The Sounds of Summer

Today is the first Saturday that actually seems like summer will arrive this year, and while not as hot as it will be all too soon, my mind was wandering (as it often does) to summers past, and to sounds.

One of the finest sounds of a summer Saturday is the first mower being started in your neighborhood…mind you, not the best, but one of them. To explain – I am generally up early on Saturdays….but of course, being a professional insomniac, I’m generally up early most days. And the problem with being up early is that I’d like to get a head start to the day and mow the lawn. Pam, however, insists that I am not allowed to be the first mower in the neighborhood and be responsible for waking everyone up. Fine, dammit…if I can’t be the first to pull the cord, I’ll damn sure be second. And so I mill about, drinking coffee, chasing the cats from underfoot, and listening. Always listening. And there it is – the first one. Within minutes I’m in the back shed, pulling the mower out, filling the gas tank and inhaling the pungent fumes from the spills onto the mower deck. A few quick pulls, and I’m off.

This year is starting much better than the last few…the mower quickly enters it’s droning sound, like a squadron of bees attacking. I used to listen to my iPod while mowing, but I stopped, since it seems too disconnected from what’s at hand. For the last few years, our mower hasn’t been right. I’m not allowed to say who, but someone ran it over a stump a couple of years ago, and bent the shaft. It still worked, but instead of a steady humming, it cycled wah-wah-wah-wah as you worked it. And that was just wrong….the sound didn’t work, and actually increased the tension in my shoulders and neck as I mowed. Recently we bought a new Husqvarna mower, the one with the bigger engine. This one sings like a church choir…this one is right.

But still, even the Husky isn’t the best sound. That comes later. 

And so I wander, and wonder, about the yard for an hour or so, listening to the mower, sweating a little, getting thirsty, and allowing myself to get lost in my thoughts. Before I know it, it’s over, and I’m finished. One of the other nicest sounds of summer is actually the silence you hear when your own mower stops. The buzzing and ringing is still there, you think, but is it? You shuffle about, cleaning up and putting away, tinkering at the other little projects (where was the pile of dog doo you almost stepped in while mowing?)

I go in and Pam has made fresh iced tea, and a cold glass is sitting there on the counter. Is it OK to call it a glass when it’s really a stainless steel cup? I’ll have to check with someone about that, but why not – it’s a glass, since a ‘cup of tea’ implies it’s hot, and that wouldn’t work at all. Maybe I’ll grab an apple from the fridge, or some cheese, or something leftover from last night’s grilling session, and head back outside. By now, the temperature has come up, and it’s plain old hot and  the sun is glaring. As I find a seat in the shade to eat my lunch, the air is filled with other sounds…the neighbor kids are squealing about something, maybe a game of sprinkler tag? Doors slam, tires crunch through the streets, and in the distance, the tinkling bell of the ice cream truck can be heard, but only if you try. Crickets are chirping out the temperature, for those who believe that they can and that they do.

This is close, but still not it. But this, as the Eagles sang, surely a peaceful, easy feeling. As I finish the apple, and take the last long drink of the iced tea, I setlle into the chair and close my eyes.

And that’s when it happens. A mechanical pull, and a cough. Then another, and the mower slowly sputters to life. It’s not my next door neighbor – those mowers always shout guilt-inducing epithets. “My yard is nicer, my grass is greener”. so one has to get up and find something else to do. No, this sound has to come from three or four houses away, at least. The dull hum of that mower no longer sounds like the mosquitoes, but like a temple full of Buddhists chanting “Om” continuously. I recall vaguely reading that Om is the sound and the resonant frequency of the universe, and just now, listening to that Buddhist mower down the street, I finally understand what they meant. And if it isn’t the resonant frequency of THE universe, well it certainly is the resonant frequency of mine today.

I breathe the sound in deeply, and the chanting mower mixes with the fresh aroma of my own just-cut lawn. The heat continues to rise, and sweat runs down my face and I taste the salt as the drops hit my lips. The high pressure area I saw on the weather report, it’s there too, and weighs heavily on my chest…every sense is engaged and I am alive. I know I have to take it in deeply because, while this IS the perfect sound of summer, it won’t last long. 

And sure enough, the screen door slams, but Mary’s dress doesn’t wave – it’s my son, shouting “Dad, can you take me to Luke’s…I have to finish a project”. Right behind him is Pam, adding “If you’re going out, pick up something for the grill tonight”.

And that’s why that momentary glimpse of the universal sound is the best. At it’s best, it’s transitory and fleeting, but it’s perfect, and the feeling it brings stays with me for the rest of the day. Fritjof Capra related Buddhist philosophy to quantum physics…he could have made it a lot easier and just mowed his lawn.

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The Theory of Relativity

We all know that time passes more slowly for some activities than others…and that for each person, time both flies by, and stands still. There is no better way to experience both at the same time than to attend your high school reunion, as I did this past weekend. And for those who are checking, no, this isn’t about hiking, but it is indeed about being able to put one foot in front of the other.

I graduated high school over thirty years ago now…and for the most part, my memories of high school had always been blurred by the memory of my awkwardness. I was a small and skinny kid, played in the marching band, was active in Boy Scouts, and active in my church. To say that I was not part of the ‘popular’ crowd is an understatement. I had my friends, most of whom were also in the band, so I wasn’t a loner, but I seemed to recall that we generally knew ‘our crowd’ and the folks we hung out with.

About a year ago I had decided to join Facebook – not really sure why, but over time I have reconnected with many, many classmates. And while many of them were not kids I hung around with, I knew who they were, and they knew who I was, so we could at least communicate. And over the last few months, as I’ve talked to some of these people, I came to realize that the time then was not so bad after all, and that in fact, I had created some lasting memories and friends, despite the years. So when I realized our 30 Year Reunion was being held, I decided I wanted, and needed, to attend, despite the fact that I had missed all the earlier ones. In the week before the event, I debated….would I still be the same awkward kid, or would I be different? Would everyone else be different? Who changed the most, or the least? Who left the area, and who didn’t? Should I really go or not?

As the night arrived, I pulled out my yearbook to peruse one last time, hoping to remember everyone. And when we pulled into the lot of the restaurant and walked in the door, thirty years melted away in a flash, and suddenly it was like 1979 again. Except for one thing – it no linger mattered what sport you played, what your GPA was, or what brand of sneakers you wore…everyone there was connected in ways unknown. In one instant, time stood still, and time advanced. I read somewhere that at 30 year reunions the big realization is that everyone felt awkward during high school, but some hid it better than others. And time does erase all that, and bring everyone together again. And so while it was wonderful to see my old best friends again, it was also wonderful to be able to sit and talk and remember with people I hadn’t spent much time with back then…the most common thought I had after talking with people was “I wish I had known you better, or spent more time with you, when we were younger.” And what I realized is that that’s OK…that was then, and this is now. And I enjoyed spending time with my classmates, and hope to see them again, without waiting another thirty years ( I doubt I’ll last that long anyway).

So here’s to the Mustang’s, Class of 1979!! It was great seeing all of you again, even though we had such little time that evening to reconnect. Thank you to the organizers for a great evening, and to everyone for being there…we definitely missed the rest of you. And thanks to my wife, for putting up with being left as I visited…luckily she wasn’t the only one in that situation, and was able to make a new friend in the process!

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South America…the unexpected happens

Wow – it’s been a very long while since I last updated this. I guess part of the reason I hadn’t is that I’ve been so busy with the new job that my hikes were few and far between, and quite frankly, not very exciting, and certainly not epic.

This time it’s different.

A few weeks ago I traveled to Brazil for business, and after a couple of days went on to Montevideo, Uruguay, also for business. Both trips were very successful ventures, and all that remained was to get home. So Friday evening I left Montevideo for Rochester – short hop over the mountains to Santiago, Chile, and on to Toronto, then a quick puddle jumper across Lake Ontario and home early Saturday morning. But fate had other plans for me.

The mountains sit just behind the city

The mountains sit just behind the city

When I arrived in Santiago, I learned the AirCanada flight was canceled – the incoming 777-300 had apparently hit a bird while landing, and lost an engine. They needed AC to fly parts in from Toronto, so they canceled the flight and sent everyone to a hotel until the next day.

