Whitewater Rafting Moab, Utah – Preparing For Our Trip

Main Street, Moab Utah

            My traveling partner, Dawn and I arrived in Moab, Utah around 5:30 p.m. local time on Monday, July 12, 2021. The temperature is 105 degrees. “At least, it’s a dry heat,” people often say but it is still hot. Red rock rises into the sky on both sides of the highway and the landscape is dry and barren. Nothing grows green. Moab is a sprawling western tourist town with probably more motels than anything else. We check into our accommodations at Bowen Motel and then decide to walk across the street to Wendy’s to get supper. Apparently, Utah is still hanging onto the Covid 19 restrictions yet regardless of whether one is vaccinated or not. Wendy’s lobby is locked up tight but there appears to be cars going through the drive thru. We turn away and stroll south along the sidewalk. There has to be something open within walking distance. However, each place we pass has a “closed” sign on the door. I am getting hot and frustrated. Dawn wants one thing and I want another. We are like two old married people who can’t agree. We finally decide to walk back to the motel, get the car, and drive through Wendy’s drive thru. We are the fourth car in line. Our hopes rise that we will soon be chowing down and filling our bellies. Unfortunately, the minutes tick by while we chomp at the bit. They finally take one order and fifteen minutes later, another. The gas idles away as we wait. Fifteen more minutes goes by.

            “Let’s go somewhere else,” I finally say, “This is ridiculous.”

            I quickly check the GPS for suggestions of other nearby fast-food places since the ones unique to Moab all seem to be closed or not open for dine-in. I am so glad I brought my GPS along. It has provided useful information on restaurants, gas stations, and rest stops along our route. McDonald’s is just .6 mile down the street. We are met with the same drive through line only there but at least it is moving. We soon have some sandwiches, fries, and a milkshake to satisfy our growling stomachs. We have made it safely to our destination.

Looking south from Arches National Park

            The sun is peaking over the cliff just to the east of our motel when I enter the warm morning air. The temperature has not dropped below 80 degrees during the night. Orientation is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Mild and Wild Rafting office in Moab. Dawn has brought along an electric skillet, and she whips up some French toast. This along with grapes is our breakfast meal.

            A little before 9:30, we head out for the rafting headquarters. It only takes a few minutes to make the drive. A young lady sits at a picnic table under a shady canvas canopy. There is a light breeze which wafts away the feeling of overwhelming heat.

            “Can I help you?” she greets us.

            “We are here for the orientation,” we respond.

            “You are early,” she says, “but I will go see if I can find one of the guys to do your orientation.”

            Soon she is back with a young man, Haden, who is to be one of our guides on our adventure. “You are the only two that will be here for orientation so I will just do it now,” he declares, “The other family is not flying in until this evening.”

            He gives us each a waterproof sack twice as big as a pillow. Into this, which already includes our tent, we each are to stuff a sleeping bag, a mattress, and a duffel bag of personal clothes and necessities. With a little creative stuffing, I finally get the task accomplished. And that is the extent of our orientation. We are ready to leave and go about our day by ten. So why did we come a day early?

            We make a decision to drive the short distance to Arches National Park. After reading on-line about the overcrowding of our national parks and the high chance of being turned away if one is not there by 7:30 in the morning, I have grave doubts that we will be able to get in. But there is no line, and we easily zip through the ticketing process. Motoring around the park in our vehicle is mostly our means of sightseeing. Large red rock formations rise against the sky. Many of them have acquired names for their shapes. This national park is known for its sandstone arches of which there are many. We swing into a parking pullout every so often to snap a photo. Even a couple of very short hikes are in order, but the heat soon chases us back to the car. Before we know it, our stomach is calling us to head back to Moab for some food. We discover at Denny’s the same issue we had the night before at Wendy’s. They are extremely short of help with only one man seating patrons, cleaning tables, taking orders and delivering food. In spite of this, we are back out the door within an hour.

Arches National Park

            After an afternoon siesta time, we head downtown on foot to scope out the various shops and enjoy an ice cream treat. Our final task of the day is to deliver our electronics to the rafting company office for safekeeping. Leaving them in a 200-degree car for four days does not seem like a prudent idea.

