An Afternoon Walk at Carley State Park

A budding tree

“What should we do tomorrow afternoon,” questioned my husband on a Saturday evening in mid-April.

            “I think it is too early for bluebells to be blooming,” I answered thoughtfully, “but it might be fun to hike again at Carley State Park. We haven’t been there in a really long time.” Carley State Park is only about eight miles from where we live so it is a local activity.

            The next day dawns cloudy and cool. The temperature barely touches the low 50s. Not willing to abandon our plans, I check the weather radar on my cell phone climate app. The forecast calls for a 15% chance of rain all day, but the radar shows that green morning splash that touches the screen as sliding off the display by two p.m. Maybe there is still hope for our plans.

            Claire, our dog, barks as we both put on our jackets and then eagerly jumps into the back seat of the car. She knows something exhilarating is happening. Tiny splashes of water dash the windshield as we start towards town. Ugggh… It is still trying to rain. Well, we are going to plow ahead in spite of the windshield wipers flapping back and forth. I am hoping that we will have the trails and the park all to ourselves.

            A gently curving route leads into the entry area. We follow the right road split to the vicinity where a little DNR cabin used to sit. The cabin is gone. All that remains is a small kiosk at which to register. Apparently, it has been a lot longer than I thought since we were last here. The small parking area which I remember as usually being empty is full of cars. That’s strange. Is there a special event today, I wonder? We wind our way down the forested gravel lane to the lower-level parking area. This parking lot is full as well. I don’t think there is anything special today. I guess people have nothing else they can do in the midst of the Covid pandemic. This state park used to be pretty much empty when we visited in prior years. Since the gate is closed to the camping area, I pull up to it and park in front of it. Afterall, there is no “NO Parking” sign. My hubby, the rule follower, doesn’t say a word. Claire is excitedly prancing around – ready for a new adventure.

            We choose the path along the north branch of the Whitewater River which gurgles and loops slowly through the park. The sky still hangs heavy, but the misty rain has stopped. The trail has a dark brown firm mud underlay from the numerous footsteps that have traversed its length since the recent rain. The trees are just starting to shoot out their buds and the underfloor of the forest is covered with green. Carley SP is known for its bluebells in spring, but I think we are just a couple of weeks early. Many of the plants have purple buds peeking from their green but they have not fully opened. A few shoots display fine cone shaped white blossoms. The day is perfect for a walk such as this. Claire eagerly sniffs every new smell of this fresh unexplored place. She weaves to the right and then the left and then circles back for another snuffle. She soon puts it in 4-wheel drive and tries to drag me along.

            We leisurely mosey along the narrow trail, sometimes stopping for Dave to take pictures, sometimes stopping off to the side for others to pass. Claire, of course, wants to bark at everyone but she soon settles down and waits quietly when I cling tightly to her harness handle. Soon we come to a double river crossing where it looks like one part is only water filled when the river is high. The river crossings at this park are not bridges but huge concrete steppingstones that have been placed parallel to each other but perpendicular to the flow of the water. One needs to jump from stone to stone to traverse the river while maintaining dry feet. The absence of recent maintenance also means the riverbanks have become eroded leaving the base along the bank muddy. This calls for some ginger stone stepping attempting to miss the mud. Claire is not sure what to do so she wades out into the water for a splash around before clawing her way onto the concrete steps.

            Safely across, we continue our amble through the woods. Soon the trail turns and begins an ascent along the bluff. Hubby and I are panting with the effort. Claire decreases my effort needed as she attempts to drag me along. We climb upward for about ten minutes and then stroll along the ridge for another ¼ mile before the trail begins its decent to the river below again. This river crossing presents a much more challenging dilemma. The erosion along these banks are much more extensive on both sides of the river. Someone has dragged three separate sections of six-inch diameter trees to the riverbank and slid them into place side by side to make a slanted bridge to the first concrete step in the water. This could be hazardous for two sixty something-year-old persons. There is nothing to hang onto, the bridge is uneven, and neither of us have the balance of a younger individual. I wonder for just a moment if we should retrace our steps back the way we have come. But that is an overwhelming thought, so a different plan is needed. Claire is not in the least bit interested in stepping onto that rickety makeshift crossing either, so this also presents a problem. There is no way we can carry her.

            I finally give Claire’s leash to Dave and step out onto the round trees. I quickly realize that I will be in the drink if I try to walk across these logs with nothing to grab onto when I lose my balance on the unsteady surface. There is a larger tree at the bottom of the dip just below the makeshift bridge. Maybe I can walk on that and use the trees for balance. I lower my butt to the threesome of trees and gingerly shuffle partway across the larger tree until I can take a flying leap to the concrete step. Once safely landed, I turn to help retrieve Claire. Dave has ended up sitting on the muddy riverbank and he pushes her towards me on the rounded trees. She quickly gets the idea and comes bounding across. That just leaves Dave to traverse the dangerous crossing. At least, I can extend my hand to him for balance. Like an old pro, Claire leaps from concrete step to concrete steps and scrambles up the muddy three-foot bank on the other side. That just leaves the old people to claw their way up on hands and knees. Well so much for being clean but we are safely across! And we didn’t even fall in the river.

            It is just a short walk along this side of the stream back to the parking area where our chariot waits to ferry us home. But first, we must cap off the day with a Dairy Queen treat.

Celebrating Our 29th Wedding Anniversary

“What should we do to celebrate our wedding anniversary?” questions my husband.

“We can’t go to a movie, eat out, or visit any museums with all the restrictions from Covid,” I reply.

“How about if we go to a different State Park that we haven’t been to before in the southeastern part of the state?

That sounds good to me so the evening before our planned adventure, Gordon researches the various state parks in Southeastern Minnesota and decides upon Beaver Creek Valley State Park close to Caledonia. Neither one has ever heard of it before and we definitely have not visited it before. He prints off some Google directions to help with our navigating.

We decide to take Claire, our puppy, with us for the day. I am beginning to think that we should have a diaper bag ready to take along just like for a baby. We need a water bottle, bowl to drink from, harness, leash, a towel to clean feet, and last but not least, doggie poop bags. By 8 a.m., we have all our supplies gathered and are ready for our conquest.

Deviating from our printed Google directions, we drive to Plainview for our usual Kwik Trip breakfast. Travel continues down Hwy 42 to Kellogg, then south on Hwy 61. We make a stop on Garvin Heights in Winona to give Claire a break. Of course, she instantly leaves her calling card after getting out of the car. Time to use those extra plastic grocery bags.

Not really knowing where we are going, we finally plug the address for Beaver Creek Valley State Park into the GPS. Oh no! Its first command directs us to Interstate 90 and insists that we get on it. No ma’am. We do not want to travel the interstate. We want to take back country roads, so we just keep driving on right over the interstate. The sign says this is County 19. The road travels along I90 for a while then turns south. Soon we find ourselves on a back-country gravel road. The landscape is rolling. Steep bluffs are contrasted with farms nestled in the valley. The trees are just starting to turn color. We wind around the sides of hills, through valleys, and along meadows with herds of beef cattle. Surprisingly, the direction goddess is silent. Now this is more like it. This twisting trailing path we are on takes us almost exactly to the state park after a sidetrack down what looks like a minimally maintained road.

It has been a densely foggy morning. A damp coolness still hangs in the air as we start our stroll across a well-crafted five-foot-wide wooden bridge. The creek gurgles lazily beneath our feet. The blacktop path transitions into a well-worn dirt track. It has rained recently so there are widely spaced mud puddles. Claire is excited and she leans into the body harness dragging me after her. It is all I can do to hold back her thirty pounds powered by four-wheel drive. Us old people behind the dog are much slower. Gordon has been struggling with plantar fasciitis making for a painful hobble at times. Still he is determined to hike and take photos today.

We soon arrive at the first creek crossing. A free-standing bridge is balanced over the water. There are no handrails, just a few wooden slats securely fastened together. Clair eagerly tugs on the leash in her hurry to investigate the flowing water. She has never been near open water before and as part Golden Retriever, Gordon and I suspect she might like water. Soon she wades into the green lilies along the shoreline. What reappears is a dog with four very muddy feet and legs. Ah! This is fun! She must be thinking. Before I can stop her, she rolls upside down in the shallow mud. No…o…o…! Now our cream-colored dog is brown on her back and top of her head. Well there is not much I can do about it right now. Maybe, I will throw her all the way in later. She pads around in the shallower areas of the flowing water until it is time to move on.

