A Camping Adventure 2019 – Boone, Iowa

Butterfly garden At Reiman Gardens

I love camping but putting up a tent and sleeping on the ground is good more for groans than a fun time when one reaches 60 years old. So I get brave and ask a friend if we can borrow their tent camper for this year.

            “I have to tell you the lights don’t work,” she informs me.

            “Not a problem,” I declare, “Do you care if my husband fixes it for you?”

            “That would be fine.”

            We pick up the camper on a Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks before our planned trip in order to have time to make the repairs and test out our pop-up tent raising ability. Our friends and Hubby struggle to get the camper trailer hitched to the truck. The latch doesn’t want to drop over the ball hitch and as stated, the lights don’t work – not even one of them. But the hitch finally cooperates and snaps into place.

            At home, my Hubby who is wearing a neck brace after obtaining a C4 fracture from falling down a customer’s stairs, has the privilege of backing the camper up by the shed. He accomplishes this with ease in spite of not being able to turn his head. That little camera on the tailgate in back of the truck is a nifty addition to the backing up task. But when we go to unhook and crank the stand down, the hitch has no intention of releasing the ball on the truck.

            “How about a little WD40?” I suggest.

            Even after a soaking in the magical fluid, the hitch remains tightly locked. Looks like we are going to be attached to this truck from this day forward.

            “Maybe if I drive the truck ahead a little,” is Hubby’s thought.

            He coasts the truck a few inches. With a snap, the hitch rotates down and the ball releases. Oh Wow! It might have worked better if we had thought of that sooner.

            A couple of days later, we decide to make sure we know how to put up the camper before we set out on our journey. My hubby gets out his electrical handyman – his voltage tester. All the electrical connections test out as working and when we put the connections together, all the lights work except the right rear one. What was wrong with it? Maybe the connections were a little corroded from sitting around and that WD40 did its magic there too. At least there doesn’t seem to be a significant problem.

            We start the process of cranking up the popup top. We make quite the pair. My hubby in his neck brace and stiff me trying to crawl around under the bed ends to insert the stabilizers and under the camper to put the feet down. I peer inside the camper as the roof moves skyward. A small rivulet slides down the inside screen and pools on the kitchen counter. A larger pool gushes off of the expanding canvas into the front bed.

            “Stop,” I holler, “We need to catch the leaks.”

            I sop up all the unwelcome water with 2 blankets close by. Still, the dampness meets my hand as I touch the bed surface. The same dampness is present underneath the mattress. Time to set up the fans and dry out the interior. We are not really sure where the water actually came in. This could be a rude awakening if it drips on us in the middle of the night. We are hoping it just came from the unsecured opening in the top. At least our excursion has resulted in us feeling proudly confident in our ability to set this thing up even as cripples.

            The next order of business is to change the hitch on the truck that we will be using to one that allows the camper to tow more levelly. It soon becomes apparent that the current hitch has been on the truck far too long. It is rusted into place. The WD40 can is emptied and the hammer is swung over and over. The hitch does not budge. I craw under the truck and try to hammer from the backside. Soon I am covered in rust stains and WD40 spatters. Light beige colored pants really are not a good choice for this job.  Hubby soon goes off to town to buy another can of WD40 and we begin our efforts again. Was that a little movement that I see? After over an hour of spraying and hammering, the hitch begins to move with each bang of the hammer. “Hurrah!” I cheer. “You have done it.” Now we are ready to camp.

July 11, 2019

We get up at the usual time of 6:30 am. Hubby makes a trip downtown with instructions for his help and I feed the cat, move the calves around, and get the rest of our stuff together.

We have no problems with hooking the camper and soon are on our way. I think I have done well this time, but I am sure there is something that I have forgotten. Even with his neck brace, Hubby feels he can drive with a little assistance from me. We do have to stop at the shop and pick up his sunglasses.

We make several stops during our travels and realize that the camper trailer lights only work sporadically. Oh well! It pulls well with the pickup with being able to use the truck trailer braking system. The last time we towed a popup camper with our Toyota RAV 4, it made us extremely light in the front end and difficult to handle. That time we had to stop and move our bicycles to the top of the car to distribute the weight more evenly.

Garden Gnome

We decide to stop at the Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa run by Iowa State University. We wander through flowers and vegetables and butterflies- paths that twist and turn amongst beautiful waterfalls. It is a warm day but not totally uncomfortable.

Around 3:30, we head for Ledges State Park by Boone, Iowa. We miss the entrance on our first pass through. I am expecting a well-kept, well-staffed entrance booth. The sign that points towards the “Park Office” seems misleading. It looks like a maintenance building, not what I think of as a park office. After realizing we have passed the park, we swing around in the middle of the road and head back again towards what I think looks like a park entrance building. It is the right place but there is no one staffing it. It seems to be a “register yourself” kind of thing. Well, we have reservations, so we decide to just go set up our campsite. And there is the green reservation card waiting for us.

Our trial run of setting up the camper at home pays off as we are efficient and competent. Starting our little Coleman camping stove does not turn out quite so efficient though. It has been probably five years or longer since we have used it and Hubby just can’t get it to light. He pumps and he pumps and he pumps but it just won’t light. Of course, when all else fails and it looks like there will be no supper, one should read the directions. Reading them slowly and carefully is helpful too. It says “turn lighting lever up, with a lighted match over main burner, open valve completely and light. After flame turn blue, turn lever down.” Clear as mud. Which is the light lever, and which is the valve? Hubby does vary his technique and at least we get flame- leaping dancing orange flame but it is flame, just not blue flame. After some more fiddling around, he finally gets the flame under control and supper is in the making.

And I now discover what I have forgotten – the water jug to carry our water. It wouldn’t be camping without a major forgotten item. I search through the camper and come up with a shiny blue covered cooking pot. That will work dandily.

We sit outdoors in the warm evening glow and enjoy the birds singing, the mosquitoes chomping on us, and the myriad sounds of nature. We do realize that the bathroom is quite a distance from us. Around the circle, down the road, turn right, walk another ¼ mile and circle again. Bummer. Don’t think I will be going over there in the middle of the night.

July 12, 2019

Scritch, scratch, scratch, scratch… I am awakened in the dark of night. What is that scurrying in the grass outside of our camper? Hubby is awake too and hands me the flashlight. I press the light against the screen of our sleeping area. Two sets of shadowy eyes glare back at me from the top of the picnic table. Ugh… I had left one empty package from our supper on the picnic table as I forgot to take it away with the garbage. It was weighed down with the water kettle. But those little bandits have found it and are busily chewing away on the smell of chicken and noodles. At least it is not a boogie man.

The night cools off and the air becomes deliciously cool. We snuggle down in our sleeping bags, but I still have a hard time sleeping. Hubby rolls over every hour or so, rocking the camper like a ship on the wavy sea. I briefly wonder if those cheap metal poles designed for holding up this extended sleeping end of the camper really are strong enough. I have visions of us awaking looking at the ground.

