October 6th to 9th – Pittsburgh Part I

After a restful sleep and faithful completion of my two hundred Ohio pushups, I enjoyed a short and beautiful drive from Harrison State Forest to the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When I arrived in the little town of Murrysville, my Great-Aunt Mary welcomed me warmly into her cozy apartment.

My first evening with Aunt Mary (I don’t call her Great-Aunt Mary because it sounds strange to me — and to her) was spent in conversation. We had a lot of catching up to do. The first (and only) time we met previously was about fifteen years ago when my family flew out for a week-long visit. I still remember two things from that visit: a delectable lunch of pigs-in-a-blanket and an afternoon snack of gummy bears that brought unspeakable joy to my young self.

On the first full day of my visit (Saturday, October 7th), I got to visit with Aunt Mary’s son, Kevin. We began the day lazily by watching a movie. After that, Kevin wanted to make sure I got the full Pennsylvania experience. The first stop was a shooting range where we shot several of his pistols. In his opinion, I did very well for a California city boy.

Next, we drove to a neighboring city to visit Jamie and Kim, who are two of Kevin’s best friends. I got to watch Jamie cut up a deer he had shot the previous day and enjoy a tour of their house, which included quite a few guns and a couple hunting crossbows as well.

A few hours of visiting later, we were all a little hungry. Kevin and I went to a popular local pizza shop to pick up a pizza and some local beer, which we brought back to Jamie and Kim’s house. We ate dinner outside in their beautiful backyard. It was such a nice evening that I forgot to take a picture of the scenery.

So that was Kevin’s version of the Pennsylvania experience. I loved every minute of it! Aunt Mary promised me another tour on Monday. First, though, came Sunday. I joined Aunt Mary at the Presbyterian church she attends and enjoyed the Sunday School and sermon. She introduced me to the pastor and her friends. It was fun to be the “great-nephew from California.” I almost felt like a celebrity.

After church, we had a relaxing day at Aunt Mary’s apartment. I gladly joined her in the weekly tradition of having a homemade milkshake for an afternoon snack. I certainly didn’t complain about our dinner of salad, french fries, and bacon-wrapped steak either.

The next morning, Aunt Mary began her tour by giving me my first full view of the big city — Pittsburgh — from the little hill that somehow obtained the official name of Mount Washington.

After enjoying the view, we circled back to a different part of the suburbs so that Aunt Mary could give me a lesson in our family history. As I have met previously unknown relatives on this trip, I have been constructing a family tree to make sense of it all. Our first stop at the family cemetery gave me a very tangible experience of that tree’s roots.

This side of my family (my mom’s dad’s family) established themselves in Pennsylvania a long time ago and didn’t budge for the most part. My great-great-grandfather was born in the late 1860’s. He and my great-great-grandmother were buried in the cemetery in the 1950’s and many of their descendants, including my great-grandparents (Mary’s aunt and uncle), are buried there too. Since Aunt Mary grew up around these relatives, she has been able to tell me many stories about them.

Our next stop on the tour was even closer to home for me. Aunt Mary took me to the house my mom lived in for the first twelve years of her life and the elementary school she attended.

We saw much more on the trip as well: the Assemblies of God church my mom attended as a child, the house Aunt Mary grew up in (which is now a gun shop that has seen better days), and the house Aunt Mary spent most of her life in with her late husband, my Uncle Buzz.

Our last stop on the tour brought us back to the present. We visited one of Aunt Mary’s grandchildren at the creatively labeled salon where he works; Hairy Solutions. I appreciated the name because I had a very hairy problem to solve. My hair has been growing out for two months now and I’ve been feeling rather unkempt over the past week or two. Steven took care of my problem just as advertised.

That is about all the excitement I’ve had in these first few days in Pennsylvania. I have had a few spare moments to discover and visit a nearby basketball court twice to get some exercise. It is relaxing to stay in a single location for a while. I am looking forward to the rest of my visit and I hope it doesn’t go too fast.

September 30th – Chicago

     On a trip full of incredible experiences, Chicago scores one of the top spots. I can’t measure it against my favorite days of hiking and camping because the activities are so different, but it’s certainly up there with them. I found a lot of reasons to like Chicago. There was the gorgeous skyline, the wonderful pizza, and the people (most of whom were friendly). I really don’t know what else I could ask for!

     Before reentering Chicago, I stopped at a McDonald’s to borrow their Wifi. I haven’t yet become callous enough to use a restaurant’s services without purchasing something, so I went to the counter to order a strawberry banana smoothie. There, I met Alonzo – the happiest McDonald’s worker I’ve ever seen. He greeted me and asked me how my day was going. Before I could answer, he told me that his day was “pretty dope.” After taking my order, he asked about me again, so I told him about my trip. That excited him even more and he said he wanted to do the same thing someday. I encouraged him to do it.

