Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ted Bundy Probably Started With a Day Like This

Two long hot days on the road. Nearly 1,000 miles across the farmlands of America. Every time I get out of the car I question what sane person would leave the Pacific NW and head out across the plains this time of year.

Arayo is getting antsy in the back of the car until I get her out for a stretch. She begs to get back in the car again where it is cooler.

The campground is sub-par. Unless we are willing to pay $25 for the electricity we won't use we get to park the car and haul our junk into the "primitive" area. I pack my gear in with one hand while wiping the sweat that is pouring off my face with the bath towel that I carry in the other. The nearest water faucet is broken so we have to hike further for the "drinking" water that is the color of clay.

I attempt to push Arayo under the water in hopes that if she is wet she will feel cooler through the night. She's having none of it so I take her to the bathhouse thinking I'll sneak her into an actual shower to wet her down. They have one temperature of water. It is hot. I give up.

Back in the tent I lay out my mattress and stash my cameras and computer into a corner where i can keep an eye on them. I struggle for 5 minutes to get out of my clothing, which is so sweaty it sticks to my skin and refuses to peel off without a struggle. My flannel PJ bottoms do not look appealing. Arayo has 50% of the tent to call her own. She wants to sleep on my mattress. I try to seduce her back to her side of the tent. She backs up and sits on top of my computer. She is obviously brain damaged. I feel like I'm struggling with an elephant. She has no intention of moving but when she finally does, she goes to the door of the tent and leans against the wall with so much weight I fear she will rip a hole in it. It will be a very long night.

I have afforded myself two luxuries on this trip. A really nice mattress and a porta-potty. In the morning I awake to find the potty has totally leaked out in the night and my gear, my mattress, my shoes, my clothing, my dog have soaked up the remnants and fragrances of the toilet. I pack up the mess and call a friend to tell her I think I will be arriving tonight. I suggest she find blinders and nose plugs until we have had a chance to clean up.

As I prepare to leave the campground a beautiful orange butterfly floats by. I look at it and growl something about it moving on before I hurt her. When I begin to threaten butterflies, I'm close to the end of my rope. (Disclaimer - though I was in a nasty mood, no Newfies OR butterflies were harmed in the completion of the day.)

Photo: Arayo checks out The Little Flock Chapel, near Promise City IA.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


It is hot. Damn hot. Arayo and I have been on the road for two days in this heat and we have logged nearly 500 miles a day. At least the car has air conditioning. My back hurts so I pop another aspirin. It beats being outside in the heat.

The campground we were heading for in Nebraska City is under water. Thank goodness I have a friend back home who is enjoying finding me last minute campgrounds. We head on into Iowa and the tent goes up in the dark. After everything is moved into the tent, I check more closely and the site is reserved for someone else. I have to move the tent. Grrrrrr..... Things are not going well. Lewis and Clark had to be mad men by the end of their journey - traveling in heat like this. I remind myself I'll not think this so bad when I'm living in a tent in a freeze zone being pelted with hail and knocking the ice off my toes. The self talk doesn't help at the moment.

I've been trying to photograph Arayo at each state line. It is dark when we pass into Iowa from Nebraska. I near the Eastern Iowa border and see that if I drop south about 6 miles I can pick up a tiny corner of Missouri, then hang a left and cross into Illinois from there. Three states in 10 minutes. The border signs are on a freeway in the middle of a river. Even I won't get out of the car to shoot that. I don't want to be an 18 wheeler target. But, when we do get to Missouri, there is more flooding or something and everyone wishing to cross into Illinois is being headed back into Iowa to cross from there. No wonder I've put in so many miles today......

Photo: The horses were uninterested in posing as the Nebraska sun was setting. They were fixated on grazing instead. When I brought Arayo to the fence, however, they ran to check out the big dog.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Farming Project

It is impossible to drive across this country and not be struck by the vastness of the landscape. Stock markets may crash, high-rises can fall, but at a very basic level, those things can only have a minor impact on the lives of most of us.

