Friday, March 31, 2017

At Long Last

There were several reasons I volunteered to scan my parent's slides. The first reason is that I wanted to see some of them, especially some of the older ones when I was a kid. A leaky roof in a storage building destroyed many of my childhood photos many years ago and I wanted some to pass onto my kids. Another reason is the genealogist inside me wanted to preserve these slides for future generations. Just sitting in slide trays slowly degrading with time wasn't going to do that. The final reason, and perhaps the biggest reason is that I wanted this single photo.

I've posted a version of this photo on this blog before but it was from a camera phone picture of a framed and enlarged picture that hangs on the wall above where Ted used to sleep. It is really the only reminder we have of Ted's existence in our lives other than looking through the old slides which has been all but impossible after the projector went belly up. It has been a joy scanning through these old slides and finding old pictures of Ted. However, when I think of him, this is the picture that has always come to mind.

After tens of thousands of slides scanned over the last half dozen years (I've lost count), I had concluded that I was out of luck. Since it had obviously been developed into a picture that hangs on the wall of my parent's place, I figured it had been one of the hundreds of pictures in a shoe box that never got put back in the trays. I had scanned the entire shoe box of loose slides several years back and it hadn't been in there. I had written it off as lost due to misplacement and they only way I would get a decent print was to remove the one from my parent's home and scan it.

As I started the second to last box of slides, it was labeled the year 1991 so I didn't have much hope that this picture would be in there. I was guessing from the truck that is featured in here, it was taken in the late 80's. But seven slides in this popped up on the screen and brought a huge smile to my face. I guess my dad still had this old truck in 1991 and I hadn't remembered.

I'm not sure what led up to this picture but judging from the others around it, the photo was taken in late fall during pumpkin harvest. Somehow a pumpkin was placed in the truck for a reason I no longer remember and Ted tiring of watching us pick pumpkins had crawled in there to sleep in the warmth of the sunlight. This was our chore truck and was an old Dodge pickup with four wheel drive that we used hard. The blue thing Ted is laying on is an old tarp and not the seat.

I scanned the slide at really high resolution and now have it saved on my hard drive for future use. I'm not sure what I will do with it yet but I'm thinking about getting a print made for somewhere appropriate in my house. Perhaps I will hang it in my office where I can see it daily as a reminder of Ted's existence and what he meant to me. Ted died of failing internal organs just a year and a half after this picture was taken.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ozark Paradise

I've been going down to the Ozark mountains in NW Arkansas for around 35 years now and I never tire of the place. A lot of that has to do with the fact that my parents own some land and a small cabin yards up the road from 100,000 acres that protects 135 miles of the Buffalo River, America's first National River. Not included in the park are hundreds of thousands of acres  protecting other nearby areas, some that connect up to the park and some that are just a hop, skip and a jump away. Another reason I love going down there is because there is just so much that one can do as long as you enjoy being outdoors, which I do.

Due to obligations, we could only devote five days of "spring break" to a vacation and two of those five days were spent driving. However, it is an easy day's drive from where I live and lots of stuff to pause at along the way so even though I'm driving, I always feel pretty relaxed. The first real day of vacation was raining and fairly cold. My wife hasn't spent the time frame I have down there so I recommended she go with my parents, oldest daughter and some family friends that live nearby and do a rugged 10 mile hike that encompasses some of the best scenery in the park, including a 200+ feet waterfall. Unfortunately due to my recently dislocated knee, I couldn't safely join them so I took my youngest daughter on a smaller hike on a pretty improved section of trail near the cabin.

On day two, it was warm and sunny so we loaded up the boats and got on the upper portion of the Buffalo River. It is a 100% spring fed stream and the water in the upper portion was at the low end of the threshold that I consider float-able without spending a lot of time dragging the boats over shoals. We did have to get out once to pull our boats out of a shallow riffle but the rest of the time we generally just bumped and floated along. With my bum knee, I couldn't kneel during the rapids at all which made us a bit high centered and we nearly tipped over a couple times but managed to stay upright. On the last rapids of the day however, my luck ran out and my wife and I tipped over along with our four year old daughter. My wife grabbed our daughter and I grabbed the boat and paddles and we made it to shore wet but intact. I was mostly concerned with the four year old but she seemed to handle tipping over fine.

The picture at the top of the post is a panoramic shot from where we ate our lunch along the river on a gravel bar on the inside of a large bend. You can see our three canoes and an inflatable kayak on the right side of the picture. Unfortunately not being able to twist on my knee meant I couldn't gt a perfectly level show but I got enough for show and tell.

