Sunday, December 30, 2012

Looking Back On 2012: Transition

Looking back on 2012, it's been a year of transition for me.

The first six months I spent in south-central Pennsylvania were generally good, productive and fun. Mostly, though, it was a rewarding experiment in being in one place for a while.

Very different from my constantly moving, high-energy lifestyle of the past six years, I found myself feeling surprisingly comfortable living at a slower pace. Developing deeper connections with people in a community, following-up on opportunities rather than just moving on to the next one, and making progress on projects instead of perpetual travel plans were salient parts of my experience.

Although I was careful to make clear to everyone that I wouldn't be staying forever, there was a different energy from them thinking I would be gone tomorrow. It fostered a momentum to move relationships and projects forward, but without the manic urgency of "now or never." My departure stemmed from my readiness to move on, rather than being driven by a train timetable.

I was aware of this being a different mode of living my life, and upon reflection I see that it was the beginning of a larger scale transition. I'm still not interested in living someplace forever, but I think I may have transitioned from being a full-time traveler to being something more like a serial seasonal resident. I'm looking forward to exploring -- and reporting -- more about this transition.

Similarly, my cross-country road trip on US Highway 30 was different from my previous treks. It was less like "what I'm doing en route to the next big adventure" and more like "the migration to my next place for a while." I was bound for the pacific northwest, but I didn't have a pre-set arrival date in mind. No boat to catch, no event to be in time for and no reason to hurry along the way.

As a result, I enjoyed the trip more than past drives. Despite the fact that the road itself was the least pleasant one I've driven, I stopped more often, spent more time in places and got more out of it overall. Hanging out for hours with old ladies in little town museums was a new and surprisingly enjoyable experience. I also found myself looking at places as possible seasonal locations, rather than just as burgs I've been through. Upon reflection, that's more evidence of a personal transition.

It's been my experience that life gives us profound and compelling opportunities to realize what we need to, when we need to. This fall has been an example of that for me. Virtually everything that has happened in the past three months has spurred, spotlighted and reinforced the transition I'm in:
• The theft of my truck triggered a complete overhaul of my road-rig and living situation. I don't have nearly the same degree of capabilities for extreme exploration, but I'm significantly more comfortable for seasonal stays. I'm honestly happier with the result going forward than I am sad about the loss behind me.

• Last month, my 96 year-old "aunt" had an episode that put her in the hospital, followed by a stint in rehab. I spent time in New York making adjustments to her living situation so that she could move home again, and to help set her up to live the rest of her life as best she can. It's clear to me that the timeline of caring for elders in my life has begun, and that also has implications for my transition going forward. Being able to change locations and stay someplace for a while has taken proper priority over being footloose in the world.

• This past month I've had a very personal experience of love, loss and longing. I'm not willing to say any more about it in this venue, except that it has greatly increased my clarity about what I want in my life going forward. Thus, I'm aware that my current transition extends beyond changing where I go, what I do and how I do it. Who will go with me now matters.
I've been thinking about how to write this post for a few days, but it wasn't until I stood on the deck of a ferry boat to the San Juan islands yesterday that it became clear. Looking out across the cold, misty straits I thought, "I can't see what's around that foggy point, but I know it's gonna be great!"

So there's my look back on 2012: Macgellan has been in transition, an evolution which will almost certainly continue apace in 2013.

I fully expect to continue my explorations, and will happily report my findings as warranted. The ongoing Voyage of Macgellan may be different and harder to predict, but I'm sure it's going to be great… Stay tuned!

Monday, December 03, 2012

Winter Camp

Greetings from my Winter Camp! As you can see, I'm in a nice, open lot in a beautifully wooded campground. I'm quite happy with my location for the winter, just a few minutes from "downtown" Anacortes in one direction and roads leading to the larger cities of Burlington, Bellingham and Seattle in the other.

As you can also see, I've completely restructured my Road Rig -- aka "World Headquarters of Me Right Now" -- consisting of a new truck and a new trailer. This restructuring has involved a pretty complicated set of variables, constraints and transactions -- too much to explain in full -- but here's the gist of it:

I've downsized my truck to a Ford F-150, basically a smaller, lighter, more nimble of version of Darth's F-350 stature. Accordingly, I've named my new truck Anakin, a reference which I hope is fairly obvious. He's got plenty of interior room and comfort, plus all the modern technology with which I am trying to become familiar. He doesn't have the same hauling or towing capacity as Darth, but his twin-turbo EcoBoost engine has plenty of pep and power to meet my needs going forward. So far, I'm pretty impressed and happy with him.

