Road Trip Retro, 2018: Giving Those Noticing Muscles a Good Workout

As March draws to a close, this will be my last Road Trip Retro post for now–and hopefully, ever! This is the time of year when, in “normal” years, we’d have just gotten settled back into the home routine: me working at the bakery, The Mate clearing fallen branches around the property and getting the lawn mower in shape.

It’s not a “normal” year. But things are turning that way, even though I’ll never think of “normal” again. (The other day I went into a friend’s house for the first time in 14 months and felt like crying with joy.)

So let’s finish up with Road Trip VIII, shall we? That year, three years ago, I became aware that we had fallen into a pattern with our first couple of road weeks. So I determined to NOTICE stuff that I might have bypassed before. Starting with this amazing “We Can Do It!”” cloud in Tacoma.

Seemed like a good omen.

Passing out of Oregon into California on Rt. 199 (a fave), I captured this sign which we’ve always enjoyed:

Who doesn’t love some good sweet cron on a summer day?

Visiting our favorite Prairie Creek redwoods, I decided to highlight the less obvious parts of the forest.

“Don’t take my picture! I’m shy.”
Redwoods, shmedwoods. Look at me!

Visiting our wee cuzzies in Oakland, I tried to capture the sense of their neighborhood…

…and just up the road in Berkeley, this wonderful memorial to the Free Speech movement:

Dora, my bike, enjoying a lil’ break

Next up, SoCal. With our sons long graduated from college and my grandmother long since passed away, we visited a more obscure bit of coast, just the two of us…

Monaña de Oro State Park

…before heading into LA for the usual family & friends visits. Then, the Big Left Turn, and off into Arizona, where, for once, we rented a cabin near our favorite park-nobody-seems-to-have-heard-of, the Chiricahua National Monument.

2 years later, we came right back here and were treated to javelinas in our front yard!
I adore this place. Sunrise on sycamores is just frosting on the cake.
OK, I know- -I’m getting away from my “noticing the little things” theme…

In Albuquerque, I captured a piece of a “ho-hum hike” at the base of the Sandia range, right there in town…

New Mexicans are a little spoiled. But as a Washingtonian, I can relate.

…and finally remembered to give their spectacular cuisine its photographic due:

Green chile, blue corn…need I say more?

Speaking of noticing: we also finally decided to let Oklahoma show us its best stuff. Frequently terrible weather (blizzards, tornadoes) keeps us from crossing OK, but in 2018 we stayed in TWO different state park cabins, at either end of the state.

Boiling Springs State Park

Nothing breathtaking, but very pleasant (too cold for us to camp). And I got to see this porcupine asleep high in a cottonwood!

Yay for noticing muscles.

The eastern park, Lake o’ the Cherokees, featured 1930s-era cabins made by the WPA.

The lake itself…bleah. But awesome cabins!

Passing through Missouri (another rarity on our eastbound journeys), we stopped to recreate in some federal scenic river land. The name escapes me–but this beaver didn’t!

Well, HEY, cutie!

Cutting down through Tennessee, we treated ourselves to a date in Nashville.

Pause for a moment here to send lots of love to poor ol’ Nashville.

With our friends in the Blue Ridge of North Carolina, I tried to focus more on the background of the place–its rhododendron thickets…

(with Mate in foreground)

…though who can resist a mountain sunrise?

No muscles required here.

At the apex of our journey–my home stompin’ grounds of Durham and Chapel Hill, NC–I focused my camera on some of my personal NC icons:

Mom in her pickup (hauling horse trailer)
…my parents’ shoe collection (part of it)…
…Mom’s loom (the smaller one)–here w/ Son Two, aka Grandson Two…
Chapel Hill’s Tarheel fire truck (Go Heeeeeeeeeeeeels!)

…and, of course, the culmination of every annual NC pilgrimage, the ACC Men’s Basketball feast:

Allen & Sons BBQ, slaw, hushpuppies & fried okra. Again–no noticing muscles needed here. Dare you NOT to notice.

Heading north this time, we made a straight shot to our other cousins, in southern Vermont, where all the little things I might have noticed were immediately blanketed by snow.

Sorry, Red Rover! Be right there.
I felt OK sharing this photo because everyone’s so hidden under their hats. Whee!

Heading home through Kentucky: isn’t this the best bike path bridge ever?

Louisville Loop

Stopping for a bike ride in Topeka, KS, we pretty much stumbled onto this historic site: the school where Brown v. Board of Education began.

At least it’s a protected site, if not exactly promoted. Then again, we were there on a Sunday.

Heading for the Rockies, we took advantage of some friends’ spending a sabbatical in Colorado Springs.

Pike’s Peak sunrise from the kitchen window–are you kidding me? Gotta love the juxtaposition with the light pole.

A hike at Mesa Verde, where we had the trail to ourselves…

…the Mate couldn’t help but notice how much Gretchen likes standing at the edge of things.

Our annual get-together with Adventure Buddies (you know ’em well by now) Tom & Kate was near Page, AZ. Just noticing this piece of the map (so near to the Grand Canyon) was new to us.

The Mate auditioning to be a mushroom rock
Jabba the Rocks–off the beaten path, just hangin’ out…

One thing we did that I’m not real proud of: took a boat tour on Lake Powell to see Glen Canyon, or what’s left of it. What I mostly noticed? My conflicted feelings.

