Ponce de Leon sought it in the swamps of Florida, Dorian Gray sold his soul that it might be preserved, and Peter Pan traveled beyond the “second star on the right” to avoid losing it. Eternal youth may be a fiction but retaining the spirit of one’s youth is not. For the members of “The Gravy Train”, the inner child is found at the end of an unremarkable driveway in Leawood Kansas and is exercised weekly from the seats of our bicycles.

(Some of us in days of youth… I’m third row, second from the right)

For over 15 years a small band of riders have assembled each Saturday, Sunday, and the odd weekday morning to ride their fragile creations of metal and carbon fiber. Powered by muscle, bone, sinew, and at times force of will, they briefly escape the responsibilities of adulthood. Clad in second skins of spandex and protected only by their helmets (which some may say are only good enough to preserve an open casket option) they leave before dawn, pounding the roadways of Johnson County Kansas and beyond. They are deterred only by rain and ice. Never by the cold. The inner child is energized!

I was welcomed into The Gravy Train as a rider in 2008. Each of the riders own a story of their path into cycling and then to the Gravy Train. Mine began in 2006 at the age of 54 during a family vacation.

My daughters had rented bicycles to ride about Rehoboth Beach Delaware. I was curious to test the old adage that once learned one can never forget how to ride. The bike was small, clunky, and a poor fit. 14 miles down the road and I was awash with the memories of my bicycling childhood… racing friends, jumping curbs, attaching playing cards to the fenders that the neighborhood might resonate with the sound of my imaginary motorcycle. Upon our return to Kansas City I bought my first adult bike, a hybrid.

Hybrids are a compromise. Not just as bikes, but perhaps as a symbol that the rider’s commitment is made with reservation. My reservation lasted a little more than a year. In 2007 I ordered a custom fitted and fabricated titanium steed. Bikes do have “bells and whistles”, and this one had all of the ones that a serious rider would recognize. It cost nearly twice what I had paid in 1974 for my first new car. “How much?!!?” Christine exclaimed at the time… “It’s guy jewelry”, was my reply.

I ride my “Seven” (the brand name) to this day. Over tens of thousands of miles it has launched me into the idealism of charity rides: cure cancer, cure multiple sclerosis, even cure poverty. It has taken me across Kansas, Missouri, and 5,000 miles across the United States. I have ridden up to 125 miles in a single day. I’ve gotten my money’s worth and so have the charities.

There are fishing widows, golf widows, and bicycle widows.

Christine does not count herself a member of any of those groups. While she does not ride, she has been actively supportive in other ways, not the least of which was when she assumed the role of support driver, manager, and “herder of cats” for me and 11 other riders known as “Cycling for Change” who crossed the country on behalf of Catholic Charities.

As we neared Kansas City, The Gravy Train rode to meet us in Atchison Kansas and to my honor they escorted us into Kansas City.

The Gravy Train rides typically begin before dawn and end with a full day yet ahead of us. This tends to immunize us from complaints at home. Saturday rides cover at least 20 miles at a brisk pace. 10 years ago that might have been a 19+ mph average for me. These days my 67 year old legs can serve up the occasional 17 mph average. We stop for breakfast at a local First Watch restaurant where our arrival is anticipated. Sometimes server Alan has come out to hand me a cup of coffee just as I am dismounting. After breakfast we continue another 5 miles or so at a more leisurely pace, regaling in the experience that we are sharing.

The Gravy Train breakfast ride has even been memorized in a well executed, if tongue-in-cheek, video produced by our resident Ichthyologist, Joe T.

Tap on the picture to see the video.

Our group’s name derives from the “Gravy Train”, a breakfast item once featured by First Watch and favored by a few of the riders. I don’t know if it still appears on the menu, but most of us now opt for a healthier selection.

The Sunday rides are a bit more relaxed and usually take in one of the areas upscale coffee houses.

Weekday rides are a serious hour in the saddle that ramps up the cardio-vascular system.
Other rides and events include tours of area Christmas decorations, rides to and from Lawrence Kansas that, depending on the route, put 70 to 100 miles on the odometer.

Members join many of the local organized event rides, some of which are competitive in nature. There are rides to Lake Lotawana and an annual Christmas party that each include our “significant others” in attendance. Christine and I look forward to hosting this year’s Christmas gathering.

Our bicycles are the common thread that binds us. Rarely is there discussion of work, politics, religion or anything else that might detract from the celebration of our comradery.

I had ridden with the group over a year before I came to know of the other riders’ occupational lives. The talents of the group include expertise in engineering, technology, business, medicine, architecture, and of course there is a sprinkling of lawyers. One rider is a nationally known ichthyologist and illustrator who is to fish what John Audubon was to birds.

When I first joined The Gravy Train we were in our 30’s 40’s, and a few of us were in our 50’s. Today we have aged up a decade. I am currently the oldest active rider at 67. New blood continues to join and refresh our ranks.

It is common for us to ride in a “pace line”. The lead rider holds a speed that he cannot long sustain. The following riders take advantage of the opportunity to draft in the front rider’s slipstream. It is said that drafting reduces the effort required to sustain a speed by as much as 30%. Reaching a point of fatigue the lead rider leaves the line and coasts back to take a position at the rear, his original place being taken by the next rider. Down the line of riders the distance between a rider’s rear tire and the next rider’s front tire may be less than a foot as the serpentine line of cyclists reach speeds well over 20 and even 30 miles per hour.

