Thursday, August 11, 2011

Gavin's photo blog: Red Sox-Twins game

Here's the final blog from our trip -- a selection of Gavin's pictures from tonight's Twin-Red Sox game. You can tell from the quality not only Gavin's good eye but also his good seat. He and Lois sat in row M right behind home plate -- thanks to Tom's connections! Twins won 5-2.

The Twin's right fielder makes a catch on the warning track.

David Ortiz celebrates after hitting a home run

Kevin Youklis practices his hitting swing before an at bat.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A vote: Who has best facial growth?

Just before Gavin and I left St. Paul for our Dakota road trip, Gavin issued a challenge to Tom and myself: Let's see who can grow the best beard and moustache, he said. All three of us agreed, and here are the results:

Tom, who alone among us, didn't shave AT ALL for a week:

Then there's me, who gave a little shape to the whiskers:

And then there's Gavin, who on the last day of the trip shaved off what had become impressive sideburns and a wisp of a moustache, leaving just a few chin hairs. (Yes we need a magnifying glass.):

So who wins? I'm leaning toward Tom the purist as the only one who didn't shave at all. Look forward to your comments (or emails).

PS: This may be the last or next to last post from this trip, but I'll keep writing as I travel and as I run.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Water, water everywhere, and a restaurant scene

High waters approach this South Dakota farm.

Floods have hit the Dakotas, as most people know. We’ve seen it now from the southeastern South Dakota to the northwestern North Dakota. In Pierre, South Dakota’s capital pronounced Pier, the National Guard has blocked traffic from a long stretch of the Missouri River. Sandbags ring the shops on Main Street and houses along the Missouri. Some homeowners have gotten into spirit, spray-painting signs on front lawns that say things like “Fort Trachen” and “Fort Billingsley.”
I couldn’t find a Fort Donnelly, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Gavin and I are nearing the end of our 10-day, father-son road-trip, and the road out of the Badlands took us into the interior of South Dakota. He drove yesterday for a full two hours, and he hugged those yellow and white lines without having to say a word. He’s now up to 10 hours total driving on this trip (he is counting) and he’ll emerge – especially with some teaching ahead from Uncle Tom – with some newfound confidence in his abilities behind the wheel.
I ran yesterday and this morning. Pier (you have to get the pronunciation down) was a short run, more of an exploratory outing. After running along the river (and getting my feet wet as I trespassed beyond National Guard lines), I climbed a short hill to the black-domed state Capitol building and ran around the Governor’s “mansion.” It is a ranch house on steroids, beefed up in the middle, with a long circular drive, a basketball hoop off to the side, well manicured and quite approachable. I could have run up and rang the doorbell. South Dakota is not so worried about security.
South Dakota's Statehouse

I ran up to the Capitol building and decided to climb the stairs and go inside. I saw no one (it was 8 a.m.), took a self-guided tour booklet and learned about the 67 Italian stonecutters and artists who helped build it about 80 years ago. Each of the Italians, according to the book, had left a “signature” of sorts: a tiny blue tile on the multi-colored mosaic floor. Guided by the book, I started going up and down the marble stairways (only running into a few people who didn’t take a second glance at a fairly sweaty runner) until I finally found one of the blue tiles. That satisfied my itch, and I was out of the building, back to the hotel (where we had stayed up late watching the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the 10th inning on rookie Josh Reddick’s walk-off single), and then we made our way out of Pier.
We drove through the northeastern part of the state for what felt like hours and hours in a good way, under a big dome of a blue sky, corn to the horizon, water on both sides of the straight-arrow highways lapping the asphalt, and dead skunks by the dozens. We saw so many dead skunks that we were ready for each: T shirts stretched to cover noses, PEE-YOU exclamations after each passing (some were truly horrid), laughing because that’s what two guys do on road trips when it comes to smells.
Gavin, I would honestly say, wins the Inappropriate Traveler Stinker Award. He revels in farting, unfortunately (as we are in close quarters), and he does this in startling fashion in public as well as private. There was a moment on the western edge of North Dakota, traveling south out of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, northern site, when we stopped at a roadside restaurant for a late breakfast.
It was one of those wide-open dining rooms and I picked a place that I thought would be far away from people (for aforementioned reasons). But the place filled up and we were surrounded. To our left were two elderly ladies and the waitress asked them: “Just your regular toasts, ladies?” and they nodded, and the thought passed my mind, life without teeth. To our back were four other elderly people who were chatterers. There was so much crosstalk that I couldn’t distinguish voices.
I was eating eggs and toast when suddenly, with no warning, Gavin let out a burb for the ages. BUUUUUUUUURRRRRRRRBBBBBB. Or something like that.
There was silence around us. Gavin started to giggle. And to our backs, the four elderly people started to laugh. And laugh. They couldn’t control themselves. They slapped knees. They would laugh in waves, a slow period and then a big rush of laughter. I didn’t dare look.
We paid our $17 bill and walked out quickly, and we laughed, too, all the way down that North Dakota road, about a burb heard around a restaurant.
We’re now headed for St. Paul, to Tom’s wonderful apartment, to showers (yeah!), to a Red Sox-Twins game tonight and tomorrow night. I’m just back from an hour run around the Pickerel State Recreation Area (an above-average camp/swim site where we had a roaring fire last night) and I am experiencing a rare feeling on this trip: A chill. It must be 58 degrees and windy. I had the wind to my back on the way out, the wind in my chest on the way back, and, yes, I passed a dead skunk on the empty, empty road that had water on both sides of it and ducks scooting in the morning light. That skunk stunk. It’s all part of being on the road, a good thing.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

No match for a Badlands mosquito

We are in the Badlands National Park, and spent the night camping near road’s end, in a primitive campground named Sage Creek. It is Mountain Time Zone here, although we’re constantly confused. We have gone back and forth between Mountain and Central in the Dakotas, the states given split zones to deal with. So when first light came at 5:13 a.m., the time seemed a little irrelevant.

