Category Archives: travel

Western Trip – Part 3: Grand Canyon River Trip

After the Salmon River trip we remained in Boise for two and a half weeks. The highlight of that time for me was a visit from our Seattle friends Phyllis and Mike. It was short, but we had a great time. We saw a good 70’s band, Mike and Dave got to ride their unicycles together on the Boise River Greenbelt while Phyllis & I explored downtown, we all visited the old Idaho Penitentiary and of course we found a new microbrewery.

 

 

The focus for Bill Sedivy, Dave White & I was our upcoming raft trip on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. Twenty one days on a private river trip with a group of 16 people would be a lot different than our eight day trips with friends in Idaho. Bill would row an 18-foot fully loaded raft with me as his passenger and Dave would kayak. Preparing, packing, shopping and endless discussions occupied much of our time.  Dave got to boat with the three other kayakers from the group. We met with trip coordinators David Crais and Jean Spurgeon. Thanks go to them for the invitation and spending months working with PRO Outfitters and coordinating logistics for the trip.

October 3 was the date we set off in the Dirigible on our driving-off-the-interstate route to Flagstaff, Arizona. It was a great scenic route. October turned out to have record rainfall for the state of Arizona. For us it started raining in Nevada, continuing off and on through our time in Flagstaff. We thought we were in Ohio. We made stops at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (so we could look down on where we would be), Navaho Bridge in Marble Canyon under which we would float in three days, and stood on the corner in Winslow, Arizona.

 

In Flagstaff we enjoyed the Flagstaff Brewing Company and met up with our group for dinner. It was good to meet the people with whom we would travel 225 miles down river. The next morning, October 7, was cold & rainy, with snow on the mountain behind our KOA campsite. We met PRO Outfitters at the Motel Du Beau to load gear on their huge truck, shuttle vehicles to storage and drive 3 hours to the put-in at Lee’s Ferry. There, in a drizzle, under the guidance of the PRO staff the truck was unloaded, rafts inflated and rigged, gear sorted and packed. We set up camp for the night at the put-in and had dinner at Lee’s Ferry Lodge.

 

 

Put-in day, October 9 – our adventure began with an orientation by the PRO staff and National Park Rangers. Some examples of what felt like information overload: Leave no trace. Food storage and organization. The menu-recipe-food list BIG BOOK. Safety priorities: the National Park Service will not evacuate anyone by helicopter for much less than a potential life-threatening emergency. Hygiene procedures: hand washing, dish washing, water purification, toileting. Critters: scorpions & rattle snakes. Use the satellite phone to call PRO 5 days prior to take-out to make sure the road is not washed out like it had a week earlier. Otherwise it is an additional 3 river days to the next take-out down stream.

When we began, the clear water at the put-in soon became the chocolate brown it would remain for the duration with the silty contribution of the Paris River. Even with dark skies and some rain, it was nothing short of awe inspiring. That first day we saw “chocolate waterfalls” that few get to experience, because it hardly rains in the Grand Canyon. Ha! we had sporadic rain the first week and a couple showers after that. Fortunately, most of our weather was moderate, with plenty of sun.

 

 

The Canyon

I bought a tshirt  that says “Grand Canyon – It’s all about layers”. Being geologically illiterate, that about sums it up for me. The river map and guide goes into great detail identifying the different rock formations and their age. Take the vishnu schist, the oldest. It was formed 1,750 million years ago. I can’t even comprehend that. Layer after layer,  spectacular soaring cliffs and imaginary castle walls reaching for the sky. Every turn of the river revealed a new vista. You really feel small and insignificant. For me, the canyon is other-worldly beautiful, like no place else I have ever seen. When you are at the bottom, there is no perspective that the average depth of the canyon is one mile and the average width 10 miles. For 21 days, this was our reality. Pictures do not do it justice, but here are some of my favorites. Click on a photo to enlarge it.

