October 1st – Sullivan Lake

     After a busy day in a busy city, it was high time for a peaceful morning at my campsite. I started by reorganizing all the stuff I packed inside my car, which is a job that always needs doing. With that done, I  took a walk along the beach. Several dogs and their owners joined me on the beautiful shoreline.

     On my second stop of this long road trip, I visited with my friend James, in San Luis Obispo. While I was there, I showed him the route I planned to take. When he saw that I was planning to visit Chicago, he contacted his friend, Richard, who lives close to the city, and asked if I could stop by to say hello. The answer was an enthusiastic yes, and I scheduled my visit for the afternoon of October 1st. Forty-one days flew by and here I was, driving to Sullivan Lake to meet a new friend!

     I drove by several water towers on my way to Richard’s house on the bank of Sullivan Lake. When I arrived, Richard was standing in his front yard with a friend, putting the finishing touches on a new shed door. I got out of my car and was greeted by his huge smile, long white hair, and thick white beard. Right away, I had to tell the story of how I’d met James when I was on a train coming home from New Mexico and he was returning from Chicago.

     The door was almost finished, but (as tends to happen with such projects), a final trip to Home Depot was required. I accompanied Richard on the drive, and we had a great conversation. I told him a little bit about my trip and he told me about himself and the time he spent in California as the owner of a package delivery company.

     When we returned, I met Richard’s wife, Geri and after the door was completed, Richard and Geri took me for a drive around several of the lakes in the area. We ended up at Docker’s, a restaurant on Pistakee Lake with outdoor seating and a full view of the lake. I filled them in on the details of my trip and we watched the beautiful sunset while enjoying dinner.

     The sunset seemed to last forever and to become more incredible every time I looked up. I kept returning to the edge of the deck we were sitting on so I could take another picture. I was eventually joined by several guests who left their seats inside to get a better view of the fiery sky.

      When the light died away, we finished our delectable food and stimulating conversation and drove back to the house. Before I left, Richard and Geri admonished me to be safe on the road and to take good care of myself. I thanked them for their concern and told them that I would be. They gave me a warm and generous send-off and even added two books and two audiobooks to my traveling library!

     After paying several tolls on the Interstate highways I took, I made it safely to the Michigan Welcome Center. It was a successful night! The Welcome Center was open and allowed overnight parking, so I had a safe parking spot to camp in.

Starting Point: Sullivan Lake, Illinois
Route: State Highway 12, Interstate 290, 294, and 94
Destination: Welcome Center, Michigan
Miles Driven: 130

September 30th – Chicago

     On a trip full of incredible experiences, Chicago scores one of the top spots. I can’t measure it against my favorite days of hiking and camping because the activities are so different, but it’s certainly up there with them. I found a lot of reasons to like Chicago. There was the gorgeous skyline, the wonderful pizza, and the people (most of whom were friendly). I really don’t know what else I could ask for!

     Before reentering Chicago, I stopped at a McDonald’s to borrow their Wifi. I haven’t yet become callous enough to use a restaurant’s services without purchasing something, so I went to the counter to order a strawberry banana smoothie. There, I met Alonzo – the happiest McDonald’s worker I’ve ever seen. He greeted me and asked me how my day was going. Before I could answer, he told me that his day was “pretty dope.” After taking my order, he asked about me again, so I told him about my trip. That excited him even more and he said he wanted to do the same thing someday. I encouraged him to do it.

     When my smoothie came out, I sat down and got to work on the serious task I had come to do; replenish my depleted supply of audiobooks. Two caught my eye; The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and The Republic by Plato. I’m looking forward to getting started on them!

     With my books downloaded, I got back in my car and drove into the city. I intended to start my walking tour of Chicago at the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace and Museum, so when “Hemingway House” showed up as a search result on Google Maps, I selected it. I thought that if Hemingway was born and lived at a particular location, it would be called his house. I learned my mistake when I walked up to the large glass doors of the Hemingway House and saw the smartly dressed desk clerk. Apparently, the Hemingway House is an upscale apartment complex that has nothing to do with the famous author, except for the use of his name. The clerk even looked up from his desk and gave me a look that said, “How dare a lowly commoner stand outside my door – wearing jeans, no less!”

