Category Archives: Travel

An Umbrian Adventure

As most of my readers know, I have been a big supporter of Make A Wish for many years. And, one of the ways I support them is to attend their events and buy some of the fantastic once-in-a-lifetime adventures that pop up from time to time in their auctions. I know, tough job, but someone has to do it…

This year I could not make it to the auction back in March because I was driving across the country with Tyler. Karen went, however, accompanied by Brian, our younger son. And, looking through the event booklet, she spotted an intriguing event: five nights for eight people in a villa in Umbria, generously donated by Sabatino Tartufi, an important Italian supplier of truffles. Karen could not contain a sudden, mysterious twitching problem in her shoulder, and next thing you know her arm somehow raised her paddle just as the bidding was concluding! Sold! We assembled our group, and put a date on the calendar for late October.

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Sunrise on the distant hills of Umbria

As we moved into summer, I figured we should start getting the trip organized, and I asked Make A Wish for a contact at Sabatino that could help with things like the address of the villa and other logistics-related questions. Shortly thereafter, I received a phone call from a guy named Federico, offering to help. Federico proceeded to give me not only the logistical information I needed, but spent nearly an hour on the phone with me, enthusiastically sharing with me his favorite restaurants, wineries, hill towns, etc. Clearly very passionate about Umbria, and truffles! He mentioned that he was based in the USA, but would email me the contact information for Grazia over in Italy, who he said was the perfect person to help organize our trip.

When I received Federico’s email, I was astounded to see from the email signature that he was, in fact, the CEO of Sabatino! Feeling very flattered that the CEO took such an interest in making our trip successful, I proceeded to contact Grazia, and over the next few weeks she put together for us an absolutely fantastic itinerary – winery visits, olive oil tastings, cooking classes, truffle hunting, special tours, dinner reservations, and more. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime trip!

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The villa, taken from just up the street

Fast forward now to early November, and we are back in Virginia. The trip was, indeed, fantastic – so much so that, in general, I will let pictures tell most of the story. Here are a few general impressions…

  • Umbria is rustic, unspoiled, and beautiful. Massive peaks, windy country roads, lovely towns placed on hilltops. Pictures and words do not really do it justice, you need to visit to appreciate it!
  • Umbrian cuisine is wonderful – simple foods, comfort foods, usually cooked by grandmothers it seems! Just a few ingredients in each dish, ingredients of good quality, well prepared. I looked forward to every meal, even when I was so full from the last one that I could barely contemplate eating.
  • Our hosts from Sabatino were so warm and generous. Every day when we returned from our adventures, there was a fire ready to go in the fireplace. They cooked a couple wonderful meals for us, and provided a kitchen well stocked with goodies for breakfast. The villa itself was beautiful, and in a fantastic setting.

If you are not already looking into flights and hotel, you should be!

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Lovely piazza in the city of Assisi

There were so many highlights during the trip that I could not possibly enumerate them all. So, here are just a few of them…

  • We went on a truffle hunting expedition in the woods near the villa, with one of the world’s sweetest truffle dogs. It was amazing to watch how gentle she was with the truffles she found – bringing them back to her owner without the slightest hint of a tooth mark.

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    Truffles! Very fresh!

  • At Decugnano Barbei winery, we had a cooking lesson from a sweet Umbrian grandma, who showed us how to make pizza, pasta, and other goodies. We then had a four course meal where we got to eat the fruits of our labors.
  • Grazia set up a “light lunch” for us in a trattoria in the ancient hill town of Portaria, where we had four types of bruschetta, an ethereal pizza farcita cooked in the coals on the hearth, and two pasta courses. We politely declined the offer of dessert!
  • During our visit to Sabatino, they got word that the first white truffles of the season had been found, a rare delicacy in extremely high demand by their clients. They not only allowed us to buy a few, they came over to the villa that night to help us prepare and cook them. Not only did Vania (who is not a grandmother yet, but cooks like one!) save us from inadvertently ruining these delicacies, she showed us how to do everything from prepare truffles properly to slicing bread without smooshing it!
  • Karen and I would visit the same little bar in Montecastrilli every morning to have a cappuccino and a pastry, and to watch life in the town unfold. We got to be friendly with the owner and the barista, even though we could not really speak to each other. I looked forward to it every morning.

That is all I have time to write about; I suggest you go to Umbria if you ever have the chance and create some highlights of your own! Some more pictures follow…

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Taking a break from the truffle hunt

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Ancient gateway to the small hilltop town of Civitello

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Early morning at our villa in Umbria

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The hills around the villa

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In the barrel room at Scacciadiavoli winery in Montefalco

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View of the town of Montecastrilli from the villa

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View of our villa from the woods nearby

Such a special trip… we are already thinking about when we can go back!

Go West Young Man!

Back in the summer of 2014, Tyler and I journeyed from California, so he would have a car to use during grad school, job search, etc. We had quite a road trip. If you need a reminder, you can read about it here, here, then here.

Fast forward to 2018… earlier this year Tyler gave me a call, told me that his transfer to Seattle had come through, and asked me if I would like to drive with him from Charlotte out to Seattle. Why, of course, said I!

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Departure Photo, March, 2018

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Departure Photo, June, 2014

We got on the road with only a few objectives, and with nine days to make the drive. We settled on a northerly route to accomplish one of Tyler’s objectives (visit as many new states as possible) and one of mine (visit my fiftieth state). We knew that a northern route might be a little risky in the late Winter, but the weather reports looked good, so off we went! We like to stay off the interstates as much as possible to avoid [1] trucks and [2] boredom, so we used our trusty atlas to guide us to promising county, state and US highways. With two well-stocked phones and an old iPod, we had a fantastic soundtrack for our journey!

Tyler also had an objective to visit as many National Parks as possible, so we drove off towards western North Carolina and Smoky Mountain National Park. The mountains were spectacular even in winter, and the waterfalls were flowing.

