Budget Travel! How to travel when you’re not wealthy!

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My lovely bride and i headed back east via Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park

My wife and i get asked frequently how we have been able to travel as much as we have over the past several years. We’re not wealthy, nor are we destitute either though. We fall solidly into the “working-class” descriptor. Here are our top Five strategies for traveling on a budget

1) Give up your “relaxing” vacation: 
There’s a lot to be said for a relaxing vacation where you get to kick back and unwind. You leave behind all the day-to-day stress of your regular life and just chill. Even more so when you have your vacation plan in place: You know the condo or the hotel you always stay at, you know which restaurants you’re going to grab dinner at, which desserts you’ve waited a year for… You get to put your brain in rest mode just like your body!
i get it! There is something appealing about that familiar vacation spot, you don’t even use the GPS to get there or navigate around once you’re there…
In contrast: our vacation time is almost never this relaxing. We’ve traded in relaxing vacations for the chance to see more places and things! Here’s what our vacations look like: Every morning we load up the car and hit the road we drive anywhere from 5-10 hours, normally with a big stop to explore in there, we get to where we are going to bed down for the night and we unload and collapse into a cheap hotel bed or a sleeping bag. Then it’s wash, rinse, repeat!
We’re often tired, sometimes lost, but always seeing new things and having new experiences! We get home after a week off work with aching muscles and a suitcase full of dirty laundry.
We also get home with cameras full of new photographs and a slew of new memories. We’ve tried new foods, seen new places, met new people. When i return to work the following week i may not be physically rested but i’m recharged. i’m reminded that the world is bigger than the office i work from.

2) Squeeze every opportunity:
i’ve had so many great travel experiences because i exploit every opportunity to see new things.
Example 1: Our biggest trip to date was work related, a cross country drive (both ways) as we set up a new operation for the company i worked for in 2016. My wife and i were going to be there for a month and running the cost comparison of driving vs flying it was a wash when you factored in renting a car for a month while we were working in CA. Both legs of that drive took us through 20 different states and is still one of the highlights of my life!
Example 2: My first trip to San Diego was to work a contract for a company doing an event during Comic Con SD. When the company was arranging our airfare i asked them to schedule our return flight for two days after the event ended instead of the following day. We had more than 24 hours to tool around Southern California and it was amazing and magical!
Example 3: Another work trip took me to the Bay Area i made a similar request and used the extra time to rent a mountain bike and ride Camp Tamarancho, the birthplace of the sport! It too was an amazing experience.
Example 4: My best friend worked a stint in Washington state. When it was time for he and his wife to return home she had to fly home to take care of an emergency. i scratched together enough money for a one way ticket, flew to Washington, and drove back with him. We camped in a tent for a few nights of the trip (on the roadside) and then because i had to be back at work drove from the eastern end of Glacier National park back to central Virginia with no real sleep (we did make some great pit stops along the way).
Last Example(maybe): It really it all started when my wife and i were married. We decided to fly to Vegas to get hitched! (Sort of the ultimate Americana experience) While there we rented a car and over the week of our honeymoon we drove that car well over 3,000 miles. We saw the Grand Canyon, crashed in a friends house in L.A., walked the hills of San Francisco, and generally packed in as many things as we could in the week we were out west. It was there that our partnership began legally and then that we fell in love with the West Coast.
These are just some of my experiences. Every life will offer some opportunities to see little slices of the world. Maybe not as dramatic as these (which are admittedly some of my better opportunities) but little chances count too. i stumbled across my favorite distiller of Bourbon* on a work trip because we needed to kill three hours before an event. Sure you’re tired when you’re at a work convention or even working out of town but grab at least the little opportunities when they arise.

