Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Dinner Date! Escargot? A Cardio-Genital Defect? Wakeeney, Kansas; Unity Village; St. Louis Events

Before departing Denver, My Lovely Bride indicated that a nice dinner out would be appreciated. The local Taco Bell was fully booked, but I found some good recommendations for an alternative restaurant on a local haute cuisine web site. It sounded decent, if a bit pricey, but it was in an eclectic neighborhood alongside tattoo parlors and across the street from Goodwill. I am not kidding... when we drove down the street, the establishment didn't even have a sign out front. It was like walking up to a speak easy in 1931, except the bouncer/doorman with the Tommy gun was off for the night. MLB was a bit apprehensive about even leaving the car on the street... forget about valet parking... this neighborhood had drunks lying in doorways and mostly punk rockers with green hair and millennials with full-body tattoos and black nail polish. But once inside Beatrice and Woodsley, the atmosphere changed dramatically.

B&W had faux aspen trees around the booths and chainsaws holding up the bar shelves, reflecting the Oregon and Colorado history of the family that founded the restaurant. As you can see, MLB was happy to find that I could pick a good restaurant (occasionally).

The food here was fabulous; we particularly liked the crawfish beignets, Australian sea bass and lamb rotolo... and the wine was very nice, as well.

Before we left, a trip to the head was called for. Someone has a sense of humor - this is a photo of the ceiling in the men's room.

One last photo from Beatrice and Woodlsley's - this is one of the sinks outside the heads. The hot and cold water is activated by pulling down on the wooden handles on the chains on the right and left sides of the sink, which is a galvanized bucket. There is no faucet ... the water runs down the chains in the middle.  Very cool! 

Shifting gears a bit... Words can be fun. They can also be abused, misused and misconstrued. Imagine this scene: we are driving down I-70 in The Coach, and a Tesla Model S is in front of us, doing 5 mph under the 70 mph speed limit. It's been a long day, and I would have preferred that this hot sports car (top speed about 130 mph) would at least be doing the speed limit so we can get to our campground before Happy Hour fades into total darkness. I mention to Suzanne my concerns about the parentage of the Tesla driver and the fact that he is driving a car that can outperform a Corvette, which My Lovely Bride drove until just last year. As I accelerated (yes, all 49,000 lbs and 60 feet of Coach and Honda CR-V) past the middle-aged Democrat in his Tesla, MLB said saucily, with a big grin on her face, "Well, look at that S car go...! You know, as in "snail"? I moaned,  "Oh, nooooo.... you didn't really say that, did you???  ( Yes, Shelby, I was thinking of you as we zoomed past that guy!)

Another funny "word incident" took place at an undisclosed location... I was talking to a security guard about dogs. He mentioned that his Chihuahua/Dachshund mix (called a Chiweenie) had a serious medical problem. "Yep, little Fritz has an enlarged heart. It's a genital defect." I felt very sorry for Fritz, but was perplexed about the connection between his heart and, well, you know...    

After departing Denver headed east on I-70, we stopped in Wakeeney, Kansas, for the night. I love Kansas, and even had some relatives here way back when, so I am not criticizing this great state... but I can honestly say that Wakeeney is a pretty quiet place. This was the scene on the main drag at sunset... I could also show the other three directions, but they would be the same - not a car in sight. And you thought The Villages was a quiet place... 

My Lovely Bride decided to liven things up in Wakeeney by climbing the 150 foot high water tower (you can just make her out at lower right in the photo); fortunately, she heeded my sage advice about not meeting the local sheriff or spending the night in a city facility with no toilet seat and decided not to go all the way up...

There were a couple of houses in the town that took my breath away - this "fixer-upper" in particular seemed to have been designed as a bunker, probably because of the frequent tornadoes that occur here. I thought it was very cool, but MLB was less impressed...

We continued east for a brief stop in Kansas City, where we visited Unity Village, one of Suzanne's favorite places. Here she is with our Faithful Canine Kids, Rudy and Gretchen, again at sunset, enjoying the tranquility of UV's beautiful Mediterranean-style campus. R&G were looking for squirrels, but fortunately, they were all in hiding.

We are now in St. Louis, Missouri, for the final events of our 2016 summer tour. Our dear friends Brenda and Lynette came in to continue their summer stalking of Suzanne and attend her Serving Spirit mediumship class and a Sanaya session. These two gals are a hoot, and keep us in stitches whenever we get together. Brenda is also our book table queen - a volunteer position that Yours Truly greatly appreciates. 

