After living for two years, 23 months to be precise, in my little camper I have moved back into my apartment in Manhattan.
As with most things in life there are pros and cons. It is great to be back in the middle of things; no train schedules and long commutes. Everything is right at my fingertips. I very much enjoy the convenience of the city.
I have shed the layers of clothing I wore while I lived in my camper and traded them for shorts and t-shirts thanks to a notoriously overheated New York City apartment.
However, I could do without some of the sounds and smells of the city; the banging sound of trucks hitting potholes, idling diesel truck engines at night and the lovely aroma of garbage. But who can beat a front row seat to the filming of a TV show.
Over the weekend I bid farewell to my camper. No, I did not sell it instead I put it into storage.
I left Westchester, just as I did almost exactly two years ago when I started my journey, and drove to Pennsylvania; same route, but much nicer weather. The 3 ½ hour drive made me nostalgic for the open road and for about five minutes I contemplated if I should just keep on driving. I think for now my traveling days are over.
I am beginning a new chapter. In two weeks I am starting a new job that will keep me in the city for some time; very exciting.
I am very grateful for all the support I received from my friends since I returned to New York; my friend who let me camp on her property for six months and for her help during my job search. I am grateful for my friends who gave me short term work and for those who gave me moral support. Thank you, I am very lucky.
In all my travels I never have left my camper due to bad weather, not during tornado warnings and not during hurricane Irene. It took this nasty Nor’easter to get me out of my camper and into my friend’s house. A very wet and heavy snow started to fall around 11 am and it is still coming down at 10 PM. All this snow, 5-6 inch at this point, wouldn’t be so bad if it would be December and the trees wouldn’t be bearing any leaves. Unfortunately, it is October and plenty of foliage is left on the trees. All afternoon I kept hearing the cracking and breaking of tree limbs all around the property. One big branch came down a few feet from my camper. Just walking from the house to the camper I have been doused by snow falling from the trees. Usually the snow is followed by some branches. The thudding of snow on top of the camper and just the notion that the big oak tree next to it could lose another branch was too much for me, I had to leave, I was scared. It doesn’t help that I am home alone. Lets hope that the branches remain were they belong and all will be well tomorrow morning.
I had hoped to write a very different post today about my time at Crater Lake. Maybe tomorrow.
P.S. The camper and I survived the night. However, a branch did land on the roof, but fortunately, only damaged one of the vent covers. It was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining, blue skies and everything was covered in snow. You just had to look past all the downed branches. By now the trees are snow free and only a slushy mess remains on the ground.
By now you probably have figured out that I must be back in New York, even at my slow pace.
The last stretch of my journey, I like to call it “Alternative Lifestyle”, took me through Pennsylvania from the Bald Eagle State Forest thru Lewisburg, looked like a nice small town, to Centralia. Centralia is considered a ghost town; only nine people live there at this point. Originally Centralia was a town with a population of roughly 1,100.
An underground coal fire that has been burning since the 1960s! is a cause for the exodus. The fire emits unhealthy fumes; even I had difficulties breathing when I went up the hill where you can see smoke and steam coming out of the hillside. However, I had no problems breathing when I walked around the deserted streets of Centralia. In the 1980s the government bought out most of the homeowners and dismantled the homes. All that is left of the town are streets with no names going nowhere, a cemetery and a handful of homes.
You can only imagine what this town must have looked like judging by the wide side walks and stone walls, very sad. There are several sites online which give you more details about the local and federal governments’ failures to put out the still burning fires.
Next stop, Pottstown where I visited my cousin Bill. The closer I got to larger towns the less I enjoyed driving. The streets are not build for trucks, they are too narrow and most of the time don’t have a shoulder. Drivers are getting worse too, making left hand turns right in front of me thinking that I can just stop on the spot. Never mind that they don’t let me merge even in stop and go traffic; I was cursing like a truck driver. Did I mention low clearance bridges? There have been several occasions when no bridge height was indicated and my stomach contracted and I stopped breathing as I made my way under the bridge or overpass.
