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A travelogue from the couch …


I guess this is what retirees do. Hit the road. 

This must be – has to be – the first letter Ellen and Reid have ever received that deals exclusively with their old man’s travel. Maybe not the travel itself, but the looking forward to it. Now if only I was better at the planning …


June 12, 2017

Ellen/Reid: Tomorrow marks a drastic change for me in terms of fishing with Miss Emma in Charleston; I’ll finally overnight there to milk a second day out of the excursion. I booked a fleabag on the west end of Rte. 17 north of Bowens Island. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out since the down-and-back in one day routine just flat wore me out. Don’t ask why this tact has not been taken before. Beats the hell out of me. I’m cheap, I guess.

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Bowens Island is my escape route. Escape to the water. Miss Emma got a full taste of the brackish salt creeks last week, and she’ll get more of same this week, too.

There’s an added factor in that my friends Jill and Troy want some of my fish as an glitzy appetizer for a big, formal sit-down meal they plan to serve to 20 – 25 guests. They are both chefs as opposed to cooks so they’ll doll up whatever is caught and really make it delicious. So for once we will be a production fishing operation. It means we can spend way more time on the water on Day One rather than scoot out of town at 2 p.m. or so to beat the horrid Charleston traffic. So it’s exciting in a way.

Wyoming is really creeping up soon. This time next month everything might be in the pack. Got to get some new tires for the Camry for the Westward trip since there are nearly 48,000 miles on the car in barely 19 months. My trail meals have already been purchased from an outfit called Packitgourmet.com. The food is all dehydrated rather than freeze dried which takes, in my opinion, too much time to rehydrate. What I’ve seen from Packitgourmet.com is some really good stuff. Almost cuisine. Lunches will be the standard peanut butter and flour tortillas along with tuna in foil packs. Tom buys dried fruit at Trader Joe’s which is really good. Breakfasts will be equally standard; oatmeal with raisins and Starbucks instant coffee. The Tyvek hustled from a construction site has been trimmed to fit the one man tent (and the two person tent, too, Reid). That saves some weight and it compresses better than the plastic sheets. We’ll stay at the super-duper Four Winds in Jackson on the eve of the hike. Reid, Pinedale was nearly full. I had to scrounge for a motel. Must be a lot of roughnecks staying overnight. No way I want to spend another night in the car under a full moon like we did 11 or so years ago. What a memory that is.

Been paging through the Camino de Santiago guide, trying to wrap my arms around the whole idea of an enormous trip. It’s interesting that the author of the guide asks readers early in the book to consider why they would make the trip at all. Really a good question. He assumes, and treats readers thusly, that most make a pilgrimage rather than treat it like a hike or sporting event (my friends Tom and Vince and Richard who’ve all made the trip think it’s more of a walk than a hike). Certainly it’s not race walking or push every day for miles, miles, miles. As I look at the map of Spain – my sense of geography is just awful – my anticipated side trips to Madrid and Barcelona won’t happen. Both are just too far off the trail. In fact, I might book my initial flight in to Barcelona rather than an airport to St. Jean Pied de Port, France, the traditional starting point for the Camino. That way I can spend a day or two traipsing around Barcelona and then hop a bus toward Pamplona which is three days walk from St. Jean. Tom sent me his exacting and incredibly detailed (go figure, huh, Reid?) gear list and that is an enormous help. I’ve been bending Vince’s ear, too.

All this has me thinking about other adventures of this sort that might be made since we shouldn’t be afraid to live. It would be so fun to launch Miss Emma offshore to paddle the length of the Carolinas. It’d take some planning but what fun that would be. There isn’t much other international travel that trips my trigger. Reid, remember that guy we saw up in the Bridger who walked the Continental Divide Trail? Now that would be an extraordinary feat. I’d do that, too, but again, I’d need Tom’s sense of planning since such minute details tend to escape me. No surprise there. Sigh.