On our final full day there, it was another rainy and cool day so we opted to take another hike. Some friends of ours whom we met about 25 years ago, moved on to other parts of the country and instead of selling there land, donated it to the state nature conservatory. Some five years later, there is now a place to pull off the road and hike about a mile down a trail to see the falls below. It is about 80 or 90 feet in height and you can hike up along the rim all the way around it or drop down and visit it from where it lands. I stayed up high to protect my knee but others in our group went down to test out the water. It was cold. The rest of our day we visited some friends, hiked their land and some adjacent land my parents also own and enjoyed a supper together as a rainstorm moved in. It rained all night long and also all day long the following day as we made the eight hour drive home.

These last ten years with two kids in various stages of childhood meant that I haven't been able to visit this place nearly as often as I would like, but now that my children are getting of hiking and boating age, I hope to make more trips down there in the future. It really recharges my soul to be hiking/boating/biking in the mountains and streams of the area.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Needing a Knee

Almost 25 years ago, I tore up the cartilage in one of my knees in a freak concrete pouring accident. I was crouching down on the edge of a form putting the finishing strokes of trowel work on a pour job and my knee refused to straighten up. As I half through myself away from the concrete to not ruin the job, my cartilage tore. It was misdiagnosed several times during that summer and finally six months after it happened initially and several times afterwards, I had surgery to fix the problem.

The knee was patched up but evidently it was kind of a hatchet job on the surgeon's part. I spent the next ten years of my life suffering from knee pain and swelling whenever I did anything instead of the three months he promised. Fortunately, I had a bike wreck on a mountain bike that re-tore the cartilage in the same knee ten years later. It was fortunate because the second surgery was miles apart in difference from the first one and after about six months, most of my symptoms went away. When I quit work five years back, even the remaining symptoms have disappeared and it feels better today than it has in the last twenty five years.

Still habits die hard and I tend to favor it when doing anything strenuous. So when my daughters were playing around on an old steam locomotive outside of a local museum, I decided to climb up there with them and used my good knee first in climbing the steps. I used that knee to successfully lift me up but as I was throwing my other leg with the "bad" knee onto the platform, I was hit with a crushing pain in my "good" knee and the realization that my lower leg appeared to be adjacent to my upper leg. 

After about passing out a couple times, I managed to lower myself to the ground and hobble over to a nearby bench where I caught up on blood flow to the brain region and things cleared up. I quickly realized that I had dislocated my kneecap, which had snapped right back into place after the initial bolt of pain. It turns out to be a fairly common injury when you are putting pressure and twisting on the joint, both of which I had been doing. After a few minutes it felt fine enough that I could walk back to the car and get home without further incident.

Later I would go to the doctor and get a steroid injection to take down the swelling and found out that I probably tore one of the muscles that hold the kneecap in place judging from the blood  in the joint. Modern medicine dictates just to allow it to heal for six weeks, rehabilitate it and go on with life. At this point a little over a week later, it is still a bit stiff and swollen but I can walk around without limping with a knee brace for support. I was able to do a little hiking during our recent trip down to the Ozark mountains of NW Arkansas but I kept to flat smooth trails and limited myself to less than a mile each day. 

So now I have a new "bad" knee and an old "bad" knee which is feeling the best it has in 25 years. I'm hoping with a brace for future strenuous activities and strengthening exercises, life will go on with only minor inconvenience for the foreseeable future.  The joys of aging!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

I know, I know

I know, I know. I'm just getting back from Hawaii not to long ago, I'm just getting through some of the more sensitive backlog of written posts on my blog and here I am taking off for another week for a spring break of sorts to be with my family and my parents. It had originally been schedules as a boating and hiking bonanza but now I'm not so sure. See the next paragraph.

I'm not so sure because this past Saturday, I somehow managed to dislocate my kneecap, something I didn't know was possible. I'm healing now and I'm not sure what I will be able to do or not do on spring break where we are heading but I'm going anyway. I don't pass up the opportunity to spend time with family even if I had to wait for them to get back while I read a book and hobble around all day. I'll write more about that story when I get back.

Also, another splurb to let everyone know that my mom had her next scheduled followup MRI result at the end of last week. The "new" spot next to the tumor that was removed has not grown in size at all. The highlighting in the region of where the original tumor was removed is still continuing to shrink. It's hard to pin a doctor down, and I should know being married to one, but the best answer as to why these regions continue to highlight on an MRI four months after radiation ended is that the cancer cells secreted "liquids" as they were dying and the body is slow to absorb them. My translation is that they really don't know either but as long as they aren't growing, we still have time and lets enjoy it. The next MRI is scheduled for mid May.

My mother-in-law left for six weeks to go take care of business back home giving us a breather of sorts. No matter what kind of relationship you have with your mother-in-law/mother, living with them full time can eventually cause friction and it is nice to pull that bandaid off for a month and a half and let the wounds scab over and heal. They always have before so I have no doubt they will this time. She is also slated to return in mid May.

