Part 1: Before the Election

Last Tuesday night I went to bed feeling the same way I did four years ago which was depressed, horrified, defeated and surprised. There was supposed to have been a mighty blue wave that would sweep away everything rotten about the last four years. Texas might turn blue. Smurfs red (not saying that would be a good thing, just saying I felt change coming). Instead I went to bed telling Corey and Henna that Biden might still win while knowing in my heart he would not. I went to bed afraid for my country.

Four years ago I voted. I wanted to do more this election so I purchased a lawn sign. Campaigns are as slick as auto traders and a twenty dollar sign ended up costing me about a hundred bucks (we can just send you the sign, but if you don’t pay for the shipping and a few other things your donation will be for nothing and Donald Trump will be reelected). The sign was great and will stay planted on my lawn until Trump leaves office or some punk kid steals it. But there is only so much a $100 and a lawn sign can do to sway an election. That is why I also decided to make some calls.

Although a bit terrifying at first, it was amazingly easy to make calls. You do so via an unholy combination between your own phone and a laptop. The laptop makes the calls and also tells you what to say via a flow chart. The only supervision/feedback offered from the Biden Campaign was via a Slack channel group which was the virtual place you sign in and out of. It seems, from that Slack channel, there were at any given time tens of thousands of people making phone calls on behalf of Joe Biden. I know that in one two hour period over a million phone calls were made.

Over a period of about two weeks I called Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Nevada and Texas. Texas was by far the most exciting place to call. We called Texas the day after several polls showed that the state could go either way. The response from Texans was amazing. Over and over again people thanked me for calling. Most had already voted and were planning on voting the next day. Some asked me what they could do to help get Joe Biden elected. It was like an hour calling old friends. I think now that 1) we only called registered Democrats and 2) Texas Democrats are pretty much ignored by the outside world.

Calls to Minnesota and Pennsylvania sucked. We were told that it was a “deep list” of people we were calling (which translates to Republicans). I would ask them if I can count on their support for Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and all the other Democrats running for election. They would laugh. Not a mean spirited laugh but rather a genuine, happy kind of laugh. One person told me I was barking up the wrong tree. Most everyone though was polite and thanked me when I offered to remove them from the list. There was an elderly woman in Minnesota though who said she wished we would all drop dead. Another voter called me a Communist.

I also talked to a woman living on a reservation in Arizona who wanted to vote but was not sure she had an Election-Day ride. A similar problem was also voiced by an elderly woman in Florida. I helped them the best I could which honestly was not much. Another woman in Florida told me that she already voted for Joe, donates money each month to the Democrats and on her own called several dozen people asking them to do the same. What this woman wanted more than anything was to stop getting more calls to vote. Also had a five minute conversation with a recently naturalized Canadian physician living in Arizona. He left Alberta to make more money in the States and has a deep distrust of anything smacking of socialized medicine. He was planning on voting for Kanye. A gentleman in Florida helped me better pronounce the VP-elect’s first name (“think comma, like a punctuation mark). Most people I called though simply hung up before I could say more than a few words.

On the day before the election there were too many callers for me to get on the necessary website. I did make a few calls on Tuesday but the connection was spotty and the effort felt wasted. Although nervous, I also felt pretty optimistic about the election. Nate Silver pegged Joe as having an 89.5% chance of winning and honestly I felt that was kind of low. We had this thing.

Lannon Sunflower Farm

Sunflowers make us happy. Sunflowers make everyone happy. And for just $20 you can head out to a small friendly farm just a little bit outside Milwaukee and spend as much time as you like wandering among the sunflowers before choosing a dozen to take home. The farm is mostly BYOS (bring your own scissors) but does have a few extra shears laying around. They also have a beautiful wild flower landscaped butterfly garden. Click here for more information and directions.

We Spend Some Time In The U.P.

Rainbow Falls off the Black River Scenic Byway near Ironwood, MI

After spending a few weeks at home we found ourselves a bit anxious about the coming school year. And this was before hearing about the small meteor hurtling toward earth and due to arrive the day before the election. Don’t worry, it probably won’t hit us. But then again, who thought Donald Trump would ever be president?

So we headed a little bit west and a whole lot north in order to circle Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I can tell you that they sure do have a lot of trees up there. Waterfalls too which might explain why we needed to book our campsites a couple weeks in advance. Even with doing so we only managed to snag one night at Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park. The two hotels we stayed at in Michigan were also overpriced and terrible in their own unique ways. Funniest was the lodge in Ironwood where our room had a sticky stain that covered about a third of the carpet. We suspected a possible recent homicide. I brought this concern to the clerk who amazingly knew the history of the stain, detailed how they plan to eventually remove said stain and deducted twenty dollars from my stay. Not much more to say about that.