Love, Dad

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Of a job lost and a list made …


As some of you know, the hammer came down at 9:15 this morning; as of 9:22 I no longer worked for Bank of America. It was as cordial as I could make it. How else should it have been? It’s my way.

When the chairman mentioned the continued need for ‘expense reduction’ during his 3rd quarter earnings report a few weeks ago, that put the writing on the wall – in indelible ink – for many of us. I am no longer an expense.

Ellen and Reid got the news first by phone – I just love the supportive, ‘Dad, it’s okay’ way they handled it – and my four prior supervisors shortly thereafter.

So now speeding down the tracks comes the rest of whatever it is that is in front of me. I was at a momentary loss for what to do – until I scratched out this list. It’s in pencil, but might as well be in stone:

I thought about this list as I drove to Starbucks for a stiff cup of coffee. Some of the elements may be out of order, but the basic tenets are in place. What remains to be seen is how each will pan out - or if the list will expand or contract.

I thought about this list as I drove to Starbucks for a stiff cup of coffee. Some of the elements may be out of order, but the basic tenets are in place. What remains to be seen is how each will pan out – or if the list will expand or contract.

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Moby Trout, a mountain hurricane, and proof of bears …


This recounts the third of seven days in Wyoming’s Bridger Wilderness. Day four will be covered tomorrow.

This was a day – winds beyond belief – unlike anything I’ve ever experienced while backpacking. I don’t want to see another one like it anytime soon. Then again, I don’t want to meet the business end of a grizzly either.

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Photos just don't capture the ferocity of the mega-winds in the saddle that is Hailey Pass. Steady at 70 - 80 with MPH 100 MPH gusts - that's near hurricane force. Rebekah and Reid do their best to stay upright.

Photos don’t capture the ferocity of the mega-winds in the saddle that is Hailey Pass. Steady at 60 – 70 MPH with 100 MPH gusts – that’s near hurricane force. Vince, Rebekah and Reid do their best to stay upright.

Day 3, Sunday, July 26

I am out of the tent early, before dawn. Most of my gear is already stowed and the rain fly struggles to dry while draped over paracord strung between two trees although the warming sun isn’t up just yet. It is a frosty, clear morning. Such cold reminds you that it is you against the weather, and the only protection you have is what you wear at the moment or have in reserve in a ditty bag. It occurs to me just how narrow the weather window is for visitors. You couldn’t get in here much before mid May and you’d want to beat the snows by mid October. It is no exaggeration that it can snow-sleet-hail even in summer months.

My fly rod was left rigged overnight. Since no one is up quite yet, I head to the East Fork but get no action. The rivulet where the big brookie lurks isn’t too far away so I walk that way. But Moby Trout remains out of sight and is disinterested in my fly. A behemoth like that is a long shot at best.

By now everyone is stirring and it’s time to fire up the stoves. Hot coffee is the other defense against cold and Reid and I gulp down our allotted two sleeves each of instant Starbucks. Katy and Rebekah opt for tea and I’m not sure what Vince and Tom do for a hot beverage. Two packets of oatmeal will have to suffice for my breakfast. We have a pretty stern hike ahead of us. No more shakedown cruise. This will be the real deal now. By 10 a.m. we shuffle toward the trail.

We must climb from 10,343 to the 11,200 ft. elevation of Hailey Pass. The trail will have us skirt the southern and eastern bases of Pyramid Peak. We’ll be above timberline in less than one hour.

Sections of the Hailey Pass Trail, which extends north a few miles to nearby Grave Lake, are now nearly solid rock.

Reid steadies a cairn as we trek up, up, up to Hailey Pass. We relied on cairns as guideposts to help discern where the path might be.

Reid steadies a cairn at the base of Pyramid Peak as we trek up, up, up to Hailey Pass. We relied on cairns as guideposts to help discern where the path might be.

