Island Life Overlandia- A Redux


I got another writing reprieve the last time here, and so it did not become general news that I was on the road again. I believe at this moment I am somewhere over the 4000 mile, cumulative total for this trip. I can’t say for certain because I am here and my car is elsewhere, hopefully about to get new things added and reattached to its driving force so that I can continue on the way into the future, while at the same time digging into the past. I am yet again out in the big wide world of Americana in pursuit of Horace Greeley and Hank Monk whilst attempting to avoid the pitfalls of the American Carnage. I would not say that this current delay is a part of that- it’s just one of those unfortunate tangents that pop up when somewhat least expected, and never desired. We dig into our savings and trust in the mechanics and then carry on. What else can one do?

There were actually two reasons for leaving on this excursion in the first place. There is the ongoing visage of a specter of Mr. Greeley that keeps me trying to figure out how I’m going to tell a certain part of his story. And then there is the swimming thing that somewhat provided the impetus and jumping off point for this particular iteration of the Overland Saga that started almost a year ago. As it was, when Wendy announced that she was thinking about participating in the entirety of the swimming event that was and is known as the Northeast Kingdom Swim Week, and billed as “8 Lakes-47 Miles-9 Days”, I started to devise a way that I could merge traveling to Vermont in August with the next step in my process of looking at Mr. Greeley’s 1859 stagecoach excursion from New York to San Francisco. And so it was that I came up with the brilliant plan that I would drive east in all haste, arriving at the point where the Atlantic Ocean turns into Boston Harbor somewhere close to the time when Wendy’s flight from Seattle touched down on the tarmac nearby. From there we would travel to northern Vermont, find our rental cabin, remove most of my film and photo equipment from the car and the roof top carrier from the roof, and spend the next nine days with that cabin as our basecamp, and have  plenty of room to tie the inflatable kayak to the roof rack as we jockeyed around to daily morning races both in that singular New England state, as well as across the border for a loop around a lake in Canada. Sure, I thought- that will work.

I allowed myself five plus days for the crossing, knowing full well that in my prime I once sped from upstate New York to the Puget Sound in seventy-two hours. It was also general knowledge in these quarters that my prime was getting to be quite a while ago, and so five days seemed a reasonable expectation, if not at least moderately challenging. Since well laid plans have a habit of becoming a running joke, my departure became delayed by a better part of a day as I fretted with what I should be bringing along for nine days of kayaked swimming support and a month of filming and research, along with where it would all fit and how it would shift when Wendy became a passenger. As my window for the great meet-up at Logan arrivals grew narrower and more challenging than I wanted, I finally jettisoned a few more things, locked the roof carrier and closed the doors and headed for the ferry and I-90 at the time of Blue Angels over Lake Washington. Fortunately, their antics did not close the bridge this year, and so just as I got there I saw their precision flight path being sketched into the sky with white smoke as I popped out from underneath the Mt. Baker neighborhood, and then proceeded onward past ski areas with no snow and the dryness of farmed wind and wheat.

Having recently- this past winter- made the trip from Vashon to Missoula in one sitting, I decided that I would stop the first night in that college town and proceed with all haste after a night’s sleep in semi-familiar territory. I headed out relatively early the next morning and vaguely began to concoct a plan to stop in Butte and find a way to take a drone shot of the Berkeley Pit once I got there. I’m not sure why, other than it kind of fit in with my usual road trip reportage through random acts of photography that get dumped in the tubes and dungeons of the internets through the facebooks and the instagrams. While this was not an intended theme for any of this journey, the gaping hole in the earth in Butte that was left  from the extraction of copper and other things and is now nearly full  to the brim with a toxic soup that kills any water fowl that land there, this spot is certainly exemplary of a true slice of American carnage. I was not certain if I could do this- whether perhaps I would be kept from sending my drone-ish eye in the sky up to a perspective that is safe for all birds that passed by there.  I got off at the Butte exit and wound my way towards the hillside scar that you can see from the highway, through neighborhoods where single story homes were each demarcated by waist-high chain link fences. I followed the road that separated some of those houses from the barren wastes of the perimeter around the pit and found a public park that was directly across from where the lake resided, just over a lip beyond some mine buildings. There was no one in the park which did have a bunch of empty play structures and a large sign that stated in no uncertain terms: No Dogs. I can’t really imagine wanting to bring my dog there, let alone wanting any children to play in what had to be soil and grass that contained who knows what. I looked around and began to look like I knew what I was doing and that I was supposed to be there and sent my spy servant aloft to around 400 feet, at which point I checked the exposure, set the on board camera to panorama, pushed the button and then got out of there as soon as my gray bird set down a few feet from my car. I was not followed out of town by any threatening black SUV’s, or any notable vehicle of any type. I don’t think anybody cared, or in truth had any reason to be concerned about what I was doing there. I think it was unfounded paranoia on my part, but we have to at least wonder about possible consequences of actions such as these- or maybe not.
As I was heading out of town I took note of the time and where I was in relation to where I wanted to be going, and reached the realization that I couldn’t be taking these extravagant side tangents and expect to be in the Logan cell phone lot at my allotted time slot, and so I revised my pictorial expectations for this part of the trip to only include visions that I could capture while speeding along on my way. One could include at this point the caveat of a “do not attempt- professional driver on unclosed course” nature, but that should go without saying. So I snapped away and drove away and eventually found myself standing outside my car at the airport lot in ninety six degree heat as the text came across fifteen minutes after I arrived that Wendy was ready to be picked up at Delta arrivals. So far so good.

