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Andrew's collection of...

random thoughts and observations leading up to this cross country trip. This is no small undertaking...

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Edwardsville history and other musings

When I last left you, we had made a rough foray through the dark and rainy mountains of West Virginia. We've covered a lot of ground, seen a lot of sights and visited my past since then.

Please read on or skip over to the St. Louis photos.

I suppose any discussion of a visit to Edwardsville and St. Louis deserves a bit of an introduction. Edwardsville is the town I ended up growing up in after my parents divorced. It was such a big part of my life: middle school and high school; some college; girlfriends; old buddies; parties in the woods; road trips; all that stuff that everyone has from that time in their lives. But for me, it has been completely abandoned. I haven't been through E'ville in roughly 20 years. I have had almost no contact with anyone from there and haven't followed developments of the region. So in other words, large parts of my past have been excised from my life. This is not a complaint or even a problem, its just the way it is.

Edwardsville has changed so much but appears in many ways to be the same too. We pulled in to the Comfort Inn in the early evening. This used to be the Holidome Edwardsville with a big pool area, hot tub, bar, video games etc. It appears that either my memory greatly exaggerated things (likely, but not that much) or it was either heavily renovated or downright replaced. Anyway, we checked in, confirmed the pool was open late and headed off to dinner. Mmmmm.... Alfonso's pizza in Marysville, IL. We started going to Alfonso's not too long after it opened nearly 25 years ago. It was the place we chose for birthday pizza for years. It also had a propensity for burning down. The owners moved to a new location around the corner about 15(!) years ago. So after roughly 20 years, it tastes exactly the same as I recall and, having eaten a lot of pizza since then, it is still darn good pizza. Probably not the best in the world, but darn good and worth a stop if you roll through that area.

After dinner we took a drive through Edwardsville. I showed the family various important sites: old houses, the high-school, friends houses, make-out spots etc. It was a fun reminisce for me. E'ville, despite huge growth in the surrounding area, looks largely the same as when I lived there. And it really is a pretty little town too. I could have spent a couple days in Edwardsville itself, but the pool and points West beckoned...

We spent the first half of the next day (August 23) in St. Louis doing tourist stuff. The riverfront and its usual cadre of boats seemed a little more sparse then I remembered. The Goldenrod Show Boat was nowhere to be seen. The Robert E. Lee was downstream just a bit (below Poplar St. Bridge) for repairs. The Admiral was berthed upstream, past the Eads Bridge, and we couldn't see what was beyond her, so perhaps there was more to see. But the helicopter tours were still running. I think it was the same chopper, which is pretty scary considering its been doing many flights a day for well over 20 years now. Also, the two little tour boats (the Becky Thatcher and the Huck Finn, I think) were still running their little waterfront tours. The Arch was beautiful. It is an amazing structure in so many ways: its size, its beauty, its construction and history. We spent a ton of money in the gift shop buying t-shirts and whatnot. We had a scheduled ride to the top of the arch at 11:30. Now I love going up in the Arch and would do it anytime. Veronica is a little queasy about elevators and the little cars that run up the inside of the Arch were a challenge for her. But she is brave and did pretty well once we got underway. Now Muffy is another story. I knew that she had some fear of heights, but it never occurred to me that the Arch would be so unsettling. It is pretty solid after all. But she took about five steps into the observation area and said "I want to go down now". Poor thing. I had forgotten that you can feel the Arch swaying in the wind and it was a pretty windy day. I suppose you could actually get seasick up there if you spent enough time. It doesn't bother me, but both Muffy and Veronica (mostly from sympathy, I think) waited anxiously over by the elevators for the duration. Isabelle and Natalie and I ran back and forth enjoying the view for our all too brief 10 minutes up top before the trip back down.

Once safely back on the ground, we enjoyed a foray through the Museum of Westward Expansion. This is a great museum with lots of interesting bits in it. There are fullsize dioramas of animals, Native Teepee's and settler's sod huts. There are displays of Indian Treaties, extended quotes from the journals of Lewis and Clark, quotes and anecdotes from plains settlers and more. You could easily spend all day there. The girls enjoyed the story teller who demonstrated pioneer style toys and explained about the daily life of a pioneer walking across the Great Plains. I didn't realise that most of them actually pulled hand carts instead of Prairie Schooners. That is intense, to say the least.

