Day 2 en Espana …

I’ll start with Day 2 since Day 1 was a no count (‘Am I really here? Is this really happening? Where am I?’). 

But the travel waters have calmed and I have warmed to Spain. I write this sipping cerveza at a table of Cafe Iruna just off Plaza de Castillo in Pamplona. 

The first impressions of Spain, based on Barcelona and Pamplona, are good. The Spanish, it seems to me, are a lot of things, all positive. 

They are cultured. I say this because they are, in any age group, stylish from top to bottom; hair, clothes, shoes. They are undeniably social. Invariably seen are women, mothers and daughters, arm in arm. They collect at coffee shops and bistros, caught in conversation. They aren’t tethered to their phones (ala me). The Spanish don’t walk, they stroll, always talking. It’s so, so cool. 

They could be described as distantly affable. I’ve looked for a chance to say “Buenos Dias” but they are loath to make eye contact as they approach you. If they do, it’s without smile or acknowledgment. Perhaps it is that if they do, it ropes them in to yet another ‘Where am I?’ conversation. It could be they’ve tired of inane questions with obvious tourists like me.  

In a few minutes I head to the aeropuerto to meet my friends Dave and Jane. But there is a glimpse of what’s ahead not 10 feet in front of me: A group of Camino walkers – all looking tired and bedraggled. 

Buen Camino indeed. 


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All aboard the mundane train … and a 500th post

When you look at where my kids have traveled – especially Reid – I’m a relative neophyte compared to those globe hoppers. 

But travel isn’t the only thing going on these days. I’m trying to play catch-up in relating all the little mundane things before zooming – hopefully the post-Irma weather will cooperate – out of CLT. It’s not just about letters these days. A couple of phone calls and FaceTimes with the kids helped to fill in the information ‘How are you doing?’ gaps, too.

And today marks a milestone of sorts: It’s the 500th post for this blog. That’s a lot of letters over a lot of years. For those of you who’ve stuck with me (and Ellen and Reid) on this compulsive endeavor, thanks.

September 4, 2017

Ellen/Reid: This morning’s 11 mile practice slog with a full pack went well enough. It took a shade under four hours, which equated to about 20 minutes a mile and that wasn’t pushing it very hard. Most of the Camino days are in the 20 – 28 Km range which works out to about 13 – 16 miles which should, heaven forbid, be doable.


Here’s the whole shebang – all 14.4 pounds of it. Enough for nearly seven weeks on the trail.


And it all fits (with room to spare) in this 2,100 cu. in. Osprey pack.

Everything of consequence has been purchased; the final major item was a silk sleeping bag liner in the event the evenings are too warm in the hostels. My guess is the final pack weight will be in the 16 lb. range. Not really sure how that could be shaved down. It is what it is.

Celebrated Labor Day by rolling out the grill on the drive way and charbroiling a few burgers. Those were the first of the season and were washed down with a couple of cold ones. Read the Camino guidebook while the cooking was going on. Hard to believe in less than two weeks it’ll be boots on the trail.

Miss Emma is atop the car for a run to Charleston in the morning. I am really fatigued by the walk and the activities of the past few days but if fishing isn’t done tomorrow then there won’t be another excursion until mid-November at the earliest. It looks as if there will be a race against Hurricane Irma which I just saw has grown to Category 4. That’s a biggie. In a way, if it hits us in the next seven days that’s good for me in that it might otherwise delay my outbound flight to Barcelona. I did purchase a train ticket that gets me into Pamplona early in the evening of the 14th; I’ll find a place to bunk then meet Jane and Dave at the local aeropuerto. I’ve arranged for a taxi from Pamplona to St. Jean Pied de Port which is our jumping off point in France. We’ll walk five or so miles and stay at a B&B that Jane found. Reid, it is amazing how many nations – 19 or 20? – you’ve visited. That’s just one hell of a list. The offer of minor help to Sri Lanka is still on the table. You’re putting your old man to shame.