Because I was only in transit, and never meant to clear customs here, they took my passport at the airport and locked it in a safe. Technically I am not ‘here’ in Chile, according to Immigration. I told the Immigration Office that I wasn’t comfortable being in another country, and he calmly replied “Don’t worry senior. What could happen?”

I was bussed to the Sheraton San Cristobal – a hotel I had stayed in years ago – it is a beautiful five star hotel in downtown Santiago, not too far from the financial district. I even made a short video in the hotel, and commented on how lucky I was to have been stuck there, as this was a pretty nice way to be inconvenienced.

As everyone knows by know, Chile was hit with a massive earthquake early Saturday morning….I was sleeping when it hit, but was wakened by the shaking and the noise, much like a freight train in my room. I tried to stand, and fell….turned on a light, ran to get my cell phone and key, but another shake caused me to slam into the wall and drop the phone. It happened to be at the same moment we lost power, so I dropped to my knees and tried to feel on the floor for the phone The shaking and noise were intensifying at this point, and for a brief moment I stopped everything, and came to the conclusion that this was to be my end. I take solace in knowing that reaching that conclusion was lot more peaceful and calming than I thought it would be, but the calm allowed me to stand up, and leave the room (after fighting with the deadbolt). Still, it was much like being on the deck of a boat in 20 foot seas….I hit the walls a few times, and fell again as I tried to open the door. As I entered the hallway, the power returned, and I saw people running and screaming down the halls.  Luckily for me the stairway was right across the hall, and I was only on the 2nd floor, so I opened the door and directed a few folks into the stairwell, and we ran downstairs. Just as we approached the bottom, the quaking stopped – it was nearly three minutes of shaking. We ran outside into the dark, and were directed by hotel security thru the lobby and out back onto the lawn….managing to step on some broken glass in the process. We waited outside for about four hours before we could return to the rooms – when I did I realized my cash, company card, cell phone and watch had been stolen during the chaos.

The hotel staff was fabulous – they set up coffee and fruit during the wait, and for the next few days provided three excellent meals a day. It is unbelievable the dedication and effort they made, even while their own families were home without them.

Camp Sheraton

For the next three nights, we slept outside in lawn chairs or on the lawn….luckily the nights were clear, but given the low humidity and despite the warm days, the nights were quite cool. Luckily for me I had my Patagonia down sweater, which was a lifesaver, and having spent many nights camping, this wasn’t as difficult for me as for some of the other guests.

Sunday afternoon a strong aftershock hit, and caused a rock slide on the hill behind the hotel….I was lucky to have had my Flip video with me and caught the slide. I understand that this tremor caused at least one and maybe two heart attacks among the guests though, and I have to admit the continual jolt of the aftershocks does indeed wear thin on your heart.

Events like this bring out the best in people, and the worst. News of looting in other towns made my small room robbery seem trivial, but the fact that people used this situation to take advantage is sad. However, I did meet some wonderful people, and we did the best we could to keep each other cheered up throughout this situation. I hope to keep in touch with them in the future, but hopefully not under these circumstances again!

I know of several people there who say it has changed their lives deeply – I’m not sure I can say that, although I am still trying to figure out the purpose in all of this for me. I believe it was an opportunity to not only help those around me, but to re-connect with long lost friends from my past. I was very grateful to see the outpouring of support and prayers for my safety, and for my wife, alone at home and worried about the outcome. Their support made the situation much easier to cope with than it would have been without it. And through it all, Pam waited at home, with the minimal communication we had, and I can say now it was much more difficult a week for her than it was for me. At least I knew I was safe and that I’d be alright – she could only imagine, and of course one’s imagination always sees these things as worse than they are.

For several days we waited – and waited – for news on the re-opening of the airport. Originally planned for Friday evening, the ill-fated Air Canada flight finally left Wednesday evening at 11PM, and despite not always enjoying long flights, this one was the best. Even the storm tossed turbulence didn’t matter – I was finally going home.

As I arrived in Toronto I learned the next connecting flight was eleven hours away…silly to wait, I rented a car a drove home, with only a minor issue at the border.

Border Officer: Why are you here?

Me: My plane landed in Toronto and the next flight was tonight, so I drove to be home sooner.

Border: Why did you go to Toronto?
Me: I didn’t, really. I was in Chile and got stuck for a few days, flew back thru Toronto, and here I am.

Border: Why were stuck in Chile?

Me: You know – the earthquake? Airport was closed…

Border: Hmm…no, haven’t heard about it. Next time you should take your flight, but go on this time.

Me: It’s good to be home, eh?

And so it is….Dorothy was right. There’s no place like home.

Ready to go home!

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A One and One Weekend

Last weekend I drove back to the Adirondacks to meet up with Bill (from the February Giant hike) to hike to Seymour Mountain. Since I didn’t want to drive all the way up to hike only on Sunday, I decided to return to Giant on Saturday and head over to Rocky Peak Ridge, which we did not attempt in February because of the weather.
I left very early from Rochester, and arrived at the trailhead around 9:30 AM…since I had only eaten a quick bowl of instant oatmeal before I left, I was a bit hungry, and a little tired, but started off and slurped a PowerGel. The day was clear and blue skies abounded, and it was a bit on the warm side, but not uncomfortable. The Zander Scott trail to Giant starts climbing immediately, since you have to gain 3000 feet in three miles – and I was quickly breathing hard. I settled in after a while and had another Gel…this was to be my downfall. I can feel the effect of the Gel’s about 10-15 minutes after eating one, but I usually try to get some real food within the hour. This time I didn’t, and about 3/4 mile short of the turn to Rocky, I started feeling terrible. I was dizzy, stumbling, and had a blinding headache. It seems the sugar had given my blood sugar a brief boost, only to crash to very low levels. I sat for a few minutes and drank some water, then checked my water bladder, which was too close to empty. After a brief rest, I decided to turn back. This wasn’t an easy decision, but after continuing to stumble down, it was the right one. I stopped on on of Giant’s open slabs and ate some real food, and rested some more, then continued down.

That night, I made sure to eat and hydrate well, and slept well. The next morning, Bill & I drove to the Corey’s Rd Trailhead near Tupper Lake to start our hike to Seymour Mountain, AFTER being sure to have a good breakfast this time…protein, carbs, fat – balanced, instead of sugars only. The hike starts at the parking lot, and as we registered, we saw only two other groups ahead of us…apparently the Seward Range is not as popular as the Keene area peaks – but no matter, it was another beautiful day and we’d have the mountain to ourselves.

The hike started from the register across a relatively level trail, and went for about 6.5 miles – along the way we passed a couple beaver ponds, great wooded areas, and only a little mud, which has plagued Adirondack hikers this summer. After reaching the Ward Brook lean-to at 6.5 miles, and a little over two hours, we had been moving pretty well…that would change. Just beyond the lean-to is a small cairn that marks the trail to Seymour, and we turned off. Immediately the trail started through thicker woods, and along a small stream that we crossed several times.
Shortly after we started up – this hike is supposed to climb 2000 feet in the last mile and a half, but I’d say it was more like 1800 in the last mile. No matter – we ended up hiking through and up a beautiful spot…while this is considered one of the ‘trailless’ peaks, there was only one time we weren’t sure which way to go, and even so found it pretty quickly. At one point we stepped off the trail to the slide to see about climbing it – it might have been possible had it been drier, but at this point, there was just enough water running down the face to slick up the moss that grew there, and we quickly exited the area and rejoined the trail.

After some puffing and panting, and lots of water, we reached the summit around 1230, so it was just over four hours from the start. We also found a cool ledge just before the summit, and after the obligatory hero pics, we dropped our packs there and had a quick lunch. The views from here were spectacular – we could see Ampersand Mountain and Lake, the full Sewards, and god knows what else, but it seemed to go on forever.  It was quick, however, because the mosquitos were competing for our food – they were miserable!

We descended the same way we came up, and returned to the cars just before 5PM, which made the whole day 8h10m – after hearing someone Bill describes as a fast hiker had done this in 8 hours, we felt pretty good to have done it in this time…plus we did take some time for lunch and pics, so I felt pretty good about it, especially after bailing the day before.

