A Gunkholer at Heart

It’s a shorthand we use, these preferences that define our lives. We’re morning people, or night people. We drink coffee or tea.  Some favor the sweet things in life; others seek out the tang of salt or the sharpness of spice. Entire advertising campaigns play to people’s passion for the PC or Mac, and in the sailing world there’s no avoiding the question: are you a cruiser, or a racer? How a sailor answers that question will determine a good bit, from choice of boat to the weekend schedule.

Racers generally commit themselves to light and fast, preferring Kevlar sails and carbon masts to canvas and wood – if the budget allows. Spending hard-earned dollars on new technologies, they push technology to its limits. Others, coping with older and heavier boats, ponder their PHRF ratings and do what they can to maximize performance.

Still, whether their vessel is a Sunfish, a J-Boat or a fully-fitted cruiser, racers share a few characteristics.  They’re tweakers at heart, constantly adjusting sail trim, seeking the currents and anticipating the wind.  Demanding of themselves and one another, they’re often focused to point of obsession. In the end, their goal is simple – to get from point A to Point B first, and in the shortest possible time.

Cruisers are a different breed. While racers amuse themselves blowing out one sail after another, cruisers assure themselves that “any fool can fly too much canvas”, and ease the jib sheet. They’d rather reef the main than tear up a perfectly good sail, especially one they’d have to patch themselves while underway.  They like to think of  spare pumps and canned goods as ballast, and the more inches of fiberglass between them and that floating log or coral head, the better. 

Cruisers have destinations, too, but the schedule is looser, more amenable to change. They’re happy to wait on weather, and though pleased by fast, easy passages, the pleasure is less the arrival time than the joys of a new anchorage.

I’ve always considered myself a cruiser rather than a racer, but in recent years I’ve come to appreciate a third option – the life of the gunkholer.  True gunkholers embody the spirit of Kenneth Graham’s Water Rat, famous for telling Mole, “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

Nearly every boater knows those words, but few could finish the passage:

In or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t, whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular, and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not.

And there you have it – the essence of gunkholing.  Whether pursued with a bicycle or in a kayak, by car or on foot doesn’t matter. It’s the “messing about” that’s the point, and the messing about that turns travel into wonder.

I was messing about on the back roads of Kansas not long ago when I realized the sun was setting. With Emporia well behind, Manhattan too far north to be reached before dark and Topeka holding little appeal, I headed west at Allen, toward Council Grove. I’d never heard of the town, but assumed from the map it might be large enough for a motel or two. If not, I’d go on to Herington, where traffic to Fort Riley probably would guarantee lodging.

On my way into town, I passed one sign pointing to a “Stone Barn” and another that referenced the Santa Fe Trail, and I began to get interested. Later, I learned just how old the town is – the main street  traces the path of the Santa Fe Trail and ruts from covered wagons still are visible in the surrounding prairie.  In 1825, a treaty giving Americans and Mexicans free passage along the Trail was signed beneath the so-called Council Oak, part of an extensive local grove that provided shelter to travelers, wood for wagon repairs and a name for the town.

At what seemed to be the town’s primary intersection, a half-lit vintage sign advertising “Motel” pointed to the right. Hitting the brakes, I made a hard right and looked. What I found was astonishing. No flophouse this, no old-fashioned tourist court or cookie-cutter franchise. This was the Cottage House Hotel, an area landmark that had been providing rooms to travelers since 1879.

Initially a three-room cottage and blacksmith shop built in 1867 by George Biglin, it was expanded into a boarding house in the early 1870s by Reverend Joab Spencer. When ownership passed to Mr. & Mrs. Lewis Mead in 1879, the Cottage House became “favorably known as a home for many of the commercial tourists who visited the city.”  Used as apartments during WWII, it underwent refurbishing in the 1980s, and now provides comfortable lodging in the midst of the Kansas prairie.

Two significant features of the Queen Anne reconstruction by the Meads, the turret and the bay window, can be seen in the postcard above, and in these photos taken during my stay.

The restoration of the interior has been beautifully done. The white oak staircase, period lighting and original stained glass are special treats, making it possible to imagine the graciousness of life more than a century ago.

Six days and five states later, another sunset found me messing about near Hannibal, Missouri, eager to find lodging in the midst of that town’s annual Harvest Festival. Not a single motel room seemed available, but a bored young desk clerk at the Best Western gave me a list of other possibilities. For no good reason, I decided to call the Garden House Bed & Breakfast. As it turned out, a cancellation in the previous hour had left them with a vacancy, which I promptly filled.

