Monday, November 30, 2020

Galapagos II: The Cloudforest, El Monte Sustainable Lodge, & The Cock-of-the-rock

20 November 2015: After briefly exploring a very tiny hunk of Quito and the surrounding Ecuador area for a few days, we boarded a small van and headed for the city of Minto and the El Monte Sustainable Lodge in the Cloud Forest. Love the way they transport their fruit to market. Although it was only 49 miles to the lodge, it took us 2 hours as we stopped several times and took in the beautiful scenery. 

The road into Minto got pretty primitive and when our driver pulled up by a stand of palms and said “We’re here!”, we all got fairly quiet. 

I have to admit that when we got out of the vehicle, I was greatly relieved to see a young man coming down to help us with our luggage (rather than 4 to 5 heavily armed Banditos). Turned out he was actually from Wisconsin and had taken this job to experience Ecuador...ah, to be young again! 

Further around the corner we could see a small river with a cable crossing...never saw that coming! After several trips back & forth over the rushing water powered by Jerod, the rope-pulling Wisconsin boy, we all were lead to our “cabins”. Very impressive buildings actually. Each couple had a pretty good sized house to themselves, complete with full, running water bathrooms, and plenty of hot water for showers. Our place was the only split level structure, basically a large A-Frame with two single beds, bathroom, and living space downstairs and the master bedroom & bath upstairs through a floor hatch that was to be closed at night...they never told us why and I never asked. We slept upstairs not only due to the double bed there, but because suddenly it seemed safer to be upstairs, on the other side of a closed hatch at night.

The bathrooms & showers in each house were all decorated to some extent with river rock. It was a fabulous meld of modern and primitive. Jay & Leslie’s “hut” had doors on the outside wall of their shower. Even though the small windows in the doors were curtained, Jay just couldn’t resist giving us all a show by opening the doors as he showered. Leslie was much more constrained and polite. 

After we freshened up and unpacked a bit, we met for the standard communal lunch in the main building (open air sides with palm frond thatching). Most of the fare was oriented to a vegetarian diet, but it was all very tasty, fresh, and nicely presented. After lunch we met with Fernando (who would be our guide for our stay) to discuss what we’d like to do. It didn’t take us long to decide on the things we’d like to do and we were all really happy that Layne was recovering from her 24 hour flu-bug. Fernando took us out for a brief hike and tour of the lodge grounds. Susan & I had to do a little extra after the group hike to get our minimums in for the day...but the walking streak is still alive. Jay had to test out the lodge relaxation equipment before giving his final approval...after his "test" nap. 

Dinner was good but I’m burping onions like crazy...seems that onions are a heavily favored ingredient in most meal-time offerings here.

In the dark of the morning...and I used that term “morning” very loosely...we all realized that we didn’t really think it through very well when we agreed to the 4:30 a.m. departure time to hike up to the Cock-of-the-Rock viewing blind (now there’s a phrase to think about... viewing blind). Apparently we had to arrive before dawn to see the quite brilliantly colored birds become active in the early morning light (another fact that had evaded all of us the previous day when we’d merrily set up our daily tour schedule with Fernando). Fernando drove us a few miles up the road and then we hiked up a pretty steep jungle trail in the bare gloom of dawn. With nothing to actually focus on visually, the entire hike I kept coming back to how I’d not only missed my morning coffee, the O-Dark thirty departure time, the jungle mountain hike in the dark on a slick muddy trail, and why we thought risking life and limb seeing this rare, exotic bird would be such great fun. (It really was fun to do and I really never felt threatened or endangered, but in retrospect it was much, much more fun than in the moment...and it makes it a bit more fun to write if I can whine a little.) I’m just glad that we were all in pretty good walking shape and reasonably stable on our feet. Layne was still a little weak from her bout with the flu, but she was a trouper and kept up with all of us. Watching from the viewing blind as dawn broke, we did sight a couple of the bright males in the courting area before they all left for the feeding grounds deep in the forest. Susan & Leslie wanted a picture with the sign for the Cock-of-the-rock viewing area just to prove they had made the climb.

Yes, that little red spot in the bottom center frame is the famous bird for which we risked life, limb,
 coffee, and breakfast rights. Note to self: Always check starting times before signing anything.

Funny how a camera and a little photo editing can make a dark scene seem fairly light...I still maintain it was really dark for most of the hike up the side of the mountain...just sayin'

Spent a couple hours total for this adventure, but breakfast and coffee were very welcome when we got back “home”... I was just glad the other folks at the lodge had left us something.

