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.

October 2nd to 5th – Elkhart, Indiana

Well… I am starting to see that it will be difficult to make daily blog entries through the rest of my trip. Some days I don’t go on crazy adventures and don’t really do anything worth writing about. I am enjoying every day, but some of the joys of this trip are the little things — like rest and spending time with people. And I don’t want to fill these posts with details that are only interesting to me; I want to write about the exciting stuff that I would want to read about.

Also, my slow writing has been up taking several hours each day, which has left less time and energy for the experiences of this trip. I think that I need to re-prioritize. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore new places and spend time with relatives and friends. I have to keep that at the center of my efforts and let writing play second fiddle. So for these reasons, I am going to start grouping some days together and taking longer to post updates.

My parents warned me not to set my expectations too high for this blog Of course, I did — because if I didn’t dream of accomplishing big things, I would never get off the couch to do anything at all. I am glad I started this blog and made it this far because it showed me how hard it is to live life and analyze it at the same time. Now I have to take a step back so that I can make the most of my trip. It may take a while for me to write it all down, but I will finish it eventually. Writing will wait while living won’t, so I will worry about the living part right first.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming! After a night spent at a rest stop just inside the border of Michigan (October 2nd), I drove into Indiana for the second time on this trip. Last week I visited family in southern Indiana. This time I drove into the northern part of the state for a three-day stay with friends who live in the small town of Elkhart.

I spent two days (October 3rd and 4th) with Scott and Ulrike, who have been friends of our family for years. Like all the people who have so graciously hosted me thus far, they made me feel completely welcome and at home right away. Ulrike made the time to take me on a tour of Elkhart on the first day of my visit. We began with a brisk walk along a river that used to power a gristmill.

Our conversation on this walk and throughout the day highlighted a unique experience I have had while reconnecting with people on my journey. When I have visited with family friends before, I have always been with my family. I’ve been Matthew, alongside my brothers and parents. As I’ve spent time with people on this trip though, there hasn’t been a family to hide behind. I am just Matthew, and this has allowed (and required) me to build a more individual relationship with longtime family friends. It makes me feel rather grown up!

Our tour continued with a visit to the nearby Amish community. While driving, we passed a lot of white houses with carriages out front. When we reached the town, we made stops at a cheese factory, a grocery store (where they sold excellent peach ice cream), a donut/bread shop, and a garden. Ulrike had hoped to show me an Amish blacksmith that she had heard about, but for some reason we hadn’t been able locate him or his website with a Google search. Go figure!

Our last stop was a riverwalk that took us to Island Park, where the Elkhart river joins the St. Joseph river.

The next day, Scott gave me a tour as well – although I didn’t get to eat any ice cream while I was with him. His tour took me through the offices, storage facilities, and workshop of SonSet Solutions, which is a missionary organization that seeks to use technology to equip gospel teachers and engage global audiences. He and Ulrike have worked with SonSet for as long as I have known them.

I lacked the technical expertise to appreciate everything that Scott explained to me, but I enjoyed the tour. He showed me one of the enormous short-wave radio towers that SonSet has used overseas to broadcast the gospel, as well as the radio receivers they distribute to people who are interested in listening to the broadcast.

On the last day of my visit, I got to sit in on a meeting of editors and writers at SonSet. I appreciated that opportunity since I am interested in pursuing a career in professional writing, which may include editing or copywriting.

I spent my last night with Marla and Curt, two new friends from SonSet Solutions. We had a wonderful dinner and discussion about Christianity.

I woke up to a beautiful view of the cornfield behind their back yard. We said our goodbyes, and I was on my way to Pennsylvania.

I will be spending the night in Harrison National Forest tonight. My drive was accompanied by rain most of the way. Despite the weather, I had to make a stop for a few minutes at a basketball court along the way to take a break from driving and shoot some baskets.

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 26th – More Family!

     I left Leawood at 9 A.M., after having breakfast with Ruth and saying farewell. I was headed toward Evansville, Indiana, where Dorothy (another of my first cousins once removed) lives. I called her yesterday and she told me that she had invited her four children and their families over for dinner, so I should prepare for a big welcome. 

