Sure Feels Like a Travelogue

Our week is coming to an end and we will fly home tomorrow night. We will be leaving clear skies with temps in the upper 60’s and return to a recent dumping of snow and bitter cold. We will trade long leisurely walks for house bound days and snow shoveling. But we knew that was the deal when we left. And with that in mind, we definitely made the best of a great opportunity.

San Diego surpassed every expectation. Besides the incredible weather, we had surprises every where we went. Seal watching in La Jolla. Old Town San Diego with its historic streets and buildings. Balboa Park, our biggest surprise and truly a San Diego gem, with its 1400 acres and the 1915 Panama Exposition village. And lest I forget, the Hotel Del Coronado where movie stars and dignitaries have reserved its rooms since 1888. San Diego has something to offer to anyone and everyone willing to explore this city.

We wanted a quick get away and picked San Diego rather at random. We were prepared for the usual trip trip ups. You know, the less than expected accommodations, the over priced under valued tourist trap, the transportation screw up or even just bad weather. We have spent a week and never experienced a disappointment. Instead, we enjoyed exceptional accommodations, friendly people, super helpful Uber drivers and perfect weather.

We wanted to do something special for our last night so we took our Uber driver’s advice and went to Sunset Cliffs. There, with a few hundred people, we watched an incredible sunset and oohed along with the crowd as the sun slowly sank into the horizon of the Pacific Ocean. I swear we could hear it sizzle as it touched the water. And then, after a round of applause from the appreciative audience, we bid farewell to day and headed back to our hotel for one last night.

I do apologize for this shameful travelogue but San Diego is so deserving of the praise. If you haven’t already, add San Diego to your bucket list and if you have, I am betting you would gladly go back. I know I will.

It Ain’t Snowin Where I’m Goin

Being retired has its perks. One of the main ones is being able to just pick up and go. This winter hasn’t been terribly cold or terribly snowy but it’s still winter, and that means dreary days and bleak vistas. With winter offering at least two more months of the same, I decided it was time to pick up and go.

We are somewhere over Kansas on our way to California. We used a highly sophisticated process to come up with our destination. It consisted of researching the answers to three key questions. One, where do planes fly to? Turns out everywhere. Two, where is the temperature going to be higher than 60 degrees? Almost anywhere else. And three, where did the dart we threw at the map, land? San Diego. Do planes fly there? Yes. Is it warmer than 60 degrees? Yes. And so, we will have left a forecast calling for three inches of snow and seven below degrees air temperature, not to mention the wind chill, and in five mere hours will trade it for sunshine, ocean views and 65-degree weather.

It is amazing when you think about it, how small and accessible the world has become. Granted, we are not flying across the ocean to some far-off continent, though the passenger behind me will be in New Zealand sometime tomorrow, but we are crossing the U.S. in the span of a couple feature films plus commercials. Pretty cool!

This is why we work. We make a living so that we can enjoy living. Retirement, except for the age thing, is a pretty sweet gig. But having just said that, it begs also to be mentioned that it doesn’t have to wait until retirement. I mean living should happen somehow every day. We can’t take off across the country any old time, but we also don’t have to wait until we’re too old to enjoy it, to do it. Try to live a little every day and then every once and a while, fit in a chance to get away, to explore and to experience life somewhere beyond your own back yard or even better, beyond your office.

This is a bold, almost cavalier statement coming from a former financial planner, but life is like a buffet, a little of this and a little of that, but save room for dessert. We work a little, we save a little and we take some dessert now and then. Be responsible, you do need to save for a retirement at some point but live a little along the way. Maintaining balance is the key.

San Diego is going to be a lot nicer than Madison this week and I checked the weather, no snow!

Arrival San Diego

There’s Silver in Them Thar Hills

I am returning from our latest journey soaring above the clouds at around 30,000 feet at a speed of 500 some miles per hour. I’ll be home before midnight and am looking forward to a night in my own bed. I’ll face the usual tasks awaiting me tomorrow morning, all the price of being gone for a week. And yet, all of it worth it. Travel in today’s world is relatively easy, save for the hours spent in airport terminals, standing in line for the TSA check in or just lounging about waiting for your flight to board. Oh, and let’s not forget the general disrobing to get through the TSA process. But I am flying safely knowing that no one on board has more than 3 ounces of anything and that their shoes have been cleared of any lethal devices.

