This is our third day in Buenos Aires, and our last night at the Recoleta Grand Hotel. Tomorrow we board the Viking Sea where we will make our home for the next 3 weeks. However, we are not through with Buenos Aires as the ship will remain in port for two more nights.

We now know that there is much of this city that we will not see. A few days is hardly enough time to explore the varied neighborhoods of this modern capitol city. We will continue our explorations, but it is doubtful that we will spend much time in any museums or galleries. The weather is fine and the streets are alive!

Shortly after leaving the hotel this morning we stopped to look at a map. Our quest was Cementerio de Recoleta and to seek the grave of Evita Peron. Seeing us, a nice lady and her 11 year old daughter stopped to offer their help. Miai speaks a little English, and relied upon her daughter to lend a hand with translation. Their kindness lead to a 15 minute visit and recommendations for places to buy custom made leather goods. Christine and Miai exchanged contact information. Miai is leaving soon for the States where I hope that she is afforded the same level of hospitality that she extended to us.

A short stroll brought us to the Recoleta park grounds and Cemetery. Today is Sunday so booths featuring local artists and their wares lined the sidewalks for hundreds of yards.

We took in an outdoor cafe for a leisurely lunch in the cool shade of an enormous rubber tree. This one’s limbs extended dozens of yards from the center and required the assistance of iron crutches to keep them elevated above the ground. One such support was supplied by a sculpture of Atlas the Titan. I took a moment to briefly relieve him of some of his burden.

Nearby were street performers giving impromptu Tango lessons. We could not let the opportunity pass. Taking turns we each enjoyed moments of imagined celebrity in the arms of a young Latin dancer. Fortunately, still images are much kinder than any video would have been. Ah, to be young again!

I have always been drawn to cemeteries. I have often wandered among the graves and imagined the life stories that must have been, but are now compressed into little more than a “Born on… Died on…”

The famous Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris France is home to such notables as Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, and of course Jim Morrison of the Doors. It is a small city with tree lined boulevards and family tombs that are like small mansions. Cementerio de Recoleta is its equal on a slightly smaller scale.

Here is a place where The “Who’s Who” of Argentine society is now the “Who Was”. The tombs are among the most elaborate that I have every seen. Many are adorned with beautiful entries, stained glass windows, and doors with artistic brass engravings. One even featured electric coach lights above the door. Much as I looked, I saw no door-knockers.

Some of the tombs extended two or even three stories below the ground. Just inside the doors and “reception” were narrow stairs that gave access the the lower levels.

The grounds were the final resting places of Presidents…

Generals…

Liberators…

Giants of business and finance…

…and of course,

Evita Peron.

All of their celebrity is eclipsed by the tombs of two teenage girls. 19 year old Liliana de Szaszak (1944-1970) died tragically in an avalanche in Austria. It is reputed that her dog, Sabu, was so attached to her that he died in Buenos Aires at the moment of her passing.

Ruffian Cambaceres (1883-1903) was found dead in her bedroom of a suspected heart attack. On the night of her internment a watchman overheard sounds within the family mausoleum. Investigation the next day revealed that the coffin had moved. When the lid was opened scratches were found on the inside surface and all over Rufina’s face and neck. She had been buried alive.

Christine and I once visited an ossuary in Rome Italy. At the entry was a skeleton constructed from the bones of one or more of the departed. It was clothed as a monk and held a sign that declared, “What you are I once was. What I am you will become”.

The cemetery at Pere Lachaise and the one we visited today are final resting places, but they are also monuments to our arrogance. They are displays of wealth, status, and notoriety. They are fictions to a belief that we as legends live on forever.

Many of the tombs have become metaphors of the death and decay of those who are within. Fallen plaster, rotting caskets, dust, rust, and tarnish. Death is the great equalizer, and on that happy note…

Peace Everyone. Pete

We had decided that we would hit the streets of Buenos Aires early today. Eyes opened and feet to the floor at 6:30 a.m., unfortunately that was Kansas City time. By local Buenos Aires time we had overslept. It was 9:30. To be honest, we needed the sleep more than the City needed us.

Showered, dressed, and in the hotel lobby we were confronted with our first obstacle of the day, rain. I was prepared with a waterproof windbreaker, but Christine found this to be her first “I forgot it” article. The hotel kindly lent her an umbrella and we were off to find her a raincoat.

15 minutes walk took us to a very upscale shopping district and gallery.

