Van trip #1, DONE! A “shakedown” as our next-door neighbor told us. He knows, he and his wife are becoming regular RVers. They purchased “Cousin Eddie’s” rig last year at what we have been told was a very favorable price. They are having a blast getting out every chance they can
Trip #1, a two-night outing, was intentionally close to home. We drove only 170 miles, (out and back) to Bandy Creek Campground in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. The drive was easy and while early on I had made some promises that I would get comfortable behind the wheel, I managed to stay in the passenger seat. John mostly ignored this. I confess to being a little intimidated by driving something that costs more than the house I purchased in the mid-90’s. At the time, the house encircled me with a sense of security. These days the van offers just the opposite, a sense of freedom and adventure. Adventure feels appropriate at this stage of life.
Pre-trip packing was messy but not as complicated as anticipated. I combined my backpack and car camp lists with the needs on my menu list, then tossed out the fluff so only the essentials made their was into the van’s very small kitchen. The essential items add up to a lot of stuff so going up and down the basement steps a thousand times to load (and to unload) the van, appears to be a promising way to stay in shape.
My first (but not last) rookie mistake was not paying attention to the Amps in each campsite. I initially signed up for a 50 Amp site for our 30 Amp vehicle. We spent several tense hours the day before the trip, changing the reservation. Frustrations peaked when I couldn’t make the change on-line (complications with senior rate) but a phone call and very helpful rec.gov employee, made the change in moments.
We did not hike on this trip in this area known for stunning rock formations. We did walk, a lot, about 7-miles on our only full day. Fall had not quite arrived, but the daytime temperature was comfortable and even Katie seemed to enjoy the day.
The trip was over too quickly, and we came home to a recall for the van, a possibility of an unexpected awning deployment. Before we purchased the van, the Travato facebook page noted this problem. When questioned, Lewis RV said it couldn’t happen when we were driving. Apparently, it can and occasionally does so we will await the solution. Meanwhile, we have another trip or two in the planning stage.
So, #vanlife has begun. We are packing for our first trip, a two nighter, departing in about 24 hours. I am so excited about the adventure that I don’t have the good sense to be panicked our lack of preparedness and general knowledge. I will save that for another post, because this is a story about the van pickup.
As I mentioned in a previous post, this long considered but somewhat impulsive purchase in late July set the clock ticking on the inevitable reality of van ownership. Previous commitments prevented us from getting back to Dayton, Ohio to pickup the van until this past week, thus providing seven weeks to ruminate over the pickup details.
I don’t think we thought much about ownership during those weeks though we did buy insurance, pay taxes and pick up our new license. I even booked a couple of camp trips. What really felt stressful was the pickup details. Details such as driving to Dayton and driving two vehicles home, or a one way flight early in the morning, do our walk thru and overnight on the drive home. Maybe we should take an afternoon flight and overnight in Dayton and do the walk thru the next day. So much worry over small details. Honestly, this was us trying to avoid the fact that we had made the purchase and now owned a van.
Finally a decision was made and an early morning, one-way flight happened, even though we flew north by first flying south to Atlanta. After a NYC expensive taxi ride from the Dayton airport to Lewis RV, we faced our current biggest fear, learning how to operate our new van in just 2 hours. Looming behind that was a 5.5 hour drive home. Yes, we were going to try to do this in one day, a 17 hour journey.
Rick, our walk through guy was pretty darn good and absolutely everything made sense when he was talking about it, but we knew that the next day, when examining all the knobs and twisties, we would remember about 1/2 of what he said. “But you can always call,” he assured us, “or check the manuals.” Ha!
Then the walk through was over and it was time to drive home. We took a deep breath and pointed the van south. Luckily, the traffic was light, even Cinci traffic. After the 1st hour, John was relatively comfortable behind the wheel.
So far we have had only one serious argument about the van and that was the night we brought it home. We couldn’t figure out how to turn the running lights off or lock the doors. We were more than a bit accusatory of each other for not carefully listening during the walk thru. As it turns out, we had left 2 of the 4 key fobs for the van, in the van. Doors won’t lock and lights won’t turn off with fobs in the van. Lesson #1.
So here we are, “living the dream”, #vanlife has begun.
