Ghosts of Christmas Past

Ever since I grew old enough not to be scared to death by it, I have been a big fan of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. And, while I recognize the necessity of having the ghosts of Christmas Present and Christmas Future, the Ghost of Christmas Past has always meant the most to me. Perhaps this is due to the fact that every year I myself am visited by this very ghost.

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The Ghost of Christmas Past, Magoo version.

The Ghost of Christmas Past that visits me does not take the form of a spirit, however, but rather takes the form of extraordinarily strong memories – memories that can brings lovely sounds to my ears, sweet smells to my nose, a poignant smile to my lips, and even tears to my eyes. I suppose I would have to say that this Ghost brings me the most physically tangible memories in my experience.

 

For some reason, this year the Ghost has been even more present than usual, and she (for I am certain that the Ghost is female) has walked me through some early Christmases from start to finish. As we all know that memories have a tendency to fade over time, I have decided to put pen to paper (so to speak) and document some of these memories, which are rooted in the rituals and traditions of my childhood.

Most of my Christmas memories seem to have a musical soundtrack; maybe this is part of the reason why they are so vivid. Both my parents were accomplished musicians; my dad played both piano and harpsichord, and my mom majored in music in college. My sister and my brother were both accomplished, serious singers; I was the slacker, having abandoned my musical talents in their early development stages to pursue athletics.

In the evenings leading to and following after Christmas, we would often sit in the living room by the tree and sing carols. Lisa had a lovely soprano voice, Mom was an alto, Dad was a bass, and Bobby and I would trade off on tenor and bass parts as the mood struck us. One of us would choose a carol, all would sing, then someone else would choose one. “God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Angels We Have Heard On High” were my favorites. We would always end on Silent Night, to the lights of the Christmas tree and the flame in the fireplace, and would hum the last verse.

My mom and my brother were scrupulously traditional. My dad and I would sometimes advocate throwing in some variations, but we never got anywhere with that, and eventually gave up. Our traditions straddled the border between custom and ritual, and while we paid a price in spontaneity, we gained benefits in deeper meaning and emotion.

The festivities would start in earnest on Christmas Eve. That was when we would have our big Christmas dinner, rather than on Christmas day. My grandparents would always come over, and we would have a turkey dinner, finishing with a flaming plum pudding garnished with holly. After cleaning up we would head to my dad’s cousin’s house for their annual Christmas Eve party. As a kid, I was always resentful that we had to go to this, as it was definitely an adult party. But, it was somewhat of an obligation, and I do have very fond memories of everyone clustered around the piano singing carols.

Once we got back from the party, it was time to go into full-on Christmas mode. Ten o’clock at night, and SO MUCH to do! The main event was the hanging of the stockings. In my family, the stockings were NOT hung by the chimney with care, they were hung from the posts of the bed in the master bedroom. And, they were not pretty Christmas stockings, but were long nylon stockings, usually supplied by my grandmother I believe. We hung the stockings, and when we were little (I stopped being little by the time I was six) we were allowed to jump on my parent’s bed; the only night of the year we were allowed to do so, I can assure you! We would then nestle together on the bed and my mom would read “The Night Before Christmas” to us, followed by the Christmas story from a book called “The Christ Child”. We were then given strict instructions on when we could knock on their door in the morning (originally eight o’clock, eventually negotiated down to seven-thirty), and sent off to bed.

Of course, being kids, and being very excited, we could never sleep until the allotted hour. So, we would usually congregate in Bobby’s room to wait impatiently together, comparing notes as to what we had heard during the night and what we thought might be under the tree. Finally, the time would arrive, we would knock on the door, and we would be told “just a minute!” and asked whether we had brushed our teeth (to which we would invariably answer “yes”, of course!). FINALLY, the door would open, exposing to us a most surreal scene!

We would rush through the door headlong into the brightest light we would ever see, as my dad would take movies on his super-8. As our eyes adjusted, we were able to make out five amazingly overstuffed nylon stockings. We would all climb onto the bed, and my dad would hand our stockings one at a time. These stockings were filled to the brim, with a couple toys, some candy, some other sort of special snack (my favorite was smoked oysters that come in a can, for some reason), the upcoming year’s supply of underwear, a few pairs of socks, three or four paperbacks, and other sundries. There was always an orange in the bottom of the stocking.

