Sagacious Aphorism #3

It's better to endure the pain than the alternative.

Sagacious Aphorism #2

When you pretend things are made of lead, many of your friends will desert you . . . but not your true friends (I dimly recall that my friend Whitney and I invented this game circa 1991, in Daytona, Florida, when we should have been attending wet t-shirt contests and dance parties, but instead were annoying our hotel-mates by pretending that various objects in the room were made of lead: beer bottles, food, books, and -- probably the most annoying, which made people start to desert us-- the blanket that I was pinned beneath, which I had to slowly "roll" off my body . . . it was interminable-- and illogical: how did I get under it in the first place? and while Whitney and I found this hysterical, the rest of our fraternity brothers thought there were better things to do on spring break rather than watch two poor mimes enact an endless skit without a punch line, and so they left us; the game rears its ugly and boring head every so often-- I was once pinned to the floor of The Weeping Radish Brewery by a condiment sized cup of lead horseradish, and even my children have played it on occasion).

Sagacious Aphorism #1

When you put yourself under great pressure and time constraint, it's harder than you think to write a sagacious aphorism.

It's Aphorism Week!

After completing an epic cross-country journey, I'm sure I have some sagacious wisdom to dispense, and so I'm declaring it "aphorism week" . . . get ready for some timeless adages (and this has nothing to do with the fact that I'm going to visit my buddies in North Carolina, and need to mail it in for a couple of days).

There's One Place Like Home (And It's Home)

After two mammoth driving days, we made it home . . . and the house was still standing . . . so a big thanks to all the folks who made this possible: house-sitters and dog-sitters, mail-getters and garden-watchers, my adventurous wife and kids, and-- most importantly-- the biggest thanks of all to our 2008 Toyota Sienna, for putting in over 6000 miles of fast, wild, and bumpy driving without a flat or a hiccup or a breakdown.

Road Trip Day 23: Time To Reflect (Because We Drove Twelve Hours)

Some places we visited on our trip that I'd like to live: Des Moines, Hot Springs, Minneapolis, Emigrant, Pittsburgh, Rapid City and Alta . . . but probably not Richfield, Ohio (despite the fact that the byzantine Days Inn has a strange, dungeonlike indoor fun area with a pool, mini-golf, cornhole, ball pit, arcade, hot tub, and playground in a dimly lit gigantic interior covered courtyard space . . . my kids loved it . . . until Alex got ejected for hitting a mini-golf ball so hard it ricocheted up to the second level and bounced off the window of a room overlooking the courtyard) and even though there were many places we stopped where I envisioned myself leading some alternate life, I'll be happy if we make it back to Highland Park in one piece.

Road Trip Day 22: Watery Thoughts

Minnesota is the "land of 10,000 lakes" and this means:

1) that you have to go ahead and name all ten thousand of these lakes . . . so you get the usual suspects-- Sand Lake, Bass Lake, Pike Lake, Birch Lake, Moose Lake and Big Lake-- and more interesting monikers, such as Lake Vermilion, Burntside Lake, Miners Lake, and Bad Axe Lake-- and then the unfortunate . . . Leech Lake (although Lake Vermilion could certainly have been called that, as a number of leeches feasted on the deliciously pure blood of my children)

2) there is plenty of stuff to catch in these lakes, including a non-native southern delicacy-- the crawdad-- and my kids caught enough of them that we were able to have a "boil" and eat them up (for pictures, head to Captions of Cat)

3) all the lakes overshadow the fact that the Mississippi River begins here, rather humbly as a trickle up north, but even in Minneapolis, the river isn't very impressive (we walked beside it at Boom Island Park, and it's about the size of the Raritan in New Brunswick) and I don't think my kids understood what the river becomes as you head south . . . that's another road trip (they did understand how good the Mexican food was at Maya though . . . there's an ethnic neighborhood on Central Avenue full of Mexican, Arabic, Thai, and Columbian restaurants, and the food we had was out of this world, a pleasant surprise on a trip where we mainly ate burgers and bbq).