The hiking trail runs parallel to the river. Gordon and I stroll slowly along taking in the beauty of the day. Some of the trees are starting to change color. Gordon stops occasionally to take photos. Claire pulls me along with enthusiasm. I am not moving fast enough for her. She finds every small trail that divvies off to the river and turns to try make her way there. After several turns like this, she looks a sight. There are green and brown seed pods clinging to her face, her legs, and her body. What a distressing mess! Claire’s hair is wavy and about two inches long and these, what I call, prickers seem to become well enmeshed deep into the soft, thick layers.

The path we have chosen to walk is about a three-mile round trip. There are two separate loops within the greater circle. We decide to trace both loops. The day warms as the sun burns away the fog and climbs higher. Off comes my coat and then, the sweater. Gordon begins to have pain between his shoulder blades which is not uncommon, so I offer to carry the camera bag and the tripod. Both of us are starting to feel our weariness as we reach the furthest most point in our trek and turn back towards the beginning.

Claire barks robustly and loudly at every person we meet. This is unacceptable. We seem to be able to mitigate this by stopping to sit and be quiet when humans come by. It is harder to bark and lunge while seated on one’s butt. Our stops become more frequent as the number of hikers increases with the passing of the day. She also wades into the gushing water with every creek crossing of which there are many. Finally, there is a splash as she gets brave enough to jump in from one of the bridge crossings. She has lost none of her energy and continues to pull actively, trying to drag me along. The same cannot be said for us. We are moving slower and slower.

As we make our way back to the parking lot, I mark off in my head each segment of the trail as we come to a signpost. We are almost there. Finally, we come to a river crossing that does not seem to have a bridge across it.

“I don’t remember ever crossing open water,” Gordon comments.

“I don’t either,” I agree, “This must not be the right place.”

As we continue along the path, I step on a protruding rock in the path. Without warning, my left ankle turns over and I pitch forward. Claire, who I have been leaning back on trying to slow her forward motion, continues her dive forward. I have no way to stop the forward pitch. I slam into the ground with my right knee first followed by my right arm. The leash handle clatters along the ground before Claire stops and looks questioningly back at me. I lay there stunned. I want to cry. My knee hurts. My arm hurts. The camera bag and the tripod have clobbered me from behind. Gordon rescues me from the extra load. We can hear people coming so I stumble to my feet. I am glad no one saw my ridiculous spill onto the ground. Everything seems intact so we start out on our hike again. We haven’t gone more than a few hundred feet until we meet a lone older gentleman who throws a question our way, “Are you going around again?”

“No,” I reply, “Just trying to get back to the parking lot.”

The man does not say any more but as he moves on, Gordon and I look at each other.

“That’s a strange question. Are we going the wrong way? Did we miss the turn back to the parking lot?”

Now we are totally confused. “I don’t know if we are going the right way.”

“Well, let’s go back to that last crossing again and see if we missed something.”

Disheartened, we turn and trudge back the other direction. Within a few hundred feet, we arrive again at the crossing we had discussed earlier. The bridge we could not see coming from the other direction is now clearly visible off to the right.

“This must be the path back to the car.”

A few hundred more feet and it is evident that we are now going the right way. If we hadn’t met that man who asked a strange question, we would have walked another mile before realizing that we were totally turned around. It reminds me a little of life’s journey. There are others along our walk of life who try to point us in the right way. Sometimes, we don’t pay any attention to the wisdom they are offering us and end up way off course – a difficulty we could have avoided if we had been tuned in.

By now, it is pushing three o’clock in the afternoon and we are thirsty and hungry. Claire has had all the water needed from the river, but we did not remember a water bottle for ourselves.

“Where should we eat?” is the next question of the day.

I grab the local Minnesota county map book that I keep under the car seat. I quickly peruse it. “If we keep going just a few miles south on this road, we should arrive in Caledonia,” I announce, “Let’s see if we can find some fast food there.”

Caledonia turns out to be a good size town with many businesses and several franchise eating joints. We grab some Subway sandwiches and cool refreshing pop and take our treasures back to a city park that I had spied on our way into town. There we have a quiet lunch in the shade of a few trees. It is time to head for home. Our last stop at Dairy Queen in Chatfield is the “icing on the cake” as the saying goes. Time to begin year thirty in our married walk of life.

Grand Marias Glamping August 2020

Friday, August 28, 2020, I awaken to the rumble of thunder. The bedroom is still cloaked in darkness. The digital clock blinks out 6:20 a.m. I still have ten minutes until the alarm goes off but maybe if I get up now, I can get the dog pottied and the steers fed before it rains. The weather report last evening was for heavy rain this morning. As I swing my feet over the edge of the bed, the first pitter patter of raindrops sounds on the steel roof. I am too late to stay dry.

            I grab the umbrella on the way out the door in my pajamas. Water is now pouring from the sky. Claire, our puppy, shakes her head at the deluge. She finally manages to squat to pee. Forget waiting for #2. We flee to the barn. I haven’t figured out how to carry two pails of feed and hold the umbrella at the same time, so I tuck my head and make a dash for the feed box. No animals are in sight to greet me as is their usual routine. Their food is going to be mash mixed with all the water collecting in the trough if they don’t come soon. Even with the umbrella, my t-shirt top and my hair is soaked as Claire and I make the dash back to the house. I scan the pasture for cattle but see none.

            This is how the morning begins of our weekend camping getaway to Grand Marias, Minnesota. The cattle still have not come to eat by the time we head down the drive. The car is put in reverse. We can’t leave if the cattle are missing. That is an ingrained farmer thing. I walk out along the pasture fence looking for those familiar black blobs. There is just a little rise in the landscape so sometimes it is hard to see over it. “Come bossie,” I call, “Come bossie.” Finally, I hear an answering, “Baa!” and as I squint into the morning gloom, a few dark specks emerge from the tree line. Soon, four black creatures are thundering my way. Now we can go. The steers are fine.

            We drop Claire off at “doggy daycare” before heading north. We make our usual traveling breakfast stop at Kwik Trip. I select yogurt, a donut, and a “baby” milk while Dave gathers his breakfast choices. We approach the checkout and pay together while the clerk places the purchases in a plastic shopping bag.

            As we are eating while we drive, Dave says, “Where’s my diet Dr. Pepper?”

            “I don’t know. I didn’t see any Dr. Pepper,” I respond.

            “I am sure I put some on the counter at the checkout,” He insists.

            “I don’t think so,” I reiterate.

            “I must have left it when I picked up my food,” He concludes.

            “We can stop at the next Kwik Trip and buy one,” I reassure him.

            After a few minutes of thoughtful silence, he says, “Check the sales slip. See if she charged for a Dr. Pepper?”

            We are about to take the next Kwik Trip exit as I pull out the receipt and read, “Long John, hash browns, sausage/egg croissant, M&M Peanut butter, skim milk, parfait, and … Dr. Pepper.” There it is. Maybe I should look in the bag at my feet again. I reach in and … sheepishly hold up a bottle of … Dr. Pepper!

            “I thought I was becoming senile,” Dave intones.

            Oh dear, apparently one of us is losing it but it’s not Dave.

            We continue our journey traveling north on Hwy 52. I haven’t set up the GPS as I don’t want it talking to us the whole way. But I have printed out a Google direction sheet just in case. I don’t think we need much help with this part of the trip. We just need to hop onto I35E North until we reach Hwy 61 in Duluth which will take us to Grand Marias, Minnesota. At the last moment, I decide to consult the printed directions to see how to make the connection with 35E. The paper says, “Take the exit on the left to I94 east. Go .7 miles and exit onto 35.” As I look at the road signs coming up, I am confused. The road sign indicates that to catch I35, one needs to go west on I94. This is the right exit, not the left. Should I follow my intuition or the directions in front of me? I foolishly choose to ignore my sixth sense and instruct Hubby to take I94 going east. As soon as we make this turn, I instinctively know we are going the wrong way. I dig through the glove compartment for a real road map while proclaiming, “We are going the wrong way. We need to turn around.” We are old enough to still use those old-fashioned things called roadmaps.

            Dave looks at me incredulously, “You know it’s not that easy.”

            “I know. But according to the map, I35E is west of where we came into 94 so we NEED to turn around.”

