MAMA SAID THERE’D BE DAYS LIKE THIS

Canada Geese on my walk

Canada Geese on my walk

The day started with all good intentions: Cristal ran her 16K, I walked my 3.75 miles, my blister from yesterday’s walk bound in gauze and two Band-Aids. Showered and changed, we jumped into the car, headed towards Rocky Mt. National Park…and discovered that the low-pressure tire gauge had come on. Uh-oh. Not good. While we had eschewed the one-way only Fall River Drive at 15 miles an hour on gravel with 12,000 ft. drops and no barriers, we are intending to go on Trail Ridge Road tomorrow, which promises to be somewhat more standard while still offering fabulous views. So, we finally figured out how to use our trusty tire gauge, found the guilty tire, and also discovered the local tire repair shop closed on Sunday. No Rocky Mt. NP for us today! Back at the hotel to collect one item, we opted for lunch. Bad decision. We waited over fifty minutes for salads to appear, effectively causing lunch to take an hour and a half all told.

The only thing left to do was to lick our wounds and eat some chocolate. A trip to Rocky Mt. Chocolate Shop

Cristal being comforted by a S'Mores Bar

Cristal being comforted by a S’Mores Bar

was definitely called for. This, in turn, led to a spin round Estes Park village once more, which landed us in the Colorado Hat Shop that also just happens to sell books.

My book box is now seven books lighter, and Cristal and I are greatly enriched for some good conversation on the history of the west. Thank you, Ted and Susan Williams.

 

HIGH ALTITUDE, LOW TEMPERATURES, LONG WALK

IMG_1900We needed to catch up on exercise today. Well, I needed the catch-up, Cristal needed her training time, and it was decided it was far too lovely outside to work out in the gym. Estes Lake has a 3.75 mile trail around it: paved and perfect for bikers, walkers, runners and folks willing to share those two-seater Surry bikes. Our decision was that Cristal would rent a bike and I would walk it, which I figured on NYC street walking time would take me about an hour and a half, and that I’d probably see Cristal whiz by at least twice if not three times. Ha! About a quarter of the way round, I heard a cry for help from non other than my own daughter whose bicycle chain had come off. As I held the bike and Cristal fixed the chain, her hands became black with grease. Not to be deterred, she cycled on and I walked on, braving the possibility of attack by

Canada geese on Estes Lake

Canada geese on Estes Lake

Canada geese, Mother Elk and crazed fishermen. When I reached the hotel, about an hour and twenty minutes all told, Cristal still had not passed me again. It turned out she was right behind me, and, on the basis of greasy hands, got the bike IMG_1886rental for free.

A walk round town in the afternoon and a visit to the historic Stanley Hotel all mounted my walking mileage to just under seven miles for the day. Cristal had told me that exercise would increase my energy. I think she forgot to tell my feet.

Grand staircase at the Hotel Stanley

Grand staircase at the Hotel Stanley

Wapiti Meadows

Wapiti Meadows

 

THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD

View from our room at Estes Park

View from our room at Estes Park

Leaving the relative prosperity of Phillipsburg, KS, we headed down the highway wrapped in the ribbon of green and blue surrounding us. The expectation that the breadbasket of America would be rolling green pastures dotted with well-maintained farmhouses soon dissipated into alarm at the poverty we saw. While the farms seemed to be productive for the most part, the astounding number of dilapidated homes, falling down barns and silos, and other signs of abandonment, were only pointers to the towns we went through: closed and boarded shops, gas stations long ago deserted, empty streets. At times, driving through Nebraska, we wondered if we were truly in America. This was not the United States I was led to believe I live in.

Further despair was triggered when we passed a feed lot. Due to my love of anything western, and the cowboy way of life, if I eat beef it has to be grass fed. Having seen and smelled the feed lots, there is now no way I’d eat beef without the label of ‘grass-fed.’ The Yuma feed lot, in particular, which lasts for about two and a half miles, had us gasping for air and on the point of regurgitation. I cannot get across how thoroughly disgusted we felt.

IMG_0385This led to elation as we crossed into Colorado. In no time, The Rockies were in sight and I write to you now from Estes Park. There’s a feeling almost as if we’ve come home at last.IMG_0382

 

DISPLACED PERSONS

Several years ago I started a correspondence with a fellow member of Women Writing the West, Eunice Boeve. Eunie lives in Phillipsburg, KS, while I, of course, live in NYC, so you might think a more disparate twosome could hardly exist. But whether it was our writing, or just the feeling of kindred souls, we have regularly corresponded now for some time, including family news, health issues, and even politics among our discussions of writing successes and woes, and I have learned an amazing amount of information from Eunie, particularly about Kansas history. So it was Eunie who brought me to Kansas, who imbued in me the need to see KS for myself.

