The Best Laid Plans

Packing the carReally long post about our Utah adventure with lots of pics starting at the Enjoying the Trip for Real section below (click that link if you want to jump straight to that section).

We had a good plan. A great plan, I dare confess. But you know what they say:

 

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry

Originally our plan was this: Columbus, Ohio, then a hotel as we headed west, wherever we were, then Utah then Vegas, then California, then New Mexico, then a hotel somewhere, then Illinois, then South Carolina, then North Carolina then Maryland, then West Virginia, then back to Houghton, then home.

All in four weeks. This was all part of our Anniversary travel plans.

Now? – Hotel in Iowa, hotel in Wyoming, CJ and Lauren’s in Utah then hopefully a hotel somewhere then Missouri then a hotel somewhere then Houghton then home. Or maybe just a flight home.

It started changing a bit ago. We realized that California and Vegas might be better in a later trip, but we would decide that last minute. Then Ohio and New Mexico friends had some life happenings that made it a less-than-ideal time to visit.

No problem. We re-routed, but that made us hit South Carolina at a bad time for the people we were visiting there. So we shuffled, and all was kind of working out for Plan B, but the trip was getting shorter. Still fun, though.

On Thursday we left our home in northern NY with a carefully loaded vehicle, as we headed to our home in western NY, initiating our Grand Adventure.

We had items from the north house coming to the west house for the annual Memorial Day yard sale. This was carefully separated from items we were going to bring to Hudi and Zeb as we stopped at the camp they were working on at the tail-end of the Grand Adventure. And this was all topped off with items for CJ and Lauren, who we were going to visit near the beginning of the trip.

It was clock-work. From Thursday to Wednesday, we held the yard sale at the western NY home and did a bit of cleaning, and I did a ton of socializing. While I am happy living where I live now, it’s good to see my old friends again. On  Wednesday I drove over to Lauren’s family and picked up the wedding gifts that were set to make a cross-country trip to their owners. The plan was to leave at 4am on Saturday so we could get well beyond Chicago in daylight.

Thursday we continued to clean and socialize, then topped off the day by attending the WordPress meetup in Buffalo — we used to be regulars there before our move so it was nice to be back. Then Friday morning we loaded the car with our gear, the gifts for the Utah folk and with Hudi and Zeb’s belongings. It all went so smoothly I was able to visit more friends in the afternoon, knowing everything was in order.

Since I  had a full load, I drove slowly and smoothy, and all seemed idyllic as I pulled into the driveway and parked. We had a lovely last evening and got to bed early. By 4:10am  (yes, a little late), we closed up the house and headed out to the car, ready for the Grand Adventure. Only to find out that a horrible noise was emanating from under the hood. Chris checked it out and all of our power steering fluid was gone, aside from a few drips.

Nothing we could do about it in the dark so we went back to bed for a few hours. Later Chris checked it out (and those of you who know Chris know that if anyone can fix a car, it is he). No go. The trip was officially getting pushed off. I called a car rental, and they told me they had a car for us and would come pick us up. We planned to leave our own vehicle at a local place to get repaired. Plan C.

Then we got a phone call half an hour later. No rental available until Monday, and we were out of the pick-up zone. We’d have to get ourselves there. No problem, Fortunately the car was not dead in the water. We just had to keep pumping fluid into it. Plan D – Drive to the car rental, making sure we were there  by 8am when they opened to maximize our traveling time for the day, then drive back home, re-load the new car, drop our car at the repair shop so it could be fixed while we were gone then head out (hopefully by noon).

As a weekend worker, it didn’t faze me all that much. I just worked in the house instead of the car as originally planned. And this gave me the chance to see some of my friends one last time in church and on my daily walks. When I came back from Saturday’s  walk, it was only to discover that Chris had driven to the town half an hour away to get some necessary car parts for a patch repair. Things were looking up again. Plan E. We hoped to leave on Sunday. But that was not to be, either.

The patch worked in that the leak stopped, but the pump began having issues. The car was speaking languages I had never heard before. Not ideal.

Plan F – back to the rental option. But now we’re thinking  about it more. How can we make this more cost effective? The first move was obvious. Cut out the second half of the trip. No southern route. But how do we get the gear to Zeb and Hudi? That worked itself out. Friends of theres were driving down in a couple of weeks for a training, and they graciously agreed to take the essentials to our boys.  Then the car itself. We needed to rent an SUV since we were taking a bicycle out to Utah, but we could get a cheaper car on the way back. Or we could fly back to Syracuse then  grab our truck and head back to the western house another time to deal with our car. So many options.

