Wednesday, August 26, 2009

2009-08-26 Mea Culpa from California

Dateline Crescent City, CA
Lat 41.7456

Okay, I am way behind in my Blog updates. Sorry about that. I am way beyond Idaho, my last update but I have been posting pictures and the map is at least up to date.

I have about eight open and unfinished blog entries from the points I have covered since the last update and will try to get them posted before I go offline for Burning Man this Saturday.

Trust that all is well, Shelby and I are fine, and we appreciate the feedback from our reader.

Monday, July 20, 2009

2009-07-17 Montana

Dateline Carmen, ID
Lat 45.2411
Long -113.8918

It's real obvious why they call Montana "Big Sky".

It redefines Big. It is Infinite. Stunning. Largely empty.

Except around towns like Bozeman (which Frosty calls "Boz Angeles"), the horizons just go on forever. Boz Angeles does, in fact, remind one of Los Angeles in many ways. The overdevelopment, miles of the standard US Stores, and people driving like they have to get to an audition. That's okay with us. We putt along in the slow lane at about 55 on average.

On a rare day when I had actually had a decent amount of sleep, we decided to plug on through Montana, cross the Continental Divide around Butte, then catch the I-15 south which goes all the way past Los Angeles to San Diego.

The topography started changing again as we headed south. We still had endless horizons but the hills were smoother and had more green on them.

Stopping at a rest area, we had something happen for the first time.

We were the only ones there.

Shelby took the chance to enjoy a nice roll in the grass as I plotted out our course that would take us down MT-93 into Idaho.

More photos are in the Montana Picasa Album.

The drive along 93 was exciting and stunning, taking us through the little town of Wisdom and crossing the Continental Divide again as it intersected with 43, which we took south into the Salmon River Valley, following the river the whole way.

That part of the trip is down hill. At that altitude, the outside air was fairly cool but better yet had a fresh pine scent.

I felt a huge load of anxiety leave after clearing the Divide. I had pretty much faced all the expected stress points and dealt with them one at a time.

The stress fairies started flitting about after a while of thinking too much on the realization that most of the road had no shoulders to pull out on, and for the most part there were no guard rails to keep you from taking a swim in your car.

I found myself continually scouting ahead for landing strips (a throwback to when I worked on my pilot's license all those years ago) and marking mileage of spots I might head back to if I found myself hiking.

But my trusty old Suburban laughed off the fairies and plugged on through like a horse returning to the barn. Except this was a barn we had never been to.

Our goal for the day was to make it to Frosty and Mambo's house near Salmon.

So you are not left hanging, we made it and will write about it in the next post.

2009-07-16 Wyoming

Dateline Carmen, ID
Lat 45.2411
Long -113.8918

When we last looked, I was still in the Deadwood area, contemplating my route choice for getting across and through Wyoming.

It took three Californians (two active, one former) to convince me to avoid Yellowstone.

My buddy Frosty (the former Californian) said you see three things in Jellystone:

  1. Geysers
  2. Bears
  3. 10,000 Japanese tourists

I figured if I wanted to see blow holes, I could watch Fox News.

As to bears, Shelby voted no.

And I have already seen 10,000 Japanese tourists in captivity, thank you.

The other two active Californians were Brian, a cameraman on The Ellen Show, now on Summer hiatus, and his friend Debbie, an NT Administrator. He invited me over to their cabin where we sat around the picnic table chatting for a little while. They had just come through Yellowstone on their way to Deadwood in a pickup truck with a big fat Harley on the back. Since they were headed into South Dakota from there, I gave him all my stuff I had found useful when traversing the state.

Brian said the drive through Yellowstone was painful. Loads of tourists who not only drove slowly and erratically, but were prone to stopping right in the middle of the road to get out and take pictures. [Insert stereotypical joke here]

If you look at a map, you see that not only is Yellowstone simply huge, it's also not particularly close to any major highways.

Weighing all this fresh input from these always-helpful Californians, we decided to skip Jellystone and beeline to Frosty and Mambo's place in Idaho.

As it turns out, we continued to follow the Lewis and Clark Trail as we set out across Wyoming.

Just inside the Wyoming state line was a tourist information spot and rest area, so Shelby and I checked it out.

Caving in to my curiosity, I decided to take the jog around Devil's Tower, adding only about 30 miles to the journey. The cheerful Information Lady told me that I would have to unhitch as I entered the Tower area as the parking lot at the Tower itself was small. She added they didn't allow dogs.

Undeterred, we went up far enough that we could take this and these other pictures, then scooted back over to I-90.

In a short while we started catching glimpses of the 1200-foot tall tower from a great distance. We continued on until we came to the location where the above picture was taken.

I took a bunch of photos, now posted in the Wyoming Photo Album.

Let me say this about Wyoming and Montana to get it out of the way:

If you don't have a wide angle lense, you can't really take pictures here.

The terrain and skies are endless, and made this driver get tired after only a few hundred miles, where we spotted a little campground near Buffalo.