3) Enjoy the cheaper joys of life:
Sure all those pesky social media influencers** show travel that is fit for a Sandals resort sales pitch but for those of us who are “normal” people, travel rarely looks like that. Travel is long periods of boredom punctuated by amazing moments. Travel is a great analogy for life in general. Most of my travel experiences are not Instagram material, unless you like videos of a man cursing because he spilled coffee down the front of his body because he was holding the coffee cup since all the other cup holders are engaged in other beverage corralling functions.
You don’t need a luxury suite to experience the world. You don’t need to eat at restaurants that sport Michelin stars to explore the tastes around you.
A solid 75% of my travel is directed by the location of the National Parks System. My wife and i are big believers in the National Parks. Every year we make the $80 investment in a parks pass, then we set out to make that a value purchase for us. Some years that’s a challenge, we live on the East Coast where parks are more sporadic or don’t charge for entry, but we make it work.
Another thing we do is we try to eat where the locals eat. If there’s a restaurant that looks a little sketchy on the outside but the parking lot is full of cars and you don’t see any out of state tags, that’s likely a winner for you! Don’t ask locals where to get X (x being whatever regional cuisine you want to try), rather ask them, “When you want X, where do you go?” i’ve found that the answers are often different. Locals know where the tourists go for X, but they often (not always, but often) go somewhere else. It’s also usually cheaper and less flashy.
We also like to walk, when we’re not in the car we spend a lot of time moving at the speed of feet. Lots of great stuff is on street level and you’ll miss it driving through. It’s also super cheap to get out and walk around a place. Often your only real cost is parking in larger metropolitan areas.
If getting neck deep in the nightlife of a new city is appealing to you, know your budget and make that a splurge. That’s not my bag, but sometimes i’ve been known to drop some cash on a meal if it’s particularly meaningful. Or an attraction if it’s something of interest to me***.

4) Pinch those pennies 
So here’s the brass tacks! The real practical advise for you. Pinch those pennies!
If you’re doing big mileage: drive the car that gets better gas mileage, it may not be as comfortable as the bigger car but MPG adds up FAST when you’re logging big road trip miles.
Meals: If i’m alone i eat 2 meals a day when on the move. Typically i’m traveling with my wife, then we eat the normal three BUT we’ll split almost every meal. We travel in the US mostly so there’s almost always enough food for two people on the plate.
We’re National Park junkies. i prefer to pack my lunch into parks (but when with my bride we’ll splurge and split a meal in the park). My dad and i did a lap of Colorodo in 2018 that had us in a park almost every day, we ate PB&Js and/or PB&Banana sandwiches pretty much every day. i can say with 100% honesty that a PB&J with the smell of a loamy aspen grove and a view for days is a fine a meal as i’ve ever had in the nicest restaurant.
Lodging: Before we were surprised with a tiny human i our lives my wife purchased a nice tent. She got a deal on it, and it’s saved us hundreds and hundreds of dollars since then. Let me get real with you for a minute: i could be a professional hobo. i don’t mind sleeping outdoors, i’ve hiked nearly 1000 miles of the AT in longish sections, showers are almost a luxury to me. My lovely wife on the other hand, while she is willing to endure discomfort to see new places, is NOT a person many would describe as “crunchy”. She loves to be outdoors, she loves the wilderness, she’d spend her days hiking if she could. She also likes 2 showers a day and places a high value on the comfort of her bedding. Our strategy when deploying the tent is typically thus: Camp a night, get a room a night, repeat. Most “campers” these days are pulling mini-homes behind them so tent spots are pretty affordable. They’re also often in odd places at camp sites, with the exception of most state and National parks who still typically have really nice tent spots.
If you want a room… “Don’t fear the Cheaper” (that’s a feeble attempt on a “Don’t fear the Reaper” pun). Use whatever deal site you like (i like Priceline for rooms for no other reason than i get to see William Shatner’s face) you’re going to basically get the same deals from all of them. If you use whatever “deal finder” they offer, double check that you can’t find a better deal NOT using it. Cheap rooms are often near airports in larger cities. When you have a candidate start reading the customer reviews. i look for one thing, and only this one thing: “Clean Rooms”. That’s all you need. There can be a 1000 complaints but they typically mean nothing. People are crazy, they’ll post a 1 star review because their $39/night room didn’t have a hot breakfast. As far as cheap places that nearly always deliver for me: #1) Motel 6! They renovated nearly all their locations a few years back, they tend to have laminate floors in them now (that means clean floors because carpet is nasty), and they almost always have a mini-fridge in the room. #2) Extended Stay America: This is a great find and you’ll get solid deals here on the weekends. Weekdays they tend to fill up, but the rooms are bigger and tend to be clean and you get a kitchenette! Both Motel 6 and ESA tend to have laundry machines somewhere on the property as well, which can be a real utility on longer trips.
Souvenirs: Leave em! or at least get yourself a plan. We do magnets, we display them on a board in our home. My wife gets small stickers that she keeps in a travel sticker journal of sorts. We rarely get tshirts or other items, we don’t really bring gifts back from our trips. Those things are nice and let people know you were thinking about them but in a year where are they? No really, where did they go? They’re lost or tossed, so save dat Money!****

