it seems as though I haven’t had much to say about this year, from the looks of my posts here. in reality, there’s so much going on, so much keeping my thoughts occupied about the future of our world that creating beautiful blog posts have been the furthest thing from my mind.
but memorial day weekend is here, and this weekend traditionally marks a time in the calendar year where things tend to shift; we pack away the long pants, and pull out the summer skirts. we dust off the picnic gear, stow away the snow boots. so maybe it’s time to shift my thinking as well. back to focusing on beauty and creativity, and away from despair and darkness; looking towards a future of hope, one where there’s always that open road ahead, where you never know what will meet you. where the adventure awaits.
so we sit, and plan, looking forward to more travel; discussing a trip to acadia national park and plotting our next adventure. always moving forward, hoping and focusing on a positive future for everyone.
last year we were so fortunate to be able to experience so many of our public lands, parks and monuments. I decided to start collecting patches along the way as a way to remember the places we had seen.
I bought our first official patch at the padre island national seashore. the kind volunteer behind the counter at the gift shop explained to us how we could drive onto the beach and camp there. he also told us how the beach in texas is considered a highway, and if we chose to we could drive for miles on it. we were thrilled with the possibility.
it was there that I started thinking about this quilt. from every park, monument, forest or historical site that we stopped at with a visitor center, I bought a patch and added it to this quilt. it’s like a living memory, a work in progress. hand stitching the patches over fabric that is covering holes in the antique bedcover that is older than me.
when we were at yellowstone, it just happened to be the month of the 100 year anniversary of this amazing place. we were lucky enough to be caught in the middle of a herd of bison crossing the road; they were feet from our car, and I will never forget that feeling, the feeling that we were visiting their home. we were their guests. it was humbling. and it was my favorite day.
death valley was spectacular.
our year of travel took us from cleveland ohio to the eastern shore of texas,
to the peaks of alaska, and back around…
we stopped at badlands national park after visiting deadwood and sturgis.
we were not disappointed. even saw the elusive big horn ram.
this is one of our favorite campsites; a wildlife preserve in western nevada.
without the bureau of land management, the national forests, the department of antiquities, the national monuments or the national forests none of this would have been possible. we have so much left to see. and we saw so much.
it is vital that they stay funded, operating and protected.
Working our way east, to take care of some business (those pesky health things that just don’t go away) we rushed through most of the entire west-to-mid-west. we ticked five (yes FIVE National Parks off our list in under two weeks (can you say exhausted) and stopped in at some tourist-trappy gems like Wall Drug and the Corn Palace along the way.
We somehow even had the timing gods lined up so perfectly that we were in Sturgis, SD just in time for what Sturgis is famous for.
We saw amazing things, breathtaking things that I will never forget. The herd of bison that we found ourselves in the middle of as they crossed the road in Yellowstone. The sun setting on the Grand Tetons. A forest fire up in the hills at dusk outside of Cody, WY.
Badlands National Park.
The Oregon Coast. Olympic National Park where we hung out with this beautiful creature for about 15 minutes.
Glacier National Park….Rainier.
And during the long, straight road through the midwest, this:
miles and miles and miles of sunflowers. “stop!! I need to get out!!”
cars and trucks speeding by on I-90 watching the crazy lady with the camera take a billion photos of the sunflowers.
I mean, how could I not? just look at all of them!
For an updated look at where we’ve been…. we have a map for that.
our car = our freedom. without it we were trapped in a cycle of bad food choices, nothing to do that didn’t rely on the shuttle schedule and ultimately a scary health moment that led us to the decision to leave. isolation is one thing, but being hours away from medical care is a whole other ball of wax when you have a chronic illness.
good friends can be made everywhere you go. we met a handful of people that we will definitely stay in touch with. and then we met a few people who became close friends. being in the same situation; living, working, eating, playing together builds strong friendships. that was a positive. that was something we wouldn’t change.
alaska is just alaska. so on the bus ride (the torturous, five hour bus ride from anchorage to healy) I kept waiting. waiting for the “WOW!!” moment when alaska would knock my socks off. that never came. I mean, it was pretty and it had trees and mountains and more trees…but it wasn’t like, OH OK THIS IS AMAZING. it was just, *shrug* alaska.
