Ch-ch-ch-changes

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“I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same”

-David Bowie

In the past, this blog has been mixture of an outlet for things that are on my mind and a place to track my travel adventures.  I struggled with keeping it updated as much as I should have.  Life got in the way.  That’s as simple as I can put it.  I also struggled to decide what I wanted this blog to represent; a place for my thoughts, or a blog dedicated to travel.  I wasn’t sure if I needed to make the distinction, or if secretly I just wanted them separate.

Sometimes life makes decisions for you.  And sometimes it just takes a while for you to agree with them and accept them.  But make no mistake, that decision has already been made – by life.  Change is not something to fear.  It is something to embrace.  A chance at new opportunities and new challenges.  New adventures.

In my day job, I deal with change on a constant basis.  You would think I’d be a pro at handling it my personal life.  Don’t kid yourself, no one is.  What defines me is what I do from here.  From this moment.  This open door.  This change.

And so I’m excited to announce the next adventure!

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The Northeast Expedition planning stage is in full swing and I hope to document it along the way.  While many of the details are still up in the air, I can say that this trip will take me from Delaware up through New England, over to Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Isles, and Newfoundland just to name a few places.  I’m energized and excited about this planning, the people I’ll get to met, the places off of the beaten path I’ll explore and the experiences I’ll live.

Stay tuned, as there will be some min-adventures upcoming before this trip, but I’ll be certain to up date this blog more and more each step of the way.

Allons y!

 

You shall not pass!

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Having just come home from Calgary (again), and working off a partial injury to my foot, I decided to sit down and spend a little time researching some of the Wyoming area and the back country trails in particular.  One of the things I’ve always wanted to do was Black Bear Pass.  It’s a little bit out of my way being to the southwest, but I’m still open to altering my route at this point.

In my research (read: Internet surfing), I came across this video of this retired couple who are part of a small group of Jeepers taking the backside of the Pass down towards Telluride.  The video, while providing a great look at the trail, was easily surpassed by the banter between the guy and his frantic, German/Austrian?-accented, wife.  I was trying to concentrate on the technical difficulty of the trail but found myself doubled over laughing.

Relationship goals.

I am admittedly concerned that I’m not ready for this yet.  The front side of the Pass, up the mountain to the summit is a piece of cake.  The down side is what I have reservations about.  But hey, even in the wrecked shot below, this is a beautiful picture of the town, right?  That guy is just lucky he stopped rolling there and not the bottom.

This brings me to the paradox that many Jeepers face.  We spend so much time and money outfitting our vehicles so that they are capable of doing something like this that the risk of damaging them becomes even greater when we are actually faced with doing… something like this and hesitate.

It’s the old adage of :

“I just bought a Jeep so I can go off-roading!”

“Great, let’s go!” 

“No, way, do you know how much I paid for this thing?”  

I’m desperately trying to get past that.  Insurance can replace a vehicle, but the countless hours I’ve spent in my garage with a wrench cannot be replaced.   Same goes for actually dying, of course.  No doubt that this trail is intimidating.

I’ve watched video after video and there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll do this.  I need to do this.  I have plenty of faith in my driving skills to do this.  But if there’s one thing I’ve learned traveling the back country of the US solo, it’s to never underestimate it.  Lack of proper planning and you become a statistic.  But this has always been a bucket list item.

The other thing that’s weighing heavily on my mind is the timing of this entire trip.  I was targeting end of May as I always do, but I’m starting to realize that this is much further north (and in elevation) than I’ve ever been this early in the year.  I’m starting to come to terms with something I’ve already known but have been in denial about and that is that most of the things I want to see and do on this trip will likely be snow covered in May and impassable.  Now I’m thinking August or September.  And that throws everything up in the air.

But to experience this:

…I’d do about anything.

The final countdown.

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“I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be.” – Douglas Adams

I’ve been working a lot lately.  The reason for that is complicated and I won’t go in to here.  But let’s just state that as fact and move on.  I can honestly say that I’ve lost sleep, and have never been so tired in my life.  Well, that’s not completely true, there was that one time.   But this is a close second.  I would argue with anyone that being mentally exhausted is just as bad, if not worse than being physically exhausted.

In just over three days I will take my first day of vacation in well over a year.  Bags are packed.  Paperwork is in hand.  I’m ready to role play as Cousin Eddie for a few weeks.

