Home | Posts RSS | Comments RSS | Login

a day of ....nothing!

Thursday, August 30, 2012
First day in recent memory that I have (practically) nothing on my calendar. Meeting a friend for lunch, but really nothing else of any note. I have been working the past six days at my little jobette. And know that six days straight does not much sound like 'jobette'. But the usual schedule for me is more like what I will be doing next week: a total of ten hours, divided over two days. Enough to keep those deductions that eat up weekly pay from piling up, as they would do if I had a couple of weeks of not being on the schedule. And truthfully, I am not really opposed to just having four or five hours a day: getting to the point that being on my feets for a full eight hour shift is exhausting, mentally and physically. When it is so tiring that you feel like all you do, have the energy for, is going to work, going to bed, going to work, etc., it's obvious that you've come to the point that some change is in order.

I mentioned to my previous produce manager-boss that I thought being scheduled to come in for four hours of work was almost not worth taking my pajamas off. Then pointlessly wondering if it would be o.k. for me to come to work in my pj's as many of the customers seem to think perfectly appropriate. He just laughed, being old enough to be in agreement that many people go out in public in things that should be restricted to the privacy of one's bedroom.

When I recently spent several hours with a cousin, I asked if she thought that we were the last generation tot think it unacceptable to walk around with one's underwear exposed. She thought that we must be dinosaurs in that aspect, as the general public apparently enjoys showing the world how many different colors of foundation garments they have to readily display. Most people of my age, with whom I might discuss this sorry state of affairs, are in agreement that the 'beginning of the end' was Madonna, getting up on the stage at concerts, wearing her underwear as outerwear. She somehow single-handedly announced, by her unconventional attire, that wearing foundation garments as performance costumes was acceptable - and I suspect we have been going downhill since that first outrageous performance. And then came the rappers making another 'fashion statement' with their undershorts hanging out when they put on pants that are four sizes too large. Honestly: not something I want to see.

And I've heard that it is nearly impossible to go in a clothing store and find ladies slips, to wear under dressed and skirts. Sad to say, I have done nothing to support the Slip Industry in the past fifteen years, as I cannot remember buying or wearing one in recent memory. And the only time I actually put one on in the past ten years was the one day I went to church in Mexico, when I was informed it was not acceptable in that culture for women to go to services in pants.

I think I will go for a walk, get myself back in the habit of walking every day.... want to go along?

amusing tale about red bugs

When I was piddling about in the yard last week, picking up tree trash, I apparently strolled through a nest of chiggers. Which did  not capture my attention immediately, but later, when I came in and was getting ready for bed, I began to scratch furiously around the top edge of my ankle-height socks. As things progressed and the insane itching kept me company for most of the night, I concluded it must be some un-friendlies that were imported from the out-of-doors. (Thankfully we don't have bed bugs!)

So I have been intermittently scratching, attempting to discretely rub one ankle with the other shoe, while standing on one foot at work. Or giving more vigorous attention when I could - taking shoes and socks off and attacking with sharp fingernails when possible. Reminding me of my brother telling my mom that having acquired chronic athlete's foot fungus in a college dorm gave him some way to keep his hands busy when reading text books, saying all that attention he had to give itchy feet was 'good company' at night.

I was telling a co-worker about that row of scabs, neatly arranged around both ankles and the aggravation of chiggers. He responded with a story about a major infestation he once had as a kid, that was so funny I cried. (I have another co-worker who so thoroughly amuses me - I generally laugh when I look it him. He has such a dry, low-key, marvelous sense of humor he makes being there nearly bearable.)

So..... David said he was about ten years old, at the house of a friend who lived near a body of water. And as 10 year old boys will do, found great amusement in playing 'army' or 'war'. He reported all the little guys divided up into teams, one side Holding the Fort, and the other group attempting to capture the high ground. David's group got into some small row boat, or raft, and proceeded to float from open water up to the edge of the lake, assuming the fort-holders would not expect an attack from the water.  The attacking group is creeping through knee deep water, weeds, gunky stuff to get to dry land and sneak up on the 'fortification' (which was probably a pile of lawn chairs defended by cap-pistols and guys shooting gun-shaped sticks.) As they edged up on to the bank, the now soggy, muddy guys apparently crawled through a metropolis of chiggers. Without knowing they were being surrounded by this unknown, unexpected enemy of ten year olds. I did not hear who won this particular battle, as it was not the most memorable part of the story. What he remembered was the misery of chiggers.

They were so bad, with the guys having crept along on their bellies, edging ahead on their elbows, getting their fronts completely swamped by invisible bugs, that his parents ended up taking him to the ER. I don't know if they did not know what the problem was, or the coverage was so thorough that his mom did not know what else to do. But to the hospital they went. He said they had to give him sedation to try to control the out-of-control itching. And even with medication, he could not stop scratching. They rolled him out on a gurney, covered with a sheet, into the hall way - understandably not 'life or death' and no need to leave him in a room they would need for more serious problems that might arrive. But the little guy is there, in a state of semi-oblivion due to drugs, but still itchy as all get-out. So there he is, barely awake, eyes closed, under those bright hospital hallway lights, fiercely scratching around in the groin area, giving the appearance to passers-by of what kids that age do in the middle of the night, under cover of darkness. He's not really aware of people passing by, or of what he is doing, but from all appearances, what is happening under that sheet is a little boy in the ER beating his meat.

When I pictured a little freckle-faced red-headed boy lying there, unattended on the gurney, I could not stop laughing. Or maybe you had to be there, when he was telling it, to find it hilarious.

and actually did take a 'nap' in church...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012
After getting to sleep at 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, and waking up around 6:00, I knew I would be dragging. But went to church and to work (for five hours).

Then I had agreed to spend the night at church, so I really did Deliberately go there to sleep. Our church is one of about a dozen in the community that is part of a 'round robin' type program that provides temporary housing for homeless families. We are the host for a week, about once a quarter. The program provides beds, we provide meals. The families (carefully screened) come on Sunday afternoon, with all their belongings, on the sponsoring van, prepared to stay for a week, leaving the following Sunday to go to the next host church. They are assisted during the day with writing resumes, finding employment, housing, as well as getting children enrolled in schools, or day care if needed.

Due to excellent screening process, most are stable when they leave the program, into housing, with steady jobs that will allow them to provide for their families. It is part of a nation wide program that assists in keeping families intact, as most shelters are designed for only one gender, and do not let parents stay together.

As you would expect with 3 hours of sleep the night before, I was ready for bed, tried out all the couches in the place, acting like Goldilocks looking for the perfect location. I knew I would end up on the cot provided by the VIP program, and was tucked in, reading myself to sleep by 9 p.m. Waiting for it to get dark, so I could close my eyes. And I did. Some of the volunteers who regularly support this program by providing meals, or having a sleep-over, each week of the cycle when families are in residence at our church have purchased T-shirts that say: "God Blesses Me When I Sleep In Church"... and under these circumstances: it's True.

probably the last time I will do that...

I have been participating in the Country's Bar-b-que Midnight Express for a long time. Can't remember when I first plunked down my entry fee and stayed up half the night to walk the 5-K course through the neighborhoods just north of the restaurant on Macon Road. Possibly started when the daughters were old enough, at middle-school age, to go along, (when it would have been great fun, and a real novelty to be allowed, encouraged to stay up until the wee hours. Or maybe even sooner, as I think I have been a participant for about twenty years with maybe a break or to. But can't imagine who I could have possibly recruited that long ago, to wander around in the dark with me at 1:00 a.m. just for the joy of being exhausted when we finished.

I readily confess that I am not a runner. Never have, and do not desire to do something that makes the people who do look so miserable when you notice the expressions on their faces. But I have long been a 'walker', and my usual time for doing the three-plus miles of the course for this event is about an hour.
Due to the excessive walking I have been doing in recent month, the time this year was a little less, though I have not really picked it up  again, done any 'practicing' since getting safely down the mountain in TN several weeks ago.

The Country's event, when I first started going, probably had less than 500 participants. This year, the highest number I saw pinned on a participants shirt was over 2400. And notice lots of people passing me along the route who obviously do not pay the fee for signing up to be 'official'. Plus there was an estimated crowd of another 2,500+ of hangers-on, milling around in the parking lots, streets, hanging out in the neighbors.  In years past, the employees and volunteers have put out luminaria to mark the route: milk jugs with sand and candles lit to guide the runners along to right streets to make the route the proper distance. This year, we went with Technology: water bottles with glow sticks along the curbing to keep us on the right path. Apparently putting the sticks in full bottles full enhances the effect, magnifies the light emitted, as well as helping to keep the bottles upright with the weight of the water inside.