I was struck by how very helpless most Americans are while traveling in rural Uganda. As I watched women working the fields, then taking the grains and turning them into food for their families, I realized that without my local Safeway, I'm helpless.

Who are these people who live in the wide open spaces? Who farm the land, raise crops, cattle, horses, chickens? I hope to interview farmers as I make my way across the country and I will be reporting about these people I meet.

Dan and Donna Tank

My first farm visit took me to the ranch of Dan and Donna Tank. Donna was raised in the city but traded that lifestyle for one of working the land when she married Dan 43 years ago. Although they made their living in more traditional jobs, evenings and weekends found them raising the crops needed to support their passion for horses.

3 years ago they retired, sold their land in South Dakota and purchased 833 acres in the Nebraska panhandle. Working as a team they raise oats and put up bundles of hay for their animals and for those of friends and neighbors.

The life of a 'retired' farmer is long and hard. Just completing a job can be a challenge as equipment breaks down and a day or two can be lost "chasing parts" to fix it. Dan's profession as a welder helps save them money. A lot of money. This spring when a piece of equipment broke, the replacement part cost $800. For $40 and some time, he rebuilt the damaged piece.

Then there are the snakes. In Western Nebraska, it is not uncommon to find a snake bound and trapped in a giant bundle of hay. "If it is a rattlesnake and it isn't dead, I kill it," says Dan. "Rattlesnakes killed 4 of my horses so I have no problems killing that thing."

It seems like a hard life. Long hours in the oppressive heat trying to keep equipment working. Then, Dan shows us his new filly. She is tiny but with beautiful structure and markings. His face lights up as he talks about her possibilities and you know there is no way he is leaving this lifestyle.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

New Friends

I never know where the day's end will find us. As I was taking my shower before leaving Sturgis, I had every intention of going East across South Dakota. Any move to the south seemed too much like courting heat. Maybe it was the shower pounding sense into me, but I took another look at my maps as I was getting ready to drive away from the campground, then put in a call to Don and Sherrie Hall to see if they were serious about a couple drop in visitors! They were up for it and Arayo and I were headed to Scottsbluff NE - a town I'd visited several times while working with Enesco as an events director some 20 years ago.

Sherrie and I have exchanged a few e-mails during the past couple years - mostly concerning my fear of snakes - but we have never met. They graciously took us in and shared their home, their knowledge that part of Nebraska, and introduced me to some of their friends. They had readied their beautiful RV for us and even turned on the AC so we were comfortable! What a treat!

Arayo was in heaven with a couple newfy friends to play with, and I was delighted to make two new human friends! Sherrie and Don - Thank you for your hospitality and your kind offer to return. We had such a great time, we may take you up on that!

Photo: Arayo watches for Rattlesnakes at Chimney Rock NE. Originally known as Elk Penis, by native Americans, the landmark was later renamed Chimney Rock.

I'm Still Alive!

I've had limited time to write, or limited internet access, or just no energy due to heat and long days of driving. I'm in hopes of catching up here in the next couple days but for now, I thank those of you who have called or e-mailed asking if I'm still alive. (The answer is yes, but given the heat, just barely..... Arayo is struggling even more than I, but she's hanging in there. I keep promising her icebergs! She keeps giving me "The Look". You know the one. The one that says "if you were so smart you won't have left the Pacific NW when the rest of the country is 110 degrees. What did I do so wrong to deserve this?")

Photo of the day - a reminder that, while Western Nebraska is really very stunning, it is certainly not a place for sissies........

Saturday, July 24, 2010

To Nebraska!

Arayo and I began the next leg of our journey with a ride through Custer State Park in South Dakota where we became involved in a traffic jam created by a herd of buffalo that was lounging on the sides and into the road. Arayo, like a drunk in a rough bar, listened to the giant animals snorting for a while and then began talking back…. Really, NOT the folks to pick a fight with - even if you are encased in metal.