We lunched at White Castle which was a mixed success. Probably we didn't need to order 20 of them, but it seemed like the thing to do :) . After lunch we safely navigated through downtown St. Louis with a trailer(!) and found our way to Fritz's Frozen Custard in Florissant. I had been anticipating this for a while. In preparation, we had sampled some softserve ice cream and custard in a couple places. Wall Drug has some decent softserve, but nothing to write home about. We had frozen custard in New Market, VA and it was pretty good, but didn't compete with the soft serve we got at the Arlington Country Fair a few days before. That was by far the best softserve ice cream I've ever had and it is a delicious thing. If you get the chance, check them out. I think it was but can't promise. So Fritz's definitely stands up. We all agreed it was delicious and better than the softserve from A and R at the fair, though maybe only by a little. I think it was mostly a texture thing. Good custard has a mouthfeel that ice cream can't compete with, in my opinion.

With bellies full, we headed west and forged our way all the way across Missouri and into Kansas before stopping in Topeka to eat. We made one major stop on the way, in Independence MO, in search of some kind of dinner that wasn't pizza or burgers. I think, in retrospect, that getting Mongolian Barbecue while on the Plains makes a little sense. If the Mongolians were picked up and dropped into the Plains, they'd surely be right at home. Now, execution of Mongolian Barbecue by a chain in the Midwest might leave a little to be desired, but it worked nonetheless and we were happy.


Posted Fri Aug 24 14:57:09 2007
on the road again

On the Road Again...

After a harrowing night in the mountains of West Virginia, we are on the road and in Kentucky. Harrowing is an exaggeration... it was merely a bit of a stressful drive brought about by lingering with friends.

Sorry no pictures at this point but you're welcome to read more.

We started the day doing final packing in an incredibly humid Virginia. It wasn't exactly raining, but water just coalesced out of the air. We had just spent the previous two days rounding up stuff to load in our trailer -- furniture, rugs, knick-knacks, and box after box of china -- mostly from Muffy's grandmother's estate. It was kind of sad to see her house (a beautiful sight in itself) being picked over, but by the same token, we are grateful for, and truly appreciate, the beautiful and sentimental things.

With trailer loaded and kids packed and goodbyes said, we set off a little late for lunch in the hills around Amissville, VA. Our good friends the Kelly-Grahams have retreated to a beautiful piece of solitude in the Virginia hills complete with their own cemetery (!). We had a wonderful time visiting and ooh-ing and aah-ing their peaceful seclusion. We are jealous. So, in retrospect, we probably lingered too long in their company but would do it again in a heartbeat.

If you have never ventured through the mountains of western Virginia and into West Virginia, you are truly missing out on an incredible piece of this country. If you can afford the luxury of getting off the super slab, nothing beats a couple hours on an old US highway, preferably one with a three digit number (211, 522 etc). A lot of these US highways, especially in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania are Old roads. 522, for example, was a military road cut through the forests of Pennsylvania by the British during the Revolutionary War (at least that's the story I remember). Similarly, 211 up and over the Shenandoah has been a road for a long time. I don't know its history, but the town at the far (western) end of 211 is New Market and by "New" they mean 1796. I wonder what happened to the old market.

Anyway, these roads inevitably wander up into the hills connecting all those old little villages and settlements. Truly old houses are everywhere. Many are hidden under centuries of improvements and expansions, but you can still pick them out easily: the proportions are different than we'd build today; there's a symmetry to the construction that we don't use today; they don't have extraneous protrusions and random gables like modern McMansions. Occasionally you'll even see a still occupied shack or log cabin that is clearly pushing 300 years old. I just love it.

Into West Virginia, the mountains become really impressive climbing higher and higher. They are not as high as those of the West, but because of their scale and the way the road winds right into them you get a much more distinct impression of the height. And the greenery is amazing... mile after mile of lush green mountain is just incredible. I have spent time in West Virginia before, but I've never driven across it. I think it may be more desolate than many parts of the West. Especially considering how the shadow of development looms just a couple short hours in all directions. Somehow West Virginia has remained largely empty; or at least sparsely settled and there is enough tree cover that it looks empty from the freeway.

Our drive took us into and out of rain several times -- once it dumped quite heavily. It must be the same storms that pounded Ohio. We got off easy, I think. Our day ended in Charleston after a couple hours of driving in the dark, surrounded by trucks with rain coming down and the road really winding tightly through the hills. It was tough driving and I pretty much crashed out once we hit the hotel. The girls wanted to swim, but the pool had literally just closed at our arrival.

