In 2003 I was introduced to Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. The highest peak in the Northeastern United States. “Home of the Great Spirit” given by the Native Americans. The 6,288 ft summit may pale in comparison to the 10,000 ft plus summits of Mt. Hood, Whitney or Rainier located on the west coast, but what makes this mountain “special” is the weather. Mt. Washington is the home of the world’s worst weather. Yes, in the world. Converging storm tracks from the south, west and north, the Presidential Range, and the Atlantic coastline combine to make very unpredictable and potent weather. Formal weather observations began in 1870 and until 2010 Mt. Washington had recorded the highest wind gust speed of 231 mph in 1934. Anything but Peaceful. Since 1849 over 135 people have perished from quick weather changes, unpreparedness, underestimating the task of the final 1 mile summit push, and a lack of respect of not adhering to posted avalanche warnings or soloing less climbed routes. Not Without Peril speaks of some of the history of the mountain and accidents. Care and planning go into each summit attempt with the team I climb with which will be detailed in another post. Two prominent ravines, Tuckerman and Huntington, add to the beauty and danger of this majestic mountain.

Early February a team of four of us made one summit attempt. Sustained 55 mph winds gusting to 70 and -30 degree temps along with one broken crampon stopped us at our final decision point. The mountain will be there for another attempt.

For current weather temps and information visit the Mount Washington Observatory.

Peace – Greg

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” - John Muir

Mt. Washington from North Conway - Courtesy Fellow Photographer

Mt. Washington from North Conway – Courtesy Fellow Photographer

Approach from Lake of the Clouds Hut

Approach from Lake of the Clouds Hut

Mt. Washington and Mt. Washington Hotel

Mt. Washington and Mt. Washington Hotel

The Presidentials. Left to right Mt. Jefferson, Adams and Madison.

The Presidentials. Left to right Mt. Jefferson, Adams and Madison.

Lake of the Clouds Hut Between Monroe and Washington

Lake of the Clouds Hut Between Monroe and Washington

Tuckerman Ravine Headwall

Tuckerman Ravine Headwall

Ammonoosuc Trail

Ammonoosuc Trail

Looking into Tuckerman Ravine

Looking into Tuckerman Ravine

View of Katahdin on the way to Roaring Brook.

Winter hiking and mountaineering provide beautiful and challenging days out. The contrast of deep blue skies beyond snow covered mountains, the smell of pines and cold crisp air taking your breath away make for unforgettable times. Mountaineering carries an element of risk and weather conditions can be unpredictable and harsh. Having the right team, gear, training and knowledge make for safe and enjoyable times out even in demanding conditions.

The previous statements are true except a winter summit attempt of Maine’s highest peak, Mt. Katahdin (5,269 ft.), tested my patience, resolve and leadership a few years ago. An excellent initial plan to climb this remote mountain contained a few missteps and a precarious situation for two fellow climbers and myself. (Names of the climbers have been omitted for privacy.)

Knowledge learned is knowledge gained…

The Katahdin plan was seven climbers making a trek into Baxter State Park to summit the mountain in a three day push. Hike in day one. Summit day two. Hike out day three. With good weather this can be easily accomplished. Three in the group have climbed this mountain in the winter and one had Mt. Everest to his accolades. An excellent crew to be with.

Two weeks before departure no one took the lead and the three with Katahdin experience dropped. With no responses I volunteered as leader since planning and safety are engrained from experience, Outward Bound and good friend Rick K. Although not an arctic expedition, it’s one of a smaller scale being more than twelve miles from civilization in barren wilderness. We were quickly down to four. Three of us climbed together knowing each others experience and abilities. The fourth, only known by one in the remaining group, missed a training hike and pre-climb discussion. Meeting all team members before an excursion is important to see the personality, training, fitness, use of gear and mental toughness under stress. Two of us had concerns not meeting her. We were told as a personal trainer she was fit, but being fit is only part of the needed requirements.

The night before heading to Maine one climber tore his rotator cuff snowboarding. He was out after months of training. We were down to three. The next morning our small team met and I was introduced to the unknown, friendly and rambunctious trekker. Five hours later we were in Millinocket, Maine for dinner and a night in a local motel. Rising early we arrived at the trail head with plenty of time to reach Roaring Brook bunkhouse by sunset. The option of hauling gear is Pulking it incarrying a 75lb. pack or “pulking” it in. I opted for the pulk with another climber building and testing it a month before trip. The two of us divvied much of the load from our friend so she would have a less strenuous trek to the bunk house and conserve energy for the following day.

The nine miles in was fairly flat with intermittent views of Mt. Katahdin. Arriving before dark we collected water from a nearby stream and made dinner. Before lights out I called for a gear check. Our newbie didn’t have compatible crampons for her boots and no hooded jacket. Both are a MUST! With some swapping of gear we were able to make compatible boot/crampon sets and I had an extra hooded jacket. Obstacles cleared.

Ready to go at 7AMWe left the cabin at morning light. The three mile trek to the Chimney Pond bunkhouse was a light uphill pull. Discussing conditions and best routes with climbers in the cabin the decision was made to hike Saddle Trail, 2.2 miles to the summit from where we were. Other routes required technical ice climbing gear we weren’t prepared for nor had the experience. We pulled our mountaineering packs from the pulks and set off after signing the register. The trail winded through pines to a steep ascent to the ridge where I demonstrated proper technique for using a mountaineering ax. We were on the ridge at Ascending Saddle Trail11:00 encountering 6 climbers/volunteers of the New Hampshire Mountain Rescue Service. They mentioned conditions were passable after a short conversation. The summit was one mile from our present location and cairns could be seen marking the trail. We carried on.

We were almost there or were we? With 75 yard visibility and 20 mph winds conditions were comfortable. Whiteout conditions can quickly occur and a half hour later winds increased and we were no longer able to see snowshoe tracks from the New Hampshire group. Cairns were fading in the windblown snow. Closing in on the summit, visibility quickly shortened to 25 feet and the wind increased to 40 to 50 mph. We gathered and I motioned we were finished with forward progress. Communicating could only be done by signaling and yelling to overcome the howling winds. Time to turn back. The summit would be there for another day. We turned around and saw our recent tracks already blown over. Panic set in with the others. The ridge was to our right where getting too get close could cause a break away from a possible cornice resulting in a deadly fall (see pics Below). We moved ahead slowly keeping a safe distance from the ridge. A short time later were postholing from our waist to armpits. Getting out of these were laborious. What looked to be princess pines weren’t. They were the tops of pines tens of feet tall.