We finally slide out of our bed around 7 am and begin the routine for the day. Our breakfast consists of fried sunny-side-up eggs cooked over our gas stove. This morning, the lighting of it goes much more smoothly. Hot chocolate, Italian bread, and donuts complete our meal. After cleanup, we are soon on the road to the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad in Boone. We have tickets for the 11 am train ride. Or at least, that is what I thought. The gentleman at the desk looks at me and says, “Do you have reservations for the 1 pm train?”

            Huh? I pause. “No, we have reservations for the 11 am train.”

            “Well, there is no train at 11 am on Friday. Your reservation is for Saturday.”

            I stare at the ticket and then I stare at my watch and back at the ticket. “Ah man. I must be mixed up. I thought today was Saturday.” Anyway, its nothing new to me to be confused. OK, I guess we will come back tomorrow.

            Hubby and I wander around the museum for a while and then decide to head out and explore. One of the items of interest that I had come across on the internet and in travel brochures was the Kate Skelly Memorial Train Bridge. I could not find an address for it and one person who had commented said that he had to travel some country roads to find it. Google had marked it on a map for me as being east of Boone at about U Ave off 190th St. We leave town driving east. I do like the coolness of the truck in the 90-degree heat but as we drive along, Hubby questions our direction. “We have to go down to the river. There is nothing but flat farmland here. There would be no reason to build a railroad bridge here.”

            Finally, I pull out a bicycle map Hubby has picked up and study it. Maybe our underlying information is wrong. The Des Moines River runs west of Boone and for the railroad track to cross it, the bridge needs to be on the west side of the city. We turn around and head west. There are no signs anywhere indicating where this bridge might be. First, we follow a major route west from Boone. Once we cross the Des Moines River with no sign of the bridge, we realize we have gone too far. Time to turn around again. I remember a road that we passed earlier that indicated it was a dead end. Maybe that is the one that goes along the tracks and will give us a view of the famous bridge. As we drive along, the road gets curvier and rougher. We bounce down the hill over rocks and washouts until we reach the end of the road.

            “Well, that was a waste of time,” remarks Hubby.

            “Wait, Look,” I point through the trees. “There it is.”

            And sure enough, the tall stately bridge is visible in the distance through the trees. We tiptoe through the flood ravaged backwaters to the edge of the De Moines River. What a magnificent view! We are only wishing that a train would come over the bridge about now and Hubby would have the perfect photographic opportunity. But it is a hot day and the mosquitoes think we are tasty, so we do not linger long. We make our way back up the rock-strewn path and turn down another washed up road that has the potential to take us maybe to the other side of the bridge further downstream. This road does take us over the double railroad tracks on our path downward to the river. “Look for Trains,” says a big sign on a trailer. There are none to be seen.

This gravel road does give us a different vantage point, but the bridge seems further away, and we soon retreat to the coolness of the truck. As we drive back up and make the turn to again cross the tracks, I state the obvious, “Look for the train.” The words are no sooner out of my mouth and whoosh, an engine whizzes by followed by a second one just a few seconds later on the second track. Together the trains hurdle towards the Kate Skelley Bridge. “Ah Man! I wasn’t ready for that one,” blurts Hubby.

It is obvious that this tourist attraction is not advertised and only accessible to those who seek diligently. Hunger and heat soon drive us back to the campgrounds though, where we throw together a lunch of spam sandwiches, chips, and Oreo cookies. Then it is nap time.

We spend the afternoon driving around checking out Madrid and many back-country roads. We locate another high bridge, the High Trestle Trail Bridge, just out of Madrid that is used for a bike trail. The easiest access is a mile walk from the parking lot to the bridge. We shake our head that no, we do not want to walk a mile in 90-degree heat. We will come back later this evening when the sun is going down and it is getting cooler.

High Trestle Trail Bridge

Later in the day, the sky has clouded over, so we decide to leave the campsite around 8:25 pm for the drive to the bridge parking lot. The sun is orange in the sky and sinking toward the horizon. We will be too late for a sunset picture at the bridge, but we are hoping with it now being cloudy that it will not be so hot. The trail slopes gently downward through the trees- not a hard walk. Even so, the sweat bubbles out on my brow and soon is making rivulets down my back. The mosquitoes decide to check us out as well and we soon slather more Deet on our already coated arms and face. Hubby keeps saying, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

            “Aren’t you glad we didn’t try to walk this at 2 pm this afternoon?” is my comeback. It is only a .4-mile hike to the actual bike trail. There we are met by masses of people moving rhythmically toward the bridge – like worshippers drawn to the object of adoration. We melt into the flowing crowd. Bicycles with lights and loud music blast past us while the slower walking people meander along. Now that we have reached the trail, it is only another .5 miles to the bridge. However, with sweat running places you don’t want to know about, it calls for fortitude and the persistence of putting one foot ahead of the other. The air is still and hangs heavy in the slowly darkening sky. The moon sits high in the sky and thrusts lengthening shadows for the silhouettes now moving on the path.

Des Moines River From Bridge

            As we near the bridge, we can see the white light that illuminates the entrance pillars. The bridge itself is another .5 miles in length as it spans the Des Moines River from 130 feet in the air. Part way across, it is lit by blue LED lights. This is the spectacle we have come to see. It provides a photo opportunity for my hubby’s hobby. Below us, the river flows lazily along illuminated by the light of the moon. We spend about a ½ hour on the bridge and then turn to trudge our way slowly back to the parking lot on the now dark path through the maze of ambling people and speeding bicycles. A moonlight walk on a hot July night does hold some romantic essence to it.

July 13, 2019

The fans in the camper keep us cooled down enough to sleep. We get more rest than the first night. I awake to rain splotches on the canvas. But it doesn’t last long. The weather is cloudy providing some measure of relief from the heat. It is actually quite comfortable this morning. Hubby cooks some pancakes for breakfast and then we decide to head out to the Kate Skelly Bridge again to see if we can catch a picture with a train crossing the trestle. Rain drops splatter on our windshield as we drive, and we decide that we do not want to be drenched for our train ride later. Rather than going down by the river, we stop on top of the hill where the trains pass by before entering the trestle. Soon it stops raining. Then I notice the railroad signal has changed to green on one track and to red on the other.

Train coming off Kate Skelly Bridge

“I bet there is a train coming on each track. One going one way and one going the other,” hubby deduces.

            “I bet you wish we had gone down below,” I respond.

            “Yes, but it’s too late now.”

            Within ten minutes, we are graced with a train horn and a speeding train. And then another one. Bummer. We should have gone down to the river and waited. We have missed the opportunity.

            We head back to Boone for our lunch train run at 11 am – the one I thought we were supposed to do yesterday. It is an 11-mile trip to Wolf, IA and back in the comfort of air-conditioned reconditioned train cars. For some reason we are the next to last ones called to board and they need to ask us who we are.

Boone Scenic Railroad Train

            “We have room for you. Don’t worry,” says the conductor.

            As we are seated at our table, he brings us two tickets, “Here are your tickets.”

Hubby and I raise our eyebrows at each other and shrug. We already have tickets. Did we mess them up by picking up our tickets the previous day? We will never know.