At 10 in the morning, the group headed for the Butterfly-Mariposa House. As always, having lots of brightly colored (and sometimes HUGE) butterflies & moths flying very close to you and landing on a shirt sleeve or hand quite often creates a pretty special memory. Back to the main lodge for lunch. Turns out that Tom, the owner of the lodge is from Mississippi. His wife is from Ecuador and when they married, they decided this business was the perfect match for them. Both very gracious and made every trip to the main lodge a joy. Back on the road again (literally) as we walked into town to see the orchid house and hummingbird place. The orchids were lovely and quite exotic (after all we were in Ecuador!). The hummingbird house was awesome. It was set up like a bar. You sat on stools looking out over a wooden “bar” into a somewhat cleared patch of the jungle. Several feeding stations were placed throughout the clearing and the hummingbirds were thick! Lots of varieties and just fascinating to watch (and try to photograph).

Jim had decided to stay with Layne and was feeling pretty worn out himself. So they both stayed in their unit for the afternoon to get some rest. Jay, Leslie, Susan, and I had lunch and then enjoyed an adult beverage in the clearing contemplating our upcoming afternoon zip line adventure (and what I considered one of the biggest horse flies I had ever seen). 

Susan & I had done a zip line in August of 2012 visiting Jim & Pat Kraby in Big Sky, Montana. It had four runs and it cost about $80 per person. Being our first zip line “ride”, we had a ball and said if we had the opportunity to do something like that again, we’d jump at the chance. This Mindo Canopy Adventure cost $20 per person, so we really weren’t expecting usual, I was wrong! Thirteen runs, each one surpassing anything we experienced in Montana. 

It was another awesome side tour from which we all came away breathless from the beauty and shear joy of being alive in this fantastic area. We returned to our “resort” and after lunch After a lovely dinner with lots of story telling for Jim & Layne to endure. I even got some quality time taking pictures of the dragonflies & damselflies of the area.

Back to the lodge for dinner. I had noted earlier that Tom had had built a cobb (clay) oven at one end of the dining area. I talked to him about the oven and he told met it wasn’t used very often because dry wood was difficult to keep on hand. He said for now, it’s used occasionally and more a decoration than a working component of the kitchen. That said, today was Thanksgiving in the states & Tom had their chef finish cooking a turkey in the cobb oven. Turned out very well (and I was very happy to have something without a heavy onion presence). Layne was still recovering from the flu and the earlier “fun” of the day and had decided to skip dinner as well. Jim thought it would be good to take a dinner plate back to their unit so she’d have something eat for the evening. He never returned and we just decided he’d turned in early for the evening. Turned out, the flu bug Layne initially had, finally took hold in Jim’s gut...Luckily he didn’t need a hospital trip, but was really glad it was a 24-48 hour variety of yuck.

We all turned in after our Thanksgiving dinner and talking with our hosts and the other guests about the fun we’d had...after all we’d been up early and packed a lot into the day. We got a little tour of the kitchen before leaving and noted how you can make a blender for the perfect Margarita if you don’t have electricity to spare. 

Jim & Layne still were recovering from the flu as the four of us headed off at 5:15 am the next morning on a bird watching trip before breakfast...where was my mind when these starting times were mentioned? Fernando took us back up the road to the Mindo Canopy Adventure, but stopped and said we needed to walk up the hill if we were to spot any Toucans. He’s obviously had a lot of experience and pointed out an amazing variety of birds on our walk. 

Once again, the early start was well worth it...especially in retrospect. Back to the lodge for breakfast and to get our stuff packed up. One more adventure here before we return to Quito...a river rafting this afternoon. I didn’t think the little river by the lodge was anything special, but it was fabulous to raft it in a set of inner tubes with your friends. Jim was still pretty shaky and decided to get some more rest but Layne came down to be with the chase and film crew. The float was about a half an hour but it certainly was one of the favorite floats of my life (so far...).

After getting changed into dry clothes and thanking everyone we’d met here for such a wonderful time, we piled back into the little van for the trip back to the big city. Jim was looking quite pale but was able to stay upright in his seat and avoid any moaning during the two hour ride. We checked into our Hotel arranged by Viking with no problems. Jim went to bed and the five of us had a mixed grill (mostly meat) dinner. Sam and Martha were coming in at 10:30 pm, so we stayed up to welcome them. They got to the hotel about 11:30 so we had a mini meet and greet and we all called it a day! Tomorrow starts the actual Viking cruise itinerary. 