Panic stricken eyes were upon me and I was asked to take the map out again and again. The wind made it impossible to get the compass on it, plus there was no way to get a bearing to find our location. Three panic stricken hikers was a sure way to make the news in an undesired way. Keeping composure a snow cave came to mind as time passed and conditions worsened. I wanted to be off of the mountain as much as the others but there’s a time staying put is the right decision. Riding out a storm is better than wandering and postholing with the probability of hypothermia…or worse. With time expiring we had an hour to find Saddle Trail. I yelled out to the lead to take his compass and march due east where we would encounter the ridge, hopefully at a safe area. At that time we were opposite of the ridge giving us a break from the wind. Heading east took us back up the mountain. Not the desired direction by the others. With Spartanlike steps we pushed on to higher ground encountering more wind and face pelting snow. I took the rear and looking at my compass making sure neither fell behind and stayed on course. Fifteen to thirty minutes later we crested the ridge noticing the Saddle Trail marker where we ascended to earlier. We were being watched over. I was relieved while watching the other two hugging joyfully.

Safe? Not yet. Most accidents happen coming down a mountain due to fatigue, rushing and being careless. During the steep decent I showed one climber proper technique while the other decided the to glissade (sliding on your butt). “Really? This wasn’t the time.” Thinking to myself. I yelled “Crampons’ off!”. Besides most accidents happening on the decent, most injuries occur from glissading wearing crampons that catch the snow and ice tearing knee and ankle ligaments creating a new set of problems. I’ve seen the ugly results of this first hand on another climb. I turned and continued down. A few minutes later a food bag bounced by. I was expecting the owner to be right behind it. I shook my head wondering what was going to happen next. We gathered at the base of the ridge to collect ourselves and replenish with food and water when I Base of ridge on Saddle Trailheard, “Governor Baxter almost kicked our a$$!!” I was in a horror movie or an alternate scene of the climbing movie K2… This wasn’t something to laugh or joke about. None of it was. Maybe that was their way to deal with the last few hours of uncertainty. We could have been on the ridge overnight making for a very uncomfortable night…or worse.

Shortly after, we entered the cabin to the surprised looking crew from New Hampshire. One said they were about to leave and search for us. A nearly impossible task to perform in pitch black nightfall and whiteout conditions. Unpacking my stove, making a large meal I played the day over and over in my head on how the situation could have went better including my own performance. I was in the bunk room solo with my journal turning the lights off for a restless nights sleep before the others came in.

The next morning I was more at ease and started to relinquish analysis of the previous days events. The trek in Baxter State Park was not only to attempt the challenging mountain summit, it was also to enjoy the winter wilderness, the frozen ponds, possibilities of wildlife, the crisp air and the people I was with, admittedly a struggle at times. After breakfast I took a short walk to Chimney Pond for some final views knowing I would come back again with a much better plan. We packed the pulks and set off on the 12 mile exit having a chance to ride them like bobsleds the first few miles.

Leaving the park I was at times preoccupied taking mental notes of the knowledge gained through this experience. After loading the car I slept most of the way back to our meeting point in Massachusetts. We said our good byes and I received a gracious thank you from one who encountered much more than she imagined. Waiting at a friend’s place was a burger, fries and growler of beer with four people to share an unforgettable story including forgettable moments.

Peace – Greg

“Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.”  – Edward Whymper, Scrambles Amongst the Alps

Lessons for any excursion (partial):

  • Know your leader
  • Know your team
  • Know your gear and check each others
  • Know how to use your gear
  • Safety is the priority
  • Expect the unexpected
  • Watch the weather
  • One problem leads to another and another
  • Don’t risk injury the night before
  • There is no room for ego on a mountain
  • Know your limitations and those of others
  • Ascend and descend all using the same technique
  • Be prepared for the worst and know bailout plans
  • The mountain will be there for another day
  • Communicate
  • Bring hot chocolate

There are numerous books on mountaineering. Freedom of the Hills is one of the best. My suggestion is if you’re interested challenging yourself to a winter summit of a mountain go to a climbing shop/school, talk with the guides and take a course. Preparation is key.

I took food for granted growing up always having hot meals and an abundance on holidays. My mother cooks the best comfort food with plenty of love,(and butter!) and prepares meals for those who can’t themselves. Besides Mom, an Outward Bound excursion opened my eyes to the importance of food and community. At the end of the first day out, starving, I was with seven newly made friends after a long paddle. The designated cooks prepared a meal while the rest of the team set camp. Dinner brought us together to talk about the day and time for each of us to give an introduction and share personal histories. Food brought this new community/tribe together and changed our state of being under challenging circumstances.

Years later at the Tracker School’s Standard course one day was given to primitive cooking with demonstrations on boiling, grilling, roasting, steaming, smoking, frying and baking. The methods were interesting, but more so was the lecture on the importance of food bringing family and community together. The lecture was powerful and soul striking I’ve heard. Great detail went into a moving personal story and how the Native community bonded through the hunt, preparation and feasting. Part of the lecture were reasons fast foods aren’t desirable. We know the unhealthy aspects of fast and medium fast foods from field to wrapper. Going with these fast(er) foods is eating fast with little conversation. It feels right to give thanks to a turkey but surely not a McCheeseburger.

One memorable meal happened unplanned because of my oversight. I was giving a presentation of a trip to India and wanted a complete theme ordering Indian food from a local restaurant along with preparing a few dishes. Little did I know the complexity of cooking Indian food. People began to arrive and the meal was half prepared. Instead of friends watching and waiting they joined in cutting, chopping, and stirring. We created the meal together adding “flavor” to the experience. A true community effort.

Being part of a community effort has been volunteering to prepare and serve foods for homeless or less fortunate. The day after Christmas 400 meals were prepared and served at the St. Francis House in Boston. Volunteers and workers came together, as they do each day to serve the poorest in the city. It was discerning to see those who suffer mental illness coming in from the streets. Boston in the winter is no place for people with this disease and of course they shouldn’t be living in the streets in any city or town. A complex situation where more help and effort is needed.

In a fast paced world slow the time, give thanks, enjoy homemade foods, good company and good conversation. Consider giving back a days effort to cleanse the soul.

Peace & Happy New Year! – Greg

“If you want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him…the people who give you their food give you their heart.”  - Cesar Chavez

A favorite dish to serve or bring to a community gathering. (Thanks Gramp!)

