EVERYTHING IS BROKEN
“Seem like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground
Broken cutters, broken saws
Broken buckles, broken laws
Broken bodies, broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath, feel like you’re chokin’
Everything is broken”
By Bob Dylan
For this summer’s trip, Christy and I headed back to the Rockies. This time, we decided to drive. Of course, we made these plans long before gas prices soared to $3 a gallon. We decided against a change of plans, largely because this year, we wanted to take the dog. We figured if we were ever going to bring her, it had to be this year. After all, she isn’t getting any younger.
We planned to spend the majority of this year’s trip in Wyoming and Colorado. In Wyoming, we’d backpack for 10 days along the length of the Wind River Range, covering 90-some miles from Green River Lakes in the north to Big Sandy in the south. In Colorado we’d spend a week backpacking around Capitol Peak and Snowmass Mountain in the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness near Aspen. We’d also spend a few days in the San Juan Mountains, near Lake City, car camping, dayhiking, and climbing 14er’s. While in Colorado, we’d also spend a bit of time at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park, and Colorado National Monument.
Before we reached Wyoming, we scheduled a couple of days for exploring the Black Hills of South Dakota. In that area, we’d tour Badlands National Park, camp and hike in Custer State Park, and pay a brief visit to Mount Rushmore. However, before we began our great escape from civilization, we’d start our trip in an unlikely place – Chicago.
So how did the trip turn out? This is the eighth year we’ve taken a major summer trip, and things have always gone very smoothly for us. We’ve had very few problems, and the weather has almost always been great. I guess the law of averages was bound to kick in eventually. This year’s trip featured one minor disaster after another. Gear broke, tires flattened, body parts failed to function, and the weather featured every sort of misery except a plague of locusts. It was the sort of trip that, hopefully one day we’ll be able to look back on and laugh about. Through all of that, there were some good parts, but the debacles make for more entertaining reading. So read on, and laugh with us. Or at least at us.
HEY, SMELL THIS
Our trip began with a pleasantly uneventful drive through the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. We strategically stopped in Gaffney, SC, to take advantage of the last cheap gas during the trip. Filling up for $2.69 was strangely satisfying, but that was short lived. We got horrible gas mileage on the way to Chicago. We took Christy’s Xterra, mainly because we couldn’t get a month’s worth of gear, the dog, and us in my Corolla. The Xterra gets poor mileage under the best of circumstances, and this trip wasn’t one of them. The car was seriously weighted down.
The scenery was nice through Kentucky and into southern Indiana. Even Louisville was interesting. Things started going downhill in northern Indiana though. First, we stopped at a rest area near Lafayette. The first thing we noticed was a mild stench. I filled up my Nalgene bottle at the water fountain, but nearly spit out my first swig. The water reeked.
Later we enjoyed the sights and smells of Gary, Indiana. Gary, Indiana is the home of lots of good old-fashioned American Industry, expansive ghettos, and the Jackson Five. I’m not certain what they actually make in Gary, except for pollution. I was disappointed that I didn’t see a single meowing snail.
Editor’s Note: The preceding sentence was an obscure “Spongebob Squarepants” reference.
Driving through Chicago was more interesting. We were visiting friends who live north of downtown, near Wrigley Field. We followed directions from Mapquest that routed us right through downtown. Traffic was smooth until we got into the middle of the city. Then it bogged down as we got onto Lakeshore Drive. Part of the problem was the Gay Games. Apparently the Gay Games are a week-long Olympics style event that occurs every four years. The games feature, as you’ve probably guessed, gay athletes. The games attract some 10,000 people, and are held in different cities every four years. Somehow, I doubt the games will ever be held in Charlotte. If they were, the events would probably include local hillbillies in pickup trucks armed with shotguns chasing the athletes. The biggest drawback of the games for us was all of the extra traffic in an already congested area. On the upside, they gave me some great material for this trip report. Following are a few of my favorite events at the Gay Games:
1) Big Al’s Big Gay Pyramid
2) Ballroom Dancing (really!)
3) Hide the Salami
4) Flag football (Gee Brad, I keep missing your flag)
5) Figure Skating (really!)
6) Hey everybody, let’s play leapfrog!