Downsizing my truck prompted me to also downsize from my Arctic Fox camper and sled. Since there's no way I could ever put the camper in the back of my new truck, I could never use it as a truck camper again. Leaving it permanently on the sled and hauling that combined rig around all the time doesn't make sense either, mostly because it is very heavy for its size.

So, I traded in the combined camper and sled for a new, traditional travel trailer. At 20 feet long, it's just about the same overall length as my old rig, but it is less than half the weight and easily within the towing capacity of Anakin. It's also got substantially more interior space which -- after a little customization -- should suit me very well going forward.

The past month has been disruptive, exhausting and expensive for me, but I feel good about where I am now. I don't have the same configuration options or overall capabilities with my new rig, but it's lighter, more comfortable, lower impact and less expensive to operate. I'm looking forward to being in my winter camp for the next few months and will post current events as warranted.

I expect to hit the road again early next spring. Meanwhile… Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Darth: R.I.P.

The insurance company declared Darth a total loss. He has gone to truck heaven. In memoriam, here are photos of Darth at three of his finest moments. He will be missed. May he rest in peace.

I've spent practically every minute of the past two weeks doing paperwork, making calls, looking at options, juggling finances and working on what's next. It's been a complicated, disruptive and exhausting experience, but I'm close to having a plan set in motion... Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Darth: Stolen and Stripped

No, I'm not kidding... No, this isn't a joke.

Sometime in the early morning hours of Friday, October 5th -- the day before I flew to Alaska -- my truck was stolen from a parking lot in Seattle. I held the scant hope that someone had just taken him for a joyride until I received a call last Friday that he had been found, almost entirely stripped.

On the outside, it's obvious that the thieves took my custom Rickson wheels and tires, the air-bag suspension for my camper and the entire front-end bumper-winch-lights assembly. Also gone is my truck box and its entire contents of winch equipment, towing gear, fuel cans, tools, etc.

Under the hood, both batteries were removed by cutting the wiring harnesses, and other engine parts are damaged or missing. The interior was entirely stripped of seats, console, electronics, etc. All of my personal property was taken, including a large duffel of winter gear for my trip to Alaska.

If you've been following my travels, you know that Darth is an integral part -- literally the driving force -- of my road rig. This is a major set-back for me, both personally and professionally.

I'm fully engaged in the insurance process, but I don't know anything yet. I have no idea what will happen, how or when. I will let you know when I do. Please don't ask me any questions.

Meanwhile, I still plan to establish my winter camp in Anacortes. A friend has very kindly offered to tow my camper sled to the RV park where I will be staying. After that, I can only wait to see what happens with Darth, consider my options going forward and make plans accordingly.

If it's sick to love a machine, I plead guilty. Darth has served me exceptionally well in every situation we have faced together, from the most comfortable pleasure cruises down the road to the harshest of extreme arctic expeditions. He didn't deserve this treatment at the hands of savages.

Friday, October 12, 2012

SP Kennel: Season Start-Up

I'm at SP Kennel in Two Rivers, Alaska, for a couple of weeks, to help with some "season start-up" projects.

First things first, however, I got some quality time with the dogs, including this photo op with fantastic lead dog Dingle!

Within moments of my arrival, I was covered in mud and dog hair -- pretty much "as usual" around here -- and just as happy as I can be!

So, what am I doing here?

The biggest project is upgrading the SPK DogLog with a top priority to show "more dogs, more of the time." Check it out!

I'm also updating databases for dog training stats, keeping track of sponsors and an assortment of new collateral material. There's a whole lot more to running a kennel than just running dogs, and it's hard -- but very important -- to keep it all up to date in the chaos of a sled dog racing season.

It's been two full seasons since I've been here, but it mostly feels very familiar.

One thing I remember quite well is the temperature! It's only the middle of October, but it's already a very "crispy" 12 degrees outside. That's nothing compared to the dead of winter around here, but it's a slap in the face coming up from 70 degree Seattle.

I also remember how fast the days get shorter at this latitude. In just the week I've been here, the sun has set noticeably earlier!

