Saturday, August 18, 2012


The Countdown

When I decided to initiate Project 50, I found myself ten states shy of seeing all fifty and I planned to visit the last twenty percent before I reached the half-century mark.  At first I thought I would knock out a couple each year, by regions, and eventually make my way to the newest of them all floating out there in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  But pretty soon the travel bug bit me and for the Independence Day weekend I took off to Omaha and suddenly found myself knocking off the other Dakota (see “North Dakota On A Napkin” from November 2011).  By the end of the month, I ticked off the entire American Northwest and cut my list down to four.

While headed to Washington State, the nice airline folks offered me a lovely voucher to afford me a few extra steps towards my goal.  Suddenly Labor Day arrived and I found myself in West Virginia and within three months I have passed through nineteen states, including the last remaining newbies.  Suddenly I close in on the final few.  What I expected to be a decade-long experience suddenly landed me in the driver’s seat putting a lot more miles on a myriad of new rental cars.  My beloved atlas took a beating that summer (see “Traveling With Boys, November 2011).

Almost There

The final leg begins with a flight into Connecticut, a drive through the Catskills of New York and a rise to the highest point in New Jersey – state number forty-eight.  As I drive through High Point State Park, I listen to Simon and Garfunkel sing about the way to pass time is by counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, but the breathtaking view at High Point State Park seems like a pretty spectacular way to experience the Garden State.  From atop the Veteran’s Monument, 291 butt-kicking steps upward, I glance to the west at Pennsylvania and to the east at New York, both of which I first visited in 1992, and now nearly two decades later, I finally visit the slice of mountainous beauty in between the two.  And then I hit the road the reach the last contiguous state.

Project Fifty is nearly complete, and from end to end, I have visited the United States, from my first state out west to this, my forty-ninth, and all the dozens in between.  My travels may be circuitous, sometimes years in between each state, sometimes coming all at once, like the past three months.  Sometimes, within a matter of minutes, I cross a sliver, or a corner, or sometimes an entire state.  And so here at number forty-nine I stop to tally my geographical and mathematical feat at the state line between Connecticut and Rhode Island.  At the entrance to the Ocean State, I pose with my camera’s self-timer and congratulate on myself on my self-navigation, my self-sufficiency and my self-determination.  Next stop: Hawaii.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Making A List

One of the hardest traits for me to give up is list making.  I truly like lists and I use them for a variety of tasks: organizing an office relocation, developing ideas and topics for future blog posts, and preparing for my upcoming vacations.  Someone once wrote of me that I am, “…terrifically responsible and well organized…” and the lists are my secret.   The people in my business life expect a level of performance, of quality, of perfection, of follow-through that columns of tasks enhance.  Whether or not my boss, my coworkers and my counterparts know that these simple catalogs exist proves inconsequential.  The results solely matter.  As for my blog posts, it may be years before every topic materializes online, and my cerebral skills cannot survive more than a couple weeks unaided.  Besides, just reviewing the inventory of ideas revives my passions for writing and travel.  My pre-travel rosters of clothing, sundries, electronics, and miscellaneous suitcase contents, once a staple, have vanished into a conscious yet challenging effort to loosen, release, and relinquish my organizational dependencies.

The result of my surrendering sometimes impacts me little, such as the cable that connects my iPod to the stereo in the rental car.  I find stores that sell this simple wired device and I know I have purchased one in Missouri and another in Nebraska when needed.  I now have several, which allows me to always have one stashed in my suitcase.  More challenging is stepping out of a refreshing shower before bedtime to discover the nagging feeling that I may have forgotten something held validity.  I question my relinquishing when the hotel heater lacks promise and my suitcase lacks pajamas.

Acknowledging My Shortcomings

On a business trip slammed into the middle of a hectic spring semester, I continue my efforts at packing from memory.  From textbooks to business requirements, I tick off the myriad of items I need for the three days across the continent.  From toothbrush to documents to child care, I confidently take flight to the west coast knowing I successfully manage my personal, professional and academic obligations.  As I settle into my hotel room, I discover the single missing item: my eyeglasses.  My contact lenses pull double-duty for nearly sixteen hours a day and keep me humble.

I do feel a sense of pride in my ability to let go of my lists.  Imagine a smoker giving up cigarettes or a barista giving up caffeine.  An accomplishment that others do not witness, but one with which I struggle, my willingness to find small ways to become less compulsive, less structured, and more accepting of my possible forgetfulness.  Even typing the “f” word irks me, frustrates me, and opens me to internal condemnation.  Nevertheless, it humanizes me in a way I have never before chosen to be careless, and graces me with fallibility of which I benefit from embracing.  I now travel listless.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Their Departure

Carlsbad Caverns rank as my most favorite caves, partly because they are the first caves I ever explored, but mostly because they are grand and open and completely unclaustrophobically enjoyable (see “Hidden Beauty” from March 2012).  When I had the body of teenager, I squeezed through some much tighter openings to see caverns in northern Arizona, but on my road trip to the American Southwest, I chose to skip reliving that childhood experience.  Instead, I drove Son #1 and Son #2 near the Texas border to descend into my favorite caves.  And in advance of our day below the earth, I convinced the boys to drive out the night before to see the bats take flight into the darkening night.

We sat in an open amphitheater on historic and uncomfortable stone benches curving toward the entrance of the cavern.  We listened to a park ranger who seemed more of an angry, rule-follower than any park ranger I have ever met.  (Pun intended, I have to believe he was bat-shit crazy the way he treated us simple tourists, to use my brother’s terminology.)  We turned off every electronic device we carried – our cell phones, our cameras, everything – so as to not distract the audio-stupendous bats from finding their way to the river where the mosquitos foolishly gathered to be dinner for a million hungry flying mammals.  And we waited, watching for the first early birds to lead the rest of their relatives out for their midnight adventure.  And we waited, sitting nearly silent so as to not to disturb the swirling, spiraling pattern that would soon rise above us.  And we waited, wondering if they were ever going to make an appearance.

Our Departure

First one or two, so swift and darting, that I do not even see them swoop and swirl.  And with a reprimand from the ranger, the onslaught of little black creatures forms an exodus from the dark depths of the cavern over our heads.  And in the dark, moonless sky, in the middle of the New Mexican desert, we squint our eyes to see the never-ending stream of creatures faintly silhouetting themselves against the last light of dusk.  Their collective flapping and high-pitched squeaking emit far less sound than a million of any other creature might generate.  And they continue to pour forth from their deep recesses disappearing into the darkness.

Families with small children, who manage to keep them still as long as imaginably possible (despite the admonitions from the rotten ranger) are the first to follow the bats and depart into the night.  And much like the bats, once one departs, a continuous wave of tourists take flight in their minivans and rented campers.  But we wait, to see how long the bats continue, and I plan to stick it out until they have headed southward.  And we wait as more people depart, vacating their cold perches on the hard stones for the luxury of their car seats, and later their warm beds.  So we wait, watching the dark swirls seemingly dissipate, but in truth, against the black sky, the flying rodents are nearly invisible and may still be overhead, but we cannot tell.  We wait no more, and we succumb to the darkness of a late summer evening, leaving the bats to their night of frolicking and feeding.