Home / Travelogue Index / Fifth Season / May 20, 2010

Heading for Home, A Few Miles at a Time

Travelogue - May 20, 2010
Take earth for your own large room
and the floor of earth
carpeted with sunlight
and hung round with silver wind
for your dancing place.

"Earth Your Dancing Place" - May Swenson

Scene of the departure Northward

We left the moorings in San Carlos Bay on the morning of April 22. Right, see the north end of Estero Island as we cruise on by.

And there on Sea Gator's bow that little fluttering scrap of fabric is all that remains of her pennant after the April 11 storm, poor thing! I'll work on a new one this summer. I can't decide whether it will feature a 'gator or a bucking bronco. I'll need to be careful that I don't get too ambitious and create a bucking 'gator. It would be cool, no doubt, but nobody would get it.

Anyway. We headed northwest, under the Sanibel bridge and into the ICW. We were bound for Pelican Bay on the first short leg on our eventual long journey home.

Quiet Anchorage

We had a peaceful cruise north.

Swim in the Gulf But some other folks didn't, unfortunately. We saw a TowBoat US operator actually wade out into the shallows and physically hand his clients their tow line. Ah well, it could happen to anyone.

Not to us, or at least not today anyway. Thank goodness.

At high tide we made our way into Pelican Bay and its sheltered east anchorage and we set our anchor and settled in to a quiet couple of days. It was becoming warm, finally!

A highlight of our visit was a hike across the island and a swim in Boca Grande Pass! This picture reminds me of Petticoat Junction. Except, in the ocean.

Goldie at the helm Later, Rick took advantage of the reasonably translucent water to swim down and clean Sea Gator's running gear. We shielded Goldie from the scary sight of Rick going under water - she doesn't like to see that.

Goldie loitered in the quiet, in the sunshine, every chance she had. We all drew deep breaths.


In just a few days we were on the move again. Saturday we motored across Charlotte Harbour, back to Lu's house. We wanted an extra day to beat the weather and we're glad we did.

Rick Pat Nancy George On Sunday, we rode our bikes down to Fisherman's Village and rendezvoused with George and Nancy of Jenna Star. They were a day ahead of their haul-out so they borrowed bikes from the marina and we rode down to Elena's for a lovely early morning breakfast. Afterwards we gave them a bicycle tour of the very nice downtown Punta Gorda, left.

Back at Jenna Star Nancy showed me a video of their close encounter with playful frolicking manatees at Pelican Bay! Set to music, no less! It was really nicely done.

Well, lots of work remains to be done. Nancy and George would motor across the harbor for their haul-out the next day, and we needed to get Rick packed for a client visit in Wisconsin on Monday. We said our goodbye's to George and Nancy - see you next year we hope!

The following day I drove Rick to the airport, then rendezvoused for lunch with Pam from S/V Blackfoot. We had a predictably excellent lunch, and a very nice and astonishingly candid conversation. I was sorry to leave.

However, I had to hurry back to get Goldie to the vet that afternoon!

Goldie Goldie Checkup

Goldie fussed and fumed, but Dr. Bivens was able to draw enough vitals to eventually determine that Goldie's thyroid problem appears to be cured! However, as suspected, her kidneys are on the verge of problems. We will send all her test results to Dr. Ernie in Jackson and follow his directions for a kidney-safe diet.

Goldie was sedate (well, literally sedated) on the drive back to Lu's house - she knows when we're driving AWAY from a vet. I brought her into the air-conditioned house and we settled in for a couple days of Work and preliminary packing.

Rick piloting Bump Head Mid-week Rick returned from his business trip and on the next day's rising tide we cast off again. We returned to our same anchor location at Pelican Bay, and enjoyed several final days of quiet and very hot, still weather.

We headed immediately for the manatee zone. We didn't get to see all the high-powered manatee action that Nancy and George saw, but we saw three individuals meandering slowly in the murky water. It was a quiet, pleasant scene.

