Thursday, June 23, 2011

Over the Hump
By Michael

Our last photo with our fast, 35mm prime lens. It soon after
rolled 40 feet down a hill and into the raging Kootenai Creek.
Despite her valiant attempt, Windy's cousin, Rosalee
(pictured wearing newborn Cora) could not catch the lens
as it whizzed by her. Everything has been wide angled since.

We successfully crested the Continental Divide this past Sunday at 6,393 feet. While this pass is low by comparison (I crossed via Colorado’s 11,312 Monarch Pass on a motorcycle 20 years ago), the last few miles are steep. You’ve likely been in a car on grades like this, whizzing past the line of lumbering semis that seem parked in the right lane. On this day, the semis were passing us while we inched up, petal-to-the-metal in second gear, hazard lights flashing, hoping nothing breaks. Even worse: it’s hot, we couldn’t use the AC, and I was trying to convince Windy and the girls we needed the windows up to reduce our drag coefficient.

Good times with Great Uncle Michael.

But the climb was worth it: our time in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley was filled with food, drink, family, and new friends. Windy’s Aunt Vicky, Uncle Michael, and cousin Aubrey hosted us in their two-story log cabin in Stevensville, the oldest continually inhabited home in Montana. It was built the year Custer led his men into the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Our timing was spot on as it coincided with a visit from Windy’s cousin Rosalee and her family. All five older second cousins had the time of their lives risking life and limb on the trampoline, setting up forts alongside the fast-moving brook on their property, filling up on marshmallows by the bonfire way past bedtime, collecting chicken eggs, and hiking with the adults on the dramatic Kootenai Creek Trail.
Eleanor and cousin Orion with the 1867 log cabin behind.
Frances and Ara hit it off.
Windy’s aunt and uncle are fixtures in the town of Stevensville; they own and publish the local newspaper The Bitterroot Star. While there, they introduced us to Gene, Robbie, and daughter Ali, owners of the Stevensville Hotel. Seven years ago, this family bought this building (used as the town’s hospital more than 100 years ago) and turned it into a warm and inviting 7-room hotel that feels much more like a B&B. Surprisingly, they bought the place after wrapping up their cruising lives in Australia aboard their 60-foot Laurie Davidson-designed ferrocement ketch. Despite selling their boat years ago and planting roots so far from the shore, they’re all eager to get out cruising again and have the business up for sale to make it happen. Meeting them, listening to Gene’s entertaining recounting of some of their adventures, seeing that Ali turned out okay (she was born while they cruised and spent her first five years afloat), and sharing their photo albums with our girls, fueled our desire to get to Puerto Vallarta and Del Viento.
Talking shop with cruising veterans Robbie, Ali, and Gene
(at Windy's great grandparent's dining room table we
hauled across the country).
We left Stevensville late yesterday morning, faced a string of steep grades all of the way to picturesque Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and woke today in Moses Lake, Washington. Today we’ll finish up in Port Angeles, Washington, our western-most destination—from there it’s all downhill to Mexico.

If I ever open my own beauty salon, I will steal this name.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Central to Mountain Time
By Michael

Eleanor on the Nebraska plains

We laid our heads down last night in Bozeman, Montana. Today we head over the Continental Divide and hopefully make it to Windy’s aunt’s home in Stevensville, Montana, where we offload about 350 pounds of solid oak in the form of a dining room table and four chairs.
We’ve driven over 3000 miles to date and the car is still chugging along—though it seems to me we’ve lost a bit of power from when we started the trip. Most of our time underway is spent with the gas pedal to the floor, just to maintain highway speed. We downshift on every grade, however slight, sometimes all the way down to second gear. Otherwise…
  • We’ve lost just over a quart of radiator fluid in that time (and not a drop in the years before this trip). I suspect a small leak someplace. Twice on the driveway in Scottsbluff, I noticed a small puddle of the stuff, but I can’t tell where it’s leaking from to save my life. The temperature gauge has not yet budged from the normal position. Fortunately our northern route is providing relatively cool temperatures.
  • We’ve also developed an exhaust leak, either at the manifold or very close.
  • Our power windows have begun to work intermittently. So far this has happened only a few times. If any window gets stuck up or down, our quality of life will deteriorate significantly.
Saying goodbye to Grandma,
Scottsbluff, Nebraska
Pioneer covered
wagon replica
beneath Scotts Bluff
Crossing the Great Plains was a pleasure this time of year. Everything is still surprisingly green. From the road we saw buffalo (bison), antelope, prairie dogs, and what we think were wild horses. Traversing Nebraska, we followed the Oregon Trail along the Platte River. The National Park Service interpretive center at Chimney Rock featured a letter from a pioneer addressed to his family and townspeople back east who may follow in his lead. It was filled with best practices for making the monumental journey. Correspondence from another pioneer warned would-be followers to not overload wagons with weapons and ammunition to defend against “savages.” He advised others to practice the Golden Rule and to not display arms to natives they encounter, as it may signal a hostile intent and create problems for no reason. I think the similarity between these correspondences and today’s cruisers’ pursuit of information from sources out there now, is fascinating.
Hole in the Bluff, on the hike to the top
Prehistoric-like views from near the top
of Scotts Bluff

