Road Trip XI, Days 37-42: Dancing Madly Across the Midwest, Or, Team o’ Destiny, Now with Extra Scenery!

In case it has, ahem, escaped your attention, last week (March 29) marked the 40th anniversary of the Carolina Tarheels’ first national championship, in 1982. That date matters quite a bit to The Mate, and even more to me, because that’s the day Michael Jordan baptized me into Tarheel fandom with what’s known as “The Shot.”

The rest is history. (Photo courtesy NCAA.com)

Up till then I had been more of a Duke fan if anything, but being back in Chapel Hill, on spring break from college, when The Shot fell–that was total immersion. I’ve never lapsed.

Fast-forward 40 years and six days, and guess what: our team is once more playing for the national title…in the same exact city where MJ helped them win in 1982.

Now, in case you’re someone for whom college sports means little or nothing, I’ll just briefly refer to a certain rivalry game that occurred last night, where a certain 42-years-tenured coach of a certain rival school to UNC ended his career–or rather, had it ended–by those selfsame Tarheels. Not sure if I speak for all Carolina fans, but truly, for me, if “we” lose tomorrow, I won’t care so much, because “we” already beat Duke twice on the most blaringly national stage possible.

But I’m still looking forward to one more day of sports babble, one more evening of texting far-flung fellow fans while alternately cheering and doing calisthenics for extra mojo.

We’ve even taught some of our friends this trick. Pushups work best!

Amidst the madness, however, Road Trip XI continues! We left Milwaukee last Tuesday, and spent two cold & dank but otherwise VERY happy days at the home of old friends with lots of dogs and cats. The Mate & I managed one uncomfortably windy ride along the Mississippi, and then relaxed with critters and pie.

UNC pie!

Leaving the frozen north for the slightly-less-frozen latitude of I-90, we crossed into South Dakota and chose Sioux Falls for a recreation stop. It was too windy to ride, so we decided on a walk–till our first glimpse of the falls stopped us in our tracks.

Seriously??? How have I gone so long without knowing about this place?

The more you explore, the more waterfalls you find.

RiDICulously intricate: like a flattened, pinkish Rivendell

However, when I stopped to read the signage, my awe changed to sorrow. Turns out that incredible sight is actually a remnant, blasted and quarried to a shadow of its former self. A view from the observation tower provided the gritty perspective of the whole scene, surrounded by the ugliness of industry.

“But can I blame those white folks from 140 years ago?” I thought. “They were so excited about electricity. How are they any different from me, driving across the country using fossil fuel even when I know better too?”

We drove on, sobered by these thoughts despite the thrill of that beautiful pink water garden. Crossing the Missouri River, I glimpsed yucca plants, and decided: It’s official–we’re back in the west!

Missouri + yucca = West!

But from there, the land got REAL western. As in bad. As in Badlands.

RAVie posing for her car commercial

We’d driven through the Badlands decades ago, in the summer. This time, entering under rainy skies, we made a startling discovery: those jaw-dropping crags aren’t made of natural cement, as they appear. They’re made of MUD.

This kind of mud.

So every drop of rain simply reduces each elegant, striated mountain into, eventually, something like this:

I’m mellllting!

Trying to hike across this stuff was like trying to hike on oiled ice. I’ve never felt any substance so slick. The Mate & I managed a couple of miles, hiking as much sideways as forward, trying to stay on grasses…

…with limited success…

Somehow it never looks like this in those Westerns!

…but eventually we gave up and tried a shorter, drier trail. This one featured some fun obstacles, like

Yikes. Even more so coming down.

…but also some amazing color.

What’s so bad about this?

Speaking of color, just a glimpse at the Yellow Mounds on our way out:

Makes me want to eat a popsicle

Seriously, this park is one of the most accessible in the country: just a stone’s throw off the interstate, and entirely driveable.

But on foot–so much the better!

And oh yeah, it comes with bighorn sheep.

I did not photograph what happened next.

We finished up that day by driving into South Dakota’s Black Hills. Since we knew nothing about this area, I booked a motel with full kitchen for three days so we could explore. And oh my goodness, did we ever.

We started with the George Mickleson Trail, a state-run, 109-mile rail-trail that winds through some of the most amazing scenery any bike trail gets to boast of.

Yeah.

Unfortunately, the snow patches kept increasing in size as we rode, making me nervous. Liza’s tires did great, but she’s no mountain bike, and I really didn’t want to fall. So we called it quits after 90 minutes of so, but 100% we’ll be back in a warmer season if we’re ever able.

Although leafy aspens can’t be any prettier than this, can they?

The Black Hills are most famous for Mt. Rushmore, but we didn’t care to visit. That’s just no way to treat a mountain, in my opinion. We did glimpse the Crazy Horse work-in-progress from a ways off…

a LONG ways off!

…but didn’t opt for the tour. I do feel better about that monument, since a Lakota leader commissioned it, but still…I prefer my mountains whole, thank you. Which is why I fell deeply in love with nearby Custer State Park.

If only it weren’t named after a war criminal! But that’s not the mountains’ fault.

Sylvan Lake is dammed, but that’s not its fault either.

The dam itself is breathtaking to walk out onto. But…where does the trail go?

Oh. Gonna need a sharper set of hiking poles.

