Sunday, October 24, 2010

10/17/10 Day 14

We should have started sooner for Yellowstone National Park, it was a lot further away than we thought (about an hour away).  When we finally stopped at the info center just outside the Roosevelt gate, we were given another reason why we should have arrived sooner; Yellowstone in HUGE!  In our talks with Mary Jane, she had never told us how long it would take to traverse the park’s grand loop.  We assumed we would do it in about a day.  The man at the info center informed us otherwise.  He said it would take at least six hours to make the circuit, and only without making any stops.  We were determined to see as much as we could. 
     As soon as we passed through the gate, before we had even purchased our pass, we saw a buck elk grazing in a field.  We paid out 25 dollars for a 7 day pass to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, even though we were only gonna be there for a day…
     We drove around anxiously looking for wildlife and some times pulling over when we saw others pulled over to see what they were looking at.  We stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs and hiked around for about half an hour.  It was pretty awesome!  We continued along the grand loop towards Old Faithful, stopping a few times at some Geyser Basins and when we saw Buffalo or Elk.  We saw quite a number of buffalo and elk, but we were definitely looking for some big horned sheep, a moose, or a bear. 
Mammoth Hot Springs

Geyser Basin


That's right ladies and gentlemen, a buffalo turd!  Thats not even zoomed in or anything, I actually got that close to a turd!

     We made it to Old Faithful after about 3 or 4 hours of driving and looking.  I saw quite a bit of steam coming from the direction of the legendary geyser and just as I suspected, she had just blown right as we were rolling into the parking lot.  We had to waste another hour and a half so we explored the new Information and Education Center. 
     After perusing the displays and taking in all they had to offer, we still had 15 minutes to kill before the next predicted eruption of the famous geyser.  Fortunately there was a film about the park showing that was just that long.
     We got antsy during the movie because we kept imagining that Old Faithful was outside erupting without us, but it waited politely until everyone had left the theater before it even began to bubble.  Everyone waited anxiously ooh-ing and aah-ing every time a small jet slopped out over the rim.  Finally, with a burble and slosh, a huge column of steam and water surged towards the sky.  It was amazing! And right on time, too!
Can you see the rainbow!?  Amazing!

     We were hoping next to make it to the bubbling mud puddles and then scan the plains where bears and wolves had been spotted earlier in the day, but that was at least two hours away and the sun was beginning to set.
     We stopped at an overlook to watch some large herds of elk and buffalo, but in the low light the view wasn’t very satisfying.  By now the sun had sunk below the trees, so we headed back towards the gate.  It was a bit nerve wracking driving along the curving, narrow roads with nothing but our headlights to illuminate the way.
     We were nearing the gate when Virginia to me to slow down and look out the window.  I had overdriven and had to turn around, but my headlights came to rest on an amazing sight.  There at the side of the road, lay an elk struggling in vain to fight off a wolf that was tearing at its face and neck.  The wolf let go momentarily, its eyes glaring, its muzzle covered in blood.  Virginia and I stared in awe until several other cars pulled up and the wolf retreated from the bright wash created by their lights.
     We decided it was time to continue.  We left the park stunned, and watching for any other wildlife close to the road.  We saw nothing else of note, but that image of nature in the raw was permanently burned into our brains.
- Eric

10/16/10 Day 13

     We were looking forward to the exciting and informative trip to Livingston we had planned for ourselves this day.  First we were going to visit the Depot Museum, which is housed in a beautiful brick train station built along the Soo railroad line at the turn of the century.  Next we would head to the Yellostone Gateway Museum, where we would catch a ride in a vintage Yellowstone taxi whose driver would give us a tour of all the historic buildings in town.  We would finish the day with a late lunch and a few beers at the Neptune Brewery and Pub!
     That was the plan, anyway.  Once we got in the car  and halfway to Livingston, Virginia looked at the pamphlets again.  Turns out, as we had run into before, the museums were closed. BOTH of them!
     The weather seemed to match our attitudes as grey clouds rolled in and rain spattered down.  We thought maybe we could find information on somewhere else to go at the visitor’s center, but even THAT was closed!  According to the info we had, Neptune’s didn’t open until 4pm, so we couldn’t even go there to drown our sorrows.
     We ended up driving aimlessly around the town, unwilling to admit defeat and turn around.  This turned out to be a good decision, as we ended up passing Neptune’s Brewing co.  To our surprise and pleasure it was actually open!  We weren’t hungry just yet, so we went down town and killed a few hours at some second hand stores before returning.
     Neptune’s has a cool nautical themed bar and specializes in Thai and Seafood.  The beer was sadly only Mediocre, in our opinion, (except for the chocolate porter) but the food was amazing!  Virginia had a shrimp burger, I had Thai mahi mahi tacos and we shared purple coral chips, which were dipped in a delicious Thai peanut sauce.  We hung around for a while, soaking up the atmosphere as we finished our beers and worked on a crossword puzzle. 
     When we got back, we loafed around watching TV in the trophy room again before dinning on Vance’s gourmet tilapia almond and stuffed eggplants. 
Shhhh this is what we did when they weren't looking.  heh heh

-       Eric Lauterbach

10/15/10 Day 12

     We headed on to Livingston, Montana after a quick pack up and a breakfast of cereal.  My dad’s cousin, Mary Jane and her husband Vance live about 10 miles east of the city. 
     We hopped on I-90 and drove pretty much non stop except for a short break to visit Pompey’s Pillar.  This was a stop during Lewis and Clark’s explorations of the western territory.  It is basically a huge rock formation that if climbed to the top of, provides an amazing view of the landscape and the nearby Yellowstone River.  It is named after Sakakawea’s infant son that also accompanied the explorers on their journey.  Clark nicknamed the child Pomp.
     We turned into the entrance of Pompy’s Pillar and were disgusted to see that it appeared we needed to pay to get in.  Upon further observation, we found the gatehouse to be empty and a sign that said the pillar was closed for the season.  The gate was wide open though, so we helped ourselves and drove in.  The buildings that probably housed an information center and small history displays were all closed and there was a landscape crew working, but other than that the place seemed deserted.  We just walked right up the boardwalk to the place where Clark had carved his name and the date into the side of the pillar.