I never saw a bear: in fact in the months we were there the total wildlife I saw amounted to three moose and a handful of sea gulls. seriously.
(ok I did get to see this, which was pretty freaking cool. the bus they used in the filming of into the wild which was an inspiration for coming here in the first place.)
we really just need each other. (I know, right?) but for real. life is about the people you choose to share it with. and then making that time the healthiest, happiest time possible.
I’ve been the worst at blog-updating, but with good reason. we’re in alaska, as I might have mentioned in a previous post and we’ve been working six days a week. on the seventh day we try to get in adventures, laundry, internet time and rest. *try being the operative word.
we’re seeing most of the wilderness through the windows of the employee shuttle to and from work.
last week, on our day off, we were able to take a hike in Denali National Park (this is our 26th National Park/Monument since December)
it was beautiful
a few weeks ago we had the pleasure of seeing snow…..
which we had avoided all winter, but we didn’t mind as it was short lived and kind of beautiful to see.
most days it looks like this. (except when it’s raining, like today)
most nights it looks like that as well…which has been the hardest thing to get used to. the white nights. right now we’re at about 19 hours of daylight, which makes insomnia even more fun 🙂
we are looking forward to being back on the road at the end of september.
today marks the day. the sixth month anniversary of loading up the car, waving goodbye to lake erie, cleveland, ohio…..and heading out on the great adventure.
we honestly had no idea what we were doing.
like, no clue.
I mean, sure we’d plotted out a general course…looked at a million blogs about how to do what we were doing, but, seriously.
not a clue.
so here’s a bit of what we’ve learned:
–you’re going to need half of what you think you’ll need.
–travel slow, and if you find a spot that looks good, stay there.
–always stop for the brown signs on the highway exits (they mean good things: national parks, state parks or really touristy fun stuff!)
–buy a national parks pass. just do it. the national parks are the best idea the US has ever had.
–if you find a spot you like, stay there! (btw: free camping is abundant, you just have to know how and where to look for it. we’ve spent a total of $16 on camping in 6 months, all of that in Texas.)
–adapting to your environment is key.
–travel bloggers on instagram are not showing you everything (like where do they poop?)
–you’re much tougher than you think.
–time is a social construct. (think about that one….I must ask at least once a week, “wait, what day is it?” because we don’t have to be anywhere, do anything, on anyone else’s time….weekdays or weekends don’t matter. it’s weird and takes time to get used to.)
–this country is huge, beautiful and is so vastly different if you just travel more than 300 miles outside of your comfort zone. if you don’t like where you are: move! there is so much out there to see and experience.
–people out there (away from the cities) are much nicer, kinder and more generous than you know.
–don’t wait. we’ve met so many women, couples in their retirement years who’ve said to us (all_of_them_have_said_this) “we should have done this at your age, good for you guys.”
where we go from here:
today we are in yakima, washington, on our way to a town north of seattle for the week. we are then boarding a plane friday for anchorage, alaska.
we’ll be working up there for the summer outside of denali national park.
I can say this: we are excited to be off the road for a while, but last night as we spent our last night in the car (fittingly in a walmart, just like our first night in new jersey) we were talking about how we are actually going to miss the freedom we’ve had, the autonomy, the rising with the sun, going to bed when it gets dark, and the general not-seeing-any-other-humans that has been so great. we’re going to have a bit of a time adjusting.
but it will also be nice to have showers and meals and a bed whenever we want.
my son needed a little break from the winter doldrums back in grey-skies-will spring-never-arrive-cleveland, so we sent him a ticket to fly into las vegas and planned a few days of camping and a visit to death valley national park.
now the name death valley conjures up a desolate, barren wasteland of nothingness. a mad max-like expanse of desert as far as the eyes can see, with nothing growing, just the occasional blowing dune, or skeleton of the tourist before you who didn’t bring enough water. (always bring enough water)
so, we were pleasantly surprised when we found that death valley had really more life than death. and just as many highs as lows.
one of the most spectacular highs being dante’s view.