I found the place on Hannibal’s so-called “Millionaires’ Row”, a street lined with beautiful Italianate, Greek Revival and Victorian homes built near the turn of the 19th century. My room would be in the Pettibone-Trowbridge House, an 1896 Queen Anne built by Albert Pettibone, brother of Hannibal philanthropist Wilson B. Pettibone. (The new owners have a sense of humor. See the jack-o-lantern in the upstairs window?)

Wilson Pettibone’s house, also a restored 1896 Victorian Queen Anne and a contemporary bed and breakfast, reflects Mr. Pettibone’s status as a wealthy lumber baron. Built for his wife Laura, it made use of a variety of woods in its ornate interior woodwork, and still contains the original Rookwood tiles, stained glass and gas/electric light fixtures.

America being what it is, far more than architecture and houses will delight the avid gunkholer. In Minnesota alone you can meet the Jolly Green Giant, visit the Spam Museum, peek under a bridge at a memorial for hobos, and discover where coots congregate while preparing for their own travel to Texas. Each of these wonders has its own history, its own story to tell, and yet each would have remained invisible to me had I not made a single commitment: to forego the franchise, the reservation, the interstate and my own expectations while I messed about on the backroads of America, gunkholing my way through places I never could have imagined.

As I came to the end of this wonderful trip, forced at last by necessity to travel  from Point A to Point B  in the shortest possible time, I thought a good bit about my sail through life. I’ve raced to meet deadlines and I’ve cruised into every sort of circumstance imaginable, but the time has come to acknowledge the truth. I’ve become a gunkholer at heart.

Like the bear who went over the mountain, I’m eager to see what I can see. While crossing the mountain on a freeway or circling its perimeter with one eye on the clock may lead to the other side, taking time, messing about, meandering, giving in to curiosity and setting aside expectations often leads to a more detailed and satisfying view.

Winning races surely is a reason for pride. Reaching planned-for destinations provides a sense of accomplishment. Planning each step of a  journey ensures a certain security.  But gunkholing? It lowers the blood pressure, delights the eye and inculcates a sense of wonder. It lets you hear the wind in the willows or the creak of a schooner across an unbroken prairie, and it’s the best traveling in the world.

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66 thoughts on “A Gunkholer at Heart

  1. Gunkholing – great word. (Of course I’m looking up its derivation…) I so enjoyed hearing your words on the types of sailors – rich stuff and I haven’t been around the water in ages to pick up on it. Always love to hear the stories from your waterfront and the ways and plays of the shore.

    So glad you experienced Hannibal! love your pictures and hearing the rewards of gunkholing.

    And your closing sentences are especially fine. Here’s to gunkholing.

    1. oh,

      Hannibal was the point where I realized I had to make a run for home – no more poking about. I would have been happy to spend more time – the town was splendid, and of course there’s all that Mark Twain history. There are several reasons to go back, but not at the height of tourist season.

      I got to the Mississippi Palisades, too – some of the best fall color I saw on the trip. I tend to think of the Mississippi first in terms of flooding – but the locks and dams, the refuges, the surrounding towns – all wonderful.

      Here’s to gunkholing, indeed. Funny thing is, it’s not unrelated to Arti’s “slow blogging”. Maybe I’m a “gunk-blogger”, too!


  2. Gunkholing, a perfect name for aim-full meandering. You put me in mind of the Crystal Key Inn in Newman Grove, Nebraska. I stayed one night in a room in the turret and came away with an entirely new geography for a short story (one of the handful that made it into publication). That story wouldn’t have been worth a penny if I hadn’t happened on that place.

    The Midwest, which, for those traveling through on the interstate can seem one endless flat expanse, is dotted with such treasures (and peculiarities–ah, spam, such memories that brings back).

    1. Susan,

      Newman Grove’s on my list, now. It’s due east of a town I want to visit – Burwell. I have some postcards sent by grandparents and great-grandparents who went out there to carve out a new life.
      Apparently one of them married into the family of a homesteader – I haven’t sorted it all out yet, but there’s a photo of a soddie. No turrets there!

      The “particularities of place” – rich soil for stories. It occurred to me on this trip I grow just a tiny bit impatient with stories that take place purely in people’s heads. When I stopped in Minnesota, I did nothing for two days but listen to people tell stories – about people, places and, necessarily, peculiarities!

      Here’s to “flyover country” – and all its “undiscovered” treasures.