     I did make it to the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace and Museum on the next try. There were two buildings to tour, and I only had time to go through one, since I also wanted to walk and get dinner in downtown Chicago. I settled on the museum because I didn’t know very much about Hemingway. Despite my interest in literature, I have not read any of his works yet.

     The museum volunteer was a little too friendly for my taste. She would have told me stories at the front desk all day if I had let her. I sat through one story, in which she took ten minutes to narrate the tragic history of a BBC documentary of Hemingway’s life and how it happened that this museum owned the only remaining public copy of the film. At the end of this story, I extricated myself and headed into the museum itself.

     Inside, I found lots of pictures and plaques along with several artifacts from the author’s life. learned that Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899 in Oak Park (a small city that sits on Chicago’s western border) and went to school like most boys and girls do. After finishing high school, he became a news reporter and kept that job until he joined the military in 1916. He spent two years driving ambulances near the front lines before a blast of shrapnel severely injured him and sent him to a hospital back in the United States. Near the end of his time in the military, he met and fell in love with a nurse named Agnes. When his injury sent him home, he received a polite letter from Agnes, in which she told him she did not share his romantic feelings. Her rejection devastated him and many historians attribute the failure of his four ensuing marriages to that early heartbreak. He began his career as an author in 1926 and wrote six novels (among other works) before his death in 1961.

     I left as the museum closed, and my new friend at the front desk offered me a box of garlic knots, saying that she was too full to eat them. I politely declined and continued on my way – toward my own dinner, and the Magnificent Mile.

     The Magnificent Mile is a famous stretch of Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. It’s full of people, cars, restaurants, shopfronts, and huge buildings. I managed to find free parking, but I did have to walk a mile to get back to Michigan Avenue. The walk gave me the chance to see the skyline and to notice the moon as well.

      I made my way in a leisurely fashion to Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria. Two people I worked with in California have visited Chicago many times and both recommended this place. It was certainly popular when I got there. I waited an hour wait to sit down, but when the deep dish Chicago Classic Pizza came to my table, I knew the wait had been worth it. Sausage, cheese, sauce, and bread never tasted so good!

     After dinner, I walked back up the Magnificent Mile and detoured through some of Millenium Park. The sky was beginning to darken, so most of my pictures didn’t turn out very well. The walk was beautiful though, and I found a plaque that explained why. The many pavilions, fountains, gardens, and monuments that constitute Millenium Park were finished in 2004, and cost four hundred seventy-five million dollars to complete!  I am just one of the twenty-five million persons who are estimated to visit the park this year.

     Despite the good time I was having, I did not want to be out too long past dark since I’d have to walk through a few of the less populated parts of the city on my way back to my parking spot. So I called an end to the evening, had a safe walk to my car, and ended my night back at the Illinois State Beach.

     I enjoyed every bit of Chicago that I explored, but I know there’s a lot more to see. Maybe that’s why I liked it so much – I just can’t wait to go back!

September 29th – Beached

     In daylight, I found that I was parked at a place called Hawthorne Park. A thicket of trees surrounded the lot I had stopped in, and just past those trees, I discovered a beautiful wetland reserve. Since I was already parked there, I decided to start my morning off with a brisk walk around the water.

     With the invigoration that comes from spending time in nature, I began my drive to Chicago. I made two miles of progress before my stomach reminded me that invigoration is a wonderful thing, but food is much more practical, and I hadn’t eaten yet. I stopped at a Subway and walked in to buy I sandwich, as I usually do. After I parked, I realized that this Subway had a drive-through window! I continued in my old-fashioned ways though and walked in, bought my sandwich, and got back on the road. 

