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[OK, we're having so much fun and taking so many pictures that I am running up against a choice of writing or inserting pictures into my posts. So here's the post. Check back for updates with pictures.]

Day 2 started where it ended: South Dakota, land of big stone heads.

I slept like (appropriately) like a rock, but Kelsea did not – pillowcity issues.  Which  means she stole all the best pillows last night and so it was my turn not to sleep well.

We had another amazing yesterday.  We had a fairly leisurely morning, and a passable lunch (yes, it was that leisurely a morning) at the Holiday Inn, spent going through about 30 of those little pamphlets that every mid-range hotel that caters to families has in a big “take one” stand near one of their exits.  In my quest for said pamphlets, I chatted with a woman who runs the little hotel gift shop; she has a 13-year old grandson, and gave me tips as to where to go and what to do.  Kelsea, with her new interest in Native American culture, was talking during our drive about how what we as the conquering people did to the Native Americans was one of the most heinous things our countrymen have ever done, and when I hinted at this chunk of history to the nice lady, she got rather chilly.  Note to self: When in South Dakota,do not mention how we wiped out Native Americans. Apparently, it is a touchy subject.

Brunch was a rather risqué affair, spurred by Kelsea’s comparison of excellent french fries to hot guys – I will spare you the details, but it was one of those meals where everything either of us said seemed to have some sort of hilarious double entendre.  We finally reached a shutting up point.  Then it was off to the car to say G’Day to Lee (the Garmin, in case you’ve forgotten).

After being amused by cheerleaders waving their sparkly pom-poms and screaming out a little purple Toyota Celica, Lee directed us to our first destination: the Chapel in the Hills, or Stavekirk.

Chapel in the Hills (Stavkirke)

Built in 1969, the chapel is an exact replica of an 850 year old church near Laerdal, Norway, and honors not only God but the Norwegian culture that permeates the region.  And it’s Lutheran, in case you were wondering, which always makes me think of A Prairie Home Companion.  There is no congregation.  The Chapel is used for weddings and special events.  In fact, there was a wedding about to start while we were there.  (When we arrived, we could tell something was going on, but we disagreed on whether it was a wedding or a funeral, Kelsea thinking the latter.  But I can smell a groomsman from a mile away, thanks to all those years of catering.) The bride looked lovely and they had a beautiful day for it.  We decided not to creep, even though we could have stood in the exact right spot to make faces at the entire cadre of guests.

The intricate carvings depict battles between good and evil and trace back to Viking times, incorporating some pagan beliefs, which may be why I was so comfortable there.

They even have a Leper hole, so that the lepers could worship without interacting with the rest of the congregation. Not much needed nowadays, but if you’re building an exact replica, then you have to build an exact replica.

The light that streamed in through various openings, and enhanced the serenity of the Stavekirke. It felt simple, yet complex at the same time.  A lot like religion itself, in some ways.

They play a recording every few minutes, giving you some history and details of the chapel.  Of course, just as we were getting started, my camera’s memory card filled up.  However, because I’ve forgotten memory cards in the past – and it’s no small feat to find one in the islands – I had a spare.  They come in those packages that a rabid scrabbling badger couldn’t open if his life depended on it.  Fortunately, my daughter had her trusty knife. (Wait, fortunately? My daughter? A knife?) I borrowed it and started slashing away at the packaging and at that very moment, the Voice on the recording intoned, “Weapons were forbidden inside the Chapel.”  We started giggling in a hysterically guilty manner.

A Prayer Path runs through the woods behind the Stave, so we walked along that, following the prayer stones and sometimes touching the statues along the way.

(According to this sculptor, Mary wore steel-toed boots.  Who knew?)  It led to a large rock overhang (which looked like a shaman hole to me and a perfect place for millions of spiders to Kelsea) and took a minute to be still.

Our last stop was the small museum filled with Scandinavian things and creepy mannequins.

Oh, and the gift shop really needed a goat to trim its roof.

The Stave is a non-profit and runs entirely on donations.  Should you be in the area, I encourage you to visit. And the docent ladies are charmingly helpful.