     When my smoothie came out, I sat down and got to work on the serious task I had come to do; replenish my depleted supply of audiobooks. Two caught my eye; The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and The Republic by Plato. I’m looking forward to getting started on them!

     With my books downloaded, I got back in my car and drove into the city. I intended to start my walking tour of Chicago at the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace and Museum, so when “Hemingway House” showed up as a search result on Google Maps, I selected it. I thought that if Hemingway was born and lived at a particular location, it would be called his house. I learned my mistake when I walked up to the large glass doors of the Hemingway House and saw the smartly dressed desk clerk. Apparently, the Hemingway House is an upscale apartment complex that has nothing to do with the famous author, except for the use of his name. The clerk even looked up from his desk and gave me a look that said, “How dare a lowly commoner stand outside my door – wearing jeans, no less!”

     I did make it to the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace and Museum on the next try. There were two buildings to tour, and I only had time to go through one, since I also wanted to walk and get dinner in downtown Chicago. I settled on the museum because I didn’t know very much about Hemingway. Despite my interest in literature, I have not read any of his works yet.

     The museum volunteer was a little too friendly for my taste. She would have told me stories at the front desk all day if I had let her. I sat through one story, in which she took ten minutes to narrate the tragic history of a BBC documentary of Hemingway’s life and how it happened that this museum owned the only remaining public copy of the film. At the end of this story, I extricated myself and headed into the museum itself.

     Inside, I found lots of pictures and plaques along with several artifacts from the author’s life. learned that Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899 in Oak Park (a small city that sits on Chicago’s western border) and went to school like most boys and girls do. After finishing high school, he became a news reporter and kept that job until he joined the military in 1916. He spent two years driving ambulances near the front lines before a blast of shrapnel severely injured him and sent him to a hospital back in the United States. Near the end of his time in the military, he met and fell in love with a nurse named Agnes. When his injury sent him home, he received a polite letter from Agnes, in which she told him she did not share his romantic feelings. Her rejection devastated him and many historians attribute the failure of his four ensuing marriages to that early heartbreak. He began his career as an author in 1926 and wrote six novels (among other works) before his death in 1961.

     I left as the museum closed, and my new friend at the front desk offered me a box of garlic knots, saying that she was too full to eat them. I politely declined and continued on my way – toward my own dinner, and the Magnificent Mile.

     The Magnificent Mile is a famous stretch of Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. It’s full of people, cars, restaurants, shopfronts, and huge buildings. I managed to find free parking, but I did have to walk a mile to get back to Michigan Avenue. The walk gave me the chance to see the skyline and to notice the moon as well.

      I made my way in a leisurely fashion to Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria. Two people I worked with in California have visited Chicago many times and both recommended this place. It was certainly popular when I got there. I waited an hour wait to sit down, but when the deep dish Chicago Classic Pizza came to my table, I knew the wait had been worth it. Sausage, cheese, sauce, and bread never tasted so good!

     After dinner, I walked back up the Magnificent Mile and detoured through some of Millenium Park. The sky was beginning to darken, so most of my pictures didn’t turn out very well. The walk was beautiful though, and I found a plaque that explained why. The many pavilions, fountains, gardens, and monuments that constitute Millenium Park were finished in 2004, and cost four hundred seventy-five million dollars to complete!  I am just one of the twenty-five million persons who are estimated to visit the park this year.

     Despite the good time I was having, I did not want to be out too long past dark since I’d have to walk through a few of the less populated parts of the city on my way back to my parking spot. So I called an end to the evening, had a safe walk to my car, and ended my night back at the Illinois State Beach.

     I enjoyed every bit of Chicago that I explored, but I know there’s a lot more to see. Maybe that’s why I liked it so much – I just can’t wait to go back!

September 29th – Beached

     In daylight, I found that I was parked at a place called Hawthorne Park. A thicket of trees surrounded the lot I had stopped in, and just past those trees, I discovered a beautiful wetland reserve. Since I was already parked there, I decided to start my morning off with a brisk walk around the water.

     With the invigoration that comes from spending time in nature, I began my drive to Chicago. I made two miles of progress before my stomach reminded me that invigoration is a wonderful thing, but food is much more practical, and I hadn’t eaten yet. I stopped at a Subway and walked in to buy I sandwich, as I usually do. After I parked, I realized that this Subway had a drive-through window! I continued in my old-fashioned ways though and walked in, bought my sandwich, and got back on the road. 

