Our Vacation. The Complete Tale, in Three Parts (3)

I’ve been trying to figure out how to do this blog. A select number of people got to read the following each day as my husband sent out an update; most of my legions of readers (stop laughing) probably haven’t.

As it’s our vacation, and as its old news a month later, it probably won’t interest you all that much. However, this seemed to be the best way to gather everything from the vacation and record it for us.

Each night, I uploaded photos and began editing, and Timmy wrote a little update. Timmy likes to write. There are no short updates. 🙂

Our Vacation was astounding, fascinating and beautiful!

(The photos I am putting with the updates don’t truly correspond, but that is because by the time I finished editing, there were 1469 photos on the website. I then broke them down, and felt that subject rather than day made more sense.)

For ease of reading I am breaking even this up into three posts. (This is definitely more for us, than for you, gentle reader, so it’s all good if you just skim!)

If you make it through, good for you!! 🙂 If you like, please, comment!

Part THREE

“Day Eleven”
Trish started our vacation with a head cold, and she was sweet enough to pass it on to me, so I will attempt to keep this log entry short.
I also neglected to mention that as we crossed Wyoming last night, we had an eerie experience. With the wide open landscape, you can also see weather as it develops and moves, which is amazing in itself. As we moved east on I-80 we could see a thunderstorm brewing out in front of us, and with each speeding mile we closed the gap. Finally the skies were dark over us and the rain began to fall. The lightening flashes we had been watching in the distance now lit the sky with each bolt.
We passed the exit for Flaming Gorge and part of the highway tunnels through a mountain, once we emerged on the other side each flash of the storm quickly lit the terrain around us and the craggy rock formations loomed outside the windows like sentinels watching in the darkness. Overall it was slightly creepy but exhilarating as well.
Trish tried to capture the flashes and bolts with many different settings on her camera, but her noble effort proved fruitless. Can’t blame the girl for trying though; if it had worked it would have been a phenomenal shot.
This morning all traces of the storm had disappeared, and blue skies with white, billowy clouds were the order of the day. We also took note that Wyoming must be the wind farm capitol of the USA. We cruised past several large collections of turbines, and one was easily over a hundred units in size. Given the windy driving conditions we faced most of the day, I can see why this would be an ideal location for these graceful giants.
Once we crossed into Colorado the traffic took a marked increase, and we exited the interstate and headed for Estes Park, which is a community at the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. To say that Estes Park is a retail boomtown would be a massive understatement as stores, shops and various eateries line the streets almost all the way to the park entrance. The place was crawling with people like ants on a rotten apple, for what I could only guess was a last gasp of summer.
The road that climbs the rest of the way to the Park entrance is a beauty; cut into the mountainside, it mimics the path of the Big Thompson River. Cars can be found parked on many corners as sportsman enjoy fly fishing and hiking along the shallow, churning water as it winds down the rocky river bed. We dropped the top and soaked in the breeze as we rode.
After passing the entry gate, the climb to the sky begins in less than four miles. Trail Ridge Road zigzags up the evergreen filled mountains offering some stunning overlooks. One item that might be easily missed is the long sticks that are intermittently placed along the roadside. The road remains closed for “winter” snow from October to Memorial Day, and these sticks serve as markers so the plow drivers don’t run off the edge since most corners have no guardrails or barriers. The scary part is that these marking sticks are about ten to twelve feet tall. I don’t know how deep the snow gets up there but the markers tell me it might be severe.
The tree line drops away a little past 10,000 feet of elevation and the view opens up to panoramic proportions. The road continues to climb until it peaks at a bit over 12,000 feet, where the wind can gust up to 100 mph and lightening and thunderhead clouds can form in minutes from the rising thermal heat. I watched the thermometer in the dash of my car and the temperature dropped 24 degrees from when we entered the road until we reached the peak.
Beartooth Pass was a similar experience, and today we witnessed the same kind of remaining glacial snow and high altitude lakes, but the sensation was no less intoxicating.
The trip down the mountain yielded fruit for Trish as well when we finally spotted a young male Elk, who seemed happy to pose and give his best “The Hartford” profile.
We had dinner in the small town of Granby at the foot of the mountain, at a place called Maverik’s, and it was a hidden gemstone. True freshly prepared dishes with home cooked flavor, great service at reasonable prices. What more could you ask?
Granby was quite deceptive as a town, since the map shows it to be almost the same size as Estes Park. Given the bustling nature of Estes we assumed Granby would be similar on the western slope of the mountain. Not so.
Granby is a “main street” town and I didn’t recognize a single name as far as a chain retail business is concerned, not a 7-Eleven or gas station of prominent title. I would consider Granby to be the alter ego of Estes Park, small town solitude as opposed to retail blitz.
The sun set on our day as we crossed the mountains one last time through the Arapaho National Forest, which is home to some of Colorado’s famed ski resorts. All was quiet there for now, which is more than I can say for the insane traffic once we reached Denver. This place reminds me of the kind of lunatic fringe you experience on the DC beltway, and I was glad to finally get to a hotel.
Tomorrow we leave Colorado en route to St. Louis and the Gateway Arch.
Now for some meds and rest, it’s been a long day in the saddle.
Aurora, Colorado – 4253 miles

