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Snow was falling leaving Sylvan Lake and the Crazy Horse monument which is easily seen on a clear day was barely visible. The roads of the Black Hills National Forest were unplowed and growing thicker by the minute. I didn’t have a good feeling about this next leg of the trek and tenseness set in.

A friend called to check in on the status of the hike and my safety. The conversation turned to Thanksgiving and I thought of the friends and family I’d miss on a favorite day of the year. Enjoying good food with friends and family provides connection and community not always occurring throughout the year. Instantly I felt overwhelmed thinking of all the people who have been a part of my life. I’m truly gifted to have some of the best friends in the world. I knew I would not only miss them on Thanksgiving but for an unknown period of time. Thoughts that I could or should have waited heading west until after Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or New Years or even the spring were swirling in my mind. Was this the best thing to do at this point in my life? With a bucket of doubts raining down turning back crossed my mind. A bad idea. I left when I did to minimize the winter weather I would encounter and waiting until the spring wasn’t an option. The time was now to move forward. I procrastinated to head west long enough. I regained composure and continued on the snow and ice covered roads.

Snow, Ice, Wind & 6% Downhill Grade“The Little Truck that Could” pulled hard up the mountains then engine braking down the steep 6% grades. No fun on snow and ice. We, the truck and I, were traveling at less than half the speed limit locked into 4WD. The line the truck took was fairly stable and we stayed on the road away from magnetic guardrails wanting to pull us in. I left finger impressions deeper than what was already on the steering wheel. True white knuckled driving. An hour later entering Deadwood I was craving a cheeseburger. (McDonald’s wasn’t an option.) As much I wanted a one more daylight miles were needed and there was a break in the weather. Finally on I-90 a better speed was obtainable making good miles. So I thought. More snow came then wind. Snow covered roads became ice. My hyper focus on the road was more than when I played the video game Asteroids in high school. I held on with a death grip and had to pry my fingers from the steering wheel to change hand positions. This was crazy, insane even. There were places where if I was blown off the highway there was no getting back to the road. Maybe I could get help from my brother Dave’s Navy helicopter team. My life’s belongings would sit at the bottom of one of these slopes forever. More thoughts of turning back consumed me. The weather wasn’t going to suddenly get better leaving South Dakota and crossing Wyoming. With these wild thoughts building an eagle suddenly flew across my path, wings spread wide, dangling legs and long talons. I couldn’t translate the sign this majestic bird was providing, but I was being guided by another raptor.

Iced Aero TrailerThe weather worsened and I knew the department of transportation would be closing the highway. I just needed to make the next exit in Gillette, Wyoming. Mentally wiped out and hungry I found a busy Mexican restaurant playing an extreme level of La Cucaracha three times normal speed. I would have won a taco eating contest that night and couldn’t leave fast enough even though the tequila menu looked tempting. I finished a much needed beer and found my place of rest. The snow sprayed from the rear tires to the trailer made an aerodynamic design I’m submitting to U-Haul for a patent. The following morning a weather advisory had me sequestered in the hotel where I tried to figure out what exactly was in pre-made waffle batter which made better sponges than a breakfast treat. I was surely not in Belgium!

Iced Over The Toyota is Ready to Press OnBack on the road at 10:00 AM snow was disappearing and I could relax into normal driving. My willpower broke down and treated myself to a double filet-o-fish and a small fry for lunch. I deserved it. The Toyota received a treat of high octane. I left Wyoming with a few mental scars from the previous day. Crossing into Montana the terrain began to change. Outlines of mountains near Bozeman were fading as darkness took over the sky. Cresting a mountain exposed the city lights of Butte which reminded me of pacing in the Wasatch 100. I welcomed seeing the city knowing my head would soon hit a pillow.

Clearing in MontanaMisting clouds broke early the next morning creating rainbows in the mountains. The “Little Truck That Could” pressed on and pulled the heavy load through the mountains of Montana and into virgin territory of Idaho. A state I’ve never been to before. I had to give the truck a name. Being strong, stocky and rugged, Tatonka would be fitting. Meaning buffalo in Lakota. We were gifted with warmer than normal weather and clear skies reducing the fear of sliding off the motorway. Idaho came and went with a long final decent into Washington through Spokane then into the high desert region of the state. Refueling in springlike temperatures felt good and odd. Was this the same month I was in a few states ago? No green was to be seen and as dusk set in I crossed the Columbia River into Oregon and decided to make the final push to Portland. Maybe I would be in time for Thanksgiving leftovers.

