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Part 2: African Adventure 2022

The Garden Route

Upon leaving Joburg, we flew to George in a small plane where we met our next guide, Gillian Schroeder. She met us at the airport with a sign with our names and quickly collected us and our bags to take us to Knysna.

I planned a very specific route before leaving home to be able to see as much of South Africa as I could in a month. We began the journey in Knysna which is a lovely seaport town known for Knysna Oysters. Unfortunately, I do not care for oysters so I missed out on that lovely delicacy. We enjoyed dining on the water at 34 South even though I only got Tomato Soup. It was late and that was enough to nourish me. I must admit that it was some of the best Tomato Soup I’d ever eaten. David, of course, had to try the local fish and enjoyed every morsel. Our day was to begin early so we walked back to the hotel and luxuriated in our lavish suite.

The hotel that we chose was Protea Hotel Knysna Quays. Protea hotels are South African Marriotts. Protea is the national flower and the hotel brand honors that name. Our room, excuse me, our suite was phenomenal and right on the ocean. We reserved a regular room with two beds but were given a complimentary upgrade to a 3 bedroom suite complete with an indoor dining room, living room, outdoor dining area with grill, sliding glass doors looking out over the ocean, deep soaking tubs, and a kitchen bigger that the one I have at home! The manager wrote the nicest note welcoming us and gave us a box of nougat candy as well. We definitely felt pampered and wished we’d brought along 6 more friends! What a nice gesture by this lovely hotel.

Upon waking the next morning, we were sad to leave our luxurious suite on the ocean but knew we had lots to explore. We left early and explored the Heads, a beautiful oceanfront area of the Eastern Cape. Then we made stops at Monkeyland, Birds of Eden, Jubani Preserve (big cats), Tenikwa (birds and leopards) and the Elephant Sanctuary. This allowed us to get up close and personal to the animals of Africa. These are all aimed at preservation, conservation and education for tourists and locals alike.

The next stop, Tsitsikamma National Park, is the site of the world’s highest bungy jump from the Blourkans Bridge. Yes, we watched, but neither of us jumped. If we had allowed more time, I would have a video of David bungy jumping as he was keen to try it!

David was also interested to see the Storm River Suspension Bridge which is where the Storm River meets the Indian Ocean. Gillian said it was no problem to detour there and let us experience the bridge and the area. The long climb and the rocky path was well worth the end result. The bridge and scenery were beautiful and the convergence of the Storm River and Indian Ocean was worth the hike. David always gets me into these adventures where I have to challenge myself to complete the task. But, I’m always glad that I try whatever he suggests in the way of exploration. Unfortunately, this time, my reward was a rogue wave that soaked me from the waist down! We also had a sighting of a Dassie at the Storm River Suspension bridge. It was my first sighting of the little African critter and he gave me quite the show.

Other sights this day were the famous and historic Plettenberg Hotel, a 5 star small luxury hotel of the world at Plettenberg Bay. Such a beautiful area. David and I both said we would love to go back. Small, quaint and gorgeous.

As we drove westward, we stopped for the night at the Protea Hotel King George to rest for the next day of new experiences. Leaving early the next morning, we drove to Oudtshoorn, South Africa and visited the beautiful Cango Caves, the Cango Wildlife Ranch and the Ostrich Farm. We enjoyed each immensely and even ate Ostrich for lunch. It really was quite tasty. I was leary about eating it so I got the child’s portion which was more than enough for lunch. We also bought some ostrich biltong which is basically ostrich jerky. I learned that ostrich eggs are quite strong and David and I took turns standing on them just to prove their strength. Amazing! We also learned that the Zimbabwe Blue Ostrich is the largest of the family, with the Kenyan Red Ostrich being next in size followed by the South African Black Ostrich. They certainly are interesting animals.

Types of Ostriches

https://youtube.com/shorts/D7sv0bZFybA Ostrich Video (Click Link)

After leaving the Ostrich Farm, we traveled the Garden Route past beautiful golden canola fields, picturesque expansive farmland, and gorgeous mountains through Mossel Bay and onwards to Hermannus to look for whales. We arrived right before sunset in Hermannus and tried in vain to spot whales. This area is known as Whale Coast but a cold wave had come through and the whales weren’t interested in being seen. Maybe they moved on to warmer waters. However, the seaside town itself was worth the visit. I could easily spend a week here relaxing. You can see the area on the map below.

As the sun went down, we made our way to Franschhoek which is in the heart of the winelands region to begin our Cape Winelands Tour.

Part I: African Adventure 2022

Johannesburg, South Africa

The month of August in 2022 was spent fulfilling a long time dream of going to South Africa, visiting Victoria Falls and finally experiencing an African Safari. David was my adventure buddy and we planned a trip that exceeded both of our expectations. We would start in Johannesburg, travel the Garden Route of South Africa to the Cape Winelands and end in Cape Town, From there we would see Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park, Chobe National Park, the Okavango Delta and then end in Sabi Sabi.

