Southwest Sojourn

Today is the beginning of a packed week of fun and relaxation… with a bit of quality time in the car between all the sights we intend to see. Joanie and I started our day getting to witness a beautiful sunrise reflecting off of the iconic Washington D.C. skyline, while Janet and Jeff had an equally inspiring view of the gulf coast as our separate journeys began before rendezvousing in Phoenix.

After a quick pit stop to pick up our rental car, we headed 2 1/2 hours north to Flagstaff, where we will spend the night. On the way we opted to get off the interstate and travel along the Red Rock Scenic Byway, a beautiful drive through the towering, iron infused landscape of rugged sandstone buttes.

Jeff, Janet, Joanie, and Don on the Red Rock Scenic Byway at Courthouse Butte

Since none of us had eaten since early in the morning, we stopped at a local cantina just outside of Sedona, where the pace was decidedly unhurried, to enjoy some refreshing happy hour drinks and nachos… just enough to recharge our rapidly dwindling batteries from a full day of travel.

Then it was the final push to Flagstaff which will serve as our launch point for visits to the Lower Antelope Canyon and the Grand Canyon. Although the day was long, we are happy to be together, sharing this experience.

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Celebrating in Sedona

A new adventure awaits in the coming days… in the first week of April, Joanie and her twin sister Janet have booked a trip to the beautiful and tranquil town of Sedona, Arizona to celebrate the 21st anniversary of their 39th birthday (a.k.a. their 60th birthday!). They have graciously invited me, and Janet’s husband, Jeff along for the adventure, no doubt to cater to their every need and write about the experience so they will remember it in their advanced age (…kidding of course!)

Allow me a moment to explain the disparity in how birthdays are celebrated in this family. For me, and perhaps most others reading this blog, there is one day each year where we are celebrated for surviving another year of existence on this planet. This isn’t quite the case for Joanie… over the course of 31 years of marriage, I have discovered that there is no longer anything that even closely resembles a birthday. Instead, there is a seemingly endless series of events to celebrate her birth month!

Now, let me be clear here, this is entirely okay, because let’s face the underlying fact that creates the need for this disparity… Joanie simply has a lot more friends than I do! With many friends comes many opportunities to go to lunch, grab a coffee, share an experience, or simply spend time together… all under the general theme of celebrating her birthday. So in that same spirit, we will set off for Arizona to properly celebrate Joanie and Janet’s 60th birth month.

Tune in to read about our experiences!…

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Old Rag Redux

Today, my son John and I enjoyed an invigorating hike up Old Rag, a very popular day-hike near Shenandoah National Park  (SNP) in Virginia. Interestingly, it is also the most dangerous hike in SNP.  The reason this trail is so popular, and at the same time dangerous, is that it features a long rock-scramble section near the top that requires hikers to climb, squeeze, jump, contort, or otherwise manipulate their bodies to navigate through massive granite boulders and rock formations that form the top of this ancient mountain.

The last time I attempted this hike was back in December 2017 with my brother Ron as part of our preparation for our Everest Base Camp trek…  Unfortunately, but in the interest of safety, we had to turn-around near the beginning of the rock-scramble since every boulder was glazed over with a thin sheet of ice, making what is normally challenging and fun, extremely risky and dangerous.

Don and John at the top of Old Rag

So… fast forwarding 8 months to a balmy 75-80 degree day with the typical Virginia summertime humidity, the experience was entirely different. John and I set out at 9 a.m. from a parking lot that was already near capacity, so from the outset we knew we would be encountering a lot of other hikers on the trail. The hike itself is roughly 9 miles long, with a 3.5 mile ascent up the Old Rag Trail, thru the rock-scramble section to the top, followed by a 5.2 mile hike down the backside along a combination of trail and fire road.

Along the way we met a couple who was preparing for an August trip to Tanzania to trek to the summit of Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. The training for that trek is similar to what we did for Everest Base Camp, so I shared my experience, answered their questions, and offered some suggestions before we parted ways.