  3. We took a month long driving vacation some years back and although the first week was spent getting to our destination for an event, we always delved into the towns for the small lodging and eating establishments. The last three weeks were a big meander home.

    1. Ellen,

      There are double delights in those meanders – the pace, and those small, local places. A piece of cherry pie I ate in a Wisconsin diner nearly twenty years ago still lives in memory – but of course it came surrounded with a cheery waitress who must have been 80, a collection of folks eager to talk, and bottomless coffee for a dime.
      Even at the time, that was extraordinary.

      I hope you enjoyed your extended trip. I enjoyed having you stop by here!


  4. As usual you continue to surprise. I thought Gunkhole only applied to the coast line. But then I guess I have done some landlocked gunkholing. One of our best finds was a B&B in Beria, Johannesburg. Mark was the proprietor and wonderful host and cook.

    Our first night was in some named room – all fluffy pillows and coordinated silk bedspreads. Margaret Rose – The dachshund who really ran the place – came to sleep with us. She had also accepted us when we arrived earlier and Mark was absent. We had found this B&B by asking our regular stay over Nunnery (which was booked solid) to recommend anywhere we could stay. From that visit on we stayed in the big town only with Margaret and Mark.
    Mainly with Margaret Rose, though Mark did show up now and then to feed all of us.

    You found some very good Bunkhouses too, I see.

    1. Ken,

      Actual gunkholing in a boat is a coastal/inlet activity, of course. And not just any coast – California and Texas don’t do as well as the Chesapeake or San Juans. Lakes are good too, especially large ones with lots of anchorages to explore.

      But metaphorical gunkholing? Anywhere! To think that a place like Kansas (or Iowa, or South Dakota, or Nebraska) is boring says more about the person making judgement than the place itself. Start poking about, give curiosity free reign, stop to listen to the stories, and there’s enough in any place for memory-making!


    1. montucky,

      Absolutely, you could qualify as a gunkholer. You and your kind are the reason I added “on foot” toward the end of the post! Only a good gunkholer could find and share the beauties you do with your photographs.

      I’ve not done much mountain hiking, but I did enough in a year in the Wasatch around Salt Lake City to know that “Wonder what’s up that trail?” gets asked pretty often. ;)


  5. Oh, I am indeed a gunkholer at every opportunity, though just now being introduced to the perfect word for it. I thought I was just acting all Kerouac-y. :)

    Similar circumstances have led me to some wonderful inns and hotels. My first thought was of one in Cheyenne, Wyoming, many years ago. The hotel was right out of the old west and the perfect place to cement a memory.

    Thank you for jarring loose some fine memories and a good word to describe my traveling. This is really a fun read and, as always, beautifully written.

    1. Teresa Evangeline,

      I had such a hard time paring this one down – truly, every photo has a story. I suppose some of those stories will pop up in the medium future.

      It’s funny how story-telling works. My little story here reminded you of Cheyenne, which reminds me of Elko, Nevada, which probably would remind someone else of – who knows what? And while part of the pleasure of telling the stories is reliving the experience, another part is the child’s pleasure at running in with the leaf, or bit of limestone rock, or bug, and saying, “Hey! Look at what I found!”

      Glad you found it a fun read – it was a fun trip!


  6. My husband & I love such rambling trips – although we usually pick a place to stay & then ramble around the area during the day. We need to be more adventurous!

    1. Bug,

      Well – that sort of exploration has a lot going for it, too. I just decided this time that, since I had to go to Iowa anyway, I might as well make a real trip of it, take some extra time and poke about.

      I’d love to go back to Kansas and spend a couple of weeks. It’s unbelievable to me how much of interest is there, historically, and how much I’ve never known. I missed a lot this trip – but now at least I know how much I’ve been missing!


  7. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your gunkholing journal, Linda! And what a marvellous experience to be able to travel with your heart, freely wandering without time constraints. And again, only on your blog will I learn about the rich history and life in small town America. All these photos are wonderful. Some of them, like that hotel, is very similar to the Wainwright Hotel in our Heritage Park here in my city, and reminds me of the house on the hill in “Days of Heaven” (the ‘Fulton Mansion style’).

    As for the last one with all the ducks… Just last week I saw a flock of Canadian geese landing on the water from the sky but I was too far to take a good picture of them. Seems like you’re right there with the ducks.

    Linda, I can’t wait to read more and see more of your travel log. Gunkholing sure is the way to go to enjoy life!