The area residents tend to turn it into a 'tail-gating' event, setting up folding chairs, bring out tables and coolers, possibly over-imbibing in adult beverages. And squirting runners with garden hoses.

For a person who is generally in bed by ten p.m., even just being awake at midnight is an oddity. And being out in the streets, getting vigorous exercise at 1 p.m. seems 'borderline'. I was thinking as I left the house about 10:45, to go by and pick up my fellow-walker that this might be the last time I will do this. Even though it ultimately serves a very good purpose, when all the funds raised to go help support programs for the visually handicapped. I know they have done a lot of good over the years with the funds people have paid to participate, and it all stays right here in Columbus, GA.

I got home about 2 o'clock, so wound up, it took an hour to get settled enough to turn out the light and go to sleep, and woke up at the usual time, around 6'ish, so as you can see: an excellent reason to take a nap in church.

remarkably poor timing...

Monday, August 27, 2012
The weather man on the radio said that we could expect lots of rain from that tropical storm headed north. The people at work yesterday were predicting dire-ness, saying it would come up into Mobile and head towards Montgomery - of course, the main concern there is to keep stores in business, be available for sales. Worries about possible power outages, and loss of fresh/frozen merchandise, rather than a serious concern for safety. I have read in-house publications of a contingency plan that has  gigantic commercial-sized generators mounted on flat-bed trailers to strategically disperse to disaster areas, that will keep stores open with lights, freezers and especially cash registers running.

Thanks to the guy who got up on the roof on Saturday, and spend hours digging around in nasty gutters, cleaning out years accumulation of 'whatever' that clogs them up. Even though I spent extra to get the kind that have a lip/overhang so I would Never had to clean them again, they would overflow every time we had a hard raid. Apparently those itty-bitty invisible things like dust, pollen, grains of gravel that weather and wash loose from roofing accumulate and eventually create a problem even in the ones that are 'no-clog'. Thank You, ACI!

I don't pay much attention to the weather, partially due to not watching TV (and partially due to discovering that I have an excellent worrier in the house, who can do all the stressing about things no one can control for me, so I don't need to waste my time with concerns about naturally occurring events on global scale.) But know we can expect residual fallout from hurricane-like winds. And regret that I spent several hours in the yard last week picking up tree trash. Filled up the wheelbarrow at least six times with limbs that had fallen out of trees, hauling most of it up to the street for city trucks to pick up on Thursday.

Amusing, but not particularly funny that most of it has been littering the yard for months, and I just got inspired last week to start cleaning some of it up - right before the storm will blow more down. And give the appearance of benign neglect all over again. The amusing part is that those piles of limbs that I trundled up to the edge of the ditch, left for the city to remove, look like little beaver lodges. When I would tip the wheelbarrow over and dump a pile of tangled twigs and sticks up by the street, then go back to start another load, it looks like a little series of mis-placed homes for water rodent families. Not nearly as orderly or water-tight as the beaver parents would do, but from a distance remarkably similar to what you see out in the middle of the pond, where the rodents have set up housekeeping. Just amusingly mis-put.

Plus I have a major infestation of red-bugs swirling around my ankles. Bumps, scabs, scratch marks all along the top edge of ankle socks where the family of chiggers thought to set up housekeeping. Arrggghhh. As would be expected 'after the horse is out of the barn', I put insect repellent on my legs when I went out the second day. So I have the assurance (?) that all the aggravating, irritating, itchy bites are chiggers and not mosquitoes. And have done so much desperate, urgent scratching along the line just above my socks, that the scabs look like we could play 'connect the dots'. Colored markers, anyone?

Part of the not particularly funny is that the guys who drive the city trucks care so little for a job well done, that it would take about four trips for them to get it all: they pick it up with a claw-type device, with an arm that extends out from the truck to 'bite' the pile of trash. And don't care if they only get half of the pile. So I will go back up there on a weekly basis, re-stacking all the trash left behind, for them to try again the next week. City workers possibly think that it is more like 'whack-a-mole' and no matter how often they come by and pick up, the pile mysteriously re-appears the following week, needing repeat attention. Should I tell them that if they would get it all on the first try, they would not be back in seven days, taking another swipe at what appears to be the same stack of trash? Yeah, you are right, a complete waste of time and effort, to think they could be persuaded to get the job done right the first time....

fasting from TV

Sunday, August 26, 2012
In the course of the sermon last Sunday, the preacher said that his family (mostly likely the ones with all the power, strongly suggesting to the teenagers, who, being completely dependent, have to agree to things that they would never actually consider otherwise) had decided to turn off the TV. One of the sons is in his junior year of highschool, the other a couple of years younger. Good kids, but like all teens and young adults, much influenced by that barrage of media it is difficult to escape in our culture.

He announced the family will not be watching TV during the week, now that school has started. Reported that they discovered all four of them were in four different rooms, with eyes and attention glued to a screen of some sort, being mesmerized by different types of electronics. When the thought occurred that the older son will only be in the home on a daily basis for two more years before starting college, they realized that time is slipping away.

So they have all agreed that they will not turn on the television on weeknights. There was a sense of having kids rush through homework, and parents hurrying with other tasks in order to sit down in front of the 'idiot box' and turn their collective brains off. I am sure they are caveats for students needing to do research and write assignments, complete paper for class work. But they will not all be giving other projects half the necessary attention in order to dash off to look at mindless programming on the tube.

I personally wanted to stand up in my chair and shout: Amen to that.

And want to ask the person I live with who sits in front of the television for up to five hours every night: when you get to the pearly gates and they ask you to look back over your life, questioning what you might have done differently - will you say " dang, I wish I had watched more TV!"

I will and I won't...

Friday, August 24, 2012
I will agree to let the dog stay at  my house for a few days. I won't agree to call her my 'grand-dog'.

I know she tolerates a lot of people fairly well, but I also know that she has no love, respect, regard for anyone besides her man. So she will put up with us for several days, only because she does not have legs that are long enough for her to reach the door knob, or opposable thumbs that would allow her to make a slick escape. Otherwise she would be hot on his trail the moment she realized that he was going to FL without her.

She has been fairly patient with me, but I know she is only biding her time, waiting for the opportunity to sneak out when someone leaves a crack for her to slither out of - and she will be off and away faster than you can blink.  I take her out in the yard to do her business, and she sniffs around the perimeter of the fence, checking to be sure nothing has changed since the last time she was out there and sniffed around. And probably looking for that weak spot where she could make her getaway if she had a chance. Caught her yesterday rolling around in the grass in the middle of the yard, just enjoying being a dog, but looking a bit sheepish when she realized I saw her gloriously enjoying a good tumble in the fresh air.

While she has been ready to be rescued since they left her here on Wednesday morning, she spends a lot of her time lying on the futon, with her head on the pillow that smells like her man, long nose firmly planted right there in the middle where the best man aroma is - waiting and waiting....

This is the dog that sheds so much, I feel like I should take up knitting when she leaves: I run the vacuum and get up enough Gwen-hair to make a spare dog. Not that I want another one, but if someone needed  a duplicate extra, there will be plenty of hair to re-create the original in my vacuum when she is gone.

A little amusing/not so funny side note about the trip

Monday, August 20, 2012
When we were traveling last week, and after we picked up the riders in Boston, spent the day touring, then headed south - as you have read, that evening of getting hotel rooms was a general nightmare. Partially to the guy who would just start driving without actually having a goal. He just knew he needed to be going someplace where we could find beds... but would not stop long enough for that 'finding' to actually occur, so we could give driving directions for getting there.

By the time we did find a place, and got there, there was very limited space. Actually only One Room for the four of us, when I had expected to get him a room by himself, so we would all get a good night's sleep. Not happening. We all ended up in one room, with me squooze onto a cot that nearly fit into the closet (which probably would not have been such a terrible idea, in retrospect).

He discovered as he was brushing his teeth, the following night, when we were staying at the B and B, that he had apparently failed to pick up a very important part of his mouth. I do not know why it took himself all day long, eating three times, to discover that teeth were missing. He immediately remembered putting the MIA dental parts in a cup in the bathroom as he brushed his teeth the previous night, and panicked, then grieved. I don't know how much it would cost to replace, but I'm sure it's expensive, to say nothing of the aggravation of gumming your food for weeks.