Grampa Roy’s Salmon PieGramp Emile Joseph Roy 1916 - 1978    TEC 5 US Army WWII

  • 2 – 14 oz. cans Red Salmon
  • 3 – 4 Medium peeled potatoes cut into 3/4 inch cubes, boiled until soft
  • 1 Medium onion chopped fine sautéed until translucent
  • 1 Celery stalk chopped fine and sautéed until tender (optional)
  • Pie Crust – 2 pieces (store bought or homemade)
  • Dashes of salt and pepper are optional. (I do this to taste after.)
  • Dash cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Serve with a medium white sauce.
  • Cooked frozen peas.
  1. Drain salmon keeping juice.
  2. Put salmon into a large bowl and remove skin and bones.
  3. Add 1/2 of the drained salmon juice.
  4. Add sautéed onion, celery and potatoes.
  5. Add additional spices if desired.
  6. Mix with hand masher.
  7. Line 9“ pie plate with one pie crust and add filling.
  8. Cover with second pie crust and pinch edges.
  9. Dot top with fork.
  10. Brush with egg wash.Bake at 400 for 15 minutes then turn down to 325 for 45 minutes.

White Sauce (optional as my grandfather would pass on this!)

  • 1.5 Cups Milk
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 4 Tbs Flour
  1. Melt butter
  2. Slowly whisk in flour
  3. Add milk and whisk until almost to a boil (add flour to thicken or milk to thin)

Serve white sauce over individual slices. Mix white sauce and peas if desired.

Enjoy!

The theme of an adventure and journey seems fitting and The Way strikes a personal chord.

Martin and Emilio Promoting The way

Martin and Emilio Promoting The way

A few months ago while browsing Amazon I noticed a movie that looked interesting. The Way. Initially, it was the actors who caught my eye. Martin Sheen and Emilio Estévez. Both I’ve liked for years. If you’re not aware, Martin Sheen (Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez) is Emilio’s father. Emilio wrote, directed and produced The Way which takes place in southern France and Spain. Martin, “Tom”, flies to France to identify his son’s body Daniel, played by Emilio, who dies in the Pyrenees on his first day of a 500 mile pilgrimage walk from the French Basque town St. Jean Pied de Port to the Camino de Santiago. A father and son making a movie together. A father directed by his son, playing the role of a father carrying his son’s remains on a pilgrimage walk across the north of Spain. From the description I’m hooked and acquire the movie never watching a trailer. I was and still am enamored with the film and the soundtrack. The journey Tom partakes is emotional, physical and spiritual. Not a practicing Catholic, Tom regains his faith and although there’s a powerful scene at Santiago de Compostela cathedral the movie isn’t one about religion.

Tom reminisces about Daniel and has an awakening, spontaneously deciding to walk the Camino. A journey he’ll carry forward for the rest of his life. Tom didn’t have to walk the path of El Camino de Santiago or “The Way of St. James”. He felt it was right since being disconnected with his son and wanted Daniel to finish the journey he began. Once Tom made the decision, he had the clarity and focus of walking his path on the Camino even though he wasn’t prepared for it physically or mentally. Nothing was going to stop him. A few events almost did, but you’ll need to see the movie for the details. His goal for the 500 mile trek was set and the unknown brushed to the side to be dealt with when it happened. Tom meets a few other pilgrims on the Camino in Wizard of Oz fashion who were on their personal journeys adding depth and humor to the storyline. The variety of characters from different countries added a cultural mix and community, working through personal times together. A bond was created with the sharing of food, wine, emotions, nights in albergues (hostiles), and the final scene at the Atlantic Coast in Muxia.

I have many good things to say about The Way which was filmed on location as the cast (including Deborah Kara Unger, Yorick van Wageningen, and James Nesbitt) trekked the Camino. The characters, views of Spain, the soundtrack kept me engaged and the storyline is within reality and family ready. If you like wholesome, uplifting movies consider The Way ($5 on Amazon at time of writing). The DVD offers a commentary version with Martin and Emilio speaking of events and thoughts during the film. I didn’t know of The Way when it was released a few years ago(2010) probably because it wasn’t made as a “blockbuster” buy the industry. The Way was mostly self-promoted with Martin and Emilio touring the country by bus. Since its release word of the film continues to spread around the world. Check out The Way Facebook page for interesting following and news.

I can’t relate to a life changing journey on the premise of losing a son or daughter. I can relate to being on life changing journeys. Haven’t we all? One was not accepting an opportunity to be Outward Bound instructor. A path I sometimes regret. If I took the O.B. path I would never have had the opportunity to live and work in Europe, unfortunately never making it to Spain. I learned how incredible the journey was. More so now than then. I met one of my closest friends and “brother”, Phil, reconnected with hiking and camping, experienced different cultures, and enjoyed local foods and spirits. In the end, the path I chose lead to an incredible opportunity and a time of personal growth. We should accept our journeys, having no regret, living the path we chose at that particular time. There’s an introspective line Daniel tells his father, “You don’t choose a life Dad. You live one.” Great advice.

I wish you a “Buen Camino!” or “Good Path!” as is said to the pilgrims making the trek on the Camino.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Peace – Greg

The Path

If anyone asks you what the Path is about,

It’s about generosity.

It’s about morality.

It’s about concentration.

It’s about gaining insight through

focused self observation.

It’s about the cultivation of subjective states

of compassion and love based on insight.

And it’s about translating that compassion and love into actions in the real world.

-  Shinzen Young

Notes: Emilio shares my grandfather’s name of French descent, Emile. There will be second movie of Tom’s journey which Emilio has the difficult challenge matching the power and success of the first. And “Along The Way”, a dual memoir by Martin and Emilio, tells of their individual careers and includes stories during the filming of The Way I found interesting and entertaining.

The Peaceful Pathfinder blog has been live for ten months. Thank you for following. To date, posts have focused on travel, hiking, and camping experiences. To not make this another travel blog I offer an addition of thoughts why I immerse myself into the natural world. There are people who have had personal impact directly and indirectly, either through their presence, books, or philosophy contributing to my immersion and writing. They’ll be noted and I’ll continue to include past and present travels since there is much to share.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

I shamelessly borrowed the title of a new book, Environmental Connection*, my “Brother”, Keith Cowley recently released for the name of this post. Coming to the forefront of why I enjoy outdoor excursions and immersions is connection with the environment and wildlife. This connection brings me Peace. Hence Peaceful Pathfinder.  A name Keith is partly responsible for. Discussing Native American ways, travels, outdoor education and similar philosophies for a few years with him I mentioned creating a blog and couldn’t find a fitting word to follow Peaceful. Peaceful Warrior has been taken by Dan Millman and “warrior” is overused outside of its true meaning. Keith took a few minutes and presented Pathfinder. The Peaceful Pathfinder name was born. A name containing many meanings. One I present to you here and more will follow in future posts. For this post I present Peace.

Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake, Oregon

Being in the natural environment in any of my pursuits from fishing to climbing brings Peace. What does Peace mean in this context? For me, this Peace is a calm sense of being bringing a clear mind. When Peace is present my breathing relaxes, my heart slows, shoulders drop, face eases, and senses of smell, touch, and hearing become heightened. The smell of the ocean, sounds of waves and loons, and beauty from northeastern lakes to the granite mountains of the Tetons and the rugged coast of Big Sur are favorites engrained in my mind. Each bringing Peace.

