People Are Awesome!

People Are Awesome!

It’s Saturday, October 8, and we’ve just wrapped up our last visit as travelers carried ’round the nation in “Thor,” pulling battle-scarred “Joey” behind us as we depart Jaffrey, New Hampshire, and begin the final 50-mile stretch toward home; the dogs, Dave, and I are headed to Concord…and I don’t know how to feel, or exactly what I’m feeling. As I sit in the captain’s chair (with Boots still riding shotgun—of course) staring ahead through the windshield at autumn’s rainbow, I take note of the unease in my midsection. My conflicted self wishes for a Harry Potter moment—wherein I could simply “apparate” and just be home instantaneously—and simultaneously longs for a limitless trip extension.

I know I will miss the freedom to just “wing it”…to land wherever we land, to stop whenever we feel inspired to investigate (or simply need to stop), to read in cozy quarters without the lure of beckoning television or distracting news, to happily converse with total strangers, to jump on the motorcycle which sits eager for exploration, to enjoy long-overdue visits with long-ago friends, to indulge in that carefree approach to hygiene, to sing too loudly to music—or immerse ourselves in fabulously narrated novels, to eat when and what we feel like, to talk to each other about whacky (and not-so-whacky) ideas, to be truly present—for each other and the world around us, all the while shielding ourselves from a daily routine, from those pangs of duty calling…

…And yet, we can’t seem to get home fast enough.

 

Now that we have indeed landed here at 268 North Main Street (Readers, forgive me, for I have failed. It’s been three weeks since my last entry…), it appears I have some makeup work to do with this blog. We left readers in Montgomery, Alabama, if I recall correctly, and since that time, we dipped down into Florida for family (and Cardigan alumni) visits and then made our way north, stopping for stretches with both friends and former colleagues in Georgia, North Carolina, and Connecticut…bringing our adventure to an eventual close with still more family in New Hampshire.

The overarching theme of that final leg?  “People are awesome!”

The visits differed greatly; the human warmth did not. Dave would tell you these “people” stops got him across the finish line.

More soul food, for sure, and we feasted.

I won’t drag you through every moment of every stop, but a few (among numerous other) highlights include the following:

 

IN FLORIDA…

Santa Rosa Beach…

Dave’s mom and her husband, Gary, provided a welcomed opportunity to simply relax, converse, overindulge on good food from their Asian-fusion restaurant, splash in the Gulf, enjoy a televised Sox game, take in the first presidential debate together, and enjoy their sunlit—and later moonlit—veranda.

 

The Villages…

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(Above): My dad and his wife, Marsha, fed us home-cooked meals; shared photos from their recent Colorado trip and from Marsha’s daughter’s wedding; took us on an extensive golf-cart trek (20+ miles!) through their community; reconnected us with one of Dave’s former coaches (Dave M.) and his wife, Sandy; and seemed to genuinely enjoy having our dogs in the house.

(Our Villages shenanigans included switching their political alliance in the wee hours one night during our stay…all in good fun, of course…and inadvertently pruning their (forgiving?) neighbor’s palm when attempting to park.)

 

Winter Park…

While I spent one morning blogging and doing laundry at my dad’s, Dave hopped on the bike to connect with a few Cardigan alumni at nearby Rollins College. In a bit of serendipity, one of the young man’s parents happened to be visiting too—and the father just so happens to be one of Dave’s own CMS buddies.

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A table full of CMS Cougars! Clockwise from bottom left: Hayden Holland, Dave, classmate Graham Boyle and wife Heidi, Ben Johnston, and Billy Boyle.

 

HOT ’LANTA!

Just a few hours north of The Villages, we were able to squeeze in a second visit with Dave’s “swan” brother Chip; this visit included a bonus, however: the company of his wife (Helma) and kids (Tom and Claire) as well. The Haskells live in the Inman Park section of Atlanta, and on-street parking might otherwise have been questionable if not for some nifty (albeit temporary) street-sign maneuvering.

 

Let Freedom Ring

The cause for justice knocked on my conscience again when I took advantage of the Haskells’ proximity to the Freedom Path both mornings, with dogs in tow. The walking trail wends its way through a beautiful park, with the Carter Center anchoring one end of the path and its other end spilling walkers into the neighborhood where MLK, Jr.’s birth home, his gravesite, and the Ebenezer Baptist Church (where he served as pastor) are located. The winding sidewalk is dotted with informational displays about both Jimmy Carter and MLK, highlighting their shared vision of advancing human rights, each in his own way.

We four adults also had the pleasure of enjoying a leisurely 10-mile walk kind of day…largely along the artsy, funky, shop- and restaurant-lined “beltline” into downtown (urban renewal in progress!); replete with walkers, good-cause marchers, joggers, bikers, ’bladers, and shoppers, the beltline’s offerings epitomize the vitality of this city. Oh, and Dave couldn’t resist exercising his music muscles along the way…

 

Gone to the Dogs…

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As we approached our botanical gardens destination, we noted that a city pool celebrating the end of its summer season had quite literally “gone to the dogs.”  Yes, a doggie pool party was in full swing, with music, tennis balls, poolside food and drink for the dogs’ human guests, and so on.

 

Soon after—and not far away from the pooch party—we found ourselves utterly sucked in by the magical glass-blowing works of Dale Chihuly amid so many botanical wonders:

 

Another bit of serendipity… On the long walk back to Chip’s house, our small world shrank further still with a (one in a million?) chance encounter: It began with Chip’s taking a moment to say hello to a gentleman (Paul Bianchi, who happened to be headmaster at the Haskell kids’ school) just as Paul was exiting his car in a nearby lot. A round of introductions followed, and then, when Paul noticed Dave’s Sox hat, the Boston-area-roots connection was quickly made. But things became a little more other-worldly when the geography narrowed further still and a more-specific Melrose (Mass.) link was established between Dave and Paul’s wife, Barbara Dunbar. As the two compared notes, what surfaced was the realization that Barbara and Dave’s mom had been best friends and neighbors in elementary school; Barbara had in fact grown up in the very house on Holland Road in which the family of Dave’s own dear childhood/neighborhood buddy (Jack Malley) had dwelled years later. Given that Barbara and her husband have worked at Paideia (in Atlanta) for at least 45 years, it must be well over 50 years since the Dunbar family moved away from Melrose, and thus since Dave’s mom lost the long-ago connection to her young pal…

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As chance would have it! …Dave with his mom’s long-lost childhood friend, Barbara Dunbar.

 

Lost ‘n’ Found…

The next morning brought with it a reunion of a very different sort: that of a lost dog and its worried owners… Helma had come across a loose and frantic hound during her early-morning trip to drop off Claire at the stables across town. She was able to save him from the risk of injury in heavy traffic by coaxing him into her car, and back at home she immediately went to work to locate its family. One neighborhood yahoo group led to another, and within an hour or so, its panicked and search-weary owners were notified. As it turns out, the young couple from Greenville, S.C., had just arrived to Atlanta to visit friends the evening before (about four or five miles from the Haskell home), when someone left the door ajar and this sweet, youthful shepherd mix slipped out—only to be grazed by a passing truck. Out of sheer fear, he’d bolted, leaving the couple devastated and searching well beyond midnight. Based on his reaction, there was no question to whom “Fitzy” belonged (and thus not a dry eye in that kitchen) when these folks later entered the Haskell home to reclaim their lost pooch.

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Helma stood ready to adopt this sweet fellow if the owners weren’t to be found.

 

Speaking of Greenville, S.C., we’d been encouraged to make it a pit stop en route to North Carolina—and it didn’t disappoint. Another story of a city reborn! Greenville was home to Shoeless Joe Jackson and, currently, the Red Sox minor league affiliate squad, the Greenville Drive. (We weren’t able to get into the stadium, but it’s apparently a replica of Fenway.) While in town we stopped in at the Pour Taproom to watch the Pats suffer their first loss. 

 

NORTH CAROLINA

The Hendersonville area

To say that we miss our Cardigan colleagues would be an incredible understatement. When you live, work, and “play” so closely with folks, boundaries between work and home are inevitably blurred, and co-workers quite quickly become friends and then family. With that context in mind, heading for our reunion with Dave’s longtime assistant (our dear, dear friend Lynne Lenihan), who retired to North Carolina as soon as our Cardigan gig came to its conclusion, felt like heading toward “home” in a way that’s hard to adequately describe. We were able to park Thor and Joey in Lynne and husband Jim’s driveway for a couple of days and spend time catching up, going for walks, trying out Jim’s model-plane flight simulator, exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway on the bike, and eating near the top of Mt. Pisgah at the Pisgah Inn. The big added bonus to plunking down in the region for a bit: Another dear Cardigan colleague and friend, Elizabeth Perryman, who had recently relocated to nearby Black Mountain, was both eager to welcome us to her rural “goat farm” rental and available to join us on both afternoons for a couple of dining experiences. The gravy? Elizabeth’s really fun and “Whacky” mom, Bess, was on hand to socialize for a bit as well!