Our host for Suzanne's classes here in St. Louis is Meg Berry, owner of Silver Lining, a beautiful "inspired space" boutique in Town and Country, Missouri. Meg and her husband Mark also hosted us for a fabulous Fall harvest dinner at their home, much of which was prepared by their son, Keenan.

The Sanaya session was held at the Center of Spiritual Living in St. Louis, where Rev. Marigene DeRusha is Senior Minister. That's Marigene on Suzanne's left - her congregation/community is probably the most enthusiastic and friendly group we've met on tour, and we love returning to CSL St. Louis every year!  

Monday, September 12, 2016

Pinedale, WY; Rocky Mountain National Park; RV Repairs; Buckley AFB; MORE SNAKES!

Wyoming has been one of our favorite destinations during the 2016 Summer Tour. The scenery and good friends we spent time with are obvious reasons, but here's one more: the local newspaper, the Pinedale Roundup. Now you big city folks are probably thinking, how can the Pinedale Roundup beat out the New York Times or the Washington Post? Well, podnah, while those mammoth papers have front page stories on mass murders, heroin epidemics and race riots, here in Pinedale the lead stories are (1) Town Hall to be sold again; (2) Union Wireless gets nod for 45-foot cell tower, and (3) Fire Chief gives Cliff Creek report. I know where I would rather live!!! 

Another advantage of living in Pinedale is the public transportation system. Using this eco-friendly method of moving tourists from one part of the city to another is highly recommended to avoid heavy traffic in the six-block long metro area... and it's FREE!

We reluctantly departed Pinedale, Wyoming, and the spectacular Wind River Range heading for Colorado. After a night spent with our most gracious and hospitable friends Jeff and Lynn Hollahan in Denver, Suzanne flew back to The Villages to spend time with Her Lovely Mom Ruthie and to teach her Serving Spirit course. While these two gals were out at dinner one night, I got this photo of the party girls with a margarita and a mojito... I asked My Lovely Bride, "What kind of 'spirits' are we talking about, My Darling?" (I was happy not to read about them in the Daily Sun's police blotter the next morning...)

During Suzanne's extended trip to Florida and Massachusetts, Rudy, Gretchen and I camped out up in Estes Park, Colorado, a few miles from Rocky Mountain National Park. I got out hiking almost every day for a week, sometimes twice a day. I met some interesting people on the trails, such as Troy and Adam, old college buddies from Tuscaloosa, Alabama... When I saw Adam's ballcap, I greeted them with a hearty "ROLL, TIDE!!!" They were pleased but surprised that an LSU grad like myself would say those words, but I told them about getting my Alabama visor from our good friend Judson Emens back in Tuscumbia, earlier this summer. We had a good chat about football and down home cooking before I finished my hike up to the summit of the Twin Sisters (11,400 ft). 

The view from the summit of the Twin Sisters was expansive, to say the least. Several of the highest mountains in Colorado were visible, including several Fourteeners (mountains over 14,000 ft).

This tree, twisted by the frequent high winds on the north slope of the mountain, was representative of the harsh winter climate above 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains. 

Normally I hike alone, but on the way down the trail, a 20-something Vietnamese-American guy fell in behind me and we continued on together, passing the time with discussions about his family and work (Nam is an MRI tech). His father is just a year younger than Your Faithful Correspondent, and was a soldier in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) at the same time that I was on my first destroyer operating off the coast of his country in support of our troops and the ARVN. His family escaped the communist occupation by boat to the Philippines with just the clothes on their backs, then resettled in the US and built a successful life here. Just goes to show you what hard work, education and perseverance can do to fulfill the American Dream. And I know Nam was raised right, because he called me "Sir" about 30 times...

During my week in Estes Park, our good friend Jim Wohlleber, a former Navy sailor (PBR skipper in VN) and retired airline pilot, visited for a few days. We did some sightseeing, drove the  park's Ridge Road (almost all above 10,000-11,000 feet) on a stormy day.

Jim is also my firearms adviser. We went to a local pistol range for some target practice, and alternated using Jim's model 1911 Kimber .45 semiautomatic. We both shot pretty well - those paper targets didn't stand a chance! One funny incident occurred when a family from the People's Republic of China arrived for a lesson from the NRA instructor/range supervisor. They had never fired a weapon before, and had a blast target shooting. Guess their communist leaders don't think much of giving the masses access to firearms; hmmmm, I wonder why not???

