Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Springfield, IL; Santa Rosa, NM; Show Low and Scottsdale, AZ ... THE FINAL 4 S's! (Days 13-16)

The memorable stops on the way back all started with "S":  Springfield; Santa Rosa; Show Low; and of course, the final, final stop:  Scottsdale! The last four days of our journey home were slow ... and made slower by my toxic meltdown after a 10-hour day of nonstop driving in high winds and heavy traffic.  We "recalibrated" our path (that's nice-talk for "Philip decided to see things my way") to include routes that would require no more than seven total hours of driving a day, making for a much more pleasant journey and therefore a much more pleasant marriage.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum was our primary interest in Springfield, and it was truly one of the coolest museums we've ever been to!  It wasn't too big, wasn't too small, and really brought Lincoln's life, to life!  It was super interesting that there were at least as many foreign visitors, speaking foreign languages, in this museum as there were Americans!  We had to wonder whether we would bother to visit a Vladimir Putin, or Nicolas Sarkozy museum, if we were traveling abroad.

The entire museum was multi-media and highly interactive, including amazing 3D movies and performances. For instance, if order to understand how volative were all of the many dissenting opinions surrounding the Civil War and slavery, visitors went through a corridor that was filled with multiple layers of fun-house style mirrors, and on each of the 40+ mirrors was a hologram face of a person that looked 100% real, shouting their opinions at you, all at once.  We loved, loved, loved this museum!

Driving from Illinois through Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and down to New Mexico was a continuation of beautiful scenery, and yet Missouri took the cake for interesting small town names.  Pilot Knob. Evening Shade. Licking. Success. Cabool. Eminence. Fruitland. Bland. Clever. Climax Springs. Fair Play.  They clearly have a sense of humor in Missouri!

We stayed Night 14 in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, which was a largely abandoned, formerly-thriving town on Historic Route 66.  They are known, however, for the "Blue Hole" which is one of the most popular scuba-diving destinations in the U.S. Scuba diving?  In the scrubby desert in the middle of New Mexico?  Huh, how about that!  It maintains a constant temperature of 64 degrees and a constant inflow of 3,000 gallons of water per minute, meaning the water recycles completely every six hours! 

We did not have any scuba tanks in the RV (dang! I knew I forgot to pack something!) but did ride our bikes to dinner at the famous Comet II Mexican Restaurant, which has been in continuous operation and owned by the same family since 1927.  It reminded me a lot of Phoenix's Tee-Pee Restaurant ... very dive-y with awesome food. 

We asked about a particular sauce mentioned on the menu and the waitress disappeared into the back and came out with samples of each of their five world-renowned sauces ... each one hotter than the next!  Eeek! But all equally delicious!

After dinner, we enjoyed our final "Theatre Under The Stars" of the trip, sitting outside and enjoying a movie. This is one of our favorite features of the RV and we have done this a lot!

Between Santa Rosa and Show Low, we traveled through the Il Malpais National Monument Area and were treated to some amazing scenery!  This is literally the middle-of-nowhere, partially on the Indian Reservation of New Mexico, and we saw very few other vehicles during the 1.5 hours on this road.  It was amazingly tranquil and we couldn't believe the beauty.

Show Low would be the last stop of this 16-day journey, and we ended on a familiar note as Philip's cousins Jean and Nancy, who live there during the summer, hosted us for a home-cooked lasagna dinner.  Of course, it was a delight to eat something that had not been prepared over a tiny propane cooktop!

Happy cousin reunion!  Can you tell we are related?

No matter how much fun we had on this trip, of course we were also eager to get back home.  Philip threw it into gear, revved the engine, and floored it for the final leg to Scottsdale.  This road sign was made specifically for someone like him ... taking corners at 80 miles an hour in his excited rush to return to the motherland!

The 16-day "RAGBRAI or Bust Tour" was everything we could have hoped for ... fun ... educational ... recreational ... and inspiring.  We now have seven of the states on our Happy Trails map filled in.  We went more than 3,200 miles and lived to tell the tale.  We agreed with a bumper sticker we saw on another RV, "Home is Where You Park It."  Most importantly, we learned that we can live happily and simply together in less than 250 square feet for multiple days on end, and still love each other at the end of it all!  

