Back Out There – Thru-Hiking the A.T.

March 25th is the date… the Appalachian Trail is the place… Fred Jolly – trail name: Santiago – is the guy… six months of hiking is the event.  Check out our new website – www.athike.jollyoutthere.com – which tracks Fred’s latest journey of thru-hiking the A.T. from March through October.

Fred is hiking in large part to give back to the national park system that gave so much to us during our 2-1/2-year road trip.  On our new website you will find links to donate to the National Park Foundation via either Facebook or Crowdrise.

Coming Home

Hey, it’s good to be back home again.

                             Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend.

               Yes, and hey, it’s good to be back home again.

                               John Denver, refrain from “Back Home Again”



November 3, 2016: The Odyssey is finished, and Odysseus has returned to Ithaca. This was not the 10-year journey that Homer wrote of so many, many years ago, but it was a grand trip for Laura and me, nonetheless. In pursuing this endeavor, we heeded Mark Twain’s advice to, “…throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.” It had been almost two and a half years since we left Chicago, having sold our downtown condominium and placing everything in storage. We moved into our motorhome that we named Charley, after the Steinbeck novel, Travels With Charley: In Search of America, hooked up our small Subaru that we called Toad, and hit the open road in search of America ourselves. Actually, our primary objective in undertaking this trip was to see and experience all 59 of our country’s national parks, which we accomplished when we visited our last park, National Park of American Samoa, in October 2016. In addition to the 59 national parks, we also visited another 126 national park units such as, monuments, memorials, battlefields and historic sites. But as it turned out, visiting the parks was just one element of our own, incredible, 30-month odyssey.

When we were Out There I liked to say that we tried to allow life to just wash over us, and we certainly did our best to immerse ourselves in it. We lifted off with 400 other balloons during opening ceremonies at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta; attended Garrison Keillor’s last A Prairie Home Companion show at the Hollywood Bowl; marveled at the Milky Way sweeping across the night sky above us; were there for Games 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the World Series and saw the Cubs finally win it all; watched a Little League World Series championship game in PA; walked the route of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg with a young man in a Confederate Army uniform at sunrise; whitewater rafted down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon; hiked rim to rim across the same canyon to commemorate my 60th; attended a festival of nothing but twins and other multiples; strolled around Thoreau’s Walden Pond; kayaked and camped in pristine wilderness above the Arctic Circle; celebrated New Year’s Eve with former Navy shipmates whom I had not seen in 35 years; stood where Washington crossed the Delaware; watched a lunar eclipse from a mountain top away from the rest of the world; snorkeled in water that was so full of life that it was like swimming in an aquarium; watched stock car races at a dirt track on a Saturday evening in small-town Colorado; met folks who will be lifelong friends; walked our daughter down the aisle; and through Charley’s picture-window windshield watched our awe-inspiring country sweep past us as we drove around this great nation. In truth, there was all of this, and so much more.

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Finally!



Any team can have a bad century.

Jack Brickhouse, former Chicago Cubs WGN radio announcer




It had been a long dry spell, a very, very long dry spell. One hundred and eight years to be exact. One hundred and eight years since the Chicago Cubs last won a World Series. One hundred and eight years of many really bad teams. One hundred and eight years of good teams that never quite made it. One hundred and eight years of “just wait until next year.” One hundred and eight years of disappointment with moments of profound heartbreak thrown in for good measure. But as former Cubs WGN radio announcer Jack Brickhouse famously commented, “Any team can have a bad century.”

Just during my lifetime alone, there is the 1969 team which counted four future hall-of-famers on its roster and lost an 8-1/2 game lead in August to the Miracle Mets. As a 13-year-old who worshiped the team’s third baseman Ron Santo and loved the Cubs, them collapsing at the end of the season was devastating. Even today, some 47 years later, I still cannot read or watch anything about that team and their monumental breakdown.

The next moment of extreme disappointment came in 1984 when, Continue reading

59 Parks in 2-1/2 Years!

We made it to all 59 national parks!

