Yellowstone Revisited

Spent the day at Yellowstone National Park. It is the fourth time that I have visited there, and the first time that I have been in the Park in early summer, when the landscape is still green and not in shades of brown from the lack of rain, as the summers here move on, with day after day of pure blue skies.

I was last here in August (2013) when I spent a week backpacking north through Yellowstone, when it was hot and I was frustrated with trying to make dictated mileages between assigned campsites that were chosen for us without car transport in mind.  8.09 Old Faithful This time, I was driving around in a brand new rental car, and life is much different, so easy.   Today it’s mostly in the mid-50’s out, with showers coming and going, all day long. Who cares, we’re in Yellowstone !

Pleased to display to the Gardiner entrance ranger my lifetime National Parks Pass.

Senior benefit, finally!
Senior benefit, finally!

“Hold on to you $25 car fee, sir- pass right through. Have a great day in Yellowstone.”

Yellowstone National Park spans an area of 3,468 square miles. “Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in North America and is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on the continent. The caldera is considered an active volcano.”- from Wikipedia.

Given the relatively early date, the Park was packed. All the lots were all full, and required jousting with packs of motorcyclists, RV’s, and apparently clueless individuals who would stop their rented SUV’s right in the middle of key highway turns as they consulted their media maps.
We aimed at focusing our visit, and not try to do too much in one day. Our goal was to do the Fountain Paint Pots and the Midway Geyser Basin walks. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It was thickly clouded, frequently showering, with the air holding that sulfur smell reeking from these fumaroles, bubbling mud pits, and geysers.

I really wanted to show my mom, Isabel, and son Lincoln the Grand Prismatic Spring.

Grand Prismatic Spring
Grand Prismatic Spring

Such a cool name for a geographical formation. The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the United States, and the third largest in the world. It is 300 feet in diameter and 160 fet deep. I have seen it four times, and while the obscured sun and the thick white clouds of vapor reduced the vibrancy of the colors, it still floored me.

Grand Prismatic Spring today
Grand Prismatic Spring today

Its colors match the rainbow dispersion of white light by an optical prism: red, orange, yellow, green, and blue

I picked up a new book about Yellowstone here- Death in Yellowstone. 51d90Sg2MuL._AA160_      It’s the type of book that you absolutely can’t read just before you visit the park, lest you are so frightened by the stories of all the ways hundreds of people have perished from non-natural causes in the Park.
On the boardwalk around Grand Prismatic, we witnessed a young Asian family nearly become yet another dumb-hurt statistic. The wind was really whipping up, and we were walking on an elevated boardwalk bordering the spring that had no guardrails, with a walking surface a bit slippery due to the rain. Mind you, there is super boiling water flowing underneath us. The mom and dad were pushing a baby in a stroller that was draped with a heavy plastic sheet. Suddenly, the three-wheeled stroller escaped the grip of the dad and pitched completely over and crash to the boardwalk. It landed just a foot from the edge of the walkway, throwing the parents into a panic, while the little five year old sister started laughing uncontrollably pointing at the downed stroller and the little upside-down child that was smacked down on the deck. It was a miracle that the baby didn’t get catapulted off the boardwalk into the boiling water and also that one of those parents didn’t have to jump into the same cauldron to extract the baby.  What were they thinking?

We made the right choice to call it a day and headed back north through the Gardiner gate toward Livingston. We saw deer, buffalo, and elk today. I’ll be back again sometime to check out more of this most remarkable place. I’ll still  have my National Parks Pass !

When General Lee Saved Dreams – Pacific Crest Trail Journal

Axilla helping Train exit South Fork of the King River in June 1010
Axilla helping Train exit South Fork of the King River in June 1010

I just received a repost of a June 24, 2010 Trail Journal entry from Dreams.  Dreams hooked up with MeGaTex for a few days as we all were backpacking through the  Sierra on our 2010 Pacific Crest Trail thru hikes.  This part of the PCT is not much for solo travel, and is where even seasoned hikers who prefer to walk the trail alone often find themselves teaming up with other hikers for situations just like this one!

