March 2007 wasn’t my first trip to New Orleans, I think it was my fifth. It wasn’t even my first trip after the Storm, I’d passed through the previous June on the way from my home in North Mississippi to a summer job in Houston. This trip, the one that started me on the Po-Boy quest, came the following spring, when my job sent me to a conference in New Orleans. After a week of standard convention activities and high rise hotel food, a coworker and I met up with friends of hers for lunch in Uptown.

We ate Po-Boys.

I had shrimp.

It was a pretty big deal, a moment, a culinary epiphany that couldn’t simply be dismissed as a function of my novice experience as a Po-Boy eater. Not that I hadn’t had one before, I’d sampled the cuisine at countless places in North Mississippi offering a sandwich with that famous name. This, however, was my first visit to a true New Orleans Po-Boy shop. If you can remember your first real Po-Boy – that moment when all the world’s sub shops were forever relegated to the position of simple sustenance, a hedge against starvation – then you know the sensation: beautifully fresh shrimp with a perfect fry and the most amazingly flaky bread, bread that transforms anything it embraces and is so good even the soggy crumbs on the paper wrapper are fair game. Properly dressed with mayo, lettuce and tomato, it is a holy experience.

I’ve visited this city many times in the nearly nine years since that occurrence. Sometimes to get away, other times to meet up with friends, but always with the intention of visiting the most iconic of sandwiches. It grew into a quest to try the favorites, roast beef, fried oyster, sausage and of course more shrimp; at Parkway, Tracy’s, Mahoney’s, Felix and many others. I’ve even waded through the mass of people thronging Oak Street during the annual Po-Boy Festival. I’m not an expert on anything, and food is no exception, but I started to develop a real body of knowledge.

In all these trips, and despite my best efforts, I never made it back to that first place. I couldn’t even remember the name (maybe I never knew it?) FullSizeRenderonly that we’d walked upriver for quite a while on Magazine, turning around at Perlis and walking back, ducking into shops the whole way before finally having that transcendent bread, meat and dressing experience.* So basically all I knew was it was on Magazine somewhere between Audubon Park and the Warehouse District.  Despite walking and driving this street many times, I never found it. After several years I despaired of never again experiencing the sandwich which was the entire time growing to massive proportions in my mind. Online searches for “best New Orleans Po-Boy” only turned up places I already knew. Maybe it had closed, that began to seem the most likely option.

Last spring, I bought a recently-released restaurant guide, Eat Dat, by Michael Murphy. Sitting in my living room in Mississippi, eagerly scanning the list of best Po-Boys in the appendix, I finally turned up a lead. Most of the places listed where either not on Magazine Street or were already know to me, but #3, Guy’s, was a contender – located in the right place and known for shrimp. That great answerer of questions, Google Street View, showed me a place somewhat like the saliva-encrusted picture burned into my brain. I finally had a name, now all I needed was to get back to New Orleans.

Good Friday 2015 found me cruising down Magazine Street with an old friend who now lives here. When we drive up, I knew I had found the place I’d so often looked for, but Good Friday isn’t the day to end a journey and the Po-Boy quest took us to Domilise instead.  My buddy, not emotionally tied to my mission, wanted to try their sandwich and I was curious to see if the gallery of young Manning Polaroids really exists – it does.

Domilise turned out to be memorable, even if not exceptional.  We sat at the bar and ordered Po-Boys. Mine, shrimp again, was pretty good, but not dressed like I like it. Whether it ketchup or watery hot sauce, I can’t really remember, but something on there inappropriately tried to steal the show. Worse, the frumpy and suspicious bar tender, perhaps weary of all the college kids renting in this part of town, wouldn’t accept my friend’s beat-up, out-of-state ID.  I’m a good guy, so neither of us enjoyed cold adult beverages with our food, and the water was served in slightly elongated tequila shooters. Not all Po-Boy orders end in a transcendent experience.

This fall my girlfriend, Sarah, and I finally moved to New Orleans.  Within a few days I made my way back to Guy’s. It was closed. We went back at the end of the week. Still closed. Certain my quest had failed just when the goal was in reach, I scanned the internet for information. Nothing. Search engines reported normal daily hours, so we tried again. This time it was open! The sandwich of my dreams was within reach, the car was legally parked and I was nearly to the door when I realized neither Sarah nor I had any cash. Like so many great local places, cash is the only tender at Guy’s – unless maybe you get chicken on your Po-Boy. Dispirited and not feeling like finding an ATM, we drove on.

Today I finally got that shrimp Po-Boy I’ve been craving. The reunion was all I’d hoped for; it was the same shop, same limited seating and counter ordering, same amazing shrimp Po-Boy. With all the tables full, I carried my prize to the car, briefly admired it like Gollum with his ring, guys1and then commenced to eating. It didn’t disappoint, even after all this time. I’m truly a fan. In addition to great food, Guy’s is also a great story.  An article on the wall describes how it was rebuilt after a fire, Eat Dat reports loyal customers chipped in to help with the renovation, a true New Orleans story.

