Friday, 21 July 2017

I Feel Like I'm In A Real Western Movie

    You cannot visit the true west and not take a horseback ride, so a 7AM sunrise found us at the Desert High Country Stables in Tucson eagerly awaiting our first ever trail ride with the boys. We could not have dreamt a better start as the sun rose and turned the desert sky from red to orange. There was just the four of us on this ride; that in itself was rather nice so with “A Horse With No Name” playing in my mind we headed out to explore the desert flora and fauna on horseback. It was a perfect start to another picture perfect desert day.
      Because we had to return to the stables before the heat became a danger to the horses and us, we had a full day ahead of us and chose to spend it at the Old Tucson Movie Studios just west of the city. I had always been a big movie fan and particularly interested in film techniques and behind-the-scenes information so this was going to be a big deal for me. Old Tucson Studios was originally built in 1938 as a replica of 1860s Tucson for the filming of the movie “Arizona.” In 1960 the Studios were opened to the public and they grew as various production companies left something from their set on site as each film was completed. 
      As the day wore on it got hotter and hotter and by the time the first stunt show ended in the early afternoon it was a real scorcher. Many people were uncomfortable but it hit Adam very hard and he alarmingly collapsed from heat exhaustion necessitating us to rush him to the infirmary. Staffed by medics in cavalry uniforms, Matt introduced himself to Adam as he took his blood pressure. After a drink of Mountain Dew, a cold compress on the back of his neck and a bit of rest Adam recovered and we were on our way.
      Gavin was a little jealous of all the attention given Adam but I think it was mainly the fact that Adam got a sweet drink and he didn’t. Being a little nervous we spent a bit of time just relaxing in the shade and enjoying the people walking by and the various activities that unfolded around us. Old Tucson Movie Studios had a cornucopia of authentic Western dirt roads, boardwalks, rain barrels and saloons with swinging doors so this little break gave Adam a chance to stabilize.
      It was more than an enjoyable visit, it was a chance to get a feel for the culture of the Old West in an authentic (looking) setting.

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Monday, 17 July 2017

Expect the Unexpected

    I don’t know if it was the clear New Mexican skies, the fresh mountain air or some strange concoction of both but there seemed to be an inordinate number of low flying birds around. There were not flocks of them just lots of single birds flying dangerously low to the ground and totally at random so much so that in the course of about 100 miles we hit at least three of them. We heard a dull thud somewhere at the front of the van then I looked in the rear view mirror as the unfortunate flight came to an end with the avian careening off the road behind. Young Adam was laughing as he thought it rather funny each time we hit one. At first I wondered what he thought was so funny then he innocently asked, “They’re okay aren’t they Dad?” That’s when I knew I was a parent as I had to smile through my outright lying lips and say, “Yeah, they’re fine.”

      As we entered Arizona we were all feeling a bit hungry so decided to munch on some muffins that Karen had made a few days ago. It was unbearably hot in the van as we had no air conditioning and we had no water or anything else to drink and let me tell you, there is nothing like a bone dry muffin on an empty road in the desert heat. As we all struggled to swallow a mouthful of muffin that might as well have been a mouthful of sawdust I was the first one to “voice” what everyone was thinking. Turning my head to the open window on my left I took a deep breath and spit a huge spray of muffin dust out into the arid air. Laughing uproariously, the boys did the same sacrificing our great snack.

      Caution must be taken as you walk amongst the cacti for cactus needles attack relentlessly and many come equipped with a barb on the end which makes their extraction painful at best. No amount of tough denim or even thick-soled boots can escape their wrath so tread lightly my friend, as if you were walking on eggs.

      As we continued on we wound along the road passing between massive hills of cacti on either side of us and I could not help but think I was living in an old western movie. We stopped at the roadside to explore and in a barbed wire enclosed area were amazed to find that it was more than the desert cactus we had to worry about. Here, for some unexplained reason, a sign indicated caution because an unexploded mine field lay ahead. I knew we were close to the Mexican border but this was a tad extreme don’t you think?