            After making a speedy exit and flipping around to the west lanes, we travel just a few miles and there is our correct exit. This experience leads me to one of the strong convictions I hold in life: if you find you are going the wrong way in life, never be afraid to turn around and go the other way.

            We make a couple of stops along the way to Grand Marias. Our plan is to first stop in Duluth at the lift bridge and maybe have a picnic lunch in Canal Park around noon. As we drive around the lakeside, the roads and sidewalks are crowded with people milling about and there does not seem to be anywhere to park let alone have a quiet lunch. We might as well move on. As we are leaving the harbor area and stopped at a stop light, we notice that the road ahead is blocked off so that only the right lane is usable. Besides that, we need to turn right to get back onto the I35 entrance ramp.

            “Put the turbo on and just pull ahead of the pickup in the right lane when the light turns,” I urge my husband who has it ingrained in himself to yield to others no matter how much of an inconvenience our predicament might leave us in. Surprisingly, today though, he stomps on the accelerator and we have no problem pulling ahead of the truck and getting ourselves into the lane we need to be in. But the pickup truck driver sees our actions as a personal affront. “Beep, Beep, Beep!” he lays on the horn over and over again. He rides our bumper for several miles and then exits off the interstate and up a ramp. As we pull away, I see his left arm extended out the driver’s window and his middle finger pointed skyward. I am not sure why driver’s these days are so ready to kill each other for the smallest infractions or actions of others. Oh well, we need to take a deep breath and move on. We stop instead for a quiet picnic lunch at a secluded rest area just off of Hwy 61 north of Duluth.

            We are ready for another leg stretch stop by the time we arrive in Silver Bay. There is a sign for an overlook. We wind uphill and around and around until we arrive at the top of a cliff. After parking, we wind our way around a shady trail through a wooded area. It is a cool, cloudy day and no one else is around. This is how we like it. The trail leads to three separate overlooks. The first one grants a view of Lake Superior and a large iron ore mining company on the shore below. The second overlook provides a view of the layout of Silver Bay. The third overlook gives a different vantage point from the other two. The views are breathtaking in their magnitude.

            I decide it is time to plug the address of Hungry Hippie Hostel into the GPS. They are located on a township road about eight miles east of Grand Marias. It has been advertised on the internet as having great views of Lake Superior. As we drive up the road towards the establishment, we seem to get further and further away from the lake. We are somewhat disappointed as we pull into the driveway around 4:30 p.m. as all we can see is trees.

            “There is no way we can see the lake from here,” declares Dave.

            The owners are expecting us and direct us to drive around to the back parking lot and haul our stuff with a little wagon to the first “glamping” tent that we come to. I have no idea what “glamping” means so I look it up on the internet. According to Wikipedia, “glamping is a hybrid of ‘glamorous’ and ‘camping’, and describes a style of camping with amenities and, in some cases, resort-style services not usually associated with ‘traditional’ camping.” Our “glamping” tent here is an open front canvas shelter erected on a raised wooden platform. Inside is a mattress and box spring ready for sleeping. When I registered, I thought this would be unique but still be tent camping without the sleeping on the ground. My expectations on this, though, don’t begin to meet the standards of a similar style abode we stayed in in Africa in 2013. That one was a full-scale bedroom with all around mosquito netting. It also had a full bathroom and shower, all inside a large canvas tent. That’s what I call glamorous.

Back here in the real camping world of Minnesota, there are three glamping tents and they are quite close together and out in the open. Inside, there is a mosquito screen and a privacy sheet covering the area where the bed is located. The problem is, they have left no room to stand to dress, undress, or even get into bed in the “bedroom.” How are we supposed to undress and get ready for bed in a 3-sided open room with wide open views of the outdoors? Dave does some moving around of hanging clips and designs a small “dressing room” with the privacy curtain.

View of Lake Superior from our Tent

            As we look out our south tent opening to the horizon way off in the distance, surprise of surprises, is a spectacular view of Lake Superior. This view is tempered by the huge freshly dug unfinished mound septic system in the foreground just 100 feet from the opening of our tent. Seriously?! To say I am disappointed is putting it mildly. I can’t say it makes for photographic delights either, but here we are. We might as well enjoy it the best that we can.

            We drive back to Grand Marias in search of supper. What shall we eat in this time of Covid-19? There are few indoor dining places. Most dining out is done by ordering on-line, by phone, or in-person for pickup. We finally decide on tacos from Hungry Hippies Taco, an establishment owned by the same people who own the tenting grounds. We don our masks to order and then enjoy our much too spicy food at a small table out front.

            Then it is time to head back to our home-away-from-home. The day has been cloudy and cool throughout. We sit on the wooden steps outside our tent and watch the sky. There are two plastic chairs to use but mine already has a crack and Dave’s weight adds a crack to the other one. Now we are afraid to sit on either of them. As we talk by the light of one solar powered Ball Jar light, rain drops begin to splatter on our heads.

            “Let’s make one last trip to the bathroom before it starts pouring,” I suggest.

            The rain has picked up as we exit the bathroom. It is a good 400 feet back to our tent.

            “I am going to run,” I inform Dave who is slowly limping his way back. My running in the dark over rough ground is more like a slow stumble. I can never be quite sure when the ground might come up to meet me. By the time I hit the wooden steps of our strange home, it has started to pour. We might as well get ready for bed and climb in. At least it will be warm and dry there . . . I hope. This tent leaves much to be desired especially in a rainstorm. There is no flap to let down in front, so water is splashing in. I move the suitcase, our coolers, and clothes as far back in as possible. We hurriedly get ready for bed and tumble our 60 something bodies onto the mattress and skootch down into the sleeping bag. As we lay there in the dark and listen to the continuing of the pouring rain, mist droplets splash on our faces from above. Uh oh! I hope this tent repels water. Oh well, there is not much we can do about it if it doesn’t. Maybe it will stop raining soon. When I get up to traipse to the bathroom at 3 a.m., the sky is sprinkled with a million twinkling stars. We are still relatively dry, and the mattress is actually a pretty comfy bed.

Devil’s Kettle

            Breakfast is at 7:30 a.m. I have brought along most of our food which was a good decision. The menu consists of hard-boiled eggs and gluten-free coffee cake. We are ready to start our adventures by 8:15 a.m.  Judge C.R. Magney State Park is just a few miles east of where we are staying. Our goal at the state park is to hike to the Devil’s Kettle. The Devil’s Kettle contains two waterfalls. One cascades into a deep pothole with what seems like no outlet. The other side splashes fifty feet into a pool before continuing down the Brule River to Lake Superior. The park map shows the Kettle and the falls to be a mile hike. Even though it is still cloudy, the temperature is in the 50s. It is a beautiful morning and perfect for trekking. Most of the path angles upwards with some steep steps along the way. At least it will be all downhill on the way out. Not many people are around yet, so we pretty much have the viewing platforms for drinking in the beauty of the falls to ourselves. It takes us about two hours to make the round trip back to the car.

            From there, we follow Hwy 61 further northeast to Grand Portage State Park. Grand Portage State Park straddles the US/Canadian border. I would have liked to go further north into Canada to Thunder Bay where there is another glorious waterfall, but no one is being allowed to cross the border due to the Covid-19 epidemic. The falls here at Grand Portage is only a ½ mile hike. Most of the path is made of blacktop or is a boardwalk so is much easier to traverse. Dave’s left knee and his feet are hurting him, so our hike is rather slow. The viewing platforms here are much more crowded. The waterfall is glorious in all its splendor, but we do not stay long due to the number of people waiting. The sun has begun to peak through the clouds asking me to take off my sweater. It is still quite cool and windy.

Grand Portage Falls

            My plan was to eat our lunch here at the state park, but we decide instead to seek out a quieter place. We drive just a couple of miles back down Hwy 61 to the Grand Portage overlook. There are several empty picnic tables here. The wind calls for holding down the plates and food with one hand while eating with the other. We enjoy sandwiches and chips for sustenance. The view of Lake Superior from here is fantastic. One can see for miles.

            Dave would really like to do some beach combing so I keep my eyes open for a stopping spot that might offer that activity along the shore of Lake Superior. I finally spy the Kadunce River Wayside Rest which seems to offer a pebble covered northern Minnesota kind of beach. There is even still a parking place for us. A fair number of people linger along the shoreline. As Dave does his exploring for unique colored rocks, I find a spot to sprawl out and rest.

