We are different. We are the same.

At one point in our trip, we were discussing the current political situation in the US with some Germans, and the woman cautioned her husband to watch his choice of words–they didn’t know exactly how we stood on things. The man replied something along the lines of, “Honey, these are traveling Americans!” He expected us to have a broad perspective, and not embrace the current xenophobia that seems to have taken hold of so much of the US.

Traveling Americans, hanging out with the locals

Traveling Americans, hanging out with the locals

DSC_2521We’ve avoided talking politics in this little sailing blog, but of course, as we’ve returned to the States, we’ve been discussing it more and more in our real lives. And while we won’t get into a dissection of immigration policy here, we will say that one of the reasons we took this trip with our kids was for them to really understand the common bonds of humanity.

DSCF3599We’ve been excited to explore cultural differences, but at the same time, our kids know that their teachers in Guatemala are just regular people, like their parents–even if they live in a country with machine guns outside the Taco Bell. They know that kids in Guna Yala like sugary Zuko drinks, just like they do. They know for sure that not understanding a language, or speaking it poorly, does not mean you’re stupid. And I’d like to see you try to convince them that Mexicans are lazy–I’ve heard the rebuttal straight from my daughter’s mouth, and you’re going to lose. Demonizing an entire group of people based on their nationality or the color of their skin is never going to fly with my kids; that’s a permanent lesson that can’t be unlearned.

Not everyone in our family speaks English.

Not everyone in our family speaks English.

Calling groups of people animals, denying desperate people the right to apply for sanctuary, and separating families at the border is not ok with our family, and deserves to be said out loud, in this space.DSC_1952

At the same time, we’ve been surprised by some of the folks we’ve traveled with in the cruising community. When we made our plans, and thought about the people we’d meet, we didn’t account for the different politics of fellow sailors. We’ve traveled companionably with people at the far opposite end of both the religious and political spectrum from us. What we’ve found are people whom we genuinely like. We’ve also found a great deal of fear, a torrent of misinformation, and feelings of disenfranchisement. Traveling by sailboat can expose you to not just the different cultures of foreign countries, but the different cultures of your own. It’s helpful, as we reenter the current civic scrum, to remember the human nature of our friends on the other side of the fence.

Driving is terrifying

One of the major cultural shifts we’ve had to press through: remembering about cars. The couple of times we’ve rented cars over the last few years have been pretty scary, but some of that could be attributed to different driving rules (hello, Jamaica and Bahamas), along with reprehensible roads. Back in the US, things should be just as we remembered, right?

Hah.

Driving a car is straight-up terrifying. It took me the better part of a month to get behind the wheel of Iron Van–Michu’s been doing a hero’s work, schlepping us around the western US. Not only is the van big and unwieldy, I can’t adjust to the speed of travel. 80 miles an hour in Wyoming? That’s insane! My mind can’t bend around the impossibility of avoiding a crisis at that kind of speed if anything were to go wrong with the car, the road, or some unknown variable.

Yellowstone-specific variable: megafauna

Yellowstone-specific variable: megafauna

And so much could go wrong. Cars are complex machines, and so much of the mechanics are hidden. I could tell you a dozen different ways to slow down our sailboat, but with the van, our options are: brakes; downshifting. That’s it, and what’s really happening is going on out of sight, so we just have to hope that everything functions properly as we descend 3,000 feet down a mountain at 60 miles an hour.

Meanwhile, who knows what the other yahoos on the road are up to? On the boat, we assume that every other vessel is not paying attention; it’s a real possibility that another boat is just using autopilot and not keeping a close watch, or won’t spot us for some reason, and we keep our distance. If we really don’t understand another boat’s intentions, we call them up on the radio to clarify what’s going on, and make sure they see us; if they’re broadcasting on AIS, we can even give them a shout out by name. On the highway, we’re RIGHT NEXT TO PEOPLE, traveling at close to warp speed, and we have no way to talk to them. Chances are also pretty high that whoever’s driving next to us is under the influence of some kind of chemical–booze, opiates, you name it; overly tired and not making good decisions; or otherwise not on top of their game.

Sometimes, the good decision involves hitting a traffic cone at top speed. We lost a reflector, but you should see the other guy.

Sometimes, the good decision involves hitting a traffic cone at top speed. We lost a reflector, but you should see the other guy.

On the boat, we did all we could to ensure our safety–and that was a lot: Watching the weather; making sure the boat was maintained; keeping a close watch; changing the way we move through the water depending on conditions; traveling in safe, well-charted areas. Traveling by car, we try to apply the same principles, but so much is beyond our control; driving on a highway is largely a matter of faith.

Throughout this trip, people we love have worried for us. They worry about pirates; they watch hurricanes; they’re concerned about the boat sinking. Hands down, across the board, our chances of death or injury has always been highest in cars. This little jaunt home, across the US by interstate, is the most dangerous part of our trip.

Peak benefit: the van is a much safer place in a storm, particularly if you're not moving. Hail storm at Yellowstone.

Peak benefit: the van is a much safer place in a storm, particularly if you’re not moving. Hail storm at Yellowstone.

Yellowstone

Three nights, four days, straight up photos.

View from the campsite

View from the campsite

Elk like to hang out near people

Elk like to hang out near people

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I won't repeat what Michu called this particular formation...

I won’t repeat what Michu called this particular formation…

It did not work out for this tree.

It did not work out for this tree.

Beehive gyser

Beehive gyser

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I am a huge fan of Parkitecture!

I am a huge fan of Parkitecture!

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Old Faithful on a windy day.

Old Faithful on a windy day.

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Osprey with a trout near Old Faithful

Osprey with a trout near Old Faithful

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Great Prismatic Spring

Great Prismatic Spring

Bubbling mud pots

Bubbling mud pots

We kept expecting dinosaurs to walk past.

