Virginia Family Visit – The Williamsburg Trip Conclusion

556Friday is the last day of my anesthesia conference. Like most conferences that I have attended, the crowd has thinned to a sparse few by the last presentation. We are done by 11:30 am. I stand in the heat and call my hubby to pick me up in front of the conference center. Because of hotel rules about check-out of the room by 11 am, husband and daughter have been homeless and wandering around the town of Williamsburg waiting for me to get done.

After a quick stop at Kentucky Fried Chicken, we are on the road to my younger brother’s house in the Charlottesville, VA area. We are hoping to be there in time for supper. Once we get off Interstate 64, the roads become narrow and curvy. My brother’s driving instructions were to follow the road which twists, turns, curves, and goes up hill and down for 15 miles. I guess that describes what roads that lie in the foothills of the mountains are like. It is beautiful country except the trees are a little too close to the side of the road for what Minnesotans are used to. We arrive around 4 pm in the afternoon. We had been instructed that once we left the hard top road and transitioned onto a gravel road that we were to turn left at the next driveway. Turn left we do, into a driveway in a forested area. My mother used to say that my husband and I lived in the “boonies.” I think this seems like the “boonies” to me too. The two story house is set against a backdrop of a hill that disappears into the sky – a lovely setting of peace and privacy. It is cooler here than on the east shore, a relief from the unrelenting heat of the last few days.

Mama deer with albino and normal spotted fawns

Mama deer with albino and normal spotted fawns

That evening while sitting and chatting, my 9 year old nephew, draws our attention to a deer that has been visiting them every evening. The doe has two fawns – one is pure white, an albino. They come very close to the house and Nephew creeps out to photograph them. They are beautiful.

My brother and his wife graciously offer their bed to us for our use while our daughter sleeps upstairs in our nephew’s bedroom. There is no air conditioning here so the windows are open. I notice that the night is silent except for the sounds of the night creatures – no voices, no far off car or truck sounds. I used to love to fall asleep to the chirping of the crickets. I, however, have a hard time falling and staying asleep here. I have started to develop the dreaded rash on my legs from the mosquito bites I received on Wednesday. I notice some hydrocortisone cream on the bathroom counter and help myself to it even though I know that in the past, it has not helped. Hubby and I have also switched bed sides because the only outlet available to run his CPAP machine for sleep apnea is on “my” side. As creatures of habit, we collide in the middle of the slanting mattress as we roll.

300 267Saturday dawns bright and sunny. We all pile into my brother’s van. The 3 young, not quite so wide ones, are delegated to the rear seat. That means us old ones get the middle seats. My brother has kindly planned a family day for us visiting some of Virginia’s natural wonders. We visit the Virginia Safari Park, the Natural Bridge Park and the Natural Bridge Caverns, all located in Natural Bridge, VA. The whole town and these attractions revolve around the theme of the natural bridge. The natural bridge is a huge rock arch formation that was formed years ago when a cavern collapsed leaving the 215 foot tall towering rock bridge. It has a span of 90 feet and, we are told, has a road that runs over the top of it.

The Safari Park contains numerous wild animals much like a zoo though which one can drive to view the animals. It is a great place but I can’t help but think that none of these man-made parks begins to compare to God’s wild animals in the natural habitat of the African plains. Since our trip to Africa, I am always somewhat disappointed in the man-made parks and zoos.

We dutifully stand in line after lunch to buy our tickets to the bridge and the cavern. We all decide to buy the combo ticket pack which allows us to see both the caverns and the natural rock bridge for a cheaper price. At least, that is what we think. Because of the time of day, the caverns becomes our first stop of the two. Imagine my shock when we approach the check-in at the caverns and the lady there says, “That will be $56.”

“What?” is the response of both my brother and me. “We paid for the combo tickets down below.”

“Oh,” responds the lady, “We don’t do that anymore. You only pay for the Natural Bridge admission tickets down there and we charge the rest up here.”