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Monday, 10 July 2017

Go West Young Man

    When it comes to road trips, the longer the better; that’s my preference but I will concede it may not be everyone’s – you’re certainly not going to get kids attuned to that philosophy. It was October 1992 and although we had nearly three weeks allotted to this vacation we had a gargantuan distance to cover as we would be driving to Las Vegas, through the American southwest and back. If we were going to cover a lot of ground we had to get a tremendously early start so we discovered hey, there really is a 3 o’clock in the morning. Of course it was dark then, which helped because the kids were able to sleep until daylight and we were in the United States by then. We had usually headed in a southerly direction on previous trips so this was dramatically different and at about 6PM we passed the Gateway to the West, the St. Louis arch!  That was about 1000 miles from our home in Gilford and a monstrous drive for one day so we stopped just outside St. Louis.

      Although we had been to Colorado in 1990 this was our real introduction to the Wild West, the one that Gavin and Adam were familiar with thanks to Hollywood folklore. The next day after what could politely be referred to as a tediously boring drive devoid of anything remotely interesting, we reached Dodge City, Kansas, where we would begin our true quest for the West.

      Best known as the setting for the long running television series “Gunsmoke”, Dodge City lies in the southwestern quadrant of Kansas and is a testament to the Wild West. It has maintained part of its primitive downtown area as a tourist attraction. One street, a rustic wooden walkway, preserves the old west with saloons and stores surrounded by a wooden picket fence highlighted by an old steam locomotive and a wonderful old windmill. Looking through the fence was like looking through a window in time.

      As we drove away from Dodge City early the next morning we realized that it was the radio not the television that provided the best entertainment in these parts. Scattered amongst the numerous reports on the hog futures and corn prices of the day was the local news of barn dances and prison breaks. Prison breaks were hardly ever in the news at home, see, we just don’t get out enough - we need to travel more.

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Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Lake Placid in the Fall

    Upper New York State is beautiful in autumn as the sunshine turns on nature’s neon with a vibrant display of fall colour. We had been there three times before; once on our honeymoon in 1977, once with friends in 1983 and once with the boys in 1985.

      We selected a small motel on Mirror Lake, often mistaken for Lake Placid, to stay for a couple of days. There was nothing unusual about the motel but it was right on the lake and as guests we had full access to their canoes and paddleboats. This was going to result in hours of fun for us, immersed in the resplendent chromaticity.

      I was no stranger to canoeing having taken many trips in the past, but it was a new experience for Gavin and Adam. They loved the water and were thrilled to be able to paddle, although it was a bit of a stretch for Adam to reach the water from high above it sitting in the bow with me in the stern. Mirror Lake is aptly named. Its surface was like glass and the clear blue sky and brilliant autumn colours were reflected endlessly on the water. The icing on the cake was the silence broken only by our paddles slicing into the calm waters and the occasional exclamation of delight from the boys.                                              

      It is true that all good things must come to an end and when it happened to our vacations it left in its wake something very close to depression. I grovelled in it for a while then had to force myself back to reality and the knowledge that there would be other vacations and they would probably be even better as Gavin and Adam grew up and were able to do more things with us. So waffling between depression and elation (there’s a psychological disorder there isn’t there?) we left Lake Placid with a scenic drive along Highway 3. We descended out of the mountains and followed the winding road through picturesque forests and Norman Rockwell-type villages. It was about a three hour drive but it was so pretty we wished it had been longer.

      In a last ditch effort to make our time together as long and as meaningful as possible we stopped at the roadside for a picnic lunch. There were no sand dunes so the boys had to be content with climbing the rocks and jumping to the soft grass below - how fitting that this vacation should end with the boys doing what they learned to love in Cape Cod.

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Monday, 26 June 2017

The Baseball Connection

    I had heard that parking can be a bit of a challenge at Fenway Park so I decided we better get moving at about two o’clock if we were to stand any chance at all of getting a spot. Good decision because I was totally unprepared for not being able to get there from here. Boston‘s road system is not a grid like many familiar cities but rather is set up in circles encompassing Beacon Hill and intersected by streets like spokes on a wheel. This is very European and very picturesque but is a nightmare when it comes to locating and getting to unfamiliar places. Such was the case as we drove in continuous circles able to plainly see Fenway Park but unable to figure out how to get to it. It was very frustrating but ultimately we did fluke it and arrived at the curbside of one of the streets bordering the park.