Cairns prove useful as markers although as we cross the navigable stream that empties from Twin Lakes, the trail proves to be elusive. It’s open country above the trees, however, and there’s literally no way to get lost. We are in the valley between Pyramid and Dike Mountain that effectively funnels us up to Hailey. If we had to, we could bushwhack our way but we do find the path and off we go. Last year this was a snow field and the lakes were still ice-locked. The now small stream roared then with snow melt as it tunneled through the snow field. Tom and I walked and slid gingerly over hundreds of yards of corn snow, marked by a few incidents where we fell through to our waists.

Today, though, we encounter a very steep 40 yard downward section where hiking poles are of no use.

In proof that life grabs hold where it can, a wildflower clings to a rocky ledge alongside a downward chute that was very, very steep.

In proof that life grabs hold where it can, a wildflower clings to a rocky ledge alongside a downward chute that was very, very steep.

We use our hands to make contact with the stone walls on both sides and lower ourselves instead of walking down. The uppermost Twin Lake is immediately to our left.

Straight ahead and now only a few moderate switchbacks away is Hailey Pass. We’ll be there within a half hour or so. It’s a very pronounced saddle and the main route for hikers walking the longer of the clockwise circuits to the Cirque. It’s one of those places you want to get past while the day is relatively young since the threat of afternoon storms is always in the back of your mind.

But that’s not what greets us as we near the pass.

It is wind, and not of the gentle variety. It seemingly has come out of nowhere. We have no inkling of this until the last 50 feet of upward climb to the pass. The gale overtakes us in a seeming instant.

Reid leans into the harsh wind. The gale was unlike anything I've ever experienced anywhere.

Reid leans into the harsh wind. The gale was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced anywhere.

These are harsh, steady winds of at least 60-70 miles an hour, with incredibly high push-you-over gusts. Our estimate of the gusts is 80 miles per hour – and upward. None of us have experienced anything like it. I haven’t in all my years in the Rockies. (The forest service would later verify even higher gusts.)

I’ve never been in a hurricane but that is what it must feel like. One of the stronger gusts pushes under my pack. It has leverage and catches the Osprey like a sail. It forces me off balance and my weakened left knee slides awkwardly and buckles – the one movement and consequence I hoped to avoid – as I try mightily to steady myself. Several of us drop to the ground to avoid being blown over. If we can stand, we are pitched at a good angle into the wind as it props us up. So strong is the cloudless howling gale that yelling instructions from one person to the next more than a couple of feet away goes unheard. I’ve been on the shoulder of many Interstate highways as I stood next to my Harley, and have felt the blasts from semis passing at 70 MPH only a few feet away, but those could not match the ferocity, nor knock me over, like these winds.

Our impulse is to get over the pass and head downward as quickly as we can. Rebekah and Reid lead the way down what appear to be 500 yards of switchbacks on very steep descent. But the lee side of the pass offers no relief from the blast. It bears down on us, and shoves Tom and me into crouched positions more than once. Some while later, once down to a resting point, we equate the curvature of the pass and the strong wind’s force to how the leading edge of an airplane’s wing provides lift. Aerodynamically the wind rushed over the pass and pushed down with enormous strength.

This complicates our descent on the trail of loose debris and dust that already makes secure footing a challenge. Tom is forced to take a knee just a few feet ahead of me when a particularly vicious gust forces itself upon us. Rebekah and Reid scurry far ahead.

This is what greeted Tom and I on Hailey Pass in 2014: nearly wall to wall snow field.

This is what greeted Tom and I on Hailey Pass in 2014: a nearly wall to wall snow field that was far steeper than it looks here.

This trail wasn’t visible to Tom and me the year before when we reconnoitered the eastern edge of a valley-wide snow field. Even with the gale, this year’s downward hike of several hundred yards is somewhat more preferable.

We finally exit the switchbacks and the slope becomes a manageable trail once more. It’s been almost two hours since we’ve really had a rest and the lead walkers find us a grassy spot perhaps 200 yards east of the base of Mount Hooker (12,504 ft.).

Rebekah and Reid found us a spot for welcome rest after the descent from Hailey Pass (background). Safe to say the winds were a shock to us.