5) If you can’t travel far, travel near:
In 2017 we found out that we were the winners in the unplanned pregnancy lottery. In 2018 our prize was delivered near the end of February and suddenly travel was just a touch more difficult than it was before. We spent more time exploring closer to home, anything within a 3-4 hour drive became a target for us. Long term we plan on moving West at some point (hopefully just before this tiny human starts school). This has left my wife with a healthy case of FOMO in regards to the region we live in now. She doesn’t want to be chatting with a friend in Wyoming who asks if we ever saw some amazing thing that was 45 minutes away from where we live now.
Wherever you are, there are amazing things nearby. If you’re having trouble finding things in your region, use social media to your advantage. Most states have active tourism accounts on social media: follow your state’s account. Follow the neighboring states’ accounts. These have been a gold mine for us and will lead you to other solid sources for ideas!

 

If you read this to the end! Kudos! Let me say that any recommendations i’ve made are real and the only benefits i get from making them are the warm feeling of helping other travelers! Happy traveling to you and here’s the footnotes:

*Buffalo Trace. It’s the best mid-shelf bourbon you can pick up. They also make my favorite readily available top-shelf as well: Eagle Rare.

** Social Media Influnecers are one of the few things i struggle to not “Yuck”- as in “Don’t Yuck someone else’s Yum”. When life is primarily about appearances and not realities we’ve lost something very important… That’s all, old man rant over.

*** #1 attraction i’ve ever dropped money on: House on the Rock in Wisconsin. It’s a close as you can get to experimenting with psychedelics without actually taking anything. For real, if you’re ever in the neighborhood of Spring Green WI go, buy the “big ticket” to see it all.

**** lil Dicky shout-out intended. Save Dat Money could be the best rap song ever made!

 

 

 

Texas, not what i expected

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My progress map Before the TX trip and AFTER!

We loaded up the Adventure Pod (a 2010 Honda Fit) and pointed it’s stubby nose Westward. We were Texas bound! What followed was a nearly 4,000 mile road trip that traversed 7 states (Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama)   and dipped into the corner of a 8th (Georgia). This would knock 5 states off my goal of visiting all 50!

But back to Texas! i rolled into the Lone Star State with a lot of preconceived notions about the biggest of the contiguous States of our great Republic: Among those notions were: Big boots; big hats; big trucks; big egos; more swagger than an Old Spice commercial; and… guns, guns, guns! Mostly on the negative side of things: i imagined Texas to be all things Redneck. What i found was something totally different, well the big trucks was spot on but most of the other things were off. Texas is a dab of nearly everything: Big city life & Rural living; Conservative values & free-thinkers; Posh living & rugged sustenance. Texas has deserts and giant lakes, rolling hills and flat prairies, eight lane super highways and gravel back roads.

We came in from Arkansas and rolled on down through Dallas. 9th largest city in the U – S – of A. Then we just kept driving South and West. It was the more rural parts of Texas that really got to me. Out of all the places i’ve ever been rural Texas has the nicest people i’ve ever crossed paths with. Every stop for gas was a joy. Every meal meant interacting with the excellent slice of the human population we call Texans! If i had to break down with no money in my pocket i hope it’s somewhere in that part of the world (just maybe not in the dog days of summer). We even got pulled over in some tiny town North of Best TX (Best TX has a sign informing you of their population of 1!) and that officer wins the award for nicest traffic stop i’ve experienced in my life. That award was previously held by a fine law-man in New Hampshire who pulled me over for speeding in the wee hours of the night and then seeing i was far from home and just wanted to get to our hotel 30 minutes up the road told me to, “Drive a little slower the next time you come through here,” irony fully intended by him. This friendly Texas Deputy just wanted me to know that i had a headlight out. To put in perspective how rural the town was we were in when i asked him if there was an auto parts store here he informed there was but he doubted it would carry a headlight for a Honda.

