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?
Lovely! Reminds me of my own trips across the country… especially the Cascades, all apple orchards and flowery meadows on one side, and harsh desert on the other, both equally beautiful…
I love it, Vlad, it’s such a dramatic change from one side of the Cascades to the other, it never fails to take my breath away! xxx
My goodness, you do have some adventures and love the documentation. Reminds me of my own trip. When I was 15, my family moved from PA to CA and we drove cross-country in a station wagon with our bags, a parakeet, 2 hamsters and a cat. The bags—no problem, but we had to sneak the others into a motel each night. What an adventure.
p.s. Sprocket is such a cutie.
Haha, yes, Sprocket is a sweetie. My goodness, writecrites, your journey sounds like such a fun adventure with your menagerie of animals in tow. How much fun! Have you written about it? I’d love to read it. xxx
You’ve inspired me with your stories, so perhaps I should think about writing it. I’ll have to dig deep into my memory banks because it was an awfully long time ago. In the meantime, I look forward to the next installment with Sprocket 🙂
Oh my – same area we just went through in August! My cousins live in Wenatchee, and all these pictures are so much like the ones I have – especially all those windmills. Thankfully, they’re getting the fires under control in the Wenatchee area now, I’ve been told.
I didn’t see any signs of active fires, thankfully, LubbyGirl, although we passed through some areas that looked freshly burned. Scary stuff!
How can one not love Charle— I mean Sprocket!
Lovely post! Z
Hee hee, glad you enjoyed my travels with Charle… I mean Sprocket. He is the perfect travel companion. xxx
Grin. I’m glad to hear it, travtrails. Busy writing away right now! 🙂
I mean Indra (I always think of you as travtrails though, such a fun pen name 🙂 )
Ahh … been waiting to hear about the trip – now I can’t wait for the next instalment 🙂
Hurray, another adventure awaits, Wanderlust, glad you’re along for the trip! xxx Ailsa
Is Sprocket grinning in that first photo? I think so.
Loved the video and its music. Looking forward to hearing about the rest of the trip.
Oh yes, Eagle-Eyed Ed, Sprocket grins with his whole face, he’s a very happy dog indeed. So glad you enjoyed the video, I had a lot of fun cobbling it together 🙂
Oh Ailsa the agony of watching that fuel gauge needle I know exactly how you felt, I worried for you. This is such a well written post I could picture every inch of the journey. I wait with bated breath for the next part. You have caught the love and devotion in Sprockets kohl-lined eyes.
There’s nothing worse than seeing the needle click onto empty, is there, pommepal? So glad you’re looking forward to the next installment 🙂 Sprocket is the most darling dog, and his eyes are just so captivating. 🙂
Gripping tale with Sprocket overcoming his phobia and am enjoying the scenery I’ll never get to see.
p.s. Have always intended to read Travels with Charley – you might enjoy Graham Greene’s , Monsignor Quixote’ – a priestly windmill tilter
Ooh Laura, thank you so much for the recommendation, I shall seek it out. I love getting book suggestions. So glad you’re enjoying the journey. xxx Ailsa
Sprocket is adorable, and it sounds as though you and he have become best buddies. What gorgeous scenery you encountered. Thanks so much for sharing your photos and video. Magnificent.
He stole my heart, ad, with his big brown eyes and his sweet sweet face. So glad you’re enjoying the trip with me 🙂
Travels with Sprocket–even better than the great train trip across the US to reach Seattle. Adorable dog stories are always the best!
Heh heh, true, Debbie, you can’t beat an adorable dog story 😉
Road trip with dog! A great adventure. (We found keeping the interior of the car very cool helps with the drooling and car sickness…but it’s always worse in stop and go traffic.)
Hope Sprocket gets his “car legs” and is able to enjoy the trip…which makes it easier on everyone.
Good one, phil – now that you mention it, I did notice that Sprocket was a lot happier once the air con kicked in.
Traveling with your friend and an adorable dog, how enjoyable! Beautiful scenery.