Kaduce River Wayside Rest

            Around 3 p.m., we decide to head for Grand Marias to finish our day there. As we walk to the car, Dave pats his shirt pocket and then stops, “I am missing my phone.” A panicked tone takes over his voice, “Where did I lose my phone? All my numbers are in there.”

            At this point, I am sure all is not lost. I am sure it can be found. It must be in the car or back at the tent. My confidence is not contagious though as Dave is disturbed and agitated over this loss. The joy of the day is gone for him. But there is nothing we can do about it right now so we might as well continue with our plans.

            I do a thorough search of the car when we arrive in Grand Marias but there is no sight of the missing phone. Our plan is to walk out to Artist’s Point and then to the lighthouse on the pier. It is not just a simple walk to either of these places. The path to Artist’s Point switches back and forth from tree-root tripping to rock jumping and traverses in all directions depending on how the multitude of prior travelers wished to go. We eventually come out on the big flat rock that overlooks the lake. Sailboats and smaller watercraft dot the sparkling lake. We retrace our steps over the treelined path and head west to the lighthouse. This is not really a path, but a deteriorating seawall built to protect the Grand Marias harbor. Walking on top of it is how we navigate our way to the lighthouse. We turn away as we pass others going back towards the town. Afterall, we don’t want to breathe on anyone.

Grand Marias from the Lighthouse

Dave’s heart is no longer in exploring as he is too distracted by his phone loss, so we soon head back to the campground. We pick up Subway sandwiches to take back to the tent to eat. My first order of business is to search high and low through the tent and along the path to it but there is no phone to be found. We might as well kiss it good-bye. Dave surmises that it got pushed out of his shirt pocket while accessing his camera bag sometime during our day. It could be just about anywhere. And of course, it is an older flip-phone style and it is turned off so even if someone finds it, they won’t have a clue how to go about contacting us.

The sun has finally chased all the clouds away and a clear sky soon exhibits a climbing moon that is almost full. As dusk deepens, the moon casts long bright shadows on the surface of Lake Superior. Dave sets up his camera and takes some shots. The evening is windless, quiet and peaceful. I sit and read my Kindle while Dave peruses some magazines. The temperature has dropped into the shivering zone. We both begin to put on more clothing – first a sweater, then a coat but we are still cold. We might as well go to bed. Dave climbs in fully clothed. I have added a long-sleeved turtleneck to my winter pajamas. Our night remains restless. Dave is not sleeping well anyway due to not being able to use his CPAP. There is no electricity here and I listen to him wake himself up every few minutes due to obstructing. I continue to be cold and my left hip causes pain all the way to my ankle when I lie on my side. Who ever thought old people should go tent camping? So much for glamorous!

The Moon Reflected on Lake Superior

I think I do get in a few hours of sleep because before I know it, it is 6:30 a.m. We might as well get up and get moving. Dave wants to go back to Judge C.R. Magney State Park to see if maybe someone has found his phone. I don’t think the park is staffed and therefore, I think it is a lost cause but since we are here, there is nothing to be lost by checking before leaving.

The dew is heavy this morning and because we have no flap on the front of the tent, everything is wet. I tried to move the coolers as far inside as possible last evening and then laid my phone, hearing aide, and clothes on a towel. Dave also threw a towel over his camera. I thought our possessions would be fine. But everything is completely wet. I am dismayed. I can only hope the electronics still work. I shiver while I get into my damp wet clothes. Amazingly, my phone and the camera work after some drying off but my hearing aid only emits a long continuous screeching. Guess that won’t be of any help. I can only hope that it will dry out and then work. I guess I will be deaf if that is not successful.

We have a short breakfast of the remaining hard-boiled egg, banana, and coffee cake and then hurriedly throw everything in the car. No one is around at the office to Judge Magney SP and we can’t find anyone at the maintenance building. This is an exercise in futility. We might as well go home. At least, my hearing aid has started to work again.

Traveling west and south on Hwy 61, we stop at Temperance State Park. I don’t think we have ever been to this park. A short walk brings us to Hidden Falls. It is a waterfall tucked back into a crevice between two large rock walls. One can hardly see it. The map shows another falls a mile upriver. I don’t think either one of us is up to a two mile walk today so we opt to drive north on Temperance Road and enter the trail closer to the falls. We are alone on the trail which calls for stepping over tree roots, climbing up and down rocks, and balancing over water holes. We question several times if we are going the wrong way but eventually, we actually do find two separate small waterfalls. It is approaching 10 a.m. and time to get moving on our way home. At least we are warmed up now from the activity.

Temperance River Falls

Our chosen route home takes us into Wisconsin at Duluth. We find a park by Superior Bay to eat our lunch then head down Wisconsin Hwy 53. This allows us to avoid the very busy traffic of the twin cities. I take over the driving as Dave is falling asleep from his lack of sleep these last two nights. We end our journey with a Dairy Queen treat in Wabasha, MN. And tomorrow, I need to shop for a new cell phone for Dave.

Monday, I begin my day by visiting the Verizon store in Rochester. I am hoping I can pick up a phone similar to what Dave had. I have picked one out on-line that looks to be of slightly better quality.

“Can I help you?” questions the young man behind the desk without even looking at me.

I explain to him our situation. “Do you have one of these phones?” I point to the one I have on my printed paper.

“No, we don’t carry it here. They might have one at one of the other stores in Rochester.”

He makes no attempt to check if any of the other stores carries this style of cell phone. “Could you call them and see?” I plead.

He shrugs, “I can’t. They don’t have any phones.”

I look at him dumbfounded. Verizon cell phone stores that have no phones to call each other! Such a helpful salesperson. I am becoming more and more frustrated. I am not about to run all over town. I will just go home and order it over the internet.

The new phone arrives in two days. I am able to activate it without a problem and low and behold, it automatically downloads all of Dave’s prior contacts. One couldn’t ask for a better outcome.

Five weeks later, Dave is sorting through his camera bag looking for some accessories that he would like to use in a photography project. He pulls out a small black object.

“Well, I found my cell phone,” he calls up the stairs. “I remember now what happened. I put the phone in my camera bag one evening so it wouldn’t get wet or lost when we were in Grand Marias. I feel so stupid. I never thought of it once until now.”

Seriously?? All that and the phone has been riding in his camera bag the whole time. Oh well, I have done the same thing before as well – put something away securely so it would be safe and then can’t remember where that might be. He likes his new phone better anyway.

An Over The Hill Lady Tackles That Deck Maintenance

“We should re-stain the deck,” comments my hubby while gazing out the large bay window at the birdfeed cluttered deck. It has been a few years and the green-treated boards are becoming dark and mildew coated.

Staining the deck is not a job I have ever desired to do. In the past, I have always hired someone for deck maintenance, but it cost us $800 to $1000 each time. Now I do not have that kind of money. Being retired has its perks but having lots of money is not one of them. As I think about this prospect, I begin to relent. Maybe I could do the job. I could rent a high-pressure washer to clean and prepare the wood and buy a paint sprayer to stain it. That doesn’t seem so difficult. I begin to search on-line researching the products needed to clean the wood, exploring the various stains available, and investigating the many different choices in paint sprayers. I decide on a specific sprayer and order it.

On a beautiful summer day in July, I motor over to the local hardware store to rent the high-pressure gas-powered washer. The temperature is predicted to be in the mid-80s with fairly low humidity. It should be a great day for this job. I am hoping I can fit the piece of equipment into my Subaru SUV.

“How do you start this?” I ask the store employee who is helping me with the rental.

“Well here is the throttle. Here is the choke. And here is the on/off button,” she reiterates and instructs me. “And then of course, you pull the start cord.”

 No problem. I get it. I have started many a gas engine before. I am sure I can do this. We do struggle to get the washer to fit into the back of my vehicle. It is just a few inches too tall. Laying it down would result in all the gas leaking out so we prop it up tentatively on the wheel well projection – maybe it will stay there for six miles.

I arrive home with only one stop to re-prop my unsteady piece of equipment. Once home, I check the gas tank. Looks good. Then I hook up the water hose. The water seems to run all over out another hose that extends from the side, so I shut off the spigot again – just until I can get it started. Now to pull the rope. At first, it sticks, and the wheel doesn’t want to spin the engine. But then, it lets loose, and I pull the rope over and over and over. The heat begins to rise up the back of my neck and I begin to sweat. I fiddle with the throttle. I fiddle with the choke. I turn the on/off button the opposite way until I no longer know which way is on and which way is off. I will be exhausted before I even get this started.

