Monday, October 26, 2015

Cassadaga Events; New Wheels; Riding for a Good Cause; Hey Buddy, Can You Spare a Pickup? Follow That Truck! Back from Hiking

Our trip to the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp near Orange City, FL, was very successful. We arrived at the Colby Memorial Temple and met Rev. Janie Owens. Suzanne gave the Sunday message and a demonstration of mediumship in the morning, and after a delicious lunch sponsored by the Temple, Suzanne gave her Awakened Living 301 presentation to a full house. As the room was filling, Suzanne chatted with one of the attendees, Tom, who lives in Delaware near her sister Janice. Tom also has a link with Henderson High School in West Chester, PA, which My Lovely Bride attended a few years ago. Tom also attended Suzanne's presentations at the Omega Institute in New York in August.

A contingent of our friends from The Villages drove down for both events, which was much appreciated. It was a terrific day, and we enjoyed the warm reception given us by the Cassadaga Spiritualist community. 

Speaking of receptions, I will be giving My Good Friend Trevor Magee from Ireland a special reception when I see him next, because he is in Big Trouble. Why? Because in watching his video (see next paragraph for the link), My Lovely Bride decided that her 8 year old Look road bike was out of date... so what else to do but get a newer and better bike? Here is MLB in her fancy dress bike kit with her specially-designed-for-women carbon fiber Liv Avail from Village Cycles. She claims that it is faster than her old bike and climbs hills almost effortlessly. (Note to self: maybe if I pour 20 lbs. of molten lead into the frame tubes it will slow her down enough that I'm not embarrassed when we ride together...)

Here's the background on Trevor, and a plug for a good cause: Trevor comes to visit His Lovely Cousin (and Suzanne's great friend) Elizabeth Magee Wingle here in The Villages each summer. Trevor is a very cool guy and an avid cyclist, and next April will be visiting here and riding the 170 mile Cross-Florida Ride as a fund raiser for Macmillan Cancer Support. I encourage you to watch his video at and donate to this worthy cause at


We are fortunate to have many good friends here in The Villages. I had to call upon My Good Friend Bob for some help (again) last week when MLB decided that our beat-up old dining room table was in need of (a) refinishing or (b) replacement. Being a typically lazy husband, I took the Easy Approach and said, "Yes, Dear, let's get a new table and chairs. I'll check with Goodwill, Craig's List and nearby church thrift stores for a replacement." (You can guess how well that suggestion went over.) A quick trip to Pier One in Bob's Ford F-350 (I will never criticize Ford trucks again, especially Bob's) and we returned with the table and chairs that Suzanne had picked out. Jan and Suzanne unpacked and carried in chairs while Bob and I put the table together. At least Bob got a beer for his noble efforts and I got a glass of wine to celebrate a successful mission in making MLB happy.

Beer drinkers will note that Bob is drinking one of my favorites, Fat Tire Amber Ale. The next day, as we were driving near Lake Sumter Landing, I almost became a hijacker. As we drove down Morse Blvd., I saw Nirvana on Wheels ahead of us. No, it wasn't Christie Brinkley in a Ferrari (although I will admit that such a vision might give me pause)... it was a semi with a Fat Tire ad on the side, and hopefully full of cases of delicious amber ale. Suzanne was driving, and I asked her to pull up close enough so I could jump into the back of the truck and abscond with a pallet or two, but all I got was this look that said something like, "Ty, when are you going to grow up?" Sigh; women just don't understand...

Finally, I just returned from my Appalachian Trail hike. Originally planned for 7 days, I completed 4 days hiking in perfect Fall weather before the remnants of Hurricane Patricia started pushing clouds, rain and high winds into northern Georgia. A full report will follow in the next blog post, but here's a quick summary: 4 days, 40 miles, no blisters, carrying a 40 lb. backpack; one day solo and three days with a delightful German hiker named Manuel. I only lost one pound, slept in an A.T. shelter or in my tent, and while I didn't get eaten by a bear, I did suffer for a day or so with a stomach bug (Cryptosporidium perhaps?) in spite of treating my creek water with iodine or filtering it with a 1 micron filter. All-in-all, it was a very satisfying trip with one of the most impactful spiritual events of my life, when I was again reminded that my daughter Susan is always with me. Here is Der Blogmeister at Springer Mountain; come back in a couple of days for more!  In spite of my comments above, My Lovely Bride wishes me to share that she is very happy to have me home, and the sleeping arrangements here at home are certainly much nicer than in an A.T. shelter!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

TV Life; Coyotes; Helping Hands; Rainbow Springs; Quiz Winners Lunch; A Walk in the Woods? South to Cassadaga!

