Saturday, August 29, 2015

Return to Prison; Delaware; A Viper! Fort Belvoir; Old Friends; Touched By An Angel

While in Newport, RI, Suzanne dragged me out on a run around the base. She particularly wanted to return to the location of her first prison cell, King Hall. Okay, it wasn't really a prison; it was actually Naval Officer Candidate School (OCS), where she spent 16 weeks during the summer of 1983. While several 12 Meter racing yachts were practicing for the upcoming America's Cup on Narragansett Bay, just outside her window, she had to learn how to march, repair broken water pipes, fight oil fires and navigate by the stars. 

Some nautical trivia: King Hall was named for Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, USN, a five-star admiral who served as Commander-in-Chief, US Fleet, and Chief of Naval Operations during World War II. A graduate of the US Naval Academy Class of 1901, he was one of few senior officers with sea duty assignments in destroyers, submarines and aircraft carriers. He qualified as a naval aviator at age 47, and while at the Naval War College, wrote a paper reflecting that America's greatest weakness was representative democracy, and that "Historically ... it is traditional and habitual for us to be inadequately prepared. This is the combined result of a number of factors, the character of which is only indicated: democracy, which tends to make everyone believe that he knows it all; the preponderance (inherent in democracy) of people whose real interest is in their own welfare as individuals; the glorification of our own victories in war and the corresponding ignorance of our defeats (and disgraces) and of their basic causes; the inability of the average individual (the man in the street) to understand the cause and effect not only in foreign but domestic affairs, as well as his lack of interest in such matters. Added to these elements is the manner in which our representative form of government has developed as to put a premium on mediocrity and to emphasize the defects of the electorate already mentioned." (I find that I agree with every one of  the good admiral's points...)

As we were leaving Newport, just a few days after Suzanne's presentation of The Celebration of Wolf's Message in Plymouth, this image appeared on the back of our car. Apparently formed by artistic seagulls, it looks very much like a wolf howling at the moon. Another one of life's synchronicities...

Our summer tour continued south with a stop in Delaware, but purely for family and R&R purposes. Suzanne's Lovely Sister Janice and her new husband Steve live in a beautiful home backing up to a state park, but the highlight of our brief visit (other than spending time with the newlyweds) was not hiking - it was getting to know a Viper. Not the snake kind, of course, since vipers are not indigenous to Delaware. This Viper was a beautiful black sports car that Steve and Janice had just ordered from a dealer in the Midwest. It arrived in a closed trailer and in pristine condition. Steve took both Suzanne and me out (separately) for a spin, and the acceleration was even more impressive than we had expected. This was Steve's sixth Viper; in fact, he had raced his previous cars back in the '90s, but he alleges that this one is just for fun. 

After our road tests, Barkeep Janice broke out a nice Chardonnay and showed us their home, furnished with some eclectic pieces like this bar which could have come from a small hotel. We toured around and had dinner out at one of Steve's favorite Italian restaurants (he's lived in Newark, DE, his entire life) and learned about running a small business. We also took a walk on the Wilmington, DE, Riverwalk, and played a round of putt-putt (miniature golf). It was a fun visit, but way too short...

The next day found us driving south down the scenic and bucolic DELMARVA peninsula on US-301 and across the Annapolis-Kent Island Bay Bridge to our campground at Fort Belvoir, just off the Potomac River on Accotink Bay. This would be my base for a few days while Suzanne took AMTRAK from DC's Union Station to Penn Station, NYC, and up the Hudson on to Rheinbeck, NY. She was a keynote speaker at the Omega Institute, along with Dr. Gary Schwartz and Dr. Eban Alexander. 

While Suzanne was away, I indulged my PT desires with the rowing machine at the base gym, hiking the forest trails of the Accotink National Wildlife Preserve, kayaking Accotink Bay and bicycling around the base. Paddling one morning alone on the bay proved a meditative blessing; for more than an hour there were no other boats around, and I was able to enjoy the many birds resident there. These laughing gulls on old pilings were obviously used to human company, and allowed me to paddle very close to them. Several osprey out fishing were less companionable, keeping a wide distance from my kayak. 

