Before you unfolds the journey of two men who brave the elements of the unknown. I broke the tale down to three chapters to make it an easy read. Grab your coffee and remember, my vision is still not dead on, so disregard any glitches one may find.
A MAN DREAMS OF HIS DESTINY
There comes a time in the lives of many well seasoned Minnesota fisherman when they begin to feel the thrill of the old fishing hole has started to fade and hope of finding a new spot seems to be an uphill battle. Talk of imagined lakes teaming with hungry walleyes, fishing trips without having to battle mesquites or wood ticks are often spoke about down at the cafe, but in reality that is about it, just talk.
With winter's howling winds still haunting everyone's memory, Nels felt a vacation to a warm, balmy fishing paradise was called for. As he swirled the coffee about in the cup he thought perhaps a trip to see his second cousin in Long Beach might not be such a bad idea.
Meanwhile his long time fishing pal, Maynard, felt a trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula to be a more economical vacation, not fraught with numerous potential disasters and the fishing, he heard, was great that time of year. But truth be known, Maynard really wanted to see the World's Tallest Milk Bottle that was portrayed in a post card his cousin sent him back in the ‘62 when his family went to visit Big John's Copper Mine and the Mystery Spot.
Maynard could never figure out his fascination for the giant structure. Perhaps it had already crumbled into the landscape of two-lane tourism, but as he grew older and none the wiser, he felt compelled to seek it out and if the fishing was as good as he heard, well then that would be a bonus.
So began the argument. Nels wanted to head west and Maynard maintained after at a dozen or so trips to the Black Hills, he felt it a travesty for great fishermen to waste precious few summer days heading west again, especially for a God forsaken place like California.
Minnesotans rarely trust anyone from California, yet there had been at one time a sizeable Swedish population in Long Beach and Nels felt safe going there to fish. And so the dream finally seemed to take shape–if he could convince Maynard to go as a traveling companion..
Nels had one up in the vacation argument since he owned a some-what reliable car while Maynard possessed an ragged old Dodge pickup that had more rust than sheet metal, plus the odometer rolled over more times than a hound dog who stumbled onto a dead carcass. The passenger side window received a hail of buckshot when he slipped on fresh snow during a deer hunting trip back in ‘72 and the tailgate took flight when he volunteered to transport Carl Odegard's Jack Ass, who decided trucks had little to do with his lifestyle and kicked out the back end with considerable force. Still Maynard felt if the truck started on a thirty below day, then it was worth keeping.
But the car Nels owned, a 1962 Rambler Cross Country wagon, had already seen 25 years of service the year this argument took place. Not much could be said of the car since everything had been kept as neat as a pin since they day he bought it. Nels felt a fool and his money were soon parted and car salesmen were nothing more than a shoehorn aimed for his wallet.
The fishing there abouts had been rather poor lately and Nels needed a cooling off period with Irma Peterson who called on him a bit to often lately to go fishing in the boat she won the previous winter during the Annual Dump the Desoto contest. So Maynard once again gave up hope of seeing the Upper Peninsula since the decision had been made fora fishing trip to the ocean. The guys at the cafe's back table all sighed in relief when the two finally made peace and like always they paid there bill and headed about their day.
CHAPTER TWOThe story could very well end here and you the reader would be forced to imagine the rest of the journey. Fortunately, I recall most of the details of this heroic attempt of Nels and Maynard to reach the mighty Pacific Ocean from their small insignificant Minnesota town..
THE SAGA CONTINUES
THE SAGA CONTINUES
There were a few problems with logistics that should have set off warning lights since neither of the two had been further west than the Black Hills. The 500 mile trip to Mt. Rushmore usually turned into a two day journey depending on how many coffee stops they made and how long they hung out at Wall Drug. Nels figured in his head if it took two days to get to the Black Hills, then another day added to that should put them in Long Beach.
But paper and pencil would show at a blistering pace for the two, motoring 300 miles-per-day, the ocean pilgrimage would be a six day drive at best and they only planned to be gone for seven or eight days. So as the two slowly drove out of town that weekend, before them stood a colossal challenge for survival unbeknownst to our small town fishermen.
