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This morning I drove back into Mesa Verde NP to finish sightseeing and take the ranger led guided tour of the largest cliff dwelling. Most of the Mesa was socked in with fog, but by the time I reached the ticket center, it had cleared nicely. I bought a ticket for the 12:00 o’clock tour and realized I had an hour and a half to kill before it started. I was driving from lookout to lookout, killing time, and then it dawned on me-I’m in a different State and different time zone. I just made it back before they decended the stairs. 

Tonight I’m at a BLM campground just outside of Arches NP. The campground in the National Park is full. I hope to get in there tomorrow. It has rained all afternoon and continues tonight. The first sun is not predicted until Sunday.

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I spent the day hiking the trails in Arches NP, and I also got into the campground for a couple of nights. It will take all day tomorrow to see everything. There are still huge crowds in the NP on the weekends even this late in the year. Today was sunny and warm for a change and that must have been the reason so many people are here. 

I have taken a lot of pics but I have no easy way to put
 them up. Maybe I could email them to Daryl and he could insert a couple or put them in a gallery for me.  

 
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I only drove 150 miles today. Mesa Verde NP is getting ready to turn down for the winter -closed campground, closed visitors center, and only one guided tour. It takes several hours to drive the park and see all the ruins. I spent a long time at the museum and climbed down to one of the cliff dwellings. Tomorrow I will take the guided tour and then move on. Tonight I am at a Walmart in Cortiz CO. There are signs saying no overnight parking, but there are several campers and RVs here.

 
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Published on October 20, 2010, by admin in Adventure.

This morning turned out sunny with the promise of warm weather. I drove along the rim of Canyon de Chelly and stopped to admire the view from several overlooks. The view are totally awesome – sheer cliffs of hundreds of feet, colorful sandstone formations, meadows nestled in the valley below. 

The park is located on Navaho Indian land so they take advantage of every oppertunity to sell their wares to the tourists. Every place you stop the Indians have their tables set up to sell jewelry and other trinkets. There is only one trail leading to Pueblo Indian ruins that you can go to unguided, all the rest require that you hire a guide or join a tour.  You can probably guess which trail this high plains thrifter took. 

It was a fun walk down the cliff face to the valley where the ruins lay. Some of the trail was chisled from the rock face and in a couple spots tunneled several yards through. At the bottom, I had to pass more tables of jewelry and a fence kept onlookers back over 100 feet from the ruins.  

On the way back up it started to rain. I ducked under ledges when the showers became steady and hiked when they let up.  At the top, I could see lighting in the distance so I decided to call it a day, get something to eat, and head back to the campground. Tomorrow I will head to Mesa Verde NP. 

 
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Today I visited Petrified Forest NP. The visiters center has lots of information about prehistoric animals and vegitation and a walk through scattered remains of petrified trees. The rest of the park is mostly a long drive, spaced with turnouts to view the colors of the Painted Desert, which by the way encompases all the area from the Grand Canyon to Abq NM. 

I stopped at one site where ancestors of the Hopi Indians lived about 1250ad.  Foundations of buildings and artistry on the rocks made more sence to me than the colors of the desert. 

I’m staying a couple of days at a free campground in Canyon De Chelly Nat.Monument while I tour the area. I have given up on wifi and will just use my phone to post. Back east, every store, restaurant and motel has wifi, but out here it seems to be only truck stops and they want to charge you to connect. At least if I can get a cell signal, I can put something up. 

 
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I left Phoenix about 10 am and headed north on highway 87. In less than an hour, the road climbed higher into the foothills of the Arizona Central Mountains and I entered Tonto National Forest.  At the time, I found it difficult to warm to the idea that a National Forest included desert and brust, but as I came closer to Payson, I was at an altitude that produced thick and tall pine trees. 

I stopped in Payson for some supplies and then drove north to Tonto Natural Bridge SP. Over the centuries, the Pine river eroded the soft limestone underground and formed the world’s largest natural bridge.  Well… It all depends on how you define largest-there is another one somewhere that is higher but not as thick.  I took a few pictures but didn’t walk to the bottom of the gorge where the best views are-I am still babying my knee. 

I’m writing this in a camping place in the Coconino National Forest, about 50 miles south of Winslow. There are pull-outs with fire-rings all along the forest road, so I don’t think anyone will mind if I stay. The altitude must be around 7000 feet and it’s getting dark and cold. No signal so I will try for a wifi spot tomorrow. 

 
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Published on October 16, 2010, by admin in Adventure.

On Friday 10/15/10, Daryl and I traveled to Tucson. I was hoping to revive some memories of my youth and maybe bring back some of the feelings I had while growing up in Flowing Wells. It would be interesting to see what I recognized from over 40 years of absence. It seemed like such a long time ago, and amazingly still only just yesterday.

Most of the buildings I remember as a boy had been torn down and replaced with something else. Our house was no longer there, instead an apartment building with paved driveways. Daryl and I drove around the parking lot and tried to imagine where the shop and pool once were. Many hours were spent shooting at the basketball rim on the shop, and grass out front of the house would never grow because of our play. I thought about all the circles we made on motorcycles around the driveway before we had licensees.

Even Kilburn road seemed different – more rundown and strange. I thought I remembered more grass in front of houses and less trash scattered about. Maybe I just wanted to think that.

Some of the classrooms at Flowing Wells High School were as I remember them but that was about all. The football field was in the same place and I found the old cafeteria, understandably now used for something else. The parking lot was different and there were new buildings jutting from all sides. I had a desire to look inside some of the buildings and browse through the trophy cases, but in this day and age it is not a good idea for strangers to wander around a school. Donna later told us that school was probably closed because of a winter break and it might have been OK to ask if we could look around.

One thing that seems to stay the same is the names of roads. It was reassuring to know that most of the roads still went where they used to, or you still took this road to get here, or we could find something by going down this road. Oracle Road Rent All was still a business although the building is much larger. We drove out to see the area where Shamrock Dairy was and still is in business – an area where I loved to play, collecting wax to make melted hands and riding bicycles with my friend Wayne.

Before we left, Daryl drove across town to Davis Monthan AFB. One of my favorite things to do in Tucson was drive along the fence by the base and look at all the stored aircraft. You used to be able to drive for miles and view row upon row of obsolete airplanes abandoned to the ‘bone-yard’ of the dry Arizona desert. There were a few places where we saw planes but mostly now they keep you back and away from them. We did however find one spot by the fence, along an off road, maintenance path, and Daryl tried out his 4WD SUV.

It was a good nostalgic trip. Daryl and I did a lot of reminiscing and I want to thank him very much for taking me there. Maybe someday I’ll go back, but for now I’ll leave the past behind and try something new.

 
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On the second day of our hike, I realized that this was going to be way harder, way harder than anything I had ever done before. The path led up through the mountains into the rarefied air of increasing altitude, over granite boulders arranged for erosion control in a cruel stairway with treads knee-high, switch-backing ever steeper to the top of Glen’s Pass. As I approached the pass, I had to will myself… no, force myself to keep climbing – I had little will left. My lungs gasped for air and my body cried out to stop this torture. The mountain was kicking my butt. Every step was a struggle.

All I wanted was to lie down and be at rest for a very long time. Unfortunately, to lie down meant that I would have to return to my feet, hoist a 40-pound pack to my shoulders, and conjure up the energy to move forward again. And so I trudged on with all my agony, unable to stop and little will to go on, coping with altitude sickness and extreme weariness, ignoring the aches and pains and the pounding in my head.

The irony of all this is that with all the work and discomfort of backpacking the Sierra Mountains, there are few places on earth more beautiful. Unless you’ve seen it up close it’s hard to describe how gorgeous it is: Mountains soaring into the sky for as far as you can see; pristine, mountain lakes like mirrors set into the landscape; cascading waterfalls through ravines of woods lined with giant pine trees. It’s a neat thing to know that only a few people, relatively speaking, get to see the backcountry in this way, and it feels good to know that I’ve gone to a place not many 62 year olds would even attempt.

After almost a year of planning, Daryl, Karen and I completed a 45-mile, four-day hike through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. At times we were skeptical that it would even happen: I couldn’t commit to a time because of complications at work and travel details; Karen had to schedule flights and arrange her work schedule; Daryl was nursing an injured knee. The trip was pushed back so that it would be into early October before we could start and that put us dangerously close to the winter weather in the High Sierra. And then to top it all off, we realized it would be over 600 miles of driving just to get to Kings Canyon National Park where the hike started. I really didn’t want to cancel the Sierra adventure, but I wrote Karen that we should plan something else. She must have sensed my disappointment because she wrote back: “What could be better? Backpacking and spending time with my Dad and Uncle on a road trip.”

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After ten hours of driving from Phoenix, a restless night in a rundown cabin/motel, we are all set to go on a chilly fall day. The date was Oct. 7, 2010.

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Karen took most of the pictures so there are more of Daryl and I than of her. The hike was easier for Karen (although she said it was the hardest hike she has ever been on) so I delegated her head photographer as I fought the demons of altitude sickness. Daryl also had more energy and less affects from the altitude than I did.

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This was our campsite on the second night – a place called Rae Lakes. We awoke to a beautiful but cold morning of 25 degrees that made it hard to crawl out of our snug and toasty sleeping bags. The altitude here was 10,500 feet and I was already feeling nauseous, woozy, and no appetite. It would have been nice to build a fire to warm up but fires are not allowed above 10,000 feet. We had to get in our bags when it got dark and start hiking as soon as we broke camp in the morning.

