Thursday, November 21, 2013

From north to south...

My writing colleague Judy Howard, whom I met at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and who blogs at, has written a book called Coast to Coast with a Cat and a Ghost. With apologies to Judy, I've just done North to South with Three Cats in a Tahoe. Four days and three nights, 1,676 miles, from Plattsburgh, New York, to New Orleans, about a thousand of it on Interstate 81, paralleling U.S. 11 all the way from Binghamton, New York to Slidell, Louisiana. The directional indicator on my mirror read "SW"-- Southwest -- pretty much the whole way. We drove through New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and finally Louisiana. Stayed overnight in Binghamton, Roanoke/Salem VA, and Birmingham. A big "Thank you!" to LaQuinta and Candlewood Suites for their pet-friendly policies.

I left a few days ahead of Papacat, who stayed with the dog to see the moving van off and to shampoo the carpets of the house that was about to go on the market. The weather was mostly good all four days of our trip, but he hit heavy snow going over the Adirondacks in his first hour out of Plattsburgh, a little goodbye present from the Frozen North.

As I journeyed southwest, traveling four to five hundred miles a day, I noticed that each day the temperatures rose about ten degrees and the price of gas dropped. The temperatures went from the forties to the fifties to the sixties to the seventies, and the price of gas went from $3.60 in Plattsburgh to under $3.00 by the time I got to Mississippi. Good deal.

On the second day of our trip, we went through five states, all on I-81: New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia. When you cross into Maryland, you cross the Mason-Dixon Line. Even the geography looks different. And suddenly you start seeing signs for Waffle House.

The mountains are beautiful. In central New York, there are hills running north to south, and it's clear they were left behind by the glaciers. In central Pennsylvania, maybe they were glacial mountains also, but they're much steeper; I'm not sure. But the broad valleys of Pennsylvania with lovely towns and cities spread out over them are awesome.

In Virginia it's the Shenandoahs. More incredible beauty. The autumn leaves in New York were finished by the time I drove through, the first full week of November. In Pennsylvania they were rust-colored. But by the time I got to Virginia, they were peaking, all shades of red and gold and brown.

In Tennessee, it's the Blue Ridge Mountains. Again, gorgeous colors in the leaves, and sunny warm daytime temperatures when I'd stop for gas, food, or to clean cat carriers (the less said about that the better).

The longest leg of the trip was Roanoke to Birmingham, 515 miles. That last stretch from Chattanooga to Birmingham took about two hours, and night fell as I drove. In the west, just after sunset, bright Venus was in conjunction with a sliver of crescent moon, a little like this *  ). Lovely.

Traveling with three cats (and a lot of worldly possessions) in a Tahoe: oh my. The cats are the Ponchatoula boys, all rescued from various situations in my first parish. Each cat has his unique challenges: Sweetie has diabetes and needs insulin every 12 hours. 'Teebie has liver disease and is in failing health. And Little Bit can find the darndest places to hide in a hotel room. No cat left behind, Little Bit. But his "I ain't going!" routine in the mornings delayed our departures and did not-so-good things for my blood pressure. 

The first night's hotel had open area under the beds, so of course he went to the middle of "under the full-size bed" and wouldn't budge. I  managed to crawl under and drag him out, mother-cat style, and of course he was not pleased. The next two nights had real pet-friendly platform beds with no way to get under them. (Thank you, hotels!) Yet I was using wastebaskets, pillows, cat carriers, etc. to try to block Little Bit from getting behind the head of the bed, but of course he found a way. Again, I did a mother-cat "drag him out" in the morning.

That third morning was the worst. All three of them disappeared. I finally found Sweetie, all twenty pounds of him, on top of the kitchen cabinets in the suite. He had jumped from chair to table to countertop to top of refrigerator to top of cabinet. Sweetie's diabetic neuropathy must be doing a lot better since we upped his insulin!

It took awhile, but I finally found a black tail ('Teebie) sticking out under the bedskirt. And Little Bit was there, too. I was terrified they had managed either to crawl up into the mechanism of the reclining chair or jump behind and under the refrigerator, but apparently even Little Bit was not that suicidal. And so I put them into their cat carriers, loaded them onto the luggage cart, and wheeled them to the Tahoe.

Among the gazillion things in the back of the Tahoe was the huge spider plant from my office in Plattsburgh. That first night in Binghamton, the predicted low was below freezing, so I brought it into the hotel room. Did I mention that Sweetie loves to eat spider plants? So it hung from the shower rod that night and the bathroom door stayed closed. Fortunately, as we traveled south, the nighttime temperatures rose and I could leave it in the car overnight. It arrived in New Orleans with some leaves slightly bent, but it has a happy new home in the conservatory off the dining room and seems to be recovering just fine.

We arrived in New Orleans at rush hour on a Thursday afternoon, and of course there were accidents that had the interstate tied up, and don't you just love having to pull over for emergency vehicles when there is no place to pull over? Back to life in the big city. We made it home safely, just before sunset. As I unloaded the car, I saw Venus and the crescent moon appear in the west. A good sign. Welcome home.