The scenery soon faded to boredom and after four days Nels became so sick of the Great Plains he could have been hog tied and tossed to the buzzards that seemed to follow the old Rambler for most of their journey. By mid-day the car overheated four times and to add more misery, a fresh can of Copenhagen could not be found anywhere. And the road continued on and on.
By that evening Maynard had belly-ached about Nel's car enough to create a tension level that nearly came to blow several times. By this time they discovered the great American desert. It was hot, darned hot and rolling down the windows did nothing to relieve the heat. Air conditioned cafes for coffee breaks were nearly 100 miles apart and that alone nearly killed Nel's who would drive down to the cafe several times a day just to kill time and brag about what he had caught that day.
Out across the two lanes there was very little that offered them hope. On the fifth day Maynard suggested they take the Interstate but Nels considered that to expensive and traffic flowed around 70 miles per hour, making them a sitting duck and besides his fuel mileage would be affected. As the sun began its decent into the west our weary travelers pulled into Kingman, Arizona and after a cup of coffee and a sandwich the men retired, too tired to argue.
The next morning the exhausted travelers had to make a decision to head on or turn around but after Maynard looked at the place mat on the table he saw with amazement a town nearby called Bullhead City.
"Thirty stinking miles and it is on a two lane. With a name like Bullhead, why the fishing has got to be great," Maynard said, with a new found excitement. What he really had in mind was to catch a few Bullheads and return home.
Nels saw the tourist sinkhole as something to slow down his journey. Only he knew the Rambler was dying and had no plans to tell Maynard of the possible upcoming death of his beloved Rambler. If the two were ever going to make it to Long Beach they needed to keep rolling and Bullhead may be their end.
After the two travelers left the Desert's Edge Cafe they took in the Andy Devine Museum then returned to the Rambler. With a turn of the key the engine miraculously started but left a plume of blue smoke that covered the parking lot. Nels maintained the thoughts of a stubborn old man that if he ignored the smoke, the mechanical problems would go away. Maynard had his mind on the next leg, the 30 mile trip to Bullhead City, therefore did not notice the oil cloud they left behind
The outside temperature was creeping up towards 100 degrees already. If there is anything a cold-blooded Swede can't handle it is heat. A thirty below day in the fish house with a bottle of peach schnapps is no problem. Both of the men were down to their yellowed t-shirts and Maynard even considered taking off his long johns. Running with a bad engine knock, the rapidly aging Rambler rumbled across the Colorado River when they caught sight of a sign, half erased from the wind and sand reading Bullhead City. A few trailers were scattered about in the barren wilderness with a lone combination cafe/gas station edged up next to the agricultural inspection station. That was Bullhead City
Curious to say the least, Nels and Maynard walked into the cafe where the Royal Crown thermometer on the outside wall now read 112 and inquired about the bullheads. The bearded man flipping burgers laughed. It wasn't the first easterner that followed the two lane past Laughlin looking for a fishing hole.
"Under that dam is a rock that looked mighty like a Bull's Head. Well, we used to call this place Hardyville but some city fellers up Sacramento way decided to name it after that rock in the water nobody can see no more. Ain't no bullheads around here. To hot for decent fishin," he said wiping the sweat from his forehead with the dirty white apron. "Folks say, and I'm agin it that someday there will be a big city here."
Nels swigged down the coffee and poked Maynard in the side. "C'mon we got an Ocean nearby with a cool breeze. Lets go find it." The bearded man was still yammering about seniors, Laughlin, Nevada and higher taxes as Maynard left a dollar bill for the coffee and more than a generous tip.
Nels excitement did not last long, the Border Inspector told them it was nearly a full days drive from Bullhead City and he had better take lots of water for his radiator because the weatherman said it would probably hit 117 degrees across the desert.
"Oh my God, not another day of heat, Maynard cried out. "Why, why, why did you do this to me you stupid Swede. Why, why ,why." He got in the Rambler and slammed the door hard enough to crack the vent window. The car moved with a bit of hesitation from the transmission and the smoke got bluer and bluer.
THE END AND THEREFORE AMEN
THE END AND THEREFORE AMEN
With map in hand Maynard looked at the next leg of the journey which led them down US 95 and over to the Mother Road, Route 66, then to Barstow. The inspector told them the journey across the desert would be about 165 miles or so of blistering hot mountainous terrain and don't expect to find many gas stops, best to keep rolling and don't pick up hitchhikers in the desert since most of them are crazy from the heat. Each word the uniformed bearer of doom uttered stabbed Maynard deep into his solar plexus, but Nels just pushed down his flip-top sunglasses and like a good trooper headed west.
