Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why Do I Love Trips to Iowa?

Okay, so if you read my blog much you know I might not be the world's greatest poster child for automobile use. However, I can occasionally concede to the advantages of using a car. One of those concessions: I love a good road trip. Iowa City is a voyage we make 3-5 times per year to visit April's family. It's just far enough away to be a viable road trip. Believe me, when the kids get cranked up and whiny, we're all glad the drive is no longer than the 5-6 hours it typically takes us.

Why do I love road trips? I've always had a nostalgia for the open road. Early in life I wanted to be a truck driver. Honestly, that was one of my first career fascinations. I collected realistic toy replicas of tractor trailers. I imagined weeks away driving across the country. I wore plaid shirts and cowboy boots and a trucker hat or two.

This twisted part of my psyche means I can somehow find beauty in the starkness of a slimy truck stop with its bare gravel and dusty parking lots, tacky stickers and unimaginable apparel for sale on overstuffed carousel racks. I actually like the smell of diesel fuel. One thing I would never be able to get over is the food, however. It can be a bit exciting (yet gastrointestinally devastating) to sustain oneself with food obtained along an interstate corridor for a couple of days. If I had to eat it consistently I'd be tempted to jump in front of a truck rather than drive one.

There are other facets of road tripping that capture me. While exploring a full-blown subculture peopled with a colorful cast of characters who fascinate and occasionally appall can provide a glimpse of an America quite unlike my day to day reality, I prefer to focus heavily on the poetic side of the trip's appeal. I love the singular motivation of those involved, the desire for achieving a common destination, the silence and also the deep conversations that can occur over the course of hours spent driving. Such is always the case when we head off to Iowa.

Early in our relationship, April and I set off on a nearly three-week-long odyssey beginning with a stop in Iowa. Then we pushed on to the North Carolina coast and back through Tennessee. During that trek we canoed across Fontana Lake and camped on Hazel Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains. We sipped champagne and rang in the New Year around a campfire. The rest of the time we shared the extended cab of a Dodge diesel pick up which towed a 20 ft box trailer. The trip was technically work, delivering canoes and picking up supplies. Our accommodations ranged from friends' floors to plush hotel rooms on the beach (off-peak rates, mind you). We ate homecooked meals and foraged truck stop buffets. I introduced April to Tennessee's finest chain restaurant -- Cracker Barrel. All the while we had a grand time. We'd only been dating about 6 months but we knew something had to be right if we could embrace spontaneous adventures, live in such close quarters for that long and not hate each other afterward.

Since then I've had no doubt that April is the best traveling partner I've ever met. We can't indulge our time the way we used to (taking the kids along in the car has hindered the ability to have long philosophical discussions), but there is a silver lining. We're so busy running in our own directions a lot of the time that a road trip is a way to put us in the same place, to give each of us the captive audience with the other that we so often lack now that we have a family. When the kids are both asleep and the car is quiet it's just like old times. And I can be reminded how in love I am with the sharply intelligent, beautiful woman I married. Yeah, she's the one who continues to put up with me.

Now that I'm all teary-eyed, roll the picture!

The Fleck girls having fun on the playground at the Straight River rest area in southern MN. This place has one of the weirdest buildings I've ever seen at a rest stop -- sort of like some throwback to a 70s arcade. By the way, if you never read the bronze historical markers sometimes found along interstate highways you ought to every once in a while. Frequently they're interesting and while I'm not saying you should believe everything you read you can certainly get some thoughts cogitating in the ole melon. (Did I really know prior to reading a plaque that Le Seuer canned goods, among many others, originated in MN?)

Dad with the girls. Needless to say I am extremely proud to hang out with such happy, healthy children (even though Willa looks like she's getting the Heimlich in this image). The girls constantly remind me I need to lighten up and have more fun.

Here's Willa trying to push her way past Sylvia. She's so young yet we can see many personality distinctions that clearly separate her from her big sister.

