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Day 1 ~ 9/7/15:
Leisurely morning hanging out at George’s house. I was supposed to pick up Jean-Marie Jobs at SEA-TAC airport at 1:30 but it was delayed 3 hours. So I had a leisurely while to pack up. Have I told you it takes me about 30′-40′ to set up or dismantle all my gear? That is one aspect of this trip that I won’t miss. I don’t relish an added hour setting up before getting into my jammies and taking pills, etc, at the end of a long day.

George graciously stuffed my gear in the van and I was off to the car wash. The van’s 2nd since this trip began. Poor thing, she was buggy and filthy. My try at the Costco car wash was a no go as the automated box wouldn’t recognize my card. Arrggg. Then the highway drawbridge was up, so another “no go”. Lol. I decided to get a manicure while waiting for her flight but the place I tried was booked for another hour. No go again! Probably a good thing because the place stank of chemicals. I feel really sorry for the people who work there all day. Most are in face masks, but I bet studies will show eventual severe health problems for them and their children. It seems like an entry job in the USA for many Asian immigrants, like indentured servants, or worse.

Finally I Yelped a car wash that wasn’t do it yourself or fancy expensive detailing. Clean van! I decided to go to a park and wait out the last half hour detailing the interior as best I could myself. My range of motion is limited from my shoulders and my left arm is restricted but I’ve learned a lot about physics, pivots, weight balance, fulcrums, etc. to do pretty well.

Got the van spiffed up from the road dust at a beautiful and popular park called Angel Lake close by SEA-TAC airport. Besides the lake it had water features for kids, with water squirting or spilling out of colorful pipes or spinning wheels. I like how many parks are doing that. Fun on a hot day.

Then it was time to get Jean. Yay! Leg #11 officially begins with my final companion escorting me home. This was practically a last minute arrangement as my slated rider had to back out. Jean had told me if I needed rescuing and she was able that she would come help drive a leg. Blessed be because that’s exactly what happened and on the most convenient portion because she lives half an hour from me! So only a one-way flight was in order.
That the flight was late really tied us up though. We had grand plans to leave Seattle at 2pm and log 200 miles. Instead we got heavy traffic on a Friday at 5pm. Last look at Mt. Ranier, and I drove a while then we switched drivers. Jean ran the red light on the I-5 entry ramp. Lol! I assume she was thinking we were a carpool. Which we were. It’s just fun to tease.

View of Mt. Rainier from the freeway. Far away but so huge it looks close.

View of Mt. Rainier from the freeway while I waited for a drawbridge to lower. The volcano is far away but so huge it looks close.

Two hours later we were only 50 miles away and so stopped for dinner in Olympia. Cute downtown in this college town. Murals, pedestrians, funky shops, bars, cafés. Drove up Jefferson St. to get there. Jean thinks this might be a theme as I had told her we were going down the “State of Jefferson Scenic Byway” in Northern California to Eureka in a couple days. More on that later unless you look up “State of Jefferson” now. It’s a hoot!

I Yelped a diner called King Solomon Reef. Sign out front said something about good day for a reefer. Lol. Washington state has legalized recreational marijuana. I always love breakfast food so chicken-fried steak and eggs for me with hash browns and extra gravy. I asked the waitress about the area as it seemed groovy. She said it was fun with the college here but there was a homeless/junkie prob. Services and needle exchange were compassionately available but that meant that other suburbs took advantage by avoiding those services in their area and bussing those in need to Olympia. Stinkers. So downtown businesses were losing a bit of affluent foot traffic and was in slight decline. Although they were trying to rectify it. I’m not sure how unless they adopt Giuliani’s rezoning tactics I heard of in New York City and move the services elsewhere. A ‘NIMBY’ (not in my back yard) domino effect of passing the buck. The answer is not clear.
Leaving the restaurant, Jean tried to steal someone’s Honda Odyssey van parked 2 spots from mine. She hit my clicker and was able to open the side door. The baby seat confused her though. I dunno. Ran a red before and now breaking into someone else’s car! Ha. We’re having fun already.

We arrived late. Nighttime meant we got to see a shooting star on the way in so there’s always something to appreciate. Hamptons are nice hotels. Large ADA entryway to the rooms. Set up my gear and by midnight we went to sleep. We’re bending to each others schedule. I’m a night owl and Jean goes to bed at 10. We’ll see how tomorrow plays out. Lol!

Day 2 ~ 9/8/15:
Jean-Marie’s Facebook post Aug. 8: “Considering the dynamic between wisdom and gratitude today, I’ve always been grateful for my high school experience at Ursuline Academy, for the incredible teachers and the girls in my class. Almost 35 years later, I have a new appreciation for the friendships, depth, character and heart of the Class of 81′ as I am honored to enjoy the last leg of Kim Fusch’s North American adventure! Ashland, here we come!”

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Salem to Ashland. I got up earlier than usual (bending!) and we were packed up and out of the room by 11. Fast for me! Straight highway run today down I-5. We chatted and enjoyed the woods and small mountains of Oregon, and glimpsed pointy, big Mt. Lassen. Interesting people here too. A real range of old hippies, doomsday preppers, homesteaders, loners, farmers, red necks, the right and the left wing politically.

It was a bit hazy, and at one point we passed a firefighting heliport which had a large chopper taking off with a bucket of water. It looked so small even though it was probably decent sized. Tiny though, compared to the size of fires. Almost seems not worth the effort to dump it there. But of course it is. This is a bad year for fires, both here in the western half of the States and in Canada. More crazy climate change. I remember the rains in the center of the country, to the point of flooding. In the east I saw evidence of a long winter which equally late spring wildflowers long into summer and lush fields. Here, dry and crackling.

On our highway run I wrote some, too, to give myself chat breaks as I like to converse and it tires me out! Hunger struck and I Yelped lunch spots in Roseburg, Oregon. Found a highly rated drive/walk up called Smokin’ Friday BBQ. I had to have the Pulled Pork Sundae. Shall I leave you to try and figure that one out?? Ahaha!

Pulled Pork Sundae

Pulled Pork Sundae

We got to Ashland at the decent hour of 4pm. Did a quick unpack and headed off to shops in the charming downtown we’d seen in the way in to our hotel, The Stratford Inn. So named because Ashland is famous for its Shakespeare Festival.

I was a bit winded so Jean took off first. I didn’t realize we were almost at 2,000 feet. I got on my scooter and found a locals Art gallery on the way. Couldn’t get upstairs but I found a couple small, affordable items. We texted ourselves back together to confer for dinner. Kobe, a Japanese restaurant looked good. On the way we saw shop that had yellow warning sign for Suicide Deer. Lol! True!

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Funky Ashland

Funky Ashland

At the corner of the block that Kobe was on I saw a large metal sculpture that looked a bit like a story, or totem, pole. A man was looking at it and I said it was beautiful. He informed me that it was a copy of a wood totem that had stood there but that the sites owners had torn everything down including that for a new building.

He said town folk tried to save it but money won out as usual, with a quasi goodwill gesture to try and preserve the carving. I say quasi because they didn’t follow recommended preservation dictates and the thing got partially ruined. I’m not sure who put the metal copy of the carving up. I hope it was the site owner.
My fellow onlooker historian and I chatted about the State of a world run by greed, the power mad, and corporations. We shared a hope for future with progressive awareness, activism and in education, but were also dismayed that those corporations are funding college chairs, politicians, museums and influencing research and public opinion to cover up dirty practices. We agreed that campaign finance reform would help. I shared my personal political theme, which is to live lightly on the planet, channel your spending dollars as best you can to companies that care about the world and the little guy and vote for who you think is best. Oh, and don’t watch the news cuz it’ll drive you crazy. That’s all we can really do to affect change and stay sane besides raising our kids right and living by example, right? Jean watched patiently near by. She’s learning that chatting up strangers is the way I roll.

Bronze replica of the Prayer Pole originally carved in 2006 from the "Gateway Alder Tree" by Russell Beebe, Native American carver, honoring the First Nations of the Rogue River Valley.

Bronze replica of the Prayer Pole originally carved in 2006 from the “Gateway Alder Tree” by Russell Beebe, Native American carver, honoring the First Nations of the Rogue River Valley.

The sushi restaurant was yummy. Creepy adult man/young boy scenario next table over though. Obviously didn’t know each other. They went to the bathroom together and Jean and I immediately shared our dark thoughts, trying hard to attribute it to a infrequently visited uncle? No. Too many odd questions about parents to be an uncle. Cancer kid and wish list volunteer taking him to eat sushi? No, there was hair under the kids cap so not a chemo receiver. We settled on a Big Brother program. I couldn’t resist on our way out asking the boy how he liked his sushi (he did). Then I brazenly snuck in the “how do you know each other?” question to which they replied, “Oh, we just met!” Ahhhhh! Jean and I fled, hoping for the best. Lol.

Click on image to zoom in and read the sign.

Click image to zoom in.

Click images to zoom in and read.

IMG_9079We walked through lovely Lithia Park afterwards. 96 acres along the Ashland creek that the locals are lucky to have. There are local springs infused with Lithium which are supposed to be good to soak in, hence the name. There were dinner picnickers, late playground families, a few feral travelers, and couples enjoying the warm evening. We met one couple and started chatting. Turns out they were going to New Orleans later in the year. I gave them my blog address because she wanted tips.

They also warned us of fires near tomorrow’s drive. Good tip because our windy road over the coastal range was going to take all day so being turned around due to fire wouldn’t have been fun. After a quick ice cream and a photo of a guy with a beautiful face painting, we made it back to the hotel. I hit the hot tub while Jean checked fire info. Looked ok. Bed. Two more days before I’m home!

An Ashlandian

An Ashlandian

P.S. Pulled Pork Sundae: Take plastic milkshake cup, layer garlic mashed potatoes, pulled pork, more mashed pots, green beans, more pork, one last mashed potato mounded like ice cream, drizzle with BBQ sauce and top it with a cherry tomato. Yum!

Day 3 ~ 9/9/15: Ashland to Eureka via the State of Jefferson. (AKA “A State of Mind”)

Well, Jean and I enjoyed Ashland immensely. As I overheard one young woman say to her friend in a yearning voice, “I wanna live here!” I love where I live but this is a great place to visit. Next time I’ll try to take in a stage play. It’s not just Shakespeare anymore.

Jean grabbed me some breakkie items (Australian slang. Lol. Picked up a lot, or heaps as they say, in my time there.) This was a great hotel, it’s crowning glory was the intelligent approach to the room doors. Permit me to perhaps join your sentiments in detesting heavy, awkward hotel room doors that one has to wrestle with to hold open while you try to tame a belligerent trolley or persnickety luggage. The room cleaners hate them too.

As a handicapped person either in a scooter or walker I am fed up!!! Not going to take it anymore!! Hotel chains and associations will feel my wrath when I get home! Don’t even get me started in the damn card keys that literally do not work 20% or more of the time so you have to go back to the desk for new ones, etcetera.

Do you feel me? I know you know. Ok, seriously. The Stratford had an evenly weighted door, and a little magnetized thing on the bottom corner that marries the receptor on the inside wall SO IT HOLDS THE DOOR OPEN. No brainer, right? Happy clients, happy handicapped, happy cleaning and maintenance staff. Duh! Plus they have REAL keys. Heaven.

Ah, that felt good to rant. 142 days and 52 different beds on the road can do that to a person. I have, however, discovered the secret to the damn trolleys. The two wheels at one end are fixed and only go straight. The two other wheels can pivot and give you directionality. This doesn’t help in elevators or backing out of rooms because suddenly you’re facing the wrong direction to have control. I think it’s a sneaky Buddhist rap on the knuckles to test our vanity that we are masters of our destiny. Lol. I can laugh because that’s a perk of having traveling companions to help the handicap chick!!! (Bwahaha!)

Meanwhile, back in Ashland…(I know my posts are getting longer but today was very fun so do read on! Relax! Enjoy the journey!) we made a quick stop to pick up something Jean saw in a store to take home and we were off. Nipped down the I-5 some until almost to the town of Yreka, speculating on it’s historical reason for spelling it so. My thought was that illiterate miners had just spelled it the way they thought Eureka should be (sounding like yer-eeka!) but who knows? Google, probably. Isn’t modern day cool? We have such information literally at our fingertips with the Internet. If we have cell service. I need to devote a whole post to the raging inadequacies of AT&T.

Starting to follow the Klamath River into The State of Jefferson

Starting to follow the Klamath River into The State of Jefferson

We turned on to Hwy. 96 to follow the swiftly running Klamath River, flowing even now in the beginning of August. Our world tightened into a winding river valley between the small mountains thinly covered with pine. A few homes followed the river banks, finding any flat land they could. These weren’t holiday homes, but seemed like long-standing residents looking to get away from the world a bit. Which speaks to some of the mindset up here.

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Part of northern California and southern Oregon would like to break away from their respective states that they feel ignore their needs, and become The State of Jefferson. Over the history of our nation a few territories and such have sought to honor our third president who opened up the West and made the Louisiana Purchase. Indeed, the man himself wanted to create a separate republic on the west coast. I’m not sure what his reasoning was. There are those in the Pacific Northwest today who agree and want to secede, but they call themselves Cascadians.

The Jeffersonians simply want to form another state of the Union. The movement surged forward in 1941 but the death if it’s leader and the advent of Americas involvement in WW2 unfocused it. Recently many counties in Northern California have reintroduced the issue, although to date, the more populated southern Oregon counties haven’t embraced it.

So it was with great interest that we ventured into this land of mavericks by heading down the Great State of Jefferson Scenic Byway that follows the Klamath River. As with any foreign land, or unfamiliar territory, one looks for clues to the local culture. There was a house with a series of stacked rocks. Could that mean something?

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Pulling into one of the very few small towns, we saw lots of signs demanding “NO MONUMENT”. Hmm. Had to pull over at the local hub minimart to see what was up. They displayed the State of Jefferson logo in a large sign out front. Two X’s meant to represent the disassociation Northern California and southern Oregon feel from state governments in Sacramento and Salem.

The cashier sniggered when I said I was happy to be in Jefferson, but she was friendly. Said two years ago there was outside talk of making the area a national monument. She wasn’t sure why or what happened with the proposal, just that everyone was pissed off because they’d lose their land rights after the current owners died and therefore couldn’t pass their homes onto their heirs. That would piss me off too!

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Jefferson would be a dangerous place to live. The area is dry and hot even though timbered and mountainous. Evidence of past and recent fires continued as we passed by. For a great deal of the time our view was hazy and it thickened badly coming around another few bends. We could smell smoke and even see it wafting across the road not far ahead. It must have been close, up in the hills. We passed an “Incident Base” sign. I’m sad to say that was the fourth or fifth I’ve seen on the Odyssey. They are helicopter and fire fighter bases, dotted with tents for the fire crews and water trucks supplying the choppers.

 

IMG_9131After that the air cleared and we seemed past it. The only danger we encountered then were dare-devil chipmunks who seem determined to dash in front of the van whenever we pulled off the road to try and access the river or use a camp ground restroom. There was the spiky yellow flower that poked my ankle on the way to one too. Jeffersonians must be a tough lot. I know this because there was another danger loose here: Bigfoot.

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Oh yes. Over half way down the Great State of Jefferson Scenic Byway (i.e. too late to backtrack) there’s a cheerful highway sign alerting you that you are now on the Bigfoot Highway as well. The local signage is much more realistic and ominous. There’s a mural map outlining his ranging habitat and a life-size replica made of metal, perhaps as a sign to him that they believe he exists so please don’t wreck the village, thanks. Travelers beware.

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The 15′ creature himself!

There were a few native peoples back in here, too. A couple towns that seemed to be dominated by the two tribes we saw signs for. The Karuk in Orleans and Happy Camp, and then the Yurok around the village of Hoopa. We saw evidence of casino profits being put to good use in schools, sports facilities, housing, community centers, outreach services, medical facilities and I’m sure much more we couldn’t see from the road. There seemed like a real sense of grass roots recovery by these historically and brutally marginalized peoples so decimated by invaders, disease and government policies.

The advantages from casino money available to the young tribal members today in education, job opportunities, and cultural pride I hope will resurrect these ancient peoples. There were a few men from an older generation in evidence hanging around drinking. Their world was no doubt bleaker growing up and they seem like a lost fringe of yesteryear.

But I met a fantastic man in South Dakota, recovering from drugs and alcohol, and finding a purpose with his ancient tribal dances so I think the unblending of this melting pot we call America is helping. By that I mean the reclaiming of one’s heritage instead of the old way immigrants had where it was thought you had to completely shed your roots and “Speak English now, you’re in America!” or the Eurocentric ideas that indigenous peoples should be barred from their language and rituals. I see their returning pride and hope that they will continue to flourish.

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Their new found wealth may be giving them clout. It wasn’t until I was looking over my pictures taken from the van that I realized there was a controversy between the predominantly white folk at the eastern end of the Byway and the tribal dominated towns further in. Where we had seen “No Monument” there were a few signs saying not to remove the dam. The cashier I’d spoken too was cagey about that, or maybe she just didn’t know. I suggested it might be about reestablishing salmon runs and she had shrugged and said maybe, looking uncomfortable. When I saw a mural promoting dam removal in a tribal area it made me wonder but I never found out. I guess with all states there are two sides to a story and bipartisanism.

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We got closer to the coast and the air got noticeably cooler. I think the Humbolt Bay Area considers itself part of The Great State of Jefferson now, although it was not part of the original 1941 proposition, but it has a slightly different vibe than inland. The town of Eureka on the coast looks like it is a working fishing town for one, as well as local hub and traveler stop over. The historic downtown is very nice, if sparsely peopled. It may just have been the fact it was a Sunday evening.

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We Yelped a restaurant that looked fantastic, so good we couldn’t get a table! Option #2 turned out to be great though, and the last great dinner of The American Odyssey Tour was shared with my last great companion of the trip, Jean-Marie. It’s been short but we’ve been having some great conversations and the journey home has been sweet and easy.

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Back at the hotel I hit my last hotel hot tub. The hottest yet! Nice finish to a series of American hotels. I wrote a bit before bed. I must now add one Utopian State of Mind to the 32 U.S States and two Canadian Provinces on the American Odyssey Tour. OMG. Home tomorrow!

My Facebook post Aug. 9: The final great restaurant (we hope!) of 🗽 The American Odyssey Tour. Wow. What a journey! Home tomorrow. The kittehs are going to flip. I know they think I’m dead. LOL.

THE FINAL POST OF THE AMERICAN ODYSSEY TOUR

Aug. 10, 2015 ~ Day 142:
How can I write about the last day of this amazing Odyssey? I’m a delta of mixed emotions spreading out from the rushing flow of this adventure. I am slowing and filtering and finding my seabed again.

I smell the Pacific and the humic redwood forests towering above my path and know I am near home. I am thrilled to reunite with my animal and human companions. I am sad to leave the journey. I hold dear the sights and sensations of the past four and a half months, the 16,000 miles, the 32.5 States, (see previous post!) and 2 Canadian Provinces, my entire family, over 30 old classmates, many old friends and a few old lovers. I enjoyed meeting everyone I could and giving out my blog address. I have seen and done SO MUCH—bucket list, nostalgic, and by chance. How can that be distilled? Perhaps it can’t.

I can at least give profuse thanks to the friends and family who rode with me or joined the Odyssey, or put me up en route or both. Ginger & Cameron, Blake & Lindsey, Betty, Mike & Rebecca, Jennifer, Shari, Sr. Madeline, Louise, Brooke & JT, Janice & Linda, Julia & Audrey, Stacey, Cheri, Dina, Garine, Jennifer, Devon, Monte, Rachel, Gale & John & Robert, Terra & Dean & Tré, Susan, Kate, Anette & Andy, Robbie, George, and Jean-Marie. Thank you also to Lindsay who kept the home fires burning and acted as my proxy for business matters, and to Kathy for stepping in as my research assistant when I was in the wilds of South Dakota and in need. How can I ever tell y’all how much your part in the Odyssey was essential to its success? Or how I cherish you all in my heart? Thank you.

❤️

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The last day’s drive was familiar and heart-warming. Redwoods to rolling, honey-colored hills dotted with oak trees, vineyards, familiar towns. I dropped off super companion Jean (efficient, quick-thinking, kind, fun) at her house half an hour from mine and appropriately drove by myself the last 30 miles home. I had left the same way at the beginning to pick up Ginger and Cameron at San Francisco Airport on March 22nd. That sounds so long ago.

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I reduced my speed and slipped into the slow lane, listening to a Pat Methany CD I used to play over two decades ago when traveling and camping by myself. It makes me think of the open road and mountain ranges. It was surreal turning onto my street. The yard man, Lupe, was at the house and greeted me. My good friend Jan had opened the house up and helped me to unpack. It was great to see them.

Now as I rest at home, feeling disoriented at the strange familiarity, brimming with memories, brain dead tired, I simply take pleasure in the happiness of our cats who seemed to always believe I’d be back and needing their sweet kisses.

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I’m slowly putting things away and approaching the mountain of mail and other obligations. When I tire I rest and enjoy catching up on TV I’ve ignored happily for so long. I think less TV and more creativity is in my future. However, I’m binging on a couple old faves, and Game of Thrones which my nephew infected me with, and have just watched my first episode of House of Cards because Linds got Netflix while I was gone. Uh-oh!

My favorite thing that I’m saving for last will be to open all the swag bags of little souvenirs I procured on the trip. It will be like Christmas!

Thank to my friends for following my posts, living vicariously, checking in, giving feedback and making me feel connected and happy to have you along for the ride. Special shout out to my Facebook “regulars”. You know who you are. Y’all are the BEST! And spend entirely too much time on Facebook like I do. LOL!

Ain’t life grand?!?!
Much love to ALL, 😘
Kim

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[Leg #10 is a long one, covering the three weeks Robyn Scott and I traveled together from Chicago to Vancouver, so I’ve split it up into more manageable sections. This is the last one. Click on any image to see closer. – kf]

Forest fire smoke over Kamloops, B.C. late July 2016

Forest fire smoke over Kamloops, B.C. August 2016

Day 20 (8/3/15) Kamloops to Vancouver, British Columbia:

Our hotel rooms in Kamloops, British Columbia looked out over the smokey dusk last night toward Kamloops Lake. Fires near here. The drought isn’t helping. As I was sitting by the open porch door enjoying the hazy evening I spied the room’s phone book and on a whim looked in it to see if there were any folk with my last name. I think those murals in Vernon earlier showing the cultural backgrounds of their inhabitants made me wonder about the 5 brothers my great-grandfather was supposed to have sailed with from Alsace-Lorraine. That’s the last of the family lore tells us of them so I sometimes wonder what happened. There weren’t any in the phone book but around where it should be I noticed a “Furher, D.” Was this a joke?? Dee Furher? Some parents really don’t think through the consequences of their kids names.

West of Kamloops

West of Kamloops

Semi arid but beautiful

Semi arid but beautiful

We had a choice of routes down to Vancouver today as our alter egos, Clark and Lewis, and our search for the Pacific (again). We picked the longer one, keeping to the TransCanada Highway, or TC1. There are rivers through here making their way to the sea from the glacial lands we’ve left behind, but the land is very dry and these are desert mountains. The haze weakens and strengthens as wind bring us evidence of fires or sweep it away. The road is quieter with less trucks and there aren’t many people living out here either. Not as much for the tourists to do so the economy seems low.