We did it!  We met our goal and visited all 59 of America’s beautiful, incredible, breathtakingly spectacular national parks!  We visited them in the way we wanted to and spent as much time in them as we wanted to.  Our shortest visit at a couple of the parks was just one day as seasonal weather dictated our access… our longest visit was more than a month as the sheer size of Yellowstone required it… and in the case of the Grand Canyon, we came back to it over and over and over again as the sheer wonder and beauty of the place demanded it.  Two-and-a-half years… living in a motorhome… wow!

When asked what our favorite park was, Fred used to answer, “the next one,” for we were always anticipating what came next.  But now that we’ve made our way through all of them, we both agree that it is, in fact, Grand Canyon National Park that is our favorite; it is easily the most grand thing we have or will ever see.

We will likely write more on what this trip meant to us and how it has changed us, but for now, we will share the little map I created at the beginning of our journey.  It initially showed all 59 of the NP indicator pins red in color.  With each National Park visit, I turned that pin from red to green so our blog readers could follow our progress.  Well as you can see, they’re all green now — we hit all 59 of them!

In the years to come we expect Congress will continue to protect new lands and we’re betting some of the current park units will get an “upgrade” to a Capital-P Park(s).  As this happens, we are committed to visiting these newly-appointed Parks, even if we have already visited them when they had a “lesser” ranking.

And so life goes… we will set our circus down someplace and settle in.  I’m looking more forward to this than Fred is, but he knows I didn’t commit to being a “full-timer” living in an RV forever.  Once we establish a new home in a new community, our wanderlust will surely not leave us and thus we will continue to travel in this, the greatest country on earth; the one that saw to it to protect its most treasured gifts, the very beautiful places we protect as national parks.

Here we are in the southern hemisphere somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The National Park of American Samoa — our 59th and final park.

American Samoa – Travel Logistics

We struggled to find a lot of information on visiting American Samoa, so in an effort to help other people who also plan to make the journey to this remote place, we are happy to share some travel logistics here.

Flights — Flights to American Samoa are limited, departing the U.S. only a couple of times each week.  We flew American/Hawaiian Air from Los Angeles [LAX] to Honolulu [HNL] to Pago Pago [PPG].  We chose to spend a full week here but would have happily stayed longer if our schedule had permitted.  Given our limited time, we got to the island of ‘Aunu’u — more about this below — but we didn’t have the time to venture to the islands further away.  It should be noted that visits to these really remote islands are dependent on the local plane at PPG being operational, which was not the case when we were there, so in the end I’m rather glad we hadn’t booked lodging on Ta’ū or Ofu!

View from our balcony at Sadie's by the Sea
View from our balcony at Sadie’s by the Sea

Lodging — There are only a couple of hotels on the island.  We chose Sadie’s by the Sea because of its beautiful location next to the harbor and the additional amenities we saw on the website, and we were very happy with our decision.  Hosts Tee & Tom were incredibly kind, gracious and accommodating, making suggestions for us and helping us get to places we otherwise wouldn’t have known to visit.  The little lagoon was a wonderful place to swim and relax, and the swimming pool was nice, as well.  From here it was an easy walk into town [2k; about 20 minutes] which we made pretty much daily.

Tom & Tee also own and operate the Sadie Thompson Inn which offers lower priced rooms but doesn’t have the amenities of Sadie’s by the Sea.  This hotel is a few minutes closer to the town area, but it’s not on the water which is what we wanted.  The Tradewinds Hotel appeared newer and fancier and convenient to the airport, but this area is a 25-minute drive from what we wanted to do and see and I’m glad we didn’t choose that one.

Meals — We ate most of our meals at the restaurant at Sadie’s — the Goat Island Cafe — where we enjoyed delicious food (fresh tuna & fruit to die for!) and drinks and wonderful island service.  Another popular place is the DDW Beach Cafe which an easy 5-minute walk from the hotel and we had a nice lunch there one day.  The Sadie Thompson Inn does house Sadie’s Restaurant, arguably the best restaurant in the whole of the region, and dinner here one evening was a delicious treat.  There are a few other restaurants on the island [including two McDonalds which we did not frequent] but we were quite happy with Goat Island Cafe for the views, flavors, variety, hospitality and convenience, so didn’t feel the need to go find something else.

