Saturday, August 20, 2011

Post trip postscript

Arriving home on the twelveth after three weeks on the road, we were greeted by our friend, neighbor, and cat sitter, Bob, who was tending to his stone-paved driveway.  After bringing each other up to speed on travels/local news, Carol and I  did some minor, very minor, unloading then I caught up on emails while she prepared our offering for the evening's Flamingo Friday around the corner.  We spent three lovely hours with neighbors, eating great food, drinking good wine, and chatting about a little of everything from my dying peach trees to our extensive travels.  Worn out by about nine-thirty, we made our exit.  We were in bed on our porch before ten.

Several things drifted into my none-to-nimble brain while traveling.  I'll see if I can sift through the fog and bring some of them forward.

While heading west through Canada, I notice several places where Canadian flags were tacked up on rock hillsides.  It pleased me to see them at first, but then I thought about how I'd react if I were in the US and saw the Stars and Stripes displayed in a similar fashion.  I knew it would annoy me, because I would associate it with the belligerent "I'm a patriot, and if you don't display the flag, you're not." displays: trailing shredded from car windows, tacked on the lapels of politicians, or painted on the sides of buildings.  I resent the implication, especially from people who claim respect for the flag but seem to lack respect for the country it represents.  It made me wonder if that was happening in Canada.

I heard a preacher on one of the innumerable christian radio stations across the country claiming that the Statue of Liberty was a graven idol. Wing-nuts abound, and the scariest thing is that too many folks buy this stuff.    I'm always struck by people who quote the bible as the "Word of God."  Is that the King James version of the word, the Douay version, another version?  What about non-english translations?   I hark back to a statement by Deepak Chopra. “Walk with those seeking truth; run from those who think they've found it."

Enough of that.

After hosting our youngest grandkids for the past two days we passed them off to the the other GP's at a Plaza Diner breakfast. They will ferry the munchkins back to mom and dad.  At four and seven, they are all energy and fun.  At sixty-nine and sixty-six, we are worn out.

The sun is down.

I sit in that grey space before the dark. All is quiet.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

End of the trip

We left Lakeport around eight this morning, after spending an hour drinking coffee on the beach and watching the sun rise over Lake Huron.

We fueled up in Port Huron, before crossing into Canada.  The machine has been yielding over twenty miles per gallon the last few tankfuls, pretty remarkable.  We made good time crossing Canada, including a stop for breakfast at a Tim Horton's in some town beginning with "S".  It was incredible to see how much traffic the place got on a Thursday morning, the road was even blocked a couple of times with cars waiting to enter the Drive thru lane.  

We got to see Lake Ontario as we approached Niagara Falls skirting the coast on Canada 25.  Once in Niagara Falls, we drove along the shore drive, allowing us a pretty good view of the falls from the Canadian side, before crossing into the US.  Once again I lucked out; a lane opened just as I approached and I ended up in that lane with only one car ahead of me.

We opted to avoid the Thruway to Rochester, choosing instead highway 104.  It took us through quaint towns and past many farm stands.  We bought fresh peaches and a sour cream cookie at one of them.  we arrived at Laura and Tim's place about two-thirty.  This is the official end of the trip, even though we still have the ride to New Paltz tomorrow. 

We actually saw only four of the Great Lakes - missing Erie. 

August 10th

We were on the road this morning just before seven am, our target Lakeport State Park on Michigan’s shoreline with Lake Huron.  On our way, we skirted Superior and Michigan.  Carol observed that we would touch all five Great Lakes before this trip was over.  We arrived at the park around four this afternoon, about four hundred seventy miles in nine hours.  Much like our experience at Van Riper, we have the best campsite in the park (#18.)