Mellow paddling that morning allowed me to reflect on the reflections of the sun in my paddle swirls... I tried to distinguish a pattern, but it kept dissolving and reforming, like swirling clouds in a thunderstorm.

During my hikes, I was able to try out a new water filter I had gotten for lightweight backpacking. My old MSR Sweetwater purifier weighs in at 14.6 ounces and takes up about 10 times more space than my new 2.0 ounce Sawyer Mini filter. 12.6 ounces less weight to carry might not sound like much, but when you're carrying a backpack at 10,000 feet, you try to cut weight in every possible way you can. The new filter works like this: you fill a plastic water bottle in a stream with "dirty" water, screw the mini filter in place, and either suck through the short, straw-like outlet or squeeze the water bottle to push stream water through the filter into another container. Stream water, even in the high country, can contain minute contamination in the form of bacteria (such as salmonella or e. coli) or protozoa (such as giardia or cryptosporidium). If you drink untreated water, these little nasties wouldn't often prove fatal, but could give you a case of Montezuma's Revenge, an altogether unnecessary and undesirable ailment. 

When Suzanne returned, we went hiking together on some pleasant trails and found her a brief resting place on this tree with an unusual horizontal bend in its trunk.

The forest here is lush, and there were many interesting mushrooms, lichens and fungi to observe... 

We were happy to be able to meet our daughter Susan's best friend from high school while in the DC area. Hannah Yeronick, daughter of an Air Force colonel, works as a contractor for the intelligence services and is in the midst of planning a gala wedding. We know that Susan will be there in spirit and celebrating that event with Hannah. 

Another fun social event was getting together with award-winning author William (Bill) Hammond and his sons Harrison and Churchill on the waterfront in Old Town Alexandria. We had a great time catching up on their exploits; Bill will soon be moving back to Wayzata, Minnesnowta, just in time for winter; Harrison is getting ready to head to Fort Benning as a newly commissioned US Army Second Lieutenant; and Churchill continues working on his master's degree in Washington.

Finally, while on my final hike in the woods near Fort Belvoir, where daughter Susan and I had hiked several times together when she was a teenager, I had a spiritual experience that took my breath away. It was early morning, and I hadn't seen anyone for over an hour. I was hiking along in my usual meditative state, generally aware of my surroundings, when I felt a hand on my right arm - a touch strong enough to make me turn to the right. Imagine my surprise when I saw that there was no one in sight. My heart raced, and I came to the conclusion that Susan had generated enough energy to briefly make her presence known on the trail where we had hiked years earlier. I had to sit down for a few minutes on a log to collect my wits; it was an amazing moment, almost bringing me to tears.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"Name That Girl" Contest Winner

I would like to thank all the entrants in the Name That Girl Contest for their submissions. Some were thoughtful, some whimsical, some serious; at least one included some downright naughty thoughts; a few even gave me advice... a representative sample of submissions follows:

- Kailani - sea and sky
- Oli Olive
- Hula Hottie
- Luluty
- Wobblin' Wikiwiki
- Lolita
- Kaholo Kali
- Kahula Sue
- Huli Huli
- Angel - "She is there to protect and guide you when Suzanne is not available.  With a name like angel she will also protect you from the temptations that you so frequently lament about.  She and Suzanne can be a team!"
- O-me-li-ka-ty (Honorable mention)
- Contessa
- Kainalu - ocean that billows
- Nomalonelea (Honorable mention)
- Kailea - means Baby Doll
- Ululani - divine inspiration
- Nani Wahine
- Beulah

- From Brenda Baker: "I have put virtually no thought into this. I am fully aware that must also be the state you were in when designing this contest. I have two suggestions: Miss Sour Grapes - such is the state of any points you earned unseeding the grapes. That was then; this is now. Poor Ty. Shegonna - as in, she gonna kick your ass if you keep this up." (Thanks a lot, Brenda!)

- And finally, from Lynn Spence: "Ok, Sailor. You've let I-95 get to you. Suzanne is back on board now so naming the plastic hula girl should be way down on your list. Find a body of water, sit and meditate beside it. Let your mind find balance again and do not, I repeat, DO NOT fixate on the gyrating Polynesian girl. It's for your own good."

