Iceland Cometh – Travel With Friends

 

Powder paint at Gentlemen of the Road - Travel With Friends
Powder paint at Gentlemen of the Road – Travel With Friends

Many years ago, when daughter #1 was still being carted around in the plastic contraption we called the rocket seat, we would go out to dinner with our then childless friends, M and S, and drool over all the places we could explore once our parental responsibilities had lessened. But then daughter #2 came along, and M and S had their own equally charming off spring and those days seemed to get further and further away.

Oh, there was the moment when we thought there was a possibility of a two family trip on a Russian icebreaker to see an eclipse in the Arctic Circle. S, who is an amateur astronomer, had seen an ad in one of his magazines that suggested such an adventure could be had for the sum of $1500 a person. Unfortunately, in the cold light of Monday, he realized he had ignored the extra zero in the price.

A couple of years ago we did all make it to St. Augustine for a long weekend to see The Gentlemen of the Road tour (Mumford and Sons etc). A great time, but aside from the paint powder extravaganza shown above, it wasn’t what you would call a particularly adventurous weekend.

Althugh we have yet to convince the Friends that they too can reach summits we have all decided to spend several days in early March in Iceland. The plan started because at that point – for some unknown reason – there was a straight through flight from Sanford, Florida to Reykjavik on Icelandair. We were also all under the impression that Iceland was located closer to where Greenland is and there would be a minimal time difference, making it a good long weekend destination. We’ve now determined there is no direct flight and it is a five hour time difference but we are going just the same. I also bought husband J a globe for Christmas.

I have little idea about Iceland except for an early episode of Anthony Bourdain’s first series, No Reservations, but trips with no expectations are sometimes the best. And I am confident that we can get M and S onto a glacier – at least for a little bit.

So now when I’m training for the June trip to climb Cotopaxi and Chimborazo at least I have something else to occupy myself with – the 7 mile run yesterday was a lot more fun when I thought of volcanoes, hot springs and ice. I decided to ignore the dried cod.

 

Training Up on the Roof

 

Up on the roof - with hibiscus below
Up on the roof – with hibiscus below

In passing, I’ve previously mentioned a fear of heights – in fact, it played a role in the decision not to climb the Grand Teton. I’ve downplayed it to avoid the inevitable queries about why someone with any such concern would decide mountain climbing was for them. But occasionally that fear rears its head again, like the proverbial dragon waking up in its cave. And I realize that each time I set off for a new summit, vertical drops provide their own very special form of challenge (or torture).  It goes back to kindergarten when on my way to the second floor of the building I somehow slipped between the steps of the fire escape style metal staircase, just catching myself before I fell. I was a skinny child. I didn’t say much to anyone about it, but I remember it to this day.

Year later, when I was about 13, my family made a trip to Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, where my father walked my brother and me over the swinging bridge that crosses a gorge several hundred feet below. I still have never told anyone how completely paralyzed I felt on that bridge, but one of my repeated anxiety dreams (aside from the one where you have to take an exam in a class that you forgot to attend) is of being on a high, narrow bridge with no rails, unable to move forward or back.

So, yesterday when my husband (now known as J) and I decided the time had come to clean the skylights on our house, I clambered up the ladder after him. (The roof really is a bit steeper than the photo shows.)  As soon as I put my foot down on the sloping roof every fear I’d had was triggered – what in the world would prevent me from simply sliding right back down and onto the patio below. I started to think about the angles of Cotopaxi – and, if we do it, Chimborazo – and thought, well, if you’re having a hard time on your own roof top you aren’t going to do very well there. So I took a deep breath, trusted in the grip of my tennis shoes, and bribed myself with the promise of the great view I would have of the neighborhood and everyone else’s backyards.

And it worked. By the time we were done I was skipping around on the roof – if not like a mountain goat at least like one of those mules that go up and down the Grand Canyon.

But, you know what? Last night I still dreamed about walking on a narrow ledge at the very top of a multi-level mall. I had to hold on to some sort of rope and half way along the ledge drop one rope and pick up another. I did really well on one side of the mall, but when I had to cross the ledge on the other side, I found myself saying to the anonymous, but stern, guides, I’d just prefer to do this tomorrow.

Still some work to be done before Cotopaxi!

 

 

 

Blue Springs – Mysteries of a New Year

Manatees in the emerald waters of Blue Springs State Park
Manatees in the emerald waters of Blue Springs State Park

We celebrated the day before New Year’s Eve with a very tame hike along the boardwalk at Blue Springs State Park to see the manatees. Just daughter #1, her boyfriend, the husband and me. Oh, and in celebration of 2015 and six months of writing this blog, I’ve decided the husband can now have – if not a name – at least an initial. Perhaps a little Kafkaesque, but “J” does have a certain ring to it. Perhaps the daughters will obtain their own initials at some point.