On an unrelated note, a popular game in the Midwest is called Cornholing. I swear I’m not making this up. I checked the calendar of events, and surprisingly, Cornholing was not included in the Gay Games.
We eventually made it through all of that. We made it to Kevin’s place and took the dog for a walk. There is a fenced-in doggie park a couple of blocks from Kevin’s apartment, and Saucony loved it. I’m not sure what she liked more, socializing with the other dogs, or playing Frisbee. For Saucony, it was probably one of the biggest highlights of the trip.
We got back in time to head out for a late dinner. The first restaurant we tried, at 9pm, featured a 90-minute wait. We opted for an upscale Mexican restaurant instead, which wasn’t much quicker. We did eventually get some pretty good food, along with a couple $5 bottles of Dos Equis.
We had taken a cab to the restaurant, but chose to ride the train back. The commuter trains in Chicago are referred to as “the L”. Or, for the Hispanics, “El L”. It was midnight, but the trains were packed. I can’t imagine what they’re like a rush hour.
We spent the next day in Chicago. We considered many entertainment options, including a Cubs game, but ultimately we decided to skip it. Every year, Chicago gets at least one good mid-summer heat wave. As luck would have it, the first one of 2006 occurred during our visit. While we were there, the highs were in the triple digits. I couldn’t imagine sitting in those bleachers for several hours in that heat.
Instead, we did a triathlon of sorts. Christy and I got up at 9 to run in an effort to beat the heat. That failed miserably. At that hour, the temperature was already in the upper 80’s. We walked out to the Lakeshore Bike Path, which runs north from downtown along Lake Michigan. The path provided a nice place to run, although dodging traffic was a challenge. I’ve never seen a greenway as busy as this one. There were walkers, runners, bikers, roller-bladers, and people pushing strollers. Early on, there was some shade, and the occasional hint of breeze. Unfortunately, neither of those lasted long. We were feeling pretty abused by the time we made it back to Kevin’s apartment.
A late breakfast perked us up. That afternoon, we decided to go to the beach. Lake Michigan has a number of (man-made) beaches. Driving there wasn’t an attractive option though. We could’ve walked, but decided instead to combine the beach with a bike ride downtown. This was a great plan, except that I quickly discovered that my bike had a flat tire. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this would become a theme for the trip. We walked our bikes a few blocks to the nearest bike shop, where I had it repaired. The great thing about Kevin’s location is that almost anything you might need is only a few blocks away.
We rode from the bike shop back to the Lakeshore Path. This time we headed south, towards downtown. We stopped at the first major beach, where we found a shady place near a swimming area. We hung out there for a while, and enjoyed the water, which was just chilly enough to be worthwhile.
Later we rode farther, dodging through ever-increasing crowds as we neared the center of town. The riding was challenging, as the bike path is fairly narrow, and traffic was heavy. The biggest challenge was the clueless pedestrians, who frequently wandered out into traffic without looking. You would think that behavior like that would be largely self-correcting in a city like Chicago. After all, if you do that enough times, sooner or later you’re bound to get run over by a car. Somehow though, there were plenty of oblivious survivors. I only saw one accident. Some moron was chatting on a cell phone and wandered aimlessly across the path. A bike collided with him, and bike, rider, and cell phone all went flying. Believe it or not, the idiot that caused the accident was clueless enough to think it was the biker’s fault. Briefly I thought there was going to be a fight. Finally the biker rode away, and the idiot resumed his phone call. Not a minute later, I saw him wander into traffic again without looking. Slow learner.
We rode all the way downtown. We made a couple of stops, visiting a really cool fountain and Millennium Park. We also crossed over the Chicago River, which years ago, was “reversed” to run away from Lake Michigan. That engineering project pretty much killed everything living in the river. What a great idea!
We rode back late that afternoon. By the time we returned to Kevin’s apartment, we had completed the following events in our triathlon: Run, bike, swim (a little), bike, swim (a little), and bike.
We were pretty worn out that evening. We were content to order pizzas for dinner and drink a couple of beers while watching Comedy Central. For Christy and I, it was the last evening we’d be spending in civilization for quite a while. I couldn’t think of a better way to do it. We went to bed early, partly due to exhaustion, and partly because we had to get up early the next morning for the long drive to the Black Hills of South Dakota.
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