The Parkins Report: Events of 2017

As we move into the beginning of our ninth year of “retirement,” we are finally learning to take life as it comes, with minimal rush.  This includes being involved in activities that satisfy us, rather than from some sense of obligation or need (although there is still plenty of that to go around).

Travels

This year was again a year of travel. In January, we headed south the day before Inauguration Day.  The drought had broken in California: we drove in slushy snow in the north and rain in the central and southern parts of the state. The first week, we took Judy’s brother-in-law Ben from Anaheim to San Diego to visit her cousin Margaret, then headed east to New Mexico and west Texas: Las Cruces, El Paso, and Albuquerque, to visit Larye’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchild.  Then, it was back to California, via Flagstaff and Bakersfield, then through rain again to San Francisco for a week exploring the city before driving home.

While at home, we worked on our van conversion project, building a folding sleeping platform with room beside it for the bicycle. In April, we made a test run to Idaho, camping overnight to and from McCall, where we spent a week with our friends Gary and Char at a timeshare, getting in a couple of short bike rides despite the snow and wet of central Idaho. We toured the Painted Hills of central Oregon on the way back. While training for the summer bicycling season, we had a frame failure on our Bike Friday, prompting a trip to the factory in Eugene to have it repaired. That trip showed us the old van was not ready for our ambitious touring schedule, so it was back to the shop for some major repairs on that, too.

While our bike was in the shop, we dusted off our 31-year-old Santana tandem for a scheduled charity ride and ended up taking it to Victoria, Canada when we attended the Association of Northwest Weavers Guilds conference over the Canada Day weekend. After the conference, we rode parts of the local trails we missed in the spring of 2010.

At the end of July, we set off on Road Trip 2017, starting with a detour to Eugene to pick up our Bike Friday, then off to northern Idaho for another week with Gary and Char at their vacation home. We soon discovered that our old van had no working air conditioning, so we spent the next six weeks of summer heat reliving the nostalgic days of yesteryear when turning on the “factory air” meant cranking the side windows down.

From Idaho, we headed east, spending a week in western Montana, visiting relatives, some also visiting from Florida and New York, visiting friends in the Bitterroot, and checking out the new Experimental Aircraft Assoc. chapter hangar at the Missoula airport. Heading southeast through Wyoming, we got in some trail riding in Nebraska and a weekend in Lincoln to be there for the total solar eclipse on Monday. After a brief stop in southern Minnesota to drop off a family heirloom with cousin Cathy, we worked our way through Iowa, riding around Lake Okoboji in the northwest, then the High Bridge Trail north of Des Moines. We drove down the Des Moines River, posing for Grant Woods’ American Gothic painting before turning north up the Mississippi River at Keokuk.

At the Quad Cities, we bicycled along the Great River Trail in Moline, Illinois and up Duck Creek in Bettendorf/Davenport, Iowa. We continued up the Iowa side of the Mississippi, then along the Wisconsin/Illinois border and up to Middleton, to visit son Matt and family over the Labor Day weekend, getting in one family bike ride in the process.

Crossing over the Mississippi back in to Minnesota, we stopped in Shakopee to visit a newly found cousin on Larye’s maternal grandfather’s side of the family. We bypassed the traffic around the west side of Minneapolis and checked into a campground on the south end of the Paul Bunyan Trail to ride up the trail to Baxter. The next day, we met with more of Larye’s cousins for a weekend reunion in Baxter and nearby Motley, near where the clan’s great grandparents had homesteaded.
Following the reunion, we rode some more of the Paul Bunyan Trail, starting north of Brainerd where we had turned around two years ago. The next morning, we headed to North Dakota to spend a couple of days with Judy’s cousin Fred and his wife, Ann. Smoke from the fires in Montana made visibility poor, so we pushed on west toward home, bypassing a return stop with the Montana folks to get home after a long trip, with the rain coming in and snow starting in the mountains.

The last weekend in October, we went to Astoria, Oregon to camp at and ride the trails at Fort Stevens State Park, in perfect weather. Our riding was cut short by the first flat on the front tire, which has lasted through two back tires, nearly 6000 km (3600 miles) in six years. The casing is a bit thin in the grooves, and a tiny puncture in the thickest tread: we “retired” it to secondary spare status.