I’d like to say that Blue Springs is a hidden treasure – but it has clearly been discovered, as demonstrated by the hordes of eager manatee watchers who were out in force on an overly hot winter’s day.  Blue Springs has always been “discovered”: it has been a tourist spot – or at least, a layover – since the pre-train days of 19th century Central Florida. The house of the original settlers still stands – a couple from Brooklyn, New York, who migrated to Florida to establish what became a steamboat stop on the St. John’s River in the 1870s or so. As steamboats gave way to trains, the place evolved into a weekend resort for hunters and fishers. The tourism that seems so out of place in the apparent wilderness is actually an authentic part of Blue Springs.

Blue Springs is also tremendously accessible to anyone with any physical challenges. A smooth boardwalk runs the length of the river, which not only helps walkers who need some assistance but also protects the plant life. The place itself is one of the most beautiful in Central Florida. The spring – one of the largest in North America – pumps out water from the Florida aquifer at a staggering 100,000,000 gallons per day. The water is a brilliant clear emerald color, and through it you can see long nosed gar wending their way down the river, as well as the large cow-like blobs that are the manatees themselves. Legend has it that manatees were the original mermaids, but it would take many days at sea for one of them to resemble Ariel!

One of my favorite parts of Blue Springs is the fact that somewhere hundreds of feet down the spring connects to the limestone caves that permeate Florida’s substructure.  As I understand it, many of these underwater caves are unexplored (and probably can’t be explored). Frankly, as much as I can imagine scaling summits of mountains, the idea of going underwater into a subterranean cave is unfathomable. But just knowing of the existence of those deep dark places – who knows, perhaps inhabited by goblins mining for the fairy queen’s jewels – adds an appropriate level of mystery for this New Year’s Eve.

Because who knows what 2015 will bring? It should bring our climb up Cotopaxi, but that’s just one of the many summits I’m sure I’ll encounter. 2015 is stretching out before me like those underground passageways below Blue Springs – and it will just take a little imagination  to realize its possibilities. Here’s to exploration in the New Year!

 

 

 

 

Musings on a Run – DIY

 

DIY Beer - Lake Ivanhoe Brewery
DIY Beer – Lake Ivanhoe Brewery

Since the cancellation of my 4 pm Saturday Bikram class, my Saturday training has turned into a five mile run with the present goal of picking up speed. The last run was a break through – all five under 12 minutes and mile 3 was 11:01. Not much for you real runners out there but for me – something to be proud of.

But occupying one’s mind is a huge part of running, at least for me. And as I pushed along on this glorious blue sky day in Central Florida – here are some miscellaneous thoughts.

Uber is becoming a huge deal here, with pro and con views circulated in the local paper, facebook and all other sorts of places. I was devoutly glad of Uber last night, however, when daughter number 2, home for the holidays, and her friends all wanted to go downtown at about 11 pm. The husband and I had arrived back from a colleague’s party only to find six or so cars parked in front of our house, together with two large SUVs double parked with two men outside talking on their cell phones, waiting to transport the various and sundry party goers at our house into downtown. But the daughter and friends weren’t driving themselves – and for that I was glad!

And somehow Uber makes me think of Airbnb. It’s really the same concept – rent your spare room, avoid hotel taxes and regulations – and why shouldn’t you? In fact, I look at  my own house with its private entrance to the guest suite, and I would have  a perfect set up. So why shouldn’t I?

I get the pros and cons and I understand all the arguments about requiring cabs  to service poor neighborhoods etc.  But aren’t Uber and Airbnb really  stemming from the same mentality? The do it yourself, organically home grown business model? (I guess that would be true, except for the fact Uber, at least, is a multi million dollar company.) And at its heart, isn’t that the same drive that’s caused me to plant my own vegetables and herbs and has made the husband brew his own beer?

As residents of the tail end of the baby boom – born in 1961 –  it’s interesting  to observe some commonalities with the millenials. Don’t they say everything skips a generation? Now I just need to retire so I can finally get my own chicken coop.

Endings and Beginnings – First World Problems

Galopogos  [http://www.flickr.com/people/59888966@N00 Pete]
Galopagos
[http://www.flickr.com/people/59888966@N00 Pete]
We’re still musing about whether to add Chimborazo to our Cotopaxi climb this summer.

