Road Trippin’ 2016

So it was that it was that time of year again: October. Time to roll the lawn mower back to the shed and move the snow blower into the garage. Time to put away the deck furniture and store the hoses and sprinklers. Time for the Jarhead to either take some time off work or have every single one of his hard-earned excess vacation days vanish into thin air.

I don’t know how it works for the rest of the world, but these are the only circumstances under which the man I married will agree to use his vacation time. Unless, of course, it’s hunting season. But that’s a different blog.

I shouldn’t be too hard on him. Whenever he takes vacation, he generally needs to work about 8 extra hours in advance of his days off so he doesn’t fall behind, and then work another 8 hours after he gets back to catch up. And that’s on top of the 2 hours or so he spends each day checking email traffic while he’s gone, and responding to phone calls about things that can’t be handled via email.

So basically, for every time he takes two or more days off work, he must put in additional work days for the privilege. Almost makes more sense to skip the vacation. At least until you do the math and realize how much money you’re essentially throwing out the window.

And to be fair, he did take a lot more time off this year than he has in years past. Considering the Friday that he took off to attend our son’s wedding, the Tuesday he took off in honor of my big 5-0, and the Tuesday he spent wiping my tears and holding my hand at the funeral of my beloved Auntie, he probably worked less in 2016 than he had in any year since 2008 when he was mostly retired and I was still working.

And so, with days to burn and only a couple of weeks left in which to burn them, we set down with our phones, the calendar, and Google Maps to decide where to go.

Since we had both turned 50 this year (and, no, he did NOT take his OWN birthday off work because, as he thoughtfully explained at the time, that would be silly) we thought we should do something extra special to mark our first half-century. And since we still enjoy each other’s company (or so it seems, anyway. I guess I’ve never actually heard him speak those words, but all evidence points to that conclusion) we decided we should go somewhere by ourselves rather than with the kids or to visit friends. And since we’d seen much of Europe when we were stationed in Italy, we decided to check that off our list. And finally, since there are no guarantees in life, we decided to go as far as we could for as long as we could, just in case we lack the physical ability or the financial means to do so in our second half-century.

Which narrowed our options to Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, South America, and the International Space Station. I could have added Pluto, Cassiopeia, and all the planets in this and, say, the Andromeda Galaxy, but as there are currently no departures scheduled for those locations and Cassiopeia is just a constellation anyway, I would have included them only for the fun of typing those words into a sentence for the first and probably only time in my entire life.

(Voilà!)

That decided, we each imposed our own conditions to facilitate the decision. For example, I asked that we limit our options to places we could get to and from by airplane. Much as I like the idea of visiting other planets, my fear of leaving home and not ever coming back (aka hodophobia) is bad enough as it is. There’s no need to complicate matters with talk of rocket fuel and re-entry failure, thanks very much. That restriction, unfortunately for the Jarhead, ruled out interstellar and intergalactic travel. Well, that and a pesky thing I like to call our budget.

In turn, the Jarhead requested that we choose a destination where folks speak his language. I said that would seriously limit our options since there are very few places outside of Minnesota where the people actually speak and understand Minnesotan, but he was unmoved. So unmoved, in fact, that he offered to quell my fears by leaving my hodophobic a$$ at home.

So that left England, Canada, Australia, and a few other countries that we didn’t bother to research since Australia, by virtue of its distance from Wisconsin, was the obvious winner.

Other factors were involved, of course. Like the fact that we had talked about going there for literally years but couldn’t bring ourselves to spend the money. And the fact that it would be almost summer when we arrived. Not to mention the fact that we could spend 10 days there and still be home in time for Thanksgiving.

So that’s WHERE we went. To find out HOW it went, be sure to tune in for the next installment, Road Trippin’ Down Under!

 

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Road Trippin’ 2015

For the second time in two years, I set aside my fears and phobias this month, and agreed to accompany the Jarhead on week-long adventure to parts heretofore unknown to us. Although this trip did not involve Canada or the Rockies—unless you count flyovers—like our 2013 journey, it did carry an element of risk to mind, body, and soul.

But nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say. So rather than sitting at home waiting for death to find me in the pool, in the tub, or at my desk, I crossed my fingers, tossed my hiking boots into a suitcase—along with enough clothes to impress both Ginger AND Mrs. Howell—and headed north to Alaska by way of Minnesota.