The first item on the day’s itinerary was the Orphan Train Museum in Concordia. The idea of moving thousands of street children and orphans to homes out west is startling to modern thinking, yet that is exactly what was done. Their various stories are preserved in this old station house, and have now been retold in numerous novels. It is a startling facet of American history.

Driving through the Kansas countryside to our appointed meeting with Eunie at Nicodemus, it was Cristal and I who were displaced. The flat plains of Kansas is disconcerting to New York gals—devoid of buildings, few people, little traffic, and stretching into the distance with an endless horizon that wraps around you 360 degrees. But, at last we reached Nicodemus and Eunie, waiting there for us. She introduced us, in turn, to Angela Bates, descendent of one of the first African American pioneers who settled this township of former slaves from Kentucky. Conversation was stimulating over lunch, though it was heart-breaking to see so many buildings of this settlement in a sad state. Today there are only 13 persons still living in Nicodemus.

However, the day proved one of our best yet. Eunie, I know you’ll be reading this: we appreciate all you did, and are grateful for such generosity. We remain ever thankful as we journey on.

Angela Bates, Eunice Boeve, me and Cristal at Ernestine's BBQ, Nicodemus

Angela Bates, Eunice Boeve, me and Cristal at Ernestine’s BBQ, Nicodemus

TOPICS OF CONVERSATION

Kansas from the car

Kansas from the car

When you drive over 400 miles, as we did, in one day, topics of conversation start to become a bit thin on the ground. We occasionally play games to pass the time; ‘I Spy’ is a popular choice, or the license plate game, where words are thought of that have all the letters of passing license plates in the order in which they appear, albeit with other letters of course. Sign posts provide some amusement. Outside of Augusta we spied one that said, “Herculaneum McNutt.” That still has us rolling around; we don’t know if that’s a person’s name, a place, or, indeed, two places, but it will surely reappear as a character in one of my books one day. Then there are the billboards which, in Missouri, seem to be evenly divided between fireworks for sale, ‘Adult Superstores,’ and various proclamations portending damnation. On top of everything, Cristal swears she saw a triangular spaceship in the clouds while driving.

In the parking lot of a rest stop, we were approached by a man, barefoot and with cigarette dangling from a corner of his mouth, who needed to borrow jump leads. It was one of those moments where you’re quickly running through in your mind (a) whether you’ll ever see those jump leads again; (b) whether you can spare the time to wait for their return on a trip of 400+ miles; or (c) whether you will do the right thing and loan them—if you can find them. Well, we did the right thing, found the leads straight away in the bag right by the trunk door, and handed them over while we went off and walked to get some exercise. When we went over to collect the leads when the gentleman was finished, we got into the kind of conversation that would be most welcome over a bottle of wine on a lazy evening with no place to go. It ranged from Hopi spiritual beliefs to environmental preservation around the country, and a singular rattlesnake.

George Williams, wherever you are, thanks for the brief respite from boredom, and let’s get together for that bottle of wine one day.

Wine for Cristal and me, motel style

Wine for Cristal and me, motel style

 

Why Augusta?

taken at the Daniel Boone Homestead

taken at the Daniel Boone Homestead

Every time someone has asked us what our itinerary is for this trip, everything is fine until I mention Augusta, Missouri. ‘Why Augusta?’, or ‘What’s in Augusta?’ invariably is asked. So here, in black and white, is the truth of the matter. We considered St. Louis as being on our route but, having included Charlotte, Nashville and Memphis, I rather felt that we were getting heavy on the cities and wanted a change. I might have liked Independence for its historical significance but it didn’t quite fit into the driving, and I’d recently been to Kansas City so nixed that. In the end, when we discovered Augusta was one of the centers of Missouri wine country, also offered Daniel Boone’s Homestead, and had the bonus of the historic Katy trail for Cristal to run, it seemed like an excellent choice.

Daniel Boone Homestead

Daniel Boone Homestead

Well, choices are one thing, reality often proves another. Our little cottage is charming and we made some local antique purchases this morning as well as visiting the workshop of a local glassblower and making another purchase there. But when it came to Dan’l Boone’s Home, after a twenty minute drive, we discovered the tours went out on the hour and we would have a forty-five minute wait in stifling heat. So we hurried through their self-guide tour of the homestead and village buildings—not permitted to enter any without a proper guide—and in a rather sorry state decided to return home. Without wine.

Some days just have hiccoughs.

Peace Church in the village at Boone Homestead

Peace Church in the village at Boone Homestead

A WEIGHTY ISSUE

Cristal cooking!

Cristal cooking!

