Friday, August 26, 2022

August 26

I was suddenly left with nothing in my hands but a handful of crazy stars—Jack Kerouac 

Today, August 26, 2022 after a lifetime of work, family and responsibility, beneath those crazy stars my wife Donna and I are setting out from Buffalo, NY to see and experience America in our first van life expedition. Our mode of transportation will be a sleek, fully equipped 2019 Ram Promaster—a knockoff of the '86 Fleetwood RV from "Breaking Bad," but smaller and without all the chemistry experiments.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

August 26A

So to kick off this over the road extravaganza, as mentioned in the debut post, we were going to meet my Duluth, Minnesota internet friends Joy and Andy for the first time in person. The seeds of this friendship began in 2003-04 by way of an old school internet message centered around the erstwhile Replacements frontman and reclusive solo artist,  
Paul Westerberg. It might seem a little perilous to meet and stay with people you've known only by way of social media/text, but I had met enough of the Westerberg crew over the last twenty years to know it was going to be okay.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

August 27

We pulled out beneath the gray sky and picked up a couple of coffees and some sticky homemade muffins at the Mackinaw Bakery. Donna also bought a couple of tchotchkes at the bakery—small decorative ship anchors because I don’t know, we were near water? I don’t understand the tchotchke thing at all.

From there we crossed the wondrous 26,372 foot Mackinac Bridge over Lake Michigan to the upper peninsula. Such a massive and magnificent structure makes you think with resources and commitment the things people can do together are limitless. 

Monday, August 22, 2022

August 28

Andy informed me that Wi-Fi hadn’t made it to Saginaw yet, so you had to use your phone as a hotspot. That was fine, except the nearest Verizon tower was like in Hibbing and I could barely get a connection. Without the internet I didn’t have access user friendly Google Docs and was forced to update my blog with shitty MS Word—Hey Bill Gates instead of implanting chips in people how about you fix Word? Also, without the internet I couldn't retrace my steps from the day before. Given my rather sketchy memory this made writing almost impossible for me. Yeah...yeah... Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Thomas Pynchon and others didn't have an internet. But, they're brilliant and I'm Pauly Kane from Lockwood Ave in South Buffalo and I'm not brilliant—I need the internet. Frustrating. 

Sunday, August 21, 2022

August 29

Travel day.
We were planning to hit the road by 7am, but with goodbyes got off a little late. We planned to drive for seven of the nine hours it took to get to the Badlands in South Dakota. Badlands—Tuesday and then Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Custard State Park on Wednesday before moving onto the Grand Tetons in the later part of the week.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

August 30

We pulled out of our little Oacomo Flatts paradise about 9am and went rocking down the sunshine filled rolling South Dakota hills along 90W at 75mph—speed limit 80. We listened to a playlist called “Home” which I made for a friend who was moving out of state. I never quite got it to him, but it was literally songs about planes, trains and automobiles ranging from “Leaving on a Jet Plane” to “Take the A Train” to “No Cars Go” and it was freaking awesome.

August 31

With all the movement and all the seeing and doing of the past few days we decided to have a hang out day at our Sage Creek campsite to chill and catch up on the blog which is maybe turning out to be more than I can handle.

If you’re wondering about the rules for these free dispersed camping sites they’re pretty simple. You can stay for up to two-weeks, you need to be one-hundred feet from water and you need to be self-contained, meaning take your garbage. That’s pretty much it.

The infield ring here was pretty full with tents and we had a couple of vans, at a comfortable distance on either side of us last night. Our neighbor to the left, Steve, was from Washington and was on his way home from a high school reunion in Madison, Wisconsin. He drove VW Eurovan and was an Environmental Toxologist—he studied the pollution levels in the air, land and water. He was also a birder. We shared a cup of coffee with him and he pointed out a western meadowlark to us which had a yellow breast. He got his camera out and took some pictures of the bird that were really good. Nice guy.

Friday, August 19, 2022

September 1

Julie Mason
Big doings all night long among the local Sage Creek coyote community—they howled for hours and hours from all directions. It was annoying and kind of cool at the same time, like a loud exasperating friend who you wish would shut up, yet can't turn away from as they tell their next crazy story.

The plan for the day was Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Custer State Forest.