There's also a lot that has changed since I was last here. The first thing I noticed are all the new faces of dogs I don't know!

During my two consecutive winters here from '08-'10, I'd gotten to the point I could identify every dog on sight, coming or going, in the dim daylight or the black of night. I can still recognize much of the team, but there are many young, rising superstars whom I can't tell apart. The hardest to identify -- by far -- are Biscuit's yearlings... Seriously, give me a break!

Another big change at SP Kennel are the new buildings. When I was here, we did everything in the small basement of the house, with much tripping over sleds, gear, clothing and each other. There was a pole barn where you could dig out something you might need, and a very small feed shed that wasn't much more than a place to keep kibble locked away from scavengers.

The old pole barn and feed shed are gone, replaced by a large workshop building. Big enough to hold the four-wheelers, sleds, gear, etc., it also houses the workout facilities that Aliy and Allen use to keep in peak physical shape. On top of all that, it has facilities for dog examinations, treatment, rehabilitation and even housing!

The other new building was built specifically for a major research project this summer, and consists of a central 18-dog "condo" area with individual runs outside. It will be used for various purposes going forward, including to give dogs a chance to get inside during the coldest days of winter.

Despite the very strong lure of SP Kennel, I won't be staying for the winter. It just doesn't fit into my life right now. I will do as much as I can over the next ten days to help the SP Kennel Team rev up. I'm looking forward to another fantastic season of sled dog racing... Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Cinderella Story

The ballet performance of Cinderella that my good friend Brendan and I attended yesterday -- to see his wife Maria Chapman dance the lead -- was a Saturday matinee. Typical for such a performance day and time, the audience was at least one-quarter composed of little girls dressed in all manner of Cinderella-like outfits, dreaming of being the fairytale girl herself.

We were blessed -- and quite entertained -- to have one such little girl sitting right in front of us. Throughout the performance, she swayed in her seat to the music and dance, quietly asked her mother a million questions and had her eyes riveted on Cinderella.

During the intermissions, we chatted briefly with her mom about how fun it was to see her daughter caught up in the magic, and to acknowledge that her daughter is destined to be "quite a handful."

As the curtain calls were wrapping up, Brendan tapped the mom on her shoulder, explained that Maria is his wife and asked, "Would your daughter like to meet Cinderella?" The answer was an emphatic "Yes!" and we hustled backstage.

At first the little girl was a bit overwhelmed, but quickly adjusted and beamed from ear to ear while posing for a photo with her fairytale idol. Could it be any sweeter than this?

When Maria went into her dressing room to change, the prop mistress brought out her tiara and asked the little girl if she'd like to wear "Cinderella's crown."

Her answer was another emphatic "Yes!" and I got this shot which is surely destined to be a lifetime memento... Perfect!

I've since corresponded with the girl's mom to share my photos and get her approval to post this story. In one of her emails she wrote:

"Thank you so much for the rare and special opportunity to meet 'the real' Cinderella. It was very exciting for both me and my daughter. I find it so interesting to see how, for a 4 yr old, the line between reality and make believe is so blurry. I'm not sure yet how much she really understands. What I do know is that she thinks that she met Cinderella and wore her crown!"

I replied that I believe her daughter is right: She did meet Cinderella and wore her crown. I think the difference "between reality and make believe" is highly over-rated. Life is about what's possible, and we have photos to prove it.

Let's all take a lesson from this: If you get a chance to meet Cinderella and wear her crown, do it and don't let anybody tell you it wasn't real. Later in life -- whenever you get the opportunity -- give young people the chance to meet their Cinderellas, too. Life really is about what's possible.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

My Date With Cinderella

What is Cinderella thinking about as she sits in her carriage and dreamily stares into the distance?

She's thinking about her dinner date with me, of course!

Okay, okay… She's not really Cinderella, I'm clearly not Prince Charming, and our dinner definitely wasn't a date!

But, fairly tales aren't just for little girls, you know. Broken down old guys like me can dabble in a little make-believe now and then, too.

So, I trust you will forgive my little bit of whimsy... Here's the real story:

Maria Chapman is my absolute favorite ballerina. I first noticed her many years ago when she was in the corps of the Pacific Northwest Ballet. She is now a principal dancer.

There is something special about the way Maria moves that is different from most ballerinas I've ever seen. None of that stiff, edgy, fussy feeling I often get from dancers. Maria is much more flowing, relaxed and just plain enjoyable to watch. I think that has a lot to do with her popularity.