I agree that this was the scariest and most dangerous water crossing on the whole PCT. I still have mild PTSD that lingers on, still triggered by the unique deep bass roar of these overflowing streams and watercourses.

So, enjoy the following report from a day way back back in 2010.  Thanks, Dreams !

Click here—>>>Dreams – Pacific Crest Trail Journal – 2010.

Amtrak’s Magic Wears Thin

It’s 7:15 pm on the third and hopefully last day of our cross-county Amtrak ride from MA, Montana. I booked this ride for my mom and I last October, after being wowed by the stunning experience in Glacier National Park, the end point of the my thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail.
I had three reasons for booking the trip: one-I visit my son Lincoln and his fiancee Stephanie who live in MT. Next-I wanted my 87 year old mother Isabel to see her grandson and to spend a couple of weeks with her myself, and I also wanted to ride a train across the United States.
I booked an Amtrak “Roomette”.

Isabel settling in to our Roomette
Isabel settling in to our Roomette

It’s a tiny sleeping room for two.  Tiny means 6’8” long and 3’6” wide.  It’s tall enough to stand up, but not when the upper bunk lowers from the ceiling. Two padded seats expand to form a lower bed. It’s just big enough to also fit our small suitcases in there. After two nights of sort-of-sleeping, we are getting used to it.
My mental picture of what this grand train ride would be like is constantly being altered in live time, and is altered by a rapid downgrade.
There are definite positives, like not having to drive or fly and deal with airline hassles.  Our sleeper-car tickets also include automatically prepaying all meals, off the limited but adequate menu. The food is freshly prepared and of good quality. Its cool to order whatever you want and not think of spending any more money.  It’s also highly interesting to view the changing countryside as one moves westward and anticipate encountering the Rockies ahead.

Isabel enjoying the view from the Observation Car
Isabel enjoying the view from the Observation Car

We are meeting and conversing with a wide variety of American passenger, like a retired opera singer and a young black man headed to Chicago for a month’s residency with a dance troupe.
But these freakin’ delays!  Before I left, I received an e-mail from Amtrak warning me that the western half of the trip would have a four to five hour delay, due to a huge amount of freight traffic on this Chicago to Montana portion of the route. The rail out here is shared and owned by the freight companies, who give their trains priority, with Amtrak falling to last-place status.  Translation= numerous times when this Amtrak has to get on a side rail and wait for big long trains to go by-in both directions.
Bottom line-we now 8 hours behind our scheduled departure and it’s only 8 PM.  We were supposed to arrive at East Glacier station at 8:15 PM, where I have a room booked in the Whistling Swan motel.  Only now, we were just told that the earliest we will get to our destination will now be 4:00 AM! By the time we gather our bags and walk to the motel it will be daybreak, and the night will be over.
My crumbling attitude is holding up but I am getting stir crazy after not being able to hike or bike for a couple of days. My mom’s outlook is more realistic and resigned. It’s going to be another long night for us in the roomette on a very narrow mattress that I am harnessed into on one side so that I don’t get pitched off onto the floor. Eric, our concierge, told me that he’d wake us up in time to depart the train in East Glacier, where I’ll pick up my rental car and figure out what roads in Glacier are plowed, and which are still closed.
Most folks think that backpacking , day-in-and day-out, is tiring and stressful.  For me, this is worse.

Week 2- Seeking Midcoast’s Maine’s Tastiest Fried Clam

I recently sampled the fried clams at two establishments that were recommended to me by readers: Lincolnville’s Chez Michel and The Red Barn in Augusta.

Chez Michel’s:  I was Father’s Day, with Auntie Mame picking up the bill, so we went to the home-town choice down on Lincolnville Beach.  The clam plate at Chez Michel’s sets you back $25, a bit high for a plate of clams, but with the above average setting, with the view from the upstairs room overlooking the harbor, the price sort of fits.  The offering included a dinner salad with home made parmesan peppercorn dressing, fresh baked french bread, and garlic mashed potatoes.  Fifteen clams showed up too, making a mighty large and attractive plate of seafood-  The clams were batter fried, with a good clam taste-a slightly chewy experience. The tartar sauce cup needed a second replacement.   A decent plate of clams here, and frankly a mound of clams that was indistinguishable from the fried clams that I had at Andy’s Brew Pub at the Lobster Pound last week, where the price was $16 for 11 clams.