Our trip began last Monday at oh four thirty with our ride to the local airport. Seven and a half hours later we were retrieving our bags in Reno, Nevada. I had been invited to a three-day conference dealing with my volunteer retirement gig with SCORE. Deb, and I had decided to extend our stay so that we could see more of the area than the inside of the Atlantis Casino and, to give my two California sisters a chance to visit with their favorite brother, my estimation. I knew little about Reno other than its location on the eastern edge of the Sierra Range and that it was hot and dry. Why is it that everyone always touts the comfort of heat when it’s dry air? Seared must be somehow more comfortable than boiled. Regardless, Reno is a quite attractive alternative to the bright neon overkill of Las Vegas. You can still gamble your time away but in a smaller more picturesque setting. Footnote here, I didn’t gamble, I left that to my sister who apparently came close to bankrupting the casino, her estimation.

The conference was surprisingly educational, and I enjoyed the host of people I met and networked with throughout the three days. It seemed we had a lot in common. We were for the most part, retired and dedicated to giving back our wisdom to the clients we mentor as well as trying to find ways to grow our chapters to help even more startup companies improve their odds of survival. As it ended, I felt energized and ready to tackle phase two of our mini vacation.

Reno’s history lies in its proximity to the silver and gold fields of the Sierra Mountains. Situated at the head of the Owen’s Valley and on the banks of the Truckee River, it was in the ideal place for the vast shipments of gold and silver coming out of the mining towns. Close to a billion tons of the ore was pulled from the mountains to be processed into gold and silver bars in the late 1800’s. One such mining town sending down its bullion, was Virginia City. Remember the 1960’s show, Bonanza, that Virginia City. Before you get excited, the actual filming, as is the Hollywood style, was done miles up the mountain range at Lake Tahoe. But then we came for the history and not the glitz of fake reality. Virginia City did not disappoint.

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After surviving a very cool antique car museum tour the day before that lasted four hours as our guide virtually insisted on giving us the facts on all one thousand four hundred cars the museum had collected, we started our Virginia City visit with you guessed it, another tour.

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Deb, after suggesting the previous tour only to abandon us after three hours, seems she couldn’t take it, decided we should do another. With trepidation, Deb, I and my sister Karen along with her partner Larry, chose the Fourth Ward Schoolhouse from the host of museums and tours available. After all, we were teachers and this building went up in 1876 just after the Virginia City fire of 1875. That date qualified it as the historic and exactly what we were seeking. I will confess that Deb had made a good choice. The schoolhouse was full of Virginia City history, artifacts and incredible pictures as well as actual documents and bills of lading from the time of the city’s heyday. We forgave Deb for her indiscretions of the previous day and credited her with a great choice of starting points. Besides, this tour only took us an hour and a half. Either less information or we had learned to all read and browse faster.

Having satisfied our need for background, we now sought nourishment, both solid and liquid. Next stop, one of the many saloons that lined main street. We had our choice of at least ten such establishments with names like The Red Dog Saloon, Bucket of Blood, The Red Garter and the Delta. For some still unknown reason, Deb was especially drawn to the Bucket of Blood and this a woman who considers mean words issued in a film immediate cause to put it on her not to be seen list. We settled on none of the above and wound up in an unnamed establishment with good food, air conditioning and a terrific view, “one-hundred-mile view” according to the sign out front. Not surprisingly, three boot hill style cemeteries occupied the first mile of that view. This was our reminder of the rough life of the miner in the Old West. They ironically spent huge amounts of their time underground only to end up underground at the end, many before their time.