Out of the cities we set foot in, San Antonio was my favorite (it’s the 7th largest in the U.S., bigger than Dallas but doesn’t feel like it). If you like malls you’ll love the River Walk (i’m oddly nostalgic for the malls of my youth but not a mall shopper and i’ll admit the River Walk is a pretty top-notch set up). The Historic Market Square is really amazing, we were there on a Wednesday around lunch time and there was live music, street food, booze… San Antonio knows how to party. We grabbed lunch at Mi Tierra which holds some odd technical distinction; they are the largest Mexican restaurant in the world by volume of food sold… or something like that. Food was amazing,  a mariachi band roved around from table to table, and its one of those “tourist things” you should just do if you’re in San Antonio. We also hit up the unforgettable Alamo.  You’ve probably heard to not set the bar real high in regards to the Alamo, i don’t know if that’s a fair thing to say. Is it small? Yes. But it’s still an important historical site, especially for Texans. Set your bar appropriately: it’s a historical site. Go there to learn and stand where brave men gave their lives for a cause they believed in.  We also visited another historic mission in San Antonio and it was really amazing, such a peaceful and beautiful place to take a stroll.

 

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Big Bend National Park has been on my list for some time now, so having the chance to set foot in this National treasure was a real treat! i plan on returning one day when i have time to get some miles in on my hiking shoes. The stark beauty of the desert there, the muddy churning Rio Grande, the surreal feeling of the Chisos Basin, standing where a trove of paleontological finds have been made! Some of the Features of Big Bend stack up pretty well against monolithic features found in other parks as well. i have tasted of the arid sweetness of Big Bend, and i hope to be back!

 

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My “Hand”y Map of TX and our journeys through it.

We braved hail and thunder storms, sunshine and winds, city traffic and warnings of Elk and Pronghorn dangers on country roads to see a decent chunk of Texas. Texas was great, but the real standout are Texans: overall pleasant, welcoming, hospitable folk. Again, i had some negative ideas about what Texas would be and i’m very happy it proved me oh so wrong. Texas is as proud of Sam Houston as it is of Willie Nelson. Austin with it’s weirdness is as much Texas as Dallas and it’s Oil money. You can be Texan and live in a high rise or you can lay your head down in a camper surrounded by 400 acres of scrub brush. Houston… we have a problem, i wanted to get Texas off my list and leave it behind but i visited it and found out why you don’t mess with Texas! Can’t wait to top off my gas tank at a Buc-ee’s and fill up my belly with a Whattaburger again.

86- Codex Alera Series -Jim Butcher

i may be a bad person… i’ve chatted with some people who love Butcher’s Codex Alera series. i powered through the first 1/3 of the first book (“Furies of Calderon”) before i threw in the towel. Really i think it’s just the tempo and style of the writing that throws me.

i am NOT saying this is a bad book by any stretch, just that it’s not a book for me personally. Butcher did some really cool things with the elemental forces of the world, bonding them with users who could then harness that power in a sort of partnership. That hooked me early on, but i managed to spit the hook right out.

Book Club of One grade: N/A. On Butcher’s series don’t ask me. Find a reviewer who finished at least the first book and see what they though. Buuuut, for me it’s a solid pass.

Fajitas and Forgotten Wonder

My wife LOVES Mexican food.

i mean, would go our for Mexican at least 5 times a week.

i have mixed feelings. Once you hit the deserts of the South-West then my tastes turn towards tortillas and beans, but normally i have pretty specific desires for my south-of-the-border inspired fare. i do love me some street-tacos! Or San Diego style Mexican food. There’s just something magical about a burrito or a fish-taco when the air is that perfect low-humidity pacific breeze and all the ingredients are farm-fresh….

