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Life On The Lido: An Alaskan Cruise

A Mariners Life, Death of a Camera, Humpback Spectacular, Favorite Weekly Photos

semi-overcast 55 °F

I want to start this weeks essay by giving some insight about life on a ship. I’ve talked about this lifestyle before, and every so often I get inspired to share a few more details. However, I’m not sure quite how to start explaining the bizarre place that I call home, because I’m not sure I can do it justice. It is a potent melting pot of personalities, moods, emotions, lust, friends, love, lovers, spats, teamwork, laughter and tears.
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I have worked on this boat for almost two years, which is a long time in the boat world. Time is funny here. I am chained to the clock on an hourly basis, though the passing of days and months has no real meaning. I rarely know what day of the week it is, and even more rarely know the date. They don’t matter.

Instead, my day revolves around my work schedule which changes every week. This week, I’m working from 1 am to 1 pm. Next week, I’ll be working from 7 am to 7 pm, and so on. It’s weird getting used to a different sleep cycle every week, but I like it. I like to shake things up, and this schedule keeps me on my toes.

While this job is still a job, my fringe benefits are my life experiences that I would not trade for anything. It’s easy to live in this moment.

To say it takes a special kind of weirdo to live and work on a ship for months on end is an understatement. As one of our chief engineers has said, “You have to be a little crazy to work on a boat.” As another crewmember put it, “I’m sitting next to my girlfriend, who is sitting next to her ex-boyfriend who is sitting to his girlfriend, who just happens to be my ex-girlfriend. We are all talking about poop, and for some reason, it’s okay.”

So it goes. I work hard. I take advantage of my limited down time, and make the most of the opportunities given on a daily basis. It’s a fun job, and one I will never forget. I get to taste a different flavor every day- a life of variety. I wish we all could be so lucky.

Life on the Lido
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Our lido deck is the highest deck on the ship. It is one of our favorite places for the crew to hang out, especially when the weather is beautiful, when we are watching wildlife, or looking for some personal time. It is off-limits to our guests. This offers us a refuge to relax, and let our guard down. To work on a ship with paying guests is to be in a continual state of courtesy.
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The lido is a wonderful place where some of my favorite memories have taken place on this boat. From this deck, I have watched countless whales, dolphins, birds and feeding frenzies. I have awoke to a gorgeous dawn after an amazing night of stargazing in Mexico. I hugged a friend as greenish northern lights danced across the sky. I have spent many hours stretching my body and mind, while watching this tranquil world slip by at ten miles an hour. My fondest memories have been simply lying around up here with my fellow crewmembers-my very dysfunctional, but loveable family.

Humpback Whale Spectacular
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My camera can’t land cartwheels. I was very sad to find this out, because it meant that I was without a camera for the best whale show I’ve seen up here in Alaska. It started with a humpback calf breaching right off of our starboard beam (the middle of the ship). We stopped to admire its graceful form arc into the air before it smacked into the water with a tremendous splash.

The rest of the pod surfaced not too far away, blasting their breath into the air in a misty vertical cloud. We hove to, not moving. The pod dove and surfaced right off of our bow. Then it proceeded to swim right off of our rub rail within talking distance. All of the crew was on the fantail when it passed by. It was an amazing moment (an understatement). They dove as they passed us, and I was able to see their giant flukes from up close as they slipped easily into the water.

When the whales surfaced again, they had formed a bubble net and surged through the surface 150 yards off our stern. Humpback whales are the only whale in the world that uses a bubble net to trap food. What is truly amazing is that these whales work together to form a giant bubble net with over a dozen whales participating in the ring. While humpback whales range all over the world, the whales here in southeast Alaska are the only whales that feed cooperatively in this fashion. We happily motored away, getting ready for our morning activities.

Later that afternoon, we returned to watch the humpback whales. Their numbers had grown in our absence. There were now seventeen whales in the area. I’ve never seen so many humpback whales in one spot before. To top it off, there were well over a dozen bubble-net feeding! To say it was awesome is an understatement, but words cannot do this day justice.

My First Terrarium
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My friend Tiffany introduced the concept of a terrarium to me a couple of weeks ago. A terrarium is a collection of small plants that are contained glass enclosure. It’s like an aquarium, only instead of water, it is filled with earth and plants. Tiffany wanted to build one, and she enlisted me to help her with her project. It sounded cool, and so we set up a date to go out and collect plants.

