Thursday, August 16, 2007

Terwilliger Curves

I write this after my first full day back at TimeHaven, as a reflection on the last few turbulent days of our trip.

I had a preconceived notion that it was still totally possible to make it fifteen hundred miles in three days. It ended up taking four days, but still seemed ridiculously pressed.

We woke up on the morning of our twenty-sixth day in the Silver Saddle Motel in Boulder, Colorado. We both had slept well, and felt energetic enough for a quick hike up the canyon on a well-maintained trail. Our caffeine was found at a local shop - notable mainly because it was by far the best we have had in nearly the last month; so good, in fact, that mom bought a small amount of grounds so we might make more in her handy "AeroPress."

Before making an attempt at serious evening and night driving, we spent most of the day going through the absolutely gorgeous Rocky Mountain National Park. A little over half way through we finally emerged from the swath of overweight American RV tourists, and basically had the road to ourselves. We stopped for lunch at around eight thousand feet near a rather oddly shaped alpine lake.

Just outside the Western bounds of the park, we had another latté break before driving into the fading light on Highway 40. We wanted to make time, but couldn't resist the pull of 24 soaking pools at Hot Sulphur Springs. We tried most of them, my favorite being "Lupe," a piping-hot stone-lined pool that turned us bright red. The waterfall pool with natural rock sides was another high point, but many of the pools had mineral scum in them that kind of turned me off. Our grand finale was going into the recreational pool, where Mom impulsively went down the vertical slide, banging her head and sustaining whiplash. Not a relaxing end to our twilight soak.

Back on the road, the iPhone yielded very few decent hotels, so we thought in the dropping temperatures and tolerable humidity level that camping would be a suitable alternative and cost effective way of getting rest. We asked our host and waitress at the upscale restaurant "L'Apogee" (in Steamboat Springs) about the surrounding camping options, and ended up at Yampa River State Park, another forty miles or so down the road. I'd wanted to try sleeping the car at least once on our trip, so we decided this was our night. Pulling into a campsite, we got out our sleeping bags, lowered the seats, and slept -- for just over 5 hours. It was not dissimilar from the fiery depths of hell in terms of comfort.

We woke up at dawn the next day, decided to not pay for our unused campsite, and moved on into Craig, where we had a simply acceptable breakfast and then on to Maybell, where we found showers at the cityl park. Feeling bad about not paying the campground, we gave them double what they were asking for the showers - again, though, no one was present to accept our money.

For the rest of the day, we drove, with the exception of making a side trip to the Dinosaur National Monument to view some of its unique rock formations caused by massive pressure and uplifting of plates in the rock... It gave us both a sense of insignificance. We didn't see any Dinosaurs though. Bummer. Since Salt Lake City is basically the end of Highway 40, we had to go through it. Since I'm writing this with the intent of having people from the unknown read it, I'll go easy on my lack of excitement about Salt Lake City and its influence by a certain church. We had a heck of a time trying to get to the lake itself... we went north on I-80 a bit to an exit that appeared to connect to a street that went right out to the shoreline, but no! Of course not! Upon getting there, much of the once underwater land (mainly sand and salt deposits) was built up with thousands of cookie-cutter houses in neat but unoccupied cul-de-sacs, all bound to sink into the unstable ground in just a few short years. So basically, it was a maze, and we couldn't get back to the freeway. Eventually, we just gave up on getting to the East bank of Great Salt Lake, and resumed a Northerly trajectory.

We made it all the way into Burley, a humble (but oddly busy town) in Southern Idaho. There was one non-smoking room available at a Best Western, so we took it, and attempted a trick I thought might work - show the receptionist at the check-in desk a stack of bills, and say "I have $55, and I want a non-smoking room," but it failed horribly, and the lady had no idea what we were doing. At least we got a comfy room to enjoy for all of nine hours before hitting the road again, Portland-bound.

