Category Archives: Bicycling

Rites of Passage: Remembering STP 1983

Thirty-five years ago, in the winter/spring of 1983, I was 39 years old, and at a crossroads in my life.  A rocky marriage had finally crumbled into dust, and I was car-less and homeless, living in a camper in a co-worker’s back yard.  At least I still had my job, which my boss had pulled out of the fire by sending me to a counselor.  And, I had my bicycle, a well-used 1979 Fuji Gran Tourer  12-speed I had bought new after my also well-used toy-store C. Itoh 10-speed had been stolen from outside the bar in Newport, Rhode Island, where the crew gathered after work, and where I had spent too much time.

In 1983, I was working in Poulsbo, Washington.  The 4th running of the Seattle-To-Portland Bicycle Classic (STP) was coming up in June.  I had heard of the first event, in 1979, not long after getting the Fuji, my first quality bicycle. Having been a bicycle commuter since 1976, I had begun to consider the possibility that one could actually ride farther than the 8-10 miles per day I spent cycling back and forth between home, work, and the customer site.  The idea of a 200-mile ride was intriguing, to say the least, but, at that point, only a curiosity.

But, now, having boosted my commute from 4 miles one way to 17 miles one way after transferring to Washington State and having lived nearly a year in ’79-’80 without a car, long-distance cycling progressed from a curious anomaly to an achievable goal.  The bicycling season in the mild climate of Puget Sound begins with the Chilly Hilly, a 50-km tour of Bainbridge Island, and I signed up for the 1983 edition.  The Chilly Hilly is also opening day for registration for the STP, and I got an application.

The STP application form stated that the event was “a grueling test of endurance for those who have properly prepared themselves.”  So, I bought a $300 car (i.e., about the same as I had paid for my bicycle), started training after work instead of commuting to and from work, had my steel rims replaced with aluminum alloy, and settled into a progressive endurance training regimen.  On Mother’s Day, 1983, I rode my first century (100 miles/ 160 km), a ride which included three ferries: Port Townsend-Keystone, Clinton-Mukilteo, and Edmonds-Kingston.

After a few more 125-km rides on weekends, I thought I was ready.  The day before the event, went home with my boss, Bud Williams, who lived on the Edmonds side of the ferry run.  We got up at 3:00 am, and he drove me downtown Seattle, where the one-day ride started at City Hall, with nearly 800 riders registered.  The two-day riders had left the day before.  At 4:00 am, the first group of us pushed off, headed south up the Green River Valley.

It was a shock to ride with so many other cyclists.  A peloton of 100 or more riders formed for the run up the valley, at a speed I knew I couldn’t sustain for long, running at 35 km/hr.  Before long, the group broke up, and I settled into the 28 km/hr that was my sustained commuting cruise speed, cranking up the hill between Puyallup and the aptly named Summit with relative ease, at a comfortable pace.

By the time I reached the town of Yelm, in Thurston County, I realized my food plan was inadequate for the long ride.  In my commuting and even long training rides, I had not worked out a nutrition and hydration plan.  For this ride, I had brought a supply of granola, traditional backpacking fare, and a bag of Gatorade powder, as I had read that electrolyte replacement was necessary for endurance cycling, but hadn’t tried it before.  I stopped at a local diner and ordered a meal, cutting into my overall speed considerably.

Out on the prairie, the flow of riders continued, punctuated by vans supporting organized teams of riders, scantily clad women tossing water bottles and musettes to the riders as they passed.  In those early days of the STP, little thought was given to event-provided support along the way.  After several hours of riding, nature calls were a problem, but the more organized teams solved it in the classic Tour d’ France method: groups of riders pulled off the road, faced the pastures, and let fly.

After passing through Centralia and crossing I-5, the route climbed into a rolling plateau, through the tiny towns of Winlock and Vader before paralleling the freeway.  I stopped again near Castle Rock for yet another meal at a roadside diner.  I removed a layer, setting my shirt temporarily on the rear rack, remembering too late, miles down the road: by that time, the shirt was gone.  By now, the ride was well past my previous training distance, and I was in new territory, physiologically.  Soon, Longview and the Columbia River came into view, with an exciting climb over the high bridge, the shoulder littered with chunks of bark and other debris from the logging industry.

