I’m giving up.  It is something I don’t do often. I’m just overwhelmed with guilt.

It has been almost a year, and I’m not going to finish writing up elegant blogs posts for each stage of last year’s road trip. Every time I go to write a post about anything else, I don’t, because I think “I should really catch up.” Enough is enough. I need to be writing. What follows is a digest of the memories that stick out many months later. I got pictures of some of it, but as I was solo driving, so much of this is just memory.

I’ll start by saying Chinchin behaved very well, on the whole. She doesn’t like being pushed around by heavy winds. In a few spots, white knuckles holding on to the steering wheel for dear life, thankful for mostly empty roads, I found myself yelling “Stop IT! Just STOP!” at the wind. We would suddenly find ourselves a few feet outside our lane to one side or another. We also had to stop in Sweetwater, TX for the night so she could get new brake pads (Chinook didn’t upgrade the brakes on the Toyota trucks when they added all the extra weight, so they don’t last long.) Otherwise, she was a trooper, often maintaining 70 – 75 mph on open stretches of highway. She really seemed to love a little fuel additive, so I fed her little baby bottles of the stuff with almost every tank of gas.

So, the things I remember in no particular order…

  • Somewhere between Chattanooga and the coast, a strong thunderstorm came up. After such an intense drought in CA, this much water falling from the sky felt miraculous. I was low on gas, worried about the back leaking, and a little concerned about possible tornados, so I pulled into a gas station with a big awning and just marveled at the amount of water coming out of the sky.
  • Pulling into a parking garage in Atlanta, where I stopped for a few days for a meeting, and thinking, “Well, I hope she fits!”
  • Being on the part of Highway 65 that is elevated above the swamp approaching Mobile, AL, just as the sun was setting, and seeing a huge mostly white owl, soaring through the tree tops.
  • Taking a dip in the gulf, worrying about the after effects of the BP spill, and coming out of the water to find my copper bracelets oxidized to almost black.
  • Realizing the only way I was going to survive the heat would be to stop regularly for ice and drinks. Then realizing half the heat was coming through the floor boards.
  • Hurrying to TX, knowing that I would only be able to move so quickly, and I had a deadline.
  • Stopping for the night in Houston. The drivers on the highway there were more often than not, big bullies in big trucks, or so it seemed at the end of a long day. Melting in the humidity as I tried to pull some things out of the back, so I could check into a hotel for the night. Being so very thankful for the A/C in my room.
  • Locking my keys in Chinchin at a gas station. Thankfully I had one of the back windows partly open to increase the breeze inside. I borrowed a little ladder from the gas station, pretended to be an expert level contortionist, and was back in business in a matter of minutes.
  • Delighting in the hill country south of Austin, stopping at Hruska’s for kolaches, seeing the aftermath of a fatal car accident, sinking into the loving arms of my friends in Austin, and buying myself the BEST knife at Metier.
  • Being ever so thankful that the brakes told me with a few loud screeches that they needed to be replaced, right as I pulled into Sweetwater, TX, where there was a cheap hotel room, a Napa auto parts, and a very nice mechanic. Being punched in the gut with the sense of how much rural America is truly dying on the vine.
  • Gleefully pulling over to take pictures of the wind turbines that are beginning to dominate the oil fields and cattle ranches. Smiling from ear to ear every time a semi-truck drove by with a new turbine blade on the back.
  • Watching a small tornado trying to twist itself into formation in the copper colored landscape between north Texas and New Mexico. Being terrified and thrilled at the same time.
  • Inhaling the deep, sagey, green coolness of northern New Mexico. Giggling at the “No smoking marijuana in smoking rooms.” signs in hotels in Colorado.
  • The heart warming hospitality of my friends in Colorado.
  • The strange, earth shaking, rooting nostalgia that rose up in me while visiting the campus of the first college I attended for only one semester, when I was 17, and all the associated “what ifs?”.
  • Driving over the Rockies, giggling at the concept of ski resorts, wishing there was time to stop and ramble over the woods and rocks.
  • Coming through a pass out of Colorado into Utah, as a rainstorm was ending, and there was a bright golden glow looking to the west, framing swooping wind turbines. Once through the pass I noticed an intense rainbow in the rearview mirror. I pulled over, shaking with joy that we might actually find a way to stop being dependent on fossil fuels.
  • Trying to absorb all the awe I was feeling rushing by all the layers of strata, ancient salt lakes, and spectrum of colors as I went from Provo, UT to Kirkwood, CA in one day.
  • Being so excited to see my friends and family in Kirkwood that I reversed into a stone wall and broke the back-up camera.
  • Being EXTREMELY self-conscious of how squeaky the new brakes were in the hilly streets of San Francisco.
  • Running out of gas 12 miles from home, because I was so excited I forgot to stop.

There is so much more. It was a great, though hurried trip. I thought by now, I’d have her all fixed up and ready for more adventures, but life has been very busy, and will continue to be so for a few more months. I may just need to throw some cash at a few of the things. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’m making friends with lots of other Chinook owners online, and letting them provide lots of inspiration.


I have decided it is impossible to explain to someone why they should love a place. I have also realized no one will ever love a place like I do, because each of us experiences a place differently. All that’s ok. Give me a minute though to talk about the place I love, the place that still feels like home, despite having been gone so long.

Tennessee is not a perfect place. Like everywhere else there are subhuman beasts roaming the streets, with their fear, biases, ignorance, and hate. Tennessee can be slow to embrace change. I know. We know.

