It Was a Night

 

On any given morning, I roll out of bed after listening to some KQED Radio/NPR Morning Edition. One particular morning, the “fundraising drive” commenced. Yeah, you know the one.

I listened as someone hawked Paul Anka tickets once, and then a few days later, I heard it again. That time I decided we’re going to see Paul Anka. Mollie and I both quite often have the Paul Anka Pandora station on, so I was pretty sure she’d go with me.

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The show started with a long set of instrumentals, no Anka on the stage. When he finally emerged, he didn’t come out from behind the stage. No, he came in, escorted by a couple of big body-guards, from the up-front exit doors. He walked in slowly, shaking hands, touching the shoulders of those close to him, and allowing his fans to get up close and personal with him.

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“Mom, these old women are really rude.” And she was right – there they were (not us!) swooning, half-drunk or overly medicated – they were everywhere. My sweet daughter was at least 35 years younger than anyone else there. I’m pretty sure she was the only one of her kind. The two of us grinned happily as we we showered by his amazing voice cranking out the tunes.

fullsizeoutput_df89The San Jose Civic Center was set up in a big band venue, complete with an extraordinary sax player, John Cross, musical director of Anka’s orchestra for many, many years. Indeed, the entire orchestra rocked along with Anka. I don’t know what kind of set-up I expected, but the big-band one was perfect.

Anka was my teenage idol as a youngster, along with Ricky Nelson, and then of course the Beatles and Elvis. But Anka was really the one and I still love his music. He sang hit after hit, his voice clear and strong, amazing range able to hit every note. Wow! He told funny jokes and crazy tales during his time with us. No intermission, a small audience, one that was full of the people who really wanted to be in the same room with Paul Anka.

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He never seemed to be in a hurry.

“I got lucky as a kid. I was writing kids’ songs. I was hopefully writing the way every teenager thought, how they all felt in that world.” He smiled when he spoke of Annette, you know, Funicello. He reminisced on American Bandstand. He spoke fondly of the great ones who died much too young.

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He laughed as he told us the first time he met Frank Sinatra. “Mr. Sinatra.” Anka was living in New York. He got a phone call one day from ‘a guy’ telling him that Mr. Sinatra wanted to meet with him.

Anka got on a plane, following directions, and he flew out to Las Vegas, where he was met at the hotel by Sinatra’s guy. “Take off your clothes and get into this robe.”

Everyone in the audience laughed, as you can imagine.

His escort led him to the steam room and slowly pulled the door wide open.

“And sitting there was Sammy Davis…and Dean Martin..and Frank Sinatra – all naked looking up at me!”

He spoke about how much he learned about the business during the years he was with the Rat Pack. And then about the time he was 28 years old, he met up with Sinatra in Florida, in Miami Beach.

“Sinatra told me he was quitting show business and he was going to do one more album. And would I write him a song? I was shocked, we were all shocked – quitting the business? And he did leave, but he came back later!”

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“I had never written for him. He had asked me, but I was scared to death.”

Some time went by, Anka was living and working in the big apple, and as he says, he kept getting this tune in his head, the song swirled around and then boom! he wrote it in six hours. He hopped a plane out to Vegas and gave it to Frank.

“I was old enough at 28 to write it, but I was too young to sing it. You needed someone of Mr. Sinatra’s vintage to sing that one.”

During the show, he wandered down a few times and those “rude women” would mob him. I tried once, but tried too late and never got close. But we did get this:

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He told us his friends often ask him why he keeps doing these show; he doesn’t have to, at 78 years old.

“I love doing this. I don’t have a job, I have something that keeps me alive, along with the love of my family and friends. I take care of myself, I exercise, I eat well, most of the time. I diet! Oh, do I diet! I’ve been on Jenny Craig more times than Mr. Craig!”

I saw Anka twice in my twenties. I was surprised then how short he was – shorter than me! This time, I felt like I was watching a friend on stage. The memories the songs brought to me – the sad and happy times of my life.

My KQED sustaining member contribution is larger now, and so is the happy place in my heart.

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Any Day on the Water is a Good Day on the Water

On Mother’s Day a few years ago, my kids all chipped in to surprise me with a tandem kayak; it was just what I wanted. I figured I could take the grandkids out in it. It eventually turned out to be a little more than I really wanted to handle. The weight and unwieldiness became a barrier to my paddling and I quit taking it out, even though I loved each and every time I was in the water. I decided it was time to get my beloved kayak a new owner – and then look for something different for me.

So I sold it to Kevin. A friend of mine, he lives on a boat, a boat quite a bit bigger than a kayak. And he has a kayak as well – a white sit-on-top that’s all decked out with bunch of electronic something or others for some reason or another that I don’t understand.

But my Pemlico Wilderness Systems kayak is pretty sweet and he wanted it. Late in the morning this past weekend, he came by with his friend Ann. I like her; we’d met when she and Kevin helped me to evacuate a bunch of my valuables during the Napa fires in 2017.

My son-in-law Matt helped Kevin to get the kayak up on Kevin’s pick-up truck racks and he and Ann took it to his place. It was a great day for kayaking (every day’s a great day for kayaking), Ann had to go to work, but Kevin and I didn’t, so I met him at the docks and we set out for an afternoon on the water outside Benicia’s boat harbor. It was a bit breezy, but wind is just air, right? No matter how the flag is uplifted.

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Kevin’s back porch

Kevin pointed out a small rock island outside the harbor – that was our destination. Our trip initially began with me paddling Kevin’s “sit on top” kayak, with Kevin in my – now his – kayak. I paddled alongside, or behind, taking direction in a new body of water, and we headed out. It turned out the wind was roaring in from San Pablo Bay, and this girl was making no headway at all.

I could laugh all right, but paddling in place was not really what I had in mind. Kevin had a new plan. We’d each paddle close to the edge of the harbor’s retaining wall and pull into the little beach nearby. A beach, by the way, in name only. It’s mainly covered with old wood sediment from a long gone mill. The only sand is like quicksand. Seriously.

After we pulled in, I got out of the sit-on-top, settled into the bow seat of the tandem while Kevin reached around to tie the sit-on-top to the tandem, and we towed it while paddling off on our grand adventure. Great idea! Two power paddlers in the same boat.