I suggested he look at the receipt for the room, call the desk and tell his story, in hopes that the housekeeping crew had found/saved the teeth that no one else could ever use, and request that they put the missing item in the mail to him. He was pretty desperate, I guess, as he did it right away. His end of the conversation made me think the desk clerk was not at all sure about what was going on, but said they would call if housekeeping had found his lost mouthpiece. Some time later, that same night, he decided that he had not left his teeth in the bathroom the night before, when he looked in his shaving kit: eureka. Then he worried about what to say when they called back, and reported they could not locate what he had lost. I said, you just need to tell them 'Thank you for looking', and let it go at that.

Part of the reason it so amusing, in retrospect, is that we had to go back to the hotel we stayed at in Boston, to retrieve his phone. The desk clerks had actually called my phone and said the housekeeper had found something we left, that could have easily been done without. But when he discovered his phone missing, and the only place he had been was the hotel and in transit, we called the Hampton Inn, and they said someone had turned in a phone that had been spotted out on the sidewalk in front of the building.

Some of the younger set began to suggest we might need some Adult Supervision - they don't know the half of it! And will probably fall in the floor when they hear the part about missing dental work.

Day 8: Finally back in my own little nest...

Saturday, August 18, 2012
We took half of the team to the airport in Richmond, put them out about 10:00, and started towards GA. I was trying to figure in my head how long it would take. Remembering several trips to the District in recent years, I thought: We should be able to make it home before bedtime.  And we did, but tired we were. Stopped in Greenville to visit my pen pal for about half an hour, and on to Lynch Road by 10:00 p.m.

I told the guy  long before we started the trip that I would not be doing any of the driving. He's been pretty plain about the fact that he does not like the way I drive: and I actually told him that was o.k. with me, because I did not like the way he drives either. (Not that I was keeping score, but I am pretty sure he did not use a turn signal to indicate lane changes the entire trip. I noticed him actually employing the device, designed to let drivers behind you know what is going on in your head, possibly as many as, but not over ten times in the week we were away.)

He asked when we stopped in SC, still four hours away from the house, if I would drive, saying that he was weary and his eyes were really tired. I agreed, which is apparently all he wanted, since he did the rest of the driving.

I do not want to drive that huge vehicle, though I am sure the safety ratings and the Driver think it is at least as durable as an armored Humvee. Especially with the chair that went every mile of the what? how many? maybe two thousand... on the lift on attached to the back of the SUV... but thankfully, it did not bounce off a single time, as the Driver was so anxious about happening.

Day 7, going the Loooonnngg way back to Richmond

We left Newport about 9:00, assuming we would have a leisurely day of travel and get back to Richmond at a reasonable time. But it seems that a member of our party is a University of Connecticut fanatic, and was very hopeful (but not insistent, or unpleasant, or demanding - just encouraging us to want to make a small detour) that we might travel a bit out of the way to visit Storrs and check out the Home of the Huskies.

Which we did, after unintentionally going through the outskirts of Providence, and traveling some really pretty back roads. I said any number of times, both out loud, and under my breath: I am so thankful I am here in August instead of January. Everything was so green, lush, lots of wildflowers blooming along miles and miles of right of way, as well as beautiful bushes that looked like snowball viburnum (similar to hydrangeas, but bright white blooms and much larger than a hydrangea would get) and lots of rudbeckia planted in landscaping, looking like mini-versions of sunflowers with bright yellow petals and dark eyed center. Still so thankful I was not there when it was bare, drab, grey with miles and miles of icy roads, and black, stained snow banks piled up everywhere.

Beautiful campus at UConn. We had 'way too many navigators, everyone except me with GPS on 'phones giving directions to get us to the bookstore. Where I bought postcards, and others made purchases that turned out to be a really nice Christmas gift. We drove in circles (2) trying to figure out how to get back on the path, heading towards Hartford and I-95.

Tooling around through CN, and on to the dreaded NYC (even though it was remarkably un-scarey when we whizzed through on Sunday morning: obviously the Perfect Time for one to brave the streets of NYC). It was awful. There was a baseball game going on: and it took us over twice as long to get through the Bronx area as on Sunday. We were actually stalled for so long, we inched our way up on an exit and found a McD., where we all were relieved to relieve ourselves. I personlly had to go so badly, and did not see any advantage to waiting my turn: I went in Men. We decided we do not like the restrooms in the City: they do not have stalls - only one person can do their business at a time, unless you are brave enough to go in Men.
Had to circle around about ten blocks to get to an entrance ramp, and thankful to only be passing through, and not a permanent resident.

There were guys standing on the dotted line in the middle of the 8-lane Interstate, hawking DVDs and earphones. The general agreement from the backseat is that you would be buying an empty box, but too far down the road to do anything about it. Got past the stadium area, and on to the NJ turnpike where traffic would periodically pick up to a reasonable speed, then drop back down to 20 mph for no apparent reason. We probably paid over a hundred dollars in tolls in the course of the week: between highways (that I am sure I already paid for once) and bridges, it seemed like there was always some generally frowning, chronically unpleasant, constipated looking female sticking her hand out, grumpily wanting $1.25, or $4, or $12.50 to allow us to move on through.

Having diverted through UConn, and stuck in creeping traffic for several hours, caused us to miss the rush hour traffic we would have encountered around Baltimore and DC: that's the good news. The bad news is that it was entirely too close to midnight before we finally got off the interstate and stopped - not nearly close enough to Richmond to suit the guy who gets a goal in mind and won't quit until it is accomplished. But the back seat team was road weary. So we stopped just south of Washington, knowing we could jump back on I-95 and easily get to the Airport the following mornin7

Day 6, Rhode Island, more sight-seeing

 This actually happened on Wednesday, Aug. 15 - don't let the date under the title fool 'ya.

We had a really good, filling, heavy breakfast of pancakes and sausage, provided by the wife of the innkeeper at the B and B. I would have been perfectly happy with another bowl of raisin bran like I had the past two mornings, along with a cup of OJ and yogurt. But that was the day of the $150 breakfast, so I hope everyone enjoyed it.

Before we got on the road to RI, I spent a couple of hours being the communal wash-woman. I knew when I left home that I'd have to stop at some point when I used up the three pair of shorts I own, and devote some time and quarters to a laundromat so I could start over afresh. And the younger ones wanted to go to the beach: if you are on vacation, getting sand between your toes is a prerequsite. The B and B host team had left a card by the bed, along with chocolates (that I did not eat, and saved, but cannot find??), to let us know what sort of weather to expect the following day. The weatherman lied. But it's like going to DisneyWorld: expect it to change in an hour.

So I had the driver drop me off at the laundry before he ferried the others down to the beach. It's been a while since I fed a washer quarters and was astounded at the cost: It takes 15 quarters to get it to start. And when you are ready to dry, you get six minutes for 25 cents. Which brings up an opportunity to be thankful again that I do not have to make regular trips to the Suds-o-matic, like so many do. And also do not depend on solar energy to get them dry after paying to use someone else's washer. Small blessings for which we do not often say Thanks.

While I was waiting for the wash, and chatting up other mother's chained to dirty laundry, it started raining, pouring, in fact, blowing and storming, lightening and thunder, limbs thrashing on trees, roads awash. A good day to not be at the beach, or tooling along on a bike with no place to take cover. The people at the beach got picked up seconds before the deluge. And had to go shower, get organized before leaving Falmouth. And I had clothes to dry, fold, square away. So it was gettting on towards noon before we headed out.

Decided to not try to make it all the way out to Provincetown at the northern tip of the Cape, but headed towards RI. The thing I'd been told to not miss was the estates along the coast in Newport. We made our way into downtown Newport and got to the visitors' center and bought tickets to go on a trolley tour. Pretty interesting: huge houses, of the type that millionaires who made their money in railroads and oil in the late 1800 and early 1900's could have built. People like Astors and Vanderbilts who wanted to get out of New York in the heat of summer. Who could afford to purchase property along the coast of Rhode Island where there would always be a breeze blowing, sweeping up onto the cliffs and meadows from the wide Atlantic.
A few are held by private owners, many are owned by the RI Preservation group, and some have been purchased by developers and turned into condominiums. We were told of one house that had been sub-divided, renovated into three condos that sold for $3 million each. Beautifully maintained, and a very interesting tour, full of facts and amusing trivia: it's good to be able to laugh at the foibles of the wealthy.

That nice lady at the visitors' center made us reservations for the night, and we all slept good.

