On to Plan C

Sometimes life intervenes.  Our revised plans to camp in our tent on our trip out west started out well enough.  We scored a nice campsite on the river in Teddy Roosevelt National Park, and managed to squeeze in a short bike ride on the wilderness loop after arriving.  A bison spent the night on the banks of the river just below our spot, and in the morning he took a stroll right through our campsite!  We decided to let him have it.

Rich in Teddy Roosevelt Park Molly cycling Teddy Roosevelt Park

On good advice, we drove the Beartooth Highway to enter Yellowstone.  Getting an early start, we were well down the road and into the mountains just as the sun began hitting the peaks.  It only got better from there.  The 68 miles took us a full three hours to cover, slowly winding our way around hairpin curves, ogling the views over the edge and stopping frequently to take in the scenery.  We hadn’t even gotten to the park yet and we were already enamored with the locale.

Rich Beartooth highway Beartooth Highway 1 Beartooth Highway 2

Traveling at the end of the season, we assumed that the crowds in Yellowstone had thinned.  But that wasn’t the case.  Even the campsites were still in high demand, so rather than moving around the park we snapped up four nights in the Canyon Valley campground, hastily making reservations en route.  Tall pine trees towered over our humble tent, needles carpeted the ground and plenty of space insulated us from other campers.  All seemed well.  But we only lasted two nights.

It wasn’t the thunder-snow that we heard rumbling and falling icily on our tent the first morning that drove us out.  In fact, we luxuriated in the excuse to hunker down reading in our cozy sleeping bags until it ceased.  It wasn’t the 25 degree temps the following morning.  It wasn’t even the meager camp meals that we concocted over our ancient sputtering cook-stove.

Yellowstone snowy campsiteYellowstone reading in tentYellowstone Molly in mummy bagYellowstone Molly cooking dinner

It was the bugs.  No, not the buzzing, biting, flying irritants that usually annoy campers.  Pink-eye and flu bugs.  Lingering gifts from a recent visit with our grandchildren took Rich down hard.  And each successive day he worsened.  No matter how cushy the air mattresses (and ours aren’t), there’s no pretending that we get a good night’s sleep on the ground.

Just as in bicycle touring, we instituted our trusty rule.  When someone gets sick, no more camping.  It’s the only way to get better.  But scuttling Plan B was not that easy.  Those late season crowds?  They filled the lodgings too.  After many phone calls, we scored a room in Grant Village that had just been released.  Wincing at the cost but celebrating our luck, we repeated the search in the Grand Tetons.

So much for our free-wheeling campervan plan.  Goodbye outdoorsy tent camping.  Hello Plan C – warm, inviting park lodgings with electricity and soft beds, secured with advance reservations.  I’m entirely certain that the park sights will still be stunning.

Molly Yellowstone sign

Farewell my lighthouse

The last sunrise. A final morning walk on the beach. A concluding entry in my journal. It is the last of five days that I will repeat this early routine. I will miss this place.

As if to mark the occasion, sunrise is the most colorful of the week. I scamper to my favorite views to try and capture the image. Clouds light up from below as the sun advances up from the horizon.Crisp Point sunrise

My walk takes the pace of a stroll across nature’s canvas. Tottering over mounds of Lake Superior rocks, I leave no trace. When the charcoal, gray, pink and white mosaic gives way to sandy beach I smile. Here I can walk more steadily, stop concentrating on where I place my feet and look around. I could pick up my pace, but there is too much to see.

Molly walking beach at CPL

My footsteps from yesterday are still visible in places – a surprise on this windblown expanse. The afternoon’s visitors have also left their mark – bare feet, dog paws, a rock message composed on the sand. I wonder about the huge paw prints that walk alone, appear very recent. They could belong to a bear.

It’s nature’s traces that are the real attraction. My favorite are the fine lines that curve and intersect on the firm sand. They mark the perimeter of the waves’ advances. they tell the story of the water’s movement. A few days ago big waves drove high up the beach. Today they merely lap the edge. Black sand stretches add to the design, mingling colors.

Bird and critter tracks wind hither and yon though the sand. Drunken wanderings leave a fanciful path. Tiny feet press distinct prints. Animal friends join and leave. Explosions occasionally occur in the intersections of a crowd.

The wind too participates in this artwork. Symmetrical ripples linger across the sand. A lazy stream creates similar patterns under water, on its journey to the lake. It is all there for the visual taking.

