Too Much of a Good Thing?

Can you really have too much of a good thing. Let’s take ice cream. I will unashamedly admit that on more than one occasion I have literally licked the bottom of the bowl and it may not have even been mine.

For the past three weeks, we have been at a condo we rented on the gulf in Florida. Every day has been sunny with temps in the 80’s. When we weren’t basking in the pool just outside of our lanai, we were at the beach, with our toes in the water. And every evening, ah, the sunsets.

Sunsets on the ocean are spectacular. Weather permitting, and it was, the sun arcs toward the water’s edge in a blazing orb that gradually deepens in color from bright white to blazing yellow and eventually to deepening shades of orange. As the outer rim touches the ocean’s edge, the march below the waves accelerates, or so it seems, and in a matter of minutes, its gone. As the last sliver of the sun disappears, the skies light up in an explosion of deep oranges and soft reds, but not before this halo of light seems to erupt into the dusk sky. The strange thing is that no two sunsets are ever exactly the same and no matter how many photos you have snapped, you find yourself taking one more.

As I said, we were here for three weeks. Our first week was shared with my daughter, her husband and our two grandchildren. To say the energy of two young grandchildren kept us busy would be an understatement. Daily trips down to the surf, hours of swimming in the complex’s pool and long walks down the beach shelling, the sport of finding the best seashells, filled our days from dawn to the evening sunset. Sadly, they had to go home at the end of that first week leaving my wife I to keep each other entertained. Near the end of week two and missing our grandchildren, my wife asked the question, was three weeks too long? Were we in fact ready to go home? As the question hung there and the sun began its descent to the ocean, the answer was obvious. Were we in a hurry to return home where spring was waging a losing battle to push away winter? Where it had snowed the day before and temps still hovered near freezing?

Let’s not be hasty. We deserve a few more days of falling asleep to the sounds of the surf rolling onto the beach. To walk with sand tickling our toes. To just gaze out at the ocean as sail boats go by first following the wind and then alternately tacking against it. To catch a few more amazing sunsets. And there you have it, you really can’t get too much of a good thing.

I’ll have to wrap this up. The sun is dipping toward the ocean and I can hear the mellow sounds of the conch shells beckoning me out to watch.

Not Yet !

What is it about packing that makes my blood run cold? We are set to leave for our next vacation Sunday morning, just two days from now. Truthfully, I should currently be packing, but I have chosen to write about why I’m not packing instead. My wife and travel mate, Deb, was packed a full two weeks ago, but I just can’t seem to start. It’s not that I am not looking forward to the trip, I am in fact really excited to get away. But none the less, my habit of packing procrastination is on high alert, sort of def con 3.

I have created an entire handbook full of reasons for not packing ahead of time. What if before we leave, I need one of the pieces of clothing I packed? What will the weather be where we are going? God knows you can’t trust a forecast more than a day out. What am I going to do with those last minute items? I would have to unpack just to get them in the ideal position within my suitcase. And what if TSA makes a new requirement I will have to pass? My list is limitless and the bottom line is that there is always tomorrow.

My m. o. has always been to pack about one hour before we leave. Much to my wife’s chagrin, she has been repeatedly unsuccessful in trying to change me. Even so, she has never had to leave without me, close calls a few times, but I’ve always come through. There was that one time. We had a 6:00 am flight to catch which meant pickup by our Uber driver at 4:00 am. My wife likes to have a full hour getting ready in the morning, so our wake up alarm was set for 2:45 am. Plenty of time for me to dress AND to pack. Everything should have worked except for one tiny hitch, daylight savings time began that morning. The result, a record setting run for both of us. My wife showered and dressed while I literally threw everything into my suitcase all in 15 minutes. This experience should have been a wake up call, no pun intended, but instead, became my new benchmark.

The art of packing is just that, an art. Some, like my wife, view it as a planning activity. Others a means of extending their vacation anticipation period. I view it as a track meet. Sort of a 100 yard dash at most. It’s not just a question of can I finish the race, but how fast can I do it. I have been looking forward to this trip ever since we laid the initial plans, but the packing, that’s another thing.

Fear not. We leave at 7:00 am Sunday morning, plenty of time to pack that suitcase. Though I will for sure be seeing the sun rise that morning, I promised Deb, my suitcase will be in the car by the deadline. Am I packed? ……………. Not yet.

The Call of the Road Trip

The road trip has been talked about for generations. When I was growing up the best road trip one could take, was Route 66. This one was so famous, they wrote books about it and even made a TV show with Route 66 as the premise. The idea of a road trip offered a chance to see America close up and if you really wanted to see the out of the way, you had to take the by ways and avoid the free ways.