Monday morning hit with questions still on our mind. At 7:10 we prepared to drive out to get the rental. Chris started the car, and it made no noise at all. No leaks, no pump issues. Nada.

Being  the tightwads that we are, we entered Plan F. Pack only our personal essentials in case we had to fly home, grab the kids’ presents and hit the road. After all, Chris pointed out, there isn’t a whole lot of turning between NY and Utah. It’s a pretty straight shot. Still, we planned on coming straight back after Utah since the car would most likely not stand up to the twists, turns and hills of the south.

All was great until Cleveland, OH, where the car began some very loud protests. We needed gas anyway so we limped off the road. When we re-booted the car a bit later, all was fine again. I did have the thought that perhaps the air conditioning we had on put too much stress on the engine. So we kept the air off and put down the window.

Enjoying the Trip for Real

I have to say that Plan F is a winner so far. We had planned to drive 8-10 hrs that day, but felt so energetic we easily hit 13 hrs and settled in a lovely, very affordable hotel for the night (yay, hotels.com!). Same deal the next day (except maybe 11 hrs of driving). Chris met wonderful people in the breakfast room (I was sleeping), and he heard then shared with me some fun travel tales, and we felt the camaraderie unique to road warriors. It makes me look forward to more time traveling by car in my future.

Chris particularly liked celebrating signs of Omaha and listening to the Counting Crows.

And I loved the windmills.

Windmill

We both loved the sculptures we saw  along the way.

The trip was blessed for sure. We were about 20  minutes ahead of the rush-hour traffic in Chicago (we saw it in our rear-view mirrors), had perfect hotels along our path, met friendly people, and dodged flooding (storms on the front and side of us, but not where we were). When the sun could have been pretty intense and challenging, clouds appeared and gave us shade. We even got a rainbow leading us to our hotel on one occasion. Perfection. The hotel doesn’t look like much outside, but it was very  pleasant inside.

Uncle John and CJ would have loved the trains by us.

The scenery was getting more and more incredible, and the queues were under control at work so I asked my team-mates if they minded if I took the day off. They quickly gave me their blessing. (I have the best job on the planet.) So we spent Wednesday gawking out the window, marveling in the beauty of creation from the greens and purples of sagebrush to the browns, whites and reds of the sand on the hills, amidst rock formations that rivaled the work of any sculptor I know. A crowning glory? The snow-capped mountains in the distance, which set my soul free.

Even better, each turn of the wheel was bringing us closer to CJ and Lauren. And the car was making it through the trip!

CJ was at work, and we had to drive right by the work-place on our way to their home so we stopped in only to discover that he was about to sign out  for the day. We were able to grab a bite to eat with him before he headed out to Salt Lake City for a Virtual Reality event, where he was demo-ing the game he has been working on with his co-workers. I was going to take a picture of him, but didn’t want to embarrass him in his work zone. Now Chris and Lauren say I should have.  Oh well, next time 🙂

Chris and I headed to the house to unload the gifts and reunite Lauren with her bicycle and the hatchet that Hudi gave her at CJ and Lauren’s wedding.

bicycle delivery

Yesterday we hiked the Stewart Falls trail with Lauren while CJ worked again. Aunt Anne would have loved the waterfalls.

Here’s a slow-motion view of those glorious falls:

I did a little bit of damage to my knee making going downhill a bit tricky on the way back. It was pretty funny. We were panting along, red as anything, trying to not limp too much (while going downhill, mind you. Not up-hill), and occasionally stepped aside while people grinned a “thank you” and RAN by us going up-hill. Talk about humbling.

My favorite quote of the day was from Chris:

We are cross training. Crossing our fingers and hoping we make it to the car.

After that hike, we walked through town a bit then stopped at this vintage ice cream place that I just loved. The ice cream rivaled European gelato. Not to start a fight. Just subjectively sayin’.

We were a  bit dirty when we got home so we cleaned up and rested (well, Chris and I rested. Lauren went off to choir practice). The kids came home at 9:30 or 10 and we yakked until midnight then I turned into a pumpkin.

Today we were supposed to go sky diving then tonight we were going to go swing dancing with friends. Sadly, the sky-dive place shut down due to high winds, and the swing dance plans fell through (might be a blessing with my knee pain), but you know what? It doesn’t matter. It’s so awesome being with CJ and Lauren it just can’t go wrong. So instead of high-energy adventures, we are yakking, blogging, reading, and finding homes for the wedding gifts within this flat. Very nice.

