Before we embarked on our long trip, a friend suggested that we should get a TripReward card as it can accumulate points for a free stay in the future each time we stay at a participating hotel. We got one because we thought we would have a lot of opportunities to use it as we were anticipating staying at least a couple of times per week in motels. Of course, because the lure of free stays, every time we needed to stay in a motel, we would take our time to look for one of the participating hotels. The one we used the most was Days Inn. Although we didn’t stay in Days Inn or motels often (less than once per week), Kadia was able to recognize its logo and shouted out its name every time she saw it.

When we were in Missoula, Montana, we were looking for a motel to stay. We checked out Days Inn and Super 8. One of them was full and the other one had a vacancy but it was on the 3rd floor and was about $90 plus taxes. And because its underground parking was being painted, we also had to park on the street. I didn’t like the idea of a 3rd floor unit and had to park on the street, given our van was vandalized before. We decided to try another place.

We called another Super 8 motel on the outskirt of the town; it had a second floor unit for about the same price but with parking. As we drove toward it, we passed by a motel we had never heard of it, Brooks St Motor Inn. It looked deserted as we only saw a couple of cars. On a whim, I made a U-turn and decided to check out the place. Based on the name, we figured it must be an independently owned motel. I didn’t have much of expectation but was surprised to find the reception area clean and the hostess friendly. The price was only $50 and we could park right in front of our motel room. Whenever we arrived in a motel, we typically needed to do laundry, repack luggage, clean things, etc. This required us to move a lot of things between the van and the motel room. One thing I didn’t understand was why some of the motels were more like a hotel than a motel now. Instead of being able to park right in front of the room, we had to go through a lobby and an inside hallway to get to the room. I despised that. So we decided to stay in this motel.

Although the motel only provided one tiny soap bar (no shampoos or other amenities like in Days Inn), it was clean and quiet. We didn’t need any of the amenities as we had them anyway. There weren’t many customers there so it could seem to be spooky for people from out of town but we had a pleasant and convenient stay there. I felt bad that it didn’t have many customers as most of people nowadays stayed in motels belonging to some chains like we had previously as well. It was unfortunate. Just like the Wal-Mart Superstores driving the local grocery stores out of business, motel chains are driving independently owned motels out as well.

I knew one reason for us to stay with a motel chain is the sense of security as we figured it probably would be safer than an independently owned but unknown motel. But sometimes I think that is just a false sense of security. The part of getting a free stay didn’t justify staying at a motel chain because it charged more so even with a free stay we would ended up paying more per stay anyway. We decided to try local motels more in the future and used our own judgment on the safety. Although a motel belonging to a motel chain is also a local business, we feel more of a kinship with an independently owned motel, its character, free spirit, and courage to be different. We don’t need more cookie cutter establishments.

Human are creatures of habits. I was great that we broke out of our habits of staying in chain motels and tried out something different. It felt strange at first but it provided us an opportunity to learn something new, a different way of traveling and staying. We should always keep open-minded in trying new things, breaking out ruts so we can experience new things and perhaps be rewarded with somewhat memorable if not better things. Sometimes there isn’t anything wrong or bad with the old habits but trying new things can energize our existence to live more fully.

Appalachian Trail is one of the famous trails in the United States. It goes from Maine down to Georgia for 2,175 miles. Each year, thousand of hikers attempted to hike the whole length and about 1 out of 6 would succeed after months of toiling on the trail. When we were in Vermont’s Green Mountains, we had a chance to hike a section of it and we would not miss the opportunity. Deer Leap MapThe AT Trail passed through the Green Mountains where the trail crossed a busy road, Route 4, near the hotel we were staying for the week. We packed up some lunch and parked at a trailhead off the Route 4 for the hike. Unlike Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail, Appalachian Trail goes through many densely populated areas so it has to cross many roads.

The trail started out flat and went through a dense shaded vegetation Dense Vegetationarea with many bugs. There weren’t much to see so we quickly walked through that area to escape bugs. After about 1.2 miles, the trail branched off and became steep as we started climbing toward our destination, Deer Leap Overlook. Hiking up a ladderWe had to climb a little section of a ladder (nothing like what we did at Badlands National Park) and finally arrived at the Deer Leap Overlook, a big chunk of rocks. We had a great view of all the surrounding areas. Deer Leap OverlookWe had our lunch there.

