In early spring of 2007 I decided to quit my job, sell my house along with nearly everything else that I owned, and to live out of my car while traveling the country. These are my stories (and pictures) of life on the road.

Friday, May 2, 2008

I bid you Adieux

Well, it's time for me to go. I don't know where I'm going to go or what I'm going to do but whatever it is will be for myself. No more blogs and no more pictures; at least not for now anyway. As a matter of fact I've sold off all my photography gear. Who would have thunk it just a couple months ago!?!

For the time being I'm still staying with grandma but it's starting to get tough. While I'm happy to be there for her and will do it for as long as I can I'm getting a bit stir crazy doing the same thing day in and day out. While Grandma's health is still pretty good she doesn't seem to have any desire to get more then 30 minutes from the house now that she has the chance and on bad days it hurts her just to go for a drive. This week has been pretty good though which makes me think I can keep doing this for quite a while; but the previous couple weeks were pretty rough and showed me just how difficult it can be. I guess time will tell.

But before I go I wanted to thank everyone that followed me on my travels over the past year. It really meant a lot to me to get your comments and e-mails while I was out on the road. It never ceased to amaze me how many people were watching and your encouragement was much appreciated. And to the people that I met on the way who gave me food, a place to stay, a place to work, and most importantly, company....well....I guess I don't quite know how to say what I want to say. A special heartfelt thank you goes out to all of you; even if one of you did break my knee. :)

Thank you and goodbye...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Things are still going fine here in Lester with Grandma. Not too much to report. Lot's of going out at night for hamburgers and lots of card playing.

You may remember a month ago when I announced the arrival of spring. Well, since then we've been snowed on a few times and had some miserable weather. I'm happy to report though that as of today spring is here for good. It was over 70 degrees, it was really windy (45+MPH; a sure sign of spring), the snakes are out (saw a red bellied and garter), the butterflies are out (Mourning Cloak), and the carp have moved up into the creeks from the river. It's about time!

I did pick up a new hobby: bird watching. Who knew it could be so much fun!? It adds a whole new dimension to my hikes and I'm really enjoying it so far. Here's a Snipe I spotted the other day and even got close enough for a decent picture.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

In like a Lion out like a Tiger

You know what they say about March; in like a lion and out like a lamb. Well, I don't think that quite held true this year.

The first day of March Sarah and I were out for a hike where we slogged through waist deep snow in places and then yesterday, the last day of March, we got about 5 inches of snow. Thankfully the temperature was right at freezing so most of it melted in short order but it made for a really sloppy day and we've still got a few inches sticking around.

That being said spring did arrive this past month. The robins returned in force along with the ducks and geese; though they do look a little confused as they sit on the ice of frozen ponds. The majority of our snow melted off revealing the dirt, dead plants, refuse, and dead animals that have been buried all winter which makes the beginning of spring the ugliest season of the year. The most disgusting part is how the dead animals insulate the snow underneath themselves and protect it from the sun; causing the surrounding snow to melt away and leaving them atop a snow pedestal, like they're on display or something. It's actually a relief to get a few inches of clean white snow to cover all that up a couple more days.

While out for a hike a couple weeks ago I saw my first fly (the only time of the year I'm happy to see them) and also stumbled across some water bugs dragging themselves from the icy creek and onto a sunny log to dry off before flying up into the trees, presumably to mate. The kestrels are back in position along the telephone lines and hovering over the ditches and the the northern harriers are back to gliding over the prairies and empty fields. The meadowlarks are singing on the fence posts again and the killdeer, my favorite bird as a child, can be seen flitting around. The red-winged blackbird has returned to the marshes and rooster pheasants are carousing around looking for some lovin'. The mornings belong to the birds once again as they tweet tweet their little hearts out singing the praises of spring, searching for a mate, and building nests for their new family. Even after the little joke mother nature played on them yesterday and overnight I'm listening to them sing their hearts out right now.

We're all looking forward to the snow to finally melting, the ice leaving the lakes, the frost going out, the ground drying off, and the return of all things green. Just a couple more weeks!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Duane Gage 1921-2008

At 2 AM on Saturday morning Duane Gage passed away in his home, just as he wanted it. The passing was as peaceful as could have been hoped for and at the time of death he was surrounded by three of his four children, a grandson, and his wife of 66 years.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Waiting Game

Thursday was my grandparents 66th wedding anniversary. There wasn't much hullabaloo about the whole thing but a couple people called to wish them well and a few even stopped over. My grandpa used to own a trucking company and his long time secretary stopped by with a beautiful bouquet of tulips and just after they left one of my grandmother's sisters stopped by with her husband for a visit. It was nice to have some company by to liven up the day a little and even though my grandpa hardly said a word I know he was grateful for the visitors.

Last night, like usual, I was up to help him go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and he seemed weaker then normal. I expected to be woken up again by the doorbell next to his bed around 2am but it didn't go off until almost 7:30. A day rarely goes by that he stays in bed later then 6:00.