There wasn’t any more time to run the rings over to the jeweler for a final assessment as to their realness. They’re sitting in a little box awaiting for my return. It is amazing that the matching wedding band was a mere few feet away from where the ‘diamond’ engagement ring was found. How could I have missed the diamond-encrusted band, let alone it still being there a week later? Bizarre. No more true valuables have been discovered on any of my recent walks. After you’ve found gold and (faux) diamonds, anything less is a downer.

No more Airbnb guests, and it was a little bit puzzling as to why the dearth of visitors until I scoped out the competition. My place is a hovel compared to what the options are; above garage guest quarters, opulent baths, well appointed bedrooms, etc. And I don’t even offer a TV. Maybe that’s the downer that separates nicer places from mine. Perhaps I should promote my pad as ‘pet friendly’ if the dog is housebroken and behaved. That’s doable, too.

Went to the Panthers NFL preseason game and it was a complete yawner. I don’t know why they even bother having those games. Here’s what’s really stupid, however. I found myself watching virtually every play on the JumboTron screen rather than the real action down on the field in front of me. How insane is that?

Okay, I’m at the end of my rope. Time for shower and a bed. Gotta get up before the chickens in order to arrive at Charleston in the dark. The coffee maker is locked and loaded.

Love, Dad

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I may re-print it, but will you read it? Ellen and Reid aren’t so lucky

There’s no telling what you get tired of reading on these pages; obviously, and in a bit of understatement, Ellen and Reid have tired of it for a much longer time. There’s a great amount of repetition in terms of what’s written about and how often. 

For example, rings. Gold rings. Found on the pavement. Who would believe such fantasy? But as is imprinted in the upper left hand corner of the New York Times, ‘All the News That’s Fit to Print.’ So you’ll just have to put up with blah-blah-blah about a pending hike, faux stones, a poor attempt at TV criticism and, of course, hit-and-miss kayak fishing.

Just remember the kiddos have patiently endured such drivel for a long time. But they’re family. There’s not much they can do about it. 

August 28, 2017

Ellen/Reid: Reid, I’m about to join you in the boxed food category. Sondra and Jody are sending a parcel from Blue Apron and it’s kind of exciting to think about someone else preparing the food. Not sure what the box will contain, but if it works for Liz and you, all the better for your dad. Shopping for groceries is always kind of fun/mindless but perhaps it’s time to move into the brave New World of dinner preparation.

Things for Spain are slowly coming together. Bank of America will send me €300 Euros in the next couple of days. The money will slide into a money belt rather than a wallet. Tom suggested it and it’s a good idea. Apparently my ‘travel insurance’ includes some type of health care but a call must be made to learn what exactly the coverage amounts to. EuroRail is nice enough to send me reminders to get off my duff for rail connections from Barcelona to Pamplona to meet Jane and Dave, and then from Portugal to Berlin to visit Claudia and Frank. Some thought was given to hopping on a plane, but all that would show is the countryside form 35,000 feet. Where’s the fun in that? Last Friday was the first long walk with the loaded pack (15.3 lbs. with water) and three women who joined me put the pedal to the metal. We covered 12 miles and we were really hauling. What is showed, however, is my Salomon boots won’t cut it; they were too squishy and my ailing feet need a stiffer sole. So I bought a pair of Salewa boots. The store said I should try them out on a treadmill and if they didn’t work they could be returned. So I laced ‘em up this morning at the Y for 15 fast, uphill minutes and they seem to be a better solution. The Salomons are fine enough but if a size 10 would work for you Reid or Tim, let me know. What passed with flying colors was the Osprey pack. Incredibly comfortable. Yet I’ve still not gone through all the damn guidebook. I don’t know why I obfuscate and procrastinate like this. Not a very good personality trait.

It’s a bummer about the diamond not being a diamond. I left the jewelry store completely deflated if not a little embarrassed. But the gold is gold and that will be worth something. My friend Elizabeth suggested to not give up on the stone just yet. She recommended another vendor for a second opinion and hopefully will get that done this week.