My last stop was a visit to a friend in Princeton. I knew that the last stretch of the drive would not be easy. I remembered coming home after my seven week long cross-country trip. This time I was coming home to a lot of uncertainty; would I be able to hold on to the truck, would I find another job, would this be the end of my traveling days? A lot of questions with no answers. I wasn’t really thinking about any of this when I approached the Tappan Zee Bridge and I was not prepared for what was to come. About two miles before the bridge my eyes started to well-up and by the time I reached the bridge I was experiencing the worst possible anxiety attack. I pulled over into a parking strip right after the toll booth. My arms and legs started to cramp up, I couldn’t walk, my fingers were tingling, I was breezing rapidly, my body was tingling all over, leg and arm muscles were contracting, nothing felt right.
It took me an hour to recover and feel well enough to drive the remaining ten miles to my friend Bettina’s house in Westchester. I was relieved when I arrived.
I have been back for about two weeks now and I am still settling into a new routine. The first brief trip to the city was a bit overwhelming. The crowds and noise on the train were more than what I could deal with after all those months away from large cities and mass transit.
My good fortunes have not stopped since I have come back to NY. My biggest concern has been to find a way to hold onto my truck. Thanks to Bettina I might be able to do so. For the time being I am camping in her driveway. It is a very nice driveway surrounded by woods and chipmunks on a dead end road. I was able to sublet my apartment within three days for the next couple of months taking away the burden of having to come up with rent money. I am still looking for additional part-time work.
I spent four days in the city and fell in love with it all over again. I walked around the Village, Midtown and the East Village. It was great to walk home in the evening up Fifth Avenue, hearing music drifting from Central Park’s Summer Stage concert out to the Avenue. I thought I might see the Alexander McQueen exhibit, a retrospective of the late British designer’s work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was the last day of the exhibit and the Met had extended opening hours until midnight. When I got to the museum the line was out the door and half down the block at 10 PM!, only in New York.
I marveled at the Empire State building from Houston Street looking up Bowery, just great and a bagel with veggie cream cheese never tasted this good. Best of all, I now have the wonderful Fairway grocery store in my neighborhood. No need to trek all the way to the Westside anymore.
There is no greater city than New York City. Granted it is nothing like the open spaces out West, but the city has so much to offer.
For the time being I will be one of those commuters traveling to the city to work.
I spent last night at the darkest place east of the Mississippi, Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania. It is the best place in the East to stargaze and to see the Milky Way. Unfortunately, the blue sky during the day turned into a very gray sky by the time the sun set; so much for a final gaze at the stars. People had come all the way from the Philadelphia area to take photos and see the Milky Way for the first time. I hope they have more luck tonight; however, the forecast this morning wasn’t great.
Today, I headed south on highways 44 and 144, both lead through the mountains, yes mountains. At 2,400’ they qualify as mountains. The drive took me thru beautiful Clinton and Union counties. I just wish the roads would have been a little less bumpy and just a bit wider. I had to keep my eyes glued to the road and could only enjoy part of this great scenery. This area must be spectacular in the fall with all the leaves changing colors.
I followed some tiny roads south of I-80 to get to highway 192 east to the R.B. Winter State Park. The park has a lake and a swimming beach, just what you need in this kind of weather. I had my reservations about a state park on the weekend, but figured for one night it would be OK. Well, within minutes of getting to the campground I was certain that I would not spend the night here, not even one. The parking lots were filled with cars, people walking around in swimsuits, the beach was packed, I guess you get the picture. I had no interest to be subjected to crowds and the noise that comes with it. I’ll have plenty of that when I am back in NYC. I headed for the park office and asked if there are any dispersed campsites in the adjacent state forest where I could stay overnight. These are primitive campsites, no water or electricity and they are free. All you need is a permit issued by the bureau of forestry. After a little research the very nice park employee had me on the phone with the forestry folks and they faxed over a permit. I am staying in the woods about two miles from the commotion, wonderful.
