Chattanooga Choo Choo…or how our march to the sea continues.

We have lost track of the days. Today is apparently the day after yesterday as far as we know. Somewhere, several days ago we passed through Chattanooga.

If you recall, I had mentioned losing an hour and having no idea where it was but convinced we’d never find it. Well I was wrong. Half way across Kentucky, we suddenly found the hour only to lose it again just outside of Chattanooga. Apparently there is a hole in the Eastern Time Zone somewhat like the Twilight Zone. But we made good use of our found hour. Finding ourselves somehow near Mammoth Cave we took the tour. After all who could pass a National Park? Spoiler alert for my Wisconsin readers, its mammoth but that’s about it. In the Battle of the Caves, I’ll take Cave of the Mounds over Mammoth any day.

We eventually took Chattanooga by storm, ironically seeing all the major attractions EXCEPT the Chattanooga Choo Choo. I will mention our top four. We perused the Aquarium, expensive but truly one of the finest I have ever seen. We endured the Incline Railroad to the top of Lookout Mountain, literally an almost straight up the side in a trolley car ride to the top. Again, pricey but the ride and the view are worth it. Next up, Ruby Falls, a long walk through an interesting cave complete with all the features but surprisingly ending in a spectacular waterfall. This waterfall is 1150 feet beneath Lookout Mountain and drops 145 feet from it’s crest to its pool all inside the cave!

Ruby Falls 2

We ended our siege of this fine city with a visit to Chickamauga Battlefield. This Civil War battlefield is as amazing as it is moving. The suffering is played out in the monuments to both sides as they held their ground only to eventually “retire” to another position and yield the bloody ground they fought and in many cases, died to hold. The war was really the last face to face style of battle and is simply hard to fathom. A word about monuments as we fight to have them removed or kept. The monument is just a marker for us to remember our history no matter what side of it we were on at that time. It is only when we use it as a symbol to continue the fight that it becomes obtrusive and then needs to be removed. The Civil War should have taught us all how precious life is, all lives, and that we must stand together as one nation willing to defend those rights.

We eventually reached our next destination just north of Atlanta two days ago. We had met this couple, well stalked this couple, on our river cruise last year. During the course of the week we had formed a friendship that ended with the old classic line, “If you are ever in…” Well we were, and we were hopeful that they meant it. We had warned them before we left home and when we arrived at their doorstep we were welcomed with open arms and genuine Southern Hospitality. Within a matter of minutes, the time and distance fell away and we picked up the conversation right where it had left off a year ago. Polly and Stu are phenomenal and truly genuine people and we will find it difficult to leave when the time eventually arrives.

Polly and Stu

When we left Wisconsin we vowed not to return until it cleaned up its act, namely got rid of the snow and somehow got the temperature back over 55. This morning we are having coffee on our host’s deck, looking out at the 15th hole of the golf course they live on and soaking in sunshine and yes wait for it, 74 degrees. How’s it coming there Wisconsin?

Calling All Baseball Fans

If you have been following me, you know that today was Louisville and our plan was to see the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum. We arrived at the address, not even sure we were at the right place. The factory / museum is nestled in between several buildings on Main Street in downtown Louisville. The first thing you see as you walk up is this incredibly huge replica of a Louisville Slugger baseball bat. The thing is at least thirty feet high but accurate in every detail. Once inside the museum you are surrounded by displays of all sorts of baseball memorabilia covering all ages and eras of the game. Honus Wagner’s glove and bat. Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Gil Hodges, Johnny Bench and Derrick Jeter are all represented along with countless others, all of whom have signed at one time or another to use Louisville Slugger baseball bats exclusively. Remember the infamous Tom Hank’s line in League of Their Own? “There’s no crying in Baseball”, well those ladies are well represented too, honored for their stellar play as they filled the gap during the war years and then long after.

Louisville 4

Louisville 5

This was just the museum. What followed was a guided tour through the factory as we watched every step of the process from a block of maple or ash or birch as that wood block became a baseball bat. A very select few would find their way to professional baseball where some of those bats just might become famous for that seeing eye double or that grand slam or maybe that walk off home run to win the most important game of the season. My treat was getting to handle several billets, as they are called before turning makes them a bat, that had been hand selected by Christian Yelich. Each Major League Player who has signed with Louisville Slugger will select the billets to be turned into bats just for them and delivered to be entered in “The Game.”

And oh yes, one last thrill, at the end of the tour I was able to put on the batting gloves and then take my stance at the plate holding a Christian Yelich bat that had been swung by him in a major league game. Humor me here, pretty sure it had hit at least one ball out of the park.

