The Garden Isle Inn

As we descended through a small town on the Island of Kauai in our rental car we sought a hotel room for the night, in the morning we would hitch-hike to the entry to the Kalaulau Trail. We ended up in a valley at a small sea side port near Kalapaki Beach. There was a huge commercial chain resort on one side of the road, and on the other, a small, charming family owned motel. The lot was gravel, the motel probably had less than a dozen rooms and the courtyard consisted of overhanging trees, vines and tiny lights strewn among them above garden chairs and exotic flowers. The walkway was decorated with laid, hand painted tiles with images of sea turtles and sea shells. This was the Garden Island Inn.

You might miss this tropical gem if you weren’t looking close enough, there were two levels and with doors on the outside along the lanais, next to each door a small window of glass jalousies. The railings painted aqua blue and driftwood hung from the walls over the courtyard. It was perfect. When we went to check for a room the pleasant and casually friendly lady at the desk welcomed us, her smile was inviting and sweet and she informed us there was indeed one room available, so we gladly accepted it. She even offered to stash our duffle bag and extra equipment for us while we hiked the Napoli Coast out of kindness.

The small lobby office was decorated with bamboo, shelved board games and VCR tape cassettes were available to borrow…not to rent. As she finished our paperwork I watched the Koi lazily swim about in the pool that extended beyond the wall to the outside courtyard. Our room was simple, tiled and clean, and the garden fresh and quiet, sitting there at sunset you can hear the slight barking of Geckos as they climb the stuccoed walls of the motel. And as the sun sank beyond the ocean we watched feral roosters stammer about in the grass alongside the beach among hundreds of black crabs, running to and fro avoiding crashing vibrant blue waves.

This was a perfect start to our next adventure, often we think of that small motel and smile, the staff so personable and friendly, small businesses are still alive and well and pertinent in today’s world, this place was an integral part of making our vacation as fun and wonderful as it was.

Mickey (our puppy)

Sometimes our greatest adventures aren’t planned out with every mile accounted for and the places we’ll stay secured before we leave, sometimes they are the ones thought of at the end of a day and acted upon with little planning and or preparation.

Shira and I had been looking for a new member of our team, one we can take with us on new adventures and exploring along the river near our home. We wanted to find a dog, old enough to not have to worry about too much training and a breed that is hypoallergenic so that we don’t have to worry about allergies shared by Tracy’s older kids. We wanted a smart dog and one whom likes to explore with a good temper and disposition. We ended up deciding on a Portuguese Water dog because they aren’t a huge dog and are totally hypoallergenic and love being active and around water as well. It seemed like a perfect fit for us so we began looking but soon came to the conclusion that people do not rid their families of Porties (as owners tend to refer to them) but rather keep them for life, and that’s the way it ought to be but it made it impossible to find one for us past the potty training phase.

So as a last ditch effort Tracy reached out to the nearest breeders of Portuguese Water Dogs and asked if they might contact us in the off chance that someone may have an older Portie for us to adopt. Well that didn’t really happen however the owner’s of Traverse Bay Portuguese Water Dogs, a breeder outside of Traverse City, Michigan contacted us with a single, litter pick that was looking for a home, and after communicating with them and viewing video footage of this pup, yes only four and half months old, and seeing many photographs we were fully engaged. She was beautiful, her color magnificent, playful and very photogenic. We wanted to meet her and so as Friday wound down at work the decision was made last minute to drive out to the Lake Ann area of Michigan, on the opposite side of the lake from our home in Minnesota. We met at home after work, threw some leftovers in a cooler, grabbed our go bag with a change of clothing and drove off through the monotony and psychosis of rush hour traffic, over the Mississippi River into Wisconsin, and headed for the Northern Peninsula.

As with every trip we were excited to hit the road, with a little initial stress over maneuvering through rush hour we took some huge, deep breathes and sat back to watch Wisconsin fly by excited to take in all we can on our first adventure of the season. The sun shone and we dialed in songs to sing along too as we cruised and talked about our hopes and dreams, adventures and follies we might share with our new pal. Eventually the sun fell away and with evening came cooler weather and some rain. The road was good and we made pretty decent time. We had planned on staying overnight on the way there as the entire trip consisted of many single lane highways along the coast of Lake Michigan for about 12 to 13 hours; if we’d drove the entire trip in one shot, so we found a small motel in Escanaba, Michigan. A great little place just off of main street, it was very clean, very outdated but the owner was kind and pleasant at midnight when we asked for a room; we hadn’t accounted for the time change and thought we might catch him before he closed for the evening, but that wasn’t the case, so he answered the door anyhow in his slippers and bath robe, and placed our names in a big book by hand. Bid us a nice evening and shuffled back into his quarters. The room was well tended to but old, the carpet clean but worn and the bed rock hard but it was warm and dry. It had rained for the last couple hours on the road so we fell asleep hoping for a nicer day to follow.