The lake is quiet as my coffee and I settle down on my “writer’s log” on the beach. A light wind blows. Weak sunlight flows over my shoulders, tempered by broken clouds and remnants of wildfire smoke. The beach exudes calm.

My writing log

I don’t mind that it is not a sparkling blue day. This feels more relaxed. The air is that temperature that I don’t feel – it’s just there, comfortable. The day does not demand attention. It just is.

Soon the first visitors will arrive and I will resume my station in the Visitor Center for Crisp Point Lighthouse. During lulls in the day we will pack up our gear. Roll up the sleeping bags. Take down the tent. We will prepare to say our goodbyes to Crisp Point. For one more year.

Lighthouse Life

Living in the moment. It’s what I crave most as we approach our stint as lighthouse keepers at Crisp Point Lighthouse. For five days, my daily life will revolved around my duties tending the lighthouse and its visitors. The rest of the world will live at a distance.

The process begins as we drive down the rough 18 miles of dirt road. I leave civilization behind. The woods close in around the car. My cell signal dies out. I shut down my electronic devices for good. I abandon my to do lists, my deadlines, my schedules. Anything I don’t have in the car, I don’t need. Tent, sleeping bag, a duffle of clothes, cook stove, food supplies and water comprise my worldly goods.

This is not new territory. Rich and I are in our fifth year as keepers, so we know the drill. Our duties revolve around hosting the visitors who come, eager to see the lighthouse. We have already established camp in our keeper’s site before the first arrive.

Our tent under Crisp Point Lighthouse

This is the first time we have been keepers in the peak of the summer season. Warm weather is a welcome change from our chilly October visits, and visitor numbers swell accordingly. We see close to 100 people a day, keeping us busy greeting, informing, helping and chatting with these visitors. I love seeing the eager faces, thrilled to know they can climb the tower, go out on the catwalk. From my post in the Visitor Center I meet people who have been coming here for years, decades some of them. They know more about the early days than I do, recount first hand stories of the decay followed by brilliant restoration. Despite being busy, it is restorative work. I have no need to plan my day. It develops with each person who arrives to see the lighthouse. It feels good. Serving others.

There are always cleaning and maintenance jobs to be done and we fill in with those around our visitor duties. Rick Brockway, president of the Crisp Point Light Historical Society, comes daily and pitches in non-stop on chores.  His tireless efforts make this lighthouse site worth the long arduous drive.  Rich helps out with replacing a segment of the boardwalk.  I sort, fold and put away the new shipment of t-shirts that Rick brought.  Our efforts pale in comparison to Rick’s dedication.

Rick and Rich building boardwalkMolly putting away CPL tshirts

It’s the edges of the day that I relish. Fringes of time to drink in the surroundings, revel in owning that remote space for a brief stint. Nestled against the shore of Lake Superior, camping on the soft sand, hearing the repetitive lap or roar of the waves against the shore. Sunrise and sunset, that red orb rising and falling into the lake. The wood crackling as the campfire battles against the wind that whips away its flames as well as its heat.

Molly and CPL sunset

Post sunrise the sun paints the lighthouse with its magical morning glow. inching up the tower. The structure is illuminated rather than being the illuminator.Crisp Point at sunrise

Five days, living under the shadow of this lighthouse.  It’s quite the life.

Is this still Texas?

Two jackets, a quarter zip thermal shirt, long sleeve t-shirt, short sleeve Cuddle Dud, arm warmers, biking shorts, tights, wool socks, gloves, toe warmers and a hat. It was just barely enough to stay warm cycling all day. We didn’t pack our heavy Minnesota gear for cycling in Texas, so instead I wore everything I had in my panniers. Yesterday it was 87 degrees. Today never got above 40.

We were warned. Whenever we told folks we were melting in the heat because we were from Minnesota, they responded, “Just wait until tomorrow. You’ll feel right at home.”

Not only was it 36 and windy as we cycled away from our motel, but a fine mist soon coated our glasses and dampened our outermost layers. It might have dampened our spirits as well except for one huge bonus. The 21 mph wind was directly behind us. After battling a headwind for two days, this was a wind we could welcome. Even if it delivered frigid air.

Rich at motel

The best way to stay warm was to keep cycling. So I was surprised when Rich randomly stopped halfway down a hill. I was even more surprised to see him wandering into the roadside grasses until I realized he was taking photos. In that weather, I knew it could not be a bird. Instead he was documenting the increasing population of bluebonnets and other wild flowers. There were frequent bunches lining the road and we could tell that some fields were filled with bluebonnets, but in the misty distance they appeared as a dim blue fuzz.

