Transitions

What happens to a travel blog when the trip has ended? Not much, if recent (lack of) posts are any indication.

I’ve been reluctant to write a final summary, as it would mean the trip is really over. Which, of course, it is. We’ve had a temporary home in a cute little Healdsburg cottage for three weeks now. Patrick zips off to an office every day and I’m so close to being employed I actually attended a meeting yesterday. I’m making the most of my last two weeks of free time. The Russian River slips by just out of sight across the street from our house, and all day teens in bright bathing suits traipse past laden with inner tubes and rafts – summer vacation distilled.

This little gargoyle hangs out at our rental cottage.

Someone once told me people in general like change but dislike transition. They were speaking of politics, but the sentiment holds true for other life changes, too. There’s an uncertainty that’s both exciting and disquieting. It took us a few weeks to relax into our traveling schedule and become accustom to being around each other, and only each other, through all our splendid days. Now we’re going through that transition in reverse, getting back in the swing of schedules, responsibilities, deadlines. And then, in nine (!!) weeks, we’ll make that other big transition, from companions to husband and wife.

For the time being I feel suspended, neither a wayward traveler nor truly settled. It’s too early to know which memories will be enduring. The mind, old sieve, will filter out what it wishes and in a few years I’ll have a handful of solid moments, like a collection of stones. If I concentrate now, I could recount each day. But I’ll lose more and more moments the longer we’re home.

There’s a big hill behind our house. When I hiked up the other day, a squirrel crashed off in the underbrush, and though the air smelled of redwoods and bay laurel, it instantly brought me back to Graham Cave Sate Park in Missouri. In December we stopped there for a walk one cold afternoon, the only visitors as far as we could tell. Hoping to see deer, I was fooled time and time again by gray squirrels dashing through fallen leaves, sounding like animals ten times their size. I look forward to more of those sudden memories.

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Imnaha Springs, Oregon

An old Forest Service cabin, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Core in the 1930s, sits near Imnaha Springs in Southern Oregon. It’s a magical place where crystal clear water gushes out of mossy ground to form Imnaha Creek. Now available as a vacation rental, the cabin’s location is idyllic. Lush monkey flowers and miners lettuce line the stream banks, and the sound of gurgling water fills the forest. Lovely as it was, my dad and I didn’t linger. We’d come on a mission – to find King Bolete mushrooms.

Kooky mushroom expert David Arora calls them “the consummate creation, the peerless epitome of earthbound substance, a bald bulbous pillar of thick white flesh – the one aristocrat the peasants can eat!” If you’ve sampled this mushroom, you might find such effusive descriptions are apt for King Boletes, also known as porcini. Firm, meaty, with an earthy aroma, they are absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, little grubs and animals think they’re delicious also; sometimes fresh mushrooms are riddled with bugs. We didn’t find a bounty of boletes, but the one we brought home was absolutely perfect. The real excitement of the day, however, wasn’t of the fungi variety.

king bolete, porcini, oregon mushroom

king bolete, bolete mushroom, boletus edulis

Eyes trained at the ground, searching for mushroom caps, I was more focused on the forest floor than usual. A small spot of softness caught my attention. Can you see it?

fawn, baby deer, bambi,

A tiny fawn, no more than a week old, lay curled in the undergrowth. Young fawns rely on their spotted coat and stillness to hide from predators. Had I been simply hiking, I certainly would’ve walked right by.

fawn, camouflaged fawn, baby deer

I’d never seen any living thing be so utterly motionless. We stared through binoculars, trying to discern whether or not it was breathing. We thought we saw movement in its small body, but it was so hard to tell. We waited for the little thing to blink. To twitch an ear. Nothing.

Finally we moved on, trying to find a few more mushrooms. Thwarted, we circled back to see if the fawn was still there. This time I crept closer, and watched as the fawn took a big breath. I also saw it twitch its nose almost imperceptibly. It’s easy to see how people think fawns are injured or abandoned; I easily could’ve picked up this tiny fawn. But the doe was undoubtedly somewhere nearby. The fawn was simply acting on survival instinct to remain still and wait for its mother to return. It was incredible to be so close to something wild and beautiful.