A few years ago, Maria married a young client/friend of mine, and I have had the pleasure of getting to know her socially. She is just as charming and delightful in person as she is on the stage.

Whenever I'm in Seattle, her husband and I make it a point to attend whatever ballet she is in at the time. Today, we saw her dance the lead role in Cinderella, with plans to have dinner together after the performance.

Backstage after the curtain calls, I asked Maria if I could get a photo with Cinderella and she was gracious enough to humor me.

As you can see, Maria is a perfect ballerina: Stunning beauty, exquisite posture, radiant smile and that special ability to look perfect in every photo ever taken of her!

Maria made a quick change into street clothes, then did an after-performance Q&A session with members of the audience. Despite being asked questions which she's been asked a zillion times before -- e.g. When did you start dancing? What is your favorite role? -- she answered each one as if it was the first time she'd ever been asked.

With all of Maria's celebrity responsibilities fulfilled, the three of us walked to a nearby restaurant and had a nice dinner together. (Note: Another thing that distinguishes Maria from many other dancers is that she eats like a normal person!) After coffee, we all took a "real-life" photo together.

You will no doubt notice that Maria looks beautiful in street clothes, without makeup or costume, while her husband Brendan and I look like a couple of guys she might have picked up at the pound!

There you have it, my "date" with Cinderella. What's even better than make-believe is when I get to have a great visit with two of my real-life friends, both of whom I am honored and privileged to know!

Seattle Weekend Camp

I recently posted a photo taken from the rooftop deck of my Anacortes "transition" camp. Now, here's a shot from the rooftop deck of my Seattle "weekend" camp!

While my good friend Archie McPhee is out of the country this month, I've been doing a little house-sitting for him. Actually, houseBOAT-sitting is more accurate, since his home is a houseboat that floats on Lake Union. As you can see, it's got a pretty nice view of the iconic Seattle skyline.

I have to admit that it's been a bit of a shock for me to be in a big city again. I've become such a "small town guy" that I struggle a little with all the traffic, noise, hustle, bustle and people in the city.

What's more of a shock for me, frankly, is that I've gone from being essentially "homeless" to having two houses! It's kinda fun for a while, but I'm looking forward to establishing myself in my winter camp next month.

More about that soon... Stay tuned!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Flashback: AlCan Road Trip!

I have finally finished posting my epic AlCan highway road trip! It's required a ridiculous amount of work, and taken me almost three years to compile, edit and post!

My coverage of the eight day journey includes 90 minutes of video, featuring narrated live footage and dash-cam still photos of almost every one of the 2,000+ grueling miles.

I think it's been worth it, though, because the AlCan is an important part of the ongoing Voyages of Macgellan!

I recommend you use one of these two methods for viewing my AlCan coverage:

1) If you want to pace yourself -- perhaps over a similar eight day period! -- you can view each day's post separately by clicking on the links below. (Note: It will take you about 15 minutes to read the post and view the video for each day)
Day 1 -- Seattle, WA to Hope, BC
Day 2 -- Hope, BC to Quesnel, BC
Day 3 -- Quesnel, BC to Chetwynd, BC
Day 4 -- Chetwynd, BC to Fort Nelson, BC
Day 5 -- Fort Nelson, BC to Watson Lake, YT
Day 6 -- Watson Lake, YT to Haines Junction, YT
Day 7 -- Haines Junction, YT to Tok, AK
Day 8 -- Tok, AK to Fairbanks, AK
2) If you want to have more of a marathon experience -- more like the road trip itself! -- you can hunker down with a pot of coffee (or maybe a bottle of whiskey!) and view the coverage all in one chronological post by clicking the link below. (Note: It will take you about two hours to read the entire post and view all the videos)
AlCan: Eight Day Road Trip from Seattle to Fairbanks
Whichever method you choose, I'm confident the only way you can get a better, fuller experience of the famous AlCan highway road trip is to drive it yourself!... Enjoy your journey!

(Note: This set of posts is also significant because it means that I am now entirely caught up with everything on this website! The entire Macgellan story is now up to date... Stay tuned!)

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Anacortes Transition Camp

I'm in Anacortes, Washington, and have set myself up in a "transition camp." I'm calling it that since I expect to be here -- staying in the "renovation in process" house of some friends -- only through October. Then I'll either establish a true "winter camp" in the area or move on with a new expedition.