It was pretty cool to be standing almost right where the legendary explorer had years ago.  There were various other names and pictographs carved around this area in the pillar too.  We continued climbing the boardwalk steps til we got to the top.   It was a beautiful view of the river and surrounding area.  We took some pictures and headed back down to explore closer to the river.  We kicked around for a bit then it was back on the road. 
            A few hours and only one wrong turn later, we were driving over a little orange bridge and up the drive to Mary Jane’s house.  She met us at the car and we were greeted with hugs, then shown our living quarters for the next few days.  She opened the door and we walked in.  We were being stared at by hundreds of eyes!  The eyes of their many taxidermied animal head trophies!  She paid no attention, but Eric and I were fascinated by the dozens of heads surrounding us with their dead eyes gazing blankly.  She had a pull out couch bed prepared for us right in front of a fireplace and a television with satellite.  It was our own creepy hotel room! 
And thats not even a third of them!
     We got settled and relaxed after the day’s long drive.  Then we explored their property and house a bit.  Their yard is nice with quite a number of trees with a small pond in back.  I am not sure how many acres they own but they are pretty secluded, definitely no neighbors in sight.  The house is very strange.  There are at least 2 stories and a loft.  There is a full kitchen on the ground floor and another full kitchen on the second floor. The floor plan is very open.  I liked it a lot. 
   While Mary Jane and Vance worked on dinner, Eric and I went upstairs to play with the ferrets!  Eric was pretty excited about these little weasels. We had a lot of fun with the curious creatures until it was time to eat.

     Dinner was a delicious pork tenderloin roast.  Probably the best pork I have ever had!  We sipped some wine and got caught up on each other’s lives.  Then we went to bed and watched TV.   
-       Virginia

Monday, October 18, 2010

10/14/10 Day 11

     We were starting to feel like we had been in North Dakota long enough, so we quickly packed and headed for the border.  We decided to take “The Enchanted Highway,” something we had heard about at the visitor’s center in Rugby
     The enchantment of this road is a number of gigantic statues strewn across its length.  Among these are massive grasshoppers, humongous fish, and a towering Teddy Roosevelt.  We had a picnic lunch at the last group of statues, a larger than life farmer and his family, before heading on.

Eric looks just like pappy!

     We drove through a small strip of the badlands and were awed by the change from endless flat prairie to craggy, stony hills and valleys with hardly any vegetation.  This eventually gave way to larger hills and mountains covered with short grass as we rolled into Montana
I guess we didn't write anything about Salem Sue, but she is a big cow somewhere in North Dakota too, not on the Enchanted Highway though.

     We drove on until we reached Mile City, where we searched for a campground.  Of the three we found, one was too expensive, another had been filled up by workers from the oil fields, so we ended up checking into the third, Big Sky RV Park and Campground.  This was not the sort of place we were used to staying at.  There were no trees in the small campground, no fire pits also, and the road was a stone’s throw away.  Despite these conditions, the camp proved to be very nice in its own way.  Virginia and I had a good dinner of polish sausage, sauerkraut, and Black Butte Porter and then read until we fell asleep.
Enjoying us some some grilled polish sausage and Black Butte Porter

 - Eric  

10/13/10 Day 10

     We were up, packed and at the café by 6:30am.  We ordered coffee and food then spend the next 3 hours writing blogs, journal entries, and postcards.  By 10am we were on our way out of Rugby
     Our next destination was gonna be a winery that we thought was in Minot (along our way), but upon further research, we discovered it was actually a number of miles behind us, so it was on to Bismark to go to the North Dakota Heritage Center and get some history. 
     The museum was free to the public and had tons of “INPUT!”  We spent about 3 hours there learning about Dinosaur fossils that have been discovered in North Dakota.  One of the only mummified dinosaur fossils was found in North Dakota!  Apparently the state was covered in a huge ocean during the time of the dinosaurs.   Because of this, many of the fossils were that of marine dinosaurs.  There was a full sized Mastadon skeleton on display, I am not sure if it was a replica or not, but it was pretty sweet!  There were other exhibits on native birds, the Great Depression and how it affected ND, early inhabitants, Indians of ND, the wars between the settlers and the Indians.  The museum covered a large span of time, from early prehistoric times to the mid 20th century.  We definitely got our fill of history.  Our brains were pretty much melting by the time we left. 
     We happened to be there on the day that a new Sakakawea (that’s how they spell and pronounce Sacajawea in this area) exhibit opened.  It was mostly about the creation and placement of the statue that now sits at the top of the steps to the Heritage Center.
Eric is supposed to be the baby on her back.   WEIRD!

