Sunday, October 26, 2014

Swimming at 6 a.m. and the Milky Way at midnight - Day 4 - September 18

Day 4. Swimming in the morning is wonderful. The previous day found us at the Aloft in Overland Park, Kansas City. We got up super early and went down to the gym and pool. I ran on the cross trainer for a while and then jumped in the pool with Jeff. There was no one else awake I think, except for this super pumped body builder type woman, who was awesome to look at! I bet she spends every waking second working out.

As we were walking out of the pool room into the hallway to the elevator and I slipped and fell on the super high polished concrete floor. I just went right down with my wet bare feet. I probably could have crossed the floor like a seal it was so slick and highly polished!  Out of all of the hotels we stayed at on our trip, the Alofts were the best ones.

Out the door early, we got a chance to drive into Kansas City, MO, to the Chezelle Creperie. It's in the newly converted historic Summit theater building on Summit Street. I had a cheese blintz and Jeff had a pesto, bacon, and brie crepe. So good, and the cappuccino was the best on the trip so far.

Photo credit: Wade Johnston, found here

Fat and happy, we headed out onto 35 W, taking us into Emporia (a liquor store with "Liquid Deliciousness" on its sign out front.  35 takes you through the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. It once covered 170 million acres of North America, and less than 4% remains of it today.  Found in the Kansas Flint Hills, it's a beautiful and remote landscape to drive through. Rolling hills of endless grassy terrain, and so dry. The park covers 11,000 acres of protected land, run by both the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy. 
It looked a lot like this dashboard shot below. All day long. Very flat, wide open landscape on both sides of the road. Hardly any hills or mountains in the distance. 

Two or three hours into our day we encountered a spot of rain (one of only three or four rain moments out of the whole trip). I say "moments" because there was never an actual rain day. The drought is happening, and I think it extends well into the country.  Just when the rain was quitting we spotted a sign for a quilt shop, believe it or not!  Out in the middle of nowhere. So we decided to stop and take a look. Hillsboro, KS, is a little town that time has totally forgotten. 

The quilt shop was called Kessler Kreations, and we got a chance to hang out and talk with Marie Kessler, as she was sewing on her giant long arm machine in the back of the shop. She has a Gamin 30" machine (if I remember correctly)... it's got a huge range. On my Innova, I can sew about a 13" strip ...  this one has to be at least 28 inches of reach in one pass!  I'll stick with my Innova, I think the big reach would kill my back even more!  Marie didn't seem to have any trouble at all. 

We found the one and only post card in town at a little gift shop that was inside someone's house down the street. I think I sent that one to my sister... I can't remember.  We loved Hillsboro and talked about what it would be like to live is such isolation in the middle of nowhere.  We texted some of these images to our friend, Christophe, and he informed us from afar, that we could buy a nice little house in Hillsboro for $6,000. Truly, if you wanted to disappear, this would be the place to do it. I think it's at least two hours in any direction to get to another town of any significance. 

Kansas is about 430 miles across.  We drove through all of it. Through McPherson, Great Bend, Ness City, Dighton, Scott City, Leoti, Tribune and Horace on Routes 56 and 96. Some of these places were surprisingly small, with boarded up buildings and just a few scrappy houses to be seen.  

Finally, we reached Colorado!  We got our first view of the Rocky Mountains at about one to two hours outside of Colorado Springs.  Just before we reached Punkin Center...  yes.. not Pumpkin Center, Punkin Center (population: 4 and 5,360 feet above sea level).  Apparently the first guy to build anything at the junction of 71 and 94, built a gas station and market, in the1920's, painting them bright orange - the spot was named for color of the buildings which eventually faded to a dull orange. I guess they didn't know how to spell Pumpkin, or thought Punkin was cuter.  The owner was robbed a couple of times and the second time he was fatally wounded and left for dead. Sometimes, when we stopped in such desolate areas, I wondered about our safety, especially when you don't see another car for an hour (which didn't happen in Kansas, but it did in the desert). Just in case, I tried to always know where our can of bear spray was in the car.  

From our experience, I think that most of the time people would give you the shirt off their backs to help you out if you have some trouble. People seem to be friendlier, and much more eager to make a connection, the farther you get away from New England. Maybe it has something to do with less population and it's good thing to see another face, even if it's a stranger's face. 