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Waterfall with forgotten name in the Smokies

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The mile-high “Mazdarati”

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The Smoky Mountains in late winter

We spent the night in western Tennessee, and got on the road early after a lovely breakfast at the Holiday Inn Express. First stop was Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. Tyler wanted to stop there to add a park to his list, and I wanted to stop there so I could pretend to be Daniel Boone, and so I could listed to an old traditional banjo piece entitled, oddly enough, “The Cumberland Gap”. We visited Pinnacle Point to take in the view, and were pleased to find that while the parking lot was in Kentucky, the viewpoint, six hundred feet away, was in Virginia.

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Pinnacle Point at the Cumberland Gap

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In my mind I could see Daniel Boone scouting through these hills!

As we left the park and started driving through Kentucky, we soon stumbled upon the birthplace of that most world-famous of all Kentucky products. I am talking, of course, about Kentucky Fried Chicken!

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I learned a lot about the Colonel, who was quite the character!

After passing on fried chicken as a mid-morning snack, we continued across the state to sample the Kentucky product in which we both had a higher level of interest. Yes, I am talking about Kentucky Bourbon!

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The column still at Wilderness Trail, which had not yet been put into operation

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Fermentation at Makers Mark, still done in huge tuns made of cypress wood

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The Makers Mark distillery grounds. Yes, we got to taste some lovely stuff!

We spent the night in Louisville, where oddly enough there was a huge St Patrick’s Day street celebration (on March 10th!) and more drunks per square meter than I had seen in a long, long time. Next morning it was off to Chicago to visit the Carbery’s, some friends of mine from Yale. We spent a lovely evening with them and had some very tasty Chicago pizza.

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I believe that Chicago has the most interesting architecture of any American city

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Chicago pizza

After Chicago we headed for Michigan by way of South Bend. Tyler had never seen Notre Dame, so we paid a quick visit to the campus (home of the fattest squirrels I have ever seen!) and took the obligatory Touchdown Jesus photo.

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A quick pose…

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Get it?

Both Tyler and I were interested in visiting the upper peninsula of Michigan, so drove up the mitten right about at the pinky, stopping for the night near Traverse City. We awoke the next day to unexpected snow, which made the drive “interesting”. Once we crossed the bridge onto the Upper Peninsula, however, the snow cleared up, and we had a nice drive through the UP, along the upper edge of Wisconsin, to Duluth, Minnesota. We had a lovely beer at a local brewery, marveled at Lake Superior, and got back on the road for a couple more hours.

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Gassing up as the snow starts

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Lovely driving conditions

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Yes, the “Mazdarati” got a little dirty

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The shores of Lake Superior

We spent the night in Grand Rapids, MN, most notable for an only-in-Minnesota sign at the hotel, and a Mississippi River that was the size of a large creek.

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Pets are OK, but not Hockey Sticks

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The Mississippi Crossing

After leaving Grand Rapids, it was off to Fargo, North Dakota, and my date with destiny. North Dakota is my fiftieth state, and I am not the only person who saved this state for last. In fact, there is a large club! I got a T-shirt and certificate for my trouble, and got to see the real Wood Chipper used in the movie “Fargo”.

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The Wood Chipper

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State Number Fifty!

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Proud member of the club

We had very nice tacos for lunch in Fargo, the got back on the road to South Dakota. We stayed in Wall, but did not go to the drugstore. The next day we went to Badlands but could not see it, and went to Mount Rushmore, which was above the clouds. Still impressive, and moving.

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Lovely day for the Presidents

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Bad Visibility and Brutal Cold in the Badlands

From Mount Rushmore we headed for Gillette, Wyoming, then up towards Billings, Montana. We saw some beautiful countryside, and we saw some stunningly large mining operations. We ended up spending the night in Bozeman, which was a lovely small college town. The next morning, following the ubiquitous motel breakfast, we headed for Big Hole, which I had driven through some years before at dusk with Roscoe, and wanted to see it in daylight.

I checked the road reports, which indicated everything was clear. However, between the publication of the report and our arrival, six inches of new snow fell, the temperature dropped to 19 degrees, and the roads were only partially cleared. Tyler got his first taste of truly hazardous winter driving, and our pace slowed to a crawl. As we reached Big Hole, the conditions got better, but the bike rack started falling off when we hit bumps. A quick inspection showed that each bike had taken on about twenty pounds of frozen road spray, which had to be chipped off.

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Bikes in Big Hole, post-chip. The debris pile on the road came from the bikes

We stopped at Big Hole Battlefield and learned how despicably Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce were treated, then it was off to Idaho. We followed the path of Lewis and Clark down nearly to the Snake River, then turned north to Pullman, WA, to continue our tour of America’s small breweries.  We then suffered through a somewhat hellish evening drive through Eastern Washington to the garden spot called Ritzville.

The next day was the last of our drive. Pretty uneventful, though the Columbia River crossing was a definite highlight.

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Early morning shadow portrait above the Columbia River

We arrived in Seattle pretty much precisely on schedule at noon. Tyler got his key from his roommate, and we made the inevitable trip to Target to gear up. In the meantime, Karen flew up spur-of-the-moment from California, and the three of us had a lovely dinner together. Sunday morning it was back to the airport, and California.

I love a good road trip, even in Winter, and hated to see it come to an end. Could be my last cross country drive for a while, I’m afraid!

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Tyler and I are big fans of paper maps, and our route is hi-lighted here. This is the same dog-eared atlas we used to navigate out to North Carolina in 2014!

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Final trip odometer reading.

What I Did This Summer, Part 1

For many years Karen and I have shared the dream of spending summers on Northern Lake George in upstate New York. And, with Tyler living full-time in North Carolina and Brian firmly established at school in Connecticut, we decided that 2016 was the year to pull the trigger. After investigating summer-long rentals and discarding them due to high cost and lackluster availability, we got the harebrained idea of purchasing an under-loved property and fixing it up.

After a couple off-season trips to Hague, and some stellar negotiating on Karen’s part, we found ourselves to be the owners of a very humble one bedroom, two bathroom cottage in a fantastic location on the shores of the lake. In late May, we hopped in the truck and drove across the country to our new summer abode.