It was just after 1 pm, in the afternoon and I had just finished work. I changed into my street clothes in record time, and stepped off ship onto the wooden dock of Petersburg, Alaska. We were excited. We were free, if only for a few hours, and we weren’t going to waste a minute of it. Tiffany and I grabbed a couple of bikes and rode into town. We stopped at the liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine, and went in search of a likeable place to collect plants.
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The bike ride was fun. I still get a kick out of pedaling off on a good bike on a random adventure. Remember that feeling of your first one hundred yard bike ride before you toppled off in jubilation? I’m talking about that thrill in your stomach. Biking is one of the few activities that still can spark the exuberance of youth in an adult.

I digress. We found Petersburg hiking trail on the north side of town. We parked our up the trail in the forest, and set about walking the trail. It wasn’t long before Tiffany began pulling tiny plants out of the forest by their root system and putting them into the Tupperware we had brought along for the job. She instructed me to go and collect dirt. I accepted my task with a sigh, mumbling to myself about being, “just the dirt guy.” It wasn’t long before I had scraped together a couple bags of good forest earth, and she had several likeable ferns, clumps of mosses and the like.

Satisfied, we walked further along the trail to a park bench where we spent the majority of our freedom. We took turns reading to one another out of her books. I read philosophy to her, and she read to me about Morocco. We sipped our wine, and talked the afternoon away while friendly locals said, “hello” while they walked their dogs.

When the wine was gone, we walked back to our bikes and rode back to the ship. Tiffany grabbed our terrarium containers, and we took our bounty out on the dock to build our little gardens. It was a lot of fun. I put a good layer of the black earth I had picked, and then carefully as I could planted my choice of plants.

The result was a tiny forest scene. It looked really cool, especially after I put in a small plastic silver back gorilla into my “forest.”
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Favorite Photos of the Week
I’ll leave you with my favorite shots from this week.
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It’s been a good week. You’ll be happy to know I found an identical camera body in Juneau. I feel like a new man, reborn again with a good camera in my hand, and the wilds of Alaska before me.

Cheers!

.

Posted by Rhombus 07:13 Archived in USA Tagged islands water wildlife towns whales alaska oceans photography forests terrariums Comments (0)

Icebergs, Fox Fires, and Orca: An Alaskan Week to Remember

Kayaking in Icebergs, Euology for a Glacier, Fox Fires, and Orca

semi-overcast 50 °F

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I could see the mass of white blue ice floating on the placid rain speckled water of Williams Cove from the fantail of the ship. I asked our Bosun if he would drop some kayaks for two of my friends, and myself. I slid into my raingear, and hopped into the shuttle that would take us to shore.
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Now in the kayak, I paddled directly towards the massive blue iceberg that had drawn my attention earlier. It was even prettier up close. I love glacier blue. This color only forms in the ancient ice of glaciers. The glaciers are a living entity, though they are slowly passing away.

Eulogy for a Glacier
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In life, a tidal glacier creates some of the prettiest landscapes on the face of the planet. The glacier spends thousands of years, slowly grinding and polishing dense mountain stone until it is a perfect. Sawyer Glacier (before it split into North and South Sawyer) was the master carver of Tracy Arm-a stunning array of angled rock, white ribbons of waterfalls, green water, and beautiful ice floes.
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In death, the tidal glacier melts and disintegrates. As a parting gift, it sheds magnificent pieces of ice from its face that slowly melt into the sea. The cracking roar of white thunder signifies the birth of another berg. Once the berg settles, the tidal currents pull them away from the face and carry them out to sea. As children leave home, icebergs slowly disappear around the bend, never to be seen again. Over time, the tidal glacier retreats further into the fjord until at last the final piece of ice falls into the sea. There is nothing left but a rumbling creek, and the smooth rock of memories past.

A tidal glacier is unique, because it only creates beauty. Its life work is left to see in the short term exquisite melting of icebergs, and in the long lasting beauty of a fjord.