The dirt road out of Sage Creek seemed much rougher on the way out than on the way in. This may have been an illusion produced by the excitement of arriving and the disappointment of leaving—we really loved the stars, grassy hills and the little prairie rodents in this dehydrated inferno paradise.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

September 2


A night’s rest and minimal conversation did wonders for how Donna and I engaged each other the following morning. While communication is important in any relationship, I can tell you as a man who has made it through nearly three decades of marriage and said tons of stupid shit to his wife keeping your mouth shut and letting father time be your friend is often a good short-term solution. The underlying problem still needs to be addressed but if you use time to your advantage and not engage while upset you’re more likely find a lasting fix. Message me for more marriage tips.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

September 3

We eased into the day with a decent continental breakfast of a bean burritos blueberry muffins and coffee at the Baymont Wyndham as we hit the road toward Wyoming and the Tetons. On the map it appeared that there would be a straight shot west though Ten Sleep but any way you cut it the Tetons were eight hours away so we decided to go south through Casper and on to Dubois and save some money on gas by avoiding the Big Horn mountains.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

September 4

Coming up on our tenth day on the road we were becoming quite adept at sharing our very limited space, establishing routines and putting up and breaking down our campsites each day.

While there really wasn't a way for Donna not to hear me when I woke up at 4am, I did try to limit the impact by setting up the coffee the night before and writing by the light of my laptop screen and my high-powered rechargeable flash light pointing at the van wall. This provided more than enough illumination for me to work without affecting Donna all that much even though she is a light sleeper.

Monday, August 15, 2022

September 5

After a restful night’s sleep we got an early start back toward civilization down that ten-mile dirt road. Previously, I had mentioned that leaving the Sage Creek dispersed campsite in South Dakota the road seemed bumpier on the way out rather than on the way in. I want to amend that statement right now. At both Chalk Flatts and now at Crystal Creek the road in was far worse on the way in because we didn’t really trust the GPS to get us there and going along those narrow dirt roads was mentally jarring. Last night coming to Crystal Creek not only was I tired but I was grinding my teeth to point where I needed an ibuprofen to ease the pain.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

September 6

At the beginning of our second day on the road my oldest brother Joe, sent an unprompted text that said: “Let Donna drive, you patriarchal bastard.” 

Despite the great night watching the sun fall behind the Tetons, Donna’s superb fire and listening to Outlaw Country on SiriusXM, I couldn’t sleep. I’ve mentioned elsewhere in the blog that I typically wake up by about 4am, but out here doing the van thing a new pattern has emerged—one night 4am, next night 2am. This was a 2am night.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

September 7

In the morning, Donna was still a little frosty toward me. When she’s not pleased like this, she often questions my actions and corrects me. With a certain curtness she’ll ask: “Why are you making more coffee? Did I say I wanted more coffee?” Or “Why are you drying your hands with that?” That’s the towel for the dishes not your hands.”

Unlike the previous night when I was in a state of delirium comparing myself to Shakespeare and wrongly thinking I was so clever and funny her response to my behavior from the night before was hilarious. Almost always, unless I’ve been a real asshole about something, I can smooth things over by complying to her commands and corrections by smiling at her and muffling my laughter. She’ll eventually smile back, womansplain what I did wrong, and we’ll move on like have for nearly three decades.

Friday, August 12, 2022

September 8

Caroline and I started the morning seeing these turkey vultures loafing in a tree on S. Hillcrest Drive in Montrose, obviously waiting for a deer to be killed by a passing  car. We were headed to visit a portion of my family at a nearby Airbnb on Phillips Drive. I think I’ve mentioned in the blog I'm one of ten children, the father of three, the brother-in-law to seven (not including ex’s), the uncle to twenty-five nieces and nephews plus their spouses—point is, there are a lot of us. So many, my Uncle Bob Cuddihy used to tell my mom that when she walked up the driveway the grass grew. 

Donna is an introvert, and the numbers presented by my family can overwhelm her and shut her down. So, she again hung back at the hotel while we went for coffee at the Airbnb, then later during the pre-wedding picnic and still later for the Bills game that night at Sidelines Sports Bar. It’s an odd thing to explain where she is sometimes and to convince family members it's just a numbers thing and she does like them. But, after three decades I’m so over these lame explanations and have taken to just saying she’s sick of me and is hanging back to do her own thing—they get that.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

September 9

Wedding day. We asked the two ladies working the front desk at the hotel: “Where’s a good place for breakfast?” The unified response was Starvin Arvin’s.