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Daryl and I climbing switchbacks above Rae Lakes.

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The sky was dark blue in the rarefied air.

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The scenery was awesome here in the Sierra.

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Everything seems to grow big in the mountains.


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This was the end of the loop. It was only two miles from the parking area and a short drive to showers and restaurants. It feels good to take off your pack and relax into the car seat, but it feels like your 100 years old when you sit for a couple hours and then try to walk into a restaurant.

 
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Published on October 2, 2010, by admin in Adventure.

On Friday, October 1, after six days of travel, I finally arrived at Daryl’s home in Phoenix, Arizona. It was a shock to drive down from the White Mountains and be met with 100-degree temperatures. Only a few hours before, at a place called Datil, New Mexico, I awoke to a chilly 40 degrees at my pre-dawn campsite. As I descended through Salt River Canyon to lower altitudes, I kept thinking it was a good thing my van has A/C.

I did a lot of sightseeing on Thursday and Friday. A short detour below Amarillo, Texas brought me to Palo Duro State Park, a place of stark contrast to the flat plains and endless grasslands of the Texas Panhandle. Palo Duro is like a mini Grand Canyon carved over the years by the Red River. There is a scenic roadway all the way to the bottom that was built in the 1930s by the CCC. I stopped to enjoy many fine views and read about the history of the park.

Then it was on to New Mexico where I enjoyed the scenery as the flat plains gave way to hills and magnificent rock formations. I entered Albuquerque, NM just before rush-hour and thought once of calling Dick for directions to the house he built. I would have liked to see it, but the traffic was about all I could handle, and I lamented into just getting through. As it turned out, minutes after I turned south on I25 and headed out of the city, all the interstate highways both coming into and going out of the city were closed, snarling traffic for hours. It seems that VP Biden was in town campaigning and now was leaving for the airport. A few minutes later and I would still be stuck in Albuquerque.

Then it was on to Rt.60, a beautiful highway running through the mountains from Soccoro, NM to Show Low, AZ. I passed the VLA (Very Large Array of radio telescopes) and continued on to a cute little campground run by the Bureau of Land Management and spent the night for a mere $5. With a Golden Pass the price would have been $2.50. It was getting late so I decided to find a campsite and return the next morning to the VLA. The campground even had free firewood for the campers, something I had never seen at any of the campgrounds back east.

I awoke before dawn, made coffee, and took a stroll around the campground. A sign announced that the Datil Well in this area was used as one of the watering stops for cattle drives through the mountain pass in the 1800’s. A thermometer on the office building read 40 degrees, and I thought of Mom when she said to ‘soak up’ all the cool weather before descending into the Phoenix area. Before I did though, I headed back to visit the VLA.

I could see the giant dishes for 15 miles before I arrived. The remoteness of their location, along with the altitude – over 7000 feet – make this a perfect spot for interference free signals from space. There are 27 dishes, each about the size of a baseball diamond, arraigned in a “Y” formation. All the antenna’s signals can be synchronized so that they act like a single antenna, reading images millions of light-years into space. I watched a short film and then did a walking tour to see the antennas up close. One of the neatest facts about the VLA is that in 1997, a large part of the film “Contact”, staring Jodie Foster, was shot there.

The rest of the drive into Arizona would take me through the Salt River Canyon and 60 degrees of rising temperatures. I remember the stories of Salt River Canyon and the truckers who lost their brakes coming down the steep grades. I was glad that I have good brakes on the van, and also glad I was behind the U-Haul truck that gave off the odor of burning, brake pads all the way to the bottom. Some of the views from the pullouts were really breathtaking.

Last night, Mom, Donna, Daryl, Gisele, Derek and I went out to eat. It was good to see everyone again and spend some time together. Today, Daryl and I did some shopping for our backpack adventure next week. The weather in the Sierra’s looks kind of cold and rainy for the start of our hike, but what do you expect when you’re hiking with the Soggy Shoe Hikers?

 
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I took it pretty easy today. I’m already stopped at a park by Lake Mcclellan in Texas. I only drove about 100 miles today. It would be nice to have that Golden Pass, I could have saved some money.

I thought it would be a good choice to stay at that city park last
night, but it turned out to be kind of a sleepless night. There were kid squeeling their tires and thumping base of their radio kept me awake, and then about midnight, their was a knock on my door and two State Troopers wanted to know what I was doing. I explained that I was looking for the National Grasslands campground and when I couldn’t find it, pulled in here to sleep for a few hours. They said that it was perfectly all right and were just making sure I was ok. Well, I didn’t get back to sleep for a while after that.

This morning I visited a historic battlefield called Washita Historic Site. It is one of many places that Custer was sent to wipe out Indians. They attacked in the dead of winter, killing 40 warriors, women, and children. Then Custer had his men burn everything

 
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I’m still in Oklahoma. This is a honken big state! I’m starting to feel the heat as I get further west but at least I didn’t have to go through Kansas. There are more hills and green on I40 than I70.

I took Mom’s advice and stopped at the Ok City Memorial. It was quite interesting and so very tragic. I left right at rush hour and that was quite a nightmare, especially with all the construction in the city.

I also stopped at a rest area that had a mini-museum about Will Rogers who was born and lived near here. One fact I learned about him was that he was a very bad speller and I liked that very much.

I’m at a city park by Big Kettle National Grassland which I will
look at tomorrow and then to Texas to visit the place Dick suggested.

 
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I’m at a SP in Oklahoma called Twin Bridges. It’s just over the border from Joplin, Missouri. Now, it may look like I’m way out west but I’m not even half way yet. There was not much I wanted to see in Indiana, Illinois, or Missouri but I will slow down and make some detours out here.

It’s awfully hard to get Jane to let me do much sight seeing, she has a fit if I get off the Interstate. Yesterday, there was a bad accident on I70 and all traffic was routed over to Rt40. Jane insisted that I turn around and go back to the interstate even though I explained that it was impossible. She just wouldn’t listen.

The weather has been beautiful – 70s and sun – and I hope it holds for these long southwestern states. It might be a good idea to change the title of my blog to something more appropriate

 
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I’m getting a very poor signal, but I will try to let everyone know where I am. Please excuse all the typos and fragments, I’m using my iPhone.

Right now I’m at Lieber State Recreation Area about half way between Indianapolis and Terre Haute. It is getting cold just like it was at 5:30 when I left this morning. I drove almost to Erie before it got light out. I sure feel the pain of driving all day – I think I stopped at every rest area along the road, just to stretch and walk the kinks out.

A funny thing happened last night. Dave and Lisa came to Buffalo to see me before I left. I was telling Dave that I wanted to get a car charger for my laptop so that I could blog on my trip. Dave knew of an AC inverter that would power all my plugin devices and I called Best Buy to see if they carried them. They did and we decided to go pick it up and get something to eat. Before we left I asked Lisa to put my charger cord in her purse so that we could match the specs to the power adapter.

I was surprised when Dave and Lisa presented me with the new power adapter as a gift for my birthday and trip. It was so special. Later that night, just as I was falling asleep, my phone rang. It was Dave,

“Dad, we still have your laptop cord in Lisa’s purse.”

We all forgot to take it out before they went back to Rochester. It should be waiting at Daryl’s when I get there. And anyway, I wanted to practice this on my phone.

 
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Shortly before noon on September 6, 2010, Karen and I stepped from the woods onto a road called Minister Creek, completing our trek through the Allegheny National Forest on the North Country National Scenic Trail. We had hiked for three days, over some of the most taxing hills on the entire trail, plunged into thickets of waist-high weeds and briers, and, of course, walked in the rain. Our 100-mile quest for the summer of 2010 was complete. We didn’t jump and celebrate with high-fives or shouts of joy, instead, we reveled in the satisfaction of knowing we had accomplished our goal. Even though we had endured a lot of hardships on this hike, it was a great time, and I will always cherish the memories we made along the way.

For the long Labor Day weekend and the start of our hike, we decided to camp Friday night at the southern terminus of the trail near a little place called Amsler Springs. There was a shelter not far from the road where we could spend the night and get an early start Saturday morning. After positioning one vehicle at the end of our remaining section, we drove back to find the shelter. There were many campers scattered along the road as we headed south, and we were sure that someone would have claimed the shelter before we could get there. But when we arrived, there was no one around and, luckily, we would have the shelter all to ourselves.

Neither of us slept very well that night. First nights on the trail always burdened your thoughts with anticipation and wonder, strange sounds in the night wake you up continually, and the hard surface you lay on makes you toss and turn for a comfortable position. I could hear cars going by on the road just outside the woods and I would listen to make sure they didn’t stop. Karen got up in the night and told me of a phenomenon she had seen in the meadow with her headlamp. There was such a heavy mist in the air that the grass sparkled like lightning bugs and the air ahead of her headlamp was like a psychedelic, underwater shower. I got up later and experienced it too. It was almost like walking through a snowstorm of water vapor.

In the morning Karen made a delightful breakfast of cheesy eggs, strawberries, and pressed coffee. We packed and locked the truck, loaded our packs, and set off into the woods. Both Karen and I were carrying heavier loads on this hike – three days worth of food and extra warm clothes for the chilly nights. The early morning temperature was about 60 and it would stay cool for most of the day. It seemed nice to hike without enduring sweltering weather for a change.