Lynn and Brenda fall into the category of sometimes annoying sisters, looking over my shoulder and kibbitzing...  ;-)

Multiple entries (I'm talking 8 and 7 respectively) were received from Terri Horsmann and Gail Grossman. Either they are among my Most Devoted Readers or they have far too much time on their hands...
Making a decision was tough, but the entry that reflected my personality (not sure that's a good thing, in this case) and is the winner, was Hula Babe, from Connie England, in Devil's Lake, North Dakota. Connie wins a Polynesian dinner with Ty and Suzanne, if Der Blogmeister can get permission to dig a pit in The Villages to roast a pig... if not, a barbeque on the lanai will have to do...

Thanks to everyone who entered - you gave me and My Lovely Bride lots of laughs over the past few days!!!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Imbibo Ergo Sum; Newport, RI; Winch Wench; Size Does Matter; "Sir"; Morristown Event; Social Whirl; Name That Girl Contest

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind. Before leaving Massachusetts after Suzanne's events in Plymouth and Cambridge, we dallied in Mashpee for an estrogen fix (no, not for me!). Husbands will understand that this term means WOMEN'S CLOTHES SHOPPING!!!! While My Lovely Bride searched for feminine attire, I walked the puppies and took some photos. This playful sign over a local watering hole caught my eye; it is a modification of Rene Descartes' classic Latin phrase "Cogito ergo sum - I think, therefore I am"; the Latin word imbibo translates as "I drink". 

A short drive south from Cape Cod found us at a small, six-site Navy campground in Newport, Rhode Island, right on Narragansett Bay. Suzanne and I had both been stationed there for OCS, and I had five other short assignments there for schools and a shipboard tour on a frigate. We met one of Suzanne's sister officers, Commander Diane Stewart, for dinner at Jo's Bistro on Memorial Drive and had a delicious dinner and great conversation; regrettably, Der Blogmeister forgot his camera and thus the event has not been immortalized digitally... sigh. But we did remember to bring the camera when we went sailing with retired naval aviator Ben Riggs on his 31 foot Swedish Albin sloop. Here we see Ty in his element at the tiller on a perfect Newport afternoon - 75 degrees, 15-18 kt southwesterly breeze, and a light chop in Newport Harbor. Ben keeps his lovely boat "shipshape and Bristol fashion", a traditional term for the highest level of maintenance and upkeep. In fact, we had run by his slip the day before just to make sure we knew where to meet him, and he was in the water with mask and snorkel cleaning her bottom (that's a boat term...)

Not that I was hogging the tiller or anything, but here we see a lovely Winch Wench grinding on a jib sheet winch. Proper sail trim is important for efficient sailing and looking professional on the water, and Suzanne is proving that she knows what she is doing; after all, her how-to sailing book, "It's Your Boat, Too; A Woman's Guide to Greater Enjoyment on the Water" is still a very popular book for women sailors.

"Size does matter", at least in boat waterline length. In spite of our well-trimmed sails and superb steering, we were "eaten up" by this much larger Hinckley sloop. Built in Southwest Harbor, Maine, Hinckleys are among the best quality yachts in the world. This boat was smoking along close-hauled at 8 knots when she passed us.

This nice-looking power boat also passed us at speed, but "Duh, what did you expect?" The tiny, unassuming hovels in the background are probably owned by lawyers...

Our last event in Newport was dinner at a fish place in Melville Marina with Ben and His Lovely Bride, artist and author Lee Thornton. Some of you may remember the glowing endorsement Suzanne gave of Lee's excellent book on her near death experience, "Through Heaven's Gate and Back". The dinner was a superb end to our short visit to Newport, one of our favorite places in the world. We have occasionally talked of living in Newport, but we know that July, August and September weather are not exactly representative of the temperatures expected the rest of the year. In fact, when my Newport-based frigate went to sea into the North Atlantic in January, we had to have sailors with baseball bats on deck beating ice off the gun mounts to keep the ship's stability within limits.  