This is one week that I will be glad to whisk out the backdoor. Not that it was a bad week, no, I have had much worse. Instead, this has been of the wearisome variety, a wasted week. I have barely summoned the spirit to eat and what I have consumed has not been particularly healthy, or the motivation to get out and move which would surely raise my spirits. Instead, I sat, sometimes reading, sometimes scrolling on my phone. As a result, I experienced almost no sense of accomplishment or satisfaction.
Sadly, by the end of the week, I found myself unable to move from TV as the heartbreaking passing of Queen Elizabeth was announced. This sadness came on top of another long, weary week of legal gymnastics by #45 and his lawyers. Such a juxtaposition of grace and evil. These are challenging times we live in and sometimes it’s hard to keep a “stiff upper lip.” Happily, the upcoming week is busy, and I feel a renewed sense adventure, especially as we bring home the new van.
So this is my story, how I fell into a lackluster week. Monday morning, we received the news that John’s sister-in-law and possibly his brother had been diagnosed with Covid (again) after a trip to Wyoming. Since John is visiting with his family this weekend and we have remained Covid free SO FAR, I may have threatened that he would have to sleep in the car with the dog (who was also visiting his family) if he brought Covid home. We decided it best to take the Omicron vaccine immediately, if we could find it.
Several phone calls later, we found the vaccine by the brand we desired at a not so nearby pharmacy. Upon arrival, the smiling pharmacist asked if we wanted to take a flu shot with the Covid shot…. “CDC approved,” she said. Umm. Not much time to consider the pros and cons but we agreed. At that moment, the idea of a sore arm only once seemed to made sense.
Previously, both of us had experienced mild, fluish symptoms from the Covid vaccines beginning about 24 hours after the shot. We were surprised that the effects of this shot began to show up within two hours, again, both of us experiencing similar discomfort, tired and sluggish. The feeling stayed with us through Tuesday night.
Tuesday nights are granddaughter nights and although we were not 100%, we chose not to cancel the evening. Her parents brought her over on their way to yoga class and we discovered, once they shut the door behind them, she was having a bad day too. She started crying and for several hours, we went from distraction to distraction. The distractions didn’t last long before the crying resumed. Two squeaky toys from the pup’s toy box, a frog and a moose which had been somewhat recently washed (hang head in shame), seemed to quell the crying, or at least that was the last distraction before her parents returned. I suspect she is teething, and her parents told us (once they returned to pick her up) that her nap had been disrupted. John and I were feeling a little wrung out at the end of the visit but not discouraged. Next week is another week and hopefully she, along with us, will not be crying. Take a sweet nap baby girl!
By Wednesday I had retired to the porch to enjoy the sunshine and read. Tuesday (before the baby’s visit) I finished my September book club’s selection, “Bird by Bird” by Jane Lamott and had moved on to Stanley Tucci’s “Taste”. “Taste” was a quick and fun read, and by Friday, I was done. As always with food related books, this one had me dreaming about cooking. Too bad I am not really a cook.
Now I am scouring my bookshelves for another hardback or paperback for day reading. Twice I have picked up “Winter in Madrid” by CJ Sansom, but twice I have put it down. I think I have settled on “His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope” by Jon Meacham. The first few pages have my attention. BTW, my nighttime reading is by kindle where I am plugging away at “Mary Churchill’s War: The Wartime Diaries of Churchill’s Youngest Daughter” edited by Emma Soams. This book is not light reading and since I am reading just before I go to sleep (or in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep), it may take me the rest of the year to finish. Kidding but possibly into October. I have been sleeping through the night recently and have read only 45% of the book (thank you kindle accounting system).
By Thursday, I thought a walk might do me good, or at least adjust my attitude. I usually walk 5-7 times weekly but this week I had trouble getting myself out. By the time I finally got ready, John and Katie had lost patience and left, so I got out on my own. Hey, I guess I did accomplish something this week!
Walking and/or running has played an important role in my over 40 health, both physical and metal. Previously, during my working years, walking or running by myself was a chance to sort out thoughts and concerns and maybe solve some problems. In these days of retirement, solo walking rarely happens, but when does, it’s a nice bit of personal time. I enjoyed my five miles on this day, I thought it time well spent. Unfortunately, the time did not fix my attitude or cure my lackluster week.
