Tag Archives: travel with kids

Mighty Montana

Image

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:

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

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.

Image

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.

Driving in America

20140603-091558-33358947.jpg

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.

20140603-091909-33549135.jpg

20140603-091908-33548676.jpg

The next step…

20140601-144227-52947451.jpg
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.

20140601-144438-53078757.jpg

20140601-144439-53079237.jpg

20140601-144439-53079711.jpg

20140601-144440-53080156.jpg

The bear experience

Image

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.

Image

Bears bears everywhere but not a bear to see

Image

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.

Image

Missouri – the beautiful

Image

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

Image

His second catch – a pretty long eared sun fish

Image

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

20140519-105323-39203228.jpg

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!