Latest Update

October 27, 2022 - December 31, 2023



* Racing Against Catamarans

* Family And Friends

* Sealing Our Fuel Tanks – Finally

* Blisters!

* 7300 Miles On The Road

* Ken Drives An Excavator

* Don't Pet The Fluffy Cows

* Crazy Horse And The Little Big Horn

* Dog-O-Ween

* The Spider And The Honey Bee

* Culture Shock In Las Vegas

* Standin' On The Corner In Winslow

* Thinking About Sailing Again


October 27, 2023 – November 1, 2023

Covid had taken us out of our game plan for a long time -- as it did for almost everyone in the world. But now, finally, after more than three years, it was time to sail for New Zealand.


After we cleared up a few problems, like this “Floral Wrasse,” who tried to make a home in our Kubota water intake. He couldn't fight the suction when we started the Kubota, so that didn't work out very well for anybody. He was getting squeezed into a ¾ inch hose when we pulled him out.

Normally, we like to stay in the tropics until middle or even late November before leaving. Yeah, the official cyclone season starts on November 1st (and that's when our insurance cuts out if we get caught in a named storm), but we usually figure that the chances of an early cyclone are very small.

Unfortunately, that's been changing for the past few years, and we were already seeing little swirly patterns in the weather files in October -- very ominous. We left on October 27.


And we guessed right -- our passage turned out to be the last good weather window until after Christmas -- just crazy weather patterns.

So instead of our normal lonely departure, we found ourselves sailing with a giant fleet, all leaving before the insurance deadline. At least 30 or 40 boats checked out of Denarau on the same day that we did -- with everybody headed for New Zealand.

And these days, a lot of those boats are big catamarans. In fact, we were up against a whole flotilla of these big Outremer cats. (Pronounced “oootra meer” – French for overseas, or beyond the sea.)


Here's one of the cats we sailed with (now safely tucked into a mooring in Whangarei).


These things are really quick -- like 18 to 20 knots of speed in 20 knots of true wind. And since two sailboats headed in the same direction is a race, we were in trouble -- we max out at around 10.5 knots in our heavily loaded cruising mode. We had visions of being one of the last boats to arrive, which isn't something we're used to. Ken would have torn his hair out, if he had any…

Cats Versus Monohulls

We'll digress for a moment. In recent years, we started to have a grudging admiration for big catamarans. We have never seen a monohull that we liked better than Eagle's Wings. Bigger, yes. Fancier, yes. More luxurious, yes. But never anything which has matched our combination of speed, sea worthiness, comfort, and ease of handling. EW is just the perfect two-person passage-making live-aboard monohull. Our opinion.

But those big cats, in the 45-50 foot range -- they have some undeniable advantages. (Smaller cats tend to hobby horse, and they usually end up overloaded, turning them into fairly slow hull-speed boats.)

First of all, the big cats have plenty of room on board for entertaining, and even for guests. EW can seat exactly 6 people for dinner, and when she is stuffed full of cruising equipment, spare parts and toys there is just no room for anyone other than the two of us to sleep on board. On a cat you can have a “guest wing.”

(Okay, okay -- we could sleep more people if we lost our inflatable kayak, underwater scooters, and such.)

Catamarans can't necessarily carry more weight, but they just have a lot more room to get everything stowed out of the way. And you can't beat the entertaining space. And they can have their dinghy in the water, with the engine on it after a passage in about two minutes flat, while it takes us about an hour. (We think davits are dangerous on monohulls, but they work fine on cats, even in rough conditions.) And cats don't roll in a rolly anchorage. And they have a huge amount of real estate for solar panels -- we know some that have gone fully electric, including their stove, just using solar panels and lithium batteries. And they are fast.

On passage, speed allows you to avoid bad weather and stay safe.

So what's not to like?

Now back to our story.


It turns out that these big cats are just too scary and uncomfortable to sail powered up in passage-making conditions. We had perfect wind -- 25 to 30 knots on the beam, which meant that we were easily making 9 1/2 knots and often over 10. And the catamaran fleet was doing just about the same.

We talked later with a delivery skipper/friend of ours who has a lot of experience with big cats, and he told us that they are terrifying to sail in those kinds of conditions. Unlike a monohull, which just leans over in a gust, catamarans don't depower themselves. If you get caught with too much sail, you just get faster and faster until you either flip over or the rig falls off. And yes, we know of numerous catamarans that have lost their masts on passage.

We knew they were scary to drive -- after all, we used to sail beach cats -- but this is the first time we'd really seen how much that limited their potential on passage.

Also, most cats will slam heavily in a seaway, especially when they are going fast. We have been told that the waves hitting underneath the bridge deck can feel like a boxer just gave you an uppercut. One of our friends described the slamming as “life altering.”

Over the years, we have had a few bits of evidence about how scary big cats can be. We had a night encounter with a big cat in restricted waters in Fiji, where the crew called us on the radio and begged us to get out of their way -- never mind right-of-way rules -- as they could not control their speed. This was in a narrow passage with lots of reefs and local traffic.

In another case, we know of a big cat that passed up a perfect weather window from New Zealand to Fiji (after we had all waited for weeks), because the forecast promised reinforced trades (30-35 knots) on the beam. After some sailing traumas, the wife had laid down an ironclad rule that they couldn't leave with wind forecasted for more than 25 knots -- anytime during the whole passage! How the heck can you sail anywhere that way? (And having missed the good window, they opted for one that ended up in a storm -- but that's another story.)


So in the end we stayed with the fleet just fine. We made the passage in slightly less than six days -- our fastest run ever. One big Gunboat with a professional crew walked away from us at 11-12 knots, but that was about it.

(Beth thinks Ken's competitive juices may have had something to do with this personal speed record -- she noticed an unusual reluctance to reef down.)

But here's the thing -- we were never scared, or even nervous about the conditions. Maybe that's why our delivery skipper friend has a Sundeer as his own boat!

We are not hating on cats here. They really do offer a lot of advantages and comforts that a monohull can't match. But, especially considering that these big, fast cats cost many, many multiples more than a boat like EW, we now think a good monohull is superior. Our opinion.


EW snug in port at Riverside in Whangarei.

Where she will stay for the rest of this update.


November 1, 2022 - December 4, 2022

Home Again In New Zealand

We really did feel like we were home again -- in a place where life is easy. With good professional help available for the boat, good hardware stores, grocery stores, chandleries, hydraulic shops… And, of course, many friends.

OK, we admit that the climate was a bit of a shock. New Zealand is nippy in the spring, and we had just spent 2 1/2 years in 90+ heat and 90+ percent humidity. Even Fiji felt cold to us.


Beth models her “onesie,” which can make any human look like a slightly wilted plum. But it's warm, and Ken thinks it's adorable!


In New Zealand the hardware stores come with appropriately-sized shopping carts. (“Trollies” actually.)



Oh, and the hiking! Wonderful trails, cool green hills, trees… After Majuro this just felt like heaven.


And flowers.



Interesting food.


Communal barbeques at the marina.


And that quirky New Zealand culture.


Of course, things change. We still love Riverside Dr. Marina, but you can see the creeping bureaucracy.


And, like most places, New Zealand's civility suffered a bit during COVID. In fact, we had a couple of acquaintances rant about lockdowns and quarantine and New Zealand politics. This didn't use to happen.


Even the dreaded culture wars have shown up.


With a New Zealand twist.



We try to make ourselves useful to our friends by getting good pictures -- particularly of grandchildren.


Our friend Don, with his granddaughter Maddy.


Maddy can turn anyone into a good photographer.


She's one of the most physically agile and confident 6 year olds we've ever seen.


With Janet, the other half of our friends, the Barkers.


And Maddy's mother Ashley. Maybe a slight family resemblance there?