Finally, the pup had a bad week too (enough bad already)! Thursday was spa day before her visit with John’s family. Not only did she spend the better part of 4 hours at the groomer getting a dreaded bath, but her hair cut is just this side of too short and she came home with these bows. The bows made me laugh; she was pretty indignant. John decided she looked embarrassed and pulled them out just after giving me a half second to take a photo. Poor Katie, she did seem unhappy, but I think John was the embarrassed one, or more likely horrified! She is his rough and tumble girl, not at all a prissy personality.
And with that, I’ll sign off. Next week will be book club, possibly a hike and we pick up the van. Life will be somewhat back on track.
It’s official, fall is here, at least meteorological fall (September 1-November 30). While we won’t see temperatures associated with fall until well after the autumnal equinox, fall is in the air. I can hear it in the chatter of the birds, I see it in the fading summer flowers and I can feel the shifting sun. I can’t wait!
Fall is my best time of year, my time to bloom after a sweltering, drowsy summer. It’s my favorite time to walk, to ride my bike and hike, to retrieve my list of household projects not yet done, to get together outside with family and friends under starry fall skies. It’s my favorite time to wake up early, grab a cozy sweater and cup of coffee and watch the sunrise. Heck, I don’t even mind cutting the grass in the fall although I look forward to putting the lawn mower away for the season.
Fall is also my time to dream, of travel and other life goals I might accomplish in the upcoming year, some realistic and some unobtainable. I like the dreaming phase of fall, its my “anything is possible” time of year.
I like cracking open my planner for the new year and filling in my “usual”, birthdays, bookclub meetings and theater dates. I like to see vast amounts of blank time for yet to be planned activities. Next year we will have van trips to include.
Yes, signs of fall are everywhere I look, in my heart Fall 2022 has officially arrived. It’s time to start planning.
Almost every year for the last 20, we and a group of friends have taken a late August multi-day trek. Over the years we have hiked in areas whose beauty would have remain hidden to us had we not shouldered a backpack and put in the hard work to experience them. Through our efforts we have explored Alaska’s Brooks Range (twice), Colorado’s Maroon Bells traverse, Montana’s Chinese Wall, Wind River Range, WY (twice), Canada’s Mt. Assiniboine, Paint Pots and West Coast Trails, Inca Trail and so on. We feel very lucky to have collected these memories.
Earlier this year another August backpack plan was hatched but with less lofty goals. You see, over the years our group has aged. At 69, John and I are at the younger end of the group, several are in their early to late 70’s but our route planner is 80. He has been at this mountain climbing, long distance backpacking, world travel business for over 60 years, long before social media enticed the masses into the world. Recent trips have become a little more challenging for him (and for us too), so this year our goals included low daily mileage and ascents-descents capped at 500′. The challenge would come in elevation, which would be high, at least for those of us who originate at 900′.
Our destination was The Medicine Bow Mountains, a range that stretches 100 miles between northern Colorado and southern Wyoming. Specifically, we were headed to The Snowy Mountains, a subrange northwest of Centennial, WY. The planned semi-circle hike began at Lewis Lake (10,760′) and finished at Mirror Lake. We would be between 10,500′ and 11,200′ the entire time.
The total hike was only 14 miles to be completed in five nights/six days with two layover days for exploring. The biggest weakness in the plan was that the last night would be spent about 1/2-mile from (one of) our cars at the beginning point, Lewis Lake. The question was, would we be able to hike past our car and the possibility of a big, hot breakfast at Bear Butt Bar and Grill in Centennial to reach our 2nd car at Mirror Lake (some 2-3 miles away) or would we bail on the hike and head to breakfast.
Our adventure began at Lost Lake trailhead after an oversized breakfast at Bear Butt in Centennial and a car shuttle. The day was blue bird quality with the kind of rich blue skies that can only be found in the west. Wispy cottony, white clouds floated above the mountains. A brisk breeze neutralized the heat from a sun that is intense at higher elevations. The scenery was spectacular, mountains, rocks and spruce trees. Doesn’t get any better than this.
