Road Games

A lot of people ask us how we keep our sanity and Henna happy on those long car rides.  In general, we try not to have to many long driving days.  But we live in Chicago and like to hang out on the west and east coast.  Many days we either stay put or drive less than 100 miles.  But other days, like the last few days, see us driving over 300 miles (our longest driving days have been around 400 miles).  So these are some of our tips on surving long drives and good general road habits.

1)  Get out as much as you can.  Play catch at a rest stop.  Pull out at a scenic place.  Stop for ice cream.  Anything breaks up the monotony of driving.

2)  Eating out can be fun, but make it your choice to eat out and not a necessity.  Always drive with a cooler.  We also have a small propane stove and some charcoal.  We make sandwiches, eat cereal, yogurt, or bagels with cream cheese for breakfast, and, especially when camping, cook our own dinner.  Except when we feel like eating out.  So, when in Victoria, we chose to eat in their China Town.  In Cody we had a nice meal out before the resteraunt.  In the middle of Idaho we made chicken tacos for dinner.  You save a lot of money and avoid feeling fastfood/ diner blahs.

3)  Corey, and sometimes me to, read to Henna a lot.  Thus far this trip Corey finished the final Harry Potter book and several smaller books with Henna. My phone also has a dozen or so books on CD burned from the library (this year Henna has little interest, but in the past these books were good for an hour or so of driving).  We do not have a DVD player, TV, etc.  By the way, somewhere on the road, I heard a mom tell a misbehaving young one, “That’s it, you lost five minutes of video time in the car today.” 

4)  We have made us several verbal games that Henna cannot get enough of.  They include 20 Questions, the Story Telling Game, and the Commercial Game.  The two latter games involve one person, the judge, stating a category and the other two either making up a related story or a related commercial.  The winner then is the judge in the next round.

With all that said, long drives can be exhausting and usually result in everyone being tired and crabby at about the same time.  We try to always make the destination worth it and feel good that Henna enjoys short drives and can pretty well tolerate longer ones.

Rodeo Days

Greetings from Cody, WY home of the daily summer rodeo.  We were here two years ago and at the rodeo Henna rooted for the animals and we went home early.  This time Henna was much mor interested than I, especially in some of the trick riders who were her own age.  Henna also participated in the all kid calf run where dozens of kids chased three scared calfs around the ring hoping to snatch a ribbon stuck into the cow tail.  Henna did not win, but had a lot of fun trying.  I do not know the whole history of Cody (maybe next time I am here I will go to the Cody museum).  But my understanding of the town is that Bill Cody set up this town as a sort of living museum/ circus of his western vision.  And he wanted to make money, a lot of money.  Cody still has that kind of feel, but in a gentle, not in your face kind of way.  The 52 miles from Yellowstone to Cody are also some of the most dramatic miles I have driven this summer (In case you are wondering we have driven 5,000+ miles this summer; the Cowboy Trail in Alberta may have been the prettiest miles and the Manitoba/ Saskatechwan the harderst).

Since last I have blogged we spent two nights camping in the Grand Tetons.  The campground (Colter Bay) was not our favorite.  A lot of mosquitoes, a lot of campers (we were site 350 in a 350 site campground), and a lot of generators.  RV sites in the Tetons are $60 so what a lot of RVers do is set up in the tent campground ($20) and then run their generators until 8 PM (which is the time they are allowed to do so).  As a whole the campground had a very impersonal and cold kind of feel. I did meet an interesting worker there.  She was a recently retired teacher who, along with her retired husband, sold 99% of their belongings including their house and took off in an RV.  She now works with her husband at the Colter Bay campground where the concessionair (the entity that runs all the giftshops, resteraunts and some of the campgrounds) allows employees to camp in an employee RV park for $6 a night.  They also have dormitories.  If day to day operations in Canada are turned over to teenagers, in the US it is retirees and college students running the show.  And they do a good job; they are all so happy living in paradise that they do not mind working at a grocery store, etc.

Two nights ago while camping, Corey and I were sitting by the fire and Henna was sound asleap in the tent.  We heard a banging noise behind the tent and were somewhat concerned (there were many, many tents behind ours so a sudden loud noise was not to much of a concern).  But then we heard definite steps in the forest and this scared us good.  I made loud noises and shone my flashlight on…. a doe munching on leaves a few feet from our tent.  The doe ignored me and walked past the tent, the hoofs almost touching the rain flap.

