Rosie and Me: Day 21. Madder Than a Hatter Eating a Beignet in Jackson Square

So today was New Orleans day! How cool is that?

My high school friend Mark told me right away that I had to buy a hat, and that my first stop was to be Meyer the Hatter, one of the biggest hatters in the south.

“Just go in, tell them that you’re visiting and that you don’t know what you want, and they’ll fix you right up.”

I walked from Tulane down Canal, then took a right on St. Charles Avenue, went in and said exactly that. After finding out what kind of hat I liked, which season I wanted it for, and if my taste ran to finer hats in the group (it did), he picked out two hats for me right away. The first was too small. The second fit perfectly. I walked out in ten minutes flat with a wonderful black wool felt hat with a brown and black leather band.

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I then went all the way down Canal and hopped the Algiers ferry ( two bucks each way) and got some glorious shots of the city.

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After the ferry came my usual big walk around the city, heading down towards Jackson Square. This is once again a beautiful part of New Orleans, with sun splashed water, vibrant color, the laughter of children, and the raucous sound of a jazz band on the green.

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What trip to New Orleans as a tourist is complete without a trip the the Cafe Du Monde for beignets and chickory cafe au lait? Such a beehive of activity! Dozens of waitstaff and powdered sugar-coated people scarfing down trios of the just warmed pastries, washed down with smooth coffee. Divine. Yes, sadly, I ate all three.

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To work off the calories from the Cafe, one must stroll the French Quarter, with its signature horse-drawn tours, pedal cabs, and balconies now decorated in style for Halloween. This city seems to love this holiday, as I’ve seen ghouls and ghosts and strings of orange lights and zombies and witches everywhere I go.

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Lunch was with my friend Mark at Pesche, a restaurant open for one year in an old reclaimed warehouse. Stunning architecture, excellent seafood gumbo (yes, Knot, I took your advice and it helped, thank you), roasted pumpkin, and a fine LA-31 Pale Ale. Magnificent!

The rest of my afternoon was spent at the WWII Museum, and ever-expanding tribute to the many who sacrificed to literally save the freedoms of millions in the 1940s. The D-Day portion of the Museum is fully open, the huge new Boeing Pavilion is up and running and it houses a B17 bomber suspended from the ceiling along with five other period planes. Talk about a huge room!

Other exhibits about the European and Pacific theaters will open in the next year. Well worth a few hours of your time if you’re in New Orleans.

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Then, it was home for a wonderful dinner with Mark and Becky, complete with Mark’s signature cocktails. My favorite was the Corpse Reviver 2. Suffice it to say that if you drink more than one of these I think it would have the opposite of the intended effect.

I even got a house tour last night, with stories of Katrina recovery on a very personal level and an introduction to the house ghost in the attic.

This was a wonderful day.

Tomorrow, it’s hit the gym first, as Mark wants me to see the fine facility affiliated with Tulane, then Rosie and I will cross the Mississippi River and head to Birmingham.

It’s almost time to feel South Carolina sunshine on my face again.

Oh, one traveler’s tip for you today. How do you take an excellent photo?

Look around for the area of grass or dirt or other surface near your subject that is the most worn down. This is where thousands of people before you have taken the shot.

Don’t stand there.

Change the light, the angle, the perspective, the shadow.

You will take a beautiful photo that brings back memories and that you can share with others.

Good night, friends, from New Orleans, Louisiana.

Rosie and Me: Day 20. Visiting Relatives

Some observations as I made my way from Little Rock to New Orleans today.

The hotel in Maumelle, Arkansas, was one of the nicest of the properties I’ve been in on this trip. It looked brand new, smelled of new construction, had nice carpeting and furnishings, and the staff was warm and welcoming. My room was large, well-appointed, was directly across from the fitness center, had modern NFC access built into the door and just seemed to be brand new. When I asked the clerk how long the hotel has been open, she said since 2011.