    1. Arti,

      And you know, there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about life in an establishment like The Cottage House. Unlike a motel, where people go to their rooms and don’t socialize much – if at all – outside their group, there was a good bit of socializing at both B&Bs. People were bubbling over with accounts of what they’d seen, shared accounts of their travels, and really were interested in one another.

      And the food! Oh, my. Breakfast at the Cottage House included tiny homemade muffins, French egg casserole, fresh tomatoes,
      cinnamon pinwheels, etc. And best of all, if you can imagine it – two pots of fresh coffee appeared at 6 a.m. on each floor. I was getting my morning coffee when I took the photos of the staircase.

      And here’s one of those bits of serendipity we both love. Do you know what a “wainwright” is? A wainwright builds and repairs wagons – precisely like those that would have crossed the prairie at Council Grove.

      Isn’t that wonderful?


  8. When we lived near Annapolis, we used go gunkholing. We’d while away afternoons meandering around inlets and checking out the waterfront houses.

    I’m a gunkholer for sure. I think having a few years under the hood teaches us the beauty of taking our time. As time speeds up we tend to slow down a bit and take notice of what is flying by our window.

    Thank you for the photos of the houses. They are beautiful, and one of my favorite pastimes is wandering around and finding such treasures. I’ve even been known to go spelunking in some of the abandoned ones. Well, I imagine that I’m spelunking. That’s something else I’d love to do. Whenever we’ve visited caves, I’ve experienced an almost overwhelming urge to leave the tour and take off for parts unknown. Really, how bad could it be? What could they do to me?

    1. Bella,

      Caves? Uh – I’ll pour you a nice glass of wine and listen to your stories when you get back, but you’ll not be enticing me into that cave with you. I do remember visiting Mammoth Cave as a child, and I dove Thunderball cave in the Exumas, but I’m not ready for a repeat!

      I love the houses, too. It would be worth going back to Hannibal just to see all those houses on Millionaires’ Row. And in the winter? Can’t you just imagine snuggling into the Garth mansion for a week? Cue the theme from Dr. Zhivago, please….

      It tickles me to know that Mom’s dad made his living for a few years varnishing woodwork in houses. These would have been good paychecks for him!


    1. Jeannine,

      Envy’s a terrible thing, isn’t it? ;-)

      I know exactly how you feel. On the other hand, there’s a saying I’ve known it for a long time. It advises: “Own your necessities, rent your fun.” That’s why the charter boat and bed and breakfast enterprises of the world are so successful – even people of quite modest income (that would be me) can cough up a few extra bucks to support people willing to put the work into restoring and maintaining these beauties.

      Wouldn’t it be fun to have a bloggers’ weekend at the Mead place?
      That’s serious fantasy!


  9. Like your first commenter, I was intrigued by the word gunkhole, which is new to me, so I did some delving. According to J.E. Lighter’s Historical Dictionary of American Slang, gunkhole is attested as far back as 1908; the book was George S. Wasson’s Home from Sea, and the citation is: “Only a two-cent little dead-and-alive gunk-hole of a place…” Most dictionaries that I’ve looked at claim that gunk is a common-noun-ization of the capitalized trademark Gunk, but according to Lighter the first product in that line of liquid soaps and degreasing solvents wasn’t patented until 1932, so there’s a chronology problem.

    Of course words can float around in spoken form for a long time before appearing in print. The 1914 book The Rudder notes that “Among the old timers in Maine ‘a gunk,’ or ‘a gunk-hole’ may mean up a tidal creek….” The fact that the usage was attributed to old-timers implies that the term was probably in use well before 1908.

    In any case, J.E. Lighter reports no earlier known use of the noun gunkholing than 1965, and of gunkholer than 1976.

    1. Steve,

      I’m really surprised at the interest in the word “gunk” and its derivatives. It’s been a part of my life since early childhood, which puts it back a ways.

      Obviously, J.E.Lighter never made it up to Leech Lake in Minnesota, where the fellow who rented a cabin to our family always was asking “Anybody wanna go gunkholing?” What I don’t know for certain is whether he was a native Minnesotan or learned the word elsewhere. In any event, we all knew what he meant – taking a small boat to explore the edge of the lake.That’s where I learned the word, in 1952, our first visit, or perhaps 1953.

      Looking at his photo, I suspect the fellow who used the word so comfortably might have been about 45-50 at the time. If he learned the word even as an adolescent, that would move it back to pre-patented-gunk days, for sure.

