Coming Full Circle

Back home – mission accomplished. Park City to New Canaan – 2,200 miles over four days (a bit more on my final leg in a minute). Wow – this sojourn lasted twelve weeks and included some of the most amazing sights and experiences of my life. It was truly a spirit quest adventure. Having said that, it really is fantastic to be back home and see my family again. There’s no place like home and nothing that compares with family, notwithstanding the allure and seductiveness of being out there, off the grid and just exploring the planet.

So – what did I learn / gain during my trip? An awful lot, with some of its lessons still being absorbed as I reflect each day. I estimated on a back of the napkin basis in July that Burning Girl and I would cover 10,000 miles all in. Turned out that I traveled 15,000 miles by road  (13,500 with Burning Girl and 1,500 in rental cars while she was in the shop in AK and CA) and almost 3,000 miles by ferry between BC, AK and WA. Pretty amazing looking back.

More important than the quantity of miles and distance were the quality of my experiences and the almost complete suspension of the normal rules of time and physics while I was gone. It felt at times like the trip would go on forever because of the time frame I chose relative to most all past vacations. At other times, I stopped in my tracks only to say “Whoa – it’s truckin’ by pretty fast indeed.” Time became a piece of taffy, stretched and pulled, but always returning fairly close to its original shape given the perspective of looking back and reflecting.

Here are the raw numbers, for what they’re worth –

States visited – Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and Louisiana (these exclude the states seen in a blur on I-80 during the Park City to CT final return leg).

Provinces seen – just BC and Yukon Territory this time out, but they’re both friggin’ huge. BC is more than 1,600 miles north to south and over 600 miles east to west. BC ain’t small, and its coastline zigs and zags over five times its total N/S length. It’s 15% larger than CA, WA and OR combined. At times, it felt as though we’d be in its embrace forever. Great place, BC. YT – similar in size and expansiveness – is another world. We didn’t see a huge amount of it, but nonetheless it intimidates and makes you feel very small and vulnerable because of its scale, climate and grandeur. Peering up at Mt. Logan, Canada’s highest peak at 19,951′, was epic. I’ll be back to scratch more of YT’s surface, for sure.

National Parks visited – Mt. Rushmore, Badlands, Mt. Ranier, Denali, Kenai Fjords, Wrangell – St. Elias (oh, man is that place a trip), Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton and Yellowstone (so good being back in my old stomping’ grounds in WY).

State Parks in AK – countless. More than half of Alaska is forever preserved as state or national park land.

Provincial Parks seen – too many to list, as they’re everywhere in BC and YT. Tremendous amount of preserved land. Hats off to the Canucks for that bit of foresight and wisdom.

A word or two on Alaska – if you haven’t been, get up there. You absolutely must go. AK is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been in the world. It is in fact a world unto itself, with huge mountains and glaciers tumbling forth everywhere, coastlines that are off the charts, rivers and lakes that make those in the lower 48 look like tiny creeks and puddles, wildlife that boggles the mind and people at once both amazingly warm and welcoming yet fiercely independent. Great combination, for sure. God bless Alaska. What was Russia smoking when they sold it to us for a song – $7 million – in 1867?

I’ve done two trips of similar length to this one in the past, but both were many moons ago – four months in western and central Europe in ’78 and four months in South America in ’79. These getabouts truly expand one’s mind, and I recommend them heartily because life is indeed short. Get out there – you’ll be so glad you did.