One would expect a lot to happen on the last day of a trip, but the most notable experiences were crossing the crooked time zone line into Pacific time, and getting absolutely craptastic milkshakes in the Gorge somewhere. Nonetheless, we went through a section of Oregon I was not familiar with. Like the Gorge, it's full of rolling hills and small shrubs among expanses of gold grass, but unlike the Gorge, it doesn't have the steady supply of water, and therefore completely arid. I got to thinking as we descended into one valley after another that a trek into that land would actually be amazing. No one would be watching it, nor would they ever have to find out that someone had been there. MIles away from the freeway there would only be the noise of wind and rustling grass - no animals, no vehicles, nothing. But that's just a fantasy. I was too anxious to do the last few hundred miles to give it any more thought.

Once we got into the Gorge, night was arriving, and driving became a chore rather than a pleasure. I did the last couple hours of driving - mom was getting tired. A few times we stopped to look at the stars, which were surprisingly bright for being so close to Portland. On our last stop for stargazing, we were lucky enough to catch oodles of meteors, leaving huge trails across the Milky Way.

Getting our first glimpse of the brilliantly bright Portland night skyline, I felt an immediate sense of intimacy with the region, and knew we were home.

I pulled the car into the driveway, the familiar crackle of the gravel a delight. Dad was asleep when we came to the door, but his abruptly awoken state was still the best thing we had seen in almost eight thousand miles.

It's good to be back.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Break a Leg

So this is going to be another I'm-lazy-and-don't-want-to-write-five-entries post. It will basically cover five active days with a couple photos and basically a list of the things we did.

The last time I had any affiliation with our country's sixteenth president was in fifth grade when I played him in a play directed by a charismatic individual who was far more excited about the material than any of the students were. On day twenty-two of our trip, we passed through Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and paid a visit to the memorial site of the well-known battle and the even better-known deliverance of the Gettysburg Address. Despite my preconceived notion that the area would be terribly bland, I was pleasantly surprised by even our choice of breakfast location, "Lincoln's Diner." Who could have guessed?

In the same day, we dipped into the panhandle of Maryland and squeezed through the narrowest portion of the state before heading into West Virginia, which, despite its apparent size, takes a ridiculous amount of time to get through. We still can't figure out what happened. We found a place in Morgantown (supposedly a college town) and had our first meal at "Texas Roadhouse" - a very exaggerated portrayal of Southern life. Their rolls and butter were delicious.

The next day we drove with only one goal - to reach the famed Mound City and Serpent Mound created by a culture anthropologists call the "Hopewell." Mound city was rather spectacular, even though we were told it was reconstructed exactly after a US military base was established there during World War I and mutilated the bumps. Unfortunately, the Serpent Mound closed at five o'clock and wasn't open on Tuesdays, which, traditionally, is the Miller/Stowell way of being inconvenienced on sightseeing trips.

The morning of day twenty-four was hot and clingy. We saw another mound, this one more impressive than even Mound City, but didn't have time to gawk endlessly. We made it lickety-split across a tiny piece of Kentucky and the southern tip of Indiana's "boot," where we found a restaurant boasting Amish food, which was really just a traditional starchy and protein buffet, and a small, sad town called "Cynthiana." That night we stupidly chose to camp at New Harmonie State Park in Indiana, where humidity, heat, and a million cicadas kept us awake.

Our next night's rest would be in Hannibal, Missouri, after a hot day of touring St. Louis and making our CR-V happy with new oil. I was pretty impressed with the size and elegant simplicity of the Gateway Arch, but not incredibly enthused by Mark Twain's boyhood hometown. However, after moving our belongings into the second story "room" we had at "Robard's Mansion" we were very happy. We had almost half of the floor to ourselves, amounting to what seemed like more square footage than our entire house. In the morning, Leon, our host, gave us a tour of the four story (plus cupola) gargantuan house. Apparently we had spent the night with a psychotic paranoid Christian evangelist. Whatever.