     A hundred fifty miles later, my attention was irresistibly drawn to signs on the Interstate that advertised for the, “Albanese Candy Factory.” It wasn’t the name that attracted me though, it was the pictures of giant gummy bears. I followed the signs and found the factory a few miles off the Interstate. Several windows in the back of the store allowed me to see into the candy factory, but cameras were prohibited.

    There was a wide variety of gummy candies in the store. I managed to restrain myself to purchasing two small bags.

    After driving another seventy-five miles, I made it to Chicago. That was the extent of my planning for the day – just make it into the city. So I pulled off the road and enjoyed this beautiful view of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline as I worked out a place to stay.

     I couldn’t find a free campsite anywhere near Chicago, so I prepared myself to pay for a site. I settled upon the Illinois State Beach campground. I had to drive another fifty miles to get there, but I it was a great campsite and I did not really want to stay close Chicago itself.

     The day ended with pushups, a shower, and a chance to sit down and read more of A Walk Across America. 

Travel Details
Starting Point: Terra Haute, Indiana
Destination: Illinois State Beach, Illinois
General Route: North on State Highway 41 and Interstate 65
Miles Driven: 275
Additional Note: 200 push-ups completed at Illinois State Beach, now 9 states done!

Additional additional note: I will include the above section when I have long days of driving so that it will be easier to see where I have been and how I’ve gotten there!

September 28th – Another Farewell

     My car has clean oil! Wonderful, fresh, new oil!

     I intended to get an oil change done in Colorado Springs, but that didn’t work out (thanks to a sticky drain plug), so I decided to change it myself somewhere along the way. When I mentioned my problem to Scott yesterday, he offered to let me use his tools and to help me as well.

     I went to the local hardware store (fittingly named Rural King) and found the supplies I needed; an oil filter and seven quarts of oil. I was going to change the oil myself, but Scott kindly jumped in to help out. I ended up standing around feeling lazy, so I made myself the tool fetcher, moral supporter, and dog watcher. Dog watching proved to be an entertaining job, as Lola spent the entire time racing in tight circles around the yard chasing her ever-elusive tail.

     After the successful oil change, I did a few things around the house and picked Aden up from the mechanic’s shop where she dropped her car off to get tuned up. On the way back from the shop, we made an important stop at the Bank. But this was no normal bank, where money is the only thing that is exchanged. This was a Donut Bank – where money is indeed exchanged, but the trade results in the receipt of a donut! The old-fashioned donut I had was wonderful, and Aden enjoyed her cake donut as well.

     The rest of the afternoon passed in small tasks I needed to take care of and another trip to the mechanic, where Aden picked up her rejuvenated car. I planned to start driving toward Chicago before the day was over, but I wanted to see Dorothy and her husband, Bob, again before I left. I’d only seen her for a few hours at the family gatherings we’d had on the previous two days. So I arranged to visit with them at their house and then go to dinner with them. At their house, I asked lots of questions about members of my family that I never got to meet. When we went to dinner, we were joined by Laura, Scott, and Aden. We ate at Cheddar’s – a sit-down restaurant that advertises its fresh, “made-from-scratch” food. We all agreed that their onion rings were wonderful, and I enjoyed a country fried steak. Before I knew it, dinner was over and it was time to say goodbye. I will miss Evansville and this vivacious part of my family! 

     Finally, I left Evansville behind and headed for a rest stop I’d found on the I-70 just west of Terra Haute. I’ve been having problems locating campsites after sunset, so I decided to try a rest stop since there would really be no way to miss it while driving along the Interstate.

     I did find the rest stop easily. One point for team Matthew! However, I found a problem as well. There was a nasty sign that said, “NO OVERNIGHT PARKING.” Bummer. That meant I was back to the old “drive around in circles” thing. It turned out well enough this time. I found a what appeared to be a back-woodsy kind of park. I didn’t see any of those nasty signs prohibiting overnight parking in the area, so I pulled into the parking lot and settled in for the night.