      I suspect the product “Gunk” took its name from the gunk familiar to boaters – the muddy substance found in the shoal waters of inlets and coves. I’ve got a couple of readers who are avid boaters, rooted for generations in the Cape Cod area. They may be able to shed more light.

      I can’t believe a provided a new word to you. That’s making me smile, broadly!


      1. When she got home from work I asked herself what GunkHoling meant to her. She thought it had to do with exploring underground caves. I must have first heard it once I got to salt water but who knows? We certainly gunkholed around the Shuswap/Mara and the Okanagan Lakes – given the “old timers in Maine” meaning.
        Definitely not derived from a cleaning product name – I use GUNK tm. to clean machine parts. That use refers to real gunk: dirt,oil,grease and time

        1. Herself was thinking of spelunking. I found this interesting tidbit in the wiki:

          “Clay Perry, an American caver of the 1940s, wrote about a group of men and boys who explored and studied caves throughout New England. This group referred to themselves as spelunkers, a term derived from the Latin spēlunca and Greek σπῆλυγξ (spēlunks) meaning “a cave”.

          Not only is there a similarity in sound between “spelunking” and “gunkholing”, the timeline for development of both words seems fairly close. I can’t help but wonder, especially since both seem to have come from Maine/the northeast, and both have to do with exploring.

  10. Hi Linda,
    I had no idea there was a word to describe this type of traveling adventures “gunkholing” I love it.

    You are so lucky to be able to do this from time to time with your vacations. One day I hope to do the same. I am so tired of every vacation being a “get from point A to point B as quickly as possible” but we only have a small window of time for our very short vactions and so far never planned one to just wander around. Doubt I could never get my hubby to do this anyway, it is really not his personality.

    Thank you again for a beautiful adventure and a new word that I will one day do myself.

    1. Patti,

      I grew up with a Dad who was pretty much committed to the point A-point B business, but we were operating in the same kind of context. He had two weeks every year – everyone vacationed at the same time while the closed the plants for maintenance.

      Still, once we had reached our destination, he became a different person, and helped to teach me the joy of “just looking around” to see what was there to be seen.

      Sometimes, we can gunkhole even in our neighborhoods. Months ago – well, in 2009 – bionicdan sent me the most wonderful New York Times article called “Block-a-thon”. A fellow covered the distance of a regular marathon by walking around and around and around his city block – and recorded what he saw.

      I’d be willing to say he was gunkholing, too – and it sounds like so much fun I might give it a try some day!


  11. The 1970 edition (the main dictionary in the house) of “The World Book Dictionary” defines: gunk hole, a shallow sheltered cove filled with growths, rocks, etc: “No gunk hole was too small for Captain Lane to squeeze the Buford into” (New Yorker)
    Herself has a degree in English Lit. and claims to have heard this word when she was very young in the Alberta/B.C. Oil Patch. Her Dad was a petroleum Geology Executive. Maybe that is where the connotation she remembers came from: Gunk hole: where a drill rig hit some Gunk?

    1. Ken,

      I’ve been doing some reading myself, and found this on a history page for Tanaku Lodge in Elfin Cove, Alaska:

      “Elfin Cove, Alaska – Alaska’s preferred fishing destination, lies just east of Port Althorp on the northwest corner of Chichagof Island. It has had that name (Elfin Cove) since June 1935 when a post office was established there. Prior to that it had been known to fishermen in the area as The Gunk Hole. A “gunk hole” is an East Coast fisherman’s term for any safe harbor, and Elfin Cove fills that bill…”

      I think it’s pretty clear gunk hole was nautical at first, and then adapted. It surely is an interesting word!


    1. Mary Ellen,

      Wanderlust is a funny disease. You’d think wandering would be the cure, but it seems only to magnify the symptoms. ;-)

      I just came in from a lovely chore – stripping the leaves off some bittersweet vines I pulled from a Minnesota farm fence. I’d hoped to bring some home, and one of the lovely ladies in Fairmont had a brother who knew a farmer who had a fence and didn’t spray. We went looking, and found it. I can’t think of a better souvenir!

      Glad you enjoyed the photos. There will be more to come!


  12. Astrid and I have just talked about this fabulous post over breakfast, Linda. She immediately made the parallel to downhill skiing…where she is not the fastest but loves the beauty of the slow back-n-forth winding down the mountain, seeing everything she can in the longest amount of time possible.