How is it a diamond wedding band is still on the pavement a week after it’s matched pair was found? Yep, it’s 18k, too. Not so sure about the veracity of the stones.

But here is what is completely and utterly bizarre: Sunday morning I walked by the exact spot where the ‘diamond’ ring was found and there, not a couple of feet away, was the wedding band. It matched up perfectly with the stone. How I missed that the first time around is also utterly bizarre. Ring #2 also bore the ‘18K’ stamp. Maybe it was a bit of ‘too bad it was cubic zirconia’ karma. But it will be worth a smidgen of cash.

The Game of Thrones finale last night seemed a bit underwhelming. Perhaps that just shows I’m not much of a TV critic. Not that blood and guts ought to be the centerpiece but there was a little too much yakking/drama and not enough action. And now we’ve got to wait a year for the next round of installments. At least Little Finger met a right and just end. You knew the blue eyed dragon was going to go rogue.

Last week in Charleston was something of a bust after the blockbuster day of reds the week before. I left the video camera in the car otherwise that would have been great footage. At least a small red and just-under-the-slot trout were caught so there is hope.


Photos don’t get much more boring. A broken saltwater fishing rod. But Penn sent me a replacement. It will be put to the test today, Sept. 5 near Charleston.

A Penn rod was broken when I impatiently tried to yank it off some sort of snag. I’ll head to the store today for a replacement. Miss Emma and I will make the trip this Wednesday to give it another shot. Moderating temps make it easier on me.

Okay, over and out. You guys might return my calls once in a while, otherwise I’ll keep bugging you on a schedule that fits me.

Love, Dad

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Two golden rings: one stays celestial, the other crashes to earth

It’s interesting that my world revolved around two rings last week; one celestial, the other at ground level.

If you follow my Pick Up Your blog, you’ll have seen the photo and tale of the ‘diamond’ ring found by chance in a parking lot. The eclipse and ‘diamond,’ however, shared one fatal trait: both flamed out in a matter of minutes. And to think the dispiriting loss might have been Ellen and Reid’s gain.

Yet news about the 18K gold ring won’t go away quietly into the night; fodder for the weekly letter written today will touch on a truly bizarre find – a second ring. Tune in next week. 

As for the trip to a bridal shop, that stays between us. To borrow from Mark Twain, “reports of my marriage are greatly exaggerated.” Emphasis on ‘greatly.’

August 21, 2017

Ellen/Reid: There is total eclipse mania down here. Not too far away in South Carolina there will be darkening in its totality; here, it’ll be 98 percent or something like that. The last 100 percenter I saw was before you two were born. I remember standing out on Grand Avenue in Des Moines with a box that had a hole punched in it so as not to look at the sun directly. In a couple of minutes later today all the hoopla will be over. Sondra and Jody have invited a few of us to their lake home just over the border. It’ll really be an excuse to guzzle wine on a workday.

I hosted two sweet young women, one from California and her friend from Virginia, last night and they were up around dawn to head down to SC for the viewing. They were cheered by an improved forecast but all it would take is a random cloud to fuzzy things up. Bean counters say the whole shebang is worth a lot of tourist money to the Carolinas. At least it was for me in the Airbnb sense. The overnight visit was the latest in a string of good experiences with guests so perhaps my lodge will stay open a little while longer. The tryst still has me chuckling. What a complete sap your old man was.

You can appreciate this, Ellen, but Sondra’s daughter Chiana asked me to make comments as she toured bridal shops last Friday for a wedding dress. She’s going to be a beautiful bride and although my couture expertise and sense of style is severely limited I was able to give a ‘yes/no’ to some of the candidates. The best Jody and I could really do was fidget. At no time in my past have I ever set foot in a bridal shop. Didn’t you share of photo of yours with me? I don’t recall literally being in a shop to look at dresses.