Road Trip Day 21: Feeling Minnesota

We made our way from Bismarck to the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, where we stayed with our friend Sabine in her cabin on Lake Vermilion; the cabin is an original Sears Roebuck kit that was dragged across the ice to Echo Point, a scenic peninsula that juts into the lake-- this makes for good fishing, and I caught several species of fish: perch, smallmouth bass, and a walleye . . . and my kids caught loads of crawfish . . . but the fish story of the visit was the one that nearly got my son Ian; this fish story is verified by testimony from my wife: while Ian was wading near the dock, waist deep in the water, a huge Northern pike approached him and didn't swim away until Ian swatted him with his net.

Road Trip Day 20: If You're Ever in Bismarck . . .

We stumbled upon two great things in Bismarck: 1) the Best Western Plus Ramkota hotel has a mini-waterpark, with one large and two small slides . . . this was a lot of fun until my kids got into a fight-- which included cursing and scratching-- over who was going to go up the stairs to the slide first, even though there wasn't anyone else in the pool area 2) Reza's Pitch, a soccer bar and burger joint, which wins the prize for best burger on our road trip . . . and they have a neat system for how you order, you fill out a little sheet of paper, checking off what sort of cheese, sauce, and toppings you'd like on your burger and then you hand that to the waitress (and they have a great local beer selection, to boot, and one of the waitresses was very informative about rodeo culture and bucking broncos and wild bulls).

Road Trip Day 19: We Visit Another Obscure State Capital

My family and I are morning people, and so driving west to Montana was a pleasure-- the sun at our back, gaining hours as we passed through time zones-- but yesterday morning we turned the van around, and started back home, and so I drove east, right into the sun, with nary a tree to block the rays, because Eastern Montana is a vast range of prairie, hills, and exposed sandstone-- an ocean of unpopulated land to rival Wyoming-- and there wasn't much of a difference in the terrain when we crossed into North Dakota, but we're hoping that things start to change tomorrow, when we head east from Bismarck into Minnesota (and if you need visuals, head over to Captions of Cat).

Road Trip Day 18: We Learn Nothing

Though I have already issued a warning about the size and scope of Yellowstone, we did not heed my own sage advice yesterday, and after cruising east into the Lamar Valley (otherwise known as America's Serengeti) and seeing herds of bison, a wolf (this was through someone's scope-- there are these lunatic folks who set up very expensive magnification devices on hills in the park, and then drink coffee and chat for hours, until they see something . . . and they are quite hospitable about letting regular people with $30 binoculars from Sports Authority use their equipment) bald eagles, coyote cubs, a buffalo carcass (some other lunatics watched this thing all night and got to see a grizzly pick at it) and possibly a badger (I didn't see this but my kids did, and they claimed it was a "wolverine" until we went to eat dinner at Rivers Edge Bar and Grill in Pray and they saw a badger pelt and claimed that was what they saw . . . anyway, after seeing all this stuff and doing a hike around Trout Lake, we then drove down to Old Faithful-- which none of us had ever seen-- and it took a long time to drive down there, and then when we got there, the parking lots were enormous and full, so we had to park far away-- and there were hordes of people waiting for the geyser to erupt . . . which it did . . . and it was impressive, and then it started to rain, which cleared everyone out-- so we got to walk the miles of boardwalk and see the other geysers without the nuisance of the hordes of people, and once we completed the loop through geyser country, we caught Old Faithful for a second time, which was fun, except we had to run to our car-- the way you run to your car when you are leaving a concert and want to beat the traffic-- in order to get out of the parking lot, which is an odd thing to do in the middle of a national park in Montana, but the best thing about staying north of Yellowstone in the Paradise Valley is that if you've had a ten hour day in the park, you can stop at Chico Hot Springs on the way home, and swim in the ninety five degree pool, while drinking beer, even though it's cold and rainy and giant storm clouds are swooping in from over top of Emigrant Mountain.

