Sunset over the JW Marriott parking lot.
When I left on this trip, I wondered if I would have the confidence I needed to get the job done. I usually figure things out when challenges come, but it’s been a rough year, and something felt shaky. Would I be able to handle the logistics? I’ve always been little forgetful. I wondered what important thing I would forget and how much it would matter. I wondered how I would let myself down between home and Palm Springs.
But then the universe gave me a chance to prove myself to myself. Continue reading
They don’t have the impact of the Grand Canyon, but South Dakota fields have a subtle beauty–especially in the fall.
When I took off from Lincoln this time, I decided to go north through South Dakota and North Dakota. Part of my goal was to visit a place I’d never been before: North Dakota. However, I also wanted to see more prairie. I love the prairie. It’s a subtle beauty, and I had studied Great Plains geography, history, music, and literature in college. I wanted to see where Per Hansa and his wife played out their pioneering lives in Giants in the Earth. I felt as though I could understand and appreciate it, even if most of the people I told about my destination thought it would be boring.
The golds and browns of South Dakota in the fall have a calm, coming-home quality.
I wasn’t disappointed. As I traveled up through South Dakota’s capitol, Pierre, and then to North Dakota’s capitol, Bismarck, I saw beautiful autumn-golden fields—both pasture and crops. The colors were muted, because it was late in the fall. Bright yellow leaves still clung to the branches on the sparse trees, but instead of presenting as a mass of gold, they looked like lace, almost like mist surrounding the dark branches. Many of the trees had more leaves on the bottom than the top, which made the misty “leaf ring” around the trunk look like a netted tutu, with multiple graceful branches rising up from the skirt into the sky.
I’m assuming not many people think of the Dakotas as destinations. You have to know someone in Sioux City or have a cousin in Fargo to go that far north (if you’re in the South or Midwest) or that deep into the continent (if you’re from either coast). However, as any destination does, even the Dakotas have points of interest to satisfy your urge to see new places and experience new things. I decided to travel through the Dakotas on my way to the Pacific Northwest from Nebraska.
It was enough out of the way that it could have been considered a detour, but there is a clear path north to Bismarck and a clear path from there through Montana to Washington state. In places with subtle beauty like the Dakotas, the back roads lead to more satisfyingly beautiful views. It’s just that they don’t get the publicity—or they are not AS spectacular or as large as famous destinations. I believe spectacularness is a matter of focus. If you are focusing on a small autumn leaf and you allow yourself to see it, you’ll find all the grandness of the Grand Canyon right there. Continue reading
Everything has just closed for the season at Apgar Village. The windows are boarded up, summer signs have been swapped for ones with off-season instructions, and only one building has a light in the window–it’s above a gift shop. I find myself wondering who is up there. If I come back in the summer, I will probably see that person behind the counter, asking me how they can help me. But now the welcome talk is nonexistent. That person is cozying up with a good book and a cup of tea, while I wander through this seasonal ghost town.
I imagined myself a bird, flying low across the water from shore to mountains…
Its a little disconcerting to be the only one here. However, I shift and jostle my mind purposefully into a groove, and soon I am comfortable with it. Even happy. No one but me is here on this cool day, seeing this place as I am seeing it.
As I drive around the corner to the boat ramp. I see grey clouds hanging in layers above the long expanse of Lake McDonald. Then suddenly I notice, at the end of the lake, the mountains. How did I not see them the first second I was here? I think it was because I didn’t expect them. I thought I would have to go much further into the park to see such a spectacular sight. And the shore has a personality of its own, with multicolored rocks on the beach and in the shallow, crystal-clear water. Continue reading
It goes without saying that you need long johns if you are going to sleep in a Jeep in cold weather. I have a lovely pair I bought in Lake Louise, Alberta, last fall. I sprung for the best: a merino wool base layer designed to lie next to the skin. They are soft and magnificently warm. Sometimes a base layer isn’t enough, but either way merino wool adds a note of warmth hard to get with other materials.
Last night it got down to single digits when I camped in Rocinante, my red Jeep, in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Carthage, Missouri, and I’d have to say my long johns are the one item I appreciated most. However, I have many other ways I deal with the cold. I’m a cold-weather backpacker and tent camper from way back, so camping in the truck is a breeze for me. The walls of the truck are, of course, better insulation than the nylon walls of a tent. They also keep me safer, since I usually travel alone now. The simple fact that the truck keeps me off the ground also keeps me warmer.
Do you let cold weather keep you from hitting the road for adventures in the winter? You don’t have to! Continue reading
A wide view of Lillooet, B.C., reveals the Coastal Mountain range (I think that’s Mt. Brew) standing guard to the west. The town is in the rain shadow of the mountains, so its semi-arid climate offers temps from 41° in the winter to 100° F in the summer.
I was driving intently along Highway 99 with my eyes on the road, barreling down and buzzing up the canyon hills, stopping only occasionally to get out and pay the beautiful terrain proper respect with dropped jaw and hastily snapped photo. My destination was the Vancouver International Film Festival, and I was already late. Continue reading
I was gone from home and everything I knew for more than three months, living in places unfamiliar to me around people I did not know or barely knew. The Canadian Rockies and the U.S. Pacific Northwest consumed me. Like a wave, the experience swept away many pains, frustrations and annoying attitudes that had been poisoning me. Okay…I know I’m being dramatic. But I believe this trip was a truly life-changing one for me. I am a new person. I am admittedly still annoyed with a lot of things, both about the trip and about life in general. But the shadows I suspect will prove to be permanent are the good ones–memories that will transform into glowing backward-looking beacons of happiness in my old age. The bad memories of my trip are fading, along with bad memories from eons ago. Give me a few more weeks, and I’ll be safe to be around again.
Fall tree with glowing sun in John Hendry Park, Vancouver, BC