Turning onto 287N, we jumped up to Kit Carson, CO, and then across on 94E to Colorado Springs. About 639 miles this day, and it took us 13 or so hours to finally reach the Pikes Peak Paradise Bed and Breakfast in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. First, there was a visit to the local Whole Foods in Colorado Springs for provisions. We were both shocked by Colorado Springs, being not what we expected, and more like an endless strip mall.  I'm sure there are parts of it that are beautiful, and the mountains to the West were spectacular, but this area seemed more like a sprawling mall than anything else. There was good food to be found, however, and the cheese and wine was much appreciated after this long, long day.

The view from Pikes Peak Paradise. That is Pikes Peak off in the distance. The rooms were very nicely appointed. Ours even had a giant tub/spa right in the room.  TOO tired to use it, we opted for going out on the porch to enjoy the wine and cheese and we watched the stars and the Milky Way. What a spectacular view from up here.  We did not arrive until around 9 p.m., exhausted, shaking, hungry, and tired. We got lost trying to figure out the road up to the inn, which snaked through the woods on a bumpy and nearly washed out dirt road. Luckily, a guy showed up in his giant BMW and asked if we need help, and lead us up the mountain to the inn.  

Highlights from Day 4

  • Early Swimming
  • Crepes!
  • Hillsboro, KS
  • Finding Colorado finally
  • Outlook just before coming into Colorado Springs
  • a comfy bed on the side of a mountain
  • The Milky Way and countless stars
  • 639 miles

What we drove
Got on 35 down through Emporia, turns into 56 then into 96, stopped in Hillsboro, then out through McPherson, Great Bend, Ness City, Scott City, Tribune on 96 then into Colorado, onto 287N into Kit Carson.  Got on 94/40 west to Ellicott, and into Colorado Springs. 639 miles.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bourbon Festival and The Shaved Duck - on the road to awesomeness - Day 3 - September 17, 2014

We couldn't get out of the Castle Post Hotel fast enough! I was just happy we weren't murdered in our sleep!  Day 2 was full of amazing vistas, and great conversations on the road, but Day 3 quickly shaped up to be a fabulous day.  How does starting the morning off sipping bourbon at the Four Roses Distillery not start a most excellent day?

I can't say enough about the tour. So worth traveling over there to Lawrenceburg, KY, and taking a walk through the bourbon making process. We are now informed bourbon drinkers! It also smelled really good in there, like bread, beer, yeast, warm delicious amber wonderfulness.

Also, we arrived on day one of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. We got there so early, Four Roses was just setting up tents on the property and getting ready to celebrate for the weekend. The real business of the Festival happens in Bardstown, KY, and turned out to be way too off of our path that day.  It would be a fun weekend... maybe next year?!!

Jeff in front of the massive copper vat

 Here's me outside. Just around the corner was the grain inspection booth, where we saw how they checked each truckload of corn. It smelled good in there too. You can see the little hut in the back left corner of the fisheye photo here

The tour takes you all around the facility, on scaffolding and ramps. Here we are looking down into the fermenting vats. Smells kind of like nail polish remover in here. 

They haul two truckloads of distilled bourbon out of Lawrenceburg every day. They weigh the truck leaving the distillery and weigh it again when it arrives at its destination.  It goes to a facility 20 miles down the road in Cox's Creek, where it is poured into barrels and then shut away for a long long time.  We didn't have time to go tour the aging facility, but we would have if we had time.  At the end of the tour you arrive back in the "gift shop" and you get to try four different bourbons and keep the little glasses too!  Yum!

This is what it would look like if you went to Cox's Creek - this photo from Four Roses' site

Here is a brief video... not sure if I've uploaded this properly. HA!  If it does end up playing you can hear the tour guide with her big ol' Kentucky accent. She was great!

We drove a lot this day.  A lot!  582 miles, driving out of Lexington, KY, to Louisville, and then all the way across Kentucky, to St Louis, MO, all the way across Missouri to Kansas City, KS.  It seemed like more driving than the last two days... probably because of the landscape.  Here is the arch as we were rolling into St. Louis. It seems like there is construction on every single road in the USA.

LUNCH!!   The Shaved Duck, found in St. Louis! One of the best BBQ places we found on our trip! It was already around 2 p.m. and we had the place almost to ourselves. On the menu for us: Duck Confit, a Moscow Mule, Smokey Baby Back Ribs, Pulled Pork, Loaded Smoked Potato Wedges, Mac and Cheese, and a Ginger Beer. Needless to say, we were fat and happy after that meal. So worth the trip into the city to find this place.

Grain storage in Poseyville, Indiana

The sunset just outside of Kansas City was spectacular. Suddenly a massive sun reveals itself from a canopy of clouds, low to the road. Pink reflections shoot up off the road from the backlit cars.  Everything is bathed briefly in golden magenta hues, and wisps of fog and mist start creeping up along the sides of the road filling in the knolls and valleys as we passed.  Then storm clouds and a dark curtain of clouds descending on the city as we arrived. 