Road Trip Day 17: Riparian Reunion

We floated a beautiful stretch of the Yellowstone yesterday-- and though the trout weren't biting, the time passed quickly-- as our river guides were my old friend Darren and his wife Pam; I hadn't talked to them in fourteen years, so we had a lot of catching up to do (the last time I was out to visit them, I blew four rods in my friend John's Jeep Wagoneer and we ended up living on Pam and Darren's apartment floor until Pam got so annoyed with us that she left town . . . John had to sell his car in Billings) and because the river was so high and fast, our trip only took a few hours, so we spent the rest of the afternoon at Chico Hot Springs, an idyllic spot under the shadow of Emigrant Mountain . . . and Catherine and I had a great time chatting with Darren and Pam, but the real surprise of the afternoon was that Alex and Ian had a great time hanging out with Annabell and Larkin-- in other words, Alex and Ian had a great time hanging out with a couple of girls . . . Montana girls who raise their own sheep and sell their own eggs, but still, actual females, which is impressive for my boys (this might be explained by the fact that they were starved for socialization with kids their own age, after spending so much time with their parents, and so even girls would suffice-- but Ian did ask if we would ever see those kids again, so I think they actually liked them).

Road Trip Day 16: Dog Days and Dog Years . . .

My favorite moment in Homer's Odyssey is when Odysseus-- after twenty years of adventuring-- finally returns home and finds that his house is overrun with suitors, who are accosting his wife Penelope; Odysseus disguises himself as a beggar in order to infiltrate the scene, and the only one who recognizes him is his faithful dog Argos, who then "passes into the darkness of death, now that he had fulfilled his destiny of faith and seen his master once more after twenty years" and while I certainly don't hope that my faithful canine companion Sirius dies of happiness when I return, I do hope he passes out for a few minutes to show his loyalty.

Road Trip Day 16: We Do Some Stuff In Yellowstone

We drove back into Yellowstone today, and:

1) we took a hike on the Howard Eaton trail into the Hoodoos-- and though the roads and main parking areas of the park were crowded, we didn't see a single person out on the trail . . . but we did see some moose scat and a number of fresh bear footprints, pointing the same direction as we were walking;

2) though we didn't turn a corner and run into a bear, we did see plenty of marmots and pikas;

3) we hiked into the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone via Uncle Tom's Trail -- a set of steep switchbacks and three hundred sheer metal stairs . . . and though there was some ominous rumbles and a few flashes of lightning, we didn't end up being a horror story on the sidebar: "stupid family dies on vacation";

4) I thought I saw a bear, but it was a bison in a ditch and then we stopped the van because a number of other cars were stopped in front of us, and a guy pointed out a grizzly bear in the distance to Catherine, but it disappeared into some trees before I caught sight of it . . . however, I did get to see a red fox squat in front of our car and poop in the road;

5) a woman told us a herd of moose had come down from the woods into the Mammoth junction area, but she didn't know the difference between moose and elk;

6) we realized that if you want to do three things in Yellowstone, you'll probably only end up doing two of them . . . it's a huge place;

7) after the long drive back to Emigrant, I walked over to the river with my spinning rod, balanced on a slippery log, fought off mosquitoes, and lost several lures to submerged tree branches . . . but it was worth it, because I caught a nice looking rainbow trout.

Road Trip Day 15: Recommendations

If you are going to visit Yellowstone National Park, I recommend:

1) staying at the cabin we rented in Paradise Valley, though it is thirty miles north of the park, because it's much quieter than the tourist traps around Yellowstone, the scenery is beautiful, the hiking is excellent, and the fishing is world class (I fished for twenty minutes yesterday morning and caught a bunch of whitefish and a good sized brown trout, and we saw the owner and his son pull in a huge rainbow and an even bigger brown trout in the evening);

2) hiking to Passage Falls -- my son Alex has definitely recovered from his virus and set wickedly fast pace-- Catherine, Ian and I could barely keep up with him;

3) eating at the Wild Flour Cafe & Bakery and Follow Yer Nose BBQ in Emigrant-- the tall girls working at the bakery make delicious pizzas, sandwiches, and treats and the pleasant dude from Alabama makes genuine southern bbq and sides at Follow Yer Nose;

4) Bozone Amber Ale and Red Lodge Bent Nail IPA.