 Starvin Arvin’s is at 1320 S. Townsend Avenue in Montrose and is fabulous. When we pulled up at just past 10am the parking lot was packed, so we sent Caroline—did I mention Caroline is a great animation artist and you should check out her Instagram and then hire her? —inside to see how long the wait would be. She sent a text back almost immediately, that they had a table for us right now. Once inside I wasn’t surprised. The place was rocking.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

September 10

When we arrived back at the Staywise after the wedding neither of our swipe cards worked and we couldn’t get in our room. The guy behind the desk who seemed to answer every question with, “I don’t know, I’m not from around here,” also couldn’t get us into the room. Somehow, he didn’t have a master swipe card or key. He was apologetic and made several futile attempts to contact the manager, but no dice, The room next to us was vacant so he put us in there for the night, but we didn’t have any of our things—toothbrushes, Caroline’s iPad, my laptop and most importantly my C-Pap, which would make for a rocky night’s sleep for all of us.

Monday, August 8, 2022

September 11

Entrance overlook
We started Sunday with a trip to the Black Canyon of Gunnison. A totally awesome and terrifying place.  Formed nearly two-billion years ago by ancient volcanic collisions the canyon features steep cliffs, craggy spires and the Gunnison River which is barely visible from the rim of the canyon.

The deep brown rock and sheer walls were perhaps less visually appealing than say the Grand Canyon, but the magnitude of this place was not to be taken for granted. The Ute Indians occupied this area of Colorado for ten-thousand years but avoided the canyon for superstitious reason. My newfound fear of heights quickly came to the surface standing at the barricaded edges of the canyon, and I totally got where the Ute were coming from about their superstitions. While the formation and beauty of such a place boggles the mind there is little good that could come from significant interaction with the canyon—namely a sure and painful death with one slip or fall.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

September 12

I’m sure she told me and I forgot, but Donna was working remotely today. The bad news for her was since we were on Mountain time her day would start at 6am. The good news was she would be done early and we could visit the Ute Indian Museum just outside of Montrose after she was done with work.

Caroline spent the day following up on job opportunities and I worked on this blog and did laundry. Doing laundry, I watched clips on YouTube of the previous day’s NFL games and basked in the glory of my first fantasy football win of the year. I’m a little football obsessed these days, to say the least. Myself and three of my oldest friends have a very active group text where ninety percent of the content is Bills/football related and the other ten percent is us lying about how cool we were in high school. In the drought years by the middle of October the Bills would usually be like 2-4 and I would check out, choosing to use my Sundays for other things. I like the Bills being relevant much better.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

September 13

One of the things we were really looking forward to on this part of our trip was the short drive south to Ouray to experience their famous hot springs. Once a mining town Ouray now was a tourist destination enclosed on three and a half sides by mountains. Though we saw no evidence of it I guess it’s a big biker town. It leads to what is known as “The Million Dollar Highway,” (Rt. 550) which is said to be one the most beautiful and dangerous roads in Colorado because of its sharp turns and lack of guardrails. From the north it’s the gateway to Silverton, Telluride and Durango.

Friday, August 5, 2022

September 14

Donna
I was up early and got everyone coffee. Donna went out to the van not so much to tidy up, but more to organize and to hide the rocks she had collected over the last twenty days so I wouldn’t be tempted to get rid of them. She actually did a bang up job moving clothes and shoes around so they would be stored more conveniently for me. She also brought order to the van dishes which had been kind of just been shoved under the oven and she put the rocks somewhere in the van and I’ve  yet to find them.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

September 15

Caroline and I were up early and on the road by 8am for Joshua Tree. We were looking at almost five hours to get to the park. Both Google and Garmin wanted us to go north back to Rt. 40, but I didn’t want to maneuver the switchbacks and the higher elevations of Flagstaff. Instead, we continued south toward Sedona which was downhill by way of Rts. 89 and 17 and it was the best driving decision I made the whole trip.

We encountered truly stunning terrain with the rising sun kissing the face of the craggy red buttes as we descended toward Sedona. Though we only stopped for gas and a greasy microwave sausage and egg sandwich on a croissant it was obvious why everyone comes here. The little town was incredibly bright and sunny, lined with endless shops, restaurants and cacti. Of course, as we slowly made our way through the turn-abouts that cut through the center of town I thought about the water source and how many teacups Donna would find here. (Ground water is the primary source).