By the end of November, our wanderlust struck again, and we retreated to Long Beach for a few days on the beach, on the edge of winter, one of our favorite times, since the crowds of summer are long gone.  In their place, however, is cold rain.  We also finally got talked into upgrading our vacation club membership, despite uncertain financial future of our status as elderly poor.

A return trip to Vancouver, BC in December capped the touring season, with Char joining us this time, Gary stayed home with a sick pet.

Travel Hosts

Between our own tours, we host international bicycle tourists through the Warm Showers network. We had 14 in April and May, then restricted visitors to “by invitation only” while we were preparing for our summer tours, picking up two more, a weaver from New Zealand we met on Facebook and a 69-year-old world traveler from Australia we met at the Olympic Bakery near Spencer Lake and invited to drop by on his way through Shelton.  On our return in the fall, we took in six more tourists before the rainy season and cold weather.

Transitions

As the rainy and cooler weather arrived in mid-October, Delia, our feline companion for the past 17 years, lost her struggle with kidney disease, just short of her 21st birthday. She had come to us in Missoula in the spring of 2000, a 3-1/2-year old “pound kitty,” wary of people in general. Over the years, especially after the demise of our other pound kitty, Nicolaus, in February 2005, she warmed to us and spent many hours of lap time in front of the fire. She also came to enjoy the attention of the many bicycle tourists who passed our way. She saw us through four houses and spent a lot of time “vacationing” at Pampered Pets in Darby, Montana and Just Cats Hotel in Olympia, where she was a favorite guest over the last eight years. She had been in poor health for about a year, but rebounded in the spring and summer, her favorite times of the year.

We welcomed a new great-great-granddaughter, Bea, in August, who we have not yet met. Bea joins her brother, Hyperion, in our growing and dispersing family. Visiting family takes longer now that grandchildren and great-grandchildren are becoming adults with their own households and schedules. Judy made a trip back to her hometown, Sunnyside, Washington this fall, for a family gathering of cousins, many of whom she had not met or had not seen for many years: Larye had a weaving class scheduled, so did not attend.

Lifestyle

For the first time in more than a dozen years, we have television, the result of upgrading our Internet service, which came bundled with a TV offer. The set is installed in Judy’s upstairs craft studio, which we furnished with a thrift shop small sofa. However, only a few available programs have piqued our interest so far, so the space has become just another reading room in the evenings. Public radio, both broadcast and satellite, remain our primary source of news and entertainment, along with selected video clips on the Internet.We continue to regularly practice yoga at the local senior center (when we are in residence), and attend the Ruby Street Art Quilters group in Tumwater. Judy completed a project for an exhibit at a brew pub in Olympia, and Larye finally finished a 2012 class project quilt as a baby quilt for Bea. We also joined the Friends of the Shelton Timberland Library this year and spend one afternoon a week sorting and pricing donated books and restocking the sale shelves, from which the proceeds support youth programs at the library.

We are still active in both the Olympia and Tacoma Weavers Guilds, and Larye manages the web sites for both. We both attended classes at the conference in Victoria this summer, and Larye attended a class in Olympia this fall, but not much progress on projects during this year. Between our travel schedules and taking care of our ailing cat, there simply hasn’t been a lot of time to actual work on the hobby projects for which we belong to the many organizations.

Find our videos on YouTube: Larye’s YouTube Channel, or view a summary of our bike touring season below:


and on Vimeo: Larye’s Vimeo Channel

Warm Showers, Fall 2017

We went on a hiatus from Warm Showers hosting in early June to have time to prepare for our own perambulations of the summer: Vancouver Island in early July and our 10800-km shuttle in the van between trails in the Midwest in August and September.  After returning home in mid-September, we put ourselves back on the “Available” list and hosted six more tourists, well into the rainy season, putting the total for the year at 22 guests.