I mean, come on.
from the top you could see 360 degrees for miles. and on the way up there (you climb a mile high over 13 miles of winding road) was so much green, and wildflowers…..no death anywhere.
and the sunset from there, well, it sure takes the mind off dreary cleveland weather.
there were lots of opportunities to climb things.
and climbed they both did.
this is called the artist’s palette: it’s mounds of colorful mineral-rocks left after volcanic activity. it basically looks like a melted ice-cream sundae.
the lowest point of the trip (get it,lowest) was badwater basin: literally the lowest place in the western hemisphere. we got there before 9am and it was already climbing above 90 degrees. it’s the craziest place I’ve ever been, will probably ever be. the smell in the air is like sulphur/salt; the “ground” crunches beneath you and the silence (once you get away from the other tourists) is deafening. you’re almost 300 feet below sea level, and surrounded by mountains that reach a mile into the sky that are topped with snow.
view from above:
there’s 250 square miles of the white stuff; looks like snow from up here, it’s basically table salt.
my favorite part was hiking through mosaic canyon. the boys left me to do their own climbing of the walls instead of just hiking the path, so I enjoyed the cool canyon walls and the silence all by myself.
even though it’s name is intimidating, and some of the days were hot and tough, I think we conquered death valley. it is now one of our top five national parks; it is park number 25(if you’re keeping track) that we’ve visited since december (including national monuments, not including national forests) *btw: national monuments, like white sands, are not “national parks” merely because it takes an act of congress to make it so. death valley didn’t become a national park until 1994; it had been a monument since the 30’s. your history lesson for the day 🙂
a long time ‘bucket list’ item was seeing the beauty that is white sands national monument. we headed into new mexico to make use of the warm-ish weather and avoid the rain that was pummeling the west (including parts of arizona and nevada, where we had been…) and so it seemed we were finally going to make it to the sands.
on our way there we passed another point of interest, the very large array which, like me, you’ve probably seen in movies like contact and maybe, like me, you’ve thought ‘wow, that looks amazing!’
well, it did not disappoint.
I mean. you just can’t get over how big these things are.
and they’re talking to space.
then we were on to white sands.
look how happy this little gal was running on that cool white stuff.
the cutest picnic areas I’ve ever seen.
we had a few days of nasty windstorm, but our stay here has been really great. every night we’re rewarded with sunsets that just take your breath away.
I think we’ll stay here a few more nights, and then, well, who knows…..
driving across the country, the landscapes and landmarks fly by the window, and just like in life, you don’t really know what you’ve missed until you sit back and contemplate the memories (or in this case….scroll through iphoto)
also, just like in life, being on the road has it’s ups and downs as we’ve learned. every turn can bring something strange and wonderful.
on your way to the outermost part of civilization in the united states, where there are no rules, no zoning, no government….you first have to pass by Salvation Mountain. and learn about a human who just wanted to share his love with everyone through his art.
then we ventured through slab city, weird and wonderful as it is….
the previous day, on a long stretch of boring road, out of nowhere pops the most amazing sand dunes you’ve ever seen (well, you’ve never seen any!)
where did all that sand come from?
I mean, this is some Mad Max shit right here.
which led us to our current park(ing) spot…Joshua Tree. we’ve only explored a teeny little corner of it so far, but it is magnificent.
would the radiator arrive? would they get it installed today? how much is it going to cost?
all things running through our head, and making it impossible to focus on anything else.
we left the hotel at 11 (after the kind lady at the front desk did our laundry because the public washer and drier were both on the fritz.
she folded it too.
so, we checked out at 11 and walked carrying all of our things, the short walk through two parking lots to the McDonalds, got ourselves some coffee and some free wifi, and sat down for the long wait.