I’m writing this sitting in a chair at the back of our site, watching a fascinating dynamic unfold.  It started with three teenage boys, I’ll label them: the tough guy, the fat follower, and the nerdy friend.  I saw them on the beach first then they came to the “playground”(a group of five swings, four slings and one kids chair).  They hung around the swings not paying much attention to the equipment, just sitting and chatting.  In a while, another group came up from the beach: three pretty teenage girls and one boy about the same age, and a three or four-year old girl they were all caring for.  The first group separated themselves from the swings then the fat follower stayed while the other two left.  A few minutes later they returned on bicycles and rode in and out of the area for a good half hour while the girl-heavy entourage ignored them completely.  Meanwhile the fat follower just hovered. Tough guy and Nerdy are continuing to ride around.  Fat leans against a far support of the swings, not looking at the group.  Now Nerdy is on one of the swings.  There’s still no interaction between the groups other than their proximity.  Tough Guy keeps riding away and returning.  It’s truly a fascinating scene.  Nerdy and Fat are now standing some thirty feet away, consciously ignoring the other group.  Tough guy has once again disappeared.  He’s back now with his two friends.  The girl entourage just left.   Everybody but Fat is now gone; he sits on one of the swings, a blank expression on his face.

Now back to the trip.  We stopped in Gaylord to do a little shopping and get some more coffee.  The Starbucks inside the supermarket provided me with coffee and two mini cupcakes, a great addition to their treats.  These are a single bite (though Carol makes two bites out of it) treat, a perfect fit for a second cup of coffee.  I put Carol’s chocolate peanut butter cupcake on the passenger’s seat, still in its Starbucks paper bag, forgetting about my love’s powers of observation.  She sat on it.  She recovered by putting it in the fridge for half an hour before extricating it from the bag and eating it. 

Huron is calm and inviting, unlike the windy whitecaps we saw in Superior and Michigan.  A four-year-old boy just walked by carrying handcuffs – you can’t make this stuff up.

August 9th

Our only day on this return trip that did not involve driving.  We rose early this morning to visit Lake Michigamme, greeting the few campers who were awake at six-thirty with a mutual wave of our coffee mugs.  The wind coming across the large lake added to the chill in the air so we couldn’t stay long.  On our walk back, we stopped at the comfort station to comfort ourselves and wound up finishing the walk in the rain. 

I rolled the awning out yesterday but forgot to install the center brace.  When the awing started flapping in the wind this morning it occurred to me to add the brace.  It comes in two parts, one inserted into the other to make the complete, adjustable unit.  I assembled and installed it.  Later in the morning we decided to take one of the hikes listed in the park brochure and, since there were twenty-five mph wind gusts predicted, I chose to roll up the awning to avoid possible damage while we were gone.  That’s when I discovered that I’d assembled the center brace backward, which made it almost impossible to separate into its two component parts, and therefore unstowable.  With pliers and silent curses, I managed to part the pieces without damaging either significantly.  Given a fifty-fifty chance, I can screw things up almost one hundred percent of the time. 

We hiked the “Miners Loop” during which I fed several mosquitos and we got rained on, but it was a good walk anyway.  Back at the lake proper, we visited the concession stand for mint chocolate chip ice cream in wafer cones then returned to our Traveler, whereupon I opened the awning and properly installed the center brace. 

We had been discussing the merits of the two small, collapsible tables that we carry.  Carol is enamored with a circular plastic thing that we carry and treats the canvas square one with some disdain.  When she suggested Scrabble, I agreed.  While she gathered the necessities for the game, I set up the square canvas table, placing the Scrabble board on it.  We were five minutes into the contest when she remarked, “Oh you got the other table out.”  I love this woman.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Coffee on the shore of Lake Superior

The Tap Roots Coffee Shop occupies one corner of a brick house on the corner of Lakeshore Highway(US 2) and 4th Avenue in Ashland, Wisconsin.  The rest of the building is a law office and gift shop.  I stopped here on the way to Oregon and loved it, so I knew I'd have to come back.  We're sitting next to a window that gives us a view of the lake across the highway.  The window frame is tiger oak, as are the remaining frames and the doors.
Window Sample
Our plan, currently, is to spend two days in Michigan's UP before journeying through Canada to New York.

My quick repair of the hot water line in the bathroom has sprung a minor leak.  I am trying to pack in with putty (or whatever it is; it seems to mold itself to the pipe) to keep the leak from getting worse.  Right now, if it stays the way it is, we will be fine.  I think one of the jarring back roads must have put a strain on it.  One of the bumps shortened my spine an inch.