Now we were in business. The wind still pushed at us, but we were better. We would prevail. Not a moment to spare for taking pictures however. I’d forgotten to put the fully charged battery back into my good camera, so didn’t have it with me anyway. And, I was a little leary taking it out on the boat with no good dry-bag on me.

We made good time to the little rock island, guiding the nose of the kayak onto shore amidst assorted rocks and piles of boulders, covered with slippery, slimy green algae. You know the kind.

“No, you get out first,” I replied to Kevin’s query whether I was ready to get myself out of the boat. He’s an expert at getting in and out of kayaks, and I’m nowhere near excellently experienced, much less an expert. So he could get out first. And give me a gratefull pull up assist as well.

fullsizeoutput_d5e9I had the tie-line in hand and offered to wrap it around and and tie it onto a 10″ diameter hanging piece of driftwood stump that was protruding from the shore right in my face.

“Like this?” I asked.

“Yeah, that log ain’t going anywhere. That’s great.” he said.

“Okay,” I replied somewhat hesitantly, grimicing to myself, not really sure about it. But I figured Kevin’s the expert, not me, so I shrugged it all off, chuckling and all. 

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We hiked up a dry, steep short slope of rocks, sand, dried grass and weeds to the top of the isle. Both of us being the artsy-fartsy types, we commented on and admired the various shades of tan and brown and yellow in the rocks, the golden tree pollen, while attempting to come up with the proper names of plants, birds and trees right there in front of us. We scoffed heartily at the few-thousand-tons-of-deadweight oil tanker sailing out to the Pacific, tug boat in tow.

The mountain top was covered with evidence of previous explorers who’d actually built a tree house. A poor attempt, I might add, but it did have a nice wide piece of lumber laying across two branches. On the ground were three windward walls nailed together and an open lanai, if you want to call it that. It was pretty much a mess. We found their hammer and nails left inside, so maybe they had more improvements in mind for future visits. Or else they fled for their lives from a giant hungry sea-monster, never to be seen again.

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Anyway, the outer wall to the north had a few wide planks of lumber on which we could sit. Settle in we did. With a little chilled white wine, a bunch of cheap snacks and a little smoke, the chit-chat commenced. It had been a while since we’d had a good visit, and we had a lot of catching up to do.

We used to work together at Napa State Hospital, so that topic always comes up. We’re both glad to not be working there anymore. We reminisce on a few colleagues and wish the ones still working to be the safest they can be. We laughed and reminded each other of the antics of some of our favorite crazy patients. We talked about various friends, also former employees, who are as happy as we are to be out of that grossly mismanaged hellhole.

Any successful day on the river with friends provides plenty of time to cover lots of territory. We discussed conspiracy theories – large and small – real or unreal. Death and dying and communicating with spirits who’ve passed on. We shared talk of our day to day living and the people in it. We commiserated on and celebrated our lives on earth, in America, in our neighborhoods, and the many ways Kevin’s found, after a few hardships of his own, similar to all of ours, to help many people down on their luck right there at the edge of their world.

fullsizeoutput_d5a5We watched sea-birds “cruising for burgers.” My friend Cristy taught me all about birds cruising for burgers; I think it was in the wilds of West Virginia, or maybe Austin TX.  Or was it NYC? It was a long time ago, I don’t remember.

Kevin pointed out a U.S. Coast and Geodedic Survey Topographic Station metal tag drilled into the top of a rock, complete with notification of the threat of fine or imprisonment  for disturbing the darn thing. WTH?

 

The wind had died down a bit and Kevin decided after a while to go check on the boats we’d left tied in the rocks. He just wanted to see that all was well. What he discovered was an empty beach where we’d left the kayaks. He quickly scuttled around to locate them at the base of the isle. Thank goodness they had not floated completely away but had just moved with the wind clear around the back of the island. The first thing he noticed, after the kayaks, was a single Herman’s gull hovering on the wind currents 20 feet above the kayaks. Laughing like he was the instigator or something. Kevin started laughing with him.

He couldn’t tell for sure if the whole thing was so hysterical because he was lightly toasted from the green bud we’d had, or something else, but it sure seemed that the gull was actually laughing like a child who’d played a joke on a parent. The more the gull laughed, the harder Kevin laughed, making it treacherous to keep his footing down the steep embankment towards the water. He looked up at the bird, yelling out, “Oh, you think that’s funny, huh!?”

The crazy bird was laughing too hard not to be convincing. On an island normally covered in birds, it was odd to see a single solitary bird keeping eyes on our lost kayaks while the other birds were nowhere to be found…as if they too were part of the joke, but had no faith in Kevin’s sense of humor and so had flown to some hideout instead of staying to see what happened. Lol. Pirate gulls, no doubt.

Completely ignorant of this escapade, I heard my name being called from a ways behind me – definitely not where we’d left the boats. Thank goodness he caught those little rascally boats. It could have been a long swim for us. A difficult swim as well, because–of course–our PDFs were in the boats.

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After getting the boats back to where they belonged, Kevin spied a beautiful and extremely heavy piece of driftwood. He dragged, pushed and pulled it up to our topmost lookout and proceeded to wonder how to display the darn thing.

After a bit of discussion, and a little dancing around about which end was the top, which was the bottom, and all the aspects of this fine piece of nature’s art, we finally got it in place.

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The last thing we did before heading out was to shore up this new piece of art that now sits next to the treehouse. With the aid of a few pieces of lumber and other scrap wood–voila!

The wind had died down, we headed out and had a fine paddle back in the Pemlico (which I miss already) to the docks. No better way to spend a long afternoon than talking about life and our parts in in while hanging out at the water’s edge. 

So what’s next?

I get to go to the Raiders training camp! Yippee!

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“Grandma! Grandma!”