      It was about three o’clock by now and the game didn’t start until seven so we were able to find a perfect parking spot and were determined to keep it no matter how much money we had to feed the parking meter between now and 6 PM. We were just about to leave for a walk through the Fenway neighbourhood when a man and his weenie wagon appeared and asked if we would kindly move our vehicle so he could have this fine parking spot. I was just about to tell him what he could do with his wagon and all his weenies when he suggested that we simply move ahead one spot and he would pay the parking meter for us. Well, not even I was about to argue with sound logic and good ideas like that so I happily moved forward and we were off without having to worry about running back to feed the meter.

      Fenway Park had been home to the Boston Red Sox since it opened in 1912, and was the oldest major league baseball stadium still in use today. The ballpark had several quirky little areas unique to Fenway, not the least of which was the famous Green Monster, the nickname given to the 37 foot 2 inch high left field wall that serves as a popular target for right-handed hitters. Our visit tonight was made even more meaningful as the Red Sox opponents would be our very own Toronto Blue Jays.

      Trying not to be too obvious about which team we were cheering for was a perfect way to spend an autumn evening. It was part of a Whitehead vacation in its best form – two teams chasing the elusive American League Pennant, ballpark franks and a couple of spellbound kids watching America’s game.


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Monday, 19 June 2017

Ducklings Lead the Way

    We had tickets to the Red Sox baseball game that night so decided to spend a leisurely day in Boston. As we walked the perimeter of the Boston Public Gardens adjacent to Boston Common along Beacon Street we came upon the bar from the television series “Cheers”. I was going to look for it anyway, it just made it much easier when it presented itself so readily. I probably would not have found it if I had gone in search of it. The bar, which was founded in 1969 as the Bull and Finch Pub, was used for exterior shots only in the show and does not resemble the bar in the television series at all on the inside. However in 2002 the owners gave up and officially renamed the bar Cheers.

      The Public Gardens were beautiful in the morning light as we walked somewhat aimlessly about to a second coincidental stumbling on our part  (remember I mentioned if you look, something will always come up to entertain your children and save the day). Ours was the discovery of the bronze statues commemorating Robert McCloskey’s children’s story “Make Way For Ducklings.” It is located near the central pond not far from the Bull and Finch Pub. The book was so popular the statues were created and placed in the public park. It was pretty exciting, to Gavin in particular, as he had just finished reading the book in school so this discovery was a gold mine for him. Sitting on the large mama duck’s back, Gavin proceeded to tell us the story of the two mallard ducks who decided to raise their family on an island in the pond in Boston’s Public Garden.

      Neither of these things were typical tourist things to do in Boston. The bar has become one but at the time of our visit the series was just getting under way. They just happened and it’s important you be prepared to embrace these types of opportunities when they occur. It adds a wonderful dimension to your travel plans and in all honesty works best when you have not tried to plan it at all.


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Monday, 12 June 2017

Plimoth Rocks

    To be able to learn History by viewing it firsthand would be best but also impossible so the next best thing is to be able to learn history by seeing its remains firsthand. That is exactly what the boys were able to do as we arrived at Plimoth Plantation near the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts.

      It is a reconstruction of the original settlement of the Plymouth Colony established by English colonists, later referred to as Pilgrims, in the 17th century. As we entered this living museum we passed through the fort at the gates equipped with cannons to protect the village. We spent a wonderful day wandering around the sand and dirt roads and pathways flanked by split rail and twig fences. Wooden houses with thatched roofs were bordered by corrals for the livestock, chickens and goats.

      Museum interpreters populate the 1627 English village and speak, act and dress as they did in 1627. A little disconcerting at first in a “What the hell did he just say to me?” kind of way, they interacted with their “strange visitors”, us, in the first person, answering questions, discussing their lives and viewpoints and going about their daily activities of cooking, carpentry, blacksmithing and gardening/farming. It was indeed interesting to watch a couple of matronly women pluck a goose to cook in a pot of boiling water over an open fire. One young lady was asked what she did. “What do I do? I do my labours,” was her surprised, almost indignant response.