Points to remember – Fitness, Nutrition and Hydration – keys to a good day. I forget these on Saturday, and was miserable, but recovered enough and followed the rules on Sunday and had a great day. And I am convinced that if I had not turned back, I would have collapsed in a heap in the deep col between Giant and Rocky, and would have been an airlift news story that night.

Live and learn…I have! Good climbing.

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Sometimes it’s OK to be different…

  • For many years, Thoreau’s quote of marching to a different drummer struck me – I admit to never having been one to go with the flow or to jump on the latest trends just to fit in…I sort of always knew I didn’t exactly fit in. In high school, I was in the marching band for my four years – not the most athletic or popular endeavour, and not the chick-magnet that football or soccer were.

Whatever…

So now I stumble on to a poem I’m sure many have seen, and I guess if I think about it, I have too. As I’ve gotten older, and start to wonder what my legacy will be, it really resonates with me, so I wanted to share it. It’s called the Men Who Don’t Fit In, by Robert William Service…he should know, he rambled from Scotland, to Vancouver Island, to the Yukon and worked as a banker, cow milker, and god-knows-what-else. I hope you find a note here that strikes you as well – enjoy.

The Men That Don’t Fit In

Robert William Service

There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.

If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they’re always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: “Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!”
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.

And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It’s the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that’s dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.

He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life’s been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He’s a rolling stone, and it’s bred in the bone;
He’s a man who won’t fit in.

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Sandstone Peak – California

The long hot trail

The long hot trail

I was fortunate enough to have traveled to LA this past weekend with my wife, for her sister’s wedding. We were together fortunate because her sister and husband (congrats to the happy couple) planned an excellent weekend of fun, food and merriment, including time for each visitor to see and enjoy LA in their own way. Naturally, Mrs W & I decided to find a place to hike. Turning to my original inspiration to start this blog in the first place, I looked to the ModernHIker for advice.  After reviewing his site, and consulting the great SoCal Google map he keeps, we decided to try to Solstice Canyon. Alas, last year’s fires have the park closed, so after contacting MH directly, he suggested we try to hike to Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains. He also noted that not only was this one his favorite hikes, it was ‘the one’ that convinced him how true hiking was to his heart.

We drove up PCH for not quite an hour (all driving distances in LA are determined by time, not mileage) and turned off on Yerba Buena Rd for one of the most winding roads I’ve ever been on. Mrs W was not amused, but after about six miles we found the trail head and parking on the left. As we got out, we saw a Sierra Club group getting ready to hike, and took off ahead of them along the trail (really nice dogs with them). The trail leaves the parking lot and starts a gentle climb right away…while the climb itself wasn’t tough, we quickly knew the conditions would be new to us. And, true to form, I was puffing and panting on this stretch as I warmed up to the day ahead.

It was 930AM, and already starting to get hot. And every step kicked up dry desert dust…ah yes, this would be a good one. The trail continues for about a half mile, and then splits – the western side heads straight to Sandstone Peak, but the eastern side travels around a long loop before joining the Backbone Trail and the Peak. We went east…and were greeted with views like we’ve never seen. Very shortly after the split we came across a pillar of sandstone…according to the GPS waypoints from ModernHiker, this spot was labeled “Climbing”, so we scrambled up the loose rock as far as we dared and got a great overview to the south of the terrain. The deep canyons appeared to fall away into nothing, with scrub brush everywhere. In the distance, isolated ‘clumps’ of sandstone dotted the landscape, jutting up and over and about, and taking your breath away. This is clearly not anything like our  Adirondack hikes -

As we continued the trail further east, it connected with the Mishe Mokwa trail, which runs along the western ridge of a larger canyon – across the gap were the stunning Echo Cliffs, and the unlikely (but correctly named) Balance Rock. We noticed a few climbers on Echo Cliffs, on the shady walls, of course, because by then it was really getting warm. At this point I was hoping we had brought enough water – five liters between us – but wasn’t sure.

We then found a beautiful oasis along the trail at Split Rock – again, aptly named for the large house size boulder split in two. After dipping our bandanas in the only water along the trail, and the obligatory photos inside the split, the Sierra Club group caught up to us. The leader announced a twenty minute break because “there is no shade from here out” – we took our leave and left the cool spot as they broke out their lunches.

She was nearly right – there were a few shady spots after Split Rock, but only if you hide behind the scrubs by kneeling down. It was hot – not that I trust it, but the thermometer on my pack read 95 (the news that evening confirmed 102 in the canyons). The trail looped around the north, and at the apex was a side trail to the TriPeaks, a collection of sandstone rocks to be climbed. Worried about water, and hotter than I’d prefer to be, we skipped this out and back, and continued to the junction with the Backbone Trail. From here, the trail gently climbed to the base of Sandstone Peak, which required a bit of a loose rock scramble to reach the summit. Initially confused by the Mt Allen plaque on the top, I remembered the dual name, signed the log, and sat back to enjoy the views. Wow! We could see the Pacific. We could see mountains to the east, and the south. We could see Santa Monica Bay. And, if you’re bold and lean over the rocks on top, you can see straight down (according to the GPS, about 900 feet straight down!) We hung out to catch our breath (it had been taken away by both the heat, and the views) and rummaged through our packs for lunch. Normally I carry a lot of food (eh, Rickie?) but most of my trail snacks had been noshed on over the weekend already (dang kids!). Not to worry – an emergency foil-pack of tuna, and some chips, and we were dining four star! Mrs W finished her second liter here, as I still had enough in my pack to get us back…as we packed up and scrambled down I realized that the Sierra Club group had not yet caught up, despite our break…

As the scramble rejoined the trail, it was a winding 1.2 miles back to the parking lot…I realized it would be all downhill, as we had about 1200′ to lose before returning to our starting point. As we wound around the trail, sweating our tails off, we took in our last views of the ocean, and across the canyon to Skull Rock…who names these things? They were a master of the obvious, for sure! No mixed up Anglicizations of Iroquois names as found in the Adirondacks — if a rock is teetering precipitously, call it Balance Rock. Works for me.

As we reached the car, I pulled the 3 liter hydration bladder from the pack, which had about a half liter left. We quickly finished that as we drove back down the winding road, noting the drop in temperature with every turn. As we drove back to hotel, we saw a sign showing the temp to be 69F, after being in nearly 100F just a short while ago – the windows were open, we were hot and sweaty, the ocean was in view…what could be better? Thanks ModernHiker for the recommendation…this was truly a beautiful hike and a great way to see what SoCal has to offer besides miserable traffic.

Stats:

Total length – 6.11 miles

Time – 3 hours, 25 minutes

Elevation Gain – 1775 feet

I will have more pictures to post when I return and develop them – in the meantime, here is a Google Earth overlay of the track.

Google Earth overlay of GPS Track

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Winter ADK Peak Number Two – For Dominic

pict0021.jpgI had the honor and privilege of hiking this weekend with a remarkable group of people, for a remarkable purpose…some background:

Back in September, a hiking forum I belong to began organizing their winter gathering, a event in which the objective is to put someone from the forum on the top of each of the forty six highest peaks of New York. Given that there are over 6,000 individuals who now call themselves 46er’s, meaning they have climbed each themselves, and given the number of 46er’s on the forum, this seemed a reasonable enough goal, and one I decided to participate in myself. After reading every ADK guidebook I could find, and sending a few personal messages back and forth, I decided to join the team climbing Giant, also known as Giant of the Valley. Giant sits as one of the southernmost peaks of the 46, and is usually hiked with it’s sister peak, Rocky Peak Ridge, so we decided to tackle both. The team I signed up to hike with is one of the most pleasant, caring and loving couples you’ll ever meet, known on the forum as billandjudy.

The gathering took on a new meaning in January, when the son of one of the owners was killed in an avalanche in Lake Louise – he was 19. I had never met Dominic Luckhurst, but had read many of his adventures on the forum as he, his parents and brothers tackled the ADK peaks one by one, and read with joy when he and his father completed their 46er. Even without meeting him, it was clear he was an exemplary young man who loved life, and whose love for life was only exceeded by his love for his family. In this day and age, when people talk about how families are drifting apart and TV and other electronics build a wall and add distance to people who share a home, this was a family who spent as much time as they could together, and outdoors.

