On long drives my mind wanders. I tend to think about connections between people and places. I wonder what my kids learned or what I would tell my 5th graders about this particular place. I wish I could have scooped up my class and brought them to Gettysburg.
If you're a regular to this blog, I hope you've noticed that I try to be self-effacing rather than philosophical. This post may buck that trend. If you are new, this blog is normally about me making mistakes while trying to renovate an old junky airstream. Go back to the beginning and start there. This is not the end, but it is a summary, and the wrong place to begin. Here are my long drive thoughts:
America is young
In the west, where I live, American history doesn't get tangible until Lewis & Clark. But even then, we tend to think of American history as long ago. Right? In Gettysburg, we listened to an audio tour of the battlefield. It listed the date of the last reunion of Civil War soldiers. I've forgotten the date now, but at the time, I calculated that my Grandma Kane (who's pictured a few posts ago) was 18 at the time of the reunion. Nothing is long ago. We are still only one lifetime removed from people who witnessed slavery. From people who were slaves. It's less than a generation from everything else that came after it. People want to pretend that the past is over. The past, as the saying goes, is prologue.
Google Maps is scary
On a lighter note, either Google is really bad at calculating things like "safety" and "road conditions", or it is very good at it and just wants to kill me. Google took us down several paths that we will talk about for a long time. In South Carolina, we took roads that were so dilapidated, potholed, and worn that we were the only ones there. We barely made it around some holes.
Around Chicago, we traveled through some very run-down neighborhoods. In Wisconsin, Google Maps had us (unknowingly to us at the time) avoid a major highway and take small backroads during the dusk of deer time. We saw far, far too many deer.
Throughout our trip, we would use Google to get us to grocery stores - many times it took us to the backside of the stores where the semis unload. I think it has a sense of humor.
Montana is way ahead of the east coast
I never took a picture, but I very much regret that now. I was surprised by two observations:
America was built on some terrible ideas
That headline is polemic on purpose.
I agree that it was also founded on some of the best ideas the world has ever seen. The ideas of self-governance, equal justice, freedom, rule-of-law, and so many more were knit together into a country we can and should be proud of.
But. But. Those ideals failed so often. For example, in 1779, three years after the Declaration of Independance was written, those same Americans used genocide to remove the Iroquois from their land in upstate NY. Really ponder that. The men who wrote about self-evident truths, inalienable rights, and of life and happiness began this country by starting (continuing) genocide. It's not a comfortable thought, but it is true.
The middle passage, the transatlantic route from Africa to slavery in America, ended in 1860ish. If you google it, try to imagine the horror. In the African-American History Museum in D.C. I really tried. I cannot do it without despair and nausea. The lips that spoke, "Give me liberty or give me death!" also owned slaves. While driving, we listened to an audiobook called, "Elijah of Buxton" about the first free-born child of former slaves in Canada. It is both lighthearted and dark, in turns, and gives an honest and new perspective on freedom. I highly recommend it - it made me laugh out loud and cry, both while driving. It is an easy read. (Especially on audiobook!)
In 2004, areas around Atlanta closed sports fields to soccer. Soccer. Why? So that refugees would not be able to play. So that children would know just how unwelcome they were. They named themselves the Fugees (get it?) and they persisted. Their story is worth reading.
Our history is a history of terrible ideas being replaced with better ideas. It is a history of atrocity and heroes who stood up to fight. Hero after hero rose at a time of injustice. The best idea of our founders, the very best, is that bad ideas should methodically be replaced by better ones. That through collective argument and reason we might make ourselves better.
America still has some terrible ideas, but I like Winston Churchill's sentiment, "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else."
People are kind everywhere
People always told us New Yorkers were unfriendly, but that was far from the experience. As I said in that post, New Yorkers were universally kind and helpful. They gave up their seats for my kids, offered assistance, and were gracious to absurdly-touristy questions. But that was the norm everywhere. We found that our neighbors in the campgrounds were interesting, polite people.
One old lady came up to us, crossing a ditch with her walker, because we both had Airstreams. She wanted to say hello. Her story was America, its hopes on display. She was a little girl living in Holland under Hitler's occupation (again, history is not long ago). After the horrors of WWII, she saw Wally Byam's Airstream European Caravan of 1956. (A cool part of Airstream history.) It made such an impact on her that she always longed to own one. Later, she fell in love with an American and emigrated to America, became a citizen, and has made it her home. She's found her share of struggle and success. Her story was amazing, freely given, and encouraging.