One of the arches

Wilderness Adventure Day 4 – Hanging out in the Yurt

My Daily writing

Sunday, June 20 is Father’s Day. We stay snuggled in our sleeping bag until 8 a.m. We have no where to be. Because it is supposed to rain today, we left the car last evening out at the end of the ½ mile trail to the yurt. I was able to walk back in ten minutes – not bad. That should be a doable hike on Monday morning carrying the rest of our belongings.

The day breaks with the sun shining before slowly sliding into cloudiness. After a light breakfast, we decide to go for a slow meander along the prairie path and down another track that ends at a stagnant marsh. Budding spring flowers line our path and stopping to photograph them is required. Mosquitos swarm us every time we stop moving. A wet splop lands on my nose. What was that?

“I just felt a rain drop,” I report, “Time to start back.”

We spy some moose tracks in the beaten path close to the yurt. That is probably as close to a moose as we will get. One last visit to the lakeshore and we head indoors.

Hooker Lake

A steady pitter patter on the canvas roof and sides of our abode meets our ears not more than fifteen minutes after getting back from our journey.

“It’s chilly in here. Can you see if you can start a fire in the stove?” is my next proposal.

Soon the fire is slowly burning emanating a toasty warmth. It has become a day for me to write and to read and for Dave to play solitaire while the rain pounds a steady rhythm of song on the canvas roof.

Playing Solitaire

The wind howls in waves throughout the night while the rain continues its steady drumming. Just after midnight, I am awakened by an “Oh, no!” by Dave. His portable CPAP machine which I have bought for trips like this has died. I had bought a lithium battery to power it here due to no electricity but really had no idea how long it would last. We tried to do some recharging using the car cigarette lighter during the day on Saturday when we were driving around but apparently, it was not enough. The whole concept has worked beautifully up until now. But now I spend the rest of the night dozing off and on listening to my hubby stop breathing and then wake himself up over and over gasping.

By 6 a.m. on Monday, we decide it is time to get up and get ourselves together since we aren’t sleeping anyway. The temperature on the thermometer on the pole outside is 42 degrees. Time to hustle if one does not want to freeze while dressing. As I pack up our stuff and put away the rest of the food in the cooler, I notice that the trail mix bag has a semi-circular cut out of it and the mix is scattered all over the metal cart top. I think we had a visitor during the night.

Moose Tracks

The sleeping bag is rolled up and tied with rope so Dave can sling it over his shoulders while also carrying a small leather bag and a medium sized duffel bag. I throw a small backpack on my back and hoist up the cooler. We are ready. The ground is soggy with puddles which require skirting. My hands are freezing so I call for a stop to roll down the sleeves on Dave’s quilted shirt which I am wearing. Fifteen minutes of strolling through the cool morning sunshine brings us to our car. We are soon headed homeward. That planning ahead managed to work out splendidly for us. We have survived one more daring trip into the wilderness.

View From the door of our yurt

Wilderness Adventure – Day 3 Into the Boundary Waters

Staircase Falls

As daylight filters into the globe of the yurt on Saturday morning, the sky is heavy with clouds. Snuggled into our sleeping bag against the 52-degree chill, anxious thoughts flit though my mind. Is it going to rain today? How are we going to get out of here if it does? What about our plans for today? With my stomach all in a tizzy, we finally roll out. We can’t sleep anymore anyway. A quick visit to the car at 7 a.m. allows for listening to the weather forecast. It is the only way we have of knowing what is being predicted.

“Cloudy today,” says the announcer, “with a high of 65 and 90% chance of steady rain tomorrow, Sunday, with a high in the fifties.”

Ugh! That means today is probably going to be OK but what are we going to do about tomorrow. Will we be able to get out of here after it rains for a full day? Hubby and I make a decision to rearrange all of our belongings so that we are keeping only the bare essentials. The rest we will load in the car this evening and leave it at the beginning of this bumpy, rut and rock filled path so when it rains, we are not stranded in mud. I think I could probably mud my way out but don’t really want to do that to my car. What is left of our belongings we will hike the .5 mile with on Monday morning. As we begin reallocation of our belongings, it begins to rain. But it’s not supposed to rain today!! So should we go on our BWCA daytrip or forget it?

