From Joe: Lori has asked me to write a portion of the blog based on my experiences. The only way I can do that is to go back to Arkansas from the beginning. Before we started this trip, we had made plans years in advance of something we wanted to do but weren’t sure how to do it. We gave this a lot of thought and were gonna start our journey when Lori reached the age of 63. I had already been retired for two years. You don’t realize until it happens that things start changing in your life. You start realizing that life is a little more precious than you once thought it was years ago. Every year, we went through the same routine, Lori would become sick at the end of the year. I had just gone through cancer and was not expected to live. Doctors said I surely would not live past 10 years. Upon leaving Arkansas in April, many of our friends asked if we were in fact dying. They didn’t want to put it bluntly, but they had to ask. So, we had to reassure them and ourselves also that this is something we have been planning to do. So we took it upon ourselves to set out this time in our lives instead of waiting for a date that we may never reach. I had my last checkup with my cancer doctor right before Lori went to the hospital again for her illness. My doctor gave me a clean bill of health. Another thing that I would like to mention is that there is always a point in your life where you are concerned about the future. Lori is concerned that she has dementia or Alzheimer’s because she can’t remember things. I have to remind her constantly of things and have to restate them again and again and again. For those that have never seen the movie “The Notebook”, I suggest that you see it. It is very profound and will make a huge difference in how you perceive these updates as we travel. So with all that in mind, we took off April 1. We decided to go up north, so that I could show Lori a place that I had seen when I was younger and have talked about it over and over. A place called House on the Rock in Wisconsin. We staying in Wisconsin for a full month, seeing the sights, drove all over the countryside and took in as much as we could. From there, we were going to head north up to Canada, but the weather took a turn for the worse and we headed west to Revillo, South Dakota. A small town where I grew up and had big dreams, childhood dreams. I wanted to relive part of that past. When I got there, my joy and excitement soon disappeared and was left with huge disappointment. The town I grew up in that was bigger than life, and the people I knew, were gone. I did happen to reconnect with a childhood sweetheart and she was still just as beautiful as when she was a child. After I realized there was nothing there for me, it was time to move on. We continued across the state of South Dakota, but there were things that were starting to bother Lori and myself. Couldn’t quite put our finger on it, but we knew something was changing. We’d go from one town to another taking pictures of all the sights we could take in, seeing the architecture of the old buildings, and the land. When we finally got to Hot Springs, South Dakota, and took in as much as we could there, we decided to head south to Nebraska. As soon as we hit the Nebraska state line and we looked out across the plains, we realized that what what was bothering us so much was coming to a head. No one knows their time. No one knows how many days they have or what lies around the next corner. Lori and I have been given an opportunity to travel the country and we take each day as it is given to us. We prayed about it, consulted God about it and talked with friends and we asked that we get at least two years. That’s all were looking for is just two years. More if appropriate and if things work out right, but two years is the minimum. As we are going down that Nebraska highway, looking out across the land, we realize death is following us all around. With Lori’s condition, my condition, we realize how short our life really is. For those people that never get a chance to do these things, we wanted to share some of our experiences so that they may experience them also. We don’t know our days. We only know that we have this moment and this time. I don’t want to go on and on about our experiences, but as we looked out across the northern Nebraska skyline, seeing the fields and the mountains and the rolling hills, we think of a song, “America the Beautiful.” One of the tragedies we have seen along the way is the death of the country. The small towns that were once huge in the lives and minds of all those children growing up there and a lot of those adults, they are diminishing. Going away, never to return. Take the time. Go out and look for yourself. Don’t rely on other people. Find these things for yourself and see them before they’re gone. You may never get another chance. Write your own “Notebook.” Check this video out: The Notebook.
America the Beautiful
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
After leaving Hot Springs, South Dakota we headed south on Hwy 385. Entering Red Cloud National Forest in Nebraska, the landscape was like a scene out of the 1960’s TV show, Bonanza. It made me just stop and soak in the beauty. The wide-open spaces of the prairie with the lush green and amber fields across the horizon were awe inspiring. I’m sure this is the place Katharine Lee Bates was describing when she wrote “America the Beautiful.”
And as we were tooling down the highway in Nebraska, just soaking in the scenery, out of the blue a cat just casually strolled across the road and Joe had to slam on his breaks. It scared the living daylights outta me! Darn cat! Didn’t even phase him at all!
We had some pretty fierce 16mph cross winds coming across the plains, so this put a damper on our gas mileage. We normally get about 15mpg, but these winds put us down to about 11.5mpg. We’ve never really noticed before this trip, but it’s amazing the impact of a 19.5′ camper on your mileage. Now we are very well aware of the hills and wind.
We spent a few nights in Elm Creek, Nebraska. The first night we were there, we ate at a little truckstop diner just down the road in Overton called Taste of India. Joe had goat curry and I had lamb curry. The food was so good, we went back the next night. Mmmm!
The first morning, we went over to Kearney, Nebraska to see the Archway. We had seen the Archway several years ago, but wanted to see it again. According to their website: “For over 200 years, the path along the Platte River through Nebraska, once called the Great Platte River Road, has been a road to adventure. From the Oregon Trail era through today, the Archway’s family friendly historical exhibit tells the story of those who followed the Great Platte River Road and helped to build America.” This is a very informative and moving display of our American heritage. A must-see for your whole family!