To make a long story short his kidneys have failed. He's very weak and pretty much unable to get out of bed. He's decided he doesn't want to go to the hospital and will instead stay home and run out the clock. He seems to have made some peace with the situation and is still able to rest comfortably in his bed. His family is here and everyone knows what's coming.

So now we wait.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Meet Grandma

I'd like to introduce you to my grandmother, Kathleen. She's 92 years old and while her short term memory is all but gone she's still a joy to be around. She's always been incredibly nice and somehow has a way of asking the same question 20 times a day without it getting annoying; it actually feels like a privilege to tell her for the 3rd time in 30 minutes what day it is.

Despite the lack of short term memory she's still a fantastic conversationalist and hasn't lost a bit of her wit. While my grandpa spends his days trying to find a comfortable position to sit in my grandma and I both tend to get a bit stir crazy; so one day I grabbed a deck of cards to kill some time with her. She's a card shark from way back but she couldn't remember how to play any games, so we started out just playing solitaire together. We played for about 2 hours the first day and the next day when I asked if she wanted to play solitaire again she responded that yes she would but that she hadn't played in years. I just smiled and set'em up. A couple days after that I got my memory refreshed on how to play gin and as soon as I dealt the cards my grandma knew exactly how to play, she didn't miss a beat.

So most days finds us sitting at the table for at least a couple hours in the afternoon and playing I don't know how many hands of cards. Her with her tea and me with my cup of hot chocolate; answering her questions over and over again.

What day did you say it was?

Do you know what the weather is supposed to be like tomorrow?

Are there any cookies left?

Have I had my pills yet?

Do you have any trips lined up?

Now what day is tomorrow?

Duane, are you awake? (he is now)

Do you think Duane would like to go out for hamburgers tonight? (fat chance)

Did you say if Laura was coming down tonight?

What day is this?

By far the best couple hours of the day.

Spring Update

A little update to my post about spring a couple days ago.

By the time I got out to the prairie for my hike the other night I only had about an hour of sunlight left but the wind had died down and it was the nicest part of the day. The walk turned out to be a short one but a good one. I saw the tail end of a mouse as it scurried away under a shelf of frozen snow and saw a group of ducks fly low and silent directly over my head. In the distance I could hear a lone red winged blackbird looking for company and my jaw almost dropped when I heard the trilling of a toad at 10 second intervals. I just stood and listened for a few minutes to be sure of what I was actually hearing.

But my favorite part of the evening was when I made my way up a small gravelly hill that faces the southerly sun and spotted a little spot of green in last years dead grass. Kneeling down for a closer look I found myself face to face with the first new growth this season. Even though the frost is far from being out it must have known that if it waited too long it would be choked out by the larger grasses that will steal its water and block its sun. So for the time being this little plant is king of the prairie.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


This week has been killing me! Spring has finally sprung here in northern Iowa and while the sun beats down, the mercury climbs, the days grow longer, and the snow recedes I've been able to do nothing except watch the progress from behind a pane of glass. While I'm happy to be able to stay with my grandparents and help them out it is a bit of a change for me. I'm used to spending lots of time outside and getting in some exercise. At my grandparent's house however I'm pretty much committed to being there 24 hours a day with my grandfather in his current condition. If he needs to get up to move or go to the bathroom someone needs to be there to help him. They do have someone, Nancy, who comes in the mornings to cook them breakfast, do laundry, dishes, help them out, and cook lunch but she's not really able to physically help my grandfather as much as he might need. She does however make it possible for me to shake loose long enough on most days to run to the store and find an internet connection for a few minutes, but that's about the extent of my adventures these days. It was pretty hard sitting around the last few days as I saw the first Robin of spring out the window with a large flock of Canada Geese providing a backdrop as they winged their way north.

So I was happy this morning when my dad showed up to relieve me for a couple days. He won't be able to be around for the weekend and since he thought 12 days straight might put me in the looney bin he's taking over for and I'll relieve him Friday night and then stay through the weekend (which I usually have off). It felt wonderful to walk out to my van this morning with the temperature already above freezing and the sun having just come up. All around was the happy chirping of birds that's been absent for these past months. It took me a couple seconds to place the unfamiliar call that fell upon my ears but soon enough realized it was that harbinger of spring the Robin. While much is made about seeing the first Robin of spring around here it's no comparison to actually hearing the first one.

I was amazed how much snow had receded in only a couple days as I began my drive back to Estherville. In just a few days the novelty of the bare earth will have worn off and I'll see it for the disgusting thing that it really is with all the mud, dead animals, and refuse that have been covered by a blanket of pure white all winter emerging from their hibernation. But for now anyway it looks beautiful and I'm very much enjoying it.

Upon returning to Estherville I had to take care of a few things at the shop before the day was truly my own but even that was o.k. It seemed a pleasure to leisurely stroll into the parking lot to retrieve a car without shivering and racing the cold and wind from shelter (shop) to shelter (vehicle). With all the inside bays full of cars I even enjoyed the ability to spend some time working on a truck out in the parking lot where the sun kept me plenty warm.