Knowing the day would be difficult for the family, it was decided to name the day Dom Day, to remember this fine young man and to comfort his family. The only caveat requested was that the day of hiking be dedicated to Dom, in any way each team saw fit, but that the evening festivities be dedicated to the hikers themselves, and to the days fun and accomplishments.

In the days leading up to the hike, Bill & Judy had asked another member, ‘Snickers ‘ to join us. Snicker’s original plan had to been to hike one of the peaks solo, but on this special day, most people came to understand that the comfort and camaraderie of others was important, so our team of four was set.

The two days prior to the hike brought a lot of snow to the ‘Daks – close to two feet in most places, and many began toChapel Pond wonder whether the trails would be broken out, or still fresh with powder. The four of us met at the trailhead at 8AM, and realized the snow berm created by the plows was about four feet tall itself – what would the trail be like behind it? After donning our snowshoes, and scrambling over the berm, we walked to the register and signed in – what a relief to see that someone had soloed the route the day before! As we followed their snowshoe tracks up the trail, it was clear that it was one person, and they weren’t big – in other words, there was still some trail breaking to do. As is usual in my hiking, I started out breathing hard and sweating harder – even in the 20F morning – and took off a few layers.Wolfjaws At one point I wondered if I could really do this, but the team was encouraging and nudged just enough to keep me going. Good thing – after an hour of hiking I began to find my rhythm. This is also about the same time that our trail breaking angel from the day before turned back, meaning we would have to break out the rest of the way. And let me add without hesitation that by we, I mean Bill, who did the bulk of the breaking. Judy & Snickers took some too, and I managed a wee bit, but for the most part, it was Bill. We reached Giant’s Washbowl shortly, a pond on the side on the side of the mountain, and from just beyond had amazing views across the road. Looking down, you could see Chapel Pond, where the ice climbers were hiking across the pond to their ice for the day. Looking across and north, you could see the Wolfjaws, and to the southwest, the Dix Range.

As we kept going, I chatted with the team about their experience, which was significant, and about themselves. Prior to this several people had told me to be prepared for Snickers’ chatting – which was said to be non-stop – but I have to say, it wasn’t, and what there was was always interesting and interested. She is a remarkable hiker, also with the passion for the outdoors I saw in many other folks that weekend, and a genuine person. Her positive energy alone helped me continue up the mountain I may have quit if on my own.

Going up, every step was a chore – reach up with your snowshoe, kick a couple times to make a step, transfer your weight, and slide back a half step. Meaning, our plan was to be back at the cars by 2PM, and we knew that wasn’t going to happen. As we got higher, the clouds rolled in, and brought with them a light snow fall – while beautiful in it’s own right, the views we hoped for were sucked into the cloud. Nevertheless, we continued through the winter wonderland before us, and soon reached the final knob before the summit. Bill & Judy, who had each climbed Giant before, stepped aside, and asked Snickers to lead the final way, and for me to follow – they would bring up the rear and allow us to reach the top first. She soon topped out, and we were right behind her…snow was falling heavier now, and after being drenched with sweat from hiking, it didn’t take long to feel chilled. It was now already 1 o’clock.

Snickers had brought along with her a rose to leave on the summit for Dom, and when she went to retrieve it, we saw the bud was gone, and only the stem remained. We said a brief prayer for Dom & his family and left it there, and I removed a set of prayer flags from my pack which we also left behind for him. May they carry our wishes and blessings skyward to him and bring peace to his family…

We had to then decide whether to continue to Rocky or not – the col between the two peaks is not long, but is steep, and we figured the snow would be especially deep, so we decided to go down instead. I still believe that my own struggle to keep up contributed to that decision, but not once was that ever mentioned or implied.

As we headed down the mountain, I quickly learned two new techniques well known to Winter ADK hikers – one, the snowshoe ‘ski’, and two, the butt-slide. In the first, as you step down, the steepness doesn’t allow the shoe to fully bite, and you begin to slip. If you allow it to, you can ride this out for more distance than you might have imagined, and it’s fun. The second is fairly obvious – sit on your butt, and slide down the chute you created climbing up. Now this is fun! As we reached a junction we had noted coming up, Bill noted that it had taken us 20 minutes to descend to here, but it had taken an hour and twenty to ascend!

The descent was mostly unremarkable – limited views, more snow, and plenty of sliding and skiing. On the way down, we met several teams following our broken trail – better yet, we found some of Snickers’ rose petals, and asked these folks to carry them to the summit for us. As we passed the Washbowl the views from earlier had now disappeared in the snow and we didn’t linger long this time. Just below, the trail switches back and forth, which made coming up easier – going down, Bill suggested it would be easier to simply skip the trail and go straight down through the fresh powder. What a feeling to step off the path and feel two feet of fresh powder sink beneath your snowshoe – it’s almost like being weightless as you float down. We made great time through here, laughing all the way, and reached the register again just before 4PM…two hours after we might have thought, and without Rocky Peak.

We loaded the car and head back to the hotel that served as our base station, and was to be the spot for the evening festivities. We were back in time for showers and dry clothes, and waited for others to return. As they lingered in throughout the evening, we learned we were not the only ones turned back that day – Mother Nature had offered a butt-kicking to more than myself. I met so many people, with so many stories, I could fill a book – but I can say that these are the folks who suck the marrow out of life and live their lives to the fullest. I have never seen, in one place, so many people who said they don’t own TV’s, or Xbox’s, or whatever – instead, they ski, they hike, and they live. As a self-admitted foodie, there was so much there to eat and drink – and I firmly believe that a person’s passion is put into the food they cook and share, I can say there was more passion in that room than in any gathering I have ever attended. In this day and age, to see 50 or so folks sharing and bonding over an activity like hiking is enough to give me hope for the world.

When Dominic’s father returned to posting to the forum, after a brief absence, he told of his initial feelings – that it would have been easy to make the decision to never return to the mountains that took his son’s life. Instead, he said, the community of hikers that reached out to him and his family, the strength, sympathy and support, reminded him of why he could not take that option. That evening, around the fire, as we celebrated the peaks made, and lamented those that beat us, we understood what he meant, and knew that this too was a family, that the mountains would always be there, and so would we.

Rest in peace Dominic, and peace to your family. And thank you to the members of the hiking forum that is an extended family to all who share their passion and energy.

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(Prayer flag photo courtesy of billandjudy)

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Yosemite in Winter

7800000-r3-023-10.jpgI had the good fortune to be ‘stuck’ in San Jose this weekend for a convention, and with nothing to do, flew my wife out to join me to visit Yosemite. Let me say that no matter what you read, how many pictures you see, and how many stories you hear – nothing comes close to the sheer overwhelming immensity of the scenery.

On the Saturday we drove in early from San Jose, and arrived around 1030…our first hike was up the closed,7800000-r3-045-21.jpg and iced, road to the Mariposa Grove of the Sequoias. We had brought our snowshoes with us, and did not need or use them, but really regretted not bringing our Stabilicers, which would have been perfect. The hike up is easy – two miles in and about 900′ of elevation – and the trees are surreal. To see trees that may well be over a thousand years old, that are 15′ in diameter, and are everywhere you look is breathtaking. We could have hiked a loop or two thru the grove, but since we only had two short days, we went back down and drove to the Valley.

Coming thru the Tunnel along Wawona Highway, there is an overlook immediately after the end (be prepared because it is right there!) – this is the first look at El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel and the whole Valley floor. Unbelievable is all that can be said. We spent a few hours in the Valley – hiked up to see Bridalveil Falls (very very icy – folks were sliding down rather than walk it was so bad), more pictures of Half Dome from the famous Sentinal Bridge, and drove back to out hotel in the park, the7800000-r2-037-17.jpg Wawona. Along the highway we noticed the cars ahead slowing, and upon reaching the area of interest, saw two coyotes looking for their dinner. As we slowed to take a picture, one popped up about five feet from the car!