My favorite hike during my week in Estes Park was up to Chasm Lake (11,760 ft), a trip that I had made several years ago. This hike's scenery and destination, across the lower slopes of Mount Lady Washington and on the flank of Long's Peak (14,259 ft), is so dramatic that I wanted to see it one more time. I may have forgotten (or subconsciously ignored) the fact that it is a strenuous climb up to the base of the lake, and then you have to scramble up a 100 foot high moraine of boulders. Gee, I didn't remember it being this difficult a few years ago...

... but the reward for an 8 mile hike and rock scrambles is worth every ounce of sweat! The 1,000 ft vertical cliff is called Diamond Face, and the buttress to the left of it is Ship's Prow. Both are very popular rock climbing destinations.

I was bushed when I returned to the parking lot at the Long's Peak Ranger Station. I opened the car, and noticed a small piece of paper under my wiper blade. Having parked between two big pickup trucks, I was concerned that I had parked too close to one of them. When I read the note, I was touched deeply by the thoughtfulness and sentiments of an Army veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). He/she had seen the decal with a gold star, indicating a family that had lost a service member on active duty, on my rear window. 

After my stay in the Rockies, I drove the coach to Frederick, Colorado, where we had purchased it, for some repairs. Here we see Rob the RV tech replacing a seal on one of the slideouts. He later replaced one of our air conditioners whose compressor had failed. These repairs put us back on the road at near 100% readiness, but as every RV or boat owner will tell you, "It won't be long before something else breaks!"

Our next stop was at Buckley AFB in Aurora, Colorado. The campground there is located right next to the runway, and visitors are treated to daily air shows courtesy of the US Air Force and Air National Guard. Typically, flights of 4-6 F-16 Fighting Falcons would take off, conduct high altitude combat maneuvers, then do touch-and-go's and low level fly-by's on afterburner before landing. The noise levels were incredible, but as we say in the service, "It's the Sound of Freedom"!

Buckley's campground was having a water problem during our visit - a leaking water main that hadn't yet been repaired. They had to add several porta-potties to accommodate the campers. The campground also has a reputation for snakes, both poisonous and non-poisonous varieties. We've seen a lot of snakes this summer, but this one was disconcerting. I was on my way to the head (porta-potty, in this case), when I saw a 5 foot long gopher snake crawling out from under the loo... "That's okay, I'll find another one... just in case his mate is inside!"

Monday, September 5, 2016

Wind River Range Part 2; Island Lake; Titcomb Basin; Oh, My Achin' Back!; "Mules Are For Sissies!"; Daisy; A Timely Ride

I have hiked a lot of places around the US, Canada, Europe and New Zealand, and my trip to Wyoming's majestic Wind River Range certainly rated in the top 3 I have ever completed. After a 10 mile hike the first day, and stopping for the night at Seneca Lake (10,350 ft), I had breakfast and coffee and looked around to find another campsite about 100 yards away - a family of four camped in a nearby meadow; they had come in after I arrived, and were the only people in sight for miles around.

By 0830 I had struck camp and headed up the trail deeper into "The Winds". I was carrying 32 lbs of gear, food and water, making 2 mph, a decent speed for An Old Guy at this elevation. When I saw this pack train of llamas headed back out to the trailhead, I had to ask the outfitter a few questions. Llamas' average speed is about 2 mph as well, but since these folks are only carrying light daypacks with water, snacks and camera, they can hike longer days than a typical backpacker. Llamas can carry as much as 75-100 lbs, meaning that I could have taken this easy way in and brought a camp chair, wine, Cheetos, steaks, Oreos, books and maybe even a telescope. What was I thinking??? 

A couple of hours later, I took a snack break on a ledge above Island Lake. There were good campsites here, but I was hoping to spend the night up higher, so I pressed on...

There are hundreds of beautiful, but unnamed, small glacial lakes called tarns up in these mountains. They are formed in cirques or in depressions bordered by moraines, and are filled by snowmelt or rainwater, rather than by springs. 

After a few miles, the lowest of the Titcomb Lakes came into view. I am right at the edge of treeline here, and the few trees visible are getting progressively smaller as I climb. The low shrubs are called krumholtz, German for crooked, bent or twisted wood. High winds and heavy snowfall makes for unusual shapes, and they are dense near ground level. A common variety here is Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii)

There weren't many people here, but I caught up to one couple crossing this boulder field; the trail became indistinct here, and we helped each other find the best way across. This would not be a good place to fall...