(I am shocked that with all the fun we've had so far, this has only been the warm-up to the actual Galapagos trip!) 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Pasta, Myzithra, and Chanterelles, Oh My!

Last week my friend Dan told me that the Chanterelle mushroom season was just starting and wanted to know if I wanted to go out checking his “secret patches”* for the woodland delicacy. I like mushrooms, but frankly didn’t know anything about Chanterelles other than everybody around here always looked forward to the season’s start in late October. Sounded like an interesting adventure and all my potential excuses involved working in the yard or in the house...hmmmm???, sunny morning hike in the woods or work...tough decision. 😉 So, early one morning last week, Dan picked me up and we drove Hwy 138E up the North Umpqua river and then up Little River Drive to several different spots in the mossy, forested land of Douglas County. (*Dan was in no way secretive about these Chanterelle hunting areas he’d found over the years...I just thought it sounded better in the opening.)

This picture shows the beautiful color of a
chanterelle mushroom and its common size.

Apparently, the mushrooms can be quite abundant and are normally just peeking out from under the heavy, rich duff of the forest floor. Dan handed me a 5 gallon bucket and offered me a long knife with a brush taped to the handle. The bucket was just in case we hit peak season, the knife to cut the Chanterelle off at the base, and the brush was helpful to clean off fir needles and forest floor debris that was normally on the mushroom cap or stuck to the base. Although it turned out that we weren’t yet in peak season, we each got enough Chanterelles for several meals. 

Dan told me he had several ways that he enjoyed the mushrooms...#1 seemed to be in an omelet (sorry, I kind of blanked out as I envisioned the omelet...didn’t catch the other options...FYI, I’d skipped breakfast this morning so I’m claiming that my stomach had launched a mutiny and my short term memory was currently under attack). I decided that I’d follow that omelet wisdom and try my first batch of our booty that way. I caramelized the cleaned & chopped mushrooms in butter & a touch of oil, then added beaten eggs for an omelet. It was good, but tasted just like any store bought mushroom in an omelet. I was a little disappointed, but I did get a little “hunter’s rush” from having seized these mushrooms from the primal forest duff.

The next day, my dinner thoughts turned to making the mushrooms more of the star of the dish (thanks go to Bobby Flay & the Food Network for that sound bite phrase). When I was going to the U of Washington in Seattle, to a young man, going out to dinner meant going to an inexpensive restaurant that was known for its large plate loads of food...i.e., high on the list, The Old Spaghetti Factory. One of my favorite dishes there was the Brown Butter & Myzithra cheese pasta...I bet you wondered when I was going to make a connection to the title line for this post. So, I thought I’d recreate that dish and add caramelized Chanterelles on top of my version. 

I cleaned, chopped, and caramelized Chanterelles in butter and set them aside. In the same heavy pot, I added more butter and slowly cooked it down until it foamed, reduced down a bit, and browned. 

During the early stages of butter browning, I got out a wedge of Greek Myzithra and grated a good quantity (about a shy cup) of the hard, white, sheep milk cheese into a mis en place dish. While watching the butter browning process closely, I then started a batch of pasta cooking in well salted water. (I like any of the smaller, twisted, extruded pastas because to my mind they all hold a sauce really well.) 

I put a little of the final brown butter sauce
in a white cup to show off the lovely color.
Once the butter had browned, I used a kitchen spider (not the large attic spider watching me suspiciously from the corner above the refrigerator) to lift out, drain briefly, and transfer the al dente pasta to the brown butter pot with the grated Myzithra cheese. 

I tossed it all together, plated it with a nice side of broccoli, and gave the whole plate another once over with grated Myzithra, finally, I topped the pasta with the caramelized Chanterelles. (I'm actually kind of shocked I was able to stop, put down my fork, and take a photo.)

I’m really sure I upgraded The Old Spaghetti Factory’s version (at least my memory of it from...oh my goodness...a memory from over 45 years ago!) In all fairness, the Chanterelles were very good this way...better than in an omelet in my humble opinion. But, I’m not sure if some good (very market available) Cremini mushrooms wouldn’t be equally as good. Still, there is that “I foraged it in the wilds” thought floating around in my psyche that should account for something. (FYI: In case you ever wondered, the white button, common white, Cremini, and the Portobello are just different stages of the same mushroom (species Agaricus bisporus). The Portobello is considered by most experts to be the best tasting and most “meaty” mushroom...which stands to reason because it’s the fully ripe one...duh!

