Category Archives: Travel

Road Trip 2017, Part 1, Stage 4: There’s No Place Like Home

Our travels through the fictional fractured former United States continue, hence the geographic references that may be unfamiliar to those readers who believe the Federation propaganda that the Republic still stands intact.  Our travels in this chapter take place in the countries of Greater California, Jefferson, and Cascadia, which extend up the Pacific coast from north of San Diego to Prince Rupert and east to the Sierras and Cascades in California, Jefferson, and the Oregon and Washington districts of Cascadia, and the Rockies in the Columbian District.  Free White Idaho extends from the Cascades to the Rockies south of the 49th Parallel.  Jefferson extends from north of Sonoma County, Gr. Cal., to the southern reach of the Willamette Valley.

[all photos by Judy unless otherwise noted]

Farm road, San Joachin Valley

Our trip became more normal with our return to the independent republics on the West Coast of North America, where Federation loyalist influence is much less, though still significant in the news.  Leaving Bakersfield, we head north through familiar place names: streets and highways named after popular country-western music artists of the mid-twentieth Century: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and others.  After our drive across the Mojave, the north-bound routes seem frantic and busy.  We soon turn off the old Highway 99 onto farm roads through the San Joaquin Valley, meandering between CA 99 and I-5, sometimes through potholed and muddy tracks  indistinguishable from the cattle feedlots that line them, as seen above.

Hills along CA 198 west of Coalinga

After a brief run up I-5, we turn off toward Coalinga, and over the mountains toward the coast, turning north up a verdant and quiet valley, joining US 101 and its heavy traffic for a run through Silicon Valley into San Francisco, where we will spend a few days site-seeing before continuing toward home.

Judy hadn’t spent time in downtown San Francisco before.  I had spent a 3-day pass from the U.S. Army there, 51 years ago in 1966, riding the cable cars, dining at Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown.  A return trip in 1983 was spent entirely at the Moscone Center in a computer conference devoted to the doomed 8-bit personal computer operating system CP/M  from Digital Research, which was supplanted by the 16-bit Microsoft knock-off MS-DOS within a few months.  We stayed a block from the China Gate and a couple blocks from Union Square this time, within walking distance of shopping and restaurants.

As we often do when visiting a large city, we bought a two-day bus tour package, and set off on a rainy morning.  The upper open deck on the buses was awash in the downpour, so we imagined the sights the guides described as we peered through the fogged-over and rain-smeared windows.  We changed buses at Fisherman’s Wharf, with a quick look around, then off to the Golden Gate Bridge, where we had a wet and blustery layover before catching the Sausalito bus.  We stopped briefly on the north end of the bridge, shrouded in mist before descending into the city by the bay for a 20-minute layover before returning over the bridge once more for another wet wait for the next bus.

Union Square, San Francisco (photo by Larye)

The next destination was Golden Gate Park and the Haight-Ashbury district, which, again, we glimpsed through the perforated sunscreens and film of rain on the bus windows.  After heading back downtown around City Hall, we disembarked at Union Square for lunch, then caught the alternate bus route back to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we toured on foot, catching the last bus back to Union Square.  On this route, the rain had stopped long enough to permit riding on the open deck, so we did get good views of Chinatown and the financial district on this tour.

Transamerica Pyramid (photo by Larye)

The next morning, we sat through the customary sales pitch at the condo office to get part of our parking fee validated.  We thought $40 a day was outrageous, but we noted that other nearby hotels charged upwards of $60 per day.  While waiting for the tour bus, we noted that most of the guests at that hotel used Uber for ground transportation.  Our hotel brochure warned against bringing a car into the city, but, being on tour, we didn’t have much choice.

A late start took us on a repeat of yesterday’s route, without the side trip across the bridge.  We had planned on taking in some of the gardens at the Golden Gate Park, but the heavy rain continued, so we declined to disembark.  Once again, we were confined to the limited view from the lower compartment in the bus, but had better seats, so we were able to see some of the attractions we missed the day before.   Back at Union Square, we marched off to the Mall, where we had lunch at the bistro in the Nordstrom department store, in solidarity with the Cascadia-based chain with which the Federation had started a trade war the day before, after the store had dropped the royal family’s clothing line.  Word from our contacts in Free White Idaho indicate that a major department store chain based in the Ozark District has taken up the slack and is enjoying exports of the royal line to the FWI as well as throughout the Federation.