“Where are you working today,” I finally text Hubby. I don’t want to bother him, but I am at my wits end.

 “Elgin,” he answers, “I can come.”

 “I just can’t start this stupid thing,” I text emphatically if that is possible. “Doesn’t even sputter.”

 “Be there soon.”

I sit down to wait and collect my wits. Why did I think this project was a good do it yourself one? Ten minutes roll by before that familiar white pickup comes roaring up the drive with Alex, our employee at the wheel.

Gordon and Alex walk with me around to the back of the house while I expound on my situation. Hubby looks at all the start mechanisms with me while Alex observes from the other side.

“What’s this on/off switch over here?” questions Alex. He is looking at the opposite side of the motor at a small round red knob that is labeled with those words of on and off. He reaches down and turns the knob to on and then grabs the pull rope and gives it a tug. Putt, Putt, Putt goes the engine – just like that.

Now I feel really stupid. And to top it off, I remember that I have forgotten to buy the deck wash when I picked up the washer. That is what that hose is for that is leaking water all over the lawn. It is supposed to go into the cleaning solution. Uggh! Well, time to make a trip back to town. Not only will I be exhausted, but my day will be half gone before I even get started.

A half hour later, I am back with the solution. I decide to start on the outside deck railing. Our deck is twelve to fifteen feet in the air. This means I need to climb a step ladder to direct the high-powered flow of water onto the weathered wood on the outside of the railing. A pull of the trigger and I am jerked backwards by the force of 3000 pounds per square inch of pressure. The water stream splatters specks of dirt in all directions, but this works like a charm. I can see the mildew and dirt peeling off, leaving a bright looking new wood surface.

I move the ladder a few feet each time as I progress around the deck. My knees begin to protest the repetitive bending and my leg muscles tremble with fatigue as I traverse up and down the ladder over and over. It is also a continual balancing act to counteract the force of the water gun. Balance is not something I have a lot of anyway. During one move, I catch my feet on each other and tumble off the second rung of my structure into the mud I have created. I land with a thud on my left hip and left hand. Great! I have added to the already present wrist sprain from two earlier falls this summer but nothing else other than my pride seems injured.

Once I move to the upper level of the deck, the challenges become less, and I soon have a sparkling clean platform ready to stain once it is dry. I am ready to return my borrowed piece of equipment. I look at myself. For just a second, I contemplate taking a selfie, then reject that idea. I have dirt and mud in my hair and all over my clothes. I look like I rolled in the mud – well technically I did. Even if I have to pay more for the use of the washer because of the extra time, I have to take a shower and change clothes before I make my trip to town.

My plan is to allow the wood to dry for three or four days until next week before doing the staining. I have asked my hubby to accompany me to Menards to buy the stain needed on Saturday. But while waiting for the weekend, I get an e-mail notice, “We’re writing to inform you that your order … has been canceled because the item you purchased is out of stock.” The paint sprayer I have so carefully researched and ordered is not coming. Now what am I going to do? There is not enough time to order another one or from a different company. I add “buy a paint sprayer” to the list of items needed from Menards.

Our shopping trip on Saturday reveals limited choices of paint sprayers at Menards. One type of sprayer includes a long wand. That would work great for what I am trying to do but the price is high considering this may never be used again. We finally settle on a middle-of-the-road cost sprayer. It is small and light but will need to be filled frequently. We also acquire three gallons of new-cedar colored stain, a 100-foot roll of plastic sheeting, and a full jump suit to keep me from becoming a brown mummy. Now I am ready.

The next week is predicted to be a sunny beautiful week with no rain and temperatures in the low 80s. This should be perfect. Tuesday is the day set aside to tackle the task. Saturday afternoon, we string several ten-foot-wide strips of plastic sheeting down the side of the house under the deck and over the patio floor. Monday evening, we finish our protective measures by covering the house siding above the deck with the same sheeting. Afterall, we have no idea how wild I will be with a paint sprayer. I have never tried this before.

Imagine my sinking heart when I hear rain pouring on the house roof at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning. Noooo! Wednesday it will have to be as I am starting a new job on Thursday.

“Could I have one of your taller ladders,” I question Gordon on Tuesday evening. I think that if I can climb a little higher without running out of ladder, I will be able to more safely reach the outside deck railings.

“I need to go downtown and get you one of my old ones,” He consents, “I need the ones on the truck tomorrow and I don’t want brown stain all over my good ones.”

“Good Grief. OK, whatever works for you.”

Wednesday morning dawns pleasant and warm but not too hot. I am glad I asked for that taller ladder. I gather all my paint supplies together – more plastic sheeting for the garage floor where I plan to do all my reloading, the paint, the sprayer, a paint brush, a mixing stick, and protective gear. First, I need to read the directions on the paint sprayer. It has a very flexible holding container and the most important requirement for the sprayer to work apparently is to get all the air out of that holding tank by squishing the air to the top port hole.

I pry off the paint can lid and stir the stain. I am ready to pour. But pouring paint is not the simple process I envision it to be. The stain runs down the side of the can and splashes in a spreading pool on the plastic before I can get it aimed into the sprayer receptacle. Oh dear! This is distressing. Finally, the sprayer cup is full and I have a stain covered container to screw onto the sprayer. I have more paint on me and the floor, I think, than in the sprayer. I have purposely waited to don my clothing protector gear until I had the sprayer ready to go. As I step into the coverall, I realize this is not a simple paper coverup but more of a rubberized hazmat suit. Next comes the N95 mask to keep me from breathing in the paint mist and some old safety prescription glasses I have found to protect my eyes. It even has a hood to protect one’s hair. Now I am sufficiently encased and protected from all hazards.

I expel the air, prime the pump, and turn the nozzle to spray. I am pleased that when I press the trigger, the stain ejects in a wide spray. With the taller ladder and a little coordinated reaching, I am able to nicely distribute the stain onto the railings. However, within three minutes, my paint gun container is empty, I am feeling smothered, and my glasses are steamed up. Down the ladder I go to fill up again. By the third fill-up in less than fifteen minutes, I am sweating profusely, my mask is wet inside, and I can no longer see out of my fogged glasses. My hearing aid begins its high-pitched squeal indicating it is shorted out from being too damp. Off comes the hearing aid and the glasses. I will just have to do this without being able to hear and see. I do realize that I need to drink if I am not going to faint before this is done – something I don’t normally do much of. Therefore, I make frequent stops at the refrigerator for glass after glass of ice water.

By the time I reach the last section of railing on the outside, my moving has slowed down to a crawl. Each trip up the ladder takes another ounce of strength out of me until I am gasping for air, feeling lightheaded, weak and with trembling knees. I have to get out of this getup. I cannot stand this any longer. A massive heat wave emanates from me as I unzip the coverall. I pour water out of the sleeves as I slide my arms out and my clothes look like someone poured a bucket of water on me. I am on the verge of a heat stroke and the day is not even particularly hot. My regular clothes are just going to have to get stained if need be. Ah, it feels so good to not be encased in plastic.

A little chocolate and a few cups of milk restore my energy and I am able to slowly complete the upper deck. I see that it pretty much got a first coat from all the spray shooting through the spindle slats. Now I just need to give it one finishing coat. I survey my work as I make the last spray strokes. It looks really good – just like a new deck. But next time, it is going to be a hired job. I’m not doing that again no matter how much the cost savings.

How About Some Leaf Guards?

Rumble… Rumble… Roar… Crash… is accompanied by noticeable shaking of the house.

Hubby appears in the bathroom door, “Did you hear that noise? I wonder what that was?”

            It is dark outside, so it is hard to see anything. Hubby dons his shoes and disappears out into the blackness. I am wondering if there has been an explosion or fire at one of the neighbors. He soon comes back in to report that it is much simpler than that. The temperature has been above freezing for the last few days and there has been a huge snow slide off of our new steel roof on the back side of the house.

            The next morning, I am awakened around 6 a.m. to the same deafening noise again. My heart is pounding at breakneck speed as it attempts to prepare me to flee this terrifying event. Sleep has also fled away. As I peer out into the filtering light of day, there is a huge pile of snow on the deck and on the ground behind the house but nothing serious seems to be wrong – just another snow slide. Then I notice a strange sight. Small pieces of grated metal stick out of the snow at various angles. I soon identify them as the leaf guard sections that we had installed last fall on our eves during the installation of the roof. Well that lasted all of two months.