Uff. Something so wrong here.

Finally back in Washington, going for a walk as we waited in the ferry line, I kept the theme going, capturing the beauty of our Salish Sea environment…

No place like home.

…every tiny bit of it.

Ditto.

Thanks for riding with me through most of the past ten years! Tune in next time for something a little more current, ok? And be well.

Road Trip Retro, 2017: Now With Extra Family!

I know I make it seem like interrupting our Road Trips with airplane flights is an anomaly, but 2017 actually managed to involve a plane ride too. Just a short one, right at the start.

See, I’d pitched this new idea to my two older sisters: “Hey, as each of us turns 60, let’s have a Sisters Weekend Getaway, in a town that’s new to all of us!” Since that’s something we’ve never done in our lives–all 60 years of them, for some of us–they thought that was a pretty good idea. That early spring, the eldest of us was up, and she picked…

San Diego. So Road Trip VII began with me flying there to meet my Seesters. We rented a house, went for lots of walks, and ate a LOT. We weren’t full-on tourists, but we spent one full day at the famous zoo…

Getting ready to ride the tram–whee!

and another out on Point Loma.

Ocean 1, Land 0.

The tide pools got an A+ in my book.

Right?!
Anemones rock.

First Seesters Getaway under our belts, we went our separate ways–one to Michigan, one to Texas, and me back to LA where I met The Mate and Red Rover. We visited with all our LA dear ones, and then headed out across the desert, like most other years.

The weather did NOT encourage recreation. This is a dust storm swallowing the scenery on I-10 in Arizona.

In Albuquerque, our friend Beth helped us indulge our craving for green chile at a very cool restaurant, The Range.

SUCH cool decor! Food was great too.

Armed with leftovers, plus the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocado (from my cousins’ tree in LA), we beelined for our favorite part of North Texas, Palo Duro Canyon, where it was just barely warm enough to camp.

Yes, that’s the avocado. Can we see the canyon now?
Still…not…warm yet…

Next up, Dallas, where our friends treated us to a bike tour around the less-well-known parts of the city…

…including places once famous…
…and places that might be famous someday, like this free-range grafitti lot.

As often happens on our late-winter road trips, the route from TX to NC was a blur, which means the weather was probably lousy. We did manage one hike at the TN-NC border.

Oh yeah. This’ll do.

During these days, a new tradition was born: “Noodlebag.” How’s that work? 1. Cook noodles at friends’ house; add salt & olive oil. 2. Steal some of their leftovers. 3. Over the next three days, add whatever’s in your ice chest, and heat in the microwave of whatever cheap motel you’re staying in.

Deluxe Noodlebag!

In North Carolina at last, along with my Amazing Parents, Son Two met us for basketball, BBQ, and Being a Good Son.

Emphasis on the BBQ.

Basketball. Family. Critters. Family. Basketball. Mama Dip’s Fried Chicken. Basketball. Wild trout lilies. If you’ve been following this blog for even a couple of posts, you probably know the drill by now.

Except for this part. Not planned.

Snow in NC, in March? OK. So of course when we left, we drove North.

If happens sometimes. This was one of those times. We had a brand-new little baby cousin to visit!

Not pictured: baby cousin. Pictured: the very deep snow that greeted us. In Vermont. In March. Duh.

But hey–at least New Englanders know how to deal with snow!

Snowshoeing on a perfect day up Mt. Bromley

Also, I grooved on being able to help our cousins bottle-feed some of their new lambs, overseen by Ben the Shepherd Donkey.

Not QUITE as cute as my parents’ donkey Stevie, but pretty close.

Heading home through upper-middle of the continent, we had a couple of notable recreation stops. First, a bike trail that was once the tow path for the Illinois River barges, just like the song I learned from my friend Lance: “Every day I work on the Illinois River/Get a half a day off with pay/On the tow path hauling barges/On a long hot summer day...”

Not pictured: a long, hot summer day

Second, we diverged into Colorado at the end of the Plains to meet our Intrepid Adventure Buddies (say it with me) Tom & Kate in Estes Park…

Aspens & Ponderosas! Ah, the Mountain West.

…on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. I got sick while in Colorado, and spent most of my time walking slowly and enjoying the scenery from the back of the car. Still worth it.

Zoomed-in view of Long’s Peak, before the clouds came in
Feeling much better now, thanks.

Finally, back in Montana, we stopped at this special spot where the mighty Missouri River is born from the confluence of three smaller rivers. Lewis & Clark camped here.

No camping for us, but I did go for a run up the bluff.

Onward! Homeward! Apparently quite a bit of snow had fallen while we were dallying in the Rockies, but we’d given Idaho time to clear its highways.

And rest areas.

So, a road trip with extra sisters, a son & a new, wee cousin? All gravy. Yes please!

Tune in next time for RT2018. Gonna ride this retrospective right up till the last one. Maybe then I won’t notice the lack of RT2021.

Road Trip Retro, 2014: Going Airborne (yep–Airborne)

Two weird facts about Road Trip IV:

  1. It involved airplanes.
  2. It involved a flying girl.

Wait–maybe those are the same thing?

Let me explain.

RT4 started out in what was becoming a familiar pattern: a beeline south toward our far-and-dear in Oregon, then California. Those dear ones include some very big redwoods.

