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.

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.