Monday, June 29, 2015

The Heartland; Miss Liberty; Global Warming? Corn Consumption; Trekking Umbrella; Minnesnowta; A Wedding Anniversary


For the past several days, we have been traveling across America's Heartland, prairies and farmland, heading from Colorado through Nebraska and Iowa. The elites of Manhattan and California derisively call this "Flyover Country",  but I think it's part of the bastion of traditional American values. Let me give you a couple of examples.  We had stopped in Grand Island, Nebraska, a city along the Platte River, which was founded in the 1800s in the hopes of being a site in the center of the country where the nation's capital could be relocated. (Unfortunately, of course, it never was moved from Washington, DC, but hope springs eternal...) We were walking through a city park and saw this statue with a bronze plate reading, "With the faith and courage of their forefathers, who made possible the freedom of these United States, The Boy Scouts of America dedicate this replica of the Statue of Liberty as a pledge of everlasting fidelity and loyalty." Over 100 of these Miss Liberty Statues are found around the USA, mostly in small towns, all funded by the Boy Scouts themselves in the 1950s. As a former scout, I still identify closely with and support the values and guiding principles of the Boy Scouts, in spite of the ridicule and criticism heaped upon this fine organization.   



After leaving Nebraska we were driving up I-35 headed north through Iowa. I called ahead to Clear Lake State Park to arrange a one night stay. On a Thursday it shouldn't have been a problem finding a spot, but the desk clerk said, "I'm so sorry, but we're full. Everyone wants a spot for the 4th of July, so they book two weeks in advance, and even bring their RVs here for the duration. But you could try one of the county parks; there's a nice one in Thornton." We had just passed that exit, so I called the number to find out if they were booked. Another nice lady said, "Oh, there's lots of room; only one other camper there, and it's a very pretty park." We arrived to find one of the most pleasant campsites we've ever enjoyed, right next to a real babbling brook, well-shaded, and for only $12. (I recalled with some consternation the $96 we had to pay in San Francisco...)

After setting up camp, we took a walk through town, and passed houses where a man was in the garage or yard.  Each came out and said hello and asked where we were from and how long we were staying in Thornton. Every house we saw was modest, but very well maintained, with closely cropped lawns and nice flower beds. A very high percentage flew American flags out front. One of the interesting people we met was a missionary who had spent 42 years outside the US, part in remote Papua New Guinea and part in the highlands of Thailand. He and his wife now live in Iowa where they care for a parent with dementia and help raise their grandchildren.



 
This is prime farmland, with corn and soybeans being the principal crops that we passed. On a trip through the Midwest in 2012, a severe drought was underway, and most of the cornfields we saw were stunted and burned brown. Many commentators blamed the drought on global warming. On this trip across the same area, from northern New Mexico through Colorado (image at right) to Nebraska and Iowa, we saw rivers like the Platte at near-record levels, surrounded by some of the greenest fields we've ever seen, and hillsides and mountains covered with wildflowers and lush grass meadows. The image below shows beautifully formed and very green rows of corn, not yet as tall as an elephant's eye, but obviously healthy and not lacking for rain. (Global warming must be concentrating on California for the moment...)
 


Speaking of corn, we were enjoying some of the local produce recently when I realized that are indeed some glaring differences between men and women. (Where is Ty going with this one, readers are thinking...) We were enjoying our meal when I glanced down and noted that I was eating my corn from left to right, but in a circular pattern, file by file, in military parlance, while My Lovely Bride was going row by row. I pondered on this for several moments, but couldn't come up with a logical reason for either choice; but I knew in my heart that I was eating corn the correct way.






This image requires some explanation, particularly for Loyal Readers from the South. We are looking at a home in northern Iowa which caught my eye because of the dog resting comfortably on the sofa by the window. When I looked more closely, though, I noticed the snow shovel stationed prudently by the front door. A quick glance at the calendar showed me that it was June 25th, but the homeowner clearly was not ready to put the snow shovel away for the three days of summer... 