Instead of going back the same route, we made a loop back to our trailhead even though it meant that we had to hike along Route 4 for a little bit. We got back to the van and put Kadia and Bryden back in their car seats to get ready to go back to our hotel. I went to the glove compartment to get my wallet that I had decided to leave in the car the last minute before the hike as we didn’t need it. But it was missing! I knew right away something was wrong but there wasn’t anything else looked out of place or any evidences of the van had been broken into. Susan thought I might have misplaced the wallet but I was pretty sure. Susan had her wallet in a bag in the van as well and when she looked for it, it was gone as well. Then I knew, someone somehow got into the van and took our wallets away.

I held on to the faint hope that whoever took our wallets might have discarded the wallets outside somewhere after taking the wallets out of the van to take the important things: cash and credit cards. I searched and searched in vain but there was no luck. They were gone for good. We took a quick stock of our things and it appeared that nothing else was obviously missing, not my cell phone and telephoto lenses that were laid near the glove compartment nor were our passports and our van’s spare key that were stored underneath my wallet in the glove compartment. It could have been much worse.

Soon I noticed something was weird with the rear side window on the driver side. When I shut any door, the window would open slightly then close again. Actually I didn’t even know that it was a window that can pop up slightly to vent, I thought it was a completely closed window. I checked it and found out it had been pried opened, the locking latch was broken and someone had forced it open wide enough to get inside of the van through it. What a bad design to have such a weak latch.

Here we were 3000 miles away from home and both of our wallets were gone with all our money, credit cards, and IDs. What a costly hike! What were we going to do?

There were a few times on the trip that we had some flies that rode with us from one state to another state. We worked hard trying to get them out of the van or dispose them but inevitably one or two would hide somewhere in the van and escape many hundreds of miles later. We often joked that they liked to travel and wanted to have a change of scenery as they often only left when we entered a new state.

I think we probably also unintentionally transport seeds, dirt, bacteria, and many other things. The introduction of foreign objects into an environment is a bitter battle for environmentalists. Many native species suffered greatly when a new species (by the way, I love the word “species” as it is both the singular and the plural form) was introduced to their environment, either intentionally–the introduction of Giant Marine Toads to Florida, Kahili Ginger to Hawaii –or unintentionally–the invasion of brown tree snakes to Guam and bees to Hawaii. When a new species was introduced to an environment where there was no natural predator, the new species would flourish and often took over the environment, devastated the native species. We often only learned about it until it was too late.

In this high tech world, everything is lightning fast. Rumors and computer virus can spread in seconds, good deeds in hours, and diseases in days. Luckily, many skills will still take months and years to master. It is not like 500 years ago when a disease could wipe out a whole region but other areas would escape unscathed. New Zealand has a tough law to keep their environment free of outside influence. I used to think they were paranoid but now I think it may be necessary to slow down the onslaught of foreign intruders. Same as information, we need filters to keep out spams. Are we really that evil?

Sometimes I have a different thought on this. We as human being are a part of this world. We influence the environment just like any other species. No doubt, thousands (if not millions) of species have died on earth so far. I am sure we didn’t kill them all. We are the biggest predators of the world. Perhaps we are accelerating the inevitable–the process of weeding out the weak species. Nevertheless, we should still do our best to minimize our impacts on the environment as much as we can.

With the mixed feelings, we, nevertheless, happily watched flies disappeared into their new home, out of our lives forever without compunction.

I love corn and soybeans. I like to nibble on a cob of corn, eat popcorn or swallow a baby corn whole. Soybeans, that’s my life: soybeans itself, soybean drink and tofu. I am a picky eater and drove my mom crazy when I was little. Meats in general are not my favorite food but I am not a vegetarian. Tofu is my source of proteins. I love every conceivable forms of tofu, including and especially stinky tofu. It is yummy.

