The Incomparable Grand Canyon

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It has probably been 20 years since Cathy and I visited this beyond-description location in the combined Indian lands of northern Arizona. Twenty years is a less than microscopic amount of time in this place that took almost two BILLION years to create. The in-the-moment delight of this particular visit was that this entire portion of the state is covered in a wonderfully picturesque layer of pristine snow. This is not totally unprecedented for this part of the world, but the amount and timing is certainly not the norm. The combination of the colors, space, family company, and clarity of air produced a feeling of near euphoria. It will certainly be difficult to ever recreate these conditions.

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The kids were, shall we say, adequately impressed. Colin, in particular, exclaimed repeatedly “I didn’t know it could be so BIG!”. And when we went into the interpretive center with the display of the full length and breadth of the Canyon, he was blown away. Izzy was clicking away on her camera, but her pictures are for some reason in a format that I can’t retrieve. We have reviewed them and they are of excellent quality, but need “converting”. Colin’s working on it, is the best I can report for now.

Both Izzy and Colin are doing their own daily journaling. We wish they would add a little more of what they think about and feel regarding our wandering life. Maybe that will come with a little more time.

We shared the experience today with hundreds of tourists, the majority of whom were foreign speakers arriving in a multitude of tourist busses.  When you consider that this one National Park entertains more than five MILLION visitors each year, each day will see almost 15,000 sightseers, snow or no snow.

Our camp for tonight is Williams, AZ, solidly planted on the genuine, original Route 66. We briefly toured “downtown” and loved that it has retained its “Retro” look with many advertising signs kept in their original condition. I will have more time to feel the full flavor of this when we make the return trip on the bike at the end of March. We’re really counting on all this cold and snow being nothing more than a distant memory on that return leg.

Good to have you along! The comments feed my need for connection with all of you. Thanks especially for sending them.

 

 

 

 

 

Required Repairs and Monumental Views

 

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Magnificent Monument Valley, Utah 

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When Cathy and I returned home from the Southern Tier ride in 2017, we toured this incredibly beautiful area also. Having the kids along, we knew it was something that needed to be included in this trek also. The snow that has been following us preceded us to this site and made the views even more spectacular.

On the horizon for miles as we approached, the imposing “Shiprock”,  is the core of an extinct volcano that stands in stark contrast to all the other stone plateaus and buttes of the area.

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  Visible for nearly 40 miles, this landmark lent its name to the town closest to it.

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Another “Must Stop” was the “Four Corners Area”, where the surveyed borders of four western states coincide: Cathy in Colorado, John in New Mexico, Colin in Arizona, and Izzy in Utah. The site is on Navajo and Ute Indian Land and they jointly maintain the premises. During the busy months, there are many native vendors there selling their wares, but very few were present in the exceptionally cold weather we had today.

 

Izzy continues her studies in the Psychology Course from Bellin-Blank center in Iowa City. It’s a tough course and requires quite a lot of “nudging” from Gramma Cathy. Izzy is not accustomed to making her brain work that hard, but progress is being made.

Credit aplenty to Colin for helping produce this blog again. Incorporating media from three phones and two cameras is  beyond the ken of this old farmer.

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The “Required Repairs” heading refers to getting the endemic low tire repaired while in Farmington, New Mexico. It was a perfect waiting place for Colin in The Big O Tire shop, where he could assemble/reassemble/disassemble (repeat!!!) the demonstration model for new disc brakes. Still not sure if the repairs are permanent, but the good news is that the tire pressure was good as we pulled into and secured in Gouldings RV Park at the very edge of Monument Valley. We watched the full moon rise above the Buttes of the National Monument. And with that view in your minds, good night to all. Thanks for your company.

 

 

Snow in the Mountains, Snow on the Plains; New Mexicans love it, they call it “cold rains”.

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The entire driving day was spent dodging in and out of some fairly intense snow squalls. At times the visibility was minimal.

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As is evidenced here, there has been substantial snowfall in this northwestern part of the state. The locals are quite happy about that.