I also think that using a good Parmesan, Pecorino, or Asiago cheese would be delightful with Brown butter sauce & pasta...sounds like a good winter project for my taste buds (and potential challenge for the elastic material in my pant’s waistband 😎).

I'm not left handed, but since the fork was failing
to pick up anything else with my right hand...

P.S. It seems that I could save some digits (should that be on a T-shirt? Save the Digits) and just use the same end of meal, finished, empty plate picture for all my blog’s food oriented posts...and looking at the picture has made me realize why I never think about doing a pre-rinse on my plates for the dishwasher.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Galapagos I : Quito, TelefériQo, Pisco Sours, Otavalo Market, Cuy, and the Flu

The Motley Crew had decided that traveling together was just the only way to really wring out every last bit of fun a trip had to offer. Visiting the Galapagos was on everyone’s bucket list so we all booked the cruise on the Celebrity Xpedition. Now you may be wondering how the title for this post relates to the text so far...well, Susan had seen a Samantha Brown travel episode on the Cloud Forest of Ecuador. She figured since we were already heading to Quito, why not go several days earlier and take a van to Minto, where we’d stay at the El Monte Sustainable Lodge in the Cloud Forest and enjoy Thanksgiving in Ecuador. Sounded pretty good to the Malicks & the Graybills, so the six of us booked a “pre-cruise” destination. The Casne's planned to join us in Quito after we returned from the Cloud Forest.

Susan & I went up to Portland the day before our flight to see Grant & Sandy. They had a friend who’d just opened a martini bar in the Pearl district...named Olive or could we resist going there! Turned out they had invited their daughter Stacy and her boyfriend Nathan to join us. We had a great evening and we later learned that this was the first time Nathan had met Grant & Sandy...we were the buffers for the Meet The Parents event! (Incidentally, Stacy & Nathan got married and now have two beautiful children...even after meeting us...go figure.)

When we’d arrived at the Quito airport, Jim & Layne were on the same flight but were seated a few rows up from us. They got off the plane just a few minutes before us and boarded the waiting bus to the terminal. We stood/sat/stood/sat for quite a while waiting for the next bus and then once in the terminal, we waited for 1 ½ hours to reach the head of the passport checkpoint. Apparently, many flights into Quito arrive late at night and are bunched up in the landing queue. My guess is it’s done this way so the airport workers don’t have to be there long hours in the middle of the night. (Looking at it from a financial point of view, it does make perfect sense...the airport saves money because they don’t need to have services and personal working all night.) All the while we stood in a static line, we could see Jim & Layne transform from patiently waiting passengers to not so patiently waiting, very tired people. Layne was actually starting to look a bit pale as well. 

Jay & Leslie met us at the Sheraton when we arrived at 1 am, but for some reason a welcoming party didn’t materialize...go figure! Later we found out that they did a layover in Lima coming in from New Zealand and had to deal with all tiring diversions such as getting lost in their room's big, soft bed and being forced to enjoy a large pool in the hotel with a spectacular laminar water they may have already been worn out when we first saw them.

After our morning walk in the Parque La Carolina (a beautiful park with lots of larger than life, caricatured people, a block from the Sheraton Quito), Susan & I met Jay, Leslie, and Jim in the Graybill’s room. Turns out Layne was actually very sick and could not get up...good thing we got a picture last night with her in it! We talked until almost noon and then walked out to find a place for lunch. After lunch, Jim checked on Layne and reported back to us that she was still pretty sick. 

Jim urged us to go out exploring, so we hired a taxi to take the four of us up to the TelefériQo gondola lift (teleférico and Quito). The taxi driver told us it would be $4 US dollars (one way) to take the four of us up to the lift. (And I do mean US dollars, as that is the official currency of least as of 2012.) We were a little concerned about getting a taxi back, but Edgar (our driver) said it would only take us an hour and that he’d wait...obviously we were not in America anymore. The gondola tickets (round trip, thank god!) were $8.50. This gondola lift is one of the highest in the world going from 10,226 ft (3,117 m) to 12,943 ft (3,945 m) along the east side of the Pichincha Volcano. There was a trail that went up to an observation site that of course we had to take. A point of information doesn’t matter that you are in WILL lose your breath and have to stop frequently while walking uphill above 13,000 ft. (The four of us walked up the trail towards the Ruku peak for about ½ hour before we all “hit the wall”...probably only got to 13,500 ft elevation or so...but it really doesn’t matter, I was done! I would like to know how they got horses for rent up there, I never saw one!)