Also along the trail, another group was asking if anyone had duct tape, which is something I actually carry in my pack ever since I had one of my boots fall apart on a previous hike. Well, it turned out that a fellow hiker was in the middle of her own double boot tread failure, so John and I stopped to triage the situation and conduct a emergency double tread adhesion procedure. I am happy to report the “patient” survived and was immediately able to resume her hiking activities!

While we were making the repair, John struck up a conversation with the group who turned out to be teachers from Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties in Maryland. This was an interesting coincidence since John will be starting his own teaching career with the city of Baltimore next month. John got some great advice and encouraging words from this friendly group.

Then we were off on our quest to conquer Old Rag and simply enjoy catching up with each other. For those interested in seeing what some of the rock section looks like in real-time, take a look at this video link:

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Wine and Coastal Sunshine

The final two days of our Oregon adventure began in the small historic town of Jacksonville, OR which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1966. This small town in the middle of the Applegate Valley wine region is as close to an old western frontier town as you can see these days. As soon as we arrived the previous evening directly from our river campsite, we all enjoyed refreshing hot showers then headed out for a nice dinner. Then it was off to bed to rest up for a busy final leg of the Giro d’Oregon.

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All cleaned up and hittin’ the town at the Bella Union in Jacksonville, OR

With several forest fires in the area, we woke to a smoky sky and a real sense that there was some serious work in the nearby hills to get control of the seven different fires that were being fought. Of course we were no help, so we spent the morning peaking into the various shops along California St., the main thoroughfare through the center of town. Then it was off to enjoy some wine tasting at a couple of the nearby wineries. We first visited the Red Lily Vineyards on the recommendation of our waitress the previous evening. This was a wonderful small winery in an idyllic setting. We even had the opportunity to meet the owner, Rachael who shared her story and clearly showed pride in what she had created. Interestingly, on our way to the Red Lily we passed an entire field of cannabis that was being tended to by two field hands, and protected by a barbed wire fence and a security guard who was patrolling the perimeter on a quad.

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Cultivated cannabis… entirely legal in Oregon.

Our second stop was the Schultz Glory Oaks Vineyard and Farm, owned by Greg and Debbie Schultz. The reason we chose this particular winery was because a friend from Fredericksburg who owns a business that makes wine barrel staves, happened to be a college classmate and fraternity brother of Greg Schultz. This small connection made for a fun visit where we instantly felt like and were treated like family.

After two flights of wine tasting it was time to head north to Eugene, so we’d be positioned for our final day to head west to the Oregon Coast. Since we had a full day already planned for Sunday, we searched some of the towns along the way to see if there was a Catholic mass that we could attend. After some aggressive, but safe, driving, we made it to 5:00 p.m. mass at the St Joseph Parish in Roseburg, OR. Then we continued the final hour drive to Eugene, where we mistakenly strolled into the Holiday Inn with all of our bags, before the desk attendant informed us that we needed to go to the Holiday Inn Express which was around the corner. Of course I got ample grief from the rest of the group since I was the one who suggested we unload all the bags before check-in! Finally settled, it was off to bed…


The Last Day:

Our final day is upon us… we woke to another beautiful, clear day. After breakfast we headed west for the 1 1/2 hour drive to the coast. When we arrived we immediately noticed the low clouds of the marine layer sitting atop the cold surface of the Pacific Ocean, while the rest of the sky above us was a brilliant blue. As we headed north on Hwy 101 from Florence, OR, we took numerous opportunities to stop at various roadside lookouts to take in the absolutely magnificent scenery. Some of our stops included Cape Perpetua, the Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Newport, and the Devil’s Punchbowl. We continued our coastal excursion up to Lincoln City, stopping at a glass blowing studio and a pottery studio to do a bit of shopping.

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We then turned back to the northeast to head back through the Willamette Valley wine region on our way to Portland to catch our red-eye flight back to Virginia. This late afternoon drive through some of the most beautiful vineyards any of us had ever seen was the perfect ending to our weeklong adventure in Oregon.

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The Willamette Valley
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A little bit of Tuscany in Oregon!

Over the course of our trip, we were all struck with the diversity and beauty of this state. If you are ever in search of a new vacation destination, put the Tour d’ Oregon on your list!