The Tetons, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

The Tetons, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

The natural environment brings Peace during times of heartache, stress and anxiety. Mother Earth has her healing ways. Presence of physical pain is the most difficult time to receive Peace. Controlled, aware breathing helps temporarily reduce or eliminate discomfort, even if for a short period. There are many sacred places, a Native American term, I go to get connected to relieve discomfort life can bring or just accept. Sacred places are special areas within a favorite location. You may have one or more you’re not aware of. Do you find yourself going to a certain outdoor place and think? If so, you have a sacred place. Being near water especially brings calmness which helps from my experience.

Osprey and Sunset, Napatree Point, Rhode Island

Osprey and Sunset, Napatree Point, Rhode Island

Special close encounters with wildlife bring a Peaceful connectedness along with contained excitement. A beaver slapping it’s tail a few feet away, hearing a deer tear at grass, sitting with a black phase rattlesnake, a fisher at my feet, watching a dozen turkey vultures ride thermals in front and below me are times I’ve had the experience. Words do little to describe these times. Native Americans have a saying “Mitakuye Oyasin”. ‘All my relations.’, ‘We are related.’, ‘All are connected.’ are a few of the meanings. Much can be learned from observing the web of nature. A web we’re connected to.

Deer at McLeans Game Refuge, Granby, Connecticut

Environmental connection is what inspires me from short nature walks to harsh winter summits of Mt. Washington, always respecting what Mother Nature is capable of.  When I have this connection I’m at Peace and my essence arises. It’s at these times I’m most confident in an non-egoic way.

Summit of Mt. Washington, New Hampshire

Summit of Mt. Washington, New Hampshire

The next time you’re on a nature walk or an outdoor excursion intently notice the environment around you. Observe nature, the sound of water, the shape of trees, the smell of the pines and the animal or bird you’ve seen again and again. Look for something you haven’t noticed before. You may sense and find new inner Peace.

As Always, Peace – Greg

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” – Chief Seattle

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”  – John Muir

Storm Over Tetons

Storm Over the Tetons

*Note: I highly recommend Environmental Connection. Keith’s thought provoking book includes fascinating stories of his deep immersion into Westerly, RI Land Trust preserves. His words resonate in and outside of the natural environment enriching daily life. Funds from his book benefit the New-Native Foundation bringing outdoor educators together dispersing their knowledge to children and adults. (The New-Native Foundation is a non-profit in development and in pursuit of 501(c)3 status.)

The Race

Course MapThe Wasatch 100 endurance run is located in the Wasatch Mountains outside of Salt Lake City. The race is one of the most challenging 100 mile races in the world with a cumulative elevation gain of approximately 26,500 feet and cumulative elevation loss of approximately 27,000 feet stretching through varying trail conditions of dirt, scree, and rock. Runners start near the entrance of the East Mountain Wilderness Park and finish the grueling course in Heber City having a cutoff time of 36 hours to complete.

The Runner

Pat Canonica, Boxford, MA – Pat’s list of marathons and ultra’s spans the globe participating in these 26+ mile events throughout the U.S., Mt. Everest marathon, Kilimanjaro marathon and the list goes on. Pat has the mental toughness along with the physical endurance to challenge himself in these testing events. He’s responsible for encouragement to run the Boston and Nipmuck marathons. It will take an act of God or more convincing from Pat to get me to run an ultra. Pat’s never at a loss to provide motivation and has the spirit to run any event.

The Coordinator

Melinda Vaturro, Boxford, MA – Coach, nutritionist, Ironman finisher, chef, and “soccer mom” extraordinaire. Melinda was responsible for putting together Pat’s “Pacer” support team with an objective to make sure Pat was safe with a group who had medical training, distance running experience and survival skills. She prepared aid station drop bags containing needed food, supplements, clothing and first aid supplies Pat would need throughout the race. From the home base of Alta she drove numerous times through the mountains for the start, aid station pacer exchanges and the finish and needs something sportier than a Ford Escape for the next event. Just ask Mike.

The Pacers

Mike Yako, Boxford, MA -  “Energizer Man” – Endurance runner, volunteer fireman, medical first responder. Mike arrived from the east coast and paced well only having a maximum of four hours sleep before setting off to the start with Pat for the first 39 miles. Back at Alta base camp he looked refreshed as if he could have gone the distance. Could this run be in Mike’s future? If so I’ll be his wing man.

Stats

Start Elevation: 4920 @ mile 0

Big Mountain Aid Station: 7432 @ mile 39.07

Cumulative Elevation Gain: 11579

Distance: 39.07 miles

Arrival Time: 18:11

Time 05:00 to 18:11; 13 hours 11 minutes

Transition time @ Big Mountain: 22 minutes

Matt Gibley, Tahoe City, CA – “Happy Trail Pacer” – Rock climber, Wilderness First Responder and just a happy young man with fresh legs. I recently met Matt outside of lake Tahoe performing a few climbs high above Donner lake. Matt relieved Mike at Big Mountain Aid Station pacing Pat 13.5 miles to Lambs Canyon Underpass Aid Station, and then did a second duty relieving me at the Brighton Lodge Aid Station for another 7 1/2 miles. Matt did a great job getting Pat to the Pole Line Pass aid station and enjoyed every second of the race. He never became tired.

Stats

First Pace

Big Mountain Aid Station: 7432 @ mile 39.07

Lambs Canyon Underpass: 6111 @ mile 52.48

Cumulative Elevation Gain: 2750

Distance: 13.41 Miles

Arrival Time: 23:12

Time: 18:33 to 23:12; 4.75 hours

Transition Time @ Lambs Canyon: 21 Minutes

Second Pace

Brighton: 8765 @ mile 74.63

Pole Line Pass: 8928 @ mile 82.31

Cumulative Elevation Gain: 3164

Distance: 7.68 Miles

Arrival Time: 14:00

Time: 10:00 to 14:00; 4 hours

Greg Chokas – “Night Pathfinder” – Trail Runner, Wilderness First Responder, and survivalist. Endurance events include a 1/2 Ironman and two marathons. This was a first time involvement in an endurance race and beginning a trek at midnight (officially 11:30PM). Being awake for 18 hours then starting the 22+ miles was a test I cherished and would do again. Survival, Sherpa and tracking skills kept Pat and me on the trails through the night…

Stats

Lambs Canyon Underpass: 6111ft @ mile 52.48

Millcreek/Upper Big Water: 7627 @ mile 60.94

Distance: 8.46 miles

Arrival Time: 02:54

Time: 23:33 to 2:54; 3 hours 23 minutes

Transition Time: 106 minutes

Brighton Aid Station: 8765 @ mile 74.63

Distance: 13.69 miles

Arrival Time: 09:57

Time: 04:00 to 09:57; 5 hours 57 minutes

Transition Time: 3 minutes

Cumulative Elevation Gain(Lambs to Brighton): 6500

Cumulative Distance: 22.15 miles plus (see story below)

Cumulative Time: 23:33 to 09:57; 9.5 hours

The Story

(Most of these details are from my leg of the race and I’m sure Mike and Matt have stories of their own.)