Having satisfied our growling stomachs, we began our saloon tour. The Red Dog offered us the “suicide table”. It seems the first three owners of that gaming table had all committed suicide. No explanation of why, just the painfully obvious statement that a fourth owner wisely never materialized and thus the gaming table is now an oddity on display in a dark corner of the saloon. Next stop, The Bucket of Blood Saloon. Here we learned the history of the wealthy Bower family who owned and ran the saloon. Business must have been good as the owners resided in the biggest mansion in town. Did I mention prostitution? Well it existed and was one of the more lucrative businesses in town, but because Virginia City was booming and, in an effort to attract a higher class of citizenry, it was relegated to its own part of town. Hats off to the Town Council, who knowing where they placed it, were likely its best customers. We finished our saloon portion of our self-guided tour at the oldest drinking emporium in Virginia City, The Washoe Club. Placed conveniently next to the biggest bank in town, and home of the Washoe Millionaire’s Club, they were the only saloon to survive the Great Virginia City Fire. No surprise that with a bank holding the majority of all the gold and silver taken out of the surrounding hills, the backfire, an effort to control the inferno, was started just to the other side of their street. Reviewing our pub crawl through town, we declared it well done, our estimation.

Our final push to fully explore Virginia City was aimed at the fascinating shopping experience offered through the myriad of eclectic shops. With that accomplished, we bid farewell to the area and headed back down the serpentine highway to Reno. We had come for the history and left feeling we had been able to experience some of the Old West’s flavor through the preserved buildings and the very well chronicled story of their past glory. You leave Virginia City with a better perspective of the role of the silver and gold rush of the 1800’s. It created the need to tie the West Coast to the rest of the country, opened the west to settlement and brought the railroads west with that expansion. The history books will tell the tale of the expanding and adventurous nature of our country, but we must never forget the cost of that expansion as we moved the Native American Tribes off their ancestral lands and onto the many reservations. It is easy to think of our ancestors as glorious explorers, but we owe a debt to the people whose lands we seized.

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I will end my narrative with my fantasy. Whoa, not that kind of fantasy. Whenever I am viewing living history, my fantasy is that I would love, just for a period of time, to go back and walk the streets, to see the colors that are missing in those beautifully preserved pictures, to rub elbows with the inhabitants and to experience for myself what it was like to live back then. No electronic conveniences, no fast transit systems, in most cases very few conveniences at all. A less stressful, simpler, all be it, difficult time. A time of true adventures, unlimited opportunities and a vast country open to a future they could only imagine. Virginia City did a nice job of getting me as close to the fantasy as they could without offering me the time machine to experience it firsthand. Of course, had they sent me back, God only knows how long I would have survived.

Alaska…. Don’t let its midnight sun set.

We are concluding our Alaskan adventure. Our trip has taken us through the interior of Alaska starting at Fairbanks, passing through Denali National Preserve, Anchorage and eventually, Whittier where we boarded the Island Princess bound for Vancouver. Onboard the ship, we enjoyed stops at Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan. We have taken a river cruise, a jet boat through class five rapids, a train through mountain passes and tunnels, a closeup experience with the Mendenhall Glacier and countless encounters with Alaskan wildlife. We have seen whales, dolphins, otters and sea lions, soared with eagles and respected the ravens and met countless native and resident Alaskans.

Rapids on Susinta River

I need to share my impressions of this beautiful land. I wrote in my earlier blog of the vastness of the land and the overpowering beauty and magnitude of its mountains, especially its crown jewel, Denali. In this attempt I would like to speak to the fragile nature of its environment. We came to see the mountains and the glaciers. We explained to anyone interested that we especially wanted to see the glaciers before they disappear. I will tell you that every ranger, guide and native will tell you that global warming is felt no more drastically than in Alaska. Average temperatures have risen by four degrees. Weather patterns that once produced heavy winter snows in many areas have been altered, in turn, lessening the chances for glaciers to, at the very least, stay stable. Higher summer temperatures have caused many mountains, once snowcapped all year long, to lose their snow before the summer season has ended. The warming is most evident in the glaciers. Alaska has most of the remaining glaciers of the world and yet only 5% of them are deemed, “healthy”, meaning they are still advancing or in most cases, staying stable. The other 95% are all receding and many at alarming rates. As a glacier recedes, it eventually becomes a hanging glacier, one no longer reaching water but rather “hanging” from the mountain basin high above the valley floor.

Glacier Bay entrance

Alaskans, to a person, request the visitors, their friendly term for tourists, to please take this information back home with them and then to make a promise to find at least one thing no matter how simple, that they can do to reduce their carbon footprint. When you stand in awe in front of one of these majestic glaciers, you can’t help but make the promise. It’s not a question of whether you believe the science, but rather can you deny what’s right in front of you. As a people, we cannot turn a blind eye to the problem. We must do what ever we can with our actions and our votes to protect our open spaces, rivers and streams, our land and its resources, not just for Alaska but everywhere they exist.