     My four hundred mile drive across Missouri and Illinois went by smoothly. There was only one problem; I did not stop to do 200 pushups in Missouri. I decided last night that I wouldn’t have time to squeeze in a half hour, sweat-producing stop on my drive to a dinner with relatives that I have never met before. I also skipped Illinois, but my next stop will be Chicago and I will have plenty of time to fit them in while I am there. So now my record is 7-2; I missed Montana and Missouri and have completed my challenge in every other state I’ve driven through.

     I did make one very important stop though. I found a White Castle location to serve as my introduction to the world of square hamburgers. I bought one of their combos, which included four sliders (with square buns and patties, of course), an order of fries, and a drink. They tasted exactly like hamburgers, fries, and drinks always taste at fast-food restaurants, so I was satisfied. 

     I made it to Evansville at 4:30 P.M., right on schedule. I approached the door which I believed belonged to my relative and hoped that I had the correct address this time. After taking a deep breath, I knocked. To my relief, the woman who opened the door said, “You must be the relative whom Aunt Dorothy is expecting!” Since I certainly was that relative, I told her that she was correct.

     Dorothy welcomed me in and introduced me to the two of her granddaughters who were already there. Over the next hour, the rest of the thirteen family members trickled in. I had been warned to expect a boisterous crowd and I was not disappointed. Conversation at the dinner table was filled with stories, jokes, and good-humored teasing.

     Arrangements had been made for me to stay with Scott (one of Dorothy’s four children), his wife, Laura, and their daughter, Aden. After dinner and dessert, I followed them to their house, which was only ten minutes away. Laura gave me a tour of the house and showed me where my room was.

     It was still only 9 P.M., so Aden invited me to join her at Buffalo Wild Wings, where she was going to hang out with some teammates from her intramural softball team. I accepted the invitation and enjoyed a sophisticated beverage (water) while visiting with them.

     And that was about it for the day! I came back from the restaurant and went right to bed, tired from a long day of driving and visiting. 

September 25th – Leawood, Part 3

     Today I had the chance to live a normal day, just like I would at home. But I’m not at home. I’m in Leawood Kansas. Opportunities like this are the best part of my trip. They aren’t the highlights and there really isn’t a lot to say about them individually, but they are still the best parts. They are full of a thousand little things that we don’t usually think about because they are normal. As I travel the country, they become more and more interesting because I get to compare the thousand little things of one state and city and household with the thousand little things of another.

     I’m not a psychologist or an anthropologist – I’m not building theories of human behavior. I’m just watching people and living alongside them. I am learning to empathize with new people and to uphold my own life choices while I respectfully learn about theirs.

     The day of little things started with a late breakfast and a few minutes of reading A Walk Across America. Then there was a trip to Home Depot with Ruth for some bags of topsoil which we carried into her backyard.

     A friend of Ruth’s came by for a visit in the late morning. Her name is Maureen, and she has done fairly well as a ghostwriter. She encouraged me to continue pursuing my interest in writing and told me I’d better keep my blog up to date, or she would follow me across the country and give me a good whipping. I’ll do my best, but I may have to keep an eye out for the rest of my trip.  

     Ruth had a coupon for a free car wash, which she generously donated to my filthy vehicle. Now it is as good as new! After a quick lunch at Costco, we returned to Ruth’s house so that the neighborhood handyman could install some shelves in the dining room. I helped him as much as I could.

     In the evening, Ruth picked Rachel up from school and Jared came over for a piano lesson, since Jared does not have a piano at his house. I talked to the piano teacher, scootered with Rachel, and tried to help with dinner. Then we were off to Jared’s little league baseball game. Sadly, he did not win – but he did get his first hit of the season. After the game, Ruth and I returned to her house and finished the evening by watching a little bit of TV.

September 24th – Leawood, Part 2

     Being a twenty-one-year-old in an adult Sunday School class and a stranger from California draws a lot of attention. That was the situation when I went to the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection with Ruth this morning. We arrived early to give her time to prepare for teaching the class (today was the first of three lessons she is teaching on biblical happiness), so I had time to visit with the friendly people who came over to welcome me. One man – George – told me about his time as a college student in California when he kept himself employed by cleaning pools in Beverly Hills. Everyone wished me well on my journey.

     After Sunday School, we went home for lunch. We planned to return to the church in the evening for a worship service. At lunch, I met Ruth’s daughter, Rebecca, and two young grandchildren, Rachel and Jordan. We talked about school and sports, and after the meal, I was requisitioned by the kids to join them in their lego building and card game playing.