Morning came early and we were excited to get on the road, we had four and half hours to drive and half way was the Mackinaw Bridge. The weather wasn’t bad for travelling but it was misty and wet the majority of the way. The day would bring many interesting sites, and no two were alike, and none left us with more questions than one tree just outside of Rapid River, Michigan. The road was wet, it was foggy and we had only been in the car for about twenty minutes when we shot past a tree just after crossing over the Tacoosh River, with what at first glance appeared to have been taken over by some strange, foreign growth. But there was something more strangely about this growth as we decided to spin around and take a second glance at said tree.

When we pulled up to it again it was not a natural growth which had overtaken nearly every branch, burdened every limb and hung unsightly over the gravely edges of the road, no this was no lichen, it was hundreds of pairs and shoes, tennis shoes, dress shoes and the like, each set laces knotted tossed around it’s thinly leafed branches. There was something not only odd but dark and mysterious about this tree, and if that weren’t enough, just under a hundred yards from the tree stood an abandoned ramshackle cabin, one imagined an old codger lived once, foraging from the land to live out his final days long ago, but as we’d learned as we drove on was that the legend behind the shoe tree was much more sinister and evil. That consisting of an allegedly murderous individual and missing children, then as you file through the search engines you realize there are many of these “Shoe Trees” through-out the country, still it leaves one’s mind haunted, at least until we saw the giant, tanker sized hot dog covered in relish on the St Ignace side of the Mackinaw Bridge.

And there it was, we finally arrived at the Mackinaw Bridge, we pulled off the road to catch a view from the shoreline and catch a snapshot or two. After all the Mackinaw Bridge is nearly 20,000 feet longer than the famed Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, although I ‘d gamble the weather was better in San Francisco. The bridge itself is a huge feat of construction, spanning 26,372 feet across the Straits of Mackinac its over 500 feet tall and 155 feet, at its apex above Lake Michigan. It was around 8:15 in the morning and cold and windy along the shore, we managed to get a picture and looking at the bridge it looked no less ominous than it did driving over it; there are two towering structures on the bridge from which the deck is suspended, the first barely visible through the dense fog and the second completely hidden. It was neat but sort of spooky.

It has been said that if you don’t like the weather on some part of Lake Michigan then drive along the coast and you’ll find it different around the next corner. That seemed to be the case as we drove South East along the coast from St Ignace to Traverse Bay. The sun shone and the rain blew away and the sun poured down upon us as we drove by miles of quaint little motel cabins, pine trees, birch trees and rolling sand dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

When we finally arrived at Traverse Bay, Traverse City, we couldn’t have expected what we’d found, it reminded me of a Midwestern version of Lake Tahoe. Old streets lined with shops and small eateries, a boardwalk along the dark water canals off of Front Street and people picnicking and playing along the beach under the sun in 60 degree weather, it was wonderful. Folks wore sandals and sunglasses sipping on iced coffees and gelatos, a vastly different scene than we’d experienced during the rest of the trip. We even took a break on the beach ourselves, laying in the warm sand, listening to people and their dogs splashing in the clear, clean water near the marina and the Bijou by the Bay theatre.

By dinner time we’d found our Mickey, she was as beautiful as her every picture, friendly, soft and she made a fantastic road trip partner on the way home. We got to know each other over the next 1,600 miles back through Green Bay and on to Bloomington, Minnesota. The trip home was long; we were all tired of the ride by the time we reached the end of our trip. At one point none of us felt comfortable enough in one particular Bate’s like motel we ended up in for only a few hours to really get much sleep; it was really old, unkept, overly worn in and well, just kind of scary. So we hit the road again, this time though the fog was so thick that the visibility was limited to about three to four car lengths over much of the trip before Sunday afternoon. So we took it slow, and wouldn’t you know it that at the first stop for gas that morning we ended up with a flat tire. Here is a tip, before heading out on a long road trip make certain you can get your spare tire out from underneath your older model vehicle. It turned out that the contraption that held our spare tire up under the back end had rusted in place so as not to allow me to lower it down for use.

We ended up calling our road side service, and this would have worked out fine except that the rep for the service sent the actual service person to the wrong town in Michigan…over a hundred and fifty miles to the South of our location and it took a few hours for this to come to light. Apparently there are two towns which sound alike; Manistique to the North where we ended up and Manistee to the South where our service guy searched for us at three thirty in the morning. Eventually we got things figured out and after sleeping for a few hours in the cab of our truck in the parking lot of a gas station we were lucky enough to have a young man free the spare tire on our vehicle with a torch so we could get back on the road, then he directed us to his dad’s shop in the next town where he fixed our flat and remounted for us. They couldn’t have been more helpful and soon we were back on the road for home. If you are ever near the Hiawatha National Forest in Rapid River, Michigan, stop in at TKL Repair and say hi, if you are a Chevy fan you’ll enjoy seeing the old, beautifully restored Chevy pick-up trucks in the shop.

Back at home our new pal Mickey was running with tail wagging through her new back yard, she was happy, it might be the big yard, it might be the attention she is getting from the two of us or it might just be that she’s not still sitting in that ‘ol pickup truck. If the weather were nicer and we’d had more time there were plenty of places we could have stopped and explored more, the coast line of Lake Michigan is beautiful, lined with Birch trees and pine trees and rolling sandy dunes, with lots of cute little towns and many wonderful people and pretty, cool, blue water.

