Friday, October 10, 2008

Day 76...Mitchell, South Dakota to HOME!

I'm up bright and early at 5:00AM...some coffee...pack up the Escape...check out...and I'm on the road. Thirty miles or so out of Mitchell, I hit the fog...not the light fog we get here, this is the "pea soup" variety...visibility is cut to about a thousand feet...slow going for over two hours...then, the fog lifts as the sun gets higher.
Not long into Minnesota, I realize that I have made a huge "error". 76 days on the road, and I have forgotten my time zones. My Garmin's internal clock is set on "Mountain" time, and I'll be coming home on good old "Eastern" two hours to my "ETA".
I roll through Minnesota, no longer fog-bound. I cross the river into more small "mountain drive". I'm rolling along until I get about 40 miles north of the "Dells"...then I hit weekend returning home south traffic. It's pretty intense...80 miles an hour or so...bumper to bumper...much concentration required...very tiring.
Then...I'm in down the tollway...slow, with "toll stops" every twenty or thirty miles or so. As I approach Chicago, everything grinds to a halt. It's A Sunday, but it's still "rush hour" takes me over three hours to get through Chicago onto the Skyway.
Now...I'm's going to get dark soon, and I'll have to slow down.
I am absolutely "pumped" as I finally cross the border into Michigan...I'm "home", but not all the way. I-94 is a "nightmare...tons of's dark now, and I'm getting pretty tired.
The last 200 miles are, to say the least, brutal. Now the Garmin is saying that my ETA is 11:00PM...then 12:30AM...then 1:00AM. Very slow, very tiring. Around Jackson, I hit a MAJOR construction area, and I'm stuck in traffic for 45 minutes plus.
Now it's around 1:45AM...I've been driving for almost 20 hours...but...I'm pulling into my driveway. I'm kneeling down and kissing my front cats are at the bed.
I'm home at last.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Day 75...Saturday, September 26, 2008...Back to Devils Tower...On to Mt. Rushmore

I was up early this morning to check out of my hotel in Hulett, Wyoming and head back to Devils Tower. It's an imposing structure...all the more so by virtue of the fact that it's almost completely obscured by low hills and other mountains as you drive up on the approach. round a corner and BAM...there it is...awesome.
I spend about an hour at the hiking a little around the base and driving around to get as many photos from as many different angles as possible. Plus, there's a prairie dog "village" just inside the entrance, and I spend a little time on the trails that leads around their burrows.'s on to Mt. Rushmore...about a two hour drive from Wyoming into South Dakota. It may be late September, but Mt. Rushmore is absolutely packed...I have a hard time even finding a parking space. The UM/Wisconsin game is coming on satellite radio just as I park and, as a result, I miss almost the whole first half. In retrospect, this is actually an amazing stroke of good luck.
I grab a bowl of chili for lunch in the Park dining room, then head off to view the monument. They have a great viewing platform positioned directly in front of the mountain so that you can see all of the Presidential "profiles". The only "downside" here is that the viewing platform doesn't give you any "angles" for's all straight on. So...I take the requisite photos...then I'm on to my final stop...the Crazy Horse Memorial...about 20 miles or so from Mt. Rushmore.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is mildly disappointing. The original artist worked on it for 40 years or so and managed to sculpt the head of Crazy Horse. The rest is unfinished. It's $10.00 to get in, which I don't mind, but you can't really see much of the monument once you get inside. For another $20.00, you can take a bus to the base of the monument but, there, you're now too close to get any good photos. So, I skip the bus, take a few shots and head back to the Escape.
As I climb in, I'm excited. Last night, I did a little "calculating" as well as map-reading. From Crazy Horse, I'm a little over 1200 miles from home. It's a little after 3:00PM and, if I drive until 9:00PM or so, I can knock that return trip down to under 900's possible to drive that in a single day (and night).
So...I'm sitting in the Escape...and then...I finally get to do something that I've been thinking about for weeks. I turn on my Garmin GPS and touch the screen that says "Go Home". Wow...after 75 days on the road, I'm finally going home!
As I swing out of the parking lot, I pick up the UM game's into the 3rd quarter and things are definitely not looking good...we're behind 19-0...five fumbles in the first half alone. I head down out of the mountains and onto I-90 heading east (towards home), the game turns around completely. A couple of scores, and I'm banging on the steering wheel...we're back in it! the very end...a missed two-point conversion attempt seals an improbable I'm feeling pretty good.
After awhile, the mountains are far behind me...there are some rolling hills for awhile after that...then it's pretty flat. Around 9:15PM or so, I'm in Mitchell, South Dakota...about 930 miles from home. I check in at a Comfort Inn and immediately head across the parking lot to a Ruby Tuesdays. It's been a long day, so a martini is definitely in order...something to wash away the "road dust". I catch the end of the Alabama/Georgia game, gobble down a "triple prime" burger with fries, and wash that down with an extra large "schooner" of Leinenkugel's Honey Weiss Lager (one of my favorite beers).
It's getting late, so I'm heading back to the Comfort Inn to sleep. If I'm up at 5:00AM and get on the road by 6:00AM, the Garmin tells me that can be home tomorrow night around 8:30PM! I'll be dreaming about that tonight.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Day 74...Friday, September 26, 2008...Custer's Last Stand...and...All of the Strange Things That Have Been Going On...Answered!