Just outside of Portland, fatigued almost to the point being delirious, mixed thoughts and emotions arose while I wondered about this new beginning and if this was the right thing to do. I was here and it was time to move forward. Arriving in Portland my Tatonka - High Desert Rest Areacousin’s family and aunt welcomed me to a warm hello and much needed plate of Thanksgiving dinner.

I was with family for Thanksgiving, thankful for making the 3,500 miles safely and ready to begin a lot of new.

A grateful thank you to Christine, Jill and Bob who were virtual passengers throughout the trek.

Thank you! Peace – Greg

“You have to accept whatever comes, and the only important thing is that you meet it with the best you have to give.”  – Eleanor Roosevelt

“There is unknowing until you’re in the throes of your decision.”               – G. Chokas Cross Country Trek With Numbered Stops A special thanks to all of my family and friends who have been with me through this journey west: Mom, Dad, Jamie, Lyn, Danielle, Gram Roy, Jane, Dennis, Christine, Jill, Bob & Catherine, Sue, Phil, Jenn, Keith, Alan & Kim, Stacey, Mike, Rich, Carl & Maggie, Lynne, Vicki, Peter, Reuben and family, Pam, Elisa, Suwan, Kathee, Pat, Bob, Rick, Brooke, Rick 3, Eric, Donna, and to those I haven’t been in touch with for years who have sent messages. If you’re not listed you’re not forgotten!

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 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

Already there…

South EntranceThe drive to Yellowstone National Park from Lizard Creek campground was over before I knew it and the unknown little critter in back of the truck didn’t have time to catch any sleep or eat more Reese’s. (See Grand Teton post.) Yellowstone is the first national park in the world created in 1872. Putting land aside to preserve national treasures is important, but I’m torn with the loss of land the Native American tribes of the Shoshone, Bannock, Nez Perce, Flathead, Crow, Blackfoot, and Cheyenne called home. As protocol I went to the visitor’s center, collected maps and spoke with  Grazing Bisonrangers to make the best use of my time in the park. You could stay for weeks or months since the 3,500 square mile park has countless different areas to explore with varying landscapes and attractions including wildlife, geysers, hot springs, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Yellowstone Lake and plenty more. Next time I’m bringing my fishing gear!

Courtesy of the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery CenterChoosing Madison campground in the northwest location of the park placed me in areas of personal interest. After setting camp I actually made my way out of the park to visit the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana since I have a passion for wolves. The wolf is an animal that keeps coming into my life without physically being present since it’s no longer a native species in New England. They’ve come as different types of gifts without asking or telling Mexican Grey Wolf-hybrid Saxonof my interest. Seeing them for the first time in the center touched my soul with their great presence. The only wolf I’ve been in contact with was a Mexican Gray Wolf-hybrid, Saxon, from the SOLO Wilderness Medicine School who moved with a purpose and unfortunately passed a few years ago. There are two wolf  packs at the center that could not survive in the wild after being bred in captivity. Not being many visitors I had uninterrupted time to observe them resting, playing and feeding. Watching the hierarchy is an incredible site and I Wolves at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Centerrecommend the documentary Wolves filmed in Yellowstone to understand their family and community structure. They are the most amazing animal I’ve watched because the way the pack “works”. I did spend time watching the grizzlies as I find bears entertaining and they sure were at feeding time. Feeling very content by closing time of the center I returned to the park to end a great day.

Old FaithfulI covered many miles the following day waking early driving to geysers and hot springs and of course seeing Old Faithful. The morning mood was eerie with a foggy sunrise from steam rising from hot springs with the morning sun giving the steam an orange glow. The ground in these areas was warm to hot with times of a light sulfur smell and my surprise was the clarity of the spring water. I waited patiently to see Old Faithful erupt which she does every 91 minutes, but after doing this millions of times I think she was a little tired for the morning effort. After a walk around the area Hot Spring to see the many springs and geysers I went to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The yellowish, whitish cliffs were different than I’ve seen at the White Cliffs of Dover in England. Yellowstone River carved its way through the canyon and the geothermal activity caused the colorful tint. Beautiful as it was I thought one day I’ll make it the real Grand Canyon! After lunch (some of you knowing myNortheastern Mountains staple of Ramen noodles and tuna) I drove to the northeastern entrance of the park seeing a combination of plains and mountains, passing pronghorn and bison as I reached the exit. Viewing open areas with a few hundred bison provided images of what the landscape looked like when over 50 million roamed the prairies. U.S. Dept. of Wildlife Rick Wilcox, Head of the wolf project in YellowstoneNoticing a crowd on a hillside when returning to camp I pulled over to see what the commotion was. People with spotting scopes were viewing wolves and I met Rick McIntyre, a wildlife-biology Ph.D. who heads the Yellowstone Wolf Project and a contributor to the first book on wolves I’ve read, The Company of Wolves. We had a short conversation and with daylight waning he invited me to return the next morning when wolves would be more active. I gladly accepted.

