Roads Going on (Or, Going on Roads that Go on and on)

We had an adventure this past weekend, my husband, Pat, and I. It was a small adventure – nothing on the Bilbo Baggins scale of things, but since we tend to be quite hobbit-like (typical hobbits, not the like the Baggins clan) and stay-at-home-ish, going on a weekend trip is an adventure for us.

We had our daughter and son-in-law’s dogs with us for the first part of the journey. They – the kids, not the dogs – had moved, and were ready for the dogs to join them. Since we wanted to see their new digs, we offered to bring the dogs, who had been staying with us for the past few weeks anyway.

Transporting the dogs was probably the most adventurous part of the whole thing. One of the dogs is a hyperactive, neurotic border collie mix (certain stubborn and high-energy personality traits make us think that the non-border-collie part of him may incorporate some terrier genes). The other dog is a one-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever who is just as sweet the breed is supposed to be. However, he is still rather puppyish, as retrievers tend to be for several years, which makes him prone to ditzy behavior. He is frequently the subject of  “blonde” jokes in our household.

To transport the dogs, we used my car. I drive a small car – a Chevy Aveo hatchback, to be precise, which my offspring fondly call “Mom’s golf cart.” That should give some indication of the size. (I just ignore them. It gets great gas mileage, and I like it.)

Anyway, we crammed our bags into the small hatchback area, wedged the dog food bins and travel jug of water for the dogs behind the seats, and put the dogs themselves on the back seat. Anything we deemed even it even remotely possible to need during the trip was shoved under my feet. Needless to say, I didn’t have much foot room. Things like bags with iPods, a satellite radio, allergy medicine, pain reliever, magazines, my Kindle (although to my everlasting frustration, I can’t read in the car, so it probably didn’t need to be there), my camera, sports drinks and water, the big book of maps (I love maps) and my purse (which is a small backpack all by itself) take up more space than you’d think. Or than I’d think, at least. I don’t seem to have a very good ability to estimate the space needed for stuff.

The dogs, once loaded in the car, were clearly confused. We left our two Labs behind at home, and then we didn’t go to any of the places around town that the dogs were used to going to. Not to any of the old apartments the kids had lived in, not to our son-in-law’s parent’s house, not to mountains, not even to the vet’s. Instead, we got on the highway and kept on going. It was something they couldn’t figure out, and as we left town and passed any possible known destinations, the border collie mix started whining and becoming more and more agitated.

Thankfully, at least one of the dogs was a good traveler – as long as we were in the car. The golden retriever sat and lay down like a gentleman for the entire six-hour trip. I think he might have slept for most of it if the border collie mix hadn’t been stepping on him every few minutes.

Well, actually the golden was a gentleman only as long as we were actually riding in the car. When we stopped at a road-side “look at the historical marker!” area to give the dogs a brief walk-and-sniff break, the golden retriever suddenly showed abilities that would have indicated sled dog in his background if I didn’t know better. He dug in with all four paws and dragged Pat across the gravel and weeds like he was trying to win the Iditarod, veering to the edges where the best smells – and the barbed wire – were. Yeah. I could just see explaining to our daughter and son-in-law why their baby had chunks of fur missing. (And Pat wasn’t too happy about the thought of getting tangled in the barbed wire, either.) Pat said that the golden retriever hauled even harder than our 115 pound Lab does. It was certainly impressive to watch, although Pat didn’t seem to be too impressed with being on the other end of the leash. We cut the stop short and got back in the car. Pat asked for pain reliever from the store of stuff under my feet for his now-aching shoulder.

Mr. Neurotic, the border collie mix, reacted exactly like I thought he would to the car trip. He whined, he panted, he paced the back seat and he tried to get into my lap in the front seat for three-quarters of the trip. Antelope, deer, horses, sheep, goats, cattle and things that I apparently missed seeing by the roadside got his immediate attention and upped his level of activity, and cars or trucks going past us drove him (and by extension, us) nuts. They must be things to herd, right? ( He is never allowed to herd them, and he just can’t figure that out. Physics and size differences aren’t his long suit.) I was thinking longingly of doggy seat belts before we had gone twenty miles.

But when we got out to stretch our legs, he was the gentleman, and I think he was just as annoyed with the golden retriever as we were about the shortened rest stop. (I am pretty sure he knew the reason for the hasty retreat to the car. Despite his inability to understand why we won’t let him try to herd vehicles, he is usually smarter than the rest of us.)

