Friday, January 31, 2014


We left Louisville Kentucky with a plan.  Well, not so much a plan as a destination.  We knew where we were driving to that first day, and sometimes a one-day plan is enough.
Mammoth Cave National Park was an easy drive from Louisville, giving us time to get there and play a bit in the same day.  Once there, we chose to do the shorter general tour, called their Mammoth Passage Tour.  Child carrier-type backpacks are not allowed in the caves and the idea of schlepping Madeline around under one arm for more than an hour sounded a bit daunting.  She is walking on her own now, but her pace is even slower than a National Park tour guide, if you can imagine that.  The tour was interesting and informative, nothing too exciting, but I guess we need to start expecting that from activities suitable for a  toddler.  After the cave tour and some time at the visitor center, we headed back to the highway for a good meal at a local mexican restaurant and to stage ourselves for the next days travel.
Our next stop was at a park in eastern Kentucky called Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.  The area caught our eye on the road atlas, and after doing a bit of research it looked like a cool stop that was kinda sorta but not really on our way.  We got in to the area later in the day and thought we should just find a place to camp and explore the next day.  There are several designating campgrounds, but you are also allowed to camp pretty much anywhere so we took off down a side road in search of "our spot".  We ended up seeing quite a bit of the backcountry area.  We were never technically "lost" as we always knew how to get back to the paved road, but didn't really know exactly where we were most of the time either.  Regardless, we found a nice place to park for the night.  Because the park is pretty open minded about where you go and where you camp, the area would be a lot of fun with a tent and a capable four wheel drive.  Lots of questionable side roads leading off were tempting, but as we found in Moab, our van has some limitations off the pavement.
The next day we spent time at the visitors center, drove through their elk and bison area, and just enjoyed the park.  We had arrived through the south entrance to the park and exited out the north, where we turned west again and headed into Missouri.
As we have mentioned before, part of the reason for this road trip was to find the next great place to live.  We had some ideas going into the trip, decided we would not rule out places we had already lived ( a lot longer list for me than for Nicole), and we would try to keep an open mind in general.  That said, we both thought that once we left Maine, we wouldn't have to do much looking before we got back to the Southwest.  Kentucky surprised us, and we both got a good feeling from the areas we passed through.  We didn't spend a lot of time in any place, and didn't get to know the people or the communities, but that is a drawback to doing a quick tour of a lot of places.  We added Kentucky to the list of "needs more research", because at this stage our list is mostly about gut feelings.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

West, no wait, North?

