Author Archives: Muma Dean

About Muma Dean

Busy mum of 3, farmer, nurse and wife. Love the outdoors and making the most of life. Freethinker and advocate for HG survivors.

Mighty Montana

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We drove out of Yellowstone through the North East entrance in order to experience the Bear Tooth Mountain range. It was a good decision! The snow covered mountains, even now in mid-June are other worldly beautiful. The interesting winding roads taking you to the remote mountain tops past the odd hard core skier and plenty of yellow-bellied marmots. Frozen lakes and three metre walls of snow line the road as you hairpin your way up, up, up the ear popping heights.

Bear tooth mountain range, Rob Dean

Rob in the Bear Tooth Mountain Range

But the decent, again along treacherous zigzag passes is very different indeed. The side that gets the sun is lined with waterfalls and grassy meadows between the patches of tumbling rock held back by giant girders holding vast nets. Then suddenly you’re in the valley. Lush and green with a wide river providing fantastic habitat for eagles and osprey.

So on we drove to Bozeman for the night to get our clothes and bodies clean before the next adventure… WWOOFing on a ranch in Montana.

Thanks to a minor disaster involving a red crayon in the tumble dryer which somewhat slowed our morning, we arrived at Sabo Ranch at lunch time and had a wonderfully warm welcome from our host Jenny. The boys were instantly delighted with their two, older, boys; Reilly and Kiril, respectively 14 and 11 years old… Alfie’s idea of heroes. Later Mark arrived home and we set to talking through the ranch and it’s routines. Branding calves was to be the big task over the weekend and then moving the cattle during the week.

Then the pitter patter of rain drops started falling on the roof of their beautiful straw bale home and our cosy cabin and we found ourselves in a parallel universe… one in which rain is welcomed and rejoiced. “ Oh this rain is just so wonderful” and “this is great, all this rain” were phrases muttered from our delighted hosts peering out at the grey sky with bucket loads of water lashing against the windows, bolts of lightening crashing around us and and vegetable sized hail pounding the ground.

And so these two world collided as we tried to imagine living and farming in a place so dry that you pray for rain, where two days of steady rain can mean an entire extra month of grazing. And they tried to imagine our horror at wishing for water… our world where the rain bolts our crops and wrecks our hay. We relayed stories of late nights with a new born baby bringing bales to the barn to save them from the rain which was starting at 4am – we missed two in the darkness… that’s fine as we saved the rest. They shared stories of dry summer after dry summer and methods for irrigating whole fields of grass and their worry for getting enough feed to see them through the winter.

By Monday however the rain presented a problem. We were there to help with the branding of the calves and for this task it was essential that the calves are dry… stamping a wet calf with a red hot iron results in cooling of the iron and scalding with steam, rather than burning which seals the mark up. We’ve never branded cattle before, it’s not really done in the UK. We’ve de-horned, ear tagged, castrated, tattoo’d piglets, rung lambs and plenty other brutal procedures essential to modern farming, but branding was new to us. And you know what, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting! The calves are restrained on a table with a couple of strong men and clearly it hurts while it’s done. But they recover straight away and I suspect the full thickness burn doesn’t actually hurt that much after (not that I ever want to test that theory). Lambs seem much more put out by a tight rubber band round their testicles!

Branding in pictures:

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The rest of the week saw Rob getting out and helping with various tasks on the farm which he enjoyed and the kids enjoyed playing with the Sabo children and helping with their pig and turkey chores, Patrick even became a qualified Turkey Nurse! I enjoyed having the evenings to work on my book. Speaking of which, is the reason my blogging here is far less prolific. The book needs to take priority at the moment and this needs to take a back burner for a while.

At the end of the week Jenny had her sister and nephew come to stay for the weekend so we decamped to make room and had the incredible opportunity to stay in their renovated original settlers cabin. A beautiful one bed cabin in the middle of 6,500 private acres where at night no other human lights can be seen, resulting in the most incredible starry nights.

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It was while staying in this lovely isolation we made plans and decisions about the next step. We weighted up our journey so far, the things we’d seen and the people we’d met. We talked about our plans for when we returned home and we evaluated what is important to us here and now. We assess the impact of the time difference and the struggle of juggling poor internet connection. We discussed options and searched for what we really wanted.