Zen Morning

It is in the wondrous backdrop of Tracy Arm, that I spent my morning kayaking around stately icebergs. It was another Zen morning for me. I heard the sound of raindrops tapping the surface of the slate gray water with a tiny blip. Two ravens call in the distance. The watery sound of small waves lapping the ice was musical. The ice itself is exquisite. Each piece of ice was worthy to be on the wall of the Louvre. The seawater and rain have melted it into intricate shapes, and each piece could be a plate on the Rorschach test.
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My friends went in search of warmth. I went in search of ice, and with it, Zen. I fell into deep breathing, satisfied to float around the bergs as the current would take me. I opened my eyes, and a leaf floated right to my canoe. I marveled at its vein system. Then I let it go.
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Blue
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We visited South Sawyer Glacier right at sunset. We were deep in the fjord, deep in blue shadow. A giant iceberg glowed against the rich backdrop of sun-streaked stone. It was a beautiful a work of art, a sapphire set into a locket of fire.
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The face of the glacier held still. It looked as though the entire face could fall at any minute, but it held its piece, frozen and unmoving for the moment. Dozens of harbor seals were atop the ice floes, basking in the beautiful evening. The seals live on the floes, in front of the glacier. In real estate, it’s all about location. I’d like to meet their agent.

Fox Fire
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The Inuit call it “Fox Fire.” The phenomenon is more commonly called the “northern lights” (in the northern hemisphere). Astronomers prefer to call it Aurora Borealis. It has been many years since I’ve seen the northern lights dancing in the sky. And I’ve never seen it in Alaska. I’ve seen them three times this week. Last night’s show was amazing. At three thirty in the morning, I looked to the north and saw an intense column of green light. Then a halo appeared and began pulsing. I was in awe. I ran down to the bunks, and woke up my roommate, and two other friends to share the experience. It’s a gamble to wake people up, because the northern lights are a fickle entity. As quickly as they show, they can disappear -even on a perfectly clear sky. Luck was with me, and the lights continued to dance when I returned to the stern of our ship. My friends appeared, one by one, and I was glad to have awoken them. We stood in companionable silence in the chilly Alaskan night watching the dance of all dances. I wondered what ancient man thought of the foxfires. As they dance ended, I smiled. How lucky can a guy get?

Close Encounters with Orca
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I’m working nights this week. I awoke around four, and headed up to the top deck our ship to eat my breakfast. It was a beautiful day. The air was cool. The sun broke through the high patchwork clouds, bringing warmth, and chill. I read philosophy aloud to a friend as we watched the Alaskan seascapes slowly change with our movement.
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Then the boat slowed, and we spotted a pod of orca. I put down my philosophy book that I was reading to a friend, and we watched the whales for a while. Then, as they swam away, I went back to my book for a few pages. Suddenly, we heard the whale spout right next to us, and we jumped up to see them. They were right next to the boat, skimming the surface just underneath the water. Then, as a family, the big male popped up, followed by two females and a calf. It was amazing!

Needless to say, I’ve been eating a lot more breakfast up on the lido. There is no finer way to start my day.

To recap, this week I’ve seen six different glaciers. I’ve kayaked among icebergs. I saw a beautiful iceberg scene of seals, ice and sunset. I watched an orca pod for several hours. I watched humpback whales bubble net feed. The aurora borealis danced across my sky three times on three different nights, and I’ve shared it all with some great people.

Alaska. It’s such a small name, but it gives me such a big smile.
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Posted by Rhombus 10:15 Archived in USA Tagged wildlife whales alaska oceans kayaking glaciers photography orca icebergs foxfires auroraborealis Comments (0)

Alaskan Atmosphere

A Breath, Mists, Wildlife, Sea Scapes, and Very Large Animals

semi-overcast 63 °F

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I’m trapped in the ether of Southeast Alaska. In this region of Alaska, the simple act of breathing is a pleasure. The air is coldest at the point of entry- my nose- and warms only slightly as it flows down my windpipe into my lungs. At the entrance to my lungs, the cool air spreads evenly into my lung tissue. It feels as though someone just walked into a warm and cozy house after spending several hours out in the winter cold. It smells fresh. It tastes pure. It blows my endorphins wide open. With every breath, I feel alert, happy, and somehow, more alive.
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When I say I am “trapped” here, I mean to say that I am once again working on a ship with few options for escape. To those of you who might have worked on a vessel before, you will understand what I mean. Even if I wanted to gain my freedom, there are only two choices: I can jump off the boat and swim to shore, or I could get off at the next port later on in the week. I think I’ll stay.