Hubbard glacier and cruise liner

If you go to Alaska, you will in fact encounter the “last frontier”. You will sense the vastness of the wilderness and experience the history and culture of its people. You will hear of their love of the land and their determined spirit to not only survive but to thrive. You will pass through areas that take you back to the gold rush days of 1898 and leave you feeling like that was only a moment ago.

Red Onion Saloon

Alaska will take you in, heal you and realign your senses. And as you depart, you cannot help but feel renewed. That is what wilderness does. It gets into your soul, reminds you where we all once came from and beckons you to come back. To come back to the wilderness, to the wildness that lies in each and every one of us.

Go to Alaska or at least to somewhere wild and then pledge to protect it.

20,310 feet of Majesty

The call came just before 6:00 am. The voice said, “The mountain is open.” When you are in the shadow of Denali, you don’t receive a wake up call, you get a call telling you the clouds that 60% of the time wrap themselves around the mountain like a cloak, have cleared and your view of “The Great One” is ready to amaze.

Denali at 20,310 feet is the highest mountain in North America. Some will argue that it is the highest mountain in the world, surpassing even Mt Everest. The reasoning is that Everest sits on the Tibetan Plane and has its base starting at 17,000 feet and rises another 12,000 feet from there to its summit at just over 29,000 feet. Denali’s base sits at 2000 feet giving it the greatest vertical rise of all mountains. Regardless, Denali impresses. The mountain’s height grabs clouds as they try to pass and holds them in place on her flanks. The sheer area covered by its base, overwhelms the viewer. When the mountain clears, Denali dwarfs everything in her shadow.

First summited in 1913, it has claimed the lives of over 100 climbers who would try later. Even today, with the west buttress route laid out with a rope line, five camps to supply and assist the would-be climbers and highly improved climbing gear, the summit still defies 50% of those that try. It is simply a force nearly too great to be reckoned with.

When the weather does clear and Denali releases the clouds captured by her sheer size, the view is spectacular, breath taking and humbling all at the same time. She fills your view with her size and challenges your eye with her height. You click picture after picture as the sun subtly changes her look, lighting a ridge here and shadowing a face there, but even as you review them, you see that those pictures cannot do justice to what only the eye can perceive. The whiteness of her glaciers, the darkness of the shadows cast by the ridges that outline the paths to her summit, your eye gathers in what no picture can depict.

Denali is one of the main reasons I came to Alaska. I have now viewed her from three sides; north, east and south. I have felt how she rules over the vast wilderness of Alaska. I have waited for the call and when it came, I was not disappointed. My wish for those who have not yet visited, is that you will at least consider trying. I promise that if you do, you too will be moved by the sheer vastness of Alaska and stand in awe of her crowning jewel, Denali.

Denali Sunset

Denali…”The High One”

My wife described the view from our plane as “vast and desolate.” A strange combination of adjectives. Rather like saying “he was an exceptional criminal.” In reality, it is a fitting description in that Alaska is vast and yet as you look out over the landscape from the air it appears empty of human inhabitants. That changes as you land and though sparsely populated, is full of extremely friendly people, both indigenous as well as those who have come here to make Alaska their home.

We are guests of Princess Cruise Lines and our accommodations on land are expansive lodges bordered by rivers and mountain backdrops. First stop was the city of Fairbanks where we took a river cruise and got an introduction to Alaskan culture. The most striking impact this far north, is the midnight sun. You can read about it or hear it described, but these descriptions cannot come close to the reality of its effect. I am a person who suffers from FOMO, the fear of missing out. After being up for 20 hours, including a three hour time shift, I still could not go to bed. It was 10:00 pm but the sun was still at the equivalent of 6:00 pm and the lodge was a buzz with activity. The sun finally set around 12:30 am and was back up at 3:15 am. I can testify to that because I witnessed both events.