The next morning, we headed north in sunshine, making sure to drive through some of the areas we had toured, but not seen, from the bus.  We had intended to head east to visit with an old friend, but the bad weather had made the roads unreliable.  Indeed, by the end of the weekend, hundreds of thousands of people living between us and them were being evacuated as the flood waters overflowed the largest reservoir to the east and threatened to breach the dam due to erosion on the spillways.  So, we headed across the bridge through Sausalito once more, finally outrunning the city traffic north of Santa Rosa as we crossed over into the Republic of Jefferson.

Palace of Fine Arts, Panama-Pacific Exhibition, 1915, a simpler but more elegant time.  I once owned a Sonora Phonograph, which won a Gold Medal at this exhibition for quality and sound, and which was a beautiful piece of furniture as well.   Sonora was taken over by its investors in 1929 and failed in 1930, a victim more of hostile takeover than the Great Depression. (photo by Larye)

We spent the night in Eureka, then headed inland at Crescent City to Rogue River for lunch with my cousin and her husband before continuing north over the mountains into our home territory of Cascadia, arriving in Eugene along the Willamette River for the next night.  We headed north on old Highway 99 in the morning in dense fog, which lifted near Junction City.  We took the west branch of 99 through Corvallis and McMinnville, then winding back roads to Hillsboro and Scappoose, then up Highway 30 to Rainier, where we crossed the Columbia and then the Cowlitz to continue home on I-5.

Avenue of the Giants, scenic route through the redwood forest.

So ended the first road tour of 2017, covering about 8000 km in three weeks.  We plan a trip to Victoria in June and an extended tour to Minnesota and Eastern Canada in September.  We may venture into the FWI sometime this summer if the borders stay open, as we still have family and close friends in the Mission and Bitterroot valleys.  We took Maximillian, our hybrid crossover vehicle, on this trip because we needed extra seating, and it was easy on fuel without the bicycle on top, burning about 6 liters per 100 km when we stuck to the lower-speed roads.  For the rest of the trips, we plan to drive the White Knight, which burns about 14 liters per 100 km, but we can camp in it and take our bicycle, and it blends in better when traveling in the interior republics.  We’ve been careful in this divided age not to display any political insignia, which may in itself raise suspicion in some districts, where patriotic displays of the majority’s ideological symbols are common and expected.  The environmental statement the hybrid vehicle makes may attract unwanted attention in those districts by itself, so the older, nondescript work vehicle may be the best choice, even if it isn’t the most efficient.

Road Trip 2017, Part 1, Stage 2: San Diego Reminiscence

California Tower, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA

I’ve been visiting San Diego, off and on for 40 years, but this is the first time as a tourist.  We’re here with Judy’s brother-in-law, to see the city and visit with a cousin she hasn’t seen in many years.  We did drive through about five years ago on our way back from our first Florida bicycle tour, but didn’t stop.

The drive down from LA on Tuesday was pleasant.  A traffic check before leaving showed the I-5 jammed, so traveling east to the I-15 was just as fast.  We hadn’t been this way before, a rolling, wide freeway with light traffic.  As advertised, we encountered rain squalls near our destination, but altogether a good travel day.  We were able to check in early and freshen up before heading out for lunch and a quick tour of downtown and Coronado.

San Diego is, in my view, an all-American city (that is, stratified in the typical inequality ratios),  a scenic seaport city that is a perfect bookend to its northern counterpart, Vancouver.  As the home of a major military presence, the city-state remains loyal to the Federation, separating Mexico from Greater California, though pockets of resistance can be found. The Old Town area, near where we are staying, sits at the base of the hills where the valley opens to the east.  We threaded our way around the flash floods that still punctuate winter rainstorms here, along the rough pot-holed streets that characterize strongly loyalist cities, on our way down the bay past the downtown airport, where airliners slip between the high-rise buildings in the financial district on final approach.  Past the convention center, we swung onto the Coronado bridge for a tour of the trendy and posh city by the sea, the local bastion of the 1%, then around the bay through the grubbier city of Imperial Beach and back our lodging to settle in for the evening.