To be fair, much of the trip was not unknown to us, as it began with a six hour car ride from Oshkosh to Minneapolis. If you think 6 hours is an excessive amount of time drive a distance that would ordinarily take only 4 ½, you would be correct and can therefore cancel any plans to have your head examined. If instead of your own mental wellbeing you were concerned with our driving and/or navigational skills, it should ease your mind to learn that we took the scenic route.

Yep, for reasons known only to him, the Jarhead decided he wanted to take his time and travel to the Twin Cities by way of Tomah, La Crosse, and Rochester. Although he will deny it, I suspect he chose I-90 over I-94 for the simple fact that he has travelled the I-94 route—back and forth—twice since Memorial Day and simply wanted a change of pace.

As long as we were taking the circuitous route, we decided to drop in on a good friend of mine whose house stands but a mile or two off of the highway between Rochester and Minneapolis. As I expected, we caught her a bit off guard, but as it had been months since we had seen each other, I felt it would be worth surprising her even if she was already in her pajamas. And, oh, how I would love to provide a photo of that moment she warily opened her front door! But since I don’t want that visit to be the LAST time she speaks to me, you’ll just have to imagine how shocked she was to find us on her porch. (Sorry, T. Lo!)

From there we continued on our trip to Minneapolis where, the next morning, we took an unforgettable trip down memory lane on our way to the airport. This seemed a fitting way to begin our journey since the Jarhead and I recently celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary, and because apart from Oshkosh, the longest we have lived in any one location over the course of our three decades together was the three and a half years we spent in the Twin Cities.

We started this segment of our trip with a drive by Lake Nokomis. Lake Nokomis figures prominently in our lives since it is where my friend LaVon and I used to spend hours walking and, later, pushing babies in strollers. Although it is also where my mother’s relatives used to hold their family reunions when I was a kid, it is probably better known to my immediate family as the place where El Noble learned to ride a two wheeler in April of 1991, and where he subsequently found himself up to his chest in ice-cold water about a half an hour later.

From Lake Nokomis, we continued north toward Lake Street. Along the way, we spent twenty minutes looking for the duplex where we lived for about a year—since neither of us could recall the address—and another ten discussing what was different about it and why it had taken us so long to find it. We also paid a visit to the four-unit brownstone we lived in before moving to the duplex, and the building next door where LaVon lived when we first moved there. These two were much easier to find owing to the fact that we remembered they were situated on 11th Avenue somewhere between Powderhorn Park and 38th street.

After another discussion about the changes we observed to the two structures and the neighborhood, we continued north to Lake Street and followed it east toward St. Paul in search of the big old Victorian whose second floor we occupied when the Princess was conceived. As was the case with our first two former dwellings, we had to circle the neighborhood a few times because we couldn’t recall the street address.

Although it still took us longer to find it than we expected, the task was made easier by the fact that we knew it was located at the corner of its block on Marshall Avenue, a few blocks west of Snelling. Even with that much intel, we still missed it the first two times we passed it and, due to the volume of traffic in the area, did not have the chance to get a good look. Thus, we could neither assess nor admire it as we discussed all of the memories we had of the place. Even without the benefit of the visual aid, however, we had a pretty good laugh recalling the time El Noble came to us crying after discovering that, unlike his friends who lived downstairs, he was not African American.

Having visited our fourth Twin Cities residence only six or so years ago—and lacking the time to travel there and back before we needed to be at the airport—we decided to forego a drive to Windom Gables and headed for the highway. From there, it would be a short drive to the terminal, an even shorter walk to security, followed by a LONG walk to the gate, and an even longer flight—to Anchorage…

Road Trippin’ VI: Meet Me in Montana–Eventually

According to our itinerary, we were to spend Saturday driving through the mountains of western Montana, and stop for the night somewhere in the vicinity of Helena. This would have been a simple goal to accomplish were it not for my irrational fear that we would go careening off the edge of the road and fall to our death if we drove faster than 40 miles per hour.