     We were so busy filling our brains that we forgot about lunch!  We got back to the car and snacked hard!  When we finally found a campground south of the city, our only thoughts were spaghetti and rest for our poor tired brains.
- Virginia

10/12/10 Day 9

     This morning we tried to break out habit of not getting going ‘til 10 or 11am by setting an alarm for 7am.  It didn’t work.  It is surprisingly difficult to make yourself get up and start packing while it is still dark outside.  We laid around the tent until the sun came up then began packing up.  Eric made fried cinnamon apples and toast for breakfast.  Despite our efforts to get going by at least 9am, we didn’t actually get on the road ‘til 10am.  I got behind the wheel for the first time since leaving Hamilton so that Eric could catch up ono the journal we have been keeping. 
     We drove for an hour or so to Devils Lake ND.  We had read a little about this area and decided to stop and check it out.  A nice woman from the visitor’s center gave us a ton of info then sent us out towards Fort Totten.  The road out to the fort was under heavy construction and there were many stops, which was ok with us because the road went right through a couple of the lakes that make up Devils Lake (which used to be several lakes, until they flooded together).  The road was very close to being overtaken by the fierce whitecaps that rolled all over the water's dark surface.  There were many dead and crooked looking trees jutting out of the water giving the lake a very spooky feel.  We both agreed that the lake seemed appropriately named. 
     The name is derived from the Indian name “Spirit Lake,” but apparently the settlers thought this was an evil spirit and named it “Devil’s Lake.”  There is also and interesting Indian story about a sea monster that lives in the lake. 
     Devils Lake is a terminal lake, that is it does not drain out into a river, and this has been very problematic.  The area has flooded many times and washed away the roads.  The lakes themselves have grown to a massive size compared to a few decades ago.  All three of the main lakes that make up Devils Lake look equally angry. 
     We were told about Sully’s Hill National Game Preserve by the woman at the visitor’s center and decided to stop and see some buffalo and stuff, since it was on the way.  We took the auto tour through the preserve, stopping at several pull-offs to observe the wildlife.  We climbed Sully’s Hill to the overlook and were rewarded for our strenuous climb by seeing some buffalo from about 30 feet away and also by the amazing view.

We spent some time up there taking pictures and looking through the binoculars to see what we could see.  We then hopped back in the car and continued on to the prairie dog town.  As we turned onto the road towards the town we observed dozens of the little rodents peeking from their burrows as we passed through.  I thought it would make for a better picture if I got a little closer by walking down the road towards where their little town, but this just caused most of them to chirp at us and run into their tunnels.  We retreated to the viewing area hoping they would come back out, but not many of them did, so we moved on towards the Devils Lake overlook.
     This too was an amazing view much like Sully’s Hilll, but we could see much more of the lake.  We decided this was a good place to eat lunch.  We wanted to cear out some of our left-overs, so we had turkey and egg salad sandwiches.  They were ok.
Thats Devils Lake behind us 

     We had seen all that the auto tour had to offer at this time of year and decided it was time to move on to Fort Totten.  There was a lot of history in this complex and I knew Eric could spend hours there so I didn’t really expect to get much further today. 
     We were pretty excited to get some “INPUT!”  in the words of Johnny 5 from the movie Short Circuit, but we were disappointed to find that the fort was pretty much closed for the season.  The gate was open so we strolled around the old fort anyway, but the museum buildings were all closed.  There were a few informational signs in the windows of the buildings and we got a little bit of the history of Fort Totten from these signs.  It was originally an army outpost during frontier days that later was turned into a school for Native Americans(where they tried to turn the red man into whitey!).
    Our hunger for history was hardly satiated, but we got back on the road to continue around Devils Lake to Rugby, ND, The geographic center of North America!  There was also a Prairie Museum in Rugby we were going to go to in a desperate attempt to get our history fix, but it was CLOSED! 
     We seem to be running into this problem a lot.  Some museums apparently close for the season soon after Labor Day (lame).  We have picked up a number of pamphlets for museums that looked effing RAD, only to find them closed for the season.  We have been VERY frustrated by this! 
     We arrived in Rugby and stopped at the visitor center to fill up on pamphlets and found that since this was the geographical center of the continent, the visitor center had information about Canada, Mexico, and all 50 states.  We were soon approached by a young woman with a notepad in her hand and a camera hanging from her neck.  She began making the usual small talk with questions about where we were from, where we were going, etc.  Then she explained that she was an editor for the Washington Post on a road trip across country imitating “Travels With Charlie,” a book by John Steinbeck.  She asked if she could interview us about our travels and we were of course eager to share.  She seemed very interested and envious of our ability to go all they way to California(she said she was heading back soon without making it to the west coast).  She took our names and Eric’s e-mail so that she could let us know when the article was being published.  We gave her the web address to our blog and she seemed excited to check it out. 
     We bought a bunch of postcards and spoke to the man behind the counter at the visitor’s center.  He was very helpful and full of information.  He loaded us up with pamphlets and gave us many ideas as to what to do with the rest of our time in North Dakota.  We left with some difficult decisions to make about what to do for the next two days. 
            We hurried across the street to the monument marking the center of the continent for pictures.  The woman who interviewed us was still over there taking photos and we got her to snap a few of us with the monument. 
We in the middle of the continent mutha lickas!