      In the town of Plymouth near the legendary Plymouth Rock rests the Mayflower II, a replica of the 17th century ship celebrated for transporting the Pilgrims to the New World. The ship is under the care of Plimoth Plantation and like the museum is inhabited by colonial first person interpreters representing the sailors, officers and workers on the 1620’s ship. The actors in character added to the enjoyment and understanding of the era. How anyone ever survived the long ocean voyage on a vessel like this is beyond me.

      Once again, an unscheduled diversion took us into a world we didn’t know existed, a world we uncover by spontaneity on the Holiday Road.

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Monday, 5 June 2017

The End of Cape Cod

      The area of National Seashore near Nauset Light Beach in Eastham was the picture of Cape Cod I had in my mind before arriving there. The sand dunes capped with weather beaten wooden homes really made me feel like I had finally found the real Cape Cod – yes it was just as Patti Page crooned, “You’re sure to fall in love with Old Cape Cod.”


      The beach itself, flanked by large sand dunes and the ocean water was quite breathtaking. Although we did not have time on our drive through, Nauset Light Beach is reputed to be a great place for swimming, surfing and boogie boarding. The boys were a little young yet but in subsequent vacations to Florida and North Carolina boogie boarding would rule for them.


      Just south of the northern tip of Cape Cod the old town cemetery in Truro beckoned us to stop. This was the site of four grisly murders in 1969 but that was not what attracted us to the cemetery. Karen has always enjoyed reading the headstones and often learned a lot about a place by doing so even with Adam riding along merrily on her back. Today Truro is an exclusive town on the Cape, marked by affluent residences and rolling hills and dunes along the coast.


      Our final destination on Cape Cod was Provincetown, located on the extreme tip of the Cape, which is reason enough on its own to go there. Referred to locally as P-town, it is known for its beaches, harbour, artists and reputation as a gay community. With a year-round population near 3,000 that balloons in the summer months to 60,000 – thankfully we missed that pleasure. The town is surrounded by water and strewn with boats, working vessels and partially sunken wrecks, a living personification of almost any Jimmy Buffett song, it was the perfect spot to terminate our exploration of Cape Cod.

National Seashore



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Monday, 29 May 2017

Old Cape Cod

    Cape Cod is a peninsula in the easternmost portion of Massachusetts. Its small-town character and expansive beaches attract a massive number of tourists during the summer months so hopefully we will miss all that. We buzzed through the upper cape, the part closest to the mainland, pretty quickly. Continuing on up the south coast we arrived in Chatham, a quaint town despite the growth of population on the Cape in general. Home to the Chatham lighthouse established by President Thomas Jefferson in 1808 the town also maintains the fishing village appearance so evident all over Cape Cod. The harbour is surrounded by large wooden houses looking down on the town from the dunes above.

      As we passed through the town of Eastham we stopped at what appeared to be an abandoned home. Edward Penniman, a whaling captain, built this French Second Empire-style house on a knoll overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in 1868. Entrance to the grounds was through an enormous archway of whale jawbones at the gate. Humming the theme from the Munsters TV show I circled the mansion photographing and videotaping as I was fascinated with this bit of whaling history. A turret and a widow’s walk topped the building and made me wish we could have gone inside to explore but at this particular moment it was not open to the public.

      Known for its abundant oyster beds, Wellfleet is located half way between the tip and the elbow of Cape Cod and was where we chose to spend the night. A fishing village like so many we had seen all day, nearly half of its land area is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore.  A slightly different view greeted us as we arrived late in the day when the tide was out; kind of funny if not a little bit eerie to see all the boats sitting on the sand as if thrown there after some violent storm.

      We finished the day with another session of dune jumping, one that I joined in as it rapidly escalated to a family competition with Karen filming on the video camera. The sheer joy in Gavin and Adam’s faces said it all – when we look back we will realize, these were the times of our lives.

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Monday, 22 May 2017

Martha's Vineyard

    They say getting there is half the fun, so we were going to make sure that was the case and at times we wondered if the destination had anything to do with the vacation process at all. Always take advantage of opportunities when they arise – you will rarely, if ever, be disappointed. So as we were about to enter Cape Cod we realized we were very close to Martha’s Vineyard off shore and decided it might be nice to see it on a day trip. I don’t know if it was the mystique of the Kennedy connection or what it was but something told me we had to go there.