 

 

The Group

David Crais was our permit holder/trip leader and the center of our web. Everyone was within two degrees of separation from David. i.e. he invited someone who recommended inviting someone else. Our group of 16 included five women and 11 men, ranging in age from 22 to 74. We came from Idaho, Wyoming, Ohio, California, Texas, Tennessee and Colorado.  Four people kayaked and the rest of us were in 18 foot rafts. All the oarsmen had previous Grand Canyon experience and I admired their stamina. Most people had experience with multi-day river trips.

 

On the River

Our on the water time began around 10:30 am with the goal of being off by 4:00 pm. Some days were longer and some were shorter. My role on the raft was navigator. This meant closely following the topo river map/guide to know where we were,  be aware of what rapid was coming up and where our campsite was. The bigger rapids are described in detail with recommended routes and the biggest ones include diagrams. On the Grand Canyon, some of what are called riffles would be class 2 -3 on other rivers. The water was low 50’s degrees F ( read that as COLD). CFS (cubic feet per second) ranged from 7500 to 13,000 (this is big water). It was dependent on the water release from Glen Canyon Dam in response to hydroelectric power needs in the west. This created a high ‘tide’ and low ‘tide’ every day.  The water ranged from gentle pools to really challenging rapids. My preference was the gentle runs because I stayed dry. I didn’t take photos while in a rapid because my priority was to enjoy the ride and/or hang on. Dave White took this video of Bill’s route through Lava Falls rapid, the largest on the river. He and two other kayakers wisely chose to carry their boats around so he videoed all the rafts. Ironically, the map described the run as about 20 seconds. That could mean good 20 seconds or bad ones. Ours were good. None of our rafts flipped and we all made it through Lava unscathed.

 

In Camp and Off the Water

Campsites were designated, but not reserved. Most of the time we were lucky and no other group occupied our destination campsite before we got there. Daylight disappeared by 6:00 pm so cooking, dining & clean-up often happened in the dark. We were able to build in two layover days, which meant two nights at one site. Both times we had great weather and were able to relax, do laundry and bathe (sort of). We had several hiking enthusiasts who enjoyed hiking trails and exploring canyons. I really liked Elves Chasm. The wildlife we most often saw were big horn sheep, ravens, and one tarantula on the path to the groover (portable toilet). Oh, not to forget scorpions. While the only ones we actually saw were on rocks and in bushes courtesy of Eric’s blacklight scorpion tours, you shook off anything that had been on the ground or hung to dry on a bush. Thanks to Bill, Camille and Molly for providing music in the evenings. Even when I was already in the tent by 8:30 pm, it was fun listening.

 

This post is long enough, so I will wrap it up. No injuries, no illnesses & no raft flips. Intense, exciting, fun & exhausting. 21 days/24 hours a day outdoors. Wow. I was grateful for the opportunity and happy I had the experience. Also was not sorry when it was over. Re-entry to the real world took me a good two weeks.  Thanks to Dave and Bill who did the heavy lifting for me because I developed a bum shoulder.

I hope you got a taste of what the trip was like and enjoyed the photos. My posts serve as  online trip diaries. When I stop doing stuff like this, I’ll have them to look back on and remember.

 

 

 

Western Trip 2018 – Part I

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We hit the road August 23rd in The Dirigible on our western road trip. The ultimate destination  was Boise, Idaho, but we had a mini-vacation on the way.

Our route lead through Iowa and north to Mitchell, South Dakota where we made a stop at that icon of Americana, the Corn Palace. Built in 1892 to attract tourists, the outside of this public auditorium/arena is solid corn & natural materials. New design every year.

Next we visited the Badlands National Park. The Badlands is a world unto itself outside of Rapid City. We also did a quick pass through of Wall Drug, a crazy tourist trap, but fun.

 

The Black Hills area is a delight. Dramatic canyons, rock formations, green forests. winding roads and canyons.  Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Keystone, Deadwood. A brewery trail. Highly recommend Sick and Twisted in Hill City and Mount Rushmore in Custer. We always enjoy the local people we run into in these places.

One of my favorite spots was Wind Cave National Park – a definite return destination. Great camping on wide open grassland, noisy buffalo over the ridge, fascinating cave tour.  One of the biggest, most intricate cave system in the world.