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Time to head east, back home to Virginia… its been a blast!
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Rafting on the Rogue

Our entire group taking a break for lunch

After 3 days and two nights of camping that included two full days of rafting on the Rogue River, we are back on the grid and ready to enter the final phase of the Tour d’ Oregon… wine country and coastal sights. But before we get to that, let me catch you up on the past three days.


After loading up and getting some last minute supplies (mainly booze!), we made the drive from Klamath Falls over the Cascades to the Rogue Valley. At around 2 p.m. we rolled into our campground at Almeda Park, located on the Rogue River about 15 miles west of Merlin, OR. Already, the mini-homestead that would be our base of operations for the next three days was taking shape. Two of our group’s RV trailers were already set-up, and the other two RV campers quickly scoped the landscape to begin setting up their rigs. Meanwhile, the intrepid tent-campers began to unload gear and set-up our respective tents. It really is quite a sight to see the site take shape over the course of the afternoon as more and more of our large family and friends group arrived from various points across Oregon and from as far away as Seattle. Ultimately, our homestead consisted of two campers, two trailers, seven tents, a full kitchen and washing station, and even a portable toilet for the those inevitable middle-of-the-night urges (… with strict rules that it is only to be used for liquid relief!).

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The quiet moments before everyone wakes up…

After everyone was set-up, it was time to get down to the business of relaxing and enjoyment of camp life… catching up on each other’s lives, enjoying some refreshing beverages and tasty snacks, some competitive games of corn hole, and as always doing our best to poke at everyone’s quirks. Dinner was prepared by our 3 retired firefighters (Larry, Rich and Jim) and the supporting cast of their wives who provided all the sides. Then it was the typical campfire routine, and the gradual, quiet shuffling off to bed to rest up for the next two days of rafting.


Rafting Day 1:

Day 2 of camping began bright and early for me at about 4:30 a.m., so I used the time to play around with some of the night lapse settings on my camera to get some shots of the stars, make the fire, and get the coffee brewing. Shortly after, around 5:15, Sue popped out of her tent and we chatted a bit (quietly… I thought… until later when at least 5 different people told me I had woken them up!)

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Just before dawn…

Over the course of the next two hours, the rest of the group woke and a hearty breakfast of eggs, hash browns, and thick cut bacon was prepared and enjoyed by all. We then began our preparations for a day on the river. Coolers were packed, the first of many applications of sunscreen were applied, we discussed logistics and river safety, then headed out to the river.

Today’s float was from Hog Creek back to our campsite at Almeda. Although the river seems to be running a bit low, the day was quite fun. The rapids were a bit tamer than in past years, but that didn’t diminish the fun. Our on-river group included 3 large rafts, each with 4 people; one “paddle raft” piloted by 6 of the 20-30’s crowd; one single-person pontoon; and 3 kayaks. After a couple hours we stopped for lunch at our favorite partially shaded sandy beach. Refreshed and refueled, we then headed back down the river. Since we got a later than normal start, the larger rafts had to work quite hard as they were rowing directly into the face of the typical afternoon westward winds that blow up the river from the coast. On the river we saw a bit of wildlife, including 3 bald eagles, and off in the distance what appeared to be a developing forest fire that was getting some aid from the afternoon winds.

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One of many fires in the area.
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Part of our flotilla on the river… another beautiful day!

Finally around 5 p.m. we landed back in camp, tired and ready to clean up and relax… and to enjoy all the fixings of our “Taco Night” dinner! After dinner a new camp game called Kubb was introduced and proved to be an entertaining competition to watch between two teams of 4. After that it was another early bedtime to get fully rested for whatever adventures we’ll have tomorrow when we will see a different part of the river.


Rafting Day 2:

During our second day of rafting, we retraced the lower portion of the first day’s route, then proceeded past our campsight after we stopped there for lunch. The highlight of the morning had to be witnessing an Osprey attempt to lift a large trout out of the water within 25 feet of our boats. This all started when we heard, but did not see, a splash in the water… a few seconds later, the osprey which was totally submerged, exploded through the surface of the water, flapping its wings madly as it attempted to lift what appeared to be 12 inch trout out of the water! Ultimately the prize was too big and the fish was lost back to the river.

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Osprey with eyes a bit bigger than its stomach!

