3700 Miles on the Way to 340

 3 February 2011

It is Super Bowl Week here in North Texas, and as media types and Packers and Steelers faithful flood the area, Stacie and I prepare to set out on a long road trip across Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and up the length of California.

My good friend Dan Grubbs invited me to crew with him on a two-person canoe to compete in the Missouri 340 Race, a 340-mile race down the Missouri River, basically from Kansas City in the west to St. Louis in the east. In doing so, we’d be raising money for the fight against breast cancer. The canoe that Danno and I will paddle in the MR340 is on generous loan to us by canoe builder Jude Turczynski, owner of Huki Outriggers & Surfskis in West Sacramento, California. Having secured a canoe for the race, the question then became how and when to take delivery. ‘When’ became ‘by the weekend of February 12-13,’ the dates of the 2011 OKC Riversport Indoor Kayak Challenge, which Dan will attend. Oklahoma City, with its world-class paddling facilities, is a good ‘meet-ya-halfway’ between Dan in Kansas City and us in Dallas, and the weekend offers the perfect opportunity to put in some tandem training together.

As for the ‘How,’ the best way to ensure the ‘When’ is to drive to Huki and pick up the OC2 ourselves. Besides, Stacie and I enjoy road trips and we travel well together (famous last words!). The first leg will be Dallas to El Paso on Friday, then on to LA Saturday and San Francisco in time to spend Super Bowl Sunday at the home of best friend Christine Z. The next morning we’ll head for West Sacramento, then down to LA. The final two days will bring us back across Arizona and New Mexico and back home to Texas.

In addition to the varied scenery of the American Southwest and the state of California, we are looking forward to meeting some great folks from the paddling ohana. In Redondo Beach we’ll be stopping by to see Al Ching, who has fashioned some keiki paddles that we’ll be transporting back to our home club, Hoewa’a Dallas. Swinging through Berkeley, we’ll stop and say ‘aloha’ to Helen Workman, who has been most supportive of Stacie through her bout with breast cancer, and of our efforts with Hui Ho’ola. And, of course, we’ll hook up with Jude at his factory and load his baby up for her ride to Texas.

Snow on Cradles

(A light dusting of snow on the day of departure)

DAY ONE. Dallas, Texas. Estimated time of departure: 6AM

The overnight forecast called for a light ‘dusting’ of snow. When the alarm went off at 5, Stacie said that a couple of inches of snow had fallen last night. But when I poked my nose through the window blinds, I was stunned to see everything, including our carefully considered timeline, buried under 6” of new snow. I crawled back into bed and pulled the covers over my head. For the next three hours, we listened to traffic and weather reports and discussed our options. Finally, we decided to go for it, as the edge of the snowfall was a mere 35 miles to the west, and all we needed to do was to navigate to the far side of it and we’d be in the clear.

The City of Dallas had hired some seasoned snow plow drivers from Amarillo to keep the roads passable this Super Bowl Week, and they did a commendable job on the highways we traveled this morning. The snow-smothered roads were somewhat less treacherous than the black ice we had been spinning around on for three days, and the road conditions improved significantly the farther west we drove. But evidence of the week’s ice storm still lay strewn along the highway – dozens of 18-wheelers jackknifed in the most improbable contortions or laying crushed on their sides in the ditches.

Within a couple of hours we were driving under clear blue skies. The sun came out and we chased it all afternoon, past cow pastures, wind farms and oil fields. The sun finally outdistanced us, dropping below the horizon as we entered Odessa. We were quickly enveloped in the complete blackness of a West Texas night, and discovered for ourselves how big and bright are the Texas stars at night.

With the late start, we thought we might stop for the night shy of our intended destination. But we have made it to El Paso, so despite the morning’s several hours of indecision, our timeline remains intact after all. We’ve entered another time zone and are halfway to California. But we’ve yet to cross the Texas state line! Day Two will take us through Las Cruces NM, Tucson and Phoenix AZ to Los Angeles.