Upon returning down the mountain after 2 ½ hours, we found Edgar faithfully waiting for us with his taxi. We gave him $15 as a tip and considered it a great value! Returning to the Sheraton, we had a message in our room that Layne had been taken to the hospital and Jim was with her. Jim said she was in good hands and we should continue exploring and have dinner without them. Leslie found a street vendor selling roasted plantains with queso fresco cheese and decided that she had to try it. We all got to taste it and for street food, it was pretty good as an appetizer. 

Found an interesting place just down the street for a real dinner and decided to give it a try. The menus contained only pictures of what you were ordering...with the Spanish name for the entrée, but otherwise gave us very little idea of what was in it. Seeing that we were not locals, we were brought four complementary Passionfruit Pisco sours to help ease us into dinner. Our waiter could speak a little English which helped us choose from the menu. I chose Tacu Tacu, which is a typical Peruvian beans & rice dish. Since we were in Ecuador, I thought I’d kill two gastronomical birds with one Pisco Sour. I have to say that presentation of the dish was not up to my expectations. It tasted all right...but, you tell me what it looks like. (P.S. - Later I found out Tacu Tacu is a native Peruvian, I may have been the victim of some cuisine disdain by our chef.) I don't know what Susan had, but that picture looked a whole lot better, so I added it to the collage as "balance". Dinner for four (with 3 more Pisco Sours) cost us $96 and we left a $10 tip since we’d read that it was not expected but a little extra was appreciated...

Layne was returned from the hospital after 2 bags of IV saline, some meds, and a lot of attention from the doctors and nurses. The Concierge at the Sheraton was awesome and constantly checked on Layne as well as acting as interpreter and as her advocate during the hospital stay while keeping us all informed as to what was happening...she was fabulous to have around! To celebrate Layne getting better, Jim, Jay, and I went to a little bar & restaurant nearby that evening (the ladies all declined our invitation) to have some beer and much for When in Ecuador...

The next morning, Layne stayed at the motel (under the watchful eye of the Concierge) while the five of us piled in a small van and headed for the famous Otavalo Market (locally known as the Plaza de los Panchos and about 56 miles from Quito) as a tour set up by the Concierge (what a surprise, huh!) Susan had read about it and convinced us that it was a must for the trip (after all, it was shopping in Ecuador). We stopped for a break at Mira Lago and some photo ops...and of course had a snack. The Otavalo Market was really fun, lots of bright colors and plenty of variety. I found out that Susan was in the market for several table clothes, and she scored within minutes of our arrival. (Jim, Jay, and I wandered around mostly and wondered if any of our clothes were going to be replaced with market items upon our exit from South American.) After making several vendors very happy, our group packed back in the van for a short ride (5 miles) to Cotacachi. Although the claim to fame for the town is its leather products, we were primarily interested in the lunch included with our “Market Tour”. Lots of spectacular scenery on this entire tour/trip...really glad Susan pushed us all to "hit the road".

Before lunch we took a tour of a fabric business and had an interesting tour and demonstration of various natural dyes used by the Ecuadorean people. I didn’t realize how versatile the Cochineal Scale insect was...crush it and you get a bright crimson color, add lime juice (acid) and the color turns a deep orange, add a bit of soda ash (base) and you get a gorgeous, deep cool is that! I don’t think we bought anything here...but my attention was on the dye demonstration and my back was turned from Susan & Leslie...and, hey! Wait a minute...I think I’m missing a pair of pants and one of my favorite shirts...hmmm...and I don’t recognize that new table cloth!

Now for those who are a bit stomach squeamish or very fond of small animals of the rodent persuasion, you might want to skip this paragraph and scroll past the lunch photos. A national delicacy of Ecuador is Cuy...known to us a Guinea Pig. All of us except Susan ordered it because When in Ecuador... (and as always, she was one of the smartest!) The golden potato soup with avocado was the best and we all were amused that popcorn was the “bread” for the table. We were also shocked to learn that Jay could do Karaoke with a pan were the members of the band. The Cuy was a little greasy for my taste and neither Jay or  I were fond of the presentation...but it was another bucket list item checked off for us...or maybe best just put in the bucket next time. Of important note here, Cuy is NOT listed in the book 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die...just sayin’...