Karen signing the trail register

Karen signing the trail register

We had to agree that the section of the NCT we hiked that day was the worst of any we had hiked so far. The trail traversed many hills almost straight up without the aid of switchbacks to ease the climb. And then on the other side the trail would drop straight down in places leaving you fearful of loosing your footing. When the path followed a stream in the valley, the weeds and briers choked the trail so that it was hardly recognizable. On top of all that, it rained off and on for most of the day. We were careful to keep dry by donning rain ponchos when we could feel sprinkles. With cold temperatures and two more days of hiking, it could be dangerous to have wet gear. In the afternoon, we walked through an interesting section of huge boulders the size of houses, with crevices, caves and ledges creating mazes through their openings. It would be the kind of place that, as a kid, I could have spent all day exploring.

We hiked almost 12 miles to a place called Kellettville, where we were planning to spend the night. The trail joined a forest road for the last two miles before town and we passed many campsites occupied by day campers in trailers and house size tents. It seemed that they all had dogs that wanted to attack us. We didn’t really relish the idea of loud music and barking dogs all night so we decided to spend the money to stay at the state park a mile further down the road.

As we walked into the state park campground we saw two men sitting at a picnic table at one of the sites. We couldn’t see any backpacks, but you get kind of a sixth sense for recognizing other hikers, and these two guys fit the profile. They were Ted and Paul from Meadville and Erie respectively, and they were hiking the trail in the opposite direction we were. We chatted for a few minutes and then they invited us to stay at their campsite. They told us that two tents were allowed on each site and it would save us the cost of another campsite. Karen and I both thought it would be a great idea so we gratefully accepted their offer and pitched our tent at their site.

Ted and Paul

Later on that evening as we made our dinner, we learned that Paul and Ted were both active leaders with the Boy Scouts. It is a tribute to men like these that give so much of their time shaping the character of our younger generation. I remember my days as a Boy Scout and attribute much of my love of the outdoors and backpacking to the time I spent there. I bet my younger brother, Daryl, still remembers the competition we won for flag signaling at one Boy Scout Jamboree.

It rained in the night. When morning came, we packed a wet tent and slipped back into our soggy shoes. One of Karen’s shoes had a sole that was coming loose and she was worried about it totally delaminating on the trail. I forgot to pack any duct tape for emergency repairs, but Paul had a small roll that he offered to her. Everyone that backpacks carries some small luxury items in their packs and one of Karen’s was a small sample bottle of Baileys Irish Cream for our coffee in the morning. When Paul and Ted saw that, their eyes lit up with delight. The trade was made – Irish Cream for duct tape. We were all very happy.

They told us what information they could about the trail ahead of us and we tried to prepare them for what they were about to hike through. We said our good-byes and headed out for our second day of hiking.

As it turns out, the rest of the trail was delightful compared to what we had come through. There was a long section, newly relocated and graded, with bridges across streams and ditching to drain the wet areas. Much of this work was done by a Boy Scout troop that maintains the trail in that area. A lot of the path went along abandoned railroad beds so there was nothing too steep going up or down, and the trail was clear of briars and stinging nettles. We hiked at a good pace, covering quite a few miles by lunchtime.

Perhaps it was the cooler weather, or the fact that the humidity didn’t tire me out as much, but I had a voracious appetite on this hike – we both did! Our food was quickly disappearing and we made joking accusations of what we would do to the other to get their Rice Krispy Treats. Ted even gave me a stick of beef jerky for the trail as we parted. Karen doesn’t like jerky or beef sticks so I leave them out of our backpacking diet. Ether she was very hungry or else the jerky was very good, but she said, “Umm, I like this jerky”, so I was forced to share with her.

We stopped in an area where it was sunny and breezy to spread out the tent and let it dry. Karen had been carrying an extra pound of water saturated in the rolled up tent. Near where we rested while waiting for the tent to dry, I noticed a huge pile of rocks. Apparently, years ago, before this area reverted back to forest, this was farmland. Farmers cleared the land and hauled stones from the fields and threw them in piles. In many parts of the forest, you can see remains of old cellars and stone fences, reminders of a time long ago when pioneers scratched out a living in a harsh land, finally giving in to the climate, steep terrain, and infertile soil of the area.

We were walking blissfully along a short while later and were suddenly startled by a dog standing in the trail ahead of us. We both stopped and waited with apprehension for the owner to come walking along and take command of the dog. You never know if a dog is vicious by nature and neither of us wanted to find out. All of a sudden the dog bolted away up the path and we continued on. Seconds later, Karen noticed it circling around us through the woods and before we knew it, it came up from behind us. It stopped again and looked at us for a while and then turned and ran the other way. Again, we looked back and it was following us. We conjured up all sorts of scenarios: Was the dog lost and trying to find its owner? Was the owner hurt and the dog trying to get us to help? Finally the dog came up to us and we could tell that it was friendly. She wore a collar with the name Emmie and a telephone number embroidered into it. We tried to take a picture of the collar for reference, but she took off again, excitedly darting up the path and out into the forest.

“If she comes back to look at us again and then runs ahead,” Karen told me, “that’s the universal sign in dog language that someone needs help and she wants us to follow her. What is it girl? Timmy’s fallen down the well?”

A few minutes later the mystery was solved. We came upon a group of campers in trailers and tents and the noises of people enjoying the weekend. Emmie belonged to this group and was just romping through the woods and having a ball.

We started to think about finding a place to camp. We had come well over 10 miles and both of us were starting to get tired. Our water supply was getting low and we would need to find a stream to fill up for the night. There just wasn’t any water as the trail followed the crest of the hills, so we hiked on, through several dry ravines, and along the remains of an old railroad bed. Once we though of stopping for the night and rationing what little water we had left until morning. But for me that sounded too much like deprivation – giving up our dehydrated meal and eating dry tuna fish.

By the time we came to a spring, filled our water bottles, and found a place to camp, it was close to dusk. The sun was low through the trees and the air had that evening chill feel to it. We had hiked over 16 miles, a heroic distance for us. We were both exhausted, and starved for our dinner.

It was a very nice campsite with a fire ring someone had made and a stream nearby for our water supply. Karen prepared our dinner as I started a fire. It would be chilly after the sun went down and the fire would feel good before we climbed into our sleeping bags. I think I could have eaten double the portion of our freeze-dried spaghetti, it tasted so good. Afterward, we sat by the fire drinking coffee, soaking up the heat, and just relaxing after a long tiring day. We fed sticks into the flames for a long time until there was no more wood left, and then we moved closer to the glowing coals until at last the darkness and the night chill drove us into our tent.

During the night, I awoke with pain in my right knee. I had been favoring my injured left knee all day by letting my right knee take all the shock of downhill brakes and steps, now the good knee was screaming from overuse. I needed to take a high dose of Vitamin I (hiker slang for ibuprofen) before I could get back to sleep. In the morning I was sore and achy but the pain went away after I moved around awhile.

The last day was fairly uneventful. It was cold in the morning, making for perfect hiking weather. We only had about 5 miles left to hike, so we broke camp in no hurry, and enjoyed a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. It was almost 9:00 by the time we got underway and I took the lead with a slow pace to work the soreness from my joints.

We walked through a section I had hiked before called Minister Creek, famous for it’s house size boulders and attractive trout streams. I kept telling Karen that we should carry a fishing pole and catch a trout for dinner next time. She thought I was nuts and just had fish on my brain from lack of food. We did find several blackberries on this section, though, and we stopped to pick and eat every one of them.

And that was about it for our North Country Trail odyssey. We found a hometown restaurant in Marionville and gorged ourselves with ham and egg omelets, french toast, home fries, and many cups of coffee. We waited for what seemed a long time to be served, but the food was very good. Karen drove me to my truck and we transferred our gear. And then, in a distracted sort of good bye… figuring out which road to get on… I’ll see you soon…and she was gone. We were already back in the other world.

A hundred miles on foot is a long way. We hiked in rain, endured sweltering heat and humidity, were attacked by swarms of insects, got blisters, aches, pains, and shivered in the chill morning air. We were hungry most of the time, reached almost complete exhaustion climbing some of the hills, and bled from arms and legs while walking through the briers. But here’s the thing: I enjoyed every minute of it. I love the fact that I’m exercising my body, burning calories faster than I can put them in my mouth, and breathing clean forest air. I like being able to cope with basic necessities where goals and wants are simple. And I like being out in nature and seeing what’s just over that next hill.

It’s hard for me to put into words what it’s meant to me to have Karen to hike with this summer, and I know she wouldn’t want me to here. I’ll just say that it swells my heart with love and pride to have a daughter like her. Stay tuned for continuing adventures of the Soggy Shoe Hikers!

 
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After posting several backpacking and hiking stories on my website this past year, I was a little surprised at many of the comments I received. It seems that I have conveyed to the reader the perception that my hikes are filled with anguish, suffering and agony. When I write about Karen and I on a hiking adventure, I sometimes focus on mishaps, mistakes and bad luck, just to add a little spice and drama to the story. I do this because I think it will be more interesting than describing things like beauty and peacefulness of nature. You know my sense of humor and the way it gets me in trouble. Instead of talking about happy experiences, I tend to focus too much on what can and did go wrong. I can totally see how this would lead the reader to think our hikes are some gruesome ordeal and that’s not what I want everyone to believe.

I’m not very good at writing about the way it makes me feel when Karen and I go hiking on the weekends. For those of you who haven’t seen her comment on my last post, I’m going to repeat it here. I couldn’t have said it better in a million years!