 

 

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It’s not all “fun and games” for the kiddos. The Home School Regimen is in place and teacher/proctor/ enforcer Gramma Conway runs a tight ship. Not always to the enjoyment of the students.  😦 20190217_191527

On the other hand, meal times are happily looked forward to! It’s still in the “snapping in” stage with getting the camp set up/take down routine polished, but we’re getting there. Tomorrow’s destination is the Four Corners area, and the natural attractions provided by that part of the world. Time permitting, we will also find one of the incredible “slot canyons” and tour it. Grateful to have you all along.

Notes from Colin and Izzy will accompany tomorrow’s blog.

 

 

 

Three Days on the Road

20190216_133056 Snow coming to meet us out of the San Juan mountains of New Mexico. Knock-you-off-your-feet winds all day, makes for 7.1 mpg out of Bridget’s power plant.  Planned route following NM64 sent packing by closure of said road due to snow piling up in the passes. On the bright side, we were glad that they closed it before we got into the bad weather. React, adapt, overcome-easy peasy, right? Tonight’s venue is a big change from our High Class Digs last night at the Air B n’ B of Bev and Russ Rutten in suburban Denver. Great to see Lauren, Marisa, Mike, and of course, the star of .the show (for a while!) Kaylee Clare. We presumed upon Mike’s all-things-computer-expertise to try to revive my laptop which has decided the end of its days has come. No luck, even with The Wizard applying all his skills. We can save the info on the hard drive when I get back home. In the meanwhile,  Colin has “allowed” me to share his machine to keep the Blog alive. Amazingly, even in the .snow in the middle of February, we hit multiple No Room For You in campgrounds here in far northwest New Mexico. Go figure. Today’s route gave Colin and Izzy their first ride through some real mountains. Here’s Colin with his first impressions:

During the ride through the rockies, the camper was constantly swaying back and forth along the winding road. Every time we went up a hill the camper went in to a lower gear and got a lot louder. There where a lot of areas where the trees looked like there was a big forest fire and they never recovered. In other places there were giant shear cliffs and tall piles of rocks at the bottom from rock slides. We followed a beautiful mountain stream all the way to the top. I was surprised that our first night camping was going to be in a Walmart parking lot.  🙂 i also experienced my first visit to a Starbucks.20190216_075748

Cold (22 degrees) and quiet in the Walmart parking lot in Espanola, well, except for the drag racing that continued across the lot until the wee hours, but other than that—-. For Brenna and Collette, the Home Schooling regimen is in place and the kids are doing their school work en route and here at the “campgrounds”.

Izzy, The Artist, snapped some pictures in the mountains and Colin will soon “school” us on how to get them here in the Blog. So far, he needs to be sitting right at my elbow to get the job done.  🙂 Using the high powered WiFi of the local Starbucks in Espanola to get this off to all you Loyal and Faithful followers. Thank you all for being there thinking of us and praying for us.IMG_3548.JPG

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D (for departure) Day, Minus 1

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As essential as any mechanical function expected from Bridget (The RV!), Route 66 Pilgrims John and Cathy, along with Bike and RV receive a wonderfully appropriate Blessing from our incomparable Fr. Bill after weekday Mass at St. Joseph’s in Wellman this morning. Holy Water was liberally applied to Pilgrims and their conveyances, and we all felt the Holy Spirit “doing its thing”. The snow and gales of yesterday are in the proverbial rear view mirror, and final preparations and loading are in progress for the day.

Colin accompanied me for the final (hopefully!) trip to the RV supply store for at-the-last-minute-arrived parts for awning and window seals. As described in the tagline, he’s “The Fixer”, so we plan to keep him busy. 🙂  He’s required as part of his Home School Curriculum to add to this blog, so today will be his initial input.

From Colin: I went with grandpa today and we traveled over hazardous roads and went to Sun and Fun RV Supply. We picked up the awning, and some parts for the water heater and seals for the windows. I am really excited for the trip because I have never been away from home for so long.

And there you have it!!