The end of September brought us Marge, from France, on a Canada (Vancouver) to Argentina (Ushuaia) quest.  Marge was a bit wary of the general lack of respect for bicycles in America, so we gifted her with the trailer flag we used on our Atlantic Coast tour last year. The flag shows up in her blog post photos from time to time as she heads south.  I accompanied Marge out to the highway to head south, as I often do to lead guests out of our neighborhood and back on their route.  The usual preferred Adventure Cycling route, Cloquallum Road, was being resurfaced on the big hill west of town, so she elected to ride Highway 108 to Hicklin Road north of McCleary.

In mid-October, we took in two couples, Daniel and Alex from Germany and Ed and Marty from Scotland, who had met another Warm Showers host’s the day before. They had elected to take the southern route to Portland rather than directly to the coast, so we routed them around Olympia (which is 15 km shorter than the Adventure Cycling route through Elma). Again, I led them out to Hwy 3, a good plan, as they initially missed the turn, continuing across the intersection onto Arcadia road south. With all the inlets of south Puget Sound between, it is not intuitive to get south to Olympia by first proceeding west to US 101 and then southeast.

Daniel, Alex, Ed, and Marty. The two couples met in Quilcene and traveled together for a few days.

The bicycle touring season usually ends in late October as the frost line moves south a bit faster than most tourists can pedal, and the rainy season picks up with the storms of November. But, every few years, we get an intrepid soul with enough stamina and wet and cold weather experience to challenge the elements.

So, in mid-November, we met Bryan, from New York, who was misdirected to the wrong ferry in Seattle, ending up on Bainbridge Island, many kilometers farther from his intended destination of Elma. His late request resulted in even later arrival, as he chose to ride all the way despite making several offers to meet him on the road with the van before dark. We did get a chance to visit more, however: Bryan had sent himself a supply package to Elma, but, arriving on the weekend, he would have had to wait for the post office to open, so we invited him to spend another day, to pass through Elma mid-day and have more time to heal up from crashing in the dark on the way to Shelton. Bryan is a professional cook, so fixed dinner for us the second day, an excellent cap on this, our seventh season of hosting.

Bryan’s 29er is a veteran of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, and a fine steed for the rainy Pacific Northwest.

Road Trip Summer 2017, part 5: The Long Road Home

Anxious to be home, we left Minnesota without indulging in any more bicycle trail explorations.  Following U.S. 10 west, we crossed into North Dakota, through Fargo on I-94, then north on secondary roads to Devils Lake (a mis-translation of the native American “Spirit Lake”), across the causeways built to keep the roads above the lake. Devils Lake varies in elevation from year to year, after a rapid rise to historic levels in the late 20th century, swallowing farms, roads, and parts of towns. We spent a couple of days visiting with Judy’s cousin Fred and his wife, Ann, including a visit to the Minnewaukan cemetery, on high ground above the partly submerged town.

Devils Lake, North Dakota. The lake level has varied widely over the last century, greatly increasing in size in the last decade of the 20th century, swallowing roads, farms, and parts of towns. The level has fallen slightly in recent years.

Turning west once more, we crossed the Bakken oil fields on U.S. 2, now 4-lane across the state, stopping for coffee in Williston, where a great-grandson worked last year. He is now back in his native New Mexico, and many of the temporary barracks that once held oil workers were empty, the drilling boom largely over, except for pipeline construction. Each of the wellheads that lined the highway and beyond had a gas flare, covering the northwest corner of North Dakota with a patch of light clearly visible from space when on the night side of the planet. A pall of smoke from the Montana forest fires hung over the entire state.

Gas flare in the Bakken oil fields. Photo by Judy.

The highway shrank to two-lane crossing into Montana. By the end of the day, we pulled into an RV park in Glasgow, where we not only were allowed to camp in our imitation RV, but got a discount because we obviously didn’t need a full hookup. We got a prized spot next to the shower building: a pair of motorcyclists who came in after us, eyeing the same spot, were assigned a spot across from the office, which turned out to be infested with ground wasps. They didn’t stay, though the campground staff sprayed the nests. As with most RV parks today, there was WiFi, but very poor Internet connections, so we had to do our client updates in the middle of the night.

Uploading files to client web site from camp–in the middle of the night, when the Internet connection actually worked. Computer on top of our 12-volt refrigerator, between the front seats.