September 22nd – Milford Lake

     I woke up to find that, in daylight, there was a beautiful view outside my windows. I also found that the sun, which highlights the landscape so well, heats up the air also. Especially the air in a confined space, like my car. So I got out of heat box and took a short walk, then returned to my car, started up the air conditioner, and drove toward my next destination. 

     That destination wasn’t very far away. It was a basketball court in Hill City, Kansas that I’d found online last week. When I began my trip, I intended to do basketball drills twice a week as I had done with my brother during the summer, but it has been more difficult than I anticipated to find courts. Well, here was one in the middle of Kansas, and I was going to use it. Even though the sun was hot, and even though the court was on a street corner so that every driver probably stared at me as they drove past and said, “Doesn’t he look funny, doing all those weird jumpy thingies!”

     I think I did look funny doing my jumpy thingies, but that is okay. I finished up my drills and got ready to get back on the road. Before leaving, I pulled some food out of my stash. I used cajun deli turkey, Muenster cheese, and tortillas to make a delicious wrap.

     One hundred fifteen miles later, I was in Junction City, driving around Milford lake in search of a shady spot to park and camp. It took me two loops around the campsite to find the only tree in the area that provided decent shade. It wouldn’t cover my car, but it did cover a grassy spot so that I could inflate my balloon chair underneath it and spend the rest of the afternoon reading comfortably.

     And that’s what I did. I continued reading A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins. This book is an autobiographical narrative of Peter Jenkin’s trip across the country, a little bit like the blog that I am writing. There are a few differences though. Peter didn’t have a cozy car to hide in, and he didn’t spend afternoons reading under shade trees. He started his walk in 1973, in upstate New York and traveled about thirty miles a day in his quest to cross the continent. It has been fun to read this account of another traveler, even though we’ve had different paths and approaches.

     I stayed happily in my spot until the sun met the horizon. Then I got up, took a few pictures, and put my balloon chair back into my car. I finished the evening with a call to my family, then climbed into bed. 

September 21st – Monument Rocks

     My nine-day stop at The Mansion is over and I am back on the road. It was a fitting day to start driving again; today marks the beginning of my second month on the road!

     So I’m back on my own. Today, I spent most of my time behind the wheel. I drove about four hundred miles through Eastern Colorado and Western Kansas. I took state highways and found that, once I could no longer see the Rocky Mountains, the scenery of both states blended seamlessly together. The landscape was dominated by empty fields and rolls of hay from the fall harvest. Farmhouses, junkyards, old cars, and people popped into the picture from time to time. Other times everything would disappear, leaving the land empty except for rocks and scraggly bushes. 

     I took a detour from my route east on Kansas State Highway 40 to drive south and see the “Monument Rocks.” I found them without any trouble. They are the only things that stick out against the horizon in the flat expanse of the Kansas plains. I got out to take pictures and noticed the wind and heat that my car had protected me from all day. It was about ninety degrees and humid, with a warm wind blowing over the plains.

     The sun began to set as I left the rocks. It took me another hour and a half to reach the Sheridan State Fishing Preserve where I planned to camp for the night. So again I pulled into a campsite in the dark – but this time it worked out well. There were no other people around, so I used my high beams to find a spot. As I pulled in, I heard the wind still going strong, gusting through the leaves of nearby trees. 

     I opened the door and was greeted by the warm air and my new least favorite sound – the buzzing of flies. There were just a few flying around the area, but their presence meant that I couldn’t open up the windows to let in fresh and hopefully cool air while I slept. Oh well. I prepared for bed while managing to keep the flies out of the car, then settled in to sleep through the humid eighty-degree night.

September 10th – Don’t Fall!

      This morning I let myself sleep in after the long day of hiking. When I finally got out of my car, I was treated to a rainbow. It spanned the whole sky in front of me, enclosing the Teton mountain range. Sadly, I did not see any leprechauns prowling around, so I figured that the gold at the base of this rainbow must have already been taken.