I am really confused but as I look at the receipt, we did only pay the single admission price. I notice the confused looks of my brother and the building frustration of my hubby. I quickly pay the extra as I assure my brother and hubby that everything is OK and that I will explain later. We all agree that this is a really misleading way to handle things – make people believe they are paying for both attractions and then ask them later for the additional amount.

345We have arrived just in the nick of time as the next group is starting their decent into the caverns. I am wishing that I had a coat but I don’t. I will have to survive without it. If I could just absorb some of this cold and use it when we get back out into the sunshine, I could actually enjoy this chilly atmosphere. We do have a grand tour into the depths of the earth and then it is time to hike to the natural bridge.

A group is milling around under the bridge preparing for a military wedding. This is a beautiful place to have a wedding. The only problem is the constant stream of people who will be tromping through the ceremony. The magnificent rock formation frames a small staging area nestled between the bridge and the tree lined gorge behind it. The temperature is moderate in this ravine as the path is shaded by the rock wall and trees that grow from it. A stream runs beside the path, tumbling down from a higher elevation. A mile walk along this path will take us to Lace Waterfall. By the time we reach the waterfall, it is pushing 4 pm and we retrace our steps back down the path to the natural bridge. The wedding is just getting ready to begin. Respectfully, people pause as the wedding proceeds and the crowds gather to watch. It is a short wedding – probably not even 30 minutes. The military wedding theme is culminated with the bride and groom passing under the raised swords of the honor guard as they depart. Just as the couple passes under the swords of the last two men in the row, the one soldier reaches out with his sword and smacks the bride of the butt. Ouch! I don’t think that was the way it was supposed to end.

Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge

On our way “home,” my brother takes us on a fast tour of the Blueridge Mountains via Blue Ridge Parkway. We climb up and up as we speed around curves for a number of miles.

“Would you like to see Crabbtree Falls?” asks my brother.

“If we are anywhere close, I would like to at least see it. But I don’t think I want to climb a 3 mile trail tonight yet.” I respond.

Soon we are plunging downhill and around corners at breakneck speed. I am not too worried or frightened as my brother is a truck driver and travels Virginia roads every day. My husband tells me later that he was hanging onto his seat for dear life. I worry about our daughter as she is in the back and she tends to get car sick. I keep asking her if she is OK. As we pull into the Crabtree Falls parking lot and get out of the car, a strong smell of burning brakes assaults our noses. Oops! Someone just about burnt up the brakes.

436“Let’s just climb to the first platform,” I suggest. Everyone agrees. A short .2 miles later, we are there. Brother says, “How about going to the next platform?”

“No o…” I groan but my hubby thinks that is a great idea so off we go. I can do anything that he can do. Even he agrees to not go to the third platform when it is suggested. It is time to find some food and go “home.”

By Sunday morning and our departure time, the mosquito itch and rash on my legs has grown to a frenzied roar. Nothing makes it stop except numbing my legs with ice cubes. At my brother’s house, I can do that. How am I going to make it home without going insane as anything touching my legs only makes the itch worse? This is like a form of torture. I discover that if I roll up my pant legs as high as they will go so nothing is touching my skin, the itch is tolerable. But I don’t want to look like a world class dork in public. But as I look around the airport at the bustling crowds of people, I realize no one, except my family, knows me and I will never see these people again. The creeping insanity of the itch soon overrides my self-conscious desire to be socially proper. I walk around with my pants rolled up. And on the airplane, I ask for only ice when the stewardess comes around with drinks. Ah, that ice provides immeasurable relief. At least, I can make it home without losing my mind although I am not sure, as a Minnesotan where mosquitos are the state bird, how I am going to avoid these situations in the future if I want to spend any time in my beloved outdoors.

The end.

