Chokoloskee Loop

As usual the weather did not read the weather report. It’s blowing 15 to 20 from the NW and the bay is blanketed with white caps. It is supposed to be 8-10 from the NE. 6PM

When I launched at 9:30 the forecast was warm, 75, northeast breezes, 5 to 8. The guy at the launch in Chokoloskee asked where I was headed. Mormon Key. Do you know the route? Well, I’ve got a chart, compass and GPS so I hope to figure it out. I showed him my plan, he said “nah”, just go out at 180 deg and as soon as you pass the second mangrove island, bear left, it’s shorter and there’ll be fewer power boats.  He forgot to mention that most of the oyster bars in south Florida were between my kayak and my route.

After scraping my boat and drawing blood from my knuckles I found the route. It was good. No wind and a lot hotter then the 75 forecast for the day. As soon as I passed Turtle Key the northwest breeze hit me, enough to cool me off and slow me down. As I turned towards Joe Kemp Key the cross wind became a tail wind and pushed me along. Another mile or so and I could see the dark streak of Mormon Key on the horizon, seven miles to the south east.

It wasn’t exactly a free ride but the wind helped shorten the distance.

The morning started well and just got better. Pink and orange dawn sky as I passed Fort Myers as I approached Naples was replaced by thick grey fog. Most traffic on I 75 was gone, only a car or two at the tolls that mark the start of Alligator Alley. Saw two deer and zero gators. On FL 29 to Everglades City the fog was thick enough so that each car followed the tail lights in front. No one daring to pass as the approaching headlights appeared much too close and much too fast as they emerged from the fog.

At the Everglades City National Park office most of the fog had burned off. Being a senior citizen I was able to get my permits for half price, six bucks a night for my campsites. I elected not to launch in Everglades City but to drive down to Chokoloskee and pay the $15 a night to park and not have to paddle the four slow shallow water miles each way.

Before I even got my boat in the water I was graced by two large dolphin fishing only twenty feet away. I always have regarded dolphins as my personal good luck charm.

There was a guy from Denver launching his canoe, planning to paddle the 99 miles to the East end of the Everglades Waterway Trail in Flamingo. He had built a rowing station  with outriggers for his canoe. The oars locked into a multi-levered system that allowed him to face forward in the direction the canoe was moving, but he pulled the oars towards him. Using PVC plumbing pipe he had built a Bimini top so he could always work in the shade! He had a ways to go to get it set up, so no photo, but there’s a good chance I may pass him as I make the trip back to Chokoloskey. I’m going up the Chatham River to visit Watson’s Place, then westward across the rivers and bays that lie north of the Gulf of Mexico route that I followed out here.

I joked about coming to Mormon Key and finding an extra wife or two. Then again one’s plenty and pleasant enough, don’t you think?  The ranger who sold me my permit warned me about no-see-ums, mosquitos and raccoons. If the weather report had been correct I’d be out of the wind and no doubt suffering from bugs, but the strong breeze kept them away.  As soon as diner is over, I’ll put the food and water into the kayak hatch and turn the boat over. Coons are clever and its hard to be too careful.

I’ve been wanting to come here since reading Peter Matthiessen’s “Shadow Country”, about the life and death of Ed Watson, an early settler. He reputedly murdered Belle Starr, then came to the Chatham River to lie low out of sight of the lawmen searching for him.  Other attempted trips, some with my pal Dan, another with a group of friends from NJ, always got stormed out.  By that I mean the long open water crossing was too dangerous to try. I really like to share these experiences and it was ironic that on a solo trip I had almost perfect conditions.

Todays trip took a little over 4 hours at a little under 4 miles an hour. One ten minute stretch stop at Turtle Key. Tomorrow’s paddle is 17 miles, with a stop at Watson’s Place.

Watson’s is four miles, then its a butt numbing 13 non-stop miles the Lopez site. Actually I can stop, just can’t get out!

Lots of clouds, so I expect sunset will be spectacular. Hoping it clears so I can take some star photos.

Most of this island is mangroves  except for this western shore, lots of white sand, and an incredible collection of shells. So many that it is difficult to walk, a fall would draw blood on the sharp shell edges. I know that’s true, I already tried! The attached photos will show.

The wind and lack of bugs makes this a terrific campsite. But the wind seems to continually increase.  Although the temperature is only 62 it feels much colder. I just put on my PolarTec tights, jersey and my windbreaker. Inside the tent. The beautiful white fluffy clouds of this afternoon have coalesced into a solid gray sheet covering the sky. No spectacular sunset today.

The tide continues to rise, I m concerned. I put everything except me and my sleeping bag into waterproof containers, hoping that all will be dry in to morning.

I woke at midnight for the usual reasons, shined the light outside and checked the tide. The water line was six feet away but retreating. Phew! I took a couple of tylenol and sleep well until 7:30, a modern day record for me!

As I got my stuff together for breakfast I could not find my spoon, it is hard to eat granola and milk from a knife blade, so I walked the beach and found a perfect oyster shell to use as a spoon. Ate, cleaned up, packed my gear, and found my spoon as I was rolling up the tent. The wind was picking up, so I perched the kayak on the shells aiming towards the Chatham River north across the bay. I loaded up, got launched and got underway. About a mile from Watson’s place I reached back into my day hatch to get my water bottle and found the hatch full to the brim with water. I hoped I had not fastened the water bottle top securely, but I licked my fingers and it was salt water. Shit, there’s a hole in the boat. I bailed it out as best I could and paddled as fast as I could to Watson’s Place. Got there, hauled out, emptied the hatch, and right in the middle was a quarter inch hole.  Probably punctured by a shell as I loaded the boat.  I dried the inside with a towel, put two layers of duct tape over the hole; rolled the boat over, put two layers on the outside, crossed my fingers, launched and paddled on.

I checked a few times and no water. I paddled eastward across Huston, Oyster and Sunday Bays. Met two guys heading east, we chatted for a few minutes and went on our ways. I pushed against a constant but not sever headwind, few waves in relatively shallow water. Finally marker 125 came up and I turned south on Crooked Creek, blessed with a tailwind. Fifteen miles and I was beginning to poop out. The Sunday Bay Chickee ( tent platform campsite) has been replaced by a new site at the junction of the Crooked and Lopez rivers. I struggled out of the boat and climbed the ladder to the platform. I was able to walk back and forth and work the kinks out. Ate a PB&J tortilla rollup, lowered myself back into the kayak. If I were to camp on this chickee I can’t figure out how to get my gear out of the hatches.

I had a permit to camp at the Lopez River site about  two miles south. I was looking forward to getting there. But, when I got there, there was already three tents set up.
Then I thought, “car’s five miles away; two and a half hours to real food, a real shower, and a real bed”. It was a long slow five miles into the wind across Chokoloskee Bay. A twenty one mile day. I was home in Sarasota by 8 PM, grilled Tuna steak, sweet potato, hot shower and a nice Tempurpedic mattress.

I needed a couple of days off to recover from 21 miles of paddling in one day.  I’m planning to do the whole inland waterway of 99 miles later this winter.

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Cayo Costa, January 2013

I had hoped to be under way by 6:30, overslept an hour. It is an hour and a half drive to the launch site on Pine Island. Plenty of time to listen to the NPR news twice. This morning’s take away news was that there were half as many arrests in Florida Schools this year as there was last. I can sleep better now? Maybe twice as many should have been arrested?

I launched at half tide. I was happy to get the last parking spot in the little park south of the Pineland Marina. Five miles to my first stop at Cabbage Key. It was an auspicious start, one hundred paddle strokes and my guide dolphin appeared. The water was glass smooth when I put in. Fifteen minutes later a brisk east breeze blew in, five minutes later the glassy bay was white with whitecaps.

This part of Pine Island Sound is only 3′ deep at high tide and six inches at low, so, no waves big enough to surf. The tailwind was a nice boost. Crossing the channel east of Useppa the waves built to about two feet, just right for surfing. I landed at Cabbage Key at 10:25, no chance for a burger or beer until 11. I watched boats and birds, in particular a couple crossing the channel in a tandem kayak, lead and trailed by a dolphin.

Cabbage Key is accessible only by boat; private boats or public ferry service the island. The reason to come here is the resort where jimmy Buffet reputedly wrote Cheeseburger in Paradise. So here’s where I dip into my annual hamburger allotment, the beer is cold and the burger pretty good. Put it on your short list if you get anywhere near Ft. Myers. I met a nice young couple from Reading, PA who were here for four days on a short honey moon. Nice kids. The couple at the next table asked if I would take their picture. Said they were from Englewood, FL. You can move far from Boston but you can’t hide with that accent, they were from Newton, MA. A nice mornings outing from Englewood to Cabbage Key in their runabout.

After lunch I continued my paddle to my secret camp site on Cayo Costa. I’d never camped here but passed by a few times in years past and thought, nice campsite. The narrow twisty mangrove lined creek was a piece of cake at high tide. Last winter Len, Bruce and I did the creek paddle at low tide, lots of mud. This time no mud and lots of fish. I did notice quite a few dead Red Snappers, I suspect that the Red Tide passed through not long ago.

It’s hot. Mangroves, palmettos, agave and sea oats are pretty, but don’t offer any shade. I wore my paddle shirt, long sleeves and high neck to protect me from the sun. But too hot for hanging around on a hot day, my tee shirt is in the car.

At the last minute I decided to bring my camera and tripod. It should be clear and moonless tonight, so I can play around with time exposures of the sky.

‘The only thing preventing this from being a perfect campsite are the *&^% sandspurs. Little brown balls of sharp barbs that love the bottoms of my feet and anything else they happen to touch. Pick them off and try to flick them away and they stick to your fingers.

I alternated between sweating in the shade of the tent and cooling in the Gulf. Around 5 pm a few clouds moved in, the temperature dropped and I was hungry. I gathered my camera, food, stove, chair and moved to the beach. Cocktails, dinner and watched the sunset. The plan worked fine until about five minutes after the sunset. The no-see-ums arrived en mass, goodbye to the star photos. Dove for the tent, zipped up the screen and settled in. Only one mosquito followed me into the tent. I have a waterproof Pelican Case for our iPad, with all the New Yorker Magazines downloaded. I caught up on a month’s worth of reading.

The big breeze that brought me here died mid afternoon and let me roast in record January temperatures, 88 degrees. I no sooner turned off the iPad and closed my eyes when a gust hit my tent hard enough to make me think of a Grizzly in Yellowstone making an entrance! For a few seconds I was wide awake, figured out what it was and went back to sleep. Woke up at 2, as usual, went back to sleep, and woke up at 6 with a runny nose. It took about a minute to figure out it was another bloody nose, by the time I found the necessary stuff, there was blood all over a lot of stuff, especially the white tee I was sleeping in. Annoying and over in a few minutes my nose bleeds sprung up a few months ago, only in the early morning hours, a small piece of cotton ends them. You would think that they would occur during hard work on a bike ride, at the gym or in the kayak. Nope, usually when I read the New York Times. Maybe I should change papers.

Dawn was gorgeous. I had a leisurely breakfast, and started packing. Spent a lot of time flicking pesky burrs off of everything. The water was still flowing out the creek with the falling tide. Love Canal was passable, but as I approached the Murdock Bay all I could see was grass. A little strip of water between the mangroves and the grass offered some hope. The water was deceiving, I had to scrooch along for about 100 yards. Stowed my paddle on the deck, then used my hands to lift me and the kayak and push forward a few feet. Gets old fast. Finally “deep” water. Six inches! I was floating.

I exited Murdock Bay and saw a half dozen kayakers approaching from the north end of Cabbage Company. As we got closer I could see a large part of Pine Island Sound covered with white kayakers. Sometime between my passage yesterday and this morning, thousands of migrating White Pelicans flew in to refuel and rest. A big thrill to see so many.

White Pelicans are the largest bird in North America, measured by weight. Unlike Brown Pelicans that fly in graceful formations and fish by diving, White Pelicans are bottom feeders. The wade in shallow water, scoop up large bills full of bottom, filter out the non-nutritional stuff, and do it again.

I knew it was windy, until now Cabbage and Useppa Keys sheltered me from the easterly blow. As I rounded the north point of Useppa the brunt of the east wind hit me on the nose. Still in shallow water the waves were minimal, but as soon as I got to the channel, life got much more exciting. Every third wave came across the deck. If the wind had been any direction but head on I would not have been able to continue on my course. Headwinds make paddling more work, but boat handling is easy going directly into the waves.

Because of the channel crossings I was paying a lot of attention to my surroundings and not much to my GPS, glancing down occasionally to make sure compass stayed on 90 degrees. As I got close to Pine Island I knew I missed my target. Checked my map and GPS, hmm, the course was 105 not 90, so I was about a mile north of my car. Shit! I’d been working hard, and still had another mile to go.

It all ended well, even had a nice guy at the landing help me load my boat onto the rack.

Home, everything washed or rinsed, dried and put away. A nice shot of Anjeo Tequila as a reward. Oh, and a nap too!

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ArtnSueAdventures 2012 Travelog, Maine

2012 Travel Log- We are heading for a summer season on Mt Desert Island, Maine

April 28

Grandson Alex’s birthday today, called, no answer, sang Happy Birthday to the answering machine.