Comment by Karen, 8/10/10, “Sixty Five Down, Forty To Go”:

Shortly before we embarked on our quest to hike 100 miles of the NCT, I came across this quote:
“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.” Anonymous

This is the mantra with which I step on to the NCT each weekend. I love to be out in the forest spending time with my dad, finding humor in our discomfort, contentment in the minutia of the experience, and joy in the practice of “dancing in the rain”. It may sound crazy but don’t knock it until you’ve walked a mile in my soggy shoes. lol :)

 
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Published on August 4, 2010, by admin in The Great Outdoors.

Karen and I went on this hike shortly before Dick, Dianna and Dom arrived here in Western New York. It was great to see them again and meet some new faces. We tried to cram a lot of activity into the short time they were here and it left me little time to tell this story. I apologize for the length and rambling nature of my writing, but it is also a chronicle of our quest to hike the North Country Trail this summer. I will try to get a couple pictures up soon. Anyway, here it is:

Imagine if you will, high winds, torrential rain, thunder and lightning, throw in flash flooding and about 4 tornadoes, and you will have some idea of the weather that ripped apart the small town of Randolph, NY in the wee hours of the morning on July 25. Now think about this: On that very same night, 30 miles south of Randolph on a high, lonely forest hill are two souls spending the night in a little backpacking tent. I may be reaching for drama here, but there was nothing except for a little luck that prevented what could have been – to say the least – an interesting night for Karen and I.

A week before our latest backpacking adventure, Jennifer and Louie, David and Lisa, along with the grandkids, Nate, Noah, Vinny, Carmen and Lucy, joined Karen and I on a fun filled camping weekend in the heart of the Allegheny National Forest. Karen found a campground near Sheffield, PA that had a swimming pool and activity room for the kids, a nice secluded area for our tents, and several hiking trails nearby. We spent Saturday morning hiking 6 miles of the North Country Trail with Dave, Lisa, Nate and Noah. We thought it would be nice for the family to share in our quest to hike the entire NCT through the ANF this summer. I’m not sure if the family day hikers understand the historic significance of our expedition, but they got a taste of what we do anyway. On Sunday, Karen took everyone but Louie and I on a hike to a waterfall nearby. It was only a mile long hike so even the youngest made it without a hitch.

When the next weekend rolled around and it was time again for Karen and I to backpack another section on the NCT, we were a little concerned about the weather report but not for the reason you might think. The forecast temperature for Saturday was predicted to be high 80’s with humidity so heavy that something called a “heat index” would peg at 99 degrees. On our last hike, I didn’t do well on some of the climbs when the heat, humidity and stagnant air pushed my core temperature to a point that had Karen concerned for my health. I really wanted to hike so we decided to drive in early to take advantage of the cool morning, drink lots of water, and take it easy on the hills. I also noticed from looking at the map that the trail followed ravines with large streams for most of the day. If I got too overheated, I would go splash in the water.

As we progress continually southward on the trail, our meeting place gets increasingly further away for me and closer for Karen. We both arrived almost simultaneously in Kane, PA, picked up a last minute supply at the grocery store, and headed up to park my truck by the trailhead. From there we drove Karen’s car approximately 20 trail miles away to a place known as Minister Creek recreation area. Even though we arrived at Kane before 8:00 am, it was almost 45 minutes before we were ready to hike.

As I pulled my things from Karen’s car, I realized with a sinking heart that I had forgotten my new hiking poles. I had just bought these poles before the hike to replace the ones I had carelessly left propped against a tree when I loaded my truck on our last hike. My hiking poles serve two purposes. My tent uses one as a prop on one end, and the poles also take some of the shock of downhill strides away from my legs. I’ve had a little trouble with a sore knee lately. Karen wanted to go back and get them but I wouldn’t let her. I told her that I could make a pair out of some sticks we would find. I know Karen uses a checklist that she has on her iPhone and I think I would do well to make one also.

The trail that day was mostly level with some gentle hills now and then. We found a few tasty blackberries early on the trail but would not see anymore on the rest of the trip. The briars from the blackberry bushes, however, would continue to rip at our legs on many sections, leaving red scratches, and later welts in thin lines. Usually briars don’t affect me except for a few hours and then their effects disappear a day later. For some unexplained reason I got into a plant of poison that caused the scratches to turn into red, oozing sores. For a week now my legs look like I’ve been kicked by a dozen angry children – they are just now getting better. The funny thing is that Karen didn’t get any reaction, and we walked almost exactly the same places except when I would go off into the woods to pee. I may wear long pants on our next hike even though my legs may be hot.

The weather that day was not as bad as predicted. It was a little cooler and not as humid as what we had experienced a couple of weeks before. Dark clouds would build behind us in the afternoon, but then the sky would grow bright again and the sun would pop out. There were several road crossing where we lost the trail and had to backtrack. Each time this happened we would jokingly add mileage to our trek to pay for the inconvenience of hiking out of our way.

We had hiked our nominal ten-mile day when we descended a long logging road late in the afternoon and entered the small town of Henry Mills on Rt. 943. We knew that we should set up camp soon but decided to hike a few more miles into the woods. We wanted to get away from any form of civilization, and the hike out the next day would be easier if we could climb some of this hill today. The trail took us up a steep dirt road for about a mile and then veered off and followed an old logging trail towards the summit. The sky behind us was beginning to get dark and every now and then we could hear the faint sound of thunder. I didn’t want to hike any higher on the hill because of lightning danger so we finally found a level spot where we could pitch our tent and make some dinner.

It was a good thing we got the tent up when we did. Shortly after Karen poured the hot water from our camp stove into the freeze-dried Pasta Prima Vera meal, it started to rain. I had an umbrella – bought from the dollar store as an experiment – that we huddled under for a while. Then we propped the umbrella over our food and used our foam mats as umbrellas as the rain continued to build in strength. We both had emergency raincoats – kind of like a garbage bag with a hood built in – but the plastic would be too hot to wear around camp. We stood for a while in the rain and then decided we might just as well get in the tent. It was only about 7:30 but at least we would be dry and prone after a long day of hiking.

I think using a stick for the pole on my tent created more problems for me. The stick I found was not long enough for the opening, causing a low roof that closed off the screen for ventilation, and built condensation that brushed on our bags as we turned in the night. On top of that, my sleeping bag was wet when I entered the tent from leaving it too close to the screened sidewall. It was a good thing it was warm because I had made a lot of mistakes that could be dangerous in cold weather. I hoped I was learning what not to do next time.

We listened to the rain drum on the tent and eventually we drifted off to sleep. Thankfully the lightning never came close. We could hear it to the north and west of us but nothing struck anywhere near us. Sometimes, off in the distance, the rumble of thunder would make the sound of a continuous pounding like the finale of a huge fireworks display. The possibility of a bad storm moving through our area was on our minds, but we didn’t speak about it. There would have been nothing we could have done in any event.

After what seemed like a long time of dozing on and off, I sensed that Karen was awake and I asked her how she was doing. It is always a little uncomfortable, sleeping on thin air mattresses, in the cramped confines of a little tent. We were both hoping for morning and daylight so that we could crawl out, stretch stiff aching backs, and resume our hike. I pressed the nightlight on my wristwatch and once I got my eyes to focus, realized it was not even midnight yet. That brought a groan from both of us as we realized we would have to endure several more hours of captivity.

When morning light finally filtered through the trees, we crawled from our tent to an overcast sky and hazy mist. Everything was wet but it had stopped raining for now. The forecast for Sunday was increasing clearing and sunshine for most of the day. We breakfasted on oatmeal and coffee, broke camp, slung packs heavy with rain soaked gear onto our backs, and headed up the trail.

We hiked for about 2 hours in the gloom of a storm that was not quite done with us yet. Once, I thought I saw sunlight break through the low clouds but it didn’t last long enough that I was sure. We became lost a couple more times where the trail crossed oil well roads, and one time we walked a half-mile on the highway before we found the path leading into the woods again. It was not long after that that it started to rain again.

It began as a light sprinkle and I was thinking that it wouldn’t last long. Then it began to rain more steadily. Then it began to pour. And it did not stop for 4 hours. At first, we tried to stand under the cheap umbrella (Which was a piece of crap. It bent after the third time I put it up and it had pointy ends that could put an eye out). Then we just hiked in the rain.

Along towards the end of our hike, we entered an area of interest and – as it turned out – irony. Back in May 1985, the Tionesta Scenic Area was hit by an F5 tornado. Winds over 200 mph cut a 2-mile swath of utter destruction and devastation through where Karen and I now walked. Trees were not just blown over but twisted off 50 feet in the air. For years scientists studied the area to gain insight into the way tornadoes behave. Usually tornadoes follow a ridge or ravine, but this particular twister was so powerful that it went in a straight line, up and down hills destroying everything in its path. We had no idea as we walked through the area that just north of us there were several tornadoes the night before.

Not long after leaving the tornado area we hiked down a ridge and came to the road where my truck was parked. And… of course, it stopped raining and the sun came out. We had hiked a little over 20 miles in the last two days, learned a lot about what to do and what not to do in the rain, assured ourselves that we were fit enough to do it again, and enjoyed the experience enough to stay motivated to the end of our quest. 65 miles down, 40 to go.

 
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Published on June 21, 2010, by admin in The Great Outdoors.

On the weekend of June 12, Karen and I conquered another section of the North Country Trail. We now have completed 35 miles – about a third of the trail through the Allegheny National Forest – on our quest to hike the whole thing this summer. Once again, rain and mud were our companions for most of the second day. We both agreed that this section of trail would not be recommended or engaged by us again.