After admiring the rainbow, I started driving. Today I was in search of the Internet and a quiet place to sit. I wanted to update my blog and find a place to stay on my way to Colorado Springs.

     On my way south, I drove through Jackson, Wyoming, and found myself back in the middle of a familiar phenomenon – a traffic jam. This was a bustling tourist town and I must have hit it at rush hour. There were several coffee shops I could have stopped there, but I wanted to get further along my way than that, so I kept driving. After Jackson, I felt like I drove forever without seeing another car. The few tiny towns I passed through had populations around two hundred people. My phone had no cell service for over a hundred miles.

     Eventually, I happened to look down at my gas gauge. Oops. I had an empty tank. I’d driven 440 miles so far and that’s at least 50 more than I have been used to letting it go. There was still nothing within sight and no data connection on my phone. No way to go but forward! I’m not generally a nervous person, but I started to become one at this moment. I decided that was silly though. Being nervous could increase my blood pressure, but not refill the gas tank. I was driving, and that was the only helpful thing I could do.

     I got to 460 miles. Those nerves came back and were very unhelpful again. Finally, I entered the limits of Rock Springs, Wyoming. This was a real city, one with people and stores and traffic. I looked for the closest gas station found an Exxon to fuel up at. As I waited to turn left into the gas station, I wondered if my tank would last through the light. It did, and the tank only took twenty-five gallons, which meant that there had been three gallons left. I could have gone fifty more miles!

     After getting gas, I went to a McDonalds – again. It’s becoming a familiar place for me on this trip. I did some writing there, though the slow internet made uploading the two posts I finished take forever. When it was time to move on, I found a campsite that was only about twenty minutes away.

     The directions to the campsite took me up to my new favorite road. It carried me along the ridges of the canyon formations that surround Rock Springs. I passed the pull-off for the campsite I was looking for and kept exploring the road.

     I drove to one end of the road and found a cool spire that projected out of the formation. There was a road that led out to it, so I figured I was obviously supposed to drive out on it. The drive out went well. Then I got out of the car and realized how high this ledge was off the ground, and what a relatively narrow space I had to turn around. It was probably twenty-five feet wide, and that would be lots of room – if my car wasn’t eighteen feet long. I’d have to make a really tight turn and be careful not to drive too far forward. I didn’t want to go plummeting to the valley floor. On the bright side (the very bright side), the sunset was gorgeous from that spot.

     I could back up along the way that I had come, but I was not that confident that I could back up in a straight line for a hundred yards. I started to understand what cats feel like when they’ve climbed up a tree and can’t muster the nerve to come back down.

     Turning around seemed to be the safest bet. I started the turn and went forward about a foot. Then I turned off the engine and walked around my car to see exactly how far I could drive safely in each direction. It looked like I had about three feet on each side. Past that, the ground sloped down steeply and disappeared. So I got back in my car and backed up two feet. Then went forward two feet. Again, I got out, checked, and got back in. Whew. Back up, go forward. Last time now, back up, and there we go… forward for the last time, leaving the precarious ledge behind.

     That last episode had been enough adventure for one night, so I returned to the campsite I found and parked – leaving plenty of room between me and the edge of the canyon. I got out to stretch and play my guitar, then climbed into my cozy bed in the back and went to sleep.

September 9th – Buck Mountain

– Bring a lot of food and water
– Take some pictures
– Listen to an audiobook
– Walk a long, long way

     This was my strategy as I woke up and drove back to the Teton National Forest this morning. I suppose it would be more accurate to call it an outline. A very rough outline. Looking back, it probably could have been improved if I had figured out specific details (especially about where I was walking). But if I took the time to work all of that out, maybe I would have chickened out and not gone on the hike. And then I would have missed my favorite adventure of this trip so far. Here’s the story of how it turned out.