The plan for today has been to go pick up a Kevlar canoe from the yurt proprietor and haul it to the Duncan Lake BWCA entry put in site. Our car does not have a canoe rack, but our original plan was to pay the outfitter to haul it for us to the site entrance. But she was very hesitant when we requested this.

“You will have to help me lift the canoe and tie it on my car,” she said, “I don’t have any help this summer and my husband recently had a stroke.”

Feeling sorry for this lady and her unfortunate set of circumstances, our objective is to figure out a way to haul the canoe ourselves rather than burden her with our need. We wrack our brains for ideas. We have front to back bars on my Subaru but no crossbars to take the weight of the canoe. How do we prevent damage to the sunroof? By Friday evening, we still had no real good answer. Then after arriving back at the yurt on Friday, I glanced at the front tire on the driver’s side of the car. The tire appeared low. We do not need a flat tire out here in the middle of nowhere. I wondered if we have any kind of a spare. To calm my apprehensions, I decided to check the trunk to see if we had an acceptable spare should that become necessary. As I pulled up the carpet board covering the “trunk” and spare tire, I discovered a treasure. The “trunk” is fitted with three pieces of molded foam. Wow! Just what is needed to place on each side of the canoe and support it. We had brought along ratchet straps, so we are all set. It struck me as amazing how one potential problem has led to the solution to another.

By 9:30 a.m. on this Saturday, it has stopped raining and we set out for the home of the outfitter to pick up our canoe. Our devised plan for canoe transport works like a charm and by 10:30 a.m., we have set our canoe in the water at the Duncan and Daniel’s Lake entry portage. I have also come up with a plan to wear sandals for launching the canoe and then change to tennis shoes and socks for hiking and portaging. That way, I can wade out into the water without worrying about getting my shoes and socks wet. Getting into the canoe without capsizing is always the first struggle for Dave and I as we age. Canoes are notoriously tippy anyway and we are stiff and not very nimble anymore. Dave struggles to get his feet up and over the side when entering the canoe and even more so when exiting.

Finally, we make it safely into the canoe and we are off and paddling across Bearskin Lake toward the Duncan Lake BWCA entry point. The wind is steady making slightly rolling waves that are at an angle to our direction of travel. This makes for a vessel that wants to rock back and forth. Maybe it is the operators and not the conditions. It has been a long time since we last paddled a canoe. It is still cloudy but not an unpleasant day. The personal flotation devices add just the right amount of warmth to a mildly chilly day. Before we know it, we have paddled across the lake and glided into a shallow smooth rock-covered-bottom portage. There are quite a few people backed up at the portage, so we move our canoe off to the side to rest and catch our breath. Because of neck and back issues for Dave, we agree that I will carry the canoe and Dave will bring the rest of our gear. After a few minutes, Dave helps me hoist the 17.5-foot Kevlar canoe to my shoulders and I am off. The trail begins with a steep upward climb before heading back down onto a more level area. I am puffing with the exertion, but the load is easy to handle. Watching my stumbling feet is the challenge with roots and rocks and gullies to traverse. Slow and steady I trod the 81 rods or about ¼ mile. The last portion of the trail heads steeply downhill again to Duncan Lake. It is not that far of a distance, but it seems like miles. I need a breather and a drink before putting into the water again. Our final destination is Staircase Portage that leads to Rose Lake. Along this portage is a spectacular fall, Staircase Falls, that we wish to see.

Lunch on the Rock

All of the portage landings today have been what I call “nice” landings. They all have a fairly shallow water level with a rock or hard sand base. There is no need to worry about disappearing into the mud or drowning if one falls in.

Paddling is a little tricky in Duncan Lake but once we adjust our direction to face the swells, the canoe is more stable. Methodically we make our way over the lake. Three or four canoes are ahead of us making it easy to spot the portage opening. As we glide into the small cove leading to the portage, two swans glide silently along just a few feet from us. Paddling behind the leading swan are two little signets. They seem unperturbed by our presence. I count four or five canoes stacked side by side at various locations around the portage opening. We plan to do the same thing as all these other people – leave our canoe and hike the portage only to see the falls.

We decide to first spread out the lunch we have brought along on a large rock. We will relax and eat until some of the people return to lessen the congestion in the area at the falls. Bread, a salmon spread, chips and trail mix make up our luncheon while we wait.