On another day we took a few hours to explore the long-awaited "Tunnel of Love" - a shallow route through the mangroves, left. They say the channel was unpassable after Hurricane Charley, but obviously someone has done some cleanup. The sawn-off trunks and stumps of limbs protruded from every side. We motored slowly as if through a giant mouthful of broken teeth, but we made it just fine.

On the beach It was a fun meander to a hidden bayou, where we secured Bump Head and walked across a narrow stretch of grassland to the beach on the Gulf.

It was too windy and rough to swim in the Gulf waters, but we hunkered down in the skinny shade of our umbrella. Between grabbing the umbrella and running after our clothes down the beach, we watched the waves.

The days were VERY hot as we got some Work done and began to think about the chores awaiting us to put Sea Gator to bed. So we finished off our last days out with the traditional visit to a beach at the mouth of the Bay, for a perfect swim at the end of the day.

Sea Gator to bed

Well, we did get a few miles under Sea Gator's keel this year! Kind of back and forth and back and forth, but that's OK.

And now it's the end of our cruising season.

Pam and Frank We were happy to see Pam and Frank again - they drove all the way up from Fort Myers for one last visit. Here they are at Fisherman's Village, after we all enjoyed a pleasant dinner and the sunset over the Harbor.

Soon, Pam and Frank would complete their final provisioning and prepping of Blackfoot and then head out: they planned to sail south through the Keys then up the East Coast to Maine for the summer. One of their favorite anchorages is near Castine - Rick knew the very spot because we had kayaked there with his family several years ago. What an amazing coincidence!

Pat piloting Sea Gator Another amazing thing was the stories Frank told about backpacking in the Uintah Wilderness of Utah, back in the day. We compared old stomping grounds. It was an excellent visit. Safe sailing, Blackfoot!

A few days later, Sea Gator had a nice and uneventful trip across the harbor and through the lock and up the canals. I drove while Rick fired up the genset to flush the saltwater out of the generator. His alarm when the genset didn't start was quickly calmed when he realized that, during extensive hours spent in the engine room the previous week, he had accidentally leaned on the emergency shutoff. Whew!

The last few minutes aboard Sea Gator were a rush of conflicting emotions, as always: We felt sad to see the end of our cruising year, yet at the same time thoroughly relieved at the moment when All American's crew deftly grabbed Sea Gator with their boathooks. Thus signaling that we had survived another year without any major catastrophes!

Bump Head's underbelly The crew hoisted Sea Gator into the lift, power-washed her hull below the waterline, then inched across the yard with their 20,000-pound cargo. They nestled her into her summer home with no problems.

We did have a lot of work to do this year, especially Rick when he realized he would have to re-do some of the wax he had earlier applied. And it was HOT in the boat yard. Rick scheduled his work to move around the boat with the shade and by the end of each day we were staggering.

How did it go from nose-running-cold to knee-buckling-hot with barely a pause in between?

Well, my tasks included refinishing Bump Head's bottom. I scraped, Rick sanded, I painted. As you can see, Bump Head's new paint sure is pretty (although the intention is that nobody will ever see his bottom, knock on wood). Rick said, "The Bumpster is going to fly!"

La Marina to bed

Lu had a safe trip to the airport and to her summer home, and she called us that evening to report that all went well. We had no problems getting her house buttoned up; we've done the routine often enough that it all went smoothly. For which we are grateful!

And thus ends another cruising season in Florida...

Westward as the crow flies

Exit north The western sky was clear and flushed with vivid crimson,
towards which the prairie rolled away in varying tones of blue.

- Harold Bindloss

Saturday, May 15. Rick slipped Lu's last house plant onto Bob and Winnie's porch, locked up the house, and we drove in our rental car to the airport. It was a fine day, but it would be a long day.

Ft. Myers to Cincinnati to Salt Lake City. We trudged out to the darkest corner of the airport's parking garage to locate yet another rental car and gratefully piled inside.

We burst from the garage into sunlight then careened at break-neck speed on I-15 through downtown SLC, and then eastward up Parley's Canyon to Park City where we exited for fast food. The lady behind the Arby's counter noticed Rick's Key West t-shirt, and she told him about growing up in Key West - her father was in the navy and they lived in the district now transformed into expensive and very pretty condos and houses, called the Truman Annex. Such a small world.

