To Alex -

To Alex...who is far away in person, but never far from my heart. I miss you. Enjoy these snippets of everyday family life here in the states.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Trip Report

If you don't mind, I'm just gonna start calling myself a backpacker right now. Seriously, I think I've earned the title after all the time I spend outside. So what if I've only truly backpacked this one time. I assure you, this will not be my only trip.

I. Am. Hooked! Besides, I have that upcoming trip with Sir S and just this morning, I booked another trip in September. See? Backpacker.

I'm sort of like that. I just know I'm going to love something before I ever do it and it eats at me until I try it. Oh my gosh, what a beautiful trip this was. In truth, I had a bit of angst when packing because I didn't know how my pack would wear and I was afraid of overloading. I ended up with 24.8 pounds so I guess it was good to worry. Well, I was at 24.8 before deciding at the last minute to bring along my 3 and a half pound Nikon, which, by the way, did not like being jostled in my pack because when I arrived back home after the trip, my card had been wiped clean. Yep, not one picture to show for the trouble of carrying it 14 miles. So, I learned two things about that camera. One, it's not worth the extra weight when I have a perfectly good Pentax that fits in my pocket and two, if I do bring it, don't travel with the card inside the camera.

About 10:15 Saturday morning, eleven hikers left as a group from the trail head at Nichols Lake. It wasn't long before we settled into our own pace and spread out along the trail and though I couldn't always see the lead person, there was always someone within sight. We had a delicious break from the absurdly high temps that have plagued us for about 6 weeks now and I'm pretty sure everyone made a comment about how lucky we were.
The first section was through beautifully shaded hardwood forest, not too hilly, but enough of a climb to make you feel it. It had rained hard on Friday, which brought out a variety of mushrooms along the trail. Lots of Bolettes and a few slimes and jellies, but we also ran across these.
I'm almost positive this is Crown-tipped Coral, which is edible. I had made the comment to my fellow hikers that most mushrooms seem to be edible, but the problem comes from those few that are absolutely deadly to eat and without being 100% positive in my identification, I'm not willing to take the risk of eating them. There are only four types that I will walk through the woods and pick with certainty, Morels, Oysters, Shaggy Mane and the puff ball. That's it. Anything else and I get out the books and start to research, and even then I probably wouldn't eat them. Some day I hope to be able to identify Chanterelles too.
Here's a nice little plank bridge to get us over a marshy area. We had no problem with marshes or bogs on this hike. There were a couple areas that might be a bit wet under normal circumstances, but for the most part our elevation would have kept us dry.
Then we come across areas like this along the trail. I said it felt like holy ground when we came around the bend. It stopped me in my tracks, although I don't think you'll get the same feeling just from the pictures. It was very cool.
And mixed right in were these crazy curvy trees. What the heck are they? I've seen them before, but I don't have a name for them. Anyone?
Oh, wait, we had eleven people, plus three dogs on the hike. The dogs were excited about going for a walk-about and had a bit of excess energy, so we stopped at either Walkup or Leaf Lake in an attempt to burn off some of their exuberance. Ha, didn't work. They were great on the trail, but man were they excited to be in the woods.
I love this picture. The humans shed their packs, their shoes and their socks and we got in the water as well. A couple people actually swam, but mostly we oohed and aahed as we walked in the shallows. Oh, that felt so good.
And no mosquitoes. That's one of the nice things about our semi-drought...the mosquito eggs are left high and dry and that makes hiking in the woods very pleasant.

Condon Lake has a high bluff overlook at which we stopped for lunch. I didn't mind the walking and I didn't mind carrying the pack, but goodness did those rest breaks feel good!

We dawdled, yes we did, and we didn't make Highbanks Lake until nearly 3:30 which means we really dawdled, but hey, we had no where to be. I had great plans for the Nikon once we got to Highbanks, but mostly I set up my tent and then sat at the picnic table talking with my hiking buddies while we all laughed about how tired we were and was it time for bed yet? One of the highlights was checking out each other's gear and hearing the pros and cons of different pieces, and during dinner we had a good time comparing the different foods we brought and seeing how easy it was to prepare our meals. It seems there was a lot of thought put into what foods to bring and every meal was delicious. Wait, is that because we had been on the trail and we were starving? I watched someone make a great stove top pizza and now I'm taking that idea on the trail with Sir S and I. He's gonna love that.
See these? I think they were called ground cherries, but they're actually a type of tomato. You peel the wrapper off, toss it on the ground (I know because we did that) and eat the inside, which is more like a tiny cherry and oh, so sweet. Very tasty and a nice treat after dinner, or during, because we didn't wait for the after dinner part.

Our site was right on the water at Highbanks lake. Nice view, nice sandy beach, the vault toilet was clean and there was delicious water from a tap. Ah, life was good. I managed to stay up long enough to see the guys build a fire, but then I crawled into bed for a much needed sleep. I don't normally sleep in, but I didn't emerge from my tent until nearly 8 the next morning. This is what I awoke to.
Views like this make for a very happy me!