Life on a ship is not so bad actually. The work is good, the people are fun, and the seascapes are breathtakingly beautiful.
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In fact, I think Alaska is almost impossibly beautiful. I will never understand the physics behind the mist and fog that forms and flows around the islands, mountains, and rain forest. I don’t think I want to. Physics aside, the results are inspiring.
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If the landscape wasn’t mind blowing enough, then there are the giant animals that wander though these Alaskan scenes. During my first week, I had close encounters with Stellar Sea Lions near the Inian Islands. I watched a pod of Orca catching Salmon in Peril Straight. Near False Bay, I saw Humpback Whales working together to corral herring in a giant bubble net. As one, the whales swam through the net feasting on the herring in an orgy of mass eating.
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It was very exciting. I was leaning on a portside rail, looking out at a school of herring dancing on the water. A quivering ball of herring makes the surface of the water bounce, as though a heavy rain is falling on the ocean. I heard the whales before I saw them. I looked down and with a rush of frothy white water, the pod broke through the surface right next to the ship. I was spellbound.
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On land, I watched grizzly bears foraging along the shore. They were prying mussels off the rocks for their lunch. I spied a wolf pack through binoculars loitering on a beach. The pack had a young pup, and it embraced its playful nature. While the mother and other members relaxed on the beach, the pup ran around between them biting them on the muzzle. In one scene, I saw a murder of ravens, a wolf, and a grizzly bear hanging out near a creek.

The Reid glacier in Glacier Bay National Park is one of the prettiest I have seen. A giant ice cave has formed on its face this year. I love looking at the texture and coloring of this glacier. It has a marbled look, mostly brown and dirty white, but it glows a very subtle glacier blue.
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This past week was perhaps the best welcome back present I could have had. Alaska continues to be very good to me. I feel like my words and pictures can’t really do this place justice. I could use thousands of adjectives from the English language, but none of them comes close to describing what it is like to stand in place and look off to some distant fog covered island. It is one of the world’s truly remarkable locations.
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I’m satisfied with my captivity. If I’m going to be in prison, it may as well be by choice in the wilds of southeast Alaska.

Posted by Rhombus 02:46 Archived in USA Tagged trees boats islands whales alaska clouds oceans mist photography bears wolves Comments (1)

A Four Month Reflection

Unanswered Questions, Interactive Sunsets, and A Celebration of Summer

sunny 75 °F

QUESTIONS WITHOUT ANSWERS
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It is nearing nine thirty in the evening when the sun finally sets over Lake Superior. In a moment of inspiration, I put on my flip-flops and walk up the old pebbled driveway surrounded by ripening thimbleberry bushes. I cross the old highway bridge that spans the Eagle River some eighty feet below. I walk behind the old white schoolhouse, and I climb to the top of the metal slide that is one of the four best pieces of playground equipment in the U.S.

From this perch, I have a panoramic view of the village of Eagle River and Lake Superior beyond. Panning from left to right, I can see the sunset glimmering over the flatness of the lake. I see rooftops, treetops, tennis court, ball field, swing set and the county court house off in the distance. I don’t know how many sunsets I’ve watched from here-too many to count. It’s a good spot.

This is one of my thinking spots. It is one of the oldest I have, perhaps, and it has been a long time since I’ve come here. Tonight, I’m thinking a lot about my current situation. I’m thinking about my future- what do I want to do, and where do I want to go. In short, “What’s next?” This is the age-old question that we all ask ourselves from time to time. I ask it aloud, and only hear the soft rustle of the trees on the hillside not far away. Fair enough, that’s a good answer.

I think back to the last four months, and get lost in my memories for a while. I smile, and take it from the top. In April, I drove four thousand miles across the US with my trusty (and rusty) van Marvin. I think of the pleasures of spring: the hot springs, sand dunes, and endless miles of road. I think of the people I reconnected with. I found my family, my friends, and myself. I went white water rafting, slack lining, hiking, long boarding, and rock climbing. I celebrated my birthday in Seattle with my birthday twin. I flew to Sitka and got my ass kicked by a fever. There, I walked through a living museum of memories from where I had my heart broken. It was an odd experience, but I felt only peace. I flew on to Anchorage and I hitchhiked 240 miles to Denali National Park. I hung out with my nephew and lived in a shack. I danced my Denali mountain dance on a mountain top and the sun came out. I hitchhiked 460 miles in 11 and a half hours. In Homer, I ate the best seafood of my life. I floated to Haines, and slept on the sidewalk in Juneau. I backpacked on Isle Royale-getting drenched in three inches of rain. I flew to Colorado. I saw my first wildfire, and drove to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I followed a bear, swam in an alpine lake, and watched the sun rise from the highest sand dune in North America. I grew weary, and rediscovered Nebraska. I felt the irresistible urge to return to my roots. I came “home.”
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So, what’s next? I’m really not sure. In the immediate future, I’m going back to work for three months. This will take me back to Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. I don’t have any plans after that. In Nebraska, I traveled without a map. It was a pleasure to travel by instinct and allure. I think I’m going to do more of that. I’m tired of having a plan. The trouble with a plan is sometimes I feel like I become a slave to the plan. However, I’m fortunate to realize when it does not feel right and have no problems changing things up. You can’t force the trip.