Maddy with her grandpa and father Tom. Just a very happy little girl.


We also put our “professional” skills to work. Here Beth fixes a mast-top problem on the Barker's boat “Barking Mad.” We were glad to help out.


A Time To Leave Again

But we had also been away from the States for about 3 1/2 years. So it was high time to get back for a visit. And maybe some physical exams, since we hadn't had any of those for 3 1/2 years either.

First we needed to get to the airport in Auckland. That's a 2 1/2 hour drive through the mountains. Driving through the mountains to make an international flight -- just the perfect time to get our first flat tire in years.


A nice guy going the other way saw us with our shredded tire and turned back to help, proving that Kiwi culture hasn't disappeared. Ken didn't think we needed help, but what could we say? And that big young guy got it changed in about two minutes.

Guess we look old…

However… we had done everything to get our new/used Mazda 3 ready for the trip, except that we forgot to check the spare tire pressure. Those little spares want 60 psi, and ours had about 20. It looked ready to hemorrhage once it took the car's weight. And we didn't have a pump.

We limped back to the only gas station for miles.

Where the owner informed us that he did not have an air compressor.

But, when he saw the utterly crushed look on Beth's face, he said that maybe there was something he could do. He went out back to his shed and pulled out an air compressor. He explained that it wasn't certified and so he couldn't offer it to customers. We said we were happy to take his uncertified air.


Here Beth gives a big hug to a random person. This definitely isn't the guy who bent New Zealand's rules to help us out.


December 4, 2022 – January 22, 2023

Back in the USA

We landed in Texas, where Beth's sister lives, and where we now officially reside. Yup, we're Texans, y'all.

There's always some culture shock in a new place.


Who knew that Santa has given up on the whole sleigh idea and now gets around in an RV?


And replaced his flying reindeer?

We were really in Texas to see Beth's sister, Kay and her family.


It's so important to reconnect. Here with Kay and niece, Nicole.


And nephew, Tom.


Beth discusses tech issues with Nicole and Steve.


Meanwhile, Back In New Zealand

While we were in Texas, our friends John and Lynette on “White Hawk” tried to make the run from Fiji to New Zealand. They had a satellite tracker, so we could watch their passage.


You can see the track in this screenshot. (Easier to see if you click for the larger image.)

If you remember, we said that the weather windows got bad after our passage. This is an example -- John and Lynette ended up racing against a cyclone. We calculated that they would have just enough time to get into port -- provided they kept their speed up.


And then their autopilot ram developed a hydraulic leak. And they ended up hove-to in huge seas and winds while John installed the spare. (Yeah, you need spares for all these things…)

Imagine working for hours, with your head down in the bilge, while giant waves slam the boat. Makes us seasick to think about it. If you look closely you will see that their speed is a little over 2 knots. That's because they are hove-to, going sideways at 2 knots while the storm bears down on them.

We didn't have to cut our fingernails again for weeks.


In the end, they made it into New Zealand literally a few hours before the wind came up to storm conditions. Yikes! Our hats off to the White Hawks.


The Mexican Border

We also made a trip to the Mexican border to get a “Global Entry” pass which cuts the bureaucracy on international flights. Turns out that the immigration office in Laredo was the best place to do this from our location. So we got to see the infamous southern border up close.


The border crossing over the Rio Grande at Laredo.


The whole place felt like a military camp. Here a Homeland Security airboat speeds down the river, loaded with heavily armed Border Patrol officers.


Something we have never seen before -- a portable police watchtower.


Life also goes on as always -- there were lots of fishermen along the river, including this osprey. Although, come to think of it, maybe he's wearing a surveillance camera…


Rochester New York


We also visited Ken's hometown of Rochester, NY to catch up with his sister. And her very cute dog, Faith.

And we got our first glimpse of the labor shortages in the US after COVID. One restaurant had a line of customers out the door, half of their tables empty, but only enough wait staff to service half the restaurant.


Other restaurants resorted to robots to deliver food. Which kind of works…


We grabbed the chance to see Scott and Wanda. Wanda is a nurse who helped care for Ken's mother many years ago before she passed away. Wanda and Ken's mom had become firm friends.


But Rochester in the winter brought it all back for Ken. Gray skies, bare trees, 30°F, and a foot of slush on the ground. This is why we are planning to retire to someplace warm!

Admittedly, it didn't help that our hotel window overlooked a graveyard.


January 24, 2023 – June 26, 2023

Back To Work On The Boat

We punted the next sailing season because of all the work needed on Eagle's Wings. And our complicated New Zealand visa required us to make multiple trips outside the country over the next year and a half. So, after a short stay in the US, we headed back for six months of work on the boat. After that we would return to the US for an extended visit to see family and friends that we hadn't seen in years.

For the past 20 years, Ken has always dreaded a few mechanical nightmares. The first was having to replace EW's transmission, given our difficult installation. The second was developing a leak in our fuel tanks, since they're built into the boat. The third was getting blisters on the bottom -- although we always considered that very unlikely, given our vinylester resin layup, which should be impervious to osmosis.

But in the twilight zone of Majuro, all three of these things happened! We managed to solve the transmission problem ourselves (with help from some fellow cruisers), as we explained in an earlier update. The fuel tank had to wait for New Zealand. And the blisters started to show up when Ken was cleaning the bottom of the boat prior to our departure from Majuro. This was a real puzzle, but there was no denying the reality. Plus we had a worrying rust spot on one of our chainplates.

Now it was time to deal with these problems.


Storm Interlude


Except that nature had other plans.

New Zealand was hit by an unprecedented series of tropical cyclones this year. (Technically they are no longer TCs when they get down here, but they still pack a punch.) This one closed the main road between Whangarei and Auckland for several months, and also flooded the Auckland Airport just a week after we had arrived. We dodged a bullet by coming in when we did.


The Marina held together, barely, but the river got into a few places it wasn't supposed to go.


Like the parking lot, and the boat yard.


After the storm, cruisers and boatyard staff all worked together to clear out the branches and junk that had washed between the docks. We needed to get rid of this stuff before it sank in place and blocked the slips.


At least the rain helped loosen up some of the mess on deck. Like this fossilized fish that we found when we took our dinghy off for repairs.


The dinghy was another casualty of the heat and humidity in Majuro. The rub rail dropped off and we also developed a slow leak in one of the seams. Plus our dinghy “chaps” had disintegrated in the Majuro sun.

But this was small potatoes compared to the big projects.


The Fuel Tanks

As you might remember, we had discovered a pinhole leak in the bottom of our port fuel tank while in Majuro. We ended up limping back to New Zealand on one tank plus jerry jugs.

Our friend and mechanic Tim Brown suggested we go with an aerospace product used to seal airplane fuel tanks. The company that makes this stuff, PPG, assured us that it could be applied even on tanks that had already been used for diesel.

So “all” we needed to do was to cut holes in the top of the tank, get it thoroughly clean, and then apply this highly toxic, molasses-like product. And then repeat the whole process on the other tank, of course. Fortunately we had Steve Eichler on the job.


Steve, cutting holes in the tanks. Three holes in each tank, to work around the baffles. You can never have too many holes in your boat...


Here's the lid Steve fabricated, based on Tim's design. This was a complicated problem, requiring flanges on the inside of the tank lid to accept the fasteners. This lid had to be able to withstand the bending and twisting that happens to a boat at sea.


Here's the mess after the holes were cut. Now we had to get this squeaky clean. Even though no human being could actually reach all the way to the bottom of this tank through our small access holes.


Here's the culprit behind the leak. When they were manufactured, each tank had a hole cut in the bottom and an alloy sump welded on the outside. With a drain fitting welded into the center of the bowl to remove the water and other crud which collects at the lowest point of the tank. We attach our fuel polishing system to this drain. It's a great system.

