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.

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.

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.