Once on the Oregon side, the effects of eating large meals, drinking too much Gatorade, and hours of strenuous exercise took their toll: a sudden bout of intestinal cramps sent me off the highway up into the woods, miles from the nearest town.  Seized again by cramps a few miles later, I spent some time at a convenient gas station rest room, then continued down the road, only to turn back a mile or two later for a return engagement.  Remember this was early in the start of the extreme sports craze, and most of us were clueless to the effects on the human body and how to properly fuel and hydrate for such an event.

Meanwhile, us slowest of one-day riders began overtaking the slowest of two-day riders as we approached the city, so navigation into Portland was a matter of following the line of bicycles to the Portland City Hall, where we checked in.  My time:  14 hours, 50 minutes, 570th place among the 750 one-day finishers.  The winning time that year was 9 hours, 30 minutes, by a female tandem team, both U.S. women’s racing champions, who had passed me near Bucoda, surrounded by a squadron of domestiques.

The registration forms had offered shared hotel rooms, intended for people traveling together, but most of us, simply looking for a bargain, checked the box, and got—to the consternation of the front desk—paired up with complete strangers for our overnight accommodation.  While waiting for my assigned roommate to finish showering, I stretched out on the bed.  And awoke at dawn, very hungry, and still in my shorts and jersey.

In the early days of the event, the ride started on Friday and Saturday, with a big brunch buffet and awards ceremony on Sunday morning.  Needless to say, I filled my plate several times.  At 39, I thought I was old, but the ceremony honored the oldest finisher, at 72.  My lack of support (I was carrying a change of clothes, food, water, and electrolyte powder in panniers) and my ill-advised restaurant stops had put me far down in the ranking, though it technically wasn’t a race.  But, I had finished a double century!  202 miles, 325 km, all in one very long day.

Later that day, those of us who didn’t have friends and family supporting us along the way loaded our bikes into a baggage car and boarded the train at Union Station for the trip back to Seattle.  On arrival, I rode my bike to Coleman dock, boarded the ferry to Bainbridge Island, and rode home to my borrowed camper near Kingston.

I didn’t ride my bike the first few days that week, but, on Friday, I realized it was a holiday weekend: I loaded my camping gear on the bike, and headed for Port Angeles 120 km away, took the ferry to Victoria, BC, Canada, riding 25 km west to Goldstream Provincial Park.  The next morning, I rode back through Victoria and up the coast to Sydney, took the ferry to Anacortes, Washington, and camped that night at Deception Pass State Park.  I rode home to Kingston via Port Townsend on Sunday, adding another 200 miles to the total for the two weekends.

I had become a bicycle tourist, by accident more than intent.  I made at least one more weekend excursion that summer, but extended business trips to California and a new job assignment back to Rhode Island delayed pursuing this new adventure until 1986, when Judy and I got our first tandem, for our first anniversary, and started touring together.  We also rode the STP, in 1987, but took the two-day option, staying overnight in Chehalis, and riding in sometimes heavy rain the next day into Portland, where the end point had moved to Lloyd Center, to accommodate the 10,000 riders to which the ever-popular ride is now limited, and for which the organizers provide excellent support stations along the way.  The two-day riders aren’t timed, but our personal log said we spent 20 hours total on the road, about the same average speed we still ride, 31 years later, but for shorter distances.

Road Trip 2018: Part 1 – Southwest

Hoping for some time to ride our bicycle this winter, we packed up our van “White Knight” for our annual circuit through the Southwest to visit relatives.  As usual, our schedule was full to the max: we left immediately after the Olympia Weavers Guild February meeting, arriving in Pendleton, Oregon well after dark.

Our rather unrealistic plan for this trip was to camp in parking lots and truck stops along the way to save a few dollars to offset the cost of gasoline for the truck.  However, we were somewhat disillusioned on arrival at the travel center outside Pendleton: it was cold and windy; the parking lot sloped a bit more than we would have liked, and the only seating area in the center was in the McDonalds restaurant.  Feeling a bit out of touch with the reality of 21st century truck stops and nostalgic for the 20th century when such places had full-service restaurants, we drove back into town and checked in at a renovated 60’s motel.  The building winter storm across the West changed our plans quickly to include nightly stops in a bit more comfort.  Fortunately, winter lodging prices promised to be less of a burden on our travel budget.

Snow

In the morning, we returned to the truck stop to refuel.  Oregon is one of two states (the other is New Jersey) which outlaws self-service fueling.  But, this year, the legislature exempted certain rural areas, which Pendleton is not, but the truck stop is on and operated by the Umatilla Nation, which has its own rules, so we finally got to pump fuel legally in Oregon.  A small satisfaction.