      We boarded the ferry at Woods Hole somewhat apprehensively wondering how Adam might react to the voyage. Fortunately, for all concerned, it was a relatively short hop so he was fine; as a matter of fact, we could not have ordered a better day as we landed at Oak Bluffs on the island to a perfect, bright, sunny day. It’s not a particularly huge island but we definitely needed a vehicle to see it so, with our van parked safely on Cape Cod, we rented a Jeep convertible for the day. 

      Well, we were driving through the woods on a sand, yes sand, road and came across a pretty cool little fishing village. Menemsha, on the northwest side of the island, near Gay Head, was easily recognized as a fishing village by the boats and docks and small shanties. However, if by some wild stretch of the imagination that got by you, the absolute gagging smell of fish made for a positive i.d. Beyond stench, the smell was almost nuclear in its explosive pungency.

      In an old shack a rustic, almost caustic message spray painted on the side of a fridge in a very child-like hand caught my eye and I laughed as it spoke volumes to me about the people who lived there. “Don’t smoke and don’t be neat,” a clearer request could not likely be made anywhere. I’m not sure about the smoking part but the resident of this humble abode certainly upheld the cautionary neat request.

      As we approached the docks to head back to Cape Cod near the end of the day Gavin and Adam discovered something that would prove to be their number one activity on this trip. The beach had a very wide expanse of sand bordered by grass topped sand dunes. It didn’t take them long to discover that jumping from the top of the dune to the soft beach sand below was a lot of fun. It was wonderful for Karen and me to watch them as we realized that along with the enjoyment they derived from jumping they were also getting good exercise and lots of fresh ocean air – all because of a spontaneous side trip.

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Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Interesting Activities - One of the Keys to a Successful Road Trip

    Teenagers are probably the most difficult people to keep interested especially when it comes to family vacations. Road trips can be a lot of fun but there’s probably not anything more boring for the teens than riding around in a car for days on end. Therefore, interesting diversions are a necessity. Maybe an unusual attraction or an intriguing destination will work. We always found an activity of some sort (the less common the better) worked out well.

      Jackson Hole is a valley lying between the Teton and the Gros Ventre mountain ranges in Wyoming. The name was given by trappers who entered the valley from the north and the east, descending along steep slopes, giving the sensation of entering a hole. The long shadows cast by the late afternoon sun fell across the dusty meadows as we saddled up our horses for a trail ride. Well, we didn’t saddle them the wranglers did and Adam was about to find out that they did a less than sterling job. 

      It started out innocently enough – a line of a dozen or so riders enjoying the setting sun on a summer evening. As we wound our way up the dusty trail into the mountains I could see all the riders in front of me from my vantage point at the end of the line. I noticed Adam seemed to be leaning a little to his left side but I didn’t really worry about it I just hoped he was comfortable. As we proceeded, one dusty curve after another, Adam became even more off centre. The situation got worse and worse until finally he fell right off the horse - actually he didn’t fall off the horse at all, the saddle did – he just happened to be in the saddle. Our group was going slowly at the time so both horse and rider were fine but I suspect the cowboys were a little embarrassed as they made sure the saddle was cinched up tightly before Adam got back up on his horse.

      Even with that little calamity Adam enjoyed the ride, as did we. It was born from spontaneity here but became something we would enjoy as our Holiday Road continued in subsequent years, culminating in a three day adventure in the Canadian Rocky Mountains almost ten years later. Like beauty, interesting is in the eye of the beholder and you’ll never know what works and what doesn’t until you try and when you do find something it can add a fulfilling element to any road trip.

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Monday, 8 May 2017

Spontaneity Jump Starts A Great Road Trip

    Craters of the Moon National Monument is perhaps the most aptly named place I have ever been. We stopped strictly because we saw the name on the map on the way to Idaho Falls, our stop for the night. Craters of the Moon is located on the Snake River Plain in central Idaho. It is at a moderate altitude of close to 6,000 feet and is extremely volcanic in nature. The monument encompasses several hundred square miles of lava fields interrupted by numerous, large cinder crags and monstrous, magnificent cinder cones.

