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May 24, 2009
“There and Back Again" (by Gail)

Unloading the chase car as the day begins

“How many roads must a man walk down
Before you can call him a man?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”
– Bob Dylan

Exactly seven years ago Russell, the boys and I were happily wandering around the UK as our one-year trip around the world was coming to a close. We were in Scotland, to be exact. One thing that was really wonderful was the relatively easy access to walking paths that take you behind towns and between towns. As Russell planned and plotted out his course for this newest adventure, it quickly became apparent that there is no such easy access here in this country. If Russell really wanted to do this walk, he would have to be creative in his wheres and hows.

The walk between Lathrop and Tracy was the most difficult to figure out, yet promised to be the most interesting to walk. I had hoped to be able to do some of that with him, since it was his birthday, but I had to set my priorities on Joss. Happily, Russell’s sister wanted to walk with him and I think it was really good for them to spend that time together.

The next leg of the trip would take him over the Altamont Pass, down a road we had driven numerous times trying to avoid the massive amounts of traffic on 580. We were familiar with the twists and turns and the rapidly spinning windmills, but never really experienced the back road to its fullest.

On Friday afternoon, the boys and I got a late start from home due to all those little things that always happen before a trip. Little things like no one is packed, someone forgot his swim suit at school and we have to stop to buy him one, items that are very much essential (mp3 player, text books, etc) can’t be located easily. You know the drill. We finally got on the road about 45 minutes later than planned. I had hoped to get to Russell just as he was finishing his birthday gift massage, but our late start – coupled with the Bay Area holiday weekend traffic – well, you get the idea. We were over an hour later than I had hoped. We arrived frazzled and snippy, but I must say Russell looked relaxed and happy.

The following morning didn’t really go as planned. Russell was up and ready to go by 5:30.

Me: Do you have your jacket?
Him: No, but I should be okay. I was too hot yesterday.
Me: That was yesterday. You might need it in the hills.
Him: Maybe, but there’s no easy way to get it out of the car without getting you out of bed.
Me: (Makes logical suggestion)
Him: Nope
Me: (Sounding doubtful) Okay, but I’m just saying…

And off he went into the dim early light. I called at 7:30 to check in, and he said he was okay but cold because there was a strong wind. I held my tongue… yes I did… and asked him if he wanted me to bring him his jacket. So I drove out to where he was standing on the side of the road looking very cold. He got his jacket and when I went up to hug him, that’s when I realized just how cold he was. His forearms were reddish purple. As calmly as I could, I said, “Are you Nuts? Even with a jacket on you can’t go on in this wind.” (It felt about 40 degrees wind chill.) At first he actually said he would be okay. Then I tempted him with a warm breakfast and promised to drop him back off at the exact same spot. I took him back to the hotel

This little ditty ran through my head:

Against the wind
I’m still runnin’ against the wind
Well I’m older now and still runnin’
Against the wind

Have you ever seen stories about the people who swim the English Channel or some other vast distance? I had a flash of being the person who hands them the warm soup to keep them going. Plus, I reasoned it was also more convenient for me to drop him and the boys together later than to run back and forth and back and forth. Selfish of me, I know.

When it was planned that the boys would walk with him for only eight miles, the boys realized their Dad doubted their strength and stamina. So the “young lion versus old lion” thing set in, and there was no way they would give up. Gotta love guys. Then at the last minute, the distance the boys would walk was increased by about three miles, and they were game to challenge themselves and prove the old guy wrong. After all, if a 50-year-old guy in a funny hat with ski poles could do this, then so could they.

I drove everyone out to the starting point, took the required pictures, turned the car around again and went back to the hotel to… no, not go back to sleep but to check out, fill the car with gas and head out to be back-up.

Views from the chase car

I had planned for a long day of lazing by the side of the road reading. I brought three books I am in the middle of with me, just in case I got bored. “The Great Deluge” about hurricane Katrina, “Our Daily Meds” about the pharmaceutical industry and “Daniel Boone” (helping Joss with research on the distant cousin of ours). I had two water bottles and a dark chocolate candy bar. I was good to go. This would be the equivalent of a vacation plane trip back east to some tropical island with sun and sand… oh sorry, back to reality.

I just had to find the first resting spot.

Normally, I am a very “follow the rules” kind of person and can be shy. But for these guys, I drove up what looked like a private home/business road. There were utility company type trucks parked all over. I knocked on the door and the guy who answered it was surprised to see me standing there. I am sure a “civilian” has never been up there before.

I explained what was going on and asked if I could use their lot as a post, since it was high and I could over look the road. Boy, all three of the AES SeaWest guys were as sweet as could be. They were fascinated with what the three guys were doing. When they had to leave to go into town they told me to go ahead and use the bathroom as needed, refill water bottles, whatever I needed.

That post lasted about half an hour – no reading, but I did get to listen to “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” on NPR – before I spotted the three walkers laboring against the wind. After their bathroom and rest break I offered to go get lunch and bring it to them farther up the road. Town was about six miles back the way I had just come. So as they went forward, I went back again.

Just let me say this: I have never been to a Sonic before and had no idea it was a drive-in only.

The rest of the day was made up of leapfrogging down the road. Since I was living in the car for hours on end… and taking from the guys the cast off items they no longer needed… the interior of the car looked more like I had been on a weeks-long road trip instead of a stop-and-start afternoon drive.

The interior of the car

At one point, I got out of the car to take some pictures of them and the wind was so strong that it blew my car door shut. I had to struggle with it every time I wanted to get out, and then things would blow out of the front seat for me to chase down the road. I would see Joss standing still, leaning at an almost 30-degree angle into the wind. When we drive through we can see the grass blowing but have no idea just how strong that wind is. The last time I had experienced wind that strong was on Hadrian’s Wall in Scotland back on that world trip.

Russell and Gail and the wind

My final rest spot was at the only wide spot safe enough along the last few miles. I adjusted my rearview mirror to be able to see with my seat slightly reclined, and finally opened my book. After about an hour I started expecting to see them anytime. I thought maybe they might be walking above me to the right along the train tracks, so I kept an eye up there too. I had been sitting there for a while with my water and chocolate wondering: Just when the heck were they going to show up? Was everything okay? Did something happen and they couldn’t get a cell signal? Yes, I always go there.

Just at that point, I got a phone call with static and laughter. They had taken the high ground around me all right – but to the left of me, not the right. They were already almost to the motel! Because I had kept checking the rearview mirror I got about six pages read. I was drowsy from sitting in the hot car, hungry and so happy to hear from them!

Gail, getting her six pages read

I have never been so proud of all of them. This wasn’t the hardest thing we’ve been through as a family or even the most exotic, but it sure was fun. I love seeing my guys together. The best thing we have accomplished as parents is that our sons are such good friends. I am sure this is one of those stories that will begin, “Remember when we went on that walk with dad?”

I really can’t wait for the next nutty idea. Did I really just say that?

This picture was not posed! Well… um… okay, maybe it was posed… but just a little…

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