Sunday, November 25, 2012

Final Reflection

Looking back at our trip from the remove of several months, it is sometimes hard to believe that we actually did it. We're now entrenched in the everyday whirl of school, work, activities, grocery shopping, chores, laundry, etc., and I'm really glad to have the pictures from the summer as a slideshow screensaver on the computer to remind me that, yes, I did in fact spend time in all those amazing places. The boys had a sleepover last night and I had to get out the Thermarest pads and sleeping bags. As I did, I thought, "the last time I got all of this out was somewhere in Minnesota!" Then I thought about all the times we set up camp and arranged the pads and sleeping bags, got out the camp stove and boxes of kitchen gear. Would I do it again? Absolutely.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Back for a while, but the heart lingers

Three weeks have past since we returned to Ithaca after our action-packed summer adventure, and a day hasn't passed without a daydream about some aspect of our trip. Like the boys, I wish we had a magical transportation device so that I could instantly pop up on Trail Ridge Road or Avalanche Lake or Arches or any number of our vacation spots. Last week I was watching the USA Pro Challenge bike race in Colorado, and the experience of cycling up Trail Ridge Road and beyond 12,000 ft. seemed like yesterday. Then I saw a cheesy TV ad for cheap sunglasses and they used stock footage of the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier and again I was instantly transported. I changed the screensaver on our desktop computer so that we get randomized photos from our trip, and I find myself fully absorbed in memories of the summer.

I had high hopes leading up to the trip that we would all learn a whole bunch, accumulate lots of memories that would last a lifetime, grow as a family and have more good times than bad. Ever the optimist, I had faith that Leo wouldn't experience car sickness, our boys would get along more often than not, and that Gail would sleep better than she thought she would.  If you read the blog, you'll know that the only real disappointments on our trip were the minor car accident and the rude campers at Arches, not a bad track record at all!

I love overhearing the boys talking to their friends about their travels. They clearly learned a lot and hopefully have developed a love for adventure that will keep them exploring for the rest of their lives. We have all taken chances and have done things outside of our comfort zones, and have been rewarded more often than not.

If you have ever considered a trip like this, I urge you to start planning. Yes, it will cost more than you think, and there will be some hardships along the way, but you and your loved ones will almost certainly be rewarded in ways that will be hard to quantify. Create your own agenda, take chances, and have faith that everything will work out—it usually does, and if not, you'll probably end up with a few good stories!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Notes from Leo

Leo writes:
We are almost home, only two days of driving left. We are closing in to the end of our vacation. We are watching the Olympics.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Favorite stations; final cycling report

Radio has really kept Gail and I entertained, especially during the long days of driving. Things sure are different from previous long trips across country when I was limited to traditional radio, which is often hit or miss. Also, there's the frequent phenomena where you land on an exceptional station, only to lose the signal too soon and have it replaced with some evangelical program or faux country station. This happened yesterday as we were leaving the Badlands—I was really grooving on the musical offerings on KILI radio, the non-commercial voice of the Lakota people, broadcast from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. They played some terrific traditional music, followed by some great country music, including a snarky song about the B.I.A. Sadly the signal faded much too soon, and instead, we were being asked to contribute to some Christian radio ministry.

We have Sirius satellite radio in the van, and we've really appreciated this fine service, in spite of some  programming limitations. My favorite station throughout has been the BBC World Service, which has kept us entertained and informed with their excellent news and arts coverage (The Strand), as well as the call-in show World Have Your Say, not to mention their Olympics coverage. We haven't been able to see much of the summer games, but we appreciate the interviews and thoughtful analysis.

In the last few days we've been really getting into the Sirious Soul Town station, a fine mix of classic Motown and Soul. You can't go wrong with Barry White, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, The Spinners and The Temptations. Other stations that have kept toes tapping include Caliente and First Wave (mostly 80s techno pop and New Wave, think New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Duran Duran, The Cure, Elvis Costello, The Smiths, Kate Bush, Talking Heads, Pretenders and such). I'm so glad that we decided to continue our subscription, and I might hold onto Sirius because of the BBC alone.

* * * *
The cycling portion of our vacation is over now, and I really feel like I made the best of my opportunities, thanks to a very understanding family. On Monday evening during our very short Badlands visit, I went for a lovely 22 mile ride through the park with the setting sun as a backdrop. Someone told me not to bother cycling in the Badlands due to traffic, but they couldn't have been more wrong. Traffic was not at all an issue, and the temperature dropped down to the upper 70s, much better than 100+ and blazing sun.

Last night I managed to get a 20 mile ride in around Albert Lea. There's a bike path that took me past farms, along railroad tracks, along a lake and under a highway. It was a scrappy little ride, but it sure as hell beat sitting around a buggy camp site. That brought me to a total of 620 miles and 51,000 vertical feet on the bike on this vacation, far more than I thought I'd be able to do. In just a few days I'll be back to the familiar Ithaca area hill climbs, but I'll be thinking about all of the memorable National Park rides for a long time to come.

If we had to do it all again...

It's Wednesday, so this must be Shererville, Indiana. It's hard to keep things straight when your days are just endless stretches of I-90. We had to negotiate our way around Chicago today--Armin did a great job in the killer traffic and we landed here at Best Western a little while ago. Tomorrow we push on to the Cleveland area.

This week has been all about the driving, except for a quick stop in the Badlands to let the boys get their last Junior Ranger badges. We didn't hike, but we did enjoy the beauty of the place from our campground. Then we drove across the vastness of South Dakota to Albert Lea, MN. We found a state park and had our last night of camping. We got packed up this morning just ahead of the rain and headed off across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and here into Indiana.