Yes, on my 37th birthday, I will be up in the air heading back across the country.  I’ve lost track of how many cups of coffee I’ve had today just to keep me awake during 5 hour conference calls, or how many more I estimate I’ll have to keep me awake to get that last proposal done before the plane actually takes off.  And somewhere along these next two weeks, for no reason at all, it will hit me that I’m actually on vacation and I’ll just start smiling.  I’ll get asked, “What are you smiling about?”  And I’ll reply, “you wouldn’t understand”.

Mind, you I’m not saying that others aren’t busy, or Joe the Plumber doesn’t work just as hard.  I’m saying that about four years ago, when I took my solo road trip across this great country, I decided that something had to give.  I would create a blueprint, a plan, for transitioning to working to live, and not living to work.  Here I am, four years later and I’m shaking my head in disbelief that I have progressed absolutely nowhere on that plan.  In fact, I’ve gone in the wrong direction.

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So it will hit me at some point over the next two weeks.  Perhaps as I’m staring down a bear, staring down a beer, or driving the RV.  That point where I just smile and shake my head and wonder if it’s really going to be another four years before I’m repeating this same inner monologue. Feeling that sense of perpetual déjà vu.  That point where I just smile and shake my head and wonder if it’s really going to be another four years before I’m repeating this same inner monologue. Feeling that sense of perpetual déjà vu.  That point where…  😛  

At least I get to become the world’s largest form of irony as I, Mr. Workaholic, will attempt to recreate the iconic photographic image of Chris McCandless, a person who renounced it all to change his life and live the way he thought true living should be.  Who knows, maybe that’s when I’ll start smiling.

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Sun, sun, sun, here we come…

vacationEach person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” – Maya Angelou

Well, I’ll be damned, this site is still up.  That’s very convenient given that it is once again almost time for me to head west.  What was shaping up to be a nice, easy month of May that was poised to give way seamlessly to an airplane ride to Alaska has turned into the month of a tripled workload, travel to Canada, and just about every other thing that can be thrown at me between now and the 17 days left before I depart.  I’ll say this for recent events; the time I’ve been forced to spend behind a computer only intensifies my anticipation for the trip and will most certainly make each minute I’m unplugged just that much more memorable.

In 17 days I will wash off this life of stress, cleanse my shitty attitude, and soak in every bit of extended daylight that Alaska will give me.  Fifteen days of exploration, adventure, and new experiences await.  The chains of everyday life will be broken.  Smashed.  For 15 days. And finally, for the first time in a long time, I will remember what it’s like to feel alive again.

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Until you start planning for a trip to Alaska, you never really get a sense of exactly how BIG it is.  Massive.  And sparse.  And just gobs of nature oozing from around every bend.  So what better way to see as much as possible than to take your hotel with you?  And that’s just what is happening.  In a rented RV, we’ll grab some supplies in Anchorage and make for Denali National Park.    While in Denali, we’ll grab a Jeep excursion, do some hiking, and relaxing.  Did I mention relaxing?  My hammock awaits.  Someone bring me a beer.

After we’ve had our fill of Denali, the chuck wagon heads to Sarah Palin’s house for views of Russia, Whittier where we suck in our gut and squeeze that fat RV through a mountain tunnel so we can grab a glacier cruise and a little ghost hunting  if time permits.  We’ll spend some time visiting the local Iditarod teams, trying not to get bit and dry humped by champion sled dogs before heading west to the Russian River where we’ll try not to get eaten by salmon fishing bears.  Once again I’ll deploy the hammock and summon a bear beer.

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Continuing west to our destination of Homer, we’ll attempt to camp on the tail end of the Homer spit – said to be one of the best camping views in the world.  I’m told bald eagles are like New Jersey pigeons in this area.  Since I’m a bird shit magnet, I figure I can just cross off “being shit on by bald eagle” from my to-do list right now.  I’m hoping to sample some local fresh salmon or halibut while here.  Or maybe a bald eagle if they shit on me.  M’erica!

Leaving Homer (doh!), we’ll head east again toward Seward where we’ll grab a cruise of the Kenai Fjords, sample some local craft beer, chill for a while and attempt to mask the fact that none of us have been able to sleep due to the over abundance of daylight each day.  At this point we’ll turn the tenement on wheels toward Anchorage, stop and hike a glacier, and return back to Anchorage to explore the city for a bit.

At the end of day 15, I figure I’ll be so screwed up from the combination of actual fresh air, jet lag, shortened nights, beer, and strenuous hiking that I’ll likely be talked into buying a used RV and just living up there in Alaska full-time.  I’m  a sucker for the impulse buy.  How I don’t own 25 timeshares is beyond me.  In any case, it’s time once again to commune with nature.  And mosquitoes.  And bears.

