One potato, two potato, three potato . . .

Great. Now the word “potato” doesn’t look right to me.

About two months ago I discovered three nasty old shriveled up potatoes in a cabinet I rarely open. Despite their condition, however, each had 4” sprouts. Since I had never tried to grow potatoes before, I carried the ugly tubers to my computer and did a little research. Twenty minutes later, they were planted in one of the raised beds Mike built out back several years ago. They were the only things I planted this year.

Growing food can be difficult in a place where the number of warm days is inversely proportional to the ridiculous requirements added to teachers’ plates every year. Still, I’ve tried not to look too closely during walks past yards with haystacks and greenhouses and vines burdened with fruitful bounty lest I become covetous, or worse, insecure. I knew I could have harvested weeks of lettuce, spinach, beans and radishes had I planted seeds earlier in the season. In prior years, I was excited by my success with those plants, and I remember inviting our neighbors’ 3-year-old girl to pull up the first radiantly red radish.

“Lollipop!” She said, and her face lit up.

But since then, I haven’t made time for dirt. Sticking those spuds in Leadville’s still-cold June ground was an act of reconciliation. I’d be able to say I “did a little gardening” this year, though that would be a stretch to the truth. Sure, I did keep the earth mounded around each ridiculous shoot as they showed signs of forcing out buds, and I did stick the hose over the fence to sprinkle moisture on random rainless days. But I can’t really claim I nurtured those three nearly dead potatoes.

Yesterday marked about 10 weeks since I started what was really just an experiment. The plants that had grown vibrantly green despite my neglect were beginning to fade. It was time to see if there were any hidden treasures beneath the surface.

Imagine my surprise when my fingers struck the first cool sphere!2 potato

“Lollipop!” I announced to Mike, who was splitting wood for our soon-to-be-used fireplace. Triumphantly I held up the first perfect new red potato. I didn’t remember the shriveled things I had planted being red, but I suppose they could have been.

With growing excitement, I felt around for more. And when I was done, Mike and I had a good laugh. I sent a photo to our son Jake, who replied with one word: “Sustainability.”

My simple experiment took my brain to strange places and made me realize it was time to reconsider my will, and not the one that gets me through the long, cold months of Leadville’s three winter seasons. I’m actually not sure of the existing wording as it was completed too many years ago, but I know I opted for cremation. And while Mike remains steadfast in his wish that his ashes be scattered atop Mt. Massive (and in my Dad’s words many years ago when we discussed his remains, “but not until I’m dead!”), I’ve always considered myself more of a water person.

I still laugh with my Mom about threatening her with someday bringing her ashes to Leadville. “Don’t you dare!” she said the first time I mentioned it. “I won’t be able to breathe up there!” And then she threatened to haunt me if I did, something I hope she will do anyway, though not too soon.

So I don’t want my ashes tossed over a mountaintop. And although I wouldn’t mind having them sprinkled in a crystal-clear Colorado lake or in the ocean—and any one would do just fine—I’ve found an idea I like best.

Years ago I saw an ad for turning your loved one’s ashes into art. Just mix the ash in clay and create, or have someone create, a sculpture (which, I believe, would then need to be “fired” once more). And I thought that was a great idea until recently, when I looked around my house and realized I had too much “stuff.” Artwork is wonderful, but eventually, someone inherits it or it gets auctioned off or stuck in a closet or . . . who knows where it ends up.

And I know I’m starting to sound really picky right now, but hey, I’m sharing with the world my final will and testament about my cremains, so I think it’s my right to be specific.

I want my ashes to be buried in one of those new biodegradable containers that will produce a tree. “Ashes to trees, dust to the desk top.” I think that’s how it goes. And I want to grow somewhere with a longer growing season than Leadville’s. Maybe I’ll be a maple tree back near my New England hometown. Those fall leaves were always my favorite. Or, I suppose, a Laurel tree, though I hear those may be pickier about where they want to live. In any case, I’d like my cremains buried with—or even scattered around—a pretty new tree.

Phew! I’m really glad that’s settled. I’m looking forward to boiling my handful of potatoes for dinner tonight. And now I should probably investigate what else might lurk in that cabinet I rarely open.

4 potato

13 tiny taters. That is all.

Subscribe and WIN!

In an effort to keep me inspired to post about high altitude living more often, I’m offering a free, inscribed (I’ll use ink instead of a knife!) copy of “Miss?” to the first five new subscribers to my blog! Hunting season is just around the corner, so if you enjoyed last year’s posts about my crazy experiences, this year’s account should be even more entertaining.

Miss

 

Good luck, and thanks for visiting!