Could not get enough of these examples of endurance.

This year was especially exciting because we got to meet our “placeholder grandchildren,” our wee twin cousins born in the summer of 2013.

Seven years later, I cannot do this anymore.

Then, to add to our joy, we arranged to meet both our sons for a night of camping in Big Sur. Son Two was about to graduate from college; Son One was a year past graduation.

Big Sur, showing what the fuss is all about.

Both of them, to our (somewhat surprised) delight, still seemed to enjoy hanging out with the old folks.

Didn’t hurt that I have a major thing for sycamore trees–the bigger, the better!

But my joy in these days was increased many fold by my own unfolding writing project. My first novel, The Flying Burgowski, was edging toward final publication. The story of one Jocelyn Burgowski, a northwestern island girl whose family life has melted down a bit, takes a flying leap into oh-so-possible fantasy when Joss discovers, on the evening of her 14th birthday, that those flying dreams she’s been having are NOT…JUST…DREAMS.

All that remained, after years of writing and revising, was one last round of edits before hitting the magic “publish” button. I well remember paging through the proof copy of The Flying Burgowski in our tent by flashlight.

The award came later. 🙂

Saying goodbye to our boys young men, we headed east across the deserts. Lack of photographic evidence from that part of the trip tells me we didn’t linger long. But we were with our friends in Dallas when I finished my editing, started my publishing process—and ordered a few dozen copies to meet me in North Carolina, where I had a date with a bookstore.

We did camp once on our way through Arkansas, but it was a pretty weird experience. We were the ONLY people in the campground.

Ummm…is this thing on?

But remember this blog’s heading–going airborne? Crossing Tennessee in a torrential rainstorm, lil’ Red Rover did NOT do that…but she did, suddenly and terrifyingly, start hydroplaning on an I-40 bridge over a swollen creek.

Bouncing off a guard rail, she ended up facing the oncoming traffic (mostly semi trucks)…but, thanks be to all the gods, upright, and safely on the shoulder. Thanks be also to the fact that none of those semis came sliding into us. After realizing we were still alive and finding that Red Rover still functioned, we turned around and drove, very slowly, with flashers, on three functional and one absolutely shredded tire, the 20 miles to the next town. In Cookville, an extremely nice mechanic took Lil’ Red in even though it was closing time. We bedded down at a motel feeling extremely lucky to be alive.

Not pictured: any of that.

But our accident put us in reach of the winter storm we’d been running ahead of. Next morning Red was fixed up, but the roads were now pure ice and snow. We drove the same speed as post-accident, trying to stay out of another one, and got as far as the NC mountains before calling it a day.

Next day, we attempted a hike on the Appalachian Trail.

Operative word: attempted.

We holed up with our friends near Asheville for a couple of days as winter storms continued in waves across the country. My folks in Durham were suffering under a second ice storm, with a third predicted the week of our arrival.

So The Mate and I did something we’d never done in our lives: bought plane tickets to use the very next day. Then we bought the Lonely Planet guide to Puerto Rico, drove to my folks’ house, said hello and see you soon, and left Red Rover parked at RDU as we took to the air.

Still the U.S.–so it counts as part of the road trip, right?
The Mate marveling at the fact that THIS waterfall was warm enough to sit in.
Beginning to see how this snowbird stuff might catch on.

After three gloriously warm days of plantains, fish, and pork, we flew back to my folks’ place in Durham, NC. There I launched my book at my old favorite bookstore, The Regulator—and launched Jocelyn Burgowski into the sky.

My VERY FIRST public reading. (Who needs a mic when you know everyone in the audience?)

Of course our NC time wasn’t all about my author-self. We spent time with my folks as always…

Trying out Dad’s E-trike. At a ripe young 83 (back then), he still commuted to his lab in this.

…and my dad treated me to an insider tour of the Duke Primate Center, which he co-founded.

Sifaka (not sure if I spelled that right)

And then of course there were our beloved Tarheels! Did they win the tournament in 2014? I have no memories of that (though you can bet The Mate does). But who cares, when there’s Allen & Sons BBQ with hushpuppies and fried okra?

The REAL reason for the entire trip.

Heading back west, we took a more southerly route with few stops. It was a rough winter. When we got to Arizona, though, we cut north into Utah, then Nevada, to explore a new national park: Great Basin.

At 7,500 feet, just out of the snow, the campground was mostly ours, again–but with better scenery than Arkansas.
Saw wild turkeys. Heard wind, and not much else.

We then had a date with Adventure Buddies Tom & Kate (remember them?) at Yosemite, but since it was March, of course Tioga Pass was still closed. So we had to go ALL the way south and loop around the bottom of the Sierras in order to drive north again. Still worth it.

I mean, c’mon…it’s YOSEMITE.

And Son Two—having just finished his final quarter at Santa Cruz (graduating early) met us there before wandering off to Central America.

Top of Nevada Falls.

A week later, back home on Lopez Island, The Flying Burgowski launched again–on, or rather from, home turf, with local students participating in a dramatic reading at our community library.

So I’ll let you be the judge: Was RT4 an abandonment of the sacred principles of Road Tripping…or just a sweet, lucky time, and who cares?

(Jocelyn Burgowski & I say, flying doesn’t always make things better–but sometimes, yes, it does.)