I remember in the mid 80’s, a few friends wanted to watch a movie, titled “Children of Cornfields”. I thought to myself: I like kids and I like corn so this would be a perfect movie for me. As it turned out, it was a horrible movie for me. I hate horror movies and this was one horror movie. To this day, when I thought of a cornfield, it gave me the shudder.
Although I would be a little apprehensive going to a cornfield, I was still looking forward to see a field of green corn plants, just like we searched out rice fields in Bali, sunflower fields near Florence. The simple beauty of a crop field bring tranquility to chaos of our lives. However, we didn’t see many tall corn fields on the trip. On the way to the east coast, it was too early and most of the cornfields were just starting to grow; on the way back to the west coast, we saw a lot of dry-up and dying cornfields because of drought. However we learned from an Iowa campground host who told us that farmers rotated crops between corn and soybean from one year to another. The reason was that corn took nitrogen out of dirt and soybean put nitrogen back in. What a perfect natural solution! What a perfect combination for my diet!

There are many complementary things in the world: clownfish and anemones, goby fish and shrimp, mycorrhizal fungi and plants, left hand and right hand, etc. Ten years ago, I felt a potential tendonitis on my right forearm, probably due to excessive computer mouse uses. I switched over to use the left hand and ever since then I control mouse sometimes with the left hand and sometimes with the right hand. I haven’t had any problems since. It is a natural solution within myself. There are many natural solutions in the world to solve problems; we just have to look for them instead of forcing an artificial solution.

PS, go to this link for English questions I had when writing this blog.

When we were at the KOA in Buffalo, WY, we had a few bikers as neighbors. Although I didn’t have any stigma against bikers, I knew about their reputation: tough as nails, rowdy as teenagers, and always fashioned in black. Our neighbors were friendly and they did appear tough; however they were tender as well just like a few B.A.C.A bikers we met at Mount Rushmore. One who might be in his 50’s came from Alberta by himself. He talked about his life in great details that surprised me as I don’t usually expect male strangers to talk openly about their lives. Another came from Vancouver and we chatted a little about food as I was cooking. She gave Kadia a stuffed cat as a gift. Both bikers left good impressions on me.

I didn’t have any good or bad opinions about bikers as I didn’t know much about them or knew anyone well who was known as a biker. I have heard of Hell’s Angels and some of their alleged criminal activities. However, after the couple of encounters we had with bikers, they unknowingly left favorable impression on us. It may not mean much but it may prove to be the difference in the future.

There were a few other incidents that people left good impressions on us: an Indian couples at Cape Breton, a Caucasian father with his two teenaged sons at Lake Louis and, of course, Debbie at Capitol Reef. Not only they made our trip more enjoyable, the feel-good experiences also permeated to the surroundings and elevated them to go-again places. If I were an alien, perhaps it would cause me to think in favored terms toward Indians and Caucasians.

This got me thinking about the current state of Israel and Palestine, The two hate each other. I used to be naive and couldn’t understand how they can hate each other that much because there isn’t any race that I hate until a friend told me that was how they were raised and they couldn’t think outside of what they were taught ever since they were children, thus my rambling on my post, World Trade Center. And there is the problem of the holy land that I don’t understand because I believe we all are travelers on this earth and we don’t own anything here. Here is something maybe would help: pair up one Israeli and one Palestinian and make them go on a backpacking trip where they have to depend on each other and be nice to each other. Perhaps they will learn that on the average people are as decent as they are, not as evil as they have been taught all their lives. Hey, it is worth a try; at least, it won’t get any worse than it is today. Perhaps, we will be closer to world peace.

We knew that we would have to get to the Fruita Campground in Capitol Reef National Park real early the Friday morning before the Memorial weekend to have a chance of getting a campsite. We left our campsite at Bryce Canyon at 7am and arrived at Fruita at 10am and unfortunately the campsite was full. Disappointed but we decided to drive through the campground to scout the place for future visits and perhaps might get lucky if someone decided to leave the last minute. We drove through most of the campground and stopped at the parking lot of walk-in campsites to feed Bryden.

While we were waiting, we noticed a guy animatedly talking to a couple of campground hosts. I approached them and found out the guy wanted to move to a normal site as someone just vacated a spot and they were trying to figure out how to transfer the camping cost from one site to another. Deer at Capitol Reef Fruita Campground I quickly jumped in and offered to pay for the walk-in site; we settled the problem quickly and we, miraculously, had a site now. I was told that campers were lining up at 5am that morning to get a handful of opened sites that day. By 7am when it opened, all vacant sites were snatched up within minutes. Although the walk-in site we got required us to walk about 30-40 yards, we gladly took it. The site was open and we were further away from other campers than a regular site would provide us. And we got a few deer visiting the meadow we camped on. Sometimes things just worked out better than our plan.