(Co-pilot Stacie will be interested to read this account, as she slept almost the entire way)

trio

(Everywhere you look, breasts)

DAY TWO. New Mexico & Arizona.

After traveling Texas highways for ten and a half hours the day before, it took us all of nine minutes this morning to cross the state line into New Mexico. While at first glance the New Mexico palette might be dismissed as bland, on closer inspection the scenery is filled with color: buttery yellow grasses, pink and purple mountains, overpasses painted turquoise, and the ever present mile-long freight trains hauling containers of every color. Stacie got a kick out of watching the tumbleweeds go bounding across the road ahead of us, and dubbed them the dust bunnies of the New Mexico desert. We read billboards spaced evenly from one end of the state to the other, every one of them directing us to identical trading posts to purchase mementos of our time in the Land of Enchantment. We finally stopped at one to check out the Native American arts and crafts. A carved lizard caught my eye. I turned it over and found a sticker proclaiming the piece’s Indonesian origin. Silly me, I thought the sign outside said Indian.

Crossing into Arizona, we drove through canyons and ghost towns and were surrounded in all directions by mountains. More often than not, the peaks bore a striking resemblance to female anatomy, reminding us of the reason behind our journey. In fact, such reminders were everywhere, as evidenced by the photos above.

Steins2

(The ghost depot of Stein, AZ)

motel

tv

txcanyon

(Texas Canyon, AZ)

On this Day Two, we allowed ourselves some freedom to play, and indulged in a side trip to the aircraft boneyard and the Air & Space Museum in Pima. Major aircraft enthusiasts, it’s a place we’ve both wanted to visit and we had a blast trudging through the dust, poking our noses everywhere, and generally going, “wow . . . cool . . . damn.” The experience was fascinating, nostalgic and eerie all at the same time, bringing back childhood memories of hours spent building model airplanes and watching the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels perform their air show magic. But there was also that weird Twilight Zone-ish feeling to it all, being surrounded by ghosts. I’d say that’s one off our Bucket List, but as I scan the List, I see “Aircraft Boneyard” listed several more times!

b52

bone1

bone2

bone3

pima

(Aircraft boneyard at Pima Air and Space Museum, AZ)

A few miles outside Phoenix we were teated to a spectacular Arizona sunset. The color combinations changed by the moment and stretched 180 degrees across the horizon. Now it was time for some sustenance for the night time portion of the drive. GPS reported that we were not yet in range of an In-n-Out Burger, so we stopped at Carl’s Jr., where Stacie ordered a low carb burger. Good sport that she is, she laughed out loud when she found that “low carb” meant “no bun!” We later stopped for the night short of LA in a town named Indio CA, somewhere between Palm This and Palm That.

DAY THREE. Super Bowl Sunday, California

We left our desert motel and continued our journey toward LA. For the first time in three days (and four states), we found a gas station whose window washing fluid wasn’t a solid block of ice. While it did nothing for the rest of our filthy truck, having a clear windshield again was a relief. Skirting downtown LA, we hopped on Interstate 5 for points north.

lake1

(San Gabriel Mountains, AZ)

It occurred to me that my entire experience of California has been on its Pacific coast – San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego. I’ve never seen its interior. Well, it is lovely. Our path took us high into the San Gabriel Mountains and through the Angeles National Forest, then down again through miles of fruit trees, vineyards, dairy farms and aqueducts. As we neared the BayArea, the land began to rise into the most velvety green hills we’ve ever seen. It’s the kind of scenery that makes you want to slow down and take it all in. But we knew that at the end of this day’s journey a glass of red wine and good times with best friends awaited us. So we kept the the pedal to the metal.

Today was the first in which my Co-Pilot would take the wheel, so that I could catch up on blogging.