The weather was hot and muggy. We both had rain jackets but it would have been unbearable to wear them while hiking. With the humidity so high and nary a breeze, I had to take many breaks when the trail would climb a ridge. It seemed like forever before we reached our campsite, and I had convinced myself with several rationalizations that the mileage on the map was wrong. Comparing the mileage with the time it took to get to camp, we had only averaged a little over 1 mph, not a very respectable rate for even weekend hikers.

The campsite we found was lovely, however, and it had everything we needed: A level, wooded spot for pitching our tent, a stream nearby for filtering water, cooling our feet, and lulling us to sleep, and a ready-made fire ring for our campfire. Rain held off for most of the night and early morning allowing us to pack relatively dry. By mid-morning of the second day, the rain started again and increased until, at times, you could say it was a downpour. So we hiked on in the rain, there was little else we could do.

Karen in the rain

Karen in the rain

Except for the wet treacherous trail, it was almost fun to hike in the rain – it certainly kept us cooler – and when it would rain hard, the bugs would fly for cover and leave us alone for a while. Karen already had several welts on her legs and shoulders from bug bites, and along with scratches from berry briers, she looked pretty abused. The bugs didn’t bother me as much. I think I used more Deet than she did.

All serious hikers eventually take on a trail name. We have joked several times at different occasions with a name that defines us when we are on the trail and nothing has ever stuck. The thought once entered our minds that we should call ourselves “Hot” and “Muggy”, but it ended in a debate over which one should be “Hot”. Then on our last day we came up with the perfect name for Karen. Karen was always thrilled when she would spy a newt on the trail. She would crouch down and talk to the tiny creatures as if she was a newt herself, so, of course, her trail name has to be “Newt”. I, on the other hand, felt like this hike took a lot out of me and on some of the climbs all I could do was trudge. So my trail name became “Trudge”.
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It may be a while before we do any more hiking. Karen will be busy for a while shuttling her boys to sports. Zack now has a job and it won’t be long before he gets his license. We have talked a little about having family and friends meet us for a weekend of camping and day hiking to join in on our quest. We will keep you informed.

 
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Published on June 7, 2010, by admin in The Great Outdoors.

Not long after we started the second day of our hike, we came upon an area where two tents were set up by the trail. It was well into the morning by then and we wondered why no one was about. Were the campers up late last night drinking and still sleeping it off, or was it just a base camp and they were out day hiking or fishing? It brought up an interesting topic about when you should see if someone needed help or be left alone to enjoy their solitude.

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The trail was still muddy and slippery in places but the puddles were seldom deep enough to flow into our boots like it did in the bog. Mostly, we hiked along the steep banks of the reservoir except when an inlet would force the trail up a valley. While descending one ridge just before noon, we became hopelessly disorientated. Several trees had fallen over blocking the trail where it switchbacked down the slope. We could see a marker with an arrow pointing one way, but logically the trail should have gone the other. Karen scouted one way and I scouted the other, and eventually we figured out what had happened. One of the trees had fallen over with such force that it actually hit and twisted the tree with the arrow on it, changing its direction by 180 degrees. Karen wiggled the nails holding the marker to the trees and eventually got one of them out. We flipped the arrow over and tapped the nail back in with a stone. We felt proud that we had done a good deed for future hikers.

Through the trees across an inlet we could see a huge, flat rock by the shore. It looked like a perfect spot to take a break and have lunch. We weren’t sure the trail would go by there, but it did, and we made our way down to the shore. From the moment we sat down the Black Flies attacked us. They were in our eyes, in our ears, in our mouths, and the more you swung at them the more persistent they became. We both had on Deet but they just seemed to ignore that, so we surrendered our lunch spot to the bugs, grabbed our packs and retreated back into the woods.

Just before we reached Willow Bay Campground and the end of our hike, we walked through a beautiful section of hardwood trees. Cherry, maple, ash and oak spread their canopy high above the forest floor, blocking the sun and all growth except for a few ferns and hearty wildflowers. Once in a while there would be several trees that had toppled over, ripping huge bomb-creators with their roots. It always seems so sad that these giant creatures have to fall and die when they are so healthy. Karen asked me why they fall and I didn’t have a good answer for her. The area didn’t seem like a place where high winds would blow them over, and the ground where their roots held to wasn’t particularly soft. I guess it’s just a part of nature.

We could hear laughter and children playing as we got closer to the campground. The sound of cars whizzing by up ahead was proof that we had once again reached civilization. We were both pretty tired – Karen because she didn’t sleep very well, me because I am old. In the campground restroom we washed up and changed our clothes. I couldn’t believe how much mud had been flipped up on the back of my legs from the trail. It felt good to be relatively clean and walk without a pack.
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We drove back to retrieve the other vehicle and on the way stopped at a back road restaurant for some greasy, fried food. The food was pretty awful but the waitress was nice. When I told her we were on one of our traditional Father/Daughter hikes, she became all misty and fawned over us like long lost family members. She kept saying things like: “Oh, my Dad and I used to do things together, too… I really miss him. That’s so nice what your doing…it gives me goosebumps.”

We said goodbye at the parking lot and I drove north while Karen drove south. For a little while we were in the world of nature, not worrying about jobs, bills or yard work. We survived rain, mud, insects, and even my little tent kept us secure and protected from bears and deranged mountain men. It was a good trip.

 
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Published on June 3, 2010, by admin in The Great Outdoors.

Karen and I couldn’t sit around and watch it rain so we walked down by the water to explore for a while. I wanted to show her where an old blacktop road leads down to the waters edge and is swallowed up by the lake. In 1960 the Kinzu dam built on the Allegheny River for flood control changed the landscape of this region making a vast recreational area. On sunny summer days, speedboats, skiers, and jetskis whiz up and down the lake, but today the lake was quiet except for the tapping of light rain. As we explored along the shore, it stopped raining and we returned to the campground to set up our camp.
Karen called my rainhat "Wilson"
One of my favorite things to do while backpacking is build a campfire. Any firewood left by previous campers was completely soaked from the all day rain. It would have been nice to hold our boots up to a fire to dry a little, but at least now that the rain had stopped we could change into dry clothes.

We tidied up our camp and Karen spread some things out on the picnic table to dry. It was nearing dinnertime so we boiled water for our instant meal of macaroni and beef and ate it with some raw beans and carrots. We also had more coffee making sure it was decaffeinated this time. Karen went to get water and wash our cups while I set up the tent. When she got back and saw the tent for the first time, she had that doubting look in her eyes. “Are you sure that tent will be big enough for the two of us?”

I assured her that it was a two-person tent, however, I was always solo on other trips with it. I told her she could sleep on the picnic table under the tarp if she didn’t think there would be enough room in the tent. She didn’t like that idea either and informed me that I also had to sleep closest to the tent zipper. If something is going to get you in the night, it’s always best if you are the furthest away from the zipper. That’s where they always come in after you.
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I was sliding in our air mats and sleeping bags when a lady from one of the camps came by to invite us over to their campfire. Somehow they had managed to gather and dry enough wood to get a nice fire started. We told her that we would try to stop by in a while after we got everything organized. Neither Karen nor I were enthusiastic about visiting but thought they might feel bad if we didn’t go. It was starting to get dark so we grabbed headlamps and walked to their campsite.

When we got to their camp, two more backpackers from another site had joined in and everyone was telling stories of their hikes. It was almost like a competition to see who had the story about the greatest backpacking adventure. One young lady told of hiking into the Grand Canyon – along the treacherous cliff face, through eighteen inches of snow – with such drama that we wondered how she made it out alive. They were nice enough and it was good to visit for a while, but we really didn’t come backpacking to meet other people, so after awhile we excused ourselves and headed back to our tent.

I slept well for the most part but Karen said she couldn’t get comfortable and tossed and turned continually through the night. The morning sky was of parting clouds and the hint of sun breaking through. It hadn’t rained at all during the night and that made it a lot easier to break camp and pack up. We breakfasted on dehydrated scrambled eggs and bacon and more Starbucks instant coffee, swung on our backpacks, and headed up the trail for our second day.

To be continued…

 
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Published on June 1, 2010, by admin in The Great Outdoors.

This is a story I wrote last week about two adventurers who go on a hike in the wilds of Pennsylvania. I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to post it here because it is quite long, but on the other hand, I haven’t written anything for some time and this should make up for it. I broke it into three parts, kind of like what Dick did with his journal of Big Bend, in an attempt not to exhaust the reader. I will post the second part soon.

