"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing"
- Helen Keller

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Captains Log: Irish-Scottish-Welsh-Norse fest

The bands entering the parade field

The Drum Major
The weather was perfect for attending the Irish fest we had heard about in Hamilton, just down the road aways from Missoula. We had directions to use the Hamilton high school parking lot and catch a shuttle to wherever the festivities were so off we went to find the high school. Turned out to be a huge parking lot for a small town high school. No waiting for the shuttle (a school bus) so after a short jaunt, we were pulling into this beautiful property with a mansion and very nicely landscaped grounds. Lots of tents. This was going to be great.

This is the guy carrying a broadsword
You could hear the bag pipes tuning up as we approached. There were several bands with pipes and drums and kilts. Lots of kilts were everywhere, not just the band members. Occasionally you saw a double-handed broad sword on the back of a guy wearing a kilt, which made the the whole look a little tougher. I wasn’t too sure the Irish wore kilts, so I figured they were Scotts. Some of them were, but others were Irish, or Irish/Scotts, or maybe even Welsh. Didn’t seem to matter. They had tents set up to help you decide which one you wanted to be by tracing your name or your mother’s name to a list of clans with (usually) a picture of a plaid. I already knew my mother’s side of the family was Irish, but I didn’t know anything about a plaid (or a tartan). Janie was sure I would look great in a kilt. I was sure I would look great with a big broadsword. The guy who helped me find my plaid was explaining how quality plaids could cost seven to eight hundred dollars. You could tell a good quality plaid because the plaid would be exactly horizontal across the back and not tilted to one side. I was having trouble reconciling the warrior with the broadsword worrying about how his plaid looked from behind. I didn’t ask how much the broadswords cost.

The Celtic Dragons
Since kilts don’t have pockets, you have to wear a purse if you want to carry your stuff. The purse is round, about six inches across, and can have tassels or a badge to butch it up. Just hang it on a chain attached to a leather belt to complete the ensemble.  So how do you wear all this without turning in your man card? Easy. You throw a caber, or a ball and chain (although it’s called a stone throw), or use a pitch fork to loft a satchel over a cross bar or some other manly feat. The caber toss was a favorite. The caber is long wooden pole maybe eight inches across and ten to fifteen feet long (there were several sizes). You start with the caber standing straight up, then squat and balance it with your shoulder while you dead lift it and run forward (which is to say while you tilt it forward then try to keep up) at the last second before it falls you heave it as hard as you can and try to flip it completely over such that it lands on its head and falls forward. Nobody cares how far it goes, just as long as it falls forward. Wearing a kilt is a bonus, so you don’t have to worry about splitting your pants. The was also a female competitor. I only saw one guy who managed to flip the caber over, and he wasn’t the biggest guy there. Between athletic competitions, we got to hear Irish bands, see traditional Irish dances (demonstrated in one instance by a young River Dancer who couldn't pass up the chance to dance a jig) and eat traditional, and not so traditional, food. We washed down our Pasties with some of the local brews and even tossed down some shots of single malt in a nod to our unknown Scottish ancestors.
Dancing competitors

Our favorite band, Malarkey

This little fella was getting his jig on

Janie's people were there too!

The opening ceremony was the first time we got to hear the pipes played with the drums in a marching band. Bag pipes are traditionally an instrument of war and it was strangely moving to hear them played by the Celtic Dragons, one of the local bands. During the opening ceremony and at various times during the day, a brief history of the Scotts, Irish, Welsh, Gauls, and Norse was presented. At various times, one group or the other would conquer their neighbors, raping and pillaging until all the blood lines were all mixed up. Then the Norse came along and screwed everyone all over again. So if you’re fair skinned or can eat dairy products without making yourself sick (a mutation found primarily in people of northern european descent), you probably have some ancestry from all of the above. So pick a plaid and wear it with pride.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Smoke on the Mountain

This is the smokey haze over the mountains near Florence MT

The Bitterroot Parkway Bike Trail
We needed some exercise today and decided another bike ride would be good. No rain in the forecast so we could go a little further. I discovered that there is a bike trail from Lolo south to Hamilton along US-93 that is a 46 mile bike trail that is paved and relatively flat called the Bitterroot Parkway.  It is a nice trail and well kept but the disadvantage of this trial is it follows along beside the highway so you never get away from the sound of traffic. We rode about 20 miles by going from Lolo to Florence and back. There are mountains on both sides but the haze from the smoke made it hard to see a lot of those mountains. As we rode south the haze got a lot heavier. Like I said yesterday it has been quite the season for fires. It was a good ride but I’d love to see this area when there isn’t such a haze.