Black Cloud on a Way-Too-Sunny Day

The Leadville Trail 100 (LT100) races fill me with excitement and dread every summer since Mike started competing in them ten years ago. We all have our vice(es), and for Mike, it’s training for and completing ultra-distance races. I’m not sure how many others can claim being a four-time “Leadman” (Google it), but Mike has earned every belt buckle now littering his bureau top.

hug2

The Lead Ass Inn (our home, dubbed by my Dad) has been a gathering spot for countless racers over the eight years we’ve lived here, and both friends and strangers from the US and overseas have slept in our beds and on our floors and have been grateful for the availability of our three bathrooms. When we updated the bathrooms in our 120-year-old Victorian—the first update I insisted upon—I told Mike we’d be purchasing the American Standard Champion4 toilets because they advertised the ability to flush a bucket of golf balls. Although I never tested that claim, I’ve also never needed a plumber or a plunger since the installation, and believe me, racers can stress a system!

Group

After so many years of participating in the 100 mile mountain bike event, we’ve fallen into an exciting(ly stressful) routine which leads up to my favorite time of all—race day morning. We’re up at 04:45 because we know our regulars and some tagalongs will be ready for their pre-race prep at 05:00. We’ve unofficially adopted the First Descents team (http://firstdescents.org/), and one of their key leaders, Brent Goldstein, and their supporters—Gary Morris, Kevin Kane, and celebrity Ryan Sutter (among hordes of others over the years), begin their arduous day in our home. The vibe is always electric.

This year our group was smaller than average, and from the moment we awoke, we knew this year’s race day would be different. Sure, it was chilly before the sun rose, but it was not nearly as cold as it’s been in years past. Mike handed me his jacket as soon as he got settled in his staging corral (and yes, the similarity to sheep being herded was astounding). He didn’t even start the race with arm warmers. This did not bode well for him.

At mile 40 he was looking great and spent little time at our Twin Lakes support crew station. A refill of fluids and a brief comment about the heat and he was off for the climb up Columbine Mine. But by mile 60 on his way back through, I could tell the heat was whipping him. He actually took a seat, something he’s never done, and was in no great rush to get back onto his bike. It was not the Mike who came blazing through six years ago sans bike saddle (which had torn off on a fall coming down Columbine) and who finished the raced in mere minutes over 9 hours still looking strong. Nope. The heat was draining support crew people. It was brutalizing the racers. Mike was not looking good.

I was worried about him (always my greatest stressor), but I knew he’d finish the race. Mike’s training focus since his first hip replacement surgery three days after last year’s 100 mile mountain bike race has been on biking. He was going to earn the coveted BIG belt buckle for a 10th-year 1,000-mile finish, which is not to be confused with the turkey-platter-sized belt buckle he’ll earn when he finishes his 20th race ten years from now. And let’s face it. Who (besides me) wouldn’t want to sport a belt buckle the size of Texas? My one fear is he’ll need his other hip replaced by then just to carry the weight of it.

Anyway, the day grew hotter and I grew more anxious as time passed at the finish line until finally, I heard them slaughter his name. “And from Leadville, let’s hear it for Mike McChhaaargyouway!” Really? Not only has he completed this race 10 times and completed the whole Leadman series four times (and I won’t even talk about how much money these races cost to enter), as the Lake County Emergency Manager, he has also provided trail support for all of the races for years now. I suppose I should be used to people not being able to say our name, but this really irked me.

The time was 10 hours 38 minutes and Mike looked like death—not even warmed over. I Mike finishtried to coax him into the medical tent, but he chose instead to dry heave the whole way home. “Grit, guts and determination.” I knew we would not make it to the VIP party at 6:30 p.m.

He was showered and in bed by the time the other racers made their way back to our house to retrieve their belongings. And this was when the dark cloud passed over. Outside on the sidewalk, two women—a racer and her friend—sat looking morose. I went to offer assistance not knowing what was wrong and found out their friend had died during the race.

Mike and I met Scott Ellis and his wife years ago when they were staying at the B&B two houses down from us, their LT100 routine. This would have been Scott’s 19th LT100 finish. “He was in great shape” and was an avid racer. But his heart gave out about 20 miles from the finish. His wife was not here for this race. He was only 55. Mike’s age.

We attended the awards ceremony early this morning because getting the BIG buckle was a big deal and we wanted to be there to support the other racers. I left the ceremony upset for two reasons. The first reason was petty. Yup, they tortured Mike’s name again (they got “Mike” right) and did not have his buckle ready to take home. It bothered me more than it bothered him, so I really should follow his lead on these things.

But I was truly upset because there was not a single mention of the man who perished in a helicopter after falling at mile 80 on the race. Not a mention. Not a brief moment of silence or acknowledgment of the fact that “Grit, guts and determination” can sometimes be fatal.

