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Dispatches: Trucking from Redding, CA to Knoxville, TN

Red Cliffs at Red Rock Canyon State Park (California). Photo by Clay Duda.
Our Penske Big Bird in front of the Red Cliffs at Red Rock Canyon State Park in Cantil, CA.

It was a grueling six-day journey to pack all of our earthly belongings across the United States from Redding, California to our soon-to-be new home in Knoxville, Tennessee, but by some miracle of fortitude my wife and I managed to survive the roughly 2,700-mile trek. We lost four tires on the Penske Big Bird moving truck along the way and — while we aimed to just spend eight hours on the road each day — some days the sun beat us to our destination as our trip ran long. (See our full trip itinerary)

Inevitably the days start to blur together when you’re punching the pedal for 500+ miles every day, so I decided to keep notes each night (or most nights, at least) during our travels. Looking back it’s a great experience to remember, but at the moment you couldn’t pay me to be stuck again in that 16-foot box truck in the middle-of-nowhere Texas. These are dispatches from our misadventures and ultimate salvation, from camping on the road back east and some of the sights we’ve seen along the way.

Ricardo Campgrounds at Red Rock Canyon State Park in Cantil, CA. Photo by Clay Duda.
Our first night we staked a claim in the Ricardo Campgrounds at Red Rock Canyons State Park in Cantil, CA. Joshua trees dot the Mojave desert in the background.

May 13, 2015: Moving Day No. 1
Redding, CA > Red Rock Canyon State Park in Cantil, CA 

We made it into camp just shy of sunset. Good timing because it got dark quick. And cold. Well not that cold by cold standards, but cool. This is May in the Mojave.

Red Rock Canyon State Park is amazingly gorgeous. Especially if you don’t have to deal with the heat. In at dusk, gone by sunrise.

What kind of rock formations are these? I must find out. Joshua trees dot the dusty landscape leading up to the towering cliffs overhead. These cliffs aren’t red, they’re a sandy white. A glimpse of the famed Red Cliffs can be seen in the distance. A boulder is perched on a ledge overlooking our campsite, no. 15.

Ricardo Campgrounds at Red Rock Canyon State Park in Cantil, CA. Photo by Clay Duda.
We staked a claim at campsite no. 15 in the Ricardo Campgrounds at Red Rock Canyon State Park.

There’s only 2 other campers here. A family with two kids and a collie, and a big white RV on the far end with two black stripes down each side. They’re so far away they won’t be a bother. Each camp site is tucked up against the rocks, many tucked into alcoves that help shield the wind. There’s a big open field dotted with joshua trees and small desert shrubs. It all makes a big sort of horseshoe with the visit center situated at the far end, near the entrance. If this place was filled with campers it would have been a completely different experience, but tonight it is only desert silence and sporadic, cool gusts of desert winds.

The drive to get here sucked, though. California’s Central Valley has a lot of farm land and not much else. We saw the skyline rise above Sacramento one last time (for now, at least) and that’s about all I remember aside from orchards and hay fields.

Our Penske Big Bird moving truck handles like a dradle about the run out of steam and stop spinning, swaying teeter-totter with each touch of the wheel or stomp on the gas. My dog rode shotgun most of the way. The cat and snake hitched a ride with wifey in our car behind.

Tomorrow, Arizona. Now it’s time to try our first night on the road, in a tent, with two wild house pets…

A panoramic view of the Red Cliffs at Red Rock Canyon State Park in Cantil, CA. Photo by Clay Duda.
A panoramic view of the Red Cliffs.
A rather gnarly Joshua tree growing in the Mojave Desert. Photo by Clay Duda.
A rather gnarly Joshua tree growing in the Mojave Desert.
A Joshua tree in the Mojave Desert near Cantil, CA. Photo by Clay Duda.
A Joshua tree.
Heading east toward Barstow, then on to the Puebloan ruins of Homolovi in Winslow, AZ. Photo by Clay Duda.
Heading east toward Barstow, then on to the Puebloan ruins of Homolovi in Winslow, AZ.

May 14, 2015: Moving Day No. 2
Red Rock Canyon State Park in Cantil, CA > Homolovi State Park in Winslow, AZ

Arizona is full of wind and asshole drivers. The latter resides in every state, and so does the former, for that matter, but today those wind gusts meant nearly eight hours of white-knuckle driving as we made our way down I-40 toward Flagstaff, a small town of about 100,000 nestled at 7,000 feet in the Coconino National Forest. With cold, stormy weather blowing in it’s a good thing we made camp 50 miles further east, near Winslow.