Unfortunately, the drain fitting stood proud from the bottom of the sump by about 15 millimeters. Which allowed crud to collect in that dead space for the last 28 years. And finally corrode all the way through.

Otherwise the tanks were fine.

We decided to coat the sumps and the bottom of the tanks with our sealant. And to fill the dead space at the bottom of the sump with sealant. The strong, tough PPG sealant can easily protect the corroded metal and withstand the weight of the fuel.

But imagine trying to clean inside the sump -- which is the most important bit. Remember, we can't reach down there.

Ken used masking tape on the end of the stick to pick up debris off the bottom. And then Steve cleaned the bottom of the tanks and the inside of the sump using alcohol and rags on sticks. He attached rags to a drill bit to knock debris off the inside of the sump.


Steve created a whole array of specialized tools for this job. This tool allowed him to screw a plug into the drain fitting so that we did not clog the drain with our sealant.


Here is a right-angle brush for painting the inside of the sump.


And, finally, it was D-day. Steve suits up like he's going to the moon.


Beth helps with the finishing touches.


Here's the final result. Steve was appalled at the mess -- this thick product is very difficult to use at arm's length, and things end up looking like a Jackson Pollock painting. But that doesn't matter -- what matters is that the tank is sealed.

Notice the plug in the bottom of the sump.


Here is sealed up 2nd chamber.


And the finished third chamber. The sight of well protected tanks warms our hearts.


Steve emerges at the end of a very long, hard day.


If you look closely in this picture you can see marks on the surface, where sweat poured out of the top of Steves' space suit while he was working upside down. Doesn't matter, the coating is still solid.


The top plate, ready to go back on.

And now we had to reconnect the steel straps that hold the tank in place. We thought this was impossible -- the straps were installed originally using a ratchet tool which then cuts the strap short. Once the strap has been cut the ratchet can't be used on it again. And we judged it impossible to fish a new strap around the tank. Remember all of this was done during the original build so the straps were in place before the tank was lowered into its position.


But Steve showed his design genius again by building this amazing contraption to tension the straps.


One side of the strap gets pinned with a temporary clamp, screwed into the tank lid.


And then this leveraging tool pushes the other end of the steel strap until it is bar tight.


The aft strap faced the other way and required a different tool setup.


As a final touch we fished a dyneema line around the tank to reinforce the straps. That was a mission, but at least the dyneema was far more flexible than the steel straps.


The dyneema runs through a channel under the tank, so it only touches the tank for a short distance. We used heat shrink to isolate the tank from the dyneema, since the rope can hold moisture and cause corrosion.

Ken admits he couldn't have fixed the tank by himself in Majuro.

The tanks have now been holding fuel successfully for many months!




After 2 1/2 years in the incredibly salty environment of Majuro, our chain plates looked pretty bad. And Ken was particularly worried about a small spot on the starboard chain plate which kept coming back even after he polished it.

We did a number of crack tests on that spot, and they always came up negative, but we decided to remove the plates for further testing. If you deal with these problems in port, then they won't be on your mind on a dark and stormy night at sea.


Steve created a special tool for this project, by welding a bit of hard steel onto a crowbar to make a giant slotted screwdriver. The fit was so tight that we needed to hammer it into the bolt heads.


The crowbar gave plenty of leverage for turning the bolts.

We were afraid that the chain plates would be difficult to get off, but in fact they popped off much too easily once we had the bolts out. Turns out that the 5200 bedding had given up the ghost after 28 years. We were starting to get water penetration behind the chain plate -- not enough to cause a leak, but definitely a potential corrosion problem. So it was a good thing that we did all of this, crack or no crack.


We found a local testing company to do the crack check. Here, Ian paints a fluorescent dye on the chain plate.


The dye penetrates into any crack, which will then fluoresce under UV light.


Both chain plates came up completely clean -- no problems. So that persistent rust spot had just been a surface imperfection, which we now polished out permanently.


And now it was time to reinstall the chain plates. The surface was prepared to accept new sealant.


Fortunately, we had Steve to generate the necessary torque to reinstall the bolts. Ken had much more leverage on the outside with the crowbar, but he still had trouble holding it against Steve's efforts.



We started off thinking that the blister problem was going to be limited to just a few spots, and that “we” (that is, Steve with some help from us and others) could fix them one by one.


Ken warms the hull on the spots that Steve sanded.


So that Steve can epoxy a fiberglass patch.


But the project grew…


… and grew.

Turns out that a layer of chopped strand was applied in the original layup, outside of everything else -- to accept the original “copper clad” (which we had removed in 2003). Evidently that chop strand hadn't been wetted out sufficiently during the build. So, in the very hot water of the Marshall Islands, air expanded in those dry spots and caused bubbles. And a few of the bubbles broke through the barrier coat and got wet. There was no damage to the strength layers, and no water in the balsa, so this was mostly a cosmetic problem. But it looked like hell.

We finally caved and decided on a full “peel” of the chop strand. We felt bad to have wasted Steve's time.


We contracted that peel project in June of 2023, and it is still underway as we write this in December. Here's a picture taken after an initial peel.


And here the team from Harbourside Boatworks begins adding a layer of mat to replace the chop strand.

We're just hoping all this gets done by the time we get back to New Zealand in January of 2024!



June 26, 2023 – December 31, 2023


And then back to the USA again, as if we hadn't done enough traveling. We arrived in Chicago in late June.


Our first order of business was to buy a used car. No, not this one. We ended up with a very nice 2018 Mazda 6.


But we saw this -- the very first Honda car -- at one of the dealers we visited.

Ken remembers seeing these cars when they first appeared in the early 1970s, and he's never forgotten his reaction. At the time, Honda was only known for making small motorcycles. And Ken just thought this was the funniest looking car he'd ever seen -- it had a scuba mask on its rear end! Obviously, Honda would never amount to anything in the auto industry...

Ken also thought that nobody would ever pay good money for bottled water, when you can get water for free from the tap.

Did we mention that Ken used to teach in the business school at the University of Chicago?


We stopped to see our friends Bob and Rose in Chicago. Ken says that this is the first selfie he's ever taken. Kind of looks that way…


We also visited our Ukrainian friends Severin and Ellen. We met way back when we had boats at Waukegan Marina.

Severin is a great guy, but he thinks that Americans smile too much. People from Eastern Europe don't smile for pictures.


Ellen is more flexible. Here she explains some of the fine points of Ukrainian cooking to Beth.


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The truth is that Ukrainians don't have much to smile about right now. But, if other Ukrainians are anything like Severin, then Russians won't be smiling much either.

Severin almost went to fight over there, but reluctantly decided he was too old and could be more useful raising funds here.


We also visited friends Debbie and David in Highland Park, near Chicago. David is examining a butterfly that landed on his sleeve.


Debbie and Beth. Their boys, Daniel and Michael, are two of our godchildren.


Washington DC


We made a short excursion to Washington DC to see godson Michael and his family.


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This is Michael's son Jasper, 3 3/4 years old, and pretty exhausting to keep up with. As his father is our godson, we figure that makes Jasper a grand-godson.


Fortunately, we didn't have to do everything Jasper did -- we could just watch from the sidelines.


Jasper with his mother, Fanfan.


And with his father. Jasper understands the purpose of drinking fountains but isn't quite tall enough by himself.


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Jasper likes playgrounds but has a real passion for cars. He keeps a watch out the window when we're driving, and calls out the brand names of other cars: “Honda!” “Mercedes!” “Toyota!” He is also into heavy equipment.


Art Museums

And since we were in Washington, we grabbed some time to visit a few of the outstanding museums there. Art museums in particular.

Neanderthals co-existed with our Cro-Magnon species for a while, and left evidence of some sophisticated tool-making abilities. And they may even have created some geometric patterns of lines that we would call “art.”