"TV Life" actually refers to "Life back in The Villages". We have been back home for a month or so, mostly relaxing and catching up with friends and neighbors. Suzanne has been doing lots of readings to whittle down her 18 month waiting list, and (aside from my backpacking trip out to Yosemite) I've been doing regular chores and an important home improvement project. While I'm pretty handy fixing things on a ship or boat, having spent most of my adult life at sea aboard Navy ships and a few sailboats, home projects haven't been my specialty. 

But necessity being the mother of invention, when the coyote population began exploding here in The Villages, we got a bit concerned about protecting our beloved Dachshunds Rudy and Gretchen from predatory wild canines. This is not an unheard-of problem around the country; but several small dogs have been attacked and killed recently by coyotes here, and one of our neighbors encountered a coyote the size of a large German shepherd in front of our house just last week. Also, a cat was taken from a lanai when a coyote or bobcat tore open the enclosure screen. Our little guys love to chase geckos and lie in the sun on our lanai, so I went to Lowe's and got 1/2" wood lattice fencing and attached the panels to our lanai screen frames. I think we're now protected adequately from coyotes, but marauding moose would be a tougher issue.

Speaking of repair projects, this image is of My Good Friend Bob analyzing the engine compartment of a Ford (AKA Fix Or Repair Daily) Expedition which had stopped running on the side of the road over in Wildwood. We were trying to help the owner get it started again, but even with the research help of an iPad,  the problem was too deep-seated (a clogged fuel filter which caused a burned out fuel pump inside the gas tank) to be fixed in situ. A tow truck had to be called, but the repair bill at Wildwood Auto Repair and Wrecker Service was less than half of the local Ford dealership; hmmmm......

Even better than looking into an engine compartment is looking up at the sky... this image is of two sets of clouds at sunset; the sun behind the cumulonimbus clouds (thunderheads) on the right is casting shadows on the higher cirrus clouds, creating these dramatic finger-like shadows. I have never seen anything quite like this effect; maybe I should get outside more...

While on the subject of getting outside, we went kayaking recently with Bob and Jan Blythe to Rainbow Spring, near Dunellon, FL. Bob and Jan were anxious to try out their new kayaks, and we knew that Rainbow was a great place to paddle, even on a weekend. After splashing our boats, we paddled upstream to Rainbow Spring itself, a first magnitude spring that pumps out up to 600,000,000 gallons of crystal-clear fresh water daily into the Rainbow River. 

One of the neatest wildlife encounters that day was with these 8 painted turtles (Chrysemas picta) lined up on a log. The female of the species grows to 10 inches in length; the male is smaller. They are active only during the day, and spend long hours basking in the sun on logs and rocks. During the winter, they hibernate in the mud on river and creek bottoms. Adults can live to 55 years in the wild. 

Another special event this week was catching up with Colette and John Sasina, winners of one of our Photo Quizzes. We enjoyed a nice lunch with the Sasinas and Suzanne's Lovely Mom Ruthie at Hemingway's Restaurant in the Havana Country Club. The small object that My Lovely Bride is holding over my head is Hula Babe, the solar-powered, shimmying gal who is my companion when Suzanne is on the road. Colette was initially a little miffed that she didn't win Hula Babe's naming contest as well, but fortunately she's a good sport; she even brought us several prezzies, including a book on Chicken Soup for Winos, or a similar topic... her sense of humor is very engaging.

We also had the opportunity to meet Hula Babe's "godparents", Sharon and Joyce, at our favorite Japanese food emporium, the VKI Japanese Restaurant in Sumter Landing. We caught them before they could leave town for some our favorite stomping grounds in Sedona, Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion... and we can guarantee they won't find sushi this good out in the Southwest!

