The Cowardly Cyclist

If fear burns calories, then I've just had a great workout. My heart was certainly racing. It was my first time mountain biking. I've logged plenty of road miles, but never turned a pedal on a dirt trail before. But here we are in Costa Rica, with trails right outside our door and amazing views out over the Pacifist Ocean. Despite a sliver of trepidation, I was up for the challenge.

Molly starting the mountain bike trail

At first the rocks and uneven terrain were unnerving. And the rapid shift between sudden ups and downs took getting used to. But I finally got the hang of grinding uphill in my granny gear and rounding sharp turns – carefully. I even managed to hold my fear of heights at bay while traversing narrow trails carved into the hillside. As long as it was gently rolling or uphill, I was able to hang in there. I took a couple of spills and drew blood, but it wasn't even doing anything difficult. I just slipped in soft dirt. I really thought I was conquering this thing.

Then we reached the ridge line and headed downhill. Even when I'm road biking, I dislike gathering speed and tend to ride my brakes on the way down. I should have foreseen the consequences. All the challenges of the dirt trail suddenly intensified as the pitch grew steeper. Braking wasn't such a great idea, and I knew I should just let the bike roll. But I was terrified. Not knowing what was around the next corner only intensified my fear. That bit didn't go so well.

Rich mountain biking
Molly mountain biking

Don't let the smile fool you. I was just glad to stand still for a spell. I also took the opportunity to enjoy the view, as I certainly couldn't take my eyes off the trail for long enough to take in the vista.

Actually, the final piece of the trail leveled out and I could honestly say I enjoyed that bit. I'm just not cut out for risky, speed induced drama. All the elements that attract thrill seeking mountain bikers are the same things that put me off. I like the milder terrain that is more like, well, road biking.

I admit it. I'm a conservative kind of gal. Even a bit cowardly.

 

The Grammy Gift

Carl and Chelsea with Maren

The request was for help, but the gift was all mine. Seeking to extend the time before they sent their first born to day care, my son Carl and his wife Chelsea asked if I would be interested in watching her for a week or more. I will admit to hesitating. How would I feel in a city where I knew no one, cooped up with a baby all day? Fortunately, I put my selfish reservations aside and agreed to a week.

At three months old, baby Maren was a compact bundle of smiles. Still small enough to be held and carried with ease yet old enough to have developed a personality, she captured my heart immediately. She still slept a lot, but when awake she had a lot to say and took in all that was going on around her. I melted each time she looked right at me and smiled or “talked” to me.

Smiling Maren

Settling in with Carl and Chelsea for that week reinforced what it means to be a Grammy. Freed of all responsibilities save caring for Maren, I had the luxury of embracing that single focus. No job to juggle, no parenting anguish, no chores to do, no outside commitments to meet. Just love, cuddle, play, feed and change. And it easily filled each day. I went to bed each night looking forward to more. That experience is one we just can't have as parents.

Molly and Maren

There is a lot to be said for having extended solo time with a grandchild. Each day was ours to navigate together. There was a certain ease in managing on our own. And I only had to share with Grandpa. For the most part Maren was all mine for the day.

Did I feel cooped up? Hardly. Maren was all the entertainment I needed. Besides, we went out for a walk with the stroller almost every day. We walked to Brueggers for bagels, a tradition harking back to my own kids. We visited a park and hiked its trails.

It's not like this is my first grandchild. I've had plenty of practice with my daughter Karen's three children. But I never had this total immersion before. Now I wonder why. Now I know better.

,Grammy with 4 grandkids

I've already signed up to watch the next one. It's the Grammy gift that gives so much more in return.

 

Santa Fe al fresco

Every tourist has his or her own motives for visiting places. While Santa Fe is rich in art, history and Native American culture, that's not what drew Rich and me to the area. It was the setting. The outdoors. The climate. And we were not disappointed.

Just before reaching Santa Fe, we stopped to see the Upper Rio Grande. We started off driving down the canyon on a small lane next to the river, when it suddenly occurred to us that we had bikes on the back of the car. A quick change in the campground and we were soon cycling instead of driving. Much better!

