Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tuscumbia, Alabama; Back Home Again! A One-Eyed Barber? Doggie News; Happy Ruthie; "The Cork is Where?" Asheville; Backpacking the Art Loeb Trail; Irene's New Mop; Planning for 2018

The last stop on our summer trip was in Tuscumbia, Alabama, to visit our great friends Judson and Donna Jo Emens and their daughter Nadia. Judson had set up a reservation at a lovely riverside campground in nearby Florence, and when I went to check in, the camp hostess told me that not only was there no charge, but "Please take that basket of candy, cookies and other goodies that your friends left for you before I eat it all!" Judson took us for a four mile run to work off some of the sweets, and then the five of us enjoyed dinner together in town. It was a most pleasant end to our cross-country adventure. 

It was a fabulous 2017 Tour, with many events where My Lovely Bride Suzanne helped people and shared her Messages of Hope. We visited 21 states (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Pennsylvania), putting around 12,000 miles on The Coach (she now has over 64,000 miles under her tires, but since she's built on a Freightliner truck chassis, that's not so much - truckers often put a million miles on their semis - although a motor coach is a bit different... imagine driving your house down the road at 55-65 mph, especially with the fun of potholes!) For example, I had to get the front windshield repaired - fortunately just a chip and not a big crack that would require total replacement (been there, done that!).

While traveling, we have to do normal things like finding a barber... We have had more than our fair share of (mis)adventures getting haircuts in small towns. We were in Oregon, an hour from the nearest town, and I looked on my phone for a barber shop. Cindy's Barber Shop (a pseudonym, to protect her reputation and me from lawsuits) was the only place nearby. I called, and asked Cindy if I needed an appointment. "No, but how did you get my number?" "It was in Google Maps." "Ok, come on by in 15 minutes." I pulled up to a modest ranch house surrounded by hop fields. A tiny 75-year old lady wearing a patch over one eye walked out as I drove up. "Don't mind the patch. I just had eye surgery, but I've been cutting hair for 30 years. You'll be fine. I asked how you got my number because I haven't cut an outsider's hair in years, just locals." With more than a little trepidation, I walked into her house and was directed to the kitchen, where Cindy pointed to a wood straight-back chair in front of  a mirror propped up against the sink - it was one of those 5 dollar, four foot high mirrors that you see attached to the backs of doors in cheap motels. "I am doomed" kept running through my mind. But I got a decent haircut, and even a straight razor shave (that gave me some pause) without shedding any blood.

It's good to be back home, but the past few weeks have been filled with lots of yard work. Summer rains caused our yard to grow more weeds than expected, and Hurricane Irma didn't help - we didn't have any significant damage, but our yard guys evidently found more lucrative work in South Florida, because our lawn hadn't been cut for over two weeks when we arrived home. Suzanne even had to chase after another lawn crew and offer them triple-time to do an emergency cut on our yard. (I suggested renting out 20-30 goats at half the cost, but was overruled.) One day later we saw this rainbow over the house and knew that all was well.

Rudy and Gretchen are also glad to be home, probably because the resident rodent population (squirrels) has burgeoned to the point where you can't walk down the street without seeing a pair of the little beasts doing what squirrels do... I'll leave the rest to your imagination. Rudy has again found a favorite spot astride pillows to take a nap, while demure little Gretchen keeps watch for geckos and squirrels.

Speaking of dogs, My Good Friend Bob was walking his Chihuahua when Roscoe decided he had gone far enough. Fortunately the event was preserved on Jan's phone...

In St. Louis, we saw this preposterously pink and purple poodle... what were they thinking???

It's great to be home again with family. Suzanne's Lovely Mom Ruthie is very happy to have her daughter Suzy home. (Ruthie, by the way is a bridge shark - her biggest complaint these days is not having enough challenging bridge games. We should all be so lucky at 90 years of age!)

We had dinner last week with Ruthie in her assisted living dining room. To celebrate our return, I brought an especially nice bottle of Cabernet, and asked our server to open it. She returned in a few minutes, and I went to pour Ruthie a glass... but nothing came out. Perplexed, I looked into the open bottle and saw that the cork had been pushed in, rather than pulled out! I stifled a laugh, and had to push the cork down with a pen to get the wine out, until the cork was down a few inches. 

Note: wine was not involved in the next picture! Suzanne and I have a saying, "Never take yourself too seriously". We will extend our hands in an "okay" gesture and turn them inwards over our eyes into a "Space Cadets" look... recently Suzanne posted this photo on her Facebook page. 