I occupied myself with trying to figure out how to supplement our income on the road….loaded up my photos to blue melon.com in hopes of selling some, did some jeannieknits social media, generally just pissed around on my computer to keep my mind occupied.
we decided, after not hearing from our buddy Randy at M&M Wrecking, we should give him a call;
“the radiator isn’t here yet.” Randy informed me immediately.
“do you have any idea when it’s coming…I mean, it’s today right?”
“yeah, today or tomorrow”
“no, Randy, it has to be today. you have no idea….”
“ok, ok, yeah…it’s coming on a truck from dallas to el paso and they’re supposed to stop here….maybe I should call Napa and see if it’s in.”
“yeah, could you do that please? and give me a call back”
*more anxious waiting*
“hey it’s Randy, from —“
“yes, randy, what did you find out?”
“the radiator is here, but…did you guys pay for it yet?”
“no, we didn’t pay for it….why?
“well, since our boss is in the hospital they froze his accounts and we need cash to pay for the radiator. you need to come pay for it at Napa..” not shady at. all.
“seriously? ok, well can you come get us and take us there?
“that’s just what I was fixin’ to do, m’am.”
good ole texas.
a few minutes later, up rolls the tow truck and in we hop with all our our gear…and off to buy our radiator.
after installation, randy came over to me (I had been reorganizing the car and generally just keeping an eye on these two mechanics in charge of our literal survival)
“we need antifreeze”
“so, you gonna come with me or should I ask the other guy?”
OH…we need to go buy the antifreeze now. seriously. what the hell.
off to Napa, back to the shop.
when they were all finished, and everything was running as it should be, the “foreman”, a mexican named SoSo, told us the amount and then informed us that his credit card machine wasn’t working.
“drive them to ATM” he motioned to Randy. “get cash out.”
are you fucking kidding me??
back in tow truck, off to ATM, cash in hand…
“can we get a receipt?”
finally on the road out of Texas, the Welcome to New Mexico sign was the best thing we’d seen in a week. we always make an effort to stop at the information center, because there’s lots of free goodies there, and usually the people there are super helpful; New Mexico’s visitor center was adorable and like a mini museum. we set to work, grabbing pamphlets for what we thought we’d like to see, free magazines, etc. the gentleman behind the counter asked us to sign the visitor book, and as xander was signing it he noticed the name above us was from Toledo, Ohio.
“Toledo! what are the odds?!”
we hadn’t even noticed the older woman, in a baseball cap, gathering up pamphlets and maps in the tiny visitor center room with us.
“You two again!” came a voice from under the hat, and we realized immediately who it was.
Diane. We had met Diane in the Del Rio Campground (other side of texas) almost two weeks ago. and yet, here, in this remote information center, there she was.
after what must have been a very entertaining and conversation for the two people behind the counter, we got ourselves all caught up (filled her in on our car mishap) she said to us,
“well, I’m headed to dinner in Las Cruces. how about you guys join me, my treat.”
I practically burst into tears. we are so depleted, both psychologically and financially, after the terrible week in Van Horn. this was a huge gift.
we ate at an authentic mexican restaurant, recommended by the lovely workers at the visitor’s center, and caught up on everything we all had seen and done since our last visit.
Diane is retired, and traveling on her own in a van. She’s determined to see all, or as many of the National Parks that she can. She tells wonderful stories, and in my opinion, is one brave woman.
when we were parting ways in the parking lot, we each gave Diane a big hug, and after exchanging phone numbers, she yelled to us,
“Next time you have car trouble, don’t hesitate to call me!”
like our own traveling guardian angel, right there.
ps: if you’d like to help us on our journey, and (get something in return) click on the GAS MONEY link above.