From my perch, I watch the sun ease into the water. Lake Superior can be frigid, and I’m certain I heard the sun gasp a little as it sunk up to its middle. I’m at ease too. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t have any plans. I’m going to travel without a map for a little while, and see how it goes. The one word I try to remind myself of everyday is FLOW. Everything flows. With that certainty, I’ve set down my paddle and I’m content to let the river of life, energy, and creativity take my craft as it will.

INTERACTIVE SUNSETS
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I’ve been watching many sunsets lately. However, I’ve taken them to a completely new level by wading deep into Lake Superior just as the sun nears the horizon. I love the swirl of colors in the water. I love the tingle of energy from the cold water rising slowly up my body. I love the serenity of the lake when I‘m up to my neck in cold water watching the day fade away. I love being a part of the sunset, rather than just a witness.
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Please don’t take my word for it. Try it. It is amazing.
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SUMMER
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For the last three weeks, I’ve been content to take it easy. I’m unwinding from three months on the road and I’ve enjoyed settling down - for the moment. I’ve spent a lot of time with my brothers, enjoying their peculiarities and good humor. I’ve been puttering around “the camp” (my family’s vacation home) on self imposed projects, and I’m satisfied with the progress I’ve made here. I’ve been eating well, and have happily spent many hours in the kitchen serving up fresh bread, rolls, Swedish blueberry pancakes, pizza, gumbo, burgers, green salsa, pineapple upside down cake among other dishes.
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I picked blueberries-summer’s best fruit- at a small patch back at the farm. The crop is good this year, and I’m going to pick some more this week. I transplanted some maple trees here at the camp. I’m optimistic that they will make it, and I’m hoping to slack line between them in a decade or so.

A pair of eagles has nested just across the river from my front porch. This is the first time I have ever seen eagles on the Eagle River. Not only that, but they are raising young eagles in their nest. They haven’t flown yet, but I can hear their shrill cries from the nest when one of the parents brings home a fish.

A pair of Kingfishers has also made the river their home this year. I’ve been watching them fly by throughout the day. One evening, as I was skipping rocks by the bend in the river. One of them flew to a nearby stump and landed. I held still. After a minute, it took off, hovered above the river for a second, and then dove down into the water to snatch a minnow. It was awesome! This was the first time I’ve seen kingfishers in action.
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I think I’ve made the most of my summer vacation. I’ve eaten ice cream cones, stared into bonfires at dusk, and have ridden my long board down to the beach to swim three times a day. These actions are good for the soul.

~RECONNECTIONS~
[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ImKAGn7gUU.]
I will leave you this week with a short movie I’ve put together from clips I shot on my road trip back in April. I think it came out ok, but please realize I’m not using top of the line equipment. My cameras have a movie feature on them, and I decided to see if I could come up with anything cool. I’ve also come to realize that editing movie clips takes up far too much time, especially if you are a perfectionist. I finally had to give up, realizing this is just an experiment, and not going to Sundance. Enjoy.