While I run the risk of blathering on and on about the wide open spaces, the campground we chose didn't seem to read the blog.

They cleverly took a plot of land and calculated the absolute maximum number of spaces they could carve out of it. To say the rigs were close is kind of obvious from the picture, which also as it happens shows Larry, a guy who seemed to talk even if no one was around. I would like to call this local color but Larry told me he was from Pennsylvania.

Anyhow, we didn't unhook. I grabbed a shower, caught up on my Internet stuff, fed Shelby and racked out for a good night's sleep.

Next morning, we were up early and headed for the border...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

2009-07-12 Spearfish and Deadwood

Dateline Spearfish, SD
Lat 44.5172
Long -103.8637

Departing The Badlands, we set course to Spearfish and the Black Hills National Forest, home of Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monument.

It was the same day that the Greenpeace people decided to make a statement by unveiling a 2300 square foot banner on Mt. Rushmore.

To say that the Park Service was caught flat footed is an understatement, as 13 people penetrated their security, clamberered all the way up to the top before unveiling their banner adjacent to Lincoln.

It is not without irony that the image of President Obama was juxtaposed right up there against Honest Abe, along with the message "People follow leaders, not politicians. Stop Global Warming Now!".

A sampling of the local radio and TV frequencies revealed a unanimous position of outrage among the locals, who cheerfully offered alternatives to the judicial system ranging from tar and feathers to being strung up. Yep, this is still the good old wild west out here.

The locals refer to Mt. Rushmore only as "The Shrine of Democracy". Only outsiders call it by its formal name. You can practically hear the capital letters.

I'm not sure how the Greenpeacece demonstration will affect policy in Washington, but I think it's fair to say that some Junior Park Ranger will enjoy his or her new posting in Abe's left ear. Maybe they could install a nose cam.

The Spearfish Scenic Bypass is a 23-mile loop through the scenic Spearfish Canyon and Deadwood.

This campground is hands-down the best I have encountered so far, offering not only the fastest WiFi I have enjoyed on the whole trip, but also cute young ladies who cheerfully deliver cheeseburgers right to the boat.

It also enjoys a large ratio of bikers, and it's easy to see why. The Black Hills are amazingly beautiful, the roads are wide and open, there is no helmet law, and the Harley is to the area what the horse was to the Wild West.

Deadwood is pretty much what one would expect it to be, a wild west street of saloons and bars, only paved.

We didn't stop, other than to take pictures.

Spearfish is just stone's throw from Sturgis, the mecca for bikers, with the big rally coming up in several weeks. We'll be in Oregon by then.

Pictures of Deadwood and Spearfish Canyon are posted on my Picasa page.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

2009-07-07 Good Dog, Badlands

Dateline Badlands National Park,
Interior, SD
Lat 43.6946
Long -102.5553

After two weeks in the Lewis & Clark Recreation Area in Yankton, Shelby and I decamped to the Badlands National Park yesterday, about 300 miles to the west.

Halfway through the flat and uneventful trip, we passed through Chamberlain and in crossing the river a curious thing happened. The topography changed and the humidity went away. The land changed from impossibly infinite open plains and farmland into gently rolling green hills.

I was reminded of the passage from one of my favorite Robert Heinlein novels, The Green Hills of Earth:

We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth,
Let us rest our eyes on fleecy skies,
And the cool green hills of Earth!"

The real reason I remember that passage is that it has long been my happy place I go to on extremely turbulent flights, so it is well drilled into my brain.

But there was no turbulence during our short flight. Just a lot of rest stops to fight off the soporific effect of long, straight highways. We sat under a shady tree in one rest area for a while, loving the fact that in any direction you looked, you could see forever. I have missed horizons during my stay back east, which is almost entirely covered by trees. We are rich in horizons today.

After docking Serenity in a KOA campground just outside Interior, SD, we chilled for the evening to rest up for today's exploration of the Badlands National Park.

It was spectacular, and surprisingly busy with tourists and rented RV's. Yet with all that open space, even a large crowd gets swallowed up.

A series of photos are now posted on my Badlands Album on Picasa.

We're pulling out in the morning to head up to Spearfish, SD, just outside the Black Hills and Deadwood. Options are open at that point. We may see Mt. Rushmore or possibly scoot over to Devil's Tower.

Lest any of our players from home wonder why we spent two weeks in Yankton, I will share a bit of local information that may be useful in making plans to visit South Dakota Parks, especially around holidays like the 4th of July.

Premium spots in SD State Parks run about $18 per day. The rest are $16. This is in addition to a state sticker for each vehicle that costs $20 per year. The maximum stay in one site is 14 days. So, what the locals do is book the premium sites well in advance for a 14 day stay ending on the holiday. They bring out their units, or at the very least a pup tent, and set up on their reservation date. Then they go home.