We're at Van Riper State Park on Michigan's U.P.  We'll be here for two nights then scoot south and east to a campground around Flint on Wednesday.  Thursday we'll enter and exit Canada and drop in on our daughter Laura and her family for the night.  Friday is home.

We walked to the boat launch this evening after dinner, passing the "rustic" camp area, meaning tents and pit potties.  On the way, Carol said, "It's a Jame's Taylor song," then, sometime later, "Ice."  I'm still trying to figure that out.

A path leading from the boat launch followed the lake shore toward the "modern" campground.  A short way along the path we climbed stairs set into the hillside, that deposited us at the edge of "modern".  "Look they have RV's in the rustic campground," Carol observed.   It took a bit for her to convince herself we were actually back in the modern campground.  This is why I worry when she decides to hike somewhere unfamiliar all alone.

August 7th

Okay so we’ve located another cool state park, this one in Wisconsin just a few miles across the border from Duluth, MN.  Its name, Amnicon Falls State Park, which might lead one to believe that there’s a waterfall or two there.  There are actually three.  I’m imagining that this is a particularly high water period because there are signs reading “No Swimming Today” and I cannot believe anyone is able to swim here, ever.  Of course, anyone who would consider swimming in this river today probably can’t read anyway.  
Check the sign
Upper Falls and Carol

We finished listening to Still Alice by Lisa Genova, a heart wrenching, well-written novel.  I highly recommend it.  Next on the list is a biography of Einstein.  Anecdote heard on NPR: An elementary teacher trying to shore up kids who weren't doing well in math told them that Einstein flunked math once in school.  One child raised a hand and when called on said, "If he flunked, why'd they call him Einstein?"  

August 6th

Camping tonight on the east side of North Dakota – Turtle River State Park.  It showered most of the day but cleared up shortly after we arrived so we saw actual shadows on the ground.   We have water and electric tonight so we’re splurging and using the convection oven to bake a sweet potato. 
On our way here we saw lots of evidence of the flooding that has plagued North Dakota up around Minot and east along US 2.  Thousands of acres of farmland are still under water and the rotting hay bales in dry fields speak of the devastation that has already occurred.

We had to make a brief stop in Rugby to see and photograph the marker pinpointing the geographic center of North America, after which we decided to resupply a couple of items.  Sadie directed us to a market in the tiny town of Lakota, ND where we were able to get some fruit and veggies but no yogurt, beer or wine.  We asked at checkout and found that bars sell beer and wine to go in addition to their usual operation.  We were told that Third Base, a bar just up the street was one possibility.  A woman in line behind us suggested another place that would have a better wine selection but the clerk said they didn’t open until four.  It was only three when we checked out. 

We found Third Base with no trouble and went in.  There were four men sitting at a table, two more sitting at the bar, and a bartender who looked more rundown than the bar he tended.  I spotted the cooler against the far wall on our left and made for it.  The relic bartender met us there, standing wordlessly a couple of feet away.  I saw Sam Adams Boston Lager on one shelf and a quick check of the expiration date told me I had barely time to consume it.  I pulled two bottles then asked about their wine selection.  The bartender pointed to two one-liter boxes of burgundy.  We left without buying wine.

August 5th

We spent a good part of today in Glendive, scooting in for breakfast at Book 'n' Bear Nook/Coffee Den on Merrill Ave (the main street.)  Before we left the park, Carol spent twenty minutes meditating while I dug the dried mud out of the soles of our hiking boots, the result of an aborted hike through an arroyo in the park after the evening hailstorm.  The muck is incredibly slippery and sticky when wet and rock hard when dry.  It took a lot of gouging with a little used saw-tooth blade on my utility knife to finally expose the tread. 

For breakfast, we each had a slice of spinach quiche and an apple juice, then split a bagel and coffee while downloading our email and engaging in other miscellaneous internet activities.  We spent a couple of hours there, over-tipped the staff, and left in search of a coin laundry.  Before I could start the Traveler, Carol noticed a local drug store where she might be able to replace the sunglasses that I’d stepped on yesterday (they were on the floor next to the drivers seat.)  I was also low on disposable gloves which I use when dumping the holding tanks, so there were a couple of reasons to check the place out.  We scored both items and while paying for them asked the woman where a laundry might be.  She directed us straight up Merrill a few blocks. 