NOT-Road Trip I: Let’s Get Ready To…Stay Right Here

Anyone who’s followed this blog for a calendar year will know that at this point in the calendar, Wing’s World morphs into a travel blog for 6-8 weeks. Since our kids left the nest, since I left teaching, since the Mate retired and we moved to Lopez Island, we have been leaving in mid-February to drive across the country to North Carolina, returning at the end of March in order for me to start a new season at Holly B’s Bakery.

[Why North Carolina in March? Read a quick primer here.]

This time last year, we were packing up Red Rover for Road Trip X. In any normal year, we’d be doing the same right now for RTXI. But you don’t need me to announce that this isn’t any normal year.

The Mate’s waiting for his second COVID shot. I’m waiting for my first. The country is waiting, period. And we’re not going anywhere. [Well, maybe a teensy, contact-free staycation. But our kind of Road Trip? Forget it.]

So I thought I’d take these next few blog posts to celebrate the joy of the past 10 years of road tripping–my way of keeping hope alive for the time when we can do this again. All of us–whatever our version of Road Trips may be.

Road Trip I: 2011

I hadn’t started blogging then, so this trip’s not recorded. Had it been, your reaction may have been, “Really? You’re trying to cram all THAT into one road trip?”

THAT = visiting out-of-the-way parks we’d never taken the time to explore, like Sunol, near the Bay Area…

This one oak pretty much sums up the place. Go and see for yourself!

…but also famous national parks we already knew and loved, like Joshua Tree

If you read the above explanation about North Carolina, you will know what team The Mate’s cheering for, listening to our satellite radio in our campsite!

THAT also = visiting family, like my grandmother in Santa Barbara–she turned 103 two months after this photo, and lived for another half a year

My Grandma Dede

Of course THAT includes daily doses of recreation, hiking or biking together. (In those days I was still running too, but The Mate had had to give up his beloved sport some years earlier). We quickly became aficionados of desert hiking, despite the need for frequent photography stops.

I mean–come on! (Saguaro National Park near Tucson)

Some of the special new corners of our country that we “discovered” became dear favorites, to which we’ve returned repeatedly, like the Chiricahua National Monument.

We’ll never EVER get tired of this place.

THAT also meant, of course, visiting our “far and dear,” folks who went and moved to places like Arizona & Texas. But, I reasoned, would they welcome us coming to stay with them in the middle of a work week? Shouldn’t we give ourselves some work while we visited, to keep us out of their hair?

And so, in two different cities, San Antonio and Dallas, I signed us up for 3-day stints with Habitat for Humanity.

San Antonio. We got to paint this one.

Our far & dear thought we were silly. “Next time, skip the volunteer work and spend more time with us!”

Midweek in February, there are no big group “builds,” we found–so we did a lot of this.

Turns out, for us, the idea of combining socializing with volunteering was cooler in concept than reality. Since then, we’ve kept the two separate.

We learned on Road Trip I to enjoy the incredible contrasts our big country has to offer–desert one week, swamps the next.

I love cypress knees.

We also folded some history into those off-the-beaten-track stops, like Birmingham.

Walking through this Civil Rights memorial in Birmingham was an extremely emotional experience.

In the Blue Ridge of North Carolina, more old friends. (You’ll notice I don’t include these photos because I don’t want to violate their privacy, but this one, at a distance, gives the idea.)

Still friends, for 40 years now

And when we finally got to Durham–my hometown, and Chapel Hill, where The Mate and I met–we celebrated what we had come for: family and Tarheel basketball. And Tarheel basketball family.

Son Two even skipped a few college classes that year to join us at his grandparents’ house.

I should clarify that. My parents are NOT Tarheel fans. They are nuts about other things, like animals and recreation, but NOT the Heels.

Dogs rule–and also horses, goats, chickens, and a llama–at my folks’ farm, Tierreich, which translates to “Kingdom of Animals.”

Here’s the basketball family–which I have come to think of as the Tribe.

Some of the faithful get too nervous during the games to sit down. (Not pictured: all the delicious Southern food that’s part of the ACC Tournament ritual.)

The one place both basketball and non-basketball family meet is the annual Wildflower Walk, a tradition The Mate started back when he used to fly back for the ACCs.

Trout lily!

After the tournament (The Mate surely remembers how the Heels did that year, but I don’t) Road Trip I took us north–way north: through DC, then up to Rhode Island. Why not? We’re not due home till end of March!

One of the best urban bike systems ever!

Then, Maine, where we spent half a sabbatical year in 2003.

Aw, Peaks we missed ya!

Finally, we made what I’ve come to think of as The Big Left Turn. Crossing the country at this latitude in March is no joke, so we traveled fast, sticking to interstates to beat the winter storms. This photo of a groundhog in upstate NY is the only one showing any kind of scenery; the rest was just “let’s try not to die when that semi going 85 hits that ice patch.”

No shadow! But still, sadly, winter.

So, to recap: Road Trip I established a bunch of patterns–new discoveries of small parks; pilgrimages to big ones; brief and longer reunions with family & friends; homage to history; bike paths & hiking trails as tools of exploration; deep infusion of family & basketball in NC; daring winter on our way home.

Patterns that never took: volunteer work. That had to find another place in our lives. (Don’t worry–it has.)