Outside the Pacifico Galaria was a long and broad pedestrian avenue where we frequently encountered men and women who would approach asking, “Cambio?,,, Cambio?… Cambio?…” We later learned that these were black market money changers who preyed on unsuspecting tourists. They offer to exchange currencies at a discount and without requiring and registering identification (as the law dictates), but as often as not they supply counterfeit or retired currency that is worthless. Live and learn, we avoided the trap.

The shopping gallery was beautifully opulent by any US standard. The shops were prepared for Christmas well in advance of Summer. Remember, seasons are reversed here and December 21 to March 20 is Summer. We are currently in the middle of their very verdant Spring with flowers evident everywhere.

Christine secured an attractive “impermeable” that will serve her well here and at home.

We next found a “Hop on – Hop off” tour bus.

For $1.300 AR (about twenty dollars US) per person one is issued a ticket for the bus. You receive an inexpensive set of headphones which plug into a built in audio console located at each seat. A switch gives you access to the running narrative in any one of a dozen languages. We chose English. The ticket is good for 24 hours and you can “hop on – hop off” as often as you like at any one of 33 stops. This gave us an excellent overview of this very modern city.

Buenos Aires is a wonder of lush gardens…

Expansive boulevards… (the Avenue 9 de Julio is said to be the widest boulevard in the world, and at 18 lanes, plus dedicated bus lanes and centered parks its entire length, I believe it. To cross the “boulevard” one negotiates a series of pedestrian friendly walkways. It is one-tenth of a mile, one side to the other!)

We decided that we would return the next day to visit the Plaza de Mayo (Presidential Palace)…

The Teatro Colon (reputed to be among the finest in the world)…

The Recoleta park vendors and cemetery (where Eva Peron is interred)…

and other sites that time and inclination allow.

The highlight of the evening was yet before us. Back in the States I had made online reservations for dinner and a well regarded Tango performance at the Teatro Astor Piazzolla. $124 US had purchased tickets for both of us (not each!) that included transport from and back to our hotel.

It was an exceptional experience! The chauffeur and transport arrived on time and delivered us and about 6 other hotel guests to the Theater.

Diners could select from one item in each category of 3 starters, 6 mains, and three deserts. A “bottomless” glass of wine was included. I am not usually a red-meat person, but when in Argentina… The steak and accompaniments were excellent, as was the attentive service.

Our evening started at 7 p.m. and our return to the hotel was made shortly after midnight. Sandwiched in between was a 90 minute performance of energetic, athletic, sensual, and endearing dance vignettes that wowed us and the other 100+ patrons.

Each of the next three pictures have an embedded link. Tap on the picture to be taken to one of three short videos of our experience.

Thus far our decision to spend a few extra days in Buenos Aires prior to boarding the ship has served us well. Our second day aboard the boat is this coming Tuesday and includes a tour of the city prior to leaving for Montevideo Uruguay. I suspect that we will pass on the tour and just find a cozy cafe for an afternoon in one of Buenos Aires’ picturesque parks.

Peace Everyone. Pete

It should come as no surprise that I like to travel… a lot. I also hate getting ready to travel… a lot. For at least a week before departure I consciously and subconsciously stress about what to pack, what arrangements I need to make, and the myriad of minutia that is fostered by my compulsive nature. A few nights ago I awoke in a cold sweat thinking, “Visas, what about VISAS!!!” 3 a.m. I was up and at the computer verifying what I no-doubt verified months ago, all we need is our passports for the 4 countries we will be visiting. Next night, “DAMN, forgot to order currency!” Email to our bank and double damn, it’s Veterans Day and the bank is closed. The reality is, no big deal. International destination airports have almost as many currency exchanges as Starbucks coffee bars. Like Starbucks, you pay a premium for the airport location.

It was easier for us to pack for our 6 week UK trip earlier this year (and for that matter last year’s 13 week/16 country trip) than for this one. We didn’t have to worry about a wide ranging climate and in both cases a backpack worked well for each of us. Not so for this coming 4 weeks. Buenos Aires had temps in the low 90’s this week and Santiago Chile at the end of our trip is likewise on the warm side. However, the Falkland Islands and the southern reaches of the continent can experience temperatures into the 30’s with snow flurries. What’s more, dinner on the ship, while not a tuxedo affair, does warrant a nicer wardrobe than is my usual style. Christine and I had an array of clothes spread all over our guest room as we attempted to plan accordingly. We succeeded in packing into a carryon for each of us and one checked bag. For us, that’s a lot.

