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December 24th, 1999 - Clearfield, Penn to West Branch, Iowa : Day 71

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This picture comes from a couple weeks ago, back in Solihull, England. Todd wakes up in the Land Rover from a comfortable nights sleep that only a Dormobile can provide. The Land Rovers are only two miles from their Solihull birthplace.    

December 24, 1999
Clearfield, Pennsylvania to West Branch, Iowa

We began this day at a truck stop. Last night pneumonia and its effects stopped Nick, and by default the whole team. We had hoped to get a bit further, but we had to play with the cards that we were dealt.

The day began about 7:00 am at which time I wrestled myself from my bed and threw myself into the shower. We are all wanting to get home as fast as we can now, and are almost becoming resentful of the Land Rovers limited top speed of 55 mph. Hearing Bing Crosby singing Christmas Carols in London began a wave of home sickness that has only grown day by day. By now exhaustion and cold are the only things that keep us from dwelling on this feeling. We had talked about the possibility of driving straight home, but we soon realized how long this would take as we saw every type of vehicle pass us. The bright side of this snails pace was the fact that we would not get any speeding tickets. But, conversely, we had to watch the minimum speed signs closely as we were barely staying legal.

After making the rounds waking everyone up I managed to talk Jeff into sitting down for breakfast with me. Jeff and Doug are trying to shed some "around-the world" pounds before reuniting with their loved ones, therefore Doug declined the breakfast invitation and Jeff kept his intake to a bowl of corn flakes and a few longing glances at my biscuits and gravy. After breakfast we talked with some truckers on their way to Des Moines. They said it was only a twelve-hour drive to Des Moines, if you keep the accelerator down. I asked how long it would take in a Land Rover and they said probably twenty hours. One fellow said he had an empty truck bed and for one hundred dollars he could be convinced to take us where we were going. Jeff and I looked at each other and then half-heartedly declined, thinking this would not be in the true spirit of the trip.

After scraping ice off the windows and doing the daily checks, we started up the vehicles. Hercules' exhaust leak had been continuing to get worse, so in effect by starting Hercules, we were announcing our departure to the entire state. In the other Rover, Alaska, Chanda was building a back seat nest for Nick where he rested the entire day. I was happy that it was so cozy because he seemed to get his rest. But, the best thing was that I did not have to be guided by the divine wisdom of "The ultimate back seat driver".

It started out as a beautiful day as we cruised through the snow covered rolling hills and the leafless trees of Western Pennsylvania. It was fun to imagine how it would have looked three hundred years ago with all of its trees, rivers and valleys virtually untouched. If all these places had voices what would they say? However as it became colder we began watching the mile markers much more closely. Always checking to see how far it was to the next border.

Meanwhile in Hercules, Jeff and Doug were wearing earplugs (unfortunately there were no respirators) to ward off the damaging effects of the exhaust leak, Hercules' thunder. The down pipe coming from the exhaust manifold had shaken one nut free and had broken another, which left only one bolt holding the pipe on. We all wanted to fix the problem, yet at the same didn't want to take the time out nor expose ourselves to the cold, while taking the time out. Furthermore, we didn't have the tools to fix the problem as our tools had been stolen on the ship. Ultimately we stopped in Sandusky, Ohio where we found the only exhaust place that was open at this time on Christmas Eve day. We also had the great fortune of meeting some of the few Land Rover owners of Ohio Names. While we ate, the exhaust guy fixed Hercules. Thankfully we were then quietly on our way.

It was about four o'clock and about 300 miles to Chicago when the heater started to go bad, in Alaska. During the course of the day we had driven through a variety of snow flurries, which we witnessed outside as well as inside the cars. (If it has not been mentioned before, the air tightness of the cars is not the chief selling point of the Rovers. Their draftiness works great in the hot dessert, but is not recommended for cold climates) This is not so bad when you have a heater blowing on your legs, but when you lose that, it gets cold! We layered up, but I must say I arrived at my sister's a little better than half frozen. As the night became colder Chanda dove under the cover of my sleeping bag. It was maddening, as she looked so warm. But as I looked more closely I was relieved to see that she was shaking almost as much as I was. Sorry Chanda, but fair is fair. I tried the heater at various times during our drive. It would work for about 15 seconds and then belch out an awful sound, making us feel as though we were standing next to a jet plane. This could have been tolerated if it had continued to give out heat; however, it was all bark and no bite, unfortunately for us.

We continued driving and driving and driving, the miles clicked off and we became wearier. We passed time talking about former Christmases, Chanda would read us stories by Roald Dahl, and I would torture my car mates with the music of Bob Dylan. The thought that kept me going was the fact that I was excited to see my sister. We passed through Ohio, Indiana, tucked into Sturgis Michigan looking for a toilet, Illinois, and finally entered Iowa. Crossing the Mighty Mississippi was great landmark as we were just fifty miles away from our destination, West Branch.

We rolled into Kristin's and Cory's at about 2:00 am and they got up to greet us. It was great to see a domestic Christmas tree, a friendly dog, and a comfortable recliner. I was happy to see Jeff assume the American posture fully reclined with the remote in his hand. We were indeed in America! The next morning Kristin and Cory put out the Christmas morning spread: biscuits and gravy, cinnamon rolls, eggs, and coffee. We were able to make Christmas phone callsand shower up. We were all very thankful to be near home and I was very happy to be with family on this day. If all goes as planned this will be my last journal entry, Thanks for listening and thanks for following. This is Todd signing off.