     In our free and discounted campground book, I had found that there was a municipal park in Rugby where we could camp for free.  The man at the visitor’s center confirmed this and pointed us in the right direction.  This little park turned out to be one of the nicest placed we have camped so far.  There were flush toilets and hot showers!  AND IT WAS FREE!!!! I mean, some campgrounds make you pay to get in, pay to camp, and even pay to shower.  There were two picnic tables under little pavilions.  We made a dinner of spaghetti and squash under one. 
A nice little place to camp

     While we were eating, another couple pulled up in a little SUV.  They got out with a cat on a leash (which delighted Eric).  The woman approached us and we talked of traveling.  They were from Canada (I think they said Saskatchewan) and had made a trip down along Lake Superior to see the fall colors.  They were now on the fast track home and had been sleeping in the back of their car the entire trip.  She told us about a frightening experience they had had while sleeping in a wal mart parking lot.  We told them about various places we have camped.
     We cleaned up and packed everything we could as to make the morning pack-up faster.  We wanted to get up and get to the small internet café in town by 6am for breakfast and internetting
-  Virginia

10/11/10 Day 8

     After a good night's rest on my part, and a fitful night spent fearing for her life by Virginia, we crawled out of the tent to see what damage the mystery animal had done to our camp.  After a brief survey, everything seemed to be intact, everything that is except our bag of trail mix.  We had set it in the fork of a tree the night before, to prevent whatever was loose from approaching our tent as we slept.  This tactic worked, but at the expense of our snack, as I found a small hole chewed in one corner.  It was probably the work of a squirrel, but Virginia said that if it had been Sasquatch, it was awful rude of him to tear into our bag when he has perfectly good thumbs that could be used to unzip it. 
     Following that, we packed up quickly and took our first load to the car, since we had left all the breakfast food there.  Virginia stayed behind to prepare the morning meal, while I headed back down the trail for the second load.  Virginia thought I would need to make another trip after this one to get everything, but I proved her wrong by lugging everything back on that return.  It was heavy and uncomfortable, but I was rewarded with a big bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon and peaches upon my return.  It was time to say goodbye to Deer Lake once again, but I know we will be back. 
       Once we got back into town, we resumed our westward travels on highway two.  Virginia got out one of her travel books and began to read about the destinations that lay ahead.  When she got to Bemidji, I told her we had to stop there to see the giant statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.  And so it was.  After a few silly pictures and a look around the visitors’ center, which house oversized items once used by the behemoth logger, we ventured uptown to find a drug store so Virginia could fill a prescription. 
mmmm Big Blue Boogers!

     We ended up at the Thrifty White Drug Store, where they told her they would have her prescription filled in twenty minutes.  To kill time, we went to the parking lot and made lunch.  We sat on the tailgate of the station wagon eating freshly made egg salad sandwiches.  When we were done, Virginia went inside to check on the pharmacists’ progress.  She soon came back out empty handed and looking angry.  Apparently there were issues with the insurance agency, which would take at least another 20 minutes to straighten out.  Virginia had found a coupon for Cold Stone Creamery and decided that ice cream would work, at least temporarily, as a cure for her flared temper. 
     She got a cookie dough and cake batter flavored concoction called “All Lovin’ No Oven” while I opted for the chocolate-y “Peanut Butter Cup Perfection.”
     When we were finished with our treats we returned to the Thrifty White and were able to leave from there with Virginia’s medicine this time.  A little while later, we were crossing the Minnesota border into Grand Forks, North Dakota, just outside of which lay our destination for the night; Turtle River State Park
     Even After the work of setting up camp, Virginia and I were still full of ice cream, so we had a light dinner of tuna and crackers and called it a night. 
 - Eric

10/10/10 Day 7

     We woke and started packing our stuff (my goal was to leave by noon at the latest). We both thought it was a good idea to take a shower (never know when we will get the next one).  We had a breakfast of coffee cake and coffee. Then there was about an hour of them fussing over us and trying to send things with us; music, food etc.  Following this was a photo session, 
Us and The Blondos!

then we were off, our destination being Eric’s family’s property on Deer Lake.  It was only about an hour and a half drive so we had plenty of time to mess around in Grand Rapids, MN before driving the 10 minutes north of the city to Deer Lake.  We went to Glen’s Army Navy Surplus, which is apparently a tradition within Eric’s family whenever they get up here.  It was a great outdoor and hunting store.  I found some turtle fur which is basically a winter weather neck wrap made of fleece.  Everyone in my family had a turtle fur at one time, but most have worn out, so I picked up a couple to take home to my mom and brother.  We also picked up some extra propane, a grill lighter, and some mosquito repellent (which proved VERY useful over the next few nights). 
     We were getting hungry and Eric remembered a pasty place nearby, but upon driving by, we discovered it was closed on Sundays.  We proceeded to drive through town looking for a Mexican restaurant Eric also remembered from a previous visit.  We found it and gorged ourselves on chips and salsa, chimichangas, and burritos. 
     After lunch we toyed with the idea of walking around the downtown area, but decided to head out to the lake instead so that we could hike around and make sure we had plenty of time to set up camp. 
     The drive was about 10-15 minutes, then down a secluded drive lined with towering pines and other trees to a large “cottage” that was one of what I would call a small mansion.  We parked the car next to this cottage and Eric jumped out, excited to show me around and tell me of how their cottage used to be. 
     Eric’s grandmother‘s family used to be the owners of a much larger piece of land in this area, but some of the other family members sold their portion of the land.  The old cottage from Eric’s childhood was located on the property that was sold and was destroyed by the new landowners to be replaced by a mansion cottage.  There are several other cottages in the nearby vicinity just as lavish as the others.  They seem to be used as summer homes by some very wealthy people. 
     No one seemed to be home at any of the cottages, so we walked all around their yards as Eric pointed our where their cottage and other related structures had been located.  The boathouse they had used was still standing and in much the same shape as they had left it, however inhabited by someone else.  We walked around the boathouse to the spot where Eric’s grandmother had imprinted her initials in the cement near the garage doors facing the water. 
     I can tell that this area holds many fond memories for Eric.  It is very unfortunate that the cottage is gone and that I never had the opportunity to experience it with him. 
     We began formulating a plan for how much stuff we actually needed to take to the campsite and the most efficient way to get it there.  We decided to get the stove out and hard-boil some eggs before heading to camp no.  1 (a name given to the area the family has come to camp several times in the past).  We wanted to be sure that we only took enough food to eat so there was none left over to tantalize bears and such.  We packed the tent, chairs, sleeping bags, pillows, lantern, some clothes, 4 eggs, trail mix, 3 apples, a jug of water, and 4 beers. 
     Eric wrote a note to leave on the car just in case anyone came along and was suspicious of our car being parked there.  We loaded ourselves lightly for the first trek to the camp.  This property is only accessible by an overgrown logging trail or by canoe.  We were taking the trail, which is about a fourth of a mile hike.  There are many obstacles littering the path, mostly fallen trees.  Eric explained that his family encourages the trail to be unkempt so that intruders have a harder time getting back there. 
     The hike was enough to make us break a sweat (that and the 80 degree weather).  Eric showed me where they usually pull up their canoe and where they had carved “camp no. 1” into a nearby tree.  It took one more trip to the car to get all of our supplies.  We set up the tent on a cushy bead of leaves.  The entire forest was covered in a blanket of colorful leaves, it was really quite beautiful, but would prove to be unnerving later. 
    Eric uncovered a previously used fire pit and gathered some wood.  I set up the beds while he started a very well constructed fire. 
Deer Lake Camp No. 1

