Road Warrior Questions…

The road...and the questions...go on forever.

I never could understand folks who turn their brains to the “off” position. I do understand why my mother made the comment as she lay dying that she couldn’t stop thinking. A brain is meant to be used…and hers was there til the end. Now that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to be in overdrive solving the problems of the world in between meal planning and working on your Pulitzer-winning novel. To me, using the brain means applying it to problems and asking questions.

The impetus for this column? Questions that arise on a road trip. Road warrior questions. Very random questions that ease into your mind and then suddenly stick there and you can’t make them disappear. Kind of like a song that keeps playing back again and again.

The road trip Kathy Newell and I took featured some real doozies, listed below. Some were easy to find answers to while others are still sitting there, partially reasoned out in our minds but definitely not finally and absolutely answered.

So here are the questions…answers and photos to be posted at some point in time.

Number One: Why are some bales of hay round and others angular/rectangular. With one exception (in my limited knowledge) in California, they are all rectangular. There’s a field on the east side of the Altamont Pass just west of Tracy that had large round bales. Caught my interest, but on this road trip we were seeing round bales everywhere. We became obsessed with them. My brother-in-law said it’s because round baling is less expensive…expecially when you consider cost of baling equipment. They are a pain to haul…you need specialized gear to pick and carry them. Newell’s brother said round baling is done if you don’t plan to transport bales a distance and they are easier to break apart to feed animals.

Number Two: How are mountains created?
(We answered this one with a quick Google search…basically five ways.

Volcanic activity – easy to understand. The earth spews out hot lava and materials and they build up to build mountains.
Folding – new to me. Pressure on earth’s layers causes them to fold or undulate.
Faulting – faulting caused the familiar Sierra Nevada range and the Grand Tetons. Pressure builds in layers of earth but rather than folding the separate plates shove against each other and one goes up while the other goes under. The uplifted plates are mountains.
Dome building – another new one…when pressure builds, rather than folding or faulting, a dome is created. Check out the Black Hills in the Dakotas.
Erosion – wind and water wear down what might have been a plateau so that instead of a mountain being built up…the land around it is worn down.

Number Three was a Newell questions: Why are the power lines different in each state different?
(still working on that one) Kathy and her brother surmised that it was a combination of available materials and the weather elements the power poles are exposed to.

My question was Number Four: Why are there so few veggie gardens in farming areas in Idaho and Wyoming? At least from what we could see cruising by. Someone out there help me. We’re talking open country in the middle of summer and I only saw two or three the entire trip.

Number Five – Why does man harness and sanitize nature to the extreme? Point in question: Lava Hot Springs, Idaho has some historic hot springs that were held sacred and used by the native Americans.
Used for decades by folks traveling specifically to the town to “take the waters.” Now those miracles of natures have been tamed and piped and you can enjoy them in concrete pools. Why bother? Why not just pipe regular city water into the pools? (The original hot springs are hidden behind a metal gate nearby….and local kids, who don’t see the sense in paying good money for a local attraction, take to the creek that runs through town and ride it down to where hot water meets cool for a refreshing treat.)

Oh yeah – that last one was a rhetorical question. Don’t know if there is a factual answer.

Number Six: Do we really have so little time that we now engage in “flash” memories. Not memories built up in time, but grabbed on the run. I took a lunch break after dropping Newell off at her brothers and pulled over to enjoy a view of the Grand Tetons. Was only there about 35-45 minutes and people watched. I must have seen a dozen folks pull up and either just look or lean out the window, shoot a snapshot and leave. Maybe half a dozen got out for a more leisurely five or ten minute look. Not enough time to sit…watch shadows move and cloud patterns pass over. Fast memories are like fast food. Nice while you have them…but they don’t sink deep into the soul like a real memory. (OK – make me guilty with the rest of them.)

Final question: Why did it rain when Newell was driving and not when I was behind the wheel?
Her answer: “Cause I drive in the afternoon and you do the mornings. Clouds and storms build and then dump rain in the afternoon.”
Good enough for me for now…

…and now on to the lesson/tie-in with videojournalism. If you don’t ask questions, you don’t get answers. An answer you come up with is only a guess. At best, an educated guess. Research and asking experts questions are what get you answers. YOU DON”T KNOW IT ALL.

(heck, I only know part of it all)


Wyoming has four seasons…

…my sister told me. First is “winter’s almost here.” Then, “it’s winter.” Third is “winter’s almost gone,” followed by “construction.” The latter has plagued us this entire trip. Everything from slow down to slow down for miles and miles to stop, turn off the engine, and take a look around.

We ran into everything from little jobs on desert roads to major disruptions on interstates.

Just goes to show that sometimes you can fly through life and other days circumstances force you to take it slow and careful.

People you meet on the road…

…are as varied as the places you pass through. Each of these folks has a story to tell or a story in them. Let’s tally up our chance encounters over the past week or so.

