The night before we left, I lay in bed with my best friend reviewing the course of our lives. We had spent the last 10 years, the bulk of our twenties, growing up together. Our greatest and perhaps, most memorable (if not, completely demoralizing) moments occurred while celebrating the "end of an era!" Each time, we bid farewell to the ways of old and made way, sometimes in spectacular drunken fashion, for new things up ahead. This night, her last night on the East Coast, we spent sober and contemplative in the subtle echo of her empty apartment.
Instead of celebrating the end, we were looking forward to the beginning. For her, a new life beckoned, filled with people she has not yet met along with a new career, unborn but promising still. For me, I was stoked about the 10-day journey that basically materialized out of nowhere. Traveling is a part of my soul, has been since 2001, when I toured Australia with my now-deceased stepmother and estranged sister and then backpacked the Mediterranean in 2003 pretty much solo. Though I've moved around, taken short trips here and there (mostly to see family), a real adventure has eluded me. This trip was high time.
Our first three days were ambitious to say the least. Each day was packed with 10-12 hours of driving time, the changing landscape whirring past at 80-100 miles per hour with little time to sightsee sans the lovely bathrooms I frequented frequently. I've got a small bladder, what can I say?
After a leisurely departure from Atlanta, we took to the road with Oklahoma City in our sights. Besides being an agreeable co-pilot, my only goal was to eat well along the way. READ: No lame fast food.
Our first meal stop was Birmingham, Alabama at a little barbecue joint just off the interstate in an industrial-ish part of downtown. Flanked by warehouses and chain link fences, Full Moon Barbecue is a diminutive building adorned with a giant smiling moon and a sign at the door claiming it to be the "Best Little Pork House in Alabama". Inside, the lunch crowd was at full volume. Small table and chairs were squeezed together like a fresh game of Jenga. I ordered a pork barbecue sandwich and the half-moon cookie from the counter.
I'm still thinking about that sandwich. Loads of smokey pork arrived on a perfectly pliable bun with a buttery sheen that willfully submitted to you at first bite. Atop the pork was tangy-peppery chow-chow, dill pickle slices and just enough barbecue sauce to make you feel appropriately sloppy. The pork sandwich was the highlight of our first day. We drove well into the night and took a gamble on a "secret" hotel via Travelocity that made OK not okay.
We arrived in Oklahoma, about 80 miles from Oklahoma City, dog tired, cross-eyed and desperately in need of a bed. Our risky online purchase took us to a Days Inn way off the beaten path so that when we pulled into the parking lot, checked in and inquired about the safety of the dimly lit surroundings, the hotel clerk could've told us that the forensics team just finished cleaning up a double homicide in our hotel room and we would've gladly taken it. That may have well been the case.
The room was infested with flies, dead ones and live ones, which instilled a dramatic and rather squeal-y aversion to flies for the rest of the trip. But, it was late and we were too exhausted to make a stink. We pulled the questionable bedsheets over our head, fort-style, and tried our best to get some rest. Around 4 a.m., my cell phone went off alerting us to a flash flood warning for the area. Then, the tornado sirens went off. This is where road trippin' turned into road be trippin'! Once the rain stopped, we hightailed it out of Oklahoma through the ominously low clouds which felt a little like Russian Roulette with funnel clouds. No, thank you!
After a late start to Day Two, we stopped in Amarillo, TX for a proper Texas barbecue plate. In Texas, beef is king and brisket, it's smoky mistress. My road buddy and I shared a three-meat plate (pork ribs, beef brisket and cheddar sausage) at Tyler's Barbecue, a well-reviewed joint owned by Amarillo local, Tyler Frazer who happily chatted with us while we ate. Frazer spent some time working on the world's largest transportable smoker, called "The Grill" which is now being used by the History Channel. The ribs were my favorite and the brisket, acceptable.
For us, the southwest couldn't come fast enough. After rain storms galore and our harrowing evening in Oklahoma, we landed in Albuquerque, New Mexico at another Days Inn. Compared to its OK counterpart, this middle-of-the-road pit stop felt like the Taj Mahal. A late dinner at Sadie's of New Mexico came highly recommended by NM locals, although no one warned us about the monstrous portions which left us traumatized and bloated. The sopapilla, an airy pillow of fry bread drizzled with honey, and an unfiltered cigarette were my only consolation.
Day Three began with a proper plate of huevos rancheros complete with NM's famous red and green chile sauce- the Christmas blend, if you will. Covered in cheese and beans, the huevos are a gloppy mess of chiles, eggs, beans and potatoes meant to be eaten without inspection. The Range Cafe in ABQ does it right.
Our mission on Day Three was to visit Grand Canyon and watch a sunset in Sedona, ambitious yet again. A monster bag of beef jerky (the only good thing to come out of Oklahoma) and green chile pistachios came in handy when we felt like gnawing our faces off in Arizona. The grand scenery of one of nature's greatest wonders wasn't too bad either. This photo, by the way, does the Grand Canyon no justice.
Arizona was stunning. I've visited before but couldn't recall the breadth of the landscape. It's so much more than desert. There are places that look like Colorado with mountains and evergreens. There are beautiful red rock canyons and wildflowers and wide open spaces. The desert is beautiful too, albeit intimidating.
Crossing the Mojave Desert into California on Day Four was intense. Temperatures climbed to 105 degrees and the long stretches of road made one search the cranial files for things like "cannibalism for survival".
The scenery in California was equally breathtaking and diverse. The landscape changed over and over again giving way to barren mountains and rocky terrain, deserts turned into Tuscan-like fields and red rock became farmland. Mother Nature is a wondrous thing.
Past windmills and big organic fields, across the Mojave and seemingly extraterrestrial formations of rock, we made our way across the country in four days flat. The Pacific awaited us by way of Pismo Beach and a wonderful host provided a much needed respite for two weary travelers.