Airliners pass low over the city on approach to Lindbergh Field

I first came to San Diego in the 1970s, when I was a systems engineer, working on modernization of the U.S. Navy submarine fleet.  Our team, from the development laboratories in New England, came out to the submarine base at San Diego to certify the systems before deployment on patrol after the boats came out of the repair yards in Long Beach, Bremerton, and Vallejo with the new systems installed.  As the shipyards were relatively unfamiliar with the new technologies, we often ended up as rework and repair technicians as well as test engineers.  The biggest problem was with quality control on the hundreds of 85-pin data connectors in the new computerized systems.  As a result of our testing and evaluation, two other teams were formed, one to rework and repair all the boats as they rotated in and out of port and one to teach the shipyard cable technicians proper assembly techniques.  Visits often involved 12-on/12-off around-the-clock work shifts, 14-days straight through, so site-seeing wasn’t an option.

U.S. Navy Base Ballast Point

Some trips were more casual, though, so on one occasion or another, I did manage to tour the old aviation museum (before it burned and was rebuilt) and take a drive out to Point Loma.  Our work teams usually consisted of a mix of civil servants, enlisted navy personnel, and contractors, like myself, from the various systems vendors.  The non-commissioned officers liked to lunch at the many topless bars that sprang up along Rosecrans during that period.  The government employees often liked to dine at the more expensive restaurants, where they would order steaks and cocktails, then insist on splitting the bill evenly so they didn’t exceed the daily federal M&IE  (meal and incidental expense) allowance.  We contractors would order from the casual menu to make sure the shares didn’t exceed the allowance so as not to have to explain to our families why we had to spend our own money while on expense account…

Naval Air Station North Island and downtown San Diego

In the 1980s, I was working at the submarine base in Washington in combat systems life-cycle support engineering, doing operations analysis: we would get the data package from a returning boat a day or two before they arrived for refit.  A quick review would help plan the work orders during the crew turn-around and identify problem areas that might require an equipment upgrade or maintenance procedure change.  The refit facility kept a set of major electronics modules that were rotated among the boats to simplify troubleshooting and repair at sea.  Any failed units were repaired in the refit facility and returned to the kit inventory.  But, when a new boat was commissioned at the building yards on the east coast, only basic spare parts were loaded for the transit.  On one such occasion, we were notified of a problem in transit, as they passed through the Panama Canal.  As a seasoned field operative, I was assigned to meet the boat in San Diego, at the North Island facility in Coronado, and deliver part of their complement of maintenance assistance units, as well as making sure the problem was resolved.

Old Point Loma Light

In the early 1990s, I was in a test engineering contract group at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.  Part of my duties as the lead engineer was to prepare reports and presentations for the government managers to present, a task I had performed on several different assignments over the years.  From time to time, I accompanied my clients on their travels to provide additional background or updates to the material.  One of these trips was to San Diego, the first road trip on which I took a computer (my own–I operated as an employee of an East Coast contractor, but out of my home office).  This was before the Internet became ubiquitous and before laptops were common.  My system was an early and unsuccessful tablet (Pen Windows on an NCR 3125,  a 20-MHz386 non-backlit monochrome LCD system, click to see a photo) that I bought on clearance ($300, against a list price of $3000), combined with a full-sized keyboard, mouse, and external 9600-baud “portable” modem.  Getting through airport security with this junkyard laptop substitute was an ordeal, even in pre-9/11 times, when the focus was on D.B.Cooper-type ransom hijackers rather than terrorists.

My connection to the ‘Net was to dial-up my Unix workstation at home and compose email, which would be relayed later when my home system mail server scheduled a dial-up to the next link in the network.  In this way, I was able to correspond with other meeting attendees by email without violating the “speak only when spoken to” policy that applied to “briefcase carriers.”  The presentation was a project management plan I had developed for re-certifying one of the last groups of cold-war-era ships to be upgraded: my client had only the transparencies (for backup) and the new-fangled Powerpoint version on floppy disk, and I had the answers to defend the plan schedule, so I was brought along strictly as backup for any technical questions that might come up.  None did: this was the last major development exercise planned for this assignment, and I had become weary of the briefcase carrier role, so it was time to move on.   During this San Diego trip, I turned in my two-week notice: when I got home, I started work in Seattle at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, under a new employer, as a contract Unix system administrator,  ending my long career supporting U.S. Navy projects, but not the end of government contracting.