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

September 16

The ride into L.A. would only take like three hours so Caroline slept in a bit while I watched the sun come up over the horizon and blanket the sandy brown rock and the Joshua trees. The oddly shaped trees, whose branches seemed to defy any kind of pattern and were topped with spikey yucca leaves that reminded me of a punk rock haircut. And these trees, which were really more yucca vegetation than trees, were totally punk rock to survive and flourish in this dehydrated inferno.

After Caroline got up, I made us some egg-white breakfast burritos with peppers, onions, cheddar cheese and turkey bacon. Caroline was quiet and again I could sort of tell she was thinking about her job situation. But I didn’t say much this time. I’m usually not one of these people who has some—the sun will come out tomorrow—cliché to soothe your troubled soul. When people have tried to lift me up with these kinds of statements they typically don’t land quite right. I appreciate the good intentions, but they never really did anything to make my situation better. Caroline needed someone to give her an opportunity not me vomiting out useless platitudes.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

September 17 & 18

When I registered at the Walnut the day before I haughtily told the nice lady Annie, who was from Connecticut, that I only needed one night and I was going to return to the woods the next day. But, I’ll be damned if I wasn’t back over there when they opened the office at one-minute past 9am, asking Annie if she had a spot for another night, which she did. I didn’t really like paying a fee but I rationalized it by telling myself it would be at least three hours in the van there and back and at almost six bucks for a gallon of gas I wouldn’t be losing too bad. Well, yes I would, but it was so easy just to stay here.

I spent a lazy day here working on the blog and watching people back their big campers in and out of their spots. It’s a thing of beauty to see the counter-intuitive action of turning the steering wheel on your vehicle in the opposite direction of where you wanted your trailer to go. I congratulated a guy who put a thirty-foot Airstream in a spot in one try. He said, “Thank you,” and looked at me like I was nuts.

Monday, August 1, 2022

September 19

Karen & RJ's House
RJ went into work at 6am and when Karen came downstairs I was working on this blog at what has become my morning spot in their house—the dining room table. Karen is verbose and animated while RJ is quiet and reserved. Within the first ten-minutes of meeting Karen last year with Caroline she was giving us a tour of not only their house, which has many old school goth collectibles, but also her closet. Even though I wasn’t really interested in her collection of head dresses and wigs her immense enthusiasm made me smile ear to ear. RJ quipped, “Once you meet Karen the shine kind of comes off of me.”  

Sunday, July 31, 2022

September 20 & 21

Caroline in Buffalo
I was supposed to leave the next morning (Tuesday) to go back Joshua Tree—where not only the streets have no names, but hopefully I can find what I’m looking for. Karen asked why I had to go so soon? The only logical answer was I didn’t want to be a disruptive pain in the ass. But I really didn’t have any place to be. She asked me to stay and hang out—RJ didn’t work on Thursday and when he was off like that during the week he typically grilled steaks, played DJ and cut loose a little bit. Food, drink and tunes—all my pressure points and with really great people. I was in.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

September 22

Ugghh!!!
Since I never do any touristy L.A. things when I come here it was decided before I left RJ would take me for a ride through the Laurel Canyon. Laurel Canyon had been a great creative space in the late 1960’s for the likes of Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell and others. So, about mid-morning we made our way from Eagle Rock to Hollywood and drove along Hollywood Boulevard which has the most stunning and neatly lined collection of palm trees, along with a giant population of homeless people, which I was not prepared for whatsoever. But there they were sleeping on the Walk of Fame among the sightseers’ snapping selfies. It was surreal.

Friday, July 29, 2022

September 23

The morning worked out perfectly. Just as I had hoped there was a good deal of shade from the awning and a cool nip in the air. For a short time I had on my skull cap and jacket while I sat outside sipping coffee. There were a few vehicles in the area that weren’t there when I went to bed the previous night.