We stayed at the Aloft in Overland Park, Kansas City. We were so super tired, but the desk attendants were very nice and wanted to high five us for making it!  We ate at the XYZ bar and talked to the bartender, who related a story about almost getting killed on his cross country road trip when his girlfriend fell asleep at the wheel.  I cannot remember what we ate but I do remember a Woodford's and ginger ale. 

Highlights from Day 3
  • Four Roses Distillery
  • Lunch at the Shaved Duck, St. Louis
  • Massive sunset driving into Kansas City
  • Aloft hotel
  • 582 miles
What we drove
From Versailles, KY to Kansas City, KS. On the road to Louisville, KY and out on 64 through Indiana, small towns, stopped in Poseyville then into Illinois staying on 64 to St Louis, Missouri. Got on 94, scenic road to Jefferson City, Missouri, then up on 179 to 87 into Boonville, then picked up 70 west to Concorcia, into Kansas City, Missouri and then Kansas City, Kansas.

Here is the sunset, the iPhone camera does it no justice

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

From Monticello to Versailles - Day 2 - September 16, 2014

Surprisingly, we were up early after the previous day's adventures. We are early risers, normally, so that worked in our favor today. A little groggy, but functioning, we got to meet a whole bunch of people at the Inn who were from Kentucky. That was our final destination on this day, so we got some inside advice from them while we ate our breakfast burritos and enjoyed a nice morning at the Inn.  

We had bought tickets to visit Monticello, and had reservations to tour the house at 9 a.m.   Running late, we dashed out and found our way up there. You have to park your car at the visitor center and ride a shuttle bus up to the house. Turns out, we could have walked up there, but we would have missed our tour spot! This is definitely a place I want to come back to.  We didn't take a single photo of the house! Derp!  I think it's because we were so impressed by the grounds and gardens.

The vegetable gardens!!  I was so in love with the herb and vegetable gardens and could have spent the whole day wandering around here. 

We took some white morning glory seeds from the trellis you can see in the back here

I got to talk to the woman in the photo below and asked her how she liked her work. She was so calm and seemed so happy. Her job was to manage all the operations of the vegetable and herb gardens, and she said her favorite time of the day was very early morning before the tourists arrived. We had gotten there first thing in the morning, and I could see why she liked it so much, normally these paths would be filled with visitors

Below is the pathway from the house down to the vegetable gardens, which runs parallel to this path along the right side. This is looking back up towards the house, which is up and to the left of the photo

Me, with Thomas Jefferson. At the visitors center.

Jefferson's grave and the Jefferson Family Cemetery, which is still owned by the family to this day

a blue/black beetle we saw on the path back down to the visitors center. It was about 1.5 inches long and very glossy and beautiful

Given our schedule and a long ride still ahead of us, we had to leave Monticello too soon, at around 11:30. The Blue Ridge Parkway winds its way through the George Washington National Forest, and the vistas from turn offs are spectacular. Originally we had hoped to visit Foamhenge in Natural Bridge, VA, but road work and construction along the Blue Ridge changed our plans. We were stopped a number of times, once for almost a half hour, along the BRP. Unfortunately, this cut into our plans and we had to detour and catch Route 64W in Buena Vista. I think we ate stuff from the cooler in the car that day for lunch, while we watched a very large, tobacco chewing construction worker hold a giant Stop sign.  The rest of 64W all the way to Lexington, is beautiful, with gorgeous mountains and rolling hills the whole way.

Jeff on the Blue Ridge Parkway


In Rockfish Gap, found on Route 66 running from Strasburg all the way to Washington, DC.  196 years ago they were looking for a site for the University of VA. The tavern burned down 105 years ago. My maternal grandfather was 2 years old at the time!

