24 August 2010

23 years young

One year to go.  Stephen starts his 5th & final year of college tomorrow.  He's already completed most hours to earn a bachelor's degree, but he was given an opportunity to earn a Master's degree with just an additional year of classes.  I have mixed emotions about the whole deal.  On one hand, my checkbook would love to see that little expense over & done with.  On the other hand, I am elated to see that he has done so well and will graduate with tremendous potential.  As parents, we tend to worry about our children as they grow up.  Will they do well in life?  Will they be successes?  Will they find love?  Will they ever move out?  I've always been a closet worrier about him and how he will do out in the real world.  Did we teach him enough?  Did we shelter him too much?  Momma is constantly worried about her baby and how he is doing.  

It was during Stephen's first stint as an intern in Seattle three years ago that I stopped worrying about him.  Oh sure, he was only 2440 miles from home living in an apartment with four other college students for the entire summer.  No car.  Half a country away.  No direct parental support.  Not sure who grew up more back then.  At one point during this gig, his girlfriend flew up to visit with him for a week (her parents really like him).  Boat tours, duck rides, climbed Mt Rainer.  The trip went very well for the both of them and they got to see a lot of the Pacific Northwest region.  It was during the departure to the airport that chaos ensued.  Seems that girlfriend left her purse on the bus which contained such minor items like her driver's license, plane tickets, credit cards, etc. on the bus to the airport.  She had no ID, no money, no way to get on the plane to Houston.  Normally, this could have been a minor inconvenience, but Stephen was also due to fly out of town to Minneapolis for a company trip.  This is a situation that with my experience all sorts of back up plans would have kicked in, but I was in Milwaukee on an audit and totally out of the loop and they were on their own.  Between the two of them, they came up with a plan.  He gave her his apartment keys and his credit card and put her back on the bus to the apartment and got on his flight to Minnesota.  She was able to regroup, call the bus company and discovered they had found her purse with nothing missing.  She was able to catch another flight home the following day safe & sound.  Of course, just to give me more gray hair, the same time I was flying out of Milwaukee, Stephen was heading to the airport to fly back to Seattle on the same day of the I35 Bridge collapse.  After all that drama, I figured that those two had a pretty darned good bead on life and didn't need my help. 

Tomorrow marks his 23rd year on this rock.  We were planning a road trip to Austin next week to visit with him, but some issues have arisen to keep us close to home.  In the meantime, we have mailed him a gift and called in a decadent delivery of cookies/brownies from Tiff's Treats.  My suggestion was a basket of beer but that idea got voted down. 

Happy birthday, son.  Make the most out of life.   

21 August 2010

I stand alone

Ever have one of those random memes that has been rattling around in your brain that just can't seem to get legs?


I love to drive.  I prefer driving from border to border on the open road.  I've driven from Houston to Orlando to Colorado Springs to Branson to El Paso to St Louis to Columbus.  I've even knocked off a few kilometers on the Autobahn in Germany (those Germans know how to build a road).  I enjoy watching the scenery as the miles pass.  I always try to imagine what is down those side roads or how certain towns/roads/rivers got their name.  On the stretch from Houston to San Antonio, there is one creek named "Woman Hollering Creek" that always causes me to ponder the meaning.  My dream is that, one day, when life slows down, I can to take those detours and side trips. 

Ever since my son enrolled in school several years ago, we have been making the 160 mile road trip to/from on a regular basis.  There are two ways to get to Austin:  1) the southern route (I10 to Highway 71) and the northern route (Beltway 8 to 290).  Both are about the same distance.  Both will get you to Austin City limits in about 2.5  hours.  Both roll through the Texas countryside and several small towns.  I prefer the southern route as it seems (to me) to have less traffic and you spend most of your time driving through the countryside.  I've done this route so many times, I know exactly how far each point is to town and where to stop (or not stop).  Along the route, about a 2/3 of the way to Austin, along 71 north of La Grange, there is this one lone tree that stands by itself in a pasture.  A live oak standing out amongst the cactus and scrub grass.  It is a good 200 yards away from any other trees.  I have always been intrigued by it as I pass.  I have been trying to take a picture of it on several occasions but I am either in a hurry or are hauling the trailer and a pack of dogs.  A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to do a short run to Austin to help out my son (car problems and moving).  Great visit, but worked my tail off.  On the trip back, I took the opportunity to stop along the highway and take a few shots of the tree.  I'm definitely no Ansel Adams, but I've always dreamed of being a photographer.    

19 August 2010

The meat of life

Ah, where would we be without the internet?

17 August 2010


Life is all a matter of perspective. 