Shira Bears All

Bearing ourselves is not an easy task for some of us; we are left vulnerable, at the mercy of others and open to being judged by all those around us. But for Shira, bearing herself comes easy when she happens upon an effigy of those often musky, beautiful creatures that roam our forests and woodlands, some are black, some are brown, some are tall and Grizzly and some are stout and timid. But all are the common image representing the wild side of our planet; those bold, untamed, natural creatures that embody power, strength, integrity and freedom, a fitting tribute to someone who’s evolved over the last few years to become all of that and more.

Dedication:

I might imagine that it isn’t too often that a person wandering through life would happen upon someone whom changes their lives by association. That in knowing that new person who’s crossed their path; they become stronger, more passionate, more honest and happier. Shira is that person for me, in spite of the fact that our backgrounds and previous chapters are so vastly different on the surface, there are elements of our lives, separately, parts of our stories that are darker and harder to reflect on than others, and in those we share common ground.

It’s within those shared tightly packaged boxes we have stored away, dark chapters, pained history that we have found each other and solidified our places within our newly shared lives, we began a new story together, started a journey during which we have learned to love again and in a different manner than before. It’s along the edges of these new paths we have discovered, these mountain corridors, rivers and abandoned roadways that we have found the strength to bear ourselves once more and in turn have been rewarded with a new trust, with honor and unrelenting and selfless love, unencumbered by guilt and freed by desire.

Shira has shown me a new way to love and be loved, and I cherish that. Thank you, I dedicate this to you.

Have you ever found yourself sitting alone, feeling as though you are just getting by, you try and keep your emotions at bay but some days it’s harder than others and they feel as though they are just under the surface, boiling, churning, waiting for that slight break in your mood to bust out and render you hopeless?

Then you hear that person nearby, at first you don’t see them but their laughter echoes in your mind like gnats around your ears. When you do see her, she is on her phone and attempting to keep her yogurt behind her lips as she cackles at whoever she is talking to. At first you hate her, she seems happy and that’s just plain annoying, especially when feeling happy is so hard for you, when feeling sad or even worse, feeling nothing is so easy.

Sometimes I think just getting by is all right, at least there is forward movement. Sometimes riding out the tough times is harder than other times but in the end you seem to keep making it through, and then it’s not so hard to allow myself to laugh, and laughing then tastes sweet, like fresh, wild, woodland blueberries.

Sometimes things won’t appear as they really are; we may feel tricked and betrayed by our own emotions, and that’s where we must decide whether or not to trust, to take a leap of faith, and hope.

And if we are patient and inviting, we may be surprised in the end. Taking that hug offered by a friend might feel like a trap, but it may also be a saving grace.

Fear can keep us safe, but it can also cripple us. It can keep us from harm but it can also prohibit us from discovering ourselves, our desires and realizing our dreams.

When we put ourselves out there and allow others to see us as we really are, naked and afraid, we risk being hurt, but we also risk being rewarded, growing stronger and prideful.

To be wild and free is to be vulnerable. To love and allow one’s self to be loved requires vulnerability.

The Cabin

We had been driving for hours, seen more mountain valleys than we could count and had second guessed whether or not this whole trip was a good idea more than a few times. Shira and I decided to take my kids on a trip with us to Ontario and British Columbia, and when I’d mentioned it to my mother she stated somewhat emphatically how much fun that’d be, how she’d always wanted to do something like that and if I considered taking her along she would take care of her own needs. Well…how do I maneuver around that conversation, I stood there washing dishes after Thanksgiving dinner, side by side with my mom. As a she and I had travelled many times together, from taking a trip across country in her green MG as a toddler to road trips into Dresser Wisconsin as a teenager just for the hell of it and she and I even took our motorcycles all the way around Lake Superior back in the day, she had long left her bike behind and it’s been a long time since her and I went off on an adventures’ together, so what’s a son to do…I said “absolutely mom, come on along”. And the logistics from that point on for six people, three under eighteen, Shira, me and my mom proved challenging to say the least.

That said Shira and I began the planning stages, this was to primarily be a hiking trip, so we needed to make certain the kids all had the proper trail gear, we had enough camping equipment for everyone, searching for flights, car rentals, campsites, itinerary which involved activities aside from hiking to satisfy everyone’s interests. It was a lot of work and it took us all of the time prior to leaving we had. We even had to check a duffle bag crammed full of freeze dried food and if that weren’t enough, we had allergies to mind so even the food had to be intensely researched.

At any rate we made it to Ontario, even after the airlines cancelled our flight three hours before leaving for the airport from Minnesota because of bad weather, forcing us to scramble to find another route. We got into the country finally after many hours and a round-about way, found our rental truck and commenced our adventure, three teenagers, my mom and Shira and I and we were having lots of fun. About halfway through though things began to get challenging, folks were tired of sleeping on the ground and eating the same freeze dried food but we had made plans to take a respite from that and stay in a cabin for a few days, we researched them along our scheduled trip and found one that looked comfortable, clean, updated and quaint. We were all excited, Ha…life is funny.

