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Recounting a road trip across the western United States that was full of surprises and discoveries

My life mate and I have been on a lot of road trips together, beginning in 1969 with a cross-country camping expedition that started in Chicago and wound over the Rockies and out to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Next it was on to Glacier National Park in Northern Montana, The Olympic National Park in Washington and finally, south down the entire coast of California to San Antonio, Texas.

Texas was our destination because my new husband had to report for duty with the U.S. Army. After a short stint at Fort Sam Houston, we were on the road again to Alabama for Flight Surgeon training in preparation for deployment to Southeast Asia. We ended our journey with one more drive back to our departure point in Chicago. It was a long but worthwhile trip, made all the more precious because Viet Nam was lurking in the shadows, and we weren't really certain we would see each other again. It was a bittersweet time, and one that we cherished.

I don't recall ever feeling in danger during that epic road trip, despite the presence of bears and lightning storms. But a short, one-week sojourn we recently embarked upon left me frazzled and relieved to still be alive. Our itinerary consisted of a visit with friends in Sun Valley, after which we would tour parts of Eastern Oregon. Our route had us entering the Blue Mountains outside of La Grande just after dark. Traffic consisted mostly of trucks. Our first near-miss happened when a truncated semi moving at high speed crowded our bumper and flashed his lights. My husband immediately moved over and the truck thundered past us, cutting back over too quickly, which caused his load to shift back and forth from lane to lane. My husband quickly assessed the situation and determined that we needed to get past the truck before an accident occurred. This required our going up on the shoulder and passing it at high speed, which we were, thankfully, able to do. Having that frightening episode behind us, we soon encountered another big rig whose driver did not see us and came over into our lane, causing my husband to once again seek the shoulder and speed up to get out of the way. All of this occurred in the dark, which magnified the danger. At last we exited at La Grande and breathed a big sigh of relief, as we were on a country highway devoid of trucks. However, at just that moment, a large deer sprang in front of our car. The anti-lock brakes kicked in and we were thrown against our seatbelts. We missed him by inches.

After all of our driving mishaps, we were happy to reach Sun Valley in one piece. Our friend Bob would be driving us now. It turns out there was a problem, though. Bob has a driverless car and was looking forward to demonstrating it. First, he showed us how the car can go from zero to eighty miles an hour in six seconds (I should mention here that the man is 86 years old.) Next, he showed us how the car could drive itself. So we tooled along at 60 mph through curves and around other cars, with Bob proudly placing his hands at his sides and grinning like a little kid. Bob is also hard of hearing and happens to love dirge-like organ music, which he played nonstop during this demonstration at earsplitting decibels. I felt like I was about to attend my own funeral, and perhaps I was.

As soon as we could, we fled to Eastern Oregon. The contrast between our Idaho experience and our Oregon experience was remarkable. I felt like I had arrived from the future and stepped back in time. Most vehicles were pick-up trucks, and I'm willing to bet that not one of them drove itself. I was also visiting another America, one I hadn't seen for a while. The talk in a local café was about horses and cattle. Cowboy hats were in abundance. No organs within hearing—just good old country music. If you wanted to be further reminded that you were in a different world, you could pick up the local newspaper, as I did, and read the following: "Pete Runnels, son of Mac Runnels, reports that his cat, Samantha, caught a diamond-backed rattlesnake in their yard." This was followed by news from the Elks lodge and the rodeo.

On our way home, we stopped at a roadhouse called "Tiger Town," named after a rough neighborhood from the old days. On the menu was "The Rustlers' Rhapsody," which is a glass of warm gin with a human hair in it (no doubt guaranteed to put hair on your chest, as well.) I toyed with the idea of ordering one. After this particular road trip, I thought I might deserve it.

Kay Jewett can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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