Mary & Christine’s Big Adventure- Part 1

Some would say that dragging my 79-year-old terminally ill mother on a road trip, totaling 3,781 miles in 16 days across 11 states, was a bad idea. But here’s the thing…

It was her idea.

When I decided to provide my mother with one last great vacation, I asked her to answer three questions:

Q1: International or domestic?

Cruise ship naturally came as an early choice due to ease of travel for someone with limited mobility. My mom broke her hip some years before and now has trouble walking long distances. But she also has anemia and immunosuppression due to blood cancer (MDS). Cruise ships can be disease farms.

As much as she wanted to go to Europe (Ireland) or some far flung island in the pacific (Hawaii), if anything were to go wrong medically, we were much better off remaining in the lower 48 where I could just make a U-turn and go home.

A1: Domestic

Q2: Do you want to go somewhere new, somewhere you have always wanted to go yet never had the chance? Or do you what to go places you’ve visited in years past for some nostalgia?

“Well, I don’t know!” was her answer. She wanted to go to Crater lake in Oregon (new). She wanted to go to Montreal to visit the cathedral (old). She wanted to go to Charleston to visit Fort Sumter which she missed last visit (old). She wanted to visit historical sites in Texas (new).

A strong idea came back to visit Amish country in Pennsylvania, something she’d seen a lot of on TV. It took a few conversations to really help mom understand that this was very likely the last big trip she would take in her life. I wasn’t subtle.

“Mom, do you really want your last road trip to be a visit with weird religious luddites?”
“Well, no… let’s go Southeast to Pensacola and Charleston.”
“And Savannah. I’ve never been. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
“And Savannah.”

A2: Nostalgia tour

Q3: Do you want to travel and stay in one place or do the usual ‘Mounts Family Vacation’ where we jam in as much activity as possible?

I don’t even know why I asked other than as I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate slowing down while I am not at work. But my mom’s retired life is slow all the time, so she wanted to speed it up a little. There is just so much to see and do in the world and never enough time to take it all in.

She wanted it all. I accommodated.

A3: Two weeks of insane travel with the buffer of a four-day July 4th weekend for me to be a slug and recover.

And so, on June 14th, I set out to Peoria, Illinois to visit my family and strap mom into my Chevy Spark ‘Lorraine’ for the long haul. Our route took us south to Nashville, TN; Birmingham, AL; Pensacola, FL; Jacksonville, FL; Savannah, GA; Charleston, SC; Asheville, NC; and Columbia, IN. I dropped mom back home and made my final destination of Minneapolis, MN on June 29th.

The ‘dogs’ of the trip included a hotel in Jacksonville that smelled of wet cigar ashtray; an overbuilt tourist trap blocking the view of the Atlantic; a harrowing drive across South Carolina where the interstate needs to be six lanes but is only four; and the free Georgia state map that mom found so disagreeable, she complained about it for three days.

But the rest was wonderous with surprises and small blessings. And mom was a trooper. We were not able to do as much physical activity as I would have liked but we went on a lot of tours and got to see what we wanted- by trolley, by boat, by horse driven carriage. And for the activities that I wanted to do but mom could not, she encouraged me to go anyway and sat with a crossword puzzle as I made the treks without her. Good mom.

I took about 2,000 photos as is my habit and will post the highlights of this adventure in the coming weeks. I hope some of the joy we experienced while making this journey reaches you through these travel logs.





-Copyright C.M. Mounts, July 2019

RAGBRAI 2015

On July 22, 2018, 20,000+ cyclists will once again make the 450+ mile, week-long journey across Iowa known as RAGBRAI. The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), is an annual seven-day bicycle ride sponsored by the Des Moines Register newspaper. Starting in 1973, RAGBRAI is the oldest, largest, and longest recreational bicycle touring event in the world. It is held in the last week of July and has an average length of 468 total miles, with the average daily distance between host communities of 67 miles.

In July 2014, my friend Barb asked me if I would be interested in riding RAGBRAI 2015 with her cycling team. At first, I thought she was nuts. I had never been considered an athlete and had undergone back surgery in July 2013. My first reaction was that I could never physically do it. But then, I stopped myself… I had to ask, “But why can’t I?”

I didn’t own a bike, so I began riding 47-pound Nice Ride bike share cruisers around town to see if I could physically handle the training that would be required the following summer. When I was finally able to ride 20 miles on one of those tanks in October 2014, I decided that yes, I was going to do it.

Winter was coming, and I didn’t want to buy a bike until I really knew what I wanted. Another friend pulled a shitty hot pink hybrid bike that you might buy at a box store out of a trash pile and gave it to me. So naturally, I named her Trixy and placed her on an expensive cycle trainer for the winter months. And all that winter, I rode that heap and watched movies, terrified of RAGBRAI.

In February 2015, Barb told me with deep regret and apologies that her team had dissolved and that she was not going to be able to ride RAGBRAI after all. I was faced with a decision: don’t go after all the training I had already done or go alone. I refused to give up. I decided to go alone. In April 2015, I bought my bike Alexis, a steel Jamis Aurora touring bike and the rest is history.

