Wednesday, August 29, 2018

"Crusty"; Garden of the Gods; Door with a View? Unity Village; Ruthie Smeltzer; 540 Miles on the Missouri; Piriformis Problems; 10th Mountain Division; Thousand Islands; Mount Washington; "Where is the Door?"

My last post had us in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. From there, we traveled to Longmont to visit Army friends nearby.  Charles Cunis (also known as "Crusty"; he calls me "Salty") is a retired Lieutenant Colonel, and bets us every year on the Army-Navy football game. (Sometimes Army even wins... darn the bad luck!)

Crusty's Lovely Wife Elaine is a long-suffering angel who has to put up with Charlie for decades... Ha! We owed them a dinner, and of course I forgot to memorialize the event with a photo, but we rode our bikes to the Cunis Estate the next day and got our photos...

Next stop, the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where we set up camp among the beautiful Ponderosa pines on base. We hiked on the Falcon Trail with Mickey Gonzalez, a champion mountain biker and motocross racer. (I chose hiking because Mickey's mountain biking skills are so much above mine that I was afraid I would have cardiac arrest or go off a cliff face trying to keep up with her!)

We also hiked at the stunningly beautiful Garden of the Gods, just outside Colorado Springs. This remarkable 480 acre park, free to the public, was donated by the family of Charles Elliott Perkins, head of the Burlington Railroad. 

From Colorado Springs, it was a long drive across Kansas to our next event in St. Louis. On the way, we stopped in Ellis, KS, for the night. While walking around town, I spied this doorway in a dilapidated building; I loved the muted colors and textures , and wondered what stories that door could tell, could it speak...

Next on to Kansas City to have dinner with an anonymous friend who is a philanthropist... that's about all I can say, because he is... well... famous. Let's just say that he sets the standard for humility and generosity. It was an honor to spend time with him. While in the area, we also visited Unity Village's beautiful and spiritual campus in Lee's Summit. Suzanne got to meet with their event staff to see the spaces for her "W-holy You!" retreat planned for next April 11-14th.

Across Missouri to St. Charles, outside of St. Louis, where Suzanne presented her Serving Spirit course. Immediately afterward, she flew back to Florida to celebrate her mutual birthday with her mom.  She flew home a day earlier than expected when Ruthie's health took a turn for the worse, and Ruthie was admitted to hospice the next day. It was to be a bittersweet visit...  shortly after turning 91, Suzanne’s Lovely Mom Ruthie transitioned to the other side, joining her beloved husband Bill, who had passed just across the hall in the same hospice in 2008. For the past ten years, Suzanne and Ruthie have spoken almost every day, even while we were on the road every summer. Suzanne received hundreds of beautiful notes from friends all over the world, and they were all gratefully appreciated. Several friends back in The Villages provided solace and even stayed with Ruthie in shifts during her last days. You are all very special, and much appreciated. Ruthie, you are the best mother-in-law a guy could ever wish for. 

Kayaking has been a frequent activity on this blog, but while in St. Charles, I met a guy in our campground who had just completed a 540 mile Missouri River canoe/kayak race. David, shown here with his lightweight Kevlar canoe, paddled with his Marine Corps grandson for five days from Kansas City to St. Charles. (Great choice for a paddling companion... good thing his grandson wasn't in the Air Force!) This was one of the stops for Lewis and Clark on their historic Voyage of Discovery to the Pacific Ocean, 1804-1806.

Also in this campground was a group of campers who drove Holiday Rambler RVs. This was one of the signs that I know would make English teachers like Brenda Baker cringe... "Please, call the apostrophe police!"

While in St. Charles, I did a six mile hike and a 20 mile mountain bike ride on the same day, maybe not the smartest thing I've ever done... but the train station at Black Walnut, Missouri, called me. It's now just a kiosk with maps and historical info on the Katy Bike Trail.  It was a nice ride out and back, but I paid for it a few days later...