Our next planned adventure in the Lucky Charm will be next month, when we go to Las Vegas for the 103- mile "Viva Bike Vegas" ride.  This is one of Philip's favorites, because the ride starts at 6:00 AM and goes smack-dab down the center of the Las Vegas Strip, where still-awake-still-drunk-still-wandering-the-streets people cheer them on and try to hand them those tall yardstick drinks as they set out.  Stay tuned for our next Charming Adventure!

Pontiac, IL: PLACES WE LOVED (Day 12)

Our four-day journey back to Scottsdale included stops at places that were deemed by the Diversions Committee (President, Philip Miller) to be important or memorable, and (most importantly) were directly on the route home.  One such city was Pontiac, Illinois (, home of the National Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum.  A majority of our travels both east and west were on Route 66, so we were interested!

Pontiac is a small, old-fashioned town with lots of charm, and even though it is small, it houses four great museums:

Livingston County War Museum (honoring members of the Armed Forces); 
Pontiac & Oakland Automobile Museum (all things related to Pontiac and Oakland cars); 
Walldog Mural and Signart Museum (history of outdoor mural & advertising painting); 
National Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum (memorabilia from the glory days of the "Mother Road").

Pontiac had old-fashioned bakeries, toy stores, boutiques, and the town's "coffee shop" was actually just the downstairs garage of one building, where they threw open the garage door each day and had lots of little bistro tables in there.  It was adorable!

We only had time for one museum (gotta stay on schedule, don'tcha know!), so we chose a converted 3-story building housing the Route 66 Museum, full of memorabilia and stories of the people who helped shape the first national byway.  Outside was this funky bus that actually ferried schoolchildren along Route 66 in Illinois.  It had (obviously) been converted and modified in lots of fun ways!

The famous Bob Waldmire orange 1972 VW bus is housed here.  Bob Waldmire was a famous artist who died in 2009, but during his life he traveled Route 66 constantly and lived in this bus.  He was a well-known snowbird, who actually spent his winter months in Arizona's Chiricahua Mountains.  This bus was the inspiration for the character of Fillmore in the "Cars" movie (they actually wanted to call it Waldmire, but Bob was unwilling to sell the marketing rights to Disney for the toy series that would be in McDonalds Happy Meals).  Seeing all the junk inside reminded us of how our RV is starting to look after two weeks on the road!

The Campanelli Route 66 Photo Journal Exhibit was cool because each room was of a specific state (the Kansas Room; the Illinois Room; the Arizona Room; etc.) and had amazingly beautiful and vibrant photos.  We had never heard of some of the cities listed under some of the Arizona photos, and had to wonder if they no longer exist, or we are just woefully uneducated and self-absorbed.

But what was really amaze-balls about Pontiac, Illinois was the town's collection of huge wall murals painted on 23 different buildings.  Can you believe these are painted and not real?

Many of them were "advertisements" from a long-gone era. 

Of course, we liked the one featuring Sprinkles the best!!!!

Our travels continue through Springfield, Illinois ... next stop, Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, where we will indulge my love of history, tour guides, multimedia presentations and gift shops, all in one stop!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Culver, IN: REUNITED AND IT FEELS SO GOOD (Days 10 and 11)

RAGBRAI was over but the fun would continue ... we woke up early Saturday to get rolling (last bicycling pun, I promise) ... for today we would drive all the way to Culver, Indiana to visit our 14-year-old son Max at summer camp!  He had been gone for five weeks now and we were excited to visit the Culver Academies, where he had spent the past three summers.  Had he grown?  Had he missed us?  Would he come running into our arms like Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, running across a field of daisies to each other in order to spend quality time together?  (Answers: yes, possibly, no.)

The RV campground we stayed in after Philip's triumphant RAGBRAI finish was literally a big grass patch in the middle of a cornfield.  All night long, every 30 minutes or so, we would hear the chugging and the low whistle of an approaching train, which would go by about 150 yards from our RV.  To some, that would be an annoyance.  To me, that's heaven!  It was so charming, terrifically old-fashioned, and such a departure from anything we ever experience in Arizona.  The 6-1/2 hour drive through Illinois to Indiana was under beautiful, ever-changing configurations of cloudy skies, and Philip was grateful for the "forced relaxation" to let his muscles recover from the day before.

We arrived at Culver ( just in time for "weekend permits," the designated time when cadets can go off-campus for R&R time (though they must be in their full uniforms even when they are leaving campus).  Culver is built right on huge Lake Maxinkuckee, has been around since 1896 and offers a six-week summer camp; this year, 1,394 attendees came from 38 states and 39 countries around the world.  It is a military boarding school (primarily Navy and Air Force) for high school students during the school year, and a huge camp for boys and girls during the summer.