There is a strong cultural theme in Sturgis, South Dakota.

South Dakota was also lovely. Her Black Hills are filled with small towns like Hot Springs: with a strong western feel in the form of a narrow main street where it is still easy to imagine wooden sidewalks and hitching posts, surrounded by towering rock formations, shaped by a river running through it, accented with a waterfall, and colored with pine trees.

Eleanor at her swearing in, having passed
her Junior Ranger exam at the Battle of the
Little Bighorn. Both girls enjoyed earning
their badges here and at Mount Rushmore

In Wyoming, we were taken by the town of Sheridan. It was miles from any large city or other influence (or revenue source), yet appeared like a bedroom community to a larger city. A large residential area was anchored by a main street that featured no vacant businesses, flower baskets hanging from the old-styled lamp posts, and bustling coffee shops with patrons at tables spilling onto the sidewalk. Sculptures large and small, permanently exhibited, were everywhere in the public spaces of this small town. Windy took (and passed!) her second HAM radio exam in Sheridan and while she studied in the morning, holed up at Starbucks, she met a Sheridan resident who spends the summers on his ranch here, the winters in Nice, France, and two weeks every year on his friend’s Amel 57 in the Caribbean. Seeing Sheridan a bit, this demographic seems oddly suited.
Exploring the outskirts of Sheridan, I came to an abrupt stop when I saw four young girls, probably 8 or 9 years old, two on each side of the road, stretching a piece of string or fishing line across the road, about windshield level. I was cursing under my breath and shaking my head when they all burst into a fit of laughter and dropped the imaginary string. Now that they had my attention, they all assumed their positions behind their makeshift stand, hawking lemonade. We bought four cups on the condition they tell us where they learned their trick. “YouTube!” they sang in unison. This episode reminds me of that Modest Mouse song, Float On: “Well, a fake Jamaican took every last dime with that scam; it was worth it just to learn some sleight-of-hand.”

A riviting lecture at the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Outside Sheridan, we stopped at the National Monument of The Battle of the Little Bighorn. This type of history doesn’t generally interest me and I was reluctant to stop. Fortunately, it does interest Windy and she demanded we stop. We were treated to and outstanding 20 minute lecture by a Park Ranger who is a former high school football coach. His telling of the battle and of the larger context, before and after, was riveting—and informative. Standing with a vista behind him, he told his story with props in hand and pointed to the actual hills and valleys as he referenced them. He summed up his animated, graphic, and impassioned lecture with a poignant reminder of the real cost of human warfare.

Fortunately, it doesn't always look like this. After all this time cooped up in the car and living as
transients, the boat will seem large and we will all welcome her as a permanent home.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Boiled Over
By Michael

Parked in front of the Kiewit Plaza in Omaha, NE on a Saturday.
Berkshire Hathaway is headquartered on the 14th floor. This
is where Warren Buffet comes to work every day. We swung
by on the off chance we'd somehow run into him, he'd be
taken by us and our story, and he'd offer up some stock leads
over milkshakes nearby. We were disappointed. 
We pulled in late last night to the Best Western motel in Sturgis, South Dakota. We’ve been offline the  previous four nights, holed up at my Grandma’s place in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. We holed up at my Grandma’s place in Scottsbluff, Nebraska for four nights because she makes really good cookies and because I arrived there with a boil the size of Texas on my right cheek and there was no way I could sit another minute in the car (or anyplace). Windy nursed me back to health using her NOLS Wilderness First Responder medical training.
Best Western has their act together. This is our second night in one of these, the first just outside of Pittsburgh, PA. The price is fair and the place is clean and tasteful. This is in stark contrast to the Carol Hotel in Omaha. I’m not describing what made it so bad because I’m embarrassed we didn’t flee. Coincidentally, we also had our worst food experience in Omaha: Maria’s Mexican Restaurant. Our desire for Mexican food completely eclipsed our knowledge that there is no such thing in Nebraska. I just hope we don’t break down again, enticed by billboard promises of authenticity and pictures of mouth-watering margaritas.