            The ride is pleasant. It is hard for Hubby to turn to see out with his neck brace and to top it off, he is the one going backward. They stop the train at the trestle so that we can look out and take pictures. There are no guardrails on the tracks. It is straight down from the railroad tracks to the valley below- a little too freaky for this “afraid of heights” person. But the scenery is magnificent and when we think we have been forgotten with the food; it arrives. We have pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, and scalloped potatoes. Our ride ends around 2 pm and we head back to the campground for a nap.

From the top of the railroad trestle

            During our morning drive to Boone, we had discovered the canyon and sandstone cliffs that are part of the campground. We decide to return in the afternoon. There are several places where the water flows over the road and we need to drive through it. This morning, no one was around but now there are crowds of people picnicking and frolicking in the water. The sweat again pours out of us with little exertion and to walk seems like a huge effort. But I am drawn to the water and I take off my shoes and socks and go wading. I expect a shock from the cold of the water, but it is warm like bathwater – hardly cool enough to cool one off. But it does feel sweet to the feet. Then I remember I probably should not be wading with my cell phone in my thigh pants pocket – just in case I fall in.

Children line the sides of the road where the cars drive through the flowing water and cheer for each car, “Faster, Faster, Faster.” Many drivers comply but Hubby just smiles and waves at them. I wonder how many cars end up with flooded engines from this practice.

We head back to the campsite mainly because we are not tolerating the heat very well to relax some before our supper. We struggle with the camp stove again as we do at every meal. Beef stroganoff is the food on the menu followed by Smore’s. It is too hot for a fire, but one cannot go camping without roasting marshmallows over a fire and making finger licking smore’s. The fire is soon crackling away. We settle into our camp chairs to read until our one bundle of wood burns away and the mosquitos are urging us to “take it indoors.” I decide to leave the garbage on the table until we make a trip to the wash house before bed. Then we will go by the dumpster and dispose of it. We are only in the camper an hour before we decide to make our last trip to the bathroom and turn in. I pick up the garbage bag and realize it has two huge holes in it and the garbage is spewing out on the table. Son of a biscuit! In that hour, the racoons have stealthily made their visit. So much for delaying the delivery of the garbage to the proper place of disposal.

            As we prepare to get ready for bed, we try to figure out how to get undressed and redressed without flashing the community around us. We don’t have privacy curtains. Last evening, there were no neighbors around but tonight, we have neighbors on all sides. The solution we decide upon is to turn out the lights and change in the dark. It really is not that dark as the moon is moving towards full and there is light reflected from the adjacent campsite. I am confidently washing up and feeling quite secure when out of the door of the camper next to us comes a man with his flashlight. It hits me full in the face. Really? This is annoying. And then he sits down or so it seems, and it continues to shine into our camper. Is he watching? Is this entertainment? He probably doesn’t even know that it is pointed our way. But I do. I end up having to crouch down behind the stove to be insured that I am not providing a peep show.

July 14, 2019

We climb out of our bed around 7 am and Hubby cooks our breakfast of biscuits and gravy. Then it is time to tear down and head out. The temperature is already climbing, and rivers of water pour off of us. Our plan is to visit the Iowa Arboretum just south of the campground before heading home. The day is beautiful, and the flowers are magnificent, but Hubby and I move slower and slower. The heat has sucked all the energy out of us.

“I think I am going to throw up,” he says. Time to get ourselves to the cool truck and start our journey homeward.

            We make one last stop in Clear Lake, Iowa looking for the Guardian Wayside Chapel which Hubby has seen advertised. The ad says it is located on South 24th St. There is no house number. I type a random 620 into the GPS. We follow our guide’s instructions to exit the freeway and take the second left. We drive maybe a ¼ mile on 24th street and the GPS announces that we are at 620. No more than it has said that than Hubby declares, “There’s the sign.” I don’t see any sign but good thing his eye caught it as it is weather beaten and peeling. That was way too easy. Maybe it is the guardian angel that has led us to it.

We walk back a grassy path into a secluded area of the woods in the middle of this city and there it is – a beautiful white chapel. It is quiet inside and peaceful and we spend a few minutes meditating as I read the story of the chapel’s history aloud.

Then it is time to find a place to satisfy our hunger and travel the remaining miles home. Our journey into nature has been successful. Our creaking not-quite-as-bendable bodies say, “thank you” to the popup camper and its owners for putting an extra few feet between them and the hard ground.

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.

An Adventure in Domestic Flying

We leave the hotel in Bar Harbor, Maine at 7:15 a.m. We soak in the beautiful fall colors during the peaceful drive to Bangor where we return the rental car without any difficulty. Our flight is not scheduled to leave until 1:10 p.m. so we nourish ourselves with food from a gas station with the plan to eat lunch when we arrive in Newark, NJ. We have plenty of time to kill and settle in for some people watching and internet surfing.

We overhear other people talking about having been put on this flight as United canceled the 6 a.m. flight that morning. No one knows why. I question the desk attendant around noon as our flight is not on the board. “It is delayed ½ hour,” she states but confirms that there is still a flight UA4299. It does appear on the board around 12:30 p.m. and indicates that it is “on time.” However, the boarding time passes and then another ½ hour and another ½ hour, and a third ½ hour. We are starting to get antsy along with all the other passengers. We only have a two-hour time frame in Newark and then we will miss our connecting flight to Chicago. No one has made any announcements or tried to update the waiting people. I finally wander over to the desk attendant again, “What is the holdup?”

“Traffic control issues in Newark,” she responds, “The wind is very gusty there and they have had to change runway directions.”

About this time, they announce that we will board in ten minutes. Finally, around 2:50 p.m., we begin boarding. I breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe there is hope yet. Boarding goes smoothly and soon we are taxing to the runway for takeoff. The captains voice comes on the loud speaker, “Sorry folks, I have bad news. We have just been delayed for another twenty to thirty minutes.” I groan. Will we ever get off the ground? Finally, twenty minutes later we lift off into the air.flying1

I do some quick calculations in my head. We should arrive in Newark around 4 p.m. Our Chicago flight starts boarding at 4:10 p.m. How can I expedite this process? Hmm! Those magazines in the back of the seat pocket always contain drawings of various airports. I tear out the one for Newark. We will be landing at the B terminal and need to cross the airport to get to the C terminal for our next flight. “What is the best way to get to the C terminal?” I question the stewardess.

“Take the stairs at B28,” she instructs, “and get on the bus to terminal C.”

I am ready. Now I have a plan. Dave is seated further back in the plane, so I cannot discuss anything with him. My instructions on boarding to him were, “I will find out where our next boarding gate is until you can catch up with me.”