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Little House on the Lake, vacant for seven years before we bought it

Karen was very busy in the weeks before we left for New York, and had a landscaper, a tree guy, and a remodeling contractor all queued up to start work the week after we got there. And we were not disappointed! The contractor, CGM Construction, told us he would have the job done in three months, and with a 12 month and a 24 month remodel under our belts, we privately smirked a little. But we were thrilled to see work begin!

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The kitchen was the first room to get demo’d. “Looks better already”, said Karen!

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Debris piled up quickly…

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… and we got a dumpster, the first of three that we filled, with our mailbox on it!

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Dead trees were one of the first things to go

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Chainsaw cowboys taking care of business

We had a flat area of the yard that was largely unused, my guess is that it was a septic field at one time. Anyhow, I got it in my head that it would make a great place for a fire pit, and decided to build one. Eight 6×6 landscaping ties, 48 fifty-pound bags of gravel, and a couple loads of boulders from a nearby brook later, the firepit was built. It did not disappoint! A firepit with a world-class view, with smoke that always blows out over the lake, not in your face!

In case you haven’t guessed, we lived in the house throughout the remodel process. Which was no big deal, really, we’d done it before. But, as with the last remodel, cooking was a challenge! Our cooking style suddenly got VERY simple, usually a piece of meat grilled outside, with steamed or sauteed vegetables cooked on the stove. And, we ate out at least once a week, at the Firehouse Grill, the only restaurant in Hague.

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They were kind enough to leave us a stove…

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… and not much else!

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Counter space was at a premium

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Cabinets, but no appliances

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So close, yet so far!

One thing we know we were going to need was a dock. Fortunately, we got hold of The Dock Doctors early in the Spring, figured out what we would need, and placed a deposit. However, I underestimated the bureaucratic maneuvering it would take to get the necessary permits. After all, we were just replacing the decrepit dock that was already there! Anyhow, one day about six weeks after we arrived, we were thrilled to see a barge approaching with a crane on it. And, by the end of the day, we had a dock!

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Yay! The barge is here!

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And a few hours later, most of the dock was built

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Dock in foreground, worksite/home in background, with firepit to the right

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THIS is why we wanted a dock! One of many sunrises we watched, as the workers always arrived at 6:30 or 7:00

Work continued throughout the summer, there was not a weekday where at least one worker (and sometimes up to a dozen!) paid us a visit. And, by August, things really started to come together.

A little aside… early in the summer, we had paid a visit to Sub Alpine Coffee in the High Peaks on one of our many day trips. We saw some cool handmade stools, and found out they were crafted by a small furniture maker in Westport, on Lake Champlain. We paid him a visit, Courtney Fair was his name, and got him to make some stools for us, too. And, a handcrafted counter made with cherry wood to go with it!

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Wood Counter and Stools

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Kitchen and Family Room. Domestic Bliss!

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The Final Dumpster Departs!

If we had been bold enough to voice a prediction on when CGM would finish the job, we would have been eating crow big-time, because they beat their three-month target by over a week, even while addressing some serious complications. Needless to say, we are thrilled with how the whole project went, and are looking forward to spending a few relaxing weeks in our completed home!

Shown below are a few before-and-after pictures, to give you an idea of what was accomplished. Huge improvement! Not bad for a summer’s work…

Here is the view from the landing of the stairs, what used to be a living room is now the “dining” portion of a great room:

Dead trees and the warped, rotting deck are gone, replaced with a new deck and an awesome view:

Tired, cramped kitchen expanded and modernized:

Completely unfinished upstairs converted into three nice bedrooms and a laundry room:

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As much as we liked the workers, it is oh-so-nice not to have to wake up early every morning to greet them! Just have a bit of landscaping work to do now, and the project will be complete. Then, unfortunately, it will be time to pack up, and start the long drive back to California!

Road Trip According to Roscoe

Last week, Karen and her mother flew out to visit Tyler, Brian, and other family members. I didn’t really feel like hanging out by myself in Danville for the week, so I decided to take Roscoe on a road trip. He is getting up there in years (just turned twelve) and hasn’t seen much of the country, so we decided to remedy that!

Now, Roscoe is very much a momma’s boy, and felt pretty strongly that he wanted Karen to know where he was and what he was doing, so he decided to tweet during his road trip. Since “Bones” is one of his favorites of his many, many nicknames, he decided to tweet as Roscoe Bones. I helped him set up his account just before we left.

After we returned, I read through his tweets, and decided they made a nice little travel log, so I decided to publish them here. So, read on to find out what Roscoe did on his journey!

Roscoe was pretty excited about packing up. He helped as much as he could, and we got on the road in the middle of the afternoon on Saturday.

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We made pretty good progress; only one small delay. It was a cold, rainy night, and we stopped in Burney, California, a bit South and East of Mt. Shasta. We did NOT have a peaceful night…

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We continued on our way early the next morning. It was foggy and drizzly for the first few hours. We passed through Alturas, CA, before crossing into Oregon. The Eastern Oregon country side was initially fascinating, with dry lakes and massive volcanic escarpments, but it was a long, long way to Idaho!

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We decided to spend the night in Ketchum, Idaho, home of Sun Valley ski area and the place where Ernest Hemingway ended his life. Both Roscoe and I enjoy Hemingway, so it was a cool place to stop.

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We decided the next stop would be Jackson, Wyoming. But Craters of the Moon National Monument was on the way, and I really wanted to see that, so Roscoe humored me. After our stop there, we continued to Jackson Hole, where we saw a magnificent sunset over the Grand Tetons.

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Roscoe slept like a log, as did I. Saw a beautiful sunrise rainbow in the Tetons, but found we could not kayak there. So it was on to the Wind Rivers to hike and paddle.

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My cousin Ed and his wife Wren live in Afton, WY, and they invited us to have dinner and spend the night. Roscoe loved it there; they have four horses, and very interesting things hanging in their garage! I think Roscoe would have been happy to stay there for weeks!

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The next day, it was back through the Tetons, through Yellowstone, into Montana, and back to Idaho. We went for a nice hike in Montana, and were about to go up a trail when I read the material posted at the trailhead. It was instructions to hunters, reminding them how to tell the difference between black bears and grizzly bears, and admonishing them to know their target. We decided this was not a good place to hike, and got back in the car!