Map showing some of the areas we visited

Our journey began with an arduous 19 hour flight made more comfortable with Virgin Atlantic lay flat bed suites. We enjoyed movies, delicious meals, and at bedtime, put our sheets on the bed and flew in comfort. As most know, VIrgin Atlantic is a partner with Delta so we were able to use SkyMiles to enjoy this wonderful method of flying. I worked with a fantastic agent at Delta who was able to work through her system to find the best option using the lowest number of miles. When she told me 110,000 miles, I told her to quit talking and start booking. I couldn’t believe it! I wish I’d gotten her name as she saved me lots of money.

We arrived refreshed and ready to see the sights in Johannesburg. Warned by many that Johannesburg was an extremely dangerous city, we planned our trip using wisdom from other trips and good common sense. There was supposed to be a private transfer upon our arrival in Joburg to our hotel. After waiting for about 20 minutes, I decided that the driver wasn’t coming and made my own arrangements. I’d read that taxis were risky so I sought out a local woman waiting for family who said we should use Uber rather than a taxi. But, she said to only use Uber Black and we would be safe. Following her instructions, we ended up with a delightful South African lady who was appalled that our driver did not show. She took us to the most beautiful Marriott property, Melrose Arch African Pride Hotel. Wow! How beautiful. The service was impeccable and the food was superb.The breakfast display was especially picture worthy with a baobab tree gracing the serving area.

That evening we strolled around Melrose and felt very safe. Our dinner was one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten at a restaurant named the Grillhouse. It was hilarious how we discovered the restaurant. After checking in to the hotel, two young men in their twenties were manning the front desk where I inquired, “Where is the best place to have dinner in Melrose?” In unison, they said “Steak at the Grillhouse ”. Well, what can you do but go to the Grillhouse and eat steak?! David opted for Malva Pudding for dessert which we later learned is a South African staple. I guess you can say that Southerners love Banana Pudding and South Africans love Malva Pudding. I will definitely be making this delicacy for my family upon returning to the USA. (Do your self a favor by googling the recipe and making some for yourself. Divine!)

We opted to hire a local guide in Johannesburg for safety reasons. Our guides name is Nthato, and as luck would have it…his neighborhood was Soweto. A true stroke of luck! After a trip up the hill for a history lesson over looking the city, he took us to Nelson Mandela’s last home before his death and then south into Soweto.

Nelson Mandela’s last home. His children still live there.

Nthato took us to Constitution Hill where Mandela was originally imprisoned. Those in Johannesburg understood that if you went to prison there, coming out alive was not an option. Somehow, Mandela beat the odds. It was a horrid place where prisoners were beaten, starved, and tortured. There stands an eternal flame to remind the people of the cost for Democracy.

After seeing Constitution HIll and Mandela’s prison, we made our way to the Apartheid Museum. My ticket had me enter as a Non-White and David entered as a White to help us understand the differences in life based on color of skin. As I entered, I had to go down, down, down and had to be interrogated by the guards. Then, I was allowed to “rise” and enter the museum. David, as a white person, entered on the side where he walked up, up, up. This was just one way to remind the Non-white person that their station in life was lower. What a way to start the day and to be reminded of the stupidity of the human race. The museum was very well done and in so many ways was identical to what happened in the USA with Martin Luther King at the forefront.

Finally, we came all the way back to Soweto to Nelson Mandela’s original home which we toured. Nthato showed us the street corner where Desmond Tutu’s home stood and explained that this was the most famous street in Africa: Vilakazi Street. What are the odds that Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela would live on the same street in a poor neighborhood and both win the Nobel Peace Prize?

As we exited the Mandela House, Nthato said, “Come with me. I want to show you my people and let you taste our food”. So, we rounded the corner and he took us to his “take out” restaurant and bar. The restaurant consisted of two picnic tables where a beautiful young lady in the back was making Kota Mince, their fast food, which Nthato bought for each of us. How generous! David immediately ate one and I took mine back to the hotel to eat later.

We drove a little way down the road where Nthato walked us to the Hector Peterson Museum and shared the story of the famous picture seen around the world which brought the spotlight on South Africa and the plight of the people during apratheid. The little boy who was shot and died was merely coming home from school and got caught in the crossfire of angry policemen. Such a waste of a precious life.

It was also at this stop that I had the chance to interact with school children as they walked home from school. I asked permission to take a picture with them and they were thrilled. They had no idea that I was thrilled too. Of course, they just had to see the picture as soon as it was taken.

As the day came to an end, Nthato showed us the stadium where the 2010 FIFA World Cup was held and also shared with us what we all dread seeing in Africa or any country…abject poverty.

Nthato dropped us off at Melrose African Pride Hotel and made arrangements to meet us the next day to visit the Cradle of Human Kind which was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999 specifically to understand more about the birth of humankind.

