Bob and Monica's Traveling Wild West Tour,  June 21, 2008  

TOPIC: Introduction and June 21

== 1 of 5 ==
Date: Wed, Jul 30 2008 8:04 am


On June 21, 2008, my wife Monica Jakuc Leverett and I left our home in Florence, MA, with high expectations for a great trip as we headed west on a journey planned around several objectives. A primary purpose of the trip was to visit my daughter and her family in Pocatello, Idaho, i.e. family stuff. However, rather than flying out, we decided to drive so we could make stops at interesting places along the way. As a consequence of our decision, the trip evolved into a kind of pilgrimage. We decided to visit all the Great Lakes, parallel some of the historic old west trails, record our crossing of mountain barriers at famous pa sses, and invoke serendipity as we happened onto unplanned, but interesting sites.
Because of my post-herpetic neuralgia, we planned to drive at the rate of not more than 350 miles per day. My quota on past trips to the West was between 550 and 700 miles per day, and on occasion, near 800, but such extended driving days were out of the question for this trip, with or without the medical situation. Monica gets no enjoyment out of marathon-driving events. If she were to enjoy the trip, we would need to rein it in at or before the 350-mile point and take plenty of stops. We would not be slaves to a schedule.
From the outset, we had planned to record the events of our trip, first for ourselves, and secondly, to share our discoveries and experiences with others, especially our friends on the ENTS list. To make the chronicling mission convenient for us, Monica bought a journal for us to use.
I must say that her choice was excellent. The journal is a work of art. It is bound in pliable buffalo hide, a covering that portends adventure. It exudes power and somehow imparts a feeling of extra importance and permanence to any comments recorded therein. The buffalo hide journal was the last one on the shelf, so Monica grabbed it. One seeing it, I agreed that the diary seemed especially appropriate for a western adventure and that feeling proved prophetic.
Now to the organization of my trip report. In the chronicles that follow, I take it day at a time. Many of my descriptions are probably a little too pedestrian for good general reading, but I want to be as thorough as possible. What seems trivial on the surface can be the glue that ties important events together and provides an overall context for reporting our perception and distinguishing the significant and interesting from the routine. Consequently, much of what the chronicles are about is our impressions of places, past events, and current trends as opposed to straight facts. One can research the Internet and get detailed information on the bare facts of an important place or event. In fact, one can write a detailed book about places one has never actually visited, but in presenting our journal, that is not our purpose.
Hopefully, the journal can also serve to help others plan trips. To that purpose, I usually list the routes taken so anyone wanting to follow the exact path we took can do so with atlas in hand.
To give credit where due, detailed description of many places and events of our trip depend heavily on Monica’s assiduous note taking, as she took on the role of principal recorder of the trip specifics, i.e. the where’s, how’s, and when’s of each day. My job is to add subjective interpretation to the unvarnished particulars – as those who know me would expect. Toward fulfilling my interpretation objective, Monica has assumed the job of moderating my narratives. She is in charge of toning down my often unnecessarily harsh judgmental commentary - especially where I fulminate against the abuse of a resource or put up with throngs of people. Crowds almost always represent negative experiences for me and my subsequent commentary becomes predictable – too many people, too much congestion, bad. However, at points in the chronicles, I try to look deeper into my negative feelings toward gatherings of my fellow human beings and give my feelings a twist that has some value other
than to express a keen dislike.
Before launching into day #1, I should like to state clearly for the record that my wife Monica is a fabulous traveling companion. She is a thorough planner and she took the 6,400 miles of the roundtrip in stride. On our journeys, she asks merely to avoid the Interstate system as much as practicable. She seeks a genuine taste of the countryside and the Interstate system can seldom provide that, especially in the populous East.
Actually, Monica would prefer camping every night, not just to save money, but to really experience each place. I wish that could have been possible, but my situation would not permit it. So, she uncomplainingly accepted the circumstance of our travel and acquiesced to my special needs. She never uttered a peep of discontent or disappointment.
Along the way, we purchased many books. I will provide the places we stopped and the books we acquired, especially for topnotch books not generally available elsewhere.
I should forewarn the reader that along the way there will be changes in my writing style. I will bounce between folksy descriptions, to the more crisp, and hopefully wax poetic when appropriate. The changes in style reflect changes in mood invoked by places and experiences. I’ve note doubt been sloppy in the transitions and if the chronicles should prove to have some redeeming value beyond a friend to friend sharing experience, I’ll clean them up at a later date. For now, I just want to have fun in sharing our experiences.
One final comment, Monica and I did take pictures and will share them. I apologize for being a little delinquent in the picture taking. There are reasons for my delinquency other than being lazy, but I’ll save the explanation for another time. So, without further justification or rationale for what follows, I will conclude this introduction and get to our trip – a wonderful, deep experience for both Monica and me and one we are itching to share.