The Wawona Hotel was built in the 1850′s, and is a great little place to stay, and an even better place to eat – the dining room was cheery, and the pot roast was to die for. One thing to note – 7800000-r2-021-9.jpgwhen they say the rooms are without a bath, they mean it – it’s not like a B&B with shared bath down the hall, but it’s out back on the porch…

The next morning we decided to drive up to Badger Pass to see the ski area, and to break out the snowshoes…Badger Pass sits at about 7400′, and is a small ski area that looks like a lot of fun. We strapped on the shoes and hiked up a groomed cross country ski trail to the top7800000-r1-041-19.jpg of the former Badger Pass Ski Area – about a mile with a 200′ gain. We then followed the cat trails over to the top of the ski area, and hit our elevation high for the weekend of 7892′ – I was surprised I wasn’t more out of breath from the elevation, but we both did fine. On the return, we noticed some skiers had left the trail and skied through the trees back to the bottom, so we decided to head the same way – finally hitting some good knee deep powder, we had a lot of fun glissading thru the Sequoias to the top of the cross country run, and then hiked back to the lodge – about a 3 mile loop, with close to 500′ gain. The views of the Sierras from the top were – to overuse the word – breathtaking as well.

Unfortunately as we descended back to the Valley, the clouds rolled in and it started to rain, but we also knew it was time to head back to reality -

We left the Park by the Arch Rock Entrance, along Route 140 – do NOT do this if you come to Yosemite. I had heard about rock slides along the road, but had no idea the magnitude until we saw it – 300′ of the highway is simply missing, and has been for about a year and half…while they have a short re-route around it, they still have no idea how to clean it up without making it worse. The fear now is that to disturb it will cause a bigger slide, damming the Merced River, and flooding the Valley -

I absolutely hated to leave, and can’t wait to go back with the kids. I also would very much like to do the hike up the cables to the top of Half Dome, which is only open from May to about November.

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The Original Winter Warlock

I found this on YouTube and had to post it – it was this that drew me to the Warlock as a character. When life gets you down, and things don’t go the way you planned, remember this – I do. (You may want to refrain from singing it out loud at work, though…but that’s entirely up to you)

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Mt. Arab – The First of my Firetowers

012_12a.JPGColumbus Day weekend in the Adirondacks is often a crapshoot. Is the weather going to hold? Will the fall colors be bright or past peak? Will it be wet, cold, or otherwise unpleasant? This year, it was absolutely perfect – the skies were clear, the temps were in the upper 60′s/low 70′s, and the colors were just a tad past peak, but still brilliant. Despite some unplanned rain on Saturday and a gray evening, Sunday morning dawned with an uplifting brightness not seen in some time. While the original plan may have been to take it easy, we decided to take advantage of the day to climb to the Mt Arab Firetower before we drove back home.

The trail starts just off Route 3, south of Tupper Lake, and is pretty easy to find. There was ample parking, despite the fine day, and we set off around 11:30. Just beyond the register, the trail turns up a bit and starts out moderately steeply. This wasn’t too bad, though, nor did it last long before the trail moderates and becomes a fairly straightforward hike up the mountain. The only real issue on this day was the wetness of the falling leaves – I don’t like to drive on them, and thankfully hiking on them is easier, but there were still a few slippery spots. This trail is cut across quite frequently with run-offs made of roots or stones, and is in fantastic shape. Just before the summit, the firetower came into view, and we rounded the bend to find a beautiful vista in all directions. this day. The most intriguing views were in the opposite direction, to the lakes of Mt Arab and Eagle Crag. The shape of these lakes is interesting, and the color surrounding it on this day was spectacular.

The colors were amazing, and the peak is a great place to chat up other hikers and families, and other photographers. The view from here is so well known and highly regarded there were many folks with some serious equipment up here. We022_22a.JPG climbed the tower and had our breath taken away from the views – Whiteface was clearly visible beyond Tupper Lake.

In spite of the great views from the firetower, I was even more excited when I found the overlooks on the east side of the mountain. Several large rock slabs marking the summit provided a good view, but by climbing down to another smaller rock I was able to get even better views of the lakes.

As far as the Firetower itself, there is an interesting website published by the Friends of Mt Arab. As with many of the old firetowers in the Adirondacks, this one has been restored through the efforts of diligence of the faithful few, and I would 008_8a.JPGencourage hikers who enjoy this trail to support their efforts, without which the tower would likely have been gone by now. In addition, one can climb the existing set of firetowers to complete the ADK Firetower Challenge – some are in the Catskills, but most are within the Blue Line. Given the opportunity for beautiful views, interesting hikes, and participating in an important part of the history of the Adirondacks, I think this is a worthy effort, and hope to get in a couple more before the year is out. This is also a great trail for kids, so bring ‘em with you.

BTW – I will warn that if you wish to take your dog with you, you will have plenty of company, so keep the leash handy. And to the folks last weekend with the muzzled cocker spaniel – if your dog is so ornery you need to muzzle it in public places, leave it home.

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Finally back again…

005_5a.JPGIt’s been way too long since I’ve posted anything, and even longer since I had been able to get out to hike at all. This past Columbus Day weekend was different -

The hip has been healing nicely, and although there are still pangs of intermittent pain, for the most part, it’s fine, and at the very least, according to the x-rays, it’s fully healed! So, Mrs. Warlock & I headed off to the Adirondacks, and what a perfect weekend it was.

We drove up Friday morning, and spent part of the day in Lake Placid – and what day it was. The temp was around 70F, the sky was about as blue as could be, and the fall colors were just a tad beyond their peak, but still amazing. We then decided to drive up to the top of Whiteface – we probably should have hiked it, but we really weren’t prepared to do so that day, so we figured the views010_10a.JPG were still worth it on such a fine day. The views were spectacular – the colors were just faded a bit so as to look like a watercolor of the mountains. The temp dropped a bit on top (to about 56F) and the wind picked up, but it felt good to be out in the fresh air and sun.

We also decided on Friday to stop by the Adirondack Loj and to visit the ADK shop there – the photo at the start of this entry is taken there, behind the Loj, and looking over Heart Lake. It was so still, it was eerie…the colors were amazing, though, and we vowed to come back.

Which we did – the next day. We had wanted to take a moderate hike with our hosts, and decided to tackle Mt Jo, behind the Loj. As we got into the car and left for the Loj, the skies opened up and poured all the way there. As we pulled into the parking lot, the rain stopped – so we decided to move on to the trail.In terms of length and vertical, it seems to be an easy hike, but what it lacks in magnitude it gives back in beauty and intensity. Once you enter the trailhead you are given a choice of the Long Trail or the Short Trail – we chose the latter. The trick in becoming the Short trail is head to the summit as directly as possible, meaning there are some steep sections. Since it had just rained, some of the footing was a bit tricky – wet leaves on wet rocks always add to the challenge. Nevertheless, we made it to the summit in about an hour, and had some great views of the High Peaks area…even though there were some tall trees obscuring the view, we still could see for a great distance.

019_19a.JPGWe hiked down the Long Trail, which it turns out is only .3 miles longer than the Short Trail. It was definately easier going, (especially for the short legged dog with us!) and we ended up back at the Loj about 2 1/2 hours after we left. As we went into the shop to find some updated maps and souvenirs for the kids, the sky opened again for the next hour or so – our luck was amazing that we were able to get the hike in between the downpours.

We drove back thru Lake Placid, and finished the afternoon at the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery – I highly recommend this place, especially the 46′er Ale and the spicy Fish & Chips. I only wish I had picked up a growler of the beer, and will next time.

To wrap up the day, we hung out on Lake Symond in Tupper Lake with friends for the rest of day – the hip survived the first real test quite well, but with the hike, rain, and beer, I dozed contentedly on the porch, listening to the call of the loons (OK, there was only one loon, but he did make one cry). It was, to say the least, a grand comeback.

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Is Scouting still relevant?

p6.jpgWhen I was in 7th grade, my father left the military and we moved to South Jersey, where we stayed for some years. I joined the Boy Scouts when I moved there, and stayed involved thru high school, and yes, earned my Eagle Scout.