Our destination was to visit fellow newf people - Don and Sherrie Hall, who own Castle Rock Newfoundlands outside Scotts Bluff NE. They have 4 beautiful newfs and a 7 pound red pomeranian who rules the household. The Halls bought their farm 5 years ago, and it wasn't until after they had moved onto their new property that they learned that the name of the hill behind their house is "Rattlesnake Mountain"……. Oh, great….. Every stick and electric cord that I see running through their yard sends me jumping 5 feet in the air!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tattoo Artist in Sturgis

Hearts, flags, skulls, women's figures and phrases are all things that can be turned into permanent artwork on your body - if you can put up with the pain and think you want to live with it forever.

When Bikers attend the Sturgis Rally this year, many of them will be looking for Morris Zeise. At German tattoo artist, Morris began working in his profession in 1992, and in 18 years has become known as one of the best in the world.

in 2003 he attended the Sturgis Bike Rally as an exhibitor and has returned every year since. "It's just fun," says Morris, who keeps a Harley stored with a friend who lives in the Kansas City area so that he has one for the big event.

"There is nothing like this in Europe," says Ziese, who rents a storefront location for the two week Sturgis event. "There is a rally in Austria that draws 50,000 to 70,000 biking enthusiasts, but it is not like Sturgis. There is nothing like this in the world."

When asked if he could turn anything into a tattoo, he at first said, yes, then looked at Arayo. "You mean her," he asked? "I did a black dog once before but there isn't enough detail. All the black just runs together. It wouldn't turn out well." he admitted.

Guess I'll be tattooless for another few years!

To see Morris' work visit

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Not Enough Bikers in Sturgis

The goal was a photo of Arayo with a biker. You know the kind - a REAL biker. Leather. Lots of facial hair. Heavily lined face from hundreds of hours riding in the sun. A bandana. An eye patch would be a nice touch. And a gold tooth - yeah, that would really make the photograph.

Arayo and I went in to Sturgis as the heat of the day was beginning to wear off a bit. We found the local Harley Store. Several bikes in front. A couple guys came out and got on them - but they looked like insurance salesmen on vacation. Soft around the middle, wearing chinos. Not what I had in mind.

I drove past a couple of bars. Places with names like The Knuckle Saloon and Come In Here and Get Your Teeth Kicked Out Roadhouse (I'm making that last one up…. but you get the idea….) There were few bikes around, but I think that was a computer geek that just came out and drove away on that Goldwing…..

Finally I saw them. They were tough. I swear they just got out of a high security prison yesterday. They looked like they had just finished a lunch of nuts and bolts, chased down with a keg of beer. Leather was all over the place - they were mean and scary. They were women. I didn't have the guts to flag them down and tell them they were the perfect tough guys to pose with my dog. I watched them ride off, wishing I had more backbone.

Some days are like that. If I were a pit-bull photographer - maybe I could just smash into a bar and drag out a good specimen, but I'm a Newfoundland photographer - taking what life hands me and rolling with it in hopes good things will be around the next corner. They usually are.

Photo - Despite the lack of tough looking biker dudes, Arayo posed in front of the Harley store in Sturges. Seeing her posing, the staff invited her in where she found air conditioning, milk bones and 15 minutes of belly rubs from the staff!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sturgis SD

Surprisingly, Stugis is a darling little town. The owner of the campground says they have a population of about 4,700 people but that for two weeks in the summer, they swell to about a million. Because this is their 70th anniversary, they may have more than that this year. I can not imagine dealing with that many people. Just the porta potties alone would be too much! They have several businesses that are huge - and just open 2 weeks a year.

If I lived here full time, I believe I'd be putting plywood over my windows, barring the door and heading out of town a week or two before the big rally begins.

We are testing the water-tightness of the tent tonight as we are in the middle of a thunderstorm. Getting a few drips on my computer screen - grrrrr..... Oops - and Arayo has gotten wet from laying against the side of the tent. NOT good signs.

