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Sep 24, 2006 (E): Yoga to South Dakota, via Banff, Vermont, Boston, and St. Louis

Another long period of no updates here, coupled with frantic activities behind the scenes.

Since the last update we spent 10 days at the yoga center where Amy completed her Yoga Teacher Training program and received her certificate to teach Yoga. I was put to work in the kitchen for most of the duration, washing dishes and helping on meal preparation. Now when all the computers crash I will still have a useful skill set.

In my spare time between work for the Yoga center and work for my main employer, I did a bit of tinkering on the van. Following the rally Sportsmobile had sent a thermal probe to allow the furnace to more accurately sense cabin temperature, and a new sofa extension shelf that had countertop laminate on the surface so it wouldn't swell with condensation when used as a table for cups. I installed these items, cleaned up in the van, and wandered about looking for golf-balls from the nearby course.

After the yoga classes were over we took the ferry back to Vancouver (which was accompanied by another pod of Orcas, but no good photos this time) and started heading east on Canada Highway 1. Our goal was to meet up with some friends from Montana at Lake Louise in Banff National Park. The first night out of Salt Springs Island we ended up at a place called Jones Lake. The road to the lake was 9km of bumpy rough pot-holed nastiness, and we were sure we would be alone. When we arrived however we found the place crowded with people playing loud stereos, shouting, and screaming long into the early hours of the morning. The scenery was beautiful, but the people and trash made us very very glad to leave in the early morning.
Jones Lake

The next day we found a nice hidey-hole on an old logging road that looked to have been unused for many years. There was a meadow part-way along the road, with a nice view of the southern sky (for the satellite dish), so we stayed a day there while I caught up on work, and Amy caught up on sleep. We also hiked into the woods some and ended up napping on some mossy covered boulders as the sun filtered down through the canopy.

Following this we headed on to Lake Louise, and met our friends in the large campground in that resort town. The weather was not terribly pleasant, so we spent the afternoon working to fix their heater, rather than hiking or biking around. It turns out that their Espar diesel furnace was wired to the control unit incorrectly, so no-matter where the dial was set, the furnace would run continuously till overheating. A comparison of their wiring and the instruction book showed the problem (3 out of 5 wires in the harness were incorrectly connected). After fixing this we also added a thermal probe that Sportsmobile had sent to them as well. (More on the efficacy of the probe in the appliance section)

The next morning we all arose and headed to the trail-head for a hike up to a tea-house in the mountains. The hike revealed some awesome views of the actual Lake Louise and the surrounding mountains, and we stopped after an hour or so at a tea-house where we ordered tea, biscuits, a sandwich and soup. We arrived just as the ominous clouds began dumping and the crowd arrived. Our luck continued when we left as the rain stopped just before we departed back to pick up our vans.
Tea House Lake

We then drove north on the "Ice fields Parkway" highway where there are mountains on each side with glaciers spilling down the valleys. We stopped about half way to the town of Jasper, just past the border of Banff and Jasper national parks. A nice little campground there had a free spot with a nice view and room for both of our vans. The satellite dish even worked for net access, though I had to monkey with the numbers as the aiming software felt that we were too far north to use our dish.
Athabaska Glacier & Peak from near camp

Thursday morning we got up and prepared for a hike from the campground around some peaks and back to the road. I drove the van about 12km down the highway, dropped off the motorcycle, and returned to the camp. We then hiked the trail, which gave great views of the Colombia ice field, Athabaska peak and the Athabaska Glacier and ice fields center. We also ran across a group of big-horn sheep and a herd of big-horn sheep watchers with spotting scopes and cameras.
Jasper Hike

At the end of the trail I hopped on the motorcycle, rode back to camp and returned with the van to the trail-end to pick up everyone else. We stayed another night in that same campground as the spot was prime.

Friday we headed south again to the actual town of Banff Alberta. We got spots in a campground on a lake and worked to repair a broken day/night shade on our friends' van. The view from the lake-shore was another beautiful mountain scene revealed. We did encounter some trouble with our Wallas stove here though. As Amy was cooking a bunch of plastic-smelling smoke began to boil out from underneath. We shut it down and put it on the list of things to look into.
Icefields Parkway

On Saturday morning we parted ways as they headed back towards their home and some spots in between, while we began the trek towards Vermont to hit the wedding reception of our friends Shane & Laurie at her parents' home. We figured it was a good excuse to see New England and whatever is in between.

Alberta: After leaving the mountains it is very boring. We did find a self-weigh scale by the side of the road and found the weight distribution of the van (4500lb ft, 6500lb rear, 11000 total).