Feeling peaceful, we headed for Bear Country, stopping along the way to take pictures of giant man statues.  You should never pass up the opportunity to photograph a giant man statue.

Bear County is an interesting take on a zoo/wildlife park.  It’s a little pricey ($32 for two adults, because my 14-year-old would not lay claim to being 13, which would have saved us bucks.  That’s what happens when you have just come from a church).  But, having never been to Yellowstone, where I would hope to have a similar experience, where else could we find bears and elk practically stepping on our truck?  There are a few basic rules to Bear Country: stay in your vehicle with the windows tightly rolled up, pull off to the right to take pictures, and don’t feed the animals. (Note to others: if you are planning to visit Bear Country, wash all of your car windows first.)

I really sucked at keeping the windows rolled up, and Kelsea was constantly nattering about how I was risking my life and going to be eaten by bears, but I successfully tuned her out.  I mean, who’s the mother here anyway?  (Just kidding, I love her concern.)

Our first encounter was with a two ginormous elk and their harem.  Never have I seen such racks (on the guys).  You could practically read the mind of one of the gentlemen elk when one of the ladies appeared in a softly flattering light between two trees and he turned his lusty, savage eye upon her.

The elk dudes strolled across the road as if they owned it (which they do) heedless of cars.  I’m curious how they trained the animals to become so inured to cars; even though no one is going fast, it is still a pretty foreign object to a wild animal.

Mule Deer, which we see all the time in Colorado.  These two were headed to a party in the shed.

We next encountered wolves, but they were all sleeping. ALL of them. Bummer.

Bighorn Sheep.  One was just falling asleep in sun, like I used to do in philosophy class in college, with that head nod-jerk thing.

Mountain goats, which Kelsea could see but I couldn’t.

Buffalo in the distance.

Mountain lions all curled up snugly together in their shelter.

And then the bears.  So so so many bears.  Beautiful bears.  Playful bears.   Old bears.  Bears sunning themselves.  Bears just being bears.

It was awesome.

I kept rolling my window down to take pictures.  Once in a while, I would roll Kelsea’s down to shoot across her, but since I am a good mother, I kept her up most of the time.  This strategy worked pretty well, although twice, I was distracted and Kelsea pointed out that a bear was ambling towards my open window or was about five feet away.  No contest, window shut.

Again, it was awesome. Though we did wonder how many people had been really stupid and had gotten themselves eaten.

We wound up at the gift shop and the place where the smaller animals that no doubt would be eaten by the bears hang out.

And where the baby bear cubs play.  I wish I could have gotten better pictures because they were adorable.  These will have to suffice.

We were undecided about our next destination. Well, I was undecided, but Kelsea was very determined: she wanted to go to Sturgis to the Mustang Rally (the car, not the horse).  We looked at the map, talked about what else was on our agenda for the weekend, and decided to take the plunge. I-90/14/79 here we come.  Why do highways have to have so many numbers?

The drive was smooth – lovely rolling green/brown hills.  We saw a sign for Black Hills National Cemetery, which had been on the “maybe” list of to-dos, and since we were there, we decided to stop.

Wow.

Kelsea wondered if everyone who had ever died in South Dakota was buried there.

What a powerful place.  From what I could gather – and I haven’t done the research yet – any veteran of the armed forces can be interred here, along with spouse and children.

The stories that these stones could tell.  I felt a book coming on.

Cemeteries usually give me a vibe.  This one felt orderly – which felt appropriate to the military demeanor – and personal yet impersonal all at once.  Peaceful but incredibly strong.  A sense of contained energy.  And a heightened awareness that we were just looking at a tiny fraction of the men and women who had served to protect this country over the last 100 years.

Thanks to all of them.

Continuing on to Sturgis, I had no idea where to find the Mustang Rally.  But as soon as we got to town, we started seeing Mustangs streaming down the street.  I told Kelsea that I thought we’d missed it, but she was ecstatic just to see so many Mustangs driving down the street.  That would have been enough for her.