Coast Guard cutter and sailboat entering San Diego Harbor

In the late 1990s, I was a network administrator, working in Washington State for a Pennsylvania company owned by the family of a PA congressman influential on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.  One of the projects was a contract with the government to train small business owners how to use the Internet to do business with the government.    When the company opened a new office in San Diego, with only a skeleton staff, I flew down to configure and install their Internet servers.  The company was in temporary offices near Hotel Circle, and I unpacked and staged the servers in the partially-finished new offices, several miles away.  The new space was being used for storage, so did not have telephone or Internet, and all the furniture was still in cartons, so it was a strange exercise, working alone in a large building in a city of 1 million.  After configuring the systems, I delivered them to the co-location hosting site on the north side of the city, and managed them from my Bremerton office.  As before, my San Diego excursion foreshadowed yet another career change: the project in Bremerton wound down, so I was in the market for another job, this time for state government. We soon moved to Montana, where I spent a couple of years working at the University of Montana.

the Lath House (Botanical Building), Balboa Park.  Judy and Ben in foreground.

In 2005, midway through my next career, back in the federal contracting world, as a system administrator and bioinformatics programmer at the National Institutes of Health in Montana, I managed to get permission to attend the 19th USENIX Large Installation System Administration conference, held in San Diego that year.   It is very difficult for government contractors to get paid skills training, since we are supposed to be pre-trained and fully qualified, no matter how much the technology evolves during our often years-long tenure, so we funded most of the trip ourselves, as I had done for a bioinformatics conference in Arizona in 2002. At best, we can sometimes get the client to pay our hourly rate for the conference week without taking vacation, but there is never money for fees and travel.  (When I went independent in 2009, I went to conferences more often, bidding the cost into my rate negotiation, though I often had to choose limited or free venues, as reasonable training budgets were not price competitive, naturally, but my time was my own.) Judy and I flew down and took the shuttle bus to the conference hotel, no rental car budget.  I spent the entire conference in the complex, while Judy toured the city on the light-rail and bus systems, and met with a local quilting client—a Navy nurse who had sent quilt tops from Iraq to be quilted while deployed there—to justify a tax write-off for her plane ticket.   The next time I saw San Diego was a fast drive-through, Thanksgiving 2011, returning to Washington State from a bicycle tour in Florida, visiting relatives along the way.

Casa el Prada, Balboa Park

So, it’s good to be back, before the city becomes closed to us and travel to the red zone becomes problematic.  With only three days to spend, I’m sure we won’t see everything: we did stop in Old Town and explore Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument., and we spent time with Judy’s cousin, whom we hadn’t seen for a long time: she and her husband are in their 90s and don’t travel anymore, but she is an active artist and we visited her at her co-op studio in Balboa Park as well as at home.  Tomorrow, it’s back to LA and then brace for our extended excursion into solid Federation territory.

Road Trip 2017 Part 1 (stage 1): Travels In a Far Country Close To Home

DISCLAIMER: A tale of an alternate reality, in the post-factual age…  As a long-time fan of speculative fiction, one can imagine the worst possible outcome of current trends.  Hopefully, thinking through the consequences  will jar us to action to prevent such an outcome.  Here then, is a wild ride through a landscape where the nation has gone to pieces, reassembling itself in bizarre and distorted caricatures, region by region, built around our actual travels through the wonderful landscape and people that are the *real* America.

San Joaquin Valley

As is our custom, 2017 began with a major Road Trip, ostensibly to visit relatives in the Southwest of what used to be the United States. This year we’re a bit early, in hopes of returning before the new borders close. But, our trip was delayed slightly, for two reasons–a brief encounter with What’s Going Around, commonly known as “The Flu,” and some delays in our effort to refinance our home (possibly also caused by What’s Going Around, in the far-flung banking empire).  At any rate, since the mortgage department at Big Bank is located in Iowa, we surmised that the actual paper-signing could take place anywhere.  Consequently, our signing site kept moving south over several days as we finalized the transaction.

Leaving said home, near the Salish Sea in the heart of the Cascadian Confederation, on the eve of Donald the First’s ascendancy to the throne of the Federation of Trumpistan, we traveled to the first proposed (and later cancelled) refinancing site in the heart of the Republic of Jefferson.  Having a new goal farther south, in the morning we ignored the coronation festivities to press on over the mountains, stopping briefly in Yreka, Jefferson’s capital, to purchase tire chains, as we—for the first time in over 20 years—don’t have all-wheel drive on our winter expedition vehicle.

