Sunday, July 19, 2015

Maybe You Can Go Home Again

It was hard to leave Glacier, but somehow I managed to get myself and the trailer down to Missoula on the morning of Thursday, July 2nd.  I was pretty happy to be driving past Flathead Lake again.  When I drove past the lake on the way up to Glacier, I was afraid I was going to roll both truck and trailer into the lake because I was having so much trouble keeping my eyes on the road. 

In yet another example of how awesome people can be, my buddy Matt spoke up and mentioned that his parents live outside of Missoula.  Being good people, they were happy to give me a place to crash, as well as a place to leave all my stuff while I flew back to NY - all while they continue about a couple of the busiest lives I've encountered recently.  Craig & Barbara were out of town on the 2nd, but I drove to their house and dropped my stuff, and then I was driven to the airport by a friend of theirs.  All this was arranged by two people I had yet to meet, who knew very little about me except that I was their son's hang gliding buddy.   

Thursday was a full day of travel - I left Columbia Falls, MT around 7:30am MST to drive to Missoula, spent some time hanging around MSO since my initial flight was delayed, miraculously not only made the connection in Chicago but had time to eat dinner, and landed at Newark a little after 11pm EST.  
Outdoor bar at MSO - I've definitely waited out delays in worse places

Spent the night in a hotel in Newark, and spent Friday traveling up to Hang Glide New England in New Braintree, MA.  This was a day full of logistics.  First, I Ubered to the NJ Transit station to hop a train to Penn Station.  Ended up on an Amtrak train, where I narrowly escaped paying an extra $68 instead of the $5 NJT fare.  Fun times.  Then, I took 2 subway lines uptown & across to the east side to Grand Central to get the train up to Bridgeport, CT.  My cousin, Donna, met me at Grand Central to drop off a tent/air mattress/etc so I'd have a place to sleep for the weekend.  My "hang gliding husband" Big Mike met me at the Bridgeport station, and after a quick stop at his house to pick up his stuff and my glider, plus another stop at one of the more well-stocked beer & wine emporiums I've had the pleasure of visiting, we were off to MA.   

We arrived at Hang Glide New England just in time to see a bunch of the usual suspects breaking down their gliders.  Nick Caci offered to let me fly his glider since it was already set up, but by that time I was pretty beat from all the travel, so we just set up camp, ran a couple of errands and inhaled some Mexican food.  The next day was pretty rainy and cold, so we drove to Sturbridge to see a movie (Ted 2 - super crass but very funny) and eat and drink some more. Donna met up with us just in time for the movie and hung out for the rest of the weekend. 
Per Mike, "This is what happens when you give a honey badger some beer"

Sunday was a beautiful day.  We met some new people and caught up with a bunch of old friends.  I was the second one to launch and I got a great flight.  However, I was flying my Falcon, which I hadn't flown in over 3 years, and I was borrowing a vario because mine was dead.  Even though it's theoretically an "easy" glider to fly, the Falcon has no glide to speak of, so I was extremely conscious of the drift I was experiencing as I thermaled up - and what a beautifully thermalling glider it is, I must add.  Basically thermalled itself.  I was also a bit nervous about the landing, but I had a great landing - probably could have stuck it, but I was ready to run, so I took a couple of steps and the glider settled right onto my shoulders.  Before I had unhooked my harness, I was met by Gary, who wanted some pictures for his portfolio, and I had the special treat of seeing Marilyn, whom I almost never get to see even though I run into Rhett every few months.  Overall, it was a great weekend - it was so awesome to see everyone, and I can't thank Mike and Donna enough for carting me around and making it all happen.  
Donna and I drove home to her place in Copiague, Long Island, in a relaxed and happy state, and took it easy on Monday, just catching up on work, so that we'd have our energy for Tuesday.  On the morning of Tuesday, the 7th, Donna and I drove out to Yaphank to pick up my favorite (and coincidentally, only) niece Julieanna and took her to Adventureland.  This is a tiny little amusement park with 2 roller coasters - and I'm using the term "roller coaster" very loosely.  However, Julieanna isn't bothered by the lack of roller coasters because she...won't...go...on...them.  This revelation shook me to the core.  I had to question whether we're really related.  By the end of the day I was pretty impressed, though - in the morning she didn't want to go on any water rides OR into the haunted house, but by the end of the day she was dragging me into the haunted house and asking if we could "get more wet".  I'll give her a pass on the roller coasters...this time.  The highlight (or lowlight?) of this day, however, was yet to come.  We happened upon a live musical performance, where we got to see Lil' Dawg performing live.  We were mesmerized, the same way you're unable to look away from a train wreck.  I feel I would be remiss if I didn't share this experience. This child has his own mascot. 