Big bear chase me…

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A Monumental Letdown

And all around is the desert; a corner of the mournful kingdom of sand.”  – Pierre Loti

I knew touring Monument Valley wouldn’t take me that long. A quick photo-op and a spin around the trail and back on the highway toward Four Corners/Mesa Verde. Everyone has seen the pictures. The Valley itself is beautiful. It looks every bit like the photos. They’re practically all the same shot. I tried to at least get a few different ones.

The visit started off a little rough with a $5 per person entry fee (not covered by my National Park Pass because it’s not a NP) which in my case turned out to be a $15 entry fee because (I didn’t realize until later) the lady at the gate short-changed me.

I see how this works. Clever girl.

As for the “park” itself, I was a bit disappointed by Monument Valley. Not so much in the landscape itself, but the flea market that the Native Americans have turned it in to. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand everyone has to make a living and selling their crafted goods may be their only source of income, but there’s a time and a place for that, and it’s certainly not around each corner on in the middle of a scenic trail. I get it. I understand that this particular attraction is smack-dab in the middle of Navajo country, but if I wanted to buy your goods, I’d stop by the gift shop instead of getting bombarded by yard sale tables at every photo point.

In fact, the pictures I really wanted to take required that you purchase a “guided tour” which put you on the back of a 4×4 pickup truck and took you on some of the roads off-limits to those on the “self-guided” tour. The self-guided tour roads were not maintained (not as if they should be) but there are no signs limiting the vehicles or even warning them for that matter that the trail is pretty rough at points. I almost had to push an old couple in a Town Car back up to the main road.

Having taken my tour-o-the-Valley, I was back on the road in only a few hours. Heading back to the main road, I stopped for gas within the Navajo Nation. It was pretty cheap (under $4) so I filled up. I put the nozzle in the Jeep, set it and forget it and start zoning out waiting for the famous “click” stop. The wind is gusting there pretty good and at times I’m leaning in to it so I don’t lose my hat. Not paying attention all of a sudden I’m being sprayed with what I thought was water. It wasn’t water. The gas pump didn’t have an auto-shutoff (click) and gasoline is pouring out of my Jeep onto the ground and the gusts of wind are spraying it all over me. Being zoned out, it took me a few seconds to realize what was happening. By that time I was covered head to toe in gasoline. Awesome. I immediately stopped the nozzle, shut it off, and put it back on the pump as I cursed loudly several times. Gas was still trickling out of my Jeep and down the side. I couldn’t change right there, or anywhere close for that matter. I tore into my pack of wet wipes and attempted to at least wipe the gas from my skin. I got in the Jeep and figured I’d get out of town a ways, find one of the billions of dirt side roads, drive down a mile or so and change my clothes. Well, every side road seemed to have a Native American residence on it. The scent of fuel on me was starting to make me nauseous. I had all the windows down and was holding my head partially out of the window as I was driving. I finally got to the point where I was about to vomit and I whipped it onto the next dirt road I came to. I drove a little ways down and I could see a house with cars off in the distance. I didn’t care. I turned the Jeep to shield me from the house, stopped and dropped trough right there. That was the fastest disrobing and wipe down I’ve ever done.

With my clean set of clothes (and shoes – it soaked them too) I sealed the gassed up clothes in a plastic bag. Maybe I’ll wring them out when I get home and fill my lawnmower. With that little incident taken care of, I was off toward a quick stop at Four Corners. Nothing really to see here other than a landmark that indicates you are at the corner of 4 different states. (the only place in the country that happens) Oh and of course, more yard sale tables. I was floored as I approached an admission gate and a sign saying they want $3.00 from me to go look at a plaque on a staircase sitting on the ground – especially since I just paid $15 to drive around Monument Valley. I don’t speak Navajo, but I do speak a little French; f@*k you Sir. It’s not as if $3.00 is a lot ( I hear it used to be $6), it was just a principle thing at this point. I whipped the Jeep into a U-turn just before the guard-house, pulled off to the side, right before the guard-house on the hill, affixed my zoom lens and took a picture as if I was standing right in front of it. I got what I came for. Good day Sir.

And with that I hustled on eastward to Mesa Verde National Park.

No Man’s Land

We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.” – John Franklin Hope

Having only spent 1 day in Bryce NP, instead of the two I had planned, that gave me a full day to get a jump start on my remote exploration, or “Rideabout™”.  I had looked through the list of possible trails the night before and picked several that would let me make an efficient route without having to retrace my steps.  With a full tank of gas, I hit the closest trail in my off-road guide book. This trail promised an abandoned/ghost town if I turned off of it at the right spot and once again my trusty book doesn’t lie.

