last day

July 22, 2012 Comments Off on last day

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We had one last morning at the Highland Center before getting in the car and heading home. Dad was worried that we had pushed a bit hard, but I told him there was a big difference between a nudge and a push. You need a nudge every now and then to do worthwhile but challenging stuff.

We suggested Mt. Willard to them, the first mountain they went up two years ago. It was a major deal for them then, but at 3.2 miles round trip and about 900 feet of elevation, it was a cinch for them today. The view was as spectacular as ever, and we did it in sneakers instead of boots, with Dad’s permission. The snack on top was a good moment, and the two of them handled it like a walk in the park. (Their father may have erred in doing his 15.3 mile installation run for next week’s race before they were up. Beautiful route, but the hills in Crawford Notch are damned serious. The kids put me at the front of the line today).

A great weekend, thanks to brilliant, cool weather and some expert advice from Dad. The kids proved themselves again, and I’m optimistic that we’ll get them up Washington someday before they go to college. And it was a good weekend for me, too. I can’t help comparing where I am today versus last year, and two years ago. I feel like I’ve got my feet firmly back under me now, and like I’ve done absolutely everything I could have done with the cards I held a year ago. Last year’s trip felt like a milestone of sorts. This year’s trip felt like a great ten-day road trip with the kids and not much more. I couldn’t be more grateful for that…

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ethan pond

July 21, 2012 Comments Off on ethan pond

This morning C was up long before his sister. My dad went over the hiking possibilities. Big mountain? Small mountain? Long hike to a pond? Short hike to a waterfall?

C thought about it. He was leaning toward the mountain, but said we should let O decide. This, I think, was not sibling deference or just being kind. I think he realized that he wasn’t necessarily the one we were most concerned about anymore. The slowest hiker not only leads the pack, they also get veto power. He knew what we knew–he could do the mountain, but his sister might be the slow one.

And, in fact, she opted for pond. Ethan Pond is just off the Appalachian trail, which is its own minor attraction. It’s about a three mile hike in, and on the way back to the highway you can take a short detour and see Ripley Falls, which was one of our destinations the first year we came here. Ethan Pond is, also, stunningly lovely:

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The hike was pretty gentle, but it had some definite up to it. Still, none of us really hankered for the rocks we had yesterday. And we were plenty glad to crack open lunch at the campground just uphill from the pond itself. A campground that came with a bear warning and our all-time favorite outhouse sign:

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Very pleased to report that C and I complied fully.

The best part, though, was the Falls. They’re close enough to the trailhead that we all felt pretty much done, and O and I soaked our feet in the stream–heinously cold, which felt great on tired bones. The kids definitely earned ice cream again, this time at the base of the Mt. Washington cog railway, a tourist trap that we grudgingly admit has the best view of the mountain around. Small pleasures get magnified nicely after four hours in the woods.

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Or, as we found out at dinner, after a few months. Our table companions tonight included a through-hiker who had been on the AT since March. He went through a loaf of bread, half a platter of mashed potatoes, about half a pound of beef, and two pie slices. And he had some great stories. Running water was definitely something he missed, but electricity wasn’t far behind. The kids were slightly awestruck, and rightly so.

We have small plans tomorrow. Mt. Willard, which was our “big” climb the first year, now looks like a friendly lump in the lodge’s front yard. So we’ll do that as a grand finale, and then get in the car and head west, probably to Binghamton, which will seem pretty lame after the view from this place. The hotel will, however, have laundry.

mt. osceola

July 20, 2012 Comments Off on mt. osceola

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We upped the hiking game considerably this year. 4000 feet is the New England division between heavyweight and lightweight. The kids had done three 3000-footers. This year, we all agreed they were ready for the heavy stuff.

Mt. Osceola clicks in at just barely 4000 feet, and it’s the traditional first. I’d never been up it, but my dad climbed it when he was something like ten. So this seemed a safe bet. (they did things differently 60 years ago–sending a ten year old up this today would border on illegal). And it was a healthy climb–2000 feet up, 6.4 miles round trip. It took us four and a half hours, including a half hour lunch break on the summit, not bad all around.

The mountain gods continue to smile on us. Each year we book the lodge in early spring and I think this is the hurricane year. But so far we’ve had nothing but stellar weather, which is not the New Hampshire I remember. Today was maybe the best day we’ve had yet–75 degrees, light breeze, absolutely no fog. It felt like you could see to Boston as we got up into the scrub pines.

The kids have turned into really diligent hikers. They keep a single file, and C always goes in front, on the theory that you don’t want the faster folks leaving the smaller ones behind. He’s turning into the real serious hiker of the two, though. O is the one calling for the rest/water/shoe break–C is the one saying “this is an AWESOME” trail just as his dad and grandfather are thinking “cripes, could this trail be any more bouldery?”. We were all puffing a bit as the trees thinned out, and as the mountain above us started to get noticeably smaller. They can smell the summit, it seems, especially when they have a lodge-packed lunch waiting for them up there.