Heading out of the park, I snapped a shot of the single-car “tunnel” which gives some indication of the ultra-mountainy road up to the park. And lo and behold, what does that dashcam shot show but…

…our Tarheels, journeying with us through all the mountain beauty.

So…go mountains. Go Heels. Go tradition, and marriage, and teamwork, and the Church of the Great Outdoors.

But Monday night, in New Orleans? Especially, Go Heels!!!!!

Road Trip XI, Days 31-36: Taking Time to Smell the…uhh…Skunk Cabbage? (NY-PA- OH-IN-WI)

The Mate and I are NOT good at slowing down. Hunkering down, chowing down, gettin’ down–yes. But slowing down, once in road trip mode? Our past m.o. has always been to pack the car to perfection and then, GO. Stop for recreation (and some stretching & peeing & gas-buying), but otherwise, spend the day getting to the next stop.

This trip is different. Since we’ve assigned ourselves a whole extra two weeks, and we’re trying to mesh our visits with the schedules of other people, sometimes we actually need to be less in a hurry. As in the past several days.

We left our cousins’ farm in Vermont at a leisurely 9 a.m., and chose to backtrack south a bit for the I-80 route across Pennsylvania, rather than taking the shorter I-90 across NY. Weather in PA looked better, so I chose us a promising rail-trail, and…Whoops.

[Not pictured: rail trail in White Haven, closed in both directions]

Instead we ended up biking here, in Lewiston PA, where the farms were so classical…

Even down to the barn color!

…I wasn’t surprised to see a couple of Amish buggies trot past on nearby lanes. (I didn’t care to take their pictures without permission.) Fun fact I discovered: Bucknell U. is in Lewiston.

Next day, again–no hurry. We forced ourselves to sleep in, putting sleep in the “sleep bank” for the upcoming, VERY late-scheduled Tarheel game. Our rec stop was Cook Forest State Park, in western PA, which promised a stand of old-growth conifers–something I’ve NEVER seen east of the Mississippi.

Cook Forest delivered.

Big trees AND big rocks!

The largest of the hemlocks and pines were 48 ” across–hardly redwood-sized, but still big enough to be hard to capture in a frame. So I settled for this fallen one…

R.I.P., big girl

…and more rocks!

Where’s a small child when you need one to climb with?

The park even had sweet little cabins (seasonally closed, unfortunately), with an adorable swinging bridge.

view from said bridge
Even the trees seemed to be enjoying some ease.

An additional note of poignance amid all the stately forested beauty: the blaze of the main trail happened to be the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

As if our hearts weren’t already there…

So after our hike, we returned to our car, and CNN, feeling a mixture of extra blessing, but also helpless heartbreak.

We spent that night in Ohio, by the Sandusky River. (All these were motel nights; with rain/snow threatening every day no one felt like camping.) Next day we FINALLY passed back into Central Time, and discovered a place we’ve probably driven past a dozen times on previous trips: the Indiana Dunes.

Well hello, Lake Michigan!

A federal and a state park lie adjacent there. We opted for the federal by default, but later decided the state one, which was older, actually offered more. The Bog Trail on the federal side didn’t, in March, actually show off much of its purported diversity…

…although I’m a huge cypress fan: love all those knobby knees of theirs!

…but I was treated to some fresh new skunk cabbage emerging for spring.

Ahhh, the scent of…hmm, never mind.

But it’s not the bog’s fault I was there in a wintry season. What really attracted me were the oak-covered dunes, with trails silky-soft to tread.

How can these trees grow on…
…THIS?

In the state park’s trails, the back-and-forth between sand and vegetation was even starker:

I think the sand’s winning this one.

But even so–kudos to those oaks!

Let’s face it–this east coast girl does miss oaks.

That night, hunkered down (remember, we’re good at that) near Gary, Indiana, The Mate & I splurged for once on pizza

Chicago-style, of course (don’t anyone tell Jon Stewart!)

in order to properly celebrate what might be the Tarheels’ final game of the season.

But it wasn’t. All our mojo worked, and the Heels advanced to the Elite Eight. Then The Mate & I gratefully collapsed, around midnight. (We are NOT used to being in eastern time zones during these games!)

When our plans to meet up with family in Chicago fell through, we had hopes of returning to the Dunes next morning before the short drive to Milwaukee to see friends. But it was snowing sideways, so–know what? Let’s just drive. And get some pho. And see a movie. OKAY to slow down, remember?

Milwaukee greeted us with a cold snap, at least for us Northwest wimps: a high of 30 with a vicious lake wind.

Our friends were like, “Cold?! Heheheh. You guys.”

We got a great tour of the lakefront…

…complete with bike path for later!

…and UW Milwaukee, where our friend works.

The mascot: “Pounce” the Panther

My German heritage instantly bonded with the offerings at the public market…

Only the best wurst!

…but after our tour, we were happy to cuddle up with our friends’ dogs.

Note: I’m generally NOT a small-dog fan, but I make exceptions for Morton (a.k.a. Mo the Vicious) and Delilah.

You notice my shirts, right? With Carolina vying for a place in the Final Four, and with the mercury dropping back down to 20, I wore BOTH my UNC shirts (as well as my lucky earrings) to watch the game.

It worked. GO HEELS! Bring on Dook!

Here’s what Mo thinks of Coach K.

Next up: Minneapolis, and then…westward! Slowly! Turns out there’s something to this smell-the-roses-type travel after all.

