Mission Accomplished . . . 5,800 Miles Later

I crossed the California state line in San Bernardino County at 3:18 p.m. October 2, not far from where the Mojave Desert meets the San Andreas Fault. “Not far” being a relative term for a woman who had already logged more than 5,000 miles on her Toyota Prius – much of it on Route 66.

Even in spite of earthquake warnings, it felt good to be home. For anyone who doesn’t know, I’m a California girl by birth, born in a city made famous by the song my parents sang to me as a toddler. Those same parents laughed at the idea that yes, the Golden State might really be hit by an earthquake that would knock it into the ocean one day. Turns out, as I arrived in California, the fear of another earthquake loomed large. That’s okay. I survived one earthquake here in 1999. I was driving on I-580 near Pleasanton, and never knew it happened until I heard my coworkers discussing it.

Driving through the desert, my car’s thermometer told the tale: it was a balmy 99-degrees outside. I was surprised, though, at how cool it felt. No doubt the dry climate was responsible, for 99-degrees in Florida (or West Virginia) would have drenched me in sweat.

Speaking of sweating it out, during my trip west I listened to the audio version of The Girl on the Train. Can you say red herring three times really fast? It was one of the most twisted tales I’ve ever heard (or read). Nothing was as it seemed.

I haven’t visited California in a while, but since two of my four children are here, I’ve been trying to return for the last three years. So I’m long overdue. But I’ve been a little busy, writing several books during that time, so no wonder it’s taken me this long. I drove through miles and miles of desert, thinking about the direction my life has taken, and looking forward to seeing my son and daughter again, when several hours later, my car’s odometer hit 130,000 miles. Not long after I holed up for the night in a little motel in Ventura, California, one block from the beach.

The next morning, I woke up in time to see the sunrise, roll up the cuffs of my pants, and enjoy a barefoot walk on the beach, where I collected beach stones and watched seagulls at play. When I returned, a woman named Cheryl caught me snapping photos and offered to take one of me standing in front of the motel’s colorful mural. In return, I gave her a copy of one of my books and we parted friends.

After I got on the road, I drove by vineyards and fields full of crops, passing migrant farm workers along the way, before hitting Highway 1 and winding my way up California’s rocky coast. I stopped at Pismo Bay, where I watched pelicans swoop and dive, as a pod of whales swam in the open waters. Further north, I dropped by Morro Bay, where sunbathing sea lions entertained me. As my little car climbed higher and higher along the coastline, distant memories of Monterey and Carmel and Big Sur returned, and in my mind’s eye I saw my four children, running into the surf, hiking through the redwoods and sequoias, and posing for the graduation photos I snapped along the water’s edge.

This coastal drive is, hands down, the most spectacular in the country. Wild and wonderful and unspoiled, with only a few commercial businesses along the way. (And nary a restroom along one particular two-hour stretch, which left me rushing to the ladies room when I finally happened upon one.)

By 4:30 p.m. I was crossing the Bixby Bridge, a suspension structure not unlike the equally impressive New River Gorge Bridge I left behind in West Virginia. I stopped along the road at several places, my shutter snapping away, and even climbed down a narrow, rocky path that offered a closer view of the magnificent architectural feat. The fog hadn’t yet moved in, so the views were breathtaking.

After spending an hour there, I tried to make it to John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, which I last visited in 1998. Alas, I arrived too late. Plus, I had many miles to go before reaching my destination.

That didn’t happen until 10:30 p.m. – after the first near-miss of my entire trip. I was traveling about 70 miles per hour on I-680 north when a car parked on the berm pulled directly into my path. The driver had not gotten up to speed, so he was probably cruising at 30 m.p.h. Regardless, he was going far too slow to avoid a collision, so I instinctively jerked the wheel and cut across one lane, grateful when the driver on my left did the same.

Other than that, I wasn’t pulled over once, nor did I run out of gas (despite a close call). In fact, the only downer during my time on the road occurred when I realized it was probably the first and last time I would experience such a journey. For the most part, I found friendly folks throughout the country, and came away with so many new stories I’ll be hard pressed to find time to tell them all.