Last night we went to a combination birthday/retirement party for a dear friend. Among other presents – was an URN. Not an urn for a plant, or to carry water or wine, and it wasn’t even Grecian – rather it was the repository for ashes after the inevitable end. And what made it even more remarkable – it was a USED urn. I did not inquire too deeply of the circumstances that had led to the removal of one set of ashes and the apparent preparation for another occupant.

image

Tonight we had dinner with another old friend who was singing the praises of the Galopagos Islands. And one of my yoga buddies wore his Galopagos Islands t-shirts to yoga today.  What I haven’t mentioned before here is that Chimborazo isn’t our only possible trip extension – Galopagos is there also.

Connection with urn? Back to the only live once phenomenon. On the urn – as John Keats told us – the characters are immortalized in time and art. The husband and I clearly aren’t going to be. Life is now or never. So now we’ve added a third decision point – we KNOW Cotopaxi is in – I have already submitted my application although the husband is dilly dallying with his. But now – no extension, Chimborazo – which would stretch mind, body and soul, or Galopagos? I should be happy to have such first world problems. Thoughts, fellow travelers?

 

Cotopaxi and Chimbarazo – Two are Better Than One?

 

Chimborazo  http://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Gerd_Breitenbach
Chimborazo
http://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Gerd_Breitenbach

As I sit here on a weekend, waiting for the plumber to take his interminable time to arrive (three hours late, thus far), we have some decision-making to do. As hoped, the work schedule cleared up, freeing the way to commit to some June 2015 dates for our next mountain climbing endeavor. And I’ve already contacted the guide company that successfully led us up Elbrus, so that’s done.

But here’s where the itch of mountain climbing – or you could say hubris – sets in. It turns out for an additional four days and a few more dollars, we not only could climb Cotopaxi, but also climb Chimborazo – the highest mountain in Ecuador and one that reaches my long dreamed of goal of a 20,000 foot mountain. Well, long dreamed of if you count 2011 as a long time ago, since that’s when all this started. This would mean acclimatization hikes up Guagua Pichincha and Illiniza Norte, followed by Cotopaxi at 19,348 feet and three days, later – Chimborazo.  At 20,564 feet, Chimborazo is harder than Cotopaxi.  It’s one degree south of the equator, and because of the bulge of the earth, is the farthest point away from the earth’s core and the closest point to the sun. Hubris is the right word. Think Icarus.

I hadn’t really considered doing the extension.   But then yesterday, in the midst of multiple levels of work related issues and general lawyerly stresses – and perhaps in reaction thereto (what a good, lawyerly phrase) – I suddenly found myself saying, “hell, yes.”  Not out loud. But a lawyerly phrase, nonetheless.

If not now, then when? I’ll be 54 by next June. There’s no doubt that if we make this commitment it will require the highest level of training either the husband or I have tried to achieve.  Sometimes mountains – and summits of all sorts – whether at work or at play – throw the gauntlet down before you and just ask to be climbed, and climbed hard. But I still think I better have a serious talk with the guide company.

 

Throwing down the gauntlet
Throwing down the gauntlet

 

 

Summits are Not Symetrical and the Pearls in the Peanuts

image

Mountains do not rise up from the earth like isosceles triangles.  And most things in life don’t have that perfect equilibrium either.  Like this week  – everything just a little off.

It started when I unpacked a gigantic box containing a keyboard that had belonged to an uncle and now had wended its way to Central Florida. In reaching down into the thousands of styrofoam peanuts that surrounded said keyboard in order to ensure we had located all its bits and pieces, the husband pulled out a carefully wrapped plastic package. I cut it open, expecting a plug or some similar piece of equipment, only to find – a string of pearls! A visit to the jeweler the next day confirmed they weren’t real, but now I still face the task of contacting UPS to see if they there is any report of missing pearls in peanuts.

That set the tone for the rest of the week.

One of our elderly Westies continues to be profoundly deaf and is proving not very capable of learning sign language.  His brother has decided he can only eat dry dog food if scattered on the floor outside of his bowl. And the ancient cat continues to believe he is a mountain lion and to attack dogs.

My dearly beloved ten year old car blew the same fuse for the second time in six weeks. Who knew the same fuse that controls the radio controls the ignition. But combined with a very leaky convertible top, the prospect of having to change fuses on the side of the interstate while driving to an out of town meeting on Monday was enough to cause us to finally buy a new car.

At least events of tomorrow should determine my schedule sufficiently that we can actually book our Cotopaxi trip.  At yoga last Wednesday night the moon was full but for a slice off one side, teetering against the black sky. I’m hoping that this next week – with the next summit firmly chosen and set – restores equipoise.