A sudden surprise movement by any cyclist would spell disaster for all of those behind. Thus, hand and voice signals have been developed that warn of vehicular traffic, debris/irregularities in the road or that the rider is slowing or stopping. Our trust in one another is taken for granted, but not taken lightly.

I conservatively estimate that The Gravy Train rides cover over 30,000 rider miles in a year, over 300,000 miles since I joined the group. Skill and good fortune have been our protection from misfortune.

Rides are a treat for the senses…

A full moon dips below the horizon. The sky grows scarlet as sunrise approaches. Vistas of Spring greenery are the counterpoint to the blaze of Autumn color that we experience at opposite ends of the seasonal spectrum. Roads snake stream side with dips into valleys draped in dew laden fog.

Searing Summer heat requires two water bottles to maintain hydration, while in the cold of Winter the speed creates a wind chill that numbs the face, feet, and hands. No two rides are alike.

Returning to that driveway at the end of a ride I am often physically spent. However, I am always energized with gratitude for the friendships and experiences that I have shared with The Gravy Train. It’s a good trade.
Peace Everyone. Pete

In Memoriam: Mark T. Fisher, Ph.D. (1954-2018)

I met Mark Fisher through our participation in another bicycling group. We became good friends and frequently rode together. Two years into our friendship we learned through casual conversation that we had grown up mere miles from one another in the south suburbs of Chicago. We further determined that his wife, Kathy, and I attended the same grade school and that his brother-in-law and I had been good friends throughout 8 years of parochial school. It is indeed a small world woven with complexity.

I introduced Mark to the Gravy Train. He became an immediate friend to all. Mark was an amazing bicyclist, proud that he did not own a car as he managed his daily commutes to and from work on his bike. Like the US Mail neither rain, snow, ice, cold, heat, or dark of night deterred him. This we knew about Mark: He was an incredibly strong rider, a loving father, and a devoted husband. He lit up our rides with his raucous wit and humor. He would have given any of us the shirt off of his back.

What Mark rarely (and only when pressed) mentioned was that he was a world class research professor in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. His alter ego, Dr. Fisher, held a number of firsts in his field. He was a top world expert in “kinetic protean partitioning” and related topics that I haven’t the slightest understanding of. He developed the world’s first “chaperonin-based biolayer interferometer biosensor to detect pre-aggregate species of concentrated protein therapeutics”. Mark authored over fifty published manuscripts, was awarded two patents, and delivered countless lectures nationally and internationally. To the Gravy Train he was always just Mark.

Mark died suddenly and tragically in 2018. His absence from our ranks remains palpable, and painful.

 

Winter is malevolent in its reluctance to release its grip on the plains of North Dakota. So it was in March of 1922 when Peter first opened his eyes to that harsh world. Born to Michael and Marianna (a derivative of Mary), immigrant Germans from Russia, he was the youngest of their 6 surviving children.

 

A quilt, perhaps “The Quilt”, was the first barrier that swaddled and separated him from his mother’s warmth. Stitched from the rags and tatters of worn dresses, shirts, dungarees… it was an artifact of necessity and love, recycling before the term had been coined. Austerity and poverty were the drivers by which cow chips were “harvested” to heat their homes; cellars stored root vegetables, home canned goods, blood sausage, hams, and crocks of fermenting kraut to see a family through the isolation of life stealing blizzards; and a worker at the local dairy smoked his cigars to the point of burning his lips only to then knock off the ash and chew the remaining stub. He would then dry the mash of used tobacco, grind it between his fingers and roll the dust into a cigarette. “Waste not” was a way of life, a mantra that took many forms. Renewal was born of necessity and not ecology. Quilts breathed new life into old cloth and were an expression of a woman’s art and her love.

As a young student in the one-room schoolhouse Peter learned to speak English. He was also inspired to become a teacher. His father believed any education beyond the 8th grade merely took a man needlessly from the toils that were important for survival.

 

Thus, a divide formed between father and son. Marianna encouraged Peter and shared his dream that he might find a better life beyond the prairie. Peter’s passion for education was equaled only by his passion for running. Near daily his flaming red hair could be seen streaking across the horizon.

 

Often he would compete with an equally fleet-of-foot young Sioux native from the nearby Fort Totten/Spirit Lake Reservation. Some days “Red” would win, and on other days it was the onyx haired youth who would prevail. Their friendly rivalry was fired by genetics that spanned millennia and continents. Local events featured them, and as they grew older they met in State competitions. Each would find their remarkable speed to be the key to higher education.

Peter graduated from high school as Salutatorian in a class of two. He was awarded an athletic scholarship to Bemidji State University where he captained the track and football teams. Years later he would be inducted into the University’s Athletic Hall of Fame. There was little that Marianna could give him as he left home for college; Some money that she had secreted from her husband over the years (and upon discovery it earned her a beating at his hands), and The Quilt.

The Quilt remained among Peter’s possessions throughout college, the Second World War, graduate school, and his marriage to Pauline. In 1952 they brought their first child, another Peter, home. The Quilt was there.

 

The younger Peter was thoughtful and sensitive in a way that the older one did not understand. “You think/worry/feel too much…” was an often spoken refrain from father to son. In the son’s late adolescence the elder occasionally introduced the younger as, “a friend of the family”, or as the Prodigal Son. It was not a withholding of love, just an acknowledgement of frustration and the divide.

Young Peter left for college not in pursuit of any passion for higher education, but as an escape from the conflict with the elder. Pauline had little to offer that would mend the divide, but in 1970 she sent her oldest son off to college with The Quilt.