I’m not saying it’s Guy’s is the best Po-Boy; I like Crabby Jacks for slow-roasted duck, Parkway for roast beef, Killer Po-Boys for everything, and Bevi Seaford Company on Carrollton for food even more magical than the fact that is only a 3-block walk. But Guy’s shrimp is nearly impossible to top. Then again, loving an eatery, questing after it as if it were a sacred site or its food a holy relic, isn’t just about taste.  The experience adds to the meaning. For me, Guy’s is about the joy of the first great Po-Boy I ever ate and the way it inspired me to try a variety of great places. For others, the true measure of a place may be the friends who gather within, the people who work there, or if you were lucky enough to grow up here, the connection with childhood.

Now that I know how to find Guy’s Po-Boys, I plan to come back often, but the Po-Boy quest isn’t over.  There are more places to visit and more styles to try and as I learned about Guy’s some truly classic sandwiches – their’s is chicken parmesan – aren’t even on the menu. I’ve got a lot of Po-Boys to eat.

*Bread is listed first on purpose, whether Leidenheimer or something similarly light, airy, and crispy, bread is what truly sets New Orleans Po-Boys apart.

I generally prefer my winters to be without discontent.  Hibernation is fine.  Snow is sometimes OK, but therein lies the problem.  No one really wants too much snow, or cold?.  In less than nine days, my personal winter was ranged from below 0 to above 70.  I saw one inch coatings of ice, but missed over a foot of snow.  If you’re foolish enough to keep reading, I’ll tell you all about it!

For Christmas I decided to take Amtrak – sometimes Am Track in Greenwood – home.  Boarding in Greenwood meant getting on just in time for dinner and swapping tornado warnings for ice storms.  Not too much to say about the train, it’s always a good trip; this time I went with the sleeper car.  Free meals, a special lounge in Chicago, and as one of my students pointed out, avoiding waking up to crying babies and someone else’s urine on the floor.*  By the next afternoon I was home!  My brother arrived a few hours later, safely through rapidly accumulating ice.

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By midnight, the power was out and would stay out for two days.  This meant lots of problem solving . . . where to find gas for the generator, should we put the prime rib on the gas grill, how much smoke from the fireplace is too much?  My brother and I went on a two hour search for a Little Caesars Hot and Ready pizza.  When we found a store that was open, we bought three.

Fortunately, by Christmas Eve the power was back on and things started getting back to normal.  We interspersed visits with family and cutting up all the limbs in the yard.  Despite the difficulties, the winter really was beautiful and the bad weather probably kept us all together a little more, there was no running out to make social calls.  After a week, I’d had enough of winter and took the train back to Mississippi.  What better place to beat the cold weather than Big Bend National Park in Texas, a place whose definition of “seasonal” is closing facilities during the summer months!

I picked up my friend Sarah at the airport, and headed out.  The plan was simple, Memphis to Hot Springs to Austin, make Big Bend by New Years Eve.  Multiple opportunities to fill up my passport with park service stamps.  Hot Springs is a tourist traps from another century.  More than just bath houses and large hotels, it turns out Hot Springs was a draw for professional baseball teams and gangsters in the early 20th century.  We got burgers at the historic Ohio Club, once a gambling house favored by Al Capone.  There really is a lot to see in the park, the Tufa Trail is a must and the renovated Fordyce bathhouse is a great way to learn about Imagebathhouse culture of the early 20th century.  If hot baths and “needle” showers weren’t enough, various types of mechanical and electrical therapy were available.  The therapeutic part of the building actually looked more like a museum of torture.  I contented myself with a glass of healing waters from a nearby spring.  Not feeling much in the way of effects, I filled a bottle for the road.

An hour down the road, my obsession with collecting NPS stamps asserted itself and we visited Bill Clinton’s boyhood home.  The next day we also checked out Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park.  After that, it was time to get serious.  Hotels and restaurants behind us, we were slated to make camp at about 5000 feet, in the Chisos Basin of Big Bend National Park.  We settled in during the last few hours of 2013.  A bottle of champaign, the occasional shooting star, a campsite far-off counting down the seconds until the new year.  All set to the backdrop of so many stars and the silhouettes of looming mountains that we would see so clearly the next morning.  Such a different New Year’s from last year, memories of searching out friends in the crowds of New Orleans.  It’s a good thing too, because I really need a different year this year.

Three days in Big Bend flew by.  Temperatures were cold at night, but comfortable.  During the day, the weather was great for hiking.  We climbed Emery Peak, the highest in the park.  The five-mile trail to the summit wraps up about fifty vertical feet short.  From there on out, it’s a scramble.  Not the most exposed and certainly not difficult, but still pretty aggressive for a hiking trail.  We took the long way home, logging about thirteen miles before heading for the ruins of a hot spring.  I finally got that soak, and it felt great!  

