Graduation Travel Tradition

It started with my husband.  During his senior year of college, he spent a week in Antigua with his parents.  Not with his brothers, just him and his parents.  It made a big impression on him, and he felt it was a special time shared with his parents before he left school and started his first job.  At his suggestion we decided to replicate it.

Even when they were young, we told our children about this plan.  When they graduated from college, we would take them – not their siblings – on a trip, to a destination of their choosing.  Over the years, it became my favorite dinner time probe.  Where do you think you will go for your graduation trip?

Our first trip was to Jamaica.  Our daughter, Karen, wanted a beach vacation, and a place to relax and soak up the sun after a hectic senior year.  We found a wonderful small resort, Catcha Falling Star, perched on the cliffs south of Negril.  We loved our round air-cooled cottage, jumping into the deep blue waters off the rocks, reading by the waterside, and sampling the local fare for dinner.  It was a week of pure relaxation and slow pace.  It was on that trip that Karen shared with us the depth of her love for her now-husband.  Truly a special time!

The next trip took us to Alaska.  Our son, Carl, was looking for adventure and wilderness.  Traveling around the southern portion of the state our favorite venue was Bowman’s Bear Creek Lodge on the Kenai Peninsula.  From there we experienced sea kayaking in Resurrection Bay, fishing for salmon, hiking on glaciers, and enjoyed the best weather of the trip.  The rustic log cabins at Bowman’s and delicious dinner savored on the porch were the perfect complement to our outdoor experience.  We especially relished that week with Carl, as soon afterwards he left for a year’s study abroad as part of his master’s degree program in International Relations.

And now the third and final trip.  Erik will graduate this spring and has selected Banff and Jasper in the Canadian Rockies for his trip.  Hiking and mountains were the key ingredients for him.  The tickets are purchased, lodging reservations in the making, and anticipation is growing.  Now all he has to do is get his diploma.

That will be the end for this generation.  Will they continue the tradition?

Cycling progress?

For almost two months now, I have been diligently training.  Cycling 3-4 days a week, with at least one and more often two long rides.  I’m up to 40 miles at a stretch now.  I’ve even worked in some hill training.  It has felt good.  I can feel my strength increasing, my endurance improving and the early pain in my knees has melted away.  I really feel like I’m making progress!  Bring on the Trans-Superior Cycling Tour – I’m going to be good and ready!

Just for fun, I thought I’d check on my overall mileage.  My favorite tracking software, SportTracks, calculates cumulative mileage for my equipment.  So a quick check after today’s ride gave me the answer.  598 miles.  Seriously?  That’s all?  Working the math backwards through my recent rides, I figured out that I hit 500 miles some time during last Tuesday’s ride.  It took me 1.5 months to cycle what we’re planning on doing on a 9-day Tour…  What a blow.

Good thing that Tour isn’t until August.  I think I have more training to do.

Running Ambassadors

It was our last day in the French countryside.  Staying in a 200-year-old farmhouse in a village of 100 people, my husband, Rich, and I had spent the week in our preferred style of travel – visiting small, out of the way places and savoring the local flavor.

Our destination for that afternoon was Lucon, chosen for its nice Cathedral and formal gardens.  When we arrived, it was clear that we’d stumbled upon an event of some kind.  It turned out to be the start of a running race.  As runners ourselves, it was with a pang of envy that we watched the racers pass.  Being spectators has never been our strong point.  Returning our attention to the “sights” of the town, we found a sign listing the afternoon’s events.   We had just witnessed the start of the 5500m race, and the 10k was yet to come in an hour.  An instantaneous moment of insanity gripped us, as we considered entering the race.  But our running gear was an hour’s drive away, too far to make it back in time.  Practicality ruled, and we continued our way through the town center.  Browsing in shop windows and taking in the town’s architecture consumed 45 minutes, but not our minds…they were still back on that race.  So with 15 minutes to the start, we entered in our own race against time – getting outfitted and into that race!

Our first destination was a shoe store, where we rushed in and tried to explain in our best high school French (now decades past) that we needed shoes to run in that race!  We managed to find two pair that would do, but did not want to commit to buying them unless we could complete the outfit with shorts.  Struggling to get our point across, we acquired directions to the sporting goods store, where we found and changed into new running shorts.  While I completed the transaction for the shoes, Rich made a dash for the starting line.  When I joined him there, he was explaining our plight to the officials – we wanted to race, but alas were not registered.  All this with moments to go before the starting time.  The response, “C’est ne pas grave!” (that’s not serious) and an invitation to join the race was all it took.  Soon we were off with the starting gun!