C95 is the gate listed for UA 1180 and it is currently boarding. Great! Down the stairs we go along with a bunch of others. The bus is waiting. Within a few minutes, we arrive at terminal C. We keep moving and arrive with a few minutes to spare. They haven’t gotten to Group 3 and 4 yet. Made it.

flying2I soon realize after boarding that we are also going to have a problem in Chicago. This one is my fault. I didn’t look close enough at the times when buying the tickets. It seemed like we had an hour between flights but now I realize that the distance between landing and boarding is only 35 minutes. The time is quoted for takeoff, but one needs to be on the plane long before actual takeoff. Oh dear! I hope our departing gate is close to our incoming one. If it is, we might have a chance. We do leave Newark on time and the pilot initially indicates that we will arrive in Chicago fifteen minutes early. Hurrah!

My cheers and feelings of hope are soon dampened when the pilot announces, “We have been doing some S flying to delay our arrival in Chicago.” This results in a loss of fifteen minutes. It is very windy and cloudy in Chicago we are told, and this is affecting flight times coming in. My stomach is tight, and I breathe shallowly as I alternate between hope and gloom. I do not have the boarding gate number for Chicago making it impossible to do any pre-emptive planning as I did with the last flight.

The pilot is still hoping to arrive by 6:30 p. m. The clouds hug the aircraft as we descend. We cannot see the ground for the thick white that surrounds us. All of a sudden, our downward projection is reversed and the engines roar as we begin an ascent. Now what happened? The captain’s voice soon comes on the loudspeaker, “We have aborted our landing. An animal was hit on the runway and they have to clear the runway before we can land. We will be circling until they are able to make sure the runway is safe.”flying3

Noooo! What else can go wrong? We might as well give up any idea of making the next flight. We might as well plan on driving home. We fly, what seems to us aimlessly, in the thick soup around us for what seems like an eternity but in reality, is probably about fifteen minutes before we get the OK to land. The clock reads 6:50 p.m. I search frantically for an electronic board to see what gate our Rochester flight will depart from. We are in C terminal and the board indicates our departure is out of F27. You have got to be kidding me!!! The only thing that gives me hope is that it doesn’t say that they are boarding yet. The problem is this is in another terminal as far to the end as is possible. We decide to give it a try anyway.

Down the escalator we go, taking steps like a regular stair along the moving steps. Then I am trotting. I glance back at Dave to make sure he is keeping up with me. Through the tunnel and up the next escalator we speed. Next is the moving walkway and we hurry along it. Dave is puffing. I am getting hot and feel like I am burning up. My mouth turns dry and feels like it is full of cotton balls. Onward we race, as fast as two over sixty-year-olds can go. I am running out of breath and slow down to a more sustainable pace but there is no time for a bathroom stop. Where is F27 anyway? Of course, it is the last gate at the end of the terminal. We roll up just as the last two people are boarding. I need to get rid of some clothes before I melt.

“I bet you $100 our suitcase won’t make it,” I comment to Dave. But we have MADE IT!

flying4The flight to Rochester is uneventful and we soon stand back from the luggage conveyor and watch others collect their baggage. We do not expect ours to be there. Soon the bags have all disappeared and the conveyor stops. We stand there along with another young man.

“That’s it,” I say to no one in particular.

“You’re joking, right?” the young man responds.

“Nope.”

“But my clothes for the wedding tomorrow are in there,” is his anguished assertation.

Well, at least all ours contained was dirty clothes and a few personal items. Soon we are filling out forms documenting our lost luggage.

“It should be here by tomorrow at noon,” the airline agent assures us. “Where do you want it delivered?”

“My house??”

At 11:00 a.m. the following day, the med-city taxi glides to a stop outside our house. “Here is your suitcase.” I’m impressed. Now, that is service.

 

Drive Along West Side of Glacier

 

The day starts out with the conference occupying the morning. We don’t have big plans for today so we leisurely make our sandwiches and eat when I get back at 1:15 pm. We decide then to check out the gift shop here at the hotel and then the beach on Whitefish Lake. It is sunny and scorching hot so I really have no desire to sit on the beach. Behind the hotel, there is a 30-acre wildlife preserve that sports a walking trail through it. At least the trees there shade the sun some. As we wander through the preserve, we feel water drops hitting our head. At first, we think it is sap off the trees. “But it is not sticky,” I proclaim. “Well, it can’t be raining. The sun is shining. Maybe they are shooting water up over the trees from that truck we hear,” is one of our differential conclusions. As we walk along, though, more huge drops hit our heads and the ground. “It IS raining.” The clouds above us are slightly darkened but not at all like we would expect rain clouds to look. It is very dry here, having not rained for most of the month so we are shocked by the wetness coming from the sunny sky.

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Town of Polebridge – just south of Canadian border

Not knowing what else to do in the heat, we decide to hop into the car and drive up along the west side of Glacier. This is an area that is not highly traveled by tourists and most of the road is gravel. It is still beautiful countryside and follows the North branch of the Flathead River. We have a leisurely drive to a little town called Polebridge. It is the last town before the Canadian border which is closed. Polebridge reminds me of an 1800s town. It has a café, a bar, a store, and some cabins and I notice some solar panels outback which is the only thing that doesn’t fit the 1800 motif. We buy some delicious homemade pastries there and some drinks for the road. We take a different road into Glacier Park from the west. The entrance is not even staffed due to the low number of tourists who enter from this direction.

Of course, I need a souvenir from this trip to Montana so we make a quick stop at a gift shop near the entrance to West Glacier. I soon spend almost $100 for a t-shirt, a sweater, and a book. Then it is back to the hotel to kill a couple of hours before we drive back to the Hungry Horse Dam where Hubby would like to take some night pictures.

I think somehow, we ended up renting a car with limited driving miles of 750. I didn’t think anyone did that anymore but I guess I will find out when we return the car. We crossed the 750-mile mark yesterday, Wednesday, already.

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Sunset at Hungry Horse Dam

We leave around 8:30pm for our foray to the dam. We stop at McDonald for our supper with plans to eat on the way. The sun is just starting to slide towards the horizon as we begin our climb up the dam access road. A beautiful orange sunset extends up from behind the mountains. Hubby is looking for a good place to set up his camera equipment where he can take some night pictures of the road over the dam and then when it is dark enough, try to take some star pictures. I find a flat rock to lay on and absorb the warmth of the sun. Hubby is able to get some good pictures of the dam as night falls but the stars are slow to appear as the light seems reluctant to fade into total darkness.

Grrrrr! Grrrr! Reaches our ears. “What was that?” Grrr! Grrr! Again. “That sounds like a bear to me,” we both say at once. I am instantly on my feet and peer into the darkness. “Do you mind if I bring the car closer?”

“That’s OK. We’re leaving,” Hubby replies as he begins disassembling his camera equipment. I think our night time picture taking is over. It is time to head back to the hotel.

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Hungry Horse Dam at night

 

Whitewater Rafting – Glacier

 

IMG_6583I am off to the conference this morning at 7:15 for my breakfast before the meeting. I have yogurt with fruit and granola like at home. I leave class at 12:15 pm so that we can have time to eat lunch and get to the Glacier Rafting company in plenty of time. I did not wish to have a repeat of yesterday. We end up being about an hour early. We unload everything from our pockets and I reluctantly remove my hearing aid. The rafting company has lots of stuff to hold our glasses and caps on and they really want to sell it to us. Hubby buys a device to hold his cap and another device to secure his glasses. I decide to risk it. Right at 2:30 pm, we are loaded onto a school bus for our ride to the put-in site for the rafts. The guide talking to us on the bus is silly and entertains us while we wait to get by at another road work site. She counts us out for four different boats and goes through how to put our life vests on. Soon we are on our way again.

