Friday, August 30, 2013

The Wide Open Spaces
And Lots Of Corn!

Aug 30, 2013

Writing this post on Friday, August 31st from Sheridan, Wyoming, just outside Yellowstone Park. We've been putting on the miles and I'm tired at the end of the day. I feel like the guy in Woody Gutrhie's song, Hard Travelin' -- take a listen

We left Duba and Buddy on Wednesday, bound for the Chicago area where we'd exchange kids for two more dogs (we already had our Biggie with us): Brooklyn and Annapolis - Dani's cocker spaniels and our grand-dogs. We were worried about travelling another full day's drive with the kids but that concern was misplaced - they did well and were tuned in to the countryside and towns that we were passing through. There was a constant banter and lots of questions about things that we passed.

We left Duba and Buddy and continued on our way.
Destination: Merrillville, Indiana - just south of Chicago.
This is the main crossroads in the small Ohio town of New Philadlephia:
"Welome To Our City."
Driving through Ohio we ended up in Merrillville, Indiana. I guess there might be an actual town there but, as you must know if you've ever traversed America's Interstates, each exit is a horrible collection of chain hotels, chain eateries and other signs of corporate domination of travel. Stacey and I try our best to eat healthy food but it really is a severe test of one's commitment to do that when you're on the road. Family-owned restaurants with home-made fare have largely disappeared from the scene. We've managed, like detectives, to find them here and there in our travels and it's always a reward when you do, but, travelling with kids who don't eat a wide variety of foods makes it even more challenging. So after unpacking in our Merrillville hotel, we tried an Outback Steakhouse, thinking "how bad could it be?" This is how bad: the bill came to $100.00 (yes, we had a few drinks - we deserved them, didn't we, after 10 hours of driving)? For that we got two disgusting inedible hamburgers with fries for the children. Why inedible? Because even Ethan complained that he couldn't eat it because "it's too salty Grandpa." I tasted it -- it was awful! Our so-called steaks didn't resemble meat either in taste or texture. It had obviously been brined or rubbed in some concoction. Outback prides itself on its "down under" origins so all its food is "seasoned" with spices that supposedly reflect Australian cooking. Basically, that comes down to SALT and more SALT! That was the flavor of the steak that they served. Regarding texture: none; just easy-to-chew, tenderized meat rather more like chewing on a soggy sponge than steak. Awful, awful, awful!

The next day I ruminated over this beautiful country of ours and the contradictions - the magnificent open spaces, the incredible variety of landscapes, the beautiful old towns and farms that we passed. And the vast wasteland of corporate-dominated crossroads at Interstate exits offering nothing to dine in but McDonald's, Wendy's, Hardees, Subways, Outbacks, Pizza Huts and on and on, ad nauseum. So very sad what they've done to our land and to our people. Talking about people, folks fed this stuff as a constant in their lives become used to it and actually begin to crave it, seeing it as the normand the gold standard in dining. That's even more tragic as the impact on American's health is evident in the obesity epidemic when your diet consists largely of fat and salt. Disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease is on the rise as well. Outback Salthouse is what it should be called - maybe that would warn people to stay away.

Back at the hotel, after that disastrous dinner, the kids fell asleep quickly and so did we.
Stopping on the road for a
chocolate dip.
Sammy - Yummy!

Sammy sleeping with his teddy.

Why being a grandparent is about the best thing
that can happen to you in life: our grandsons!

We met Dani and Erik the next morning at a Starbucks in a Chicago suburb. We changed cars - they took the Toyota Highlander, we the Camry. Suitcases and other items were changed. The kids continued with them - it was hard to say goodbye because of the great few days we had spent together. The dogs were secured in the back seat of our car and we went our ways. They drove through Wisconsin and into Minnesota, spending the night in Albert Lea. We followed on but behind them, stopping along the way to admire the sights. We crossed from Wisconsin to Minnesota over the mighty Mississippi just as a modern paddle wheeling tour boat was making its way through a lock as it plied its way north.

Stacey, Annie, Brookie and Biggie at the Wisconsin / Minnesota border.

Paddle wheeler approaching a lock on the Mississippi River, heading north toward Minneapolis
We had a more difficult time than Dani and family finding lodging. We had the dogs and most motels don't accept them. A few chains do, though many add exorbitant fees, up to $100 extra, per pet, non-refundable! But a very few, La Quinta and Americinn, are truly pet-friendly and don't charge any fees or if they do, mnimal amounts. So we had to hunt for those and sometimes get well off the interstate to find one. So we ended up in Kasson, Minnesota, about 20 miles west of Rochester, the home of the Mayo Clinic.  The latter town, a big, upscale burg (because of the clinic no doubt) allowed us to shop for dinner at a Trader Joe's and we ate salads and sushi in our hotel room that night - no more salt licks for us!