Training and the Power of the Shoe

The Power of the Shoe
The Power of the Shoe

For several years I have had a semi-inflexible yoga schedule. What I call “regular” yoga on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons, with some cardio thrown in on the step mill or treadmill, accompanied by Bikram on Saturday afternoons. But all things change, and my long beloved 4 pm Bikram class is, at least for now, no longer. What’s a girl to do?

True, I could go to a 10 am class, which I have occasionally done, but I find my balance is not nearly as good in the morning. Somehow I need the day to be underway before I have the necessary focus.

So, without making any commitments one way or the other to what my new Saturday routine will be, yesterday morning I ventured off to a high end running shoe store. It’s one of those places where customers are called guests, and you’re assigned a salesperson (although I’m sure they call them something else) as soon as you walk in. The process starts with extensive foot measurements, followed by a video of you running along the sidewalk in front of the store so they can frame by frame analyze how your foot strikes.

At the end, I was the proud owner of a remarkably expensive pair of Asics, together with super feet insoles. But I don’t mind spending money on those things – the cost of shin splints or otherwise wrecking your feet, legs, or back is way too great when you have mountains to climb.

And it turned out to be worth it. Fall finally fell in Central Florida and my new shoes and I went for a 4 1/4 mile run around the lake we live on. The difference between running in 90 and 65 degrees should have been self-evident, but I was still surprised by it. There was a decent breeze that was behind my back for a bit, not a cloud to be seen, and the pink seed casings of the tabebouia trees served as a very acceptable substitute for fall leaves.

Ok, so my left hip now hurts and maybe I really shouldn’t have used my new insoles for the first time on a four mile run against instructions, but whatever.  Letting go of one training routine and opening up some new possibilities – I think that’s the flexibility it’s going to take to get up all 19,500 feet of Cotopaxi.

 

Mount Washington, NH – Fall on the Summit

View from Mount Washington
View from Mount Washington

We are now back in flat Florida following a three day adventure in New Hampshire via Boston (Somerville, to be more exact). After a bumpy flight, we checked into our AirBnB. For those of you not in the know, wannabe hoteliers or innkeepers who have enrolled in the program can let out their spare room – or their whole apartment or house if it’s going to be vacant –  for varying lengths of time and at reasonable rates. Our 20 something daughter had urged us to try it.  Of course, it’s an app. Once we got used to the idea that we were staying in someone else’s temporarily empty studio apartment – surrounded by all their books and other possessions – it worked out well. I guess we should have tried Uber on this trip as well.

A Portuguese breakfast - climbing food?
A Portuguese breakfast – climbing food?

After breakfast at a Portuguese restaurant – which involved cod, shrimp and fish cakes, rice and beans – the husband, the older daughter, her boyfriend and I left rainy Boston for the three hour drive to Jackson.  Our transportation was the boyfriend’s  aged Previa minivan with 168,000 miles, including at least two trans-continental trips. As we got closer to New Hampshire the grey clouds lifted and we entered Jackson under crystal clear blue skies – as well as a city-worthy traffic jam in North Conway. We clearly weren’t the only people with the idea of a long New Hampshire fall weekend.

We stayed at the Inn at Jackson, the former vacation home of the Baldwin family (as in pianos, for you musicians out there). Charming rooms with a very nice communal living room, roaring fire, board games, and all of the things that we Floridians associate with fall in New England. That night we had dinner at The Wentworth, a sprawling hotel coping with what seemed to be an unexpectedly large number of diners.

The Inn at Jackson
The Inn at Jackson

Sunday morning was our summit day. Our hosts had kindly put out breakfast food for us since we were hoping for an early departure – but somehow – due more to the husband and me than the other two members of our party – we still didn’t take off until 30 minutes later than planned – a pattern that unfortunately pervaded the entire climb.

We started from Pinkham Notch visitors center. The boyfriend bought me a three dollar map – which my daughter had said would make me happy. It did that, but more importantly, it actually served a much-needed traditional map function later in the day.

Mount Washington – and the Tuckerman Ravine Trail in particular- is rocky. The first couple of miles consisted of a wide path of semi steep ascents over what looked to be a rocky river bed. The half way point was Hermit Lake Shelter. Ironically, that was the windiest point of the whole day and caused us all to don extra layers that we spent the next few hours shedding. We stopped there for a mid morning snack. We may have been the only people climbing the mountain with a loaf of whole wheat bread, a hunk of cheese, a hunk of salami and a full jar of grey poupon mustard. Oh, and we had some left over GUs from Elbrus.