After collecting our loot and taking it to our rooms, it was time to head downstairs. Not for presents, however! We were not allowed to see the tree yet, or any of the stuff underneath it. We would play with the toys and games we got in our stockings while my dad would prepare breakfast. We would finally sit down to a nice breakfast in the dining room, with fresh squeezed orange juice, which was always a special treat. After breakfast, we would attend to our kitchen chores, then head upstairs to get dressed (in “nice” clothes) and to clean our rooms (yes, this was required).

At this point, of course, we kids were ready to burst with impatience and anticipation. Dressed, teeth brushed, rooms cleaned, and much of the morning’s take of candy already consumed, we were ready the main event. At that point, we would get the OK that everything was ready, and we would rush downstairs to see the tree, surrounded with more presents than seemed possible, with Santa’s “main present” to each of us unwrapped under the tree. We would then sing “Joy to the World”, and get ready to open some presents!

Unlike many of my friends, opening presents was a very deliberate exercise. It was one present at a time, one person at a time, with Mom as chief choreographer. Presents for us kids were wrapped in coded wrapping paper so that she knew who was opening what, and when. Each present was followed by a personal “thank you” and hug and kiss from the recipient to the giver. As you might imagine, this took place over most of the morning, but as a kid I always viewed the way we did presents with pride. There was true appreciation, rather than simply an acquisitive rush that was over by breakfast time.

Just as we were running our of steam (and out of presents!), Grandma and Grandpa would arrive with one more present for each of us – and usually a pretty good one! That would usually cap things off for a while, as we would kick back, play with our new toys, try on new clothes, etc. Then it was off to the kitchen for turkey sandwiches and leftover desserts. Then, my grandparents would leave, and my parents would head off to their room for an afternoon nap – the only day of the year that this every happened. We kids never understood why they were so tired on Christmas day… but once I became a dad I understood!

WIN_20151225_11_55_03_ProLate in the afternoon, it was time to put the new loot down for awhile, and get ready for our Christmas visit with the Karlsons. Nip and Wes Karlson were some of my parents’ oldest friends, and we would get together with them every Christmas evening, alternating between their house and ours. This was another mostly-adult party, as the Karlson boys were a bit older than us, but we would bring a toy or two with us, and there was always great food like cheeseballs, various chips and dips, and plenty of candy. The grown-ups invariably had Tom and Jerry’s, while us kids had egg nog. The party would last until bedtime or after, bringing to a successful conclusion another Beekley Christmas.

So, there you have it, a Beekley childhood Christmas, in a thousand words or so. There is so much more, though, much of it is difficult to put into words. The awe and joy of finally seeing the presents under the tree. The gleam in my mom’s eye while singing carols by the tree, a look of love, pride, and pure joy. The great feeling that came with giving someone a gift that they really loved. The memories only become warmer, sweeter, and more visceral when viewed through the rosy lens of elapsed time.

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

Just a Few Things Left to Do

I’ve been pretty lazy about working on the boat this summer. Fact is, it has been really hot outside, and I have had other things to do! But, I am making slow progress…

After I finished painting the topside, I took a look at the bottom and realized it needed a bit of work. Fairing the decks had been pretty hard on the hull, so much of it needed to be smoothed out, resealed, and re-primed. So, while I was at it, I figured I would put a couple more coats of white paint on the bottom.

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Cleanup required!

Next big step was to hunt for a motor. I needed something as light as possible – ideal would be an older 2-stroke outboard, short shaft, 20 or 25 horsepower, weighing less than a hundred pounds.

After a few weeks of lurking around on Craigslist, I found what I was looking for — a 1986 Mercury, 2-stroke, 25 horse, manual everything, short shaft. It was about an hour away, at a used boat/motor store/junkyard in Stockton. Drove out there, chatted with the guy a bit, and came home with it.

I put the motor on the boat this morning, looks pretty awesome, don’t you think?!?

View from the front

View from the front

View from the rear

View from the rear

View from upstairs

View from upstairs

So now, just a few things left to do, at least one of which I dread. My punchlist is as follows:

  • Set up a steering wheel and rig for the motor,
  • Obtain and hook up a deadman throttle system,
  • Buy or build a trailer, and
  • Take the whole kit and kaboodle to the DMV and attempt to get it registered.

Can you guess which bit it is that I am dreading?

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.