Road Trip XI, Days 26-29: Something Old, Something New, Something Carolina Blue in Vermont (Us!)

Visiting with our Vermont cousins is an enormous highlight of our road trips, mostly because it isn’t often feasible. What I mean is, this lovely farm is so much easier to visit when it looks like this:

Look! Green!

…instead of this (4 years ago):

Ewe cold?

True, spring means mud season here…

Still easier to bike on than snow!

…and the trails in the upper hills all had that flattened, emergent feeling.

Literally.

But Vermont is easy to love in any season–possibly the most calendar-ready state of the entire 50. On our bike ride along the Battenkill River in Arlington (just down the mountain and up the road from our cousins), I kept stopping to take pictures. (Pretty good workout, actually, as I have to ride twice as hard to catch up with The Mate.)

Can you get any more Vermonty than tapped maple trees???
And here I’ve always thought the South had the best sycamore trees. My bad, Vermont!

Vermont houses and towns are so Norman Rockwell that Norman Rockwell himself actually lived and worked there.

It’s now an inn.

This was Norman’s front porch view:

Why yes, that IS a covered bridge. So…much…Americana!!

As for Vermont’s farmlands, their age is impossible to ignore, as a ramble in any woods reveals the mossy criss-crossings of ancient stone walls.

Whose woods these are I think I know…they’ve really outgrown that wall, though!

But something new is happening in these old hills. See, this beautiful farm…

…including everything, all the way up to Studio Hill in the back…

…once just a “gentleman farm” owned by our cousins’ New York grandparents, who patronized the arts…

(hence the Studio of Studio Hill)

…does not actually belong to our cousins, but to the family trust of which they are part. In fact, for decades it was a horse farm catering to, let’s face it, the upper crust. But when the younger generation took over the work, they decided to make it a REAL, working sheep farm, and in the past 10 years since we’ve been visiting regularly, their passion is making itself felt.

But every good sheep farm needs a sheep-guarding donkey like Ben (World’s 2nd Cutest).

First, they’ve made their focus regenerative agriculture. What does that mean? Let’s hear from Jesse & Cally’s Studio Hill Farm website:

On our farm, we practice holistic management. This ensures that our farming practices strengthen and enrich the environments in which they’re employed. Therefore, as we raise animals on our land, our fields grow more fertile and abundant—which then allows us to raise more even animals on the land…which then makes the fields even more fertile and abundant…and so on. With simple management changes supported by basic biological principles, all agriculture around the globe could achieve this ecological and economic positive-feedback loop. We hope Studio Hill will serve as one example among many.

https://studiohill.farm/

Second, in order to fund their ambitions to restore the land, they’ve been farming a whole new crop: Air BnB clients, happy to pay to nestle themselves into the calendar picture for a few days at a time. Since our last visit, our cousins even bought the very non-traditional-farmhousey house their former neighbors inflicted upon the upper hill, and turned THAT into an Air BnB house.

Ahem…Mr./Ms. Architect? You’re in Vermont, remember?

They were going to house us there, as a matter of fact, but it was booked instead by a group of travel nurses—a win for everyone! Yay nurses! Instead we stayed in the old brick house pictured previously, which the Big House looks out on.

Ben, hard at work. Behind him, the new Big House plus the Schoolhouse Air BnB–the latter we can vouch for; it’s adorable.

They even put together a yurt, and a treehouse is still under construction.

Woods out front–Ben the Donkey out back.

All this property expansion was made possible by supporters of sustainable farming who invested in our cousins’ dream literally, thanks to a company called Steward, whose mission I’m copying here…just in case you want to pursue investment in a farmer’s dream yourself 🙂

Our mission is to promote environmental and economic stewardship through regenerative agriculture. We do this by providing flexible loans to human-scale farms, ranches, fisheries, and food producers looking to propel their operations forward.

But we don’t do it alone—Steward gives qualified lenders the opportunity to purchase loan participations, advancing our mission by helping to fund the growth of regenerative agriculture in their community or across the country.

I know, right? Interested? (Image from Steward’s website)

Hence the title of this post: our cousins, through borrowing from Steward, are able to make something new out of something old.

Oh, and that Carolina Blue part? I just had to throw in a shout-out to our Tarheels, who were busy taking down #1 seed/defending champs Baylor in overtime on our radio as we approached the farm. We had to stop the car and sit an agonizingly tense ten minutes out at the bottom of Trumbull Hill Rd, afraid we’d lose our signal if we drove any further. (I didn’t say the game was pretty—but they did win. Heels in the Sweet 16!)

Thanks for riding with us. See you down the road!

Road Trip XI, Days 22-26, NC to VA to WV to MD to PA: M is for More Mountains–Mmmmmmm

On the 3-week anniversary of this Extra-Strength-Making-Up-For-2021-Road Trip, we left my folks’ farm and headed west. Well duh, you might think–turning for home means west, right? Yest, but no. We were simply heading back to the Blue Ridge, and friends we’d missed on our first visit the week prior.

Mountains + Friends = Happiness

THEN we turned north, which is why I’m writing this from Allentown, Pennsylvania, two days and several states away from where we started yesterday. (We spent literally 10 minutes crossing Maryland–the suuuuper skinny part that probably involves some interesting history that I need to look up.)

