Thursday, July 30, 2015

Vermont or Ver-Mud? The Long Trail; Grits and Sugar Rush; What, No Wi-Fi or Showers?

We arrived in Rutland, Vermont, on Friday for Suzanne to have some urgent dental work performed. One of the sometimes difficult aspects of traveling for six months a year is arranging for medical, dental and veterinary services in towns scattered around the USA. (The vet work would be for Rudy and Gretchen, not Der Blogmeister, although I have been known to be “in the dog house" at times). About six weeks ago, when the pain started, we looked ahead to somewhere that we would be for a few days so she could have a crown made. Then Suzanne had to call our retired Navy dental insurance provider, look up local dentists who accepted that insurance (a much smaller number than the aggregate), and find one with an open appointment during our window in Rutland. She was relieved when she found an accommodating dentist and finally got in the chair for the work to be done. We celebrated by having a meal out; we also got to dress up a bit - and since the dental anesthesia had worn off, MLB wasn't drooling. Smack! (Gee, I knew I shouldn't have mentioned that...) 

I was happy that she got her crown work completed quickly, for two reasons: her pain was gone and I was free to go backpacking on the Long Trail/Appalachian Trail near Rutland. For the uninitiated, the Long Trail is actually the oldest established trail in the USA, having been built from 1910 to 1930. It runs 273 miles from the Massachusetts/Vermont state line to the Canadian border (for north-bounders, or “NoBos”) and the reverse for ”SoBos”. From Mass to Killington, VT, the Long Trail is shared with the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mt. Katahdin, Maine, a total of 2,185 miles. The section I would be hiking was miniscule compared to the entire AT or LT, but for an old geezer, it would be a decent workout.

My Lovely Bride would be staying behind watching Rudy and Gretchen and recovering from her dental work. I knew that she would have preferred to be out in the woods sweating and getting bitten by mosquitoes and horse flies, but she graciously agreed to keep the home fires burning and care for the pups. She dropped me off at a very gloomy trailhead that reminded me of the forest in The Hobbit. The trail sign even looks like it's being devoured by shrubs and vines. 

Over the next few hours I came to realize that the state in which I was hiking was mis-named. Vermont is adapted from the French, Vert(e) Mont, meaning Green Mountain, which also happens to be the given name for the range of mountains here. But I determined that the more accurate name of our 14th state should be Ver-Mud… the trails I was following were more than a little muddy… they were veritable streams of mud… and mosquito-ridden to boot. I had read several blogs that said when hiking the Long Trail, you had better steel yourself for having wet boots and socks for the duration. It was an accurate prediction. Part of the reason for wet boots and socks was the mud and puddles, of course, but the worst part of the trip was when I was crossing a brook and fell in. It was not a raging torrent. Nor was it a cascading cataract. This relatively modest stream was almost benign, except for the fact that the rocks were as slippery as if they had been glazed in glass or black ice - at least that was my impression when crossing rocks covered with moss and lichen. Even my two trusty trekking poles didn’t prevent my feet from sliding out from under me, depositing their owner ingloriously on his side in a foot of chilly water. The water was fresh, of course, but the Sailor Words which erupted from my mouth were actually quite salty. Fortunately, my camera was on the high side of my water-soaked body and my sleeping bag and spare clothes were wrapped in plastic garbage bags and thus came out dry. Even more fortunate was the fact that this misadventure was unobserved by other hikers… the only damage was a bruise or two and a few nicks on my left hand and wrist, which had taken the brunt of the force of the fall. 

A few hours later I was chatting with a “shelter caretaker” at Little Rock Pond. Sabory works 5 days on, 2 off, all summer and until mid-October, at the Little Rock Pond LT/AT Shelter. She stays in a large tent on a wooden platform that keeps some of the creepy-crawlies at bay. 

The Little Rock Pond shelter was relatively new, roomy and very clean. There was even a composting privy, a nice feature that many shelters on the Appalachian Trail do not have. (This allows one to skip digging a cat-hole and burying solid waste...) I shared this shelter with three other guys, all through-hikers, and I will admit to not getting a very restful night’s sleep because of one individual’s heavy snoring. 

The shelter is located near a beautiful pond of the same name. There are said to be fish here, but as I hadn't gotten a Vermont license, the fish were safe. (No smart comments, Bob.) 

Over the next few days I met a dozen or so through-hikers, many in their fourth month of hiking the AT. These hikers, almost all male, do not use their real names, but “trail names” normally given by fellow through-hikers. Two bear special mention; both were very friendly and both happened to be from Georgia. “Grits” is a NoBo from Valdosta, and bears a striking resemblance to a famous country and western singer. He related that “Grits is not just a food; it’s a way of life.” Grits is on his second leg of his AT hike, having had surgery that took him off the trail for a year. But he is now only 500 miles or so from Mt. Katahdin and in fine form.