But our species took art to a whole new level.


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All human cultures produce and obsess about art. It's part of what defines us.

We always make a point of visiting art museums. And Washington DC is full of them. We'll just mention two.


African Art

Here are some pictures from our visit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. These only scratch the surface of course.


A 16 th century Nigerian bracelet carved from a single piece of ivory. This piece has moving parts, including an inner sleeve which moves separately from the outer sleeve. Plus numerous pendants. All from one block of ivory. It's a virtuoso technical achievement by the artist.




Mythical figures.


Mother with child.


A view of the modern world.


A birdseye view of part of the museum. The snake swallowing its tail is made from old jerry cans.


Here's a closeup.


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Some art doesn't just hang on a wall.



We were especially impressed by the Calder exhibit at the National Gallery of Art.


This was our favorite piece (“Little Spider”), but we couldn't get a good picture of it, unfortunately. Because when we went back to take the picture, the random movement of the air currents -- always a factor with Calder's stuff -- had tangled it. Normally it would look much more organized. Ken was sorely tempted to reach over and pop the stuck piece loose, but figured he would probably be arrested, executed, and turned into an exhibit if he did that.




“Cow” -- Reminded us of Picasso. But it turns out that similar motifs by Picasso were created much later, so who knows which way the influence goes?




“Cascading Flowers” -- one of Calder's famous mobiles.


“Tower with Orange Band”


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“Horse” -- Those shadows kind of work here.


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“Hercules and Lion” -- You have to stare at this one for a moment to understand the name.


“Small Feathers”

We had only been familiar with Calder's monumental sculptures, which never really grabbed us. But his smaller works -- most of these are only a few feet, or maybe a few meters across -- seemed much lighter and less serious. They were very cool, and this visit turned us into Calder fans.


And as another bonus, we connected with friends Donna and David, who live in the Washington area and who have a great adventurous spirit as they visit far flung places around the globe, including Oman.




And then back to Wisconsin to visit friends Debbie and Tim. Their kids, Becky and Greg, are another two of our godchildren.


Debbie with “Sugar,” who likes to keep a sharp lookout from a convenient high point.

A visit with Tim and Debbie is always kind of epic. Tim has some novel ideas about entertaining guests.


First some light cement work.


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We somehow forgot to bring cement-making clothes with us, so Ken had to borrow some of Tim's.


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Ken demonstrates his technique -- if you keep your elbow on your knee, the load doesn't go through your back.


Of course that doesn't always work out.


Then some work for Tim's horse arena-grading business. Truthfully, digging with the excavator was much easier than shoveling concrete!


The excavator was fun, but Ken really liked driving this skid steer. Here it's set up with Tim's laser grading equipment, but Ken used it with just a shovel in front. This thing handles like a sports car in dirt and Ken got good at moving piles of that stuff from one place to another. Beats a shovel…

Ken thinks he should get Jasper together with Tim in a few years. Jasper would love that skidsteer!




This is Everett, another grand-godson, with his father, Greg.


And mother Leanne. Greg and Leanne are both hard-core athletes and rock climbers. Greg was a champion whitewater kayaker. So Everett may have a future in sport down the road.


But, at 18 months old, Everett's interests are closer to home.


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Like exploring tunnels.


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And bowling Beth over with his great strength!


With occasional ventures into that big, scary world.


Our goddaughter Becky is also a competitive athlete.

It takes years of practice to jump like this. The tongue position is critical.


Another competitor demonstrates improper tongue position.


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Becky with "Ryder Kay"

Beth would have loved to have a horse. Ken thinks it looks like a lot of work for some slow transportation. Of course… we have a boat…

We finished up our visit by going to Becky and her husband Bob's house for their annual “Dillimania” obstacle course/endurance contest, which they hold every summer for many of their friends.


Bob explains this year's course -- a two-mile run studded with obstacles.


The contestants start off in the 95 degree heat. We would have just loved to join them but decided reluctantly that our services were too valuable as spectators.

Tim “ran” the course, although we noticed him doing a lot of walking. He probably couldn't have handled the exertion of being a spectator.


Here's a typical obstacle. That water felt pretty good in the heat.


There's always a different way to do things.


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The water slide obstacle.


Which ends in a big pool of water.


Approaching the slide with a running start.


Demonstrating a swan dive.


It's nice to have help.


Henry, the Labradoodle, standing watch.


The dogs were very excited about the contest, but they were smart enough to stay in the nice cool water!


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Here's Bryce, the ultimate winner.

After he won, he ran the course another time for kicks. And then kept running around for the rest of the afternoon. Yikes!


After our visit with Tim, Debbie and family, we were happily able to attend some larger family events at Beth's cousins: first at cousin Paul's (and his wife JoAnn), and next at cousin Ann's (and her husband Paul). Beth's many cousins have big extended families and it was great to see them after we had been away for so long.

Lambeau Field

We closed out our stay in Wisconsin by visiting some friends in Appleton, near Beth's hometown.


Bonnie with Ken and Beth. Beth used to babysit Bonnie's kids over 50 years ago. Bonnie's daughter, Mary, is an expert on the Green Bay Packers and writes an excellent newsletter which analyzes each Packer game during the football season.


And we visited our sister-in-law Cindy, and her husband John.


John and Cindy took us on a pilgrimage to Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers.


We even got to stand right next to the field. But not on the field. If you touch even one blade of grass, they use you for fertilizer.


It's hard for non-cheeseheads to understand the importance of this football team to Wisconsin. Lambeau Field Stadium is like holy ground for Beth. And we don't even watch football…


Back On The Road Again

Now it was time to start our big road trip, driving from Chicago to Texas. By way of Washington, Oregon, and Southern California, among other places.


We immediately saw more evidence of the labor shortage in the United States. Practically every truck advertised for drivers.


Everyone wanted workers. This was at a Kwik Trip -- a combination gas station and convenience store. Not only are they offering $16 an hour, and more at night, but also retirement and health care benefits. Even for part-time employees! At a convenience store!

We don't know how good any of these benefits would be, but this is still astonishing.


Here's a compensation plan which gets Beth's approval.


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We spent a night in Tomah, Wisconsin.


Like many rural towns, Tomah was struggling a little bit.


Especially with drug addiction.


There is still plenty of civic loyalty and concern, but it's an uphill fight.


And then on the road again. Through Minnesota and South Dakota. Got to love those 80 mph speed limits in South Dakota.


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Past miles of brownish cornfields. These fields should have been green, but the Midwest is suffering a drought and the crops are at risk.


We stopped at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota. But the launch facilities were closed for Labor Day. Wouldn't it be nice if the whole arms race took a vacation?


Fortunately the museum was open. Here's a bit of classic military humor.


This chart shows the number of nuclear warheads year by year in Russia, the United States, and Great Britain respectively. Let's hope that trend continues.


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Here's a mockup of a missile launch control.


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The display asks if the viewer would be able to turn the key, knowing that it means the end of everything.


And yes, we are old enough to remember this scene. Hiding under our desks so that we wouldn't be hit by flying glass when a nearby Russian nuclear strike blows out the windows.


The Badlands

We had always wanted to see the Badlands in South Dakota.


The Badlands formed when a high plateau made of crumbly soil was eroded by the Cheyenne and White Rivers, as well as the wind. And very occasional rain.


The Lakota Sioux gave this area its name “Mako sica,” which translates as “Land Bad.” Most people wouldn't argue with that.

Particularly when it is 106 F in the shade, like it was for our visit.


Here's the scene as we entered the Badlands National Park.

Bison may look cuddly, but they are big, powerful, dangerous animals, and have charged or gored more than a few complacent tourists. Often on video. The locals here post signs saying “Don't Pet The Fluffy Cows.”