Our goal is Vermont, and cousins, and a donkey almost as cute as Stevie (World’s Cutest). But since we were gifted with both time and good weather…

Hiking just above the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville

…back we went.

(Actually, about that weather? It did catch up with us one day, when The Mate and I were preparing to ride our bikes in the rain just for the sake of riding on a closed section of the Parkway. But we got up there only to find ourselves enveloped in a cloud so thick it made driving dangerous, let alone biking. Ah well.)

[Not pictured: us not riding in the rain on the socked-in Blue Ridge Parkway.]

Saying farewell to our friends, we headed north into Virginia, and stopped to ride the New River State Park Trail.

I mean, how could we not? It was a GORGEOUS day.

Have I mentioned how much I adore rural rail-trails?

And the crushed gravel was so soft it barely made a sound.

It was really hard to turn around, but the trail is 57 miles long, so…

OK, OK. Riding on now…Bye, New River!

With a Tarheels game to watch and a special St. Patrick’s Day love-anniversary to celebrate, we opted for a generic motel with a kitchen that night in rural Virginia near Shenandoah National Park…but were still rewarded with another spectacular Motel Sunset.

Why thank you!

Next morning, we took advantage of the mountains’ proximity–the reason we’d chosen this route–to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail heading into Shenandoah NP.

Quite some distance from the last AT sign picture I took!

It started off intriguingly enough…

Hey, only 965 miles to Georgia!

…but ended up being pretty, y’know…meh, at least for a National Park. This creek was the main highlight:

Pretty…but not much different from my folks’ woods, really.

Lesson learned; next time we’ll actually drive INTO Shenandoah NP and be more intentional about choosing a trail. But it was still a lovely walk. And just when we turned around, saying to each other, Really? This is it? we noticed these:

Why thank you again!

So there ya go: this is why I always choose mountains. Even when the trail isn’t spectacular, it always finds some kind of gift to give. And as we head north tomorrow, through New Jersey, up into New York and over to Vermont’s Green Mountains, I’ll be looking for even more of those gifts to accept. With gratitude.

Road Trip XI, Days 17-21: We Interrupt This Travel Blog…

…for a special promo for a special person, and a special book. My friend and writing buddy Iris Graville is about to launch her book of essays, Writer in a Life Vest, and when you’re done reading this, I think you’ll want to order a copy or two.

Coming soon to a (hopefully independent) bookstore near you, IF YOU ORDER IT!

Just in case you’re wondering, “But Gretchen, aren’t you still on the road? Has nothing happened during the past week?” the answer is, Yes, and No. We’re happily ensconced at Tierreich Farm (“Kingdom of the Animals”), a.k.a. the home of my Amazing Parents.

And Stevie, World’s Cutest Donkey

We’ve seen a ton of ACC basketball, eaten a ton of Mama Dip’s fried chicken and Allen & Son BBQ, walked and ridden our bikes through what’s left of the country woods of my youth (this place sure has grown in 30 years), and caught up with many of our Far & Dear.

We suspect the new owners of tweaking the recipe–easy on the vinegar, guys!

But since that’s always been the purpose of these road trips, I don’t feel the need to re-describe the above. Check out any of my old blog posts from the second week of March and you’ll find it there.

Instead, let me introduce you to Iris. As her Author Page on Homebound Publications puts it,

Iris Graville has lived in Washington State for four decades, after childhood and early adulthood in Chicago and small towns in Southern Illinois and Indiana. A long-time Quaker, an environmental and anti-racism activist, and a retired nurse, Iris believes everyone has a story to tell. She’s the author of two collections of profiles—Hands at Work and BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community. Her memoir, Hiking Naked, was a 2019 recipient of a Nautilus Award. 

…but as I put it, Iris is also a remarkable example of a writer at her most humble, hard-working, and creative. To start with, she created the post of “Writer in Residence” for the Washington State Ferries–just came up with the idea, got in touch with the Ferry Powers That Be, and made it happen! Then she rode the ferry at least once a week for the year, writing–you can read about that fascinating “job” here while you wait to read about it in her book.

And humble? As a member of her writing critique group, I was privileged not only to read many of this book’s essays in their early form, but also to listen to Iris grappling with the challenge of learning as much about the Salish Sea and its inhabitants as she possibly could, in order to interact with the experts she was meeting and interviewing…in order to tell the story of the Salish Sea’s glories and vulnerabilities without setting herself up as an “expert” herself. She was a public health nurse, for goodness’ sake–but thanks to all her work, Iris can now write like Rachel Carson! (Fun fact: Ms. Carson actually makes an imaginative appearance in one of Iris’s essays.)

So that was also the “hard-working” part. But back to “creative” for a moment: in case you’re turned off by the word “essay” (apologies on the part of English teachers everywhere for possibly ruining that word for everyone), Iris’s pieces are all over the place! This book “contains multitudes,” as Whitman said: narratives, interviews, poetry, letters, even a playful messing-around with keyboard symbols (one of my faves). It features whales (and whale poop!), gorgeous marine descriptions, vessels, statistics, and challenging questions. Its pieces are dire, funny, heart-wrenching, hopeful, and above all, inspiring.

When you read Writer in a Life Vest, you will want to do more to protect whatever fragile environment you feel connected to. And who knows? You may feel inspired to invent your own Writer-in-Residence program at a place of your choosing–Farmers’ Market? Train Station? Dunkin’ Donuts? (j/k–that might kill you)

Hey Iris–you go, girl!