And so it is that this year’s LT100 race is over. For Mike, it’s another goal attained before an upcoming week of coordinating support for the US Pro Cycling Challenge coming through Leadville this Wednesday/Thursday and for the LT100 mile running race on Saturday (I’m thankful he’s not competing in that one anymore). For me, it’s a sigh of relief that my friends and husband made it through this race with stories to tell.

I wonder about Scott’s wife. I wonder if she’s feeling angry that her husband died doing something he didn’t have to do, or if she’s feeling some sense of gratitude that he died doing something he had to do. Either way, I want to cry for her.

More on this at: Report of fatality and Another story about Scott

Footnote: On 8/17/15, the Leadville Race Series Facebook page posted a tribute to Scott: LRS Tribute to Scott

Leadville Today posted this tribute on 8/19/15: Tribute to Scott

…and while I may be vilified in the press for being so “demanding,” I maintain my belief that Scott’s accomplishments should have been recognized before any others at the awards ceremony the following day.

 

Urge to Purge

When the urge to purge hits, I don’t argue.

“What are you avoiding?” my good friend asked, and her question was legit. Who empties out sock drawers and those scary places under sinks unless there are taxes waiting to be paid or chapters waiting to be written?

I fessed up and made a decision I hadn’t anticipated. After watering the grass and pruning the flowers and hosing down the house (so many spider webs this year) and taking out the recycling, I marched to our bathroom, where paint cans, brushes, drop cloths and other paraphernalia have been sequestered behind our 6’ claw foot tub for about the last six years.

I couldn’t stand it anymore. But painting a ceiling and baseboards and window and door frames requires a commitment greater than a sock drawer, and I came close to talking myself out of it. So I started with the cleaning. Maybe I’d paint tomorrow.

By the time I had wiped down nearly every surface in the room, I started feeling a little better. That space behind the toilet? Critter-free. Under the tub? No more carpet of dust. Under the sink? Cleaned that out too. Even cleaned the light fixtures. I pulled every towel but a couple from the shelves. Time for new towels, too, but I’ll wait on that purchase—talk about a commitment!

A nice lunch of leftovers fueled me for the real work. There was no turning back. StartingBathroom 2 with the ceiling over the shower, I worked my way around the room until an even coat of paint covered the surface and me. Ever since our contractor upgraded the bathroom, painting only around the light fixtures he moved, the patchy paint job has bugged me. No more!

Next the baseboards transformed from dingy beige to glistening white and I couldn’t stop until the window and door frames got their first fresh coats.

Suddenly it was 7 p.m. Happy and hungry, I stopped. Tomorrow I’ll throw on one more coat around the window and door and the paint cans will finally move to the laundry room—my next project! I’ve decided this next week will be dedicated to finishing those ankle-biter projects that have nibbled for far too long. I’ll get to my closets eventually. And those last chapters.

“. . . and hold!”

When did I stop assessing my physical capabilities? And why?

I remember asking myself this question last hunting season after returning from a solo adventure into the wild with nothing but my weapon and my wits. It was a thrilling experience, and I went out solo because I needed to prove to myself that I could. Hey, if Mike doesn’t make it through the first days of the zombie apocalypse, I need to know I can take care of myself.

Anyway, when I got home—meatless, but with more confidence—it dawned on me that there were many things I once did that I no longer did anymore. Like handstands. I used to do them all the time. Learning to balance on my hands was one of the first challenges I chose to master back when I decided to join the Army (a few plus 33 years ago). Seemed like a worthy goal, and by the end of one summer season, I could take several steps upside-down.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had attempted one, so after several failed launches against a closed door, I finally got my feet up and over and resting against my safety stop. And I haven’t tried again since.

The lamest excuse on the books is “too busy.” Everyone’s too busy every day all the time anymore for anything (purposeful omission of commas because who has time for those anymore either?). So instead of telling myself I’ve been too busy for things like handstands, I’ve been telling myself my priorities have changed. LAME!

I didn’t let the handstand thing bother me too much until just this week when I started stretchreading Real Men Do Yoga, an overlooked book a friend gave my men many years ago. My decrease in physical fitness (and increase in pounds) since I fractured my ankle a few months ago has been nagging at me, and the moves in the book looked so easy. I knew I used to be able to do many of the basic poses, and heck, when I was a youngster I used to do flips and backbends and walkovers like all the other kids in the neighborhood.

I warmed up a bit and tried some of the poses I thought were pretty basic.

Um . . . evidently, doing a backbend is not like riding a bike. I couldn’t even get my head off the ground.

