Spring Break ’85

My first car (1957 Ford Fairlane Town Sedan), which we successfully drove down to the Florida Keys. Almost made it all the way home, but near Daleville, Indiana, the 28-year-old generator mounting bracket decided to cash out, leaving the generator dangling by its wires and scraping the highway.

After a long, cold walk down the shoulder of the interstate, we entered a truck stop and, luckily, found a guy at the lunch counter who owned a tow truck and a nearby welding shop. Once he had finished his meal, we were off to get the stranded Fairlane and haul it to K & S. He made a replacement bracket and welded it in place, finishing just before sundown (hard to see in this exposure, but he’s there, bent over the right fender). Don’t remember his name…may have started with a K or an S.

Kodak Ektachrome 35mm film

Places

I have just completed a major update to my road trip photo album, viewable at places.ridingwithcarl.com. The album now contains 63 photos of the states, provinces and other points of interest that the Pontiac and I have visited over the past 29 years.

This most recent journey—covering more than 6400 miles—added 17 new photos to the collection, including five provinces that I experienced for the very first time. Also in the album are shots of my US and Canada wall maps, updated to include last month’s route.

There are only three jurisdictions remaining on the Pontiac’s to-do list: Newfoundland & Labrador, Yukon and Alaska. Note that there are 13 states/provinces currently omitted from this album; I plan to revisit those places in order to get new photos with the convertible top down, replacing the old, inferior top-up images captured on rainy days.

Stay tuned for more uploads after next year’s adventures!

places.ridingwithcarl.com

Road Videos

I have finally taken the time to organize and update my online video presence. So, whether you’re partial to Vimeo or YouTube, you can now watch the 40 road trip videos that I have uploaded to each channel. The oldest date back to 1990 (remember VHS?) and 12 of them were captured during last month’s adventure.

I plan to add more content, both old and new, as time allows. Feel free to subscribe to these channels and be notified when new videos are posted. For my Vimeo channel, please follow this link. Or, visit my YouTube channel here.

Thanks, and enjoy!

Road

I was delighted when my friend Olya invited me to participate in a project which features photographs taken by drivers and passengers as they explore the open road. She has completed work on the project and made it available for public viewing. I hope you will enjoy the images that were contributed by Cam, Victor, Anna, Ivan, Olya and me.

You can find Road online via this link. Be sure to view the PDF in full-screen mode for maximum enjoyment.

My thanks go out to Olya for all of her hard work, and to all of the other photographers. It’s nice to see road photos from other parts of the globe…places where my Pontiac will never take me.

First Light over Texas

Whenever I’m in the vicinity of Culberson County, it’s a sure bet that I’ll be making several trips up and down all 55 miles of my favorite highway, Texas State Highway 54. During my most recent visit, I decided to see how it looked in the twilight of dawn. So, I rolled out of Van Horn while it was still dark and drove north, enjoying, as usual, the complete absence of other vehicles.

Texas 54 terminates at the base of the Guadalupe Mountains, the highest terrain in the state. It was wonderful to see the mountains aglow as the sun cracked the horizon.

Petting Zoo

Probably the earliest known photo of Carl on a road trip, April 1965 (age 2). Per the notation on the slide, we’re somewhere along the Mohawk Trail. We lived in Northampton, Massachusetts at the time. This shot was captured by my grandfather.

Perhaps we’re seeing the genesis of my interest in car travel, and my fondness for wildlife.

(Decaying) Kodak Ektachrome film

The Sleepy Owl

One sunny morning, many years ago, I was rolling westward along US 12 in Broadwater County, Montana on the section of the highway that passes through the Helena National Forest. Suddenly, in the opposite lane, I saw what appeared to be a large bird sitting in the road. As I slowed beside it, I realized that it was an owl…

I’m a big fan of leaving wild animals alone to do what they do, but when it comes to animals in the road, I can’t help but take action. I always stop (safely) when I see a turtle on the pavement; sometimes I’ll just sit in the car with my flashers on until it has completed its journey, other times I’ll carry the turtle to its destination on the far shoulder.

This owl was in the eastbound lane of the highway at the end of a fairly tight curve, and as the morning sun would have been in the eyes of those driving in that lane, chances were high that it would have been crushed by the next vehicle to come along. So, on went the flashers and I pulled halfway onto the eastbound shoulder to block the owl from approaching traffic, then I got out of the car for a closer look.

Naturally, I’m wondering, What is this owl doing in the middle of the road? It appeared to be sleeping. If so, it could have found a better location!