Our single King Bolete was quickly sautéed with butter and viognier, an elegant addition to simple rice bowls. We kept talking about the fawn, our thoughts on a small, dappled body in a spot of green.

camouflage fawn

Eagle Point, OR

Before I met Patrick, I lived alone for many years. I was accustom to my own company. I filled my spare time with books and baking and strolls to the market and simply putzing around the house. Friends, too, of course, but I relished coming home to my little apartment at the end of a night out or holing up every once in a while. Now I’m out of that habit. For the first time since before we kicked off the trip, I was absolutely alone for more than 24 hours over the weekend. I’m chicken-sitting, and Patrick is visiting his family. It’s been lovely and strange to be surrounded by so much quiet, to not have to collaborate on the day’s plans.

snap peas, gardenin

It’s not lonesome.

I read a huge stack of foodie magazines. I pulled weeds. I took a morning hike. I made dinner out of half an avocado and a handful of fresh garden peas, all sprinkled with olive oil and sea salt. Peaceful.

fresh eggs, organic eggs, beautiful eggs

But, I find I talk to myself. And to the chickens.

Sparkles the Chicken, Speckled Sussex, Chickens.

heritage chickens

Grand Teton National Park, WY

Wildlife abounds in Grand Teton National Park. During our first few hours here, we saw a chipmunk eating flowers and a heard of elk, in addition to everything you see below. I am now faced with the terrible decision – which is the cutest National Park animal – a pika or a marmot? Or the Prairie Dogs from Wind Cave?

Yellow Bellied Marmot

We saw dozens of these dapper Yellow Bellied Marmots. I’d like to cuddle them.

Moose mother and calf, Grand Teton National Park, Tetons

Mother moose & calf, feeding beside a waterfall, which is just out of the frame. They’re standing front-to-back here, making them look like a two-headed beast.

Pika, Grand Tetons, Grand Teton National Park

Tiny, chirpy pika peeked out of his (her?) hiding hole.

Moose, Grand Tetons, Grand Teton National Park

Male moose with his growing antlers still in velvet.

Moose, Grand Tetons

Another shot of the handsome, hungry chap.

Buffalo, Grand Tetons, Grand Teton National Park

Big ol’ buffalo just hanging out in the road.

Grand Tetons National Park

Turning Over Stones in Wind Cave National Park, SD

Traipsing around outdoors always gives me such a sense of discovery. No matter if the trail is one I’ve hiked a hundred times or if it’s my first visit – there’s always something new to uncover. I may spot timid deer or a find a smooth rock for my pocket, see a new bird or flower. And always, no matter how far off the beaten path, I’ll find a beer can, apparently so much harder to pack out empty than it was for someone to carry it in.

Wind Cave, SD, buffalo, bison

We were roaming with the buffalo last week, where the deer and the antelope play near Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. The prairie was the color of a Yellow Lab and the curves of the distant hills made me want to reach out to and run my hand over their backs. On the advice of a friendly park ranger, we followed buffalo trails out over the grasslands where we spotted bison and meadowlarks, elk and mule deer, and hundreds of prairie dogs that squeak and bark warnings to their pals before scurrying into the safety of their holes.

Wind Cave, SD, Prairie

Prairie Dog, Robin, Wind Cave

Of course, you can also discover other things in the woods. The other day we found a boondocking spot, pulled the Minnie off on a quiet dirt road and explored our small corner of the Black Hills National Forest. Like a raccoon, I’m drawn to shiny objects and the rocks were glinting with mica so I’m poking around, looking for the prettiest stones, nudging piles of quartz with my toe.  I move one large rock and see the corner of a box. Patrick comes in to look, and we pull a small box from its hiding spot. A Geo Cache? The wooden box is wrapped with sodden red ribbon, tightly tied but decaying. Maybe it’s a time capsule? Childhood memories? I’m thinking of that scene from Amélie where she pulls a cigar box from behind a loose tile and discovers someone’s long-lost treasures. Excitedly, we pry open the lid and peer inside. And what do we find? The desiccated remains of a bird. We’d opened a bird casket. That’s what I get for being inquisitive.