Don’t ask why nothing was written at length about my best day of fishing ever in terms of jumbo red fish; three reds over 30 inches with the big one topping out at 35 inches. It could be the kids are tired of reading my incessant whining about not catching much.

Geez, I don’t know what to think about the diamond engagement ring. Or at least I’m hoping it is real. The band is stamped with ‘18k’ so it’s hard to imagine a fake stone going atop a quality band. At least the gold would be worth something. Ellen, I’ll follow your advice and get it appraised. It’s not to late to claim it for one of the girls (or you, Ellen). Sorry it won’t work out for you either, Reid. I’m no gemologist by any means but it sure looks like 3/4 karat to me. Another point for it being a true diamond: the ring had been run over and is slightly bent but the stone remained intact. The setting looks top drawer, too. It either slipped out of a purse or some pissed off chick tossed it aside. Man, if that was the case, it must’ve been one hell of an argument. My guess is there was one boatload of remorse once someone sobered up Sunday morning. How the heck would I find the rightful owner? I’ll look around a little bit but it could be a ‘finders keepers, losers weepers’ deal. Maybe it will help to offset the cost of my walk across Spain.

You know, there are a few jitters, some nerves and admitted uncertainty about the trek at all. I’m having second thoughts, not about going necessarily, but just wondering if I’m mentally up to a solo hike. There are others who would brush that off. Maybe it’s just nonsense worrying. This week there has to be a decision about a return flight. Someone suggested EuroTrain from Portugal to Berlin to see my friends Claudia and Frank. Then a jet home from there.

Still, my pack is packed and weighs in at 13.6 lbs. before a water bottle is added. I feel pretty good about that but am not sure how much, if any, weight can be shaved. In fact, it might go up a few ounces at the last minute with overlooked gear. I’ve enlisted some friends to make a 10 mile test hike with me this Friday. I’ll be in full regalia, including the loaded pack. The Salomon boots have not been worn other than the floor of the store up in Pinedale. Gotta see if they they, and me, can pass the test. Physically I should be okay. It’s the mental fortitude equation that is still in the balance.

Love, Dad

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Golf guests, tiny birds and wonderment (bewilderment?) about Mr. Orange Face …

My experience as an Airbnb host is beginning to level out. With the funnier-by-the-minute tryst in the rearview mirror, Ellen and Reid are learning the dos and don’ts of opening your home to others. They won’t be following suit anytime soon.

I continue to opine/lament about the regime in Washington; it’s just a dire situation. But I’m in no position to be a politician. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I wouldn’t want to be an elected official in a nation that would put me in office.

August 14, 2017

Ellen/Reid: Well, the long week has past and I can finally catch a deep breath. The Airbnb couple was just fine as were my friends Christie and Doug. I sacked on the first floor couch (not an unusual napping spot for me) and things worked out in good fashion.

They were all in for the PGA Championship which, after visiting it on Thursday morning, it confirmed for me that golf is perhaps better seen on TV than in person. Sure, when you’re there you can feel the vibe and energy but after a while you wonder how in the hell you’re going to navigate to another suitable viewing spot among the hordes of golf watchers who are largely headed in the same direction you are. The enjoyment of the tournament is all about location, location, location – as in where you get to see most of the action.

The party Friday night was good but I was AWOL from a lot of it, flitting from guest to guest and totally neglecting my job as a host. Sondra and Christe did a lot of the restocking of food and they also shouldered most of the clean up in my unexcused absence. The smoked shoulder was somewhat disappointing. It graded to a C+ at most. Not quite as pulls-apart-in-your-hands tender as previous efforts. I just couldn’t keep the smoker in ‘the zone’ even though the shoulders went on at 4 a.m. The temperature just never reached optimum smoking conditions. The result was fine enough but just not as good as had been done before. Sondra and Jody helped to set up in the garage since there was imminent threat of rain and although the downpour held off we never did leave the garage. Man, did we go through the wine. But a brewery’s worth of beer was left behind. And there’s also enough left overs to feed a small Army.