(Incidentally, both Elizabeth and Lynne dared to don helmets, as well, and hop aboard the Harley for a spin about the Pisgah Inn parking area!)

 

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And, of course, we couldn’t leave the inn without first befriending a “local” biker gang from Korea! (In all seriousness, these Harley enthusiasts waved us over for a photo op; they hailed from South Korea and were exploring the East Coast atop motorcycles via a south-to-north route.)

 

Huntersville

There isn’t much that’s sweeter than the blessing of friendship, but when it comes from unexpected circumstances, it feels, perhaps, that much more special.

Enter Boots and Micki…

(Some context is in order!) Rescued in the nick of time from a North Carolina “kill shelter,” with nine newborn pups (vying for eight teats) in tow, Micki received her second chance at life about 10 years ago.

 

 

 

The foster angels who rescued her (and ultimately adopted her and the runt puppy of that litter—a.k.a. Boots!) were Joan and Kathy of Huntersville, North Carolina.

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(“Angels” might be an understatement; Joan and Kathy have fostered dozens of dogs over time, helping to find “forever homes” for sweet beasts who have been abandoned for one reason or another…and providing a “forever home” themselves for a few pups along the way.)

Micki and Boots enjoyed their North Carolina home for nearly eight years, until it became clear that they could no longer live well (well-behaved, that is) among the other smaller fosters.

Enter Steff (that’s me!) a couple of springs ago, aching to have a dog at my feet once again. And two? That’d be a first, but why not? Yes…one dog for each foot! I will spare all the details about how I found this mother/daughter pooch pair online (though some credit and a “thank you!” shout-out here to Devon Rinkin is in order), but in the end, a 36-hour visit to North Carolina resulted in a new home for this canine couple…and two new (human!) friends for me as well.

And now, two and a half years after that adoption, the girls were able to reconnect with their former mommies (with whom we’ve remained in close touch), and Dave had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with them too. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that, just prior to our visit, a tiny part of me worried that the girls (especially anxious, sensitive Boots) might not want to climb back into that RV once we spent the night at their former home with their two initial rescue angels, but in the end, it seemed to us that the reunion couldn’t have gone better. The girls clearly remembered to some degree, Kathy and Joan received lots of grateful wags and kisses, and Boots and Micki did climb back into the RV the next day. Our visit included a boat ride on the lake, dining and conversation, our learning all about the sport of “flyball”—with which Kathy and Joan are heavily involved with their Boston terriers, a shared interest in (and viewing of) that night’s vice presidential debate, and, of course, lots of wonderful spoiling of Boots and Micki.

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(Photo credit to Kathy!) 

 

Mount Holly…in the parking lot of a church across from Catawba Coffee Shop…

How fun to reconnect later the next day with a young lady who had babysat for and driven my boys to school 10-plus years ago and who had since gone on to college and vet school…ultimately landing in the Charlotte, N.C., area a few months ago with her college-sweetheart husband. Isabel and Keith graciously carved out an hour or so for us (in the parking lot of a church, where it was easiest to get Thor and Joey situated) as we were traveling through, and our conversation–and introduction to Keith–proved to be another “People are awesome!” highlight.

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I’d like to take a moment to address any readers in the Charlotte area and put a shameless plug in for Keith, a Kenyon College grad, who has since earned his MBA and would like to put it to use—preferably for “good.” Please message me if you’re interested in helping him connect. Talk about a bright, engaging, good-energy guy…You picked a good one, Izzy!

 

Winston-Salem

Having begun to think of WalMart as a second home, we found ourselves just a few hours later in the parking lot of yet another one. There we welcomed former Cardigan colleague Chris Jenkins to our humble “parking lot café,” complete with folding chairs and Keurig-produced cups of Joe. Our heartening catch-up conversation with Chris, who has been happily teaching and coaching at Summit School, gave us just the boost we needed to head north for the home stretch, and we decided to begin the journey that same evening.

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A BRIEF SIDEBAR ABOUT NAVIGATION (yes, another “Steff side story,” if you’ll indulge me…)

First, kudos to Dave, who drove Thor for the duration of the entire trip, sometimes battling the “high profile” woes of strong winds, often negotiating tough lane changes or tight parking situations, and at all times getting us safely from point A to point B. (A public “Thank you!” to you, Honey!)

My roles, in turn, were many and varied—and yet arguably less stressful: navigator, DJ, dog whisperer, trip accountant, motorcycle mama, sandwich maker, spontaneous hugger, photographer, sewage-emptying assistant, blogger, and…well…you get the picture. While I’d maintain I was “adequate” at most of these positions, perfecting my navigational skills quickly rose to the top of my list of goals.

Dubbed “chief navigator” (by Dave) from the outset, the bar was set high. Too bad we waited until nearly the end of our journey to see Sully, a film that elicited in us some really cool “pilot aircraft speak” in our last days in Thor…

(Readers, please note that we are not real pilots; we just play them “in RV.” Further, readers are not advised to try this at home.)

Runway 4 clear for takeoff…

Secure the cabin!

Cabin secured; ready for takeoff.

Accelerating…wheels up…we’ve got takeoff…

Object ahead, and we’re comin’ in hot!

We’ve lost thrust…we’re losing altitude.

Stay the course…

10-4.

We’ve got clearance, Captain. Disaster averted.

Gutzon!

Borglum!

OK, real pilots out there are likely having a pretty good laugh at our expense (as are we), but you get the gist. Much like our Southern accents, for the remainder of that final leg we could turn on our “pilot speak” whenever we felt so moved—typically as we either exited from or merged onto highways.

More context is in order here: As I worked on improving my navigational skills, I also strove to save our cellular data overages from financially sinking us. (The atlas was handy for main roads, but as we exited major byways and needed to get to more-specific locations, I had to rely on bossy–though admittedly kind of smart–“Siri.”) I would turn Siri off once we hit a steady, lengthy stretch and estimate the best time to pull her services back up again…you know…only when directions were about to become more complicated.

And so…

As we made our way to Dublin, Virginia (toward yet another Walmart) for the night, my “chief navigator” rank took a serious hit (and even now at home, I have yet to regain the full confidence of our fearless pilot…). Let’s recount the “incident,” shall we?

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“Steff? Steff? …Are you for real?! Steff?! STEFF!”

I am dreaming the first part…I think. I pull my face up off of the atlas just in time to acknowledge fully the final “Steff!” punctuated by Dave’s half-bemused, half-frustrated chuckle. “You have just one job to do,” he laughs. “Just ONE…and you fall asleep on that job?!”

I can’t believe it. I did…I quite literally “fell asleep on the job”!

Initially, I’m too drowsy to tell if he’s genuinely upset or actually finding this funny.

I eyeball my phone to catch the time… “Oh my gosh!” I begin to ramble. “It’s 10:45! I was going to recheck Siri for our location at 10:40!”

“And…?”

“And…ummm…I guess I nodded off! Hang on…” Silence. Amused silence? “I’m so sorry…really…” I offer as I rush to pull up Siri again, and then add, helpfully: “But I did just check, and, well…will you look at THAT?! In a mile and a half we should get off the highway to get to the Walmart. You…um…actually woke me up just in time.”

Another pause.

I can see Dave is struggling to maintain his feigned seriousness. “Tomorrow there will be a review of your status.  Pause. I’m sorry to inform you, but I’m no longer certain you can be relied upon as ‘chief navigator.’ ”  Pause.  He blusters: What if we were in the AIR, for goodness’ sake?! ‘Sorry we missed the runway…I nodded off’ ?!”

He has a point.

And then…we can’t stop laughing.

 Disaster averted.

 

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CONTINUING NORTH…

From Virginia, and then tidbits of West Virginia and Maryland, we trekked upward through Pennsylvania, entering the southern part of New York state for one last night at a campground (with plans to “lighten Thor’s load” the next morning for a final time). Every inch of our northward path seemed to highlight the scenic metamorphosis…one region into the next…the differences notable.

…We are going north. Closing in on home turf. Traffic congestion increases, forests thicken, main byways narrow and feel bumpier, buildings multiply and inch closer together…evidence of human activity grows.

So, too, does the spectrum of colors before us on the horizon…

And then…a morning walk with the girls on the country roads around our campground reminds me of what “home” in the Northeast will really feel like, especially at this time of year. The sporadic patter of falling acorns and the brilliant hues of yellow, lime green, peachy orange, and occasional red provide the backdrop of our country walk. We spy on separate occasions at least six white-tailed deer; each gives us a brief and skeptical look before bounding away, slipping into the forest. Hidden. We see a rafter of turkeys on someone’s lawn. A “flying V” of some type of bird overhead makes its way—south, I presume… The roads are quiet, the trash and recycling have been put out for pickup at the ends of driveways, each a block’s distance from its neighboring drive. New York state is not my home, but the setting of my morning walk stirs in me a sudden longing for New Hampshire.