We were able to park in the shade while the laundry was happening.  Carol spent a fair amount of time trying to decide whether the bathroom sink's tap was high enough to allow her to wash her hair.  It wasn't until our laundry was dry and folded that she noticed a utility sink in the middle of the room, with a high-arched tap.  She didn't wash her hair.

Turns out the place also had internet service so we both spent more time with our computers. Lest you think I was wasting said time, I’ll have you know I made a campground reservation for my family reunion the end of this month, and also scouted out state parks in North Dakota, finding the Lewis and Clark State Park only a hundred thirty miles away, just outside Williston.  I know, it’s the second L and C park we’ve stayed at.  I think by tomorrow evening we’ll be too far east for any more.  Anyway, this one advertised electric and water hookups, showers, and even internet.

When we arrived all the hookup sites were taken so we’re in a primitive site anyway.  The showers are still available.  Haven’t found the internet service though.

We stopped for lunch at a neat little corner cafĂ© in Sidney, MT.  The name of the place is Sunny’s, and Sidney bills itself as Montana’s Sunrise City, so …

It rained pretty steadily from lunchtime until almost sunset so Carol didn’t even need the sunglasses.

Friday, August 5, 2011

More catching up - Montana Style

August 4th

Glendive, Montana, home of some famous dinosaur fossil beds.  We are at campsite 8 in Makoshika State Park.  It is 96 degrees at five pm and the late afternoon thunderclouds are forming along the western ridge.  We are bounded by sandstone hills in this desert; the layers of sediment so perfectly horizontal as to make one think they were placed there by some gigantic master stonemason. 
One thing Carol and I have noticed about the small cities we’ve traversed in both Idaho and Montana is that they seem healthy.  There’s no evidence of boarded up shops in the downtown areas and the surrounding residential blocks appear well cared for.  I’m not sure what that says about anything, it’s a curiosity though. 

The evening thunderstorm has arrived.  In general, they last several minutes with rain of varying intensity and sometimes, spectacular lightning.  As a reward for being cooped up inside the Traveler for the duration of the storm, we have twice been treated to a rainbow.  

It has just turned into a hailstorm.  Cool. 


Rainbow number three

The handle “Big Sky Country” fits Montana.  Even with the mountains and rolling hills in the way, the sky seems to go on forever.  One kinda cute thing about the state is the number of places with “Lewis and Clark” in the name.  If I didn’t know better I’d swear they settled the place instead of passing through it on their way to the Pacific Ocean.  We’ve had good experiences in this state both, this year and last.  I highly recommend a trip out here.  Tomorrow’s plan is to browse around Glendive for a bit then take a relatively short run into North Dakota.

August 3rd

We left Craters around eight this morning, after one last loop around the road.  When we reached Arco we had a choice between going north to Salmon and into Montana at Missoula, or driving east to Idaho Springs then turning north on I-15 into Montana a ways south of Butte.  Carol chose the second.   About sixty miles into The Big Sky state, we pulled off the interstate into the town of Dillon where there was a visitor center.  We got info from there, coffee from a Starbucks squirreled away inside a huge Safeway market, picked up some groceries while we were there, then got back on the road.

We’re camped at Lewis and Clark Cavern State Park, about thirty miles east of Butte.  I’m writing this while sipping from a cold can of Scape Goat Pale Ale, a brew from Big Sky Brewing Company in Missoula that claims, “We make water fun.” Their motto, printed on the side of the can, “Always drink upstream from the herd.”  Anyway, it’s a pretty nice ale.   My first can of it fell victim to my … I don’t know what to call it when one hurriedly folds up a chair in order to stash it under the Traveler, forgetting that a nearly full can of Scape Goat was residing in the cup holder. 

We hiked to the Jefferson River, going out by way of the actual trail but returning on the road we’d taken to get to the park, about two-and-a-half miles round trip.