Eastern Montana: The border crossing was uneventful as the broken-down hippie-school-bus seemed far more interesting to the inspection officials. Finally. We headed down to Great Falls, picked up some groceries, and turned east. A few hills here and there, lots of flat, but some nice country just past Lewistown. As we approached North Dakota we would periodically encounter sections of the bad-lands which broke the monotony of the plains with multi-colored gullies, humps and hills. This culminated at Theodore Roosevelt National Park just inside North Dakota
Theodore Rosevelt National Park

North Dakota: We spent a night in the south section of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the bad-lands area. Wild horses, bison, and prairie-dogs wandered through the camp-ground while we were there. The country was very beautiful and rugged. A few miles east though, and it turned to gently rolling plains that did not change much for the duration of the state. We did get to see the worlds largest holstein and bison though. It seems that many of the communities out there need some attraction in their attempts to attract tourists.
Buffalo in Camp

Minnesota: Very similar to North Dakota, though more tree-covered and lots of little lakes. By this time we were traveling on I94, and having trouble finding places to spend the night, so we just stopped in the rest areas and left the roof down. It made for quicker traveling, though not as much exploration of the actual countryside.

Wisconsin: Much like Minnesota, but we were really noticing an increase in density. No more of the miles of never seeing towns or buildings. We did not spend much time here as we quickly crossed through and into...

Illinois: We dropped into Illinois near Chicago at about 9pm in a rain-storm. We had the pleasure of driving I94/I90 past downtown in this weather with insane drivers and what seemed the worst roads of our entire trip (and all seemed to be a construction zone). We also had our first introduction to toll-booths on a limited-access highway in the states (had encountered them earlier this year in France and BC). Every couple miles everyone has to stop and pay a couple bucks. Really seemed to slow down the traffic and the fees seemed to have no correlation to the quality of the surrounding roads.

Indiana: Now that we were on toll-roads, rest areas were changed. Since the traffic is gated on and off the road, there are periodic "Service Plaza" where the captured audience is presented with one choice in fuel station and a couple of nasty fast-food restaurants. No green picnic areas for eating your own food of course, just pavement and the restaurant building.

Ohio: We had spent the prior night hidden in a corner of a service plaza in Indiana. I had bypassed my daily walk-around of the van because it was pouring rain. As we drove into Indiana I noticed a strange squeak and the steering felt a bit off. I stopped at the next service area near Toledo OH and looked around. Lo-and-behold: The plate that clamps the front axle to the leaf-springs and shock had cracked in half. The shock was hanging off and the U-bolt looked ready to drop off itself.
Broken Spring Plate

We called Sportsmobile CA to find out if they could overnight us a replacement, they could, so we found a local campground and gave the address to SMB. The "campground" was more of a permanent living area with most travel trailers having wooden porches built on and gardens. We rode our bikes into the nearby town and did some shopping, noticing only one person in the grocery store who would not be considered obese.

That evening we used the down-time for Amy to do laundry while I pulled the stove apart to find the problem. It appeared that much of the silicone rubber used around the burn-box and some other areas of the stove had hardened, cracked, and opened holes allowing the super-heated air inside out, burning more of the silicone. A call to Scan-Marine had them suggest that using the stove at high altitudes may have sooted up areas. My guess is that when we descended the soot burned off, introducing a lot of heat in areas that are not meant for it. Once the silicone had holes in it the problem expanded. I scraped off all the silicone I could find that was singed or holed, and re-caulked all the seams with extra-high temperature RTV silicone rubber from the auto store. There were even some gaps in the silicone that appeared to be due to sloppy application at the factory. The next day we fired up the stove again and the smoke was gone, and even the slight diesel smell we had previously noticed at most startups was gone.
Bottom Of Stove

About 10am the next morning the spring plates were delivered by DHL and I pulled out the tools and replaced the broken one. The new plates had a small brace under the shock mount, which may help prevent this problem in the future. We were on the road again by noon.
New and Old Plate

The rest of Ohio was flat and relatively dull. We did have the misfortune to hit Cleveland just at rush-hour and got stuck in traffic for an hour or two.

Pennsylvania: We crossed this state just along the coast of Lake Erie, and saw little.

New York: We entered New York at Lake Erie and headed towards Albany. The land became a bit more bumpy and the tree cover was a nice break after so many farm fields and urban sprawl of the past few days.

Vermont: We finally hit Vermont in the afternoon of Friday and entered at Bennington where they have a HUGE monument erected to the soldiers of the war of independence. Supposedly the tallest building in the state (though I would guess antenna towers are not being counted here). We were now off the free-ways and so got to drive through the winding little country roads and small villages. It was actually very much like our experience in Southern France, except in English.