I-5 is an easy, uneventful drive. Then out of nowhere the windshield goes from clear to blurred. We went crashing through a swarm of insects whose impact on the windshield was felt as much as seen and heard. The remains of this encounter all but obliterated our view, and at the very next exit the windshield received its second bath of the morning. As I scrubbed I found that all of the victims were honeybees, and we felt sad. Someone later told us that they swarm in this warm weather. Funny how you can feel sympathy for one type of insect yet be indifferent or even pissed-off when a moth or a locust meets the same messy end.

bay 1

(Bay Bridge)

We found that GPS directions aren’t always the most sensible or economic. Ours was evidently programmed by a novice cabbie. But if you have the time – and enough gas in the tank – to roll with it, the path offers an unexpectedly beautiful visual experience. In this case, we drove across the long Bay Bridge, which deposited us into San Francisco, wound through downtown and onto the famous Golden Gate Bridge. Anyone familiar with the area will tell you how ridiculous this is. But we were thrilled to be able to view the surroundings from these two magnificent bridges. From there it was a short drive to Novato and the home of my best friend Christine, where the score was still Green Bay 0, Pittsburgh 0.

DAY FOUR. California

Today we take delivery of the Huki V2-X. Just saying the name makes me think of Speed Racer. Or maybe Marvin the Martian. We turn onto Duluth Street in West Sacramento, make a quick right and there she is. Long and sleek, blindingly bright in the morning sun. But more importantly, beside her stands Jude Turczynski. His generosity has already been made apparent with his loan of this beautiful canoe. But over the next two hours we experienced the true nature of his generosity. The man is humble and sincere, and entirely giving of his time, experience, knowledge, advice.

jude

(Jude Turczynski, Huki Outrigger & Surfski)

hukis

ama

iakos2

jude steve

v2x

We began with a tour of the Huki factory, surfskis, SUP’s, OC1’s and 2’s suspended from the ceiling. I want a chandelier like that in my house. We watched as his staff put the finishing touches on plugs from which to make new molds; applied gel coat to one mold, and foam to another; and polished up a finished hull. His guys took particular (and good-natured) pleasure in rehashing the Giants/Rangers World Series with us visiting Texans. Jude shared with us the the history of Huki as well as his philosophy on career. “If you do something that you’re passionate about, you will be happy. And if you are able to make a good living off of it, then that’s a bonus.”

He went through a thorough explanation of the V2-X, why certain things were designed the way they were and how they function, what to do if this or that happens, etc. We rearranged saddles on the truck and he custom fit foam blocks to support the canoe, then strapped her down for her trip to Texas. Finally, he deemed her solid and ready to withstand 75 mph highway speeds and desert crosswinds.

helen

(Sushi with the lovely Helen Workman, Berkeley CA)

We bid him aloha and made a beeline for Berkeley to meet Helen Workman. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t have more time together today, but the hour and a half over sushi was filled with laughter, great paddle talk and people talk, and a filling-in of blanks in each other’s stories. As we expected it would, the time with Helen felt like a reunion with a long-time friend rather than a first face-to-face. Lunch ended all too soon, but we fully intend to take up the invite for a longer stay and some paddling the next time.

The air seemed to go out of our balloons after we left Berkeley, as the previous three days had been spent in complete anticipation of this day. Now, with the Huki strapped to the roof and our visits with Jude and Helen behind us, we felt the true weight of our fatigue for the first time. We drove down Interstate 5 in somewhat of a daze, and stopped for the night at the Best Western Big Country Inn in Coalinga, a classic in the best tradition of the old motor hotels.

DAY FIVE. California

It was still black as night when we stepped out the door of our motel room. The wind was howling through the palms, not the most ideal conditions considering we now had a 24-foot long sail atop our truck. But if Jude was confident with the rigging, then so were we. And sure enough, the boat was rock-steady all the way back to LA.

cloud

lake2

San Gabriel Mountains CA)

The sun rose as we re-entered the Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains, and we once again admired the beauty of this place. We knew we ought to enjoy it while we could because upon exiting the mountains, we would find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the LA rush hour. Oh thank Heaven for HOV lanes! Our 45 minute trip through the Los Angeles environs would probably have taken three hours in the regular lanes. As Stacie put it, “We didn’t get married for nothin’!”

