Day 71: Beale AFB to Monterey, California
Chesky woke with mild hives, sneezes, and swollen ears. After he ate breakfast, he broke out into the worst hives yet. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but decided to feed him a bland diet for a few days.
I took the long way to the coast to avoid San Francisco; I didn’t want to drag the trailer through one of the most crowded places in America. The route was mostly highways through the high California valley.
When I reached the campsite, I unhitched and went to the grocery store to get supplies for holistic anti-inflammatory hypoallergenic dog food: turkey, sweet potatoes, and coconut oil. I spent the evening cutting up sweet potatoes on a paper plate with a paring knife while Chesky watched with rapt attention.
California is diverse. Driving through the Chico area, I saw a lot of agriculture that likely requires migrant workers. Those same migrant workers probably stayed behind and are now populating the mobile home communities in the area. As I was driving down into Monterey from Pacheco pass, I saw a gray school bus next to a group of brown-sskinned men sitting wearily in a field.
I met several nice men at the dog park in Sacramento: an artist raised in the area who provided some local insight and a self-proclaimed male chauvinist pig who was into four-wheeling and showed me pictures of his RV. Both approached me at first because of the trailer. It was the most interaction I’ve had with people in a dog park since LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
Day 72: Monterey and Carmel, California
I thought I would go to the Steinbeck museum in Salinas, but it was a bright sunny day and I had no where to leave Chesky, so I devoted the day to his care instead. We went first to a dog park, where an ever-present brayer followed her growling and snapping German Shepherd around and shouted at everyone that despite all appearance to the contrary, the dog really was friendly. It was so surly and distressed that I thought something was wrong with it, but the woman denied it was sick.
Day 73: Salinas to Sequioa and Kings Canyon National Park
In my haste to get to Texas by Thanksgiving, I skipped the giant redwoods on the Oregon and Northern California coasts, and regretted doing so. When I realized Sequioa National Park was on my route and the campground was open, so I packed up and headed east across California.
It was a long day’s drive and I had to stop at the vet: Chesky’s ears were swollen and thick and he looked like someone had punched him in the face. The women working behind the counter made a fuss over the trailer and Chesky, and he acted appropriately under the weather. The vet postulated a wasp sting, especially given Chesky’s track record of eating bees. After a steroid shot and some ear drops (for a brewing yeast infection that was going to get worse from the steroids), we were on our way.
Somewhere in the middle of the enormously wide agricultural valley that runs down the middle of California and has become something of a dust bowl, my right thigh started to hurt. I worried about deep vein thrombosis from spending so much time in the driver’s seat, but figured it was more likely a pinched nerve from my newly sedentary lifestyle. My leg hurt like crazy and we still had two hours to go to the national park, so I stopped near Fresno and accidentally found myself looking at a nice dog park. Chesky took full advantage of the break.
I arrived in Sequoia National Park just after sunset, and was treated to purple darkness as I drove up the canyon. Halfway to the campground, three bears grazing on the hillside next to the pavement clogged up traffic as people hung out of car windows to take pictures. I was mindful of how Steinbeck’s dog Charley had reacted to bears in Yellowstone (with rabid ferocity), but Chesky just regarded the bears with calm disinterest, the same way he looks at cows. He doesn’t mess with creatures that are bigger and scarier than him.
The campground was almost full. I was cozy and happy in my little trailer as the temperature dropped into the 30s, and felt admiration for the hearty tenters in surrounding sites.
Day 74: Sequioa National Park, California to Barstow, California
I couldn’t take Chesky on any of the trails into the national park and after the previous day’s thrombosis scare, I didn’t want to drive more than a couple of hours. Instead of driving all the way to King’s Canyon, I got up early and made the jaunt up to the giant forest to take pictures. Once I had what I needed and I was freezing (it was 37), I went back to the campsite, put the heater on high, and had a nice cup of coffee. Then we moved on.
Chesky’s hives are gone, but he slept poorly in the cold. The trailer got down to 50 and he didn’t have enough blankets to roll up in. He tried to let me know by constantly getting up, pawing at his bed, sighing heavily, and then turning around seventy-five times before settling back down. His restlessness made me restless, and it wasn’t until after I gave him another blanket that we both slept soundly.
Day 75: Barstow, California to Salome, Arizona
In Needles, Arizona, I met a local who provided tips on cheap gas in town and listed all the stores and restaurants to which he brought his dog. There were only two places that had refused him service: a grocery store and a gas station mini-mart. His dog and Chesky played together like they had known one another since puppyhood.
This trip has been physically very difficult; more so than I expected. The sitting, the constant strain on my eyes, and the lack of rest have all taken a toll. I feel a bit like after I’d spent a year in Iraq: drained and exhausted.
A man driving a U-Haul truck chatted with me in a gas station somewhere in California, telling me his wife and he often look at restored vintage campers online and dream about a getaway. His enthusiasm helped reinvigorate me for the final days.
Day 76: Salome, Arizona to Las Cruces, New Mexico
I am moving quickly now; eager to finish. I drove through New Mexico last summer, and it deserves more time than I gave it today, but a sense of urgency to move on has taken ahold of me.
I left at sunrise and drove towards Phoenix through an open cattle range. I saw only one car in the first thirty miles, and no cows except for one large dead and bloated lying on the side of the road, its legs sticking straight out in front of it. Signs minded me to watch for cattle.
I knew I crossed the Continental Divide because of a sign pounded into the flat, dry ground, but it was difficult to see any divide in the topography. If there had not been a sign, I would never have noticed.
Day 77: Las Cruces, New Mexico to Austin, Texas
I have a tendency to endure when things get rough. I put my head down, I soldier on, I get the job done. My endurance paid off on this trip. On days when I felt I could not go another mile, I walked and waited and the feeling wore off. When I wanted to choke the dog, he would turn around and do something sweet, or suddenly understand a command he had been refusing to learn for weeks.
At a rest area in west Texas, I stopped to relieve Chesky on the dried weeds marked for dogs adjacent to the parking lot. We got about twenty feet in when he stopped, his right front paw held in the air and a look of supreme discomfort on his face. I checked his paw and extracted a burr, but he took another step and stopped again. Chesky does not stand still unless coerced, so I sought the problem: we were in the midst of a burr patch, and his paws were littered with thorns. I hefted all fifty pounds of him into my arms and carried him back to the sidewalk. A trucker watched with concern through his windshield, one hand poised over the door handle to render assistance if needed. Chesky lay limply in my arms; he loves to be carried and knew I was helping him. I set him down and picked out the barbed spikes and he trotting forward, the incident forgotten.
Our last stop before Austin was in Mason, Texas, which had a cheerful town plaza with the same thick grass as I’d had in my house in Houston. Chesky recognized the smells and was animated. He had spent the majority of his life in Texas, and it felt like home. I had to find a place to park in the shade again for the first time in months, but I didn’t mind: the weather was pleasant and felt like spring after a long winter away.
The states this week, in two words:
California: Droughty agriculture
Arizona: Rocky spires
New Mexico: Brief visit
Texas: Familiar smells