Meanwhile, I'm very comfy here and have an absolutely fantastic view to enjoy with my morning coffee... and any other time I feel like enjoying a spectacular visual treat!

I've got quite a bit of personal business to attend to here in the Pacific Northwest, so I probably won't have much to post here for a while. On the other hand, you just never know… Stay tuned!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

US Hwy 30: Completion

To wrap things up this morning, I visited Fort Clatsop, the recreated over-winter fort of Lewis & Clark. It's a pretty spartan affair by modern standards, but it must have been welcomed quarters for members of the party after their long and grueling trek. Despite the almost continual rain and cold they had that winter, it was at least a place they could call home for a while.

The fort is one of many attraction in the Astoria area, a region I highly recommend. There's a lot of history and culture here, all pretty well presented. One of the main features of the area is the presence of the Columbia River on one side of the peninsula and the Pacific Ocean on another. As is my custom, I went to the beach and spent some time there. Some walking and some just sitting, but all very good for my soul.

Probably more than any other road in America, US Highway 30 is a road rich in history. Including large parts of the Lincoln Highway -- the first trans-continental road in the country -- as well as much of the Oregon Trail and Lewis & Clark's route, driving it has been an ongoing homage to early American History.

That's been helpful for me to keep in mind, because I can't really say that the road itself has been particularly enjoyable. Poor road conditions through long stretches combined with many broken down old towns and being subsumed into various interstates to give a sense that this famous, historic road has been left to rot.

That said, however, it's been an excellent road trip. I've had many good experiences along the way and gained many valuable insights. Those are my primary criteria for exploration, so I happily declare the successful completion of another Macgellan expedition. Thanks for riding along with me.

In the morning, I'll be heading north and plan to reach Anacortes, Washington. There I will establish my own winter camp. What's next for Macgellan?… Stay tuned!

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Monday, September 03, 2012

US Hwy 30: Western Terminus

An hour's drive to Portland, a few minutes through the big city and another two hours to the coast. That pretty much sums up my drive today. After so many days -- weeks! -- without trees, they pretty well hemmed in the roadway on both sides throughout the ride. As a result, I don't have any of my customary scenic photos. What I do have is a photo of what we've all been heading toward!

Thus, I have arrived in Astoria, Oregon, the western terminus of US Highway 30 and the physical end of this road trip.

I have a few things in mind for tomorrow that will serve as a sort of ceremonial wrap-up, but today it seemed appropriate simply to have an espresso shot at the Journey's End.

Congratulations to all of us on another successful coast-to-coast journey!

What's next you wonder?... Stay tuned!

(PS - Also tomorrow, I've also got a good shot at working out a special bit of fun to share with you!)

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Sunday, September 02, 2012

US Hwy 30: Gorge-ous

I've had a couple of very nice, mixed-use days here in the Columbia River Gorge. The weather has been absolutely fantastic, with clear skies and bright sun being augmented by cool -- even crisp! -- temperatures. The whole area is simply gorgeous, and it's great just to sit and enjoy the view.

I've done a few short hikes, driven a few scenic roads and checked out a few of the historical and cultural attractions. I've even taken the scenic river cruise on a sternwheeler boat!

I've also enjoyed just being in one place for a few days, a clear signal that I'm ready to finish up this road trip and take a break from the more or less constant movement. Tomorrow, I will drive from here to Astoria, Oregon, which is the western terminus of US Highway 30. Once there, I will put my feet in the Pacific Ocean, have a little completion ceremony and call it a wrap… Stay tuned!

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Saturday, September 01, 2012

US Hwy 30: Cascade Locks, Oregon

When Lewis & Clark first came through this area, they encountered a section of very wild rapids on the Columbia River which they were forced to portage around. Subsequent travelers faced the same problem, and a small river town evolved in the area to serve their portaging needs. Originally named "Whiskey Flats" -- a place known for its taverns and other unsavory businesses -- the town was renamed Cascade Locks after a series of locks which were built in the area to facilitate shipping.

Those locks were submerged when the Bonneville Dam was built a few miles downstream, raising the water level by sixty feet and taming the river in this area. The town of Cascade Locks no longer had an economic vitality, and settled down to become only the very small, historic river town it is today. The dam went on to play a large role in the region's economic development, and the facility offers a very informative visitor's center and tour.