Dani discovered that Ethan's DS (a video game) charger had been left in our car. So we agreed to meet the next day in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. That, by the way is the largest city in the state with a population of 105,000.
The falls at Sioux Falls, SD. The Big Sioux river,
diverted by the ice age carved a new path and
cut through the red rock of the area.

South Dakota is a very large state with a very small population. It's beautiful beyond words. We had driven across Minnesota, land of 15,000 lakes, and were impressed by the vast farms that surrounded us on both sides of the road, stretching away to the horizon. As in Minnesota, the fields contained infinite amounts of corn or alternately, soybeans, but it was the corn that amazed us because we now saw, in person, just how dominant this crop has become. Corn production is subsidized by you and me (the taxpayers) to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars over five years that goes into the pockets of huge agri-businesses. This makes corn prices artificially so low that corn sweetener - high fructose corn syrup - has replaced sugar as the sweetener of choice in many American food products. And that's bad for our health.
Mitchell, South Dakota's Corn Palace - redecorated each year with
a different motif and made from thousands and thousands
of corn cobs, husks, fibers. Crazy and corny!

Corn is king in Minnesota and South Dakota
Endless miles of cornfields stretch out to the horizon
and hundreds of these corn storage and processing plants.

A vast wind farm in Minnesota with hundreds of turbines
stretching as far as the eye could see.
When we crossed the Missouri River somewhere around the middle of South Dakota, the topography changed quickly. Now there were more rolling hills and more cattle. Instead of corn we saw vast fields of sunflowers - golden fields that stretched out to the horizon. South Dakota, to our surprise, is the second largest producer of that plant.

But more of that part of South Dakota, its awesome Badlands and then Wyoming in my next post. Right now: sleep.
Zzzzzzzzzzz - Matt

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

It's Monday - A Day Of Rest

The four of us: Stacey and I and the two grandsons, Sammy and Ethan, are at Duba's lake house in southeastern Ohio (about an hour and a half west of Pittsburgh, Duba's hometown). Dani and Erik, meanwhile, are exploring the city of Chicago. That's the plan and so far, so good.

Duba and Buddy have a lovely house on a conservation lake. The latter refers to a non-profit preservation entity that owns and manages the lake and its surrounding properties with an eye to keeping it environmentally sound and maintaining its natural beauty. That means there's a strict limit to the size of motors on boats that are permitted and restrictions on oversized construction, buildings, etc.
Ethan and his Aunt Duba. We're out for a boat ride.

"This is how you drive the boat Ethan."
Sammy got a lesson also.

We spent the day just replenishing our spirits from the long 10-hour drive on our first day out. We'd have another one of those long days on Wednesday as we head to the Chicago environs to hook up with Dani and Erik and return the kids to them (in exchange for their two dogs). It was a lovely summer day on the lake and we took advantage of it to loll around the place take a leisurely boat tour of Atwood Lake and enjoy a dinner at a lake restaurant on the opposite shore.

Buddy, Duba's husband, was not at the house when we arrived last night. He would arrive today. So we set out on Duba's pontoon boat (a so-called party boat because of its flat and wide construction and stable bearing in the water). It also afforded an opportunity for Ethan and Sam to help steer the boat, something that Duba had promised them. Wow! Did they love that! And did they love the lake as well.

When we finished our tour and returned to the house we found Buddy waiting for us. We had a hamburger lunch, some naps and relaxation. The high point of Ethan's visit was a few hours with his newly-discovered Uncle Buddy as he was taken down to the shoreline and given the fine points of casting a line. Ethan caught three fish! Sammy and I joined them, not for fishing but for a dip in the refreshing waters. Ethan ran back up to the house to get his bathing suit so he could jump in too.

Later in the evening we set off by boat once again - out for dinner at the Lighthouse Bistro - a place that we've always enjoyed. The food is quite good, the view of the lake magnificent and usually, weather permitting, the sunset never fails to thrill us as we head back home by boat.
Ethan enjoyed the fresh air aand the sun on his face
as the boat sped along.
Stacey in late evening sun. Atwood Lake.
Sammy at the Lighthouse Bistro.

Sammy and Uncle Buddy - coloring at dinner.
Us - Lighthouse Bistro.

It was a short and sweet visit - the kids had a great time. We loved visiting with Duba and Buddy. Tomorrow was to be another long ride, across Ohio and into Indiana just short of Chicago. And the forecast said rain which would make the trip even longer. More about that in my next post. But for that you'll have to wait ... sorry.

From the road.  - Matt

What a way to end the perfect day!
On the way home from dinner - Sammy in silhouette.

To see all of today's photos, click HERE.