With my work done at the shop by mid-afternoon I had grand plans of getting out for a hike to enjoy this fabulous spring weather and try out a new camera lens I'd purchased the week before; but I was having a hard time shaking the lethargy that had set in at my grandparent's house. Instead I drove to my dad's acreage, pulled up next to the lilac bushes in the sun, reclined my seat, and took a nap. It was a wonderfully short nap, made all the better by realizing I was by myself when I woke up rather then on duty. I laid there and enjoyed the suns rays streaming in for a few minutes before returning my seat back to the fully upright position and preparing to leave. But still I couldn't motivate myself to do anything that might require effort so I spent some more time peering into the depths of the naked lilac bushes at the rabbit trails carved in the snow, the new buds ready to erupt with green in a couple weeks, and all the empty birds nests from years past that are invisible come late spring and summer.

A little flicker of movement just a few feet away caught my eye and I found myself nearly face to face with a female cardinal who flitted around from branch to branch and down to the ground looking for a small snack or perhaps a suitable place for a new home. I watched her for a while and then took a harder look around until I spotted a brilliant splash of red farther ahead and deeper into the bushes that was her mate. When I tired of them I looked farther in front of the van and was immediately struck by the ugliness that was emerging from the melting snow; the plastic bags, the yellow buckets, and the antique wagon wheels (don't ask). Soon enough though my brain was able to ignore these things and instead focused on the large pond that had been created next to the house from all the melt water. As my eyes perused its perimeter they spotted more movement on the far edge; another little bird. It was too far away to get a good look at so I pulled out my binoculars and trained them on what turned out to be a little Junco hopping around and pecking at some spilled seed or something; then I noticed another, and another, and another again. All told there were six or seven of the little buggers happily scavenging for a meal.

By the middle of the summer such a trivial gathering of birds will be boring beyond belief, but now, during the first few days of truly spring feeling weather, it was a joy to just sit and watch them in action for ten minutes or so through the binoculars until a few of them seemed to be startled and flew into the bushes. The reason why was soon apparent as a pair of my dad's mallards came waddling out from behind the house to root around in the newly formed pond. They happily and quietly quacked away as they waded up to their bellies and exuberantly rooted around in the thin layer of mud over ice for whatever they might possibly find appetizing.

I never realized how filthy and disgusting ducks were until my dad got some a few years back. We dredged out the slop from this old cement pond in back of the house and fixed it up as a little duck haven. The ducks loved it and it made our hearts happy to see them contentedly sailing around their little lake until in only a few short days they'd turned it into a cesspool of filth which plugged up the pumps filter every few days. After a couple weeks of keeping that disgusting puddle of mud clean the warm feelings in our hearts were gone and we left the cleaning duties up the ducks, which of course they neglected.

Anyway, back to the present tense, I was quite content to watch the filthy ducks root around in the mud and was entertained when the male took alarm to something and stood bolt upright, quacking his loudest to ward off all predators. He was quite an intimidating sight with that ridiculous tuft of fuzz that grows out the back of his head and I'm sure it was enough to make any attacker take heed as they went unmolested.

Finally I'd had enough of animal kingdom and I set out again to find something to entertain myself. Even after my nap I still felt a little drowsy but really thought I should enjoy the day before it got dark. That's when I realized that after this past weekend we're now blessed with an extra hour of sunlight every night so instead I went home, wrote this out, will eat some dinner, and then go for a hike to enjoy the last of the day; something I haven't been able to do since sometime in early December.

I'll let you all know how it goes.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


The past couple weeks have been full of changes. Changes in weather, changes in plans, changes in location, and changes in priorities.

Over the past months I've mentioned a couple times that my grandfather's health (on my dad's side) has been failing. Not too long after I started my journey this past summer he was diagnosed with acute Leukemia and began getting blood transfusions. At first he could go about 1 1/2 months between transfusions but the interval between transfusions began getting shorter and shorter, just like the doctors said it would; right now it's only a little over a week.

Over the months he's been steadily losing weight and strength and a couple weeks ago a bout of pneumonia in conjunction with fluid in his lungs put him in the hospital for a week. It was touch and go for a couple days but he managed to make a good enough recovery to be sent home. During his hospital stay however we all realized that my grandparents would now need someone with them 24 hours a day.

No one wanted to put them in a home, least of all my grandparents, so last weekend I packed up some clothes and headed to their house where I'll be spending most of my time for the foreseeable future. I get a little free time every morning when a helper that they've had for the last couple years comes in and on the weekends my dad and aunt Laura can spend more time with them which allows me to come back to Estherville and have some time to myself; which is where I'm at right now. I came down with a little cold so it was good that I got out of there for the weekend. I'm feeling pretty good today though so either later today or tomorrow I'll head back for another week.

While this isn't exactly what I had in mind when I decided to pay off my debts, sell my house, and quit my job that's what allowed me to do this now and really, that was my main goal at the time; to do whatever I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to do it, and right now this is what I want to do. It's far from a fun gig but I've gotta say that I'm really happy I can help out.