Next post: So this is how you Road Trip?

Road Trip X, Days 33-35, Boise to North Bend to Lopez Island: Aaaaaand, Scene!

So that’s it. Road Trip X is in the bag. As Wing road trips go, this one was DIFFERENT. Past sojourns have averaged around 45 days, but #10 weighed in at a runty 35 (and we still got home midday on that last day).

Difference #1 was, of course, the fact that our beloved Tarheel men’s basketball team played its last game a week ago. But Difference #2 was the fact that ALL BASKETBALL ended the very next day, thanks to the Coronavirus. So not only did we start heading home 3 days earlier, we spent those days eating up as many miles as possible each day, diverging rarely for scenery, and not at all for friendship.

Need proof? Here’s all I got from crossing the upper east corner of Utah:

Hiya. Now keep driving.

A bit further south, hoodoos like these turn into Zion National Park. But along I-80…

If you’re not going to stop, this is all you get.

We did stop for 90 minutes’ recreation in Twin Falls, Idaho. Twice before we’d been blanked when wishing to ride the Rim Trail of the Snake River’s canyon there, once due to weather and once due to lack of daylight. But third time’s a charm.

First you drive over the bridge. Then you bike under it.

Shoshone Falls was even more jaw-dropping than I’d expected.

Guess who just won Best Waterfall of the Trip?

Can we get a close-up?

Rainbow & all.

After spending the night in Boise (where we LOVE the river trail, but no-no-no, time for only one bike ride and you’ve already had it!), we followed the Oregon Trail route into the Pacific time zone, breathless with joy to be beating the big snowstorm we knew was on its way from the coast.

Frost: fine. Snow? No thank you.

That was a LONG day’s drive. But it could have been longer; we’d started early enough that we could actually have made it all the way to the Anacortes ferry terminal if we’d so chosen. But we didn’t.

It was our 41st anniversary (the falling-in-love one, not the wedding one. What’s better than two anniversaries?) and we wanted to spend it someplace special before diving back into our daily home routine. So I found us a BnB in North Bend, Washington, and we aimed ourselves there.

But before checking in, we decided to go for a hike. Snow levels being too high up on Snoqualmie Pass, we stopped at Rattlesnake Lake, outside North Bend, a place we know well. “We’ll get some exercise while practicing our Social Distancing,” we told ourselves. And here’s where irony took over.

The parking lot was overflowing. And the trail? Imagine a food court at the mall. Now take all those happy teenagers and arrange them along a hiking trail, laughing & talking loudly as kids do.

Ohhhhhhh. Oh yeah. Schools are closed in Washington. So are malls and movie theaters. So where do all these healthy young Seattleites go? Hiking! The thought made us happy. But it also made us turn around. Social distancing on that trail was just not possible. Not to mention it was kinda noisy.

Up on that crag was where we had intended to hike. Look closely; you can see a bunch of people up there.

Instead, we found a perfectly nice walk along the lake, with lots of room between people.

Not winning any waterfall prizes, but perfectly nice.

Then on to our trip’s final night. The place advertised itself as being near the Snoqualmie River. It was.

View from the deck of the main house.

What better homecoming to the Pacific Northwest than tall firs and rushing water?

ahhhh…

Our room wasn’t on the actual bluff above the river…

Up those stairs, it felt like a treehouse.

…but a kind of porch swing was, and I took full advantage.

Who needs a porch when you have a river bluff?

And up on that little outside deck, I used our Coleman stove to cook up the Mate’s and my traditional anniversary meal, Reuben sandwiches.

We’re a cheap date.

Next morning we picked up some groceries (as island friends had advised) and drove through eerily light Seattle traffic, back to the ferry terminal. At 150,000 miles, Red Rover mayyyyy have just completed her final cross-country road trip, so I gave her a grateful hug.

Yeah, yeah, you’re welcome. Now how ’bout a wash n wax?

And now? The Mate and I have been everywhere and touched a lot of surfaces in the last five weeks. But turns out road-tripping is the best practice for self-quarantining. We’ll be with each other now and almost no one else for the next two. Red Rover will get a bath. Nature will get our full attention. And Wing’s World will morph out of Travel Mode.

How ’bout y’all? Anyone else in self-isolation? How are you passing your time, or changing your work routine? Please share any wit & wisdom from the experience.

 

 

Road Trip X, Days 29-32, Kentucky to Missouri to Kansas to Colorado to Wyoming: Forget Scenery, Just Get Us Home, Please

We’ve never had a road trip where all we do is drive. But we’ve never had a road trip during a global pandemic either.

The day we left North Carolina, making Big Left Turn #2 to head for our island home on the opposite end of the continent, all things basketball died. We were shocked, but still spent that first night enjoying the scenic beauty of eastern Kentucky’s Carter Caves State Park…

Apparently they have caves there. But the natural bridges were enough for me!

Even cooler from below.

The limestone just weeps little waterfalls everywhere.

A magnificent beech…one of the trees I do miss, out west.

Next day, we started driving, listening to CNN, and to the sound of most of our road-trip joy being sucked away. We determined not to visit the friend we’d hoped to visit in Louisville. Ditto Milwaukee, the Twin Cities, Denver, and Yakima. We’ve probably already visited too many dear ones.

Just get us home. This isn’t fun any more. Too much is out of our control.

