I Stepped Out Of The Car …

Juan Jose and Crystel – summit Whitefish, Mountain.

I stepped out of the car. My legs crumpled under me. A stark reminder that I needed to make a date to have both of my knees replaced.

Gingerly, I straightened. Re-balanced. Even so, I walked lopsided towards the gas station. I took short little steps uncertain in my movements. With each footstep forward, I adjusted my back, testing my knees to hold me. To onlookers, it may have appeared that I had one leg shorter than another or hip problems. A little old lady shuffling into the station, focusing

Jody

on each step to avoid slipping on the icy asphalt.

In the car, I didn’t feel pain. Juan Jose’ had been driving the first leg of our journey to Whitefish, Montana. Sitting in the front passenger seat, I was able to maneuver my legs, stretch, elevate my knees, and shuffle my butt around. The suddenness of being unable to move or walk properly after resting in the car 2 ½ hours was frightening.

I hadn’t realized how unstable my knees were. I was well-accustomed to my knees burning and throbbing, having learned to lessen the pain with ice, ibuprofen, and exercise. Being crippled after sitting in a car was an eye-opener.

Dogsledding

I had planned our Whitefish, Montana trip to celebrate my 60th birthday. I wanted to introduce Juan Jose’ and Crystel to mountain downhill skiing, snowmobiling, dogsledding and cross-country skiing in Glacier National Park. Bucket list items.

In the previous few months, there were several occasions that Jody asked me if I wanted to alter my plans. Perhaps, be less adventurous, more knee friendly, more old-ladyish (though she didn’t put it that way).

I had planned this trip for well over a year. Reservations were made. Friends would be joining us. Knee replacement and sedentary activities would have to wait.

snowmobiling to the top of the mountain

The most difficult part of our trip would prove to be getting out of the car after a long car ride.

It wasn’t downhill skiing 6817ft from the summit at Whitefish, Mountain or being a passenger on Crystel’s snowmobile as she drove to the top of the mountain or journeying with Jody by dog sled.

I was comfortable in the car, but when I stood to take those first few steps I was crippled.

I’ll be seeing the doctor tomorrow to set a date for my double knee replacement.

Only thing is, I am registered to ski 15k on the Birkie trail February 22, 2019 and I have a trip to Florida planned the first week in April. I plan to paddle board, be a passenger on Juan Jose’s jet ski and walk on the beach.

I’ll pen the knee replacement surgery in my calendar. Stop adding adventures. Promise.

 

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What’s In Arkansas?

The Movie Shoot

The Movie Shoot

Thanksgiving dinner, good company, excellent hiking trails, a movie shoot, and 50 degree weather.

The second question to arise in the ten-hour drive from Minneapolis is why is Arkansas pronounced AR-ken-saw?

Our van ride was more docile than the fight in 1881 over the State’s pronunciation.The pronunciation of Arkansas was made official by an act of the state legislature in 1881, after a dispute between two U.S. Senators from Arkansas. One wanted to pronounce the name ar-KAN-zes and the other wanted AR-ken-saw.

Hobbs State Park Conservation Area

Hobbs State Park Conservation Area

I hadn’t done any research on the inlaws or the state of Arkansas prior to visiting. I returned to Minneapolis after our 4-day stay delighted in both. So much so, I thought about moving.

Prior to our visit, I had not given any thought to the geography of the state. I pictured it as a small postage stamp. What I found was surprisingly different.

The state’s geography ranges from mountains to densely forested land to  lowlands along the Mississippi River. Arkansas has 52 state parks.

Hobbs State Park Recreation Area, where we hiked has bluffs, rocky outcrops, limestone bedrock, caves, sink holes, and a fault line. Crystel has lately been in the habit of cartwheeling everywhere she goes and can now say that she has done it on a trail in Arkansas.December 4 2013 196

December 4 2013 186Signage in Arkansas could be an issue. In this picture if you look at the sign it clearly says that the War Eagle Valley Loop is straight ahead. That is actually Little Clifty Creek – the difference being a 9 mile hike instead of the 6 mile hike we envisioned ourselves on. I shouted after the mountain bikers and horse back riders what trail they thought THEY were on. And we weren’t thinking the same.