Faithful Reader Brad Bernardy, former Wilderness Ranger and avid hiker, requested that I provide a picture of my trekking umbrella. It is made by Coghlan's, has a 40" diameter, and even sports an LED light in the handle, pointing conveniently downward to light one's path while hiking in the dark and gloom. At 8 oz., its weight isn't a showstopper, and if I were using a tarp instead of a tent, I could also use the umbrella as a support for the tarp. I've only used it on two occasions, and it seems to work very well; I have never liked being wet while hiking, and an umbrella can be deployed much more quickly than pulling a rain jacket and pants out of a backpack. 









On my recent hike in the mountains above Flagstaff, AZ, the rain came and went four times within an hour, and it was an easy matter to redeploy and fold up the unbrella in a matter of seconds. When not in use, it is carried in a couple of pack loops designed for trekking poles, out of the way but ready for instant use. In fact, it looks like a sword, so might come in handy fending off a hungry grizzly. And then... maybe an aerial escape ala Mary Poppins might be called for. (Observant readers will admire the hiking tee-shirt this handsome backpacker is wearing; the front reads, "Somebody in COON RAPIDS Loves Me"... thank you, Terri of the Frozen North.)












We are happily installed in a campground at Baker Preserve Regional Park in Maple Plain, Minnesnowta, fortuitously just after the snow and ice melted briefly; everything is green and the temps are in the low 80s, a real heat wave here. Our good friend Terri (of the Frozen North, no less) came out to our campground at Baker Preserve for a hike, and after an hour of trekking and fewer mosquitoes and black flies than I expected, we settled onto a picnic table along Lake Independence for a rest. 







We also enjoyed spending time with (right to left next to MLB) Terri, her partner Pam and friend Joy from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. For those geographically-challenged, Saskatchewan is also known to Minnesnowtans and Coon Rapidians as "The Even More Frozen North". Joy was visiting for a few days in between Saskatonian permafrost eruptions and blizzards, and would attend Suzanne's presentation on Sunday at Unity of Minneapolis. We had an enjoyable evening over wine and tea at the coach, and the next evening had dinner at an Indian restaurant that Terri and Pam frequent. 



Speaking of summer, while driving through Maple Plain, we saw this electronic thermometer displaying 31F... my senses told me that it was a humid day in the 80s, but I suppose thermometers here don't often get above freezing, and aren't used to displaying temps that high... 














Today Suzanne and I are celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary. It seems like only yesterday that on our wedding night in 1996, after saying she was going to change into a sweet little Victoria's Secret outfit, she sent me out to the car for something. When I returned to our VIP suite at the Naval Academy, I found her in sweatshirt and sweatpants, with cold cream on her face, her hair in rollers, and reading a Reader's Digest. It was one of the funniest moments ever, and she promised then that life with her would never be boring. She has lived up to that promise.  We will be going out tonight for a nice dinner at an Italian bistro, a report on which I will save for the next post...



Monday, June 22, 2015

Colorado Springs; A World-Class Athlete; Carbondale Event; Maroon Bells; A Raging River; A Date? Wieners in Bags; "You Didn't Ask"; "Write That Down, Please!"


The trip from Santa Fe to our next stop, Colorado Springs, was long but uneventful, at least weather-wise. We had hoped to spend several days at the US Air Force Academy campground in Colorado Springs.  A friend of Suzanne's, Mickey Gonzalez, had offered to take us mountain biking on her favorite trails, but our summer tour schedule allowed us only one night there, so we invited Mickey over for dinner at the coach. I remembered Mickey being fit, but as our conversation progressed, I found out that her biking experience and skills were way out of our league... 





Mickey started motocross racing at age 18 in California when there were hardly any women in the sport. She got so good that she turned professional, and won many races and championships.  Here she is "catching air" big time at a race in Glen Helen, CO.










In her late 40s she decided to settle down a bit and moved to mountain biking, a marginally more sedate sport than motocross racing… but lest you think she’s a couch potato, Mickey participated in a 24-hour race in Moab, Utah, considered by many to have the most challenging MTB trails in the world. The hot desert climate doesn’t make it any easier. You have to be a top-level athlete to participate and survive a race like that.