16 August 2010

Here I go again

Be careful what you ask for.  You just might get it.  Got this ditty in my in box this morning:

Registration Confirmation for:

2011 Aramco Houston Half Marathon


You have been selected in the lottery and you are now registered for the 2011 Aramco Houston Half Marathon.

Your Visa card has been charged $145.00 and you will or should have already received an additional email receipt from our registration provider MarathonGuide.com. Please note that credit card charges on your statement will appear as "MarathonGuide.com".

Thank you for your donation to Houston SPCA.

Visit our web site for travel and hotel information and updates for the 2011 events:

Looks like I stuck my foot in it again.  Come January, I'll probably be questioning my sanity.  166 days and counting...

15 August 2010

In for a penny....

in for a pound (or more like $145).

Did the needful.  Signed two weeks ago early on July 27th.  The race has now set up a lottery system where you sign up on mid July and take your chances on getting picked for the race.  For a mere $95 (1/2 Marathon) gets you the privilege of earning a few blisters on the streets of Houston in January ($115  for the Full).  We are not supposed to find out if we got a slot until this Tuesday (08/17) but my credit card just got tagged for the $145 registration fee ($95 for 1/2, $50 for my selected charity - SPCA), so I'm assuming that I'm in for the 2011 race.  If you are a marathon veteran (completed 10 or more Marathons), you are guaranteed an automatic spot.  The only other way to lock in a spot is to sign up to raise $$$ for specific charities.  I don't mind donating to a good cause, but I hate to solicit off others for my cause (even though many have done it to me).

Still, I will have to wait until Tuesday for a solid confirmation. 

Feet don't fail me now...

10 August 2010

Potty talk

For those who were curious about life on the trail, I just wanted to enlighten everyone as to some of the logistics when hiking the trails & back woods at Philmont.  

Bear bags - yes there are bears at Philmont.  Actually, there are a lot of wildlife you may encounter out on the trail - deer, raccoon, bobcat, skunk, bear, but the most prevalent are "mini-bears" (aka Chipmunks).  Sneaky little critters who have been at Philmont for decades, so they know how things run.  They know that young scouts tend to carry tasty treats in their packs and, if you are patient enough, someone will leave there gear lying around for you to explore.  Mini-bears are notorious for chewing through a backpack in search of food. 

Because of occasional bear are always trying to forage for food, everyone is trained to hang all "smellables" up at night.  Bears are attracted to certain sweet smells like food, powdered drink mix, deodorant, bug spray, sunscreen, toothpaste, soap, etc.  Even things like film, medicine, batteries & duct tape have a certain smell that seems to attract bears.  Anything that falls in to the "smellable" category, goes up in the bear bag at night.  Surprisingly, a bunch of smelly, dirty scouts don't attract much attention.  When in doubt, put it in the bear bag at night.  The one thing you don't want to deal with at night is having a bear think your tent is a pinata.   


Now, let's discuss facilities.  Some asked the question what we do on the trail without running water.  Philmont is not a bunch of scouts running around digging cat holes all over the ranch (although, sometimes you have to answer the call of nature if you are on the trail between camps).   

Red Roof Inn @ Lover's Leap camp

A lot of the "finer establishments" are the Red Roof Inns.  These permanent outhouses come in either single or double occupancy.  Most are located adjacent to camps and are build out of cedar and red tile shingles.  Definitely first class accommodations on the trail. 
Older Red Roof Inn @ Clear Creek camp

One thing you might notice is the preponderance of sticks around the outside of the inn. Those are there for a purpose. The trick we are taught that sometimes, out in the back country, small critters (aka spiders) love to find places to hide out and you need to take a stick to kinda, clear the landing zone before your approach. 
Pilot to Bombardier @ Crooked Creek camp

When you get away from the main camp and deep into the back woods, then you find some of the more basic models available.  They typically come in three versions: 
  1. Pilot (single seater) - typically a simple box with seat/lid
  2. Pilot to Co-Pilot (double seater) - typically a larger box with two seats side-by-side
  3. Pilot to Bombardier (double seater) - typically a larger box with two seats back to back. 

Another Pilot to Bombardier @ Cypher's Mine camp
And, yes, that is perched on the side of a hill 30 feet up

One might note that a few of these "facilities" do lack for a bit of privacy.  While they are not right out alongside the trail, some are located in areas that might afford you a grand view of things.  I do recall one or two that had a spectacular view of the mountains.  Sorta gives new meaning to "front row seating". 
PTB @ Cimaroncito camp

PTB @ Tooth of Time camp

05 August 2010

Day 12 (epilogue)

Heading home. Long drive, lots of road time.  Nice time to catch up on the news, read your 10 million e-mails, read a book, sleep or just reflect on what we've accomplished.  Take a breather before we jump back into the rat race. 

