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

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”

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”

Great American Road Trip- Part 5

Tuesday, July 25 to Saturday, July 29, 2017 ~ ID-OR (604 miles)

Albion, ID; Boise, ID; Ontario, OR; Baker City, OR; Pendleton, OR; Dalles Dam; Portland, OR

I spent the night in Albion, Idaho. There are signs pointing to this town on the interstate. It’s population: 297. What a perspective. Idaho feels so sparse and remote. I feel a bit vulnerable here out on the western frontier, 500 miles from anyone I know. I am at the mercy of the kindness of strangers.

I sit at an antique writing desk, preparing for what’s next: pack up, eat my breakfast, gas up in Declo, hit the road to Boise then on to Portland, Oregon- my destination. I am on this trip to spend time with my friend Steve and meet his wife Ramona. It’s been seventeen years since I last saw him.

I have terrible heat rash on my arms and neck. Living in Minnesota has made me much more sensitive to the sun and heat. South Dakota and Utah did me in. The blazing heat and intensity of the sun in Salt Lake City was too much. Continue reading “Great American Road Trip- Part 5”