The Quilt was older than either Pauline or her husband. It had weathered at least 50 winters and showed in its fibers the strain of the years. Marianna had died in 1952, a few months after young Peter’s birth. It fell to Pauline’s mother, Labibe (her name is an Arabic derivative of Mary), who was an immigrant from Lebanon, to deploy her skills to mend the failing Quilt. She stitched what she could, but ultimately chose to encase it in flannel. The Quilt served young Peter throughout college and accompanied him in 1974 on the road to his new home in Kansas City, Missouri.

The Quilt was there for his marriage to Christine, the birth of yet another Peter, and the births of daughters Renee and Alexis. At one time or another it embraced each member of the family. Marianna’s hand hovered lovingly, and silently, over the family.

By the time that the elder Peter and Pauline came to celebrate 40 years of marriage The Quilt had become little more than a large rag. Labibe’s felt casing had itself become threadbare and riddled with holes. Shreds and pieces of The Quilt could be found wherever it had lain. Christine removed the covering and found one salvageable section that measured about 4 square feet. She hand stitched what she could to restore the piece and make it suitable as a framed artifact, a gift to Peter and Pauline on their wedding anniversary.

Peter passed from this life in 2009. The framed remnant of The Quilt still adorns a wall in Pauline’s home. It displays Christine’s handwritten attribution to Marianna Volk Schloss, its creator.

The years that followed brought adulthood to Peter and Christine’s children. They in turn brought grandchildren into Peter and Christine’s life, one of which is also named Peter. Christine has made a quilt for each of the grandchildren… gifts given at a birthday or at Christmas.

 

Recently she finished work on a quilt that now graces our bed. It is a stunning piece that caused me to marvel and then ask, “How many stitches does it take to make a quilt?” “Two hundred thousand… maybe more” she replied.

 

Authors and poets such as Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and Barbara DeAngelis have written that love is invisible… that it cannot be seen or measured. I imagine that they were never given a quilt.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. The earliest Peter Schloss that I have knowledge of was born in 1793 in Jockgrim, Germany. His grandson, my great-grandfather, was Peter Schloss. He was born near Odessa, Russia/Ukraine in 1857. He and his family are pictured below.

Yesterday, August 10th, Christine and I joined longtime friends Greg and Rebecca for lunch at a very good brewery/restaurant “Fields and Ivy” located in Lawrence Kansas. Ours is one of those very special friendships that sustain beyond the boundaries of distance and time. My 45 year association with Greg warrants comment which I will reserve for later in this post.

Greg and Rebecca both follow our travels. At lunch Rebecca issued a mild reprimand to me… “So what happened?… As far as everyone who follows you is concerned you just disappeared somewhere between Salt Lake City and Denver.” It was a light hearted comment, but she is correct. My bad.

The drive from Salt Lake to Winter Park was largely uneventful, except that it coincided with Robert Muller’s testimony before two House of Representatives Committees. The proceedings were aired live on the NPR feed hosted on Sirrus Satellite Radio. The mountains effectively limit the use of FM radio, but the satellite broadcast firmly held my attention for most of the day’s drive. I doubt that one in a thousand Americans tuned in for the whole thing. I had nothing better to do and I found it captivating. No other comment is necessary lest I become just another talking head.

I overnighted in Winter Park and enjoyed my last Dutch Oven dinner and bourbon accompanied campfire of the trip.

I also savored the 40-50 degree night temperatures which will elude Denver and Kansas City until Fall arrives.

I arrived in Denver for a two night stay with our friend Kris. She lives very close to two paved bicycle paths that are a part of Denver’s impressive network of trails that cover scores of miles. I took advantage of the opportunity to get in a pleasant morning ride.
I was Kris’ guest to a couple of events, one of which was an evening gathering of a group of her long-time female friends. I was welcome, but I was also the sole male among the 14 in attendance. I mingled but also embraced being a “fly on the wall” with the opportunity to observe and consider how differently women and men socialize with one another in the general absence of the other sex. Something for me to “chew on” in the future.

The second event was an afternoon “Pot Luck” lunch hosted by the Denver chapter of the American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC).

As one who has walked both the French and Portuguese routes to Santiago de Compostela Spain, and co-founded the Kansas City chapter of APOC, I was right at home with the group.

The night before my departure for Kansas City we went to dinner at a highly regarded restaurant in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood. “Tables” is one of those rare finds where the food and service are exceptional, the price is moderate, and the very talented chefs/owners personally visit your table to ensure that the dining experience meets their standards of excellence.

Kris and I could also carry on a conversation without shouting at each other… a rarity in restaurants these days. It was Kris’ first visit and I imagine it won’t be her last.

It was time for me to bid an early farewell the following morning (Sunday the 28th). For her part, Kris had preparations to make for a backpacking trip later in the week. She and four friends were hiking the circumference of the base of Mount Rainier in Washington State. The endeavor over rugged terrain would take more than a week, cover over 100 miles, and accumulate over 25,000 feet of elevation changes. She is a strong and adventurous woman.

I had not intended to drive the entire 610 miles home in one day. Towing a trailer can be taxing, especially solo.

However, the Sunday traffic was moderate, the weather passable, and I had a favorable tailwind. Stopping only for gas, a quick lunch, and an occasionally for the bathroom (that is conveniently located in the trailer), I made it home well before dark. I knew I was really home when Christine and I were in each others arms. The solitude that really wasn’t had come to an end.