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It was a beautiful drive through the Big Hole in Montana to Salmon, Idaho. We saw lots of wildlife, including a bull moose, a huge black bear, a heard of elk, and many antelope. And, we very nearly hit a deer that jumped out in front of us on the nighttime highway! But, we made it to our motel, where the people in the lobby made a big fuss over Roscoe, which he loves.

When Roscoe had a big day, he often has big dreams – dreams where he runs and barks in his sleep. It had been a WHILE since he had done this!

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The next day was going to be a big driving day. There is really no place to stop between Salmon, ID, and our lake house, where we needed to make a stop. So, we drove the whole thing… nearly 800 miles. We were really glad to finally get there!

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Roscoe knows that we are in the process of selling the lakehouse, and that it is quite possible we will never see it again. He was very sad to leave, as it is one of his favorite places in the world. But, I think he understands…

We had a fairly uneventful drive back to Danville. Stopped for a quick hike on the Pacific Crest trail, followed by lunch overlooking the Feather River.

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So, all in all, it was a great trip. Roscoe is already asking when we are going to hit the road again! And, he wants to make sure Karen comes next time, too. I’ve already got some ideas in mind. Time to start planning, I guess!

Riding the White Rim

Back in June, Karen and I took a trip to Colorado to visit old friends. While there, we had the opportunity to have lunch with my old friend Steve, who I used to work with, and hadn’t seen in years, and his wife Ginnie. As Karen and Ginnie chatted about the kids, Steve and I talked about more guy-oriented topics – work, beer, skiing – and mountain biking. Steve, a mountain biking veteran, mentioned that he was planning a trip to the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park. We talked about his plans for a bit, I invited myself to go along, and Steve was kind enough to humor me and say yes.

Nearly four months later, after a little planning and a lot of anticipation, I found myself racing across the basins and ranges of Nevada on a Monday afternoon, headed towards Moab. The car was pretty well packed with bikes, camping gear, an inflatable kayak, and plenty of water, food, and beer. Riding US Highway 50, which calls itself the Loneliest Highway, I set the cruise control at 88 miles per hour, sat back, and enjoyed the ride.

On the Loneliest Highway in Nevada

On the Loneliest Highway in Nevada

Many people think of Nevada as one big nuclear test site, but I am not one of them. I find the endless sequence of ranges and basins to be somewhat stark and mesmerizing, and I love the feeling of solitude, being the only car on the road for many miles in either direction. I set my sights on Great Basin National Park, near the Utah border, and let the Allman Brothers, Primus, the Clash, Beethoven, and others provide the soundtrack as I sped on my way.

I became caught up in the rhythm of highway, music, and scenery, and did not pay enough attention to the gas gauge. So my groove was disturbed a bit when the fuel light popped on about 40 miles outside Ely on my way to the park. Hmmm… should I turn back, or take my chances on finding gas up ahead on the Loneliest Highway, in a thunderstorm no less? I opted for the latter, and rolled into Baker (population in the low dozens) with the gauge firmly on “E” and the dash showing zero miles left. The unattended  gas pumps on the edge of town were a welcome sight. I breathed a sigh of gratitude, pumped myself a few gallons, and headed up towards the Park.

Baker, NV - The store, the motel, and the café. And one of Baker's more stately homes

Baker, NV – The store, the motel, and the café. And one of Baker’s more stately homes

The park was a pleasant surprise. There was a lovely campsite waiting for me, a beautiful drive up to nearly 10,000 feet on Mt. Wheeler, and a trail up the mountain to a grove of bristlecone pines. I pitched camp, slept well, did an early morning hike, then got on the road to Utah.

On the road up Wheeler Peak in Great Basin Nat'l Park

On the road up Wheeler Peak in Great Basin Nat’l Park

On the trail to the bristlecones

On the trail to the bristlecones

Bristlecone pine, about 3,000 years old. Hard to photograph, incredibly cool in person

Bristlecone pine, about 3,000 years old. Hard to photograph, incredibly cool in person

Coming down the mountain, headed towards Utah

Coming down the mountain, headed towards Utah

I drove up to Salt Lake City to pick up one of the riders at the airport, then we drove on to Moab, arriving a little after 8 PM. We all met at a pizza restaurant to strategize and plan. Our group consisted of seven riders. Steve was the organizer and ringleader. He was accompanied by his daughter Acacia, a beer professional, and his twenty-year-old son Chris. The team also included his friend Greg from Denver as well as Mike, a flashlight engineer from Ohio. The group was completed by Ruben, a former co-worker of mine, and myself of course. Ruben and I were the only ones who had never done the White Rim; in fact, all the others had already done it multiple times.

After dinner we all proceeded to the Super 8 to look at our gear and figure out how few cars we could fit it into. The fewer cars we had to bring as SAGs, the more people would be riding and the fewer people who would be driving. Unfortunately, no one had a large car, and we were not traveling light. Rather than ditch all the discretionary gear (tables, chairs, propane fireplace, kayak, beer, etc.) we decided to go with three SAGs, meaning in general each of us would ride half the day and drive the other half the day. Not ideal, but it meant lots of creature comforts for our camp. Since we were all more interested in having a great trip than we were in proving anything to ourselves or to others, we all agreed this was the right decision!

Conference at the Super 8

Conference at the Super 8

The following morning, Wednesday, we had a hearty breakfast at the Moab Diner, stopped by the grocery store to top up our coolers with ice, then headed up to the visitor center at Canyonlands to check in and collect our backcountry permits. Then it was goodbye to luxuries like running water and cell phone service as we mad our way out to Schaefer Point on the canyon rim.

I started the day driving, which was fine with me. I knew that we had a 1200 foot drop into the canyon, and I thought it was sensible to let the more aggressive downhillers enjoy it. I have become conservative in my old age, and am pretty deliberate on steep descents. In any event, I had never driven down the face of a cliff, and was looking forward to the experience!