I was very lucky, however, to have found a troop that even then still modeled itself after Baden-Powell’s vision – turning boys into men, and using nature as the forum for learning. Our troop was fortunate to own two dozen canoes, trailers, and tents to be able to get out often, and get out often we did. Starting in the spring, we would get the canoes out (most of them fiberglass behemoths, with a few aluminums) and clean them up and make any repairs necessary. Then every Sunday until fall we would have a canoe outing – sometimes it was just down to a local lake, but mostly it was into the Pine Barrens of South Jersey to explore some interesting route or other. In the summer the troop would take up to 20 kids to Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada for a four week canoe camping adventure.

In addition, during the warmer months, the troop would hold a backpacking trip at least once a month – we would head out to Pennsylvania, Delaware, or parts of Jersey and hike to a designated spot where we would set up camp. It was never too much, and the Scoutmaster did a great job of getting everyone to work as a team. Oftentimes we would visit historical sites like Gettysburg and combine that with our camping outing.

My best camping recollection from those days was always the January campout – in the days between Christmas and New Year’s our Scoutmaster would gather the unsold Christmas trees from the area and dump them off at a wooded area where we had our troop camping location. Then one weekend in January we would go out there, drag the trees for about a mile and half to the campsite, and pile them up. In teams of 3 or 4, we would strip the branches off with machetes, and use the trunks to build lean-to frames in the woods, and the branches to seal in the lean-to’s. The first time I did this, I remember we built a traditional top-only lean-to, and we woke up with our sleeping bags covered with snow. In subsequent years we learned to build full shelters, to the point where our problem was not snow, but the fact that we had actually built Indian-style sweat lodges!

February always meant Klondike derby, where we would build dog-sleds, with wheels, and use boy-power to traverse a course thru the woods. The goal was to use orienteering skills to get to the right place at the right time – at which point you should have found various skill stations where you would be tested. This was a contest between the troops of our district, and was a high point for the year.

My son had joined the local Cub Scouts a couple of years ago, and I was as excited as he was at first. It didn’t take long to see that something was different from when I was involved. First, the emphasis was not on the Scouting principles I had learned, but rather on how quickly one could get their books signed off to move onto the next rank. Outings were few and far between – admittedly these were only Cub’s, but with no associated Boy Scout troop, there also seemed to be nothing to look forward to. The drop-out rate among the boys was high, and I am still trying to convince my son to get involved again but with no success.

My question, then, is as noted in the title – is Scouting still relevant? How does its relevance (or non-relevance) relate to the “Last Child in the Woods” book? Perhaps parents are too protective, and don’t see the value of what Scouting has to offer. Without parent involvement, no troop could be as active as mine was. Or is it simply that other organized activities like Little League and soccer have dominated the time constraints on our children?

I have seen little evidence in my area that Scouting is alive and well – but would love to be proved wrong, and would love to have something to show my son that would convince him to reconsider.

If not, then the best answer may be to pull out my own Scout Handbook and attempt to use it as a guide to teach him what I learned – not just how to tie knots and paddle a canoe, but how to live with decency, respect and reverence. As always, it’ll be one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

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Looking back –

I am still waiting for the hip to mend, and saw the doc yesterday for an update. The good news is that the x-rays show that there is definitely some bone growth along the fracture line, but not enough that I can put weight onto it yet. What surprised me was that he showed me the actual break on the films – I had looked at them myself earlier, and thought it was about an inch and half long along the top of the femur, but he traced a break along the length of the bone that is actually 4-5 inches in length. No wonder this thing hurts so much!

I’ve had some good time to catch up on my reading lately, and have been thinking more about “Last Child in the Woods” and my own childhood, and how it relates to the book versus how my own children live now.

Up until I was in high school, my father was in the Air Force, and we moved every 18 months or so…while I suspect most people would say today that that is detrimental to a proper childhood, I loved it, and I believe it has shaped me in many ways that are actually good. For one, I am at ease in new places, and love to travel. When my job required that I travel internationally, I was always told by my customers that they could tell how much I respected their cultures, and found that I was easy to work with compared to many Americans they knew. But as it relates to my love for the outdoors, I think the stage was set early on as well.

When I was only 4 years old, my family moved to Izmir, Turkey for three years. While there, we spent much time with other assigned NATO families, and nearly every weekend went and explored the countryside. We would walk thru the ruins of Ephesus, one of Alexander’s many fortresses, and other ancient ruins. My mother would pack enough food for a small army, and we would go to the sea to play and explore – even at that age, I recall being given enough of a leash that I wasn’t always attached to my parents apron-strings.

What really stands out in my memory is the time we lived in Tripoli, Libya (I was 7 then) – while we did live on the military base, I was free to go out with my friends and do things I would never consider allowing my kids to do. For example, at that age I would take the bus to the center of the base to go to the movies with my friends – but even more, I remember exploring some abandoned buildings and scavenging supplies for the tree houses we built in each of our yards (such as they were!). I distinctly recall finding wires for lashing, scraps of wood, and more bent nails than we could ever straighten against the sidewalk. We’d drag our finds back to the housing area, and haul it up the olive trees in our yards, and build our own place to get away. When it was hot (and it’s nearly always hot in Libya) we’d retreat up there to read our comic books and stay out of the sun. We’d also be able to catch chameleons (the real ones with the googly eyes, not the Florida kind) and try to train them to race each other, which, as I recall, rarely worked without me getting a bite or two.

As I grew up after that, we moved first to southern California, then to Globe, Arizona, and then to Lubbock, Texas. In each of these places I can remember spending every afternoon outside, roaming the neighborhoods, fields and canyons at will, as long as I was home in time for supper. While the book “Last Child in the Woods” falls short in prescribing actual solutions, it does at least make me recall how I grew up, and what I would wish for my own children, should society allow it. Alas – too many crazies, too many germs, too much homework from school, and not enough real neighbors watching out for each other prevent this lifestyle from happening now.

And so I do what I can to take the kids outside whenever we can (and I’ll be able to again eventually when this damned hip heals), but I think going forward I plan to allow them some more time to discover on their terms, and not mine. We spend quite a bit of our warm weather weekends hiking in the Finger Lakes, and this year I will give them a longer leash, and forget so much about making time, but will make it a better time. We’ll see how it goes – and as we get cranked up again, I’ll be sure to update here on our journeys, both on the trail, and back in time.

I wanted to add at the end here that when I was younger and out playing, I used to come home filthy – dirty, muddy and just plain messy. Never once do I remember getting in trouble for being dirty – in fact, I think it was understood by my parents that I was just “being a kid” – I thank them both for that, and hope to do the same for my kids. Dirty? So what! It’ll wash off – that’s why they take showers!

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Last Child in the Woods…

lastchildpbcover.jpgI just finished reading “Last Child in the Woods – Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv….it was, to say the least, an interesting read, and one that made me think of my own childhood. I would highly recommend it, and am planning myself to buy several copies for the school administrators of my children’s school district.

Louv’s premise is that today’s children have lost touch with Nature, and by doing so, are losing out on a major component of their total learning experience. There is certainly more to it than that, but that’s the nickel tour…there are enough other reviews and synopsis around that you don’t need me to write another one.

My major fault with the book, as important a work as I believe it to be, is that it seems incomplete. While Louv gives some examples of school districts and communities that are trying things to bring kids back to nature, he doesn’t really say what the rest of the schools and communities should do. Perhaps its because the answer isn’t that simple, and that each community has it’s own set of issues to deal with, but what I took from it is that the problem is so big, it’s ludicrous to even think about a grand solution.

To me, like many of the issues with today’s education system, the solution to this problem starts at home. Granted, the world is a very different place than it was when I was a kid running around the neighborhood building forts, tree-houses, and getting muddy. Hell, my children’s mother doesn’t even allow them to get muddy for fear they’ll get ring-worms or something. But with the reality of whacked out psycho-paths on the prowl for young children, many of our fears do have foundation. So what to do?

Our family – my wife, her daughter and my two children – do as much as we can to spend our weekend time outdoors as we can. Unfortunately, I only have my children with us every other week, but when we do, we make it a point to plan some outdoor activity – typically we’ll drive down to the Finger Lakes area and hike on of the many waterfall-lined trails we are blessed with in this part of New York. And while these trips are not super-rugged, they do get the kids out experiencing nature first hand. Last summer the three kids spent one hike trying to ‘out-find’ each other, and turned up frogs, toads, salamanders and bugs I had missed – but the point is they were looking! And despite the fact that their little legs got tired, they had fun…

This is not the same as the unstructured wild play time Louv suggests is so important, but in the context of today’s world, I know it’s more than many of their friends get.