I realized that since CJ has been working for most of this visit so far, I don’t have pics of him. Here’s one to rectify that (who has morning hair? lol):

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Now we have all taken off work for the rest of the visit so we can enjoy time together. And that, my friends, was the beginning of our Grand Adventure. The big question is — will the car make it home? Time will tell … That adventure begins on Sunday.

Sun, Sons and Snowboarding

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After Friday night’s snow who would guess that we would be sipping coffee on the deck Saturday morning? Even better, we were sunbathing by the afternoon. It was over 50 degrees. We slept in, yakked, read, took naps and basically took the day off as a quasi spa day. Pure luxury.

In the evening we headed over to Zeb’s to check out his new home.

Zeb is in a pretty fun living situation now. He’s with CJ’s pre-marriage housemates who also happen to be delightful young men from the area where our boys grew up. Aaron and Thomas and Zeb made some delicious coffee (can you tell we are big on coffee?) and yakked with us until Robert and Anthony came home. Then we chatted a bit more and started playing a game called QuipLash. Anyone with Internet could join our game if they had to code, and the guys decided to call Hudi (back in NY) to join the fun. That made me really happy — knowing my boys wanted to hang out together, even long distance.

After a really enjoyable evening we headed home to get a good night’s sleep. The next day was busy. We went to Lauren and CJ’s church (a church with a view!) then grabbed some pizza and headed off to Solitude for some slope time. It was interesting since we were on borrowed/new-to-us equipment, but we adapted pretty well and had a fantastic time. The road getting there was winding and kinda crazy. There were definitely rocks in the road on the way down that weren’t there on the way up. And it was wild how we had snow, but half an hour away, there wasn’t any.

As the day wound down, we settled in with some nice drinks and tv time.

Monday was our last day there 😦 And we were far from ready to go. But the good news is that we plan to travel back next summer. Sadly, CJ’s car had been backed in to over the weekend so Chris and CJ spent most of Monday finding repair shops to get quotes. Lauren and I worked on websites, read and yakked.

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She made me one final drink (a mint hot chocolate thing this time with white mocha or something. Yum!) then we headed to a burger place they enjoy as we headed back to the airport. Our flight left at 11:59pm, and Chris’ birthday was the next day – beginning one minute into our flight 🙂 The screenshot of the plane is when were were pretty close to flying over their home on our way back to NY.

That trip was fortunately uneventful, and we were home in plenty of time to unpack, plow out the driveway, clean the house and have a birthday celebration thanks to Mom Pollock.

I took the next few days as AFK so we had time to rest up and get our life back in order. And here we are. Back in the flow of our reality, and loving it. With a ton of new fantastic events stashed into our happy memory arsenal for times when we miss our kids and want to look back on times together.

 

Fireside Dining

This meal deserves a post of its own. Our Christmas present from Lauren and CJ was dinner at Fireside Dining at Deer Valley last Friday night. I don’t know what was more impressive. The ambiance or the meal itself. I do know the best part was the company (and that’s saying an awful lot ‘cuz the food and ambiance were phenomenal).

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We drove up snowy roads. Up and up and up, well past the World Cup hill where participants were wrapping up their tricks. The snow fairies were fluffy and swirly, creating shimmering reflections off the lights that decorated trees all along our path. It felt like Christmas again 🙂

As we stepped into the lodge we were greeted by a host who brought us into the dining room. A room that serves as ski lodge by day and ambrosial offerings by night. A huge fireplace crackled on one wall, while another wall was filled with large windows that looked out on a idyllic winter scene. A horse-drawn sleigh went by at regular intervals, completing the picture. (If you look really hard, you can see it in the background of this clip — going from right to left.)

What did we eat? Oh, what did we eat!!! There were four fireplaces, each in a different room. All our hot food was cooked on the fires. Our menu was very similar to this (we had boar rather than quail, and there were minor other differences):

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Ready for your mouth to water? Check out some of what we ate:

Chris topped off his meal with an espresso. Divine decadence.

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The snow was piled high as we headed home to rest.

What a perfect evening and wonderful gift. I will treasure this memory forever.

Turtles, Flowers, Sand Owls and Friends

Jen wanted to learn more about animals and the trails that they leave. I had to admit, I was curious as well. So on our last full day on Marco Island, Mary Beth took us on a local nature tour. In the pics below she showed us some turtle nests, turtle footprints, and how to identify turtle scat.