But we weren’t quite too late.  The Mustang Parade was just winding down, and a ton of cars were still there, parked, showing off, or doing the peel-out competition.  I was looking for a place to park, having let Kelsea just jump out with the camera before she fell out the door in her eagerness.  I only had a moment of panic when I realized I had just turned my 14-year old daughter lose in Sturgis, but we quickly reconnected.

She had fallen madly, passionately, and completely in love.  With this car.

And now she wants to move to Sturgis.

The Mustangs WERE indeed beautiful.

We talked with the owner of Kelsea’s new innamorata, who told us there was an excellent Mustang rally up in Steamboat Springs in June.  I know where we’ll be going next June.  And she’ll even be able to drive by then.  Look out.

On our way home, she was too impassioned to even speak properly.  But we did start trying to count the “Think! Why die?” signs that South Dakota puts up on the highway to indicate where someone died.  Yikes.  I think it was worse than in Montana.

We walked to dinner from the Holiday Inn.  I had a momentary disappointment when, for some reason, I was thinking about my age and realized that I had just subtracted 11 years from my actual age when I was thinking about it. I was bummed to remember how old I was!

Dinner was at the Firehouse Brewery, a restaurant in the original Rapid City fire station.  The food (gumbo for me, Caesar Salad for her) was good.  The restaurant was a little loud, kind of crowded, but entertaining, with lots of firefighter memorabilia and patches from all over the country (and the world).

As we left Johnny Lunchmeat started playing cover songs.  Awesome name.  Not bad music.  We can say we saw him before he was famous.

Our walk home took us through the park, which was fine – no drug dealers.  As we were walking beneath one of the widely spaced streetlights, it went out, shoving us into near total darkness.  This would not be remarkable, except for the same thing had happened on Wednesday when Pat and I were coming back from Parent Night at high school.  I had joked that it was Dumbledore.  But now I am not so sure.

And so, we crashed.  And now, it is a new day. And I have finally gotten the loveable lump out of bed.  So it’s off to see the big heads.

We have had a lovely time and we don’t want to go home yet.

Today was my only day boogie boarding.  I’d forgotten what fun it is to feel like you’re flying when you catch a wave just right.

Kelsea has taught herself to skimboard.  It’s harder than it looks.  I’m proud of her determination to figure it out.  And I refuse to try it this trip.  Driving back across the country with a broken tailbone does not sound like a good idea.

The Civil War is still being fought in some parts of North Carolina.  Confederate flags are still flying in front of houses. 

It’s wonderful to be in a place where there’s no trash on the beach and strangers say “Good Morning” to you as you pass.  It’s easy to strike up a conversation about a dog, or compliment someone on a sarong.  It’s as if we’re in one giant open air living room.

We like the small beach houses better than the big ones.  And we can’t understand why the big ones have so few windows on the sound side. 

The sound side of the island (even the sound side of the house) has a totally different vibe than the beach side.  It’s slow, mellow, warm, neighborly.  The beach side is breezy, alive, changing, natural.

Dogs, dogs, dogs!  A chubby little beagle.  A pair of black labs, one of whom is learning to love the water.  A white Siberian Husky puppy.  Annabelle, the Beach Shop bulldog.  Dogs + Beach = Happiness.

Almost got struck by lightning yesterday – close as I’ve ever come.  It shook me up and made my already strange energy with electronics incredibly funky.  The GPS couldn’t feel my fingers.  (That happens to me with elevator buttons on a regular basis.)

I could watch the sea move forever.  And the sea will move forever.

We’ve been here at Topsail a day and a half, and it alternates between feeling like we’ve been here for ages and we’ve been here for hours.  I have always had a tendency to count days here (even though one of my favorite sayings is ‘At the beach, you forget to count the days’), being glad that I have so many days left and dreading the fact that I have so few days left.  Quite a conundrum.

After Kelsea made her sleepyheaded appearance, we dressed and went on a quest for swim attire for her.  Who knew that board shorts and a rash guard would be so hard to find for a person her size?  We stopped at Wings or Waves or something like that – the store where you enter through the giant alligator mouth next to the Food Lion.  I vacillate between loving and hating these stores – they certainly have a lot of stuff, but it’s mostly cheap stuff.  All 3 stores in this “chain” are owned by one middle eastern clan who employ no one but family, and somehow the staff always seems cold, indifferent and impatient – you get the sense that they are only here to make as much money as possible off of stupid tourists and that they don’t give a crap about the stores or their customers. Maybe I’m wrong – that’s just the vibe I’ve always gotten.