It was too early to call it a day and I decided to go for a little walk in my “neighborhood”. Usually, when you hear noise in the woods it comes from squirrels chasing each other or from a deer. I don’t know why, but when I heard a noise I looked for a stick as protection, not that it would have really helped. I kept on walking until I came around the bend and saw a black bear less than fifty yards away on the trail. I very carefully walked backwards until I couldn’t see the bear anymore and than walked at a steady pace in the opposite direction. No, I didn’t stick around long enough to take a picture. I like an adventure, but I am not stupid. After that almost encounter I was even more alert to the noises around me and I was glad to be back at my camper.
It is going to be a wonderful dark and quiet night, just the bear and I. Good night.
Much time and many miles have past since my last post. I started writing posts, but didn’t finish any. I have not been in the mood to write, the inevitable end of my journey has been looming over me. I have stayed in places longer than I usually do, hoping to avoid the return to NYC, no such luck. It is not that I have to go back to the city, I love that place. It is more the fear that I have to sell my truck which would mean the end to any future travels. I just can’t afford the truck and rent.
Don’t get me wrong, it has not all been gloom and doom since my last entry. I had a very nice write-up in the online version of GoMagazine, including a small slide show of some of my photos. Let’s see what comes from this publicity.
I left Iowa crossing the Mighty Mississippi River into Wisconsin. The flat cornfields were replaced by very hilly even mountainous terrain where fields moved up the hillside, a welcome change of scenery; forests instead of just gatherings of trees. I stayed for four nights in the tiny town of Avoca, population 608, at the city park campground, adjacent to a baseball field. I treated myself to some Little League games.
A friend of mine told me that I had to visit Madison, the state capital and home to the University of Wisconsin. Madison is a vibrant and progressive college town and to me a very large city (pop. 233,000+). I street camped for two nights in a very nice residential
neighborhood at Monona Bay with views of the State Capitol Building, stunning at night with the city lights reflecting in the water. I even caught a glimpse of the 4th of July fireworks finale from my camper, not bad for a free camp spot. I always thought that California campgrounds are expensive, but they are nothing to the prices charged in the East where campgrounds are only open for six to seven months. I have seen places charge $60 per night! Bet they don’t have a site with a view of the Capitol Building. Large cities are a pain to explore by car so I did the next best thing and rented a bicycle for the day. I make sure to have my own bike on my next trip. After exploring the downtown and surrounding area, I managed to go for a swim in Lake Mendota; the other big lake in Madison, unfortunately the water was full of algae. I was glad that there were showers at the beach/park. I can’t say that I really liked Madison. It’s not a bad city, I just didn’t like it.
I headed south from Madison via Brooklyn to Illinois. I stayed west of Chicago, no need to get myself into another large city. In Illinois I briefly stopped in West Brooklyn. It is fun to travel through all those namesake towns. I visited Manhattan in Kansas and in Illinois and I stayed overnight in Warsaw, Indiana.
Once I entered Illinois the towns seemed to move closer and the farms seemed smaller. Even the little roads have traffic, no more peaceful cruising through the countryside. I had returned to the East. I thought Iowa’s roads were bad, but the roads in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania were not any better. What happened to those shovel read stimulus projects? Let’s fix our roads. The roads I was on today were so bad that my camper moved a good inch within the truck bed, not good.
Illinois was followed by Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Indiana and Ohio are a bit of a blur. I was driving close to 200 miles a day and I only spent the night at each stop for three days. That might not seem like much to you, but I had been driving around 100 miles a day. If you haven’t followed my blog, driving my pick-up with the camper is nothing like driving a regular car or just a pick-up. My rig weighs 11,000 pounds, is top heavy and almost as wide as a lane. Driving on two lane highways with no shoulder takes my full concentration and a 200 mile drive takes six hours. Never mind narrow roads through small towns where I always fear to hit the roadside mailboxes with my huge mirrors.
