The Trail Never Ends…

DSC_0248Independence Pass, 13 months later

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DSC_0432Chautauqua Park, Boulder, CO

We spent our last month in the Colorado high country filling up on wildflowers, super moons and the history of hard rock mining.  Char and Johnny paddled the San Miguel River, biked Lupine Trail and volunteered at the Rocky Mountain Biological Research Lab in Gothic, catching butterflies and sampling aspen leaves with a giant sling shot.  Thank you Rachel and Burke!  I hung out with Max and contemplated the sound of one hand clapping.  We camped on Independence Pass and rolled into Boulder, in mid-July, for good.  Pooof.

That was three weeks ago.  I’ve delayed writing the final blog post of Travels with Charlie (and Johnny and Max) because I don’t want our trip to end.  I feel like I should be able to wrap it all up with a pretty, pithy bow, share a few lessons learned and embrace home sweet home.  Home is sweet for sure, but I can’t wrap up our trip with a bow.  I can’t wrap it up with string or duct tape, a bungee cord or words.

We still have fur in our teeth and dirt under our nails.  I am still wearing the same ratty jeans with holes in the knees and frays on the seams.  We clip key chains onto our belt loops, plan outings around moon phases and call every vehicle a “rig.”  We are culture shocked by the number of forks in our fork drawer and the number of shelves in our pantry.  We have not yet exactly announced our return…it’s leaking out face to face at Ideal Market and the coffee shop.

But, there has been a series of uncanny, undeniable signs that it’s time to be home.  My wallet, lost the week before we left for the trip, turned up at a bank 13 months later.  Charlie’s phone, lost mid-trip, is in the mail to his office as I type.  The rv is officially for sale on Craigslist and we bought a Prius.  Johnny is playing soccer, Charlie is back at work and Western Slope peaches are here!

We’re getting a lot of, “so, where was your favorite place?”  Alaska, the Redwoods, the olive farm in Sicily, Ruby Beach, hundreds of magnificent places over thousands of miles and not one day the same as any other.  My favorite places, though, were the long stretches in between destinations, the unplanned space where we simply became travelers.  To Charlie and Johnny and Max, I am so thankful for your huge effort, deeper than ever love and trip saving humor and resilience.  To our family and friends, to River Network and the amazing people we met along the way, you are what matters.  This is what matters most and our trail never ends.

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photo-245 Happy 10th birthday, Johnny

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DSC_0350 blooming tundra, Independence Pass

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photo-237 In the lab with Barb Horn, Durango, CO

DSC_0212  4th of July parade, Crested Butte, CO

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DSC_0179 Maroon Bells, CO

photo-247 J and C paddled the Boulder Creek

DSC_0228fare thee well

to be continued…..

 

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Angels of Repose

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A couple months ago, over dinner with friends, Monica asked, “So, what’s the worst thing that’s happened on your trip so far.”  At the time, it seemed like a funny question.  I hadn’t really thought about it….we needed a new fuel filter in Jackson, Wyoming? I dropped a stitch on a sweater I’d been knitting for Johnny for six and a half months (that I am still working on) and I needed to find a yarn shop in Austin, Texas?  A bottle of soy sauce spilled in the refrigerator?  I don’t know.  A whole year on the road without major incident, injury or disaster.  Of course, we’d had bad days, tears, flat tires and blisters but overall, honestly, life on the road was easy peasy lavender squeezy.  And, then, like Portugal scoring in the 94th minute of a 90 minute game, on day 368 of our year long road trip, mishap in the mountains befell us.

On Tuesday, Johnny and I said goodbye to Charlie who was taking care of Max while we two headed off on a multi-day backcountry excursion in the Weminuche Wilderness.  We  boarded the Narrow Gauge Railroad in Durango, got off three hours later at a whistle stop called Elk Park where Elk Creek meets the Colorado Trail.  We adjusted our backpacks and hiked 3 miles in and 1200 feet up to a majestic alpine meadow, away from city lights, cell signals and convention.  We were with our good friends from Santa Cruz – K, D, W and Z –  a mama moose, a baby moose, a feisty marmot family and a large beaver pond.  We  camped across from Vestal and Arrow Peaks, in a ponderosa pine forest that sparkled with very hard quartzite, here, there and under our feet.

Wilderness camping is the best!  I like those first few hours where my sensory recognition has to adjust to a wilderness vocabulary.   The eyes might see a dark, rotted stump while the brain registers a person slumping over.  I love the surprises and realization that wilderness is bigger and vaster and different than anywhere else we can get to.