Chapter 3 BWCA Homeward Bound

Landing at Portage

Landing at Portage

Getting ready to portage

Getting ready to portage

We broke camp around 8:30 a.m. on our third day to head back to our cabin. The lake was mirror calm as we set out towards the first portage. We paddled lazily but mostly drifted along as we took in the beauty of this place. It had taken every ounce of our strength to get there but the solitude was worth it.

Hubby had begun to have back and shoulder pain when carrying the canoe so I offered to take on that task. I positioned myself under the canoe with the help of my mate and then balanced the 45 pounds upon my shoulders. That part was easy. The path was strewn with rocks and steep inclines, declines, and some man made steps. I walked slowly positioning my feet carefully and with deliberation. I have found that I no longer have the excellent balance and agility that I once had so I needed to tread carefully. As I began to breathe heavily, I talked to myself, “Just talk it one step at a time. Breathe in. Breathe out. Don’t panic.” I made it each time without any crashes. I think this is my philosophy for life as well. No need to worry about things. Just take them one step at a time. Take each step with planned purpose and with confidence and you will make it through life successfully with God’s help.

We arrived back in Ham Lake by 11:30 a.m. Hubby decided he wanted to try to take pictures of the water crashing over the rocks near the original portage into this lake. We pulled up parallel to the rock faced landing.

“Let’s just get out of the canoe and tie it up here while I take pictures,” said Hubby.

“Where is the rope? I asked. “I think it is in the bottom of the tent pack.” I had visions of rocking the canoe back and forth while we tried to shift ourselves to get into position to fish for the rope. After all, we are not exactly nimble anymore. All I could envision was us dumping all the gear and ourselves into the lake. “I think this is a really bad idea,” I expressed my conviction. “I think we should paddle to the campsite across the lake, take our stuff out, and come back with an empty canoe. Then if we dump, it is just us and we haven’t lost anything.”

Hubby did finally agree to my suggestion and we proceeded to paddle across the lake and dispense of our cargo before returning to exit the canoe successfully. We trekked up the portage looking for a place for hubby to set up his camera tripod. We could see why this portage had been abandoned. We found no good spot so returned to the portage entrance. Hubby decided to hop some rocks and set up his tripod more out in the river flow.

“Be careful,” I admonished. “The rocks are slippery and we are a long way from help.”

I decided to find a spot to lie down while I waited as photography is something my hubby can spend hours pursuing. I discovered that my life jacket spread out on the ground made an acceptable bed. Why didn’t I think of using these for pillows or in between-knee protection earlier? It worked quite well. As I laid relaxing on my self-styled bed, I devised a plan for how I would rescue my hubby when he slipped on the slippery rocks and fell in the churning river. I decided I would let him bob out into the lake (he did have a lifejacket on), row up to him in the canoe, throw him the rope, and they pull him to the shoreline campsite. Having made my plan for saving my life’s partner, I could then lay in the warm sunshine, daydreaming, almost dozing.

062 (3) 079 366 An hour later, Hubby returned without any mishap occurring and we paddled back to the campsite where we had left our stuff. Our lunch was enjoyed from the top of a very large rock and then, it was time to tackle those last two portages through the woods. We successfully traversed those portages out of Ham Lake. I, however, was seriously hot and sweaty by then. I made the mistake of turning up the sleeves of my long sleeved shirt for the last three hours of our journey. The mosquitoes took advantage of this new exposed flesh. They eagerly nibbled my wrists and ankles over forty times. I was ecstatic as we set our last packs down at the end of the last portage. We did it. Working together in life has made hubby and me a successful team.

As we paddled through the last section of lily pads and marsh grass to the BWCA exit landing point, I informed Hubby that I was going to leave the canoe and equipment at the bottom of the twelve steps which was the final hurdle at the BWCA exit landing. “The steps are too big for me to step up with the weight of the canoe. The outfitter can pick it up at the bottom.”

I got an instant comeback from Hubby, “Oh no. We are going to take the canoe up those steps. We are going to finish what we started. It is a matter of honor.”