The border collie mix finally settled down for the last two hours or so of the trip. I thought I’d be relieved when the noise and action in the back seat stopped. Instead, I felt sorry for him. Frankly, he looked defeated, with his normally perky ears and tail drooping. He just could not, for the life of him, figure out what we were doing with him.

When I wasn’t wrangling the border collie mix or telling the golden what a good boy he was, I looked at the scenery. Such as it was. (By mutual agreement, Pat does most of the driving.) Much of our trip was through the wonderful open, empty spaces of southern Wyoming and northwestern Colorado.

Seriously, scrape off a layer of sagebrush, and you could expect to see the Mars rover Curiosity trundling along. (Mars, at least, has the allure of the unknown. The Red Desert, not so much) So there wasn’t a lot to see for a good portion of the drive. (Unless you were the border collie mix, who apparently could see things the rest of us couldn’t.)

There were patches of green here and there – pre-tumbling tumbleweeds. They start out as low, bushy cushions of greenery, looking very innocent and refreshingly green in an otherwise brown-and-grey landscape. But they are just waiting for the cold weather of fall and winter to kill them, so they can break off and start rolling down the middle of the highway in packs and wedging their prickly selves in fences. This time of year, they still aren’t innocuous. Every time we passed a big bunch of them, I started sneezing. (Hence the allergy medicine in the under-foot bags.)

This stunning lack of anything but wide open spaces is why the iPods and satellite radio were considered indispensable and part of the gear hanging out under my feet. One got plugged into the stereo so the driver could listen to his podcasts and sports talk shows and the other got plugged into my ears so I didn’t have to listen to his podcasts and sports talk shows (or the dog whining and panting). Winning all around. (Why satellite radio, you ask, and the not just tuning into whatever is available? In the areas we were traveling through, you are lucky if there is a tiny town every fifty miles, and by tiny, I mean towns too small to have radio stations. Usually, they consist of a gas station, a greasy spoon restaurant, and a bar. And maybe a motel that was new in 1949. There isn’t even cell phone reception for great swaths of miles.) Thanks to the entertainment systems we had brought, the miles and miles of sagebrush and rocks whizzed by and we were, indeed, entertained. It also helped defuse the tension radiating from the black-white-and-brown furry body in the back seat when we couldn’t hear Every. Single. Whine.

I know I sound very critical of the landscape. And quite honestly, there is a severe beauty to it. I especially love how open it is. The view is just very slow to change and very repetitive over the course of a long, long drive. It always brings to mind Tolkien’s poem from The Hobbit, “Roads Go Ever On,” because you can see the thing winding away like a ribbon over the hills ahead of you – for miles and miles.

We finally made our way to the kids’ new place. We only had to call for directions twice when we reached their town. Okay, three times. But that was because I didn’t get the directions down quite right the first time, and we missed the last turn. We drove right past their place before I had to call the third time.

Someday, both Pat and I will learn that I am not the best person to take down directions, and possibly the worst person to navigate, in spite of how much I love maps. If I say turn left, I might mean left, or I might mean your other left. Pointing tends to get better results for me, but the driver doesn’t usually appreciate my hand suddenly being flung into his face, and I risk whacking my elbow on the  car window when I try to point the other way. (There have been some memorable and pretty spectacular mis-navigation episodes when I have been in charge of interpreting the directions. Kansas City and St. Louis, in particular, bring back shudders. If you remember the part of the Chevy Chase Vacation movie when they end up in the wrong part of town, you’ll know what I mean.)

The dogs were ecstatic when we pulled into the driveway and they saw who was waiting for them. Our daughter and son-in-law were just as excited over being reunited with their furry family.

Pat and I were exhausted, the back seat of the car was covered with dog hair, I was covered with dog drool from all the panting and we were ready to sit on something that didn’t move for a while.

But it was a mission successfully completed, and a small (very small) adventure for the Wolfinbargers.

Jane W. Wolfinbarger ©2012

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6 thoughts on “Roads Going on (Or, Going on Roads that Go on and on)

  1. That was a fun read even if the trip was anything but. I enjoy your writing. Your description of the landscape sounds like much of the nowhereland of Australia away from the coastal strip and before you reach the wonders of the outback. These big countries certainly do have some empty spaces.

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