The next day we did the Lost Mine Peak Trail, a moderate hike deep into the Chisos Mountains.  The views were unbelievable.  The afternoon found us leaving the mountains to explore the two other parts of the park, the desert and the river.  The Ross Maxwell scenic drive winds past old farms, canyons, plateaus, and millions of years of volcanic activity before ending up at the amazing Santa Elena Canyon.  Here the Rio Grande escapes the high rock of the canyon it carved over so many millennia.  All I wanted to do was get into a kayak, but mine was at home.  Another trip for another time.  Relegated to instead gaze with awe upon the river, we cut our reveries short and headed up the Old Maverick Road to Terlingua.  I had a taste for some authentic Mexican food!  The Old Maverick Road was our first dirt road, but it didn’t even serve as a warm-up for what we’d get into the next day.

  

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 On our final day in the park, we hiked out to the Window, a narrow opening in the rock where runoff from the basin pours down to the desert floor.  Two miles of steadily down-hill leads to a slot canyon of intensely polished rock.  A pile of boulders is queued up, having been washed this far only to defiantly resist the day when torrential rains will finally wash them over the edge, through spray and infinity and into a completely different world below.  It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, and definitely the best hike in the park.  During the afternoon, we checked out the Grapevine Hills, an ancient volcanic dome full of thousands of unbelievable rock formations and Boquillas Canyon on the eastern side of the park.  We finished the day with a trip down the Old Ore Road.  This twenty-six mile two-track follows the route of the original ore trucks carrying earth elements from Mexico to the train depot at Marathon.  It’s suggested that only four-wheel-drive vehicles with high clearance undertake this trip.  Three hours later, I could see why.  There are rocks to be climbed over, innumerable stream crossings, sand, and many more rocks.  The views of the desert make it all worth while, as does Ernst Tinaja.  This short hike leads to a canyon cut by water washing off the nearby plateau.  On its way to the desert floor, this water, carved several tinajas, large bowls in the rock that still hold water, despite the desert heat – by now it was well over 70, and truly shorts-Imageweather.  When we parked at the Ernst Tinaja, we ran into a group of college kids who were laid out on top of their Tahoe like giant reptiles of the American desert.  I couldn’t help but think of Portis’s novel Gringos, and the gang it’s narrator finds in the desert.  Solitude immediately returned, however.  For the remainder of the drive we would see no one, just a lonely Astrovan inexplicably far down the road for a two-wheel-drive.  Reaching the end of the line just as daylight began to fail, we were rewarded with amazing views of dagger yuccas and the Chisos Mountains silhouetted by the setting sun, a reminder of all we had seen and all that remained to be explored in Big Bend.

The next day we broke camp and headed home.  In a final expression of my own obsessiveness, we stopped by the park’s Persimmon Visitor Center so I could collect the last of the Big Bend stamps – no, the stamps for the centers are not different, they just give the name of the visitor center.  From there it was off to Fort Davis Historic Site, then all the way across Texas on I-20.  Over 500 miles.  The next morning we made Louisiana and visited Cane River Creole National Historic Park, climbed Driskill Mountain – the highest point in Louisiana, and the 48th highest state highpoint (for you Photo Hunt fans, notice three days of hiking did nothing to my gut, but at least I’m rocking some Spartan pride!) – and visited Poverty Point National Monument, before getting back home to Marks amid winter weather advisories.

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Fortunately, we didn’t get any snow or ice, but wind chills pushed the temperature below 0 and I briefly had to contend with a frozen pipe.  Ah, the fickleness of winter.  That was Monday, and today we’re in the 60s with brilliant sun.  A yard full of leaves is calling me back to life off the road; it’s a beautiful day to get something done and the work is extra urgent as there’s no telling what the weather has in store.   I must admit I can’t wait to see what the next two months bring.

P.S.  I just got a twitter.  This comes at a serious cost to my curmudgeon credibility.  @pdbuilds  (I think)  I don’t expect to be very good at it, but please consider following me so I’m not a loser with no followers.  I know you don’t have much to gain for it; will you at least think about it?  Maybe even pray about it.

* That has not been my experience on Amtrak.  Well, not the urine.

This is the point in the trip where getting home is the most exciting part.  That’s not to say it isn’t fun traveling, but after a month away from the house, settling back in is something to look forward to.  It’s hard to say when this momentum shift occurred; this morning I had an ambitious itinerary.  This afternoon, after making a stop at the Jesse James house in St. Joseph, I found myself changing plans and pushing toward home.  I considered going straight through, but that would make for a really long night.  Instead, I’m resting in Springfield Missouri.  I’ll visit the Wilson’s Creek battlefield tomorrow, then head for home.