Up Close BisonHeading to the spotting site predawn I wasn’t expecting traffic caused by roaming bison. At a hefty 2,000 lbs. and unpredictable bison can use their head as a battering ram making for an interesting story to tell your insurance agent. By no choice I “let” Black, grey Wolfthem roam and slowly drove by. A half dozen early risers from within and outside the park go to this location to spot the Junction Butte wolf pack. The newly met friends offered their scopes and seeing a black wolf, a color variant of the gray wolf, for the first time was a special sight. Pictures through the scope were the best that could be done at the ½ mile distance with my camera and decided to post one for your viewing. Just as special was seeing a grizzly enter the field the Camp Mascotwolf pack was in. The two species went about their business like passing acquaintances which was an exciting moment to witness what could transpire. I stayed until noon returning to break camp chatting with the campground hosts who made suggestions for places to visit while traveling to Montana and South Dakota. Their recommendations were The Black Hills, Devils Tower and Badlands, two of which I visited during near future travels (and writing about in upcoming posts). For now I was making my out of the park into Gardiner, Montana to have a fresh cup of coffee for the journey to Bozeman, Montana, a place I’ve heard much about.

Up next, Montana mountains and a Belgian treat….

– Greg

“For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.” – Rudyard Kipling

Native American thoughts and words on the wolf:

Learning wisdom, Instinct Linked with Intelligence, Social and Family Values, Outwitting, Steadfastness, Skill in Protection of Self and Family, Taking Advantage of Change, Intuition, Guardianship, Ritual, Loyalty, Pathfinder, Psychic Energy, Teacher, Careful Study, Cunning, Ability to Pass by Dangers Invisibly, Spiritual Guidance in Dreams and Meditations, Success, Perseverance, Stability

Please consider the Adopt a Wolf Program from the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center.

Driving to Wyoming I played the first CD of The Way of the Peaceful Warrior (Dan Millman’s international bestseller about the universal quest for happiness) audio book Pam offered before leaving Boulder. The journey, U.S. Tour, wasn’t just about seeing friends and great places it was also a time for looking inward to connect with my soul desires. I had endless time on the roads, trails, and journaling to think about important aspects of life and career direction, companionship, where to live and thrive, and find purpose giving attention to family, friends, and relationships. The deepest times for expression were while journaling looking back on the day and life experiences. My personal journey will continue with the interest of growth walking a desired path Native Americans call the Red Road.

On the road …

PronghornTo have manageable road time I drove to Rock Springs, Wyoming keeping to daylight hours after being forewarned of pronghorn dashing across roads at dusk. Three hundred miles and six hours later this small trucker town just off of Route 80 was roaring with big rigs. Not interested in the fast food stops and diners I unpacked the camp stove and cooked dinner outside my room at an aged, never updated, “Bates” motel. The tent would have been preferred over this shady looking place but I made the best of it throwing the sleeping bag on the bed getting a few hours of sleep. Checking out early with an hour’s drive down the orange sun lit road I entered the Wrangler Café for breakfast and conversation with locals. The Connecticut plates would draw the comment, “Connecticut?! You’re a long way from home!” These are places of meeting interesting down to earth people and hearing talk of local and The Wrangler Cafénational issues. The smell of bacon and seeing biscuits and gravy leave the kitchen made me order the hungry man’s special while drinking too many cups of coffee before sliding into the truck.