Addendum: I will admit to some brain buzzing and have made some necessary corrections below. Somehow some of the days blended together. Now that I’m rested and home I see the error of my writing. (8/5/10)

Day One was a long day…from my place in California’s great agricultural Central Valley to Newell’s digs in the gold grubbing historic foothills and then over the Sierra Nevada range to the endless dry miles of the Nevada desert, chomping on flatbread sandwiches and fresh grapes (thanks Newelly) as we watched the white lines whiz by.

On the morning of Day Two Newell looked out the window of the Motel 6 room and spotted an elephant just outside. Not for real – but a metal sculpture belonging to a friendly hobbit of a man with a trailer load of metal artfully formed into elephants and other animals. He’s from Jackson, California – between our home bases.

Day Three we wake up in a KOA campground in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho. Being a couple of wusses (with a lot of expensive equipment) we decided to take shelter the night before in a cabin rather than tent. To protect out gear (and that’s our story). Morning found Newell happily working away on her computer (yeah for Internet on the trail!!) while I rustled up a hearty breakfast of steak and fried potatoes – way too much for the likes of us, so we knocked on the door of our neighboring cabin and invited MarthaVan (short for Martha Van Inwegen) over to help us demolish our meal. Martha is in our age range and had traveled from working at a TV station (marketing) through various businesses and now is on the road herself marketing her line of personal products – destination this week was Butte, Montana for a mountain bike race. She tossed a couple of samples our way to experiment with – and they do a wonderful job of erasing the grease and grime of being on the road all day.

Friday through Monday/Days Three through Six had us meeting different batches, since we were at our respective relations’ homes. I swear I met more teens, pre-teens, and munchkins than there are in the entire state of Wyoming at my sister’s place. Well, maybe only ten or so, ranging from about three to young adult. But the one time we crowded into Jeanie’s living room for a potluck meal we were toe to toe and hip to hip as we ate.
A great group…they offered to take me horseback riding (too late in the day, sorry…maybe next time) and I whizzed them through two months of lessons in two days. No kidding – a bright batch with a passion for grabbing information and turning it around and making it their own. Of course it didn’t hurt that I only had a few pupils rather than the normal 35-45.
Newell settled in with her brother and his son…both of them typical back country rugged mountain men with the kind of charm only found in those who honestly enjoy their own existence and sharing it. While I left my family with hugs and kisses…Newell tossed extra baggage into the van. Yep, she went fishing and hiking and that bag is packed with fish and game (the fish she caught…the game courtesy of her brother’s freezer).

Day Six was uneventful as far as meeting folks went. From Wyoming to Pocotello, Idaho. There was a nice young man who checked us in at the campground and that was about it.

Day Seven…our second longest day. We landed at an RV park in Burns, Oregon and had just settled in when a group of young guys pedaled and drove in and set up camp near us. Turns out they were a group of Tennesseans and Texans who were doing a marathon coast to coast bicycle trip in support of aid and to draw attention to the Nashville flooding. So there we were – the two of us editing and trying to get online (don’t ask, it was abysmally slow) and them setting up tents, shooting interviews with each other, editing and relaxing.

Day Eight – I made waaayyyy too much coffee so sent the pot their way and they finished it off (hate to waste good food) and we were on the road again…this time to Adin California. The Newell guys have a cabin in the area where they go to do manly things and we got caught up in the spirit. I’ve shot handguns, but this was the first time since I was a kid I can remember using a rifle (only a 22). Pow! Pow! Another pine cone or can hits the dust!
The memorable folks this day were the gang at The Only Frosty In Town. Everyone there said hi to us and they meant it. Why did we stop there? Well in the Newell family the first person to spot Mount Shasta on the way to the cabin earns a cold treat courtesy of the other traveler(s) – and that was me since Newell was driving.

Day Nine and our final day on the road. Last night we stayed at the High Country Inn, Susanville. Wow. Big beds with fresh sheets and the first real hot shower on the trip (yeah, some of the places we stayed had showers which varied from dibbles to those wonderful changes from perfect to scalding to chilly without warning). I feel spoiled. Fast Internet, air conditioner.
Got up and had breakfast at the Sage Hen restaurant where we met our (first) person of the day – the newest waitress on duty. She took our orders carefully and returned with a perfect breakfast, only making a slight mistake when Kathy got the over hard egg (that’s me) and I got her over easy egg. Everything was forgotten as we inhaled the fluffy pancakes, perfectly cooked sausage and other tidbits.

We’ll be on the road in a bit and home tonight where I’ll finish this posting. The purpose of all this is to remind you that everyone you meet can become a posting or a visual story. Whether they be strangers met in passing or lifelong relatives…look for those stories that give your audience insight into how others live.

This posting written by me with a LOT of assistance from Kathy Newell who can remember details I often forget.