            We have had eves on the house for most of the 23 years we have lived here. As the trees have matured around the house, plugged eves has become more of a problem. Last year, some well-developed trees sprouted high in the sky. The eves on the back side of the house are about 30 feet above the ground so cleaning them is a bit of a challenge. Standing on a ladder on the deck and shoving a garden hose down the length of the eves seemed to provide the most efficient means of cleaning. But there is always a hang up at the downspout. Of course, we had heard of leaf guards and decided that maybe this would be the perfect solutions to our problem. And why not have them installed while having a new roof put on. Problem solved, right?

            Our winter came early this year. By early November, zero temperatures and a five-inch snow fall had arrived. A few weeks later, we had a weekend where it alternated between rain and snow for several days. It was just warm enough to produce rain intermingled with the snow. I noticed while looking out our large back window that the snow was melting into the eves just enough to freeze at night intertwined with the grating on the leaf guards. Then one day, I notice that the eve had stretched outward so that it was no longer U shaped but more of an L. Finally, the snow load must have provided enough pressure that it came crashing down, tearing off most of the entrapped leaf guards. I pick up the pieces and slam them on the stone walk to loosen all the ice pieces. With sadness, I dropped them into a garbage bag. I would say this experiment was a failure.

            “I hope they didn’t cost very much,” remarks Hubby.

            I don’t know and I don’t think I want to know. In the spring, I think the next project is to take the eves off completely and let the water run.

Travel to Sedona, AZ 2019

Bell Rock close to our hotel

Tuesday, September 17.

“Let’s go to bed an hour early tonight,” I implore my husband on Monday evening. We need to get up at 2:45 a.m. if we are going to make our 5:45 a.m. flight. As is usually the case, I find that I can’t fall asleep. I am afraid that I won’t wake up in time. I set my regular alarm clock, my travel alarm, and Hubby sets his phone alarm. That should be enough to get us awake on time.

            “Bling, Bling, Bling!” over and over assaults my ears. I roll over and peer at the clock. It is 1:45. I groan. Why is the phone going off at this time?

“Your phone is an hour early,” I grumpily mumble to my spouse.

“It’s not my alarm,” is the response. “It’s the airline texting to say our flight is on time.”

“Seriously? You have got to be kidding me.” Now I am awake and irritated. I could have slept another hour. I roll over and snuggle back in. Maybe I can fall back to sleep. A few minutes later I hear Hubby get up and go downstairs. Then. . . brring, brring, bring! Now my travel alarm is going off. It is now 2 a.m. I had set it for 2:45 but it is going off at 2 am. Is someone trying to tell us something? Any hope of sleep is now gone.

Our trip to the airport goes without incident though I am anxious and wishing I had not turned down Hubby’s offer for me to drive. When did we turn into the old couple cautiously peering out the window and approaching every obstacle with trepidation? The traffic lights in downtown are all green because it is still the middle of the night, but my dear spouse slows down as he approaches each one. Doesn’t green mean go, not slow down? We creep along ten miles under the speed limit on the deserted streets. I bite my lip to keep from being the dreaded back seat driver. We do arrive just as the airport is coming to life.

We sail through security without any issues and settle down to wait for our flight which is still on time. I have not bought an upgrade for this “short” 1 ½ hour flight to Chicago so Hubby tucks his lanky frame into the standard issue seat. His legs have begun to numb even before takeoff. But before we know it, we are safely on the ground in Chicago. A fairly long walk to concourse K is the next order of business. I am learning not to schedule tight connections for our flights because we are way too old for this running business. We have quite a leisurely morning stroll and even some time for breakfast before it is time to board our flight to Phoenix, AZ. This time we have hit pay dirt with our seat choice. Not only does Hubby get an exit seat but he gets one right where the plane narrows leaving his window seat with no seat in front of him – all the leg room he could ever want is within his reach.

Out of the airplane

Another beautiful touchdown in Phoenix ends the air flight part of our journey. Then it is on to boarding a bus to take us to the rental car terminal. I reflect on the fact that it is only 11 a.m.  here in Phoenix but we have been up for ten hours already. My head hurts and I need a nap.

This time when I rent a car, I decline all upgrades even though we are told that means we will have to ride in a VW bug. When we pick up the car though, it is not a VW bug but a Ford Fiesta. Our butts are almost sitting on the ground and we need Hoyer lifts to get ourselves up out of the car every time we stop but it does successfully perform the task of transporting us around. We soon discover that the left blinker doesn’t work, and the tires are bald. It does have 43000 miles on it, so I think it needs some loving attention. Hubby just cannot live with a car that lacks a working signaling system, so he buys a bulb the first day in Sedona and replaces it.

Driving in Phoenix is like driving in any big city. The speed limit says 55 but it is like we are a beetle crawling up the road while everyone else catapults by. Phoenix is a dry and barren landscape with some beautiful cactuses scattered here and there. What do these people do here for a living? We wonder. As we get north of the city and the elevation begins to increase, the landscape begins to change. It now looks more like the grasslands of Africa. The grass is brown and dry, but it was once grass. Short stubby trees are struggling to grow and the tall stately cactuses of earlier have disappeared. The land begins to take on a reddish hue as we get closer to Sedona. Once we turn off the main interstate 17 onto 179 north, the beauty of the landscape becomes apparent. The red rocks of Sedona rise in stately spires towards the skyline. We end our day by previewing the landscape in preparation for our coming days.

A Debacle in the Car

“Do you want to go along with me to Albert Lea,” questions my husband, “It is the only place I can find a silver cover for this light fixture that I need.”

            Albert Lea is about sixty-five miles from our home but not outrageously so. “Sure,” I respond, “Why not.”

            We decide to go to the early service at a church in the local big city. Not only will it be closer to our destination, but we will be able to get an earlier start on our journey.

Instead of turning to get onto the interstate after church, Hubby pulls into the local Kwik Trip. “I need to get a Dr. Pepper.”

            I patiently wait while he makes his purchase and a bathroom stop and then we are on the way. No sooner are we on the interstate and the car’s cruise control set at 70 miles an hour than he decides to take a drink from the newly opened Dr. Pepper. Suddenly, the car swerves violently and my heart skips a few beats. What is that all about? I reach for the steering wheel as I glance over to see what the problem is. Hubby is holding out a volcanic spewing pop bottle. Dr. Pepper is spilling onto him, the seat, and the center console of the car. I am distressed by the flow all over everything. Trying to help out, I reach out and take the bottle so he can gain control of the car. “@#@#@#,” I exclaim as the vomiting bottle continues to gush all over me.

            “How did this happen?” I throw my question at him while trying to contain my rising irritation.

            “I didn’t get the cap back on right and then I dropped it – twice.”

            Great! I stuff my exasperation the best that I can. It wasn’t intentional. But I am still distraught. The driver’s car seat and Hubby’s pants are wet, the passenger car seat and my pants are wet, and dark spots of sticky liquid cling to nooks and crannies I hardly knew existed. We pull off the interstate and try to salvage the inside of my car. That pile of napkins I have been collecting in the glove compartment comes in handy along with Hubby’s handkerchief. Soon, we have cleaned and wiped all the surfaces that seem to have been hit by the cyclone bomb. It actually looks cleaner than before we started. I sigh. Let it go. No need to spoil the day over some spilt milk – Oh I mean Dr. Pepper.

The Other Side Of Medical Care – An Unexpected Journey

Beep! Beep! Beep! I roll over and hit the alarm for the third time. It is Friday morning and my day off. I am looking forward to a day of home activities. In the darkness of early morning, I slide out of bed and throw the covers back over the bed. As I pull open the bedroom door, I am hit by a sudden overwhelming curtain of silence followed by wooziness. That was weird. As I take that first step down the hall, my right leg wobbles and I reach out for the wall. My right arm also seems somewhat uncoordinated and I need to think about where I place them as I traverse the morning route to the bathroom in the dark. I shake my head several times trying to clear the cobwebs from my brain. It is not unusual for me to experience vertigo at times, but it usually passes in thirty seconds or so. This does not want to go away. I peer at my face in the mirror. All facial movements seem symmetrical. I console myself that it is probably not a stroke. I conclude that this must be an escalation of my normal vestibular (ear) problem. Afterall, I have been sick for most of the last week with the common cold. Maybe it has moved to my ears.

            “Are you OK?” It is the voice of my husband.