When we left Charlotte we had to backtrack north a bit to meet up with Interstate 40 heading west.  We did this first part of the drive in silence, but once we turned on to I-40 we starting talking and both realized we were feeling a bit lost about the next leg of the trip.  We knew we were eventually headed to Tucson to meet up with friends, but Mapquest showed we would drive I-40 for a couple thousand miles of road with nothing really jumping out at us to do or see along the way.  We decided to make it a short travel day and stop for the night to reassess our options.  We had been told by numerous people that Asheville, North Carolina was worth visiting, that the Smoky Mountains were very pretty, and that the Blue Ridge Parkway was worth a drive, but none of them felt right to either of us.  We ended up driving just past Asheville and stopped for the night on the edge of the Smoky Mountains.  We figured if we changed our mind overnight we could always go back.
The next morning we talked more and both decided that this trip was mostly about seeing family and friends, and that we could visit one of my cousins in Kentucky without going too far out of our way.  So after a nice leisurely drive through the Smoky Mountains we took a right in Knoxville, TN and headed north once again.  The next day saw us crossing into Kentucky, driving through Lexington, and eventually ending up in Louisville.
My cousin Katy and her husband Brian have a thirteen year old son, Brandon, and eleven year old identical twin girls, Allie and Julie.  We got a bunch of time to just sit and visit, and in the evenings we were lucky enough to be able to stay at Brian's mothers house while she was out of town.  Katy works with animal rescue so with a house full of cats, dogs and kids it was nice to be able to decompress in an empty house at night.  Katy told us the twins loved the Science Center downtown and they had a whole section just for toddlers, so we spent the afternoon there and Madeline had a blast.  You can tell by the pictures that her favorite part was getting to play in the water fountain.  Luckily Nicole had thought to bring spare clothes for her.
We enjoyed several good meals together and a lot of sitting around watching the twins play with Madeline and then it was time to head out again.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Aunt Evey, Holly and Lexi
We left Philadelphia bound for Baltimore, where we had arranged a visit with more friends.  Another ex-coworker of Nicole's from the University of Washington, Heather, along with her husband, four year old daughter and infant son, had moved away from Seattle and ended up just north of Baltimore. (Michelle, who we visited earlier in the trip in Casper, WY also worked in the same lab)  It was an easy one day trip down from Philadelphia with no issues or excitement to speak of.
Lysa with Madeline
Baltimore got hit with snow right as we were arriving and when it finally stopped there were several inches on the ground.  The kids got time to play, we got time to visit, and when all the kids were in bed we got some adult time to share some good wine.  Heather and Shawn were the folks that originally introduced us to the wine and chocolate event in central Washington, so we thought it only fitting to share a bottle of wine from the area.  The road crews in Maryland did a good job of cleaning up the snow overnight and by the time we were ready to leave the major roads were all clear.
From Baltimore we were heading for North Carolina, but having spent a bunch of time around DC I knew we wanted to avoid the area so we did a big detour to the west before heading south.  The drive was pleasant weaving in and out of the Appalachians on our way down.
Visits with Jason and Christy
Our trip to Charlotte was originally to see family.  My aunt Evey recently moved there from Florida, and her daughter Lysa lives there with her husband Scott.  As an added bonus, Evey's other daughter Holly was visiting from Virginia and Lysa's daughter Lexi was home from college for the holidays so we got to see both of them as well.
The other reason we wanted to visit Charlotte is that sailing friends of ours from Seattle, Jason and Christy, were just starting a three month job contract downtown so we got to visit with them as well.  We stayed in town for several days, visiting with family during the day and then socializing with Jason and Christy in the evenings when they got home from work.
On our last night in town we thought it would be a good idea to continue our local gin tasting comparisons so we bought a bottle of North Carolina Cardinal gin to share with Jason and Christy.  With didn't have any other varieties for a direct comparison, but we all agreed it was a very drinkable option.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

New Years

Falkner Island Lighthouse
We left Maine with a deadline, we wanted to be in Philadelphia for New Years.  We left with five days to get there and a motivated driver can make it in a day, so that should have meant we had plenty of time.  The way we've been traveling on this trip so far, it might have been close.  Our first day out we had the expected late start, but still managed to make it through Maine, New Hampshire, around Boston and through Massachusetts, and on into Rhode Island where we stopped for the night.  For folks used to driving across Montana or Texas this sounds like a lot, but in New England the states are bunched together and you can blow through a whole bunch in an afternoon.
Linda and Madeline
The next day we crossed into Connecticut, and since we were going right by, we stopped in to Guilford where I spent a few summers when I was working for U.S. Fish and Wildlife.  The work I did with USF&W was research on an endangered shorebird that nests on a lighthouse island in Long Island Sound.  We couldn't go out to the island without a boat but drove to a nearby shoreside park, had a nice but chilly walk and took a couple pictures of the island from shore.  We kept going down the coast and then turned off Interstate 95 and headed for Danbury, CT where we stayed the night.
The next day we wound our way through New York and New Jersey, trying to stay away from the major cities as much as possible, and finally made it to Philadelphia.  My aunt Linda lives right downtown Philly, so with our high clearance van and parking at a premium we were lucky she had made arrangements beforehand for parking during our visit.
Madeline loves it when we stay with anyone that has pets, and hit it off with Linda's cat Claude right away. Claude was smart enough to come out and visit when he wanted, then go hide somewhere to get away from Madeline when he got enough attention.  Madeline would go find him hiding under the bed and then was nice enough to leave him alone once she knew where he was.
The first day of our stay we walked the two blocks from the condo to see the liberty bell and Independence Hall.  The next day we took the bus to the Academy of Natural Sciences where my aunt works and saw their animatronic dinosaur display and the live butterfly room, both of which were hits with all three of us.
Linda lives in a condo in a high rise right in downtown Philadelphia, but is on one of the lower floors, so for the New Years Eve fireworks we took the elevator up to the 30th floor to her friends condo and watched from the balcony, rather than fight the crowds and cold outside.  On New Years Day we walked down the street and watched the Mummers Parade for a while.  Because the parade lasts for most of the day, once the cold started getting to us we moved back to the condo and watched the rest of the parade on TV.  The whole visits was interspersed with good food, good conversation, and a lot of relaxing.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