With several pre-hike nights spent in Denver, Boulder and Centinnial, I had acclimated better than expected. My breathing was a little rough but I could still push uphill with my pack, stopping only occasionally to rest. Besides, stopping to rest is always a good excuse to take photos, right!?
After a little more than an hour’s hiking, we stopped at Lost Lake to have lunch and give everyone a chance to re-group. We had covered a short 2.06-miles, gained almost 400′ in elevation and had another mile or so before reaching the designated campsite. Note: campsites had been selected by reading a contour map in Knoxville and attempting to determine a flat area with probable water. These selections do not always work out
Our last hiker was almost an hour behind John and me, who were fifth and sixth to arrive at Lost Lake. Based on the issues Will was having, the determination was made to set up camp exactly where we were. So, here we were at Lost Lake, elevation 10,900′ and it was shortly after 1:00 pm.
John and I spent the afternoon trying to stay awake so we could sleep overnight. I wrote in my journal and John read. Others made the choice to sleep, read and Bob, our fisherman, went fishing. I think he caught and released some 7-8 brook trout. The lazy afternoon drifted by. As the sun began to drop, so did the temperature. We were all in our tents by 8:00 pm, bracing ourselves against the high 30°’s that came with darkness. We will not see these temperatures in Knoxville for another three, almost four months. Brrrr.
Day 2, Wednesday, August 17 was hard. We relaxed at breakfast luxuriating in two-cups of coffee. Shame on us, we didn’t get on the trail till almost 10:00 AM. The trail began downhill but soon became undulating with a rocky surface. The climbs were challenging, and the elevation averaged around 10,600′. I stumbled a bit and had to watch my steps carefully.
Our route took us from Lost Lake Trail, through Brooklyn Lake Campground (car camping) onto Sheep’s Lake Trail where we stopped at Twin Lakes for our second night. I noted in my journal this night, “subject to change, we will hike to Sheep’s Lake tomorrow. If I cannot develop more strength in my legs, this will be my final backpack.” Clearly my pre-trip preparation was not enough. With 3.65- miles hiked in 2.35 hours and 400′ ascended, we have fallen behind schedule.
Day 3, Thursday, August 18. Our route continued on Sheep’s Lake Trail, then a left on Gap Lake Trail (yep, a Trail sign was posted) for about 1/2 mile to an unnamed lake. We camped in a lovely meadow across from the lake. Total mileage this day was only 2.80-miles with less than 400′ elevation gain and the effort took almost 2-hours.
The hike was again difficult, even with low mileage. First climb took us to 11,000′ with parts of the trail reaching 14% grade. After this challenge the trail leveled out to a sometimes mushy, other times hard packed and always a little rocky surface.
We arrived at camp around lunchtime, a beautiful alpine meadow. After lunch, the group dispersed for various activities. John and I lay on the meadow floor and watched the clouds shift and move in the currents, calling out different shapes as they caught our fancy. I may have napped for a moment or two, truly a relaxing afternoon.
Day 4, Friday, August 19. This day’s hike brought us back to within 1/2-mile of where we began, the trailhead of Lost Lake Trail. This was our hardest day, we always knew it would be as we crossed over the pass between Brown and Medicine Bow mountains. We hiked 3.97-miles in 3.23 hours, ascending 526′.
If you are still with me here (good for you!) you may wonder how this group of seven was fairing as they began their fourth day. The answer is, pretty good. For the most part, breathing was a little easier, we weren’t getting as dizzy bending down to set up our tents and for me personally, I had returned backpacking to my future. Will, was still struggling with several issues and we worried (needlessly) about him on this day.
For all our worry, Will had a good day. He was comfortable going over the boulder field and climbing the pass. That evening he briefly mentioned another trip, next year. Hmmm, maybe we have all put backpacking back in our future.
At this point, the debate was “do we go out now (2 days early) or spend the night within 1/2 mile of the car with a short hike out in the morning”. Clearly, we were all wanted to go out early; our trip was already a day behind schedule. Going out early meant we would spend our remaining layover day in the car, driving to Denver, a hot shower and possibly flying home a day early. We decided the best option was to camp close to the trailhead and go out in the morning (1 day early).