We thought we were pretty cool, at least until we received this image from our dear friends Jeff and Lynn Hollahan, who said "This is what happens when you're at the confluence of good friends, nice weather and tequila!"  

We just returned from a short trip up north; Suzanne had flown to Wilkes-Barre, PA, to give one of her Serving Spirit classes. Meanwhile, I was driving up to Asheville, NC, where we would meet for another event and some hiking. I had planned on stopping for two nights in Marble, NC, almost as far west in the state as you can go, where Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina come together. The night before, while south of Macon, GA, I looked at the weather forecast... snow... SNOW??? Driving The Beast, our 42 ft motor coach, is interesting enough in rain, but the prospect of a combination of mountain roads and snow was a bit much, so I diverted to a campground near Greenville, South Carolina, where a balmy 50 degrees awaited me and the pups. 

Greenville is very close to Clemson University. Football fans know the Tigers well, their having won a national championship a few years ago. Everywhere you look in Greenville you see orange tiger paws. 

We drove on to Fletcher, NC, near Asheville, where Suzanne met us after her flight from Wilkes-Barre. She then had a very successful event at Unity of the Blue Ridge, in Mills River, NC; thank you, Reverends Darleen Christie , for your warm hospitality and a great dinner! Asheville is a delightful area; the coach was set up next to a small lake with this sunrise view...

The following weekend found us backpacking overnight on the Art Loeb Trail in Pisgah National Forest, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Brevard, NC. The first day was pleasant, and the six mile hike mostly uphill. This windblown stand of trees was not the typical foliage. 

The forest floor was littered with fallen leaves and not a few trees that were slowly returning to where they came from, while hosting moss and lichens during their decay.

We had planned to camp near a lean-to shelter which had a small spring and a privvy nearby, but when we arrived, four yahoos had a boom box blaring and were awaiting the start of a football game. "Really, in the wilderness? Why didn't you just go to a sports bar?" In disgust, we marched on aways, and just before the rain began, Suzanne heard "We have selected a perfect spot for you."  We indeed found a beautiful (flat) spot on a gap beside Cedar Rock Mountain. The weather was cooling down, and long pants and fleeces were donned.

The rain squalls stopped long enough to have an al fresco dinner. I was the designated chef - a tough job, requiring boiling water and pouring it into the bags holding our freeze-dried dinners, chili mac for Suzanne and chicken gumbo for me. Wait 10 minutes, and "Presto!" hot meals, if not gourmet treats. 

The next morning loomed misty and grey, but we had slept pretty well, considering it had rained most of the night, and the two-man tent was just barely big enough for our sleeping pads and down bags. Our packs and food bags remained outside under the tent fly in a small vestibule (staying almost dry); a passing bear could grab the food, but just in case, I positioned Suzanne by the tent door with the bear spray so she could protect our food supply. She looks amazingly chipper, all things considered. Fortunately, the 6 miles back to the trailhead was mostly downhill. 

Our dear friends Sandy and Lisa had volunteered to stay with Rudy and Gretchen, and to find out what "glamping" in a big motor coach was like. After our backpacking, we enjoyed a nice lunch together at the Sierra Nevada Brewery in Mills River - a very popular spot for Sunday brunch.

Leaf peeping was winding down near Asheville, but at the Carl Sandburg Estate in Flat Rock, we found a few gorgeous trees still showing their colors. The five miles of hiking trails here were also fun. 

One of our shipmates (and DEAR FRIEND) on our boat trip earlier this year is Irene Vouvalides, who became famous in the Virgin Islands charter fleet for ensuring we had the cleanest decks of any boat in the area. We received this photo of Irene standing proudly with her new Rubbermaid Reveal mop. (Irene, this "reveals" something about you... Ha!)

Someone asked recently what I do with all my spare time... well, I am hard at work planning our 2018 Summer Tour, and already Suzanne is booked for events in The Villages, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; Scottsdale, Prescott and Sedona, Arizona; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Los Angeles, California; Denver, Colorado; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Creve Coeur/St. Louis, Missouri; New York City; Frederickton, New Brunswick, Canada; The Monroe Institute, Lovingston, Virginia; and Orlando, Florida. It looks to be another 12,000 mile summer.