Most who visit here on a somewhat regular basis should know by now that I tend to dwell in the realms of various, obscure sub-cultures- it’s just where the fun is. The land of the open water swimmer is, well, actually, the wet space between the shores. And it usually involves distances that most landlubbers find to be a challenge even on dry land at a walking pace, let alone a jog. This week the range is scheduled be anywhere from a mile to eighteen miles. The single mile is a national championship for masters swimmers, and the 18 miler is a down and back on Lake Massawippi up in Quebec. The longest swim is an option, with Wendy opting for only going the nine miles in just one direction on that day, in which the “just” and “only” parts of that sentence are relative. Throughout all of this I am to be there to tag along, snap pictures, make sure that the line we are taking is as close as possible to the least distance to travel between points A and B and whatever turns and twists take us to any variety of points further along the route. I also have to watch the clock so that every half hour or so I raise a plastic water bottle on a string to indicate it’s feeding time, and then toss it in for Wendy to grab and take a carb and electrolyte filled drink so that she might carry on somewhat fully fueled, no matter what the longer distance.
If anyone has been “to the races”, they might find the attitude at these events a bit more relaxed than what one might find elsewhere at competitive sports venues. It is not really a sprinting kind of thing as should be fairly obvious. One gets in and jockeys about and heads in approximately the correct direction as the pack spreads out according to each individual pace. Along with this sorting of things, the support kayakers hang by the sidelines of the pack while scanning through the various strokes to figure out where one’s swimmer is. Once that is accomplished, then you make the moves to get in closer so as to be the individual course guide as well as the fueler and sometime source of moral support. This particular collection of swim events had its own more relaxed vibe as well, and mid course diversions have been worked into many of the swims as a result of physical and geologic formations that are found in various places along the way. There are a few large rocks by names such as Moose and Bathtub that are turning points and places where swimmers are encouraged to climb out and jump off, and there’s a sand bar where everyone has the option to get out, run over the top of it and perhaps in passing even do a jig. This all leads to a more relaxed atmosphere in what otherwise might have been a more buttoned-up and driven set of circumstances.
There was a variety of food offered to everyone each day at the end of the swim course, with the one constant being fresh shucked and cooked corn from a local farmer, except of course when we went into Canada. There were new friends to meet and a variety of open water stories being told from experiences all over the world. The most fascinating and a bit disturbing tale was that told by one of the swimmers about his swim crossing between some Hawaiian Islands where he found himself attached in an uncomfortable and fleeting manner to a cookie cutter shark, which had decided it just had to have a round chunk of the skin covering his abdomen for lunch. Fortunately, there were no such threats in all of these fresh water venues. The only visible wildlife that I was able to note from the boat were loons and gulls and an occasional eagle, and the boat traffic on what where fairly remote lakes was never much of a presence at all.
Wendy was happy with her overall performance, especially with the time on the last day. And then we were on to an overnight with friends in New Hampshire and a drop off the next day at Logan for her flight back to Seattle. And then I was on to a check in with VW and what I thought would be a routine service. They found something that might not have bode well for my trip back, so I am currently back at my friends’ place waiting for the word that I once again have a vehicle that is ready for the rigors of the road. Hopefully we will have no more surprise of that nature. I’m thinking it will be a while before I get back and that the next time here in this space I will have some overland tales to tell from now and some time and place back then. We will see.