We also revisited a hike.  13 years ago Corey and I took our first big summer road trip. In the Tetons we backpacked (also for the first time) to Lake Solitude.  With Henna in tow we decided to redo this hike.  We knew we were not going to make that same lake.  We did take the boat across Jenny Lake (as we did 13 seasons ago) and smiled at the backpackers who were going to that lake.  It was a great hike.  Even the crazy amount of people who shared the first leg of the hike to Inspiration Point with us felt good.  It made me better appreciate all the hiking we have done this season where a chance meeting on the trail often resulted in a quick or long conversation.  As a rule, the more tired I was, the more lengthy the conversations I pursued.  To get to Inspiration Point, one must endure several switchbacks.  And then most people go back to the boat dock.  After Inspiration Point, the trail levels out and offers stunning views of distant mountains.  Moose also hang out there (the first time on the trail we saw one, yesterday we did not) and you walk through meadows filled with alpine flowers.  We hiked until we reached a good wading point, took off our shoes, and waved at backpackers and serious hikers as they went by.  A better time could not have been had. At the Tetons, Henna and I also swam in Jackson Lake which was maybe a little colder than the little lakes in the UP.  Many tourists thought us crazy, but Henna and I had a blast.  Even Corey joined us for a quick bath. 

Today we drove through Yellowstone.  We had a picknick in Hayden Valley, saw some bison, met a nice family from Long Island, and hiked past bubbling mud and scalding water.  No swimming there.  I have lots of pictures to share.  Tomorrow, maybe Devils Tower.  Maybe not.  We are probably going to stop by Mount Rushmore and then come home.  The tilt toward home is in full swing and I am already missing this trip.

A quick thought

I am really posting this in order to share the photo below.  I tried to do so last night, but the wifi would not let me do so.  But, since I have your attention I may as well give a brief comparison between camping in the US vs. Canada.  First, the people:  Canadians are much nicer and friendlier than us.  Last night I mentioned that we are at a happy, family filled campground.  What I did not say is that our neighbors, despite almost being on top of us, do not return conversations.  Walking to the bathroom this morning only a few people returned my good morning.  In Canada several people introduced themselves to me.  A RCMP sought us out just to give us directions.  When we asked directions (and we did that a lot) people often stopped what they were doing and then led us to where we had to go (I should say that this also happened once in MN).  Second, it is much cheaper to camp here but you do not get as much.  At Waterton we had showers and teams of teenagers patroling the grounds for our comfort (and I am guessing a chance to escape their boss).  In the US you pay between $12 to $20 for a campsite (at Waterton it was $27) but you may not get soap in the bathroom.  No showers.  Usually one older man in a golf cart patroling a 100+ site campground.  You get what you pay for.  Finally, a quick word about camping.  Last night was our 15th night sleeping in a tent.  We also spent 4 nights so far in KOA Kamping Kabins which are small cabins where you supply the bedding and do not have a private bathroom (I think this would be the perfect way for a non-camper to camp; you can see America via these cabins and save a lot of dough, eat better, meet more people, etc).  So far the roughest nights were at Pacific Rim where we had a walk-in site a decent walk from our car.  I felt we were in our own private little rain forest and it did rain almost the whole time we were in our tent.  Last night and Waterton were probably our least wild nights- here we have wifi, little privacy, a nice bathroom with showers, friendly people working here, and are not to far from an overpriced store that could supplement our needs.  There also is a small resteraunt here.  Most of our sites have been inbetween these two extremes.  If you have not guessed it, we love to camp.  I like sleeping in my own portable home that I can set up almost anywhere (with a different tent Corey and I once set it up on a ship headed down the coast of Alaska).  Unlike an RV, we can still go anywhere we want.  I also love the ease at which I can make my own food via the small propane stove we have and/ or grill that is often at our sites.  I think I eat better on the road than at home.  Anyways, enjoy the pic below.  We are headed to the Tetons and Yellowstone and may not be able to post for awhile.  I promise lots of photos when we do (post).

The Speed Up

It seems like years ago that my better half wrote about the slow down (the four wonderful days spent at Waterton).  I am here to tell you about the great big speed up.  First, let me tell you that each and every trip we vow not to speed up.  Past trips we have made valiant attempts to spend days in Iowa or Wisconsin or Nebraska, sucking up the adventure with as much abandonment as we would in, say, Montana.  It just doesn’t work that way.  Once the road tilts us back it is foolish to fight gravity. Yesterday we woke up just south of Portland (Albany), drove 4 to 5 hours to Crater Lake, found out the boat rides have not yet begun (snow, snow here is everywhere), decided not to camp at the lake and drove in search of a campground.  Late Friday nights our options were slim and we slept at a nice hotel in Bend.  After a fun time walking the riverfront we ate a mediocre Thai meal and then swam at the hotel until 11.  Today we drove about 400 miles to a wonderful, happy KOA in southern Idaho.  The campground is crowded with happy, fresh families on their way to the Tetons and Yellowstone.  We can tell they are beginning their adventures because everyone is happy and smiles.  And so were we as we made wonderful chicken tacos at our site and then swam outside until past 10.  Tomorrow we hope to camp in the Tetons and then spend two nights in Yellowstone.  And then the speed up will begin in earnest. 