“Sugar Rush” is a SoBo from Dalton, Georgia, and got his trail name from having run low on food in southern Maine. He kept going by eating dozens of packets of sugar from a diner. Here we see him in a hammock rigged under a tarp; he chose this rig over a tent or shelter for comfort and privacy. It also allows him to stop virtually whenever and wherever he wants, rather than being obliged to stop at shelters (which are found about every 5-7 miles). 

Der Blogmeister apologies for the tardiness of this blog, but Internet access in rural Vermont and New Hampshire has been a challenge. Primitive shelters do not have Wi-Fi, Keurig coffeemakers, cold beer, or even hot showers... Damn! (Well, for $5, and then only if there is a caretaker, what do you expect?)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Photo Quiz; Renaissance Unity; "Isn't That Interesting"; Text Stop; St. Johnsville, NY

Okay, it's been awhile since we've had a photo quiz, so here's a new one. I liked the architecture here, and took this photo as we were passing through town. Name the building (somewhere in the Midwest, possibly in Indiana or Michigan), and its location, and you win!

After departing Indianapolis, we headed up to Michigan. Suzanne's next engagement was in the Detroit area, specifically Warren, Michigan, at Renaissance Unity, one of the largest Unity churches in the USA. Here she is, in front of the electronic display inside the church, the day before the screening of Messages of Hope, the documentary about her transition from naval officer to evidential medium...

We met Renaissance Unity's Minister, Jim Lee, and His Lovely Bride Lisa, who is Director of Education at RU. Lisa had been instrumental in bringing Suzanne to Detroit, since their first meeting at the Awaken World Film Festival in Santa Barbara. Jim is also a veteran, having served in the Air Force (but we didn't hold that against him). 

The documentary screening and Suzanne's Making the Connection talk were both very well attended and received, thanks in large part to Rev. Jim Lee's enthusiastic introduction of Suzanne at both Sunday services and to Lisa's planned expansion of spiritual and afterlife-related topics for the congregation.

From Detroit, we headed for New York. We saved 150 miles of driving by crossing into Canada from Michigan instead of driving south and east through Ohio. The only extra costs were having to Fedex some Mace and bear repellant to our destination campground in Vermont (it isn't allowed in pacifist/socialist Canada), and some frustration in watching the coach's door smacked into a steel pylon by a numbskull Border and Customs Enforcement Agent at the US entry point in New York. How did this happen? He decided to inspect the coach (which I fully support, considering the threat to the Homeland that exists today), but he apparently forgot to consider that our entry door would smash against the structure where he was standing and stepping up into our coach. (Yes, it was an "Isn't That Interesting" moment!)

We had another one of those "Isn't That Interesting" moments on the Interstate in New York this week. I normally check tire pressures, engine oil, transmission fluid, and engine coolant every day or two, but had neglected to check engine coolant level closely enough (since coolant temps were in the "green", or normal, range, for several days. Imagine my surprise when I got a dashboard alert of "Low coolant level" while driving at 65 mph on I-90. Temps were all normal, but the engine started losing power, as the electronic controls evidently were programmed to shut the engine down "just in case". Fortunately, there was enough room on the shoulder to pull over, get out one of my three jugs of spare coolant, and top off the reservoir. But it was a bit unnerving to do that minor task with semis hurtling by a few feet away at 70 mph... as we say in the Navy, it was "a learning opportunity".

Shortly after that experience, we looked for a rest stop to change drivers. As we pulled off the Interstate, this sign re-naming the "rest stop" reminded us of the new generation of drivers with distractions other than billboards and scenery... 

We spent our first night in New York at Four Mile Creek State Park on Lake Ontario, a beautiful, quiet state park. The next morning, we continued east, arriving in a waterside city park and campground on the Mohawk River, in the small village of St. Johnsville, late in the day. It looked to be another delightful spot, but appearances can be deceiving... 

We were not warned by the staff or other campground residents that nightfall brings constant rail traffic on the tracks 50 yards behind our campsite. From 2200 (10 PM) until we departed at 1000 the next morning, trains roared past every 20 minutes, blowing their whistles!!! It was one of the worst night's sleep ever, and even My Lovely Bride (whose father was an AMTRAK engineer) complained; we were bleary-eyed and tired when we got up, vowing we would never again camp that near a train track... This was the up close and personal view of a passing train when I walked Rudy and Gretchen the next morning behind our coach. 

