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I’m too old to be adventurous…

Posted: 07-02-2015

My husband Ron and I just completed a 10 day, 1200 mile bus tour of the Grand Circle: five national parks and three national monuments mostly in Utah. We traveled with Road Scholar, a group that specializes in educational travel for old people, I mean senior citizens. The first rule of thumb on a guided bus tour for this age group is never, EVER be more than 2 hours from a bathroom.


Utah Arches
Son Nick, a seasoned world-wide trekker, was appalled by our travel choice. First he deemed the cost of the trip ($3300 for two people) unduly extravagant. Nick is quite frugal (as in cheap). While in Nepal last year, he avoided airfare from Mt Everest base camp to Katmandu by hiking two days overland to the nearest bus stop. “I don’t do backpacking,’ I tell Nick,” or sleepovers in fields or bus trips where my seat-mate is a goat.”
Utah Tour

Nick disapproves of highly structured vacations. He believes the best travel memories are unplanned discoveries. He recalls the colorful Hindu festival he happened upon in India that featured painted elephants and a landscape aglow with candles. I haughtily informed Nick that one day on our trip we were running ahead of schedule. In a moment of heady exuberance we left the main highway to view Gooseneck Canyon. “It was so remote, “I told Nick, “the bathroom was an outhouse and there was no gift shop.”
I understand traveling 1200 miles in 10 days with 30 other people on a bus isn’t for everyone. I found it a trip of a lifetime largely because of our guide Darrell McMahon. This man is a genius at conveying the geologic history of the area in an informative, humorous manner. When we visited Bryce Canyon National Park, he announced we would be joined by a renowned geologist. Darrell appeared wearing a fake beard and ratty hat. He introduced himself as Clarence Dutton, a geologist who mapped 12,000 square miles of the high plateaus of southern Utah between 1875-1877. Later in the week, Darrell dressed as a condor to describe the bird’s appearance and behavior. Darrell concluded by saying a condor is a lot like a Road Scholar participant—it can eat 20% of its weight in one sitting.

Tour Guides Asleep On JobTour Guides Asleep On Job
Even though our trip featured walks and hikes, we spent lots of time on the bus. There is no other way to visit so many parks in so little time. Darryl’s commentary and corny jokes helped pass the time (what do geologists use to season their supper? Basalt and pepper.)
Road Scholar caters to senior citizens like me who account for an ever-increasing share of domestic travel. According to survey data, seniors gravitate toward guided tours, expect to experience cultures firsthand, demand expert tour guides and prefer no worries. While world trekkers like my son seek adventure and spontaneity, my peeps want to know motel rooms are booked and Wi-Fi is available.
The tour of Utah’s Grand Circle was very special because of the spectacular scenery and a top notch guide. Our affable and highly intelligent group obviously made a deep impression on Darrell. At our last dinner together he told us, “Of all the tour groups I have led, I can definitely say you are one of them.”

Antelope CanyonAntelope Canyon

Is that a sugar glider on my head?

Posted: 09-10-2014
Blog Articles

The West Virginia Wild and Dangerous Animal Board says it is okay to keep sugar gliders as pets.  Here is my humorous take on that decision via YouTube.



My Adventures as a Human Pack Mule (Part 4)

Posted: 08-31-2014
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Front Royal, VA – Mile 498 

photo (5)Nick’s adventure hiking the Virginia portion of the Appalachian Trail is almost over.  We met him Saturday near Front Royal where the trail crosses US 522. 

We got there a little early (cell phones make rendezvous times very easy) so Ron and I embraced the trail and started walking to meet him. After an arduous hike of 1000 yards, Nick appeared and led us back to the parking lot.  Nick walked faster carrying a 30 pound backpack than I did carrying only my cell phone.

This was a short visit, for lunch only, because Nick is determined to make it home by Monday.  That means hiking over 50 miles in two and ½ days.  I insisted he change shirts before going into Front Royal. 

app trail va_frontroyalI handed him a clean shirt and a stick of deodorant.  We enjoyed a great lunch at the Apple House Deli.  Nick is tired.  He admits he should have taken more days off especially after completing 21 miles in one day as he did while in the Shenandoah National Park.

Nick had only rave reviews about Shenandoah National Park.  Thanks to the recommendation of Harpers Ferry NHP Superintendent Rebecca Herriot, he indulged in a helping of blackberry ice cream and said it was great.  Nick was disappointed at not seeing a single bear although a rattle snake scared the stink off him (HAHA!  Nothing can scare the stink off an Appalachian Trail hiker.  It takes a hot shower and lots of soap).