We arrived at the Homolovi Ruins State Park just in time to not see the ruins. The park ranger locked the gates to Homolovi at 5 p.m., and it was 5:05 by the time we threw our sleeping gear in the back of the Big Bird Penske truck and made for the abandoned town.

We converted our Penske Big Bird moving truck into an RV for the night to survive a cold, wildy storm front at the Homolovi Ruins State Park in Winslow, AZ. Photo by Clay Duda.
We converted our Penske Big Bird moving truck into an RV for the night to survive a cold, wildy storm front at the Homolovi Ruins State Park in Winslow, AZ.

We’re camping in the moving truck tonight. Good thing this bastard is way bigger than we needed or we would be freezing our arses off right about now. Even though I reserved a tent camping site turns out not many people tent camp around here — and I can see why. Those fucking winds have to be pushing 30 miles per hour and still haven’t died down since we rolled in a few hours ago. Plus the park ranger said there’s a massive storm blowing in, so all things considered we’re pretty fortunate to have a RV/moving truck to hold up in for tonight.

We’ll lose at least one of the tires on the truck and probably one or both on the tow dolly before this trip is over. The alignment on both are out of whack. I feel the bastard truck tugging me into oncoming traffic, sometimes with help from the bastard wind.

I guess the road can make you kind of bitter.

It has been stressful. I won’t even lie. And I’m damn disappointed about not getting to see the ruins. They open again in the morning at 8 am, but by then I hope to have my sights on the New Mexico state line. This is only the end of day two. We’ve got a hard drive again tomorrow to make our spot in Texas. Then it’s on to small towns in Louisiana and then Georgia to stay with family. Tomorrow will be our last night camping. I’m thankful for that in some ways, but right now I need to hop in the shower while I still can.

Sometimes it’s the little things in life that matter the most.

The world's largest golf ball -- or something like that -- in Arizona. Photo by Clay Duda.
The world’s largest golf ball… or something like that.
Arizona rocks along I-40. Photo by Clay Duda.
Arizona rocks along I-40.

May 15, 2015: Moving Day No. 3
Homolovi State Park in Winslow, AZ > Caprock Canyons State Park in Quitaque, TX

We met the sunrise on the road out of Winslow this morning. We knew we had to get an early start to make camp in Texas’ panhandle by nightfall.

We got out of dodge just in front of a storm that was dumping snow on Flagstaff, about 50 miles to our west. It was a bitter cold night hunkered down in the Penske Big Bird, which made getting up at 5:30 a.m. an easy choice. We spent most of the morning skirting the storm as dark clouds filled our window. To our front was blue skies and sunshine. But two tires got too rough to ride in Gallup, NM and we had to pit stop for an hour. Two more, these on the trailer, had to be replaced in Albuquerque. Another 45 minutes down.

In New Mexico I saw about every shift, shape, color, formation, knarl, sidescape, and enclave I could have possibly imagined. Big caves carved inside of giant mesa canyons with native stores offering souvenir blankets and handmade charms starting at $7.99 a pop. I bought an authentic knock-off Navajo blanket at Love’s for $9.99.

Danger! Falling rocks along I-40 in New Mexico. Photo by Clay Duda.
Danger! Falling rocks along I-40 in New Mexico.
Texas' panhandle. Photo by Clay Duda.
Texas’ panhandle.

The Texas state line gave way to grasslands, and we turned just before Amarillo to make another 100 miles bootleg to Caprock Canyons State Park near the small town of Quitaque. It’s pronounced “kitty-que,” according to the town welcome sign. Population 411.

After endless miles of grassland along Hwy 86 the ground finally gave out as we snaked down between spires of red rock and canyon walls toward the small Kitty town. We made our way to the campground just as the sun started to set behind the high grasslands.

This place is teeming with wildlife. There was a rabbit sitting in our campsite when we arrived, and the path the the bath house leads trough a prairie dog field. Just after sunset four deer meandered along the canyon’s edge just off the roadway. But it took 4 tires, 3 states, and 12 hours. And that’s a hell of a Hump Day.