     A hundred fifty miles later, my attention was irresistibly drawn to signs on the Interstate that advertised for the, “Albanese Candy Factory.” It wasn’t the name that attracted me though, it was the pictures of giant gummy bears. I followed the signs and found the factory a few miles off the Interstate. Several windows in the back of the store allowed me to see into the candy factory, but cameras were prohibited.

    There was a wide variety of gummy candies in the store. I managed to restrain myself to purchasing two small bags.

    After driving another seventy-five miles, I made it to Chicago. That was the extent of my planning for the day – just make it into the city. So I pulled off the road and enjoyed this beautiful view of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline as I worked out a place to stay.

     I couldn’t find a free campsite anywhere near Chicago, so I prepared myself to pay for a site. I settled upon the Illinois State Beach campground. I had to drive another fifty miles to get there, but I it was a great campsite and I did not really want to stay close Chicago itself.

     The day ended with pushups, a shower, and a chance to sit down and read more of A Walk Across America. 

Travel Details
Starting Point: Terra Haute, Indiana
Destination: Illinois State Beach, Illinois
General Route: North on State Highway 41 and Interstate 65
Miles Driven: 275
Additional Note: 200 push-ups completed at Illinois State Beach, now 9 states done!

Additional additional note: I will include the above section when I have long days of driving so that it will be easier to see where I have been and how I’ve gotten there!

September 27th – Evansville, Indiana

     This morning was filled with all of the little things that keep begging for my attention. I checked up on my application status at Grand Canyon University, organized the confusion of papers that inevitably accumulates in my notebooks, and spent some time petting Lola, the family dog. 

     Lunch was spent celebrating the birthday of Dorothy’s oldest daughter. This time, the family gathering took place at a Mexican restaurant in the middle of town. The setting did nothing to quiet the group, so it was another meal filled with entertaining conversation.

     In the afternoon, Laura took several hours to give me an official tour of the area. She started out by driving us a couple miles east to show me the quaint little downtown area of Newburgh, which sits on the bank of the Ohio River and is home to several popular coffee shops.

     As we drove west, toward downtown Evansville, we passed the school that Laura went to growing up. We stopped at a rundown house in the historic district. Scott (Laura’s husband) has been using his skills as an electrician to rewire the house. We got to walk inside and see the remodeled kitchen, the rooms that were works in progress, and the dilapidated rooms that haven’t been touched in a long time. 

    After driving by several Victorian mansions on our continued tour of the historic district, we again encountered the Ohio River. I enjoyed watching a barge (the man-made, aquatic version of a snail) slowly push its cargo toward the Evansville port.

     I didn’t find any incredible views or famous places to take pictures of and write about, but I got to experience the culture of a small town. I heard lots of stories about the development of Evansville and the lives of the people there.

     Mixed in with these conversations, I also talked with Laura about our homeschooling experiences. She homeschooled her two daughters (Aden and her older sister, who moved away recently). Even halfway across the country, in an environment that is very different from my the one I’m used to, I found many parallels!

     In the evening, Aden invited me to join her at the bible study she goes to every week. On the way, she gave me a driving tour of the college she attends (University of Southern Indiana). We talked about being homeschooled, adjusting to college, and the difficulties of deciding on a career. 

     And that brought an end to my second day in Indiana!

September 20th – Pike’s Peak 2.0

     All week, I’ve had the idea of hiking Pike’s Peak in the back of my mind. I have already hiked one mountain on this trip (Buck Mountain), so why not make it two? That’s a great idea! 

     I knew this would be a serious hike though. It is a thirteen mile hike up Barr Trail to the top of Pike’s Peak and a thirteen mile hike back. That’s three miles less than what I did at Buck Mountain, but I would be gaining seventy-three hundred feet of elevation instead of thirty-five hundred. It would also be colder; the air would be forty degrees instead of sixty-five.

     So last night, I made sure that everything was in order. Lou generously lent me a Camelbak so that I would have a real hiking backpack instead of the bulky school backpack I lugged up Buck Mountain. He also lent me a set of two-layer gloves. The black outside layer had special fingerpads so that I could use my phone while wearing them. The white inside layer had silver in the weave to help retain heat.

     Into the Camelbak, I stuffed Cliff Bars, trail mix, a bagelwich, sunglasses, an extra shirt, and the gloves. I used the straps on the bottom to hold my windbreaker.

     I set all of this out last night (except the bagelwich, which I left in the fridge) and went to bed early so I’d be rested up for the big hike. I wanted to get going as early as possible. I’d found free parking in Manitou Springs several miles away from the trailhead. A shuttle goes between the parking and the trailhead once every twenty minutes from 6:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. I wanted to get on the first shuttle of the day so I’d have plenty of time to finish my hike and be back before the last shuttle left.