Camping this close to the trail pained John. This was a busy trailhead with people coming and going frequently and we were on display, all 6 tents of us. This was not our best choice of campsites, but the best we could do with enough space for us with water close (the bright green vegetation marks flowing water). At one-point, late afternoon, a group of college girls hiked by with the comment, “oh look, those people are having a little campout…. with six tents.” We suspect they thought we couldn’t hike any further from the parking lot. Sigh…
We did hike out a day early and gleefully stopped at Bear Butt Bar and Grill for a breakfast fit for a backpacker.
We were also able to change our flights and return home a day early. The recovery period for John and me, post backpack was longer than usual. It appears that this was a problem for others too. We are now back to our regular routine and looking forward to picking up the new van in a couple of weeks! New adventures on the horizon!!
I am finally “coming around” after landing home seven days ago. My expectation of a quick recovery was highly inflated. With 10 days spent above 5,300′, five of those above 10,500′, I have been slow to settle back in my daily routine, much preferring to read, sleep and generally avoid everyone. John has “come around” a bit sooner but still shows his own signs of exhaustion by day’s end.
We spent less than 24 hours in Denver (5279′), 48 hours in Boulder (5318′) and about 24 hours in Centennial, WY (8,074′). Coming from a city at 886′, the time spent acclimating eased us into our higher elevation activity, a five-day backpack in Wyoming’s Snowy Mountains in the Medicine Bow Wilderness. Here we traversed between 10,500′-11,300′.
Our travel companions (our group totaled seven) were the usual group of late-summer, early-fall backpackers, some that we have hiked with for 20 years, some a few years less. Our ages ranged from 67 to 80, a fact I mention because age has affected our last couple of backpacks (trip planner is 80). This year the effect was pronounced enough that I am left wondering if there will be another.
Not unlike other group trips, this one had some memorable highs and some difficult lows. As I sort through my thoughts, photos and notes, I will leave you with several photos and comments on my fear of flying and our days in Denver and Boulder.
Flights are often a major piece of a travel itinerary and for me a great source of anxiety. Even on the best travel days, I am not a happy flyer. Since I am unwilling to give up visiting the places that air travel takes me, I grit my teeth and go. With this in mind, I reluctantly booked a low-cost airline, Frontier, for a direct flight that departed at 9:30 AM and got us into Denver at 10:30 AM (I irrationally distrust low-cost carriers). Even with “the works” travel package (luggage, assigned seats, preferred boarding), our tickets were half that of name brand carriers.
Unfortunately, not long after the purchase, we received a change of flight notice indicating our flight had been rescheduled to depart at 9:30 PM and arrive in Denver at 10:30 PM. This change resulted in a 12:00 AM hotel check-in (2:00 AM Knoxville time) and a crazy, gut bomb, wee morning hour meal at Denny’s. Sigh.
But, for two weeks prior to departure, I was short on sleep and filled with anxiety. Every night, lightning and thunder lit up the black sky. I remember several conversations with John about flights and weather. I am sure he got tired of my obsessing, I know I did. Then, on departure night, a stunning sunset lit up the evening sky and the stars appeared, no storms. We experienced one the smoothest flights I can remember, and I remember most of my flights!
Our time in Denver was short. REI-Denver (one of two REI flagship stores) was a must stop for our group (of three at this time), though I am not sure why. We have more outdoor gear than we need right now. John was willing to look at paddle boards and kayaks, which leaves me hopeful for a future purchase. I enjoyed walking along the Platte River greenway, watching ducks, children and dogs play in the water. As we walked, Denver’s temperature rose quickly indicating that summer still had a tight grip on the city.
Lunch (we were now a group of four) was at the Denver vegetarian restaurant, City O’ City on 13th Street. Our group had one committed vegetarian and one semi-vegetarian. The food was good, I think I had some semblance of a BLT.
Next stop, a couple of nights in Boulder. Again, greenway walking just footsteps from our hotel, The Millennium Harvest Hotel, which I would rate 2.0 stars. But we weren’t there for the hotel.
Most memorable was lunch at The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse on our last day in Boulder. Initially, in Denver, when there were only three of us, I mentioned having high tea at the Boulder Teahouse. Will and John completely dismissed me. Twelve hours later, after we had picked up Joan, she mentioned lunch at The Teahouse. I was amazed how quickly the guys thought it was a great idea. I am going to guess the initial reaction was to “high tea” but it just shows my level of respect around here😂.