Julieanna is still trying to comprehend how in the world Lil' Dawg managed to land this gig
Wednesday was another work day, but I did manage to grab dinner with my mom on Long Island.  Thursday was a huge day - super busy and filled with so many of my favorite NY things and people.  Donna drove me to the train early in the morning so I could get my hair did by the only person I trust (one of my longest relationships at 17 years so far). Then I skipped over to Manhattan for one of THE best bagels at Ess-a-Bagel (seriously, no other bagel comes close). Got my nails did for the wedding on Saturday, then over to Sala for bacon wrapped dates, sangria & girl talk with my friend Aimee. Walked home in the rain, stopping at a natural foods store for some hard-to-find-outside-of-big-city items like kombucha & ghee, and ended the day relaxing in style at my friend Vanessa's place even though she was out of town.  I was so tired and happy at the end of that day.
Super red this time

Friday I mainly ran errands, worked, and caught up on the blog, since I had another full day ahead of me on Saturday.  First, I did another version of the NJ-NYC-LI journey utilizing various trains + Uber, checked in at the Holiday Inn in Plainview and prettied myself up for the wedding of my good friends Natalie & Brian.  (I have to give another shout-out to Big Mike and his wife for clueing me into Rent the Runway - I really didn't have any desire to purchase a new dress, but I also didn't want to wear the same one I've worn to every other function in recent history.  I got an awesome dress for a discount-store price, and shipping both ways was quick & easy.  I'd recommend it.)  Headed over to the wedding, where I caught up with a slew of other people I'd missed for too long.  The wedding was beautiful - Brian's sister officiated, Nat's friend Steven broke down in the middle of singing Unchained Melody, the two moms lit the unity candle to join their was great.  The reception was super fun - there was a good selection of beer and a carefully curated playlist for the DJ.  And so many of those in attendance are like family to me, it was just wonderful to spend time with them again.  
The happy couple
Donna picked me up on Sunday and we actually went to the beach. 
It was quite the pilgrimage to actually get to the beach, but we did it!
I hadn't been to the beach in too long to remember, so it was pretty cool, even though I picked a spot next to some kids who ended up shattering a beer bottle just inches from my leg...once we moved further up the beach, it was quite relaxing.  Monday morning I had to do laundry, but we managed to squeeze in a trip to the dock by the bay, and yes we sat on the dock of the bay...but really there were no ships rolling in.  It was a really nice peaceful place to meditate, though.  And then Donna dropped me off at the train again to start my trip back to Missoula.

I have a special talent for locating "offices" with the perfect combination of beer and wifi
I landed after 11pm MST in Missoula, and Matt's dad was there to pick me up at the airport and bring me home to set me up in my own guest suite in the basement of their beautiful house in a valley in Florence, MT with mountain views from both front and back. I mean, it's all right, if you like that kind of...gorgeous, naturally beautiful kind of place.  And I happen to LOVE that kind of gorgeous, naturally beautiful kind of place.  

As great a time as I had at home and as much as it warmed my heart and soothed my soul to catch up with everyone on the East coast, I notice that I feel more at home in the West.  I was exhausted when I landed in Missoula, but as soon as I stepped outside of the airport, I felt like I could breathe more easily.  The air smelled so good - it's one of those things that you don't realize you're missing until you experience it again.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Devils Tower & Glacier

The morning of Saturday, June 27th, I woke up still pretty sick. My voice was still unrecognizable, but I'd had my first night of actual sleep in almost a week, so I felt strong enough to drive a couple of hours. I figured I could always pull over and rest if I needed to, but Devils Tower (due to an uncorrected clerical error, there is officially no apostrophe in the name) in Wyoming sounded really cool and I thought it was doable, even in my weakened state...and I had to leave the campsite I'd had for the past couple of days no matter what, so I figured I may as well move on.  I'd had enough of South Dakota.