The next part of travel that I hate almost enough to dissuade me from the journey is the whole airport/departure/flight/arrival/airport sequence. This time we flew American Airlines. The originating flight was less than 2 hours from Kansas City to Dallas.

The main event was a grueling 10+ hours in the narrowest cabin seats that I have ever experienced. Earlier I had sprung for an “upgrade” (more legroom with the bulkhead in front of us), but we had hoped to snag a business class/1st class upgrade at the gate… no such luck, the flight was sold out and we were packed like sardines.

Sharing our 4 across center section was every flight attendant’s nightmare. He was a passenger so rude, offensive, and LOUD (even before we left the gate), that as we were taxiing for takeoff the flight purser wandered back and threaten to have the pilot return to the gate where other authorities could address his “concerns”. The passenger was sober and clearly had “issues”, but a lack of intellect was not among them. He wisely shut up and buried himself in his book the rest of the flight, “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Since you are reading this you may infer that we survived the flight. We arrived on time at Ministro Pistarini International Airport, an ultra-modern facility located on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. I had previously arranged for transport to our hotel which is located in the central city. The 45 minute drive featured a 10 lane toll highway. At one point there were 40 tollbooths across the lanes to (unsuccessfully) minimize congestion. We experienced professional grade rush hour traffic at 10 a.m..

The driver got us to the hotel in one piece and the Recoleta Grand Hotel accommodated us with an early check-in and a top notch room at only $130.00 US a night.

It is a bit past noon. I had some success in grabbing enough sleep on our overnight flight but not so Christine. She is taking a catchup nap after which we will head out to reconnoiter the immediate area of our hotel. More Later.

It is much later. We had a wonderful afternoon aimlessly wandering the central city. Lunch was at a sidewalk French restaurant where Christine enjoyed a tortilla con jamon et queso (ham and cheese). I had a pizza. Go figure.

My camera was evident and on three separate occasions I was warned by locals to secure it against theft. While walked we observed a young teen attempt to snatch a purse, and a police incident that seemed to center around a petty theft.

We have often been asked by friends about the risk of crime in the places we have traveled. Vigilance is the first order of protection and not taking unnecessary risks is the second. Also, to put matters into a sad perspective: Kansas City has a population that is just under 500,000. Buenos Aires has nearly 3 million. In 2017 (the last year I could secure statistics on) Buenos Aires had 144 homicides. That same year Kansas City Missouri (not metro area) had 151.

Our walk took in some of the idyllic life of the city.

We encountered a monstrous 250 year old “rubber” tree, a statue of San Martin, Argentina’s 1815 version of George Washington, and some beautiful parklands. Our plan for tomorrow is to take a “hop on hop off” bus that covers most of the best known features and sites of the city.

This evening we adjourned to a very well regarded Argentinian steak restaurant. It was recommended by our hotel and Trip Advisor placed it as number 3 out of nearly 6,000 dining venues in the city.

We were not disappointed. Christine declared her filet to be the finest cut of meat that she has ever been served. We arrived just after opening time, and within 30 minutes the place was packed. In turn, the restaurant was “packing” its customers with the best of succulent animal protean. Vegetarians need not apply.

The servings were beyond generous and the price was remarkably easy on the wallet. Our meal consisting of a bottle of a fine red wine, two steak dinners, sides, salads, and coffee came in at a little over $50, tip included! Christine’s steak alone would have cost that back home.

The currency here is the Argentine Peso. They use a dollar sign as the symbol for the peso, but the exchange rate is about 60 pesos to one US dollar. It takes a bit of adjusting to see the ice cream vendor in the park hawking ice cream bars for “$30” (fifty cents US), or “$700” for our bottle of wine (about twelve dollars US).

It is 11:15 p.m. (8:15 p.m. in Kansas City) as I wrap this up. Sleep in a king size bed will be especially welcome, especially after the challenges of last night.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. I’m experimenting with using smaller format images for uploading with these posts. It saves on international data charges, loads much faster, and (I hope) does not noticeably impact on the quality of the image viewed on devices. Fingers are crossed. Pete.

We have never considered ourselves to be “cruise ship travelers”, (whatever that means). However in the Spring of 2018 we crossed the Atlantic aboard a Norwegian registered Viking Company cruise ship. We found the experience to be wonderfully unique. It combined a high degree of pampered elegance with well selected ports of call, and the opportunity to enjoy new friendships with folks who share many of our interests. Journeying the roads less traveled with a small camper in tow may, however, be our pursuit alone among the cruising cadre.