In the meantime, I’ll catch up on the adventures from the last few days.  Thursday morning I got up early, 4:00 am, Imageto climb Devil’s Tower.  Although this is a fairly short climb, about four hours, the forecast for the day was so extreme, we wanted to be done climbing before it started to get warm.  I climbed with another guide; unlike Exum, Tower Guides is just one person.  I was the only client for this summit attempt.  This was different, but Andy was really nice and easy to climb with.  We climbed the Durrance crack, including the leaning tower, then traversed through the meadows and up to the top.  The climbing was lots of fun, although I didn’t climb very strong.  I even slipped at one point on the second pitch.  This trip was about reconnecting to my love of climbing, and in that sense I was entirely successful, but I’m certainly not in the condition I used to be in.

After rappelling off the tower, we stopped by a store outside the park for beers.  There’s no better way to celebrate a successful climb than splitting a six-pack at ten in the morning while sitting on a deck and watching other groups climb through binoculars.  I could have sat there all day, but I had a long drive ahead of me.

The next stop wad Deadwood in the Black Hills.  This town was built on mining, peopled by true western legends, then revived by HBO.  I wasn’t sure what to expect of this mountain town.  What I found was a casino destination which would make Al Swearengen proud.  The town is full of small to medium-sized gambling establishments, while certainly not tastefully done – what casino destinations are? – the town retains much of its historic character.  ImageDeadwood’s famous citizens can be found in a hilltop cemetery.  I found the graves of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Sheriff Bullock – his gravesite is a particularly tough hike.  Although there is still a Number 10 Saloon in town, it is not the same one in which Hickok held the legendary aces over eights.  Every such establishment seems to invoke the name of some significant western personality.

The Black Hills are beautiful, I hope to make it back soon to climb there and check out the nearby Badlands.  I originally planned to drive through the Badlands, but a heavy rain refocused my efforts on getting to Minnesota as soon as possible.

The next day I turned toward Minneapolis for an afternoon wedding of two of my friends from Mississippi.  On the way there I stopped of in Northfield, Minnesota, the site of the infamous defeat of the James gang.  The bank they attempted to rob has been maintained as a museum and most of the significant buildings from that era still stand.  It’s easy to stand in the street and imagine the town folks who fought back when they received word their bank was being robbed.  This setback certainly cost the James gang most of its momentum.

Like so many cities of the middle west, Minneapolis seems like a great place during the month of July.  I strolled through the Mill Ruins Park and ate a Juicy Lucy.  At times like this it’s important to remember that in six months the city will be unlivable.  Any city can seem great in the summer.  Winter is another story.

Today I continued on the Jesse James trail, visiting the site of his final defeat.  The house in St. Joseph where he was shot by Robert Ford still stands, although it has been moved several times.  It is well worth the visit.  I had also planned to visit the James Farm in Kearney, but by the time I finished in St. Joseph, it was too late.  I’ll have to visit the farm another time; there’s a lot of great history in the Kansas City area, including the Negro League Baseball museum and the city of Lawrence with its civil war history.  Of course there’s also BBQ.  I’ll pass through there another time.

Tomorrow should not be an unbearable drive, although without a working iPod, the last few drives have been harder.  NPR can sometimes be quite unreliable.  At one point in Wyoming, the only thing on the dial was an NPR station.  Today in Iowa, I was able to find about ten stations at once, including about six consecutive stations, although none of them had a worthwhile signal.  Certain areas of Missouri have been no help at all.  I even listened to several hours of Cardinals baseball.  I’ll find some way to stay occupied tomorrow, but for today I’m glad to be almost done with hotels.
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Climbing the Grand

The idea of hitting the road was based on a need to get out of my routine, leave the house behind, and see new country.  Never having been west of Iowa – excepting Alaska, of course – the Rocky Mountain region was a logical idea.  A road trip, however, needs a specific destination for everything else to coalesce around.  For me, this became the Grand Teton.  I’d wanted to attempt this peak for more than ten years.  Now seemed like the right time, I was going on the road and could afford to pay a guide.  There is no bigger name in Teton guiding than Exum; I’m glad I chose to climb with them.  Not only were the guides personable and highly skilled, Exum is truly a living museum of mountaineering.  All three guides I worked with were well versed in the history and tradition of climbing in the West and beyond.

Climbing is a great adventure, but any honest climber will tell you it is not without risk.  As I prepared for the first day of climbing, a helicopter passed overhead several times.  Another client asked the guide if the helicopter was Imagedeployed for sight-seeing reasons.  Instantly serious, the guide intimated that something was wrong, likely a search and rescue.  The next day, we received word they had been searching for a lost climber.  This individual may have left a guided group, then fallen.  After searching for most of the day, searchers found the body in an unaccessible chimney.  Such stories go around the climbing community, not having read of the incident, I’m not sure if it’s true.  If it is, I pray the climber and his/her family.  True or not, such news stays with you.  While experiencing the awe of the beautiful vistas or the sense of accomplishment after a difficult pitch it’s sobering to remember that some of those who will never leave the mountain felt the same awe and exhilaration.  Maybe even in that same spot.  Many people climb because the mountain makes them feel really alive or connected to the world, there is a paradigm shift inherent in facing danger or overcoming obstacles.  It’s important to never forget the risks.