Carol is picking through dirty laundry right now.  She was allegedly setting up to cook dinner while I go shower.  Got sidetracked I guess.  I asked why and she informed me that she was going to wash out some underthings so we didn’t have to spend a lot of time doing laundry.  The laundry bag is nearly full however, so I think the two bras she has hanging from tree limbs outside are kind of a study in futility, especially since we’ll probably get some more rain this evening.
By the way, the weird power issue I had with the shoreline seems to be just a fluke.  I’m plugged in now and everything is working fine.  I still think the batteries are trashed but will have to keep an eye on their performance when they are the primary source to be sure.

We’re about eight hundred twenty miles east of Eugene, after two-and-a-half days actual driving. 

August 2nd
There’s been an unusual amount of rain up here.  We arrived in a thunderstorm and it rained off and on for a couple of hours today.  One of the rangers said it rained for three hours solid on the 31st.  Makes for interesting discussion in a desert.  This is a place of images.  I could try to describe the features but I believe a photo or two will do the trick much more effectively than my words.
Hilltop ten feet from our campsite

Our camp

We met a pika, a chattery little squirrel-like critter native to the lava bed, who apparently lives in the huge limber-pine tree, about three-feet in diameter, at our campsite.

 Limber Pine

Pika's Home

It objected to our presence by lecturing us at length before disappearing into his/her home.  The critter below is not a pika, it’s a chipmunk.  The pika wouldn’t pose for me.

I will put up a photo array of Craters of the Moon images on when I get back home.  The place is just so amazing, visually.  Carol and I agree that it approaches Chaco Canyon as a favorite national treasure.

August 1st
Shopping in Mountain Home, Idaho, preparing for a few days in Craters of the Moon National Monument; 750,000 acres of lava bed.  Maybe not the most exotic place in the US but I think it’s close.  I’ll enclose a few pictures. 

The mishap we had with Ray and Judy’s popped circuit breaker seems to have trashed the cabin battery pack; it won’t hold a charge.  Hmm … maybe that needs a bit more explanation.  Ray and Judy are Doug and Lynn’s wonderfully generous neighbors.  They offered to let us use their driveway, connect to their water, and plug into their porch outlet for the duration of our stay.  When I parked in the designated spot I needed all fifty feet of thirty-amp cord, and my twenty-amp adapter to attach to the outlet Ray showed me.  Once I hooked up, I saw that we weren’t getting anything much out of it.  I put the blame on the combination of the cord length and the drop to fifteen amps, but figured it was at least keeping the batteries charged, wrong.  The connection had apparently popped a breaker in their house, but the circuit is virtually unused except for some kind of nightlight in their laundry room.  Judy noticed it on the evening of the second day by which time the batteries had been discharged for many hours.  The discharge – charge cycle is normal for this type of battery so all is well as long as it doesn’t remain discharged for an extended period.  This could be an expensive lesson in paying closer attention to things.

July 31st
Doug and Lynn’s wedding reception was … was beautiful, friendly, special, … pick an adjective, it was all those things.  I met many of their friends and I think all of Lynn’s family – two sisters, Sally and Kim.  The three boys were there: Taylor being Taylor with girlfriend Andrea, Will with girlfriend Laura, and Cody with girlfriend Margeaux.  Both Will and Cody performed with their groups so we had terrific entertainment.  The meal was potluck and awesome.  Wine, beer and champagne flowed freely.  When the evening ended, meaning when all the people over forty had gone to bed, the younger crowd did a bunch of cleanup so there was no disaster facing us in the morning, only a bit of packing up of dishes, glasses, etc. for the party supply company to pick up. 

We left about noon hoping to get as far as Clyde Holliday State Park in central Oregon.  We got pulled over by the county sheriff a few miles before we got there.  I thought for speeding but he said there was a complaint that I was passing on curves and driving recklessly – Not.  Anyway, he apologized but said he had to react to the complaint.

When we arrived at the park, only overflow camping was available, so we overflowed.  We took showers in the morning knowing that Craters of the Moon had none.