The Mike Hike, 2015 Edition

My friend MikeD is an avid hiker, and tries to get me and others out hiking on occasion. Often, we will do a long group hike when a bunch of us have taken a week long vacation together. Those vacations are generally up in northern New England, so hiking is a convenient activity.

On many of our group vacations, there have been two large group hikes: the “family” hike which is traditionally “kid-friendly” and the Mike Hike, so named because 3 of the core group of hikers are named Alan. I mean Mike. In recent years, as our group of children has gotten older and stronger, some have pushed to be included in the Mike Hike. And of course, they can sprint up the mountains, and when/if they fall, they can generally bounce back up. But they are still children, and have yet to develop a certain amount of character, so they are quick to let us know when they are tired, hungry, cold, hurt, thirsty, bored, etc. But that’s OK — it will come.

This year, our traditional group vacation did not happen (it has been getting harder to schedule), but MikeD did invite the hikers of the bunch to go up to NH with him this weekend for a couple of hikes, and a bike ride between (over 3 days). In the end, it was MikeD and myself on Friday, and on Saturday, MikeV drove up to join us. Even before we had finalized plans, the weather forecast for Sunday was pretty iffy.

Even so, we packed up our bikes in the back of MikeD’s minivan, along with our hiking gear, and headed up to Pinkham Notch. We got started around 10:15 a.m. after the long drive, and hiked up the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail to the Carter Notch Trail, up Carter Notch to the Carter Notch Hut where we stopped briefly and had our “lunch.” We then continued on the Carter-Moriah Trail up to Carter Dome, then down the Carter Dome Trail with a brief excursion to Mt. Hight. Carter Dome didn’t offer much for views, but Mt. Hight had an excellent 360 degree view. A short while before we arrived, it started to drizzle, so we didn’t stay long, but instead got our rain gear on and continued on. The rain didn’t last too long, thankfully, and we continued on to Zeta Pass where we had to decide whether to continue on and attempt the South and Middle Carter summits after about 5 hours of hiking and some uncertainty about the weather. We elected to wimp out and head back to the car, which still took us 2 more hours of hiking down Carter Dome Trail, and back along Nineteen Mile Brook Trail. It was probably the prudent choice, as we finished up around 5:30.

After the hike, we drove a short way to Jackson where we found a hotel room, showered, then had a moderately disappointing dinner at the Red Parka Steak House, which was surprisingly crowded for a mediocre restaurant. The staff were friendly, though.

Then, after a tired hiker’s sleep, we had a big, leisurely hotel buffet breakfast, and eventually drove back up to Pinkham Notch to meet up with MikeV. Well, needless to say (though we had failed to factor it in), it was significantly more crowded on Saturday than Friday, and there was no parking in the lot. We managed to see MikeV as he was parking along the side of the road (good thing, because mobile phone service was quite spotty! Curiously, my ATT&T was doing better around there than Verizon, who almost always has better service in rural areas). We parked MikeV’s car at the Nineteen Mile parking area, where we intended to finish our hike for the day, and drove back in MikeD’s van to the visitors’ center, where we were starting for the day. It’s about a 4 mile gap.

We started from the visitors’ center up the Lost Pond Trail (which we found for them — you’re welcome!) which meets the Wildcat Ridge Trail. This climbs up to Wildcats E-A in reverse alphabetical order. The two that “count” are Wildcat D and Wildcat A. When we were near the D summit, we encountered a group of hikers, one of whom was in flip-flops. We were simultaneously impressed and horrified that someone would climb a mountain in flip flops. A short while later, we began to hear the humming of machinery, and more human activity, and all of a sudden we came out of the woods at the top of the Wildcat Gondola, and we were then simultaneously relieved and understanding about the woman in flip-flops. Wildcat D has a short tower you can climb to get better views, which we did, and we broke out our various lunches to eat there.

After lunch, we continued on through C, B, and A, and there wasn’t much for views along this ridgeline. The surprising thing was just how much the ridge dipped between peaks. We know that if it were more than 200′, it would be another “official” 4000 footer, so we mustn’t have dipped that far, but it was still a lot. Although the views from these peaks left something to be desired, the views on the way up to E were excellent. When we got to A there was a large group there, and they appeared to be in no hurry to leave. So we didn’t stay long, and barely got to see the “Vista” advertised by a sign along the trail.

