Sally Walton's Travel Archive


INDIA

After 31 hours in transit, arriving in Delhi in the moist warm night, I felt suspended in time. Though there was little traffic at 3 am, I still felt dismayed that my driver kept swerving into the wrong side of the road. Finally I remembered that he was driving on the right side of the road for India, that is, the left.

Observing activity on the road during my three weeks in India was a constant learning experience. In the U.S.A. we have carpool lanes to encourage more than one passenger per car. India is way ahead of us. There, it's customary to have more than one passenger per bicycle! Seeing two or three on a cycle is common, and up to five, including small children, can be sighted wending their way through traffic, and especially on rural roads. One person cycling alone seems to be downright extravagant!

And speaking of traffic, don't even think of renting a car and driving it yourself. If you can afford a car, you can afford a driver. What with driving on the left, dodging throngs of pedestrians, cyclists, fume-belching trucks and buses, other cars, cows, bullock carts, goats, chickens, and dogs, driving the roads of India is not for the faint-of-heart, or the inexperienced. A European friend said he likes driving in India because even through driving is officially on the left, he found that in reality you can drive anywhere there's space.

Leftovers from the British, especially military terminology, also appear on the signage on the streets and highway. One building is labeled Andra Mess (an eating place), another Consumer Dispute Resolution Board.

If you have specific questions about India, feel free to send me an e-mail.

What To Do If You Have Only One Day In Yosemite

The Yosemite brochure quotes a park ranger as saying [If I had only one day in Yosemite] "I would go sit by the Merced River and cry."

I decided to have a more positive attitude.

At the Shilo Inn in Oakhurst, Pete, a longtime resident of the area gave some suggestions while I sipped morning coffee.

I left my car at the Mariposa Grove at 8: 07 AM. As I hiked up the trail to the Grizzly Giant Tree, I realized that I had the majesty of these sequoia trees to myself. If you would like to experience this miracle of solitude in one of our most visited National Parks:

After contemplating the Grizzly Giant, a 2,800 year old tree, walk another 50 yds to the California Tree which was cut in the1800's so that carriages could drive through the tree. Here you can touch the tree. All the major sequoia in the grove have fences around them to prevent the trampling on their shallow root structure.

From the California Tree, you can continue on to the Upper Grove for a longer hike. For me the 2 mile round-trip was a nice warm-up hike for the rest of the day. On your return you have a choice of the trail or the road which gives another view of the grove, and allows those who love walking to get into a brisk stride. The road and the trail intersect at the Fallen Monarch Tree.

At the parking lot, other cars were arriving. I drove on past the Wawona Hotel. which was closed, to the turn-off for Chilnaulna Falls, a walk recommended by Pete. When I had asked him if that choice was as good as Vernal Falls, he replied, "Same idea." And here again, it's a choice fewer make.

Drive along Chilnaulna Falls Road, past the Redwood Cottages, to the parking area at the trail head. (By the size of the small parking area, I knew I would not be encountering crowds.) Walk a short distance up the hill, and follow the trail that goes off to the right, not the narrow road which leads to more cottages. A very short hike up takes you to the falls.

Again I was alone. As you watch the falling water, you have the choice of continuing on the much longer hike up the mountain. I returned to my car to drive back to the main road, toward the Badger Pass/ Glacier Point turnoff. Hiking around the Glacier Point area gives an overview of the valley and the majestic peaks beyond.

This one-day adventure is only a taste of Yosemite, but one that will last a long time. Enjoy!

MUSH!

Can a Californian Survive a Week in a Northern Minnesota Winter?

I knew I was in trouble when I phoned the lodge on Dec. 1st to finalize arrangements, and casually asked, "How's the weather there now?"

"Oh quite mild today," I was told. "Just a minute, I'll check the thermometer." A moment later, "Yes, it's 12 above."

In just one month I would be mushing dogs along the Gunflint Trail, just south of the Canadian border in Minnesota. So if above temperatures were mild, I guessed below temperatures would be normal by that time.

Dec. 4th: The brochures arrived today. In my usual adventurous style, I had booked the trip before I had seen the brochure.

My friends had warned me with comments like, "That is the worst idea I've ever heard." and "If you like huskies so much, why don't you just buy a dog?"

Now I was reading the fine print:

I knew which of those my friends thought I was. As I read on I wondered if they were right. "The fun starts during Ice Box Days in January featuring events like the 'Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run.'"

December 5th
Today I phoned a friend in Minneapolis to let her know that I would be coming
to Minnesota. As she was in a meeting, her secretary offered to take a
message. When I said, "Just tell her that I will be mushing the Gunflint
Trail," the secretary replied in astonishment, "For real?" Now this was
someone who lives in Minnesota, I thought, getting really worried.

December 30.
It is a looong trip to Gunflint Lodge. First you fly into Minneapolis, change
planes to Duluth, and are picked up at the airport for another three hour
drive along the shore of Lake Superior. The Gunflint Trail begins at Grand
Marais, 110 miles north of Duluth, on Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake
Superior. The Trail winds through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness,
and the three million-acre Superior National Forest. 18th and 19th century
Voyageurs journeyed here to trade among the Sioux, Cree, and Chippewa Indians.

As we drove along in the van, I felt as though I were on a Minnesota safari,
peering though the windshield to catch a glimpse of moose. Alas, however, it
the first day of ice fishing season, and all those folks rushing out to drill
holes on the frozen lakes caused too much traffic for the moose to appear.