We’ve had lots of doctor and dentist visits over the last months to get things taken care of before leaving for half the year. Disassembled and reassembled, we seem to be ready to go, at least physically. Sue’s knee is injected and will hopefully be ready for the trail, and after an unsettling EKJ and subsequent stress test, my heart is ready for the same!

I visited my favorite doc yesterday, my dermatologist. I lost count after 39 spritzes with liquid nitrogen. My face felt like a pin cushion. For good measure she took 5 additional chunks to biopsy. I am very dedicated to applying sun lotion after every shower and again when I go out for a bike ride or kayak trip. In spite of my diligence there doesn’t seem to be any end in site for this masochism.

After last years trip we pledged to take less where ever we go; there are substantial piles of gear in bedrooms, pantry and garage. It looks as much as last year when we took twice as much as we needed or used.

I get a bit grumpy when faced with all the preparation, but now that it’s mostly behind us, I’m excited to be almost under way. We leave Monday afternoon, immediately after Sue’s last injection of knee lube.

Our planned stops are Valdosta, GA, Knoxville, TN, Manassas, VA, Catskill, NY and finally Mt. Desert, ME.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Well, all the stuff fit into the airstream and Silverado, too much I’m sure, but equally sure that we’ve forgotten some essentials. We got underway at 2:30 p.m., headed north on 1-75 into a strong northeast headwind. My mileage indicator was showing a little over 10 mpg, painfully low at $4.10 a gallon. Eventually the wind abated and our overall average for the 1800 miles was 12 mpg.

We pulled into the Walmart lot in Valdosta around 7 p.m. We went into the store to get permission to park for the night and to buy a roast chicken for dinner. Not that Walmart roast chickens are any different from any other overcooked chicken, but it has become tradition to get one in Valdosta. By the time we eat the chicken and clean up it is dark enough to get some sleep. In bed by 8:30, up at 4 a.m. and on the road by 5. Sleep was marginal, it was close to 90 degrees and we were not hooked up so no AC.

We cruised through Atlanta well before noon and ended our days drive in a very nice campground, Rocky Top, in the Tri-Cities of Johnson City, TN, Bristol VA, and Kingston, TN.

One pleasant discovery en route was the truck stop diesel fuel lanes. The big rigs have 100 gallon tanks, and the “gas” pumps push the fuel out quickly. Not sure why it took me ten years of towing to discover this. I was filling my puny 24 gallon tank in a minute. Our receipts show about $80 per fill up, but the register on the pump after a big rig pulled out showed well over $400. The other advantage of these truck stops is the room we have to maneuver. The pump in front of the convenience store doesn’t allow for much wiggle room, and I’ve had to back out of a few tight spots. We are dwarfed by eighteen wheelers, as we dwarf even large SUV’s.

From Sarasota we followed I-75 to Knoxville, TN, then eastward on I-40 were we joined I-81 following it northward through the Shenandoah Valley. Our views to the east and west bounded first by the Smoky Mountains and then the Blue Ridge Mountains. We’ve probably driven north and south on I-95 thirty or forty times over the last ten years. I feel like I know every bump along the way, it is efficient way but oh so boring. This route is 200 miles longer, but infinitely prettier and more interesting.

Unlike many Floridians and New Yorkers, quite a few southern drivers do not know how to enter a freeway. They slow down at the end of the ramp, take a long slow look and pull out into 70 mph traffic at 40 mph. Lots of swerving, swearing and quaint little hand gestures. Then they roll along at 45 for a while until the car is warmed up, and eventually get up to speed. Other than this very minor irritation this trip north was totally trouble free and probably the easiest ever.

We were fortunate, not one traffic back up caused by an accident, nor were there any road construction slow-downs between Sarasota and Somesville, ME.

The seasons changed as we progressed north. Summer from Sarasota to Harrisburg PA. Then crossing the Allegheny Mountains north of Harrisburg on I-81, we regressed into late spring; the full palette of green exhibited by the new leaves, and lots of blooming trees. It remained the same through the Hudson Valley, but crossing the Berkshires there were lots of trees only in bud, waiting for leaves to appear. Once we got to I-95 in Maine and moved away from the coast only 50% of the trees were leafy. Here on MDI, no leaves yet.

Sunny weather and blue skies from Sarasota to Manassas, VA; cloudy skies to Brimfield, MA, then rain to Mount Desert. Now, twelve hours later I’m still listening to a steady drum of rain on our tin roof. My friend Len and I were joking via emails how if this weather occurred in Sarasota or Osprey where he lives, the Chamber of Commerce would give us a tax rebate for rain lasting more than a few hours.

Coming here to Mt. Desert Campground feels like homecoming to us. It is our 4th season. The entire family that owns and operates the place was on hand as we arrived. We feel more like family than employees. Right now we are the only occupants on the 50 acres of campground land, surrounded by cliffs, pine trees and Somes Sound, the only fjord-like body of water on the USA’s Atlantic coast. Yesterday evening as we crossed the Narrows onto the island we saw the lowest tide we’ve ever seen here, walkable from the town of Trenton on the mainland to the island. Not a pleasant hike across thigh deep mud, acres of slippery seaweed and equally slick rocks, but definitely possible.

A major disappointment is that our wonderful Wilson cell phone amplifier which produced results in the most remote corners of Utah last summer is not doing anything here. I anticipated being able to use the phone, send emails and read the Times all from our Airstream. Zilch, nothing, frustrating.

Cinquo de Mayo May 5, 2012

Day one: Clean and feather the nest: Walmart, Home Depot, Reny’s, Marden’s, Sherman’s ( NYT Sunday paper they will hold for you for one week) and finally Parson’s Lobster Pound which was closed! Talk about broken hearts, I’ve been dreaming about that first lobster of the season since last November when we got home to Florida.

Owen dropped off our new summer transport, it’s mother was a golf cart and father an ATV. Frog green, quiet but zippy gas engine. Built a new kayak condo, got the roof of the Silverado clear of boats and pods.

The best part of the day was re-discovering my wading boots, going down to the narrows between Lamb Rock and Sheep Island and gathering mussels for dinner. The tides are astronomically low now, so no water, only mud to deal with. Sauté garlic and hot pepper, add coconut milk, fresh ginger, grated lemon peel, saffron, chopped tomatoes, salt and pepper, bring to a boil, add several quarts of mussels, simmer for 10 minutes, serve over pasta. Not lobster, but free and delicious.

Owen dropped off the security codes for the wifi, but neither phone nor MacBook could digest the code. So, a pile of emails waiting to go out. We are receiving emails on our phones, but unable to send. We can survive until Monday to get it all straightened out.

We had a sunset, so maybe tomorrow will be nice, if so, a bike ride is in store.

Sunday, May 6

Leisurely morning, went for a reacquaintance walk around the campground. It really is as spectacular as remembered. We visited our favorite spots; some secluded “ honey moon” sites in the woods and perched on rocky prominences along the sound, others right down on the water, almost like replacing your front lawn with the Atlantic. After lunch we did a few miles on our tandem. I frequently comment about the geography of the island; all the steep ascents and descents are in the east-west direction, and the leisurely ups and downs are north to south. In spite of a winter of what I thought was strenuous cycling in Sarasota, it fell far short of the preparation needed to cycle comfortably here on Mount Desert. Fifteen miles and we were fried. The hills are short, steep and close together, no time to recuperate before the next one is in front of you.

Our colleague and friend Robert came for dinner. A retired school principal; charming, handsome, intelligent and talented. I struggle to write a few paragraphs that are interesting and informative. Robert rolls out the prose beautifully, I’ll include a segment of his writing when I post this.

Earlier today we were listening to an NPR program about an almanac kept by a local Mainer, the reading was the entry for May 6, 1812. Two inches of snow fell, and the snow piles along the edges of the meadow were still two feet deep. I took a photo this morning of a group of Maple trees, still no leaves, and very nascent buds. Spring here is still weeks away. We wore long tights, warm jackets, ear bands and gloves for this afternoon’s ride. Rain is forecast until Friday.

Monday May 7, 2012

Cold, 28 degrees, clear and windless. Our first day of work. Like much of the country, Maine’s winter weather was relatively benign. The big storms stayed away. Clean up chores are minimal and very routine, pick up the branches of which there are few, rake the leaves, and leave the place looking as natural as possible. Repeat as needed one hundred and sixty one times. When our backs hurt too much to continue, pull the deck off a platform and replace. This year the re-nail job is almost fun. Owen purchased a pneumatic nailer for us. Since most campsites have electric, just plug it in and start shooting. Best of all we are not on our knees as we are when using a hammer.

The weeks of May slide by quickly, in the normal spring fashion for Maine, lots of fog, rain and cool. The sun made a few appearances on our days off and we made the best of them, two long bike rides, and a paddle around Eagle Lake, MDI’s largest body of fresh water.

One hundred ten years ago, Cadillac Mountain was called Green Mountain, a cog railway led from the shores of Eagle Lake to the summit. The moss encrusted stones of the lakeside station house are still visible through the trees. While the wood ties have rotted and returned to the earth, iron rods that pegged the ties to the ground are still visible as they climb the mountain.

Our unconnectedness is an inconvenience, tolerated, but only just. So we called the local internet provider, Red Zone; told them our situation, and they thought they could connect us. Mike the Red Zone installer came, put a signal sensor on a thirty foot long mast and wandered around our campsite, looking for a signal. Zilch. But his mast was intriguing, if I had one that big I could reach my cell antenna way up there and at least have something. Mike said the parts for his came from Home Depot. Pavel, the guy in the orange apron at Home Depot looked at me like I was nuts when I described what I wanted. I re-explained, his face lit up, “follow me”. First to the paint department where he showed me a yellow ten foot long handle for a paint roller. With several twists of his wrist it was twenty four feet long. I have no idea how anyone could control a paint roller at the end of a 24 foot stick. “Follow me” again, this time to the cleaning department, where the new shaft was silver with blue fittings, matching our Airstream exterior color scheme exactly. The optional fittings for new mast were cobweb catchers, lightbulb changers and various brushes.

Happy as a clam at high tide I rushed home to do the installation and get my AT&T signal. I can tell you that antenna is up there, but the AT&T signal is not. Well, its there sometimes, but unaffected by our amplifier. If we leave our phones on at night, it is loaded with our emails in the morning, and if we compose outgoing mail, it gets sent. One day last week the phone rang! I had a fifteen minute conversation with my friend Harry, while I was inside the Airstream! But for the time being, text messages are the only reliable in and out form of communication from our site. I don’t mean to make it sound like we are on Ellesmere Island here. We do have wifi and full phone signal at the office, a third of a mile away. Its just that we don’t go there in our pajamas.

We now are living less than 5 miles from our Peace Corps friends Abe and Anica. Abe is a Chief Scientist for Acadia NP and Anica works part time and cares for their 2 small boys. While we were there Abe and Anica received a phone call from their Suriname home stay family! Quite a coincidence and lovely to share those special memories 10 years ago this month.

The few days before Memorial Day were crunch time, long rainy days ate into our productivity; lots to do on rainy Thursday and Friday preceding the holiday. We made it, Saturday dawned clear as forecast, and the campers started rolling in. Suddenly we had to share our fifty acre seaside estate with marauding mongols. Footprints on our clean shower house floors, hot water that wouldn’t turn on, or off, all expected and some unexpected startup woes. All quickly solved in some manner.

We started our normal work rotation of three days off and four on. Sunday was gorgeous and we took advantage to do a long very hilly bike ride. I guess the winter in the gym, and our new Bar Harbor YMCA membership is paying off. The hills were much less steep and much shorter than they were two years ago.

Monday we drove to Schoodic, a peninsula four miles east across Frenchman’s Bay, forty miles if you take the road. Schoodic is part of Acadia and the real beginning of Down East. The coastal towns are settlements, and with few exceptions US Route 1 was void of traffic. Except for the Memorial Day parades. Mayors in convertibles, retired soldiers, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and dozens emergency vehicles with sirens and flashing lights going full force, proceeding right down the middle of the highway. Eat your heart out Boston, New York, Philly, Baltimore, D.C. and Key West!

One purpose of the drive was to visit Bartlett’s Winery in Gouldsboro. A claim to fame is their Blueberry wine that has fooled some experts in a blind tasting into saying it was from Bordeaux, France, but they could not quite place the vineyard. It is truly excellent, but alas for us, because of price, only for special occasions . They were closed for the holiday. We returned when they were open, enjoyed a tasting of various fruit wines, bought a few bottles and enjoyed a beautiful afternoon.

Our work week has been damp, but sunshine yesterday. So nice, how we take it for granted living in Florida. Living in Sarasota you know it will be sunny, only have to look at the weather report to find out how strong and from what direction the wind will be blowing. Shorts, sandals and tee shirts will almost always suffice. Right now there’s a storm coming up the coast, it was in PA and NJ for the last several days, and its due for a three day stop here starting tomorrow. The temperature has dropped to the low 50’s and the treetops are dancing in the wind. Of course, the next three days are our days off.

The Memorial Day crowds have come and gone. The camp ground is virtually empty, maybe 6 sites out of 160 occupied. We went with Cort and Regina for dinner in Southwest Harbor, no reservations, Saturday night, 7:00, walked in, sat down at a table of our choice. Next month there will be a line out the door for three hours.