In the end, I rode 490 miles in 7 days through summer heat and humidity, between the Iowa corn fields, small towns, and beer tents. I normally write a daily journal but writing during RAGBRAI proved impossible due to the level of exhaustion that I experienced. However, I did keep notes during my training. What follows is an excerpt of those journals by date and a count of the mileage I put on my bike Alexis. Enjoy! Continue reading “RAGBRAI 2015”

Travel Log: Thunder Bay, Ontario

June 8-11, 2018 ~ 840 miles

Minneapolis, MN; Duluth, MN; Two Harbors, MN; Grand Marais, MN; Thunder Bay, ON

It’s still under debate whether or not I had visited Thunder Bay, Ontario before last weekend’s trip. The confusion is about whether or not I was included in what family lore now refers to as the ‘vacation from hell’. I would have been less than one year in age, if I was alive at all, and somehow being present as an infant or a toddler with no memory of anything or anyone still counts as me having visited. For further explanation of that logic, I will refer you to my mother…

Mom has cancer, again. On May 23, 2018 she was given the diagnosis of Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) which is a group of blood cancers sometimes referred to as ‘pre-leukemia’ and requires chemotherapy. Since the effects of the chemo on her life are yet unknown, she made the decision that she wanted one more vacation before she might become unable to travel. It had been about 45 years since her last trip to Thunder Bay and since I live in Minnesota, off we went. Continue reading “Travel Log: Thunder Bay, Ontario”

Single, White, Professional, Female- in Kansas City, April 2018

Wednesday April 18, 2018

I have an airline trip confirmation sitting on my kitchen table- MSP-MCI at 1pm. I have traveled a lot to Kansas City in the past five years, always on business. I sometimes get it in my mind to extend the trip and take a couple vacation days, but it never works out like that. I tried to mix a business/pleasure trip once in Chicago. It was just weird. I keep a very clear break between my professional life and personal life as it should be. This is how I know I could never work from home.

I woke up at 3am for no reason and foolishly waited until 4:30am to get up and write. My mind is full and I have learned that the only way to get back to sleep is to get up and write it out. My head will stop racing once I can express and record my thoughts- just in case I need to come back to my great ideas later. I rarely come back to them. I am going to take a nap, otherwise I will be the zombie arriving at gate 58. The cats don’t know I am leaving yet. My carry-on luggage that I bought on the street in Istanbul, Turkey is not packed and the dishes aren’t done. They won’t be happy at this time tomorrow. Continue reading “Single, White, Professional, Female- in Kansas City, April 2018”

Great American Road Trip- Part 8

Friday, August 4 ~ MT (740 Miles)

East Glacier Park Village, MT; Choteau, MT; Great Falls, MT; Helena, MT; Butte, MT; Bozeman, MT; Billings, MT; Miles City, MT; Glendive, MT

Saturday, August 5 ~ MT-ND-MN (619 Miles)

Glendive, MT; Theodore Roosevelt National Park; Dickinson, ND; Bismarck, ND; Fargo, ND; St. Cloud, MN; Minneapolis, MN

On my last night in Glacier, I wake up in the middle of the night, draw the curtains back, and there above the mountains is a blood red moon. This has been quite a journey to the west coast and back again, to loving family and friends, kind strangers, and thousands of miles of scenery. It’s been a journey through my past, present, and future. A journey through past lives and bitter regrets, childhood memories and dreams forgotten. It is a solitary pilgrimage of closure, an end to many things.

I am finished. I will coast home. These are travel days not sightseeing days. I had planned to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota but I am just too exhausted. Forget touring, I need rest. The climb to scenic point whipped me out and resulted in an impressive case a heat rash on my legs. Over the boot cuff under my socks are the worst of the red, blotchy, itchy welts. It will take days to heal but as I head home to my office worker life, it will at least get no worse. I have a final breakfast with my niece and her husband and I am on my way. Continue reading “Great American Road Trip- Part 8”

Great American Road Trip- Part 7

Tuesday, August 1 to Thursday, August 3, 2017 ~ MT

Glacier National Park, MT

Rough night. It’s 6:50am Mountain Time but I just drove from Pacific Time, so it is really 5:50am for me. I was up and down all night and though the cabin is locked tight, the gurgling of my own tummy scared me awake. Geez, I need to lighten up. I just don’t do well sleeping in strange places. There was a mouse scratching around in the bag that held my loaf of bread. I guess I can’t blame him but he was so loud, I wasn’t sure he was a mouse!

Still, from the desk where I write I have a view of the mountains bathed in the light of the sunrise. Free range cattle wander between the cabins with their calves. There is a chewed-up granola wrapper on the bathroom floor. I am in Montana, the wild west, and I am staying in a cabin on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. I have three days to soak in all the raw natural beauty, history, and culture of this place.

I drink coffee in my cabin as I wait for the shower to warm up. I am on the far end so I have to run the faucet for a few minutes in order to get the hot water all the way through the pipes. At least there is hot water and porcelain indoor plumbing. People who think this is roughing it have never completed a long-distance cycling tour where sleeping in a tent and peeing in cornfields is the norm. Continue reading “Great American Road Trip- Part 7”

Great American Road Trip- Part 6

Sunday, July 30 ~ OR-WA (295 Miles)

Portland, OR; Maytown, WA; Yelm, WA; Sumner, WA; North Bend, WA; Teanaway, WA; Leavenworth, WA

Monday July 31, 2017 ~ WA-MT (518 Miles)

Leavenworth, WA; Wenatchee, WA; Moses Lake, WA; Spokane, WA; Wallace, ID; St. Regis, MT; Hot Springs, MT; Kalispell, MT; East Glacier Park Village, MT

They are calling for over 100 degrees this week but I will be up in the mountains. I don’t want to rush out of Portland first thing Sunday morning so this will be my shortest driving day. It is my first visit to Washington state and I am getting set-up for the long haul to Glacier National Park on Monday. I’m headed north though it would be faster to drive straight northeast to Spokane. I’m a tourist. I want to see Seattle, Mt. Rainer, and the Wenatchee National Forest.

I am warned about how bad the traffic can get along this stretch of I-5. As I approach Olympia, there is a radio notice about a traffic jam and I see on my GPS that yes indeed there an is hour delay. I abandon my plan to visit Seattle and pull off the interstate at the next exit without any idea where I am going. If it’s going to take forever, I’d rather take the long way through the backroads of Washington. Continue reading “Great American Road Trip- Part 6”