He has continued to enjoy episodes of trail magic, including a hiker who was toting a 6-pack of beer and ice and shared it with everyone in the shelter.

Nick AT car trunkRon and I got to provide a little trail magic ourselves.  When we dropped Nick back at the trail, we met Padre, a through hiker going from north to south.  He needed a ride to Food Lion in Front Royal so we took him there and I gave him some home-made brownies.   Nothing can make you feel more appreciated than giving a hiker home-made baked goods!

My Adventures as a Human pack Mule (Part 3)

Posted: 08-27-2014
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Rockfish Gap, VA — Mile 390


app trail va_staunton


Rockfish Gap? Who knew I would one day be in a trailhead parking lot there awaiting for Nick to emerge from the Appalachian Trail.  I only had to wait about 10 minutes for him to appear.  Bearded, stinky and very skinny—Nick displayed all the hallmarks of an AT hiker!

Nick ROckfish gap


We stayed the night in Staunton at a hotel that mercifully had a coin-operated washer and dryer.  Unfortunately, Nick’s back pack could not be washed.  Whew does it smell.

Nick regaled me with tales of his last 215 miles, including two encounters with rattle snakes, one bear and a slightly demented hiker.  Nick or Country Roads as he is known, hiked a while with a man who seemed okay but progressively got nuttier.  Nick picked up his pace until he put about 10 miles between them.

Fortunately, most hikers are awfully nice, like the couple he met from Alexandria Virginia.  They hiked together for two days and it wasn’t until the very end Nick discovered he and the husband were at the College of William and Mary together.  “What does he do?” I asked.  “Mom,” Nick said with some derision, “You don’t share personal information on the trail.”  That comes later since everyone seems to stay connected on Facebook.

I have learned from Nick about “trail magic.” Apparently when things get bleak, trail magic often intervenes.  Nick said he was sitting curbside on the Blue Ridge Parkway (the trail and parkway are in close proximity at times), discouraged that the stream he had to use for water was very muddy.  A motorcyclist slowed down and tossed him an ice cold bottle of water.  At another point, a gentleman and his son invited him to their picnic and Nick enjoyed water, fruit and a homemade sandwich.  I plan to return the favor when I come across a hiker.  However, if they smell as bad as Nick, I won’t be sharing a picnic with them.

Fulfilling my role as a human pack mule, I took Nick to the grocery store to stock up.  I am getting good at this and automatically steer the cart to the right aisles.  Pouches of chicken and tuna, packaged noodle dinners, individual oatmeal servings, peanut butter, honey…the objective is to get the most calories with the least packaging.  Lessening the weight of the backpack is a big deal.  Nick bought a new toothbrush.  He hacked off part of the handle to make it lighter.

I asked Nick what he thinks about while trudging 10 or 15 miles a day.  Does he think about the wonders of the trail, the beauty of the scenery?  Or how about the juxtaposition of hiking a wilderness trail within spitting distance of major highways and population centers?    “No, Mom,” he replied.  “I think of food.”  He has already requested a steak for his welcome home dinner.

I dropped Nick back at Rockfish Gap on Saturday and he plans to be home on Labor Day, September 1. That means he intends to cover 156 miles in 9 days.  Ron and I plan to meet him in Front Royal (mile 492) for lunch and we may help him “slack pack.”  This means we take his backpack and then  drive to a rendezvous point further down the trail. By shedding his backpack for a while, Nick can cover more ground in a shorter amount of time.

I am happy to help Nick slack pack but that backpack is going in the trunk of the car with plenty of deodorizers.


My Adventures as a Human Pack Mule (Part 2)

Posted: 08-05-2014
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Pearisburg, VA – Mile 174

My husband and I met Nick near Pearisburg (population 2800) on August 1. After 174 miles of hiking the Appalachian Trail, Nick needed a hot shower. I booked us into the Woods Hole Hostel, located only ½ mile off the trail in a remote mountain area. Nick stayed in the bunk room for $15 a night (mattresses available on first come, first served basis). Fortunately the hostel offers a REAL room for those less hardcore visitors ($75 per night with breakfast). The owners are trying to live off the land so the vegetables, eggs and meat come from their farm. Their cat is living off the land too, appearing at breakfast one morning proudly mouthing a dead chipmunk. (“You don’t see that at Holiday Inn Express,” I whispered to my husband after we all held hands and gave thanks for life’s blessings.)

nick mom AT pburg

Another guest, Pace Maker, joined us. Anyone hiking the AT earns a trail name. Pace Maker is an obvious choice for a grandfather who has suffered 3 heart attacks. Pace Maker, like Nick, is a sectional hiker, someone who is doing different parts of the trail at different times rather than hiking the entire 2000 miles in one outing. Nick hiked a while with High Roller, a hiker who found a poker token on the trail. Nick has yet to accept a trail name although other hikers have suggested Connoisseur because of his meal choices and Sleepy because he dozes late into the morning.

