Motivation for the M.O.A.T. or How Henry Developed the Rambling Urge

Holy crap, don’t I ever stay home? Well no not really. I got addicted to travelling a long time ago. It’s something I enjoy a lot (not so much if its work related). So I’m going to try to give you a glimpse into how I developed this gypsy spirit.

When I was growing up, vacations always had 1 of 2 possible destinations. If it was a short vacation, the destination was Muskegon, Michigan. If it was a long vacation, it meant we were headed to Elmira, New York. Obviously these are not on the Travel Channel’s list of “don’t miss” places.

Muskegon was the home of my Aunt Gerry and Uncle Frank. Frank was Mom’s brother but he and my Dad shared some common interests. They both liked to hunt and fish. There were many days when Dad and Uncle Frank would leave very early and not come back until evening. There wasn’t a lot for kids to do in Muskegon but the city park was only a block away. There were very few kids in the neighborhood so there were no pick-up baseball games, basketball games, freeze tag, etc. If there were outdoor activities at all they were limited to what my sisters and I could cook up.

Since Aunt Gerry had no need for any kind of ball outside of a bowling ball we were bored a lot. That doesn’t mean that it was bad – I was bored most of the time at home too. Their house was small – three bedroom, one bathroom. The first 2 bedrooms were occupied by adults. The third bedroom was very small but had a set of bunk beds. These were reserved for my sisters – chivalry I guess. My brother was already married and living large by this time. I slept on the floor of the living room which was really a great adventure. On the living room wall were two items that I found really intriguing – one, a cuckoo clock, the other a deer’s head. I was really enthralled and looked forward to the passing of the ½ hour so I could hear the cuckoo. It was always a challenge to see if I could stay awake until midnight to hear the cuckoo in full song while the house was quiet.

The deer’s head had glass eyes that followed you around through some kind of magic. In my mind, I could make up all sorts of stories about how the deer got there and what he might be thinking as he watched the daily life in my Aunt Gerry’s living room.

The only board game they owned was called “Cross Continent”. As the name implies it was a race across America. The player tokens were train engines of various colors. Players rolled dice and moved across the United States. Along the path you picked up “special” items (corn in Nebraska, potatoes in Idaho, etc). It taught me some things about travelling in the US. It also taught me a little about geography. The board was an outline of the US and all the states. I can still see it in my mind.

The other vacation spot was Elmira, New York. The “glider capital of the world” was the motto on the T-shirts that we couldn’t afford. You probably guessed why this was a vacation destination. Aunt Cora and Uncle Fred lived there. They were actually my great aunt / uncle. They had a two story house but kids weren’t allowed upstairs. They must have had a secret spy operation running out of the upstairs bedrooms and kids would surely give away all the classified stuff. Once again I was sleeping on the floor.

I remember very little about going there – a family of squirrels lived in the giant oak tree right outside the front door. They were fun to watch. The house smelled like old people (I’ve said that before – it’s a smell that defies description.). The most important memory is that it is not far from Corning, New York. If you have never heard of Corning Ware you have missed an essential learning – white ceramic cookware with a blue cornflower logo. But the Corning Glassworks also made the lens to the world’s largest telescope (at the time) – located at Mt Palomar, California. The first lens they tried to make cracked while it was cooling and was displayed along the tour route. Great – I hope I don’t have to hang my mistakes out for the world to see. How did they make that lens? How could you get something that big all the way to California? Why New York? Could I really see Mars through the telescope? You get the idea. I was learning that there is a lot more out there than the streets of Middletown, Indiana.

Those were all of the vacations except one disaster to the Smokies. Suffice it to say that we drove all the way there, got lost in the mountains at night, and then the Chevy station wagon broke down. We ended up sleeping in the car in an auto repair parking lot. The mechanic arrived early the next morning and fixed the car. We drove straight home – a 2 day non-stop round trip to Cherokee. Dad spent a long time in the basement after that trip.