I first stumble upon the town’s cemetery.  I stop and investigate wondering if it’s “ok” to even go through the gate.  There’s an eerie vibe in the air as I swing the cemetery gate open and it creaks just as you’d expect.  The first thing I notice is it’s not flat.  The plots are little mounds of dirt which adds to the creepiness factor and has me thinking they weren’t buried very deep.  Many of the markers are so old that I can’t read them at all.  The ones that I can are of very young people.  Many died of diphtheria (6/7 under the age of 10)  at a very young age and some were killed by Indians.  From what I can gather, disease swept through the town pretty fast and hard and nearly wiped them all out.  Someone has been here and decorated the place with artificial flowers.  Personally I’d like to see it without them, I think it adds to the impact.

I leave without a trace and continue on down the road.  As I turn the corner I see the remains of an abandoned ranch house.  There’s a locked gate in front.  Obviously someone doesn’t want you getting too close.  In fact the entire area is behind a split rail fence and is posted.  I explore a little more thinking what it must have been like to watch everyone around you, including the children succumb to disease.

Satisfied with the success of finding my first ghost town, I’m on to the next.  I must admit that half the fun of doing this is the little scavenger hunt to find the right paths.  There are SO many dirt roads out here that I often turn down the wrong one before deciding that it’s not the road I’m looking for.

My next objective is the ghost town of Paria.  Paria was a small mining community situated on the edge of the Paria River.  The river, which is typically a stream in size, would occasionally flood and wipe out the structures in the town.  The town was rebuilt a few times, but once they realized the flooding was a recurring event, they abandoned the town.  This would prove a little more difficult to get to.  After a long trek down in to the canyon, crossing sand, and having bushes and tree branches scrape down the side of the Jeep,  I found the Paria riverbed.  It was whitewashed with salt deposits and the river itself was nothing more than a 6 inch deep stream.

Carefully watching for rattlesnakes, I stammer across the riverbed and up on to the elevated shore.  In scanning the bank for structures, I almost miss them because they are built from the same color stone as the surrounding canyon walls.  I spy the remnants of two buildings which are considerably older than the first town I was at.  Time has not treated these structures well.  I snap a few photos as I check out the layout of grounds.  Not much remains but I do find some very old hand tools.

Ghost town #2 successfully found.  Now it’s time for some scenery.  It’s time to push deeper into the middle of nowhere  and head to Alston point.  Alston Point is the overlook for Lake Powell. It’s on BLM lands so I stop in the local BLM office and talk to the Ranger about the trail.  He tells me it’s pretty rough after the first 10 miles or so and that if I wanted to continue all the way to the end, I’d have to negotiate some decent sized flat rock step ups.  Music to my ears.  Finally a challenge for the Jeep and a chance to test my new suspension system.  I make my way to the dirt road and continue on for miles.  The landscape is changing in a very weird way.  I stop my Jeep in the middle of the road and look around, awestruck.  I get out and realize that I am, in fact, on the moon.  The images below are not altered in any way.  (For that matter, I’m in the middle of nowhere, I haven’t had a chance to post-process any of the images I posted from this trip yet.  Everything is straight out of the camera/iPhone.)

I have never seen anything like it.  Completely surrounded by gray lunar dust.  I’m in the middle of nowhere, on the moon, by myself, so what would any sane person do?  No I didn’t make lunar snow angels, (but I thought about it).  I shouted a quote from Dumb and Dumber – “No, way, that’s great, WE LANDED ON THE MOON!”  No one was within miles of me so I didn’t care.

After my lunar landing party, it was time to press forward.  I took a lot of video on this drive out to Alston Point. That will have to wait until I get home.  It needs processed.  And that takes forever on this MacBook Air. I continue on and encounter those rocks the Ranger advised me about.  I pop the Jeep in 4-low and she climbs right up like a champ.  I round the crest of the hill and see what I’m after; Alston Point.  This is another sight where my words or pictures cannot do it justice.  This location is the thing you see in magazines that only those who go looking for it will ever find.  I give you Lake Powell from 1,500 feet above…

I sit, quiet and awestruck on that cliff top and ponder the events of the last week and in particular the last few days.  I realize that I pretty much zoned out until another Grand Cherokee came climbing over the hill.  An elderly couple, easily retired, seeking the same view as me.  They didn’t talk much and only snapped a few photos and left.  Maybe I scared them.  I tend to do that to people out on the trail.  I don’t know why.