As we were leaving the Archway and heading to our car, we met an older man that was just arriving….arriving by motorcycle. He had been traveling across the country by himself for several years. His bike was loaded with everything from tent, rake and a flyswatter. Pretty interesting guy enjoying his later years.
On our way back to the RV park, we discovered the Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles (HMMV) in Lexington. This museum is run by volunteers and funded by donations. The museum has about 100 vehicles including helicopters, tanks, half-tracks, ambulances, and a jeep from every branch of the service plus displays of weapons, uniforms, engines, equipment, and more. The everyday necessities of a soldier’s life, such as MREs, blend with unique vehicles like those used by the German army in World War II. This hands-on museum invites you to see, touch, and even sit in vehicles that have been restored and, for the most part, are operational. Vehicles date from World War II but displays include items from World War I as well. The guys running the show were Veterans of the Korea War, WWII and Vietnam. The oldest guy was in his 80’s and was out mowing the yard as we were leaving. Very cool place.
As soon as we left Elm Creek, Nebraska, we stopped at the Nebraska Prairie Museum in Holdrege, just 15 miles or so south. Micah Huyser is the Director and just 24 years old! He is awesome. And the folks working there just rave about his abilities. This museum is a great treasure! We spent 2 hours walking through the exhibits and ooohing and aaahing at all the neat stuff inside. You’d never know by looking at the outside of this building that it is enormous inside! It is an incredible display of history, but not just of the Nebraska area, of the United States. Pictures can’t do it justice. You’ll just have to see it for yourself. There is also an original one-room schoolhouse, Lutheran church, home on the grounds. Very interesting to see. There was also a large display inside highlighting the POW camp in Atlanta, Nebraska that held German prisoners during WWII. I had NO idea there was a POW camp here! Wow! They even had one of the guard towers from the camp out in front of the museum. It was a very moving display. While we were there, Brian Gnuse, a journalist for NTV News and an ABC affiliate, was doing a segment on the trains at the museum. He interviewed Joe and I and I’ll share the full segment with you as soon as it’s available.
On our way through Kansas, we stopped in Kingsley at the Edwards County Sod House and Museum. We were met by a very charming lady, Julie Miller. We learned that Julie was a volunteer that ran the place by herself most of the time. She walked us through the large room of donated memorabilia, telling where the items cam from and also explaining what some of the items were. Her knowledge of the items was quite impressive. What a valuable resources she is to the museum. We walked through the sod house and checked out the train engine that was out in the front yard. Joe even schooled me on all the mechanics of the engine. He’s so dang smart!
Going South down Hwy 138, we stopped for gas at a station in the small town of Coldwater, Kansas and asked the regulars hanging out inside about a good place to eat. The overwhelming consensus of was Dave’s Pizza Oven just a block up the street. So we pulled our camper across the street in a vacant lot and walked up for lunch. It was not your normal pizza place. It was set up buffet-style with an assortment of pizzas under the warming lights and a salad bar next to it. We inquired about a veggie pizza and they were happy to oblige and started making it fresh for us. We helped ourselves to the salad bar and dug in. While waiting on the veggie pie, we chowed down on a “scorcher” that consisted of jalapenos and hamburger. We were getting pretty full, so we asked them to box up the veggie pie and we’d take it with us. That was gonna be dinner. Just as we were down to our last bite, Dave, the owner, pulled a cherry pie pizza outta the oven. Of course, we had to have a slice. And boy, was it yummy! We did find out from Dave, that they make their pizza crust fresh every morning. The service and food were out of this world! We told Dave that we were traveling the US and he mentioned that there was great camping just outside of town at the Coldwater Lake. Definitely something to consider when we come through this way again. And the pie we saved for dinner, well, it was devoured and enjoyed immensely.
One thing we’ve noticed in our travels so far is that almost every town, even the smallest like Revillo, South Dakota with 117 folks, have a Veteran’s Memorial. The patriotism of these towns is amazing. The US flags hanging from poles in front of houses and along the downtown streets. So humbling to see.
We arrived yesterday at Bobcat Creek RV Park in Sayre, Oklahoma. Very nice place, owned by Lauren. He was very accommodating and gave us a great military discount. We’ll be staying here a few day before heading back to Little Rock, Arkanasas for my birthday.
Last night we visited with Joe’s brother, Bobby Armstrong, and his wife, Amber, who live here in Sayre. It was great to see them and catch up on all the news of his family. We’ll get to visit a bit more over the next few days.
Lately, Joe and I have been listening to channel 5 on Sirius radio: 50’s on 5. As we listen to these oldies of my mother’s youth, I chuckle at the song lyrics and hear my mother in my head asking what the gibberish was we were listening to in the 70’s. Heck, the lyrics from the 50’s are just as goofy as some of the songs kids listen to now. LOL!
I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid on a road trip, I used to count telephone poles. Now, it’s not so fun. Do you have any idea how many telephone poles we’ve passed on Hwy 138 south through Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma? It seemed like 10,000! More than I care to count. Other road games I used to play as a kid was finding all the state license plates, finding the alphabet in billboards, counting semis and finding all the “red” vehicles. Of course, no road trip was complete without singing songs, either along with the radio or just little ditties from days gone by. What did you do to pass the time on road trips?
I’d like you to play this: Return to Innocence.
Here are some photos and videos.