It was an awful lot of fun, Amy. :Road trips rule. Road trips with friends and adorable dogs are unbeatable! )
Feeling sorry for Sprocket, poor dear, and what beautiful ‘khol lined eyes’ 🙂
I know, Madhu, those eyes would melt your heart. 🙂
You’re such a good teller … it’s like I was there with you and Sprocket – loved your little video .. especially the stuck in traffic bit, even I understand you wasn’t that thrilled. Stunning photos again. I’m fascinated with wind mill farms, think they are beautiful. We have massive one out in the water between Malmoe and Copenhagen. Thanks for a great trip and I’m looking forward to continue.
Thanks viveka, so glad you’re enjoying the story so far, and I’m thrilled you enjoyed the video, I had a lot of fun making it. Those windmills are spectacular, aren’t they? Like huge giants twisting and turning in the wind. I’d love to see the one near Copenhagen one day!
http://wp.me/p293Pw-335 – you can see my photo of it in this post – taken from a pretty speeding train on the middle of the bridge between Malmoe and Copenhagen. There is loads around them where I live too – they say if you live near one you have a very noice enviroment. I really like looking at them – so high and mighty!
Ooh cool, they look even more magical in the middle of the water!
yes, they do …. very popular object for cameras – same with the twist tower on the swedish side.
So well written Ailsa, as others have said, your description took us all along for the ride and as for Sprocket, awwww what a beautiful and loyal friend. My Stanley is curled up beside me as I write this, they are so loyal hey? Had to giggle at little though at Sprocket’s reluctance (not in a derogatory way) to get in a car as I had the exact opposite problem, here’s a link to my experiences with loved 4 legged friends and cars… http://jennhammerphotography.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/a-walk-no-thank-you-ill-take-the-car/
Dogs are the best, aren’t they, Jenn? I had a good giggle at the escapades of your car-loving doggies. Give Stanley a cuddle from me!
Oh, that fuel gauge creeping toward “E”….very disconcerting. 🙂 I’m looking forward to the next installment of Travels With Sprocket!
Haha, at least we were in traffic, Susie – it’s worse when it happens out on the open road with no other cars in sight. Then you have all those scenarios of being stranded in the middle of nowhere running through your mind as you pray for a gas station at the next exit. Ugh. So glad you’re coming along for the ride with us on our road trip! xxx Ailsa
Wonderful! Looking forward to the next installment, and so happy to have provided a bit of inspiration along the way!
Hurrah. Best road trip book ever, John! 🙂
Road trips are the best! But with a drooling cutie-patoody! One word. FUN!
I wholeheartedly agree, Gemma 🙂
Loved Part 1 of your odyssey…our Lulu used to get horribly (for all concerned) car-sick but the quick and easy fix was to give her a sea-sick pill (available in supermarkets near the coast – not too sure about further inland) a hour or so before we departed on a journey and she would be good as good…I think that lots of fresh air helps too because now we have a 4×4 where the dogs go in the back with their own opening windows as opposed to when they would just go in the back of the station wagon and have to put up with the climate that worked for us…
Yaay, so glad you’re following along on the adventure, SJP. I love that your doggies have their own windows now, yaay. 🙂
Such a wonderful read and video! Aren’t dogs so easy to love? 🙂 🙂 Please give Sprocket an extra belly-rub and please tell us more! 🙂
Dogs are the absolute best, Sus 🙂
Very enjoyable story Ailsapm. 🙂
Thanks Sunshine. 🙂
Ailsa, your writing is so vivid that I really feel for Sprocket. My mum’s dog also has a fear of the car even though most times she goes in the car it is to get to the beach, her favourite place in the world.
Aww, it’s great that she gets the reward of beach time after being brave enough to go in the car, Georgia. I love dogs! 🙂
Sprocket is very handsome! Poor boy!
Oh he’s quite the looker, Charlene. He stole my heart!
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I has wished I could take my Papi with me on my upcoming RTW trip 😦 Happy you have Sprocket with you.
Oh Steven, I hope you have a wonderful trip. Papi will be with you in spirit. xxx
Thanks. She’ll be in my heart for sure. Just hope she remembers me when I get home a year later.