Anyway, back to the standard old run of the mill Mexican Restaurant. You know, the kind that every mid sized town has three of anywhere you go in America. Tortilla, cheese, beans, meat in an infinite amount of configurations! Endless plastic baskets of Nachos and those mini-carafes topped off with salsa.  The kind of Mexican restaurant that brings a simple pleasure to the palate of my bride! As she’s methodically consuming her chimichangas (90% of the time that’s what it is, Chimichangas/fried/ with ground-beef. NOT steak: ground beef) and i’m smearing refried beans and guacamole on a tortilla; inevitably a magical dish will pass us by. A dish that’s as beloved by us American eaters as the “Texas-Sized Margarita”.

Fajitas!!!

They don’t arrive on a plate…. oh no! Fajitas come on a pan! A skillet of cast iron. Hot enough to make Hades flinch! They hiss and scream their way to the table where they are set cooking and spewing steam in front of the lucky diner.

i have a vague memory of the first time i saw fajitas in a restaurant. It was a sight! Never before had i seen still-cooking food served up to a customer. Beef, & Chicken, & Onions, & Peppers all sizzling wildly. i was amazed! It was a sight to behold.
Now, i’m pushing a broken nacho chip around the bottom of a salsa dish feeling miserably full and a score of fajitas come out to customers and i never bat a gluttonous eyelid at them. Seen it before!

We have Fajita moments all the time. The Fajita is the showman of standard Mexican food and we’re mostly over it. IF we see someone who’s still excited by Fajitas we look down on them for their simplicity: Bumpkin!  But once, i was amazed by Fajitas!

Once i was amazed by how much information a cell-phone can store!
Or how fast i can download Fail Videos- in a moving car!
Or how crazy it is that we can buy bananas, in Michigan, in January!
Or air-travel… you know, flying science tubes of awesome?
Once i was amazed that i can call you in another country and you hear MY voice nearly instantaneously, even though it was broken down into 1s & 0s and put back together again…

There was a time when more of us were amazed. i’d argue that life was a little better then. When amazing things happen around you life is more exciting, it’s fresher, there’s less drudgery. But fajitas still happen, cruise control still happens, electric lighting still happens! We just have to clear our calloused mental-slate a little and see it again!

 

Heck, i might order that dramatic DIY meal myself soon. i’ll sit in wonder and awe as the peppers hiss at me like angry cats, and i’ll be amazed at Fajitas!

“Transworld’s Attraction Show” – How’d i wind up here?

Transworld Attractions?

Yeah, what a name! What images it conjures up! But i tell you, there were no size 15 stiletto heels on display, No Rupaul devotees workin’ it…

The full name of the show is actually: “TransWorld’s Halloween and Attractions show” and i found myself in St Louis, gateway of the west, in the spring of 2017 because that’s just the sort of job i have!

Not a Halloween sort of job at all really. Somewhere along life’s odd twists and turns i found myself in the laser tag business. So, how do Halloween attractions and laser tag get mixed together? i’ll explain:
So “Haunters” – Haunters is industry-speak: it’s what people that work in the Haunted House business call themselves, when in creepy-Rome… So, Haunters run these booming attractions where thousands of people come to have at least a tiny little poop and pee scared out of them. These thousands of people that come each night inevitably are transformed into long lines of people. Long lines of people get bored waiting to be entertained so some enterprising haunter thought to add a side-attraction of laser tag. You’re stuck in line BUT if you get a ticket to play laser tag you get to step out of line, play for a while, and step right back into line. Crowds are less bored and its a little more money into the coffers that Haunters work their creepy-butts off to fill in a single month every year.

That’s how i wound up in a convention hall bubbling over with nightmare fuel!

Some important information: i do NOT like scary things! Life is scary enough, you know with cancer and rabies and stuff! i don’t watch scary movies because they stick with me like dirty gum in pool-hair. Let me set the bar for you on my tolerance level for anything remotely horror/scary/all-that-creepy-stuff: Years ago friends urged me to watch the very fine movie “Signs” with them. You know pre-snap Mel and family dealing with aliens, that “Signs”. Back when M Night still had street cred. That movie stuck with me for a week. i’d wake up having dreamed that an alien ran across my roof, or was on the other side of my door and i’d just been looking under the crack with a well polished knife. Even writing this i’m getting a mild to moderate case of the heebie-jeebies. That my dear readers is how low my tolerance for scary crap is.