Which explains why I have NO pictures from Missouri, even though I did enjoy a pleasant walk-jog through a park in Columbia. Kansas? This is my only pic, shot out the car window to let Son Two know that it was still winter where we were.

What you see is what you get.

I wish I could say something encouraging about western Kansas, but…it’s an awful lot like eastern Colorado, which, guess what? I also took no pictures of as we zoomed through. Home, home, home. We exercised in the motel’s fitness room and passed up all of Denver’s bike paths. (Sour grapes: it was awfully windy anyway, though much warmer than we’d feared.)

I did celebrate the last of the Traveling Hollywood Oranges, though:

Like a month of travelin’ sunshine! Thanks, Cousin Susi!

In Wyoming, I snapped this shot just to let my mom know that Wyoming seemed to be about done with winter. But we didn’t stop.

Balmy!

And then the rocks got cool enough to want their pictures taken. From the car.

I’d hike in there. Just not now.

And now, here we are in Rock Springs, Wyoming, just 30 miles or so from Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area…and we’re not going. It’s out of our way, and we’re focused on mileage. Home, home, home.

Instead, I’ll leave you with a picture of one of my trademark Noodlebag Dinners*,

Even better than it looks.

*Noodlebag Dinner = pasta pre-cooked & put in bag w/ olive oil & salt, to which all kinds of yummy things can be added before microwaving in a motel room for a cheapo gourmet meal

How are all of y’all coping in this new reality? Any of you fellow travelers (literal ones) changing your traveling routines? Singing that alphabet song as you wash your hands after every truck-stop transaction? Avoiding dropping by friends? Stay healthy out there, everyone…

Road Trip X, Days 25-28, Durham/Chapel Hill NC: Tarheel Fever + Covid19 = Perspective

I’d planned this post to be the acme of wry grumpiness. I was going to muse, kvetchily, about my earlier assumption that having our beloved Tarheels suffer through such an epically SUCKY season (talking 40+ year-worst) would cause me to feel some much-lacking empathy for fans of teams who regularly suffer—both fans and teams, I mean. All those folks who wait desperately to get into the Big Dance as a 16th seed, only to lose at Game One.

But no, I was going to say. I am NOT empathetic at all. I hate this feeling and I just want it to go away and never ever come within my Tarheel sight.

But I was still gonna celebrate Mama Dip’s chicken and Allen & Sons BBQ.

That’s what I was GOING to say. And then  I was going to assuage my hurt soul by posting pictures of my parents’ animals, here on the little scruffy farm where I grew up. Meet Erda the Norwegian elkhound…

Treat?

…Hank the goat…

Hi!!!!!!

and the World’s Sweetest Ass, Stevie.

And as a bonus, meet my amazing mom! (Not pictured: amazing dad)

Hold up—can we get a little more Stevie, please?

Thank you.

I was also going to celebrate the fact that a dear former student from Tacoma is now living within an hour of my folks, and was up for a visit!

This is what’s known as “teacher pay.”

But mostly I was gonna be grumpy. 

Then: Covid19. And all its cascading effects. Still fresh, raw, scary, unknown, unfolding as I write this.

The day after our team’s ignominious end of season, all basketball ends. Suddenly the Mate and I, like everyone we know, are contemplating a very different world than the one we thought we were living in.

So, complain about sports? Nope. Inshallah, we can all go back to that in a year or so. But until then? Here’s another Stevie pic, for all of us.

Keep your chin up, folks.

 

 

 

Road Trip X, Days 21-24, Tallahassee to (sorta-)Savannah: Swamped by Unexpected Beauty 

I thought of titling this post “Sea to Shining Sea,” after touching the Atlantic the other day. I even thought about posing the Traveling Avocados, Oranges and Grapefruit on the beach, to celebrate their epic journey. But only a few oranges are left; all the rest of our gifted produce is eaten. And anyway, having already waded in Gulf of Mexico, it’d be more like sea to shining sea to other shining sea, right?

Still: Hello, North Atlantic!

But today’s theme waved me down as soon as we holed up in Tallahassee. That town isn’t a long drive from our previous night in Alabama; we had no business there, knew no one, didn’t check out Florida State or even ride our bikes along the terrific trail we’ve ridden before. All we were doing was making sure we didn’t die in a tornado waiting out some nasty weather. Doing laundry. And (one of us) making some headway on the novel.

And even with such meager expectations, Tallahassee offered us a good reminder of northern Florida’s lovely topography (NOT flat!) and relatively undeveloped landscape (hardly any billboards, even on I-10). And a wonderful bakery, and a  gorgeous sunset (not pictured) and this giant live oak in the motel parking lot.

Ooh, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Next day, the storm having blown through without tornadoes (thank you!) we headed to a brand-new destination: Little Talbot Island State Park, just north of Jacksonville.

In the middle of a swamp. Yes.

There we discovered not only a long, pristine beach–for people who love long, pristine beaches…

Augh! must…count…all the different…varieties! Make it stop!

…but also a boneyard of silvery drift-stumps…

Just as satiny as it looks!

…and the COOLEST trail through the dunes…

With tortoise holes! (Not pictured–sadly: tortoises)

…into a mixed forest of gigantic pines, palms, and live oaks, the latter dripping with ferns and Spanish moss.