Midnight sun

The end of day two found us in Denali, the village, not the mountain. After a dinner revue, we were headed for bed knowing we were facing a 6:00 am start time for our Denali bus adventure. The trip into our hopeful viewing point of the great mountain covered sixty miles of mostly gravel road winding its way through the Denali National Park Preserve and at times, precariously hanging on the edge of mountains over seven hundred feet above the valley floor. After riding for nearly three hours, we reached the end of the road roughly thirty-five miles from the base of the mountain. The indigenous people called it Denali, meaning “the high one.” On a clear day, the view is spectacular, as the snow capped mountain literally rises up to completely fill the horizon and live up to its majestic name. On a clear day, it does just that. But not today, not for us. None the less, the Alaskan Range and the surrounding scenery does not disappoint. With a little imagination and enough visual cues from what we can see, the mind does the rest.

Denali panorama

When visiting Denali, the quest is to sight the Big Five. That is the five biggest animals of the park; the wolf, moose, grizzly bear, dall sheep and the caribou. We were no more than a mile in, when the bus in unison yelled out moose. There on the side of the road was a moose cow and her calf. Another mile down the road and we spied a second moose. One down four to go and sixty miles to find them in. Our final tally turned out to be around twenty caribou in several herds, an equivalent number of dall sheep also in several flocks, four grizzly bears but unfortunately, no wolf. The grizzly bears were the most spectacular. With roughly three hundred grizzlies spread out through six million acres, seeing one is considered lucky. Sighting four, well you can do the math. Our first was spied up in a high meadow just barely within our ability to see it. We saw another, much closer this time, walking along the gravel bed of one of the many glacial rivers we passed. The last two were the winners. We spied the first high up on a ridge above tree line and were wondering what it was doing up there and why it was still climbing higher. That is when we spied the other bear climbing up some three hundred feet below. The only explanation was that the lower bear was driving the other bear off. It may have been a female grizzly protecting its cubs or possible a female grizzly driving off its own too fully grown cub so that she might mate again. The guide let it up to us to speculate.

Denali buss

Though not sighting a wolf was a disappointment, they are very rare. We did, however, replace the wolf with many other sightings; snow hares, ground squirrels and even a golden eagle. All this while seeing the changing eco-spheres of taiga forest, tundra, glacial kettles and rivers and of course the majestic peaks towering above tree line with some heading toward 17,000 feet and higher.

Tomorrow we head down range, crossing over to the eastern side where if we are lucky, we get one more chance to see Denali. It is possible that we will avoid two overcast days in a row and get an unobstructed view of the giant. The question is, do we feel lucky?

The Final Frontier

They refer to Alaska as the final frontier but I am sure we will always find new ones. I guess in 1849, it just seemed appropriate to think of it this way. In two days, my wife and I will be on our quest to explore it. We have planned this one out so my wife is comfortable that there will be no surprises. I personally will be looking for any and all the surprises I can find.

With the trip planned out and mapped by are AAA travel planner, Claire Christensen, Deb was ready to do her research. First there was the virtual tour of the cruise liner. Next came a YouTube video of whale watching and glacier exploration. At this point it seemed all the bases had been covered but there was one more, a YouTube presentation of what and how to pack for your Alaskan experience.

Somewhere in the middle of this research, while I sat dutifully at her side, she noticed that I was not watching. Now please understand that my wife’s planning skills have more than once and in fact on multiple occasions, saved me from certain disaster and on several occasions from missing the show all together. I knew better than to not be watching but I am a creature of my own restlessness. I need to be surprised as often as possible and this trip is clearly one of those times.

I want to walk onto the boat and have that aha moment when I take in the luxury and size of the ship. I will revel in the moment if we actually see a whale breaching alongside the boat but I don’t want to be disappointed if one never appears. Random thought, “breaching” is such a strange word. One would think its what a traveling evangelist does when you show up at the beach looking for a good sermon. I guess a whale doing its thing is a rather religious experience. And as to the packing video, well there’s my daughters’ favorite traveling with dad mantra, “they have stores where we’re going, right?”

So in two days, we will board a plane headed for Fairbanks Alaska. It leaves at a very precise airline sort of time that I am confident my wife knows. She will get us to the airport in plenty of time to clear security, find our gate and wait. I will drift about until the last moment when I will be beckoned to join her in the boarding line and eventually, take my seat. At that point, the captain, stewardess and Deb will all remind me to fasten my seat belt, sit back and enjoy the ride. All I can say is thank God for planners.