The reality of my current physical limitations is eye-opening, and I don’t like what I see. It’s been so easy to let “things” slip away, and it’s time to grab them back. Although I don’t see ever attempting a front handspring again in this lifetime, I will get my head off the ground, even if it’s just an inch, by the end of this year. And I’ll do a handstand again. Without the door.

Just you wait and see. I’ll take pictures.

Crazy Tourist Season

The day after I was auctioned off as one of the “Celebrity Golfers” for the Saint Vincent Hospital Fundraising Tournament, I cheered on my California brother-in-law as he began his first Leadville Trail Marathon. I’ve decided this race marks the official first day of crazy tourist season in our sleepy little town, and I’ve been contemplating lately what it means to live in a tourist destination.

My golfing teammates did not know I’d never swung a club since my last mini-golf date asGolf 1 a teen, but they were willing to believe in me. We and hosts of others were there to support our hospital, and the day made me happy and proud because I realized I now live in a place where people often set aside their own agendas to do something good for others. Some of us were once just tourists to Leadville.

I realized my happiness of late also stems from the fact that I used to grouse about the lack of local cultural events around my new turf, but I can’t do that anymore. Nearly every week we can choose between free author talks, free plays, poetry readings, music jams, art gallery events, Steampunk affairs, movie nights “and MORE!” We have two libraries with two enthusiastic library directors continually on the lookout for engaging, entertaining guests. Our tourists are often unaware of our cultural richness, focusing more on the glorious mountains we’ve come to take for granted as our daily backdrop.

Many of our tourists also arrive with the conviction that Leadville is no different from Mayberry R.F.D. and that since we’re so small, we mustn’t have many laws. We already see them stopping in the middle of the street to take a photo, driving the wrong way down one-way streets and stepping off sidewalks as if cars haven’t yet made it to this elevation. But I’m pretty sure even I did some of those things when I was but a tourist here before making the major move eight years ago.

This makes me highly attuned to the locals (and I’m one now) who are warming up their grumble-seats, ready to launch complaints about having to wait a full minute or more to turn onto Harrison, or having to drive a whole four blocks to get around a closed section of road for an event, or *GASP* having to walk as far to shop in one of our stores. But having lived on the east coast for most of my life, I laugh at the idea that waiting a breath before crossing a road or driving five minutes out of my way is an inconvenience worth mentioning. I suppose everything’s relative.

Yes, I was once one of those crazy tourists the locals complained about. Now I’m Leadville Laurel, local author and occasional (self-proclaimed) celebrity. Does this mean I’m suggesting we want more ex-tourists like me deciding to move here? Call it hubris if you will, but heck yeah, I am. I’m asking you to consider how the next “gaper” you curse at because they’re slowing you down as they gaze at the history and beauty surrounding them—wondering how they might capture even a piece of it before heading back to their traffic jams and heat—might be the next butcher or baker or candlestick-maker who decides to make the leap to Leadville.

I’ve lived here long enough now to know one of the favorite complaints voiced by new and old residents alike, and for whatever reason, I hear it more frequently during tourist seasons. I’d really love to be the one to banish it forever from our small-talk. Barring a truly cataclysmic geological event, Leadville will never become “the next Breckenridge,” so could we please stop beating that mythological horse? We could, however, become a town that supports not only its current population, but a growing one. We could be a town in which every shop is open year-round, a town in which our second-home-owners make their getaways here their first homes.

It’s my belief that we cannot remain a sleepy little town for much longer lest we stagnate or die. So let’s laugh at our tourists rather than curse them. Let’s try a tad more tourist toleration, or at least suppress our sneers. Let’s understand the magic we know they feel while driving or walking around our town, be it the wrong way or in the middle of the street. Let’s attend and support our cultural events and shop locally whenever possible. Let’s encourage and support those who seek to keep Leadville alive. Let’s start seeing our town through the eyes of our tourists again—through awestruck, smiling eyes.

“NEED FOOD”

Good friend died this week
Wonder how long I have left
Every day must count

“NEED FOOD,” read the cardboard sign held by a woman who appeared to be in her 70s. It’s hard to gauge the age of homeless people as most do not age well.

I was returning from a weekend conference in Denver and stopped by our local Safeway for a few things before going home. The petite woman was walking toward the store in the opposite direction of my travel and I had already driven past her.

“Just go home,” said the left hemisphere of my brain.

It was Sunday afternoon, I was tired from the weekend festivities and anxious to reunite with my husband. I drove a little farther before the right hemisphere had its say.

“Go back,” was the command.

Risking a traffic violation, I pulled a U-turn. Something about the woman called me back to her. I drove up slowly with my passenger window down.

“Could I take you to Safeway?” I asked. I’d considered simply handing her one of my bags of food, but thought it might be awkward.