Anyway, I’m rambling. On the final leg home – of course – Burning Girl had a surprise up her skirt for me. Wouldn’t have been the adventure it was without yet another mechanical test / challenge to overcome. I sailed through the first 1,800 miles seamlessly, arriving in western PA Thursday night. Burning Girl was rocking, but I guess I got a bit too cocky with her. Soon after entering PA, the alternator light came on and things got a bit interesting. Burning Girl died 100 yards from the hotel parking lot, and I spent an uneasy night coordinating the next morning’s fun with AAA. So close yet so far from home. After starting without a jump, I had the battery and alternator checked out. Both appeared fine, so I took off eastbound in a hurry, conscious of limited daylight, only to have BG die again 4 miles later on the highway. A 15 mile tow to a garage literally in the middle of nowhere by Dale and Bonnie, a genuinely delightful husband and wife wrecker team, resulted in meeting Guy and Sam at their shop, who promptly dropped everything they were doing to diagnose and fix the alternator bracket, which had loosened and prevented the system from charging properly. Ninety minutes later, I was back on I-80, and cruised without incident for the next seven hours until I was within spitting distance of the Tappan Zee bridge, only to get caught in a welcome to New York moment – total gridlock for an hour, then after traffic cleared, the last hour without incident into my driveway. Safe and sound, not a scratch on Burning Girl or me after our extended journey. I felt truly blessed for that.

I was going to post some of my favorite trip photos here, but I’ve kind of done that here and there already (and it’s hard to put a limit on the number, since so much of the landscape I photographed was off the charts). Instead, I’m posting only one shot, the memories of which have stayed with me and encapsulated the trip, to the extent that is possible, over the past twelve weeks. The shot is in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park in Alaska, taken after driving 60 miles by dirt road within the Park to the absurdly minute outpost of McCarthy, where just 20 year rounders hang their hats, then hiking 6 miles the next day to the Kennicott Copper Mine, plundered in the 1910’s – 1930’s and long ago abandoned to nature’s relentless grip. I felt more alone and in the throes of nature in Wrangell – St. Elias than anywhere I’ve ever been. An absolutely stunning place and feeling in all respects. So, here it is – man’s (that would be my brother John peering into infinity) feeble attempt to impose his will on a place so much bigger and more powerful than he could ever hope to be:

That’s all for now. It has been a complete  blast documenting the past three months of travel and adventure. I hope that it provided a fraction of the entertainment value to everyone who checked in and caught  up on the blog from time to time as it did for me. Thank you all for doing so – it made my trip infinitely more fun and enjoyable.

If you’d like to receive a heads up on future adventures / trips and blogs, feel free to drop me a line at and I’ll make sure it happens.

Stay well and get out there, everyone.


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Reflections on the Road Taken

Well – time to exhale deeply and slowly right about now in order to reflect on where I’ve been and what I’ve seen and experienced the past several months. I’ve been on the Burning Girl circuit for eleven weeks now, and time has alternately been both highly elastic and static, depending on the week, the surroundings and the folks I’ve been with. Time slowed down considerably as the first several weeks extended into more and more time on the road, and as with all vacations, the biggest chill came in the middle part of the journey, as I was far away from both the beginning and end of my sojourn and the end seemed like years, rather than weeks, down the road.

Weather, or more accurately temperatures, have also played a part during the trip, as things turned noticeably cooler each week up north (winter in Alaska had begun when I left in early October). Heading south from Alaska kept the cold weather at bay each week, as my latitudes dropped closer to the equator and the sun continued to shine. Of course, being in the mountains has added to the seasonal and temperature changes, yet I have had amazingly good weather throughout the trip.

Taking this trip was something I’d planned for the past twenty-five or so years, so it has really been a dream  come true in many respects. Since I love to be out there, seeing new and cool things, it really was right up my alley. I can honestly say now that if I could have done it differently, knowing at the start what I know now, I can’t think of a thing I would have changed. Burning Girl’s mechanical problems weren’t a lot of fun, but they became part of the journey, in a real sense woven into its fabric. I felt at times as though my patience and resolve were being tested, yet ultimately she settled down and began to perform admirably, as I’d hoped and expected. Good for her, as she’s taken me through 11,500 miles of the most amazing scenery and landscapes imaginable so far  (plus almost 3,000 miles by ferry between WA, BC and AK). Her last test on this trip is approaching, as I’m driving her back east for Thanksgiving to see the kids and my family, after which she’ll receive a well-deserved rest.

Here’s a set of photos which represent the geographic and timeline flow of the past eleven weeks. Hard to visually shrink-wrap this kind of spirit quest trip in light of all the places I’ve been, things I’ve seen and people I’ve met, but I figured it was worth a try. All photos enlarge when clicked on.