This creates a kind of eerie effect during the week for us full-timers. The park is fully booked, but everyone's home. Their campers, RV's and pup tents sit empty during the week, enjoying the best views people could hope for if they were actually using their spot.

So as I was checking ahead, I found everywhere I looked was fully booked for the holiday, so we stayed put until the locals cleared out. Our next port of call is already booked.

Monday, June 29, 2009

2009-06-29 Yanks Angels

Dateline Yankton, SD
Lat 42.8586
Long -97.5246

The serenity of the Lewis & Clark Recreation Area was temporarily interrupted this weekend by a marauding tractor gang.

Click to embiggen

Blazing past at speeds up to eight miles per hour, this band of overall-dressed outlaws showed little regard for the law and stretched on for acres.

Some even had their old ladies along.

As expected, the local Police were out in force to keep an eye on these rowdy riders.

I had a chance to speak with a local Deputy about the club who told me "they pretty much just come to town for the all-you-can-eat buffet at JoDeans. They only get unruly when they run out of steak."

Friday, June 26, 2009

2009-06-22 Lewis & Clark Camped Here

Dateline Yankton, SD
Lat 42.8586
Long -97.5246

After Vermillion, we followed the Missouri river along the same route as my direct ancestor, Meriwether Lewis, who, along with his partner William Clark, managed to get this State Park named after them. They did other stuff, too, including providing a rich industry of royalty-free name usage to lots of businesses along their trail.

The Lewis & Clark State Park (and Realty) is conveniently located a few miles west of the tiny town of Yankton, the Cow Capital of South Dakota.

The campground is situated on a massive reservoir made possible by the Gavins Point Dam which generates hydroelectric power from the Missouri River.

In the late afternoon the sunsets illuminate the cliffs of Nebraska.

That's about as exciting as a day gets around here and we are liking it.

There are more pictures in the Yankton album.

2009-06-19 Verily, Vermillion

Dateline Yankton, SD
Lat 42.8586
Long -97.5246

Pushing off from Onawa, Iowa (say that out loud a few times to exercise your facial muscles) rested and showered, we set out for the short hop up to Vermillion, South Dakota, who celebrates its Sesquicentennial Celebration - 150 Years August 6-9, 2009.

Having plotted this out in advance, we scooted around the very small town and headed to the Clay County Recreational Area to camp among the cottonwoods on the edge of the Missouri River.

One thing that doesn't picture doesn't show is that I finally had to face my second-greatest fear - backing up. Yep, this had been the source of much anxiety, since I have managed to only go forward so far in roughly 2500 miles of road trip.

This campground only had back-in spaces but I managed to do it - very, very slowly - and after three tries got it place.

We basically hung out among the cottonwoods for a couple days, which apparently get their name from the seeds they drop that float down like cotton tufts. You would almost think it was snowing if it were not well into the nineties with an extra humidity bonus. You would be forgiven for thinking this when your brains are melting.

There are more pictures in my Vermillion album.

And in case you were wondering, my greatest fear is timeshare presentations.

2009-06-17 Onward to Onawa

Dateline Yankton, SD
Lat 42.8586
Long -97.5246

I am back filling blogs in an attempt to catch up on what's happened since the last post.

The day after blogging about the pups, Shelby and I pushed off from The Sanctuary and headed out I-64, passing this town along the way.

With South Dakota being a little over 900 miles away, I planned to break the trip into several segments of 300 miles or so each, but as it turned out, that was not to be.

After a scenic and uneventful drive, we came up on St. Louis. We could see the Arch from many miles away, but my goal was to bypass downtown and skirt around. That sort of happened. Even at around 8pm at night we hit a lot of traffic going over the bridge crossing the Mississippi so didn't really get a chance to enjoy the scenery.

I managed to get us through town without incident or being shot in East St. Louis, but it took a lot of patience, planning and just flat out being careful.

Eventually, traffic and civilization thinned out and we spotted a Flying J Truck stop ahead. My buddy and RV Mentor Arthur swears by these, so we decided to pull in, gas up, grab a bite and assess the situation.

It was lucky we did, as when I chatted with a waitress she asked me which way we were coming from. She said it was lucky we were not coming from the West as the roads were being closed due to approaching cells of intense storms. So in a sense we were lucky, but now stuck.

The short version of the outcome is that we waited for a while for a storm that changed direction and avoided us and for the first time camped in a truck stop. Positioned between a guy running a diesel engine all night and another running a generator, we had no power for the AC so just sweated it out in the camper. I repositioned it to take advantage of the wind coming into the overhead vents which offered a tiny bit of respite but introduced the worry of my neighbor's fumes coming in. We woke up alive and unrefreshed and pressed on.

Kansas City was a bit easier to bypass, which we did, pressing on into Iowa.

Iowa is what you probably think it is. The whole state is crops. To its credit, its rest areas are the only ones we have seen on the journey which offer free Wifi access. We drove along until the energy ran out, then pushed on a little farther. When I started splashing water on my face to stay awake I knew I had pushed too hard so I pulled over into a convenient rest area and checked my GPS for a campground.