I am so glad that campsite was booked.  The drive went really well, and I was excited to see the Wyoming landscape.  It's so energizing for me to be in such beautiful places.
You can see the Devils Tower from pretty far away - I guess that's why the aliens chose it :)

I decided to stay at the Devils Tower KOA because it was right at the base of the monument, and the other options were all a solid 30 - 40 minutes away.  Since I was sick, I didn't want to deal with a commute.  This turned out to be my favorite campground so far.  I could see the Devils Tower itself directly from my campsite, and since the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind was filmed onsite, the campground actually shows the movie every night!
That's the Devil's Tower, in between the trailer & the car
I thought about taking a nap - I felt that the responsible thing to do would be to take a nap.  Or to get some work done, since I'd been slacking all week due to the brain fog & coughing fits.  So, I went up to the gate and bought an annual Interagency Pass, which gets me into any National Park/Monument/etc that charges an entrance fee for the next year.  One of the smartest things I've done so far.  And then I drove up the hill and spent the afternoon walking the 1.3 mile trail that circles the base of Devils Tower.  The place is so cool - it rises, almost vertically, 867 feet from its base (the summit is 1,267 feet above the valley).  Usually, there would be climbers all over it, but no climbing is allowed during the month of June because of the significance of the Tower as a sacred site to many native groups. I found the energy of the place to be very positive and I was in awe of this crazy structure.  It's made up of a bunch of hexagonal columns, formed by cracks caused by the cooling & shrinking of the rock.  

I was somewhat amazed that I made it all the way around the base.  I was pretty tired by the end, but once I passed the halfway point (very thoughtfully marked) I was obviously locked in.  I did take a quick nap, but I was excited to watch the movie in the place where it was filmed, so I headed over.  I made it about halfway through the movie when the coughing got the better of me, so I ended up watching the end of the movie on my phone.  Still a very cool evening, and far better than I would have had if I had stayed where I was instead of pushing forward.
Watching Close Encounters with the actual Devils Tower in the background

So peaceful

The next couple of days were devoted to getting to Glacier National Park.  By this time, I had a plane ticket to NY booked for Thursday July 2nd out of Missoula, so now I had a schedule to keep.  I had a feeling that I'd end up skipping Glacier if I didn't get up there before I went home, and I really didn't want to skip Glacier.  I liked the RV park in Billings, which had mountain views and a nature walk down to the river...the one in Missoula was not so nice since it was right in the city and really felt like an actual trailer park in the city.  But the drive was absolutely gorgeous and I was loving life again.
Flathead Lake

I checked into a campground...didn't love this one, either, once I found out that no showers are allowed after 10pm and the laundry room closed at 8pm.  This meant that I really had to be careful about how late I stayed at the park.  And it wasn't even fully dark by 10pm, so I found these rules to be completely ridiculous.  Another lesson learned.

Glacier was incredible, although I would have much preferred to be hiking instead of driving.  I drove the entire Going to the Sun Road, which is just a slew of breathtaking
scenery.  I was also able to explore a bit of Many Glacier.  The weather on the Eastern side of the park was kind of crappy - overcast with a low cloud base, so that many of the peaks were enshrouded.  Still very beautiful, but harder to get those "wow" pics.

After two days of exploring via car, I had to get myself packed up for the trip back to NY, so I made sure to get out of the park by 8pm (still nowhere near dark) and back to the campground to find and pack everything I would need to go flying, attend a wedding, and just hang out and catch up with all my peeps.

The next morning I drove down past Flathead Lake again, past Missoula to leave my rig in Florence, MT and hop on a flight back to Newark, NJ.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Sick as a Dog

Sunday the 21st was kind of a strange day.  I found out that a friend had passed away in a hang gliding accident.  Bertrand was such a bright spirit, and I struggle to understand why it always seems to be those bright spirits that are taken from our lives so early.  I've known Bertrand and Sami for a few years now, and I seemed to bump into them everywhere I went.  They traveled more than I did, and we had a lot of friends in common.  Bertrand could always be counted on to be upbeat and positive, pour you a glass of wine and cook you one of the best burgers you'd ever had.  He was full of life and love, and I always admired that about him.  He will be sorely missed.