We kept expecting dinosaurs to walk past.

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Roosevelt Lodge

Roosevelt Lodge

Lost Lake loop

Lost Lake loop

Turns out, we've been missing wildflowers

Turns out, we’ve been missing wildflowers

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Not just for spotting other boats

Not just for spotting other boats

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Couple of shaggy bighorn sheep

Couple of shaggy bighorn sheep

Morning hail at campsite 80

Morning hail at campsite 80

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Victoria

Whatever the state of the bank account, we are undeniably rich in friends.

We had a fantastic weekend in Victoria, BC, visiting folks we hadn’t seen since Tino was two days old.

The girls are no longer two years old.

The girls are no longer two years old.

Yes, we were just in Portland, home of hipster microbrews and hyper-local cuisine; but not having had a real job between us in over two years, we kept out of the sweet restaurants and stuck to pizza. Our friends took our budget into account, and fed us just as though we were luxuriating in the coolest dining spots.

Water taxi ballet in the inner harbor

Water taxi ballet in the inner harbor

Fan Tan Alley in Victoria

Fan Tan Alley in Victoria

It was a bit of culture shock, after subsisting on Mexican beer for the better part of the year, but we quickly rose to the occasion when Ian stopped off at his favorite brewery to pick out some tasty beer for the weekend. So many environmental habits need to go a bit by the wayside when cruising, including conscientious refillable bottles; the denizens of Victoria have no such constraints, so we had three bottles to fill with local beer. Such a good system! Try before you buy, sample the goods, purchase what you need. Meanwhile, the kids were sampling some local, ice cream; we gathered them up and headed back to their lovely home for our first fantastic meal.

Another sign we are not in Mexico--bike-powered espresso cart

Another sign we are not in Mexico–bike-powered espresso cart

When our kids were babies, Kristina and I were in a six-mama hiking club; we toured all the local, county, and state parks, schlepping the little guys on our backs every week. Thank god I didn’t need to carry anyone the next day; our hike went basically straight up. The views were great, but our lazy boat butts were pretty challenged making it to the top.DSC_1199

DSC_1212Time for more ice cream, and more good food, while the boys played a complicated basketball-trampoline game out back.

It was really hard to say goodbye to these guys, without knowing when we might see them again. N has become a really competitive swimmer (she put in about three miles in the pool before that brutal hike), and as the kids all get bigger, it’ll be harder to pull them away for gigantic road trips–even for dedicated adventurers like our friends. Hopefully, they’ll be swinging through Madison, so we can repay them for their hospitality. Already planning a brutal hike.DSC_1268

Pacific Northwest

After an intensive week of family and friends, we headed back to the wilds of National Park campsites with a trip up to Crater Lake. Everything was as beautiful as expected; what we did not anticipate was the freezing cold! Snow everywhere, and sleeting rain; we huddled inside the van and watched a movie, instead of trying to coax out a campfire.

We found this snippet of info in the USA Today in a Portland coffee shop. Yep, that's right where we were...

We found this snippet of info in the USA Today in a Portland coffee shop. Yep, that’s right where we were…

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Throwing snowballs

Throwing snowballs

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Sooooo cold!

Sooooo cold!

Hiding out.

Hiding out.

DSC_12165000 feet lower, the weather was much more temperate. We’d planned to get as close to Portland as possible, to maximize our one hotel night and time in the city, but in the end decided to bail off the highway to a random piece of public land managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, right next to a dam. It turned out to be one of our favorite spots—warm and sunny, right next to a winding stream, with lovely neighbors and lots of room for the kids to run around.DSC_1218

The next day, we struck out for Portland. We haven’t been spending time in the types of places with kids’ museums, so we splurged on a day at OMSI, including their awesome robot exhibit. A little pizza, a little check-up for the van (all good!), and a long morning at Powell’s City of Books, and we headed back towards the coast.DSC_1226

Michu balances a dozen nails on the head of one nail. Engineering genius at work.

Michu balances a dozen nails on the head of one nail. Engineering genius at work.

Book Mecca!

Book Mecca!

We are weak.

We are weak.

DSC_1287So far, we’d been pretty lucky with waltzing into campgrounds and asking for a site, and Cape Disappointment was no exception. We hiked up the cape to check out the infamous entrance to the Columbia River. No huge waves were breaking over the bar that day, but we were still happy not to be navigating through the shifting sands. The history of the river mouth goes from shipwreck to shipwreck, and as we hiked past the Coast Guard station, we were thankful for all the work that’s gone into making it safe for boats like Milou.DSC_1267

The most Pacific Northwest photo ever.

The most Pacific Northwest photo ever.

DSC_1309In my mind, I consider Olympia National Park to be remote and rarely visited—because it’s so far from Wisconsin, and I’d never been there. Obviously, that is insane. Thinking we could squeeze into Kalaloch campground, right on the ocean, we pulled in optimistically around noon; the campsite is one of the few in the park that takes reservations, and it was packed. South Beach campground was not so much to our liking, so we reverted to our original plan of spending two nights in the Hoh Rain Forest, and hoped for clear weather.DSC_1295

DSC_1289We lucked out; our time in the Hoh was marked by clear skies and warmer temps than on the coast. We hiked through trees dripping with moss, and checked out the tide pools at Ruby Beach—a big contrast to the coastal conditions of Baja.DSC_1325

DSC_1329We’ve been back in the US for three whole weeks now, so we feel it’s time to leave the country again. We’re off to see friends in Victoria, BC, for a few days. We suspect clearing into Canada will be more complicated than when we were cruising the North Channel of Lake Huron, which required only a call from a phone booth.