Photo: Arayo wasn't allowed to visit Devil's Tower yesterday. All animals must stay in the car and it was simply too warm for that, so we drove around the outer perimeter.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

One Never Knows.........

There was a perfect campground waiting for me. Tucked in the Black Hills - it would have been an ideal place for a night. I'm sure it would have been really lovely.

But, as I headed for the turnoff, I spotted a name on the map and something kept me driving towards that town. I had to drive through it. To say I'd been there. To imagine what it is like when it is full of drunk and disorderly bikers and half (fully?) naked women.

Sturges, SD. A campground there listed rates of $10 a night - which would be a nice relief. I called the No Name Campground. The listed rate was wrong. It was $8 a night. I told them to expect me.

Imagine a campground in the middle of Tijuana. I'm making this up here. I've never been to Tijuana. But I expect to see lots of colorful faces, kids playing in the road, clothes hanging on lines and cars and bikes in various stages of repair. I would expect a campground in Tijuana to look much like this one. For someone who has lived on Bainbridge Island for years and who grew up in a town with one token black student per class - I was very out of place.

I liked it.

The owner showed me around. Told me I could put my tent up next to the big metal tank, or between 3 buildings around back of the showers. There was a great place at the back of the property - currently only 3 bikers have their tents back there - - - if sleeping with the boys didn't bother me…… I opted for the front lawn of the office, next to the lawn mower, some kind of dune buggy and under a tree that keeps whacking my face every time I leave the tent to go to my car.

The owner introduced me to a couple of his kids. Ones with brown faces and lovely smiles. He said he has 13 kids - or was that 17? Most are adopted. There is a story there. I'm going to like fleshing it out.

Just up the road is a veterans cemetery. I drove through it at dusk. It was an amazing place and we'll return tomorrow to find out more about that as well. And, surely I can drum up a good story in downtown Sturges - where preparations are underway for the big bikers bash which begins in just under two weeks. Sturges - to add a twist to things, perhaps they are having a Rotary meeting I can attend. Probably be a most interesting group of members.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Perils of Shopping with a Newfoundland

Try moving quickly through a sporting goods store with a newf. Just try.

We finally left 3 Forks and headed towards the Montana border. ANY Montana border. Montana is fine but we hadn't planned on spending so much time here that we would be threatening to get a PO box. Being reminded that the stuff sack that came with my sleeping bag when I purchased it in 1974 was shredded and I really NEEDED a new one, I pulled in at a Cabella's to see if I could replace it. Typically I refuse to shop at a store with animal heads lining the walls but we needed a break - and I REALLY needed a new stuff sack. Shopping there, of course, would only happen if they would allow a newf inside.

Luckily, they haven't gone the way of REI and banned live animals, so Arayo was in for a shopping treat. EVERYONE wanted to talk about or pet "the bear". One man approached me and said he'd heard that Newfoundlands are known for their guarding ability…. "Yes, if someone breaks into your house at night, they might not see the newf sleeping on the floor and could trip over it," I responded.

Mostly, though, it was the normal "take one step, then stop so Arayo can be adored again." (She has no shame. When someone approaches her, she drops to the floor, rolls on her back, spreads her legs and begs for a belly rub.)

However, the best response to Arayo came yesterday at the campground. Arayo and I were sitting in front of the office when a family drove up to check in. This was a set of grandparents and their two grand children. The young boy rushed out of the van and came over to Arayo, asking if she was a Newfoundland like Seaman. I assured her that she was and he spent about 10 minutes petting her. His grandmother got out and said they had been reading the Lewis and Clark book that is written from the perspective of their Newf, Seaman, and when they pulled up and saw Arayo "he got so excited he nearly wet himself!" the grandmother said, as she shot more photos of the grandson and Arayo together.

Photo - Montana really does have amazing skies!