Today we drive through the last piece of WV, all the way across Kentucky, a little piece of Indiana (our first repeat state on this journey) and diagonaly through southern Illinois to spend the night in Edwardsville. We'll be staying at the Comfort Inn which used to be the Holiday Inn -- the very one where all the prom parties and homecoming parties were always held. I imagine that practice has been banished. We'll try to get in dinner at Alfonso's Pizza in Marysville and hopefully a quick driving tour through E'ville. Tomorrow its the Gateway Arch and waterfront in the morning followed by lunch somewhere with dessert at Fritz's Frozen Custard in Florisant (sp?), MO and on to Topeka, Kansas and our trek across the southern end of the Great Plains.


Posted Wed Aug 22 20:05:58 2007
DC Sights

Washington, DC sights

Sorry, its been a few days now, but we've been kinda busy. Marching 4-5 kids around to various sight-seeing gigs can get a little hectic.

As always, you can read more or check out the latest round of photos.

We started out with the National Zoo on Tuesday. What a hike that is. I had forgotten how vertical the zoo is, being spread across the western wall of the Rock Creek valley. The kid's cousins, Becca and Katey, came with us as were lots of fun. The girls were thrilled to ride the Metro (they are now seasoned pro's, BTW) and really enjoyed the zoo, until the final walk out up the long hill... A stop at McD's for milkshakes fixed that right up.

Wednesday at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History was also a lot of fun. We lunched on the Mall with some of my former co-workers from the Bedrock days and had lots of fun fending off marauding flocks of pigeons and sparrows. The big disappointment was that the Insect Zoo was closed. Natalie was really disappointed I think.

Finally, we took a drive to the Baltimore Aquarium which was very cool. Lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, which none of us had done before, was interesting but not really noteworthy. Grandma Elaine's crab cakes are better, but I guess that's to be expected. Overall, I think the aquarium was the most successful in terms of engaging the kids and keeping them interested. We had a lovely chat with one of the volunteers there who was coaxing up various interesting fish for us to look at. Apparently these volunteers go through a really lengthy process including months of waiting, weeks of training and testing just for the privilege of volunteering for two days a month. Based on his excitement though, it must be worth it.

Now we are settling in for a couple days of local stuff, family visiting, and so forth before we begin the trek back.


Posted Fri Aug 17 10:15:25 2007


Just a quick entry, after five days of driving, too many pops and snacks, and four nights in hotels of wildly varying quality, we have arrived in Arlington in reasonably good condition. We left Spokane with three children and arrived having neither lost nor gained any childred. We'll be sleeping in tomorrow and heading to the zoo. more later...

Photos from August 11 and August 12 are available.

Posted Mon Aug 13 19:39:09 2007
sight seeing

Sight Seeing

Today ended up being a site seeing day with several stops. First was Wall Drug in Wall, SD. If you don't know what that it, well, sorry, you'll just have to go there one day.


We had a good time at Wall poking around and getting little trinkets. Natalie got a set of clacking teeth (you know, the kind that bounce around chattering...) which is in perfect keeping with her plans to become a dentist. Unfortunately, they fell victim to her overzealous playing and broke within about 5 minutes of getting back on the road. Now they are just teeth with no clacking (surely a good thing for the sanity of her parents). I feel bad for her, but I know she needs to learn this lesson. She is now lamenting that she didn't get a bag of polished stones like the other girls.

As we merged back onto the freeway at Wall, we ran right up against the back of a major traffic jam. There was a tractor trailer accident somewhere ahead of us. A quick consult of the map had us off on the Badlands Scenic loop which is not only scenic, but also gets us about twenty miles down the freeway and past the accident. The Badlands are incredible. We took some photos which probably don't do it justice, but due to time contraints, probably won't get posted til later.

Next stop was The A-maize-ing Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. Its a pretty cool piece of Americana: a large warehouse type building covered in different colored corn cobs and plant matter. The bits are arranged to depict scenes of whatever the current theme is. The kids thought it was pretty cool. At least for a few minutes. Although I think they were disappointed that it wasn't an actual palace. So it goes.

As I write this, we are still on the road heading through western Minnesota. We just hopped out at a rest area and I heard a sound from my childhood; something I miss in Spokane; the cicadas buzzing. It is an incredible sound and was a constant in the summers of my childhood in Illinois. Sometimes it was so loud that you'd have to literally cover your head with a pillow to get to sleep.

One more stop tonight, though it will be dark: Blue Earth, MN and the Jolly Green Giant. This towering tribute to American kitsch culture is a must see on any journey within 1000 miles of Minnesota. :) Hopefully it will have big lights shining on it...