A literal bag lady, she approached the window with hands covered in blue rubber gloves and enclosed in plastic Safeway bags. She smiled a sparse-toothed smile and her weather-creased face lit up.

“Well, I don’t really need food,” she started.

It’s a trap! I thought. Why didn’t you just go home?

“. . . I’m allergic to almost everything. I can’t eat any of their chicken. What I really need is shelter. I’m staying at the Hostel and it’s $25 a night.”

Though I rarely carry cash, I had sold some books at the convention and knew I had at least that much in my wallet. It was certainly easier than taking her on a shopping spree.

I brought $25 from my wallet and she leaned into the window with another plastic bag into which I deposited her fee for another night at my friends’ place, the Leadville Hostel. “Wild Bill” and Cathy have operated the hostel for the past 15 years and it quickly became our home-away-from-home during the four years we lived in Colorado Springs before finally making the leap to Leadville. We visited far more often over those four years than we have in the eight years since we moved just a mile away from them, and whenever we accidentally bump into one another, usually at Safeway, we laugh about it.

“I’ll call Wild Bill and let him know I saw you today,” I told the woman. It came out sounding like I was keeping tabs on her, and I felt a need to explain. “He’s a friend.”

She smiled again and said, “Did you know even mice are smart enough to have a God?”

“Oh?” I waited.

“They call him Cheesus,” she delivered her corny punchline with a truly sweet smile, her gift to me, and walked away.

When I got home I was eager to unpack, but my brain reminded me to call Wild Bill. We hadn’t spoken in months and I figured it was as good a time as any to reconnect. He answered in his Mississippi drawl and we discussed the woman who was allergic to everything. He thanked me for helping out.

“And you know what time it is?” he egged me on with characteristic mischief in his voice.

“Um . . . what time?” I asked, ready for another bad joke.

“It’s time to get together for our annual ‘we-never-see-each-other-anymore’ dinner!”

We both laughed at the recurrent theme and agreed to meet for dinner the following week.

“I’ll call Cathy next week,” I said. “And it’s our turn to cook.”

I could tell he was busy—the Hostel is always in full-bustle with new guests and regulars—and we hung up with a “See you soon!”

*****

Early Monday morning Mike came into the room to wake me, something he rarely does.
“Cathy just called,” he said too quietly, and although I was still in a waking stupor, I knew he was trying to convey serious news. Knowing many Cathys, I was confused. With difficulty, he uttered the words, “Wild Bill’s gone.”

“What? What do you mean?” I asked, fully awake.

He explained how our friend was on his way to Denver Sunday evening and didn’t get far at all before his vehicle went off the road and hit a tree. Stroke, heart attack, whatever happened, he died on the operating table Monday morning, 64-years-young.

*****

“Could I take you back to Buena Vista?” I asked the bag lady at the Hostel, knowing she had recently been there. She needed to leave to make room for family coming from all over to grieve the shocking loss of a man everybody loved.

“No, it’s too hot there now,” she said.

Although she’d been told the reason she needed to move on, I wasn’t sure she grasped it fully. She was squatting on her heals in the living room, her hands bagged and prepped for a day of money-gathering, and she looked adorable.

“I think I’d like to write something about you,” I told her. “What’s your name? Where are you from?”

“Barbara Marzec Rotunda,” she said. “I’m from Niagara Falls.”

“Marzec’s Polish, right?” I asked. “Would you mind if I took a photo of you?” I wanted to capture her just as she was.

“Yes! Polish! And can I make borscht!” she declared, standing and pushing her bangs Barbara2back into her hat. She suddenly became self-conscious.

“Oh, I look horrible,” she said. “But I used to be quite a cutie.”

“You look adorable,” I said, and I think she might have believed it for a moment.

I learned about how she used to travel with rock stars, Stevie Nicks being one, and how the man she married was no good. She unfolded a paper map onto which she sat next to me, allergic to the fabric on the couch, and allowed me to take her photo. Then I delivered her downtown, handed her a $20 and showed her where the Advocate’s Office was.

“That’s what I need,” she said, “an advocate.”

She allowed me to hug her, though I could tell she was considering my potential allergy-inducing attributes.

*****

How do we decide who we’ll help?

Leaving Safeway that evening to bring food to Cathy and gathering friends at the Hostel, I walked past a young man sitting near the door playing a harmonica—not even a little well—with a dog by his side and a hat out for money. It made me angry. I wanted to yell at him, “Get off your ass and look for a job.” He was far too young to be panhandling.

But then I thought of Barbara and how she had gifted me with one last conversation with a friend I’ll never forget. And although I didn’t stop to ask his story or offer money, I didn’t yell at him.