Based on the Trump to Biden sign ratio (about 20:1) I would say the local politics are mostly to the right of Wyoming with the more affluent college bubbles (like Marquette) trending more so to the left. Again though this is just based on lawn signs although one overheard, never ending and quite loud conversation (across the road from our tent but still we could hear every word spoken) was clearly mined from the lethal combination of Fox News talking points and conspiracy websites. On and on the old men practically shouted their convictions while we pretended not to listen. Meanwhile the sun set over the Tahquamenon River. It was beautiful; a soft riot of colors blending into the tannin water while the sky darkened around our campfire. Curiously there were few birds present and the wide river moved like a whisper to Lake Superior. It was just the men speaking and the lovely visuals of a closing day; a contrast in experiences and a fitting end to this summer.

Lagging Indicator


Taking the boat across Jenny Lake

After four thousand miles, twenty-eight days and five states we are finally home. There have been many larger trips but this one was by far the most anxious undertaken. It began with the simple thought that while it would be horrible to get sick on the road, it was actually much more Covid-safe out there than it was here. Here was over seven thousand people who never recovered from Covid (with more than half that number coming from our county). There were places with less than a thousand total cases and maybe a handful of deaths. They could maybe afford a bit of Covid carelessness.

This bison appears blissfully unaware of Covid. Or is he? So far this summer there have been at least two bison to human “incidents.” Neither incident went well for the human.

Turns out that pretty much everywhere we visited is now Covid worse. One example is Uinitah County in Utah where we spent two pleasant days in Vernal. They now have twice as many Covid cases as they did before our visit (62 versus 31). While there we noted that all the big chains required employees to wear masks but not their customers. Some sort of traveling circus had also reportedly just left town and the 4th of July parade was going on as planned. Fortunately, no one in that county has yet to pass away from Covid but then death is a lagging indicator; we will not know the true Covid toil there for some time. It will also be another week or so before we know for sure whether or not we contracted Covid in Vernal or any of the other places we carefully visited.

Near the summit of Bear Tooth Highway

One-month later Chicago feels different. In my quiet northwest bubble, I see lots of children riding bikes together. They hang out together like kids everywhere have always done and it feels reassuring and terrifying at the same time. Stores are reopened but with size limits fully enforced. Just like before our trip, nobody within these places are mask less. Midweek the stores are more crowded than they were before our trip but still feel eerily empty.

On the Perimeter Trail in Ouray, CO

Someday there will be a vaccine. Or someday the virus will sufficiently burn its way through the population making subsequent flare ups less deadly. Either way there is a lot of living to be had until then and we all need to strike a balance between reckless carelessness and paralyzing fear. For us this means wearing masks inside, visiting friends and family outdoors and avoiding crowds as much as possible. This simple way of life, rooted in the present and hopefully soon to be a relic, is just another of many lagging indicators.

Just another picture of us hiking in the Tetons

Being A Little Boulder


Orchids found along a trail in Chautauqua Park (Boulder, CO)

After Red Lodge we spent some time touring colleges in Ft. Collins and Boulder. It was a downright spooky thing to do as both campuses had this post-apocalyptic vibe going on. Things were especially desolate within the main college square areas, you know, that tree lined area most colleges have which is featured in every university mailer. There the message boards were completely bare. These areas also featured lonely bike racks and even lonelier groundkeepers who somehow looked downright sinister while pruning back bushes. And there was absolutely no there to give tours or answer questions. The only other family we spied wandering these wastelands looked just as confused and lost as we were. Maybe it was my imagination, but they also appeared a bit frightened by us, as if we ourselves were some sort of ghostly appearance.


Henna, Robert Frost, and Noel at University of Colorado. The great poet was actually had little to say to us.

We like Boulder. We like Ft. Collins better. Seems like this is pretty much everyone’s opinion. From the shop owner in Ft. Collins (who grew up in Boulder), “There is just something too Boulder about Boulder.” The hotel clerk here in Boulder (who grew up in Colorado Springs) said something similar which begs the questions, what exactly does “being too Boulder” mean?


A little street art in Ft. Collins, CO.

Maybe we misheard the intent and “being Boulder” is actually a good thing. That would make sense as the surrounding mountains here are absolutely beautiful. People here are pretty cool too; relaxed, friendly and willing to engage strangers in all types of conversations. But we think being Boulder refers to something else entirely, something not quite so positive. Boulder is very crowded and also very expensive to live in (but then so are many other beautiful places like Telluride and Jackson Hole). Does being Boulder maybe refer to its very progressive politics? Maybe, but I am not sure that Ft. Collins is that much more conservative than Boulder. Honestly, we have no idea what being “too Boulder” means but there is a fundamental difference between the less crowded, slightly less costly Ft. Collins and it’s uber-rich cousin Boulder.