One more interesting note about today: many of the bikers from Sturgis are now heading home. There seem to be two distinct camps. First, are the guys who towed their bikes to Sturgis behind some form of rig or another: everything from minivans to full size tour busses. The second camp are guys who actually rode to Sturgis. I have great respect for this accomplishment. Some are from as far away as the East Coast and Southeast. They are riding hard with great piles of gear strapped on their bikes: a bed roll across the handlebars; a duffle bag or back pack on the seat behind them; a cooler or some other stuff bungied over the top. They are totally self-sufficient and I think its pretty cool. I can definitely identify with that mentality. I suspect there is a little animosity between these camps. One t-shirt said "I rode to Trailer Week at Sturgis, 2007". There were several guys with patches on their jackets, row after row of "I rode mine 1999," "I rode mine 2000," etc.

So tomorrow is the big day. We have a scheduled run of over 10 hours from Albert Lea, MN to Maumee (Toledo), OH. I think its over 600 miles, so we'll be up early and running late with no unnecessary stops. not fun, but we can do it. So there won't be much update I suspect from that adventure.


Posted Sat Aug 11 19:19:48 2007
long haul

The Long Haul

We're into the long haul part of the trip now. The first two days were a little long but weren't the sorts of days where we had to get mileage done. Today is different, we've got almost 8 hours of actual driving to get done, not counting stops, gas, eating etc. So that's a long day. no matter how you slice it.

You can read more or skip over to the photos.

Yesterday was a fun day. We left Livingston, MT a little later than we wanted but not too much. The drive through south-east Montana and north-east Wyoming is always awe inspiring to me. It is by far the most desolate part of this trip. I think the longest break without services is something like 40 miles. Now that doesn't seem like much until you're in the middle of it and you realise you're not sure when you last saw a building or a piece of road that was more than a jeep track off in the hills.

The terrain is beautiful -- a mix of rolling green hills, craggy distant mountains, and occaisional stretches of empty grassland -- a prelude to the Great Plains ahead. Throughout the day, we kept seeing more and more motorcycles. At some point we realised that we were heading right into the heart of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, SD. Now, I'm no fan of the Harley culture, nor most of the motorcycles, but it was an amazing sight. There were so many motorcycles that you could do nothing but gawk. Our hotel was about 20 miles past Sturgis, so we got to drive right through it. That stretch of freeway -- say 15 miles either side of Sturgis -- was nothing but motorcycles going every which way. It was pretty cool. I guess we were at the tail end of the festivities, so it probably wasn't as thick as it would have been had we come through just a couple days sooner.

The thing that I had trouble with was the number of unprotected riders. I just won't ride unprotected and to see all these people in cutoffs and no shirts and no helmets and their toes all bare in flip-flops; ugh, It gives me the willies. Now, they're free to ride how they want, and I don't begrudge them that, but it still makes me upset. There was a biker down on the freeway while we were driving through. We couldn't really see the victim, but based on the medical personel crowded around, it wasn't good. It was a good opportunity to explain some stuff to the girls. Both about the need for protection when riding, but also the need for freedom to ride how you want. I think seeing the scene onthe side of the road had an impact on them.

Meanwhile, the bikes were incredible. As I said, I'm no fan, but they really were gorgeous. I really like some of the less dressed out ones. Some of the more "naked" bikes that hearken back to a cafe racer style, or an old Vincent style, are pretty cool.

We stayed the night in Rapid City, SD after making the trek up to Mt. Rushmore. So, I have to say, that Mt. Rushmore isn't all that. I mean, its cool and I'm glad we did it, but there's not much to do there and you don't get close enough to really appreciate the scale of it all. So that was kind of disappointing, but I'm still glad we did it and we got a couple nice photos of the girls in front of some dead presidents. heh heh. Oh, and the chipmunks are way cool scampering around with their tails up in the air. Very cute and fun.

The girls held together pretty well (as they continue to do) and had a blast on the waterslide in the hotel pool.

That's all for now... next up... the long drive through nothing: South Dakota through Minnesota.


Posted Sat Aug 11 15:31:34 2007
First Day

The First Day

Well, we're well down the road now and are making good progress. It was a little hectic getting out the door. Getting three kids pointed in the same direction is a little, umm... tricky? ;)

Click for more or skip the ramble and get on to the photos.

And the fit. Heh. Luckily, the van seats are removeable because we definitely don't fit all five of us with all our stuff. Most of it is food though, so it'll get smaller as we go. But its still a tight fit. Five people each with a good weeks worth of clothes; enough snacks to hopefully get us through about a week of driving; a whole big pile of paper and pencils and crayons and other crafty bits; a mess 'o dvds; its just a lot of stuff in the ol' van.