June 21st

Monica and I officially began our western excursion at around 12:30PM on June 21st. We had been forced to delay our departure so that I could get medical treatment for a stubborn urinary track infection. The delay to get the proper treatment cost us 8 days, but I had no choice. Heading west with a worsening infection was not smart.
As the magic hour arrived, to celebrate our departure properly, we needed the right kind of send off, but what might that be? How does one celebrate such an auspicious occasion as departure from the upscale community of Northampton, Massachusetts to the raw landscape of the western U.S.A? Well, as far as I am aware, if leaving from Northampton, one celebrates one’s departure by purchasing a large espresso latte from Northampton Coffee.
According to Monica, whom I regard as an unqualified expert, Northampton Coffee brews the very best latte in the Northeast, if not in the entire U.S. I can personally testify to Monica’s having tested lattes from Maine to Idaho –a sort of potato east to potato west sampling plan, I guess.
From her testing, Monica steadfastly maintains that Northampton Coffee lattes afford one the ultimate in latte experiences, and I cannot disagree. I must acknowledge that there is nothing in my eastern Tennessee mountain heritage to contest her choice. Nor did I acquire a more refined coffee palette while in the military. I swear that they served us re-processed motor oil. Besides, the rich taste of the Northampton latte did work for me - and she was buying.
So with lattes in hand, we turned onto I-91 south en-route to the Mass Pike and points west. For those who don’t know, I note that the Mass Pike is also I-90 - federal Interstate built partly with our tax dollars, but it has remained a toll road. That was not the original intention of those who sold the toll road concept, but reneging on agreements happens regularly in the general region in which we live. It is an all too typical screwing delivered expertly by states in the Northeast and Mid-west. New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts are especially good at delivering the shaft. They have the formula down.
The beginning of the drive was a surprisingly low-key event for me. What might have been excitement was instead replaced by a measure of concern. I was unsure of how well I would fair as the miles piled up. I employed a cold pack on my right side to manage the stinking, prickling of the nerves. I have experimented with hot and cold, and cold is guaranteed to work for a while, but I would also need plenty of distractions along the way, and a stop every hour to hour and a half for a brisk walk.
When traveling I-90 west in Massachusetts, there is one beginning distraction (or attraction) that I can rely on to calibrate my gyros and put me in full travel mode. As we cross the Massachusetts Berkshires, we soon reach the highest elevation achieved on I-90 east of South Dakota. A sign alerts the traveler to this little-appreciated fact of altitude. At the crest of a gentle hill, the traveler achieves an elevation of 1724 feet and will not climb any higher on I-90 until Oacoma, South Dakota, with the altitude of 1729 feet.
I am always impressed by that fact. I am always pleased to see the sign announcing the two elevations. In fact, a slight feeling of smugness comes over me as I contemplate the tidbit of numeric information given the traveler. Let me explain.
My vocally exhibited opinion of the average American traveler of the Interstate system isn’t always complimentary. More to the point, it is seldom complimentary. People zip by on Interstates simultaneously gabbing on cellphones, smoking cigarettes, and fiddling with radios and CD players. Large trucks jam up both lanes, one driver trying to go 3 miles per hour faster than the other, both speeding. People ride your bumper. Let’s face it, our Interstates are human zoos.
The congestion is especially bad when people are going to or returning from weekend destinations. At such times, I-90 in Massachusetts and New York turns into a cattle chute. I realize I’m not revealing anything we all don’t know, but who, pray tell, other than statistics aficionados such as we Ents, cares about highway elevations locally or near Oacoma, South Dakota? From what I observes, most modern Americans struggle to remember the boiling point of water at sea level, let alone an isolated elevation along an Interstate route. Did the person or persons who approved the sign think the altitude at that eastern high point of I-90 was of importance to today’s self-important, multi-tasking, tuned-out travelers? What point were the highway engineers trying to make, other than giving us an isolated elevation of interest only to road engineers and surveyors? I’m unsure, but I like to think about it. Maybe others have theories.
As the miles piled up, the urgency for a rest stop increased. I needed to walk and stretch, but refused to do it in the congested parking lots of the concessionaires along
I-90. Service centers in Massachusetts and New York on I-90 are crowded miniature shopping malls that peddle various assortments of fast food, i.e. junk food. Other than the convenience of their restrooms, they have no redeeming features. However, near Syracuse, New York we encountered an exception – a real rest stop.
We stopped at a spot that had a greenway and plenty of trees. It was exactly what I needed. The planted trees were surprisingly mature. Most were a species of maple, a cultivar, I presume. The maples had characteristics of silver, red, and sugar maples, and they were all large, mature trees. They had been planted years ago. However, one tree some distance away from the maples stood out as distinctly different. It caught my attention and rightly so. It turned out to be a bur oak, a good omen for traveling west. I presume it had been planted, but planted or not, I was happy to see the species. It offered us a touch of the Mid-west, a precursor of good things to come, a symbol of traveling into the domain of more westerly species. In fact, the bur oak reminded me of a rest stop on I-80 near Joliet, Illinois, that features a manicured area adjacent to a small piece of restored savanna. I think the latter is a research area. Both the manicured and natural areas have large,
old bur oaks, perhaps in excess of 200 years of age.
I have stopped at that Illinois rest stop on many occasions, and I never tire of renewing my acquaintance with those old bur oaks and an assortment of other native species. What a treat! They are so different from the lollipop cultivars typical of so many rest stops. On the first western trip we took together, Monica found the bur oaks to be inspirational. They provided her a boost in some benign way. She was suffering from a viral infection at the time. Although Monica loves trees, it is not typical of her to zero in on a grove she has not seen before, especially trees growing at a rest stop. I still wonder about the power of those trees and that location.