Inspiration Point & Jenny LakeA few hours later I was in Jackson Hole stopping for supplies and the Craig Thomas Visitors Center collecting information for the stay in Grand Teton National Park. Shortly after entering the park and selecting a campsite near the Grand Teton Lodge I hiked around Jenny Lake to calming area at Inspiration Point before sunset. In need of good rest before climbing Middle Teton (12, 804 ft.), camp was set and the lantern was out early after dinner. The following morning, rising before the sun, forcing down a few packets of instant oatmeal, cheese and coffee I made way to the Lupine Meadow Trailhead passing more than a dozen grazing elk. Boots were laced, the backpack slung over my shoulder and I started on the trail just as the sun was breaking over the eastern hills. A short time into the hike I met my first friend. She didn’t say much but was willing to lead the way with a funny walk. After a few minutes I asked if this was the correct trail to Middle Teton. There was no answer.  What did I expect from a two legged feather friend, the Ruffed Grouse. Food was more important than companionship to this bird!

AscendingNot far back was the trail junction to Garnet Canyon Trail where I connected with three men from Idaho who welcomed me to their team after a quick introduction. During this non technical climb, we hiked packed dirt, rock, scree and crossed a few snow fields to the base of the final ascent where we visually marked the best line to take. The final ascent was slow due to loose talus and being ready to duck or move to the call out of “rock” when some became ajar, which they did. A helmet would have been a good idea through this area. We scrambled the final boulders and formations to make the summit where a misstep could mean tumbling Geodetic Marker (Unfortunate Writing)down 1,000 plus feet. Six hours and 6,000 feet of elevation gain later the summit geodetic survey marker was within reach. Our team stayed at the summit having lunch and taking in the views causing times of vertigo in the calm 65 degree day. The descent was fairly quick and uneventful except for foot glissading down a few snow fields. At the trailhead thanks were given for the invitation to join before they returned to their home state and I back to camp. This was a truly incredible and epic day.

Nibbled Reese's from a StowawyTaking the backpack out of the truck I noticed signs of a stowaway since a few mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups had been nibbled on. After a quick look and being too tired the critter could stay for the night to finish the treat it started. The stove was lit and dinner was a few packs of Ramen noodles, a staple for the trip, always having a chunk of cheese to enjoy with the meal. I slept deeply and awoke to birds and quiet sounds of a new camp neighbor before French pressing coffee, asking a new Belgian friend Oliver to join. Spending four months in Belgium earlier in my career gave us plenty to talk about since favorite foods, chocolate and beer are from the small quiet With Belgian Cyclist Olivercountry. Friends made in Belgium were inviting especially in the historic town of Lier where there’s a plethora of restaurants and cafés. I made note of Oliver’s favorite beer, Westmalle Trappist Ale, (remember this for the upcoming Montana post!) and even though it was breakfast we both could have enjoyed one at that moment. We sipped two brews of fresh coffee and told a few travel stories before I broke camp and he headed into the back country.

Two Ocean's Lake with TetonsWith the stowaway still enjoying the Reese’s I packed the gear and drove north to Lizard Creek Campground on Jackson Lake to reserve a campsite. Two Ocean Lake Trailhead wasn’t far down the road where a leisurely hike was a nice change from scrambling steep talus. The trail wasn’t always next to the water’s edge and decided to bushwhack through a small wooded area to make it to the lake. Noticing huge moose tracks and bedding areas thought came to mind it was probably best to stick to the trail and leave their territory.Two Ocean Lake Closed Trail With slight nervousness and caution I stalked back to the trail since outrunning a bull moose or worse a grizzly wasn’t going to happen. I realized how risky my action was after encountering two Park Rangers closing the trail, one with a loaded and drawn shotgun when they asked if there was sign of an elk carcass from a grizzly kill nearby. Thankfully there wasn’t and I was now at a safe area.

Jackson Lake and the TetonsBack at Lizard Creek I set up the tent, AGAIN, made Ramen noodles and tuna, AGAIN, then relaxed for the rest of the evening spending much of the time at the shoreline of Jackson Lake listening to the water wash upon the rocks and viewing the north faces of the Tetons. The stowaway stayed comfortable in the truck Orb Web Weaverand I in the tent waking to a new friend the Orb Web Weaver. Company was everywhere and anticipation set in that morning knowing just fifteen minutes further north was the next stop to one of America’s most visited national parks, Yellowstone.

Next…Wolves, bison and hot springs…

-Greg

“Balance is implicit in the Red Road. When you’re on the Red Road, you are in the center. Yet, you do not go to either extreme, and you allow both sides to exist. This is accomplished by continually postponing surrendering to temptation, whatever it may be. It is saying `later’ instead of `no.'”

