Community Columns

Navigating the way to a new life

I’ve finally reached Merced, Calif.; that is, I’m all the way here. It’s been a long, hard journey from Greenport for Mecca, my dog, and my two cats, Jojo and Snoopy, and me, as well as my son, John, who mapped our route by way of pet-friendly motels and did all the driving.

It took us six days to cross the country by a northern route, traveling roughly 650 miles a day (except for Day 1, when we left Greenport at 3 p.m.). We developed a routine with the animals. John would register us at the motel while I walked Mecca. Then we would unload our gear onto a luggage trolley: two cats in their carriers, spare kitty litter, food for cats and dog, a box with everyone’s meds (including mine), our suitcases and, for John, a computer and camera.

Once in our rooms, the cats were let out of the carriers and fed and their kitty litter set up. Snoopy was with John and Jojo and Mecca were with me. Then John and I would find a place to eat. Often it was late, around 8, and after the meal we’d turn in to be ready for an early start the next morning.

Usually we’d meet for breakfast around 6 or 6:30. Then we’d reverse our evening routine, loading the trolley and settling the animals in the back seat of our rented SUV. The cats rode in their carriers side by side on the platform created by putting half the seat down, and Mecca was installed on her bed on the other half, on the seat proper. We discovered that our “carsick” cats no longer got sick and didn’t complain as long as they had a small box of kitty litter in the carrier with them. It made for crowded carriers but the cats seemed to feel more secure.

Mecca turned out to be a great traveler, seemingly catching the spirit of adventure. She slept most of the time, happily took a walk every two hours or less and went right back to sleep afterward. She’d prance into our motel, wherever it was, ready to explore every room along the hall.

At our rest stops on the road, we would take turns going inside because the temperature was often close to 100 degrees and we had to keep the car and its air conditioner running — unless we could find a tree to park under for a 15-minute lunch.

The changes in landscape as we headed west were striking. We went from lush farmlands in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois to the stark, often windblown, landscapes of Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada. These are not easy places to live even today — how much more so for pioneers!

Before I left, my daughter Susan said, “This is a huge thing you’re doing.” But I told her that if I’d thought it was huge, I wouldn’t be doing it. Now that I’m on the other side of the journey, I agree with Susan. It may be that as we near 80, as I am, we are slower to catch on to new things. After the long, grinding journey, I’ve felt helpless and rudderless, not sure where I really am and unable even to plot a course to a nearby grocery store or remember the many getting-around tips Susan has given me. I finally know where I am today because three days after arriving, I drove myself to the grocery, found a Starbucks and came home — at last beginning to act independently and take care of myself again.

After over 3,000 miles that I couldn’t have managed by myself, it’s those first few blocks on my own that really count.

Ms. Amussen, now of Merced, Calif., is a freelance writer and a former copy editor at Times/Review Newspapers. E-mail: [email protected].