And so on the Sunday evening I sent some emails and rearranged our flights… next stop, the UK. We’re not going home to Cornwall just yet, we’re buying a van to tour the UK, see friends old and new, and to work from… I need to work. And I need to be in at least vaguely the same time zone as my colleagues and peers. The book I’ve written is getting close to release and the time is ripe. So I’m returning to the UK for some shameless self promotion and and hard work. It’s the next adventure, being published and changing the experience of women suffering an obscure medical condition.

We are heading back across America now, via North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin then down past Chicago and onto Washington DC where we fly from next week.

I will continue to blog about our adventures but perhaps not as prolifically while I’m getting the book finalised and the PR for it organised. It’s such a lot of work and it needs to take priority. It’s my next big adventure. Once the book is released I’ll come back to this and we have loads more adventures planned for the coming months around the UK, Europe and beyond.

Oh and I’ve yet to tell you about Bruce and Pat… that’s coming soon.

Perfect Yellowstone

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After our disappointment at Yosemite we had lowered our expectations for Yellowstone, the mightiest and most famous of all the National Parks in America. It was probably wise as we had previously had very high hopes for this “Serengeti” of the Northern Hemisphere, having watched numerous spectacular nature and geology programs about the place. It was, however, unnecessary. Yellowstone did not disappoint. Far from it, our expectations, pre-Yosemite were easily surpassed and we were utterly blown away but the most incredible landscape, fascinating features, wonderful wildlife and fantastic people.

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Rob and Alfie using the scopes

One aspect of Yellowstone no-one can prepare you for is the smell! Boy O Boy does that place stink of rotten eggs and burnt matches. But that’s as wonderfully weird and interesting as all the other geological features of this super-volcano. I can’t capture the smell in photographs for you I’m afraid (although we did consider trying to bottle some for a particular Derby-dwelling, smelly bottomed friend back home). So you’ll have to settle instead for photographs of boiling mud pots, vast water squirting geysers and bottomless hot pools of magical colours.

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Stinky boiling mud pots

Old Faithful Geyser at Yellowstone

Old Faithful Geyser erupting

Morning Glory pool at Yellowstone National Park

Morning Glory pool – it has to be seen to be believed!

Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake

The wildlife in Yellowstone is unsurpassed anywhere else in North America. We had a list of “would like to see” animals and very few were creatures we actually expected to see. Well we were just ticking them off almost hourly for the first couple of days! On expanding our list to things we never thought we would get a chance to view, Yellowstone continued to perform, tick tick tick! Now, don’t think you can just rock on up and see grizzlies, wolves and mountain goats. You need to actually look for them and be in the right place at the right time… ie. The Lamar Valley at 5am. Indeed we Deans did rise at 5am (hardcore right?), bundled the sleeping children into the car with blankets and set off to see the wolves. And it paid off, we saw two separate black wolves and a big grey fellow. You also need to stay up at dusk to see more of your bucket list species but it’s the mornings that really pay off. From coyotes and badgers to birds of prey and yellow-bellied marmots, they all rise with the sun to be seen by the hard core nature watchers.

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Loading the kids in the car at 5am, Orla was surprisingly cheerful!

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A little note on rising early for parents – If you are planning to drive a long way from your base camp for the entire day then remember to take clothes and shoes for your children to wear once the sun is up… My children may have seen the spectacular geysers and hot springs of Yellowstone National Park but they did it in their pyjama’s and with utterly inappropriate foot wear which I ended up carrying for most of the way.

Sunrise at Yellowstone

Getting up early means spectacular misty sunrises

Sunset at Yellowstone

And staying up late means even more incredible fiery sunsets!

There are parts of Yellowstone which are particularly busy, around old faithful and anywhere a bear is hanging out near a road, thereby creating a “bear jam” as the hoards swarm to get photos. But, if you take a few of the tracks off the main roads, boy does it pay off. There is a 6 mile track between Mammoth village and Tower, where our campsite was, which was particularly quiet in the evenings and provided incredible encounters, such as a coyote hanging out with a badger right there in front of us. We also found secluded yet accessible fishing spots with no one else around and (with bear spray on Rob’s belt) we caught 6 brook trout which we ate for dinner back at the camp ground.