Willa in motion. Once she got started on the slide it was tough to get her in the car for the rest of the ride home. She has a sense of adventure that is a bit frightening. We thought Sylvia was daring, but Willa already acts as if three-years' age difference is not going to keep her from doing whatever Sylvia does. For instance, without any prompting she climbed the 7ft tall framework to go down the slide on her own.

More updates to follow shortly. I spent some time last week at the Fruita Fat Tire Festival. Surely that has to be good for a story or two, eh? Later ...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Best Dinner Conversation in a While

Sylvia: "Dad, didn't you know everyone has a crack in their butt?"

Dad: "Well, that's true ..."


Thursday, April 9, 2009

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen ...

Off to Iowa for Easter weekend with the family far and near. But I couldn't resist one little rant (or two) ...

The evening of my last post (lamenting the return of sun-seeking, half-witted trail users) I was cruising my way home along the Cedar lake Trail at dusk. The light was dwindling but I had little trouble quickly verifying what my eye was sending back to me in the form of an awkward image. Up ahead, gliding in a lurching left-right pattern, arms flailing in a hacking motion of probes stabbing into the pavement, slight forward bend in the torso, eyes fixed down at the ground in front of him was a roller skier. Some like to call them "skeeters." It conjures an image. In the fall I can tolerate this type -- xc ski junkie who is praying for snow to some Saab-driving god of winter. But in the butt crack of early spring, after the slop and snow have barely melted away ... . You folks had a banner ski season this year. Hang up your pseudo-ski implements of supreme trail invasion. Try some cross training. Go ride your bike, for the love of Pete!

Lastly, a shout out to the lovely young lady in her Honda, running the light at Calhoun Commons to make a right turn onto Excelsior this morning. All while text messaging with both hands -- the base of your palms barely controlling the wheel. I'm glad you looked up at me as you went by. Yeah, I busted you. Just drive. Seriously, if you or someone you love TMs while they drive -- slap them and throw their personal communication device into a latrine. Enough said.

Be safe, folks. Watch out for rabid rabbits. Don't eat too many eggs and remember, beer stains rarely wash out of Easter dresses.

Cadbury egg yolks,

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Winter's Legacy

Yesterday was a challenge in terms of commuting -- mid 30s and rain. Today was much the same except the rain was replaced by pelletized snow. There was a relentless headwind most of the way. I started the ride in a pissy mood and I ended it equally unnerved and almost inexplicably angrier. I met up with a coworker for the last quarter mile and it diffused my frustration a bit as we laughed and commiserated about the wind.

I keep telling myself I'm over the cold, the snow and the wind. I am all but convinced I want to ride in a single layer of clothing. I'm certain I want to enjoy the warm sun we had a couple of weeks ago on a daily basis. I want to sit in the grass at a park and drink beer with friends until dark.

But then I remember the nuisance of warm weather and the trails -- specifically the lakes trails. All of a sudden when the sun shines warm it's as if a faucet full of fitness freaks has been opened wide and they spill all over -- flooding the right lanes, wrong lanes, blading, pedaling, crawling, gaggling, with iPods plugged into their ears, walking dogs, walking boyfriends, chuckling in huge groups of extended family stuffing the whole path during an afterdinner stroll in the wrong direction of flow. And the indignance should you attempt to politely state while rolling by that a walker is in the wrong path. While it might not be in human nature to take correction very elegantly, it seems to especially stress the code of "Minnesota Nice."

I don't hate people. Really. (April most assuredly would disagree at times.) Methinks I am a bit of a curmudgeon. May I make a public confession? I astound myself because my personal spirituality is aligned with one of the most humanistic set of ideals imaginable. But godammit if people behaving mindlessly don't make me sometimes want to join the Manson family circus.

So, winter, you're played. Spring's officially here. However, I welcome your icy grip a while longer. It's rapidly weakening and the wind's teeth cut more like cheap steak knives than freshly broken glass. But hallelujah -- it's enough to keep the soft-skinned, fair weather freaks at bay just a while longer.