Below Hermit Lake Shelter
Below Hermit Lake Shelter

We had spectacular weather. Most of what I had read about Mount Washington had focused primarily on the horrible weather and didn’t spend much time at all on the difficulty of the trail. So while we were very prepared – in fact, over prepared – for the weather, we hadn’t actually taken into account the steepness and rockiness of the trail.  After the half way point, we basically spent the next couple of hours scrambling up large boulders, some of which were quite wet from the waterfalls and streams that cross the trail.  We were also slowed by the hordes of international tourists speeding up to the summit in terribly coordinated hiking outfits whom we felt compelled to let pass. In retrospect, we might have been better off had we been less polite.

And speaking of clothes – the ill-fated pants with the dysfunctional zipper (see earlier blog entries) reared their ugly legs again. I swear this was their last excursion. About an hour or so from the summit I realized the pants were constricting my left knee every time I stepped up – to the point I had developed a good sized blue bruise right below my knee. Finally I gave in, recognized the pants for what they were and stripped down to my light weight hiking pants that I had the foresight to wear underneath. My mobility increased enormously.

We finally reached the summit about 2 or so – well later than we should have, given that sunset was at 6:05. Nonetheless, we stopped for a while and had some hot tea in addition to our second meal of salami and cheese. The summit is a total tourist area. There’s a train that chugs its way up there. Others drive up on the “auto road,” and of course there are scores of people who actually climbed. There’s a museum, a gift shop and a snack bar. Remote, it is not.

Finally we started back down. We took Tuckerman Ravine Trail for a little bit, then veered left to the Lion Head trail. All of a sudden the crowds thinned, and the landscape grew wilder.  It was much steeper than the other trail, and marked almost exclusively by stone cairns.   We hiked through tunnels of dwarfed evergreens and slid ourselves down several rock chimneys. A number of the drops were steep enough that the daughter and I resorted to the good old fashioned sit down on your rear method of descent.  At a couple of points the trail seemed to disappear into nothingness at the edge of a cliff – and all of a sudden you’d see a tiny little path down.

Lion Head Trail
Lion Head Trail

Eventually that trail arrives back at Hermit Lake Shelter and rejoins Tuckerman Ravine Trail – at which point we realized we were out of water. We’d made a really stupid mistake of not refilling our bottles  at tourist central at the summit, thinking we had enough. The boyfriend valiantly volunteered to run what we thought was a short distance to the water pump – only to find it wasn’t a very short distance and the pump required numerous pumps before anything came out of it.  By then it was clear the sun was rapidly on its way down and we got out our headlamps to be ready.

We were now off the steeper and more beautiful trail back to the river bed of rocks. Actually there was a real river beside us much of the way. I finally took the lead since down is usually my strong suit – that is, when I am not having to slide down rocks on my rear – and we made extremely good time at first. Still,  the only other people on the mountain  now seemed to be professional trail runners who literally jumped over the rocks like moths flitting from light to light. Once the sun was down, any pretense we’d had to speed was done – one wrong step and turn of the ankle and that would be it.  In the dark it’s easy to question where you are – especially since I had a strong tendency to want to follow the water runoffs – which looked awfully trail like to me – and the daughter seemed to want to turn right regardless of location. The three dollar map became very useful to provide some confirmation we were actually heading in the direction of the lights from the visitors center that occasionally flickered in the distance.

Finally – and almost suddenly – our journey through the night ended and there we were at the Previa. Injuries :  some blisters – daughter and boyfriend; bruises – daughter and me (both banging legs on rocks and pants injury). Damaged equipment – somehow the daughter’s hiking pole had flipped open, the bottom part fell off, and she didn’t notice until we were at the bottom! She said it had seemed a little shorter. A Black Diamond, no less.  Rewards: meeting a challenge head on with a team that included not just the husband and me but the daughter and boyfriend. When the husband and I are old and grey and sitting by the fire I hope they’ll remember we weren’t always that way.

So, lessons learned.   In the broader scheme of things the husband and I remembered we really like sheer mountain climbing better than rock climbing – which can still sometimes trigger my innate fear of heights.  We are rethinking the Grand Teton and are now seriously thinking again about Cotopaxi in Ecuador. It’s another almost 20,000 foot glaciated mountain that is awfully appealing.

And on the smaller scale of things we were reminded that you can make stupid mistakes on even 6200 foot mountains and regardless of how many you’ve climbed. You’ve got to be humble in the face of a mountain.