Odds and Ends and Things in Between

Regardless of the fact that Wisconsin did not clean up its act while we were away, we returned home last week. We were greeted with hurricane winds and snow still in the air. The winter coats had to be brought back out and I fear our tans are already fading, and after all that work to start them. Normally, I would be complaining but as anyone who has traveled for any length of time knows, the trip comes to an end and you return home, happy to be back to the place you chose to spend your life. The travel is great but the return home is part of the journey.

If you followed our journey through my blog, it’s only fair to sum it up. Being the former math teacher, a few statistics seemed in order. We tallied 3203.1 miles and spent a total of 59 hours and 38 minutes of the trip behind the wheel. Considering we were traveling for 23 days (552 hours), that is still just 10.8% of the total time we were gone. We visited 10 states, crossed six state rivers, traveled through or around 17 major cities and viewed the campuses of 7 universities. Our stops allowed us to take in 26 attractions in 9 cities, not counting 6 hotels, a beach condo and three home stays with three very gracious sets of friends.

If the story ended here, it would be impressive but not impactful. With that in mind, I wanted to share at least some of the observations from our trip. The first of those observations was that no matter what state you are driving in, the locals all seem to be crazy drivers and you are observed as that out of state driver that has no clue. This phenomena I credit to the fact that the locals know, for the most part, where they are going and will always seem over confident. Mean while, we as the interlopers, may not know where we are going and at the very least do not know how far to the next exit nor what the traffic lane will look like when we get there. There is a lot to say for anticipation versus anxiety. Before you tell me “but what about a navigation system”, it is still just a computer doing its best to pronounce the road names and spending a lot of its time saying “recalculating.”

My next observation, love them or hate them, concerns hotels. The most important thing to understand about hotels is that everyone there is going somewhere. Some are moving from where they lived to where they will live next. Some are heading out on a vacation while some are returning home from one. Still others are visiting families and unfortunately for some,it may be due to a life that is coming to an end. The one thing they all have in common is that almost every person wants to have a conversation and has a story to tell. I for one can’t resist encouraging their story and yes, sharing my own. I wrote about it earlier, but this is a chance to test the six degrees of separation theory. I contend, that if your questions are open ended enough, it will not take too many to find that connection.

My next observation is that no matter where you travel, no matter who you encounter, we are all the same and we are all different. We are all citizens of the world and we share a desire for life to be simple yet interesting. We all deep down want peace and harmony and we just want the freedom to be who we are. This is what makes us all the same. And yet, we all have different hobbies and passions. We work at different jobs and eat culturally different foods. We play different games or maybe just variations of the same game. The beauty of these differences is that they are what makes travel so interesting while the similarities are what makes it so comfortable.

My last observation is really more of an answer to the question that everyone asks you when you travel. “What was your favorite thing?” My answer is that I can’t just name one thing. I can tell you that I thought the prettiest city was Savannah. My favorite beach was on Hilton Head Island. Favorite attraction, Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum, but the most impressive was the Chattanooga Aquarium while the most moving was Chickamauga Battlefield. My favorite activity was golfing with alligators while the best biking was in Palm Coast, though I need a shout out for riding bikes on the sand beaches of Hilton Head Island. I guess my answer to what did I like best, is all of it and that’s exactly why I was willing to put all those miles and hours driving from city to city, and state to state.

One final fact. We met so many interesting people but best of all we reconnected with three sets of friends who were brave enough to make the statement “if you are ever in the area…” and sincere enough to make us feel so welcome when we did.

Headed Home…Wait, What, A Blizzard?

I said we wouldn’t come home until Wisconsin cleaned up its act and now one day’s drive from home and you throw us a blizzard? I guess it’s too late to turn back now.

We left Hilton Head Island two days ago and have been swinging north through North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. Our first night got us to Asheville, North Carolina. Nestled in the Appalachians, it is a music city with great restaurants and one incredible gem, the Vanderbilt Mansion called The Biltmore. The tour took us most of the day as the house, all 250 rooms and 43 bathrooms sits on 8000 acres including a farm, village and winery. The house tour was set up as an audio tour with you being treated as a guest of the Vanderbilts being given a tour of the house before the festivities begin. The rooms are set up with mannequins in period dress adding a sense of realism to the tour. This was one of the best if not thee best tour I’ve ever been on.

