Sunday, May 31, 2015

Pitch a tent

Here's my pitch for the day: pitch a tent.

That's exactly what Ed and I did on our recent trip through the Great American West. Every few afternoons, we'd pull into a camp ground, drive around and scope out the best camp site. Stop and put our camping gear on the preferred site's picnic table and then go sign in to reserve our site.

Usually, it cost us a whopping $7.50 for the site for the night. It takes us about 15 minutes to pitch our small tent, blow up our extra thick Themarest® pads, spread out our sleeping bags, and add two full-size pillows. Never do I sleep so well!

Once our tent is set, we usually take a hike, looking for some weird birds. Then we come back and read for a bit. Dinner is always simple. If we are organized, we'll grill some bratwursts and nestle some foil-wrapped ears of corn in the ashes of the campfire. If we are not organized, we pull out some cheese and crackers and crack open a beer and cider. A handful of Peanut M&M's make for the perfect dessert.

Breakfast the next morning is usually a cup of campfire coffee and a handful of granola. Then we pack up our camp (10 minutes max) and head out for our next adventure.

I can't tell you how pleasant it is to travel this way. I don't want a big RV. I don't want a fancy hotel room and hot shower (well, sometimes I do). I just want our cozy two-person tent, a crackling campfire, and a clear, starry night.

I didn't grow up camping. In fact, I never camped until Ed suggested that we invite a group of families to give it a try at a group campsite on the Blue River. It was the start of something special.

It wasn't nearly as simple as our current camping operation. Back then, we'd jam pack our van full of kids, a complicated two-room tent that only Jeananne could set up, coolers full of juice boxes and food, folding canvas chairs, sleeping bags, Pass-the-Pig card game, bug spray, sun screen, fishing equipment, matches, picnic supplies, and a well-stocked first-aid kit.

We'd have a blast. A dozen or so adults and 20+ kids. We'd hike or fish with the kids; let the little ones carve sticks with real pocket knives; play a rousing game of softball or go on a nighttime owl hoot; build a campfire; and David would bring his guitar and lead us in a sing-along to Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant (all 50 verses). This went on for at least a dozen years, until the kids grew up and scattered across the globe.

Back in these early camping days, we'd split up responsibilities for meals -- teaming up with another family to cook a full breakfast or a complete dinner. I'd always bring Triple Good Treats; Robin would bring Nutty Buddies; the other Debbie would bring Nord's Bakery Butter Cookies. And then late at night as the campfire turned to embers, there would be round two of desserts: orange cakes or banana boats.

My friend Robin and I used to joke that we should publish a cookbook with all our favorite camping recipes. In memory of those good times, I leave you with this recipe for our famous Banana Boats.

I leave you also with a challenge: consider pitching a tent. It is more fun than you might think!


Banana Boats

a bunch of bananas
peanut butter
chocolate chips
tiny marshmallows

heavy-duty foil paper

Peel bananas down to within a half inch of the bottom. Smear banana with peanut butter. Dot with chocolate chips and marshmallows. Fold peel back up and wrap in foil. Place in ashes of campfire or on the grill, turning every few minutes, until the bananas start to soften and the chocolate chips melt. Unwrap, unpeel, and enjoy!


And I leave those of you whom we used to camp with a trip down memory lane...

Friday, May 29, 2015

Home again, home again, jiggety jig

Last night at 8:46 we pulled into our drive after 6032 miles and 23 days exploring the Great American West. Our travels took us through Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and home to Kentucky.

We began our trip with a stop in Austin, TX to watch Maggie and her UofL MBA team make its presentations in the Venture Labs Investment Competition. (In case you haven’t already heard me brag: they won the whole shebang!)

From there we wound our way over to Santa Fe (NM), Chaco Canyon Cultural National Park (NM), Canyon de Chelly National Monument (AZ), Bryce Canyon National Park (UT), Capitol Reef National Park (UT), Arches National Park (UT), and the Big Hole Country (MT). From Dillion (MT), we turned east – toward home – stopping at Yellowstone National Park (WY), Devils Tower National Monument (WY), and Custer State Park (SD). Our last stop was yesterday morning at the Truman Presidential Museum in Independence, MO.

Along the way, we camped a number of nights, stayed in a yurt, a couple of cabins, a great western lodge, and (reluctantly) a couple of Comfort Inns. We hiked. We bird watched. We fly fished. We picnicked. We stargazed. And we drove. We drove a lot.

I love these rambling adventures of ours. This one was full of spectacular vistas, out-of-nowhere snow and hail storms, haunting hoodoos, black bears, buffaloes, and crackling campfires.

But, truth be told, I also love coming home. Home to my bed. To my garden. To my trails. To my kitchen. Home to my friends and family.

Here’s a handful of photos. I’ll put up more later this week.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Leave it to my boys

Leave it to my boys to travel halfway around the world and meet the same woman. Let me explain.

During the early spring of 2014 Ed and I traveled to China to see Jack in Shenzhen and then flew on to northern Guangxi (south central China), landing in Guilin. From there we took a boat down the Li River, getting off at Yangshuo, a small river town. While there, we hiked up to Moon Hill. It was a hot and humid day and we were awfully glad to rest at the top and even more glad to make friends with a tiny old woman who hikes to the top every morning, carrying a cooler full of bottled water, which she sells to thirsty tourist.

Unable to communicate in a common language, we still figured out how to buy a bottle of water, sign our name and hometown in a little notebook the woman carries with her, and take a photo.  She instructed Ed to make a peace sign.

Fast forward 14 months and Jack travels 350 miles by bus, bikes out in the countryside,  and stops to hike up Moon Hill where he meets the same woman, who wants her photo made with this second very tall Westerner. Jack posted the photo this morning on Instagram.

Like father/like son.