Why the rush? I was trying to meet-up with my hiking buddy Ron from Nevada. He was visiting his sister in Erie, PA. He wasn’t sure how long he would stay and I didn’t want to miss him. It took Ron only four days to drive the 2,200 miles from Nevada to Erie. In contrast, it took my three and a half months and close to 7,000 miles (=NYC to L.A. to NYC and ½ way L.A.). I guess I was doing a little more “sightseeing”.
It was great to see Ron again and to meet his sister and his friends. We roamed the countryside and visited his Amish friends in Pennsylvania and New York. I felt very privileged when we were invited into their home to have lunch.
It takes a little bit before you realize that there are no electrical outlets, no rugs or carpets, no framed pictures or photographs. The big stove and oven are wood burning and there is only cold running water, no flush toilet; a clutter free household. The fields are still farmed the old fashioned way with horse and plow. In the barn you find the workhorses and the horses that pull the buggies. I knew about all this before I met the
Amish, but it is very different when you get to experience some of this first hand. I admire that the Amish community has withstood the pressures to modernize in any way and has stuck with their “simple” way of life. I am aware that there are issues within the community, especially when it comes to leaving the Amish. You have to choose between family or the “English” world. You can’t live in both. I decision I am glad I never have to make.
I am leaving Jamestown, NY and head back into Pennsylvania. I don’t like to see all those NY state license plates, makes me feel like I am home.
I have two weeks left on this incredible journey. My goals when I am back in NYC are to write about all those stories I promised, to edit my photos and to find some additional part-time jobs, not necessarily in this order. Hopefully, a photo book will follow soon as well.
I dread having to empty my camper and move back into my apartment. I am just not ready for stationary life.
I am just one lucky traveling gal.
A couple of days ago when I was traveling from West Bend to Charles City, Iowa I ran into a farmer, figuratively speaking. I just caught a glimpse of corn
being loaded into a big truck, something I had never seen before; after all, I am a city girl. I had to turn around. I pulled up next to the grain silos where the farmer was standing. I asked if he would mind if I take some photos of the process, not at all. He told me the corn was for ethanol production and we got talking. During the thirty minutes it took for the truck to fill-up we talked about the misconception of ethanol production, hog farming, corn harvest, the difference between sweet corn (for human consumption) and feed corn (for livestock feed and ethanol production) the floods and travel. He pretty much
echoed what I had heard during a conversation I had with the nice owners of the Wolverine Wash back in West Bend. Big Oil vs. ethanol. I had always heard that one needs ¾ of a gallon fuel to produce one gallon of ethanol. What I had not heard, and you might not have either, is that ethanol production creates a byproduct called Dried Distiller Grains (DDG) which is used for livestock feed. It fattens up livestock faster than corn itself. So, one bushel of corn (56 lbs) produces 2.8 gallons of ethanol and roughly 17 pounds of nutrient dense livestock feed. The industry has also become more efficient in the last couple of
years. At the end of my conversation with the farmer (sorry, we never exchanged names) he asked if I would like to come to the ethanol plant with him. Too bad, he was going north and I was headed east. Iowa is one of five ethanol producing states (Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota and South Dakota are the others) and this conversation made me curious and I figured there had to be more plants around and maybe I could just visit one on my own. I was in luck; there is a plant in Charles City, the town I was staying in. Unfortunately, I was not so lucky when I asked if I could take a peak inside. The answer was simply Nope, no can do. No explanation, just no, too bad.
By now you must be asking yourself: “Why is she calling herself lucky?” Well, on the next leg of my trip I saw some trucks loaded with corn pulling off the highway into what looked like an ethanol plant, yup Homeland Energy Solutions (HES). Let’s give it another shot. I pulled right in behind some trucks and headed for the office. When I stepped out of my truck I was greeted by this sweet smell of yeast (used in the corn fermentation process). Did I stand in front of a bakery or an ethanol plant? I don’t think you ask yourself that question when you stand in front of an oil refinery.