On the way to our cabin and after studying a gas station map of the area, Shira found a “short cut” through the mountains which would save us a solid hour, so after democratically taking a vote decided to take the short cut. All seemed fine for a mile or two, and then as we ascended into the foggy mountains, in the rain, the asphalt turned to something that appeared to have been abandoned for years, only remnants of asphalt remained, but our truck kept on going and then the asphalt disappeared completely. Then as we began an ascent you’d normally only find on a roller coaster, our rear wheels spinning and spitting out rocks and gravel, the air inside the truck grew quieter, almost moody, and thick with anticipated danger. About 7 miles in we had elevated to about thousand feet above a lake on one side and sheer cliff on the other with no room for  error much less any other vehicle coming our way.

Sitting in the back of the truck it was difficult to see the edge of the road without sticking your head out the window, the rear of the truck began bouncing around and shifting from left to right and back again. There were heavy gulps and suddenly blurted yelps and even screams at one point in the ride…ahem I mean adventure. The road was muddy and the rain was substantial and we were wondering when this short cut would end. An hour later we reached the other side, the rain stopped, the road became groomed gravel and we were surrounded by green pastures, old farms at the foothills of this summer mountain pass reserved for the not so faint of heart. We’d survived that leg of the trip and were an hour ahead of schedule. Here we come clean beds and showers and hot water from a faucet.

As the sun fell beyond the tallest pine trees in the mountains and the golden light started to withdraw from the valley we found the final leg of our journey to the cabin, we crossed a river a few times, buildings disappeared and the shadows at the edge of the road grew more ominous. “There it is” someone yelled and I pulled off of the road and stopped. The engine running we all gawked out the front window, it was quiet, no one said a word, and only the crickets could be heard above our breathing. There in front of us was what must be what was left of the cabin from the brochure we looked at online, the picture on the website had to be twenty years old at least. It was the main cabin and It was old, dusty, had a Victorian slash French Canadian style about it. We looked around and saw a few, much smaller, cabins strewn around the property, tin roofs, shabby siding at best and a bit overgrown. We checked the brochure again and decided this must be it.

As we stepped from the struck we noticed there weren’t any lights in any of the windows, I wondered if anyone might be home. Slowly we walked up the creaky stairs to the rusty screen door. As we walked inside we were greeted by a woman whom called out from a backroom beyond a curtain in a doorway of course, how else might you have it. She stood for a moment inspecting the lot of us standing there peering back at her. “It’s quiet hours now, your cabin is ready for you but I must go light the heater for the shower and make sure you only use the amount of water absolutely necessary, we don’t have an unlimited supply round here.” While she spoke we looked around and in the dark corners of the room where there were stuffed and mounted black bears and cougars eerily appearing to be stalking us.

She led us threw a few trees and to our cabin, I couldn’t help but think I’d seen this place before, and decided it might have been in an old R rated movie, the ones with scream queens and the group of teenagers drinking and dying at the hands of some poor lad who’d been mistreated at the hands of upset villagers for being a product of his size and limited education and decided to take it out on scantily clad teens. When she left us we all stood gawking at a bare cabin, no refrigerator, an old sink, a broken down old couch covered in an ancient afghan blanket and two rooms with curtains for doors. It smelled like old fish and dusty wood floors, oh, and don’t forget the wood stove for heat, as the temperature dropped outside I scrambled for cut wood for the stove underneath the cabin where it had been stored out of the rain.

After a long journey and so many nights sleeping on the ground we had expected much better, this would be fine if we hadn’t been cold and hunted by mosquitoes the size of small cats for the last week, but this, we were all disappointed to say the least. My kids had expected much more and in the spirit of teens couldn’t much hide their feelings. But to their credit, came to me at some point and voiced their feelings, and together we all decided to make the best of it. We broke out the playing cards after warming up and getting cleaned up as best we could, it did after all have an actual shower and we all took advantage of it. We scratched together some food and sat down at the table to play a few rounds of Spoons, always fodder for plenty of laughs and fun. No trip is perfect, there will always be things that don’t exactly work out but in the end, it’s nice to experience it with family, the human spirit is indeed finicky at times but always prevails.

The next day we woke with brighter spirits and decided to explore a little. We went for a nice walk along the woods and even decided to take advantage of the canoes they had available for us to paddle around the lake; we were thrilled and energized at the prospect. Once given the lecture about cleaning out the canoes we were given life preservers and paddles and prepared to launch two canoes, the kids grabbed one and I, Shira and my mom took another. The lake looked quite pretty surrounded by mountains and forests and we were about to embark on what ought to be a wonderful afternoon of lazy roaming about the beautiful shorelines of Square Lake. When we got to the edge of the water we realized the water was running in the opposite direction of the lake, it appeared that the lady in the house had forgot to tell us we must travail a deep raging river to get to the lake. I gave a fatherly explanation, you know, an overly explained tale of caution and safety to the kids that undeniably goes in one ear and out the other to anyone below the age of 25 and watched as the jumped in their canoe and paddled up river without much ado.