Orange tree where the oranges look like brains

Orange tree.

One just needs to keep in mind the earlier dispute in 1881. There was obviously confusion there too and they even made it a law to keep it confusing.

Near our home base was a wonderful backyards trail in J.B. Hunt Park. The park covers 105 acres and was a beautiful hour walk that included a path around a  lake, a spring, and orange trees. The oranges looked like brains. December 4 2013 172

The children received their first ‘real’ paycheck in Arkansas. They were paid to be in a movie shoot with What’s Up, Que Pasa.

Ozark Video needed two 11-year old children that knew a bit of Spanish for a quiz show. Fortunately, we were available and Antonio and Crystel had the right December 4 2013 093complexion.  This could be the start of something big.

Arkansas is definitely a place to visit. Don’t skirt around it. Stop, if you are in the area.

No Running Water. No Electricity.

189What to do. What to do. What to do. Fish and swim. Fish and swim. Fish and swim. Geocache. Hike. Have pizza in Grand Marias. Skip stones, bike, play games with cousins, canoe, learn to portage in the Boundary Waters, scare Jack. After making a safety circle use your Scout knife, start fires with or without matches, hunt for shooting stars and satellites in the night sky.

The adventurous group. Lightweights not allowed.

The adventurous group. Lightweights not allowed.

Our family recently went on our most rustic trip ever. To some of you, it will be pansy-like because we didn’t actually hike into the Boundary Waters but stayed outside of it at Crescent Lake Campground. Crescent Lake Campground is a Superior National Campground, 13 miles from Sawbill Canoe Outfitters.

My nephew and niece, Ralph and Tina Walker and her family would call us lightweights. They were surprised that this was our most rustic experience because they have been camping with their children, eight and six years old, since they could fit into a fanny pack.

Nephew Steve giving me fishing advice.

Nephew Steve giving me fishing advice.

We were fortunate to have Ralph with us (or unfortunate) because Jody and I would have chosen a campground with electricity and showers. Ralph is a minimalist guru. All he needs is swim shorts, string and a hook.

It was at the last moment, when he told us, “Oh by the way, there is no electricity and no water.” Immediately, I went into a panic. I had envisioned sitting in our tent trailer, plugged into my computer, safe from the elements (mosquitoes), deeply engrossed in revising my manuscript while others were off exploring.

There would be no plugging in anything. Not the crock pot, not the griddle, not the electric fry pan, and certainly there would be no fresh coffee brewing in the morning.

Andy taking off fish for Crystel and Antonio

Andy taking off fish for Crystel and Antonio

Electrical appliances are how Jody and I roll. Or, how Jody rolls. Because, as I was found out on this trip, Jody does all the cooking. My niece and nephews were a bit incredulous about this. “You let her do everything?” They asked me this as she was serving us the first round of bacon, eggs, pancakes, and coffee (though she doesn’t drink coffee).  I flinched, stumbled around in explanation, finally landing on, “Didn’t I choose well when I married her?”

As custom has it. Fish thrown back get kissed.

As custom has it, fish thrown back get kissed.

The Walkers and di Grazia’s own the tent trailer together. It’s fun when owning joint property with your relatives works out. Prior to leaving for the Boundary Waters, we decided (Beth decided) that it was best that the children, Antonio and Crystel, Jack and Andy, sleep in the tent trailer and the adults in tents. This may seem a bit lopsided. Shouldn’t the kids get the tents and the adults the castle?

Not if one of your children is Antonio. I was most concerned about us surviving him on this trip.

Superior Hiking Trail

Superior Hiking Trail

By the time we left for our no electricity and no running water camping trip, I was resolved to have a good time, regardless. The di Grazia’s would go off into the unknown and be of good cheer. Even Antonio.

My first and best purchase for our trip was fishing poles for Antonio and Crystel and a fishing license for me. I would need the license for taking fish off and putting nightcrawlers on when Andy the six year old wasn’t doing it for his cousins. Andy, as he declared several times, is an expert at fishing. By the end of our five-day trip, Crystel mustered the courage to take 3 small fish off her line. Antonio was content with the six year old doing everything for him.

swimming across the lake
swimming across the lake

Bears were a minor concern. We did all the right things and stored our food before going into our tents at night. Still, I had visions of Smokey crawling into my sleeping bag with me and woke Jody one night to tell her that. Once she was awake and watchful, I could sleep.