Somehow we managed to understand that the race would be three loops through town.  We both ran on adrenaline, not being in our best racing condition, and were cheered on by the officials at the starting line each time we passed.  A couple of times we were spotted for running without racing numbers, but a quick shout “Je suis le Americaine!” was all it took – the return look was understanding and forgiveness.   We were steered away from the official chutes at the finish, but the words “Etats Unis” ringing out over the loud speakers recognized our finish in a unique way.

Our friend from the starting line soon sought us out, along with a woman who turned out to be a local reporter covering the race.  Learning the tale of how we entered the race, she entreated us to stay for the awards ceremony.  In the meantime, we took a quick loop through town to return to the shops where we had made our purchases.  Miming our success, we joyfully thanked the merchants amidst exchanges of congratulations and laughter.  We returned to find an Olympic-style podium where local dignitaries presented trophies and large bouquets of flowers to the winners of the various races.  The next thing we knew, we heard them announcing our names!  The journalist woman ushered us up to the front, where they asked us to take our places on the #1 and #2 stands!  Our French served us well enough to understand the Consular General’s description for the audience of how we had come to visit their town, patronized their local shops and joined in the race.  He then turned to us and thanked us in his best English.  Thinking we were done, we were about to depart when he presented us each with a trophy cup, accompanied by a kiss on each cheek for me, 1-2-3 times, as is the custom in Lucon!  We felt quite the celebrities!

We never did see that Cathedral, nor the formal gardens.  But there is no doubt we took in the local flavor.

Planting the Seed

When my children were very little, I took up running to stay in shape.  As in most things I do, I jumped into it wholeheartedly, and was soon hooked on running and entering local races.  When I could, I’d bring the kids along and enter them in the kids’ Fun Runs.  They even humored me when they got older, and joined me in some 10k races.

Time marches on.  Kids grow up and become more independent, and parents have more time.  I moved up to half-marathons and then marathons.  It was Mom’s running obsession, but they were always there to cheer me on.  That was the extent of their involvement, or so I thought.

It wasn’t until they got into college that the seeds started to grow.  One by one, they took up running or cycling.  It wasn’t long before they too were reaching for extreme goals.  My daughter joined my husband and me running Grandma’s Marathon.  Two years later we added my youngest son as well!  Our middle son – always the independent thinker, no running for him, thank you – did the MS150 bike ride and the week-long RAGBRAI bike ride across Iowa.  And that was just the beginning – we have shared numerous races and events since then.

How did we become such an athletic family?  Those seeds must have germinated.

Cookie Perfection

What’s your definition of a perfect cookie?  Mine would include words like chewy, thick and substantial.  I like a cookie that you can bite into and feel its heft, but not experience a crunch.  It would include lots of chocolate chips, probably oatmeal, and sometimes peanut butter.  So how come it’s so hard to get them to turn out right?  What makes a cookie dribble out into flatness, or turn crisp when you give it just a few more seconds in the oven?  How do you find that fine line between doughy and overdone?  Over the years, I have tried innumerable recipes in search of that perfect cookie.  I even lured over my elderly former-cateress neighbor to give me baking lessons, as her cookies always defined perfection.  But once back on my own, even her recipe failed to achieve.

I do have one secret remedy.  Those overly-crisp cookies?  Just sneak a piece of bread into the cookie jar with them – and voila, soft cookies!  Works every time, and infuriates my son who happily devours my trials and happens to prefer crispy cookies.  But still, I persist.  I’m determined to get it right.  And there are far worse endeavors and by-products!

Protecting Lake Superior

Living near the big lake, one can’t help but be interested in protecting this unique body of water.  Fortunately, there just happens to be an organization devoted to that specific purpose.

We stumbled on the Lake Superior Binational Forum while planning our cycling tour.  To be honest, it was their logo that attracted our attention as we thought it would look cool on our cycling jerseys.  But looking more closely at their website, we discovered a lot of great material on protecting Lake Superior.

The Forum was started in 1991 and consists of volunteer representatives from Canada and the US states that border Lake Superior. Their purpose is to provide input to agencies and governments on managing the lake, and educate local residents about ways to protect and restore the lake’s natural resources.  Their vision statement is “Water is Life…and the quality of water determines the quality of life.”  That resonated with us.

