Now, tell me they don't look related!
My mother had a tough time while I was on the Atlantic. One of the e-mailers who helped keep her cheerful was Molly, mother of my friend Mariya. Molly knows what it's like to have wayward children.
Today Molly and I headed up to Crater Lake in Oregon.
On the drive up there I couldn't help but smile. We'd driven quite some way from Bend to see this place, but the whole mountain was shrouded in cloud. Couldn't see more than 30 feet. It was magical - jagged, blasted pines and patches of snow emerged from the mist as we drove past - but of the famous crater we couldn't see a thing.
It reminded me exactly of climbing up Mount Pisco in Peru with Mariya in 2003 - visiblity zilch.
So when we got to the lodge at the top, it seemed only appropriate to recreate the Mariya/Pisco photo. We looked around for substitute ice axes, but the lodge fire irons were strictly ornamental only - and not detachable from their stand. So we had to make do with forks.
Spookily - on Mount Pisco, just after Mariya and I had reached the summit, the clouds parted to reveal the most incredible view of the snow-clad mountains below. Today, just after Molly and I arrived at Crater Lake, the clouds parted to reveal the deep blue pool in the volcanic crater, apparently the deepest lake in North America.
Like mother, like daughter....
Something that really fascinates me about America is those real Nowheresville kind of places - where people just pass the time of day, teaching their dog a trick, chatting to the neighbours, waiting for something new to happen.
Yesterday I found one of those places. I was on the high plateau, just south of The Dalles, Oregon, and was running low on petrol. I kept hoping that over the next rise in the dry, brown landscape, there might be a gas station.
Long after the BlandsMobile had announced 'low fuel' and I was starting to panic about being stranded, I happened upon Grass Valley. Not as verdant as it sounds.
At first I thought the gas station was closed, but a burly attendant (Doyle - second top) ambled out to fill 'er up. There was a free 'magic' show into the bargain - a few tricks involving novel ways of folding a dollar bill, and an email pointing out various spooky permutations of the numbers 9/11.
On the way out, I got talking with Dale (top), the tattoo'ed, scarred guy working in the yard. He had a long scar across his face. 'Yeah... got mixed up in the wrong crowd.... fella tried to kill me....'
For half an hour, I was in a different world. Not somewhere I'd necessarily want to spend much longer, but I loved the insight into a different pace of life, a few different human histories.
I haven't been in a boat since I stepped ashore in Antigua, and I hadn't missed it. So when Arlene's tenant, Jim, invited me to go for a paddle in his sculling boat I was about to use my stress-fractured hip as a wimp-out option, when something (vanity?) made me say, 'Why not?'
And I loved it.
What's not to love, when your're surrounded by stunning scenery, hearing the bubbles run under your hull, soaking up the natural beauty of the Columbia Gorge. Gorge-ous!