     I did bring a lot of food. Two ham and cheese bagelwiches, two cliff bars, two servings of protein powder, one snack-sized bag of trail mix, half a bag of baby carrots, and five bottles of water. Yes, I put all of that in my backpack. It was heavy and made me sweat disgustingly (although that may have happened even if I hadn’t been wearing the backpack). It was well worth it all though when I was able to satisfy my hunger and thirst with the treasures I carried.

     I took some pictures. Quite a few pictures – over a hundred, for the second day in a row. Yesterday it was easy to sort through the photos. Some were interesting and most weren’t. The interesting ones went into my post for the day and the others will be forgotten. Today it’s harder. The mountains, trees, animals, and clouds were incredible from every angle. A hundred pictures are too many to post though, so I picked my favorite-favorites and had to leave the rest (my just-normal-favorites) behind on my SD card.

     I listened to an audiobook. I borrowed A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain from the online library I use. I started it on my drive to the trailhead and finished it about three-quarters of the way through my hike. Eventually, I’ll write my thoughts about it on the “Books” page that is linked on the sidebar of this site. There’s already more than enough to write about today without adding in a book summary.

     I did walk a long, long way – and I did a lot more climbing than I expected to. Last night, I decided to start my hike at the Taggart Lake Trailhead and see how far I could go. It looked like the trail went in a big circle around the Teton Range. I thought it would be cool to see the mountains from the every angle, and that’s what I expected to do. It turned out that the trail goes over the top of the mountains, not around, and that the full loop is at least a forty-mile trip. By the time I figured that out, I was already over six miles into the hike and I really didn’t want to turn back. I decided to keep going until prudence absolutely insisted that I turn back. Before I talk about that though, I should probably go back to the beginning.

     The hike started out well. After walking for a solitary forty-five minutes, I met a friendly squirrel – at least I think he was a squirrel. Maybe Sam, the official wildlife expert on this site, can double check that for me. Anyway, the squirrel (as I will call him for now) seemed quite excited to see me with my camera and he posed perfectly for a picture. I think he was embarrassed after I took it though because he started to hide his face behind the branch he was sitting on.

     The path was well kept for the most part. There were a few places though where I had to push my way through fresh undergrowth that hadn’t yet been trimmed back.

     The grass and vegetation stayed with me for the first three miles. Then I was moved onto a hardpacked dirt path which led in a long, gradual slope to this view of Phelps Lake. From here the trail went into downhill switchbacks. I enjoyed the easy walk down and I hoped I wouldn’t have to walk back up.

     The hardpacked dirt continued and I started to ascend again. I got a great side view of the mountain range.

     At this point, I started to figure out that I was headed right toward the middle of the mountains, not the back. The trail began to climb more steeply and stones appeared in the pathway, sometimes as steps and sometimes only managing to get in the way. A series of tiny waterfalls ran roughly parallel to the trail and sometimes came close enough for me to walk onto them.

     Eventually the I reached a clear pool of water that fed the waterfalls. Once I passed that, I entered a dense forest that ushered me to the base of what turned out to be a four-mile path of endless switchbacks. This was by far the worst part of the hike. So far, I had gone about ten miles in a little over three hours. This four-mile stretch took another three hours all by itself.

     In the picture on the left, you can see the narrow path that led upward. If you look carefully at the picture on the right, you’ll see the flowers and grass in the foreground with everything else in the background. The only thing in between was a steep slope with some shrubbery growing on it. I didn’t think that falling off the side of the path would be very fun so I did my best to avoid it.


     Those switchbacks seemed to last forever. I did my best to keep moving up, then I’d rest for a few minutes. I felt wimpy when I needed to rest every hundred steps, but I knew I was still making progress. At last, I made it. Not to the top, but to a ridge that was almost flat. I looked behind me and saw this beautiful view.

      I kept going up, but I knew it was getting too late in the day for me to even hope that I could finish the loop. I knew that it would be beyond stupid to try. I would most likely get stuck on the peak of a mountain all night in thirty-degree weather and then I’d be discovered by a mother bear who would think I was a popsicle and carry me away to her den where she would share me with her hungry cubs.