During my lifetime I have taken my share of road trips. The first road trips were relatively short in that they didn’t even leave the state. Later, my road trips expanded beyond the borders of my state and several took me all the way across the country. I have driven to San Francisco on one coast and New York on the opposite. One trip reached the tip of Cape Cod, while another the tip of the Florida Keys at Key West. Two took me out of the country to Quebec City on the Atlantic side and Edmonton, Alberta on the western side of Canada. Each and every one of these trips hold very special memories. Memories of driving with my small children. Bonding trips with friends from college. Several long trips with my wife as copilot. In the end, I brought home lots of photos and souvenirs, but more importantly, incredible memories of the places and views as well as new friends made along the way. I could never pick one favorite trip, but there certainly were some great ones. 


There is one trip that does stand out from the rest for it’s sheer audacity. It was the summer of 1977, I had just resigned from my first teaching job and had moved back home before I would start my new one that fall. My brother had some vacation time coming and asked if I were up for a road trip. We would load the car and head west eventually reaching Sacramento where we would drop in on our sister. We had zero plans but big ideas. With my little red mustang loaded with the few things we thought we might need, we said good by to our mother and headed west. We reached Omaha, Nebraska sometime in the wee hours of the next morning and passed Lincoln around sunrise. Some small Nebraska town out in the middle of nowhere became our first pit stop. It seems the Nebraska State Patrol believes one should drive slow enough to truly enjoy the amazing scenery their state has to offer. After paying for our share of that view, we were back on the road. We eventually crossed the Rockies, the Great Salt Lake, and the Sierras arriving at our destination, my sister and brother-in-law’s home in Sacramento. It had taken us most of two days and I am not even sure I remember where we stopped for the night or even if we did. All in all, we spent the better part of two weeks on that trip. We toured Sacramento, took in one of my brother-in-laws stock car races, made several new acquaintances curtesy of the Sacramento night scene, and re-established our significance to our sister.


Our return trip back across the country was equally noteworthy. Safe to say, we still went more or less by the seat of our pants when it came to planning. Night one found us rolling out our sleeping bags under a moonlit Oregon sky only to be awakened soon after by rather large animal sounds, at least they sounded large. Back in the car, we decided we were not cut out to be cowboys sleeping under the stars. We reached Yellowstone by morning and actually made Mt Rushmore in time for the evening lighting of the monument. I still remember Keith asking if the one day park sticker we had bought that morning in Yellowstone, also got us into Mt Rushmore. The look on the ranger’s face said it all. I believe his exact words were, “You’re covered on the park entrance fee, but maybe I should be giving you a speeding ticket instead.” After a good laugh, we were granted entrance to the park. Our intent that night was to pitch a tent and start back on our trip home the in the morning. Our intent was valid, but after a night out in Keystone, two more new acquaintances, and a trip to an abandoned gold mine at three am, it was already dawn when we got to our tent. Our camp ground neighbors commented on how impressed they were with our being such early risers. We left them believe that.

 
That trip sticks out in my mind as being the event that re-bonded me with my brother. Sharing all that time, and yes, adventures with him, renewed our brotherhood. That is what road trips are meant to do. We get to reacquaint ourselves, we discover new places and new people, we adventure. The open road cannot be seen from 30,000 feet up. It needs to roll beneath the tires of your vehicle. It needs to be seen from the windshield of your car and it needs to invite you to pull over, get out, and experience it first hand. Every road trip I have taken has afforded me those priceless opportunities. Next time someone offers you the chance for a road trip, don’t hesitate. Throw a few things in the back of the car, buckle your seatbelt, and hit the road.

                                 Queet’s Beach, Washington.  One of many great road trips with my daughters

A Question of Distance

I write a piece each week for a project called Story Worth which my daughters purchased for my birthday. It seems they actually want my memoirs, go figure. This week’s assignment was to write about the farthest trip I ever took. What follows is my answer to that question.

This is an interesting question as there are two different answers. If we consider total distance, regardless of the means of transportation, it would be our family trip to Italy in 2006. We flew into Rome for that trip and then over the course of two weeks, traveled to Positano in the south of Italy, and then crisscrossed the country ending up in Venice. From there we crossed again to Siena and Florence, and eventually returned to Rome. This trip was an incredible adventure and a cherished family memory. We discovered so many things and both viewed and learned an incredible amount of history as we traveled from city to city. Along the way we formed a friendship with the families who accompanied us on our tour. These were people we had not known before entering our hotel in Rome. People whom we never would have known except that fate had put us together. The beauty of travel is not just the scenery and the history you experience, but the people you meet along the way, fellow travelers on the journey.

