Friday, July 13, 2012

Journey´s End. Mile 9831. Day 53.

Day 53.  Mile 9831.  Journey’s End.

We made it—alive, and none the worse for wear.  Fifty-three days on a motorcycle, but we traveled through only fourteen states and two provinces. We did not see the USA in its entirety, not even close!  But, to be fair, many of these states and provinces are larger than most nations!  We endured the raw elements—from frigid rain in Quebec to scorching heat in the Mojave Desert, from crisp mountain air in Wyoming to choking forest fires in Colorado and New Mexico—well, that’s something we will never forget.

How fortunate to travel that far without a major problem with the bike or trailer.  Considering all of the roadkill we saw, we were also fortunate not to have hit a single mammal or bird.  We are not counting bugs!  In some places the deer and antelope were thick as thieves, often ambling only a few feet from us on the roadside.  

One of the neatest parts of the trip was visiting with friends and family---schnorring, to use a Yiddish word that means sponging in a parasitic manner, not snoring.  We would like to thank our hosts who opened their beautiful homes and their generous hearts to us. They gave us a little respite from the tedium of mile after mile on the bike, a clean bed, a shower, and a chance to do our laundry.  More than that, they showed us their distinctive environments and lifestyles. What fun!

Steve and Cynthia live in Hackensack, NJ, just a few minutes from the Big Apple.  They took us on a tour of New York where we were able to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and to dine in a fabulous Argentinian restaurant.  Real and Jose opened their Cookshire, Quebec home and showed us how the Quebecois live.  They inhabit a very different world, and their view of it is distinct from other Canadians and most assureredly, people from the States.  They bundled us up for a 1000-mile trip to some of the most untouched, pristine lakes on the continent, where we had awesome luck fishing for Walleyes, Northern Pike, and trout.  Our friends Pat and Peter entertained us in their lovely home beside Cayuga Lake, with Seneca, the largest of the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York.  We sampled great wines and ciders made at local vineyards, and we visited a beautiful gorge and waterfall.  It was also great to see their son Jim, whom I haven’t seen for about 20 years. In Plano, Texas Marty and Sylvia entertained us at their lovely and put even us up in a fancy hotel.  We ate at South African restaurant and enjoyed visits with their children, Michael and Arleen.  We stayed with Arleen and her family at their nearby home in Plano.  We worshipped with them at the Watermark Church—a very special Christian community.  And we cooked meals together!  Arleen and I have similar approaches to cooking.  (Let the flour fly!).  We even made pupusas, an El Salvadoran, stuffed corn tortilla.  It was a very busy time for Arleen, Joe, and Jake as they were in the process of selling their home and buying a new one.  So the visit took on a frenetic pace.  Between you and me, that’s about where Arleen lives.  Cousins Sam and Leslie live about 4 hours to the south, near Houston.  Their home was very comfortable and immaculate.  We really enjoyed hanging out with them!  I had never visited their homes before, so this was a real treat.  Cousins Ellen and Arnie live an extraordinary life in Ivins, Utah.  Ivins is in the Snow Canyon, a desert with massive outcrops of red buttes.  The home was masterfully designed and built to blend into the environment unobtrusively.  Desert animals from quail to bobcat, would visit regularly.  Ellen and Arnie love the national parks located relatively near them—the Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion parks.  They visit them regularly and were exceptionally knowledgeable tour guides.  Whether chasing wild turkeys in Zion, posing with the almost-too-friendly animals, or hanging out at home watching a movie on TV, we had a blast with them.  We headed up north to South Dakota to visit with Bill, the friend I first met in Costa Rica a few years ago.  Bill is a dedicated bachelor and lives in his male cave in the Southeastern corner of South Dakota.  He is learned about flora, fauna, and all things Indian.  For me, the highlight of our trip was doing some night fishing on the great Missouri River, as the moon rose over the Santee Indian community, across river.  Our last hosts were Tonya and Chris, the parents of Jo Ann’s grandchildren.  They live in a grand home in a spiffy Detroit suburb.  We had a lot of fun with the kids, and it tickled my heart to hear little Skye call me Grampa. 