The way down was steep, but the trail was quite well maintained. Rocks had been placed along the way to make it effectively a staircase going down. We were glad to be going in the direction we were. The stairs would have been fine to climb up, but the steep trail up to E had us scrambling over lots of boulders, which we all agreed was easier on the way up than it would have been on the way down. Eventually, we met back up with our friend, the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, and hiked along that for the third time in two days to get back out to Rt. 16 where MikeV’s car was parked.

After the hike, we drove in MikeV’s car back to where MikeD’s car was parked, stopped briefly at the visitor’s center, and started back towards home, stopping at the Moat Mountain Brewery where we had an excellent, and surprisingly inexpensive meal/beer for a great way to end the weekend.

In Memoriam: Paul James Stewart, Jr. (1929-2010)

My father died this past Veteran’s Day, at the nursing home he lived at just over a month. He had not been well, but I think we were blind to how quickly he was going downhill. He suffered from Parkinson’s and dementia, but after countless neurological consults, nobody could apply a definitive label to his condition. Not that the label is really important, but it’s a convenient handle by which others can grasp at a condition: “Ah, Alzheimer’s. I knew someone with Alzheimer’s. Terrible thing.”

What follows is the eulogy I did my best to deliver at his funeral, this past Friday, November 19.

My father, Paul Stewart, or Jim, as you may have known him, had a good, long life. Over the course of his 81 years, he was a loving son, brother, husband, father, and grandfather. He grew up mostly in the suburbs of Chicago, during the Great Depression and the era of World War II.

Unlike the rest of his athletic family, his naturally strong body wasn’t what brought him the most joy, it was his mind. He loved school — first as a pupil, then as a teacher. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.A. in History, then went on to Columbia for his Master’s Degree. He had intended to study Russian History there, but when he arrived, he discovered that he had somehow applied to the wrong program. But as he generally did, my dad rolled with the punches, and studied European History, which became his life-long passion. His schooling was then interrupted while he served 2 years in the Army during the Korean War. He enjoyed his time in the service, which was largely spent in Japan. Thankfully, the Army recognized his intelligence, and gave him an office post, so he avoided combat. Upon his return from the War, he went on to earn his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois.

In 1960, he married Josephine Smania, and they spent the first year of their marriage in Spain on a Fulbright scholarship, while my dad researched Spanish history. When they returned, he taught in Lafayette, Louisiana, then at Lawrence College, in Appleton, Wisconsin, where my sister was born, then at Washington State, in Pullman, where I was adopted. Our family then moved to Champaign, Illinois where my dad had a special one year appointment at The University of Illinois. That was followed by a position at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, before we settled down in Connecticut. My folks, both mid-westerners, were a little apprehensive about the move to the East Coast and New England, but it turned out to agree with them. My dad taught at Southern Connecticut State University for 22 years, from 1970-1992.

And my folks lived on in the little house that they bought in 1974 through 2009, before finally succumbing to my pressure to move in downstairs from us. Their time here was not exactly what any of us had envisioned, but I am grateful for every day we had together.

My dad was truly a gentleman and a scholar. He would never fail to smile and hold a door open for a woman, nor fail to give up his seat on the bus either, even in his old age. Always polite, always courteous, never arrogant or boastful, never mean or spiteful. Almost always patient, with everyone except himself. The only malice I can remember in him was directed towards the Gypsy moth caterpillars that some years threatened the trees in his yard. Those he squished with abandon, and perhaps a little glee.

He was the consummate professor, spending most of his time in his home office reading, grading papers, preparing lectures, and writing his books. While I knew he was doing important work, and we were discouraged from interrupting him, he never seemed to resent interruptions. And though my one-on-one time with him for games (and other such childish pursuits) tended to be parcelled out in half-hour chunks, his teaching job meant that he was around home much more than other kids’ dads, and he was always approachable.

When he wasn’t working in his office, dad could almost always be found doing something useful — cleaning the house, doing yard work, refinishing furniture. He may not have been the most handy person with a hammer and screwdriver, but he had a real way with refinishing. He would pick up pieces of furniture that was left on the curb for trash, bring them home, and restore them. I suspect that half the pieces of furniture in our house were trash picks that he resurrected. And when he was working on those projects, he loved to listen to music. His two favorite radio programs were the live broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera, and a Latin Jazz program, partly because he enjoyed the mental exercise of hearing the Spanish. He also enjoyed singing, and would croon popular songs from the 40’s or maybe early 50’s while working. Not one for luxuries, he refused to buy a car with a radio, so on long trips (and there were many, as we never flew anywhere), we would often sing to pass the time.