By 5:45, I was running. The first half-mile was hell. Mosquitoes bombarded me. The night before, Gavin and I were pestered by them as we played gin rummy under a half-moon and a dome of stars. But we were somewhat protected by long pants and long sleeve shirts.

Mosquitoes have never been much of a problem on runs. But not this morning. It was still, so a breeze couldn’t be my ally, but still: I couldn’t outrun a Badlands mosquito? They were landing on my arms, my legs, my shirt, my ears, my head. I was swatting as much as running, twisting and turning, a comedic sight if anyone were up to see it.

It reminded me of a run a couple of months ago in Juba, South Sudan. I was there on an assignment for a group called MSH (to write a book on its 40th anniversary). There, I made a major discovery on a run: a two-lane bridge that crossed the Nile. So I ran across, continued another few hundred yards, turned back, and on the way back, a couple of boys herding about 20 goats were crossing the bridge as well. We entered the bridge at the same time, the boys laughing at me, and we exited the bridge at the same time.

Truth is, at age 51, my running speed is somewhere between a South Sudanese goat and a Badlands mosquito.

It’s good to be humbled.

The breeze picked up, the mosquitoes were blown behind, and I climbed a steep winding hill on a road that led out of this beautiful national park (actually stunning, as wonderful as I remembered it while hitchhiking through 30 years ago). On the hill, I encountered bummer No. 2: A skunk crossed the road ahead of me.

It was porcupine-big and it slowly sashayed across the gravel road and disappeared into the tall grass. I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I thought I could get by if I went slowly on the other side of the road, but what if I was wrong? Gavin would cry out. The whole campsite would be pissed. Still…. I walked past it, then hightailed it, faster than a mosquito perhaps, and I escaped smelling only of sweat.

I ran 55 minutes in all, under a rising sun and clouds the colors of pink, salmon, yellow, grey, and blue, across a plain of softly swaying grasslands. I spooked 10 pheasants. I saw the skunk no more. It was wonderful.
But the most wonderful thing in the Badlands hasn’t been the run, or the scenery, or the camping, but rather spending time with Gavin. He had a great day yesterday. At the beginning of a hike, as I went to retrieve my glasses from our car, he scampered up a pointy hill of eroded earth and called down to me. I couldn’t believe it. He was high, high up. I followed – part way.

More importantly, he learned to drive yesterday. He had put in 12-13 hours before, but yesterday he drove for the first time. Anyone who has taught a 16 year old to drive knows that there is a moment when it all comes together. That happened with him.  We were on a winding road through the park, and it was FULL of cars, RVs, buses, and especially motorcyclists (the Sturgis motorcycle event is just starting, drawing 500,000 motorcyclists to South Dakota). Gavin had been a tentative driver, wobbly even on straight-aways, but on this snake road I started treating it like almost a race.

“HUG the yellow line,” I would say on a curve to the left.

“HUG the white line,” as we curved to the right.

We would be midway through a turn and I’d say, “GIVE IT GAS,” and he did and he pulled through the turns beautifully. He was in charge, finally. He was a driver. At the end, he was very happy to give me the keys.

“That was intense,” he said.

“Yes, but you did well.”

He smiled. He asked to drive in St.Paul/Minneapolis “as practice for DC.”

Yes, I said.

Uncle Tom, we’re headed your way.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A run in the Black Hills

I saw no bison on my run today.

That is good.

Gavin and bison.
My son, Gavin, and I were driving out of the northern section of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota yesterday. We are on a 10-day father-son road trip. We are making it up as we go, and today is our fifth day, and I'm hoping we make it up well today. Yesterday, we had packed up our tent in nine minutes. A thunder and lightning storm had started at daybreak. I sat up, shook his shoulder, said we had to move, and we did. We pulled out in a rented Toyota Corolla (it moves well) and I said to the 16-year-old sleepy eyed young man: You moved fast.

He said: "I wake up well."

True, he does. One of his redeeming qualities. As we drove out of the park, a large herd of bison blocked the way. Large males stood in the road. We had been told by park rangers to keep our distance, so we waited. And waited. The storm was still gathering itself, still to the south. We were the first ones on this access road to the camp grounds. We had moved faster than the others. But the bison weren't letting us go. Slowly, I started to inch my way up to them and I had visions of the bison, acting like an elephant once had in Pilanesburg National Park in South Africa once did to us, charging our tiny car. But it snorted, and slowly moved out of the way, more cow than elephant.

The others parted, too, and we hit the road, going south, into intense storms, toward the Black Hills. We are here now, in a $95/night roadside inn, locally owned, a spot now populated with bikers here for the Sturgis bike gathering.

South Dakota doubles in size next week. Some 500,000 bikers arrive in Sturgis. But today, on a run along the aptly name Skyline Drive outside Rapid City, I had the road almost to myself, except for one biker, one runner, two walkers, and six wild turkeys. The turkeys were quite friendly, scurrying up the hillside toward me in the tall grass. On the way back (what a hilly run!), they were crossing the road in front of me. Slowly. Almost like bison. I learned later turkeys aren't hunted in Rapid City, only outside city limits. A good thing.