The 2018 voyage spanned 15 days, made 5 ports of call, and covered approximately 6,500 miles. I confess that I was ready to disembark when we landed in Spain. I itched to pursue the less polished aspects of our itinerary that ultimately spanned 13 weeks and took in 16 countries. Why then do we find ourselves preparing to again board another lengthy voyage?

I have long held a fantasy dream of sailing around Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America. Over the years I have read chronicles of such voyages, among them Joshua Slocum’s “Sailing Alone Around the World”, and David Hays’ less well known but excellent “My Old Man and the Sea”. Hays and his father each privately journaled their thoughts as they hazarded the treacherous south seas passage in a small sailboat. Their thoughts were later knit into a single voice that spoke as much of their relationship under stress as it did of the perils of raging winds and towering seas. My “dream vision” played out on the deck of a 45 foot sailboat, not a 750 foot ship.

On the other hand, Christine has long wanted to expand our travel itinerary to include South America and the Southern Hemisphere. Her ideas were decidedly land-based and not shipboard.

On no less than three occasions within the span of a week we had fielded friends’ questions, “What’s next?”. Our answers included mention of those seemingly remote and divergent ambitions… my sailing “around the Horn”, and Christine traveling South American. We never meant our words to be heard by providence, let alone by Viking Cruises. But hear us they must have because the following week we received a special offer in the mail from Viking. A three week cruise embarking in Buenos Aires, Argentina, sailing around Cape Horn, and making final landfall in Valparaiso, Chile. As prior customers we were offered not only a special rate for a Penthouse Veranda stateroom, but the round-trip airfare from Kansas City was included at no additional cost.

As a Mediator I have counseled thousands of divorcing/divorced couples to embrace what they can jointly “live with”, even if it is not what they each separately want. It was time for us to practice what I have preached. Within an hour of receiving the mailing I was on the telephone with Viking and offering up my credit card number. We flexed the flight to allow for a few extra days on each end of the journey in both Buenos Aires and Santiago, Chile, extending the trip to 30 days. I could live with the big boat version of Cape Horn, and Christine could live with the shipboard focus on South America, provided there were reasonably effective seasick remedies available.

I don’t think that either of us would be doing this if the offer had come from one of the big vessel companies. Viking’s approach to the ocean cruise experience draws upon its roots as a purveyor of Europe river cruises. A few years ago, they branched into Ocean sailing, constructing a new fleet of vessels that are only 20% the size of the “big guys”. Furthermore, they have approached cruising by highlighting a “less is more” approach. They proudly feature:

  • No Photographers
  • No art auctions
  • No charge for beer and wine at meals
  • Our stateroom also features complimentary wine, beer, spirits, and snacks that are  replenished daily
  • No charge for the upscale dining options
  • 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
  • Shore excursions are included in all ports of call

We were sold on this as the best “unique” option for reaching Europe in 2018, and that experience gives us no hesitation in reprising the voyage in 2019. This time the 21 day passage includes 9 ports of call, among them landings in various Argentina ports, Uruguay, the Falkland Islands, Ushuaia (the southernmost city in the world), and various ports in Chile. The passage will see us ‘rounding the Horn’, and journeying through the fjords of southern Chile. In all the ship will traverse approximately 3,500 miles of the most storied (and potentially violent) waters in the world.

There are 10 sea days that we intend to spend in the Spa (Christine), Gym (me), poolside (both of us) and daily docent lead workshops that focus on cooking, culture, art, and geology/ecology. Evenings include live entertainment. Best of all, evening attire is upscale casual, another reason that we like Viking!


If you would like more information about our cruise here are links to a video and cruise information:

Video (18 day Itinerary)

Cruise Information

In a little more than 2 weeks we depart for Buenos Aires. I look forward to sharing my “Thoughts” and images with you as we travel and sail this new experience.

Peace Everyone! Pete

The KCMetro Casita+ Owners Group began in 2015. Shortly after Christine and I purchased our Casita trailer we learned that there were a number of other owners of this relatively “rare” breed of camper in the Kansas City metropolitan area. In fact, there were at least 5 within a mile of our home.

Casitas, and other fiberglass “eggs” are unique in that they are usually sold only by the factories that make them (no dealerships), they are compact, efficient, very solid, and they retain a remarkable percentage of their original price on the pre-owned market.