Bison are also hard on traffic signs.


Why does the bison cross the road? We don't have a clue.

But we do know when the bison crosses the road… Whenever it damned well pleases.


We waited around for sunset. Ken sensed some pictures coming.


He scrambled to find good angles as the sun dipped down and the bison moved around. But he could never forget about the bulls behind him.


So Beth kept a lookout to the east while Ken focused on shooting west.


Fortunately, we avoided becoming another YouTube video about tourists and the fluffy cows.

Sometimes it's worth taking some risks…


We spent the next couple of days hiking and exploring.

The nice thing about the Badlands is that you can hike just about anywhere -- you really don't need a trail.


OK, there are exceptions.


It's a difficult landscape. But life hangs on.


And adapts. Like this this Badlands grasshopper with his perfect desert camouflage.


It's a landscape without scale. Big mountains look small.


And small formations can look huge until you walk up to them.


It was a very memorable place to visit.


But we wouldn't want to live there.


The Black Hills

The Black Hills are famous for Mount Rushmore.


Which is pretty spectacular, especially at night.


And its completion in 14 years was an amazing accomplishment.


The nearby Crazy Horse monument is much larger. If you want a sense of scale, that's a full-sized crane up on the arm. Crazy Horse has been under construction now for 75 years, and might be finished in another 50. But who's counting? Now that the face has been completed, it's well worth the visit.


Black Hills, Dark History

There's a backstory to why the Sioux wanted a Black Hills monument to Crazy Horse.

The Black Hills have a dark place in US history. In 1868, the Fort Laramie Treaty declared them to be “set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation” of the Sioux Nation and their allies.

The treaty stated “…the United States now solemnly agrees that no persons, except those herein designated and authorized so to do … shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon, or reside in the territory described in this article, or in such territory as may be added to this reservation for the use of said Indians…”

That seems pretty clear.

William Tecumseh Sherman signed for the United States, as did the leaders of all the separate bands of the Sioux people.

The treaty lasted for six years. In 1874 an expedition (led by a fellow named George Armstrong Custer) discovered gold in the Black Hills. The US government made some efforts to stop the ensuing gold rush, but failed to deter the thousands of prospectors who flocked there. Then the US tried to buy the territory back, but the Sioux refused to sell. Eventually the government decided to forcibly resettle the Indians.

War broke out in 1876, and the Sioux ultimately lost, although they put up a good fight. In particular, things didn't work out very well for G.A. Custer.

And the saga continues today. In the late 1970s the Indians sued the US, and in 1980 the Supreme Court awarded the Sioux $106 million. The Sioux refused the money, saying they wanted the land. The money remains in an escrow account and, with interest, now totals more than $1.3 billion.


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Oh, and Crazy Horse never signed any treaties. And he helped lead the fight against Custer. Hence the monument…


We did some great hiking in the Black Hills, particularly a trail up Black Elk Peak, the highest point in the US east of the Rockies.


Spectacular views, although there was always smoke… Canada was burning.


We think there is real fire danger here as well. Fire has been suppressed for a long time -- leaving lots and lots of deadwood.


As we approached the top, we passed by sacred Native American prayer flags.


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The top of the mountain. We were proud of ourselves, as old geezers. The prayer flags were a reminder of the unsettled disputes over this magnificent land.


Montana And The Little Bighorn

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We were mostly just passing through Montana rather than stopping there. The countryside was stunning.


But Ken wanted to stop at the Little Big Horn battlefield.

June 25, 1876 was a bad day for the US cavalry, and specifically a very bad day for the Custer family. If you squint at the top of the memorial pillar you can see that one of the lieutenants is also named Custer. In fact, George had two brothers there, along with a nephew and brother-in-law. They all died.

Custer's overconfidence shaped the battle. He led a force of about 600 cavalry against the largest encampment of Plains Indians ever -- at least 2000 warriors (along with their families). Despite warnings from his Crow scouts.

Even so, Custer's men might have been able to hold their own -- except that he repeatedly divided his force because he was worried about the Indians escaping and wanted to block their escape routes.

In reality the tribes had decided that they would not attack but would fight if the cavalry attacked them.

Custer started the battle by ordering about 140 troopers under Major Reno to attack the village on their own, while he moved to come in on the other side. That went about as well as you might expect -- Reno's force wasn't totally destroyed, but they were routed and out of the fight for the rest of the day.


And, when Crazy Horse helped lead the Indians back to surround him, Custer only had about 210 men with him.


Nobody really knows exactly where the cavalrymen fell, the markers are just guesswork.


The Sioux and Cheyenne have a much clearer idea of where their people fell. It's one of the advantages of controlling the field after the battle.

And archeologists have been able to track the movements of individual soldiers and Indians by analyzing discarded shell casings, since each firing pin left unique marks on the casings.

The Hollywood image of Indians riding in circles -- that didn't happen. Instead, the warriors crawled, using the terrain for cover. They had (some) repeating rifles, which were faster firing but had shorter range than the cavalry rifles, so they needed to get close.


The Sioux and Cheyenne remember who fought. It was a big deal to have been here.


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“Follow me” is also the US infantry motto.


The monuments dedicate equal space to the Indians.


Who gained their greatest victory here.


And here's the thing -- it's impossible to come away from this particular conflict thinking that the US cavalry were the good guys.


This sums it up.


The Pacific Northwest

We got back on the road, headed for the Pacific Northwest.


The trees got greener.


And bigger.


The flowers got fernier.


Park rangers got quirkier.


And gas prices got higher.


We stopped to visit Radia and Charley in Redmond, WA outside of Seattle. They are both computer scientists, and Radia invented many important protocols and technologies which are critical to the internet. In technical circles she's been called the “Mother of the Internet.” Radia and Beth's sister and brother-in-law have been friends for over 50 years.



Throughout our trip, we stayed in lots of Airbnb's. They ran the gamut from incredibly nice to somewhat sketchy. We'll share some images from one of the places we stayed, which had just gotten started, and needed a little work.


The house itself was fantastic.


With a beautiful setting and amazing outside space.


Inside, things were somewhat spartan. We had a room that was isolated from the rest of the house. This combination sink-stove-refrigerator was functional if a bit minimal.


But the counter space really didn't work. Notice that microwave -- it isn't bolted down, so if you weren't careful it could go crashing to the floor.


The makeshift paper curtains (tacked all around to the wall) meant that we couldn't really access that wonderful balcony outside. Because we couldn't open the curtains to get to the sliding doors!


No complaints about the big screen TV, but the TV stand was a little weird.


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But this was the funniest bit. This room was billed as “a very large walk-in closet.” Really now, a little furniture would have helped.

We gave the owner a long list of suggested improvements, but we didn't ding her too hard in the ratings. This could be a great place if she spent a few extra bucks.

*** Update: We just checked the listing and the host made some great changes –- even better than what we suggested -- and now the place is very livable. ***



Coordinating visits with folks was a bit challenging so we ended up driving to southern Oregon, back up to southern Washington, and then back down through Oregon to California.


We were so happy to be able to connect with our friends Art and Nancy, retired from SV Second Wind.


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They have a beautiful house in Ashland Oregon, which seems like an incredibly nice town. Got our attention, since we need to think about life after cruising.


Nancy is a concert violinist, and Art is retired from directing the Ashland Orchestra.


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Art's latest project was converting their beloved 1993 Mazda Miata into an EV. He had a few “sparky” mishaps along the way, but ultimately succeeded. That thing is a rocketship. “Emma” is named for a blue M&M.

As we made our way back up to northern Oregon, we stopped to see Roger and his wife, Cathy. Roger managed our bills and mail for many years while we were away and it was a treat to see them.


We made sure to hike the Columbia River Gorge.


Spectacular views, but watch where you step.