I was lucky to be paired with three other climbers who were all extremely skilled and great companions.  After two days of training, during which we learned walking in coils and the forgotten art of the hip belay, the summit bid began on Sunday, June 15.  The first day involved a little climbing and lots of hiking.  We gained 5,000 feet of elevation in eight miles on a trail that gradually shifted from earth to rocky earth, to boulders, and finally loose gravel and rock.  At the end of the hike, a huge advantage of climbing with Exum is the fact they maintain a hut on the lower saddle, between the Middle and Grand Tetons.  We went to sleep early in anticipation of an alpine start the next day.  Sleeping at over 11,500 feet isn’t easy, especially if you are filled with anticipation.  I finally dozed off, but it didn’t last; we were eating breakfast by 3:30 and on the mountain before 4:00.  After an hour of hiking up a steep slope, the alpine dawn broke through the darkness and we roped up for the first belayed pitch.  At this time, a decision had to be made concerning the route. The cloudy weather and potential for severe storms dictated we take the Owen-Spaulding route.  While many of us would have preferred the harder Exum Ridge, the OS is safer in bad weather.  Safety, fortunately, is a non-negotiable!

The climbing was fun, and as the storm held off, we traversed across the mountain to finish on the Upper Exum Ridge.  It made for memorable climbing.  One pitch in particularly, purportedly dubbed “The Boulder Problem in the Sky” by Alex Lowe will stick with me: several fun moves right below the summit, including a lie back off the ridge and a gigantic undercling.  We reached the summit by 8:30, just as light clouds were beginning to whip everywhere.  After enjoying the view for a few moments and discussing our thoughts on the upcoming NFL season, we began the descent.  Our guide, Mike, spoke what we already knew: we were only halfway there.

Indeed, the descent took almost as long.  We were moving fast to avoid the weather, down climbing pitch after pitch.  We reached the hut by noon, and the cars by 4:30 in the afternoon.  Exhausted, I wondered how some do the entire trip in a day.  I’ll say it again, I’ve got to change my life.  The pain in my lungs and legs reminded me that I’m simply not in shape.

Yellowstone and the Little Bighorn Battlefield

After a long climb, spending the next day in a car is a recipe for stiff legs, but that’s exactly what I had to do.  Seeing Yellowstone and the Little Bighorn Battlefield in one day, while also crossing much of Wyoming, is a tall order.  I wish I had more time for Yellowstone.  I hit the highlights, Old Faithful – I didn’t have an hour to wait for it to do its thing – and Mammoth Hot Springs, before taking the advice of my cousin’s wife and visiting the Boiling River.  This river, the discharge from the hot springs, enters the Gardiner River in a series of shallow pools.  The sensation of standing with one leg in cold water and the other in hot water while fighting a fairly strong current truly is remarkable.  If you only see one thing in Yellowstone, this is a great thing to see.

I must admit that as Amy, who is from Montana, described this phenomena to me several weeks ago, I imagined I Imagewas getting the inside scoop, a secret part of Yellowstone.  Sadly, that is not so (I doubt the park has any secrets). The Boiling River is just as full of tourists as other park destination.  To underscore the point, as I was walking out I passed a couple speaking German, and yes, the man was wearing a Speedo.  So much for when in Rome.

The Boiling River is just across the Montana state line, which adds another new state to my list.  After driving for several hours and crossing just a bit of the state, I reached the Little Bighorn Battlefield.  I love history, particularly Imagebattlefields, so stopping here was logical.  Like so many battlefields, this on was possessed by an eerie calm.  Grasslands spread for miles across rolling hills punctuated by the occasional marker pointing out the spot where a combatant is known to have fallen.  Rising above it all is last stand hill, with its marker for the soldiers and momument to the Native Americans who fought to keep their land and maintain their way of life.  I could have spent a day there, but instead I bought a passbook – something I should have done as a kid – got my stamp, and set out to reach Buffalo, Wyoming by dinner time.

The Occidental

Like so many other stops, I picked Buffalo because it has a gem of a historic hotel, the Occidental.  The guest list Imagehere is even more epic than at the Delaware.  Calamity Jane, Teddy Roosevelt, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid all stayed here.  Owen Wister did too, he may have written parts of his seminal western, The Virginian, while in the hotel.  It is a beautiful and well preserved place, still maintaining its original bar.  The rooms are also quite authentic to the period.  Mine had an actual water closet – yes, the bathroom was in a closet!  The food was really worth rushing back for; you can’t get an Elk filet in Mississippi.

Wild Animals I have Eaten

While on the topic of Elk filets, I should take a moment to list other western fauna I have chewed on.  Buffalo steaks, with a somewhat Asian marrinade in Leadville.  A cheeseburger with buffalo chili at one of the restaurants in the park.  An elk burger at the bar in the Million Dollar Cowboy, Jackson, Wyoming.  An antelope burger at the Corral Drive-In, Gardiner, Montana.  All were great, with the taste of wild game at a minimum.  Equally cool is the fact that at different times I spotted members of each species in their native habitat.  What a place!  In addition, I also had several great brisket sandwiches and good Mexican food.  I will have to change my life when I get back!