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And, it has to be said, Dad did us all right in his mountain pick. The view from the top was ridiculous, helped by a perfectly clear day. We celebrated their first 4k with sandwiches, bottled water, and gorp, chatted with a few other hikers who made it up just in time for lunch, too, and Grandpa pointed out which peaks were which. Washington loomed in the distance. C sized it up, and figured out with Grandpa’s help that it was roughly twice the hike, twice the climb. He was unfazed.

We got down in about the time it took us to get up, the mark of a trail with more than a few spots that made me glad their mother couldn’t see what they were up to (just kidding, K!) (not actually kidding). We hit the parking lot just as the Princess was beginning to lose her mountain cool, a situation quickly and radically restored with gigantic bowls of ice cream at a roadside stand in Lincoln, just up the road.

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Did that spoil anyone’s appetite for dinner? Um, no. And they’re playing ping-pong now, so they clearly had something left in the tank. We asked them whether we should do a mountain or a gentler waterfall hike tomorrow, and they both thought mountain. Dad is thinking Pierce, which is about the same deal as today. But C has other ideas. He wants to do Washington.

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Next year, kiddo. Next year.

back to the woods

July 19, 2012 Comments Off on back to the woods

Today started at 5:00 with the realization that the “Albany Airport Comfort Inn” was so-called because of its proximity to the business end of the airport’s main runway. Today is finishing up like this:

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Only four hours in the car, which felt like a sprint after Tuesday. The GPS took us on all back roads through Vermont, the kind of roads that make O ask to turn up the AC so she doesn’t barf. Assuming that doesn’t happen, I really like those roads. And the GTI likes those roads. Given its age and its looming replacement, I sort of felt like it deserved the opportunity to live out a road rally fantasy or two.

We made the annual stop in Hanover for lunch at Lou’s, a good childhood memory that has morphed into a really good diner with a vegan edge. And we visited my grandparents under their tree on the Appalachian Trail. The kids bought them some fresh flowers, and we sat with them for a while. “They’re turning out to be great kids,” I told them as O and C headed back to the car. “I know you’d enjoy them.” The four of them would, I think, get along famously. Something in the trees agreed.

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We made it to the AMC Highland Center just after Dad, and had time for a quick boot fitting and a test run around the neighboring lake. The shoes all fit, we almost but not quite earned our hiker’s dinner in the lodge, and the kids settled right into the routine, bailing after dessert for the nightly campfire. We have plans for their first 4000′ mountain tomorrow, and their second on Saturday. The weather looks to be cooperative, the kids are happy as hell to be out of the car, and since this trip has come to be an annual check-in with myself, I feel like I’ve done everything possible with the last year. And I can’t wait to get back into the woods with these two.

pdx

October 17, 2011 Comments Off on pdx

L came back to Iowa a couple of years ago after spending three years in Portland, Oregon, a place that she still loves and misses.  So when I got an e-mail saying that a bunch of airline miles were expiring in December, it was a pretty easy decision to burn them on a weekend there.  I’d been a couple of times for conferences, but had never been outside of downtown.  “Oh,” L said, “you haven’t really been to Portland, then.”

And she was right.  We stayed with some friends of hers, architects who are converting an old craftsman bungalow into a Dwell-worthy pad (sound familiar?).  And right off the plane we went hiking in the Columbia River Gorge.  Five miles, 1500 feet of elevation.  Welcome to Oregon!

That’s Saddle Mountain to the left there, which we did the next day.  Similar situation, but with more scrambling and treacherous rock trails.  It felt fantastic to get out into mountains again–I’ve rediscovered hiking with the kids, but it was nice to just be out in the woods as grownups, too.  L is a serious hiker–more nimble than I am on the downhills, but we’re pretty evenly matched going up.  And we share a similar trail ethic.  No sense wasting time on rest stops.  But a six-inch slug working its way across the trail?  That’s worth a break.  We took fruit and amazing artisanal bread up to the summits–no sense wasting summits on mediocre food, either.

And that was the other theme of the weekend.  Three 1500 foot hikes, three world-class dinners.  We went to PokPok the first night, a Thai place that’s won all kinds of awards for chefiness.  Fish sauce chicken wings.  Spicy boar collar with green papaya salad.  And, best of all?  Drinking vinegar.  Believe me, it’s better than it sounds.  We also hit Le Pigeon and the Farm Cafe, the latter one at my brother’s suggestion.  He came down from Seattle with his person to join us for dinner, and it was amazing–sweet potato gnocchi with a corn sauce.  Exactly the sort of thing to offset a day’s hiking.