One fact our tour guide noted, that amazed us all, is that roses are a major export for Ecuador. The reason is that roses cultivated at the equator (in Ecuador) will grow very straight and on very long stems. And as we all know, long stemmed roses are sold at a premium price...who knew it took the equator to help make the best long stemmed roses?

We arrived back at the Sheraton to find Layne ambulatory and willing to join the group for some gab time. None of us were very hungry...I know that may come as a shock after such an obviously extravagant & exotic lunch (with popcorn!)...but it was true. So we all just ordered some various soups for a light dinner. Tomorrow morning we leave for Minto and the Cloud Forest of El Monte.

P.S. If you aren't very good at stringing electrical and telephone wires in an orderly fashion, Quito has some job opportunities for you.

P.P.S. We're pretty sure that Layne had gotten the flu just before catching their flight to Quito...thank goodness it was the short version and that the Sheraton's Concierge was so pro-active for her!

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Dust In The Wind (On the Home Stretch)

Of course I had failed to download the maps for South Dakota before I left Barb & Jerry’s, so I stopped and got some fries (and free WiFi) at a McDonald's as I entered S.D. I not only got some pretty good fries and a free map download for SD, but a nice walk along a path along a country road nearby. I'd say that stop was pretty much a win-win!

I felt sorry for the owner of the corn field I walked by...obviously there was no way his (or her) corn was going to be knee high by the 4th of July (in the next three days) sad. 😉

I stopped along the way in Watertown, S.D. just to get some gas and then wandered around the energizing 30 acre conservation park around the Redlin Art Center for about an hour. That was an amazing hour well spent!

Got checked into my motel in Pierre and with the help of Google maps (although I was still suspicious of taking directions from my phone) found Kari’s place with no problem...well, one slight problem, the phone took me to the back side of the apartment building. Well, on reflection, maybe that’s where all cars with out-of-state license plates are sent.

Kari and Sage met me in the parking lot. Sage is a really good dog & I think we bonded pretty well when I played a little fetch with her. Kari fixed me dinner and we got caught up on all sorts of family and job gossip as well as bread baking topics before I headed back to the motel. The next day we planned a bake and went for a touring walk of the river front promenade in Pierre, and the State Capitol grounds as well as finding a great place to have an ice cream!

Incidentally, it’s not pronounced like a Frenchman’s name (Pee-Air), it’s pronounced like an ocean Pier. I got back to my room and shortly thereafter the town was “treated” to quite the electrical storm. I’d forgotten how loud and violent those can be in the mid-West. I suspect that many people with constipation are “helped out” when they are quietly reading and suddenly get a big flash-boom outside their house at night.

Our bread bake on my third day in South Dakota was successful and I’d like to think I gave her some helpful hints to make her dough mixing and baking routines easier. I have decided that having a peel to deliver bread to a pizza stone in your oven is definitely “essential equipment” and that all pizza stones should be rectangular. This was because I took some of Kari’s bread dough and shaped it into a baguette...things were going well until I tried to deliver it (without a peel) onto the round pizza stone in the oven and ended up with a tragically twisted, life-like, side-winding, bread snake. Well, at least it tasted good and gave us a hearty chuckle.

Pierre’s Capitol grounds are much more extensive than I remembered. I suspect, like everything else I’ve experienced on this trip, a lot has changed in the past few years. I say a few years, but looking up the records of the Capitol Pee, I see that we last came through here in August of 2002. It doesn’t really matter cause my poor, ‘ol brain cells have been charged with a lot of memories to retain and I can’t blame them if they missed “just another beautiful park”.

Another thing I enjoyed while visiting Kari, is that her apartment is about 10 minutes away from a Menards “super store”...I’m sure without a guide or enforcer, I’d simply would’ve ended up wandering around for days through all the aisles of various things for sale. I ended up with some dragonfly solar lights for home and got Kari a pizza more bread snakes...and completed my daily walking goals with an 18,968 step (9.5 miles) day. At one point during one of my walks, I thought I had come across an isolated, extremely local hail & ice storm cell...but it turned out to be where the local ice company had just cleaned out some version would have been much more entertaining. At least the guy in the mask didn't laugh at me...although, I'm not sure if it was because he was a statue or because I couldn't see through the mask. 😎

