Summer Road Trip Series: Part VII “You Have Arrived at Your Final Destination”

By Marianna Boyce

Our departure from Sedona took place on a beautiful, sunny day—quite a contrast from the turbulent weather we experienced the previous night. After driving 2,100 westward miles from the Palmetto State of South Carolina, it was time to turn south toward the U.S.- Mexico border. Phoenix and Tucson stood in the way of our anticipated destination.

The thriving metropolis of Phoenix covers about 519 square miles, making it physically one of the largest cities in the United States of America. The layout is incredible and easily navigated, but there’s no gentle transition when exiting this urban complex. One moment, the view is grandiose, architecturally interesting buildings. The next, it’s back to a vast, inhospitable desert. The abrupt contrast is startling. We were suddenly left with nothing to see but swirling dust devils in the distance as we continued our remaining three-hour sprint to the finish line.

Sierra Vista, our ultimate destination, lies seventy-five miles south of Tucson and about twenty miles north of Mexico. This little dot on the map was our prime location goal for one reason only: our precious family lived there.

Tiffany is my bonus daughter (I’m just not fond of the term, stepdaughter). She married Bill, an Army Major at the time, now a Lieutenant Colonel. In 2015, Bill received orders to report to Fort Huachuca (pronounced wah-CHOO-kah) for a two-year stint.

image 4Abby, Emma, and Avery are our precious granddaughters. We also have a beautiful Belgian Malinois (pronounced mal-un-WAH.) grand-puppy named Leo.

As we turned onto their street, the gorgeous mountain range behind their house majestically stood in the distance. Situated on the opposite side of the mountainous terrain lies Mexico.

Little Avery is three. When she spotted us entering their driveway, she rushed outside immediately. Her arms flailing with excitement, along with her pretty blonde hair bobbing up and down as she sprinted toward us, was a wonderful sight to see. Many amazing landmarks we’d seen on our road trip were extraordinary, but this little princess took the prize. This family reunion was sheer bliss.

After a tasty spaghetti supper, we enjoyed each other’s company as we caught up on everything going on in our lives. The girls were thrilled to have an extended bedtime that night.

The following day, we ate lunch in a small town about twenty miles northeast of Sierra Vista. You may have heard of it…

image 3Tombstone is pegged as “The Town Too Tough to Die.” About 450,000 tourists visit each year. Its dusty streets are lined with rustic buildings and landmarks from the 1880s. The infamous gunfight at the OK Corral is re-enacted daily. It’s quite a surreal experience wandering the streets where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday roamed—two of Arizona’s most popular “ghosts of North America.”

We spent one more night in Sierra Vista before embarking on our journey back to South Carolina. The most exciting news was all our girls were traveling back to the Palmetto State for a two-week stay. Bill remained in Arizona with Leo.

Tiffany drove her garnet-colored Explorer packed with enough stuff for a three-month vacation. Cody was in his comfort zone driving my light sage-colored Lincoln MKZ, so we let him drive. He’d passed the test a few nights earlier after driving in the monsoon weather from Flagstaff to Sedona.

I traveled with Tiffany, Abby, and Avery. Gerry and Emma rode with Cody. It was the perfect setup separating Abby and Emma. They were nine and seven at the time, so sibling rivalry was intense.

A year had passed since Tiffany had been home, so she was anxious to get there as quickly as possible. There would be no cool stops along this route, but the fun was just getting started.

Our travels took us about 1,050 miles that day, a little more than halfway. The decision to stop for the night on the outskirts of Houston was a good call. We were all exhausted, but I was one proud GiGi. We heard no complaints from any of the girls.

We departed the western edge of Houston early the following morning with the potential of being home by midnight. We had 1,000 more miles to go, but our aggressive plan just wasn’t meant to be. After an extended traffic delay, our plan simply fell apart. The back of an overturned poultry truck was on fire blocking all lanes on I-10. The driver was fine, but I’m sorry to report that many of the chickens didn’t make it.

image 1We exited the great state of Texas at mile-marker 880 later than we’d expected, and only traveled 400 additional miles after our long delay. Our sibling drivers, Tiffany and Cody, were both exhausted. Tensions mounted, but they merely needed to rest, stretch, and relax. Abby and Emma weren’t the only rivals in the bunch.