     I slept peacefully, knowing that the preparation and planning were taken care of. All I had to do this morning was wake up and go. There turned out to be a slight problem with that though; I slept an hour past the alarm I set for 5:00 A.M.  Oops! I jumped out of bed, picked up my pack, grabbed my bagelwich from the fridge, and rushed out the front door. I made it to Manitou Springs by 6:40 A.M., in time to catch the third shuttle. Not a perfect start to the day, but not a complete failure either. There would still be thirteen hours for me to finish the hike.

     I had five fellow hikers for company on the shuttle. One was a middle-aged man, here for his annual hike up the mountain. He had a ticket for the COG rail so that he wouldn’t have to hike back down. The other four were together – two guy friends and their girlfriends. They hoped to make it up and back today like I did.  

     I stepped onto Barr trail at 7:02 A.M., after a short walk from the shuttle stop. The trail started out tough – two miles of switchbacks and semi-steep climbing. My sleepy brain wondered if I really wanted to do this thing. Yes, I did. 

     The gloves Lou let me borrow were a lifesaver. I hiked for five minutes without them and my hands started to feel like swollen pincushions. I pulled the gloves out of my backpack and put them on. My hands felt a little better immediately and after several minutes they were perfectly normal.

     The hike up was long, and not as scenic as Buck mountain had been. Green trees and brown rocks are nice (I suppose), but after staring at them for a few hours, they became extremely boring. I started to wish for a change. The landscape must have heard my wish. I passed the treeline and all the green disappeared so that I was left  I was left with brown all around. Be careful what you wish for…

     With four miles to go, I stopped for a bagelwich lunch. Several birds joined me. One of them seemed especially interested in me. I held out a little piece of bagel and the bird hopped up onto my leg, flew away, then came back and snatched the bread out of my fingers.

     As my journey continued, another creature joined me. I wasn’t sure what it was – it looked like a beaver and a squirrel put together.

     At about twelve thousand feet, the view improved dramatically. I was high enough to see all around, and I found that brown rocks really can be picturesque with the proper background. I passed a hiker who was on his way down and we took pictures of each other.

     At one point, I looked back over the last bit of the trail I had followed. From where I stood, it was faintly visible on the mountainside as a sweeping curve headed toward the far ridge, a series of switchbacks zig-zagging down that ridge, and a long straight line moving away from the ridge again.

     The last two miles stretched on interminably. I stepped off the trail at 1:02 P.M., exactly six hours after I started the hike. As I reached the top, I was glad to just be done. In the big picture, I was only halfway done; I still had to go down. But I didn’t let myself think about that. I let myself enjoy the feeling of being done and of surviving

     I walked through the doors of the Summit House and saw, to my relief, that there were two water fountains waiting just for me.  I still had water in my Camelbak, but I was trying to drink it sparingly. At the water fountains, I could drink as much as I wanted. Except for one tiny problem. They didn’t work. Argh! Who puts water fountains at the end of a thirteen-mile trail without any water in them? Cruel people, that’s who. People who laugh at the suffering of parched hikers like me!

     So much for quenching my thirst. I decided to just drink a little more from my Camelbak, buy a hot chocolate, sit down, and eat some of the trail mix I’d brought with me.

     A few minutes after I sat down, a middle-aged man walked by my table. He had a Nikkon camera with him and he looked familiar. Suddenly, I remembered why.

     “Hi sir!” I said. “We were at the Molly Kathleen mine together yesterday!”

     “Oh yeah!” He replied. “What a coincidence! It’s good to see you again. Did you hike up the mountain?”

     I told him that I had indeed hiked up the mountain, and we chatted for a couple minutes. He told me that he took the COG rail and was there with two friends. As we talked, I showed him a few pictures I had taken. Finally, I came to the mystery animal that I had seen; the beaver-squirrel.

     “Hey, I saw this animal on the trail today. Do you know what it is?”

     “Sure, that’s a marmot.”

     Instantly, my mind flashed back to the scene where I met this man yesterday and I started to laugh at myself.

     Yesterday, Marie took us to the Visitor’s Center at the Molly Kathleen mine, where we learned that the mine itself was closed. It was here that I met the man. I was standing in front of an exhibit that showed animals commonly seen in the Rocky Mountains. There were pictures of eight animals. I was able to identify seven of the eight, but the last one gave me trouble.

     I wondered aloud, “What is that last animal?”

     A man behind me spoke up. “That’s a marmot.”

     I turned around to see a middle-aged man carrying a Nikkon camera.

     I said, “Thanks!” and walked to the next exhibit.

     I talked with the man at a couple other exhibits in the Visitor’s Center and, at the time, forgot all about that first conversation – until today, when I asked the very same man the very same question. Thankfully, while we were talking today he did not seem to remember that particular conversation from yesterday.