A thing of beauty- Chez Michel's clam plate
A thing of beauty- Chez Michel’s clam plate.

The Red Barn:  Since 1977, the Red Barn has been a popular spot on Route 202, above the intersection with Route 3 on Riverside Drive heading out of Augusta.

A very good find
A very good find

I’ve never eaten at the Red Barn but was visiting my friend Lock, so we went there for lunch. We were dismayed by the almost completely filled parking lot at lunchtime on a weekday.  I felt a wait coming on.  However, there was no line when we bellied up to the order counter, where our selections were quickly dispatched, and we were told our names would be called when the food would be ready. I decided to cut to the quick and order just a single serving of clams, accompanied by a side of cole slaw. The clams came out in 5 minutes!  My iPhone’s camera put an unappetizing green cast on the Red Barn’s clam plate, so I don’t have an inviting pic.  I am compelled to taste my fried clams while they are still hot, and from now on, will avoid filling up on and getting derailed by french fries, or any other potato options and focus on just the clam ( and the slaw/salad and the tartar sauce).  I got my recommendation for the Red Barn from Jason, who was adamant that it’s the home-made tartar sauce puts these clams over the top. The tartar sauce may have even had a bit of cumin added, and was bottomless, coming from a large pump dispenser on the condiment counter, which also had a few large pump containers of genuine Heinz ketchup. It’s a plus to have the ability to take enough of one’s own tartar sauce, and a welcome cut above requesting another of those tiny paper cups of tartar sauce that often punctuate one’s fried clam experience. It’s $14.95 for a single serving of clams here, and only $1 more for two servings (a whole pint) of the tasty little devils. The cole slaw set me back another $.75.   OK, now the taste -wow!  It took about two seconds to move these clams right to the top of my admittedly brief list of fried clam favorites-due to the fresh out-of-the-fryolator status, thin batter, light fry, and very smooth clam consistency.  Not much chewing needed here.  Clearly, a superior fried clam.  Highly recommended!  A half-price cone of vanilla soft serve for just $1 also sweetened my ride back home. Yeah!

On Hitchhiking Across America

Many of you know that I’ve spent a year and a half of my last 7 years backpacking across America.  What you might not know that one of the skills that one must learn on these long hikes is hitchhiking.

Dick Wizard and Train on one unsuccessful hitch at Marias Pass in Montana
Dick Wizard and Train on one unsuccessful hitch at Marias Pass in Montana

When I was a youngster, I did a lot of it.  Before I was old enough to drive, I used to hitchhike to and from high school, in order to play sports. There was no late bus, wait- there was also no bus. It was about a 10 mile hitch.  I once hitched from Massachusetts to Georgia.

There are conventions and “rules” for any activity and hitchhiking is no exception.

I had a really bad experience hitchhiking from Massachusetts to DC, when I had a gun pulled on me and was shaken down for gas money.

Some of the worst and the best experiences that I’ve had while backpacking occurred on hitches.  If you think that you can avoid hitchhiking while on a long thru-hike, you are in for a surprise.  I remember hearing an interview with a renown thru-hiker,  Billy Goat, when he said that a thru-hiker has to be prepared to do things one would not do in real-life, like eat out of a dumpster.  I have done that, several times.

I had to hitch-hike too, and last did so numerous times over the 5 months in 2013 when I thru-hiked the Continental Divide Trail.  I can assure you, it is not easy for a 63 year old man to stick out his thumb and get a ride to town to buy food and maybe rent a room.  What makes it worse is that when I need to hitch, it is usually after I have been in the woods or the desert for a week or more, and am filthy, sweat-stained, unshaven, and often sporting torn clothes. I am carrying all my worldly my possessions on my back-  and often mistaken as homeless, or one of those sorry individuals who have lost their licenses to an Operating Under the Influence conviction.

Sometimes no cars come by, other times many cars go by and ignore you.