Rich cycling the Rio Grande
Rio Grande

From the start, we opted to stay on the outskirts of the city. We were attracted to a VRBO home which offered a peaceful and attractive rural setting. The unique aspect was sharing it with owner, Kevin. After years of staying in host homes while cycling, we welcomed the opportunity to meet new people and take advantage of their local expertise.

We immediately felt at home in Kevin's comfortable adobe house. Just being there was vacation enough for me. My favorite morning spot was on the sunny front porch with my coffee and breakfast. For writing, I retreated to the back patio. One of our best evenings was spent watching the ever changing colors of the sunset from the patio over a glass of wine with Kevin and Jen.

Our VRBO home

Saturday morning was Farmers' Market Day, and Santa Fe has one of the best. It prides itself on the requirement that all produce be locally grown and that those who do the growing are the same people selling it there. I indulged in one of my favorite ways to spend a morning, wandering among the tables with fresh coffee and scone in hand. Admiring the colorful produce and listening to local music was great home grown entertainment.

Santa Fe farmers market
Santa Fe farmers market produce
Santa Fe farmers market musicians

Rich's pick was the Randall Dave Audubon Center. We arrived before dawn for prime birding opportunities. I will admit to going for a run while Rich sought out new bird species, but I did join him to hike in the beautiful environs preserved by the Natures Conservancy.

Rich at Audubon Center
Audubon Center

In between cycling the local trails and countryside, we did make sure to get to the historic areas of Santa Fe near the Plaza. We especially enjoyed visiting San Miguel Chapel, the oldest church in the country. We also ate well, sampling New Mexican cuisine and local organic foods thanks to recommendations from Kevin.

San Miguel Chapel

We went for the outdoors, and Santa Fe treated us to a record warm spell. With unrelenting sunshine and temps in the 70s, it was the perfect escape from the cold Northland. Every moment spent al fresco was a delight.

 

Warm Welcome in Durango

Homeward bound, we picked Durango pretty randomly for our overnight stay. But by the time we finished checking into our motel we were already pondering staying for an extra day. Nestled in the mountains of Colorado with the Animas River flowing through it, Durango exuded an outdoor persona that naturally resonated with us. The forecast for clear sunny skies and temps in the 60s clinched it. Vacation wasn't over just yet.

The warmth of the welcome we received from our innkeepers, Nigel and Tammy, set the tone for our whole visit. Their enthusiasm for the area was infectious, and we left their office armed with recommendations for runnng along the river, cycling up the hillside, hiking the trails for views of the city and their picks for the best food in town. We followed every one of them.

Molly hiking in Durango

As an encore to our active outdoor pursuits we took a drive up the San Juan Skyway. It quickly ascended into the mountains and became a narrow twisty windy road through two mountain passes with constant up close mountain views. Cut from the side of the mountain in 1880, it is considered one of the most scenic drives in the US. While it was 65 degrees when we left Durango, the temperature quickly dropped to 37 and we found ourselves in pristine deep snow territory. We couldn't have picked a better day for the drive, with deep blue skies as a backdrop to the mountaintops and dry pavement. In slick conditions, the road is treacherous.

San Juan Skyway 1
San Juan Skyway 2
Rich at Moran pass
Molly at Moran Pass

Not wishing to retrace our route in the dark, we traveled only as far as Silverton. The real dramatic experience is the passage between Silverton and Ouray, known as the Million Dollar Highway. Its unprotected cliff dropoffs are said to be entirely unforgiving of driver error, and the views equally dramatic. Since we had already fallen in love with the SouthWest, we added that to our list for a return trip.

Dinner plans became trickier the second night due to the weekend popularity of the vibrant historical downtown area. Noting open tables in Chimayo Stone Fired Kitchen, where we had an excellent meal the night before, we opted to repeat rather than wait. We felt right at home, being shown to the same table where Dave our waiter remembered our names. My Butternut Squash Risotto Cakes equally rivaled the Cauliflower Steak from the night before. Clearly my kind of place, and yet Rich was equally enamoured.

Throughout our stay, we marveled at Nigel and Tammy's hard work to restore an older motel. Our freshly remodeled room was evidence of their endeavors, and we were there to applaud when they raised the new Adventure Inn sign to signal the new name and identity. We left with a longer list of things to do and see, and a promise to return. You don't find hospitality like that just anywhere.