            “No, I am not OK.” I stand there trying to clear my head. “I would go downstairs to the bathroom, but I don’t think I can make it that far.”

            He offers me the commode as a seat, and I plunk down on it. I sense the watering in my mouth that precedes an upchuck. Oh dear!

            “Do you need to throw up?” he asks.

            “It’s coming. I don’t know what is wrong, but I think we need to go somewhere. I don’t know where to go at the clinic so maybe we should just go to the ER. Can you help me get dressed and then you should go plow first?”

            Thursday had been a day of receiving three to four inches of snow followed by high winds and significantly subzero windchills. As I had driven home from work at the hospital at 7 p.m. the prior evening, I struggled to see the road in places. I would find myself on the wrong side of the road, disoriented, and with the need to get myself back where I belonged. As I finally drove up the drive, the wind-driven snow hit me smack in the front. The drifts were piling up in the yard and in the driveway. I didn’t know if we could get out without plowing.

            I sit and contemplate my situation as Hubby makes his way downstairs and out the door. Because of the weather and the prediction of below zero temperatures, as well as an injured right arm from a fall on the ice on Wednesday, he has already decided to take the day off from work. If one has to be sick, I guess the timing could not be better. Hubby is home and neither of us are trying to get to work.

            After attempting to throw up, the ever determined me decides to comb my hair. I have to look respectable. I plant my feet wide apart for stabilization at the sink and with a little thought into directing my arm, I am able to accomplish this task. Now to get downstairs. I grasp the rail as I put one foot ahead of the other. As long as I think about what my right foot is doing and grasp the rail to stabilize the spinning room, I do quite well. I collapse in the recliner in the living room. Uh Oh! Almost immediately, I can feel that premonition in my mouth. I am going to throw up again. There is no way I am going to make it to the bathroom. What am I going to do? I don’t really want to throw up on the carpet. I drop to the floor and crawl the six feet on my hands and knees to the laminated flooring just in time to heave over and over. Exhausted, I crawl back to the chair.

            Bang! Hubby appears at the kitchen door. “I can’t get the plow truck to start but I think we can get out without plowing.”

            “Let’s just go then.” I grab my basin.

            The trees glisten with frost covered needles and branches. The sun shines brightly. It is flanked by the colored pillars of sundogs. The car thermometer displays 12 degrees below zero. On any other morning, this would be a beautiful scene to absorb and photograph. It is still a beautiful scene but not really enjoyable with one’s head in a barf bucket.

            A lady with a wheelchair is waiting for us just outside the emergency room. I could not be more thankful as I don’t think I can walk anywhere at this point. We are whisked into a room and soon introduced to a medical student. I was expecting hours of waiting to be seen but when one is really in trouble, the most efficient means of obtaining medical care is the emergency room. I suppose it was that telling them that my right arm and leg didn’t work right. That triggers a different response than just throwing up or some such thing.

            “Is this your partner?” asks the nurse who takes my vital signs.

            “No, it’s the guy I picked up in the ditch along the way,” I intone.

            “She hasn’t lost her humor.”

            Soon, I am performing all kinds of neurological tests. “Squeeze both hands. Follow my finger with your eyes. Pick up your left leg. Pick up your right leg. Push down on the gas pedal. Pull back towards your nose.” I perform most of these with ease. I only stumble on two of them. “Touch your nose, then my finger with your right hand as fast as you can.” My finger has a hard time hitting my nose and it takes complete concentration to hit the doc’s finger. “Slide your right heel up and down your left shin.” To this command, I find my heel weaving down the shin bone. I just can’t make it go straight.

            “We think you might have vestibular neuritis (a viral infection that affects the nerve of the ear) but because of difficulty with those two tests, we are going to send you for a CT scan.”

            I grab my trusty barf basin and off we go. By this point, I am throwing up every fifteen to thirty minutes. If I keep my eyes open, the world has some semblance of stability. If I shut my eyes, the world goes around and around. When I sit up to transfer to the CT table, I sway back and forth like a branch in the wind. “I think we should just slide you over,” is the conclusion of the CT techs. Good decision!

            I make it back to the ER just in time to throw up again. I have given up waiting for them to bring me the promised medicine for nausea. I hit the nurse call button. “Can I have some nausea medicine?”

            “I don’t think there is anything ordered,” states the nurse who responds. Really? There have been two different doctors who have promised this. I am ready to collapse into a sobbing heap as I just keep heaving and heaving. I have lost track of the number of times now. Soon she is back with the treasured medication.

            The med student squeezes her body though the slightly open door, “The CT shows a small cerebellar stroke, so we are going to put through a neurological consult.”

Shock would be my reaction. Why would I have a stroke? I don’t have high blood pressure. I don’t have diabetes. I am not particularly overweight. I have never had a blood clot. I do not have atrial fibrillation. I am only sixty-one years old, exercise regularly, and I take a full aspirin every day. All I can think of is my father who had a major stroke at eighty-two years of age from which he never recovered. He could not write or talk or communicate for the next seven years before he died. I would rather die than be like that.

Within a few minutes, the neurology resident appears, and we go through the same battery of neurology tests again. “I am going to send you for an MRI to evaluate the arteries in your head and then we are going to admit you to the hospital.”

By this time, I no longer care. I just want relief from the nausea. I want to sleep but every time I close my eyes, the world spins and renews my discomfort. By the time escort comes to take me to the MRI scan, I have received some Compazine for the nausea, but I still do not trust myself. The nauseous feeling lies just below the surface.

“What am I going to do if I have to throw up in the MRI scanner?” I clutch my emesis basin close to myself as if it were my security blanket as we set off again for another test. No one seems particularly concerned but me. I try to calm my rising panic as they strap me onto the MRI table and snap the head piece into place. I am somewhat claustrophobic anyway. So I talk to myself. Just take deep breaths and close your eyes. Then you can’t see how tight the tunnel is. I clutch my call ball and shut my eyes. At least the world has stopped spinning. The air blowing into the tunnel is cold and I shiver. By this point, all I want to do is sleep anyway so I doze off and on and soon the test is done. I am so glad the medicine is working.

I sway back and forth as I sit up after being transferred from the cart to my hospital bed. I close my eyes and go to sleep. This whole situation is beyond comprehension. My hubby settles down in the chair next to my bed. His face is lined with worry.

My assigned nurse comes by to introduce herself. She holds up the ridiculous yellow band that says, “Fall Risk.” They put them on everyone who admits to having a fall in the last year. Everyone in Minnesota in the winter is a fall risk and I have always told my colleagues if they ever put one of those things on me, I would cut it off. I stare at it and sigh. I guess I really am a fall risk. I soon discover when I try to sit up on the edge of the bed that a loud obnoxious noise also emits from the bed!

Sleep seems to be the only thing I am capable of doing without supervision. Before long, I am awakened again. A transport cart is parked by my bed. “You are going for a CT scan with contrast.” How many scans can I possibly go for? I just had a CT and an MRI and now we are going to do another CT – this time with contrast!  So off we go again. I try to keep my eyes open to prevent the dizzying spinning.

Later that afternoon, the neurology resident comes by the room. “None of the scans show any evidence of vertebral artery tears, plague in the arteries, or a bleed. Since we do not find anything in your head, we need to look at your heart. I am scheduling a TEE (transesophageal echo) for tomorrow.” Gads! How many tests can they come up with? By this time, I am starting to feel significantly better and am returning to my normal personality. I ask to visit the bathroom and am trilled that I can ambulate fairly well. I still cannot pass a roadside DWI test but with the compensation of a wide-stance gait and a tightly clutched gait belt by the nurse, I can walk. Bored with being in bed, I sit up in the chair for a couple hours. I attempt to find and write down a few phone numbers for calling my supervisors, but my hand produces mostly an illegible scrawl. I can text if I take my time. After notifications to some family members of my state of affairs, I crawl into bed and sleep some more.

Steam rises from the chimneys of the city outside my window on Saturday morning. My immediate view is that of the hospital chapel, its door surrounded by frost. My life feels a little bit like it is surrounded by frost too. I was not planning to be here today. I have life to live.

Not being inclined to be an invalid, I situate myself in the chair. I just need to be careful about not doing any spins or dance moves. Reassured that I am fine and won’t do anything stupid, the nurses have turned off the bed alarm and I have reverted to being the patient+. This means I maneuver my own IV pole, my bedside table, and IV pump the best that I can. The lab gal comes to draw my blood and I ask her to use my left arm because the right antecubital area is all black and blue. “But someone has to come and turn off the IV,” she declares.