After lunch, we continued down the Rogue enjoying the views as the canyon narrowed a bit and the water seemed to move a bit faster. One of the favorite places to stop is “jump rock” where we witnessed some very high jumps, a dive, and even a backflip! Then it was off to the biggest rapid of the trip which features two large rocks to be avoided in the churning water. Fortunately the smaller crafts all maneuvered well through the section and completed it unscathed. But, two of the three large rafts broadsided the upstream rock due to the force of the water and dumped everyone into the river. Luckily, all those who suddenly were wet when they were supposed to be dry had listened to the safety brief, and executed the proper technique in the water to avoid injury. In the end one hat and a pair of glasses were lost.

After a few more rapids, some floating, and a water cannon fight, the day on the river was complete. Now it was time to head back to camp, pack up, and ready ourselves for our final two days. Thank you to the extended Burg, Swanson, Miller, Court, and Shattuck families for their generosity and kindness in sharing these last few unforgettable days with us!

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Rafting Crew – Day 2

Rafting Video Links:

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Sherpa Pacin’ in Oregon

Mt Hood as seen from Trillion Lake

It’s been a busy two days that started with our departure from Portland to begin the “adventure” phase of the trip. Once again we woke up to almost perfect weather… just a bit warm. More importantly it’s been clear, so we continue  to enjoy all the fabulous views unabated.

Day one of this two day post included a full itinerary that included a visit to Mt Hood, the highest mountain in Oregon; followed by a drive into eastern Oregon to visit Smith Rock State Park, a hidden gem and international rock climbing mecca; and finally an overnight stop in Bend, and the opportunity to visit with my high school buddy John Warinner and his lovely wife Amy for a wonderful dinner.

Mt Hood was majestic… and a busy hub of summer recreation and tourists. Snow boarders were busy heading up the lifts to enjoy some summertime skiing on the Palmer Glacier, and mountain bikers were mounting up to ride the many trails. Of course many tourist like us were simply there to enjoy the views and see the historic Timberline Lodge. We learned about its 15 month construction in 1937 by the Civilian Conervation Corps, an FDR New Deal Program. It was amazing to learn how this hand built masterpiece was constucted entirely from materials found on the mountain, from the massive Douglas fir beams to the stone work using the mountain’s own volcanic rocks.

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There are actually quite a few folks skiing on that glacier behind us!

Then we headed southeast across the Cascades to the arid open vistas of central Oregon. Our 125 mile drive highlighted the natural diversity of the 33rd state. After a quick lunch in the small town of Madras, we arrived at our second destination for the day, Smith Rock State Park. This beautiful and rugged landscape features towering, sheer-faced basalt rock walls rising from the peaceful Crooked River; a place that climbers from all over the world visit for its accessible and challenging climbs.

Although it was easily 100 degrees with little shade to be found, we hiked down to the river and among the massive  walls, and were once again be stunned by so much natural beauty. The hike back to the top wasn’t quite as fun, but we all survived. More importantly it reminded me that I needed to incorporate the lessons learned in Nepal from Kalden Sherpa into our more ambitious outdoor excursions… so tomorrow’s hike at Crater Lake will most definitely feature “Sherpa Pace!”

Hot, sweaty, and tired we drove the last 30 miles into Bend for a quick stop to freshen up, followed by a tasty dinner with John and Amy. All in all, another good day on our Oregon adventure.



Today started for me, with a 6 am trip to Walmart to buy some shoes for Joanie… during yesterday’s activities she blew a tread on her sneakers and they had to be unceremoniously retired into the trash can. On the way back from Walmart, I decided to find the last remaining Blockbuster video store in America… which just so happped to be located within a mile of our Bend hotel. Pic snapped to record the momentous location, I headed back to meet up with Joanie, Sue, and Marty for breakfast.

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The last Blockbuster in America!

Then it was off to the main event of the day, our visit to the brilliant deep blue hues of the always stunning Crater Lake National Park. Our goal was to hike from the rim, down the steep 1.1 mile trail to the lake itself at Cleetwood Cove. This hike begins on the rim of the crater at an elevation of 6,831 feet and descends the wall of the volcanic cauldron to the lake’s surface at 6,175 feet. We carried plenty of water and a picnic lunch to enjoy at the lake.