Breakfast was with everyone gathered around the table again and then we slowly broke camp to begin our return hike. Lots of giggles and groans as people strapped on their packs. It does take a few minutes to get those sore muscles to cooperate. Again, a beautiful day for a hike and some more interesting scenery on the return trip.
This flower is cool, and I have no idea what it is.
I absconded with this feather my girlfriend found. Notice the iridescence at the end? Is it a turkey feather?

I think we were on the trail by 10:30 and back at the cars about 2:30, sore, tired and happy. A beautiful first time experience. Yes, I will be back on the trail with my pack loaded as soon as I can.  So cool to be a backpacker!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Flying solo?

Just me, by myself, I'm good with that. I'm not particularly lonely and I don't require someone else to provide me with entertainment. I'm okay with hopping on my bike to go for a long ride, or slipping on my hiking boots to go for a little walk-about. Yeah, I'm good with that. But sometimes, sometimes I want to go for a paddle down a river and it's not very easy to do that by yourself. Something about needing to have a way to get back to your vehicle when it's 10 miles upstream makes the whole solo paddling thing a bit more challenging. So I joined a paddling group and it's working out 'swimmingly'! It's a rather loose group where they throw out the activities and you can join in, or not. No pressure. I've joined them the past few Tuesdays when they float down the Rogue River into Rockford and then we hang out in the backwaters of the dam and listen to the music from our boats. I wrote about it briefly a few days ago, but I just want you to know that it was the perfect solution to my dilemma of not having a paddling partner anymore.
I've been having such a good time with this group and meeting some fascinating people. Who knew such groups existed? I didn't, but I'm happy I found them. Oh, and I met the Mayor of Rockford the other day, really nice guy and he seemed quite pleased that we've made it a weekly event to paddle into town for the concerts. We're quite pleased they have the concerts so it all seems to work out just fine for everyone.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A time for growth.

At the the beginning of the year I meant to post about some of my goals for 2012. Somehow, life took an odd spin and I never did that post. It doesn't matter, I've had a few things written on paper and at the top of that list, in the number one spot was "get a new job." Yay! I did that in June. I had been at my old job for 10 years and it just wasn't working. Well, it hadn't been working for me for, um, 9 years and 6 months, but at first I stayed because I thought it might get better, then I stayed because the economy tanked, then I stayed because I had been there long enough to know how to get by. See, that statement right there, "get by," has been plaguing me to the point that I finally had to put it down on paper and move on. Then I told some friends and family I was going to leave so I was kind of committed. I mean, people know me as someone who does what I say I'm going to do, maybe not quite in the timeline I say, but I do it. Honestly, I told people about it as a motivator to me as well. So, get a new job? Check

Another item on my list is to start backpacking. I camp, I hike, I kayak, so the logical next step was to backpack. Well, I planned a trip for a long weekend in August to take Sir S on the North Country Trail with a loop back to the trailhead on the Manistee River Trail. This was to be a first for both of us. We're still doing that, but I just ran across a hiking and backpacking group and they're going out this weekend, so guess who's going along??? Yep, I couldn't wait so I'm heading out. It's probably a good idea to go out with some experienced backpackers before I take the grandson out into the wild. Not that I was worried because I'm super comfortable out-of-doors, and the NCT is quite a busy trail this time of year, but this gives me a chance to feel how it goes and make adjustments before taking the little one. The reason for starting backpacking? I have a backpacking trip to Peru on my radar and being alone in a foreign country probably isn't the time to learn what I should and shouldn't do. So, as of my return on Sunday, backpacking? Check!

Life is good!

Friday, July 20, 2012


May I proudly introduce to you the newest addition to my extended family. This, is Griffin and it turns out he is a she. Will you look at that sweetness?
No, she isn't mine, I'm not ready yet. People ask me if I miss having a cat and I can honestly tell them no, I don't miss having a cat, I miss having Tim.

But this pretty little girl belongs to F.Y.S. and Jewleigh. She's about 7 weeks old and is she ever a tiny little bug. I'm used to having a 15 pound cat, but when I put her on my kitchen scale (yes, I did) it registered a whopping 1# 6oz. She's so tiny she fits in the palm of one hand. 

She's beautiful with peculiar markings that I hadn't seen in a cat before. The pads of each of her paws are black, her nose is rimmed in black and so are her lips, and yet when I look those features up online they don't appear to be all that uncommon. Her coloring is similar to Tim's and I swooned the moment I saw her. My gosh... She also has this sweet little way of snuggling up to you and leaning her head back against you while she naps.