We were less than two miles from the KOA Campground in Onawa. I phoned to check on space and was told they had plenty. Less than ten minutes later, I was standing in their office checking in.

As this photo shows, the campground was adjacent too (surprise) a big field of something.

Shelby now spends most of her days and nights sleeping, except when we are driving. She stays right next to me, leaning over the seat on a pillow I have arranged for her, and watching the scenery. Never makes a peep in the car or has ever had an accident. When she wants to look out the window, she nudges my left shoulder with her nose until I lower her window halfway. She then props her foreleg on the armrest and lets her ears fly in the breeze. While I have heard this is not a good thing for dogs, as they can catch debris or bugs in their eyes, I judge whether we are in bug zones. She usually only wants to stay out for a couple seconds anyway, then returns to her co-pilot position.

So she was pretty tired when we arrived, pretty much sacking out immediately upon docking.

The campground was clean, level and the people who ran it were super friendly, but the WiFi was non-existent. I went up to chat with the lady who ran the place who explained that it frequently went out so she just used her Verizon as backup. 'Nuff said. I did, too.

We only stayed the one night. Waking up refreshed and ready, we pushed off to South Dakota, which I will describe in the next entry.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

2009-06-16 The Pups Need a Home

Dateline, Mt. Sterling, KY
Longitude: -83.94502
Latitude: 38.06882

Since this is the first official post from this location, those playing from home may notice I am back on my cousin's farm. The trip thus far has had a sort of "A to B to A to B" nature to it, but such is the life of a good shakedown run.

I have also revised the travel plans and am heading from here westward then north at Kansas City, heading up to South Dakota. You can follow on the updated map.

We would have pushed off today but allowed The Weather Channel to suggest waiting one more day to avoid "Severe thunderstorms and tennis-ball-sized hail." Really. In the Kansas City area. Bet that would leave a mark.

Instead, we are just hanging out with the cousin and her sprouting garden.

And just a few minutes ago a phone call and the inspiration for this blog post were phoned in. The neighbor who owns the three pups called Terri and asked if they were over here, which they pretty much have been non-stop since I pulled in. When Terri confirmed, the neighbor said "just go ahead and keep them or take them down that place you talked about", referring to the Downtown Athletic Club and Rescue I wrote about a few months ago.

So I phoned to see if they had room and was told they are pretty full with cats right now.

Here again are the usual suspects:

Megs is the largest and most stoic member of the pack. He has all the makings of a great dog.

Maya, pictured in the center is the smallest and quite likely the smartest of the lot. She has beautiful markings and a very gentle disposition. She relentlessly tries to nuzzle with Shelby, who doesn't want any part of that and makes all kinds of scary faces proving once and for all she has no bite.

Fluffy got a haircut while I was away and suggests that his mother was perhaps seeing a Huskie. Could easily pass for a discount sled dog. Not the smartest of the lot, but very friendly.

So we are waiting on a callback from the Rescue and put this out just on the off-chance someone might see it in time and consider taking in a furry little life changing event.

The names currently attached to these pups, by the way, are far from locked in.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

2009-06-13 An excerpt from the book "Old Dogs"

I am filing this on my blog to have it easier to spot and refer people to. I hope the attribution made to its authors transcends the reposting of someone else's work, but this is just too good to not share.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Not long before his death, Harry and I headed out for a walk that proved eventful. He was nearly 13, old for a big dog. Walks were no longer the slap-happy Iditarods of his youth, frenzies of purposeless pulling in which we would cast madly off in all directions, fighting for command. Nor were they the exuberant archaeological expeditions of his middle years, when every other tree or hydrant or blade of grass held tantalizing secrets about his neighbors. In his old age, Harry had transformed his walk into a simple process of elimination—a dutiful, utilitarian, head-down trudge. When finished, he would shuffle home to his ratty old bed, which graced our living room because Harry could no longer ascend the stairs. On these walks, Harry seemed oblivious to his surroundings, absorbed in the arduous responsibility of placing foot before foot before foot before foot. But this time, on the edge of a small urban park, he stopped to watch something. A man was throwing a Frisbee to his dog. The dog, about Harry’s size, was tracking the flight expertly, as Harry had once done, anticipating hooks and slices by watching the pitch and roll and yaw of the disc, as Harry had done, then catching it with a joyful, punctuating leap, as Harry had once done, too.

Harry sat. For 10 minutes, he watched the fling and catch, fling and catch, his face contented, his eyes alight, his tail a-twitch. Our walk home was almost … jaunty.

Some years ago, The Washington Post invited readers to come up with a midlife list of goals for an underachiever. The first-runner-up prize went to: “Win the admiration of my dog.”

It’s no big deal to love a dog; they make it so easy for you. They find you brilliant, even if you are a witling. You fascinate them, even if you are as dull as a butter knife. They are fond of you, even if you are a genocidal maniac. Hitler loved his dogs, and they loved him.