Evidently the lack of train traffic from our arrival in the late afternoon until bedtime was due to ongoing rail maintenance down the line. While Suzanne was giving a reading the next morning, I went for a walk across an overpass above the tracks and observed these 40 or so maintenance guys getting a briefing before starting work. The supervisor was calling out info, and his subordinates were all writing in small notebooks. It looked a bit surreal... 

The rail crews were about to embark on their duties aboard this line of rail repair cars.


I would have liked to have gone out for a few hours on one of these cool rail repair cars to watch their work, but our time was limited...

But I did have time to walk about town for 45 minutes and take in the architecture of a New York country village. Some buildings were charming, some neat and well-maintained, and others were... well... you be the judge...



Friday, July 17, 2015

Unity Village Weekend Retreat; Indianapolis Event; Ty with a Beard? Boots and Grapes

This past Friday found us near Kansas City, Missouri, at Unity Village’s Awaken Whole Life Center. Suzanne presented five separate modules as part of a three-day, weekend retreat, and Unity Village had graciously offered to host the event at their beautiful, serene campus.  

Eighty-four attendees assembled from across the country for the retreat; many had heard Suzanne speak before and wanted a full weekend of Love with her. She started Friday evening with her "Getting Out of the Box" talk to set the stage for what was to follow.  



Saturday morning and afternoon Suzanne got into the details of how to connect with Higher Consciousness, including an extended lesson on meditation.  All present got to experience the debut of the meditation Jim Oliver and Suzanne recently recorded together at Jim's studio in Santa Fe.  The excitement during the day was palpable, with many people saying that they had an epiphany...

On Saturday evening, Suzanne had a session with Sanaya that left everyone spellbound. Very few attendees had experienced that energy, and it was a magical evening. That was followed by her Awakened Living workshop Sunday morning with surprises for everyone.  The weekend concluded with a unique event.  Suzanne had asked that each person bring a twig that day (this tied in with part of the morning's lesson), and then she led everyone along Unity Village’s labyrinth path to the center (a former Boy Scout who shall go nameless had built a fire in a fire pit), where they deposited their twigs, representing part of their ego self that they were ready to leave behind. 

At the end of the twig ceremony, Suzanne shared energy with each attendee by holding hands and saying a few words. Then everyone formed a circle for the final farewell.

I have been to most of Suzanne's presentations, but this three-day weekend retreat left even me speechless and in awe... The response from all of the attendees was so gratifying that Suzanne has already scheduled another weekend at Unity Village next summer (24-25-26 June 2016).

From Kansas City we drove to Indianapolis, Indiana, where Suzanne would be presenting her Making the Connection talk. We had dinner on Tuesday evening with Rev Bob Uhlig and Rev Carla Golden, the ministers at Unity of Indianapolis. Carla prepared a delicious meal, and we got to know each other well in a couple of hours, with many opportunities to laugh. Bob even brought out their parrot, Joey; Suzanne asked whether Joey ever had an “accident” on his shoulder; Bob smiled and said, “Well, I try to transfer him to a guest’s shoulder before that happens…”  (Astute observers may recognize that Carla, Suzanne and Bob are all wearing blue shirts... as was I... with no prior coordination!)

Suzanne’s event the next night was well-received by a full house. Several attendees had driven in from Louisville, Kentucky, and Dayton, Ohio. 

My old Battleship IOWA (BB-61) shipmate Master Chief Dale Hilliard and His Lovely Bride Becky also drove down from Laotto, IN, for the event. We were able to have dinner with them the next evening at St. James in Avilla, the oldest restaurant in Indiana. (I asked Suzanne how I would look with an Old Sea Dog beard like Dale's. She thought about for a minute and said, "Ty, that would not be a good decision.")

On a more prosaic and somewhat less spiritual note, we were driving down the Interstate, Your Humble Correspondent at the wheel and His Lovely Bride working on her computer, when I said, “Sweetheart, I’m thinking about getting a pair of cowboy boots…” Without lifting her eyes from her computer, she said, “Ty, what are you talking about? You don’t have a horse, and your riding skills are somewhat limited, as I can verify from personal observation a few years ago.” (I thought that was a bit saucy of her, but what can you do?) “Well, My Darling, I think at least I could stop at Chuck’s Boots and try on a pair just to see how they fit and look, don’t you think?” She looked up at me and then out the window and said, “Ty, you are in a world of trouble…”  

Finally, I have a serious admission to make. Sometimes even I make a mistake. It happened just this week, in fact. The event shocked me… I had been directed to the grocery to pick up a few things, including grapes. I know that Suzanne prefers seedless grapes, and I thought that I was picking up that variety; but when I got back to the coach, she commented, “Oh, they didn’t have seedless, eh?” “Oh, darn, did I get the wrong kind again? I fix!” I went to work with a steak knife and started dissecting the seedy grapes, turning them into tasty, seedless snacks. MLB was so impressed by my work that she took a photo, which surprised me. I didn’t think that un-seeding grapes was a big deal, but evidently she did… 

Friday, July 10, 2015

A New Dress; St Louis CSL Event; Rain, Rain, Rain; Kathy Tristan and A Very Cool Medical Lab; CHO Cells; Ty as Igor?