Today I will continue east to Devil’s Tower, where I will attempt another climb that has been a goal for a while.  This shorter climb should not require a hut or an overnight.  With my list of historic hotels exhausted, there’s no telling where I’ll sleep tonight, but I have a tent, just in case.

Perhaps the biggest surprise thus far has been the fact that the notoriously spartan climber’s ranch at Grand Teton National Park has WiFi.  A good thing too, not I could have stayed in Jackson long enough to make even the most basic of posts.

I got to the park yesterday after a long drive through Colorado and across much of Wyoming.  Most of the drive was smooth, uneventful.  Wyoming is really huge country.  Parts of the state seem to stretch on endlessly, monotonously, until suddenly – probably not the right word – a minor change in the tint of the rock, the altitude, or some other geologic feature instantly rekindles the interest.  The park itself is beautiful, a lush green after hours of dry rangeland.  Buffalo roam free; a small herd of Elk was grazing right by the climber’s ranch.

Today I passed from simply admiring the gigantic peaks that are a such a presence in the park to climbing upon them.  The first day of climbing was fairly basic, a nice refresher course – after all, I really haven’t done this since moving to Mississippi.  Although we didn’t go very high up the mountain, the scenery was amazing.  Turning from the rock for a moment reveals Jenny Lake and the broad plains on the other side of the Snake River.  Using the ears instead brings Hidden Falls to the forefront, a thunderous torrent which constantly reminded us of the importance of communicating clearly and loudly.  Tomorrow we’ll return to the area to try out some harder routes.

With a small and fairly proficient group, we finished early.  Before I had made up my mind about how to use this remaindered time, the sky clouded up and threatened rain.  So instead of swimming or trying to rent a kayak, I decided to check out Jackson [Hole] and stock up on a few supplies.  Jackson in a town a person must be adequately prepared for; the wilderness provides not such readiness.  Crowded with both shops and people, it reminds me of a slightly more upscale Gatlinburg.  There are almost as many t-shirt stores as New Orleans; the most cliche of the shirts being aware in both disparate locales.  The restaurants had lines by 5:30, probably owing to the fact that so many people are from more easterly time-zones.  On top of everything else, nothing sends a clearer message that I don’t belong than a town where Sotherby’s real estate division maintains an office.  I did not stop in to inquire as to how much it would cost to buy a piece of paradise.

This is not to say I didn’t like Jackson, I just wasn’t ready for it.  As a whole, I find the kitchiness cute.  While in town, I passed though a nice mountaineering shop, had a great dinner, and bought supplies.  I even considered a souvenir t-shirt (before you ask, it was NOT the one that reads D.A.D.D. Dads Against Daughters Dating, although that specimen is available).  

All in a good days work here in Wyoming.  By the way, sorry to not include pictures.  I’m having a hard time capturing the beauty and the WiFi that I’m so happily using is a little slow.

Greetings from Leadville, Colorado.  Elevation 10,152 feet (if I remember correctly).  This is certainly the highest I have ever stood above the sea.  Turns out such heights make the beer stronger.  Or maybe it’s just me.  This town is just as cool as the one I just left.  I wish I had more time.

ImageAfter a breakfast of Heuvos Rancheros at the Plaza hotel, it was time to get back on the road.  While yesterday was a forced march over highways, today promised two-laners and even a little gravel.  The first stop, though, was Santa Fe.  I’ve always heard about the legendary hipness of the town; I also needed to make an REI run.  REI is in the Railyards area, a cool, somewhat downtown part of the city.  After provisioning myself for the next part of the trip, I spent a little while walking this unique area.  The ubiquitous chile could even be found hanging from the roofs of buildings.  Sadly, I didn’t buy any silver jewelry or western style blankets, but I got some great brisket – Texas BBQ, PJ – and a chipotle fudge latte.

The drive north was one of the coolest yet.  It passed between expansive high desert, lush river valleys, and high mountains, with the Sangre de Christo mountains always to the east.  ImageIncreasingly desolate, I began to worry about fuel.  Crossing into Colorado, however, brought a little more civilization.  Southern Colorado even had large farms in the valleys.  

One priority of the trip was visiting a ghost town.  Based on descriptions online, I settled on St. Elmo, about fifteen miles west of my route.  After making the climb between Mounts Princeton and Antero – actually my car made the climb – I reached the ghost town.  Having been raised on pictures of desolate Bodie, I was surprised to find St. Elmo a happening place.  It seemed to have more to offer than Freeport.  The overcast weather didn’t make for great pictures, so I got back on the road.