Rebekah and Reid found us a spot for welcome rest after the descent from Hailey Pass (background). Safe to say the winds were a shock to us.

We are somewhat, but not entirely, out of the wind. We look back at the steepness of Hailey’s north side and are relieved to have it in our rearview mirror. Hooker has an imposing eastern face with a very pronounced boulder field; we conjecture about the apartment building-sized granite blocks that must’ve made one helluva racket when they tumbled down, whenever that was.

In another half mile we look for a place to cross Baptiste Creek, more of a small river really, as it tumbles down from Hooker Glacier and on to the west end of Grave Lake, our next overnight spot. The creek is down from ’14 but remains broad and deep. We pause to look for a narrow, non-ford opportunity. The trail shoes of Tom and Katy can be submerged and will drain quickly. Reid and I move upstream about 150 yards where we can hop from rock to rock. The rest have already crossed and wait while the two of us manage the task without removing our boots. We stay dry. As we look to the north we see the spectacular Musembeah Peak at 12,355 ft. but it’s on Wind River Indian Reservation land, the boundary of which is only a few hundred yards from where we stand.

We are now on the eastbound stretch of trail with perhaps a shade more than 1.5 miles as the crow flies to campsites said to be toward the east end of Grave, a very large lake by mountain standards.

Directly ahead of us, however, looms a potential trouble spot for broken bones or worse. Large rocks have calved off Grave Lake Dome over the millennia to create a complete blockage of giant boulders that extends from the dome to the lake. We don’t see a potential walk-around beneath the shear face of the dome and there are no sign posts or cairns to indicate otherwise. We have no option other than to boulder hop for at least several hundred yards. There will be no walking around these granite monoliths which range in size from large trucks to small houses. We will need to tackle each boulder one at a time with full packs on our backs. That’s not inherently bad; that no one is carrying 50 – 60 lbs. in taller old style packs is good in that the modest weight and lower center of gravity of small packs adds to stability. Our walking sticks will be utterly useless on solid rock. We need to adopt other ways to stay safe.

Rebekah, Reid and Tom continue to lead the way and are soon out of sight even though the going is tedious and very slow. There is no need for speed and the resultant poor decisions too much haste can create.

Far from it. A single slip or misstep could be disastrous. I think back to a three week Outward Bound course in 1974 that included a mountaineering section in the Gore Range just east of Vail, Colorado. Our leader was Dick Pownall, who in 1963 led the advance camp team for an unsuccessful U.S. expedition to Mt. Everest. As we encountered rock fields – nothing remotely on the scale of the jumble below Grave Lake Dome – Pownall’s advice was to adopt “three points of contact.” That is, place some combination of hands and feet on adjacent, manageable portions of rocks. It could be both hands and one foot, or both feet and one hand. Pownall felt that the most serviceable part of your foot to use on open rock was the arch since it offered the best balance point and could pivot front and back. He had us avoid flat, and potentially slick, rock faces and instead place the arch on edges or visible fissures on each stone. I always thought it as sound advice since it worked.

Katy and I bring up the rear. We put the three points of contact strategy into use from the first stone. Vince and Tom call or point out the best routes among the rocks and their trail breaking advice is invaluable. Katy starts out hesitant but finds her legs as she moves along. Some of the steps between rocks involve a considerable leap of faith; if a step is missed, nothing good will happen in even a short fall. This sort of dangerous off trail, rock-to-rock process forces each of us to think 3 – 4 – 5 steps, and stones, ahead. There’s no real way to practice this. It’s learn as you go. I wonder if the park service is well acquainted with this particular rock pile. My guess is they are – no doubt rangers have rescued hikers injured in mishaps on the very stones we struggle to reconnoiter.

Her hopscotching done, Rebekah returns, pack-less, to her mother’s side to offer encouragement. I work in front of Katy and Rebekah takes the rear. Rebekah is like a mountain goat, sure footed as if she’s done this before; she stands astride each rock, calling out to Katy the more favorable hand holds and foot falls. Some rocks are climbed; on others we lift ourselves down, find a foothold on the next boulder then haul ourselves back up. We perform this act over and over and over for nearly 400 yards. We exchange mid rock-hop greetings with a young couple who employ the same three point technique but who are going the other way.

