Tag Archive | history

The Best-Laid Plans

“In battle, what cannot be predicted is the enemy’s reaction; in exploration, what cannot be predicted is what is around the next bend in the river or on the other side of the hill.  The planning process, therefore, is as much guesswork as it is intelligent forecasting of the physical needs of the expedition.  It tends to be frustrating, because the planner carries with him a nagging sense that he is making some simple mistakes that could be easily corrected in the planning stage, but may cause a dead loss when the mistake is discovered midway through the voyage.”

—Stephen Ambrose, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West


The journeys I take are not Voyages of Discovery, and they do notDCP_2966 involve dozens of men for several year.  Yet, I feel some sympathy for Ambrose’s description of Meriwether Lewis’s struggles in planning for the unknown.  Though it can sometimes be stressful, I deny that it is in fact frustrating – at least not during the planning phase itself.  I actually get a certain energy from the planning, spending much more time on it than necessary, and getting more excited for the trip ahead with every moment.



I love reading a map – planning the route of a road trip is one of the best parts.  Deciding which personal effects to pack for a journey helps me realize my priorities.  Determining meals for a backpacking trip makes me examine my true needs.

However, it is true that I usually pack too much.  Maybe I am afraid of those “simple mistakes that could be easily corrected in the planning stage.”  Of course, I’m sure most of you can attest that bringing along unnecessary items can be as big an error as omitting a useful tool!



The frustrating part for me is when the journey is not an adventure.  Making hotel and plane reservations do indeed try my patience.  I prefer to travel in a way that does not require advanced planning for every step of the way.  Yet, even planning the complicated logistics of a longer trip or one with multiple participants or specific objectives to accomplish can stimulate me.  In that case, it may be less excitement that I am feeling, and more a positive type of stress.  It is that feeling that I imagine Captain Lewis to have had while planning his famous journey to discover what would become the western two-thirds of the United States.

What about you?  Do you find planning and packing to be exhilarating or frustrating?  Do you have tups to make the process go more smoothly?  What is your favorite part about planning for a journey?


The photos on this page document the packing portion of a research project that I worked with in Chile, ten years ago.  We not only had to pack our personal items, but also quite a bit of our food for four months, as well as materials for the project, including fence construction.  These photos show us packing the gear once in Santiago, then bringing it to the boat yard in Valparaiso, where it was loaded into crates for its journey to our island destination.  That was, indeed, a frustrating project!  And yes, we packed many things that we never used, and not enough of some items we couldn’t do without!  Luckily, we were not in uncharted waters, and were able to make things turn out alright in the end.



Buffalo Trace

IMG_1523_2Though the Jack Daniels tour was a great experience, I thought I might get something else out of a smaller distillery, and I still had a hankering for a sip of bourbon.  On the last day of my trip, barely following a breakfast of tea and donuts, I arrived at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in the capitol city of Frankfort, Kentucky.  It was a foggy Tuesday morning, but the 10 am tour had ten people on it nonetheless.  Buffalo Trace, as a brand, has been around since 1998, but the distillery has been in continuous operation longer than any other in the United States, since 1870.   That’s right – “continuous.”  The OFC distillery was one of four in the US that continued to distill spirits during the nearly 14 years of Prohibition, as a medicinal product!  Although the Buffalo Trace label is considered a small batch, there are many other bourbon products produced there, some at a more premium level (Blanton’s, Eagle Rare), some slightly less so.  They also bottle a wide variety of other products that were produced elsewhere, including vodka, rum, tequila, etc.  As a result, though Buffalo Trace is certainly produced on a smaller scale than Jack Daniels, the size of the operation is not noticeably different.

Seen through the fog, "Warehouse C" is one of the oldest buildings on the Buffalo Trace campus, bearing the initials OFC at the top, which stands for Old Fire Copper, the original distillery name.  It is full of barrels of tasty bourbon whisky... so tempting!

“Warehouse C” is one of the oldest buildings on the Buffalo Trace campus, bearing the initials OFC at the top, which stands for Old Fire Copper, the original distillery name. It is full of barrels of tasty bourbon whiskey… so tempting!

The standard (free) “Trace” tour includes two half-shot samples, a couple history stops, a visit to a small

Our tour guide turned bartender at the end, pouring us half-shots of various products distilled and bottled on-site.