We dropped in on the house of Laurie's parents, and parked in their driveway. I had not seen Shane since a business trip to the San Francisco Bay area this spring, and neither of us had seen Laurie for a few years. It was a pleasure catching up and showing off our humble abode to yet another group of people. It was fairly late when we showed up, so we went to bed soon thereafter.
The Happy Couple in crappy light

The next day we helped Shane, Laurie, Laurie's parents, and a few other people prepare for the reception party in the evening. We drove into Hanover, NH just across the river (home of Dartmouth College) with Shane and Laurie to pick up some party supplies and grab lunch at the Dirt Cowboy coffee shop. The town was quaint, and the fact it was a college town at the start of the school year seemed to make the shops a bit more lively than the normal small towns we had driven through.

The party in the afternoon was a lively affair with copious food and a number of Laurie's Parents' friends dropping in to give their well-wishes to the happy couple. We also got to meet a couple of Laurie's friends, one from high-school in Hanover and one from college in Santa Cruz.

The next morning we bid fair well to Shane and Laurie as they departed for their whirlwind honeymoon of 4 weeks with adventures scheduled in Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, Thailand, and China. They apparently take their vacation time very seriously...

We stayed parked at Laurie's parents' house for the next couple days to let the traffic die down around Labor day, to help a bit with cleanup, and to catch up on sleep and work after the long drive.

Mid week we headed out on our own again. We traveled through Vermont for a few days, seeing the local "mountains" and "canyons" and enjoying the lush scenery where the leaves were starting to change color for fall in the colder valleys. We were able to find camping spots in back-woods areas, though it was much more difficult than out west. All the campgrounds we encountered were already closed for the season.

Vermont Camping Spot

Near the end of the week we headed across New Hampshire to Massachusetts so that we could spend some time with Rebecca, a friend of Amy's from college who lives in Boston. The drive to Boston was uneventful, though the rest-areas in New Hampshire have state liquor stores larger than the rest facilities, which seems to be slightly missing the point.
New Hampshire Rest Stop


Once we hit Boston, however, things went down-hill. The GPS mapping software had a simple map that took the freeway into Boston, and then an exit onto a state highway that led right to her house. Unfortunately when we got into the "Big Dig" we had a couple problems. 1: We were on the 2nd level of a viaduct, so the GPS stopped working, and 2: The exit we were to take did not exist anymore.

I took the next exit (by now we were in a tunnel) figuring it would be fairly close, and we popped out dead center down-town at the end of rush-hour. After some quick reading of the map at stoplights, coupled with Amy trying to figure out street signs we figured out where we were, and started working our way back to our target highway.

Our biggest scare came when we ended up in a turn-only lane which sent us down a path that was soon marked with "Low Clearance". Since there was no advanced warning, we couldn't turn to escape, and it didn't say how low, we continued. Then we got to the overpass and "Low" was revealed to be 8'. This is lower than the van without anything on the roof (panels, bikes, box, rack). I stopped, turned on the flashers, and slowly backed up. Lots of honking, middle fingers, etc and I was able to get to where I could just drive up over the sidewalk, median, etc,and end up back on the road we were forced to turn out of. It sure would have been nice to have the low-clearance and the actual clearance measurement given before one finds one's self on the road in question.

We did finally get to Rebecca house, however, and parked in the driveway. She arrived home a few minutes later and we got reacquainted.
Rebeca's House

We relaxed on Friday while Rebecca went to work. On Saturday we all headed out on our bicycles to see the city and explore.
Boston Skyline

One of the first stops, of course, was the Good News Garage, made famous by the "Car Talk" show on many NPR stations. It was, unfortunately, closed when we stopped by.
Good News Garage

We then visited an artist friend of Rebecca's and spent some time chatting. Following that we headed into Rebecca's lab so she could do her daily feeding of her cells, and then visited the Boston Science Museum. Amy and Rebecca's went for the Body Worlds exhibit of dead people who had been plasticized and dissected. I went to the normal part of the museum as I had grown attached to my lunch and wanted to keep it down.

On Sunday Rebecca's and some of her house-mates took us to Walden Pond to do some swimming. The weather was spectacular and warm, so the place was crowded, but we got an hour or two of splashing about taken care of. This was, in fact, the Walden Pond of H.D. Thoreau fame, and was surprisingly close to civilization. I had always assumed that it was in the wilderness, rather than a few minute jaunt to the nearby town.
Walden Pond

On Monday Rebecca's had to go back to work, so we wandered about in her neighborhood, and then walked downtown to her office so that Amy could meet up with her for a Yoga class at 5. I walked back along the Charles River and waited for them for dinner. We went out for Thai, and then Rebecca's gave us a short tour of the area around Harvard in the evening.

Drive to St Louis:

Tuesday began our drive to St Louis to visit another friend from college at the University of Washington those many years ago. Ben and his wife Brook have taken up residence there. This was another 1200+ miles of driving, and we planned to arrive on Friday.