So, that Sunday I had a lot of information to process. I woke up in Chadron, NE in a deserted trailer park - there were plenty of trailers but no people, except for one guy who happened to be next door to me and seemed a bit lonely.  It was pretty windy, and I debated whether I'd next-door neighbor certainly tried to convince me to stay by listing all the local sights I'd be "missing" if I left.  
My first real-life tumbleweed

But I thought about it, and I really wanted to get to Mt. Rushmore. I was only 2 hours & 15 minutes away, and this was the first major goal I'd set for a trip with very few stated goals.  I thought about what Bertrand would think I should do, and I felt that he would want me to seize the day and get whatever I could out of it.  I also figured that, if the winds really were too high, I could always stop and wait it out...but at least I would have made some progress.  So, I pushed on and I got to drive through some really beautiful country.  I stopped in Custer, SD for lunch and found Bitter Esters Brewhouse, which not only brews its own beer but makes its own sausage.  After some friendly service and good food/beer, I was still in a daze.  I continued on and stumbled upon Wind Cave National Park, which I was literally driving through before I realized it even existed.  It was a beautiful landscape, though, and cool to see bison roaming freely.

 I didn't go into the actual Wind Cave - the only way to go in there was to join a guided tour, and I just wasn't in any shape to be socializing with strangers.  So, I pushed on again towards my base in Wall, SD, near Badlands National Park.  I opted not to drivge past Mt. Rushmore at the time because it was getting late and it would have made my drive significantly longer.  I figured I'd hit it later in the week.  At that point, I just wanted to set up camp and relax. I checked into the campground, checked out Wall Drug (super famous but basically just a really big gift shop), went grocery shopping, drank a couple of beers, caught up with another friend who was processing the news about Bertrand and went to bed. 

The next day, I was still in a bit of a funk and I wasn't feeling great physically - sort of foggy, combined with coughing and congestion.  I really needed to check out the Badlands though - I was in dire need of some outdoor time and physical activity. So I took a drive through the park, which is pretty freaking awesome.  And then I went on a quick hike - just enough to get my fix but I was able to turn around when I started feeling tired.  It's this crazy beautiful landscape that makes you feel like you're walking on the moon.  I rested for a while and then went back that evening for the sunset...and at the end of the day, even though I felt worse physically, I felt somewhat better spiritually.  For me, getting outside really helps me to reset and recharge mentally & emotionally.  It's my version of self-medicating.

I woke up the next day feeling terrible.  I'd only had bronchitis once before, about a year & a half ago, but the coughing I was doing was giving me flashbacks.  I had to drive into Rapid City, about 45 minutes away, to go to an Urgent Care Center, but not before I spent a good hour on the phone with Aetna to get them to process an exception since there were no in-network providers within 300 miles.  They gave me a bunch of drugs and I figured it'd be another couple of days before I started feeling better.  Like a good little girl, I laid low the next couple of days, streaming Netflix on my phone and watching DVDs when I got tired of looking at the tiny screen. It kind of sucked being alone and being in a strange place, far from most modern conveniences.  The only food around that I could easily just pick up, without having to cook, was Dairy Queen. There were definitely a few tourist trap restaurants in town, but none of the reviews were compelling, and I just wanted some soup.  Dairy Queen doesn't have soup, though, so I ate some iceburg lettuce - I didn't have much of an appetite anyway.  Thursday morning, I still didn't feel any better, but I had an appointment in Rapid City to get my new awning installed and thought it would be cool to set up camp a bit closer to Mt Rushmore & the city for a couple of days, which is all I figured I'd need before I'd feel well enough to move on again.  

I checked into a campground I really liked - this one was in the woods, so it actually felt like I was camping in nature instead of a parking lot (which is what a lot of RV parks feel like).  I had an appointment for a massage that afternoon (my birthday present from Janice) so I figured I'd drop off the trailer and then go get massaged.  But - I had neglected to ask about a pull-through site, so when I pulled up to my designated camp site I was disappointed to see that it was, indeed, a back-in site.  This is not the end of the world, but I really hadn't practiced backing up the trailer very much, and my general strategy thus far had been to just avoid it whenever possible - which, I'd found, was pretty much all of the time.  So this would be my first attempt to actually back into a campsite.  Just to make things even more fun, this campsite was built on a hillside, so as I'm backing in, I've got a hill in front of me, sloping up from left to right.  I've got a big tree directly behind the spot where the trailer needs to go...there's a picnic table to the right of the spot where the trailer needs to go...AND there's a steep dropoff directly to the left of where the trailer needs to go.  And I'm still sick as a dog.