Day 5, on Cape Cod (which is an island instead of a penninsula)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012
We left who knows where, after spending a challenging night in a Holiday Inn Express, somewhere in south east Mass. and headed towards Cape Cod... the trees look almost identical to the ones I have been observing since leaving middle GA: green and whizzing by as we speed along the interstate.

I think the Driver was determined to get to Cape Cod, since I had been talking about it for weeks, as something I really wanted to do/see, and he adopted my interest as a goal that he needed to reach or Bust.
So, after some deliberation, and map study (which I specifically said I would not be a party to- did not want to look at or discuss anything to do with travel/geography/cartography... since he was determined to navigate by a map that was printed in 1995 that had 'there be dragons here' printed out along the charred edges of the uncharted oceans.) we set off to travel even more southeast than we were when we finally, praise-be, ended up getting off the road at the HIEx... where due to ironic, unfunny, eventually laughable experiences we were only charged for one room, sleeping like a cord of wood.

The Driver needs to drive, so we took the routes he wanted to take. And blessedly found ourselves in Woods Hole, that I did not even know was in the vicinity of Cape Cod until I looked at the map. You might recall reading in the news that Woods Hole is noted for Oceanographic Research. Lots of brick buildings that look like college campus, office, dorm space apparently dedicated to study of ocean and inhabitants.
We went out on a boat for a remarkably educational cruise, just tooling around, getting our brains filled with all manner of trivial facts related to ocean water, lobsters, crabs, fishes, geography, local area.

A beautiful day, and an enjoyable experience.  Pleasant temps, nice breeze, clear skies, smooth waters... just a perfect day. I have been saying for three days that I am soooo thankful I came here in August instead of January. My last experience with miserable cold was New York state and edge of Canada in late Feb. and early March, and I remember being miserably cold, when if I had stayed at home, could have probably been not only wearing shirt sleeves, but possibly even taken my thermal underwear off. So as I enjoy the marvelous weather, I think about what it must be like here in the middle of a miserable winter: drab, wet, cold, with black, nasty, dirty snow piled up along the edges of the roads and impassable sidewalks, ice everywhere. Thankful for the sun, the blue sky, the cool breezes, every breath I take.

The entire agenda as we travel has been somewhat impromptu: no specific plans/goals for where we might sleep or how far to get in a days' travel.  As in: "Oh, Why Don't We Just Play It By Ear?" Which, this time, turned out to be not such a great idea. I'd picked up a little booklet of hotels, destinations when we stopped at a rest area, that provides discount prices and coupons for some chains and local beds. F and F started calling late in the afternoon trying to find a place to put our heads. We obviously waited a bit too late, and ended up with a high-priced Bed and Breakfast as our only choice. The house was built in 1901, is beautifully furnished, and very comfortable, plenty of amenities. But I can usually make myself comfortable on a couch if the cats don't jump up on me numerous times in the middle of the night. And the bill for two rooms in the B and B will be pretty painful when it is time to pay off mastercard.

But here we are: in the quaint (and highly commercial) village of Falmouh. F II has been pronouncing it 'foul-mouth', but I think that people around here tend to drop at least one syllable in the middle of each word, so I doubt that 'Fowlmouth' is completely accurate. Partially based upon the assumption that we will not be back this way again, I'm thinking we might as well make the best of it, enjoy our time whist we are here. It should be interesting. I still have my ear plugs, and am tired, I expect a good night's sleep. Tomorrow we will head towards Rhode Island.
I walked downtown, about 1/4 mile on a two lane road, from the B and B, to the library, and asked to use the internet. They said I could pay $1 for an hour of time. Don't know when I will have another opportunity to sit and type..

P.S. I did not get that good night's sleep, after sleeping in the sway-backed, hammock-shaped cot last night. Ended up in a large bed with someone who left his phone on to chime all night, and kept appropriating the covers. If there had been a couch available, I would have been on it.

read as if it was written on Monday, Day 4, possibly part 1

I don't know where I left off, but we will try to muddle on through and get up-to-date...
It is Tuesday, we are someplace on Cape Cod, but I am going back to Monday... so bear with me?

The people we were supposed to meet in Boston on Monday called about 6:30 to report they had gotten through the highly personal examination required by TSA and were at the gate waiting to board the flight to Boston, and should be arriving about 9:00. Mr. driver had decided that they should take the hotel shuttle to where we were instead of us going to Logan International to meet them when they would exit the terminal. In spite of taking a tour of the airport when we got into town on Sunday afternoon. We checked in and discovered that the (overpriced) Hampton Inn had a shuttle service that would (theoretically) leave every twenty minutes for the airport, about ten minutes distance, and if arriving passengers would call the designated number, the shuttle would promptly pick them up to bring them to the Inn. (The Inn actually advertised a deal where you could spend the night and leave your vehicle parked in their lot, they take you to the airport and pick you up when you call upon return, having left a certificate on your dash indicating the ETA so your car would not get toad away.)

I emailed the number to call for them to get the shuttle when they arrived, and it eventually did come to pass.
They arrived at the Hampton Inn about 9:30, just in time to enjoy a second breakfast (probably no worse than the one they had at ATL waiting for their flight.) I told them to feel free to help theirselves, as I had concluded it was a One Hundred Dollar Breakfast, as the price of room was so ridiculous the desk clerks should have been wearing bandanas over their faces.

After we got sufficiently fed, we loaded up to head downtown and enjoy history. F II had done some research and wanted to go to see some local areas that were of historic note. We had to opportunity to inspect several burying grounds, churches, buildings from the 1700's era. And took a little detour, actually dropping out of the tour, after our guide in colonial garb pointed out the Parker House Inn, where we decided to have lunch: including some authentic (but not original, meaning not 300 years old) Parker House rolls, and misc. sandwiches, then ordered  Boston Cream Pie (that should have been called cake instead of pie... somewhat a misnomer and pretty disappointing to the taste buds: not worth $8 a piece... but now we can say we had Boston Cream Pie direct from the source!)

Oh, and called Gina to see if she wanted to come hang out, who conveniently was downtown getting a tag for her car, so was very available, and spent the morning touring and lunching with us.

We did not get to Bunker Hill, so guess I will have to put that on my Bucket List, along with other things we will not have time to enjoy...

Some in our party decided they should not miss the Witch Museum in Salem, which was out near the coast, north of where we spent the night, and one a wandering two-lane road through several residential communities. Some in our party chose to wait in the car, in a tow-away zone while others enjoyed the thrills and chills of the Salem Witch Museum, and nearly took a nap while awaiting a full report. The driver took this opportunity to study the (obsolete) map of Massachusetts and decide on the best route to head south back through town to go towards Cape Cod.

Which for some unknown reason he then did not take, so there was consdierable contention in the vehicle for a number of miles. I decided that silence might be the best recourse, after I suggested that we just get off at the next exit and find a place to spend the night. It got darker and darker in southeast Mass. and he continued to drive. Once again cooler heads prevailed, and we ended up at a Holiday Inn (which is apparently the ONLY place he would stay if he had a choice - more on that later...)

When we got to the Inn, there was only one room - but then the desk clerk said she had another, a second room that we could have, if we did not mind the fact that the bathroom door would not completely close. We were all so tired and ready for a little breathing room that we said Yes.... and took both. But when we got to the one that was more user friendly, handicap accessible on the first floor, we found that we could not actually open the door to access the room. No one else, including maintenance could get that stubborn door open. And we all ended up in the Last Room Available. With two double beds, and someone who was at the point of not caring sleeping on a cot stuck up against the wall. Spending the night in between clean sheets on a mattress that was similar to sleeping in a hammock. With ear plugs.


so this is... day 3, part 2

Monday, August 13, 2012
 (Read this as if it were written on Sunday instead of Monday - which is when I finally got to a computer to continue the ongoing tale of being cooped up in a so-so small space with some who is apparently so highly opinionated that even if he could actually hear my suggestions or driving instructions, he would consistently disregard...)

We left Runnymede, NJ, departing from the slightly shabby, semi-run down, (but with reasonable rates and plentiful complimentary breakfast) to get back on the NJ turnpike and head north. I did not have a good state map, but north we went. Apparently the state does not like to share that information with anyone passing through. I asked three different places trying to find a good, folding, official map - and everyone wanted to send me to some place I had already asked... so we got going (me with quite a bit of trepidation, after I discovered the atlas I was using was printed in another century.)