We opted to traverse the Sterkfontein Caves in the Cradle of Human Kind where paleo anthropologists have discovered thousands of hominids and other animals thought to be the beginning of mankind. The most famous of these fossils are Little Foot, thought to be between 3 and 4 thousand years old and Mrs. Ples, whose skull is thought to be more than 2 million years old. The caves were very easy to traverse in most places while in others we were required to crawl through some tight uncomfortable spaces. Upon arrival to the caves (without a reservation) we were told that we could go with a school group immediately or wait 2 hours and have an independent tour. Those who know me well, know exactly what I opted for. I was excited about seeing the caves through some 8 year old eyes and hearing exclamations of awe!

The caves are about an hour from Johannesburg so we had time to hear many interesting stories from Nthato about his life, where he lives, his children, the history of Johannesburg and so much more. We even got an invitation to come to his home next time we visit because he wants us to partake of his wife’s cooking. Nthato says she is the BEST cook!

Nthato also treated us to learning about the Xhosa culture and language. The Xhosa speak with a “click” in their language and is very distinctive. He not only shared the language but treated us to the “click song”. Watch the video to hear the clicks/pops in their language.

Our time in Johannesburg had come to an end. We were so glad that we didn’t listen to the “noise” that said….”Don’t go there. It’s not safe!”. Instead, we found a delightful young man with whom we shared three days, learned a tremendous amount about South Africa, Johannesburg, Apartheid and Democracy. We even got an invitation for dinner upon our return to Joburg.

Granne, NO!

Grandmothers are special people. Some are extra special. Then, there are grandmothers that will stop at nothing to achieve an end goal. 

Anne Pack, a retired educator, is a full-time Granne, to 5 young boys ages 6-11 who are “all boy all the time”. As she prepared for summer activities with the boys, Anne had a burning desire to start a Cousins Book Club to keep academics in the forefront in a fun way. At lunch one day, she explored the idea with the boys and got eye rolls and exclamations of “Granne, NO!”. Undeterred, Anne came up with a plan. She had recently read a book and true story about a boy and a dog who hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. The book just happened to be my book, Northbounders: 2,186 Miles of Friendship. Anne knew the boys would love the story but had to find a way to capture their interest. 

Anne contacted me and requested a personally inscribed book for each boy. When she presented the books to them one day at lunch, she was inundated with questions like, “Does she know us?”  “How did you get her to sign these, Granne?”  “How does she know our names, Granne?”  The answer remained shrouded in mystery among the five cousins. 

Receiving the book and reading the inscription from the author
“How does she know me?”
Eating, swimming, and reading for a fun summer!

Their interest about the book was peaked and they quickly named themselves the “Cousin Crew Book Club.” All dog lovers, the book had the boys’ attention when they realized the story was being told from the dog’s point of view. A few pages in and they were hooked. Little did they know that as they followed Copper (the dog) and Blast (the hiker) through 14 states and all kinds of adventures, that they were learning history, geography, math, science, and lots of new vocabulary.

Listening to the Audio book version

The boys, who had once dreaded the idea of a book club, would call Granne and say, “Don’t forget to bring the books to the beach!” “Hey, we haven’t read about Copper today!”   “Can I go ahead and read the next chapter? I won’t tell the others what happened.”

A little bit of sunburn and a big day at the beach ended with the Cousin Crew Book Club reading a chapter in Northbounders

Naturally, the boys began dreaming of their own possible adventure of hiking the Appalachian Trail. Little did they know that Granne already had plans for that. The boys gave each other Trail Names, made Trail Mix, read and discussed the book and looked forward to the culminating activity with Granne. 

Granne preparing them for their grand adventure on the Appalachian Trail

Finally, on a hot July day, the five cousins donned their new Appalachian Trail t-shirts, packed their picnic lunch, and drove with Granne to Amicalola Falls State Park where AT hikers begin their journey on the trek from Georgia to Maine. Known only  by their “trail names” for the day, the boys had many questions about the AT, generated from the book. The boys had learned to “pack out what they packed in” to be sure to “Leave No Trace” from their picnic. The trail had come to life and they were hiking on the very trail they had read about for 8 weeks. Enduring the heat of the day was all a part of the adventure. 

The sign to signify the beginning of the adventure!
Hiking the Appalachian Trail in the heat with big smiles!

What began with an eye roll and protest in June became the grand adventure and first of many bonding experiences of the summer for 5 young boys in the Cousin Crew Book Club. A quite unexpected twist was that their friends began begging to become honorary cousins just to get a book and be a part of the adventure! 

How about those cool Appalachian Trail shirts created by Granne?

The best part for Granne was when the Cousin Crew Book Club began asking, “What are we reading next?”

“Tell us, Granne!”

Moral of the story: Never underestimate the power of a Grandmother…especially if she is a former educator. 

(Anne Pack is a highly respected retired teacher and counselor. She is known as Granne but her new Trail Name given to her by her boys is “Pickles” and that is another story.)

(Pictures and story shared with permission)

Chasing David to the Mexican Border

Late on a Thursday night, I got an overwhelming urge. By Friday, I had given in to my desires. I tried to stop myself. I really did. But, the urge was too strong.

