June 30th, 2005

crane

Lost Days

As written on the 30th into my Visor, minus spelling mistakes.

8:30 am: I've finally been on the road long enough that I've lost track of the day it actually is. And mostly don't care, which is pretty good. We've gone about 1600 miles and on our way to yet another destination involving another 240 miles or so. And it's a 240 miles along roads that remind us of England, in that the freeway is surrounded by trees and all the rest areas are mobbed with businesses, I-90 has become a toll road out here, which is weird for us, with a ticket handed out at the beginning that you pay for when you get off, unlike the series of toll booths and machines on 470 by us.

We've just left Niagara Falls, which I don't usually associate with Buffalo New York, but they're neighbors, nearly. And, yes, the Canadian side is definitely worth going to and seeing it all from that side.

We started Saturday, at about 2, which was when we finally got the van completely packed. We nighted in the middle of Nebraska at a $5 campground and a thunderstorm whistled and banged and rocked us to sleep in the van. The wind was a welcome respite from the heat.

Jet, who had had a 3 hour nap in the car, and little of running around during the day couldn't get to sleep and had a small melt down while John and I were too tired to deal. No more three hour naps! He did, however, eat like a horse, though his menu has narrowed, again, with the stress. We did bring his vitamins, so he shouldn't suffer from eating nothing but noodles, rice, and toast. He is still eating a lot of whatever he chooses to eat, so I think he is burning a lot of energy.

Des Moines, Iowa was our next stop, with a hotel room, instead of camping, and a pool. Jet got to swim after a small stop at a playground surrounded by trees. A good dinner, and he went out like a light.

On the way through Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, we stopped at the Rock Island Arsenal by Davenport. The AAA map had indicated a park there, and John cheerfully asked the guards at the entrance as to how to get to a park there, and they, after peering at our drivers licenses ("They sure give you some time on those, don't they?" when the guard saw the 10 year expiration date on it), they gave us detailed instructions to a kid park by a display of obsolete artillery.

Jet had a great time, even in the heat, playing in the sand box and then walking around the huge guns. It was sobering to see an "atomic cannon" with a 17 mile range that had been built in the 40's and decommissioned in the 50's. It was enormous and the implication of simply having it was amazing.

It was a beautiful place.

We ended up at the Warren Dunes Michigan State Park, by white dunes nearly five stories tall just off Lake Michigan. The lake was a silver expanse off to the horizon, impossibly still for an ocean, though it resembled one, Made me think of the western sea from the Lord of the Rings, especially with the swimmers haloed by sun.

We camped in the forest there that night, covered with DEET and lighting a campfire despite the heat. The fireflies were everywhere, and slow enough to delight Jet who could actually, just about, catch them. We had a pretty pathetic camp, though, boiled spaghetti with grated cheese (which Jet loved but left a little out for us). Jet ended up toasting Triscuits on metal skewers over the fire. He thought they were quite tasty.

Yes, we bought marshmallows and chocolate to go with our grahams
for the next time we make camp.

I pulled my shoulder the next morning, but was able to drive part of the way to Niagara Falls, on the Canadian side. We've stayed there for two nights, taking a day to walk the way to the Horseshoe Falls and see the U.S. falls. It was also to go to Brick City and see a tremendously intricate and detailed world made of Lego.

It took a man 5 years to build everything there. Words can't serve to catalog everything there, with all the humorous details, but at the end was the piece de resistance, a model of the Horseshoe falls, complete with barrel rider and tightrope walker. The waters were shaded from blue to white. There was even a model of the Maid of the Mists in the pool below, and crowds of variegated tourists at the top and part of the way down, modeling the "Walk Behind the Falls".

Jet loved the trains in there. John liked the cityscape with a raised monorail. I liked half-completed sky scraper with guys having lunch on a beam suspended from a crane. The beam twirled gently in the breeze from the air conditioning.

The other thing we stayed for was the pool at the Comfort Inn. It was half a full-sized pool, 2.5 meters deep in the deep end and one meter deep in the shallow end. Jet found two ladders on opposite side in the deep end and used them as the endpoints of a race track. He raced John and I back and forth and back and forth and back and forth so many times I've lost count. He got better at it even in the days we were there. He drew comment from nearly every adult that saw him motoring around, and they marveled at a 4-year-old that could get around in the water so easily.