In a Huge Husbandly Blunder, I neglected to include this photo of My Lovely Bride in my last post. She is showing off the beautiful flowers that Catherine Chiesa had most thoughtfully given her the night we got together for dinner, and the new dress she had found in a small boutique in Lake Bluff, Illinois. It's not often that we go out for a dinner when she can dress up - my normal choice of dining establishments, Waffle House, does not have a very rigorous dress code... unless you think that shoes and a shirt are demanding.

We departed Great Lakes Naval Training Center on the 4th of July, heading south on the Interstate to St. Louis. Normally we like to drive on state highways to visit the small towns and cities that have been bypassed by the Interstate highways, but Suzanne's speaking schedule is so busy this summer that we have had to rely on highways with higher speed limits to save time. 

Our next campground was in the city of St. Peters, Missouri, just south of the Missouri River, which was in flood stage. The area has had 12 consecutive weekends of rain, and while everything was very green, the Big Mo was spilling over its banks. Fortunately for the Independence Day holiday weekend, we enjoyed three days of warm, sunny weather before rain returned on Tuesday. Five nights in St. Peters allowed us to bike on paved bike paths, a good thing since the mountain bike trails were muddy or closed due to flooding. We also took advantage of the town's RecPlex, which has a natatorium, weight room, cardio room, basketball courts, and even a hockey rink. Just a few minutes before this image was taken, the rink was mobbed with kids on skates. Suzanne went back to the car later to get the camera, and by the time she returned, the ice rink had closed and was deserted. I mentioned to My Lovely Bride that I had thought about grabbing my skates and a stick and practicing my slap shots... she guffawed and asked with a sly smile, "Oh, were you also a hockey star back in New Orleans, as well as being a downhill ski racer on Monkey Hill in City Park?" (She has a really good memory about some of my stories.) 

Before the rains came, we enjoyed an afternoon exploring the quaint town of St. Charles, MO.  This is one of the oldest towns in Missouri, having been settled by French Canadians in 1769. St. Charles' Old Town has been very well preserved... even to its only slightly bumpy cobblestone streets.

History buffs may recall that St. Charles was the rendezvous site of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in May, 1804. President Thomas Jefferson had commissioned the expedition, called the Corps of Discovery, shortly after the Louisiana Purchase agreement with France in 1803. It would turn out to be one of the most important and successful expeditions in American history. Two US Army officers, Captain Merriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark, were chosen by the president to lead the expedition. Lewis went to Philadelphia to study botany, mathematics, cartography, and anatomy, while Clark spent months with Jefferson at Monticello preparing for the expedition. Jefferson was one of the most brilliant Americans living, and had an amazing library and a laboratory with many scientific instruments.

Lewis and Clark led a group of 33 men (and ultimately, one Shoshone Indian woman, Sacajawea) from Missouri to the Pacific Ocean and back, mapping mountains and rivers, dealing with 70 Indian tribes, naming over 200 new species of plants and animals, and being chased by dozens of grizzly bears. They were also almost attacked by four larger groups of heavily armed Spanish soldiers sent from Mexico to stop their expedition, but Lewis and Clark's rapid progress across Nebraska kept them ahead of the Spaniards.  


Now, to the reason for our returning to St. Louis... Suzanne spoke at both Sunday services at the Center for Spiritual Living on Fee Fee Road. She had been invited back by Rev. Marigene DeRusha, and we had enjoyed the CSL community so much that it was an easy decision to come back to Cardinal land. Then on Tuesday evening, she gave her Awakened Living 301 presentation to a very large and enthusiastic group in the CSL sanctuary.  

Special thanks go out to Marcia Walton for her warm introduction and discussion of the benefits of Suzanne's S.O.A.R! course; we may have to get a larger coach to take Marcia on tour with us next summer - she is amazing!  

Another CSL member we need to recognize is Kathy Tristan, author of "Why Worry? Stop Coping and Start Living". (You can order her excellent book on Amazon.) Kathy is also a medical laboratory director at Washington University's Medical School, and took the day off to give us a guided tour of her lab. It was an amazing day, and we learned so much about the fascinating world of medical science - I may have to go back and get a biology degree!

