By Eilene Lyon
I keep this rather unremarkable photograph as a reminder of the kindnesses of strangers to an adventurous college graduate making a solo cross-country trip.
June 15, 1985: I left Columbus, Ohio, in this 1972 Pontiac Ventura, pulling a lightweight boat trailer. My boyfriend had built a box on it to haul my worldly possessions to Grandma’s house in Corvallis, Oregon. He had recently acquired the car in a trade, paying $200 and a shotgun. It was worth less than that, though. No A/C and only an AM radio and 8-track player (obsolete even in 1985). It didn’t take me long to discover I was in for major equipment failure.
“6/16/85 – Danville, IL 11:30 a.m. Central. Looks like this is going to be one hell of an adventure. I made it to Indianapolis last night when the car cut out on me. Then I noticed the trailer axles were bending outward because of the load. Rocky at the Amoco station stayed late to weld some supports on, which ultimately proved to not be worth the $60 I spent. After spending the night crammed in the front seat behind a full 6-room motel [there was a convention in Indianapolis and no rooms available], I grabbed some water from the church next door and hit the road. At the first rest area on I-74, I noticed the trailer wheel problem was worse. A trucker named Benny spent the whole morning helping me out any way he could. There are nice people in this world.”
Benny followed me all the way to Danville in his semi, driving about 40 mph on the freeway, and helped me find a mechanic, on a Sunday, to replace the car’s fuel pump. Only a used one was available, which ultimately gave out in Nebraska, days later, and I was able to get a new one then.
I called my mom and got the phone number of some family friends who lived on a farm in central Illinois. It was clear the trailer could not make the cross-country trip. The Moores put me up for the night and allowed me to store the trailer in their barn. (My stuff sat there for a whole year, no charge, until Mom brought it to me in Colorado in a U-Haul.)
The car, apparently named Herple, got me to central Iowa the following day (at 10 miles to the gallon) and I pulled into this park to camp for the night (above), but the wind was hellacious. It was impossible for me to put up the large tent by myself. A nearby couple, Wes and Kathy, helped me out, then even invited me to their camp for drinks and dinner.
One of my goals for the trip was to visit Yellowstone National Park.
“6/21 – Shoshone Natl. For., WY 9:30 p.m. Mtn. Well, I finally made it to the beautiful country. Can’t believe that I ever complained about Wyoming. As far as roads & landscape, it’s infinitely better than Nebraska. (save for one road construction job that jarred Herple’s exhaust pipes apart. Fortunately a guy in Cody put it back to together for me for free [burning his hand in the process]).”
Listening to the un-muffled engine for 70 miles hadn’t been pleasant, but I really owed that nice mechanic in Cody.
We all have to come to these times of reckoning with ourselves, and I have to admit that I have not always been as kind as Rocky, Benny, the Moores, Wes & Kathy, and the anonymous Cody mechanic. It strains my mind to imagine how I ever would have gotten to Oregon without their help. It’s easy to find excuses to not go out of our way, or reason that someone else is taking care of it, but they all stepped up.
One of my goals for this year is to look for and respond to opportunities to be helpful, without worrying about my own inconvenience: delivering a package for a neighbor I don’t know, picking up a dropped item and returning it, offering to fill in for a sick friend – are just a few recent examples. I hope I will live up to the challenge. I want to make the world a better place during my time here. It’s the little stuff that counts.
A backcountry view in Yellowstone National Park (1985)