We went swimming the moment we checked in and then twice yesterday, once right before Jet went to bed. And, indeed, the swimming made it very easy to get Jet to sleep at night. Quite a good thing. It didn't, at first, help my pulled shoulder much, but the hot tub really did relax things enough for me to use Jet's vitamin bottle as a deep pressure point along the worst of it. I just lay on the bottle and positioned it until it was pressing where I needed it. Thank goodness for all the massage therapists who taught me how to take care of myself.

The falls were not a letdown compared to everything else. The night we got there, we walked down to see the U.S. falls, lit by the light tower. Jet called them "the rainbow falls" the next day. We took the hike the next day, through a beautifully groomed park and then on the sidewalk overlooking the gorge, through the mist from Horseshoe falls, until we got to the top of the Horseshoe falls.

There was one vantage point right where the water touched the wall we'd been walking along, and I could see the clear, green bottle glass of the water just before it plunged down into a white plume of mist. Then multiply it by the incredible length of the fall and the roar was astonishing. Even from the hotel, a mile away, we could hear the roar of the falls, constantly. But right near by it rumbled and you could feel the vibration all through you. It was pretty amazing. I think I got one good video shot of it, and a couple of pictures that I can't tell how good the contrast is until I fiddle with it at home.

There was something about being there, though, that was something that couldn't be caught by words, pictures, or any medium.

We walked back, swam, did laundry, got dinner, swam again, slept, did the continental breakfast at the hotel, packed up and are back on the road, now.

Three general things I've noticed. ON the most part, the interstates have their own rules and conduct and it's common up and down and across the country. On the most part people have been great about only using the left lane to pass. And it's the same across.

The other thing we've noticed is that there aren't that many out of state plates anywhere anymore. Maybe the next state over, but we've only noticed a few cross-country drivers anymore. Other than the semis, of course, and other than at Niagara itself, of course, there were plates from everywhere there. Still, on the road, itself, and at the small hotels in the middle of nowhere, there seems to be (anecdotal evidence) a lot fewer families venturing a long ways out.

Reminded me, obliquely of Connie Willis' "The Last of the Winnebagoes", though for, perhaps, different reasons. Made me wonder if the folks arguing that it takes more energy to get ethanol from corn than ethanol, itself, provides also took into account the fact that ethanol uses the starches and sugars in the plant, which will still leave the oils that can be made into biodiesel as well. Plus if prices get high enough, people will find an energy efficient enough way to do what needs to be done.

Anyway... some of this is from the fact that across Nebraska, we consistently saw ethanol gasolines with higher octane for *less* money than the 100% gasolines. So the "super" gasolines cost less than the "regular" unleaded. That was pretty mind bending, at first, but then it was kind of cool. Fully loaded we're getting about 19 miles per gallon, which is pretty nice for an aerodynamic brick.

We'll see how it goes.

Right now we're headed for the Adirondacks and a train. :-)
crane

Odd Luck Day

Written: 22 Aug 2005

Route for the day.

Today was an odd luck sort of day. Lots of things happened that were kind of out of our control, but ended up well, on the most part.

We tried to leave early this morning, had breakfast at the very crowded breakfast area at the hotel, just across the pool from our room and up a flight of stairs. They had cereals, instant oatmeal, fruit salad, toasters with thick bread, white and wheat, and croissants. There were signs on the toasters saying "Do NOT toast the croissants in these toasters" and I saw a Frenchman bringing blackened croissants to his disgusted wife...

Maybe they couldn't read English? I dunno.

An Asian man had a little boy under his chair, happily playing as his dad ate breakfast and read a newspaper...

Jet didn't see him to join him, but was happy to eat his toast with butter and get ready to go. I *think* but no longer remember, if the boys took One Last Swim together in the pool before we left, but I think that that was so.

We then headed East on I-90 and paid the tolls and got to experience roads that were a great deal like British roads. The rest stops were more frequent than along the other Interstates, and each one was complete with a gas station, a dinner stop, a lunch stop, and something for dessert/a snack. In our case there was a MacDonald's, a pasta/pizza place, and an ice cream/fudge booth and a big, common dining area.