It’s easy to get involved by being a Lake Superior Steward.  All they ask is that you make simple wise choices in areas of conservation, recycling, and use of natural resources – which you may already be doing.  In return, you will be connected with people who care about the lake, and have the opportunity to receive an informational e-newsletter or provide input on programs to protect the lake and its environment.  Another option is to attend or participate in the many programs which are part of Lake Superior Day, July 15, 2012.

By the way, they readily agreed to let us use their logo. It is already emblazoned on our jerseys along with their web address, and we are hoping it generates interest on our cycling tour.  And we’ve already signed up to be Lake Superior Stewards.

Trans-Superior Cycling Tour Unveiled

This is it, the cause of my sudden attachment to my bicycle, the reason for my forays out into the wind and weather for training, the shift from running to cycling.  It’s the Trans-Superior Tour!

Never heard of it?  Probably because it was my husband Rich’s brainchild.  The route, the idea of spending 9 days cycling together, the challenge, and the custom cycling jersey.  It’s not his first such adventure, but it is mine.  I’m a cycling novice, remember?  But I’m up for it!

I have to admit, his route is rather ingenious.  We wanted to focus on Lake Superior, and many of the best views from the road are on the Western end.  So how to contain the trip to that portion of the lake?  No problem – we’ll just ferry across using Isle Royale as a stop-over!  Not a bad way to get a rest mid-trip and perhaps a few hours of hiking in the wilderness.

So here is the official route.  We start in Duluth, work our way along the South Shore and up the Keweenaw Peninsula, right up to the top at Copper Harbor.  That takes five days and is the most challenging part of the route, with the longest cycling days and the most hills.  From there we ferry across the lake and return along the North Shore to Duluth.

I suspect that whittling down my travel essentials to one set of panniers is going to be one of the trickier aspects of the trip.  However, Rich’s mode of travel involves staying at inns and little motels along the way, so I am spared the need to schlep real gear on this venture.  And I admit I like the idea of reliable shelter, hot showers and real beds.

I have between now and mid-August to be ready for this cycling tour.  I will periodically update my training progress and the finer details of our trip plans during that time.  And if you want the male point of view on this journey, visit Rich’s blog,

Oh, and did you read the fine print on the jerseys?  That last line reads “500 Miles of Love.”  It has to be, or we wouldn’t be doing this!

Pen Pals across Generations

I spent my junior year of college studying in the beautiful cathedral city of Durham, England, in one of the finest old universities in the country.  That year gave me an appreciation for living in another country and absorbing its culture through every day life.  I felt strongly that it was important to experience and live with the differences rather than trying to impose our American ways on a foreign environment.  Otherwise, why bother leaving the USA?

It was during that year that I met Mary and we became close friends.  In the pre-internet world, we managed to stay in touch over the years through letters, and treating ourselves to one holiday phone call at Christmas time.  Each time we connected, it was as though we’d just been together days before.  That is the hallmark of true friendship.

One of my parting comments to Mary at the end of that year abroad was to convey a wish.  “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if years hence, our children could become pen pals and we could send them across the ocean to stay with each other and experience living in a different country?”  Sure enough, we each married, and had a family.  Our oldest were both girls, just one year apart, and at age six, they began writing to each other.  Their diligence mirrored ours, and their friendship grew.  And at the tender age of 12 (what were we thinking?), we put our daughter, Karen, alone on a non-stop flight to London to visit her pen pal, Ruth.  Several years later, their brothers followed suit.  While their correspondence was more sparse and they found less to talk about on our holiday calls, they still formed a bond.  More trips followed in both directions.

Fast forward through the years, and on to our daughters’ weddings.  Ruth came all the way over with her parents for Karen’s wedding, and last summer we were all present at the quintessential Oxford wedding for Ruth.  It felt so right to be there, like being part of the family.

I had no idea what my wish would spawn.  I do believe my children have acquired the same appreciation for other cultures and an interest in seeing more than tourist sites while traveling.  My own friendship with Mary is stronger than ever, having seen each other through numerous life changing events.  And the distance between us has dwindled dramatically with the help of email, Facebook and Skype.

Now that grandchildren are on the scene, perhaps they will carry on the tradition for yet another generation.  My wish lives on.