I have had a chance to meet several online friends on this trip, people I have come to know very well but had never met in person. I have known them for 1-5 years, and I dare say I’m closer to a couple of these friends than to most of my “real life” ones.

When I attended the dinner given by Elizabeth for my high school friends in Seattle, it was almost like we picked up right where we left off. After almost four decades, we could tell stories, joke and kid each other, and act like goofy teens again for awhile. We were in many ways the same people, but with lifetimes of experiences since our last meeting.

I drove into New Orleans today, marveling at how busy and active everything looks. When I drove down the same interstate in 2005, with a Red Cross on my rental car, we were the only people on the road except for the National Guard troops who let us into the city. I counted the number of windows blown out of the Sheraton Hotel building and heard gunfire down by the levee. Today, I heard the roar of traffic and the sound of streetcars. That visit saw New Orleans bruised and battered. This trip will see it happy and beckoning.

I have been very busy and active on this vacation, so much so that some of you have repeatedly told me to slow down! I have been following an itinerary that I set for myself. I’m doing things that I choose to do in places I want to go. Contrast this with work, when I am driven by schedules and job needs, and when I feel tired and worn down many days, not energized.

Tonight I had a wonderful New Orleans meal and great conversation with my old high school friend Mark Vanlandingham and his wife Becky at Boucherie on Jeanette Street. Tomorrow will be full of coffee, good food, walking, parks, art, military history, and just being out in the good warm southern air.

Things I’ve learned from all this?

Everything is relative.

Everything has context.

Everything is transient.

Everything has importance.

Everything will end.

As one of my regular readers often says to me, “Carpe diem!”.

I will do my best to make tomorrow one of the best days I’ve ever had.

Will you?

Good night, my friends, from New Orleans, Louisiana.

Rosie and Me: Day 19. Dr. Bates and the Secret of the Ya Ya’s Supperhood

Traveled to Little Rock, Arkansas today, with a feeling that I was getting back to my beloved south. I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing the sights all around this great big country of ours, meeting new friends and seeing old friends again, sampling food and coffee in more places than I can count, and seeing how beautiful America is. It is getting to be time to get back to my roots, though, back to the warm, humid climate, the slower pace and the drawl of the south. You can take the boy out of the south…

The weird sign of the day award goes to this little jewel seen somewhere in Arkansas I believe, if memory serves:

“Toad Suck Park”

I’ll just let you sit with that one for a minute. Get another drink if you need to. I’ll write the rest of this post while you’re gone.

The nice event of the evening today was dinner in Little Rock with three people I’d never met in person before. Ramona Bates, she of the scarf and baby quilt making fame, had wanted me to come through and have dinner with her and her husband Brett. She sent me a text when I got here and said that Val Jones, a blogger and physician who I had met on Twitter years ago, just happened to be working a locum tenens job at a hospital in town, and she also joined us for dinner.

We ate outside at Ya Ya’s Euro Bistro, a wonderful place in an upscale retail area. The weather was perfect in the early evening, the food was excellent and the company fine. We enjoyed getting to know a little more about each other, and it was remarkably easy to do. Funny how that happens when you have Twitter or Facebook relationships for years before actually meeting someone in real life.

Ramona had made me a Mobius scarf and some homemade bread, so I came away in good shape tonight!

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As I wrote before I started this trip, seeing the people, old friends and new, has been the highlight of my travels across the land. We all need friends, people who we like and who like us, people we can share our hopes and fears with, as well as sharing a crab dinner or a drink or a story or two.

Thanks to all my friends across the USA who enrich my life and make it better in so many ways.

I love all of you guys.

Tomorrow, we travel to The Big Easy to visit with Mark and Becky and eat (really, again??), see the WWII Museum and see what else we can get into. It will be my first visit back to New Orleans for pleasure since I worked for seventeen days just after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. I’m looking forward to a much more pleasant experience this time around.

Good night, dear readers, from Little Rock, Arkansas.

Rosie and Me: Day 18. Flint-stones.