The book will be launched on March 24 at 5:30 pm, and will feature Iris in conversation with Lorna Reese, Lopez writer and founder of SHARK REEF Literary Magazine. They’ll discuss Writer in a Life Vest and Iris’s desire for the essays to promote resilience, inspiration, and hope. Register here to join the program in-person at the Lopez Library. There is a limit of 20 seats. Register here for online the program.

So, my friends…order two copies, one for yourself and one for a whale-loving friend. Then take a moment to marvel at the hard work behind such writing. Then maybe go do some yourself! (Or just get outside for a good, long, grateful walk.)

Road Trip XI, Days 11-16: What Woods These Are I Definitely Know, Or, What Really Makes an Easterner

Greetings from Durham, NC, my hometown. I’m actually writing this from the living room of the farmhouse I grew up in, and where both my parents still live. I know. I’m beyond lucky, for a person of any age–and I’m 60!

The Mate and I have been pinching ourselves as we crossed this enormous country/continent west-east, waiting for the usual weather trap…but so far, none has sprung! No ice storms, tornadoes, swirling dust, nor blizzards. Not so much as a thunderclap. Yet. We still have a long trip to go. But for now, I’m free to write about stuff you can notice when your nose isn’t buried in a weather app.

Like forests, which I can see very clearly, thank you, even while seeing the trees. Last week we had the pleasure of camping in eastern Arkansas…oh, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. First we stopped in Little Rock to ride our bikes along the Arkansas River, which is famous there for its

This being the south, ya gotta add those quotation marks.

I thought I saw swans on the river, masses of them–only to realize, those are pelicans! In Arkansas! Go figure.

Maybe seabirds enjoy an inland vacation once in a while?

At the end of a long day’s drive, we camped in a state park that’s notable mostly for its location alongside part of the Trail of Tears. We got there late enough in the day that I only had time for an hour’s walk before dinner, and what I noticed was–I could be home in NC! The woods looked exactly the same.

Sun setting on maples, oaks, tulip poplar…and The Mate

Even though we still had the Mississippi to cross, not to mention the entire length of Tennessee and the Blue Ridge, these woods felt like home to me. Which of course brought up the decades-old debate between North Carolinian me and my Californian Mate: Are deciduous woods beautiful in winter?

My answer: 100% Even without the garnish of rhododendron, leafless winter woods are, to me, maybe even more striking than green leafy woods. They’re showing you the bone structure of the land!

My Western Mate, and both our Western sons, always insist the winter woods of the east look “dead” to them. I mutter, “Huh,” raise my chin, and feel sorry for them.

Running out of time for a second night of camping, we opted for a motel right outside Smokey Mountain National Park (taking pains to avoid the shudder-inducing town of Pigeon Forge/Dollywood). One more quick walk before dark yielded a swinging bridge over the Little River…

…but unfortunately, all the river banks are locked up in private property, so no beautiful hikes there.

Next day we got to drive through the park, up and over the Appalachian Trail…

I know–how could we pass up “Sweat Heifer”? But we had friends waiting to hike with us in Asheville. And Mt. Katahdin was a little too far.

…and into North Carolina! Asheville is very hip these days, so we were happy just to stick with our friends at their house & eat homemade food. But I did snap this sunrise photo of the city waking up behind Beaucatcher Mountain:

Sure can’t blame all those folks who want to live there! (And maybe you can go home again. #TomWolfeReference)

I mean–what’s not to love about those trees? “Dead”? C’mon, people!

Our last stop in the mountains, before making our way back to the good ol’ Piedmont, was the tiny community of Celo (pronounced See-low), in the South Toe River Valley.

South Toe River at your service

Wayyyyy back in 1981, after two years at Harvard, I decided I needed a break from urban college life. It wasn’t so much the stress that weighed on me, but the lack of purpose. What was this all for? Being privileged enough to be able to take a semester off without working for money, I was steered by a mentor to sign on as an intern at a tiny junior high school serving both day and boarding students: Arthur Morgan School. AMS still exists–look it up here!

Quakers Crossing!

AMS isn’t officially Quaker, but I believe it’s actually more Quakerly in practice than many so-called Quaker prep schools. The kids do all the chores and the cooking, start each day with 30 minutes of singing folks songs, go on weeklong backpacking trips and 3-week field trips. In fact, they were off field-tripping when we got there, leaving us free to tour the campus I worked at 40 years ago. I didn’t feel like taking pictures of buildings, but I did capture the mountains behind the community soccer field.

There’s a school in there somewhere.

(But can we talk about how those trees grace the ridgeline like grey velvet? Can we?)

Without going into detail, I need to say that my time at AMS changed my life…by redirecting it. Two years in Cambridge had been swerving me toward a “sophisticated” ethic of city fashion and fierce academic competition. SO not me. AMS and Celo reminded me of who I really was: a country girl. A girl hopelessly in love with mountains and the trees that grace them.

Those creeks! So clear and pure! When, in 1990, I abandoned the Southeast to become a Pacific Northwesterner, I swear I recognized that Blue Ridge Mountain purity in the waters of the PNW.

The creeks (or “cricks” or “branches”) in the Piedmont are pretty sluggish & muddy. But mountain waters…

Also–swinging bridges are a thing in the Blue Ridge–or used to be. In 1982 I used to cross one regularly, with two more down the road. In 2022, I could only find this one:

Oh well. (But the trees are still pretty.)