 

Tisa’s Barefoot Bar — This place deserves a special shout out because it’s such a wonderfully cool place.  If we had a car we would likely have frequented it every day, but because it’s 12k east of Pago Pago and the harbor — it’s in the little village of Alega — it took a fair amount of effort to get to.  Still, as the photos show, this place is dreamy and relaxing; Gilligan’s Island has nothing on Tisa’s!

 

Tisa’s Umu – An umu is an earth oven, and this is the traditional island way to cook.  Tisa’s Barefoot Bar features a Samoan feast cooked in an umu once a week and it is not to be missed!  Once you get to the island, find out what night Tisa’s Umu is and make your reservation to be treated to delicious food in an idyllic setting on an evening you won’t soon forget.

 

‘Aunu’u [ow-NOO-oo] — About a mile southeast of Tutuila’s eastern tip is the volcanic island of ‘Aunu’u, the smallest inhabited island of American Samoa.  A chance meeting of Pica “Peter” Taliva’a in the barber shop lead to an invitation for us to join him and his family at his home on ‘Aunu’u where we had the honor of sharing the morning with him, his son Sam, and a few other members of his family.  Peter is the chief of his village so the experience we had with him showing us his island and preparing us local foods in an umu (our second umu experience of the week) was uniquely special; one we still think about and cherish.

 

Navigating the Island —  As there is really only one primary road [Route 1] that winds east-west and sticks mostly to the southern edge of the island, navigating the island of Tutuila isn’t too difficult.  The airport is about one third of the way in from the western end of the island; the city center of Pago Pago and the National Park are about two thirds in; you access ‘Aunu’u from the eastern end — check out a Google Map.  There are a few other inward roads [Route 5, Route 6] that lead up into more remote little villages up from the coastal road, but these felt almost private and there was really no good reason to go up into them other than to see what life in those little villages is like — i.e. no cafes, shops, restaurants anywhere other than along Route 1.  We are walkers so found the ~2k|20-minute walk into Pago Pago very easy from our hotel.  Sadie’s has a shuttle van that took us to/from the airport, and when available (which it mostly was), to other destinations like the park’s trail head and some coastline destinations.

Aigas are the little buses that help islanders get around the island.  They are not really buses as we know them; they’re actually locally-converted trucks with a cab & some seats atop the truck bed area, but they’re great fun and island visitors need to experience at least one ride in them.  Some aigas are fancier and nicer than others, but all will take you “somewhere” on the island.  There’s no printed schedule or map of where each goes — just the village name on the front windshield [but that didn’t really help us as we had no idea of where these small villages were!] — and it didn’t appear that they were on a set time schedule.  We’d simply go stand by the sign that indicated a stop, and when a bus pulled over that was heading in the general direction of where we were going (basically east-ish on Route 1 or west-ish on Route 1), we’d pay the nominal fee and hop on.  We felt very safe on the few we took, if not all that entirely comfortable as some of them were pretty old and didn’t have much padding!  But they were, indeed, fun, and everyone was very nice to us and helped us get to our destination, for we clearly stood out as tourists!  Aigas were a really fun way to observe the locals riding with us.

 

Overall — We really enjoyed our time in American Samoa!  We researched in advance as best as we could, but unlike many of our other JollyOutThere adventures, we didn’t have very many of our logistics nailed down when we arrived at this far-away place.  But from the moment we were greeted by our driver following a very long flight and late-night arrival at the airport to the time we were dropped off to fly back a week later, we had a most wonderful experience.  We enjoyed the laid-back island atmosphere.  We always felt safe.  We enjoyed meeting and interacting with all those who were helping us enjoy their island.  We appreciated the kind hospitality of everyone, particularly Tee and Tom of Sadie’s, the NPS rangers, and Pica/ Peter a village chief on ‘Aunu’u.  We loved the food and the weather and the views and the hiking and the island tales and everything else.  We approached our stay with a sense of adventure and with an “explorer’s spirit” as instructed, and because of this we were most genuinely rewarded with an awesome experience!

 

National Park of American Samoa

National Park of American Samoa our 59th and final national park!
Receiving our 59th park certificates from NPS Ranger Pua Tuaua

Our 59th and final park!If we didn’t save the best for last, we certainly saved one of the best for last!  Nearly two-and-a-half years after we began our journey to visit all of the national parks, we have finally visited our last one — The National Park of American Samoa.