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Crater Lake National Park

After reaching the lake, there was an immediate urge from one of us (not Joanie, not Sue, and not Marty) to jump into the crystal clear, cold, but absolutely refreshing water of this 1,949 foot deep lake. I joined other intrepid souls at the jumping rock to make two dives into the lake and was immediately refreshed and energized.

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Nice form!

We then all found a nice shady spot for our picnic lunch and some time to simply enjoy the location we were at. Then it was time to make the inevitable climb back to the top, and the application of yesterday’s lesson… Sherpa Pace.

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Lunch on the lake!

I think my Sherpa teacher and friend, Kalden Sherpa, would have been smiling with approval as we slowly and deliberately made our way as a tight group up the daunting and difficult trail. Sherpa Pace ensured that we all arrived back at the top, able to talk and breath normally, and still smiling!

The final part of the day was our drive to Klamath Falls to hook up with Karen and Larry (sister and brother-in-law) for the next leg of this adventure, rafting and camping on the Rouge River. On the way we were caught by surprise when the traffic ahead of us was stopped. We too came to a stop and then quickly discovered the reason for the delay… two horses walking directly up the highway, then right on past us!

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Just two horses strolling down Hwy 62 to somewhere!

Finally, we arrived at Karen and Larry’s home where they hosted us for a wonderful fresh Chinook salmon dinner made with fish that Larry had caught during last fall’s salmon run at Gold Beach, OR. The meal, memories and laughter are to be cherished.

For the next three days we will be off the grid, on the Rouge River… please tune in later for our rafting stories.

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Sasquatch Sightings

Mt St. Helens

I don’t really know how to say this delicately, but day two of the Giro d’Oregon kicked off with a lively breakfast discussion about the apparent after affects of eating a very rich and decadent donut the night before… resulting in one of our group (to remain forever nameless) recounting a successful morning routine that apparently involved something called the “voodoo doo doo!”

This in turn became a minor theme for the day, but more on that later… The highlight of today was a visit to the Mt St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, a two hour scenic drive northeast of Portland. Along the way we saw a doe and her two fawns up close and personal as they leisurely strolled across the road 10 feet in front of our car. Even more exciting was an entirely unexpected encounter with Sasquatch (aka Bigfoot) the mysterious and rarely seen creature that roams the forests of the Pacific Northwest… we even got a picture to prove it!

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Sasquatch enjoying a sunny day with his new friends!

Continuing up the road, Mt St. Helens and the terrain forever changed in the May 18, 1980 blast loomed. We stopped at numerous overlooks, which only served to whet our appetite for the visit to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, named after USGS volcanologist David A. Johnston who was standing at that same point when he was the first to witness and announce the cataclysmic explosion with the words “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!” Only to be swept away by the massive lateral explosion racing toward him from the side of the mountain that seconds later took his life.

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You can even see a wisp of steam rising from the cauldron!

The power, devastation, change and rebirth of this event underscores a healthy respect and continued amazement of the natural world around us.

Earlier in the day… much earlier (at 6:31 am to be exact), Sue made sure to get our priorities straight for the day by texting info on a place to have lunch, namely because it featured the St. Helens Burger, a gastronomic masterpiece that we just had to seek out and try! So on our way down the mountain, we found the Fire Mountain Grill at 19 Mile House. This is a wonderful restaurant overlooking the Toutle River that serves the Bigfoot Burger, an eating challenge that if successful would result in a free t-shirt. Although tempting, we conducted a quick risk-reward assessment and determined that the risk of severe intestinal discomfort and the real possibility of a “Sasquatch Sh#t” (… I told you we would get back to that theme!) far outweighed the reward of a $15 t-shirt. Instead we decided to simply split the burger and pile of fries four ways. It was a delicious lunch, with room leftover for mountain berry and peach cobbler.

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Lunch for four!

Then it was back to Portland for a visit to the massive and iconic Powell’s City of Books where you can do some fun people watching, and maybe even pick up some interesting reading material.

We ended a fun day at the Widmer Brothers Brewery for a refreshing pint and a game of darts.

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