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CONNECTICUT

A spontaneous visit with our “Chinese son,” Long, was not without its challenges! As we headed for the Canterbury School in New Milford, Conn., where Long and Christi (Long’s new bride, who was unfortunately out of town) work and reside, we dutifully heeded every “right” and “left” command Siri issued, but we failed to consider Siri might not be aware of our vehicular constraints. There we were, just a couple hundred miles from home, encountering the very first bridge on the entire trip that could not accommodate Thor’s height.

With the help of a sympathetic passerby, we were able to stop traffic on the busy road that we’d just turned off of—and that we had to back onto again—and execute a 30-point reversal move with Thor and Joey (bravo, Dave!). Long was gracious enough to scrap our first plan and instead meet us 10 minutes from campus in the parking lot of a grocery store, and we dined on sandwiches under a tree as we caught up, our last “Long sighting” having been at his August wedding.

 

NEW HAMPSHIRE—and HOME, SWEET HOME!

Twenty-four hours in the Jaffrey/Rindge area with Dave’s dad, Darlene, and Brianne, Matt, and their four young kiddos meant we sort of closed out our adventure just as we’d begun it, as most of this same crew had seen us off in late August. I’ve never minded that “full circle” feeling one bit.

 

After watching three of the four Gaudet boys partake in their Saturday sports, it was truly time to head home to Concord—but not before one more Joey incident…

The trailer earned one last battle scar (and so did poor Dave) as we packed up to go and attempted to load the bike back onto it; the fact that the ground wasn’t level beneath Joey’s “feet,” meant the ramp was slightly askew, causing Dave to topple sideways, getting himself and that beast of a bike caught up on one of the ramp’s cables. I thank our lucky stars that Dave was not hurt and that Grampy was there with us so he and I could help stabilize the bike while Dave extracted himself from the situation—and so the three of us could then untangle the bike from the cable. (Footnote: Joey is now resting for the winter in our Concord garage; “his” injuries need time to heal…trailer surgery may be in order come spring.)

(Old photos–just to remind ourselves that battle-tested “Joey” served us well.)

 

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Finishing right where we began…

Sixty minutes—and 50 miles—later, we pulled up to 268 North Main Street, Concord, with 40 days and more than 9,000 miles behind us…

…but oh, so much more than that when we really think about it.

 

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…As I walk the girls down our Concord street in a cozy hoodie and jeans, I note the flip-flop tan has begun to fade; in a chance glimpse of my reflection in a car window, I detect a few sun-kissed wisps of blonde that have lingered, remnants of the journey we were just blessed with, as we chased summer around the country.

I relent. I smile at no one in particular—but also at everything—and I surrender to autumn, embracing the crisp air of a sunshiny October day. I am at peace with being home.

(And yes, by the way: We are still quite married.)

 Gutzon Borglum.

 

 

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Afterthought…

I stumbled upon a high school classmate’s Facebook post the other day (thank you, Brad McMaster!). This Wendell Berry poem (below) so beautifully captures much of what we felt during our journey.

And so, I urge readers, once again: If you have the opportunity, seize it…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Peace of Wild Things

                         ~Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

Seeking Soul Food in the South

Seeking Soul Food in the South

 

My nose is back in the atlas. In recent days we have been moving from the expanse of the West (wherein we pretty much could “point and go” on a single interstate) to the slightly more intricate county roads in the South (and East) that require our greater attention to detail and direction; I feel a developing fascination with how these Southern states are juxtaposed. (I am almost ready for a retake of that fourth-grade geo quiz.) Traffic is heavier, the highway signs, exits, and bends in the road more abundant, and towns and cities closer together. Trees are more plentiful too, though; it’s a different kind of beautiful, and I feel the subtle tug of “my” East Coast—of the familiar…

Before we dive too deeply into our Southern experiences, Dave has expressed a desire for me to add a few words about his Friday Night Lights adventure in Oak Grove (Missouri) last week, when I “opted out” to instead get a jump on that last blog post… In that small town (of about 8,000), which is likely representative of numerous other small Missouri towns, football is not a small thing. Dave immersed himself in a setting that evening which provided him terrific insight into small community life in the Midwest; in particular, he witnessed a community’s palpable and powerful support of its local high school. An absolute outpouring of residents who’d attended the school “back in the day” attended a game against local rival Pleasant Hill (a town equivalent in size and demographics) on a Friday night, under the lights, to support the current students…and not only to cheer on the football team, but to support its spirited—and talented—marching band (up for something like a sixth “grand champion” award, he vaguely recalls) of about 180 musically passionate teenagers. When he returned to our nearby campsite at 9 p.m., two hours after the contest’s opening kickoff, he told me the second half had barely begun…

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Saturday morning, we begin our next leg in earnest, heading toward an equally unfamiliar part of our country, and with the new day, we take note of another phenomenon: As we cross into territory that’s more distinctly below the Mason Dixon line, our Southern accents suddenly kick in while we talk logistics. That’s right. “Our” Southern accents. Every aspect of this shared, spurious drawl likely makes our Yankee roots quite obvious; we couldn’t fool an international tourist if we tried, but it sure is fun—and funny—to try, and we laugh at how we sound. We laugh a lot.

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Something else takes over, too, as we slip southward from Missouri into Arkansas and Tennessee. The soul of the South. We make a more discrete shift from our far-reaching, outward study of visual vastness in the West to an inward examination of “we, the people.” Despite the brevity of the time we will spend here, we are immediately sucked in by the setting, culture, music, and history…

Another “lucky stumble” put us at our favorite campground to date, in spite of my having called its advertised phone number just two minutes prior to the office’s closing to see if “by chance” they had a pull-through space. Apparently, someone had just canceled, but we didn’t know just how fortunate we were until our actual arrival at the riverfront spot in “Tom Sawyer’s RV Campground” on the Mississippi (in West Memphis, Arkansas—just a bridge away from Memphis, Tennessee). The grounds manager who waited around to welcome us was Jerry Garcia’s doppelganger (he gets that a lot, he told us). The grounds included an expansive, grassy track along the river for dog walking; benches on the riverbanks for reading or quiet contemplation; lush wooded areas, home to trees that dripped with Spanish moss; and a peaceful backdrop of barges easing down the wide Mississippi. Ma Nature cooperated, too, providing a fitting sunset and equally glorious sunrise. I bumped into a woman from San Diego the next morning while walking the girls; she and her husband had embarked on an adventure nearly identical to ours—only clockwise—and it wasn’t their first “go ’round.” She told me this was their third visit to this particular campground, in fact; for obvious reasons it had become her favorite as well.

We hopped on the Harley in the morning and headed over the bridge for breakfast at the well-known Arcade Restaurant (diner) in Sunday’s sleepy downtown Memphis (Tennessee). Dave included biscuits and gravy—and grits—in his order, and I agreed to a bite of both. Though glad to have experienced these Southern menu staples, we both agreed “the South can have ’em.” (Sorry, folks. New England wimps are we!)

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Less than a block away sits the Lorraine Motel, our next destination, and, sadly, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last.

The outside of this motel sits virtually unchanged. Enter its doors, and you step into the National Civil Rights Museum; your world morphs into a world of African American history, a world of courage that begins with slaves.

Courage…

We hear the sounds of suffering on slave ships. We sit with Rosa Parks on the bus. We join folks at the counter of a diner for a sit-in. We try to imagine. We are transported. Would we have had that kind of courage? Do we have it now? Just as MLK, Jr. expanded his focus from civil rights and racial inequality to, more broadly, poverty and the Vietnam War…the museum’s reach extends beyond the injustices experienced by African Americans to human rights in general, including current immigration issues.

Outside the museum sits “Jacqueline,” a woman who’s been nonviolently protesting for nearly 30 years (her signs proclaim) the use of extensive funding to convert the motel into a museum. We are curious. She feels the funds would be better spent on transforming the motel into housing for the poor. “It’s what Dr. King would have wanted,” she tells us.

Alas…our campground checkout time truncated our museum visit. We could have spent many more hours in this place, and we found ourselves wishing we’d planned a bit better. Just as each of those Western vistas during recent days and weeks had stirred something in me, so, too, did delving into this facet of our nation’s history—at times painful, at others full of hope. It knocked on the door of my conscience.

 

 

…As we walk back up the street toward the bike, Memphis folks have just begun to populate the sunny Sunday sidewalks, heading for breakfast, church, the corner store for a newspaper.

I promise myself I won’t forget any of it.

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And that very afternoon, on our way out of town, we were provided with a soulful reminder about gratitude, love, and compassion. Fate was working in our favor once again, as Memphis’s Full Gospel Tabernacle church, founded by Reverend Al Green 40 years ago, was graced by his presence (apparently he’s the central figure whenever he’s not out on tour) on the very day we decided to dip our toes into a Southern Baptist service. It (and he) did not disappoint.