Because of Max's interest in the military, he loves being with other like-minded young men, as well as the structure, the rankings, the advancements, the ceremonies, the marching ... all of it!  This type camp is not for everyone, but they have a huge array of classes, in all sorts of crazy interests like fencing, sailing, horsemanship, lacrosse, biology, ice skating, military leadership, and 70+ more.  Each summer you take 15 different classes, 5 per two-week session.  His favorite this summer was Basic Aviation, which culminated in a 30-minute flight where he actually piloted a Cessna 2-seater!  (Don't worry ... there was an instructor on-board, too.)

Needless to say, Mommy was super-excited to see her "little" boy again!  We would have six hours on Saturday and four hours on Sunday to hang out.  Max brought along one of his best friends from camp, Austin from St. Louis Missouri, whose parents were not visiting this weekend.  (Max had gone with Austin's family the previous weekend.)  He called me "ma'am" and Philip "sir," which was both refreshing and disconcerting at the same time, and he and Max are already plotting to be dorm-mates next summer when they will move up to "upper camp" and out of the current 14-boy cabins.

At Culver, they have no electronics and basically little communication with the outside world, except a one-way system of writing to your child called the "Bunk Note."  Basically, you type a message into a website program, and the camp prints the messages out and places them in their bunks the following day.  But for the campers, they do not have computers, cell phones, Ipads, Iphones, Ipods, televisions, or anything else.  So, as you can imagine, Austin and Max were not so much interested in deep, heartfelt conversations with grown-ups, so much as they wanted to immediately check Facebook, YouTube, and the various other online forums of which they had been recently deprived.

What else did they really, really want?  Juicy grilled cheeseburgers!
(Little ones for Bella and Sprinkles.)

And the final thing Max was really craving?
Love from home, a.k.a. snuggles from Sprinkles!

Max is a member of Culver's Marching Drum and Bugle Corps, which dates back to 1919 and this year has 72 members.  They perform at various events, including a performance at Six Flags Great Adventure in Chicago each year (a 30-minute performance which earns them 6 hours of running around the park and riding roller-coasters until they puke).  

While visiting this weekend, we were lucky to get to attend the weekly Culver Garrison Parade.  The Garrison Parade is a long-standing military tradition, providing an efficient method for the Commanding Officer to inspect all of his troops at once, present special honors and awards, and honor special guests in attendance.  All of the units attend, including the 80+ horses and all 1,400 campers in full uniform, who perform a precisely choreographed program for all in attendance.  It is an amazing spectacle filled with lots of pomp and circumstance, cannon booms and fly-overs, music and patriotism and pride.

Max will finish one more week at camp and then fly back home by himself.  He mentioned in passing that there had been a wrestling tournament last week, and he had pinned a 273-pound guy to win the semi-final round, so he will be in the final championship on Tuesday.  I am afraid for whom he will be wrestling in that one .... 300+ pounds?  Nobody better hurt Momma's little boy!

Sunday was the first day of the entire 11-day "vacation" so far that we didn't have to be somewhere right away and could sleep in and, thanks to the miracle of modern conveniences, enjoy a Sunday morning on the road that is just like a Sunday morning at home!  Cardinals news in the Arizona Republic Sunday paper (online edition!  yay!) ... check.  Emails and Facebook and Words with Friends (thanks to a handy little traveling WiFi modem called "Jetpack" from Verizon) ... check!  Scrambled eggs, hash browns and ham a-fryin'... check.  Fire in the (electric) fireplace ... check (OK, we wouldn't be doing that at home, but it's dang cold here today, and we woke up to 58 degrees outside!)

So, as you can see, there is no real reason to return home ... ever!  Well, I take that back. We really miss having a washer and dryer, and Philip's pile of stinky bicycling clothes from the past week had to be banished to the "basement" ... a outside storage compartment where we keep chairs and folding tables and whatnot.

Indiana has been beautiful and scenes like this farmhouse have **almost** made us want to replace burritos y guacamole, with ham loaf and frozen custard!  Tomorrow, we reverse the direction of the last 11 days.  Where we have been going continuously "East" and "North," now we begin heading slowly back "West" and "South!"  Wagons ho!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Oskaloosa to Fairfield, IA: HE DID IT! HE REALLY, REALLY DID IT! (Day 9)

Today would be Philip's final day of the RAGBRAI ride, and we awoke with mixed emotions.  Yay ... it's almost over!  Boo ... it's almost over!