Another campground neighbor was a little boy in Niagara Falls as it was in decline. He talked about the industry leaving, jobs ending and taxes skyrocketing. He left as a young adult along with everyone who had the means. He was returning with his son to show him his childhood. Another story, freely given.
There were more stories, but my sense was that we all are looking for the same things. Family, stability, and a measure of self-determination. Across this whole country, we have so much in common.
My final, biggest, thought and hope
The people of this country need each other. The south needs the north. The north needs the south. Snowflakes need rednecks and vice-versa. Its more than yin-yang. It is the foundation of our strength. New York city cannot support itself - from its towers it cannot see the source of its sustenance, but its umbilical cord to pastures is indisputable. Likewise, those who complain about intellectuals and big city folk do not realize that the wealth of people, ideas and innovation that drives American success comes from the cities. They don't see the protection and financial stability that they receive. Trump wants to build a wall to appease his rural base; but his wall is already built - NYC is it. Atlanta is it. D.C. and St. Louis, Boston and Chicago; they are it. We are stronger because we have each other.
Lincoln said some funny things in his time, funny to our ears, anyway. "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that." Lincoln was personally against slavery, but his eyes were on a united state. He knew that our American experiment would stand or fall together. He was right. He is right. Prior to Lincoln, it was written "The United States are . . ." after him we write "The United States is . . ."
The United States is strong because of all its people. I dearly hope we will stop fighting people and start fighting ideas. That we would become less tribal in our politics and more reasoned. I'm not sure how we get there, but I believe that is where we need to go. I love this country, its outlandish diversity, its strength and beauty, its freedoms and its struggles.
I've got a few more posts to write, but this is the only philosophical one. I promise. Next time, I've got to tell you about "Spy Truck".
Have you ever wanted home so bad? I bet you have. It doesn't matter who you are or where home is. Home is a universal theme for us all. Even in good times like our trip, coming home is a delight.
I've had some other musings along the way. Themes that I discovered to be true. For our last day, we drove from Wisconsin to central Montana, so I had a lot of time to think. I'll be posting more in the next few days about the themes that tied our whole trip together. But first, our last day.
Racing the sun
Google put it at 15.5 hours on the road. Grandma Chrissy told me in no uncertain terms that she thought I was crazy to attempt it. Still, my longest drive on this trip was an about the same, but through Chicago at rush hour. So I knew I could do it.
We got going at 5 a.m., just before dawn. All day long, I smiled up wondering who would win, me or the sun. Sunset at home is 8:45 p.m. We should have had 1:15 minutes to spare, with the time zone bonus. As the day wore on, gas breaks, potty breaks and lunch added up. We got in at 9:30 p.m., dark enough to see the first stars. The sun won, but I didn't mind. Seeing our front door was wonderful.
But better than seeing the front door was waking up and seeing my own ceiling. As we got around to cleaning out the car and trailer, I checked on our trip stats. The truck has been keeping track:
Total Driving Time: 174 hours, 21 minutes
Gallons of Gas Used: 596.7
CO2 Released into the Atmosphere: 10,500 pounds (calculated from gas used)
Miles Driven: 7,616
Average mpg: 12.7
Mpg going east: 13.1
Mpg going west 12.2
Our truck passed 100K miles on this trip. Like it wasn't a thing. In about two posts from now, I've got to tell you how "Spy Truck" came to us.
My last thought for today is 26 states. We could have gotten 4 more, and missed leaving holes, but it wasn't in the cards. I guess that means we'll need a return trip to some places. Here's our final map:
Normally, lightning isn't too scary. Normally, I'm not sitting in an inner tube, on a river, holding an umbrella.
For our final leg of this adventure, we visited Wisconsin. Wisconsin is home to my dad, step-mom, and most of the Kane side of my family. We stopped at my Aunt Peggy's house and got to see my grandma (Great-grandma Kane, to the kids).
Even though we were just staying for a meal, half a dozen of my aunts and uncles showed up. Prompting Ben to ask again, "How many Aunts do you ACTUALLY have?" My parents had big Catholic families. Combine that with their spouses, kids, grandkids, cousins, etc. and that becomes lots of people. Sara was overwhelmed when we got married. (Actually, she does a better job keeping track now - I lose track of married names and my cousin's kids' names.) Anyway, I think my kids just smiled and went to their happy places. I thought I had more pics of this time, but I'm not finding them.