“Well then, you go for it,” I retorted.

And he did. We finished well.

I sighed wearily as we stepped into our little cabin. How good it was to be back to the civilized world. I thought about how our forefathers spent their lives gathering firewood to make a fire, water to cook and wash, and hunted and fished to put food on the table. It took up most of their time and energy. I am certainly much more thankful for those comforts that we take for granted every day. I can turn on the faucet and clean water flows out. I can put dishes in a dishwasher, turn a knob and ta da, there are clean dishes. I can sink into my Serta mattress with its memory foam topper and sleep in luxury. How thankful I am for the blessings God gives us every day that none of us are necessarily entitled to.

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Into the Wilderness Chapter 2

139 215109                                     Chapter 2 Our Campsite

We camped along a beautiful pristine lake with only the sound of silence occasionally broken by the call of a loon, the lapping of waves on the rocks, a song from a bird, or the drone of a million mosquitos trying to carry us away. I love the solitude of God’s great creation with not another human anywhere around.

The campfire grill was perched on the top of a big, not very flat, rock but there was a nice flat area to set up our tent. Thankfully, we found some well-worn directions to guide our erection efforts. After everything was in its place, I went searching for the toilet or what I call the “throne on the hill.” I followed the worn path that led away from the campsite and up a very steep hill deep into the woods – just the place I want to go in the dark of night. The approved toilet in the BWCA is always an upturned plastic box with a hole in it, situated in the middle of the open woods. It is truly an outside toilet. There one sits amongst the trees to take care of business while the spiders occupy the inside of the pit and the mosquitos search for some tasty meals on fresh undeeted anatomy.

106      Cooking does take up a large portion of one’s day as the water has to be pumped from the lake through a micron filter for drinking and cooking or boiled for twenty minutes. My hubby did the cooking over a small, very small, propane gas stove. The rehydrated food that actually gets fully rehydrated is pretty tasty, the rest is chewy and rubbery. After supper, it was time to wash dishes – my job. This required another twenty minutes to boil a pot of water, followed by a trip deep into the woods to wash them so none of the dishwater ended up in the lake. It was quite a juggling act while swatting at my visitor friends, the mosquitos, every few seconds. Then, it was back to the campsite to store things away for the night under the canoe for bear protection. I wondered as I brushed my teeth if electric toothbrushes and shavers are considered motors and would be banned here.

170       There was a beautiful sunset as the sun sank below the western horizon. Finally, it was time for bed. Bed was a small self-inflating mattress covered by a sleeping bag in our tent. This did not look at all like my soft memory foam covered mattress at home. My body soon agreed with my mental assessment. There was no way for a fifty something body to get comfortable after our strenuous day of portaging and canoeing. Knees, hips, shoulders, and backs all protested. There were no pillows as they take up too much space for carrying into the wilderness. Hubby and I became resourceful and made pillows by stuffing all our remaining clothes into the sleeping bag covers – not perfect but workable.

147            Our night was punctuated by turning from side to side over and over. I constantly looked at my watch. “Is it morning yet?” I groaned. Everything hurt and there was no comfortable position. Finally at 5 am, my hubby was driven from his “bed” by the torture of our sleeping situation. Outside, the sky was beginning to lighten and the scene was a painting from God’s hand. The mist hung low over a mirror calm lake. Everything stood in awe of its creator. My hubby was in his glory too for the scene begged to be photographed.

We spent our morning paddling around Snipe Lake and then returned to our campsite for an afternoon of fishing by hubby and reading by me. We capped off the evening with a campfire as the sun sank below the horizon. Happy 60th Birthday Hubby!

Into The Wilderness – Are we too Old? Chapter 1 of 3

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Into The Wilderness – Are we too Old?  Chapter 1 of 3

My hubby’s wish for his 60th birthday was to make one more trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) of northern Minnesota before we were physically not able to pursue such strenuous activities. (I think we were a little delusional even now.)