I booked a ticket to Palm Springs California as it was the closest and least expensive way I could get to David. According to his blog, he was less than 100 miles from his final destination of the Mexican Border on his 2020 PCT hike and I had this burning desire to walk the last few miles with him. When he hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, lots of family and friends came to walk the last two miles with him. That wasn’t possible for this trip but I still wanted to witness the finish of this extraordinary 2,650 mile journey. He had made it through a record year of fires in California, Oregon and Washington; the rogue snowstorms in Oregon; and the Coronavirus 19 pandemic. This trip was worthy of a celebration.

Palm Springs Airport

Upon arrival at the airport, I quickly retrieved my rental car and headed toward the hotel. But first, FOOD! I left Atlanta in the wee hours of the morning and it was now 2pm. I was hungry! Thankfully, a Panera Bread Company was close by and a big hearty salad cured my hunger. Then, I proceeded to the JW Marriott in Palm Desert. What a beautiful hotel!

As I was checking in, Daniel, the receptionist, welcomed me and said, “I need to let you know that our hotel restaurants, spa, and gym are closed due to Covid 19”.

“When did California become a closed state?”, I politely asked.

His response: “Today.”

That’s how fast things can change. When I booked my flight on Friday night, California was wide open.

“Are the swimming pools still open?” I asked.

The answer was a resounding “YES”!

That was all I needed to hear…82 degree heated pools would be my home for a few days. Food can be delivered and I have a place to sleep. I was good to go.

I enjoyed 3 days of rest and relaxation at the beautiful JW Marriott in Palm Desert and then it was time to head toward the border.

The drive was fun in itself as I passed through some beautiful mountainous country and enjoyed some intriguing little towns along the way. Julian was one of those towns. This historic gold-mining town is nestled among oak and pine forests between the north end of the Cuyamaca Mountain Range and the south slope of Volcan Mountain in California.

Julian is a Designated Historical District with frontier style storefronts and old west spirit. There’s even the Julian Hotel established in 1897.

Julian is also famous for homemade apple pies. I decided that would be a most welcome gift to David as he finished his PCT hike. The pie is beautiful!

Leaving Julian, I headed to the Cleveland National Forest and Mount Laguna where I would spend my last night at the Laguna Mountain Lodge before hiking the last section of the PCT with David to the Mexican border.

After a good night’s sleep in the fresh mountain air, I headed to the rendezvous point to meet David for the hike: the Campo Green Store in Campo, California.

I arrived a few minutes early and waited to see that beautiful sight as David walked across the road from the trail to meet me. My first thoughts: “He is sooooooo skinny!” I guess that is what walking every day, all day, for 7 months will get you! That skinny, disheveled young man was still a beautiful sight to see. A big hug was the first order of the day.

After a big hug, I was so excited as I picked up my hiking poles, put my day pack on my back and headed into the desert toward the Mexican border with my son. The trail was exactly as I imagined with dry crunchy grass and tumbleweeds which were often stacked high due to the intense Santa Ana Winds from the previous two days. I didn’t know about the Santa Ana winds before this trip, but they can be fierce. Areas affected by the winds actually shut down power to the towns to keep fires down. High winds can blow trees and branches into power lines sparking fires. Winds can also snap wooden distribution power lines, causing live wires to spark dry grass and setting it on fire. Therefore, towns are proactive during these intense Santa Ana winds. Two nights prior to my arrival winds were up to 70 miles per hour. For those keeping up with David’s blog: http://rutteric.com, you’ve read for yourself how fierce those winds can be.

As we made our way along the trail toward the border, we caught up on current events and enjoyed the gloriously sunny day. Conversations with David are always delightful and this one seemed extra special. And of course, we had to take some pictures along the way.

The more we walked, the closer we got to the “Wall”… the much discussed fence put up along the US/Mexico border. We even saw a few downed signs.

They are still building the wall..

Seven months earlier, I had dropped David off to walk 2,650 miles. Now there was just one more mile to go and the journey was over. David admitted that the moment was bittersweet.

The 1 mile marker.

Then, off in the distance, David spotted the goal that he had waited 7 months to reach…the PCT Monument at the Mexican Border signifying the end of his 2,650 mile hike from Canada to Mexico.

The last task was to make a journal entry into the official Trail Journal at the Southern Terminus marker.

Making his final entry into a Pacific Crest Trail journal.
I signed the journal too.

We lingered at the monument taking pictures and enjoying the sun shining on this glorious day.

He’s still got strong enough legs to climb to the top.
Look at that gorgeous sky in the background!
(And, that handsome young man)
The long hike is complete

I am so incredibly proud of David. I followed his journey every step of the way through his blog, his communication with me, and through the multitude of books that I read to learn as much as I could about the trail. Take a look at the elevation change. This trail is tough!