— Dr. A.C. Ross (Ehanamani), LAKOTA

 

Coyote CantinaReturning to Boulder I was seeing the same landscape for the third time passing Great Sand Dunes National Park, Collegiate Peaks and the eclectic looking Coyote Café. I decided to forgo the café and stop at Hog Heaven, a great barbeque restaurant a short distance up the road. Eating there on a previous trip my taste buds were ready for ribs, jalapeno cornbread, beans and bread pudding. The heavy food would last me a long while.

Mountaineering Museum, Golden, CO

I detoured to Golden, CO, home of the Coors Brewing Company but more importantly (for myself anyway), the home of the Bradford Washburn Mountaineering Museum dedicated to the climbers, technology, culture and spirit of mountaineering. Mountaineering caught my interest ten years ago and has brought challenging climbs ever since. The museum displays exhibits on climate, science, cultures and the humanities as they relate to mountains. Bradford Washburn was an American explorer, mountaineer, photographer, and cartographer who A Bradford Washburn photograph of Mt. Huntington’s Incredible North Face. Alaska, April 2, 1978established the Boston Museum of Science. He and his wife, Barbara, the first woman to summit Mt. McKinley (Denali), lead incredible lives  spending much time in Alaska pioneering the use of aerial photography of mountains and glaciers.

After looking at exhibits and early clothing and gear mountaineers used it’s easy to realize today’s mountaineers are spoiled by high tech gear allowing many to go beyond their capability where some will never leave mountaintops such as Mt. Everest. Having good gear is necessary, but experience and common sense keeps you alive!

Roosevelt National ForestRoosevelt National Forest was an hour and a half drive, the end following the same mountainous route I rode the bike on making me think how crazy, but accomplishing the ride was. I signed in at the park, selected a camp site and set out to get in a quick evening hike. Taking that time before sunset was a nice way to ground myself after an exhausting day of driving and sightseeing. Finishing the Hog Heaven leftovers I was ready for a good night’s sleep before continuing on to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Elk Outside of Estes ParkNo time was wasted breaking camp in the morning for the short one hour drive to Estes Park, CO where elk can overrun the town during the rut (breeding season). Being a few weeks early the town was elk free but many were roaming just on the outskirts. I entered the park with a seasonal Interagency Annual Pass then studied a map to see the lay of the land to best make my way through the park the next few days. “Home” was at three different campgrounds, Longs Peak the first few nights, Aspenglen the next, and lastly Timber Creek.

HomeLongs Peak is a tent only campground having platforms at each site. No RVs in this area means no running generators which owners are required to turn off at night. After constructing the tent and purchasing firewood I drove to nearby vistas, taking a hike and returning a few hours later for dinner, a fire and journaling. This was the first campfire of the trip surprisingly enough. Nights were cooler being at a higher elevation (9,500 ft.) than at Roosevelt N.F. making the fire great to get warm before slipping into the sleeping bag.

Grazing Bull Elk

Deciding to see as much of the park as possible I opted out of back country camping moving campgrounds to appreciate more vistas and see more wildlife. Aspenglen campground was the next stop a few mornings later to reserve a tent site before the possibility of a full campground with late season vacationers. Elk were expanding roaming areas as each day of the mating season came closer bringing a massive majestic bull elk close to the road that was undeterred by a train of vehicles.

Elk Grazing in Campground

Final camp was the barren Timber Creek in the southwest corner of the park having almost no trees due to the mountain pine beetle killing tens of thousands of pines. This area of the park was quiet and I met a few friendly travelers, Leroy and his dad out for father and son bonding, two recent college grads on a bike tour of the Midwest and a wildlife photographer. Rising early on a quiet starry morning I walked along a watershed hoping to see wildlife and was fortunate to see moose, deer and elk.

Tom and His Father Leroy

Meeting good people and seeing wildlife was a perfect way to end the stay in Rocky Mountain National Park. I savored a burger and fries just outside the park before the next destination of Grand Teton National Park.

 – Greg

“In every walk with nature one receives more than he seeks.” – John Muir

The tour continues…

For the second time in two years I was in the beautiful little city just east of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder, Colorado. A good friend Pam moved to Boulder from Connecticut more than a few years ago and is responsible for getting me on an upgraded 1989 Trek and introducing me to winter on Mt. Washington. I’ve been hooked since. The nice friend she is she sent me on a crazy bike ride outside of Boulder, details to come.