We went on to Grandpa Kane's (my dad's) house. He recently built his home. When most people say they built a home, they mean they paid other people to do it. My dad had other people pour the foundation and put the sticks up. Then he took over.
I was, and am, amazed at what one guy can do. He's creative, talented, and tenacious. I hope to be like him.
Our first day with Dad & Chris, we went boating. Ben and Maya were beside themselves to drive Grandpa's boat.
Our second day, Grandpa & Chrissy took us to Mt. Olympus Theme park in the Wisconsin Dells. It is half roller-coaster and half water park. We didn't get many pics, with it being a water park, but we had fun all day long. I also got the most significant sunburn of the trip - we ran out of sunscreen and I was too cheap to go buy more at waterpark prices.
Maya was quite the dare devil. She went on the tallest water slides (not pictured) and even paid for an extreme ride out of her souvenir money. (Everything was included in the wrist band, except the crazy 2-person extreme rides.) I went with her. Unfortunately, she learned a few new words at the apex of the ride.
Lastly, we spent a day floating on the Wisconsin river. We brought lunch, snacks, beer, water and an umbrella for shade. The weather was perfect. It was sunny, but not too hot. The clouds were big a fluffly and gave us moments of shade.
Except, why is that one cloud getting so dark?
Is that thunder?
Did you see that lightning?
How much further to shelter at the river bar?
The weather never really got to us on the river. It stayed just to our east, but threatened us for quite a while. It mostly just sprinkled and kept the air cool. I guess the storm we were looking at dropped 1.5" of rain and pea-sized hail. We were all a little relieved to get off the river at the end, though. I didn't bring my phone/camera. It was a river, that's why.
Early the next morning, we would set out for home.
Acadia marked the last (possible) point we could travel any direction except west. We said a melancholic goodbye to the ocean and headed for Vermont. Along the way we stopped at my Aunt Meg’s house.
Meg treated us to a wonderful dinner and a restful evening. It was just what a bunch of weary travelers needed. So much so that Ben, who’s been rather stoic about meeting such a large, unknown extended family (“You have another Aunt?!”), cried when we left. I completely forgot to take photos. Her home was a respite for me too.
The only significant rain so far came on the way to and from Vermont. And rain it did! It came in sheets so thick I nearly couldn’t see the road at times. The pic below was just a drizzle comparatively.
We stopped for a night with Ruth and Don, this time at their home. They bought a beautiful home six months ago. Actually, they bought a train wreck of a home six months ago and have made it beautiful. It was a brilliant purchase, as it was the fixer-upper in a wonderful neighborhood. They are about halfway done with their initial plans and the house is fantastic. I forgot pictures here too.
We traveled westward to Niagra Falls.
The falls themselves were amazing. After that, there is nothing good to say about Niagara Falls. It felt like the apocalypse had happened and no one here knew about it. I guess that Niagara Falls used to have over 100,000 people living in it; its current population is around 50,000. There were empty buildings everywhere. It was very eerie feeling. We still found some fun.
Still, we were glad to leave Niagara. And never go back. It’s probably the only place on this trip that I wouldn’t recommend someone visit. It’s a cool waterfall with nearly-post-apocalyptic amenities.
From Niagara, we traveled on to Indiana Dunes National coastline. Unfortunately it doesn’t take reservations. So, when we arrived, the campground was full. So we traveled further on around and through Chicago traffic at rush-hour. We landed at Illinois Beach State Park. It must’ve been meant to be because it turns out the park was right out of my childhood. I knew the trees. We camped right in my favorite spot as a child.
We met one of my best friends, Ben Walstrum and his family. The kids played at the beach, swam, and scootered in the campground. It was a nice day. Then we headed north to Wisconsin.
The touch screen on my phone no longer works in the bottom left corner. Guess what that means. Yep. No punctuation except for periods because you can tap the space bar twice to get one. I can get emojis. 🧐🤓😭😖 See.
So ill make the text part short. We had a blast in Acadia. It is the place where the ocean meets the mountains. We walked on beaches. We clambered on rocks. We rented bikes and toured the carriage trails. We found wild blueberries and ate as much as we could. We ate lobster rolls from a picnic table restaurant on the dock. We saw so many faces of the ocean that I lost count. Sunset. Fog. Blue sky. Twilight. More shades of sky than I have words.