Posted by Rhombus 12:55 Archived in USA Tagged beaches sunsets summer photography michigan philosophy roadtrips Comments (0)

The Sangre De Cristo Mountains and Nebraska

To North Crestone Lake, Colorado Wildflowers, The End of the Adventure and the Best of Nebraska

sunny 91 °F

To North Crestone Lake
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I had been following North Crestone Creek since I left my campsite at seven in the morning. It was now nearing ten o’clock, and I had hiked four miles while rising well over three thousand feet. Across the grassy meadow to my right was a skinny waterfall that dropped one hundred feet or more. I figured that North Crestone Lake had to be hiding somewhere above the waterfall.
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Up here, the air was noticeably thinner. My breath came in small gasps as I followed the steep switchbacks that wound through the loose rock of the ridge wall. When I paused to rest, I caught my breath within a minute, and my heart slowed to a normal rhythm. I smiled. I was in shape. The last three months of vagabonding has treated me well. I am in the best shape of my adult life, and this five mile hike into the high country of the Sangre De Cristo (SDC) mountains of Colorado was a piece of cake (POC).
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During my hike, I passed through four noticeable zones of vegetation. I started out in a narrow canyon of the creek in a thick pine forest. I gradually rose into healthy groves of aspen. Their lime green trunks were smooth to the touch, and their quaking leaves offered a shimmering shadow on the path I followed. The aspen groves gave way to open high mountain meadows. They were full of lush green grasses and bursting with wildflowers. Finally, when I neared the lake I found an alpine meadow. The soil was thin, but it still provided enough nutrients for an entire meadow of wildflowers. I unfocused my eyes and saw a carpet of purple, mays, white and blue dotting a lush green background. This could have been a dreamscape.
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The scenery was spectacular. I have had visions of Colorado high mountain meadows in my head for as long as I could remember. The landscape I walked through was reminiscent of these daydreams, and the higher I climbed the more I realized I was living my dream.
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I counted twelve different varieties of wild flowers. I’m certain this number is a conservative count, as I hadn’t been keeping track for most of the hike. Flitting among the pockets of flowers was an equally diverse population of butterflies. I wondered if the thin air affected a butterfly in any way, but they seemed normal to my eye. This Swallowtail posed beautifully for me and allowed me to get very close to its perch. Perhaps mountain butterflies are more tolerant of humans, then their low elevation cousins.
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I felt small. The rocky mountain peaks of the SDC towered all around me. Sheer walls of rock protected their high points, and by the effort it would take to scale them. To me, they looked inviting. Where there is a will, there is a way, and I’m certain I could unlock the puzzle of climbing those walls safely. However, this was just a warm up hike, and I decided against the extra strain of mountaineering on this hike.
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Finally, I gained the top of the ridge and below me lay the crystal clear lake tucked neatly beneath four peaks. I laughed. I whooped, and I let out a yodel. It’s true, I can yodel. But I don’t do it very often. It’s bad enough I roam around without contributing much to society for months on end, why would I make the populace listen to my yodeling too? My soaring voice ricocheted off the first mountain and back to the wall behind me, before making its way higher up the walls of the distant mounts and escaping into the stratosphere. I was satisfied with my insignificance. Once in awhile, you might notice a cricket chirp too.

I skipped down the trail to the edge of the lake, pausing to admire the sunny meadow full of flowers, bees, grasses, birds, butterflies and me. There wasn’t anyone else around for miles. I stripped down to my underwear, and eased myself into the cold water. As I slipped deeper and deeper into the water, my skin tingled with chill. It was like dipping yourself into an icy energy field that took your breath away, yet left you feeling more alive than you have ever felt, at least for this week. It was awesome.
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I drip-dried among the flowers, content to take in some sun, and sip water while the world buzzed around me. I think it’s safe to say I was buzzing too, but it is hard to notice your own buzz that you emit and share with the world.

End Game
When I reached the trailhead, I was melting. As a candle slowly shrinks, my wax was dripping out of me in the form of sweat. It felt like ninety degrees, at least. I popped open my car, and dodging the rolling ball of heat trapped within. I opened my cooler, and found lukewarm water instead of the ice I placed there yesterday. I sighed, grabbed my cheese, a tomato, cranberry juice, and a hunk of French bread.
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I sat in the shade of a giant boulder and ate my lunch. It was good, and tasted great. In the heat, I tend to eat lightly, opting for easy to prepare non-cooking foods. It was in that moment that I grew weary of this adventure. I was tired of trying to figure out where I was going to sleep every night. I was tired of the heat. And I was just plain tired. I had been on the road for three months, and I had reached my limit.
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I packed up my gear, and put on my flip-flops. I drove out of the campground, and stopped briefly in Crestone to call my brother. The conversation was quite short. “Hey man, I’m headed your way. “ I informed him. “Ok, dude, I’ll see you when you get here.” My brother understands me. He didn’t even question me. With that, I was off. I drove south and east to escape the mountains. From Walsenburg, I started traveling northeast.
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As I passed from the mountains and into the eastern plains of Colorado, I felt my soul ease into contentment. On the western edge of the vast emptiness, I found peace. There is something soothing to the open grasslands that speaks to my soul like nothing else I know. As I drove northward, the sun set into the smoky air over Colorado Springs, turning the sun into a bright fiery ball of orange. To the east, a shaft of a rainbow grew bright for an instant, then eased from my sight as if it had never been there. Colorado was saying farewell.