The Union: friends, beer, live music, and a sailing backdrop.

Madison, WI just may offer a decent Mexican option, but we instead focused on Asian cuisine. Our first night there, our friend Jooyup Lee served us his signature Korean specialty, Bi Bim Bap. Excellent, excellent. The following night, Jooyup, Tami, and 7-month Bodi took us four to a Japanese restaurant on State Street where a chef prepared our meals on a grill at the middle of our table. It was a entertaining performance and I learned that the secret to excellent fried rice is the liberal addition of sake.

Hoofer Sailing Club instructors preparing the J22 on lake Mendota.

We spent half of our second day in Madison at The Union Terrace, a lakeside recreation spot on the University of Wisconsin, Madison campus. For donating cans of food to Feeding America, the girls and I got a ride on an old J22 with a couple of sailing instructors. The winds were light, but the two young instructors were patient and spent about 20 minutes with the girls at the helm, letting them tack and jibe and tack and jibe, over and over again, between the small craft moored close in. Eleanor was attentive and really learned a bit; Frances wasn’t so interested.

Our new to-be-cruising friends at Ella's Deli.

Pretty cool too that we were able to lunch with Deb, the recipient of the cruising books we gave away a couple weeks ago. She and her family are planning to get out cruising in the next 4-5 years and it was a pleasure to meet her and her kids. She and her husband are both former ASA sailing instructors who taught locally.
Before leaving town, we stopped by the famous Saturday farmer’s market at the base of the capital building. It is a huge affair, but still manages to retain a small town feel. Unfortunately, it was still early in the growing season there. Only one farmer sold strawberries and they were small and expensive. But in addition to the farmers, there were tie dyed clothing vendors, bread vendors, and flower vendors. Small bands played on the sidewalk at several points around the market and the distinctive Wisconsin accent was everywhere.
Madison farmers' market.
Two things surprised me about Wisconsin: the high price of maple syrup and the lack of cheese-related signage and references. I expected maple syrup to be cheaper than it is in Washington, D.C. and I expected signs on the road like, “Fresh cheese curds, 500 feet.” Is this not the dairy state?
On the road to Omaha (from Madison, Wisconsin), we opened an email from a blog reader. She asked whether I’d gotten out much in the past, surprised I didn’t expect Niagara Falls to be so tacky-tourist and that I didn’t know interstates are charging tolls. It was a tongue-in-cheek observation, but one that rings true. Here are some more things I didn’t know:
  • In the Midwest, 89 octane gasoline is cheaper than 87 octane gasoline. Usually the midgrade fuel has Ethanol in it and is therefore taxed at a lower rate and is cheaper. Also in the Midwest, 85 octane gasoline is still widely available.
  • Based on billboard advertisements and personal experience, every motel and hotel across the country offers free in-room Wi-Fi. This makes sense considering the United Nations recently declared that Internet access is now a human right (my grandma doesn’t know this).
  • South Dakota is cool. If Fargo is your only reference to the Dakotas, you owe yourself a visit. Seriously. More in a later post.
  • Canadian border crossing agents can be surly and confrontational. Sure, maybe it was a mistake to speak to him in riddles as I did (Q: “Where are you headed?” A: “Mexico.”), I should not have replied to any of his questions with a challenge (Q: “What’s on the trailer?” A: “Oh, you name it.”), and I know we did not present well (Q: “What do you do for a living?” A: “We’re unemployed.”). We’ll see how the Mexico crossing goes.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Westward Ho!
By Michael

Frances coincidentally appropriately
dressed for the cafe experience
We're finally really making our way westward. Yesterday we woke in Niagara Falls on the Canadian side and last night we laid our heads down in Detroit, MI. Tonight, Madison, WI.

