By the time you're reading this, I should be in Nashville, Tenn. That's if all has gone as planned, and if St. Christopher is looking out for me. At least, I hope it's Saint Christopher who's in charge of travel. Otherwise I've been wasting a lot of time praying to the wrong patron saint!

Yes, I've em-BARKED (heh, heh -- get it?) on my cross-country trip with my dog. Southern California or bust! If you've read my earlier musings on this adventure back in the spring ("Westward Beagle," May 6, 2011), you'll recall that my youngest son had chosen to go to college at USC -- and that his only concern about heading west was that he'd really miss his dog. Not one who likes to deny my sons ... anything, I said, "Don't worry, Robby, I'll drive your dog out to see you."

Now that promise has come home to roost.

As I write this column (a few days before you're reading it), I'm putting the final touches on the game plan for my journey. Because as those of you who know me would probably guess, I'm not just doing this drive by the seat of my pants. Oh no. A fair amount of planning has gone into this trip. Some might say a little too much. My wife crept up behind me as I was at my computer last weekend and saw me poring over a document titled, "LA/XC: PREPARATION / TO DO." The document was five pages long, single-spaced. I heard her snicker. "Back in the hippie days," she said, "you think when someone suggested a road trip, they went to Triple-A for TripTiks?"

Whatever.

Truth is, there's a lot to think about when you're driving cross-country with a dog. I am, after all, the adult in this party.

For starters, not all motels and hotels accept pets. So there's that to consider. And it's not as if I have unlimited time. I need to be in L.A. in time for the USC-Syracuse football game -- and I suppose I really should be back east in time to teach my fall writing courses at Trinity. There's the car to get prepped and checked out. Garmin needs to be in working order. Emergency phone numbers to be programmed into the cell. Old friends to be alerted about potential visits. And for Ricky, there's his food, and his treats, and his meds. And his toys. And his bowls. And his doggy bed.

And so on. For five pages.

But then, there's the payoff. The Grand Canyon. Las Vegas. Big Sur. Lake Tahoe. Mount Rushmore. The Badlands. Wrigley Field. All places I've never been before. Same goes for Ricky.

Here's a brief overview of my projected stops on this very spontaneous trip:

Alexandria, Virginia. Home of my best friend Jeff, from all the way back to junior high school. And his bichon, Toby.

Nashville, Tenn. Music City. One of my all-time favorite places. Ricky will love the ribs at Jack's Bar-b-que.

Tulsa, Okla. Will visit my oldest son Matt's girlfriend's parents. Ricky will visit their three dachshunds, Zoe, Chloe, and Tucker.

Middle-of-Nowhere, N.M. Wherever 600 miles of driving from Tulsa will get me.

Grand Canyon. Lots of hype. Hope it measures up.

Las Vegas. Ricky might drop a few bones at the slots.

Los Angeles. The touching reunion of a boy and his dog. And a week's worth of R&R.

San Francisco. Have heard amazing things about the drive north from San Simeon to Carmel.

Middle-of-Nowhere, Nev.

Ditto, Wyoming.

Denver, Colo. Remember my old friend Lang, who for some reason has gotten more ink in this column than any other random character? Will be visiting his daughter Kristen, and her two dogs.

Badlands, S.D. Badlands, you gotta live it every day / Let the broken hearts stand / As the price you've gotta pay ... Bruce. That's all I know about Badlands.

Grinnell, Iowa. Maybe pay a visit to Robby's friend Luke, who goes to college there. I'm sure he gets tons of drop-ins from people who just happen to be passing by in Iowa.

Chicago Ill. See my friends Irene and Rich, and pay homage to the revered home of the Cubbies.

University Park, Pa. Have never been to Penn State before, and I like college campuses. Maybe will pester a few more of Robby's friends there.

Keep that seatbelt fastened. My next column should be written from somewhere west of the Rockies. St Christopher, you good with that?

In addition to "The Home Team," which appears every other Friday, you can also keep up with Hank's cross-country road trip with Ricky on his blog, "Beagle Man," on the Westport News website, at: http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman/