Tag Archives: Travel

Coming Home

The Columbia River Gorge
Mt. Hood as seen from The Dalles, Oregon.

There is a point on U.S. Highway 84 heading West where the road seems to descend into this big gouge in the landscape, past millennia of accumulated sediments in the strata gouged, revealed and polished by successive glacial floods.

It dips down from the arid and Martian-featured landscape of the Columbia plateau and the Channeled Scablands to where the big, blue river rolls peacefully toward the Pacific.

It’s this point where I feel like I’m coming home. Where the landscape transforms from wide plains to steep walls traversed by mountain goats. Where green oasis appear wherever streams and rivers meet the mighty Columbia.

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Getting off auto pilot

I love that feeling of turning onto a road I’ve never driven before. That moment when the familiar gives way to the unknown.
When your eyes fill up with brand-new views, and you have to work harder for every moment.
There is no auto pilot here.
When pulling off Highway 90 onto 18 in Madison, you can feel the transition more than just the four and five lines giving way to two lanes. You can feel it in the increasing number of pickup trucks, combines, clotheslines, Chevy Caprice police cruisers and supper clubs.

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Sunrise on Water

Just after sunrise at Cocoa Beach, Florida
Just after sunrise at Cocoa Beach, Florida

We didn’t stay more than a half hour.

But it will go down in our memories like it was hours and hours.

I couldn’t figure out the pay-by-phone system on the parking meters in the tiny lot at the 1st street access to Cocoa Beach.

So my son and I wandered down to the water’s edge to catch the sunrise with the specter of a parking ticket hanging over my head.

We arrived exactly seven minutes before it was scheduled to appear, according to the weather app on my phone.

The sun was set to rise from the cold Northern Atlantic Ocean horizon at 7:12 a.m. on Christmas Day 2014.

And I damn-well wanted to be there to witness it.

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Savannah on my mind

She always finds her Tardis
She always finds her Tardis

Gabrielle and I approached the breakfast buffet at the Comfort Inn in Columbia, South Carolina, trepidatiously.

That is to say we’ve been there before.

That moment when you walk into the foyer of whatever cheap hotel occupies every single exit from here to Modesto, and you discover that it looks like it’s been pillaged by Viking raiders.

The tables were covered in the viscera of yogurts and bananas, whose skeletons and skins bulged in a heap atop the trash can like a pile of bodies ready for the pyre.

Sloppy paper notes indicated the orange juice, waffles and sausages were gone. Forever.

So we made up toast with jam, salvaged the rest of the Fruit Loops and drank apple-juice colored water and headed to the pool, where I taught her my secret skills of playing the mouth trumpet in an echoe-y room.

“You’re really good at that dad,” she said.

“I know,” I replied. “I want you to put that on my grave stone.”

She just looked sideways at me and continued to swim.

Continue reading Savannah on my mind

Asheville, The Art of War and Cheryl Strayed

IMG_7658I started writing this from the Chili’s across from the Comfort Inn we’re staying at in Dentsville, South Carolina tonight.

The kids are staring at me after I just scolded them for replying to the waitress with their typical “ya,” or barely discernible grunt meant to infer  that yes, they would indeed like fries with their burger.

“This is the South, where people are polite, and when they ask you if you want fries with your burger, you say yes please,” I told them.

They replied with those barely discernible grunts meant to infer that they indeed understood what I was saying.

After a long evening with Jon in Cincinnati, I was up early, as is my usual habit. I showered, dressed and sat in bed for a while waiting to wake my sleeping wife and kids.

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Cincinnati: Under the Rhine

We were going to blow through Cincinnati after a short beer stop with my buddy Jon.

We’d make our way down to Lexington and have a short hop over to Asheville in the morning.

But we met at the Rhinegeist, which felt good in the way a creative spot feels good. The brewery in a massive industrial space filled with people celebrating the end of a workweek and the upcoming holidays.

The beer was phenomenal, and catching up with one of my dearest friends was too easy in the way that makes a new place feel homey kind of way.

The kids played corn hole, ping pong and fusbal while the adults caught up, and we all waited for the pizzas Jon ordered.

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Whatever happened to the great American family road trip?

Captain

It’s 11 p.m. on a Sunday night in Panama City. The air conditioner in the cheap hotel we’re in reads 68. The kids are sleeping off three days of sun, sand and water.

There is a commercial on television featuring a dating site for farmers, ranchers and good, ol’ country folk. And there is a plate of grilled Gulf shrimp on the bed and another with discarded shells.

The kids filled their bellies before crashing to sleep drained and content.

Cheryl and I wash ours down with a bottle of cold sauvignon blanc procured at a Winn Dixie on the way back to the hotel.

We’re all sunburned and fun fatigued, which, in spite of the negative connotations, are the best things to be at the end of a great vacation.

Continue reading Whatever happened to the great American family road trip?

Things not to text your parents when you travel

China Daily

This is not a post I ever imagined writing.

I took my first solo trip when I was 13, flying from Washington D.C. to San Francisco unaccompanied and absolutely sick to my stomach through the entire flight.

I used two barf bags, which I held in my lap because the passengers next to me were both deaf and sleeping. A kind but ultimately doomed flight attendant disposed of these for me when she realized my predicament.

To top it off, upon our descent into San Francisco, our plane hit a downdraught and lost nearly 5,000 feel of altitude in a single moment. We dropped so fast the flight attendant actually hit the roof of the plane about a dozen seats in front of me.

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Writing: The Nightstand

I don’t believe in writer’s block, but something happens in the spring. I can write a thousand words every day in winter, but when the sun comes out, I want to live it not tell about it.

Still, things happen every day. Lessons are learned, experiences are had. Some you catalogue out of a sense of duty, some are buried away for contemplation on a rainy day, and some are fleeting, like a cool breeze on a warm day.

This is why you write every day. Some of us have minds like vast containers capable of storing every imaginable thing. And some of us have minds like cluttered drawers, chalk full of the detritus of our travels and adventures. 

My nightstand looks like this. I cannot cram the old drawers shut any longer. The bottom drawer is full of small things that remind me of long ago. There are marathon bibs and medals, an action figure I’ve always loved, a badge a friend gave me, papers and notebooks I save, even if there are just a few notes in them. The top drawer is full of newer memories, manila envelopes with old tax statements, a knife I earned on an outdoor adventure, some newspaper clips from my reporting days and a leather pouch with some favorite pipe tobacco in it. 

Writing is like this. You file away the pieces of your experience in sentences and paragraphs for later reference so you don’t have to make up the details later on. 

You write to capture all the in betweens, the intangibles leftover from the stuff in the drawers.

I this way, you have a more complete picture of your life or the life you’re trying to create.

My Own Allegory of the Cave

Mammoth Cave National Park

In hindsight, a trip to a cave for spring break might not have been the best idea considering my claustrophobia.

Yes, I love exploring and adventuring as much as the next guy.

But tight quarters with more than 100 of my fellow human beings fighting for the same space and air is more than I can handle.

My claustrophobia set in after I worked in Ukraine as a reporter at the Kyiv Post in 2004.

I attended a rally in Maidan with a million people and got sucked into the crowd. I was swept off my feet and carried for many yards against my will.

Something from that moment stuck with me, and I hate crowds to this day.

A secondary, albeit lesser, phobia is of being on something like a bus, train or plane where I cannot leave the trip at any moment of my choosing.

The standard Mammoth Cave National Park tour provides the perfect setting for both of these scenarios.

The Historical Tour, which we signed up for, often features more than 100 people and two guides.

Though it does go through the larger caverns of Mammoth Cave, there are a few parts where you do not want to be stuck with 50 people in front of you and 50 people behind you.

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