Because the risks are real.


The trail went under this waterfall.


View from under the waterfall.


And down to a creek. Notice all of the burned out trees. This would be a repeated theme along the gorge and throughout the Pacific Northwest all the way down to San Francisco. Fires had swept this area recently, and killed many trees. But the dead trees were still standing, waiting to provide fuel for the next fire.

And there was always smoke.


Country Charms


We visited our friends Bob and Ann, formerly of SV Charisma, but now retired to land. They aren't quite off the grid -- but it's close. Lots of dirt roads to get to their place.


Here Bob prepares a meal -- starting from scratch, with a mortar and pestle.


Ann is a master quilter. And we needed the quilts, because the temperature wasn't 106 any more.


Fortunately Gertie and Gus double as foot warmers.


Ann took us on a hike, and showed us one of the hazards of life in the country…

We suspect this may be a joke. Or maybe it's the Wicked Witch of the West?


They also have some very thorough woodpeckers out there.


Bob and Ann have a great view of Mount Saint Helen.


Yeah, that Mount St. Helen. They assured us that we were out of the blast radius. At least from the last eruption.


Here's what it looks like in the morning. Overlooking the garden, wood-fired pizza oven, and chicken coop. Life in the country.


Onward To California


Driving back south through the interior of Oregon and into Northern California, we saw lots of burns, and lots of deadwood.


We only saw one active fire, but the smoke was always there.


Along with evidence of drought. This had been an orchard, with the trees all recently cut down. Notice the parched ground. Water is gold out here.

This made us think.

On EW, we make our own water from “reverse osmosis,” powered by solar panels. Our little system can make 12 gallons an hour, which is plenty for our needs. And it runs fine off a small solar array. None of this is efficient, compared to a big industrial RO system.

As we drove along the west coast, past huge amounts of sunny ranch land, where the sunlight mostly goes to waste, and past the huge Pacific Ocean on our right -- we couldn't help but think that desalination could transform this whole coast. It's just a thought.


Speaking of smoke, here's another cultural shift. Although to be fair, this trend is hardly limited to the West Coast. Most Americans are probably used to this, but we had just spent 3 1/2 years in places where Marijuana still gets you arrested. Times are changing…


The air finally cleared up as we approached San Francisco and the coast, with air blasting off the ocean. We now think that access to good ventilation from the ocean may become important to real estate values out here, at least in areas where forest fires happen. That smoke was hard to take -- a real quality of life hit.


We stopped in Sausalito. We're thinking about places we might settle when we retire, and this town was on the list.

At a local restaurant, we had a table next to some strangers and ended up talking for a very long time. A fun way to meet new friends, Scott and Livia.


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And they invited us to their house. Here Scott shows off his home brew setup -- which sure puts Ken's “beer in a bucket” brewery to shame.


Scott even had a canning machine and a label maker.


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Livia demonstrates the massage chair.


And here's the most striking feature of their house. The wine cellar under the foyer.


Pretty stunning, but Beth would prefer to use it for something more useful, like chocolate storage…

We did some more hiking further down the California coast. And on one coastal hike, we saw four different types of snakes. These aren't good pictures, unfortunately, but you get the idea…


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“California Striped Racer”


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“Pacific Gopher Snake”


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“California Kingsnake”


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“Southern Pacific Rattlesnake”

This one really got our attention. A terrible picture, but if you squint at the center, that's a rattlesnake's tail. We had gotten complacent and walked too close to the brush. Fortunately, he gave us a warning and then skedaddled. And we had the good sense to let him go.


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We can imagine that dogs don't always show common sense.


Driving along the coast, through the Pajaro Valley, we saw hopeful signs that farmers were adapting to dry conditions -- with different crops.


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And different methods.


These plastic wrapped rows, along with tents, protect delicate crops like raspberries against insects and wind, while also preserving moisture. And we saw a lot of drip irrigation.

Ever since he was an economics grad student in California, Ken had been appalled by the wasteful use of water in California agriculture, caused by bad water-rights rules. For the most part, water rights came with land on a “use it or lose it” basis. But its even worse than that. In some states, like Colorado, a farmer who doesn't use all of his water allotment, could lose his all of his water rights forever.

And so farmers use wasteful practices like spray irrigation –- throwing the water up into the air to cover a big field, allowing a lot of it to evaporate. Some farmers even do crazy things like growing rice in the desert.

But now, seeing all of these careful water conservation practices we wondered if maybe the rules had changed.

Turns out that they have, but only in some places, like the Pajaro Valley. Back in the 1990s farmers there drained the coastal aquifer to the point that wells started to produce salt water -– killing the crops. Faced with extinction, the local farmers agreed to a water-use tax of $30 per acre-foot. (The amount of water needed to cover an acre a foot deep.) And the rest is history. The tax is now at $400 per acre foot -– the level needed to keep the aquifer stable in today's climate conditions -- and agriculture is flourishing. Because these farmers can count on having water.

And given the incentive, farmers found all kinds of innovative ways to conserve water. Economic incentives are just incredibly powerful.


Enjoying California


We stayed for a while with friends Bob and Pauline. Bob and Ken were buddies in college, and we are godparents to their three children -- Kyle, Ryan, and Dave.


They have a wonderful house with lots of redwoods on their property.


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(Although this picture was taken at a nearby park.)


Fire is a huge concern these days. Bob and Pauline had to evacuate a few years ago, although fire never reached the house. Bob is determined to be ready next time. Here he poses with his huge generator, which runs on gas from buried pipelines. Having reliable electricity is key to Bob's plan.


He needs power to run the pumps that feed water to his massive sprinkler system. The sprinklers can wet down the entire roof, along with most of the surrounding grounds, to prevent fires from taking hold. The redwoods are naturally fire resistant, but it's essential to keep the fire from reaching the crowns of the trees. That means keeping the brush wet at the base.

Bob also has a lithium battery bank, fed by solar panels, which can supply power to the house and pumps.

Bob's sprinkler system has three water sources available -- an inground swimming pool, a big trout pond, and a very large plastic storage tank. And city water, of course, although the pressure would probably fail in a big fire.


Godson Ryan is a special needs kid – Down's syndrome, and autism. But he is the nicest, friendliest, happiest kid you could imagine. He's 29, but he seems like he's about five years old.

Pauline (and Bob) worked intensively for years to help Ryan develop language skills and become more social. It sure worked.


Ryan spends a lot of time at home, but Bob and Pauline have gotten together with other parents to create a small special needs community near their house. The community has an endowment, and they hope that it will provide Ryan with security, and a good place to live, after they are gone.


Ryan's brother Dave has a job at the community helping to care for Ryan.


Ryan also goes to a therapy class, where he gets to ride horses. Ryan loves horses.


Flower near Ryan's home.


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Another version of flower before it blooms.


Ken also got to do some “fishing” in Bob's trout pond. The pond has about 50 large trout, which started as fingerlings two years ago.


And now they're bloody huge.


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Ken demonstrates his fish cleaning skills. Although, actually, the techniques that work on big ocean-going fish don't work quite as well on trout. Ken ended up learning a few things from this experience.


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Beth fried up the fish with cajun spices. That trout fed the four of us, with plenty of leftovers.


Pauline and Beth consult on recipes.


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No visit to Bob's house would be complete without some death-defying risks. Here Bob demonstrates one of the many zip lines he installed between his giant trees.


Beth takes the plunge on the zipline.


We survived that OK.

But the rope swings were more of a challenge. Bob built launch platforms at three different heights. And you go way out there. No safety belts –- you need to hang on.


Beth getting up the nerve to try out the lowest level.


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Beth's not afraid of heights, but was a bit dubious about the ergonomics of the setup. She stopped after the low launch.