At any rate, we did find something for her just as my frustration level was about to reach the boiling-over point.  Then it was off to Food Lion to fight the crowds for bacon and wrestle the last three San Pellegrino bottles away from another shopper.  Food Lion is always a free-for-all madhouse on the weekends.  They should sell tickets.

Home at last, we hung on the porch and read, played Trivial Pursuit, talked.  I cooked a chicken for dinner.  Read some more.  E-Bro, Bubba Sue, A-Man, Big S and Little L arrived and we headed down to their house for a visit.  The boys are looking good.  I’m pleased to report that Little L took her first-ever step towards me on the bed!  OK, it seemed that way, but I could be wrong.  At any rate, we were all happy to see each other, and we hung out on the porch, drinking wine (well, not the kids) and watching the huge pink full moon rise from the depths of the sea.

Kelsea and I walked back up the beach to our house and tucked ourselves in for a welcome sleep. 

And now it’s a new day.  A happy new day.

We moved from Asheville to Durham yesterday via the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It was an emotional rollercoaster for me, going back to Durham, as I hadn’t been here since my Mother’s funeral.   And I haven’t been on the Blue Ridge Parkway since my childhood, which is a rollercoaster road itself.

So I was weepy, full of self-doubt, feeling all ages, having that sense of tiredness of spirit that has been so familiar off and on since the loss of my parents, my best friend, my marriage.  Feeling like I have everything ahead of me, and like I am not the same person I was two years ago, feeling like I’ve lost my confidence in my self, like I apologize for living, like I take responsibility for everything, regardless of whether or not its my fault.  And my not-so-little girl held my hand and just quietly let me feel what I needed to feel.

We stopped at a couple of beautiful scenic overlooks – at one, there were so many butterflies that they simply flew into our faces.  In fact, the Blue Ridge Parkway has very little roadkill, except for the suicidal butterflies.  We took a quick hike up to Linville Falls.

Kelsea had the rare opportunity stand in a tree and sit on a tree on the same hike.

Otherwise, our trip through the mountains to the Piedmont was uneventful, with the exception of the car in front of us running off the road onto the grassy median doing 75 mph – I was sure he was going to flip, as he was fishtailing and spitting dirt, but he regained control and stopped.

Arriving at the King’s Daughter’s Inn in Durham was a dream come true for me. 

I’d always wanted to live there when I retired (it used to be a home for little old ladies).  The innkeepers have turned it into a lovely retreat, and have made a point of keeping a lot of the original character of the house.  The solarium is a soothing haven of green.

The kitchen is separated from the breakfast room by heavy green velvet poitiers, and the bathroom door had a lock on it like the one in my bathroom growing up.  And funny thing, I discovered I could still lock myself in and have great difficulty getting out.  I almost had to call Kelsea on her cell phone to come open the bathroom door.

We walked around East Campus last night, and I told her tales of growing up there; we sat on one of the fraternity benches watching some ultimate players until the biting flies drove us half mad. 

We took a sunset drive downtown for more tale-telling about my restaurant days, and headed back to the Inn to snuggle up in our cushy bed.

This morning after breakfast, we said goodbye to the King’s Daughters Inn and her stressed-out owners, who were preparing for a house full of wedding party guests.  With a day to devote to Durham, we started out by finding the house I lived in the summer before I moved to Colorado – a very faded blue two-story on Lynch Street that we who lived there named the “L.O.P.S.I.D.E.D. P.E.N.G.U.I.N.”.  I can’t remember what it stood for, but I’m sure it’s buried in a journal from those days.

We then circled around Northgate (I described the luxurious experience of buying shoes in the early 1960s in great detail), and parked by the house I grew up in.  I was only a little weepy looking around the backyard and the front yard.  Kelsea was amazed at how much I could tell her about our neighbors from 40 years ago. 