The North Country National Scenic Trail is a continuous footpath stretching over 4600 miles from the Adirondacks in New York to the Grasslands of North Dakota. Passing through seven States, 10 National Forests, and numerous State Parks, the NCT is a hiking trail that traverses some of the most beautiful areas in Northern United States. Forests of stately hardwoods, waterfalls, glens, and mammoth rock formations, are scattered along the trail throughout New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Scenic vistas of the Great Lakes and colorful cliffs along the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior greet the hiker through Michigan and Minnesota. And who can say “Cheyenne River” or “National Grasslands’ and not be tempted to do some wandering in North Dakota.
The NCT is within easy driving distance from several metropolitan areas, making it a great recreational opportunity for many people. Few people, however, have hiked the whole thing. Imagine my surprise when Karen called and said, “Dad, do you want to go hiking next weekend?”
“Oh, I would love to! Do you have any ideas where we could hike?”
She thought for a minute, “Why don’t we backpack the North Country Trail?”
“What? That’s over 4500 miles!”
“No, no silly, just the part that runs through the Allegheny National Forest. It’s about 90 miles. We could do it in sections over 4 or 5 weekends. After each hike,” she added, “you could blog about it.”
I didn’t have to think for long – several weekends of hiking, backpacking along the Kinzu Reservoir amidst scenic hills and vistas, walking on a famous National Scenic Trail, and spending time with my daughter. There was nothing I would rather do.
We made plans to drive up early on Saturday, May 22, and meet at Willow Bay campground on the PA/NY border. From there we would drive one vehicle south to strategically place ourselves a distance of two days hiking. I voted to make this first hike relatively short because of a winter of city-soft inactivity, and build up to greater miles as I optimistically became more in shape. The weather was predicted to be warm but with a chance of showers all day Saturday.
I arrived at the campground shortly before 9:00 am. The last time I talked with Karen – there is no cell signal in most of the Allegheny National Forest – she planned on reaching the campground around 9:00 am also. I parked and read some of the literature and maps by the check in gate as a lady opened the booth to collect camping fees. After about a half-hour I sensed that something was wrong. Karen should have been there. I started to worry and explained the situation to the collector. She was kind enough to let me use her landline phone and I was relieved when Karen answered almost immediately. Sure enough, Karen’s GPS had taken her to the wrong location and she was now over half an hour away. I was more relieved that she was OK than I cared about loosing a little time hiking.
When she finally arrived at the campground she said, “All I could think about as I drove here was…great! This is going to totally be in the blog!”
It was only a short while after that that she was waiting for me as I struggled with adjusting a broken hiking pole. Ironically though, the pole was fine, I was just turning it the wrong way. We finally entered the woods and began hiking north at about 11:00am. It was raining lightly but the temperature was warm. We put covers over our packs, donned rain jackets, and tried unsuccessfully to walk around most of the muddy parts on the trail. After a while, our shoes gave up the will to be dry and we walked with the squish, squish of wet socks.
Throughout most of the day the skies were cloudy and it would rain periodically. There were also long stretches when it wouldn’t rain. Sometimes it was hard to tell if it was raining or not because of the thick canopy of leaves. The trees would shed the rain for a while until they couldn’t hold back anymore, and then drip long after the rain had stopped. Most of the trail was well marked but once in a while we would lose track of where exactly it was. It was common for us to be talking and not paying attention and suddenly realize we had not seen a blaze marking the trail for some time. Then we would have to scout around until we found the markings again. Eventually it became a catch phrase to turn around and ask: “Have you seen a blaze lately?”
We hiked through a boggy section for a couple of miles and then ascended a long hill on an old logging path. Now and then we came to oil or gas pumps (we were not sure which) scattered along the hillside, and once in a while we could see remains of abandoned pipes. Most of the trail, however, was located deep within the heart of the forest with no trace of human touch. It was nice to hike in these areas of pure wilderness.
As we descended the ridge on the other side of the hill, the Kinzu Reservoir came into view through the trees. We were looking for a place to stop and have lunch when Karen stopped short and exclaimed, “Oh how cute! Don’t step on him! Look Dad, it’s a newt!”
I couldn’t see anything until Karen actually pointed him out to me. Apparently, they are bright orange, which to me – and I’m guessing my brother Dick – look like a green leaf, but to non-colorblind people they are quite easy to spot. All the rest of the day Karen would point out the newts so that I would not step on them. She took several pictures of the little lizards along the way, but just like the wildflowers and pink apple blossoms she photographed, I imagine my perception of their beauty is different from hers.
We stopped by the shore of the Kinzu and had some lunch. For some reason I had a desire for a cup of coffee. Karen had brought a couple of packets of rich instant coffee from Starbucks and we both drank a cup of the strong brew with our meal. Not long after that we were hiking up the trail like the machines in Ironman2. Were not sure how much caffeine was in that coffee but we joked that if one of us tripped and sprained an ankle, the healthy one would be able to carry the other out.
In the afternoon we entered Tracy Ridge hiking area. I had hiked here several times before so I knew we were getting close to the camping area where we planned to stay the night. We met one hiker – the only other person we would meet on the trail – as we descended to Handsome Lake camping area. We could see a couple of tents set up but it was raining quite steady by then and the hikers were hunkered down under tarps. We choose a site, rigged a makeshift tarp over the picnic table and unpacked things we would need for our dinner.
To be continued…

 
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Published on April 20, 2010, by admin in More Stuff.

I bought an Apple iPhone this last weekend. Before you Droid owners think I have been converted to the dark side, there are a couple of things you should know. The decision was 95% monetary and 20% I want one of those phones. Now, that might not seem to add up to 100% by many of you, but that’s how the phone company calculates my bill when I asked how much it was to add another line. Still, my bill from Verizon was getting way out of hand, so I took the modem back to the store and, after 20 years with their company, canceled my wireless contract.

A couple of weeks ago I was browsing through a mall near here and on impulse walked into an AT&T store. I knew I was going to terminate my Verizon data account and I was looking for options for the least expensive way to stay connected. There was some literature on family plans and I was surprised at how much of a discount it was to add another line. All wireless companies offer great deals to loyal customers. If they can keep your whole family and all of your friends signing up and buying phones from them, their company will remain strong. It was why I was with Verizon for so long.

Now that all the kids have grown and they have migrated to other wireless providers, I figured it was time to go too. Dave and Lisa were gracious enough to let me join their family plan. My share will be less than half of what I was paying before. We even found out that by putting the account in Lisa’s name, because she is a teacher, we get another discount and they will waive the activation fee. That’s good news to me; I’m getting tired of paying activation fees.

There are some drawbacks, however: I thought I could use the phone as a modem to connect my laptop. Apple really frowns on that, and if you try to do it illegally and they find out, they can cancel your service. I wouldn’t subject Dave and Lisa to that chance. Verizon also has a little better coverage in the rural areas around here and sometimes I may hit a dead spot where the phone won’t work. As of this writing I haven’t been able to configure my web email through any app or even bring it up on webmail.dalelafferty.com, but my gmail account works fine and I will have to get Daryl to help me figure out what’s going on.

With all the WiFi hotspots around and the phone to fill in in-between, I’m hoping that I can get back on that there interweb.

 
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Published on April 8, 2010, by admin in Pieces of my Mind.

This is a true story Karen told me on my last visit to Pittsburgh. I thought it was so hilarious that I had to write it down. As she told me the story, I could see the irony of the way men sometimes act on an all too personal level. Just read on and you will see what I mean.

Karen’s boys are always involved in sports either through school or within the community. As it is difficult to find enough money to finance sports for kids, booster clubs will hold various fundraisers. 15 year old Nate’s baseball team boosters were organizing a spaghetti dinner/bake sale. Each family was asked to help work the spaghetti dinner as well as to donate baked goods for the bake sale. As Karen had planned to be out of town the day of the spaghetti dinner and the boys would be with their dad, she called Terry and asked if he would be able to work the dinner with Nate. She assured him she would do the baking for the bake sale and he would just have to pick the goodies up when he picked the boys up on Sunday morning. He and Nate could deliver them to the bake sale Sunday evening. He agreed.

Karen spent the day before the bake sale making peanut butter cup cookies and a delicious tray of caramel apple bars. She packaged and arranged everything in individual bags, set them in a low cardboard tray, covered the tray with clear wrap, and fearing her cats might find the goodies, placed everything inside the oven for safekeeping.

Before going to bed Saturday night, she told Nate, “The cookies are in the oven. When your Dad gets here, make sure you get them out and take them with you.” He replied “ok”. She texted Terry to remind him to take the baked goods when he picked up the boys. The next morning she also left a note taped to the front door that said, “Grab the cookies (in the oven) when you leave”. She left the house before the boys awoke confident that all was in order.

Monday, as she drove home from work Karen was thinking how good a piece of those apple caramel bars would taste. She had thrown some of the ends/duds of the caramel apple bars into a plastic baggie when she was packaging everything else up for the sale. As she walked into the kitchen to retrieve the baggie of apple caramel bar crusts she was puzzled by the fact that the baggie was gone, as was the baggie of overcooked peanut butter cup cookies. The boys had returned home earlier from school so she thought that maybe they had nabbed them and were upstairs snacking on them. She called up to the boys but they hadn’t seen any baggies. As she walked back toward the kitchen she began to feel an underlying dread – like that feeling you get when you know you’ve locked your keys in the car, or when you go on vacation and are pretty sure you left the coffeepot on. Sure enough when she reached down and pulled the oven door open… there, just as she had left them, was the tray of cookies.

She said she yelled for Nate who came running down stairs sure that his mom was seriously injured or something was terribly wrong. He stood there dumbfounded as she just pointed at the beautifully arranged baked goods resting in their protected spot. Unable to articulate the anger, confusion, and growing panic that she was feeling she said, “What exactly did you take to the bake sale Nate?” He said, “I took those two bags of cookies you had on the counter, why?” To say that Karen was mortified would be a vast understatement, all she kept saying was “no….no, no, no….” Nate, sensing her distress, tried to help by saying, “Mom, I’m pretty sure someone bought them because they weren’t there when the bake sale was over.” Karen hissed, “The only person who would have bought two bags of crumbs at a bake sale would be a strung-out junkie with the munchies!” Nate wandered away completely baffled as to why his normally sane mom had gone off the deep end.

