateri’s pillow), took off my shoes…. and crawled in the back to get some shut eye. Four hours later I pulled out my camp stove, made some instant coffee from Starbucks… and kept driving.
The second leg of the trip was… well… pretty much straight and flat. I’m glad I hit the road before sunrise because I’ve always been a fan of seeing the sun come up and/or set in the Midwest. As it was creeping up the horizon behind me, I didn’t think about the politics of the people who’s state I was in. I didn’t think about how divided our nation is. I didn’t think about all the bad crap that has happened to this person, or that person, or myself. I instead thought about how the sky above seems twice as big as ours in Vermont… and it makes for one impressive dawn of a new day… in my rearview mirror.
When I hit Nebraska I thought about how many people don’t really care for driving through it… maybe because the roads don’t have many bends in them…?! But I rather enjoy it. You can just plug along at 75mph listening to music, the news, or a book on tape (which isn’t on tape anymore!) while hoping to God (if that’s what you’re into) a deer or antelope doesn’t run out in front of you! Yeah… it may not be exciting… but at least the roads are straight. (That may even be their state motto..?!)
The second night, I was able to make it to the Wagonhound Rest Area in Wyoming. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what emotional state I would be in when I arrived in Wyoming considering the reason for the trip, my lack of sleep, and my attachments to the state with Kateri, but I held my shit together. I’m sure the fact that I wasn’t anywhere near where we used to live helped with the dampening of emotions that could potentially pop up. It was nice being back, driving past the the windmills, the gas and oil fields… and the oasis of lights from them at night. It was nice seeing signs for Cheyenne, Laramie… and Rock Springs. It was nice being back out in The West. Back in the land of The Rockies (…the mountains… not baseball). Back where horses have the right of way and I have memories of sitting around camp fires with cowboys… and Kateri. It was nice to be back… if only for a day.
When I woke up at the Ol’ Wagonhound, it felt good knowing I would be able to make it to Idaho at a reasonable hour that day so I didn’t put too much pressure on myself to wrack up miles in “x” amount of time. When I got to Idaho, I decided to stop at the first rest area… it was crappy… so I went on to the second one. As I was sitting in my driver’s seat with the door open after taking care of some business, a trucker asked if I was “Having car troubles?” or “Just taking a rest?” as he was on his way to the facilities. I mentioned I was just resting and we shot the shit for a minute… which then turned into an hour and a half conversation about life… and him giving me a tour (socially distanced) of his truck and trailer! Even popped the hood! He provided me with so much information about engines, brakes, axles, trailers, stopping distances, other truckers, cops, his wife, his dog (Midas), and trucking in general that if I had retained more of it… I would sound like I knew what I was talking about! But I didn’t. My favorite part of that experience was that I asked if he had voted since it was Election Day. He said his wife was taking him once he got home… and then we never spoke about it again. It wasn’t important for us to know who each of us was voting for… or why… and I’m pretty sure we weren’t voting for the same guy! The important part was we were just two guys having an impromptu conversation about life. It was civil. It was respectful. It was nice.
I stopped at the last Rest Area before Boise to gather my thoughts, to get in touch with some people, and to take a breath before seeing my mom and dad. After three days in the car without showering… or changing my clothes… the thought of a shower and comfy clothes was beginning to sound better and better. I could feel myself getting legitimately excited about it. And then…. my father called. I asked how things were and he replied, “Good…. except we’re having some plumbing issues. Like… no water.”. Yup! Just gotta say, I was not expecting that one! Hopes and Dreams of sliding fresh, soft, and cozy Darn Tough socks onto my freshly cleaned and slightly less stinky feet were put on hold! Luckily, my folks live in the city… where there’s all sorts of plumbers who are available all hours of the day (pricing varies), so I knew the chances of it getting fixed was pretty good and didn’t think too much about it after that. Heck, I already felt gross… I was fine feeling gross a little bit longer… and at least I could feel gross while being in the same space as my mom! It was just hard not giving her a hug until after the plumbing was fixed, I was clean, and out of contaminated clothes!
There will be another post about my time spent in Idaho, but what I’ll say is that it was absolutely wonderful walking into my folk’s home and seeing my mom sitting on the couch. I love her… and thoughts of Covid, cancer, work, Kateri, loss, elections, widowhood, my schoolhouse, my home, my friends, my challenges, and my problems simply went away for the first few moments I was there. I could see her… I was seeing her…. and that’s what the driving, the precautions, the lack of sleep was all about. It was to spend time with her. One of the great things about moms… they don’t care if you’re stinky.
The Drive Home
Now, the drive east was a much different trip than the drive out. I’d like to say I was calmer… more relaxed… and in some ways I was. For the most part though, I think I was exhausted… and ready to be back in my drafty little hundred year old schoolhouse in Vermont… where trees make better neighbors. I was ready to be home.
My plan was to leave Sunday, but at the time there weren’t as strict of Covid restrictions going on so I decided to spend another day with her and my dad and leave on Monday. Of course, all hell broke loose with Covid and things changed, but I’m still happy I stayed another day. Usually, I would’ve left before the ass crack of dawn for a road trip, but when you have over 2,600 miles ahead of you… an hour or two here and there isn’t gonna change much… so I took off around 7:30am. Basically because I wanted to say “I love you” and “goodbye” over a cup of coffee and with a hug… and not by waking them up in the middle of the night by nudging a shoulder to faintly tell them I’m leaving. I don’t think I could’ve done that… and I’m glad I didn’t.