On a previous trip, my deceased wife Jani and I took a couple of Lakota Indians back to the Pine Ridge Reservation and we stopped at that rest stop. I have pictures of Jani and our Lakota friends. In the photograph, the oaks appear to be serving as a protective umbrella for our Indian friends, warmly embracing them as genuine children of the earth.
As the Interstate miles accumulated, we decided to get off that high-speed east-west corridor and head north on State Route 34 at a more leisurely pace. We wanted to rendezvous with Lake Ontario. We chose Fair Haven State Park as our stop. Neither of us had been there. It just looked isolated and so we headed for it.
Previously Monica had seen only one of the Great Lakes and that was when she was a young child, so we decided to give ourselves a real Great Lakes experience. We would visit them all. The lakes tour was to be a sweetener for Monica, who loves water and our decision turned out to have been a good one, albeit with some interesting psychological twists that will become clear as we explore Monica’s water connections and how they have developed.
Before getting into our lake impressions, some straight facts are in order. Lake Ontario is the smallest of the Great Lakes in terms of surface area. It covers a modest 7,500 square miles compared to Lake Superior’s whopping 31,820. However, this comparison is misleading. To put things into a better perspective, Lake Ontario is about the size of the land area of Massachusetts. That makes Lake Ontario a huge body of water no matter with what or how it is compared.
Although Ontario has the smallest surface area, it ranks 4th among the Great Lakes in volume with almost three times the volume of the smallest, Lake Erie. Ontario’s greater volume comes from its depth. Ontario’s maximum depth is an impressive 802 feet as is its average depth of 283 feet. By comparison, Erie has a maximum depth of 210 feet and an average depth of only 62 feet. Ontario’s 283-foot average makes Ontario’s mean depth second among the Great Lakes, slightly eclipsing the much larger Michigan, which weighs in at 279 feet. However, all the Great Lakes bow to Superior’s average depth of 483 feet and its maximum of 1,333. Superior is superior in these physical aspects.
Still, by any reasonable measure, Ontario is a giant worthy of worldwide respect, and from my perspective, it has only two real weaknesses, Toronto and Rochester. I consider any human city as an ugly blight on the boundary of a natural lake. A large human presence changes the character of a lake. It changes the energy field of the lake in a compromising, degrading kind of way. Visitors seeking a commune with nature are deprived of access to most of the shoreline due to private property development. Marinas clutter the field of view and for me are invariably congested and noisy. Tall buildings in the vicinity of the water add nothing.
When we reached Lake Ontario at a small state park east of Rochester, I was anxious to get Monica’s reaction to her first visit to that Great Lake. I assumed her response would be similar to my own, a combination of being concurrently impressed, excited, and humbled. However, Monica seemed more puzzled than any of the foregoing, as she sat quietly and gazed off at the expanse of water. On that occasion, Ontario exhibited a predominately teal color, at least from our vantage point. It was a pleasant hue, one that Monica especially likes. As for myself, I prefer bright blue. I find the teal somewhere between somber and calming, a curious mix of moods, if that makes any sense.
To understand her reaction to Lake Ontario, it is necessary to understand that Monica’s experience with lakes has been intimate, formed through many canoe trips to the lakes in New York’s Adirondack Park and similar regions. She unconsciously defines a lake to be smaller, more manageable than what she was seeing in Ontario. According to Monica, a respectable lake needs to incorporate a network of tree-covered islands, peninsulas, and shores should not be too distant – certainly not out of sight. There must be a blending of sky, mountains, forests, and water, a la Adirondack style. That provides her with a degree of comfort and familiarity.
However, what her eyes beheld as she looked out over the waters of Ontario was a miniature ocean, a giant body of water that at the time was strangely silent. That presented a conflicting signal. She couldn’t see across to the other side, which made it the equivalent of a ocean, but there was no crashing of surf. There was no familiar smell such as what one associates with the Atlantic Ocean. Was she looking at a giant, natural bathtub? It was clear that Monica did not know quite what to think of Ontario. The question is: did she like it? At the time, she really was not sure and her ambivalence was to continue throughout the Ontario experience and beyond.
After leaving Fair Haven Park, as evening fell upon us, we started looking for some nightly accommodations. We found a motel along a very rural route. We wanted to stop before getting too close to Rochester and getting tied up in its congestion, so we looked for accommodations in Fair Haven. We assumed we would get a good motel rate.
We found a delightful little motel on the western edge of town. The motel we chose was clean and the proprietor very friendly. She had an honest demeanor, but the room rate made our eyes bulge. What she quoted was very high for the modest accommodations she offered us. Unfortunately, for our bank account, the motel would be one instance of many where we had to pay over $100 just for sleeping. By my standards, that is expensive snoozing. One is conditioned to expect a class-A screwing in big cities, but out in the country with no close by major attractions? Nonetheless, we were tired, so we presented the Innkeeper with our plastic money and settled in for the night.
By the reckoning of the odometer, we had moved 289 miles westward on our journey, which was more than enough given our late start. In terms of fauna and flora, two of our trip categories, we had seen one groundhog, bur oaks near Syracuse, herring gulls near Lake Ontario, one great blue heron also near Syracuse, and many small birds that Monica did not attempt to identify. We probably saw deer, but wouldn’t have been moved to count them.
We ate a simple, but nutritious dinner prepared expertly by Monica. We sat on the little porch in from of our motel room. With a view of green fields and surrounded by the pleasant sounds of nature, it was an idyllic way to end the first day and we were in silent agreement that despite the motel cost, we had been granted a good start to our journey, a trip that held great promise for the both of us, and as will be recorded in this journal, delivered all that it promised.