Smoke haze increasing again.

Smoke haze increasing again.

Can smell the smoke now and barely see close mountains

Can smell the smoke now and barely see close mountains

Can see the fires now across the river.

Can see the fires now, but they are across the river which is out of sight below. Hope embers don’t jump the water.

Finally we got nearer the coastal ranges and the terrain became prettier and more wooded. We hit the smokiest part of our journey so far and even saw the fires smoldering on the hillside across a river at one point. We passed a large base camp filled with tents for the fire fighters, and a field with about four helicopters and water trucks to supply them. Later we passed a truck siphoning water up from the river to supply the base.

Fire fighters are heroes

Fire fighters are heroes

 

Upwind of fires now.

Upwind of fires now.

Closer to Vancouver environs the commerce picks up and we began to see signs for those crazy Canadian hybrid restaurants. I had told Robyn about them at the beginning of our Canadian foray but she didn’t believe me because they were scarce until now. All at once we encountered plenty: “Chinese Food & Canadian Cuisine”. “Pizza & Tandoori”. “Fish and Chips & Sushi”. You can not make this stuff up. What the heck is Canadian cuisine? Even the state signs got a bit loopy. “Food Rest Area”. What? Let your food stretch it’s legs a bit or take a quick nap I guess. The traffic got very slow so we pulled over somewhere and lucked upon a Greek restaurant that also succumbed to the same mish mash of cuisines. After basically Greek food we ordered some Polish stuffed cabbage and pirogies to go for leftovers.

Past the Breakfast all day and the authentic Greek food, what the heck...let's throw in a few other ethic cuisines!

Past the Breakfast all day and the authentic Greek food, what the heck…let’s throw in a few other ethic cuisines!

Finally Clark & Lewis emerged out of the woods and mountains and found the Pacific! No more trading trinkets for information, we needed to save up to buy real estate. But no, the Chinese fleeing Hong Kong before the English lease was up and it reverted to Communist China have snapped it all up. Darn. Instead, we did the next best thing and rented an Airbnb apartment in downtown, diving right into the deep end of high-density, urban living. We are ending Leg #10, the International Portion of the North American Odyssey Tour, in grand style on the 32nd floor. I am transfixed by the view. Surprisingly quiet too. If this were NYC it would be deafening. From amongst the skyscrapers we could see the bay, Fraser River and mountains beyond. Sweet! The quiet and glimpses of greenery will help us transition from our time in the wilderness.

Urban living in gorgeous Vancouver

Urban living in gorgeous Vancouver

It was sunset by the time we got our gear in and stepped onto the little porch to soak it all in. Lovely, balmy night. The apartment was warm but there was a nice breeze outside. We could look down to our high-rise’s fire pits, water features, and shrubbery in the plaza below, and the tall buildings arcing around us as their lights came on. What a difference from the past two weeks! And completely enchanting.

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Day 21 (8/4/15) Vancouver, British Columbia:

The heat had built up yesterday in our southwest facing, 32nd-floor apartment. At arrival yesterday we had opened all the windows and I slept with mine open because there was no air conditioning or possibility of cross breezes. I got used to the night noises, so different from the past days in the mountains and plains. But earplugs and an eye mask are my friends.

Groggy, I sat on the cool porch and soaked up early morning downtown living. I loved being this high up. I watched seagulls wheel from above and below and around the skyscrapers, waiting for them to appear on the other side, high above the traffic. I wonder what birds think of our cars. We follow each other on roadways, so do they think we are a flock following one another on a set route of our own internal compasses? They wouldn’t be far off. Our peopled sidewalks must look like trails of determined ants to them from above. Is that what we are somewhat? We are just as industrious. I just learned we share another trait with ants as being the only species to enslave others. Weird, but true. Ants use aphids for their own ends. What a world. Musings over, it was time to get down to street level.

View of downtown from Stanley Park

View of downtown from Stanley Park

Got on my scooter, downstairs and across the block before realizing I’d forgotten to charge the battery. Rats! I was a bit worried about the brain drop outs. Made it back to the apartment. Plan B. Got my walker and we took the van to Stanley Park. Robbie drove and I was the navigator. Cruised downtown a bit, amazed at all the high rise apartment buildings that have gone up since I was here 15 years ago. I heard back then that the outpouring of immigrants from Hong Kong when it reverted to China created a demand and drove property values higher. But maybe these high rises aren’t just due to those Chinese. Traditionally, many Canadians yearn for “Van City”. The milder climate, the cosmopolitan hipness, the surrounding scenery and outdoor sport are all big draws to land-locked and frozen Canadians.

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Stanley Park sits like a solitaire diamond in a setting just off of the downtown sprawl. It’s almost an island connected by a causeway to downtown, and a bridge comes off it’s north side and goes over the bay to the mountainous lands that give the city its lovely, tall backdrop and provide a rugged outdoor playground. We did a spin through the vehicle-accessible, eastern part of the 1,001 acre park, eating up the views of the harbor and city, the bay and mountains and the luxurious forested peace of the park itself. It’s bigger than the 843 acre Central Park in NYC, and just 16 acres smaller than Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, but what sets it apart is that it’s barely been changed by landscape architects or planners, looking much as it has to the human inhabitants for thousands of years, give or take the vagaries of nature. Three windstorms in the past 100 years have spoken to that. Although there’s been some urban development like an aquarium, miniature train, sports oval, outdoor theater, a rose garden and other features, there is also half a million trees, some quite tall, reaching 250′. People are proud of the seawall with it’s walkway. A masonry feat taking many decades because they could only work at low tide, it is 22 kilometers in length, making it the longest waterfront walkway. Runners heaven, and there were lots. Better than a treadmill at a gym.

AAA trolley rides

AAA trolley rides

Robyn with the horseys

Robyn with the horseys

Robyn had spotted draft-horse-drawn trolleys offering tours and we opted for that. It was a leisurely pace, clopping through the woods and along the shoreline, past the indigenous totem poles, hearing Vancouver’s history and a breakdown of the day to day lives of the humanely treated horses, watching the float planes take off on the bay. I sat next to Chinese speaking tourists with their young daughter. The father was impressed I knew how to say hello, “Ni hao,” and thank you, “xié xié”. Now I need to learn “good bye”. Slowing down to see more of a place and interacting with people is the way to go, as well as letting chance sometimes rule the day. I’m glad I didn’t have a rigid agenda on my travels besides a few basics. It has meant that there’s no flow to go against and it all unfolds as it will, like this trolley ride. Spur of the moment whims abound and there’s no stress to make a plan happen or disappointment if it doesn’t.

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Looking north from Stanley Park.

Looking north from Stanley Park.

"Girl in a Wetsuit"

“Girl in a Wetsuit”

Hungry now, we patted the horses goodbye and reentered the fray, dodging downtown rush hour to get to Gastown. This is old town Vancouver, and is the hip cultural epicenter. Fashion, art, music, bars, restaurants, and urban living space keep revitalizing this area. Robyn had Yelped us a highly rated dinner spot, TUC Kraft Kitchen on W. Cordova between Abbott and Casall. It was either that or La Brasserie, but we ended up here. While waiting for Robyn to park the van after dropping me off out front, I had a conversation with Kayla the hostess who was going for the first time to Europe for 80 days. She picked that length, in part, to build in lots of whimsy time which I think is a perfect way to travel.

The restaurant filled with hipsters and we had good hard ciders, a “crackling” that got me drooling for my English aunt’s crunchy version but was really just fried pork belly, not true skin crackling at all, but still nice, with a delicious dipping sauce. Braised beef cheeks, potatoes au gratin that really was just potatoes with cheese sprinkled on top (misnomers seem to be a theme here) and flavorful wilted spinach. Robyn had the pork loin which looked more like a butt (following the theme) but good. Tasty galette for dessert. The restaurant provided a great last supper together even if the actual dishes took poetic license with their definitions. Robbie is off home to Australia tomorrow.

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On the way back to our high-rise Airbnb we noticed and liked all the downtown greenery tucked in here and there on sidewalks, roofs and terraces of the buildings. Once on our own porch we watched the sunset, dusk, twilight and night descend over skyscrapers, mountains and bay. We were close to other buildings but not hemmed in, so the views were stunning. It has been so fun for me to “live” in such an urban setting for a couple days, before making the final push down through the Pacific Northwest back home to California.

Day 22 (8/5/15) Last Day of Leg #10 and Interim before Leg #11. Vancouver, British Columbia to Seattle, WA, USA:

Lay in bed listening to the sounds that wafted up to my 32nd floor bedroom. Mostly the rising thrum and fading attenuation of the electric train pulling in and out of the Chinatown/Stadium stop below. There’s a steady but low roar of traffic, pierced occasionally by faint back-up warning beeps, emergency services sirens, the rare horn or souped up engine. Seagulls called and cruise ships bellowed their harbor presence. Sudden laughter or muffled bits of conversations from neighboring balconies seem close as we are amongst living space as well as commercial office space. 49,000 people in one square mile! But I think that statistic is closer to the tip of the peninsula nearer to Stanley park where I saw all the new high rise apartments. At our southern end near the stadium it’s a tad more spaced, which gives us great views.

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Wrote up some of my notes on this lazy, cloudy morning. It was to be a big day ahead, dropping off Robyn at the airport and me going to Seattle and then all the way home soon so I’m resting. I can’t believe I’m less than a week from finishing this Odyssey and going home. Wow.

We didn’t have to be out of the Airbnb until 3pm so I took advantage of the hot tub in the adjoining amenities building. Nice and hot. I am a total knucklehead though because I wore my bathing attire down there with a fleece vest to counteract the cool temps on the terrace I had to cross, then forgot to take the vest off in the tub! Oh dear. I’m afraid this trip has really eaten into my brainpower.

After packing up, Robyn wrestled the gear for the last time into the van and we wound our way out of the underground parking labyrinth. I’m still learning the tricks of Garmin the GPS so we were stymied in locating the Airport because it needed a street address and since fascist AT&T want to charge me international rates of $16 per MB (usually accounting for just one page of Internet) I’ll be damned if I’ll pay that to look up the numerical address of the bloody airport.

So we resorted to a real map. After getting lost, because street signs rarely help the traveler looking for a road that’s seems to have another name on the map or some other confusion, I pulled over and devoted some one-on-one, touchy-feely time with Garmin who suddenly was quite happy to tell us where the airport was after I told it to look for Points of Interest. *sigh* We had inadvertently pulled over in old Chinatown which cleared up my wonderment as to why our Airbnb area called itself Chinatown when it simply wasn’t. I’ve lived in L.A. and know San Francisco’s Chinatown and it didn’t have any characteristics of a Chinatown. Maybe it used to be that but they moved out to the suburbs. But our lost meandering had found the red-pagoda-lamp-post, turned-up-roof-edge, Chinese-language-signs, cultural and commercial buildings area I was more used to.

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So, an hour and a half after we left the building…and we pulled up to the airport’s swanky Fairmont Hotel, Robyn’s final splurge so she could just roll out of bed and practically into the plane at 6am. On the way we had a hilarious conversation pretending to be one of the wealthiest, upper crust, old money families of Vancouver, lamenting over the changes we’d seen in our lifetime. Had to be there. Suffice to say we have similar humor and bounce of each other quite easily and crack ourselves up a lot. Which is why it’s so hard to say goodbye. Promises of future trips helps. We’ve already plotted a couple scenarios. Now to save up! First things first though and I must try to curb my use of exclamation points.

I left Vancouver at rush hour. Brilliant bit of planning there. Darn you Garmin. Actually, heading south wasn’t too bad. It was the border into the U.S. that was snarled. Waited maybe half an hour but then got through. I noticed increased security, lots of cameras looking at you, the car, license plate, god knows what else, probably X-ray. Gave me a chance to eat a hard-boiled egg, some crackers and dive into my 2nd to last bag of salted, roasted pecans from Chillicothe, Texas. Yum. My car dining poncho is so handy to keep me clean as I am a total grot and the BiPAP makes food sail out of my mouth at times. Ha!

Pulled over for a hot cider half way to Seattle at a surprisingly late open coffee drive-thru hut. It was called Foxy Lady or something which I didn’t really pay to much attention to until I pulled up to the window and was greeted by a pretty blond with lots of tattoos and in a tiny bikini. I wasn’t sure what to make of that so I asked her if she owned the place. She said no but she managed it, and was planning on opening one of her own. Did they make her wear the bikini? I asked. Well, yes, she said, it was weird at first but everyone was nice and if someone was disrespectful she refused them service. She was used to it after six years. She was gutsy because she’s off aways from anything open and the gas station next door has trees obscuring her so I don’t think I’d feel safe. I gave her a good tip.

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Started to rain outside Seattle but the last dusk peeked in spots and downtown looked cool all lit up. I’d missed rush hour so although it was city busy it wasn’t slow. Rain made it a bit hard but Garmin got me to George’s over in West Seattle. All in all, I am so grateful Susan Heine gave me this GPS thingy. It was good to see George and collapse at his pad after some catching up. Sweetie gave up his bedroom for me and gave me a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker. It’s good to land at a friend’s house!

[Leg #10 is a long one, covering the three weeks Robyn Scott and I traveled together, so I’m splitting it up into more manageable sections – kf]

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Castle Crag as seen from Hwy. 1A between Canmore and Lake Louise.

Day 17 (7/31/15) Canadian Rockies, Alberta:

Really needed that day of rest yesterday. The first real one since Day 3 in Chicago, which now seems a lifetime ago. Still feeling lazy we got a late start from our condo in Canmore. I was really looking forward to sight-seeing today as we were going to one of my favorite places on earth, Lake Moraine. I had first encountered it when I brought my mother up to this area eight years ago on what was to be our last international trip before she passed away. We were on a bus tour and they whisked us away too soon for my liking so I always wanted to try and go back. Today I could stay much longer.

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Click on any photos here to see up close

Since the advertised free park pass at the condo was not to be found, we got our Banff National Park pass for $18.50CAD at the toll booth on the TransCanada Hwy. 1. The road was clogged with RV’s, trucks and motorists so we got off and took adjacent Hwy. 1A, on the other side of the Bow River, hoping to have a less peopled route and see animals. No animal sightings as it was midday but it was calmer and we had lots of stunning glimpses of the powdery blue river, it’s color derived from glacial sediments ground out of the Rockies.

Bow River from Hwy. 1A

Bow River from Hwy. 1A

We took the Lake Louise exit then a side branch off to Lake Moraine. Have you ever gone some where and instantly had an intense connection and love of the place? It is almost like a past life was lived there or you’re in the presence of a manifested god. With all my traveling, that has only happened to me a few times, and Lake Moraine is one of them. It enchants me to no end. It is a glacially fed, small, L-shaped body of water that you can only see the long arm of the ‘L’ unless you hike or boat around the tree-studded point. Across the water, alarmingly close, are 10 mountain peaks standing over 10,000 feet high. An early, white explorer had respect for the local First Nation tribe and named the mountains from the numbers 1-10 in their local Nakoda dialect. They peopled the prairies and mountains here and were his guides. Sadly to me, now all but three have been renamed. The area here is called Valley of the Ten Peaks and was on an old issue Canadian $20 bill.

Gone! Shy grizzly disappears into the trees.

Gone! Shy grizzly disappears into the trees.

Just before we got there we saw a young grizzly! He was headed up a steep, grassy slope towards a curve in the highway, but the traffic spooked him and by the time we pulled over and Robyn ran back to get a picture he was back down at the tree-line and then gone. But it’s our second bear sighting and very exciting because it was a grizzly.

Then on to my favorite lake. Just to sit by her waters fills my heart. They are milky blue due to the refraction of the light off the ‘rock flour’ deposited by the glacial run-off. I scootered down the lake side trail a bit, but it’s rough and I couldn’t go far. One day I’ll take a boat around that point and go where there is solitude, at least for me and my helper. I’m a bit wary of climbing into a canoe with my BiPAP machine. Haven’t worked out a safe method to cover emergencies with that yet. But I’ll think on it. Maybe give it its own waterproof inner tube. Me in a life-jacket tied to the inner tube and I’m golden. Where there’s a will, there’s way, right? I am living proof. Ha!

Approaching Lake Moraine, the first few of the Ten Peaks revealed.

Approaching Lake Moraine, the first few of the Ten Peaks revealed.

The lake is at the end of the road and pleasingly devoid of commerce. There’s one lodge that was booked up when I looked into it ages ago (good thing because it’s expensive!) and a gift shop. Tour busses come and go, but the place is so serene it doesn’t really matter. I chatted with a few people while Robyn hiked around some. Then I headed for the gift shop. There was no handicap access but I left my scooter at the bottom of the stairs and a nice clerk named Blake helped carry my BiPAP while I slowly walked up the flight of stairs and around the store. Got a few things and had a nice chat with the cashiers. Since I tell everyone that I’m on this trip, I get into some interesting conversations. Sometimes I give them the “words are important” pep talk that they can do anything (like travel) if they just decide to go. My blog address cards get handed out frequently, too, as I’ve got the travelogue of the Odyssey going up there after Facebook and hope to inspire people to just follow their dreams.

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Eventually I tore myself away from my special lake, reminded again of how compared to the time it takes to drive somewhere that short visits seem slightly insane. Although so far, it’s not been in my nature to just go to one spot and stay awhile then go home. I just want to see so much of the world! Back up the road we went to Lake Louise. The famous and expensive Fairmont hotel is there right on the lake. Mom and I indulged and stayed a couple nights after our bus tour, with stunning views of the lake and glacier from our room and even our bathroom. There’s a good, paved path to scooter on that goes about a two thirds of the way up one side, mountains rising up on the other. It’s a larger lake and less protected so there was a cold wind coming off the receding glacier at the far end. I stopped at a little rivulet to watch a chipmunk strip seeds off a flowering weed. They are daring little imps that explore campsites, don’t mind you getting a bit close, and on less traveled back roads will do these mad dashes in front of your vehicle that scare the hell out of you but they always make it. No frights for us today, though, just splendidness.

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Chateau Fairmont Lake Louise

Chateau Fairmont Lake Louise

Day 18 (8/1/15) Canmore, Alberta to Mt. Revelstoke, British Columbia:

Leaving the majesty of the Canadian Rockies takes willpower but we were weaning ourselves by staying tonight in it’s western foothills at Mt. Revelstoke. So, back onto TransCanada Hwy.1 and up to reach our turnoff to the west. Our purchased pass to get into Banff National Park was still good from yesterday, which was handy because you have to go through it to reach the road going west. It actually worked out that the condo people had forgotten our free pass because we had ours from yesterday and if we’d had to have given the free pass back we would have had to pay to go back through the park as it was the only route for us. The condo cleaner had met us and reimbursed me for the pass, too! So it ended well.

On our drive through the mountains we saw more of the Canadian version of deer warning signs that were ringed with reflectors, which Robbie has christened ”disco deer” signs. Other sights included eagles. Canadian geese, more trees and mountains, and trees and mountains. This side of the Rockies makes a big deal about the Spiral Tunnels cut into the cliffs for roadbeds, and yes it was an engineering marvel at the time, but today is a weird non attraction. Get out of car, see tiny tunnel far away from viewpoint, shrug and get back into car. More interesting was a side route in Yolo National Park to see thundering Takakkaw Falls which we just could not wrap our tongues around. “Tak-ak-ak-kak-ka-kow uh uh?” Ahhh, fuggedaboutit.

We were twisted with hairpin switchback roads and an insane driver who passed us on a curve and nearly got pushed off the mountain by oncoming traffic, scaring everyone. Idiot. Dead end road, too, so we were all going to the same place. Ugh. Turned out to be a huge SUV filled to the brim with visiting Indians or Pakistanis which we could tell from their clothing. I guess they drive like that in India, but gee, he had women and children in the car! We had to Zen out. Luckily it was a beautiful day and once there the waters did their magic.

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We were hungry so we had a picnic first by the river. When the table next to us became vacant and Robbie went for a walk, it was peaceful enough for a little marmot to come out and scrounge for scraps. S/he must have been waiting tin the bushes next to that table. I’ve noticed that if you stay still awhile, the animals come out. I saw Robbie approaching and gave her the “shhh” signal so she could creep up and see the critter, too. She loves animals and it’s always fun to see new ones in a foreign country.

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The path is paved to the bridge over the river and although in need of repair to make it totally smooth for wheelchairs and scooters, it is attemptable and I barreled onto it without getting stuck. My scooter is taking some abuse on this trip but holding out. The path to the falls was easy to negotiate and you can hear it’s roar from before the bridge. It is intense like ones in Yellowstone, high falling water pounding the rocks below so that a fierce mist wafts all around you before you even get close. It felt nice after the 90F degree temps today. The path stops with a good view of it about 150-200 yards away. Others chose to scramble over rocks to get closer. I watched the water. I love how you can pick a bit of water coming over the edge and imagine that you are following it with your eyes all the way down and onto the rocks below, counting the seconds it takes for that bit to reach bottom. The Cree word for the falls that we couldn’t pronounce means “It is magnificent”.

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On the way out Robyn was temporarily driving in Australia so I had to coach her away from the left side of road. Now we were the road menace! Back in the right lane and on to Mt. Revelstoke and our hotel. After checking in, I used the info magazine on the area I’d picked up in Pincher Creek to good effect and found a great Sushi joint downtown called Kawakubo. I’m wary of sushi so far from the sea but this place was great. A couple interesting diversions from basic sushi bar menus, so we enjoyed it very much. Back at our resort I hit the basement hot tub while Robyn tried the inaccessible to the handicapped outdoor tub under the stars. It’s ok. I had the basement to myself and was thankful we had gained an hour entering Pacific Standard Time so I could have a good soak before it closed.

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Day 19 (8/2/15) Mt. Revelstoke to Kamloops, British Columbia:

We were packing up the van to leave Mt. Revelstoke this morning when some rich folk arrived by helicopter at the hotel. Swankers! I originally made up that word to mean swanky people, but now that I’m writing up my notes from this Leg, I realize it could mean posh wankers. LOL! Well, they did look very pleased with themselves for arriving by helicopter.

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Today we weren’t going too far, continuing our slow descent from the Rockies on our Clark and Lewis renewed search for the Pacific. We were following rivers coming off the glaciers behind us, winding down the foothills in tight little wooded valleys. There was steady opposing traffic since this was a long holiday weekend for Canadians and a prime destination for people coming up from Vancouver. Wedged off one bend of the highway was a very tacky tourist spot called Enchanted Forest with gaudy signs luring bored kids tired of seeing one more stupid mountain. Their parking lot spilled over with RV’s and harried parents. Finally the terrain flattened somewhat and we passed the long lake of Salmon Arm, where we turned off the TransCanada highway.