Nick was already at the hostel when we arrived. Nick texted earlier in the week telling us to be sure to bring two essential items from home: toe nail clippers and his harmonica. On Saturday we travelled to Blacksburg, a 40 minute drive, to see the town, visit a local trail outfitters and buy food at Walmart. Nick decided to buy a sleeping bag because it was much colder at night than he expected.

After spending $80.00 on food supplies (more tuna, chicken chunk packets, nectarines, dried fruits , instant oatmeal and other assorted delectable), we returned to the hostel, Late Sunday morning , Nick (aka Sleepy Connoisseur) returned to the trail with his 50 pound backpack, new sleeping bag and freshly clipped toe nails.

Ron and I drove home. We will meet Nick again in 10 days around Buchanan, Virginia at mile 278. This will mark the half-way point of his trek.

My Adventures as a Human Pack Mule (Part 1)

Posted: 07-27-2014
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My friend Bill once asked me to join him on his through hike of the 2200 mile Appalachian Trail. I told him I don’t backpack and I don’t do arduous hikes. “I know,” Bill said. Apparently he read an article that stated only 1 in 8 people who start the Appalachian Trail actually finish. Bill decided to corral 7 hiking companions who would fail early to increase the odds of his success.

The Appalachian Trail has reentered my life thanks to my adult son, Nick. He is hiking the length of the trail through Virginia, a total of 550 miles. Nick did not even bother asking me to join him. But I am still a critical part of his hiking adventure. Along with my husband, we are his re-supply team. We are meeting him at pre-arranged locations to provide him food and camp supplies.

There are many accounts of hiking the Appalachian Trail (the funniest has to be Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods.”) I am using this blog to share my adventures as a human pack mule.

Nick’s hiking adventure started on Sunday, July 20 at that well know camping outfitter, Harris Teeter grocery store. We were visiting my daughter in Winston Salem, NC. My husband and I planned to drop Nick in Damascus, Virginia the following day so he could walk home 550 miles to Harpers Ferry, WV.

Nick had to carry 7-10 days’ worth of food to get him to the first resupply rendezvous in Pearisburg, Virginia (mile 164). I joined him at Harris Teeter to buy essential items like tuna fish, pasta dinners, packets of oatmeal, peanut butter, powered drink mix, granola, rice, chocolate and fruit. Watching his selection of food reinforced my decision never to backpack. The total bill came to $78.00. The most costly item was a gift from me: Starbucks Via Italian dark roast instant coffee packets. That little item rang up at $7.99. I regard coffee as essential as toilet paper when dealing with the great outdoors so I happily paid the price.

Damascus, Virginia: The Beginning


We drove to Damascus, Virginia on Monday, July 21. The Appalachian Trail goes right through the downtown. Damascus (population 2800) also lies along the very popular Virginia Creeper Trail, a multi-purpose rail trail that extends 35 miles. The town is filled with businesses catering to hikers and cyclists. Most of the Appalachian Trail through hikers were long gone. They had to pass through Damascus in May to avoid a winter arrival in Maine, the trail’s terminus.

Nick shouldered his backpack (weight: 40 pounds) and started walking. My husband and I joined him for approximately 15 minutes until we decided heading back to an ice cream stand in town was a better option.

It took Ron and me about 4 hours to drive home to West Virginia It will take Nick 6 weeks to cover the same distance on the Appalachian Trail. I could only admire his gumption as I sipped my Starbuck’s Latte and set the cruise control to 70 mph.
More to come when we meet Nick at mile 164 of his trek.

New Addition to Son’s Room says OINK

Posted: 07-16-2014
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I had a serious talk with my just-returned-home adult son to remind him that his room is equipped with dresser drawers and a closet. This advice has gone unheeded for three weeks. Perhaps a piglet would find happiness in his room.

In the meantime, we have a critter arriving at night to raid our farm cat’s food and scare poor Cleo into the hosta bushes. The live trap caught Cleo the first night, a skunk the second night and a weasel or some such varmint on night three.