F.Y.S. wants to know why play time is 5 a.m. Apparently she attacked the sheets for about an hour before climbing into the bedroom window. He sent me a text that said, "she has a schedule of about an hour of exploring, an hour of attacking everything in site and then an hour nap. Rinse and repeat." Ha...welcome to the world of cats honey. And welcome to our family Griffin. You'll be much loved and adored.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Rain. I welcome it. And I've missed it. Have I mentioned that I don't like the heat and humidity? I would take a blizzard over these scorching 100+ degree days in a heartbeat. But the rains came today and now it feels good. The heat broke too and it's back down into the 60s for the moment. Yea!

I paddled Tuesday night. I committed to it and then I had serious doubts because the temps were hovering in the extra high 90s again, but I went and I'm actually happy I did. Even though it was a very short paddle down the Rogue River into Rockford, we hung around in the backwaters of the dam and listened to the Blues Series from our boats. Well, until we were driven off the river as the sky turned dark and the wind whipped up, but alas, it was just a teaser and the storm missed us completely.

The attention we drew was kinda cool though. It isn't often that you see 24 kayaks come floating into town and the people on shore were pointing at us and talking to each other, and some were taking pictures. We gave them our best smiles and waved because we thought they might be wishing they were us. I would have been.

Last night I had to force myself to get on my bike and go for a ride just so I felt like I had done something other than play at being a slug. Again, a short trip, but it felt good to ride in spite of the heat and humidity. I rode by the creek to see if there was any water left in it. There was...
Not nearly as much as normal, but it is still flowing. I'm surprised. I don't know where the headwaters are for this creek, but I'm happy it's not dry. Okay, I just looked it up and I'm an idiot...I'm kidding, but I see the watershed for the creek comes from quite a distance and I've been on many roads that cross this creek without me knowing it. Shoot, I'm actually at the end of the stream and pretty close to where it dumps into the Grand River. Guess I should pay more attention to my surroundings. And now, just for kicks, I'm going to print a map and go on a quest to find the different starting points. You know, just because I can and I'm curious. No, I don't mean I'm going to go now, like, right now, but I am going to make that one of my quests.

That is all for now because I must go enjoy this nice cool weather before my thermometer goes bonkers on me again. Next up, I need to introduce you to a new addition to our family.

Hey, as I was proofing this something occurred to me. I have the windows open (finally) and with the moist, humid air coming in, coupled with the wind in the trees and the different sounds in the distance, it's reminding me of Taiwan again. It's weird, I was only there for 2 weeks four years ago, but so many times I get a 'feeling' of Taiwan. I don't know why that is, but it's kinda nice. I have great memories of my trip there.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Making plans.

Picked up a backpack today. Not for me, because I already have a beauty of my own. No, this one I'm borrowing because I'm taking a Little for a 3 day trip on the North Country Trail with a return loop on the Manistee River Trail. Both of us are beyond excited. We have much planning to do and we've only got one short month to get ready. 

My goal is for us to go minimalist with only the absolute necessities because I don't want the boy weighted down on his first trip out. We'll see if we can pull this off. One of my V.I.P.s once told me to put everything I thought I needed to bring into a pile....and eliminate half of it....then halve it again. Smart guy. Plus, I've camped enough to know that I can generally leave most items at home because, honestly, I have yet to take a trip where I've used everything I brought. Even this past weekend I managed to fit all my gear except for my tent and sleeping bag into a regular size milk crate and I still didn't use everything.

This is gonna be fun!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Hey there...

Can I just say, in real simple words, 2012 has kicked my ass and I'm so done with bad things happening in my life! Seriously, I'm not a sad person whose life is full of drama, but my goodness, I've been incredibly sad and full of angst for so much of this year. To be fair, things beyond my control have happened that have given me valid reasons to be sad...Tim (my cat) died, then a month later my dear friend died suddenly, which sent me reeling into a tailspin that I was only just beginning to come out of when we experienced a family emergency of another sort and I was sent reeling again. Then, I switched jobs a month ago and on my second day of work I received a call that my beautiful cousin was on life support and they were waiting until my siblings and I could get to the hospital (2 hours away and I couldn't go until after work) to disconnect. She was 46 and she was that cousin, you know, the one who is everybody's favorite. She was certainly my favorite.When I think about her I can hear her laugh and see her smile...her death was tragic and it breaks my heart still to think that she is gone.

Really? Are you freaking kidding me? Where did all this crap come from? And why was it all piled up in a few short months? My gosh....I'm so done with it. No. More. I'm crying Uncle! The universe can just go away and leave me in peace for the rest of the year. I mean it!

Anyway, all that to say I've been gone, but I am back. Different, slightly wounded and still hurting, but I'm back. I camped by myself Friday night and paddled with friends on Saturday...that helped as it always does. I'm digging deep and readjusting my priorities. That's always a good thing, but I'm pretty good at doing that without this much pain, thank you very much.
So, here's to a more peaceful 2nd half to the year. I pray she's gentle with me.