Eldorado Canyon outside of BoulderThere are incredible place to hike outside of Boulder and I chose Eldorado Canyon State Park spending a day trip in and around the canyon logging about 12 miles on the trails. It felt great to be back in the wilderness after the long drives and stops from Asheville. During the stay I went further into the back country to Arapaho National Forest then mildly “attacked” two 14,000 footers, Grays(14,278 ft) and Torreys(14,275 ft) Peaks, probably two of the easiest 14,000 footers to hike. I could feel the thinner air at about 13,000 feet needing a few short rests and noticed recovery was quick. The trip to Arapahoe N.F. was a long day trek through semiGrays and Torreys Peaks mountainous areas to a few crystal clear ponds. Making a late start this particular day made for dicey conditions when summiting one peak. Peaks should be summited by 1:00 or you face the changing weather coming in early afternoon. Summiting on a bare mountain peak during thunder and lightning strikes is a harrowing experience.

Indian Mountains in Roosevelt National ParkI rode the Trek once on this journey and it was an epic ride Pam mapped out. Knowing it would be in the hills made me step up for the challenge. Long story short, the 60 mile ride was MOUNTAINOUS (short video end of post)! This is an average ride for the super fit who live in Boulder, a training Mecca for world class athletes because of the elevation, good climate and terrain. A few highlights of the ride were stopping in the small mountain town of Jamestown, population 250 and going in to the Jamestown Mercantile for a great IOU malt. I continued through the town gaining elevation until reaching Brainard Lake of Roosevelt National Forest. Destination success! I cruised a few short roads of the park before heading back to Boulder burning the brakes offRiver in Roosevelt National Forest of the bike from the steep down hills that could have you going over 60 mph. The following day I returned to the Mercantile (in my truck this time) to square up my IOU, have a beer and listen to a great “Newgrass” band. The welcoming comfort of the rustic local gathering place made for an enjoyable restful evening.

Collegiate PeaksWith friends arriving to fill Pam’s home and wanting to return to New Mexico to hike/climb Wheeler Peak (13,167 ft.), the highest point in the state, I made the return 300 mile drive. Seven hours later, passing Collegiate Peaks, I was back in New Mexico finding a great location to set up camp just outside the small quaint town of Arroy Secco next to Carson National Forest. After the long drive I was looking forward to spending the night in my tent and sleeping bag.

Double RainbowThe first morning I woke to a double rainbow. There’s no video with me hallucinating or trying to understand the meaning of it. (Some of you will know what I’m speaking about.) Having the small town nearby for good coffee, natural foods and the famous Taos Cow ice cream parlor was a bonus.

Returning to camp one evening after surveying the area was a large van with six men of Mexican decent at the adjoining campsite. I thought this was going to be a long sleepless night because of the number of men and music. I made assumptions I shouldn’t. While pulling a few items from the truck one of the men respectfully told me they were staying to cook dinner and return to a local motel for the night and asked me to join them. I felt empty and didn’t know what to say with a feeling of shame that came over me for making judgments. I couldn’t say no to the offer from this generous man and company would be good. I grabbed something to drink to not go empty handed. Approaching the group I sensed I was not welcomed by all and now I was being judged and was going to eat their food! Did I do the right thing accepting the offer!? A few of the men spoke English and we had a spirited conversation about where home is and what it’s like being on the road for extended time. The mood lightened, but a few men weren’t completely welcoming which I accepted and understood.

Mixed Meat Mexican DinnerOverhanging the fire was a cast iron kettle filled with pork, beef, cut up hot dogs, jalapeños, all combined with a red chili sauce. I followed their lead grabbing a tortilla and filling it with the spicy meat mixture. I have to say it was pretty tasteful and satisfying. We ate and traded stories for a while before they broke camp. When leaving the man, who I took as the group leader, offered the rest of the food otherwise it was going to waste since they had no way to store it. The kindness was humbling and not having to cook dinner the next night was fine by me.

Onto Wheeler Peak…

Not being a skier I didn’t know the Taos ski area is a great place and is highly recommended from reviews I’ve read. The resort was closed, but the parking area was open for hikers who want to roam the trails or summit Wheeler Peak.