      I have not been to the moon but I have been to Sudbury, Ontario. Often described as being between a rock and a hard place, the geographic basin surrounding the city was formed by a major meteorite impact about 1.8 billion years ago and it doesn’t look a whole lot different today. Let me tell you, Craters of the Moon made Sudbury look overgrown.

      It was July and it was hot so what better place to be than on a totally black, porous surface for hundreds of yards in all directions. Naturally something strenuous and exerting was in order. A long, slow climb up one of the behemoth cinder cones set before us a view of a landscape that really could not be described as anything other than lunar. There was very little plant life and no sign whatsoever of any wildlife, nothing but a black, open desert. As strange as it may seem I found it fascinating and enjoyed it immensely.

      Spontaneity  is one of the key ingredients of a successful road trip. Your ability to forget your schedule and seize what pops up out of nowhere is what assures excitement and often wonder in even a mundane vacation.

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Monday, 1 May 2017

Here Comes That Queasy Feeling Again

    Few things can ruin a good road trip faster than car sickness. Specifically the result of riding in cars it is generally referred to as kinetosis or motion sickness. Characterized by dizziness, fatigue and nausea ultimately leading to vomiting, the condition is the result of the disagreement that exists between visually perceived movement and the vestibular system’s sense of movement. The vestibular system is the sensory system that contributes to our perception of a sense of balance and spatial orientation. All very scientific and mysterious, put simply it means if you ride in a car for too long (sometimes an alarmingly short period of time) you’ll puke.

      Younger son Adam suffered from car sickness frequently so between stopping for him and stopping for me to take photographs it’s a wonder we ever got anywhere on our trips. By the time our first trip to Florida came to an end Adam had thrown up in 12 states – quite an achievement I’d say. Short of trying to drive steadily and stopping for air on a regular basis there wasn’t a lot I could do to help so I always felt bad for Adam.

      You’d think most people would be compassionate about this unfortunate propensity especially where a child is involved but sadly that’s not always the case. In the relative cool of the early morning we were crossing a bridge on our way out of Idaho Falls when Adam gave the word to stop. I managed to get off the bridge and pull over on the side of the road. Adam did not throw up this time but still felt very queasy so he and Karen went for a little stroll on the bridge while Gavin and I hung out near the van. A local sheriff pulled up and asked if there was a problem so I explained that Adam wasn’t well and needed some air. By this time he and Karen had returned to the van and the sheriff looked at Adam and commented that he looked fine and we would have to move on. Whatever happened to the friendly service provider’s compassion for children in distress? If only Adam could have puked on the sheriff right then and there – how sweet would that have been?

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Monday, 24 April 2017

Sometimes Weird Shit Just Happens

    I insist that road trips not be over-organized because it’s the spontaneity and the sense of the unknown that make them so irresistible as a vacation format. We usually have a general idea of where we want to go and approximately when we’ll be arriving but we rarely book ahead because that adds a militaristic degree of conformance that doesn’t sit well with the way we roll. My secret for success is to be informed, be careful, be prepared to expect the unexpected and to enjoy wherever the road takes you. Okay, look around you, now just remember to smile because you are somewhere that you’ll never forget.

      Having said all that, if the truth be known, I consistently find myself in situations that just beg to ask, “What the hell was that?!”

      Leaving Coeur d’Alene, Idaho we took a quick detour into Washington State just so we could say we’d been there then crossed the border into northeastern Oregon. I was flabbergasted to find that in less than 20 miles we had seemingly changed planets and were now in a very arid, very open desert! What happened to the breathtaking seascapes and regal forests that were my ill-informed concept of what Oregon was all about?

      I was surrounded by dry, parched earth and a dusty scene that seemed more from a classic western than anything else. The sun shone brightly and the sky was a brilliant crystal blue, contributing more ambiance to an already movie-like setting. As we stood in this desolate scene there was not a sound to be heard because even the wind had subsided and the roads were vacant. We were enjoying the solitude (at least Karen and I were) when suddenly we heard a distant rumbling. The sound increased rapidly building in intensity to a nearly deafening roar like a plane flying low overhead. We stood there, almost in shock, looked up into the clear, blue sky and saw absolutely NOTHING!