Biltmore

Late that afternoon, after an extensive wine tasting that got us just loose enough to buy more wine than we have ever purchased at one of these things, we headed north again on our way to Lexington, Kentucky. Arriving late, we unloaded our luggage at the hotel and pretty much crashed for the evening. That is not before I answered several emails and did some road work for the first hour only to realize that the reason everything seemed so dark was that I was still wearing my sunglasses. I might add that I had driven the last half hour coming into town after dark and wearing those same sunglasses. This by itself might speak to being tired, but my darling wife never noticed. Kind of makes me wonder if I can trust her evaluation when I ask her if I look presentable and she replies in the positive.

This morning we headed to downtown Lexington where we stumbled on to a historic homes walk and the childhood home of Mary Todd Lincoln. The homes were for the most part restored and were serving as private residences. Many were incredibly well done. We also learned that Lexington was the home of The Transylvania University! I guess they have to prepare vampires somewhere. Seriously, it turns out it was a prestigious school of higher education established in 1789.

Historic Lexington

We finished our walk with a tour of the childhood home of Mary Todd Lincoln. the tour guide was very good and gave insights to her upbringing and life I had not realized. Their blended family spawned 17 children. As Kentucky was a slave state and the Todd’s had multiple slaves, the Civil War completely divided the family. Eight of the sons fought for the confederacy, while five sons joined the Union Army. Meanwhile the sisters split between North and South resulting in a truly “divided house.” The end result was a deep rift between family members as well as the tragic end for several of the sons. Mary’s life was filled with extensive tragedy and left her in later years fighting deep depression along with a period spent institutionalized for a diagnosis of insanity.

Our trip is drawing to a close but not without a wealth of memories and experiences, let alone a couple thousand pictures. Beware, if you ever cross us, we may just force you to sit through the entire slide show.

Six Degrees of Separation….

We have been on Hilton Head Island for several days now and have been enjoying the ocean, bike trails and golf, though one must share the course with the alligators. And let me not fail to mention some great food and drinks. It seems the bike trails go everywhere and everywhere they go there is another great food and drink establishment.

Bike trail

Hilton Head 4

Hilton Head 2

Last night we were walking down the block headed for a quick bite when we were invited onto the local free shuttle driven by our gregarious driver, Greg. When the couple that jumped on with us heard us tell Greg our destination, they leaned in and recommended a different spot. Upon arriving at the restaurant, we introduced ourselves and asked Jim and Nancy if they would like to join us. Two hours later, after several drinks and shared appetizers, we had gleaned their life story, including the Jim’s cancer diagnosis. As we were saying our goodbyes, Nancy leaned in and said I can’t thank you enough. Not only was the idea of talking with two strangers something they had never done, Jim had not shared his diagnosis with anyone even though Nancy had hoped against hope that he could find a way. Our conversation had been a positive one and we had both enjoyed each other’s company. To know we had been there to listen, only made our meeting that much more meaningful.

But that was not to be our only encounter. Tonight we headed for yet another establishment only to find ourselves in a different one than the one we had been looking for. Four women were enjoying a lively evening at the bar across from us. Something encouraged me to ask them if this was a girl’s weekend or a night out after work. Within minutes we were in a friendly conversation resulting in a surprising 6 degree of separation experience. They were there from the Cincinnati area as part of a bachelorette party. One of the women was the mother of the bride while another was the mother of the groom. Five minutes into the conversation, upon learning that we were from Wisconsin, one of the women declared that her father-in-law was from Kimberly and her mother-in-law from Combined Locks. “Was there any chance we knew where that was?” Ironically Kimberly was my hometown! Though her father-in-law had likely attended high school with my sister, I had attended high school with his sister and of course recognized the family name. What ensued was another interesting evening meeting complete strangers and leaving as new friends.

There is a moral to these two stories. Even though there may only be 6 degrees of separation, it remains 180 degrees until you turn around and start the conversation. Hilton Head will always be a fond memory for its beautiful beaches, bike trails and golf shared with 8 foot alligators, but its lasting memory will be the benefit of being willing to talk to the stranger sitting next to you. You’ll never know just how much you have in common until you share your story.

Hilton Head 3