My grandparents are settling in and I continue to stop in several times a week to adjust furniture, or say hello. I was on my way to do just that and to pick up a box of old photo to digitize when I messed up my leg. (Teaser; I was hopping onto a locomotive when it happened.) Needless to say, I opted to not carry all of them to the car and told them I will pick them up after spring break. I'm pretty excited about that.

So when I get back home and caught up next week, I will catch up on everyone's blogs and catch up on mine as I'm sure you want to hear my train story. Until then!


Monday, March 20, 2017


We are going about everything backwards. Our original plans were to remodel the kitchen and then get new appliances. However, I haven't yet gotten to that project and we only have one surviving appliance left and it has been showing signs of flat lining a time or two already.

When we moved into this house, the door on our old microwave looked like it had gone twelve rounds with Mike Tyson. The frame of the door was all broken and the handle itself was caved in. At the time, I was able to find old "new stock" parts to repair it and it serviced us well for over four years. However, the handle due to poor design, broke off the machine again and there was no fixing it and there were no parts anywhere to be found for such an ancient machine. However, by grasping the underside of the door, we could still open and close it so we used it as is for another six months. However the continual torquing of the door played a toll on the plastic pieces and eventually it too broke off dropping the glass onto the stove below. (I'm not sure how it didn't break but it didn't!)

With no glass, I figured it was now a safety hazard (sarcasm there) and unplugged the machine. One problems I have these days with appliances is that hardly anyone stocks anything anymore. You have to go to a showroom, pick out something that you like, order it and wait for weeks or months until it arrives. With a five person household that makes 99% of all our meals and believes in making extra to reheat for quick meals in the days to come, a microwave anymore is a necessity. I ordered my microwave and was told it would be two weeks. Past experience has taught me that it could be twice as long.

I wasn't sure how we would survive without a microwave for up to a month so as I was driving home, I pondered the possibility of buying the cheapest microwave possible with the thought that it had to just survive a few weeks and then we could sell it this spring at our garage sale. I knew the only place that would have something cheap and crappy enough for my needs was Walmart so for the first time in decades, I stepped foot inside our local store. They indeed had a cheap piece of crap microwave made entirely of thin brittle plastic for $49! How someone can make a microwave that cheap is beyond me. It was bright red and could barely hold our dinner plates but barely was good enough for me. As a plus, it held up for two and a half weeks (see I told you it would take longer) for our stainless steel microwave to arrive.

Our old microwave was a recirculating model which isn't the best especially when you have a gas cook top directly underneath. The gas cook top, while a dream to cook with, has a downfall in that it generates a lot more heat than our previous electric cook top did, which in the summer makes the kitchen much warmer. Although super efficient in burning the gas without noxious fumes, the possibility is always there and that always worried me. Also, my wife likes to fry these Asian fish that can stink up a house for days during the winter time. With all these in mind, I bought a microwave that can be vented up through the roof. Our house has a hipped roof meaning we have to vertical surfaces accessible via attic space to vent fumes and the nearest outside wall if in the front of the house next to the front door, not an attractive place to vent fumes either. However, I figured I could work something out one way or another.

As it turned out, a previous microwave had been vented up into the attic so there was a hole already there to add ducting but I'm guessing that is where it stopped. Pumping heat into an attic here in the winter time leads to ice dam formation on your eaves and water damage to your walls so I didn't want to just dump all the fumes and heat into the attic. However, our roof has regular vents about every six feet along the peak of the roof and there was one within 92-1/2 inches of where the duct from the microwave came up. I know this for a fact because I initially bought a 60" duct thinking it was enough, returned a second time for a 24" chunk thinking that would get me there and having to return a third time for another 60" chunk that I cut down.

After much bumping of my head, barking my shins on rafters, taping together numerous joints and insulating the entire length, I finally got my microwave plumbed to the outside air at the peak of our house without adding a new hole in our roof. Now we can vent stinky fish fumes out the peak of our house which probably won't offend anyone but the neighbors downwind. Finally, all this is just before we are starting to get serious about remodeling the kitchen to the point we finally pulled some strings and are getting an architect to layout some options. However, I plan to recycle this microwave and all our other new appliances in the new design and the last remaining holdout, the double wall oven, if it lasts that long will finally be kicked to the curb and replaced with something new. It is nearly 45 years old so it has had a good run.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Settled In

I know exactly why my grandfather changed his mind and decided to move up here closer to his daughter, grandchild (me) and great grandchildren. It wasn't because my wife and I were more convincing in our reasoning that we gave them over Christmas. It was because my mom, their daughter, has brain cancer. Although it is technically still in remission, it is still there and isn't curable. Depending on when it comes back, my mom may have options to prolong her life further, but ultimately it will be a terminal disease. Brain cancer is measured in the percentage of people who live five years with the disease. In my mom's case, she has a 25% chance of living that long. I'm sure all this played heavily in my grandparent's decision.