Texas wildflowers

I finally got my latte when we stopped at Oliver and Company coffeehouse in San Sabo for breakfast. In fact, I had two. I’ve never done that before. But they were small, and I still wasn’t warm after one.

Molly at coffeehouse

Molly feeling cold
Whether it was the double lattes, warm food, extra calories or just spending some time indoors, it felt marginally warmer when we returned to our bikes. Or perhaps it was the absence of mist in the air. But it made the difference between being chilled and feeling comfortable. And it certainly improved our ability to see and appreciate the lush green rolling countryside studded with leafy trees and the occasional longhorn cattle.

Today’s ride was completed in record time. We fairly flew down the road. Uphills were effortless with the wind’s turbo boost. On the flats we easily clocked 20 mph. Our average speed jumped from 9.5 yesterday to 13 mph for today – a gain of over 35%!

Texas is full of surprises. We shall see what the Lone Star State delivers tomorrow.

Enjoying the Season

It’s that time of year again.  Not quite mud season.  Worse.  The piles of snow left on the ground have guaranteed this late winter phenomenon – thaw, puddle, refreeze, ice.  It wreaks havoc with sidewalks, creating skating rinks overnight.  It makes ski trails into luge runs in the morning, and slush in the afternoons.

This in-between season has forced me to modify my outdoor activities.  A creature of habit, I too often get in a rut, reluctant to vary my routine.  But Mother Nature is showing me that change has its rewards.

Lester River Trail

A hike on the Lester River Trail proved to be a viable option last week.  I found that rather than focusing on a workout on my skis, I could just meander and take in the snowy sights in the very same woods.  The trails were firmly packed by fat tire bikes and foot traffic, making travel easy.  It was an entirely different experience.  I was far more attuned to my surroundings.

At the Lester River overlooks, I wondered if I might have snowshoed up the riverbed.  But the sound of flowing water and open spots in the ice told me otherwise.  I was content to admire and follow my beaten path.  All was quiet on that weekday afternoon, making it a most peaceful venture.

One look at the puddles on the Lakewalk was enough to reroute my morning run.  Heading out before dawn, I have moved to the dry pavement of the Scenic Highway shoulders.  As a bonus, I have a perfect view of the sunrise over the lake.  One day a deep red line glows across the horizon.  The next a pale orange hue hangs above the low clouds.  The sun’s rays skitter across the lake.

By the time I turn around to head home, the low sun illuminates the snowy mounds that line the lakeshore.  Adjacent to the deep blue water, the face of the snowbanks reflects the sunlight. The backsides are bluey shadows.  It’s a color pattern that never grows old.  I watch it for miles.

Reaching via Brighton Beach, I find a new scene every day.  Over the weekend when the wind was calm, the water’s surface froze into a fine mirror.  Its thin veneer perfectly reflected the rocks, snow and ice.  The picture of calm.

Brighton Beach ice 1

I returned later in the day to see what sculptures the wind had made with the fragile ice.  Sure enough, ice shards lay stacked in random fashion on the shore, glinting in the sunlight.  As I walked the shore to take in Nature’s art work, I kept hearing an eerie whining sound.  I turned to see rocks skidding across the surface of the ice, as if they were miniature curling stones.  The resulting harmonics emanated from the rocks, changing pitch as they slowed and then stopped.  I wondered how the responsible adults figured out this musical phenomenon.

Brighton Beach ice 2

This morning brought an entirely different experience.  Once again traveling through Brighton Beach, I caught sight of Rich taking photographs.  Following the trajectory of his camera brought this image into view:

I don’t know what possessed these young men to ride their fat tire bikes off the ice bergs to plunge into Lake Superior, but it was enough to stop me mid-run to watch.  (To see Rich’s video, click here.)  I may have found new ways to enjoy the outdoors this season, but I will stop short of trying this one.

 

Tucson on 2 Wheels

The good news is that Tucson has an extensive network of bike lanes.  They go everywhere, are well marked, and respected by cars.  The not so good news is that there is a lot of traffic.  Even out in on the fringes of town, in the Catalina Foothills, the roads are heavily traveled and cars whiz by constantly.  Hailing from Duluth, I am just not used to that level of population.

