Thursday, October 27, 2016

End of the Journey

A trip is the perfect length when, on the last day, you're eager to get home.
I have some major catching up to do in the kissing department.  

Thankfully, one little angel has been subbing for me.
Tip of the hat to Tommy, Flynn, Jarrod and Jared for keeping the farm on a steady keel and making my vacation just that much better.
What also makes the trip sweeter in the end is when you've remained under budget.
I only shopped at one place... Red River Camps!
I had predicted my mileage to be 3876 miles, including extra miles for touring and detours...
... and based on my car's fuel efficiency, I'd saved up a little more for gas money they actually consumed!
3829.  Meaning that the surplus is going towards the next adventure.
If the car can ever forgive me for this last odyssey.  I change the oil and inspect her under carriage for damages... she's peeved, but in good shape.

From my desk, I look at my map often.
All the pin points indicate where Cole and I have been trail running. Each point provides me with a flashback to our adventures.  Now, we've completely covered the Eastern half.
Middle of the country has been done too.
Southwest... done.
All we lack are the 5 states in the northwest to complete my goal of trail running with Cole in all 48 contiguous states.

Cole, my intrepid and undaunted companion, returns for another round of cancer staging Dec 7th:  blood work, liver and spleen biopsies, ultrasounds.  If the cancer is still at bay, who knows, this may not have been Cole's last rodeo.  We may have time to take a late Winter trip out West. We could cut the trails with skis!  We haven't done that in years.
Sleep on it and let me know what you think Cole.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Cole, Earl of Monticello

Day 13 of our trip is a blur.  Working on only 2 hours of sleep, I endeavor to drive over 8 hours from Northern Massachusetts to Southern Pennsylvania.  We stop at Promised Land State Park somewhere in PA.   2 hours, 2 shots of caffeine and I aim our little tin can back towards south.  
Destination:  Twin Bridges Campground.
I have a site reserved by the creek.  Nirvana awaits.  Murphy's Law interferes.
Something happens to close all Southbound lanes of I-81 crossing over the Susquehanna River, implying that a 2 hour detour is necessary to inch 30 miles over to the next available bridge.  Not every day can be a perfect Maine Day.  While at a standstill in traffic, I'm frantically trying to secure alternate accommodations at a motel, being that the campground office would be closed by the time we rolled in.  
"No dog friendly rooms available"
"Only one dog allowed"
"Dogs under 25 lbs only"
One desk clerk makes the mistake of holding a room for me, before I can tell her it's dogs, plural. When we arrive, she tries stand her ground.  Futility against the cuteness staring back at her from the car windows.  She's wavering, so I slip a $20 in her hand and clench the deal.  We sneak in the back door.  
While they play king of the castle on the beds,
I relearn how to operate a remote,
and ascertain that I truly do despise television. After 12 hours on the road, unwinding with my snuggle bunny is the smarter option anyway.
Day 14.  Monticello is in our cross hairs. It's been on my bucket list for 15 years!  Today, I get to put my hands in Thomas Jefferson's garden soil.
This, to me, is an incredible moment.