Heading west through Wyoming a stop at Devil’s Tower for a cool hike around the base. The tower’s height is 5, 112 feet.

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An awesome drive through Big Horn National Forest got us to Cody, Wyoming outside the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

Three days and camping in the park provided a good overview. Waterfalls, geysers, hot pots, fumaroles, rivers, mountains. Names like Old Faithful, Prismatic Spring, Mamouth Hot Springs, Artist’s Point, Artists’ Paint Pots, Lewis Falls, Norris Geyser Basin… We saw Joe the Buffalo (in the road with friends EVERYWHERE), Ernie the Elk (next to the road), but no Melvin the Moose. We missed the Lamar Valley, but that is for the next visit.

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From Yellowstone we drove south through Grand Teton National Park to Jackson, Wyoming. Our friend Bill worked the summer for the Forest Service and we joined him for Labor Day Weekend at his work camp south of Jackson. We paddled the Snake River Canyon and hiked next to Jenny Lake in the Park, enjoyed Melvin’s Brewery in Alpine and Thai Me Up Restaurant & Brewery in Jackson.

From there we drove to Boise to prep for an eight day river trip on the Salmon River. Part I complete!

Post European Trip Blog (written July 14)

On June 21, I returned home from five weeks in Europe. Everyday life quickly hijacked my time and only now am I sitting down to write my final blog.

I flew to Prague from London on June 1. A little tired from traveling, not a surprise. I had been in two countries with different monetary systems and languages, traveling with friends and on my own, and stayed in four different locations. Navigated multiple methods of transportation: buses, two planes, 5 trains, 3 taxis and the London Tube.  And I walked an average of 6 miles a day. A trip within a trip. It was good to be back. There were a few days when I felt like I needed a vacation from my vacation and some down time. Malvina appreciated the down time.

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The Svobodnik family and I spent the weekend in Tchorovice and Cimelice. I stayed on two days to work in the garden. The sense of accomplishment, nice weather, a couple of walks and the solitude made it a special interlude.

 

 

 

Traveling back to Prague was a little adventure in itself: one car train to Blatna, then two trains to Prague’s main train station and metro back to the flat in Smichov.

In Prague again, it was nice to know that there was still plenty of time to explore new places and not feel like I needed to race around every day being a tourist. One unusual evening I went with Ivo to a tennis club to meet his friends and then go out for a drink. This is in a Prague neighborhood, very urban. If you listen to the video, you will hear the pet COUGAR that someone kept outside the apartment building next to the court. Strange. I wondered if they reduce rents for the noise disturbance? LOL

The three tourist experiences I chose, I would highly recommend. 1. A boat trip on the Vltava River – a totally different view of Prague. 2. A tour of the Obecny Dum (Municipal House), an art deco masterpiece. 3. A World War 2 walking tour that included underground and focused partly on Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi official in charge of Czechoslovakia and the Final Solution (Holocaust). Most of the time it was great to do the little everyday things – some wandering, hanging out, shopping, realizing I was comfortable with the metro and could find my way around a city that I love. And there is still more to see and do on my list!

Another weekend in the village, we took a day trip in the Barkas campervan with the Bolinov family to Orlik. This is a large reservoir on the Vltava River. We started at Orlik Castle, then took a very enjoyable boat trip down to Zvikov Castle. I toured Zvikov, which was built in the 1200’s and was the seat of the Bohemian kings. A beautiful enchanting location. The kids had fun playing in the water and on the boat.

Back in Prague, I had a chance to go to Oto and Eda’s kindergarten (pre-school) end of the year program. The school is a very impressive place, with good energetic teachers, curriculum and ambitious field trips for the kids. The program  was really fun. Oto’s class did an Indian circle dance and Eda was a dancing ladybug to Czech folk music.

I enjoyed a nice visit with cousins Jana & Wilda Drnek in Celakovice. Their fantastic walled garden is a private special refuge where you could spend all your time.