Once upon a time there was a coffee shop in Emporia, Kansas…

Well of course there was a coffee shop. Whose blog is this anyway?

Granada Coffee Company was my mid-morning stop today to recharge and sample the local beans and muffins. A blueberry one and a big Americano with plenty to take on the road was perfect. The shop was little but homey and comfortable, with just five or six tables. The lady barista was very friendly to me from the start (are you sensing the pattern here, that people who are around coffee, who drink coffee and who brew coffee are all very nice people?), and I was very impressed with the fact that she called every one of her customers while I was there by name as they walked in the door. The sign on her wall said, “Enter as strangers; leave as friends.” I believe that this fit just right.

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Then, it was on to see the Flint stones. No, not the yabba dabba doo kind, but the rolling hill kind that were a nice shade of yellow-brown-gold and undulated nicely through the rest of Kansas before I hit Oklahoma. The Flint Hills were a very pretty part of the state to drive through indeed.

The highlight of my day, and the only real destination I had set myself today, was the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. How can I describe this place to those of you have never been there? I expected that it would be a very visceral experience for me. I am getting a little road weary now that I am in my third week away from home, and I tend to get a little more emotional when I’m tired, so I knew that this would be a very interesting and educational, but emotionally painful, stop. It is telling that one of my close friends texted me just before I got there and checked in with me, offering to touch base later in the day to make sure I was okay.

Walking up to one of the massive gates, situated at each end of the site like gigantic bookends of time, plus seeing the sections of fencing that have been left to accept tokens and memorabilia from visitors, immediately hit me in the gut. That and the fact that Jesus, in the form of a large white statue across the road, had turned his back on the horrific trauma, covered his face, and wept. I saw the tiny tennis shoe hanging from the fence, the pictures of the victims and the still-fresh grief of the families that said goodbye, probably for the hundredth time, to their daughter or father or husband, and I had trouble seeing to use my camera to capture the pain.

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I spent a total of about four hours at the site, three in the bright sunlight of the outdoor venue and inside touring the museum, and another hour as the sun set. I wanted to get another set of pictures as the wonderful lighting slowly changed the feeling of the Memorial from a sun-splashed beauty to a melancholy glow. I was very glad I took the extra time to go back.

The Memorial is one of the best I’ve ever visited, and I highly recommend you see it if you ever go to Oklahoma City. The museum educates as it should, with words and pictures and sounds and emotion and shock and closure. The outdoor area is nothing short of spectacular in its ability to recreate the space as it was in the moment before the blast, but to also bring us forward in time long past 9:03 AM on that fateful day of April 19, 1995. The horror of the loss is apparent in the Field of Empty Chairs, but the hope and serenity that comes up from the perfectly clear and calm pool of water between the bookended gates of time is calming. Above it all, the Survivor Tree lets us know that when all hope seems gone, life can go on.

I don’t have any other words that do this place justice, but I tried to capture some of the emotion behind the lens of a camera to share with you. I hope I have done a good enough job.

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The overarching themes of this Memorial are that out of horrendous destruction springs monumental beauty, from hate can come love, and from darkness can come soothing light.

If you love someone, tell them.

If you feel strongly about something, act.

None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

Good night, dear readers, from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Rosie and Me: Day 17. Days of Wine and Winstead’s

Today’s first stop was the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home in Abilene, Kansas. I had read that this was the least visited of all the presidential libraries and museums, but after seeing it I’m not really sure why. Maybe the location is a hindrance, but the content of the site and the poignancy of the story of the child who grew up here and left at twenty to head to West Point is history writ large.

The physical site itself is very open and pleasant, and the day was sunny and warm for my visit today.

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I was able to tour the boyhood home, a small, spare white house well over a century old, where the 34th President of the United States lived from age eight to age twenty; one of seven boys. His mother was the last of the family members to live in the home before a foundation was formed to put it on display.