We replaced the box in its cairn of quartz and said a quick “rest in peace” to someone’s departed pet bird. I may be a bit less likely to go snooping around in the woods from now on, as I prefer discoveries like a beautiful view or living animals.

Five Weekends in April

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From the rocky coast of Maine, through bare early spring hardwood forests, into the kitchens of great friends, across grassy plains to the rising mountains of Wyoming, we traversed more than 2,000 miles in April. Wonderful as our time has been exploring the East and Midwest, and as many hugs as we’ve been able to exchange with loved ones, high-fives were exchanged when we crossed into Mountain time zone. We’ve missed the West and it’s majestic, sparsely populated places.

Maine, Wolfe's Neck, Brunswick, ME

April 1: Wolfe's Neck State Park, Brunswick, Maine

April 7: Niagara Falls, NY, Niagara Falls, Canada, Rainbow Bridge

April 7: Rainbow Bridge, Niagara Falls, New York to Canada

METRA train, Chicago, Illinois

April 14: METRA train, Chicago, Illinois

Triple Rock Social Club, Gastro Non Grata

April 20: Gastro Non Grata at the Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Spearfish Canyon, SD, Rod and Gun Campground

April 28: Rod & Gun Campground, Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota

26 Years of PTO: Musings on Vacation Time

Nothing like being on a career break to make a gal think about the importance of vacations. Consider for a moment the typical American vacation package of two weeks per year. Along with handful of holidays, things like Christmas and Labor Day, two weeks is seen as fairly standard. By the time we get back to California, this Propane Kitchen trip will be one full year in length. Meted out in two-week increments, that’s 26 year’s worth of vacation time. If I’d taken some kind of advance vacation time loan, I would need to work nonstop until I was 59 years old in order to repay all this leisure time. And only then would I get another two weeks off. Rather a grim thought, isn’t it?

What’s worse, the work-work-work mentality is often self-inflicted. When I left Annie’s, I cashed out five weeks of vacation time. I’d like to say that was part of a master plan – save up vacation to give this trip a financial boost – but while that was nice, it wasn’t a conscious choice. Even taking into consideration Annie’s generous benefits policy that was nearly two year’s worth of PTO. That’s MY fault. Continue reading

Trip Statistics: Nine Month Update

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It was still foggy in Sonoma on July 12th when the big PODS truck picked up our storage container. We stood in our empty living room with our landlord and watched as the truck hoisted up our possessions and hauled them off to a distant warehouse. That was nine months ago today. Nine months! Long enough to have forgotten most of what we put into that POD. Barring any major change of events, we’ll be back to the Bay Area in late June to unpack the contents of our old life and settle down again.

Propane Kitchen, RV Road trip

General Trip Statistics

  • 16,000 – miles driven
  • 37 – states (CA, OR, ID, MT, WA, NV, AZ, UT, CO, NM, NE, KS, MO, KY, TN, IN, IL, AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, NC, VA, MD, DE, NJ, PA, CT, NY, MA, NH, ME, VT, OH, MI)
  • 1 – state intentionally avoided (TX, for moral and political reasons)
  • 2 – countries besides the US (Canada, Costa Rica)
  • 9 – number of nights camped in Wal Mart parking lots (Not the prettiest spot, but free and legal.)
  • 2 – number of times we been caught (and soaked) in unexpected thunderstorms while hiking
  • 1/ea – pairs of hiking shoes we’ve worn out and had to replace
  • 3 – average number of times we drive around a campground before choosing a spot
  • 1 – time we got pulled over on suspicion of drug trafficking (I44 in Missouri is apparently a big drug route; an RV with CA plates looked curious in December!)
  • 1 – celebrity who spilled a drink on Patrick’s shoe (Woody Harrelson, at the Spotted Cat in New Orleans. He was hanging out with Tim Robbins and Jesse Eisenberg. We played it cool.)