Our next event was in Morristown, NJ. After an "Isn't that interesting" trip down I-95 until we found all southbound lanes closed in Connecticut, forcing us to divert up to Hartford on small roads, we arrived at our campground between the towns of Flanders and Netcong, New Jersey, to find almost all of the sites filled with oil and gas pipeline workers from Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. Evidently there is a major pipeline being built or repaired nearby; most of the trucks in the campground were rigged with big portable pipeline welding equipment. Pipeline welders make $35 an hour, a good wage with lots of work (especially in North Dakota, where the wages are even higher). Most of their RVs had single guys aboard, but several had kids from toddler size to teenagers. I thought that the guys might get rowdy on Saturday night, but it was one of the quietest weekends we've enjoyed, far more sedate than our 4th of July experience when we had to call security at oh-dark-thirty because of noisy kids and adults. I spoke to Missy, a young mom of two from Monroe, Louisiana. She said, "I'll apologize in advance for my youngsters; they can be terrors." Her kids were just fine, very polite, even calling me "Sir". I seem to be called that more and more frequently these days, even by guys in their 40s and 50s; must be due to my distinguished visage...

On our first night in the Garden State, we had dinner with Jill and John Scott. Jill was instrumental in getting Suzanne invited to the Center for Spiritual Living (CSL) in Morristown. John works in Manhattan, which means a two-hour daily commute (each way). They were a treat, making us feel very welcome and finding a great Thai/Indonesian restaurant for our meal. I enjoyed the Indonesian nasi goreng immensely. John is also a wine enthusiast, and brought two fabulous bottles from his collection (the restaurant was BYOB; I haven't seen that in quite awhile); the St. Innocent Pinot Noir is now one of my all-time favorites. 

Sunday found us at the Morristown CSL for Suzanne's Making the Connection event. We were greeted by MCSL's inspirational minister, Rev. Frankie Timmers. Frankie was particularly kind to allow Rudy and Gretchen to hang out in her office (in their kennels, of course) during the Sunday service. 

Suzanne's Making the Connection event was well-attended by a friendly and enthusiastic group of spiritually-minded people. Elizabeth Magee is to be particularly commended for bringing almost every member of her New Jersey family! In fact, she also invited us to dinner at her niece Michelle's beautiful home only one mile from CSL. It was a real treat.

Finally, a comment on the Name That Girl Contest. I received many, many entries, some serious, some whimsical, some downright naughty... I just received another entry tonight, so will delay announcing the winner until the next blog. But I can say that as I write this blog post, My Lovely Bride is in Rhinebeck, NY, at the Omega Institute, while I am here in the coach in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, with Faithful Puppies Rudy and Gretchen, and a shapely hula dancer (who only wiggles when it's sunny) to keep me company...

Monday, August 17, 2015

Name That Girl Contest!!!

Okay, here's the deal: if you read my previous blog, you know that I am now traveling with a shapely young hula dancer who keeps me company while Suzanne is on travel. Unfortunately, she hasn't spoken to me, so I need your help in giving her an appropriate name. I am including  a short video to help inspire entrants. The winner will receive some appropriate prize which I have yet to identify. Please send your entries to Here she is, in all her glory, and thanks again to Joyce and Sharon for relieving my loneliness...

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Belated Birthday; Shake It, Baby! Vegetable Matters; Quiz Winner; Bike Trails; Elvis' Lover???

Der Blogmeister had a brain fart recently, and forgot to include photographic proof of taking His Lovely Bride to dinner for her birthday. Several readers have asked whether I took her to Denny's or Five Guys... I was terribly insulted by such accusations. Those fine restaurants are saved for Very Special Occasions. In fact, MLB and I dined at the Mount Washington Hotel, in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. Built in 1902 in Spanish Renaissance style, this is truly one of America's grand old hotels.

Of course, birthdays must be accompanied by presents, and Suzanne was thrilled by the outfit that Rudy and Gretchen had picked out for her. They had done lots of research on what would look good on their Dog-Mom...


... but the highlight for Rudy was helping unwrap the presents. This has been a tradition since he was a little puppy, and every holiday we celebrate with gifts requires that the R-Dog be allowed to help tear open the paper wrappers. Gretchen simply looks on with awe and wonder while Rudy shreds paper all over the floor and couch. 

Speaking of prezzies, I was happy to receive this thoughtful gift from friends Joyce and Sharon back in The Villages. Knowing that Suzanne was going to be away presenting several workshops across the country, they didn't want me to be lonely. This shapely young hula dancer has some excellent moves, and with some sunlight, is almost a perpetual motion machine; she is being very coy and hasn't given me her name yet, though...