Happy trails to you…

Addendum August 5, 2010 at 9pm.
Home at last…the van is unpacked and reminders of the trip are piled in the living room waiting to be put away. Our Susanville waitress was our “person of the day.” We enjoyed a quick lunch in Truckee and I got to meet more of the Newell clan when I dropped her off at home.
At my home Ron and Alexis were glad to see me. The former because he really misses having me at home. The latter I think because she missed my van – she was stuck at home in the country. Now she can get out and have a life again.

Day Two…Lava Hot Springs…

On Hiway 30 in Nevada very near the confluence of idaho and utah

Kampin at the KOA in Lava Hot Springs Idaho

A comparatively short drive today from Wendover to Lava Hot Springs in Idaho. Just a quick post for now…Newell and I are out on the porch of our “Kampin Kabin” at the KOA. Sipping wine and solving the problems of the world. Hopefully I’ll have time when I get up to Jeanie’s (my sister) place I can sit down and catch up.

On the Agenda: what we discussed (from round hay bales to imagining infinity to how are mountains formed) and finally some video!

Day one…

California to Utah. Day One was the longest drive day we have planned…but it was still visually rich.

From the lush Central Valley up into the towering trees in the gold country foothills where Newell lives…then over the Sierra Nevada range and across countless miles of Nevada desert.

An ever changing palette…from hot and dry to THUNDERSTORMS!!! Whooheee! Tape to be posted tonight hopefully. The first hint of recent rain came with the strong scent of desert sage. We could see the storm brewing miles before we hit it and when we met the downpour was so torrential that we could barely see the road. The windshield wipers tried in vain to keep up with the waterfull from above. Lighting clashed and thunder rumbled, creating a true multimedia experience.

A refreshing change from the endless summer that is California.

And then the calm…the day ending with a peaceful drive over the line into Utah, with storm clouds hovering…eventually dissipating into the warm night air…

Call of the open road…

Retirement isn’t what it is cracked up to be. I’ve had what would amount to a regular summer off for a teacher and have been busier than any other summer.

Volunteering to set up a website for an organization my husband belongs to. 48 Hour Film Project. My first post-retirement gig. Cleaning corners of the house that haven’t seen light since we moved in fifteen years ago. Training my replacement (would you believe the head of the Socials Studies department at my high school?) in the basics of video. Finishing up all of those little projects left over at the end of school. And more.

All of this so I wouldn’t feel guilty when the open road called again…as it has. Wednesday I answer that call, heading into the Old West by going east to Wyoming.

And I’ll have company…veteran VJ Kathy Newell will accompany me before heading off to her newest gig in one of California’s many wine regions.

If you live along that open road, give us a shout and we might just drop in (if you offer us story ideas and a chance to sit down and chew the bacon).

I’ve got a couple of little potential VJs sitting up in the north corner of the state, waiting for their great auntie-in-law to turn up and turn them on to what good photography is. They’ve got the first part right – they love to shoot. Now they just have to learn the rest of it – and keep that love going.

So sit back and relax and listen…you might just hear the old van wheezing by with a couple of dreamers looking for the truth. On the road again…

New header/again…and a bit about a friend…

The header above is from the mountain madness trip I just returned from. That blonde head and cocked ear belong to VJ Kathleen Newell. Her subject – John Voss, proprietor of the Caples Lake Resort. Kathy helps John with his blog, among others.

She’s a mountain girl and enthusiastic do-gooder and environmentalist. We are twinned opposites in many ways. I’m old, dumpy, married (very happily) and a teacher. She is younger, energetic and always looking for new mountains to climb – both literally and figuratively. We’re both survivors of 28 years each in the world of media madness. And neither of us knows how to live without a camera in hand and a laptop stashed nearby.

That trip we were on involved the “mom-mobile,” a 2003 dusty old Dodge Grand Caravan with all the rear seats taken out to hold more gear than we can to admit to. The personal bags were the least of it – I think we each took less than enough to fit into a grocery bag.

But the tech stuff – two three chip cameras (a Sony and a JVC GY-DV300), three (I think) low enders for grab shots, a Olympus Evolt 300 for stills. Two laptops, a million cables, four tripods, one monopod, reflectors…and more. And that’s traveling light. Didn’t bring the light kits or mikes (beyond a stick and her wireless). Oh – and one ice chest and enough food to last a few days. And fishing gear (hers). Camp chairs. One air mattress (I refuse to sleep on the ground any more) Sleeping bags.

Back to the van – common stuff in the back (camping stuff, bags, etc).
The van is nifty cause she could slide her passenger door open and have easy access to her goodies and I had my stuff on the driver’s side. Very fast and no confusion.

So we were organized and had fun. Part of this trip is an escape from the daily drudge. We both miss news and travel and meeting people. Me – I’m stuck in Lodi. Kathy – she is looking for new adventures, other roads to travel. But our roads occasionally diverge and we travel a short distance together. As all friends do…

Blog at

Up ↑