We stopped to eat supper in Slidell, Louisiana. We should’ve found a great Cajun restaurant, but Southern homecookin’ at Cracker Barrel is what we chose.

There was no need to push the envelope, so I devised a new plan. As I ate my chicken fried steak, rice and gravy, and fried okra, I made what my bonus daughter calls, a “Mama Bear” move. There was a newly built Hampton Inn and Suites directly across the road, so I asked Tiffany to book two rooms for us, and she did.

image 5The heated, salt-water swimming pool was calling our name. We basically all stepped into a nice, long, Epsom salt bath. This place was perfect, and exactly what “Mama Bear” ordered. Everyone loved each other again.

The following morning, June 16, 2016, was a Thursday I’ll not soon forget. Eight more hours would officially end our remarkable road trip. Unknown to me, at the end of this time span, I would begin my next journey deep into a dark, unfamiliar place that I often refer to as my alternate universe.

We quickly left Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia in our dust. We crossed the South Carolina state line about 3:00 p.m. About thirty miles from home, Avery began crying uncontrollably. She told me her tummy was hurting, so I cautiously removed her from the car seat and held her tightly in my arms. I know I shouldn’t have, but I did it anyway. Any great GiGi would’ve done the same.

As I silently prayed for her, a tingling sensation started in my feet. I thought they were asleep, just as Avery now was. As we got closer to home, a perplexing coldness began to overwhelm them. Trying not to disturb her as she slept, I haphazardly tossed my sweater over my feet. An odd gesture, given South Carolina in mid-June, is usually a hot, humid, 100-degrees.

Tiffany drove to her Mom’s house where they’d be staying for the next several days. She hadn’t seen her in a year, so it was reasonable for them to spend time together before heading back to Arizona in two short weeks. I jumped in the car with Gerry and Cody anticipating the arrival at our final destination. Bill selflessly planned to fly to the Palmetto State and drive back with them so they wouldn’t have to travel cross-country alone. I know—he’s great, right?

Four-thousand, six-hundred, and fourteen miles after our journey began, Gerry, Cody, and I pulled into our driveway and opened the garage door—home sweet home!

As soon as my feet touched the ground, the intense cold sensation in them immediately changed to insanely hot. It was as though a high fever spiked, but only in my feet. I stopped dead in my tracks not knowing exactly how to react. I’d never felt that type of pain.

My new journey had officially begun.

image 2I told my husband I couldn’t walk on my own, so he assisted as I hobbled along beside him. I literally watched my feet and ankles swell beyond recognition. Gerry instructed me to sit, relax, and prop up my throbbing, fiery-hot feet. I was horrified at the time, but we actually had a good chuckle about it later in the evening. In our infinite wisdom, we thought riding in the car for an extended period contributed to this unfortunate event. Were we ever wrong!

I am; however, thankful my symptoms stayed at bay until our arrival home. Leaving my driveway eight days earlier, I didn’t realize a life-altering illness was lurking inside my body. Stepping out of my car ignited a chain of events that maniacally unfolded and completely unraveled life as I knew it. Not only was coping with extraordinary pain physically debilitating, but it was also mentally grueling. I didn’t recognize myself after two short weeks.

My 2016 summer road trip served as the catalyst that ushered me from my normal life into an alternate universe. I straddled two worlds on a mission to control them both. Horrible symptoms relating to rheumatoid arthritis ruled my life for an extended period, but I was determined not to go down without a fight. I had a great life. I wasn’t willing to give it up to this vicious disease.

All our circumstances differ, but one thing is constant for everyone: change. Life adjustments are constantly transforming our lives. Many changes are subtle and can easily be absorbed with our fighting human spirit, but as in my case, significant negative transitions create utter chaos.

As I conclude my lengthy road trip series, I want to express my gratitude for those who chose to ride along with me. Enjoy your ride in life. What you don’t enjoy—endure. Remember who’s in control of it all. Come what may, God is good, all the time.