     We settled by the fire and ate our eggs and apples with our beer.  After this snack, it started getting dark.  We brought out our instruments, Eric on the ukulele and me on the djembe.  We played and sang ‘til it was pitch black and the only light was the glow of the campfire. 
     I must mention that the blanket of leaves makes even the smallest creature sound HUGE! In the previous entry we mentioned a conversation we had with Steven about Sasquatch sightings in Minnesota…  Needless to say we were a bit jumpy (I was at least). 
     Our music making was soon interrupted by the rustling of leaves to our left in the direction of the logging trail.  Eric flipped on his “head-light” and looked in the direction of the rustling.  Whatever it was, it seemed to be making much more noise than the squirrels we had grown used to.  We looked all around in the direction of the sound for a couple of minutes.  We could see the glint of eyes, or something.  I began beating on my drum to scare the thing away, but it didn’t seem to pick up it’s pace.  We even called out to it a couple of times, but there was no reply.  It certainly wasn’t scared of us and we both felt like the glints of the eyes were too high to be that of a four legged animal.  “SASQUATCH!”  was our first thought, or maybe a bear.  I am not sure which is scarier.  The thing seemed to walk off and we couldn’t hear it or see its eyes anymore, but its presence haunted us!  Eric thought that perhaps the glints of eyes we saw may have been the LED flashlight of a hunter trying not to get caught hunting illegally on someone else’s land. Maybe it was a bear or a deer.  Whatever it was it sure freaked me out and even though Eric claims that it didn’t scare him that much, it spooked him enough for him to draw his knife!
     Soon after The Thing came and went, we let the fire burn down and went to bed.  I had a restless night of being concerned about other “things” coming to get us.  Eric slept like a damn baby.    
 - Virginia

Thursday, October 14, 2010

10/9/10 Day 6

     We were falling into a bad habit of waking up later each morning, but it worked out alright this time as it took a little longer for Steven to make a breakfast of fried eggs and homemade sausage patties.  We dawdled around for a bit as Steven debated whether or not he needed to attend the annual Fire Commemoration Ceremony at the Moose Lake Depot Museum.  In the end, he decided it would be more fun to take us canoeing instead (also it sounded like it was gonna be really boring and he was glad to use our vist as an excuse to get out of it).
     This meant the next task was to load the canoes onto the truck and trailer.  We ran into a small snag when Steven couldn’t find his cinch straps, but no worries I had a solution!  We found some ropes and I showed Steven a knot that I had learned from my dad, the truckers hitch, which works jut as well, or maybe even better than cinch straps. 
     While we were doing this, Beth had been checking the depths of nearby lakes and streams.  She was hoping to find a place out of the public eye, since neither of the canoes had been registered that year. It's not that they were trying to avoid the fees, this was simply the first time they had gotten the canoes out this year.  We had even tried twice unsuccessfully at separate locations to register the boats with the DNR, but all the officer were “in the field.”  After online registration proved fruitless as well, we decided to paddle about Moose Lake and up the Moose Horn River.  We all felt that if a DNR officer decided to hassle us about our lack of registration, he could damn well sell them to us on the spot. 
     We had the boats on the lake in short order.  It was a perfect day for paddling.  The sun shone bright and there was a light breeze.  The going was easy, with only a slight current to paddle against as we made our way across the lake and up the winding river.  Well, the going was easy for Virginia and me, but the three kids in the canoe with Steven and Beth complicated things a bit.  Even under the constant threat of tipping over posed by the children, they kept pace with us, sometimes even overtaking us, until another episode of antsy-ness from the kids caused them to take their focus off paddling, allowing us to regain the lead. 

     After carrying on in this fashion for an hour and a half, breaking through and old beaver damn and gliding under a long, tunnel-like bridge, we came to another impasse.  Upon rounding a bend, we saw a second collapsing beaver dam.  We picked up speed, preparing to ram our way through, when we saw behind that a third beaver dam.  This one looked fairly recent, and rose at least two feet above the water.  We felt this was a good reason to stop, so we had a quick lunch of cheese, crackers, and trail mix before heading back home.  The return trip took us only a half hour, giving us just enough time to scarf down a dinner of pizza washed down by more Summit Ale from the keg. 
     Steven’s parents, Dick and Anne Blondo, had arrived while we were out and we chatted with them over dinner, but only briefly.  Steven, Virginia and I had to leave shortly after eating in order to make Duluth in tome to get good seats for “Evil Dead:  The Musical”
     The title pretty much says it all; singing, dancing and gallons of fake blood make up this goofy homage to the infamous film series.  As to be expected from “the ultimate experience in greulling theater,” there was a seating section called “the splatter zone.”  It was more expensive to sit there, but you got a free T-shirt and the chance to get covered in whatever gore flew off the stage. 
     We actually opted to sit in the regular, splatter-free section.  I think this was a good choice, because my favorite part of the show turned out to be watching the creative ways they soaked the people in the splatter zone.  This was a rather low budget production so this usually consisted of squirting audience members with ketchup bottles hidden behind holes in clothing or simply dumping buckets of blood on them.