Yesterday, the first day of our “week” end I helped my old college room mate and friend work on his boat. A few months ago he acquired a 1952 wooden cabin cruiser, 32’ long. A lobster boat style hull, with a nice large cabin. She is stored in an enormous building, well lighted and safe from the elements. And in remarkable good condition for a 60 year old wood boat. Yesterday’s project was to replace short section of plank, port side, amidships at the turn of the bilge. With a limited selection of hand and power tools we did a good job. Most of the sanding of the hull and exterior cabin is done, so one of these days she’ll need some paint, and a lot of varnish. The engine is a huge in-line six cylinder diesel, just slightly disassembled,, and occupying much of all the cockpit. Most of the interior is mahogany cabinetry in excellent condition. Bound and determined to get her in the water this year, Bill’s free time is spoken for.

Today, our second rainy day off will be partially spent in Brewer, visiting a colleague of boater Bill above, Chris Dorr, an endodontist. I’ve been shuttled back and forth between endodontists and periodontists, each claiming that what ever is wrong with my tooth has nothing to do with their specialty. Fortunately I am not in pain and can eat comfortably.
All those spring precautionary visits were for naught. There is an almost invisible crack in the tooth; needs to be removed and a bridge built.

Moss, Maine is mostly green, and after the pine trees comes the moss. Moss because it never stops raining! We are not particularly fond of raking leaves, but here there is frequently a reward under the soggy brown leaves and pine needles, a brilliant emerald bed of moss. Moss is pretty relentless, creeping over rocks, boulders, logs, bare ground, shingled roofs, wherever it can gain purchase.

Shortly after we arrived we installed a bird feed outside our “dining room” window. Filled with sunflower seeds, hung to make it squirrel proof, we waited for the show to begin. Waited and waited. Two weeks, no birds. No squirrels either. Then a couple of days ago our first guests, a pair of what I thought were Blue Winged Warblers, my best guess using Sibley’s Guide to Birds. Sibley must have 50 different kinds of Warblers and many are only subtly different. our Warblers have an interesting way access the feeder; they fly in, turn vertical and land on the rope supporting the feeder, one foot above the other, then down the rope sliding their feet along, when they get to the feeder they hop off onto one of the perches. Wary at first they’d fly away if I pressed my face too close to the window. Now it doesn’t seem to bother them. This morning we went to the Precipice Cliffs on Mt. Champlain to see the Peregrine Falcons. Lots of spotting scopes but no nesting falcons. But the ornithological ranger dealt with my question about my warblers: they are American Goldfinches.

They are regular visitors, no longer guests, and the seed level is dropping steadily in the feeder. This morning our little red squirrel nibbled away at the dropped seeds, and when he left he was replaced by our chipmunk. Last night sitting out at the campfire, I held my hand out to encourage the ‘munk to come closer. He came right up to me, when he learned I had nothing for him, he nibbled on my finger, not breaking the skin. I offered him a peanut which he took gently. Then we no more were proffered, he hopped up on the table and began to help himself. Shooed off, he hung around for a while testing us for a weakness, then left.

We have a big white pine tree about twenty feet behind the Airstream. Halfway up, in the biggest branches the crows have built a nest, now from the noise and and occasional glimpse we have crow-lets. Noisy, but not yet making crow-like sounds. They are very territorial becoming aggressive when the little red squirrel climbs too high in their tree. While the bird book says differently, these northern American Crows seem twice the size of our Sarasota Fish Crows.

The only disadvantage of our site is that we are on the west side of Squantum Point. I’m up early and the sun comes late, hiding behind the cliffs and big White Pines. Most of the windows in our Airstream are on the east facing driver side; two skylights, three celestory windows over the main windows that run from the dinette and then across the room behind the couch. When I’m up reading, writing or downloading photos before six the warming sun would be very welcome. We do get a great dose of afternoon and evening sun, but on the west facing passenger side which has few windows.

As we were pedaling very slowly up Day Mountain this afternoon I thought about my grandfather, Hugo Wester who was also an enthusiastic cyclist. I have a photo of him posing with his bike taken in 1905. In its day it was a high tech bike; shaft drive with two gear ratios, a front fork suspension, toe clips, an odometer, and a pannier that fit into the front triangle.

I was thinking of how I would explain the differences in our bikes to him if we could have that conversation.

He was a tool and die maker so he would have understood immediately the benefits of our 20 speed chain drive bike that we can shift without stopping and getting off the bike. While we don’t have suspension, there’s nothing about a Rock Shox front fork that would be strange to him. Toe clips and step-in pedals are just an evolutionary solution to the very old problem of keeping your feet on the pedals. Our Lycra shorts and shirts might be a problem though! He wore high button shoes, as a child his button hooks we in the bottom of my toy drawer a his house! Velcro is the modern shoe button.

I thought that maybe explaining materials such as carbon fiber which had not been invented yet might be difficult. Perhaps just a new tougher version of the celluloid his collar was made of? I ultimately decided that at least as far as bicycles are concerned the changes have been evolutionary, a cyclist from 100 years ago would be delighted and impressed by the progress that’s been made, but there’s no magic.

The road up Day Mountain is one of JD Rockefeller’s carriage roads, unpaved, modestly gentle grades for his horses, with spectacular views along the way. My thoughts about my grandfather kept me from thinking about how tough the 600’ climb was. Day Mountain is an insignificant hill in Maine, but twice as tall as the tallest in Florida.

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Florida Cruise, Keys and ‘Glades

JSSKA paddle trip, March 2012  

Florida Cruise, Keys and ‘Glades

After nine mornings we approached our final take out of the trip in Goodland, the western boundary of the Ten Thousand Island portion of Everglades National Park. 

The ramp is steep, requiring some grunt to get the boat up to the loading area. More grunt than I thought there should be. No water, no food, and only 3 squares of TP left in the kit. That was just my Epic! Len’s Explorer and Bruce’s Romany felt like they were filled with cast iron!

We were ending a nine day south Florida paddle trip that started at the Florida Bay Outfitters, mile marker 104.5. in Key Largo. Mile marker numbers seem to be how Keysians give directions, not north or south, or by landmarks, just mile markers.  Frank and Monica Woll, the proprietors of FBO offered a great suggestion, make time to paddle to Duck Key to see the Magnificent Frigate Bird and Roseate Spoonbill rookeries. Frank also generously allowed us to park our vehicles alongside his business for the duration of our trip. The bar across the parking lot, The Caribbean Club, is reputedly where some of the movie, Key Largo, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall was filmed. Hence the name of the cut through the mangroves that we had to find.  

Len, Bruce, Lynette, Marty, Jim and I got underway around 3 pm, heading for the Boggies and then North Nest Key. We found the Boggies easy to miss, had to turn and paddle back almost a mile. At least we had a great tail wind pushing us across Black Water Sound. After a leisurely nine miles we rounded the north tip of North Nest and finally got some relief from the wind. 

 Jim’s usually infallible method of determining the time to sunset was suspect, he thought three hours, my iPhone app said one hour; we hustled getting tents up and dinner cooked. Marty and Lynette were using tents they had never set up before. Their antics served as pre-dinner entertainment. Dinner finished and cleaned up, no camp fires permitted, we sat and watched the evening sky light up; first Venus and Jupiter, then Orion, the Big Dipper, and a few hundred million more I don’t know. I did have my binoculars so we could pick out the double stars in Orion’s sword and the Orion Nebula. Eagle eye Jim found us a few satellites rushing by from east to west, brightly lit by the sun now well below the horizon. 

Jim heard a rustling in the bushes, pointed his head lamp in the appropriate direction and pronounced the appearance of a water rat. I had an empty (surprise, surprise) Eola Hills Pinot Noir bottle, so I flung it in the general direction, almost as joke. The influence of the wine, darkness and brush had no effect on the trajectory of the bottle;  the rat is now in rat nirvana.  I’ll feel a bit ashamed when I next face my Buddhist friends. 

Dawn came late with the newly arrived Day Light Savings Time. But we finally got underway towards Duck Key where there is a rookery for Magnificent Frigate Birds and Roseate Spoonbills. A leisurely three miles north, we were not disappointed, the Frigates and the Spoonbills came out and put on a show. The Spoonbills for their spectacular coloration and the Frigates for being able to fly so effortlessly. Frigates spend most of their life aloft, fishing or stealing fish from other birds, landing only to mate. I knew a few guys like that in college.

We paddled back to camp for lunch, and then Bruce worked with me, a helpless case, on getting a roll. Fortunately the water was 80+ degrees because he would have sub-came to hypothermia before I could get me and the kayak upright. 

Another short paddle around South Nest Key, lots more Spoonbills, and then back to camp wishing for a cold beer, except we didn’t have anything cold, let alone a beer. Our beach campsite is a popular daytime hangout for power boaters, so I approached one boat and asked if they had a six pack that they would sell us. No, but we’ll give you one. We went back and forth for a while and finally just had to accept their offer. The beer loosened a few tongues and it turns out that one of the couples was from Point Pleasant.

 Since it was still DLST we slept late the next morning too. The returning east wind kicked up pretty hard, good in that the dew couldn’t settle and we packed dry tents. Bad in that we had nine miles of windward slogging in front of us. We all fetched up in the lee of Porjoe Key, regrouped and recouped and then set off across Buttonwood Sound to Dusenberry Creek and the ICW. Lots of big boat traffic on Sunday morning, but no wind in the Creek. But as soon as we stuck our noses out into Blackwater Sound, it was payback time. A bit of a struggle, but eventually we all landed at the takeout at Florida Bay Outfitters.

After repacking the cars we went, appropriately enough to Hobos ( ), for a beer and a very late lunch.  You would have thought that by going to a joint named after Bruce he’d pick up the tab, but nope, we all had to pay our own!

Since it was Sunday afternoon most traffic was heading north off the Keys and travel in our direction towards Key West was a breeze. Marty had everything organized perfectly so that getting on to the airbase was a piece of cake. A quick shower, the first in several days was appreciated. Lynette, Marty and I shopped at Albertsons and we ate dinner in condo? 

 Monday morning saw a very leisurely start to get over to the Boca Chica Airbase to get our credentials. Again Marty pushed the right buttons and we were out of there in a flash, fully documented. Then to the beach, unload the boats paddle and watch F18’s perform their morning drills. They do a lot of things, but by the noise at take-off is most impressive. Monday was our windiest day so far, so the paddle trip consisted of a cruise around the marina looking at yachts from all over the country, including a large sloop from Utah. Hard to get to the ocean from there! 

We went back to the lagoon to watch more take-offs and landings, when a particularly strong gust caught me as I was looking skyward, and in a flash I capsized. 

By the time I thought about what I needed to do to salvage the situation, I came out of my seat, quickly followed by a wet exit. Bruce and Len came alongside, steadied my kayak and I climbed on the rear deck and slid back into the cockpit. Lunch, sun, condo, shower. then we headed out towards the scene in Mallory Square. You would think that the island would tilt westward at sunset from the weight of all the people  along the waterfront.  We might have just missed sunset, but we managed to get to Turtle Kraal before Happy Hour ended. Oysters are still $6. a dozen! Key Lime pie and ice cream were the final reward for the morning’s hard paddle. 

 Tuesday morning we drove north and launched at Cudjoe Key for a nice paddle out past the tethered aerostat (blimp) base in search of a special lagoon that some of the group visited last year.  It has an incredible array of fish of all shapes and sizes, so we considered it worthy of a follow up visit.  After a few hours of unsuccessful searching, Lynette, Bruce, Len and I gave up and paddled away towards Tarpon Belly Key for further exploration.  Jim and Marty stayed the course and eventually found the fish.  We had a good time exploring the island and came across a group of people who are from Bruce and Marty’s town – Forked River.  Later, the six of us joined up at the take out where we learned of the fish discovery and were envious.  Then back to the Naval Air Station to clean up and head out to the Hogfish Bar and Grill for a nice dinner – quite a change from our camping meals.  We walked around the very interesting Hogfish area talking with people on shrimp boats and looking at some very interesting boat homes.

 Unfortunately Lynette had to return to NJ on Wednesday. Marty volunteered as airport shuttle, and the rest of us launched at Stock Island for a ten mile circumnav. The winds were manageable, seas relatively calm, and the pace relaxed. We stuck our noses in a variety of marinas admiring a lot of beautiful boats, including a few shrimpers from the Mississippi Gulf coast. Jim found us a deserted and very private beach where we dined on the usual PB&J fare.

 It’s amazing how the distal ends of US Rt. 1 differs so from the middle. Spend a few commutes on Rt 1 in Jersey City, Baltimore or Washington, DC, and then compare that to the route of the same number from Key Largo to Key West or from Kittery to Lubeck, ME.  I brought up Rt 1 because after unloading the kayaks at the launch, I had to park my truck alongside the highway. When we got back I still had four wheels! Try that on the Pulaski Skyway!

Hot showers, combed hair, and back to Turtle Kraals for more oysters!  Early to bed as we had a long drive to Goodland.  We got a dawn start, no traffic and were in Goodland about 5 hours later. Goodland is an Old Florida town, down home comfy, just down the road from Marco, the nearby ritzy address. Steve who is the owner of Stan’s Idle Hour Bar and Restaurant has for years allowed us to park on his land near our launch site. The high light being the burgers and beer at the end of the trip.  