Today is one of those memorable “Moments in History.” Something like the ones they write about in your local newspaper.
On this date:
800px-Custer_Bvt_MG_Geo_A_1865_LC-BH831-365-cropIn 1876, Lt. Col. Colonel George A Custer and his 7th Cavalry were wiped out by the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana.
Ninety-one years later, in 1967, the Beatles performed and recorded their new song “All You Need is Love” during the closing segment of “Our World,” the first-ever live international telecast which was carried by satellite from 14 countries.
In 1973, former White House Counsel John W. Dean began testifying before the Senate Watergate Committee, implicating top administration officials, including President Richard Nixon as well as himself, in the Watergate scandal and cover-up.
In 1986, a deeply personal moment in history, Mom died.
My little boys and I had been in Carson City for a couple of weeks, helping Mom to pack up her stuff for the move to our home in Pennsylvania. On this particular day, I’d taken Howie (5-years old) and Rusty (18-months old) to the library to pick up a couple books on caring for emphysema patients. Mom wasn’t doing well and after several invites to come live with us, she’d finally agreed to do so. My husband Matt was home working as a DJ in the local Titusville radio station.
I returned to Mom’s apartment with the little guys, all excited. Howie rushed out in front of me, happily calling out, “Grandma! Grandma!” and before I could get inside the doorway, he came back to me, a bewidered look on his little face. “Grandma’s in the kitchen – she’s laying on the floor.”
Holding Rusty in my right arm, I reached out with my left to Howie’s to walk around the corner into the kitchen.
Like all of us, Mom had a few habits. One of them was to watch her soaps – General Hospital was one – every weekday afternoon. Each time the first commercial came around, she’d get up to make herself a vodka and 7. I looked at the glass of ice on the counter. The 7-up can was open and abandoned.
I put Rusty down, checked Mom, and trembling, walked with over to the couch where I held the boys tight on my lap. I told them how Grandma Mollie had been really sick and her heart just couldn’t work anymore. I settled them in the other room and began to make phone calls. My voice shook with emotion. I cried. I called her best friend in town. I called 9-1-1. Or was it the Sheriff’s Office? I don’t remember.
I called Mike and Fred. I called Dad in Oregon, and Aunt Marne, and on and on and on. It was a terrible no-good day. I weirdly remember thinking at the time of Jackie Kennedy and how she had to be so strong for her kids, and that I had to do the same. Isn’t that weird?
We all got together in Carson City, we had a service. Fred, Mike, the boys and I took a short drive around Tahoe before we said our goodbyes.
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I miss her so much. She’s missed so much. She was only 66. So many milestones in life, in her family, that she missed.
She had a difficult life. She had a good life, much of it a happy life. The kind of life we all have. Good times. Bad times. Sad times. Wonderful times. Momentous times.
Fred reminded my recently, when I was with him in Colorado, that he’d introduced Mom to pot. We were cracking up. When I visited her in ’79, she’d taken out her little stash and whispered to me (there was no one in the room but us), “Fred gave this to me.” Cracked me up. Still cracks me up.
I’ve thought for a long time that I must have raised my own kids right ’cause they bring me weed. Did we start a family tradition and not even know about it?
In the end, she just couldn’t give up those damn cigarettes. Her last months of life revolved around an oxygen tube in her nostrils. She didn’t sleep well, she didn’t eat a lot. She wouldn’t go out for a walk.
She’d periodically leave the O2 tank, the hose laying over the arm of her recliner and go have a smoke. It was a terrible business – the one thing she couldn’t quit.
I feel her presence today, as I do every day. I felt it when I was out in the garden before sitting down to write.
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Tonight I’m joining a tour of local houses with a history of ghost inhabitants. She lived in Napa when she was a girl. Maybe she’ll reach out to me!
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Tom, Howie, Mom, Rusty, me, Uncle Charles. June 1986
This photo was taken days before she died. We’d taken a road trip to the bay area to say goodbyes before heading off to Pennsylvania.
I love you, Mom. We all do.

We have to get out!?

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Remember the walk that Luke, Tommy, Rhett and I took yesterday morning, day 5? Well, lucky for us, Luke has photographic evidence of it! That’s Rhett up there paying attention and me astounded that I’m actually on top of that rounded red rock face.

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Tommy, Luke and I caught by paparazzi…aka Rhett

On this, our last day, coffee was hot and the tents came down. We all scrounged for the last of the good breakfast eats (and there was plenty of it). Bags were packed and stacked to be loaded. Soon enough, it was time to move out.

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I had my stuff packed up as I’d been trained to do, sitting around while the guys all worked. I sure didn’t want to get in their way! My camera and I kept an eye out for a few more memorable photographic objects, like this little one!

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Another you-have-to-remember-this-one was an amazing piece of driftwood – looks like a root to me – that I know Tommy really wanted to take it home. A portion of it looked just like a brain! Whose brain I’m not quite sure.

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Luke broke out the best hat (much better than my sacrificed one) of the trip – with hair! He looked just like someone I used to work with in a San Francisco medical clinic…and I was cracking up!

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We entered Arches National Park on our way to the Moab take-out beach landing, sailing through our last day on White’s Rapids – woo hoo! I read in the river guidebook that in the late 40’s and early 50’s, John Ford filmed two of his movies, Wagonmaster and Rio Grande right here off the river on White’s Ranch.

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Another 20 beautiful miles – loving life – enjoying every minute of it.

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Tommy in foreground, Fred and I back there a bit!

We had a cool breeze on the river and the sun followed us down river. My lips, for the past few days now, were sunburned and stinging — of all the sunscreen lip balms I had on me — I was using the one with not one drop of SPF! And didn’t realize it until it was too late. Now that was stupid!

 

When it came time to put out in Moab, the river was not giving much room in the eddy to pull into the pull out ramp. Fred and Tommy were able to row their rigs in all right, but darn if Rhett didn’t miss it, ending up twenty feet downriver on a muddy, weed swollen sandbar.

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Rhett and Luke grabbed hold of the boat and pulled it to the ramp where it was supposed to be. We each took turns helping to get the boats onto the trailers, where they were hoisted into place for the drive home. We said our good–byes with handshakes and hugs and Fred and I went our merry way out of the canyon and the drive home with some fine tunes playing on the car radio.

 

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Kudos to all the river trippers – Rhett, Tommy and Luke – and especially to my brother Fred, my real live life saver! Happy Birthday – I love you!fullsizeoutput_cf6cI admit I had an empty feeling, being off the river with the trip at an end. Does everyone feel like that when the ride ends? It took me a while to get my bearings.