One other interesting point I’d like to add – I know there are many forums that criticize Bear Grylls and his Discovery Channel show Man vs Wild. I have a different perspective, and proof positive of his impact. No, his shows are not NOLS level survival courses, and yes, he likely makes some foolish decisions that might adversely impact your chance for survival should you be in a situation such as he places himself. But – my kids LOVE this show, and they love him, and because of watching his show, they are more intrigued than ever to get back out into the woods and try new things. Last weekend it snowed here (and yes, it’s snowing quite a bit now) – rather than spend the weekend in front of the telly, my kids went out in our yard, found several 7′ gardening stakes, some rope and a tarp (OK, so it was the one covering my firewood – whatever!). In the back of our yard under some trees and against the fence, they lashed the poles to the fence, and tied the tarp over the frame they built, and built a perfectly excellent shelter. Like their hero Bear, they made a camp, and even made a make-believe firepit in the shelter to cook on.Even as I look out back now with the 10 inches of snow we’ve had since last night, it’s still standing, and if they were here this week, I know they’d be out there. So while Bear isn’t necessarily going to save your life, he might just save your family from Nature Deficit Disorder, and I think even Richard Louv would be happy with that!

You gotta start somewhere…

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To Mrs. Warlock – Happy Valentine’s Day

I wanted to take some time today to thank my significant other – nothing I could do or say would be enough, but here goes nothing…

When we met just about three years ago, I knew immediately you were the one I should have met many years before, and strangely enough, at our first embrace, I felt as if I had already known you for years. The first months of our relationship were truly blissful, and reality seemed to slip into the background – it was a wonderful foundation for us.

And then, reality hit hard…your father’s extended illness and recovery and the difficult emotional issues with that, my father’s illness and recovery, and the difficulty that distance has played with that one, the challenge of two young children and one older one that never seem to end, and moving twice within 18 months. And yet I knew that as long as you were there, none of this would matter.

And now, for me (and I think for you, too), the hardest part of all…my injury and inability to do very much for such a period of time. I have never had to rely on anyone as much as I have relied on you these past couple of weeks – and while I know it is difficult and challenging for you, I know you’re there whenever I need you. It’s one thing to cover for your partner when they have the flu, or are down for a couple of days, but this has been 18 days so far, with at least four more weeks ahead. You may flinch on the inside, but it hasn’t stopped you. Cooking (my passion, and usually my job), cleaning, shopping, and everything else – you’re there. And you’re still doing your best to hold down a full time job, and assist with the kids…

You are a wonderful woman, and tell you I appreciate all this seems insignificant, but know that I do. It’s difficult to keep an active Warlock down, and clearly your biggest challenge has been to get me to do what the doctor has told us – take it easy. I also know that when my pain is the greatest, it also becomes your pain – for that I am truly sorry.

I love you – I always have and I always will…this too shall pass, and like all the other adversities we have shared, as long as we’re together it will all be tolerable. I truly can not get thru this without you, and appreciate your help and support more than you will ever know. Thank you, because those are the only words there are, even though they do not come close to saying what they need to say.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Mrs. Warlock – you are one of a kind, and I am very lucky to have found you when I did. Before you know it, we’ll be out there again, putting one foot in front of the other, together, as always.

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Some Good News…

For the last three days, as I’ve done my best to take it easy and keep weight off my leg with the fractured hip, the hip itself has started feeling a bit better. What has disturbed me is that there is a region from my mid-thigh to my calf that actually hurts more each day. When I wake up after even the briefest of rests, and try to bend the leg enough to get out of bed, it feels as if someone is trying to peel the flesh from my bones – in other words, it hurts like hell. So today I returned to the doctor to find out what this is, and how the hip is progressing…

First, the hip is doing well, and the x-rays even show some bone regeneration along the fracture point. Not enough to allow any weight to be put down yet, but enough to be encouraging that I may get thru this yet without surgery. As for the other leg pain problem, he suggested three possibilities (interestingly enough the same three I came up with while sitting here). One, a break in the lower part of my femur that was overlooked initially in the excitement about the hip – new films ruled this out. Two, a blood clot caused by my increasing age and lessening of motion to the limb. This, too, was thankfully ruled out after being sent for a venous ultrasound. This was the one that scared me the most. And finally, the possibility of ligament damage in the knee area caused by the trauma during the ski accident. This one he didn’t rule out (yet) because he said there’s no sense worrying about it until the hip is healed, then we can consider rehab and therapy for all the problems. Meanwhile – it still hurts…

But if I take from this the good part, the hip is healing and there are no clots, so all in all, I think it was a good omen for things to come.

Bearing down on my hometown now is a major winter storm, with up to a foot of snow expected. Man – the things I could do out in that, but not this year. Instead I will continue to ponder what might have been, and what will be come Spring, and hope that this Spring is even more recuperative for me this year than simply a bright new season – it must be a new beginning as I hope to get out and wander as much as I possibly can this summer. I have been using this time to catch up on reading, and to try to learn to paint in watercolors, something I have dabbled in before, but not successfully. So far I am encouraged, so maybe I’ll be able to paint during my hikes when I’m healed.

So to close, I thought I’d share a YouTube video I discovered last night, thanks to a list-serv posting from the Olean Hiking Group – it shows some crazy, skilled lads paddling some big water in Norway, and the tune that’s been overlaid is pretty funky, too. Enjoy – I watched it at least a half-dozen times last night!

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Still Hanging Out…

Tomorrow will be two weeks since the fateful crash that fractured my hip – and trying to live with no weight bearing on that leg is everything I thought it would be. Boring – Painful – Frustrating. Did I say boring and painful? As it turns out, the fracture itself can be made to stop hurting with medication and staying off it. But – what they don’t tell you is that trying to keep that leg lifted while hobbling on crutches causes every muscle in that leg to cramp uncontrollably, and nothing seems to help that.

Oh well, I’ve managed to start putting some of my pictures onto Flickr this week, which reminded me of the numerous hikes in the Finger Lakes area we did last summer. We managed to do Buttermilk Falls, Taughonnock Falls, Watkins Glen, and Lower Tremain. I think there might have been a couple of more, too, but since I can’t find the photo CD’s I can’t quite remember. However, it did make me think about how lucky we are to live near the Finger Lakes.

Finger LakesIf you don’t know, the Finger Lakes are a series of eleven long lakes in Western New York that were created by the retreating glaciers a couple of years ago (OK, actually a couple of million years ago, but who’s counting) Personally I like the local Seneca Indian legend that says the lakes were formed when the Creator touched the earth to bless the land. I like the areas between Seneca and Cayuga, which are the two longest lakes in the picture. For one, the area between and around these lakes produces outstanding wines. It should, in theory, take about an hour and half to drive from Rochester to Ithaca, but when the Mrs. and I do this in the summer it has been known to take all day, with the number of wine-tasting stops we make. At the southern end of each of these lakes are a number of beautiful State Parks with easy to moderate family hikes. Most of them either meander past or terminate at a waterfall of some magnitude – for example, the Watkins Glen hike has far too many waterfalls to count, and the trail winds around and under a number of them. The kids love this hike until the end, when the trail ends with what the sign calls “The Steep Stairs”. They are definately leg-burners, especially for the one who carries the only pack with the camera, and food and water for everyone. This coming summer – they start carrying their own!

We also did some of the hike last year at Robert Treman State Park, a bit southwest of Ithaca. We started with the hike that was to have gone to Lucifer Falls, but never made it, for two reasons. One, there was an apparent suicide there the day before, and I didn’t think we needed to bring the kids that close, and two, several hikers we passed on their return told of a “mad raccoon” along the trail near the Falls. Not wishing to investigate further, we turned around and spent the rest of the day ‘swimming’ in the natural pool Treman maintains in the summer. I put swimming in quotes because there wasn’t much actual swimming done – most of my time in the water was spent trying to simply catch my breath – as the water was only 61 degrees! As soon as your body goes off the board and hits the water, your head aches and your lungs start to slow down at that temperature. Naturally, that didn’t stop us, but a few more degrees wouldn’t have hurt.