I hope Barbara has found shelter for another night.

I hope Wild Bill is resting peacefully, spinning his stories in a less judgmental world. Wild Bill Clower

Home again, home again…

Week 2 of our road trip is even better than week 1. Our sleep schedule is increasingly more like Ranger’s and each waking moment is an opportunity to explore extraordinary new scenery. The simplicity of our routine is invigorating. I don’t miss home at all.

Our only frustrations are with the occasional drivers who slow down when the road is not hairpin straight, or truckies who won’t pull over with a mile of traffic behind them.

“What are you hauling? A black hole?” Mike asks one driver when we can finally pass safely. The driver doesn’t hear him.

“Panguitch,” I read on a sign. “I’m hungry. I’d like a peanut butter and jelly panguitch, please.”

But then we see an even better sign advertising “HO-MADE PIES.” As I’m fairly certain hothey’re not gluten free, we pass on the Ho-made pies. “I once was a tart, but now I make them,” I say, and the pin-up girl on the sign agrees with me.

Debris, my iPhone, takes us on a circuitous route to one of our destinations, adding close to an extra hour of driving, and at some point I tell her to “stop navigation.” As soon as I finish my command, Mike adds, “and stop being a such a douche.” He’s angry at Debris’ faulty directions.

My phone responds sweetly with, “Okay, Laurel, here’s what I’ve found for stop navigation and stop being a douche,” and Mike and I burst into laughter. We cannot believe what we’ve just heard. Mike wants me to click on the “How can I stop being a douche” link, but I’d rather look at the scenery.

“Well,” I say, “we’re seeing lots of things we wouldn’t see if we’d taken the direct way.”

“Yeah, sheep,” he says. “Lots and lots of sheep.”

stormy skyFor hours we pass open land for as far as we can see and laugh at people who talk about the threat of overpopulation. The contrast between what we are seeing on our travels and what we know about those who live on top of one another in big cities is nearly irreconcilable in our minds.

Along a particularly rough stretch of road there’s a sign warning of an upcoming bump and we figure if the bump is worth noting, it must be a doozie. We maneuver it just fine, and then there’s another.

“I wonder if they’re related,” says Mike.

“Who?” I ask.

“The bumps. Because that would make them bumpkins.”

This is how many of our conversations go.

We finally make it to our campground near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and notice our slight stature amongst the other campers, something we observe everywhere we stop. We clearly have the smallest travel trailer in the whole place. We’re surrounded by Death Stars, and Mike—who is not a singer—never fails to hum the Star Wars tune whenever we pass one on the road.

I count over 45 different names on the various mobile homes, all promising something special. Attitude, Beaver, Freedom, Fury, Hideout, Independence, Jazz, Komfort, Puma Unleashed, Voltage, and Wildwood are some of my favorites.

“What! No Beaver Unleashed?” Mike asks. Beaver jokes are always funny.

“I could see trading up in a few years,” he says, checking out our neighbors’ rigs, and although our trailer feels palatial after years of trips in the truck camper, I can see a time when we might need just a little more space. Like when we’re on the road for months, or when we’re taking potential grandsnarfs on adventures.

Our neighbors at one campground, owners of a Death Star, tell us they call their trips fairy fort“Glamping.” The dad is a Marine, and like Mike, has decided he’s paid his dues roughing it for long enough. Their daughter, a serious 7-year-old, is engrossed in making a fairy fort out of pine needles and cones and sticks and stones. She is methodical in her creation, and I can tell she’s happy I’ve noticed her effort.

We decide to traverse one of the longer, steeper trails at the canyon and agree to do a timed out and back. I know Mike wants to cover as much ground as he can, and I want to stroll and take photos and chat with people, so we decide we’ll both turn around at the 90 minute mark.

“Don’t get lost,” I tell Mike, and he knows I’m joking about an experience on our previous hike—a simple half-mile round trip out and back to an overlook—when a group of Harley riders (I’m assuming they were Harley riders as they were all decked out in Harley leathers) asked us the way back to the lodge. We suppressed our urge to ask if they were joking and pointed to the only possible way they could walk.

So off we go down the steep Kaibab trail, which smells of mule dung punctuated by an occasional blast of fresh pine. But for the noisy swarms of metallic blue-green flies—why are they so beautiful?—on the freshest piles, they’re tolerable.

After I overcome my concern over several small children approaching an overlook with no fences and a rock slab slide into the void—they’re not my children and their parents seem to be watching them—I continue down the trail to a quiet piece of shade and sit in the cool silence, breathing in the canyon breath. A haiku presents itself:

Breathing canyon breath
No responsibilities
Peaceful cliff birds sing

During my turnaround hike back up the path a canyon-red butterfly outlined in white dips and turns and climbs over and over, a little dance just for me.