It can be a nice or not so nice experience when camping in a remote area with friends or relatives that you don’t spend much time with. I didn’t know Steve’s son Xavier prior to our camping trip. I found the thirteen-year old to be very pleasant.

Antonio and Crystel surviving the roughing it part.

Antonio and Crystel surviving the roughing it part.

Xavier became big brother, guardian, and protector to the 11, 10, 8, and 6 year old. He accompanied them swimming across the lake and when the adults escaped to Sawbill (Jody and I showered there), he stayed back. After swimming he gathered them in the tent trailer for card playing.

560847_10201948707418318_42800681_n[1]Although Ralph had a host of activities for us and planned our days and evenings, our group didn’t always stick together. The Walker’s and the Smith’s went on many more geocaches, hikes, and canoe trips than we did. That worked out. It is important to do what works for you.

On the day of the portage into the Boundary Waters, Antonio decided to stay back (he wouldn’t get out of bed). There

Xavier

Xavier

could have been many reasons for this, one being the last time he was in a canoe with me he didn’t fare well. After portaging, swimming, fishing, picnicking, and canoeing with our group, we split off. Jody and I wanted to return to Antonio and the adventurous group continued on.

Canoeing back to our portage, a moose and her baby were swimming across the lake. We were so close to them that as we sat in our canoe we could hear their breath blowing out their nostrils as they huffed their way across. It was simply amazing. Jody, Crystel, and I stayed still in our canoe until they climbed out of the water and walked into the woods.

Moose_with_baby.sized[1]No electricity, no water. There was so much to do.

Our Canoe Trip, by Antonio di Grazia

Sarah, Maggie, Crystel before the canoe trip

Sarah, Maggie, and Crystel before the canoe trip

Antonio is our guest blogger this week. He wrote the following story last summer about our canoe trip down the Brule River. Before you get his rendition I need to provide you with the idyllic setting: two canoes, two moms, two dogs, two ten-year-olds, a ten-year old friend, a sunny afternoon, and calm waters. We set into the Brule River at Stone Bridge, billed as the easiest trip. I pictured a 4 hour float.

Antonio before the canoe trip

Antonio before the canoe trip

The world-famous Bois Brule River flows 50 miles north into Lake Superior.

The water wasn’t even knee-deep, and within a half hour I had taken off my life jacket, which I generally NEVER do. Antonio, who was paddling in the front of the canoe, soon asked if he could remove his. At this point, the water was ankle-deep and the calm waters had turned still. Supposedly, a person can drown in a cup of water, but the risks seemed low, so I said, “Yes.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are a few problems with this. One, you should never canoe with a dog, who is more interested in the other canoe, the other mom, the other two children, and the other dog. Two, you should never let Beth be the rear person because she confuses the canoe with a bike. Biking down a hill, I will often coast and not continue to pedal. I treat the canoe like a bike when I am in rapids. I quit paddling. The law of going fast says, “Stop doing what you are doing and you will slow down.”

Antonio said, “I think I’ll put my life jacket on” when we got close to a rapid. Taking his lead, I put mine on also.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI paddled into the rapid. Then quit. Just quit. I probably even lifted my paddle out of the water. In an instant our canoe went from traveling straight to going sideways, and the front end torpedoed into tree roots and soil. Swamped, water rushed into our canoe, taking everything not tied down, down river. “Antonio, get out!” He toppled out of the front end, digging his way with his feet and hands up the steep bank. I grabbed the dog, stumbled through the rapids. “Give me, Bandit,” Antonio hollered. I handed Bandit up to him. “Grab that tree, Mom,” he said. I reached for the branch and heaved myself up.

Earlier, Antonio impressed me when he felt unsafe and put on his life jacket. Now he was leading us through the brambles.

But this story isn’t ready for a rosy ending. Beth still has to swamp another canoe. Lose her shoes in muck. Discuss with Antonio the merits of waiting to be saved or walking from your last known spot into the unknown and talk about why people will help you even though you aren’t paying them.