Friday, February 29, 2008

A Nutty Meal

Not too many years ago I was the pickiest eater you were bound to run across. If I didn't like the looks of it then I didn't eat it, and that went for a lot of things. Everyone used to give me a hard time when the family would get together for holidays because I'd pass over all the goodies on the table and eat nothing but turkey and bread. Life went on like this for many years until I made a trip to Italy changed my ways. I figured I'd enjoy my trip a lot more if I was more open to the food that I'd be served, plus I didn't want to try and make special orders in a foreign language.

So a few months before the trip I started preparing myself so it wouldn't be such a shock to my system. I began eating tomatoes, cucumbers, fruit pies, asparagus, brussel sprouts, mushrooms, peppers, and all sorts of other weird stuff. And shock of shocks I found out that this stuff was really good after all! My eyes were opened to new horizons and I became fearless, trying anything that was set in front of me.

So a couple days ago when someone came into the shop and hung up a flyer for a Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed at the Elk's lodge Friday night I started trying to round up someone to join me. Sarah was coming down this weekend but decided to push back her visit until Saturday after she heard my offer. I floated it by my dad and sister and neither of them would have anything to do with it. I sent a text message to Lyle but he conveniently couldn't get back to me until it was too late. I even rang up my grandma and grandpa that live in town and they wanted nothing to do with it either. The only person I could get to join me was Will, who my dad helps rangle cattle now and then.

There was still a pretty good crowd when we showed up towards the end of the shindig and we filled our plates with baked beans, bread, and cow testicles. As I popped the first one in my mouth I couldn't help but laugh to myself as I remembered the kid who grew up eating hamburgers everywhere he went. Look at me now!

And how were they you ask?

They were deep fat fried, how bad could they be?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What's Going On

Everyday I keep meaning to post something on my blog and the next thing I know I'm in bed and drifting off to sleep. So tonight I'm going to try and pound something out before the sandman gets to me; I better make it a condensed version. Here goes:

Good things-

  1. My creative writing class is going well at the local college, even though it keeps getting cancelled because of bad weather.
  2. Now that winter is close to being over I'm really starting to get into it. Rudy and I have been going on quite a few long hikes and have really been enjoying it.
  3. I got a job at The Daily News, our local newspaper. No set hours and it's a temporary gig but it should be a great learning experience and I'm looking forward to it.
  4. Spring is just around the corner, as is a likely trip to Arizona for two or three weeks!
Not so good news-
  1. My grandfather's health (on my father's side) continues to fail and it's not looking very good, at least we all knew it was coming. I've been spending quite a bit of time at the shop filling in for my dad while he's helping take care of them as well spending a couple days with my grandparents to help out.
  2. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up (but maybe that's a good thing).
Ummm, I think that about covers it for now. I'm sure I'll think of a bunch more stuff as soon as I post this. Here's a few pictures to gander at from the last week too.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A bit Breezy

So Rudy and I have been getting a little tired of the cold and dreary weather this winter. This fall I was promised by the radio that it would be a warm winter so that put my mind at ease a bit when I decided to come back to Iowa. I waited patiently through the white Christmas and suffered through the bitterly cold January before realizing the other day that it was already the middle of February and that it had been really cold for a really long time. So I was relieved when I saw the weather forecast of 30 degree weather for this past weekend. Unfortunately it was accompanied by skies the consistency of mashed potatoes and 30 MPH winds.

I decided it finally was time to make a stand so I got all bundled up in my wind block gear, threw a small pack on my back, hollered for Rudy, and we headed out the door. Our destination was my sister Audrey's house, about 6 miles north of town and directly into the wind. We faced the brunt of the wind as we slogged up the railroad tracks, through a couple fields, and into the prairie that would lead us most of the rest of the way to Audrey's house. The wind was incredibly strong and I was surprised how hard it was to walk into, the deep snow drifts scattered along the prairie didn't help either. Still though, it was fun to get out of the house for some exercise and after about 3 hours we reached Audrey's house.

Rudy and I kicked back for a few hours and ate a couple snacks to recharge. Around 1:00 we turned down an offer of a ride home, donned our winter gear again, and headed back out the door on our way home. Thankfully the wind was now to our backs, making the walk a little more comfortable and instead of taking the shorter route through the prairie we decided to take the longer but easier route and stuck to the gravel roads back to town.

We found the roads in much worse condition then when we'd started. The snow had been blowing across it all afternoon making it almost completely covered in ice. When we turned to the east the walking got very difficult with the winds blowing directly at our sides but we managed to get through it and arrived home safe, sound, and very tired.

Fully rested I awoke this morning to bright blue sunny skies and thinking that perhaps mother nature had relented I checked the weather report with optimism. What I found was that the temperatures had plummeted overnight and the high today was expected to only be 4 degrees and the wind had actually increased to 4o MPH. By early afternoon the skies had clouded over again and it started to spit snow. I thought that maybe I'd step up and go toe to toe with mother nature again but instead Rudy and I decided that we'd take a day off and dream of warmer weather.

Don't worry, spring will be here soon; sloppy, wet, windy spring.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

I before E except after C?

I've always found it interesting that one of the exceptions to this "rule" is the word weird.

Wierd, huh?

Yes, that's all I've got to say today (believe it or not). You may now resume you're normally scheduled browsing.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Blankets of White

From a scenic standpoint this has been the most beautiful winter I can remember in a long time. We haven't gotten buried in snow but it seems every time we get a warm spell that turns the snow to a hard, dirty crust with dirt showing through we get a light snow that covers everything up with fluffy white powder again. Lot's of foggy weather too which puts a heavy coating of hoarfrost on nearly everything and is absolutely gorgeous, especially when the clouds burn off and the sun starts shining.

Unfortunately I haven't had very much luck motivating myself to photograph all this beautiful scenery. It's not that I haven't been out enjoying myself, it's just that a lot of days I've been leaving the camera at home. I did manage to take some shots yesterday when Rudy and I were out on a hike and I figured I'd share a few of them here.

You can also follow this link to a small slideshow of images I've taken this winter. Or if you want to skip the slideshow and just see the gallery click here instead.

As pretty as it might be I am getting a little tired of the cold and snow. I just might have to get out of here and head to a warmer climate for a while.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Six Word Memoir

This afternoon I heard a piece on NPR about a book of six word memoirs that was published. I thought that it was an incredibly interesting idea and since I often have a hard time keeping things brief I figured it would be a good exercise to practice myself.

This is what I came up with for my Six Word Memoir-

Searching for what I already had.

Now it's your turn; post it in the comments section.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Shoddy Shoe Shoppin'

I don't know about this place sometimes; it can be a frustrating area to live in. Both in terms of weather and pleasure.

We've had some bitterly cold weather over the past week but it broke just in time for last weekend with sunny skies and temps just below freezing; Monday was freakishly warm and got to nearly 40 degrees.

Then we woke up the next morning with temperatures a little below zero and that's where they stayed for the entire day....with 30+ mph winds out of the north. Last night dropped to under 10 below zero but thankfully we're supposed to warm into the single digits above zero today. But hey, it's northern Iowa so what can you expect?

To add to my frustration I'm on the hunt for the perfect pair of light hiking boots. Something lightweight, waterproof, breathable, and mid-heigth for general hiking and wearing about town. I'm done looking for bargains and clearance shoes for my hiking needs and I'm not going to settle for anything less then a perfect fit. No more of this “I bet it won't hurt once I get them broke in” garbage anymore. Sore feet and blisters are no fun at all when the end of the hike is still 7 miles away.

I've searched every local shoe store (local around here is a 45 mile radius) and found nothing even close. The selection of such boots is very limited and every store carries the same brands. Either that or they have the display shoe but nothing in stock. I can imagine that there's very little call for that sort of thing around here though.

So yesterday I decided I'd brave the cold and wind to drive to Sioux Falls where I'd be sure to find something. Sioux Falls is 2 hours away from Estherville and with a population of 125,000 people it's the largest town (by far) within 3 hours of us. I went to about 6 or 7 different stores ranging from general shoe stores to specialty hiking/camping stores. Nearly everyone carried the same brands; Merrell, Columbia, and Keen with the odd pair of Ecco and Lowa boots tossed in for good measure. Not many choices in mid-height boots like I want but lots of trail running shoes.

Although I have a pair of Merrell boots that I really like a lot I wasn't able to find anything in their current line that both fit my needs and fit my foot well. Keen and Columbia were rejected out of hand. I haven't had very good luck with either of them holding up to even light duty work. I bought a pair of Keen's that fit me pretty well late this spring and by the end of summer they were completely trashed. The company replaced them for free under warranty and I was never able to wear the replacement pair comfortably. Even though they were the identical boot they were quite painful if I tried to wear them for more then a full day. I got rid of them and ruled out Keen for any future boot purchases. That left my choices for the day with either Ecco or Lowa.

Only one place had a pair of Ecco's that were the style that I was looking for. Thankfully I was wearing different socks on each foot because they felt fantastic on my right foot (which had a heavier weight sock) but they were a bit loose on my left foot (lightweight socks I wear in summer) and I could tell they'd be pretty sloppy and painful on my heal. I tried a couple different inserts but nothing got them to fit quite right.

I was down to one store left, the small, locally owned, dedicated outdoor store and they're the ones that had the Lowa boots. Unfortunately they only had them in size 12 (I need 11 1/2). I tried them on and while they felt like they might be a great boot they were just too big at that size.

I'd tried my hardest to spend my money but no matter how hard I tried I just couldn't get it done! Before leaving town I stopped at Midtown Automotive to ask Kevin if there were any stores in town that I might be overlooking. He told me that when he wants a good pair of hiking boots he goes to Minneapolis to get them. Ugh! I guess I should have talked to him before going to Sioux Falls since Minneapolis was the firs thing that came to my mind.

But hey, I guess things could be worse. Sarah has moved back to Northfield now (a little south of Minneapolis) so one of these days I'll head up there, pick her up, and we can go shoe shopping all around town. Between Midwest Mountaineering and REI we should be able to find something.

