Writing you from Laramie, WY which is home to one of the highest (sorry Madison) college campuses in the country; University of Wyoming. Home of the Cowboys it was established on a land grant in 1886. Nice place. Laramie is a very nice college town with stunning views of the Snowy Mountains. It also is the kind of place where almost every bar is flying a multitude of Pride flags. I even spied a few “Hate has no home here” stickers. Which is why we like to drive. However tempting it would be to fly into Jackson and rent a car, there is something about traveling 1,000 miles through the Midwest and then suddenly coming to a great mountain town like Laramie. Howdy y’all!
And just like that we find ourselves again in Lincoln, Nebraska. A nice place, Lincoln is probably the place we would choose to live if for some reason we had to live in Nebraska (2nd choice is Kearney).
There is a lot of empty in the 500 mile space between here and Chicago. A few urban dots too, but mostly a gentle rolling landscape of corn and other crops. This trip is going to be a bit of an odd one for us. For starters it will be about three weeks. And we will probably not see many new places. The plan is to get to the Tetons and then sit awhile. Maybe if we have time we will drive north to Waterton Lakes National Park. Or maybe we will get bored and head to Yosemite.
But the trip begins now.
On this, the holiest of holy days i.e. Hennacornoeliday (which is wedged each year between Hanukah and Chistmas) we bring you sad news. Blue Eyes is no more. At least for us. After nearly seventeen years of taking us everywhere from Alaska to Nova Scotia to most places in between it was finally time to say goodbye.
A nice, very mechanically inclined couple purchased him yesterday. Their skills will surely be tested. Both times they came to check out the truck they had to jump it. Dark clouds billow from the exhaust and the gauges don’t always work. But it is a project they are excited to begin and I wish them the best of luck.
As for us, well, we are doing fine. It’s been over twenty years now since Corey and I first met. Baby makes three and soon she will be the one driving the Millionaire Highway (or maybe just Route 20 through Nebraska). After some self-reflection we upgraded our gear. The Outback is now an Ascent (bigger by 50% but also more fuel efficient). We also bought a new tent that is remarkably similar to the old one but with a lot less duct tape needed. Other essential we hope to gain include a car awning and a new bike hitch which is something we have never really traveled with before. What I am trying to say is that although we may be in our mid-40s/mid-teens with all the growing pains you would expect, we ain’t going nowhere. And by that I mean we are going everywhere.
“We are a country defined as much by distance as by culture,” says Keisha (Jasika Nicole) in “Alice Isn’t Dead”. I know the feeling. After twenty summers crisscrossing North America it all can feel so… big. And separate. With everyone mistrusting everyone else.
A few days ago we stopped to get gas somewhere between Lincoln and Omaha. At the pump behind us were three people solemnly staring at their smoldering car’s engine. After asking them if they needed help they answered no but thanked me for the offer. One said he was not worried because he had broken down in a “good place.” Another said there was no way anyone would have stopped to offer help in Miami. I think it is safe to say that “Miami” here was code for “city.” And “good place” likely meant any area filled with people looking like themselves (so my good place would be a city of mostly tall white people with poor motor coordination and questionable fashion sense).
Twice this trip our car sputtered in the middle of nowhere and twice people helped us as best they could. The second mechanic even called us a couple of days later to make sure we made it to our next destination. And outside of San Diego at a discount gr ocery store, where no one looked like us, a bottle of wine slipped away from our grocery cart a moment after we had purchased it. It made one heck of a dramatic mess. A long silent moment passed before the scary looking security guy asked if we were OK. A cashier told us to get another bottle and then told us not to worry when apologized for our carelessness.
After six weeks and over five thousand miles (and also twenty years and fifty states) we know some things. It is a big country out there. Not everyone agrees with one another. But it is still a nation of people trying to do the best they can. Maybe in the end that is all we can ask for.
We have had a whole bunch of firsts this trip. Like most firsts, the results have been mixed. We loved making new friends on a trip and then staying with said friends at their home while still on the same trip. Not such big fans through of our first family ride in a tow truck. Also didn’t really enjoy southern Arizona with an on again (worked fine on the downhill) off again air conditioner (did not work at all when climbing). You have not lived until racing uphill in 115 degrees heat. The trick is cracking the window enough to let some air in but not allowing the outside heat to blast you square in the face.
Two awesome firsts were visiting San Diego and then later camping with a few cousins from Arizona in Flagstaff. We were not surprised by how much fun we had with Jamie and her family. We were surprised, however, by how much we loved San Diego. Just so everyone knows, Balboa Park has nothing to do with Rocky.
Other firsts this trip include having a shoe swept from me while crossing a stream in Hawaii. This was followed by the first time ever hiking barefoot on a rocky trail. Later I iced my feet for the first time after a hike. On the plus side of firsts were a few newly discovered hikes in the Tetons and, of course, our foray into Hawaii. Am happy to say that not for the first time we have left our home in Chicago to find adventure and fun on the road.