And that day’s hiking?  Multnomah Falls.  You can drive almost right up to them, but L had other ideas.  There’s a trail that starts downstream half a mile or so, climbs past a different set of waterfalls, and then runs along the ridge for a mile.  So you get to Multnomah from the top, not the base, and somehow that was even more spectacular–the falls sort of slowly revealed themselves around a bunch of switchbacks, until you finally ended up in the midst of dozens of tourists, none of whom had experienced the big drama.  That’s another bit of trail ethics we share.  The best views are the ones you feel like you’ve earned.

All in all, a spectacular weekend.  Our flights all worked out, we didn’t have a bad meal (or, really, an overly expensive one), and there was hardly any rain at all, which is unheard of for a Portland October.  I did my best to wrangle an invitation to come back for a lecture at Portland State–we’ll see if that works, but we both agreed we’d make it back fairly regularly.  L’s got a book of 60 hikes within a day’s drive of the city, which we both think of as a checklist…

crawford notch

July 11, 2011 Comments Off on crawford notch

According to the odometer, it’s 1630 miles from Ames, Iowa to Crawford Notch, New Hampshire.  But, as you can see, it might as well be a million.  It was a spectacular day to drive the last little bit from Hanover to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center–sunny but with the kind of clouds that make for big drama, and clear enough that Mt. Washington came around the corner in the last few miles.  The Subaru chewed up the mountain roads pretty well, and after a cushy lifetime in flat, straight midwestern land, it seemed to really enjoy the chance to deal with actual terrain.

Dad was waiting for us, having finished up a ten-day volunteer stint guiding visitors and checking out equipment.  We hit the trails as fast as we could, taking a quick warmup lap around a nearby lake (lake, left) to test out the boots and newly purchased hiking socks (that’s what I forgot).  The lodge serves a serious hiker’s dinner, so we’re well fed, and Dad drove me over what looks like an absurdly inspiring 6-mile jogging course for tomorrow morning.  The kids have just finished watching a movie about through-hikng the Trail–O now has a lifetime goal, while C wants nothing to do with the camping portion of the experience.  And they have hit the bunk beds.  Hard.  I think C was asleep before I could finish “good night.”

We have a modestly ambitious schedule for the next two days:  two and a half mountain climbs, two waterfalls, and we’ll see whether we’ve got any spare time to go see Washington.  Dad and I figure that’s probably two or three years away.

Oh, and for K’s benefit, there hasn’t been a fatal bear attack in the state of New Hampshire since 1789.  I know she’ll think that means we’re due, but really, I think bears are the least of our concerns.  The black flies, on the other hand, may carry off the smaller members of the expedition team.

road trip–big kahuna

July 7, 2011 Comments Off on road trip–big kahuna

The kids and I take off tomorrow for points east.  Points seriously east, like 24 hours of driving east.  My dad volunteers a week each year at the Appalachian Mountain Club lodge in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and like last year he’s invited me and the kids out for a couple of days in the woods.  I spent a lot of time as a kid in the New Hampshire mountains, with grandparents whose house backed up to the Appalachian Trail and who wasted no opportunity–rain or shine–to get their grandkids out into nature.  Last year we got out of the car in Crawford Notch and the smell of mountain pine was an amazingly strong memory.  As were the noodly knees coming down the kids’ first serious mountain climb.

This year, of course, is a little different, but it also feels like the first in what will inevitably be a long series of one-year anniversaries.  In a lot of ways, the New Hampshire trip last year marked the start of a lot of hard, sad times for me and K, and me and the kids being there again, her being in Canada again, and all that’s going on back here make this trip feel a bit like coming full circle.  Not necessarily in an unhappy way, but in a way that I know will have some tough moments.  And, no doubt, some utterly joyous ones, especially if the weather holds.

Anyway.  The three of us are planning to get a modestly early start tomorrow so we can lunch at the traditional Iowa City Steak and Shake, followed by a leisurely afternoon in Champaign-Urbana and dinner at Papa Del’s, which is honestly the best pizza in the state of Illinois.  I’ve planned a big run around the old cross-country course Saturday morning to burn all that off, and I’m hoping we can hit the Air Force Museum in Dayton that afternoon and maybe end up in Akron or some equally salubrious place that night.  The kids are, I think, looking forward to another road adventure, and I’m looking forward to getting them back into the woods.

We bought road candy and an assortment of supplies and floppy trail hats tonight at Target, after a Last Supper of sorts at the local rib joint, courtesy of the softball parents.  For years I’ve shared a banana split with O after a rib dinner there, but I can’t do that anymore, and C has now taken my place as her ice cream nemesis.

Further details/reports as events and free wi-fi dictate…

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