Photo from web
I mentioned yesterday a book I had read previously by Nora Roberts. Well I found it on my Kindle and decided to reread it. The book is “Chasing Fire” and is set here in Missoula and the story is about smokejumpers. It is a suspense/romance novel but guys don’t dismiss it, John who reads mainly science fiction and fantasy has read it and gives his approval. I’m enjoying the reread because now I know what the facility looks like and all their equipment, gives it a new perspective.

Tomorrow we are going to do some errands and shopping, no big plans. Saturday we have decided to go to Hamilton for Scottish-Irish Festival. We are really looking forward to this. I think it is a pretty big deal, they actually have places away from the site to park and shuttles to take you into the festival. There will be music, games like the caber toss, and dancing. Should be lots of fun. When you live with an Irishman (John) how can you pass up something like this.

Happy Trails.................................

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Smoke Jumpers, Bikes and Breweries

Missoula's old train Depot along the Riverfront Trail
Tamarac Brewing

So far Missoula has proven to be a real treat. Sunday we headed to the downtown area to check out one of the local microbreweries that had great reviews, Tamarack Brewery. This sits right next to the Carousel Park overlooking the river. When we pulled into the parking area and there was a small farmer’s market and craft show going on. This was handy since I was planning on going to the grocery store on our way back to the rig. There weren’t many vendors but they had several things that I needed. Yea!! After a little shopping it was time to check out the brewpub. John was excited because they had an Imperial Stout and he says it was excellent, for me they had an unfiltered Amber that I found to be exceptional. We also ate here and the food was also excellent. It gets 5 stars from us all the way around. So if you find your self in Missoula and you need a bite to eat and a place to quench you thirst, Tamarac Brewing is the place to go.
Riverfront Trail

Also downtown we were able to get a look at their bike trail. They had a local visitor center stand set up at the market so we were able to talk and get a little more info on the trail system. Monday we headed downtown with our bikes and rode the Riverfront trail on both sides of the river. It goes from the University of Montana west along both sides. There are other branches that take off from there but the signage was confusing. We ended up on the Milwaukee trail pass. We decided to turn around when the sky began to look threatening and we could see it raining in the distance. It never did rain so we cut our bike ride short for nothing. Oh well, another day. It left us with time to check out a brewpub that my niece Mary  told us about called the Iron Horse. It is not a microbrew but does have some of the local brews from Big Sky Brewery and Bayner Brewery on tap. The food was good but both the food and brew are better at Tamarac.

This is the gear they wear, weighs about 100 lbs.

Sewing their suits and packs
Yesterday we just hung out around the house and it did finally let loose with a good rain. We’ve had so few storms this year it was actually nice to hear the thunder. Like many places in the country it is very dry here. The mountains are in a haze from all the forest fires. Today we visited the Smoke Jumpers Visitor Center and Operations center. Sandie had recommended this tour and I’m glad she did. When we got there we did hear the alarm go off but didn’t get to see them leave. The tour was given by a second year smoke jumper. The guided tour takes you through the area where they sew their own suits and packs, where they check, repair and pack their chutes, the operations desk and the ready room. Outside we were able to see inside one of the planes and watch two tankers get refueled and loaded with fire retardant to take off for one of the many fires going on out there. If you get a chance to visit this center or one of the others in the west I’d highly recommend it. I think the thing that impressed me the most is that these smokejumpers learn every aspect of what they do including sewing the equipment. Their suits and packs are made onsite. They also are the ones that check their chutes for repair and each jumper packs his own chute. Now that’s quality control, when you know your life depends on the quality of your work it makes a difference. I read a novel about smoke jumpers a few years ago by Nora Roberts, I think I’ll go back and reread it now that I’ve seen this center. I know they are having a very busy year.

The ready room. They get dressed and ready to do in about 2 min.

Operations desk, names in yellow on right are the ones out working
on the right are the names in order of who goes next.

Where the chutes are hung to be checked prior to repacking

Where the chutes are packed.

This guy is repairing a chute

Tanker being refueled and loaded with retardant

Inside the jump plane

On our way home we stopped at the taproom of Big Sky Brewery. This is a more well known brewery in Montana and I discovered their Moose Drool last year in North Dakota and we have since found it many places. I love the names of their beer - Trout Slayer, Scape Goat, Slow Elk Stout, along with the Moose Drool.  They let you have 4 tastings free each day and you can fill a growler here too. We just had our tasting and got to look into the brewery from some viewing areas. It was a short sweet visit. 