I left Pierre, Kari, & Sage and headed to Miles City in Montana next morning after another walk by the river. Along the way to Montana, I killed 2-3 hundred thousand grasshoppers with my radiator grill. (No, I didn’t count them, but I’m sure that’s an accurate number...remember, I’m a bug guy.) The little varmints must’ve been just sitting on the highway road surface thumbing for a ride. I didn’t really notice the carnage until I got to my motel and after checking in, I noticed a swarm of yellow jackets around the front of the car. I had apparently brought them an enormous (and tenderized) buffet of grasshoppers. Looks like the design of the Prius is perfect for funneling grasshoppers into the radiation. The picture really doesn't do the grasshopper slaughter volume justice... but keeping yellow jackets occupied & away from my dinner was a good thing and well, each to their own - Bon Appetite.

I stopped in Sturgis for a brief walk and to look for any interesting beers...found a South Dakota beer named Pile O’ Dirt Porter by Crow Peak brewing...and took a six pack back to the car with me on my last road segment before Helena and my stay in the Montana Capital city.

I had forgotten how lonely it can be off the major highways in South Dakota and Eastern Montana. At times it seemed like the prairie was truly endless and roads stretched far, far away to the horizon and the edge of the flat earth. 😉

I walked to the Capitol building after I arrived in Helena and chose a spot to place one of Susan’s disks. It’s a lovely little grassy, knoll just between a large flower bed and the prominent horseman statue (Thomas Francis Meagher, a former governor of the Montana). It was a wonderful location to set a disk marking the start of Susan’s Capitol Pee quest.

Here's a better shot with the red dot indicating where I placed Susan' memorial glass disk.

Nearing the last portion of my journey home, I stopped in Coeur d’Alene to walk around the spectacular shore line of Pend d’Oreille Lake. It’s one of my favorite walks in this part of the country. Not a lot of social distancing and very few masks...but then I’m not sure if any visitors here are really concerned about COVID-19 when there’s a sunny day, lush park, beach sands, and a pristine lake at hand.

Back on the road. Stayed overnight just outside of Spokane and then after a short walk in the morning I headed back to Oregon.

It was terrific starting the road down the Columbia River Gorge just after seeing the Welcome to Oregon sign. Although a hot day, seeing that large, familiar river at my side kept me feeling pretty cool. I did get a couple showers coming through the western end of the gorge and actually enjoyed the crisp smell of the light showers that I passed through. Traffic was minimal and it was an easy drive for me.

My last night in a motel was spent just outside of Portland. I had a few shopping items on my list for one of the shopping malls just south of the city, so a stop here made things pretty convenient and a relatively short drive to Sable Springs and the Dragonfly Den.

Got home in the afternoon of July 8th and answered a call from my neighbor Diane. She’d fixed a coffee-rubbed lamb roast with mint peas for her dinner and wanted to know if I’d like to come up for brainer! It was a great dinner to end a wonderful trip and to top it all off, there were two last blooms on the Susan Forever lily.

Everyone knows I keep way too many stats and I’m sure are extremely excited to see the final trip numbers, your wait is they are:

Prius: 4,684 miles, 49.1 mpg, 13 States, and average speed for the entire trip = 58 mph (Oh yes, and 1 radiator full of grasshopper carcasses).

Personal: 192 miles walking, 22 days away from home, 3 State Capitols, and 2 tired butt cheeks (Oh yes, and 1 half-gallon container of ice for my cooler still in Mark & Lee Ann’s freezer in Burlington, Wisconsin...well actually, I suspect it has left the premises by now.)

Monday, August 31, 2020

Dust In the Wind (Heading Back West)

Leaving Madison on a sunny morning made me feel pretty good about the visit. I was anxious to get up to Shell Lake to visit Gene & Mary and possibly see some of the grand kids. Wisconsin is beautiful this time of year, but it can also pop you in the head with humidity in a flash. Fortunately, the rain storm the day before had brought the humidity and temperature down into the very pleasant range. Next stop, Susan’s sister Mary & husband Gene.