Ooooh…

Question: WHY are epiphytes so ridiculously compelling? Is it a) the way they humanize the trees, calling to mind beards and long tresses? b) the way they soften the harsher, sharper lines of the forest? Or c) the fact that I was clearly a swamp rat in a previous life?

Ahhh…

The campground was one of the nicest ever, in terms of space and light and vegetation. Its only downside: the road was too close, so traffic noise was very present until late at night.

Would just one nighttime armadillo be too much to ask?

And we didn’t get any armadillos. But hey.

“That’s too much Spanish Moss!” said no one ever.

One more glorious bike ride in the refreshingly cool morning, on a LONG bike trail.

Way to go, northern Florida!

Along the way we took a sideline to the beach, to visit with some crumbly-clay tidepools…

Different! No wee fishies, unfortunately.

…and one more gorgeous silver drift-log installation.

World’s coolest jungle gym.

Heading north, we passed this irresistible sign:

How can I have never run into this pun before?!

And then on to Savannah (sorta). Our friends live on the outskirts, which should really be called the outswamps. Question: Is that why they named the town after a sea-of-grass ecosystem? Anyone know?

Since our purpose was reuniting with old friends, we skipped the downtown Savannah tour. Instead, we were gifted with one over-the-top, unexpected cool thing after another. We got to watch the Carolina-Duke game with true fans, drowning our sorrows in bacon-wrapped scallops and homemade pizza (not pictured). We got to cuddle with the sweetest, silkiest Labrador.

Forrest loved the Mate.

We thought our friends’ backyard view was just fine–hey, nice swamp ya got here!–but then next the morning, THIS happened.

Okay then.

Finally, our friends served us a lil’ ol’ Georgia breakfast: eggs, cheese grits, sausage, bacon, fresh fruit salad, and fresh sweet rolls. Still full from the night before, I made a superwoman effort and ate everything.

Woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do.

So…feeling a little swamped right now. Thinking that when we find beauty and goodness in unexpected places, it means even more. And feeling a bit grateful that Spanish Moss doesn’t grow in mountainous areas. Because if it did? I think my head would explode.

More, more!

 

Road Trip X, Days 18-20: Gettin’ Cushy in Louisiana & Alabama

No one should EVER feel sorry for me & the Mate when we complain about weather on our road trips. That’s what we get for road-tripping in February and March! So I’m not looking for pity when I whine about not being able to camp due to snow or lightning or dust storms or ice or…blah blah blah. It’s just fun to whine.

Which is why these last couple of days have really called our bluff. Monday we left Galveston on a cute (and completely free!) ferry

Our ferry’s double, passing the other way.

and drove the length the peninsula on the bay’s other side,

Anyone else think that ocean is awfully close to the road? No? Just me?

back to the interstate and into Louisiana. We hit a perfectly nice campground in the Louisiana bayous–Lake Fausse Pt. State Park–on a perfectly nice (if a little humid) day…and opted out.

Why? Because the ranger said it probably would rain overnight. And while there’s nothing wrong with rain outside a tent when you’re in it, stuffing a wet tent into a small Subaru with all the rest of your belongings is the opposite of fun. Still, we might have gone for it if we hadn’t learned about the cabins.

We could stay in there?!

Each one perched OVER the bayou, with perfect screened porches.

We’re staying in here!

We couldn’t wait to eat dinner out on the porch. But first it was time to go for a walk around the swamp.

Ahhhh…

Have I ever mentioned that I love swamps? Just show me a cypress and I go all weak in the knees. (sorry)

I have no idea what this is. Red iris? Anyone?

The forest offered plenty of variety all on its own…

Don’t mind if I do.

…so when I did see a gator, it was simply a bonus. And the baby gator in front of the mama? Bonus bonus.

See the baby? So stinkin’ CUTE!!!!

That evening, the Traveling Avocados teamed up with some Gulf shrimp and that amazing screened porch for what’s probably going to earn our Best Meal of the Trip Award.

With a rocking bench!

Next day we drove across Mississippi–just about 100 miles at its base–and into Alabama. We had a date with another state park (thanks to this excellent book on state parks), way down past Mobile in Alabama’s teensy lil’ slice of the big ol’ Gulf Coast pie. Appropriately enough, it’s called Gulf State Park. And it’s big. And lovely. With 28 miles of bike trails, are you kidding? Made for us!

Only problem? This park boasts over 400 RV sites, and eleven tent sites. The Mate and I took one look at the teensy tent sites crammed in between RVs and quickly backed away. All the way away, to a Motel 6. Then we drove the few miles back into the park and took a big, happy chomp of those delicious bike trails.

Come for the biking. Stay for the biking…but only if you have an RV!

No lie, this bike path instantly vaulted into our top 5 anywhere.

Only a half-mile further, a new forest.

The terrain keeps changing, oaks to pines to dunes to swamp to…wait–is that an…?

Why yes indeedy.

A nice heavy deluge that night made us feel even better about not camping. Even worse weather ahead of us in Florida encouraged us to slowwww down, so we spent another $70 to stay on at the Motel 6. Next morning, we tried some of those trails on foot.

Any gators down there?

I LOVE whizzing along on a bike, but you do miss stuff. Like these funny puffball-shaped clumps of reindeer lichen.

Cue the lichen puns.