Glasgow had a nice coffee shop downtown, which we visited early morning and continued west in intermittent drizzle that cleared out the smoke. Highway 2, the “High-Line,” follows the Burlington Northern – Santa Fé rail line: mid-day, we spotted the eastbound Empire Builder passenger train, reminding us how much more we enjoyed traveling this route by train. By late afternoon, we crossed the Continental Divide. Last year, we drove through Glacier National Park on our trip back from the Midwest: this year, the Going-to-the-Sun highway was closed due to forest fires in the park that had destroyed the iconic Sperry Chalet.

Still in our camping frame of mind, we pulled into the Whitefish KOA. Tired from the long drive, I decided the $50 camp fee was the going price, over Judy’s objections. Fortunately, the power plug at the site we were assigned was incompatible with the extension cord we use to power our refrigerator and computers, so we got a refund and headed into Kalispell, where we used our loyalty points to get a motel room with breakfast for the same price. Camping turns out to be not so economical after all. We had thought we would park at a Walmart in a pinch, but had come to rely on electricity and WiFi, not to mention showers and close proximity to rest room facilities. Fortunately, we had accumulated enough points on our motel card to match the RV park prices.  Unfortunately, WiFi at the motel was not as reliable as at the Kampground.

Flathead Lake and the Mission Range – first snowfall. Photo by Judy.

The rain continued through most of the night. As it was a Friday, we decided camping and motels were both likely to be less available and more expensive closer to home, so we left well before dawn, intending to get home before dark. This day would be 1000 km, but a trip we had made many times over the past 30 years. Driving below the speed limit and avoiding freeways on this six-week-long trip had served us well in the fuel economy department, along with cheap fuel in the Midwest, so we could afford to trade fuel economy for one less night on the road.

We headed south from Kalispell, getting on Interstate 90 at St. Regis, rather than driving across US 2 or Montana 200, as we had planned. All went well until encountering road work and traffic delays west of Ellensburg and again over the pass into the Puget Sound Friday rush hour. Our pre-dawn GPS estimate of 3:30pm arrival stretched to past 7:30pm when we finally arrived at home, exhausted after hours of creeping in traffic both on the freeway and on detours through the back streets of Federal Way and Tacoma.

Crossing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Photo by Judy.

Stats:

  • Auto miles:  6730 (10828 km)
  • Bicycle miles:  193 (311 km)
  • Nights in truck:  21
  • Nights in motels: 10
  • Nights in AirBnBs: 5
  • Nights with family and friends: 11

Estimated Cost (excluding food: we ate no differently than at home):

  • Lodging:  ~$1000
  • Fuel: ~$1000
  • Cat Boarding: ~$1000

Road Trip Summer 2017, interlude: Reflections on Journeys and Journals

U.S. Highway 10, central Minnesota. Highway 10 once stretched from Detroit to Seattle, now largely replaced by Interstate 94 and Interstate 90 from Fargo to Seattle.

As we prepared to leave the lands of our ancestors, we reflected on the journeys they and we have undertaken, and on the art of documenting, recording, and remembering those journeys. Just as our modern journeys take leaps and bounds by air or skim across the landscape at 125 km/hr in our automobiles, journals flow from our fingertips in a stream that can be cut up, deflected, and rearranged at will, making us much less cautious about collecting our thoughts before committing them to paper as with ink and pen.

My cousin Mary, a career journalist*, says I need an editor. It’s true. There is that fear of taking William Strunk’s dictum “Omit needless words” reductio ad absurdum, to just “Omit words:”  the needless words creep in and put down roots. The problem, then, is between recording moment-to-moment what we see and think, versus telling a story: giving focus to one thread of this experience that stands out and makes a statement about a key aspect of events, landscapes, or history that we witness.

Tl;dr, “Too long; didn’t read,” is the watchword of our modern society. When e-mail burst into the main stream 25 years ago, I noticed a trend: if you didn’t put the key point in the first sentence (and make the sentence shorter than two or three screen lines), the recipient didn’t read past that point, either getting a wrong impression of what you were trying to convey or missing the point entirely.