It turns out Mickey has passed on her love of motocross and mountain biking to her son, Landon, who started racing at an early age. He is now 17 and a senior at the US Air Force Academy High School. 












Mickey has offered to take us on some of her favorite trails when we return to Colorado Springs. I think we may have to invest in body armor, full face shield helmets, and some serious classes in catching air and climbing near-vertical slopes before we take her up on that offer, and even then I will allow My Lovely Bride to try out some trails with Mickey first. (If she returns without any broken limbs, maybe I'll go out on Day Two...) 







We departed Colorado Springs and drove up and over Eisenhower Pass through the worst traffic jam I've been through in years; it took two hours to go 7 miles, due to a rockfall on I-70. I'm not sure if any vehicles were taken out by the rockfall, but it sure was a slow slog.  Once over the pass, the traffic eased up and the scenery became more and more striking. The obligatory Runaway Truck Ramps filled with gravel on the 6-8% grades do give one pause, though; we stayed in low gear on the downhills, keeping our speed to 45 mph. The coach weighs 46,000 lbs. (unloaded); with all our gear aboard, it's about the weight of 9 Cadillac Escalades. You really don't want to build up a lot of momentum going down steep grades!




After setting up camp in Carbondale (6,181 ft.), My Lovely Bride wanted to go for a hike in one of our favorite areas: the Maroon Bells, just outside Aspen, Colorado. The mountains are named for their shapes (bell-like) and color at sunset (when not covered with snow). Being close to Aspen, you might guess that there are many aspen trees here, and you would be correct. Aspens are representative of new growth forests, which is appropriate since most of the pine trees were logged in the early 20th Century when silver was mined extensively in the area. In fact, the largest single pure silver nugget ever mined was found here in the Smuggler mine. It weighed over 2,000 lbs. and had to be cut into three pieces to remove it from the mine.



Our trail was listed in the guidebook as moderate. It started at Maroon Lake (9,200 ft.) and climbed up into the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness on a steep, very rocky trail over glacial moraines to Crater Lake (10,600 ft.).









My Lovely Bride gives me a hard time about carrying a fully loaded 25 lb. backpack on day hikes, when her pack weighs about 8 lbs. My rationale is that it's for training. If you're carrying a full pack on every day hike, it's easier on the 2-3 day trips. Makes sense to me, but she just shakes her head. Women baffle me sometimes...








This photo of a hiking couple was taken by a retarded (oops, I meant “retired”) Air Force officer who was giving us Navy folks a hard time; but he did laugh when I mentioned that when we were at Kirtland AFB recently, I did notice that the working day for Air Force personnel appeared to be from 11:00 AM until 2:00 PM, with an hour for lunch and another hour for PT…


The Maroon Bells are said to be the most photographed mountains in America. Their twin pyramids look inviting for mountaineers, but are considered extremely dangerous. Over 50 climbers have lost their lives on the Bells, and a mountain rescue was ongoing the day we were hiking. The rock formations here are metamorphic sedimentary mudstone, which crumble easily and are extremely unstable. This striking photo at the bottom of the Bells shows an active rockslide area to the left and a likely avalanche area to the right, with some vegetation and trees starting to grow back. The upper slopes of the mountains are above treeline and are much more treacherous.


 
A day trip took us to the village of Redstone, pop. 92, which has several tourist shops and these neat beehive coke ovens, remnants of the early 20th Century industry which made coke for fueling steel mills.













The Colorado Rockies have been receiving heavy rains for the past few weeks, and the mountainsides were more green than we had seen on previous visits. The Colorado River is running very high, with the popular Glenwood Canyon bike trail closed due to its being submerged in places. This photo shows the river looking quite angry; some of those standing waves are 4 feet high.   








After receiving an email the other day from our good friends Connie England and John Henry, I had thought about bringing my fishing rod on our hike, but decided that I wouldn't have time to do both. I was smugly satisfied when I saw that several local fishermen already at the two lakes were troutless. I guess I’ll just have to be a fishing voyeur in admiring John’s catch from Devil’s Lake in North Dakota, where he has a house and dock…  maybe I'll take My Good Friend Bob's suggestion and trade in my rod for a hand grenade.