As you may be aware, Central Florida is quite different from Yosemite and the High Sierras of California, where I was backpacking recently. Just to give you one example, it's sunny and 85F outside as I write this blog post; back in Tuolumne Meadows, it's 45F, with a low tonight of 35F (that's actually warmer than the 25F with high winds that I experienced 3 weeks ago). But Fall has arrived, the days are getting shorter and morning temps are getting cooler. Good hiking weather ("Oh, noooo...."). Yep, I have succumbed to My Lovely Bride's urging and am going solo backpacking again next week. No, she's not trying to get rid of me (at least I don't think that's the situation). 

What happened is this... for years I've been talking about hiking the Appalachian Trail. In fact, I had planned on doing that 2,185 mile trail with my daughter Susan at some point.  When she died in 2006, I silently told her that I would hike it with her in spirit one day. I've done parts of the trail in North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Vermont and New Hampshire over the years, but figured I'd never have the time to do the whole trail. Until last week, that is, when we went to see "A Walk in the Woods", a movie based on Bill Bryson's 1998 book of the same name. Bryson was 46 when he hiked about 800 miles of the A.T. (unlike the 70 year old Robert Redford in the movie; Old Guys don't do crazy stuff like that). 

When we got home, Suzanne said something like, "You're in decent shape for an old geezer. Why not do the A.T. in sections?" Okay, maybe that wasn't the exact quote, but you get my drift. So next week, I'll be driving up to northern Georgia and starting (where else?) at the southern terminus of the A.T., Springer Mountain, near Dahlonega. Assuming all goes well, I will hike about 60-70 miles in 7 or 8 days, staying in shelters (located every 8 miles or so) or in my tent. The Georgia section is noted for being rough, with lots of ups and downs (elevation gain to mountain tops and then elevation loss into the "gaps"; repeat until exhausted), so I don't want to be overly optimistic about daily mileages. If I survive Georgia, we will return next summer and I'll do more miles in North Carolina; maybe I can finish at Mt. Katahdin, Maine, before I hit 80... (who says you get wiser with age?).

This weekend will find us on the road again in Cassadaga, FL, where Suzanne will present the Sunday message (10:30 AM) and her awakened Living 301 Workshop (2:00 PM - 5:00 PM) at Colby Memorial Temple on Stevens Street. If you're able to attend, we would love to see you there!


Monday, October 5, 2015

Yosemite Finale; Lakes and Poetry; Back to The Villages; Spider Kingdom; Ms. Bed Head

My last two days in Yosemite were spent dayhiking from Tuolumne Meadows. As I was hiking up the trail to Elizabeth Lake (9,508 ft), I met a small ranger-guided group, and was invited by National Park Service Ranger Brian Scavone to join them. I normally prefer hiking alone, but Brian was so friendly that I changed my plan and joined several other folks from Switzerland, Holland, and the SF Bay area on this five miler. Brian is a trained ecologist, and proceeded to tell us all about the history, flora and fauna in this part of Yosemite. For example, the T-shaped scar in this tree was actually a trail marker cut by US Army cavalry scouts who guarded Yosemite during the period 1890-1916, before the National Park Service took over. 

Elizabeth Lake lies in a beautiful setting at the foot of Unicorn Peak (10,823 ft), the horn of which is quite prominent in this image. It's another one of those many "hateful places" which abound in the High Sierras. 

We hiked around the lake, but because the surrounding meadows and other vegetation are fragile, overnight camping is not allowed here. Our group photo was taken right after a lunch stop on the lakeside; it was 65F in the sun, but into the 50s in the shade, so we kept moving to keep warm. 

Brian kept us informed about some of the local residents, notably the pika (Ochotona princeps), which we heard (it has a high-pitched whistle that it uses as an alarm signal) but did not actually see. The pika is unique in that it literally  "makes hay while the sun shines". During the brief alpine summer, the pika collects grass and other edible vegetation and dries it in small "haypiles" on sunny rocks. Since they do not hibernate during the winter, they have to collect, dry and store lots of food to be able to survive harsh winters. 

We did spot several Clark's nutcrackers (Nucifraga columbiana) flying around, but they were too quick to catch with the camera. This pretty bird eats mostly pine seeds from the white pine tree (Pinus strobus). It has a sublingual pouch where it can store up to 150 seeds at a time for transport to its cache. It stores up to 98,000 seeds for the winter, in caches of 1-15 seeds, and its caches are often raided by pesky squirrels, hence the large number laid down. 