     Ruth is involved with giving tours of the church she attends (it really is a grand building and it is becoming famous for the enormous stained glass window housed within), so she had to leave for the afternoon. I tagged along with Rebecca and her children to spend the afternoon at their home. In the course of my time with them, I took a tour of their dad’s huge collection of baseball cards which are displayed in the basement, played Spot It (a matching card game), and I was coerced into playing Just Dance (a video game which is exactly what the name makes it sound like).

     In the evening, Ruth and I went back to church and listened to the pastor, Adam Hamilton, preach a sermon on the famous story of Peter and John as they met a met a lame beggar on their way into the temple. Then Ruth had Handbell practice, and I got to catch my breath, write all this down, and get ready for bed.

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 18th – Settled Down

     I’ve been at The Mansion for six days now! Life almost feels normal, even though I’m a thousand miles from home and I still have three months of travel ahead of me. It is a bubble of routine in a bathtub of adventures.

     Since my days have become so normal, I won’t bore you with the details. I wake up, eat, and sleep in normal patterns now; I don’t have to drive in circles looking for a place to park at night. On days like this, where most things are routine, I will just pull out a couple details to share.


     The slope is progressing wonderfully. Marie (Lou’s sister) came over and lent a hand today. Actually, she lent two hands, and they were both greatly appreciated. She used her two hands and a shovel to dig trenches in the slope at the spots we’d spent so long marking out last week. Lou and I came behind to level the dirt in the trenches and to start laying the steps.


     Valli made Colorado Green Chili for lunch. I didn’t ask a whole lot of questions about it, I just know that it was a very good stew and that the dish gets its name from the Colorado Green Chillies used to make it.

     At dinner, I enjoyed my first calzone. We went to a restaurant called Old Chicago, which is a pizza place/brewery that reminds me of BJ’s Pizza back home. My delicious calzone had ham, sausage, and three types of cheeses inside the crispy folded crust. 

Home Video

     When we were working on the steps today, we had to split several stone blocks in half so that our stairs would fit into the spot we had for them. We used a chisel that seemed pretty normal to me, but Lou said that there was a story behind it.

     In the evening, he brought out an old home video that showed the story. When Lou was young, his family lived in Colorado Springs (not in The Mansion though). His dad, Lou Sr., decided that he wanted a basement in his house and that he wanted to construct it himself. So he set up a conveyor belt to carry dirt out to the yard and started digging. When the family finished clearing out the dirt, they started working on the walls. Lou Sr. still had a job during the day, and often went on business trips. That left his wife to keep working on the project in the “spare-time” she had while raising Lou and his siblings. That’s where the chisel comes into the story. After putting the children to bed, she went downstairs and chiseled away at the walls until Lou Sr. called home around 10 P.M. and made sure she stopped for the night. 

September 17th – Backyard Visitors

     Today was full of many good things; church in the morning, lunch at a Chinese restaurant, rest in the afternoon, a phone call with my family, and a chance to play my guitar and sing with Lou and Valli in the evening. There were two extra good points in the day though.

     First, I saw two deer in the backyard of The Mansion. I was talking to my parents on the phone and walking around outside when I saw them. Lou and Valli had mentioned that their backyard was a popular hangout for deer, but seeing them right there, so close up, was another thing entirely.


     I got the impression that one of them didn’t like me and the other one didn’t trust me, but they continued eating contentedly as I walked to the edge of the porch and took pictures of them. I left them alone after that and noticed that they were gone about twenty minutes later.

     Second, I got to make sushi to go with our delectable dinner of miso soup, rice, and curry chicken. This was the first time I’ve made sushi, so Valli showed me how to do it. We placed a seaweed sheet on the cutting board, covered a section with sticky rice, then put cucumber, pickled plum, and shiso leaf (also called beefsteak or Japanese basil) inside, then rolled it all up and cut it into two-inch pieces. This kind of sushi is called an ume roll.

     During dinner, I tried a tiny dab of wasabi on my first piece of sushi. Wasabi is so strange – the way it burns upward through the nose instead of burning the mouth like most spicy foods do. Looking at my next piece, I thought, “Well, if a little wasabi is interesting, why not try a lot?” So I put on about five times as much. Whew! This time the burn flared all the way up my face, blowing through my nose and getting my eyes on the way up. Another experience to remember!