When we were walking in Jet was fascinated by three really big Army trucks parked near us. The convoy drivers, including one woman, were walking to their vehicles when we were waking away, and Jet walked up to the lady and said, "I really like your big truck!"

Social boy. It resulted in a long conversation with all the convoy drivers and a quick tour, for Jet, of the interior of the truck that the lady was driving. They were maintenance trucks with a big crane on the back of one of them. "What's that for?" asked Jet. "For picking up that other truck if it breaks down."

Hee.

John had known that there was an Adirondacks Scenic Railroad in the Adirondacks in New York, so we headed that way, and along the way we stopped at Utica (around step 13 in the instructions) for a bathroom break, which was at the tourist information booth right at the Y. They had a pamphlet on the railroad. John knew Old Forge was where he'd thought about going, which was the Thendara Station trip.

So we headed to Old Forge (end of step 20), and stopped at Thendara, which is right before Old Forge, and there was a station and train tracks and maybe, three other buildings in town, one was a restaurant right across from the station. An big lady was sitting at the tables in front of the closed station, painting signs, and a man with a bit of a limp came up and shook the boys' hands and told us that they weren't actually going to start running the trains until tomorrow! So bad luck about getting a ride...

... but good luck in that the guy showed the boys all the details of the engines and the coaches, and he gave Jet a flyer about the Wednesday train robberies, old West style with horses and 20's style with vintage cars. Wow. So I think we got a far more extensive tour and brain dump from the man himself than we would have if we had gotten there when he had to run the train. It was great.

So a mildly mixed blessing, all in all.

From there we headed into the Adirondacks and, learning from our experience camping in Michigan, we took the time to stop at a grocery store before the campgrounds at the next big town. We bought what we needed for dinner and breakfast, and got in line and when it came time to pay for the stuff our credit card was refused! Multiple times. So we paid for it with cash and got advice from the cashiers about notifying the CC company if you were going to go on vacation. When we got out to the car, John called the company and it turned out that our CC's had been among those compromised by the big databank break in a while back, and they could send replacements to the house, but not to us unless we faxed them with where it should go, with a signature.

So we stopped at the drug store right next door, and faxed them a letter with the address of the Inn we were going to be staying in for the weekend and a signature. It was good that it was Thursday, as the courier service could get it to the Inn tomorrow while people are there on a business day.

So, again, mixed blessings, a problem but we were given enough time to at least try and straighten it all out.

From there we went further up, towards Raquette Lake, but we actually stopped on step 23, between Seventh Lake and Eighth Lake (which is the lake next to Seventh on that step), which is well before Raquette Lake. It was a little state campground with running water, screened facilities and easy access to the lake front. There were a LOT of mosquitoes, but with liberal application of DEET, it didn't seem that bad.

I made dinner for the first time in a while. I started the rice, first. Then I browned chicken thighs marinated in powdered Italian dressing mix in my cast iron skillet. When they were very brown I took them out and added pole-sliced onions and sweet pepper straws and cooked those until they were browned and caramelized. I then added the thighs back into the mix, added some water, and covered it all and let it cook and create its own gravy from the seasoning and the good, browned bits, and everything. It was great over the rice. Jet had his rice with sauce and fish sprinkles and ate a huge plateful of the stuff. So no leftovers, thank goodness.

We then walked to the lake's side, and threw rocks into the water. :-) I am still amazed by how fun such simple things are with a kid. It was a beautiful view, and the water was just cool and the bottom sandy. Nice to do a little wading.

The mosquitoes started biting me in places I really didn't want to get bit, again. The DEET level in our spray isn't that high... I resprayed myself, but it was probably a bit too late, and I discovered, the next day, that it was definitely too late. But with the another spraying I felt better. We built a fire from firewood we'd bought on the way in, and we got to roast actual marshmallows and put them on s'mores. The funny thing is that Jet didn't want to eat them after he'd roasted 'em. He thought the fire parts were neat, but I think that if we'd roasted more Triscuits he would have eaten those.

It was a very, very quiet spot, and so near the bathroom that it was easy to make our way there in the dark to get ready for bed. Jet slept up in his tent, this time. We slept in the bottom, and it was good, all in all. The mosquito netting seemed to do its job just fine, and it was cool, dark and quiet. Mmm... sleep.