Road Trip Day 14: We Drive Until We Arrive

A long day but a good one:

1) Alex recovered from his virus;

2) we visited some of the weird and smelly sites at Yellowstone-- fumaroles, geysers, paint pots, bubbling and boiling mud springs, mammoth inside-out limestone waterfalls, etc-- these places are a great reminder of how much thinner the earth's crust is here . . . the Yellowstone Supervolcano could blow at any time (I find it hard to believe that there are diehard creationists in this region of the country, when it's so apparent-- because of all the fossils and the geologic activity-- that the earth is an old and layered, evolutionary place);

3) after suffering many delays because of road construction, we finally made it to The Wild Rose--  it is located between Emigrant and Livingston, north of Yellowstone in the Gallatin National Forest . . . and my wife did a fantastic job with the rental: it is a brand new cabin on a big piece of land on the banks of the Yellowstone River-- which is full of trout-- and the cabin has it's own trout pond; the family that lives in the main house on the property is extremely hospitable, and set us up with fishing equipment and information; Ian and I both hooked into fish, but neither of us landed them . . . and then we got to eat our first home-cooked meal in a while, as Catherine drove up to Livingston and bought groceries-- including three kinds of sausage and local beer . . . my favorite part of Cat's trip to the local grocery store is when she calls me on the phone and gives me a synopsis of the beer selection, this time I chose Moose Drool Brown Ale and Bozone Amber;

4) my kids are obsessed with Professor Blastoff, a comedy podcast that got us through many of the long drives on the trip, and they are starting to recite the bits from the show when they are in the shower.

Road Trip Day 13: Flatulence in Paradise

We hit our first bump in the road trip yesterday: my son Alex came down with a head-ache, a stomach-ache, some body-aches and a fever . . . but Alta, Wyoming is an especially scenic place to convalesce (I can't stress this enough, The Grand Targhee Lodge is literally paradise in the summer: great hiking, cheap rates, laid back vibe, incredible weather, etc. etc. . . . but I'm sure this is true for just about any ski resort in the Rockies in the off-season, long ago, my wife and I had similar experiences at Breckenridge and Beaver Creek in Colorado); anyway, my wife was nice enough to drive Alex down to Driggs, Idaho so Alex could get some meds (it probably wasn't just kindness, my wife knows that I'm not assertive enough with doctors and she wanted to be certain that Alex got some meds); this bump in the road trip actually afforded us a break in the routine, which was kind of nice (despite Alex's pestilent flatulence, which had the remarkable ability to completely overpower the paradisiacally crisp and dry mountain air) because Ian and Catherine got to take the chairlift to the top of Fred's Mountain and take a hike with a naturalist (great photos on Captions of Cat) while Alex slept and I read about Yellowstone Park, and then Alex, Ian, and I watched the Argentina/Netherlands game while Cat took the lift up the mountain again and hiked the Bannock Trail, a long meandering trail down the spine of Fred's Mountain, which she called "the most beautiful hike of her life" and this convinced me that I should go up there and hike down as well -- and I had plenty of pent up energy from watching the game (which went to anxiety inducing PK's . . . go Argentina! . . . I chose them to win it all in our family soccer pool) but I decided that instead of taking the chairlift up, I would hike to the top of the mountain-- and this was partly because I had a lot of energy and partly because I was too cheap to buy a lift ticket and partly because I was too scared to use my wife's lift ticket even though my wife said there was no way the "granola guy" working the lift was going to deny me . . . but I was too tired to think on my feet if there was a confrontation-- even though my wife provided me an answer as to what to say if the granola guy with the scanner said anything-- plus, I wanted to conquer the mountain without the aid of a funicular, and so up I went, and within moments, I was lost, but a friendly employee using a backhoe to build a banked downhill mountain bike turn showed me the fastest way to the top, which was an insanely steep service road-- but despite the lack of oxygen, I made it up-- and at the top, which is nearly 10,000 feet, the air was fresh and clean, without a trace of my son's noxious viral gas, and you could see all the Tetons (from the backside! if you know what tetons means in French, then you'll find that especially dirty) and there were snow banks on the mountains and majestic pine trees and birds and butterflies and marmots and prairie dogs, and a 360 panorama of the Targhee National Forest in the valley below, but by the time I got back down to the bottom, every part of my body hurt, and I could barely walk up a flight of stairs . . . but Alex was feeling much better, and this wasn't the kid of hike you could take the kids on, way too long and dangerous, so perhaps his sickness was somethign of a blessing for both Cat and I, who have done a lot of family time in the last week and a half . . . and I'm sorry, but I don't have a resolution to this sentence . . . I don't know if Alex is completely over his illness, and I don't know if I'm going to wake up tomorrow and be completely incapacitated from hiking nearly seven miles at altitude in a little over two hours (that's right, I'm the master of the humblebrag) but like it or not, I will keep you posted.