Back on the interstate and eastward again. We cheered when we crossed into Wyoming! As dusk settled over the plains we pulled in to Evanston for the night.

Goldie was still woozy from her travel tranquilizers, but she diligently explored our room at the pet-friendly Comfort Inn; located and utilized her food and water and litter box like a pro, then spent the night resting in her travel hutch.

I-15 continues east Sunday morning dawned bright and cold. We rummaged through the suitcase to find our jackets, loaded our bags and one very perky Goldie into the car - she must have smelled that Wyoming sagebrush - and headed out of town.

The landscape of home

I hope to convey to our boating friends the wonders of the vast open spaces of Wyoming.

I'll start by quoting from Sam Lepore's Wanderlust motorcycle travelogue. He writes as he winds down his day in Lusk but his observations are true of southwestern Wyoming as well:

Sheep wagon Here I will rest early. The wide open spaces were gorgeous, but being so open I was drawn to ride farther than I want to. I have to be careful not to overdo it simply because it can be done... Instead I can still see in my mind that one perfect moment of the day when I crested a rise and had a 270 degree panorama of mountains, ridges, buttes, snow capped mountains in my mirrors, and a view of the plains so vast that you could see the curvature of the earth. This is one of the loveliest places. Come wander Wyoming.

Less than ten miles to the east we exited the interstate, above right and left, and turned north into the vast empty expanse of the desert plains.

This part of the state is hilly and dry and WINDY! There are windfarms here, atop the buttes, and later in the season there will be tumbleweeds dashing across the highway and dust devils spinning like dervishes among the sage brush.

Here is a sheep wagon, in use and for real. FYI, contrary to what the name implies, it's the herder who lives in the wagon. Not the sheep.

The broad valley extended for miles on both sides, then reared up like waves cresting and breaking into buttes high in the sky. We stared, we breathed deeply.

After an hour or so we came to the first "country town", Kemmerer, Wyoming:

Original JC Penney store
"...population 4,300; elevation 6,700. Country is where people talk to you because you are there, not because they have to. Country is where when someone asks how are you, they are interested in the answer. Country is where Chicken Fried Steak is at the top of the menu...". - Sam Lepore, again

Kemmerer offers rather bleak outskirts. The most telling features are rows of aluminum trailers on dusty lots, whose only shade is provided by ominous public service billboards warning of methamphetamine or alcohol or spousal abuse - the scourges of the rural west - and featuring photo closeups of meth mouth and wrecked trucks lit by flashing emergency lights.

Goldie in the backseat But Kemmerer has a very nice little downtown. The few blocks of old businesses and old houses are worth the trip. Did you ever say to your friends, "Ya know, I've always wondered where the first ever J.C. Penny store was built"? The answer is: Kemmerer Wyoming. The corner store is still open and in business, and any small town in American that can honestly say that their downtown J.C. Penney's is keeping regular hours has a lot going for it. I could live here.

We stopped for caffeine and fresh camera batteries. Just long enough that Goldie came out of her travel hutch and explored the backseat. Then we were off again and Goldie slipped quietly back into the safety of her hutch to continue her nap.

Several miles north of Kemmerer we saw snow fences lining the road and the Uintah mountains visible far to the south in Utah.

For those who haven't traveled in the windy west, snow fences (below right) are constructed along highways perpendicular to the direction of the prevailing winter wind. Their purpose is to keep snow from blowing across the roads, by creating turbulence and causing the wind to drop its snowload on the leeward side of the fence. The hope is to reduce the effect of a "ground blizzard" crossing the road, which is just what it sounds like.

The fences are very successful but they look a little odd unless you know their purpose. I happened to have the following information in my files:

Snow fences The truss-type snow fence used by the Wyoming Department of Transportation since 1971 consists of horizontal 1- x 6-in. wooden boards fastened to wooden trusses, and is anchored with steel reinforcing bar (rebar) driven into the ground. The version recommended here has an average porosity of about 45%, a bottom gap equal to 10% to 12% of the total height, a 15 degree layback angle, and a panel length of 16 ft...the basic design is adaptable to heights up to 14 ft. - Snow Fence Guide by Tabler & Assoc., 1991

In the bleak years before I possessed the vast knowledge (and meager financial resources) of a landscape architect, I found myself traveling on a Greyhound bus across Wyoming. The little kid in the row behind me asked his grandpa what those fences were for. Gramps answered the boy, "Son, those are portable corrals for the spring roundup."