What was our favorite part?  Was it zigzagging through gorgeous snow-capped mountains?  Was it watching  moose and their calves drink along the river’s edge?  Was it snapping photos of mule deer as they visited our campsite, or of wild turkeys along the Virgin River in Utah?  Was it the feeling of smallness that we experienced as we took in the expansive spaces of canyon valleys carved out by rivers millions of years ago? Or the feeling that we were standing on sacred, holy ground touched by the hand of God and offering ample evidence of His wisdom? Was it visiting with our beloved friends and family along the way? Or chatting with fellow travelers, swapping stories and exchanging ideas for travel routes?  It was all of this—a beautiful experience and lifetime achievement. 

It remains to be seen whether or not we can do something of this magnitude again, but if we have learned anything from this experience, it is this:  do it while you can.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mile 9341. Final stretch.

Mile 9341.  To Bloomfield Michigan. We are presently in Bloomfield, a very affluent suburb of Detroit.  We are visiting Jo Ann's grandchildren, Justin, Paris, and Skye, and her daughter-in-law Tonya (through her late son, Justin) and Tonya's husband Chris.  These are wonderful people who enjoy a very active lifestyle.  They are all on the go, 120%, day and night

We are resting here before a final trek home.  We will be spending one more night in Eastern Ohio before making it back to Hagerstown. 51 days into our trip we are at the point where we want to be home.  We plan to leave for CR on August 9.  I know Jo Ann misses her cats in Hagerstown (I do too).  She is looking forward to being under her own roof.  I miss my family to the East but they are pretty spread out these days.  Fred is on Outer Banks, Becky is in London, and Madeline will be in Spain and England for a few weeks.  Al and Abigail will be nearby and we hoep to meet with everyone before we leave.  We do miss Costa Rica, all our friends there, our lovely church Iglesia Biblica, and of course the DOGS!!

Time is flying, as is our money.  We are still reflecting on this trip.  It certainly is a once in a lifetime deal.  We are glad we could do it but are pretty certain we couldn't do this again. At least not on this scale.  We felt the USA, breathed it and lived it.  What a special time it has been!  Jo Ann has been a marvelous travel companion. The best.  Our mutiual appreciation for one another has grown considerably. 

It has been very difficult at times and camping is not her thing.  She complained little, chipped in whenever possible, and carried her share of the work.  She was there with me to enjoy those many beautiful and special moments.  We are so thankful to our hosts along the way, who opened their hearts and homes to us.  We have grown to appreciate them so much more now that we have experienced a little life with them, in their homes. 

Please see the pinmap on the right to get an idea of the scale of this journey. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

South Dakota and Iowa. Mile 8711.

Mile 8711.  To Tyndalll, SD and West Des Moines, IA.

I met Bill Barrett, while looking for a place to live in Costa Rica in March of 2010.  I had just arrived in San Jose and was staying at La Cuesta, a very cheap hotel in the downtown section.  I met Bill in what might loosely be called its lobby.  He had been in CR several times before and knew his way around the capital.  I went with him to observe dental surgery he was having done in a nearby town, Santa Ana.  We became good friends, sharing interests in the local flora and fauna.  He was a retired microbiologist.

Anyway, he visited me this year in CR and I visited him in Tyndall during our North American odyssey.  Tyndall is a typical small SD town with a population of 1300.  It has a few bars, an Ace Hardware, a convenience store, two gas stations and several other small businesses.  Real estate is very inexpensive there.  A two bedroom home with a very nice sized lot can be had for just over $20,000.  That said, winters are cold and summers are hot.  It was close to 100 when Jo Ann and I visited Bill.

We had a very nice, relaxed stay.  I was able to work on the motorcycle, changing the oil.  Bill helped me replace a broken lock mechanism on the trailer.  We visited nearby Yankton, SD, a much larger town. Rachel, our young waitress and cook, made us a mushroom, swiss cheese, hamburger with a generous side of fries--the best we had on the trip.  We washed it down with the local brew, Fat Tire, an adequate ale.

I loved listening to Bill and Jo Ann reminisce about old 45s-music from the late 50s and early 60s.  They were so knowledgeable about the music of that era.  They played some really obscure stuff, my favorite being Hooka Tooka My Soda Cracker, by Chubby Checker.

Bill and I got to do some male bonding on a fishing trip to the nearby Mighty Mo (the Missouri River).  We accessed the river near Springfield, SD.  The river is gorgeous and wide here.  We went at dusk and fished until almost 2 AM.  Larvae were hatching in the river and the air was filled with Mayflies, even this late in the year.  The water was teeming with larvae of various creatures.  While it was interesting to watch, the fish were gorging themselves on the larvae, not our bait.  I caught only one pan-sized channel catfish.

