Once in A Lifetime – Around the USA in 30 Days!

On Saturday, September 3rd, we began our 30th anniversary road trip/book tour with tea at the Syracuse Zen Center with Abbot Shinge Roshi Roko Sherry Chayat. Bela’s high school friend Lyn Simmer had made the introduction. After Shinge Roshi read and enjoyed Pilgrim Maya, she invited us to tea. Our visit felt like a blessing at the start of our long journey.

Our second stop was in Buffalo, New York, where Mary Lou Wilcox, a childhood friend of Bela’s, brought in a crowd of friends. Next stop: Midland, Michigan, where Mike Mosher, an old friend of Stephen’s, arranged a dinner with his wife Chrysanthe, and another couple. Our first chance to sell copies of Pilgrim Maya out of the back of the van!

In Minneapolis we did a book signing in the Mall of America, a place so big it has a roller coaster and Ferris wheel inside. Stephen recruited Super Thunder Frog from a @F1RSTWRESTLING, and snagged a bit of co-branding with Super Thunder Frog holding up a copy of Pilgrim Maya.

The next day we camped in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Bison roamed freely. We took pictures up close, so close we could hear their grunting and breathing, and smell them.

Next day we camped (Bela in her bed in the minivan and Stephen in his pop-up 2-man tent) in the Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park in Montana. More than 200 years earlier the L&C expedition had lunch in the place where we were camping, though they did not discover the caverns, which we toured.

Around this time, we started sitting zazen meditation while driving down the highway at 75-80 miles an hour. It’s all about concentration and awareness! We kept up this practice throughout the rest of the trip. Not all our meditation was in the car. We had a beautiful time sitting on a stone fence overlooking Crater Lake in Oregon.

We drove from Montana to Seattle, our longest drive thus far, and had a relaxing and engaging stay for two nights with our friends Ross Reynolds and Harriet Baskas. We had a book signing at Island Books, and a dinner after with Ross, Harriet, and friends Richard Sanford and his wife Renee.

From Seattle we drove to Portland, Oregon, where old friend Reva Basch hosted a backyard party for her “Not A Book Club” friends, and later made us an elaborate and delicious dinner, because we were there on the day of our actual anniversary.

When we left Portland, our next stop was Crater Lake, a true power spot, a collapsed volcano caldera filled with water. We hiked up to Watchman’s Peak for the best lake views. Later we stopped in Yreka to meet up with Shintaido friends Naomi and Doug, then camped in the shadow of Mount Shasta.

In the Bay Area we stayed at the home of Bill Strawn and Eve Siegel in Berkeley. It was a wonderful respite at the halfway point of our trip. On Saturday the 17th we had a book signing at the B&N in El Cerrito. Many old friends showed up: Michael and Leslie Goldberg, Michael DiPietro, Roby Newman and his wife Linda, Stephen’s old workmates Linda Saldana and Marianne Walter, Bela’s friend Yvonne Tom. Author and Buddhist teacher Barbara McHugh honored us by coming with her husband. Ray Eisenberg was also there with wife Betsy, as well as Kevin Arndt and Kelly Gaynor. Bela read two excerpts from Pilgrim Maya.

Early Monday morning we headed down I-5 to Thunderbolt Spiritual Books in Santa Monica. Stephen’s brother Stephen’s brother Athan hosted us for two nights in the local Marriott. We had dinner with many old friends: Athan and Keiko, Randy Lamb and Patty, Carl Hyndman and Leigh, and John Harrison. Stephen swam in the Pacific next to the Santa Monica pier.

The next day we drove through the Virgin River Gorge and then meandered up Red Canyon to Kodachrome Basin State Park, where we hiked out to a spot aptly named Panorama Point and had a picnic lunch. We resumed our travel to Boulder Utah, heading up into the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument on Route 12, one of the National Scenic Byways, an unforgettable drive. At every turn in the road, we were astounded by the vistas and views, each more spectacular than the last.

Several years ago we had read about a restaurant in Boulder called Hell’s Backbone Grill. It was worth the trip, both for the elegant and unusual food (pumpkin and gruyere tamale, calabacitas enchiladas) and for the drive. The last five miles into Boulder are along a section of Route 12 nicknamed the Poison Road by the men who built it, because so many workers died during its construction. Today the road is a two-lane highway with thousand-foot drops on both sides, like driving on a tightrope.

Leaving Boulder we chose another fabulous road, Alternate Route 89A, from Kanab, Utah to Bitter Springs, Arizona, which took us past the long, colorful line of the Vermilion Cliffs and past Lee’s Ferry.

In Scottsdale, Arizona we stayed with Bela’s brother Paul and sister-in-law Wendy. Paul helped bring people into a B&N book signing. That night we were happy to attend Paul’s 70th birthday celebration at a chic restaurant where we met more of Paul and Wendy’s friends and saw our nieces Lindsay and Michelle.

Texas! Two and a half days and 899 miles later, we arrived in New Orleans, had a superb dinner at Bayona, a spot in the French Quarter that the locals favor. The next morning, we had chicory coffee and beignet at the original Café du Monde.

Our next stop was the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. The museum traces the course of history from slavery to modern mass incarceration. Everyone should go to this museum, especially those who deny there is any injustice in our society.

Our last book signing was at The Potter’s House in Washington, D.C. Kesh Narayanan and Annelie Wilde graciously put us up in a guest apartment at their senior living complex. Annelie came to the signing, along with Lee Ordeman and Elizabeth Jernigan and their daughter Esme. Clarkie friend Rich Beach came. Bela gave a reading of two excerpts and then we all did the Shintaido movement Tenshingoso. It was a deep and fitting end to the trip that had started with tea with the Roshi.

After the reading, we made a mad dash for home, arriving safely late in the evening of Saturday, October 1st. So ended our trip, after thirty days on the road, 9,058 miles, with no car trouble, no accidents, no COVID, no tickets by Southern policemen. Our old Toyota Sienna van was definitely a character in this journey. We kept patting it like a horse, urging it on. Taking the trip has strengthened our marriage, just as writing the book together did. We undertook a huge project and pulled it off in style. Our three-fold vision played out as we expected—book signings, visits with old friends, and trips to state and national parks. A rich and rewarding, if somewhat exhausting experience.

NOTE: The pictures that accompany this writeup are all in this Google photos link. Please check them out. Double-click on any image to see a larger version, or click the three vertical dots in the upper right and select Slideshow.

Hope you enjoy some of the amazing sites of natural beauty we visited.