Pre-Race Pasta DinnerEarly morning after a pre-race pasta dinner Pat, Mike and Melinda were up at 2AM heading to the starting line for the 4AM start. Pat and Mike began a dusty start wearing headlamps covering 39 miles in 13 hours. Matt took over the role as pacer at Big Mountain Aid Station pacing Pat until Lambs Canyon Underpass arriving with headlamps on at 11:15PM, 13.5 miles, 4 hours 45 minutes later.

Pat and Matt at Lambs Canyon Aid Station - Mile 52.48Melinda and I awaited them at the aid station. Pat looked tired as expected but good. The next 15 minutes he rested, ate and refreshed while we prepared his pack for the next push to Upper Big Water Aid Station. I geared up throwing on my pack and we started our 10 hour journey. The 18 hours of waiting had no negative effect on me as I felt awake and physically and mentally strong with the aid of ibuprofen. A mile away from the aid station we escaped the noise of the interstate and approached the sound of a flowing stream for the next few miles. Reflectors marked the Lambs Head trailhead beginning a 2000 ft. elevation gain. With a good pace we were soon passing racers who left the last aid station before us. Keeping things lively on the trial I would ask, “Feelin’ good?” he’d say “Yes.” (truthful or not) and I’d say  “Lookin’ good.” A few songs kept us moving and amused during the ascent. A good mental state is needed as much as physical condition.

Evening PressWe climbed to the Mount Aire Trail where the city lights of Salt Lake City were glowing below. Besides the glow of the city silhouettes of the nearby mountain peaks were the only formations we could see in the distance. The trail descended to Elbow Fork leading to an s-curve road ascending to Upper Big Water/Millcreek Aid Station. The three miles to the aid station were never ending. Temperature was dropping seeing our breaths and a quick stop made to add a layer. Pat’s intake of water was slowing with stomach problems persisting and the aid station couldn’t arrive quick enough. Keeping a close eye on him I went ahead 50 yards at a time looking for reflective markers or the aid station then would drop back reporting what was ahead. He pressed on.

Early AM ViewsCutoff time at Millcreek was 4AM. We calculated a best time of 2:30AM and arrived at 02:54 putting him in good shape for time. I gave Pat’s 102 number to the check-in greeter while he prepared for rest.  With no cots available I wrapped him in blankets and placed him in a chair until one cleared. Moving to the cot area with propane heaters helped take the chill off while he counted his egg laying chickens back in Boxford in his sleep. Fifteen minutes later he awoke, ate Ramen noodles (yes, the staple of the Peaceful Pathfinder) and crackers. We geared up for the next 5.25 mile journey to the Desolation Lake Aid Station. Confusion and chaos set in at the check-out table. As we were leaving a pair of racers was arriving. With the commotion Pat set out on the trail while I interjected his number to race officials. Catching him a few minutes later we were both glad to be alone on the trail again. We encountered the late pair of runners one more time before sending them back to the aid station to sign the “Did Not Finish” papers. Later we found the under-trained boisterous pair was pulled from the race. Blood was flowing again with a solid pace keeping us warm while increasing pace down hill. A varying degree of elevation gain was in Sunrise from Red Lover's Ridgestore to the remote Desolation Lake Aid Station. Minimal foods were offered at that station but soup was sufficient to keep us going up to Red Lovers Ridge. We made the ridge as the glowing sun crested the eastern horizon. Cool temps would now subside giving way to another hot day.

Need My Ironman HatThe sun was directly in our eyes as we made the final approach to the Scott’s Tower Aid Station. Pat asked for his Ironman hat which was no longer clipped to his running pack. Not a good situation since a hat was needed but more importantly the hat has HUGE sentimental value from a Lake Placid Ironman he finished. Off I went running down the trail while he carried on to the aid station. Pat made this a pass-through stop refueling and grabbing some food only taking a few minutes before carrying on. I ran about three quarters of a mile back and disappointingly gave up on where the hat could be. As a mountain biker approached I asked if he would keep an eye out for the hat. Finding my reserves I ran back to the aid station. While heaving the Sherpa pack over my shoulders the cyclist approached hat in hand saying “This must be one important hat!” It was more than he knew because I sure did!!

On the TrailThe aid station was packed and ready to leave when I arrived. Being physically drained from the Ironman hat rescue and recovery operation they were able to offer a diet Dr. Pepper, bottle of water and a 5 lb bag of pretzels. Carrying a giant bag of pretzels wasn’t going to work so I took my sweaty hat off and  filled it with as many as I could.  The aid station team knew Pat was at least 20 minutes ahead and offered a ride in their Suburban until we caught him. When we were close I jumped out losing a few pretzels and asked if anyone lost an Ironman hat. As he turned with a huge grin I placed the hat on his head and we carried on like nothing happened. We had a laugh as I commented the cliché, “We both know this is about the journey not the destination and man have we’ve been on a journey.” It was literally downhill from there to the Brighton Lodge Aid Station. We needed to keep a fast pace to come in under the 10AM cutoff time. I went ahead to let the greeters know runner 102 was coming and prepared items from his drop bag for the next leg of his journey. Pat arrived at 9:57AM. He made it!! There was one problem, where was Melinda and Matt?? Pat was in “carry on” mode. I mentally prepared myself for 22 miles, did 25, but could I go a marathon distance with him to the finish? I could if needed and learned when you leave Brighton there’s no turning back. The next aid stations were remote like Desolation Lake and the finish in Heber was the only place with paved roads.

