CLINE: Friends tour country on roads less traveled

Special Photo. Cliff Ramos, left, and Steve West pose in front of Mount Rushmore. The Gwinnett residents recently completed a nine-day trip that spanned 14 states and 3,800 miles.

Special Photo. Cliff Ramos, left, and Steve West pose in front of Mount Rushmore. The Gwinnett residents recently completed a nine-day trip that spanned 14 states and 3,800 miles.

It's a premise as simple as it is appealing: Two guys, a road trip and no plans. For the second straight year, a pair of local men -- Cliff Ramos and Steve West -- set off to tour the backroads and by-ways, following their whims instead of a map.

The two retired wrestling coaches are longtime friends, their trip fueled by a desire to see things both offroad and offbeat. Driving Ramos' 2006 Chevy Colorado pickup truck, they recently returned from a trip that spanned 3,800 miles and 14 states.

"It seems like when you drive anywhere you have to get on the interstate," said Ramos, who recently retired from Collins Hill High School after a teaching career of 34 years. "We get off the interstate."

Dubbed "Coach and Pee-Wee's Great Adventure," this year's trip took the men (Ramos is "Coach," West "Pee-Wee") as far west as Wyoming and as far north as South Dakota. They saw the Louisville Slugger Museum in Kentucky, the Kansas prairie and the "Field of Dreams" in Iowa, taking time to stop whenever and wherever they wanted, be it a small town or a water park.

No stop was too mundane, no experience too small. In the middle of Nebraska they pulled off to the side of the road and walked through a wheat field.

"We were just trying to do some things we'd never done before," said West, 53, who taught for 32 years before retiring from Grayson High School. "See some things we'd heard about, read about."

This year the pair added another component -- striving to do good deeds. They decided to help as many people as possible on the trip, and asked friends and family to donate to Family Promise based on the number of good deeds they performed.

Family Promise brings shelter, meals and support services to homeless families in the county, housing them in local churches until they can get back on their feet. Ramos got involved with the organization through his church -- First United Methodist in Lawrenceville -- and felt the trip was a good way to raise money and awareness for the group.

"It's a real solid organization that's done a lot of great things," said Ramos, 57, whose trip has raised about $1,000 for Family Promise.

With no itinerary or time constraints, Ramos and West were free to veer off the path whenever they wanted. Among their total of 14 good deeds they helped a lost motorist get to her motel in central Illinois, shared fresh blackberries with road construction workers in Indiana, brought a coconut cream pie back for a weary motel worker in Nebraska and removed a tire from the highway in Arkansas.

They saw famous landmarks like Mount Rushmore and not-so-famous ones like Carhenge, a replica of Stonehenge made out of junk cars located near Alliance, Neb. They saw many things that proclaimed to be the biggest, the largest or the best -- Monmouth Cave in Kentucky, a rail yard in North Platte, Neb., etc. -- and saw enough museums to make a historian jealous. Ramos' favorite was the Wizard of Oz Museum in Kansas, while the trip to Mount Rushmore ranked tops on West's list.

The two also made time for the nostalgic, locating a church in Missouri where West directed the choir while in college and returning to Ramos' alma mater Missouri State University (formerly Southwest Missouri State). But often the highlight of each day was the time they spent talking to locals in "small town U.S.A."

"We learned so much on this trip," Ramos said. "It doesn't take much to amuse us. We'll find something interesting no matter where we are."

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.