Fishing at Joffee Lake, Yellowstone National Park

Alfie fishing at peaceful Joffee Lake

Brook trout caught at Yellowstone

And the Brook Trout he and Rob caught which we had for dinner, yum!

The camp ground at tower was ideal for us, most of the park was easily accessible, particularly Lamar Valley where a lot of wildlife is easily spotable. All the campsites here have great fire pits and nice flat places to pitch the tent. Shady from the trees but with enough sunlight to warm up the air, we warmed water on the fire to bath the kids a couple of mornings and we all slept snuggly. Although getting out for a wee in the night in grizzly territory is a whole different experience.

bathing the baby in Yellowstone National Park

The best thing for us about the campsite was the people we met in the pitches near by. A slight disappointment for this trip for myself and Rob has been the lack of new people we have met along the way. We had imagined meeting all sorts of interesting and diverse people at campsites and in the National Parks. Admittedly we’ve met some lovely people at our wwoof placements and friends we’ve stayed with whom we already knew a little but at the campsites people have very much kept themselves to themselves. Until Yellowstone that it. The first night we arrived the children were invited to a s’mores campfire party which they loved and the next few nights we happened to find ourselves next to one of the most interesting and fun couples we could have hoped for. Bruce and Pat – wolf educators, film makers and authors, also brilliant with kids. Having lived with a wolf for 16 years they had fascinating stories and interesting takes on current hot topics. I shall tell you more about Bruce and Pat after we stay with them at the end of June at their Montana home but on returning to our tent after a late night wildlife watching we discovered our tent decorated with fairy-lights, lighting the way for our sleeping babies safely to their beds. Kind gestures make the best memories.

Camping at Yellowstone

Coming home to find the fairies had been

Everyone we met in Yellowstone were fantastic and interesting and helpful except for one nutty lady who wouldn’t shut up, convinced that there were both Bison and Buffalo there, two separate species, hard to tell apart… “you’ll have to ask an American Indian to know the difference”. Oh and “the brown coloured black bears are actually brown bears”… Right Oh! Apart from her (there’s always one!) people shared tips, stories and experiences as soon as there was a clear interest and everyone was helpful and kind to the children. We went to see the ranger, Jim, who we had met a month ago in Canyonlands National Park and got more fantastic tips about where to see our tick list species, and the harder things to spot… though a live skunk still eludes us.

So here is our list of what we saw in Yellowstone (there are plenty more things we’ve seen elsewhere in the States but that list will come at the end of the trip). It’s not totally exhaustive and there are plenty more birds which we didn’t positively identify but this is the vast majority:

Mammals and reptiles

Grizzly Bears

Wolves

Black Bears

Big horn sheep

Mountain goats

Elk

Moose

Bison

Unita ground squirrel

Beaver

Badger

White tail deer

Mule deer

Red fox

Yellow-bellied marmot

Coyote

Bull snake

Chipmunk

Jack rabbit

Common muskrat

Pronghorn

 

Birds and waterfowl

Osprey

Mountain bluebird

Red tailed hawk

Swainson’s hawk

Scaup

Trumpeter swan

American kestrel

Western tanager

Yellow rumped warbler

Northern flicker

Stellers jay

Brown headed cow bird

Brewer’s blackbird

Common loon

Sandhill crane

Common Merganser

Blue winged teal

Western meadow lark

Cliff swallow

Violet-green swallow

Tree swallow

American white pelican

Buffle head

Golden eye

Raven

Magpie

Killdeer

Rough grouse

Williamson’s sapsucker

Red-winged blackbird

Red breasted nuthatch

Canada goose

Great blue heron

It’s almost impossible for me to explain the magic of Yellowstone in a blog post and my amateur photographs really don’t do it justice. If you have even a vague interest in wildlife or geology then you must put this place on your bucket list. Save up, do it on a budget in a tent, get up at 4.30 or 5am to make the most of it and just do it. You’ll never forget the massive bear tracks in the mud crossing your path or the experience of seeing wolves eating a bull elk carcass. The incredible fire like sunsets will burn in your memories along with the vast sky with ever changing clouds casting shadows on the most incredible and diverse landscape. The revolting yet fascinating smells will linger in your nose to remind you of the volcanic activity bubbling away below you as you live and breath forever touched by perfect Yellowstone.