Mountain ViewsAs Pat entered Brighton Lodge and weighed in I texted Melinda with a “Where are you?!” Arriving on two wheels, stopping on a dime she ran to the lodge. Matt threw on his pack and met Pat. They went on their way. One problem, there weren’t going the right direction. Melinda, with supplements in hand, caught up to them handing over needed supplies and pointed out the correct direction. Melinda had to drop Mike at the airport then scoot/fly to Brighton Lodge Aid station. Mike made the flight and Matt made the pacer switch. All was back on track. At least for 7.5 more miles…

Cresting Red Lovers Ridge

Pat and Matt made a difficult 1,700 ft climb over the next 2.7 miles which is a major challenge at that point in the race. The climb consumed Pat’s reserved energy as the days sun heated the rocky landscape adding a level of difficulty. From Sunset Pass, the highest point in the race, to the finish the final miles are an undulating decent with a few steep drops. Not an easy task for tired legs. Pat pushed on for another few miles before a steep decline took its toll on his taxed legs. A scare of loose footing made him decide to end the day. He knew at this point making the next cutoff time would take a superhuman effort with his tank running low. Matt and Pat did the right thing, ending the run completing an extraordinary 82.31 grueling miles at 14:00. Matt went ahead to inform the Pole Line Pass Aid Station where he and Pat were able to get a backcountry ride to the finish where Melinda and I congratulated them.

Pat was slightly scraped from the final miles of his brutal trek and in good spirits as he always is. We returned to base camp sharing stories of the day and prepared for a celebratory meal.

Kudos to Pat for an incredible effort in his 33 hours of running, hiking and slogging. Great pacing by Mike and Matt and a job well done by Melinda coordinating the event. What’s next?…

 - Greg

“The five S’s of sports training are: Stamina, Speed, Strength, Skill and Spirit; but the greatest of these is Spirit.” – Ken Doherty

Big Sur calls…

Exhausted after five hours of driving from Lake Tahoe luck was on my side with Spring Lake State Park Campground in Santa Rosa having an overflow site available. I arrived at 7PM and was on the road 12 hours later with a needed extra strong coffee in hand to assist with the day’s long southern travel ahead.

Store in BolinasPreferring to stay near the shore I connected with Route 1, the Coastal Highway, at Point Reyes Station and the Point Reyes National Seashore. Not surprising, fog was settled along the coast providing a thick backdrop to the small eclectic town of Bolinas and Muir Beach Overlook where WWII soldiers commanded bunkers in case of a Japanese attack. A short drive to Mill Valley was the most tightly winding and steep section of Rte. 1 navigated. Swerving downward into town I met new The Mighty Golden Gate Bridgefriends Nell and and friend for tasty fish tacos. We shared a conversation of experiences in the area, then the journey continued crossing the towering Golden Gate Bridge to the highly recommended Big Sur by a good friend. Looking eastward from the Golden Gate was Alcatraz. A landmark to visit on the next San Fran trip.

Had to...One hundred sixty miles and four hours later arriving at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park CAMPGROUND FULL signs weighed heavily. Camping options were ticking in my mind when a park ranger informed me one of the overflow sites was available. Acquiring the site without reservation this time of season was like winning a small lottery. Good thing since all campgrounds further south were over capacity. With headlamp on, camp was set, dinner consumed and sleeping bag zipped for needed rest to tackle the next days coastal drive.

Camping next to a 1,000 year old friendAlthough a road warrior for the previous few days the breathtaking drive along the winding ocean-side Coastal Highway had to be made. Getting a good night’s rest kept me bright-eyed to stay on the sometimes unprotected road falling to the Pacific. Making the drive is also a personal choice of gaining knowledge of the landmarks and where to explore the next few days. Jealousy set in seeing motorcycles cruise the road. Was wishin’ I had my ride!

Sleeping, resting, playing Elephant SealsPiedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery down the coast offered a seaside trail to get the legs moving and escape the 100+ visitors maneuvering for position at the closest seal viewing area. The massive seals were lounging, mostly sleeping throughout the day with pups by their sides. Further down the trail were more rookeries where there was private viewing and a great sight of a U.S. Naval light house.

Small Church in San Simeon with Hearst Castle in the backgroundSan Simeon, originally inhabited by the Chumash Native Americans, was the furthest southern travel 65 miles from the start of the day. On the northern return to camp making a stop at Julia Pfeiffer state Park I found the best campsites that could be had on the coast. They weren’t occupied but reserved later learning no shows are a normal occurrence with people reserving the sites just to hold them. For the next day’s event the trail head for Tan Bark Trail was located for a good hiking effort to reduce the stiffness of a few days of driving.

Tan Bark Trail Head Tan Bark Trail heads east from Route 1 placing you in what feels to be an enchanted forest. Standing tall Redwoods surviving a 2008 fire, a quiet flowing stream and rich green undergrowth made the forest a comfortable place before being exposed to the sun and heat higher along the trail. Near the peak of the ridge sits a rusted evacuated Tin Shed as it’s called at one time providing residence before the land was donated to the state. Preferring not to hike “out and backs” a fire road provided a return option with spectacular coastal views to complete the moderate 8 mile hike. At the car lunch was packed and a Ranger Trail to Partington Coverecommended trail opposite the Tan Bark Trail seemed to be an ideal place to follow, relax and eat. This sub-cove of Partington Cove was the hidden gem of the trip. The size of the small cove, the boulder crashing waves, and a mountain stream flowing into the ocean water made this a special place and perfect spot for lunch. The ocean was too powerful for a swim but the mountain stream would be more ideal. Sitting in a small pool of cool fresh water was as if being in a private “cool” tub looking into the Pacific. Dried, dressed and more than content I Tunnel Connecting Coveswalked a path through a tunnel where another cove provided docking for small ships which loaded tan bark decades ago. The dock is now gone but remnants of the pylons remain. Carrying on beyond the viewing area, scrambling rocks I was able to get a different view of the cove. Not many would venture this far and the solitude of the late afternoon sun and the sound of waves were peaceful.

@ Pfeiffer BeachWith the sun still suspended above the horizon there was a final stop to make at Pfeiffer Beach, one of the windiest beaches in the area due to it’s location on the coast. Approaching the beach the noise of the wind grew and the force of the 40 to 50 mph winds were eventually felt. The windblown sand on my skin felt like being in a snow storm on Mt Washington, home of the world’s worst weather. I could have used goggles the way the sand was hitting my face and eyes but at least the cold sub-zero temperatures weren’t present. A Little ScrambleIncredibly, for some reason, this was the first time in a year and a half I felt none of the back and leg discomforts nagging me daily. Feeling pain free and running the 1/3 mile beach a few times thoughts of Forrest Gump came to mind. “Run Forrest Run!” I enjoyed the wind like Lieutenant Dan did the storm in the crow’s nest of the Bubba Gump shrimp boat. Running into the wind took Spartan movements while running with the wind I felt almost as fast as Usain Bolt. (There’s a short video below the picture gallery to give an idea of the wind.)

