RULE #3: BE FLEXIBLE AND ADAPTABLE
Here we go again.
I articulated three "rules" before our Appalachian Trail trek in
2005: have fun, don't get injured, and be flexible and
adaptable. These are "rules" I've found pretty handy throughout
my life, and they come into play on almost a daily basis --
Our original plan for the Across the Years (ATY) race was to
take the camper, leave Roanoke in early December, run the
Sunmart 50K (Sue) and 50-mile (Jim) races near Houston as our
last long training runs three weeks before the 24-hour race at ATY, then return home in early January,
Then gas and diesel prices began an upward spiral in November.
When we did the math, we realized it would be less expensive to
take our Odyssey minivan and stay in moderately-priced motels
for ten nights before and after the race (with three nights in
the large tent at Nardini Manor or in the back of our van during race weekend). The rooms
we reserved had microwaves and refrigerators so we could prepare
our own meals along the way and save on restaurant costs. We would
leave December 24, taking four days to reach Phoenix, and return
home January 5. The main problems with Plan B were what to do
with Cody and Tater and how to get everything we wanted into the
van if we took the dogs with us. We never did resolve the dog
issue to our satisfaction.
Roanoke's weather in early December was pretty nice, with
temperatures mostly above normal. We dodged a sleet-snow bullet
at our house on Saturday the 15th, receiving only some much-needed rain.
Sunday the 16th we had to scuttle plans to run at Explore Park, however, because of
40 MPH winds that would have made it too dangerous to run in the
forest or anywhere else in our well-treed area. The temperature was in the 30s
so the wind chill was significant.
Another dose of winter had arrived. We were pretty much
house-bound and already feeling the effects of our taper for
the race (i.e., wanting to run more than we should).
Jim was getting cabin fever when he suddenly asked me,
"What's keeping us from taking the camper to ATY and just
staying out there for a couple of months??"
I replied, "Um, the expense, remember??"
"Yeah, but isn't this why we retired early?"
I have to admit he had me there, so I responded, "OK, let's
Adaptability. Spontaneity is fun, too.
Enter Plan C: take the camper and the dogs to Phoenix,
leaving two days earlier than planned to allow for slower
driving and possible weather problems along the way, and stay
several weeks after the race in a nice, warm region to avoid the
worst of Roanoke's winter weather.
You might be noticing a pattern here: the last two
summers we've avoided the summer heat by camping at altitude in
Wyoming and Colorado. Now Jim's becoming a fuddy-duddy
"snowbird," attempting to escape the ravages of winter,
too (as if Roanoke gets severe winter weather). A day before departure we got half an inch of snow and
Jim lamented that we weren't already on our way to Phoenix! This
from a guy who spent his first 55 years in Illinois and Montana.
Then began a rather frenetic revision of things to take with us
-- a list much different than going in the van -- and arranging
for house-sitting, mail to be sent to us, YMCA suspension,
transferring pertinent data from our desktop computer to the
laptop, and a myriad of other tasks we do when we leave for
several months at a time. At least I'd already put the gardens
to bed and never did put up many Christmas decorations or a
One of our (Western) pals wryly asked in an e-mail recently,
"Why is it that you moved to the East??"
What can I say? Roanoke still appears to be the ideal retirement
community for us even though we keep traipsing out West once or
twice a year for races and moderate weather conditions. After
much travel and internet research over the years we still
haven't found the perfect location that meets all of our
criteria in the western half of the United States -- all year
long. If we were
rich we'd be living somewhere in California. But we can't afford
to live there.
So off we go to Arizona for a bit of sunshine and warmth!
It's even farther to drive to Arizona from Roanoke, VA than it
is to Sheridan, WY (the Bighorn Mountain area) or our favorite
mountain destinations in Colorado.
Arizona borders California, after all. It's a hike. We logged
2,229 miles from our home in Goodview to Nardini Manor on the
southwest side of metro Phoenix and we took our sweet time
getting there compared to some other folks who drove to the race
from the eastern part of the country in just two or three days.
I'll include a few photos I took along the way. All but the
teepees at the rest area were taken from the truck while
Jim was driving.
The weather was good the entire way although
it was unseasonably cold and sometimes very windy. We missed a
50-vehicle pile-up on I-40 on December 22 somewhere west of where
we were, caused by high winds and low visibility in rain and/or
The main weather problem we had was keeping the rig straight in high
winds for several hours in western New Mexico on Christmas Day.
When I was driving that section I felt like a salmon swimming upstream
and large tumbleweeds kept getting lodged in the grill guard on
the front of the truck. Wind also wreaked
some havoc at Nardini
Manor in Arizona. More about
that in the next entry.
Crossing the mighty Mississippi west of Memphis
There was little road construction and no accidents to slow us
down even though we drove on some of the busiest travel days
before and after Christmas. We arrived in the Phoenix area the
morning of our fifth day
(we had only a couple hours to go on Wednesday morning)
after four full days of freeway driving
on I-81, 1-40, I-30, I-20, and I-10. Since many people were off
work the weekend before and the week of Christmas we weren't
even bogged down through Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock,
Dallas-Ft. Worth, El Paso, Tucson, or metro Phoenix.
Hope it's that easy getting back home in February!
Cotton fields and wind turbines in Texas
Large bales of cotton along the roadway in Goodyear, AZ near
Nardini Manor. A lot of cotton was planted in this area when it
was used in the production of Goodyear tires.
Not that driving up to 585 miles a day pulling a camper is easy.