This is Your Trusty Correspondent in a Westfield, NY, ER, having gotten a report that he was not permanently crippled... but I had incurred a badly inflamed piriformis muscle from "overdoing it". (For the uninitiated, that results in a real pain in the butt!) A regimen of prednisone and stretching has helped a lot...

On the positive side, I was still able to appreciate that Westfield has an interesting lighthouse on the shore of Lake Erie, right near my campground...

While Suzanne was back in Florida with her family, I drove from St Louis, Missouri, to Rochester, NY. Fortunately I had good company, in the form of our miniature long-haired  Dachshunds, Rudy and Gretchen. I would explain driving techniques to Rudy, but until his legs grow (a lot), he can’t get his driver’s license. Thankfully, Gretchen hasn’t even asked for a license. Rain dogged us during this part of our trip, and we stopped at state parks in Indiana, Ohio and New York, but only for a night at each, until arriving at Letchworth State Park near New York’s Finger Lakes, where we finally had only the occasional shower (rain shower, that is... I try to shower at least weekly.) Several days there gave me a chance to catch my breath and stretch my legs, but without My Lovely Bride, it wasn’t a very pleasant stay.

Suzanne rejoined me in Rochester, and we drove on to Fort Drum, NY, home of the 10th Mountain Division, which has soldiers deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa, South America, and other garden spots around the globe.  (A George Orwell quote is appropriate here: "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.")  If you don't believe Orwell, then you are living in a dream world.  Stopping at military bases always gives us a morale boost, and the tough soldiers in the gym at Fort Drum were no exception. HOOAH! We hiked and biked several of the Commando trails through the woods, and Suzanne decompressed (a little); it’s amazing how physical exercise can help clear the mind.

A short distance from Fort Drum was our next stop, Wellesley Island State Park, part of the Thousand Islands area along the St. Lawrence River. We got our kayaks wet several times there, and enjoyed the tranquility and beauty of this amazing archipelago between the Canadian and US mainlands. Here is Suzanne making a heart for her mom with her hands - that's Heart Island in the background, where the six-story, 120 room Boldt Castle attracts thousands of visitors each year. Built by George Boldt, the owner of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel for his beloved wife Louise, she died before it was completed, and heartbroken, he never returned to the island. 

While at Wellesley Island, we took time for a quiet belated birthday dinner at a waterside restaurant in the village of Alexandria Bay. The location reminded us of our five years cruising aboard our 46 foot sailboat, Liberty. (Although we rarely ate out; we anchored out and ate almost all our meals aboard the boat.)

There were several "rustic island cottages" like this one for sale that we noted as we paddled along, but the winters here are just too brutal, what with lake effect snow and the river freezing over. The deciding factor, though, was that we couldn’t find a sled small enough for Rudy and Gretchen to pull across the ice.

Onward to Vermont and New Hampshire… where we met friends from The Villages, Gayle and Bill Hancock. Bill is a retired Navy 3 star admiral, a destroyerman like me, and we always have a great time swapping sea stories, some of which even have an element of truth to them. Bill and Gayle were staying at a time share near Franconia Notch, and we were in a campground about 20 minutes away. We enjoyed a great dinner at a restaurant in Lisbon, NH, and lunch the next day at the Mount Washington Resort, site of the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference which set the economic stage for the post-World War II world. (Funny, but Germany, Italy and Japan were not invited...)

In closing, readers should be aware that our summer tour is not always glamorous. In an unnamed campground east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon Line which shall remain anonymous, My Lovely Bride found this delightful, well-ventilated pit toilet with a terrific view... but where is the door??? "Suzanne, you're tough! You don't need no stinkin' door!"

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Saloon Girls and Hard Bodies; Beware the Wolf! South Fork; Beavers; Creede; Rocky Mountain National Park; Cutthroats!!!

My last post ended with a photo of me flirting with a saloon girl (actually just a mannequin) in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. I received an email from a friend (who shall remain anonymous for his personal safety) saying that there were some benefits to mannequins - they had hard bodies, could be taken anywhere and never complained. I don't think I'll share that email with My Lovely Bride...