Thanks for the trip of a lifetime!

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Day One – Fred’s Big 7-Oh! Birthday River Trip

And I get to go with him this time! Along with his hand picked fellow rafters and river guides, Rhett, Tommy and Luke. A few other besties were scheduled to join us and had to bow out for other more important things that came along in life. I’m glad that wasn’t me.

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Pizza and beer for two at Aspen’s Mezzaluna at the end of the build a boat day.

I originally posted much of this material on my Facebook page and decided for continuity’s sake I should write it up as a blog. So if you didn’t see my “6/6/19 – Fred’s Annual Birthday Trip – the Big 7-O!” album you’re in for a treat!

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The day before leaving for this big adventure, we spent a few hours – we meaning mostly Fred – building a boat! We worked at Fred’s place right there on the Roaring Fork River. And it was roaring!

I was perfectly capable of lugging stuff to the appropriate pile on the ground near the boat, but Fred’s the only one who could stow it where he wanted. You know how it is. Everything in its proper place, right where it belongs and where it can be found when you want it!

 

On our appointed day to hit the river, we head out in the pick-up truck to Fruita. Some blue boat and trailer kept following us the intire way. lol. We stop a few places to pick up those last minute supplies – foodstuffs, ice, more beer, more ice and other essentials for the trip. The tequila was safely stowed away.

It wouldn’t last long.

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There’s talk of Dinosaurs in this here valley!

The river is “high water” now, approximately 34,000 cubic feet per second, and not to be taken lightly. Between Fred and his boat-mates, they figured they have about 140 years of experience on the water; I was completly relaxed and confident that all was well. And it was.

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Our journey started in Ruby Horsethief Canyon, eventually moving into Westwater and Skull Rapid – now that was a day! More on that later…

 

We put in at the ramp in Fruita at RimRock Adventures. Each boatman had his own way of doing things, each put-in was a bit different. I got to meet our fellow adventurers – Luke and Rhett, and was reacquainted with Tommy Myers whom I’d met on an earlier trip to the Colorado River to boat with my brother.

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In between the time that Tommy, Fred and Rhett pulled in to the ramp, backing their trailers to the river’s edge to get the boats into the water, other guys and their trailers and their people pulled in and I’m sure, innocently enough, messed with our own operation. We were just glad later on, that “those guys” weren’t camping close to where we were! Rhett’s two sisters Cathy and Lisa were on hand to send us off and away we went.

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Tommy at work adjusting his oar with his trusty-dusty mallet!

Just down the river aways, I got this first day lucky shot of a great blue heron keeping an eye on us. No matter how much I wanted it, I never did get a shot of one in flight, or of an eagle in flight, either. Each time a great bird flew over us, my damn camera was in it’s case or in some other not-in-my-hand place.

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I order a copy of one of Fred’s Guidebooks: River Maps: Guide to the Colorado & Green Rivers in the canyonlands of Utah and Colorado. There is a wealth of information about turn of the river, so to speak. The history of the river’s path, millions of years of geology in the making, the people who came before – I’m loving all of it.

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High water was definitly one of the defining factors on our trip. The entire length of the river, low water eddies and campsites were missing or under water – a lot of water and not anything to mess around with. Out of curiosity or need, (I’m not sure which) one or another of the guys would check on his phone or some other electronid device for the cfs (Cubic feet per second) each day we were out. They read the currents and adjust their path through the water based on their many years of experience.

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The out of this world – really part of this world – natural landscapes, geological formations grabbed my heart and won’t let go. I can’t read enough about it, my curiosity has the best of me and I’m looking forward to learning more about this neighborhood.

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It seems I’m continuously shaking my head, sighing and awestruck with the beauty of it all. It’s a leisurely first day and I try not to miss any of it!

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I’m starting to learn the routine now. Doesn’t take long. Open your eyes, Kathy. Put in to a campsite, take it easy for a time – river time – and then grab my gear to get my tent put up and my stuff inside of it.

 

This first night, the guys enjoy themselves, laughing if you can imagine, as I attempt to put up my borrowed-from-Tommy tent. What?!

“I could watch you all night trying to do that…but no…” Tommy says, he and Fred giggling, “they snap on like this!”

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I’m warned not to leave anything outside that a nasty little scorpion – about this big! they say – could crawl into – so I leave nothing outside! Each night, I rifle through my zip locked belongings in the dry bag, removing this shirt or another and packing it all back in the next day. My toke bag, water bottle, head-night-lamp and my glasses are always in a certain left corner of the tent. One pair of glasses “for on the river with that little croakie tied on”, and my fav newly minted glasses I wear on land.

My new sleeping bag and softer-than-soft-socks keep me warm all night long. I never wear the socks outside – I don’t want one bit of sand in at least one thing I’m wearing – my pair of night socks!

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We settled our first night in Bull Draw camp after a wonderul first day on the river, five hours and counting. The scenery is such I can’t look away.

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Luke and Fred figuring something out.

 

Fred is the chef tonight. I find myself thinking of other chefs in my family, starting with Dad’s Dad who was a cook in the Merchant Marines, then Dad, who was a chef himself, and then my oldest son Rob, a trained chef and author.

Menu consisted of salmon patties grilled and loaded with guacamole, sliced sweet onion and tomatoes! Yummmmm. The next day was his breakfast duty – french toast, bacon and fresh fruit. Tasty indeed!

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Dinner was over, dishes washed and drying and it was time for some story-telling and tequila! The story-telling on the trip is the best!

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I notice Rhett didn’t make the cut in photos today. Either the camera was stowed or he was out doing a fine job of scouting just the right place for the groover.

And yes, I found the groover and it’s a spectacular view! It’s just a short walk from my tent below a canyon wall with no little crawling bugs. Or at least I don’t see any of them.

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And then it’s time to call it a night. I’m in early my tent-home and I can just barely hear the laughter and voices of the boatmen in the camp kitchen. Good nite!

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Each day of this trip would bring an amazing array of waterscapes, landscapes, changing skies, animal life, flora and fauna, joking, wonderful conversation, peace and joy. By the end of the week, my eyes and lips were fried by the awesomeness of it all!