We went by my old friend Harriet’s house at 6 Sylvan Place, and I told her about what that great friendship was like.  We then headed onto West Campus and spent some time in Duke Chapel, meditating, remembering.  I left a single tear behind.

Our next stop was the Divinity School Library and where we said hello to the librarian who took my Dad’s place, and wandered around the stacks looking at old books that my Dad acquired during his almost-50 years there.  So much had changed, but a few things were still the same, and that made me feel loved.

And there’s still a fainting couch in the downstairs ladies restroom.

We walked down to the Biology building to say hello to the petrified wood.  The big green hill that was perfect for rolling down, and the huge willow tree are gone, replaced by a building (as were some streets that I used to drive through).  But there is the delightful addition of the Man and Camel Statue.

Having restocked on sweatshirts and water in the Student Union, we drove off for a tour of my lower/middle school campus at Durham Academy, which was also remarkably unchanged, a drive-by of my friend Martha’s house in Hope Valley, and then back to my old High School campus.  Kelsea was delighted by the tale of Mrs. Schuster driving the school van through the wall of the gymnasium.

We felt a bit out of place checking into the Washington Duke – we’re much more like the doorman than the other guests.  But we’ll survive the interesting combination of posh and preppie.  Starving, we went on a foodquest. 

Ninth Street in Durham has been revitalized since I was little, and is now a happening street full of shops and restaurants – we had dinner at Dain’s Diner, which was featured on the Travel Channel’s “Man vs. Food”‘s Durham episode, then bought a couple of presents at my favorite store ever, Vaguely Reminiscent, and the ever-popular Regulator Bookstore.

We are now embedded in the Washington Duke again – and by the way, the beds are made up as tight as straightjackets.  Kelsea had to unmake hers prior to getting in. 

Tomorrow, we end Cycle 1 of the EAR by finally making it to Topsail – 10 days in the Beach House will be bliss before we hit the road again.  We have alternated between never wanting our EAR to end and being ready to stop driving for a little while. 

The past two days have left me contemplative.  You can’t go home again, but then again, the part of you that called a place home can discover that it has never truly left, and that the place has not truly changed.  It’s amazing how many memories are stored in your head, how many emotions.  As I have said before, I believe that in your spirit, you are still every age you have ever been.  Today, the touch of a window latch, the sight of a cardinal in flight, the cool of the trees enveloping us as we drove the old route to school, just confirmed it.

We have spent the last night and day (and now night) in Asheville, North Carolina. 

Our trip from Nashville to here was great.  We took one intentional detour to see the statue of the Giant Pink Elephant in A Bikini (with Sunglasses) – totally worthwhile. 

And one accidental detour in Knoxville, in our quest for the World’s Largest Rubik’s Cube, which we couldn’t find.  I suspect it was hidden in a Holiday Inn.  As we were trying to find our way back onto the highway, we instead found ourselves in the pouring rain under the highway next to the Rescue Mission/Soup Kitchen.  Locked the doors and felt glad to have our trusty companion, “Jimmy” close to hand.

Daniel, our GPS, kept wanting us to get back on the interstate, while I had decided to take Hwy. 441 South.  We finally had to shut Daniel off.  He can be very helpful, but he can be very stubborn when he has his little GPS brain set on a particular route. 

Hwy. 441 South took us through Pigeon Forge, home of Dollywood.  No, we didn’t stop there, but we did stop at the Hillbilly Village and picked up several politically incorrect items and took a gander at their collection of old stills that were in the backyard. 

Pigeon Forge is like a more Southern version of Branson, but with fewer shows and more mini-golf courses and rides that turn you upside-down until you projectile vomit onto passersby on the sidewalks below.

Gatlinburg came on the heels of Pigeon Forge – again, lots of age-appropriate amusements and shopping, but much smaller and more intimate than the previous town.  It reminded me a little of Estes Park, Colorado, with a twang.  Immediately after Gatlinburg, we entered into the Great Smokey Mountains.  I’d never been there.  My gods, how magical this place is. 