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My last weekend was very busy. Friday I took the metro back into Prague and caught a bus to Blatna, where Ivo picked me up to go to the village. Our family gathering was Saturday. It’s always nice to see people enjoy each other’s company.

The teenagers avoided the group photo and more people came after we took it, but all in all it was a really nice party. Complete with karaoke entertainment provided by Eda.

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Sunday I took the train to Plzen, for a barbeque with Jarda Drnek’s family.  Martin Drnek picked me up, our first in-person meeting other than Facebook. We went to his sister Svatka’s lovely home outside of the city and had a pleasant afternoon. Jonathan, Martin’s 18 month old, stole the show. I am so lucky to meet family who are fluent in English!

Monday was supposed to be my last day, so Lenka and I went to Letna Park, another beautiful green space in Prague. I’m continually impressed with number of parks in the city, all well-used. This one is high on a hill above the Vltava and I had never been there. We enjoyed a nice lunch in its’ large beer garden with a restaurant. It was in the 80’s and very humid, but we walked back to Andel, close to the flat in Smichov.  I didn’t go back, but metroed to Florenc and wandered around Karlin, where I discovered a beautiful basilika. My mission was to meet Martin, who gave me “Ferda the Frog”, created by his business, for the boys. It’s a great learning toy with a story book that helps kids to identify and manage their emotions. The boy s loved it, especially the flies whose names were feelings. They were done for the day by the time we took the photo.

I did not leave on Tuesday as planned. First my flight was delayed, then canceled. The upside was spending time at Zlute Lazne, a beach area on the Vltava with children’s pools.  It was really fun and a reprieve from the 94 degree heat. Another plus was that my three flights  home were upgraded to business class for free.

Another great trip to my “home away from home”. That’s right – I pretend that I live there. Part of the “do it while you can” philosophy that works for me. As you can see from my photos, the highlight of these visits are the people I spend them with. It’s always good to be home, but I’m soon ready to return.

Back to the Czech Republic

In 2004 I came to the Czech Republic for an REI hiking trip, fell strongly “in like” with a country and found family that I had never met. Blog posts from July 2014 tell the story, so I won’t repeat it, you can look back in the blog to read if interested. Now here I am again, in the Drnek family home in Tchorovice for an extended visit.

Disclaimer: many Czech words I use will not be technically correct because I don’t have the accent marks (that change pronunciations and meanings) on my keyboard.

I arrived last Thursday after 24 hours of no sleep. There is just no easy way to get here, even though all connections were smooth. It was great to see everyone again and did not feel like a year had passed. The real measurement was how much the two little boys had grown.

The theme for the weekend was airplanes and hockey. A fly-in for small planes and ultra-lights happened Saturday at the village airfield. Would have loved it if John Graham appeared. He didn’t, but I did talk with a German who had been to Oshkosh.

The hockey world championships were in Prague, a huge event where the national sport IS hockey. We watched the Czechs beat Finland, then USA beat Czechs for the bronze medal. I was sorry it wasn’t the other way around because hockey means so much more to the people here, where everyone seems to be a fan, than it does at home at home. Their only consolation was that we were not the Russian team.
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More Trip Highlights – Czech Republic

Second-last blog, Posted from Ohio, after the trip. I’m still re-entering the real world!

After returning from the mountains,  I went with Ivo to see his friend’s Klezmer band play in a deconsecrated synagogue in Prague. Viktor is a human rights attorney who moonlights as a drummer and obviously loves it. The band was great and included members from Belarus and Romania.

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Following the Berlin trip, the remainder of the trip was based at the weekend house in Tchorovice. I was glad to be back after packing in so many experiences the previous week.  Recovery time for the Berlin trip took two days.  It felt familiar and the slower pace was good. I felt comfortable driving to Blatna and negotiating the grocery stores. Anyone who knows me, knows that I tend to garden wherever I go. I had decided earlier to “adopt” it & have fun with garden therapy. It’s actually a small, fenced yard with lots of potential and plants inherited from the grandparents. In Cimelice, I enjoyed Alena Drnkova’s beautiful flowers and yard. The snails in these gardens are HUGE.

