Travels With Steinbeck

What Does “Rocinante” Mean?

Come and ride along with me as I follow the Steinbeck route around the U.S. and “rediscover this monster land.”

I thought you might enjoy a little Steinbeck/Cervantes humor.  As you may know, Steinbeck named his 1960 GMC truck “Rocinante” for Don Quixote’s horse. He also called his trip “Operation Windmills” because so many of his friends thought he was insane to undertake it. Well, I got curious about Don Quixote and recently read the classic for the first time. I discovered something not even Steinbeck mentions in Travels with Charley. “Rocinante,” the name of Don Quixote’s bony old nag used in tilting at windmills, defending damsels—whether they needed defending or not—and righting other perceived wrongs, means “formerly an ordinary horse.” That has such delightful universal applicability. I suppose I could say I was formerly an ordinary golfer, now I’m just a bad golfer. Formerly an ordinary horse! I don’t care who ya are, that’s funny!

Itinerary: My first stop after departing Jackson, Wyoming on September 7th will be Salt Lake City where on September 8th I will speak to all the second graders at Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s School about Steinbeck and my trip. Then I’m heading to North Georgia and Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School (where I was head of school from 1996-2004) for three days to offer the annual academic convocation speech, attend several classes and conduct a writing workshop for the members of the English Department. Every student at Rabun Gap will have read a Steinbeck novel prior to my arrival. That should be a wonderful experience. My wife Dimmie will be visiting me there and we will see our son Alex (21) who lives nearby. Then it is straight to Middlebury, Connecticut where I will drop my trailer (more to come about my Airstream Bambi named Winnie) and backtrack over the ferry route that Steinbeck took on his first day of travel to learn what I can about Sag Harbor, Long Island—his place of departure.  On the 23rd of September, 49 years to the day after John Steinbeck and Charley shoved off in Rociante I will be on the route in earnest.

Thirteen days until departure!

Profile: Herb Behrens of the Steinbeck Center told me of a fellow who has aquired an exact replica of the Wolverine camper Steinbeck carried in the bed of Rocinante. The Wolverine Company stopped making that particular brand of truck camper in 1982. You can bet I will try to track that fellow Steinbeck nut down in my travels and get a picture of his Wolverine. By the way, Rociante has been fully restored (the truck, not the horse) and resides at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California.

The Dog: Important dog update soon to come.

Pix and Links: Look for my first pix and links two days from now.

Sweet Notes: I ran into two very friendly women today who were sporting a National Outdoor Leadership School decal on their car. NOLS is based in Lander, Wyoming and offers courses in wilderness skills and environmental leadership all over the U.S. and the globe. As a former instructor I was curious about Susan and Charlotte’s relationship with NOLS. They told me their husbands were both associated with the school. In due course my project came up and Charlotte got very excited, told me of a stop I must make near Woodstock, Vermont and pledged to “ride along.”  Thanks Charlotte and welcome aboard.

Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009


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