Not sure what we will do the next couple days but there are two festivals going on in the area this weekend. One is in Hamilton, south of here, and it is a Scottish - Irish festival that looks great and I think we will take it in on Saturday and then on Sunday we may head back downtown for the Roots Fest. There are a lot of activities and music planned for that one. Should make for an enjoyable weekend. 

Happy Tails...................................

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Sheridan WY and Livingston MT

Good bye to Bob the Bison, our campground mascot!

After an excellent week at Custer State Park, on Tuesday morning we drove to Sheridan WY.  If you stop here there is an nice little RV park called Peter D’s right off I-90. The guy who owns it keeps it immaculate. They are all pull throughs and there is a hill that buffers the noise from the interstate. The sites are a little close but for a short stay it is great. We decided to stay 2 nights and use Wednesday to get an oil change on the truck, do laundry, and get groceries. That worked out pretty well except for a little trouble with the oil change. We took the truck in and were waiting quite awhile. I began to wonder if there was a problem; well there was. Seems the mechanic when he was taking off the oil filter had a wrench slip and took out our AC sensor. I have to say though that they handled this very well. They came and explained the issue and that they didn’t have the right one in stock and had to order one that would arrive Thursday morning. They said the truck usually arrived at 11-11:30 and it would a take a few minutes to put the new sensor in and we could be on our way. Thursday our plan was to drive to Livingston MT and if we could get on the road by 12-12:30 we would get in to Livingston around 5. Peter D’s was very understanding and so we slept in a little Thursday and the dealer got the part at about 11:30 just like they predicted and we were on the road by noon. I have to credit Sherdian Motors as they handled it very professionally and we also got our oil change for free. It’s good to have an AC sensor as the weather is suppose to get a little warmer again.
View across the river at Sacajawea Park

Statue of Sacajawea in the park

We arrived in Livingston and when we pulled into the park I knew right away I didn’t want to stay here very long. Usually when I read a park review online I can keep from ending up somewhere like this but I must not have read close enough. It’s behind a motel and has some mobile homes and the some RVs that look like they have been there forever. Lots of junk around too. So after some discussion, we decided to see if we could get in at the park in Missoula earlier. They could take us on Saturday; ok, 2 nights here, I can handle it. We didn’t even unhook the truck. I’d read that you could walk into town so I downloaded a map of the city. On Friday we walked into Livingston, which actually is a nice little town. First we checked out Sacajawea Park along the Yellowstone river. Nice walking path and it’s a pretty little park. Then we worked our way to their downtown and the Depot Train Museum. The museum is free is really quite nice. There is a little diner called the North Pacific Beanery next to the museum. We had hoped to meet Sandie and Jim Dixon here for lunch on Sunday but since we weren’t staying that long, that didn’t work. She picked a good one though. We ate lunch here. John was happy because they were still serving breakfast (his favorite) and I got an excellent bowl of clam chowder.  So in spite of the RV park we had an enjoyable day in Livingston.
The Depot and Train Museum in Livingston MT

Today we headed out and drove to Missoula MT. I have scoped out quite a few things for us to do here and when we arrived at Jim and Mary’s RV park we knew we’d made the right decision. It is a nice little gem of a park. The sites aren’t as close as many parks and there is some shade and some pretty landscaping. The last two parks didn’t have much appeal for sitting outside but that is where we are right now, just sitting out and relaxing in the shade of a nice tree and enjoying the rest of the day. Not sure what we’ll do tomorrow but I think its going to be a great week.
Happy Trails.........................

Monday, August 13, 2012

A perfect day & Mt. Rushmore

Our lunch site on the Stockade Lake Trail
Along the trail
Sometimes I just have to pinch myself to see if its all real. Getting to be out here traveling and seeing this country is just such an amazing experience. Sunday was just about a perfect day. Clear skies, low humidity and temps in the low 70s, picture perfect. We decided to get outdoors and enjoy it. First we took a hike. The Stockade Lake Trail is only about a mile and a half long but like the previous trail it has some very long steep areas that make it more challenging than a normal mile hike. I think we enjoyed this trail more as the views were better and it had a little more variety along the path. 