So with that measure in mind picture me as i walked into a good sized convention center full of Haunters, who’s tolerance was on the exact opposite end of the spectrum as mine. This piece of St Louis real-estate for several days a year has the highest population density of SlenderMen on the planet. Also the highest density of animatronic demon faces, aliens, disemboweled humans, and all that creepy ass jazz! There were companies that sold fake blood of all varieties (oh, yes it comes in varieties) & they sold it by the gallon! i saw gallon jugs-o-blood, 5 gallon buckets-o-blood, and even a 55 gallon drum-o-blood!

There are bad discos in the world with far less strobe lights than the TransWorld Halloween and Attraction show. i feel confident in wagering that not many Haunters are epileptics!

The whole thing was an insane amount of sensory overload! With the movement, the lights, the noises (i never thought about how many sound effects go into haunted houses), the mutilated dummies, the costumed stilt-walkers dressed as the aforementioned SlenderMan, all the other creepy costumed people hawking their terror-wares… i’ve never been more relieved to find a laser tag manufacturer as i was that first day at TransWorld.

 

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All-in-All though it really was an amazing experience. There’s NO way i would have ever just walked into that convention, but my vocation took me there! There are a few nearly universal truths i can tell you about Haunters:
1) Haunters LOVE to party! i’ve been around other professional groups at their conventions before and i know every group thinks they are the kings & queens of living the wild-life while on that yearly business trip but you’re probably wrong. Unless you work for Pablo Escobar the Haunters probably got you beat! While on a public train a fellow convention-goer made sure that i knew he would hook me up with a little bump if i needed it, and gave me the low-down on at least 3 parties. That was on the train leaving the airport, the offers did-not decrease while i was there! Meanwhile, all i wanted to do was eat Gooey Butter Cake and nap.
2) Haunters are also super nice and helpful people! They talk about crazy stuff, like cubic footage in coffins, and edible vs non-edible fake blood but if you wanted to open up a new haunted house 95% of them would give you good solid advise on the do’s and don’ts (and probably shower you with booze and cocaine like you’re an extra on the filming of Wall Street in 1987). If you looked confused or lost they would stop and offer help, not paid workers at the convention offering assistance – other attendees. It was amazing!

Anyway: we got some new laser taggers, DID eat Gooey Butter Cake (thumbs up), St Louis Style Barbecue (more thumbs up), St Louis style pizza (very confused thumbs down???), we saw the Gateway Arch, and walked countless miles through a nicely revitalized downtown St Louis before hoping on a plane and coming back home to work and family. i’d go to St Louis again tomorrow (unless tomorrow is a summer day, been there in the summer- avoid it when it’s hot), hopefully my path will take me to the banks of the Mississippi in the Gateway to the West again again one day.

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we DID get the taggers we’d come looking for!

100: C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy

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Out of the Silent Planet: C.S. Lewis

A solid piece of work from a master of theological writings. Lewis’ spirituality doesn’t just creep into his Sci-Fi work, it pours in. This makes for a very interesting take on the Sci-Fi genre!

Of the trilogy Out of the Silent Planet is the strongest work. If you’re interested in checking it out but don’t want to read all three books you can safely read the first and never have to pick up the other two. The other two continue the story-line with the third bringing it to a close though. Silent Planet paints an interesting picture of a solar system teeming with life and Earth sequestered because of it’s sin issue. Perelandra paints a poignant picture of new life, a Garden of Eden scenario. That Hideous Strength brings everything to a close in a darker doomsday must be averted tale.

i really enjoyed the first book, i’d say Silent Planet gets a grade of A, Perelandra is a B/B-, and That Hideous Strength is a C.

Book Club of One Grade: B overall (see above for individual books though). i can’t stress how interesting Lewis’ theological bent makes the series to read. Silent Planet gets a solid recommendation for me, with an urge to press on if you find the opener compelling.

#69: The Farseer: Assassin’s Apprentice -Robin Hobb

Brief review inbound:
The first book of the Farseer trilogy was soundly in the OK territory for me. If i had more time to devote to reading i may continue into the other books, but for now i’ll let the first stand for my dip into this entry on the list of NPR’s Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy books.