After a few months of camping Christine and I connected with other local owners and used Facebook as a vehicle to establish the KC Metro Casita+ Owners Group. Since 2015 we have grown to over 65 members and we represent over 30 trailers. While most of the trailers are Casitas, our group also includes Scamp, Oliver, and Escape brands, and a “non-egg” Sprinter RV. All makes of campers are welcome, even non-owners who are just contemplating the purchase. The only requirements for membership are a love of camping and a willingness to participate in our activities.

Each year the membership joins for 4 group activities. In the Winter and Summer we gather for a “Pot-Luck” Supper that is hosted at a member’s home. In the Spring and Fall we meet at a pre-selected State or Federal Park for a weekend group campout. This year we met the first weekend of October at Missouri’s Watkins Mill State Park, located approximately 30 miles north of downtown Kansas City. What follows is a summary of this years Fall Campout:

A few members made camp on Thursday, but most arrived on Friday. The weekend promised perfect Fall temperatures, but we were operating under a threat of showers on Saturday. We numbered 14 trailers and 25 members present.

On Friday evening we descended upon the Wabash BBQ restaurant in nearby Excelsior Springs for dinner and a group campfire followed. The main activities began early Saturday.

Like the Boy Scouts, we embrace the motto, “Be Prepared”! We erected shelters while Ted began turning out his crowd pleasing pancakes. As with dinner to follow, this is a “Pot Luck” affair with members displaying their camp cooking culinary expertise.

It was our good fortune that the rains held off until breakfast and cleanup had concluded. When the rains came it was with a vengeance! Many of the campsites became swamps, but we were not to be deterred from our enjoyment of the day. At noon the Watkins Mill State Historic Site opened for visitors, hosted by an array of period-dressed reenactors.

Born in 1806, Waltus L. Watkins left his family’s farm in Kentucky at the age of 18. By his 22nd birthday this poly-math had become an expert weaver and machinist.

He moved to Liberty, Missouri in 1830, and in 1839 purchased 580 acres of land in northern Clay County where he and his wife established a farm. By 1880 his holdings had grown to 3,660 acres located in Clay and Ray Counties. In addition to farming he engaged in a variety of industrial operations that included a sawmill, grain mill, and brickmaking. Notwithstanding the energy that he dedicated to his commercial endeavors, Waltus found time to father 11 children with his wife, Mary Ann. Including workmen, boarders, and other family members the household usually numbered 15-20 people. The farm raised livestock, made butter, cheese, honey, and cured meats. During planting and harvest an additional 25+ hands were hired and fed.

In 1860 Watkins constructed his woolen factory which has been restored and can be toured for a nominal charge. Our afternoon did not include the Mill, rather focusing upon the special activities featured at the mansion, and nearby school and church. (The Mill photo and portrait are courtesy of Missouri Parks)

The Woolen Mill employed over 40 skilled workers and was powered by a huge 60 horsepower riverboat steam engine. The Mill closed in 1890, but over the 30 years that it operated it had produced many types of cloth, blankets, yarns, and clothing. Its goods could be found in every city and town within 60 miles.

Our tour of the home included visits to the various rooms which featured authentic period pieces, many of which were original to the Watkins family.

The home, started in 1850, took 4 years to complete. The rock-solid grand staircase had taken artisan carpenters 2 years to build and has not yet required repair.

Crafts on display included spinning, weaving, cider making, operations in the summer kitchen and a blacksmith at his forge. The well-arranged visitors center provided a wealth of information on the history of the Watkins Farm and Mill.

A short distance from the Watkins home are the restored Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church (1871), and Franklin Academy School (1856).

The Church was active until 1917 and although there is no active congregation it is available for rental as a wedding venue. Its interior is original and authentically restored.

The octagonal brick school predates the public schools of the area. It was a “subscription” school where local families paid tuition which was based upon a family’s financial means. The desks are original… the teacher is not.

By late afternoon the grounds had begun to dry and campers had retired to their individual campsites to begin food preparation for the evening gathering. Our contribution would be a Dutch Oven Lasagna. Others prepared a dizzying display of salads, mains, sides, and deserts. There would be few leftovers.

Rather than set up on the still damp ground, it was decided to make use of the wide paved driveway to gather for dinner. The sky had cleared for a spectacular evening meal, campfire, and even some antics with a Hula-Hoop.

By the end of the evening we had already planned and scheduled our 2020 Winter “Pot Luck” and Spring Campout.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. Coincidentally, Christine celebrated her birthday on Saturday welcomed by these good friends and Medicare. Life is good.

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.