As soon as I went away to college, Mom and Dad drove to the Grand Canyon. I was so jealous that I couldn’t even look at the pictures. The hook was set. I was going to see all the places I’d read about. All the places that others got to go look at were on my list. My best friend growing up got to take Florida vacations every year. I didn’t have relatives in Florida so we never went there. I was determined to get there to see what I had been missing. It took me until I was 25 years old to take my first real vacation. Guess where I went. Yep, I headed for Florida.

How far can you drive in a day? How do you rent a motel room? How does the ocean compare to Lake Michigan (which is close to Muskegon)? I was so anxious / nervous I almost forgot how to drive. I finally got to look at the ocean and to put my feet in the sand somewhere around Titusville, FL. Man now I was really hooked. This is where rich, beautiful people go on vacation. While I’ve never been rich and far from beautiful, I’ve been going to the ocean and the beach ever since.

These were the days before internet so making advance reservations at hotels was more of a pain. It took a series of phone calls to a hotel you found in the Holiday Inn directory. You had to make sure you wrote down the confirmation number because all the hotels asked for that. I am still anal about having the confirmation number with me even though I haven’t been asked for one for a long time. I’m still tempted to pick up the printed copy of the hotel directory when I’m on the road.

I used to use a travel agent. In fact, it was a travel agent that sent us to Sundial on Sanibel for my first visit to the island. Thank you Donna Pike. I think Jana and I have been back to Sanibel at least 30 times. It’s one of my favorite places on earth. I wanted to share that with the family so we’re all going back soon. Someday my ashes will be spread there.

When I’m on the road, regardless of the mode of transportation, there is a freedom that goes with the wandering. It appeals to the romantic adventurer in me. I can go where I want, when I want. As I get older, I find that I have trouble getting motivated to spend endless hours in the car getting from point to point. That’s not real travel to me – that’s transportation. I have told people that my style of travel is like owning a manure spreader – crap builds up for a long time while I’m doing the normal daily routine but then I hit the road and the manure tank starts to empty. It doesn’t take long to forget the crap that was in the tank when I started, hence the manure spreader.

The number of airline miles is unknown. The number of car miles is “a lot”. The number of motorcycle miles is approaching 400,000. I’ve been in all 48 states and 5 Canadian provinces. I’ve tried to stay away from interstate highways unless necessary. Why would I avoid driving on interstates? They are ok if you’re in a hurry but I would miss a lot of what I enjoy about travelling. I would miss the extra piece of pie we got served because we were the only customers in the diner and the owners want to talk. I would miss the “I used to have one just like that in the ‘40’s”. I would miss meeting Buuuuuuddd Colucci – he’s not on the interstate. I would miss the déjà vu feeling of being in South Dakota. I would miss Jana agreeing to ride to Rhode Island in the pouring rain just because I’d never been there. I’d miss the Roanoker (it’s a restaurant), the liar’s club at the little diner in Missouri, the Dairy Queen in Kansas that has cold beer. That’s travel to me.

If you want to feel humbled, go see the Grand Canyon. You will realize quickly how small and insignificant you are in the grand scheme of things. If you want to be cold, ride a motorcycle at 13,000 feet in July and get snowed on. If you want to feel desperation, try to get a hotel room in Pikeville, KY without reservations on a football Friday night. If you want to appreciate the hard work of people in this country, go see Mt. Rushmore, Hoover Dam, the Kennedy Space Center, the Oregon Trail, or any number of things created by humans. Go read the Constitution in person. Go walk with Lewis and Clark. Unbelievable stuff – just go. I would not have experienced the feeling of awe at seeing this country and the warmth of the every-day people of the US without being bitten by the travel bug. I’ve got hundreds of stories and will tell them if you ask. I could spend a lot of time telling or writing about places I’ve been, people I’ve met, or experiences I’ve had – just ask. Or better yet – go out, experience the country, and write your own stories then tell me about them when I can no longer do it myself.

2 thoughts on “Motivation for the M.O.A.T. or How Henry Developed the Rambling Urge

  1. Ron! Great writing and story telling! I’m anxiously following your installments of your BLT (MOAT) – – safe travels my friend!

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