It is a fairly short trek to the falls once we get started. Staircase Falls tumbles and turns several times on its way to Rose Lake. We descend a set of fifty or so steps to the base of the main falls and then decide to explore the portage a little further. Soon we come to another set of steps that disappears into the foliage on its way down to the lake shore. It is time to turn back. I can see why one would not want to portage this particular crossing. It looks like the portage from hell especially carrying a canoe.

Portaging

After spending fifteen minutes or so photographing this hidden beauty and enjoying its splendor of cascading water, it is time to head back. By now, it is around 2:30 in the afternoon and the sun has appeared to add its warmth to the day. We wonder aloud if this trek might be our last canoe adventure into the BWCAW. Our stiffness and waning balance have become a safety hazard. Not only that, rowing and portaging is physical torture for these aging bodies.

“It starts to get more fun,” declares Dave, “after I have forgotten all the pain.”

Swans and babies

Wilderness Adventure – Day 2 Hiking

Hooker Lake – Just out from the yurt

Friday morning, June 18, dawns with the sun shining brightly throwing rays of daylight through our clear dome on the yurt. Last evening in the light of the ½ moon, the dome threw out the impression of being a round bubble with domes extending down as well as up. We peer at it intently in the morning light. No, it only extends up. I wonder what gives it that illusion.

Our plan is to launch the canoe onto Hooker Lake this morning and tootle around. But I am extremely anxious and struggling with our plan. The lake is a dying lake; it is not very big, and it is shallow. One can see the algae and lake grass growing just below the surface across most of the lake.

“Don’t try to swim in it,” voiced our proprietor, “or you could get stuck in the mud.”

When asked about moose using this lake, she responded, “If a moose goes in there, he won’t come out.” To this she added, “But it’s fine to canoe in.”

By now, I am doubtful about the “fine to canoe in” part of that statement and I am totally freaked out about even trying to canoe. I can see us getting stuck in the mud and disappearing forever. One such experience occurred for us on a prior BWCA trip and probably has scarred me forever. It was a year in which the water was low, leaving many of the portages with receding landing areas. As we approached this one particular portage, the water had receded approximately 100 feet from it’s original, leaving an extremely muddy landing. Previous travelers had placed a series of tree trunks through the mud out to the water to hop out upon. We came in further to the right with the idea of getting our canoe as close as possible to shore and then dragging it over the rest of the wet muddy spot. This technique resulted in us becoming hopelessly mired in sucking mud. There was only one choice. Someone had to get out and make their way to dry land and that someone was me as I was in the front of the canoe. I took rope with me and jumped as far as I could. Of course, that was when I could still jump. Down into the mud I sank to a level above my knees. I knew I had to keep the momentum going or I was in real trouble. I pushed off with my right leg followed by the left, leaving my shoes in a miry grave. Fear of being sucked to China filled my soul and provided the energy for the onward plunge. Thirty seconds later, I was safely on dry land but covered in dark goo as high as my thighs.

An hour of exhausting pulling and slowly inching the canoe forward finally resulted in Kaitlyn being able to reach over the side of the stuck vessel and retrieve my shoes. Finally, the rest of my family was able to make their way safely to shore and we finished retrieving the canoe. Our daughter has never wanted to go BWCA canoeing again, and I now realize I have a permanent fear as a result.

An iris by the lake

Instead of canoeing this lake, we decide to go hiking. I have found a pamphlet titled, “Hiking On The Gunflint Trail Scenic Bypass.” There are twenty different hikes to choose from along the 56.6-mile Gunflint Trail from Grand Marias to the Canadian border. We decide to start on the Moose Viewing Trail. It is listed as “easy” in difficulty and is only a mile round trip. The path ascends at a thirty-degree angle. If this is easy, what is difficult? I guess it all depends on your perspective. Butterflies of various colors flitter around, and the way is bordered by little yellow flowers and white petaled ones backdropped by green leaves. A few stops are made for photographic opportunities and then we trudge onward. Soon we veer off onto a narrow trail that leads down to the viewing platform. The air is warm, but the wind is chilly here in the canopy of trees. One hundred yards through the pines is the perfect spot for moose to feed. A small pond is visible with cattails and lily pads scattered about. It is a tranquil scene, but no one has put out the moose today. Soon we make our way back to the car and plan for our next stop.