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PHOTO BREAK! On the Road Again

“Day Twelve”
Today was mostly a travel day, but this country never ceases to amaze even if you are just rolling by. Technically we weren’t in Denver last night but one of the suburbs called Aurora.
We grabbed breakfast at local spot named “Rosie’s Diner,” which was right behind the hotel (ain’t that convenient) The décor was 50’s style with lots of Elvis and Marilyn references, and a local car club called “Mile High Cruisers” had photos of members’ cars lined up around the ceiling. Excellent food and great prices as well.
I dropped Trish at a local quilt shop while I gave Ms. Ladyhawke a spray wash, and then we waved goodbye to Denver. I certainly won’t miss the crazy traffic, but once we were outside the beltway, the skyline of the city against the backdrop of the majestic Rocky Mountains made a beautiful image in the rearview mirror.
Coming into Denver the night before had required navigating several steep grades, and while leaving this morning wasn’t as dramatic, it was as if the mountains came to a dead stop and the terrain dropped to gentle rolling plains. This landscape continued all the way out of Colorado and across the entire state of Kansas.
The enormous vistas we witnessed today left me awestruck at the overwhelming amount of agriculture in this country. All the way across Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and South Dakota on our way out, and now half of Colorado and all of Kansas; the farmland reaches as far as vision will allow. I can only assume Nebraska is more of the same. I realize farming today has advanced technology and a great deal of equipment, but the sheer acreage I have seen alone seems impossible to manage, especially given the small number of people that appear to live in these sections of the country.
I was astonished to find that the entire state of Wyoming has a population smaller that Staten Island, NY.  While we may think of life today as being hugely advanced over how it used to be, that simply isn’t the case in every part of this country. Much of the wide open west still retains a frontier attitude, and for some parts they do so with good reason.
I-70 runs like a backbone almost dead straight across the Kansas countryside, and in many locations you can see it all the way to the horizon. Ms Ladyhawke was in her element here as we cruised at 75mph for hours at a time. Stop, refill fuel tank, repeat. Every tankful brought mpg figures between 27-31, and who can complain about that kind of performance? The only drawback was an incredibly brisk and almost constant crosswind all day. The occasional gust could nearly force a lane change, which made for great fun when passing the numerous trucks, and I say that with all sarcasm.
In a touch of irony of both technology and timing, I mentioned to Trish that Kansas should be the perfect place for a wind farm or possibly the wind capital of the country if these conditions were frequent. Only a short while later we came upon a collection of turbines, and I thought there surely must be more than just these few. After my next re-fueling stop we came upon the largest wind farm we had seen thus far. The number of turbines was staggering, and we began counting mile markers to get some kind of scale of just how big it was, over twelve miles passed with turbines at least four deep. I don’t know how much power such a facility is capable of generating, but it seems like it would be an impressive figure.
Despite the windy conditions, we had been blessed with clear skies for the whole of the day, and Trish expressed her hopes to see a huge sky of stars that evening. So we stopped at place called “Freddy’s” and enjoyed some soft serve ice cream as we waited for the sun to set, then Ms. Ladyhawke shined once again.
We donned our jackets, dropped the top, raised the windows, and lifted the mesh windscreen behind the seats. The result was a serene cockpit at a leisurely 60mph cruise speed, and my wife leaned her head back as she gazed at the heavens. At one point we got off the highway at one of those desolate exits with absolutely nothing around (and those weren’t hard to find), pulled to the side of the entrance ramp and switched off the headlights.
The result was simply amazing and wondrous to behold as stars that would otherwise be unseen sparkled behind the more prominent constellations. I turned down the brightness of the dash lights, and after your eyes had a few moments to adjust the effect was even more brilliant. These are the kind of simple experiences that stir the soul, and the kind of image that no picture will ever be able to do justice. While looking at such vast beauty is humbling by scale alone, it is also a strong reminder to me that I am not alone, and that a Higher Power works on an eternal scale. I am but a small part of that mosaic, like a thread in a tapestry or a brush stroke in a mural, there is an integral purpose to be served.
We landed just outside of Kansas City for the night, and tomorrow we aim for St Louis.
To rest, and soar on the morrow.
Lawrence, Kansas – 4838 miles

