I'm writing this in Alexandria, Va., on Wednesday morning, the 28th and final day of my third annual September Beagle Man Cross-Country Road Trip (though I notice this one has dribbled into October). I'm sure somewhere down the road I'll assimilate all I've done, seen, and learned into a major opus -- but for now -- still 294 miles from Westport and home, I'm going to offer up some less weighty impressions. If you've been following LA/XC-3, as I call this journey, on a day-by-day basis on my Beagle Man blog (http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman/), you're already familiar with these trenchant observations from my Random Road Notes at the end of each post. Here, some Random Road Reflections:
Best new equipment development: One of the most awkward parts of my motel loading-in process has been the bulky cooler I used for Ricky's food and pills and my snacks. Over the LA/XC off-season (that encompasses any time between October and August), I noticed in the basement an L.L. Bean backpack/cooler I bought maybe 15 years ago -- and have used for absolutely nothing! But perfect for this trip: I can carry our food supplies into our digs for the night and still have two hands free.
Best new routine: During LA/XC-1 and LA/XC-2, I'd force myself to post at the end of a very long day of driving, sightseeing, visiting and taking care of a high-maintenance pup who needs meds five times a day, which often kept me up till 2 or 3 a.m. This year I still gather my notes late at night, but actually write the post the next morning -- an improvement that I like to think has been reflected in my reports.
Best personal attribute for a road trip: The ability to drive all day and stay awake on extremely little sleep -- with, of course, substantial help from convenience store coffee.
Worst personal attribute for a road trip: Not being able to get up and out in the morning. I consistently miss my Estimated Time of Departure by two to three hours.
World's best traveling companion: Ricky the Beagle -- hands down. Happily climbs into his shotgun seat, looks around for 8-10 seconds, then curls up into a little ball and snores for 400-500 miles at a stretch. Happily trots into a new motel room every night, eager to explore the garbage cans. Never complains about the volume or the choice of my music, or second guesses my driving routes -- which is more than I can say for my wife, who joined me for the Nashville-to-Atlanta leg of my trip.
New favorite motel chain: Needless to say, over our three cross-country road trips, Ricky and I have become conoisseurs of budget motels. Previously, I'd looked for Best Westerns, and had gone so far as to try to accumulate Best Western "frequent flier" points. But lately Residence Inn by Marriott has been creeping up. Most recent stop: the Residence Inn in Chapel Hill was a veritable palace compared to some of the dives Ricky and I sometimes have been forced into for refuge.
Best chance encounters: Had the chance to meet with Tupelo Hassman, author of "Girlchild," as a good a book as has been written in the last 10 years, in Berkeley -- and Trish Murphy, my favorite singer-songwriter in the world, in Austin. Also, totally by chance, caught Lennon Stella, the teenage star of "Nashville," singing at The Listening Room in Nashville.
Best new city: On my oldest son's advice, I stopped in St. Louis, a town I'd somehow managed to never get to before. Took a wildly fun tour of the Budweiser Brewery (met the Clydesdales!); passed a night at a Cardinals-Pirates game at Busch Stadium, a magical baseball venue with the Gateway Arch glimmering beyond the left field bleachers.
Best place names: Buttonwillow, Calif.; Thicketty Creek, S.C., and (of course!) Hanksville, Utah.
Worst Place Names: Tonganoxie, Kans.; Plaster City, Calif; and Bucksnort, Tenn.
Most remarkable fact: Not including maps and AAA guidebooks, have not read a single word of printed matter this entire trip. Not a newspaper. Not the one issue of "Rolling Stone" I brought."Not the book I was in the middle of when I left Westport back on Sept. 5. Nada. No down time, as I should know by now.
Most remarkable fact No. 2: I did not have a single rainy day during my journey! Not one. Maybe I'll try the Jeep Wrangler without the top next year.