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Eisenhower came from a highly motivated, hard-working and successful family. His father once worked eighty hours every two weeks for ten dollars pay. He came home and hung his hat on an animal horn that still adorns the wall over the telephone that his mother used while she lived in the house. His brothers were in business, newspaper editors and presidents of colleges.

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All of the furnishings and furniture in the house are original. Our docent had her stories down and imparted a lot of information about the family and the reasons the house looks the way it does. We could see everything from a dough box, where Mrs. Eisenhower made up to nine loaves of bread every two days to feed her family, to a set of plates given to her by President and Mrs. Eisenhower, to the old footpedal sewing machine in the bedroom that his mother lived in until her death.

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The rest of the grounds included the library and museum, a large statue of Eisenhower, and the final resting place for him, his wife and one of their sons. It was a very quiet, plain, simple place, much like I think Eisenhower probably was in some respects.

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Another stop during this travel day was Wyldewood Cellars, a place that one of my friends in South Carolina had told me to check out of I went past it. Just so happens that it is in Plexico, Kansas, just off the interstate. I bought four bottles of elderberry, spiced and mulled wines, and a couple of port-like dessert wines, one of which has strong chocolate tones. Should be nice for the holidays or the cold winter months to come.

The last meal of the day, and definitely the most fun, was at a local Winstead’s Hamburgers in Overland Park, Kansas.

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I had not been to this restaurant in over seven or eight years at least, so I was pumped to get a double with everything, onion rings and a chocolate malt. They did not disappoint. It’s good old fashioned hamburger joint-malt shoppe food, and if you like it, there’s no better place to get some. if you’re in KC, go there. Period.

All in all, it was a fine day.

Tomorrow, I will be back on the road bright and early to get to Oklahoma City by lunchtime. I want to have plenty of time tomorrow afternoon to tour the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, including getting some pictures at dusk or dark if I can swing it. I’m sure that will be a very solemn but educational place to visit.

For now, thanks for reading, and good night from Kansas City.

Rosie and Me: Day 16. A Hop, Scrip, and My Rump

It was a travel day, sports fans, but not before having a lovely early morning breakfast with my daughter and son-in-law after he got off his all nighter in the ED. He only saw two patients last night, so it was reallllllly slow. Bad for training.

We went to a place call Snooze in downtown Denver and it was a blast. Of cold air. Outside. As the sun was coming up. Sheesh.

After we ate we strolled round the interior of the building, commenting about how nice and open it was and how it looked a lot like Grand Central in NYC and on and on. Early mornings are not good for keen observations and paying attention to detail, so it struck me as funny when I got in my car and drove past the building out of town, seeing the huge words UNION STATION emblazoned in the stone edifice out front.

Before I left, I did stop in at the Tattered Cover bookstore, as a friend of mine had told me to be on the lookout for it and asked if I had seen it yet. Well, now I can say yes! There is still something about an old fashioned indie bookstore that carries a little bit of everything for every person and every taste. I still am a sucker for bookstores, and I got out of the place with a little less than a hundred dollars’ worth of damage, but I can justify it by saying that I bought a gift for someone else.

There is still a wonderful feeling when you hold a book, new or old, paper or hardback, in your hands, leafing through the pages, smelling the paper, and anticipating how nice it would be to lie in bed with the covers up over your legs and said book propped on your chest, ready to pretend to read for those ten minutes it will take you to fall asleep. I have often kidded myself that I would read more when I had an iPad or a Kindle, but that has not proven true. I’m still more likely to start and finish a book that is the real paper and spine kind.

I left Denver, marveling at the majestic snow-covered peaks of the Rockies as long as I could physically see them in my rearview mirror, then turned Rosie towards the high plains of Kansas. It is wide open spaces and flatness out there, ladies and gents. Miles and miles of straight road.

I noticed that there began to pop up more and more windmill farms of the sort that I drove by in Indiana two weeks ago. One of these went for miles, with hundreds of turning white windmills. I also noticed fields of plants, green with dark brown tops, on both sides of the road, acres and acres of them. Hops, I thought, since we had had our introduction to brewing and hops and yeast and oak chips yesterday at the Great Divide Brewery.