The Loop by Rillito Rivery

Enter The Loop.  The 55 mile loop that circles the city has just been completed, but it’s much more than that. It is a network with 131 miles of wide, paved, shared use trails that run across vast portions of the city.  Most legs run along “washes” – dry river beds that fill with runoff during the rainy season.  In fact, The Loop grew out of the 1983 flood disaster.  Realizing the need to reinforce the banks of the major washes, the county took the opportunity to create river parks and trails atop the new soil-cement banks.  It has become one of Pima County’s most popular recreational features.

It’s not often that bicycle trails are truly vehicle-free.  But great pains have been taken to shelter The Loop.  The trail dips under streets and bridges cross over side washes.  Many stretches are landscaped with gardens or simply feature desert environs.  Railings carefully guard users from the steep banks that dip into the wash.The Loop going under a bridge The Loop going through a bridge

The nearest entry point to The Loop is 4.5 miles from our condo.  It is worth navigating that stretch of bike lanes to reach carefree cycling.  So far, I have covered only about 50 miles of The Loop, but have returned to some sections multiple times.  Coordinating a ride with Rich one day allowed me to venture further afield, from our place all the way out to Catalina State Park – a good 30 mile stretch.

The Loop TrailThe Loop is open to any non-motorized use, and just in the last two days I have seen all types of transport gracefully coexist on its paths.  There were plenty of cyclists, runners and walkers of course.  I also passed strollers, scooters, recumbent tricycles and dog walkers.  The most unusual was a woman on a standing elliptical bike, doing her first 50-mile ride!  It is cycling at its easiest – level with good pavement and well signed.

Molly with bike at Sabino Canyon

Despite the appeal of The Loop, sometimes challenge beckons.  Then I return to Sabino Canyon to climb into its depths during cycling hours.  Or I find my way onto smaller local roads.  Inevitably they rise and fall.  We are in the foothills after all.

It was well worth the long drive to bring our bikes on this trip.  I’ve spent many hours in the saddle this week, exploring Tuscon on two wheels.

Owning the Sabino Canyon

I’ve traded tall pines for stately saguaro cacti.   A frozen creek for dry riverbeds.  Cross-country skis for my bike.  Winter storm warnings and deep snow for sunshine that warms my bare limbs. A woodland park for a desert canyon.

Sabino Canyon 1

It’s this last trade-off that feels significant.  We bought our lot across from Amity Creek for its proximity to nature, the convenience of the trails, the white noise of the waterfalls at night.  Living next to Lester-Amity Park is a statement about who we are, and what we like to do.

Seeking a mid-winter warm-up, Rich and I chose a condo on the outskirts of Tucson, nestled in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains.  Within minutes of unloading the car, we set out exploring, and Sabino Canyon Recreation Area – just a mile away – quickly became our neighborhood park.

Sabino Canyon 2

The park has one 3.5 mile road that snakes up into the canyon. The road mostly winds uphill.  There are undulations to provide a bit of climbing relief, but the pitch is reasonable – at least until the last half mile.  It travels through dry mountainsides populated by the mighty saguaro, prickly pear, barrel and other abundant cacti.  Mountains rise in every direction, rocky angled faces dotted with small bits of vegetation.

Pedestrians walking Sabino CanyonFrom 9-5 daily, open air shuttles own the road, carting hikers to their trailheads or sightseers merely wanting an easy narrated tour.  Pedestrians are allowed on the road, but bicycles are restricted to the park hours before 9 or after 5.  It doesn’t take me long to discover that those are the prime hours anyway.  The golden hours.

Sabino Canyon sunrise

Early mornings are my favorite for cycling or running the road.  I have plenty of company, as a whole generation of gray haired hikers seems to be striding purposefully up and down each morning.  It’s brisk out there, with temperatures  registering in the 30s and the canyon still in the shade of the mountains until well into my workout.  The sun gradually finds its way onto the hillsides, illuminating select bits of the landscape as it works its way above the opposite mountain range.

Sabino Canyon morning

Numerous stone bridges mark my progress.  Having arrived in town following a 3-day rainy spell, the normally dry riverbed is still brimming with flowing water.  As designed, the current flows right over the bridge surfaces, and I follow the example of the hikers who plow right on through.  It’s a cold, wet sensation.  Even on my bike, it’s deep enough to splash my feet.

I save the afternoons for less strenuous pursuits.  A hike on one of the many trails or a slow shorter bike ride up the road still gives me access to the day’s fading light.

Hiking Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon sunset

Proximity is everything.  We’ve explored and enjoyed other parks and wilderness areas here, but this one easily keeps calling us back.  It’s our own park away from home.