We departed Pagosa Springs (7,126 ft) on US Highway 160, and immediately started on the steepest long climb the coach has ever made. We topped out at Wolf Creek Pass (10,850 ft), after an average 6.8% grade that had a few short sections of 7%+. We were averaging only 25 mph, still passing some loaded semis, and our coolant temps were edging close to the red line at times. The Colorado Dept. of Transportation (CoDot) web site has this warning sign for "The Wolf" and Hwy. 160, which has seen many fatal accidents, mostly on the way down from Wolf Creek Pass. 

Our next stop after clearing "The Wolf" was South Fork, CO, where we spent several days catching our breath from some long driving days. The whole area was blanketed with smoke from two major forest fires, one to the north and one to the east. The latter would result in closing our route to the east, but that was yet to come. On our second day, the smoke cleared a bit, and we went for a hike in a beautiful valley.

This lake near South Fork was my first attempt at Colorado trout fishing. It was more a gear-testing afternoon, with new waders, boots, rod, reel, line, leader, tippet, and flies being worked out, along with my less than expert casting techniques being "refined". As any fly fisherman will tell you, it's easier casting on a lake because there aren't trees and bushes around on which to hang up your fly. (The totality of the preceding sentences is fisherman-speak for "I didn't catch anything that day.")

I also tried some trout fishing on the south fork of the Rio Grande River, for which the town is named, but high water temperatures made the fishing very slow. I spoke to two fisherman downstream of me, and none of us caught anything in the two hours before noon. The river was basically closed in the afternoon because the trout would die if they were hooked and landed - being catch and release guys, none of us fished after 12 PM. Locals said that we should come back in October or May-June, when the fishing was much better. It's the Angler's Lament... "But Sweetheart, the weather was too hot in July... I have to fly back to Colorado in October and try again..."

So what do you do when the fishing's bad? "Go for a hike!" Suzanne had a reading to give, and some other work to do, so I took a few hours and hiked the Deep Creek Trail near the tiny town of Creede (8,700 ft). The first thing I saw at the trailhead was this small marker; it reads, "Here lies a small girl who died of a sickness on the wagon train west. In memory of all the children who died going west." Typically, 6-7% of the people traveling west died enroute, with typhus, diphtheria, measles, scarlet fever, Rocky Mountain fever, and violent interactions with locals being the principal causes, but even simple accidents like falling off a wagon or underneath an ox or wagon wheel could easily be fatal, since there was precious little medical care available on the Oregon, Emigrant, Mormon, Santa Fe, or Overland Trails.

The Deep Creek Trail follows Deep Creek (isn't that a surprise?) for 9 miles into the Rio Grande National Forest, but I made this a 7 mile day hike (round trip). A beaver dam and pond along the way made a pleasant place to stop for lunch. The beavers' lodge was on the other side of the pond, and I purposely didn't go near it so as not to disturb them. The beaver is  probably my favorite wilderness animal.

The beavers (Castor canadensis) must have heard me coming, because none were to be seen or heard. I include this web photo for those who have lived sheltered lives and never experienced seeing these delightful critters in person. They were trapped extensively in the 19th Century, mainly for their pelts, which were made into men's hats. As of 1988, their US population was estimated at 6-12 million, compared to 60 million at its peak. Being herbivores, their diet is principally aspen, alder, cottonwood and willow. Their flat tails are used for swimming and as alarms - they slap them hard on the surface of a pond or stream to alert other beavers nearby. When alarmed, they can stay underwater for up to 15 minutes. Adults can weigh up to 55 lbs, and their teeth are self-sharpening and keep growing so they don't wear down as they chew on trees and branches. 

This photo shows why the trail follows Deep Creek through its canyon - the walls are steep and rocky, with many rockslides and avalanche chutes that make climbing up from the creek trail, well, problematic... not to mention difficult, dangerous and dumb... (oh, it would then be a 3-D trail!) I can hear the bighorn sheep  booing - or is that baaaahhhhing -now.