About that “solitude”: I previously remarked that the act of writing these posts created an aura of companionship. I wonder if the effect is different when one writes entries in a personal diary. Does the expectation of an audience or of privacy change the experience of examining ones thoughts in writing? I have never been one to keep a private diary. However the impression that when I am writing I am “with” many other people is quite real… and comforting.
I also wonder if prayer brings comfort to the “faithful” out of the sincere belief that their words have the ear of God. Similarly, is understanding of this comfort lost on those who are non-believers?

Whether or not the Creator is listening is a different question than whether or not one BELIEVES the Creator is listening. In medicine it is the placebo effect that renders a sugar pill an effective remedy for pain… the belief, not the pill.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS: In July 1974 I traveled to Kansas City to accept a position as a Missouri State Probation and Parole officer. I had just completed my undergraduate studies at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

On my first day in the office I met Greg Tempel. Greg, also a new hire, had recently finished his undergrad work at Central Missouri State University. Greg was assigned one of two specialty caseloads. His duties included supervision of drug dependent offenders living in a half-way house. The other specialty caseload was assigned to me, supervision of alcoholic offenders living in a different half-way house. We quickly became friends and found that our approaches to caseload/client management were similar and a slightly out of step with more liberal sociological models that were then in vogue.

Greg and I shared an apartment for a time. In our third year working for the State, and without the other’s knowledge, we each applied to law school. We were each accepted and by pure chance ended up in the same classes throughout the first year.

Greg was an exceptional student with very disciplined study habits. He was also athletically inclined. Our friendship was flavored with a spirit of competition that called me to do better… although most of the time Greg came out ahead.

In our second year of law school Greg invited me to join him as his partner in a lawn service. It was successful beyond our expectations. We (literally) wore three sets of tires off of our two push mowers the only Summer we operated the business. The telephone rang off the wall with calls for our services the following year, but the requirements of the final year before graduation and the looming stress of the State Bar Examination ended our Student Lawn Service. I have no doubt that we could have grown that joint enterprise into a financially lucrative business.

Another thing that Greg and I had in common was the good fortune to marry well. Greg and his wife Rebecca moved to Colorado to pursue their professions and start their family. Christine and I had married the Summer that I entered law school. We had children born in both my second and last year of school. Greg and I remained in contact over the decades and seized opportunities to visit when they visited Kansas City and when we vacationed in Colorado.

At the end of a vacation in 2014 we met Greg and Rebecca for breakfast at a diner near Fort Collins Colorado. Greg mentioned that he was retiring in April the following year and that he and Rebecca would be moving to Lawrence to be closer to family and Rebecca’s KU Jayhawks. Until that moment retirement had only been an intangible for Christine and me. My facial expression must have revealed something to Greg because he exclaimed, “…and damn it, you are not going to retire before me!!” I retired in May.

Greg always brought the best out in me. My general ideology trends liberal while his trends conservative. We each respect the view of the other from his side of that fence. When we get together we have a beer (or two), we laugh about the past, we are grateful for the present, and we talk about the future that will be owned by our children and grandchildren. As I said… a friendship that sustains beyond the boundaries of distance and time.

Tomorrow closes my third week on the road. At the onset I expressed my trepidations concerning a lengthy solo outing and the expectations of solitude. My concerns were rooted in the experience of embarking on a 2 week solo camping trip to Colorado in 1975. After a little more than a week I had succumbed to crushing loneliness that drove my back home to familiar faces by the 10th day.

In 1975 distance meant separation. There were few options to remain connected with loved ones… letters and pay-phones. Letters were a message in a bottle that would not bring a reply. Phone calls were expensive and thus hurried. If anything, these two means of communication did more to highlight solitude than alleviate it.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and we have, FaceTime, Messenger, Facebook, Skype, various social media platforms… and of course telephone calls via a mobile network that spans most of the country. We assemble our friends and family in a one touch directory that keeps them available at a moment’s whim, but perhaps with an unintended consequence (“Burial Rights in the 21st Century”).

I have been away from home for 20+ days, but there have been meaningful interactions with Christine virtually every day. Today it included “FaceTime” with her and 2yo granddaughter Lennon upon her lap.

We are not creatures well adapted to solitude. There are exceptions (see infra). There is a reason that solitary confinement has been a favored means of prison discipline. Indeed, it is recognized the such confinement for too long is a form of torture and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Even Monks who voluntarily place themselves under a vow of silence remain safely ensconced within their monastic “community”. They live, work, and pray side-by-side in fellowship.

New friendships (which I have made on this trip), phone calls home, and even video chats are not a substitute for tactile human contact. I miss falling asleep with my arm over Chris. I miss the frequent gratuitous embraces throughout the day, and even just holding hands. However, the relaxed “what did you do today” talks have done much to belay the loneliness that once assaulted me 45 years ago.

An interesting aside: Christine has been reading my posts much as you do when we are on the road together. She has commented, “I really get it now! I understand why people look forward to your posts and enjoy them so much!” Cool!

Speaking of “what I did today…”. Up early, I fixed a big protein packed breakfast and readied my bicycle for a long ride.

The “Route of the Olympian” passes the campground a mere two miles away. It is a continuation of the rail lines that comprised the Coeur d’Alene and the Route of the Hiawatha, and can be followed for many miles as a part of a cross-Continent journey.

In it’s heyday the Olympian was a super-luxurious rail experience that took 4 days to cross country from coast to coast.

It compared favorably to all other exclusive train experiences, event the legendary Orient Express that linked Paris to Istanbul (BTW, in 1972 I was a second class passenger on that line from Belgrade to Paris).