Black bear at Yellowstone

Black bear

Bison at Yellowstone

Bison

bison with calf at Yellowstone

Muma bison feeding her baby

Beaver at Yellowstone

Beaver munching some branches

Bull elk at Yellowstone

A regal bull elk from a distance

Trumpeter swan at Yellowstone

Trumpter swan

Coyote at Yellowstone

Camouflaged coyote

Yellow-bellied marmot at Yellowstone

Yellow bellied marmot with a snowy backdrop

Bear tracks at Yellowstone

Fresh bear tracks in the mud by the board walk around the hot springs and geysers

Hot spring at Yellowstone

One of the magical hot springs bubbling and boiling away

Boiling mud pots at Yellowstone

Vast and stinky, boiling mud pots

A small geyser at Yellowstone

A small geyser erupting and spluttering over us

Beaver at Yellowstone

And finally, here is the beaver from Joffee Lake again

South Dakota and the Big Face Place

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From Washington DC we made good progress albeit a little dull bar stunning sunsets and a handful of deer sightings, the highlight being the high speed glimpse of a new born fawn with it’s mother licking it as it learned to stand.

Once in South Dakota however things got a little more interesting. First of all psychedelic signs for “Kids Love Wall Drug” and other blander Wall Drug slogans started to appear along the roads. Our interest pricked we googled Wall Drug and were dully enlightened to a truly brilliant story of success in the face of adversity.

Click here for the full story, but in brief, Mr Ted Hustead, a young pharmacist, and his wife Dorothy, the true hero in the story, bought the run down Wall Drug Store in 1931. The town of Wall at the time was in the arse end of nowhere and all the 200 odd inhabitants were stone broke. It was however enroute to what would be Mount Rushmore, or as Alfie renamed it, “The Big Face Place”, and towards the end of the miserably hot journey across the Great Plains for it’s visitors.

After nearly five years of struggling by in their quite store with a room fashioned from a blanket across the back Dorothy Hustead had an idea. One of the simplest and best marketing ideas this world has ever seen and it remains a valuable lesson to us all… Lets put up some billbords on the main road offering free ice water for thirsty travellers. By the time Ted got back from erecting the first signs the customers were already rolling in for their ice water and buying other goods at the same time! And now the business, still family owned and run is one of the USA’s biggest roadside attractions and turns over $10 million per year.

Obviously we planned to stop and see the spectacle and despite low exceptions for the world centre of tack-ville, which it turned out not to be, we were in fact pleasantly surprised by decent souvenirs, a well presented history of the area and the business and of course plenty of free ice water.

On our way to Wall, having survived an impressive thunder storm with fork lightening crashing down to earth in the fields all around us, we then virtually stumbled upon the Badlands National Park. Not realising there was access from the route we were on we were pleased to detour from the boring interstate and took the scenic route through this incredible landscape which seems to come out of nowhere.

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park on a rather grey day

After our exploration of Wall Drug we pressed on to Mount Rushmore but arrived to discover the entire place in a thick fog that meant we had no chance at all of seeing the Big Face Place. So we stopped over night in a hotel and went in the morning, which was beautifully warm with clear blue skies. Wow… if you haven’t been to Mount Rushmore then do… it is impressive! To think of the work that when into carving the faces of the Nations forefathers into the jagged mountain cliffs is staggering. In fact just the conception of the idea itself is staggering let alone the execution of it. And it is beautiful. The message and honour instilled within the sculptures too are humbling and awe inspiring.

Mount Rushmore

The Big Face Place

And then we headed on through the pretty Black Hills of Dakota singing Calamity Jane songs and on the look our for mountain goats, which sadly eluded us.

Next stop… Yellowstone.