Road Trip Day 12: We Drive Far Too Far

We took off from Hot Springs, South Dakota at 5 AM yesterday in order to cross Wyoming, swing around the Grand Tetons, cut through a sliver of Idaho, and then zip back into Wyoming on the far side of the Teton range . . . all this to reach our final destination-- The Grand Targhee Lodge-- before kickoff of the Brazil/Germany game . . . but it took us a little longer than expected and so we arrived thirty minutes into the first half, and thought the 5-0 score was a typographical error; the drive took a little over nine hours and now I understand the meaning of Camper Van Beethoven's lyric "no one ever conquered Wyoming from the left or from the right" . . . because we entered Wyoming on the right and finished on the left and we certainly didn't conquer the place, in fact, it nearly conquered us . . . it is such a vast sea of nothingness, of high plains and sharp buttes, exposed rock and sagebrush, pronghorn antelope and cattle, dark hills forever in the distance-- Wyoming is the tenth largest state and only has half a million people (and so-- besides Alaska-- it is the least densely populated state, averaging five people per square mile . . . for comparison, New Jersey is the most densely populated state, with 1189 people per square mile) and while most of the day was a blur of brown land and winding roads, there are a few moments that lodged themselves into my weary brain:

1) at 5:30 AM, Ian ate some of my kippered buffalo jerky-- and liked it-- and so Alex remarked that Ian and the ice cream tasting cowboy from Hot Springs should have switched foodstuff;

2) one of the things John Steinbeck observes about the United States in his book Travels with Charley is that the diction and content of road signs change from state to state; I saw this firsthand in Wyoming . . . there were actually two signs announcing one particular "Roadside Table" and we saw our first "80 mph" speed limit . . . of course, you need to be careful when you're driving that fast, as some areas are "Open Range/ Loose Stock" and others you should be "Bear Aware";

3) the town of Kinnear outdid (undid) Interior, with a population of 44 folks;

4) seeing the Tetons rise out of this vast sea of sagebrush is awesome . . . I think we debated for three hours if the white patches in the distance were snow (they were);

5) when you drink three beers at eight thousand feet, it feels like six (I already learned this with Whitney in Aspen, but I forgot).

Road Trip Day 10 into Day 11: We Learn Too Much

We were barraged with salvos of information from Sunday evening through Monday, probably too much to absorb, so don't quiz me on any of this-- and if you need any visuals, head to Captions of Cat:

1) on our way to dinner at the Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City-- highly recommended for both for the food and the beer-- we took an impromptu presidential quiz, as Rapid City has a presidential statue on every street corner; Ian would run ahead and stand on the plaque, blocking the name, and then we would guess which president the statue depicted . . . a number of them were easy: JFK, Taft . . . who was a fatty, John Adams (thanks Paul Giamatti!), Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush . . . and I nailed a number of more difficult ones: Herbert Hoover, Andrew Jackson, and Harry Truman . . . but some were impossible for us: Martin Van Buren,  Chester A. Arthur, and James K. Polk;