     After a night of blood and laughter, we headed home.  Talk about the play lead to talk about our favorite horror movies, which lead to a general discussion of the supernatural.  Steven then gave us detailed accounts of two separate Bigfoot sightings in the area.  All this talk of the paranormal got all three of us a little bit spooked, enough that we made sure the doors were locked before we turned in for the night.
- Eric 

10/8/10 Day 5

     We woke up at around 7am and weren’t sure when everyone else normally woke, so we just chilled in the basement for a while and took our time getting ready.  We cleaned up in the bathroom and stashed our bed in the other room then made our way upstairs.  We discovered that they were actually waiting on us.  We had forgotten that we were going to Moose Lake to get donuts at Dave and Tom’s donut shop.  This seemed to be a Blondo family ritual.  The kids were all ready to go, so we all piled into their Land Rover and headed into town 
     We ordered donuts and coffee/OJ and sat down to eat.  The kids seemed to be particularly ornery this morning (or maybe they weren’t…I guess I don’t know how they normally are).  Steven explained to us that this donut shop was the spot where all the old folks in town to sit and drink coffee and gossip all morning.  When these people were done at the donut shop apparently they took their shenanigans across the street to the diner and sat there for the rest of the day.  This reminded me of 4 corners in Hamilton, where the  “town council” meets on a daily basis to gripe about politics and the happenings in town. 
     After breakfast, Beth took the kids to story time at the library and Steven took us to the Moose Lake Depot and Fires of 1918 Museum.  Steve volunteers at the museum and recently started a project that involves him visiting all the properties that survived the fire.  We spent an hour or two at the museum learning about the fires as well as general history of the area.  The fires started because of a combination of the two year drought that had been plaguing the area, lots of waste from the lumber mills, and sparks from trains passing through.  The fires spread at speeds of 60 to 70 miles per hour!  It was a firestorm!  The fires destroyed 250, 000 acres of land, killed 450 people and injured thousands.  The towns affected by the fires include Kettle River, Moose Lake, Lawler, Autobay, and Cloquet. There were several other displays in the museum including the Soo Line Railroad, Nemadji pottery, Moose Lake Hospital, and Agates (the state mineral).     
            After exploring the museum and filling our heads with Moose Lake history we needed to fill our bellies with food!  We stopped at a grocery store and got the fixin's for a picnic then headed to a pleasant park located on Moose Lake.  We ate and conversed while the kids entertained themselves on the playground.  The lake was very calm and we thought a canoe trip would be fun, so next we went to the DNR office to try to get canoe registrations, but all the DNR officers seemed to be out.  So, we decided to go to Soo pit and pick agates instead. 
            Soo pit is part of the Soo Line Trail which is a popular ATV recreational area.  We walked on the trail for about a fourth of a mile to the pit.  Julian was quite the agate spotter and specialist.  He found the most agates and was quick to tell us wether what we had found was or wasn’t an agate.  We searched the pit for about half an hour and found a number of agates and cool rocks.  We were all pretty exhausted and it was very hot, about 80 degrees, so we decided to call it a day and head home.  The ride home was a bit unnerving with 3 very tired and fussy boys.  We kept them out all day without a nap.  I could have used a nap too! 
            Dinner was burgers and brats on the grill with red cabbage salad and potatoes.  We settled down with a couple of beers from Steven’s keg while the kids continued to be wound up.  I helped Beth make some apple crisp for desert while Steven, Eric and the Kids listened to bawdy sea shanties (all of which are very questionable in their appropriateness for children) Dessert was served and the kids were put to bed with the help of a good story read by mom.   Eric got his laptop out and we showed Steven some of the videos we made in college.  He seemed very impressed.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