However, the outing was a success.  It was great to hang out with my friend, and to watch the abundant wildlife around us.  Bullfrogs were croaking non-stop behind us.  A muskrat paddled a few feet in front of me.  The milkyway was suspended above us.  In the other side of the river we could see Nebraska, and we could hear the Santee Sioux Indians talking in their community cross river.  At about midnight, we watched an orange gibbous moonrise, as it played peekaboo with a few clouds.

This morning, when I got up, I noted the appearance of a severe papular urticaria on my thighs and knees.  All day long today, as we rode from Bill's home to West Des Moines IA, new lesions arose, around my belt and sock lines.  While fishing with Bill I sat right in the middle of an area infested with chiggers, the 6-legged larval (juvenile) form of a common mite of the family Trombiculidae.. This attack was worse than the one I suffered ar Rincon de la Vieja in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica.  These mites are invisible and their bites are painless.  The trouble begins 8-24 hours after they attach to your skin.  Very, very itchy for 2 days to 2 weeks.  I have hundreds of lesions and, in a rare outburst of comon sense, I will spare you a picture.of these.  Suffice it to say, it is the worse case I have ever seen.

Oh well, I'll survive. Were this Africa, I might not have.  These mites carry Scrub Typhus, sometimes known as Tsusugamushi Fever.  I love the name of that disease, but the disease is wicked. Fortunately, for us at least, the disease is largely confined to Africa. 


Day 46. Kadoka, SD. Mile 8170.

Day 46.  Kadoka, SD.  Mile 8170. 

We left Buffalo, WY late—10:30AM—for Kadoka, SD .  On the way, we traveled through Gillette, WY, a boomtown where coal mining is a big deal.  While leaving Gillette, we passed the longest coal train I ever saw.  I never did see the end of it.  This town is nestled between the Big Horn Mountains and the Black Hills. Gillette is the “Energy Capital” of the US, sitting on vast reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas.
The Black Hills had a rugged beauty.  We saw a fraction its the 1.25 million acres.  Ponderosa Pine was the dominant tree along the roads we traveled.  In Rapid City SD we stopped for lunch at a city park that featured a segment of the Berlin wall and a description of the meaning of the wall. 
Berlin wall in Rapid City, SD.  Photo by Jo Ann

We decided to take a 25-mile detour to Mount Rushmore. Each head is 60 feet tall and it the sculptors worked on it from 1927 to 1941.

Mount Ruhmore.  Photo by Jo Ann.
We had to go through Keystone to get to Mount Rushmore.  According to its sign, Keystone has about 331 permanent residents.  Several million people travel through it every year, so it is a safe bet that its gold mining origins have given way to tourism.  It is one of the ugliest, creepiest towns I have ever seen and I felt ill going through it.

We continued toward Kadoka and, after seeing approximately 3000 billboards marring the raw beauty of the Badlands decided to stop at Wall Drug. Wall Drug is a store in Wall, SD.  It advertises 5 cent coffee and free coffee and donuts for honeymooners and veterans.  Sweet.  I expected that they marked everything else up by 300%.  I was not disappointed.  For the marketing-challenged among you, this is gambit is called loss-leading.  Wall Drug is hard to describe.  Think of a souvenir shop the size of a super Wal-mart where for $20 you can buy a fake coonskin cap made in China.  Is America great or what?

We finally arrived in Kadoka, population 654--another motel stop.  How small was Kadoka?  Well (thanks for asking), its entering and leaving signs are on the same pole.  “Welcome to Kadoka. Thanks for visiting Kadoka.” I saw a little kid selling lemonade on Main Street. I asked him to tell me where the business district of Kadoha was.  “You’re looking at it," he answered.  

We ate dinner at the nearby. Happy Chef.  You can’t go wrong with a hot roast beef and gravy sandwich with a side of mashed potatoes, right?  Wrong.  Hot gravy, cold beef, and scalding instant potatoes.  I was not happy.     

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Days 41- 45 To mile 7800. The Rockies.

Days 41- 45 To mile 7800. The Rockies.