These days with my brother was an amazing gift and I’ll cherish it always. I’m so happy this adventurous life never gets old.

 

What’s That Loud Roar?

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Day five and this stretch of river delivers us into the spacious and beautiful Professor Valley and Richardson Amphitheatre, named for Sylvester “The Professor” Richardson, who established a ranch in 1879. A post office was established, a store opened up, and soon enough they had a town. Not just a professor, he was the true Renaissance man, a top-notch physician, musician, geologist, teacher, author, druggist, surveyor and assayer. The town died out a few years after the Professor, who gave up the ghost in 1902, at just 79-years old.

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The Moab Daily section of the river begins 3 miles up from our two-day camp. Lots of fun rapids here – and for the professional guides and others who stay in the boat – not anywhere as dangerous as what we had on Fred’s birthday! This 13-mile stretch of river is busy with lots of day trippers and a few over-niters as well. Three of the four Onion Creek campsites were above water, thankfully, and we pulled into one of them.

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For miles now, we’ve seen from afar the Fisher Towers aka Colorado River Pipe Organs, but now we’re in the same neighborhood – truly amazing! The tallest of them, the Titan, was first climbed in 1962 by climbing legends Huntley Ingalls, Layton Kor, and George Hurley. And no, I’m not going up there. At least not this trip.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

The plan was to stay two nights at Onion Creek, and on the second day, we found more time to relax, not having to take the time and energy to unload  and reload the boats in the same 12 hour period. Luke, Rhett, Tommy and I took a morning walk, leaving Fred behind to – do what? I don’t know. We thought he’d make breakfast. The joke was on us! From high on the cliffs we could see far beyond – all along the river valley. It was a totally different view from the one we have down in the boat. Duhhh.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

We had potluck dinner and breakfast, as always – plenty of food. We still had fresh fruit, including a nice cold ripe and juicy cantaloupe, sweet pineapple chunks, and watermelon. Hot coffee always hit the spot. I love that coffee pot! A bright and shiny  stainless steel four-burner cookstove sits atop the kitchen table – a portable solid wood approximately 2′ x 6′ top with screw in metal legs. I’m a novice – it all amazed me, the equipment (and expertise) that’s needed for these multi-day trips. I do know that these guys invest a lot of money in the best they can buy. Their stuff lasts and is upgraded continually, it seems. One guy has a new this or that, the other guy envies and wonders if wants one of those!

There’s also a fire box, complete with fireproof pad to provide a little campfire or to cook up a big steak.

Ever heard of a groover? It’s a portable bathroom made up of a camp toilet, buckets of pump-on-demand clean water for handwashing, soap, hand sanitizer, and an ammo box (used for loads and loads of things on a boat) stocked with dry toilet paper.

 

At the end of the trip, the actual groover poop-&-stuff is dropped off at an official groover station. No, I didn’t go there. That was Rhett’s job. At each campsite, Rhett and Luke scouted around and located the best groover spot for a secluded experience – with a great view. They didn’t disappoint. A colorful lei hanging near the groover was the signal that the groover room was empty. Grab the lei and go!

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Quartz found in the wall at camp

With some time on our hands, we explored along the trails, relaxed, did some reading and threw in a few naps. Climbing over the low hanging cliffs, along slippery trails and amongst the wildflowers was good exercise after so much time spent sitting on my butt in the boat. The rowers, they get plenty of exercise. But other than that short swim I had, the walks at campsites were my exercise. Well, unpacking and packing back and forth was a bit of exertion, but not that much.

The day rolled out easily enough, we each found that spot to relax, do some reading, absorb the scenery and nap – the napping was fine. The challenge was in chasing the shade from the cottonwoods in camp. That darn sun kept moving and so did the shade spots.

The afternoon led into an exciting evening. Which led to storm stories from the guys. the time they rolled through a terrible rain and hail storm. Hail so big they had to put buckets over their heads! Not this time, thank goodness. But we did get a roaring wind! It’s so noisy when the wind roars up the river and through the trees on the banks. I could see a dust storm on the other side of the river where the canyon was open. I think our tents were really glad that we held onto them! “Aunty Emm, Aunty Emm!!”

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

Since rain was obviously in the making, the boat guys who usually slept on their boats now decided to put up their tents. With the strong wind, stakes and loading the tents down with our belongings helped keep them on the ground.

This was the first night I put the fly on my tent.

#1 – it was warmer inside.

#2 – I couldn’t see anything.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

It was spooky with the wind roaring over me, and then lightning spiked and thunder boomed up our little world. I had no idea what everyone else was doing – and it felt weird being apart from them, each of us in our own tent – wide awake and waiting for sleep. I couldn’t believe I actually did fall asleep with that roaring wind. I guess it was all the wonderful sun and that nice hike! And of course this was the night I had to get up to pee in the night. But by that time, there was that beautiful dark sky, a few clouds, and my old friends, the Milky Way and the Big Dipper

Next morning, waking up, was sunny and warm — beautiful and wonderful and I smiled with delight seeing my brother up and messing around — and the coffee pot boiling on the stove.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

 

 

 

Day 4 – Dewey Bridge, Shocking Fish and a Threesome!

 

 

We row into the most fantastic cliff formations – almost as if the previous days were just appetizers. The boatmen taming the rapids – and you can bet I was being much more careful to “stay in the boat.” The rapids surely do excite and accentuate the bliss of being on the river.

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It’s all about the boats…

Cruising about 32 miles that day, we land at Onion Creek for a two-night layover. Put on more sunscreen, drink more water, and bask in the beauty, silence and peacefulness of the canyons.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

At low water, it can be busy in this section of the river where there are plenty of places to put your boat in or pull out for a camp night.

