Thursday, November 29, 2007

Happy Birthday To Di And Tina!

Today is the birthday for both Di and Tina. I'm a gentleman so I won't mention the years in which they were born. A birthday of November 29 wasn't one of my criteria for choosing a wife; it just worked out that way!

Both had traveled to the USSR/Russia before I met them. Both collect Russian lacquered boxes and Thomas McKnight prints. And both love pet rabbits. Somewhere in those coincidences must be clues as to my taste in women, although I'll be damned if I can make sense of it!

At any rate, I am grateful that both have shared part of their lives with me, although both should have really found a husband more deserving of their love. They are extraordinary women, and I love them both.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Last Climb

In July of 2003, I climbed my last mountain (although I didn't realize it at the time). My target then was Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in Nevada at 13084 feet. It is located in east-central Nevada along the Utah border and is inside Great Basin National Park. This is a very isolated park; I took Interstate 15 east out of Las Vegas about 30 miles until I exited off onto Highway 93 north. From there, it was about 200 very lonely miles to Wheeler Peak.

Here is a view of Wheeler Peak from my "campsite," which was the back of my 4Runner at roughly 5800 feet. I didn't attempt to climb that steep face on the left; instead, I took the more gentle slope up the right side. The total distance from the trailhead at about 8000 feet was a little over 16 miles roundtrip.

Even though I climbed in summer, there were still some snowy patches on the summit route, as the photo below shows. I was lucky they were few and not troublesome, as I did not bring along my ice ax and crampons.

And here is me on the summit! I had the mountain all to myself that morning except for another climber, a guy I estimated to be in his late twenties, who had never climbed over 12000 feet before. We took turns passing each other along the route, and I was the first to reach the summit. I enjoyed greeting him with "Welcome to 13000 feet!" as he reached the summit. The sign at my left is the summit marker, and my "Ahab the Arab" headgear protected me from the blistering sun at such elevations. We took summit photos for each other, and I started my descent after about five minutes. He lingered, apparently reveling in the view of the world from 13000 feet. It was no big deal to me; I had been to that elevation before, and I expected to be back that high in the future. Little did I know. . . . .

Why would anyone in their right mind climb a mountain? Because you get views like this one from the top:

When we moved to Texas, I told myself I would finally get the chance to climb in Colorado and New Mexico as well as pick up some interesting mountains in west Texas like El Capitan. And when I went into the hospital for my first operation on August 1, 2006, I told myself I would climb a mountain on August 1, 2007 to celebrate. But it wasn't to be, and I now accept that my mountain climbing days are forever behind me.

But at least I climbed them when I could and have a lot of great memories and photos of my climbs. I'll be posting more of my climbs in the weeks and months ahead.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Back From Visiting The Home Folks

Di and I celebrated November 1 by heading out on a long driving trip back to the Carolinas to visit my relatives. It was a physically exhausting but emotionally exhilarating trip; it was an absolute blast. It was interesting seeing my old home through Di's eyes. She marvels at things I take for granted, like kudzu, red clay, towering pine trees, and----at this time of year----an east coast autumn. Myself, I marveled at how much Charlotte has grown and the astonishing real estate prices there----$500K for a two bedroom condo in downtown Charlotte??? (I think that housing bubble will leave a nasty mess behind when it finally pops!) It was great to be able to pull into a convenience store and walk out with a cold Diet Cheerwine and a double-decker Moon Pie (I returned with six 12-packs of Diet Cheerwine, which will probably do me more good than all that chemotherapy did). I was also fortified by plenty of Bojangles fried chicken as well as Krystal burgers while on the road (all Krystal restaurants now offer free WiFi in addition to those cute burgers-in-a-box.)

On our outbound leg, we took Texas highway 79 through northeast Texas, passing through several colorful small towns such as Thrall, Hoerne, and Palestine, and joined Interstate 20 at Shreveport, LA. We then followed Interstate 20 to Atlanta and picked up Interstate 85 for the trip into Rock Hill, SC, which was our base of operations. The return leg involved taking Interstate 85 again but this time following it southeast past Atlanta to Montgomery, AL and then south to Mobile, AL, where we picked up Interstate 10 and followed it along the Gulf until we crossed back into Texas at Beaumont. We continued westbound on Interstate 10 until we exited on Highway 304, which took us home after 20 more miles. By taking this route, Di and I can now boast we have driven the entire length of Interstate 10 through Texas----El Paso to Beaumont----a total of 877 miles.

I brought along my camera, and here are some of the photos I took, beginning with my Uncle Grady:

And here's his wife, my Aunt Betty:

My Aunt Polly and my mom were sisters, and you can prove that by taking one look at Polly:

I also got to see my Uncle Hubert and Aunt Floy:

My cousin Cheryl has long been a contender for the title of "Weirdest One In The Family." While I have a deathgrip on the gold medal for that event, she easily beats out the competition for the silver. Here she is, explicating about. . . . . . . . well, something:

I also got to see my cousin Marilyn while I was there:

My cousin Susan seemed inexplicably happy to see me again; she was probably just gooned on Ny-Quil:

I have been very, very lucky to have the family I do. It is very easy to do some of the things I have, to walk that tightrope, when you know underneath you is a net of people who will love and care for you no matter what.

I wish I could find the words to accurately express how much I love these people and how much they mean to me.