"Vegetable Matters" has the ring of a produce market or a greengrocer's wares. What it means in this instance is the identity of two photos in a recent blog. The photos of a Tawny Day Lily (Hemerocallis fulva) and Golden Chanterelles (Cantherellus cibarius), seen in Vermont and New Hampshire, were identified by two floral experts among our Loyal Readers. The winner of this week's quiz is Gayle Hancock; Honorable Mention goes to Colette Sasina, who also identified the plants in question after Gayle's entry was received. 

We had dinner recently with an old Navy shipmate of mine from Battleship IOWA (BB-61). Drew and Pat Beck live in Bethlehem (NH, not Israel), in a restored 1901 home in a quiet neighborhood. It was great catching up after many years - we shared memories of shipboard life from the mid-80s. Pat recently retired from running an embroidery business. We told them about The Villages after hearing that this past winter gave them thoughts about moving south.


Since Suzanne returned from Florida, we have been on several bike rides. One of our favorites was on the trail from Falmouth to Woods Hole, MA, with Mike and Beth Pasakarnis. It runs along Vineyard Sound and has nice views of salt marshes, ponds and of course the sea. 

We also saw several osprey (Pandion haliaetis) nests along the trail; these two young birds were peering down at the people below with only mild interest. Ospreys are also known as fish hawks. They can actually reverse their outer talons to better grip slippery fish. The genus name Pandion is after the mythical Greek king Pandion of Athens and grandfather of Theseus, who was transformed into an eagle. The specific epithet haliaetis is derived from a Greek word for fishery eagle. 

Finally, marital communications are difficult enough without the wind in one's ears.  There was a "What did he say?" moment while biking that made us all laugh. We were riding along and I asked Suzanne, about 15 feet behind me, "What was the name of that doctor whose wife fell and broke her pelvis?" She replied, "What?!"  I repeated the question and she said, "Ty, I thought you said, 'What was the name of that doctor whose wife fell in love with Elvis!"

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Littleton, NH; Celebration of Wolf's Message; Fish On! Cape Cod Canal Ride; Army-Navy Wise Cracks; Lobstah!!!

New Hampshire is a very scenic state; one of our favorite towns is Littleton (pop. 5,928). Unfortunately, our visit was cut short by a rainstorm. We did enjoy walking around Main Street, admiring this church and a covered bridge down by the river walk.

The view of the Ammonoosuc River from the deck of Miller's Deli was pleasant, until the rain drove us inside...

After the showers ended, Suzanne decided that she needed an umbrella; there were many for the taking, but it was a long reach up to grab one...

Our next stop was Cape Cod, where we set up camp at the old Otis AFB campground for a week's stay. Our principal reason for stopping there was to visit Mike and Beth Pasakarnis, Wolf's dad and step-mom, and for Suzanne to present "A Celebration of Wolf's Message". As many of you are aware, 29 year old Mike "Wolf" Pasakarnis was struck and killed by lightning as was our Susan. As detailed in Suzanne's latest book, Wolf's Message, Wolf left behind proof that he knew when, where and how he was to pass to the other side.  He also left behind a message of love that is universal.


Just before the presentation, Mike and Beth took us to the gnarled beech tree at Burial Hill in Plymouth where Wolf died; they again left two red roses at the base of the tree in his memory.

Many of Wolf's friends and people from around the country attended the Celebration of Wolf's Message in the Radisson Hotel Ballroom in Plymouth. It was a very moving experience, and we all came away with a better understanding of the complex young man whose message for humanity strikes a sympathetic chord in everyone who learns about him.

After the presentation, Mike and Beth took us to a nearby seafood restaurant; Mary Ann Zutes drove from Rochester, NY, for the event (she had also made the trip to Greece with Suzanne, Mike and Beth), as did Bob and Jan Blythe, all the way from The Villages. 

During our week on the Cape, Mike and Beth also took us fishing on their center console boat. Here we are setting out on a warm, sunny morning. It was great being back on the water; for 3 years now, we have been boatless, a sad state; even worse for a fisherman is being fishless, but the times they are a changin'. On the way to meet Mike and Beth, I muttered "Fish shudder at the sound of my name; and Fish fear me!"