 

At today’s high water, many of those campsites, or at least the place to pull the boats in, are under water.  No eddies to cruise into. And it’s much less crowded.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

A fault line crosses the river just after we leave Big Horn camp. We see the evidence of it as the rock layers that we’ve seen sloping gradually, now make a big drop of 400 feet – about the height of a 4-story building. The Wingate Sandstone that made the huge cliffs we’d passed the last couple days was, at this point, several thousand feet underground. Talk about earth-movers. The sandstone here and elsewhere create these magnificent hills, towers and what seem to be man-made statues.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

 

This is the day we choose to give Rhett’s motor a chance. There’s a long strip of river that takes a lot of rowing to get through. Flat water, wind against the bow. A while after leaving camp, the three boatmen, line up their boats, one to one to Rhett’s boat.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

 

Fred and I are in the furthest right boat, Luke and Tommy in the furthest left boat, and Rhett in the middle pushing that motor to get us downriver. It was a crackup and I wondered what people thought (we did see a few) of this threesome!

 

Today’s trip leads us to our first hint of civilization since we left the train tracks a couple days ago. On the south side of the river, state route 128 follows the river, snaking all the way to Moab. As the days go on, we see more and more traffic – everyone wants to get out of town! Other signs of civilization are orchards of fruit trees and farmland established in the 1900’s.

 

We floated past a crew from Fish and Wildlife Service, charged with protection of the river and the fish in it, who were doing a fish count. They drop an electrified metal ball into the water which shocks the nearby fish who are just there minding their own business. The fish float to the water’s surface – and voila! They’re netted and counted and released back into the mighty Colorado.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

The low hills we see on the west side of the river are capped with Mancos Shale, at a mere 80-95 million years old, the youngest rocks in the Canyonlands. The hills to the east are capped with Dakota Sandstone. For the next several miles, we could see the hills sloping up thousands of feet. Remarkable.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

 

 

 

Today we passed below the Dewey Bridge, opened in 1916 after a 3-year project. During its time, it was the longest single span suspension bridge in Utah, built to take on 9,000 pounds of freight, three wagons and six horses – all at the same time! A new concrete bridge opened in 1988, putting the wooden Dewey out of business. Twenty years later, a little kid playing with matches started a brush fire which then engulfed and destroyed the Dewey Bridge timbers and a fine piece of history.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

Closing in to the bridge, we checked out a line of long steel cables with pointy tips hanging from one side of the bridge to the other – and some of us wondered if Fred’s new bimini would clear the damn things. It did. Barely. Those steel cables originally held UP the Dewey Bridge! LOL

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

One of my fondest takeaways from the trip is that besides mastering the water, the days – and nights – are made for continued story-telling – everyone has a million of them Adventures past, friends and family, funny, hilarious and sometimes very sad stories – and  living life to its fullest every day you can.

 

“Happy Birthday, Fred” Your Sister Meets Westwater Canyon’s Skull Rapid!

“Coffee!” The finest words ever heard after a night’s sleep on the trail.

After a hot breakfast of coffee, eggs, potatoes and sausage, and sides of orange juice and fresh fruit, we headed out from Black Rock 6 camp sometime after 10, on our way to checking in with the Ranger at BLM Westwater Ranger Station, just after passing into Utah.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019
Amphitheater?

In a normal river run this time of year, there might be 5 private boat trips running Westwater as well as 5 commercial trips led by professional experienced guides. The Ranger expressed a bit of surprise we would be taking the trip, as no one had done so in the past several days. The high water and risky water in the canyon were holding people back.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

Fred’s only been down this canyon a hundred times, either on his raft, or rowing a raft, and more or less, 35 of his trips were on on his birthday. The other guys also know the river like the back of their hand. We were all excited to be running this trip for Fred’s Birthday!

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See the gate in the background? See the swirling water over its banks?

Just past the Ranger Station, the river crosses a fault zone where the Wingate Sandstone is thrust hundreds of feet. That, combined with the 200 million year old Chinle Formation, create the gneisses and schists that squeeze the Colorado into the tight “Granite Canyon of the Grand River”, aka Westwater Canyon.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019
A decent island in low water!

The rock art continues to amaze, and I find myself shaking my head, and sighing, in awe. Goats lounge around on the bank.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

We sail past several areas known for their rapids. Marble Canyon Rapid, at the mouth of Marble Canyon, marks the point where the channel narrows for the next couple of miles. Lots of broiling and churning water, high swirling waves and changing water holes right in front of the boat.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

And then we come onto Skull Rapid, also called Whirlpool, Big Whirlpool and Cisco Bend Rapid, the highest rated rapid in Westwater. Especially at high water, which now was about 34,000 cfs. This famous rapid is formed by a series of boulders just above a bend in the river, that drives the water toward a huge rock – the Shock Rock. The boat will either swirl right into an eddy in the Room of Doom, or breaks off to the left downstream. Surging high streams of water rose up to meet us in a perfect storm.

I was sitting and holding onto my seat at center front of the boat, Fred was pulling and working the oars. Before we came to this point in the river, we’d stowed everything and tightly tied them down. The camera in its watertight case, my water bottle, anything that could fly out of the boat. During this trip, I reverted to my previous pair of glasses and had them tightly over my ears in a little string of croakie. I noticed later the time stamp gap between when we stowed the camera and when it was safe to bring it out again.

I wasn’t looking up at the canyon formations, I was looking at all that rushing water, waves like the sea, watching down and ahead, glimpsing at Tommy and Luke in their boat ahead of us.

All of a sudden the boat lurched downward in front of us and I brilliantly pirouetted into the air in a dive up and out of the boat. I spluttered water, opened my eyes and saw that I was just to the right and a little to the rear of where I’d been seating. And I was able to touch the boat! My personal floatation device brought me right to the surface and miracles of miracles, I was facing Fred, who was hovering over me in the boat. On his feet, he’d had to let go of the oars to get me back to where I was supposed to be.

He yelled for me to grab onto the extra oar locked onto the boat – I was grabbing onto anything I could find! Fred was glancing to the left of us at a big wall he didn’t want to crash into. He had hold of my left arm, yelling, “You’re okay! You’re allright!!” He grabbed my life jacket with both hands and swiftly jerked me back into the boat.

“Hurry, get back up there…” he yelled out over the roar of the water. “We have to move!”

I crawled my way back to my seat, gurgling fresh Colorado River water, and held tight to the bow straps while Fred maneuvered us out of the worst of the day’s rapids.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019
Tommy and Luke waiting it out

I later learned that at high water, Skull is rated five and a half to six (highest rating), partly because of the possibility that someone will become a swimmer. Like Fred’s sister.

