Lens-Artist Challenge: My Travels

I met Steve eight months after I was widowed. In the tumult of grief and transition, he offered me something that was transformational – a chance to go camping. My husband and four kids and I did not camp together. I hadn’t been camping for years, but I consider myself a lifetime Girl Scout. Getting back into the outdoors, practicing self-reliance and adaptability, and surrounding myself with the beauty and non-judgmental, non-moral embrace of Nature was just what I needed to consider Life worthwhile again. Steve’s style of camping has a distinct difference from mine: his motto is not “Be Prepared”. His motto is “Be Open”. My instinct to make lists and consult maps was challenged at the very outset. We spent the first hour of one of our early trips parked at the curb outside my house in a deep philosophical discussion of what it means to be on an adventure. 

Steve also introduced me to the wonder of the National Forests of the U.S.A. There is no fee for camping in the National Forests, but there are Leave No Trace rules. A world of freedom opened up for us when I discovered we could easily make camp, cook, clean up, sleep and deal with personal waste (!) outside of crowded developed campsites.

We have, however, depended on either his former Toyota or my late husband’s Honda to transport all our gear.I would love to be able to experience the freedom of going into even more remote wilderness areas, either with a 4-wheel drive vehicle with higher clearance or a backpack. (The latter would be more realistic if I were ten years younger and in better shape…)

We have enjoyed the diversity, the grandeur, and the autonomy of places not dominated by human impact. I find those sacred spaces truly inspiring… and extremely photogenic.

(I had to include that last photo just to prove I’m not kidding about the Girl Scout bit…)
I thank Amy for sharing her inspirational Travel stories and for inviting us into this Travel Challenge. 

Weekly Photo Challenge: I’d Rather Be…honest

How do I finish this sentence? “I’d rather be….” It presents a bit of a conflict.

If I can think of other things I’d rather be doing, then I’m not engaging with the present moment and the thing that I’m doing right now. I’d like to be a person that practices the discipline of positive presence, but honestly, I do a lot of wishful thinking.

That said…here’s what I would enjoy doing, any time!

#1 – Hanging out with my adult children. They are all tremendously stimulating individuals, and I’m very attached to them…and they all live at least 70 miles away from me. So occasions to be together are always a treat. Occasions when all five of us are together are extra special!

#2 – Camping. “Can I play outside? Please?” 

#3 – Making music, dancing to music, listening to music

So my complete fantasy would be singing around a campfire with all my kids. Hasn’t happened yet, but maybe some day….
Yeah, that would be a real Kumbaya moment. Peace out!

I’d Rather Be…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Glow

We arrived at our favorite dispersed campsite in the North Woods of Wisconsin just as the sun was dipping into that golden place barely above the horizon. I felt like a kid again, bounding out of the car toward the lake with my camera. Setting up the tent could wait. The GLOW was magic beckoning toward the west. The sky was the promise of beyond. I was in a heaven of happiness, here and now. 

Glow

An American Adventure: Part Three

Watershed and Finally…Bed. 

Since Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument had no campground, we were still looking for a place to stretch out horizontally and get some serious sleep. We decided to press on to the Gunnison National Forest. This meant crossing the Continental Divide.

I work for a land trust that focuses on the watershed of the Cedar Lakes, which includes a Sub-continental divide. Up on Washington Street, Highway 33, about two miles from my home, there is a brass plaque denoting this spot. From that hilltop, the water in the east flows down the Milwaukee River to Lake Michigan and out to the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence seaway. The water to the west of that divide flows to the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf of Mexico.  That divides the Eastern portion of the continent of North America. It is, therefore, the sub-continental divide. It’s on a hilltop. In Wisconsin. At an elevation of about 1,180 feet above sea level.

This is the Continental Divide that we drove over in Colorado. 

At 11,312 feet above sea level, it looks nothing like Wisconsin. 

So, after reaching this high point in our motor trip, we figured it was time to look for a campground. We followed the Gunnison River down the mountain at a steep decline. Every time we saw the road signs indicating a grade of 6% or more, Steve would call out “Truck on a wedge”. It sounded to me like short order diner slang, so I’d respond with “Truck on a wedge, hold the pickle!” This is what happens when you’re punchy.