      To this day I don’t know quite what to make of that experience. Was it a UFO, a stealth bomber, some sort of freaky storm, what was so audible and yet invisible to us? It wouldn’t be the first time we ended up sight-seeing on the fringe of a military base or probable missile silo but in those instances someone usually approaches us and asks us to leave explaining that we were about to illegally enter a “weather station”. We never did find out what the rumbling sound was but it was one of those things that only comes up in conversations about aliens and paranormal activities.


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Monday, 17 April 2017

America's Pride: New York City

    In the fall of 1993 Gavin would start high school and unfortunately the workload would increase – gone were the carefree days in a rural public school. That meant we would be unable to just pull him out of school for a couple or three weeks, there was now too much at stake to allow that to happen. Frighteningly, a summer holiday was now required; frightening because that meant crowds and congestion to me, something we had happily avoided for the last six years.

      I was still not independently wealthy and my “Freedom 55” plan seemed to have a few clouds developing on the horizon. Therefore, this year we would choose to vacation a little closer to home and for a shorter period of time. New York City looked like it would be a great trip. This one was not so much poorly planned as not planned at all so adventure ruled once again as we drove off into the unknown.

      As we got to the George Washington Bridge to get onto Manhattan Island I was perplexed by the numerous exits off the bridge. None of them appeared to be particularly well marked so at that point I made the decision to take the one that was least cluttered with garbage.

      As we coasted to a stop at the bottom of the ramp we were immediately swarmed by a large contingent of local youths. I wasn’t sure if it was a gang attempting to hold us up in broad daylight or what but they were heavily armed with buckets and squeegees. We were in Harlem - “Welcome to New York boys”.            At one point I was reminded of the National Lampoon movie “Vacation” and I reacted pretty much the same way that Chevy Chase had in the film. We heard gunshots off to one side and I shouted to Karen and the boys, “Roll 'em up and lock the doors!” I was relatively sure we were safe as the shots were from some distance away but nevertheless it was nice to see Harlem disappear as we approached uptown Manhattan.

      As the Clampetts, or in this case the Whiteheads, arrived in New York City with their matching grocery bags as luggage their unfamiliarity and lack of understanding of the ways of this world shone through with amazing clarity.        The charging cabs, the constant horn honking and the swarms of people would normally be a major source of irritation to me but here it seemed totally normal and even necessary – after all this was New York City, the Big Apple – and we were there to willingly take our bite of the madness.

      The New York Yankees are the pride of the city and after a brief rest in our room we embarked on our greatest baseball connection to date. (The original) Yankee Stadium was built in 1923 and had always been the ultimate in major league stadiums so our love of baseball made this visit almost spiritual. The game itself was nothing out of the ordinary but the fact that we were in Yankee Stadium made it extraordinary indeed. Their opponents were our own Toronto Blue Jays so ball park hot dogs and a coke put the icing on the cake for us all. As we left the stadium I looked back at “the bat”, the facility’s exhaust pipe that had been built to resemble a Louisville Slugger, and thought how fortunate I was to have been able to share this moment with my wife and sons.

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Monday, 10 April 2017

How to Break Out of Boring Vacations

    I’d like to preface this by saying, “Don’t do this!” It was irresponsible and wrong but it was pre-911 so we survived to tell the tale. Chicago is all sirens and architecture but that did not diminish our desire to take the boys, Gavin and Adam, there – and I guess we better not forget that Al Capone thing.

      They say that getting there is half the fun but on a drive as boring as Toronto to Chicago via Detroit I found a way to make it more than just half the fun. It’s not that it was particularly orchestrated by me but sometimes you have to just sit back and let the chips fall where they may. Interstate 94 is the fastest and most direct route from Detroit to Chicago so I was hard set that that was the only road I was going to take. We crossed the Ambassador Bridge and cleared customs into the U.S. quickly then it was an easy task following the well signed route to I94. As I approached the ramp the barriers were down blocking my progress and it was very evident that the highway was closed. Shit! This was going to be a pain in the ass and I had to use this road – it was the only way I knew and there was no indication where the detour might go. It was Sunday morning and it didn’t even look like there was anyone working so I thought, “What’s the worst that can happen? I’m going to give it a try!”