Once we are back in our rescued canoe, Antonio paddles for hours without stopping to reach the landing.

In the meantime, Jody is calling 911 and listing us as missing persons.

But that’s Antonio’s story:

story 003We started to paddle. The dog had its head on the edge of the canoe. There where we had to turn quick, me and Mom got stuck in some rocks. Crystel, Sarah and Mama Jody got stuck in a branch. We had Bandit and they had Maggie in their canoe. We went in little rapids. It sped us up through the river. We got to a big rapids and we hit a tree and our canoe got filled with water, so Bandit was cold. We got everything wet. We lost our paddle. Some nice people helped us. There were two children and three persons and two fishermen. They went for our canoe. We had to wait for 1 ½ hours. We paddled back to where they were. We went through more rapids. We reached where there were no more rapids. We passed it and there was another rapid and it was done. Then we saw four eagles. We had 1 ½ hours to go. We passed boat houses. We went through another rapid. We were there. We got out of the canoe. I ran up. Mom Beth walked up there. I see where Mom Jody is. I told them Mom Beth was coming. They got there 20 minutes earlier. They called 911. Bandit was wet and cold.

I’ve heard that a person may drown in a cup of water. Still, I like to think of a cup of water as being half full. That’s why I can find meaning in swamping my child and us being listed as missing persons. I witnessed Antonio’s strength during a time of peril. That evening, instead of joining another family out for a nice dinner, we sat on our beds in our tiny, tiny, motel room just to be close.

Bandit and Maggie

Bandit and Maggie

Jumping into the Unknown

Ziplining to some would be the ultimate adrenaline rush, whooshing from point to point above the treeline attached to a cable.

Zach, Crystel, and Antonio on the launch

Zach was officially our guide on our zipline adventure at the Atitlan Nature Reserve. The 14-year-old and our two nine-year-olds had become comfortable with each other. They were bonded by the mutual experience of being adopted and meeting their birthmoms. During our launch from Santa Cruz la Laguna to the shore of Panajachel where we would start our trek through the jungle to the zipline, they talked about their visit.

Zach showed the necklace he received from his birthmom, Crystel showed her earrings, and Antonio described the weavings he received. All these gifts were very important to the children – a connection to their Guatemalan family.

The start of our trek

Just as their life is complicated, a crooked tree marked where our path started. We walked upwards on an ancient trail, stepped lightly over hanging bridges, and kept our eyes and ears open for spider monkeys.

The Ziptrek tour covers close to 35 acres of land. For 1 ½ hours we rode a total of eight ziplines ranging from 295 ft. to 1050 ft. along waterfalls, canyons, the valley and a coffee grove forest.

Zach, Antonio, Jody Crystel, Beth – ready to zipline

Ziplining took my breath away. Especially the first time that I let go and zipped above the valley, above the top of trees. If the cable breaks, it is a long ways down. A mother thinks of these things, even if she is just thinking of herself. True, after the first zipline it got less and less scary and I was more able to enjoy the view. Still, I was breathless.

Jumping off the cliff at San Marcos had been a warm-up for this. You take a leap into space without being hooked to a cable. You couldn’t see the water below before sprinting off of the platform. You had to assume the water was there to catch you.

Crystel on the zipline

After our zipline adventure Antonio was brave enough to ask the staff in Spanish to order us a tuk tuk to take us into the town of Panajachel.

Later, I asked Antonio and Crystel what was scariest, jumping off the cliff at San Marcos, ziplining, or meeting their birthmom? Without hesitation they both said meeting their birthmom. Ziplining came third.

For Antonio and Crystel, meeting their birthmom was jumping into the unknown. Will she like me? Will I like her? What will it be like to look into the eyes of the woman who gave me life? The mom who hasn’t raised me? Who hasn’t grown up with me? Who opened her arms and gave me to someone else?

Antonio loving the tuk tuk he ordered

Jody and I were there to catch our children if meeting their birthmom went awry. Yet, we couldn’t take that first step for them. They had to take that leap into the unknown all by themselves and trust that they could weather what came.