An hour later, I reached Leadville, home of another historic hotel, the Delaware.  Leadville is a beautiful and fairly 

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well preserved town.  Braving the rain, I found my way to the 

Tennessee Pass Cafe for enchiladas and buffalo steak.  I also tried a local beer, I think I was called Altitude – makes sense, right?  Sweet, with all the flavor of hops but little bitterness.  Sadly, though, a one-night-stand; I’ll never find this beautiful beer in Mississippi.  After that, I stopped into a nearby bar.  One of the things that sadly limits my road experiences is an inability to talk to strangers.  This time, however, struck up a conversation with another patron of the bar.  He clued me in to even more of Leadville’s history.  Doc Holliday’s last gun fight was here, although the building is no longer extant.  Other members of the Wyatt Earp clique also passed through this silver mining town; the James gang may even have maintained a claim outside town.

Although I have five hundred more miles to cover tomorrow in order to reach the Tetons, I plan to take a bike tour of the town before leaving.  Leadville is a beautiful town with a lot to see.  Maybe I can even find me some silver!

Almost two weeks into my world tour and the stats are surprising.  Three flights, three timezones, three states visited for the first time.  Nearly one thousand miles since getting off the plane yesterday.  There is quite a bit to say, and since I haven’t written in a while, this is shaping up to be a long blog.  As I sense the social mores related to blogging frown upon creating a single monolith, I will break the following into sections.

New England is not Mississippi (July 3 – 9)

My brother, Kevin, bought a house nearly six years ago in Connecticut.  I made it out to visit just after he took ownership; I can’t believe it took me this long to get back out there!  It’s a cool place.  To be sure, though, it is NOT Mississippi. 1) there’s no talking to or waving at people in the street, 2) people say what they’re thinking to you, instead of waiting until you leave to say something.  One of Kevin’s friends said I sound like Balky from Perfect Strangers.  I disagree and hope he was just trying to reference classic 80s TV.  A different person said I looked like a picnic.  No one up there wears gingham.  3) there’s stuff to do there.

Of course it helps that Boston is no farther from Kevin’s house than Memphis is from mine.  Even the most loyal resident of the mid South must admit my brother got the better end of that deal.  We spent a day wandering around Boston.  ImageThe Sam Adams brewery was a highlight!  The tour guide was hilarious but sampling is always the best part.  We finished up with an IPA called Whitewater.  It is much better than the easier-to-find Latitude 48.  After the brewery we covered some ground on the freedom trail.  The site of the battle of Bunker Hill was worth the walk.  Standing in the quiet, well kept neighborhood, it’s almost impossible to image the sound of cannon and musket.  I might have thought I was in the wrong place, were it not for the giant obelisk and its 297 steps.  The view from the top really is worth the walk.

Boston was also participating in OP Sail.  This event, last held in 2000, is convened roughly once each decade when there is something significant to observe.  Sailing vessels – tall ships is what they’re often called – come from around the world and are open for touring.  In Boston we toured the Columbian ship – they were cooking something amazing, you could smell it all over the ship – and the Indonesian sImagehip.  The Indonesians evidently have a reputation for really enjoying themselves.  They were even selling beer along with the standard t-shirts.  I passed on all items, there was no cooler in sight, a bad sign . . .

OP Sail/Sail Fest in New London was even bigger.  When I called about a month ago to make plans for the trip, Kevin pitched the idea of staying a few extra days.  There would be events going on in conjunction with the two hundredth anniversary of the War of 1812.  I rearranged things so I could stay another weekend.  Turns out these little commemorations were actually part of a multi-national celebration known as OP Sail.  New London was celebrating its annual Sail Fest at the same time.  Saturday the festival commenced with a parade of ships.  Slowly the USCGS Eagle emerged from the offshore haze and made its way up the river in full sail.  It was followed by a mix of modern warships and sailing vessels.  The Brazilian ship Cisne Branco was also a part of the festivities.  These magnificent tall ships were awesome to tour, but a smaller vessel stole the show.  The recreation of the historic Amistad was also in port for Sail Fest.  It is a beautiful ship with an inspiring history.  I nearly stowed away.

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When not taking in the history, we found time to visit a few of New London’s various drinking establishments.  Yes,they have some, unlike Marks.  Although we visited more than several such places, one in particular stood outl.  The owner was great, the crowd fun.  Upon entering on Tuesday, we hung out with one of the off duty bartenders; he was pushing shots.  A big man with an even larger personality, we all had a lot of laughs.  Subsequent visits, however, found him on duty and unable to hang.  Drinks should not reach or exceed the top of a glass and beer doesn’t belong in a wine glass.  Although the jokes continued, the laughing began to die off.  Several guests pitched in to make sure others got their drinks.  Sail Fest weekend had truly exhausted everyone.

Despite the frenetic pace – more likely because of it – I had a great time.  It’s fun to be in a city, and I’m always glad to see my brother.  After leaving the bar Sunday evening, however, it was time to pack up.