Me- begging for water, or a ride in New Mexico
Me- begging for water, or a ride in New Mexico

Sometimes the first car picks you up- It’s just like gambling-  we psychologists call it engaging in an intermittent reinforcement schedule.

Famous people occasionally hitchhike as well, just for the experience- Film maker John Waters has been in the news lately due to his new book.  His comments about his recent hitch across America is a worthwhile read- Check this out, from the NY Times–>>John Waters on Hitchhiking Across America –

Seeking Midcoast’s Maine’s Tastiest Fried Clam: Week 1

I kicked off my search by visiting Two iconic Maine restaurants this week:  Moody’s Diner (Waldoboro) and The Lobster Pound/Andy’s Brew Pub (Lincolnville Beach).

Some background: Raised in southeastern Massachusetts, I loved fried clams. I believe that I ingested the best fried clams I have ever eaten at Macray’s, a clam and clam cake shack that was on Route 6 in MA.  Westport’s  Macray’s was launched in 1957 and closed in 1992. I fondly remember those clams as slightly crunchy, nutty tasting, and all under a very light batter.  The place was take-out only, with people standing in line for up to a half hour to eat them. My dad and mom took my brother Roy and me there during the summer, often on the way back from Horseneck Beach. To this day, Roy and I are both in the habit of ordering friend clams on a regular basis at seafood restaurants. Unfortunately I have never yet had a fried clam that have matched my sensory memory of a McCray’s product.

Thankfully,  I’m in Maine now, which also celebrates the fried clam. I’ve dug them, I’ve tried to fry them, and I learned it ain’t easy to do home-made with a clam. This summer I plan to locate a plate of clams that matches  Macray’s.

moodys sign

Moody’s:  The clam roll is $9, with a clam plate for $14.59. It was lunch, and I was going to get the roll, and also potato and cole slaw, but those added $3 to the cost, so I ended up with the plate instead.
Here’s what I got:

Moody's best
Moody’s best

I have been avoiding french fries lately, and opted for the potato salad, which was excellent.  You also get a huge, delicious fresh yeast roll with your clams.  The fourteen clams were only fair-a bit too rubbery, and with a batter coating that was too heavy for my liking.  One aside- Twenty years ago I heard a Moody’s waitress describing the fried clam to a couple of inquiring customers from away. She told them, in a matter-of-fact voice, “Yeahh, the clam got the bellies here, but if they are too big, the cook squeezes them out some so they are not too squishy.”  That same waitress waited on me this week .  Before she finished my order I asked her if they still squeeze out the clam bellies. She told me, “ Nope. They used to, but no more. Too bad.”

l-2Andy’s Brew Pub:  The home-town choice was next, after a few recommendations from locals.  The Lobster Pound has been at the beach since the 1920s, and has re-opened this season in conjunction with Andy’s Brew Pub, featuring Lincolnville’s Andrew’s Brewing products, with a separate pub menu on the Andy’s side.  Fortunately, you can sit in the Brew pub side, order a fresh pint of Andrew’s, and they’ll bring over your Lobster Pound fried clams, as both establishments share the same kitchen.
Here’s the story:

Andrew's brings it on
Andrew’s brings it on

The clam roll is $9 and the plate is $16.  It was dinner time, and Marcia and were graced with being seated at the best little table in the place, right in the corner, facing the stormy, thrashing waters of Penobscot Bay.  I chose cole slaw with mashed potatoes, which were buttery and fresh. I passed on the  hand cut fries.  The 10 clams were lightly battered, and were not as dark as the clams I had at Moody’s. They also tasted better.

Bottom line:  In Week 1, Andy’s trumps Moody’s.

Next up may be Chez Michel, right across the street from the Lobster Pound/Andy’s Brew Pub.  I have had two recommendations to go there.  However, I may well start that assignment back to this Andy’s Pub, specifically along their 35-foot handmade slab bar with a pint of Andy’s English Red Ale (6.5% ABV), a new Andrew’s Brewing ale that’s  not yet available in bottles.  Then I’ll walk to Chez Michel, across Route 1 to put another plate of fried clams to the test.  It’s a tough job, and I blame all of it on Macray’s.