The climb over the Wallawa mountain range brought snow, lots of it, over Emigrant and Deadman passes, with occasional rain through the valley.  After lunch in Ontario and picking up a few groceries, we headed across Idaho.  The speed limit on I-84 is 130 km/hr, but we usually keep our speed under 105, to save wear and tear on the 22-year-old truck and get better fuel efficiency as well.  The trip settled into stopping every 600 km and taking on 90 liters of fuel.

Fortunately, fuel cost in the American West is kept reasonably low, averaging between $0.60US and $0.70US/liter in the Rocky Mountain region, varying between $0.55/liter (west Texas) and $0.88/liter (southern California).  Staying at older motels, and foraging in groceries keeps our out-of-pocket travel expenses under $125/day, despite the higher fuel consumption.  The only way to reduce this would be free camping in parking lots, which isn’t going to happen with the return of winter weather.  Using motel chain loyalty cards and making on-line reservations keeps our motel costs to sometimes less than camping in commercial RV parks, when you consider motels usually provide some sort of coffee-and-doughnut (or waffle) breakfast.

With the storm licking at our heels, we pressed on, crossing into Utah at sunset.  We had estimated we might reach Ogden this day, but the slow progress in snow and the prospect of driving late and tired in heavy traffic revised our estimate a bit.  Weary, we pulled off I-15 at Brigham City to Cheap Motel #2.  This one bore the name of a once-prestigious chain of motels and family restaurants that spread across America with the construction of the Interstate Highway system in the late 1950s and 1960s, along with many other lesser-known chains that also still exist.  Most of these are on near the center of cities, on the old highways that now serve as main streets of decaying cities.

Our room was small, with the usual sticky doors warped with age and abuse.  The standard motel air-conditioning system was defunct, so there was a small space heater supplied.  Like many of these refugees from the age of family car trips, the sheets were thin, the towels threadbare, but there were no funky odors or loud neighbors (the motel was nearly deserted, making one wonder what state the other rooms were in if ours had make-shift heating).  Breakfast was adequate–we ate alone in the tiny lobby: no pretense of a breakfast room here, and no TV blaring out CNN or the morning talk shows we only know of because we travel and they are on in hotel breakfast rooms.

After our usual stop at Starbucks for coffee (espresso is kinder to our constitutions than brewed coffee, so we almost never use the motel coffee service), we are on the road again.  Not so long ago, it was difficult to find a decent coffee shop between the Cascade Crest and the Mississippi River, or at all in the Beehive State, but Starbucks has rolled into Utah on the wave of all the other food chains and big-box outlets.  The most common place to find them is in supermarkets, and this was no exception.  But, we were surprised to find one in one of the largest purveyors of milk and honey in the heart of the Mormon empire, indeed within the shadow of the local Temple.

We got an early start to run ahead of the snowstorm forecast for later in the day. We turned off I-15 at Spanish Fork, headed up the canyon on Highway 6 toward a blue hole that promised better weather. We stopped for lunch at Moab, where the skies were clear, but the wind blowing stiffly. We ended the day at Cortez, Colorado, which we had bypassed before but not stopped.

The morning dawned cold and still windy, with snow forecast there, too. We stopped for fuel at the Ute Nation casino just north of the New Mexico border, turning east at Shiprock and southwest at Farmington, headed once again on a four-lane highway toward Albuquerque. The wind continued, pushing the morning’s rain squalls ahead of us. We caught up with the rain at Cuba, despite pulling off the road briefly for lunch from our on-board larder.

In Albuquerque, we bypassed the city on the Tramway loop, checking out the bike path that skirts the east side of the city, realizing that the path climbed more than 100 meters above where we would be staying. Our meeting with our granddaughter wasn’t for a couple of days, so we settled in to plan our stay. The next morning, there was a dusting of snow in the parking lot, so we explored Old Town, checked out the riverfront bike trail, had lunch back on the east side, visited a Nob Hill yarn shop.

The next morning, the weather looked a bit more promising, so we bicycled the north half of the Paseo del Bosque trail, meeting our granddaughter and her new daughter-in-law for lunch in nearby Old Town after, and visited the Aquarium and Biological Park next to the trail with our youngest great-grandson and his somewhat older new nephew. On the way back to our hotel, we had the oil changed in the truck, as it was due, and picked up some supplies for the continuation of our Southwest adventure.

 

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 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.