     After this man left to get back on the COG rail and go down the mountain, I wasn’t quite ready to resume my hike. I stayed in my seat and looked for more people to talk with. I ended up meeting a real, live knight and dame! Their names were Bill and Eileen, and they were part of the Order of Malta – the oldest surviving chivalric order (begun in the eleventh century), whose motto is, “Defence of the Catholic Faith and assistance to the poor.” Bill is a retired Air Force pilot. We chatted until they had to catch their ride down the mountain.

     Now that two groups had left in the time that I was sitting, I decided that I should get moving too. I made sure everything was stuffed back into my pack, put on my gloves, and walked out the back door of the Summit House.

     Before I got back onto Barr Trail, I was arrested by a thought. Wouldn’t it be cool to do pushups fourteen thousand feet above sea level? I decided to find out. 

     After doing twenty-five, I came to the conclusion that pushups feel exactly the same at sea level as they are on top a mountain. But I had gotten a start on the two hundred pushups I had scheduled for the day, so it was a good experiment.

     I stepped back onto Barr Trail at 2:02 P.M., which meant I had a little less than six hours to make it down before the last shuttle departed. And I did make it. I stopped at several places to do the remaining hundred seventy-five pushups over the next three hours, and had a mostly unremarkable hike down the rest of the way. I did see an F-16 fly quite close overhead. And I narrowly escaped being run over by mountain bikers who were zipping down the trail. And managed to get lost for twenty minutes. But my mind was focused on getting down and finding somewhere to sit down, so I barely noticed those things. Finally, I finished. I walked off the trail at 7:01 P.M., eleven hours and fifty-nine minutes after I started.

     I got to the shuttle stop before 7:20 P.M. and called home while I waited for it to arrive. The shuttle dropped me off at my car, I drove back to The Mansion and freshened up, and then I went out with Lou and Valli to enjoy a wonderful Mongolian Barbeque dinner. When we returned to The Mansion, I went straight to bed and enjoyed a glorious night’s sleep.

September 19th – Gold!

     Marie used to drive tour buses around Colorado Springs, and one of her favorite spots to highlight was the old mining operation in Cripple Creek, which is about forty miles west of Colorado Springs. She still loves sharing her knowledge of this area, so I got a free tour! Lou drove as Marie narrated, and Valli and Lou Sr. joined me in listening. 

     We started by driving to the town of Cripple Creek, parking, and taking a short walk. The town was founded in 1892 by the gold miners who started flooding in after gold was discovered in the fall of 1890. Now the town is a small-scale tourist attraction. Because of its status as a historical site, it is allowed to have casinos – and it does. I skipped past those and went straight to the real attraction – the candy store. I picked up a small bag of gummy coke bottles and another of gummy cherries. They also had a wide variety of truffles. I picked two: cinnamon and cappuccino.

     With the essential candy stop taken care of, the real tour started. Marie explained that gold mining still goes on today, but it has changed over the years. We started off by learning about the old style of mining and finished the day by visiting a modern mining operation. 

     We visited the Molly Kathleen mine, which is one of the most successful historical mines in Colorado. If we’d come on the right day, we could have gone on a tour and descended into the mine shaft to see the branching tunnels where miners blasted and chipped ore from the walls. We did not come on the right day though, so we had to use our imaginations.  

     We did find several pieces of mining equipment displayed above ground. This dumper car was used to pick up loose ore and put it into the ore car, which then traveled along the railway to reach the mine shaft elevator.

   In the pictures below you can see the tower that stood above the mine shaft, and to the right, the cable room which housed the ropes and motors necessary to raise and lower the elevator. 

     These buildings were the first stop on a great walking path that looped around and through an assortment of old mining equipment. We found storage buildings, insulated dynamite sheds, and a beautiful view of the countryside. 

     Gold mining still alive and well at Cripple Creek, but it is now done primarily at an open pit mine which sits on the backside of the hill we were walking on. During our walk, we heard an explosion and saw smoke float over the ridge.

     When we finished our walking loop, we drove to the other side of the hill and observed the huge mining pit that has been blasted out over the past twenty-two years. The enormous area dwarfs the huge ore trucks that are used to transport the blown rocks up to the processing site.

     The ore that comes from operations like this is an extremely low grade, usually resulting in less than one gram of gold per ton of ore. The extraction process involves crushing the ore and mixing it with water and cyanide, then allowing this solution to leech the gold out of the ore in a liquid form.

     And that was the end of our tour. We drove back to Marie’s house, then went back to The Mansion and lived happily ever after!


September 16th – Pike’s Peak

     Louis and I planned to drive up Pike’s Peak this morning, so we were excused from helping with the yard work. I suppose we abused our freedom though because we spent the morning sleeping in rather than driving. Finally, a little before noon, we got into the car and started on our way.