This was our last park primarily because it was the most difficult to get to.  It is south of the equator in the South Pacific Ocean; closer to Australia than to the United States.  Hawaiian Airlines flies there just twice a week from Honolulu, so our routing took us from Los Angeles to Honolulu for an overnight, and then on to Pago Pago [pronounced PAHNG-oh PAHNG-oh] the next day.  Elapsed travel time to reach this island chain was just over 24 hours for us, 12 of which were in the air.  Clearly, traveling to this national park requires commitment!

Because we had some difficulty trying to find out how to best visit this final park, I am going to provide more logistical details in this post for those readers who plan to tackle American Samoa at some point.  In fact, I will write two separate posts — this first one will focus on the geography and our experience in the park itself; the second one will share more of the fun, cultural things we did during our week-long stay in American Samoa, and provide some hopefully helpful information and links for travelers who plan to make the trip here themselves in their own quests to visit all 59 [at the time of this blog post] of our incredible national parks.

Samoa IslandsHistory and Geography — The Samoan Islands are part of Polynesia, and while they have been populated for over 3,000 years, they have only been known to the western world for a little more than two centuries.  Samoa is referred to as the Heart of the South Pacific, and it is believed to be where all Polynesian people originated.

The Samoan archipelago includes the independent nation of Samoa (formerly called Western Samoa) and American Samoa, a US territory approximately 60 miles to the east.  While both share a common language and culture, each has distinct natural features, and fun fact: because the international dateline separates these two nations, American Samoa is one hour earlier than Hawaii and Samoa is one entire day earlier.

Matafao Peak, at 2,142 feet, is the tallest peak on Tutuila
Matafao Peak, at 2,142 feet, is the tallest peak on Tutuila

American Samoa consists of seven primary islands: five rugged, highly eroded volcanic remnants and two uninhabited coral atolls.  Visitors fly in to Pago Pago [airport code PPG] which is located on Tutuila [too-too-EE-lah], the main island, and this is where most of the 70,000 residents of American Samoa make their homes.

The view from atop Mount Alava of Pago Pago Harbor
Pago Pago harbor and the villages of Pago Pago and Fagatogo as seen from the top of Mount Alava (which we climbed!)

Pago Pago Harbor is a collapsed volcanic caldera and it is one of the largest natural harbors in the South Pacific.  A steep mountainous spine runs the 20-mile length of the island with a few notable peaks including Tutuila’s tallest mountain, Matafao Peak (2,142′); Rainmaker Mountain (1,718′); and Mount ‘Alava (1,610’) looming over the harbor.  There are a couple of main villages with hotels (just four on Tutuila), restaurants (maybe a dozen, including two McDonalds that, like in mainland U.S., are a favorite of all the children), markets, office buildings, banks, etc., around the harbor, and then many smaller, more primitive villages scattered around the perimeter of the island.

National Park of American Samoa — The National Park of American Samoa consists of 9,500 acres, virtually all of which is rainforest, on three islands.  Tutuila is where the Visitor Center and the largest tract of park land can be found.  Ta’ū (tah-OO) and Ofu (OH-foo), 60 miles east of Tutuila, are sparsely populated islands where a couple of villages have only a few hundred people.  American Samoa’s tallest peak, Lata Mountain (3,170′) can be found on Ta’ū, and Ofu features sand beaches and coral reefs with a mountain backdrop.  In addition to the steep cliffs and rainforest area, another 4,000 acres of the park are offshore and under water.

Visitors to the National Park of American Samoa see land that is largely undeveloped, and the facilities found in most national parks are lacking here.  A few park information kiosks and placards can be found, but by and large, this park is enjoyed “with a bit of the explorer’s spirit” as the park brochure suggests.

NP of American Samoa Visitor Center
The Visitor Center – closed on this day, but we posed with the poster I made and came back on another day

As is always the case when we visit national parks, we attempted to make the Visitor Center our first stop, but after walking a mile from our hotel (in temperatures in the high 80’s and with lots of humidity) we saw the sign on the door that they were only open Mon-Fri from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  But not to worry, we took photos of ourselves by the front door, then using our “explorer’s spirit” meandered around the town some and hopped on one of the “aigas” — the unscheduled buses (more about these in my second post) — to go explore around the town.