View of one of the five “Flat Irons” found along a hiking trail in Chautauqua Park (Boulder, CO).

I know one thing; Boulder is by far the most Covid-cautious place we have been all summer. Twice we have had our temperature checked before entering a business (a book store and brew pub). Masks are worn inside but also outside and even sometimes when walking alone on an empty sidewalk. In store maximum crowd sizes are also strictly enforced. But life still manages to go on with people able to shop, eat outside and hike to their hearts content just so long as they follow all rules (we continued to hike mostly mask-less but covered our mouths whenever moving close to someone). It really is a glimpse of how people today can safely balance being social while also being safe. Beer will always find a way.


One of many fun breweries located in Boulder, CO.

More Photos: Grand Teton National Park to Red Lodge, MT

Kayaking on Jackson Lake
Hiking up to the gondola which is free to take down at Teton Ski Village. Brutal hike (2,700′ elevation gain over about 5 mikes)
At Indian Paintbrush Canyon (GTNP)
Bear spied at Yellowstone National Park
Wildlowers at about 10,000′ (Bear Tooth Highway)
Ferocious chipmunk prowling Bear Tooth Highway
Along the Bear Tooth Highway

Our Time In The Tetons


Hiking along the Taggart-Bradley Lake Trail in GTNP

The Milky Way stretched out like a rainbow across the cloudless night. Laying on our backs on the Signal Mountain boat dock we saw so many stars that the constellations became meaningless. The stars also reflected back up from the water like yellow pin pricks. This was my favorite moment from the eight nights we spent camping in Grand Teton National Park.


Sunset over Jackson Lake taken from our tent (site 71)

That and other moments made up for a bit of car drama. The worst of it was when we realized the back hatch was not locking. Corey ended up walking behind the car while I inched our way back to the campsite (a very long quarter mile).


Boat across Jenny Lake. Every other row in boat was empty which created longer lines than usual. All employees and most hikers wore masks when on boat. 


Our favorite pizzeria located at Leeks Marina was closed for the season. So too where many indoor lodging options. All campgrounds at GTNP were open and filled at earlier than usual times while we were there.


Hanging at the rocky beach just below our campsite. We especially enjoyed our new inflatable paddleboard (Thanks Mom and Dad!)


Henna a few moments before jumping into Bradley Lake. So cold!


Henna in Cascade Canyon


After eight nights camping, we find ourselves at a boutique hotel in Red Lodge Montana. The Pollard Hotel (built in 1893 and originally named something else) is a fine hotel. We also saw more wildlife (a wolf, bear, elk and hundreds, maybe thousands of bison) on the drive through Yellowstone than we have seen all trip. We also survived and even enjoyed the Bear Tooth Highway. Have more stories to share, but a hot shower and a comfy bed are calling. Hope you enjoy all the pictures.



View from room at The Pollard (Red Lodge, MT)

Good Night Sleep

Marina at Signal Mountain Campground

The steep trail that leads directly from our campsite to the Marina

Woke up two nights ago to a flashlight shining bright into my tent. It was deep night, probably around 4 AM. First I was scared. But then, as I gradually woke up, I became mad. Figured a neighbor was accidentally pointing a light into my tent. So I Got myself out of the tent in order to check things out. And there it was, the moon, almost full and just banking over the trees. It was so bright it hurt my eyes to look at it.

Our campsite at the Signal Mountain Campground

I’m very use to not getting a good night sleep. Happens all the time but is more likely when camping. There is just so much more to wake me up when sleeping outside. Last night it was an angry owl. At least I assume it was angry. Also kind of assumed it was angry at me as it just kept getting louder and louder. Like it had something to say to me. Corey kind of remembers the hooing but it never truly woke her. Henna had no idea. And really that is how it always goes as I’m the only one ever disturbed by crazy roosters (everywhere in Maui) or a bunch of teenagers putting up a tent at 6 AM (three nights ago; loudest damn thing I ever heard and not one stir by the ladies). A few years ago I left my tent in the middle of the night and spied a huge bear pacing back and forth about 100 yards from the tent. There were lots of other campers around and we were never really in any danger. But it still took me an hour or more to fall back to sleep while all the time Corey and Henna slept on. 