Daniel’s Lake looks like a good option for hiking as well. It is actually in the BWCAW and requires a permit. It is also listed as “easy” and is a 3.75-mile trip along an old railroad grade which was once used to acquire white pine lumber on Rose and Clearwater Lakes. This looks promising. We follow the directions without a problem down Clearwater Road to the West Bearskin Lake boat landing where the trail is supposed to begin. There is a self-permitting station to pick up a permit, but we can find no entrance or head to any trail. OK, this is frustrating. We drive several miles further on this road before we give up and turn around.

“How about Crab Lake Trail then?” mentions Dave, “It says it is ‘easy’ too. It’s eight miles to Crab Lake but we don’t have to go that far.”

It’s decided. We return to the Gunflint Trail and head north another eleven miles. “Turn right on the road to Loon Lake Lodge and drive .9 mile. The trail head is just past the lodge,” says the brochure. As we drive past the lodge, there is a small parking lot for “guests.” We assume that means lodge guests but no trailhead to be seen.

“Let’s go on just a little further,” Dave suggests.

Soon, I am creeping down a narrow rocky road. Still no trail head. We are having terrible luck today finding our targets.

“Water crossing ahead,” flashes the yellow sign on the side of the road. Ugh, I am not doing any water crossing. I think it is time to turn around. On this small one lane path, I do just that.

We decide to make one more attempt at finding another trail before throwing in the towel for today. Topper Lake Trail head is just four miles south from here on the Gunflint on our way back to the yurt. It is also listed as “easy” and only 1 ½ mile round trip to the lake and back. The directions actually lead us to a trailhead. Hurrah! Uphill we saunter for ten minutes until we are puffing mightily and then back down again. Finally, the lake comes into view. Ah, an actual BWCA lake. The sky has clouded over, and the wind causes one to shiver.

Topper Lake

“We are going to get wet before we get back,” announces Dave.

“I hope not.”

I look around for a couple of rocks to sit upon and hoist a flat rock into place to spread our picnic lunch upon. Tuna salad is mixed for sandwiches and some chips and trail mix are thrown in for our dining by the lake. Soon it is time to head back before we do get wet. A stop at the store for some ice on the return trip is in order. Thankfully, it never does rain on us.

We build a roaring fire in the fire pit at the yurt on our arrival to our home away from home. The smoke chases away the swarming mosquitos and allows us to treasure a few smores while listening to the repeating songs of the various birds.

Looking down into Hooker Lake

Wilderness Adventure Day 1 – The Yurt

The Yurt

I arise at 6:30 a.m. to start the day. We are headed off today for a vacation of camping in a yurt by Hooker Lake in far northern Minnesota. The yurt is located right on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) so our hope is to also make a day trip by canoe into the BWCA. My hubby loves the solitude of the wilderness.

“Moo, moo” is the sound that reaches my ears as I exit the house. “Why, little one, are you standing in that pasture all by yourself?” I question the wayward bovine out loud. I sigh! I am in my pajamas, and this is how the day begins. I scan the fence line but do not see any wire on the ground – just a calf stuck on the wrong side. I shuffle out into the pasture, drop down the fence opening and shoo the wayward animal back to the others. I call to Claire, the dog, to get her to continue on with me to the barn to feed the cattle but she just sits on the sidewalk and gazes after me. Oh well, she will have to do her business at the kennel.

A ping and a plunk echoes through the air as we pull away from the garage, on time, no less. What was that? I step out to investigate. The tennis ball that dangles from a cord and descends when the garage door opens has caught on the bike rack on the back of the car. It has been catapulted across the garage as the cord popped with the tension. This is not the first time this has happened, but all is well otherwise and we are off.

Our drive to Grand Marias up Hwy 52, then I35, and State 61 goes without incident. We arrive around 3 p.m. We turn north on the Gunflint Trail and wind our way 28 miles until we arrive at Lime Grade Drive, a narrow gravel road through the forest. After a couple of miles, the GPS tells us to turn right on Little Ollie Drive. I thought we were already on it. After wandering onward for a few more miles down this shale path, we arrive at Little Ollie Bed & Breakfast tucked back in a pine and birch forest. It reminds me of the enchanted forest with trails coursing through the yard. We approach an enclosed porch that seems unoccupied, and our knock goes unanswered. Since silence is the only response we receive, the front door of the Bed & Breakfast seems like it might be a better choice. At least it has a doorbell. I push the button a couple of times before I hear a soft sound of footsteps.