The area offers other notable attractions, my favorite being this sculpture.

It shows Sacagawea pointing the way west for Lewis & Clark and -- even more to my liking -- the lesser known Seaman, the Newfoundland dog who was constant companion to Lewis throughout the Voyage of Discovery.

For once, at least, the characters who actually knew what they were doing are recognized in full, absent the headliners!

The town's most prominent feature, however, is the impressive and somewhat daunting "Bridge of the Gods."

The weather is absolutely spectacular -- clear, sunny and cool! -- so I'm heading out to do some more exploring… Stay tuned!

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

US Hwy 30: Columbia River Gorge

West of Pendleton, US Highway 30 is captive to I-84 well into the Columbia River Gorge. Reaching the Columbia River is a powerful experience on a road trip like this, both as an accomplishment of miles and as a stunning change of scenery. The river and the gorge it has carved out over the millennia do not disappoint. They are also impossible to photograph -- especially when you are driving on a hazy day -- but perhaps this will give you the gist of it.

Through the gorge, US30 deviates from the interstate on occasion. Most are just brief detours through local towns, but a few are lengthier forays into the surrounding countryside. One was a steep, twisty climb that afforded this preposterously fantastic view, in which I was able to capture Darth and my road rig at their finest!

Hinting at more beauty to the west are glimpses of Mt. Hood rising in the distance. It's been a very long time since I've seen forests -- even trees! -- and snow-capped volcanic mountains. It gives me a profound sense of approaching "home" (to the extent that I have such a place anymore!)

Speaking of trees, I am very happily camped in a densely wooded lot with a full canopy of shade. Color me happy as I plan to stay here for the weekend and enjoy the area… Stay tuned!

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

US Hwy 30: Pendleton, Oregon

Pendleton is an historic frontier location, notable since the early 1850's as a cowboy town. That motif prevails today, for which the annual Round-Up is clearly the highlight. The old town area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is an enjoyably quirky place for a stroll. Besides that, I didn't have much success here.

The local museum is a collection of what-not, ranging from a group of early license plates to correspondence from the WWII front. The defining feature of the place is that it's housed in the old train depot, conveniently vacant because Amtrak doesn't run here anymore. More decorative than useful, it's mostly just for touristic diversion.

The same is pretty much true of the town's other attractions: The underground tour, river walk, hall of fame, etc. That's not to say it isn't a pleasant little town. The surrounding area is quite pretty and the folks are very nice. It's also quite possible I'm just a little filled up on frontier stuff, and a visitor who hasn't just spent a month following the Oregon Trail might find it very diverting.

I did thoroughly enjoy my visit to Hawley's, an historic mega-plex of shop, saloon, restaurant, cafe, etc. It was a treat for me to spend time walking around a store in which I had almost no idea at all what I was looking at. Just reading labels and scratching my head, I learned a lot about horse-related gear. There was plenty of it, as you can see in this photo of one small area of the store.

The food was good -- though ridiculously over-priced -- and the whiskey selection was adequate. If you visit here and some of your party want to spend time at the famous woolen mills, Hawley's -- or almost any of the many, many saloons in town -- would be a good place to wait.

I'm heading into the Columbia River Gorge tomorrow and expect to spend a few days there. I'm looking forward to enjoying an emphasis on natural beauty rather than frontier history… Stay tuned!

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Monday, August 27, 2012

US Hwy 30: Northeastern Oregon

The wildfire smoke was really bad in Baker City yesterday, so I spent the entire day with my head down into a project that some of you will appreciate very soon. (The only hint I'll give you now is that one of your favorite sled dog websites is about to get a major -- and I mean major -- upgrade!)

Driving northwest out of Baker City, US Hwy 30 is separate from the interstate for about 20 miles and offered a pleasant, flat -- though still very smoky -- drive. One highlight was crossing the 45th parallel -- halfway between the equator and the north pole -- which is the latitude at which I typically start enjoying the scenery. Once rejoining the interstate, the road is the usual high speed affair.

I stopped about 30 miles later in La Grande, to visit the folks at Northwood Mfg who made my Arctic Fox camper. I mostly wanted to show them my camper sled and -- based on the many, many inquiries I get about it on a daily basis -- strongly encourage them to add it to their product line. They were very receptive to me and we spent almost an hour together.