    We are definitely gunkholers when it comes to driving around, avoiding all the highways we can in favor of the backroads…especially when we have guests. We call it the REAL Netherlands. So you’ve struck a chord of agreement in us about how we travel through life. What a way to go…messing about. Gunkholing. I love putting a name to it. :) Thank you.

    1. Ginnie,

      Whether a move toward “slower” is a function of age and experience or a reaction against the “fasterfasterfaster!” of our electronic age I can’t say. I only know that if I am going to write, I have to take time to think. If I am going to eat well, I need time to prepare real food rather than just doing take-out or microwaving. And if we are to appreciate any place in the world, in the sense of understanding as well as admiring, we need to slow down enough to truly see the sights, and know the people.

      Even here in my comments section, I’ve decided slower is better. After all, you’re a real person, leaving a real comment, and you deserve a real response. While WordPress is happily sending me tips to increase my readership, my own perspective is quite different. Were I to have five hundred comments on each post, as some do, I’d never be able to carry on a conversation – one of the joys of blogging.

      So. We keep messing about. And don’t we have fun doing it – even though we’re not just schussing through life! (Hi, Astrid!)


  13. Linda, I want to see what I can see. Messing around and see what fantastic rooms and trails we find. Those are beautiful rooms you stayed in and the Victorian structures seem so pleasant to the eye.

    Somewhere it’s written, “Let us see what we shall see.” It is the journey of seeing and to a lesser extent the arriving that opens us up to the journey. I like to amble. It is akin to muddling around which I do most of the time these days. This is a rich post in thought and photography.

    1. Jack,

      I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that those Victorians have some things in common with the beautiful New Mexico buildings you love – plenty of stone, plenty of natural woods, and exquisite craftsmanship. Despite their similarities, they differ from one another as much as one piece of turqouise differs from the next. They’re real, and unique.

      Both the journey and the arriving are important. As that old philosopher, Jimmy Buffett, says, “Every stop is a place to start”. It’s part of the dance of life – La Vie Dansante. Jimmy’s video actually undercuts the power of the lyrics. Aaron Neville does better at communicating the joy of the amble and muddle.


  14. La Vie Dansante: Just added that to the “favourites” list in my head.
    Nowadays truly good items do not need to be stored on any device I seem to have acquired. I just come here and there is a new one.

  15. there are some lovely looking buildings in this post! Gunkholing is a great word and a great concept, taking that approach to life I think guarantees finding a lot of wonderful sights and experiences! I love the photo of the coots, so many all together!

    1. Juliet,

      Of course you would like the coots – a little link between my world and yours, and such funny creatures. I’ve never seen so many together. With a better lens I could have captured the whole sweep of them – literally hundreds!

      I’m even more fond of “gunkholing” as a word now than when I began this. I think it promotes a certain attitude to travel and life that’s free of negative connotations ( like “messing around”, which tends to sound unproductive).

      It’s certainly a word that applies to what you do in your blog – I’d already figured that out months ago!


  16. Love this entry- love the photos, love the word, gunkholing! I guess we are gunkholers at heart (is that a word too?). We like to travel that way – take our time, get off the beaten path. Of course our favorite place to travel to is Lake Tahoe, and most like to fly up Interstate 5 to get there as fast as possible. Not us -we like to take Highway 395. You have to slow down a bit, plenty of off shoot places to explore (Manzanar, Bodie, Alabama Hills, Mt. Whitney – I could go on and on) and as many times as we have traveled up that way, we still haven’t gone on all the side bars.

    I think you know we are walkers in this town. I like to take the slow way. I’ll still get there – and it allows me to take stock of what’s around me, just forces me to look at my surroundings more. My daughter bought me a sign that I have hanging in my guest room – “If you have the time, isn’t everywhere walking distance?”

    1. Karen,

      I do like that sign your daughter gave you. I suppose we can take Roz as our model for what to do when solid ground gives out and you can’t walk any more!

      The way you and your family live in your home town really is a perfect example of gunkholing, which started as a local activity. You take advantage of everything that comes along, and you understand that no place (like the beach) ever is the same.

      One of the most dedicated gunkholers I know has spent years and years exploring one lake – every inlet and cove, every anchorage, every trail. He figures he’s going to be gone long before he sees all there is to see – but then, he sees a lot more than most of us!


  17. Husband and I went gunkholing for a week in the San Juan Islands in September. It was far too brief, but finding a different anchorage at night, awakening in the night to a star-studded sky, or to a brilliant orange sunrise at 7 a.m. was a delight to the senses.
    But I long to gunkhole across this country…when I don’t know…but it’s on the bucket list. Would love to visit the Cottage House Hotel.