This also scares me too because if my mom becomes unable to offer my grandparents assistance during their remaining years, I'm by default, probably going to inherit the brunt of that task. After nearly 20 years of only seeing my grandparents once or twice a year due the distances involved, it will be nice for an excuse to play catch up with them. But it may also be a serious time commitment and that scares me. However, even if it turns out to be the worst of all time commitments and I'm looking back at it with 20/20 vision, I know I would still do it because we are family and that is what families do.

Onward with the rest of the story though.

My parents got my grandparents escorted up here via the only direct flight between our airports to make things as easy as possible. However when they arrived, I could tell they were exhausted and I think more from dealing with my grandfather than the physical kind. As I later learned, I was right. As my grandfather's health has declined to the point where he can't see very good, can't hear much of anything unless you talk loud and into his hearing aid and much of his mobility has gone, he has become somewhat of a bear to be around. I don't blame him because I absolutely understand the frustration, loss of pride, depression that he is going through. As I help him, I keep reminding myself that it isn't his fault that he is that way, it is just what he has become due to everything else. Still, it is mentally exhausting some days repeating that to myself over and over.

Because all my grandparent's furniture was being hauled up from Florida by my uncle, it didn't arrive for two and a half days which meant that I played host for my grandparents. We made good use of the time by getting my grandfather comfortable and then my grandmother and I would head out to do all those things that one must do when moving to a new location/life. Finally the furniture arrived and I don't think I have ever seen my uncle and his wife, my parents, and the rest of my family moves so fast to get it unloaded and into their new apartment. We decided to have them spend one more night with us so that we can get another day under our belt helping them unpack and settle in and hopefully a little sanity will return as we all get a breather.

Their new home is in a complex run by the Good Samaritan Society. My grandparents will live in an independent living building for now that provides some services like one meal a day, cleaning and some shuttles around town for shopping but no personal type care. If/when they should need assistance with their personal care, they can hire someone to help them where they live or transition into an assisted care facility across the parking lot. If necessary, there is also a nursing home/hospice building as well. I've never met a more cheery, friendly staff and clients staying in the independent living part of the complex. With all the benefits and perks, I think it would be a great way to live out my remaining independent years and I'm sure my grandmother will thrive there. I'm not so sure that my grandfather isn't already to the point where he needs outside personal care but that is something I don't want to dwell on here right now. They are still settling in and for now, I'm making daily trips out there to help them get settled in.

Funny how history sometimes repeats itself. Though I was too young to have any memories, my great grandfather stayed down in Florida too long and eventually had a stroke that rendered him unable to talk or walk. He didn't want to fly so my grandparents went down to bring him home and only when they arrived at the airport did he realize that he was going to fly whether he wanted to or not. Fast forward and my grandfather has stayed down in Florida too long and now needs a walker to get around (and with a lot of effort on his part) and initially didn't want to fly. My family actually talked about surprising him at the airport but he eventually capitulated on his own and flew anyway with my parents flying down to escort him back. I can't see my parents ever wanting to live in Florida, no offense to any Floridians who read this, so I don't think I have to worry about that but someday I may be escorting one of them or both back from where ever they may be. History has a history of repeating itself.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Moving Fast

I'm not sure where I left this story at and I don't want to go search so I'll briefly recap it. I've been going down to Florida for seven years over the Christmas/New Year holidays to spend time with my elderly grandparents who weren't up to traveling anymore. My grandfather especially is getting worn out and probably doesn't have a whole lot of years left above ground. My mom and uncle have spent many years trying to convince my grandparents to move back closer to home but it usually ends up with my grandfather getting upset and wanting nothing to do with that idea. This past Christmas trip to Florida, my wife and I spent an afternoon talking with my grandparents and showing them options near us where they could live in an independent living apartment building that would also allow them to transition to assisted living and eventually into a nursing home, all in the same complex. It is the nearest place to the home farm and just so happens to be across town from where I live now. Surprisingly they seemed interested and asked that I go look at it myself and take some pictures for them.

I did them one step better and not only took pictures, but spent a long time talking with the manager of the facility and getting them all sorts of information. Best of all, this facility normally has wait times of over a year but currently had two units available, the best one with a nice view had been spoken for but no money had been put down for a down payment yet. I passed all this information along to my grandparents. Two days later, they called me up and said they were going to sell their house and move there by March 1rst!

It took a couple weeks of sending paperwork back and forth through snail mail and I went back another two times to take some more pictures and put a deposit on the "spoken for" unit which turned out was spoken for by a couple who wanted to sell their house first. I then spent the next couple weeks working out all the logistics of getting my grandparents moved up here when one of them spends all day sleeping in a recliner. My uncle for various reasons I won't go into here, doesn't get along too well with my grandfather and my mom was on vacation so I ended up doing most of the legwork but I was happy to do so. I arranged for my uncle to drive back to Florida with his wife and pull a rental trailer behind his truck back with their possessions and his wife will drive my grandparent's car back.