When we first arrived to the beaver ponds, we passed two women who had already set up camp.  They were very pleasant and friendly.  My eyes saw mountain mamas but my brain registered angels.   Not that they owned the joint, but they welcomed the youthful energy that Johnny, West and Zoe  brought and shared their local knowledge having lived in the Animas Valley for years.

Seeing a tree fall in the woods our second day was perhaps a sign.  I think not.  I don’t believe in signs.  I believe that dead trees fall when they’ve been growing on steep terrain with thin soil and a strong wind blows.  It was, you see, just a tree falling in the woods and yes, it made a sound!  We hiked through glorious meadows with yellow violets, bluebells and columbine then retreated to our tents just in time for a late afternoon hail storm.  Of course it’s Colorado and the sun reappeared for us to enjoy a dinner of penne pesto and black beans in our outdoor kitchen.

Our third day we planned to hike back out to catch the train in the same spot we had hopped off.  Kaitilin and I wanted to go for a short morning run/hike 1.5 miles up trail to a waterfall we heard was gorgeous.  Fifty feet in, I tripped and as I tried to collect my balance my foot jammed and I crashed.  I hit hard on my right hip and elbow, immediately feeling the sting and severity of bone on rock.  The next two hours were right out of a wilderness first aid training workshop – patient in shock, children on scene, no communication.  Kaitilin, David and the junior crew were the best.  They broke down camp, packed the packs, kept me warm and readied the kiddos with hot chocolate and oatmeal for a quick descent to Elk Park.

The angels of Elk Park were soon on the scene as well.  Jean and Doe helped me step over step down the 3 mile trail.  They were calm and reassuring, intuitive and warm and their genuine desire to help allowed me to let go of whatever it is that makes it hard to accept help.  They are angels and I am forever thankful, forever, thank you.

I had emergency surgery for an open fracture of the elbow and got stitches in my hip and elbow.  For now we are hunkered down in the Animas Valley, a very good place to be.  Here one can find excellent doctors who have no qualms about giving patients the nickname of “crash,” excellent soccer camps and lovely people.  I am lucky beyond measure for sparing my head in the crash and I am feeling the gratitude.  I have no regrets and I still love the wilderness.  And as it turns out, I have a much more interesting answer to the question, “what’s the worst thing that’s happened on your trip?”

Elk Park

The monkeys and the engineer or geologist

The monkeys and the engineer or geologist

Beaver Ponds, Arrow and Vestal

Beaver Ponds, Arrow and Vestal

West

West

David, Kaitilin and Zoe

David, Kaitilin and Zoe

Elk Creek Crossing

Elk Creek Crossing

Animas River Valley

Animas River Valley

Jean and Doe (and Peppy)

Jean and Doe (and Peppy), pre-surgery

Everything's going to be alright

Everything’s going to be alright, post surgery

And thanks of course to the 24/7 post surgery crew.  Don’t worry, it’s only 8 weeks!

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364

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Two things happened on day 364 of our trip, yes today is Day 364!!!

1)   Char’s shorts shredded. Fortunately for us, his boxers did not.

2)   While trying to use less and less water for washing dishes, clothes, and ourselves, we further revised our hygiene code – from “clean” to “clean enough” to “not that dirty.”

We’re flowing through our glorious home state for, as Dana dubbed it, “a Rocky Mountain victory lap.” We’ll visit some favorite places and seek out new trails all the while rejoicing in wildflowers, green valleys and Colorado blue skies. And, lest we become complacent close to home and one month from re-entry, we’ve added a new factor to our route planning algorithm– big screen tvs in kid friendly establishments that broadcast world cup soccer.  Not that we’re going to watch all 64, but we’ll take in a match or two of jogo bonito.

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Superposition

Zion night sky, another Char Stanz wow photo

Zion night sky, another Char Stanz wow photo

It’s sometimes hard for me to share an experience with Johnny and just be in that moment without wondering how seeing Saturn’s rings on a clear night, or chatting with a retired Denver Bronco in the back row of an A319 may shape or sway or influence him.  At the same time, traveling with a kiddo is multiples of fun.  I mean, I am there, for me, seeing the world, hearing stories, dunking, diving, laughing, feeling and then I’ll pause, look around and delight again for Johnny’s joy, education and experience.  Of course, most parents have these moments of empathic fascination, of wondering what or who our children will become.  But traveling is so fresh, so experience-rich that every turn, every day, every trail there are new ideas, unexpected sparks, nonstop innovation.  It’s exactly what I’d hope for in a very good teacher and the world is a very good teacher!