The “tl;dr” syndrome is a function of being bombarded with attention-getting distractions in a stream of letters scrolling up the screen of first, our desktop computers in office or den, then on laptops in the conference room, coffee shop, or airport waiting room, and now hand-held phones we carry everywhere. A poorly worded or rambling message can put us in physical danger, or cause us to miss a more-important and urgent message further down the stream, as the “You Have Mail” announcement becomes a stuttering, “YouYouYouYoYYYY”.

The old adage, “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words” becomes even more true in this age of information overload. I’ve found that the best way to grab a moment’s attention is to post a photo with a message. In fact, the modern social media engines will dig down into a post and display any photos they find at the top of the post, becoming a de facto robot editor: newspapers have long put photos at the top of an article to grab attention. But, then, tl;dr  kicks in: the photo becomes the only part of the post the viewer sees. Even photo albums have given way to a photo montage: a half-dozen images tiled into one. Click. Next post, please.

A journey, by nature, consists of a stream of images and impressions, particularly if the journey is an exploration, traveling to somewhere new or to a familiar destination by a different route. Such was this journey. We visited places we hadn’t been, at least together, or places to which we hadn’t been in many decades. The input stream is a cacophony of places, people, and events. Sifting through the data to distill useful information from which to construct a kernel of knowledge is a foreboding task. For most of us, journaling consists of a phone full of snapshots, some shared on social media. “Here we are, having fun.” Our modern smart phone cameras record the city and date, and the social media records the specific place. We can see who we were with, and that’s enough for most of us. The old-fashioned written journal is becoming an artifact of the past, when travel was slow and journeys hard, with plenty of time to reflect on the day’s events, before putting pen to paper.

If we do journal today, we use a tablet or computer, words and thoughts flowing from our fingers in near-random fashion, knowing we can easily rearrange, delete, or insert material later to make a coherent and concise narrative. Which we seldom do, unless prodded by external forces, i.e., the Editor, who may have a different agenda, and whose purpose is to publish knowledge, rather than mere data and facts. Why are those people together? Why is this fun? Would they do it again? Why in this place? What is interesting about this, and how does it advance our cause (or make a profit for us and our advertisers)? The other point is: a journal is a personal reflection and memory. If we publish it, we intend a wider audience. Who is our audience, and what do they need to know? Whether we have an editor to decide this or we self-publish (as a blog or social media post), those questions need to be answered, and needless words omitted.

Part of my reason for blogging is to tell the story of growing old in the twenty-first century.  We don’t identify with the twentieth-century stereotype of befuddled oldsters out-of-touch with the pace of modern life and technology, or carefree well-to-do retirees off on guided tours or cruises, or the average elders spending their days playing cards or bingo at the senior citizens center.  We’re still active in creative arts, volunteer to keep work skills sharp, and seek out our own active adventures, with quilting, weaving, bicycling, and auto touring, as well as continuing to write computer code, primarily for web sites..

At some point, whether through conscious editing or delayed entries, the journal becomes a memoir, more of a statement of “how we got here,” rather than “here we are.” For us old folks–and we are, in our 70s–journaling keeps our own memories sharp. Our tales of adventure may also inspire others to venture forth in their “Golden Years.” As a message to our children and younger friends, it’s a reminder that fun and adventure is in our nature, and it doesn’t stop as long as you are able to pursue it. So, we keep on, recording our adventures in journals, photos, and videos, learning the crafts of writing, photography, and videography as we go, as well as keeping as physically and mentally fit as we can manage.

The journey continues…

*Read Mary’s excellent blog at ordinarylife-mk.blogspot.com

Road Trip Summer 2017, part 4: Family and More Bike Trails

Our long weekend in the Madison area was filled with family activities, which mostly involved eating way too much way too often: having adult grandchildren with their own schedules often means visiting with each separately. We got in one bike ride, with family. We stayed at an AirBnB near our favorite area coffee shop, Firefly, in Oregon, WI. We took in the Taste of Madison on the capitol square. We did stay an extra day, as our son is usually called out for work at least once during our visits, giving us time to actually visit him instead of his house…

Family bike ride on the Pheasant Branch Trail to the Bristled Boar Saloon for lunch. Middleton, Wisconsin.