Interesting to see how just a few days off the grid can change your perspective. 

In the beginning...

Trail's end

You tend to miss certain things on the trail.  On our last outing, my fantasy since day three was Mexican food.  Trail meals are ok, but after a while, it gets old.  I kept thinking about what I was going to eat when we got off the trail.  Made a game of it with the boys by describing my exact order in detail (chicken fajitas, flautas with fresh guacamole, charro beans, followed by a pitcher of frozen margaritas).  By the end of the trek, I had the entire crew jonesing for Mexican food.

04 August 2010

Day 11+

Base camp!

Hot showers!
Indoor plumbing!
Hot meals you don't have to sump!
A Laundromat with washer & dryers!
A soft mattress/cot to sleep upon!
Ice Cream at the trading post!
No more "Pack On!"
No more "Anybody Not Ready?"

Once the crew hits the back gate, after the obligatory pictures and childish celebrations there's a rush to camp to get signed in off the trail. Lots of logistical stuff to do that I won't bore you with. The crew has the rest of the day to check in and decompress from 10 days on the trail.  Maybe it is the sense of accomplishment from completing the long trail or all of the trail work and hiking, but at this point you tend to feel like Superman and can take on the world.   

After unloading gear, taking a hot shower, eating lunch (not necessarily in that order), its off to the trading post or to tour Villa Philamonte (Wade Phillip's home) or the Philmont museum. If there is time, you might hit the laundromat to clean some of the gear, but it tends to get crowded.  Final closing campfire is tonight where everyone is awarded their Arrowhead patch.   

One more early wake up tomorrow morning for the long ride home. 
Ice down the beer, fire up the grill, put the dogs out.  Honey, we're heading home....

Day 11

Tooth of Time!

Last day on the trail.  Should be an early wake up - up at 0430 to hike/climb up to the top of the Tooth in the dark and watch the sun come up over Texas.  Beautiful vista.  Spectacular views.  Afterwards, pack up camp and head to base camp. About a 2-3 hour trek but seems longer with all of the switchbacks along the trail. 

Hi Mom!

Climbing up to the top is a challenge, even in the daylight.  Lots of boulders to climb over.  No set trail to the top, so you have to find your way up.  Once you hit the top, pick out a spot and sit back and get ready for the show.  If the weather cooperates, you will get a fantastic view of the sun rising in the east and watch as it paints the landscape with its fiery colors. 

By dawn's early light

Happy campers

Elevation Marker for the Tooth of Time
9003 feet

Lady Bugs

Scrambling up to the top

Once we've had our fill, we scramble back down the slope, break camp, load up our packs and head toward base camp.  Not a long trail.  Only 3.5 miles (a walk in the park) and all down hill, but it has a bazillion switchbacks, half of which I think were just put there to tease you as you head in towards camp.  Seems like whomever designed the trail wanted to prolong the experience.  Finally, after 10 days, countless one pot dinners, sumping your meals, hanging bear backs and humping your entire gear over 72++ miles, you have made it back to civilization.     

03 August 2010

Day 10

Push day

As we used to say in the Army, one day and a wake up!

Today is long/hard trail. Hike up through Hidden Valley (optional side hike) then down to Clark's Fork Camp, then a hard up hill push up to Shaffer's Pass and out along the Tooth Ridge. Depending upon the trail they take and any side hikes, it could be anywhere from 9-12 miles to reach the Tooth Campsites.  If they plan it right and the weather is good, they could eat breakfast at Window Rock. 

Panoramic view from Window Rock

Cathedral Rock & Cito Lake

Bad news is that it is a long day with a steep climb to Shaffer's Pass. Good news is tomorrow at this time they will be back in base camp buying ice cream and souvenirs. This is the last hard day for the crew and that is both exciting and exhausting. They should be looking forward to the return trip to camp and "enjoying" their final day on the trail. One more night of sleeping on the ground and hanging bear bags. Lots of stories to tell and pictures to share.

Clark's Fork

Once they hit Shafer's pass and take a lunch break, they can tackle the Ridge Trail.  A rugged trail that runs along the ridgeline from Shafer's Peak down to the Tooth.  Not a hard trail, but it is long and you spend a lot of time crossing boulder fields.  After about 3 hours of scrambling and rock hoping, you finally reach the base of the Tooth.  Should be   Last day is normally an early wake up, hike to the top of the Tooth and watch the sun come up over Texas. Great sight. Spectacular views. Afterwards, pack up camp and head to base camp. About a 2-3 hour trek but seems longer with all of the switchbacks along the trail.