What began as a stop prompted by mild curiosity and a love of music ended up as an afternoon replete with love and happiness, to be sure…

A (much) younger version of Rev. Al Green

In case you don’t recall Al Green the singer, the above is simply a link to one of his fabulous tunes…performed when he was MUCH younger, but he’s still “got it”! The quality of my own footage from the service just didn’t cut it.

Loosely framed by the rough outline provided in the programs (that inevitably serve as heat-mitigating “fans” shortly into any service), these Sunday gatherings can run anywhere from one to three hours, depending on Reverend Al’s agenda, his spiritual mood, or the congregation’s needs. Though the pews in this small neighborhood church aren’t entirely full, the service itself is. Full of soul. Full of joy and celebration. Full of praying… preaching…healing…speaking in tongues (for real!)…spontaneous affirmations (“Amen!” “Yup, that’s right!” and “Yes Sir!”). But mostly, full of the kind of music that highlights and celebrates family and community—and, of course, “the good Lord!”

No matter your faith tradition, you can’t help but feel welcomed here. You’re invited to participate. To sing and dance. To take pictures. To share from where you’ve traveled. To “officially” join. To be baptized (we witnessed history that day, in fact: the most-ever baptisms in one service). In addition to Rev. Al’s regular members, people from all over the country—and all over the globe—make a point of stopping here to celebrate when passing through Memphis. There were folks there last Sunday from New England, New Jersey, and Chicago, and there were guests from Australia, New Zealand, the UK, France, Italy, Sweden, and Austria. And, seriously: Not into celebrating Jesus? Then you still might feel perfectly comfortable just clapping your hands, swaying to the obvious rhythm, and singing along. (On top of it all, Reverend Al really does still have “that voice”! And his band and gospel choir, though surprisingly small in number, absolutely rock “the House.”) For two straight hours, I couldn’t stop clapping, tapping, moving…beaming.

After Reverend Al dismissed us—and gave his deacons the blessing to “go watch those football games I know you’re just itchin’ to get home to”—we moseyed out with the remaining congregants, many of whom lingered in the lobby or in the parking lot to chat.

Our hearts are full.

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Note: We concluded the day with dinner and almost equally soulful music. After deciding we’d hunker down in a Montgomery (Alabama) Walmart, we slipped over to B.B. King’s Blues Club at a nearby casino for a bite and a lot more involuntary toe-tapping, as the house band happened to be a rockin’ “All-Star Band”—horn section and all.

A Look Ahead…

As much as experiencing the outdoors, taking in spectacular vistas, listening to music, tapping into the spiritual, immersing ourselves in history, getting lost in literature, logging thousands(!) of miles, blogging into the wee hours, and gathering information enriches us, the nature of our final stretch is certain be markedly different—full of “family and friends”-type destinations. We embrace the remaining schedule wholeheartedly, though, recognizing that these kinds of visits, many of which are long overdue, will bring human connection to the fore…and can provide equally powerful sustenance for the soul.

 

—————–On the Side——————–

First, some context to the side story of irony I’m about to tell, and I think Dave would attest to the following: I tend to hit my head, on average, once a day. It’s a spatial-relations issue; I’m sure of it. I should note that my skull doesn’t always make contact with immovable objects with the same level of intensity every time, but the regularity of contact—with corners of cabinets, door frames of vehicles, etc.—is a tad alarming. With this bit of seemingly trivial personal information in mind, consider this…

Last week, I admitted to Dave that I’d been craving microwave popcorn since the beginning of our journey but hadn’t yet been able to locate the glass plate that is meant to spin during cooking time in Thor’s microwave. For the life of me, I could not recall where it had been safely tucked away, although its nifty hiding spot had been revealed to us during our RV orientation—twice. So…no plate? No popcorn.

Just when I’d given up on my dreams of popcorn as a travel snack, Dave surprised me by securing a pre-popped box at one of our pit stops. I was over the moon. Silly, I know. As we pulled away from the gas station/food mart, I stood up to procure from one of the storage cabinets a small bowl for Dave’s driver’s-seat popcorn portion. I reached up above the sink, grasped the cabinet’s handle, gently opened the door, and CLUNK! There was my daily head injury—not an insignificant one this time. Something of considerable heft had launched from its storage position, and the top of my head was the only thing keeping it from plummeting into pieces on the floor. I dropped to my knees as my hands instinctively applied pressure in an attempt to stem the throb. It was tough for Dave to hear what was going on from up front, though he likely heard the echoes of expletives and got the gist when he glanced over his shoulder to see the popcorn he’d purchased strewn about the floor.

“What happened?!” he called back.

“Just got hit on the head by something,” I replied.

“Must be a new day!”

I looked around for the broom to attend to the disappointing mess, and then I spied it. The culprit. The cabinet’s weighty rocket. The source of my cranial ache.

The microwave plate.

(And the “icing” on this irony? I went into the freezer to secure some ice for my bruised noggin and discovered the extra loaf of bread I’d bought two weeks earlier but hadn’t been able to recently locate. A similarly happy find occurred just hours prior to my typing this, but I’ll save the story of my ATM card for another post.)

—————-

Gutzon Borglum!

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Awesomeness Saturation and an “American Buffet”

Awesomeness Saturation and an “American Buffet”

It has been days since I have put fingers to keyboard. I write now as we make our away along Route 70, in very straight, horizontal fashion, from the southeastern part of Colorado all the way to the far side of Kansas. It’s a driving day, and substantially so, but these stretches of “simply making forward progress” aren’t to be dreaded necessarily. They’re just different, and they dot the bigger picture of our grand journey with spells that include musical interludes, conversation, pit stops with leg stretching and dog walking in unique places, and, most recently, the backdrop of good literature (via an audiobook) that utterly sucked us in and transported us elsewhere, as if all that visually stretched before us wasn’t surreal enough.

It’s worth noting that the aforementioned novel, which, sadly, just came to its conclusion today, was All the Light We Cannot See. While its WWII time frame and setting vastly differ from our own here and now, the theme of human connection and its ability to span great distances and differences profoundly resonated with us. It helped that the writing was beautiful and narration spot on (thank you Anthony Doerr and Zach Appelman, respectively), and thanks to our Utah friends who both suggested and loaned us this trip-saving company keeper.

And now “Flat Kansas” continues to fill the palette before us, with its greens and browns muted by dust, its tidy plots of crops, and its endless rows of wind turbines catching our eye. The stiff, continuous wind makes its presence known as well, as it pushes Thor and Joey about at every opportunity. Dave tries mightily to maintain a steady course, with both hands firmly gripping the wheel and his taut, slightly forward-leaning upper body bracing against the force; his hands and back relax only when we stop for gas, it seems, and it’s easy to imagine how Dorothy’s house got caught up in a bit of a spin.

When we last posted, we were headed to Utah, the land of, among other things certainly, the infamous Butch Cassidy.

Approaching Salt Lake City from the west (Nevada), meant we got to witness the dramatic transition, virtually at the border itself, between the two states, moving suddenly from a typical desert landscape of sand—with magnificent mountain ranges looming on the horizon—to the “Salt Lake Desert” that was, quite literally, blanketed with white salt. Places in which the salt had accumulated to measure more than the depth of a thin coat looked as though a Zamboni had just relieved itself of its icy load outside a rink. Still, though, impressive and imposing ranges remained in view.

Our time in Utah included visits with friends and sightseeing adventures (both in the RV and on the bike). We hunkered down in the RV-friendly driveway of Andrew and Jen Menke, recently relocated to the city of Sandy, where Andrew has taken on the head’s role at Waterford School, and we were able to briefly catch up with a mutual friend, Derek Bunting, and his wife, Cynthia, during an early-morning visit before Derek took his seventh graders on a weeklong field trip to Moab. (For that particular visit, we climbed aboard the Harley, and Siri guided us in the dark—at 5:45 a.m.—along the already-busy freeway and then through neighborhood streets to a funky section of Salt Lake City.)

Their foster dog, Clyde, was not happy about Derek’s departure.  

Back in Sandy, we didn’t have to venture far at all to get a taste of what Utah has to offer; the Menkes’ suburban back yard differs entirely from the neatly mowed and sidewalk-bordered front lawn; the back abuts acres and acres of trails for public use, a gulley area called Dimple Dell. And, what’s not to love about a back deck that offers bug-free hang time with a panoramic view of the not-so-distant mountains?

We appreciated the hospitality more than the Menkes will ever know—and after enjoying an authentic (as far as we know!) Mexican dinner one of the two evenings, we were grateful to have partaken in what they told us was a longstanding Utah tradition for dessert: frozen custard. Hmmm… (and regardless…Yum!).

