Galveston, Texas

Seawall Blvd. wraps along the Gulf side of Galveston. On one side is water, a sliver of sand at low tide, and the rocks which make up a tentative barrier against the sea. All the hotels are on the other side and in between are four lanes of highway. There are precious few ways to safely cross the street so we ended up driving across the street. As far as beach towns go we were not that impressed. The next morning though we found the quaint downtown and the quiet state park where we spent most of the day hanging out at the beach. Sometimes it takes a little while to get to know a place.

sunset

Hanging out at Galveston State Park. Campsites on the beach as well as on the bay are available.

First founded as a “pirate kingdom” in the early 19th century, Galveston evolved into a very important and rich port city that was then nearly wiped out by a hurricane in 1900. The worst natural disaster in U.S. history, somewhere between 6,000-8,000 people were killed. Galveston was rebuilt and fortified in part by an influx of immigrants including approximately 10,000 Eastern European Jews. Over the past few decades Galveston has experienced many hurricanes with Ike the most recent uninvited guest.

dsc_0919

Sacred Heart Church, Galveston

dsc_0912

The Star Drug Store first opened in 1906 and has survived several hurricanes and one fire. A counter top place with a few tables, they serve excellent food as well as classic fountain drinks. Hennacornoelidays approved.

pier

Pleasure Pier is one of several piers jutting into the gulf.

 

Greetings from Abbeville, LA

dsc_0866

Avery Island: home of Tabasco sauce and the Jungle Gardens

Greetings from Abbeville, LA where we just celebrated New Year’s Eve in a very comfortable and relaxing rental. It was a bit touch and go to begin with as our GPS first delivered us to the wrong house. We stumbled about looking for a key before Corey went into the backyard and fun a whole mess of bullet casings. Time to go. The next place looked promising (and was in fact the right home) but we were a bit confused by the police cruiser parked out back. I wondered if 1) I stumbled into a crime scene and 2) if I had a good alibi. Again I could not find the key so I knocked on the door. Nothing. Then I tried to turn the knob and was surprised when the door opened. Now I wondered if maybe there was a napping police officer inside. Trying my best not to get shot, I yelled “tourist from Chicago! Just looking for the home I rented!” Complete silence and I thought about stepping into the house before I heard a dog barking from inside. I ran back to the car and cursed all home rentals. Eventually the mystery was solved (the rental was actually toward the rear of the property). Later we met the our two hosts and found them to be incredibly kind and spirited. He probably would have shot to wound not kill me.

dsc_0878

dsc_0873

dsc_0886

Jungle Gardens include many Asian plants and artifacts including this thousand year old Buddha.

Abbeville, by the way, is the home base for Steen’s Pure Cane Syrup which is supposedly a staple of southern cooking. A Steen’s recipe book was placed in our kitchen. Flipping through I came to a chapter titled, “Why Pure Cane Syrup Is Necessary In The Diet.” From this chapter I read, “Most mothers are natural worriers about whether they are providing the proper diet for their offspring. Their worries could be put to rest, however, with a daily serving of pure cane syrup…” It goes on to describe how children in Southern Louisiana often snack after school on “syrup sandwiches.” And, of course, “for countless healthy individuals, ‘syrup sopping,’ is the only kind of desert worth mentioning” which consists of “pouring a good quantity of syrup into your plate after the meal is finished and sopping it up with hot, crusty French bread.”  There was a bottle of the stuff in our kitchen so I drizzled a bit on some bread. Not bad. Not bad at all.

dsc_0896

New Years Eve was also the last night of Hanukah. Over the last week we lit candles at Christmas Eve dinner, hotels in southern Illinois and Mississippi and, of course, the Big Easy.

Playing the Blues on the Red Highway

img_7692

Where ice and earth meet

Last night was a rough one for Hennacornoelidays. Maybe only equal to that time we camped in a hurricane. Trying my best to fall asleep I imagined a road trip leaving from my house that only went through areas that voted for Hillary. I did not get very far.

The simple truth is that some of the areas we love the most agree with us the least on almost everything. And that is OK. I like people. I like talking politics. And religion. Sometimes this works out well, sometimes not so much. But what to make of the sign on Highway 20 near Chadron, Nebraska that features a snake with President Obama’s head? Or the nice older man camping with his adult daughter near that sign who warned me about black helicopters? The day he did was the same day the Supreme Court paved the way for same sex marriage. Beneath my feet I felt the rural and urban pieces of earth pulling apart.