== 2 of 5 ==
Date: Wed, Jul 30 2008 8:55 am
From: "Edward Frank"


An excellent beginning to your account of your adventures. However, I find it hard to imagine that any trip would be off to a good start with a cup of coffee. Conceptually I understand that some people actually seem to like to drink that foul fluid, but as a practical matter....

Just a few miles east of here Interstate 80 reaches its highest point east of the Mississippi River near the town of Penfield at an elevation of 2,250 feet. I read the sign when I pass and think about how if it were not for friction, I could coast from this point all the way to New York City on one side or from a foot away I would roll to the Mississippi River at Davenport and momentum would carry me somewhere into Iowa or Nebraska. The continental divide is crossed her as well. A droplet of water here could split with one half making the long journey down the Allegheny to the Ohio to the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. The other half would flow down to the Susquehanna River to Chesapeake Bay to the Atlantic Ocean. Here at this point the two oceans destination a thousand miles apart come together....


As for toll roads, elements of the state legislature and us congressional representatives are engaged in a fight over the governor's plan to toll Interstate 80. Most of the money would be fed to fund projects in the governors home base of Philadelphia and be paid for by people living in rural areas along I-80. The governor and his Philadelphia supporters think this is great idea. Those of us along I-80 think otherwise.

== 3 of 5 ==
Date: Wed, Jul 30 2008 9:11 am
From: Larry

Bob, Awesome beginning to what I'm sure will be one of your best
writings yet. The Great Western Adventure! Visiting Lake Superior has
always been exciting for me, one day I will see them all! Keep the
stories coming. Larry

== 4 of 5 ==
Date: Wed, Jul 30 2008 2:25 pm

Larry and Ed,

Just the tip of the iceberg. I have 36 days worth of experiences to relate. I'm going to be writing for a long time.


I'm well aware of that spot on I80, i.e. the eastern continental divide. I pay homage to it every time I cross it. I'm fascinated with water divides.


== 5 of 5 ==
Date: Wed, Jul 30 2008 9:21 pm
From: James Parton


Your visit makes me want to visit the Great Lakes. I would love to try
my hand at fishing there. I can see how Monica would possibly view
them as oceans. Fresh-water inland seas.

James P.

TOPIC: Introduction and June 21

== 1 of 3 ==
Date: Thurs, Jul 31 2008 5:09 am


Each lake his its own special energy and appeal. Superior is my favorite, not because its the biggest, but because of the lesser development pressure around the lake. There's plenty of wilderness.