On day 41, we drove from Arnie and Ellen’s home in Snow Canyon Utah to the Wasatch Mountains  near the small town of Midway Utah.  This part of Utah, totally different from the desert in Ivins, is known for its skiing and nearby Sundance, of film festival fame. The state park was situated in the Wasatch Mountains,  well below the tree line  The park itself was comfortable and clean. There was a little lake near the entrance where children would fish.  We had great pizza dinner at an establishment in Midway that came in first place in Utah for local pizza in 2011.  It was GREAT pizza. The hand formed pizza dough was perfect and the pizza, baked in a wood-fired oven featured goat cheese and roasted bell peppers.  We washed it down with some very good local brews while we listened to a musician softly croon songs from the sixties and 70’s.  It was a great way to end a long, hard ride.

We left the Wasatch mountains near Provo and headed north for the Tetons.  Along the way we saw a lot of pronghorn antelope.  Seems like there was roadkill every half mile or so.  Not only was I saddened by the carnage, I was concerned about running into one myself, which would have been an unpleasant ending for both man and beast. We saw several herds of antelope grazing along the sides of the road. 

When we arrived at the Grand Tetons, we learned that most of the campsites for tents were filled.  Campsites were available at Gros Ventre near the southern entrance and we took it. Gros Ventre means Big Belly in French—an unfortunate but accurate reference to my current body habitus. It truned out to be a great choice.  We saw herds of buffalo, and occasional moose and antelope within a few miles of our campsite.

The Grand Tetons are unlike any mountains we had seen before, jagged and snowcapped. These are relatively young mountains, only a few million years old.  They came along long after the dinosaurs had left the scene.  About 10,000 years ago, they had been covered by glaciers that carved out lakes and canyons in the valleys to the east. So we were driving through and camping in green meadows filled with lush growths of grasses and sagebrush, low lying wetlands with abundant lakes, creeks and rivers—all with the majestic peaks to our immediate west. This makes for a very diverse habitat.  Indeed, there was plenty of moose sign right in our campsite.  At first Jo Ann asked ,”What is this dog poop doing in out campsite?”  Then she realized that it wasn’t dog poop: it was something else.  Moose! 

Jo Ann took some beautiful pictures of nearby moose.  She got a bigger kick out of seeing the moose than she did seeing the mountains.  As for me, it was all good.  In nearby Jackson we ate at the Million Dollar Cowboy, a famous local restaurant.  I would have preferred to ear at the $20,000 Cowboy, but the food was very good, if pricey.

Yellowstone is not far from the Tetons but it is more crowded.  We took the first camspte we could find, near Lewis Lake.  The campsite was primitive:  No showers, and only a pit toilet and a water tap about 200 feet from our site. The mosquitoes are voracious here, worse than anywhere we have been since Temisiscaming, QC.  Mosquito netting is recommended. Once we set up camp, we motorcycled to the Old Faithful geyser field.  Along the way we saw several elk and a few moose cows.  We hiked through the geyser fields and sat down to wait for Old Faithful to blow when glory when not more than 25 feet behind us, a plume geyser erupted.  It sure surprised me!  A solo bison sat unperturbed by the boiling water and acid a few feet below the surface. When Old Faithful and it did erupt, a fashonable 15 minutes late.  While daytime temperatures were near 90, at night the temperatures plummeted to the low 40’s.  Jo Ann said her teeth were chattering while she was in her sleeping bag!

On July 2 we slept in and breakfasted on muffins and coffee.  After breakfast, I decided I needed a nap and took one.  About 11:30 we headed out for Hayden Valley.  This part of YNP is east of the geyser fields.  We followed the edge of the beautiful Yellowstone Lake to Fishing Creek and from there, we followed the Western edge of the Yellowstone River.  This took us through the beautiful Hayden Valley, known for its abundant wildlife.  Elk grazed on shrubs a few feet from us, or bedded down in the lush prairie grass.  Huge bison herds grazed in the not too distant hills, some venturing very close to us. 

We picnicked on the banks of Yellowstone River where Jo Ann spotted a 16 inch cutthroat trout. “I think it must have been caught by someone.  It has blood near its throat.” 

“Uh, Jo Ann…These are called cutthroat trout.  Maybe that’s the way they come.”  We both watched the trout rise and take a nymph or fly nearby every few minutes. 

We traveled north to Canyon City, where the river has cut through the soft rock to make a canyon.  There is a beautiful waterfall there and we faithfully clicked away with our cameras. 

Between the trout, bison, moose, and abundant antelope, two beautiful lakes—Lewis and Yellowstone—and following the Yellowstone River through the Hayden Valley into the canyons, you could say we had a full and beautiful day. We capped off the evening with canned (but very tasty) chili, cheddar cheese, and a nice merlot.  Not a bad day. 