A couple of days later when we came back to the Visitor Center, we were very impressed with the educational content on display, and very pleased that a school with 5th – 8th graders had come on this day to learn more about the park on their island.  We engaged a bit with the students, and the teacher,  Faia’i Vaeao, and made a plan to stay in contact with all of them at the Peteli Academy.  And as a very nice surprise, once the rangers knew that this was our 59th park, they asked us if we could come back the next day as they would have something for us.  We obliged and were absolutely thrilled when Rangers Pua Tuaua and Pai Aukuso-Reopoamo presented us with special certificates proclaiming that we had been to all of the national parks!

I’ll conclude this first post by sharing some of the photos we took while hiking on one of the few trails in the park area; this one took us 3-1/2 miles up through the rainforest and along the ridge line to the top of Mount ‘Alava where we enjoyed incredible views of the island before hiking the 3-1/2 miles back down.  We were joined by several new friends we made at our hotel, Sadie’s By The Sea — I’ll be writing more about that in my next post; this one is long enough!

We made it! #59!

National Park of American SamoaIn the days to come we will posting more about our adventures in American Samoa, but we wanted to let our readers know that we made it to our 59th and final [at the time of this post] national park!  We just got back stateside this afternoon, and as you might imagine, we have hundreds of (more than 1,000, actually) photos to sort through, and some sleep to catch up on after 12+ hours in the air, but as soon as we get the chance, we’ll be sharing more about our absolutely fabulous journey to and week in American Samoa.  59 parks — we made it!

Whitewater Rafting the Colorado River

Rafting the Colorado River
From one adventure to another we continue!  We have been on the go non-stop for over a month now, and our lack of posting regularly clearly shows that.  We finally got caught up on our national park visit posts (we’ve visited 58 of the 59 now!) but then once again we were away from Internet service for ten days, so suddenly we were behind again!  The activities of this post took place September 23 – October 1 — we’re now only a week behind, so that’s not so bad; it’s been a lot worse….

Fred, Claire, Kyle and I getting ready for a day of paddling and whitewater rapids running on the Colorado River
Fred, Claire, Kyle and I getting ready for a day of paddling and whitewater rapids running on the Colorado River

Our most recent trip was conceived sometime around 1977 when Fred and a Navy buddy did a two-day rafting trip on the New River in West Virginia.  Fred absolutely loved that experience and ever since then he has wanted to run the Colorado River.  So the time had come to do it, and well over a year ago he made reservations with Outdoors Unlimited, choosing this company and this time of year very carefully as he had some criteria for his trip: 1) he wanted to do it in a wooden dory like John Wesley Powell and the brave river runners of old (that’s my old school guy, Fred!); 2) he didn’t want any power boats around messing up the quiet beauty of the river trip; 3) he wanted us to be active participants and have the experience of paddling; 4) he didn’t want it to be too hot and sunny as we’re sun avoiders anymore. Continue reading

Fred’s Rocky Mountain National Park

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My piece on Rocky Mountain National Park, park No. 58 out of No. 59, will be shorter than my usual dispatches as we are packing for our rafting trip with Claire and Kyle down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon. By the time you read this is post, we will have already been on the river for a couple of days experiencing what I know will be great adventure. We have been here in Estes Park, Colorado, for the past eight days staying at a campground near the entrance to the park.

The weather has cooperated and I took full advantage of this going into the park almost every day to hike and shoot photos. Like in Glacier NP, there is a 45-mile scenic road that winds through the park with many places to pull over and take in almost surreal vistas. Also as with Glacier, the hikes were really spectacular, and many of the ones that I did climbed up to beautiful alpine lakes. On quiet mornings, the lakes were like glass and reflected perfectly the mountains of the Continental Divide that soared behind them. Laura was still taking it easy as she recovers from her bout with giardia, and did not get into the park as much as she would have liked. Her top priority was ensuring that she is 100% for our nine-day raft trip and then the trip to visit our last national park, National Park of American Samoa.

So this odyssey is slowly winding down, but we have indeed saved some really wonderful parks and experiences for our final turn. Continue reading