When I was down there over Christmas, my grandfather had been adamant that he didn't want to fly here and would prefer to drive. My mom spent some time trying to convince him that it would be much easier on him to spend three hours flying than three days driving, not to mention getting him into all the bathrooms, restaurants and motels along the way when he has a hard time walking. He still didn't want anything to do with flying. So once again I called up to see if there was anything I could do to change his mind but before I could say anything they informed me they wanted to fly. So hours later I had purchased plane tickets for them (and my still vacationing parents to fly down and escort them back) before they could back out.

As I write this, it is still two weeks before March 1rst and everything is a go for flying them up here March 2nd and moving them in on March 4th. That was almost two weeks ago by the time you read this and this is already long enough so I'm guessing my next post will be on the conclusion of that whole ordeal. I'm excited and scared about all this but more on that later.

Monday, March 13, 2017


As I normally do when taking pictures and blogging, I always end up with several pictures that I like for various reasons but don't fit in the narrative of a longer post. So I have just included them here with a short description of why it attracted me. The above was a sand snowman I found on a beach that was looking pretty sad.

While hiking one morning to a pair of waterfalls well down a rugged and steep trail, I came across this vehicle lost in the jungle. I'm always amazed when I see stuff like this realizing that back in the day, there were roads going many places that have since been swallowed up by time and Mother Nature. It always reminds me that long after the human species is gone, the Earth will heal and survive.

This plant grabbed my attention as I got up from watching a sunrise to go back to the resort and grab my stuff to head out for another day of exploring.

Perhaps because we don't have palm trees in Iowa or it was a perfectly blue sky, I was captivated by this palm tree off our balcony.

Iowa has a retail footprint even in Kauai. I've had better whiskey but I've had much more examples of worse whiskey than Templeton Rye.

Up near the highest point of the island this view could be had and although you could drive right to it, it was off the beaten path enough it was never crowded either time I was there. It looks down a deep valley to the north side of the island that is inaccessible by roads. There was a trail that went down that way but I saved it for another day. They tried to build a road down there many years ago but all the equipment (being run by convicts) got stuck in the lowland swamps and abandoned. The equipment remains there to this day I'm told.

There used to be a true tunnel of trees along this road to our resort that I drove nearly every day. However a hurricane awhile ago thinned them out so that it isn't a true tunnel anymore though it still looked beautiful to my eye.

I'm not a big art consumer. I would rather display my art than someone else's on my walls or tabletops. However, if I had nearly $4000 with nothing else to spend it on, I would have bought this. I have absolutely no idea how this island volcano with a waterfall is made but I had a hard time keeping my eyes off of it in a high end retail store in the resort lobby.

I love history and knew I had to see the place where Captain Cook first discovered the Hawaiian islands. He first landed on Kauai but later spent most of his time and was killed on other islands in the chain. I spent a morning at the beach where he landed offshore of the Waimea river but there wasn't much to see there that every other sandy beach along an ocean doesn't also have. I had heard there was a statue commemorating his landing nearby but couldn't find it. I gave up and started looking for a bookstore back in town to see if I could find some history books pertaining to the island but couldn't find it either. (I later realized the book store was in the next town east and succeeded in picking up a couple books.) I went into a nearby grocery store to pick up an ice cold drink and was sitting on a picnic table trying to figure out what to do next when I looked across the street (further inland from the store and quite a way from the ocean) and saw the statue commemorating Cook.

I have gone many times to the Pacific rim and several times to Europe but the flight to Hawaii was the longest time I spent over open water. The flights to the Pacific rim usually go up the North American coast to the Bering Straight and down the Asian coast. The flights to Europe go up through Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, and never too far from someplace where a plane could land if trouble found it. So flying for so long over nothing but water weighed heavily on my mind. On the way home, we flew overnight so we couldn't see anything out the window until we crossed into the United States via Los Angeles airspace. I never thought seeing Los Angeles would bring me such relief.

Friday, March 10, 2017


I'm not sure if it is true, but somewhere while in Kauai, someone told me that they only average three days of rain a year on the south shore where we were staying. If that is true, we hit all three days during our five days there. Our room looked south across a bay so that if you wanted to see either sunrise or sunset on the water, you were out of luck. The first morning there and still adjusting time zones, I was walking along the bay and had it all to myself. However as sunrise approached, I was suddenly having to constantly adjust trajectory to avoid running into others busy photographing the bay at sunrise though it didn't see the sun until it was well up in the air. I finally looked at my watch and saw that I had fifteen minutes before sunrise and decided to hike east to a ridge that formed the east side of the bay.

I was rewarded by not only getting to see the sunrise over the water, but also having to share it with only a handful of the 1400 occupants at the resort who had the ambition to hike a 100 yards away from the hotel. I found that if I walked a quarter mile further, I literally had the entire shoreline to myself and spent the rest of my week watching the sunrise every morning thus.