Nick room pig

Adult Son Returns Home; Rug Disappears

Posted: 06-27-2014
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Adult son left his job teaching English in Chile and returned home to the United States.  I prepared a room for him, collecting errant stink bugs, dusting and vacuuming the rug.  Here is the finished product.   Nick room   It took less than  24 hours for the rug to disappear beneath his belongings. I will post this same shot again in a week and see if more of the rug is visible. Nick room after

The Magic Portal

Posted: 06-12-2014
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I consider our kitchen door a magic portal.

 The Magic Portal

When my adult children come to visit, they walk through the kitchen door and immediately assume their teenage persona. This is not good. The teen years involved lots of loving reminders from me such as I AM NOT YOUR SERVANT SO PICK UP AFTER YOURSELF and PLEASE PUT YOUR DIRTY DISHES IN THE DISHWASHER and IS IT ASKING TOO MUCH TO CARRY YOUR SHOES UPSTAIRS?

My adult daughter now has her own house. During my first visit, she chastised me for not rinsing out my dirty coffee cup. “Is this yours?” she asked menacingly when I dropped my coat on a chair instead of hanging it up.

Somehow this attention to neatness disappears when adult daughter visits home. I can only surmise it is because our kitchen door magically transports her to days of yore when she felt quite comfortable leaving everything from hair encrusted pony tail holders to soccer cleats in the living room.
Next visit, my children use the front door.

Mothman: West Virginia’s Creature of the Night

Posted: 06-11-2014
Blog Articles, West Virginia Travel

When I was a youngster, my parents trusted my older brother to babysit me. Hank decided I would enjoy watching a horror movie with him. I sat mesmerized as grasshoppers munched grasses fertilized by radioactive waste. They immediately grew as high as Godzilla’s eye. Roaming freely in cities and town, they ate anything that moved, developing a particular fondness for human flesh. The menacing sound of their legs and antennae rubbing together signaled their arrival.

Ron transformed into mothman

I spent the next two weeks panicked by any sound resembling the call of the Grasshopper Leader to “get the humans.”   My brother spent the next two weeks grounded in his bedroom.

I overcame my lingering fear of unnatural creatures to attend the 2013 Mothman Festival in Pt. Pleasant, West Virginia. This took a great deal of courage on my part because unlike those giant grasshoppers of my youth, MOTHMAN ACTUALLY EXISTS!!!!!!

Mothman made his debut in November, 1966 at a defunct munitions factory in Pt. Pleasant. The giant creature‘s signature features are blazing, ruby red eyes and wings that measure 10’ across when open. He can achieve speeds of 100 mph. The two couples who saw him signed lengthy depositions swearing they barely escaped his wrath. Soon after this incident, dogs started disappearing and mutilated cattle started appearing.  Over 100 sightings were reported and some folks swore they heard Mothman land on their roofs.

The biggest catastrophe attributed to Mothman is the collapse of the Silver Bridge in December 1967. Engineering reports attribute the disaster to a single rusted eyebar. When it cracked, the suspension bridge cables snapped, sending the bridge and dozens of cars into the Ohio River. More than 40 people died.

A witness camped near the bridge who enjoyed drinking his dinner from a brown paper bag, swore he saw Mothman right before the collapse. Certified UFOlogist John Keel said he received a call warning him to stay away from the bridge and thinks it may have been Mothman. Good thing Mr. Keel did not mistake Mothman for a telemarketing operator.

The Mothman Festival features speakers on Mothman and other spooky phenomena. Apparently, West Virginia is a hotbed of weird, cosmic events. According to one speaker, the former lunatic asylum in Weston is the largest haunted area in North America. Seneca Rocks and the former penitentiary in Moundsville also host spirits.

While imbibing Mothman margaritas (a god-awful concoction of green liquor with cherries embedded in lemon slices for eyes), my husband and I realized we had visited most of our state’s cosmic hotspots. We even spent an evening in the Moundsville penitentiary with lots of ghost hunters who were holding machines to record interdimensional shifts. Ron and I only had flashlights, as we were more worried about tripping over something in the pitch black building and ending up in the afterlife ourselves. We were accompanied by my friend Carol who considers herself something of a ghost hunter as she has seen all the episodes of “Ghost Whisperer.”

There have not been any sightings of Mothman recently but no matter. He has become a reason to visit Pt. Pleasant. The town is enduring rough times; about 1/3 of the downtown buildings are vacant. The Mothman festival attracts people from all over the United States. We met folks from Michigan, Connecticut and Ohio. Hundreds of people attended the lectures.

Mothman may be in hiding but he might come out if the local chamber of commerce honors him as businessman of the year.