So the plan for this summer is to do more of the same, with a bit more on the moderate side and less on the easy side. I hope to be able to push the hip rehab enough to be out there again – today it seems possible. Yesterday was so painful I doubted I’d ever walk again.

Funny, I chose the Winter Warlock alter-ego last November after watching “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” for the upteenth time – but I never expected that I would have to be thinking about just putting one foot in front of the other for real. Ain’t life funny like that!?

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Stuck in Hell…

Hip FractureIt is now Sunday, February 4th – Super Bowl Sunday. It has been a week and a day since I skied at Bristol Mountain – a nice family oriented slope less than an hour from here. However, I thought it might be interesting to take the term ‘breaking in new skis’ literally – after a ski mishap, I crashed and burned about halfway down Dipper, an intermediate slope. As I was falling, I have several distinct memories – one, as I looked down, I saw the tail of my right ski out in front of me. Two, I distinctly felt the hip joint pop out, then pop back in. And three, and most significant, I heard and felt a crack in my thigh.

As I fell, I hit my head on the slope, which was a bit icy under some fresh flakes. Hear my strong endorsement for helmets – this could have been much worse had I not been wearing one! They are NOT geeky, dorky, or uncool – as I’ll explain later, it may well have contributed to saving my life! Nevertheless, soapbox aside, I landed in a fetal position on my left side – as my wife skied up she helped lay my right leg on top of the lower left leg, and I lay there for a bit. If you were to ask me, I’d have said it took several hours for the Ski Patrol to show up – but Mrs Warlock assured me it was only about 5-7 minutes. The first two guys there were great – as were the others who showed up, but I mostly talked with the first two. They kept me calm, tied my legs together to keep them from sliding, and called in for a sled, a doctor, and an ambulance to be ready to take me in, since they knew right off this wasn’t a normal bump or sprain.

I spent very little time in the First Aid Station – the wagon came and took me off to the hospital within 10-15 minutes. Along the way, I heard a call for a woman who had hit her head on a brick wall while sledding and was having a hard time breathing. As I lay in the Emergency Department later, I heard she didn’t make it – furthering my belief in helmets. My heart goes out to her family – how seemingly innocent to find a hill to sled down, only to lose one’s life. The pure joy of sliding down a hill rudely interrupted – how dorky are helmets now?

At the hospital, radiology confirmed a hip fracture – a rare occurence of an in-line fracture of the trochanter (the square looking object across from the ball joint). The good news was that the bones remained in alignment, which led to the “I’m not sure if its good or bad news” that the repair of the fracture is not suitable for surgery. Instead, I am to (try) to keep all weight off this leg for 4-6 weeks. As I have quickly discovered, this may be easy for the surgeon to say, but almost impossible to do. My hands are killing me from the full weight of my body being carried on my crutches. My right thigh muscles are always cramped from trying to hold up the leg to keep from putting weight on it.

One week down – five more? This will not be fun…not only are we finally getting some good snow, I can now not even go out and do anything in it. Worse, the idea of trying to walk with crutches on it causes frightening visions of them flying into the air with me right behind.

So sorry – no hiking, skiing or snowshoeing reports for a while – just reading, sitting, and staring. I can’t wait to do what the Winter Warlock did best – put one foot in front of the other, and soon I’ll be walking across the floor.

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Mendon Ponds WinterFest 2007

This past weekend I took the family to the Mendon Ponds WinterFest – while it had looked shaky just a week ago with such warm weather, the final week before was cold and snowy. It was perfect – we started on the southwest side of the park, where there were hosting sled dog races. We watched a few of the teams take off and finish the three mile course, and if you’ve never watched even a short race like that, you should. Until then, I always thought of these dogs as seriously overworked – but to watch their eagerness when they’re clipped to a sled is amazing. They absolutely love it, and the only thing cruel about this is not letting them run right away – the dogs simply can’t wait to get going.

We then went over to the main park offices and Nature Center, where they have recently opened a center for injured birds of prey. They had several redtail hawks, golden eagles, kestrels and two owls on the trainers hands – the kids loved this, too. There is also apparently a bobcat there, but it was hiding when we visited. EMS set up a small winter camping demonstration, but it seemed as if they could have done a bit more.

We finished by going to the fields by Stewart Lodge, which sits on the Hundred Acre Pond. There were hundres of kids sledding down the glacial kames of the park, but we strapped on our snowshoes and walked out onto the pond to see the ice-fishing demos. They hadn’t caught anything, but the demo and explanations were enough to interest my kids – not to mention the fact that they were thrilled (and scared) to actually be walking on the frozen pond.

We managed a short hike in the snowshoes, but it was pretty cold (14F) and the kids wanted to cut it shorter than I would have liked. We did stop in the lodge to talk to the local Nordic Club, who was giving free lessons and had plenty of equipment to borrow, but it wasn’t enough to keep them going any longer. Too bad – I would have liked to have joined the large gathering of skiers.

The bottom line is that I highly recommend the festival to anyone in the Rochester area – it was well organized, and there was more than enough to do for all ages, and all abilities. Rochester’s winters have been the brunt of east coast jokes for years, but for many of us who live there, it is winter time when the place really comes to life. The WinterFest proves that, and was able to show many locals new ways to enjoy the cold.

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First Post – - “Who Am I and Why Am I Here?”

Cairn on East Esker Trail, Mendon PondsHere goes nothing – sorry if this starts out slow, but I’ve been inspired to start my own by some great blogs out there like Tom Mangan’s Two Heel Drive, TrailCraft, and Casey at ModernHiker, and the new site known as Outdoorzy.com, which still has a way to go, but it is a great idea I hope will take off. These guys have shared with those who are interested their experiences and insight, and I enjoy reading what they have to say. Much of what they write is about hiking, but there are often insights and views of this crazy world that are always amusing to read – especially since much of my reading is done at the pre-sun hours of the day.

I hope I can share my love for the outdoors with you as well as they have – one thing I have found insteresting about them is that they seem to live in adventure Mecca’s like Colorado and California. Me, I’m in Rochester, New York, and while I love it here, most people don’t appreciate all that’s available. We’re much more than the lake effect snow depository the Weather Channel says we are (OK, so we’re that, too, in normal years, which we haven’t had in the last few).

I have finally been able to regain my appreciation for the outdoors – for years I was married to a woman who didn’t allow me to take the time to spend outdoors as much as I would have liked, and am no longer so encumbered. My current wife loves to hike, kayak and be outside as much as I always did before – together we do what we can when we can, but you know the drill. Jobs, kids, household maintenance, and anything that conspires against you, it’s never as much as we’d like.

This year we have decided to start working on climbing the Adirondack’s 46 highest peaks – no, its not like climbing Colorado’s 14′ers, but it’ll do to start for us. I hope to share those (mis)adventures here – we hope to start in February with one of the easier ones to get the ticker going.

Meanwhile, I keep trying to get out as much as I can, and putting one foot in front of the other…thanks for listening.

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East Esker Trail

Mendon PondsWinter finally arrived in Rochester this past weekend, so Mrs. Warlock and I decided to try out a new trail in one the largest parks run by the county, Mendon Ponds. I hadn’t been out in quite a while, as I was nursing a minor surgical procedure from over the holidays, and it was great to be out. A light dusting of snow had finally lasted more than an hour, and while it wasn’t much to speak of, it made the park look more like Rochester than it has in way too long.

The trail is supposed to be about five miles, but somehow we got mixed up at a junction point where it doubles back on itself and ended up shortening it to only a mile and a half. The trail isn’t blazed too well, and I wasn’t looking at the map as closely as I should have been. Just as well – after being laid up for several weeks, the hills on this one got to me quicker than I care to admit, but it was still good get moving again. Now that we’ve had more snow in the last few days, and still expect more this week, the Park may actually be able to host their WinterFest this weekend. My kids are excited about seeing the sled dog race, and there looks to be too many fun things to do in one day, which is all we have.

Assuming we get more snow, I plan to go back and try this trail with the snowshoes – should be interesting.

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