10/7/10 Day 4

     We got up early at 7am this morning, heading from the camper to the old farmhouse for a hearty breakfast of wheat pancakes and more bacon.  The sun shone warm and bright as we sipped our fresh brewed coffee, already a welcome change from the instant granules we've used the last few days.  the pancakes were made from scratch and served with real butter and real maple syrup.  We had just enough time after breakfast for Mary to take us out to Arne's studio/brewery and show us some of the beautifully embroidered fabrics she had collected or helped create through her fair trade company.After the brief tour, we had to quickly hit the road because Mary had clients to meet and we wanted plenty of time to get to our next destination.
     We had a lot of ground to cover in order to reach the house of my friend Steven Blondo and his wife Beth in Kettle River, Minnesota. The Blondos are old family friends from when my parents lived in South Dakota, and even though Steven is more than a decade older than me, he treated me like a brother while I lived there.  Now he is making a name for himself as a freelance archeologist in Minnesota.  Virginia and I didn't find any attractions that caught our fancy along our route, so the drive seemed very long, broken only by bathroom breaks and a sunny picnic just over the Minnesota border.
     When we arrived, we were greeted in the yard by Stephen, his twin sons Julian and Sebastian and a cavalcade of barnyard animals.  The boys were eager to tell us about all the animals and show us around the property.  Later, Steven gave us a tour of the inside of the house, where Virginia and I made special note of his refrigerator with a built in tap handle and keg system.  After Steven explained to us that the three kegs a year he bought didn't cost much less than buying an equal amount of beer by the case, it cut back on the clutter of cans and bottles and tasted "a hell of a lot better," we agreed that we would ourselves need on in the future.
     When it came to dinner, we all pitched in.  The Blondos had been planning to make Chinese, so Steven fried up the first course of salmon cream cheese wontons.  Beth, who had been busy with their youngest boy Ainsley when we arrived, helped Steven prepare teriyaki chicken wings, and Virginia chopped veggies for stir fry while I mixed up a sauce.  The boys tried to help too, but the kitchen soon became too hectic with all seven of us in there so, with the boys and Virginia, I retired to the playroom until it was my turn to cook.
     After dinner, everyone came along to take the dog on a walk through the woods.  Next was a fire and s'mores.  It was getting dark and the boys were getting worn out, so Beth took them to bed.  As the embers burned down and wee too began to tire, we were jolted back to alertness by the frightened squawking of geese.  We went to investigate and were surprised to see a bushy black and white tail disappearing under a feed bin.  Realizing it was a skunk and not wanting to get sprayed, we hightailed it back out the barn door.  From our safe vantage point, we checked in the skunk hole with a flashlight, but the critter had vanished for the     time being.
     We'd had enough excitement for one day, so Virginia and I packed in for the night.  We had to watch our heads coming in the short basement door, and Steven said this was because when the house was being built the owner's father thought it would turn out too tall.  To keep the two-story house from looking "like a damn skyscraper," the father took a couple layers of cinder blocks off the foundation.  We weren't bothered by the low ceilings and bunked down for the night.
- Eric

10/6/10 Day 3

     I had a comfy, warm night and slept in until 7:30.  I got dressed and had a stroll around the park (I wanted to get my money's worth!).  Eric got up and started breakfast.  We took our sweet time eating our eggs, bacon and toast and cleaning up.  We left the park at about 10am.  
     We headed towards the Mississippi River in order to take Highway 35 (The Great River Road) north towards Minnesota.  We didn't get far before we HAD to stop at Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin aka The Troll Capital of the World!  We drove through town anxiously looking for signs that would justify the towns claim.  We spotted several wood carved troll statues along the road as we drove.  We were informed by a Mr. Gordon at the visitor's center that the town was settled by mostly Scandinavian peoples.  They say that trolls protect precious things, in this case the trolls protect the friendly people that inhabit Mt. Horeb.  
     We walked along the main road and got pictures with several of the troll statues.  They were hand carved by a local man and placed in front of various businesses.  There was one with an accordion and we got a picture of Eric holding his accordion next the it.  There was also a town mascot who was seen at many festivals throughout the year, a living, breathing, human-sized troll named Jorgen.  
     After our troll adventures, we continued towards the river.  I realized that if we continued along this road, we would be going right past my 2nd cousin Mary Anne's place and that perhaps we could stay there for the night.  I called and after a brief game of phone tag, I got a hold of her.  She seemed very busy, but always happy to help and visit with us.  We were told that we had to be gone by 9am the next day because she was expecting clients.  It was no problem for us so we started towards her place. 
     We stopped at a wayside along the river for a lunch of BLTs (minus the L...)  there was another couple stopped there who looked like they were about to use the picnic table to sit at (there was only one), but upon seeing us with our cooler promptly gave it up to us.  I told them we could share the table and offered them some BLTs, but they politely declined.  A few minutes later the male counterpart of the couple approached us and asked if we liked art.  Of course we do, so he showed us a carving of a Green Man he had done and told us all about his tattoo parlor.  He gave us a couple of hand made business cards and we liked it!
     We realized that if we just talk to people they will probably talk back and be friendly and generous.  We could actually meet some really interesting people along the way.
     About 2 hours later we arrived at Mary Anne Wise and Arne's.  She greeted us at the car with a much appreciated offer to sleep in their camper on a real bed.  She showed us the outdoor shower she had built from concrete and lined with Mississippi muscle shells.  Apparently they had been renting out their camper to people from the twin cities who want to get away from the city, and they built the shower so they would have a place to bathe when they stayed.  We were very impressed and excited to use the outdoor shower.  
     We unpacked the necessities and I jumped in the shower.  It felt awesome!  I was naked outside!  The water was warm, even though the air was becoming a bit chilly.  There was a little window to look through while you were in the shower.  I should mention how secluded their place is.  The road dead ends into their drive way and there isn't a house in sight of their place as far as I can tell.   They have numerous buildings (workshops) around their house and an abundance of vegetation and well kept gardens.  Their artistic nature is obvious as soon as you pass through the 2 cement pillars that mark the edge of the yard.  Their property is littered with various pieces of art and furniture they have created.  Eric said that he would call a lot of their art "zen junk piles" because a lot of their peices include found items that have been repurposed.  
     We sat on their patio and had a dinner of pasta and sauce, salad, and squash (along with Arne's home brewed Octoberfest beer).  It was all very delicious and we were very grateful for their immense hospitality especially since we dropped in on them with only 2 hours notice.  
     We caught up on what has been happening over the past 3 or 4 years since I last visited.  Mary Anne has been working towards a fair trade textile business in Guatemala where she helps local artists get fair wages for their creations.  She seems very fulfilled by this and is trying to expand to other countries.  This keeps her and Arne very busy.  
     After a couple more glasses of Arne's beer and having to throw several slobbery half eaten apples for their welsh terrier, Max, we retired to the camper.  We learned that this trailer was one of five spartan trailers that they own.  We settled in under a very warm down comforter after listening to some NPR.
       - Virginia