We may see tendencies or gifts in our children, preferences and fears but I think our challenge is to maintain an open mind about what and who our child may become.  Like Schrodinger’s cat, until we cut off a possibility, a nine year old is every possibility.

Johnny and I spent the last 4 days at the Pittsburgh Convention Center for River Rally, a joint production of River Network and Waterkeeper Alliance.  It was 650 times extraordinary.  We went to sessions on Google Earth, storytelling and how to use conservation drones to better protect rivers and coasts.  We demoed a new app to identify macro invertebrates, learned about Pad Yatra, eco-treks across the Himalayas that are trying to elevate environmental awareness and caught up with folks we’ve met over the past 12 months on the road – Trey from Anacostia Riverkeeper, Ann-Marie from Prescott Creeks, Patricia Wade from Chickaloon, AK to name a few.

Johnny was the first bona fide Rally participant under the age of 18.  He was invited to present a poster about our “Going With the Flow Tour” in the exhibit hall and worked really hard to get it right.  He shared his pogo stick with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and launched a new fad at River Rally’s Got Talent – pogotry – poetry on a pogo stick!

Here’s Johnny’s poem, which earned him second place and a bag of schwag

Learn to be Water, by Morton Marcus

learn to be water

direction is any way you can travel,

your shape, whatever you naturally become.

let the moon strum your belly

the planets beckon and tug

learn to be water

So I am resisting my inclination to think about how in the world a 9 year old processes a 4 day conference.  There will be no debrief.  Instead, I am trusting that Johnny’s big heart and creative mind are being wired like an octocopter, with camera in tow, revolutionary capabilities and beyond the edge of his mother’s imagination.  Limitless possibility.

Johnny's poster for River Rally Exhibit Hall

Johnny’s poster for River Rally Exhibit Hall

Bobby Kennedy and Johnny

Bobby Kennedy and Johnny

Identifying macroinvertebrates

Identifying macro-invertebrates

conservation drone, quadcopter

conservation drone, quadcopter

Merritt and Johnny

Merritt and Johnny

Paddle board field trip on the Allegheny River

Paddle board field trip on the Allegheny River

View from our room

View from our room

Rally Ho!

Rally Ho!

 

 

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Pittsburgh mural, the Strip District

Pittsburgh mural, the Strip District

Pancakes made famous by Obama visit

Pancakes made famous by Obama visit

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Vortexes, Galaxies and Riffles

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nuf said

Last June, July and August we knew when we had to be “there” to redeem reserved campsites, catch ferries and board trains. We were destination-driven, on-the-go and executing a prismatic trip that months earlier had the grid-like form of lists and calendars and pushpins on wall maps. When we finally rolled down the road, the trip got life!  3-D travel was great; skipping stones on Aialik Bay; breathing thick air on the Oregon coast.

The early itinerary went off as planned, apart from a flood here and a missing ski bag there. Northwest in summer, Italy in fall, Florida (and Utah) in winter. And then spring…. “anyone?” “anyone?” There were no pushpins on the spring section of our planning calendar. March, April and May, an entire season, was blank! Is planned spontaneity an oxymoron? It’s not that we are shamelessly opportunistic travelers, though there may be some of that. We just wanted the feeling of truly going with the flow, of not knowing what next, of being open, free, ready and voila! on an April hike in sunny Sedona we met the one and only, Agnes (pronounced Anyes, with a clever Parisian accent).

The better part of the next three weeks we swirled about Sedona and Flagstaff with Agnes and her gorgeous family. We biked and hiked and enjoyed evocative conversation over home-made crustless quiche, crepes and cookies. We drank fancy coffee. We ate brie. We rode up Broken Arrow and around Chicken Point 7 times to bring good luck to ourselves and the universe. And Johnny swirled into a beautiful friendship with twin mountain-biking, RC-operating, adorable boys. Merci beaucoup, merci beaucoup A, S, G and R!!  We thank you and are sending wishes for a quick end to the Slide Rock fire.

After one final galactic Flagstaff night at Lowell Observatory during Saturn week, we drove north toward Vermillion Cliffs and the mighty Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry, the tippy top of Grand Canyon National Park.  We enjoyed magnificent weather,  played in Paria Riffle and dreamed of floating the whole canyon one day.  Johnny and I hitched a ride upriver and paddled downstream through Glen Canyon below the dam, back to our campsite.  Beautiful but disturbing is the cold, clear, green water that should be warm, mud-red and filled with pikeminnow and chub rather than half a million rainbow trout. The sediment settles in Lake Powell and the native fish species have not survived the altered environment. We are trying hard to learn about and appreciate the complexity of the Colorado River and its importance to the entire southwestern US.