That trip was by far the farthest distance wise, but if I think about the longest driving trip I ever took, it would be my drive to California and back in the summer of 1977. That summer, my brother and I loaded up my 1974 Mustang compact and headed west for California. It would take us three days and numerous stops along the way before we would arrive in Sacramento, but we made it. I could tell you of the adventures along the way, but most were sworn to secrecy and the statute of limitations has not yet been lifted. I can tell you that among some of the records set, one was touring both Yellowstone and Mt Rushmore on the same day. Even the park ranger questioned how we accomplished that one.  Along the way, we slept under the stars, that was until we thought we heard a bear, explored an abandoned gold mine at two in the morning, and met countless characters along the way. That trip was a bonding experience for my brother and I that will forever entertain us each time the story is retold and would establish a friendship that has lasted to this day.

Never discount the value of travel. The world is such a large and diverse place. Each new place you visit and every new person you meet adds to the whole of your being. Take time in life to travel, whether it be to far off lands, across your own country, or just in your state, look for the beauty, make new friends, and always enjoy the ride.

Steel City

I admit this is a travelogue, but I’ll make a point. Long, well long long ago, I was given the dare by a college friend on an all too many libations evening, to drive home for the weekend with him and another friend. No big deal except that we were in Wisconsin and he lived in Connecticut. We would leave late Thursday night and be back in time for our Monday classes. I took the dare and immediately started to worry about how my parents would feel if something happened and they would not have even known I had gone. The morning before we were set to leave, I caved in and called my dad. Totally expecting him to shoot down the idea as crazy, ill formed, and paid for how?, I awaited the big NO! To my utter surprise, my conservative, sensible father said, “I have given up so many things in my life and travel was one, you should travel every time you get the opportunity.”

I took the dare and we were off late that Thursday night, snow bound on the Ohio Turnpike at 2:00 in the morning, stranded in a truck stop till dawn and one whole day of driving, but we made it to Connecticut. Two days later and another all night drive and we were back at UW Oshkosh for my 10:00 am class. To this day, this opportunity remains an incredible memory.

A month or so ago, we were invited to the wedding of my next door neighbor’s son. The catch was that it was in Pittsburgh and I am sure the thought was would they really come? If my Connecticut trip all those years ago taught me anything, it was never pass up an opportunity to visit a city for the first time. I had never been to Pittsburgh so there really never was a hesitation, we were going and we would travel by car. Travel by car, as I have written about in other blogs, is the best way to really experience a trip. We split this trip in half, spent a day in Sandusky, Ohio and arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania early on Thursday afternoon.

Lake Erie sunset from the Sandusky Pier Park
Tunnel view of the Point Park Fountain in Pittsburgh

My opinion of Pittsburgh, as my title states, was one of steel mills, heavily industrial, and well, likely poor. Granted we stayed in the downtown, but my opinion changed immediately. The city has been working very hard on regentrification and the impact is everywhere in the downtown area. Pittsburgh sits on the confluence of three rivers, the Alleghany, the Monongahela, and the Ohio. Their meeting point is marked by a beautiful park surrounded by the bluffs on either side. Just across the river sits the Pittsburgh Steelers football stadium and just down the river the Pittsburgh Pirates ball park. The bike trails run everywhere and food, entertainment, and sports bars dot the area. In short, so much to do and see and in my case not much time to get it done. But I have two more days and I am confident I will leave here with not only new memories, but another city added to my completion list and an opinion changed.

Fountain at Point Park where the three rivers meet
Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers
The Duquesne Incline at Pittsburgh on Mt Washington
Night view of the Incline from the Ft. Pitt Bridge

Travel can never be discounted due to what it does for the traveler. If one travels with an open mind and a good dose of curiosity, you will come home with better understanding of how our uniqueness is in our differences and that our common bond is found in our humanity.

Arrived

We left Madison three days ago after a year and month of COVID isolation. The temp that morning was 20 degrees and a high of 38 degrees was forecast for the day. Our first night was spent in Cincinnati, OH and our second in Asheville, NC. Late this afternoon we reached our destination on Kiawah Island, SC. The temperature, 75 degrees. I am, as I write this, sitting on the screen porch of our VRBO with a local brew in my hand, watching an alligator sunning in the canal below. Warning, before you put two and two together and conclude our house is unoccupied and easy pickings, besides our ever watchful neighbors, did I mention the eight foot python we recently purchased.