Once inside, the reception was different as well. “Sure, not a problem. We’ll be happy to give you a tour.” Kevin, the plant manager at HES, first answered some of my questions and then gave me an hour long tour from start to finish of the process. I even was allowed to take photos! Starting with the unloading
of the trucks, what takes thirty minutes to load only takes three minutes to unload. The corn gets ground into fine grains, fermented, the byproduct gets dried resulting in DDG, ethanol – shipping out to oil refineries via train to be added to the gasoline, DDG shipped out by train or truck. This is the CliffsNotes version of the tour. The whole thing was very impressive and the numbers were staggering. I didn’t take notes, but if you are interested in more detailed information go to the HES website www.homelandenergysolutions.com and watch the video. Buffering takes a little bit be patient.
Thank you Kevin for taking the time and thank you for the education!
My hopes for the day had been to make it to McGregor at the Mississippi River. However, I only made it to McGregor Street, really, in Clermont, Iowa. Due to the unexpected ethanol tour it had gotten late in the day and I knew I wouldn’t make it to my planned campsite. When I drove through Clermont my first
reaction was, I want to stay here and take a closer look. I turned into a side street and asked a mother and daughter duo walking down the street if there are any overnight parking places. Yes, there is a campground just outside of town. I had kind of seen the place, but didn’t feel like spending money for the night. After a little debating I just pulled into a parking spot down the street. The duo was kind enough to talk with the lady who lived in the house I parked in front of. Not a problem. Turns out that Arlene is also the town historian and she told me about the town’s brick making history and the State governor Larrabee who built the school in town back in 1912. The next morning Arlene gave me a tour of the school. Built entirely out of brick with three foot walls, no flammable materials were used on the inside, just metal, tile and brick. If that wasn’t enough, Arlene gave me some yummy Amish friendship bread. When you bake it you are supposed to give away a loaf or two. Usually, I only get to drive through a town and have to make up my own story about its history, this was a real treat to hear the actual story behind a town. Thank you Arlene.
I was headed to the Yellow River campground in the woods near McGregor. I was ready for some dry camping. The campground is located several miles outside of town and I figured I might as well check out the town before I continue to the campground. The “turn here” sign appeared too quickly and I couldn’t make the turn, darn. I continued down the road looking for a good place to turn. I saw a recreational area sign and turned. Look at that, there is a campground here. It was a county campground right outside of town. Same amenities or lack there of as the campground I was headed for, just much closer.
Saturday was another of my laundry days, you see I still have to take care of the same chores everyone else has. Unfortunately, the laundromat in McGregor was a dump. On the bright side I met James, who lives in the apartment behind the laundromat. We chatted for a while; he was wondering what on earth I
was doing in McGregor. He was not anywhere as interested in nature and her beauty as I was. He disappeared back into his apartment just to come out a few minutes later with a little ceramic lighthouse. You know those souvenirs you buy when you are in a coastal town. He gave it to me, just like that. He collects lighthouses he told me. He wanted to give me also a large wooden lighthouse, but I told him it was too big for my little space. I thought it was really sweet of him.
Now you know why I consider myself lucky.
A little Iowa trivia. Did you know that Iowa has ski resorts? The temperatures during the winter drop well below 0 F (-16 C) ranging between -10 and -20 F (-20 to -30C) with lots of snow. Who knew?
The western part of the state is pretty much all agriculture with gently and sometimes steep rolling hills. The east, however, has forests and beautiful bluffs along the Mississippi River.
Today is the first time in over fifteen months that I regret not being in New York. I woke up to the wonderful news that just before mid-night Friday the NYS senate had passed the Marriage Equality bill, legalizing same-sex marriage. I wish I could be celebrating with my fellow New Yorkers, especially during tomorrow’s Pride March down Fifth Avenue.
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Today, I found one of my photos on the news website The Real Timer. The photo was used without my knowledge or permission. The site had the nerve to put (c)landscapesacrosstheusa.com in the upper corner of the photo, making it look like the usage was legit. Shame on you, you STOLE my photo. You rather use low a resolution photo than to pay for a high quality version. There are plenty of people out there who want to give away their photos for free; I am not one of them!