At Schaefer Point, looking down at the White Rim below

At Schaefer Point, looking down at the White Rim below

Mountain goats lead the way

Mountain goats lead the way

The White Rim itself is a hard, weather-resistant light-colored sandstone strata, vertically about halfway between the Colorado and Green rivers and the red sandstone canyon rim two thousand feet above river level. It consists of a somewhat level ground between a few hundred feet and a couple miles in width, with high cliffs towering above on one side and an abrupt drop deeper into the canyon on the other. There are countless mesas, buttes, hoodoos (a.k.a. “hoo-hahs”), needles, and balanced rocks in all directions. Perfect October weather… blue skies with puffy white clouds, in the seventies and sunny during the day, down into the 50’s at night. The trail we were riding circumnavigates the Rim from the Colorado River side to the Green River side, with a total distance of eighty miles or so. The scenery is straight out of a Road Runner cartoon, and I fully expected to see Wile E. Coyote fly by on an Acme rocket at any moment!

The driving on that first morning was fairly uneventful. Driving down the canyon wall was pretty straightforward, if not a little tense. The views, of course, were mind-blowing. I do not consider myself “afraid of heights”, but I certainly will admit to being uncomfortable with them and respectful of them. OK, maybe a little chicken, I suppose! Generally, throughout the trip I was about three feet further from the edge than most of the others, and had to look away sometimes when some of the more brave (or foolish?) riders were cavalierly hanging out right on the precipice!

The road down into the canyon

The road down into the canyon

Looking up from the bottom. If you look closely, you can see the road

Looking up from the bottom. If you click on the picture and look closely, you can see the road climbing the cliffs

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Steve on the rocks

Acacia gazing across the abyss

Acacia gazing across the abyss

Steve and Acacia on the Musselman Arch

Steve and Acacia on the Musselman Arch

Shortly after lunch, I finally got to hop on my bike, and had a very nice ride through the desert to our camp that night at the Airport camping area. The road was in generally good shape; just a few puddles and washouts from the big storms a few weeks previously, some easy climbs, and some long, gradual downhill stretches. Lots of amazing overlooks between lunch and the end of the ride at the Airport camp site.

Ruben riding up the trail

Ruben riding up the trail

Taking a break during the Wednesday afternoon ride

Taking a break during the Wednesday afternoon ride

We arrived early enough that there was time for further activities after camp was set up. I had seen a trail nearby that went up a wash and into the desert; I decided to explore this trail while the others piled into two of the SAGs and drove down to the Colorado River. Lovely scenery and solitude, and amazing echoes from the cliffs – the best I counted was sixteen echoes lasting over twelve seconds! As the sun set, the cliffs glowed – a particularly beautiful time of the day.

The trail in the wash near the Airport camp site

The trail in the wash near the Airport camp site

Shadow self portrait in the setting sun

Shadow self portrait in the setting sun

My camp at Airport

My camp at Airport

As I mentioned earlier, we were not exactly “roughing it”. We ate our dinner (salmon steaks with a ponzu glaze, brown rice, and grilled corn, if you must know) around the propane campfire and watched the stars come out. The night sky was quite amazing, with no ambient light from civilization. As we were approaching the new moon, there was not moonlight to diminish the intensity of the stars – which were so bright and numerous that it was difficult to identify constellations.

After dinner, our main activity (if you want to call it that) was to sit around the fire, share some beer and/or whiskey (Tincup, from Colorado, I highly recommend it…), and tell stories and jokes. These usually revolved around a fairly small number of themes – the day’s ride and what was ahead of us tomorrow, as well as endlessly riffing on who was seeing the most shooting stars, the sound made by comets, when the moon would come up, the demise of Wilson ( a story to be told elsewhere!), who was shirking driving responsibilities, the fact that riding the White Rim doesn’t suck, and other weighty topics.

Camp scene at Airport

Camp scene at Airport

I am not a heavy sleeper, so the exhilaration of the day, the stillness of the air, occasional snoring from other tents (never MINE, of course), and anticipation for the next day’s ride kept me awake for significant parts of the night. The fringe benefit of this temporary insomnia was the fact that I was awake well before sunrise each morning. I would take advantage of the situation, seeking out a perch from which to view the rise of the sun, and giving a respectful slow clap each morning as the bright orb cleared the horizon.

Thursday I again elected to start the day in the car. I knew that the afternoon ride would include one of the more difficult climbs of the trip, and I wanted to ride up that big hill. The driving again was lovely – even though the cars are substantially slower than the bikes, there is plenty of time to take in the views. Another cliffside lunch, and I was ready to get back on the bike.

The road along the rim

The road along the rim

Chris on the edge, as usual!

Chris on the edge, as usual!

White Rim lunch

White Rim lunch

The terrain that afternoon became a bit more rolling as we moved away from the rim of the canyon and headed toward Murphy’s Hogback, the formation on which the camp for the next two nights was located. It is reached by a steep climb of several hundred vertical feet from the level of the White Rim, and the experienced riders stated that it was pretty much impossible to ride all the way to the top.

I viewed this as a bit of a throwing down of the gauntlet, so I rode towards the big climb with no small degree of determination. But, in the end, experience won out over foolish (if unvoiced) bravado… I was able to ride more than half of it, but the combination of very steep stretches, loose rocks, deep gullies, and gasping desperately for oxygen forced me to reluctantly walk some stretches. Sill, I felt good when I reached the top, and sat on the rocks rehydrating with Ruben and Mike (who also rode up the hogback) while the cars made their way to and up the climb.

SAGs at the cliff's edge

SAGs at the cliff’s edge

Looking down from Murphy's Hogback as the SAGs make their way

Looking down from Murphy’s Hogback as the SAGs make their way

The Q5 powers up the Hogback

The Q5 powers up the Hogback

Thursday evening was not terribly different from Wednesday – watching the sun set from the cliff’s edge, dinner by the fire (sage-rubbed pork chops with faro and zucchini this time), the usual stories and jokes, amazing stars, etc. Relaxation, joy, and wonderment.