The day after our hike, Suzanne presented her Making the Connection talk in Carbondale, hosted at the Davi Nikent Center for Human Flourishing. Rita Marsh was our hostess for the second year, and as before, was most gracious and hospitable, even bringing flowers from her garden and snackies to the event. It was very well received, and we look forward to returning to Carbondale and Aspen next summer.






We stayed in Carbondale for four nights, during a heat wave that reached 93-95F in late afternoon, although nights were down into the high 40s. On our last night in town, I succumbed to taking MLB out on a date. She had displayed an interest in a particular restaurant, and since she hadn’t taken anything out of the freezer for dinner, and Rudy hadn’t brought home any prey (the chipmunks are pretty small here), I gave in. Town Restaurant is a classy place. Graham made us welcome, and we chatted about England, where he grew up. The food was excellent; our starters were a yummy salad with the best Bleu cheese I’ve ever had, and lamb meatballs with a spicy hummus. Suzanne had the flatiron steak with barbequed carrots and gruyere mashed potatoes, and I had grilled halibut in a pea coulis, served atop a parsnip and pea cake (it was delicious, much better than it sounds). A very nice Pinot Noir accompanied our meal, and I made points with My Lovely Bride by not suggesting going to Sonic for burgers and fries…  




After dinner, we went for a hike with the puppies. Rudy and Gretchen have very short legs, and can’t go very far without stopping to sniff everything, so we loaded them in our backpacks for the hike along the Rio Grande Trail, which actually winds along the Roaring Fork River. We had previously ridden our bikes on this trail twice this trip, but this sunset hike was much more leisurely.









Our last day in Colorado started well, with an easy drive up and over Eisenhower Pass, 11,200 ft., all the way on I-70/76 to a small town in eastern Colorado (that shall remain nameless). One of our funniest campground experiences occurred here. I had called and asked about a campsite, spoke to the manager, and was given a site number. We arrived, checked in, went for a run, had dinner, and sat down to use our computers (to post this blog, in my case). I couldn’t get the campground Wi-Fi to work, so I called the office, and was told by a young girl that the owner had switched Internet providers last week, and hadn’t gotten the new one to work yet. I called back to the office later, spoke to the manager, and asked why he didn’t tell me Wi-Fi wasn’t working when I called. His answer: “You didn’t ask.” Well, I didn’t ask if the electricity worked, if water was turned on, if sewage was backed up in the campground, or if there were rabid wolves attacking residents… I replied, “Well, I guess caveat emptor is the rule here.” There was a silence, and I suspect my Latin reply wasn't totally understood. He said he would try to get it to work, and later came by and apologized for coming across as a dork... or some other word starting with "d" and ending with "k". I told him not to worry, and that I was using my cell phone as a hot spot, but appreciated his trying to get it back on line. We both had a good laugh about it.



Finally, I have to relate a story about My Lovely Bride. I was thinking about another long mountain hike, but Suzanne was looking a bit tired… due to the altitude, her presentation, and other hard workouts. It was obvious that she needed a break, so I said, “Sweetheart, every day doesn’t have to be a forced march.” She looked at me in stunned silence, and said, “Ty, what did you just say?” I repeated myself, and she calmly walked over and placed a pen and file card in front of me and said, “Write that down, please.” “What?” “You heard me; please write that down... and sign it.”  I did as she asked, and I’m sure she will keep that note until the day I hike up to the Happy Hunting Grounds (it is posted on our refrigerator in the coach); and yes, she took it easy that day. I just hope she won’t make a habit of it...  

Friday, June 19, 2015

Flagstaff Finale; Albuquerque; Santa Fe; Magical Music


My five days in Flagstaff were filled with hiking, walking Rudy and Gretchen, and eating home-cooked meals... well, except one night, when I splurged and dined at Brix, an excellent restaurant in Flagstaff's old Nob Hill neighborhood. I enjoyed Washington state oysters as an appetizer, fresh French bread with Hawaiian sea salt butter, and Cavatelli with lamb ragout as a main course, and a quite palatable Pinot Noir from Oregon's Willamette Valley. To burn off the extra calories, I hiked most of the Kachina Trail from the Snow Bowl ski area the next morning. 