The Dushanbe Teahouse is a Persian Teahouse hand-built and painted in Dushanbe, Tajikistan then disassembled, crated and shipped halfway across the world to its sister city, Boulder. Work on the Teahouse began in 1987. The Teahouse was publicly opened in Boulder in 1998.
Finally, before we left for Wyoming, we drove west of Boulder along Boulder Canyon Drive (SR 119) for about 11-miles to see Boulder Falls. The falls (a series of small and large cascades) are located on 5 acres of property, once held for mining claims and eventually gifted to the city of Boulder. The hike to the falls is short, about .1-mile from the highway parking lot though the falls are not visible from the highway.
With this picture of beautiful Boulder Falls, I will close. We pick up our van (post here) in a couple of weeks and have several fall camping trips planned but I hope to share the balance of this trip before then.
It was cool this morning after yesterday’s round of thunderstorms. As the dog and I walked around the yard looking for her “perfect spot”, I could hear a flock of Canadian geese quacking in the distance. I guessed they were going in for a landing on the nearby river. Fall was in the air for a few precious moments. In reality, we still have a couple of months of heat and humidity before the temperatures cool and the leaves begin to put on a colorful show.
Several weeks ago, the day before we purchased the van, we went for a bicycle ride. The original plan had been a backpack, but an overnight forecast of high wind and thunderstorms opened up a couple of days to fill with other activities. John spent some time googling bike trails and came up with new to us rail to trail, The Wilderness Road Trail in Ewing, VA. The drive (150-miles, about 3.0 hours roundtrip) would likely exceed the cycle time by double, but we decided the new area, new trail would be worth the effort.
We arrived at the Wilderness Road State Park Visitors Center late morning. While we have spent time backpacking and otherwise exploring nearby Cumberland National Historical Park and Cumberland Gap, TN, this lovely state park was a nice surprise. Park employees were immensely helpful and the rail to trail was located directly behind the park building. The park buildings are free, but we paid $5.00 to leave our car in their lot. Well worth the money for easy access to the park facilities.
From the Visitors Center, we headed east on the crushed gravel surface, dust tamped down by the previous night’s rain. The late morning sky was overcast, and fog partially obscured the views of the Cumberland Mountains over our left shoulders. We cycled mostly under a canopy of beautiful greenery, something we appreciated as the sun burned through the clouds. Several walkers, cyclists and runners waved as we passed. Friendly people, friendly town.
I particularly appreciated the yellow barriers that marked places where the trail crossed over public and private roads. The crossings were few and we saw only one car, but the barriers were a reminder to stop and look. The Wilderness Road Trail parallels Hwy 58. The highway is lightly traveled (or at least lightly traveled on the Wednesday we visited) and could rarely be seen from the trail, so we tended to forget it was there.
Sections of the Wilderness Road Trail reminded me of another more famous Virginia Rail to Trail, the Virginia Creeper. The piece of Wilderness Trail pictured below is similar to the Creeper section just out of Damascus (heading to Abingdon) with gravel, farmland and a “divided” trail with grassy median in the center.
The trail is billed as 8.5 miles one way, but in conversation with a park employee, we discovered that the last 2ish miles on the west end (actually a little less) is maintained by VDOT and really not maintained at all. Bicycling over the VDOT section was discouraged.
As I said above, trail dust was low due to an overnight rain, but a wet, gritty paste flew over everything… our shirts, legs, water bottles and bike bags. The grit also landed in our bikes’ nooks and crannies. What a mess to clean up!
To add mileage to 13-miles of ridable trail (round trip), we circled behind the Visitors Center on a paved road where we found Martin’s Station. Martin’s Station is a reconstructed frontier fort and was one of the earliest fortified settlements along the Old Wilderness Road.
Our final stop was in Harrogate, TN at the vintage inspired Frosty Mug Drive-In. Known for burgers, fries, potato tots, onion rings and ice cream, the Frosty Mug was a perfect place to refuel. No speakers at the drive-in, servers walk up to your car with menus, a pad of paper and a pencil!
