Saturday, November 23, 2013

#362, in which a country is traversed

After a couple of months of looking, I was lucky enough to land a few job interviews about a month ago, and wouldn't you know it, the first one came through. I would have probably accepted just about any company that would have had me, but it happened that this one was a particularly nice fit. (They're also fairly well known in Japan, as it turns out. I told Tamsen's parents' Japanese exchange student where I was working, and his eyes just about bugged out of his head.) We were hoping I could get a job not too long after graduating so that Edith could have health insurance, and everything worked out very nicely on that front.

The trick, however, was that we were living in Eugene, and the job was just outside of Nashville. So we needed to pack our things and get to Tennessee within two weeks.

The packing and moving, though unpleasant, wasn't actually so bad. The getting to Tennessee was much more interesting though, and that's the story I'm going to tell here.

Devotees will know that I like to make use of my Twitter feed, and driving from Oregon to Tennessee seemed like a pretty good chance to do just that. I looked at the map, found that I'd have to go through ten states to get to Nashville, and decided to use the hashtag #TenToTenn for my three-day trip. You know, because jokes. I had a route all planned out, a Twitter hashtag ready to go, and was actually looking forward to the trip a little bit.

Once I got on the road, though, I realized that maybe it wasn't going to be quite the fun road trip I imagined. A quick look at the map and you'll see what I mean.

The picture might be a little small, but you can clearly see both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans on that map. This might be less of a trip and more of an odyssey.

The first day wasn't so bad, as it was a drive I'd made several times before. I left Portland early Wednesday morning and planned on making it to Salt Lake that evening.

A long drive, to be sure, and one that would take me through lots of desert and mountains, but not too bad. My only concern was making it across the Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon. It's a chain-up zone in the winter because of snow storms, and I didn't have any snow chains. The weather forecast said it was going to be clear, though, so I forged ahead.

My first stop was in The Dalles, OR, where I stopped to fill up and realized that The Dalles is the second to last stop in the much-beloved Oregon Trail video game. Which led me to the following realization:

As it turned out, that tweet was by far the most popular of my whole trip. Friends spent much of the day making all of the Oregon Trail jokes I wanted to but couldn't, ranging from shooting buffaloes but not being able to fit all the meat in my car to making sure I caulked the car properly before trying to float across a river. I didn't end up seeing the jokes until I arrived in Salt Lake that evening.

When I got to the Idaho border, I decided to take a picture, something I tried to do with every border crossing I made.

A sad picture for me, but perhaps not as sad as the one that followed.

Oh, Idaho. Why do you have to be so Idaho?

Idaho wasn't actually as bad as eastern Oregon. Idaho was shorter to get through, and there were a fair amount of large cities to use as landmarks to gauge my progress. Eastern Oregon just has a lot of empty space. (And Hermiston and La Grande, in case residents of those cities are reading this.) I made it to Utah just as it was getting dark. I took a picture of the "Welcome to Utah" sign, but I guess I didn't save it to my phone properly, so you'll just have to imagine it. The darkness made it tricky to see, anyway.

I stayed at my aunt's house, and my sister and her boyfriend came to visit, as did Eliza. It was nice to see everyone, but I don't think I was very good company, since I was so tired. They were all too well-mannered to say otherwise, though, which was nice.

The next morning, I got up early and headed east through the mountains to Wyoming. The goal was Lincoln, NE.

This day promised to be the least exciting of my trip, as the directions consisted more or less of "get on I-80 East, then get off when you get to Lincoln." I was lucky enough to get NPR stations through nearly all of my first day, but not so much so on my second day. The silver lining, though, was that I got to listen to my ABBA greatest hits CD through most of Wyoming. When I got to Cheyenne and stopped for lunch, I told everyone just how much I was enjoying the CD.

Energized with the power of Swedish disco, I got through Wyoming and saw this just after lunch:

Wyoming was very hilly, if somewhat uninteresting to look it (except for some snow-covered valleys, which were spectacular under that huge blue sky); the instant I crossed the border into Nebraska, though, it got flat. And it stayed flat, all the way to Lincoln. Nebraska was not an especially exciting state. But I had a cheap motel room to look forward to, and I was planning on watching the Oregon-Stanford game as a reward for making it all that way. (And of course, Oregon lost and lost badly. So much for my reward.)

I got up early the next morning and prepared to drive.

This was an interesting day for me, as I was going through six states, very little of which I'd been to before. Here's the route I took.

You might notice that this route would take me through Iowa, but only for about ten miles. It was over nearly as soon as it began, but that didn't mean I was going to miss an opportunity to take my "Welcome to Iowa" picture.

Nice, huh? I took this one about five minutes later.

Missouri was a nice city. I drove through Kansas City, which I'd never seen before, and I spent most of it looking for Arrowhead Stadium. I didn't end up seeing it, but I was bowled over by the sight of Royals Stadium and the gigantic crown in the outfield. It was pretty impressive. I made my way across the state to St. Louis, and at this point, cabin fever really started to set in. I'd been driving for about 30 hours, and I was starting to feel like I was getting close to my destination. I wasn't, of course; I still had three more states to get through, but that didn't stop me from getting restless.

Kansas City, incidentally, is the starting point of the Oregon Trail game (Independence, technically, but it's a suburb), and as I passed through, I realized that I'd basically just played the game in reverse over the last two and a half days.

Onward to Illinois. I wasn't going to be in the state for more than a couple of hours, so I figured I needed to take advantage of the chance to listen to Sufjan Stevens' Illinois while driving through the state it's named for. I did, and it was lovely. The woods of southern Illinois are beautiful, and I found myself wishing just a little that I could have landed a job there so I could have spent more time in that country.

Alas, for what could have been. I drove down into Kentucky. I would have taken the "welcome to Kentucky" picture, but not only was it dark when I got there, the sign is at the end of a bridge, so I couldn't pull over and get the picture. (That's what I did for all of the pictures I took while driving; I think it's a really bad idea to use a phone while one is driving and I made a point of avoiding it on my trip.)

I didn't miss this sign, though, despite the darkness:

The darkness makes it a little tricky to see, but that's the sign that was welcoming me to my new home. Hooray! I mean, I guess; I still didn't know anyone in Tennessee, nor had I even seen my new house.

And that's my trip. It might sound like I'm leaving things out, because surely more happened over the course of 36 hours of driving, but really, I'm basically omitting stories of eating burgers in the car, scanning the dial for the next NPR affiliate, and singing along to ABBA at the very top of my lungs. It was long, it was boring despite the new terrain, and I'm very happy to be reunited with my family again.