In another galaxy, in late March, we found out our 4th crew member, Max, has a large malignant tumor in his left hind leg. He’s still happy to dig in the sand, roll rocks in moving water and tent camp with his pack, but he is slowing down, quickly. And in his kingly manner, he is helping us to live gloriously in the moment, keep our tails wagging and enjoy being off leash as much as possible.   Suffice it to say, our life lessons on the road keep swirling about, unplanned.

Flagstaff classroom at Late for the Train Coffee Shop

Flagstaff classroom at Late for the Train Coffee Shop

Agnes

Agnes

Remi, Gabe and Johnny

Remi, Gabe and Johnny

Max in Sedona

Max in Sedona

Johnny guest lecturing to 1st-3rd graders in Flag

Johnny guest lecturing to 1st-3rd graders in Flag

Johnny found (and left) an arrowhead at Walnut Canyon National Mon.

Johnny found, and left, an arrowhead in Walnut Canyon National Monument

The colorful Colorado

River fun near Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado

not sure it gets any better!

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California Condor, Navajo Bridge

California Condor, Navajo Bridge

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another room with a view

another room with a view

Full moon rising

Full moon rising

North Rim of Grand Canyon

North Rim of Grand Canyon

 

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more arty rock and rocky art

One stunning landscape after another, canyon country is colorful and captivating and like Thelma and Louise or Moses, we’re still wandering in the desert.  Here are 20,000 words worth of description from the desert and Navajo country.

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Mystery Valley

Mystery Valley

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Colorado River, Dead Horse Point

Colorado River, Dead Horse Point

San Juan River, Goosenecks State Park, UT

San Juan River, Goosenecks State Park, UT

A boy and his journal

A boy and his journal

Muley Point

Muley Point

 

copper and iron

copper and iron

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The art of rock

DSC_0312We’ve been exploring the southwestern US. It is bizarre and beautiful with geologic formations hundreds of millions of years old and signs of ancient ones windblown and furled in great houses, pueblos, kivas and stone. We hiked through cedar mesa needles in Canyonlands, hoodoos in Bryce, striated spires in Kodachrome Basin and slot canyons in Capitol Reef.  There are white goblins, orange swells, red rocks and pink cliffs and where there is water, brushes of green.  We camped in a flowering apple orchard on the Fremont River, a veritable oasis, in Fruita, UT.

In Mesa Verde and Moab we caught up with good friends Kita, Eevee, Lucy and Noni and new friends Monica, Calvin and Elijah. We piled into the rig, which Lucy named ERV, for Epic Recreational Vehicle, and had a great time at Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling.  We also had one more powdery hoorah at Deer Valley where Johnny boy met Johnny Mosley, yes Johnny Mosley, the father of the dinner roll.

Our thriving road scholar is playing hard and working hard.  Recent utterances include, “geology is fun!” “why do they build dams, anyway?” and for the 17th time, after completing a Junior Ranger, Johnny pledged, ” I promise to teach others about what I learned today, explore other parks and historic sites, and help preserve and protect these places so future generations can enjoy them.”

Apropos of the season, we are wandering in the desert, marveling at astronomic events, eclipsing blood moons. We’re feeling the fantastic, the freedom and wishing our friends and family a verdant and happy Passover and Easter.

Fajada Butte, Chaco Canyon

Fajada Butte, Chaco Canyon

Johnny's Kiva Sculpture, Chaco Canyon art class – kiva sculpture

Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon Pueblo Bonito Chaco Canyon, around 1100

Durango, Colorado  Durango – E, L, M, J, N, E and C

Junior Rangers, Mesa VerdeMesa Verde – a gaggle of Junior Rangers

family on colorado riverThe mighty, the beautiful, the over allocated, Colorado River

Klonzo Trails, Moab, UT Moab, Klonzo Trails

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Dudes, Wake and Bake Cafe, Moab Moab dudes, Wake and Bake Coffee Shop

Johnny and Johnny (Mosley) Johnny and Johnny, Deer Valley, US Freestyle Championship

 

Flipping Pancakes, Kodachrome State Park, UT Flipping cakes, Kodachrome Basin State Park, UT

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Kodachrome BasinKodachrome Basin State Park, Angel’s Palace Trail

Lone Star Taqueria, Salt Lake CityLone Star Taqueria, Salt Lake City

Utah Rivers Council Utah Rivers Council, ED, Zach

photo-135 Capitol Reef National Park

photo-134Capitol Reef  National Park

chaco nightsky2starry starry night, Chaco Canyon

 

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