On our way to our next venue I watch Mike surreptitiously as he drives, this man who has made my life one huge adventure, and know I could travel the world this way with him. I notice for the first time the tin foil hairs interspersed with the brown ones on his forearms sparkling in the sun through the windshield and I think about the hairs on my own arms that now stick straight out as if trying to escape, and my eyebrow hairs that are growing willy-nilly like Einstein’s. I plucked one the other day that must have been an inch long, half brown, half gray, wholly twisted. blue steelI notice the gray stubble on Mike’s chin, something I rarely get to see, and it makes me wish I had my tweezers handy to pluck the persistent stray hairs that grow faster than a startle reflex on my own chin. Mike doesn’t like his facial hair, but he forgot to bring a new blade for his razor. I don’t tell him I’ve got extras. I like to see a little scruffle now and then.

We listen to a radio DJ who starts an excited expression with, “Holy …! Don’t worry, folks, I’ll never curse on the radio, so if you’re driving home with the kids now, you’ve got nothing to fear. This next song by 311, All Mixed Up, is one of my favorites. I mean, these guys work their asses off,” (emphasis on the asses).

“Wow,” is all Mike says.

Ranger profileWe’re a little quieter on our final drive from Mesa Verde to home, our last day of vacation. Sure, we laugh at the “Nothing Satisfies Like BEEF” sign and make the obvious pork references. It’s not like we’re somber or anything. And we’re truly pleased by Ranger’s response to our truck to trailer to truck routine these past two weeks. He’s always ready to jump into or out of whichever door we open, and after only a few minutes of whining in the truck, he settles down and does what he does best: sleeps.

We know we’ve seen only the tiniest fraction of what our country has to offer, and every place has been our favorite. Driving back into Colorado—after the mandatory donation to the Navajo Nation at 4-Corners where vendors of silver and turquoise surround you, entertained, no doubt, by the antics of tourists splaying themselves across the geographic marker—we are grateful once more to be living in one of the scenically most spectacular states.

Bouquet upon bouquet of orange, white, yellow and purple brighten the roadways, and over every rise there’s another castle or ship chiseled by an unseen sculptor’s hand from the cliffs of stony red earth. I imagine dinosaurs tromping alongside us and pterosaurs gliding from peak to castle peak. And then, the snow-capped mountains rise from flowered fields, and we are . . .

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig. almost home

Day 9

May VayKay Day 9

portal

“Mike never dreams at home,” Mike says on day 9, the day after our first rainy-rainy-all-day day.

We share snippets of our crazy dreams. He and Nick were in a competition involving climbing a wall with personally selected avatars and they chose Matchbox cars. My dream made far more sense. I was helping to raise an American flag in our neighbors’ yard. In real life, they lost a son in Iraq. Memorial Day weekend is more significant to those who understand its true meaning, and our friends have been on my mind this weekend.

We’re living more and more like Ranger, and whenever we’re not moving (and Mike requires far move movement than I), we’re sleeping, reading, or watching old DVDs. Yes, we have a television in our trailer, something we once scoffed at back in the days when from our tent we would see old folks in their travel trailers all decked out with boob tubes, sound systems and heat.

“Wimps,” we’d call them. “They’re not really camping.” We once took pride in roughing it.

And now we’re them.

“We’ve done our time,” Mike says. “We could go to a primitive campsite on Monday, but why?”

We’ve grown accustomed to the little luxuries of home: running water, an inside toilet, heat, an old movie or two.

We’ve also fallen into an unspoken routine each day. Upon waking and wondering how the clock could possible show 08:30, or even 09:00, we acknowledge once more that “we’re on vacation.” It’s great starting the day with a giggle. Then, I make coffee and the bed and sweep out the trailer while Mike takes Ranger for his morning constitutional. I rustle up some breakfast when they return and then we head out for the day, or Mike rides while I read and write. There might be a mid-day nap. Evening hors d’oeuvres of crackers with cheese, smoked salmon or mustard sardines (the best!) and wine wind down the day while we decide what we’d like for dinner. Then more reading, perhaps a movie—we’ve both decided Shrek is one of the best ever made—and while I clean up from dinner, Mike takes Ranger for his bedtime stroll. We’re all back in bed by nine.

It’s glorious.

It’s so easy to live in the present when camping, even when camping in relative luxury.

And I’ll say it again.

It’s glorious.

May VayKay 2015 Week 1

“I’ll bet you never saw yourself doing this when you were growing up,” Mike says for the umpteenth time since our marriage nearly 32 years ago. The this he’s talking about is packing up our Lance trailer for a two-week road trip vacation away from “mud season” in Leadville, just me and my hubby and our 85-pound German Shepherd. Ranger probably never anticipate this either.