 

As we traipsed through the community, I was drawn to the different beautiful flowers. I don’t know what any of them are. If you do, feel free to let me know in the comments, and I will label them 🙂

Updating as we go along. Wendy identified Vinca (the single white flower) and Bougainvillea (the purple ones).Thanks for that! I remembered the Papaya after I wrote this.

We walked back to the house and checked out an empty osprey nest on the property.

old nest and moss

 

I also learned about a cool tree that Native Americans used to paralyze fish. The bark has paralyzing qualities apparently.

fish killer tree

 

After checking that all out, we hopped into the car to drive a few miles away. A special treat lay there as we checked out squared-off protected areas, which contained sand owl homes.

 

Doesn’t look like much, does it? But the owls are sooooo cute! They come out of the ground at night. I know because we came back after dark and saw them.

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Here is a very horrible picture of one since my phone camera isn’t so great at night. Better images are found here.

Now here is a funny scene we saw as we were driving around. We saw two turtles hanging in a yard lot. One moved in font of another and started kicking sand back on the other. For about two minutes, that turtle seemed un-fazed, then it retaliated. It started shell-bonking the first turtle! Quite funny to watch. I clipped the video so you can see just the bonking part, instead of having to wait.

So funny.

As the day wound to a close, we ate grouper and snapper at a local joint (delicious!). Some followed that with gelato.

Bobcats, Panthers, Tigers and Coons

I didn’t see the bobcat that was kitty-corner (see what I did there?) to the house we stayed in, but Mary Beth and Mike saw its tail as it headed into the bushes away from us. So I think that counts. Mary Beth regaled us with tales of other sightings in her neighborhood–down by the docks and right in her own driveway as she gardened. So cool!

On Saturday we decided to head to the sanctuary where a woman had been surprised by a panther a few weeks prior.

As we headed out, we stopped off to meet Cal (short for Calusa) on the way. Jen and I have heard a lot about Mary Beth’s horse over the years so it was a treat meeting him live. And what a beauty he is!

Jen MB and Cal

 

So we didn’t see the panther, either, but saw a ton of other awesome wildlife specimens along the way.

I was reminded of the limitations of my cell phone camera when I realized that my pics of several birds, great frogs, a huge alligator, a smaller alligator, a lizard, and a huge snake didn’t come out. But the beauty is still there in my mind.

I did, however, get a pic I love. Why is it that raccoons are so adorable in the wild, and not-so-much when they are in your garbage can at home?

Coon babies

Chris, being the goof-ball he is (I saw completely endearingly ‘cuz I love that man!) “rescued” sunglasses from the swamp and an alligator. The alligator became a group effort, as you can see in the clip below. Later, he gave it to some kids, and they happily clacked it ahead of us, scaring off pretty much all wildlife for a while 🙂 But their smiles were worth it.

Chris got Alligator

We were enjoying nature so much it took us about three hours to walk about a mile. We had to hurry through the last bit since they were closing. Ah well, it was still amazing.

Mary Beth mentioned several times that you don’t need much imagination to fabricate stories in Florida. Apparently bizarre things happen all the time. We witnessed this as we were going down the road. I looked out the car window to find myself almost face-to-face with a tiger. That was a bit startling, and definitely very cool. The tiger seemed very relaxed and happy on its perch.

Eventually we parted ways on the highway, and we continued into the main part of Marco for some dinner at the Snook Inn. There was a 45 minute wait so we yakked on the dock. Remind me to never put my back to the water again. I felt a splash and heard the sound of a pretty big animal. We searched for it, and my friends saw a tail a bit off shore. I had been splashed by a manatee, but never saw it. What a treasure I missed! But still fun to know it was there.

I had a grouper sandwich for dinner and loved it. I don’t know why I suddenly like seafood after 44 years, but I’m just thankful. Perhaps it’s because I’ve realized it’s a bit like wine. Every bite has a fun story behind it, and each nibble is unique. Flavors and textures swirl around the mouth and tongue making every morsel a new adventure. How have I missed out on this so long?

  • If you love nature you might want to see the extended version of the coon watching –

Friday Fun in Florida

We saw Whelk eggs, a bald eagle (no pics of that), lots of shells, sandpipers, other birds, and I got to swim in salt water for the first time in way-too-long. Not too much to report on that day. It was simply relaxing and beautiful:

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