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Salmon Creek road was our quick side trip to the edge of the Okanagans area before turning back up to reach our evening destination of Kamloops. We passed through rural farmlands filling a long valley. Fields of hay and corn, grouse flushed from their peace by our van, cows loitering around dairies. Family farms looked like they had been inhabited for generations judging by the proudly rusting generations of family cars and trucks in the field out back, This would be the place to find old classics to refurbish. For Sale signs, too, and evidence of fires having swept through over the years. It was very hot again today, in the 90’s F, and the land looked dry where it wasn’t irrigated. East of the Rockies I saw lush rainfall to the point of flooding. Here on the west side they are suffering drought, and the raging fires all over western Canada and America have cast a permanent smoky pall.

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We pulled into Vernon, at the top end of the large lake nestled in the Okanagan hills. This was as far as we would explore, as it was just a whim detour and the day was already lengthening. The town had a lot of murals that seemed to honor the different immigrant populations here. Nice.

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We cruised to the main street downtown, hoping to find a decent restaurant there, and sure enough the Naked Pig lured us in with their board out front advertising BBQ, craft beer, and other foodie signals like ‘locally sourced’. It did not disappoint! Slow and low smoked meats. We both got the brisket French dip. OMG. Very flavorful, and the au jus part! Robbie said they should just serve that with bread as an appetizer. The sides were nice too. I couldn’t shovel it in my mouth fast enough. Damn, I like a good BBQ joint! Texan always, I guess, although BBQ is fabulous in a great many places over America like the south and the mid-west. Hard to find it decent in other spots of the States though. I wonder why? At least Vernon, B.C., Canada had figured it out.

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[Leg #10 is a long one, covering the three weeks Robyn Scott and I traveled together, so I’m splitting it up into more manageable sections – kf]

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Day 14 (7/28/15): Waterton Park, Alberta, Canada
Mmmm. Big, thick slice of delicious huckleberry pie for breakkie. Perfectly beautiful day as we headed back to Waterton Park to see the sights. The vistas across the fields of hay and livestock to the foot of the mountains less than a mile or so away were stunning. I love visiting the Rockies and over my lifetime have traveled them extensively from New Mexico on up to Jasper, Alberta in Canada. One of the best parks is the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park that straddles the U.S. and Canadian border. The U.S. side is known as Glacier, and the Canadian park is Waterton. I had been to Glacier in Montana a couple of times and we were planning on doing a day there but recent fires had shut the ‘Going to the Sun’ road so our detour to drive it on the way up was nixed.

Too bad because I had been looking forward to the handicap accessible trails in Glacier: the Trail of the Cedars, Running Eagle Falls and perhaps part of the Swiftcurrent Nature trail would be passable enough, but some other trip. Always leave something undone so you have a good reason to go back. The Canadian side is less touristed, although not many people make it to Glacier either, since it is so remote. I’d read about Waterton’s wheelchair ready trails found at Linnet Lake and Kootenay Brown and knew the village was paved.  I had been here once before with my mom on a Caravan bus tour a few years ago. But we had never fully explored the mountain roads around Waterton then, as the tour bus didn’t take us there.

Prince of Wales Hotel sits on a little peninsula at the crux of two lakes at Waterton Park.

Prince of Wales Hotel sits on a little peninsula at the crux of two lakes at Waterton Park.

The turn off to Waterton runs by long lakes, at first surrounded by grasslands and low foothills that lead up to the small lakeside village. There, the mountains surround the narrow lake and it’s small valley and town. Coming up from the prairie behind behind us it is framed beautifully. A “wow” type of place.

Robyn was sad today, a bit homesick and misses her puppy. It’s ok though since we are good friends. Whom else could I waft my previously worn T-shirt under her nose and ask if it was stinky? Only a good friend! They will complain, but they will do it. LOL!

Akamina Parkway

Akamina Parkway

We bypassed the town site, saving it for a later lunch and drove up the Akamina Parkway to the intimate Lake Cameron near the border of Montana. It was a higher elevation, very chilly, with glacial snow and ice roosting on the mountains cupping the other side of the lake close by. Bundled up, I tried the scooter on a path that quickly turned to dirt but it got too rough. Back through the woods with the signs warning us of bears, and a quick warm up in the information area before attempting the trail in the other direction. This one got very steep after crossing a rushing creek, and I had to turn back. I was cold anyway so we headed back to Waterton for sustenance at Trappers Mountain Restaurant.

Lake Cameron

Lake Cameron

No bears today. They went to town.

No bears today. They went to town.

The menu had Poutine for $18CAN. I had to have that as it is an Canadian culinary quirk. Basically a mess of french fries smothered in cheese curds (think cottage cheese) and brown gravy. A carbolic load to fuel you for the freezing temperatures as you dog sled overland or paddle up river, singing Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald songs. You can add stuff, so I was hard pressed to pick between pulled pork or BBQ Brisket with a sprinkling of green onion. YUM!

Poutine, the Canadian comfort food.

Poutine, the Canadian comfort food.

A trip to the adjacent gift shop and we waddled out of there feeling better. On the edge of the village is Cameron Falls, the runoff from the lake we visited after winding around and down the mountains. You can see how the land has been heaved up over the eons as the falls are a cut in sharply diagonal rock layers. There was a young boy sitting cross-legged on the grass by the river engrossed with feeding bold little chipmunks. As Robyn correctly pointed out, getting wild animals used to being fed does them no favors when the crowds die down, but I think these little scamps were too far down that path already to stop the boy. I hope they buried some of their treasure.

Cameron Falls, in the small village of Waterton Park.

Cameron Falls, in the small village of Waterton Park.

IMG_8517We continued on down a bit farther to get close to the lake and more stunning scenery. Although there were houses and campgrounds around, there were marmots in the park, a deer enjoying eating someone’s garden, and a Great Horned Owl that swooped into tree by the road. S/he was followed by five nervous magpies who sat on the branches around but not too close. One peck of that razor sharp curved beak or talons and the smaller birds were done for and they knew it, and so did the owl who remained impassive. I think they will sometimes steal birds eggs or young chicks so that’s why the little birds were alarmed.

Just gorgeous!

Just gorgeous!

Continuing back out of Waterton near the other edge of town we suddenly saw a black bear! A young adult, just 10 yards off the road, snuffling around tiny clearing. We created a bit of a bear jam when we stopped for a photo but others did too, and we all slowly moved on. Driving away we saw a few hikers about 50 yards up from the bear and heading his direction, as well as a Park Ranger high tailing it in his vehicle to the site. I hope he got there first! I wonder what he did? I know bears that get used to foraging in peopled areas get captured and released far back in the wilderness. Drama we didn’t stick around for as we had an agenda.

My crappy camera on my phone, but she was very close!

My crappy camera on my phone, but she was very close!

By now it was 7pm and we had planned to drive the Red Rock Canyon road at that time since early evening and morning are your best chances for viewing wildlife. We hoped all the tourists would be at dinner and sight seeing with the kids done for the day. We had overheard one kid whine about “seeing ANOTHER mountain?!”, so we hoped the evening would find families at the sites scarce. It was a nice drive with grass covered foothills to our right and mountains on our left. There were deer in the field but we pressed on to the canyon.

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Once there, we saw a lovely rainbow from the parking lot. Nature is so filled with eye candy. I couldn’t quite see the “canyon” from the parking spot, but the head of the supposedly paved trail looked a bit dodgy and I worried about my scooter. While I waffled, Robyn went on to explore on her own. Who knows when I’d be back here again, if ever? So I grabbed an amenable stranger to help haul my scooter out and headed for the trail. After exiting the parking lot the trail became a narrow, bumpy, pitted, half dirt, potholed affair skirting the canyon edge with a few steep and tilting grades and I almost tipped over my scooter. Yikes. The Canadian idea of handicap access is bizarre. For instance, “Accessible” Bathrooms in state parks sometimes have a 2″-3″ lip of concrete. I think they would benefit from a federal law like our Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If they have one, it’s weird. Pretty canyon though. Tight, narrow and only about 40 feet deep with vibrant, variegated shades of red in the iron-rich rock, streaked occasionally with bright white layers.

Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon

On the way back, the nearly full moon had risen and hovered over the mountains in the late lingering light. Our latitude extends the day somewhat. We got back to the hotel at dusk only to encounter a key card malfunction. This is a drag because we are at the back of the hotel with a separate entrance from the parking lot so Robyn had to drive around to the front desk to fix the problem. I dislike key cards for their propensity to fail. Still fighting a cold, and knowing that Pincher Creek had crap restaurants, I had leftovers again and crashed, the lovely sights of Waterton lingering.

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Day 15 (7/29/15) Pincher Creek, Alberta, Canada to Canmore, Alberta:
I thought I’d left something in the hotel when we left but I hadn’t. I got frustrated because my brain was not working properly and I didn’t know if it was just a build up of fatigue, the altitude, or early dementia from being sedentary. I know it’s the first two, but because I’m tired, my defenses are down and fighting this cold depletes me, too, so I was worried about early onset dementia. I may sound like I’m on the go, but physically I’m limited and know am a candidate for it. I have started going to the gym when I’m at home though, which is hopeful.

A good cry helped, and Robyn gave me a pat. We headed north-northwest to our next lovely destination in the Canadian Rockies, Canmore, Alberta. At the outset though we were in the plains again leading up to the mountains, so more flatness. The Rockies sat punctuating the horizon, curving 180° from our entire left, ahead and away to the north.

The grasslands here are home to some hardy cows who can stand the fierce “Blue Northers”, (as we called them in Texas) that come barreling down from the Arctic, a bitterly cold front channeled by the mountains. We used to say that there was nothing to stop a Blue Norther from whipping down the great plains but “bob wahr fence”. There’s another little bit of my home state up here surprisingly. They have road signage alerting drivers to “Texas Gates,” which are those cattle guards built into the road where it bisects a fence, that allow cars to go over the polished grid of spaced metal bars across the road but aren’t appealing to a cow apparently.

Robyn realized the bovines must speak Canadian, so they’d say “Moo, eh?” But there was a lot of just empty plains, and the occasional old farm, one being a turf farm. Robyn, being the fun, silly person she is, made up a song:
Old Mac Donald had a farm, ee-i-ee-i-oh
And on that farm he grew some turf, ee-i-ee-i-oh
With a (silence)….Here and a (silence)…there
Here a ….. There a …….
Everywhere a …..
Old MacDonald had a farm ee-i-ee-i-oh

I think it then mutated into different animals we’d seen on the trip, all ending with “eh?” See why I wanted her to join me for these flat lands over the upper mid-west? We were provided more amusement by a humorous rancher who had placed mostly ‘gimme caps’ (baseball caps with slogans on the brim) on his fence posts. This went on for 1.5 miles! If you figure a fence post every ten feet or so, that’s a lot of hats. It’s great to break up the monotony though and wake you up. If you’re ever near there check out the Hat Fence on AB Hwy. 22 about ten kilometers below Longview. Try to spot the deviations like the red Santa hat and the construction workers helmet.

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We were already goofing on the different styles of signage here in Canada with different representations of icons like their diminutive little deer for a deer crossing sign which sometimes added disco-like reflectors to seize our attention. Today I saw a hand-made sign for what turned out to be a Bed and Breakfast. They decided to use pictographs so there was a bed symbol and an egg. Took me a second, but it was clever! It’s fun to see how signs are different in a foreign country. Here practically everything is repeated in French, and not just the signs. Going into the stores is a hoot because you see advertising and slogans of familiar products all translated for you because they are side by side. Some funny stuff there. Capitaine Crounche! C’est Crounchifique!!

Into the Kananaskis Range

Into the Kananaskis Range

Scruffy sheep coming out of the trees to graze the grasses so abundant by the roadside.

Scruffy sheep coming out of the trees to graze the grasses so abundant by the roadside.

I don't think Mrs. Ram is ever going to receive those flowers.

I don’t think Mrs. Ram is ever going to receive those flowers.

It's better than a wildlife park! Hello Moose.

It’s better than a wildlife park! Hello Moose.

We reentered the mountainous region of the Kananaskis. More great scenery. Hardly anyone on the road so we could slow down and stop to see lots of Rocky Mountain Sheep grazing on the verge, as well as a moose. There were marmots, trees, trees, mountains, mountains, trees & mountains, creeks, trees & mountains, and a farm with llamas. It was a glorious, crisp day, but late afternoon there were some clouds over the peaks and just outside Canmore there was a fine mist over a lake fracturing the lowering light and casting the surrounding mountains in an ethereal glow.

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The rain had mostly cleared by the time we entered town and located the condo Robyn had found online. We parked in the underground lot, essential in this snowy hub in winter, catering to the ski resorts and many seasonal visitors. Once in the 4th floor condo we found gorgeous views from the living room and our bedrooms of the surrounding and intimate Rockies. A few minutes later there was a double rainbow. Later an almost full moon. We were here for 3 days and going to enjoy it immensely! We walked to the next-door grocery store and got supplies. The restaurants were too ridiculously priced. The US dollar has suffered up here. Still fighting my cold, I grabbed a nice chicken coconut Thai soup and that hit the spot. Some TV and a very welcome bed, gazing out at the moonlit night over the peaks.

Day 16 (7/30/15) Canmore, Alberta:
Today was a day of rest. My first ‘do-nothing’ day since Day 3 in Chicago. No wonder I’m tired, fighting a cold and my brain is experiencing drop-outs! So we lazed about condo. I got some energy mid-day when I needed something out of deep storage in the van and decided to reorganize. Lots of souvenirs stuffed here and there! Got it tidied up to my liking and then scootered over to the handy grocery across parking lot. Beautiful day. Still warding off the cold but haven’t succumbed fully. Holding off on my heavy emergency Rx’s that my doctor gave me to keep on hand. I’d rather not risk getting immune to heavy antibiotics, so until I reach a critical point I’d rather do my remedy cocktails and eat immune building foods and aspirin for aches. Works like a charm keeping me from fully going down, although this bug and me being run-down is hampering its efficacy and it’s been a few days. I’m not worried yet as I don’t feel totally miserable.

More rainbows! Double this time.

More rainbows! Double this time.

I vegged, wrote a few notes up about our trip. Robyn went off to determine the route to the advertised hot-tub and got trapped in a stairwell! It was not handicap accessible like they said; you had to go up a stairwell to get to it, but the instructions I received in the mail didn’t say you had to have a key for that, so Robyn was able to get in but not get out, and her cell didn’t work in there or she forgot it, I can’t remember. Luckily about ten minutes later a resident happened along to release her. Whew!

We were pissed off with the rental folk though. No stairwell key, and there were other weird things like no Banff Park Pass which was supposed to be included, and no little kitchen niceties besides salt and pepper. I’ve never stayed in a VRBO/airbnb that didn’t have a few basics like some cooking oil, or viable leftover jars of condiments or unperishables from the previous renters. Maybe the prices of food up here are so steep that the house cleaners take it all home to supplement their income. Some apartments or condos in large complexes that get business through VRBO or airbnb are run by secondary management companies and not the actual owners, so they aren’t as hands-on with a desire to please like owners. Oh well. The view was stunning, even if the sun coming through the big picture windows baked us by the end of the day.

[Leg #10 is a long one, covering the three weeks Robyn Scott and I traveled together, so I’m splitting it up into more manageable sections – kf]

Day 13 (7/27/15) Great Falls, MT to Pincher Creek, Alberta, Canada:

Been fighting a cold. So it’s Hot Toddy time! Who ever you were Toddy–bless you. My cocktail is a bacteria fighting Ninja blend of hot water, 1 Tbsp. each apple cider vinegar and raw honey, some lemon juice, with slices of fresh ginger root when available. Into the mix goes an Emergen-C and an electrolyte packet. Bourbon optional before 5pm, but de riguer at bedtime, of course. It all helps my immune system fight the cold itself. The bourbon acts as the thug in the entourage discouraging germ groupies.

I have to be careful about colds getting me and moving into my chest. Since I have less than 10% use of my lungs I don’t have the ability to cough well, so shifting unmentionables out of my lungs is impossible. A bad respiratory infection could really aim at being an assassin. I’m practical though, and have a course of heavy antibiotics prescribed by my doctor to have on hand and I have brought it with me on this trip as an emergency measure, but the tonic usually works in a day, or in three days if I’m run down or it’s a strong cold.

You, Me & Them = Everyone

You, Me & Them = Everyone

Same slack hotel staff watching us struggle this morning. The covered carport out front gave us better customer service! Ah well. Bye bye, never to see again! I observed a groovy mural across the way from a Portlandia-style (I’m modernizing “bohemian”) coffee shop where Robyn was procuring egg sandwiches to go. Great Falls has a few murals, but does that mean the town has groovy people? Must be a few. We’re not here long enough to find out. I am once again reminded of how brief sorties into a new place gives one such a limited picture of the inhabitants and their way of life. Slow hitch-hiking with long stops everywhere is probably the best way to see a country.  Interacting with locals is the best way to learn about a country. I wish hitching was safer. I noticed when traveling alone in foreign countries that a solo traveler was more likely to be taken in by locals. A couple was seen to be self-contained.

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I’m glad I could just loll about the van and let Robyn do most of the driving. It was rainy when we left. Open road flat prairie again. Not a tree in sight. I had warned Robyn about this, telling her in one of my invitations to join me that I needed her ability to goof around and make up silly songs to counteract the mindless nothingness. We passed cows and wondered if they even knew what a tree was. They wouldn’t if they were born and raised here, would they? What about cows imported in, like they do bulls to a herd. Would they miss trees? Try to tell the local rubes about them? This amused us until wheat fields started cropping up.

We veered off the two-lane highway into Browning for gas. I immediately noticed people that looked like Native Americans going in and out of a very crowded gas station. I think I like the term First Nation Peoples better than Native Americans, as it is more accurate. Anyone born here is native, and the other term “Indigenous” is misleading since the only true human indigenous area we know of is the cradle of Africa.  I took more notice of the town because I was curious about the town’s people being “different” from me for being First Nation. That is such a loaded perception but bear with me because I’m going to make a stab at figuring out why I think that about them more than other cultures and peoples in America.

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Must be the Blackfeet Tribe.

Although all of the white, brown or Asian ‘old world’ settlers coming here were from distinct cultures, and many continue to celebrate their heritage here today, not that long ago immigrants tried to melt into the pot and “be American, you’re in America now”. The blacks forcibly resettled here as slaves had their culture stripped from them for the most part and had no choice but to meld. So we are all recent Americans now, but I feel like I understand and belong to the ‘old world’ peoples in a general sense. But “Indians,” as I grew up speaking of them, are from the ‘new world’ and the fact that scientists believe they splintered off from old world humans at least 10,000 years ago fascinates me,  and I respect at them as a mysterious “other”, same but over a chasm of many millennia.

I am woefully ignorant but as I understand it they are sovereign to themselves in areas like Tribal police. If they are recognized by the government as a distinct tribe. My ignorance is such that I don’t know if they have to be on a reservation to have Tribal police. They are Americans by default and many are quite proud of that and the services they render to the nation (like the military), but they are a marginalized group and all are suffering still from years of broken governmental promises, abuses, neglect, and fall out from imported tastes like alcohol, sugar and intolerance to milk, and have suffered decimated numbers from disease simply passed through contact with foreign settlers who had immunity. It’s amazing they have any numbers left with which to be sovereign.

As if this isn’t enough to try and survive, First Nation art and symbolism is co-opted, as well as their views on nature, theology, medicine and ritual. They’ve had a bad time of it, but many respect and admire them for all the various reasons one does admire someone for, and I think we are all somewhat fascinated by ‘them’. Seeing the First Nation Peoples as ‘other’ is still a loaded outlook though. I don’t mean to offend, just to try and understand how and why we look at people as different from us. There is a climate of racial tension building up and violence continues to break out against “others” like blacks and increasingly, Muslims. Social media holds perpetrators accountable and/or keeps the information flowing. So I’ve been trying hard to make sense of it all. Where do the common denominators of being human start to diverge? When will we be okay with people who don’t mirror us exactly? Perhaps if people understood the answers to that better we could make some headway against racism, misogyny, genocide, hate crimes, favoritism and overly nationalistic posturing.

Defunct coffee stand, probably meant to lure travelers, not the native inhabitants, who would have been the primary users. My speculation.

Defunct coffee stand, probably meant to lure travelers, not the native inhabitants, who would have been the primary users. My speculation.

 

Putting aside my speculations but with my filter of “otherness” perception heightened, I began to see the town as I would a foreign country. I looked for clues on how the inhabitants lived and some insight into their world view by the trappings of their place. I saw a restaurant advertising fry bread and wished I could go there but I didn’t have time to stop and get to know any of the inhabitants. I doubt they would have had the time or inclination to answer my stupid, white, tourist questions. I remember the Lakota dancer at Crazy Horse relaying to his audience some of the incredibly naive and downright ignorant questions he got, and I didn’t want to feed into that. I had to look on the surface for an inadequate assessment. But don’t we do this in every new place we go to?

The economy seemed struggling at first, as is quite a lot of the upper mid-west. From the road going through town we could see a few drunks at a liquor store and some derelict buildings and homes, speaking to the low end of marginalization here and the genetically low resistance to alcohol. However this was less in evidence compared to the nice housing immediately beyond and farther out from the center. There’s also Tribal community centers and schools. Looks like some industry outside town keeps the economy going. I wondered whether they had access to casino money, too. I think income from that is such a fabulous karmic kickback! Although gambling can be a destructive addiction, and the people in the casinos today were not the actual invading settlers giving the natives the raw deal over the centuries, even if they are descended from them. Still, the influx of funds is much needed and seems very American to profit off the free choice to gamble and it’s being used for positive results.

Tribal Community Center

Tribal Community Center

As far as approaching an area using your filtered glasses as “foreign” goes, try pretending on your next drive around your area that you are in a foreign country. Probably one that speaks English like Australia, Canada, or South Africa because you’ll be able to read the signage. See how suddenly, if even for a moment before your sense of reason balks, that everything takes on an unfamiliar cast. You start to think, what do those Australian people mean by setting up their home or farm that way? Why do those Canadians shop here instead of somewhere else? How do they view their town and living here? Pick apart the things you take for granted on more familiar turf. It’s a weird experiment in otherness.

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We were now skirting the looming Rockies on our left after having them arc around us from far left to right on the horizon into Canada. We passed what was to become many fire incident bases on the latter part of this trip, the West being fairly slammed with wildfires this year, while the East had too much rain. My original plan to do a loop through Glacier National Park in Montana from Browning on Hwy. 2 to West Glacier and up Lake MacDonald to the Going to the Sun Road had to be abandoned due to extensive fires there that closed that part of the park. Good thing we were headed for the Canadian side as well. They were okay up there.

Chief Mountain Border Crossing

Chief Mountain Border Crossing

It was great to be in Rocky Mountain country again. The area is quite beautiful, it’s not just my love of mountains. At the last tiny American outpost we purchased two $8.50 each slices of Huckleberry pie, a foreshadowing of Canadian prices to come. The Northern Rockies all the way over to the coastal ranges are known for this berry, so we had to indulge. At the Chief Mountain border crossing into Alberta, Canada, we told the nice immigration agent we had pie when asked about importing food, but neglected to mention the ‘pantry’ of emergency foods in the back. I knew they’d feel obliged to search us, and since they were really only interested in fresh fruit and vegetables I figured it was okay. It was only later I remembered the banana!