I was a little down on the Falls in the last post. We'd just arrived and the first thing you see when you cross the bridge into Canada is Clifton Hill, or as it bills itself, "the world famous Street of Fun." I suspected there was more to the area, and I was right, it just took us getting out on foot the next day and Windy spending more time on the Yelp! app to discover the hidden gems.

We ended up enjoying two stellar dinners, the first for not a lot of money, the second very pricey. Taki is a Japanese place just outside of the hustle and bustle and is so unappealing from the outside, we would not have stepped inside without the rave reviews online. The next night, Paris Crepes Bistro was even better. No, it was amazing. And it had to be after the multi-mile death march that Windy led us on to get there. And finally, our room on the second night was stellar, a welcome gift from our dear friends Ann and Caden before we left. She cashed in some serious Starwood points for this, the view says it all.

Our 16th floor room with a view. With our balcony window opened,
the sound of the falls was pleasant.

We enjoyed dramatic overnight thunderstorms, and the daytime weather was perfect.
We took the Journey Behind the Falls tour and enjoyed the perspective, both from below the rim of Horseshoe Falls and behind the falls via tunnels bored into the rock in the 1940s.

In the tunnel behind the falls

Jest below the lip

The girls enjoyed their time at the parks in the area.

I think one of my primary jobs as a parent (among many primary parental jobs) is teaching my girls about money: how to spend it (done), how to save it (getting there), and about the value of money (we have a long way to go). To wit, after we cashed in a bunch of coins at their bank before leaving D.C., the girls each wound up with $30 to spend as they please on this road trip. Eleanor has shrewdly restrained herself from spending any of her money. Yesterday Frances blew half of her wad on this must-have item in an unremarkable Canadian drug store (we stopped there to buy a mexoryl-based sunscreen unavailable in the US and recommened by a cruiser who knows--thank you Ceilydh!). The sirens Frances heard when she saw this thing must have injured her young ears. But who knows, maybe this will be her Velveteen Rabbit. And as they say in Ontario, c'est la vie!


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Who Knew?
By Michael

The girls dressed as chocolate factory workers,
monitoring the production of their custom bars
Who knew Milton Hershey was a saint? We learned all about the guy during our visit to the real-life Hershey infomercial that is Hershey, PA. The guy went bankrupt several times before finally achieving success with a caramel venture, then selling that business and betting his entire windfall on milk chocolate--at the time a treat unknown to Americans. Now with the means to do so, he and his wife built homes and trade schools for orphaned boys, all around the town that bears his name. This philanthropy lives on.

For the duration of the Great Depression, Hershey kept his entire town employed with his own version of the New Deal, personally funding several construction projects.

A reluctant consumer of sugar-coated history, that night Windy went straight online looking for The Rest of the Story: Hershey the philanderer? Milton the heroin addict? Antisemite? Jaywalker? She couldn't find a thing.
Appropriately, it was a Sunday when we
attended Church Brew. None of us
was struck by lightening upon exiting.
Who knew that Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water closed at 4:30 p.m. Sunday?

Who knew Pittsburgh is a funky, cool, attractive city? We went there for Church Brew, a brewery in a former church. The 1902 gothic brick and stone church is beautiful inside. The late afternoon sun lit up all of the stained glass and the polished vats of beer shined. Both the food and beer were interesting and delicious. Frances's pizza came out of a wood-fire oven and Windy and I both sampled a coconut stout in addition to our distinct IPAs. Approaching Pittsburgh from the east by car reminded us both of a northbound approach to Portland, OR. Each city is married to the river running through it, and each with enough rusted steel tressles and bridge spans to impart an industrial feel. Pittsburgh is at the confluence of two large rivers and major streets downtown are paved in red brick. There is a touristy riverwalk and a couple ancient inclines that haul people hundreds of feet up steep rock cliffs from the water's edge to charming little neighborhoods with killer views. Pittsburgh charmed us both.

Who knew that wine grapes are grown along the I90 from from northern Pennsylvania through southern New York? It wasn't the Napa Valley nor Central Coast wine regions of California, but there were dozens of good-sized vineyards on this stretch, referred to as the Chautauqua-Lake Erie Wine Trail.