We were on our way to meet Al Ching, from whom we were to take delivery of a dozen keiki paddles for Hoewa’a Dallas Outrigger Canoe Club. Al, along with his son – renowned champion paddler Danny Ching – met us at Lanakila Outrigger Canoe Club in Redondo Beach. Al was one of the club’s founders in 1970, and served as coach for many years. Danny now holds the position of head coach. Al gave us a tour of the club grounds, which includes an impressive array of OC6s and OC1s, and a nightmare of “boat ramp.” It’s more like a series of concrete buttresses leading down to giant boulders at the water line. The idea of passing a 40′ canoe hand over hand down to the water is frightening. Not to mention bringing it back up after a tough practice. But judging by the twinkle in Al’s eye, the ramp is a point of pride for the club.

chings1

(Al and Danny Ching, Redondo Beach CA)

lanakila oc1s

(OC1s at Lanakila Outrigger Canoe Club)

We said our mahalos and alohas, had our tourist photo made with the famous Ching men, pointed the noses of the Tahoe and Huki eastward, and headed for home. While that may sound like the epilogue, we still have two days and half a continent ahead of us . . .

DAY SIX. Arizona, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas

Moseying across Arizona, through New Mexico, into Texas. Desert winds have been steady since we left California. Gas prices and air temperatures fall steadily as we travel eastward. The Arizona smokeys had a busy day – we passed almost 30 trucks pulled over by AHP. But for us, it was a slow and uneventful day. Actually, a slow and one-eventful day. Just a minor heart attack in New Mexico as the bow on the V2-X began to slide, ever so slightly, left then right. In seconds the movement had increased to an alarming level. With the next exit four miles away, we pulled out of the 80 MPH caravan, onto the shoulder and found that the forward foam support had rolled backward, leaving slack in the tie down straps. So we righted the support, wedged another foam block between it and the factory crossbar to prevent it from happening again, and continued on to Texas with no further drama.

az

Oh, we stopped and had another In-n-Out Burger.

on truck

in n out

DAY SEVEN. Home

Stacie did the driving honors today while I camped out in the passenger’s seat. The air outside was in the 20’s when we left El Paso, but the sunshine through the window was warm and I soon found out why this was the sleepy seat. When I woke, the mountains were far behind us with only 400 miles to go.

We had just noted that today’s blog was shaping up to be about as unexciting as yesterday’s, when something completely unexpected dropped down out of the sky. Cruising past the little town of Tye TX a vaguely familiar shape appeared above us. It shook me out of my daze and took me a second to (1) figure out what it was and (2) decide whether I was really seeing this. A B-1B Lancer bomber came swooping down, its wings sweeping forward as it banked, crossed before us again and descended into nearby Dyess Air Force Base. So now we had at least one thing to write about. Kind of a final entry to our list of aircraft encounters on this trip.

rockwell-b-1-lancer-2358

(Photo of B1-B Lancer from the internet)

The last 200 miles went by quickly and before we knew it the skyline of Fort Worth loomed before us. Within the hour we rolled into our driveway. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: Jude’s canoe was in Dallas, safe and sound.

Our thanks go out to several who made this trip possible, pleasant, successful and memorable: Dan, whose fault all of this is for inviting me to race with him in the first place; my parents Stephi and Chester who gifted us with a AAA membership, extra cash for the road and, perhaps most importantly, watched over our spoiled felines Bradley and Montana; best friend Christine for opening her home and her wine cellar to us; Jude for the generous gifts of canoe, time and expertise; Helen for her abundance of aloha, generosity and wit; Al for his hospitality and flexibility of schedule; Danny for inspiring paddlers young and old; everyone who called, texted and otherwise kept tabs on us throughout the trip; the hospitable folks across four states who offered smiles and kindness; and from me to my Co-Pilot Stacie for the invaluable one-on-one time together, for putting up with me for what must have seemed like a month and a million miles, and for keeping a keen eye out for In-n-Out Burgers along the way.

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