The agent’s name badge said Buffalo, and when politely asked, she said she was Cree. I told her we had learned the Oglala Lakota word for buffalo is “Tatanka”, to which she replied with the Cree word, sounding like “Pasqual-mus tus”. After wishing each other well, I drove on, regaling Robyn about my tale of smuggling a pistol and a small amount of marijuana into Canada decades ago, when I thought two young Texas women camping alone in the wilds needed a gun for safety. If caught with a gun, my car would have been turned into hairpins and I’d have been jailed. It helps to have an honest face when one is young and crazy!

We are in kilometer land now, going up and down wooded foothills, winding through tight valleys, crossing streams, the larger mountain right next to us on our left and ahead. At one river we tried going down the good looking gravel road for a nature close up but it quickly degenerated and we had to u-turn while we still could. Before I’d left home I had Sean install a back-up camera I bought at Costco for $100. It’s been wonderful! I especially like how it has night vision, lighting up a dark area you’re trying to back into is very handy.

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We passed the turn off for the town of Waterton, saving it and Waterton Park surrounding it for tomorrow. We did pull off for the “Bison Paddock” and had a lonely drive down a one-lane loop road with one other tourist car trying to find the elusive, shaggy beasts. The only one we saw was one bull on the far side of a pond by the fence. There weren’t that many places a herd could hide and they don’t do that anyway, since it’s safer out on the plains in numbers to protect them from being separated and taken down by predators. So we decided the sign lied, and it was a ‘Bison Paddock’ singular. We can forgive the English language because the plurality is ambiguous but the French translation (because we are in Canada now) said “Enclosure des Bisons” (or something like that) with an “S” so they lied! We were glad we got that out of the way today and not wasted time on it tomorrow, although I do love little scenic loop roads as they get you off the highways.

The Lone Bison

The Lone Bison

On to Pincher Creek, tired and fighting my cold still. Dull looking hotel, but the advertised jacuzzi beckoned me as always. After one phone call to verify pool hours, two scooter visits to the front desk, one to get a pool key not told about on the phone before I went to the pool area, and back to get towels not told I’d need, then two attempts to give me a pool key that desk guy had already given me before, he finally thinks to tell me the hot tub is not handicap accessible. OMG. Great Falls brain dead hotel staff all over again! Was it the water up here? I gave up and hunkered down in my room with miso soup out of the van. Robyn took off for salty Chinese food and an expensive cider. Fortunately, I was looking forward to the next day as Waterton Park is stunningly beautiful.

Click on image to open and get a closer look.

Click on image to open and get a closer look.

[Leg #10 is a long one, covering the three weeks Robyn Scott and I traveled together, so I’m splitting it up into more manageable sections – kf]
Day 9 (7/23/15) Keystone, SD:

We spent a quiet night in our Keystone, SD hotel with the elevator that shuts down at 10:30. I was determined to gently question the mousy receptionist/owner to figure out why she felt it had to be turned off. After making tentative friends with her, I then expressed my concern at the time restriction, especially due to my handicap that makes stairs not really an option. When asked what happens if we’re later than that, her shocked response was “What could you possibly do past 10:30? Everyone is asleep by then!” Wha? What world do you live in lady? Mt. Rushmore’s evening program doesn’t end until around 10pm, then you have to resist the gift shop that’s open until 11:30 and negotiate the crowded parking lot and drive 20 minutes back to town. There are Keystone bars open late, too. Crazy! The site says it’s a 24-hour desk. Riiiiight. But after our little chat the bizarre lady did reserve the parking spot by the steps for my van with an orange parking cone thingy. Did I say there weren’t any designated handicap spots? We are deep in the wild west woods.

My travel oxygen concentrator died on our last night in Chicago and I was too tired and unsure what to do to deal with it, as I had a large, home-model backup. Plus we were on a set time-line to leave Chicago and get on the road. I also hesitated because new ones are $3,000. Yikes. This trip was already costing a lot, especially with having to replace my transmission at the outset. Thing is, I can only use the portable concentrator in the car, as the other draws too much power. Did I really need oxygen in the mountains? Well, yes, it helps a great deal. With ten days in the Rockies looming, major lack of cell service (bloody AT&T) and lack of major towns for replacement or repair, Robyn talked me through the decision to try and replace mine. She’s right. I don’t want to curtail the trip and have to leave my favorite mountains because of no concentrator. That’s what credit cards are for, right?

I was in spotty cell service heading into the Badlands yesterday so I once again relied on the good graces and excellent people skills of my dear friend Kathy Goodman. She did hours of research from her home in Salt Lake City and found me a medical supply store in Rapid City that could see if my concentrator just needed repair. It was close to where we were in Keystone so we went today. Turns out my old one was too wonky to fix. The guy sympathized with my reluctance to buy an expensive new one and offered to rent one to me if I ship it back, or apply the rental price to purchasing it if I choose to keep it. What a great guy! Jared even gave me a barely used one, and offered to knock another $200 off if I bought it. If you are near Rapid City, SD, Performance Respiratory is the place to go. Tons of machines, chairs, ramps, breathing masks, and a repair shop, besides everyone in there being sweet as heck. The slight downside is that the van’s cig lighters are a bit low wattage so the machine keeps switching to batteries. They only last 2.5-3 hours so Jared gave me two extra and a desk charger as I’ll use all of them while we’re in the mountains and recharge at night. *sigh*. My world. But now I’m good to go again.

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Click on image to zoom in to read

So, back to Keystone and beyond to do some of Custer State Park in the Black Hills. We had figured we’d drive in a loop around and then go to Mt. Rushmore’s evening program that evening. Kathy Goodman and her husband Greg had already arranged to meet us on the Odyssey and were flying in tonight to join us for a day at the Crazy Horse Monument tomorrow. We were looking forward to that, as we had stayed with them en route to Yellowstone last year, on Robyn’s last trip over here from Australia, so she had already met them.

We had risen above the plains to enter the Black Hills yesterday evening to get to Keystone. It is the closest small town to both the Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments with some hotels and services. The hills are pine covered and fairly dry. It reminded me of the Sierras in California with granite boulders amongst the pine-needle covered forest floor, winding roads and tight valleys with occasional stunning vistas. They have a unique method of corkscrew roads and bridges to get you up hills and you go through some tricky, one-lane tunnels accessed at a sharp bend where it’s hard to see if someone is coming up the other side. Adventure in driving! The second tunnel framed our first view of far-away Mt. Rushmore. We detoured down a quiet forest service road and got away from the few other vehicles, except for one joy-riding motorcycle guy who said he came up here to just sit on a boulder and listen to the wind in the trees. Nice. We got a good look at Mt. R through a gap in the tress and decided later it was our favorite because we were all alone. Clark and Lewis discovering an ancient rock carving on their way to the Pacific! (You may remember that we are Clark & Lewis setting out to find the Pacific (again) sourced from some silliness on our Yellowstone trip together. We like to get silly.)

Unique corkscrew roads and bridges to get up the steep hill.

Unique corkscrew roads and bridges to get up the steep hill.

A few miles back up the main road and we reached a view point where the scooter could come into play. Good view of Mt. R, probably ten miles away. It looked smaller than I’d imagined it. I guess all the photos or film I’ve seen show it close up. By this time we had only gone a few miles in on the scenic Iron Mountain road but it took 2 1/2 hrs. Hard to gauge these type of roads where you are forced to go slow and want the leisure to pull over. We were hungry and sunset was approaching so we instead of looping, we backtracked to Keystone, passing a small RV trying to haul a huge trailer up a hill and failing. Nutty on this sometimes steep and winding road. Nowhere to turn around either. A truck had pulled over to help. Good luck with that.

Smaller than I'd imagined

Smaller than I’d imagined

We lucked out and found a brand new Himalayan restaurant in Keystone. I haven’t written about our food finds in a while which should give you some indication of their lack luster appeal in this part of the country. We could have eaten out better in Chicago but we were too busy or tired, the same that happened in New York City for me and Devon. We ate whatever was close by when we realized we were famished. I’d already discovered that a great deal of the upper mid-west seems to be held in the grip of the Walmart mentality, and the food options are dull, too. Old school steakhouses, questionable Chinese or Mexican joints or the fast food chains rule. I did have a tasty meal at that Cracker Barrel in Sioux Falls though, because I love southern food and they do it pretty well for a chain restaurant.

Getting bigger!

Getting bigger!

We finished up dinner quickly to get to Mt. R for the evening program. Lovely dusk. Full on parking. 3,000 people attending at least. We came up past a gift shop and information center and onto the Avenue of State Flags that frames the almost-darkened monument behind, the last deep blue leaving the sky. We split up for a bit and I took the elevator down to amphitheater. My cell phone didn’t work (of course) so Robyn never found me. I watched an emotional ranger give a rousing patriotic talk and then the very patriotic film describing the reasons each president was chosen and lighting up each one as it did so in the now complete darkness. No moon either. The stars around and above were beautiful, the Big Dipper hovering above the carvings. Afterwards the ranger called up all current and retired Service personnel, from the armed forces to fire fighters and paramedics, to thank them for their service. During that lengthy honoring I thought about the longevity of the monument since it is stone. I saw a TV show once that said Mt. R and Hoover dam would be the longest survivors of the American civilization. All else would eventually turn to rust or break down and disintegrate. Like the pyramids surviving the Egyptian Empire. So I’m looking at our legacy to the future. I bought a T-shirt on the way out.

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Would we make it back before the elevator Nazi shuts her down? Because we killed time browsing the gift shop for my $44 shirt, exiting the parking lot was easier but I called anyway (on Robyn’s phone…grrrr AT&T) at 10:25 and the woman said not to worry. We’re pals now because we are considerate guests who took the time to talk with her!

Day 10 (7/24/15) Keystone, SD:

We are still lurking in the Black Hills of South Dakota between visits to two monuments of huge stone carvings. I wonder what far off future generations or alien visitors will think of Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. Will they be our Stonehenge, shrouded in unanswered questions? What will they make of four men’s heads in one place and a huge, pointing man on half a horse in another? Will they look for where he’s pointing? That is assuming there will be future humans that far down the line. Even if climate change does make life difficult for humans, I still think some of us will survive and evolve. We obviously have ancestors who lived through the last 7 or so cataclysmic events, depleting 90% of the species each time as science seems to believe. Here’s hoping Mother Nature cuts us slack again although some of my friends think extinction will be our just desserts for ignoring, disavowing and contributing to atmospheric warming with our greed for fossil fuels and the greenhouse gases they emit.

I awoke feeling tired and ditzy. The altitude was getting to me and my already compromised lungs. I had forgotten to prep with lots of water, electrolytes and altitude tinctures a few days before entering the mountains. The rented oxygen concentrator helps though. So I  stayed in to sleep while Robyn went for coffee and a cave tour. I love caves, but they aren’t very handicap accessible. The Goodmans had gone for an early morning hike at Mt. Rushmore and luckily they were running late so my sleep-in was no big deal. This area is a time vortex!

They came to the hotel and we had a little chat while waiting for Robyn to return from her spelunking adventure. It was so fun to see them. This is the second time I got to see Kathy on the Odyssey as she was in Dallas when I was there and graciously organized the tea party that 13 of our old classmates attended. She is the best.

We all headed off to the Crazy Horse monument to spend the afternoon. There was an historical film we watched first describing how the Black Hills are sacred to the Sioux peoples. Sioux is a blanket term. The different tribes in the area call them selves Lakota or Oglala and so on, but they all agree that the Black Hills are sacred to everyone, to the point that they would not war against each other there. I find that oddly civilized considering they were occasionally warring. Spirituality trumps desire for war, instead of being a cause for it.

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Sacred Black Hills

The film then described how the carving came about. As I understand it, there were a few Lakota tribal chiefs led by Chief Henry Standing Bear (‘Mato Naji’) who wanted a monument like Mt. Rushmore to show “the white man that the red man has great heroes, too.” Korczak Ziolkowski, who had worked with Gutzman Borgland on Mt. Rushmore was approached to do the job. It took him eight years to become enamored with the idea, but he then designed and engineered his vision, and in 1948 set out to the remote spot and began to blast the outer layer of soft rock with the intention of reaching the hard stone beneath to carve. He worked alone while his wife raised their growing family nearby. Once his sons were old enough they joined him in the work. Those years were spent removing tons of rock to shape the basic form. Standing Bear wanted to fund it by influential Americans interested in honoring the American Indian. Later the government offered to help fund the project but Ziolkowski declined, thinking that his dream of having a cultural center, university and medical center would be squelched. Instead his other family members set up a welcome center and gift shop, using the proceeds to fund the venture and basically live on. This is where the story gets a bit odd.

The family have been working on the project now for 67 years but with no more than 7 men maximum ever working the site. Others have questioned where all the money from the attached culture center is going and why isn’t it being used to hire more workers. It’s a non-profit but they pay their staff and the family runs the foundation. There’s an odd exhibit at the sprawling center devoted to the Ziolkowski’s home during Korczak’s lifetime showing great opulence for the times, so one begins to wonder. At present some scholarships are being provided to the local Native children though. The government made a second offer but it was turned down by the family, citing the same reasons as before. The attendance is no where near Mt. Rushmore’s so maybe they are justified in hiring only 7 carvers.

There are other questions raised. Some local tribal members are vocal about carving the sacred mountain and think Standing Bear overstepped his place instigating the memorial. I doubt work will cease though in it’s present state. There is a long way to go; only the face was rendered complete in 1998. Ziolkowski died in 1982 before seeing even that accomplished. Imagine a lifetime of chipping away rock and never seeing the result. He must have known it wouldn’t be finished. I felt like an ancient Egyptian observing a pyramid as it arose, or a medieval traveler passing a gothic cathedral under construction, knowing that it wouldn’t be finished in my life time either. A rare feeling in a world where everything happens quickly and can be delivered overnight.

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What the monument will look like in about 100 years. Click on photo to read some of the statistics.

A picture window looking out to the memorial site about a mile away does provide a splendid view of the huge sculpture. It will be Crazy Horse, sitting on a horse, his back and the rear torso of the horse melding with the mountain while he points outward to answer the question supposedly put to him once, asking him where were his people’s lands. His answer was to point and say, “My lands are where my dead lie buried”. The front of the horse will be visible, its shoulders and front legs prancing out of the mountainside, one leg lifted and the other resting at the base where a reflecting pool will lie. Parkland and a Native American University and Cultural Centers will eventually occupy the rest of the Memorial. The immensity is apparent when you read that Mt. Rushmore would fit on Crazy Horse’s forehead.

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I was hungry and grabbed a cheap hotdog at the counter, skipping the deserted restaurant. There weren’t hardly as many people here as made the trek to Mt. Rushmore. While in there, a Christmasy, jingling noise steadily approached and then appeared  a mountain of a man kitted out in a bright yellow, white and black ceremonial outfit, with feathers and bells on. He strode over to the cooler, grabbed a coke and left. Wow. Turns out he was the dancer outside on the large patio area and his performance was about to begin. He spoke to the gathered crowd, telling a few jokes about silly things tourists ask him and then the history of his people and the dance he was about to do. First a grass stamping dance commemorating people stamping down the grasses to place their tents. Then a prairie chicken dance, honoring it’s spirit and perfectly mimicking the animal’s signature head bobs and movements. Last was the Snake, or Friendship dance, where he pulled out many audience members to help him in a type of conga line of people holding hands and following his snaky path twisting around the stage. All this with Crazy Horse in the far background, his roughed out arm about to point to his lands.

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We had spent hours here, and left as dark clouds were lowing. Had to nix plans to take one of the Custer State Park drives back to Keystone. Time vortex again! We decided to stop in the small town of Custer for dinner. As we pulled into the parking space in front of a good looking restaurant on the main drag a ferocious hailstorm let loose, trapping us in our vehicles. Ice balls the side of quarters, nickels and dimes rained down upon us, giving sharp reports on the wind screen that startled us and made us giggle when we were relieved to see the window didn’t break. Robyn had already been out of the van when it hit. I was in process and ducked back in, trying to communicate to her to stay under the store front eaves but she thought I was gesturing for her to come back so she got a bit pummeled getting back in. It was exciting though, and stopped after a few long minutes. We had our farewell dinner and then watched a fabulous lightning show outside on the horizon as the storm drew further away. What a great day, even with the sad goodbyes to the Goodman’s.

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Day 11 (7/25/15) Keystone, SD to Sheridan, WY:

Bye bye Keystone and weird elevator Nazi who shut her down at 10:30 pm! At least she offered us the choice parking spot as a gesture of kindness. The elevator curfew did stress us out a bit, though. Oh well, c’est la vie and we move on to explore the old stomping grounds of wild west outlaws, miners, and cowboys. We pointed northwest and headed for Deadwood, South Dakota Territory, c. 1875.

The Garmin GPS Locator and my phone charger for the car have decided to act up, or did the borrowed concentrator blow the cigarette lighter? Rats. Thankfully I brought my Rand McNally Atlas and I can refer to that. We are headed north-northwest to Montana today, still winding through the pine forested Black Hills, our first stop Deadwood and the cemetery there to visit the grave of Calamity Jane who finally in death had her hearts desire and is buried next to Wild Bill Hickok. This was a true wild west town and they capitalize on it still. Driving up from the south we encountered road works which meant we entered town slowly on dirt roads just like a couple of rambling cowpokes between cattle drives or green immigrants hoping to strike it rich in the gold fields or rough miners bent on spending their hard-earned gold dust on rotgut whiskey and loose women. Back in the day Deadwood had 120 saloons, 118 gambling halls, 110 beer gardens, 35 brothels. and God knows how many outlaws and gunslingers. Wild Bill was gunned down during a poker game just a few weeks after arrival. His hand held a full house of Aces and Eights, forever known now as the Dead Man’s Hand.

Deadwood

Deadwood

There was Dora, epitomizing the madam with a heart of gold, and poker Alice, a refined British lady who found herself broke and turned to poker to support herself instead of the only other options, prostitution or dance hall dancer. To say that women pioneers had a rough life is very below the mark. Many had small children and/or had to deliver babies en route. The treks were arduous and the dangers constant from weather, flooded rivers, steep hills, and cranky natives. Husbands died in from accidents, disease, or ambush, leaving the wives most often with children. What could she do but continue on? No trains to head back east. If they couldn’t stick with the homestead plan, what was left for them to earn a living? Not many washer women or teachers were needed yet. But brothels and dance halls were in need of female workers. My heart and respect goes out to those poor unfortunates.

We came into the town proper and moseyed up her well-kept main street, still filled with bars and legal gaming halls, although today they seem run by Tribal Indians. How appropriate! Later I learned that Deadwood stayed a bit frozen in time as America aged around it, keeping their brothels open and neglecting to follow laws against prostitution. They saw it, as always,  providing a service to the area, and it kept the economy going. Finally a zealous raid shut them down in 1980 and a later fire both caused the town to spiral in decline. In 1989 they petitioned and won the right to have gambling again, the first city to do so outside Nevada and Atlantic City. It was called the “Deadwood Experiment” and it totally revitalized the city center, a phoenix rising from the flames.

Why there's Calamity and Wild Bill there!

Why there’s Calamity and Wild Bill there!

Lots of motorcycles here and I’d seen many on the road. We were near the town of Sturgis which hosts a huge biker rally every year. So the sidewalks were peopled with grizzled bikers and smokers, local characters and tourists, and the occasional historical actor in 1880’s garb. With the renewed gambling and bars, it seemed a sanitized but not far-off version of the original.

You may remember a picture of me in a purple, double baby jogging stroller back in Key West, Florida when my scooter battery died. It could only be stored next to the scooter ramp in the van and it made getting the ramp in and out a hassle. Since strong, young man Sean wasn’t accompanying me anymore to the mountains and it was too unwieldy to ask Robyn to push, I realized it was time to jettison, which we did in Spearfish at a woman’s thrift shop that looked more like her excuse for hoarding. I tried to give it to a women’s shelter but they were elusive. Hungry after these efforts and wanting to eat quickly and get on the road we visited a McDonalds which I’m proud to say is the only time I was tempted to do so on my four and a half month journey.

Speaking of temptation, our next detour to Montana was to see Devils Tower. Remember this from the movie ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’? Richard Dreyfus goes through a lot of clay, paint and paper depicting his incomprehensible dream of a large, lopped off rock mound in the shape of an upside-down trash bin. I had noticed it was near by, either by seeing a postcard or on the map and wanted to swing by. The tourist stop attractions on the Odyssey are very random because I was planning big picture stuff before the trip and left the micro plans to fate. This has worked out pretty well on the whole, letting the days evolve as they wish to within the confines of the miles needed to cover. It meant I didn’t stress when I didn’t get to see something and was pleasantly surprised by the things that presented themselves.

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We had our first sighting of Devils Tower miles away, and even from this distance the oddity of it dominated its surroundings. Pulling closer was eerie as it has no equal except maybe the monoliths of Monument Valley, but here it stands alone, a great, round, flat-topped lump with neatly molded, vertical columns of photolite porphyry that formed that shape as it cooled. One theory, and there are a couple, is that it was a failed volcano that erupted up to the earths crust and then lost its oomph to break through, eventually cooling within the cylinder of the volcano tube. The land lifted and softer rock eventually eroded leaving the harder core to stand alone. It’s kinda cool that scientists don’t know for sure.

One of the best parts of the park surrounding DT is the protected prairie full of Prairie Dogs. These little critters once covered huge areas but ranching and farming interests clashed with them and they now only cover about 2% of that habitat after severe eradication. We were able to pull over and watch them forage, sit up to check for trouble and scamper about a bit right by the van. Robyn was enthralled.

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We wound up to the base through a bit of woods and joined busloads of Chinese tourists in the car park. I made them giggle when I pushed to the front of a very long line as a handicapped person heading for the handicap bathroom stall. I have no shame when it comes to this and people let me! On the way out I murmured “sheh-sheh”, one of only two Chinese words I know, meaning “thank you”. At the first shock at hearing their language, the women grinned broadly and nodded to me. I’m glad they didn’t mind me pushing in, but long lines aren’t fun. The altitude was still getting to me although I had started to feel better from hydrating and the oxygen.

 

We headed back out to the rolling prairie early evening. Large earthen barrows the size of grocery stores appeared and we speculated they were prehistoric mounds from the extinct Giant Prairie Caninesaurus Rex. Haha! At sunset we had a fabulous first sighting of the foothills of the Rockies on the horizon and a bit of Yellowstone beyond which made us all nostalgic as we had taken a lovely trip there last fall. Ah, how I love the mountains! Our dilly dallying in Deadwood, Spearfish and Devils Tower kept us out later then we thought and I realized we wouldn’t make Hardin, MT tonight. Luckily Super 8 let me cancel on short notice and I booked into a Best Western in Sheridan through Hotels.com. Upon arriving we discovered that Hotels.com hadn’t passed on my ADA request so the nice gal at the desk gave us two King rooms instead. Sweet! Exhausted, with not much open or appealing food wise, we opted for some of my emergency soups in our rooms. Handy!

