Monday, July 13, 2009

The Last Road Trip Part 12 - The Grand Canyon

Photographs by Kilroy_60

Bringing you up-to-date on The Last Road Trip, an adventure that, so far, has taken us through nine states....

It was about five weeks ago that The Bat Phone rang at Black Squirrel Run.

Since I was planning to leave a few days later on a road trip with my buddy Al, his wife calling on the private line I have set aside for my closest friends didn't seem at all unusual.

What time it was when the phone rang (5:32 a.m.) never entered my mind. I was working on a manuscript and didn't have a problem taking a break to pick up the call. My closest friends know they are welcome to call The Bat Phone any time and as long as I'm available I'll answer.

The news she had, though, was both unexpected and shocking. Al had committed suicide.

I caught a plane the next day, accompanied by TheSpecialOne and The Master Baiter, who is another of Al's friends. (For first time visitors, The Master Baiter is an attorney, a psychiatrist and a championship fisherman)

I should say here that my buddy's name is Paul, but we'd called him Al since the late 80s when Paul Simon released Graceland. It was his all-time favorite album and You Can All Me Al was the song with which he always seemed to be singing along.

It had been awhile since since I'd gotten together with Al, so when he phoned to say he wanted to see if I could take some time to get away from work I said yes straight away.

I was looking forward to taking the road trip , not because I wanted to go somewhere, but because I was happy that Al and I would have a chance to add another chapter to our long list of adventures.

A few years ago Al had gone through cancer treatment and, as far as I knew, he was doing well.

What I learned later, what not even his wife knew when he said he wanted to go on a road trip, was that his cancer had returned and the prognosis was not good. It was, in fact, a terminal diagnosis.

Whether asking me to go on a road trip was part of his plan, something that would ensure I was available to provide support for his wife after he did the deed, I don't know.

The Master Baiter tells me that when people have a reoccurance of cancer and the prognosis is bad they sometimes see suicide as a better option, to save family and friends the pain of dealing with treatment.

Intellectually, I understand making that choice in the face of a terminal cancer diagnosis, but intellectualizing doesn't make it any easier, emotionally, to believe it was a better solution than picking up the phone.

Ultimately, the easy path for those of us left behind is to say would've, could've, should've and if. Nobody else has stood in that person's shoes and what we have to do, regardless of the difficulty, is appreciate and celebrate what we shared while the person was alive.

I've questioned myself, whether there was something I could have done, something I should have done differently during a period when we didn't see each other as often as we once had....

Some years before Al and I saw John Prine in concert. On the way home from the show we were laughing about the song Please Don't Bury Me and we got to talking about what we wanted after death. Cremation and a memorial service, it turned out, was what we both wanted.

It came as a complete surprise to me to learn that Al told his wife when his time came I would know where to spread his ashes. That's a discussion of which I have absolutely no recollection.

His wife tells me that he trusted me to make the decision and she feel's the same, that as his best friend, long before he ever met her, I'd know better than anyone what he'd want.

When Al and I talked about going on the road our plan was to go with no plan.

After much deliberation (with Al's wife, TheSpecialOne and The Master Baiter) I decided hitting the road with no plan was exactly the best way to proceed. I would carry out his wish that I spread his ashes.

Music was a common interest that I shared with Al so, naturally, before we set off on the trip I went with The Master Baiter to buy CDs. Spending nearly a thousand dollars on music wasn't something I planned, but, then, "the unexpected" is the best way to characterize most aspects of this trip.

TheSpeialOne took Al's wife to La Alegría and I hit the road with The Master Baiter in Al's rig. (Having it cleaned was the first thing I arranged when I arrived at their house.)

Neither before we left nor at any time along the road have I given a second of forethought to the amount of time that would be required to find an appropriate place to spread Al's ashes. {Make that the Right place.} It is, simply, something that needs to be done without compromise.

For more than a month I've had an opportunity to relive good times I shared with Al, recalled battles won and lost and questioned myself about some things. At times I've been angry that he picked up a .357 magnum instead of the telephone.

If you'd asked me a month-and-a-half ago how I'd feel about taking a road trip through nine states my only question would have been, "Why do we have to limit it to nine states?"