After cruising the recreational areas through this canyon and downshifting to lower gears to avoid wearing down the brake pads too much, Steve noticed that the engine light on the dashboard of my 2005 Honda Accord (with 172K miles on it already) was lit up. Whaaaaat?

Decision point.  Do we press on into the early evening looking for a campground on the mountain or do we get the car into town before 5 p.m. on this Saturday night to see what that engine failure light is about? This is when I learn that I am the person who would rather have as much information as I can get before making longer term choices.

We learned at an auto parts store that the light was telling us that only the oxygen sensor has failed. The car was not going to die and leave us stranded on a mountain. The part was available (at another store). The labor wasn’t, at least not until Monday morning.  We bought the part and headed back into the mountains towards Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We didn’t have the daylight or stamina to search for free dispersed camping in the forest this time. So we made camp in the park at a developed camp site. 

Steve was exhausted and hadn’t had dinner. Further decision-making would have to wait. 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Early Bird Curiosity Eclipsing Fear

There is something in me that craves a sunrise.  I’ve known this for a long time.  It’s an exhilarating feeling, a feeling of adventure, of anticipation, of freedom.   Perhaps it’s because getting up early means you have a special mission…to board a plane or set off on a journey or explore a new day.  I think I first experienced this adventurous feeling when my sister and I set off cross-country on a road trip when she was 20 and I was 16.  She was going back to college in Ohio in her newly purchased car.  We set off from our home in California, and I was along for company.  Unfortunately, we never made it to Ohio because we crashed in Nebraska and she was killed.  That rather put a damper on my adventurous spirit for quite a while.  But I recently discovered that I still love a road trip even though I can never put disaster completely out of my mind.  Learning to embrace that perceived conflict, that life is exciting and wonderful and not entirely safe all at the same time, has been a great journey in itself.

Sunrise in Kansas on my most recent road trip

Sunrise in Kansas on my most recent road trip

It’s like the feeling I get when I’m camping ‘far from civilization’.  The nights seem very dark and very long as I lie awake in a tent with howling winds or other unidentified sounds surrounding me.  I feel aware and a bit afraid and very alive.  When the sun begins to rise, I feel eager to rush outside and see the light dawn on all those things that felt so mysterious and vaguely threatening.  I realize then that a sense of curiosity is eclipsing my fear.  That is what I want to develop more and more.  Perhaps that’s a return to childhood; perhaps that’s what maturity is.

Early morning frost on the tent in New Mexico - same trip

Early morning frost on the tent in New Mexico – same trip

Early Bird

Generating an Odyssey…Trip Phase 3

After camping for 2 nights at Mammoth Cave, we headed east toward the Daniel Boone National Forest.  We stopped at a public library to use the internet to get directions to a campsite, and were pleased to see that there were free campsites in the area.  This is one of the great ideas from the Forest Service.  Someone had the foresight to save public land through the federal government, meaning that everyone owns it and everyone can use it.  Of course, working out how it’s used and by whom is an art in balance.  There are rules of use intended to foster respect between different parties.  There are hunting seasons, there are trails for ATVs and trails for hikers only.  And there are shared trails, shared lands, shared campgrounds.  Hopefully, we can negotiate and live side by side.  Sometimes, that breaks down.  We got to S-Tree campground and found that it is maintained in part by an ATV club and has many trails where motor-powered All Terrain Vehicles are permitted.  There was no fee to camp there, and aside from two trailers in the campsite on the other hill across the forest road, we had the place to ourselves.  We set up our tent across from the pit toilets, gathered firewood, and went into town for some groceries.  The only thing on my list I couldn’t purchase was beer.  I found out later that Kentucky has 40 “dry” counties and 49 “moist” counties in their total of 120 counties, meaning that the sale of alcohol is not permitted or is restricted in those counties.  In other words, they still practice prohibition.  That doesn’t mean that you don’t find Jack Daniels bottles and cans of Bud Light in the woods.  Still, the weather was warm, only a little damp, and the place was quiet.  The wind, the birds, the rustle of leaves on the ground and in the trees, the starlight and the slim sliver of moon were perfect companions. 