Our tour guide turned bartender at the end, pouring us half-shots of various products distilled and bottled on-site.

warehouse, and a walk through the smallest bottling room.  There is also a self-guided walking tour of the grounds, with identification of the historic buildings.  Seeing the bottling room was pretty cool, especially since it was in normal operation when I visited on a weekday.  I didn’t really miss seeing the production facilities, but that was partly because I had seen them at Jack Daniel’s.  Based on my extensive visits to breweries, I surmise that the basic production does not change significantly from one facility to the next.  If this is the only place you plan to go, though, you should make reservations for the “hardhat” tour which will take you through some of these other buildings, or even the history tour which will go more into architecture and history.  As for me… maybe next time!

The bottling room... very cool part of the tour!  They were bottling single-barren Blanton's that day.

The bottling room… very cool part of the tour! They were bottling single-barren Blanton’s that day.

The one thing that I wasn’t able to photograph in either location was the scent.  If you like whiskey, that might be your favorite take-away from an in-person visit.  In the warehouses, the leaky barrels fill the old buildings with intense whisky fumes, known in the industry as the “angel’s share.”  Outside, the pervasive smell of fermenting corn mash is reminiscent of a sweet, extra-flavorful bread or breakfast cereal.  Mmmm.

It’s the Little Things


When I’m driving along the road, I usually try to stop for the historical markers, informational waysides, and other signs that were erected for my education.  Sometimes I learn something that I never knew, and might never have had another opportunity to find out.  Sometimes I discover that an important event occurred not far from where I’m standing, which makes me feel part of “something bigger.”  Sometimes a famous person turns out to have passed through the area, and to have done something not-so-famous in the process; it helps me see that even the tiny things we do may have great significance. 

Sometimes the sign points out something that sets me to thinking.  This sign, on the Nicolet National Forest in northern Wisconsin, is one of them. Located near the border of Forest and Vilas Counties, on the eastern edge of Wisconsin’s “Northern Highlands,” it marks the continental divide of the eastern United States.  While all water east of the spine of the Rockies ends up in the Atlantic Ocean, there are two routes to get there.  Groundwater east of this sign eventually makes its way to the Great Lakes and thence to the St. Lawrence Seaway, where it flows out the north Atlantic and mingles with the frigid waters there.  To the west of this divide, waters flow to the Mississippi River and out to the balmy Gulf of Mexico.

Reading that this morning, I pondered how curious it was that, here in the sparsely-inhabited Northwoods, we have a connection to those far-away, almost mythical-sounding locations.  I would bet that most people in Forest County have never even considered going to either of those places, yet the actions we take here have a far-reaching effect.  We are used to thinking about the watersheds affecting our local lakes and streams, but we rarely consider that we all live in the watershed of an ocean.

Beyond the ecological implications, this sign reminds me of the historical forces that shaped our northern states. The St. Lawrence Seaway and the Mississippi were the two main routes of exploration in the early history of the United States, and both led to Wisconsin.  It is fascinating to consider what those two waterways have meant for the development of our state as it is today.

I didn’t expect to have this much to say when I pulled over on a whim today.  I encourage you, too, to stop at your local wayside markers sometime soon, and rediscover something that you thought you already knew!


Hope and Hot Springs

Nov 1, 2010

Miles 8748 – 8922

Little River, AR to Jessieville, AR

When I first saw “Hope” on a map of Arkansas, I thought that it was an interesting name for a town, then I wondered why I had heard of it before, and finally it dawned on me that it had been the birthplace of Bill Clinton, our 42nd President of the United States.  While therefore of historic importance, I figured that I would go around it, stop in Hot Springs, AR, and then check out the Ozarks for a couple days before heading north into Illinois and the road home.  When I woke up that morning, however, I didn’t want to miss whatever Hope had to offer, and I headed down there to see what that might be.

It was a cool, gray Monday in early November, so tourist traffic was at a low point and the town was probably not looking its best.  There were a lot of vacant storefronts and homes, and it seemed as though the town itself hadn’t changed since Clinton was a boy there.  According to all of the literature, though, Hope used to be a vibrant community with several daily passenger trains and a bustling commercial and entertainment district.  To be honest, all Southern towns look a little run-down to me.  However, I once heard a woman from a Pacific Northwest city refer to Chicago’s brownstone two-flats (mostly occupied by decent middle-class families) as “squalid,” and ever since then I’ve been wary of judging places by the standards of a different region.  So I’ll stop trying to describe Hope itself and jump right to the tourist attractions.

The old train depot has been turned into a Historical Museum, with a prominent display about Bill Clinton and the era in which he grew up.  Mike Huckabee is also from Hope, it turns out, and there was another display on his life and times.  The rest of the museum featured the stuff of most small town museums – including a special section on Hope’s biggest claim to fame (other than the Prez): watermelon.  Yup, Hope is the Watermelon Capitol, and world record watermelons continue to be grown and shown there at the county fair.