I got rained on three times, once really hard, but I was always rewarded with a great view. The clouds really provided interest since the two days without clouds, it wasn't nearly as pretty of a sunrise.

I usually spent about an hour, half the time before sunrise and half afterwards just soaking it in for the day and watching the waves crash into the rocky shore beneath my feet. I think I could do it for a lifetime though if I did, I would definitely build some sort of bench with a backrest.

This picture was actually sunset over the ridge that formed the west side of the bay. It is actually another competing resort by day but lost in the shadows, it looked very inviting to me. I zoomed in tight to get a portion of the shore where there where the trees silhouetted nicely against the orange sky without all the building roof lines.

I was told that Kauai during December and January is prime whale viewing time so I kept my eyes peeled but went most of the week without seeing a single one. On our final evening, while walking with my wife on the beach, we saw one spout water and then disappear. The next day while killing time after checking out of the hotel and before our redeye home, we parked by a beach and saw another one frolicking with its fin in the air for about five minutes. Not the massive breach I hoped to see but still enough to say I've seen a whale in the wild. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera at the time so there are no pictures as proof.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


This is actually a reverse waterfall since it falls up but I included it in this post anyway. It is called the Spouting Horn and is actually water driven in from the ocean shooting through an empty lava tube and shooting up in the air. The first time I visited it, when I had left my camera and phone on the hotel balcony, it was quite dramatic due to the higher waves. The second time when I remembered my photography gear, it was overcast, raining and not nearly as dramatic.

Many of the waterfalls on the island could only be seen from long distances away or not at all without permission of private owners. This one falls into the former category and I took with my zoom lens maxed out from the road going up the west rim of Wamea Canyon. I'm guessing the lower falls was at least several hundred feet tall.

One morning, I set out along a trail in the interior to a pair of falls that could be accessed via trails but requiring long hikes. As one would expect compared to the others you could drive up too, I had these two all to myself, or so I thought. More on that below.

The trail started off distinct but kind of petered out in the depths of the jungle. Fortunately since it followed the stream causing these waterfalls, I didn't have to worry about getting lost. I found it kind of neat to be hiking in a dense jungle and not hearing monkeys or other exotic birds making noise. Instead, all I ever heard were roosters crowing and only on rare occasions did I ever get close enough to actually see one.

As I approached the upper falls, I noticed the bathing suit and flip flops abandoned on the rock. I didn't think much of it at first and proceeded to take some pictures and rest a bit while taking in the scene. After awhile, it hit me that instead of being abandoned, they owner may actually be swimming in the stream. The guidebook had said the only way to access the upper falls at river level was to jump in and then swim downstream to where you could get out and walk back. I kind of glanced around to see if there was a head looking back at me from the river but didn't see any. I finally decided I should head on downstream and let whomever retrieve their clothes. Unfortunately I forgot to look on my way back up to the car to see if they were still there.

This was one of those falls you could drive right up to on the road and of course it was packed. I took this picture shoulder to shoulder with about 50 other people lined up along side the road. At the end of the pullout, there was a bum looking guy sitting on a bucket and weaving palm fronds into extremely intricate baskets. Everyone else gave the man a wide berth but that wasn't my style. I walked up to the fellow and started looking at his bowl. I would have bought one if I could have thought of a way to get it home without crushing it but I wasn't even sure it was for sale. I started talking to the fellow and he was a homeless man who had come to Hawaii when he realized he could just live on the beaches as long as he put a fishing line out in the water as per local laws. Like many of similar types, this man was very religious which always seems to make people nervous. I talked to him about freedom of religion for a while as he wove what I thought would be some decorative piece for his woven bowl. Others started crowding closer to us as they realized he was harmless and seeing the bowl I was holding in my hands and admiring. I set the bowl down and shook the mans hand thanking him for the time and wished him luck. He handed me what he had been working on which turned out to be an extremely intricate rose woven out of palm fronds. For your sweetie he told me. Once again it benefited me to talk to people others ignore.

Monday, March 6, 2017

When In Rome, Eat As the Romans

One of the first things anyone should notice when visiting Kauai are all the chickens. They are literally everywhere. They are leftovers from the colonial era when passing ships left them, gave them away or some escaped. They are wild all over the island. Seeing that the island is composed of almost a third by people of Filipino decent, and as a culture they wouldn't let a wild chicken go to waste, I was a bit baffled. I asked a few people but nobody could really give me an answer to their live and let live policy of the wild chickens. One of the oddest sounds though was hiking through a dense jungle and instead of monkeys or birds, all I could hear were roosters crowing everywhere.

Poke (pronounce poke-ee)
I'm a pretty adventurous eater and a firm believer that when going someplace new, I should try to eat as the locals due. However this is sometimes a double edged sword. One one hand, I get a lot of advice from people saying you must eat such and such during your visit but on the other hand, half the time I suspect they are more fascinated with my reaction than actually giving me sage advice. However when it comes to Poke, I think they were right on because I saw lots of locals eating it.