Elevation change420,880 ft (128,284 m)
Highest pointForester Pass, 13,153 ft (4,009 m)
Lowest pointCascade Locks, 140 ft (43 m)

It was early afternoon when we left Campo headed north. David had shared that he wanted some time to acclimate to “civilization” again so we didn’t immediately jump on an airplane to come home. He chose a scenic route upon leaving the PCT to view the Salton Sea and experience Joshua Tree National Park.

After driving through the park, we headed to Big Bear Lake where David had requested to spend a few days before heading home. His requests were simple: a cabin with a full kitchen, a fireplace, a hot tub, and lots of food to cook!

Our Cabin at Big Bear Lake
View from the Cabin
Enjoying the Fire
Nighttime soak in the Hot Tub
He cooked and ate and ate and ate!
Finally time to celebrate with Pie!

It was a great trip and I’m so glad I made the last minute decision to go. I tried really hard to talk myself out of going but my “self” was intent on making the journey!

A very special memory for me

Sometimes the best and most fun adventures come from a whim. Quite often, those whims become very special memories.

Welcome home, David Christopher Rutter aka Blast. We have missed you! (Especially your Dad~)

Just one more disaster

We’ve all come to expect the worst in 2020; but I never dreamed that I would survive a tornado and a hurricane in the same year. I’ve jokingly said that I can’t travel to Asia this year even if the travel ban is lifted. If I do, I’m sure that I’ll be in the middle of a typhoon!

Hurricane Delta surprised us all. As I scanned the weather report before my departure for Cancun, it was obvious that I would spend part of each day of the week enjoying some rain. Not to be deterred from my trip, I packed an umbrella and a rain poncho. There. I was set.

Not so fast. Within 24 hours, a little rain had turned into a prediction of a Category 4 hurricane. There I was in a foreign country with just me, my wits, and an oceanfront hotel between me and the big storm.

How did I handle it? The best I could with the cards I was dealt. I am certainly not an expert on survival, but I thought I’d share my thought process as the storm strengthened and some tips that might help if you are in the same unwanted predicament.

1. Find someone who speaks the language and determine the exact plan that the hotel has for the guests. For us, it was a rated Category 4 space where make-shift beds were placed. Bring your pillow and blanket since you have no idea of the length of stay.

2. Think of the most important items that you may need and put them in a waterproof bag. For me, those items included my passport, money, credit cards, a flashlight, my phone, a portable phone charger and charging cord, my car keys, some nuts, chapstick, and of course my pink lipstick! (I also threw in some Tums for fear of the strange food I may be forced to eat if the storm caused severe destruction.)

3. Think survival. I packed a lunch box (orange bag) with bottles of water and also put bottles of water in my suitcase. I ordered room service with foods that I could put in resealable bags to survive on my own after the storm. I ordered bacon, cheese, bread, yogurt and fruit. I know from experience that those items can last a few days without refrigeration.

4. Think about the aftermath. I hoped my suitcase and its contents would survive and that someone could find the owner if it did. So, I put business cards in resealable bags and put a copy of my passport (which I always carry when traveling) in a resealable bag and put both in the netting that is immediately visible when the suitcase is opened.

5. Save my hat! I really like my sunvisor and I knew it would get crushed in my suitcase or my backpack. So, I studied the room. Where does my hat have the best possible chance of survival? I decided on the refrigerator.

6. Study the room. I stored my suitcase in the place where it could best survive. For me that was the seat in the shower which was the most interior and elevated space in the room.

7. Prepare the room as best you can. My room had a balcony overlooking the pool with glass sliding doors. I closed the black out curtains and the decorative curtains and pulled them tight. Next, I pushed all the furniture against the curtains. My hope was if the glass shattered as the wind was hurtling toward my room that the curtains might “slow” the movement of shattered glass.

8. Pack a small backpack. I always carry a foldable backpack when I travel. That pack came in handy. These are the items I stuffed in that pack: water, snacks, rain poncho, travel umbrella, washcloth, handtowel, change of clothes, hand sanitizer, the yellow waterproof bag mentioned above, and toilet paper in a resealable bag. The small backpack could be placed under my pillow in the shelter and would not take up valuable floor space. (No luggage is allowed in shelters)

9. Wear closed toe shoes. If the hurricane caused mass destruction, my feet would need protection.

10. Consider headphones. When in a shelter, one should be respectful of the people around them. We were very fortunate that 400 people in the same room were extremely respectful. They lay down on their makeshift beds, watched movies on their phones, read books, or spent time on social media. The only disturbance was the sound of a baby crying for about 10 minutes before he fell asleep.

11. Call, FaceTime, or text those you love. It was important to me to have possible final communication with the 3 people I love most in the world. I hoped I would live to see them, but if not, I needed to say I love you once last time. ( I also called upon my husband’s knowledge of buildings to ask where I should sleep in the shelter. He had an immediate answer and also told me how to best escape the storm surge if that should happen.)

12. Register with the State Department through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program – STEP. This lets the USA know your location.

13. Remember that YOU are responsible for YOU. Use your best judgement, think through possible scenarios, and do the best you can. The tips above aren’t researched nor do they have “hurricane approval”. These are things that made me feel that I was doing the best I could to protect myself in a foreign country with only a hotel room and the resources provided by the hotel.