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Driving in America

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Tell people from the UK that you’re driving across America and you’ll hear lots of accepted facts about how the roads are so big and wide, the speed limits are ridiculously slow and there are coppers on ever corner ready to ticket your speed.

That’s certainly what we thought before we got here. But now, having travelled over 15,000 miles from New York to California, back to Washington DC and now enroute to Montana I though it was time to share our view of America’s roads.

First of all, it’s not true that the roads are all huge and wide. Around the cities there are places that the interstates (equivalent to our motorways) get up to four, five or even six lanes, briefly to manage the extra traffic. This happens in England too, although rarely above five lanes. The vast majority of the interstates we have travelled have been a mere two lanes with occasional stretches of three. The lanes are no wider than ours either. Although many roads are wonderfully straight allowing vast views and enticing mirages.

Luckily it’s also not true that the speed limits are super slow, topping 55mph max… In some states there are silly restrictions on double lane roads limiting to 55 or 60mph but most states allow 65, 70, 75 and even 80mph! Many single lane roads are 65 which is above our UK equivalent. They use speed limits to manage traffic around junctions which works very effectively and we’ve rarely been caught in bottle necks and back ups around the slip roads.

In fact, the lack of traffic on the roads has to be the best thing about traversing this huge continent by road. Set the cruise control and enjoy the ride, it’s rare you need to break unless you’re coming off for a loo break! And speaking of loo breaks, the rest stops, although few and far between are ideal for quick stops and picnic lunches to keep costs down. Literally like extended lay-bys they have toilets, vending machines and shady picnic tables. Occasionally they even have play areas. Unlike our vast and complicated service stations which seem to suck the money from your wallet as you enter the slip road to it and take forever to get back on the road from, these simple rest stops are genuinely convenient. It’s just a shame there aren’t more of them!

A belief about America that is semi-true is that they don’t really have roundabouts. But they do have a few, often at the entrance to a small town. And because there are so few of them the Americans don’t know how to use them, which can be amusing to witness… Yesterday we were thanked for not pulling out on someone’s right of way. Conversely though, we still, after four months of driving, seriously struggle with the archaic and bizarre stop signs, particularly on cross roads where all four directions stop and to know whose right of way it is you needed to mentally note the order that everyone arrived at the junction. If you both, three or even all four arrive at the same time then there is a convoluted and frankly dangerous hand signalling conversation while you all try to give each other right of way and then all go at once. To confuse matters more there are rarely lines marking the place to stop or indicating rights of way and so on… If your view of the stop sign is obscured or missed for any reason then you just have to hope no one else arrived at the junction a split second before you did!

On the other hand, a truly great feature is the ability to turn right on a red light as long as it’s clear, with the incredible number of traffic lights in use this is a handy way to keep the flow going.

The downside to the higher speed limits is that even the massive trucks and people pulling lorry sized trailers also travel at high speed, and very close behind you which can be unnerving to say the least. The roads are also full of blown out tires which you need to swerve around on a regular basis. We’re not sure why this is but we think because they can use their tires until they’re totally bald, combined with the high truck speeds and in some states, particularly New York and Pennsylvania, almighty pot holes everywhere. The hard shoulders are littered almost continuously with the strips of rubber which no one seems to collect or move, even from the middle of the carriage ways.

Lanes aren’t used as they are in the UK and undertaking is totally acceptable and standard (although I doubt it’s legal). Rob and I are debating if this is good or bad… I think it’s bad as it’s dangerous but Rob likes that he can undertake people who sit in outside lanes. People tend not to flash to give way or let you know you can pull out so when we do from sheer habit people seem either very grateful or utterly confused.

Speaking of what’s legal, in many states you have to wear a seatbelt in the car yet you don’t have to wear a helmet on a motorbike… Seeing people on bikes without helmets and with handguns on their hips is somewhat unnerving to us Brits!

Despite the hazards and strange stop signs, for the most part driving in America is pretty pleasant. We’ve seen plenty of state police pulling people over but as long as you don’t go crazy on the speed you’ll be okay. The signage takes a bit of getting use to and we still struggle a bit, particularly where the same stretch of road has loads of different numbers and even names.