The BWCA is a wilderness area of lakes, and forests, and rocks into which people go to seek out solitude and time away from society. The only means of transportation allowed is by canoe or on foot. Camping is allowed only in designated, first come, first serve camp sites. In addition, everything that is taken into the BWCA must be brought back out, including trash. Many of the lakes have rivers flowing into them that are unpassable by canoe so one often must portage, or get out of the canoe and carry all supplies to the next body of water, before getting back into the canoe. This can make for interesting challenges.

Our three day BWCA trip began on July 7. The outfitter we were using set us up with the food, tent, cooking utensils, and everything else needed except our clothes and personal items. One tries not to take more than one set of extra clothes and the minimum of everything else that one thinks they can’t live without. We still managed to end up with three large Duluth backpacks, a bag with camera equipment, and fishing gear. All of this needed to be packed along with two people into a fifteen foot aluminum canoe. We chose aluminum because we have a habit of crashing into the rocks at portages and didn’t want to worry about damaging a Kevlar canoe.

            We were taken to the launching area at the Cross Bay Entry point to the BWCA and soon were skimming though the lily pad laced marsh headed for our first portage. The challenges of portaging are many. First, one needs to find the portage entry as they are not marked and they don’t just jump out and say, “Here I am.” We were given a map by our outfitter of the lakes and rivers and established portage routes. I noticed as I stared at the map of the contour of the winding waterway attempting to determine where our first portage might be, little lettering in red at the bottom, “Map is not intended for navigational use and is not represented to be correct in every aspect.” Oh, that made me feel so much better. We did find our first portage hidden amongst the rocks and trees just off to the side of the rushing rocky river that makes its way into the transitional lake where we were headed. The second challenge of portaging is landing the canoe, usually on a rocky shoreline, without capsizing the canoe, dropping the packs in the water, or falling in oneself. I soon realized that our old knees do not bend as far or as quickly as they used to and we leaned towards being tipsy, like a drunk, even though we had not consumed any alcoholic beverages. A very heavy rain had fallen the night before so interspaced between the rocks was soupy mud. The first portage was about 800 feet long and traversed up several 16-20” steps before leveling out and trailing through randomly spaced rocks and trees. Over this, one must hoist and carry 40 – 50 pound packs and, at some point, the canoe. By the time we had each made two trips, my knees were protesting vigorously about the extra stress being placed on them.

Beaver Dams

Beaver Dams

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          Then it was time to launch the canoe again onto a very small but beautiful lake covered in lily pads of white and yellow flowers back-dropped by evergreen trees. We paddled for only a short distance before it was time to portage again. After a “shorter” 640 foot portage of equal strenuousness, we found ourselves in larger Ham Lake. There were four campsites on this lake, only one of which was occupied. But this lake is not actually part of the BWCA so motorized boats are allowed here. We were looking for peace and quiet so we tucked this knowledge away in our minds and decided to portage over one more lake to Cross Bay Lake before procuring a campsite. According to our map, the portage to Cross Bay Lake had been moved about 100 feet from the original due to problems with that portage. We noticed a group of 3 – 4 canoeists landing at the old portage. They, apparently, were unaware that the portage had been moved. We hurriedly unloaded, portaged, and reloaded because we wanted to get ahead of the other group in choosing a campsite. We could hear voices as we floated onto Cross Bay Lake and as we looked back towards the river, we could see the adventurists dragging their canoes upstream through the rocky rapids. That did not look like loads of fun. Apparently, there is a good reason why the old portage was abandoned.

There are only two campsites on Cross Bay Lake and we had high hopes of making claim on one of them. After paddling the full length of the lake, we were disappointed to discover that both of them were already occupied. We were so hoping to be able to camp on this lake and did not want to do another portage. But now, we needed to make a decision. Should we paddle back to Ham Lake and take one of those empty ones or portage again to Snipe Lake in the hopes that one of those four would be available? As we paddled toward the Snipe Lake portage, we met the “river canoe draggers.”