Why this shape? Because, I realized, they’re not growing on the sand; there’s nothing for them to live off. They’re growing on individual sticks and leaves on the sand. Clever things!

We didn’t see tortoises, but we did see their holes.

Anybody home? Love the wild rosemary landscaping!

The only thing I wished for in this park was more dirt trails; they’re nearly all paved. But I understand the reasons for that. And it was clear, from the number of benches dedicated to folks passed away or to groups like “Michigan Snowbirds,” how beloved this park is to folks from colder places–mostly the midwest, it seemed. Maybe that explains the tongue-in-cheek speed limit signs:

NOT 27. That would be crazy.

The weather’s supposed to be so wacky tomorrow that I have no idea where we’ll be tomorrow night. NOT in a tent. But given the terrible destruction up in Nashville this week, I can only give thanks for the safety and security of being able to whine about a little rain.

And speaking of giving thanks: one more gator? Yes please!

We learned the locals named this one “Lefty.”

Road Trip X, Days 14-17, Fort Stockton to San Antonio to Galveston: Dear Ones in Texas

In this blog’s travel morph, I’ve never made a secret of my lack of love for Texas. I’m sure I’ve said some unkind things. That attitude, of course, comes back to bite me when I see a travelogue like this through the eyes of folks I love who happen to live there. So I’m going to avoid my negativity for once and just write about what’s been great about the past few days.

Hold up. Let me first get this out of my system: Fort Stockton contains no one I love, AND it doesn’t have a single bike path. So I’m not going to try & emphasize the positive about Fort Stockton, other than to say it offered us a comfy motel at the end of a long day’s drive from Arizona. If you’re reading this and you’re from Fort Stockton, please chime in with something cool about your town.

OK, on to San Antonio.

My older sister and her husband live on the outskirts, far enough away from the Riverwalk that we’re not tempted to go there. We’re family, not tourists. (And my sister’s dining room is the best restaurant in town anyway.) Along with catching up on family stuff and playing music with my bro-in-law, I’m always happy to cuddle their super-fluffy cats.

Starved for kitty love.

And THIS town has a bike path! Boy, does it ever.

Curvy and swoopy and green…A+.

Also, thanks to my sister’s tree, we are now the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocados, Oranges AND Grapefruit! (not pictured ’cause I’ve been eating them in the car–sweeet) But here’s another cat picture instead.

Such…fluffy…feeeeet!

We only stayed one night in San Antonio because we’d timed our trip to Galveston to coincide with our friends’ weekend there.  We usually visit them in Dallas where they live (in Oak Cliff, Dallas’s cool side), but they’re just putting the finishing touches on a new condo in Galveston, the childhood Happy Place of one of them, and they invited us as inaugural guests.

Galveston? Where the heck is that anyhow? (asked Gretchen, about a month ago).

Oh! Okay. Thanks, Wikipedia.

According to our friends (also Wikipedia), it’s an island in the Gulf of Mexico, 27 miles long, no wider than 3 miles. It was practically wiped out in a hurricane in 1900 which killed over 6,000 people. More recently, Hurricane Ike did a ton of damage, but Galvestonians are a resilient bunch, and they love their town. One of my favorite parts of our stay there (other than walking on the endless beach) was biking through the old town, stopping to take pictures of pretty houses.

Ooooh.

The sunrise view from our friends’ condo:

Good morning!

The giant ships entering the harbor, bound for Houston, reminded me of the ones we used to live with during our 20 years in Tacoma. Here there are so many, they line up along the horizon waiting their turn to unload. At night the whole Gulf looks like it’s ringed with stars.

Big ship, and big pelican! I love those things.

Biking around, I kept thinking about seeing Ciudad Juarez across the Rio Grande as we’d passed through El Paso a couple of days earlier. Yes, the Mexican streets and houses look poor, in some places desperately so. But they are so colorful! Pink and green and blue and purple–as if to say, “C’mon, America–why you gotta be so DULL?” Well, Galvestonians are NOT dull.

Wish I had the nerve to paint my house that color.

Mardi Gras was last week. I kept running over beads with my bike wheels, and lots of decorations were still up.

The day was overcast. Imagine how this home would look in bright sunshine!

Must’ve been quite a party.

Take that, Nawleans.

Galveston also hosts a thriving fishing industry. My friend took this picture as I waited in line for gigantic shrimp. Moments later, when she stepped outside, they brought out the two-man-sized fish.

The day’s smaller catch.

If I were more of a beach person, I would have taken more pictures of the beach. Maybe. The best thing about THIS beach, for me? Walking and talking and sitting and talking and drinking wine and talking with my friend. (not pictured) So here’s another jaw-dropping house:

Daaaaang.

Our friends went to Mass on Sunday for the first time here (they’re still getting to know their new town) and came back jubilant at having discovered a vibrant, extremely multi-racial, multi-ethnic congregation. Another warm fuzzy for Galveston. Maybe I just need to spend more time in all Texas’s towns? Well…all the ones with places to bike in, anyhow.

I don’t feel bad about the opinions I have about Texas which are related to its history and current dominant politics. I do feel bad if anyone I love who lives there feels like I love them less because they live there. And for those other loyal Texans whom I don’t know…please tell me more cool stuff about where you live. I’m trying not to have a Texas-sized ego about this. 🙂