A slightly bowed elderly lady pushes open the door, “If you had come around to the back it would have been so much easier,” she says.

There wasn’t any sign directing customers to the back and I would never have guessed that I was supposed to go down the hill and around the back of the house but OK. She leads us through the first level of the house and slowly down the basement stairs into the company office.

“I have no help this year,” she shares, “and I can’t afford to hire anyone with Covid shutting us down last year. We have no money, and my husband had a stroke recently. But you don’t need to know all that,” she finishes.

What a bummer! I am perplexed. Why is this elderly woman trying to run a Boundary Waters Canoe outfitting company in this situation especially when the internet advertising seems to indicate a host of services available? It just seems rather sad. It is a good thing we didn’t plan on hiring a guide to accompany us on our adventure into the Boundary Waters. Oh well! Our primary goal is to rent her yurt in the woods by Hooker Lake and we were hoping, maybe, to have her haul a canoe for us – not guide or supply us for a BWCA venture.

After we settle our bill, discuss weather, and plans, we climb back into our Subaru and head out to the yurt. A yurt is a round canvas structure much like a tent but large enough to stand up in and move around comfortably. It was often used as a primary residence by nomads in Mongolia, Russia, and Turkey.

“I don’t know if you can drive to the yurt,” she informs us. “It’s really rocky and muddy since we had lots of rain.”

The path to the yurt

Hmmm… I really don’t want to walk in and out a ½ mile every time we want to leave.

“I will take you and your things with the pickup, and you can see what you think,” she continues.

We follow the diminutive lady who can hardly see over the steering wheel in her pickup with our car as we turn down a beaten path. It doesn’t look so bad to me – a little rough, a few rocks to dodge – that’s all. Finally, she pulls over at a bend in the path.

“I think we should stop here and see what you think.” As she and I stroll along the barren wheel track path with foot high grass growing in the middle, she points out the mud puddles, the rocks and the rough terrain. It only looks like a normal farm field drive to me, but we agree to ride in with her to test it out. She seems so worried for us. The old battered pickup bounces over the obstacles and we are jerked this way and that. Soon through the trees, we spy a small wood shack that is identified as the sauna. Just a little farther in tucked into the birch and pines is the yurt. And to the southwest just visible in the distance is Hooker Lake.

Our guide gives Dave some instructions on firing the woodstove for heat, lighting the gas cooking stove, and the use of the water and then she roars away in her pickup that has seen better days. I am getting the very distinct feeling that she is not really prepared for us to be using the facilities.

“I’m going to walk out and get the car,” I holler to hubby. My walk provides a chance to survey the rocky route up close. I am pretty confident that I can traverse this with limited difficulty. My car has a smaller wheelbase than her truck allowing for sneaking between some of the rocks that she has been bouncing over. I think I maybe have some better springs and shocks as well as the road is not nearly as rough in my vehicle and soon, I am back at the yurt. That was a piece of cake!

One wall of yurt

Our temporary home has two sets of bunk beds and a futon with a bunk over it along one circular side. There is a table and chairs in the middle of the structure. The wood cast iron stove, the gas cook stove, and a stainless-steel cart for holding water containers and dishes lines the other ½ circular side. The center top sports a clear dome through which the sky is visible, and the lighting always seems to give the impression that the light is on.

Soon, it is time for supper. The menu is brats and mashed potatoes rehydrated from dry flakes. Neither one of us is into making a fire outside tonight so we decide to heat things on the stove. Dave turns on the gas to the burner marked RF and holds a match over the circle. Several matches burn themselves out or try to burn his fingers without the burner lighting. All of a sudden, there is a huge whoosh and a ball of flame shoots up. Both of us jump back startled.

“Are you OK? The back burner just lit,” I repeat several times to Dave.

“It couldn’t have,” he keeps reiterating.

Finally, he decides to test my theory and turns the handle marked RF but holds the match over the back burner. It lights instantly. He does the reverse with the RR and the front burner lights. Well, that’s a wee bit of a safety hazard.