The mountains were evil, like hell itself had opened their doors just to torment mortal man. Maynard bet Nels his last fresh can of Copenhagen they would never make it to Barstow and like a prophet of doom, he won the bet. About 15 miles from Barstow in an out-of-the way one-time gold town of Daggett the two-tone blue Rambler blew forth with a horrific screech from the motor followed by a combination plume of steam and oil smoke. The horrid smell ripped through their sinus cavities like a blow torch. And there they sat in the 118 degree heat with a dead horse.
I am not able to recall which they feared most, dying in the desert heat or being attacked by a crazed desert rat while sitting in the car along the two lane. They both showed signs of heat prostration and if weren't for a California Highway Patrolman coming by when he did, likely they to would have died from the heat.
The car was pulled into a nearby garage and the report was not good. The old Rambler needed a new engine, the transmission wasn't doing so well and the mechanic told them the front tires weren't looking very good either.
Not accustomed to hearing such vile Swedish and Norwegian profanity, inserted with a small amount of English speckled throughout, the mechanic told them to get out of his shop and return when they cooled off. No doubt the heat had destroyed most, if not all their reasoning The two angry Minnesotans were forced to get a room at the Desert Owl Motel and Cafe which had the added luxury of a rather busy Santa Fe railroad about 75 feet behind their room.
With a fresh can of Copenhagen and a air conditioned room, the two men consumed several pots of coffee to settle their nerves and slowly came to their normal baseline of sensibility and Nels for the first time admitted defeat as gracious as he knew how
His first line of defense came when he saw a used car lot across the street but all the high mileage dinosaurs had rotted upholstery from the intense heat and likely they never would get them back home safely in any cars he saw. For the first time in years Nel's took the advice of Maynard and the two opted for a Greyhound trip back home.
Nel's meekly walked back to the shop where the mechanic came out with a gun tucked under his shirt, afraid the two would go off into another vituperation in an unknown tongue. Not this time, Nels came in peace and attempted to bargain a fair price for his car and assorted pieces of tackle, thermos bottles and old fishing magazines he picked up at the post office and never got around to reading.
Nels walked around the car as if he was trying to sell a prize Holstein, showing the mechanic the fine points of his beloved Rambler but all he got was a measly sixty-five dollars and a trip to the front door. The owner told the cashier to be ready to call the police if they became hysterical again. But no, all the two wanted to do is return back to the lakes once more where they could go about life much as they always had.
So much for the fishing trip to the ocean. After a thousand mile ride through sage brush, rolling hills, and scorching heat they decided the ocean fish probably wasn't biting good this time of year anyhow. One good thing about the long ride home, it would give them time to get their fishing story down tight. As far as the two were concerned nobody had to know they never made it to the ocean.
The first thing Nels asked the bus driver was how many stops for coffee they would make in the next few days and he thought he had a pretty good sense of humor when the driver told them they would arrive in Fargo in 36 hours. From that point they were on their own
Although Nels would never admit it, he was kind of lonesome for Irma Peterson and a slice of her homemade rhubarb pie. He thought perhaps the walleye fishing may have picked up a bit, so he sat back in his comfortable seat and planned for a uneventful ride home. But no sooner had the bus pulled out of the station when Maynard started in about the amount of time they wasted trying to get to the ocean and what they should have done was go see Big John's Underground Copper Mine and of course, the world's tallest milk bottle.
Nel's closed his eyes and soon Maynard's voice drifted off into that void all Swedes were able to conjure up from birth, much like the place their minds go when their wives start in about going shopping or mowing the yard. He thought about rhubarb pie and how things like that are much more important than oceans. He wondered if Irma would want to take the boat out the day he returns. Yes, life is good when the fish bite and the pie is good and the coffee is hot.
They tell me somewhere outside Barstow, California you can still see the remains of the old Cross Country Rambler left sitting in the brush as a testament to the courage of the Viking spirit, to find and oceans and to conquer the seemingly impossible. It is not up to me to say if Nels conquered his dreams. I am here only to tell the story as I was told and to hand it down for generations to come.