The delay brought us to the chain-up area just as the restrictions were lifted, so we pressed on at speed through slush, rain, and snow into the northern sections of the Republic of Greater California, then on to the old capital for the night, past prematurely-flooded  nut orchards and through a flooded section of roadway, having left the main highway in case roving bands of Federation loyalists were on the watch for dissidents fleeing south.

Traveling south, this time on the main highway through the wet and verdant San Joaquin Valley, we arrived in the Los Angeles area in late afternoon, with the usual heavy, but not quite gridlocked Saturday traffic, despite the large political demonstrations downtown.

We found our relatives dry and well, and settled in for a brief respite from our travels. With the six-year drought officially over, we braved flooded streets on Sunday to replenish our food supplies at nearly-deserted stores, as the torrential downpours continued in the third wave of La Niña storm cycles in as many weeks.  The intensity of the storms across the Northern Hemisphere is, no doubt, fueled by the loss of much of the polar ice cap.  Now, two possible explanations for the disappearance of the northern sea ice in this century are either 1) as the result of man-made global warming or 2) the capricious act of a vengeful god or gods.

Either way, a large segment of humanity needs to change their evil ways, and soon, as the carbon dioxide and methane concentrations approach a runaway point with the thawing of the permafrost and shallow methane hydrates in the northern tundra and seas.  However, in the current geopolitical climate, not much promises to be done to slow changes to the planetary climate.  We need to hurry on to visit our descendants before we are all caught up in a mass extinction event not seen since Permian times, not to mention travel restrictions or economic collapse resulting from political upheaval.

Our banking business finally got settled, at least for now:  the banker was astounded at the differences between California and rural Cascadia housing values.  The transaction, started some time ago, was, of course, still in California dollars.  Cascadia has yet to convert to New Hong Kong Dollars, pending renegotiation of trade deals between the new confederacy and the world economy and pinning the new currency to the Yuan.

We are preparing to travel farther south, but not too far.  Mexico continues to keep the border closed during the Reconfiguration, to avoid further erosion of the peso in light of the shift to fossil fuel as the monetary standard in the Federation.  Checking in with our relatives in the Rockies, we find even more changes.  News was limited because of the severe winter weather and what we can assume are politically-motivated blackouts, but we gathered this:

Free White Idaho has apparently annexed lands between the Cascade Crest and the Continental Divide, except possibly the Missoula Free State.  Communications to FWI from leftist media sources within the city have been blocked.  We hear from loyalist acquaintances there who are barricaded against militant leftists and awaiting reinforcements from Wallace and Libby when the weather clears.  We can’t be sure, though: the rapid divergence in semantics between left and right has made translation of their messages nearly impossible.

There has also been no further word from Whitefish since the Brown Shirts moved against pockets of Zionists early in the Transition.   Perhaps the timeslip has healed and pulled the whole bunch back into 1930s Germany, but we fear that the opposite has happened: a large segment of the Third Reich that apparently disappeared in the mid-1940s has reappeared and fused with our timeline.  We thought perhaps that the lands of the indigenous nations would be safer, but the latest credible reports from the east are that the Federation plans to move against them militarily “real soon” as part of the Final Solution to free the remaining fossil fuel into the environment and/or economy.

We, of course, discount most of the spotty news from east of the continental divide, amid the onslaught of misinformation, cognitive dissonance, and the aforementioned semantic schism.  We are a bit concerned about traveling east.  As far as we know, the theocratic Republic of Deseret, stretching from the Salmon on the north to the Mogollon Rim on the south, remains part of the Federation, but as inscrutable as always.  Our return path next month should take us across the southern portion, as we leave the area that we assume is reverting to the old name, Nuevo España, since the hardening of the border with Mexico.