I later figured out that these were most likely not hops, but acres and acres of sorghum plants. This is a very interesting crop that has been called the “camel of crops” and is very useful in dry, hot conditions.

When I got to my destination for today, Salina, Kansas, I got off the interstate and was turning left off of I-135. To my left at the red light, as in so many other cities in so many other states on this trip, I saw a homeless man leaned up against a sign post. He was wearing dirty khakis, a jacket, a hat and shades over his eyes. He was leaned back against the pole, not moving an inch, not even putting forth the effort to hold up his sign (remember the man I wrote about in Spokane the other day?), which said, quite simply: “Money, please.”

At least one of you (and you know who you are) has been concerned about the state of my posterior over such a long trip as this, and how I combat the Derrière Doldrums over thousands of miles of driving. Well, all I can say is that getting to the gym regularly and then being taken on very long walks and hikes and doing urban hikes (like yesterday’s) on my own have all helped to combat Butt Burnout. Rosie’s leather seats are nicely broken in now, the supports are good, and the frequent stops and daily exercise are helping tremendously. Thanks for your concern for my coccyx. It is greatly appreciated.

Tomorrow will be another busy day, with a trip to the Eisenhower Museum and Library in the morning, and then a side trip to the Wyldewood Cellars afterwards to pick up some elderberry wine products. After that, it’s on to Kansas City for the night, and perhaps either some excellent barbecue or perhaps a Winstead burger and a large chocolate malt. Decisions, decisions.

I hope you have all had good days, and I appreciate every one of you who takes the time to stop by and read my observations about the world. That’s a big part of why I keep writing. it’s fun for me, and I hope it’s fun for you too.

Good night, dear readers, from Salina, Kansas.

Rosie and Me: Day 15. Bless the Beasts and the Children

Today was a very busy, fun day in Denver, Colorado! Before I run down the places you should visit the next time you’re here, let me share a reflection I had on the hike and again this morning as I started my long urban hike around Denver.

When we were on the Chimney Gulch Trail in Golden, Colorado, which was moderately difficult and had some very rocky and slippery patches going up and down, I noted that Kaya did not seem to even notice the parts that made her humans pause and make sure their footing was sure and their balance was assured.

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I was never in fear that I would actually fall off the mountain or injure myself, but as I have gotten older, I do notice situations or places that, if not paid proper attention, could possible give me trouble and even get me hurt. It pays to wear good boots (I had on my new pair of Salewas yesterday and they performed like a champ), watch the trail, and make sure one’s footing is sure before putting weight down or attempting to climb a rocky outcropping.

My daughter Chelsea made a spot-on observation that made me think.

“Dogs don’t worry about rocks, slipping, or falling into canyons. They just walk and smell everything. She’s just walking and smelling.”

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She’s right, I thought to myself as we completed the hike. For Kaya, this was pure fun, being outdoors and running and smelling and meeting other dogs along the trail. What could be better than that?

This morning, I got up and decided to do a coffee shop crawl through Denver, hitting as many coffee houses as I could in about six hours, before rendezvousing with Chelsea and Travis for the rest of the day’s activities. One of the first places I passed by was the dog park that Chelsea takes Kaya to on many days of the week. It is beside a large park with a huge grassy area and is a very nice for the dogs of Denver. I looked to the far left of the park, opposite the dog area, and saw a man walking two large animals, one a black lab and another dog that I did not recognize. He let them off their tethers and they began to lope, then run flat out as fast they could for the park. They were playful biting at each other, nipping and swatting and running and racing each other all across the grassy field, and then got to the fence and waiting expectantly for their slower master to arrive to let them in, prancing and hopping up and down in anticipation. There was only one other dog in the enclosed park at that time, and they were obviously very happy to meet and greet and begin their morning’s play.