Here is your Fearless Fishing Blogmeister armed and ready for battle. Mike steered the boat through tide rips that were rolling our boat 30 degrees side to side, but the winning fisherman this day was Yours Truly! Two sea bass, a dogfish and a couple of small fluke... the only keepers were the sea bass, which Mike graciously filleted for our dinner that evening. It was a great day, and My Good Friend Bob's gift of the tee shirt must have been my lucky charm... it reads, "Here Fishy Fishy"... 

On the way back in, the spray over the bow was wild, and Beth graciously stood in front of My Lovely Bride, taking the brunt of the salt water on her back; she was drenched by the time we got back in. I was somewhat less dry... "Hey, Beth, how about me???" We also got a short tour of Falmouth Harbor, where tiny hovels lined the beautiful waterfront, their yachts on moorings just a minute's ride from the house.

We also got out for a great ride on the Cape Cod Canal bike path. This railroad bridge was in fine shape; it's normally in the up position because of all the shipping and boats that use the canal daily.

Just two weeks ago, Beth had ridden the 192-mile Pan Mass Challenge, the world's largest fundraiser for cancer research.  Mike is recovering from knee surgery, but valiantly kept up the pace, even in a strong southwesterly breeze on the upwind return leg. It was a glorious day. After we returned to the base, Suzanne decided we needed another workout, so we went to the Army gym to lift weights. We were just finishing when a group of soldiers came in; they were a class of fitness instructors. They saw our Navy jerseys, and the senior guy was showing the class how to do a bench press, and said, "And there are modifications when you're working with old people..." We almost burst out laughing, and I said under my breath, "Yeah, and how about the past 13 years of Army-Navy games, stud?"

We finished the day at Mike and Beth's for lobster dinner. Mike drove down to the lobster docks and got the biggest lobsters we've ever had. Along with a delicious salad, cahn (corn for the rest of us), and a fabulous berry pie, we left with enough left-over lobster for lunch the next day. Mike and Beth, thanks for your splendid hospitality!!!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Trail Magic; Photo Quiz Winner; New Quiz; Aussie Girls; White Mountains; Suzanne Married Her Sister? Not An Easy Oil Change

While hiking in Vermont on a trail near Killington, Suzanne and I saw one hiker with a cucumber in his belt… rather odd, we thought. Then we saw this cooler with freebies of veggies and cold drinks that some good-hearted souls had left for thru-hikers. Gifts like this are called “trail magic”, and are greatly appreciated by perpetually hungry long-distance hikers who average 15-20 miles per day over often very rough terrain. Dory and Mucosa, the benefactors of this trail magic, must be very thoughtful and kind-hearted folks. 

I was almost able to grant some trail magic myself the other day. I was driving down the road with Rudy and Gretchen in the back seat when I saw a young male hiker with a big backpack hitch-hiking in the vicinity of the Appalachian Trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I stopped to give him a lift, and in the rear-view mirror I saw him signal his dog to come up out of the weeds. It was a 60 lb pit bull! As he walked up, I said, "Sorry, but I have two small dogs in here that would go berserk if your dog got in." It was an "Isn't that interesting" moment.

Congratulations to Colette Sasina, who correctly identified the Noble County Courthouse, in Albion, Indiana, in the July 22 blog photo quiz. Colette wins lunch for two with Der Blogmeister and His Lovely Bride upon their return to The Villages.  Well done, Colette, and you don't even live in Indiana!

The next contest involves two types of flora; this beautiful orange variety was sighted by our Trail Slogger in Vermont, on the Long Trail. The mushrooms(?) were seen on the Mount Martha Trail in New Hampshire. What are they?

My Lovely Bride loves waterfalls, so of course when I saw Thundering Falls on the map near Killington, I steered our trusty car that way and we hit the trail. It was a pleasant hike in, much less rocky and muddy than the Long Trail had been. This made MLB very happy, and as the saying goes, “Happy Wife, Happy Life” 

What would not have made MLB happy was this shelter on the Appalachian Trail. We were day-hiking this section, so sharing the shelter with 6 smelly, sweaty guys and maybe a porcupine and some mice was not in the cards. I’m not saying that her idea of roughing it is the Hilton, but these accommodations were definitely not “on her programme”, as the Brits say. (The piece of line hanging down next to Suzanne is for hanging your food bag out of reach of rodents and small mammals.)