      Looking around to make sure there were no police or any other prying eyes I ascertained “the coast was clear” and drove cautiously around the barrier onto the ramp. I was prepared to play the dumb ass tourist card if we were stopped and we entered the freeway easily as there was no traffic at all. Have you ever driven on a totally empty Interstate? Well I must say we were making awesome time and the first 10 miles just flew by. Of course there was absolutely no one else on the road, no work crews, not a damn thing. However, ultimately there were several people actually working and they looked on in utter amazement as we went flying by. With angry shouts and shaking of fists they made their displeasure obvious. We, on the other hand, truly did have very mixed emotions. The sheer terror created as we worried what would happen if we were caught and stopped was only slightly overshadowed by the lunacy of doing something so outlandishly reckless. I turned to Karen and jokingly said, “Stop laughing! We want them to think this happened by accident!”

      A few more miles and we were home free as the closed section met the open section and we were legal again. No long line of police cars with lights flashing and sirens wailing, no angry highway construction workers chasing us – and no gunfire. We made it – probably the most irresponsible, idiotic thing I have ever done but it sure saved us an enormous amount of time and now, yes, getting there was half the fun!



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Monday, 3 April 2017

What's So Scary About Idaho?

    I love ghost towns but not the commercialized ones that attract thousands of people and carry an entrance fee. Silver City, Idaho is a ghost town I had read about but it was so remote it was not on any map. “At an elevation of 6,179 feet it is located 25 miles southwest of Murphy via a dirt road” – those were the only directions I had. CAA had to draw it in on the map they had given me and we had to stop in a village where we thought the dirt access road might be to ask for directions.

      In its heyday in the 1880’s Silver City was a gold and silver mining town with a population of about 2,500 and approximately 75 businesses. There are many buildings still standing in the ghost town today (1994), all of which are privately owned by third and fourth generation descendants of the original miners.

      Once we found the “road” in it was not difficult to find the town but it was certainly an adventure getting there. It started out not too badly but quickly deteriorated to a pair of ruts in the dirt surrounded by rocks and boulders and more potholes than I have ever seen on one road. As we crept along at what seemed like 20 yards a minute I thought, “We have absolutely no idea how far this road goes or how long it will take us to get there.”

      However, that was the least of our worries. Up the hills on both sides of the road, surrounded by scrub grass and dried bushes, were several deteriorating wooden shacks at varying intervals. These shacks all had porches out front and were occupied by primarily old men, many with shotguns, sitting there staring blankly down at us. With “Dueling Banjos” resonating in my mind the only thing I could think of was that these old derelicts were all crazed Vietnam vets, ready to snap at any second and open fire on their hallucinatory enemy below. It was a very nervous journey of more than an hour but fortunately we arrived, relieved and safe in Silver City.

      Reminding me of St. Elmo in Colorado it was truly a ghost town and would remain that way if the road in was not improved. Silver City was comprised of an old general store, a school house and a church with an 1882 sign on it and in seemingly original condition. There were two or three houses as well and a silence broken only by a stray dog barking.

      Of course, it would not have been complete without a wonderful old cemetery marked with brilliant, white stones contrasted against the stark, deep blue of a perfect sky. It was a bit of an effort to find Silver City and to get there but the history lesson received by being there was an unparalleled experience – especially for our sons Gavin and Adam.

      Reminiscent of the route down Pikes Peak in Colorado, the road out of Silver City was a much more relaxing drive than our journey in. A winding dirt road yielded beautiful mountain views at every curve. As we progressed, the sandy hills and similar coloured road provided a fabulous picture against the perfect western sky.

      Never fearful on the drive out, the only people we passed were a couple on a three wheeled motorcycle – Easy Rider in comfort. We naturally assumed that this, the only road out of Silver City, would lead us to civilization, which it did. Not only did it take us to civilization but to a highway that I could find on the map, a highway that would take us to our next destination.

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