Sunset perch, night one at Murphy's Hogback

Sunset perch, night one at Murphy’s Hogback

My camp at Murphy's Hogback

My camp at Murphy’s Hogback

Another day, another sunset in Canyonlands

Another day, another sunset in Canyonlands

As I mentioned, we were staying at Murphy’s Hogback for two nights. This meant that Friday was available to do whatever sounded good – riding, hiking, driving, exploring, kicking back, whatever. We ended splitting up into two groups – Mike, Greg, and I decided to hike to Murphy point, an eight mile roundtrip hike to and up the canyon wall to Island in the Sky, while the others decided to drive back to some of the more fantastic viewpoints to see the sights, take some pictures, and to listen to the various booms and echoes that tend to occur while playing along the cliff’s edge.

The hike was fantastic – a couple miles of level hiking across the spectacular Utah desert, followed by a more taxing couple miles up the cliffs to the top. Deciding it was well worth the effort, we enjoyed a lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, apples, and fig newtons, and headed back down to the camp.

Greg and Mike on the way to Island in the Sky

Greg and Mike on the way to Island in the Sky

Resting on the way up the cliffs

Resting on the way up the cliffs

Greg traversing the ledge. Probably need to click the picture and look closely to find him!

Greg traversing the ledge. Probably need to click the picture and look closely to find him!

At island in the Sky, looking towards camp

At island in the Sky, looking towards camp

Amazing balanced rocks

Amazing balanced rocks

This guy was determined to have his picture taken!

This guy was determined to have his picture taken!

We got back to camp feeling exhilarated from our hike. Everyone started to chill out for the evening, but both Ruben and I were feeling the need to hop on the bikes for a bit. So, we talked Acacia into following in the Q5 while Ruben and I rode down the other side of the hogback. We would just go a mile or two, then turn around, and catch a ride up the formidable climb in the SAG.

We headed down the big hill, and Ruben was off like a shot. In fact, he was practically out of sight before I had made my way down the initial pitch, which was very steep and rocky. The ride down was much rougher than anything we had seen earlier – rocky stairsteps, deep ruts, blind inclined turns, other fun stuff. Ruben waited at the bottom, and we rode a further mile or so while the Q5 made its way down.

We turned around and headed back towards camp, and met up with Acacia. She said she had a great ride down, and was very impressed with how well the Audi handled the terrain. We put the bikes on the rack, I got in the drivers seat, and we headed back to camp.

Everything was going great as we approached the final steep pitch that would bring us back into camp. That particular pitch looked very intimidating, but I was confident. I asked Ruben and Acacia to hop out and take pictures while I drove up the grade.

I approached the grade as I had all the other steep sections – a steady, deliberate pace, with no slowdown until the top was reached. This time, though, I got about two-thirds of the way up, and the Audi bogged down in a hole of loose rocks, and would go no further. Great. Just great.

Missed it by THAT MUCH!

Missed it by THAT MUCH!

Greg was watching, and suggested that I reverse back to the bottom, and approach with much more speed. I did this – but was not really having fun any more. Backing down was treacherous – the front wheels were skidding along as I tried to steer my way down, and the view over the side was not encouraging. However, somehow I managed to do this successfully, and prepared for my second attempt at the ascent.

I held my breath and stepped on the gas. And made it about three quarters of the way to the top until, once again, I could go no further. And it was at this point that I politely asked for someone with some more goddamn experience driving on jeep roads to get the goddamn car up the goddamn hill. All while sweating profusely, and practically pressing the brake pedal through the floorboards of the car to keep from sliding back down.

Stuck. Forced smile. Trembling hands. Pounding heart.

Stuck. Forced smile. Trembling hands. Pounding heart.

Steve gamely and confidently agreed to take over, and hopped in as I evacuated the driver’s seat. He too got to experience the adventure of backing/skidding the car back down the hill before getting in position for the running start. Meanwhile, I was standing by the side, watching and expecting the inevitable humiliation as Steve effortlessly charged up the hill with yee-haws and fist pumping. It was with relief and gratitude, therefore, that I watched Steve somehow get the car successfully to the top, only three wheels on the ground at times, with a determined grimace instead of a triumphant grin.

Steve succeeds, grimly determined

Steve succeeds, grimly determined

Back on the cliffs for sunset, with margaritas. All is well.

Back on the cliffs for sunset, with margaritas. All is well.

On Saturday morning it was finally time to leave our camp at Murphy’s. I really think I could have easily spent a week there, actually – or at least until food and water ran out. Anyhow, our ride Saturday would take us down the Hogback and along the White Rim again until we reached the Green River. We would then head over another dicey stretch called Hardscrabble Pass before descending to the river again and reaching our camp at Labyrinth.

Breakfast scene at Murphy's

Breakfast scene at Murphy’s

Once again my assignment was to drive in the morning and ride in the afternoon, which was fine by me I was eager to ride along the river, and I looked forward to tackling the mighty Hardscrabble Pass. We drove out of camp, and it was immediately time to do battle with my nemesis from the previous evening. A lot easier to descend than ascend, however, and I drove/slid/skated down without much problem. I continued down over some of the other more dicey stretches, and was just in the process of high-fiving myself on how well it was going when out of the corner of my eye I caught a curious sight – two people and two bikes laid across the trail down at the bottom, half a mile or so in front of me. Hmmm, I thought, strange place to take a break…

I diverted my attention back to the road, and drove on down. When I arrived, I saw that Steve was lying on his back, not moving, and Chris was standing over him. My leg’s broken, said Steve, and it was pretty clear that he was right. Turned out he was not doing anything crazy, just caught a rut, went of the trail, and landed in such a way that his femur was snapped.

After lots of talking, conferring, stabilizing, unloading and reloading, and hand wringing, Steve was loaded into the back of the Pathfinder, with Chris at the wheel and Mike in the back with Steve, to make the several-hour drive over rough roads to the hospital in Moab. Steve was in serious pain, and perhaps the day was saved by a group of bikers who came through. One of them happened to have a heart condition, and had some serious prescription painkillers with him to address his condition. Yes, life can indeed be stranger than fiction sometimes. Steve deliberated for all of five seconds before deciding to take his chances with biker medicine, and the result made the ride into Moab a lot more tolerable.