Cowboys and cattle Hmmm...

Well OK, not a bad guess in a pinch. The child was transfixed, his wide eyes transposed against the rolling hills in the reflection just behind my shoulder. Who knows, maybe he grew up to be a cowboy? If so, I only hope he didn't show his initiative by eagerly heading out before dawn to relocate snow fences for the roundup boys.

Anyway. The snow fences petered out not too far north of Kemmerer. I always thought that was odd, because the snow accumulates so much more as you head north.

Maybe the kid moved them...

Soon we could see the snowy peaks of the Wind River Mountains far to the north, looming over the town of Pinedale, Sublette County seat.

Speaking of Sublette County, the area has more cows than people. Here are some of both, as we speak.

This brings us to the concept of "open range". Most state highways and interstates across Wyoming do have fences along the rights of way; however on an open range there may not be any fences and the cattle will go where they want. And in Wyoming cattle always have the right of way. If you hit one and survive you are liable to the animal's owner for its loss.

Cattle and mountains There is nothing prettier than black cows in a field of tan grass with white-capped mountains in the background. And white-rumped pronghorned antelope streaking along the foreground.

Unfortunately, antelope populations have drastically declined due to oil and gas wells along the pronghorn's instinctive Yellowstone-to-Kemmerer migration corridor (although the drilling companies maintain that's just a coincidence). In any case, we only saw a few dozen of the lovely swift creatures on the whole drive. Sad.

We stopped at the junction just long enough to purchase drinks and sandwiches. Here are some lovely rich pasturelands surrounding the junction, above right.

View of the valley In less than another hour we crested the rim of the valley in which we live, like the lip of a huge bowl filled with trees and grass - and we paused to look down into our valley and across to the other side, left.

This is a fun place to stop - the pause heightens the anticipation of dropping down into the enormous valley and passing the houses and pastures and the post office and our friends' houses and all the familiar scenes that quicken the pulse as we near our house.

Safely home! We rattled across the cattle guard, Rick got out to unlock the gate, and I shouldered Goldie's hutch and we hiked the last few 100 yards of our journey up to the house.

What a beautiful day.

Where does dust come from?

The house was intact but very dusty. We began the long process of cleaning the house (me) and firing up the utilities (Rick).

We took a break to drive in to Jackson to return our rental car at the airport.

The sluggish national economy has stemmed the growth that usually characterizes Jackson, so there weren't a lot of changes in the town when we drove through. The airport itself, however, is the recipient of stimulus funds and workers are nearly finished doubling the size of the terminal! Holy smokes!

And the Wyoming Highway Department (a.k.a. the Juggernaut) is going strong in any economy. This summer they are completing the second half of their efforts to create a high-speed freeway through our neighborhood, and about nine miles of highway is under construction. The bottom of our driveway is barred with a big orange safety sign screaming WAIT FOR PILOT CAR! Our neighbor Kathy told me she once sat there long enough to balance her checkbook. I'll bring a magazine.

Back in the saddle

The Teton mountains bordering Jackson Hole A few days after we got home Rick had to fly out to California for business. But he safely negotiated the California freeways, and then upon his return safely negotiated the orange safety cones at the Jackson airport. And here is the scene that greeted him as we drove from the airport toward town - the mountains ringing the western edge of the valley of Jackson Hole. What a nice welcome!

So Rick is back and settling into his summer routine. He has already been on a long mountain bike ride, which is no small task when the brief paved section includes following a pilot car through construction.

But the garden is waking up and the warm wind is drying the last of the mud. Time to get to work out there!

Take care, everybody! We hope you have a wonderful summer - be sure to tell us all about it.

Thanks for listening to this year's travelogues.

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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