And the trip to Sioux Falls wasn't a total bust. Lunch at the Mongolian Grill was pretty good and I found some cheap picture frames/albums. Plus I got to stop and see my grandparents and the way back to Estherville.

I'll be sure to let everyone know when I find the perfect pair of boots. I hope the wait isn't too long though.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Yesterday my mom decided to make my dog some home made doggie treats from a recipe she found. I got to choose the shape of the cookie cutter and when I found the little pig I knew I'd found a winner; especially considering the treats were brushed with bacon fat at the very end.

We decided to call the treats "Oinkers" and Rudy had no complaints whatsoever as he eagerly scarfed one down after they cooled.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Moon is Down

I just got done reading what I thought was a great book, The Moon is Down, by John Steinbeck. It's a short book at only 120 pages and makes for a quick and easy read but it's the kind of book that sticks with you afterwards.

The story it tells is the futility of going to war against a people rather then an army and I found it a very interesting read. You can read as much into the book as you want or you can just enjoy it as a good story. It's impossible however to overlook the similarities that take place in this book written over 60 years ago to what's happening now in Iraq as well as what happened over 200 years ago when we won our independence from Britain.

A thought provoking book that can be looked at from many different angles.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Well, if there was any doubt about winter reaching the upper midwest those doubts have been completely wiped away during the last few days. With daytime temps not even reaching zero degrees (F) most people have been laying low and venturing out only when necessary. I did the same towards the end of the week and it worked out well because I had a lot of little projects that I've been putting off that I finally started getting caught up on. But after a couple days of mostly being shut up inside the house both Rudy and I were starting to go a little stir crazy, so yesterday we prepared ourselves for an outing into the sub-zero degree weather.

Rudy didn't have much to do in order to get ready other then whine at me the whole time I was putting on my layers to try and hurry me up a bit. I on the other hand had a whole pile of clothes that I somehow needed to squeeze into. From the bottom to the top and from the inside to the out they were-

  • A very thin pair of knee length socks to wick any moisture away from my feet
  • A medium weight pair of synthetic wool socks to provide some warmth
  • A pair of lightly insulated gore-tex Merril hiking boots
  • A pair of tight fitting long underwear pants for extra warmth and moisture wicking
  • A pair of cargo pants
  • A pair of lightly insulated snow pants to block the wind and to keep my pants dry from the snow
  • A very tight fitting under armor shirt to provide some moisture wicking
  • A looser and lightweight synthetic long sleeve shirt
  • A synthetic T-shirt
  • A medium weight long sleeve shirt
  • A pair of tight fitting and light weight liner gloves
  • A pair of down insulated waterproof mittens
  • A light weight breathable jacket liner
  • A waterproof and breathable jacket shell
  • A scarf
  • A pair of sunglasses
  • A wind block hat
Layering is the key to being comfortable in cold weather. Lots of light layers allows you to be warmer and more mobile then only one or two really heavy layers. It helps to wick any moisture away from your body and extra layers also trap more air; both of which mean more warmth and insulation with lower bulk. Synthetic or wool fibers are also much better then cotton. The big knock for cotton is that it absorbs way more water then wool and when it's wet it provides no insulation. It also takes forever for cotton to dry off. Wool and synthetics on the other hand aren't very water thirsty and when they do get wet they still provide insulation to keep you warm; plus they dry off much faster then cotton.

I always used to wonder why my feet would turn into ice cubes and nothing I could do short of putting on a fresh pair of socks would warm them up. The reason was that my feet would sweat a little bit, just enough to make my cotton socks damp. This would rob them of nearly all of their insulating power and leave me with ice cold feet until I'd put on a fresh pair of dry socks. Now that I've made the switch to synthetic wool socks this problem has all but disappeared. Sure, my feet still get cold in the winter but nothing like they used to; and now I can warm them back up without having to change into a fresh pair of socks.

While it may not be quite so important on short hikes around here in rural Iowa it can be the difference between life and death when you're out in the wilderness; not to mention if you're doing any boating in cold water. There's good reason for the saying “Cotton Kills”.

Anyway, enough of the safety lesson. Now that I was all bundled up is was time to head outside to face the weather. I was curious to see how Rudy would get along because I'd given him a fresh haircut just a week before. I really hoped that he wouldn't wuss out because after working that hard to put on so many clothes I wanted to at least get some use out of it.

The thermometer in my van was reading about 2 degrees below zero on our way out to Ingham Lake. Thankfully the sun was shining brightly and the wind wasn't too bad. Any wind in weather like this can be brutal though so we headed to the woods surrounding the lake and attaching to a few small sloughs where I new we'd be mostly protected from the wind.

The first 1/4 mile of the hike to get to the woods left us exposed to the wind and I stayed plenty warm with the exception of my cheeks, which were really starting to burn. I knew that if I could keep my activity up that soon I'd warm up all over though. The cold didn't seem to be bothering Rudy at all with the exception of his feet. Until he got his blood pumping pretty good he'd take a few steps and start hopping on three legs, looking at his back feet trying to figure out what was making them hurt. It didn't take long though and he was running around like a fool on all four legs enjoying the walk.