     We enjoyed a beautiful drive to the base of the peak. The leaves have just started changing on some of the trees around here, so the sun makes the hillsides glow green with streaks of bright yellow cutting through.

     At the bottom of the peak is a toll booth. I knew we would have to pay to get in, and I figured that the fifteen dollar vehicle admission fee was better than the forty-four dollar fee to ride the railway up the mountain.

     At the top, Louis and I put on our heavy winter coats before getting out to explore. The wind whipped right through my coat as if it weren’t even there. My car said that the temperature was only forty-two degrees, but the wind made it feel at least ten degrees colder.

      Eventually, the air got too cold for me and we went back to the car, ready to begin the descent. And then we changed our minds and got back out. There was one store at the top, called the Summit House, and we wanted to check it out. We found that most things were expensive (of course), but we were hungry. We passed up the seven dollar chicken sandwiches for one dollar “world famous” donuts and three dollar cappuccinos.

     After enjoying these goodies, we began our descent for real. Well, we did still have one more stop to make. Marie told us we should take a walk on the Elk Park Trail which is about a mile down the road from the top of the mountain. We had looked for it on the way up but didn’t see it. Her description hadn’t done much to get me excited about finding the place. She said, “You’ll see a white marker sticking up out of the ground slightly to the left of the road. Drive straight toward that marker until you drive off the edge of the mountain. Once you’re over the edge, you’ll see that there’s actually a dirt road under your tires, and you won’t fall thirteen thousand feet to the ground.”

     Those were her directions for approaching the trail from below. Finding it from above turned out to be very easy and much less terrifying. As I drove around a bend in the mountain, I saw the dirt road connect to the main road that I was driving on, and I just had to do a quick U-turn to get onto it.

     A few hundred feet down the road, we saw the trailhead and found a place to park. Louis and I got out and followed the trail for about three-quarters of a mile. I didn’t notice that the path sloped downhill until we started back uphill to return to the car. It was just a short walk, but by the time I made it back to the top, I was winded. Maybe it was the thin air, or maybe I need to start exercising again!

     We made it back to The Mansion around 3:30 P.M. Louis had to be back at the airport at 5 P.M. tonight for his flight back to Brea, so we went out for an early dinner at Culver’s. I’d driven past a couple of these fast-food restaurants so far during my stay in Colorado. Their advertisements highlight their “frozen custard” and “butterburgers.” I tried a butterburger. It was good but tasted just like any other decent hamburger to me. I still want to try their frozen custard though.

     After dinner, we made it to the airport on time and dropped Louis off at his terminal. Lou, Valli, and I went back to The Mansion and concluded the night with two games of Sequence (a board game where you place tokens on the board based on the cards in your hand and attempt to be the first player to make a row of five tokens), and two games of Cribbage (a card game in which you gain points from various combinations of the cards in your hand, and try to be the first player to a hundred-twenty points).

     Tomorrow is Sunday, so we won’t be working in the morning. I won’t sleep in quite as late as I did today though.

September 15th – Movie Night

     Back to work! This morning, after waking up a little later than I had intended, I joined Lou in the backyard to see what our tasks would be. I was not thrilled to find out that we would spend the day redoing yesterday’s work. We would be positioning the stakes about eighteen inches further back toward the house. That means Lou won’t have to buy as much dirt and the steps will sit more naturally in the existing slope.

     Since I woke up late though, the work day was pretty short. It felt like I’d just gotten outside when Valli started making apple pancakes for lunch. We cleaned up the tools around noon so that we could go eat them. They were wonderful!

     Our afternoon was spent at Marie’s house, where we joined in with a weekly game of Blitz (a card game I had never played before) between Marie, Lou Sr., their friend Ed, and Ed’s caretaker. When we weren’t busy playing, I  heard a little bit about Ed’s experiences in the Air Force. He served during WII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. His favorite plane to fly was the F-4 Phantom. After he retired from piloting, he continued in the military as a flight instructor for several years.

     Marie won the first game of Blitz and I won the second, After these games and a snack, Ed and his caretaker returned home. The rest of us talked for another half hour at the table before deciding to go for a walk around the neighborhood. Along the way, I met two dogs that looked like Alaskan Huskies. From the howls and growls that this one made though, it may have been a wolf instead. 


     Back at Marie’s house, Louis and I were interested in watching 2001: A Space Odyssey. Since I am interested in Sci-Fi, I’ve heard of both the book and movie quite frequently. It came up in conversation again earlier this week, and I figured it would be fun to finally see it.

     I was wrong. It was not fun. Most of the movie was slow, boring, strange, and confusing. There was one fun part in the middle though. 