The hummingbirds have been waging aerial wars for a space at the feeder.


Hummingbirds have made a beeline to the feeder. Their aerial combat for position at the trough of sugar water has been fun to witness.

My friend Sherry counseled me on a red dye-free sugar mix and that has the little flyers zooming to the trough in tiny waves. Their display of combat has been fun to watch although I’m not sure of the damage one hummingbird could inflict on another.

Got the itch to make a foray to Charleston after being away far too long and will load Miss Emma atop the Camry in a couple of hours. Really, really excited to get back down there after a couple of months. There aren’t any lofty expectations for a stringer of reds or ‘specks’ but anything will be better than nothing.

It’ll give me some time away from the news headlines. I’m just so disappointed/disgusted in Trump after the weekend white-instigated violence in Charlottesville. How can he not single out, and condemn, Nazis and white supremacists (the same thugs who conjointly wave the U.S. flag alongside swastikas and the Confederate flag. Great. Two entities that tried to defeat America)? He is just a complete and utter moron. An idiot of the first order. It’s a shame and a shock that I would be a better president. He’s just not a leader, not a sane person, not civil, not reasoned, not diplomatic, not much of nuthin’. And his poll numbers (fake news!) are dropping to near-historic lows. Of course, Mr. Orange Pouty Face probably thinks ‘strength’ and the nerve to make unpopular stances are the signs of leadership. And his bluster on the pimple on a gnat’s ass, North Korea, is just flat-out foolhardy and dangerous. And to think he’s got his little, fidgety hands on the nuclear triggers. We need an old fashioned coup d’etat or military junta. Republicans have got to, at least privately, wonder what the hell is going on. As the mid-terms get closer and Agent Orange keeps this up, a nervous GOP is gonna have to figure out a way to regroup without him. That his base sticks with him doesn’t say much for the American electorate. They’re getting what they deserved – a jerk on yet another golf vacation – or make that a ‘working vacation’ as he calls it. Let’s hope he works himself right out of a job. C’mon Mueller.

Love, Dad

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The old catch up routine … and turning a two cent opinion into a quarter’s worth

Last week’s letter played catch up on usual and sundry matters after a couple of writing-free weeks.

It’s the letter I’ll write in the next half hour that has me steeling myself.

Ellen and Reid are free to make up their own minds on issues of conscience but that doesn’t mean their old man can’t weigh in with his two cents worth. And this past weekend in Charlottesville – and the president’s lack of pointed condemnation of white supremacists – is a case in point. I’m boiling over it. 

It could be that the two cents will turn into a quarter’s worth.

August 7, 2017

Ellen/Reid: Really good to be home from the long jaunt to Wyoming. But as soon as I say that, sooner than later will come the itch to go back out the third full week in July ’18. Already planning on it. Tom was a good car guy; we split the driving and most of the expenses. He’s pretty low key on stuff like this but what I appreciated most was his attention to the planning details. He is just so organized whereas your old man is deficient in that category. The downer about this portion of the Bridger, the Elkhart Trailhead, was the volume of hikers. I’ve never seen so many people in the back country. People were everywhere, many of them armed, which left Tom, Vince and I to scratch our heads “Why?” At any rate, we didn’t do all the trails we planned on. One stream, Pole Creek, was really a wide, raging river and Tom was reluctant to navigate the 40 – 50 yard waist high ford since that kind of swift, icy cold water really isn’t for recovering heart patients. So we reverted to Plan B and hiked secondary trails which was fine enough. We saved about 20 miles in distance which was okay by me. The fishing was just awful. Not sure why (other than all the other anglers pressuring the fish); maybe it was high water and abundance of food. I suppose if we’d of gone higher/farther there might of been more fish.

But Tom and I got into some decent cutthroats on the Grey River which bisects the center of the Wyoming Range some 50 miles west of Pinedale along the Daniel-Alpine Cutoff which is really a long gravel road.