Soon passing a big billboard posted along the right-of-way that was the first advertisement I have ever seen for condom use. "The sleek, discreet way to travel!" A little off putting, but possibly more effective than the ones I have seen in GA, state sponsored, some DHR program like Right from the Start. Ga thinks that the way to go is to remind young people that the best way to success is: wait till 25 to get married, get a good education and, oh, by the way: don't have kids first!

There were several large hills I noticed as we were coming along, up through the country side, that I finally concluded had to be unused landfills. The huge piles of dirt were so smooth, geometrically perfect, they had to be man-made. And covered with grasses and a few small shrubs, obviously deliberately planted and meticulously maintained. I noticed inclined roads up to the summit, at an angle that would make walking, hiking, biking easy, and thought it odd that they were often undeveloped. They were so close to the interstate, and populated areas, it was obvious that they were deliberately placed. Then I saw some that had vent pipes at regular intervals, and decided the pipes were there to help vent off gases as the garbage underground slowly decomposed. I can see that the location would be great for a variety of outdoor activities, but something kinda icky about being sporting on a huge pile of garbage leaves me feeling a little uneasy, kinda squeamish.

We probably went about 100 miles before we could begin to see the NYC skyline. Kinda neat, to look out over the marshes, water, undeveloped area near the highway and see some familiar looking buildings. The only thing I could identify for sure was the Empire State Building, with a distinctive silhouette. It was all so far distant that everything was kinda foggy, like coming over the hill, rounding the curve and seeing the Atlanta skyline from miles to the south. But uniquely NYC.

He got out of Jersey, after paying a $12 dollar toll to get off the (road built by taxpayer, ie: Me)  Interstate and turned towards New York City. One reason I was so desperate for big folding state-printed road maps is that I was hoping we would find some way to get from NJ to CT without going through NYC, or detouring through Michigan. But that was not to be... so we muddled our way through the city. I had commented earlier in the day as we were starting, that IF one Had to go through NYC probably the very best time to undertake such a daring adventure would be early on a Sunday morning, when the horrendous traffic you see occurring in movies and newscasts would be at it's least.

It was, considering my level of consternation due to anticipation, remarkably uneventful, pretty slow in places, but none of the chaos I expected (and will probably witness on the return trip, since according to my map, there is no other way to go south without veering over to the mid-west.)  There are few ways to get across the river that empties into the bay at the tip of Manhattan island: you either go over a bridge or through a tunnel. We chose bridge, as the navigator thought getting farther north before crossing over would be easier/less congested. When we got to the entrance of the George Washington Bridge, and had to pay a $12 toll, I told him he better enjoy the view as he went over: the ninety second trip across the river was the same price as the hundred mile drive up along the NJ turnpike.

a gazillion miles later, we are in Boston (day 3)

Sunday, August 12, 2012
We left the sorta run-down, slightly ratty, but reasonably priced Comfort Inn in Runnymede NJ after another big manly breakfast about 9:15, headed back north on the Jersey Turnpike, where you pay for every mile you drive. And soon encountered the first billboard I have ever seen that encourages the population to be prepared by always having condoms on hand.  "The sleek, discreet way to travel". yikes.

Tooling along, we soon found ourselves approaching New York City. It was really pretty neat, looking out over the flatland and water and seeing a very recognizable skyline. The only thing I was sure about was the Empire State Building, with a very unique silhouette. And numerous other buildings that had to be close to 100 floors in height to even be discernible from the distance we were viewing: still in NJ, on I-95, miles away from the actual city.

Along about here, there was so much anxiety about the little rolling chair strapped down on the back, he pulled over on the edge of the road to check and be sure it was sufficiently secure. Which I guess it was, after he tightened up all the straps a notch, and got back in to brave the NYC roads. Which were actually not bad (I can easily make this claim as I was not driving, and could just gawk like a hick.)

There are few places to get across the river, and if you are indecisive in traffic up here... well you can imagine the result!  You either take the bridge or go through a tunnel. We did some of both. And safely got through the city, which if you have noticed on a map, kinda is a relatively narrow spit of land, hemmed in between NJ on one side and squarish Conn. on the other. So though it could have been very stressful, it actually did not take very long to maneuver. Mostly due to the fact that if you have to do it, common sense tells you to wait until Sunday morning, when the traffic would be at the lowest point:even if that should cause you to wait six days for Sunday to come around again!

Something interesting I noticed several times when we were buzzing along, was some huge, grass-covered hills, usually pretty close to the interstate. After a bit of pondering, I concluded that the large, low-lying, and geometrically perfect are actually man made, and in all liklihood are the city dump. Having noticed a oddly located mountain, perfectly manicured traveling across the south edge of Atlanta, that is obviously a land-fill, I am sure the meticulously manicured hills we have passed up here in the northeast are monstrous piles of refuse that have been carefully covered, and left to sit for the next ten-thousand years.  Some had pipes embedded in the surface of the curve, to vent off gases as the garbage slowly decomposes, but as tightly packed as that mess is, it will still be mostly intact until the end of time. The are quite attractive, covered with lush grass, and possibly used for some form of recreation like walking, biking, but when you think about walking around a mountain of other people's trash, it's kinda icky.

I told him when we headed across the George Washington Bridge that he should make an effort to enjoy the ninety second ride as much as he enjoyed the scenery during the one hundred miles he drove the length on Jersey on the turnpike, since the toll for the bridge, and the price of getting off the turnpike were the same. Along about here is where I persuaded him to be willing to ask the money takers for a receipt. If we can't deduct it, it will make a nice bookmark/fire starter.

Note to self: Add 'Statue of Liberty' to bucket list. And do not drive to get to NYC.

Now would be a good time to admit that the atlas with state maps we were using to navigate was actually printed in 1995. So I was guessing there might be highways, bridges, possible short-cuts that were not on the obsolete map I was using as my primary navigational tool. I did not have a multi-fold state road  map of NJ while we were there. Though I asked at three places, he finally said: let's just go with what we got.

We got through NYC, and stopped in Conn. for a break and to get a map at the welcome center.

so this is what happened on Saturday, (day 2)


Saturday, August, 11, 2012
 
So we got up the next morning, in Burlington NC, (fortunately no tornadoes, so in the same place we went to bed, instead of falling out of the sky in Oz), and mosey-ed on up to the free continental breakfast. Where some of us,despite sleeping practically Not, had a big plow-hand meal. Enough carbs to knock me out for 24 hours, but he ate and was ready to travel.
 
My brother called, and told us where to stop near Richmond to meet.
 
We got back on I-85 and headed north. Stopped about where I-85 and I-95 merge, at a (guess what?) Cracker Barrel for whatever meal one eats an hour an a half after a big breakfast.
 
Had a nice visit, and gave them a box of photos I have been trying to pass along for over a year. We left the CB about 12:30, with the driver who ate another big meal, and soon reported he was very tired, but got back on the road toward DC. Which we cleverly avoided, when we got off on a four lane that veered off east, bypassing all the congestion of the District. Though it had about 243 traffic lights, we did avoid going through Washington.
 
Headed on into Maryland, and then got across Delaware in about twenty minutes. Kept encountering toll bridges, and toll roads, though I am pretty sure that my tax dollars paid for all those great big wide interestate highways and overpasses - so I guess they must think I just fell off the turnip truck, to be paying for them over and over again. I finally told him he needed to quit being so chipper, friendly, hail-fellow-well-met with the toll both attendant and ask for a receipt, as I am pretty sure that the fees for tolls as well as parking are deductible from taxes. Any way - he finally did start requesting a receipt, especially when he was paying $12 a hit to those cute little money takers. So I'll keep them together, add to my collection, and hope that the CPA will agree that they are legitimate. (Probably only when associated with business: does mental health count as maybe a medical deduction?)
 
He meant to stop driving in Delaware, but got across the state so quickly, he found himself on the New Jersey Turnpike before I could say: Wait! We buzzed along on the Turnpike until he decided he was so tired he needed to quit, and turned off. We exited the turnpike ($2.50 please) at 6:30 in the quaint little burg of Runnymede. It looked just like what I thought a town in NJ would: a bar or tavern at most every intersection. What else do they have to do when it snows and they are stuck inside? And a store that sells bar-stools on the opposite corner of the intersection, so I guess they do so much sitting they wear out a lot of barstools?
 
P. kept telling me that Runnymede was the site of a Civil War battle. What does he know? He was born in Pennsylvania. I responded with the fact that it was not so much an American event, as he probably remembered it from some Robin Hood movie he saw, where the King had his advantage taken once again.
 