About half way up the steep Monongahela incline, one of two
100-year-old rail-mounted gondola-like cars that counter-balance
each other, called a funicular in physics--Pittsburgh skyline
emerging behind us
 Who knew that the major interstates are now toll roads? Not only does it suck to pay to drive these roads that were free the last time I drove across country, but it makes it difficult or impossible to exit the highway at will. Windy has been using Yelp on her iPad enroute to find lodging and food. A couple times we read about a great little eating spot, only to zip by on the tolled interstate, barred from exit. Of course, there was no shortage of access to restricted exits featuring Sbarro, Starbucks, and Burger King. We'll see if this trend continues across country.

Who knew the magnificent Niagara Falls are overshadowed by a massive casino on the American side and all manner of tacky Americana on the Canadian side? Tons of penny arcades, a Ripley's Believe It Or Not, a Hard Rock Cafe, a Planet Hollywood, a Hershey Store, miniature golf, and blocks and blocks of every carnival-like store you can imagine (a haunted house, a maze, a place that sells nothing but skull-themed merchandise, fudge stores, souvenir shops, and curio stores). I haven't been to the Grand Canyon in 20 years, is it now the same way? Fortunately, there are still nice park-lined walks from the Rainbow Bridge (connecting the U.S. and Canada) to Horseshoe Falls. Today we'll explore more.

Riding in the enclosed compartment of the Sky Wheel, Horseshoe falls in the background.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

On the Road!
By Michael

All packed up and heading off to get the girls

Well, it didn't go as smoothly as planned, but we broke free. And after a totally traffic-free, Friday night drive up from D.C., we woke up this morning in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

No traffic? How is this possible, you ask?

Timing, Robertson timing.

Rather than show up to the closing on time at 4:00 p.m. (all packed and ready to go), sign papers, and hit the I95 at rush hour, we called our agent an hour before the closing to say we would have all of our stuff out of the house prior to closing, but we were still using the garage as a staging area and would have to return. I felt terrible. (Fortunately, the buyers are friendly, reasonable, and understanding.) We'd spent the previous 48 hours in a state of increasing panic as we realized how much remained to be done and how much would not fit in our tiny car and trailer.

The closing went smoothly and we arrived back at the garage at 5:30 p.m. to wrap things up. At 9:55 p.m. we'd packed, we'd left a lot of stuff behind (thank you Shawn!), we'd picked up the girls from our dear friend's home (thank you Kelly!), dropped off several boxes with her to mail across country for us (thank you Kelly!), and hit the road. At 1:00 a.m. we were checked into our Hershey motel, spent.

As we continue our journey to Mexico, it is clear the car is going to struggle. The temperature stayed in the normal range last night, but I had to downshift for every slight grade. I don't yet know what our gas mileage is, but it won' t be pretty. And unfortunately, we're not dropping off the heavy dining room table and chairs (this is a long story...) until Montana, and after we attempt the Continental Divide at 6,600 feet.

The girls were awesome, they've been real troopers throughout this whole transition. Today it's their turn as we give them more of our attention and spend the day in chocolate town.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Free Movies for a Dreamer
By Michael

NOTE: These movies are claimed...

So, the book giveaway was a success and today I found these DVDs and VHS tapes that probably wouldn't generate a lot of interest in the local Goodwill store. I will send these to the first interested person to email us, no charge. I am going to the post office in the morning, so don't delay. Following is what I have:
  • Three DVDs by Lin and Larry Pardey: Get Ready to Cruise, Get Ready to Cross Oceans, and Storm Tactics.
  • Sailing in Heavy Weather featuring Warren Luhrs, John Neal, and Steve Dashew.
  • Ice Blink is a retrospective look back at the two big cruises of Dave and Jaja Martin and their three kids, first around the world aboard Direction and then their time in Iceland and Norway aboard Driver. This DVD features reflective interviews with them from their home in Maine and lots of footage from their adventures.
  • The Voyage of Eros is an instructional VHS from 1990 about sailing Tonga.
  • Mermaid: Our Family in Paradise is a VHS from 2002 about a family's one-year cruise in the Caribbean and Bahamas.
  • And finally, Just Cruising is the Copeland family's video about their 6-year circumnavigation aboard their Beneteau 38, Bagheera (VHS).
We'd be pleased to have these in the hands of someone genuinely interested in them. Happy dreaming (and planning)!

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