Primeval forests, mist-licked valleys, hills and mountains in descending shades of blues and deepening shades of greens.  It was Kelsea’s iPod day and so we played the music to “Oblivion” repeatedly, as it matched the mood of the trees, moss, randoming river and hints of sunlight.

As we drove out of the hills, there was a huge stag grazing near the side of the road.  And Kelsea saw her first turkey taking a ramble along the edge of a clearing.   

We suddenly emerged into Cherokee, which is actually the Cherokee Indian Reservation.  The first things we saw was a portly Cherokee gentleman in full yellow-and-red feathered regalia, chatting with someone at a car window. 

While the Reservation has lots and lots of Christian churches and one casino, which is currently expanding, it also has the giant Indian Man Statue and street signs that are all written in both English and the native Cherokee language.  The street signs were, I think, the most respectful and only acknowledgement of the native culture. 

It would be best to forget the signs for Santa’s Playland (or something like that) featuring an inebriated-looking Mr. Claus with a scary twinkle/scar on one eye; the Playland itself, as seen from the roadside, hosted a forlorn-looking albino reindeer and a few other animals that, quite frankly, looked like nothing on earth. 

Back down from the hills, we saw many classic signs and closed stores that were photo-worthy, but we needed to get to the next place and it was too dangerous to continually veer off the busy mountain road to try to take pictures.  We may swing back in that direction tomorrow – there was a junkyard with a full suit of armor outside that we feel the need to check out.  And I know we can get on the Blue Ridge Parkway from there.

Our hotel, the Brookstone Lodge, is new, just fine, convenient to I-40, to Biltmore, and to downtown Asheville.  We had a delightful dinner at the Mellow Mushroom, where they had San Pellegrino by the bottle (!!!!!!!!).

This morning, on heading to the car, we discovered we had a hitchhiker – an orange and tan moth that was about 5 inches long and 3 inches wide that looked like nothing we’d ever seen before.  He stuck with us as we drove to Biltmore – I even asked one of the security guards who was standing by my car door if he knew what it was.  He took a big step back and said he’d never seen anything like it.  Honestly, it looked like it was eating the car.  To make peace with it, I named him Norman.

The Biltmore Estate is as beautiful as ever.  We spent almost 6 hours there, between the house and the gardens.  There are many more rooms open to the public since my last visit 30-some years ago, but there are also many, many, many more people.  The experience was slightly soiled by having to inch through the house in a huge line, but we still loved it.

The gardens and conservatory were stunning.

I don’t think I’d ever been here in summer, only at Easter and in the Fall.  Kelsea’s still-persistent cough was making her feel a little puny, so we skipped the Bass Pond, but we really did get the full Biltmore experience.  Norman had taken refuge under our parked truck, and I made sure not to run him over as we left.  The road out led us past a mile of corn edged by sunflowers. 

We dined in Asheville at Jack of the Wood, a Celtic pub that served an amazing grilled salmon with mustard sauce, and what Kelsea deemed the best french fries she’d ever eaten.  Tomorrow, it’s off to Durham, my old hometown, via the Blue Ridge Parkway, for two days of reminiscing, and then onto the beach.

Sweet dreams.

Writing tonight from Nashville, Tennessee, our third night on the road.  I had hoped to write nightly, but we’ve been so exhausted by the time we  hit a hotel room that it hasn’t happened.  We’ve been having a most excellent time!

Here are a few highlights.

Day One – Boulder, Colorado to Topeka, Kansas

 - The Tower Museum in Genoa, Colorado – weird, cool, amazing, bizarre, and only $1!!  Don’t let the Psycho-esque dummies in the upper windows scare you off.  Jerry the owner is a total hoot and loves to have people stop in.  The 13 rooms in this place are packed – literally with anything you can think of.  In fact, I believe one of their mottos is, “If it’s not here, it doesn’t exist.”  AND you can see 6 states from the top of the tower.  You can’t tell where they are or which states you’re seeing, but still….6 STATES!

In Goodland, Kansas, we stopped at the World’s Largest Easel!

I’ve never had such a good time driving through Kansas – it was beautiful!  We admired the corn – corn literally as far as the eye could see.  Friendly truckers.  Lots of churches.  The largest windfarm we’ve ever seen.  Lots and lots of roadkill.