On a trip like this, you always do some postmortem. Armin and I have been talking about what, if anything, we'd do differently if we were starting this trip over again. We agreed that we wouldn't change the itinerary, since we loved all of the national parks we visited. What would we change? Here's my list:
  • I would pack fewer books and games. We didn't need the huge tub that I brought, and if I'd scaled back then we could have saved a substantial amount of room in the car.
  • We could have done with fewer clothes for each of us. We ended up doing laundry about every 5 days, so I could have left behind another big bin if I'd scaled back on the shorts and t-shirts.
  • However, we could have used more warm clothes. I wish I'd had another pair of long pants and maybe some gloves and a hat. Weather in the mountains tended to be chilly!
  • The air mattresses could have stayed at home. Armin and I were happy with our Thermarest pads and the boys were perfectly contented with their thin foam pads. The air mattresses never even came out of the car.
  • I wish I'd thought of some different lunch options. We are all pretty sick of bread and cheese.
That's a pretty minor list of changes, which leads me to think that we did a pretty darn good job of planning and packing. 

What were some of the things we were especially pleased about?
  • Sunbutter squeeze packets! These little guys were an essential lunch item. Squeeze one onto a tortilla, add banana, and you have a happy kid. We aren't as sick of sunbutter as we are of cheese.
  • Indian food pouches. Yes, I know we've blogged about these before, but they were perfect for when Armin & I needed something different, quick, and tasty. We bought a bunch in Ithaca, and were then surprised to find them pretty widely available in most mid-size towns.
  • Our stovetop Bialetti espresso maker and Gevalia espresso. Essential for mornings. And afternoons.
  • Our little MiFi device. We loved being able to stay connected to everyone!
Tomorrow holds more driving, and we'll be glad to see Ithaca on Friday afternoon. I hope I can finally get some sleep tonight. I've been so excited about the prospect of getting home that I've had a couple of restless nights. Of course, it could be that I'm just not tired enough--I've gotten used to the constant movement of camping and hiking, and my body is not happy to be sitting still for 8 hours at a time. I'll have to treat myself to a nice long run over the weekend!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Leo loves the pool here!

Leo writes:
I did not think that I would make it 10 hours in the car.  The pool is great here so it is worth it to go so far. Anyway we’re having a nice day here at Best Western. Tomorrow we’re heading to the Badlands.

Goodbye, Glacier, we're heading east.

It was a bit hard to pack up the tent at Glacier this morning, though our sadness at leaving this gorgeous park was tempered by our eagerness to get home and reconnect with the cat, the house, and our friends.

We made good use of yesterday by taking the shuttle up Going To The Sun Road to Logan Pass and hiking part of the Highline Trail. This was a personal challenge for me, since the trail is cut into the side of a mountain and features some narrow parts with slippery, loose rock above sheer dropoffs. There's a safety line, which I made good use of, and soon the trail mellowed out and became quite lovely. It was bordered with tons of wildflowers and looked out over many snowy peaks. We were treated to up close views of a marmot and a group of bighorn sheep (who let us know that we were a bit too close for their comfort).

Back at the campsite, we put together our last big cookstove dinner. This one featured a product we found in a supermarket along the way and couldn't resist. It was Loma Linda/Worthington Foods Vegetarian Burger in a can! We opened it up, sliced it into burgers, and fried them up in a skillet. Surprisingly, it was a thumbs up all around. It's tastier than other fake burger products I've tried, and I'm kind of hoping to find it back home so I can experiment with making a fake meatloaf.

I think the high point of our campsite cooking was Friday night, when I made a soup/stew that used up our fresh veggies and canned products. I sauteed onions and garlic, added a diced potato, canned tomatoes, veggie stock, canned green beans, canned corn, white beans, and some quinoa. It all simmered together until everything was tender, and I liked it well enough to make it again at home (though strictly with fresh vegetables).

One night, as we ate around the picnic table, the boys talked about how much they miss the convenience of microwaving foods, and we decided that, on our next hotel night, we'd have a microwave meal. Sounds kind of weird, I know, but we kind of got into the idea, and tonight was the night. We got some microwave mac-n-cheese for the boys, along with some vegetarian nuggets. They were deliriously excited. Armin and I went for some healthier choices: microwave rice and a couple of packets of Indian food (tofu/corn masala and kashmiri spinach). Delicious! It was perfect comfort food after a long drive.

Speaking of long drives, today's was actually much less horrid than we'd feared. The boys were in good spirits, and we listened to an excellent audiobook that ended just as we reached our destination. The book was Ruth White's The Search for Belle Prater, and we all thought it was terrific. We've listened to a fair amount of sci-fi and fantasy on this trip, and this historical novel (set in rural Virginia in the 1950s) was a change of pace.  (On a side note, Armin wants me to make sure to mention that we passed the Oscar Meyer Weiner-mobile at one point in our drive. He was so excited we nearly kissed the guard rail.)

Anyway, as we drove and listened, I thought about one of the things I've most appreciated about this trip. As we've gone to different parks, we've made a point to seek out evening ranger programs as well as ranger-led hikes and activities. Last night we listened to a presentation about ravens, and Ranger Lee was a terrific speaker. The rangers we've encountered have uniformly done an excellent job teaching about different aspects of their parks--I think I've learned a ton about teaching from watching them. They have all been extremely sincere and enthusiastic, without a trace of self-consciousness about their passion (whether it's ravens, the pine beetle, or the preservation of resources like Arches National Park). I think that, as a teacher, I need to let more of my geeky, earnest enthusiasm show through. I've got some good plans brewing for the next school year.

Tonight, though, we're enjoying the Olympics and some comfy beds before we drive to the Badlands tomorrow. It'll be hot (100 degrees!), but the boys can score one more Junior Ranger badge. Then on Tuesday we'll push eastward. I think some cooler weather is heading to Ithaca ahead of our arrival!