Poke is a raw fish salad served over top rice, most commonly sushi rice. The fish chunks were usually coated in a mayonnaise based dressing with some spices and other local ingredients. It was outstanding and above was our favorite version served from the Kealia Poke food truck near a string of shops in the town of Hanalei on the north shore. Now normally I would think twice about eating raw fish out of a food truck but over the years, I've found most food trucks are more immaculately clean than many kitchens in brick and mortar restaurants simply because they are more visible. Also being surrounded by an ocean, I figured it had to be fresh and it certainly tasted extremely fresh. Over the course of our week, we would try poke at many other places but none of them were nearly as tasty as the version above.

Puka Dog and Mexican fish bowl

The resort where we were staying at had something like seven restaurants on site and there were brick and mortar restaurants everywhere we went however, due to their middle of nowhere in the Pacific locations, they were insanely expensive by Midwest standards. While we could afford to eat at them, our fiscally conservative nature plus we were usually on the way to somewhere anyway, led us to find many a meal from food trucks or small island shops. These two were from small shops at a small strip mall.

Puka dog was another thing everyone told me was a must have and I firmly believe that this is one of those things made for tourists. I'm sure the locals had one now and then but it wasn't a staple of their diet which was what I was after. It was essentially a grilled hot dog stuck into a bun with a hole cut down the center that was pumped full of liquid cheese and a mango relish. It was tasty but not what I was seeking. We also tried the Mexican fish bowl from another nearby vendor and while it looked good, it was vastly under seasoned. In fact, anything remotely Mexican that we had during our trip was pretty bland. Fortunately, we didn't go there for the Mexican food so steered clear of it for the most part.

Hawaiian burgers from Ono Char-Burgers
We had two combinations of these burgers, one from a rival chain Bubba Burgers, and both were outstanding and on my top ten list of best burgers I've ever consumed. Both were hamburgers served with lettuce, tomato, pineapple, swiss cheese and drizzles with teriyaki sauce. The pineapple and teriyaki sauce were both something I've never thought to put on a burger but were what made these so delicious. On a related note, tomatoes and lettuce are both things that can't be grown in Hawaii and are shipped in so if you order anything with either, be forewarned that it will cost you more money.

While these most definitely aren't local but are stereotypical of being anywhere tropical with a beach, we did have a couple drinks one evening at the hotel while listening and watching some local talent play. However, those things cost us over $20/each so we mostly stuck to drinking the local water which was free and quite good.

Plate Lunch
This is one of those foods that is still up in the air as to whether locals eat this regularly. While it looks local, it seems like a carb overload to me. A plate lunch was rice, macaroni salad, meat (in this case chicken steamed in a banana leaf), and those thin clear noodles. In the two cups were some chopped veggies and in the other an octopus salad which was quite delicious.

I did see a few locals eating these and didn't see many tourists eating them but the paring of things full of carbs seemed odd. It was very filling (as one would expect) and was tasty, especially the two salads in the white cups, but it isn't something that I would every crave. I ate this one and then stuck to other foods for the remainder of the trip.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Aloha From Kauai

First morning from the resort beach. It was overcast and threatening rain and the point blocked any sunrise so I opted to hike out to the point seen in this picture.
I disappeared for a week a little over a month ago but am just now getting around to blogging about this. I didn't want to interrupt the flow of posting about the Grand Canyon trip for a second time so opted to let it play out before going back and talking about this trip. This trip was to the island of Kauai in the Hawaiian island chain. It is one of the oldest islands to the west so as I discovered later, it is far removed from the volcanoes that many associate with Hawaii. It is also on a different island from Pearl Harbor so there isn't the great historical sites either. Still, Kauai is referred to as the Garden Isle and it had beauty is spades.

I should back up that this trip all started a little over a year ago when my wife decided that she wanted to go to a different medical conference for her continuing education than the series she had been going to. That meant that the next conference was being held in Kauai of all places and so when she asked if I would keep her company, I dragged my feet and eventually said yes. Actually, I think I said Hell Yeah and began packing immediately only to be disappointed when she told me it was still a year away.

I had great visions of seeing active volcanoes and Pearl Harbor but soon my research revealed that I would see neither of those things. However, there seemed plenty to see on the tiny island and it a whole lot of culture to absorb so I was still excited to go. The conference lasted a week with my wife tied up in lectures every morning. I would hike up to some ocean side cliffs to watch the sunrise every morning and then drive around scouting various things so that when my wife was off around one, we could hit the high lights and enjoy the rest of the day. It worked well.