The Boys – Mt. Rushmore NP

Montana – clearing skies following afternoon rainstorm

Mt. Ranier NP

Squamish, BC Harbor

Lower Joffre Lake – Joffre Lakes Provincial Park near Cache Creek, BC

Smithers, BC – Morning campsite view

Off Prince Rupert, BC coast – humpback whale frolicking

North Pacific Cannery, Port Edward, BC

Alaska Ferry – northbound between Ketchikan and Haines

Alaska Ferry – northbound approaching Haines, AK early morning

Yukon Territory between BC and AK Coastal Ranges

East of  Tok Alaska, looking back towards Yukon

Into the Wild / Chris McCandles’ bus outside Denali NP

Denali from the north – mile 15 on Park road

Seward, AK in Kenai Fjords National Park

Palmer, AK near Anchorage – termination dust up high

Mt. Redoubt – Cook Inlet’s highest peak (mountains in foreground are 4,000′)

Looking across Kachemak Bay, AK from Homer

Outside Talkeetna, AK looking towards Denali

Susitna Glacier, Denali NP

Fall and winter colliding between Denali NP and Talkeetna

Talkeetna River meandering south

Kennecott Mine – Wrangell-St. Elias NP, Alaska

Early morning solitude – Valdez, AK

Hiking between Valdez and Anchorage

Miles from nowhere, Yukon Territory

On the road to Skagway, AK from Whitehorse, YT

Alaska Ferry – southbound off BC Coast

Mount Shasta – northern CA

Julie in Big Sur

Early morning, Death Valley NP

Grand Canyon NP

Navajo Tribal Lands, AZ between Grand Canyon and Zion NPs

Feeling small in Zion NP

Sunrise – Bryce NP

Park City

Early morning, Jackson Hole, WY

Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone NP

Yellowstone’s plumbing

The Tetons

SE Wyoming on the road to Boulder

Boulder family reunion (minus Matt) – Rocky Mountain NP in distance

Independence Pass, Aspen late afternoon

French Quarter, New Orleans

Matt and friends in NO after dinner and before heading out for some sizzling music. Hank, on right, just happened to own the club we were headed to (apologies – iPhone pic)

More to come heading back east. Heartfelt gratitude to everyone who has checked out and followed my blog these past months. It has made creating it while on the road with Burning Girl infinitely more fun and rewarding. Thanks also to Marvin and Harv for joining the traveling circus. Special thanks to Peter Bartley, who said to me after hearing of my proposed trip last summer “You’ve got to do a blog.” Brilliant idea, for sure. Pete – you’re the man.

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The Big Easy

Kind of strange to fly somewhere after the past nine weeks of arriving solely via Burning Girl, but I’m down in New Orleans to see Matt for the weekend. NO has grown steadily on me ever since my first visit, taking Matt to Tulane his freshman year. Matt is back working a second year for AmeriCorps, helping to rebuild the city in Katrina’s aftermath. He really cares about other people, and he’s walking the walk here everyday to help others who really need it.

The music and food here are absolutely without equal. It’s almost overwhelming, because everywhere you turn, there is ridiculously great food and vibes.  The people and pace are also completely unique – there’s a friendliness, contentment and live and let live attitude that makes everything totally cool and chilled. It really is great to be back, and I know that going forward, I’ll be getting a New Orleans fix on a fairly regular basis.

I decided to stroll around the French Quarter looking for interesting things to capture on the street. In New Orleans, it’s the people as much as the architecture and landscape that captivate.

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Aspen’s Glow

Beautiful afternoon yesterday – the snow stopped falling, the sun came out and the mountains glistened. I drove out towards Independence Pass, which was closed after the storm, and poked around a bit.

Winter putting the moves on autumn

Independence Pass from afar

Looking back towards Ajax

Neighboring peaks

Back in Park City – chill zone number two. Time to shower and clean up.