Louisville 3

I grew up in the era of Hank Aaron and Warren Spahn. I dreamed of getting to a Braves game, they were still in Milwaukee back then, and maybe even getting one of their autographs. And like every kid who gets hooked on baseball, I dreamt of one day playing ball. Post script here, I made the JV team in high school where I mostly warmed the bench, but I never lost my love of the game. I lived vicariously through my daughters as they played softball competitively through high school and savored every minute of throwing the ball around in the back yard. Needless to say, finally entering the Louisville Slugger Shrine, touching baseball bats that had been held and swung by the most famous players of baseball, and reliving the history of the game through film and displays, left me feeling like that little kid again, dreaming of hitting the game winning home run just over the center field wall in a stadium anywhere the game would be played.

Louisville 2

The Errors of my Ways

We are on day five of our March to the South. For some reason, probably shear hope, I thought once we crossed the Wisconsin border into Illinois, the temperature would shoot up into the 60’s and we would crack out the Bermuda shorts, old age reference there, and bask in the warmth of the sun. Error of my ways, forty degrees and no sun yet. Here are things I now know to be truths. When you order a Bloody Mary with a beer chaser south of the Wisconsin border, If you are lucky, you get the Bloody Mary and a full size beer. Most of the time, you just get a confused look. If you try to avoid this confusion and order the classic Brandy Old Fashioned, you will need to explain what brandy is and why that would be in an Old Fashioned. Explaining to them that it is the classic super club way to make the drink, they will ask what in the heck is a super club? We have clearly left the safety of our up North culture and are now learning to adapt.

If you are keeping track of us on your US maps marked “Where in the South are Ken and Deb”, we left the St Louis area this morning, crossed Illinois and Indiana, and are now resting for the night in Louisville, Kentucky. We will lay siege to Louisville tomorrow and then head for a couple of days in Chattanooga, adding Tennessee to our list of states we have overrun. From Chattanooga we will eventually reach Atlanta completing our replication of Sherman’s March to the Sea. Unlike Sherman, we won’t stop there as we intend to eventually reach Daytona Beach before turning back North. I personally intend to continue to ask for cheese curds in bars and maybe even pickled pigs feet just to see if they can figure out from where we hale.

On a reasonably serious note, for those who are following this and waiting for the whimsical surprise, it was Old Louisville tonight. We asked about every employee of our hotel about places to see in Old Louisville only to determine that we might be the oldest residents of Louisville in the hotel and that has only been three hours. Receiving no advice from the bewildered hotel staff but honest denials, we checked the internet and Google Maps and found our way downtown for an incredible walk through several blocks of beautiful stately old mansions dating to the Civil War Era. They sat quietly nestled in boulevard style streets softly lit with gas street lamps. We followed up our walk with a stop at a corner Tavern on the Green for great drinks and very good food.

Tomorrow we have planned a trip to the Louisville Slugger factory and museum as well as a visit to the Kentucky Derby museum and Churchill Downs. I am quite excited to see the World’s largest baseball bat which though not on my bucket list could have been right up there had I known it existed. If you missed the sarcasm there, as Big Bang’s Sheldon would say, bazinga!

We lost an hour somewhere crossing Indiana and have determined we aren’t going to find it, so it may be early back there in Wisconsin but it’s nearing bed time here and we still have that World’s largest bat on deck for us in the morning. I will try to catch up with you after Chattanooga and fill you in with whatever surprises we find there. Until then, we sign off as Kentucky Wild Cats tonight.

The Gateway Arch….a little history can be surprising.

We have been in the St Louis area for the past three days visiting friends in Edwardsville on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. The company has been fun and gracious as we caught up and spent time doing some good sightseeing and dining, and yes, some good refreshment times. Yesterday we took a drive into St Louis and though I have been there countless times, we took in the newly redone St Louis Arch Memorial. Where one had to try to navigate an insane highway crossing to get to the Arch, it has been replaced with a much larger park area running over the top of the busy highways running underneath.

That is just the beginning of the refurbishing. The museum entrance has been relocated to the middle of the Arch and leads down to a very expanded museum with far more history to offer. But that is not necessarily my point. What surprised us, no shocked us, was the detail in the exhibits. In the past the history of the western expansion was pretty much told from the American perspective. We needed space, no one really seemed to be there and after all, we had discovered it and manifest destiny ruled. The exhibit on the Mexican War, the US name for it versus the Mexican version, Yankee Invasion, told a different story of how we had for the only time in our history, declared a war to seize land. I do not mean to disparage the memory of those great American heroes of the Alamo, or Louis and Clark setting out from St Louis to survey our new territories west of the Mississippi, but it really shed a different light on our motivation. With Texas, it turns out slavery played a big role since the South needed more slave holding territories for their cause and then consider that neither Spanish or French law allowed for slave ownership. There was also a display that counted, through a moving time line, the number of acres the US has seized since it’s birth in 1776, roughly 1,600,000,000 acres. Most of this taken from the Native Americans through 510 treaties, all broken in time.