After making a decision as to our positions in the canoe we dumped it into the river and allowed my mom to climb into the middle, I hopped into the front and my lovely Shira pushed us off and stepped in back. Almost immediately we started drifting in the wrong direction but were able to redirect the craft upriver, we struggled to say the least, my mom began to fret as Shira and I tried desperately to find the right and easiest path to take along the shoreline against the current. You know the old movies where someone is running from someone else shooting at them and they begin running in a wide zig zag motion? Well that was us, the fast flowing waters push the front of our canoe to the side and we would pull it back and then the current would push it in the other direction so we struggled to pull it back again. This went on for about twenty minutes before we realized we had all but gone about five feet or so. This was proving more difficult than we had anticipated.

We noticed at this point that we were in trouble but that there was a sandbar immediately to our right, my mother being the only one without a paddle was designated the savior and asked to hop out and grab the canoe in order to pull us to the sand bar and to safety, unfortunately as soon as she hopped into the water she began to lose feeling in her legs as the water was icy and fast, she ended up grabbing hold of the side of the canoe fearing if she were to let go she might be carried away. Sadly for us that happened to be the center of the canoe and it only took moments for the water to swell and rush over the side and fill the small craft, flipping us over, and dunking both Shira and I. We scrambled to gather what hadn’t been swept away and dragged the canoe to the shore. We were now soaked to the bone, in our hiking boots, pants and jackets. And we were on the opposite shore of camp.

When I looked around for my children, worried about their safety after the adults whom surely should have been able to strategize better and navigate these waters with fluid, learned tactics failed, I noticed they’d cleared the mouth of the river and were quickly paddling out of distance of my voice, seemingly never having looked back. Embarrassed and wet we decided to just continue on, we were already wet, what’s the worst that can happen now.

In the end the cabin stay was one of my favorite parts of our vacation, memories are really the only thing we can all take with us and we made plenty there. We laughed, made s’mores over a raging campfire at sunset, looked out at the millions of wonderful stars, counted fireflies and played cards til we all fell asleep. When we finally left it was the beginning of another adventure, we drove away the next morning, the lot of us packed back into our big GMC SUV, dirty wet socks flapping against the rolled up windows and all.

Between Heaven and Earth

I sat in awe as the ground fell away and I watched as the horizon expanded once again.

The warm August sun shone brightly behind me across Lake Superior, dancing like millions of stars on the surface of the cool dark water as if they’d fallen from space.

The dull hum of the Cessna engine once again sang to me as we ascended towards the clouds.

As I listened to faint chatter in my headphones from other aircraft, and gazed out over countless miles of untouched wilderness, Leonardo Davinci and his prose about man exploring the skies came to mind. And to that I’d say indeed Leo I shall not forget and most likely will often yearn to revisit the awesome solitude and serene place between Heaven and Earth.

As I ponder the wondrous fortune I have enjoyed this day I already have a need to hold back sadness as it attempts to creep in, this one has been a gem indeed, splashing around on a Duluth beach with my girl and our very special friend and pilot, it’s a day I shall not soon forget.

I’ll pine not but rather celebrate those I spend these days with and look forward to more, as I shall not sit still and only wish to explore but instead wander out and experience as much of this world as I can reach, for when I am old it is these memories I will so fondly cherish.

A Morning in Jasper

The tall, scrawny pines sheltered me from the cool morning breeze as I fired up my small camp stove and made some coffee, the smell of the instant grounds aroused my sleepy senses.

The tops of the snow covered mountains were hidden, obscured by clouds and as I scanned above the tree line across the rocky, glacier carved crags the mist turned into a light, fine rain.

It was seven thirty in the morning and already the sun was up somewhere outside of the valley where we’d camped. I love the early mornings afield, the smell of the fresh grasses and pine needles covered in dew, crispness in the air that awakens the mind and a humbling feeling that explorers who’d come this way long before me must have felt as though they had stumbled into a strange, wonderful sort of paradise.

As I try and sip from my favorite camp mug without burning my lips I notice the rain fading,  and suddenly a female and a juvenile elk step out from the trees and into the clearing whose edge I am standing at. They are gorgeous, their coats wet and tawny. They both graze for a bit and finally lay down among the grass just fifty yards from where I stand.

At that moment, as the clouds began to lift exposing the snow capped mountain tops I am stunned by the arrival of a bull elk, his shoulders black, his antlers fat with velvet, he steps out onto the plain and bugles as he postures himself. He is regal, majestic and he is bold and I am in awe of his beauty.

There are no pictures that can relay the splendor of this land, no words that by themselves illuminate the imagery that paints one’s soul by experiencing it, but simply being here, standing among the spiritual essence of this place is purely magnificent.

White Water Harry and the Clearwater rapids

As we coasted down the river I couldn’t help but look around like a small child standing in front of his stocking hung over the fireplace on Christmas morning; glassy eyed, knowing there were good things at hand, anticipating the excitement of what I might soon see.

The air was cool, the sky was blue and the mountains around us were dark, mysterious, and beautiful and covered in pines and waterfalls. The water beneath us was clear and cold. As we drifted ever further downstream the water began to run faster and there were whirl pools and giant rocks just under the surface pushed the water up and churned it over, suggesting more tumultuous currents ahead.