Relaxation Station

It was quite the drive to get here but so scenic and so refreshing after a year of vacationing in my back yard, putting a mere 500 miles on my vehicle in the course of the entire year. I swear I could hear my jeep purring as I turned towards the interstate and began to put the miles behind us. There is a lot to be said for a road trip. A road trip gives you the chance to bond with your fellow traveler or plot where to leave them, just kidding Deb. A road trip gives you the opportunity to experience Americana and to just take in sights on a whim. It is the adventure Jack Kerouac alludes to when he writes, “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” Never discount the road trip.

Breakfast in Cincinnati, the pancakes rivaled the ambiance.

For the next week, I will attempt a round of golf on a course light years beyond my ability to play it. I will walk the beach and maybe manage to catch a few sunrises over the Atlantic. I will put as many miles as my legs can handle on my bike. And I will generally put the world of stress and COVID behind me. I will regenerate. For those of you who know me well, know that I have traveled often, sometimes with detailed plans and sometimes by the seat of my pants. This trip feels different. I would be a liar if I said the isolation of this past year hadn’t left me damaged. This trip is the beginning of my repair.

We have arrived. All that is left now is to be: stress free, plan limited, senses alert, and open to the healing that time away can bring.

Three days and 1100 miles later ………….. Let the smiles rival the miles.

Summer’s Gone

It would be a gross misstatement to say that this was a typical summer. As I write this blog, we are in the process of wrapping up our last week of cottage time. My wife shares the cottage they inherited from their parents with her two brothers and that means her time share amounts to five weeks every summer. In a normal year we might, at most, use parts of two or three weeks and then embark on more distant trips to all those places we dreamed our retirement would take us. Not so in the summer of COVID-19. All big travel trips had to be put on hold and with many of our local haunts closed or limited, the cottage proved to be the our only get away and this year saw us at the cottage for all of my wife’s five weeks.

I will be the first to say it, thank God for the cottage. We spent hours reading, hiking, kayaking, biking riding and if you are a regular reader, you know there was a lot of time spent watching my grandchildren fish, which by the way, is pure joy. There were evening campfires complete with the typical word games, stories and s’mores. There was the simple pleasure of spotting the lake’s two loons, the eagles as they soared above and the deer that would quietly visit our cottage as we sat stone still observing them. My grandchildren and I even invented several games, Road Golf being their most popular. With Road Golf, we took it so far as to write up the rules and then refine them as the game demanded. Note to my readers, send me a request via email and I’ll send you a copy of the rules. Equipment is minimal, a good rock and a pair of old shoes.

The five weeks spread out across three months flew by and here we are, a few days away from Labor Day and the traditional marking of summer’s end. The cottage will be closed up for the season as soon as my brother-in-laws’ final two weeks are logged. And then it will sit, silently enduring the long winter months and heavy snows of northern Wisconsin. But spring will eventually arrive and the cycle of family visits will start anew. The question will be, how will 2021 compare to 2020? Let’s hope more like the old normal we are all longing for now.

But it is what it is. We all traveled afar, far less. We visited our family and friends less in person and far more virtually. We reinvented our traditions, our birthdays, graduations and family celebrations. We read more and socialized less, we ate in way more than we used to eat out. Like it or not, COVID has changed us. Some of those changes may become permanent while others will have been just for now, just for the pandemic. Summer is not really gone, it actually has another month left according to the calendar. In this year, it might feel like it never existed, especially if we only look at what we didn’t get to do. But, if we can reflect on what we did do, especially those things that were different, well then it might have actually been a great summer.

Patience will see us through this. Paying attention to personal habits and keeping each other safe will make it pass quicker. Summer is ending, but it was never gone. And it will come again. Here’s hoping it will be COVID free next time around and that some of our new traditions and activities will survive the test of time and be part of it.

Happy Labor Day

Half Dome …… Pressing On

Part Seven: This next part of the story is the most difficult for me to tell. We had already hiked over eight miles, climbed over 4000 feet and been at it for going on eight hours. As much as it took courage to climb this last 1000 feet, clinging to a one inch cable at almost vertical, it took more courage to know you had to call it quits. That to ignore the vertigo gripping you, at this height, would not only be a bad decision but a dangerous one. To this day, I am as proud of Bailey for turning back as I was for Kathryn struggling on.