     Before giving in and taking the wise course back down the mountain, I went a little further up the trail to see what I would miss when I turned around. I saw the peak of Buck Mountain, about a thousand feet higher up. I climbed toward it until the switchbacks started again. Then I took a couple more pictures of the heavenly mountain panorama I had walked so far to see and started back down the mountain.

     The trip down didn’t seem too long at first. The switchbacks only took an hour and a half to get through. And on my way down, I was cheered on by another friendly rodent. This looks like a chipmunk to me, but I’ll need to call on Sam again before I know for sure.

     The reality of this hike set in on me as I made my way back through the forest and down the rocky steps next to the waterfalls. Getting to the top of the mountain had been difficult. But now I had to go back and retrace every step I had taken. It was much easier going down, but by this point, I had walked twenty miles already today.

     I told myself that when I arrived back at Phelps Lake, I would take a break and enjoy the last bagelwich that I had been saving to eat sometime during the return trip. I made it back to the lake and happily stretched out on the rocks and roots shown in the picture below and to the left. I had a clear view of the lake from here, similar to the picture I took as  I passed Phelps lake on my way up the mountain.

     From my cozy perch, I watched the sun make its way toward the horizon. I didn’t want to be stuck out in the dark forest alone, so I got back on my tired legs and continued my return trip.

     To take my mind off of my tired legs, I decided to knock out the two hundred pushups I still needed to do in Wyoming. I stopped every ten minutes over the next several miles, to do a set of twenty pushups, then got up and started walking again.

     The sun went down while I was still walking and when it eventually got dark, I used my phone’s flashlight to make sure I stayed on the path. Soon after dark, I reached the Taggart Lake Trailhead. I still had to walk a quarter mile to the parking lot, and I managed to finish off the long walk with my new trademarked move – wandering around in circles while trying to figure out which way to go.

     I did eventually get myself pointed the right way and made it safely to my car around 9:30 PM. I climbed stiffly into my car and checked my watch to see how many miles I had put on my feet today. It showed twenty-nine point seven miles. I really wished that I could have hit thirty, but my legs wanted nothing to do with me after what I had already put them through.

     I drove back to my campsite and walked around in circles some more as I got myself ready for bed. When I lay down in my sleeping bag, my watch told me I hit exactly thirty miles for the day. That was a great way to go to sleep.

September 8th – Jenny Lake

     This was a simple day. I woke up intending to go on a “writing hike.” I was going to explore some trails at Jenny Lake (the largest of several small lakes in the area) and take several breaks along the way to write. I ended up with a relaxed morning, a late start, and a long hike with only a little writing included.

     I started hiking with the best intentions and even stopped once to compose a brilliant masterpiece. At this stop, I found a new chair to get acquainted with. This one was an ergonomically shaped tree trunk with a smooth stone placed right below it. From this seat, I could enjoy the view of the mountains and hear the gentle splash of water as the waves came and went.

     When I finished the writing that I wanted to do at that point, I got up and kept walking. I decided to follow the path I was on as it curved around Jenny Lake. The route looked fun to me, and I thought it would be good to make this a long walk so that I would have more time to write.

     I almost took a second writing break, but then I decided I wasn’t ready yet – I wanted to get further down the trail. I kept telling myself I wanted to walk just a little bit further until I reached the halfway point of the loop I had chosen to walk. At that point, I realized that I was more than five miles into the walk and I still had at least five miles to go – and the smokey haze in the sky had been joined by clouds that looked about ready to burst.


     So much for writing. I just kept walking and hoped that the rain would hold off till I made it back to my car. After two light showers, the rain took pity on me and went away. The clouds even dissipated as I neared the end of my hike and left the sky a little clearer than it was before.

     The hike turned out to be a lot of fun – way more fun than I expected. I took more than a hundred pictures and walked eleven miles. It’s inspired me to do more hiking. I think I may wake up early and try a longer path tomorrow.