Two days later, we were packing up to leave. As our van was a distance away, Susan and I were too busy to mind our son, Bryden, who was crying his heart out. Debbie with Kadia with Bryden Then I noticed a woman climbed over a rail fence next to our campsite and walked toward us. I thought she might come to lecture us or tell us to shut the baby up. Instead, she came over and offered to hold the baby while we took the tent down and packed. It was a small gesture but had an enormous impact–a kindness that took me by surprise. Instead of criticizing us not being good parents, she offered a solution that not only solved our problem and touched our lives as well. I deeply appreciated Debbie’s kindness. I wish you the best wherever you are at. Here is a picture shown Debbie holding Bryden and Kadia.

I was listening to the book “Ice Bound” by Dr. Jerri Nielsen. In it, she described an incident during her exchange student stay at Norway had an enormous impact on her. She was righteous and participated in many social movements at that time. One day, when she was traveling with her fellow exchange travel companion who was fussing over finding perfect places to hide some Easter eggs in the van. Dr Nielsen didn’t understand why her friend would fuss over such small things and stated so. Her friend said, “that’s our difference: you spent time minding Vietnam movement you have no controls over; I can bring small happiness to others by giving surprises.”

Most of us want to help others and have great impacts on major issues; but we shouldn’t overlook at things that we have control and have direct impacts. In fact, they may be more important as they prove that we walk the talk. Instead of walking in a social movement with thousands of people, visit an orphanage. A small kindness hardly goes unappreciated and it makes the world a better place. Debbie’s kindness has forever stenciled in our heart.

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. I haven’t watched football much the last 15 years because Raiders have not played well during this period and I didn’t want to be a traitor to become a 49ers fan. Also, over the year, I watch less and less of sports, partly due to a lot of them are only on cable that I don’t have and partly due to lack of time; Riverfront Stadiumbut I play more now. When we were on the trip, we passed 3 famous baseball parks, Comiskey Park in Chicago, Riverfront Stadium (see right) in Cincinnati and Camden Yards in Baltimore. Actually, I don’t remember how many of them are still around. I believe Riverfront Stadium were demolished a few years ago for a new stadium–I don’t even bother to remember a stadium’s name anymore because it changes so often now it would require a computer to keep track of it.

We didn’t go to any of the stadiums because our kids were too young to be able to sit in a place too long but perhaps another time. I heard a story that one guy spent the whole summer to catch baseball games in all the 30 cities in North America. By doing so, he lost perhaps 150 pounds; that was a great way to lose weight. I like sports (except for golf, boxing and auto racing) but don’t like baseball that much but maybe someday we will go to all the grand slam tennis events; luckily, that’s only 4 and I have been to Wimbledon already. I had a chance in Paris one year but elected not to go. That was unfortunate because I had a great time in Wimbledon a few years later.

I remember when they built the Pac Bell Park, there was some resistance of changing from the old park, Candlestick Park to a new place. I think it is only natural to move away from the old to the new. It is likely that Comiskey Park, Riverfront and Camden Yards were not the 1st park for each respective club anyway. They probably replaced something else in the past. We moved from places to places and changed jobs after jobs. It is okay to move onto something new. The Pac Bell Park turned out to be a beautiful park, a cozy and friendly environment. What I am not sure about is the name.

The park started out to be Pac Bell Park, then it changed to SBC Park and now AT&T Park in just a few years. It is all too confusing to me and is likely more so for people who are not local. This naming right to a Stadium is rampant all over the U.S. now. I guess although reluctantly, I understand: if someone were to pay me $1,000,000 to change my name for a few years, I would sell out my name! I am not proud; it is only a name. Historians will have a field day on all the names some day though.

But I am glad they haven’t changed the names of 4 grand slam tennis tournaments. Imagine this: “Congratulation, Roger, the new Citicorps Open champion.” Somehow, it just doesn’t have the same ring as the Wimbledon champion. It is still good to have some old traditions to live up to. One good thing about the red tape of the government was that at least the street name still bornethe old name! Luckily on the trip, we were still able to identify our location by the old names. Just wait until our government find out how much money they can make from a street name.

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