Puppies are incomparably cute and incomparably entertaining, and, best of all, they smell exactly like puppies. At middle age, a dog has settled into the knuckleheaded matrix of behavior we find so appealing—his unquestioning loyalty, his irrepressible willingness to please, his infectious happiness. But it is not until a dog gets old that his most important virtues ripen and coalesce. Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy, and lumpy. But to anyone who has ever known an old dog, these flaws are of little consequence. Old dogs are vulnerable. They show exorbitant gratitude and limitless trust. They are without artifice. They are funny in new and unexpected ways. But, above all, they seem at peace.

Kafka wrote that the meaning of life is that it ends. He meant that our lives are shaped and shaded by the existential terror of knowing that all is finite. This anxiety informs poetry, literature, the monuments we build, the wars we wage—all of it. Kafka was talking, of course, about people. Among animals, only humans are said to be self-aware enough to comprehend the passage of time and the grim truth of mortality. How, then, to explain old Harry at the edge of that park, gray and lame, just days from the end, experiencing what can only be called wistfulness and nostalgia? I have lived with eight dogs, watched six of them grow old and infirm with grace and dignity, and die with what seemed to be acceptance. I have seen old dogs grieve at the loss of their friends. I have come to believe that as they age, dogs comprehend the passage of time, and, if not the inevitability of death, certainly the relentlessness of the onset of their frailties. They understand that what’s gone is gone.

What dogs do not have is an abstract sense of fear, or a feeling of injustice or entitlement. They do not see themselves, as we do, as tragic heroes, battling ceaselessly against the merciless onslaught of time. Unlike us, old dogs lack the audacity to mythologize their lives. You’ve got to love them for that.

The product of a Kansas puppy mill, Harry was sold to us as a yellow Labrador retriever. I suppose it was technically true, but only in the sense that Tic Tacs are technically “food.” Harry’s lineage was suspect. He wasn’t the square-headed, elegant type of Labrador you can envision in the wilds of Canada hunting for ducks. He was the shape of a baked potato, with the color and luster of an interoffice envelope. You could envision him in the wilds of suburban Toledo, hunting for nuggets of dried food in a carpet.

His full name was Harry S Truman, and once he’d reached middle age, he had indeed developed the unassuming soul of a haberdasher. We sometimes called him Tru, which fit his loyalty but was in other ways a misnomer: Harry was a bit of an eccentric, a few bubbles off plumb. Though he had never experienced an electrical shock, whenever he encountered a wire on the floor—say, a power cord leading from a laptop to a wall socket—Harry would stop and refuse to proceed. To him, this barrier was as impassable as the Himalayas. He’d stand there, waiting for someone to move it. Also, he was afraid of wind.

While Harry lacked the wiliness and cunning of some dogs, I did watch one day as he figured out a basic principle of physics. He was playing with a water bottle in our backyard—it was one of those 5-gallon cylindrical plastic jugs from the top of a water cooler. At one point, it rolled down a hill, which surprised and delighted him. He retrieved it, brought it back up and tried to make it go down again. It wouldn’t. I watched him nudge it around until he discovered that for the bottle to roll, its long axis had to be perpendicular to the slope of the hill. You could see the understanding dawn on his face; it was Archimedes in his bath, Helen Keller at the water spigot.

That was probably the intellectual achievement of Harry’s life, tarnished only slightly by the fact that he spent the next two hours insipidly entranced, rolling the bottle down and hauling it back up. He did not come inside until it grew too dark for him to see.

I believe I know exactly when Harry became an old dog. He was about 9 years old. It happened at 10:15 on the evening of June 21, 2001, the day my family moved from the suburbs to the city. The move took longer than we’d anticipated. Inexcusably, Harry had been left alone in the vacated house—eerie, echoing, empty of furniture and of all belongings except Harry and his bed—for eight hours. When I arrived to pick him up, he was beyond frantic.

He met me at the door and embraced me around the waist in a way that is not immediately reconcilable with the musculature and skeleton of a dog’s front legs. I could not extricate myself from his grasp. We walked out of that house like a slow-dancing couple, and Harry did not let go until I opened the car door.

He wasn’t barking at me in reprimand, as he once might have done. He hadn’t fouled the house in spite. That night, Harry was simply scared and vulnerable, impossibly sweet and needy and grateful. He had lost something of himself, but he had gained something more touching and more valuable. He had entered old age.

In the year after our move, Harry began to age visibly, and he did it the way most dogs do. First his muzzle began to whiten, and then the white slowly crept backward to swallow his entire head. As he became more sedentary, he thickened a bit, too.