Buzzzzz...whoa...that alarm is going off pretty early this morning...5:00AM! Get up, get dressed, make some coffee...wait for sunrise. Now, roll up my sleeping bag (thanks, Shannon, I needed the 30 degree bag last night), roll up my sleeping pad, break down my tent, pack up...and, I'm off.
When I was a boy, I read every book available on the Civil War. And that's how I learned about George Armstrong Custer...who was one of my boyhood heroes. Why...well...he was from Michigan (Monroe)...and he had "style"...the long blond hair, the great marching song "Garryowen"", the cool personal motto..."ride to the sound of the guns" Flynn (another personal hero) played him in the stirring, albeit historically inaccurate, movie..."They Died With Their Boots On". With that in mind, I was humbled at this site. Small white markers are in place where each member of Custer's troop died. On that morning, July 25, 1876, Custer rode out from his Fort and split his troupe in three...Major Kehoe took one, Colonel Benteen another, Custer the third. Benteen was attacked first, a few miles from Custer's troops...but those attackers joined several hundred more and met with Custer's roops. The rest is history...sad...solemn.
Back in the parking lot, I met up with some folks from Michigan and mentioned that I was headed to northwest Wyoming. And...that's when I heard the news...northwest Wyoming was quarantined...something about a military "accident"...a nerve gas release. I'm thinking that this is bullshit...I'm seeing all of these trucks...Piggly-Wiggly, Baskin Robbins, etc...headed that way...Why? I'm thinking that the "government" has created some "cover"...something so "scary", that it will clear four hundred square miles of every living soul.
So...I'm heading to my "coordinates" in Wyoming...along the Interstate...until...roadblock! So, now I'm heading off on Route 24...closed!...roadblock. Next, I'm trying Route 14...another roadblock!. OK...the only way that I'm getting where I need to "off road". I'm heading off on County Road 6, then into a farmer's field...whoa...through a, there's a helicopter releasing some kind of "gas"...I duck down ...then...then...I finally see something...through the grass...through the trees...there it is...what I've been searching for!
At the base of the "monument", it's all lit up...they're playing those six musical notes I've been hearing. I meet a French guy and a boy, Barry...Barry has just been on a long trip and invites me to go on I tell him "no"...I've been gone long enough...time to go home.
Later, I check in at the Best Western in Hulett, Wyoming. Dinner at the local bar...Buffalo Rib Eye...not bad. I'm not ordering "wine" in Cowboy Country...they have a sign behind the bar..."Our House Wine is Jaegermeister"'s a beer with my steak. to bed.