This was a trend I was noticing at these sites—the late camper that would pull in after dark and leave early the next morning. These were mostly young people who I suppose pushed themselves to the limit trying to wring as much out of the day as possible . . . and smartly didn’t saddle themselves with writing a blog about their experiences. Now that I’m thinking about it I don’t think I really saw any people my age at these BLM sites besides Steve, the birder/ The Environmental Toxocologist with VW Eurovan at Sage Creek outside of the Badlands. The older people were at the RV parks with their  fancy toilets, satellite dishes and reruns of the Golden Girls.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

September 24

Baking

 It was hot all night and hard to sleep at the North Joshua Tree BLM site where I had been camped out for about thirty-six hours—like ninety-five degrees hot when I got up. For the most part I had gotten away from my every other night wake up at 2am thing and was back to my regular schedule but it was so unbearably hot during the night in the van I got up and sat outside in just my shorts for a long time without much relief. I did doze off in my chair for bit and was awoken by the sound of howling coyotes—I think they were saying: “We got a fat one here. All hands-on deck.”

I went back inside and slept restlessly for a few more hours. When I got up my pillow was wet with sweat. I opened up the van hoping for a little respite from the inferno that was the van. The shade was there but unlike the previous day there wasn’t a trace of coolness in the air. Like with the flies outside I was going to have to accept the heat and be Zen about it. I again got on my jacket and skull cap and sat outside to fend off the bugs. That didn’t last long though because the heat was just unbearable.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

September 25

I was ready to be done with North Joshua Tree BLM when I again woke up in a pool of sweat Sunday morning. Today though, I would be reentering society after forty-eight plus hours of unmitigated sweating and took my second van shower since hitting the road at the end of August. Of course, I had showered at stops along the way wherever possible, but this was to be my second official van shower. Doing the van life thing you learn very quickly to use your water as if you had to walk five miles to a well to replenish this heaven-sent life sustaining resource. Conserving this precious resource, you learned to get by with baby wipes and generally be dirty. You also have to accept wearing dirty clothes and washing your dishes with just a few drops of this liquid gold

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

September 26

I took a quick run around the Joshua Tree one last time and still didn’t find what I was looking for or Cap rock, which was perfectly fine with me. The real highlight of the morning was a second chance to ride that wonderful, desolate desert road Rt. 62 out of Twentynine Palms going east this time.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Sepember 27

It was a cool beautiful Arizona morning with temps that called for my warm-up jacket and skull cap. Sipping my coffee I watched the sun rise above the mesa and fill the valley below with a god-sent elegance. A curious dog from a site across from me came over to where I was sitting outside my van and let me pet him. The dog’s name was Charlie, and he was some kind of lab mix. The dog’s owners were a few young people—two girls and a guy—traveling in a minivan and a small retro fitted school bus with solar panels. The young guy apologized for the intrusion and called the obedient dog back to him which really wasn’t necessary. I would have liked the company of the friendly pup.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

September 28

Today was going to be a travel day. My ultimate destination was the BLM site Six Mile Canyon in New Mexico which was a touch over four hours from FR-525— which I really hated to leave. However, I was going to add about three hours to my ride with detours through Rough Rock, Arizona and Canyon De Chelly in nearby Chinle, Arizona.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

September 29

Throughout the night I heard the bugle calls of some horny elk and in the morning saw some quizzical looks on the faces of the black cows outside the van. I’m not saying anything happened but a I’m probably not the first guy to think an elk/cow burger wouldn’t be the worst idea—some jalapenos, pepper jack cheese and splash of sriracha. Yowzah, as Ritchie Cunningham might say.  

Today’s little odyssey came with a Texas twist. My brother Joe is a big shot at Cooper Natural Resources, and though he wasn’t going to be there he had arranged for me to stay at the company’s hunting ranch in Brownfield, Texas, just south of Lubbock. This west Texas oasis is used to entertain clients and is normally unoccupied, but as fate would have it, I was passing through the area at the height of dove hunting season.

Friday, July 22, 2022

September 30

I was up early the next morning working on this blog. At this point the blog has evolved into a never-ending homework assignment . . . that I gave myself. Even though it’s all my own doing, I get annoyed when people ask: “Did you quit your blog?” after not posting for a few days. I want to come back at them like some insufferable tortured artist and ask if they know what it's like to do all this traveling while producing what essentially is a thousand word essay everyday. Do you? . . .Do you? . . . But then I remember—o, yeah I did this to myself and lashing out would also be kind of an asshole thing to do. Plus, the homework aspect of it makes it seem like  something that would go on my permanent record.