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When Ivo returned to Prague on Sunday night for the workweek, I rode along for one more day in the city. It’s my fourth visit, but I can’t seem to get enough of it.  It was a long day, with several metro rides, museums and walking around the city.  The best part was feeling confident using the metro. It’s a fairly new, easy system that is heavily used. The only intimidating part is the steep escalators.  I noted that people are reading books, magazines and newspapers everywhere. Lots of smartphones, but the digital media impact seems less than at home. That evening we met friends for a pub dinner and walked along the Vltava River. From my perspective, the river is the heart of the city. With it’s many bridges, boats, restaurants, botels, riverwalk, walkers and cyclists, it’s alive.

I took the bus back to Cimelice the next day, a very pleasant 1.5 hour ride. Another example of a user-friendly public transportation system. In order to finally get this published, I’ll save the rest of the story for another blog post. Now that I’m home, my own yard is consuming my time when I’m anywhere near it. I haven’t been inside much to sit down, edit photos and write.

A Visit to New England & 58th Bomb Wing Memorial

I recently got home from a  visit  in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. It’s a long story that extended a short visit to 10 days, but it flew by. I had two goals: deliver my dad’s World War 2 photos and documents to  a museum archive and pick up the Unicycling Sailor at his sister’s home. I had a great time with Katie and Terry Hamric as we looked forward to Dave’s return. Eventually we retrieved Dave successfully from Logan Airport in Boston.  He had been sailing in the Caribbean and had several unplanned delays.

The 58th Bomb Wing Memoriall is housed in the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. I knew this, because I get their newsletter. My Dad, Jim Drnek, was a World War 2 vet and a member of the 58th..  He was a gunner in a B-29, based in India and on Tinian. They flew “the Hump” – over the Himalayas to refuel before continuing on bombing missions in places like, Bangkok, Saipan and Japan. I have photos, documents, and his diary. Donating items to the museum seemed a good plan to my sister and I. I communicated with the folks there and Katie and I set off cross-country  through Connecticut to deliver them.

We spent 2.5 hours with Dave Santos, a Korean Vet, who headed the crew that restored the B-29 housed at the museum.  He spends two to three days a week at the museum. He gave us the “VIP tour” and we spent most of the time in the plane. Other visitors see it from the outside. It was fascinating and very emotional for me.  Dave alternated between sharing information about the B-29s and his years of restoration and annectdotal stories of the guys that flew them. I got to sit in the gunner’s seat that my father would have occupied as a 21 year old. It made me the idea of what my father did in the war come to life and gave me even more respect for what it involved. A very fitting way to honor his memory. I think he would have approved.

 

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Dartmouth is a beautiful area on the South Coast, below the bottom of Buzzard’s Bay and not far as the crow flies from Newport, RI. We cycled, hiked, gardened, visited Newport, shopped and generally hung out and had a good time. I loved the stone walls everywhere and it felt like all the winding roads lead to water.

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August – Canadian Cottage Visist

I wandered a little further from home in early August – across the Canadian border to Parham, Ontario. Long-time friends Heather and Paul have a cottage.  My sister Babs and I have enjoyed this destination before on one of our annual sisters road trips. This year, Heather’s dad Roger came too. I learned  what a trooper he is when we spent two days last summer at Bonnaroo, a huge music festival,

Visiting the cottage in this part of southern Ontario  is like going back to a simpler time (except for wifi & electronic devices we all used). It’s farm country outside Kingston with small towns, lakes everywhere and provincial parks. Several cottages on adjacent Long Lake properties belong to family members so it’s quiet and private. Daily routines revolve around the lake: swimming, paddling, water skiing and enjoying the view.

One morning we went to Wheeler’s Pancake House & they had their own Chainsaw Museum. Kingston has an interesting waterfront and a good maritime museum. On the way home we saw the border from a viewing tower. And from the inside of the customs office when the compute flagged my car for an inspection!

After returning home, still plenty of summer left to enjoy my garden.