I love my neighbors. All of them. Some of them have Trump lawn signs. I hope I am wrong and you are right. Other neighbors are devastated right now and this feels a lot different than when Bush was elected/re-elected. My good friend Tom, The Birdman of Edison Park, posted on Facebook what I think is the best way to get through the next four years. Get organized.

As for my other neighbors, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Missouri. You should have known better, but I forgive you. I also forgive the fine citizens of Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Think it might take me a little while though to forgive Florida due to them being a repeat offender and all. And I honestly did not expect any different from the Dakotas, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisiana, Utah, Idaho, or Mississippi. They are what they are and in time I will forgive them too. Now where can I get a bumper sticker saying, “Don’t blame me, I voted for her?”

dsc_0541

Sometimes the road gives and sometimes the road takes

 

Backbone State Park, Iowa

20161010_112919_lls.jpg

Corey and Henna gazing out from the CCC built boat house at Backbone State Park

A couple of days before a possible teachers strike and immediately following one of the most nauseating presidential stories of all time (thanks a million Trump, you smug creep you), we headed to the foothills of Iowa’s “Little Switzerland.” Founded in 1919, Backbone State Park is named for a massive rocky ridge that extends over the very pretty Maquoketa River. A scant 400 million years ago this rock lay below a tropical sea which explains the marine fossils that litter the area. The park spills over a large area and although relatively well marked, it is definitely missing a visitor’s center. So we mostly stumbled around before finding a small cave which only Henna was brave enough to explore.

20161009_164116.jpg

Water, sun, and changing leaves; who could ask for more in October

We camped at South Lake where late at night we heard two owls calling to each other. Our loop (in the 30s) backed into a nice stand of trees with a trail that ran parallel to the water. What we enjoyed most though was stepping back into our camping roles. Back home life moves fast but out in the country, with no real plan and nothing we had to do, it felt right to sit back and watch the trees color themselves silly. Best time of our mini-road trip was playing Frisbee right before packing up the tent with a slow breeze blowing the leaves down like rain. The morning fire was still smoking and in that moment I honestly did not care if we went on strike, who the next president might be, or if the Cubs made the World Series. OK, I lied about not caring if the Cubs made the World Series. But it still felt mighty good to be back on the road.

20161009_165639.jpg

Backbone State Park is about 4 ½ hours from Chicago. Driving from the east, we recommend taking the very scenic Route 3 from Dubuque. Besides South Lake there are a few other campgrounds both in the State Park as well as the surrounding area.

We Camped in Seward and Had A Few Laughs

DSC_0875

Our campsite in Seward, Alaska

Seward, Alaska is one of the easiest towns to camp in with a couple hundred or so campsites stretched out along the waterfront. You pay for the sites like you would a parking spot; just punch in your site number at a kiosk then swipe a credit card. The place was quite busy the three nights we camped there and the campground was overflowing with the usual coastal Alaskan sorts (lots of Europeans, retired folks in RVs, large families from Anchorage, etc.) as well as a rough looking group of people camped just a few sites away from us. The leader of that last group was a very disheveled, mostly toothless woman somewhere between the age of thirty and ninety (honestly there was no way to tell her age) who talked at a volume louder than most people can yell. Oh, and she sounded exactly like Dale from King of The Hill.

DSC_0876

Seward, Alaska sometime after midnight in mid-July

There also were a trio of squatters who set up their tents just a few feet from ours and well within our campsite boundary. They had appeared in the short time we spent at the beach making dinner. Upon our return they sheepishly explained that they could not find anywhere else to camp and asked nicely if they could stay. We decided they could and even invited them to our fire which they declined. Instead all three disappeared into the larger of their two tents.

Less than thirty minutes later a European couple approached us and asked if we knew where they might be able to camp. We did and through a series of intricate maneuvers made possible due to us having talked to a large friendly family earlier in the day, they ended up camping next to us. Actually they ended up sleeping in their large SUV because they did not have a tent. And then Henna, who was whittling, cut her finger. Not a lot of blood, but she looked quite faint and kept repeating “I’m sorry” while madly gripping her finger. The cleaner bathroom (running water and soap) was a few blocks away and that is where we went to dress her wound. All this tired us out and, despite the bright sun, the loud toothless woman, and our giggling neighbors (who later we learned were stoned out of their minds), we decided to go to bed.