The first quarter of the book was difficult for me to get through. It felt flowery and over written. The middle of the book settled into a pace that was much more agreeable. The last quarter of the book was pretty dang good. All the parts combined are what make the book OK for me instead of garnering a higher personal rating.

Hobb does an amazing job building political intrigue, and “The Wit” and “The Skill” are both very interesting takes on magic/telepathy. She builds a world that’s rich with history and social structure which is nice. My biggest obstacle was honestly just the style the book is written in.

Book Club of One Grade: C. It’s a solid one though. If you have a taste for purple prose you can’t go wrong with Hobb (that’s honestly NOT a stab at all, that’s a genuine statement from me). One day, when i’m semi-retired maybe, i might return to these books to see how everything plays out. Between the magicy-mental powers and people getting “forged” (you’ll have to read the book for an explanation on what that means) the concepts are really really good.

Colorado and Amicable Silences

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The Balcony House- Mesa Verde National Park

My dad is fascinated by the cliff-dwellings out West. This makes perfect sense, he dedicated his working life to building homes for countless people over his career. He’s one of the most proficient and passionate carpenters i’ve ever know and i owe him an incalculable debt because of the skills he’s handed down to me. So these brick and stone dwellings wedged into cliff faces naturally hold a special appeal to him.

He’d been to Mesa Verde a few times but never been able to tour the dwelling sites. Mesa Verde National Park sells tickets, very affordable tickets too, but they have to be purchased on site or in the nearby town of Cortez. The Park has a fine way of handling these ticket sales as you can even purchase advance tickets, up to two days prior to your visit. Alas, his visits to Mesa Verde have all been shall we say “pass thru” visits. Once he was on his way to Alaska on this used RV he had purchased, the second he was on a road trip by car, but neither trip had enough time for him to wait a day or two for a slot he could take. So he’s been fascinated by them but unable to see the dwellings in Mesa Verde up Close.

So talks began for he and i to take a trip to Colorado so he could finally tread where the builders of these sites had tread! We had a weapon in our fight to get the tickets we needed: i have a friend who lives in Cortez! She agreed to acquire the tickets we needed a day or two before so we booked some airfare to Denver and set out!

Denver, you question? Well, if you know where Mesa Verde is located and where Denver is located you probably do question. But yes, Denver. We figured if we were going to fly out to Colorado we may as well make some sort of road trip out of it! So road trip we did! We drove an amazing circuit of Colorado in a rented Buick Regal… Don’t get me started on that car (either i’m getting really old or the Buick Regal isn’t what it used to be! Probably my favorite rental car i’ve ever had and i’ve driven a lot of rentals).

Over the course of our Colorado road trip we drove through Rocky Mountain National Park, Gunnison National Park, of course Mesa Verde National Park. We passed through a handful of National Forests, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and San Juan to name drop three of them. We drove 30 miles on a gravel road that seemed to be leading to nowhere (actually did that a few times, but the 30 mile stretch was the longest one). We drove what i contend is the prettiest stretch of interstate highway in America, Interstate 70 West of Denver. We hit the Aspen leaf change perfectly! All the while that sleek and luxurious rental car carried us safely through it all, even to the top of Pikes Peak where the blizzard-like conditions at the peak meant we could see nothing- also we were the only car we saw that didn’t have to stop and let our brakes cool down at the brake check station! Was it the car… or the driver? i’ll let you decide (it was the driver, who was me).

 

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Of all the amazing experiences we had i don’t think anything was better for me than the morning we crawled through Balcony House and strolled in the grandeur of  Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde. My friend came through with tickets to what she dubbed the two best tours in the park! For me the cliff dwellings were very interesting, but the real payoff was being a part of making sure my father got something he wanted in this life. He’s at that age, and has had a measure of success in life, where if he wants something he probably has it. This man who had worked to feed and house me when i was growing up, who handed down as much of his encyclopedic knowledge of building as my brain would hold, to see him have this experience he’d been so close to having but missed before… That was as good as any Rocky Mountain view.