The trail started at 9,500 ft. near a ski area, and descended gradually to 8,700 feet, where I turned for the return march, and was much easier than the steep Elden Lookout Trail I had hiked the day before. The hike started in a pine forest, but soon the trees changed to aspens, one of my favorites. Winding through the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, elk are often seen in Autumn, but I was elkless this day.









The mouth of a small cave with a narrow opening beckoned, but my better judgment overcame any thoughts of spelunking into a bear or cougar's lair and possibly disturbing the principal resident's blissful slumber...









 

It was hard to believe that I was only ten miles outside of Flagstaff. There were no houses in sight, nor power lines, roads or even lean-to shelters. One of the additional blessings of a "Wilderness" designation is that mechanized travel is not allowed, not even mountain bikes, so there are no rumbles of jeeps or 4 wheel drive trucks, and of course there is no logging. Hikers, rangers and wildlife are all you see, sometimes for days on end. By the end of my hike, thunderstorms had developed, and I decided to deploy my new trekking umbrella for the first time. It worked quite well, but I haven't decided whether to carry it on a regular basis. One looks somewhat eccentric with umbrella deployed on a mountain trail, but the utility of keeping dry offsets the odd looks you receive.




My last hike before departing Arizona was on the Arizona Trail northeast of Flagstaff, in a much more open area at lower elevation, about 7,000 ft. The views of the east side of Mt. Elden were impressive, but again I found no elk or mule deer. It seems they had migrated to better pastures, or perhaps were sleeping in late while I was hiking. Nevertheless, the scenery was fabulous, and I only saw one other person after the first mile from the trailhead, a mountain biker out for a 10 mile ride. 


 





















The next leg of our journey took us from Flagstaff to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Suzanne would fly back from her highly successful conference in Chapel Hill, NC. She was the opening night keynote speaker at the Association for Spiritual and Consciousness Studies (ASCS), and enjoyed every minute she was there. But Rudy, Gretchen and I were very glad to see her waiting curbside at the ABQ baggage claim, and now she's back with The Pack.



From Albuquerque, we drove to Santa Fe. On the way, we watched towering cumulonimbus clouds building, and they seemed to be on a collision course... and just 15 minutes from our campground, we entered the associated thunderstorm, with heavy rain and hail making driving an "Isn't that interesting" experience. Fortunately, there was no damage to either the coach or the toad (our car being towed astern).





Our sole purpose in visiting Santa Fe was to meet Jim and Jann Oliver. Jim is an Emmy Award-winning composer and musician. Suzanne had spoken to him several times on the phone while working on their joint meditation project, for which Jim had graciously created amazing, spirit-guided music, but this was our first face-to-face meeting. Jann is also a highly spiritual person.  She was trained and worked as a massage therapist, and her energy perfectly complements Jim's.  They make a great team. They hosted us for dinner in their beautiful home in the El Dorado neighborhood overlooking a greenway and arroyo often frequented by bobcats and other desert creatures. 








After dinner, we adjourned to Jim's professional recording studio for an original meditation session where he sat at his seven keyboards and proceeded to improvise some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard, all without any sheet music - completely inspired by spirit. (I reckoned that this was what Heaven sounded like.) After the music ended, we didn't want to even speak, the moment was so divine. 


The next day provided another extraordinary experience. Suzanne and Jim collaborated on another meditation music project, which Suzanne will "unveil" at her Unity Village weekend retreat in July. 












Here is Jim explaining the technical side of his recording; his equipment is absolutely top-end and state of the art.











We were happy to host Jim and Jann in the coach for lunch. Jim had spent many years as a professional musician performing in high end venues like Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, and I think he might have enjoyed traveling to and from his hundreds of gigs in a comfortable motor coach even better than by car and staying in hotels on the Strip. 












We also got to hike on the greenway behind the Olivers' home. Due to frequent rains, there were many desert cacti and wildflowers blooming... but no bobcats were out that early in the day. Darn...