Summer Road Trip Series: Part IV “Take It Easy”

By Marianna Boyce

New Mexico’s rising sun warmed my face, but the brisk wind chilled me to the bone. This made our morning coffee that much more satisfying. It was the best cup we had since leaving the Palmetto State of South Carolina thirty-six hours earlier.

pic 1As our journey continued westward, we crossed the Continental Divide. This is the point where water basins drain into the Pacific Ocean from those that empty into the Atlantic Ocean. Am I the only one thinking this happened at the Mississippi River? Apparently, I am not smarter than a 5th grader.

pic 2Several hours after crossing this Great Divide, we reached Northeastern Arizona to visit the Petrified Forest National Park near Holbrook. This park is known for fossils of fallen trees dating to the late Triassic Epoch. Although very friendly, the rangers are quite protective of their treasures—for a good reason. With more petrified wood than anywhere else in the world, they have a watchful eye on park visitors. It is forbidden to move anything from its original location due to in-situ experiments being conducted by geologists, paleontologists, and archaeologists. Their research is deemed void of scientific value if any fossil is disturbed.

pic 3Those who have found a way to smuggle the 225-million-year-old wood from the park didn’t fare well. “The Curse of the Petrified Forest” is a legend that’s prompted many people to mail it back to the ranger station. This gesture supposedly helps clear their conscience and rid themselves of “streaks of bad luck” they’d experienced since stealing it. A room is dedicated to these “cursed thieves” displaying their “bucket loads of confessions” in the Rainbow Forest Museum at the park. (Facts and quotes provided by Legendsofamerica.com)

We drove through the park getting out only at designated lookout points. There were marked trails to explore so of course, our son walked about a quarter mile into this mysterious realm. Cody is in the blue shirt at the top of the trail in one photo. If you look closely in the other, you can barely see him on the trail. Gerry and I preferred gazing from the lookouts.

pic 6As we peered down into the mountainous desert, it was difficult gauging how big or small anything was. From our viewpoint, everything looked distorted because we were situated in a higher elevation. The clouds billowing just above eye-level casts shadows over the Painted Desert creating a mirage. The manner in which these shadows danced across the vast land made the terrain appear as if it were charred by a forest fire. The effect was quite stunning.

The cool morning transitioned to warm rather quickly, so we were happy having clouds move above us. By early lunch, it was scorching hot. The parking lots for all the lookout stations had recently been resurfaced, so the scent of newly poured asphalt filled the air. Standing in one place too long resulted in asphalt sticking to the bottom of your shoe. It happened to me, and proof of it appeared on the floor mat of my car. I prefer thinking of it as bringing home a little piece of Route 66.

*****

About thirty-seven miles east of Flagstaff, there’s a huge hole in the earth created by a meteor impact 50,000 years ago. Along the lengthy road leading to the crater are massive clay-looking boulders strewn over the terrain. I assume these rocks were blasted to where they now permanently remain after this colossal impact. They appear to be out of place, as they don’t match the natural surroundings.

pic 10The crater itself measures almost a mile in diameter and 560 feet deep. We climbed the steps to stand close to the rim. The photo taken with people standing on the deck gives a little perspective.

The white center is rubble lying above the bedrock with a life-sized astronaut standing next to an American flag. There is no need to zoom in on the photos. This sight cannot be seen with the naked eye. There are free, mounted binoculars on the rail of the deck to see him. Why this is not a National Park is a mystery to me, but it’s well taken care of by the private landowner.

*****

A few miles down the road from this notable impact site is a famous corner you can stand on in Winslow, Arizona. It’s a fine sight to see. This little dot on the map was made famous by the Eagles, so if you’re not familiar with the song, “Take It Easy,” this information probably makes zero sense to you.

There’s not a lot to see, but they have a red flatbed Ford parked on the side of the road, along with a bronze statue of Glenn Frey holding his acoustic guitar. A small gift shop stands adjacent to the corner, and the largest “Route 66” sign is painted in the middle of the two lane crossroads where this historic highway intersects with Winslow’s main thoroughfare. This stop is meant for people who need to take a break from driving, for those who wish to stand on that famous corner, or of course, for those who merely want to get the t-shirt. (We didn’t get photos this year, so I’m sharing a few from last year’s road trip.)

The closer we got to Flagstaff, the taller the trees stood. Strangely, the terrain resembled that of South Carolina. We were mesmerized by the unobstructed dome of blue sky in Texas and New Mexico, but in northwestern Arizona, the enormity of the western skies disappeared behind the brilliant green cover of leaves.

All we could see was the road in front of us. Little did we know what lay ahead…