We pile out of the bus into the hot 90 degree Montana sun and are directed towards “our” raft. Derrick is to be our guide. He loads our raft from the front and then pushes it out further. Well, my shoes are wet before we even leave the beach. One person needs to sit in the middle and not row as there are an odd number of people. As the oldest and least interested in rowing, Hubby gets that seat. That leaves me in the back with the guide. He informs us that the people in the back are most likely to get pitched out while navigating rapids. Oh great!IMG_6581

We start out floating through some fairly calm water on our journey to the middle fork of the Flathead River. During this time, the guide gives us instructions on how to row together and how to respond if we end up in the water. There is an awful lot of emphasis on what to do if we end up in the water. Is this an omen? Maybe this is a really bad idea – too late now.

We make it through the first rapid with little problem. In the raft behind us, one man gets tossed out. The second rapid contains rougher water and in an effort to keep from ending up in the water myself, I grab the “chicken” rope that traverses the middle of the boat. I end up in the bottom of the boat but that is preferable to ending up over the side. Hubby grabs the lady beside him to keep her in the boat. She is terrified of ending up in the water. Once one gets the idea of riding with the waves, hanging on when necessary, and being prepared for getting soaked, this is quite fun. It’s a little bit like riding a horse. If you get the hang of riding with the motion, it’s simple.371

By the time we land for supper 2 ½ hours later, I am completely soaked from mid-chest down but I have not taken any dunks. It is 5:30 pm and our guides grill chicken and steak for us at a picnic grounds by the river. I am hoping my clothes will dry in the warm heat. We feast on raw cauliflower, carrots, and chips with salsa. The meal is topped off with a small cheesecake. Then it is back on the bus and back to pick up our car. As we head for the hotel, we cap off the evening with a Dairy Queen treat. It has been a fun and daring day.372

 

Boat Ride on Lake MacDonald – Glacier

281A brilliant sun greets us this morning. It is the first day of my anesthesia conference so I am off to breakfast at 7:30am. Hubby and I meet back up at 1 pm in our room. He has gone shopping and makes some sandwiches for lunch while I change clothes. We have another boat ride booked for 3pm – this time on Lake MacDonald. I think that if we leave by 1:30 pm, we should have no problem reaching our destination by 2:45. It is only about 35 miles and I am still in Minnesota mode when figuring drive times. What we have failed to consider is that this is a high tourist destination and traffic jams are quite normal. Our first hint of a problem is when we reach the entrance gate to West Glacier. There are three lines of traffic waiting to enter and the line is only creeping along. We already have our weekly ticket but there is no way to get around the line. I look at my watch as the minutes tick by. There is still hope-maybe. By 2:35pm, we are pulling away from the entrance. But we still have 10 miles to go and the speed limit is 40 mph. We can still do it if we keep moving. Then the last straw – “one lane road ahead” for road work. “Noooo!” We screech to a halt again. Another 10-minute wait. Hope is slipping away. On top of these obstacles, I need a bathroom before I get on any boat for an hour. Finally, by 2:47, we are moving again. We are both holding our breath as we strain to see the sign to MacDonald Lodge. “There it is,” I proclaim. We have 5 minutes left. But the parking lot is full, there are hordes of people everywhere, and it is a 500 foot walk to the lodge. I hand Hubby the ticket receipt. “Go ahead and see if you can pick up our boarding passes while I run to the bathroom.” I make a beeline for the bathroom only to be met by the usual waiting line outside the women’s bathroom. Could this get any worse? I impatiently wait my turn then speed out the door and down the steps to the still waiting boat. Hubby gets on when he sees me coming and they loosen the ropes and pull away as soon as my feet hit the deck. That’s cutting it close. Not my style at all. A relaxing ride on a cool blue glacial lake makes up for the stress preceding it.286

We decide to take the rest of the afternoon at a slower pace and head back towards Whitefish. Along the way, there is a sign for Hungary Horse Dam. It is a 564-foot-high concrete dam across the south fork of the Flathead river. We decide to make a detour to see it. It is a marvel of human construction that fascinates the eye. At one end is a permanent crane designed to be moved out over the dam on a kind of railroad tracks that can lift 125 tons. The massive structure holds back a 23,000-acre reservoir. Below the dam is a power generating plant.

We head back towards Whitefish again around 6:15 pm. A stop at A&W for a root beer for me and a chocolate shake for Hubby along with sandwiches wraps up our day. Tonight will be a time for rest.328

Visit to St Mary’s Lake, East Glacier

175We decide to get up at 6:30 this am to get an early start to Glacier which we have been told gets very busy if you don’t get there early. I am expecting to be able to just walk up to the registration desk downstairs at the hotel and pick up my rental car. I approach the desk and ask, “How do I go about getting my rental car?”

The desk attendant looks at my strangely and says, “We don’t have any rental cars here. And the person who takes care of that won’t be here until 8 am.”

“But I was told when I called a couple of months ago, that I didn’t need to worry about a rental car. I could rent it at the hotel.” I respond, my frustration level rising.

“Well, she shouldn’t have told you that,” is the response fired back at me. “This is the busy time of year and you need to reserve a rental car ahead of time if you expect to get one.”

I bite my lip and try to push down my mounting anxiety. “So, what am I supposed to do?”

The desk attendant sends us to the valet attendant to see if he can help us. He promises to make some phone calls to see if he can find an available rental car. “No one is open until 8 am.” He tells us.

So much for our getting started early so we can get ahead of the crowds. We decide to get ourselves some breakfast while we wait. Soon I am working on downing my yogurt, fruit, and granola. The valet attendant checks back in with us and tells us he is pretty sure he has found a car for us at the Kalispell airport. “It will be ready by 9 am,” he informs us.

I want to cry. “But the day keeps getting later and we have an appointment at 2pm at St. Mary’s Lake for a boat ride,” I blurt out.163

“Don’t worry,” he says. “We will get you the car and if you go around on the south side of the park on US 2, you will be able to get there on time.” There is not much else to do so I take a deep breath and try to make the best of the situation. This was my plan for Wednesday but I guess it will become Sunday’s plan. The valet attendant has us to the airport by 8:45am and we are on our way by 9. The road along the south side of the park offers beautiful views of the river and of the train track that we traveled the day before. We stop at an overlook and lo and behold, we spot a moose pulling up weeds for lunch out of the river below.130

We stop in East Glacier for some quick lunch food bought at a grocery store and then enter Glacier. We make it to Rising Sun for our boat ride by 1pm. A short nap is in order while we wait. We board the boat right at 2pm and push off. A ½ hour ride on St Mary’s Lake follows. The wind is quite strong and the water keeps splashing back at us through the open window.