We all had a good laugh later – more than one – and acknowledged that we were definitely scared to death at the time I took a dive. Luke and Tommy had been watching the entire episode then, ready to grab me up if Fred hadn’t been able to do so. Rhett was upstream watching. I felt like such a dork!

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

Fred told me before we ever got in the river that he had three rules for me:

#1 Stay in the boat.

#2 Stay in the boat.

#3 Stay in the boat.

Instead, I went swimming!

It turned out the river gods didn’t want me at all. My wide-brimmed hat was the only sacrifice that day.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019
Mrs. Butterworth––some call her the pregnant nun

In looking at my pictures for the day, I saw a long gap between the time I stowed the camera and when the water settled down enough to pick it up again. It was definitely Fred’s miracle birthday. Things could have gone so wrong. But they didn’t – and I’d go again if given the chance – you can count on that.

A 21-miler day – we arrived in good speed to Big Horn Camp. The guys set up the kitchen close to the boats, just exactly as it should be. After a few beers and tequila shots, we later ate a hearty fine feast. More red wine out of a plastic bag and chocolate chip cookies for dessert! The desert heat is feeling mighty fine and the skies are in our favor. For now.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

Fred’s Birthday River 2019 – Day 2

Hundreds of pictures on my 16g card tell part of the story of my week on the Colorado River as well as millions of years of geologic history tell the story of the Colorado River Basin. I find myself reading more and more about this natural masterpiece, the Colorado River Canyonlands.

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This is just MY stuff. My camera was stowed away in the water resistant case when the rapids were calling, the wide brim hat on my head until it was sacrificed to the river gods. More about that later.

 

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Drawings on the wall…what do you see there? I have my own vision of a face with strung out eyebrows and a big nose. Do you see it?

Our second day on the river continued in Ruby Horsethief Canyon. Quiet water (about 9 miles an hour) interspersed with riffles, eddies and rapids leave me in awe. I’m learning from the guys how the water changes – duh – with the volume of water flowing through the channel basin. They chat about how this or another spot on the river, how it looks different, how they remember the water looking on previous trips. They know their stuff – and that puts me at ease.

 

 

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Do you see a Mama Bear with her thee little cubs on this rock face? Or what?

 

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019
Can you see the two animals making a run for it? Or??

 

We covered just about 5 river miles that first day, about an hour and a half.  First day out involved a lot of travel from home to the put-in ramp, so that made for a later start and earlier end to the first day. These rafts are packed with more than a thousand pounds of gear, including water, ice, food, clothing, camp kitchen equipment, cameras, propane tanks, the mandatory river guide map and everything else needed for a 6-day trip. Most of it comes off the boat at night, and back onto the boat in the morning. Mornings, and evenings, are on river time, and never hurried.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019
Little Rubby Ducky followed us everywhere
Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019
Looking up from the water – I spent a lot of time doing that!

Day two we rafted 13 miles through Ruby Horsethief Canyon, three blissful hours, passing many potential river camps that are washed out with high water, and no eddies at the edge to easily slide into anyway.

The coolness of being on the water was wonderful; I was never chilled. My wide brim hat helped shade my face from the hot sun, tied under my chin to hang on through rapids in the water and gusts of wind.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019
The Guardians??

Today I had my first look at the local big horn sheep, a little family of three. We rolled past miles of black rock formations. These really old Precambrian period rocks started out as limestone and shale, some sandstone, about 1,700 million years ago.

Later on, about 1,400 million years ago, there was a big upswelling of magma. I’m told the “black rocks” in the canyons here are a mix of schist, amphibolite, metamorphic gneiss, and intrusive granite rock. I don’t know what it means, either. Look it up!

I just bought my own fascinating river guide book complete with introductory geologic & geographic lessons, history of the west and the people who populated it.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

The tamarisk trees along the river’s edge are non-native and detrimental in that they can choke off the rivers. About 15 years ago, tamarisk beetles were introduced to kill those pesky trees – and you can see these dead trees all along the river. The healthy ones are quite pretty with pink flowers. Rangers periodically cut out the dead trees, and quickly pour poison in the roots before the tree closes itself up and grows two more. Cottonwood trees are abundant, their beautiful shimmering leaves catch the eye, and at this time of year, small tufts of cotton float in the air.

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

Our river day ended at Black Rocks 6 camp, west of Moore Canyon, a difficult pull-in at 30,000 csf and our well-trained guides made it with ease.

 

Camp was plenty big for two tents, mine and Luke’s, as the boat owners (Tommy, Fred and Rhett) slept atop their boats that night, and many other nights as well. But not the last night!

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019
A view of the river from my hike

We had plenty of time and space in which to roam around and explore!

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

The wildflowers surprised the heck out of me when I zoomed in on them with the camera! So much activity…

Fred's Birthday River Trip 2019

Fragrant juniper bushes with their dark purple berries grace the landscape her. The sun was feeling real good, the company was great, the food plentiful. Rhett’s turn to cook up a yummy London broil, served with two types of potato salad and a box of red wine in a plastic bag. There was an abundance of beer and tequila; we were living large.

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Tonight’s view from my tent home…

After this last picture was taken, long into the night, I woke and crawled out of the tent to gaze at the sky. There she was, the Milky Way – I recognized her and was so excited to see her again. The millions of stars just above this little planet were all I needed to see before laying my body down. ‘Til the next night!

 

 

 

The Late Train to…

Toronto, July 3, 2018

Niagara Falls north to Toronto. I admit it, I was stunned at the size and beauty of this magnificent city! I had no idea.

The Toronto Blue Jays were playing that night and I passed scores of fans making their way from the train station to the stadium. I won’t bore you with the details of another fine burger, another great beer, my missing England score against Croatia, and my museum mis-haps. I did see that the Royal Ontario Museum has a fine First Nations exhibit. Oh, and Dinosaur bones, too.

 

 

I was leaving Museum #2 when I stopped and asked the information desk guy if he could point me to a bookstore. First a bit of chit-chat. Canadians are very polite and always have something to say. Something nice.