There's something special about being out in nature during weather like this, it's different then any other time. Everything seems so bright and pure. The air is amazingly clear, the sun is bright beyond belief, and the sky is a deep dark blue from horizon to horizon. The snow is blindingly white and nothing is moving about; with the exception of me and my dog. It's deathly quiet and incredibly peaceful to just stand in a sunny spot and listen, listening to nothing except for your breathing and heart beat.

The animals, the trees, and grass, the snow, and even the wind all seem to stand motionless for fear that they'll shatter in the frigid temperature. It all looks so delicate and fragile and it seems like all it would take would be one gust of wind for the entire woods to shatter into a million pieces; one large crack from a rifle would surely shatter the blue sky. Even the snow in cold temperatures like this protests to any disturbance. Something that is so fluffy, powdery, fluid, and quiet in relatively warmer temperatures turns stiff and hard in sub-zero temperatures while creaking and groaning under foot and every step.

Rudy and I continued our hike through the woods with the satisfaction that comes from braving conditions that keep most people tucked away inside their homes until warmer weather. It seems that the harder you try to beat mother nature at her own game the tougher the winter seems; but simply playing the hand that you're dealt can be surprisingly rewarding and enjoyable. On days like that it's easy to forget the ugliness of winter. The dirty, sloppy roads and the howling winds that pick up the light snow and obscure everything from site. Every time I head out on days like this I tell myself that I should do it more often and I tell myself that maybe I really do like winter after all. That's a lot easier said then done when you're all warm and comfy inside the house though.

Maybe I'll take some of my own advice and instead of staying inside all day working like I'd planned I'll take the time to bundle up and take Rudy out for another hike today. I mean, you've got to take advantage of weather like this before it's all gone.

Oh, and in case you were wondering I stayed plenty warm during the hike. In fact I dressed a little too warm and on the way back to the car I had my outer jacket unzipped and had my gloves off most of the time.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Packin' Heat

A recent thread on a forum that I frequent got into whether or not you should carry a gun if you were hitchhiking across the country; the majority of people seemed to think it was a no brainer that you should. That's a sentiment that a lot of people seem to have, not just about hitchhiking but about hiking, camping, and traveling alone in general. I've heard it repeated many times on internet forums when people talk about back woods camping and I heard it plenty of times when talking to people on my recent trip around the country.

One conversation in particular stands out in my mind when talking to a fellow I met out in Maine. We were camping in the same area, me alone and he with his wife and two grand kids. He came over the night they showed up just to say hi and we chatted for a while. He mentioned that he'd had some problems in the past camping in that spot with rambunctious kids. One night some kids were throwing bottles at another couples camper and one other time he woke up in the morning to find someone had stolen the seat off his four wheeler. He then told me quite matter-of-factly that he now carried a gun with him all the time when camping and that he wasn't going to take shit like that off of anybody. He told me that if I heard a gun shot in the middle of the night that meant he'd shot someone who was trying to mess with his stuff. To him it was perfectly natural and he seemed to have no reservations about using it; of course anyone can talk big though.

I remember another time last winter when I was camping down in Arizona. I was in a campground one night and I was one of the few people in tents, everyone else was in campers or motor homes. One evening while cooking dinner I overheard two ladies talking as they walked past my tent. One of them said to the other, “I think it might be fun camping in a tent but there's no way I'd do it without a gun.”

I've heard comments like that quite a bit over the last year and I think it's pretty sad that we've lost so much faith in each other. I think Hollywood and the news media have twisted the truth so much that people think there's a murderer hiding around every bush waiting to ambush you. And it's easy to see why people would think that, it's what's reported on the news all the time and it's glorified in movies and TV shows. Since I've been back from my trip I've seen multiple news reports of hikers/travelers being abducted or murdered; but I haven't heard one news report that mentioned that Alan Gage traveled the country for 6 months living out of his car without even one altercation and not a cross word with anyone. I'm happy to say that my story is the normal, not the other way around. Every year hundreds of thousands of people take to the highways and woods of this country and only a small fraction of a percentage run into any such trouble. But of course, those are the ones that we hear about. And with so many 24 hour news channels nowadays scrambling for any story they can get to fill the time it's no wonder they manage to convince us it's much more prevalent then it actually is.

If you did happen to carry a gun “just in case”, let me ask you this. In what situations would you pull it out? Knowing that once you pulled the gun out you've likely committed yourself to using it if your bluff doesn't work.

The reason I don't (and won't) carry a gun is that it's just not worth it in all but the most extreme situations where you life is literally on the line; at least to me anyway. If someone wants to steel the seat off my four wheeler then let them. If someone wants to steal my camera gear and laptop then let them. If someone wants to steal my van then let them. There's no way I'd pull a gun in any of those situations to try and stop them; and I'll tell you why.

Because it's all just stuff and it's not worth killing someone over. When we hear of a thief who murders their victim in order to rob them we think of them as the ultimate scum. How can they justify killing a human being over such a small thing? Well, what's the difference between the thief shooting you over $200 and you shooting the thief in order to keep your $200? In both scenarios someone died over $200.