Hog Walls on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Castle Post Hotel in Versailles, KY (pronounced VER-SALES, by locals)

Here's where we stayed on Day 2. I will sum up this experience in one word: Shithole.  Apparently William Shatner stayed here, but it must have been in better hands when he did. We arrived late, and were greeted by Michael "our night guard" wearing a hoody-work-out-sweatpants-set, and upon first inspection, it seemed like we were the ONLY guests in the place.  He ushered us into a very small elevator and told us our room was on the 2nd floor. As the door is closing a shrieking alarm starts up, and our last view as the door closes is Michael, saying "ut-oh".  He's shouting not to worry and the elevator finally creaks into motion, hauling us up the one flight.  Our room is directly outside of the elevator door and  opening the door reveals a round bed.  Yup.  ROUND.  The room barely fits the thing and the door almost bumps into it.  Thankfully, we were super tired, hungry (we had counted on the restaurant in the hotel, but it was closed, and no bar with bar food), so we just crashed immediately.  Around 2:30 a.m. I wake up to some noise, and think that we are about to be murdered in our sleep by marauding vampires, or maybe Michael the Night Guard... I mean, no one else is here, right... why not? I didn't sleep much because my stomach was making too much noise, but was rewarded by a hot shower in the bathroom, which turned out to be really pretty nice.  

The Castle Post Hotel is for sale for 30 million dollars.  And that's firm.

Highlights from day 2
  • Monticello, we will come back
  • George Washington National Forest
  • Hawks and vultures riding the thermals
  • Vistas from Blue Ridge Parkway
  • round bed
  • vampires in the night 
  • 410 miles

What we drove
After visiting Monticello, we drove south on the Blue Ridge Parkway, again, following the Appalachian Trail, then headed into West Virginia on 64W in Buena Vista. Through Clifton Forge, VA to Beckly, WV up to Charleston, WV staying on 64 out through Huntington, into Kentucky. Through Morehead and Mount Sterling, into Lexington where we spent the night in Versailles at the Castle Post Hotel.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Celebrating 100 years of life. Well, collectively, anyway - September 15, 2014

To start, we had been planning a road trip to celebrate our 50th birthdays, Jeff's in August, 2014, and mine in April, 2015. So why not embark on an adventure of epic nature? We decided to drive across the country to stay in Joshua Tree, CA, for seven days. We gave ourselves seven days to get there and then seven days to return back to Massachusetts, so three weeks! The planning took months and months, and I am forever grateful to Jeff for his amazing trip planning skills! Serious skills! 

Right from the beginning we decided we wouldn't be posting to Facebook or Instagram and would focus on being present and very aware of where we were and what we were seeing, and not be distracted by the constant barrage of social media. This turned out to be a good idea. And so, I embark here, after our return, to relate our travels... mostly for ourselves really, as a record, but maybe to inspire some of our friends to take off!

I'm sorry to report that we didn't take a lot of photos on day one, given that we were traveling through landscape that we were familiar with. Here is a beauty from a rest stop somewhere in Pennsylvania, though. It was a gorgeous day, and we ate the sandwiches we had made at home and had chips and sodas. Nice nice!   

We stayed the night in Waynesboro, VA, arriving at the Iris Inn at around 5 pm, ate dinner at CO in Charlottesville, about 20 minutes down the road from the Inn. We traveled here in order to see Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home, which I had always wanted to see. More on that in Day 2 post, coming up. 

I don't think I have ever been so tired in my life! After we had driven the 558 miles from Massachusetts to Virginia, which took us nearly 11 hours, it took only one glass of wine and an exceptional dinner to render me totally incapable of speech and functional walking. I think Jeff literally dragged me to the car and then into the room, where I don't remember anything until the sun rose the next morning. HA!   

Road worth mentioning
Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah National Park, which you can catch in Front Royal, VA, brings you past Mt. Marshall and follows the Appalachian Trail right into Waynesboro. You get to drive by beautiful, mountainous pasturelands and farms tucked throughout. Places called Skyland, Big Meadows, Swift Run Gap, and mountains: Marshall, Loft, and Lewis.

Highlights from day 1
  • a giant buck in our driveway as we left home
  • getting to see the beautiful pink and yellow sunrise from 91
  • a doe and two fawns in CT
  • hawk stretching out her legs to land on a tree, beautiful white pantaloons
  • homemade lunch in Pennsylvania rest stop, chips!
  • Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah National Park
  • Iris Inn
  • Dinner at CO, Charlottesville
  • 558 miles

What We Drove  

We left home early at 6:18 am, and took 91 South into Connecticut and through Hartford onto 84 West into New York, through Lake Carmel, Newburgh, Middletown, Port Jervis, and crossed into New Jersey, only for the briefest time. Then into Pennsylvania, through Scranton, where we changed to 81 South, out through Hazelton, Harrisburg, Scotland, Chambersburg and into Maryland, through Hagerstown staying on 81 into West Virginia, through Martinsburg and then directly into Virginia still on 81, then to 66 in Strasburg to catch the Skyline Drive.

That glass of wine I was talking about.

From the balcony of our room at the Iris Inn... using a fisheye lens on the iPhone.