I left at dawn on the 22nd from the US Forest Service “Cabin City” campground where 47 degrees was my morning’s greeting. While in the mountains this was one of the warmest overnight temperatures I have experienced on this trip. One morning was just below freezing. Kansas City has not been so fortunate.

It was a long driving day that took me half way to Salt Lake City where I planned to visit our friends Lena and Ron at their home. More on that visit later…

I took advantage of a truck stop to do laundry, catch a shower, and then I put more miles behind me before overnighting with the “Big Rigs” at an Interstate rest stop.

The morning of the 23rd was another early riser in order to time my arrival in Salt Lake City before noon.

As I drove south into Utah on I-15, I enjoyed an extraordinary panorama that must have cried “Promised Land” to the Mormon pioneers of the mid-19th Century. I had to mentally blot out the Interstate and the occasional sounds of 18 wheelers, large RV’s, and passenger cars pounding the pavement of this arterial highway.

The roadway was completed around 1990. The section that I traveled just south of the Utah/Idaho boarder was perched on a rise with a shallow valley to the west on my right. In the distance the crystal clear air revealed mountains to the east and a well laid out western town of a few hundred citizens down in the valley to the west. Perched upon the rise between the town and the highway was an equally well laid grid-work cemetery, the morning sun brilliantly illuminating the hundreds of white stone monuments. The grounds were obviously associated with the town. I guessed that the “citizens” in repose outnumbered the living residents of the town. A question was thus presented to me: Do those now living upon the Earth outnumber those who have gone before us in death? A stop for gas and a hurried consultation with Professor Google provided me with some answers.

First of all, I am not the first person to have asked the question. Secondly, our species (Homo sapiens) has been around for about 50,000 years. They did a terrible job of record keeping until the 1800’s. Demographers were left with a puzzle that had clues but no definitive statistics.

Earth is currently home to over 7.5 billion souls. We are replacing our dearly departed at the rate of approximately 20 births per 1,000 people. In and before the Middle Ages this number was likely around 80 per 1,000 people. However, factoring infant mortality the life expectancy of our species during and before the Middle Ages may have been as low as 10-12 years! Today the world-wide life expectancy it is around 67 for males and 71 for females.

Crunching the numbers, the Population Reference Bureau (“PRB”) has estimated that more than 108 billion members of our species have been born to date, and that approximately 7% of that number are alive today. That is approximately 14 dead for every person now living.

Kudos and a “tip of the hat” to Arthur C. Clark (author of “2001 as Space Odyssey”) who in 1968 estimated the ratio at 30-1 when the Earth’s population was just 3.5 billion. His estimate is consistent with the PRB’s.

In order for the number of living humans to exceed the number of dead ones the Earth must somehow support well over 100 billion living humans… pretty unlikely. “Whew!!!”

Back to Salt Lake City: Christine and I first met Ron and Lena in 2017 while camping on Sitka Island and traveling to mainland Alaska.

We immediately hit it off with this like minded traveling couple. They were originally from Canada and each achieved their PhD, Ron in Chemistry and Lena in Social Sciences. They founded their own business that involved environmental issues and engineered solutions. They retired around 2000. In 2018 Christine and I were traveling through Spain on our way to walk the Portuguese Camino. I received a message from them. They had been reading my posts and damned if they weren’t in Madrid on the same day that we were! We joined them for a memorable evening with promises to get together again. Again came yesterday at their home in Salt Lake City.

Ron and Lena are in the process of downsizing and simplifying life. They have sold the remarkable 1898 home that they totally renovated.

They put aside their packing duties to entertain me with lively conversation, wine, lunch and dinner, and an amazing night overlook of the city.

Within 10 minutes of my arrival in their home we were talking about this year’s travels and “next things” for the future. Among those future possibilities are: An RV camping tour of the inner and outer coasts of the Mexican Baja Peninsula… A one-week sailing from Montreal to the Madeleine Islands of the St. Lawrence (Nanci and Tom I hope you are reading this!)… and a voyage to the Arctic up the west coast of Norway on the “Hurtigruten”, a mailboat with spartan passenger accommodations for the intrepid traveler (Hege and Jan-Cato I hope you are reading this!).

There are no definite plans, but “next things” have a habit of finding us, and so it seems with Ron and Lena. Beyond amazing is that Ron and Lena know our Denver friend Kris (my next stop as I am homeward bound), having met her in 2016 while walking a route of the Camino in France! Some things simply defy explanation.