The Mountain

Even on a trip some basic house keeping must be done.  I am waiting on the wash cycle while Noel and Henna swim in the pool, we finally found some blue skies and warmer air.  I know at home ya’ll are having a hot spell, so I won’t talk too much about the cold weather we’ve been through.  This pit stop is in Albany Oregon, and we’ve been here before.  This trip has taken us to many old haunts from a trip ten years past.  Some have felt the same, while others I’ve totally forgotten and get to simply experience again.  I realized that my mind can only hold onto memories that have struck me somewhere deep.  We just returned from one of those places and I am glad to say that the same feeling came back to me as it took hold of me 10 years ago.  Mt. Rainer National Park still makes me feel larger than life inside.  When I am here I feel like home.

 We drove from the coast yesterday through more of the same misty rain, just under Seattle and down into the park.  As we travelled through towns along the way, the earth was level but began its wonderful ascent into the lower hills that surround the mountain.  Mt. Rainer sits in the middle of the park at 14,431ft. and if your lucky you can see it’s snow-covered peak, when spied upon it just takes your breath away.  We were only planning on staying in the area for two days, so I knew my odds of seeing the mountain were slim.  But as we drove the only park road closest to the peak, we saw the clouds move to reveal it through the tall mountain pines.  We quickly pulled over, I pulled Henna out and we stood on the side of the road to watch it.  A ranger told me to talk quietly or it’ll go into hiding again.  The air was cold and crisp and smelled deliciously of the pine that surround this dormant volcano.  It’s a beauty of a park, and we realized as we reached the visitor’s center at the top of this winding road that the trails were all still snowed in.  Yikes.  Record snow fall and early travels to mountainous regions can leave some hikers sad.  We back packed this park ten years ago, and I was instantly in love.  A trail called the wonderland trail surrounds this park. Noel and I have said that we’ll do it for our 40th birthday, which is in two years.  Better start training now, and getting Henna ready.  She’ll be coming too. 


We camped at her feet, (I think of her as a female) and it was a glorious night.  When we awoke rain clouds were threatening us, but we cleared camp and just made a 3 mile hike before the rain fell.  We left for drier weather and to begin our decent homeward.  We never saw the mountain again as clouds of her own making concealed her.  Maybe next time, because I know I’ll be back here.


Water Everywhere

When we first started planning out this trip, I saw no great unifying theme.  We began with family (the wedding) and were seeking out other family Northwest.  But other interests kept popping up and we were always aware that it was ten years ago that Corey and I drove Northwest and backpacked in Mt. Ranier and Olympic.  We also met Lou for the first time that year.  But as I think back on this trip I see water as the great tie.  The nights in Brandon, Manitoba and Canmore, BC (and tonight in Albany, OR) may be the only nights I did not sleep next to some great body of water.  From Lake Huron to Lake Superior to Lake Waterton to the Mississippi and the Pacific Ocean.  Last night, at Mt. Ranier, the sounds of Laughing Creek kept us company.  And this morning we hiked to Silver Falls (from a trail that began at the same creek).  Our first hike was to Sable Falls which fed into Lake Superior.  Our toughest hike was to Lake Bertha.  And we canooed on icy Lake Cameron in Wateron and then later had a kayak lesson on Lake Waterton.  We also took a simple boat tour on Lake Waterton and zipped around on a Zodiak at Pacific Rim with a smiling Ahab out looking for whales.  Tomorrow we hope to take a boat tour at Crater Lake and then putz around on Wizard Island.  We also fished on small and big lakes in the UP off gravel roads and windy routes.  Soon the last or maybe next to last leg of our tip will begin (this trip has more legs than a millipeed) and we will move away from obvious water.  But there will surely still be sand in my boots and soggy socks on my feet.

Olympic National Park

We are headed home.  Hennacornoeli style.  Sunday night we were dropped off by car ferry at Port Angeles.  We hit the Safeway, got some gas, and then bedded down at the Port Angeles Inn.  The price was high, but it had a wonderful view of the town and the dock.  Late into the night I heard teenagers whooping it up just out of sight.  Or maybe they were vampires- this is Twilight area.  Today, Wednesday, I woke up only 135 miles away.  Although further south, we were also further west and in road miles further from home than when we dropped off in Port Angeles.  But we squeezed every ounce out of those 135 miles.  We circled the perimeter of Olympic National Park and hiked in the Elhwa Valley, camped at Mora, saw a sunset at Rialto beach and marveled at the distant sea stacks, were able to play on and around the sea stacks at Ruby Beach, hiked in a rain forest at Hoh (Santa’s favorite rain forest, Hoh, Hoh, Hoh), and then camped on a ridge almost overlooking the ocean last night.  We also scavenged for drift wood for a fire, collected crab parts and interesting stones, and watched driftwood houses being built.  Henna, although decidedly homesick, was asked if she wanted to book home or take this detour and she decided on the detour.  A chip off the old block.