The views are the best bit, and coming off the interstate doesn’t always add a whole lot of time so can be well worth it for getting to see birds and mammals, impressive landscapes and massive skies. To us, even the regular whiffs of road killed skunks is kind of fun.

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The next step…

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I sat in the hairdressers in Washington DC sipping prosecco and being beautified before a charity event at the National Harbour for the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation. I’m writing the speech I’ll be making at it regarding the international collaboration between their charity and our UK equivalent. I’ll be discussing the progress of our work and the bright future for the sufferers of the condition we support around the world.

And I know I have to go home…

The world will still be here in a few years for further exploration but the movement I’m a part of is on the brink. It’s teetering on the edge of success. The world for women with a little known condition called hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is about to change. And I have to be there, in the UK. I need to keep the momentum up and not let go of the hard work we have put in so far for the last three years.

In September the book I’ve co-written will be published. I want to promote it. In September also there is an ceremony for an award I’ve been short listed for. I want to attend it. In October there’ll be a conference for our volunteers. I want to present it. Early next year new national guidelines are coming out for the conditions treatment. I want to lead a media campaign about it.

Juggling the commitments I have to the HG world whilst on the road has been hard, but I’m not willing to let go of them. I love them too much.

Admittedly, coming away was partly to do with getting some distance and having a break. Balancing the work and play divide, not being able to work 24/7 and be on call night and day. But who was I kidding eh? I love all that! Plus since coming away there have been more exciting developments, new trustees, completion of the book, award nominations, which this time last year I never even dreamed of!

Being here with Ann Marie from the HER Foundation has confirmed for me that I need to go back, I need to push forward, take that step over the edge and set the Hyperemesis Improvement Movement into free fall.

But rest assured, it’s far from the end of our adventures. We are now on the road to Yellowstone and then Montana and Canada. We have yet to see grizzlies and wolves…

And as we soared the Friday nights heights of Washington’s Capital Wheel at the National Harbour, watching one of the most incredible sunsets we’ve witness, we felt excited for the next step. Our return to the UK will see a lot of changes in our lives, we have plans for lakes and woodlands and campsites, for hot tubs and porches and campervans and adventures around Europe and beyond. Plans for tracking courses and canoe expeditions and wildlife experiences with the kids. The next step is in sight and the adventure continues, but a little closer to the place we still, lovingly, call home.

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The bear experience

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My exhausted eyes and strained neck were not the worst part of the unsuccessful bear spotting expeditions we had spent the last weeks, indeed months, doing. Since we arrived in America and left New York City I have been on constant watch, scouring the endless forests as we drove deserted roads. But the worst part was the pessimism creeping in on me. I had been fighting Rob’s naturally gloomy outlook for the last few days but the negativity was starting to win as I heard a “we’re not going to see one here” from the drivers side once more. The kids were beginning to chime in too and my mood was grumping rapidly.

Until that moment… “STOP! A bear… Definitely a bear”. And rob swerved the car to the curb, hazards on and we backed up cautiously along the mountain road. I knew it the split second I caught a glimpse. The large black figure was moving sideways through the dense undergrowth in the greening deciduous woodland of the Shenandoah National Park. And there she was, with two tiny cubs following behind. Our nature programme dreams right there in front of us.

Her direction meant we could back right up to a pull in area to watch as the little family snuffled around and ambled peacefully on their route through the season. With the boys on the roof and us out of the sunroof with our binoculars and camera it was obvious we were watching something so it wasn’t long before a small crowd gathered, mainly consisting of a large family who, utterly disregarding the guidelines and courtesy of wildlife watching immediately jumped out of their car and swarmed towards the woodland. The effect of such inconsiderate disrespect was that the bear and cubs immediately changed course away from the clearing they would otherwise have passed through so that neither they nor I got a really great picture.

But no matter, I got enough for my memory and the encounter was so perfect for us that we were happy to move on, reeling and beaming from ear to ear. Hungry we stopped for lunch and talked endlessly of the muma bear and the cubs and how our tired eyes were worth it, and of course, how I’d been right all along.