Just like my traveling companion: to ask for a suggestion and not take the advice he asked for. He requested info. about a good place to eat from the desk clerk, and decided to not go there. So instead of the locally recommended Diner, we ate at a little Italian place with plastic grapes, leaves, vines dramatically draped around the windows, along with blue and red blinking rope lights. He ordered some veal (sad, mistreated little thing), and I thought the spinach ravioli sounded interesting. It might have been, under different lighting. But when the food arrived: the pasta on my plate appeared to be about the same color as the turquoise stones in my bracelet. At first I thought it was just the lighting, then thought it was due to the spinach. But it was actually that color - way much too blue-ish to be left over from St. Patrick's Day. I have No Idea why it was such a strange color. I was so weary, I ate it without further ado. I was pleasantly surprised. It was good - or maybe my taste buds had got as numb as my backside from hours of travel?
 
 

backing up in time - Friday (day 1)

The date that will post will be on Sunday, but we left Lynch on Friday, August 10, 2012. So here we are.

I got home for TN, a week ago, on Sunday, which I think would be the 3rd. Completely physically exhausted from going up the mountain, down the mountain. Then driving for hours and hours over and around different mountains to get back to my little nest  With legs so ache-y I probably could not get back up if I had to squat, and would have just fallen over like the little kid on the tricycle in the cartoons. I knew I was expected to show up for work on Sunday, so I drove down from Decatur, leaving there at about 5:30 a.m. Back to the house about 7:30, where I immediately heard my bed calling, and laid down for a little nap.

Got up a little after 9:00, jumped into clothes and went to church, then on to work. Whereupon I found myself in such great demand that I was on the work schedule for four more days: T,W,T,F. Which was so unexpected, as I had made notes on the desk calendar everyone uses for scheduling requested time off, that I was 'unavailable' for the entire week of 8/11-19.

But I wanted to get paid, so I worked those days, even with crazy legs, finally beginning to feel like a real person again by mid-week. I asked to come in really early on Friday, so I could leave at noon, and get started on the Next Great Adventure: driving to the north pole.

I had suggested, recommended, encouraged him to take his electric 'jazzy-type' chair/scooter along, as it would not be much fun to sit on the sidelines/benches watching, instead of actually going, doing, enjoying the sights and scenery.  But he was hugely anxious about driving all the way to Mars with the chair on the lift attached to the back of the vehicle. And certain that he would not be allowed to take it on an airplane (the so alarmed about the expense of flying - that was not an option). But cooler heads prevailed and he decided that 'yes', he could/would drive 1,000 miles on the interstate with the chair bouncing and jouncing  precariously on the back.

We left home at about 12:30 on Friday, as soon as I could get home from work and get loaded up. We could not even get to the interstate without having to stop for food. Veering off through the parking lot of the Chic-O-Lay for sandwiches we ate in our laps as we got on the road. I had specifically, repeatedly warned him he was not allowed to get cranky in the car, so I was desperate to get north of metro area before #:00, when I knew all those folks who live/work there would be getting off and out on the roads.We drove until about 7:30, across the better part of three states, stopping someplace in the northern part of North Carolina, between Greensboro and the VA state line.

When he saw motels on the far side of the highway, he veered off I-85, but could not figure how to get to the beds. I commented about seeing a Best Western just up the street, so we ended up there. Amongst a large convention of south east Asians. I  am not sure why there were in town, the desk clerk said something about overflow from a meeting in Greensboro. But they were there en masse, with kids in tow.

I'd been cooped up in a vehicle for seven hours, and was desperate to get some fresh air, do some walking, un-kink my back and legs. But there was something so stinky in the parking lot, I could not stand being out there. A man who is a long-haul truck driver, lives in California, stopped me to ask about the noise in the trees behind the motel. I told him it was cicadas and crickets. He thought it was creepy. Said he had stopped at night along the road in MS, and when it got too quiet he had heard all that noise out in the underbrush, along with blinking lights (probably fire-flies!), and was so un-nerved he got back in his truck and fled.

I'd eaten the other half of my chicken sandwich about 6:00, when I did  not know if the driver was planning to go all the way to Boston without stopping. So I was not hungry when he finally did quit for the day. And he was huffy because I did not want to go to a restaurant and eat a another meal. But after he checked his sugar and found it dangerously low, I offered to go and get him a sandwich. But he decided he should go himself. So there he was: at 9:30 at  night, eating a Big Mac and fries.

I was prepared for sleeping in a small space with a noisy companion. I had my ear plugs and benadryl, so I really slept well. And found out the next day the the driver did not. He reported thinking that he might have gotten an hour's worth or sleep all night. That is what he gets from being so ornery he would not ask me to go out and bring in his breathing machine for him.

I called my brother before we went to sleep, to say that we were somewhere in n. NC and would want to try to see him when we went through Richmond the following day.

working ... sorta

Thursday, August 9, 2012
I have been working some unexpected hours this week, due to finding myself suddenly in demand as a salad maker and fruit cutter. One of the items in the weekly ad. is something that requires a tremendous amount of labor, so I have had the 'opportunity' of being employed most every day this week.

There were times several years ago, when the economy tanked, that I was hard pressed to have any work. I felt lucky to get four hours a month, just to keep me on the payroll. And more recently a department manager who was so squeezed for best use of labor hours, when I learned to expect to work 1/2 day a week.

And now here I am with so much employment, it is beginning to be 'regular'. It's good to know there is a mostly steady income, but I had gotten so accustomed to being mostly unemployed, it causes me to go to work much more than expected. Which is inconvenient for someone who stays on the go.

Being a good citizen...

You may remember about a once-a-week class, offered by Public Safety, a couple of years ago. I went one night a week for several months to learn about some very interesting aspects of all the local law enforcement departments. The ten or so people in my group did things like going to the shooting range to have target practice (with a Lot of supervision), tour the County Jail, meet officers from all the different divisions from patrol to the chief to learn about their jobs.

Completing the class gave me the opportunity to be involved with 'alumni', so I sent in my $10 and joined the association. I get a very amusing, interesting newsletter from this group that meets once a month. They provide assistance and support when asked to help with promotions and publicity for the Public Safety. I went to a back-to-school event at a church on the north side of town, when a group of the Citizens supporting Law Enforcement Alumni Association was volunteering. One thing they do is fingerprinting of children when asked.  The two police/sheriff's dept. men who taught the class were there to supervise, provide a police presence, but the volunteers did the work. I was the person at the table where kids first came in the door with the forms on heavy card stock. There was space on the form for parents to provide basic info. about each child, but we only filled in names to identify each individual. Parents, mostly moms, were instructed to complete the info. to have personal records at home for each kid..

We did prints for about 75 kids, ages 3 to 13: all who came with parents to the church for the school supply giveaway.  The other workers who have been helping to provide this service for years told stories of past experience. They said when the local Baptist Association did a similar event, Kits 4 Kids giveaway, there were hundreds of children in attendance. So apparently this one was not so well publicized.

My assignment was to write the child's name and age on each form, and pass it to one of the team who were actually doing the inking and printing. The age is important so if the need arises, there is some way to tell how old the child was when the prints were done, to adjust for growth. As you know the prints never change, but they will increase in size as the hands and body grow to adulthood.

I had forgotten that I have a copy of the same form, in a file with prints, from one of my own personal children. The little tips of the fingers I have recorded are so small. She was probably about six at the time they were done. Hard to believe those limbs to which they were attached have grown to make her nearly six feet tall.  I am prepared if she should go missing.

Did I have a wreck?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012
When I got down off that mountain and finally sat down, we had to go back across to the parking lot where we had left the other vehicle. Fortunately, for the person who cracked open a cold beer as soon as the car door slammed shut, I had a very reliable designated driver. The guys left a couple of minutes ahead of us, out of the parking lot there at the top of the ridge separating TN and NC. We started back down the winding, sinuous mountain road, headed back to Gatlinburg and hot showers. 

But by the time we got back down near the park entrance, at the visitors' center, there had been an accident on the slick road. Some crashing incident occurred between a pickup truck and a motorcycle. It stalled traffic on that narrow two lane road for the better part of an hour. We waited and waited and waited, so close to a hot shower it was tantalizingly, temptingly unbearable. But NPS finally cleared the way, and got through, back into Gatlinburg and to the motel.