Tomorrow I return to Winter Park for an overnight before arriving in Denver. In the meantime…

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. Speaking of the “Unexplainable”. This morning, without any action on my part, my website re-launched two posts from our 2018 Europe trip, one about Norway and the other about Berlin which included a get together with Stanley, a gentleman with whom I had just exchanged email greetings yesterday. I remain convinced that our senses are inadequate to explain the experiences that befall us.

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

Less than two miles south of Wallace a life and death drama played out in late August of 1910. It was the time of the “Big Burn”, a conflagration that would consume over 3 million acres of forest and extinguish the lives of 78 firefighters and as many as 55 civilians. But for the heroics of Ranger “Big Ed” Pulaski another 39 souls would have been added to those grim statistics.

Born in 1865, Ed Pulaski completed his high school studies at the age of 15 and left his home in Ohio to seek fortune and adventure in the western United States. Prior to his arrival in Idaho he had become a skilled woodsman, rancher, miner, lumberman, surveyor and blacksmith.

He was an imposing figure at 6-foot-3. He hired on with the fledgling US Forest Service in the very early 1900’s and quickly acquired a reputation for intelligence, resourcefulness, and a driven work ethic. By 1910 Pulaski was in charge of forestry operations in the area surrounding Wallace.

The spring and summer of 1910 brought record drought with less than a half-inch of rain in June, and no measurable precipitation in July or August. Fires were sprouting up everywhere and Pulaski’s crews had the hopeless task of extinguishing them. Around the 20th of August near hurricane force winds stoked the many fires into one all-consuming inferno. Ed sensed that his region, and the town of Wallace was lost. He instructed his wife and daughter to leave there home in Wallace and flee to safety. His parting words were that they may never see him again. Ed then went into the mountains to assemble as many of his men as possible and lead them to safety.

Most of his crews were not locals and were unfamiliar with the area that they were working. It was common in the exigencies of the time to hire temporary workers and thus a number of the 78 deceased firefighters were buried as “Unknown”.

Ed knew of an abandoned silver mine that offered some small hope for survival if he could just get his men there. He rode his horse through the burning timbers, struggling to breath, yet yelling to be heard over the roaring flames. Ultimately, he was able to round up 45 of his crewmen and lead them through the wildfire to the mine. He personally maintained wet blankets at the entrance to suppress as much smoke and heat as possible. In the process he was blinded, suffered serious burns, and was rendered unconscious.

He and 39 of his crew survived the ordeal. Sadly, 6 perished. Until his own death in 1932 he personally tended the graves of those deceased, one of whom was an “Unknown”.

The route of Pulaski’s escape with his men is now a US Forest Service hike and is maintained as a shrine to those who lost their lives in the Big Burn.

The 4 mile round trip ascends 800 feet in elevation ending just above the mine entrance where the men sought refuge.

The trail is interpreted with over a dozen signs that tell the tale of the fire and Ed Pulaski’s heroics.

In February of 1931 Big Ed retired having reached mandatory retirement age. A year later(nearly to the day) he died of a sudden heart attack. Pulaski never fully recovered from his injuries. His eyesight and stamina were permanently compromised. He remained humble in spite of his fame among locals and his peers. He rarely spoke of the rescue and only once wrote the details at the insistence of his superiors.

Ironically, the monument that ultimately immortalized him was created by his own hands. In 1911 he fashioned and forged a long-handled tool that combined a single-bit ax with an adze-shaped hoe on the back. He improved upon the design and urged the Forest Service to adopt and distribute the tool as standard equipment to its firefighters. His invention caught on and soon became an indispensable tool for every “smoke-eater”. It’s utility was recognized by municipal fire departments across the United States and today the tool that Ed designed can be found in virtually every fire station and on every fire truck in America. The tool is known today as a “Pulaski”.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. Ed’s wife and daughter survived unharmed. Most of Wallace was leveled to ashes. The area’s forests were totally destroyed and thus virtually every tree that stands in this region today was one that germinated and grew after the fire… with perhaps one exception:

PPS. I leave Wallace in the morning and begin my return to Kansas City.

I had a trove of narrative and pictures from my July 17th ride on the Coeur d’Alene Trail yesterday, but the thing that I lacked was sufficient cell or WiFi signal to stitch them together and upload for posting. Undaunted, I set off west on I-90 to find the signal strength I required. Over 40 miles later (yes, 40!) my signal meter indicated 4 strong bars and I pulled off the nearest exit and into a Wendy’s parking lot to complete my mission. By the time I was back in Wallace it was after noon. I ate a quick lunch and then confronted the question of “what to do next”?