L.A. Photographer MarciaMarcia, a photographer from L.A. was fighting the wind for pictures of the formations just off the beach. After helping each other we ended up with good shots then found a calm area for her to tend to a sandy camera while I watched the force of Mother Nature’s small rogue waves and sand swirling winds. Pfeiffer Beach and Marcia’s company was appreciated until sunset taking in every last minute of the most beautiful rugged beach I’ve encountered. My soul was rejuvenated that day. One of the best in years. I wished Marcia safe return travels for her 5 to 6 hour drive back to L.A. and returned to camp.

The following morning the hesitant return journey to San Francisco began. Stopping in Carmel, home of Clint Eastwood, a good cup of coffee was needed. Mr. Eastwood wasn’t at the local café but this high end town had visitors from around the globe from the languages and accents heard in conversations.

The final stop was Los Gatos meeting a past colleague, Stacey, who introduced me to the posh town and a few good restaurants. The last supper was traditional Italian before following the concrete path to San Fran airport returning the small rental with 2,000 miles added to the odometer.

The almost two week journey was a whirlwind in a good way. A learning experience taking its time settling in….

This post is dedicated to my friend and “brother” of twenty years Bob Steffen. Bob’s recommendation of Big Sur brought the experiences, pictures, and peaceful/soulful times to enjoy and share. Wopila Bob!

Peace – Greg

“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.” – John F. Kennedy

The last time I was in California was a long 10 years ago. After hearing about a friend’s recent trip I made a last minute decision to travel to Northern California, Nor Cal as the locals call it, and part of the Central Cal coast. My plan was to explore places I’ve heard of to get a feel for these areas making the trek as economical as possible. A few days later out came the camping gear, cookware, clothing and necessities. Off I went not knowing where I’d be staying the first night.

Campsite in Santa Rosa, Spring Lake State ParkWaking at 3:30AM to for a 7 o’clock Boston flight was difficult, but landing in San Francisco then driving 2½ hours to Santa Rosa thinking good intentions for a campsite was even more challenging. Luck was on my side with Spring Lake Regional Park campground having a site available for the next three nights. By the time I set camp and finished my last Power Bar I was famished. I must have looked it since a neighbor asked if I was interested in joining him and his wife for a grilled wild salmon dinner. I believe I said Meals on Wheels“Sure!” before he finished asking. Carl and Jan were from Alaska and if anyone is going to know good salmon they would be the ones. This is the kind of friendliness you can find at campgrounds. You do get a fair share of commotion too and that’s what noise cancelling headphones and iPods are for…

Looking south in Bodega BayThe following days were spent investigating Santa Rosa and the surrounding towns of Sebastopal, Petaluma, Sonoma, Windsor and others. Time was taken to see beautiful places including Bodega Bay, Sonoma Coast State Park and Armstrong Redwood State Natural Reserve. Route 1 passes through Bodega Bay following the coast of Cali to Oregon where the rugged coast is greeted by the dramatic Pacific Ocean. My Northern travel on Route 1 went as far as the mouth of the Russian River to see seals and their pups. Having a kayak would have been ideal, a sport I was introduced to over a year ago.

Sepia of the Mighty RedwoodsArmstrong Redwood Forest was a short drive from Santa Rosa and Bodega Bay. Walking among 1,000 year old, 250 plus foot “standing talls” as the Native Americans call them (and all trees) is inspiring and awesome. Thankfully some are still standing in the preserve after millions were harvested during the early settler timber boom.

Matt the BelayerWith the week coming to an end and 250 miles later I met a fellow climbing enthusiast from Massachusetts near Lake Tahoe, a sacred lake to the Washoe Indian Nation. Matt and his climbing partner were outside of Truckee high above Donner Lake at the most elevated climbing routes I’ve experienced. I slid on a harness and squeezed my feet in climbing shoes to make an easy/moderate 5.8 climb keeping it simple after the tiring drive. Completing a few more climbs the three of us went to Tahoe City for refreshments. Being high season all campgrounds were full and Matt’s belayer recommended an area in the Tahoe National Forest where I could disperse (primitive) camp the next few nights. The area was near the Ellis Peak trailhead which was as remote and quiet as you can get. Mt. Tallac (9,739 ft) was a recommended hike to get a great view of the southern part of the lake.

East Lake TahoeThe next morning I began a 75 mile drive around the 1,645 foot deep Lake Tahoe stopping at the more beautiful and rugged east side in Nevada. Large boulders, quicker dropping depths and graduated deep blue colors of the water made this side more appealing than the west side. I HAD to jump in for a morning swim in the calm clear water since by afternoon waves from the day’s increasing wind and recreational craft caused rough choppy waters. The southern area of the lake was congested with casinos and restaurants which I painstakingly crawled through. Rounding the Lake Tahoe Dam and Troutlower west side was slow until I passed Camp Richardson which looked like a small city with tents upon tents and camper to camper. I was situated in paradise compared to the congested campgrounds. Continuing to Tahoe City I stopped at the only exit of the lake where large trout were swimming in the liquid glass current.

"Good" Ramen Noodles and TunaBack at camp a few hours later cookware was laid out along with the Peaceful Pathfinder staple of Ramen Noodles and tuna! (At least on this trip they were of the organic type.) After finishing the not too interesting dinner and packing away the food I took in the silence and watched the stars before journaling and falling into a deep sleep only to be awoken by some critter outside of the tent. Was it an elk? Deer? Bear? I wasn’t sure and laid quiet. In the morning I looked for signs but with the soft forest floor it was difficult to make distinctive tracks.

On Mt. Talac Trail Time was calling to put my legs to use and I was off to the Mt. Tallac trailhead in Desolation Wilderness in the Eldorado National Forest. The 10+ mile, difficult rated hike has soul touching views of Fallen Leaf Lake, Emerald Bay, Cascade Lake, Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Mountains which are currently under siege of forest fires as I write this. The mountain and hiking time were a litmus of how I was going to hold up being a support runner for 30 miles in the Wasatch mountains in Utah early September. I finished in good condition, just depleted. The lake was calling and it was time to rejuvenate with a meal and a swim. This time on the west side. While kicking back relaxing, semi newlyweds married last October asked if I would take a few pictures while they floated on inner tubes. Simple enough. The reward was a gracious gift of a beer. I gladly accepted since a good Belgian style ale after an exhausting hike is like offering candy to a child. A few Morgan and Sergiohours later they drifted back and asked to join them at their campsite for dinner. We pooled our food of grilled naan bread pizza, corn tortillas and fresh avocados. Morgan and Sergio, from San Diego, work for Saucony and run competitively placing or winning varied distance races up to ½ marathon distance. Sergio has won ½ marathons in San Diego so no more needs to be said of his ability. Morgan has an impressive resume herself. After the long day and storytelling around a campfire it was time to return to the peacefulness of my secluded camp.

Time in and around Lake Tahoe was fulfilling and the next day was taken to relax before returning to Santa Rosa continuing on to the central Cal coast for some of the best views and places of the trip.