We do have to travel through the Southern Exclusion Zone and the Arpaio Coalition next weekend, and we’re not certain of the status of the region north of Chihuahua.  Traditionally, movement into the zone has been freely accessible, but return north or west has been restricted by whatever immigration authority exists.  We do have to venture into the bulwark of the Federation, Texas, but briefly, and hope to avoid encounters with authority while there.  Perhaps this will all change by the weekend, and travel will become even more interesting, if at all possible.  On the way south earlier, the border guards at the old Siskiyou checkpoint were a bit confused, passing traffic through unchecked, as the border had moved a couple hundred kilometers to the south with the inevitable emergence of Jefferson an hour or two previously, at the end of the Old Republic.

The rapidity of the current surge of reality dysfunction may signal an impending tear in the fabric of space-time itself, which may finally separate the two tangled alternate realities that are causing so much stress and confusion.  We just hope we end up in our travels in the parallel universe that has a future.  The other one appears about to collapse in on itself.

Meanwhile, the journal and journey will continue.

Namaste,

Expedition 2016: Afterword and Video Record

Even though we had planned to be on tour well into the summer, it was good to be home in the Puget Sound in mid-spring.  Our trip north on the East Coast had been accelerated by the switch to automobile speeds, rolling the seasonal clock back to tree buds.  At the same time, Facebook’s Memories algorithm enticed us with photos of our yard in springs past, in full bloom.

We missed the apple blossoms, dogwood, and the giant Rhody that gets full sun early, but most of the rest of the yard was just starting to bloom.  The cat quickly adjusted to having her “regular” people at home, once more demanding a fire on chilly mornings and a warm lap until the room got cozy.  And, we, too, settled into a routine that didn’t involve packing up and moving on, attending our fiber guild meetings and resuming our yoga practice, neglected while on our own, but easier to arrive at the Senior Center at the appointed time, mat in hand.

As usual, video documentation of our trip was sketchy and random, an afterthought rather than a deliberate production.  The footage we hastily published while “on the road” got a post-tour review, with minor edits uploaded, and the “rest of the tour” documented with slide shows of still photos shot on walking tours of the old cities and historical sites, from the back of the tandem, and out the windscreen of the car.

Meanwhile at homewe reassembled the bicycle, encountering some adjustment difficulties that were best resolved by partial disassembly and a more careful reassembly.  After five years, I have finally realized that the adjustments that affect the timing chain tension also affect the shift cable tension, and that a lot of futile adjustment of the shifters can be avoided by rechecking the fit of the frame tubes.  And, finally, I got the new rack system installed on the car, ready for a summer of trail riding and distant events.  One of the first things we did on arrival home was to sign up for the 30th anniversary NorthWest Tandem Rally, being held this year in Klamath Falls, Oregon in early July.  We’ve ridden the roads around Klamath Falls before, in 2007, and are looking forward to socializing with the 900-1000 other tandem riders that show up for the event.  We last attended (and for the first time) in 2012 at Salem, Oregon, with little training before the rally, so we hope  to keep up with the slower groups this year.

The Bicycle

Our route via the bicycle took us from Orlando to Folkston, Georgia, then from Savannah, Georgia to Walterboro, South Carolina, for a total riding distance of 597 km (370 miles). We rented a U-Haul truck to bypass bad weather and dangerous roads between Folkston and Savannah, about 170 km (110 miles).

Week 1 took us to from Orlando to St. Augustine.
Week 1 took us to from Orlando to St. Augustine.

Expedition 2016 – Week 1 from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

We spent a day with a walking tour of St. Augustine…

Expedition 2016 – St. Augustine from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

Week 2 took us to Folkston, Georgia, where we trucked to Savannah  in the rain for a trolley and walking tour of the city.

We didn't have a firm plan for Georgia, making the route up as we went along, using the ACA route and GA Bike Route 95 as guides, driven by road construction and weather.
We didn’t have a firm plan for Georgia, making the route up as we went along, using the ACA route and GA Bike Route 95 as guides, driven by road construction and weather.

The Florida segment of this week’s route was the most pleasant of the trip, with actual off-road bike trails and a bike lane.

Expedition 2016 – Week 2 from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

We stayed in Garden City just outside Savannah, which happened to be the rail, truck, and port area, and were glad to have shuttle service to the historic district from our hotel, since the 4-lane road outside was bumper-to-bumper and curb-to-curb with large, fast trucks. Choosing routes that minimized (but did not eliminate) truck traffic, we crossed into South Carolina through Alligator Alley and picked a route parallel to Interstate 95 for access to motels, but access to food was a problem. Weather and bad roads meant stopping at every town along the freeway. With our experience with urban roadways near Savannah and the prospect of long, arduous stages ahead through the rest of South Carolina, we decided to abandon our plan to cycle the entire East Coast, renting a car in Walterboro for the rest of the journey.

Savannah to Walterboro, SC.
Savannah to Walterboro, SC.

South Carolina didn’t offer much in way of scenery: Judy took lots of swamp pictures, and pictures of modest homes in poor communities, festooned with Trump signs. But, although the Deep South is deep crimson in their political leanings, we found drivers courteous for the most part: even though we had to “take the lane” on shoulder-less roads, overtaking traffic waited patiently behind us until it was safe to pass, unlike most of Florida, where we seemed to be invisible to motorists, who seemed to always be late and in a hurry. However, it may have had something to do with us mounting a small American flag on our trailer in Savannah, something suggested to us by one of our hosts in Florida. The reasoning was that, while “Bubba” (our stereotypical name for aggressive drivers of large pickup trucks) may hate bicyclists, as a Patriot, he won’t run over the Stars and Stripes, even if he wears the Stars and Bars on his truck.  We actually didn’t see any of this type in the South at all.

Expedition 2016 – Week 3 from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

The Automobile

The flexibility of the automobile allowed us to use our time to explore Charleston in depth, with a ferry to Ft. Sumter, a horse carriage tour of the University district, and a walking tour of the historic Market and Battery districts.

Expedition 2016 – Charleston from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

Our gasoline-powered tour took us quickly through the rest of South Carolina and into North Carolina, where we elected to drive the bridges across Roanoke Island instead of the ferries up the Outer Banks as we had planned. We did make a brief excursion to Hatteras Island before spending the afternoon at the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kill Devil Hill, where they tested their gliders before making the historic powered flights in December 1903,  on level ground at the base of the hill.

Expedition 2016: North Carolina from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

Entering Virginia, we missed the James River Bridge somehow, and a coffee stop in a construction zone got us on the wrong road in Norfolk, so we wandered through back streets before finding our way back to the Interstate, through the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, and on to Williamsburg and Jamestown, visiting both the recreated 1908 Settlement and museum, run by the state, and the Jamestowne historical site, a national archeological site. The next day, we were back on the I-95 for a quick trip up the Potomac to Mount Vernon, where we spent the day touring George Washington’s estate.

Expedition 2016 – Virginia from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

We elected to bypass Washington, DC this trip–the traffic on the Beltway was overwhelming even on a Sunday afternoon, so we pressed on north into Maryland, where we took time to ship our bicycle and camping gear home before crossing into Pennsylvania for a tour of the Gettysburg civil war battlefield and cemetery. A leisurely drive through the Amish and Mennonite country dumped us into the expressway rat race of suburban Philadelphia, arriving at Valley Forge too late in the day to tour the Visitor’s Center or the only historical building of interest, Washington’s headquarters. However, driving through the park brought us back out into the countryside for a relatively quiet drive to Allentown, with lots of pictures of stately old homes and well-preserved 19th-century city architecture in towns along the way.

Expedition 2016 – Pennsylvania from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

After a tour though the Delaware Water Gap, and a hike to a waterfall, we finally headed west, a portion of the trip well-documented with photos in earlier posts.  We’ve decided that our elder years will be best spent exploring bike trails: our days of jousting with trucks on narrow roads on long-distance treks should be well behind us.  And, we can pick the distances we’re comfortable riding, with a minimum of baggage on the bike.

Expedition 2016, Week 5 — Bucket List and Family Time: Mentor, OH to Madison, WI

Fokker D-VII, one of my favorite WWI aircraft designs, at the Air Force Museum
Fokker D-VII, one of my favorite WWI aircraft designs, at the Air Force Museum

We left the Cleveland area early, in the rush hour to Akron and Columbus, and on to Dayton to close the loop on our Wright Brothers pilgrimage.  We arrived at the Air Force Museum just before 1100, and spent the next six hours wandering through 108 years of military aviation history, ending with a drive downtown to stand in front of the Wright Cycle Company, where it all began with two bicycle mechanics obsessed with a quest for flight.