What's great about hitting the road with no plan is that you can't ever be behind schedule and you never have to think about when you'll reach a particular destination.

Part of the joy of traveling, when you do so simply For the joy of traveling, is Experiencing the trip as much as possible. That's something Al and I thrived on and it's what we were looking forward to when we talked about taking a trip.

This road trip, though, is like none I've ever been on before and, at this point, I'm looking forward to it being over.

Before leaving Al's house I conducted a detailed analysis of where things stand with each of the high profile projects I'm working on with clients.

I sent out a number of emails to appropriate personnel that would set new activities in motion, related to top priorities in each company, and fill any void created by my absence.

This has become standard operating procedure when I'll be traveling for an extended period.

The first location I seriously considered as being appropriate to spread Al's ashes was the Badlands in South Dakota.

When I phoned Al's wife at La Alegría she asked whether I was sure that's what I want to do.

It was the first time I'd spoken to her since we hit the road and it was the only time she questioned anything I was doing. That led me to believe it was not a good choice.

Before we left their house, I was able to convince Al's wife to keep some of his ashes. She'd asked me at the time to do the same, before spreading them wherever I felt would be appropriate. When we spoke, she emphasized again that's something it's important to her that I do.

When we got off the road for a couple days, I followed-up with key personnel at each of my client companies to update status reports, determine an appropriate course of action, to address immediate needs, and establish action items and target dates.

At that point I phoned Al's wife to let her know that The Master Baiter and I had considered New Mexico and Texas, but decided the best course of action would be to go Rocky Mountain High. She was pleased with that decision.

When we went to Colorado I was sure we would find what we are looking for. After a few days, though, I began to question whether we were doing the right thing.

Al and I always enjoyed going to the mountains, but neither the Alleghenies nor the Blue Ridge compare with the Rockies.

While we never went to the beach together, both of us loved the time we spent at the seashore. I began to wonder whether it would be better to explore the Pacific Coast than the Rocky Mountains.

Little did I know at that time we'd end up checking out the Rockies, the redwoods, the Pacific Ocean and the Grand Canyon.

The Master Baiter connected with a friend whose a private pilot and he agreed to fly us from Grand Junction Regional Airport to Arcata/Eureka Airport in Humboldt County, California.

We connected with my fraternity brother, LeadGuitar, who'd moved to Humboldt County years before. He was the first one to school me in the art of growing marijuana and produces some of the finest buds in Humboldt County.

While we were in Humboldt County I considered spreading Al's ashes among the redwoods.

I couldn't recall him ever speaking with any passion about trees, though, and when all was said and done neither The Master Baiter nor I felt The Cathedral of the Redwoods would be the Right place for Al's ashes.

The Master Baiter has a client who owns homes in Eureka, in Humboldt County, and Carmel-by-the-Sea, in Monterey County. He lent us a car to use while we explored State Route 1 in an area stretcheing from Mendocino County to Monterey County.

The 1963 Cadillac Coupe DeVille Convertible was the type of car Al was a big fan of and we hoped it would help us get to where we wanted to be for him.
There was one spot we checked out three times and it was there that we came closest to spreading Al's ashes.

We considered it so seriously that the last time we were there I popped in a CD we'll be leaving behind when we spread the ashes. I believe that Al would appreciate having music at what will be one of the most important moments we've shared.

After deciding against spreading the ashes along the Pacific Coast we moved on, thanks again to The Master Baiter's private pilot friend, to Sedona, Arizona.

It was good to spend a few days in Sedona. While I was disappointed that we didn't find a spot to spread Al's ashes it was spiritually enriching.

Our next stop on The Last Road Trip was the Grand Canyon. We spent about a week exploring there, checking out the North and South rim as well as going into the canyon, but didn't come close to finding what we were looking for.

Early this morning we caught a flight back to Colorado. At this point we're planning to check out Grand Junction. If that doesn't work I'm not sure in which direction we'll proceed.


stephenmakesart said...

great post and photos

crys said...

You attention to detail is something that your friend Al, along with his wife, must have felt was important in choosing you for this task.