The boat is docked and we begin a 1.5-mile hike through the forest to St. Mary’s Falls. 169The sun is hot and beats down on us. The temperature is in the 90s. There is no tree cover due to a forest fire in 2015. We are told that we must be able to walk 2 miles/hour on this ranger led hike. Hubby is not sure that he can maintain that pace. The ranger instructs us to clap our hands and holler, “Hey, bear” periodically to scare away any Grizzlies that might be lurking about. Hubby and I and, I am sure a few others, feel a little self-conscious with this behavior. There are carpets of purple and blue flowers everywhere. After what seems like an eternity, the falls comes into view. The water is beautiful as it cascades over the rock.

But we cannot stay long as we are told we have 45 minutes to get back to the boat which leaves at 5 pm regardless of whether you are there or not. Hubby is dragging and the pain between his shoulders that he sometimes has is stabbing him by the time we trek back to the boat. We plunk down on the outside deck as I want to feel the cool breeze. As I look up at the mountain that towers above us, I see a white goat high up on the rock face. One of hubby’s desires is to see mountain goats.

It is 5:30 by the time we tie up at the dock and we are far from the hotel. We resume our drive west on the “going to the sun” road. The overwhelming majesty of these mountains takes one’s breath away. There are no words to describe the towering peaks with snow when looking up and the valleys that fall away into depths below just over the edge of the road. We make one last stop at Logan Pass which is located at the continental divide.

There we see two wild rams and one wild sheep just wandering about. After a long drive along a steep winding narrow road, we finally arrive weary back at our hotel.

Traveling By Amtrak

017Friday, July 21, 2017 is the happily anticipated day for the beginning of our trip to Whitefish, Montana. Whitefish is the chosen destination for my annual anesthesia conference this year. The plan is to combine my husband’s love of trains with our need to travel there by boarding the only long-distance passenger train service left in the US, Amtrak. Since Amtrak goes right through Whitefish, this will work splendidly for us.020

Hubby and I arrive at our daughter’s house in Chatfield by 5:45pm. She will deliver us to the depot so that our car does not sit there unattended for nine days. We are on the road and headed towards Winona by 6pm. The heavy rain from the day has stopped and the sun is peaking out. The train is to arrive by 7:47pm. We hear the whistle in the distance and it comes chugging around the corner right on time. Hugs are shared and we turn to search for our assigned train car. Car number 730 is midway along the towering berths awaiting us. We board and trudge up the narrow staircase to the upper floor of a sleeper car. In the small space, two seats face each other. It is a very compact space with little extra room for storage. One suitcase fits nicely under the seat but our big suitcase begs to be stored downstairs in the main luggage area.024

We are told that our supper is at 8:30pm and will be announced when they are ready to seat us. An announcement is made around that time but the speaker does not seem to work in our room and we cannot understand what is being said.  By 8:40, we decide to check out the dining car which conveniently is located right next to our sleeping berth. We have almost missed supper as we are the last ones to be seated. I am not very hungry anyway as I was not expecting to get food this late on the train. Because of this, we ate before we left home. It is just as well as it takes forever to have our order taken and then another forever until the food comes. I look at my order of tortillas and say, “That is not what I ordered.”

“I’m sorry,” the waitress responds, “I will get you the right order.” By now it is 9:30pm and I am not much interested in food any more. I am more concerned about the effect of trying to sleep with a full stomach. Just to be polite, we wait until the food comes, take a few bites, and head back to our small home. While we wait for our car attendant to come and make up our beds, our attention is drawn towards the fireworks exploding above the skyline just outside our window at our St. Paul stop.

Making up our beds involves pulling down the upper bunk which is two feet wide and six feet long. Hubby gets the bottom bunk which is just a little longer and three feet wide. There is little room for anything once this is done except going to sleep. I climb the little steps to the top bunk and shimmy onto the bunk. There is no room for sitting up and I am cold. Thankfully, we have both been provided with two pillows and two blankets. This is not like my bed at home but is quite comfortable compared to the sleeping in the seat option. We have been told to sleep with our heads toward the back of the train in case of an emergency stop so our feet take the brunt and not our all-important heads. It is a little like trying to sleep in a hammock – gentle swaying and rocking. If I was a child, it would rock me to sleep but I am an old woman who needs everything quiet and still to sleep. At one point, I hear rain pounding against the side of the train as we travel through MN and I wonder if we are in the middle of a severe thunderstorm. We both get up to the bathroom around 2 am and then I lose some time in my brain so I must sleep some. This is the ideal way to travel. It is quite relaxing – no paying attention to driving-  eating in a restaurant, sleeping in a bed, and reading while all the while hurtling towards our destination.

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Grain Elevator in Montana

The sun is shining when I open my eyes again. I peer at my watch and conclude that it is 7:30 am. As we both are getting our shoes on, the 6:30am announcement for breakfast comes over the intercom. Oh dear, I guess I looked at my watch wrong. Well, we are up so we might as well head for breakfast. I pull the call button before we head for the dining room to have the car attendant take down our bunks. My order of hot chocolate turns out to be orange juice but once that is straightened out, the French toast is quite tasty. This waitress needs a different system for keeping track of orders but overall the food is scrumptious.

We return to our room an hour later to find our bunks still not taken care of. “Would you mind doing ours next?” I ask the attendant.

“I turned off the call button because you said you were not ready to have me do it yet,” is her response.

That’s strange. I don’t remember even seeing the attendant this morning. “We never talked to you this morning,” we respond.

“I thought sure it was you. You must think I am terribly confused,” is her comeback.

Confused yes, but not a big deal. After all, this is an adventure.

Our next trek is back through the dining car and three more coaches to the observation car while our room is being prepared for the day. The North Dakota landscape speckled with herds of beef cattle flashes by. When we return, our room is ready for us to spend a relaxing morning reading and watching the landscape streak by, with occasionally interspersed walks through the train and outside at the 30-minute stop at Minot, ND.

Before we know it, lunch is being served. We are paired with a couple from Iowa who is taking 21 young people on a mission trip to an Indian reservation near Glacier National Park. One meets lots of people with interesting lives at meal time. And this time, lunch orders go off without a hitch.

The rest of the afternoon drags as miles and miles of flat Big Sky Montana wheat fields and barren lands fly by. I take a nap which kills a little time. Soon it is time for supper. We choose the 5:30 pm time slot due to fear of not getting done in time to get off the train at 8:47pm when we are due in. This meal, we are paired with another couple from our sleeper car who reside in Florida. They have many travel adventures to share.

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Piled wheat at an elevator

Before long, we start to notice the mountains rising on the horizon to the west. Then there are stops at East Glacier, Essex, and West Glacier. The sun is casting long shadows over the mountains as we crawl along the mountain side. At times, one can look out and straight down into the valley and the river below. We finally approach Whitefish and grind to a halt. “We are waiting for a train that is in the way to pass through before we can pull into the station,” the train engineer informs us. We have collected our baggage and impatiently wait by the door as the opposing train clatters by going the opposite direction. And then we slowly roll into the station. My body moves in rhythmic swaying as I stand on the curb waiting for the hotel van to pick us up. 26 hours of swaying back and forth has left its mark and that sweet soft bed in the hotel room looks so inviting.