From South Fork, we had to detour about 100 miles out of the way because of the forest fire near La Veta Pass (9,413 ft), which had forced the closure of Highway 160 through the Sangre de Christo mountains. Our destination that day was Buckley AFB, where we spent one night. Our goal was to meet with our dear friends Jeff and Lynn Hollahan, and we enjoyed a delightful dinner at their house in Denver. We had last seen Jeff and Lynn in Scottsdale, but they are such fun that we are trying to get them to move to the East Coast... wishful thinking, but we can try!

Rocky Mountain National Park - our next stop, and one of our favorite destinations in Colorado - is a hikers' dream. We stayed in a commercial campground right outside Estes Park, a typical crowded tourist town, but close to the park entrance. I went on a two day backpack in the high country, and had a ball. It was a 13 mile loop trail that started at one of the park's most popular destinations, Bear Lake (9,450 ft), where Suzanne dropped me off. There were several hundred people here, because there is parking and a shuttle stop, but once I left Bear Lake, I only saw a handful of people over two days. 

It was a couple of hours hike up through aspens, spruce and pines, then over a pass and around Joe Mills Mountain (11,078 ft) to Odessa Lake, where I stopped for lunch. The spur trail to the lake is uphill alongside this gorgeous stream... 

Odessa Lake is another of what Suzanne and I refer to, tongue in cheek, as "Hateful Places"... It was very crowded, though; I think I saw three people in the distance. The lake is surrounded by several 11,000 - 12,000 ft peaks, including Flattop, Notchtop, Little Matterhorn (the sharp one over my thumb), Knobtop, Gabletop, and The Gable. It's a climber's paradise.

Another few miles along was my destination for the night, Fern Lake. (Yes, another Hateful Place...) I chose Fern for my campsite because I would be getting the best campsite there - a "group camp" with four campsites, but because I was the only person asking for it, I would have my pick of the four, with no one else around. "It don't get better no better than this!"

I set up camp in a grove of spruce and pines, with my tent on a relatively flat spot with few rocks. There was a requirement to carry bear canisters for food and smelly stuff like toothpaste, so I didn't have to hoist my food into the trees; the down side is that the bear canister (hard plastic, cylindrical, heavy) weighs 2.2 lbs. This added a lot to my pack, and made the total about 33 lbs. And there was no spare weight for even a small bottle of wine... what a bummer!

I didn't encounter any bears (so I could have replaced the bear canister with a small cask of Zinfandel, but I digress), but I had a visit from this attractive young local female late afternoon as I was prepping my gourmet dinner - freeze-dried Spanish rice and chicken... Emeril would not have been impressed, and neither was Ms. Doe; she walked calmly through my camp, as I stood stock still, and started browsing in a nearby meadow. It was a delightful encounter... mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) are the predominant species here. 

At dusk, I swatted away only a couple of mosquitoes, and crawled into my sleeping bag, and because rain wasn't forecast, I hadn't rigged a rain fly over my tent. This was my view as I contemplated my good fortune in being in one of Mother Nature's most beautiful places. I fell asleep with an owl hooting in the distance...

The next day, after coffee, freeze-dried eggs and hash browns, I got to fishing; Fern Lake is famous for its Greenback cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii stomias), one of the prettiest fish in the world. It is a threatened species, so it's all catch and release, which I was happy to do anyway. Cleaning fish in bear country can be... well, problematic... The cutthroats here are all small, about 10-13 inches, but they put up a good fight on a fly rod. I caught three in an hour or so, one on a black and yellow spider fly and two on a caddis pattern. (For those of you have followed my blog, my success at fishing has been... well... spotty. For the record, this day's catch was no Fisherman's Tale!

I have mentioned that my meditative time comes most often on hikes. This photo may give you an idea of why... It was a joy to be on a pristine mountain lake, surrounded by sawtoothed peaks, with only two other people in sight, far away on the other side of the lake. Life is Good!