Ruben rode ahead to find Acacia, and Greg and I spent an hour reloading three SAGs into two SAGs in the warming desert sun. Though it was by no means a slam dunk, we somehow got everything in, and started driving up the road towards Hardscrabble to find Acacia and Ruben. This stretch of road turned out to be incredibly rough, and with heavily loaded vehicles with bikes on the trailer-hitch racks it took us about two hours to cover the next six miles or so.

We finally caught up to where Acacia and Ruben were waiting for us, and stopped for lunch. Acacia understandably said that she was done with riding for a while, and took over the wheel of the Q5 as I prepared to ride. Ruben and I took off down the road on bikes, while Greg and Acacia followed in the two remaining SAGs. The first half mile or so was pretty somber, until we both pretty much simultaneously came to the realization that there was nothing we could do, and we might as well enjoy the ride. Which we did. And Steve would want us to, we rationalized.

We got to Hardscrabble, but my fighting spirit was gone, sapped by the hike the day before and the morning’s calamity. When you don’t have spirit, there is no way you can tough it up the difficult hills. As soon as you reach difficult section, you tend to give up. Which is exactly what I did. So I ended up walking the bike up large parts of Hardscrabble – including parts I certainly should have been able to ride. But, as I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t trying to prove anything to anyone or to myself, so I just did what felt right – and was fine with it.

First good view of the Green River

First good view of the Green River

View from the top of Hardscrabble Pass

View from the top of Hardscrabble Pass

On Hardscrabble

On Hardscrabble

At the top of Hardscrabble, we waited for the SAGs. While not quite as tough as Hogback, it was by no means easy, and I wanted to be available to help Acacia if she needed it – I figured if anyone was going to drive the Q5 into the rocks, it should be me, not a daughter whose father was on the way to the hospital with a broken leg! I was pleased and impressed, therefore, as I watched Acacia charge the Q5 up the hill with a big grin on her face! And trembling hands, as it turned out.

Acacia approaching the top of Hardscrabble, looking good

Acacia approaching the top of Hardscrabble, looking good

Acacia near the top, smiling and shaking at the same time

Acacia near the top, smiling and shaking at the same time

After Hardscrabble, it was an easy (though sandy) ride/drive down from the pass to the Labyrinth campsite, on the banks of the Green River. We got to camp, and decided that Ruben and I would hang out there with the Q5, our bikes, and a small mountain of gear. Greg would drive Acacia up to Moab to help care for her dad, and would come back that night or the next morning to help transport everything out of the canyon. I’ll be back tonight for sure, he said. But I wasn’t so sure…

The nicest feature of this camp site was its proximity to the river, which I took advantage of in short order. A short bushwack got us down to the banks, and before long I was in the Green rinsing off several days worth of red dust, sweat, and bacon grease. Man, that felt good! After that, it was a joy to set up camp.

River view at Labyrinth

River view at Labyrinth

My labyrinth camp site

My labyrinth camp site

One more dinner of steak and potatoes as Ruben and I sat around the flaming charcoal of the grill. Earlier, as I had set up camp, I had realized that I had used my sleeping bag and most of my warm clothes to cushion Steve in the back of the Pathfinder, so I was slowly adding layers of clothing as it got cooler, and thinking about just what I was going to sleep in.

After a while, I realized that there was a pile of gear from Greg’s car that almost certainly contained a sleeping bag I could use. About 9 PM, I was about ready to give up on Greg’s promised return, and was starting to think about pillaging his gear. As I was summoning the energy to do just that, I saw a reflection of headlights on the cliff, and soon the Pathfinder and the Escape arrived back in camp, with Greg, Chris, and Mike. The five of us enjoyed the night by the charcoal campfire, though of course it was not as boisterous with Steve and Acacia’s absence.

Sunday morning was beautiful and bittersweet, as I new it was time to leave. At this point we had three cars and five riders, which meant only two riders could do the ride along the river and up and out of the canyon. Greg and Mike got the honor, as they had not had the opportunity to ride while doing their yeoman’s service the day before. We rode/drove up the canyon loaded the bikes on the card, and started the drive to the Moab hospital.

Sunrise reflections on the Green River

Sunrise reflections on the Green River

Our camp at labyrinth

Our camp at labyrinth

One last canyon picture, before starting the climb out

One last canyon picture, before starting the climb out

Greg and Mike work their way up the canyon

Greg and Mike work their way up the canyon

We arrived just as Steve was coming out of the surgery to put a rod and four pins into his leg, so we killed some time having lunch. Back at the hospital, we got all seven riders back together one last time before we all had to scatter and make our way home! I took Ruben to Salt Lake City Airport to catch his flight back home, and I started my drive across the Utah salt flats towards Nevada.

All seven riders, just after Steve's surgery

All seven riders, just after Steve’s surgery

The spirit of the drive was a little different coming home. I tend to get a little pensive and depressed after the conclusion of something which I have looked forward to for so long. Still, I get a certain exuberance from the road that definitely helped to defeat the blues. After a lovely night at the Super 8 in Wells, I got on the road very early Monday, heading towards Danville, and home.

Driving down Interstate 80 is not quite the same as US Highway 50. There are other cars, and plenty of trucks. The Nevada landscape continued to be majestic in its own subtle way, and once again I set the car on cruise and enjoyed the sights and soundtrack. Dylan, Bach, Steely Dan, Nirvana, and others kept me upbeat on the way home. It was a cold and clear Nevada morning, and I was tempted to find a place to ride, if I had been prepared for the near-freezing temperature. Once I got to Reno, though, I pretty much set my sights on home, and finally came up my driveway a bit after two o’clock.

Personally, I am not a big believer in bucket lists. However, if you are, then a trip to the White Rim should certainly be on it. The grandeur, the beauty, the silence, the solitude… you should start making plans. And while you are at it, plan on taking me with you!