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Bears bears everywhere but not a bear to see

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For the last few days we took a chill pill and holed up in a log cabin on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Complete with hot tub, wonderfully comfortable bed, dishwasher and DVD player we’ve had an easy week of wildlife and thunderstorm watching. Internet connection was less favourable though so we’ve felt frustrated by that, particularly as I had hoped it would be an opportunity to catch up with some work. Instead we enjoyed fishing in the trout stocked Tribal waters of the Cherokee Reservation (although unsuccessfully) and we watched the entire third season of Game of Thrones once the kids were in bed.

We are also seriously frustrated by the lack of bear sightings. Despite a ratio of two black bears per square mile in the National Park and our 4×4 vehicle allowing us to access some of the quieter roads in the park (honestly – there is more traffic jams in the National Parks than in the big cities!), my poor strained neck and exhausted eyes have yet to be rewarded with a bear. We scoured the forest floor and the tree tops too, we creeped and we waited and I gained great views by standing out of the sunroof on the off road tracks… but not views of bears.

Today we have driven the stunning Blue Ridge Parkway through an empty national forest at dusk, passing only a handful of other motorists for over 60 miles of remote mountain roads. The bear proof bins mocked our inability to actually see one as all we spotted were deer, albeit beautiful white tailed ones and impressive views over Virginia and the Appalachian Mountain range framed by rainbows with thunderous sound effects.

We head to Yellowstone next week and then to Montana and Canada so there’s plenty of time yet to catch a glimpse of our elusive Black Bears.

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Witchcraft and Voodoo in Illinois?

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So we’ve kind of noticed that there is a serious mistrust of the government and big corporations here, it’s obvious and to a degree understandable. There is also a general paranoia about personal safety, planning for disasters and terrorism. It’s a trait that is encouraged by giant government billboards reminding you to have a disaster plan and defensible space in your house. “Remember, winging it is not a plan” is plastered across the country from the centre of New York City to rural western towns. It all adds to the slightly paranoid and crazy image of Americans that many Brits (and probably other nations too) hold and isn’t an entirely unfounded stereotype although fairly harmless and quite amusing.

However, until a couple of days ago the thing we hadn’t experienced was full blown crazy talk. That is until we met Randall at a random store in Illinois. We had been in the store, which looked big from the outside, the day before and knew that the chance of the grumpy proprietor of the virtually empty building selling a few bags of crisps and sweets was very unlikely to be able to help us with our fishing spot enquiry. So when we spotted hefty Randall heading to his truck with a fishing fly in his cap we thought our best bet was to ask him. After establishing his fishing prowess yet lack of knowledge about local spots to try, and the fact that his father had worked for the local forestry people “would we believe” (frankly it was about the only thing I did believe), all of a sudden the conversation jumped right across crazy town to witchcraft, voodoo, the CIA, government conspiracy the hex he was under right now and the spells ‘they’ could do with a bit of rob’s blood, hair, his watch and another personal item. Did you know the FBI use witches whose spirits can turn into animals and creatures that can go through walls? Apparently Illinois is full of these witches and voodoo people… “It really does work, but I’m not going to tell you how now”.

He then gave us a card for the clerk in the next town and on the back he wrote his name and “aw heck, I’ll just give you my number too” and he set us off with instructions to go to this man, show him the card with Randall’s name and ask the question “is this man an expert in anything”… The answer was meant to be “yes, the supernatural” but I suspect had we have actually followed Randall’s instructions the poor man we had been sent to would likely tell us to run hotly out of town as fast as we could.

We set off… Baffled and dazed by what we had just experienced, and none the wise on local fishing spots. Three miles down the road and who was behind us… Randall and his third eye! He had said he was heading in that direction also but we had hoped he wouldn’t catch up, seeing as we had no intention of visiting his friend and showing the card. When there was a bit of a gap we swung the car into a marina park and shortly after saw Randall’s truck head past the turning… Phew, he was gone!

And we had found the perfect fishing spot on the massive Ohio river. The day ended with Alfie catching a large mouth bass big enough to feed us all for dinner! We took it back to our woodland camping spot and cooked it on the fire, yum!

We’re now in the Smoky Mountains for a week determined to see a black bear before we go to Washington DC to stay with friends and take part in a charity run event at the end of the month.