IMG_7679

Eric and Mara with the three of us hiking in Kenai Fjord National Park (Seward, Alaska)

But then a beat up Subaru slowly drove past our campsite before circling back with the driver honking his horn several times. It was our friends Eric and Mara, two backpackers from Holland, whom we had previously met in Juneau. They did not have a car the last time I saw them so I asked them if they had stolen this one. They had not but they did need a place to stay. So I asked the European couple who were about to retire inside their SUV if Eric and Mara could set up a tent and they of course said yes. We then re-lit the fire and cracked open a few beers.

A couple of days later Eric and Mara joined us on a fjord tour. This tour was arraigned months ago as part of an article that I wrote for Splash Magazine. It was a very fun, but also very rocky experience. So rocky, in fact, that many of the passengers became sick with the crew quickly whisking people to the lower, calmer deck the moment their face changed color. The seat directly next to me was like a magnet for the sea sick as each person who sat there had to leave at some point or another.

DSC_0856

The captain was only a bit older than the crew members. Over and over again she would say things like, “wow, we have already seen three bald eagles, a Beluga, and two sea lions.” And then a little while later she would repeat that same line with two more animals included. I am not sure exactly why she doubted our recall abilities, but the voyage felt a whole lot like a very intricate memory game.

Her first mate was a friendly bearded kid named Simon who appeared more Gilligan than hipster. Toward the end of the tour a rogue wave surprised everyone on board. A garbage can fell to the ground and the television monitors flickered. The boat came to a complete halt and it seemed like maybe the ship was seriously hurt. Corey was especially concerned so I tried to reassure her by pointing out that Simon did not look the least bit concerned. And with that Eric leaned over and very deliberately said, “Ah, but Simon has seen some shit.”

IMG_7754

And so have we. It would be impossible not to after traveling over 10,000 miles in a giant circle. And really, when it comes right down to it, what better reason is there to travel than to see a whole bunch of cool shit. I am just happy to have been able to experience it all with my two best friends. I also am very thankful to all of you who have checked in on us throughout the summer. We hope you enjoyed hearing about our adventures as much as we enjoyed sharing them. Like Corey says, however, there can be no road trip without a home to return to. And that is where we are now, happy to be with our friends and family. But it’s always fun to look back at where we have been.

IMG_7683

Victoria Bug Zoo

resized bug

Praying Mantis (contrary to public opinion, Praying Mantis are actually secular)

 

Think you know your bugs? Quick quiz, which of the following are actually bugs: spiders, grass hoppers, beetles, or mosquitoes? The answer… none of the above. Bugs are actually an order of insects and include tens of thousands of little buggers but not many of the insects most commonly thought of as bugs. Semantics aside, insects really do get a bum rap. Yes, they can spread diseases around like zika. But they also are an essential food source for birds and a huge aid in farming. However underappreciated they may be elsewhere, they are quite celebrated at the Victoria Bug Zoo which houses over forty species of insects from around the world. All the insects are located in one large room with a couple of guides available to answer your questions. They are also plenty of opportunities to have a more intimate experience with the insects as the guides are not shy about taking them out of their cages. Who doesn’t want a giant tarantula crawling up your arm? Well, I mean besides Corey.

a face only a mother could love

One of the many Leaf Hoppers found at the Bug Zoo

itsy bitsy spider

A Rose Hair Tarantula at rest in Noel’s hand

cropped bug

The Victoria Bug Zoo is located at 631 Courtney Street in beautiful Victoria, B.C. For more information, go here.

Postcards from the Alaskan Highway

IMG_8258

Muncho Lake: Milepost 409

DSC_0527

Taking an extended break from the highway

At over 1400 miles long but barely ever wider than two lanes, the Alaskan Highway barely dents the sub-Arctic wilderness it travels through. The services hug close to the road and it is entirely possible to travel from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks without every venturing more than a few yards from the pavement. There are a couple of nice lodges along the way, but for the most part travelers are confined to small generator powered outposts. The usual settlement includes a couple of ancient gas pumps, a greasy diner with big city prices, a rough motel, and a campground. It is a short season with most of the businesses shut down by September. Those that do stay open year round report little to no business with one person stating that he sometimes works an entire winter shift without seeing a single customer.

IMG_8248

Liar River Hot Springs: At Milepost 496 you can walk a short boardwalk trail through a moose infested wetlands area to a very cool (actually quite hot) natural spring. Also has a nice campground and, the day we were there, a good food truck.