Our Time In The High Desert


The drive from C0-139 from Loma to Rangely, CO

The calendar and pandemic both contributed mightily in our decision to spend a bit more time in Vernal, UT than we had planned. How so? Well, the Tetons are one of the last few national parks where most campsites are given out on a first come first serve basis. It is a system that rewards the Noels’ of the world but greatly punishes the not so early bird type (you know, like Corey and Henna). So plan A was to spend July 3rd in Pinedale, WY then drive north on the 4th to the Gros Ventre campground which usually never fills or at least not until late at night. Then after a day or two we would drive just a bit further north to our true Summer home, the Signal Mountain Campground (site 41 if possible) which often fills up by 9 AM in the summer. But this year the 4th is on a Saturday. And there is a definite nesting instinct going on where people (us included) are becoming nomadic in their wandering. So on July 2nd the Gros Ventre campground filled up by 10 AM. Our best guess is that a whole lot of these people will end up staying through the weekend.


At Douglas Pass on CO-139 (elevation 8,268′). The 70 mile plus route has no services and only a few scattered ranches along the route. Limited amount of travelers too and we had this summit entirely to ourselves before getting back in the car and coasting down to Rangely.

It just so happens that I was a bit upset we would not have time to check out Dinosaur Monument in Colorado. Turns out though there is a second entrance to monument just east of Vernal, UT.  Amazingly, tiny Vernal, Utah has not one, but two Marriott hotels. Like everywhere else, however, campgrounds and Airbnb’s are booked solid. Hotels though remain pretty much empty and we were able to use points to book a very sweet room for two nights which allowed us time to both explore Dinosaur Monument and time our entrance to the Tetons for Sunday i.e. the best day ever to arrive at a first come first serve campground and especially when that day happens to also be the 5th of July.



Along the short hike but blistering hot hike from the Visitor’s Place to the Quarry at Dinosaur National Monument. There was a free, open air shuttle available with alternating empty rows of seats but we decided to walk instead.


At Quarry Hall visitors are able to view and even touch a whole mess of dinosaur bones deeply embedded within solid rock.   


There are also many petroglyphs within the National Park. These images were created by the Fremont people over a thousand years ago.


Billboard seen heading east toward the Colorado border on 40. Make no mistake, this is a very conservative part of the country. A confusing country too where it seems easier to buy an assault weapon than a six pack of real beer. 

Happy 4th of July everyone! Be safe and will talk to you soon.



Traveling In The Time of Covid: Gunnison to Ouray, CO


Montrose to Ouray, CO

This is not the first time Ouray has faced a global pandemic. From 1918-1919 the then thriving mining town enacted a very strict quarantine that initially protected its citizens from the horrors of the Spanish flu. Eventually though the virus broke through with their hospitals then quickly overwhelmed. Times though now are different. Luckily Covid is nowhere near as deadly as the Spanish flu although Ouray no longer actually has any hospitals to be overwhelmed. Per conversations with locals, the only available medical care is at an urgent care in Silverton (a steep drive up the Million Dollar highway) or a tiny hospital in Montrose which is about forty miles away. Any Covid outbreak in Ouray would almost definitely result in patients having to be flown for treatment. Maybe this is why the small town requires all patrons to not only wear masks but to wash their hands with this strange moonshine concoction available by the door that practically strips your skin away while you scrub. Sip it and you will go blind.


No mask for this cat but its owner wore masks proudly advertising their love for one of our favorite National Parks.

They were much more cavalier in Gunnison. Again, per local conversation, Gunnsion has one local hospital with about twenty beds available (and no ICU beds at all). Some of the businesses there did require masks but others were more defiant in the face of common sense. At one ice cream shop the elder employee gave us a lengthy lecture on how it is more important to wash ones hands than to wear a mask. At that point we were less than a week away from our Covid aplenty Chicago neighborhood and a day away from the Colorado Spring area which has seen a recent uptick in cases. Our worn masks were definitely more for his than our protection.


Henna looking down into the abyss of Black Canyon Gunnison

Most distressing to us was experience at the KOA in Ouray where masks were not even encouraged within the campground store or other indoor places. Some employees though did wear masks. Many though wore them around their neck and then covered their nose and mouth only when talking to a masked customer. I have seen this type of situational mask covering and it kind of makes sense. Very respectful but only minimally effective. There may have been a few social distancing markers but those were mostly ignored by the customers and there were no attempts at limiting the amount of people within the store. A large number of campers appeared to be from Texas which is currently among the top Covid surging states in the country. We kept our distance from others as much as possible and wore masks whenever indoors. Hopefully this was enough to keep us safe.


At Black Canyon Gunnison National Park

Along the Perimeter Trail in Ouray