Author’s Note: Re-entry into ‘fast lane’ USA after six months exploring the backwaters of Asia was culture shock in reverse – a relief at first, then stressful as time went on. Back on the American diet, I gained 20 pounds in 20 days, and embarked on a six-month round-the-country excursion – hitting 30 states by year’s end.

'Trunkated' Auto Mechanics
‘Trunkated’ Auto Mechanics

It was a typical road trip back east – traveling in a broken down ‘65 Mercedes with four of my college buddies. We were the Czechoslovakian Bobsled Team running, pushing furiously down icy roads to jump-start it. Then hopping in to drive merrily on our way from Colorado to Connecticut – without a clutch, a faulty electrical system, and through the Pennsylvania hills with no brakes. Somewhere in New York the fuel pump burst.  But eventually we made it home safely for Christmas.

The Traveling Road Show, as we christened ourselves, rolled into the New Year, as our merry band skidded across the frozen northern reaches to descend upon unsuspecting households, picking up and dropping off friends along the way. In Atlantic City, we came out ahead by snagging quarters from the floor by the one-armed bandits.

From New York City, we headed to Lake George in the Adirondacks for a grand reunion of Silver Bay YMCA friends on winter break from university. I had just returned from Sri Lanka, and was itching to get back overseas. But these reunions with summertime friends were not to be missed, and there were many others to visit all around the country.

Winter Reunion at Lake George, New York
Winter Reunion at Lake George, New York

But it all ground to a halt suddenly on a cold, dark night of nasty sleet and freezing rain in State College, Pennsylvania. Mononucleosis (also known as “the kissing disease” because the virus is spread through saliva) turned a 3-day visit into three months – sick and stretched out in a sleeping bag for 10 weeks on the floor of a forgotten upstairs closet.

Months of relentless fatigue, illness and gut pain had taken their toll on my body and spirit, as the strength and energy returned ever so slowly to my weary limbs and weakened spirit. The price for that brief fling with the British girl in Kathmandu!

Indeed, it was the longest Spring in memory, and I wondered if the sun would ever return to the dreary Appalachians. Cold gray skies, relentless rain, and finally a few cautious rays lighting up the dogwood, cherry and apple blossoms – brilliant in the long-awaited sunshine. At last, I was well enough to travel and headed south and then west, visiting YMCAs and summertime friends all along the way.

Denver, North Carolina
Denver, North Carolina

The train rolled through utterly grim coal-mining towns and to Philadelphia, then followed the Delaware River south to Baltimore, the Chesapeake Bay, Washington DC, through Virginia and finally to Greensboro, North Carolina to meet a certain southern belle. A couple days in Raleigh, then by car to Boone where we stayed in a cabin overlooking the misty valleys and heavily forested ridges of the Appalachians.

Relaxing on the deck with a guitar, or in total silence but for a few woodland birds, we gazed out over the vast expanse of endless ridges and densely forested valleys. Bright spring flowers beside rustic homes pushing up through pungent, black earth. Eerie mists rising from forgotten valleys. Wondering at all the lost tales of men – their lives and deaths held secret by these, the oldest mountains on earth.

The train out of Charlotte swept south and west through Georgia for more reunions in Atlanta, and on to Alabama and the flats of Tuscaloosa, Meridian and Hattiesburg, Mississippi – flat and flooded. Then a five-mile trestle spanning Lake Pontchartrain into Louisiana and New Orleans where the local YMCA hosted me. Another southern belle gave me a wonderful historic and cultural tour of the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, jazz and street parties everywhere, and out to the mighty Mississippi for a ride on a grand old paddle boat — all under the full moon of a balmy Louisiana night.

Colorful Colorado
At home in colorful Colorado

By June I had traveled through 23 states, hitting 30 states by year’s end. Back at home in Colorado, the mountains were as peaceful and magical as ever with summer colors. Beautiful flowers everywhere – there had been plenty of water that year, streams bubbling merrily along. 

Local TV and radio interviews organized by my sponsoring YMCAs in Illinois and Wisconsin helped raise enough money for my up-coming assignment with the YMCA of Western Samoa. And again, I had to find a map to see where they were sending me!

I was recharged and ready for more adventure out in the world. But not before taking advantage of the summer months in North America. So my brother Dave and I set off for Alaska and Yukon territory, following the trail of the 1898 Gold Rush.

Stay tuned for “North to Alaska” coming soon!

You can read more about Jim’s backstory, here and here.

 

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