The wind dies down to a perfect calm by 9 p.m. A loon’s call echoes in the distance. In the stillness, we read by the light of the lantern.

Looking towards Hooker Lake

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.

 

Zipling on Big Mountain

690Today is the last day of the conference. They decide to start 15 minutes early so one of the presenters can catch an early flight. We are done by 12 noon. Since I am not expecting Hubby until 1, I lay down for a nap. I never get to sleep before he arrives. We decide to take off at 1 pm for the Big Mountain Resort just north of our hotel in Whitefish. We plan to ride the gondola to the top of the mountain and have lunch at the restaurant there. We choose the enclosed gondola as Hubby is not sure he is able to ride in the open one. It is a little dizzying as we climb higher and higher up the mountainside and hang above the treetops. What a view out over the Whitefish valley below. To the north, once we get to the top, are the majestic peaks of the Glacier Park mountains. We have a leisurely lunch at the restaurant. My meal consists of a Portabella mushroom sandwich and a huckleberry shake. Huckleberries seem to be a local delicacy in Montana. After spending a few minutes drinking in the spectacular scenery, we head back to the chair lift for the ride down.705

“Can we ride in the open chair lift?” I beg my spouse.

“I don’t know if I can do it,” is his response but he goes along with my plan.

“We want the bar down,” we tell the chair lift operator. Sometimes, they don’t even put the bar down and one sits there swinging freely in space. With the bar down, we begin our ascent high above the world below. The things I drag my hubby into.

At the bottom, we realize that the Alpine slide begins where we get off and goes down to the main building. We also realize that the main building is where I need to be in about 1 ½ hours to begin the zip-line tour that I have signed up for. The package I bought also contains 2 rides on the Alpine slide. 736I really have not had any interest in going down the Alpine slide but there it is, right in front of me and it takes me right where I need to go next. So, I get in line for a shot at the slide. One sits on a little car, something like the bobsled racers, and careens down a long twisting tube. There is a stick in the middle of the car that slows it down or allows it to go faster. I look around at the other people. There are old people and young people and no one has been issued any protective gear – no helmets, no knee pads, or elbow pads. How dangerous could this be? I decide to give it a try. It turns out to be a rather mellow controlled slide down the mountain. Perfect! Now I am where I need to be.

The next adventure of the day is to go zip-lining. I am starting to have second thoughts about this venture but I am not one to chicken out so I head on in and sign my name. I sign the standard “you could be killed but we are not liable” form and then I am issued a safety harness and a helmet. None of this is making me feel exactly secure about what I have contracted to do. Once everyone has assembled we head out for some practice runs on some shorter runs of cable.Z01_5823

We are to line up by twos and I quickly realize that I am the lone man out so I wait until everyone else has gone. I get to go at the same time as our guide/instructor. She throws a set of trolley wheels over the cable and snaps me onto it with some large carabiners that are attached at each hipbone. Then it is time to push off. We are supposed to start out by leaning back in a “pencil point” position, transition to a spread-eagle position, and then draw our feet up in front of us for landing. I, personally, like to hang on but during the two smaller practice runs, I am able to do the first two. Being able to tip back and get my feet up for landing is a bit more of a challenge. When coming in for a landing, one first hits a gymnastics type mattress backed up by a spring. The landing is somewhat of a shock.

Our third run, we are told is 2000 feet long. As I look at the cable stretching off into nowhere, I can feel the panic rising. Can I do this? I make a conscious effort to slow down my breathing and talk to myself. You can do this. Just take nice deep breaths and take it one step at a time. Soon it is time to make the leap. I hold on for dear life as I step off the platform into the nothingness that runs 200 feet above the trees. I think I am holding my breath. By the time I am approaching the platform, I am able to relax enough to look around. Then I am hitting the stop. I made it.Z02_7980

Each run is similar. There are seven runs. In between each run, we hike uphill in the heat to the next one. I am puffing and can hardly keep up. But there are two children who are overweight that keep lagging behind the group. I guess I am not doing too bad if I, as the old woman of the group, can out hike the young things. I am ready to be done by the time we sail down the last and fastest section of cable. Maybe God did not intend for me to be a bird.

Our evening is spent in our hotel room eating the last of our food, packing, and getting showers in preparation for our early morning departure the next day.

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