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Words can't describe this caramel, almond cinnamon roll, but if you know me, you know I like to eat and when needed, I can FINISH a meal. It took me two meals to finish this off!!! Wheat Montana, if you are every buzzing down I-90 across this Big Sky State. And, yes, this is a dinner, not some whimpy dessert plate.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Another Lazy Day

We spent another day hiding from the heat. Took Arayo for a real swim. The river was dirty looking but full of people swimming. I didn't notice 3 eyes on anyone so guess it was safe. The Newfoundland came out in her, though, as 2 young men came to the water's edge with 3 inner tubes. That bothered her - seeing them drifting off down river without her there to save them..... Or maybe she suspected that the third tube, which held the ice chest, was full of beer. She LOVES beer!

Photo - When I entered 3 Forks the first thing I saw was this great old grain elevator. I quickly pulled over and made some photos. Was glad I did because when I left town an hour later they have posted some wild artwork up on the front of it. Kinda lost its charm for me.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mass Murder

The blood is everywhere. Blood splattered on my hands. Blood smeared on my arms and face. Blood staining my clothing. I hear my screams - of pain and rage as I fight - killing more of the little buggers.

While Arayo and I have been hiding from the heat, we have been introduced to one of mother nature's most cruel forms of torture. Mosquitos. Montana has swarms of the blood sucking monsters. We are not taking them gracefully.

They are constantly dancing on my arms, biting through my clothes, checking out my ears, buzzing up my nose and even down my throat. Poor Arayo will have 50 flying around her at any given time. We've tried spraying them, smoking them, and we are looking for lavender dryer sheets, which are rumored to help the Alaskan varieties. I'm covered with the remains of those I was able to pulverize in this war. UGH!!!!!

However, dispute the evil ones, once the heat of the day has worn off, we're driving the beautiful Montana countryside in search of scenes like the one above.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Frustrating Days

Had to happen - frustrating days on the road. We are looking for a campground by a river where we could spread out and relax for about 3 days. We get our eye on a target, but once there the campground is totally isolated and doesn't feel safe, or had no shade.

Last night we stopped in a town - last ditch campground after a long day on the road. The wind was so strong it took 3 of us to put up the tent and a couple times in the night I was certain the rain tarp had taken off for Nebraska.

This morning I had to dry the tent out so ran over for a shower - my first in a week of travel - and when I returned, the campground had turned on a sprinkler system and there was a 2" pond inside the tent! GRRR! Oh, yes - and today broke the French Press and the chair flew off the top of the car on the freeway so I had to go chase it down.

Weather is expected to be in the 90's this week so we won't stay in our current campground - not a lick of shade and it will kill Arayo.

I'm sure tomorrow we'll have a better report. Looking at the positive - at least I started out the day clean and because of the frustrations and to find shade for Arayo tonight until the sun sets, I'm treating myself to a real Chinese meal in a restaurant with outside seating (for Arayo) and WiFi!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Scenic West

Photo: Idaho Landscape

LONG Couple Days of Driving

Arayo and I hit the road in a big way yesterday - well, big for us. We made it all the way into Idaho - just BARELY into Idaho, mind you, by nightfall Sunday night, and another fairly long day today - though we don't have much distance to show for it.

I was reminded of how vulnerable we are on this trip. Eastern Washington was hot and there is just no place to get out of the sun on days like that. I kept worrying about what would happen to Arayo if we would break down out on the plains, where the nearest farm was usually miles away, and the ones we passed didn't have much in the way of shade to hide under. We stopped every chance we got so I could resoak her Swamp Cooler.

Photos: Proof that Arayo rolled into two new States! (They didn't ask a photographer about WHERE or HOW to position the signs - background or tilted. Oh well..... The scenery is beautiful!)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Town On Stilts & Someone Making a Difference

"What is going on with this town?" is a question commonly asked at the Historical Society in the small town of Skykomish, WA. Patiently answering this and other questions is Bill Atkinson, who moved to the community following his retirement as a manager for a boat retailer in Seattle.