As a child of the depression, my father was a life-long saver of money. He was, though, always generous with others: he loved buying jewelry for my mom, sometimes rather extravagant pieces. But he was invariably frugal with himself. In fact, I suspect my mom bought him most of his clothes. He would wear socks and t-shirts until they were threadbare. And then he would wear them more. In fact, I think my mom had to cut up his old clothes into rags to ensure that he wouldn’t wear them any longer. And they wouldn’t last long as rags! This thriftiness was such an integral part of him, so ingrained in his being, that I’m pretty sure that even with his dementia, he must have been aware that his Medicare coverage was running out at the nursing home, and he couldn’t stand the thought of all that money being spent on him. I’m convinced that was what did him in.

As an adult now (or nearly so), and as a father myself, I appreciate all the more the man that he was. As I strive to be a good husband and father, I know that I have a good example to follow. And while he may have set the bar impossibly high, I know that my dad’s spirit will always be with me to encourage me to do my best.

The Keefe Funeral Home has setup an online memorial as well, where you can leave memories.

Tom’s Titles

I don’t tend to check the web-site everyday and Tom does 98% of the posting (many from the car while I’m driving and Jim Dale reads Harry Potter to us). He is doing a great job to keep up with the speed of our travels… But how about these post titles… He’s really out-doing himself this week. All this on only one cup of coffee (or less) per day!


Last night we stayed with Matt and Caryn and their family. Matt and Caryn lived in Belmont eleven years ago, where we attended the same church. At the time, we both had children one year old, about the only two kids in the church. They left for Arkansas about eleven years ago, where Caryn’s family is from. We’ve had occasional letters from them in the intervening years, and as with most of our friends, they are better correspondents than we.

In spite of our lack of communication, when Susan emailed and told them we’d be driving through Arkansas, they opened their hearts and home to us, and hosted us for dinner and breakfast, and shared with us their warm, cozy home for the night. The epitome of hospitality. Thank you!

Their boys are right around the same age as our kids, and they seemed to get along right away. Their two dogs were also a hit with our kids. In addition to enjoying a small part of their land, we got to meet a rat snake that lives under the workshop, and their rabbit, Bun-Bun. And they introduced us to the game Spore — not sure if that’s a good thing or not 🙂

Family Ties

Yesterday, after a short morning at the Grand Canyon, we visited with Susan’s cousin Edith and her family in Flagstaff. They fed us a lovely lunch, and for dinner, Don barbecued up a feast for us, and for aunt Judith, cousin Walter, and his family as well. Wow! It was great catching up with them all, and very relaxing to have an inviting place to stay, and not have to worry about a hotel. Edith and family took in the children, and Susan and I stayed with Judith across town.

Lazy On A Sunday Afternoon

In spite of the occasional threat of rain and thunder/lightning, we had a lovely, lazy Sunday afternoon here in Colorado. Uncle Mark and Aunt Rosa came home from church with us,

and we enjoyed some family time together. Around mid-afternoon, Nina, Mike, and their boys, Harry and Jack came over and we headed over to the pool. No more than two minutes after most of the kids got in the pool, the lifeguard shooed us out due to lightning in the sky. We waited a while, and the kids played Mother May I to pass the time,

but it just didn’t seem promising, so we went back to Rowell Ranch for a spell. About an hour later, we headed back to the pool and got some swimming in.

Susan’s High School BFF

You may not know that I moved with my parents out to Denver the summer before my senior year in high school. I left Needham High with a class of 450 and came to Cherry Creek High with a class of 850. I made not one single friend in the senior class that year, BUT had one excellent friend from the junior class (in chemistry class with me). I also showed up in her youth group at her church, which is where I built all my other friendships, none as lasting as this.

Last night we visited Nina and her family for dinner and catching up. She and Michael and their sons, Harry and Jack, hosted us for a wonderful meal, fun playing outside and decorating their car windows for the Little League World Series games Saturday afternoon. Good Luck, Harry and Jack! Thanks for everything Nina and Mike!

Pretty House

The (in)famous Casa Bonita was the site of our evening repast today, but not just ours. We had arranged for a mini Calvary Reunion of sorts, and met up with our former intern Calob and his wife Sarah, and Nancy and her nephew Jared.

Casa Bonita is more than just a restaurant, it’s an experience. There’s cliff diving (with torches, too!),

puppet shows, piñata busting, and other entertainments, along with an arcade with skee ball, video games, etc.

We spent more than three hours there in all, and enjoyed hearing about Nancy’s vacation and Calob’s and Sarah’s new arrangements in Colorado.