Today the Olympian is just a memory, as is it’s rail bed. Where the Coeur d’Alene was 73 miles of well maintained asphalt and the Hiawatha was 15 miles of downhill coasting over adequately graded limestone gravel, the Olympian is a bicycle path in name only. To be sure there was beautiful scenery, but it was usually outside of my field of vision as I fought to keep my bike vertical on the trail that was surfaced with large aggregate made up of river rock.

Moreover, it was rutted and potholed. My eyes were glued to the area 15 feet ahead of my front wheel. I endured at a maximum speed of 6-8 mph for 12 miles, finally making it into the town of St. Regis. It was brutal, but I managed a few stops for pictures and even scored a souvenir.

A cold coffee latte in St. Regis brought welcome relief and fueled me for the 18 miles winding up into the mountains on the Old Mullan Road.

It was a hard but rewarding ride that left me and the bike so dust covered that I could no longer read the decals on the bike. Drinking from my water bottles on the ride was like taking in a mouthful of fine grit sandpaper.

Bike cleaned and clothes changed, I was in the car returning back up Old Mullan Road. When I was on the bike I had passed a gravel road that ascended the mountain higher that the road I had been on. Camp hosts Susi and Tom told me that it serpentines for 7 miles and ascends another 2,000 feet in elevation to the top of “The Camels Hump” and a Forest Service Fire Tower.

I drove up the gravel forest road until I reached to closed barrier gate. Continuing on foot I reached and climbed the Fire Tower and was rewarded by a 360 degree panorama that extended for scores of miles. I also met Don, the fire-spotter.

Earlier in this post I mentioned that we are not creatures well adapted to solitude. I mentioned that there is the rare exception, and his name is Don.

Don is about 44 years old. He moved to this area when he was 15, and in 2004 he began manning the fire tower. His predecessor died of a heart attack. (I wondered, but did not ask if he died on the job and how many weeks it took to find out that he was dead… Bad Pete!). Don is on duty 6 days x 24 hours each week except during the winter. While on duty the top of the tower is his home. No electricity, except solar/battery power. He has propane lamps, a propane refrigerator, a small stove/oven, bed, no plumbing, and the damndest view that money can buy.

He also has solitude. Don was friendly enough and welcomed me into his “home”, but he made the point that he liked it that visitors were a rarity. He has been at his solitary post for 15 years and looks forward to another 15 years. Don smokes unfiltered cigarettes. I hope he makes it. Don is a rarity and well suited to his duties. Good for him, and good for our forests.

Tomorrow I head toward Salt Lake City to visit friends Ron and Lena, then on to Denver to reprise my visit with Kris… and then home!

Peace Everyone. Pete

This morning, July 13th, I broke camp and headed west and north to Missoula Montana. However, yesterday is worth a note as I enjoyed a 5 mile round trip hike to a closed Forest Service Fire tower at 10,000 feet near Beartooth Butte.

From the tower I could view the lake where I was camped.

It was above tree line and commanded a near unbroken 360 degree view of the surrounding wilderness.

I would say that I embraced the solitude, but the truth of it was that I had cell service at the top and I took the opportunity to call Christine and my Mom. An afternoon thunderstorm chased me off the mountain, but not before I had the best of a great experience.

Today was an early start that took me back to Cooke City where I shared a table and breakfast with a father and son (Brian and Chris Wilson) from Australia who are touring on rented BMW motorcycles.

Brian is a retired adventurer and world traveler, and Chris lives in New York full time where he is employed in the tech industry. We did not lack for conversation as our discourse wandered from travel and father/son relationships, to the virtues of the 1970’s Norton motorcycles. The bills paid, we parted company, I on to a transit through Yellowstone National Park.

This was at least my 5th time in Yellowstone, and the briefest. Christine and I camped here 42 years ago on our 30 day camping trip “honeymoon”. It was her first camping experience and she endured 30 straight days tenting across 9 states. She persevered through downpours, freezing temps, and even nursing me through the flu. Love is grand (and blind).

My first visit to Yellowstone was in the early 60’s with my parents and 3 brothers. We were crammed into a 14 foot camping trailer with us boys sleeping like sardines in the “overhang”. My parents slept on the dinette that made into a bed. They once tried putting one of us boys above them in a canvas pipe berth… All was fine until he wet the bed and that was the end of the pipe berth.

Back then Bison were a rarity and slowly clawing back from the precipice of extinction. Today they seem to be everywhere in the park.

It is one thing to watch them from the comfort and safety of an SUV, but in 2010 I bicycled through Yellowstone on my way to Florida and every time I passed one of those beasts near the road i experienced more than a twinge of anxiety.

This was a 350+ mile day that has brought me to Missoula Montana. It is a longer drive than I like, but I wanted to get close to Coeur d’Alene for my arrival in Wallace on Tuesday and perhaps find a nice Forest Service campground for tomorrow and Monday.

One piece of drama on the drive today was a foray through a microburst thunderstorm. Within 10 minutes the temp dropped from 85 to 55. A torrential downpour with hail all but eliminated visibility. Fortunately the hail was “slushy” or windshields (and insurance companies) might have been the victims. The winds seemed to zephyr from all direction, but within another 15 minutes the sun was out and the temps were climbing back toward 80.

I will miss the Beartooth.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS: I spent a little time walking the historic district of Fort Yellowstone before exiting the North portal of the Park. Here is some information that you may find of interest:

Yellowstone was established as a National Park by act of Congress in 1872. It claims to be the first and thus oldest to have that designation, which is both accurate and not quite so. Hot Springs Arkansas was established as a special preserve by act of Congress in 1832, long before the creation of the National Park System. It had become a favorite haunt of many in Congress and was catching on nationally. Members of Congress wanted to preserve it, perhaps out of selfish considerations. This was the first time that the government had set aside an area for purely recreational purposes.