Something else I forgot about those mountain folks: their driveways can be STEEP. (That’s neither here nor there, but I couldn’t resist a picture.)

Seriously? In snow & ice?

Oh, and a quick plug: if you’re looking for a sweet and healthy vacay or staycay, you can’t do better than the Celo Inn.

You’re welcome!

My time at AMS was short, only half a school year, and I’m still not sure why I pushed myself to return to Cambridge so quickly. But in those six months I learned guitar, strengthened my singing voice (30 minutes of Morning Sing for 6 months!), re-connected with my true nature, and The Boyfriend Who Became The Mate & I acquired lifelong friends who still host us to share memories, and waffles.

Waffles With Ward (not pictured: Ward)

Our friends Herbie & Marnie have a sign above their door that sums up Celo best:

Amen.

Do the bare eastern woods embody the “imperfect life”? Or do they simply remind me that woods are the whole package–trunks and moss and rocks and streams and whatever else is to be noticed–not just green trees. That’s what I go to bat for when I insist on the beauty of my dear eastern forests in the not-green time. Who’s with me?

Road Trip XI, Days 6-10: The Chiricahuas. (Then NM, TX, OK, Yadda Yadda Yadda…)

Because let’s get something clear: the Chiricahuas are the star of the show in my book, as this latest visit just confirmed. I don’t know why I keep telling people about them because honestly, the #1 thing The Mate and I love about them is how few people we meet there. (Things #2-7 are to follow. At least they are a bit of a haul to get to.

Not a doctored photo

We started on the west side, a.k.a. the National Monument side, or the better-known side, thrilled to have scored one night in small, pretty Bonita Canyon campground. What better place to debut our giant new tent shelter?

You’re not supposed to cook in there, but it sure was tempting.

Bonita Canyon offers a jaw-droppingly beautiful drive several miles up to the top of the mountain, where most folks go to hike around the rocky hoodoos. I decided to trade a hike for a ride, knowing I probably wouldn’t have the knees for both.

Liza’s first mountain ride!

Up top:

Hoodoo ya love?
I’m not sure it’s entirely respectful that this rocky outcropping is known as Cochise Head.

Our last time through here, three years ago, I wrote a song about it, and those lyrics were echoing in my head as we prepared to bed down at our campsite:

A lone coyote wails for some connection with her band,

Unless that’s the spirit of Cochise still mourning for his land.

To say that we belong here is historically untrue,

So what about this feeling that we absolutely do?”

Next morning we had the privilege of saying goodbye to our happy place…

…with the memory of last night’s sunset still fresh…

and then, a couple hours later, saying hello again.

The two sides of the Chiricahua Mountains are connected by a road, but it’s not one you’d want to try without a jeep. And not in February. We were happy to make the drive, for this:

The tiny town of Portal, AZ (the east side of the mountains is national forest, not monument) is a Mecca for birders. “Bird” is still a noun for me, not a verb, but I do enjoy seeing them, if not actually watching them.

We had two precious days in a cabin with good friends, enough to learn the commuting habits of the local wildlife, like the turkeys who strutted past one way in the morning, and back the other at evening time. Going out at dawn, after a glorious sunrise…

That’s our cabin, creekside.

…I discovered their roosting tree:

If I were that delicious, I’d roost too.

Later (not pictured) I found them resting in the shade with a pair of deer, like ol’ roomies.

My Chiricahua faves, though, are always the javelinas—collared peccaries—so I was happiest when they strolled uponto our deck, checking out our empty cooler.

“Have you seen the little piggies…?”
Bonus baby piggie!!!

Another of my Chiricahua Faves is the presence of sycamores, thanks to the elevation which provides snow, thus water. I got to visit with some on our morning hike.

Horizontal but still growing strong—I know the feeling.

But in the afternoon, I scratched my real itch: to get up close, nose to nose, with some of those salmon-colored crags. So I crossed the little swinging bridge behind our cabin…

The mountains are calling!

…and started climbing. Keep in mind, the day was overcast, so these rock colors are actually muted here.

Closer…
…closer…

The upper part of the trail was so iffy—narrow, sloped, and loose—that I had to make rules for myself: walk. Then stop and gaze. Then walk again.

Close enough to to hug!
The view east, looking into New Mexico

Tuesday we left the Chiricahuas for good, promising to be back next road trip if at all possible, and knowing that further scenery was going to have a hard time reaching its standards. But halfway up New Mexico, heading north, our recreation stop at White Sands National Monument, the scenery did its best.

White. Sands.
Also blessedly not windy that day.
So hard to remember it’s not snow!

After three fairly rustic days, we were ready for some good WiFi and—because New Mexico!—some good green chiles. (Not pictured: green chiles, blue corn, posole—thanks, NM.) Santa Rosa gave us both, and a decent sunset as well.

G’night.

Next morning: out of New Mexico, across the Texas Panhandle (meeting our goal to spend no $ in Texas) and across half of Oklahoma…which is way bigger than it looks on the map! We did score one nice walk in Red Rock State Park…

Thanks for the tip, Desert Girl!
I guess this will have to do till we head west again.