Beauty and wonder

Beauty and wonder

My Favorite California Lake

I have always been a lake guy. Lots of people prefer the ocean, but I’ll take a nice mountain lake any day. It’s in my blood, I suspect…

Once I had kids, I decided that it was my moral obligation to share this love of lakes with my family, so I started looking at California maps to find an appropriate lake within striking distance. Of course, I was well aware of Lake Tahoe, and had been there many times. And Lake Tahoe is incredibly beautiful, and has lots of fun stuff to do. But, my goodness, Tahoe is crowded, incredibly expensive… and has casinos. I envisioned a lake that had neither crowds nor casinos.

I got a big map of Northern California, and started looking for my lake. My gaze settled on Lake Almanor, a good sized, heart-shaped lake well north of the Tahoe madness, near Lassen National Park. As summer aAlmanorpproached, I talked Karen and the kids into taking a camping trip up that direction. We had a really nice time, and Karen started to swing towards my lake-oriented point of view. Lake Almanor was beautiful, nice for swimming and boating, with deer, grebes, big beautiful pine trees, and osprey everywhere.

After a few more camping trips, we rented a house a couple times, and started thinking about maybe getting a lake place of our own. Our requirements for a lake house were pretty simple. It needed to have a really good view of the lake (on the shore was out of the question, way out of the price range!), had to be usable year-round, and had to have good access to fun things to do. Above all, it had to be an inviting place for the family to spend time together.

Calm lake and puffy clouds.

Calm lake and puffy clouds.

Bill and Ines Haas, previous owners of 806 Lassen View.

Bill and Ines Haas, previous owners of 806 Lassen View.

We looked around for a while, and actually ended up buying a place. It was a little more than we were looking for, to be honest, but the view was spectacular and the retired couple that were selling the place were so sweet that we simply couldn’t resist! So, in September of 2003 we became the proud owners of 806 Lassen View Drive.

We’ve had lots of great times there over the years, as you can see from the few pictures I have posted below. Sad to say, with the boys growing up, it has been a couple years now since we have been there as a family. However, Karen and I still make it there when we can; it is still a wonderful place to visit on a long weekend, and the house itself is filled with great memories!

Sunset on the lake.

Sunset on the lake.

Winter provides epic toboggan runs!

Winter provides epic toboggan runs!

Fishing expedition. Didn't catch anything!

Fishing expedition. Didn’t catch anything!

A forlorn herding dog watching part of his flock.

A forlorn herding dog watching part of his flock.

Winter snowshoe expedition.

Winter snowshoe expedition.

Hors doerves on the porch, a nightly institution at the lake.

Sunset dinner on the porch, a nightly institution at the lake.

Winter wonderland.

Winter wonderland.

A dog and his boy.

A dog and his boy.

Lake Almanor, from a kayak's point of view.

Lake Almanor, from a kayak’s point of view.

A Moveable Feast

I think that Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. This holiday combines two things I treasure the most – family, and lots of good food – so, what’s not to like? Some people are way into Christmas, but I will take Thanksgiving any day, thankyouverymuch…

The most important thing about Thanksgiving is not where you are, but who you are with. The saddest Thanksgiving I spent recently was a few years ago in Nashville, where we were in the midst of a college-visit trip. Nashville is a cool place, but it just wasn’t Thanksgiving to me, sitting in a restaurant with Karen and Brian, trying to enjoy a hip bistro’s poor excuse of a nouveau-turkey dinner. We won’t be doing THAT again any time soon!

We are empty-nesters now, and both our boys are in school back on the East Coast, one in North Carolina and one in Connecticut. So, to make things easier for everyone, we decided to find some geographically suitable place to host Thanksgiving. After a little research and lots of time browsing VRBO.com, we settled on a lovely house named “Weaverton” in the countryside outside of Staunton, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley.

We must have been on to something, because lots of people decided to join us! Karen’s mom flew out with us from California, and Karen’s sister decided to drive up from Asheville, North Carolina. My own sister came down from Baltimore with her husband. And, of course, Tyler drove up from Winston-Salem, Brian journeyed down from New Haven, and his girlfriend Kelsey came down from Washington DC. A total of nine of us at the Thanksgiving table; not bad for an impromptu gathering in the wilds of Virginia!

Karen, Judy, and I flew from San Francisco to Dulles on Monday, and picked up Brian and Kelsey from the Metro late Tuesday morning after a short visit to Manassas battlefield. The day started out cloudy, but became progressively clearer as we approached Staunton. By the time we reached the house, we had a gorgeous day on our hands.

Both Tyler and Stacy had planned to drive up from North Carolina on Wednesday, but changed their plans due to the reports of a storm moving in. So by Tuesday night, there were seven of us huddled around the fire, listening to the rain beginning to fall. I woke up a few times in the night to the sound of the house being absolutely pelted by rain, but by the time I woke up in the morning, it was silent, and Weaverton had undergone a marvelous transformation!

Watching the snow come down from the safety of the porch

Watching the snow come down from the safety of the porch

Wednesday morning, with five inches of new snow

Wednesday morning, with five inches of new snow

I will have to say, there are few things cooler than being snowed in, with plenty of supplies, and with a huge fireplace with a roaring fire. Nothing much to do, except play epic games of Uno and Jenga, tromp around in the snow, watch the occasional basketball game, and start preparing for the next day’s feast.

Thanksgiving had it’s challenges. Everyone had a dish to prepare, and all in one oven. I did the turkey and stuffing, Karen did cranberry sauce, Brian and Kelsey did mashed potatoes and pecan pie, Stacy cooked sweet potatoes, Tyler prepared a green bean casserole, Lisa and Tim (who arrived Thursday morning), brought pumpkin and apple pies, and corn risotto. Judy’s job was to set and decorate the table. A few “firsts” were experienced, like opening a can of tomatoes with tin snips, and carving a sixteen pound turkey with a paring knife and a kitchen fork. In spite of the unlimited food and limited kitchen, however, everything came out perfectly, and on time. Chef Ramsey would have been proud!

Enjoying the feast. We have a lot to be thankful for!

Enjoying the feast. We have a lot to be thankful for!

The rest of the weekend was filled with various adventures and misadventures, wine tasting, exploring, and of course plenty of football! All in all, a memorable Thanksgiving, and a beautiful place. I suspect we will be back!