For us, the culture wasn't too shocking since the islands are almost 30% Filipino and I'm married too one. It was highly commercialized but due to its small size and perhaps lesser popularity compared to the other islands, dealing with that wasn't too bad. There is only one main road that goes about 75% of the way around the island and it was always busy but traffic for the most part went smoothly so we were able to get to where we were heading and not feel beaten down by the drive to get there.

By the time our return flight had arrived, I felt as if I had seen all that I had wanted to see and could check it off my list. I still have a desire to see an active volcano and Pearl Harbor but I'm not sure if I will make a special trip back to see either. Only time will tell. I'll probably stick up a few more posts on my time there and some observations over the coming few weeks mixed in with some other stuff. I hope you enjoy them.

The sunrise from the backside of the point. Much better view and I did get soaked walking back to the resort afterwards in a pouring rainstorm!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Aftermath

I guess coming from a rural area, I am not wise to the ways of the outside world especially when it comes to tipping. A few days before, another client had approached me and asked how much I planned on tipping the crew. Up until that point, it hadn't even crossed my mind that a tip was even expected of me. So as the last of the clients climbed into the passenger van waiting to take up back to Flagstaff, I dug my wallet out of the bottom of my bag, cleaned it of all bills, and gave it to Bronco. I'm not sure if it had been too generous or insulting low, but it was all that I had and it had been worth every penny and then some.

I climbed into the back of the van and my body shut down. For some reason, an intense weariness as if I had survived some extraordinary ordeal overwhelmed me and I didn't even fight it. I fell asleep only waking once at a gas station in Boulder City where we dropped off a few of the passengers. The other clients were still babbling and perusing the cheap plastic trinkets on display as I exited the bathroom. Not having any money and more importantly not caring anymore, I just went back to the van and quickly fell asleep in the back of the van. As evening fell, I was dropped off at Days Inn and for all practical purposes, felt like I had just arrived from Mars.

For not wanting to return to civilization, the hot shower never felt better. I hacked off my beard that I had grown and then walked to a drugstore for a tube of antibiotic and box of Band-Aids so that I could treat my dozens of wounds that had never healed in the arid climate of the canyon floor. I can't imagine what the store clerk had thought seeing me looking like a mugging victim. I intended to write in my journal filling up pages of thoughts but managed only a few sentences due to the sadness of having recently broken up. Instead, I completed my indoctrination back into reality by ordering a pizza and watching the movie "The Matrix" until my weariness returned. My dreams were all of water and torture.

Not wanting to chance meeting any of the other clients that were still around, I passed on the free continental breakfast, checked out and with my duffel bag of gear walked to a hole in the wall restaurant for breakfast. After a long breakfast, I asked the waitress if she could call a cab for me giving her the card of the one that had picked me up at the airport a lifetime ago. When he arrived, I threw my gear in the rear seat and climbed in. As he whisked me to the airport, I couldn't help but think of our first meeting when I had been so full of adventure and bravado. Now I was beaten down and sad. Fortunately for us both, he just drove in silence.

I was a lost person for quite awhile after getting back home. I had anticipated taking a few days off to catch up on errands and other things before returning to my job but in reality, I needed it just to get my emotions back into control. Even then, I felt like such a phony whenever asked about my trip and I role acted the excited adventurer as I told them tales. It had been exciting and it had been an adventure but it had been so much more than that to me. Even now, seventeen years later, I still occasionally dream of sitting by a campfire sipping cognac and watching that full moon hypnotize me along the river deep in the bottom of that canyon. I still feel those emerald green waters tug at me from a thousand miles away and it is all I can do at times to not leave everything behind to dash toward that siren song.

A month would pass me by before I had the courage to transcribe all the addresses from the back of my journal to a letter that I mailed to all the clients and crew. I think at the time we had written them down back at the camp above Phantom Ranch, we all had visions of reunions and frequent communications back and forth. Perhaps my separation from the canyon had been more complete than others for I never heard a word back except a packet of photos from Jorge about two months later. I mailed a packet of photos back to him and another to Lee, the baggage raft oarsman whom I guess I most admired and enjoyed on the trip. Perhaps six months would go by and Mary, the cook's apprentice and also her first time on the Colorado, would communicate by email mostly about families, but never about the river or the trip. As the years went by, even those sporadic emails would fade to nothing. Of all the people, crew and client alike, I think she probably suffered as much as I did upon her return to reality.

A year and a half later, four planes would end up in the two towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania and I would lose my job and my ability to save up unlimited amounts of vacation time and could only take vacations no longer than two weeks. Among those ashes rose a new life centered around a beautiful lady who would become my wife and later two beautiful daughters. My dream of returning to that river to take up where I left off has been sitting on a back burner but is still simmering back there after all these years. The day will come when fate will allow me to return to that river, this time on a trip full of friends and family and not people whom will betray me or I them. Perhaps I will be oaring a dory of my own creation. Perhaps the next time, I will find a way to stay and never return and my blog will grow silent. Let us all hope.