Our week in Montana exploring Glacier passes far too quickly and before I know it, it is time to think about heading home. I keep waking up during the night because I am afraid the alarm won’t go off. I finally roll out of bed at 5:50 am. The air is crisply cool as we walk to our rental car. The valet man tells us that the train is only five minutes late. The first order of business is to top off our rental car gas tank and drop off the car at the train station.

We settle in the waiting room but soon notice a long BSNF train is parked on the main track at the Whitefish station. He, obviously, needs to move before we can board a passenger train. Restlessness sets in as the minutes stretch endlessly into time and we move outdoors to the platform. Maybe, we think that standing outside will make the situation unfold faster. It is a beautiful, though cool morning to stand on the platform and wait. The posted arrival time comes and goes and still the freight train does not move. Eventually, a train employee walks back along the train and jumps up between each car to adjust something. Finally, forty minutes late, the freight train releases the brakes and slowly pulls away. I hear my cell phone chime. Who would be texting me? Ah, it is Amtrak letting us know the train is behind schedule and will be arriving at 8:03. I think I already figured out it is late and it had better hurry if it is going to be here in three minutes as it is already 8 am. Pretty soon, we see the headlight come around the curve. Maybe there is still hope.858

Figuring out which car is ours becomes the problem. We finally find a conductor who says,” Car 830 is the last one on the train.” We trudge through the mass of humanity going in the opposite direction. No one is at the door. Do we enter? Do we not? We finally get on. “Go immediately to the dining car if you would like breakfast.” We walk and we walk. Since we truly are in the last car of the train, it is quite a long journey to the dining car. Time to walk off some calories.

After breakfast, it is time to go back to our sleeper car. No one has scanned our ticket. We could be getting a free ride for all they know or so I think. They never do scan our ticket but when we mention this to the car attendant, he says, “You are in the system so I know you are here.” Ah, big brother is always watching.

We continue to be an hour behind throughout the day.  We spend the day enjoying the scenery. There are endless fields of wheat being harvested. I read until I finish my book, then catch up on my writing, and finally, I go searching for my computer cord in the suitcase downstairs so that I can read a kindle book from the computer. Of course, the computer locks up for a couple of hours as it thinks it needs to download and update systems which it cannot do without an internet access. In frustration, I finally am able to break its cycle by turning it off several times in a row.

We do not cross the border into North Dakota until supper time. This creates a quandary as the time zone also changes at the border. Do we go to supper on Mountain Time or Central time? We have a 6:45 pm supper reservation. Finally, we ask the car attendant. “Go to supper on Mountain Time,” he says. That means we are really eating at 7:45 pm central time. That is a little later than I would like but there is not much we can do about it. Both of us decide to have the steak topped off with a desert.

I know that this is a mistake as soon as we get back to our car. I am hoping for a few hours after supper before bedding down for the night but it is already going towards 9 pm and the attendant has a goal of all the beds being made up by ten. I have delusions that I can sit and read in the top bunk but there is no space for such an endeavor. Getting into the bunk almost causes me to have a panic attack as the car is reversed from the trip out. This means I need to try to slide my feet in from the head end and scoot down. That wouldn’t be so bad except that there is no head room.  I finally master this feat of gymnastics and decide now that I am in, I should just stay put. I wonder how the really old people manage on a top bunk. I am slightly nauseated from needing to lay down so soon after eating, but I do drift into a lullaby sleep, being rocked back and forth by the motion of the train. I had decided that I would not even try to get up during the night to go to the bathroom but by 3 am, that resolution needs to go out the window. I have realized that if I take down the strapping that keeps one from rolling out, I can actually get my legs out. The trick is to hit the steps without crashing first as there are no grab bars or any surfaces to grab onto for support. Considering the circumstances, the sleeper at night does offer better sleep than a coach seat would have.

 

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Lake Pepin – along the Mississippi

Sunday morning greets us with bright sun at 6 am. We decide to roll out at 7. The thought of traipsing the length of the train to the dining car to make reservations, then traipsing back to wait for our call (which we can’t hear in our car anyway), then making a third trip to actually get our breakfast is overwhelming this morning. Instead, we opt to go downstairs in the dome car for some yogurt, donut holes, and orange juice. We have some nuts and a granola bar in our sleeper. That will have to do until we get off. The train pulls into St Paul right on time so it looks like we will make our 10:11 scheduled arrival time in Winona in spite of being an hour late all day yesterday. We are more than ready to step onto the little step that leads to the sidewalk to be greeted by our daughter. Ah, there is no place like home.

 

 

 

Does a GPS system operate like Our Heavenly Father?

085May 20, 2017 marks 30 years of working for Mayo Clinic. My how time flies. Part of being honored by Mayo is being allowed to choose a gift from an on-line catalog. There are thousands of choices for consideration. As I scroll through the countless pieces, I realize that there isn’t really anything that I need. A bicycle would be nice but I already have a bicycle, albeit it doesn’t always shift so well. Finally, I settle upon a Global Positioning Device. My hubby and I have never owned one and have always laughed at those who use such things, sometimes to their detriment. Does no one think anymore? Now, I shall see if I can join their ranks. Maybe it will help to lessen our total frustration of trying to navigate together when we go traveling.

I open the box when the device arrives. There are no directions. The manufacturer must think that everyone is capable of figuring out electronic boxes. After finally getting it mounted in the car on the only place that the suction cup will stick (right in the middle of my radio screen), I decide to see if it can find my hubby’s apartment or shop in town. “Unable to find address” is the only response I seem to elicit from it. Oh, great. The next day, Sunday, we decide to drive to the Bluegrass Gospel Music session, part of the Bluegrass Festival, being held at Houston, MN. This is the perfect opportunity to try out this device. I soon realize trying to type in the address while we are driving is impossible. I am getting more and more frustrated as the car bounces just a little each time I hit a letter. Finally, I am able to input the street address but it has no place to enter the city and state. Fifteen minutes of failing at getting correct input, then having it tell me no such address exists leave me fuming and agitated.

Alright, I say to myself, we are just trying to have a nice day and I am getting totally bent out of shape over a small box that talks to us. I take a deep breath. Finally, I am successful in having it recognize where we are trying to end up. It does faithfully lead us to the right destination. Going home is much easier. Since I previously entered our home address, I just need to hit “Go Home” to start the little brain thinking. We soon discover that we can mess with its little computer brain. Each time we turn the wrong way, it patiently recalculates, and tells us to turn again and again in an effort to get us back going the way it thinks we should be going.