[Disclaimer-I live in Lincolnville, next door to the Andy Hazen family, where I regularly buy beer.]

40 sticks of butter and the vitamin D blues

Here's hoping!
Here’s hoping!

Summer is not official yet, but already it’s easier to get out and do things-walk around in shorts, forget concerns about taking a jacket, and what about those extended hours of sunlight where walks and rides are possible after dinner ?

The good news is that I feel I’m in better shape this year.  I have more stamina for biking and hiking up hills even though I didn’t renew my YMCA  membership in the fall. Instead, I have reclaimed those same hours driving there and back and am engaging in more authentic, functional movement-walking, backpacking, bike riding, lifting logs and rocks, hauling wood around in a wheelbarrow, doing pull ups on a tree branch, digging in a garden plot, and now pushing a lawn mower.  I have also cut out french fries, and reduced my intake of bread.

I just had a mini-checkup at my doctor’s, where I heard good and bad news.

The good news is that I am a full 10 pounds lighter than usual as I am going into the summer-I like to visualize a pound of fat as 4 sticks of butter, which is not far from the truth. So It’s immensely rewarding to think of 40 sticks of butter shaved from my mass.

The bad news is that I continue to be deficient in Vitamin D.  I have been checking my level of D since 2012 when my mom alerted me that she was deficient, and she is outside all the time.  What’s particularly troubling is that I have been prescribed 50,000 units of D2 a week since December.
My readings, with treatment, have been decreasing the last 3 years:  4/12 = 34 ng/mL , 10/12 = 28, 10/13 23, 5/14 22.

My doctor has just ramped me up to 100,000 units weekly-two pills of 50,000 a week, via prescription.  She’s not as concerned as I am.  She feels that my other bio-markers are fine, and that all the backpacking and walking that I do are protective factors, particularly for osteoporosis.

Nevertheless, I have been doing my own research . I have learned that Vitamin D is fat soluble, and that its best to be taken with fat. I eat the same thing most every day for breakfast except Sunday. Low fat yogurt, blueberries, home-made granola-a bowl full that’s not heavy on fats and that’s the meal I’ve used for taking the D pill.  I have also cut out pouring half and half into my morning coffees.  I just switched to taking my vitamin D intake to correspond with my dinners, which include salads with olive oil-more fat.

I am also going expose my skin to sunlight, and plan to be outside in shorts and no shirt for a half-hour in the middle of the day, when I can. Research indicates that  going outside for 10 minutes in the midday sun—“in shorts and a tank top with no sunscreen”—exposes the body to radiation that produces approximately 10,000 international units of vitamin D.

Here’s hoping.

Anyone else out there who has been successful at raising their D levels, or not?

My book review of “A Long Way From Nowhere: A Couple’s Journey on the Continental Divide Trail”