Internet has been a problem today as we cross into Arkansas, so I’m going to cross my fingers and hit Publish now…

The Traveling Kumquats say, “Thanks for riding with us! See you next post!”

Road Trip XI, Days 1-5: From Mossyland to Pricklyland, or, WA-OR-CA-AZ

We didn’t plan it that way, honest—but we picked a good time to hightail it south. Heading out from the Anacortes ferry terminal, we were surprised by snow.

But by the time we got to our friends’ home in Eugene, spring was already peeking out here and there.

Can I just take a moment to appreciate Eugene, Oregon? It was my gateway to the Pacific Northwest, way back in 1980, when The Boyfriend and I visited to watch the Olympic track trials. (We ran around town pretending we were American distance record-holders Frank Shorter and Mary Decker.) Since then I’ve grown accustomed to those magnificent, towering evergreens that embody the state of Washington. But one thing we don’t have are those irresistibly Middle-Earthy oak trees that, to me, define western Oregon.

And when the sun shines on the ferns and moss…oooh!

Because we’ve had bad experiences with icy passes on I-5 in southern Oregon, we opted to cut straight over to the coast at Florence. It was hard to bypass all those gorgeous hiking or picnicking spots, but we were on a bit of a schedule, so I had to make do with photos from the car. Oh, Highway 101, you are a temptress!

It’s called Humbug Mountain, and I really want to go back to it! Humbug.

Even though we might have chosen a brand-new trail, for a reliable 90-minute fast hike before dark, we returned like faithful spouses to our forever-favorite, the redwoods of Prairie Creek.

I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful sunny day. Almost all my redwoods photos feature moisture! So I had to add to my collection.

Insert your own caption here 🙂
OK, that’s enough! (note: Never enough redwood pics!)

It was, however, heading toward darkness and cold by the time we finished our hike, and we were eager to set ourselves up for a shorter drive next day, so we opted for a motel in Arcata—a town that feels like it’s struggling economically. Hang in there, Arcata.

In Oakland we got to spend the night with our cuzzies AND Son Two—bonus. Not pictured: yummy meal, youthful joy, domestic bliss, etc., etc.

For Day 4, still time-bound, we had to sacrifice our beloved Highway 101 for the delights of I-5 through the San Joaquin Valley. At least the almond trees were in bloom. In summer, this route is one of the few unattractive stretches of I-5.

Wish I could smell ’em! Grow, little almonds, grow!

Traffic into the city we’d sworn never to drive into was actually easy-peasy, as though LA were just playing with us. It was also sunny and 62–freezing cold for Angelenos, delightful for us—so we enjoyed a hike in Runyon Canyon before heading over to our other cousins (my side of the fam) for dinner.

These are the cousins whose generosity and 100 year-old avocado tree are responsible for the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocados, which I’ve blogged about in past years. Nor did they disappoint in 2022. Not only did they have a sack of avos ready, in staggered stages of ripeness!!—my cousin Susi introduced me to her kumquat tree.

Whaaaaaat!!!?!

I’d never eaten a kumquat. But I made up for many years of kumquatlessness in a few minutes.

Not pictured: my mouth stuffed with those tart-sweet-bitter-zingy little Fruits of Amazingness

After spending the night at the home of another set of “far and dear” friends, we made the Big Left Turn and headed into the desert. Joshua Tree’s Cottonwood Campground was full…

…but freshly green!

…but we treated ourselves to a hike on one of our favorite (and most accessible) trails.

Our California friends reported a cold winter, and the desert seemed to agree: I saw almost nothing blooming.

Just this one ocotillo

Of course, ocotillos are pretty scenic even when not blooming.

There’s a reason “cactus-hugger” isn’t a phrase, even for folks who love cacti.

As I write this, The Mate and I have introduced our avocados to Buckeye, Arizona, in an overpriced motel on the outskirts of Phoenix. 

More where this came from!

It’s not exactly a destination city, but we crossed a lot of desert today, and staying here puts us that much closer to our happiest of happy places: Chiricahua National Monument. Coming soon to a travel blog near you!

Road Trip XI: Aaaaand….We’re Back. On the Road.

For Christmas 2020, in a fit of stubborn hope, I bought this for The Mate:

Oh, the places you’ll (probably not) go!

It never made it off the shelf.

But this month, February 2022, thanks to vaccines and good practices and wonderful people, we are heading back onto the road for Road Trip XI. The apex is, as always, my childhood home of North Carolina, a.k.a. Home of the Tarheels, Place Where The Mate & I Met & Became Mates.

This year, making up for 2021 (as well as 2020, when we came rushing home at the start of the pandemic), we’re giving ourselves a full TWO MONTHS. Red Rover is officially retired (she’s Son One’s island vehicle now), so this is our new ride:

Meet RAVie! (Toyota RAV4 Hybrid)

Our route there is only semi-set; our route home is completely open. Our plan is, as usual, to include as much camping, hiking, biking, and exploration as time, weather and health allow.

So meet my OTHER new ride: Liza! (Specialized VADO E-bike) About to lose her new-bike shine.

Here is who is NOT coming along for the ride: Maya the ‘Mute (a.k.a. Beastie).

Shhh. I haven’t told her yet. She LOVES car rides. 😦

Meanwhile, Lopez (Our Fair Isle) is making it hard to leave, throwing out sunsets like this beauty the other night:

Why are we leaving again? Oh right…

So, as Wing’s World goes back into regular Travel Blog Mode, you’ll be hearing from me every few days as I let you know how much our “plans” stacked up to Road Trip Reality. Be well, everyone–see you out there!