A perfect day
Not as many bikes!
Once that was done we were just a short drive to the Stockade Spur of the Mickelson Bike Trail. This spur is paved which is nice and goes all the way into Custer City. This spur unlike the main trail does not follow a former rail line which means sections of steeper grades, but at least they were shorter. I will admit I had to get off and a walk a little. I have a little asthma and I left my inhaler in my purse in the car, not a great place for it when you need it! That made me slow down a little and not push it as hard. Once we got to Custer City of course we needed a little break and a little beer. Sturgis bike rally was basically over and what a difference. They still had the center of the street set up for bike parking but there were plenty of open spots unlike a few days before. The ride back to the truck seemed to go faster - must of been the beer. :)
Not real clear but this is coming thru the first tunnel

Today was our last day in the park and we had yet to see Mt. Rushmore. So we took the Iron Mountain Road which is a narrow twisting turning road to Mt. Rushmore that has some one lane tunnels that are famous as they were built to frame Mt. Rushmore in the distance as you make your way there. Its a beautiful drive but we were glad there weren’t as many bikes out on the road. We got to the park and found out our park pass didn’t pay for parking and essentially this park is free?! as long as you pay to park ($11). I did get my stamps for my park passport though. The presidents faces are definitely a thing every American should see. The trail that takes you up closer is well worth the walk. I actually think the Crazy Horse monument is even more amazing but both are sites not to be missed.
This guy was right off the presidents trail
 We have fallen in love with this park and the Black Hills area. I know lots of people who come here often and it is easy to see why. There is a lot more to do but we will leave some for next time. I think we have decided to fill out volunteer applications for the future and see what happens.

White Tail Deet

Pronghorn female and two young ones

Pronghorn male

If you look closely you can see the praire dogs

Speaking of applications, we have been working on some work camping possibilities and we may have a position in northern California, not far from the Napa and Sonoma wine country at a private park. It looks to be a campground atmosphere vs. an RV resort which is how we like it. Things aren’t finalized yet so I’ll have more about that later. So tomorrow we head to Sheridan Wyoming for a night or two and then on into Montana. New places to discover on this adventure of ours. 

Happy Trails.....................

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Hiking and Bicycling in the Black Hills

Taking a break on the trail
The last two days we’ve tried to be a little more physically active. Yesterday we drove with our bikes up to Custer City to one of the trailheads for the George Mickelson trail. This is a rail trail so the grades aren’t very steep they are just very, very long. We started right out on an upgrade. These legs with no warm up were feeling it, the grade lasted about a mile and finally it was downhill and downhill and downhill, it felt great except we knew we were going to have to turn around and go uphill the same distance to get back. After a good 2-3 mile downhill we decided to turn around and yep it was a the same 2-3 miles uphill. The hard part of these grades is not that they are steep but they pull at you for so long. It was a good feeling when we got to the top and had a final downhill back into town. It was only about a 10 mile ride but we were exhausted and John was whining about his butt, now he’ll tell you it was me whining but that’s not how I remember it.
At a stand still on Needles Highway

You can see people starting to turn around

Since it was only about 2 we went into Custer and had lunch and did a lot of people and Harley watching. Its quite a show and we are actually really enjoying it. Getting back to Custer park we thought we would take the Needles Highway and at the turn there was an accident but it looked like they and it all cleaned up there (there have been several fatalities this week) so we followed a group of bikers but about 2-3 miles up the road the traffic came to a complete halt. We couldn’t see what was happening but many of the bikers were turning back. If you’ve ever been on this highway you know turning our big 3500 DRW pickup complete with bike rack around on this road would not be an easy thing. As bikers left we got closer to the front there was a guy holding a stop sign so I got out to see what was up. There was an accident further up and no one was getting through until the accident investigation was finished. Luckily for us they guy with the stop sign was near a pull out on the road so we did indeed turn the truck around. It took a few forward and back with me out directing John but we got turned around and left Needles Highway for another day. I think we will wait until Monday when Sturgis is over. I am sure there will still be bikers but the number should be down.

Legion Lake Trail
The weather changed a little on the way back and a storm rolled in. They really need the rain here just like much of the country. The storm was short and it rained hard and had pea sized hail for awhile. There has been so little rain this summer it was actually good to hear the thunder and hear the rain on the roof.

Legion Lake

I love this tree growing in the crevasse 
Today it still was overcast and we’ve had a shower or two but we did sneak a hike in. There is a loop trail that leaves and returns to the campground. It is rated moderate to difficult and I think that is accurate. It goes uphill steeply for quite a ways and is a beautiful forest trail. I was glad I had my hiking boots and stick. There are lots of rocks in the trail so coming downhill you really had to watch your footing. There was suppose to be a connecting trail to the Centennial Trail at the top but we must have missed the markers so once back at the campground we went and walked around the Legion Lake. It is a relatively easy trail around this little lake and a pleasant way to end the day. We’ve had a little more rain this afternoon but it has been an altogether pleasant day. We have no TV signal here so we are getting lots of reading done. Not sure what we will do tomorrow.

Happy Trails......................