Today's planned ride was from Oskaloosa to Fairfield, but Philip would ALSO be doing tomorrow's planned ride from Fairfield to Fort Madison ... a total of 118 miles!  Phoenix to Tucson is 116 miles, and you know how long and boring that ride can be (even at 75 MPH, instead of 15!)

So, you can imagine Philip's trepidation at doing not only his longest daily ride EVER, but especially when tacked onto on the tail end of five previous daily back-to-back rides of 50 to 107 miles each.  He wasn't sure he was going to make it!

Saying a quick prayer for strength!

As Philip's support crew, Bella and Sprinkles and I have really enjoyed following him from town to town, trying to provide inspiration and celebration with each milestone!  Today, our support would be especially important for the second half of the day, because all of the other RAGBRAI riders would be staying in Fairfield, while we were just taking a lunch break (pork tenderloin sandwiches! yes, again!) and then going on for another five hours (!!!) by ourselves.

Bella gave him a little pep talk and a high-five in the Fairfield town square during halftime ....

 and then, Philip bought me a t-shirt just to make sure there was no confusion about my role in the shebang.

Today's cities and celebrations took a backseat to one thing, and one thing only .... SURVIVAL.  The heart wants what the heart wants, and Philip's heart wanted to finish this damn ride!  As support crew, we would drive ahead 10 miles, wait for him to catch up, offer cold water/words of encouragement/cocktails, then do the whole thing over again every 10 miles, until we reached the end!

A glimpse of our guy out the front windshield of the support-mobile!

There was one city, however, that really captured our hearts and that we actually spent some time hanging out in.  It is called Bonaparte, has a population of 468 people, and was founded in 1837 on the banks of the Des Moines River.  It has been named the smallest "Main Street Community" in the U.S., and their Riverfront District is part of the National Register of Historic Places.  It was totally enchanting!

But then, you don't really want to hear about charming historical places ... you want to hear about the GRAND FINALE of the ride, right??

If you recall, RAGBRAI began at the Missouri River and would end at the Mississippi River, spanning the entire width of the State of Iowa.  The ending point was Fort Madison, and the terrific thing about wrapping this up an entire day earlier than the rest of the crowd, is that THERE WAS NO REST OF THE CROWD!  We had the finishing line all to ourselves!  He was literally the first person to finish the race!  :-)

Philip's Fan Club was at the finish line about 10 minutes before he arrived, allowing us to get "in position" for him to roll through the finish line.  This also allowed us to meet the one old guy who single-handedly designed and constructed this awesome finish line marker (those are real bikes!), and who was just leaving for the night as we pulled up:

Both Philip and I were literally crying as he rolled through the finish (and not just because we also cry when somebody wins at the big wheel on The Price Is Right).

And then the REAL celebrations began!  Jumping for joy ....

Mounting the podium ....

Spraying the champagne ....

And of course, the important moment, the final ceremonial dip of the front wheel in the Mississippi River!

We couldn't help but reminisce about the start of this biking obsession, I mean hobby, for Philip.  In 2010, he weighed 290 pounds and due to a long-standing knee injury, could barely walk across the street because of excruciating pain.  He wanted to have knee surgery, but the doctor told him the surgery would not be successful unless Philip lost 25 pounds before the surgery and 25 pounds after.  "How can I lose weight when I can't exercise on this knee?" Philip asked.  "You can ride a bike," said Dr. Russo.

And so it began.  He proceeded to lose 65 pounds and over the past three years has ridden in organized bike rides and races in Phoenix, Tucson, Scottsdale, Mesa, Flagstaff, Las Vegas, Lake Mead, Solvang (CA), and now across Iowa.  He started on a heavy, clunky mountain bike and gradually moved his way up to his current love, "Ariel."  ("Grace" has been put out to pasture but is still remembered fondly.)

Most importantly, he has had the time of his life and enjoyed every single minute, and I could simply burst from pride at all that he has accomplished.  It was barely 45 minutes after finishing RAGBRAI that he said, "I think I am going to do the ride from Oregon to Mexico down the coast of California next!"  And so, I think we can call this experience a success!  Thanks for the good times and memories, RAGBRAI!