Presented with the choice between driving for 6 hours at 40 miles per hour with a calm companion and driving for 4 hours at 60 miles per hour with an anxious one, the Jarhead did what any sane and loving man in his situation would have done and decided to ignore me. Now before you condemn him for his cold heartedness, it’s important to consider the alternatives. For example, he could have stopped to let me use the restroom and taken off again without me. Alternatively, he could have wrapped me in a blanket, stuffed a sock in my mouth, and forced me to experience western Montana from the bed of the pickup. For that matter, he could have wrapped me in a blanket, stuffed a sock in my mouth, and forced me to experience western Montana near a tree in the ditch. I could go on, but for a change I’ll just leave you to imagine the possibilities.

With so many other options at his disposal, I’m beyond grateful that he chose the one he did. Even if it required me to shotgun the last two tiny bottles of vodka in the center console and spend 4 hours with my hands over my eyes or gripping my seat in terror, in the grand scheme of things, I think I came out ahead. And I did manage to see some spectacular views and lovely animals while peeking between my fingers and praying to multiple deities to forgive my sins—especially swearing—and spare my life.

Here is some of what we saw:

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As you know, I like to share my views…so here’s another one.

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These butterflies, like my advice, are free.

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Do these rocks make this chipmunk look fat?

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It’s not the photo. Like Bigfoot, this coyote IS blurry.

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The trip took us down highway 2, which runs along the Kootenay River a good ways before turning south near the town of Libby. From there we continued through Kalispell and Missoula, and on to Helena, where we stopped for the night. 

It was during this leg of the trip that we made an important discovery: Forget Vegas. If you like to gamble, Montana is the place. There were literally casinos everywhere. Hungry? Try K.C.’s Food, Drink & Keno. Gotta gas up? Check out Jim’s Pump ‘n Poker. Outta milk? Visit Sam’s Grocery Mart and Slot Shop. I didn’t see this one myself, but if we’d had more time to kill, no doubt we would have found Auntie Annie’s Day Care and Texas Hold ‘Em.

Worn out from the long drive and our late bedtime the night before, we decided to forego all of these attractions. Instead, we had a quick dinner and went to bed early so we could hit the road refreshed the next day for our drive to Rapid City.

Road Trippin’ ll: The Adventure Begins

The first stop on our journey was at one of our favorite cafés in Abbotsford. By that I don’t mean one of our favorite café from among the various cafés in the town of Abbotsford, but one of our favorite cafés, which happens to be in Abbotsford. It’s a fine distinction, but one that must be made since, although there are other cafés in Abbotsford, we haven’t been to any of them, and we wouldn’t want anyone to think we dislike or disapprove of them.

The Abby Café stands among our favorite cafés for several reasons. Primary among them is the food, which is delicious, plentiful, and reasonably priced. We also like the atmosphere, which is warm and inviting. The dining room features lots of wood, metal, ceramics, and hand-painted frescos, which give the place an ‘early American meets Tuscan countryside’ feel that somehow works.

About the only thing that doesn’t work, in my opinion, is the décor of the ladies room, which sports a fresco of a man with a cigarette looking into the room through a window from outside. As you can see from the photo below, it is not something one would expect to encounter in any room, never mind the ladies room. In fact, it can be more than a bit disconcerting—especially for those who, in their haste to relieve themselves, fail to notice it on their way into the restroom and then come, literally, face to face with it as they exit the stall.

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Incidentally, the men’s room does not feature a fresco of a woman smoking a cigarette while looking in through a window from outside. According to the Jarhead, there is a fresco of a window painted on the wall of the men’s room, but the only woman in it is not smoking but hanging laundry on a clothesline.

To be honest, I’m not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, I’m somewhat disturbed by the idea of a man lurking outside a restaurant window looking in the women’s restroom. On the other hand, I’m even more disturbed by the thought of a man lurking outside a restaurant window while his wife is stuck doing laundry. And don’t even get me started on his refusal to observe the state’s smoking laws…

Anyway…we planned our stop in Abbotsford—or Abby Land, as the locals apparently call it—to coincide with brunchtime.  This, because it was two hours into our trip and, therefore, perfect for a potty break, and because I still wasn’t sure I was going to survive the trip, and I wanted what was potentially one of my last meals to be a good one.

From there we continued on through Minnesota to Grand Forks, ND, where—having checked the 49th item off of the Jarhead’s US Bucket list—we decided to stop for the night. Having decided to take a ‘fly by the seat of our pants’ approach to Canada and the mountain states, we decided to play it safe and stay in a familiar chain hotel that night. That way, we could be assured of at least one shower and one hot breakfast before setting off for parts unknown—also known as Manitoba.