Real Timer, pay me or take my photo of your website!
Severe thunderstorm, tornado watch, thunderstorm warning, tornado warning. I would much rather hear: sunny with temperatures between 70 and 80 F, light winds, low humidity and chance of precipitation less than 10%.
Last night the county I slept in was under a tornado watch until 4 am. I wish I hadn’t turned on the radio. A watch is not really that bad; it means that the conditions exist for a tornado to form. By 10 PM thunders were rolling and lightning was flashing. The wind sounded like a freight train barreling down the
road. My camper was on my truck and we were just swaying a little. I am not made for these kinds of weather conditions, especially not when I live in a box. I saw some of the damage on my way east, downed trees and in one case a roof had blown off a barn.
Rainfall in the Midwest has been much higher than normal this year. The Missouri River is overflowing on all corners. I had planned on driving close to the
South Dakota border from Nebraska, but decided against it because of flooding and closed roads. I was fortunate to cross the Missouri River in Decatur, Nebraska. On the Iowa side the river had already come within 20’ of the road.
Whole towns are under flood threat or have already flooded and farmers are loosing their crops. The floodwaters are supposed to be around for several months! Can’t we ship some of this water off to the Southwest?
I remember driving through Iowa on interstate 80 some fourteen years ago, the trip from LA to Chicago. I was not particularly fond of the state. The roads were bad and the scenery was boring. If I remember correctly, I called a friend to keep me from getting bored out of my mind.
Some things don’t change; the roads are still pretty bad, very bumpy. But I haven’t gotten bored yet and I have been driving through fields of corn, soybeans and alfalfa for a couple of hundred miles. Sprinkled in with the fields are wind turbines and hog farms. The buildings for the hogs look just like the chicken houses back in Arkansas, but the smell is distinctly pig. It is really amazing to see nothing but cultivated fields as far as the eye can see. No forests or even larger groupings of trees.
Overall Iowa is flat, not as flat as I would like, but Kansas and Nebraska were hillier. I entered the state by crossing the Missouri River at Decatur, Nebraska. I was lucky to still make it across the bridge given the current flood stage of the Missouri. I followed highway 175 from Onawa to Mapleton. Not expecting to see any larger hills I was surprised when I saw this large uplift in front of me, the Loess Hills. They are 200 feet high and span from Sioux City all the way down to the Missouri state border, some 200 miles.
The area in the west is somewhat hilly and fields are planted on terraces just like the rice paddies in China. Having seen several agriculture states I find the differences in barn construction and grain silos from state to state interesting. Red barns versus white barns, single silo versus attached silo rows. Come on, there is nothing else to see, might as well find something interesting.
I spent two nights at the Black Hawk Lake State Park in Lake View. The lake is one of very few natural lakes in the state and not the result of dam building. Note to self: Do not stay at state parks during the summer on weekends if you want peace and quiet!
Since I didn’t know anything about Iowa, I asked the rangers at the park where to go and what to see and I consulted my Road Trip USA book. Between the two I came up with a route through Iowa and some interesting places to see.
The first stop would be West Bend, in northwest or central Iowa, depending on whom you ask. I had read about this grotto a German catholic priest, Paul Dobberstein, had build between 1912 and 1954 when he died. Once again, I had no idea what to expect. I was blown away when I drove past and mind-boggled once I started to walk around the Grotto. This man had traveled around the country to collect rocks, petrified wood, precious / semi precious stones and quartz in various colors to build this absolutely amazing structure. Millions of rocks. If you like rocks or are into geology, you have to see this place. I don’t have the words to explain it and photos don’t do it justice. The Grotto covers an area the size of a small city
block; it is the largest grotto in the world. I have traveled around this country a lot and I have seen many beautiful and incredible landscapes and still I found this man-made Grotto to be among one of the most amazing things I have see. Dobberstein’s imagination, craftsmanship (he was German) and his use of nature’s creation just made for one spectacular structure. You have to see it with your own eyes to get the full grasp of it.
Let’s see what other surprises Iowa has in store for me.