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PHOTO BREAK! Flora

“Day Thirteen”
Almost officially two weeks and we are closing in on home base. We got a late start this morning mostly because I took a strong dose of Ny-Quil before bed, so the cell phone alarm clock had little effect. We had breakfast at IHOP and got through Kansas City but the Ny-Quil hangover I was nursing still lingered. I pulled off at the Missouri welcome center overlooking Arrowhead Stadium, grabbed the neck pillow and caught a 30 minute nap. Sometimes it still amazes my wife what a little face washing and a half hour of snooze time can do, but I am a firm believer in not fighting droopy eyes behind the wheel.
The ride across Missouri was largely uneventful, and the hills got larger as we entered the Ozark Mountains. Gone were the massive vistas we had marveled at for the past few days as tall stands of trees now lined the roads on both sides.
It was somehow odd and bewildering to read the passing billboard signs. I don’t think I have ever seen such a public war being waged as alternating signs displayed Jesus, the adult book/toy stores, anti-abortion, adult clubs and so on. This advertising ping-pong went on for miles and I was forced to wonder how many better places so much ad money could be put to use…but that’s a whole other subject.
Overcast skies and occasional rain were also the order of the day, which always makes travel challenging. This is just enough weather to make many drivers think of it as insignificant and their aggressive habits near any sizeable city quickly show. We saw a state trooper pursue a large red pickup truck up an on-ramp and then weave wildly through traffic. I don’t know if the truck was attempting to run or if he was just so busy being stupid as not to notice the patrol car hot on his heels.
The old saying, “Timing is everything” certainly held true today as we rolled into St. Louis right about rush hour. The traffic thickened with every passing mile as we headed for the riverfront until we finally got bumper-to-bumper about a mile before our exit.
After a lap of the Gateway Arch grounds, we located a parking deck where an almost empty upper level afforded some great shots of Ms. Ladyhawke with the Arch rising in the background. We then hiked down to the Arch complex, which I had no idea was so extensive.
The entire visitor center is underground between the twin foundations of the Arch. There are souvenirs, theaters and an impressive interactive museum regarding the westward expansion of our country. The artifacts and displays are well laid out and I was both surprised and glad to see a major section devoted to the Native Americans. At least somewhere someone had the courage to display the quotes and tell the stories of how we broke treaties, promises and generally regarded them as less than human, or an obstacle that stood in the way of our progress that needed to be removed. One might expect to see such things in a facility on reservation land, but it was unusual to see since this was the National Park Service.
We considered taking the tram to the observation windows at the top of the Arch, but thankfully some wise person has placed a tram car in the lobby for you to test fit yourself. The quarters are quite cramped; squeezing five people into a cylindrical shape that looks like it could fit inside a Toyota Yaris coupe. The adjacent plaque clearly states the ride up is 4.5 minutes and the ride down is 3.5 minutes, and those with claustrophobia or motion sickness should not attempt the ride. I can see why since the tram cars use a swivel system akin to a ferris wheel in order to keep the car level as it climbs inside the Arch legs. Closed up inside this windowless sardine can for 5 minutes as it jiggled its way to the top was not at all appealing, so we opted for a film instead.
The documentary entitled, “Monument to a Dream,” was only 35 minutes long but quite impressive as it chronicled the design and construction of the Gateway Arch. This simplistic looking design proved to have many engineering challenges to overcome, and the means by which they achieved them seem archaic by modern standards. Nonetheless, they raised a gracefully beautiful edifice of stainless steel and concrete that is as glorious to behold today as it was when it was completed in 1965.
As an industrial worker myself, and with the modern emphasis placed on safety, watching the workers in this film bolt and weld steel sections 600 feet in the air with only a hard hat for protection was mind-boggling. Yet the film stated that not a single life was lost in the years it took to complete the project, despite wind, snow and summer heat.
When I walked back outside I closely examined the outer skin of the Arch at its north base, and the evidence of hand crafted workmanship is readily apparent. The welds that bind the massive sheets of stainless steel are not fillet smooth or laser straight, but slightly irregular with the close spatter never having been ground away.
As I looked at my hazy reflection, and then upward as the Arch soars high above, I could not help but think about the time frame of its construction. During the same years when man was reaching for the surface of the moon, this marvel was rising here on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River. This was a time when computers were infantile and feats like these were tackled with math, slide rulers and sheer brains, while the guts, muscle and skill of tradesmen shaped them into reality. I take nothing away from the magic that modern technology has made possible, but we stand on the shoulders of those who laid the solid foundation we build upon today.
We left St Louis as the sun sank low in the sky, and the orange glow brightly backlit the Arch as we crossed the Mississippi and it was a sight I shall long remember. We pressed on through southern Illinois and into Indiana, mostly for the lack of any available place to stop. I-64 through this section is as desolate a road as I have ever been on, and I easily could have counted the vehicles I passed on one hand. However, what was lost on traffic was made up for by the mass genocide of the insect community I committed with my windshield. I fear to look at Ms Ladyhawke’s front bumper in the morning, and I’m sure a spray car wash will be in order before we proceed any farther.
Google maps show us about twelve hours from home at our present destination, so we may make home base by tomorrow night. If not, then early Thursday should see Miss Ladyhawke get a well deserved rest.
Homeward bound.
Evansville, Indiana – 5312 miles