Road Trippin’

I recently broke with tradition and accompanied the Jarhead on a seven-day journey into the wild. The trip took us to the Rockies by way of the Trans Canada Highway, so we weren’t exactly in No Man’s Land; but since we spent most of the week alone driving at high speeds near deep lakes, raging rivers, open fields and dense forests—not to mention steep drops and sharp curves—it did carry an element of risk of death and/or bodily injury. Thus, the fact that you are reading this entry is either evidence of my value as a travel companion, proof of the Jarhead’s patience and restraint, a testament to the power of negotiation, or a sign of my intense will to live.

Unless, of course, he’s actually posting this himself in an effort to make things seems as normal as possible for as long as possible. As any fan of Law & Order or CSI can tell you, such a ruse would enable him to keep my family, friends, and followers from realizing I’m missing until such time as my remains can be disturbed by wildlife or sufficiently degraded, thereby preventing investigators from finding evidence of his crime and improving his odds of escaping punishment.

Then again, if the Jarhead were going to do me in and conceal it by impersonating me, it would be silly of him to even mention the trip—much less to make a point about evidence—so you can assume these are my words you’re reading. Sure, he could have posted all of the foregoing in order to throw people off the scent—much in the way the talented Thomas Ripley impersonated Dickie Greenleaf and sent messages to his loves ones to give the impression he’d left town of his own volition and not been beaten to death with an oar—but truth be told, even on paper, the Jarhead isn’t that good of a mimic.

The goal of our trip was to complete the Jarhead’s whirlwind tour of all 50 US states, which he started at some point in the late seventies when he flew to Colorado and wisely gave up in favor of earning a high school diploma. In the spring of 1984 he managed to squeeze in a brief visit to Florida, but this was the extent of his travels until that June when he answered Uncle Sam’s call and got to spend 12 fun-filled weeks on board Marine Corps Recruiting Depot San Diego. Between 1984 and 2011, he managed to visit nearly every state in the country—plus a handful of Canadian provinces, and parts Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Middle East—but somehow managed to miss Idaho and North Dakota.

Idaho, I get. It’s surrounded by mountains and seemingly endless prairies, and offers potential visitors little in the way of incentives other than the promise of great potatoes, which quite frankly you can buy almost anywhere already. Oh, sure it also offers you the chance to see some gorgeous scenery, but apart from Demi Moore and Bruce Willis—if he happens to be visiting—there’s nothing of beauty in Idaho that you can’t also find in Montana, Washington, or Wyoming, so I can understand why he might have chosen to put that one off.

But I’m having a little harder time with North Dakota. Because I can’t fathom how a man who grew up in Minnesota managed to visit 47 other states including Alaska and Hawaii—both of which require a plane ride and a fair amount of dedication to reach—but could not muster a trip to North Dakota, which involves no oceans, mountains, or other major geographic obstacles; costs almost nothing to get to; and is literally right next door.

Not that I’m a globetrotter myself. In fact, even after this recent trip I still have 7 states and 15 countries to see before I can claim to be as well traveled as he is. But I still managed to visit Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Manitoba before I turned 17 because—and I can’t stress this enough—they’re close by and it isn’t hard.

In any case, although I had already seen North Dakota, I agreed to accompany the Jarhead on his quest to cross the last two states off of his USA Bucket List. It wasn’t a sacrifice, to be sure. The Jarhead is a gem among stones on a bad day, and the best of the best on any other. When it comes to drivers, navigators, and spouses you honestly can’t do any better.

And I had no objections to going back to North Dakota. After all, the last time I was there was about 1973, and I figured it would have changed enough since then to make it worth seeing again. Plus, I had fond feelings leftover from my last visit owing to the bloody nose I got when my step brother knocked me down on the ice rink, and because, despite my injury, I was able to both demonstrate my considerable skill and highlight his lack of liberty by gliding back and forth in front of him while he sat grounded on the sidelines. Ah, memories.

It was with all of this, and so much more, in mind that I and the Jarhead boarded the USS RAM 1500 and embarked upon our journey west. Destination: Grand Forks