While Yellowstone was founded in 1872, it was not funded and thus was looted and overrun by civilian squatters and entrepreneurs until the Army stepped in and established Fort Yellowstone in 1886.

A military presence was then maintained until 1918. The original Fort was comprised of temporary structures, but in 1890 Congress appropriated $50,000 for the construction of a permanent post.

Many of the buildings remain as private residences and others as tourist attractions. One even featured a “guard Elk”

Yellowstone is the only place in the United States where Bison have existed from pre-history without interruption. Furthermore these creatures, some weighing over 2,000 pounds are considered the largest native land mammals in North America. Yellowstone’s is the largest herd on public land in North America and is special in that the herd has not been hybridized through interbreeding with cattle.

In my opinion summer is not the time to visit the Park as one must compete with the throngs of tourists and tour buses. If you can, reserve a visit for the Fall, or perhaps late Spring.

This last week Christine and I celebrated 42 years of marriage. I still recall the gathering for my parents’ 40th anniversary in 1989, marveling “Damn that’s a long time”! Now I can only wonder at the speed with which my years with Christine have passed. We have known each other 45 years, sharing both the exciting and the difficult.

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When we returned from England in late May there seemed a vacuum. We lacked for future travel plans, a rarity in our life. That quickly changed. First on the calendar is a wedding in South Carolina. This promises a pleasant September week with friends in Charleston. More planning fell into place…
We discussed taking an extended camping trip to Canada’s Labrador and Newfoundland later in the year but having just returned from 6 weeks abroad Christine wasn’t fully engaged in the idea. Her father, who lives a few miles from us in an assisted living community, turns 101 in August. He continues to do very well and is energized by Christine’s near daily visits, but at his age a bad cold could spell a precipitous decline.

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We think that north eastern Canada will be on the agenda for next year. In the meantime Christine encouraged me to undertake a 30 day solo camping trip. I leave around July 1st for Colorado, to be followed by Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and then perhaps Utah before winding back home through Colorado. In our earlier post retirement travels I took mental notes of some places that I would like to revisit. High on that list is the 70 mile long Beartooth Highway (US 212) that links Red Lodge Montana to the north east entrance of Yellowstone National park.

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The highway is appropriately named since bear sightings are commonplace, and the way is indeed “high”. Most of the roadway is located above 8,000 feet, its summit climbing over Beartooth pass at 10,947 feet. The Beartooth was constructed in 1936 and retains much of its Depression Era ruggedness. The late CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt once declared it to be the most beautiful drive in America. Rustic National Forest campsites abound, many with warnings posted for tent campers to beware of bear activity.

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I hope to continue on from Montana to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho in the north panhandle of that state. What awaits are two adjoining “rails to trail” routes; the 72 paved miles of the “Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes” and a 15 mile gravel portion of the “Route of the Hiawatha”. These trails wind through the Bitterroot Mountains and are a part of the former route of The Milwaukee Railroad “Hiawatha” Line. I hope to bicycle through 8 train tunnels, including the 8,771 foot long (1.6 mile) Taft Tunnel, and cross 7 high train trestles.

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But that’s not all…
Twice in the last 2 weeks I have been asked if I have a “bucket list”. I have typically resisted the idea of a “list”, favoring instead my notion of always having a “Next Thing” in the works. I was pressed by the questioners on each occasion and confessed that I have all but abandoned a long held dream of sailing around Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America.

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Attention then turned to Christine. She would love to visit South America but holds no fascination for sailing a small boat in those treacherous southern waters. A few days later we received an ad from Viking Ocean Cruises. As travelers who had crossed the Atlantic with Viking in 2018, we were offered a special rate, airfare included, on a 22 day November sailing from Buenos Aires Argentina, around Cape Horn to Santiago Chile.

It seemed that a “Next Thing” had chosen us! It’s not exactly the experience either of us imagined, but it is a compromise that we will share and remember.

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The Viking ships are considered small cruise ships, 900 passengers instead of 5,000. They approach travel by highlighting that less is more and proudly feature:
· No Photographers
· No art auctions
· No charge for beer and wine at meals
· Complimentary in-suite mini-bar, stocked daily
· No charge for the upscale dining
· Free unlimited Wi-Fi
· Free laundry
· Free Spa admission
· All cabins are exterior with balcony
· No formal nights
· No smoking
· No casino
· No children under 18
· Included room service, 24/7
We pulled the trigger and booked a Penthouse Veranda.

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The 2019 travel calendar has now been filled. I look forward to sharing.
Peace Everyone! Pete

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We landed back in Kansas City the evening of May 21st. Our daughter Alexis and her children were at the airport to greet us and drag our weary bones home. The flight home began with our arrival at Manchester England’s airport at 4:00 a.m. with a 6 a.m. international departure for Brussels Belgium, a layover, an 8 hour cross-Atlantic flight to Washington Dulles, another layover, and finally a flight of nearly 3 hours to Kansas City. The marvel of it all is that we arrived home by 8:30 p.m. on the same day that we departed. However, the effect of crossing 7 time zones meant that our bodies had been without any meaningful sleep for over 24 hours.