Rest Areas again became our camping spots of choice. We just parked in out-of-the way corners, left the top down, and vacated early in the morning. No problems there, though the places are noisy.

Most of the states we passed through were mainly farm land growing corn or soybeans. Very flat, very boring.
Illinois Corn

St Louis:

Friday we saw the arch first. It rises above the surroundings quite a bit. After passing the bridge over the Mississippi river we took another 10 or so miles to get to Ben and Brook's place where we met Brook coming home from work.
St Louis and Arch

Ben and Brook were married the weekend before we closed on the sale of our house last year. The wedding was in Seattle, so we have been there, but had not had much chance to socialize as everything was a rush and very crowded. We had been hoping for some time to get to catch up with them and this cross country trip was a great excuse to drop in.
Ben and Brook

Friday night happened to be the night of the annual Hot Air Balloon Glow, so we packed a picnic dinner and went to the park to see 30 or more hot-air balloons lighting up the park, and thousands of people. It was a very festive atmosphere and we met up with some of Ben and Brook's friends.
Baloon Glow in St Louis

On Saturday we went to the local botanical gardens which were hosting a Chihuli glass exhibit. Since he is a Seattle based artist, and one of our friends is a glass blower who works in Chihuli's studio, we figured we would take in the exhibit. There were glass sculptures all over the gardens, but a glass dome holding a simulated tropical environment held the pay-exhibit with many interesting juxtapositions of glass and tropical plants.

In the evening we went to the St Louis City Museum. This is not so much a museum, as an old factory turned into a playground for grown-ups. Complete with 5 story slides, climbing tunnels, rope swings, etc. All built with industrial scrap and a lot of artistic influence. Outside even included a couple of old commuter jets hung from cranes with ladders and tubes going up and through them for climbing access.
City Museum Whale

On Sunday we went out to go apple picking for evening pie-baking. The weather held till we finished picking, which was fortunate. We then visited a bar & grill called "Fast Eddies" which sold food for unbelievably cheap prices (and pretty good too), though required you to buy a drink and you could not take the food out with you. Interesting concept and it seemed to bring in the crowds. Pie was made in the evening and we ate well.
Apple Pie

Monday we hung out at the house while I did some work, Amy practiced her Yoga. We took leave of them on Tuesday morning and started heading back to the west at a more leisurely pace.

Heading West:

The first day out of St Louis we didn't even get going till noon. By evening we were only about 1/2 way across and decided that rest-area camping was getting old. A bit of exploring and we found a rarely used access road down to the Missouri river that was hidden from view by trees and soy-bean fields. We setup camp on a bluff about 10' above the river and spent the next two nights there watching the river traffic and relaxing from all the socializing and driving.
Missouri River Traffic

The second day we went for a little hike out onto some land that jutted into the river. It looked artificial and I think it was probably built for erosion control. In the middle of the finger of land we found a whole flock of butterflies that seemed to pay us no mind, but just sunned themselves on the plants. Many looked rather ragged unfortunately.

The weather radio indicated that storms and rain were coming on Thursday, so we headed out and began trekking north west in the general direction of South Dakota The weather switched to become wet and dreary with lightening on and off, so we were happy to just travel and camp in a rest area for the next night.
Rest Area

Friday night we were about half-way through South Dakota on I-90 and took a night at a campground with pool, showers, and a restaurant for some warmth and stretching after the drive. The scenery would probably have been pretty, but low clouds and high-wind kept us van-bound.

Through-out South Dakota we had been seeing signs and bill-boards for "Wall Drug" so we had to see what it was all about. Saturday mid-day we hit the town of Wall and dropped by. It is essentially a block of knickknack shops and a cafe all integrated. The same tourist crap that is sold in Jackson, Telluride, White Fish, Yellowstone, or any other trinket shop, is for sale here. Just with "Wall Drug" printed on it instead of the other town names. Quite a disappointment after all the lead-up.
Wall Drug Sign

The one good thing about Wall is that it leads one into the Badlands National Park. The scenery was spectacular, especially after coming in off the flatness that is the mid-west, so we headed in and camped in the only open campground.
Badlands as taken from our Van at camp

This all leads up to today, where we went for about 12 miles of hiking through the strange geology that compromises the central part of Badlands NP. The formations are almost entirely composed out of old volcanic ash that has the consistency of clay when wet. With the recent rains the trails were very very slick and goopy, by well worth the hassle for the otherworldly views. In fact, the film "Starship Troopers" supposedly filmed their alien planet scenes somewhere in the park. Just to make sure we watched the film last night and many of the scenes looked quite familiar on our hike today.
Badlands Hike

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