    1. Martha,

      And I followed your postings from that trip. It’s a part of the country I’ve never seen. It sounds beautiful – all the reports are uniformly positive.

      But here’s something odd. Years and years ago I drove east to west on US 2, across North Dakota, Montana, etc. I ended up at the Columbia River gorge. Where did I go from there? I can’t remember. How can that be? I had to go somewhere – I just don’t have a clue. There’s a bit of proof that “being” somewhere and “seeing” somewhere are two different things. I hope I had a good time.

      Tell you what. When you find yourself heading to the Cottage House, let me know. We’ll have coffee on the veranda.


  18. Wonderful new word for me. I will share it with my husband who will always take a back road instead of the direct interstate. I must confess I do get impatient but he has shown me so much of Texas not easily seen from the highway. Gunkholing, great word, he will appreciate and remind him of his dad’s experience in the oilfields always looking for a new well and digging.
    Your article is so well written. You need to submit this to a travel magazine. Very special.

    1. Georgette,

      I had to smile – so many times it seems the male of the species is the one dedicated to the “shorter and faster” route. I wonder if his dad’s occupation helped shape that? After all, the oilfield folk are as interested in what lies beneath as what lies on the surface!

      Here on the Texas coast, there’s another advantage to back-road knowledge. When it comes time to evacuate during hurricane season, it’s good to be able to travel those back roads without much thought.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the piece, and the new word. I just was telling someone this morning how completely amazed I am that so many folks never have heard it, though they know the experience. It reminds me again of Wittgestein’s great line: “The limits of my language are the limits of my world”.


  19. I absolutely love the story, the photos, the experiences of your trip. And yes, I am envious! How I wish that I could just take off and gunkhole my way through life as well through the backroads of this beautiful country.

    The problem is that while I am a gunkholer at heart, my husband is ‘let’s quickly get from point A to point B and then move to point C’. Sure I manage to do a little gunkholing when my friends and I visit little towns just for the fun of it, but it is not enough to satisfy my wandering soul.

    I guess your wonderful meanderings during your trip have made me a little reflective and somewhat desirous for something that is too late to achieve. No problem, I will gunkhole vicariously through your delightful travels and stories.

    Keep on observing and writing my gunkholer friend.


    1. Maria,

      I’d say you’re doing your gunkholing in a slightly different but no less creative way, with all of those hours you’ve spent researching your family’s history. I think only someone with the soul of a gunkholer could make a good genealogist. The little I did prior to my trip made it clear that you need patience, a high tolerance for the frustrations of dead ends and an openness to taking a new path if you’re to unravel any of the past.

      Besides, as Annie Dillard said (I think it was she), there are two ways to travel. You can travel far, or you can travel deep. Thoreau at Walden, Dillard at Tinker Creek – gunkholers for sure, seeking to know one good place in all its seasons.

      When the day comes that I’m not able to travel to new places, I hope I’m like the woman from the assisted living place across the street from me. She comes in her wheelchair to a lovely corner of our complex, every day in good weather. She says, “I love coming over here. Every morning I think to myself, ‘I wonder what I’ll see today?'” Exactly!


  20. Love this piece, especially the part on boats. As you likely know I spend a fair amount of time on my boat the “Fishound” and it is some of the best time I have in any given year. Yes, “messing about” is a passion for all boat owners, whether its a kayak, motor boat, or sailing craft. All of my time spent on my boat whether its maintenance, fishing, or searching for unusual waterfowl like loons is a true pleasure.

    And I really loved using the “messing about” as a wonderful transition into to your mid western travels. A fine piece of writing indeed.

    1. Wild_Bill,

      I’ve enjoyed very much reading some of your boat-related posts, especially the one about you and your son fishing. And you’re so right – it doesn’t make much difference whether its making passage or maintenance. It’s all pleasurable, and worthwhile.

      You’re in a beautiful area for gunkholing, of course. And like Montucky and others, you do a fair bit of it in other ways as well. It is a good analogy for every sort of travel and exploration. I’m very glad you enjoyed this, and thank you for your kind words.


  21. Yes Linda, when I started to catch the drift of this post, I knew from reading so many of your posts that you wouldn’t classify yourself as a racer, and you therefore had to be a cruiser or gunkholer. And by the way, just like you (and the bear who went over the mountain), I too enjoy seeing what’s on the other side, or round the next bend…

    1. Andrew,

      You have the heart of a gunkholer, for sure. I imagine all photographers have a touch – you’d have to. There’s just no telling what’s going to suddenly appear before your eyes – or your lens.
      You’ve had some remarkable photos that demonstrate that beautifully – I’m so glad you were able to do some reconstruction of your blog.