Since I was trying to get on the road and planned to head south, a quick shower, advice about routes and I was on my way. It was probably the worst possible time of day, and week to be driving through Pigeon Forge with miles and miles of tourist-y attractions, outlet shopping, made-in-China antiques and artifacts. Three lanes of bumper to bumper traffic. Saw a group of four or five guys sitting in folding camp chairs in the bed of a pick-up truck, trundling along in traffic at 15 m.p.h., having a grand old time. It took three hours to get across the mountains, out of TN and back into GA on rural, two-lane highways. And by the time I got near the Interstate, and stopped for gas, I was so stiff and sore, I could hardly walk to get into the curb store to use the facilities.

And it was after ten o'clock on Saturday night before I got as far south as Decatur, so you know I did not sleep in my own little nest that night. But when I woke up at 5:00 a.m. the next morning, and got back to the house by 7:30, I went right to bed and had myself a little nap before I got up to go to church and on to work.And when I got up, to get dressed for a day of on-my-feets, my muscles in my legs were still very sore. I felt like you do when you have survived a car accident: as if you had been churned around inside a cement mixer - or possibly fallen off a mountain.

I did a lot of leg and arm stretching before I fell into bed on Saturday night, that I am sure helped - after my experience of being barely able to hobble across the parking lot when I stopped for gas. But I am just now on Tuesday night beginning to not be ache-y. And thankful that I am back in the Land of Flat.

I have not done ANY walking since getting back to Flat, but will eventually, since I have discovered that in order to eat what I like and enjoy, I have to be doing something to keep burning those calories.

Did I mention it rained...???

When we were maybe about half way, possibly a little more, heading up on Friday, it started misting a little bit. People with sense/knowledge to be prepared with 'pack covers', stopped to pull out colorful nylon watertight covers that look like oversized shower caps, edged with elastic or drawstrings they could use to cover up their backpacks so all their belongings would not get wet.

I'm sure I have heard about this clever little invention, but I was so involved in trying to figure out what to take vs. what not to take, it never occurred to me to add 'pack cover' to my list of necessities. I had been pondering for days, trying to think of everything that might be remotely useful, then reversing my thought patterns: eliminating everything that was not essential. I had these two plastic ponchos, made of out material that is nearly as light as dry-cleaning bags, but effective, covering enough to keep everything above the knees dry. Folded up to fit in a sandwich size bag, practically weightless. Yeah, take 'em. Smart move.

We stopped under trees while they dug out pack covers and rooted around for waterproof jackets. I whipped my see-through, light-as-air poncho out, put my pack back on and covered myself. Good idea: but my shoes got soaked, my socks were mushy, my feet were cold and clammy. Fortunately, I had made the take-it or not choice to haul a second pair of shoes up the mountain. So when we got to the top, I had dry socks and shoes to put on. Along with a sweatshirt and long p.j. pants to sleep in, when they warned me it would probably be much cooler up there when the sun went down, at an altitude of over 6000 feet. We were sleeping under wool blankets.

Coming back down ...

After eating more breakfast in one sitting than I usually eat in an entire week, we started loading packs back up to head out/down. Which should have been much lighter since we had to make so many stops climbing to the top to eat, re-fuel, find the stamina to keep heading up hill. And it was a bit for me, as I only had one bottle with water in it, deciding if I only used one coming up, that would be adequate for downhill. (The residents asked us to pack out anything that was not burn-able, so any plastic water bottles or other trash that was not paper had to make the trip back down with whomever was foolish enough to haul it up.)

I was Very Anxious about making that downhill trek. I honestly do not think I have ever been as tired as I was when we finally got to the top, and somehow decided that the second half of this Educational Experience was going to be as physically demanding as the previous day. I thought I was going to be, literally: sick. Even while saying to myself: 'Tthere is no other way. I have to do it again to get off'.

I started out, heading down. Saying to myself: Swallow your fear. Even though I know that swallowing fear causes one to have the goose-berry gallops when it settles in your bowels. My legs were very sore, aching muscles, not rested enough to get past tired. And even though the walk was down-hill, it would be almost as far in miles as the hike up the trail had been.

If we had not been so exhausted from the previous day, without enough time to fully recover, the distance back down would have been relatively pleasant. But we were all weary before we even started, so even the part that should have been a 'breeze' was far more work than I had anticipated. Plus there were several streams that had to be negotiated. Rocks strategically placed to help keep shoes dry, but without my hiking poles for stability/balance, I would have been wearing cold, soggy, miserably wet shoes and socks.

And then there were the sore, miserable aching muscles, that I had been too worn out to stretch the night before, so every step hurt, which added to the difficulty of putting one foot in front of the other for 6 + miles to get back to the trail head. When we were within about an eighth of a mile of the parking lot where we left a car, it started to rain - pouring, drenching rain. You never saw anyone snatch a poncho out of a backpack so fast, unfold, re-shoulder pack, slip it over everything and keep on trucking. An act of pure magic, hardly missing a step I was so desperate to get to the car, take that pack off, crack open that cold beer. Pure joy.

Sleeping right up there with the stars....

So we went to bed about 9:00. I knew I would be getting up in the middle of the night to pee. Right after I drank that second wonderful glass of water when we were eating, I thought: bad idea.

I went to sleep with my headlamp in my hand, to be ready when nature called me to go out in the dark, down the stony path to the facilities. That were surprisingly civilized, considering the rough nature of the environment. I guess the reason the toilets were kept locked is to keep non-paying guests out, as there was a large stacked-stone shelter for hikers just up the hill, a short way back along the trail, that was looking pretty full when we finally got to the top of the mountain.

So when I finally got to the tipping point with my overloaded bladder, I got up and bumped around the edges of the bed, squeezing through the narrow space between the four-poster and wall, to get to the other side of the room and out the door. (I usually get up about 2 in the morning, stagger down the hall, do my business and get back to sleep right away.) So my bladder woke me up about six times, before I finally decided to respond. With flashlight in hand, at about 5:30 I got out the cabin door, down the steps and across the flagstone path, in sight of the building with the four flush toilets in wee little 3 x5 rooms, when I realized I did not have a key. The call of nature was quite strong as was the effect of gravity. I pondered, thinking how dark it was there under the dense evergreens.... but then saw someone with a flashlight standing there in the dark.When I asked if they had a key? he said the door was open. I got there, barely.

Went back to bed. Got up again about 7:00, and dressed. We ate a big breakfast and got organized to head back down the mountain

Life at the top...

All I could do when we got there was to lay down.

We probably straggled in about thirty minutes before all the 'guests' sat down to eat. The food was average. There was plenty of it, but it was nothing special. All the supplies used on top of Mt. LeConte are delivered by a pack train of llamas. I guess they are more agreeable than donkeys or mules, but being smaller they could not haul as large a load as other beasts of burden. According to what I was told, during the busy season, the llamas deliver the goods three times a week.

The cabin our group was assigned was probably what the full timers/residents call the Lodge. It was a log cabin, with a central room that had six or eight straight back chairs, two tables, and a fireplace (with a kerosene heater, pilot light lit to keep it dry/tamperate in the cool damp air). Two rooms off on each side of the central room, with a bunk bed in each. The bunk beds were double sized, so each room would sleep four people who would have to be very good friends. And another room behind the wall where the fireplace was with several more single beds. So it could conceivably sleep twelve.

It really was a log cabin. The logs that comprised the walls were rough-hewn, with visible adze marks, and chinking between the logs. But you could see daylight coming through in places when we got up the next morning. And I noticed a little stacked pile of flat rocks in one corner of our room, apparently designed to close up a hole that small creeping or slithering things could squeeze through looking for warmth, food, companionship in cold weather. Glass in the windows, but with fencing wire stapled to the outside of each window frame to keep unwanted visitors from coming in.

There might have been four of these cabins, then some smaller ones that might sleep four people. I don't know how many people there were in the dining room, but heard that the place was 'full'. There were a number of kids, little people under twelve - maybe a dozen. And two babies, small enough that they would have had to be brought up in carriers, strapped to a parent in front of back. I am thinking about how glad I am that I did not haul a kid, plus all the required accoutrements. I could barely get myself up there: no way I could have toted another person!

(There was a framed photo in the 'office' when I went along as others were purchasing T-shirts as proof of the experience: the man who first started building the establishment strapped a rocking chair onto this back and hiked up the mountain with is mother on his back. Also photos and memorabilia relating stories of people who had made the trip up the mountain hundreds and hundreds of times. Not me.)