We finished the hike at an old railway trestle, which made for a good photo op.














For dinner, Jim was again put to work in his alternative job as GrillMeister. He did such a superb job that My Lovely Bride suggested quietly that I get some tips from the expert. Hey, I could be a lot more proficient with lots of practice on a big grill on a wide deck overlooking the desert in Santa Fe! (I tried to remind MLB that BBQing wasn't a frequent event aboard Navy destroyers in the North Atlantic in the dead of winter...) 






Just as we were finishing dinner, Mother Nature gave us a gift to complement the hospitality of Jann and Jim Oliver and the gift of Jim's awesome, inspired music... this gorgeous sunset, which confirmed that they had made an excellent decision in moving to Santa Fe.


 






The scene became even more dramatic with the last minutes before darkness, a fitting way to end an unforgettable visit with the Olivers. You can learn more about Jim's exquisitely beautiful music at http://www.jimolivermusic.com/ 









Sunday, June 14, 2015

Solar Generator; Buffalo Bill; Two Stars in Vegas; Short Drivers; Flagstaff Part 1; Haggis


We departed Fresno after seeing Liz off at the airport, and headed east. During the trip across the Mojave Desert, we saw this odd sight, three tall towers with thousands of mirrors in circular arrays reflecting sunlight at huge solar panels (that are actually boilers). It was a dazzling sight, like something from a Star Wars movie. It is the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, the largest solar thermal power station in the world. Costing $2.2 billion, it has a 392 megawatt capacity, but has only achieved half of that output due to "clouds, contrails and weather." (Gee, isn't California in a drought???  That was a meteorological question, not a political barb...)


Just across the Nevada state line, I was appalled to note this garish marquee for a casino, named after one of my heroes...


















William F. Cody (1846-1917), also known as Buffalo Bill, was an Army scout, a ranch hand, Pony Express rider, wagon train driver, buffalo hunter, fur trapper and showman. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry in action at Platte River in 1873. His Wild West Show played across the US and Europe, and brought Native Americans/Indians front and center, employing many in his shows. Seen here with Oglala Sioux chief Sitting Bull, he described them as "the former foe, present friend, the American". As a result of his Wild West Shows, Buffalo Bill Cody was asserted to be the most recognizable celebrity on earth. Cody also was a supporter of equal rights and pay for women, and was an early conservationist, pushing for establishment of hunting seasons. I never read that he was into gambling, and that industry is mostly run by wise guys from Jersey and Vegas, not Medal of Honor winners...












Shortly after passing that casino, we needed fuel. My Lovely Bride had an interesting conversation with the clerk at a Pilot truck stop. She had gone in to pay in cash (cheaper price for diesel) and said, "I'd like to put $150 on Number 17. Oh, I'm not in Vegas yet..." The smiling young male cashier said, "Ma'am, you have about as good a chance of keeping that $150. This is private, I presume?" "What, I don't look like a trucker?" "You'd be surprised what I've seen in here today. I had a man in full women's clothing come in, and he was a trucker." When Suzanne related this tale, my non-PC comment was, "Hey, it doubles your chances of getting a date..."






Then on to Las Vegas, where we were to meet a Pentagon colleague of Suzanne's and her husband. Col Jill Chambers, US Army (Ret), had worked with Suzanne on the staff of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), and was the emcee at Suzanne's retirement ceremony. I remembered her as a pixie-ish blonde dynamo with unbelievable energy and enthusiasm - much like My Lovely Bride, except for the hair color. Jill had sent Suzanne an email saying something like, "Gee, your life has changed since the Pentagon!" Jill was recently inducted into the US Army Women's Hall of Fame for her work with This Able Vet, a non-profit which she founded, that helps veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She was also recognized as a "Next Maker"  by AOL and PBS as a Trailblazer whose intellectual, physical and emotional strength have opened doors, opened minds and inspired change.  We were looking forward to seeing Jill again and meeting her husband, country and western singer Michael Peterson. They live in a beautiful home on the northwest side of Las Vegas. Their wall decorations are a bit different than most people's; that's Michael's Gold Record "From Here to Eternity", which hit #1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs in 1997; he has 5 Top 40 Hits in that genre. 