105All of a sudden, it hits me. A GPS system is like our Heavenly Father up above. Once we decide we want to follow Him through life, He plugs in the “home” address. He gives us the steering wheel to the car (free will) and tells us to drive towards home. All along the way, He guides us with his calm gentle voice. If we turn the wrong way, His voice keeps talking to us, trying to get us back on the right road towards home. He doesn’t condemn us. He doesn’t scream at us. He doesn’t scold us. He just gently recalculates each time we make a wrong turn and instructs us again and again until we finally turn back in the right way. And unlike the GPS that has no instruction manual, God has given us an instruction manual. We just need to remember to read it.

The Final Day – Traveling Home

11-17-2016 Thursday

Today is our last day in Israel. It is chilly and only partly sunny. Our first stop today is at an archaeological dig site to shift through debris from the temple mount. The temple is occupied by the Muslims and apparently, they decided to expand their mosque without contacting the antiquities authority as required. Truckloads of artifacts and debris were hauled away in the night and dumped on the Mount of Olives.

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Lecture with Directions

Sifting through buckets of stones is not really my cup of tea but we are here so participate we do. We are assigned to a sieve kind of thing in groups of four. Son-in-law, Daughter, Hubby, and I are a group. We are to dump a bucket of the debris on our wire sieve, wash it with a garden hose and then sort through it. Things that we find that are old metal, pottery, mosaic, glass, bone, or unusual stones are to be picked out and put into a muffin tin. The whole mess looks like regular old stones to me and what little interest I had is soon gone. Hubby sticks with it.

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Sifting rocks

Picking up pretty stones is more his thing. Other groups have some success with finding valuable items. Our picking is mostly a failure.

We board the buses again about 10:30 to make our way to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. It is a somber experience as we remember the many lives lost through the cruelty of the Germans. The sad reality is that world leaders are now trying to tell people that it never happened. I cannot understand this phenomenon – how educated people can deny this tragedy. It is also unfathomable to me how men can be so depraved and heartless on one hand and on the other, there were those who risked their own lives and futures to save as many Jews as possible. What I am most shocked by is that Christians in the early centuries after Christ returned to heaven (200-400AD), considered the Jews subhuman and persecuted them for not accepting Christ as the Messiah. We eat our noon meal at the Holocaust Museum then relax for some time standing in the sun until everyone is ready to go.

Our last stop of the day is in the garden which contains one of the places believed to possibly be the burial site of Jesus. Our tour guide is a Swedish gentleman who talks to us about the garden and about Jesus sacrifice for us on the cross. As he is explaining about the Hill of the Scull

where Jesus was crucified, a booming loud speaker blares out the Muslim call to prayer. It is so loud we cannot talk above it and need to wait for the call to be over. Often, we are told, the Muslims call their people to prayer more than the 5 times required by their law just to interfere with the Christian activities such as this. Trying to protest or stop this kind of behavior would result in WW III so the behavior is quietly tolerated.

We make our way to the garden tomb and each one of us gets a chance to take a look into the empty tomb. Then we gather together on some benches to sing hymns and worship. Pastor Mark brings us a short message and then communion is shared together. The communion cups are made of olive wood and we can keep them as a remembrance. The wind has started to pick up and it is quite chilly as we sit there. It is 4 pm by the time we wrap up the service and head back to the bus and the hotel.

Several people, including Daughter and son-in-law, want to get off at the Jaffa Gate to do some last minute shopping so the bus makes a drop off stop there. The rest of us go back to the hotel to rest until the 6:30 drop off time for taking our suitcases to the bus. Then it is time for the last supper. A gourmet meal it is.

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Bus 2 Group Photo

We board the buses at 8:30 pm for our trip to the airport where we say Good-bye to our bus driver, Shalom, and our guide, Eli. Our excursion through the airport turns out to be a stressful challenge. We are first told to get our boarding passes at the many kiosks designed for such purposes. Brother, his wife, Hubby, and I are successful at doing so. However, by that time, we realize that all the other 100 some have been told to just get into line and we are left at the end of the line. Son-in-law and Daughter have left us in the dust. They are far ahead at the front of the line. I keep thinking having our boarding passes and luggage already checked should allow us to bypass some of this line but it does not seem so. My stomach muscles are getting tighter and tighter as this line progresses with the speed of a turtle. I keep looking at my watch and thinking that we are going to end up missing the plane. As we are all standing in line, we find out that El Al Airlines have overbooked the flight by at least 15 – 20 people and they are asking members of our group to stay. Apparently, the pilots have also been on strike since Sunday which we knew nothing about. Just last evening, all flights were canceled.

The clock has ticked away an hour and a half before we finally reach the first security point where they compare our passport with our face and ask numerous questions. This one we zip through. Then we are told to get into the line for checking our bags in.

“Can we check our bags in somewhere faster?” I ask “since we already have luggage tags.”

Of course the answer is, “No, you need to get in that line.” As the man points to the line that snakes around 3 rows of slowly crawling snails. I am starting to feel somewhat panicked as we wait again for 30 minutes. Finally, we head for the next stop which is the physical security checkpoint where we need to go through the metal detector. We are allowed to keep our shoes on which makes this line move at incredible speed. As we leave the metal detector, I look around for the signs pointing to the D concourse. I see nothing like that. Confusedly, I lead my pack of four around in circles. Finally, I decide to ask. The TSA agent I ask is visibly irritated by this ignorant idiot, “You have to go through passport verification first,” she snaps. I have no idea what that means but head towards a line marked “foreign passports.” Another official looking lady waves toward some strange machines on the wall,” You can use those automatic ones over there.”

OK, I have no idea what to do with those things but I wander over and read the directions which say, “Put passport under scanner.” Amazingly, it likes my approach and prints me a little ticket. Feeling confident that we are now on our way, I tuck everything away and we are funneled through 1 small opening towards the boarding area.  No wonder I could not see it before. We have not gone more than 20 feet and we come to more machines that indicate we need to scan our pink card to get through. “Pink card? I don’t have a pink card.” Then I realize this must mean the little slip of paper we just got. It has a faint ting of pink across the top. Finally, we reach the boarding area. Are there any more hoops to jump through I wonder? We have about a ½ hour wait before boarding the plane. They make an announcement that any liquids we have bought cannot be brought on the plane and that they will be going through our carry-on bags looking for liquids. You can’t be serious! Again? This line moves quickly as the search is not terribly thorough. The last straw awaits me on the plane. We realize Hubby and I do not have exit seats as I paid for and we are stuffed into the middle of the plane with someone between us. I make myself at home in the middle seat regardless. It makes no sense for someone to want to sit between us. When that person finally arrives, she is fine with our arrangement as it will put her husband just across the aisle from her. In all the confusion of the Airline’s overbooking and moving people around, we are left to stuff ourselves in the regular seats for 12 hours and the money I paid extra for exit seats has been swallowed up in the mess.

Other than being unable to breathe or move properly for 12 hours, all goes well with our flight. We land in Newark, NJ 45 minutes late but safe and sound back in the US. Our connecting flight to Minneapolis is uneventful. We break through the heavy clouds into light rain. By the time we retrieve our bags, it has started to snow heavily. Welcome to winter in Minnesota.

This time the hare beat the tortoise as we get home before my brother and his wife who drove home from the Newark airport.1313