Usually a Tenkara man, my friend Tom was uncanny with his casts on his first day with a real fly rod. He caught some nice fish in the Grey River, a largely unknown fishery in the Wyoming Range.

It is one hell of a lesser-known fishery, and Ellen, tell Tim it doesn’t see a ton of pressure and is every inch what the Hoback is. We pitched tents on a flat spot right next to the water and had a great time. But it is good to be home. (Reid, if you see Tom, ask about his run-in with the Wyoming Highway Patrol. It was a scream. I rode him hard about his ‘traffic violation.’)

Tom and Vince both schooled me on the Camino de Santiago and now the preparations for the walk are in full swing. In scarcely a month I’ll wing it to Barcelona, then catch a train to Pamplona where I’ll meet up with Jane and Dave. That will be so fun. A good way to get the thing started. Already, I’ve purchased new ultra-lightweight hiking shoes (as opposed to heavy boots), 50F sleeping bag, rain pants and rain jacket, a very lightweight umbrella, money belt, Osprey Stratos 36 pack, etc. Did a test pack last night and it looks like I’ll have plenty of room for everything. It should be about 12 – 14 lbs. when all is said and done. That’s really doable for 600 miles or whatever it is. I’ve made a pitch to some friends up in Berlin to crash for a few days but have yet to hear anything. I’ve made no plans for a return flight yet. I may bop up to France or dip down into Portugal. Not quite sure when I’ll return. I guess it depends on the Berlin response.

The PGA golf tournament is in Charlotte this week and I’ll have a houseful. My friends Christie and Doug will arrive tomorrow, and then a couple from Missouri will use me as an Airbnb for four nights beginning on Thursday. So I’ll make a few bucks in the deal. Actually, my last two Airbnb visitors have been great. But they comment about the lack of a TV so I suppose I’ll need to get AT&T Uverse cranked up (against my will). If there is a steady flow of guests, it will make it worthwhile. In some ways I feel like a cleaning service. I’ll be relegated to the couch while people are here. Plus, I’m smoking three pork shoulders for about 25-30 people on Friday night. It feels like I’m biting off more than I can chew but it occurred to me over the lonesome weekend that it feels better with people around than not.

I also got to watch over Marvel, a two year old Aussie, for my friends Andrea and Kurt. What a sweet dog.


Marvel is on high alert for rogue squirrels in the greenbelt. He’s giving Marge a run for her money as the most obedient dog – ever.

There cannot be a more obedient dog in Charlotte. You say a command and he listens. Maybe better than you two did at a young age.

Love, Dad

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A slim month for letters … and severed bear heads

July was an odd month, letter-wise.

Only two single-pagers were mailed, owing to my trip to St. Paul to visit Ellen, Tim, Emma and Georgia followed by the annual trek to the Bridger Wilderness in Wyoming. When I get a chance to see Ellen and/or Reid, there isn’t always a letter mailed that particular week. (Note to potential hikers: another six night/seven day backpacking and fly fishing excursion to the Wind Rivers is slated for July 13 – 21, 2018 so set that in stone on your calendar. Feel free to send me a note with any questions.).

But today marks a return to the weekly letter routine. The writing process really isn’t a grind; it’s cathartic and is a joy. A lot of ground will be covered in one page: a recap of the Wyoming adventure, a glut of Airbnb guests (no more trysts that I’m aware of), preparations for the Camino de Santiago in scarcely (yikes!) a month, watching over Marvel the Super Dog, et al.

So there’s no letter to reprint this morning. But one will be written and mailed momentarily. Watch for it next week.


My hiking buddy Tom Bohr and I enjoyed a cold PBR at our traditional stopover en route from Jackson to Pinedale: the venerable cowboy bar The Elkhorn in Bondurant, WY. It’s the same joint where untold hundreds of visitors have written snarky notes on $1 bills that they pin to the pine walls and boxcar ceiling. It’s also where, if you shoot a bear in season, you plop the severed head on the bar – and earn yourself a free hat.

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