Besides making a close inspection of my camper sled, they were quite interested in my satisfactory experience living in my camper throughout the winter in Alaska, with temperatures going as low as -60 degrees. They asked to video me offering a brief testimonial -- which you probably won't be surprised I did in one "take" -- and they gave me a couple of nice caps as souvenirs.

From there, it was a long, steep hill climb, though the presence of green trees suggested better things ahead than I've seen for quite a while. It's funny about the little things you appreciate!

Once over the pass, the road makes a very long descent onto another wide open expanse of land. As always, I tried to imagine what the Oregon Trail pioneers must have thought when they first encountered this view after so many, many miles of grueling travel.

I've stopped in Pendleton and plan to be here for a couple of days… Stay tuned!

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

US Hwy 30: Baker City River Walk

In my post yesterday, I mentioned that the Powder River runs right through downtown Baker City. Well, it turns out there's a river walk alongside it from the south end of town all the way north to near my campground.

The trail is a memorial to Leo Adler, the town's benefactor whose Victorian house I toured yesterday. It's a nice feature for the town and obviously fairly well used.

The weather was perfect again today, so I made the stroll and stopped about midway to check out the town's annual car show taking place in the town park about half way.

Here's a photo especially for my mom:

From there, I went all the way to the southern end then returned via historic Main Street and a coffee shop. In other words, I've had a very nice day moving around without driving. I'm enjoying everything about this place and may just hang out for another day tomorrow... Stay tuned!

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Friday, August 24, 2012

US Hwy 30: Baker City, Oregon

Baker City is an active, attractive town of about ten thousand people, situated in a fertile valley between the Wallowa Mountains to the east and the Elkhorn Mountains to the west. The Powder River runs right through the center of downtown on its way to the Snake River.

I don't normally report so much about a town's geography, but in the case of Baker City it's kind of a big deal. The Oregon Trail passes through the valley, not far from the present town. Imagine you are a westward bound pioneer who has survived to the point where I took this photo. Now look at the mountains that are ahead of you, and keep in mind that you have many more miles, mountains and rivers to cross after that. Perhaps you might think about settling here?

Platted in 1865, Baker City eventually became the largest city between Portland and Salt Lake City. There was money here, both from gold that was mined in quantity and from cattle that thrived in the area. There are many remnants of that wealth, including an exquisite old hotel -- the Geiser Grand -- where I've had one of my best meals so far on this road trip.

Besides the interesting and very walkable historic downtown, the city boasts a few notable attractions. One is the Baker Heritage Museum that's housed in a converted old natatorium. The displays are fairly well done, with a refreshing focus on local personalities in addition to the usual pioneer artifacts. Second is the very well preserved Victorian Adler House museum that once belonged to one of the town's primary benefactors. Unlike many exhibits I've seen of late, this house is mostly original and continuously lived in until bequeathed as a museum. I very profitably spent the morning walking around town and focusing on these two properties.

The crown jewel of the area, however, is the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center a few miles out of town. Atop the hill from which I took the photo above, the Center has an extensive, time-line exhibit of traveling the Oregon Trail. Emphasis is placed on motivations, preparations, the daily grind, extreme hardships, decisions to be made along the way and eventual outcomes.

My favorite display is a scale model of a "Prairie Schooner" with various wooden blocks simulating what pioneers might choose to take with them. As with all travel -- including modern day -- you can't take everything with you, and it's easy to make poor choices about what you overload yourself with.

In addition, I was able to observe two women in period costume having a 30-minute "stitch and bitch" together, covering their recollected hardships on the Trail, gossip about local folks, news about the Homestead Act and, of course, the menfolk! Topping that off with a few topical videos and a visit to the outdoor circle of wagons, I spent the entire afternoon well engaged.

I ended the day with a visit to some actual Oregon Trail "wagon ruts" which -- unlike those way back in Gothenburg, NE -- are discernible enough to be worth photographing. Thus, I now can happily offer you a well preserved view of what you would have seen a not quite three quarters of the way along your migratory trail.

On top of all the above, the weather here was absolutely perfect today. Sunny with bright blue skies, yet cool with a pleasant breeze. It's been the nicest weather day so far on this road trip, and views of the surrounding mountains are idyllic. That's my way of hinting I will probably just hang out here for another day tomorrow… Stay tuned!

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