We unloaded, repacked the boats, launched and aimed at Cape Romano via the inland route to avoid the still blowing hard easterlies. For the most part the wind was our friend on this leg pushing us towards our destination which was the western end of Blind Pass, which is not blind but open to the Gulf. On the north bank there is a beautiful white sand beach with ample room for tents and a campfire. One reason to go to Cape Romano are the shells. Quality, quantity and beauty in abundance. On the way back from the shelling expedition we used our empty arm to carry as much driftwood as possible so that Bruce could build us our first campfire. A beauty. 

There were plenty of raccoon footprints, but if they came during the night they did no damage to our food or water. At one point during the night a powerboat raced up the river and dropped anchor right at the mouth. It hung out for several hours, not fishing, and no lights. Drug runners?

Dawn, breakfast and into the boats for a tour of the Cape. What was a blind pass at Morgan lagoon is now open to the sea, we paddled south in the Gulf, turned left into the lagoon hoping to see White Pelicans. Last year Len, Bruce and I saw hundreds; this year none. Morgan Lagoon is a muddy bog at low tide, the best time for bottom feeding birds, we were there at high tide. We followed a neat mangrove tunnel for a while, then into the Morgan River and out to the eastern shore of the cape. Winds were moderate, even the broadside waves easily managed, and the further we followed the cape around  the easier paddling became. Right at the tip of the cape there were interfering currents making for a very nice playground for Len, Bruce and Jim. Marty and I supervised from shore.

One thing that makes this trip interesting is a group of decrepit structures falling into the Gulf. A cluster of Bucky Fuller Domes built by a developer in 1981 as vacation rental units. They are now in ruin having been pounded by every hurricane coming up the Gulf Coast of West Florida.

As we were sitting having lunch, Marty said “watch that cloud”. As we paddled toward camp the cloud got bigger and bigger, and we could see heavy rain over Marco, ten miles northward. We got back to camp without rain, Jim, Len and Bruce practicing their rolls, with a rainbow to the east. No sooner had we finished dinner when the first splats of big rain drops bounced of our tent tops. Along with the rain came the no see ums, coating our tent screen windows. It rained for 3 hours,  we had wet gear to pack at dawn for the paddle to Goodland. The sand on Cape Romano is an exceedingly fine white quartz sand. It sticks to everything, especially cooking pots, coffee cups, and there seems no way to get it off your shoes before you crawl into the tent. So gear heavy with water and sand was stuffed into hatches for the trip back.

This time we had a heavy tidal current and a tail wind pushing us homeward. Even the shallows that we avoided on the way out had adequate water allowing us shortcuts. Back to the car in under two hours. Burgers and beers at Stan’s. Goodbye’s said to Jim and Marty and off to the South Florida Airport in Ft. Myers so Bruce could get home to NJ.

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Rub a dub dub

Sunset from Cayo Costa Camp



Cayo Costa
Rub a dub dub

Three men, Len, Bruce and I launched from Pineland on Pine Island, Florida around 9 AM Monday. Just as the full moon was setting in the west over Pine Island Sound and the Gulf of Mexico. There had to be water somewhere, but it was certainly a ways from our launch spot. We got the last parking place, no roof racks nor trailers, what were all these people doing in our kayakers launch site?

From the pile of gear it looked as though Brownsville, TX was our objective, 1000 miles west, rather than our stated goal of Cayo Costa State Park, somewhat less than a 7 mile paddle.

Well, we got it all stuffed in the hatches and we got underway, sorta, about 9 AM. The first 500 yards were mainly scrooching along, using our hands to propel our trusty craft across the damp grass to what appeared like water “out there”. Bruce was the first to capitulate and enter the power boaters channel, mumbling something about Greenland sticks and 2” water being incompatible. Len and I, not wanting to let the poor guy feel too isolated, joined him.

It was a real South Florida winter morning, not a breeze, not a cloud, and sixty three degrees. We pointed at Useppa Island, and bore off to the north towards Punta Blanca, Island as a lunch stop. Mid-way the dolphins put on a show that had us sitting in mid-channel for a half hour, with nary a power boat in sight.

After lunch we paddled over to “Manatee Hole” on Cayo Costa. The water temperature was 66, and the manatees were somewhere warmer. The paddle from the hole to the State Park office is all of 1/2 mile. We checked in, and a jitney took us and our mountain of gear to our cabin. We were doing this in lux style, cabin, cold showers, fire ring, bunks with mattresses.

We were all suffering from colds, the order of the day after our short paddle was a nap, so we slept for a few hours, got up, cooked dinner, enough food for everyone in the whole campground, saw the sunset, watched the stars come out, and waited for the moonrise.  Check, check, check, check; OK time for bed!  Len and Bruce brought their Kindle readers, so they read them selves to sleep. My drugs worked just fine! All of us being of a certain age arise several times nightly to answer the call. The moon was so bright we cast big shadows and did not need our lights.

We were all awake before dawn, we reviewed the forecast for Wednesday, 70% chance of precip, 25 mph gusts and electrical storms. “Lets cancel tomorrow, do a long paddle today and drive home tonight.”  “OK, sounds good to me.”

Coffee, breakfast, pack, call for the “Jitney” and underway by 9AM. Perfect skies and plenty of water. We headed north towards Quarantine Rocks, so named as during the 1800’s, Cayo was a port of immigration from the Caribbean. We passed along the south shore of Boca Grande Pass, one of the deepest in west Florida. Famous for it’s Tarpon fishing and the congregating sharks who feed on the former. Fortunately it was too early in the season for either to bother us.

The northwest corner of Cayo Costa Island has lots of shoal water, we hit it just right, we never had less than 12” and once we rounded and headed south we actually had a tail wind. (Len says that’s because Chuck Person wasn’t there) The western side of Cayo is deeply scalloped, so we aimed from point to point, at times just a few yards from shore, and maybe a mile at others. Another pod of dolphins escorted us for about a half mile, diving under our bows, surfacing and blowing just at our sterns, adding just enough interest to make the longest leg of our paddle to the Love Lagoon portage end quickly.

My GPS nailed the portage perfectly, we beached and the lagoon was just a few yards over the dunes. We lazed around our Robinson Caruso beach for a while, soaking up the sun and gathering a few perfect shells. Finally we carried our boats over the dune to the lagoon and we entertained by dozens of cormorants, anhingas, ibis, great blue herons, kingfishers,…. Prior to the 2005 hurricane, Love Canal was a beautiful mangrove creek/tunnel. Now the tunnel is gone and open to the sky, and of course we were in long boats in a crooked creek with a current pushing us back. My newly carved GP stick gathered its first dings.

We finally broke free and had a short mile to Cabbage Key and its famous resort. Something happened in the last two years, it’s become more famous. Two years ago when Len and I stopped for lunch the place was vacant, today we had to wait, and then pounce when a couple vacated a table outside. Cabbage Key lies across the ICW from Useppa Island. Useppa is an island reserved for the very wealthy, but Cabbage Key is where Jimmy Buffet wrote Cheese Burger In Paradise.

With a burger and beer tucked away, we launched, Len and Bruce rolling their fully loaded boats to the applause of those dining on the patio.

Next stop, Stilt House, about three miles south. A group of about six houses on stilts, connected by gangways, solar panels on roofs, rain water collection barrels make a strange community in the middle of the bay due east of North Captiva Pass.

The last three miles to the launch site was uneventful except that the lunar high tide obscured our landing beach, so we hunted around for 5 minutes looking for my truck.
As we were loading up we met a guy who lived nearby who had been fishing from his kayak who had caught a beautiful string of speckled sea trout. After the fact I thought about offering to buy them.

Our early departure decision was a good one, my friend from Ft. Meyers said the wind gusts on land were up to 45 mph on Wednesday morning.

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Beginning of the End

Beginning of the End

Moab was a bit anti-climactic for us. Our first morning was a bit overcast with a few spits of rain. We decided to do a driving tour of Arches National Park. First stop as usual is the Visitor Center. There were few states that were not represented by license plates in the parking lot. We picked up a tour map, watched the orientation movie and headed out, along with a continuous line of others. Every viewpoint pull out was full, the overcast robbed my photos of any drama, I was feeling grumpy, and Sue’s knee hurt. Not a good day for hiking and not the best for sight seeing.

I toured this area when it was a National Monument, prior to its National Park designation in 1971. My recollection from way back when is that the road is now paved and has been rerouted. Delicate Arch, a mile and a half from the road gets most of the visitor attention. We rarely see this many people on a trail this far from their car in a National Park. So, we turned around and tried to find a place with more solitude to enjoy the beauty of the area. It seems that becoming a National Park causes two things to happen; it ostensibly protects a unique natural beauty while at the same time causing it to be over run, with the result being that the preserved is changed. For us part of the experience of the wilderness is the feeling that just maybe we might be the first and only humans to tread there. An occasional footprint is OK, but Coney Island on a hot summer day is not.

Went home, had an early dinner and a good nights sleep. Amazing how that can improve ones disposition.

Although also adjacent to Moab, Canyonlands NP requires some effort to experience. Hike, cycle or paddle if you want the intimate experience. The park is divided, naturally into three sections; Pinnacles, Mazes and Islands in the Sky. We headed for Islands in the Sky about an hour’s drive and up the hill several thousand feet. We passed a constant stream of cyclists, some motoring along looking as though they could give Armstrong a go. Others, looking like each pedal stroke was their last, and they would wobble sideways and fall over like Artie Johnson on Laugh In.

After the usual VC stop and movie, we went to a ranger talk. It was one of the best. She described the formation of the park with a sense of humor, all the while she stood with her back to the cliff (several thousand foot drop off) a few feet behind her, no guardrail, and never missed a beat. A goodly portion of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico comprise the Colorado Plateau. A few billion years of hard work by inland seas and lakes, mountains rising and being washed away, all to be lifted up again and ground down again, have produced this fabulous landscape. The story varies bit from park to park, but the key elements are essentially the same. As desiccated as this area now seems, the key agent to all the exotic landforms was rain. Which reminds me to comment that six months out we have not had anything but glorious sunshine. We did three short hikes, totaling about 7 miles. Much of it along the precipices of the plateaus above the canyons. Me trying to get closer, and Sue veering as far as possible from the edge.

Sue’s knees have had a remarkable summer too. She had a series of hyaluronic acid injections (also known as viscosuppression treatment) in April before we left. After about a three-week wait, it took hold and Sue was able to walk for 4 to 5 hours at a time. Now, 6 months later it has worn off and walking or standing is back to the pre-injection one hour. So, short hikes are the order of the day.

We decided that the Pinnacles section was too long a day drive so we packed up, and drove from Moab to a new campground in Monticello, UT. It was still a long drive to the Pinnacles section, 75 miles. Contrary to yesterday, not a cyclist in sight all day. Nor many cars, I think too remote for most to drive. One of Sue’s developing passions is rock art, petroglyphs, in all its forms. This section of the park had a cave, inhabited by natives until 700 years ago. The cave, a long overhanging rock, really long, about one quarter mile, just tall enough to walk upright, had a selection of artwork that had not been vandalized or corrupted. These Native American pictographs or petroglyphs (rock art) are in many areas we visited however it was sometimes difficult to access due to the various protections in place. When asked, sometimes the rangers would simply have to say “I can’t tell you.” At this location the most striking petroglyphs were red handprints perhaps created 600-700 years ago. See photos. (As an aside, we recently viewed the Werner Herzog documentary “Caves of Forgotten Dreams” with views of rock art handprints in a cave in France estimated to be about 33,000 years old!!)

I’m glad we decided to camp in town because the NP campsites in this section of Canyonlands were beautifully situated, but none nearly large enough for our trailer. The road out with the sun at our backs lit the snow-covered mountains; La Sal’s to our east, Henry’s to the south, and the Abajo’s between.

Our next major stop was to be Golden, Colorado, home to several friends and the Coors brewery. The GPS directed us north on US 191 through Moab to I 70. My friend Mitch told me to turn right just north of Moab and follow the Colorado River, winding and twisting its way north, eventually reaching I 70 further east. Don’t miss it, a gorgeous drive, almost traffic free. At one point something looked familiar, I’d been here before, in the early 1970s rock climbing at the Fisher Towers. I think I’ve read that they are now closed to climbing. Native American sensitivities are now taken into account as these areas achieve protection. We frequently viewed informative signs outlining dire consequences if protected areas were disturbed/looted.

Victor suggested that we stop on our way at the Colorado National Monument in Fruita, CO. Sure. From a distance, innocuous looking. It’s hard to tell that the road zigzags it way up the face of the cliff for 4000 feet, narrow and no guardrail. I held my breath going through the tunnels, hoping we wouldn’t scrape the sides. Nice campground, great views. Short visit to the Visitor Center, watch the film, a few short hikes and views of the canyon and a request of the ranger to tell us where the rock art could be seen. “Can’t tell you”.

On to Golden. First over Vail Pass, past Copper Mountain, into Frisco, then up the hill to the Eisenhower Tunnel that allows you to bypass Loveland Pass (and Arapahoe Basin and Keystone ski areas). Finally exit 259 is next, another mile and we are there. I’m sad, we’ve left the mountains, always a source of excitement and inspiration for me, and who knows when or if we’ll see them again.