Up next…The rugged coast of Big Sur and a true place of paradise…

Peace – Greg

“In the depths of stillness all words melt away, clouds disperse and it vividly appears before you.” - John Daido Loori

Peaceful Path of the U.S. TourA gracious “Thank You” to all you Pathfinders who followed the 10,000 Miles posts. I’ve enjoyed being your guide and hope the ride was interesting and entertaining. From pictures to journal I relived many incredible moments from the two month journey.

There is much written about life’s journeys and I can not compare to the many articulate writers and philosophers, but I leave you with this:

When your soul  needs fulfillment, pack your backpack, pack your tent, pack your car and connect with nature. Even if only for a night, a weekend, or a week, get remote as possible. Include children since many are connecting with the unnatural social environment. Let them be social with you and connect with the directions of the east, south, west, and north, the trees, the water, and the sky. Mountains and stones last forever, iProducts do not. Build a fire together, tell stories, watch the stars and sleep well.

Peace – Greg

More adventures to come…

Top Ten, Poll, Quotes and Favorite Pics

My Top Ten

  1. Most diverse park – Yellowstone
  2. Wildlife at distance – Wolves & Grizzly, Yellowstone
  3. Wildlife close up – Elk, Rocky Mountain N.P.; Bison, Yellowstone
  4. Most thought provoking park – Badlands
  5. Best campsite(s) – Camp 2 in Badlands & Gallatin National Forest
  6. Most nerve wracking – Scrambling at 2k ft. Sacajawea Ridge, Lost in Badlands, Off trail at Tetons
  7. Most humbling experience – Mexican home builders, Taos
  8. Most amazing sunsets – Bozeman
  9. Longest treks – Bike, Boulder – Brainard Lake & Climbing Middle Teton
  10. Hottest drive (No A/C!) – Houston to Wyoming – 108°

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Your time to vote!

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Favorite quotes on journeys:

Not all those who wander are lost.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien

“Sometimes, reaching out and taking someone’s hand is the beginning of a journey. At other times, it is allowing another to take yours.”  ― Vera Nazarian

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” ― Anaïs Nin

“Never stop just because you feel defeated. The journey to the other side is attainable only after great suffering.” ― Santosh Kalwar

“We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.”  ― Henry Ward Beecher

“I am no longer afraid of becoming lost, because the journey back always reveals something new, and that is ultimately good for the artist.” ― Billy Joel

“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.” ― Walt Whitman

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Favorites

It’s a difficult task following the previous post of Bear Lodge and Badlands. Their uniqueness and history offer a variety of physical, intellectual and emotional experiences. This post is the return to New England from the two month tour and the end of one personal journey. The adventure in this segment was different than previous posts with great timing meeting my brother on the road.

Heading home…

Farewell to the BisonDriving slowly out of Badlands looking into the horizon I thought of times when Native Americans respectfully lived with this land “taking” only what was needed with honor. This land was so difficult to live with even they called it “land bad” because of the scorching summer heat and brutally cold winters. I imagined millions of years previous when a variety of dinosaurs roamed long before the bison I was now bidding farewell to. There’s much to the imagination of Badlands, one of the most unique places I’ve visited which sits the strongest within me.

Wall Drug StoreContinuing the hesitant press in the direction of the East the first stop was to fuel myself and Mitzy (the Montero) in Wall, South Dakota, home of the famous Wall Drugstore, a place I never heard of. A quick picture was enough since man made big box “landmarks” are of no interest. There was a greasy spoon diner across the street to supplement early oatmeal and coffee. Tasting a few forkfuls I should have found a rest area to make more oatmeal but hunger was setting in. After drinking a half gallon of water to wash breakfast away I hopped on 91 East setting the cruise control for a flat, uneventful 500 mile ride ending the day at Maple Springs Campground in Preston, Minnesota. John, the welcoming owner of the quiet family campground who hasn’t seen many CT plates, signed me in and gave directions to the campsite. I encountered the first camp rain that night since starting theOvernight home in Minnesota tour almost two months previous. If you haven’t experienced being in a tent during rain it is one of the most soothing sounds as the raindrops quickly put you to sleep. Hearing bullfrogs with the rain was a reminder of being in a different climate zone with the dryness of the Midwest behind me.

With Jamie in ChicagoEarly the next morning Chicago was on the radar. My brother Jamie was in the city attending a tradeshow so timing to meet would be perfect. Being on the road throughout my career it’s nice to meet familiar people when away from home, especially family. The dirt roads and bison were now replaced with a web of concrete pathways and four wheeled transporters. I was missing the National Parks already. Jamie and I met in the lobby of a Marriot conference center where I didn’t feel out of place wearing jeans and a safari shirt since I’ve done the dress attire for years. I made myself more presentable with a shower and power nap before Jamie’s day was over. Walking to dinner the vast horizon could no longer be seen with towering skyscrapers filling the landscape. We caught a view of Jesse Jackson having dinner outside one of the restaurants on the way to our restaurant where we had an incredible dinner. The amount of food was the most I’ve eaten in one sitting since leaving Houston and much, much better than Ramen noodles and tuna! (Inside joke if you’ve been following the Tour!). We caught up on our latest life events and made it an early night for his work the next morning and the traveling I had ahead. After a pampering of a comfortable bed and a good night’s rest we had coffee before the city fully awoke and the concrete pathways filled with iron buffalo.

Allegheney SignageTaking longer than expected to get to Minister Creek Campground in Allegheny National Forest five hundred miles later, I was setting the tent with the aid of a headlamp. The overnight stop was short to rest my eyes before driving to Kane, PA recommended by my father who stops in this now quiet town on his way to his favorite hunting area. In early mill and manufacturing days Kane was a bustling town. Now, the antique town is fairly quiet with many empty storefronts. Continuing on I stopped at a More Lost Peacerest area in New York where there stood a sign that told of an unfortunate battle between the Native Americans and American forces where the original land owners were overtaken. Three hundred miles later I was at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. I had dreams of playing professional baseball for the Red Sox as a youngster and played until college where studies dictated my time. The museum changed quite a bit from what I remembered many years previous and it was fun to see the old equipment and read of past Hall of Famers including one of the best, Ted Williams. Best Hitter Ever - Ted WilliamsIt also reminded me of the baseball card collection I should have held on to! Having plenty of daylight hours after visiting the museum I drove back roads of upstate New York before heading southeast a few hundred miles further to Connecticut ending an exciting lifetime tour with mixed emotions and many thoughts.

The next and final post on the U.S. Tour are my thoughts and highlights and a chance for you to vote for your favorite Tour stop!!

- Greg

“It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin

 

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