     The middle part of the movie focuses on a colony ship that is headed for Jupiter. Most of the colonists aboard the ship are in artificially-induced sleep, but two crew members remain awake to take care of necessary procedures. They are aided by a supercomputer named Hal – the newest and most reliable version of artificial intelligence yet made. In the end, he turns out to be a bit too smart and decides that he (and possibly the universe) would be better off without the humans aboard the ship. So turns against his human masters, kills one of them, sends the other one spiraling off into space, and then turns off the life-support systems on the ship, thus killing the rest of the colonists.

     Other than this interesting interlude, the whole movie was spent on drawn-out scenes of apes jumping up and down, spaceships flying slower than snails creep, and colors strobing across the screen in strange psychadelic patterns.

     We finished the movie and discussed its obscure and confusing plot. Then we drove back to the Mansion and went to bed.

September 9th – Buck Mountain

– Bring a lot of food and water
– Take some pictures
– Listen to an audiobook
– Walk a long, long way

     This was my strategy as I woke up and drove back to the Teton National Forest this morning. I suppose it would be more accurate to call it an outline. A very rough outline. Looking back, it probably could have been improved if I had figured out specific details (especially about where I was walking). But if I took the time to work all of that out, maybe I would have chickened out and not gone on the hike. And then I would have missed my favorite adventure of this trip so far. Here’s the story of how it turned out.

     I did bring a lot of food. Two ham and cheese bagelwiches, two cliff bars, two servings of protein powder, one snack-sized bag of trail mix, half a bag of baby carrots, and five bottles of water. Yes, I put all of that in my backpack. It was heavy and made me sweat disgustingly (although that may have happened even if I hadn’t been wearing the backpack). It was well worth it all though when I was able to satisfy my hunger and thirst with the treasures I carried.

     I took some pictures. Quite a few pictures – over a hundred, for the second day in a row. Yesterday it was easy to sort through the photos. Some were interesting and most weren’t. The interesting ones went into my post for the day and the others will be forgotten. Today it’s harder. The mountains, trees, animals, and clouds were incredible from every angle. A hundred pictures are too many to post though, so I picked my favorite-favorites and had to leave the rest (my just-normal-favorites) behind on my SD card.

     I listened to an audiobook. I borrowed A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain from the online library I use. I started it on my drive to the trailhead and finished it about three-quarters of the way through my hike. Eventually, I’ll write my thoughts about it on the “Books” page that is linked on the sidebar of this site. There’s already more than enough to write about today without adding in a book summary.

     I did walk a long, long way – and I did a lot more climbing than I expected to. Last night, I decided to start my hike at the Taggart Lake Trailhead and see how far I could go. It looked like the trail went in a big circle around the Teton Range. I thought it would be cool to see the mountains from the every angle, and that’s what I expected to do. It turned out that the trail goes over the top of the mountains, not around, and that the full loop is at least a forty-mile trip. By the time I figured that out, I was already over six miles into the hike and I really didn’t want to turn back. I decided to keep going until prudence absolutely insisted that I turn back. Before I talk about that though, I should probably go back to the beginning.

     The hike started out well. After walking for a solitary forty-five minutes, I met a friendly squirrel – at least I think he was a squirrel. Maybe Sam, the official wildlife expert on this site, can double check that for me. Anyway, the squirrel (as I will call him for now) seemed quite excited to see me with my camera and he posed perfectly for a picture. I think he was embarrassed after I took it though because he started to hide his face behind the branch he was sitting on.

     The path was well kept for the most part. There were a few places though where I had to push my way through fresh undergrowth that hadn’t yet been trimmed back.

     The grass and vegetation stayed with me for the first three miles. Then I was moved onto a hardpacked dirt path which led in a long, gradual slope to this view of Phelps Lake. From here the trail went into downhill switchbacks. I enjoyed the easy walk down and I hoped I wouldn’t have to walk back up.

     The hardpacked dirt continued and I started to ascend again. I got a great side view of the mountain range.

     At this point, I started to figure out that I was headed right toward the middle of the mountains, not the back. The trail began to climb more steeply and stones appeared in the pathway, sometimes as steps and sometimes only managing to get in the way. A series of tiny waterfalls ran roughly parallel to the trail and sometimes came close enough for me to walk onto them.

     Eventually the I reached a clear pool of water that fed the waterfalls. Once I passed that, I entered a dense forest that ushered me to the base of what turned out to be a four-mile path of endless switchbacks. This was by far the worst part of the hike. So far, I had gone about ten miles in a little over three hours. This four-mile stretch took another three hours all by itself.