This image provided another interesting factoid - these bent trees were at the very bottom of an avalanche chute. Many were bent like bows; it was a surreal scene, but with a logical explanation.  

While Brian shared his extensive knowledge as a naturalist, what I appreciated most was the poetry he recited extemporaneously at several spots on our hike. My favorite was one by German poet Rainer Maria Rilke from Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God...

"I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not ever complete the last one,
But I give myself to it.

I circle around God, that primordial tower.
I have been circling for thousands of years,
And I still don't know: am I a falcon,
A storm, or a great song?"

After the guided hike ended, I chose to go for another hike and get a swim in. Dog Lake (9,170 ft) was a delightful place; this time there were hardly any other hikers (and no dogs) around, and I found a nice private cove where I could jump in clad in my skivvies for a minute or two (water temp was a frigid 50F) and scrub off trail dust and sweat (no soap, of course). As I mentioned in a previous blog post, my campground had no showers and no hot water, and a dip in Dog Lake was the closest I was going to get to a shower. 



My last day at Yosemite was spent packing for the long drive to Fresno, but I had to stop at beautiful Tenaya lake for another photo op...


And oh, yes, one last hike... this one to the May Lake High Sierra Camp, which had also been shut down for the season the week before. On the trail I ran into a charming Israeli couple; Rachel has a small vineyard near Tel Aviv where she has just started producing wine, 1,000 bottles this year, but her friend Amit says she will be a big name in a few years. (But heck, she didn't bring along any samples!)


The view of the lake with Mt. Hoffman (10,850) towering above was another eye-catcher, and I added this spot to my list of places to spend my final days...

I was hoping that the hotel in Fresno would let me in; I hadn't shaved in a week, needed a real shower desperately, and was beyond "scruffy", but perhaps the smile from a week in the High Sierras would get me past the door...

And so it did... the next afternoon, I arrived safely back at Orlando International where My Lovely Bride, Rudy and Gretchen picked me up. The Pack is back together and life has returned to normal. How normal, well, for example, the day after my return, Suzanne took me mountain biking at Santos Trailhead near Ocala. Here she is as we departed the part of the trail complex known as Spider Kingdom. Turns out it is named that for the hundreds of spiders who spin their webs across the trail at night. Since we were riding in the early morning, and I was in the lead, I was covered in webs and a couple of angry arachnids who took to biting my bare arms... a week in Yosemite with plague-ridden squirrels, bears, sub-freezing weather and rockfalls, and not a scratch, but the first event at home and I am attacked and bitten...

Then today, we decided to try to figure out why Suzanne's side of our high-tech air mattress in the coach was losing air overnight, while mine remained firm. (No wise cracks, please!) The coach is now in storage, but we wanted to repair the leak before our next trip out.  My Lovely Bride decided to help me by holding up the heavy mattress while I checked out the pump and air hoses. She determined it was easier to use her head than her arms.  I had to immortalize this photo of Ms. Bed Head for everyone to enjoy... 


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Yosemite Part 2; Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp; "This Ain't the Ritz"; Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne; A 5 Mule Team; 20 Lakes Basin

After getting acclimated to the elevation and cold up at Tuolumne Meadows' 8,600 feet, I took three days to go backpacking to Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp (HSC) and into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. This was a typical view on the 7 mile hike into Glen Aulin, taken along the Tuolumne River. Suzanne and I joke about scenes like this, calling them "hateful places"... 

This backpacker is obviously enjoying the day, which has warmed up from a chilly 25F low the night before to a toasty 65F in the afternoon, allowing him to remove the zippered bottoms of his long pants, converting them to shorts. He is also drinking plenty of water; it's easy to get dehydrated at higher elevations, making you easily fatigued. The down side is that in dry stretches, you have to carry more water; fortunately, when you reach a spring, creek or river that is flowing, you just fill your empty water bottle and drink from an in-line filter or treat the water with iodine pills to kill giardia and cryptosporidium protozoa that cause gastrointestinal disorders. 

This stock team (horses and mules) passed me while I was hiking; the young ranger was heading into the High Sierra Camp, which had closed the week before, to pack out supplies before an early snow isolated the camp. One of the advantages to following a pack train is that the trail, even over wide granite outcroppings is well-marked with... well, you know. But the markers can be very smelly...