14. Find your inner strength and do the things that keep you calm. I tend to be level headed and calm under pressure so this was not an issue for me. I prayed, I spoke with loved ones, and prepared as best I could. Then, I turned it over to a greater power than is within me. I tasked myself to share any positive news that I heard throughout the day with those around me. Others around me prayed and called upon clergy for prayers. Some fretted, worried, cried, and needed to continually talk about the impending storm. I passed no judgement. Some even chose to weather the storm with the help of a pretty little bottle. Again, no judgement from me. We all deal with a crisis in our own way.

15. Be thankful when the storm passes. I returned to a room with no broken glass, a suitcase still in the shower, snacks and water still in my backpack, my favorite hat still in the refrigerator and no need for the little yellow waterproof bag that held my valuables. Others in Mexico were not so lucky. I am thankful for the experience, thankful that the storm weakened and thankful for the true dedication of the Mexican people who fed us, kept us safe, and did it all with a smile. I am forever grateful and humbled by their dedication to the guests knowing their own families were weathering the storm alone. We were blessed.

Maybe 2020 is looking up.

Of course I said, “YES!”

On a Tuesday afternoon, I received a text. “Want to go camping in the mountains of North Carolina?” Let’s see…the mountains, fresh air, hiking, streams, and a chance to spend the weekend with my favorite daughter. That would be a resounding, “YES!”

We started our journey with a stop in Cades Cove, Tennessee. The drive through the cove is always a favorite and a chance to experience America during a simpler time. The views are never ending and we almost always spot bear and deer somewhere along the drive. We saw both but could only get a photo of a very patient deer.

After leaving Cades Cove, we drove to Pigeon Forge where we spent the night and had the opportunity to eat at a restaurant with exceptional food. If you find yourself hungry in this town, stop at Bullfish Grill and get the cilantro lime chicken. It is divine! The homemade bread is addictive.

Now, for the reason we came. The camping trip. We drove to Topton, North Carolina to join the Trail Dames at Appletree Group Campground in the Nantahala Forest.

It is a campground designed for more than 125 people but there were less than 20 Trail Dames so we were able to get our favorite spot…a bit of land by the creek. Sleeping to the gentle sounds of the creek is heaven.

We endured a night of rain but the next day was gorgeous! A perfect day for a hike. We settled on the Bartram Trail which took us on a trek right alongside a stream. Mikella had chosen the trail and invited a fellow Trail Dame, Tiffany, to come along for the hike.

Mikella picking blackberries
Me and my girl

It was an enjoyable hike only cut short by a huge felled tree that had us saying…Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. Can’t go around it. Guess we will turn around and go back the way we came. It was ok because we had something very important to do.

Take off our shoes….

Hang our hammocks…

Climb into our hammock….

Oops! She missed!


And snooze!

It was a short nap because we had to get up to make dinner and enjoy a nice evening fire.

Around the fire, there was a discussion as to whether we’d like to climb up to Wayah Bald to see sunrise the next morning. It sounded great at 9 pm and we were all in. At 5 am, it didn’t seem quite as exciting. But, these two ladies got up and navigated our way in the dark to catch that sunrise.

Wayah Bald Observatory

It was worth the trip. Beautiful views.

Those are clouds!

Mikella insisted that I take a picture in my “outfit” for seeing sunrise. I threw a khaki dress on over my leggings and shirt that I slept in. But, then I was cold so I threw on my long sleeve aqua fishing shirt. I was still cold so I threw on my fuschia colored jacket and ran out into the dark without brushing my hair. When I saw the picture she took, I knew why she was laughing at my “outfit”. Before you judge…remember that there are no mirrors in the woods!

As the sun rose and we began to look around, we realized that the Bartram Trail and the Appalachian Trail meet here on Wayah Bald. We retraced the steps where Copper and David would have hiked as they made their way to Maine on the A.T.

Follow the yellow blaze for the Bartram Trail and follow the white blaze for the Appalachian Trail. Here is where they come together.
The trail
Flowers along the A.T.

After enjoying sunrise, we made our way back to camp to pack up for home. It had been a wonderful few days spent with one of my favorite people on earth.

My girl!

Dolly got it right.

I’m not really sure what possessed me to do this; but, I took off on a Tuesday afternoon and headed for the Tennessee mountains. It was hot here in Georgia and I was looking for some cool mountain breezes. Or as my friend says, “The mountains were calling”.

As I drove, I reminisced about the many trips I had taken with family members to these mountains and what fun we all had. One of those memories inlcuded a Christmas trip to Dollywood. So, as quickly as I had made the decision to come to the mountains, I made a quick decision to visit Dollywood. Wait! A theme park during the middle of a pandemic? That seems like a really bad idea!

The theme park was having a flower and food show and I love flowers. I really tried to talk myself out of visiting but after reading the precautions/safety measures the park had in place, I decided to go. After all, if I felt unsafe, I could leave.