I rolled on into the night.

Nebraska
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I was cruising north on a skinny black asphalt road somewhere in western Nebraska. I was too lazy to stop and buy a map, so I wasn‘t sure where I was. It was very liberating to travel without a map. I chose my directions by dead reckoning and by the allure of the surrounding scenery. If I passed a road that caught my eye and it was heading in the right direction (north or east), I took it. It’s the only way to travel the plains.
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I was thinking a lot about a cup of coffee. I love the taste of coffee as I drive my morning roads. As luck would have it, a small roadside picnic area appeared just up the highway, and I slowed to pull over. I laughed. It consisted of a small picnic table in the shade of two giant cottonwood trees at the intersection of two lonely highways. It was very modest, but it was perfect. I happily pulled out my Jetboil stove and heated up some water for my French press. I ate an orange, and a Clif bar, while sipping hot black coffee. I was in breakfast heaven.
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Nebraska makes me appreciate trees. There aren’t many trees out here, so when I see one, I take a good look. You might not see another one for another hundred miles. I look to see what type of tree it is, how much shade it produces, and can I set up my slack line or hammock. In western Nebraska, Cottonwoods are the most plentiful. Where Cottonwoods grow, you can usually find a good source of water (though it may be underground). That’s why they are so plentiful around the rivers and canyons of the west.
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The sand hills region of Nebraska is very beautiful, but so very lonesome. It is so forlorn and empty; it could make a coyote cry. There isn’t much out here but undulating grass covered hills, wild prairie flowers, the relentless wind, and assorted prairie animals. Most Americans and travelers miss this unique place. With time on my side, I pulled over to admire some prairie sunflowers bobbing in the hot wind. I also stopped to use the local rest stop. Believe it or not, this was one of the cleaner rest rooms I’ve seen in my journeys. It had a small population of hornets living inside, but they minded their own business, and I minded mine.
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I love driving through the small towns of the plains. If you are driving through Nebraska, get off the major highways. Go and visit towns like Arthur, Tryon (population 157), Amelia, Winnetoon, Verdigre (The Kolach Capital of the World) and Orchard. Not only are these towns charming, but they help break up the monotony of the drive. The big question I ask myself is, “Why do people live here?”
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I love the fact Nebraska is a waving state. Eight out of ten cars will wave at you when you pass them on the highways. Not every state waves, but Nebraska does.

In the evening, I pulled into the small town of Orchard. I was getting tired of driving, and I was looking for a place to camp. One great thing about the small towns of the plains is they are very friendly to campers. Most towns have a city park, and most parks offer free camping. Orchard’s city park was perfect. It was dotted with old oak trees and pines. It had some playground equipment for the kids and a covered picnic area for receptions or rainy weather.
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The grass was green and well tended. I parked my little car and got out to stretch. I set up my slack line between two trees and practiced my craft. Then I cracked a sweating Corona from my cooler, and chopped up a cucumber, avocado, onion, and green pepper. I squeezed some lime juice on it, hit it with a dash of pepper and ate it with tortilla chips. My green salsa is always a hit.
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After dinner, I relaxed in my hammock. I popped another beer, and took out my phone. I sent texts out to five random people, just to say, “Hey, how are you?” The sun set, and the stars emerged from the dusky blue sky.
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I think my next American road trip is going to be a tour of the Great Plains. I’m going to start either on the south end in Texas, or on the Canadian shield in northern Saskatoon. I’m going to try and see every backwards old town I can find. I’m going to camp with the coyotes, hike out into those sand hills of Nebraska, and see what is beyond those endless hills. I can’t wait.

Posted by Rhombus 09:28 Archived in USA Tagged mountains flowers hiking colorado photography trails philosophy meadows nebraska plains Comments (0)

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