There are always friends, and nearby are my old friend Mike and his wife Betsy. I haven’t seen Mike since the early 1990’s. He moved, so did we and we lost touch. We picked up where we left off, never missed a beat. I met Mike at the same time and same place I met Sue, 1981, Ridgewood Bicycle Shop, in New Jersey. Son Brian met his wife Katrina there also. Good place!

Since Cody, WY is one of our favorite towns, we drove up the hill in Evergreen, CO to visit Buffalo Bill’s grave. I visited there on a Boy Scout trip in 1958, hasn’t changed much; high on the hill, overlooking the plains east of Denver, and bison feeding in the meadows below.

Dinner with Cal and Amanda, our Peace Corp friends. Cal brought us up to date on the happenings at Wild Rivers near Taos where we spent most of our summer. We are going to be an honorary great aunt and uncle again in February! A girl I think, but I’ll let you know.

Cal, Mike and I have some vague plans about a ski trip sometime this winter. I would really like to ski a few more times before the old bones say no. I had a group of friends in the Denver area and for several years we did a neat trip. We’d drive up US 40 ( the Atlantic City Expressway!) to the now defunct Berthoud Pass ski area. Across the highway from the ski area is a natural snow bowl, about 2000’ long, with a Colorado Mountain Club ski hut near the top. Skin up to the hut, then up some more to the ridge, which is the Continental Divide, and ski along the divide. Cross the CD above the Mary Jane ski area, keep heading north and below you can see the top of the lifts at Winter Park. Point the boards down the hill, enter the ski area, and follow the trails down to the lodge. A quick cup of coffee, and the short straw has to hitch hike up the highway 12 miles and get the car. Maybe one more time.

I stuck in my Atlantic City Expressway quip, so one more; I 70 follows US 40 and US 6. For most Yankees, US 6 is the Mid-Cape Highway, starts near Provincetown, crosses the Hudson River at Bear Mountain, NY just south of West Point.

Somewhere when washing my pressure cooker, I lost the little rubber “over pressure” plug. Went on line, Presto said two weeks delivery and $5.95 shipping for a $4 part. Try Ace, yes, we can get them, but a few weeks. At high elevations and we were rarely below 6000’ for most of the summer, a pressure cooker is almost indispensable, cooking vegetables, dried beans, rice, etc in a fraction of the time that it would take boiling.

Sunday we went up to Boulder to visit John and Rivvy, long time friends from the cycling industry. John is the Dean of English speaking cycling journalists. He founded and nurtured the modern version of VeloNews. Hopefully this winter we can get them out of the cold and into Sarasota for a while. On the way to John’s we stopped at McGuckins Hardware. Eat your heart out Home Depot. Help in every isle, had my “overpressure’ plug in 2 minutes for $3.99 and was on my way.

Over the years I’ve developed a taste for Rose wines. Not particularly fashionable, but the best are extraordinary and reasonably priced for what they are. John and Rivvy served one from the north fork of Long Island-Croteaux Vineyards. Buy all you can!

Following almost a week in one place visiting friends and celebrating Sue’s birthday Tuesday we were on the road at 5 AM, successfully crossing Denver before the morning rush. Denver seems to have expanded from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins. Daytime traffic unfortunately resembles New York and Los Angeles. It was sad to leave the mountains behind, but watching the sunrise over the eastern Colorado prairie eased the pain a bit! I guess my mind set has changed as I aged, I actually enjoyed the drive across the Kansas prairie on I 70. We called it a day in Topeka, stayed in a nice new commercial campground and did not even unhitch. Another predawn departure. Kansas City, KS on I 70 is an easy drive. Cross the river and I 70 snakes through Kansas City, MO. Five lanes wide, left exit, repeat as necessary, etc. A real pain in the butt. But it was 5 AM and we were on our way to St. Louis, no problems. Made it to Centerville, IN for the night, just short of the Ohio line. Next morning was relax, late start and leisurely drive to Bedford PA. As we pulled into the campground, deja vue! Adjacent to the campground is the Cannondale Bicycle factory, they were a major customer for me during my Mavic days.

Another leisurely start and a short drive to New Hope to visit Sue’s cousins Ralph and Ann. As we drove through Harrisburg we listened to the news on NPR covering the fact that the city had declared bankruptcy. Crossing the bridge over the Susquehanna River we saw the cooling towers of Three Mile Island. We were reminded of the nuclear catastrophe in 1979. Didn’t seem that long ago!

Ralph and Sue overlapped at Gettysburg College 3 of their 4 years. We purchased our house in Sarasota from Ralph’s father, Uncle Stanley. Close family ties here, and we are treated like royalty whenever we make our annual visit. Ralph has a great driveway and parking area for our Airstream. We have found no campgrounds in the Philadelphia area that are conveniently located in order for us to visit our friends and family. Ralph’s driveway is a godsend.

Every visit to Ralph’s is an epic eating and wine drinking adventure. Ralph’s business brings him into contact with many interesting people in the food and wine industry, so the word epic truly describes our experience there. Lots of gym time in our future!

One great pleasure in visiting cousin Ralph and wife Ann are the frequent trips to Philly’s greatest restaurant, Le Bec Fin, owned by Ralph’s friend Georges Perrier. It is a Philadelphia institution, and one of the great French restaurants in the USA. The restaurant never disappoints on any level; Georges always comes by the table to say hello to see and sample what we are drinking, and we never leave the restaraunt without containers of the latest sauce, gateau, or a few nibbles of “ le truffe noir en croute”. Don’t miss the signature crab cakes, instead of bread and egg to bind things together, Le Bec uses minced shrimp processed in a Cuisinart. They really are “WOW”

Either before or after dining, a trip to South Philly is on the expedition list, especially Claudio’s market. An extraordingary Italian deli with a terrific selection of olive oils, cheeses, real balsamic vinegars, pastas and great breads.

Totally unrelated to the eating experience, but our next stop was a visit to Sue’s brother Jeff, the family dentist still living and practicing on Long Island. Of course at our age these visits are getting more complicated so we have to plan a second visit for a follow-up treatments.

We also did a short visit with another cousin, Linda, and took a drive out to Bridgehampton, NY, near Montauk Point, to visit another highly regarded winery, Wolffer. Truly very good wine, a beautiful place, and another box to pack carefully for the trip to Sarasota.

During our travels Sue has been downloading podcasts that we listen to via her iPhone on our car radio. One segment was about Highline Park in New York City. The park extends from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street, along 10th Avenue. It was originally an elevated rail line that served the meatpacking district. Built in the 1930’s and abandoned in the 1970’s, it is now an elevated linear park, part of the Rails to Trails system. Fascinating place for a stroll before hitting the New York Burger Company for lunch.

Through the Lincoln Tunnel, no traffic, thank you, to Fair Lawn, NJ to visit our friend April and get the truck serviced before the final leg of the trip to Sarasota. April and I met in our freshman year in high school, traveled in the same circles, lost contact, and regained that contact after son Brian and April’s son Steve became best friends in junior high school twenty years later.

One night at April’s and back on the road to Philly for a long Halloween weekend with my son Brian, Katrina, Maggie, Alex, Rebecca and dog Steve. We’re not sure if there is a connection between the names of Brian’s long time friend Steve and his dog Steve.

Of course we arrived in Philly just in time for the East coast Halloween weekend snowstorm. Just those big beautiful fluffy white flakes drifting down. Spectacular contrast with the full riot of fall leaves still on the trees. By Saturday night when I took Steve for his evening stroll, it sounded like hunting season when I was a kid. Guns going off all over the place, except it was branches breaking, leaves loaded with snow bending branches to the bursting point. At one point I stopped to talk to neighbors over the fence and a big tree came down close enough so that we could feel the ground shake. I finished the walk on the side of the road opposite the power lines, fearful that a tree would bring them down.

Steve and I got home, nice and warm. Went to bed early, got up at 5:02 to answer natures call, and when I got back in bed the clock and night light went dark. We managed to entertain the kids and ourselves until 5 pm, when the inside temp dipped to 51. Sue was cold and uncomfortable so we called cousin Ralph, “could we come and stay warm tonight?”

As we left Brian and Katrina were debating a hotel for the night. But they ended up building a tent with sheets over their bed, all five piled in, and they had a family camping trip in the bedroom, playing games on the iPad.

Our visit over, we picked up our trailer and had one more memorable meal at Ralph’s before setting out again. We had a pleasant and leisurely drive to Fairfax, VA to visit daughter Chris and family. Two hundred miles south made a big difference, no snow and warmer. Took the kids to the Great Falls of the Potomac River where George Washington first made his name by designing and building the barge canal that went to the interior villages of Maryland. Lots of water coming over the falls.

Next day was a visit to a corn maze at a Virginia State Park. Wandered around for hours, played on the trampolines, ate some ice cream and came home tired.

Monday morning we pointed the rig towards Asheville NC to visit Sue’s niece Susan Senzon and her family. We went over the Shenandoah Mountains on Interstate 66, the headed south through the valley on I 81. What a difference from I 95. I 95 is like a toothache, intense traffic, all of it intent on getting south as soon as possible. I 81 is almost tranquil in comparison, hilly, twisty, but colorful and much more relaxed. It may add all of a half-day to our trip, but who cares.

We found a nice campground just east of Asheville along the river and alongside the train tracks. Funny how that combo keeps coming up. No matter the trains stopped running at night. Our first full day niece Sue and her husband Simon are very busy chiropractors with a young family so we drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway and went for a hike at Craggy Gardens. Nice fall colors in the Smokey Mountains and a beautiful fall day with colors we would not see in Florida.

The Senzon family hosted us for dinner and playtime with the kids Arielle and Noah. Noah is 4 and was delighted to show new attentive relatives as many of his sporting toys as possible. Delightful age. Arielle is severely disabled but receives all the attention and support suggested by specialists in human development and attends school 3 days a week.
Our dinner of salmon instigated a search to see if the wild salmon caught in Alaska and brought to Asheville by residents could be available in Sarasota thru their buying club. Found out it is only available within a 2 hour drive of the city. Drat, it was the best.

Our third and last day in Asheville included a lunchtime visit with niece Sue and Noah and lots of playtime of hide and seek in the trailer. Noah seemed to appreciate all the things in the Airstream that could be rearranged from couches to beds, from tables to beds, etc. Well, he is 4 after all. Dinner and a visit with niece Sue’s mom, Carole and her new husband William Peyton completed the family visits.

On the road again early Thursday morning, this time Madison, GA being our goal. My old friend Ted Arnold lives there and I had not seen him in a few years. He came out to the campground for hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, and we retold the same old lies about the old days that we told the last time we got together. Ted took us to dinner in a converted old cotton mill downtown. A lovely place, great meal and great service. One high light of the meal was the accompanying bottle of Joel Gott Zinfandel. When I lived in Kennebunkport, Me, one of my customers was Joel Gott. So the joke of the day was “there is life after lobstering!”.

Friday we’re going to Ocala, about 6 hours further south to visit Tom Williams. Tom was a good friend of my recently deceased Uncle Ernie. My uncle and Tom were very active outdoorsmen, hikers, skiers, cyclists, paddlers; you name it, they did it. We made reservations at a state campground in Ocala, and being Florida seniors it only cost $11!
Our GPS was a bit obtuse but we eventually got to the address, right park but a sign saying no overnight camping. So we searched around for a while, going down this and that road, hoping not to get stuck. We wasted a half hour, I got pissed and we drove home to Sarasota.

How nice to be home. But after seven months of living in an 8 x 31’ space, wanting for nothing, and existing happily in that space; even our small home seems extravagant, with far too much stuff. Gotta get rid of some or maybe even much of this stuff that seemed so necessary when we bought it. Now we are out of places to store it all and we don’t use it.

One aspect our lives neglected as a result of so much driving and visiting after we left the Sierra’s was our daily exercise. I weighed myself as soon as I could, wow, same weight, but my waist is an inch bigger. So the daily routine of exercise and less food is back in place. Every book on the subject tells you old farts decline quickly when they stop exercising. I’ve got more aches and pains, all induced by the gym during this last week than I had all summer. I view it as positive and making progress.

We drove 22,000 miles, spent $7000 on fuel, were gone for seven months, took 3600 photos, met scores of interesting people, made one good friend, and visited many old friends. A very enjoyable trip but not to be repeated next summer!

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Still in the Mountains, September


I had hoped to be able to show Sue my favorite range in the Sierras, the Palisade Group. No resemblance to the cliffs along the Hudson River in Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

The peaks in question rise above the southern most glaciers in the US. For the most part their ascent is a serious mountaineering undertaking. A day’s walk to the base, and another day of 4th and 5th class climbing to get the view from the summit.

Our plan was to go up the North Fork of Big Pine Creek to Third Lake, still a few hours from the mountains, but close enough to re-live past adventures. Three miles up the trail Sue’s knee reminded her that this was not her day. The injections which have allowed her to walk and hike pain free most of the summer have worn off. Our reward for trying was a very nice steak grilled to perfection back at the trailer.

This close, we had to go. Death Valley, just over the hill, seemed like a natural day trip. One hundred miles, one way. We stopped at the information center, got maps, and learned that the forecast high for the next day was 110. She didn’t say in the shade!