All in all, from North-Central West Virginia to the southern most tip of Florida and back up, and clear across the wild, wild West, I drove 5,799 miles, going from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean in 34 days. The journey of a lifetime, it’s one everyone should be so fortunate to experience.

And I loved every single minute!

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s about the murder of Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister.

My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller) and Pretty Little Killers , released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18, 2014, issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Winding My Way through the Past, and the Petrified Forest

Last time I blogged, I promised I’d write about the drive from Flagstaff, Arizona, to Monterey, California. Well, I completely forgot about the miles between Albuquerque, New Mexico and Flagstaff. So Monterey will have to wait.

Let’s begin this leg of the journey with a story: when I was younger, I was famous for running my car out of fuel. I wound up stranded along the side of the road more times than I can count. Usually, that meant calling a friend for help. Or a husband. Not this time, though.

I had so much fun at the balloon festival that I left 90 minutes later than I planned, at 10:30 a.m. After dropping by Cracker Barrel to rent an audiobook, I stopped at Garcia’s Kitchen for brunch. There, I ordered sopapillas, which I hadn’t eaten in two decades. Not since the last time I was in Texas with family. I split open the delicious pockets of deep-fried dough and filled them full of butter and honey. And was I on Cloud Nine!

My book on tape kept me occupied, and awake at the wheel, since I’d gotten up at 3 a.m. to see the balloons. Before I even knew it, I had driven through Gallup, New Mexico, and then finally, crossed into Arizona. Where I found myself smack dab in the middle of the Painted Desert and the Petrified National Park – which carried me back to my childhood days, when my parents, my sister, Lisa, and I visited on a family vacation.

It felt like déjà vu, and when I snapped a quick photo of some pieces of petrified wood inside the shop for tourists, I was certain I had been there before. The clerk said I was actually standing in the original building, which had been much smaller. But yes, it had been there since the 1950s. How’s that for a good memory? Even as I grew more bleary eyed by the moment.

I didn’t plan to drive through the entire park, just wanted to grab a few photos and then hop back on I-40. But a nice park ranger said if I wanted to keep going, the road would lead me back to the interstate 20 miles or so later. And I’m so glad I did. It was one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring portions of my entire journey.

Having logged quite a few miles already, I really wanted to break early for the night, but every motel I passed was full. Then, as I left Winslow, I realized I had forgotten to fill my gas tank. My digital dashboard said I the tank would be dry in less than 15 miles. I hoped I would find a gas station somewhere soon, since I was already on the entrance ramp and in the midst of traffic.

I was wrong.

I even exited again, not long after, when a sign with the word “Shell” held out the promise of fuel. That sign lied – plus, I was the only soul there. So I headed west on I-40 again. By the time I drove 16 miles past the zero on my dashboard indicated the tank was “empty,” I feared each successive minute would find me stalled along the road. It wasn’t late, not quite 8 p.m., but the traffic on that stretch of lonely highway was sparse. And pitch black!

So when a road sign with the words “Twin Arrows Resort” appeared, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. Surely, where there was a resort, there would be a filling station, right? Nope. Not a single one. Instead, bone weary, I drove into the parking lot of the resort, which turned out to be a Navajo Casino. And there, the nicest young man, a valet attendant, used his walkie-talkie to contact hotel security. He wasn’t sure they would have unleaded fuel, though, or how long before security would arrive, so he suggested I grab a coffee from the café inside. Considering I’d been awake since the middle of the previous night, I did just that.

Now for a confession: I’ve been inside a couple of casinos throughout my life. But I have never even operated a slot machine, much less played blackjack or any other game. Not once. (I have, however, learned that I am a gambler. I’ve gambled twice now, on husbands. Let’s just say I didn’t hit the jackpot either time.) Instead of playing the slots, I wandered around looking at the luxury all around me, and felt compelled to take a photo of the lobby chandelier, which looked like it was created from beads of oil.

Thirty minutes later, the casino manager gave his approval and a sweet security guard poured unleaded fuel into my tank. I wasn’t even a paying casino customer, but they refused to take a nickel of my money to cover the cost. Someone has since told me that’s true western hospitality. Call me a believer.

I made it to Flagstaff after another 30 miles, and by then it was close to 10 p.m. I checked into a motel and fell into bed. All in all, I’d driven 430 miles. Leaving another 800 or 900 to go.