The best part was seeing my sister Ruth her husband Don and their daughter Maggie. She’s about eight months younger than Ben. We had wonderful conversations and laugher. It was a great time. Here are my favorite photos.
Our last adventure in Massachusetts was to go whale watching. We boarded the Privateer IV, through a group called 7seas, and settled in for a boat ride.
The whale watching companies all work together in the area, it almost makes it unnecessary to choose one company over another. They communicate about and share the whales. Our guide told us that the boats take turns and stagger their times. They radio to each other where they find whales. It’s a very interesting company model, where your competitors are also your assets.
The ride out to the whales was a beautiful one. We couldn’t have picked a more perfect day.
When we found whales, there were two of them. Their names were Nine and Milky Way. We spent about an hour with them. They would dive for a few minutes and come back up to the surface. Eventually, they got interested in our boat. They came right up to the side. If our boat had sat lower in the water, we would’ve been able to pet them. That’s how close they were. Several people to our left got wet when one of them blew a spot of water.
After about an hour, our guide said there was another boat in route. Even though our tour time was not over, we have had our fair share of whale-time. We had a great time, I’m not complaining, but it really struck me as a interesting model of business. They were relinquishing an asset to a competitor over their customers. But it made sense too because another boat did that for us at our beginning. I like that model.
We spent the rest of our tour cruising for an unlikely well, which we never found. We saw castles on the ocean shore, light houses, and lots of sailboats. It was a great final adventure in Gloucester.
On our drives around cities, one of our recurring conversations is, “Would you like to live here?” For most cities, Maya has plans of living there someday in the distant future, her future. Particularly on these coastal towns. Yesterday, as we drove past Boston I was speaking in a more present tense than ambiguous future. It was still tongue-in-cheek, but I really loved the town of Plymouth. It felt right. So I’m certain my tone changed a little. After a while, the three of us realized that Ben was quietly crying in the backseat. When we noticed, he exploded into tears crying that he wanted to go home.
I think we’re all missing home a little bit, each in our own way. Maya misses her space to sing alone in her room, her violin, her piano, most of all her friends. Ben misses all things familiar, his friends Luke and Abe, and a stable bedtime (though he doesn’t verbalize that part). Sara misses her own space and privacy. I miss my bed and, honestly, cooking in my own kitchen.
We are now over halfway home. We have some major adventures ahead of us, though. And despite those feelings above we are very excited for things to come.
my uncle Bob and aunt Mary live in Gloucester Massachusetts. It is a beautiful touristy town overlooking the sea. Their house is tucked away about a block from the ocean with a private pond and beautiful decks. We spent a couple nights with them and then they left letting us use their house for a couple more. It has been our homebase to explore the ocean, Boston, and Plymouth.
My cousin Matt, their son, was here for the first two days also. We had a wonderful time swimming in the very very cold ocean. I think I saw icebergs, Matt said the water was unbelievably warm.
My aunt MaryEllen, uncle Richard, aunt Beth, and uncle John all joined us for a day in Gloucester. We had lunch, chatted about all sorts of things, but best of all, we went sea glass hunting. The kids found quite a lot, with help from the adults.
Boston was very historic and very hot. Somehow the hot weather returned to us. We didn’t let that stop Estelle and we hiked the freedom Trail. It’s a trail inlaid into the sidewalks around the historic sites in Boston. It’s made up of red bricks so it’s easy to follow.
We saw several sites along the Freedom Trail. We saw the Boston massacre site, the Boston Common, the state hall, and Benjamin Franklin’s glass harmonica. That last one has a story Sara can tell you; for me the pain is too fresh. We stopped halfway through and watched the World Cup at the oldest tavern in Boston.
I think the kids’ favorite was the USS constitution. It is the oldest floating ship in the U.S. Navy. They were clearly sailors aboard, though they were doing crowd control, not sailing.
Next, we took a ferry back to the beginning of the trail and saw Boston from the water. Being on the water has always been my kids favorite parts of the days.
We ended our day with a Broadway musical In the historic Boston opera House. Aladdin. It did not disappoint!