The weather favored a walking tour of the heart of Wallace, so armed with my camera and wearing my hiking boots I set off in search of the unknown.

I strolled the streets, visited a number of shops, and then set foot inside of the Northern Pacific Railroad museum.

$3.50 is the requested donation for admission to this treasure. Cindy efficiently manages the front desk and her smile is infectious.

I received a personal guided tour of this small but immaculately preserved facility from the early 20th Century. My guide was John, an expressive gentleman dressed in period attire who seldom fell out of character.

He delighted in my interest and knowledge of minutia that was relevant to his discourse. He is a retiree, volunteer, and actor in the local Melodrama Playhouse troupe. Among the visit’s highlights were the Ladies and Children waiting room with heat and its own private lavatory.

Men were not allowed as most were dirty mouthed, tobacco spitting, miners.

The station office contained its original furnishings, including working telegraph (operators could send and receive at the rate of 40 words per minute!), the original Oliver typewriter,

a press duplicator that could make up to 5 images of an original bill of lading by pressing onion skin paper under the original and leaving them in place overnight. Low tech,but it worked.

There was even an original candlestick telephone that was still wired into the network. My guide produced his cell phone, apologized for being out of period, and “dialed” the 100 year old phone. He and I then held a brief conversation… he using 21st Century technology and me the early 20th Century tech. I was amazed by the clarity with which the old phone reproduced his voice.

The office also contained the original station safe, which was specially manufactured for the Norther Pacific RR by the Diebold Company of Canton Ohio.

It was structured with laminated layers of steel and concrete, and there was even a high security safe within the safe for keeping silver bullion. If one unsuccessfully attempted to open the internal safe the mechanism timed-out before allowing another attempt.

He was especially proud of a Hartmann Luggage Company (still in business today!) steamer trunk that had been owned generations ago by one of the town’s dignitaries. It weighs over 100 pounds empty, and contains a drawer for jewelry, a mini-bar (that came with decanter and glassware), and a compact electric iron to press clothing.

John explained that the station had been moved about 200 feet from its original location to make room for the construction of I-90. He continued to explain that in the early 1970’s the Idaho Department of Transportation proposed to build the Interstate through the heart of Wallace. Virtually the entire downtown would be condemned and demolished in the interest of transportation progress. The citizens instituted litigation and obtained injunctions that prevented Idaho from going forward. However, after 20 years in the Courts, Idaho prevailed… sort of. Final judgments were rendered in favor of the State, but during those preceding 20 years the citizens, largely through the hard work of one woman, secured a designation for the entire town that placed Wallace on the Register of Historic Places. The State was forced to build the Interstate ABOVE the town, and in the case of the Depot, move it unharmed to a safe location.

My tour of the station ended and I proceeded on foot to another tour that had been recommended to me.

The Sierra Silver Mine had a storied history that began with miners and hand tools exploring a silver vein in the area known as the richest silver producer in the world. The men dug for 7 years yet made less than 100 feet of progress with their shaft. Later owners using pneumatic drills and dynamite would make similar progress with a small crew in only 4 days. Subsequent operators expanded the mine to thousands of feet of tunnels on many levels but never found the “mother lode”. As it turned out another mine, digging from miles away, extended its shafts horizontally 1,800 feet below the Sierra and struck rich oar that produced over 50 pounds of silver for every ton of ore. The best that the Sierra had done was a few ounces of silver for every ton of ore.

The Sierra could not extract silver from the ground, but its modern operators learned how to extract silver from the pockets of tourists, me included.

For $14 (with senior discount) we customers were driven to the mine in a trolly bus. We were met at the mine by a retired miner, in this case “Fast Freddie”.

Freddie had dedicated his entire working life to the mining profession.

Taking us below he explained the workings of a silver mine and then demonstrated with the actual machinery. The experience was both delightful and deafening.

Freddie showed how miners had once worked assisted solely by candlelight, then by carbide lamp, and finally by modern lithium powered LED lit hard hats.

I have previously toured coal, gold, iron, and even salt mines, but this was the best such tour by far. Again, I was not a silent observer. Like the train station guide, Freddie became happily animated by my questions and interest. It doesn’t take much for my child-like wonder to kick in.

Tomorrow is my last day in Wallace. Who knows what tomorrow may bring?… not me.

Peace Everyone. Pete