As surprising as these revelations were, none impacted me more than this one. Prior to 1804, when the western lands held by the French and Spanish came under US ownership and thus US laws, women were allowed full rights to ownership, representation, and legal status in all counts and courts. In one day, as the US flag was raised over the new territories, women lost all of those rights as they came under US law. Not until the 1900’s, over one hundred years later, would we begin to acknowledge those rights. I’ll leave that for you to chew on.

All of this is food for thought. I am not trying to burn the American Flag for heaven knows, we have for the most part apologized and in some small way recompensed many of our past deeds, but it was shocking to have it put into perspective. It is of course a testament to our country that a National Monument has put these exhibits there for all who would seize the opportunity to truly discover the history of our western expansion.

I feel a need to end on a positive note. Deb and I are having a great time on this road trip adventure, visiting old friends and new ones and discovering little things that we would never see from the air.

Who Knew Abe was so Famous

Surely I jest. Day one of our travel experiment is behind us. Too soon to say we have survived, but it went well. We had made a decision to stop in Springfield Illinois, and having grabbed a hotel room at the Hilton Gardens, we decided to take in the Lincoln experience.

We arrived downtown around 4:30 and after pretending to know exactly where we were, one of my built in flaws, we reached the Lincoln sites just in time to miss the final tour. But, that was okay. Plenty to see anyway and a really enjoyable dinner at an 1860’s restored house / microbrewery. I had what they call the Horseshoe, better known as a cardiac arrest on a plate and since I am writing this, I obviously survived. A few micro-brews later and we headed back to enjoy some of the amenities of our hotel.

This morning, after a luxurious sleep in, we headed back downtown to complete the Lincoln Experience. The tour, offered by a skillful and humorous guide, took us through several restored homes in the intricately restored Lincoln neighborhood and ended with a very complete tour of Lincoln’s Springfield home. The fact that most of the furnishings actually had belonged to the Lincolns and that the restoration was authenticated by illustrations from the period, brought history to life. Having been a Civil War Era buff all my life only added to the experience. We concluded the tour with a private half hour conversation with the guide, who having learned we were former teachers, was eager to share more of the history. Salt of the earth I believe is the term he used for teachers. Of course we knew that. I have always managed to be a little salty.

We had expected the tour would be interesting but the detail the preservation society has put into the re-creation of the area by restoring the 1860’s style buildings as well as the removal of anything from any other period, allows you to take a walk back in history. We are scoring this as our first whimsical surprise.

We are in the St Louis area tonight and our travel experiment will continue as we explore this area for the next several days. We will stay with friends, eat great food, share stories over drinks and enjoy great company. With that said, I need to get back to the party. Give me a few days off and I will bring my readers up to date.

Let the Road Rise up to Meet You

In a few days my wife and I will be packing up my Jeep and heading for the open road. We will pack on our bikes and golf clubs along with some clothes for all seasons and head south on Interstate 39. This trip is going to be different than our usual style. For my wife’s comfort, we would normally have it all planned out right down to the means of transportation and accommodations as well as site tours. On this trip we will leave almost all of that to chance and whim. I have no doubt we will survive and I have no doubt there will be hick-ups. But I also suspect that we will stumble onto several whimsical surprises. It is these whimsical surprises that I look forward to most of all.

I love my wife and have always tolerated and at times greatly appreciated her need to have plans laid out and surprises avoided, but truth be told, that is not my style. My daughters refer to any trip with dad as an adventure. I am a restless, impatient, let me see where this road leads me sort of guy. I will admit that the road didn’t always lead me where it was supposed to but I also made it to my destination somehow. The fact that my wife is tolerating this upcoming trip is either a testament to her willingness to humor me or at the least an acknowledgment that time has broken her will. I am excited for the trip to begin for only then will the adventure reveal itself.