I’ve christened our trailer Laurel’s Luxury Liner because it’s a huge improvement over the Lance camper we traded in for it. The camper—which we enjoyed for 6 years and filled to the brim during trips with two grown boys—was a huge improvement over sleeping on the ground in a tent, which we did for many, many, far-too-many years.

“I never saw myself doing most of what I’ve done,” I say.

And it’s true. Just 32 short years ago Mike and I graduated from West Point, married a few weeks later, and my life has been a new box of Cracker Jacks every day since, complete with sweetness and surprises and plenty of nuts.

“Do you realize this is the first time since we’ve been married that we’ve taken two weeks off together?” I ask. I don’t count the 3 ½ weeks between graduation and our Officer Basic courses during which time we took 10 days to plan and execute our wedding (thanks for the suggestion, Mum!). I think even Mike is surprised by the realization.

For a fleeting moment I’m nervous about the prospect. Two solid weeks of visiting national wilderness area and living in close confines with our socially awkward dog, cooking on the little 3-burner gas stove, taking quick showers in our little bathroom (not sure how long the hot water will last), parking between who-knows-who at RV parks . . . but I’ll take it one day at a time.

We spend our first night at a campground in Fruita, CO after visiting friends who invite us to join them downtown for Mike the Headless Chicken Festival. It’s a thing. One of the silliest things ever. After a photo op with poor-ol’-headless-Mike, we enjoy dinner out, a warm walk around a little lake and a fabulous night’s sleep.

“We’re on vacation,” I say as we wake to see 08:30 on the clock, but it hasn’t really hit us yet.

There’s something special about eating “in the wild” too, and our cheesy eggs and sausage have never tasted better. I appreciate the large sink in our new home-on-wheels and the seemingly endless hot water.

On to Moab, UT where one of our neighbors is the don’t-need-to-take-a-breath-ever-while-I’m-talking kind, and for four days we find ways to avoid contact. It’s not difficult since we’re gone most of the day, but I’m aware of several times I need to rescue Mike from the endless questions about biking and racing which he never really has to answer because Mr. Chatty just keeps on talking.

Anyway, our first day out in the spectacular scenery and I turn my ankle—“Crack”—and honestly think it’s broken. Once the stars clear from my vision, I do my best to make light of the situation.

“Laurel never turns her right ankle,” I say, trying not to cry. I’ve turned my left ankle a kajillion times in my life and have grown accustomed to rolling with it. It burns for a bit, but I always walk it off quickly. This is different.

I test it lightly and although it hurts like hot coals in my boot, I’m pretty sure it’s not broken, despite the noise it made. I don’t even notice my bleeding left knee.

“A bad sprain can hurt worse than a break,” my honey says, wondering how I could have done such damage on the gently angled terrain. Although I hate to blame the dog, I generally watch where he’s going more than my own footsteps, and I also realize I’ve put far more faith in my new hiking boots’ ankle support than I should have.

It’s a truly arduous hike back out, but I make it, and Mike hooks me up with anti-inflammatories and ice.

For the next few days I take mini-hikes and watch the beautiful colors spread around my fat ankle. I stop myself from taking a photo of it. I’m not going to let a little ache ruin my vacation, and it doesn’t. We visit new places around Moab, frequently looking at each other and saying, “We’re on vacation” and grinning like idiots. It’s finally starting to feel like we’ve made a great escape, and by our last evening in Moab, we’re taking cues from Ranger, sleeping in late after dream-filled nights and needing naps during the day.

Driving from Moab to Bryce Canyon we make the mistake of asking my phone to provide directions and “Debris” (Mike’s nickname for “her”) takes us the scenic way. The way with miles and miles of “End State Maintenance” pavement.

“So it’ll take us an extra hour,” I say. “We’re seeing things we wouldn’t see if we’d gone the faster way.” We laugh at all the new things we see. Lots of sheep. Lots and lots of potholes along the bumpy road.

Ruby’s RV Park outside of Bryce Canyon is great and Ranger’s a champ when we leave him to hike around the no-dogs-allowed trails. He has his bed, his bone, his new home to guard, and he’s happy when we return.

We’ve now spent one whole week together loving the freedom that comes from simple living. While Mike biked today—getting soaked in the cold rain—I tidied up around the place, which is wonderfully easy to do. I rearranged items in cabinets more sensibly and worked on my list of extra things to bring next time, because there will be many next times. Mike enjoyed a nice hot shower and a nap while I worked on this blog, and now it’s just about time for hors d’oeuvres and Merlot.

Hey, we’re still on vacation!

Bryce selfie