There is a loom in the office that was built by the people who started the Lodge that is still functional, having been used to make fabric that is used there in the buildings: curtains, coverlets for the beds, other furnishings. I read about someone who spent the winter up there on the windswept, icy mountain weaving cloth. I can see that it would be so quiet and peaceful, if you like quiet and peaceful and abounding serenity with huge doses of solitude. And snow piled up past the window frames. And excruciating cold.

I think there must be maybe half a dozen 'residents', young adults who live up there during the spring-early fall months when the lodge is open for guests. Probably in a dorm type area adjacent to the dining hall. They do the cooking: prep, serving, clean up. And prepare the guest rooms/beds everyday when they have a new group straggle in. Assuming the place is run by the Park Service rather than as a concession, they would be part-time, temporary employees of the NPS.

There was the option after dinner to walk up to an overlook and hear a talk by a ranger before sunset. But all I could do was lay on the bed. My group sat on the porch and talked a while, then rounded up some spoons and cards for the usual hilarity of Paula's well-known entertainment. When it gets dark, everyone goes to bed, which is perfectly acceptable to people who have been walking for miles and miles up a ridiculously steep incline.

There is no electricity. So if you didn't bring your flashlight/headlamp, you're going to bed anyway, or stumbling around in the dark. Which is not smart as you could stumble yourself off the edge at any misstep.

Trudging up the mountain....

I know I am the one who kept saying (possibly in an effort to convince myself?) that I was sure I would not have any problem at all walking eight miles in a day. And I do believe that. But... here's the thing: I was not at all 'prepared'.  Thinking about the Army guys I see walking down the roads around here with huge fifty or eighty pound packs strapped to their backs, trying to get themselves in shape for PT events and twenty mile forced marches, I'd think: they are crazy. Out in the blistering heat, wearing shorts, desert boots, T-Shirts and huge backpacks loaded with a full compliment of military gear: makes me want to go lay down just thinking about it.

It is pretty obvious I did not do the kind of 'practicing' that would have made the trip far less exhausting. Before I even got back to the flat-lands, I realized I should have been doing my miles each day, as I was getting ready in the 90+ degree heat, with at minimum a gallon of water on my back. The crazy person was the one who was out there mosey-ing along with a little CD player and earplugs for baggage, listening to talking books. Looking back, that was no better preparation than sitting in a sand chair with my toes in the water, enjoying cool ocean breezes.

I was probably traveling lighter than anyone else in my group, and still; there were times when I thought I would have to just put it down, leave it along the trail, or toss it over the edge. It was exhausting... though I do not really think that it would have been much easier without the weight of a pack. All I had was clothing, peanut butter sandwiches, granola bars and two bottles of water. Probably about fifteen pounds - not all that heavy... when you think that a gallon of water weighs in at eight pounds, and 2 x 8 =16, which is what some hauled up the mountain, plus clothing, food, etc.

And speaking of 'tossing things over the edge': a lot of the trail was Very Close to the Edge. VERY Close. As the incline of the mountain got steeper, the trail naturally got steeper (this is that 'strenuous' part), and there was a short section that was bare rock, where the trail was so covered with loose shale, the park service had installed a series of eye-hooks with a cable running across the rock face for hikers to use as a hand hold. I was told some of the other (steeper=more strenuous) trails have long sections of this. Bare rock, and long stretches of cable that you hold onto to keep from taking a nose-dive. The only time I did not have my hiking poles in both hands to help maintain balance/stability was this place where I was holding onto the cable, taking short steps and breath prayers.

We left the parking lot to start up about 11:00 a.m., and got to the top a little after 6:00. So we averaged barely better than a mile an hour before we got to the top, and were able to find the blessed relief of the Mt. LeConte Lodge. Which was not actually a lodge, but a dining hall and cabins. After all I had been through to get there, I was somehow expecting something a little more rewarding. But then again... after all I had been through to get there, I was thankful for the fact of getting there.


Getting stared up the mountain....

Went up to Chattanooga last week on Wednesday. I was surprised to hear F. say she had been pondering going along, just for overnight trip since she had the day off, when I stopped for a quick visit in Decatur. And P. was Very Surprised to see both of us at her door when we arrived on Wed. afternoon, about the time they got home from work. Seems there had been some miscommunication about scheduling, and I was not expected until late Thursday afternoon - and of course, her sister was not expected at all. So doubly surprising.

We went to eat downtown, in a grocery store - sounds strange: but if you want food, that is probably the best place to start. And this particular store had a wide variety of prepared items and a huge bar for customers to pick and choose, eat-in or take-out, ready to consume. We ate too much dessert, but it was very good, as you would expect of high-priced fancy taste-tempting little dressed up tarts and cheesecakes..

Those people in TN like to sleep, and go to bed very early as some folks have to get up in the dark and drive great distances to arrive at work on time. The ones who had to work got up and went, and the ones who didn't drove downtown to walk along the river, wander through the TN Aquarium area. Still practicing the walking... if I knew then what I know now....

F. left to get back to the city and on to work, and the rest of us started getting organized to head over to Gatlinburg where we would spend the night before starting the trek on Friday morning. Reservations in a neat little family-owned hotel with a balcony overlooking a burbling stream.

We got up Friday a.m. and went to eat a lumberjack breakfast before heading out to arrange vehicles before we started the hike. Leaving one car at the end of a different trail in the Smoky Mtn. Park to take a shorter route when we left to head back down the mountain on Saturday morning. Then with four people with large filled backpacks squeezed in, packed into the narrow, designed for be comfortable for two people and no backpacks, we drove up the road that starts in TN and crosses the Smokies to end in Cherokee, NC. I am sure it looked like a circus clown car when all those people and packs came tumbling out in the parking lot there at the point where the highway crosses into NC, in a parking lot that probably holds over 100 vehicles.

The plan was to start up at a higher elevation, so the walk to the top would not be so steep. The distance would be longer than some of the other trails, but (theoretically!) the walk would be more 'level' with less incline. In the guide book, you are lead to believe it will be easier traveling, as much of the eight-plus mile distance would be trekking across the ridge tops instead of a steady climb uphill as most of the other options for getting to the top would be.

This is patently untrue. I am convinced that about 80% of the trail we took was at about a 45 degree incline, with intermittent areas that were relatively level, when you would find the trail flat enough that you could actually lay yourself out and beg for mercy.  It was awful.

I kept trying to decide if I had come too far to turn back. I kept thinking that it would get easier. I kept thinking that once we got over the next hump, or around the next turn/curve, it would level out and be smooth sailing. I kept thinking: Don't be a wuss. I kept thinking: everyone one else has a whole lot more weight to carry and they are plodding along, so 'you can do it'. I kept thinking: 'What was I thinking?'

I wondered if it would make me feel better or worse to have 'mile markers' like you often see on walking paths to let you know how far you have come. And decided it would be Both: better and worse. If I had known I'd been trudging for hours and had only come 3 or 4 miles, I would have laid down in the woods and given up. If I had known I had 3 or 4 or 5 more to go, I would have turned around, telling myself it had to be easier downhill.

I do not think I have ever been so tired in my life. And that was before all the muscles I used that I did not even know to show any appreciation for started hurting so badly I could barely walk.

If you asked me how beautiful it was, how much I enjoyed the scenery, I would have to respond with the fact that I spent 95% of the time I was walking looking down at the next place I would put my feet. It was so rocky, rough, uneven, that I feel like I had four hundred opportunities to fall and get severely injured. I actually only fell once, and my tail bone will probably be sore for a week. Had I not had the hiking poles I kept in both hands to enhance stability and use for support, making my way across the constantly rocky, rough terrain, they would still be picking me up from all the falls, mis-steps, tripping events on exposed tree roots and loose shale along the path.

But the other 5% of the time, when the trail was fairly level, and I felt I could could safely take my eyes off my feet, watching for footing, the scenery was beautiful. I was surprised to see so much lush growth, making the forest look almost tropical: ferns growing densely along both sides of the trail, thick covering of mosses on fallen tree trunks, a thousand shades of green - when the weather in so many places has been so dry farmers are plowing under crops that will not produce due to drought. The forest was so lush, with beautiful evergreens and grasses lining the trail for miles, it was amazing.


As we were trudging along, straggling up the last few miles, someone remembered that the guide book described the part of the trail closest to the top as 'strenuous'. Those guys: what profound understatement the guide book writers are! I knew I had been at it so long that it was closer to the top than it would be to turn and go back to the parking lot, but it was sooo tempting....