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While still at the Menkes’, our exploration of the area included a Harley ride over Guardsman’s Pass into Park City; the sea of aspen changed the landscape into a patchwork quilt that included bright and beautiful yellows, almost rivaling our own foliage displays in the Northeast, and the s-curves on the route as we climbed higher and higher made my photojournalist’s role particularly thrilling–and scary. It was also fun to connect for lunch in Park City with Dave’s high school buddy Eric Jacobsen.

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Once we departed Sandy for good (for good this particular trip, anyway; we are determined to return!), we headed for some national parks. Our first encounter with foul weather prevented our seeing Bryce, but we were able to hit Zion in drive-through fashion, stayed at a campground in nifty Red Canyon, and the next day snuck in a Harley tour of Arches before the rain caught up to us right in the end. Each park exploration, as well as our travel between those two notables, included plenty of stops at incredible viewing points, as well as some “modest” hikes—and daring feats (it’s all relative, folks)—on the side.

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A self-deprecating side story, for your entertainment, about our time in Zion: At one particular pullover/viewing area, Dave thought it would be pretty funny to “disappear” while I was getting out of the RV on the passenger side (opposite the door he’d used). He ducked down on the other side of a retaining wall across the street, and mild panic began to take over when I didn’t see him anywhere in this small area, thinking he could very well have fallen off the cliff. I looked all around the RV and trailer, hoping maybe he was checking the hitch or ensuring outside compartments were locked—then I went the other way around the vehicles, thinking we must be missing each other as we simultaneously circled the pair. All this as Dave watched from his hiding spot, stifling his laughter before eventually popping up to reassure me he hadn’t been swallowed up by this formidable park. This, by the way, is not really an uncommon occurrence for us. I am quite easily duped.

In Devil’s Canyon—between the parks:

 

 

 

 

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And…likely the last of the national parks we will visit this go around: Arches!

 

 

 

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Let it be known that every park we’ve experienced and every road we’ve traveled in the West has provided something spectacular—and each moment or sight different in some way, big or small, than its predecessor. And all of it is jaw dropping. We’re almost embarrassed to admit we may have actually hit a point of “awesomeness saturation.”

Dave has come up with an analogy for our overall adventure. Keeping in mind the ever-present and delicate balance between logging miles and really experiencing a place deeply, our trip might be likened to an “American buffet.” We are tasting a bit of nearly everything on America’s menu, and when we come back for “seconds” (someday!), we’ll have a better sense of which menu items we’d like to “consume” more of—in a larger portion size and with even more time to chew, if you will. With that understanding, we extend a public apology to all those who have kindly given us terrific personal suggestions about where to go and what to do, and who may be feeling, based on this blog, that we didn’t appreciate these ideas or that we simply ignored or forgot them. That isn’t the case at all. Our “Visit America” wait staff is simply asking us to try a few bites and “move along, please” so that other customers might be seated. You understand, yes?

Two more Walmart overnights later, we have made it through Colorado and now Kansas. Truth be told, Colorado kind of got short shifted on this trip, but there’s that balancing act to consider again, and the incredible state has been in the starting lineup before—so we don’t feel too guilty. Besides, our trek through it wasn’t without its refreshing bright spots: Iron Mountain Hot Springs (we spoiled our travel-weary bodies in natural hot springs beside the Colorado River with a view of the Rockies just across the street); a pullover in Vail that allowed us to catch up over coffee with wedding-going friend and former colleague David Perfield in a parking lot; another parking-lot visit with “Canadian son” Vince Renda at Air Force Academy; and a side-by-side Pats/Sox viewing at a sports bar in Colorado Springs, where we found a fellow fan of both our home town teams at a neighboring table–a pleasant young attorney who’d grown up Manchester (New Hampshire) and had relocated out here for his wife’s job; he was not complaining.

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“Strangers stopping strangers, just to shake their hands…”

 Dave and I cannot help but take this time to recall some of the characters we’ve encountered along the way, dotting our adventure story with the quirkiness that is so wonderfully human. Here are just a few, with more to come in future posts…

 First, the kindly “RV assistants”:

Gentle retired Walt (last name might as well have been Disney, given his disposition), from Florida, was clearly an RV pro—and the first person we dared ask about anything RV-related; while our conversation began with water hookups, it inevitably morphed into lifestyle “stuff,” and he seemed eager to impart (several times) his abiding m.o., which ran along the lines of “happy wife, happy life.” Another couple from Michigan provided some valuable tips about sewer hookups, an admittedly dreaded topic for us, so it felt good to have friendly, reassuring help on this one. As with anything, exposure, experience, and improved understanding lessens fear. (We could take that idea to much greater heights, couldn’t we? But I digress.) Side sewage note: Feel free to ask Dave in person about the time I almost did dump a load of you-know-what right on my head.

Our Uber driver in Illinois happened to be an aspiring MLB umpire, who’d already made it to the Single-A level and whose cousin happened to be pro baseball’s Torii Hunter. This patient man answered all of our burning baseball questions about rules that are in the process of changing—and he endured the nonstop zingers that our friend Chip was hurling his way, coming back with a few of his own. What a ride to the Cubs game that was, though our exuberance may have scared him off, as he didn’t respond to our later call for a return trip.

“Roxanne,” our blackjack dealer in friendly Winnemucca, Nevada, told us she had grown up in Elko (two hours east, and where we later sought out the Patriots game the next day). She’d ventured west from her hometown many years ago, with dreams of joining her father in Hawaii, but she’d never made it farther than the two hours to Winnemucca, and five kids later, she was still here. As she patiently helped us with our blackjack decision making, we asked her if she’d ever dealt cards in Vegas. “I wish!” she replied.

In this most recent stretch (Utah), we spent the night at Red Canyon Campground. As luck would have it, when we entered the grounds, no one was at the entrance—it seemed as though the honor system was in play, given the late evening hour; just pick your site and go back to pay the appropriate amount by putting cash or check in an envelope. The only site left was a “multi-family” spot, which cost a bit more but also meant we could pull Thor and Joey through it more easily given its bigger size. About 10 minutes later, a confused man arrived in his car, waving his reservation ticket about and asking if the woman at the entrance had made a mistake and double-booked the site. When I explained that the mistake must have been ours, but asked if he might be interested in adopting us in his “multi-family” site if we chipped in, he graciously agreed, and Dave enjoyed getting to know him while I walked the dogs. A man of about our age, “Shalom” was from Taiwan, and “Shalom” was the English name he’d chosen as a child. He and Dave compared notes on our children and his and swapped email addresses too. Later, Dave confessed he could not wait to wake up the next morning just to greet his new friend at the picnic table with “Shalom, Shalom!” (Thank goodness, Shalom had a good sense of humor.)

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We’ll save a few other characters for another post, but know that there have been plenty!

————

And now, as I click the heels of my aqua blue flip-flops together, I can honestly say: “We’re not in Kansas anymore!”

Gutzon Borglum!

Pacific U-Turn (sort of)!

Schleprock vs. “Shafts of Light”

As we were departing Crescent City, California, Dave aptly dubbed it the Schleprock of coastal cities. That nickname may be entirely unfair, as we essentially spent less than 24 hours there, but the moniker seemed fitting within that time frame, at least, as its city limits (both as we entered and as we departed) were distinctly demarcated with a wall of ocean-induced fog

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Oddly, the backdrop for the redwood forests on either side of this city happened to be blue sky and sunshine, which produced such lovely shafts of light.

And we couldn’t seem to get enough of those massive trees and heavenly rays, so we stopped along the road again on Friday to let the girls sniff out some new smells in this type of forest—and to feel humbled again, ourselves, by the enormity of these trees as we snapped a few more photos.

 

“…Sea to Shining Sea”

We also felt compelled to somehow commemorate the achievement of reaching the Pacific—and Dave was just the guy to take this on. We found a quiet-ish beach, and (with a public apology to the Native American tribe for whom it is—or was once—considered sacred ground) Dave took the plunge. Because the spirit moved him, he did so baring all. Nothing like a naked donkey kick, post-plunge, to celebrate the reaching of the West Coast! But you don’t need to see that here. (“Definitely not chiseled from stone,” is the Dropkick phrase Dave likens his features to—but let it be known that this self-deprecating description is his perception alone, not mine.) He did agree to let this pic make its way into the blog; others that were taken might be deemed inappropriate:

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Eastward, Ho?

Our official turning point came in a town near McKinleyville, California, called Arcata. In need of yet another pit stop, we happened upon a coffee shop/thrift store combo called “Groovy” (our lucky day!). Though generally not a shopping enthusiast, Dave found a couple of irresistibles, and we snapped a selfie to memorialize the eastward turn toward home  (…sort of; we are actually kind of headed toward the South in an easterly way).

Apparently “Joey” wished to over-enthusiastically celebrate the occasion, too, as “he” sustained a second—and perhaps more notable—injury while we were leaving the Groovy lot; the sudden and subtle (virtually invisible) dip in pavement caused us to bottom out where Joey and Thor are joined, and unless some magical and heroic welder appears on the scene at some point soon, we will no longer be able to detach one from the other for the duration of this adventure. Pull-through sites only, henceforth—or we’ll need to get pretty creative! Another tough lesson learned.