But Ken went all the way to the highest jump. Once…


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He's that little spec in the middle of the picture.

Having somehow survived another visit with Bob and Pauline, we moved on down the coast.

We made a stop in Santa Barbara to visit Scott Johnson and his wife Jeanette. Scott is the scientist who had been so gracious in helping us identify nudibranch species while we were diving in the Marshall Islands and Fiji.


La Jolla

And we stopped for three weeks in La Jolla.

We had long ago picked the San Diego area as a place where we might want to retire after our voyage. Because it has the best weather in the lower 48.


The place does have its charms.


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Beach culture.


But it can also be kind of intense. So we weren't sure that we would fit in.


Here is a symptom of that intensity -- a fencing Academy, located in a shopping mall.


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That caters to young kids.


The sign explains what's going on. If you want your kid to get into a good college, you need to start them young, in a sport where they might make the varsity. We can't knock this kind of planning and caring about kids' futures, but yes -- it's intense. Different from the way we grew up, and not like life on a sailboat.


Here's another sign that we may not be perfectly in synch with La Jolla.


And then there was this stuff. We saw multiple different “hydration” shops.


Where you could pay $100 or more to get an IV injection to fix your hangover. Among other maladies.

Ok, this is just weird.


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But we set out to explore, mostly using the excellent public transportation.


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Lots of fast, comfortable buses which ran right on schedule, almost down to the minute.


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And we discovered a lot to like. This is the Athenaeum, a donation-funded cultural institution founded by a women's group back in the 1800s.

We saw a couple of free or nominally-priced concerts -- one by Gustavo Romero, an internationally famous pianist, and another concert which included Jack Tempchin, the guy who wrote “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” Both concerts were small -- maybe a hundred people in the room, and both were over-the-top fantastic.


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And there were lots of other free cultural events. We could get used to this.


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The flowers were nice, too.


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More flowers.


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And the place could be endearingly quirky. That's a bunny rabbit on that leash.


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La Jolla businesses had a sense of humor. This little display was about Halloween. A lot of restaurants might be afraid this would reflect on their service.


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And, of course, there's the coast.


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Where there are nice beaches, but also plenty of rugged terrain.


Don't think we'll be hiking on those razor sharp cliffs.



To get a better feel for the place, we decided to participate in some community events.


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…including this “Dog-O-Ween” costume contest.

You might think that not having a dog would be a handicap here. But Ken had a plan.


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His idea was to take pictures, and submit them to the local newspaper. He had done this sort of thing in Majuro.


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Some contestants created elaborate costumes, complete with props.


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The guy on the left is doing his best “Yoda” imitation.


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We thought it was funny how much owners sometimes resembled their dogs.


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Matching hats.


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This lady washed a sweater on “hot” by mistake. And discovered that it now fit the dog perfectly.


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Sometimes the show was more about the owner than the dog. This woman could have been an actress!


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And this owner was much scarier than the dog.


This is an adoption agency. The dogs, not the kids.


Mostly the show was about very patient dogs putting up with their owners' weird ideas.


No matter how undignified.


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Hopefully, that will wash out.


This costume didn't win, but it had our vote as the most convincing.


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And finally, we had to mention this guy. His owners entered him as a beef taco.


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But we knew that he was really a sea slug.

It turned out that the La Jolla Light newspaper sent its own cameraman and reporter -- who showed up at the end of the competition and took pictures of the winners. So Ken learned that he was competing in the big leagues. But we supplied our pictures to the event organizer, who was very appreciative. And we also sent pictures to many of the contestants. Anyway, the whole affair was a lot of fun. And we enjoyed seeing a healthy community spirit.


San Diego Zoo


We also made a trip to the famous San Diego Zoo.


Where the pictures speak for themselves.



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We thought the zoo did a great job -- most of these animals looked happy to be there.


Although not necessarily happy about all the people looking at them.



The giraffes were expressive.


And affectionate.


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As were the porcupines. But how porcupines get beyond first base is a mystery to us. It's amazing that they manage to keep the species going.


These guys don't make it look easy, but at least it isn't life threatening.


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Meanwhile, this koala is doing what he does best.


But we weren't sure that this one could keep up his hectic pace.


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Some animals trigger our primal fears.


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Most religions have a snake as part of their mythology.


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And some animals seem benign but aren't. Hippos like this one kill 500 people per year. For comparison, sharks kill around 5-10 people per year globally. And Hippos eat plants!

But snakes kill between 80,000 and 140,000 people per year. So listen to your primal fears…

And if you don't have a primal fear of mosquitoes, you should. They kill between 700,000 and 1 million people per year.

We're ok with sharks and snakes, but we (especially Ken) really don't like mosquitoes. We're not sure about hippos – haven't met any.


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And there are a few animals that actively hunt humans. Polar bears, for example. Fortunately this guy was just a life-size statue. Yikes!


Nature Can Be Ugly

Speaking of hunting…

Our second story window in La Jolla looked out at a tree where hummingbirds were feeding. Ken got out his tripod and telephoto lens to capture the action.


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This picture is surprisingly sharp, considering it was shot through a screen window.


The pictures improved when Ken took the screen off.


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And then a less family-friendly drama developed. This honey bee blundered into the web of an orb spider.


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The spider wraps up his prey for a late night snack.


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In addition to still images, Ken got some amazing video. So if you want to check out his three minute Attenborough imitation, here's the link … The Spider and the Honey Bee (though we should warn you that a few early viewers ran screaming from the room after only a few seconds…)

Overall, our stay in La Jolla resolved a lot of our doubts. The traffic wasn't that bad, at least compared to Chicago and San Antonio.

And we thought the town had heart, with some great advantages, like free, top-quality concerts. And the weather was outstanding -- perfect all the time. And no smoke, at least while we were there. So it's still high on our list of places to consider.

Just before we left San Diego, we were able to rendezvous with Curtis and Julie of SV Manna. They were sailing to Mexico from Seattle and happened to make a brief stop at Coronodo Island in San Diego.



Our next stop would be Las Vegas, to meet up with Beth's sister and family. They like to go there for the shows.


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So we set off into the desert.


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On the way, we stopped at Joshua Tree National Park.


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Beth investigates Skull Rock.


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Here's the skull, head on.


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There were a lot of spooky formations.


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Altogether otherworldly natural creations.


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Cacti and other resilient plants eke out a living in the arid terrain.


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We met a few other hikers, including a team with this unique rig. But we thought the dog needed a hat, or at least some sunglasses.


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Lots of space. Kind of minimalistic.


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Altogether, a strange and desolate place.


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As you may have noticed, the American Southwest has a whole lot of empty land.

We think this could turn out to be a good thing in the future.

On our trip through the west, we saw huge solar farms. Las Vegas, in particular, gets a lot of power that way.

And here's the thing -- since the cost of solar is now competitive with other sources, there's no limit to what these deserts could produce.

Europe has been trying to replace natural gas -- partly by converting to solar power. But Europe is practically in the artic. Look at a globe -- Chicago is about on the same latitude as Madrid! Which puts most of Europe at the latitude of Hudson's Bay. There's not a lot of desert up there. And it's really dark in the winter.

Europe's best sun lies across the Mediterranean, in North Africa. To tap that power, Europe would need to lay big cables under the Mediterranean. And they would have to plunk down huge amounts of investment in North African countries, which would leave them at the mercy of those countries. Even so, they're talking about it.


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The US, on the other hand…

Once you begin to see hot, sunny deserts as a power source, then the American Southwest suddenly looks like a huge resource.


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Deserts are windy, too. And wind power can be even cheaper than solar.


Las Vegas


The opposite of minimalistic…


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Talk about culture shock.


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Las Vegas won't let you be. It's full-on sensory overload, all the time.