Perhaps it was sunbathing. Whenever I drive rural roads in the morning, I frequently see birds sitting on the pavement to get warm, since asphalt retains heat quite well. But they always fly away when a vehicle approaches.

Perhaps this owl was sick. If so, I wouldn’t know.

Perhaps it had been stunned in a collision. That was my best theory at the time, although I didn’t notice any blood, any missing feathers or any body parts out of place.

Really, it just appeared to be…sleeping. Content, relaxed and in charge. This is my road, I’m taking a nap, deal with it.

My attempts to rouse this beast by shouting and clapping failed miserably; the only response I got was one slight turn of the head. Though the eyes never opened, at least I knew someone was in there. I then grabbed a branch from a nearby shrub and gently tapped the bird on the back several times. Nothing.

No cooperation forthcoming, I went to the trunk and grabbed my leather work gloves and a towel. Approaching the bird from behind, I gently covered it with the towel, lifted it carefully and carried it through the tall bushes on the south side of the road. There, beside a small stream, I set it down in a patch of sunlit grass…

Fortunately, due either to the remote location, the time of day or the day of the week, no vehicle traffic appeared during this encounter (had there been any, I wouldn’t have held things up by taking pictures).

Using field guides, I was never able to positively ID this owl. Looking at the photos now, many of its feathers remind me of those on juvenile raptors. Working with that assumption, and considering the bird’s size (somewhat larger than an NFL football) and the curved black beak, and after scanning through internet images of juvenile owls, my best guess is that this was a young great horned owl (Bubo virginianus). (This ID was verified by the folks at Montana’s Owl Research Institute. Thank you!)

Had I access to a smartphone at the time, I would have tried to contact a local bird rescue operation. But this was years before I owned a cell phone, and I have to wonder if you could get a signal even now in that remote area.

I hope this owl lived to fly another day.

Carl’s Big Adventure

The year was 1990…

RTCmap

And this was a once-in-a-lifetime journey—the kind of thing you can get away with when you’re in your twenties and have no responsibilities. Having just completed my military service and with a fresh B.A. in my pocket, I grew my hair, sold most of my junk and moved to California; no job and no place to live lined up beforehand, not even any friends in the Golden State at the time. I’d worry about those things when I got there.

Since there was no schedule to keep, I decided to make the trip even more memorable by taking an extremely indirect and unplanned route…a route that, in the end, would tally over 7000 miles and 17 states, plus British Columbia; most of these places, I had never visited before.

My contempt for interstate highways was well ingrained by this time, so I avoided them for the vast majority of the trip, except at the very end, when I was quite road weary and the sky was wet. In addition to the small highways I favored, I was able to crank out many miles on gravel and dirt roads, took some ferry rides through the bayou country and got to drive down a few Gulf Coast beaches.

All of this in a 1969 Pontiac LeMans convertible which I had purchased for $1500 in cash just four months earlier and which had no shortage of potentially troublesome body and mechanical issues. Surprisingly, the entire journey was completed without a single breakdown…not even a flat tire.

Great driving weather for almost the entire route; no rain until I hit Vancouver and Seattle. The extremes ran from blazing heat with clouds of locusts in western Texas to snow covered roads high in the Montana sky.

I did stay in motels occasionally, and also with some friends along the way, but I’d often just park in a quiet spot in the wilderness and sleep in the car, or in a hammock when there were trees available. The most painful moment of the journey was the “shower” I took in a coin-operated car wash in Texas.

Knowing that this trip would be a visual smörgåsbord, I wanted to thoroughly document the experience. Since GoPro technology did not yet exist, I took my big ol’ 1987 Quasar full-size VHS camcorder (with wired remote control), stuck it to a hefty industrial-strength tripod head, and, in a display of DIY engineering that would make any backyard mechanic proud, I crafted a few mounting brackets that would allow the camera to be secured to the top of the windshield, the passenger door and the trunk. A little shaky and certainly not up to Hollywood standards, but it worked. Of course, I added plenty of tripod-on-the-side-of-the-road shots to complete the bigger picture (glad I went to the trouble…my 35mm SLR died three days out).

So, I’m the proud owner of 14 hours worth of vintage, raw VHS video, which is decaying and growing more brittle by the hour. A few years ago, I finally worked up the gumption to edit and post the first chapter of the saga, which takes us as far as New Orleans. I’ll post links to subsequent chapters if and when they become available, but no promises on how long it will take to complete this series; I’m easily distracted by my current projects.

Here’s Chapter 1.
Enjoy…

View the video on Vimeo.com