Evidence of prehistoric Giant Canineasaurus Rex

Evidence of prehistoric Giant Canineasaurus Rex

Day 12 (7/26/15) Sheridan, WY to Great Falls, MT:

We had 348 miles to go today. We knew we’d make good time barreling down the road today as this was more flat country on straight interstate highways that let you go 80 m.p.h. which usually mean 85-90 to the traveler, right?

The route through south central Montana was bland, more treeless plains with a slight roll to the them so you get less sweeping vistas. There was little evidence of humanity, the map revealing well-spaced, tiny dots of congregation barely worth calling a town, strung along secondary roads bypassed by the interstate. This I’m sure led to their decline. Once we pulled off to look for gas and went 10 miles in to find everything all boarded up on the tiny 2 block square center. We amused ourselves by considering buying all the shops there and recreating the Wall Drug phenomenon except with craft beers, foodie cafes, and other entertainment as relief from the somnambulant plains. Laughter aside, we did feel sorry for them and admired the perseverance of those who stayed. I got the feeling they had no financial choice in the matter.

I had started feeling pressured to catch up on my travelogue on Facebook, of which I was at least 10 days behind. I had been using my imagined responsibility to the audience there to spur me to write in my spare time, although the whole process was enjoyable. Writing was now often done in the car during lack luster scenery, because writing up my impressions of the day for an hour at bedtime had become too hard. I was increasingly tired now on the trip, unable to do a full recharge rest before continuing. I only had energy to enjoy the day’s activities then hit the hay at night. Plus I was missing out on the few interesting things to look at and goofing around with Robyn, so I gave up travel writing and started just taking notes and be in the present. My last posting was a brief note explaining to everyone on Facebook they’d have to wait. The response was very supportive.

Freed up now, I turned my attention to fixing the Garmin and cell charger. Turns out the ends of both of them had come unscrewed and the parts were still laying on the carpet by the 12-volt cigarette lighter outlet, found inexplicably all the way down at floor level and hard to reach. In this case the short fall and carpet saved the parts and I was able to reunite them with their respected devices and presto! They worked again! It’s s satisfying to identify and fix a problem, isn’t it?

Since we were into eating up miles, we skipped a Native Peoples pictograph cave I’d read about in a brochure touting the limited attractions of the area. I love pictographs though, and have seen Anasazi ones across the Southwest. It was just too far from the interstate highway. We had another nostalgic moment for last year’s trip we took together when we saw the turn-off for Yellowstone and the Tetons, and fleetingly wished we could take a wild detour to see them again, but…no.

Rockies in the distance

Rockies in the distance

We turned left onto Hwy. 87 and the topography got a bit more varied. We were again in the watershed going down to the great Missouri River above whose banks the city of Great Falls sits. Once there we gratefully pulled in to the hotel down near the river for the night, only to encounter atrociously slack staff who seemed unable to conceive of basic customer service. I attribute that to bad management. One girl was eager but very young and inexperienced. Besides clueless management, we speculated that the mind-numbing flat plains had had a great slowing effect on the populace here. Maybe all the smart ones fled the area? LOL. Reminds me of someone’s explanation of why New Englanders are considered stubborn and reticent. They figured it was because the adventurous ones left back in the day and moved west, leaving the cautious behind. I’m generalizing of course, and we were just joking around to relieve our frustrations at the staff.

The best relief was a great dinner at The Celtic Cowboy restaurant. Yelp came to the rescue yet again! We split orders of Irish Corned Beef and Cabbage, and Bangers (sausages) and Mash (potatoes), and quaffed some great beers. In my distrust of the hotel staff, I had taken my scooter key after leaving the scooter at their front desk (long story) and unwittingly dropped the key under our table at the restaurant. Luckily the nice manager there dropped it off at the hotel for me when they closed. Here’s an example of our hotel staff: they never called me to let me know when the key arrived, even though they knew I was waiting for it to get my scooter to go to the pool. No malice on their part, as we had been overly friendly, thinking perhaps they were just grumpy before, but they just weren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer, ya know? I don’t suffer fools willingly.

Once I engineered being reunited with my key, we enjoyed the best part of the slacker hotel – no closing hours on the pool! The only weird thing here was the sign telling those with recent diarrhea not to enter the waters. Ewww! What?? I suppose someone might not connect the fact that there may be lingering germs even after they wiped, but this is a new public sign to me. We were in a chain hotel, so all of them must have this now. After a slight hesitation we took comfort from the fact of high chlorine levels. The hot tub was cracking hot and the pool nice and warm, so much so that I ventured into the pool which I never do because usually it’s not warm enough to stop my Raynaud’s from kicking in. That’s when my core gets cold and pulls heat from my extremities, causing my fingertips and toes to turn blue from lack of blood. If I’m not careful to keep warm I could eventually lose them like frost-bite victims. But I’m careful.

Gloriously, we had the place to ourselves, so we felt free to hum a few versions of the theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, fresh in our memories from Devil’s Tower. Haha! The acoustics were excellent. Dee-dee do-do baaaaahhhhh…

[Leg #10 is long, so it’s being split up into parts. You’re welcome 😉 – kf]

Day 5 (7/19/15) continued. Chicago:
Robyn Scott and I reprised our roles as Clark & Lewis, established from our trip to Yellowstone & Back last year, and set off again to find the Pacific. I truly feel that I am now going west and the final month home is before me. This is new territory for me still, at least until I get to Montana, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of our beautiful country. Leaving the environs of Chicago we headed straight towards our overnight stop in Newton, Iowa. We crossed the rest of Illinois, and I was happy to have the Upper East Coast toll tag still function this far west. Only to the Iowa border though.
I must say I was distracted driving across Illinois. I was behind on this travelogue and feeling like I needed to catch up, so I wrote in the van when we switched drivers. However I found that I was missing everything going on around me, probably making Robyn bored as well, and this was the first quality time we had to catch up since Chicago was such a whirlwind. I was getting cumulatively tired from this long Odyssey and the hour or so at night when I would normally write up my notes from the day and post on Facebook was now needed for rest and sleep. So I decided to throw in the towel entering Iowa and just take brief notes during the three weeks we would have together and enjoy the ride.

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Aha! There were the famous corn fields, but wait, there is a lot more diversity in the Iowan landscape than we are led to believe. We decided that Iowa gets a bad rap, and it’s probably Nebraska that is flat, endless corn fields. We saw proud signs for a “modern rest stop” which turned out to be a building you could enter and then split up into bathrooms of your choice. (With people gender-bending these days, who knows who’ll go in which? Oh wait, this is America’s conservative heartland. Never mind!) The “modern” moniker makes us wonder how primitive the highway bathroom were before. Seriously, I’d guess it was to cater to the bitter cold winters here and being able to go to the loo inside and warm up in a lobby instead of a more open, concrete version outside.

At dinner time we pulled off the endlessly unpopulated environs of the Interstate and up the road a bit to Grinell, IA. It still has an old-fashioned movie theater on the short Main Street, which speaks to the town’s remoteness from larger urban areas with multiplexes. A very farm-oriented, mid-west, tiny town on a long down swing but holding on. Perhaps due to the small college keeping it alive, along with any corporate ag business. Not like a vibrant college town, but the youth is there. We drove by a young, lesbian couple walking hand in hand. Or maybe they were QWIC–queer while in college, or what ever that acronym is that means that. Maybe it’s BWIC: Bisexual While in College. Maybe America’s heartland isn’t as conservative anymore.

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They were trying to find an open restaurant like us and we all ended up with a few other townies at a weird little Chinese restaurant with tons of uncleared tables. A sweet but harried guy waited on us and it looked like the only other staff was a cook, so I guess he was prepping in the kitchen when he wasn’t waiting on the three tables of guests, instead of cleaning up. There doesn’t seem to be much interesting food options here in Iowa, and I had looked extensively on Yelp for something off Interstate 80. Diners mostly, with the occasional Chinese and/or Mexican to spice it up. However, I bought some knick knack somewhere wrapped in newspaper that I read a bit of, and it said that there is a town called “Oregon” that considers itself very foodie. Not sure what that would look like here. Am I giving Iowa a bad rap, too? Maybe it’s their curse. Des Moines probably has something. Maybe Chicago sucks all the foodie talent out of the surrounding states of Wisconsin, Iowa, etc. It certainly has some far out options like Grant Achtaz’ restaurants on the cutting edge of culinary imagination. Next Chicago visit!!

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Day 6 (7/20/15) Iowa to Sioux City, SD via Omaha, NB:
Straight across Iowa to Omaha, Neb. Set the cruise control and lock the wheel kind of straight. I hear they’ve developed a car computer that can drive highways like this for you. The future to come. I’ve been imagining that scenario since I was a kid except for the computer part, as I was born in the 1960’s. As a kid I thought you’d hook your car to a conveyor belt link that would relieve you of driving but keep you from bumping other vehicles. It’s weird to have the end result of those imaginings materialize eventually, like Star Trek stuff becoming true. There really is now a type of medical Tri-corder like they used, and we’ve already gone beyond the the first flip open cell phone so like the communicator in the first series! Even they didn’t have the smart phone. Crazy fun!

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Iowa is less flat than I thought, and less populated. Some rivers and wooded dells. Rolling fields of corn corn corn. A few farms and silos, both working and abandoned. The infrequent gas stations on the Interstate were filled with pamphlets promoting money to be made becoming a trucker, so it seems like there’s not much going on. I figure the Iowa Caucus every four years when Iowans participate in the first steps to determine a party nomination for president is the most exciting thing to happen here, unless Neil Young comes through doing a Farm Aid tour.

We rolled into Omaha to meet up with my buddy Sean. He was supposed to drive the Odyssey with me all the way to my home but commitments at his dad’s farm superseded that. Luckily by the time he had to back out, Robyn had by then signed on to go from Chicago to Vancouver so I was partially ok. Jean-Marie Carson, the amazing woman that she is, answered my Facebook plea and volunteered to fill the gap to drive me home from Vancouver.
Sean drove in from somewhere on the Kansas/Nebraska border (America’s true center he informed me) and we met at his Mom’s house in Omaha. I wanted to meet the woman who raised such a nice guy. We had a nice chat in her living room, drinking Shandies. That’s a British drink made from part lager beer and semi-sweet, lemon bubbly water. I’ve never seen it in a can until now, having had the real deal in English pubs. Very refreshing in the summer. Sean informed me that the craft beer and food movement hasn’t reached here yet, but I later read that Omaha has a few stirrings. He’s out in the sticks so there is nothing for young people to do in the region, and he is bored out of his skull. He was my garden helper in California, making extra cash while he attended the junior college. Sweet young man I started feeding occasionally, and we became good friends. Now he’s moved back home and I miss him. He’s a crack up, too. When we described our drive he said he thought the farmers deliberately planted corn along the highway to foster the Corn Belt image. Ha! His reasoning is that farther back there’s less iconic crops like potato, sorghum, soy, and wheat that don’t get roadside billing.

Scary bridge on the way to Omaha

Scary bridge on the way to Omaha

His mom gave me her “Omaha Magazine” because I was drawn to it’s provocative cover illustrating a story by Doug Meigs. A woman holds up a black snake coiled around her oil-streaked arm and she is half submerged in a pool of the black gold with an American flag behind her. She is Jane Kleeb, the founder of Bold Nebraska which seeks to prevent TransCanada from constructing their Keystone XL pipeline and crossing the fragile Nebraska Sandhills ecosystem and the Ogallala Aquifer. A break in the line is way worse than a train wreck spilling out oil, and could destroy the sand hills ecosysytem, but perhaps more importantly, pollute the aquifer, which yields about 30 percent of the ground water used for irrigation in the United States and supplies drinking water to 82 percent of the 2.3 million people (1990 census) living near it. The aquifer is huge, covering parts of 8 mid-west states, and we need it–clean.

Ms. Kleeb is also pissed off that a foreign country seems to think it can have access to our government’s right to enforce “eminent domain” upon Americans and bury their pipeline on people’s property. Private land has already been seized in South Dakota and Texas. These three concerns have created an odd resorting of traditional political partners. Environmentalists who seek to turn us to sustainable power as well as protect our ecosystem and the human reliance upon it, are pairing with Libertarians and other right-wing players angered by our courts ruling in favor of foreign corporations over taxpaying landowners. On the opposite side are Corporate interests and Labor Unions seeking work. Fat cats and temporary jobs at best. There’s tons more to the issue, like the destruction of the Canadian lands where oil is painstakingly separated from sand with toxic chemicals. It is the most polluting method of obtaining oil. That cover picture of the snake Kleeb holds aloft? The Lakota call KXL the Black Snake Pipeline. The article’s author quotes Greg Grey Cloud: “For over a thousand years, our spiritual leaders have prophesied that a great black snake will one day wind through the land, bringing doom by robbing us of our natural resources as Grandmother Earth remakes herself and introduces a new coming.” In other words, wipe us out and create anew. Perhaps She sees us as a poisonous pest to swat, a species run amok and needing curbing. I frankly don’t think we’ll progress to sustain our species unless we stop being so greedy for money. It’s really making us short sighted.

Well, good luck Nebraska. Ms.Kleeb says you have grit, creativity, and the resolve to get things done. As a strange parallel as I rewrite this after the fact, I recently heard how Saudi Arabia has foolishly used up all its ground water to make wheat and hay in the desert and now has bought up huge chunks of Arizona that don’t have water restrictions to repeat the process here. Another example of a foreign country detrimentally influencing the lives of our citizens without our say; in this case, future water availability. They’ll use our water to irrigate their crops in a desert region and ship it home or to China until the water runs out. Sounds so wrong. Karmic kickback for American oil, gas, timber and mining conglomerates exploiting 3rd world countries? Maybe. What goes around comes around.

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Back to Sean et maman. We went to an old-style steakhouse that claimed the worlds finest steak. Well, we WERE in Omaha, and we had neglected to scarf down on a steak in Chicago, the pinnacle of the beef and pork industries. Gorat’s steaks were indeed tasty and we had nice conversations surrounded by vivid oil paintings of various beasts staring us down. Mostly loosely rendered bovine portraits, although there was a llama that ogled Sean all through dinner. We felt suitably guilty as they watched us slather on Bearnaise or blue cheese sauce. Nom nom.

Once again, it’s sad to say goodbye to my friends after a short visit. It’s almost worse seeing them so briefly! Oh well. Cherish the moment and hope to do things differently next time round. Glorious sunset and dusk, the crescent moon low in the sky as we put by another few miles going north into South Dakota. The very flat plains of hay and corn are now quite beautiful.

Day 7 (7/21/15) Sioux City to Oacoma, SD:
From our Sioux City, South Dakota hotel it was only up a short way to Sioux Falls. We were to rendezvous for lunch with my best pal Dina from my L.A. days in the late 1980’s, and her son Marshall and his kids. I’d stayed with Dina in Baltimore so it was a treat to see her again at a different point of the American Odyssey. I hadn’t seen Marshall (“Krunchy”) since he was a teenager so it was extra special.

We met and pigged out at a Cracker Barrel. When Dina texted me our meeting point I had to tease her because she’s African-American and I’m European-American. So I asked “Ha! Is that a racial slur?! You calling me a cracker?? Her answer was yes! Ha. When you know someone well you can tell their tone or joking in a text. I had a grand time catching up with her and Marshall and meeting his two young boys and new baby. There was a table of two older white couples sitting nearby, and one of the gentlemen could not stop staring at us with a huge grin on his face. We must have made quite a company with an Australian woman, a handicapped chick (me), Dina and her descendants all laughing and obviously very fond of each other. I guess in this mostly white-skinned area it was a treat to see such a loving mingling. At least it was to that table across the way.

A couple hours passed so quickly. We hugged and promised future get togethers. Again, I felt the oddity of coming such a long way for so long but only briefly seeing my friends, although it wasn’t a planned visit when I was plotting the course before I left. Still, it was a privilege to have the opportunity to see them at all. So off Robyn and I headed west to an overnight stop half way towards the Mt. Rushmore area. On our route was the somewhat famous Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, so of course we wanted to see that to break up the dullness of rolling plains and sparse habitation. The far horizons, big sky and treeless grasslands become surreal after awhile, so any diversion is welcome, especially if it prides itself in being decorated by the crops grown here.

Still adding bits to the most recent Corn Palace manifestation. It'll look even better with those finials on the ground up on the roof.

Still adding bits to the most recent Corn Palace manifestation. It’ll look even better with those finials on the ground up on the roof.

South Dakota has a more interesting history than it seems to have going on now. Thirteen years after being established as a Territory in 1861, an expedition led by the ill-fated General Custer found gold in the Black Hills. The Sioux Nation, whom had been “granted” their sacred Black Hills in 1868, refused to grant mining rights and of course things got ugly as gold fever spread. Miners weren’t the only people entering the area. The great migrations of people looking to farm and ranch the land came up the Great Lakes and waterways to the upper mid-west and spreading out around the same time.

The Great Dakota Boom of easterners and Europeans came in 1878, and it was a year later that Charles Ingalls moved his family to DeSmet, where his daughter Laura grew up to write her famous books about their little house on the prairie. Sioux City became the third-largest meat-packing city in America, mostly from pork raised by settlers. There was unusually abundant rainfall for ten years and crops thrived. To celebrate their prosperity they decided to showcase the abundance by building a corn palace. Most every year except in extreme drought or war efforts, a palace was built and decorated by the crops in their myriad colors, yellow corn, brown millet, etc., using the dry husks and seeds and flowers, cattails and grasses. I learned all this history inside as the structure is permanent now, and the walls around are lined with snippets of information and pictures of previous palaces.

I have a few of these type photos now from my trip around the country

I have a few of these type photos now from my trip around the country

As was normal for me on this trip, while at the Corn Palace souvenir shop I shared with the checkout person that I was on a four and a half month trip around the states. The young lady looked wistful and said how she wished she could do something like that. I gave her my practiced speech on the importance of words and what we tell ourselves, and how the phrasing can change our lives. So instead of saying I wish I could do (something) one day, you say, when I do this (something). Then the magic takes over in our brain and our subconscious efforts begin to lean in that direction to make it true. I wonder if any of these little encouragements I’ve given will take root? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to look into a crystal ball and see any repercussions?

Residents need some inspiration here. Many little towns seemed boarded up and barely functioning. I suppose they never really recovered from the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl Years in the 1930’s. Gone are the multitudes of family sod busters, their lands aggregated into large farming corporations, their heirs gone to bigger cities chasing work. The recent Depression started in Bush the 2nd’s presidency knocked those remaining pretty far back, too. But this is still salt of the earth folk. John Wayne was from here! But I guess he left, too. Robyn called the cemeteries we passed the dead center of town. Funny, but sadly true.

We passed a sign for DeSmet and as Robyn loved the Little House on the Prairie books we toyed with the idea of detouring, but the 55 miles off the highway and back deterred us. Maybe if we had known sooner we would be passing the spot we could have built it in, but we had aways to go. So on and on through the endless grasslands. Have I mentioned how the drop in gasoline prices have helped greatly on this trip? It’s creeping back up slowly but the majority of the Odyssey has been at the deflated prices, a helpful aspect as I’ve been in lots of hot areas where the air-conditioning was essential, and that burns fuel.

The mighty Missouri at Oacoma, SD

The mighty Missouri at Oacoma, SD

Finally the horizon seemed to dip a bit and we came upon the great Missouri River. We’ve been shadowing her since Omaha, Nebraska and now got to cross her wide waters at Oacoma, a small town on her bluffs. This is also the Crow Creek Sioux Tribal Headquarters, as a sign on the highway informed us. Our hotel was inexpensive so we had booked two rooms. I headed to the hot tub which could have been hotter, but the picture windows to the west that filled with pink and purpling clouds at sunset made up for that. My tub mates were very friendly, as I’ve found from many upper mid-westerners. They were polite and curious about everyone’s travel plans and how we all ended up in tiny Oacoma for the night. The openness was to continue the next day at breakfast. Friendly folk. I like that.

Day 8 (7/22/15) Oacoma to Mt. Rushmore are:
Oacoma, SD hotel breakkie a sparse affair. All carbs. White bread, bagel, English muffin, donut, waffles and accompanying slathers. Oh and hard boiled eggs and cereal. I opted for the egg to make a sandwich because I ALWAYS travel with Hellman’s mayonnaise. It makes anything better! Lol. Southern gal.

We had an easy drive which doesn’t mean we’re not traveling for 9 or 10 hours, it just means we can pull over where ever our fancy takes us and not try to eat up miles. So quick pic of the giant bison statue overlooking the Missouri River, some gas, and a bit of map contemplation and we were off. Flllllllllaaaaaatttttt plains. Yet green and grassy. I’m used to Texas or California where the spring green is gone by June usually so this is nice. It’s a bit dulling to one’s senses, though and a couple enterprising ranchers have added amusing eye candy to jolt you awake. A slyly funny moment occurred when we saw flat, metal cutouts in a field showing a life-size wagon and horses in full gallop, then in another field farther down were cut-out cowboys on horseback in hot pursuit, looking like they were bandits after the wagoneers. Very clever, and a nice way to spice up the monotonous grasslands. Another visual wake up was the sculpture of a dinosaur skeleton. The camel we saw later was real though, and the ever perky Wall Drug billboards crop up every once in a while. Seems we are getting closer!

Heh heh. Funny.

Heh heh. Funny.

Passed the time playing Robyn’s iPod through the van radio and conversation. We started speculating on something, I can’t remember what, but it led to Robyn telling me about Nominative Determinism. That’s when your name can bring about the outcome of your life. Say your last name is Stamp. That might lead you to be curious about stamps, becoming a collector or engraver of stamps. Apparently there was a man who named his boys Winner and Loser. These bizarre monikers so influenced the boys that it affected their lives in the long run, but not how you’d expect. Winner actually ended up in prison and Loser became a cop. A lesson in letting too much expectation ground you down and fighting to overcome an unfair designation. Endless prairie can stir up these musings.

Since cell reception was spotty, we stopped at rest stop we obtained a handy analog map. Who knew we’d have to preface the word ‘map’ now with that adjective? It showed this area and attractions, but not in a commercial flashy way. This was a comprehensive list probably put out by some government body. From this we determined that there really were lots of things to do here. Some very daggy, as Australians say when they mean smaltzy or dorky, although it can be said in affection, like to someone being sentimental or in obvious thrift shop wear. A daggy thing here as we near the Badlands/Black Hills/Mt. Rushmore area would be the wax museum with all the Presidents. Think I’ll give that a skip!

We decided to stop along the highway at the Petrified Forest. The building looked like it was stuck in the 1930’s. The zombie proprietor let us in and we hit the gift shop first, of course. I purchased a couple magnets and an interesting print of the biblical timeline. It reckons we’re 9000 years into the world since its beginning. This is really funny next to the million year old fossils. Now just watch, we’ll die and all will be revealed that everything was created just 9,000 years ago! OR…maybe it is a deep genetic memory and we actually are an alien-seeded race arriving 9000 years ago and we’ve forgotten. LOL!