Wheeler PeakA few miles on the trail I approached a few people from the New Mexico Mountaineers making the climb to the summit. They were a fit spunky group of retirees with an average age of late sixties who travel and hike mid west and western mountains. After a lively conversation and a few pictures I continued on to the summit passing big horn sheep and little furry creatures. The summit had a great view and I carried along a ridge to the boarder of the 17,361 acre Taos Pueblo Native American property. This sacred land with a view of the sacred Blue Lake was not to be trespassed or photographed(the lake). On the decent I was able to view more big horn sheep and returned to a truck covered with snow from the changing mountain weather. The rest of the Mexican mixed meat dinner tasted great. Probably anything would have at that point.

Taos Pueblo Indian ReservationThe following day I visited the 1,000 year old Taos Pueblo Indian Reservation. Very few acres are available for non-natives to see and explore which was disappointing but understandable since they should have more land than they were given. (after it was taken away, but I digress). I toured the reservation where some Indians live and have shops as part of their homes. A few highlights were a Native man drumming and singing, Fry Breadmiscellaneous jewelry and craft shops and fry bread for lunch. Rest was a good part of this day and visits to shops and long talks with owners made for interesting conversation on how some visitors have expectations of a movie style Indian life.

Returning to camp early evening I prepared dinner and spent time journaling before a good nights sleep. Travel the next day would be passing through Boulder, back to Roosevelt National Forest then onto Rocky Mountain National Park. The trek back to New Mexico was well worth it.

– Greg

“No individual or group can block another individual’s path or change it against what fits his nature and his purpose.”   

– Rolling Thunder, Cherokee

Ronald Bradley Mack

Ronald Bradley Mack

This post is dedicated to my friend Ronald “Ron” Bradley Mack who passed recently. A favorite place of Ron’s was Boulder, CO where he studied at the Rocky Mountain Healing Arts Institute. Ron was a healer using The Bradley Technique energy work he developed and evolved over the 30 years of his practice. He performed his healing work in his home, the historic Melville House Bed & Breakfast in New Bedford, MA, where he was the proprietor.

Ron was a friend and mentor who put me on the path of the journey I walk today. Peace to you Ron!

Ron's favorite evening place

Ron enjoying his front garden

Driving across the United States was a desire since high school. The thought of being on the open road, driving through different states, seeing new places and meeting new people seemed exciting. I’ve spent more time than one should behind the wheel for previous employers and driving throughout New England to destinations for hiking, fishing and camping trips so making the effort didn’t faze me as long as I had good music or company.

The U.S. Tour with Detailed StopsOn July 22, 2009 I embarked on my longest and most distant road trip, a 10,000 mile tour lasting almost two months traveling from CT to North Carolina, Texas, and Montana then returning east. Spending two months traveling throughout Utah, Oregon and parts of Washington State a year earlier kept the trip from going as far as the west coast.

World's Largest GPSThe loosely thought out plan was to visit friends in Asheville, NC, Houston, TX and Boulder, CO, see areas I was interested moving to and visit national parks and forests. Instead of one hundred of AAA maps I used an application on my 17” laptop making the world’s biggest GPS (Which sat on the passenger’s seat.). I wanted to make this journey as free form as possible having the only schedule be the segment to Asheville. My career has been full of strict planning and promptness with executive teams and customers making this a relief to do what I wanted and when. The trip was like Forrest Gump on his run back and forth across the country. When I wanted to see something, I saw it. When I needed to eat, I ate. When I needed to sleep, I slept and when I needed to…., you know, I went!

Full LoadTo start off the road trip Mitzy the Montero was packed with a bike, camping and hiking gear, clothes and a small amount of food and water. With 176,000 miles, no air conditioning and a recent tune up I knew she would be fine although the thought of no air conditioning wasn’t pleasant.

The tour started in Connecticut with a short stop in Massachusetts to pick up a climbing and hiking friend. Chris made the trek to Asheville then flew back. From Asheville onward I’d be going soul”o”. My soul needed a break from my home area and was touched, tested, and poked more than a few times on this journey. (See the Emerson quote in the Peaceful Introduction.)

Making almost 90 noteworthy stops there are too many experiences to tell in this post and will follow with more. For now, I bring you the beginning of the trip, will introduce you to a few friends and tell you of places visited.

Hop in and enjoy the 10,000 mile ride….