Finally, Suzanne and I would like to thank everyone we met this summer who made our trip so much fun. You gave us many memories that will last forever, and we look forward to seeing you again, maybe next summer! 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Chair with a View; Homeward Bound; Frog Bikers; Salt Lake City; Carbondale and Breckenridge, Colorado

Well, it's October, and our 2017 Messages of Hope Tour is winding down. We are now officially eastbound after spending the summer out West. Here's what's been happening lately:

After being cruelly abused by our personal tormentor (er, trainer) Heather (see my previous post for details), Suzanne took off for Scottsdale and the Afterlife Research and Education Symposium, while I took a break to paddle on nearby American Lake and ease my sore muscles. The view of Mt. Rainier was impressive, and early morning/late afternoon paddling was delightful.

Our campsite was right on the water, and this was the view from my camp chair (wine glass with Zin not shown)... not too shabby, eh?

While MLB was away, I also took the opportunity to get some culture, and enjoyed the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM), where this Georgia O'Keefe still life (From Pink Shell, 1931, oil on canvas) caught my eye. I also learned about Ghost Ranch, one of her favorite places, which I will have to visit one day...

Another favorite of mine at TAM was this mixed media by Montana artist Kevin Red Star, titled Buffalo Horse Medicine. He was born on the Crow Indian Reservation, and his work graces the Smithsonian, the National Museum of the American Indian and the Heard Museum, among many others. 

After an exhausting visit to the museum, I simply HAD to stop at "Hello, Cupcake". (Sounded like a tart greeting to a young woman, or a sweet greeting to a tart... but I digress...) The cupcake (vanilla topped with pink vanilla buttercream and a sugar flower), was simple, but elegant. (Reminds me of me!)

Leaving Tacoma, we headed south to Portland to pick up I-84 eastbound through the Columbia River Gorge, which had spectacularly "gorge"-ous scenery. But the fire and rain gods laughed at our presumption... I-84 (on the south side of the river/gorge) was closed down because of a series of fires/rain/rockslides, so being very clever, I thought we'd follow Washington Highway 14 on the north side of the Columbia River. Everything was going swimmingly until I saw a sign saying "Tunnel Ahead in 4 miles - 12' 6" clearance". Hmmm.... our coach is 12'11" high. I did some quick mathematical calculations and figured that (a) we would not fit, without (b) taking off the three air conditioners, either intentionally with tools or unintentionally using the top of the tunnel. Option (b) would be quicker but messier. Option (c), which My Lovely Bride suggested, was to take a bridge across the Columbia and try to find an alternative route east. Knowing how smart she is, I chose option (c). Unfortunately, we found that there was no alternative route east, so we had to return to Portland for the night, where we actually found our old campground in scenic Boring, Oregon, to have a spot for us. 

The next day we proceeded north up past Mt. Hood, expecting to reach Hood River where I-84 was open. Alas, MLB was reading the latest weather forecast, with words like "winter storm advisory", chains, caution, high winds, etc... Jeez, it was September 20th, for Pete's sake!!! So, we had to divert south almost to Bend, OR, to find clear skies and moderate weather. What was supposed to be a relatively easy 840 mile all-Interstate trip turned into a harrowing epic of 1066 miles (averaging 355 miles a day, quite long when you're only doing 45-55 mph in the mountains and on backroads). The scenery changed, for the better in that there was no threat of snow, but more "deserty", like this sculpted mountain somewhere in Utah.

In Green River, Utah, I met this French family cycling from Canada to Mexico. They were two months into a six month trip, and really enjoying the US. Thinking I was a local, they asked me an important question: where the laundromat was located... I had to regret that being a visitor, I couldn't help them out. 

We arrived safely in Salt Lake City and enjoyed a break from driving for a few days. Suzanne hosted a Serving Spirit class there, and we enjoyed the warm hospitality of Kate Young and Jim Morse at the Cottonwood Country Club. (Regrettably, Your Esteemed Photographer neglected to take photos... what was I thinking?)  While I am doing a lot of walking and hiking preparing for a Grand Canyon hike over Thanksgiving, Suzanne is keeping in shape with her TRX straps attached to the ladder on the coach.  These instruments of torture were introduced to her by Heather the Slayer and developed by Navy SEALs.  If anyone thinks this is a wussy workout, I suggest you try it... it is a killer!

Carbondale has always been one of our favorite places. We had an offer to stay at the beautiful, palatial home of our wonderful friends Connie Mariano and John Weber, but our puppies might have destroyed their home, so we opted to stay in the coach. But we did have a glass of wine on their patio, with a spectacular view of the double summits of Mt. Sopris (12,965 ft), in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness of White River National Forest. The next day found Suzanne giving a presentation to the Davi Nikent Group in Carbondale. Thanks to Rita Marsh for hosting Suzanne's full-house event! 