After more than an hour to wend our way through the scrum of stone, we finally emerge unscathed from the boulder field about 4:30 p.m. But we come out into the still heavy wind. It has not abated or lessened, even this late in the afternoon. It had been a long, trying day. We are ready to get our packs off. Bears Ears Trail, however, is not done with us just yet. We have the better part of a mile to go. Across the lake and upward is Chess Ridge, the tormentor to Tom and I for two full days last year. Sightseeing and story telling about our ill-timed and snow ridden trek almost exactly 365 days ago to the day can come later. We just want this stretch to be over.

That’s when the first bear print is seen. For all her track gazing, Katy, who is just a few yards in front of me, has somehow missed the salad dish sized paw with crescent shaped claws ringing the top as we weave our way alongside dense willows.

After years of no real signs of bears, we come across the first evidence that we are in active bear country. It catches your attention in a hurry.

After years of no real signs of bears, we come across the first evidence that we are in active bear country. It catches your attention in a hurry.

The paw is perfectly captured in drying mud. It was perhaps 2 – 3 days old. I stop to memorialize it in a photo but did not alert, nor alarm, Katy with this solid evidence that bears were indeed in the vicinity. Other than the occasional pile of scat, it was the first verified sign of the business end of a bear in several years.

As we approach within a few hundred yards of the lake’s eastern shore a large expanse of perfectly good, flat and tree protected camp sites appears to our left. Reid drops his pack, as do the rest of us, and ventures onward to see if better locations for our tents exist on the true eastern shore of Grave. We watch him the whole way until he enters a wooded area. After a few minutes he steps out of the woods into the fading sunlight and gives us a ‘stay put’ sign. It is merciful we will not need to carry our packs even a short distance more. We fan out and claim our spots and as with the first few nights, go about the business of creating a community of six small tents.

There is one minor glitch. A graphite stay snaps in the ultra-light tent Tom loaned to Rebekah. Repairs aren’t possible since the sleeve that contained the stay is very tight. But necessity becomes the mother of invention. Reid volunteers to give up his three person Mountain Hardware tent (in reality, a comfy space for two) to Katy and Rebekah to share; in turn, he will bunk in Katy’s tent while Rebekah’s damaged tent is relegated to mothballs for the remainder of the trek.

That we take shelter among trees helps to somewhat negate the still strong winds. There will be no fires or fishing in earnest tonight even though we cast a few flies in vain onto the wind-whipped whitecaps. No trout falls for such a hapless presentation.

Our dinners are the same as last last night and the night before, or at least mine is; instant rice and some insipid dried spice in a watered down slurry of nothingness. At least the others have the sensibility to cook a variety of foods. The highlight of my meal is the decaf coffee. I miss broiled trout cooked with heads and tails intact as the main course. I really do.

Tom and I gaze directly across the lake to the locale where we were foiled the year before

Tom looks straight across Grave Lake to the southern shore that in 2014 was a solid snow field. If we could have cleared 200 yards of snow bank, we could have continued our hike. But we were forced to turn back, and the detour cost us nearly 25 extra miles.

Tom looks straight across Grave Lake to the southern shore that in 2014 was a solid snow field. If we could have cleared 200 yards of snow bank, we could have continued our hike. But we were forced to turn back, and the detour cost us nearly 25 extra miles.

by a  steep snow bank and busted hiking pole. It doesn’t make for very good storytelling. That was last year. This was this year. No one wants to hear any more of it.

We turn in under what will be a full moon sometime in the next day or so. The bright light drowns out the stars and galaxies and meteors which on a dark night would be a sight to behold. It will illuminate trips to the trees as we answer nature’s call in the darkness.

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Tomorrow: A first ford, more trout, and lonesome cowboys.