DSC_0215

Just chewing the cud a bit south of Fairbanks

DSC_0236

Just north of Tok, this very nice family run campground has a laundry mat which locals (some of whom have no running water) frequently use. 

DSC_0643

One of several churches housed in a discarded quonset hut, Our Lady Of The Way is located in Haines Junction, Yukon

DSC_0647

We spent two wonderful nights at the Cottonwood RV Park which allows you to camp a few feet from Kluane Lake. A small imprint in the wilderness, grizzlies often wander the campground looking for berries. By late summer those berries begin to ferment and sometimes the bears appear a bit over served. So always beware of drunk bears.

DSC_0553

Stretch of Alaskan Highway between Fort Nelson and Muncho Lake

DSC_0489

One of the many private campgrounds we stayed at along the Alaskan Highway

DSC_0566

 

 

Sign Post Forest, Watson Lake

DSC_0500

Been home a few days now and we are just starting to sort our photos. In doing so we are also beginning to sort out our memories of the trip. A journey lasting almost two months and involving over 10,000 miles in travels takes some time to digest. There is a lot we saw and there is just no way to tell it all. But we can tell a few stories. Like this one.

DSC_0503

In 1942, Private Carl K. Lindley was helping to build the Alaskan Highway. Spurred on by fears of a Japanese invasion, the entire highway was completed in less than a year. The original road was almost entirely gravel, not so level, and certainly not something a bunch of tourists from Chicago would ever attempt. But it did allow for military convoys to travel north.

DSC_0511

Henna did the hammering and we left a little something of ourselves at Historic Mile Post 635 on the Alaskan Highway

 

So while recovering from an injury, Lindley was asked to repaint a few directional signs. As a joke he added a sign pointing to his hometown of Danville, Il (just 2,700 happy miles away). Over the decades people kept on adding signs and the official count is now over 77,000. Make that 77,001 as we added a signed Frisbee to the mix. That Frisbee, by the way, was purchased by Corey and I almost twenty years ago. It likely has joined us on most of the trips we have taken including the first time we drove the Alaskan Highway. In the moment it just felt right adding this personal memento into the mix.

 

Hibbing, MN

DSC_0697

Bob Dylan’s childhood home

I am a huge Bob Dylan fan. Huge.  Which is why I am writing this from his hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota. The family and I just did a walk by his boyhood home, albeit very discreetly.  I didn’t want to be one of those tourists that stalk old haunting grounds of famous people. So I begged Noel to put the camera away so we could just blend in. But I have to admit, I am one of those people. I got a thrill being on the steps where MLK gave his I Have a Dream Speech then felt an incredible sadness standing at the ledge where he was shot down. I felt a similar feeling walking Dylan’s hometown.

DSC_0701

The hotel where Bob Zimmerman (Dylan) had his Bar Mitzvah

Bob considered himself a gypsy of sorts and concocted and crazy stories of his childhood. But Dylan’s boyhood was both normal and stable and deeply entrenched in this area.  So the idea that he roamed these streets, slept in that house and developed his history here makes me feel connected somehow.  While travelling, the idea of home and place is more vivid for me.  As we move further from home and all things familiar it puts you into a sort of out of self-place.  All the things that help to define you are gone, and your free to be something new. So meeting people, hearing their stories, sharing your own is one of my favorite things.  Finding out how folks end up where they do is very intoxicating so when we meet people, the first question is “Where are you from?”, which always begins a conversation of history, or the reason they got where they are.  Usually the answer is for love, but there were other crazy stories of adventure.  We have met and heard many stories along this trip, and usually the farther we get the more I realize how similar we all are.   One reason why I love Dylan is that his songs are steeped with tales about all kinds of folks. At first glance the words might seem disjointed and out of place, but if you take a deeper look they become a rich tapestry. Same is true for our own stories because as different from each other as they might initially appear, there is still ultimately at least one connecting thread. So, very soon we will be back in our home.  With our people.  Continuing our story.  Although it’s always fun to step outside of oneself, my second favorite thing about the journey is coming back home.      

DSC_0706

The only Dylan display we found in Hibbing. It was in a library basement behind a locked door. We had it to ourselves and were told to shut off the light and lock the door behind us when we were done.

DSC_0700

Looking down Howard Street in Hibbing, MN