On walks, he would no longer bother to scout and circle for a place to relieve himself. He would simply do it in mid-plod, like a horse, leaving the difficult logistics of drive-by cleanup to me. Sometimes, while crossing a busy street, with cars whizzing by, he would plop down to scratch his ear. Sometimes, he would forget where he was and why he was there. To the amusement of passersby, I would have to hunker down beside him and say, “Harry, we’re on a walk, and we’re going home now. Home is this way, okay?” On these dutiful walks, Harry ignored almost everything he passed. The most notable exception was an old, barrel-chested female pit bull named Honey, whom he loved. This was surprising, both because other dogs had long ago ceased to interest Harry at all, and because even back when they did, Harry’s tastes were for the guys.

Still, when we met Honey on walks, Harry perked up. Honey was younger by five years and heartier by a mile, but she liked Harry and slowed her gait when he was around. They waddled together for blocks, eyes forward, hardly interacting but content in each other’s company. I will forever be grateful to Honey for sweetening Harry’s last days.

Some people who seem unmoved by the deaths of tens of thousands through war or natural disaster will nonetheless grieve inconsolably over the loss of the family dog. People who find this behavior distasteful are often the ones without pets. It is hard to understand, in the abstract, the degree to which a companion animal, particularly after a long life, becomes a part of you. I believe I’ve figured out what this is all about. It is not as noble as I’d like it to be, but it is not anything of which to be ashamed, either.

In our dogs, we see ourselves. Dogs exhibit almost all of our emotions; if you think a dog cannot register envy or pity or pride or melancholia, you have never lived with one for any length of time. What dogs lack is our ability to dissimulate. They wear their emotions nakedly, and so, in watching them, we see ourselves as we would be if we were stripped of posture and pretense. Their innocence is enormously appealing. When we watch a dog progress from puppy­hood to old age, we are watching our own lives in microcosm. Our dogs become old, frail, crotchety, and vulnerable, just as Grandma did, just as we surely will, come the day. When we grieve for them, we grieve for ourselves.

From the book Old Dogs, text by Gene Weingarten and Michael S. Williamson, based on a longer excerpt that originally appeared in The Washington Post.

Friday, June 5, 2009

2009-06-05 Places I Have Been

This FaceBook application showed up today.

I got tired after the first 609 places, so here is the map it produced

2009-06-05 Dixie Pics

Dateline Dixie Caverns, VA
Lat 37.2461
Long -80.1764

The tour of Dixie Caverns was everything I expected it to be.

Short, cool, and wet.

Pretty much like Shelby today as we ride out the rainy day on the boat.

I posted an album of Dixie Caverns shots in case you don't get the chance to see it for yourself.

The photo above doesn't really capture the coolest feature on the tour, the "infinity pool", but you kind of get the idea.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

2009-06-03 Way Down South in Dixie Caverns

Dateline Dixie Caverns, VA
Lat 37.2461
Long -80.1764

After several months shaking down the camper, it has been suggested that it needs a name. I'm kind of leaning towards Serenity. Those of you who know the movie and short-lived TV series on which it was based upon would probably appreciate the reference. Those who don't may think it is just a Zen kind of thing. And you would both be correct.

Shelby and I retraced the western route out of Virginia for the third time in a year, and our first stop was the kitschy Dixie Caverns, an all-encompassing slice of Americana offering a campground, gift shop and the only above ground cavern in the state. That's correct, you go up as you enter the caverns.

Talk about your triple threat.

The campground spaces are a little on the tight side, offering very limited options for Shelby to be outside, but we improvise. Right now it's raining and I'm enjoying the first great WiFi access in a while as she naps. I'm going to take the cavern tour while I have this window of time. It lasts a little less than 45 minutes. (The tour, not the nap.) If no further updates occur on the blog after a couple weeks look for me Dixie Caverns gift shop and Antique Mall.

Last evening, we were invited down to funky Floyd, VA, home of the FloydFest and Fandango Beer and Wine Fest held on the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway for dinner with three ladies who are involved with the Renaissance Fair Industry. I had no idea until the Google showed me that there are lots of these Fairs going on pretty much all the time.

I guess Rennies are the Nerd cousins of Carnies, and overall have more teeth.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

2009-05-31 By the Time I Got to Woofstock

Dateline Richmond, VA
Lat 37.5542
Long -77.46005

On our last weekend in Richmond before resuming the journey, Shelby and decided to take in the 2009 Woofstock Festival today.

This is an annual event orchestrated by the Richmond SPCA and a whole pack of other dog-related industries.

A section of the landmark Monument Avenue is shut down, from Robert E. Lee down to Jeb Stuart.

Hundreds of dogs brought their owners out on a gorgeous, sunny day for fun, music and communing with other butts.

Shelby cheerfully walked the whole length of the event, pretty much stopping to greet every human along the way.

In the fullness of time, she spotted a cool vantage point from which she could stay cool and keep an eye on the whole event.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

2009-05-23 Nobody Knows the Truffles I Seen

Dateline Richmond, VA
Lat 37.5199
Long -77.4744

I stopped by the Farmer's Market at Forest Hill Park in Richmond today, only to discover that it's still too early in the season for most of the produce, except for some wilted leafy stuff left over.