Looking back towards Mount Phillips

Looking east to the Tooth of Time

After about 3 hours of scrambling and rock hoping, you finally reach the base of the Tooth. Should have plenty of time to set up camp a hike to the top of the Tooth of Time for a view of Philmont.  The Tooth of Time looks like an old molar and is the predominantlandmark that seen when you approach Philmont.  It is a rocky escarpment that sticks out over the eastern foothills of the rancy.  It is in all of the logos for Philmont.  When a crew completes their trek, they earn an arrowhead patch that has the Tooth of Time outlined.  Not all treks wind up on the Tooth.  Some will cross it in passing, others will only see it from afar.  We tend to pick a trek that allows you to camp out at the base and catch the sunrise on the last day on the trail before you head into camp.  To me, the Tooth symbolizes the milestone of completing your journey at Philmont.

02 August 2010

Day 9

It's hard to imagine that we've been on the trail for 9 days.  No TV, no radio, no paper, no Internet, no cell phones, no blackberry.  We are fairly isolated and have no clue as to what is going on in the rest of the world.  Ronald Reagan died during our 2004 trek and we did not get the news until we hit base camp.  As hard as it might seem, life seems to move at a slower pace when you don't get your news 24/7 and sometimes ignorance is bliss. 

Also at this stage, we've transitioned from counting the number of days on the trail to counting how many days are left (2 more).  For the boys, they are looking forward to getting back home to their games and electronics, for some of us old farts, we tend to dread going back to lawn mowing and bill paying and other normal adult "games".   

Today is a medium hike but they've got a lot of ground to cover.  Up early and out on the trail.  They can follow two trails down to the old hunting lodge and then hook a left up to Webster Park.  4.8 to 5.2 miles depending upon which trail they take with pretty much the same elevation change for both.  Drop about 1500 feet on the first half of the trek and make it up on the back end with about a 1.5 mile climb of 900 feet.  My preference is the opposite - get your up hill work in early and make the back half a downhill walk to camp, but you have to take the trail God gives you. 

The trek down to the hunting camp should be a nice & easy one.  One path is pretty much a jeep road along the Middle Fork (boring), the other is along North Fork and it is in a narrow canyon that looks like something out of Jurassic Park.  Great trail, lots of rocks to scramble over, several stream crossings.  Should not take long to cover the 3+ miles to the Hunting Lodge. 

They will typically stop there for lunch and a quick tour of the lodge.  This was the original hunting lodge of Waite Phillips who owned most of Philmont and donated it to the Boy Scouts in 1941.  It's been renovated, but still has most of the style and features back went Waite used to to bring up guests and family to hunt. 

From here, they have a short hike up to Webster Park to set up camp.  

As long as they stick to the schedule, they should make camp by 1300.  Plenty of time to set up camp and have time to take care of business. 

More than likely, a few will be tasked to hike down through Cimaroncito and north to Ute Gulch for a food run.  Ute Gulch is one of the back country commissaries/trading posts where you can resupply food, fuel, TP, and pick up a few souvenirs (or trail snacks) plus drop off letters & post cards to home.  It's always nice to send a letter home to the family and we encourage the boys to do so, but trying to get a 14 year old boy to fill out a post card to mom while on the trail is like trying trying to nail jello to a tree.  And don't expect quick mail service.   I've dropped off letters/post cards from the back country only to have them arrive 1 week after I get home.   

At this point, the rest of the crew can lay out in camp and enjoy the rest, hike down to Cimaroncito to take a shower, take a side hike to the Hidden Valley, or try their hands at some rock climbing/rappelling.  Some will try to dry out their stuff from the occasional downpour. 

01 August 2010

Day 8

The Stomp!

Today's a long/hard trail.  By this time of the morning, the crew is probably halfway up the trail to Phillips. 

Today they have a hard climb up out of Clear Creek, over the top of Phillips and then down into Cypher's Mine.  About 6-7 miles (baring any detours or side hikes) and a hard initial climb up to Phillips (11,700 ft). With a good, steady pace, they should make the top of Phillips before noon. This will be the highest point on Philmont that the crew will achieve during their trek.  Now, while I have always tried to keep the electronics off the trail, I am sure that a few have squirreled away a cell phone or two and may try to make calls from the top.

On top of Mount Phillips

Taking a break on the top

Looking out east

Once they cross the top and take time for pictures/lunch/rest, they will begin a gradual descent down to Cypher's Mine camp.  This camp is a old-fashioned mining camp where they can pan for gold, tour the mine, practice some blacksmithing, and participate in the "Stomp". That's a general dance/show done every night in the staff cabin. Pretty neat show. Also, I believe that the crew will have an opportunity to sleep in a lean-to so that means no tents tonight (although they may prefer tents).

Cypher's Mine Cabin