“Hello,” we casually greeted each other.

As we glided on by, my hubby said to me, “They are doing the same thing we are, looking for a campsite. Why didn’t you tell them that one was occupied too?”

Slyly, I replied, “I know they are doing the same thing that we are. But I want them to spend the time to find out for themselves so that we have a little more time to get ahead of them.”

I think my motives were suspect and maybe unkind, but I was getting very tired of portaging. Our original intent was to portage into the BW only one or two portages at the most. I didn’t know what one was supposed to do if he couldn’t find an open campsite.

We paddled through another lily pad-lined marsh towards where we believed the next portage was located. The lily pads became denser and the peat bog moved when we bumped into it. Our water channel narrowed down to about ten feet. Then, we passed a beaver house. As we rounded a bend, we spotted the opening to the portage in the distance. But our friends, the beavers, had been very busy creating an environment perfect for their own living arrangement. We were faced with two separate beaver dams across our path. This discovery brought back memories of our last trip to the BWCA and we knew how to deal with this situation. There was nothing else to do except run the canoe up the beaver dam as far as it could go until we were stuck. Then I hopped out on the narrow little dam and pulled the canoe up as high as it would go. There went my dry feet. Then I hopped back in and my hubby needed to get out of his end of the canoe so that it would tip back into the water. As we were struggling with this task, we heard the voices behind us. Oh no, our competition, “the river draggers” were behind us. But the beavers had actually done us a favor as our competition gave up in the face of the dams and left. “Yes!!” I was delighted. Just around the corner on Snipe Lake was an empty camping site which we promptly claimed. It was not marked on our map as a good one but we didn’t care. We were tired and ready to set up housekeeping.

Campsite

Campsite

View from campsite

View from campsite

Climbing Latsch

147149The weatherman was predicting wet, rainy weather for Sunday and Monday of Memorial Day weekend so my hubby and I decided to scrap our Saturday work plans and carry out our Monday recreational ones instead. The sky was blue and the sun was shining as we set out at 8 a.m. The first stop was for food at the Kwik Trip in Kellogg – I know, a really healthy breakfast. Our destination was to be the John Latsch State Park north of Winona on Hwy 61. It has been many years since we have attempted its 592 steps going ½ mile up the side of the bluff. My hubby really wanted to know “am I still man enough to do this?” After all, he turns 60 this year.

Many years ago when we were young and dating, we made the climb several times. At that time, there were no man-made steps. One got to the top by scrambling and climbing on hands and knees up the steep side of the bluff. At the top is a stunning view of the Mississippi River Valley in both directions. Coming down, at that point in time, was a matter of periodically halting the rapid slide.

139129After multiple stops to catch our breath and 592 steps later, we both made it to the top. Our hearts were pounding furiously as if they were trying to jump out of our chests. Many places along the path, there are no hand rails so I spent a significant amount of time watching where I was putting my feet. I decided that my regular daily exercise routine would not be necessary for this Saturday. While I relaxed and enjoyed the scenery, my hubby set up his camera and pursued one of his many hobbies – photographing the awesome beauty of God’s creation.100

Then it was time to make the journey back down. My knees were complaining mightily at being bent 592 times again. I was not sure they were going to hold out until we reached the bottom. At the end of one section of steps, my left ankle overturned just as I was stepping down to the next step. In an attempt to save my ankle, I left myself careen off the trail into the woods. As I grabbed desperately for trees to break my headlong plunge, I could hear my spouse frantically hollering, “Are you OK? Are you OK?” Yeah. I just thought I would take the fast way down. After dusting myself off, there did not seem to be any permanent damage so we continued our journey to the bottom. We both felt like wobbly-legged chickens by the time we got down with our leg muscles screaming to stop. But we did it!!! Not too old yet!