Life is like this. We can go through it planning every step along the way seeking to avoid the surprises or we can take a more adventurous approach. Before we get carried away, remember that the lion share of my career was spent as a planner. I will be the first to acknowledge the benefit of goals and plans to meet them. It’s just that there is also a need for spontaneity. It’s a balance of the two that allows one to truly live. The goals are met in the planning and they in turn afford us the freedom to find the surprises that await us in the spontaneity. We can choose the direction we will point our vehicles or even the course we will travel, but to truly enjoy the journey, we must let the road rise up to meet us. The reward will be worth the risk. The surprises perhaps whimsical. The road can take us places we may never had considered and reveal to us experiences we would never have realized.

This Thursday we will get up, hop in our car and begin the trip, my expectations and imagination already miles ahead. I can’t wait for the road to rise up and take us where it would have us go. No need to wish us luck, we packed it in our bags.

Follow our journey at

I Rolled the Window Down Today

I debated with titling this blog as I did or “It’s Wisconsin, Wait a Week”. I was headed home this noon from a meeting and when I realized the temperature outside was now in the 50’s, the window had to come down. What a glorious feeling as finally, the spring like breeze slid through my open window and cascaded around the interior of my car. All that stale winter air trapped inside my vehicle for the last four months was pushed out and replaced by the hope of sunshine and warmer days ahead.

Now to be true, we need some perspective here. Just five days ago, the temperature hovered at five below zero with a wind chill of negative thirty degrees. Spring was something we wistfully spoke of but believed had been banished forever. With a foot and a half of snow on the ground and no warming trend in sight, hope had been buried somewhere under the five foot drift marking the edges of my driveway. My lawn mower hid timidly behind my snowblower considering permanent retirement.

The irony of this is that in another four or five months, we will treat weather in the 50’s as the time to pull out our sweaters and roll the window back up. We have been slowly cooled through our long winter to the point that 50 degrees somehow feels like we should head to the beach and at the very least don a short sleeve shirt. We are conditioned, slowly and deliberately to accept our fate. When the change comes, what was intolerable before is now not only comfortable, but enjoyable.

But wait, this too is likely fleeting. Give it another week and we may be right back into winter. What we need to remember if this unthinkable possibility becomes reality, is that for even a day, spring proved that she was not dead, just waiting to push winter back where it belonged. Spring will eventually defeat winter and will bring with her the promise of summer.

So what is this all about. Simply put, our weather is a metaphor for life. About the time we are ready to give up hope, everything changes. Hope re-emerges as a warm breeze ready to renew our faith. An intolerable condition gives way to new opportunities and we are reminded to never give up hope. If you are currently suffering through a tough time or maybe just the depression of a long winter, remember that tomorrow the breeze may just swing around to the south and change will bring back renewed energy. So for now, roll down the window and let the breeze in. With it will come a promise of better weather ahead.

Sign Said, Last Gas for at Least 200 miles.

It was to be a simple trip. My daughter Bailey and I would be attending her cousin’s wedding in Bishop, California. After a late flight into Las Vegas and a night on the infamous Strip, we picked up our Pontiac G6 that next morning at the car rental agency. From there it was a four hour drive across the desert to our destination in the mountains of California. Except for a modification to my brother’s speed in the lead car, he thought the speed limit was 95 when in fact that was the interstate’s numeric designation, the trip was uneventful. We stopped for lunch in Beatty, Nevada half way across the desert and arrived in Bishop by mid afternoon.

The next two days passed quickly and on Sunday, after the wedding festivities had wound down, Bailey and I left for Las Vegas. A few facts pertinent to the story. It was late Sunday afternoon, I had not driven the rental since we had arrived on Friday and we no longer had the accompaniment of my brother as he was staying a few days longer. These facts will play heavily in the events that were to follow.

Bailey and I are known to have a habit of visiting sites that are near our route when traveling. This Sunday afternoon would afford us an opportunity to pass near “The Ancient Bristle Cone Pine Groove”. Some of these trees were over 3000 years old.

We had crested the first of our three mountain passes when we came upon the road to the grove. Not being able to resist, we took the turn off and headed toward the site. Poor planning step one, the road into the grove was over 10 miles one way. We arrived at what we thought was the grove only to realize it was a vista just below and the actual grove was still another mile or so up the grade. As we started our climb, I noticed, somehow for the first time, the fuel gauge on our G6. The gauge was already nearing the “E”. Poor planning step two, not having driven the vehicle all weekend, we had not considered our fuel supply. We were now faced with a critical decision. Drive back to Bishop, some 50 miles behind us or count on a gas station somewhere ahead. At the time the decision seemed obvious and, poor planning step three, we chose to drive on. Had we been paying attention on the drive out from Vegas, we would have been painfully aware that the only gas station had been in Beatty complete with a sign that said, next gas at least 200 miles. This was the same Beatty that was still some 100 miles ahead. Did I tell you the gauge was nearly on “E”? By the time we reached the highway we had left to drive into the grove, the low fuel light was now on and the gauge was glaring back at us on “E”.