Michael has also made a mark with the military by touring with the USO, and performing in Iraq, Afghanistan, and aboard deployed Navy ships. He was gracious enough to sing several songs for us that evening, and we were impressed both by his voice, lyrics and guitar skills.... (he has a room full of guitars, by the way). 











Jill has one unfortunate affliction... she suffers from the "Imelda Marcos Syndrome", although instead of stilettos and pumps, Jill collects "Chuck Taylor" sneakers... I had to Google them to find out that they are cult sneakers for women. Seems she has a pair to match any possible color outfit. (Side note: while in college, I worked for a while as a shoe salesman in an upscale department store; my boss told me that the best way to sell shoes to women was to gently rub the back of their calves as you placed the shoes on their feet. I initially thought he was nuts, but after two weeks of mediocre results with traditional sales techniques, I tried following his suggestion and my shoe sales skyrocketed, with nary a single complaint. I occasionally wonder what life might have been like had I continued in that line of work...) 



After that delightful evening with Jill and Michael, I dropped Suzanne off at the Las Vegas airport for her next commitment, as keynote speaker at the Aspects of Consciousness Conference in Chapel Hill, NC, sponsored by the Academy for Spiritual and Consciousness Studies. Her first presentation, "Getting Out of the Box... Redefining What is Real", received a standing ovation. She also presented her "Awakened Living 301" talk and held a Sanaya session. Quite a few of her friends attended, including Beth and Mike Pasakarnis (Wolf's parents), Scott and Robin Brown, and Bev Garlipp.  Suzanne especially enjoyed being with so many kindred spirits and colleagues such as Dr. Gary and Rhonda Schwartz and famed energy worker Donna Eden.   From all accounts, it was a great week.


After Suzanne departed, I broke camp and drove the coach from Las Vegas to Flagstaff, Arizona, for several days of hiking. The drive was long, but it really helped to have Rudy and Gretchen help with the driving. I was initially concerned about their legs not reaching the pedals, but with some adjustments, they did just fine, although Gretchen has a tendency to bark loudly at drivers who cut in too close in front of her. Rudy, like his Dog-Dad, prefers to use the air horn; I guess it's a guy thing...




Flagstaff was a great place to hang out for a few days. There are dozens of hiking trails nearby, and I chose one of the hardest for my first venture: Elden Mountain Lookout trail in Coconino National Forest climbs about 2,600 feet in 2.8 miles, but the first part is relatively flat, making the middle and third sections very steep. This is the trail elevation profile... it was probably the steepest trail I've ever hiked.












As I was ascending, I met a young trail runner headed back down. Mark Harker is from Alloa, Scotland, and is spending his summer holiday driving across the USA. His car had broken down, so while it was being repaired, he decided to do some hiking. He was moving at a very fast pace downhill, but warned that the trail got pretty steep up ahead. Oh, to be in my 20s or 30s again...









Mark and I discussed the relative merits of Scotland's principal contribution to haute cuisine, haggis. He was somewhat surprised to find that I actually liked haggis, which for the uninitiated is sheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs), mixed with onions, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, and baked in a sheep's stomach. (It tastes better than it sounds). Served with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes), haggis is also traditionally accompanied by a wee nip of Scotch whiskey, especially on Burns Night, the birthday of Robert Burns. Mark, I hope the rest of your trip goes well and that you continue to enjoy America.


  
I had to take a selfie at the top to prove that I had completed the hike, and wasn't at some girlie bar by the college. The temp here was 52F, but having worked up a sweat on the way up, it was actually quite pleasant. Until it started raining. (But, being a former Boy Scout, I was prepared; my Marmot rain jacket came in handy just after this photo was shot).






Flagstaff would prove to be a pleasant, although lonely, stopping place for five days until we met up with Suzanne in Albuquerque, another 330 miles to the east. The only disappointment was my inability to find haggis on the menu of any restaurant in town. Guess I'll have to go back to Scotland for that culinary delight!