 

A Snowy Farewell to the Grand Canyon

I was sure this Grand Canyon story was finished. We had covered the Rim Trail from end to end, had stunning sunrise and sunset views, and witnessed an awesome rainbow display. Surely we'd seen it all. Our plan was to exit early in the morning and move on to our next destination.

Mother Nature had other plans for us. Depositing an inch or two of wet snow overnight, she provided an entirely new view of the canyon. Could this really be the same place we were cycling in 70 degree temperatures just a couple days earlier?

Bikes on snowy car
Snowy bikes at Grand Canyon

We made slow progress out of the park, as we stopped at every pullout to check out the view. Although the snow lay in thick layers on the trees surrounding the canyon, there was none down below.

Rich photographing in snow
Grand Canyon with snow 1
Grand Canyon with snow 2

Eventually the sun came out and shadows played across the canyon.

Grand Canyon after snow 1
Grand Canyon after snow 2

We were in no hurry. As long as the canyon morphed and changed in front of us, we were happy to linger. It was a long, snowy farewell to the Grand Canyon.

 

Grand Canyon on Our Terms

We did two things right on this visit to Grand Canyon National Park. The combination of the two allowed us to avoid crowds and have easy access to all the best vantage points.

The first is coming in March. This is shoulder season in the park, with many of the amenities just opening up for the season and service just gearing up for the upcoming crowds. There are plenty of people here, and at times the parking lots have been full. Lines for the shuttle buses exist, but it appears most riders get on the first bus that arrives. Restaurants are busy, but it hasn't been hard to get in. All we can think is “What must it be like in the height of the summer?” We are die hard off-season travelers. It has certainly paid off this time.

Molly and Rich at Grand Canyon

The second is bringing our bicycles. There are greenways throughout the park, enabling us to walk or cycle just about anywhere we want. We haven't set foot on a shuttle bus, and don't have to worry about car traffic.

Our bikes and Grand Canyon

A few portions of the Rim Trail are open to bicycles. We made sure to ride those. In addition, the road from Grand Canyon Village to Hermit's Rest at the western end of the Rim Trail just closed to cars on March 1. Shuttle buses own the road, but bikes are allowed. We covered that over the course of a sunny, warm afternoon, with frequent stops for the views.

Cycling at Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon view

This is definitely our type of tourism. We get to see the Grand Canyon on our own terms.

 

Grand Canyon under Siege

“Let's go rainbow hunting!” That was Rich. We were holed up in our modest motel room, waiting out the first rain of our trip. He had visions of photographing a beautiful rainbow arching over the Grand Canyon. I was skeptical. Rich has overly-optimistic tendencies. But it beat sitting in the room, so I took the bait.

Arriving at our favorite spot at Yavapai Point during a lull from the rain, the sun was glowing on the canyon formations while ominous clouds gathered overhead. Rich was quick to point out that while blue sky days are pretty, the more interesting shots come with unusual weather conditions.

Grand Canyon before storm 1
Grand Canyon before storm 2

Weather indeed was headed our way. The dark clouds behind us advanced with rumbles of thunder. Rain began crossing the canyon. While we were still dry, it was consuming the scene in front of us.

Grand Canyon rain starting

Raindrops and lightning ultimately sent us fleeing for cover and safety. Retreating into the nearby Geology Museum, we watched from dry environs. Then suddenly, there it was. Just like Rich thought it would be. A rainbow!

Grand Canyon rainbow

Returning outside, we watched as the rainbow extended in length. Where it would normally reach the ground, the rainbow continued to arc into the depths of the canyon. Spreading faintly across the entire sky, it completed well more than a half circle. Not only that, but a faint twin developed to its left.

Grand Canyon double rainbow

The other spectators echoed our excitement over this amazing phenomenon. We all knew we were witnessing something rare and special. We stayed on watching as the rainbow began to shrink. As the sun disappeared. As the storm grew closer again.

Grand Canyon storm

Soon it was obvious. It was time to run for the car. The Grand Canyon was under siege, and so were we. But for once I was glad I was swayed by Rich's instincts. Rainbow hunting indeed.