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PHOTO BREAK! Monumental

“Day Fourteen”
Today got off to reasonable start as we had breakfast in the hotel. An online friend of mine had recommended “Drury Inns” if we were anywhere in the Midwest, and it turned out to be good advice. The room was very nice, complete with a desk and ethernet connection if you chose not to use the wireless. No hidden charges and the morning breakfast was definitely above average.
The next order of business was a spray car wash, and we located one only a few miles away. The quantity of pummeled insects on the front of the car was staggering, and it took scrubbing with the foam brush as well as repeated spraying to get them loose. I was also saddened to find several rock chips that will need touch-up paint to repair. This trip has only served to reinforce how badly I hate getting anywhere near a dump truck on the highway. I know they are a necessary evil in order to perform many kinds of construction, but the amount of crap they sling all over the roadway is ridiculous.
I must confess I hate leather bras on the front of cars, but for this kind of trip I can see their value.
After finally getting on the highway, it wasn’t long before we were distracted by a unique discovery. It seems we located Santa’s summer hideaway in small, rural Indiana town discreetly named, Santa Claus, Indiana.
It took us tracking a few miles off the highway to find the place, but lo and behold, in the middle of cornfields, trees and farmhouses, this Christmas destination lies neatly tucked away. It has its very own theme park called “HolidayWorld”as well as Christmas shops, food stores and even a car care center. Proof positive that Santa loves his car guys and Ms. Ladyhawke posed for one of her many postcard shots.
We rolled away the rest of the day as we chatted, listened to music, sang along badly (as is required for travel) and stopped for drain and refill points. Once we crossed into Kentucky we were back in the Eastern Time zone and one step closer to home.
We soared across Kentucky, past the horse farms and back into the Appalachian Mountains, over the Big Sandy River and into West Virginia. Here I found that even a 75mph cruise speed (in a 70mph speed limit zone) was still too slow for the pace of traffic. This required a good deal of lane changing to let the zoomers run past, and they did so even through the work zones. Granted, all of the workers had knocked off for the day by this time, but I’ve already had my dose of double fines in New York State when we were returning from Chicago a few years ago. I won’t be that out-of-state fall guy anymore.
Once we reached Charleston, WV we finally hit our first full fledged traffic jam. Repair work on the bridge entering the city backed things up for several miles, but we only sat for a few minutes before moving through. By this time it was closing on 7:00pm so we stopped for dinner and considered our options. Trish had been checking emails and texts on her phone all day, staying in contact with her family concerning her father’s health.
Aunt Gael called during dinner, and being the “talker” that she is (God lover her) our stop took a bit longer than usual.
Afterwards, we hopped on the West Va. Turnpike and I told Trish she wasn’t going to like this part of the journey. The sun had set and the trucks were plentiful as we entered the northern section of the turnpike, which is rich with steep grades and tight turns. Trish doesn’t like these kinds of roads under good conditions, and she had handled Beartooth Pass and Trail Ridge Road quite well, but neither was filled with trucks or run at 70mph speeds.
Trish kept her eyes on the glowing light of her phone (her beacon of safety) as the West Va. Le Mans got underway. Ms. Ladyhawke and I dove, swooped, banked and climbed as the lumbering trucks were no match for her agility. While she might lack the torque for tough hill climbing, at 70-75mph her rpm stayed high enough, along with her momentum to bleed off very little speed. We made short work of the distance between Charleston and Beckley, and my back and shoulders let me know that little sprint, on top of all day in the saddle was enough.
We settled in Beckley for the night, about a 4 hour trek to home. So we take flight with the morning sun, and soar one last time to complete an adventure that will live with us for a lifetime.
Last flight for home.
Beckley, West Virginia – 5754 miles