Well, I shouldn’t have worried. Dolly got it right. Masks are required and that rule is enforced. Hand sanitizer is distrubted like candy on Halloween. And, no, you are not given a “choice”. Follow the rules or go home. Of course it was all presented in the most southern hospitality way. But, they were serious. I’ll share an example. When arriving at Dollywood, a tram is available from the parking lot to the park. Before embarking, the guest’s temperature is taken, hand sanitizer is dispersed, and each family group must stand 6 feet apart from the next family group. Upon entering the tram, the conductor states again that all guests must have a mask covering the mouth and nose or the tram cannot move. We had a guest on row 3 who somehow didn’t think the rules applied. The conductor said, “Would the guest on row 3 please cover the nose as well as the mouth with the mask?” When the guest complied…we were off to the park. This was the theme of the day. Park employees took the safety rules seriously.

Now for the fun stuff! Dollywood was just as delightful as I remembered. The shows were excellent and the Bluegrass Band was a favorite.

Seeing the replica of Dolly’s Tennesse Mountain Home was especially moving. It reminds the guests just how little is needed to have a happy home. A loving family is the key.

The flower show was just what I was looking for. Lots of flowers in different shapes and colors that made Dollywood even more magical.

Dolly’s signature butterfly
Coat of Many Colors

Somehow, on my last visit, I missed one of the most popular things at Dollywood. Cinnamon Bread! I didn’t miss it this time and I certainly won’t miss out in any future visits. It is divine and made fresh all day long in the Grist Mill.

As a history buff, the train ride around the mountain held historical surprises. The locomotives were actually constructed in the late 1930s and early 1940s. During WWII, these steam engines played an important role in America’s war effort. I won’t spoil the story for you because the engineers will take you back in history as you travel through the foothills of the Smoky Mountains through vignettes of mountain living in days gone by.

It was a great day in Dollywood and I left feeling really happy. I was glad I went and would love to go back for the Smoky Mountain Christmas. And, leave it to Dolly to make even the exit to the park feel like an event unto itself.

Leaving the park under colorful umbrellas

Two unexpected gifts

Waking up in Crater Lake National Park with the sun beaming through my window was quite a different scene from yesterday’s big fat snowflakes. What a gorgeous day!

I couldn’t wait to see the lake again to see how it had changed with the difference in lighting. When I had my first glance, I realized what a gift yesterday had been. I had seen the lake in winter and today I was seeing it in spring. Two days…two seasons.

I still can’t believe the hues of blue
Wizard Island
Can you see the hole in top of the crater?
Looks like diamonds sparkling on the water

Unfortunately, today was my last day in the park and I chose to exit through the North Entrance so that I could complete the West Rim Drive. As often happens, the north is colder and more frozen. It certainly was the case in this park. But, again, beauty abounds in nature in many forms.

June 14th and this is the depth of the snow on the West Rim

As the exit to the park grew closer and I was feeling sad about leaving, I almost missed my second gift.

I wheeled in to see what was there.

I had the opportunity to see where David would come out of the woods in Crater Lake NP!

I knew that he would walk right behind Mazama Cabins and then snake around the Lodge and up along the West Rim as the map above shows. What I didn’t know is that he would come out right by the road.

This is where he will come out of the woods
Maybe this Log is where he will stop to eat lunch
And, maybe he will see this strange tree

I couldn’t stand it. I just had to hike a little on this trail just to see what he might see. It is going to be a beautiful journey.

David will walk 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada and 33 of the most beautiful miles will be right through this park.

I exited the park toward Diamond Lake and stopped for one last snow covered shot of Mt. Bailey. What a great place for a picnic.

The last stretch of road along Oregon’s Scenic Byway followed a stream for many miles. With the window down, the lull of the water, the wind in my hair and the smell of fresh clean air, I couldn’t have dreamed of a more perfect ending to my journey with two very unexpected gifts included.

My luck finally ran out.

Since I started this journey in early June going north through California, my days have been gloriously sunny and beautiful. Today, my luck ran out.

More about that later.

I started my journey from Mt. Shasta this morning and for the first time since I left home had a proper breakfast. It was delightful. Being full and ready for a big day, I headed out to see Lake Siskiyou. Following the GPS, my route encouraged me to turn right on the North Shore Road and this beautiful Wagon Creek Bridge was my first point of interest. The bridge allows for a loop trail around the lake.

Wagon Creek Bridge from a distance
Close up view of bridge over Lake Siskiyou
Lake Siskiyou

Leaving the lake, I took Forest Road 26 to get lost for awhile in the Shasta Trinity National Forest. I wasn’t literally lost. Just lost in my thoughts and the beauty of the land. I didn’t know where the road would end but I was enjoying the ride.

Forest Road 26
Lots of little streams along the way

Coming off of the Forest Road, I headed towards Crater Lake National Park and just happened to come upon a little town who has found a way to make some money. I won’t spoil it by saying the words, I’ll let you see for yourself in the photos.