People Always Ask Us If We’re Visiting…

  1. Mt. Rushmore (maybe?)
  2. Giant Ball of Twine (missed it)
  3. Niagara Falls (yes)

Top Picks to Date

  • Best State Overall for Sights/Hiking – Utah
  • Best Burger – Diablo Burger, Flagstaff, AZ
  • Best Game to Play in the Minnie – Mexican Train Dominos
  • Best Road Trip Book – Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck
  • Best State Park Amenities – Lake Fausse Pointe, Louisiana (electric, water, WiFi, canoe rentals, showers, laundry, camp store, PLUS nesting Red Shoulder Hawks, armadillos and alligators.)
  • Best Brewery – Schlafly(besides the Russian River, of course)
  • Best Sunrise – Montezuma, CR
  • Most Adorable Bacon – Polyface Farm

Mexican Train, RV games

Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio

It had been windy all day; Patrick had to struggle to keep the Minnie centered in our lane. By evening the air had stilled. We stopped to watch the sun melt into Lake Erie. A young girl, searching for beach glass and pretty stones, gave me two shells she’d found. So far, Ohio is beautiful.

Lake Erie, Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio

Ohio seems to inspire beautiful music, too. In honor of crossing into the Buckeye State, here’s an all-Ohio playlist.

1. Blind Pilot – Miss Ohio (a cover of a Gillian Welch song)

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2. Damien Jurado – Ohio

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3. The Low Anthem – To Ohio

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4. Modest Mouse – Ohio

5. Sun Kil Moon – Carry Me Ohio

Niagara Falls

We visited Niagara Falls on Saturday. By volume one of the largest waterfalls in the world, the falling water sounds like thunder. Swirling winds pick up the spray and drench the overlooks, where rainbows appear and fade in the mist. Like the Grand Canyon, it was almost too big to comprehend – undeniably powerful and impressive. I have to say, it was also fairly awful. Monetized. Built up. Teeming with tourists who apparently never developed a sense of appropriate public behavior – elbowing their way through the crowd only to stop suddenly to take cell-phone photo in the middle of the sidewalk, letting small children and dogs jump on strangers, sticking their heads into photos.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls, Rainbow Bridge

The RV safely parked in a gigantic lot, we walked across the famed Rainbow Bridge and crossed the border to Canada.  Surprisingly, the U.S. side of the falls felt remarkably restrained; a state park graces the edges of the Niagara Gorge. The Canadian side, with its better views, was a tawdry maze of theme restaurants and mini golf and neon-lit mega hotel casinos. It’s like Disney Land and Las Vegas mated and produced Niagara Falls, Ontario. Trying to get into the spirit of things, I thought we should go up to a revolving restaurant and grab a drink at the bar. But there was no bar; there was only a $34.95 per person (plus tax, gratuity and drinks) all you can eat buffet where food quality was certainly not the draw. We slunk into the Hard Rock Café instead. I mean, we’d just walked to Canada. Didn’t we deserve a drink?

I began to think unkind things about all the people around me. And then, quietly, I began voicing these things so only Patrick could hear. Our nerves were shot, but we couldn’t leave. Oh no, not yet. Each evening giant spotlights shoot over from Canada to illuminate the falls. Not just any spotlights, but 5.25 billion candlepower worth of color-changing spotlights. So you may enjoy the falls glowing bright orange or red or blue. Am I jaded because I prefer the falls plain? I know I talked about glowing waves, but those were natural and unaccompanied by a group of teenagers whose only means of communication was yowling.

Niagara Falls at Night

Visiting dozens of National Parks and countless National Forests on this trip has my deepened my respect for these institutions, which preserve dramatic natural sights and protect them from the kind of commercialization so evident at Niagara. Are National Parks, monuments and historic sites crowded? Certainly. Together they receive more than 275 million visitors every year. But the focus is on the natural scenery and education about its 84 million acres of protected land. The Canadian parks we visited, too, helped maintain a distance between commercial areas and major natural features. I don’t wish to begrudge anyone a souvenir photograph or fun night out at a casino, but my lasting impression is that Niagara has been exploited. Support conservation! While I’m at it, Choose Organic! Say No to GMOs! Buckle Up, Save the Whales and KONY 2012. OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Oh Niagara Falls, if I had worn blinders so that I saw only your rushing waters, I would have been so awed. But I was distracted by the glitz, the spectacle, the tour buses. Though I love traveling this country and marveling at its sights, I am not a tourist at heart. Give me a quiet stream in the mountains. Let me be the only there.

Niagara Falls