We then endured a long afternoon coming over the mountain pass called Route 299 (for the record, it was not only slow going because of all the ascending and descending, which we initially thought would be fun, but because the route happens to be undergoing lots of construction). We agreed that the first hour was kind of exciting and fun (and at least tolerable), and the juxtaposition of Redwood groves and occasional beach views elicited a few “oohs”; the next few hours, however? Well…“views shmyooze” is what we found ourselves mumbling at that point! JGW RV Campground in Redding, California, could not have come soon enough—nor could its contrast with our previous site and its hot showers in clean facilities be more appreciated.

Saturday morning we crossed into Nevada and made a Starbucks pit stop in the greater Reno area. As luck would have it (and thanks for tip from afar, Karl!), the Reno Stead Airport was playing host to an airshow—an entertaining intermission during the weekend’s renowned “air races”; we were able to catch bits and pieces of some of the spectacular stunts, coffee in hand, from our outdoor café table. (Dave was also reminded by a passerby that this was the same annual event during which a pilot-error catastrophe occurred about five years ago—a tragic mistake had a stunt plane plunging into the sea of spectators.)

The self-proclaimed “friendliest town in all of Nevada,” Winnemucca, then beckoned to us, and we staked out a temporary home for ourselves at a fairly new KOA RV park…with not a blade of grass in sight, much to the dogs’ dismay. Yes, we are finally—duh, Steff and Dave!—beginning to realize just how easily sucked in we have been by advertising.* Perhaps our defenses are down, given our distance from the East Coast and our East Coast sensibilities! Novice, too-long-out-of-touch campers that we are, the promise of a refreshing pool, hot showers, and wifi in the “friendliest” possible town—and for such a reasonable price—had us actually believing (prior to arrival) that we might just plunk down in Winnemucca for more than one night.

Nope. We were on the road again by 7:30 a.m.

*As one example of misleading advertising, recall our aforementioned campground in Crescent City (previous blog post) and check out these juxtaposed images:

 

Before touching on our continuing travels through Nevada, we’ve got to mention our evening “out.” Downtown in friendly Winnemucca on a Saturday night, with the neon lights of several casinos flashing, beckoning unwitting suckers like us, and the convention center billboard advertising next weekend’s gun show…could not have been…um…quieter. At 7 p.m. it felt like a ghost town. That didn’t prevent us from parking the bike and sauntering into “Winners” for some cowboy grub and a few hands of blackjack (for the record, we were not winners). More personal reflections to come about our dealer in another post, but related to the quiet we felt: she actually informed us that things were busier than usual for the place due to the roping competition there that weekend.

“Busy” is a relative term, we’re learning!

 

It would also be a mistake not to show you Dave’s decadent dinner: Angus burger meets pulled pork! (I confess to feeling like a wimp nibbling at my measly veggie wrap, but my heart is thanking me…I think.)

 

I am typing this on Sunday afternoon as we traverse the dry, flat landscape of Nevada on Route 80 (with a pastel blue horizon and 360 degrees of impressive and imposing mountain ranges all around us, I should add; to be clear, the vista is far exceeding the reviews others have given it, the highway is flat and straight—for which Boots is probably thanking us, and we are making good time!).

 

Having not seen any television in three weeks (a proud achievement for this news junkie), we caved this morning and sought out the Pats game in an Elko, Nevada, casino, two hours east of where we’d bunked. Just a quick reminder that we are on Pacific time here, so that  1 p.m. EST kickoff meant 10 a.m. in this gambling joint, but football fanatics abound here. The mid-morning breakfast hour didn’t prevent these folks from appearing at the casino clad in jerseys representing a wide variety of teams. Perhaps the experience passes as a kind of churchgoing for some. Every NFL game was on display at the Gold Dust West casino; the Pats were relegated to the TV in the corner, but I’m happy to report we were not their sole fans.

Jumping back in the RV at 1:30 PST, glad of the final outcome, Dave and I had an interesting debate about where these fellow onlookers were rolling in from: I thought they were fellow travelers, perhaps staying at the hotel next door or passing through like we were, since their team affiliations were so varied; Dave thought locals—with the different loyalties explained by Nevada’s not having a team of its own. In the end, I think he may be right, for, as he gently pointed out, how many people really travel with the NFL jersey of their favorite player in tow?

Onward to Utah, with lots to look forward to there… Gutzon Borglum!

 

 

Dog Is My Co-Pilot…

Dog Is My Co-Pilot…

How can we not–at least sometimes–talk about our fearless, fur-full travel companions?! Boots and Micki. Micki and Boots. If you aren’t acquainted already, get to know them! (Unless you’re a fellow four-legger, that is; in that case, avoid! Avoid!)

Mother Micki, Baby (daughter) Boots. Ages 11.5 and 10. Yes, these are our little ol’ “rescue continuation” ladies who are traveling ’round the country with us, good sports that they are. Micki wins AAA’s “good traveler” award, in fact–happy just to be with us, at any (albeit minor) cost to her comfort. And Boots? Well…sweet, sensitive, and stubborn Boots recently, finally (after two weeks of “enduring”) convinced us that she doesn’t just want, but that she needs, the passenger seat next to intrepid driver Dave. Yes, I (Steff) have been relegated to the captain’s chair, just so our “cabin” will be stress-free…and so that Boots will stop…well… “booting”! (This may make it sound more dramatic than it really has been, as she has only “let loose” twice. BUT, she has clearly been full of anxiety whenever not up front, and so…we have caved…and she is now the happy co-pilot, which makes us happy! Right, Dave?)

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Because we know you’re curious, here’s just a bit more on the girls… Their “awkward” (hint: that’s a slight euphemism) social skills around beasts of their own kind have meant that most of our out-of-RV adventures require leaving them tucked safely away in Thor (the RV), as the intimidating four-legged guardians of the four-wheeled behemoth, whenever we slip away on the bike to explore. That said, their nationwide travels cannot possibly be deemed “all for naught.” You might recall our “two-dog nights,” wherein our desire for additional warmth has included extra morning doggie cuddles (which we’re pretty sure they enjoy as much as we). In addition, they get out for sniffs and strolls nearly every stop we make–imagine all those new smells if you were a pooch?! And, of course, an especially vigorous early-morning (half-hour-plus) walk with me before others of their kind awaken means we occasionally stumble upon a gem of our own, like Thursday morning’s hidden Rogue River spot on a trail tucked in the woods, just a quarter mile beyond the dumpsters of our Crater Lake campground site. You should have seen their happy tails! (And then, of course, the three of us had to drag Dave, who was on about his fifth cup o’ Joe back at the RV, to see this slice of heaven too.) And so, while their overall adventure differs slightly from ours, we don’t imagine it’s so terrible!

Bad news…What I wrote last night in frustration: Speaking of adventures, this knucklehead blogger has a confession to make: I just inadvertently deleted 131 fabulous (if I do say so myself) photos of Crater Lake and the Redwood Forest. Aargh. It’s no longer in my control. I cannot recreate them. I cannot insist we go back to either place with my point-and-shoot-well camera. It is what it is, so you’ll just have to imagine it. (Does it help that to do these places justice you really do need to see them in person anyway? Probably not. I’m so sorry! For you and for us!)

Good news…I found the photos I thought I’d deleted! Ignore previous paragraph…

So, yes, we’ve been in the Northwest for the past few days. Coming from our R&R in Missoula, we caught only a bit of Idaho’s pan handle (beautiful Coeur d’Alene!), where we also stumbled upon a gem of an organization–the Human Rights Education Institute–while taking a break to look around. Thank you, Jeanette Laster, for your good work there and for letting us poke around. (Side note: For exceeding, by just 15 minutes, our one hour of free parking in this lovely resort town, we incurred a $100 parking fine…Anyone? Anyone? What?!)

Trekking through the southern part of Washington State didn’t give us the full feel, for sure (next time, Seattle, etc.!), but we happily feasted our eyes, as we chugged along, on the vast wheat fields, juxtaposed with water, freight trains, and so on…and we spent a night in a lovely (and friendly!) Army Corps of Engineers campground right on the border of Washington and Oregon–near McNary Dam. In fact, it was so close to the border that we tip-toed into Oregon–to a wifi-friendly Starbucks–that evening, just so I could publish that last blog post!). Gutzon Borglum, everyone!