We always have to be extremely alert for disasters like people
who brake suddenly in front of us, cut in too closely, or behave
in other clueless ways. I don't know how semi drivers deal with
this every day. People just don't understand the physics of
weight and momentum when there's a large truck or camper behind
We boon-docked all four nights on the road to Phoenix, spending
the first two nights in Wal-Mart parking lots near Nashville and
New Boston, TX (far NE corner of the state). There are lots of
advantages to over-nighting at Wal-Mart, including the cost
(free!), shopping convenience, and security. That security comes
at a price, however -- it includes bright lights that can't be muffled like
earplugs can muffle the noise of nearby traffic.
Rest area in southwest Texas
After his second night of poor sleep Jim observed, "There are
only two places in the world where it's light 24 hours a day --
the poles and Wal-Mart!" (I slept like a baby both
We usually get diesel fuel on our camping trips at Flying Js
because their prices are the lowest, they are spaced along the
freeways at appropriate intervals for our F-250's fuel tank
capacity, they are easy to get into and out of, they have dump
stations and potable water and propane, and we can use the truck
pumps if the RV pumps are busy. Jim observed that Flying J
parking lots are less bright than at Wal-Mart, too, so the next
two nights we stayed at Flying Js near Pecos, TX and Eloy, AZ.
Both nights we were able to park with other RVs in large parking
areas away from the semis that sometimes run their engines all
night. We still felt secure without as many glaring lights.
Tucson freeway art
A WHOLE 'NOTHER WORLD
On cross-country trips I always enjoy observing how the terrain
and vegetation change from the thick hardwood forests and
in the East to the rolling farmlands and flat Plains in the middle of the
country to the deserts and snow-capped mountains in the West. We knew we
were truly "Out West" when we crossed the Continental Divide and
the landscape morphed into rolling desert with large yuccas and
other cacti, tumbleweeds blowing across the freeway, and warning signs about possible zero
visibility from dust storms raging across the rather barren
lands. We could see dust storms in the distance that looked like
city smog but they didn't affect the freeway.
New Mexico landscape
There are cultural variations, too, of course, with a much
stronger Hispanic and Native American influence in the Southwest
than in the Southeast. When I first moved to Billings, Montana I
enjoyed learning about the local tribes and it will be
interesting while we're in Arizona to become steeped in the
As we drove through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona we had fun
flipping through the dial seeking English-speaking stations for
news, weather, and "talk radio." I thought some of the best music was on
Spanish-language stations since I'm not as big a country music
aficionado as Jim and that was about all we could get clearly in
Texas. Neither of us has taken Spanish
since high school over forty years ago so we couldn't understand
the ads, news, or weather reports on the Spanish-language
Funny how commercials are less annoying when they're in a
language you don't comprehend!
Arizona saguaro cacti
Getting online with our Verizon cell phone (V-Cast) was sketchy
the entire way to Phoenix but our signals have been sufficient
in this huge metro area. In some states we couldn't call out to
return phone messages, either. Verizon seems to have the largest
network in the country, but we still keep running into no
service at all or extended networks that allow us to call out
but not get online. Of course, this is still quite an improvement over the
Old Days, oh, just a few years ago before cell phones and laptop
computers became commonplace. The more technological
advancements are made, the more we expect.
Two incoming planes near the Phoenix airport
On the morning of the fifth day we arrived in metro Phoenix.
Talk about another world. After all the expansive rangeland with
maybe one person per square mile average, we entered one of the
ten most-populated metro areas in the country. That's another
kind of culture shock to folks who prefer smaller cities and the
REACHING OUR DESTINATION
After an incident-free journey 2,229 miles cross-country we
arrived safely at Nardini Manor and determined we could get the
camper into the spacious parking lot via the gate next to a
Sunset view of road (left) to parking lot along canal
We had a minor incident getting in but at least we didn't
end up in the canal or take the entire fence down!
Suffice it to say Rodger Wrublik is one of the most easy-going,
gracious people we've ever met and not much fazes him. We did
our best to make amends.
We parked the camper in the back corner of the parking
lot next to Rodger's back hoe, tractor, tool truck, watering
tank, and other vehicles used to maintain the property for
weddings and ATY. Our camper and F-250 are in the far left
background in this photo, taken late in the afternoon on Day 1 of
We are very grateful for the opportunity to "camp"
there for several days before, during, and after
the race. I feared we might be taking up spots that runners and
volunteers might need, but the lot was never more than 3/4 full
during race weekend and two other smaller campers were also
Entrance into parking lot at Nardini Manor late afternoon on
Day 1 of the race. The running path is just inside the fence on
the north side of the loop, with Porta-Potties in the
It was very convenient for us to help the Wrubliks and Paul
Bonnett, RD, set up for the race and return things to storage
afterwards, as well as being extremely handy during during the race.
It made dog care a non-issue, too, since Jim and I were running
on different days. It would have been a hassle to camp ten or
fifteen miles away and have to keep driving between a campground
and Nardini Manor two or three times a day. Thanks so much,
Rodger and Tana, for your hospitality and good humor.
It was also very cool to be so close to the back stretch of the
ATY loop during the race. Only a thick hedge separated us from
the course. We wore ear plugs at night so we could sleep but
during the day it was fun to hear snippets of conversation as
the participants ran and walked around the course. We recognized
many voices and even learned the distinctive foot patterns of
some of the runners just by their sound -- especially the
72-hour runners who dragged their feet, bless 'em.
Next entry: Nardini Manor is a beehive of activity
preparing for the race
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
© 2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil