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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 3: Midwest Bike Trails

With our family heirloom duties out of the way, the bike finally “tour-ready,” and our feathers ruffled by our first encounter with camper class discrimination, we moved on to survey the High Trestle Trail, our next bucket list item. We checked out the trailheads in Woodward and Madrid, deciding to start our ride the next day in Madrid. Our choice for RV parks didn’t pan out: near the big city (Des Moines, the capital) and Saylorville Lake, all sites were booked for the weekend. So, we cashed in some of our discount points and stayed in a motel in the city for the weekend.

On Friday, we set out from Madrid, where the Flat Tire Lounge served up dark beers and microwaved frozen cheese pizza after our ride.  We crossed the spectacular High Trestle to Woodward, then retraced the path back to Madrid and finished with a round trip across the prairie to Slater, for 41 km total. On Saturday, we started at the southern terminus of the trail in Ankeny and rode the hillier half north to Slater, where a Boy Scout Jamboree was in progress, explaining the dozens of teens on bikes we saw on the trail. Being Saturday, and soon after RAGBRAI, (the 44-year-old annual ride across Iowa that is a rite of passage for riders from all over the country), the trail was crowded with many other cyclists as well. Despite the light rain starting out, we had a good ride, another 40 km.

OK, no pitchfork, no glasses: this is a composition shot for the painting “American Gothic.” Grant Wood used this house in Eldon, Iowa for a backdrop and his sister and dentist posed with pitchfork and 1880s clothing for the painting. The question is, were we really there in 1930 to inspire the painting, or are the backroads of America timeless?

Sunday, we took a spin around the Iowa state capitol, then headed southeast to the corner of the state, Keokuk, at the confluence of the Des Moines and Mississippi Rivers. On the way, we stopped in Eldon at the house that inspired the famous Grant Wood painting, “American Gothic.” Thunderstorms swept in, so we opted for yet another motel night, upriver in Fort Madison.

Moving up the Mississippi, we crossed over into Illinois to survey the Great River Trail (GRT) through Moline. We stayed at the Illiniwek Campground, which was a delight and right on the trail. Again, we had to plead with the management to treat our nondescript-looking van as an RV and give us a site with electricity so we could run our refrigerator and computers (WiFi, and fast, too!)  The neighbors in our section were mostly travel trailers rather than land yachts, and seemed friendly enough.

Great River Trail from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

We seemed to have picked the best of the GRT, through East Moline and Moline, with great river views, riding through riverfront parks and on the levee for the most part, and we even found a decent, if expensive, coffee shop. We turned around as the trail got confused in road construction near the I-74 bridge, riding back through our campground and under I-80 to Rapids City, where the trail was mainly a widened shoulder on the southbound lane of the highway. We stopped at a family restaurant and found suitable fare, though a bit calorie-heavy.

Duck Creek Parkway from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

The next day, on recommendation from a cyclist we met on the GRT, we drove across the river to Bettendorf, to the Devils Glen park and rode up the Duck Creek Parkway, a paved bike path winding up the creek through a series of parks, ending at a golf course on the west side of Davenport, the fourth of the Quad Cities, finishing off the week with another 70 km for the two days of riding in the Quad Cities.

After checking out Port Byron on the Illinois side a few miles north, we decided to resume our river tour on the Iowa side, with a grocery stop and coffee shop at Le Claire, then north through Clinton to Bellevue State Park, a quiet campground on top of a hill, away from town and separate from the day-use section of the park. In the morning, we stopped in Dubuque for coffee and fuel before briefly dipping back into Illinois, cutting through East Dubuque into Wisconsin, where we drove quiet roads into Monroe.

We stopped in Monroe, next to a local shoe store on the old town square, picking up some shoes—I had worn out the hiking shoes I bought after my heart surgery for my recovery walks, and Judy needed some sturdy slippers. We walked around the town square and through the old historic courthouse before moving on north toward Madison, stopping once for a snack at New Glarus, a Swiss settlement with a tempting bakery.

We were a day early into Madison, so checked into a motel to do laundry and catch up on computer upgrades. We visited with family in the evening, pausing in our month-long journey and looking forward to the weekend visits.

Road Trip Summer 2017 Part 2: Great Plains and the Great American Eclipse

On the Yellowstone River, Columbus, Montana

Getting a late start on our journey east from western Montana, we headed down I-90 instead of meandering through the Big Hole as we had thought we might. We had decided to try city park camping, first stop, Columbus, Montana, on the Yellowstone River. We arrived late and found one campsite left, and that only because a group of tent campers decided to combine into one site. In the morning we tried breakfast at McDonalds, the first time we had been in one in several years. Yogurt parfait and coffee was all we dared. Coffee wasn’t bad, yogurt was partly frozen. Hmm.

We set off into new territory, south to Cody, Wyoming, then on to Casper and Douglas, ending at a KOA for the night, parked in the grass in the tent area. The management had set up a dozen or so tents and several portable toilets in anticipation of eclipse traffic. A long walk through the woods to the showers and rest rooms. The next morning, another repeat at McD’s. This time, the coffee was acid but the yogurt was OK. We decided to end that experiment and do our usual grocery/Starbucks foraging in the future.

Cowboy Trail – West Bridges from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

Steadily rolling off the high plains to western Nebraska, we checked in at the Wacky West RV Park in Valentine, in 33°C temps and strong winds. We walked to a nearby “health food” store that mostly stocked organic candies plus and got a couple of wraps, then decided to ride the rail trail to the high trestle over the Niobrara River that evening instead of waiting until morning. Just past the campground, the trail turned to gravel, and we ground on into the crosswind (read: an impediment both ways). It was still hot, but a thunderstorm was predicted later and we didn’t want to take a chance on getting caught out on the prairie. And, thunder and heavy rain did come, just at dark.

The next morning, we sped on east on US 20, paralleling the Cowboy Trail, stopping in Long Pine to ride across the Pine Creek trestle, as high as the Niobrara trestle, but not as long, and much closer to town. Then, off to the east end of the trail to camp at a city park in Norfolk, Nebraska.

Cowboy Trail East from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

Early morning, we rode the Cowboy Trail up the Elkhorn River 8 km and back, finishing with a spin around the concrete trail through the park and athletic fields before packing up and checking out the local coffees hop downtown. Finally, off to Lincoln and a basement B&B for the eclipse weekend. An overnight thunderstorm knocked out power over most of the city, uprooting trees and leaving streets littered with branches and blocked by fallen trees. After fumbling around our lodging by flashlight, we threaded our way out though the debris-filled streets in search of a laundromat with power, then took a walk around the state capitol complex and scoped out likely viewing spots for the eclipse.

Monday, we checked out and positioned ourselves in a city park with a good view and set up to watch the eclipse. We constructed a viewing contraption with a cardboard box and binoculars, having passed up a chance to buy the paper eclipse glasses when we passed through Oregon at the start of our trip. We moved our truck to make room for another parking spot next to us, and the grateful couple gave us a couple spare glasses, so we didn’t have to fight with the box in the wind during the whole event. It was spectacular, despite the sometimes heavy cloud cover. Judy had seen the total eclipse that passed over the Northwest in 1979, but I had only seen partial eclipses. Our photos did not do it justice.

Total Solar Eclipse, Lincoln, Nebraska. Disclaimer: The phone showed a blank, bright disk: this photo has been altered with The Gimp to show the sun/moon as it appeared to the naked eye.

Immediately after the totality, we got in line to exit the park and find our way out of the city. Headed north, we decided to stay at the city park in Norfolk again, as it was a very nice, quiet camp. After leaving the park, traffic was fairly normal until we got to Columbia, with traffic lights and merging eclipse traffic from Grand Island, which was squarely in the path of longest totality. Arriving in Norfolk, the campground was again lightly used: some of the same campers were still there, and we stayed in the same campsite as before.

Camp cooking. We’re still using up fuel for our 35-year-old Hank Roberts pocket stove. We seldom cook in camp when close to towns and traveling.

Continuing north, we stopped at my cousin Cathy’s house in Worthington, Minnesota to drop off a family heirloom, a mantel clock her father had rebuilt in the 1950s. We then headed back south into Iowa, camping at a state park on Spirit Lake: electricity and flush toilets, but no potable water or showers, and mud in the site we picked. In the morning, we drove to Lake Okoboji, parked near the bike trails, and rode around the lake. Except, a bit more than halfway around, we had a tire failure, followed by a succession of used tubes that wouldn’t hold air. A kind runner, Greg Fox, gave us a lift to the bike shop where we not only got our tire fixed (we had a spare tire, just not any good spare tubes), but a couple of extra tubes and, best of all, got the shifting problems that had plagued us since picking up the supposedly tuned machine in Eugene several weeks before. All of the cables should have been replaced, as they are stretched and have a lot of friction in the housings. The Okoboji shop lubricated the cables and adjusted as best they could, and we finished the ride, about 10 km shorter than we had anticipated.