Onward! Day twenty six was full of unexpected things. In only a couple hours, we had been in three different states: Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska. We lost a little time when we overshot a freeway exit driving blind in the most intense electric storm I had ever been in. Lightning was striking almost every second, and rain pelted our windshield by the gallon. It was amazing. We made it most of the way across the main body of Nebraska, but before descending into Northeastern Colorado, we stayed in Kearney, where we were serenaded by the flatulence of a thousand cows.

So, I've hacked together this text for the last four days. It's sort of the Humdinger situation... "Order what you want... eat what you get." There are 1,476 miles between us and Portland, but we feel its pull.

Sunday, August 5, 2007


I got lazy for a few days, and now that I've updated the blog with current entries, anything tagged prior will be pushed off the front page and into the "archives" as Blogger so morbidly calls them. There's a new entry tonight, and there may be a couple more tomorrow, so check back a few days, and make sure you haven't missed anything - in the end, this will be one contiguous saga.

Friday, August 3, 2007


Today's events could easily be categorized into two distinct groups: the successes and the duds.

In chronological order, it gives a better sense of the wishy-washy way in which things passed.

The morning was dull. Plain and Simple.

We drove for a long while, with the aim of arriving in Scranton, Pennsylvania for an early afternoon espresso and a quick tour of the lovely town in which The Office is supposedly set in. Our barista directed us to the building that the dysfunctional paper company's Scranton branch fictionally resides, but it didn't resemble whatsoever the building that appears in most of the exterior shots in the TV show. In fact, most of the town was unrecognizable or completely lacking in correlation with the size and appearance that the show projects. The only trace of the NBC production was a city banner sponsored by "Dunder Mifflen Paper Company Inc." My overall impression of Scranton was that it had a lot to offer to the locals, but was tightly-knit, and not accepting of outsiders.

For the remainder of the day, we drove. How many miles exactly, I do not know.

Throughout the whole of Pennsylvania, and for that matter, all across the country, there has been a low smog-like haze, that has reduced the visibility severely. Here, specifically, directly above us on the highways, an icky grayness has shrouded what should be a bright blue sky. We've been afraid that it's pollution, but are fairly certain it's merely a temporary collection of fires, dust, the summer haziness and general pollution, so not entirely from the same sources as our lovely global warming.

It's hot. Everywhere. Not so humid, but hot, the kind that is absolutely inescapable.

We got to our hostel, the "Ironmaster's Mansion" in Pinegrove Furnace State Park, and checked in - our hostess was nearly inaudible and invisible due to her size and volume of speech.

The only other guests at the hostel, Don and Marsha, were hikers who had just completed the last thirty-eight or so miles of the Southern half of the Appalachian Trail. Together, we enjoyed a wonderful display of lightning and thunder, while snacking on some small sandwiches and yogurt on the covered porch of the hostel. This evening was fantastic.

Today's photo was taken during a typical (but amazing nonetheless) Northeastern electric storm.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Caribbean Pizza

I haven't the faintest idea what happened this morning, so in the confusion and un-up-to-date-ed-ness of the blog, I've decided to omit large portions that are of little importance to the overall experience. Breakfast and styles of waking up, descriptions of which usually go in the first paragraph, have obviously been pushed off the map. Sorry!

Now that I think about it, though, I did sleep well, and mom and I were seen off by the ever effervescent personality of Karen, one of mom's high school friends.

So, my first recollection about today was arriving in Hartford, Connecticut at a Pizza shop, famished. Our host and chef, whose arms were a canvas for the creative needle, informed us of his "Jamaican Stud" pizza, which, I am confident in saying was the first chicken pizza I had ever indulged in - and at the same time, probably the last jerk chicken pizza I ever will. Sweet Jesus, it was spicy! I think it gave me an ulcer. I don't care to find out. Regardless, it had kick, and after two slices I was done. Mom had a caprese salad thing. Lame!

We went on to the Mark Twain house, which was rather impressive, and not white. It was red. Are mom and I sane? We both thought it would be a large white clapboard house, but a tasteful one at that. Anyway, we thoroughly enjoyed the grounds and exterior of the house - we decided to not take the hour-long tour of the interior, as it seemed not-so special from the images on the postcards in the gift shop. My only question about the house is: Why such a serious place for such a wacky guy?