 On July 3 we left YNP through its east entrance.  This represented some of the most thrilling riding we’ve encountered.  Great twisties and hairpin turns through snowcapped mountains and lush valleys in crisp, clean air.  We entered the Shosone National Forest that was drier and not nearly as lush.  Then we headed into some exceptionally dry prairie land.  There were some low hills and canyons but the grass and shrubs were burned up.  It was about 105 degrees and traffic was minimal.  We had no phone signal and I was worried about a breakdown.  Fortunately that did not occur.  Finally we arrived at Ten Sleep and the terrain went green again as we entered the Bighorn National Forrest.

There were signs indicating the type of rocks that formed the canyon walls, some pre-Cambrian granite gneiss, 3 billion years old.  Some was Cambrian, about 500 million years old.  We arrived in Buffalo for a well-deserved motel break.  Showers and a soft, clean bed. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Zion National Park.  June 27, 2012.  Day 38.

Access to Zion has improved a lot in the 39 years since I last saw it.  However, its dramatic majesty still inspires.  The simplest way to describe the difference between Zion and its relatively nearby cousins, Bryce and Grand Canyon, is that Zion is best seen from the bottom up.  Zion’s formations rise several thousand feet from the Canyon floor, carved out by the Virgin River. We view Zion from the basin floor, not the rim.

At certain points in the park, we were able to walk in the cold, clean Virgin River.  As we waded, canyon walls on both sides of us narrowed in, zigzagging in gentle curves, and climbing higher than most skyscrapers we have seen.  While there was a good-sized crowd enjoying the park with us today, they were not intrusive, thanks to the park's excellent design and management. By visiting the park in the morning, we avoided both the crowds and the heat.

The non-primate animals we saw in abundance included a Baltimore Oriole, a flock of wild turkeys, mule deer, and scores of rodents like squirrels and chipmunks.  The animals were unafraid of humans and often approached within a few feet. Cottonwood trees provided shade along the river's edge and wild columbine grew straight out of the sandstone canyon walls. 

Wild Turkey.  (Not a bourbon).

Can you see the deer?  He is looking right at you!

Zion squirrel.  These guys whistle loud!

I could easily return to Zion and spend a week there, camping and exploring its many trails. 

Zion is one of the crown jewels of the National Park Service, a treasure that belongs to all of us.  We strongly urge our readers to experience these parks.  You will remember them forever.  
Day 38,  Bryce Canyon, UT.

Destination Bryce Canyon, Utah.  As we left the Nathan's home we were detained by a family of quail marching across the driveway.  Father quail supervised from his vigil on the Pahvant Ct. road sign.  We took breakfast in a trendy coffee shop in St. George and withdrew some yuppie food stamps at an ATM.  I stopped at a Yahmaha dealer to inquire about a headlight I thought was out.  Only one light worked on low beam but both headlights worked for high beam.  The parts guy told me that Yahmaha designed the lights that way.  Doh!!
Dan Quail, Ivins, Utah.

The trip into Bryce was not unusual but once inside the canyon, the landscape became spectacular.  Jo Ann and I preferred Bryce to the Grand Canyon because of its intimacy,  its harmony, and accessibility.  Accessibility becomes really important when one is disabled or, umm, older.  The formation and geology of the Bryce is beyond my meager understanding, but I have a general idea of what happened.  The area was part of a huge sea basin that covered several states 200 million years ago. As the Rockies were being formed, the earth's crust crinkled.  Limestone sediments accumulated, were petrified, and thrust upward.  Erosion from raging rivers--the Colorado and other tributaries carved out some of the stone.  Water would be trapped in the stone and expanded as it froze, cleaving off rock to the canyon floor.  Wind also contributed to the erosion.  Arches were formed, which eventually broke down forming pillars or hoodoos.

At the park you can see spectacular formations rising thousands of feet from the basin floor.  Ravens approach you for treats, as do chipmunks and other rodents.  There are numerous vistas along the 18 mile canyon drive, all easily accessible.  At an altitude of 8000-9100 feet, the air is crisp and dry, and a tad cooler than at lower altitudes.

Bryce Canyon raven and host Arnie Nathan.  Arnie is on the right.

We had dinner in Cedar City and were back at the Nathan's home at 8 PM.  Jo Ann edited her photos and worked on her blog.  She is a much better writer than I am.  Her blog can be accessed on the right.