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The Biblical print has a lot of other bizarre factoids that some among us still hold as truth. It mystifies me that we still hang on to the oddities of the Hebrew Old Testament with it’s severe dogmatic laws. These nomadic tribes in the desert lived 5000 years ago! They had to be nuts in the first place to live in a desert, right? Do we really want to consider stoning someone to death for not keeping the Sabbath, and other restrictions we consider outlandish today? There is a lot of wisdom that is valuable to hold dear. I’d rather cherry pick those wise social skills than the bizarre and violent edicts. As I understand it, Jesus came to change the Covenant and old ways, and turn our intentional cheeks to loving one another, no matter what. By hanging onto all those old, Hebrew laws, doesn’t that make Christianity just a breakaway Jewish sect? Funny thought isn’t it, especially how Christianity historically has gone to great lengths to distance itself from Judaism, pin-pointing them as killing Jesus, and keeping them out of the Golf Clubs for so long. It’s true though. Jesus was a Jew who sought to evolve Judaism and instead, His followers broke away.

Perhaps we should review and update the Old Testament like Emperor Constantine did in 325 A.D. when he called all the Christian leaders to Nicaea to work out a uniform canon of their beliefs and agree on things like when Easter is observed. They also declared heretical the teachings of some of the groups, as the new religion was scattered over the Empire and evolving different doctrines. Today Christians could keep the valuable teachings, trim the carbuncles and stop dragging archaic Law behind like a prehensile tail. No offense meant to the faithful. My favorite bumper sticker is “Speak the Truth and Run Away”.

IMG_7916After stirring up such ecumenical speculation, the rest of the petrified wood place was pretty daggy, although there were highlights like the rocks that glowed lurid radio-active colors under black lights, the shards of rock mined from the interior of George Washington’s nose at Mt. Rushmore, and petrified dinosaur poop. There were an old postcards of the business with Packards out front, so maybe I was actually in a time-warp!

The South Dakota plains. The pioneers took forever to get across them and we are too. We veered off Interstate 90 to head to the famed Badlands of South Dakota. Right off the bat we saw a preserved pioneer cabin, it’s root cellar buried in the slight hill, a barn and a large pen with a roaming goat to make it look like the homesteaders were just out of sight. Why settle here? Perhaps they just got tired of crossing the endless prairie and plunked down, refusing to go further. They would have been greeted by ubiquitous prairie dogs, as we were. I wonder if they saw them as a ready source of protein? But I guess there were still some buffalo, deer and elk back then, and good luck trying to catch a prairie dog. I love trying to throw myself back into the past and wonder what life was like. I mused in the car park, watching the quite close prairie dogs scamper between their mounds and warrens that protect them from swooping raptors and prowling coyotes. So cute! Destructive to human endeavor, like when cattle break their legs by stepping into one of the holes, but…not my problem! We thought they were adorable. Robyn was rapt in her instant love of the furry critters, so different from Australian fauna.

Much vaster than it looks here with no scale. People in this shot would be teeny tiny, if you could see them at all

Much vaster than it looks here with no scale. People in this shot would be teeny tiny, if you could see them at all

Our destination revealed a radically different landscape after the vast sea of grass. We took Hwy. 280 that eventually loops you back to I-90. 100 million years ago, in the late Cretaceous Period, this part of the country was the Western Interior Seaway that divided Mexico from the Gulf and came up through Canada to the Arctic sea, splitting the North American continent into Appalachia to the east and Laramidia to the west. (Who knew?) If you find yourself there now you are surrounded by the wind and rain-eroded former sediments of the ancient sea bed, pushed up by plate tectonics. The rising land drained most of the sea away and lush wetlands remained. Prehistoric animals moved in. Think dinosaurs et al. Eventually it turned to savannah and the animals that thrived there changed. The climate became drier and more severe, the oxygen levels lowered and bigger animals faded from the scene, their size heavily dependent on the richer oxygen levels.

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Erosion carved the old seabeds further into strange forms, the colors of the different sediments attesting to the eons. Not much grows today in the arid soil, but the land also dips away and down to large valleys below where the rains charge off the spiky, multi-hued pinnacles and gather, offering some life. The contrast is startling after endless grasslands. I keep thinking of what the first non-indigenous settlers must have thought to come to the edge of the valley and see the abrupt contrast of it after weeks of plodding across the prairie. Or the first Paleo humans who peopled this continent. It is forbidding and still a dangerous place. The Native Americans called it bad lands in their language, and more modern settlers have chosen not to change that name.

The loop road put us back to the interstate at Wall, SD, infamous for the gimmicky old store Wall Drug. We had started to see it’s bill board signs advertising ‘Free Ice and Water!’ 100 miles away outside Oacoma, SD. Perhaps you have seen bumper sticker on cars that say ‘Where the Heck is Wall Drug?’. As the billboards say, a pharmacist back in the 1930’s was tired of watching the slowly building car traffic go by his tiny town with out stopping. As pharmacies tended to have soda fountains too, his wife suggested offering free ice water to travelers, hot and tired after a long haul across the plains in cars that had yet to boast air-conditioning. It worked and the travelers ended up buying ice cream and sundries too.

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Today it is still a relief from the monotony of the road and something to do on your way to and from Mt. Rushmore. You’ll see every state license plate in the parking areas and tons of smaltzy attractions scattered around the sprawling complex, from a papier-mâché cowboy band to a giant rabbit with a saddle to sit on and have your picture taken, as well as a cornucopia of souvenir shops set up like an indoor town and a busy but lack luster restaurant. But the ice water is still free, they make delicious doughnuts and the coffee is only 5 cents!

How. On earth can they still have this dated stuff? Middle, white America is in a vacuum perhaps. Cozy in there?

How. On earth can they still have this dated stuff? Middle, white America is in a vacuum perhaps. Cozy in there? Well okay, this could be deemed historical. Many tribes were very kind to the immigrants.

All our dilly dallying was lengthening our day so we called ahead to Roosevelt Hotel in Keystone to alert them of our late check in. Robyn booked this place for us while still in Australia as a base to explore the Black Hills as I was already on the road when this part of the journey was being formed and therefore quite busy. She had read on Yelp or Travelocity some of the comments other travelers had left, and it surfaced that the proprietors locked up without apology or back up plan if you arrived after ten or eleven PM. Uh oh. And their phone number has 666 as prefix! What were we getting ourselves into? Most hotels will leave the key for you somewhere but some get all Nazi on you. We were a tad stressed with the uncertainty and moseyed a bit faster.

Upon arriving tired, but before “curfew”, we learned that “handicap friendly” only meant they’d talk to you in a friendly way, as there were four steps up to the entrance. Hmm. No scooter action then or trolley to the van for our luggage. They actually had a tiny trolley but you had to heft your gear up the steps first then do multiple trips because it was so small.. Traveling with my machines and our bags and a cooler made it aggravating. Then we learned that they turn off the elevator at 10:30pm. What?? Who does that? Never heard that one before. And what exactly are handicapped people supposed to do? I realize now why they only advertise handicap “friendly”. They obviously aren’t compliant with ADA. But we had arrived by 10pm and the place was clean, quiet, and the price was right for our family suite with living room so….whatever. We were still high from Wall Drug, weird rocks and prairie dogs, and looking forward to seeing the Black Hills in daylight. Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse over the next few days!

[Leg #10 is a long one, covering the three weeks Robyn Scott and I traveled together, so I’m splitting it up into more manageable sections – kf]

Day One (7/15/15):
My friend Anette, who came with me from her home in Madison, WI, and I woke up in the well-appointed, ground floor rental flat of a row house in the Lakeville district of Chicago. She had driven in with me the day before, helped get my gear in, and spent the night as my friend Robyn wasn’t due in from Australia until later today. I wrote about it but here’s quick recap. It was a beautiful day, sunny and in the mid-70’s F. Perfect for a walk/scooter through pleasant neighborhoods the 1.5 miles to Lake Michigan and one of it’s large lakeshore parks, Lincoln. Visited the Peggy Norbaert Nature Center and their delightful butterfly house. Nice walk back, stopping for lunch at a Jewish deli. I’m loving the look and feel of this place already. I can’t believe I’ve never made it up to Chicago on my travels before.

Off to the airport after a quick loop back to shut the garage door I suddenly realized we’d left open. Luckily it was in the alley of a safe neighborhood. Ditzy! I’m starting to get tired from this long trip and it’s affecting my brain power. After playing phone tag with Anette’s husband and finally rendezvousing with him in O’Hare’s cellphone lot, I said goodbye to lovely Anette and went to go pick up a very tired Australian. She was fried from her almost 24 hour journey with the layover in L.A.. so I took her back to the lovely rental that she that found for us a few months ago when she decided to join the Odyssey. I was already on the road when she signed on, and very happy she had found my travelogue on Facebook and memories of our recent trip to Yellowstone too irresistible. Especially now that bloody Sean had backed out of his commitment to escort me from Chicago to home. Ah well, it wasn’t really his fault. So I’m extra glad Robyn came over to join me, as now I can get to Vancouver at least. I put the word out on Facebook for help getting home from there.

In our Lakeville neighborhood of Chicago

In our Lakeville neighborhood of Chicago

After a little snack, she said her energy was ok even though she was brain dead so we opted to take public transport down as close to Navy Pier as a handicap person needing an elevator in and out of the subway can get to (more on that later) to watch the fireworks. Oh boy. Big mistake. What looked like a just a couple blocks on the map took longer to walk than we thought and it was with hearts sinking that we were still deep in the sky scraper canyons when we heard the fireworks going off. Cruel glimpses of reflections a couple of times on the glass towers teased us as we knew we were still to far to get there in time. We pressed hesitantly on and arrived just as they finished, fighting the stream of lucky watchers leaving the pier flooding against us. Robyn was exhausted by this time, even though the exercise was probably good after a long flight. To soothe our mood we tried to get a drink at the bar but they were closing. *sigh* Major Fail tonight. Figured out how to hop on a bus next to the pier to get back to an accessible subway stop and limped home. Poor Robyn! At least she was happy to be out of chilly, rainy winter back in Australia.

Day Two (7/16/15):
We love our rental, provided by Chicago Guest House dot com. We each slept soundly and had a late “breakkie” here in Chicago on this first full day of Robyn being here. The Australian slang will now commence. I swear they try to cut every word in half and add “ie”. Plus their seeming compendium of other useful slang. Having spent a few years there, I have picked up “heaps”.

We decided to take the van to the Art Institute as the weather had turned and it was about to start raining. We drove slowly through our intimate neighborhood, the streets not too wide, lined with row houses and lots of trees. At one four way stop sign I almost crashed into a woman jogging with a baby stroller who came out of nowhere from the shaded cross street and dashed across the intersection without stopping or looking. Oblivious, with her head phones on and a grim expression on her face. What kills me is that they are pushing their baby into imminent danger first! Like those morons that push strollers out from between parked cars. Kids are too low down to be seen properly by drivers. Arrgg. Ok, time to calm down. Damn baby stroller nazi. Lol.

We negotiated our way to the heart of downtown and to the Art institute, only getting lost once. The museum sits squarely opposite the Loop which is the core of downtown, and in one of the parks that line the lake (or The Lake, as it seems to be referred). We were headed for a previously researched parking garage a block away that had an elevator to get me and my scooter to the street. Once street level we had to make a dash in the rain, across the street, and up half a block to the museum but we didn’t get too soaked. I have all sorts of rain ponchos to protect me, my scooter and bi-PAP machine. A quick glance at the massive, bronze lions standing at the entrance since 1894 and we were in. Once inside we decided to split up. There is so much to see here and we each had a different focus. We both find wandering on our own and following our whims is a good way to do museums.

Chicago Art Institute paperweight collection.

Chicago Art Institute paperweight collection.

I have wanted to visit here for ages. I have had a coffee-table book of theirs for about 30 years. I scootered by the audio tour booth and was pleasantly surprised to get a set for free. I think the guy categorized me as handicap worthy. Cool! I got a pamphlet describing the layout and featured items. There is a huge Impressionist collection that is their centerpiece. I love Impressionists, but two other offerings caught my eye. There was a large paperweight collection donated by an avid collector, and I love paperweights. I have a few of my Mom’s, have bought a few on the Odyssey, and was given one by Susan at the Corning Glass Museum. So that exhibit was my first stop. One small room with thousands of paper weights arranged vertically in showcases. It was awesome!

Exquisite miniature rooms at the Chicago Art Institute

Exquisite miniature rooms at the Chicago Art Institute

Next door were three rooms of exquisitely crafted miniatures depicting typical living rooms from the 17th century to the mid-20th, recessed into the wall at eye level. Over 40 had been commissioned over the years by a wealthy woman who had fine crafts people make all the decor as exact replicas of the real thing. She even had tiny paintings from famous artists of the early 20th century, working furniture, real silver tea sets, and hand woven rugs. They weren’t too big, say 15 inches across by 10 in. deep and high, although many had windows that looked out onto a scene or a garden or a doorway glimpse into another furnished room. When I was a kid I made a few miniature dioramas, so these displays fascinated me and I probably spent too much time looking at everything in these two exhibits.

Pierre-August Renoir's "Seascape" at the Chicago Art Institute

Pierre-August Renoir’s “Seascape” at the Chicago Art Institute

It was almost time to check in with Robyn so I aimed for the rendezvous site in the lobby and got hopelessly lost. This is a big, rambling museum with connectors to different buildings, and that’s bad enough without adding the handicap access twist. The museum attendants help somewhat but even they get confused. I had to ask multiple times, go up and down elevators and far out of my way to ramps to go somewhere on the same floor. Crazy. I sailed through the Impressionists. I was too maxed out to fully appreciate them. Museums are places you should do in small increments, but who does that? It’s too expensive unless you’re a member. But leaving things undone is a good reason to come back.

After a quick conferral with Robyn, I dashed back up through the maze to see three iconic artworks they have here, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat, “The Nighthawk” by Edward Hopper, and “American Gothic” by Grant Wood. I actually enjoyed looking at people looking at these paintings more. I’ve seen photos of these works growing up, and yes, it is exciting to be actually standing in front of them, literally occupying the same space and perspective the artist did long ago, but as Robyn pointed out, it seemed silly to take a quick photo of it and walk on. How is that different from having seen a photo of it before? I see her very funny point. If I’d had more time and been less zoned out from sensory overload I could have stayed and studied the brushstrokes or something, or Googled the significance of this or that element. I love docent tours where they give you lots of context about the era, the artists influences, their personal life and how it might have affected the subject matter, or what each little item within the painting would have meant to the public at that time, or the message it was trying to relay.

Middle America now views Middle America then. "American Gothic" by Grant Wood at the Chicago Art Institute

Middle America now views Middle America then. “American Gothic” by Grant Wood at the Chicago Art Institute

More rain upon exiting. Harder now. We got drenched the block to the parking garage elevator. We were glad we brought the van though, as all we wanted to do was go home. We were mentally saturated as well, and tired and starving because we had mismanaged time and therefore skipped lunch. We debated stopping for food but opted to order take out and let someone else deal with the rain. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing to stop if it didn’t always take me a while to get out of the van, set up my walker with the bi-PAP machine and get into a building, then the same in reverse.

Once home we got no answer from noodle house we were trying to contact, even though their website said they were open. It was getting late and since we didn’t know what our other delivery choices were, we decided to get back in the van and drive there. Closed. I had a bit of an internal, border line “cracking the shits” moment. Too hungry and tired, “hangry,” when you’re hungry and angry at once. Luckily there was an open Greek taverna around corner, and a break in the rain. We slammed down some good food and beers. It was pouring coming out, but they helped us by holding umbrellas. What a day!

Day Three (7/17/15):
I was in sore need of quiet hibernation today after two days of bopping around Chicago with Anette and then Robyn. At the outset of this trip I planned to rest on every third or fourth day but it didn’t always happen. But today is free and clear, as Robyn has booked herself into two walking tours of the beautiful Art Deco features of the buildings downtown offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. She’ll be gone until dinnertime. I felt really droopy and stuporous, and when I can’t think straight it’s good to watch TV. Don’t need a brain for that!

Feeling better, I tackled my writing project to expand and transfer my Facebook posts into one “Leg” and drop them into my blog. It felt so good to write on this trip. The whole journey has had this other layer of continuous writing exercises. Fresh material every day made it easy. I just had to try and capture the experience and relay it to the friends who followed me on Facebook and the blog. It was such kick seeing it pop up on the screen when I’m finished. I got Leg #4 tidied up, added  my photos and loaded it onto the blog. Ta-da! Productive!

Easy evening. I made dinner while Robyn shopped for the coming days on her way home. We watched TV, as I worked a bit more on Leg #8 to post on Facebook (I’m so behind!) while Robyn researched boat tours. We had to determine if the boats were handicap accessible, where they go, the hours, etc. Turned out that cruises on the Lake, (not the rivers that split up the town) are either not accessible, or they are and very expensive dine & cruise or drinking & dancing affairs. Bummer, because I really wanted to go out on Lake Michigan and look back at the Chicago skyline abruptly stopping at the lake, with green parks fringing the water. Oh well.

Day Four (7/18/15):
Took our subway (Southport Station. Brown Line, transfer at Belmont or Fullerton to catch Red Line downtown) to the center of downtown, which was not very crowded on a Sunday. It mystifies me that there aren’t better handicap access subway stations downtown. The ones I could use were at the edge of “The Loop” that many subway lines took. It was impossible to get out right a the center of the action, at Wabash and Adams, where the Art Institute, Millennium Park and Grant Park are. You have to go a few long blocks in or out to find access. Luckily today we wanted to start a bit further in so it was okay.

Calder's "Flamingo"

Calder’s “Flamingo”

"The Four Seasons" by Marc Chagall

“The Four Seasons” by Marc Chagall

We walked around the Dearborn Street area to view famous sculptures. Chicago has these massive, outdoor art pieces by well-known artists. There’s a red, arcing, metal piece called “Flamingo” by Alexander Calder; a long, mosaic rectangle “The Four Seasons” by Marc Chagall; a creature-like abstraction is an untitled work by Picasso; “Moment with Standing Beast,” a mountainous, black and white shape by Jean Dubuffet; a playful female deity by Joan Miró and Nathan Mason’s “Cow”. There are many others, outside, in and farther flung that we never got to. But I saw art everywhere I went, even going through the neighborhood where I was staying, although granted, I did not see many neighborhoods besides the affluent ones nearby.

A female deity by Joan Miró

A female deity by Joan Miró

En route between these sculptures, Robyn relayed me some of the facts she learned on her walking tour yesterday, and took me into some of their stops. Glittering Art Deco lobbies, intricate entryways to office buildings and a lovely vestibule of a church were just stunning. In one office building with this over the top L-shaped lobby there was an older lady staffing the security desk. She was obviously lonely with no one there on the weekend and nearly talked our ears off. We had to cut her off when she started in on how she prayed for the wickedness of the young people these days. It must be hard to grow old and see styles and attitudes change beyond your comfort zone. No one likes change I think.

One of the many examples of Art Deco to grace Chicago

One of the many examples of Art Deco to grace Chicago

We wound our way back to Lake Michigan. I like how long stretches of the lakeside by the city are totally fronted by parks and some old harbor sites, like Navy Pier, which is a 50-acre entertainment and expo destination with restaurants, shops, a Children’s Museum, IMAX and Shakespeare Theaters, and a soon to be replaced Ferris wheel. Their site says it was “famed architect Daniel Burnham’s vision to transform the lakefront into attractive and useful public space for active recreation and social interaction – a source of pride and common ground that fosters a sense of community within the city’s diverse population.” Navy Pier was supposed to be Burnam’s ‘People’s Pier’, to be “a place where local residents and visitors from around the world come to experience the natural beauty of the lakefront and Chicago’s magnificent skyline.” We had been too tired to explore much when we missed the fireworks the night Robyn flew in, but we aimed to go back tonight.

We entered Millennium Park which sits between the skyscrapers and the Lake and occupies the northern end of the parks around the Art Institute. Then it started to pour. Luckily, a festival on a plaza had just finished and there was still a large tent shelter for us to duck under. Dark, black clouds scudded from over downtown and out towards the lake. It didn’t last long though. Robyn turned hippy, walking around in bare feet so as to not damage her shoes in the puddles.

'Cloud Gate' by Anish Kapoor. Known as "The Bean".

‘Cloud Gate’ by Anish Kapoor. Known as “The Bean”.

From our shelter we had seen “Cloud Gate” above us on the upper plaza level. It’s a huge (H 33 ft. x W 42 ft. x L 66 ft), stainless steel, reflective sculpture in the shape of a kidney bean by Anish Kapoor. The locals affectionately call it “The Bean”. It was cool to see it through the rainfall, water cascading down it’s slippery slopes. So after the downpour we went up to the Bean. It was freshly washed, still dripping wet, reflecting the passing rain clouds and tall buildings behind in the most enchanting manner. There was a park guard keeping us from approaching it, I suppose so you could take photos of the curving sides bending the reflections of the low clouds and city without anyone around it. After a few minutes he let us onto the plaza. It’s so bizarre to see yourself reflected on its mirrored surface, then walk underneath to see a circus-like distortion of yourself bounced around. So many languages were being spoken around me. I think Chicago must be a prime destination for tourists, or perhaps they are visiting their relatives who live here, as it seems Chicago has a similar melting pot history of New York. It may be also the coolest, closest, big city to visit if you live in the mid-west or heartland.

IMG_7626Still in Millennium Park, we wandered over to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a striking outdoor concert stage with a web of struts arching over the lawn in front. It was designed by Frank Gehry, who also designed a sinuous, stainless steel and wood bridge nearby. Another rain squall hit and we ducked into a tiny shelter shared by other determined tourists, then when it passed we cruised through Lurie garden, and down to Crown Fountain. This is another cool aspect of Millennium Park. There is a large plaza that has water features that I’m seeing more of on my trip. Water squirts up out of holes in the 230 foot long cement (or slate?) basin at irregular intervals, surprising the kids that get the biggest kick out of this, although on a hot day it would be a welcome respite for all ages. I did see a lot of parents enjoying the water, even though it had just rained. Maybe they decided to just embrace being wet today.

Dominating the plaza are two large rectangular blocks by Jaume Plensa, facing each other across the basin, standing 50′ high, 23′ wide, and 16′ deep, that are actually video screens showing a close up of someone’s face. 1,000 Chicagoans had their likeness filmed for a short amount of time, so the images are moving. I saw an old Chinese lady, a young black boy, and a teenage white girl while I was there. This is another aspect of continuing Burnham’s vision from the early 20th century, to include a diverse swathe of the city population. I heard that those residents lucky enough to be filmed liked to go down and look for themselves. At a certain point in the film loop their lips purse and their eyes close like they were blowing out air, and out of the structure comes a strong jet of water where there mouth is, looking like they are the ones spouting the stream. The kids scream and dash in and out of it’s force until it dies down a minute later. I found it charming.

One of the Jaume Plensa water art installations in Crowne Plaza

One of the Jaume Plensa water art installations in Crown Plaza

Hungry after our public art viewing and traipse through Millennium Park, we realized we had been a bit slack in exploring Chicago’s famous deep dish pizza pies, BBQ, or having a big steak, so we tried to find the best hot dogs. The joint Yelp suggested was closed, being Sunday downtown, although it was supposed to be open. Which goes to show you that Yelp isn’t the end all, be all, although they are mostly ace-o-matic. We found one that offered styles from all over the USA. Not surprisingly, the “Dallas Dog” with chili, onions and cheese was the one I wanted.