 We left Lone Pine at 5:30 AM, hoping I could get some early morning photos in good light. It was an easy drive and by 8 AM the sun was just over the Armagosa Range, bathing Death Valley in nice warm light. The temperature was 82 degrees. We hit all the high spots, Stove Pipe Wells, Furnace Creek, Zabrisky Point, Badwater, Artists Drive, Sand Dunes and the Charcoal Kilns at Mahogany Flats.

Directly across the Valley from Bad Water, 282 feet below sea- level, is Telescope Peak, towering 11,049 feet above the Valley. The Wildrose and Mahogany flats road winds its way up Telescopes north side to 8000 feet, where there are ten charcoal kilns, designed by a Swiss engineer and built by Chinese labor in 1867. Ten kilns, each holding 42 cords of Pinon and Juniper, produced in total 2000 bushels of charcoal a week, used for smelting silver at a mine 32 miles away.

We took a dirt road short cut on the way back that turned out to be better and shorter than the paved road we used on the way up. But as we dropped to sea level the air temperature climbed as we got to the bottom of the Panamint Valley. They lied, it was only 101, but it was a dry heat. If I go to hell, I won’t last long! We did pass the Devils Golf Course and the Devils Cornfield, so we were close.

The drive home was uneventful, but it was a pleasure as we crested the last hill east of Owens Dry Lake to see the peaks of the Southern Sierra. Mt. Langley, the southern most 14er, then Corcoran, Leconte, Whitney, Russell and Williamson.

Sue has now been to many of the major trail heads in the southern Sierra, east side. We drove up to Whitney Portal and visited with Doug Robinson, a noted climber and writer, to swap tales of our exploits 40 years ago. Then the aforementioned, Onion Valley and Kearsarge Pass and Big Pine Creek. Our attempt to get Lake Sabrina and North Lake were sabotaged by a lazy day.

 Friday we got an eary start and headed to San Diego to visit our friends Ralph and Michelle. I’ve done the drive from the Owens Valley across the Mojave Desert many times. I’ve never tired of it, and this was no exception. It has not changed much in 40 years except for the huge solar generating station north of Adelanto. Miles of mirrors and pipes, using limitless sunlight to convert water to steam and electricity.

Adelanto, Victorville, Barstow has grown. I recall one traffic light after climbing the pass from San Bernardino. Now there seems to be no end. And once atop the pass, the brown soup that passed for air in 1969 still sits in the LA Basin. Traffic hasn’t improved either, even though there are numerous new freeways all twelve lanes wide.  US 395 that bumped its way to San Diego from Riverside is now I 215/15. More traffic but no lights. Finally I 8, over the mountains east of San Diego and a right at the Casino and wind farm at the top of the hill in Boulevard.

Ralph’s been suffering from some ailments and has been spending time with various doctors, so his time was limited. Our plan was to arrive Friday afternoon, cook dinner and depart early Saturday. This time I did not miss their driveway. After getting situated we sat in their garden and spent the afternoon catching up, it was two years ago when I last saw them.

The garden itself gives competition to Eden, only lacking the serpent. Completely fenced, including the overhead, no wild critters can get in to dine. Ralph and Michelle have collected exotic domestic fowl from all corners of the world. Jungle Fowl, domestic Wood Ducks, Peacocks, Pheasants, and normal egg laying chickens. Lucky the wonder dog, and three cats all got along fine with the birds. We sat in the grass, solved our and the worlds problems. Dinner, sleep, and on the road again by 8AM.

This leg to Las Vegas to visit with a Gettyburg roommate and her husband. The GPS wanted us to go back to San Diego and then all the way on I 15. I’m not a freeway fan, so we headed east, and to local state roads, 78 and US 95 north, past Parker and Davis dams on the Colorado, through Searchlight, home of Harry Reid, and eventually to Las Vegas.

I lived in LV during 1966 and 1967. It was a desert town with 7 casinos; now its a major city with more interstates than New York. But the campground was easy to find. The visit with former roomate Susie and CT was a delight and demands a repeat visit. Oil change, car wash, Trader Joe’s for essentials (wine, chocolate and Ahi Tuna) and we’re on our way again Sunday morning.

The first few hours north on I 15 are typical freeway boring. Then up the Virgin River gorge and the beauty of southern Utah takes control. Hard to pass the turnoff for Zion National Park, a place we love and have had many great experiences. Again the GPS and the map seem to conflict. The GPS wants us to turn off and take little “grey roads” instead of the big red one. What the hell, we are self contained, the worst case is that we sleep along side a deserted desert road.

All I can say is if you are faced with the opportunity, take Utah 20, to US 89, to Utah 62, to US 24 to Torrey Utah. Small roads, very good road surface, and spectacular scenery and zilch for traffic. The aspens are in color, scattered thunderstorms produced rainbows with colors to match the trees. No photos, no place to safely park.

We spend the night in Torrey at a commercial campground since dark was only a few minutes away when we stopped. Its not difficult but unpleasant to set up the trailer after dark. We left early and did the twelve mile drive to Capitol Reef National Park on Monday. As we pulled into the Fruita campground our friend Victor was there to meet us.

Fruita is an old Mormon settlement, the campground situated in a beautiful apple grove. The grove still produces apples, and other groves produce pears and peaches. All available as pick your own fruit with a donation to the NPS. It is the nicest National Park we’ve stayed in, level sites, lots of shade trees, and surrounded by settlers cabins and garden sites. Also loads of deer stop by to eat the fallen apples. The NPS provides ladders and fruit pickers so we can get the un-nibbled fruit up high in the tree. I’m making applesauce today.

Yesterday we and Victor did a driving reconaissance of the park. It covers almost two million acres, as large as Yellowstone. We headed east out of the park, stopping to see the petroglyphs, and then heading south along the east side of the mountains on a well washboarded dirt road. Hiked up Surprise Canyon, which got progressively narrower the further we went. But the narrownest could not compete with the spectacle and color of the rock formations. All well documented on our photo page.

The climb up the canyon wall over the Waterpocket Fold is spectacular, our luck held and we met one descending vehicle at the only wide spot in the road and we were able to pass comfortably. We turned south on Utah Scenic Byway 12, Utah’s All American Road. We followed a ridge line between branches of the Escalante Canyon, calling it quits in Escalante at the new Visitor Center. As always we watched the movie about the formation and history of the Escalante Grand Staircase and Capitol Reef National Parks. Bought one of Edward Abbey’s books, according to those who know, required reading for desert rats!

The drive back, 65 miles, took almost two hours, over Boulder Mountain, another great drive. Fabulous views of Basin and Range Country (read John McPhee’s book of the same title). At one point I stopped to take some photos, and noticed the temperature out there was 46 degrees. Chilly for the tee shirt and shorts I had on. Earlier as we hiked up Surprise Canyon I wore a sweater. About 15 minutes after starting I was sweating and concerned I did not have enough water with me to get through the walk comfortably!

Back at the campground Victor cooked up a huge pot of vegetable soup, all of which mysteriously dissappeared.

 This morning was devoted to housekeeping: cleaning, making applesauce, etc. After tidying up, we went over to the Visitor Center to get some hike ideas and watch the orientation film. As we arrived a minor contretemps occured between Sue and me, so we decided to go our separtate ways. She and Victor to the Hickman Bridge, and me the Cohab Canyon Trail, agreeing to meet at the Hickman Bridge parking lot.

The Cohab trail starts off zigging and zagging its way up a steep slope of small rock and dirt. From the base it looked as though it terminated at the cliff towering above our camp. As the trail reaches the cliff, it veers northward, exactly where I expected it to veer southward towards our rendezvous. I followed the trail and in a few hundred yards, there was a fault in the cliff and the trail turned and followed the fault south.

It was a gorgeous narrow canyon, the trail at times clinging to ledges and then following the sandy wash of the canyon floor. Potholes in the canyon floor were flooded to the brim, but other than bugs, no living creatures. At one point I scrambled up the hill to a cave, which was filled with guano. I searched for a while but no bats. Down the canyon a ways I met some birders very intent on movement in a nearby Juniper. I stopped, asked what was interesting, husband insisted it was a Bush Tit and wife saying no , no. Out came Sibley’s guide. Added to their Life List was a Juniper Titmouse. A first for me also, but I don’t keep score of LBBs or LGBs, like Warblers there are too many that look the same except for a yellow feather here or there.

We parted and I took a branch trail to the rim with a grand overlook of the Fruita Historic District. Settled by a few Mormon families over a century ago and occupied until 1961, it proved the ideal place to grow apples, pears, peaches, cherries, walnuts, etc. One of the homesteads had a small stone house where dad and moms lived. The five sons slept in a caved carved into the sandstone cliff. The five daughters slept in the wagon boxes! Meals were eaten outside. The cabin was half the size of our Airstream!

 Along the trail I picked up a pocketful of interesting rocks for my friend Chris. It’s becoming a ritual during our travels to find nice rocks that Chris can use in here artwork.

I continued down the canyon meeting the birders again, and then reaching the road, saw our car parked in the hikers lot. I dropped the rocks in the car and headed up the trail to find Sue and Victor.

My vocabulary was stressed but I met a nice couple from Munich who had been on the road here in the US for several months. Recently retired he worked for BMW, and knew the region in Germany where my mother was born and from where my fathers family emigrated. Fraulein Meuche, my highschool german teacher would have given me a passing grade on the conversation.

I finally got to Hickman Bridge, which is a natural arch, but no Sue. I walked under the bridge and followed the trail south, and there at the far end of the bridge were Sue and Victor. “How’d you get here, the trail is right in front of us?” “No, its back there!” Then two guys came along whom I had passed on the trail and told me I missed a turn. But it was clearly a well used trail. We started talking and it turns out one was a U Tenn. grad, and knew Sue’s major professor there, Richard Marius, quite well. Small world again.

Rain through much of the night, just partly cloudy, but very windy and cold as we broke camp. In order to use the dump facility I managed to get nice red mud over my car and trailer wheels. We caravaned with Victor to Goblin Valley State Park near Hanksville, UT. A bit off the beaten track, but well worth the detour. A modest sized valley, filled with boulders, some stacked one on top the other, looking like a Martian landscape, except for the towering mesas and cliffs around the park.

Sue wanted to see the local petroglyphs. The ranger said nine miles down the road, if you get to the dirt stretch you went to far. So down the road we went, we all agreed it was one of the nicest road surfaces all summer. But it didn’t appear like rock art country; flat valley, desert vegetation, and the cliffs miles away in either direction. Back to the ranger station. Whoops, wrong road. The ranger insisted the road we followed wasn’t paved. She needs to get out more.

Victor provided a treat for dinner, Maine lobster tails! We supplemented with some fresh roasted brussels sprouts and corn on the cob. If you live near a Trader Joes, try their Honey Moon Viogner, goes great with lobster!

We had our first frost since last April last night, and the Henry Mountains to our south were snow covered this morning. Victor volunteered to make Bear Mush for breakfast, delivered to our trailer at 9 AM. So we made an 8 AM dash for the what we were now certain was the petroglyph site. Got there, road changed to dirt, the right rocks on both sides of the road. Everything but the rock art. Made the mad dash back to camp for breakfast at 9.

After breakfast Victor departed for Ghost Ranch near Abiuquiu, NM, and us for Moab, where we are now. More later.

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South from Seattle

September 13-25, 2011

Oregon Coast

The Wester Brothers caravan had a staggered start from Roy, the Airstream contingent left around 8:15, with the BriandSly group leaving later.

Heading south towards I 5 on WA 507 we heard a terrible sound as we crossed a metal grate bridge.  What was that? Just the grating. On we went. 

Our destination was the Willamette Valley, and the ultimate goal was tasting and buying some of the famed Pinot Noir for which the region is famous. I polled a few of my fellow wine drinkers for their favorites. Only one responded, Harry, with a story about a good restaurant near the Pinehurst golf course in North Carolina. Get me some Witness Tree!

So to Witness Tree we went, taking the car ferry, the six-car ferry, across the Willamette River, and eventually to Witness Tree.  Carol, the hostess at the tasting room, from Waltham, Massachusetts, can never disguise that accent, told us that the big oak up on the hill was a survey marker during the 1800’s. Now preserved as an Oregon heritage tree.

Their Pinot Noirs (the only grape allowed to be used for the great Burgundies of France) was spectacular. I don’t want to sound like a snob, but I will.  That great nose of proper Burgundy just doesn’t happen in a cheap wine. Between the A Westers and the B Westers we managed to fill a case.  It will be a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

On the road again, this time to Beachside Campground, an Oregon State Park, near Waldport.  A winding and twisting grapevine of a road over the coast range from I 5 to Waldport. The campground was a few miles south, and Brian and Syl were waiting for us, having secured a beachfront campsite for us. As I was backing into the site, watching Sue direct me through the mirrors, I noticed a very strange look on her face. She came to my open window and said, “something fell out of the trailer”. I walked back, and sure enough, the drawer under the rear bumper, that held our drain hoses and chair-side tables, was gone. That explained the noise on the bridge. I called the Airstream dealer in Eugene, $733.  Oops.

Our first day on the Oregon coast was mainly spent around Cape Perpetua. Great coastal views, short hikes, and great crashing waves.   And nobody’s there.  A few cars and people, but peaceful.  Not a Yosemite or Grand Canyon crowd scene.