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PHOTO BREAK! St. Louis

“Epilogue”
Sometimes the dichotomy of life really surprises me. Our stay in Beckley, WV was quiet, once we got inside the hotel. The parking lot was absolutely flooded with rental cars, minivans and company trucks. The front desk clerk informed us that there was a training session going on for mine rescue workers, which accounted for all the trucks and the fifteen or so guys hanging around outside.
At first glance one would have thought you were in front of a slightly redneck bar, with guys shouting and laughing while they smoked and drank beer. A roughneck looking bunch to be sure, but when you’re the guy who goes down a dark hole in the Earth to pull another guy out, I’m sure he looks like a God-sent angel.
I suppose it takes a special breed of human with titanium stones and a carbon fiber spine to do that kind of work, and I’m quite sure the mine workers are glad they do, and could probably care less what they do in their free time. Its just one more good example of not judging a book by its cover. However, I was very thankful they left the rowdiness outside, since we never heard a peep the rest of the night.
They must have gotten an early start since the parking lot was almost vacant when we packed up the car. At the suggestion of my dear sister, we ventured a couple of blocks north from the hotel to visit the Tamarack Center.
The striking appearance of this place is punctuated by the multi-peaked roof that lends the image of a king’s crown, but once inside this ingenious architecture permits generous natural light. The motif is carried over throughout the interior, which houses space for all manner of local artisans to display their wares.
Paintings, sculptures, quilts, hand crafted furniture, and exquisite glass and wood crafts are here in abundance. You could easily wander through the various sections for hours, and if you do, then not to worry because there is a quaint dining area manned by chefs from the Greenbrier Hotel. They were still serving breakfast when we arrived, and the food prepared for us was a delight. Everything was fresh and tasty, from the cinnamon fried apples to the golden, fluffy biscuits.
While we looked around we discovered another interesting feature of the Taramack Center. We had noticed large wooden doors on the outer sections as we parked. Once inside we found that these are work areas, with glass overlooks, where you can watch some of these fine artisans as they apply their skill. The simplicity of the tools and materials that you see make the talent of the artist all the more evident, especially when you look around at their already finished pieces.
Thanks Sis, for a wonderful way to have breakfast and kick off our final leg home.
The rest of our ride home was much like our other travel days, filled with talk and music while we roll away the miles. Sometimes I stop and think about how fortunate I am that my wife and I can still chat away for long periods of time about a wide array of subjects, even though we have known each other for ten years. I’ve heard some of my co-workers complain that they had to ride with their wives for an hour or two, so I assume a cross country vacation of two weeks would be out of the question.
Miss Ladyhawke was a wonderful companion for our trip, as she provided comfort, sunny days, starry nights, lively music and room for all our stuff. She took a truckload of bugs on her nose, but I cleaned her often so she could pose for her shots at the destinations she delivered so well. Our worst tank of fuel was 24mpg and our best was 34. Not too shabby considering the altitudes we climbed to and the stretches of high speed cruising. All told, we logged 6047 miles, start to finish and what an amazing trip it was in between.
At 5:19pm, she glided into her driveway spot for a well deserved rest. (and a bath tomorrow)

Home. 6047 miles.

To see all the photos, go to this link.

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