I’m not going to tell you what Karen said to Terry on the phone when she called to ask how it was possible that after all of the years they were married, he could think that she would ever send a bag of cookie bits and a bag of gooey apple pieces which had congealed into a ball by the time it arrived (as reported by Nate), to a bake sale. He responded, “Well, I thought it was a little odd.” And to add insult to injury, Karen had been in contact with the chair of the bake sale prior to the event. She had emailed her what she was sending and also that Terry would be there in her place. The idea of what the women who were organizing the bake sale must have thought when Nate waltzed in and plopped two baggies of yuck on their lovely bake sale table….well, it was a few hours….ok maybe days…before Karen was able to see the humor in the situation. Once she had gained a bit of perspective she sent a quick email to the chair apologizing for the mistake and explaining what had happened. The chair responded back cordially, but Karen is pretty sure that the boosters club won’t be asking her to organize any bake sales any time soon. She figures that she’ll be relegated to clean-up duty for eternity, which might not be such a bad thing.

Disclaimer: I want to give credit to Karen for “cleaning up” and editing much of this story. I tried to write it with a personal perspective of how men function differently than women and she expertly conveyed my thoughts as I originally wrote them. As she told me the story, I could see myself…not listening or paying attention…making the same crazy mistake. From time to time, even though not the same scenario, I’m pretty sure I’ve been there, done that.

 
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Published on March 31, 2010, by admin in Pieces of my Mind.

For a while now I’ve been thinking about commenting on the comment. At the end of every post there is a section devoted to the purpose of capturing a few thoughts by the reader. It is a place where we express our impressions, offer up an opinion, and often ask a question that probes deeper into the story. There is nothing that compliments a good post more than a few well thought-out comments by the reader. But on the other hand, bad judgment and incompetence from the commentator can ruin a post, leaving an embarrassing place no one wants to return to.

Sometimes you can tell by the comment how much we enjoy renewing connections with each other. I think most of the time family members are just hungry for news and we tend to ask a lot of questions in order to keep the dialog going. Especially for me, having lost so much time from the family, I enjoy reading your posts more than I can tell you.

For the writer, feedback we get from a comment can be encouraging. Everyone likes to think that his or her stories and essays are interesting for the reader. Those of us who are beginning bloggers have that deep-down fear that what we write isn’t very good, and it always makes us feel better after an encouraging comment or two. Writing becomes easier when we know the reader cares enough to respond to our thoughts.

Once in a while the comment section turns into a forum of debate. This usually happens when politics enter the discussion, but it can also involve preferences for various electronic devices and mobile phones in particular. It’s usually lighthearted and takes the form of kidding more than anything else. (Did I hear today that Apple will soon release the iPhone to Verizon?)

For me, the art of commenting is not my strong suit. All too often my comments have taken an underlying twist of meaning. I try to be cute and it comes out degrading; I try to be funny and it has undertones of sarcasm; I try to be witty and it turns out silly. Honestly, it’s never my intention to say anything that would hurt anybody’s feelings; it just comes out of me and I can’t control it. I know I should never write anything late at night and hit the send button before I’ve had a chance to proof read in the morning. To show you how twisted and warped my sense of humor is – I was thinking of posting this with comments closed!

 
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Published on March 11, 2010, by admin in Pieces of my Mind.

I just purchased a Verizon wireless USB760 modem for my laptop. It is super fast, portable, and easy to use. When I had the browser on my Blackberry it seemed to be slower than dial-up at times, occasionally it would sit and wait for what seemed like an eternity before it would catch again. I was a little bit reluctant to go this configuration after a disappointing experience with the phone, but I’m very pleased with the performance I’m getting on my laptop.

It actually runs faster than DSL and I can attest that it is far superior to the wireless performance I was using previously. The only drawback is the access fees: $39/mo for 250 megs, $59/mo unlimited. I thought I could get away with 250 megs but they were gone in two days so I switched up. Streaming movies gobbles up bits by the carload, and if you go over, the fees are astronomical. The lady that called from Verizon said that at the rate I was going, I could end up with a bill of $600.

I’m not sure how this would compare to a satellite connection. If you are way out in the desert in some remote area between Arizona and California, you may not get a good signal, but it sure would be easier to set up!

 
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Published on March 8, 2010, by admin in The Great Outdoors.

Jen and I recently moved to another apartment and as luck would have it, no free internet. I’m at a wifi hot spot right now and even having trouble connecting to my mail. I thought this would be an easy way to let everyone know that communication may be spotty at best. I will try to let everyone know when I get connected again.

 
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I have been told by many of the people that I work with, “You thought the grass was greener on the other side.” I humbly admit that they were right. For the last three months my old Lockport route has never become permanent home to either driver or pharmacy, continually bouncing back and forth with substitute delivery and unhappy stores. Several drivers had tried the route. They always came back with stories of too many miles, large loads, and horrible traffic out of town. The pharmacies were upset with late deliveries and rude drivers. I thought it over and decided to see if I could get the Lockport route back.

There were several reasons to change back: The South-Town route was longer than the Lockport route by twenty miles. Every day I had to pay tolls on the NYS Thruway. My first stop didn’t open before 9:00 am and on the days when I did get an early start, I found myself waiting for the store to open. And don’t even get me started on the weather systems off of Lake Erie!

All in all, both routes have their pros and cons. The South-Town route passed through the Indian Reservation where I could get gas cheaper. I had made good friends with the people I met every day and it would be hard to say good-bye again. And every time you make a change there is a little uncertainty and skepticism that you are doing the right thing.

I knew the management was desperate to find a permanent and responsible driver for the Lockport route. The South-Town route was located where it could be split with other deliveries in the area. With that in mind I went to them and pretended to reluctantly agree to take my old route back if they gave me more money – It worked! They were hesitant to agree at first but after several days of complaints by unhappy pharmacies, the route was mine.

My first day back was filled with awkward hugs and questions. There was a lot of catching up to do. I tried to be friendly but still not linger too long. A few minutes lost at each stop can add up when you have 14 pharmacies to go to.

One week after I took back the route north into Lockport, the area was hit by a freak “Nor’ Easter’” that swirled in across Lake Ontario, dumped several inches of snow, and brought high winds with it. As I write this, it is still sitting in the same place swirling and snowing away. Sometimes you just can’t win.

 
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When I first took over this new delivery route to the South Towns, I was somewhat puzzled by the way I was treated.  It seemed that the pharmacy workers I met had an attitude of distance, mistrust, and coldness, almost conveying to me the feeling that I was not even welcome in their store.  The technicians responsible for checking in the order would sometimes ignore me or make me wait on some paperwork detail I needed.  It was a disheartening feeling and I was saddened that I had even changed to a different route.

On my last route into Lockport, almost everyone I met greeted me with warm smiles and inquisitive talk of my well-being.  We would chat about the weather, how our day was going, and later after I knew them better what our children and grandchildren were up to.  I introduced one person to Geocaching – which became our prime topic of conversation – and another has a golf tournament as a memorial to her father, and I have played in that the last two years.  I always left their stores with a warm feeling and friendly good-byes.

As I began to gather information from my fellow workers and new customers, it became apparent what was happening and how it had happened.  The driver on the route before me developed an attitude that the store personnel and he were always in conflict.  If the workers in the pharmacy were busy and couldn’t check in his order immediately, he would get mad and threaten or leave without completing the delivery.  He always thought everyone was out to get him, make him wait, or somehow make his job miserable.  It became a competition about who could mistreat whom the most.

There is an old saying, something about ‘flies’ and ‘honey’, that really is true.  After I was on the new route for a few days and once I got to know them and they got to know me, the job became immensely more satisfying.  I always have a smile and a friendly greeting for everyone I meet during the day.  If there is anything I can do to make their job easier, I try to do it.  If they are busy and can’t get to me right away, I tell them that I understand and it’s all right.  And I always leave by saying their name in a sincere  thank you and a friendly goodbye.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m a pushover and subservient in my job.  Everyone can have a bad day.  Sometimes things go wrong and something happens that’s just not right.  They know when I’m not happy with a certain situation, and I make sure they realize that a delivery person’s time is important too.   But mostly now they can’t do enough for me.  A lot of the time it seems like they fall all over themselves just to help me out.  When I roll in with my dolly, I hear “Dale’s here”, and they rush to check in my delivery.  The ladies at Wegmans always give me a coupon for coffee and an independent pharmacy offers me candy and drinks every day.  I can now say that I am friends with everyone on my route and happy to see them everyday.

I’d like to think the world would be a better place if we looked more for the good in people instead of the bad.  I guess both sides of politics would work better if we…opps, that’s a topic for another post.

 
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On Sunday afternoon I drove to Niagara Falls.  I had heard reports that the winter is a splendid time to view the ice formations caused by the cascading water and freezing mist rising from the turbulence.  I wanted to see a phenomenon called the Ice Bridge, created by ice and slush flowing over the American Falls and jamming against the Canadian side, sometimes reaching 50 feet thick and spanning the entire Niagara gorge.  The famous Ice Bridge, hanging ice formations, rising crystal formations, and throw in some history of the place… I needed no more motivation to go.

Even though it had warmed to above freezing and there was a forecast of rain, I rationalized that the warm weather hadn’t affected the ice yet.  I prepared myself with a warm parka, an umbrella, and drove north on I190.  I always get mixed up a little on the roads near the Falls but I only had to circle around once before I found a parking spot only one block from the American Falls.  The nice thing about this time of year is that most of the things you do at the Falls are free.  The only drawback is that most things are closed.  It started to rain as I walked to the visitor’s center.

