Just before I left New York on my epic train journey, a friend of mine gave me the present of a book; “Travels with Charley” – the autobiographical account of John Steinbeck’s road trip around America with his French poodle Charley. He chose this book as a present because he knew I was about to embark upon a road trip with another fabulous dog, my friend’s canine companion Sprocket.
Sprocket is a very distinguished senior gentleman, part Rhodesian Ridgeback and part mystery. He has a glossy coat of the perfect shade of red and kohl-lined eyes that glitter with joy. I hadn’t seen him in almost 4 years but he hadn’t forgotten me. When I walked through the door his excitement was barely contained. He squeaked and whimpered, did a happy dance with all four paws and the wag that started at his tail worked its way through his entire body, so by the time I reached him he was just one big wag. As I reached down to pet him he fell over onto my feet so I could tickle behind his ears and rub his tummy. I happily obliged.
Sprocket is filled with love. He loves life. He loves walkies, he loves food and he loves people. The only thing he doesn’t love is cars. My friend has tried absolutely everything to cure Sprocket of his car sickness, but nothing has worked to date. The minute he sees a car door open, he begins to drool… and drool. His drool could fill a small swimming pool in a matter of minutes. This was the main reason I was in Seattle, because Sprocket was about to travel all the way to Boston… by car, and I was going to accompany him.
As my friend was getting ready to pack her entire life (and Sprocket’s) into her car to move to Boston for college, I busied myself by whittling my belongings down to a small carry on suitcase to take with me on the trip. Everything else was going into storage in a garage until I got back. In between bouts of packing, I cracked open “Travels with Charley”. As John prepared his truck Rocinante for his journey, I carefully selected the items I was bringing with me on my road trip. Sprocket was still blissfully unaware of the epic adventure he was about to embark upon.
The day of our road trip dawned, and we sprang into action. Cases and boxes were packed into the back, then shuffled around and repacked to fit more last-minute items. Sprocket watched with growing concern as his favourite toys and a huge box of his dog food found their place in the back of the car. Our travelling cases went in the front passenger seat along with our laptops. Sprocket’s crate went in the back seat and at this point we had Sprocket’s full attention. We had underestimated the amount of time it would take us to pack everything up, and overestimated the amount of room in the car, so there was some last minute triage, with my friend’s bike being one of the items left behind. It was close to 1pm when we finally had everything ready to go. All we had to do now was convince Sprocket to get into the car. He was already drooling.
A half-hour later, Sprocket finally clambered into his crate in the back seat. I sat in the seat next to his crate, reached in through the open door and wrapped my arm around his neck to comfort him. My friend had stocked up on ‘drool pads’ – soft, absorbent pads of tissue, one of which I laid over Sprocket’s feet as his drool was beginning to puddle at the bottom of the crate where he lay, staring at me with his huge, dark eyes.
And we were off. We crossed the West Seattle Bridge and headed north on I-5, then turned off onto I-90. There was barely any traffic as we cruised across Lake Washington, past Mercer Island and on through Issaquah. We congratulated ourselves on our cleverness at (inadvertently) leaving so late in the day that we missed all the traffic, and watched with glee as the Cascade Mountains grew ever grander in stature the further along 1-90 we drove.
Suddenly we ground to a shuddering halt. Roadworks at Snoqualmie Pass had blocked all lanes of traffic, and there we waited for well over an hour. We chatted non-stop for the first while, catching up on huge tracts of time where we hadn’t seen each other. Then the chatter stopped and we listened to music and watched the trees sway in the breeze as we went nowhere fast. I cuddled with Sprocket who was still drooling, even though we weren’t moving. The longer we waited, the more apprehensive we got, because we hadn’t filled up the fuel tank before departing. The plan was to stop at Snoqualmie and fill up, but the plan hadn’t included sitting in traffic for over an hour.
Just as the needle of the fuel gauge dropped down to empty, traffic started moving. Relieved, we drove on through the mountain pass and pulled off at Snoqualmie. Sprocket got out for a walk and a big bowl of water as we filled up the car and stocked up on bottled frappuccinos for the trip. Drifts of daisies filled the banks and swayed before slopes of coniferous trees and darkly modern alpine cottages. It was a glorious afternoon.
Then we were descending into eastern Washington, through high desert and past giant windmills that never fail to fill me with wonder and put me in mind of Don Quixote and his fantastical adventures. As I was watching the windmills sail by, I thought about Don Quixote’s horse, Rocinante, after whom John Steinbeck named his truck. I delighted in the coincidence of the windmills reminding me of Don Quixote’s faithful nag and pledged there and then to name my next car Rocinante. Don Quixote, John Steinbeck and me; all travelling, exploring, adventuring, miles and miles apart in space and time.
A glance over at Sprocket revealed that he had lost his lunch, literally. A pile of half-digested kibble lay at one end of his crate and he was scrunched up in the other corner, looking very sorry for himself. “It’s okay” I whispered, as I whipped a new drool pad out of a bag in the back and lay it on top of the sorry pile of kibble. The look of gratitude in Sprocket’s eyes was something I’ll never forget. He stretched out on the soft dry pad and snuggled his face into me as we continued on our way through the arid, wildfire-prone climes of Cle Elum and Ellensburg. The dry, dusty landscape bore the scorch marks of recent fires. Then we dipped down into Vantage to cross the Columbia River, a welcome burst of water in the midst of this parched land.
It was twilight by the time we reached Spokane where we pulled into a Mexican restaurant off Division for a feast of Mexican food out on the patio in the cool of the evening. Sprocket nibbled gingerly on his bowl of food by the patio, and then we all piled back in the car. The lights of Couer D’Alene twinkled by and soon we were through the short stretch of I-90 that is Idaho and were heading into Montana. Remarkably, Sprocket had stopped drooling and was sleeping comfortably, using my lap as a pillow. We had originally planned to drive to Missoula, but a few phone calls revealed there was a convention of some kind happening in the area, so everywhere was booked out. Instead, we stopped just across the Montana border in St. Regis, where we found a motel room and gratefully staggered out of the car to shower and stretch out our car-cramped limbs. I played around with some video footage I shot of our first day on the road; this was the result:
It was very late, and the motel bed was very welcoming. I was asleep almost before I climbed between the crisp sheets. My dreams were filled with wildfires and windmills. What would tomorrow bring?