Oregon plays home to the must-see Crater Lake, a volcano-created crater (a huge one!), formed about 7,700 years ago; it has no water source coming in (and, conversely, is not a water source for anything else); it simply has water from thousands of years of precipitation and “melt” …and the water itself is what I’d describe as a deep (it is the deepest lake in the country), circular pool of stunning “cobalt blue.” It is simply breathtaking–and surrounded by high, volcanic cliffs to boot. AMAZING. Sure wish I hadn’t deleted those pictures…Oh wait! I didn’t…

We stayed at a folksy campground Wednesday night that “overpromised” on the wifi (that’s ok…we were just happy for fresh water and electricity; oh, the things we continue to take for granted!), enjoyed our aforementioned doggie hike Thursday morning, and then took a (rather challenging) ride on the bike up a six-plus-mile incline to Flounce Rock, which overlooks the Cascade Range, Crater Lake’s National Park, Mount Shasta, and on and on…the Harley survived the rough road, and so did we. (It was not terribly comforting to catch sight of a pet cemetery at the top, however.)

Our crossing of the border into northern Cali confirmed what we’d always hoped: We are, as you may have hoped, gypsy moth-free! Yes, due to our New Hampshire license plate, we were pulled over at the border for a gypsy moth inspection…who knew?! (Although, after seeing the beauty of the Redwoods, I think if I were in charge of protecting them, I’d be pulling every vehicle over to inspect for every invasive species that exists–even those that might thrive only in the North Pole…just in case!) At any rate, we are now happy to report that, although “gypsy moths are notorious hitchhikers” (per the info pamphlet we were given as we waited), we–Thor and Joey, and even Dave, Steff, and the girls–are, indeed, gypsy moth-free!

And so, we were given the nod to move onward…to yet another jaw-dropping location. The redwoods sure are enormous in girth and in height, and in shape and beauty too. And the “groves” are to die for. You could just imagine Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel having a field day in these places! (OK, that’s simply what we joked about while there because we were so in awe we didn’t know what else to verbalize…)

I cannot tell you how happy I am that you didn’t have to “picture” those things based on my descriptions alone (small victories!), but because I don’t have photographic evidence of our current location, do try to picture us at a campground across the street from the Pacific Ocean here in Crescent City, California. Let me help you. It’s an RV site that rivals the feelings Deliverance might evoke. I won’t go into great detail lest I begin to sound judgmental, but let’s just say I asked Dave to walk the girls with me last night, and I won’t be venturing to the facility’s restroom at any point during this brief stay for the hot showers they tout. (What’s another day without a shower, after all?!)

All of that said, we did stumble (as often seems to be the case) upon a nice find in the area for dinner last night: the virtually brand-new Sea Quake Brewery…fabulous brick-oven pizza and home brew. Even better? The young couple to our right at the bar were newlyweds from the UK/Bermuda who knew our Cardigan Bermuda families; a selfie ensued, of course!

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And, because we are across the street from the Pacific, Dave wanted me to assure you all he would be commemorating our “Westward Ho!” achievement by taking a dip this morning; he’s confident that, no matter the temperature, it cannot possibly be colder than a late-April Polar Bear dip at Cardigan! (Picture forthcoming…unless he opts to skinny dip.)

Until we blog again…Gutzon Borglum!

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Gutzon Borglum!

Gutzon Borglum!

 

Dave: “I didn’t sleep well last night.”

Steff: “I know.”

Dave: “I got up to pee like 10 times.”

Steff: “Yup. I know.”

Dave: “The dogs were restless too.”

Steff: “True.”

Dave: “I’m going to try to sleep a bit more.”

Steff: “OK.”

Dave: “Gutzon.”

Steff: “Borglum.”

 

——————————————————

 

While in this long-overdue post (the delay of which might be justified by my “wilderness” excuse) I will certainly share with readers the places we’ve been and all that we’ve seen in the past week (oh.my.gosh.), I’ll also attempt to capture the shift in perspective that has begun to emerge for us with the changing landscape…and with the literal and figurative distance we’ve put between us and home. When a friend texted the following earlier this week: “Hey guys! You two still married?!” we both laughed, but we also recognized that at the root of his question was the understanding that this kind of “close quarters” travel—and a big chunk of time spent away from the comfort that a home-front routine often brings—can have its challenges. (For the record: Yes, we’re still married!)

 

So much has already been written about the West; I won’t pretend I can adequately “re-describe” it all in any sort of unique way. Descriptors like “vast,” “expansive,” “jaw-dropping,” “awe-inspiring,” and “majestic” have often been used and are all warranted; I couldn’t argue with any of them. But I will say this: Try as they might, the coffee table books cannot do these places justice. Nothing beats being here in person. If you have the time and means to head this way at some point, do it!

 

I won’t soon forget the visceral (and yes, audible) reaction I had when, on the back of Dave’s bike, I saw the whole world simply open up in front of us in the Badlands of South Dakota…and, as one friend recently commented on Facebook, the other side of any bend out here might present something utterly different (yet equally stunning).

 

 

Flashback:

Our last post concluded with our early-morning departure from the makeshift campground of a Super Walmart parking lot and the continuation of our trek through the farm country of the Midwest. In addition to more farmland (and corn, glorious corn!), our journey through Minnesota (with a quick tagging of Iowa) offered a glimpse of alternative energy taking hold; field after field replete with neat rows of stately wind turbines could be seen alongside these country roads.

 

 

Our highlights of South Dakota (a state throughout which I couldn’t help but envision myself on horseback in a full gallop) included the following:

 

  • A pit stop at the Corn Palace, where (who knew?!) Wesleyan University South Dakota(!) practices and plays its home hoop games; we talked to the nicest freshman recruit, who shot around with Dave before his practice, only to find out later (thank you, Google) that this young man had been high school player of the year—or some such awesome designation—in South Dakota…and, particularly notable, he was touted as a real character kid.
  • A stay-over in Wall (and yes, as touristy as that “Wall Drug” stop might be, it’s a must! Who can mock or complain about the five-cent coffee and free ice water that are both provided–for real–and are colorfully advertised from about 400 miles out?!).
  • A bad-ass morning bike ride through the Badlands (a total “WOW!”; see paragraph three).
  • An afternoon spent with Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and (T.) Roosevelt. (Rushmore is a true sleeper. It’s difficult to articulate just how much this national monument exceeded our expectations and preconceived notions; the story of its creation alone would inspire even the most hardened of souls, never mind the kind of patriotism, foresight, and leadership these four greats represent. And from any angle on the nature-bound boardwalk, their magnificent profiles don’t disappoint…Note: The audio tour—via a handheld device—was well worth the modest fee.)
  • Another bike ride in the Black Hills, on Iron Mountain Road, and through a bit of Custer State Park.
  • Sighting of tallest cowboy ever.  TALLEST COWBOY?
  • An outdoor evening presentation back at Rushmore (thanks, Geoff Blair, for the encouragement to return!)…patriotism at its finest, concluding with a tribute to our service men and women and the ethereal effect of the presidents’ profiles alight amid the darkness.

 

On to Yellowstone, Wyoming, from Keystone (site of Rushmore). This was a long day’s drive—about 11 hours–but we enjoyed a Devils Tower pit stop (“E.T., phone home!” …see two photos directly above…), muscled through, and achieved a major feat upon arrival: parking and detaching Joey in our “non-pull-through” site. Yes, just the two of us (perhaps an even greater accomplishment given a few miscommunications earlier in the day).

Highlights at this incredible park included the following:

  • Campfires.
  • Several bike rides through this amazingly varied landscape—we had no prior idea that the park sits on a volcano and is thus rife with thermal features: hot springs, boiling mud pots, and geysers among them.
  • Waterfalls.
  • Old Faithful (front row viewing!).
  • A petrified tree.
  • A scenic tour of the lake.
  • Bison…up close.
  • Black Bears…up close. (Yup. A mom and two cubs climbing a tree and one other big ol’ bear, gender unknown.)
  • Successfully hooking Joey back up to Thor…again just the two of us…though in our excitement we also almost inadvertently left the bike itself behind. True story.
  • Successfully emptying the holding tank for the first time. (Yes, we had been procrastinating this doody duty, and no, Randy Quaid, it’s not backed up.) Enough said.

 

 

Random Notes and Reflections from the Road…

  1. Gutzon Borglum.

As fascinated as we were with Rushmore and its famed sculptor (truly Dave’s new hero), we were, oddly, fascinated at least as much with this brilliant artist’s name.

Gutzon Borglum.

It’s difficult to say, and it was even more difficult for us to remember. In an effort to etch it into our recall, we continued to repeat it. Out loud. Taking turns. Again and again. Call and response. (And yes, that is weird. We get it.)

Dave: “Gutzon!”

Steff (often after a long pause for a search of short-term memory): “Borglum!”

As peculiar as this practice may be, the name does seem to be serving a number of unanticipated purposes—even several days out…After all, why say “Thank you!” and “You’re welcome!” when you can spice things up with “Gutzon!” and then “Borglum!”?!

Or how about making use of it as a simple greeting first thing in the morning?

“Gutzon!” (friendly nod)

“Borglum!” (friendly nod)

 

Great guy, that Gutzon!

 

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  1. Our sleep.