We are in Augusta, MO, and Cristal is cooking dinner as I write. After a journey of over 300 miles, somewhat lengthened by the need to detour a flooded road, we have arrived at a vacation rental in wine country: a whole cottage with well-fitted kitchen. One of the worries of traveling for seven weeks is WEIGHT and how not to put more on. Cristal, of course, is fine; she is training for a half-marathon and is skinny as a rail. She works out or runs every single morning except one per week, and can currently eat like a horse without putting on an ounce. Me, well, that’s a different story. But her routine has encouraged me to follow her to the gym most days when one is available, and to eat as healthily as I can. This is difficult; if there is a fine restaurant within 2 miles of any accommodation in which we are staying, we head there for dinner—we are hard core foodies! The huge amount of walking we’ve been doing has helped and, so far, my jeans have not got any tighter. Unfortunately, after yesterday’s double meal with the fried chicken at Gus’, and a lunch today at a Cajun restaurant in Cape Geradieu, MO, we are crying for vegetables and a low-calorie meal. Soooo…thank you, Walmart, thank you Cristal, and thank you brussel sprouts!

TWO KINGS

Living room at Graceland

Living room at Graceland

Visiting Graceland would not be my first choice of vacation destination, but if you’re doing a road trip which passes through Memphis, well, it would be foolish to not stop. I was still in single digit age when Elvis was ‘King’ but it didn’t stop a brief flirtation with the swivel- hipped heart-throb before allegiance passed to the Beatles. There’s very little I remember about him other than the early songs and a controversial appearance on

Trophy Room at Graceland

Trophy Room at Graceland

The Ed Sullivan Show when he was only televised from the waist up. So, my ideas on what I would see at Graceland were somewhat negative: I was wrong. If you accept that it is a time capsule of ‘70s décor and know the shag pile is coming your way, it’s all very well done. I did rather feel like I had stepped into The Twilight Zone at times, but

In the 'Jungle Room' at Graceland

In the ‘Jungle Room’ at Graceland

aside from that, enjoyed the visit. Of course, it’s all highly edited so no photos of Elvis in the bloated years are shown, no mention of divorce is made, and certainly no whiff of drugs. It’s the sanitized version of which Col. Parker would have approved.

After a lunch of Gus’ World Famous Fried Chicken—one

Lunch at Gus'

Lunch at Gus’

hiccough in our healthy eating routine—we went on to the National Civil Rights Museum, housed in the Lorraine Motel. This was definitely not sanitized. It starts with a gut-punch on how whites kidnapped Africans in the 1600s, and goes on through the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. at that very same Lorraine Motel and the capture of James Earl Ray. The museum doesn’t mind pointing out that Lincoln only instigated the Emancipation Proclamation as a

The Lorraine Motel--now the National Civil Rights Museum

The Lorraine Motel–now the National Civil Rights Museum

political act to subdue the South rather than to actually free the slaves, and that the wealth of the North was as much based on slavery in the South as the South’s own economy.

I’m not going to get involved in this argument; I’ll leave it there. I did, however, buy a baseball cap—something I never wear—which says, “Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History.”

LORD LOVE A DUCK

Driving into Memphis, we had intended to visit a museum called Slave Haven, once a stop on the underground railway. As we passed boarded-up houses and other signs of a general lack of care, a certain nervousness about leaving our car, full of seven weeks of luggage including computers, overcame my general desire to pursue history on this occasion. Pulling up to the museum, a house in condition commensurate with the neighborhood, we found that a prayer meeting was taking place on the lawn. Sometimes decisions are made for you…

The ducks before their march in the Peabody Fountain

The ducks before their march in the Peabody Fountain

So, on to the Peabody Hotel where our check-in was slightly earlier than the bi-daily march of the ducks to and from the lobby fountain. A Vodka Collins helped us pass the time and deal with the crowd, many of whom specially bussed in for the event. There was standing room only, including on the upper level overlooking the lobby. Finally, the so-called duck master went into his spiel, which lasted some ten minutes, and then herded the ducks towards the elevators to take them to their penthouse suite. In single file, the ducks marched off down the red carpet—pretty well hidden from sight except from the children who had been seated either side of the walkway.

My attempt to get a photo of the ducks marching

My attempt to get a photo of the ducks marching

In England, there’s an expression of dismay: “Lord love a duck!” I don’t. Except on my dinner plate, of course.

A TALE OF TWO CULTURES

Stage at The Grand Ol' Opry

Stage at The Grand Ol’ Opry

Today there was a culture clash with a visit to The Grand Ol’ Opry in the morning, followed by the Belle Meade Plantation in the afternoon. Standing in the hallowed halls of country music’s Mecca, one got a momentary glimpse into what it is like to reach the pinnacle of your profession and have your dearest dream come true.

1 of numerous dressing rooms at The Opry

1 of numerous dressing rooms at The Opry

At Belle Meade, where 136 people were enslaved, one also got a glimpse of dreams coming true—the dream of emancipation. Tonight we’re dining in a building that combines ancient with modern, if I can stretch the comparison a bit. Modern cuisine in a building where Andrew Jackson was married, and which also served as a station on the Underground Railway.

Slave Quarters at the plantation

Slave Quarters at the plantation

Belle Meade Plantation

Belle Meade Plantation