Our time in Vermont at an end, I dropped Suzanne off at the airport in Manchester, New Hampshire, so she could fly back to The Villages and spend a week with her mom. She and Ruthie have the same birthday, August 1st, so every year they spend that week together, while Rudy, Gretchen and I hike, play poker, drink beer and smoke cigars... (well, maybe not the last activity, anyway). Suzanne seemed to like the birthday flowers that the puppies sent her. Somehow my piece of her birthday cake never made it back to me; maybe the TSA inspectors ate it.

The White Mountains of New Hampshire are impressive, steeply rising to 5,000-6,000 feet, far above the lower valley floors. This was the view on I-93 headed north to my campground in Carroll, NH. 

I used this time to hike, bike and hike some more. On a hike near the Ethan Pond shelter in Crawford Notch, NH, I met three delightful and lovely young women from Oz, Muddy Duckling, Fire Bear and Red Back. They live in Perth, Western Australia, one of my favorite places Down Under. They are thru-hiking the AT, and have only 350 miles to go until they reach Mt. Katahdin, Maine. We laughed about running into the same weird thru-hiker (who shall remain anonymous) hundreds of miles apart; he has a reputation for smoking in the shelters, passing out due to heavy drinking, mooching food and asking other hikers (me among others) to boil water for him, since he wasn't carrying a lightweight stove. Your trail reputation travels quickly in this relatively small community...

Most of the trails in the White Mountains are not the pine needle-covered, relatively smooth paths one is used to in less mountainous terrain, or even in most parts of the western US. Rather, they are rocky, steep and often rooty, as was this part of a trail I hiked on the flank of Mt. Madison. Going up is hard enough, but coming back down is much worse, mostly due to the slippery roots and rocks and the chance of taking a dive head first. Fortunately, I took these sections very slowly, and only slipped on my butt a couple of times, with no serious bruises.

This sign is designed to give day hikers pause as to whether they are really prepared for the sometimes extreme weather for which the White Mountains are infamous. Mt. Washington for decades held the record for highest winds in the US, 231 mph. It can be 70 degrees at the bottom of the mountain and snowing on top. Unfortunately, we didn't have good weather on the day we planned to visit that peak; we'll save that for our next visit.

While the pups and I were at a campground in New Hampshire, Suzanne was marrying her sister back in The Villages. WHAT??? Okay, here's the deal. Suzanne officiated at her sister Janice's wedding to Steve Gray, seen here to Suzanne's left. Her mom Ruthie, brother Brent and his wife Cheryl are to Ruthie's left. The newlyweds spent a three day honeymoon in the Orlando area before returning to their home in Delaware. Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Gray!

Finally, I have a strange story to relate. Our 2012 model year car needed a periodic oil change, so I took it to a small, one-lift garage. I waited in the garage bay on a folding chair while the mechanic set to work. The only other vehicle being worked on was a 1975 Chevy truck, which was quite rusty and getting a complete facelift. After about 15 minutes, the owner came up to me and said, "Well, you're a special customer!" I asked why, and he said, "Well, we don't usually see late model cars here, and your car takes synthetic  0W20 oil, which we don't stock, but I think there may be some in the next town. I'll just drive over and get some." He departed and I asked the mechanic, who was standing idly by having a smoke, "You know, I could come back another day. Have you already drained the oil?" He replied with a smile, "Oh, yes. You're stuck here now." I masked my feeling of impending doom, and simply smiled back and said, "I'm sure it will work out just fine." We chatted for about 20 minutes, mostly about the long weeks of -30F winter temperature and snow too deep to plow ("Oh, it's not so bad... it's a dry cold.") Then I asked if I could use the shop's rest room. He pointed outside and said, "It's around the corner in the shed but it's just for peeing." Entering the shed, I found a wooden pallet placed in front of a circle of rocks about 2 feet in diameter with a pile of sand in the middle; it gave off the pungent odor of, well, you know. Fortunately, the garage owner returned shortly after with the oil, the job was completed and I departed with a deeper appreciation of life in rural New Hampshire.