Thomas Jefferson was an avid gardener.  His Garden Book, from 1809 to 1826, contained detailed notes about his experimental figs from France, vegetables from Italy, and beans  from the Lewis and Clark expedition. 
For three years, I have failed to grow 4 different varieties of artichokes.  Here, they're 3 foot tall plants, hardy as weeds!  
Even the plant markers provide so much information and history.
Jefferson came up with the now popular mixed green and mesclun salad 200 years ago.  He grew every imaginable type.  I've aspired over the years to replicate his collection.  I don't know if it is permitted, but I grazed in his kale patch!!! I did!!!
The dogs humor me for over an hour as we cruise around and around the gardens.
 One last contemplative stop to admire the vegetable plot.
Then, a brief walk around the house.
Not too shabby.
It's uncomfortably hot, thus curtailing any further hiking on the grounds. I drive towards our campground on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Blue Ridge, Skyline, Natchez Trace Parkways-- love them all.  So what if the speed limit is only 45 mph?  Fair trade to get rid of traffic and road sign adverts. 
With our camp set up and an hour left before dusk, Cole decides we should hike up the mountain.  
I only read this sign the next morning.  We barely made it back before dusk.  Oops.
Right before the summit, there's a spur trail to an outcrop called Buzzard's Roost. Curiosity killed the cat.
 Didn't appear ominous.  Cole follows the trail up between that tree and the large rock.  It's very narrow.  I can't see what's on the other side, but two hikers are already up on the rock and they call back to see if I want them to come halfway down and grab the dogs to lift them up.  Pete, mistaking them as his saviors from hiking, offered himself up to them first.  Meanwhile, Garret, Cole and I are still trying to figure out what's on the other side of the rock.
Curiosity trumps caution every time.
I pass each dog over to unseen strangers. Then one scrambles down and reports that there isn't much room up there, I'll have to trade places with her boyfriend (who's now holding the dogs).  Dear God, what have I done??
Pete wants to report me for animal endangerment.
We are marooned.  There is no way I can get even one dog down safely.  Never mind the fact I'm having to hold all three close to me to keep them from slipping off the edges.
My bonehead moment:
I've never had to be rescued, but as I'm Googling the Park Service's number, I hear voices approaching.  A young woman pops her head around the corner, "how did you get up here?".   I don't know, I didn't see how it was done.  Two benevolent, but petite women help me out of my predicament.  The dogs resist mightily being dragged down off the rock.  Twice I see Garrett and Pete's weight almost overwhelm the women as they teeter on the edge.  
This could've been the picture in the local news with the headline:  Alabama woman falls to her death taking 3 dogs and 2 good Samaritans with her.  Lesson probably not learned, but we gratefully run back down the mountain.  We get back to camp to find that I'm not the only bonehead in the park.
A fellow camper of infinite wisdom has decided to set up a dozen Tiki torches in the pine forest surrounding his tent.  Clear signs everywhere announce the fire danger to be high and to make sure any fires are kept within the designated fire rings.  Another camper tells me that he's not putting his kids at risk, he's leaving because he can't get anyone to answer the park service number... coincidentally the same one I was preparing to call for my mayday.  I mean, we can afford mega million dollar fighter jets to protect our oil interests in the Middle East, but we can't afford the salaries of park rangers to protect our national treasures.  These federal and state budget cuts are costing us more than they're saving us.
I'm determined to drive the Parkway until I find a ranger.  What I discover is Peaks of Otter Lodge... complete with a ranger and buffet line!  They don't usually allow it, but I convince them to charge me $25 to fill up some to go boxes.  I need a wheelbarrow to haul off my bounty!
A feast for all four of us!  We sit back and wait for the show when the park ranger appears to usher the arsonists off the campground.  Totally better show than anything on TV!

New Hampshire Bound

Dear Diary, On Day 12 of our journey, we leave Maine kicking and screaming.  We stop in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to run in the Urban Forestry Center.
Wonderful setting on the shores of a salt water marsh, but not Maine.
We persevere.
We're on a mission.  This run puts the final notch in Cole's belt for this trip.

We bag NH.
Speaking of bags, here's Cole's travel bag which tells of his journeys.
On this trip we've added 5 more states in our quest to trail run across America.
Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire.

Satisfied, we make tracks South.
Snoring the whole way.
At least 3 of us are able to bank some sleep...  The campground I had chosen in Littleton, MA is clean, full of amenities, charming even.  But, they stick me beside a train track junction. Plus, I'm wedged between an RV with 24 hr spotlights and another tent whose occupant watches Netflix at top volume until midnight.  Toto, we're not in Maine anymore.  Between the blinding light, the crashing of the connecting wagons and the shoot 'em up action movies, we get less than 2 hours of sleep total.  The next morning, people are out walking around, smiling, waving, happy.  I'm homicidal.  At times, it bothers me that I don't fit in.  In the last 25 years, I lived in town for only 2 years.  Most miserable years of my life.  Can't do it, and don't care anymore that I'm unfit for genteel society.  I'll take a teepee in the middle of nowhere over a mansion in the burbs.
New Hampshire's state motto: Live Free or Die.  I get it. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