Day 73...Thursday, September 25, 2008...Yellowstone (Day 2)...Hiking to Mystic Falls...Visiting the Grave of a Childhood Idol...When Elk Go Bad

I was up before sunrise, eager to explore the "Southern Loop" of Yellowstone...hopefully avoiding the canyons of yesterday.
I decided to hike out from Biscuit Basin, along the Little Firehole River, to Mystic Falls. This was a great hike with beautiful views of thermal activity at the beginning, the Little Firehole River along the way, and Mystic Falls at the end. I wanted to get to Mystic Falls because my Guidebook to the park mentioned that, in a cave behind the falls, are interred the remains of "Boo Boo", famous from the Yogi Bear Show of my childhood. There's a path that leads you from the trail, behind the falls, to the cave. Alas, on this day, the trail was closed...and I was not able to see, in the cave behind the falls, what my Guidebook described as "a bronze picnic basket on which are inscribed the words...
Ever reasonable and the voice of restraint, he was
truly 'smarter than the average bear'."
Bummer!...but...on to "Old Faithful"! I could not visit Yellowstone without seeing the iconic "Old Faithful", following my hike to Mystic Falls and back, I drove another 20 miles or so to the bottom of the Southern Loop. I had time for a quick lunch...terrible pizza at the local "snack bar"...then on to Old Faithful. I arrived 15 minutes before the next scheduled "eruption" and joined two hundred or so other people around the geyser area...waiting for the big show. Well...Old Faithful was about 10 minutes late, but the show was spectacular.
I would have liked to do some more exploring today, but my plan is to get out of Yellowstone very early tomorrow...if I leave by 8:00AM or so, I can get to both the "Little Big Horn Battlefield" as well as another, unscheduled, stop. So...after Old Faithful, I'm heading back to my campground to pack up as much as possible before morning...after one last waterfall.
Things have been getting very strange here of late. First, there's the music...I keep hearing these six musical notes in my head...over and over and over. Then, there's the weird "static" on my satellite first, I thought that it was just random beeps...but it's's a pattern of numbers...two sets of three numbers...44.48.74 and 104.83.60. I could not, for the life of me, figure out what these numbers hit me. Before I left on this trip, I studied "cartography"...mapmaking...that first set of a latitude! Two sets of three numbers...degrees, hours and minutes. So...I went down to the park bookstore and checked their finger tracing "latitude", the other tracing "longitude" fingers met somewhere in northeast Wyoming. So...I bought a geodesic survey map of Wyoming...I wanted it accurate down to the square foot. Now...I know where I need to go tomorrow after visiting the Little Big Horn Battlefield.
I stopped in again at the Lodge for dinner...another round of Prime Rib and mashed potatoes. I was embarrassed when, in mid-dinner, I glanced up to see people at the surrounding tables staring at me. Apparently, I had been completely preoccupied "sculpting" my mashed potatoes into...what?...I just don't know!
It's Elk "mating season" here, and they are everwhere ...around my tent at night, in front of the lodge, on the roads...everywhere!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Day 72...Wednesday, September 24, 2008...Yellowstone!

I have been fortunate to visit some of the greatest National Parks/Forsts/Monuments on this trip...Denali, Olympia, Crater Lake, etc., but Yellowstone National Park is an icon...the very first National Park in history.
I was out of Bozeman early...taking I-90 west to connect with Route 89 south to the north entrance to the park. I arrived around 10:00AM and immediately checked in at the Mammouth Hot Springs Campground. I had given some thought to staying at the Mammouth Lodge, but the opportunity to actually camp in Yellowstone was too great to resist. After securing my campsite, I set off without delay to explore the park.
There are two "loop" highways in Yellowstone and, on this day, I drove the "upper loop" down to the Norris Basin...a site with a lot "thermal activity". I hiked the Norris Basin Trail, about a mile and a half but, with "side trails", more like three. It is difficult for me to describe the beauty of this hike...spouting geysers, steaming vents, shimmering pools of the bluest water I've seen outside of the Caribbean...all surrounded by a bleached white "post-apocalyptic" landscape that defies description. I was careful, very careful, to stay on the "boardwalk" through the basin. There are warning signs everywhere, in every language you can think of (see photo) but, still every year, a couple of people decide to get a little closer for a better photograph...and they step out onto, not "ground", but "crust", underneath which is 400+ degree water. Just two years ago, a ten year-old boy died from burns suffered after stepping off the boardwalk and through the crust.
After a few hours in the Norris Basin, I set off to finish the rest of the Upper Loop. Unfortunately, I did not consult my map and guidebook regarding this part of the "loop" which took me along the rim of Yellowstone's "Grand Canyon"...great...thirty-one miles of "white-knuckle" driving along the edge of canyons thousands of feet deep. I stopped at one "scenic overlook" (see "tepid" photos) but, on reaching the platform extending out over the canyon, I was swept with waves of vertigo...needing only Kim Novak at my side to complete the picture.
Back at my campsite, I bought firewood and set about pitching my tent and preparing for the night. Last night in Bozeman, it was COLD but, tonight, I'm's much warmer here in Yellowstone. My campsite secured, I headed off to the Mammouth Springs Lodge for dinner...good, but not great...French Onion Soup, Caesar Salad and, as always, Prime Rib...a Martini, a glass of Eyrie Pinot Blanc and more Elk Cove Pinot Noir.
Back at my campsite, I built a roaring campfire and enjoyed a few beers. I had a chance to look at the stars on a very clear night...the best I've seen the sky since Alaska...Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Orion's Belt...big and bright. Then, early to bed...much exploring to do tomorrow.
I normally upload between five and ten pictures per "post" but, here in Yellowstone, I took more pictures than on any single day of my post, fifteen photos!