Time to update you on our conditions, beside the fact that we were counting on something that didn’t exist, we still had two more mountain passes to clear. Add to that, mountains don’t tend to offer great cell service and mountain passes even less. Needless to say, we had no cell service, a car reading empty, and 100 miles to go.

At this point, the science of physics becomes important. Cars run on fuel, altitude climbs are hard on mileage efficiency and wind resistance only makes matters worse. Here, in no particular order, were our scientific conclusions, coasting was better than driving, braking causes resistance, using the AC reduces mileage and rolled up windows create less wind resistance. Did I remind you the temperature was in the upper 80’s. The last two decisions, no AC and rolled up windows, were tough ones, but we were determined to make it to Beatty even as the vehicle was warning us otherwise. As to the coasting and no braking conclusions, you would be shocked by the speed a 3000 lb vehicle can reach coasting down a winding mountain pass. You would be further amazed at how long we could let this go each time before lightly using the brakes to bleed off some of our speed. One of our conditions was now working in our favor for the moment. It was late Sunday afternoon and we had the road to ourselves. But this also meant that when the car would be finally completely empty, WE WERE ALONE.

We somehow made it up the last pass and were now coasting down the last grade where we could see Interstate 95 off in the distance.
This highway would lead us into Beatty or at least put us in proximity of fellow travelers. But what seemed to be in reach was just another mirage. Distances in the mountains and now down on the desert floor can be deceptive. What seemed to be right there was actually close to 20 miles ahead. Down on the desert floor, no more coasting available and more heat than we could take, we were willing the car to reach for the interstate. If we could get there, then maybe we could at least be saved. As we neared the entrance to the interstate, the road took a jog back to the north before winding onto the interstate. Off to our right was a long abandoned bordello and a parking area that ran along the edge of the interstate. The needle on the fuel gauge had long ago passed “E” and the decision became easy. We left the road, shot through the abandoned parking lot and up the side of Interstate 95, easily cutting off another half mile. Desperation was now becoming our co-pilot.

We were now on the interstate and had at least the occasional car or two to give us comfort. We also had picked up cell service again and the first call went out to Triple A. A pleasant voice took our call but informed us that if we were still running there really wasn’t anything they could do. We would need to call back when we are actually out of gas and stranded. My daughter asked where the agent was located and when she replied New Jersey, Bailey told her that we weren’t. Once she explained where we actually were and that we had just passed a sign that told us Beatty was another 60 miles ahead, she responded with a phrase closely resembling the phrase Steve Martin gets from Bunny at the rental desk in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. And so we motor on. We are now down to considering drafting the next semi we can find.

About this time my wife calls from our safe and cozy home back in Wisconsin. She is checking in on how we are doing. Being the considerate and wise daughter I raised her to be, Bailey tells her we are just great and that we will be in Beatty soon, under her breath, “one way or the other.” Any whiff of what was really going on and we would have been subject to an embarrassing lecture and then an Air Force rescue in the Nevada desert. And so we motor on.

The Pontiac G6 has decided it too refuses to give up or the fuel gauge has been set extremely conservative to thwart the effort of optimistic drivers like us, pushing the limits. Either way, the road mileage markers become more and more promising and then suddenly, from a slight crest in the highway, we view Beatty up ahead. Still five or six miles distant we begin to believe we will make it. Fear has now been replaced with determination to complete this epic record. At about a half mile out we spy the gas station up ahead on the right. We can take the jog to the left, turn at the light and head back down to the gas station. Or, we can cut through the motel parking lot, across an alley, through the grocery store parking lot and roll up to the pumps. Of course, we chose the later. As we pulled alongside the pumps, and as God is my witness, the car stuttered once and shut down. Bailey and I jump from the car and with fists held high, yelling at the top of our lungs, did our gas dance around the now quiet vehicle. One gentleman looked at us and said “that drive across the desert can be a killer.” We just replied “Oh Yeah! Don’t we know it!”

Beatty NV motel

It was a year latter, and we were on a family vacation in Hawaii. The car rental agent said we would be getting a Pontiac G6, but he wanted to upgrade us at no cost to a little larger car. Bailey and I looked at him and in unison said “we’ll take the Pontiac.”

Was it automotive ingenuity or just dumb luck? Or maybe, was it a car with a soul that said no one gets stranded in the desert on my watch. Either way, an epic story and a happy ending.