Tennessee is the loamy, fertile, flickering forest. It is a warm, breeze at night, so soft it feels like a loving hand has caressed your face. It is red soil, as hard to move as the metal that gives it it’s color. It is the sharp tingle as you slide into a mountain creek or river. It is skinny dipping under the light of a full moon. It is sitting in the mouth of a cave, part way up a bluff, watching fire light paint the ceiling orange, knowing it has looked like that for millennia. It is the wailing in the night of an owl, a prayer, or a banjo. It is dancing, arms swinging, and people laughing and clapping. It is the sweet quench of a fall apple, or cold, sweet tea. It is the sincere and tenacious preservation of craft, history, and the land itself. It is offering to do and go before you are asked. It is not knowing a stranger, but not letting folks too close. It is women and men of letters. It is making whiskey in a dry county. It is mischievous, fun, serious, and faithful. You can’t know it like I do, and that’s ok.

It was late when I landed in Knoxville, and snuck quietly into the home of the woman (HB) whom has been my friend since we were five. We stayed up chatting in whispered voices, making sure not to wake her husband. Just like slumber parties when we were ten. I’ve never been married, but it kind of felt like I would be saying “I do.” the next day.

So I did. “I do have my credit card.” A quick exchange of money, information and incredulity that I was going it alone, and off I went with ChinChin. Like all new Mom’s I was filled with love and a healthy dose of terror about what I’d gotten myself into. The odd bit of grinding gears, and hauling of the manual steering around, and I felt much better. The next few days were spent enjoying the company of my friends, running around outfitting the wagon for the long trip west, and soaking up thunderstorms, lightning, The Tomato Head, and wrangling HB’s husband into helping me build an “air conditioner” out of a cooler and a tiny fan.

Side Note: You can make one of these yourself, like this one. I wanted mine to plug into the DC cigarette lighter adaptor. The fan I got was not strong enough for it to be affective during the hot days, but on the nights I camped in ChinChin (and had A/C power), I popped two bags of ice in the cooler, and set it up on the over-cab bunk. It certainly kept me comfortable on the hot nights.

With the first rainstorm, I found a nice little lake in the back step by the door. A judicious use of duct tape, and a car cover kept things dry on the trip home.

Pleasent surprises included the ability to see out the back window in the door from the rear-view mirror, the interior being in pretty good shape, and the nearly constant thumbs up and requests to sell that occurred over the next 3,700 miles.

Finally, it was time for the highway test. I scooted off to Nashville fairly early, and found, other that the wind vulnerability, it was no trouble. At my first gas stop, a woman got very happy when she saw me, and explained her Mom had a Chinook when she was little.

Nashville was a crazy few days of work events and catching up with the natives. My sweet friends in west Nashville let me camp in their driveway. Being lulled to sleep by storms is the best, as are friends that lend your their love and their bathroom. Being inspired by the open source community, a quick trip to Santa’s Pub, and finally that text message that was eleven months in the making, and it was time to scoot off to Chattanooga.

My time in Chattanooga wasn’t long enough. It is a cool town, that is growing and rehabbing itself under the careful eye of some savvy, tech-minded folks. We took one of the two days, and ran off to Russell Cave. The cave has signs of almost continuous occupancy from 10,000 BCE, through the late 1600s. I love my Chattanooga peeps, and didn’t want to leave, but work and Atlanta called.

I love and miss Tennessee, but it has many of the same over development problems that irk me here, not to mention some of the politics. This trip released me from the feeling of needing to live there at some point in the future. I wouldn’t object, but I no longer feel that I should.



Carpe Diem – Ben Harper

My degree is in environmental studies. I thought I would save the earth. I thought I would have saved it by now. That’s a story for another post though. Back to the 90s…

In an attempt to get some experience in my field, and simultaneously see my sister more often, I applied for a summer internship with the Student Conservation Association. On the application, I had to put down four places I wanted to go. I put down Chaco Canyon, and three parks in California (my sister was in the Bay Area by then). I ended up at Bodie State Historic Park. Near the end of my summer, I met some folks that worked nearby at the Mono Lake Committee. They were awesome, adventurous, and cared about the environment. I bonded pretty strongly with one of the guys, and we’ve remained friends all these years.

Classic eco nerds, dressed as a riparian ecosystem. He's the water.

Classic eco nerds, dressed as a riparian ecosystem. He’s the water.

Not long after we met, he made me a mixed CD. It was full of musical treasures, most of which I’d never heard before, and most of which I still love deeply. This CD contained the first Ben Harper song I ever listened to. I was in my early 20s, but I’d had to break up with my first love by then. Hearing Walk Away for the first time made something inside me resonate so strongly that it has been echoing there for almost twenty years. I bought more albums, I listened to them obsessively, I made others listen to them, but I’d never gotten to see Ben Harper play live until last night.

If you ever find yourself debating if you should spend the money or take the time to go see one of your musical heroes, the answer will always be, OF COURSE YOU SHOULD! Carpe diem! Make it happen. For eons cultures have used music to tell stories, to call up the spirits, to heal. If music touches your soul coming out of a speaker, it will lay you open, release you, and heal you seeing it live.

Ben Harper has been giving me his gifts for years, but seeing him live was the biggest gift of all. He is vulnerable, real, angry, tender, funky, has an amazing crew of musicians he works with, can sing like nobody’s business, and the man man loves tots. Roll your eyes if you want to, but it felt like I was being allowed to kneel and pray with someone through all their pain and joy. Thanks Ben!

Buying ChinChin feels very much like a carpe diem moment. Those moments are part of what I think this blog will be about, so I’ll keep reporting them as I come across them.