I looked around as my head began to wash over with a certain fear of the very near future; the faces on those around me suggested they were experiencing the same exhilarating feelings. My fiancée and my youngest daughter on the opposite side of the raft as me and one of my other daughters behind me, and our captain of this white water raft, only nineteen years old sat high at the rear of the craft, a huge twelve foot oar in each hand.

Even at his young age he expertly guided us through the bubbling and deftly flowing waters, he looked like he’d just stepped off of the beach with long blonde hair, tanned skin and necklaces of stone hung by hemp twine no doubt. He spoke with a fantastic thick accent, his name was Harry and he’d come to British Columbia from New Zealand. He was friendly, funny and precise.  Each of us held a paddle of our own and under his command we would help pilot this huge rubber vessel over frightening rapids, spinning whirl pools and around massive rock outcroppings with little room for comfort.

Suddenly as Harry was spinning us stories of his desire to travel abroad to guide white water rafts he yelled out “get down”, each of us slid our outside leg off from the side of the boat and quickly planted ourselves on the bottom, our eyes wide and our breaths held we cut to the right, and the boat dipped violently downward, it felt as though we were falling and as water came flooding over the sides we frantically changed directions and the boat jumped from the surface of the water and landed precariously back into the fastly moving current, I look around and see my youngest daughter facing the wrong way and on her back; she had been thrown about like a leaf in the wind. When she found she was safe her face lit up with a mixture of residual fear and thrill.

That is how things went as we navigated the Clearwater River for a little over an hour; it was wonderful, scary and tense. When we reached a calm segment of the river Harry asked if we’d like to go for a dip since we were already soaked, so we all jumped overboard with elation and when we were submerged in the frigid glacial waters we gasped and begged for air. Then we all hooked our elbows together so as not to lose anyone, for a few moments it was stimulatingly refreshing. As soon as we began to move faster and faster Harry instructed we very quickly get back into the boat, this prompted a whole set of new logistical problems, like, how in hell do we do that!?

After one of us were able to climb aboard it was up to them to reach over and help by yanking those still in the water out by their life preserver, a difficult task for certain but one we all mastered hurriedly, for there were more rapids ahead of us and we would find ourselves cheering resolutely and celebrating our journey with high fives and gratitude at surviving, and finally opening the sleeves of our rain gear and fleece to let the water pour out when we made it ashore in the end.

 

MN River Valley

Majestic and free, the Minnesota River Valley offers some rich experiences for us all

It’s the second weekend in March, and the sun is melting the snow on the banks of the Minnesota River as it meanders through the Minnesota River Valley, between highway 18 and Cedar Avenue in Bloomington. My friend and I decided to take an early hike into the Black Dog Nature Preserve Scientific & Natural Area which is now part of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Area.

This is the North side of the river heading east from Hwy 169 towards Colman Lake which lies below Overlook Drive in Bloomington. We left we are car parked in the small lot at the end of Bloomington Ferry Road. This is the site of the old Bloomington Ferry Bridge (http://www.johnweeks.com/bridges/pages/b10m.html), which was swing bridge that tended to completely flood over every three years or so, it was finally closed for the last time in the late nineties and a new steel bridge was built in its place in 1998 underneath Highway 169. No longer intended as a vehicular bridge, the new one is meant to carry foot traffic and bicycles over the Minnesota River to the bike path on the South Side of the river as it leads in the direction Fort Snelling.

We enter the dirt trail on the north side of the river through the woods, leading us on a winding pathway around vast bogs and flood plains leading all the way to Nine Mile Lake below Dwan Golf Club in East Bloomington. It is still early, an uncommonly warm March weekend and the trees branches are still bare. As we pass under some of the enormous trees lining the river bank we can see nests the size of a king mattress near the top, then we hear the shrill sound of a call from an American Bald Eagle, glancing around we see them perched atop trees on the opposite bank and then catch one on the wing as it soars regally, proudly high above the slow moving muddy water. It’s a breathtaking scene and a common one here.

In a mile or so we come to Colman Lake, up until now it’s been pretty quiet, only the sounds of an afternoon breeze washing past our ears, The trail turns sandy and the ground just to our left turns moist. There out on the lake is a bustling community of water fowl, there are ducks, geese and even Herons all singing and moving about. As we approach a pair of geese begins their ascent from the surface of the lake, the tips of their wings tapping the water just as they climb, honking all the way, off into the distance as they clear the canopy.

The sounds of traffic and the city are gone, periodically there is another hiker, a birder or bicyclist now and again, and all are keen to smile and greet you. This is a gem to be cherished, its wild, fruitful and beautiful. Along the way we pause and take a seat on an old fallen tree along the shoreline, it is steep here and can drop thirty to fifty feet to the surface of the river. It is quiet too; there are still large, flat portions of ice flowing gently by. We relax and close our eyes and feel the warming rays of the sun as it caresses our cheeks before moving on.