We traveled back in time to Plimoth Plantation. (In Plymouth, MA) Permanently set in 1629, the final year the pilgrims held their property in common. The plantation hires actors to play the real people who lived in the community. You can ask questions and interact with them and they stay in character. It was very engaging. Afterwards, we walked along the modern day harbor.
Overnight we stayed at a wonderful hotel. We tried to check in early and our room wasn’t ready, but a king suite was. They upgraded us for free. It was a two room suite, but it was three sides of the building. The views were amazing. Unfortunately, it was just for one night and we had to check out today. Given all the amazing things we saw, it may sound crazy, but the views from the hotel room may have been my favorite part of New York City.
From my hotel, we took the subway to Time Square. It really was incredible. I’m not sure if it was the cargo pants with double water bottles in each pocket, the two kids in tow, the backpack, or the general look of awe on my face, but just about every street performer and garbage seller had me pegged as a tourist. We quickly learned a scowl and intentional not-seeing works the best.
We walked from Times Square to Rockefeller Square. We did a lot of walking.
Throughout this trip we’ve tried to find a bakery as good as Nana’s. If you don’t know my mother-in-law Laurie, then you’ve never experienced the best cookies in the world. We had heard of several amazing bakeries in New York City. And they were amazing, but nothing bested Nana. (Because I’m writing this a few days late, we later found one that compared equally to Nana’s cookies. It was a food truck in Boston.)
From Time Square, we took the subway again to the World Trade Center Memorial. I expected it to be more emotional, since it was one of the few memorials that I’ve lived for the event. It was a powerful tribute and an amazing space, but so much in the world has happened as a result of those towers coming down. I just had a sense of longing for what could’ve been if none of it had ever happened.
From there we walked to the Brooklyn Bridge, took a ferry to see the Statue of Liberty, and walked around the business district. On our ferry trip, we noticed that every ferry was shadowed by a Coast Guard boat. It was both welcome and a reminder of what we lost when the WTCs came down. Later, we found an airstream in the city (not ours), used as a food truck. Both the little girl and the Bull were more touristy than I had imagined. Both were shiny in places where tourists had rubbed. You can see it on the girl’s arms, the bull’s head, and one other place.
We found some great pizza, fun carousel, and the really quiet little park. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of the park. There are a couple boys about Ben’s age running around in the splash park less-than-fully-clothed. (Ben refused to join! 😆) It wasn’t a time that I could take pictures. But it was surprisingly quiet and peaceful.
Lastly, we took public transportation back out to New Jersey and said goodbye to New York City. It was a wonderful time, but a really expensive time. And, a really busy time. I was ready to leave, but I think I was the only one.
Finally, I want to give a shout-out to friends. Jason Scully and his family hosted us in New Jersey and made it possible for us to leave Eisley and the truck. Jason joined us for the first day, helped direct our route, figure out the transportation, and gave us great advice. We spent two nights with them and very thankful for their help. Sara‘s friend Wayne Petro was very helpful giving us directions in the city and walking us around the second day.
We learned a secret about NYC. I’m a little nervous to tell you, seeing it’s a secret and all. But here goes:
You know how New Yorkers are almost always depicted as mean or arrogant on TV? It’s totally false- at least in our experience. Not only were they willing to help, volunteering good advice often, but if we looked lost someone quickly stepped in to show us the way. On the subway, someone tried to give up their seats to Sara and my kids every. single. time. Every interaction with a local was a positive one.
For our our first day we checked into our hotel, toured Central Park, visited the Museum of anatural Hustory, and ate some very yummy food.
November 19, 1863
“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Gettysburg was fantastic. I learned so much about the battle. I didn’t realize how close the confederate army was to winning the battle. I knew how bloody it was, but it was staggering to think of the roughly 20,000 dead in such a small place. It must have been horrible beyond horrific.
If if you ever venture here, we’ll mail you the audio tour for you car. It was a perfect way to experience the park and learn. It even engaged the kids.
We had a nice campsite overlooking a little stream. We had our first real fire of the trip, complete with s’mores.
Also, Eisley needed a small repair after I backed her into Melanie’s driveway and bottomed-out the black tank valve. It was a yucky job to reglue the pipe, but took less than 5 minutes and $5 to do.
I'm not an Airstream Jedi, yet. Airstream Jedi would have sounded presumptuous, like I know what I'm doing. That couldn't be further from the truth. Padawan is a title I can hope to live up to.
Knots Per Hour
My friend Mike is building an airplane. Check it out.