As Bailey asked to be let down, I had to make a decision. We still had Kathryn hanging above us needing help. Fortunately, I caught John’s eyes and without a single word spoken, he let me know he was going to go back down with Bailey and that I needed to go up to release Kathryn’s carabiner. We were a true team at that point, willing to make decisions as a team and not as individuals. The move was tricky, but Bailey eased down alongside as I climbed up past. I scrambled up the space between us and reached Kathryn about thirty feet above. We were both disappointed but we climbed on.

Kathryn and I were now about three quarters of the way to the summit and still hanging at nearly vertical, when our third issue arose. As I was looking straight up at Kathryn some 20 feet above me, I saw her boot lace dangling as her boot had become untied. Fearing she would lose the boot or catch the lace under it as she climbed, I knew I had to get her to stop and somehow tie her boot. Kathryn pulled a maneuver I still see in my minds eye. She swung around, sat down on a small 2×4 stretched on the rock between the stanchions on her left and right, and reached down to retie her boot. To do this, she had unclipped and was now looking down between her knees at her feet and not coincidentally at the great void stretching out below us.

Horst had warned us of the effect of dehydration. He used the term “talking like a doughboy” and Kathryn was definitely sounding like a doughboy as she told me she thought she was going to throw up. Interestingly, it would be throwing down not up and on me. I scrambled up to her position, grab water and a candy bar from my pack and made her eat and drink. I could only hope this would help her. After about five minutes, I had my answer. She regained her color, turned around, grabbed the cables above her and started to climb.

We were now with in striking distance of the summit and the slope was coming down to a reasonable angle. As we walked the remaining distance to the crest, Kathryn turned to me and said “I’ll never call you an old man again. My response, “Of course you will, but thanks for the sentiment.” We had made it. We were on the summit of Half Dome! We had reached the top and our sense of accomplishment was unbounded. I will admit, there was still that reverse back down the cables to be dealt with, but for now, we were celebrating.

To be Continued ………….

Half Dome ……Trouble

Part Six: Bailey was just above me and Kathryn above her. Suddenly Kathryn was asking Bailey to climb up behind her and unhook her carabiner. The angle had become so steep that Kathryn could not reach it and was unable to get around the next stanchion unless she could unhook the carabiner from the cable and make the switch. At this point, vertigo was setting in for Bailey. She was near her limit and was now being asked to perform this task for Kathryn. When you reach this point, even the slightest issue can push you over the edge, and that issue was on its way down the dome.

We had gotten to the cables early enough to have only a few groups ahead of us. One of those groups was made up of three frenchmen who were well seasoned climbers, having probably climbed in the Alps and considered this climb a walk in the park. They had already been to the summit and were on their way down when they had to pass us coming up. As fate would have it, they met at Bailey’s moment of decision.They stepped out of the cables and literally hopped around and down around us. In any other situation, this would have appeared comical, but not so from our vantage point. Simultaneously, from somewhere high above us, a climber had dropped their Nalgene water bottle. As it bounced and clatter down the dome, it passed right between the frenchman, dancing on the sheer edge, and Bailey clinging to the cables. That bottle never stopped its drop but simply disappeared as it fell the thousand or more feet through empty space, crashing against the rocks far below. And that was it. Bailey made her decision.

To be continued ……..

Half Dome ……. The Cables

Part Five: Kathryn made the first move. As we sat there contemplating those cables, Kathryn exclaimed that having come this far and covered so much ground already, she was not turning around without at least touching them. As she headed across the saddle toward the cables, Bailey spoke next. “You know she isn’t going to stop there so I guess this means we’re going.” And that was that. By the time we reached the cables, Kathryn was already climbing. We pulled on our gloves, grabbed our backpacks and followed; Bailey went first, then me and John right behind us.

It was then that the first mistake was committed. For whatever reason, Kathryn decided to leave her backpack on the saddle. This included her water bottle. By now, we had been walking for nearly seven hours. We were tired, hot, and though we had been trying to stay hydrated, this was not the time to leave behind such a precious commodity. But, already almost 100 feet above us, Kathryn was not coming back down. And so we climbed.

The first hundred or so feet were reasonable. The angle of climb was near 45 degrees but doable. We were getting comfortable with the cables and proficient at switching our carabiner each time we reached one of the stanchions, but that didn’t last long. At around 150 feet, the pitch increased to over 60 degrees. At this point, it was like climbing a ladder. The carabiner switch became more and more difficult. We were now reaching behind us to unhook and then re-hook on the other side of the stanchion. Every time we reached back, we got to look straight down, not just the 200 feet of cables, but all the way down the sides of the dome to the valley over 2000 feet below. And that is when our next problem arose.

To be continued ………