Day 71...Tuesday, September 23, 2008...Surviving Idaho...On to Yellowstone (Almost)...In the Footsteps of Lewis & Clark

He he he...I know that all of you have been on the edge of your seats...wondering...did he make it out of Riggins? Well, obviously, abduction by local vampire cults.
I headed out of Riggins early this morning with the goal of reaching Yellowstone by nightfall. U.S. 97 out of Riggins, while mountainous, was beautiful as it followed the Salmon River for miles. to Grangeville, where I picked up Idaho Route 13 for forty or so miles before connecting with U.S. 12.
I did not have to pursue my own search for the Northwest Passage through the Rockies...Lewis and Clark had already done the work for me over 200 years ago. Between 1804 and 1805, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled the Midwest and the West, ultimately finding the "Northwest Passage" linking the Missouri and Columbia Rivers. Today, I followed in their footsteps for about 200 miles along U.S. Route 12...the Lewis and Clark Trail. And a beautiful trail it was...along the Clearwater and other rivers...through, rather than over, the Rockies. I stopped several times along the Clearwater River and, each time, I was struck with a sense of history...realizing that over 200 years ago, the Lewis and Clark Expedition passed by the exact point where I was standing. And I thought about how difficult it must have been to travel back then...into strange and unexplored territory. There were no cell phones back then, and Lewis and Clark often had to travel for days, sometimes weeks, before getting to a "land line" to phone in their expedition reports. Interestingly, this U.S. 12 is the same U.S. 12 that travels through Michigan, where it is known as Michigan Avenue, terminating in downtown Detroit.
At the Idaho/Montana border, I went up and over the Lolo Pass...descending down into Montana and, ultimately, the town of Missoula.
Missoula is having their "Testicle Festival" this weekend (whatever the hell that is) and I thought it ironic that on this very day, my cat, Jonesie, was, as of about 2:00Pm, officially "ineligible" to participate in this particular "festival".
I had hoped to make it to Yellowstone today but, as the sun went down, I decided to stop for the night in Bozeman, Montana. I checked into the local Comfort Inn and asked about a good Steakhouse. Everybody recommended "Louie's Down Under" off I went. I immediately headed over to the bar to eat but the bartender, Roger, told me that they don't usually serve dinner at the bar. Roger doesn't realize it yet, but he is solid "management material"...because at that instant, I was prepared to leave and eat somewhere else...Roger, however, wisely "bent the rules" and relented.
To me, that is management of the highest order...anybody can blindly follow the rules...a great manager knows when to bend those rules. So...I settled in for a glass of Oregon Pinot Gris with a poached lobster tail in mango vinaigrette (outstanding) and a very tasty N.Y. Strip with a glass of Elk Cove Pinot Noir (also outstanding). Talking with Roger, I discovered that he was a life-long fan of the University of Michigan...a good manager AND a smart guy!
I liked my time in Bozeman...however short. It's the home of the Montana State Bobcats...and it had that nice "college town" feel. I wished that I had more time to spend, but I'm off early to Yellowstone to bed.