I moved on from there to “Bill Clinton’s Boyhood Home” and the accompanying museum.  By now the house has been taken over by the National Park Service, but at the time they were still awaiting that transition.  The lack of backing by a wealthy federal agency was apparent, as the museum was not furnished richly, though with a lot of care.  The boyhood home is actually Bill’s grandparents’ home, where he spent his first few years and which he always afterwards thought of as “home,” wherever else he moved.  It was re-decorated in period furniture, appliances, etc. – which was a little bit curious.

Recreation of the Oval Office in the museum next door to Clinton's "boyhood home"

Think about it – Bill Clinton was hugely popular among “baby boomers” because he was one of them – he graduated college in nearly the same year as my parents, and my mom wracked her brain trying to remember the young Hillary Rodham that graduated high school the same year as her, just one suburb over.  What that means, of course, is that the house in which he and his mom lived when he was a young boy did not look too different on the inside from my grandmother’s when I was growing up.  It’s a little bit odd to tour a house that just looks like it could be just anyone’s house… but to a certain degree, I think that’s the point they are trying to make.  Clinton billed himself as just an average guy, growing up in an average town with his average family, and that certainly is exactly what it looks like.

Display in the Clinton Museum in Hope, AR

Careful, I’m going to wax a little philosophical here for a minute.  I’m not usually overly-patriotic, nor do I idealize our presidents, even the ones whom history has proven great.  However, after checking out the museums and being reminded of all that Clinton stood for before, during, and since his presidency, I was pretty impressed.  I remembered how enthusiastic people had been about him when he first ran for President, and he was the first guy I got to vote for, when he was elected to his second term the year I turned 18.  Though I can never say that I agree with all of the decisions that any politicians make, I’m proud of Bill and Hillary for continuing to fight for peace and justice both abroad and at home.

Okay, that’s done – I hope I didn’t just lose all my readers with that little sermon.

I left Hope around mid-day and headed west to Hot Springs, AR… a story that will have to wait until next time!

The Texas Revolution

Mission Espiritu Santo and the town of Goliad, TX, viewed from the Presidio La Bahia

October 25-26, 2010

Miles 7680-7866

Austin, TX to Corpus Christi, TX

En route from Austin to the coast, I passed through a region of great historical significance.  The small towns of Gonzalez and Goliad were key locations in the Texas Revolution’s battle for independence.

Gonzalez, along the Guadalupe River, was first established as a an American land grant colony within the Mexican state of Texas.  The settlers were given a canon by their Spanish rulers, in order to protect

Gonzalez, TX

the colony and the frontier from Indian attacks.  Ten years later, when revolutionary sentiment against the Mexican General Santa Anna began to circulate among the American-born Texans, the dictatorial government felt it prudent to take that means of defense back.  The people of Gonzalez raised a flag and a resistance, declaring “Come and Take It!”  In October of 1835, ten revolutionaries successfully fought off hundreds of Spanish troops, and retained their canon.  It now resides in the historical museum in Gonzalez, along with many other artifacts of the time, well-defended by a conscientious curator who is more than happy to dispense stories of Texas’s revolutionary period.

Later that same year, “Texians” took control of the Presidio (fort) of La Bahia, outside of Goliad, and began the siege of San

Presidio La Bahia, near Goliad, TX

Antonio.  However, in March of 1836, the revolutionary Texians received a set-back when they were defeated at The Alamo (which I did not get to in my travels), and a retreat began.  En route, they set fire to the towns they passed through, including Gonzalez.  Just outside of Goliad, Mexican troops

At La Bahia

caught up with the Texians, and a group of men led by Col. James Fannin surrendered.  Rather than being detained as prisoners of war, they were all executed the following day, which caused significant resentment among the revolutionaries.   It inspired the remaining troops to greater strength, and on April 21, 1836, with the cry of “Remember Goliad!” they defeated Santa Anna’s Mexican army at San Jacinto.

Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza was born in the Texas Revolutionary town of Goliad, and went on to play a key role in the Cinco de Mayo victory of the Mexican Revolution

The Mission Espiritu Santo has been rebuilt on its Spanish foundations next to Goliad State Park, Goliad TX

The former grounds of the Mission Espiritu Santo

Today, Gonzalez, Goliad, and other East Texas towns are sleepy American hamlets with old-world architecture.  Yet the flags of the revolution continue to fly proudly over them, reminding passers-by of their glorious moment in history.