I hope y’all will join me next time, when we finally cross the California state line and wander up the most beautiful coastline in the country.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s about the murder of Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister.

My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller) and Pretty Little Killers , released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18, 2014, issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Crossing Another One Off My Bucket List 21 Years Later

Which story shall I tell you first? The one about how I almost broke my neck taking a tumble from the balcony onto the theatre seats below? Or how it felt to peer up at the underbelly of a jet airplane performing a very low-altitude landing few feet above my head?

This 10-day cruise on the Grandeur of the Seas, one of the vessels targeted by the Centers for Disease Control, and which its passengers nicknamed the “Norovirus ship,” was number 21 on my bucket list. Why 21, as compared to a more general number like 20 or 30? Maybe that’s the logical place to begin.

Once upon a time, there was a bridegroom. I left him standing at the altar in 1995, one week before the wedding—after realizing that no, seven combined children did not us the next Brady Bunch make. He gallantly offered to let me take the cruise alone, but I declined. I had my four children to tend to, and solo sailing didn’t seem wise. I’ve been waiting ever since to walk the gangplank.

Instead, I later ended up studying aviation and getting my private pilot’s license. Which is a great segue into the airport story.

Which came first, the runway or the beach it abuts? I don’t know, but either way, tourists from around the world flock to Maho Beach on the tiny island of St. Maarten. (Maybe it’s a Dutch thing, since the airport is technically governed by the Netherlands, rather than France.) It offers the bold and fearless a feat unlike any other: the chance to be blown into the ocean whenever exhaust fumes from a jumbo jet scorch the faces pressed into the fence behind it.

I wasn’t there long enough to experience that personally, but I did see a little FedEx courier plane take off. And I’ve watched the YouTube videos since then. Trust me, not nearly as exciting. I did stand underneath a Boeing 747 on its final approach to Princess Juliana International Airport, named Number 11 on the “Most Insanely Dangerous Airports Around the World” list. And yes, it was exhilarating. More so for the fellow in front of me, who had an even better view. But still.

For sure, this is not something my flight instructors ever let me do.

Incidentally, our tour guide told us the story about how he once led a little, old man of 80 to that same fence. The fellow was as excited as a child with two fistfuls of candy. Afterward, he said he’d waited decades to cross “feeling the fierce heat of the jet blast at Maho Beach” off his bucket list. It was all he’d dreamed it would be.

I admit, it did rank up there in the “experience of a lifetime” category, far better than the famous Sarafina’s café and bakery, which boasts delicious French pastries and a clean restroom, as well as a rude and rushed French wait staff.

Labadee, Haiti

Among the ports I visited—San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s private Haitian island—snorkeling at Cokie Beach at St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands was my favorite adventure. Even though I could have tumbled over backwards and perhaps drowned in the rough waves, if not for a local named Bob who suggested I remove my flippers and then led me into the water. There, he offered his arm while I donned them again, followed by my snorkel mask. Hands down, it was best day of my 10 days at sea, and I will forever remember swimming with entire schools of beautiful, shiny fish as they wove to and fro amidst the coral reef.

Of course, all that snorkeling worked up quite an appetite, so afterward I ate Nemo for lunch. He was fried and lathered with homemade hot sauce. The side dish? Johnny cakes, a delicious fried dough known as a local culinary delight. It was well worth abandoning my gluten-free diet in West Virginia just to dine on that one meal. (If you ever make it here, skip the fast food and ask Charlotte at Sun Seekers how to find the fried fish and Johnny cake hut. Charlotte is sweet and helpful, and the food will not disappoint.)

With its brightly colored buildings and rich history, San Juan was lovely, too. Except, after disembarking, it took more than an hour to find a taxi. The hot Caribbean sun made the outside wait unbearable. So I walked most everywhere, and stumbled into Mejunje PR, a friendly family-owned wine bar that features delicious, homemade steak empanadas and fabulous mojitos. And their baños was super clean and clearly decorated by a wine lover. While there, I was serenaded by some local musicians who sang off the cuff, which washed away the frustrations of waiting for a taxi that never came.

TO BE CONTINUED . . .

* * * *

My fifth book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, was released November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”