Sure it might be nice to have a gun if I were to run into a serial killer, but even in that situation I'd have to get my gun out first. Instead I think I'll just keep playing the odds and put my faith in humanity. Honest, we're not as bad as everyone thinks.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Going to the Chapel...

Late in December I assisted a photographer from Spencer at a wedding. It was fun and I learned some things, namely that I don't want to be a wedding photographer. Or at least not your standard wedding photographer anyway.

He was very good at it but there's just no way I could turn that attitude on and off like that, being all goofy and saying the same jokes over and over again to try and make people relax and smile. I don't mean to take anything away from him, he did excellent, just that it's something I know I wouldn't be able to do. The other thing is that I don't think I could make myself believe I'd doing the bride/groom any favors by photographing their wedding. The whole thing seemed so contrived and if it was my wedding it would have taken a lot of the fun out of my wedding day.

The wedding started at 4:00 and we started taking pictures at 1:00. So that meant that 3 hours before the wedding the bride and groom had to be all dressed and ready to go. Everything was planned out just how it would go, though it was all supposed to look real and spontaneous. It went something like this:

“All right John, put your wedding ring on and hold hers in your hand. A little higher, little higher, now tilt it out towards me, now look out the window, eyes towards me, great, perfect, just like that. Now look down at her ring, down a little more, eyes towards me, look a little happier if you can stand it, there, great, perfect!

Now, John, we're going to have you stand next to the window with your back to the front of the church. We're going to bring out Liz and she's going to walk up behind you so you don't see her coming. This will be the first time you see your bride in her dress so when you turn around I want to see big smiles and a look of surprise. Then just kind of stand there and talk to each other, look each other over, exchange your gifts to each other, etc.

Ok, now turn around John. Big smiles! Yes! Excellent! Now take her hands, hold them up a little higher, now both look down at your hands, heads down a little more, there, perfect. Now keep your heads down but eyes up at each other, excellent! Now lean in for a little kiss, just a light kiss, there, just like that, hold it, excellent.

Ok now John, take her ring out of the box. Liz, hold out your hand and let John take it in his. Now start slipping the ring on her finger, hold it right there, hands up a little more, tilted towards me a little, perfect, there, now finish sliding the ring on, now hold your hands so I can see both of your rings, up a little higher, there, perfect, now bring your heads in closer together, closer, closer, too close, there, perfect, now look down at your rings, there, we got it!”

It went on like that for nearly 3 hours moving from informal shots of the bride and groom in the church to more formal shots of them in front of a background setup in another room. Then it was back into the church to round up all the family members for shots of the bride with her family, now just her dad and brother, now just her mom and sisters, now just with the bridesmaids, now just with her grandparents. Then it was the grooms turn. Then it was both families together, both the grandparents together, both the parents together, the bride with her soon to be in-laws and the groom with his soon to be in-laws. Then it was back into the other room to stand in front of the backdrop and do even more with more family members.

After a couple hours you could tell most of the people were getting pretty tired of standing straight and putting on fake smiles for the camera. But then, about 20 minutes before the wedding was supposed to start the pictures were over. It was time for the bride and groom to take their rings back off so they could do the whole think over again, but for real this time. Everyone retired to their designated areas to recharge their batteries for one last push. Then 20 minutes after the actual wedding started it was over. I don't know how it looked to everyone in attendance or how it felt to the couple getting married but to me it looked just like what they'd been doing for the last 3 hours and I find it hard to believe some of the magic didn't get sucked out by the time they actually got hitched.

If you ask me the wedding day should be for the bride and groom. It should be laid back and relaxed with time for contemplation. Instead it seems to involve a whole lot of running around and stress during which the bride and groom just do what they're told by someone else all day long. By the end of the wedding I was pretty disillusioned by the whole marriage ceremony thing; not to mention the astronomical cost of the whole thing.

Upon their escape from the church the entire bridal party loaded into a big limo while the rest of us went to the reception hall to wait for them. They took a few laps around town before showing up a little over an hour later. What came spilling out of the limo was a totally different animal that what had piled in just an hour earlier. Everyone was genuinely smiling, relaxed, laughing and having a good time. After seemingly having the weight of the world on their shoulders for the last few days it was finally over with. They were done taking orders and making decisions. It was time to relax, have fun, party, and get drunk (they had a cooler of booze in the limo so they were already well on their way to that).

I couldn't help but smile when I saw them all come trooping into the reception hall in pairs while their entrances were announced by the DJ to fast paced music. Every couple did a little dance, gave piggy back rides, or did something goofy on their entrance. I hope that years later when they look back at their wedding they remember the good times of the day that they probably won't have any pictures of.

You've reached the end of the page but that's not the end of the stories. If you want to read more (and who wouldn't!?) then click on the archive links to the right hand side of the page. They're listed by month; the adventure starts in May.

The February archives aren't actually from this trip but are previous adventures I've had, which are worth reading as well.