With a warm feeling of contentment, I decided to head back to civilization.  It would be getting dark shortly and I was concerned about the amount of gas I had left.  Even though I always have the rooftop reserve, I like to act like it’s not there.  Knowing the roads a little better now, I pick up the pace.  My windows are down and dust is covering everything in the Jeep.  I barrel through a shallow stream spraying water all over and head back to the main road.  I was running on vapors as I rolled in to Kanab, the closest gas station.  So much so that my computer, which normally displays “miles until empty” simply changed to “get fuel now”.  I was legitimately concerned that I would run out with the gas station in sight.  Then I would be the idiot who ran out of gas carrying 8 gallons on his roof.  It doesn’t get any closer to empty than that and my $74 fill-up reinforced that.  I am happy with today’s events.  So much so that I lean over and draw a smiley face in the red dust on my dashboard with my finger.  🙂

Tomorrow, the Grand Canyon.

The first step


“Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly.”  ~Author Unknown

EDITORS NOTE: These posts will most likely be a day behind as I get time in the evenings.  So the following are last night’s events.

Leaving Friday night was a good thing.  It cut about 6 hours off of what would have been my drive today.  I drove just into Ohio last night, pulled in to a rest area and found a dimly lit spot to try and catch a few hours of sleep before resuming my crusade.  Not planning ahead, I had packed all of my gear with the back seats folded down.  This prevented my driver’s seat from reclining flat and forced me to try and grab some sleep in a more less upright position.  Just when I was about to doze off, three busses pulled in.  Why are three busses stopping at a rest area at 2am?  Don’t these modern busses have built in bathrooms?   Could their diesel engines possibly make any more noise?  Between the “sleeping” position, and what has to be the busiest 3am rest area in the world, I managed to get about 2 hours of sleep – I think.

Part of this trip is the drive itself, but let’s not kid anyone, there’s nothing worth seeing until I pass through Kansas.  At least nothing that I haven’t already seen.   That’s why I was glad to breeze through it at night collecting all species of bugs on the front of my Jeep.

At the crack of dawn, which was about 5am, I was easily up (mostly from discomfort) and on the road to Cedarbrook.  I had a preconceived notion of what this little mom and pop shop “should” look like but you never really can tell.  Very easy to find, just a few miles off I-70, I pull on to a gravel drive just wide enough for one car and a sign directing me back to the office.  There are home made stop signs around that say “Whoa” instead of “Stop”.  Very homey.  Another sign directs newcomers to circle the office building and pull up on the opposite side.  I pull up just as another camper is leaving.  A gray-haired, retired woman greets me with a smile and asks what she can do to help me.  She glances at my Delaware license plate and says, “we’ve been expecting you”.  Don’t get too many people from Delaware around here.  I take a look around and realize that this is not a typical KOA in that people pass through like an airport.  This is the type of RV park that people with huge RV’s store their campers at year round.  Some residents are there, most have not returned for the season yet.

We walk in to the office and I make some small talk stating how it’s good to stand up and walk around after that drive. She asks where I”m headed and I fill her in on my story.  As she’s filling out the normal paperwork, she looks up and says, are you a AAA member?  I reply that I’m not and she smirks and says “you are now” and gives me a 10% discount.  Oh yeah, two bucks off!  That’s going right in the gas fund.  She says she has two sites across from each other and one, more private site down the road a bit.  Naturally I go for that one.  We wrap up the business side and she begins to point out where the facilities are, shower, bathroom, etc and says that she’ll show me to my site.  She looks around for her golf cart and curses her husband for “stealing” if again.  Then she asks if she can ride with me and I explain that she can but I’d have to move a lot of things.  I tell her I’ll find it on my own and set off.

With the tent up, I make myself some beef stew for lunch and start snapping photos of the place.  I can see the lake from my campsite so I take a walk down toward it.  I get about 20 paces from my tent, looking for photo ops when I almost step on a 3 foot black snake laying across the path.  I need to be more careful.   I’m forgetting the first rule of the outdoors (especially being solo):  always watch where you’re stepping.  Had that been in Utah, that black snake could have been something more serious.  I’ll post a picture later once I get to bas e camp.

The weather is beautiful, warm, sunny and a slight breeze.  I’m already tired from the previous two days and I’ve entered in to a food coma after lunch.  I think it’s time for a nap.  Up early tomorrow for a full days drive through the heartland and spending the night in the Rockies.  It only gets better from here.