Along the way are many tributaries that carry water into the marshes and backwaters and lakes that are home to so much rich and diverse wildlife in the preserve. In the spring these tributaries can and often do flood. Felled trees are almost always the only way across when the water is high in these areas, once in a while you can find small floating carts fashioned from wood and large branches that are fastened to ropes on each side of the tributary. You can lay down your bike and pull yourself across or walk farther inland to find a smaller path on higher ground to evade the watery impasse. As we travel on, nearing Nine Mile Lake we decide to make our way nearer the Bloomington bluffs, if you decide to walk the trail along the banks of the Minnesota River here you will find yourself caught between the marshes and the river in the Black Dog Reservation in East Bloomington. The old historic Cedar Bridge here has been closed and is slated for replacement over the next couple of years leading to the Bluff Trail at the end of Old Cedar Avenue (http://www.johnweeks.com/bridges/pages/b10m.html).

We find our way skirting one of the less flooded waterways leading from the river towards Mounds Spring Park. This area is often flooded through and evidence of this can be seen six feet off the ground with natural debris caught in the bark of younger trees. There is no green underbrush just yet, still too early in the season and everything is a darker shade of gray and mud. The only life aside from us happens to be a small heard of deer, at first we cannot see them, they are quiet easily camouflaged still in their gray winter coats, but we hear them bark, letting others know we are near. When we do spot them we decide to give them a wide birth and let them peacefully hang out among all the driftwood carried back here from the river during periods of higher water levels.

It’s at this time we choose to begin our trip back to the car, the sun is in its decent and the day is getting coming to a close. As the sun turns to a darker orange hue we stop to measure the girth of a few trees, wrapping our arms around the trunk and finger tip to finger tip; it takes at least three of us to get all the way round. It’s been a good hike, beautiful scenery, lots of wild life, memories and excitement as we begin planning our next trip to another section of the river near the Crosby Farm area. This is what Saturday and Sunday mornings are made for it seems. Take a lunch and spend a couple hours wandering through this wonderful gem most of us drive over and never see on our way to Savage and Burnsville. I promise you won’t regret it, and you just might find your way back here during each season to see the drastic changes that take place. Just make sure you plan accordingly, there are 70 miles of this wildlife management refuge established in 1976, stretching from Bloomington to Henderson, consisting of 14,000 acres (http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Minnesota_Valley/about.html).

  • As a precautionary note, the Black Dog Trail is still closed at the end of Old Cedar Avenue in order for the Fish and Wildlife Services to complete their rehabilitation on the bridge and this portion of the park. Also

 

 

 

 

A Perilous and Incredible Hike Indeed

The days are beginning to drag on; the tick of the clock echoes over the walls of my cubicle and reverberates in my ear. I can hardly stand it, it’s Thursday and God willing, Sunday night I will be on an airplane headed over the Pacific Ocean to Kauai. My girlfriend and I are scheduled to hike the infamous Kalaulau Trail along the Napali Coast of Kauai.

We are both very excited, and nervous, there are stories of illegal squatters in the valleys along the way. There are 300 foot drops off the razor thin edge of parts of the track that consist of crumbling rock and slippery mud caused by months of rain. Then there are the two major streams that divide the 11 mile path, passable with caution until any amount of rain falling deep within the valley turns it into a torrent of death causing hikers to be stranded or worse…washed thousands of feet to the tumultuous ocean below, and if they survive the fall they’ll be dragged into the depths off shore by raging rip tides.

These aren’t statements made by goofy people looking to get their names in various hiking blogs mind you; these are the content of stories published by Gear Magazine; America’s 10 Most Dangerous Hikes, BackPacker.com and Travel + Leisure Magazine; World’s Scariest Hike, as well as the Discovery Channel; One of America’s Most Dangerous Trails.  All of these articles of course serving to make the trip that much more enticing and therefore fun.

But those are indeed isolated events, to be cautious and take great care in navigating these paths is essential for certain, however in spite of the handful of serious accidents published, the scenery has been made famous in the opening scenes of the Jurassic Park movie and according to anyone who’s been there it is an absolutely magical place that no-one with a serious pair of Keen’s should miss. So naturally, my girlfriend and I both being writers, are keyed up to record our travel and experiences along the way. Pen in hand (not really, not yet as I am still sitting in my office chair at my desk daydreaming and typing this on my keyboard) I could not refrain from beginning my journal for this trip, and so it is, the entry of my travel journal, three days before we ship out.

 

Hiking the Infamous Kalaulau Trail along the Napali Coast of Kauai

With granola in my pocket and grit in my stomach, I set out to conquer the trail deemed by the Discovery Channel as One of America’s Most Dangerous Hikes. One may not expect me at 47, an engineering change coordinator and Mechanical Engineering Designer, father of four and boyfriend to a young and beautiful Director of Nursing to jump into such a journey, one with such names attached to particular areas of its path titled “Crawler’s Ledge” by those who’ve traversed it, but here I m anxiously awaiting the night we fly out.