Copperhead (Coiled) & Brown Water Snake

There’s a sense of freedom and increased adrenaline I experience being on the road knowing new places for adventure are in the near future. The early part of the trip was familiar territory from driving south more than a few times. We rested for the night in Winchester, NC before navigating the winding Skyline Drive of Shenandoah National Park the following day. Stops were made for a few short hikes to scenic overviews, entertainment for the afternoon being a few snakes, deer and watching people with cameras chase bears with cubs. Not wanting to use my wilderness medicine training Chris and I shook our heads and guided our way through the park. As much as we wanted to experience the Blue Ridge Parkway, which follows Skyline Drive, too many additional hours would have been added to meet our friend Tricia waiting for us in Asheville.

Tricia on Shining Rock Pisgah National ForestTricia, who moved to Asheville more than a few years ago to open a yoga studio, greeted us with good cold beer and welcomed us into her home where we chatted for the rest of the evening. The next day she gave us a tour of one of the coolest, eclectic small cities I’ve been to on the east coast. Asheville offers a welcoming atmosphere, great food, wine and microbrew beer with community activities taking place throughout the city on weekends. There are many similarities to Portland, Oregon. In a short ride you could be in Great Smokey Mountain National Park or Pisgah, Nantahala or Cherokee Mt. Mitchell Eastern U.S. HighpointNational Forests. In an hour’s drive Mt. Mitchell (6684 ft.), the highest point east of the Mississippi River, is an easy to moderate hike. The only likeness to New England’s highest point, Mt. Washington (6288 ft.), is an access road to the summit. Mt. Mitchell can’t boast of the world’s worst weather or the difficult terrain of Mt. Washington, although it provides excellent views of Pisgah National Forest. A trail I embarked on before leaving the area had signs of bear and the quietness of only a few late season campers.

After visiting Tricia, hiking and seeing the quaint, spunky city of Asheville Chris flew back to Massachusetts and I began a long, scorching drive southwest to Houston needing to stop in Lafayette, LA before falling asleep behind the wheel. The heat while driving was hardly bearable rising over 100 degrees causing the power supply for my laptop to melt.

LeoA business colleague and friend I hadn’t seen in 10 years was the reason for the Houston stop. Leo is a proud decorated Silver Star Purple Heart Vietnam Veteran fighting effects from Agent Orange exposure. He’s one of the most interesting and funny men you’ll ever meet. Leo “Gets” from Lethal Weapon is almost as entertaining.  If you have an interest in Vietnam War history, Leo fought in one of the most brutal engagements documented in The Lost Battalion of TET: Breakout of the 2/12 Cavalry at Hue. Time was well spent catching up, keeping company and visiting a few of his favorite restaurants. For “protection” he gave me a set of mounted steer horns you would see on a Cadillac at a big Texas ranch.

HOT and no A/C!Leaving Houston was the most sweltering drive yet. Outside temperature was 106 to 108 at times and hotter in the truck.  Mathew Broderick’s line in Biloxi Blues kept coming to mind “This is Africa hot!” when he disembarked the train in Mississippi. The hot wind blowing in the truck didn’t help and being stopped by a road worker made for a big white sauna on four wheels. Kudos to the workers doing road repairs in the sun and heat.

My plan was to camp after leaving Houston except a stop was needed before leaving Texas given the heat was physically draining and setting up a tent didn’t seem to be the best idea. Coming to the rescue was my brother Jamie, a traveler for work who has a million travel miles. I placed an SOS call and he made a reservation in Amarillo, TX offering his miles for the stay. Jamie, a savior for the evening, and I would meet later during the trip in Chicago.

The Hot Flatlands of TexasPsychologically it felt good heading north early the next morning after a refreshing stay and saying goodbye to the desert heat of Texas. In short time I was in New Mexico where mountains and appealing landscapes were coming into view. Boulder, CO was the next stop and while driving through New Mexico the thought of staying a few nights came to mind but I had Boulder in the sights. As fate would have it I would return to New Mexico a week and a half later because of a full house at my kind friend Pam’s place. Thoughts of climbing the highest peak in New Mexico and visiting the Taos Pueblo Indian Reservation also intrigued me, so back on the road I went driving 300 miles south where I recently driven….

Stay tuned for the next stops…..Taos and Colorado for hiking, camping and more.

– Greg

“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”R.W. Emerson

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