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

Life’s a Beach

We arrive in Pensacola
Florida in the usual fashion
Hurried desperation relax
Camp in the woods
Early morning sound of sea
Roar in the distance
Pink swimsuit
Red plastic pail, blue shovel
Smell of new overwhelmed
It means one thing:
Sandcastles
March in flip flops
Too hot black asphalt
Burned feet camp store
Dunes
Taller than my eight-year-old self
Green grass grows waves
Wooden boardwalk wind
Gulf of Mexico
Definition of heaven
White sand beach
Ocean solitude
Clear water sun
Sand dollars

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, November 2017

Cycle St. Paul. Hills and All.

I am seated on a steel bench just after lunch: June 25 at 12:30, hot sun, and worries about my sunburn getting worse. I cycle this university campus. Indeed, I was here 18 hours ago peddling my bike up the hill to the student center. I’ve cycled over 800 miles this season getting ready for RAGBRAI, most spent on the terrain of St. Paul. I hear a lot of groans from other cyclists when I tell them I choose to train here.

No really. I choose to ride these hills.

RAGBRAI is a 7-day ride from the western to eastern border of Iowa. About 20,000+ cyclists make the journey annually during the last full week of July. It averages about 468 miles in total length, which means 67+ miles per day. I can also expect over 12,000 feet of total climb. Iowa is not flat.

Have I mentioned the corn sweat?

I frequent a coffee shop downtown. It’s a good mid-way point and I have spent many hours there in the off-season writing (not in spandex). But it is summer, and the baristas are impressed by my mileage. I got a 50-mile ride in last Sunday and plan for 55 miles the next. I come into town by way of Shepard’s Road and out again by Big Rivers Regional Trail.

I often see eagles hunting along the river. Soaring grace until a fierce dive to the fish below. I feel that way on my bike. I feel like I am flying. There is no other world besides the connection between me and the steel bike frame… the bike tires and the road… the road leading forever to the horizon. Sometimes, the meditation is so deep I really believe I can go on for days. Then I stop for a snack and a dose of reality.

I came to cycling in 2014, about a year after my back surgery.

A friend asked me on a whim, “You wanna ride RAGBRAI with me?” I knew what it was having attended the University of Iowa as an English major years before. But I had never cycled before. I thought there was no way I could ever do such a thing.

Then I paused.

Two years earlier, just after my 40th birthday, a disk in my spine herniated and cut into my spinal cord. Intense waves of pain and weakness in my left leg caused it to randomly stop working. Some days, it was all I could do to walk the few blocks from the bus stop after work and lay on the floor all night. This went on for nine months: pain, mobility loss, and isolation all stealing my life and dignity away. Then I got back surgery. I got my life back. And I got asked to ride a large, insane cycling event.

My leg was working again… why couldn’t I ride RAGBRAI?

There is something about the slow pace of 14mph that allows you to see the world in a way that driving does not: deer darting through the high grass, tiny flowers of yellow and blue, and every butterfly that lights upon them. But that’s fast enough that if you are panting, and a June bug decides to commit suicide by flying into the back of your throat, you have little choice but to swallow it.

Hey, it’s fuel for the ride.

We are so spoiled in the Twin Cities by our extensive system of bike trails and lanes. I’ve tried cycling in other cities, in other states, but there is simply not the same quality and quantity. This place is dedicated to cycling access. I feel safe here. I don’t have to ride on the streets and when I do, there are safe places to do that. Without it, I don’t think I would have taken up what has become one of the best parts of my life.

Thank you for that St. Paul… ride on!

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, October 2018

The Great Wide Open

More than one person has said to me- take time. Be with your mom before the cancer makes her really sick. Plan a family vacation somewhere and make some quality memories together, one last time. We’ve been talking about what that might look like in practical terms of time, money, stamina, and risk of viral infection.

I love to travel. I am willing to travel just about anywhere in the world, for almost any length of time, for almost any reason. I am an adventurer at heart, an international explorer. One of the greatest gifts my father gave to me was his love for travel. It made me understand that there were other places, with a lot of other people who did not look or act like me.

Nothing held more interest for my dad then just getting out and seeing the USA. His career gave us the ability to take two big vacations a year. These trips were what I would describe as ‘The Bill Mounts Family Vacation’. They were characterized by an extreme urgency to see everything you could possibly see in the short time allotted. Two weeks was just not enough time to sit and relax. We had to go, go, go and went, went, went we did.

By the ripe old age of twelve, I had traveled to no less than forty states. I had been to innumerable national parks- Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Petrified Forest, Red Wood Forest, Rocky Mountains, etc. I had been in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, and Pacific. I had been to countless museums, forts, State Capitols, wayside historical markers, tourist traps, national monuments, scenic overlooks, zoos, amusements parks, etc.  Once dad died in 1985, our annual family vacations stopped for the most part.

Mom did take me to Hawaii…

So, where do I take mom for that one last ride? From my perspective, the most obvious choice is Florida. Dad was in love with Pensacola. He was stationed there during his time in the Navy and my parents planned to retire there. It feels like we visited every year while he was still alive. We camped on Santa Rosa Island, played on the beach, visited Fort Pickens, Trader Jon’s, the National Naval Aviation Museum, and wherever else dad wanted to feel nostalgic.

That was all before the island was built up with hotels. You could still collect sand dollars, starfish, and seashells. We even picked up a couple conch shells once. No one was combing the beach at the break of dawn collecting them all to sell. I have very clear memories of the smell of orange blossoms and the feel of the white sand beaches. I count them among the happiest memories of my life.

But that was Pensacola of the 1970’s & 80’s. It begs the question: could a trip to Florida today ever live up to those memories? And does mom want to go where dad would have chosen? Or does she have one last great adventure in her, one last uncharted destination, one unfulfilled wish?

It remains to be seen. And it may come to more than one trip this year with the various members of my family. We may not all be able to get the same time off. Quality time with more intimate groups of people might be a better way to go. And if we end up hanging around the mid-west… well, at least we won’t get lost.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2019

Auto

Not owning a car
Upsets others
Like not watching TV

Two of the three pieces,
Common ground falls away
Not old reliable: weather

People squirm
Are lost for something
To talk about

I am not poor
It saves a ton of money
From VW, Ford, or Nissan

Still, nights are sketchy
Winter bus travel avoided
Kitty litter economical in 40# bags

Pity for not owning a car
Bizarre reaction
It is the life I choose

Wait- my brother has a deal?
Mileage count and how much?
Where do I sign


-Copyright C.M. Mounts, May 2017