The cross-Atlantic segment was made a bit more pleasant as we secured a class upgrade. Bigger seats, two meals and a snack (with real plates and cutlery!), an “open bar”, and expanded entertainment options. I binged two movies, “Glass”, and “Arctic”, both of which I recommend. I started to watch “Aquaman” but soon found the premise and the acting to be all wet.

It didn’t take long for me to fall into the old routine. Up early the next day and mowed the lawn. Sifted through the pile of mail, sorting the “junk” from the important… I find it remarkable that even after 6 weeks the stack of “real” mail is pretty small, yet a few days of junk mail probably required the killing of a tree.
Our first priority was to glory in time with the grandchildren. Over the next few day we unpacked, did laundry, stocked the refrigerator, visited the barber, did some landscaping, enjoyed time with friends, took in a movie, and took our grandson Kane to a Kansas City Royals baseball game which was his birthday present that had been delayed by our travels.

On the road my possessions are contained within a backpack. It takes a house to contain them when we are not traveling. On the road the scope of our experience expands to cross states, countries, and continents.

Here in Kansas City most of what matters occurs within a few miles of our home. We miss our family and friends when we travel yet find and embrace new friendships as we wander. Paradoxically, I tend to be silent and a bit introverted here at home yet compelled to reach out with my “Thoughts” on a near daily basis during our journeys.

We were gone six weeks. Our 2018 Europe trip took 13 weeks, and our 2017 trip to Alaska and the Yukon was 12 weeks long. We have come to the conclusion that 6 weeks is long enough for any single journey. On the road I don’t eat or exercise as well as I should. The scale tells the disappointing tale upon my return. The grandchildren miss us, and we miss them. Nevertheless, before we landed my thoughts had already turned to considerations of our “Next Thing”.

Late last year I found a company in the Netherlands that provides on-line tools for converting a blog into a book. I spent about a week rearranging and modifying content from the posts I had written during our 13 week journey. The result was a 202 page full color coffee-table book that reads like a personal diary. We bought 6 copies, one for each of our children’s homes, one for my Mother, one for Christine’s Dad, and one for our home. I was very pleased with the results and will likely do the same thing with content from this most recent journey. The cost is not insignificant, but in the case of our children and grandchildren I consider the books to be an investment. I hold a special hope that our pursuits in retirement may become a model for our children as they journey through life, and a spark to ignite the imaginations of our grandchildren.


Since childhood I have embraced the notion of a “Next Thing”. Initially this was a product of daydreaming and an active imagination, but as I matured, the pursuit of the “Next Thing” became conscious and directed. “Next Things” excite the imagination and engage the spirit.

My life has been a series of these “Next Things”, some relatively minor and lost to a memory that fades with the passage of time. Others have been monumental. It has been my good fortune that fate gifted me a partner who embraces these things. Christine’s encouragement and participation have been a priceless part of the planning and execution of our “Next Things”.

We retired in the Spring of 2015. Retirement came easier for Christine as she naturally fell into the cadence of being the matriarch and grandmother extraordinaire to our family in Kansas City. For me, finding a new purpose was a bit more challenging. “Next Things” became central to my new purpose. “On the road” I find joy in sharing the sights, experiences, and my thoughts with others.

Don’t put off until tomorrow the things you may find you are then unable to do, and whatever you do in life may you always Have Fun, Do Good, and for the sake of those who love you, Be Safe!

-Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. We gratefully acknowledge the following: The many people who provided for our needs in the restaurants, hotels, and Bed & Breakfasts that hosted us. The brief encounters that became friendships were like the blossom of a flower, enjoyed in the beauty of the moment but soon to be a memory when the paths of life took us in different directions.

Our thanks to the staff of Andersen Boats and the many volunteers of the Canal and River Trust who as a labor of love maintain the remarkable canal system of the United Kingdom.

Our special thanks to Kris Ashton, Tom Shillington, Nanci Burns, and Huw and Nina Thomas who were each a treasured part of this adventure.

Thank you to those who follow us. You continue to give me a venue for expression that I would not otherwise have.

Lastly, we thank the ancient hands that created the towns, churches, castles, and monuments that are found throughout the United Kingdom and the Channel Islands. What they raised for either war or the glory of God has become a treasured heritage.

First of all, Happy Mother’s Day to all Mothers, those who made them Mothers, and those who were born to a Mother… It’s a Mother of a Day!

Our re-booked ferry for Jersey Island wasn’t scheduled to depart Guernsey until 5:20 p.m.. We made the best of the situation and did a bit more Guernsey touring. We had thus far missed the German Occupation Museum so off we went by bus.

We were not disappointed. This private museum houses a remarkable collection of artifacts of the Nazi occupation. It provides a thoughtful and sobering experience.

Guernsey was de-militarized in hopes of avoiding civilian casualties. Apparently Germany had not gotten the word. It launched an air strike on the harbor 2 days prior to landing troops that killed 34 Guernsey civilians.

Prior to the invasion over half of the population, including all children and men of service age had evacuated to England. Sadly, those who were not native born of Guernsey were denied evacuation. Those same folks, including many Jews, were arrested by the Germans and transferred to prison camps on the Continent. Many never lived out the war.

Germany considered Guernsey British territory and thus the conquest was prime propaganda material. Hitler personally ordered the creation of a fortress state. Thousands of slave laborers were imported to build the fortifications. Many of those sad souls also did not live to see the end of the war.

As an indication of the importance Hitler placed on this “prize”, in France there were approximately 150 French citizens for every occupying German soldier. In Guernsey the ratio was 3 citizens for every soldier!