The free campsite where I set up my tent is a quarter mile above the "ritzy" HSC where hikers can pay $166 a day to stay in tent cabins (with wood stoves, no less) erected on wooden platforms; they also get three meals a day prepared for them, not an altogether bad deal. Another advantage is that they can carry day packs and hike a loop trail through the National Park to six other HSC's, enjoying a week in some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet without being loaded down with a 35 lb backpack. (This image shows the camp being disassembled for the winter.)

I much preferred my solo tent site on top of a hill behind the HSC, where this sunrise view greeted me for two mornings. The black can to the right of the tent is a bear canister weighing 2.3 lbs; backpackers are required to carry them into the wilderness and store all food, toothpaste and toiletries in them to prevent bears from getting access to human food and supplies. A stream was located about 300 ft down the hill, and a compost toilet about an eighth of a mile away in the opposite direction. (This is called "Living Large"... normally water supplies are much farther away, and instead of compost toilets, you carry a trowel into the woods, bury human waste 6 inches deep in soil, and pack out all T.P.)

The view to the east from my tent wasn't too bad either; the sun is filtering through the trees, casting an eerie light over the forest.

An early morning hike down to this waterfall and a short meditative session on a rock bench let me gather my thoughts and relax before starting my day hike into the canyon. 

The trail dropped rapidly several hundred feet on switchbacks into the impressive Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. Had I walked to the end of the 17-mile long canyon, which kept dropping mile by mile, I would need a 3,700 ft climb out over 5 miles, a very steep, challenging route... I opted instead for a 6 mile day hike and much less elevation loss/gain. 

During my hike down the canyon, I stopped for lunch at another "hateful place", this stepped waterfall; because it was late summer, water flow was pretty low. May and June would see much higher water levels and spectacular falls here.

While having lunch, I met Raymond, a 61 year old trail runner. He lives at 8,000 feet in Mammoth, CA, and is a carpenter and ski instructor, although recent ski injuries (two dislocated shoulders and a broken collarbone) are starting to slow him down. Not too badly, though, because he was out for at least a 12 mile run that morning, carrying only a hydration pack and a few trail mix bars. 

I was a tired hiker when I settled in for the night, but this twilight scene with a half moon above the mountains put me in a good mood.

On my last day at Glen Aulin, I hiked out the way I had come in back to the car. After three days, I was ready for a shower (ya' think?) and a real fresh-cooked meal, but was still enjoying every minute I spent in the backcountry of Yosemite.

What passed for a shower came when I drove 22 miles down into the nearest town, the small hamlet of Lee Vining, CA, pop. 222, for a hot meal. On the way back I stopped at the Inyo National Forest Service office for some advice on hikes. This was the view from the USFS office; Tioga Pass (far left on the skyline) is the eastern entry into Yosemite. It sits at 9,945 feet, on the edge of the Sierra Nevada escarpment, 3,567 feet above Lee Vining and adjacent Mono Lake (6,378 ft) just east of the pass. The Tioga Road, CA-120, follows an ancient Indian path from the eastern valley into the High Sierras. It is closed during the winter months (October-June) when frequent heavy snows making plowing an impossible task. Unfortunately, the office was closed, but the restroom was open, and it had hot water, which is more than my campground offered back in Yosemite. It's been a long time since I've had a sink bath, but 10 minutes later I was washed, refreshed and in clean hiking clothes. I even got to wash two pair of dusty socks in the sink and hang them up in the car to dry while I went to my next hike. As they say, "Necessity is the Mother of Invention".

My next hike was around Saddlebag Lake (10,087 ft) and then up to Steelhead Lake (seen here at left) and into the 20 Lakes Basin, where Mt. Conness (13,053 ft) hosts a small glacier on its north slope. There were very few hikers up here; I met only five other people and one dog (Meg, the hiking Chihuahua) that day, but the scenery was stunning. Because of the elevation, mostly above treeline, I was in the sun for most of the day, but the temp never rose over 65F, ideal weather for hiking. 

At the end of the day, I was dog-tired, and made an early dive into my sleeping bag just after watching sunset at Lembert Dome, a fitting way to end another perfect day in Yosemite National Park.