We left Spokane at just about noon. The kids were comfortably shoe-horned in the back and the tunes were going. We've made pretty good time so far -- Muffy is a natural Montana driver: "oh, maybe I shouldn't drive 90."

The mountains through the Idaho panhandle are nice, but frankly pretty boring. It didn't get interesting until we hit the climb up and over Homestake Pass in Montana. That's a pretty impressive piece of mountain. Its unbelieveable that people used to walk across there as its nothing but big boulders the size of busses with scrawny trees crammed in the cracks. I tried to explain the Continental Divide to the kids, but I don't think they get it. Tonight at the hotel I'll use the blankets to form a proper mountain range to demonstrate it better.

Meanwhile, the drive from Homestake on to our first stop in Livingston is awesome country. Big broad valleys of rolling grass land bounded all around by real crags. It is beautiful and inspiring and if I had me a six gun, a horse, and a pound of coffee, I'd carve out my own ranch. :)


Posted Thu Aug 9 21:25:06 2007
Almost there

Almost there...

Wow. It's been a pretty crazy last couple of days, but we're on the road tomorrow and I think we've pretty much got it all done. As I type this, I'm just finalizing the last couple of things I need to do at work. I've been up until almost 3:00 AM the last two nights just poking around and gradually getting done all those little things that need doing. The computers are all finished up and configured so that I can work on the road.

I'm sure there are hours more stuff that could be done, but there comes a point where enough is enough...

Tomorrow, we're on the road...

Posted Wed Aug 8 19:22:07 2007
Laptop configuration

I've ordered a laptop as I need to be able to get some work done on this trip (taxes, payrolls etc) and it'll be nice to remain in contact as well. It will serve multiple duties: dvd player for the kids in the car, summer homework machine for Isabelle, work machine for me, general toy for the rest of the family. I ordered what looks like a decent rig from linuxcertified with an upgraded processor (core 2 duo, I guess its doubledoubleplusgood...).

It will arrive today according to ups. So I've got to get this thing configured. I ordered it with Ubuntu as that's the closest option to my preferred system: Debian. So I've got to decide whether to go ahead and run it with Ubuntu, or upgrade it to Debian... well, I consider it an upgrade. I usually use wmii on my desktop and I suspect that getting that to work satisfactorally (sp?) may be difficult. Its probably better to go with what I know and reinstall the thing. I'll have to take copious notes about the configuration before hand though. Maybe I'll just copy off the whole /etc tree and save it somewhere as a reference. My big fear is that the wireless will be running some non-free bits that I won't be able to get working easily in Debian.

I'll have to set up a kid friendly environment as well, as I don't really expect them to take to wmii right away. Its probably too late for them... I should have started them with a command line instead of letting them touch a gooey gui. That's a hangover from our windows days. The kids learned on windows first. I hope they can be saved...

The other thing to work out is how to sync this laptop with my main machine. I'd love to follow Joey Hess' subverted home, but I won't really have time to set that up. And frankly, I probably won't need it. We'll only be networked intermittently, so I'll have to copy some critical documents to the laptop for on-the-road work, but a lot of stuff can just stay where it is. I'll probably continue to just ssh in and attach a screen session for checking email, manipulating photos of the trip, admin'ing the server and so forth. I think the best bet is to just setup a wrapper around rsync and use that to move critical stuff back and forth. hmmm... I could incorporate it into the networking stuff and have it rsync those things automatically whenever the net comes up and goes down... that's gotta be worth a few minutes of sript hacking. I could create a post-up script to rsync the laptop back to home everytime it comes up. That would give me nice consistent backups of everything I do when offline.

Posted Mon Aug 6 10:11:16 2007
Ikiwiki Upgrade

I just upgraded ikiwiki to version 2.5 (from 1.33) because I got tired of finding features on the website that weren't in my version. But unfortunately, this broke the way logging in works. I had been using mod_auth_digest to control access to the cgi scripts, but then I was left facing another login from the cgi script itself and no way to turn that off. I really don't like the idea of logging in twice... So I turned off mod_auth_digest and am relying on password control in ikiwiki to keep this think locked up.

Hopefully I can catch Joey H or someone otherwise knowledgable on #ikiwiki to help me figure that out... We'll see. Hmm... maybe though, that will make recent changes work?

Posted Sun Aug 5 17:33:53 2007