Inside the visitor’s center I studied the map of the trails down to the Falls and along the upper riverbank.  It seemed like a good idea to hike from the Falls up the river across a pedestrian bridge and around Goat Island to the edge of the Canadian Falls.  I would be able to visit both Falls and get in a good exercise hike to boot.  Outside, the rain now fell harder making the ice packed walkways treacherous.

There were a few tourists about.  Mostly, they were from other countries, speaking a language I sometimes recognized, and sometimes didn’t.  I guess that if you are on a vacation or are visiting Niagara Falls for the weekend, you have to use the time to see what you can no matter what the weather.  I noticed that most of them walked down to the Falls, snapped numerous pictures of themselves with the Falls in the background, and then hurried back to their cars.

A metal-pipe railing dotted with big silver binoculars lined the walkway at the edge of the Falls.  Below, I could see the Ice Bridge craggy and thick stretching across the gorge.  There were formations of ice like you would see in a cave full of stalactites and stalagmites.  Some icicles hung from the Falls and others grew out of the wall where water trickled from holes.  It was quite impressive and I would imagine a lot more colorful if the sun was shining.  The sun casts rainbows of color through the mist, but I was not to see that today.

Early history of the area tells of several times when the Falls completely froze over, and one time in 1848 when an ice jam above the American Falls stopped the flow for over a day.  One explorer investigated the cave behind the Falls and exclaimed the sight more than arctic but lunar.  Up until 1911 tourists and spectators were allowed to cross the Ice Bridge, even play upon the mounds of ice, but when the ice suddenly gave way and took three people downstream to their deaths, the authorities stopped the practice.

I’m drawn to the plaques beside paths.  I figure if someone goes to the trouble to make them and erect them, I should be courteous enough to read them.  And I have to admit that I find most of them interesting.  I could see a sign down the path a way, under the superstructure of the Rainbow Bridge, begging me to walk down and read it.  It’s not my attempt to bore you with history of the area, but it was amazing to me that this bridge has been rebuilt four times!  Once, when it was a suspension bridge in the early 1800, a strong storm from the southwest tore it down, then, the next one was torn off of its foundation by an ice jam, and a couple of times it was rebuilt just to make it bigger.

AS I walked to Goat Island I was thinking about how this place must have looked to the Native Americans – I usually call them Indians, but for some reason I felt like being more politically correct.  Bridges, towers, factories, roads and buildings of ever kind spoil so much of the beauty of this place.  You can’t look anywhere without seeing something manmade.  Before the Niagara Parks Department – the first State Park in the country – took over the Falls and surrounding area it was even worse.  Buildings and factories lined every inch of the gorge and riverbank.  Now the Parks Department has turned a lot of it back to nature.

The rest of my walk was mostly uneventful.  I had the island almost to myself.  By the time I reached the Horseshoe Falls it was raining harder, and even with an umbrella my pants were getting wet.  The Horseshoe Falls, or Canadian Falls, is more impressive than the American Falls with 90% of the water going over them.  We used to go to Canada for the best view, but the border is too much of a hassle to go across now. I continued on around Goat Island, passed Three Sister Islands, and followed the path to a viewpoint of Grand Island and the portage point where oxcarts carried goods overland around the Falls to Lake Ontario in the 1700’s.

It seems I learn a little more history every time I visit someplace.  I guess you could read all this and see pictures on the Internet, but there is nothing like looking down over the edge of the American Falls and imagining people crossing on the ice.  Aren’t you glad you came for a walk in the rain with me?

 
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We have had a long stretch of good weather here in the Northeast but that all came to an end this last week.  A storm of great magnitude and devastation came barreling across the country, leaving in its path many power outages, stranded travelers and tragically, several fatalities attributed to the weather.  On Wednesday, the storm reached Western New York with falling temperatures, rain and wind throughout the day.  By Thursday snow bands off of lake Erie set up in Buffalo and made for treacherous driving.  It was strange how one area would get several inches of snow an hour, and only a few miles away the sun would be shining.  Just about the time I was about to depart for my delivery route, the Snow Belt shifted directly into the area where I would be heading.

Several vans were having trouble with the parking lot at our warehouse.  Snow had drifted over the building to pile a foot deep by the overhead doors, causing havoc just getting in and out of the building.  Because of the temperature – only slightly below freezing – the consistency of the snow was very mealy and slippery.  Surprisingly, many drivers had either neglected to get snow tires or thought they would not need them at all this year.  I was glad that I had very aggressive snow tires and I had little trouble digging through the parking lot and out onto the street.  As long as I went slowly, I negotiated the highway without incident and pulled onto the New York State Thruway to head for the south towns.

I entered a different world once I reached Hamburg, NY.  Snow was falling at a rate of several inches per hour and high winds caused very limited visibility.  At times I could hardly tell where the road was.  It was a catch-22: I couldn’t see where I was but I couldn’t go to slow for fear of getting stuck.  There were no snowplows on the road at all.  I think they had all given up and decided to wait until the blizzard subsided a little.  Most of the parking lots weren’t plowed and it was an adventure at each one.  I usually ended up guessing where the driveway was.  Just to load and wheel my dolly into the store – fighting the wind and deep snow – was time consuming and exhausting.  Once inside, the stores were mostly deserted with only a few fool-hearty customers that had braved the weather.

I reached Silver Creek several hours behind schedule.  The Rite-Aide store was without power and they led me back to the pharmacy by flashlight.  Everyone questioned me about conditions in other areas I had come through and where I had last noticed electricity.  I told them of several trees broken or uprooted along the road, surely taking down power lines with them.

The scariest thing happened in North Collins.  Three sets to railroad tracks cross the highway just east of town, cantered at an angle that offers little view of approaching trains.  There are lights and guardrails at the crossing but I usually like to take a look down the track anyway.  I never have trusted the warning signals 100%.  Just as I pulled on to the first set of tracks, out of the corner of my eye I saw the lights start to flash.  I now had a glimpse down the track and I could make out the light of a train flying towards me.  The snow on the tracks was deep and my van slowly dug and chewed its way to the other side.  The crossing arms came down just missing the back of my van as I cleared the last set of tracks.  Moments later the train filled my rearview mirrors.

By the time I reached Fredonia, I was out of the snow band and the grass still peeked through the dusting of snow on the ground.  The wind was raw and howling from the south, rocking high-profile vehicles like mine, gearing up for a calamity of events that would unfold during the night and into the next day.  Later in the day, the snow would shift into the area between Fredonia and the Pennsylvania State Line, stranding motorists on the NYS Thruway for hours.  Several miles of thruway became a twenty-mile parking lot as visibility dropped to zero and accidents clogged the road.  Hundreds of people spent the night and most of the next day trapped in their cars as authorities closed the highway.   I can only imagine what it would be like to spend 16 hours snowbound in a vehicle.  Many motorists ran out of gas trying to run their heaters and stay warm. Some had nothing to eat or drink.  With a small twist of fate, it could have been me.

The trip back to Buffalo was fairly uneventful.  I hit some areas of high winds (clocked at 70 mph in some areas) and ran into a few bands of snow, but by then the plows had salted most of the major roads and cleared some secondary ones.  I would drive through whiteout conditions on Friday but nothing as bad as the day before.  When I reached Fredonia, the Wal-Mart I deliver to had 50 semi-trucks in their parking lot and hundreds more were waiting along the road for the thruway to open.  Out on the thruway, State Troupers were going from car to car checking for medical emergencies and people in need.  Not until late in the afternoon would snowplows and towtrucks free the line of motorists.

Will someone please tell me why I took this South-Town route?

 
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Last weekend my Son and Daughter-in-law stopped by to enjoy with me an afternoon meal at Applebee’s restaurant.  I had recently received a gift card from one of the stores I would no longer be delivering to and I had asked Dave and Lisa if they would share the gift card with me.  We enjoyed a good meal with plenty to eat, but the appetizer platter Dave ordered left us too full to finish most of our main meal.

Afterwards, we sat around the living room talking, and I mentioned to Dave that it would be nice if I could stream some shows from my computer to the TV.  I couldn’t justify spending $80/mo. to hook up cable when there is almost nothing on that I want to watch.  With more and more free programs and movies available online, I was wondering if he knew of a way I could hook the computer to the television.   We checked the connections and discovered that because of the television age and my base model laptop, no cable would connect them.  Dave picked up his iPhone and after a couple of minutes of research told me he had an idea.

First, he installed PlayOn on my computer, a media app that is used to transmit shows from various venders over wireless connections to gaming consoles.  Next, he configured the kids Wii to find the wireless signal and connect to the Internet.  After a few minutes of experimenting with different settings he had it all up and working.  Apparently, the signal comes from the wireless router (not even in my house) to my computer, then back to the router, then back to the Wii, then to the TV!  It all boggles my mind.

 
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I recently accepted a new delivery route at work and several of the workers I have seen every day over the last two years showered me with cards, cakes and gifts on my last day to their store.  It was really a touching gesture on their part and I was very moved by their thoughtfulness.  I thought about all the friends I had made during that time  – I knew over 50 of them by name – and it was sad to realize that our paths probably wouldn’t pass again for a long time.  One thing I know from my job as a delivery driver is that out of casual greetings and little pieces of information passed on every day, you get to know people quite well.  As we shared hugs and said good byes, we promised to keep in touch.  I hope someday that I will sub for the driver doing the route now and get to say “Hello friends,” again.

 

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