Costa Rica, Parte Final: Campanario Is Not For Everyone!

You know an ecolodge is pretty hard-core when they tell you that right on their website. Then again, Campanario is not exactly an ecolodge. It’s a “biological station,” catering especially to student groups (middle school through grad school), but they will also take tourists ready for “off-the-grid Rain Forest adventure.” Like this:

Don’t worry–Son One checked it out with his flashlight first.

Since Son One worked as an intern here and brought us to visit six years ago, we knew Campanario would be the centerpiece of our tour once more. We found nothing changed, from the stunningly scenic beach…

Arrival = the boat backs in, and you splash ashore!

…the electricity-free cabins…

No going barefoot in the jungle!
Also, don’t forget your flashlight when you go back down to the main lodge for dinner!

You reach Campanario via an hour-plus boat ride out of the mangrove-filled mouth of the Sierpe River and along the base of the Osa Peninsula. A handful of other establishments connect via a public coastal trail, but essentially Campanario exists in a little bubble of wildness, adjacent to Costa Rica’s largest National Park, Corcovado. The spider monkeys were there to greet us on our arrival…

I really do need a zoom lens. 😦

…a male curassow paraded for his mate behind our cabin…

(about the size of a small turkey)

…and a coati helped itself to palm fruit nearby. (Coatis are kind of the Costa Rican raccoon–except they have raccoons too, lucky them.)

Hey cutie.

Campanario has its own trail system–the place where, in 2015, we saw that tapir featured in my last post. They’re pretty rugged…

So many reasons to watch your step!

…and rubber, snakebite-proof boots are so strongly recommended that they have dozens of pairs to loan to guests.

Hot, but worth it.

It was wonderful to see Son One in his happiest of Happy Places.

After taking this photo, I stuck my head in that waterfall. Ahhhh…

Hiking into Corcovado N.P., visitors are required to have an official guide. Son One doesn’t have that credential (yet), so Campanario provided one of his old friends, former station manager Freiner, to guide us.

Freiner is the BEST.

Not only did Freiner lug a hefty scope on his shoulder during our multi-hour hike, he also let us take pictures through it. (He’s especially fond of trogons, he told me.)

Trogon, courtesy Freiner & his scope.

It was still Son One’s idea to go inside that tree root, though.

totally…safe…

I should pause a moment here, though, to make sure I’m not giving the wrong impression of Campanario. Yes, there’s electricity only in the kitchen of the main lodge. Wifi, are you kidding?! There is plumbing, but showers are…let’s just say refreshing. Dinner is eaten by candlelight. But the food! Campanario also boasts the best meals of any we ate in Costa Rica. “Just” basic Tico dinners, lunches and breakfasts like:

Todos los días: huevos, gallo pinto, plátanos fritos, tortilla, queso fresco, frutas…

Even for our day hike, Flor (Freiner’s wife) packed us gallo pinto (rice & beans) along with our sandwiches!

I’m a new convert to rice & beans as trail lunch. (Note Freiner’s scope in the background. That thing was heavy!)

At one point in our long Corcovado hike, The Mate and our traveling buddy opted to head back, so Son One guided them, leaving me to realize my goal of chatting in Spanish with Freiner for the rest of the route back.

Cocodrillo gigante
cascada refrescante

I did notice, however, that my verb conjugation went all to hell as the heat & mileage caught up to me. Still, what a huge difference from six years ago, when I could only manage basic niceties! This time I got some of Freiner’s life story. Of course his English was better than my Spanish, but I’m not sure he would have opened up as much in English. Speaking the local tongue makes a statement of comradeship, I think.

Speaking of comradeship, we were especially lucky on this visit to have Campanario to ourselves! No big group of college kids as we’d hung out with last time–just us four, Freiner & his wife & cute little daughter, three other young local staff members, and Nancy, La Directora. Nancy treated us to a special sugar-cane pressing. We “had” to do the work…

crude but effective press

…but our reward was delicious cane juice, mixed with Cacique and served in special bowls with a starfruit garnish .

starfruit from the tree by our cabins

What a special, family feel that afternoon had!

Lodge in the background. Foreground: all the rest of us revelers. (The young lads kept trying to sneak more Cacique.)

When it came time to leave…I didn’t want to. Three days of flashlights at night, rubber boots, warnings about prowling pumas and fer-de-lances on the trails, cold showers, no wifi…and it really felt like Paradise. Son One’s deep affection for the place seeped into me, big-time.

Waiting for the boat to take us back to civilization. Do we hafta?

One more thrilling boat ride, back to Sierpe, and from there our journey just kept going, as Son One drove us all the way back to San Jose for our required COVID test, our scramble to re-book a cancelled flight, our red-eye to JFK and even longer flight back to Seattle…all those delights of modern travel that I refuse to complain about because it was such a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful gift of a trip.

And now I have a new happy place too.

If most of this description leaves you thinking “No thanks!”, I don’t blame you one bit. But if Campanario excites you–as an individual or an educator–I encourage you to be in touch.

Even more, if the thought of tailoring your OWN Costa Rican adventure–maybe without rubber boots?–excites you, please enjoy this shameless plug of Liana Travels!