The waters surrounding the island were mined. Anti-aircraft batteries were strategically placed, massive fortification were constructed, and huge artillery batteries were installed.

While those defenses did not cause an immediate impact on the lives of the civilians, the placement of over 65,000 land mines altered much for the island folk both during the war and for years after.

Among the thousands of items on display a number caught my eye:

There was a display of the variety of land mines deployed by the Germans including anti-personnel and anti-tank.

About half of the anti-tank mines were equipped with special hidden detonators that would explode if an attempt was made to move the mine.

A cabinet exhibiting medical and dental equipment included packages of official German Army issued condoms.

There was one of the famous Enigma Coding Machines. These devices created an unbreakable cypher that was changed daily and had literally trillions of permutations.

The Nazi’s relied upon the strength of this communication tool without knowing that early in the war one of these machines had been captured along with the U-505 submarine in a top secret United States Navy operation. That Enigma device was delivered to Britain’s Bletchley Park code breakers who were able to deconstruct the machine and thereafter decode thousands of German dispatches every day. Below is a picture of the U-505 as it is displayed in Chicago.

The U-505 has been a featured exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry since my childhood. One of my neighbors in the late 1950’s was Zenon Lukosius. He was credited with single handedly thwarting the submarine crew’s efforts to scuttle the vessel. (seen below, back row, fourth from the left)

Another easily overlooked item was a “shower head” of the type used to dispense poison gas in Nazi Death Camps.

There was an anti-tank battery, and also a recreation of a Guernsey street scene from the time of occupation.

We could have spent an entire day in the museum and still not taken it all in. There is a point where one succumbs to emotional overload, and at 3 hours I had reached it.

We boarded the Condor Clipper at 4:30 p.m. for our 5:20 departure and 3 hour crossing. Thankfully, the seas are calm. Therefore…

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS: Our ferry arrived on Jersey Island at dusk. No cabs were available so we set off with our bags on a 1 mile night trek to our “home” for the next 3 nights, the very charming Hotel De L’Etang. Our host, Rebecca, was cheerfully awaiting our late arrival and after providing our room keys and instructions she served us nightcaps in the bar. She is a new grandmother of a precious little 5 month old girl. It took no time for Rebecca and Christine to do some serious grandmother bonding.

In my home hangs a picture from the 1950’s. It frames the happy faces of a beautiful young woman with her two little boys. One, a toddler, sits on her lap. He is laughing. The older boy’s eyes meet the reflection of mine in the picture’s glass. We’ve known each other a lifetime. He looks forward to the day that he will be me.

In one of life’s little ironies I know that I can not tell him that the most secure, peaceful, and carefree days of his life are those he is living. Our connection is the young woman who cares for him. She is our Mother. She loves us both and we love her. Happy Mother’s day to you Mom… from both of us.

⁃ Love, Peter

After 3 days in historic Chester, which included another day trip to Liverpool, we have bid farewell to our Canadian travel partners, Tom and Nanci. We shared some adventure on the canals, iconic historical sites, great pub food, and a “few pints”. Partings such as these are tinged with sadness, but at dinner last night we began formulating “what-if” travel possibilities for the future. Will it be a long distance bicycle ride, a sail down the St. Lawrence to the Madeleine Islands, or camping in the Yukon?… only time will tell.

Waiting for us in Cardiff Wales are our Welsh friends Huw and Nina Thomas. We are looking forward to a 3 day auto-tour of southern England at Huw’s able direction.

Our train departed at 8:19 and is scheduled to arrive in Cardiff at 11:15. Departure was precisely on-time for this comfortable 2 car train. We have found that timeliness is the rule rather than the exception when it comes to overseas train travel. I am taking this 3 hour transit as my opportunity to write this post.

A question persists for me. Would I plan another narrowboat trip? Certainly the 3 weeks that we experienced on the canals of England and Wales were filled each day with new sights and experiences. We estimate that we covered over 250 miles, navigated over 60 locks, at least 15 drawbridges, 10 long underground tunnel passages, and accomplished 4 high aqueduct crossings. While this may sound like a lot, it really just scratches the surface of the 2,000 miles available for the intrepid canal pilot.

Much of week one was spent tackling the learning curve with the assistance of two “competent women”, Christine and Kris. Week two was solo with Christine and spent further honing our skills. Week three brought Tom and Nanci aboard, both eager to lend a hand and embrace a totally new experience. By week three I had grown comfortable enough to consider myself unconsciously competent… reacting to the vessel and circumstances more with instinct than focus. As we approached Middlewich on the final day there was a lock that is sized to fit two narrowboats at the same time but with only inches to spare. The pilot of an especially attractive 70 footer and I approached the opened lock gates in tandem and each executed a perfect entry with nary a jostle of the other’s craft. We began to speak, each at our respective helms. He was surprised to hear my North American accent as it seemed inconsistent with the accomplished execution of our joint maneuver. With satisfaction I realized that the canals had presented me with a surprise “final exam” and I had passed.

Given the right opportunity I would not hesitate to reprise this experience. However, with each passing year I am increasingly aware that the horizon of opportunity is limited and ever closing in upon us. The gift of good health is a fragile one. We experience the loss of friends and acquaintances with increasing frequency. The possible “next things” waiting to be explored may be many, but the opportunities may be few. Our choices must be made mindfully and with a balance drawn between time spent at home with loved ones and time spent in the pursuit of our next adventure. I have often said, “Don’t put off until tomorrow the things that you may find you are then unable to do.” Those things include giving and receiving love from those who you hold dear.

Peace Everyone. Pete