After such a long day, we were glad to have reserved a room nearby. We enjoyed an evening out with vegetarian “bar food” appetizers at a nearby pub.  The next morning, we headed west in an all-day rainstorm, plowing a tunnel through the mist through Indiana and Illinois to cross the Mississippi and arrive in Iowa for the night, fighting a fierce northeasterly wind to get to our room, which no doubt had helped the gas mileage on our long day’s drive.

Sunday morning, it was still raining, but less.   We headed west to Iowa City for morning coffee, a convoluted search because of massive downtown road construction and closures, but worth it to find a huge coffee shop in this University town.  By the time we reached Waterloo, the iPhone we’ve been using for navigation got indecisive about routing, so we ended up driving west on US 20 to I-35 and north to I-90, a bit farther, but easy to follow.

We thought about a hot sit-down lunch, but the restaurants at Clear Lake-Mason City and in Albert Lea, Minnesota were backed up with locals as well as tourists on a spring Sunday mid-day, so we grabbed our usual yogurt and hummus in the convenience store section of a travel stop and moved on, later stopping at a supermarket for eat-in-the-room cold supper supplies.  Traveling in the south and midwest is difficult for a vegetarian: we find ourselves improvising a lot, eating cold out of grocery stores and coffee shops, with the occasional veggie burger patty and all-day breakfast eggs ala carte (no bacon in my milkshake, please).  Judy is still in the “road kill vegetarian” mode, not one to turn down a meal just because it was prepared with chicken broth or spiced with bacon bits, and she does order seafood within sight of salt water.

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The sun came out as we arrived in my birthplace, Jackson, MN, where we had a lunch appointment the next day with the family elder, my one remaining aunt.  We spent the morning in the local coffee shop, one of the few espresso places in this part of the world (we found two more in Algona, Iowa, the next day).  Our lunch turned into a whole afternoon of reminiscing, mostly among the three nurses.  Aunt Jo was an Army nurse in WWII at various military hospitals and POW camps around the country, and had a long career in Jackson hospitals. Cousin Cathy recently retired from 39 years of nursing, and Judy was active in nursing for 35 years before opening her fiber arts and quilting business in 2001.

After our visit, we traveled a short way “down the road” into northern Iowa, staying overnight at Emmetsburg, a town about which I had heard a lot, growing up, but had never visited.  A caffeine recharge in the aforementioned coffee shop in Algona sustained us into Mason City, better known as “River City” in “The Music Man,” as it was the home of composer and playwright Meredith Wilson.  Mason City is also the site of the only remaining hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  The hotel and attached bank building were the basis for the design of the famous Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan, which has since been destroyed.  The town is also home to many street sculptures, most around the Central Park and the city library.

DSCF2260Our destination in Iowa was our daughter’s house.  She had recently moved to “Brick City,” Clermont, home town of Iowa’s first governor, William Larrabee . Clermont is a picturesque collection of historic brick buildings straddling the Turkey River in a pretty valley at the edge of the rugged Driftless region of bluffs and canyons radiating outward from the Mississippi River between Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin, a region in stark contrast to the deep layer of glacial drift in the surrounding area.  This spring brought a half-dozen kids to the small goat herd on their 7-acre hobby farm at the edge of town, so we spent some time in the barn with the nippy little critters and the rest of the herd.  She is a jewelry artist: we got to see her latest creations before they went off to a gallery for a weekend show.  A good visit, all too short to take in the area, but we’ll be back.

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The final stage in our expedition took us the short way down through the bluffs to cross the Mississippi for breakfast and coffee in Prairie du Chien  and on to our son’s home near Madison, Wisconsin, looking forward to seeing the grandchildren this weekend before our flight home on Monday.  As it turned out, it was a typical weekend for our family: our son was on call for his job on the organ transplant team, was called out to travel to Illinois soon after we arrived and again (to California) during lunch the next day, so we were left to pick up our grandson after school for the weekend.  Reminded me of the bad old days in the 1970s and 1980s when I would rush off to the airport after dinner or in the middle of the day to parts unknown and return days or weeks later, having worked long days or around the clock on ships or secure shore facilities with no outside communications.

But, we had a nice visit through Mothers Day, and had most of Monday to prepare for our evening flight home, having put 5600 km on the rental car since stopping our bicycle adventure in South Carolina after 600 km.  So it goes.  We are headed home, looking forward to a summer of shorter bicycle adventures and road trips.