Arriving in Topeka absolutely exhausted, we discovered that the Topeka Curse was still upon me.  There was not a hotel room to be had in Topeka – among other parties filling the beds was a Missionary Conference.  I wished we could have stayed for the fashion show the next day – I’m sure it was something.

So we drove an additional half-hour to Lawrence and spent a night at the Holiday Inn.  At least we were an extra half hour farther along the next day.  The people at the Holiday Inn in Topeka and the Holiday Inn in Lawrence were all exceptionally nice.

Day Two: Lawrence, Kansas to Branson, Missouri (Yes, Branson)

We enjoyed the rolling green hills of Missouri, and were disappointed that we didn’t get to see any Amish people after all the “Share The Road” signs.  We pulled into Branson after about 4 hours of driving – not bad compared to our 11 hours the day before. 

The Baymont Inn and Suites was off the Strip, which was fine with us.  We drove in and visited the Titanic Museum which was a very powerful experience, then tried to find dinner, but apparently there’s only one place left to eat on a Sunday in Branson after 7:30.  But eat we did – a good steak, with the music and long wait being made tolerable by two margaritas and two Dr. Peppers.  Kelsea was fascinated by the obesity problem.  Branson is a bizarre quasi-Las Vegas, Southern Style.

Today – Branson, Missouri to Nashville, Tennessee

Another long driving day – Kelsea slept for part of it.  We visited the World’s Smallest Cathedral (which is for sale).  We tried to visit the Fire (and Soda Bottle) Museum in Willow Springs, but it was closed, so we wandered around outside looking at the classic fire trucks.  The fire chief, who looks a little like an old surfer-hippie, happened to drive up and told us that the museum was now just the fire house, but he invited us in and gave Kelsea some ideas about how to accelerate her EMT training, which was very helpful.

We relaunched onto the highway going back the way we came, instead of forward, so I drove over the grassy median to get headed in the right direction.  Hey, sometimes it just has to be done.  And toodling along, we saw……AMISH PEOPLE!!  I was so excited.  I know they’re not a tourist attraction, but still!!

We stopped at Lambert’s Restaurant, home of the Throwed Rolls, for lunch and ate our bodyweight in catfish and chicken.  Kelsea caught a roll and the roll-tosser was a cute teenage boy, so she was way happy.

We crossed the Mississippi and the Ohio River and headed into Kentucky.  Kentucky makes me smile.  It feels like home.  It’s lush and green and gentle, and we spent too little time there before we crossed the Tennessee border.

They drive really fast in Tennessee.  Really fast.  But not as fast as Montana. 

We have been laughing and laughing.  We’ve been listening to our iPods, trading off on whose iPod day it is.  Kelsea has been our scribe – when we see something particularly entertaining, she makes note of it in our notebook.  I’ll pull from that for more writing once we get to the beach.

Tomorrow it’s Nashville to Asheville, where we’ll spend two nights.  It’ll be nice to have a short driving day, and two nights in the same place.

Sweet dreams, all!

I know I didn’t finish the tale of our travel to Steamboat – you’re missing the details of the service at the Christian Science church, the cellist who almost destroyed the Boston Symphony, and moose hallucinations (which would make an excellent name for a band).  And maybe I’ll finish up while we’re on the road, but…..we’re hitting the road again tomorrow morning.

It’s the beginning of our Excellent Adventure Roadtrip (EAR).  Tomorrow’s goals: 

- The World’s Largest Easel
- Don Kracht’s Castle Island
- Child Mystery Dress-Up Grave
- Fire Hydrant Garden

All winding up at the Holidome in Topeka, Kansas, where I once broke down (the car got stuck in 3rd gear on the interstate, and if this ever happens to you, be very careful where you finally park, because you will forget that the car will not go into reverse), completely lost my voice, and felt like I was going to freeze my most delicate parts off.  Good times. 

Hopefully, I will erase the bad associations I currently have with the Kansas capital, and replace them with something new and fun and weird.  Stay tuned. 

The adventure is about to begin.