So, do I go back to the office and ask for a pull-though site? Hell no, I can handle this.  I'm the mother-effing Honey Badger.  I start by pulling forward, attempting to get the trailer reasonably straight.  This isn't really possible due to the configuration of the place, so I start backing in...and jumping out of the car to check that what I think I see in the mirrors is really what I see, and I'm not actually about to throw the trailer over the side of a cliff.  Back in the car, back up a bit more in the other direction, jump out and check. Back in the car, back up a bit more in the original direction, jump out and check.  I do this a few times, and I'm just getting back in the car to pull forwards again and straighten it out a bit more, when a couple of the maintenance guys come by and offer to help.  I tell them I'd love some help, and thank you very much.  Within a few more minutes we've got the trailer in pretty much the perfect spot, and one of the guys is reiterating what I've heard from basically everyone who has ever towed a trailer - the smaller ones are harder to back up because they change direction super quickly.  I tell him I'm sick, it's the first time I've ever had to back it up, and I'm sure I'll get the hang of it.  

Now all I have to do is disconnect the trailer from the truck, and zip on over to the inn where I'm getting my massage.  I disconnect the chains, pull the lighting cord out of the socket, and start raising the trailer.  This will get the trailer's hitch high enough that I can just pull the car forward and go.  Only the damn thing won't come off the hitch ball.  I keep cranking it up, and it's pulling the truck higher and higher along with it.  I jump on it, I shake it, the fucker won't budge.  I let it back down and try jumping & shaking.  Nothing. I am almost crying at this stage because I am literally sick and tired and I am this close to a relaxing massage, if I can just get the car separated from the trailer so I can drive to the inn.  At some point I notice that the lock on the hitch is raised, but not completely. I raise it fully, start cranking up the trailer again, and hear the satisfying sound of metal on metal that means the hitch ball is separating from the coupler.  Hall-freaking-llujah!   I'm free!  I feel like I just won a million dollars.  

If I'd had the energy (and the place hadn't been like 15 miles away), I would have skipped over to my massage.  But, I had a nice drive through the mountains and arrived at the completely adorable Summer Creek Inn & Spa a half hour early.  Had a lovely cup of chamomile tea outside on the patio while I waited, and then had a relaxing massage even though I was coughing through most of it.  Thanks Janice!

At this point, I had hardly slept that whole week.  I was in a daze, and everything was harder for me than it needed to be because I was just so completely exhausted.  I was getting maybe 40 minutes of uninterrupted sleep at any one time.  I was really hoping that I'd get a decent sleep once I was so relaxed, but because the coughing always got worse when I laid down, I was doomed to repeat the same coughing fits that had kept me up the rest of the week.  By Friday morning, I was so frustrated.  I had been laying low, thinking that would help me recover, but not feeling any better and getting more and more bored by the minute.  Mt. Rushmore had become a joke in my mind - I'd been in the area for 5 days and still hadn't seen the thing.  I wasn't super excited about seeing Mt. Rushmore, but I felt like it was the kind of thing you should probably see at some point in your life, and since I had the time and was in the area, it needed to be on the list.  I drove by Mt. Rushmore and took a couple of pics just so I could cross something off my list and feel like I was doing something.  I didn't feel like it was worth paying $11 to park, so I just did the drive by and moved on.
Yup, there it is...

And then I went back to the Urgent Care Center and cried at another doctor that I was so frustrated.  She gave me a Z-Pak and some cough syrup with codeine, and I exhaled.  I went home, watched 3 more DVDs, and I actually slept that night.  I got a couple hours at a time, maybe a total of 5 hours...which felt like a LOT of sleep compared to the none I'd been getting all week.  

I was scheduled to check out the next morning, but thought one more day of true rest would be good for me.  However, I would have had to move to another campsite.  Since that means disconnecting power, water, and sewer, hitching up, unhitching, and reconnecting all of those things anyway, I decided to just move on.  And boy, was I glad I made that decision.  I'll tell you all about it in my next post :)