Missouri – the beautiful

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It’s not just the lack of offensive billboards that make Missouri beautiful. The rolling emerald hills, deep deciduous woodlands and roller coaster roads that leave your stomach catching up every few hundred metres make Missouri a fun place to drive through. It looks a lot like the Cornish countryside but with even less people. We loved it!

But Missouri seems to lack self confidence. Everyone we met questioned how we ended up there and were even apologetic of their State. The ferry man asked if we were lost, utterly baffled as to why we would be there otherwise. Yet it was truly beautiful, has a lovely climate and there’s loads to see and do.

We hired a camping cabin and had a fire outside. The boys fished (without success) and we had fun. The next morning we hired a raft and floated down the a river for five miles in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, stopping for a picnic lunch. We made a great team paddling, Alfie and I at the front and Rob steering from the back. The little two hanging over the sides watching fish darting around in the crystal clear water and spotting herons and turtles by the banks.

Later we had a campfire and I had brilliant success cooking a loaf of bread in the Dutch oven for the first time. Then Alfie had success catching his first ever fish!

Everyone here is really friendly and helpful, which combined with the stunning countryside, bird watching and fishing it’s got to be one of our favourite places so far. The benefit of the area’s lack of confidence is that the whole place is wonderfully quiet and empty, although there are signs of busier seasons in the summer months, now in May seems absolutely perfect to visit this region.

Alfie Dean

Alfie learning to fish – he’s good at casting in

Alfie Dean and Rob Dean

Daddy helping to unhook his first fish

Alfie Dean

Alf with his first ever catch – a little small to eat though so it went back in

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His second catch – a pretty long eared sun fish

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I’ve wanted to cook bread in the dutch oven for ages – my first attempt was a brilliant success – YUM!

Caitlin Dean

Proud of my success!

Alfie Dean and Patrick Dean

Jokes around the campfire – fun times!

Kansas

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Almost everyone we have met and discussed our route plans with have scoffed rudely about Kansas. “There’s just nothing”, “it’s so boring”, “oh I’m sorry you have to go through there” where the sorts of comments we heard. So understandably our expectations were low for this large state. That said, we have an interest in farming and farm equipment so were still keen to see the scales and methods which we couldn’t imagine coming from small scale Cornwall.

Well I honestly don’t know where it has got it’s reputations for ugliness from. It was green and hilly and really quite pretty with spectacular sky overhead. Or at least it would have been pretty had we not have been bombarded every few hundred years with the most offensive, crude and outright cruel billboards depicting picture of foetus’s and dire warning against the murder of abortion. Images of beating hearts and utter nonsense about tiny bundles of cells being able to smile are rammed down throat. Holy crap guys… What is with this place? Why are people so caught up in other people’s business in completely the wrong way?

The “marriage is between one man and one woman” and other anti-gay propaganda was the final straw and we cranked up the cruse control a couple of notches to get the hell out of this offensive, attempted brainwashing bullshit. I thought America was meant to be the land of the free and yet the people here are shackled by chains to a ridiculous religion based on nonsense images of a white “Jesus” walking in corn fields! You can’t escape it anywhere. We drove through a village with a population of 502 people… One street had 5 churches all next to each other.

And throughout the entire state of Kansas, despite the impressive attempt to brain wash us into an extremist religion there was not a single billboard addressing domestic violence or child abuse… Oh I forgot, they’re okay in the bible. Like almost anything you want to do you can interpret the bible to make it okay. Including selling your daughters, beating your children with an iron rod and taking an eye for an eye.

But should you be so sick that you have no choice but to make the awful decision to terminate your desperately wanted baby or you don’t want to bring into the world a baby produced through rape, an abusive relationship or simply by accident then let’s hope you don’t live in Kansas or you’ll be reminded 30 times a day that “Stop Drop and Roll don’t work in Hell!”

Oh and between the billboards you know what they have… Adult stores selling pornography!!!

If the real life Jesus that lived 2,000 years ago could see the puke inducing display of hatred and intolerance that his message had been bastardised into now he would be ashamed and probably terrified!