10/5/10 Day 2

     We woke up to a frosty morning and hopped in the car to drive around the campground in search of a toilet (and also to warm up).  We then promptly packed up the tent without bothering to change clothes or eat breakfast (much to Eric's disgust).  We filled the water jugs and brushed our teeth next to the water spigot.  By about 9am we were back on the road.  
     We needed to make it to Monroe by 1pm in order to take the Minhas Brewery guided tour.  I knew we would be cutting it close if we stayed on the road we had been planning to take, so we jumped on a couple of interstates to make time.  We arrived in Monroe at about 12:20 with plenty of time to have a small lunch from the cooler in the brewery parking lot.  
     Minhas Brewery is owned by two young entrepreneurs (much like ourselves) who have helped the Brewery to flourish.  They brew a large variety of beers from Bergoff to Clear Creek Ice (which was sold at the liquor store in Muncie for 50 cents a can.  Eric and I agree that it is probably the worst beer we have ever had.).  Minhas Brewery is the oldest continuously running brewery in the midwest and the second oldest in the country.  The brewery was there before the town of Monroe and takes up 3 city blocks.  Open since 1845, Minhas (formerly known as Joseph Huber Brewing co.) stayed open during the prohibition by making near beer and sodas.  The brewery owners have taken great care to preserve the rich history of the brewery by keeping some of the original buildings intact, still making brands tat were made long ago, and making brews and sodas that are named after previous owners.  
     We sampled several of their craft brews during the tour.  I recommend Rheinlander, Lazy Mutt, or Huber Bock.  We also got a complimentary beer glass and a sample pack.  A pretty good deal for 10 bucks each!
     After getting a little happy on the free beer, we decided to walk around the courthouse square and check out a pub we were told about by some british lady on the brewery tour.  "It's a must!"  she had said, so we made our way to Baumgartner Pub.  They sold many Minhas brews as well as various cheeses.  The british lady specifically mentioned a limburger cheese sandwich, so we sat down and ordered two limburger cheese sandwiches with onions (they also came with an andes mint for obvious reasons).  We sat at the bar eating our smelly cheese sandwiches and were confused as our taste buds were delighted, but our noses were assaulted!  I think we enjoyed the sandwiches, especially after ordering a nice Huber Bock to wash them down.  We took a stroll around the square then got back in the car to start towards the campground.  
     We camped at New Glarus Woods State Park (I was appalled at the price of 10 dollars for our car and 14 dollars for camping, but the DNR officer wouldn't cut us a break.).  We were the only campers in the park.  We set up camp at around 5pm and Eric got a fire started.  Dinner consisted of a few snacks since we were still full of our stinky cheese sandwiches.  We sang some campfire songs til the fire burned low and our eyelids grew heavy.
- Virginia

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Travel Update: 10/10/10

We're a little behind on posting our travel journals, but hope tobe caught up soon. We are leaving today from Kettle River, MN, 
where we stayed with my friend Steven Blondo and family, but you 
will hear more about that later. Now we head on towards our next 
destination, Livingston, Montana!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Day One 10/4/10

We woke up, showered, and began packing the car. I felt much better after several days of agony over a throat infection. Still not 100%, but good enough to get outta there and on the road. We got all packed and then went to lunch with my mom. Then we were off to Ft. Wayne to pick up our Visa Travelmoney cards from AAA. I forgot my camera... so we had to turn around and call my mom to bring the camera half way.
So after that we were off, our first destination being Minhas Brewery, where Fat Cat and Berghoff beers are brewed. It is located in Monroe, WI. Mapquest said a five hour drive, but we didn't want to take interstates, so we didn't even get around Chicago. I thought I had found a cheap campground south of Chicago, but we couldn't find any camping area in the Des Plaines State Wildlife Preserve.
We spoke to a gas station attendant who informed us that Kankakee River St. Park was fifteen minutes south of where we were, so we headed that way. It was about seven thirty and the sun was going down quickly. We managed to get the tent up before sunset. Eric cooked a meal of beef, corn, and rice. I looked unsuccessfully for fire wood. It didn't seem too cold. We ate, I did dishes, and Eric started a small fire with some wood he scrounged up. We went to bed and soon realized it was colder than we thought. I hardly slept, more from discomfort caused by the hard ground than by the cold; my feet were very cold though.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hello Cyberspace!

Hey everyone! My name is Eric Lauterbach and I, along with my girlfriend of three years Virginia Hurraw will be using this blog to share our travels and adventures with you. We are currently in the first leg of a cross-country trek to California and back. This is a pretty long trip for us, since we are both Hoosiers from Indiana.
Virginia has been a life-long native of the state, hailing from the small town of Hamilton, but she has travelled extensively with her family visiting friends and relatives across the nation.
Although I wasn't born in Indiana, I consider myself a "Hoosier by blood" since both my parents are from the Crossroads of America. I was born in South Dakota, where my dad was working his first job as director of the Dacotah Prarie Museum. Since museum work doesn't tend to have a high demand in each state, we moved from state to state, following my dad's work. This led me to live in Michigan, Texas, and back to Indiana. This, coupled with family vacations across the Midwest has given me something of a wanderlust.
With this shared love of travel, Virginia and I have had a road trip vacation every year we've been together, and we decided this time we would record our journey in a blog so we could share our adventures with our friends and relatives.
We hope that you will enjoy reading about our adventures, and maybe even get a little inspiration to take a trip of your own! We welcome your comments, and if you know anything about the area we will be in or any secret local attractions, feel free to share it with us!

Happy Travels,
Eric and Virginia