Marina City

Marina City

We then walked up State St. toward the Chicago river, past the Joffrey Ballet, which I’d forgotten was based here, past Lake and on towards Marina City, those twin, mixed-use apartment/commercial buildings made famous from films. I remember a car chase from the Steve McQueen movie ‘The Hunter’, when a car shoots out of the 17th floor of the parking garage and flies out and nose dives into the river below. It’s seared in my mind. The towers anchor one corner of the Bataan-Corregidor Bridge with it’s lovely views up and down the Chicago River, lined with old high-rises and new skyscrapers. The other corner is dominated by the new Trump tower.

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We were heading for the Wendella family’s long established river boat tour, specifically the Architectural Tour. It was a bit tricky to find an elevator to river level and involved trekking back to Trump Tower and taking a parking garage elevator to an undeveloped commercial area then walking back to another elevator that would take you to Wendella’s. All with out much signage. Luckily we were early so we figured it out and then went to a Peets coffee nearby to recharge our cell phones and have something to drink.

Fantastic Wendella River Cruise!

Fantastic Wendella River Cruise!

Originally we thought we’d walk around looking at the art downtown and catch the 2 or 3pm river cruise, but our dawdling delight in downtown delayed us and we ended up booking the last 75 minute Architectural tour at 8pm. Oh my. That was the best thing that could have happened! It was a wonderfully warm, clear, evening. The light was what we used to call in the film industry the  “magic hour” when all is bathed in a softening glow. We sat on the open upper deck of our boat and heard the history of famous landmarks as they slid by. A lot of famous commerce started out from here like Montgomery Ward Catalog Company. Business ran into the city too, as cattle driven up on famous routes like the Chisholm Trail, and hogs raised in farms across the upper mid-west entered the feed lots and meat-packing plants and were carried by rail back east. Chicago fed Union troops in the Civil War and by the beginning of the 20th century was supplying 82% of America’s meat. The effluent from all the carnage was so bad that the city actually engineered the reversal of the flow of the river so that it wouldn’t enter Lake Michigan and foul the drinking water. Humans are fascinating. We’d rather make a fix than alter the problem. Forward ho!

This town has been a major hub since people began to seriously move westward, sailing through the Great Lakes to here or Milwaukee as it was an easier passage than hauling overland before the railroads. Most of the upper mid-west was populated from these two towns. My great-great-grandparents came that way from Massachusetts in the first half of the 1800’s and settled in Wisconsin. A great-grandfather on a different branch landed in Chicago after emigrating from Alsace-Lorraine in the 1870’s, perhaps by then coming via the railways which expanded from 1850-1870, bringing more people and commercial interests. Later, taking advantage of the fairly easy access to the Mississippi, his son came to St. Louis where he met my grandmother and my dad was born. History is fascinating.

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Being on a boat historically connects us with a whole host of our forebears, and I was thrilled to be on the water at this lovely time of day. As we rode up the river and then aways up the North and then the South Branches, we watched the sunset and then dusk settle, casting warm colors on the tall buildings, old warehouses, drawbridges, train station, apartments, and mirrored skyscrapers. It was magic. In the last lingering light we steered back up the main river with the buildings lit up both inside and out, and continued to Navy Pier, her Ferris wheel lit and beckoning. The boat slowly turned around to take in the glorious site of Chicago at night. Stunningly gorgeous. My heart was so full. I love Chicago! I got to see the city from the lake as I’d wanted to, and at such a wonderful hour. Yay!

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Returning to the quayside in the full dark now, and getting an extra treat to stay on the boat longer because the handicapped access quay was the next one down, we then caught a bus to Navy Pier, and found a good viewing spot just as the fireworks began to go off. Nice shapes. A few hearts, smiley faces, sparkling cascades, and regular ones of differing sizes. We stayed on the Pier and had a nice dinner at Harry Carey’s with all his sports memorabilia, bantering with our Irish waiter. We were tired but so satisfied with the day! It was fabulous.

Took a bus to the subway, and the woman attendant remembered me. I need a ramp brought out at the stops here for my scooter. It’s not like New York where you go to a raised platform and self board. Chicago has an on-call attendant during running hours, maybe because their Union negotiated having a human do the work? It provides a job, so great! Plus you get to know the workers at your stop so we joked around, her teasing me that I was coming home late. She had never heard of the free summer fireworks down at the Pier on Wednesdays and Sundays! She said she was now going to take her kids. I love interacting with people. So much information can be shared. Arrived back about 1am, and still had to pack to leave the next day. BIG day today.

Day 5 (7/19/15):
After hitting the hay at 2am after our huge day in Chicago, I get woken up at 6am when my oxygen concentrator failed and alarmed. Luckily, it is only a nightly supplement of oxygen therapy, tapped into my bi-PAP ventilator. The bi-PAP was still working thank goodness, because I use that all the time and it is the important machine. Even if there is a power outage the bi-PAP has batteries that last about 9 hours. So instead of panicking and going out to the van to get my spare concentrator, which of course I had because I had brought a back up to everything involved with the medical aspect of my travel, I turned off the alarm and got some more sleep.

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It was our morning to leave Chi Town though, and although very groggy we had to pack the van and go after tidying our rental house up a bit. I wanted to swing by Wrigley Field just to say I had, then we crossed the city, getting lost even with GPS because the name of the road we wanted had a SW or a NE or something confusing the Garmin. We were headed for the suburb Oak Park, where Frank Lloyd Wright had a home and there were other homes he designed near by. Robyn had read about it and wanted to do a short walk around them while I crept behind her in the van like a stalker. His home is now a welcome center, but we had printed out a map online showing the houses to look for. They are not far apart, and although we didn’t see all of them we got a good sense of FLW’s ideas and influence. Only later did I discover that his home “Taliesin” was just half an hour west of Madison, WI, where I stayed with Anette before coming to Chicago. Oh well. Like I say, something to go back for.

Oak Park area of Chicago.

Oak Park area of Chicago.

All in all Chicago was fantastic. The first time visit for us both and I enjoyed it so much. I could go back and explore the museums and restaurants more, find some more art, take that walking tour that I missed, and discover other delights. Hopefully one day.

IMG_6830Slept long and hard after my hot tub and late snack, recuperating from New York City. I was at a fabulous hotel between Bridgeport, CT and Shelton. The Hyatt House was close to my definition of the perfect hotel—bell hop service, large rooms with microwave, small frig, (no freezer though to refreeze ice packs so tiny points deduction) far enough from the road to be quiet, indoor pool and hot jacuzzi area with a changing room/bath room so you don’t freeze in the air conditioning going back to your room in your wet suit, free breakfast, 1:30pm check out by request (12 otherwise), super friendly staff to help the handicap chick, and only $109! And there was a small bar and pool table. A sight I hadn’t seen before across the States.

This afternoon was a driving day to my sister, Gale, in southern New Hampshire. I got back on a parkway. I like those highways because no commercial trucks are allowed. Connecticut is nice with rolling, forested hills. My impression was mostly due to the parkway though, as they tend to be pretty. You might drive through the middle of someone’s farm but it’s a four-lane road. (Did that phrase ever confuse you? I tend to think it means 4 lanes on either side, but no.) Sometimes the asphalt lanes seemed to be just laid over the existing landscape. Why that struck me is a mystery, because all roads fulfill that scenario but I suppose it’s because I grew up with roads having usually large verges and fence borders. The East Coast parkways just look different to me.

Got on I-91 North for awhile and cruised through Hartford. Looked nice from the highway. Skipped the Basketball Hall of Fame, but when I got off to check my map thinking I’d gone the wrong way, there was a large sculpture of a high top sneaker at the corner gas station so I think it’s serious here!

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Eventually I got sick of not seeing some of this country up close so when I saw a sign for Historic Deerfield, Mass., I veered off. I was really glad I did. Wonderful little 18th century village road, mostly all still lived in as far as I could tell, although some were museums and/or open to the public. I didn’t get out of the car because they were closed due to the lateness of the hour and I wanted to arrive before sunset. I drove through old town Brattleboro, VT and liked it, too. It’s more 19th century, hilly, with deep red brick and stone commercial buildings next to a large river. I stopped somewhere after that and got to talking to a young man about 20 who said he liked living there. When I asked him about the locals he said he was still friends with a lot of high school buddies and they were cool people. The rest of the demographic were were regular folk, but about one quarter redneck. Just like most American small towns I think.

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Finally I headed way off the main roads, eventually bumping down a dirt one past a lovely old stone bridge to get to my sister’s civil war era house across from a lively creek. She fed me homemade borscht with homemade yogurt and blueberry custard while we caught up. She’s 17 years older than I, left home when I was 1 year old, and always lived far from Texas, so we actually haven’t spent tons of time together. We are very different but still share many similar interests so I’m happy to be here.

IMG_6763The next few days were spent catching up on sleep from my NYC adventure and writing about it, correspondence, booking parts of the next leg, and slipping into my sister’s family life. The curiosity of Harry and Jack the dogs roused me each morning when I heard their nails clicking on the wooden floor of my room which was my sister’s office space. Gale fed me out of her garden, which was lovely to sit in during the day. I got to finally have time to establish a rapport with my grown nephew Rob. He has Down Syndrome and always ducked his head and fled the room before. This time he talked to me and told me stories made up with his action figures. He’s a sweetheart and laughs and sings.

One day I ran around with Gale doing errands: dairy farm for milk and ice cream, a friend’s house for eggs, small general stores run by people she knows and a couple real estate chores. One was a lovely house she was realtor for, with view of mountains and a little girl who chatted with me. Kids are curious about my bipap mask. Babies want to grab it. Slightly older ones stare and a little older ones are afraid. I don’t conform to the normal human they have learned to identify. I make a point of waving at them and you can see most of them visibly relax. They understand waving. Trying to explain to them what my machine does is a little over their heads though until they’re older. When I see a kid surreptitiously staring at me I always ask if they are curious about my mask. They shyly nod and I tell them it helps me breathe.

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Gale told me that a few of her real estate clients are Doomsday Preppers looking for their contingency plan spot when the proverbial all hell breaks loose. The New England woods is peopled with quite a few independent and self-reliant homesteaders who trust only their neighbors, if they pass judgement. Very old school. I wonder how they’d feel about someone coming in to build a compound protected by an arsenal of weaponry, practicing how to kill anyone coming by for food. Would you trust a neighbor who wasn’t into community support? Paranoia can be so…testy. I guess the DP’s are hoping to bond with the ones who share the dead-end dirt road with them and barricade everyone else out.

Speaking of woods, this part of the country has been on a radical landscape bell curve. What was once First Nations woods became 85% cleared land by Old World immigrants looking to farm until not long ago. Then around 60 years ago the economy shifted to more readily available grocery foods and the conglomeration of farming and ranching agribusiness reduced the need for the rocky, mostly hardscrabble land and so it reverted to woods. Today it is now back up to 85% woods.

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The woods and old farms are charming. We went down a supposedly old Indian road, by a lovely creek with cascading falls. There were odd lines stringing along the fence, going from tree to tree and Gale said it was modern maple syrup farming. No more drip buckets. The lines channel the sap to a central tank. I wonder about clogs and breakages from weathered lines, but I guess this is the way it is for some. A lot of the lovely old villages are set up on hillsides. My sister, who can be fanciful, said it was to see Indian trouble coming back during early white settlement, but there are mill towns by rivers, too. Commerce usurps safety.

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After a few days of this idyll I took the back roads through New Hampshire and past romping deer to visit my niece, Terra. The tiny hamlets and roads are almost all antique houses, well kept up, or gently used, but all had tidy yards, and many had flowers. There are old white churches proudly displaying their inception dates which are almost all in the 1700’s. Plenty of Historical Markers to peruse on buildings and on the roads. I learned of a huge 18th century Soapstone source. I later learned you can amateur mine or search streams for gemstones throughout New England.

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Being the 3rd of July there was lots of red, white and blue bunting, flags and signs relaying info about firework shows and local parades. Down a long lane was a nice, partially passive solar heated house with my niece, her 13 y.o. son, her new husband and his 4 y.o. boy. Dean had made a delicious fresh halibut dinner. There were good conversations getting to know Dean, catching up w/Terra and telling them about my trip over the time I was there. Lots of great Italian food as they both have that heritage.

The Italian antipasti on the 4th was divine. Pickled then oiled and herbed eggplant strips, a snail carbonara called scungilli, (don’t screw up your face, it was amazing!) bruschetta artichoke/tomato mix, olives, cheese, fruit. Then tender lamb w/tzaziki, corn on the cob, and pot luck brought by friends, a Southwestern Something salad (sweet potato, corn, black bean, avocado, bell pepper, cilantro). Lively conversation. Chocolate and digestifs. Naps.

A misty evening greeted us after a rainy afternoon as we marshaled our energy to go see fireworks. On the way and at the field in Milford we saw the two planets that are so close now on the sunset horizon. Venus and Jupiter I think. We camped out by the car in the parking lot. There were some young people singing nearby, sometimes quite badly! Our boys were messing around while we waited and called out “Do the Hokey Pokey!” and all the singing neighbors spontaneously finished the line. I had brought sparklers from home that amused the boys and us until the fireworks display. I love fireworks. I was mesmerized by the two planets, too. A lovely evening.

On the way home the boys were amped up and noisy in the back seat. Here’s what followed:
Dean: Ok. You guys need to be quiet now. (Mayhem continues) Tone it down guys!
Mario: Dad!
D: It’s time to be quiet now.
M: Dad!!
D: What?
M: Can I tell you something?
D: No. Be quiet.
M: Dad! Can I tell you something?!
D: (sigh) Ok. What?
M: I’m not going to talk now. (Pause. We laugh uproariously)

Another bon mot from Mario was the phrase, “You are out of my universe.” Ha! The adults speculated that it would also be good turned around—”You are SO in my universe!”

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 NYC (6/24-28/2015)
Just like my time in the Florida Keys, it’s taken me a few days to let my NYC experience percolate down and distill into something I could write about. Anyone who’s ever been there or heard about it probably understands. It’s a sensory, visceral cornucopia with charming to shocking highlights. I love visiting. Could I live there? For a while maybe, with a decent job in place, in a nice neighborhood near a handicap accessible subway. The conditions would have to be perfect. Wouldn’t it be fun to be wealthy enough to have a little pied å terre there? A small flat you could rent out with airbnb or VRBO while you’re away and stay in when you got the urge.

This was my, let’s see, sixth trip to the Big Apple. (Last time I’ll use that tag I promise.) I’ve stayed in a range of places. 1) A dive hotel the other side of the Hudson River in New Jersey, arranged by a charter flight company after a cheap trip to England. I was a kid, and only remember my mom looking at it with distaste and my dad worried about security in the hallway and the car outside. 2) In my late 20’s, on my way to Europe during a 6 month trip with two Australian friends, we stayed in an acquaintance of their’s loft space in the garment district that was so noisy you had to shout across the sofa. 3.) On our way back from Europe we shared a tiny cubicle at the YMCA near the United Nations building. 4) A rental apartment owned by a gay guy in a brownstone in Queens, right over the East River in Queens/Brooklyn, at age 31. 5) The Waldorf-Astoria. HA! With my mom as an overnight before we got on the Queen Mary Two to sail to England when I was about 45 years old. Quite diverse, huh? This time I was in a bare bones ground floor (and basement) airbnb in Washington Heights near the top of Manhattan Island, a predominantly Dominican/Puerto Rican family neighborhood with large apartment buildings about 6-7 stories high. Our apartment was next to the parking lot for the guards at small correctional facility. Crazy, right? But it’s actually the third safest borough on Manhattan and the security cameras in the prison lot assured that there was no crime around it unless you were insane. I was never afraid there and we walked home quite late most nights. In fact, I was looking forward to the cultural aspects of the place.
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Day One:
My old friend, Lindsay’s son Devon, flew in from Denver to hang in NYC with me. I arrived alone earlier than he did from Jen’s place in Pennsylvania. I needed help so the owner of our airbnb in Washington Heights offered to move my gear and valuables out of the van because the friend of a friend who had generously offered to help me got lost and arrived 2 and a half hours late. Oh well. He tried. Thank the gods the owner was nice and available.

It had been a painless drive into the city. I was glad I’d purchased an EZPass in Virginia for the tollways. I used up $35 worth of prepaid tolls getting from Alexandria, VA and into and around NYC, using the last to get out on a tollway. The toll fares there are steep! Coming in I-95 through New Jersey there were beautiful views of the whole city following me on my right Good thing I was also watching the road because someone’s hard shell roof carrier, a Thule or Yakima, had just flown off his car and was between two lanes, causing the traffic to veer wildly around it. I’m glad it wasn’t rush hour yet! It was parallel to the lane so that’s better than straddling it. The guy was pulled over a few hundred yards ahead and freaking out. Poor guy. I hope no one was hurt in an accident after me.

So I crossed the George Washington Bridge, avoiding the snarl of Manhattan, exited along the Harlem River Parkway and only had to go a few blocks in as the airbnb was at 163rd street between the Bronx River and the Hudson River. After I was all moved in, my old friend Monte, whom I hadn’t seen in about 15 years, swung by to see me and go to dinner. We chatted a while and then strolled (well, he strolled, I scootered) towards a restaurant the owner had recommended a few blocks away. We saw older men sitting at card tables by their buildings playing early evening dominoes, families who had brought chairs out to the sidewalk to enjoy the end of the day, young men joking and boasting to each other in doorways, and people laden with groceries heading home from work. I know New Yorkers can be suspicious of friendly people but I don’t care, I say hi to people sitting around if I want to as I cruise by and most all smile and respond. We need more of that then instant fear or exclusion. Maybe we’d get along better if we did.

We ate at La Parilla. It was a melange of Cuban, Venezuelan, Dominican, and any other Caribbean foods they could accommodate, although they were out of many things which was funny really, if initially annoying. We shared table-side, freshly made guacamole, then empanadas, a seafood sampler, and beef steak with white rice and black beans, and a couple beers. Monte walked me home, took off for his place down near Little Italy and Devon arrived from his flight to La Guardia not long after. We chatted a while then hit the hay as we had lots we wanted to see and do the next day.
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Day 2:
Devon, who is a big news hound, told me this morning that SCOTUS had passed the Marriage Equality Act. WOW. You can love whomever you want! What a concept. My friend Eric wants to know if he can marry his Canine-American companion now. What a character! I had to ask what SCOTUS was. Supreme Court of the United States. When did that and POTUS become popular? A few years ago I guess. I kept saying what’s this POTUS thing? LOL. President of the United States. OK. We love acronyms.

After a locally sourced breakfast, a typical egg sandwich you can get most anywhere that has a grill top in this city where eating out or ordering in has become a fine art, we went to the 168th St. subway stop. The 163rd/Amsterdam Ave. stop was closer but not handicapped accessible, a problem in this city that continued to divert our walking routes into longer ones than able-bodied people. We struggled a bit with the automated ticket dispenser. It wasn’t very clear about the difference between the multiple ride cards. I tried to ask a local who was at the terminal next to me. I knew it would be a weird experience as New Yorkers are famous for staying in a seclusion bubble of their own creation as a defensive measure, and sure enough the lady who stood two feet from me acted completely deaf when I said, excuse me, can you tell me the difference between these two? Not even a change of expression on her part even though I was facing her. Still facing her, I said, hmm well I guess not. Hello? Startled, she looked at me like I had just materialized out of thin air. Now, I don’t look threatening. I’m obviously a handicapped woman in a scooter and not begging, so I guess that she was so used to isolating herself that she had stopped seeing the living, breathing world around her. I find that sad. Why treat a new person with suspicion and assume that they automatically want something from you that will in some way be detrimental? I’d rather have a friendly encounter with someone. You don’t have to completely lower your guard in case they are falsely friendly. You can play it by ear, and it opens you up to possibly pleasant encounters. I think I’d be a bad New Yorker!
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We winged it as far as the tickets went, finding out only later that I could have had a reduced disability fare from the subway staffer in the info kiosk. Oh well, My own fault for not being better prepared. I think I’ve mentioned before that I didn’t micro-plan all of my destinations because the scope of this trip was so big and the big picture planning consumed a lot of time. So serendipity or lack thereof has had the upper hand for the most part, as I only do a cursory pre-plan right before I get somewhere.

So with that in mind, this day I put myself in Devon’s hands and was happy to have him choose our itinerary according to his whims. He lived here briefly as a kid and likes to wander and soak it up. Our first destination was to take the free Staten Island ferry over and back, just for the chance to get out on the water and see the southern tip of city from the sea. Very different from the last time I took the ferry when the Twin Towers still stood before 9/11. Many blocks before our destination at the ferry terminal, a subway attendant just happened to pop his head into our car to tell us to get off now to access a functioning elevator because the accessible elevator at the ferry was out of service. NYC was going to be like this, a learning curve of which stops even had elevators and then if they were working. There’s supposed to be a number to call, but I never worked it out besides trial and error.
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A lot of my description of where we were for this day will be vague as Devon led the way and didn’t really tell me what street I was on unless I asked. I was so busy trying to look at everything and negotiate the sidewalk and street crossings that I didn’t ask much. I think we got out in Tribeca and traversed about 15+ blocks to get to the ferry. This is deep downtown, full of high rise buildings, Wall Street, in what was the oldest part of the original Dutch settlement but not much evidence of that remains. The first thing I noticed was a parking lot with stacked “shelves” four cars high that could be hydraulically lifted up and down to drive the cars out of the slots. Next stand outs were the minute, little, green parks that provided a bit of nature amongst all the commerce and a nice place for office workers to eat their lunch.
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We saw a couple of homeless and/or drunks/druggies laying about. One man laying on cardboard was passed out in a twisted position with a sign that said “Fuck you. Pay me for drugs.” How New York. Actually, Monte told me that while Giuliani was mayor he vowed to clean up the city and one of his efforts was rezoning facilities that catered to the homeless and relocating them out of the city. He then bussed out all the human detritus that made both visitors and locals uncomfortable. Whether you agree with Giuliani or not, it has made New York City safer and smelling less of urine.

Another guy I remember passing had a table and signs demanding we impeach Obama and wanted us to know that Russia’s President, Putin, is a friend and not the enemy—that Wall Street is. Ex-KGB head Putin our friend? Eating up the old Soviet satellite states and tempting another Cold to hot war? Come on–really? Sounds like this sidewalk barker was the same person generating “news” for FOX.  I wonder about that station. I caught one of their news programs that said all Liberals are anti-Christian. Wow. I know political liberals who are good Christians. Isn’t that kind of Jesus’ message? To be bleeding heart liberals to one another? Connecting Liberalism with an Anti-Christian stance just further divides us politically.  That’s all we need to rile up people who think that if it’s on a TV news program then it has to be true, and spread the chasm of partisanship further than it is already. Too kooky for me. Back to the chasms of downtown NYC.

The new World Trade Center.

The new World Trade Center.