Then, after crossing a saddle, the full panorama of Titcomb Basin came into view. I sat for a half hour just to take it all in, but I wanted to stay for a week. Some of the tallest peaks here are Fremont Peak (13,745 ft), Mount Sacajawea (13,569), Spearhead Pinnacle (13,200 ft), and Mt. Woodrow Wilson (13,258 ft), all with popular mountaineering and rock climbing routes. I am past the days of peak-bagging (climbing to the summits), and being alone, that would be a really stupid thing to do, so now I simply enjoy their beauty from 2-3 thousand feet below the summits.

Of course, I had to have proof for My Lovely Bride that I had not simply camped out in the back yard of the local Hooters or Twin Peaks, so I asked another backpacker to take my picture. No Photoshop allowed here; it's really me! (As it turned out, Suzanne knew exactly where I was... read on!)

There were no sheltered campsites up in Titcomb Basin, and cold winds in the 20s were forecast for that night, so I decided to hike back to Island Lake to camp. I found a nice spot near the lakeside, with a great view and decent-sized pines  and krumholtz to break the wind. The only trouble arose when a nearby group of hikers (two couples from Princeton, New Jersey) who had their gear packed in by horses set up their camp chairs upwind of me - its not that they smelled bad, but at sunset, all four proceeded to light up and smoke cigars! I was just a bit put out (that's putting it very mildly) and searched my pack, muttering, "Now where did I put that hand grenade???" I should have thought about the bear spray I was carrying...

I enjoyed watching the sunset (the rosy light is called alpenglow in the mountains) on Elephant Head (Cairn Peak, 12,172 ft) with a cup of coffee and some M&Ms. It could only have been better with Suzanne, Rudy and Gretchen to share it with, but they were miles and days away. 

The trip had gone well until the third morning - this was the scene by the dawn's early light - when I woke up and started making coffee. When I leaned over to light my stove, I felt a spasm in my lower back muscles like I haven't felt in years. The result of a boating injury back in 1980, the pain can often put me flat on my back for a day or two, but that wasn't an option with 15 miles back to the trailhead. I took a muscle relaxer and packed up for the two-day trip out. I cinched up my backpack and waistbelt tightly and started hiking; it was okay as long as I didn't slip on any rocks. Thankfully, I had two aluminum trekking poles to help keep my balance on tricky parts of the trail. I hiked carefully, not wanting to be incapacitated and have to be carried out.

At one point a pack train with a couple of unladen mules passed me; I almost thought about hiring one for a ride back, but I could almost hear my Marine daughter Susan whispering from the other side, "Dad... Suck it up! Mules are for sissies!" 

My last night in The Winds was spent at Eklund Lake, but the only decent spot I could find was in a thick stand of pines with no view. I did get some sleep, in between spells of lower back discomfort and occasional sliding off my inflatable mattress due to the downhill slope. The next morning was overcast, as evidenced by this photo from Photographers Point.

It was also downright cold... that's kind of a pun, as proven by this dashing young backpacker dressed in his goose down jacket. (Maybe I should send this photo to GQ or Outside magazine... and then again, maybe not.)

One of the funniest moments of the trip came when a trail running family from Colorado Springs ran by. The husband was a professional ultra-marathoner, and flashed by in an instant. He was followed a half hour later by his wife and two kids (all running), and their Yorkie Daisy! This little dog often runs 10 miles with the husband, often out in front of him urging him on!

The terrain and forest changed a lot as I dropped in elevation below 10,000 ft.; more big trees and lush, bright green foliage predominate here.

There must have been a serious windstorm since I started my trip, because these two big Ponderosa pines had fallen across the trail in the four days I was out. Another backpacker ahead of me trying to squeeze under the trees actually got stuck for a few minutes. I learned from her predicament and took my pack off before crawling carefully under the obstacle - with my back issue, I decided that doing a limbo routine to get through wasn't in the cards.

When I approached the trailhead, I figured I would have to wait an hour or so for Suzanne to pick me up at the agreed-upon time. Imagine my surprise when as I walked out of the woods, she was driving up with a big grin on her face! I had forgotten that Gina Feltner had loaned me a SPOT emergency locator beacon, "just in case", and that Suzanne would be tracking me the whole time I was up in the mountains... at least if I had gotten into any trouble, they would have known where to look for me. All in all, this was one of the best backpacking trips I've ever taken, even with my back pain. The scenery was spectacular, and there were far fewer people out in the mountains than I had expected. I am already looking forward to returning to Pinedale and Wyoming's rugged and beautiful Wind River Range. (But it was sure great to see Suzanne's big smile welcoming me home! She was also very gracious in not asking me to open the car window on the drive back to the coach, since I hadn't had a shower in four days...)