 

We spent a lot of time in a car that trip. We’d ride for a while, get out and look at the mighty Rocky Mountains. We’d eat Peanut Butter and Banana sandwiches in a National Park or a National Forest and find something hot to eat every night, sleeping at whatever deal Priceline would find us for a motel that night. We talked about frivolous things, serious things, and we didn’t talk at all. Some hours we’d just ride in amicable silence and watch the mountains crawl past, and it was a magical week in Colorado.

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My Dad and i- Rocky Mountain National Park

Acadia, a love affair begins!

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Ocean Path Trail: Acadia National Park

It was Fall of 2015 and my lovely bride and myself were poking around New England. Little side-note: weather conditions in 2015 had peak foliage rolling into the North East abnormally late, a fine piece of serendipity for us as it put us up to our eye-balls in a New England Autumn display! We were visiting a friend in Maine and since we were in the proverbial neighborhood made a few short day-trips into Acadia.

Before Acadia my experience with the National Park Service centered around the Appalachian Mountain chain; primarily the Blue Ridge Parkway (the NPS’s scenic byway through Virginia and North Carolina) and a foray or two to Smokey Mountain National Park as a kid with my parents. Acadia was the start of a much deeper relationship with our National Park Service than i’d had before. As we entered the pay-gate we splurged for the yearly pass and have been yearly NPS pass-holders ever since.

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Birch, Acadia National Park

We found ourselves smitten by the rugged beauty of the Maine coast-line. The way the mountains roll right into the rich fishing waters of the Atlantic here. We watched the sun rise from the windy ridge of Cadillac Mountain, then watched it set at the Bass Harbor Lighthouse, we walked beaches made of sand and stone. i even got to squeeze in a short road ride inside the park and rode my old trusty CAAD9 up Cadillac just for good measure!

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CAAD9, 3/4 of the way up Cadillac Mountain!

Being from the Mid-Atlantic region of the East Coast; shorelines have always held little appeal to me. The beaches that are relatively close to where we live are bland flat stretches of sand wrapped in a thick blanket of humidity. To get to them you have to leave the Blue Ridge Mountains (a place dear to my heart) and drive East and away from the vistas that inspire. You pass through the low flat regions of Virginia or North Carolina and into high-traffic, bastions of commerce. i know people absolutely LOVE those Eastern Beaches – evidenced by the population boom of the Norfolk area. Also, the fact that my own sister willingly left the more mountainous parts of the state we grew up in (Virginia) and moved to the beaches of North Carolina, a face that i do try not to hold against her… i try. That context of coast-line made Acadia so absolutely awe inspiring for us. i have a soft-spot for the rugged parts of the world: high mountain passes, craggy granite drop-offs, all of Wyoming, so the rugged beauty of Maine’s Atlantic abutment was good for my heart to experience, and i think it’s safe to say my wife felt the same.

Acadia really was a magical place for us. A place that launched our love of the National Park System. We didn’t get to spend nearly as much time in Acadia as we’d have like to, it’s on our list to make a trip to Acadia and dedicate more time to hiking it’s many trails and spending some more intimate time with this gem. This gem of a National Park that sparked our love of parks!

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Sand Beach, Acadia National Park

50: Contact -Carl Sagan

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i do love me some carl! The original Cosmos series being a cornerstone of young me’s love of all things science. i don’t know what i was expecting from Cosmos when i picked it up but what was between it’s covers felt very unexpected.

First, Sagan writes a very developed and compelling female protagonist. i really liked how complex a character she was. She really felt like a real person to me.

The first 80% of the book feel like fiction that’s about science. It shifts solidly into Sci-Fi territory in the end though. None of this is a complaint at all. It was super refreshing to get some serious scientific foundations built for a fine piece of Sci-Fi.

The pacing of Contact was slower than i’m normally drawn to but again, that’s not a complaint at all! The book had the perfect pacing for the story it was telling.

i feel like the aliens we eventually meet are exactly what you get if great minds of science dream about what could be out there! i’m very glad that Sagan turned his mega-brain to this piece of fiction.

He also raises and explores some interesting spiritual questions by the end of the book. Sagan, who is often painted as an Atheist by persons of faith is in fact more of an agnostic and that shines through in Contact.

Book Club of One Grade: A. A real solid A, i recommend this book without reservations,  just know going into it that it doesn’t have the “action-movie” pacing of many modern Sci-Fi works.