Suzanne and I took a hike on Mt. Sopris's north slope. The day started out relatively warm and sunny...

Later in the day, the clouds building behind us reminded me that during summer in the Rockies, one should start early and finish below treeline by noon or so, because thunderstorms often develop by noon or 1:00 PM, and one does not want to be on open rock slopes during a thunderboomer...

We next visited Kris and Wendy Reitz in Breckenridge, Colorado. They moved from Illinois to a cabin at 11,000 ft about a year ago. Here are Wendy and MLB out behind their cabin. It is September 28th, about 90 degrees back at home in The Villages, and they had 4 inches of snow that morning!  A year ago when Wendy and Kris moved to this high altitude home, Suzanne thought she would never be able to visit there due to life-long altitude sickness.  Thanks to some spiritual lessons prompted by Wendy, this visit became a reality!

Kris has climbed many of the "fourteeners" (mountains over 14,000 ft) in the area, and took me on a hike on the slopes of Quandary Peak (14,271 ft), the highest peak in the Tenmile Range. We only had 2-3 hours to hike, so we started at 11,000 ft and hiked up to 12,500 ft. Kris is wearing gloves not to save his hands from gardening blisters... it was COLD!!!

The views were spectacular. Far below is Monte Christo Lake, where we began our hike. (For My Good Friend Bob: the white stuff is not confetti.)

We saw some furry critters on this hike: several pikas and a couple of yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris), one seen here peeking warily from his rocky burrow... he was very shy. In the Sierras of California, the marmots come right up to hikers, begging for food. I asked Kris if this isn't a popular hiking destination, and he replied that most people don't hike this route or this high, unless they are headed to climb some serious pinnacles about 1,000 ft higher up. (Fortunately, we weren't equipped for that - I haven't done any serious rock climbing in 40 years!)

 Lake Monte Christo took on a different appearance on our way down the mountain due to lower sun and intermittent clouds. There is little question that these mountains would be a fabulous place to live...

After a couple of hours, I was getting a bit thirsty... "Hey, Kris, is there anywhere to get a beer up here?" I think he thought I said, "Are there any bears up here?" and was pointing up the mountain...

We will be home in one week. While it will be great to be back in Florida with family and friends, we will both miss the mountains.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Irma; Mt Hood; Boring and Mossyrock; Ft Lewis; RODEO! Serving Spirit Class Tacoma; Olympic National Forest; Heather the Slayer

Tacoma, Washington - actually Joint Base Lewis-McChord, formerly known as Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base - is our new home for almost three weeks. We are in a pleasant campsite alongside American Lake, with daytime temps in the high 60s, lows at night in the 40s, much better than the 90s our friends back in Florida have to contend with in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone effected by that terrible storm. 

Our house in The Villages survived without damage, in large part thanks to our great Navy and sailing friends Anthony and Annette Baker, who are staying in our house until power is restored at the marina where their beautiful trawler Magnolia is moored. Thanks, guys!!!

Even during catastrophes, one can find instances of humor... this photo of a golf cart in The Villages whose owner had driven into a flooded tunnel made me laugh - no one was injured, except perhaps the owner's pride. What was he/she thinking???

We had a nice stop in Portland, Oregon, at Mt. Hood, where MLB decided to go backpacking overnight for a spiritual experience. I packed in 4 miles with her to make sure Burnt Lake lived up to the glowing remarks that a USFS ranger had given us, helped her set up camp, and then hiked out to enjoy some Pinot Noir with Rudy and Gretchen. You can see that Suzanne is loving her spartan accommodations (my cozy one-woman tent).

Burnt Lake (in Mt. Hood National Forest) is a lovely hiking destination, wooded all the way to the shore, with room for only 4 campsites (flat spots are in short supply). The fish were safe from my predation -  I didn't have room in my pack to carry my fishing rod and hand grenades... 

The view of Mt. Hood from the lake is stunning. After a handful of dayhikers departed, Suzanne had this lake all to herself until mid-morning the next day. She had a can of bear spray, but didn't need it. (I waited until the next day to tell her about the cartoon someone had sent me with a tent in the woods surrounded by 15 bears - the conversation bubble from inside the tent read, "Sweetheart, you have to stop thinking that every noise you hear here in the woods is a bear."