Wanting to find a camp with showers, we picked a nearby RV park, which was reluctant to accept our nondescript van as a real RV.  They finally put us in the hiker-biker site.  We got our showers and left very early in the morning, having endured the disapproving gaze of the land-yacht crowd as they returned from their days adventures.

So it went. We had finally gotten our bicycle tuned and hopefully most of the major failures behind us. We were beyond the smoke and heat of the Rocky Mountains and High Plains, and had refined our camping and traveling to a comfortable routine, even figuring out an acceptable way to cope with no air conditioning in the car—using the sun visors as baffles to reduce the noise from open windows.

Next:  More Iowa bicycling, working toward Wisconsin.

Road Trip Summer 2017, Part 1: Across the Northwest; More Bicycle Woes

July 30, 2017–Finally, our summer road tour was underway: on the first leg, we returned yet again to Eugene to pick up our bicycle, leaving on a Sunday afternoon and camping overnight near Vancouver, Washington, to be at the shop when they opened. We took a quick spin on the bike to look for any obvious problems. It seemed a bit odd feeling, but we thought it might be because we had ridden our old bike the last 168 km. We should have been a bit more vigilant, but we were anxious to get on the road.

US-97 bridge over the Columbia River. Mt. Hood peeks over the span on right.

We camped overnight again on the banks of the Columbia, at a state park next to the RV camp we had stayed at in April, then over the hills to the Yakima Valley and on to northern Idaho to visit our friends Gary and Char at their vacation home for a week before moving on to a family gathering in Montana.

Nearly 10 days into our trip, we finally pulled the bike out for our first ride, a 20-km loop around Polson, Montana. Five kilometers into the ride, it was obvious there was something wrong. We stopped, at the top of the Skyline drive, a 120-meter vertical drop on a steep grade into downtown, to find that the rear triangle (the seat-stay/chain-stay assembly we had welded) had nearly separated from the rear bottom bracket. Apparently, the bolts holding the bike together had not been tightened at the factory when the machine was reassembled. Once again, we had narrowly avoided a disastrous accident. We were also having problems with the shift adjustment. After the ride, we downloaded a copy of the SRAM repair manual and readjusted the rear derailleur to get all nine cogs indexing, but shifting remained a problem.

The nearly-separated bike: This joint should be closed to the grease line near the kickstand. The two Allen-head bolts on the underside hold the assembly together, if properly tightened.

We also had decided that much of our discomfort on the 2016 tour had been due to poor bike fit, despite having ridden thousands of miles with the current setup. Judy had her handlebars set as high as possible, but would have liked them higher.  And, having ridden the Santana all summer, I realized my handlebars were a bit too far forward, putting too much pressure on my hands and I was sitting too far forward on the saddle. The solution was simple, and no cost: swap the stems, putting the longer one on Judy’s bar to raise it, and the shorter one on my bar to bring it closer. It works.

Great-great-aunt Judy gets silly with Caroline (our niece’s granddaughter).

We made a quick trip to Hamilton to visit our bead-artist and tiny-house-builder friend Theresa at her new location and new tiny studio, then stopped at our quilting friend Connie’s house to visit with her actor/director son Dan before he headed back to New York after a season of directing summer stock at Whitefish. We spent the rest of the week visiting with relatives as they arrived in smoky Montana, so we didn’t get another bike ride. As the gathering dispersed, we headed south, stopping at the Ewam Garden of 1000 Buddhas for a quick walk of the garden before the rain started.

The Garden of 1000 Buddhas, Ewam Sangha, near Arlee, Montana, one of the largest Buddhist shrines in North America.

Although we’ve been in Shelton for nearly eight years, I’m still involved with Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 517, managing their website. In Missoula, we met Steve and Sherry at the new hangar at the Missoula airport. What a facility! But, expensive, so fund-raising is an essential part of the budget plan. During lunch, we went over a few items to add to the chapter website.

EAA Chapter 517’s new hangar at MSO. Hangar on right, common areas on left: observation tower, conference rooms, kitchen, rest rooms, etc.

Finally, we arrived in the Bitterroot Valley for a couple of days visiting with Connie and some of our quilting friends before heading east once again for our rendezvous with the solar eclipse in Nebraska. Our past trips have also included a visit to my old workplace in Hamilton, but there wasn’t room in the schedule this time, and some of my former co-workers were preparing to evacuate their homes in the face of advancing forest fires.

The next leg of our journey would take us over the continental divide, away from the smoke, and gradually downhill toward the Mississippi River.

To be continued…