Two covid tests done and they both said “negative.” Does it matter the expiry date is 2022 July 13?? So, while my ailing self remains under a soft, cozy blanket reading my way through 576 pages of “The Lincoln Highway”, I will post a few pictures from a walk John and I took on Monday, through fields of glorious sunflowers.
Every other year (this is not an “other” year but planted anyway), the TN Wildlife Resources Agency plants 70 acres of brilliant sunflowers. The fields, located at the Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area, are just a handful of walking miles from our house, a few less if by car. For three weeks beginning in early July, photographers, flower geeks and other gawkers such as us find our way to the Forks of the River where fields of warm yellow sunshine brighten even the gloomiest of days.
For years, TWRA planted plate sized sunflowers with bold, black centers. The flowers sat perched atop thick, sturdy stems that stood 6 or more feet high (similar appearance to the painting below). But this year’s crop was more genteel with smaller faced sunflowers and shorter, thinner stalks. Different yes, but still quite stunning. And lest we forget, these flowers are not planted for our summer pleasure but to provide food for the mourning doves and songbirds.
This past Tuesday, while our hiking group was scattered to the wind, we took our “dog free” day to go bicycling. I find extra motivation in destination cycling but we stayed in town and cobbled together 20-miles on local greenways. I didn’t protest the hilly route (too much) and, in not avoiding the hills, I discovered I had developed new climbing strength. I feel sure that the Cades Cove ride from last week helped make the difference.
Tuesday evening, post cycle meant a few hours spent with this little one. We seem to be getting into a rhythm now with the 14-month-old crying huge, blue-eyed tears as her parents attempt to sneak out, then running around giggling the moment the door closes. We are happy grandparents!
The rest of the week involved such events as a celebratory birthday lunch with good friends (just 40ish days post birthday) and testing out a new puppy daycare with Katie. We also took various walks each day from 3.0-7.0 miles. Our walks included neighborhood streets and local parks and greenways. The most challenging of the walks involved the hills in South Knox where the USA Cycling Championship was held just a few weeks ago. Grades on these hills are up to 29%. Challenging for me for sure. The flowers below are from one of the park walks, a flat greenway. Getting out has been difficult due to the high heat and humidity. I am looking forward to fall already.
Over the past weeks, I have had a lot of “what next” thoughts occupying my mind. What next when my body can no longer hike 7-8 miles, what next when I can no longer spend mornings bicycling. My outdoor self has been my identity for many years. Hiking, backpacking, running, bicycling and walking is what I do. While I am not anywhere close to giving up, the thoughts of how I will keep my days interesting, and my mind occupied in that future “someday” are on my mind.
In recent years, I have dabbled with art including several drawing and watercolour courses at our wonderful Knoxville Fine Arts and Crafts Center. Unfortunately, I have always walked away feeling like I don’t remotely have talent. These feeling are not due an instructor’s comments (well the comments may have been verbalized back in grammar school) but because I am a lifer in the school of “you don’t have artistic talent”. Yet I have not been completely put off either. Earlier this week I signed up for an on-line beginning watercolour course. In the privacy of my kitchen in what feels like a “no judgement zone”, a dim light bulb went on in my brain. H-m-m-m-m, maybe! Afterall, I am doing this only for an audience of one and that would be me.
So, the on-line instructor with the lovely British accent is teaching from the beginning, handling the brushes, playing in the paint and understanding how water and paint work together to create specific effects. The green dots below are part the project to learn about water and paint. Around the circles are noted such things as “little water, thick paint” or “very wet, thin paint”, a reminder of how each affect was obtained. This was interesting and informative to me and I look forward to the sessions I have yet to do.
Along with the on-line course, I have been reading the book “Sketch NOW, Think Later.” The ink and watercolour above is my first attempt at a quick ink drawing and watercolour. While there are many, many things wrong with the attempt, there is one thing very right, I did not pick up a pencil to do a preliminary sketch. I picked up a permanent Micron marker and jumped right in. I am so very pleased!
Finally, a couple of weeks ago, Sugar Queen Creamery opened in a location about five minutes or so from our house. Although I have never been a big ice cream eater, this stuff is really good! Last night was our second night in a row eating ice cream :-(. Luckily the shop is closed on Sunday (it’s the South, ya’ll) so we can hopefully break what could become a very bad habit.