But I fell to the sweet talking of Kelly the Chocolate lady, who had something I had not seen before. She had taken waffle cones and lined the inside with dark chocolate and then filled with banana, blueberries and strawberries. Unfortunately, you won't see them either, as I didn't think to take a picture of it until I had consumed the last one. Trust me, it was delicious and had nearly all my food groups represented.

The very cheery Kelly shared the booth with these other two ladies who had some righteous coffee from Blanchard's Coffee, located a short distance away on Forest Hill Avenue. Given that they completed my food group pyramid plus offer free WiFi at their shop, I see a return visit in the future.

I wish I could take credit for the headline for this blog, but the truth of the matter is that Kelly came up with it. She said she was kind of like a bartender for a number of her clients, who share their troubles over truffles. We can only hope they don't drive after the Vodka-Cranberry Cordials.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

2009-05-01 Tres Cachorros

Dateline, Richmond, VA
Photos from Mt. Sterling, KY
Longitude: -83.94502
Latitude: 38.06882

In the absence of having anything great to blog about, here are some pictures of my cousin Terri's neighbor's pups who paid us a visit shortly before my departure.

Incredibly, all three of these pups were from the same litter. I think their Mom has some 'splainin' to do.

The first one shown is named "Fluffy", for obvious reasons. Easily the fattest of the lot under that massive fur coat and quite enthusiastic around bowls of food.

This little female is named Maya and is characteristically submissive around older dogs (Shelby, in this case).

Finally, this handsome lad is named Megs and was the calmest of the bunch. Very friendly and my guess is he'd be the easiest to train.

I post this from the safety of being 500 miles away from these little temptations, lest anyone think that they might be the next ones to have blogs written about them.

I'm a one-dog man with a plan to see this one through her third act.

There are quite a few more photos of these little guys on the tail end (har) of my Mt Sterling Album on Picasa.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

2009-05-17 Such stuff as dreams are made on

Dateline Lake Anna Winery
Spotsylvania, VA
Lat 38.0567
Long -77.6678

I'm kind of a sucker for people who have a passion for something. And you don't find more passion than in a group of "Rennies" - those who populate the many Renaissance Fairs that occur around the country.

This weekend, the Virginia Renaissance Fair opened at the beautiful Lake Anna Winery in Spotsylvania, VA, about an hour north of Richmond and a lightyear south of Washington, D.C.

Like last year, I came up to hang out for the weekend among the enthusiastic cast and vendors who really give their all and go all out to make the event as authentic as possible.

One vendor, a lady named Gabriella, whom I helped erect her terrific tents, called this a "baby show" by comparison to the Granddaddy of them all, the one in Maryland. By this she meant that this show is more intimate and personable and I would heartily concur with her assessment, given the friendly, outgoing nature of its participants.

Arriving early by a few days, I stopped by the winery and met Eric, who along with his brother run the place. Eric passed my card to Cornelia Rutherford, who had phoned me before I even got back to camp.

I helped out on setup day, then helped with parking on the first day of the show.

Despite the weather being kind of threatening, a fairly good sized crowd showed up and much fun and merriment was had by all.

Sunday, the weather was far more ominous and while it went all day without raining, the attendance was off, but not the mood of the Rennies, who put on their shows as though they were performing before thousands.

Since pictures better convey the colors, costumes, events and general feel of the show, I have posted an album on my Picasa page.

Friday, May 15, 2009

2009-05-05 #1 in #1

Dateline, Richmond, VA
Lat 37.604555
Long -77.56938

One of the most important reasons for my rebooting the trip was to get Shelby back to her terrific Veterinarian at Tuckahoe Veterinary Hospital.

Over the course of our last week in Kentucky, Shelby had several uncharacteristic "accidents" involving tinkling in inappropriate places. This is not a function of letting her out enough, and I was concerned that she may have some sort of illness, so got her back to town and was given an immediate appointment.

After an exam by the very friendly and personable Dr. Chris Kaloski, one of his talented assistants followed Shelby and I out into the parking lot to collect a urine sample. This involved following her (Shelby, not the assistant) around with a plastic soup ladle. When Shelby stopped to mark a location, the assistant was there on the spot and skillfully collected the sample.

I asked her (the assistant, not Shelby) if she ever thought while she was in college that she would be doing this as part of her job, she admitted she had not but we both agreed that this was at least better than working at Starbuck's.

After a quick analysis, Dr. Maloski called us back in and said she (again, Shelby) was fine and just needed to take a medication that would help her with sphincter control, an ailment fairly common in older animals.

I would not be exaggerating here if I admitted I was impressed that they can now engineer a medication that so specifically targets a specific area of a body. My only personal experience with this exact phenomenon was riding in the cars of very bad drivers, who tended to have that same effect on me.