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You can’t go home again…


Ellen is about to become acquainted with dust as she and Tim kick off the remodel of their 1920s kitchen in St. Paul, MN.

I don’t know why, but the blog hasn’t been top of mind for me the past couple of weeks and the posts seem more tepid than usual.  I’ll get back in the swing of things here shortly.

Perhaps that’s because it has felt like old home week the past few weekends.  Whoever said ‘you can’t go home again’ was only partly right.  It does not apply if you need to box stuff and get it out the (garage) door to UPS

All the loose ends related to parental goods are now tied up.  Fine china to Ellen, antique cameras (dating back more than a century) are in Reid’s hands with the rest shipped to Charlotte.  It is all resolved and that chapter is closed. 

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May 9, 2011

Ellen/Reid: This morning I’m in a bit of a fog after yesterday’s travel.  Went to bed late by my standards (midnight) and was up very early and got to work about 6:30 to wade through a mountain of e-mails and that’s only from being out of the office a couple of days.  I shudder to think what the truly higher-ups have in their e-mail queue when they get back from vacation.  It was tough to get rigged up and out the door.  The coffee was particularly weak so it might necessitate a visit downstairs to Starbucks or Caribou when this letter is done.

All in all it was a pretty good weekend.  Steve’s wedding was appropriately low key and his girls did a fabulous job with their remarks.  Good to see lots of old friends and invariably they ask how you both are and what you’re doing.  I try to fill them in as best I can.

Jane Hemminger just cannot be rivaled as a party hostess.  Clad in her bare feet and a red apron, she and Dave threw a nice bash out on their deck on Friday night.  It was a beautiful evening.  The whole crew was there; Dickinsons, Cornicks, Sculforts, Hestons, John Leonhardt, the Kobes, Fustenaus and Shifflers.  I know I’m leaving some out but it was a very nice affair.  Jane can cook and prepare gourmet foods with the best of them.  And she makes it sound like it’s no big deal when it actually is.  I had a great time but was habitually overserved.  Not to sound like a broken record, but people habitually asked about what you’re both up to.

I stayed with Staci and Bruce all three nights.  Max and Alex are doing college things so they had plenty of spare room in their 5 bedroom abode.  That was nice.  We stayed up all three nights yakking and drinking wine way past my bedtime.  That’s why the mornings were fairly groggy.  My original plans were to stay at the house but am glad that did not happen.  Saw some of the neighbors, and they also ask what you’re up to.  Gave some of the boxed plates and tableware to Mary and Frank’s daughter Gianna who is setting up her first place.  Now she’ll have some dishwasher safe plates and bowls.  Quite a bit of the boxed material is going to Goodwill which is just as well.  Reid, you clearly don’t have the space for items, and Ellen you just don’t need anything but you will get the fine china which I hope arrived intact.  The big prize of the weekend was finding the glass-covered roasting pan which was your great-grandmothers.  That is the one thing I wanted from your grandparents house and I thought it had gone missing.  So that was a coup.  Really, it was hard to wade through everything.  It brought a lot of emotions to the surface.  I know whoever buys their items at whatever thrift shop they’re sold at won’t have the same attachment as we might.  That’s okay.  In reality, it’ll be less stuff for you two to clear out down the road if you know what I mean.  In a morbid way, I thought of carting some of it home to sell on EBay but since I don’t know how that works, let alone what stuff is worth, the boxes went over to the Goodwill pile.

It’s interesting to see Des Moines after all this time.  They have done an incredible job downtown.  Lots of towns, including CLT, would be envious of the restaurants and nighttime haunts from the Capitol on west.  It’s just very nice.  They’re not rolling up the sidewalks at twilight like they used to.  Bruce and John and I ate downtown at some funky little place Thursday night and it was fabulous.  Great to see those two.  The persistent question comes up about moving back to Des Moines and that’s a tough one to answer.  You guys are in that same boat because you get the same repetitive question.  It’s like that old saying: how do you get them back on the farm once they’ve seen gay Parie?

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