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The Real Deal Up High

Aspen is one of the few places around that truly takes my breath away – visually, culturally and in terms of the social fabric and folks who call it home. I’ve been at Whip’s place the past few days chilling and having a great time – thank you Lynne and Chip. Monday night was probably the best Halloween of my life. Chip warned me about Aspen’s take on All Hallows’ Eve, but it was way better – and wilder – than I could ever have imagined. Seriously – completely unreal. A night I won’t ever forget.

Being here makes me realize there’s nowhere else quite like Aspen, and has set up a conundrum for the coming season – Park City or here as my ski bum venue. Different vibes, to be sure, and different mountains, although both towns have multiple choices for one’s skiing pleasure. The cool thing about Aspen is how compact it is – five minutes and you’re pretty much anywhere.

Sunday evening was interesting – I dropped Julie and Scott at the Denver airport and learned that I-70 was closed both ways because of accidents (methane truck off the road or something cataclysmic like that) at Copper Mountain, which meant we were diverted thirty miles south to Leadville. I then headed back to I-70 through Minturn and encountered the biggest traffic jam imaginable in the middle of nowhere. After hanging out and moving 100 yards in a half hour, I exited the morass and found a fire road to park Burning Girl and decamp for the night. Next morning all was clear, and I rolled into Vail for the morning before heading here.

A couple of photos of the detour countryside Sunday night, close to Leadville (which, BTW, is the highest town in the US at 10,200′ elevation) and Monday morning on I-70 close to the Glenwood Springs turn-off.

Tommy Browning (TO) arrived last night from North Carolina – a real blast from the past – and we’ve had a lot of laughs catching up and retelling Manhasset stories that others, who weren’t there, would never believe. We headed over to Chip’s newest project this morning after a new 6″ snowfall lit things up outside – a small, intimate (not) casa overlooking the Roaring Fork Valley up at Snowmass. To say that it’s beyond off the charts would be a serious understatement. We got lost several times wandering around the manse’s 12,500 square feet. Truly amazing. Chip – thank you so much for offering it to me as a crash pad this season. You’re a great friend.

Here are some photos of the house and valley views as the storm cleared.

Back to Park City tomorrow, then New Orleans for the weekend to see Matt. Very psyched. Winter is here – time for the skis, snowshoes and all that fun gear. Bye to the mountain and road bikes for a spell. Hallelujah, baby – time to play – again.

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Boulder’s Charms

Great weekend in Boulder with Julie, Mark and Scott. Matt – we miss you, but I’ll see you next weekend. Beautiful fall weather with a bit of snow from this week sticking around.

The Flatirons in morning repose

Above Boulder peering at Rocky Mountain National Park

Up in Nederland / Eldora country

Heading out to dinner in a bit. Mark, the local expert, has great picks in Boulder. Scott, who’s hoping to attend UC Boulder next year, is learning the ropes from his big brother as Julie, the experienced post-grad, looks on in amusement. Matt – wish you were here with us.

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Spirit Renewed

Wow. Yesterday was a day like no other on this most amazing of trips. Arrived at Rocky Mountain National Park early afternoon after trucking through Wyoming and northern Colorado. RMNP is one of my favorite NPs – and places – anywhere. It is amazingly compact – probably ten or so miles east to west and 20 miles north to south, yet it squeezes the most amazing mountains, vistas, glaciers and vibe imaginable into its confines. There are 14’ers (14,000′ peaks) and countless 13’ers and 12’ers everywhere. Serious stuff, indeed. Big smiles all around, and a foot of new snow to make things feel crisp and new (and cold). The number of elk and elk tracks throughout the park blew me away, and once again, almost no one was there, so it was like playing golf at Augusta by yourself.

Everything came together yesterday afternoon – I found the absolutely perfect campsite, in the sun and out of the wind, surrounded by evergreens, with huge peaks looming in every direction. Burning Girl and I were smiling at each other as I fired up Deep Tracks and Classic Vinyl tunes on the satellite, cracked some beers and just totally connected with the scene. Don’t think I have ever felt so serene or at peace with the cosmos. Sounds goofy, but it was an incredibly powerful and moving afternoon and evening. Dinner consisted of a Snickers Bar (didn’t go shopping while in town, thinking I’d likely swing back later), but it didn’t matter. All was truly great.