“No problem. I’ll take care of that.” And I do.

Soon there is a knock on the door and a lady from occupational therapy enters. “How are you doing? My job is to evaluate you from an occupational standpoint and determine if you need therapy. Can we go for a walk?”

I sign heavily. I am fine but I am happy to go for a walk in the hall. She slips on the dreaded gait belt and off we go. The IV pole provides all the stability that I need. I am convinced that if I stumbled or started falling, this lady would not be able to help me. She seems more unsteady and feebler than me. My being as good as I am, I reflect, has nothing to do with my own abilities but to the grace of God and his goodness in allowing me full return of my faculties. This facade of independence, competence, and strength that we all present to the world is just that, a façade that can be crashed at any moment.

I have not eaten any breakfast as I am not to eat in preparation for the planned TEE.

Imagine my surprise when the escort shows up with the transport cart around ten am. “I am here to take you to your MRI with contrast.”

“My MRI??” I question incredulously. “I thought I was going to have a TEE today?”

“The directions say we are going to an MRI,” repeats the escort gentleman.

I just love the communication around here. No one talks to me. They just change plans out of the blue. I guess we are going to an MRI. I think I will have met my medical deductible with two CTs and two MRIs. This time I am more prepared and feel physically better. I open my eyes in the MRI scanner and look around the best that I can while being in a head vise. Above me is a mirror that reflects the head frame back at me. It gives the illusion of more space than there really is. I can’t actually see the bore that surrounds me. That’s interesting. I wonder if they can see me from the control room.

Back in my room, I get up to the bathroom. My legs and my upper arms are covered with red spots intermingled with white splotches and they are starting to itch. Great! I must be allergic to the MRI contrast used. The MRI tech told me that no one is allergic to the MRI contrast. There is always a first. The only time I have ever seen this on me before was after several mosquito bites in the same area and that rash lasted for weeks. The only thing that was helpful was to grit my teeth and not scratch.

The resident comes by later in the afternoon to inform me that this MRI did not show anything abnormal either. “I thought I was to have a TEE today. How come we went for MRI instead?”

“We can’t do the TEE on the weekend unless it is an emergency, so we have to wait until Monday. We wanted to definitively confirm that nothing is going on in your head anyway, so we decided to do the MRI instead.” I am beginning to wonder if there is anything at all in my head. Maybe they are just trying to find a brain.

I sigh. I am already bored and feeling over tested. I have so many things I could do at home. “Can I go home today then?”

She gazes at me and smiles. “You do look quite well. I guess we could let you go home and come back for the other tests we want to do as an outpatient. I will order a 48-hour Holter monitor for you and once you have the device on, you can go home. We will order the TEE for Monday as an outpatient.”

“Versed and Fentanyl medications do not work for me so I would really like one of my colleagues to use propofol for me.”

“Just tell them when you get there,” she brushes my request off.

“That isn’t going to work,” I impress upon her, “If you do not order it as anesthesia, no one is going to honor my request. I know how this works around here.” I can tell by her face that she has no intention of following my request.

Taking a shower is the next item on the agenda if I am going to have stickies all over me for 48 hours. With meticulous care and deliberate moves, I gather all the supplies necessary and bask in the warm shower. I am still somewhat like a waving reed but if I take my time I can compensate for any remaining deficiencies. This could have been so much worse. How does one wake up one morning and five minutes later, the world has been turned upside down? It hits me that we are not prepared for something to happen to me. I have always planned that my hubby would go before me. After all, his parents died in their early seventies and mine were both 89 at their time of death. The urgency of remedying this situation floods over me.

Once my shower is done, the Holter Monitor tech comes to hook me up. The last order of business is to read the discharge instructions. I notice that they changed my cholesterol medication without telling me and that the resident has marked sedation instead of anesthesia on the TEE order. She comes back to see me one more time at my request and I point out to her that there is a box to check anesthesia. “Alright, I will see what I can do,” she finally concedes.

How am I going to know when the TEE is planned for on Monday is my question? The resident has given me the phone number for the floor at the clinic where they do these, but I do not have a time. I am told that they will probably call me to let me know but no one really knows.

Monday morning, I anxiously wait by the phone. I check the on-line portal for patients. It tells me that there is a TEE scheduled for “undetermined time.” That is helpful! Finally, after hearing nothing by 8:30 a.m., I make a phone call to the clinic. “You are scheduled at 2:30pm in the cath lab at the hospital,” she tells me, “We don’t usually do them there for outpatients.”

She transfers my call to the cath lab. They clarify that I am on their list, but the nurse then hesitates, “Are you on an anticoagulant now?”

“Nooo… not more than aspirin and Plavix. And I got three heparin shots in the hospital.”

“That’s all gone by now. So that’s not enough. You have to be fully anti-coagulated before we can do this. I need to make a phone call to the doctor and then I will call you back.”

I do not know what to say. I am confused. This seems rather excessive. But then, I don’t do TEEs every day, so I have to assume he knows what he is talking about. I wish they had thought of this on Saturday. Maybe I should just have stayed in the hospital.

Finally, around 10 a.m., he calls me back. “My mistake,” he says, “We should be good. I thought you were having a cardioversion. We don’t need full anti-coagulation for just the transesophageal echo.”

The light bulb goes on in my head. Now I know what has happened. I have totally messed up the system and confused everyone. In order to meet my request for anesthesia-controlled sedation instead of nurse sedation, they needed to schedule my procedure in a place where anesthesia is available. And in doing so, the nurse there assumed that I was having the procedure commonly done there. It always amazes me how confused the system can get by changing just one aspect of the standard practice.

But I am delighted to find that one of my colleagues, a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, is there to administer that special drug, propofol, that I handle so adeptly every day. I drift off into a blissful sleep to wake up feeling comfortable and secure at the completion of the procedure. Finally, I am able to reap a benefit of my career.

In spite of all these tests, no clots, or artery tears, or cholesterol plagues are ever found to explain why this happened to me. It leaves me wondering. Is there another time bomb waiting to go off some day? Only time will tell. And I think I like being on the provider side much better than on the patient side.

When the Memory Begins to Go

080I have just a few minutes to brush my teeth before setting off for Rochester for my Chiropractor appointment in thirty minutes. I step into the bathroom and my heart does a flip flop. There lays my husband’s cell phone on top of the laundry basket. Great! He is supposed to be working 45 miles away today and I can just see him not discovering this until reaching the job site. My brain does a quick spin. How should I deal with this? I can’t call him to tell him of my discovery. Ah, I don’t think he has left yet. Maybe I can catch him. I swirl and try to hurtle down the stairs. But my speeding is not very smooth and coordinated anymore. It is more like having the brakes on in the car while pushing on the gas. Reaching the bottom, I surge out the house door to the garage just in time to see the overhead garage door touching down. Grr!  A few more steps and out the side garage door I fly.

“Stop,” I scream towards the rear of the receding truck. Well, that is obviously not going to work. What now? The car keys. . .  I can catch him with my turbo charged car. I plunk into the seat, slide into reverse, and rocket out of the garage. The stones fly as I speed down the driveway and up to the highway. I groan as I realize there is a pickup coming from the left. I have to stop if I don’t want to cause tiny pieces to go flying everywhere. Now to make matters worse, I have a law abiding vehicle between me and my target. Not to be deterred, I kick it up to 90 miles an hour and sail past the puzzled man in the obstructing vehicle.

“Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep,” I lean on the horn over and over and over again as I tailgate behind my husband. Apparently, not only does he not notice other people on the road with him, he can’t hear them either. The oncoming lane is now empty, so I ease up alongside my oblivious husband, finally catch his attention and wave him over. I hold up the phone and he rolls his eyes and lets out a sigh. “Thank you,” he says.

Though frustrated, I chuckle. There is no reason to be irritated with each other. These kinds of things have become the norm in our lives these days.

I do a donut in the middle of the road and head back to the house to finish getting ready and grab the paper work I need for the day. That little adventure only took 7 minutes. Soon I am driving towards Rochester like a sane person. Suddenly, I realize that I didn’t get my long-distance glasses on for driving. Oh well, my computer glasses are just going to have to do – the world in front of me is a little blurred but distinguishable. I arrive at the chiropractor only two minutes late.