The following day, I hiked back in to Burnt Lake to help her pack out tent, stove, sleeping bag, air mattress, extra food, first aid kit, camp chair, etc... I was happy that she had such a great time in the wilderness so close to Mt Hood (11,250 ft.). We had planned for me to get a 4-day backpack around the mountain on the Timberline Trail, but when we arrived at our campground in Mt Hood Village, our 42 ft coach wouldn't fit in the 38 ft space they had assigned us (this is after making a reservation last December). Because this was eclipse week, all of the nearby campgrounds were full, so we had to relocate for five nights to a county CG in Boring, Oregon. Then for the eclipse itself, we had to drive to Mossyrock, Washington, two hours away and outside the totality cone. Mossyrock and Boring - You can't make this stuff up. Mossyrock homeowners do like their privacy; this former Marine states it plainly: "Trespass at your own risk" and "Come in peace or leave in pieces!"

Our next stop was Tacoma, where Suzanne just completed another Serving Spirit class - the event was filled with 50 wonderful, enthusiastic students, several of whom are old friends to whom Suzanne had given readings or who had attended workshops she had given. Thanks especially to Heather McKay's daughter Tatelyn (far left) who helped Suzanne both days, allowing me to hike and spend more time with Rudy and Gretchen. (See last paragraph below for more info on Heather the Slayer...)

One night MLB said, "Ty, git on yer jeans and boots... we're a-going to the rodeo!" (Well, it was something like that.) We arrived at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup and enjoyed the bronco and bull-riders (all men - Suzanne's favorites) as well as the barrel racers and flag riders (all women - my favorites - gee, I wonder why???). 

It was a fun evening; I almost looked cowboyish in my jeans and tee-shirt, but without the real Justin boots, fist-size belt buckle and Stetson hat, it was apparent that I wasn't ready for bull-riding. MLB looked much more authentic. I offered to take her on the Twirling Teacup ride, but she declined...

Another evening found us on the shore of Puget Sound in Steilacoom, only a few miles from Ft. Lewis. This used to be a sleepy little ferry town, a suburb of Tacoma. Now, with the flood of people and money into Seattle for Microsoft, Google, Amazon and other tech-related firms (100,000 new residents in the past year), prices have skyrocketed, and Steilacoom is a highly desirable place to live.

Rudy and Gretchen got to meet two other long-haired Dachshunds while in Steilacoom. "Rudy, get your nose out of her butt!" 

Ft. Lewis has a great view of Mt. Rainier (14,410 ft.), and tons of hiking opportunities. Unfortunately, our coach has had more than its normal share of maintenance "issues" this summer, which has kept me from my normal 3-4 day long backpacking trips. Repairs to the following equipment have been completed: front end alignment, new steer tires, air compressor, dash air conditioner, roof air conditioner, interior door frame, refrigerator door, and even the car air conditioner... sheesh, I should have trained to be an RV repairman!

We did get up to Olympic National Forest for a dayhike on the Lower Skokomish River. This time we took Rudy and Gretchen in their backpacks (canine hikers are not allowed in National Parks, but are welcome in National Forests). The river is beautiful, massive gravel bars left from the many glaciers that covered the area until cave men started driving SUVs with stone wheels...

This Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) had fallen across the trail, which was then relocated around it - a smart move, since it's over 200 feet long. (They can grow to 250 feet in height and 8 feet in diameter, and may live over 1,000 years.) You can just make out Suzanne at the far end of the tree if you look real carefully.

While at Ft. Lewis, MLB decided it would be a good idea (at this point I cringed) to get a personal trainer to help her with specific exercise goals. I thought, "Yeah, she's going to get some 6' 4" Norwegian stud named Lars with pecs the size of my thighs and run off to Oslo..." Well, imagine my surprise when she said, "Ty, I found this cool gal named Heather who will help us both get in shape!" (My imagination ran wild...) So, we go to the gym to meet Heather. I am thinking she's an impressionable young gal who will be impressed by my running prowess and suave, debonair manner... we meet, and learn that Heather is a former USAF military policewoman, military police dog trainer, parachutist with 200 jumps, and is married to a Green Beret.  Heather has a degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition (called Exercise Torture by some) and is also contracted by the Army to train (in her own words "destroy") young Special Forces soldiers physically so they can pass their tougher than nails PT tests. She is 4' 11", about 90 lbs, and a very tough hard body! Our first weight workout was TWO HOURS LONG!   I AM DOOMED!!!