With the prospect of being able to take the Highlander west dangling in front of us, the next week would prove to be nerve wracking. Although we were confident the Expedition would make the trip in good stead, we much preferred the Toyota for its all wheel drive capability (winter driving conditions could require it), much better gas mileage (25 mpg versus 14 mpg), all-around better comfort level, and the kicker, a number of Christmas gifts we’d spent considerable time shopping for in Europe were in it.
We decided over the weekend that if we didn’t get some definitive confirmation of the car’s availability by Wednesday or Thursday of the following week, we’d commit to taking the Expedition, not wanting to jeopardize the first part of our trek west caught up in a waiting game for the Toyota. Good news arrived on Tuesday the 9th that the car had cleared customs. Now it was much more certain that we’d be able to get the Highlander and drive it west.
I went on line and paid the balance due on the shipping and waited for word on when we could pick up the car. Good luck continued to prevail when we were notified Wednesday morning that we could pick it up on Thursday. I quickly made an appointment at our local Toyota dealer, Scott Clark, to service it Friday morning and we began to prepare in earnest to pick it up on Thursday and leave for the west coast the next day.
We took off around 8:00am Thursday morning for the four-hour drive down to Savannah; as I drove I recalled the same drive Jim Hoppa and I had made just eight months earlier, dropping the Highlander off on our way to Orlando for the ACUI Annual Conference. So much had transpired during the time between, that original trip so full of the expectations of things to come.
We hit the outskirts of Savannah around noon, stopped to split a foot-long sandwich at Subway and then made our way to the shipping agent’s location. In less than thirty minutes we were on our way, stopping to gas up both cars and re-initialize the satellite radio in the Highlander. We arrived back home around 5:00pm and quickly unloaded the car, piling most of the contents in the front room.
We’d invited Joanna’s sister Debi, her daughter Kristen and Andrew, Kristen’s boyfriend over for an early Christmas dinner, as we’d not see them again until well after the holidays. We ordered food from Lotus Chinese Cusine, a local establishment that delivers and after it arrived, our friend Kemet Gatchell came over to pick up a jacket he left behind on Thanksgiving Day. Our impromptu gathering turned into a very nice farewell party as we consumed large quantities of high quality beer, shared stories, and generally celebrated the season to come.
Up early Friday morning I made it to Scott Clark for the scheduled 20,000-mile service at 8:00am and an hour or so later drove back towards home, stopping at a local carwash for a quick rinse and to vacuum out the interior since the car was empty for the first time since our stay in Amsterdam. Back home we spent the next couple of hours re-loading the car and getting the house in shape so we could leave it vacant for the six weeks or so we’d be gone.
We pulled out of the driveway right at 12:30, just a half hour later than my targeted departure time. Up next would be the nearly 20-hour drive to my sister Beverly’s house in Colony, Kansas. Our plan was to drive until the early hours of Saturday morning (if we could make it that long) and then find a place to sleep for a bit in order to finish the drive and arrive at Beverly’s at a reasonable time in mid-morning.
And it worked just like that. We made good time driving the interstates, encountering only rush hour traffic in Nashville. West of St. Louis (whose downtown and the arch look marvelous lit up late at night) near Boonville we found a Pilot Flying J just off the highway and along with many others pulled into a parking spot, reclined the front seats, drew a sleeping bag over us and took a 3-4 hour nap.
Waking refreshed around 5:00am, we drove the final four hours or so, stopping for a quick Egg McMuffin at a McDonalds. Images of the drive come back to me, truck stops and gas station mini-marts brightly lit against the cold and dark, getting coffee refills in our travel mug for anywhere between 50 cents and a dollar and one time for free. The joy of $35 gas stops instead of those that ran close to $100 in Europe.
Having driven to Beverly’s from Kansas City the year before, I was familiar with the road from Kansas City and greeted each landmark with a quiet relief, knowing we were getting close to the end of that long first day’s drive. She and her husband Bill live out in the country, stark and grey this time of year with a cold wind that makes the temperature seem much lower than it is. But the house was warm when we arrived, the greetings warmer and we celebrated our arrival with a morning of reminiscing about our time together in Europe. It was a good first day.
Scott Clark Toyota: http://www.scottclarkstoyota.com/
Lotus Chinese Cuisine: http://www.lotuscuisinecharlotte.com/
Pilot Flying J: http://www.pilotflyingj.com/view-location?id=0044