Today, we made it to the West bank of the Hudson river, in New Windsor, south of Newburgh, Pennsylvania. Our neighborhood was on the same plane as many "barrios" in terms of economics and demographics. We found the New Windsor Motel, a decent alternative to the $565 per night hotel on the opposite side of the river. That saved us just about half a grand.

We found dinner at a rather unusual location - on a boat! The top deck of a converted (and now immobile) ferryboat was dedicated to the adult masses, while the lower deck was basically a restaurant in a meat cooler. Their air conditioning unit was working overtime, and the temperature was refreshing at first, but overwhelmingly cold after a short while. I went the healthy route and had a plate of vegetables, mom, the not-so-healthy deep-fried vegetable plate. Both were crispy and delicious.

We've got comfy beds and a cool room, so it's time to conclude. Au revoir!

We are here.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Young

I'm lazy. I can't justify writing one entry for each of the last four days, when times have been relaxed, and sights have been infrequent.

However, one of the main goals of this trip was accomplished reaching Hillsborough County, New Hampshire by July 28, two days prior to my grandfather's ninetieth birthday. I was told prior to the gathering that he was not likely to remember how old he was going to be, nor who many of the people would be.

Mom and I drove with Gran to Henniker, a hop and a skip northwest of Manchester.

For the first time on the blog, I'm turning over the reins to mom, who's writing ability and emotional connection with the happenings of the past few days are both much better than my own. I shall return.

Hi, folks. This is a little intimidating, since I've never written a blog entry before, and because I have to sum up several days. Here goes. The 90th birthday party for my dad was fun and gratifying and moving. Dad stationed himself at a table and never left his spot, holding court as people greeted him and sang for him, his secretary from 45 years ago at U.S. Gypsum keeping him steady company. Gus took pictures and I tried to get around to visit with as many people as possible, especially the family and friends of Dad's wife Judy (who planned the party so well, including invitations that featured a dapper Sinatra alter-ego for my dad).

The Stowell-Brakel contingent of our family continued the party long after Dad and Judy had gone home. With a couple of hard-of-hearing members and some naturally booming voices, we got a bit rowdy. I'm not sure Gus has ever seen so many beers and Jack-and-Cokes consumed at one sitting—at least I hope not. The party was further extended by dinner at the nearby Colby Hill Inn in Henneker, a sedate place made more exciting by our presence (and the meltdown of my napless two-year-old grand-nephew Gunnar). Meanwhile, back in the Pacific Northwest, John was kicking up his heels at his 40th high school reunion in Spokane! A wild weekend all-round.

We all stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott in Concord, NH, and got up the next morning in fine fettle for a stroll through downtown Concord (and a fruitless search for palatable espresso in the New Hampshire caffeine desert). Gus and I got lost going back to the hotel to check out—what Oregon bumpkins!—then managed to find the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium where we saw a cool show about the search for water in our solar system.

That evening we resumed our visit with Dad and Judy at their house in Hillsboro, having dinner with them, seeing home improvements inside and out, but mostly just sitting and visiting and enjoying Dad's enduring sense of humor and love of music. We can tell he feels close to us because he gets emotional, but we can't say for sure that he knows how we're all related.

Back to Exeter in time to see Gran off for yet another test to figure out why she's been losing weight. I blame our visit for her forgetting to pick up and ingest her barium for the next morning's CAT scan, which was rescheduled for later in the week. And, alas, we couldn't stick around for her cataract surgery the following Monday, but sister Linda will be with her.

We had two trips to the Atlantic Ocean in one day: Gus and I did some clothes shopping in Portsmouth, then drove up to York, Maine, to add one more state to our list and to dip our toes into the Atlantic. "The Yorks" turned out to be a pretty destination, classic New England seacoast, charming and tidy. That evening we drove east from Exeter to Rye Beach for dinner at one of Gran's favorite places on the water.