December 31st
When I walked out of my cabin, four deer stood at attention in such stillness
that I thought for a second that they might be statues. We looked at each
other for awhile; when I moved, so did they.

After breakfast I met the 29 Alaskan Huskies, yelping with anticipation that
they might be chosen to be today’s team. Two were so shy that they ran to the
end of their tether when we approached them, while others liked to stand on
their hind legs, place their forepaws on my shoulders and give a welcome kiss
on my cheek or nose.

The morning was orientation: how to harness the dogs, the parts of the sled,
how the various lines function and connect, the vocabulary of mushing. After
lunch, Rhonda from Atlanta and I got into the sled for a half day ride driven
by the head musher. We saw how the dogs pulled together or didn’t, and the
commands used to move them on or slow them down.

January 1st
Some very plump blue jays are feeding from the seed that I placed outside my
cabin window. Later come the chickadees and a red squirrel who chomps the
seeds, then sitting on its back legs, folds its paws, lifts its head and
surprises me with a chortly yodel. Poles and stumps wear top hats of snow.
The silence outdoors is broken only by skiers’ blades along the groomed
trails or occasional snowmobiles along the snow-packed road. Inside the
cabin, there is no phone, TV or radio. The only sound is the wood crackling
in my fireplace. I’m beginning to understand why locals look so stunned at my
California friendliness. If I lived here long enough, I might stop speaking
altogether.

Today Rhonda took her solo flight with the dogs, and I went snowshoeing. We
met over dinner to share our adventures. Rhonda had brought turnip greens
(for wealth), and black-eyed peas (for luck) to be eaten on New Year’s day.
They were carried from the kitchen with gourmet garnishes. My new friend from
Atlanta told the waitress to compliment the chef on his presentation of
southern food. "Oh," she replied, "Bill’s from the South. He’s from
Chicago."

That kept us chuckling throughout dinner. I guess if you’re sitting on the
Canadian border, most of the U.S.A. is the South!


January 2nd
Last night I went to bed memorizing "gee/ haw." I was already talking about
wheel dogs and ganglines as though I had been mushing all my life, but gee
(right) and haw (left) didn’t come as easily.

I woke before the alarm, excited as a kid on Christmas morning. Today I would
drive my own dog team. Gee, haw - I had it!

The air nipped my cheeks just walking to breakfast. The first day, during our
dog sled orientation, the temperature was in the teens, and I was cold..
Yesterday during my snowshoeing the temperature hovered around 0, and I
thought my fiery cheeks were frost-bitten. Not to worry, I was told. As long
as was in pain, I was OK. It was when the stinging, burning sensation turned
to numbness and blazing red turned to white that I would be in trouble.

Now this morning for my all-day expedition, the thermometer read - 25, 25
below! And I would be mushing across the frozen Gunflint Lake into Canada.

Remembering yesterday’s burning cheeks, I put on two face masks, as many
layers as I had, and mitts over my gloves. I moved with the grace of an
astronaut taking the first steps on the moon. My peripheral vision was
impaired, and I had no manual dexterity. And with all this, I was still cold
just harnessing the team in the dog yard. At least the lake would be in the
sunshine.

I finally took off with my mushing instructor and the next two hours were
worth the whole trip. Crossing the lake on the sparkling snow, the dogs ran
well. When we got to the woods, the challenge increased. Even on a flat lake
a musher has to watch that the gangline stays taut, with all dogs pulling
equally. If not, the dogs bunch up, may get tangled, or even start to fight.
Along the narrow trail, steering becomes much more difficult. Going up and
down hills, sometimes on curves, is a challenge to steering, as well as to
keeping the gangline taut, and the dogs on course with the temptation of all
those trees and bushes to mark.

The beauty was exquisite, though sneaking looks at the view, staying
attentive to the dogs and lines, learning to steer by shifting my weight and
position on the sled, and ducking low branches and fallen tree trunks kept me
more than busy.

The misery began at the lunch stop. I started to realize about 15 minutes
before that I was getting really tired. We had some difficulty finding a
place that was both good for the dogs, and to tie off the sled. Then my
mushing instructor began gathering wood for a fire. It seemed to take
forever, and the resulting fire seemed to have no effect on the numbing cold.
I was glad to be off again. As I mounted the runners, however, I realized how
tired the muscles in my shoulders and arms were, and I had about 2 1/2 hours
to go.

However, I was happy with how quickly I had caught on to the mushing
techniques, and how amazingly the sled responded to several overcorrections
in steering. As we got to the lake for the final stretch, the low sun backlit
the dogs, now running steadily as a team. The almost-full moon hung in the
deepening blue of the sky. How would I ever describe the visual beauty or the
unique experience of standing on a dog sled behind the running team?

When I got back to my cabin, the water in the water bottle I had carried was
frozen. I realized I was half frozen myself.


The Final Day.
Today we had two sleds out in a lead-and-chase. I drove the ten-dog team in
front, and Rhonda the nine dog team behind. We each had a mushing instructor
in our sled. The two of us had become know as the "Walton and Cook
expedition", and this was our final run with the dogs.

The temperatures were still in the minus 20’s, but I had now mastered
techniques, such as slipping my hand out of my mitt while still driving the
sled, and holding my fingers gently to my eyelashes to melt the ice so I
could see. I softly crooned to dogs, "Tighten up," "On by."

The wind penetrated all my layers. At the lunch stop, while I was enjoying my
walleye sandwich, my baked beans froze to the plate. But I was mushing
huskies in the northwoods. I wasn’t watching a travelogue; I was one.


c Sally J. Walton


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