For the past three and a half weeks, Patti and I have been traveling. We put the trip meter on 0 when we pulled out of the driveway and after conclusion of the trip, we noticed the same trip meter read 4646.2 miles. For this trip, I believe there was a memory for every mile. Let me tell you how this started.

Early in our marriage, Patti and I had the “vacation” talk. Together, we discussed and resolved answers to the following questions: How do you like to spend your time on vacation? Where do you like to go? Are you a “go-see-things-and-keep-going” person or a person who likes to go land somewhere and relax?

After our discussion we realized that the two families we came from had different answers to these questions. Patti and her family were pretty much go to the beach, crash, relax, refresh and return. And, since her dad was a teacher, sometime her vacations were two months or longer at the beach. My family was pretty much the opposite: Dad would have, at the most, two weeks off. We’d go see things and keep going. We’d get back home the Sunday before Dad would have to be back at work on Monday.

But, over the years of our marriage, Patti and I refined our answers to these same questions a bit more. Patti is a water/beach person; I’m a mountain person.

So, for this travel trip, Patti graciously agreed to do a mountain trip with me. Besides, we wanted to be in Missoula, Montana on the appropriate date to see our niece, Ciara, graduate from high school. We wanted to drive and not fly.

Along the way, we had Sirius/XM radio to keep us company and informed. We enjoyed the highway travel, and, I must admit, when I was driving, I spent very little time looking at the road because I was “goshing” and “geeing” about the high peaks, snow fields, vast plains, the endless beautiful vistas, the babbling brooks and creeks next to the roads. These creeks flow quickly toward the Mississippi on the east side of the continental divide and toward the Pacific on the west side of the divide.

We were tourists all the way. While we enjoyed seeing the massive wind farms in West Texas, the ominous presence of the long-dormant volcano, Capulin Mountain in northern New Mexico, was a reminder of what the land was like long before it was civilized.

We visited Pike’s Peak near Manitou Springs, Colorado; Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado; the wide-open plains of Wyoming; Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota; Devil’s Tower in Wyoming; Little Big Horn River and Custer’s last stand in Montana; very, very windy plains in Idaho; Brigham Young’s beautiful and enticing Salt Lake City; the site of Butch Cassidy’s first bank robbery, Telluride, Colorado; the inspiring glacier and wind-sculpted Shiprock in New Mexico; the adobe pueblos of Santa Fe; the very, very small towns of eastern New Mexico and West Texas.

Devil’s Tower

That was quite a bit of driving, but we enjoyed every minute of it. While we drove, I kept thinking of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, and Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways. Passing through the canyon lands of Utah, I kept looking for John Wayne on horseback looking for Natalie Wood, dressed as an Indian squaw. We tried not to speed and just soak up the ambiance of the landscapes. As such, we had plenty of time to talk and laugh and be distracted by an endless supply of beautiful sights.

But since every day is a new opportunity for a learning experience, we did learn a few things along the way. Here are just a few:

  • The vastness of the mountain views, the endless rolling plains left Patti and me with a feeling that every step we took and every mile we drove, we were surrounded by God’s imagination
  • The damage a simple tree beetle can do to a forest is just astronomical and very disappointing
  • The higher up you go in the mountains the less obesity you see or notice
  • In talking with various people along the way, the longer people lived in the shadow of gorgeous mountains, the less they noticed them
  • Along the two-lane roads in Wyoming, just because a road sign says its 42 miles to the next town doesn’t mean there will be a gas station or cafe there
  • Even though Devil’s Tower is famous for the alien encounter scene in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kindit is also a religious site for numerous North American Indian tribes, and houses one of the largest groundhog communities in North America
  • It was very refreshing to see Mt. Rushmore very crowded with visitors, even though it is in a remote part of South Dakota
  • in 2012, because of the influence of Wal-Marts, Best Buys and other retailers, Montrose, Colorado looks just like Dothan, Alabama, and that’s a real shame
  • If you walk down the sidewalks of Telluride, Colorado and you see a couple walking a Lab, a Golden Retriever and a lamb wearing a diaper, you are not seeing things
  • I have first-hand evidence that it is very much not true that when you hit a golf ball at 10,000 foot elevation it will go farther than if you hit the ball at sea level
  • Touring the entire breadth of the Little Big Horn Battlefield, one can’t help but feel that Gen. Custer was so stupid, so vain and so arrogant, and 210 American soldiers were sacrificed because of his flaws
  • There is absolutely no feeling I have ever experienced like standing before a church congregation and thanking them for their prayers to God for my health and well-being.

And because of these learnings, 4646.2 has become an important number to Patti and me.

I’ll share details with you over the next few weeks. God bless you all.


Paul with Bill at summit of Aconcagua

On January 2, 2012, my brother-in-law, Bill, died of melanoma. Bill was a larger-than-life character who cherished doing things outside.

During his memorial service, we shared with others Bill’s love of nature. He was an avid and gifted skier. And, he loved camping and climbing mountains.

And, he made some significant climbs during his life. He climbed Mt. Marcy, highest peak in New York state; Mt. Washington, highest point in Eastern U.S.; Mt. Whitney, highest peak in the contiguous U.S.; Long’s Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park; Mt. Wilson, near Telluride, Colorado; and Cotopaxi, a high-elevation volcano in the Ecuadorean Andes.

Bill’s two best friends from childhood were Steve and Paul. Steve was here from Delaware for Bill’s passing and Paul, an anesthesiologist from South Carolina, made it the next day.

Paul could stay only a short while with us in Dallas because he was leaving on the 5th, the day of Bill’s memorial, to take Steve’s son, Jonathan, and some of Jonathan’s friends to Argentina to climb Aconcagua, the highest point in the Western and Southern hemispheres, or the tallest point in the Americas. The trip had been arranged for quite some time.

Here are just a few stats about Aconcagua:

Aconcagua, one helluva mountain

— The summit is 22,841 feet above sea level

— The northern route to the summit is considered a non-technical climb, since no ropes, axes or pins are required to reach the summit

— Other routes to the summit take the climber across the Polish Glacier, and are considered significantly more difficult than the common northern route.

— There is 40% less oxygen at the summit than at sea level

— Because of severe temps at this high level, injuries are common, due to lack of acclimatization and cold injuries.

Doesn’t sound like any sort of easy climb, does it?  Make no mistake, this is a dangerous climb. Anyone attempting this climb, and makes it to the top, can consider this quite an accomplishment.

English: Polish Glacier on Aconcagua from 6000m.

Crossing the Polish Glacier on Aconcagua

On January 19, 2012, at 2:15 p.m., Paul and his team made it to the summit. And, Paul carried a special package with him. He took out a picture of Bill that he carried with him for this trip. For a few moments at the summit of Aconcagua, Paul took out a picture of Bill and remembered his dearest friend. Bill would certainly have been proud of Paul’s accomplishment, and he certainly would have let him know it. More than likely, Bill would have been with Paul if he could.

At that altitude, Paul could not stay at the summit for very long. He found an appropriate stone and left Bill’s picture at the summit of Aconcagua. Paul was, indeed, a very special friend.