The thing that struck me most about the Oregon coast was the waves. From my experience on the Gulf of Mexico coast where we live, and the Atlantic coast that I have visited for much of my life, the sound of the waves is: crash, quiet, crash.  Along this section of Oregon coast the wave sound was a continuous crash like a large fan blowing without ceasing nearby.

Bro Bri was under the weather on day two, so we borrowed Sylvia and headed for the Oregon Dunes, a unique section of the coast with a dune ecosystem 3 miles wide and 53 miles long.  We did a 1.5-mile hike from the visitor center to the beach, which was ours, not a soul in sight, then returned. A total of 3 miles seems trivial, but it was 3 miles on soft beach sand. In Sarasota we complain about the hundred yards of soft sand from the parking lot to the hard packed sand near the surf zone.  Sue’s thoughts on the beach can be summed up by her telling anyone who will listen that Siesta Key Beach in Sarasota was recently acknowledged as the number one beach in the US after being number two for two years. Oregon Dunes beach was nice and quiet but the sand is light brown.

Speaking of surf. When Sarasota surf is like the surf in Oregon, the surfers line up shoulder to shoulder. No one’s here!  Miles and miles of surf and no people.

Day three and Bri is still feeling bad, so they decide to return home and see his doc, skipping our planned visit to Crater Lake.  We say our goodbyes and change our plans.

Redwoods National Park

New destination, Redwood National Forest, Crescent City, CA. We drive south on US 101, over 200 miles, the Pacific Ocean, just a bit to our right for five hours. Gorgeous views of course. Is there any place along the Atlantic Coast of the US where you can do that?  So much of the land along the Pacific Northwest Coast is public, available for recreation, camping, ATVs, etc.  Why such a great difference?

We arrived at Jed Smith State Park near Crescent City on Friday afternoon at 2 PM. The sign said full. I gracefully backed the trailer onto US 199, into traffic, and was able to continue to a commercial campground nearby. Parked, unhitched, and went off in search of Redwoods.

Initially we were just going to do a drive recommended by the park ranger. Along the route we stopped and were walking along the road and a car stopped, the driver asked if we had been to the Stout Grove. One of the best in the park. So we backtracked and headed down the trail.

No one should be allowed to use the adjective awesome until they walk this loop through the Redwoods.  The feeling I got ranked with my first view of Yosemite after exiting the Wawona Tunnel, or my first view of the Grand Canyon.

There’s no end to the words, breathtaking, spiritual…all fit, yet none do. Unforgettable and awe inspiring.

In New Mexico where we spent the early part of our summer, the horizons were limitless, days were filled with intense sunshine, humidity was a word in the dictionary, and pleasant warmth was everywhere. 

Here in the tall trees, it is different. No horizons, deep shadows with only sunrays penetrating through the trees, and cool humid air is pervasive. And Quiet!

The tall trees, maybe the tallest are yet to be discovered, exceed 370 feet. Most attain their height in about 100 years, and then spend the rest of their life getting fatter. Sound familiar? The oldest are about 2000 years old, and some are over 20 feet in diameter. Taller than the Giant Sequoias, but not as big; nor as old as the Bristle Cone Pines of the White Mountains of CA, where trees over 4000 years old have been found. 

Next morning we headed south, first to see Gray whales, if we were lucky, at the Klamath River Overlook. Success – plenty of whales feeding and very close to shore.  Next stop, short hikes in the Prairie Creek section of the park to see the big tree, photos give the details. Finally to the Lady Bird Johnson Grove. Lady Bird played an active role in the conservation of these big trees. We lucked out on the way back and watched some elk grazing in a meadow, and ate nice ripe blackberries while we watched. 

Day three was a beautiful hike along the Hiouche Trail, bordering the Smith River. We were told that in a Native American language Hiouche means beautiful blue river. The Smith River as its known today is green due to the mineral serpentine. The river is gorgeous, the trees inspiring, but in the background the hum of traffic never ceased. So, we took a side trail, over the ridge to the south, the trail petered out, so we sat and listened. To nothing. Not a sound, then the cry of a woodpecker, and next a raven.

I have not figured out how to photograph the trees. I’ve taken hundreds of pictures, but none really capture the spirit of what’s here. When I look at a photo of a group of these big trees, it could be an ordinary forest in Indiana or New Jersey. The scale of the trees is outrageous, fat and tall beyond any expectations we had. We’ve seen a few of the s north of San Francisco, and in the Russian River Valley, they were big, but not like this.  Enough rambling. Even though I am dissatisfied with my photos, there are a few of them posted. It is hard to tell from the shot looking up 300 feet, but several of those trees are 15 feet in diameter.

Crater Lake

Everybody’s going to Crater Lake.  The majority of people we talked to in Redwoods NP were on their way here. Crater Lake. The majority of people we talked to here, came from s via the Oregon Coast. Oregonians are sensitive about the pronunciation of their state, its Oregin, not Oregone!

We arrived at Crater Lake, NP, September 19 in the afternoon. Found a nice campsite, paid our fee and got set up.  We drove a portion of the West Rim Road as far as the Watchman Overlook. To the west we could see about four forest fires, none being actively managed since they were well away from any civilization. And they are gradually diminshing over time. We were told that the first snow would put them out.  We decided to stop at  the Crater Lake Lodge, one of the classic National Park Lodges built in 1915, rebuilt in 1995. Had a beer and watched the rich people. The earliest dinner reservation was for 9 PM. Back to the Airstream for dinner and sleep.

The plan for this morning was an early start around the East Rim Road and a hike up Scott Peak, the tallest in the park. We did get an early start, made several photo stops along the road and were on the trail by 9 am. It was a modest hike of 2.5 miles and 1,200 feet of elevation gain.  Our three months of aclimitization to high altitude earlier this summer in Taos is still paying off. Scott Peak is 8929’ above sea level. Other than working hard, no ill effects from the altitude during our climb.

The views were continual on the climb. We passed many snow fields, still left from last winter’s record snow fall of 673 inches.  This time with perfect morning light I was able to capture in my camera what I saw with my eyes.  The colors, particulary the lake because of its clarity, are spectacular.

Backroads Bicycle Tours must do very well considering how many of their vehicles we see along the road and parking lots. Every road we’ve take from the coast of Oregon to here is heavily populated with cyclists of all sizes, shapes and ages. The riders are all working hard and mostly smiling. It must be good. 

Lassen Volcanic National Park September 21.

Nice drive, no traffic! Nice campsite and neighbors.  I was excited about climbing to the top of the Lassen Volcano. Ranger said, “nope, trail is under rehabilitation”. We looked at alternatives, found Mt. Brokeoff, a broken off volcano. It was as far across the park as could be, which in one sense was good, we got an early start and saw much of the park from the road. There is only one road! The hike up 2600’ feet was steep and steady, the round trip clocking just under 8 miles. Great views of Shasta to the north and Sierras to the south.

When we told our neighboring campers we were coming to the Sierras, near Bishop CA they highly recommended two stops, Schatt’s German Bakery, and Meadow Farms, the latter for smoked meats and great sandwiches. We promised we would. 

Until now, we had quite a few flaggers stop us for road construction. Flaggers get lonely, so they’d come back to the car, chat, and give us an estimate of 6 minutes….

We came upon the mother of all construction projects, or so we thought, near Bridgeport, CA. When we stopped the line of cars ahead continued as far as we could see. After a half hour we rolled slowly ahead to where we were only a couple of  cars from the flagger. Way out there, miles away Sue saw a town. I looked through the binoculars, no town, just an endless line of cars coming our way. Some one finally got out and asked the flagger “how long”, he shrugged, not knowing. Short story, about an hour and a half wasted waiting.

We thought we’d recoup, grab a bite and get some fuel. The first station had fuel, $5.09/gallon.  Ouch! We passed. This just after an NPR report of plummeting demand and prices.  Finally in Bishop the price dropped to $4.15.

It is always a thrill to ride down US 395 along the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada Range. Over the years I’ve climbed many of the visible peaks, a few more than once.

US 395 was once an irritating two lane road of poor surface. Things change in 40 years so now its  impecable, four lanes, flawless surface. The little villages of Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine and Bishop have grown from wide spots to nice neat towns, with services to match.

 We drove up to White Mountain National Forest to visit the Bristle Cone Pine forest. Bristle Cone Pines are the oldest living things on earth, the oldest measured being 4700 years old. Of course the most persistent rain of our journey so far occured today, the temperature plummeted to the 40’s at 10,000 feet, and there were a few snow flakes mixed in. Across the Owens Valley in the Sierras, we could see a dusting on the rocks at higher elevations. The forecast at the Ranger Station for Mt. Whitney summit was a low of 23, high of 37, snow possible. But that’s 10,000 above us now, here its 85 degrees as the sun sets.

Our too leisurly start on Sunday sabotaged our plans to climb to Kearsarge Pass. The drive up to Onion Valley was a thrill, ascending to the trailhead at 9000’.  The first time I hiked up this trail was also a perfect day. Cloudless skys and a cool breeze. 40 years ago as we got to Independence Pass, everything to the west was socked in, and the snow started as soon as we headed down the other side of the pass.

From the trailhead to the pass is about 5 miles and 2500’ of climbing. We stopped for a 1:30 lunch, with less than a mile to go. Sue’s knee was aching, so I went up alone and she started down.  At 3 PM as I approached the pass, deja vu, clouds started streaming thruough the pass and the temperature dropped. Marginally smarter than 40 years ago, I turned and headed down, accompanied by a young man, Doug, who approached as I turned. He was a newspaper editor in Marin  County, CA and we managed an interesting conversation back to the parking lot. He had been resupplying a friend who was hiking the John Muir Trail plus. She would be out for 34 days.

When I was a young and fit climber, we thought the Muir Trail was for tourists. Now I only wish I could do it!

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Adventuresome but not as planned.

We departed Wild Rivers July 28th right after the goodbye cookout. An easy drive to South Fork, CO. The RV park was plain, but Jim and Mary, acquaintances we met at Wild Rivers, joined us for a glass of wine. Next morning we took our Airstream to the local RV repair shop to have our hot water heater repaired. It malfunctioned most of the summer, the electric heater did not work at all, and the gas heater only worked if left turned on. The water heater is located near the window nearest my side of the bed so I got to be awake every time the water heater turned on.

You know what happened when we got to the repair shop. It functioned perfectly every time. We paid the diagnostic fee, and headed north on CO 149 to Creed and the headwaters of the Rio Grande. On the map, 149 looks Ok, the map doesn’t show the tilt as it climbs over Slumgullion Pass, 11,300’. Even our beast of a tow vehicle was working hard. Just as we approached the summit, the oil pressure alarm went off. My heart stopped, I pulled over, checked under the hood, but all seemed normal. I kept going, no problems going down hill, but then it happened again as we approached Montrose on US 50. We stopped at the local Chevy dealer, it was Friday, the service manager was ready to go home, couldn’t fit us in until Tuesday. “Try the GM dealer on the other side of town.” We called that dealer, “no problem, take care of you as soon as you can get here” . The service department was mostly gone, but John the manager and two mechanics were waiting.  A service bulletin uncovered the culprit, a computer malfunction. The solution to the problem and the oil change took an hour, and we were on our way. Customer service is a whole different thing out west.

As usual, a very nice state park in Colorado was waiting for us in Fruita. A short night, and an early start on CO 139 towards Dinosaur National Monument. Another mountain pass without ringing bells gave us confidence in the repair job. We decided to stay in the Utah portion of the park for our stay, at the Green River Campground. We spent the afternoon exploring the self guided tour along the Green River and Split Rock Mountain. A ranger tour of the fossil beds was child oriented, so nice hike, but not enjoyable for anyone over twelve. The visitor center is being rebuilt due to some instability in its current location. There is a famous wall of glass on the mountain-side with lots of fossils and dinosaur bones.

Our friend Victor was highly motivated for us to see the Echo Park portion of the park. First drive 25 miles north towards nowhere on a paved road. Then turn east and drive 13 miles, straight down, into Echo Canyon on a BLM road justifying Sue’s white knuckles. Great views of some of the most fascinating geologic structures. Eventually you get to the junction of the Green and Yampa Rivers, and the famous Steamboat Rock. It appears very dramatic in all the sunrise-sunset photos. Photos taken at mid-day remove much of the beauty and drama of this spectacle.  We did a short hike along the river to watch dozens of rafters zip by in the swift current. They all seemed to have more gear in their rafts for a four day trip than John Wesley Powell did in 1869 for his six month trip.

All the while Sue was fretting, what are we going to do if we meet a car coming down as we’re going up that frightful road. Posted signs advised campers that if it rained the road out was not safe for travel. She wanted out, so up we went. Uneventful and easy would be the best description of our trip up.

Saturday saw an easy drive across the Wasatch, through Park City, down the hill into Salt Lake. Lots of cars on I 80 and I 15, but the KOA campground was easy to find. Set up, and went to REI to get roof rack parts. Assumed they were the correct ones, drove 10 miles home to discover we had two sets of wrong parts. Eventually I figured out a way to make it work and we got the roof top box off the couch and onto the roof of the car, just at dark. Fell into bed.

Woke up, read the mail, Brian and kids delayed three hours. Instead of being at the airport at 10, we could loaf until 1 PM.