21898991      This co-authored husband and wife book bears considerable resemblance to the last married couple thru-hike book I read-I Promise Not to Suffer- A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail. That book was about the Pacific Crest while this one is about the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). In each book, the husbands set the pace, the wives suffer, with both women maintaining their connections to their steamrolling partners in spite of overwhelming stress, discomfort, and self-deprecation.
I was shuffling along the CDT in 2013 ( the same year detailed in this book) myself, where I eventually reached Canada but never encountered Optimist and Stopwatch, the “trail names” of Matt and Julie. They were probably walking through the night when they passed my tent. I also suffered through my own thru-hike of this “ shim sham of a trail,” but the Urbanski’s journey bears little resemblance to mine.
These Urbanskis are superhuman. With a self-imposed schedule of just 118 days to hike over 3,000 miles, they needed to backpack 25.57 miles every one of those days-day after brutal day. If they take a day off for any reason, their daily average goes up- so they don’t take days off. If you count the frequent episodes of “lost” or off trail the Urbanskis walked the equivalent of a marathon a day, day after day, while they were carrying their world on their backs. That’s a lot of miles, and an incomprehensible accomplishment.
Why this story was not covered on the sports pages of every newspaper in America beats me. It’s as much an achievement as running a marathon in record time, for sure.
Matt and Julie took turns penning chapters. Julie is the better writer, and works as hard at writing as she does moving through the challenges of the CDT. Julie’s writing conveys her nearly constant pain, anxiety, and what appears to be depression- which began on day one when she took sick in the unrelenting heat of the southern New Mexico desert.
I have never encountered any thru-hikers who are as hard core as the Urbanskis. They are extremely focused and unrelenting in their approach to thru-hiking. From the time they take their first steps away from the Mexico/New Mexico border, their first CDT evening camp fire was in Canada, at the end of their journey. They are so spartan in their approach that they shun little stoves. Ho hot cups of tea or coffee for them on the trail. They are hardened veterans of previous long distance thru-hikes. On their three previous long distance trails they didn’t take a day off in over 4,500 miles. Yikes!
I was incredulous to learn that when the Urbanskis reach a grocery store they include eating 4 cans of vegetables, and that they prefer Subway to any of the local eateries one encounters in over-the-top rural America. I looked at their long detailed lists of town food, and most don’t include any protein. It wasn’t until page 74 that we learn that they are on a vegan diet for this trip, posing additional challenges in actually find vegan options in some of the stripped-down convenience stores and gas stations that only rarely pop up along the way. The northern part of the CDT passes through meat street- Wyoming and Montana. Up there, I was compelled to order the largest steaks and burgers i could find when I reached that part of the CDT, after losing 33 pounds of body weight, which definitely included loss of muscle mass, particularly from my upper body.
Optimist and Stopwatch depend on prepared boxes of vegan foods that they mail to themselves along the way- lots of packages. Its great to have your own food choices, but even the US Postal Services takes days off- on the weekends, a practice that forces the Urbanskis to double down, hike through the night, or push through unimaginable mileage challenges so that they don’t have to “ lose” a day while they wait for their food resupply boxes to arrive.
It was a suffer fest for Stopwatch (Julie’s trail name), who reveals as the book goes on that she generally doesn’t like backpacking. Sheesh!
This book is painful to read. However, it’s a great account. I could not put it down. It’s brutally honest, and one of the rare opportunities a reader will ever have to get the full picture of the dirty laundry that a couple has to deal with on a real, month-long, backpacking trip across the spine of the Rocky Mountains. That laundry is a spare, but burdensome load- only the clothes on their backs. They have nothing left at the end but this incomprehensible achievement for these young folks to list on what must be the most impressive pair of vitaes in America.
I hope the Urbanskis can patch things back together after this crazy smack-down and continue to make it together on the Big Trail that we all are walking in the years to come.

Riding the Kingdom Trails- Day 2/3

“It’s a serious uphill,” said Rigger as we were both laboring up another segment on our second day of riding in Vermont. Rigger was hurting. In the first 10 minutes of the ride this morning, Rigger took a digger, when he slid sideways off a narrow elevated wooden bridge section of trail. I wasn’t around to see it. Rick told me that he watched Rigger pitch sideways and land on his hip, then bounce off the edge of the wooden bridge and land on his elbow. When you have a crash, it sometimes affects your confidence. When it happens early, it could dampen your whole day. Even I was affected by it. I consider Rigger to be a low speed, technical riding expert and his fall crushed my enthusiasm for any more sliding and screaming on those sections of lubricated, slimy boards.

But in the end, the ride prevailed and I had racked up 22.2 miles of either high speed thrills and chills or granny gear creeping up the Vemont hills.
What a treasure these Kingdom Trails are to us mountain bike riders in the northeast. It never even mattered that two inches of rain had fallen here recently. The geology of this set of mountains and hills is such that beaucoup sand is just beneath us, draining the trails of any of the ridiculous mud pits we endure this time of the year back home in Midcoast Maine.

After our long ride today, the boys put on their culinary hats and grilled up steaks, burgers, and delicious pile of onions and three varieties of peppers that were heaped on bratwurst that was was grilled to perfection by Stevie Hawk, who has the sweetest portable propane grill going. Special thanks to the Hawk for taking the time to make reservations for us and for organizing all the little pieces that are necessary to make this over-the-top outdoor weekend a real special event. Here’s a few more shots to look back on.