As a trial run for our upcoming Excellent Adventure Roadtrip (EAR), Kelsea and I took off for Steamboat Springs this weekend.  Today’s driving was 1/3 of the maximum distance that we’d drive in one day on the EAR.  All went smoothly – our new Garmin, a.k.a. Daniel, was on his first trial run as well.  We like him – he has an English accent, and we found ourselves getting a little insecure when he hadn’t spoken for a while.  (It helped that I knew where I was going.)

This is one of my favorite drives after you get off 1-70 and head northwest paralleling the Blue River.  Traffic moved well the entire way.  We stopped and took pictures in a few places and were inundated by mosquitoes at one point, hastily retreating to the car, but still having to kill them inside against our arms and the newly washed windows.  The hills and fields were emerald green and horse-studded, reminiscent of the Alps in image if not aura.  The highway rolled before us in macadam waves, snaking into the notches between the hills, a temptation to which we could most fortunately succumb.  The air was clean.  It smelled of rain, rain that became reality from time to time, dripping, spitting, sprinkling, dowsing, slowing, stopping.  Coming off a wonderful birthday, I had a smile of freedom and joy on my face.  I do love to go places.

We moved up into the mountains surrounding Steamboat, over Rabbit Ears Pass and into the sanctuary of the Routt Valley.  Condos and million-dollar homes are built up to the Steamboat Spring Ski Resort, providing a deceptive first-look at what, less than 20 years ago, was a bona fide mountain-man town.  As the road shoots straight into downtown Steamboat, development relaxes, and we are greeted by our destination, the Rabbit Ears Motel, an icon of the town’s lodging options. Family-owned, complete with neon rabbit sign, I’ve always had a hankering to stay here.  It’s right on the main drag (Lincoln Avenue), making it easy to walk to almost anything except tomorrow’s Hot Air Balloon Rodeo and Strawberry Hot Springs.  (Last year’s lodging, the Mariposa Lodge, was a nice B&B on the opposite edge of town, past the old neighborhood.  It was still within walking distance, but a pretty good walk away from the main drag.  It’s biggest drawback was the distance, and the fact that the walls were too thin.)

Deb, who was working the front desk was harried, having had a busy day – the No Vacancy sign beneath the neon bunny backed up her statement.  I’m glad I reserved in advance, as every motel we passed had a similar message for the spontaneous traveller.  She said we’ve been upgraded from “a really small room” (where we’d planned to share a bed) to a double queen.  Yippee!  We each have our own bed!

Kelsea is tired from a long day at Elitches yesterday, and the usual teenager’s lack of sleep.  She’s made best efforts to sleep in the car, to no avail. (Note to self: bring pillows on the EAR.)  She rallies, though after we’re checked in and unloaded, and we take a walk along the Yampa River path.  Some dudes are floating down the river on air mattresses.  It looks fun – neither of us being strong swimmers, we doubt the wisdom of that action.  They’re warming up for the Friday night rodeo in the arena, but we’re saving that for tomorrow night.  Right now, I’m hungry.  Kelsea is satiated from a Good Times Double Cheeseburger we picked up Dillon, so she’s still full, but I haven’t eaten since breakfast.

We wander in and out of stores.  Kelsea sits down with the sculpture of Abe Lincoln.  We debate where I should dine.  Finally, we settle on the Old Town Pub, where I’ve had pleasant meals every time I’ve been to town.  I have a buffalo burger, she has fries, we watch the Tour de France, and talk about everything – and we laugh.  A lot.  She has Dr. Pepper; I have a margarita – they have the same impact on us, respectively.

It’s a quick walk home, and we tuck up for the night.  I discover I’ve forgotten my glasses so the TV is entirely at her disposal, since I can’t see what’s on anyway.  I try a blog entry documenting our days journey. I think I need to refine my style, make sure it’s fluid and fascinating, figure out what I’m missing in terms of detail.  All in preparation for the EAR.

We are slated to get up way too early to head for the balloon launch at the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo.  Fortune-teller that I am, I see a nap in our future tomorrow.

(I forgot to bring the thingy to download pictures to the computer, so they’ll have to come later.)

April 2014
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