More Deboullie Days

By about the third day at Red River Camps it hits me:  I am not feeling useful.  I endeavor to pester Jen and Gloria until I'm given a job.  
The rope to the dinner bell broke in the bell tower, so the woman who's terrified of ladders offers to fix it.  That's desperation.  That repair work was my foot in the door... of their tool shed!
I run around fixing screens...damages caused by vandals:  squirrels... Cole's fixation.  One thing leads to another.  We go hunting in Maine!
Does it get better than this?  Uhhhh, no. 
However, Cole did decline the bear hunt.
 After half a day of productivity, we settle back into hiking mode.
Deboullie is renowned for these geological features:  talus slopes.  
Entire mountainsides of cubes all the way down to the lakes.  For a rock fanatic, this is my playground!
I mean, look at this lichen!!!
Seriously, look!
Evidence everywhere of the vitality and yet the fragility of this place.
From a microcosmic view to macro... all in one hike:
Ohhh, you betcha I'm climbing it.
Well maybe. 

Majestic.  I can see Canada from here.
Now get me down!!!
Where's my knight in shining armor with his bucket truck?
Woefully absent.  
Knight in neon orange vest always present.

And flanked by two other muskateers.
We log mile after mile, day after day.
Pete gets an uncanny sense of deja vu.
I, on the other hand, believe one can never see enough rocks.
Except for this one:
This sheer rock face with a smattering of foot holds is our trail.
I kid you not.
I took this picture after our crossing... which was intense.
All three nimrods attempt to cross on their own over rain soaked rock.  All three get stuck at different points making it an all hands on deck rescue effort.  Only a 100 foot drop to the base, not a big deal.
80 lb Garrett was the least willing to be saved.  Not like we could have turned around either.  We were already over half way  on a hike that we'd begun too late in the morning.
Gardner Trail.  8.4 miles, no backtracking, especially after seeing a lot of this:
Fresh moose tracks.  I have zero desire to run into a bull in rut with a gaggle of dogs.
Moose evidence everywhere.

Cole knows how to mess with well laid plans.  He barrels over a crest and returns with eyes as big as saucers.  I hear crashing through the woods.  I get over the rise to see a pond so beautiful, it's surreal.
The ripples on the water from the vacating moose are not lost on me.  We don't hang around, but for precious few more moments.
Gardner Trail is sensory overload.  
Cole scouts far afield, while slower Pete and I negotiate the steep terrain.

On one foray, Cole is nowhere to be found.  You missed a 45 year old on the cusp of a meltdown in the middle of the woods.  Agonizing minutes go by, Cole isn't responding.

Pete finds him underground.
Pete--"Hey Stupid, get out of the bear den!"
His total lack of common sense blows me away sometimes.
Like when he won't come out.
Or when he turns around to go back in.  
After a blissful day alone in the woods, my soul is replenished, we come down from the mountain and head back to camp.
Back to camp, where for nearly a week, I imbibed in the rejuvenating effect of hearty, fresh, all homemade food every day...

... and stellar camaraderie.
Being late for meal could spell disaster: missing a Dick and Ted story.  Two Maine fly fishermen who make me laugh so much my cheeks hurt.  And who, they themselves, can take a joke.
Dick settles in to dine on my Squirrel a la Jamie.
Ted is beyond relieved to learn that he can drop the politeness, he will not be subjected to boiled squirrel.  
Red River Camps is an uncommon place where you can find serenity, adventure and forge friendships to last for years to come. A gem.
The morning of Day 12 of my trip, with a very heavy heart, I take leave of Deboullie.  In 1931, Grey Owl of Canada penned this about northern forests:  "There is silence.  Intense, absolute and all embracing".  In 2016, in a crowded world, there still exists quiet havens.  May we never lose them.