So if you are ever in the Richmond, Virginia area and find yourself either in need of a great Vet or just want to see cute Vet Assistants following old dogs around parking lots with soup ladles, you would do well to pay a visit to the very nice folks at Tuckahoe Veterinary Hospital.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

2009-05-13 R2R2RnR

Dateline, Lake Anna State Park
Spotsylvania, VA
Lat 38.100812
Long 77.795046

Okay, that last post may have been a wee bit optimistic, in terms of the damage being undone. It would perhaps have been more accurate to say the Damage was Masked. It is now undone.

"R2R2RnR" in the above heading means "Return to Richmond to Repair and Restock", which I did last week at the very capable hands of my trusty friends at RV Services of VA. The very talented Charlie took the time to straighten out the tweaked bumper and craft a little patch for the broken plastic on the corner. The end result is shown above and you'd barely be able to tell it was ever a problem.

He also replaced all three roof vents, which had become old and brittle (something I can relate to). And the capable Doug had a look at my refrigerator check light and discovered it needed cleaning. (The mechanical bits, not the fridge.)

While they did their magic, I visited my favorite store - Trader Joe's - and restocked the food supplies. I also swapped out the Winter clothes, putting them into deep storage for the Summer, which kicked in overnight last week.

As an added bonus, I arrived back in town in time to celebrate Mother's Day (and her birthday) with my Mom.

Yesterday, Shelby and I decided we needed a little adventure and set out for Lake Anna State Park. This location was chosen for two reasons. First, it's close to Richmond and easy to get to. Secondly, and more importantly, it's three miles from the Lake Anna Winery, where the Virginia Renaissance Festival opens this weekend.

I will produce several more separate blog entries on the Winery and Festival, but wanted to provide a little background on the Lake Anna State Park.

First off, it's beautiful. The whole campground is surrounded by lush green forests without a lick of light pollution. Last night, there were only three campers in the whole campground and it was just amazingly quiet and beautiful. You could practically count the satellites and space junk. Also the stars.

From their Web site:

"The land in Lake Anna State Park used to be known as "Gold Hill" and contained the Goodwin Gold Mine. Gold was first discovered in 1829 with mining reaching its peak in the 1880s. In 1971 Lake Anna was created to serve as a water coolant for Dominion Power’s nuclear plant. In 1972 work began on the acquisition and development of a water-oriented state park. Lake Anna State Park opened in 1983."

So it's not a very old park as it turns out and offers many recreational activities, including hiking and boating.

But it's the fishing I am anxious to check out, having heard that the lake is filled with the very tasty Blinky fish, shown here being served to Mr. Burns.

It's making me a little homesick for Dana Point, CA being within ten miles of a Nuclear Reactor. I wonder if I still have the Potassium Iodide tablets the nice folks who ran the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and Beach Grill thoughtfully provided to all of us in the immediate area to take in the event of an "event". There is something disconcerting about a Nuclear facility providing pills (unsolicited) to area residents should things go wonky.

So for those of you playing along from home, our course has kind of backtracked but we still plan to head West from here, after the Festival.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

2009-04-23 The Damage is Undone

Dateline, Mt. Sterling, KY
Longitude: -83.94502
Latitude: 38.06882

While the blog has gone without updates for long enough to have a number of people ask why, I have not been completely idle.

I have come to the decision that weather should be either ignored or celebrated, but not discussed. So one thing we have done during this quiet time is to celebrate the exciting array of weather choices provided locally. Everything from gorgeous sunny days to snow; light misty rain to epic thunderstorms; and my personal favorite, tornado's. We have not actually seen any up close, but neighboring counties have been paid visits. Given that my current abode is a tornado's favorite food source, knowing when and where these windy predators are hunting has become a more than passing interest.

Earlier in the blog I mentioned a little mishap that took place on the first real day of driving, where I tagged one of those pylons they put around gas pumps. Even with my careful planning my egress before choosing a pump, I did not account enough for the turn radius, plus you may recall I was slightly distracted by an increasingly aggressive wanderer who was looking for a ride to Knoxville.

In any case, I clipped this unusually large pylon, catching the left rear corner of the rig and bumper, as shown in the top photo.

Mostly out of embarrassment for my rookie mistake, I dragged my feet on posting a picture of it until now. Since I took the time to at least partially mitigate the damage as shown in the next photo I am now willing to lay this out for digital perpetuity. A little time with a scrubber and some white duct tape removed the most obvious part of the booboo, leaving the tweaked bumper as the main reminder of my inexperience. I will get this fixed upon my return to my home base.

At the encouragement of my artist cousin Terri, I also pulled down the cheesy header wallpaper that lined the top portion of the living room area. I spent the next couple days laying down a few coats of white primer, then topped it with the same paint she has on her walls in the Sun room where I write this post.

For all the pictures I have taken of the boat, I only found this last photo that showed the original wallpaper header. It was also used as a wall treatment around the stove but is now gone.

I want to thank all of you followers for taking the time out of your busy lives to read this little blog and hope to pick up the pace of my posts as the journey recommences in the coming days. It's time to go mobile again, rested and ready.