We decided to do an extended hike on Friday, hedging our bets against an onslaught of weekend ATVers.   We did encounter one group of 4 vehicles while we were resting beside a concrete creek crossing.    We were following the Sheltowee Trace (a trail named after Daniel Boone’s native American nickname, meaning Big Turtle) for about 4 miles west along the Racoon Creek, and then planned to take an “unimproved” trail south through the woods, pick up a forest road there and loop back to the east.   The “unimproved trail” was so covered in leaves that it was indistinguishable from an erosion gulley that went straight up to the top of the ridge.  We ended up on top with no trail in sight.  So we did some basic orienteering and blazed south, thinking we’d hit the forest road eventually, which we did, but not before I went through every survival scenario I could imagine.  I was a Girl Scout for 12 years and a leader for 3, so I have practical skills.  Steve has no sense of direction at all, but he also has no anxieties.  Together we actually make a reasonable and happy pair of adventurers.  By the time we got back to camp and started a fire for supper, we were pretty pleased with ourselves and pleased with Kentucky.  We planned to stay one more night and then make camp in a different area of the Forest to hike up the Rockcastle Narrows.  While we sat at the picnic table, we saw an SUV hauling a trailer and a pickup truck following it up the campsite road.  The road was narrow and gutted, so the guy in the trailer had his wife get out of the pickup and help him navigate.  They managed to pull past our site and set up about 100 feet away in another slot.  Then they left in the pickup.  So, we had company, but on a Friday night, that was not unusual.  They looked like an older couple and hadn’t any ATVs with them, so we figured they would be good neighbors.  They returned at about 8pm while we were snuggled up in the tent talking.  A little while later, we heard the noise of a generator coming from their site.  It was impossible to ignore it.  It droned on and on.  Quiet hours in the National Forest are posted for 10pm – 6am.  We figured they were running their generator for a few hours before turning in.  But maybe not.  At 9pm, Steve decided he would go over and ask them how long they intended to keep the machine running, as we were trying to sleep.  The old man was in his pajamas; he said he planned to run the thing all night “for heat”.   Steve tried to suggest that went against the rules for quiet hours, but the man said that he’d never had an issue before and that we could simply move.  Steve is calm and gentle and polite, so he came back to the tent to discuss the situation with me.  We both felt bullied by the man’s refusal to negotiate, and we decided to pack up and head out.  We pulled out at 10pm and waved to the man as we left.  He was standing outside his trailer in his nightclothes.  (How cold was it, then?)

So, we learned some more about Kentucky.  Finding a hotel room along the Interstate on a Friday night is not easy.  In London, they were booked up due to a Civil War Reenactment event.  In Richmond, they were booked up for a University football game.  Finally, in Lexington, we found a “smoking Queen” available.  It was 1 a.m.  The next installment will tell you how we made up for our disappointment.  Here are some photos:

Where in the World Were You?

Well, our journey to “Metaphorical Maine” has come to a close, I think.  We had set aside 3 weeks and actually came back in 10 days.  We added a day trip after two days of rest, but I think we’re home-based again.  Steve has re-activated his online bookselling business, so that means we’ll be no more than 2 days away from home now.  Did we actually go to Maine?  No.  The weather report for the northeast was predicting “rainy and cold” for the entire first week.  We figured that might dampen our spirits, so we headed south.  We ended up staying the first night in exactly the same spot where we stayed on our first trip together 4 years ago…in the car, pulled into a picnic area in the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois.  We slept in the car from 3 a.m. until dawn, then found a proper campsite at the Pound Lake Hollow area.  We enjoyed hiking on Beaver Trail 006 in the forest and the Rim Rock Trail.  There was no moon; the stars were bright enough to guide us on a night hike (no flashlight) the second day down to the lake where we startled a beaver.  At least I think it was a beaver.  We never actually saw him, but either he was pounding the surface of the lake at intervals from different spots with his powerful tail, or someone was throwing bricks into the still, dark water from somewhere very well hidden!  Here’s a little gallery of shots from the Shawnee National Forest.