I think of myself as a lucky guy, I suppose I could look back at the physical and emotional abuse I suffered as a kid, the drug abuse I barely survived, the ravages of war that has and continues to affect my psyche, depression and the clinical emotional breakdowns and a divorce after 22 years I experienced and rephrase my opening statement to this paragraph. But that would do disservice to all of the hard work I have put in to becoming a successful adult, father and partner to this point.  Not to mention all of those people that helped me through it all.

When I was in high school I was a very poor test taker, I failed nearly every test or exam I was given. Then one day my English teacher offered to let me write a report in lieu of taking an exam, I was to address each item included in the exam in my report and he would decide whether or not the content of my paper successfully addressed each point, therefore quantifying the knowledge I was suppose to have gained at that point. I took that challenge and it paid off in spades.

Since that point I have continued to write. I wrote through school and on into my days living on the streets as a young man addicted to drugs. I wrote as I slept in a refrigerator box, in the rain, under a billboard near Minnehaha Creek in the late eighties. I wrote on into my twenties, even after I met the girl who’d later become my wife. I wrote about life, I wrote poetry, I wrote with no official training or education beyond high school. Oh I took a few classes at the St Paul Technical College when it first opened. I even took some college classes at Normandale Community College but I always ended up on the street again. But there was something about this girl that captivated me, she grew up in West Bloomington, I grew up in different houses in different neighborhoods amidst multiple divorces between my mom and her husbands’.

She and I would start out in sort of an on and off again teenage relationship but eventually after my asking her to marry me, foolishly I might add and her turning me down because, in her words…”you don’t even have a job”. Who could blame her right? She did marry me, once I had straightened up, done a few nights in jail and a couple of trips through alcohol and drug treatment programs. I enlisted in the United States Army, as much out of desperation as a desire to solidify some sort of tradition in my name; my adopted father was in the Army, my biological father was in the Army and my mother’s dad was in the Army, maybe it was meant to be.

We moved to Hawaii in the nineties, after basic training and AIT (additional individual training), I got posted to Schofield Barracks on Oahu. It was the furthest my bride had been away from home; Angela found herself 3000 miles away from mom and dad and soon, was pregnant, sitting in the living room of a military housing project in the middle of a pineapple field on an island in the Pacific. This was before cellular phones, laptop computers, car phones and face to face messaging. I’d venture to say that it was a trying time for her.

Our relationship til now had seen times of long separation from each other, while I was in basic training and AIT, then while I was away serving in Panama for a while and then as I did my stretch overseas in Southwest Asia. Remember the only form of communication was primarily by hand written letter, and there were times that no mail got to anyone until they were on their way home back then. By the time Angela was 22 she was pregnant, living in the middle of the Pacific and had she and I had experienced war together. That’s a lot for a young couple to endure. Lord knows there is a lot more below the surface that comes with all of it.

On the trail

After a few hours on the trail, the two of them were hot and sweaty, the sun was high and they’d been hiking the trail that skirted the mountain side along the Napoli Coast. For the last few miles Tracy had been following Shira, he watched as her as they hiked, he loved her sculpted calves and her beautiful legs, and he absolutely loved her little round ass. She’d look back at him now and again and smile a perfect wry smile, even in her coal dark eyes he swore he could see the bright blue water that crashed upon the rocks far below the trail.

It was still pretty early in the day and they hadn’t seen anyone else on this trail yet, as they stopped for a drink of water she noticed his shirt was soaked and told him to remove it, his skin glistened in the Pacific sunlight, his broad chest and muscular shoulders turned her on, she could feel the pulsating in her groin then. He could see it in her eyes too, he knew what she was thinking, she reached out and felt his growing erection through his shorts, he was breathing heavily and it wasn’t from the preceding miles.

He leaned in and kissed her soft neck and it tasted like salt and he loved it, it was warm and sensual and she closed her eyes and listened to the waves crash below. He placed his hands firmly on her ribs and pressed her against the rocks on the upslope to one side. They kissed passionately and she’d already slipped her hand inside his shorts, there she could feel how hard he had become and she wanted him right there. They peered into each other’s eyes and without uttering a word, sought approval from one another. They looked to the East and then to the west and it was decided and their packs dropped to the ground.

She reached out and pulled open his shorts and began stroking his engorged cock, he pulled up her shirt and unfastened her shorts and watched them fall to the dirt at her feet. Then his strong fingers found her already wet mound and began to massage her clit, she moaned, and his fingers found themselves inside her, it didn’t take much, the tropical venture, the crisp mountain air and the sunshine all made this moment that much better. As their tongues played her groin grew ready, swelled and dripping, suddenly he paused and turned her around, she placed her hands on the side o the mountain in front of her and he pressed against her from behind.

Just as he pushed inside of her they both gasped loudly, he pulled out just a little and kept reentering her a little deeper each time until the entire length of his erect shaft was buried, filling her hot pussy. His paced increased and he was fucking her avidly, sweat poured from their chests and arms and his lap slammed against her ass. Shira called out his name and his eyes closed tightly he thrust into her as his cock bucked and quivered, then he suddenly pulled from her, she spun around and dropped to her knees and took his penis in her hand and continued to stroke him as he exploded all over her chest, his cum immediately melted and ran down her front, then she sucked him until he was dry.