Interested in becoming involved in the tiny community of about 200 people, Bill joined the Historical Society and serves on the school board, with plans to see the school evolve from a learning center for their 50 students, into an educational and community cultural center. Plans for the school? Expand the opportunities to students and adults through classes in everything from photography, CPR, and auto mechanics. Since they have the facilities, he hopes to see community nights featuring story telling, board games, Wii bowling, and more.

In answer to the question, "What is going on Here?", Skykomish was a railroad maintenance center beginning in the 1890's. For 80 years, oil leaked into the ground which contaminated the community and finally the river. When the EPA became involved, the railroad was forced to step in and clean up the community.

Businesses and homes have been lifted and moved and the soil sent away for cleaning. When the soil is replaced, the buildings are returned to new foundations. 4 years of clean-up have taken place with another estimated 2 years to go. (To read more, visit

Bill is just one of the people we'll be featuring on our journey across America. He is making a difference in his community by giving of his time, his energies and his ideas!

Photo: Bill Atkinson and his father rebuilt this 1931 Model A when he was in High School. She's a beauty!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Missed Opportunity

Stopping in the small town of Sultan WA our first day out, we asked at the local visitors center about camp grounds. The woman sputtered a bit, then asked if I was a nudist as they had a really fabulous nudist camp just outside of town. As a definitive "NO!" began to escape from my lips, I checked myself and thought "well, this IS an adventure, and you aren't going to have one if you turn down every new opportunity that presents itself……."

We made the call to see if they would accept dogs, while she wrote out directions. Unfortunately, we were only able to leave a message, so I headed on up into the mountains in search of a campground with cooler temps, shade and a rushing river.

Photo: Arayo reluctantly turns away from the water to pose on the ferry as we leave on our journey. With temps near 90, she is decked out in her new RuffWear Swamp Cooler. It is dipped in water, which cools her while the light color reflects the sun's rays. VERY cool! (She would have been VERY overdressed for a nudist camp!)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Tomorrow Finally Came

For days I've been saying "I'm leaving tomorrow. I hope….." Well, today my renter came out to say his son thought that I was serious about leaving as I'd moved my car forward 6 inches. With additional things to do (I can't really leave without power-washing the house, can I?), leaving took more time than I'd anticipated.

Packing for a journey like this is humbling, and certainly makes one look at priorities. My "must take" pile included more items than a family of 5 in a developing country would have to live on for a lifetime. And, did I REALLY need to bring 50 pounds of dog treats just because they have been piling up in my pantry? (The answer to that one would be "yes", says Arayo.)

As I drove away from my home, it somehow seemed fitting that I'd be jabbered at by a toy I had purchased some years ago to get a smile from a child. I had forgotten that I still had it, but it was smashed in my gear somewhere and each time I hit a bump, sped up or stopped, a piece of my luggage called out "MOOOOOOO! MOOOOOO!" (Should have said Oink Oink!)

Photo - our ferry arriving to take us to the mainland!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Road Awaits

Perhaps there is a gypsy gene that constantly gives my life an unsettled edge. Practicality tells me that the joys of a long hot bubble bath, followed by a slumber under 3 down comforters is foreign to a hobo - but still, I look with longing at the road, and the trains, and the sailboats passing by. I want to join the few who have chosen to wander.

And, so, I have decided to hit the road. This summer of 2010, it is time to see what unexpected adventures await.

Arayo, my dear, sweet, Newfoundland Dog, will make the journey with me - and I know that because of her I'll have a richer experience. Newfies have a way of breaking down the human barriers and helping to forge friendships. (Something about a big black bear rushing to you, then falling at your feet in adoration - it does it to people every time. Well, to the good ones, that is......)

If you have a bit of wanderlust - join us. This blog will be full of stories of the people we meet and photos of the people and places we see along the way. And, hopefully, our journeys will bring us to your part of the world, soon.