They landed on time. Brian had a meeting, handed off Maggie and Brian (B3) and we were on our own for our 2 week adventures with the twelve year olds. One nice thing about the KOA is that it is on North Temple, just a few miles from the Salt Lake City Mormon Temple. Non-Mormons may tour the grounds but not enter the temple. We did tour the theater where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs, and got to see a model of the Temple in the visitor center. Noted many changes from the Wester family visit of 1955.

We got a leisurely start on Monday morning, and got to West Yellowstone in the late afternoon. We had an early dinner and drove into Yellowstone National Park, up the Madison River valley, aiming at Old Faithful. Of course we got there 5 minutes after the show ended. Views of a lonely bison drinking from the river and a few elk feeding along the banks made the drive worthwhile.

The three-day forecast was glum, lots of rain. We woke up to rain and had a leisurely pancake breakfast. Got in the car and headed into the park around 10 AM. The line at the park gate was long, long, long. Eventually we got through, and the reward was first a black bear, and then bright sunshine. We headed north to the Norris Geyser Basin, then Mammoth Hot Springs.  We drove up the Lamar Valley hoping to see a wolf, but no luck. At Tower Junction we turned south and climbed the pass over Mt. Washburn’s shoulder looking for mountain goats and down again to the Yellowstone Canyon for a view of the falls. We parked and the rain began. Short but good view of the falls.

Early start next morning with no traffic at the gate. Short stop for a beautiful bull elk feeding along the river, then beeline for Old Faithful. Breakfast at the Yellowstone Inn while we waited for Old Faithful charging up for the next pop. After all the excitement we hiked down to Morning Glory Pool. Next stop Grant Village for a picnic and a visit to the Fire Museum. Even though fires destroy life and property in the park, it is essential to the health and survival of the forest and its inhabitants. Mature forests don’t support much wildlife, so when the forest burns the new growth generated supports the wild life.

Making another attempt at seeing wild life we went north through the Hayden Valley along the Yellowstone River. Hundreds of bison, a billion cars and a gazillion gawkers. It was worth it, but eventually turned around and headed back the way we came. We stopped at the Lake Hotel to briefly visit with our friend Dwain who we connected with during our 2007 summer work.  We’ve talked and emailed, but this was our first face to face in five years. Great to see him happy and doing well.

We had to retrace our steps through the park and past the lake the next morning on our way to Cody, WY.  Easy drive, no traffic but a very mediocre campground in Cody. But the evening Cody Rodeo made up for the campground.  We old folks stayed up until 11 PM and did not rise until 8 AM. First rodeo for the kids and Sue reminisced about the Roy Rodgers/Dale Evans Rodeo held in Madison Sq Garden years ago.

Leisurely breakfast, repack the car, then to the Cody Historical Museum. Divided into wildlife, Buffalo Bill stuff, firearms, and western art. All superb, but about six hours was all we could take. Next stop, Heart Mountain Internment Camp, out highway US 14A towards Powell. During WWII Heart Mountain was the third largest city in Wyoming.  The internees were US citizens whose property was confiscated while they were imprisoned. One of the school teachers commented how difficult it was to teach about democracy when the view out the window was barbed wire and guard towers. We thought this stop might be a good learning experience for the kids as not sure if the social studies books of today cover this disgraceful aspect of our history.

Back to Sierra Trading Post for some more shopping. Dinner at the Irma Hotel, previously owned by Buffalo Bill Cody, and named after his daughter, Irma.  Bison burger for me.

Our next day’s adventure plan is to meet my friend Bryce in Hoback, WY for a personalized raft trip down the Snake River. We’re an hour late, but Bryce, son Oliver and neice Mara were patiently waiting at Hoback Junction. A short drive down the Snake River Canyon, 15 minutes to inflate the raft, and we were ready to launch. Bryce manned the rudder; Sue, Brian and Mara on the right, Maggie, Oliver and me on the left.  Bryce knew all the biggest rapids and waves in the river; Big Kahuna lived up to its name dumping its six foot waves into the raft. Bryce, wanting us to meet our thrill quotient for the day aimed for every wave while I bailed as fast as I could with a five gallon bucket. I think Brian and Maggie are still smiling.

The following days were mostly occupied by the drive to Colorado Springs where we planned to meet son Brian and rock climb in the Garden of the Gods. We miscalculated the distance from the campground to the Springs, 31 miles. Not a short hop. We did get to watch a few guys whiz around the velodrome at the Olympic Training Center, site of the ’85 World Championships, and then join B2 for dinner. On the way “home” we drove through the Garden of the Gods to give them a view of what was in store for the next day.

We arrived at the rendezvous point for our climbing guides at 8 AM. Grandpa  signed Brian up for a 2 hour beginners course with Kayo, and Maggie for 4 hours with Jules for an advanced course. Both did amazingly well as the photos show.

Early the next day we left for Leadville, CO to prepare for B2’s 100 mile mountain bike race. Brian and his friend Stephan had rented a house just a few feet from the main street in Leadville. We all agreed we could live there for the rest of our lives. Leadville is an unspoiled town, very western, un-kitchy, and friendly towards outsiders. The race called the Leadville 100 has been going on for 28 years. It started with a few riders, now has 2000. Entry is via lottery or qualification: B2 had to qualify.

There is also a 100 mile ultra-marathon run. Ugh.

B2 finished about 600th overall, not bad for a first attempt and for living at sea level.  After the race  we had a pizza dinner with a bunch of other racers, some of whom I had know 15 years ago from my tenure in the bike biz.  Sunday morning was reserved for the awards ceremony. There were some there that had raced 18 years in a row. Some 10 years in a row, and some under 7 hours!  One hundred three miles, fourteen thousand feet of elevation gain, mainly on rough unpaved trail in under six hours. A woman whom Mavic and I sponsored in the early 1990’s finished in 7 hours, 3 minutes. Amazing. After the ceremony, we transferred Brian and Maggie’s stuff to B2’s car, said our goodbyes and started the next phase of our summer travels.

August 14th and on

Our first objective was to recover a little from the 2 weeks of adventure travels with the kids. We did this in Steamboat Springs, CO (Sue could absolutely live here in the summer.) and celebrated our favorite anniversary. Our second objective was to meet the original Brian, brother, and his wife Sylvia, at the Fremont Lake Campground in Pinedale, WY, for a few days of hiking in the Wind River Range.  We avoided the interstate highways, and followed local roads, first to Steamboat Springs, CO, where we spent two nights, and then through Dinosaur, CO, Vernal, Ut, (great dinosaur museum) Wyoming’s Red Desert, as desolate as I care to be, and finally Pinedale, still a desolate place but with a town. Nice to see Bri and Syl, since we had not seen them since our property at 550 Manchester in North Haledon sold nine months ago.

Bri’s birthday is August 16; Sue and I celebrate our meeting date, August 15, rather than the day we married, so we had a bash; shrimp, steak, good wine and lots of stories.

The Wind River Mountains rival Yosemite for beauty and spectacle. But, they are about 35 miles from a paved road. Keeps the gawkers out, but the drive in is tough on your kidneys. There is one easy access, Elkhart Lake, not too far from Fremont Lake. So our first day hike was a six mile stroll, great views from Photographers Point, and a good overview of the central part of the range. Day two saw us at Green River Lake, spectacular peaks, especially Flattop and Square Top. The hard part of the day was 17 miles of the worst washboard dirt road I’ve ever been on. Syl’s Subaru did admirably well.  I volunteered to drive the next day. It was to be a special day, I have read about the Cirque of the Towers, a climbers Mecca, for 40 years. Many of my climbing buddies have made the pilgrimage several times. Forty miles of dirt road from Pinedale to Big Piney campground. Then eight miles to the top of Jackass Pass and you’re there. The photo’s tell the story. And now you have another eight miles back to the car. I slept without waking for eight hours that night. But I felt 20 years younger.

Leaving Pinedale, WY after 4 days we said goodbye to Bri and Syl, expecting to meet them at their new house in a few weeks. We reluctantly left the Winds and headed towards Glacier National Park. A long drive across the prairies of Wyoming and Montana. The spectacle of Glacier remains hidden until you are almost on top of it all. We got to the Apgar campground in Glacier early enough to find a very good campsite. Our Golden Age Pass reduced the cost to ten dollars a night. Some small compensation for getting old!

Not giving the moss a chance, with the advice of a ranger, we took off for Avalanche Lake.  The trail was a boulevard, the crowds Central Park like, but there’s nothing quite like this in the big city.

In addition to incomparable scenery, Glacier has a free bus system, takes you anywhere you want to go.  There’s really only one road of consequence, Going to the Sun Highway, that winds its way up, around, across and down the other side of the park. It’s long, one and a half hours from end to end, so it is luxury to be able to look out the window and see what’s out there without worrying about who’s coming around the next hairpin turn.

Our day-two plans were more ambitious, but something went wrong. Late start, somewhat grumpy dispositions, and an unrelenting trail up through a forest fire burn scar, never let the day deliver its promise.

Always optimistic, we started day-three early, drove our car over Going to the Sun, which we discovered was under construction on the East side. We were the first car, but there were a lot of delays as we descended.

Sue’s cousin Diana recommended Iceberg Lake as a spectacular destination. I’ve run out of adjectives to describe the beauty, which on this hike was supplemented by a trailside moose and her baby, and later, several mountain goats, Big Horned Sheep and grizzlies higher on the mountainside. The wild flowers were out in full force, and all well documented on our photo page.

As we were getting ready to return after lunch by the lakefront we asked a nearby couple to take our photo. After talking with them for a few minutes we discovered that we had lived near each other when we were Pennsylvania residents. They have been campground volunteers at Glacier for many summers. The conversation continued and we discovered that we had both grown up in the same town, North Haledon, NJ. When I asked what street, she said, Grandview Ave. I blurted, “I don’t remember your name but I know you, I grew up on Manchester Ave, I’m Art Wester”. Her very first comment was, you HAD red hair! When we all stopped laughing, we continued recounting past history up on the hill where we lived.

We parted and headed down the trail to the parking lot. We decided to avoid the construction and delays and take the road around the park. Longer, got home around 7, beat. Take the bus and leave the driving to us. We did stop at a historic,  beautiful lodge, The Isaac Walton Inn on the Middle fork of the Flathead River for beer and tour of the grounds. One of those old lodges built by the railroad barons to encourage tourists. It has its own Amtrak stop, and nice seats on the big porch just made for enjoying that beer on a hot day.

We left Glacier on a Friday morning and planned  a leisurely start for our drive to Bri and Syl’s near Tacoma, WA. Still avoiding Interstates, we decided to take US Route 2 across Montana, Idaho and Washington. Just as we approached the Idaho state line near Coeur d’alene, there was a police road block. Overturned logging truck, several hours delay, at best. We turned around, zigged and zagged on beautiful small roads and found a nice campground and settled down for a while. Until the  now un-noticed rail road announced itself with the usual whistles and roar. We’ve discovered that trains are hard to escape out west.  Actually the whistles stopped early enough for us to get some sleep, and we were able to get underway early. We did have short stretch on I 90, then back onto US 2 to the Grand Coulee Dam. Big! Powerful! We camped on the Columbia River south of the dam and went back for a tour of the dam and powerhouse.

An early start the next day as we crossed Washington, heading south and west through Yakima, over White Pass towards Mt. Rainier NP, and finally to Roy where Bri and Syl met us to lead us through the forests to their new home. Several years ago they purchased 20 acres of tree farm land from Weyerhaeuser, where they were both working. For a few years they worked here on weekends, improving their forest and preparing to build their dream home. They’ve succeeded extremely well; a gorgeous home, comfortable and efficient, and they were elected Pierce County Tree Farmers of the Year in 2009.

In addition to eating and drinking too much while we are here, they are guiding us around the area to some great hiking. Mount Rainier is almost across the street, so our hikes have given us views of “The Mountain” from every side. Yesterday (Labor Day) was particularly adventuresome, Bri and I did an off trail hike, first a scramble to the summit of Fay Peak, then across rock and snow to Spray Park, as flat as anything gets around here, but covered with a carpet of wild flowers. Sue and Syl took a different route to Spray Park, and eventually we connected on the return hike to Mowich Lake. The only bummer was another 20-mile stretch of washboarded dirt road back to the pavement.

One day this past week we drove up to Seattle to meet Sue’s cousin Diana, who was visiting her daughter Karen who lives and works and Seattle. We spent the day being tourists. First visiting the locks between Lake Washington and Puget Sound, lunch at Rays Boathouse, two museums on the UW campus, and then to a new restaurant in Karen’s neighborhood that had gotten great reviews, The Walrus and the Carpenter. Diana was able to recite most of the poem from her schooldays memory.  The restaurant is unusual in that it is behind the Dutch Bicycle Shop. The DBS is unusual for two things, it sells only Dutch Bikes, a very narrow niche, and that in addition to the coffee that many bike shops now sell, it also had a terrific selection of beers and wine.  That good review dictated an hour wait for our table, so wine and conversation whittled the time down. Of the many bike shops Sue has visited with me over the years she thought this one was the perfect place!

We’ve been on the road since April 14, and since then I doubt that we’ve had a total of more than two hours of rain. We both commented yesterday that we’ve never in our lives seen more dust. New Mexico to Washington State, all very dusty. But the sun is very welcome here. Over twenty years of visits to the area probably have not yielded 20 days of sunshine. Every day this week has been perfect.




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