September 7th – Yellowstone Park

     It’s time for an adventure! Let’s make sure Matthew doesn’t forget anything that he needs to do. Shower, figure out driving directions, check out of the KOA. Oh, and don’t forget gas! Food too – don’t let Matthew starve in Yellowstone. Hey, Matthew! I said don’t forget to buy gas and food!

     Sadly, there was no voice reminding me of these things. I took care of most of the important things… except the most important ones. I ended up driving half an hour into the park before I realized that my car and my body were going to need fuel in the very near future. Later in the day, I learned that I could have taken care of these needs inside the park, but at the time I didn’t know that. I drove back to the city of West Yellowstone.

     I found a cute little store in town and stocked up on meat, cheese, bagels, and carrots. While I was waiting at the deli case, I struck up a conversation with a middle-aged couple who were driving through on their way home from Oregon, where they had dropped their child off at college. They wished me luck on my tour of the country.

     As I drove back into Yellowstone, I was grateful again that my parents had let me use their national parks pass. They got the pass when they visited Yellowstone back in May, and sent it along with me so that I could save some money on my trip. It has been great! I got into the Olympic National Park in Washington twice, and now I’ve gotten into Yellowstone twice.

     While driving, I finished listening to another audiobook. This one is Michael O’Halloran, by Gene Stratton-Porter. It is the fictional story of a young boy (Michael) growing up New York. Michael’s mother died, leaving him alone in the huge city. Before she died though, she instilled principles of good character and hard work in him. The story follows his life and shows how these principles carry him through all his adventures, from selling newspapers to taking care of a crippled girl so that she does not have to go to the orphan’s home. He even helps to bring joy and eventual healing to several unhappy and contentious families. I’ve read several books by this author now and enjoyed them all. They are refreshingly full of virtue. I have found that the stories do seem too good to be true – as in this case, where one boy does so much with only a willing mind and cheerful face – but I think that this over-exaggeration of the power of goodness helps counterbalance the over-exaggeration of hopelessness that we are flooded with in daily life.

     Yellowstone was gorgeous. The smoke had stuck with me all the way through Idaho and now into Wyoming, but it stayed in the background while I was touring the park. 

      I did most of my exploring by driving around. There are paths and hikes in some spots, but nothing really caught my interest. I did stop at Firehole Fall (along with lots of other tourists) to take pictures.

     For lunch, I pulled out some of the food that I had at first forgotten to bring with me. I made a bagelwich out of ham, Havarti cheese, and a blueberry bagel. This is my new favorite meal – it tops the tuna bagelwich by just a little margin.

     While eating my sandwich, I sat at the Old Faithful General Store. A couple who looked to be in their sixties sat down next to me and we talked for awhile. They live an hour south of Yellowstone and have visited many times over the thirty years they’ve been there. The man talked about a horrible fire that burned through over a third of Yellowstone Park in 1988. He, like my friends in Oregon, talked about the problems that occur when forest care does not include clear-cutting and occasional controlled fires to clear out the fallen leaves and undergrowth.

     Next, I went into the Old Faithful Inn. My parents enjoyed this a lot when they visited, and I found it quite beautiful also. I sat on the second level of the giant wooden hotel and listened to a live violinist perform for about twenty minutes.

     Finally, I drove to Old Faithful itself. I arrived at a good time and only had to wait twenty minutes for the geyser to do its thing. During the wait time, one of my fellow spectators decided to bring a little humor to the afternoon. He spent five minutes cajoling the crowd to do the wave, as people do at sporting events.

After watching the geyser go off, I finished up my drive for the day. There is a road that leads in a big circle through Yellowstone Park and another circle above that. I only drove along the southwest quarter of the bottom circle, but I was happy with what I got to see. From the circle, I continued south and entered Teton National Park. I drove a little further and got to Bridger Teton National Park, and arrived at the campsite I had found online. This time it was not dark, the campsite was really there – right where it was supposed to be, and I settled in for a peaceful night of sleep. And that’s the end of today!