Friday, August 23, 2013

On The Road To Ohio (And My Sister)

Aug. 25, 2013

Spent a good part of Saturday packing. We're not taking our car but driving one of the Lundberg's two autos -- that's part of the reason for our inclusion: they need to get their cars out to Poulsbo (pronounced Pauls-bow, I'm told).

Ethan checks out the Toyota
which has been pack to the gills with stuff needed
at their new house in Washington state.
We left New York early Sunday morning. Not as early as we expected though. Ethan had been up during the night with an upset stomach so we let him sleep a little later and left Brooklyn at 8:30 instead of our planned departure of seven. With two cars packed up with four adults, three dogs, two kids and lots of 'stuff', we headed west through the Holland Tunnel and toward the route we'd be following for a long while: Interstate 80. Our destination: my sister's lake house in Sherrodsville, Ohio - about 465 miles door-to-door. I wanted to stop on the way for the night, given the fact that we're travelling with two small kids, our 3-½  and 6-year old grandsons. But Stacey said that would throw our schedule off (and add to the cost) - we have to meet Dani and Erik outside of Chicago which they will have been exploring while we're at my sister's.
Our first day's route from Brooklyn NY to Sherrodsvile, OH - 465 miles!
So we drove on.And on and on. The kids were amazing: wonderful travelers both and both very easy. We stopped several times - for gas and snacks. But lunch we ate on the go. And we reached Duba's house at 6:30 pm. I was exhausted, having driven the lion's share. And I may have picked up a bit of Ethan's stomach upset as I felt "out of it" for the entire day.

I-80 is a spectacular drive. It cuts through vast areas of the Pennsylvania Wilds - state forests and mountains that are sparsely settled and offer wonderful vistas as you ride along. It also has much less traffic than our usual route on I-78 and 76 (Penna Turnpike). Google says it's about seven hours if you drive straight through without stopping. It took us ten! Why?
Through the windshield --
I-80 -- beautiful views as it cuts through the Pennsylvania Wilds.

Truth be told, we did get a little lost at the end as my phone lost its connection and Google Maps faded into obscurity in the middle of nowhere Ohio. We switched to the car's built-in GPS and it guided us the last hour of the way to Duba's house, albeit through some very back road routes - an adventure that we all enjoyed. My sister prepared a wonderful pasta dinner which everyone devoured and then a story for each kid and bed -
a great first day!
Sammy enjoying a pasta dinner at Aunt Duba's.

Oh, and by the way, Ethan agreed to "write" his own blog and you can find it here. He already (almost) knows the list of thirteen states that we'll be travelling through. If Dani and Erik prod him to keep at it and have him dictate for five minutes at night, reviewing the day's odyssey this will be a great keepsake for him, not to mention adding a little variety and focus to his trip. Sammy, at 3-½, probably won't even remember this trip except from photos he'll see sometime in the future.

My parents, who took my brother, sister and me on many car trips as kids, inspired in me a life-long love of travel and exploration. Here's to the same inspiration for Ethan and Sam as they travel through life!

¡Hasta maƱana amigos!

Disclaimer: Ethan's blog is in his very own words and include his very own photos taken with his very own camera (except for the first picture of him). But, yes, an adult's typing and minimal editing.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Seattle Or Bust --
A Cross Country Car Trip

Aug 22, 2013

Excitement is building at our house as we prepare to depart on our historic cross-country trip from Brooklyn to Seattle. Dani and Erik and family (including their two dogs) are re-locating to Poulsbo, Washington for the next two years. Stacey and I are accompanying them on this epic road trip, driving one of their cars (the one with the three dogs: two are theirs, the third is Biggie). This should be good! Hopefully it will be.

Poulsbo, WA -- about an hour and a half
(by road or ferry) west of Seattle.
The last time I drove across our country was 1965. My friend Lonnie and I drove someone's car across and ended up in Berkeley. That was a long time ago but we took the same northern route (for the most part) that we are planning this time. It'll be interesting to see how much the country has changed in almost 50 years. 

This Sunday is Day One. We hope to get an early start. Dani and Erik will drive toward Chicago, a city that she's always wanted to explore. Stacey, Ethan, Sammy, Biggie (the dog) and I will head to my sister's lake house in Southeast Ohio for a couple of days of fun at her place. We'll meet up on Wednesday near Chicago where they'll take the kids and, lucky us, we'll take the other two dogs: Brooklyn and Annapolis.

I've suggested to Ethan that he write his own travel blog accompanied by photos that he takes, thinking that this would be a great show and tell at his new school where he's beginning second grade. So far he hasn't seen any value in that proposal. 

My 6-½  year old grandson, Ethan.
So now dear reader - please stay tuned for the Tales And Trials Of Our Great American Road Trip. I promise you some interesting, perhaps, writing. And some great, immodestly said, photographs. Then again, you could always hit the delete key should you get bored. 
See you on the road. Until then, a bientot!  - Matthew