Yep, that is really the name of the town.
This is their souvenir shirt

After passing through the town, I continued on via the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway through even more beautiful scenery before entering Crater Lake National Park.

I could stay right here forever.

Just a few minutes later, I came upon the Southern Entrance to Crater Lake National Park

I’m happy to be here.

Notice the bright blue skies in the last picture? Look what I found as I continued to drive up toward the rim of the crater. Total surprise!


There wasn’t much to see when I got to the rim where I SHOULD be able to see Crater Lake. Guess what I saw? FOG! Not a glimpse of the huge lake. The lake that is the deepest in the United States at 1,943 feet.

This is the lodge shrouded in fog.

Crater Lake is where my luck ran out. I had driven all the way from Southern California to Oregon to see fog. Bummer! The folks at the lodge said that this was expected for the next two days along with rain and snow. So, I went to bed with little hope of seeing the lake and woke up to see big fat flakes of snow coming down right outside my cabin window. I must admit that I ran outside like a child to see the majesty of it all. It was beautiful!

You should be able to see the lake behind me; but, nothing but snow and fog.

I spent the morning in the lodge hoping beyond hope that the sun would come out and let me get just a little peek at what I had driven so far to see. Instead, it kept snowing and snowing and snowing.

Then, at 2:15 pm, my miracle came. The sun came out, dissipated the fog, and the snow stopped. Wow, just wow!

Look at all the shades of blue. These photos don’t begin to do it justice.

Good things really do come to those who wait. Even if it takes sitting by a window in the lodge for 4 hours trying to believe in a miracle.

Then, at precisely 3:02, the lake was shrouded in fog and the snow began to fall.

The fog covering the lake. Compare to the same picture above.

For 47 minutes, I saw one of the most beautiful sites in the world. I am blessed. Now, it can snow, snow, snow. Mother Nature, I don’t mind a bit. 😊

A very memorable day

Do you remember when you were young and often said, “I can’t wait till I get old enough to….”. Well, today, I had an “I’m finally old enough” moment. I drove my car to the entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park and announced to the park ranger that I would like to purchase a Senior Citizen Lifetime National Park Pass. I said, “I am so excited to be old enough to get one!” He laughed and said, “I’m happy for you”. His comment was very anticlimactic for an event I have waited 63 years for!

After driving from Lodi, California where I had a very pleasant lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in 10 years, I made my way Mineral Pass.

Mineral Pass has Highlands Ranch Lodge and the Village at Children’s Meadow as an option for lodging. The lodge is beautiful but the Village was practical so I’m sure you know which I chose. The meadow was very inviting with wide open spaces and beautiful horses.

I had an overwhelming sense that I needed to invite Laura Ingalls and Anne of Green Gables to picnic with me.

Upon entering the park, from the Southwest side, I realized again that the park was going to be fairly void of visitors. But, a nice lady stopped behind me and asked if she could take my picture.

The Kohm Ya-mah-nee Visitor Center was closed due to Covid-19, but a masked Park Ranger was available toanswer questions.

The first point of interest in the park is the Sulphuric Works area where mud pots send steam into the air along with a very stinky sulphuric smell. NASA is working with Lassen NP to study microorganisms that can survive in the thermal mud pots. They may also explain life in other universes such as Mars. I learned that this study is called astrobiology. A new term for me.

Leaving the mud pots, the roads snake and wind as the altitude increases. Then, comes a nice surprise of gorgeous snow!

Even Emerald Lake still looks emerald in its frozen state. And yes, that is a fisherman trying to get a bite under the ice.

Driving around the mountain brought more and more beautiful views. Upon arriving at Kings Creek, I got the perfect shot of Lassen Peak.

Driving further down the mountain, I came upon Summit Lake and found a couple in a blow up raft who had the entire lake to themselves.

At this point, my homemade cranberry walnut bread and turkey sandwich laden with cream cheese and cranberry sauce was calling my name. Manzanita Lake seemed the perfect spot to have a picnic lunch with the ducks, the fish and the HUGE blue jays.

After lunch, I wanted to check out the Manzanita Lake Cabins. These are camping cabins with no water or electricity. They looked nice though. This is one of two places that you can stay in the park. The other is at Drakesbad Guest Ranch.

Exiting the park, I couldn’t help but think about what a beautiful walk David was going to have when he arrives in Lassen sometime in August. Neither was it lost on me that I had driven to Lassen in 3 days and it would take him 3 months to walk there!

As I entered the town of Old Station, I had been told that the PCT was just .03 off the highway. I just had to go take a look! The first picture is where David will be coming FROM and the 2nd photo is where he will be walking TO when he arrives in Old Station. So, I walked a bit on both sides so that I could tease him about my hiking the PCT in Lassen National Forest before he did!😜

It was time to be back on the road again to head to my next destination: Mt. Shasta. Hwy. 89 took me right to it. The view was fabulous!

When I opened the door to my hotel room, this is the view from my window.

It has been a good day.