Flying Again

I always seem to want it all.  This summer I wanted to climb in the Rockies, do some kayaking, and see my mom and brother – they live in different states.  Added to the mix was a wedding in Minnesota.  I was even considering a NOLS course for a while, but it was full.  This was to be my “summer of George,” if I could just find a way to do it all.  Itineraries changed Imagedaily.  Fed up with editing a word document, I started writing on a old piece of cardboard.  After many changes, I could do it all, I would just have to fly.

June 28:  MEM to DTW to GRR  July 3:  GRR to DTW to BDL, July 9:  BDL to DCA to MEM.  A giant triangle designed to take me to visit my mom, then my brother, then back to Memphis where a fully packed car was waiting to head due west on I-40 toward the Rocky Mountains.

I don’t, however, enjoy flying.  Airplanes stress me out more than work and grad school combined.  It’s not just fear, it’s also annoyance, like the delay in Detroit.  More annoying, however, are some of the people on the flights.  Three of the six times I boarded a plane, someone was in my seat.  They always act like they were confused.  Sometimes, I’m sure, it was true.  The last time it happened, the man in my seat should have been a row farther back.  He agreed to move.  After briefly congratulating myself on settling this confusion, I realized my error.  My correct seat was directly next to a fairly large man.  You know how this goes.  I should have just traded seats as opposed to insisting on 18D.  At least in this instance my traveling companion left the armrest down – at great personal discomfort, I’m sure.  On a previous flight, the man next to me put the middle armrest up.  There is no reason such a benevolent buffer should be removed.  Sure, a tilting armrest is helpful when you take a date to the movies.  On a plane, I celebrate a buffer.

I never made it to DCA.  Delta played its greatest trick on Sunday night as I was packing.  I got a prerecorded message saying my flight was cancelled.  After considerable wrangling over the phone, and being offered a flight six hours later, I was finally on a flight leaving at roughly the same time.  It even promised to get in slightly earlier.  I would have to, however, fly through Minneapolis.  (BDL to MSP to MEM)  I’m sure that when I tell you this new flight had only a 30 minute layover, you will be able to guess the rest . . . The pilot’s seat on the first plane required professional help, net price, fifteen minutes.  After landing, our gate was occupied.  Ten more minutes lost.  A Delta staff member sealed the deal by sending me to the wrong gate.  I reached the right one just as the plane was pushing back.

Finally, a much needed laugh.  After getting put on a new flight leaving two and a half hours later, I asked the person helping me if my checked bag would still get to the right place or if it would need a new tag.  She politely reminded me that I was still flying to the same destination.

I recently made the comment that airlines are the only businesses that can routinely perform so poorly and still have customers.  There is no doubt that the safe and quick manner in which they get us from point A to point B is what makes vacation possible.  Although I’d prefer not to have to deal with cancelations and delays, it is a small price to pay to have it all.

Westward

The plane from Minnesota passed to the west of Memphis, turned over Tunica and the lush fields of the delta and came into Memphis from the south.  My bag had made it.  At the time, the part played by the airplane was over.  I was on the road.  The plan had been to head straight West on I-40.  Not the most efficient way to reach the Tetons, but I wanted to see New Mexico and Colorado.  I’d hoped to clear most of Oklahoma yesterday, but with the delay, I didn’t even make Oklahoma City.  Not much to say about that first day of driving.  The hotel was surprisingly cheap, I didn’t even bother asking if there was WiFi.

This morning dawned cloudy, and I fought rain early.  Tiring of music, I put on Moby Dick somewhere west of Oklahoma City.  Not probably the best choice in audio books; the details require careful listening.  Time seems to go faster, though.  By now I was in the old Route 66 corridor.  I commemorated this by stoping at one of the museums along the way.

The beauty of the Texas panhandle struck me, even in the rain.  The chiseled ravines, impossible hills, and expansive visits were not at all what I had expected.  In Amarillo I set out in search of Texas BBQ, brisket.  I ended up at Smokey Joe’s on the old Route 66 corridor.  Despite the name, there was no que.  Equally exciting, though, they offered a green chili chesseburger.  I had been introduced to this concept by the Food Network, but had never had one.  It was well worth the stop.

As the Pequot pushed off from Nantucket, it was leaving the last of the panhandle behind.  Now in New Mexico, the broad rangelands and occasional mesas began to give way to true mountains.  I missed the chance to photograph Imagea great ghost town at Cuervo, NM.  If you ever pass through there, get a few shots.  Finally, after a long day, I pulled into Las Vegas.  New Mexico.  A beautiful high desert town, the downtown was built on a Plaza.  Right on the plaza is a hotel that has survived since the early 1880s.  A secondary focus of this trip is seeing historical sights.  A historic hotel is always better than a chain.  After finishing the book I’d been reading while soaking in a hot spring, I had tamales and posole for dinner.  There were more green chilis.

Tomorrow, some business: I’ll swing through Santa Fe and stop at REI to make a few final buys.  Then it’s straight up 285 through the mountains to another historic hotel.  We’ll see if they have WiFi.