We have to say that it was very nice to spend time with Kay and Steve and Tom. (Nicole couldn't come.) And the shows were great. Particularly Cirque du Soleil -- those performers barely seem human. And the show we saw -- “Ka” -- can only be seen in Las Vegas, because it uses a huge, custom-designed stage and amphitheater.

But, aside from that, this place isn't really our scene.

To begin with, we aren't into casino gambling. We're ok with risk-taking -- but we want to have the odds on our side!


Things feel a bit phony and overhyped. Like this indoor hotel/casino/shopping arcade (which changes color every five minutes). It's got a roof over it -- that isn't really the sky up there...


Here's an automated bar, where you can have a robot mix your drinks.


Las Vegas art. What can we say – Vegas doesn't do subtle. After a few days, we felt a need for peace and quiet.

Fortunately, Nevada has quite a lot of that.

We hiked the Petroglyph Canyon Trail in the Sloan Canyon Conservation area.


The trail got a bit rough. Beth shows her stuff -- not bad for an old lady.


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But we kept going because we wanted to see the petroglyphs.


Where traveling Indian bands used to leave messages for each other, marking their passage and commenting on the hunting and such.

They made these images by chipping away the dark “desert varnish” to expose lighter rock underneath. There are hundreds of them in this place, some possibly 800 years old.


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It was a nice, peaceful interlude. Away from the craziness in Vegas.


Hoover Dam


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We also visited Hoover Dam -- an easy day trip from Vegas. A fabulous bit of engineering started by Herbert Hoover, and finished under Franklin Roosevelt -- who refused to call it the “Hoover” Dam because… politics…


Here's Lake Mead, created by the dam. Water dissolves desert varnish, so you can clearly see the high water mark. And the extent of the drought.


Here's a marina on the lake. It used to be located way, way up to the left -- it keeps moving farther into the lake as the water levels fall.

And they keep finding bodies stuffed into barrels and such, from the old gangster days in Vegas.


One of the two gigantic turbine rooms.


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With the mother of all rotors getting a tune-up. We have stuff like this on EW, but just… smaller…


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These are the water outlets from the turbines. But you can see that only a couple are active. The dam is running at about 20% capacity, to avoid completely draining the lake.


COVID Arrives


And then this happened, just after we left the dam. Ken got COVID. Beth was thoroughly exposed, but her awesome immune system defeated the bug without symptoms.

We had gotten the latest Omicron-specific vaccine about a month prior to this test, and Ken thinks it really helped him. He felt sick as a dog for about 10 hours, and then the virus magically went away. So he recovered faster than he would from a normal cold -- probably because he already had antibody templates. But, in an abundance of caution, we decided to forego two upcoming visits with godchildren.

Between the two of us, we have now been vaccinated 12 times for COVID, so it's clear where we stand on that issue! But why do we keep hearing Bill Gates' voice in our heads…?


On Toward Santa Fe

We moved on as soon as Ken got back on his feet.


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Route 66 took us through Winslow AZ.


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Winslow is famous for exactly one thing, and they make the most of it!


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If you look carefully here, you can see the famous girl in the flatbed Ford. We just hope that Jackson Browne will forgive Ken for standing on his foot instead of the corner.


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We stopped to hike in the Petrified National Forest. Beth examines a bit of petrified wood.


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It was hard to believe this was actually stone.


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Usually, the petrified logs break into fragments under their own weight as the ground erodes under them. But a few whole tree trunks remain, like this one. That ordinary looking log is entirely stone!


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Gravity defying rocks.


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The desert was full of weird sculptures created by the wind wearing away soft rock under harder rocks.


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And plenty of petroglyphs.


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Even the Ranger station/visitor center was kind of awesome.


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View on the drive out of the Petrified Forest, on our way back to Holbrook, AZ


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The whole landscape was transformed by the late afternoon sun.


Santa Fe And Los Alamos


Finally, we arrived in Santa Fe where we stopped to spend a week.


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We really enjoyed Santa Fe, especially the art scene, which mostly centers around southwestern Indian art. Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni artists set up under this arcade to show their wares. They need a license from a tribal council to do this, which ensures that the pieces are authentic, and not secretly manufactured in China!


And the tribal market was just the beginning. Art was everywhere in Santa Fe.


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There are over 250 art galleries. In a very small town.


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Even the desserts were artistic! (Although Beth really didn't want all that non-chocolate silliness.)


Ken particularly liked this sculpture by Dave McGary, which depicts the Sioux chief “Medicine Bag That Burns,” aka “Crow King.” Crow King led 80 warriors against Custer and helped trap him on that hill. That would be Custer's Major General's uniform jacket that he's holding.

(Technically, Custer was a lieutenant colonel at the battle of Little Big Horn, as his Major General commission was no longer in effect after the Civil War. And he normally wore buckskins during the Black Hills campaign, so it's not clear he had a uniform with him. And nobody really knows where his stuff ended up after the battle.)

But there are probably a few Sioux families who DO know the answer to that question.

McGary was an adopted member of the Oglala Sioux tribe. So maybe he knew…

Maybe he also knew what Crow King was burning in that medicine bag…


Santa Fe also has some spectacular architecture.


Like the cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi.


The cathedral was started in 1869 and finished in 1887.


But here's an element that is much older. The sculpture near the top is “La Conquistadora,” and arrived with the Spanish in Santa Fe in 1629! When the Southwestern Indian tribes rose up in 1680, the Spanish took La Conquistadora with them as they retreated back to Mexico. And they brought her again when they returned in 1693.

Despite her ferocious history, La Conquistadora now goes by “Our Lady of Peace.” More politically correct!


We made a day trip out of Santa Fe to visit Los Alamos -- home of the atomic bomb. Beth talks physics with Robert Oppenheimer.


There isn't much to see at Los Alamos, just some old army-style barracks and buildings. But the Bradbury Science Museum was well worth a visit. We found this copy of the famous letter from Einstein to Franklin Roosevelt very compelling.

Einstein wrote this letter, at the urging of physicist Leo Szilard, about one month before Hitler invaded Poland and started World War II. It really clarifies the whole moral dilemma around the bomb. The human race would have been better off without it. But that wasn't the choice that Einstein and Roosevelt and Oppenheimer faced.


Ken found this more peaceful example of physics in the woods near Los Alamos.


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We stopped to see the cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people (Anasazi) in the Bandelier State Park, which is very close to Los Alamos. People built multi-story buildings there, drilling into the soft rock of the cliffs to support roof poles and to carve out additional space.


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Most of the buildings lay at the foot of the cliff.


But some took advantage of caves higher on the cliff face.


Where you can carve a nice house in the soft rock.


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And there must have been a few families that really liked their privacy.


Beth starts up the first ladder to the alcove.


And then the second ladder.


Just reaching the top of the second ladder.


This would be quite a commute. Considering there's no water up there.


But it certainly makes for a defensible house.


With lots of privacy.



Now we were on the home stretch.


We stopped over in Amarillo, Texas. The West Texas desert is mostly just a flat plane, but Amarillo has a kind of mini-Grand Canyon at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.


Naturally we had to explore.


There are some pretty wild formations there. If you squint hard at this picture, you can see people up on the mesa between the two peaks.


Here's a view from the Mesa. That's Beth at the foot of the tower.


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With a close-up.


San Antonio

Finally, after almost 3 months and over 7300 miles on the road, we made it to San Antonio just before Thanksgiving. It sure was great to spend the holiday with Beth's sister and her family.

And here are just a few flower pictures, taken at the San Antonio Botanical Garden to round out this website update.


Sure was great to see flowers in the winter.


Lots of succulents, too.


And other interesting plants.


We think this is a “Hornet mimic hoverfly” on this beautiful flower.

It was a truly epic trip, but our thoughts have already turned back to New Zealand… And a voyage back to North America.