At the almost quaint travel oasis in Coalinga, California there lies a small auto cemetery for cars not meant for travel on Interstate 5. Either abandoned by the side of the road or towed in with their owner they now sit humbly at an auto shop waiting to be towed to the great junkyard of the sky. For several hours I alternated between standing in the shade next to those cars or hanging out with Corey and Henna at the Best Western. The sky reeked of the thousands of cattle waiting to be slaughtered at the nearby cattle factory.
After three glorious days hanging out with old and new friends we headed toward Sequoia National Park. Midway there we decided not to chance the fires and set course instead for Las Vegas. Soon after (and maybe in protest) seemingly every warning light lit at once.
It could have been worse and it was not all bad. The tow truck driver was one righteous dude. An amateur astronomer who was also able to fill us in on the water wars that devastate the valley (a local boy as well he took the side of the farmers over the EPA). The world weary chain smoking mechanic also had some tales worth a listen. In the end we paid for a very expensive oil change. We also made yet another course correction and will soon set sail for San Diego. Hope not to get blown off course again.
Out of dedication to our large and growing fan base (mostly our parents and a few neighbors), we sucked it up and decided to spend a few nights at a resort. Clean sheets, AC, nice swimming pools and, so far, no roosters. That last point is a big one with most of my questions at check in rooster oriented (so, what do I do of I see a rooster?).
One oddity of the resort experience is the sudden uptick in people speaking the traditional Hawaiian language. Aloha. Mahalo. And that’s pretty much it. Times we heard those phrases spoken in first two weeks on Maui? Zero. Times we have heard those two phrases in past 24 hours? 4,587 (rough estimate). And it does not seem to matter at all where the Mariott worker is from. They all just seemed to pick up the lingo. So aloha! And mahalo too.
For the last couple of nights we have been camping just outside of Lahaina at Camp Olowalu. It’s a nice place but the roosters suck. They go off an hour or so before sunrise. One of them hangs out at the campsite next door. Our neighbor (the human one) thinks it’s cute. Maybe she likes pretending to be some sort of destitute farmer who lost everything and now has to sleep in a tent next to her rooster. The campground actually seems divided with some people (including Henna and Corey) able to sleep through the hour or two of cock a doodle doing. Others, like me, are wondering how roosters might fare in a stew.
Making up for the roosters is the easy beach access and private outdoor showers. Shino and his family (who we camped with a week ago at Wai’anapanapa State Park) are here too. They however are in the upscale Tentalows which include Adirondack chairs, cots, and a permanent canvas/screened tent. They also get a better breeze despite actually being further from the beach. Shino’s gone Hollywood.
One of the more impressive places we have been was the Maui Ocean Center captures sea life, such as tiger sharks, via hook and line. The animals are then housed for a few months before being returned to the ocean a little bit fatter but probably better rested.
The center also takes in and filters sea water which is used for the exhibits before being returned a heck of a lot cleaner to the ocean.
Up up up, like Jack climbing his beanstalk, you travel the park road to the summit of Haleakala. Then you peer down into the massive volcanic crater and marvel at the Martian like scenery.
No one was allowed into the crater on our first day in the park. Details are vague, but a woman was attacked and there was a manhunt underway. Mid evening on our second night camping at Hosmer Grove we had a helicopter repeatedly sweeping low over the campground. And then that night while Henna slept and Corey and I sipped whiskey there was a rustling in the woods. Peering into the dark I saw a flashlight. It saw me and the light went dark (or so it seemed). A few minutes of quiet and then the phantom light returned to the tent next to mine. Let out a sigh of relief and thought at least there are no bears on the island.
Despite the potential attacker we loved the cool nights at Hosmer Grove (mid to low 50s and free too). At 7000 feet you sleep just a little above the clouds which also made for little rain and bright stars. On our last day at the park the trails opened and we quickly descended well into the canyon before crawling out exhausted and thirsty. A good time was had by all.
After three low key days in Wailuku (a quirky but decidedly suburban feeling place with roosters) we headed toward Hana. The highway to Hana is mostly sharp blind turns punctuated by one lane bridges so narrow that branches will almost definitely scratch up the rental. The endpoint though is even wilder than the drive. Things to see once you get there include black sand beaches, bamboo forests, giant waterfalls, cliff side hikes and faded religious shrines. And by camping at Wai’anapanapa State Park for three nights we pretty much had it all to ourselves (or at least between the hours of 6 PM and 11 AM). For the second time this trip we also made friends while camping. This time it was a cool family from Toronto. Together we pooled our resources to cook veggie and not-so veggie hotdogs over the fire (our coals their dogs) and sipped estate grown coffee in the morning (their coffee our stove). It was like a low key commune. We also met a few locals including a long since married couple who met while hiking at Wai’anapanapa in the early 80s. Besides giving great advice (my favorite involved cows in the pasture) they also gave us fresh guava. Not sure which was more valuable (definitely the sweet sticky fruit).