Nicole's parents
The terminus of our northward and eastward travel was, of course, Maine.  We were planning on spending Christmas with Nicole's family, with a side trip to Bar Harbor at some point in our stay so we could visit with friends there as well.
Nicole and Madeline
with brother John and Colleen
Once we arrived at Nicole's folks in Auburn, ME we got a chance to relax and give Madeline time to visit with her grandparents.  After a few days there we headed about a half hour away to visit Nicole's brother.  John and his wife Rose have a daughter, Colleen, that is ten days older than Madeline, so they got to know each other and played for the couple of days we stayed there.  During our visit with Nicole's brother, Maine got hit with a winter storm and we ended up with about a foot and a half of new snow.  We took advantage of the new snow to let the girls play outside a bit, and by the time we headed back to Nicole's parents the roads were pretty much clear.  We spent a few more days in Auburn and then took off for Bar Harbor.
We had a nice visit with Nicole's old boss Sean, then headed over to our friend Judy's house.  About this time the area got hit with an ice storm, and we decided the wood stove and beautiful view of the mountains on Mount Desert Island won out over the idea of a three hour drive on highways resembling skating rinks.  By the time we left the next afternoon they had most of the roads plowed and salted and except for a short icy section of highway the trip went fine.  We returned to Nicole's parents to find the power out.  Their house, along with about 100,000 other people, lost power during the ice storm.  A real bummer two days before Xmas.  Thankfully the power went back on for us just a couple of hours after we returned.
Our Christmas eve, Christmas day and the day after was all about spending time with Nicole's family.  That and a lot of eating.  We opened gifts, with the majority of the packages going to the two little girls.  As usual, the wrapping and boxes were just as entertaining as the gifts themselves.  Madeline got to meet cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, and even her great-grandmother.  It was an exciting, entertaining, and exhausting couple of days.
Madeline with her great-grandmother
We were just getting used to the cold and snow when it was time to pack up all our stuff and head out.  We were planning on being in Philadelphia to spend New Years with my aunt so we had some miles ahead of us.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The weather outside is frightful

I wrote in an earlier post that we have been exceptionally lucky in dodging bad weather during our road trip.  The first five weeks of travel we had rain one evening for about an hour, and about twenty minutes of snow going over the pass near Vail Colorado.  That was it, for five weeks.
During our stay in Minnesota it snowed several times but we were not traveling and got to sit back and enjoy the show with no stress.  After leaving Minnesota it seemed like we were dodging one winter storm after another (when did they start naming winter storms?), watching or listening to the weather when we had the chance, quite successfully missing the worst of the weather.
When we got to Maine there was already snow on the ground and the temperature was low enough that it was there to stay.  A couple of days into our stay in Maine we were hit with a storm that dumped about eighteen inches of snow.  We had a warm place to stay and good company, we were staying with Nicole's brother, so we just stayed put until the roads were clear.  A few days later we took a side trip to Bar Harbor to visit friends, and the weather turned to crap during our drive up. It deteriorated further over the next several days.  After a bit of snow it warmed up and turned to rain, then cooled again to right at freezing and everything started turning to ice.  The ice continued, coating everything and slowly building enough to make roads impassable, and eventually taking down trees and power lines until about 100,000 people in Maine were without power.
We were staying with our friend Judy, and even though her house is nestled in the woods near Acadia she never lost power.  We took advantage of conditions to again stay put, enjoy the wood stove, a lot of good food, and very good company.
It's nice to travel with no real deadlines so when the bad weather does show up we can stay put and enjoy our visits.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.