For the five and a half days I was in Idaho we watched a lot… A LOT!… of election stuff… and I rather enjoyed it. I also kinda liked that it eliminated all of that, “what do you wanna watch?” type stuff. We couldn’t go out because of the Pandemic/cancer/etc., so might as well belly up to the boob tube! Again, I love this country (yes, we’ve got some serious issues) and to have the unique opportunity to be out and about in it while “We the People” were casting our votes… I just kinda dug it. However, after watching and hearing about how a bunch of our country viewed the process, viewed the election, viewed the other side, got their information, how they share their information, how easily so many people are willing to disregard tradition, respect, the process, facts… their fellow Americans… it took me until Wyoming before I could switch the radio station away from music… and back to the news… which didn’t last long. For the rest of the trip east, I would periodically flip through the news channels, get a couple of different updates and angles, and then right back to some much more enjoyable sounds while on the road!
The drive back wasn’t without it’s challenges… I did have to drive through a snow/ice storm which started in Wyoming and I dealt with through Nebraska. Luckily, I don’t care if people get upset with me for driving slow. The goal was to get home… safe and sound… and that’s what I was gonna do. Again… 2,600 miles… as long as I was moving forward, it was good enough for me! Was it nerve wracking?… yes. Did I spend a ton of time thinking about how “All Season” tires do on ice with 50mph winds?… yes. Did I just want to stop, get out of the car, and wait it out?… well… no… because it was cold, snowy, and windy with big trucks careening off the interstate… and that wouldn’t have gotten me any closer to home! So I just kept driving… between 7 and 43mph… until I came upon my home for the next few hours… the Pine Bluffs Rest Area. FYI, when you sleep in your car and it’s 17 degrees outside… inside your car ain’t much warmer!
On a side note, I posted the storm experience on social media and a friend of mine from Vermont commented how he was driving through the same storm!… on the same road!… in the same area!… and I guess he’s now a truck driver instead of a cook! I just thought it was kinda cool… in a “Small World” sorta way.
I really didn’t have any problem with driving through the weather, but I’ll tell ya, it felt a million times better when the road looked dry and my little thermometer thingy was telling me it was 35 degrees outside! Luckily, it just got warmer and warmer the further I drove east. I mean… until the sun went down. Then it got colder… cuz that’s what happens when the big ball of heat goes away.
Once I made it back to the Chicago area… it felt like I was getting closer… it felt more “familiar”. I don’t know why… maybe it’s the congestion of people, maybe it’s being on a “Turnpike” or “Thruway”… but whenever I hit the Chicago/Gary/Cleveland part of the trip, it just seems to feel like Vermont is a hop, skip, and a jump away! And then you remember there’s still New York to get through… Upstate. Which from my understanding is all of NY… except the city..? I actually thought about taking I-86 across southern New York so that I could get some pizza from Nirchi’s. Kateri and I would get two sheets to snack on whenever we headed out west. It’s fantastic. But instead, I was all responsible n shit and decided to stay safe and stick to the plan… and not have Nirchi’s pizza.
From the moment I walked out my parent’s door and got back into my cute little Jeep Renegade, I had my bed, my woodstove, my little red schoolhouse in the back of my mind. I just wanted to be there. The thing I found odd was that it was only in the back of my mind. Yes, I wished I could teleport myself and in the blink of an eye… be home! But in reality, I knew I had a lot of ground to cover before I would be there, so I guess I simply went through the motions until I reached my destination… and didn’t think too much about it.
When I crossed into Vermont under the cover of darkness, I didn’t get that “I’M HOME!” feeling… although, I did feel a huge sense of relief. My mind was still in Idaho with my mom, on the road thinking about life, in the past with my memories, and concentrating on the present with every turn through The Green Mountains as I made my way to 91. For a week and a half I didn’t think about all the things I think about on a daily basis. For a week and a half I didn’t worry about the things happening in my life. For a week and a half I didn’t think about cutting wood, paying bills, work, if I did this right… or if I did that wrong. For a week and a half I drove across this country to be with my mom… to take a moment to sit, to talk, and to spend time with her… and then to drive home. That was the purpose of my trip. I guess I road it till the end because it didn’t really hit me until I was making my way up Wild Hill and had passed John and Mary’s… then Heman’s… and then the Hooligan’s… I went past my wood pile and up my driveway until I reached that oh so familiar view out the driver’s side of those big, beautiful schoolhouse windows… that I realized I had reached my destination. I sat there thinking about the fact that when I turn the car off… and open my door… the trip is over. It was emotional. It was overwhelming. It took me some time… but after a lot of deep breaths, and a few more moments of thinking, I opened the door… stepped out into the cool Vermont night… and found solace in the fact that I had made it…… home.
Random Widower Notes n Thoughts:
Since I had recently learned that cameras on phones have a “timer” setting, when I got home I did a fashion show for myself of all the different outfits I wore while on the road. You know… Converse, Darn Tough socks, 501’s, blue hoodie, Hunter’s Orange Carhartt hat… John Deere hat. Yup. And of course… with or without the blue Levi’s hanky mask! (I felt the need to color coordinate my accessories)
Things to do in Quarantine… write really long blog posts.