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.