2) after a fantastic meal at the Firehouse, we walked through Main Street Square and stumbled upon a theater group setting up an outdoor production of Hamlet-- which was to begin at dusk-- and though we were full of food and beer and tired from a day of hiking, this piqued my curiosity-- were they going to do all four hours of the most famous Shakespearean tragedy on a tiny stage in a South Dakota park? or was this going to be a parody?-- so we stayed to see and it was fantastic: a boiled down, eighty minute version of the play, but all Shakespeare-- just the best bits-- and my kids loved it (I was also giving them a running commentary, using my brother Marc as King Claudius, which was probably very disturbing . . . you come home from school and I'm dead and Uncle Marc is in our house and he says I'm your new dad and then I show up as a ghost and tell you that Uncle Marc murdered me . . . so what would you do? . . . and my son Alex didn't bat an eye, he said "kill him" and then I remembered that The Lion King was a less disturbing parallel to the plot, and used that for reference) and my kids also loved watching the South Dakota delinquent teenagers hanging out in the parking deck just behind the stage, setting off car alarms and smoking cigarettes and acting cool (and Ian also loved sneaking behind the stage to see what character was going to enter next);

3) Monday morning we drove to Wind Cave National Park and I learned, for the seventeenth time, that I don't like cave tours and that if you've seen one cave, you've seen them all-- but my kids loved it and they want to do the four hour "Wild Cave" spelunking expedition once they are old enough (I also learned that some people are really really stupid . . . who brings an 18 month old screaming child on a cave tour? . . . though this wasn't as bad as when Cat and I went through Mammoth Caves in Kentucky and got stuck behind a family with horrible body odor);

 4) we learned that bison really do roam free on the plains of South Dakota;

5) we learned that Hot Springs is the most scenic town in the Black Hills-- all the buildings are made of light red sandstone and some are stately, a warm stream runs through the center of town-- fed by the springs-- and there is a even a waterfall . . . the place has none of the tourist vibe of the towns up near Mount Rushmore (it actually has a sense of decay, which is paradoxical, considering the solid nature of the buildings);

6) my children learned that Evans Plunge is their favorite place on earth-- it is billed as "the world's largest natural warm water indoor swimming pool" and it is quite huge, a giant gravel bottomed pool filled with 87 degree mineral water from the eponymous hot springs of the town . . . and it has some old school water slides-- extremely fast and scary-- and rope swings and rings, and an outdoor pool and water slide as well . . . worth visiting;

7) and though we had learned too much, we had to visit the Mammoth Site, as that's the reason we were in Hot Springs-- so we took another tour, and it was well worth it-- this site rivals Ashfall-- but this time the fossil trap was a slate-ringed waterhole . . . animals would come to snack on the plants that grew year round at the site (because of the hot springs) and then would slide down the slippery slate into the pool of water and drown or die of starvation; the site is sixty seven feet deep, a treasure trove of Pleistocene bones preserved in sandstone like fruit in jello-- mainly mammoths (there are several different species represented, including the gigantic Columbian mammoth, see the photo below) but they also found the remains of the giant short-faced bear, the biggest bear and possible one of the biggest mammalian terrestrial carnivores to ever live on our planet;

8) we learned about Crazy Horse on the way to Wind Cave National Park-- the twenty minute film at the monument nearly made me cry-- carving this mountain is like a great underdog sports movie . . . a far more moving place than Mount Rushmore (in fact, you could fit all four busts at Mount Rushmore in Crazy Horse's head);

9) I learned that nothing looks  sillier than a skinny dude in full cowboy attire-- black Stetson, black pinstriped button down long sleeve shirt, blue jeans, boots-- discerningly tasting an ice cream sample on one of those cute little spoons.

Road Trip Day Ten: We Visit Places With Excellent Names

Yesterday, we drove from Rapid City through Sturgis, and into Spearfish, and then descended into the Spearfish Canyon and hiked the 76 Trail and to Roughlock Falls, and then hooked around and had a burger at Lewie's in the town of Lead and then proceeded to Deadwood (the highlight of which was eating chocolate truffles at The Chubby Chipmunk, a dilapidated whitewashed concrete shack at the edge of town with a full parking lot and a tiny interior, where you can order from a vast array of expensive and very dense chocolate truffles -- they even have a truffle vending machine outside . . . it's $11.75 for four truffles and well worth it) and then we went back to Rapid City, which has a park full of concrete dinosaurs at the top of a mountain in the middle of town, and my kids said this place is more fun that Mount Rushmore because you can't climb on Mount Rushmore but you can climb on the concrete dinosaurs.

A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.