     In the picture on the left, you can see the narrow path that led upward. If you look carefully at the picture on the right, you’ll see the flowers and grass in the foreground with everything else in the background. The only thing in between was a steep slope with some shrubbery growing on it. I didn’t think that falling off the side of the path would be very fun so I did my best to avoid it.


     Those switchbacks seemed to last forever. I did my best to keep moving up, then I’d rest for a few minutes. I felt wimpy when I needed to rest every hundred steps, but I knew I was still making progress. At last, I made it. Not to the top, but to a ridge that was almost flat. I looked behind me and saw this beautiful view.

      I kept going up, but I knew it was getting too late in the day for me to even hope that I could finish the loop. I knew that it would be beyond stupid to try. I would most likely get stuck on the peak of a mountain all night in thirty-degree weather and then I’d be discovered by a mother bear who would think I was a popsicle and carry me away to her den where she would share me with her hungry cubs.

     Before giving in and taking the wise course back down the mountain, I went a little further up the trail to see what I would miss when I turned around. I saw the peak of Buck Mountain, about a thousand feet higher up. I climbed toward it until the switchbacks started again. Then I took a couple more pictures of the heavenly mountain panorama I had walked so far to see and started back down the mountain.

     The trip down didn’t seem too long at first. The switchbacks only took an hour and a half to get through. And on my way down, I was cheered on by another friendly rodent. This looks like a chipmunk to me, but I’ll need to call on Sam again before I know for sure.

     The reality of this hike set in on me as I made my way back through the forest and down the rocky steps next to the waterfalls. Getting to the top of the mountain had been difficult. But now I had to go back and retrace every step I had taken. It was much easier going down, but by this point, I had walked twenty miles already today.

     I told myself that when I arrived back at Phelps Lake, I would take a break and enjoy the last bagelwich that I had been saving to eat sometime during the return trip. I made it back to the lake and happily stretched out on the rocks and roots shown in the picture below and to the left. I had a clear view of the lake from here, similar to the picture I took as  I passed Phelps lake on my way up the mountain.

     From my cozy perch, I watched the sun make its way toward the horizon. I didn’t want to be stuck out in the dark forest alone, so I got back on my tired legs and continued my return trip.

     To take my mind off of my tired legs, I decided to knock out the two hundred pushups I still needed to do in Wyoming. I stopped every ten minutes over the next several miles, to do a set of twenty pushups, then got up and started walking again.

     The sun went down while I was still walking and when it eventually got dark, I used my phone’s flashlight to make sure I stayed on the path. Soon after dark, I reached the Taggart Lake Trailhead. I still had to walk a quarter mile to the parking lot, and I managed to finish off the long walk with my new trademarked move – wandering around in circles while trying to figure out which way to go.

     I did eventually get myself pointed the right way and made it safely to my car around 9:30 PM. I climbed stiffly into my car and checked my watch to see how many miles I had put on my feet today. It showed twenty-nine point seven miles. I really wished that I could have hit thirty, but my legs wanted nothing to do with me after what I had already put them through.

     I drove back to my campsite and walked around in circles some more as I got myself ready for bed. When I lay down in my sleeping bag, my watch told me I hit exactly thirty miles for the day. That was a great way to go to sleep.

September 8th – Jenny Lake

     This was a simple day. I woke up intending to go on a “writing hike.” I was going to explore some trails at Jenny Lake (the largest of several small lakes in the area) and take several breaks along the way to write. I ended up with a relaxed morning, a late start, and a long hike with only a little writing included.

     I started hiking with the best intentions and even stopped once to compose a brilliant masterpiece. At this stop, I found a new chair to get acquainted with. This one was an ergonomically shaped tree trunk with a smooth stone placed right below it. From this seat, I could enjoy the view of the mountains and hear the gentle splash of water as the waves came and went.

     When I finished the writing that I wanted to do at that point, I got up and kept walking. I decided to follow the path I was on as it curved around Jenny Lake. The route looked fun to me, and I thought it would be good to make this a long walk so that I would have more time to write.

     I almost took a second writing break, but then I decided I wasn’t ready yet – I wanted to get further down the trail. I kept telling myself I wanted to walk just a little bit further until I reached the halfway point of the loop I had chosen to walk. At that point, I realized that I was more than five miles into the walk and I still had at least five miles to go – and the smokey haze in the sky had been joined by clouds that looked about ready to burst.


     So much for writing. I just kept walking and hoped that the rain would hold off till I made it back to my car. After two light showers, the rain took pity on me and went away. The clouds even dissipated as I neared the end of my hike and left the sky a little clearer than it was before.

     The hike turned out to be a lot of fun – way more fun than I expected. I took more than a hundred pictures and walked eleven miles. It’s inspired me to do more hiking. I think I may wake up early and try a longer path tomorrow.