A reluctant good-bye to Mom/Gran, and we were off to the much-maligned Lowell, Massachusetts, which we found to be interesting in itself—but we were there to visit Jack Kerouac's grave and to see a traveling exhibit of his "On the Road" manuscript. He typed it on long pieces of telegraph paper, which he taped together into one long, continuous scroll. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of "On the Road," which we're listening to on tape in the car in fits and starts. Kerouac's gravestone reminded me that he was born two days after my mother (same year)—what different lives they led simultaneously, though Kerouac burned out at the age of 47.

I also dragged poor Gus through my "other" hometown, Acton, Mass., where I lived from 5th grade till college. The house at 33 Alcott looked great, and we talked to the current owner about his improvements, as well as past and present neighbors. Paid my respects to the neighborhood pool, and to Judy Walsh's and Bill Morrissey's houses. Drove around town, past my schools and haunts, then it was time to hit the road for Northbridge, where my school friend Karen (St. Martin) Butler was waiting to feed and house us. She and Bill are really the only ones from the Class of '69 whom I keep in touch with—even so, I hadn't seen Karen for 20 years! She's a grandma now, and her three oldest kids are out of the house, but the youngest, Adam, is home for the summer while doing an internship with the Army Corps of Engineers. I had a lively visit with Karen and her husband Dave, catching up on Acton gossip and family news/travails and, of course, middle-aged aches and pains. Gus talked to Adam about college and work and other aspects of reality that are still rather abstract to Gus.

For me, the high points of the trip have been these reunions with family and friends. Gus has been very gracious and patient throughout, even enjoying the emotions, if not the content, of these visits. Still, we looked forward to getting back "on the road" and finish seeing the country together, this time east to west.

Today's photo is from Daniel's, a restaurant in Henniker, New Hampshire, where Kenneth Charles Stowell's 90th birthday was celebrated by the Stowell and Forest families - the model is Gunnar Brakel.

We have been here, here and here.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Northeastern Bounds

The Amsterdam afterhours are better enjoyed when asleep. I was content waking up this morning knowing that the the last requirement that involved Amtrrdam was finding breakfast. We had a few huge servings of carbs across a mangled intersection from our simply average hotel was situated on.

Full and completely ready to be on the road, we did a quick tidy-up of the car and found our way back to the New York Throughway.

Our progress was unhindered, with the exception of the inevitable caffiene infusion. My first today came in the form of an iced latté and a slice of carrot cake, in Bennington, Vermont. Wow. It was fabulous.

We stopped again for lunch in Brattleboro, overlooking the Connecticut River. Prior to eating, I snagged a new CD by Manmademan, "Cell Division." It's acceptable within its genre, but not by any means innovative in style. Oh well. Our meal was rather disappointing, and the service time was wretched. I had a BLT, mom a soup and salad. They were all meager portions.

Our second espresso stop was in Keene, New Hampshire. Parking was a mess due to construction, but we eventually found a vacant spot, snagged it, and got some delicious drinks at "Prime Roast." I indulged in the long lost pleasure of an iced soy latté.

The last stop for the day before Exeter was supposed to be a quick bathroom break, but after driving into Miller State Park and up a steep incline for a few minutes in search of a pit toilet, we found ourselves at the top of Mt. Pack Manadnock. It was shocking - the view was completely obscured by what we believe was an eternal human-created haze. Visibility was reduced to mere miles, instead of the promised a hundred or more. We are such hypocrites, but concerned ones at that.

Back down the mountain, bladders empty, it was a clear shot to Exeter.

About fifteen minutes out, we found a pizza place, "Front Row" on the iPhone, and called in an order for a half pesto, spinach and feta, and half pepperoni combo. We had enough time for another bathroom break and a brief sit-down before our pizza was ready to go.

Another hop to Brookside drive, and we were welcomed into the familiar condominium of Edith Stowell, "Gran." We were happy. We feasted.

And now, we will sleep.

Today's photo is absent, mostly because my inclination as a shutter-bug has subsided for the time being, but with no indication that my love for the art has ebbed.

We are here.