Our trek to the ferry took us past St. Paul’s Church, New York’s oldest public building in continuing use, survivor of the 1776 Fire, and host to George Washington on Inauguration Day. It is also across from the site of the twin World Trade Centers that came down in the terrorists attack on 9/11/2001. Amazingly, the church and old graveyard from 1766 survived that destruction and served as a recuperating spot for the firemen and police who were dealing with the aftermath. You can see one of the old wooden pews that was scarred from their utility belts as they tossed and turned and tried to grab some much needed sleep before going back out to search for survivors. There’s a nice commemoration to them inside. The easy to access public toilets are a bit of a hidden gem in the city, too. Men stand outside the church grounds on the sidewalk and try to earn money off our fascination with 9/11 by selling booklets with pictures and text about the whole mess and and telling you they were there. I’m not sure about that, but obviously some people believed them. The new trade center rises high and glassy across the street it but is still a building site and surrounded by construction barriers.

After trying to read the gravestone dates from the fenced path we continued on to the ferry. Neither of us felt like going to the 9/11 museum. We passed the Wall Street Bull, parts of his bronze exterior shiny from people rubbing him for good financial luck. There was The New York Stock Exchange and the Courts. We ended up on Broadway and made it to the tip of the island and the docks.

It was a cloudy day but warm and it it felt good joining the press of people surging onto the ferry. It is very wheelchair/scooter accessible, albeit a steep ramp to get onto the boat, and there is ample seating both inside and around the decks. Of course everyone wants to be on the side facing the Statue of Liberty. I wonder if they have to ballast the opposite side for smoother sailing? Remember that over-populated ship of people fleeing the troubles in North Africa recently that capsized because everyone ran to one side to see the near miss of another ship? Not that our ferry was over-crowded.
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It was cool to look back at the receding city skyline, green Battery Park (under renovation), and a tall sailing ship docked by it, and then to turn your attention to the growing size of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on the starboard bow. I remember the helicopter tour of New York I did 20 years ago when I got to do a figure eight around her. I’ve never been out to her little island though. I can admire from afar. When Mom and I took the Queen Mary 2 from NYC to England we watched her slide by our window after leaving our deep berth dock in Brooklyn on our way out to sea.

The ferry makes you get off at Staten Island now and wait with the crowd to go back. We grabbed some expensive sandwiches in the terminal to eat, because even though NYC is full of great restaurants, you end up grabbing whatever is close when you’re hungry when you’re wandering about. Upon reboarding, we sat inside and I observed the signs around me while I ate. I learned that heroin kills more people now than auto accidents and that there is emotional fallout from Super Storm Sandy with kids, so if they show certain signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder you can get help from a facility.

Back on Manhattan we decided to take a bus further up into town since that inaccessible subway still had me stymied. All the buses have a hydraulic ramp that unfolds out the front door, and everyone is very patient waiting for the handicapped. We watched the city slide by, going up I think Trinity Place and Church St. I noticed the small neighborhood pickup basketball courts. One in particular is featured in many movies. It had a big Nike sign on it so it’s a place for serious amateur basketball folk and occasionally the famous players who come down to pick up a game with the street pros.
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Getting out near the trompe l’oeil Flatiron building we walked by it, enjoying how it looks impossibly thin from a certain angle, and then into the park it faces. There’s a Burger Shack outlet there, chairs and tables, fountains and walkways for people to enjoy. It was still cloudy but not too hot or cool so very pleasant. Dev led me around all over after that – Grand Central Station to see the renovated interior with the constellations on the over-arching ceiling of the main hall, past the NY Library and her famous seated lions out front, Rockefeller Plaza with the winter ice-skating rink seasonally turned into a fancy courtyard restaurant, into NBC Studios, the Winter Garden, another old church. We saw the Empire State building from afar and might have gone by Madison Square Garden, I’m not sure. I was just soaking it all up. We ended up at Columbus Circle on 59th, a spot we would go back to frequently because it has the last handicap elevator for the A and C lines before 125th. It’s at one corner of Central Park, and there’s the Time-Warner Building with a Whole Foods in the basement where we shopped. There’s also a handy bathroom on the 2nd floor, which is good to know because the subway bathrooms are usually locked or in bad shape. Tired but happy we bobbed along in the subway and got home late, enjoying a nice jaunt to our abode to crash for the night.

Day3:
Today I adapted to NYC flow. I jay walked the intersections against the red light if there was no cars coming, leaving the timid in my dust.  I loudly told lost tourists blocking the ramps at street corners looking lost to please get out of the way. There is a fine crowd ballet occurring, where you wheel and weave to avoid others like a flock of one, or two as I was with Devon. I noticed that you can’t tell the crazies who are talking to themselves apart from the Bluetooth cell phone users anymore. I heard snippets of passing conversations: “if you loved me you’d know this.”—”…she swung and missed him then fell over. I was laughing hysterically!”—”…assaulting a bus driver is a criminal offense.”—”…and you’ve got things to do! The thing about living downtown is…”—”…then I said…”. I could probably write book about overheard bits of talk here.
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Let me tell you about the subway for a handicapped person. There are only elevators at certain stops as I said before. There are only a couple bathrooms that aren’t locked or nasty. There are signs telling Wheeled Americans where the platform is higher so they can board the cars without a step up, but the cars vary and sometimes there is a large gap that will trap your wheels. I was lucky enough to have Devon with me with these quasi barriers, but people seem genuinely helpful, too, making way as I barrel on because I had to get my speed up to bridge the larger gaps. That was a bit scary because I had to immediately halt or I’d smash into passengers or the other side of the subway car! I imagine it’s bit like landing on an aircraft carrier. The signs directing you to the handicap platform area are a bit confusing. There’s one that has the handicap symbol and a big U-turn symbol. Those are not the part of the platform you need. They are directing you to the elevators. Look for “Boarding Area” with the handicap symbol. Plusses are the reduced handicap metro card, and a handy handicap subway access stop map, but go to the staff in the booths down there to obtain those, and keep in mind that elevators break down, take awhile to fix, and limit your choices further.

Our destination after a bit of a walk (accessible subway stop problem) was the Natural History Museum. We passed Lincoln Center and then, going up Central Park West we stopped at the Dakota apartment building where John and Yoko Lennon lived and where he was killed on the pavement outside the doors. Yoko kept the apartment, and although she didn’t live in it for many years, she did move back in and has been there a while now. I don’t know if I could have done that. I guess she wanted to focus on the happy memories they had there. It was a beautiful day out so I liked thinking that.
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For some reason I thought Natural History Museum was just displays of animals, but it is so much more. There’s animals of the world as well as fossils from the past and the monkey to human timeline. It strives to describe the evolution of human history like the first emergence of sacred burial, tools and art. Then as we diversified further as a civilized species, there’s room upon room full of vignettes of all the cultures of the world and examples of their clothes and art and unique tools. I watched international visitors search out their culture to see how we see them. It’s a fascinating place. I felt sad though in the old diorama rooms of stuffed, real animal species grouped by continents and ecosystems. There were examples of adults as well as the young and the thought that some poor animal and baby had to die to be “collected,” as the old plaques say in thanks to those governments and hunters that “procured” them, struck me as so unnecessary. Through education most of us know now that the practice of specimen collection or over-harvesting can lead to extinction and environmental stresses but as it is with humans, we only take notice when it’s too late or almost too late. Like we are doing with the environment now. Will we learn before we “soil our own nest” and make life difficult for our species? It also disturbs me that we are dragging so many other species down, too. All I can do is try to live lightly on this planet. Know where my spending dollars are going so they don’t support unsustainable and unethical practices.

Another dinosaur takes it's home on the road!

Another dinosaur takes it’s home on the road!

5000 year old script

5000 year old script

Duck bill children’s toys and bag from far northern Eurasia/Siberia.

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I think these were Japanese figurines. Could be Chinese or Korean.

So the $4.25 bottle of tea at the National History Museum basement cafeteria was worth it for all the cool exhibits and the planetary stuff in the huge central atrium. Oooh and the different museum stores were way cool too, as well as their pay-what-you-like entrance fee policy. They suggest $20 but will take as low as .05!

A stroll in Central Park across the street seemed a great balance after being indoors and figuratively around the world and eons. It was difficult to access on a scooter which mystified me and quite frankly pissed me off. A Wheeled American had to go up a few blocks or down a few blocks from the museum to get to a sidewalk ramp, even though there is a light to cross to the park right out front. What the hell New York??!! Arrrggg. I of course bucked the system, using the delivery road slope at the museum to get to street level and scootered up the road in the taxi cab lane (empty, luckily) and then over at the light right out front of the museum. There was a ramp to the curb on the park side. Again, WTH?
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Once inside the environs though it was very accessible and peaceful and soothed me instantly. Having the foresight to set aside this parkland from rabid developers, and let’s face it, they are bastards about seeing only dollar signs instead of humanity or historical significance, was one of the best things the powers that be have done for this über metropolis. We strolled around woods, past jutting mounds of rock scored by ancient glacial action, huge playing fields, lakes, grassy spots to picnic and sunbathe, playgrounds and sports courts. Joggers and bicyclists employed their paths and walkers strolled theirs. I saw a large owl fly by chased by a little bird whose nest it was probably trying to rob. Around the corner from that was a woman using binoculars who had attracted a couple people who wanted to know what she saw. She pointed out a large Red Hawk perched high on a tree but quite visible to the naked eye. It was part of a pair she was observing over the summer. I’ve read that birds in this city have adapted to the noise level and ones that used to call for mates during the day now call at night when they can be heard better. Evolution in action.

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Fashion Institute section of the Met riffing on the China exhibit going on.

Devon and I meandered across and saw the back of The Metropolitan Museum. We had already discussed skipping it in favor of the Natural History with the Guggenheim and MOMA as possibilities after that. I’d seen parts of the Met before. Then it occurred to me to check their late night hours. I went online and sure enough, on Fridays it was open until 9pm. I love that museums do that. There’s also a new trend in museums. I know the ones on San Francisco have cocktail parties and music and/or dancing some evenings. There are “Nights at the Museum” events where you can spend the night. A couple weeks ago Stacey had told me of an old psychiatric hospital that was hosting sleep-ins where they tell ghost stories and tour the creepy place at night, then lock you up in a cell. Crazy! I like how people are expanding their amusement choices like this, like these Paint Nights of differing names that I did with friends in Dallas, where you go to a restaurant with a bar and an artist teaches you how to paint something while you’re getting sloshed (or not) with your pals.

I won’t try to thoroughly describe the Met. It is a rambling series of rooms filled with art and other treasures and exhibits. You have to walk through areas you may not have necessarily chosen to specifically see, but that is the charm. You can pass through ancient musical instruments and Greek jewelry on your way from Egypt to the Impressionists. You can discover there’s a current exhibition about China when you go to the Fashion Institute section and they’ve dovetailed their display to complement it. I love it all. The Met’s entrance policy is lenient, too. I think the suggested fee is $25 but again, you can pay only .05 if you wish. I had an hour and a half to wander it’s halls while Devon rested his tired feet outside in the newly renovated Plaza. I liked the plaza until I learned later it was all paid for by the Koch Brothers trying to ingratiate themselves in the public eye so we won’t see their evil machinations behind the scenes. Ugh. ELMO (remember “enough, let’s move on”? LOL.)

Tired after another slamming day we Yelped a well-reviewed deli on Lexington still open but discovered it was inaccessible upon arrival. Luckily there was a little Italian trattoria a few doors down that was small but could accommodate us. I had my first slice since arriving. I had it in hand folded like a New Yorker and taking my first bite when the waitress offered to cut it up for me as a gesture of helping the handicap chick. I love people’s kind actions so I let her. The pizza and a glass of wine went down well and fortified us for the trek to Columbus circle and the 59th St. subway, our go-to accessible stop in Mid-town. We looked forward to our beds. As with every night when we round the corner to the last block before the airbnb, I’m pleasantly surprised that my van is still there. I like how it’s in a weekly spot right across the street. I never have to move it and I can look out the window at her. It’s not just NYC. I feel this way most every day on this trip!
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Day 4:
Today Monte had offered to come back up and collect us to do a driving tour of the city. The clouds were low and grey, and steady, gentle rain looked like it was here to stay all day. No matter, we were going to be in my van anyway, so things would be a little drippy but hopefully not us. Devon was leaving later this afternoon, so he packed and we headed out. Monte drove my van so we could relax. He knows little factoids and can color in an area for you to get a feel of it, at least from the perspective of an erudite, mid-western Canadian who fled his homeland and settled here 20 years or so ago. He took us up FDR Parkway then Harlem River Drive, pointing out a major Keith Haring mural in NYC that is maintained in a basketball court adjacent to the thoroughfare that says “Crack is Wack”. It was put up by Haring to draw attention to the problems crack was creating and spur government and health services to address them. It is probably the most viewed mural in NYC that the tourists don’t see, because its on the highway that mostly locals are traveling.
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Then a cruise through Little Italy, the East Village and Soho, the small streets in some of the oldest parts of the city, filled with interesting shops, bars, and restaurants and of course housing that has seen wave upon wave of immigrants chasing the American Dream. Devon wanted to grab some food to go from Katz’ Deli to eat on the plane later but even in the rain there was a line going down the sidewalk. It was a Saturday but Monte was still amazed and surmised that the internet had made finding cool places too easy and was therefore…ruining them! That scenario has historical veracity so he’s probably right. Such a fine line between success and over success. So instead Monte suggested Yonah Shimmel’s Knishes, deemed to be the best in the city. That sounded great to me but not to Dev, so just Monte escorted me in to grab a pickled red cabbage knish, Kosher pickle, and of course a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda. Yum! It was a small shop beneath apartments, with a tiny kitchen and groceries stacked at the back to negotiate on your way to the more than tiny bathroom carved out of the old building as an afterthought, and surly counter help. NYC can be so typically itself and fun to visit.
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As I noshed happily on my knish, Monte wound us into bustling Chinatown and we stopped for Devon to run in and get a huge plate of food for $4. By the time we crossed the Manhattan bridge, and started through Brooklyn, he was ready for dessert. Since Devon is now sugar-free, Monte informed him that Juniors, who are famous for their cheesecakes, had a superb sugar-free version. Devon’s eyes lit up. I could see that all the way from the back seat through the back of his head. He loves cheesecake. In he went, grabbing a sandwich as well to eat on the plane back to Denver later. But the cheesecake disappeared to snuffling pleasure noises from the front seat.
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We continued on through Long Island, or as the locals say “Lon Guy-lan”. Our farthest focus was to go to the Coney Island Amusement Park. Even though the weather had nixed any entertainment there, we still wanted to visit and it was obligatory to stop at Nathan’s for one of their famous hot dogs. Sounds like we are on a classic foods tour of the City, doesn’t it? We kinda were, the van and Monte’s knowledge making it easier. I had stopped eating my knish and pickle half way through to save for later (I love leftovers!) so I could scarf a dog at Coney Island. The rain worked in our favor, shutting the park down and so it was super easy to park next to Nathan’s. Actually Monte dropped me off as close as we could so I didn’t get drenched in the harder rain, and he parked the van over by some lurid cartoon advertisements for bizarre side shows so typical of this amusement park. No screaming riders on the Cyclone roller coaster today, though there were still lots of people enjoying Nathan’s dogs or their clam bar, under the eaves or huddled under one of the picnic table umbrellas. Tick another NYC iconic food off our list!

Devon

Devon

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Monte

Full to bursting we happily drove around, checking out (and I may get this a bit wrong because it was a bit of a blur) Brighton Beach Russian area, Rockaway Beach, swanky Forest Hills (Queens), and back Grand Central Parkway to Flushing Meadows to see the remaining structures of the 1964 Worlds Fair that have figured so prominently in movies. The one I recall the most is the Unisphere and the tall thing next to it that turned out to be a spaceship an alien needed to escape in ‘Men in Black”. I needed a restroom and in the deserted park there was one event soldiering on during the rain. It was a feast day for some saint, and the mostly old women faithful were huddled around a table in the car park with a statue of the saint, a priest leading them in prayers. We careened over to them because I figured there’d be port-a-potties set up for the expected crowd and sure enough there was one down the road a bit so we pulled over to let me out.  The group started going in a procession behind a priest and his four helpers carrying the saint now, the women trudging in the rain behind chanting the same prayers over and over. As I came out they blithely passed us, caught up in their devotion.

IMG_7048It was getting dark and time to drop Devon off at LaGuardia airport. It was wonderful of him to sign on to hang out with me. He loves NYC and wanted to join me on the Odyssey, either here or Chicago, so I’m glad it worked out! Thanks buddy.

Monte and I started to head back to the airbnb, wandering through Jackson Heights (Queens), a long road under the 7 train (EL, for Elevated) which was lined with multiple cultures and apparently some of the best ethnic food restaurants like Filipino, Thai, Indian, Bangladeshi, Mexican, and some with Arabic language signs that could have been from lots of different areas. I think we also came through Astoria in Queens.

It was night now and we were traversing through the East Village when I remembered that I hadn’t seen Times Square yet, and what better opportunity than as a passenger so I could gawk, the rain making it glisten and Saturday night revelers out with umbrellas making it look like the futuristic scenes from ‘Blade Runner’? And WOW. Full on, over the top, constant barrage of mega-wattage advertising in full LED glory or video screens snapping your attention back and forth, always popping something new up to drag you back from the equally compelling billboard or co-opted building side next to it, everywhere you looked a saturated shrine to commerce and promotion. It’s quite stunning really, in a crazy, mad, wonderful way. I had heard that Times Square sleaze had been cleaned up and it was now “Disneyfied” but I took that to mean that instead of advertising sex shops, the paper billboards now shilled Disney movies or Broadway theater like The Lion King, not this insanely multiplied Jumbotron screen onslaught of movement. Truly bedazzling. I ran out of adjectives but it was thrilling. Monte explained that also when Giuliani was mayor, (remember the homeless shelter rezoning) he rezoned the area around Times Square to oust the sex shops that so greatly contributed to the decline into sleaze. He then invited Disney in on the cheap to jump start the renewal and other major investors followed suit. If you go there, go at night to get the full impact.

The hint of Times Square up ahead. I took mostly video and haven't YouTubed it yet to a smaller file. Imagination is better!

The hint of Times Square up ahead. I took mostly video and haven’t YouTubed it yet to a smaller file. Imagination is better!

Believe it or not, we were hungry and upon arriving back in Washington Heights we saw a Chinese restaurant open late. I figured something light to go eat at the apartment and you can’t screw up wonton soup. No. Worst wonton soup ever! No wonder they were open late, because they get no trade during the day. Ugh. Monte had graciously agreed before to stay overnight to help me pack to leave the next day as Devon had to leave earlier than I expected. He crashed while I spent a little while online, booking a recommended parking reservation for the next day. The week before I got here I discovered it was Gay Pride Festival weekend and the Parade was tomorrow, Sunday. This is what comes of doing big picture organizing before the trip and letting the little details evolve naturally! I had no clue it was happening but I had seen one other NYC Pride when it was the 25th Anniversary of Stonewall, back in 1994 with my Australian friend, Sue. It was a blast then, and I knew the one this year would be great, too, for although I’m not physically as fit and have no desire to go to the other events like dancing or bar-hopping, I do love a parade and since the Supreme Court of the United States had just decided to legalize gay marriage, I knew that would guarantee that this Pride Festival was going to be even more full of joy and celebration. My local friends Rachel and Clem had offered to let me go with them and help me with the scooter, so tomorrow was going to be another wild day!
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Day 5:
Monte packed the van for me and took off. What a mensch! That’s a great guy. It was lovely having a long visit and seeing him after so long. I left too, to go pick up Rachel and Clem down near the Parade route. I thought there would be traffic because around a quarter of a million people attend Pride each year but the drive was painless and they hopped in the van outside their apartment building. It was also an easy drive to the parking garage on 9th where I had booked a space through an app new to me, ‘Parking Panda’. They helped me unload the scooter and we headed a few blocks down to the barriers lining the Parade route. We were about a block from the end of the Parade where the judging stand sat, tenanted now by comics amusing the crowd while we waited for the first part of the Parade to arrive. It was right at noon when it was supposed to begin at the other end, and there were only about one row of people lining the route where we showed up at 12:30, so I was able to squeeze into the front with my scooter and Rachel and Clem stood behind me.
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I think the crowd was thin because it had just stopped raining about 20 minutes before and people knew that the Pride Parade was notorious for running slow and taking longer than planned. Everyone and their dog wants to march so it goes for 5 or 6 hours. Later the street crowd watching would thicken to 6 or 7 people deep, with more walking towards the end as the Parade finished in their area and onlookers wanted to still share in the vibe. Because it creates a powerful vibe! First off was my favorite because it’s traditionally led by the motorcycle riders, joyously revving and roaring into view, their Pride flags waving, stirring up the emotions of the spectators along the route. Dykes on Bikes has the lead off honor, then the guys join in. Fancy Harley-Davidsons, touring bikes, street bikes, Vespas, even a rear echelon of decorated bicycles. The noise of the engines dips in and out the sudden, wild cheering from the bystanders and you are hard-pressed not to stand there and have tears streaming down your face. Rousing sounds and crowd joy can do that to you like how marching bands or military parades can be uplifting.
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We stayed for three hours until we felt we’d seen enough and wanted to find some food. We walked a few blocks back and found the Knickerbocker Bar & Grill. Very nice old place, handicap accessible mostly. I had to leave the scooter in the hall and carry my bipap into the bathroom, which I can do. Considering NYC prices, this was reasonably priced and we had a delicious brunch, which I was happy they were still serving. Very civilized. I finally had another NY requirement in the food department, a bagel and lox with all trimmings as well as some smoked fish salad, which I washed down with a Mimosa. We chatted and then my friends loaded my scooter back into the van and we said farewell as I was heading out of the city to go part way up to my sister’s place in New Hampshire, and it was already very late afternoon by now. Thanks folks for helping me go to the Parade!
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I got a bit lost with all the highway changes driving out. I don’t have a GPS locator thingy and rely on my phone, but it doesn’t talk to me so I’m juggling the phone and trying to keep it from shutting off and forgetting the sequence of quick decisions going north. They don’t make it easy by numbering highways on a map then giving them a name on the street signs, or just directing you to what they think of as the final destination city, even if it’s not yours. Something that has always bugged me. At one wrong turn I pulled over and took the opportunity to go online and find a hotel about an hour and a half away that had an ADA room or what’s called an accessible path of travel so that a Wheeled American can get from the parking lot to the room with out steps or stairs. This was going to be the first and only night where I would be alone on this Odyssey with no one to help get my gear out of the van for the night and back into it in the morning, as well as emergency help if I needed it. So I needed a hotel with a 24-hr staffed desk, hopefully room service but a microwave and frig would do since I had food, and if I was to be totally satisfied, a nice, hot, accessible jacuzzi open late. The Hyatt House in Shelton, CT, had it all! Plus it was a nice drive up there on a parkway, then secondary roads via Bridgeport. They were super nice and I had my jacuzzi, a snack of leftovers and hit the bed, images of my time in New York City filling my thoughts and dreams.