Kathy works in the Division of Rheumatology, on the 10th floor of the Medical School, which is also a teaching hospital. This is a huge facility, with about 5,000 staff, and treats 430,000 patients every year in two major hospitals and 35 office locations in the St. Louis metro area. Kathy teaches doctors, PhD candidates/graduates, and medical lab techs about medical research.

Kathy got official and donned her white lab coat for our tour and training. Did I say "training"? Yes, she thought that we might be marginally trainable as brand new, off-the-street lab tech interns, and gave us the initial "hand-eye coordination" and "this is a pipette and how to work it" lectures. My Lovely Bride seemed to pick it up pretty quickly - she was once a qualified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), so her interest in this area runs deep.

This image shows Apprentice Lab Tech Suzy skillfully dispensing .005 mL of harmless water from a single-channel pipette into a test tube. Kathy had me do the same, but may have been put off when I asked if I could have one of the pipettes to more accurately mix my gins and tonic... (I just looked on line to order one, and found that they run a steep $225-$298 per pipette... I'll stick to my $2 USMC shot glass!)

Next Kathy showed us this small tabletop centrifuge, used for separating DNA and blood samples (and mixing 007's martini?) These things spin at 10,000-15,000 rpm, and cost about $3,000-$4,000 each. The larger versions are much more expensive. 

Next came the liquid nitrogen freezers for snacks and pizza... oops, they are actually for freezing tissue and blood samples... down to about -220F, which is still not as cold as Coon Rapids, Minnesnowta, gets during October cold snaps. Kathy donned a really snappy-looking blue glove to pull these samples, otherwise her fingers would have been frozen solid in seconds. The nitrogen spilling out of the freezer reminded me of scenes from one of my all-time favorite medical research movies, Young Frankenstein. But we won't go there, in deference to Kathy and her colleagues...     


We next visited the electron microscopy lab, with some of the coolest equipment I've ever seen. How would you like to be able to look into the structure of a cell, and be able to look at strands of DNA? Here we see Wandy Beatty, the lab director, trying to explain to Der Blogmeister and His Lovely Bride the inner workings of the electron microscope, the piece of equipment on the left (and you can only see about half of it!) This is NOT your high school chemistry lab piece of equipment... 

The history major in our group (Your Humble Correspondent) was having a tough time understanding how one can peer into the nucleus of a cell, the image of which on a computer monitor looks to be the size of a baseball. A trained observer can pick out mitochondria, individual viruses, DNA and proteins, and tell whether a cell is healthy or dying. (Absolutely incredible... we were stunned by the views of slices of cells currently in the microscope shown in these images.)

Back in her lab, Kathy showed us her colleague Richard Hauhart working in the lab. We watched for a few minutes as he worked with specialized flasks in which millions of antibody-producing cells are continuously growing. These cells secrete specific kinds of antibody proteins into the liquid of the chamber. First he removed the old media (containing the antibody protein), saves it for later purification, and then he pipettes new 'food' into it. The food is a cherry Koolaid-colored type of nutrient liquid that needs to be replenished about twice a week (but bet it doesn't taste that good, except to the cells!).  The box of medical equipment waste next to him was filling up slowly but surely. It would later be incinerated to ensure its safe disposal. I asked Kathy about the expense involved in lab tests and pharmaceutical development, and she reminded me that it is not unusual for development of a new drug to cost around $1 Billion!!! (And that probably doesn't include legal fees when the scum-sucking sharks gather in a feeding frenzy in one of their favorite feeding troughs, "Big Pharma".)

This poster on a lab refrigerator door requires some explanation, unless you're a medical lab tech. CHO cells are derived from Chinese Hamster Ovaries. The cell lines are used for biological and medical research (such as genetics, toxicity screening, nutrition and gene expression) as well as in the commercial production of therapeutic proteins. 

Kathy tried to explain the nature of endoplastic reticulum, a type of organelle in the cells of eukaryotic organisms that forms a network of flattened, membrane-enclosed sacs or tubes called cisternae. I think she was worried about me for a moment - my eyes were glazing over and my breathing became shallow and rapid. (Biology was never my strong suit.)

All in all, our day with Kathy was one of the most interesting we've ever spent anywhere, and we were very grateful for her time and the 35 years of knowledge and experience she shared with us so graciously. Kathy even offered me a summer internship in her lab... it's a tempting offer; wearing a lab coat would be tres chic... but a black hooded cape would be even more fun, a la Igor (Marty Feldman)...