This reinforced the lesson that Kaya and Chelsea taught me yesterday. Dogs are very present in the moment. They run, they smell, they walk, they sniff, they meet and play with their friends, and they seem to take little heed of potential problems or dangers in their environment, except for obvious ones, of course.

How we could learn from them, I thought. How much we could learn about playfulness, being in the moment, not worrying about the potential bad outcomes that we as humans think lurk around every corner. I tried to adopt that mindset today as I went about my day of play in Denver.

I visited four different coffee shops today, starting with Purple Door Coffee. Please take a minute and go to their website and listen to them describe their mission and why they run Purple Door. I was treated in exactly the way they describe when I entered their door this morning, and the owner made sure that I was happy with my choice and purchase and entire experience in her shop. How often do you get that kind of customer service nowadays? The granola slice and Americano that I enjoyed there was a perfect start to my morning coffee jaunt through the streets of Denver.

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Next, I walked to Huckleberry Roasters, another shop that I had read about on Yelp and that was very highly rated and reviewed. The shop was bright and airy and full of conversation and bustle this morning, and the coffee I got was also excellent. The baristas in this shop went above and beyond, not just making my coffee but helping to give me quality recommendations for other coffee houses to visit in the area, and then breweries that might be interesting to visit later in the day as well. When I told them I was traveling across the country and this was my morning activity in Denver, they were as excited as I was about trying out their shop as well as others in the community. I thought that was very commendable and was very grateful for their shared expertise.

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All during my walk through the city today, I saw flowers and interesting sights, and wanted to share a few of those with you too.

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Next stop was Crema Coffee House. I enjoyed a Costa Rican pourover in another lively atmosphere with very friendly and helpful staff. I was impressed that wherever I went and no matter the shop, the staff and baristas were consistently helpful, smiling and very nice. It was very refreshing indeed to see folks that obviously enjoyed what they were doing and wanted to be there to assist you in enjoying your experience as well.

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More scenes of fall and downtown Denver on the way to my last coffee shop of the morning, Little Owl.

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Little Owl was a pint-sized upscale place to sit by the stream of city traffic going by in downtown Denver. Again, the environs were clean and neat and modern, the staff skilled and friendly, and the coffee excellent. I tried a cortado at this shop and was not disappointed.

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After taking the three mile walk home from downtown, I met Chelsea and Travis to go do a brewery tour. We decided to check out the Great Divide Brewery right downtown. We started in the taproom, where we sampled a few different brews including an oak aged stout that I really liked. After the tour we would try small samples of three other brews that were all just as good. Of interest is that this brewery proudly proclaims that they do not brew anything that has an APV (alcohol per volume) of less then 5%. In fact, one of the brews was >12% alcohol per volume! (I did not try that one, as I wanted to be awake for dinner!)

The brewing process, along with the bottling, labeling, packing and shipping processes were fascinating, in that they are still done in this one building where the founder did all the work himself years ago before expanding and hiring the fifty employees that work there now. I’m going to check out some of their product when I get home and can get back to Harvard’s in Aiken. Here are some pictures of us waiting for the tour, outside by the large brewing containers, etc.

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The last activity of this very long and very busy day was dinner at a very strange and wonderful place called Forest Room 5. Check out their website, as it is also very different and interesting. The food was good, the drinks interesting but certainly not like the craft beers that we had sampled just before dinner! Check out the odd decorations in the main room and over the bar.

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All in all, this was a very good day! I love Denver, and it has been very nice to visit with Chelsea and Travis for a couple of days. Tomorrow, it’s back on the road for a four hundred fifty mile ride to Salina, Kansas. I hear that I may get reacquainted with the winds in this next leg of the trip, but I wager that the temps won’t be as cold as they were in North Dakota last week. We shall see.

Much more to come, as we have the Eisenhower Library and Museum, a Kansas winery, the Oklahoma City bombing memorial, and many more things to see before I have to get back to reality.

Good night, dear readers, from Denver, Colorado.

P. S.

GO DAWGS!