      Thanks as always for stopping by. It’s always a pleasure!


  22. What a wonderful post ! A delightful experience of slowing down during a journey while exploring places along the way. At some point destination is not as important as the travel itself.

    Gunkholing… I had never ever heard this name which is a poem really for all the images it suggests. Thank you Linda, I know I will come back, read your words again and imagine.

    1. Isa,

      Slowing down, exploring, appreciating – the very heart of travel. I’ve always enjoyed Mark Twain’s musings on travel, especially this: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

      I suppose it’s worth noting that, in this context, “travel” can mean a different neighborhood as well as a different continent.

      Gunkholing’s such a unique word it hasn’t its own idiom – perhaps one day it will!


  23. Maybe you need to do both: experience the wind and drift past scenery – both a type of exploring, both appropriate to certain moods, both for a balanced diet of life? – the trick is finding a boat for both without too much compromise? (but then compromise is always the trick with anything)

    1. philosophermouse,

      Any nautical gunkholer knows there will be days for drifting and days for sailing hard to the wind. Part of the excitement and anticipation is not always knowing which the day will bring.

      You’re right – there is no perfect boat for both. That’s fine. Some days, the wise sailor simply stays in port, and sees what the land has to offer!


  24. I was introduced to ‘gunkholing’ as a kid by my father who enjoyed sailboats. Spent many summers on the Ottawa River, Rideau Canal and Lake Ontario exploring places one would never discover any other way. It is stuff good memories are made from, and fosters an attitude towards travel that can also apply to land lubbers. I’ve visited hundreds of out-of-the -way places by car (and motorcycle) throughout Canada, northern US and parts of Europe, and barely scratched the surface of everything that’s out there.

    Perhaps perpetual reincarnations would permit me to visit all those wonderful places. In this existence I have a few good years left to explore, and books provide pictures/descriptions of some of the world’s places I know I cannot visit; and I also have Linda’s blog to visit a few more.

    1. Rick,

      I’m glad you opted for “perpetual” reincarnations. That might do it.

      There’s a strange calculus of aging I’m noticing more of my friends engaging in – not to mention myself. It involves the “number of good years left” as they relate to experiences, travels and explorations yet to be undertaken. Sometimes, you can see the wheels turning.

      The beauty of gunk-holing is that, as our abilities to roam the physical world diminish, the delights and surprises available to us do not. I’ve no desire for more blue-water cruising, but a skiff and a bayou hold their own pleasures. Sometimes less is more!

      Again, lovely to have you visiting. And best wishes for a New Year filled with out-of-the-way wonders.


      1. If reincarnations could be perpetual, by the time I get to visit all the places there are, I can start all over again and, assuming memory is intact, changes will render them completely different.

        My next planned exploration is a permanent move to Panama. It will be most pleasant to leave behind winter (right now -20C) and put up with perpetual 30C all year: I love the heat!

        All the best to you in 2012. Love your writing; don’t ever stop as long as you are able to continue.


        1. Rick,

          From what I’ve read at Richard’s, Panama has a lot of offer apart from the temperatures – although weather’s not a negligible benefit. I have some relatives who have occasionally suggested I move back to the midwest. I think about frozen door locks, ice scrapers and the need for boots and say, “I’ll think about it”.

          No stopping’s planned on the writing front. In point of fact, a little expansion, a little more attentiveness is on the agenda for 2012. We’ll see where it goes.


  25. Kansas. I like Kansas almost as much as Loozy. I’d like to go back and wander and look at some stone fenceposts and all those oil wells and buffalo and turkey. And fish…

    1. blufloyd,

      I got curious about “fishing” and “Kansas”. Went to a couple of sites and was really surprised – they listed records for some I expected (bass, crappie) and some I didn’t (Pike, Goldeye, Gar, Sturgeon). The first smoked fish I ate was Winnipeg Goldeye, and of course there was plenty of Walleye when we’d go up to Minnesota for vacations when I was a kid.

      I was listening to the outdoor show this morning, and a fellow called in wanting to know what to do with the 2,500 lures he’d found in his grand-dad’s stuff. “I don’t know,” he said. “They’re made out of wood and stuff…”

      Shall I have him send them to you? ;)


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