Heading back into Minnesota for the second time this trip, we visited a second cousin with whom I had corresponded regarding family genealogy but never met. She and her husband are gardeners, and were having a dinner party for a group of friends, with garden produce as the main attraction. We had a delightful evening and stayed a while to talk about family. My mother’s father died when she was only one year old. My grandmother remarried and the family moved, losing touch with the uncles and aunt on granddad’s side of the family, for fifty years. My mother had discovered her lost relatives in the 1970s, but I never found contact information in her effects, so they were lost again until the modern age of genomics reconnected the families.

On the way north in the morning, we realized we had been within a few miles of another cousin on the Parkins side with whom I have sporadic contact. However, since we didn’t know where my “new” cousin lived until a few hours before arriving, we didn’t have opportunity to make contact. So it goes. Hopefully, we have more trips to the Midwest in us. We did spot lots of interesting bicycle trails in that area, worth coming back for a longer visit and maybe look up other misplaced relatives in the process.

Paul Bunyan – South from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

Arriving late afternoon at a state park south of where our weekend’s family reunion was scheduled, we took out the bicycle and rode the newly completed southern section of the Paul Bunyan Trail into town (16 km, 10 miles) to do some grocery shopping. The next morning, we drove north to where we had turned around in our trail ride in 2015 and rode 20 km north to Pequot Lakes, a section of the PBT with lots of lakes and a few climbs where the trail deviated from the old rail bed. With the exception of a short section of urban trail along busy streets, we have now completed about 55 km of the 220-km long trail, which claims to be the longest paved bicycle trail in the U.S.

Paul Bunyan – Merrifield-Pequod Lakes from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

Friday night, the clan began to gather: the local group of second cousins, and the first cousins from southern Minnesota. In the morning, we stopped at a grocery to pick up ingredients for my contribution to the traditional family recipes before heading to the township hall near where our great-grandparents had settled over a century ago. We had been there before, in 2015, but almost everyone else got lost.  As in most rural parts of the world, the names on the maps match neither what the signage says nor the landmarks by which the locals navigate. Even with a GPS, we nearly missed a turn.

Looking toward the site of Adolph Pietz’ homestead (grove of trees in the distance) from the May township hall.

Well into the afternoon, with a few stragglers still calling in from unknown locations in unknown directions, we set off on a tractor-drawn wagon tour of the long-disappeared landmarks of our forebears: where the school used to be, where the grandparents’ and great-great-uncles’ farms used to be (often reverted to forest), the overgrown foundation of the church, the cemetery where our forbearer Adolph’s siblings and their descendants rested, etc.

Pietz family reunion at May Town Hall, Cass County, Minnesota: Photo by Mary Strube Korbulic. Front row, L-R: Gordon Martin (May Town historian), Linda Strube Sather, Blake Rubbelke, Jack Rubbelke (behind), Monette Strube Johnson, Cathy Struby Buxengard, Bill Buxengard. Middle: Paul Sather, Judy Parkins, Emily Rubbelke, Daryl Rubbelke, Dennis Barta, Becky Strube, Karen Barta. Back: Larye Parkins, Marilyn Rubbelke, Dennis Litke, Cassandra Litke Stafford w/Alessia Stafford, Diane Rubbelke Litke, Jim Ackerson (tour guide). Descendants of Adolph Pietz and Laura Rix Pietz, who settled in May Township about 1900, from Estherville, Iowa.

Finally, stuffed with potluck samples of dishes we oldsters remembered from extended family get-togethers in the 1950s and 60s, and documented by cousin Becky  in a reunion cookbook, we retreated to one of the hotels for an evening of reminiscing and sharing old family photos. In the morning, about half the family, those who had traveled long distances, dispersed to other travel commitments. The rest of us met for a buffet brunch (yes, more food!) before heading off to home or other travels. We had planned to stay through the day, so ended up helping reduce the load of leftovers from the Saturday picnic that evening.

Needless to say, we started our westward trip toward home with a light breakfast and lighter lunch, with more visits with relatives on Judy’s side of the family scheduled along the way.

Musings on Unix, Bicycling, Quilting, Weaving, Old Houses, and other diversions

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