Anyway, here are some shots of the afternoon and early evening.

Off to pick up Scott at the Denver airport. Julie arrives tonight, and it will be great to see them and Mark this weekend. Matt is AWOL – he told me he appreciated the invite, but that Halloween weekend in New Orleans is not to be missed. I understand, so, I’m flying there to see him next weekend. May head to Aspen Sunday or Monday. Whip offered his place, and it would be nice to chill there and hang out with Jack Nicholson for a couple of days. Hah.

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Virtuous Circle

Yesterday was spent meandering from West Yellowstone, Montana into Idaho, checking out the Tetons from the back side, then back into Wyoming over Teton Pass, before heading towards southeastern Wyoming and Colorado. Very cool day, with perfect weather yet again and tremendous sights all around.

Here are the Tetons from the rarely visited (unless you’re skiing Targhee) west side – Driggs, Idaho.

Over Teton Pass and into Jackson, they present a different, and more imposing, face.

I’d forgotten how beautiful the drive from Jackson to Lander is on WY Route 287. In fact, the last time I remember driving it was heading towards Jackson with Ward and Scott in September, 1977. The view of the Tetons was astonishing as we crested the Gros Ventre mountains east of the Hole. Anyway, yesterday was spent heading the other way – towards Lander and Rawlins, two energy towns that are fairly devoid of other attributes. The drive reminded me of how big Wyoming’s open spaces are and how far apart its gas stations are located. Just about ran out of gas between Lander and Rawlins, but decided to check out a station with no lights on at Muddy Gap, forty-five miles from Rawlins / civilization. Success, and I rolled into Rawlins intact.

Here are shots along the way. WInter is not far behind up here.

Cool rock formation in fall garb – late afternoon along the way.

Sunset and colder temps colliding north of Rawlins. Time to fire up the stove.

Heading down to Colorado – one of my favorite states – this morning. Will hit Rocky Mountain National Park – a great little corner of the world – on the way to or after seeing Julie, Mark and Scott in Boulder.

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Yellowstone as Winter Approaches

Beautiful day today – a cold front blew through last night, leaving lingering clouds and much cooler air in its place. The temperature dropped from mid 60s to high 30s, and the feeling that fall is a fleeting visitor in these parts hit home.

South, Middle and Grand Teton

Into Yellowstone we went. The amazing thing about traveling to national parks this time of year is that absolutely no one is there. Kind of odd – it’s only October; yet the crowds are all home. That makes visiting a joy.

Here are some shots in Yellowstone today, traveling south to north and from lower to higher ground (Jackson sits at 6,300′ and most of the day was spent in 7,500′ – 8,200′ terrain). Pretty clear what’s around the corner. As the day grew colder and I continued northward, I fired up one of Burning Girl’s propane burners while driving through the Park. It works like a charm, making the van really comfortable inside with outside temps in the 20s and 30s. And if I get hungry, I can just make a grilled cheese sandwich while heating up the cabin.

I counted fifty-one buffalo after taking this shot. They were hanging out where geysers warm the streams and creeks that feed into the Yellowstone RIver.

This is about as close as you’d want to get with a 35mm prime lens to a lumbering buffalo weighing 1,500 pounds. A bit nerve-wracking, but ultimately uneventful.

Heading from Montana to Idaho and then back to Wyoming tomorrow (I’m where all three states meet now – West Yellowstone). Forecast looks good but cold the rest of the week.

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Back to the Hole

A brief post to share today’s early morning shots before heading up to Yellowstone and more fun. Arrived last night from Park City, and it’s great to be back in Jackson, where I cut my teeth as a ski bum thirty-four years ago (man, time flies). It’s like I never left whenever I pull into Teton Village. What a cool place. Anyway, last night’s rain and weather front made things interesting for sunrise this morning up in Moose and Grand Teton National Park.

The Grand is starting to peek out in this one.

Off to the nation’s first national park. What a great place. Will post again afterwards.


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