Arrived at Mary & Gene’s place with no more odd side-roads “suggestions” from the Google Maps gremlin. I was glad to find that Gene & Mary like to take nice long walks, so getting steps was no problem when I arrived. What I noticed was that Shell Lake is interesting in that it has changed a lot, while looking much the same. The lake frontage was where I saw the most visual difference from the last time I was in town, namely lots of RV’s parked along the water’s edge in a fairly large commercial “campground”. Gene told me that a lot of the folks sign up for the entire summer parked by the water. It was a great walk catching up on what had been happening in their lives these past years. When we settled back at their house, I passed on some of Susan’s jewelry to Mary and gave them one of the photo collage on metal I’d had done in Desert Springs this winter. I also left them one of Susan’s memorial glass disks, so part of her would always be with them and in her home town of Shell Lake, Wisconsin.

The family showed up en mas for a fish fry on Sunday. Gene had caught all the fish and it was a fabulous meal. (A little concern was evident when the cooking was done and it had to be decided how to “hide” the cooking pot of hot oil from a couple of the more inquisitive little kids.) Mary had set out of container of pickled fish she’d done and it was hard to stop eating it. I was full from a great fish fry with lots of other side dishes and yet I kept finding my fork headed for the dish of pickled delights! With my tummy at full capacity, I was suckered into playing the Cornhole game. The fact that Gene & I chosen a shady spot under a tree and were reluctant (or unable) to move, lead us to the seated, Gentleman's version of the game. I actually got one of the bean bags into the Cornhole, but my display of excitement remained fairly low key as you can see.

The next day for lunch, Gene & Mary took Tony & his family out to a local dairy farm that had been converted into a winery - Clover Meadow Winery - and a distillery - White Wolf Distillery. (You gotta love the transition here-from methane to ethanol...with a variety of fabulous afternoon cocktail offerings and terrific food options from The Café.) Tony's twin brother Andy had to leave earlier that morning and his wife was working, so you just have to imagine another person (not in a red shirt...that looks a lot like Tony in the red shirt, and another lovely mid-West girl that we wished could have been with us at lunch!) That was one fine least what I remember of it!

Gene took me out on the lake my last evening with them and showed me where he’d caught the fish for the fish fry (and pickled delicacies) as well as giving me a tour of the homes along the water...some of them quite prestigious. I suspect I couldn’t afford to pay for one day’s upkeep on a couple of the “summer homes”. It’s been a great stay & I really enjoyed meeting the grand kids that came in for the fish fry and hopefully maybe even to see their wild eyed, bald uncle from the far, far, West.

First thing I needed to do after I left Gene & Mary’s place was to visit the Clam River Cemetery where Susan’s parents were laid to rest. I easily found their graves and sprinkled some of Susan’s ashes around their headstones. It was a beautiful site looking out over the Wisconsin farm lands and forests. After some time reflecting on our lives together, I got back in the Prius and headed down to Minnetonka, Minnesota to see Susan’s older brother Jerry and his wife Barb.

I was suspicious once more at the ease with which I was guided to their house in the Minneapolis suburb by Google maps. It may just be paranoia, but it does make for a more exciting travel day. The town was pretty much in lockdown for the CORONA-19 virus, but we had a pretty good visit and as usual, Jerry & I were able to whittle down his stock of beer while Barb kept bringing tasty meals & dessert treats to the table. Did a lot of walking in the area with the two of them and had a very relaxing stay. Like Barb said...It’s like (Bill Murray’s) Groundhog Day around here ...every day.

Jerry and his brother Mark have developed quite the woodworking talents. Mark had handcrafted a beautiful canoe that was fully functional and really a piece of float-capable art. He’d also just completed a stunning easy chair made with rope & wooden slats. It looked like a rigid “regular” wooden rocker, but when you sat in it, the rope & slats moved to cradle you like a glove. Really a special piece. Jerry on the other hand has developed incredible techniques making laminated fishing nets. Originally he was just making a couple for his fly fishing expeditions, but then started turning them into pieces of exquisite beauty & design. One of my favorites is shaped more like a little guitar than a fishing net with inlays of striking wood patterns. Recently he’s started creating the netting frame that instead of holding a net, becomes a picture frame.

(And when I get home, I just hope to nail some replacement boards sorta lined up correctly in my deck...sheese!)

I pulled out the Susan Collection of Jewelry for Barb and she picked out several pieces for  keepsakes of Susan. Later, I loaded up the car & cooler for my next stop...Pierre, South Dakota (once again trusting the ethos, my phone’s GPS connection, and Google maps). Kari was expecting me for some baking “lessons” and shared experiences with the process. I was really interested in how she was baking so many beautiful loaves in her apartment’s electric oven. So look out South Dakota, I'm headed your way next!