During a recent leg, I marveled aloud at the lack of reading I’ve done so far on this trip—despite the time away from TV, news, movies, email, and so on. Dave astutely reminded me that doing things out of the ordinary (all of which these adventures really are) requires a lot more energy. We absolutely conk out at night, bodies exhausted, but souls filled with the peaceful snore-inducing wonders of the day. There is an intensity about the newness of everything…and at times we share our observations and epiphanies with each other; at other times we ride along in silence, reflecting privately.

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  1. Dogs in a pile…Nothin’ left to do but smile, smile, smile.

The sub-freezing mornings in Yellowstone admittedly caused us to silently wish we were hooked up to electricity, as the “generator hours” didn’t begin until 8 a.m., long after we awoke, and we refused to succumb and become “generator cheaters,” of which there were definitely a few. (But we’re not judging.) That said, we do have two furry travel companions who were equally happy to snuggle at 6 a.m. as we were to have them join us, for warmth. (A third dog would have certainly helped during these “three dog nights”!)

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  1. The bike….

In spite of its need for a trailer, the Harley has been an enormous asset on this adventure—a big contributor to our mobility, as well as to our ability to experience places with all of our senses…smell chief among them. Additionally, my riding on the back, armed with a decent camera (which can sometimes compensate for my limited photography skillset) has prompted the wacky idea of making “motorcycle journalism” one more facet of our future consulting services. After all, what could be more efficient than capturing the same visual subject from multiple angles in a matter of seconds (at 45 mph)?

Confession: We did have one little incident on the bike and feel grateful that nothing more serious came of it: With a box of campfire wood precariously perched on my lap, we were making our way down the mile stretch from the campground store to our site one evening. A confused RV driver pulled over to the right shoulder, but then, without looking, began a U-turn to the left, nearly hitting us head-on as we were passing. (Thanks, Dave, for your incredible reaction time!) When we were safely situated at our site, a high five and hug ensued, and, of course, a “Gutzon!” “Borglum!”

 

  1. Taking America’s Temperature?

This was, indeed, a goal we’d had in mind at the outset and is even reflected in the subject of my “Out of Office” message. Given election season—and an absolutely fascinating one at that—we’d envisioned asking folks all along the journey about their feelings and their leanings—and the “why” behind them. While we did gently test these waters among friends in the early going, this endeavor has now fallen by the wayside to some degree…and at this point, it feels right to have it organically kind of disintegrate in the majestic vistas of the West. The national parks, too, represent spaces where people come to share in the beauty of this land, expressing an interest in, and together experiencing, the wonders of nature (as trite as that may sound). Nature represents a unifying force here; divisive sentiments seem to melt away and truly feel trivial in the grand scheme. It’s been quite liberating to let this one go.

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  1. Speaking of Letting Go…

One of the biggest challenges for this mama bear has been the physical distance between us and our sons, as they are beginning their own new adventures. Sure, we are but a phone call or text away, and we are acutely aware of the many parents who summon the courage to give their children the gift of an education halfway around the globe—and who do so quite successfully. I suppose this falls along similar lines. I would be sugar coating the situation if I didn’t acknowledge the challenge in this for me, but it also feels good, and right, and—again—liberating to begin to let go. A different kind of gift.

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  1. Where have I gone?

I caught a glimpse of myself the other day in a bathroom mirror at Yellowstone after a showerless week. I had to stifle a laugh so as not to startle the woman using a nearby stall. There is a mirror in the RV, but apparently I hadn’t been paying much attention. There I stood in the bathroom…in all my greasy-haired, braless glory. No makeup, earrings, necklace. A sweatshirt reeking of campfire. I didn’t look like me at all…but I did feel happy and relaxed…and full of “new.”

 

This just in!

I should note that I am writing this evening from beautiful Missoula, Montana, where we’ve been spending time with a childhood friend (more like a big sister!) and her husband, who have lived out here for more than 30 years. Kim is the regional aircraft coordinator for the U.S. Forest Service, and we just so happened to be touring her workplace when some of her smokejumpers were called to action.

(Thank you, Kim and Mike Thomas, for your hospitality, our conversations, and your good company. It’s like no time has passed…every time.)

 

Until we blog again…Gutzon Borglum!

 

 

Landing in and Launching from the Midwest

Landing in and Launching from the Midwest

There is much to catch (interested readers) up on…and yet I am sitting here at an RV campground just about an eight iron from Wall Drug (in Wall, South Dakota), regretting that tonight’s long-overdue adventure recap won’t quite get you to this location. Working with in-and-out wifi has made this blogging endeavor a tad more challenging than I’d imagined. Thanks, in advance, for your patience! 

DAY FIVE…

…found us (during the day’s first leg) traveling north from Carmel, IN, to South Bend, where we happily delivered hugs to a Cardigan alumnus (son of our Menke friends) now at Notre Dame; for those who know Auden and are curious—he seemed pretty blissful to us! What’s not to love about (most likely) earning a business degree while “laxing it up” for the Fighting Irish?!

By late afternoon, we arrived at our landing pad of Lake Forest, Illinois—just north of Chicago—to spend a few days with old friends. A public shout-out to “Brother Stew” who graciously hosted us and, with good humor, tolerated the RV on the lawn. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that we were able to mildly amend Operation Kangaroo*; after pulling the motorcycle out, the guys (Dave, Stew, and Chip) detached Joey from “Thor” (the RV) and tucked it neatly away in Stew’s garage for the weekend…barely missing the garage door-closing mechanism overhead as it was pushed inside, I should add.

         *Operation Kangaroo = the policy of “forward movement only” with that darn trailer, which we’ve dubbed “Joey” and which suffered from an earlier attempt at backing up the RV; see previous blog entry (DAY THREE) for a good chuckle at our expense…no offense taken.

Stew and his fiancée, Karen, welcomed a nice mix of their friends and ours to a BBQ Friday night at Stew’s pad; the reconnection with good old friends fills our souls as we travel. (It was especially fun to catch up with Ellen Humphrey, friend Steve, and son Davis; the Capozzis; and college classmates Sue “fellow rugger” Marshall and hubby David Abraham.)

The Capozzis were among the pals with whom we were able to reconnect Friday night.

 

DAY SIX

A sunny Saturday afternoon spent at baseball’s classic Wrigley Field (wow!), despite a Cubs loss, no thanks to a ninth-inning base-running error, made for a weekend highlight for sure.

 

Fifty-something scorekeeping at its finest? Note Dave’s double set of specs…

Icing on the cake in that setting came in the form of a crazy coincidence…thanks for indulging:

Many years ago (possibly as many as 15?), when we lived in Brookline, Mass., Dave and our friend J.T. took our two and his two sons on a father-son baseball adventure, visiting parks and taking in games all over the East Coast and Midwest. Wrigley was on the hit list that summer, and it was Dave’s first time seeing a game there. This past weekend would be his second. You may have guessed the coincidence by now…J.T. happened to also be there this weekend–this time with his third (of now four) sons. We were able to connect after the game and enjoy some social time together at a nearby club on the water (thanks again, Karen!).

DAY SEVEN

A leisurely, low-key Sunday provided much-needed stability for the dogs (ok–for us too!). A fun (raucous?) mid-morning visit from some more Chicago-area friends, which filled Maywood Road with the sound of (John Kelly-provoked) laughter, in addition to pizza and a movie that night, made Sunday just lively enough.

Lots of laughs with the Kellys!

 

DAY EIGHT

We strolled through the streets of downtown Lake Forest on Monday, taking in a wide array of colorful and creative displays at the annual Arts Festival and enjoying a last lunch together before our afternoon departure. It was tough to say goodbye, but the reattachment of “Joey” provided some comic relief, and Dave and I are grateful for the assistance on that score!

 

Heading north and then west, we were able to reach the border of Wisconsin and experience our first night in the parking lot of a Super Walmart (in Onalaska), rising before the sun to make today’s extensive planned drive through Minnesota and South Dakota more feasible.

I refuse to divulge the early hour at which we departed from this beautiful campground.

 

[DAY NINE] Passing through Milwaukee! (p.s. Rumors of the existence of corn fields in the Midwest have been greatly…um…confirmed.)

More “newsy” blogging to come in the days ahead about where we have been and what we’ve seen…but I’d love to sign off with a brief mention of a “sidebar item”: I have, to date, been experiencing the co-piloting joys (seriously!) of navigating, out of necessity, almost solely by road atlas, which is perhaps a lost art/skill when it comes to our kids’ Siri/Google Maps generation, but it has become a newfound–or rediscovered–interest for me! I’ve been so intrigued by the location of various cities and states in relation to that of others, in addition to the regional differences in topography as seen on certain maps, that Dave keeps having to remind me to get my head out of the atlas and occasionally look around at the surrounding landscape…in real time.

Until we blog again…!

 

Boots is about ready to come home; Micki continues to be a happy traveler…