A fuzzy HDR photo of Caprock Canyons State Park in Quitaque, TX.  Photo by Clay Duda's iPhone.
A fuzzy HDR photo of Caprock Canyons State Park in Quitaque, TX.
Texas' official bison herd at Caprock Canyons State Park near Quitaque, TX. Photo by Clay Duda.
Texas’ official bison herd at Caprock Canyons State Park.
Sunshine streaks through the clouds early morning on the Texas panhandle. Photo by Clay Duda.
Sunshine streaks through the clouds early morning on the Texas panhandle.

May 16, 2015: Moving Day No. 4
Caprock Canyons State Park in Quitaque, TX > Family’s house in Ruston, LA

We spent half the night last night piled in the car trying to get some sleep after a band of harsh thunderstorms cracked open the sky. Today a tornado touched down about 50 miles east of where we camped last night, according to what some locals are saying on Facebook.

We parked the moving truck at the Caprock Canyons visitor center overnight and when we pulled back up around day break a herd of bison were grazing in the pastures around Big Bird. These aren’t just any bison, but Texas’ official bison herd. Because every state needs an official bison herd…

Heavy rain and delicious food in Louisiana.  Photos by Clay Duda.
Heavy rain and delicious food in Louisiana.

After yesterday, today’s travels were a breeze. No major hiccups or blown tires or other craziness to report. Thankfully. We cruised into Ruston, LA around 4:30 in the afternoon. Melissa’s aunt and uncle were nice enough to put us up for the night, and to feed us. After three days of chicken and rice, sandwiches, and truck stop coffee the offerings were a welcomed reprieve. I had my first cup of sweet tea in at least a year, plus steak, corn, potato and pasta salads, and biscuits. Maybe tomorrow I’ll even get some BBQ.

Next stop, Powder Springs, GA, then our last leg will be a round-trip to Knoxville on Monday to drop our gear.

It’s nice to have family — blood and otherwise — to back you up.

My road dog ready to get off this road. Only 518 miles to Georgia. Photo by Clay Duda.
My road dog ready to get off this road. Only 518 miles to Georgia.
My road dog ready to get off this road. Only 518 miles to Georgia. Photo by Clay Duda. Photos by Clay Duda.
A tropical sunset in Powder Springs, GA.

May 17, 2015: Moving Day No. 5
Family’s house in Ruston, LA > Family’s house in Powder Springs, GA

I’m writing this one posthumously. Yesterday we made it into Powder Springs, GA, to my mom and step-dad’s house. We went and visited the inlaws last night. My mom made lasagna, coleslaw, and some deliciously unmentionable salad. Say what?

We hit some rain again nearing home. Or at least home again for the next few weeks. It’s amazing how much you take things you see everyday for granted. I couldn’t stop smiling being back in Georgia, and with that rain water came a thick mist and fog that made everything glow with life. The trees, the sticks, the poison ivy, everything seemed lush and alive. Humidity. Ferns. Moss. A lone McDonald’s sign illuminated above the pines… I need to get off this road.

More than anything it’s just great to be home. Friends and family. Family and friends. I don’t regret leaving, though. You never know what you have until it’s gone.

Just droning around with my stepdad, Kevin. Photo by Clay Duda.
Just droning around with my stepdad, Kevin.
It rains in Knoxville. Photo by Clay Duda.
It rains in Knoxville.

May 18, 2015: Moving Day No. 6
Family’s house in Powder Springs > Storage unit in Knoxville, TN > back to Powder Springs, GA

We’re on our way back from Knoxville, TN now with my parents. Again with the rain, but we’ve finally laid he Penske Big Bird to rest. All our worldly belonging are tucked away in an overpriced metal box for the next 6 weeks, and we’re gearing up for Europe. But before then there’s still some jaunts around the southeast. Durham, NC this weekend, then Savannah, GA in the weeks to come. Until then, I need some rest.

Spending the afternoon in Knoxville proved to be a nice, semi-relaxing outing, even if I am beyond exhaustion. It will be more than a month before my wife and I officially call this city home, but it can’t come soon enough.

Check out a ton more photos from our trip on Facebook.

Sent from my iPhone.

A glorious sight. Photo by Clay Duda.
A glorious sight.

 

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Clay Duda is a freelance journalist specializing in investigative reporting, feature writing, editorial photography, and digital media.