"Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home" -- Matsuo Basho
It seems to me that leaving home on any journey requires some sort of super-human effort. It felt like our lives became a circus side-show as June 12th, 2008, came creeping up to us at a dead run. I was suddenly the sword-swallower, the fat-lady, and, of course, the fire-juggler, all at the same time. Once in awhile I caught a glimpse of my wife, Sherri, performing her own diligent, contortionist's dance, but only when we had an act together in the center ring.
One more circus allusion, then I'll leave it alone. Leaving home can sometimes feel like being shot out of a cannon. All of the last minute activity builds to a noisy, anxiety-ridden frenzy before the fuse is lit, and the powder ignites. Then, suddenly, you are gone. All of the distractions are gone, and you are slipping, noiselessly, along a trajectory you cannot wholly control. You're on the road.
I'm not sure if we finished everything, but we did find ourselves in the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, packed and headed out of town. Our first stop: Mount Pleasant, PA, home of our newly built Aliner Ease camper. I have to say that I wasn't sure how the Tahoe would measure up out there, but we averaged 22.5 mpg without the camper on the way to PA, and I was really curious how it would react to pulling the nearly 3000 lbs of the outfitted camper. The 4-hour trip was uneventful, and we were greeted by the Aliner crew -- Ned, Melanie, Bill, Nancy, Sean, and Eddie at the factory, where they explained the ins-and-outs of the system. Luckily for me, Sean and Eddie had taken it upon themselves to (very expertly) install the Wind and Solar Power. Thanks, guys, you made that part easy!
We spent the first night in the Aliner Ease at a small campground north of Pittsburg, pulling in after dark, but finding the set-up just as easy in the dark as in the light. The camper really does "pop-up" in a matter of about a minute and a half. On Friday, we were guests of the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland for a meet-and-greet with the public and a game against the Padres. While we were parked out on the plaza before the game, WKYC-TV did a live interview with us as part of a story on the Indians' green efforts at Progressive Field. Check out the clip right here: Wilson Green Family Summer WKYC Live Interview. We're at the end of a three minute piece on the Indians.
Up at my Mom's in Highland, MI, we did odd jobs and saw the McAuliffe cousins in their big Dance Recital Weekend. If you ask Winter and Sylvie their favorite part of any summer vacation, they'll say, "my cousins," and this year is no different. I'll often find them pining for the company of their cousins just about the time I'm having some wilderness epiphany which I'm eagerly, tear-in-the-eye, trying to share with them. Usually it goes something like this: I say, "Wow, just look at that full moon rising up over the prairie . . . this is a really special evening . . . " sniff, sigh. Them, cheerfully, "Yep, and only four more weeks until we see our other cousins." I'm such an old sap.
Sherri spent much of the time at Mom's organizing and packing up our rig. I'd especially like to thank Mountainsmith and GSIOutdoors for their very helpful, space-saving gear. Mountainsmith's travel organizing systems helped us get three months worth of four peoples' gear packed in a way that we can actually find some things. GSIOutdoors made packing an entire kitchen's worth of cooking gear into a space much smaller than a Miata's trunk possible. All of that, and I'm still going to have good coffee this summer. I'll explain that later on this summer in the blog.
We became road-worthy and left Mom's on Tuesday morning, June 17th. This part of the trip was pretty much a straight shot to meet with Ruth Palmer of the Nature Conservancyin the Tallgrass National Preserve in the Flint Hills of Kansas. We were interrupted a bit when KSHB-TV in Kansas City, MO, wanted to interview us about the trip -- it just so happened that the week we were there was their "Living Green" week, which was a perfect fit with our story. We did an evening interview and then got up bright and early for the morning show the next day. See our interview here: Family Vacation Goes Green.
After the morning interview we drove down to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, about two hours southwest of Kansas City. For most people, Kansas is a "drive through" state. It's usually a green blur out of the window on their way to points east or west, but not a destination. Ruth Palmer of the Nature Conservancy helped to show us the subtle beauty of the prairie up close as well as the overwhelming power of the sheer open space there. On our hike there, we encountered a very disturbed mother night-hawk, which tried to lure us away from the trail with a "broken-wing" act. When I looked down at the trail, I saw that, about three inches from Ruth's left shoe, was a baby night-hawk, well disguised on the flint path with it's mottled feathers. It was definitely a highlight that day, and the mama was relieved to see us saunter off down the path.
We were also fortunate to talk with Brain Obermeyer of TNC, who coordinates the efforts of the Nature Conservancy in the Flint Hills, and he gave us a unique, native's view of the prairie. Brian was brave enough to meet us out at our Chase State Lake campground at the end of the day and eat Indian food from foil pouches with us as he related his stories of the prairie. Thanks to both Ruth and Brian for making it a very memorable day. Look for a full report of those stories and a video of our day later on this summer (when I've got a minute to do a bit of editing!).
Before leaving Cottonwood Falls, we decided to get a couple of video and still shots of the main street there, with it's quintessentially prairie-town county courthouse at one end. As we milled about, Charley Klamm introduced himself as a retired photographer who now ran the weaving shop in town with his wife, Carol. With a gleam in his eye, anticipating my question about "what kind of photographer" he had been, he smiled and said, "I only ever shot still life." I must have given the proper, puzzled response, because right about then he hit me with the punch-line: "I was a forensic photographer with the Kansas Bureau of Investigations." He invited us into their weaving shop in Cottonwood Falls where we talked with both Charley and Carol about everything ranging from the stories behind their looms, to the photo of the only lynching in Chase county, to the short history of barbed-wire which Charley had amassed. By all means, visit with the Klamms when you make your way to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve and Cottonwood Falls -- they run the Fiber Factory right there on the main drag.
That brings us up to date. We're grabbing a cuppa joe (and chai) in Wichita, Kansas, on our way east to Greensburg, Kansas, where we hope to talk with people about their town. Greensburg, if you haven't heard the story, was wiped out entirely by a twister awhile back, and they've decided to rebuild their town in a completely "green" fashion. After that, we'll be on into Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, the San Juan Mountains, and then to meet with friends in Durango, CO.
Oh, and the mileage? Looks like we're getting about 18mpg with a headwind, and upwards of 19mpg the rest of the time. I think I can safely say that we'll save some serious gas money this year from our 11mpg summer last year.
Stay tuned, the adventure has only just begun.