 

Then, “Yes – It’s just behind us here. When you walk out, turn to the right, go to the next street, and turn right again. It’s just behind us.”

The “just behind us part” — was three little alleys hiding within four city blocks. In the humid heat, with a heavy backpack and tired feet, once I walked into the air conditioned shop, I bought two books instead of my planned solo read – only because my backpack wasn’t quite heavy enough. Three days later, a co-passenger gave me a book that he’d just finished reading: Visit from the Goon Squad, J. Egan.

 

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After replenishment of an ice cold Pepsi from Rexall Drug, I returned to the “under-renovation” colossal Union Station. I soon enough discovered a little side room with the plug-ins to charge my phone and laptop. Their were six chair in the room that faced a large sloping walkway to the boarding area. It was about 6 pm, and I had a lot of time to kill before my scheduled 11:30 pm train would leave. And it was delayed further.

Amtrak (U.S.) and Via Rail (Canada) really need to hire some Swiss guy to come in and show them how to run a railroad. I reminded myself, more than once, “it’s the journey, not the destination.” Don’t ever expect to be on time and you’ll be fine. Arriving the same day as scheduled is a good thing.

A couple of guys in suits were charging up. They took off soon enough. A bit later, a young man in jeans, black t-shirt and green ballcap walked in, reached down and plugged in his phone. Ten, twenty minutes went by.

“Do you mind if I ask you a somewhat random question?”

“No,” I turned in my chair to give him my full attention and smiled. “Go ahead, ask away.”

He went on to tell me about his girl-friend, their little boy, and their break up the night before. “She keeps saying she loves me, but she wants things to be different. What does she mean by that? It’s so confusing.”

He had a lot to get off his chest, and I was happy to lend an ear. Thirty years old, Allan’s a really nice guy, maybe a bit lost. He was headed out to the sand pits (or something like that) to work for the next six months.

 

 

A bit later, another young man comes in looking to charge up his phone. From Quebec, Pierre is 16-years old, very inquisitive, passionate and compassionate, a fine specimen of a teenager. Tall, too. He was traveling across Canada to visit a few sights in Winnipeg and beyond, before returning to Quebec City to start college. He was really excited to be going to the Museum of Human Rights, where he said his host would be picking him meet up in Winnipeg.

I leaned forward, eyeing him, wondering. “Are you a Couch-surfer?” I slyly asked.

“Yes! You are a Couch-surfer, too?!” We were so excited and totally bonded now.

Pretty soon, Lucie, a young German girl, somewhere in her 20’s I think, showed up to charge her phone. She’s been traveling since April, “woofing it,” she told me. She travels to a farm somewhere and stays there days or weeks, gets room and board and works a few hours daily at each farm. She’s been all over! She told me she’s always been interested in where food comes from and now she’s finding that out. I was impressed and pleased to be in such good company in our little side.

We were all chatting when another young guy – from Saskatoon – tall and thin, excitable and over-hyped bounced in like Tigger, from his delayed late train. We almost immediately started laughing with him. Allan thinks the guy’d had about eighteen cups of sugar.

“Oh my gosh, I missed my train! I’m a camp cook and have to be at a Camp and now my phone is broke.”

“I don’t know what to do! I wish somebody here had Skype so I could call my boss!”

“The train people say they’re getting me a private ride to where I need to be, but I can’t get ahold of anyone to let them know I’m on my way.”

“I need to call my boss!”

Hyper speed, his words tumbled out in a rushed stream, with nobody else geting in a word edgewise. And he was really funny about it all.

I considered his dilemma. Being a Summer Camp volunteer myself, I could relate. “I’ve got Skype on my laptop,” I said. “Can you login on mine?”

Oh, was he excited now! The rest of us listened in, chuckling at his conversation with his boss, and in a flash, he was out the door on the way to his private SUV connection Via Rail had arranged for him to get to Camp.

As we continued to wait to board, every so often, Lucie, Allan, Pierre or myself would go check on the boarding time to see if there was any update. Each time, we were told to be patient and stay where we were, to not come and line up ahead of time. After midnight, Pierre returned to us in a rush, reporting a whole bunch of people had already lined up! WTH?!

Here we were, waiting as we’d been asked to do – and now we were at the end of the line! How to get a window seat now? They are not assigned. It’s first come, first serve.

By this time, we HAD to get seats together to continue our mad journey across Canada. Allan, Lucie, Pierre, and me. A disheveled youngish train worker walked along the line checking tickets, looking for folks who qualified for pre-boarding. I had a senior ticket. He told me that was reason to board early.

“But we all need to stay together.” I told the ticket checker, nodding toward my pals. He looked skeptically at me, and at Allan, Lucie, and Pierre.

Pierre broke in. “We’re her kids!”

We all broke out laughing.

“Yeah, these are my kids! We need to stay together!” I echoed.

But the train guy wasn’t buying it.

After talking to “the kids,” I went to the pre-board area and waited, keeping an eye them, intending to throw a bunch of crap over four seats until the others could join me. But I just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t brave enough to ward off the dirty looks I expected in the train car.

I went back to my kids. “I can’t go on without you.”

Finally, we boarded. Pierre, Lucie and I had seats together and Allan was seated in a two-seat combo in the car ahead of us. He hadn’t slept in days; he was stressed to the max, and we were glad he was going to be able to sleep. We barely saw him the next few days.

 

Pierre, Lucie and I shared window and aisle seats with a funny 84-year old guy, a nice guy. His last name is Nice. Really. Mr. Nice and I had a lot of laughs at some of the things we saw outside the windows on our world. Trucks along the side of the rails to refuel the train, and abandoned electrical grid poles. Pay attention, PG&E.

 

 

 

And I won the bet with “my kids” on what time we’d roll out. One thirty was my guess; it was actually 1:20 when we started moving. It’s ever a good sign when the first leg of a cross country train starts off two hours late.

 

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By the time Allan departed the train, he and his girl had talked and he was hoping it would work out. Yes, don’t we all.

Lucie and Pierre and I are in touch and all’s right with the world. The long strange trip continues.

 

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Winnipeg’s Provencher Bridge and Museum for Human Rights.