My Amigo Felipe, (aka Phil Volker) former-Marine-record-blogger-cancer-fighting commando, always has a cool sign-off for his daily blogs. I’ll need to try to come up with one. 🙂

On the elevator from the hangar deck headed to the flight deck:

PFJ and Crew

 

Justification for Getting outta Dodge!

 

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The “winter of ’19” lulled us into thinking it was going to be easy-peasy. After an early snow blast in late November, the weather turned mild for a month and the kids were all playing outside in their shirtsleeves over the Christmas break from school. Temps were mild and the grass was green late into December. The old saw says “When the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen”. There’s a promise in those old, oft repeated weather omens. Early in January, the first of what would be multiple winter offenses came roaring in. We saw the coldest temps in decades move in and just stay here. Snow events came in regular procession, punctuated with icy conditions that made travel hazardous most days. Our stalwart Mid Prairie School system has now had FOURTEEN snow days, which far eclipses the record for any year the system has been in existence. I woke up daily grateful that I didn’t have a feedlot full of cattle to care for!!

This Route 66 excursion has been in the planning since 2017, after completing the Southern Tier ride across America. We couldn’t have picked a better time to be heading out of the Midwest. Using parlance carried over from my USMC days “24 hours and a wake-up” til we’re headed west and south to sunny Santa Monica, Ca and the start of the Mother Road.

Glad to have you all along again, and stay tuned to this station.  The plan is to have most posts include contributions from Artist Izzy and Colin, the Fix It Man.

PFJ and Crew

 

End of the Ride; Seeing the Sights on the Way Home

The Mission of this blog was to serve as a permanent reminder for us, and to share all of the visions, joy, and emotions with all who had an interest in our Journey. I didn’t want it to just be a “Travelogue”. In spite of those intentions, I feel compelled to at least briefly highlight the magnificent views we were privileged to experience on our way home. (Along those lines, the sheer size of many of the locales visited will make viewing much easier on a laptop or home computer vs cell phone.)

Before that “return trip” could commence, however, I had to perform a “McGyver  Fix” to the broken rear view mirror on STella, compliments of a wayward delivery van who backed into the mirror in a parking lot.

Our first stop was a return visit (for Cathy) to Huntington Gardens, just because there is so much to see at this Utopia of Botanical Gardens. A career, professional librarian could not pass up the opportunity to visit the World Class library that is one of the main attractions of this place. The highlight exhibit currently is “Books That Changed the World”. Fascinating manuscripts, even to a non-professional like me.

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The (as in THE) Book of Chaucer. This single work added 2004 NEW words to the English language.

It would be impossible to rate the individual gardens, they each had a majesty of their own. The Chinese Garden is undergoing a major expansion, and, even as is, is spectacular.

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Serene and spectacular, simultaneously.

I realize in writing this that calling the Desert Garden our “favorite”, seems like an oxymoron. But the incredible diversity and resilience of these amazing plants really appeals to us. That they can endure in the environment that they do, and still display such beauty is soul satisfying. Add to that the number of miles that I pedaled through their natural habitat makes it perhaps more understandable.

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The Joshua Trees are one of our favorites, going back to our year in 29 Palms Marine Corps Base.

Our departure from Huntington headed us East for the first time in months. The day ended with a RV park in Barstow, CA, another USMC related town, and the starting point of my MOTORcycle race across the desert to Las Vegas in 1970. This rates as the second most stupid thing I’ve ever done in my life. Don’t ask about the first.

The National Parks and Monuments beckoned us on East and North. First encountered was Zion National Park. Oohs and Ahhs were continuous on the steep and winding drive. This visit was a first for both of us.

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15 miles per hour was the perfect driving speed through this wonderland.

Utah contains some of the most amazing scenery in the United States. Zion was just the first of many marvelous destinations.

We took the time to take several glorious hikes to view the wonders of geology and time on the landscape. A formation called “toadstools” for their obvious visual similarity to the common fungi drew us on a delightful walk.

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There were many more of these on the walk, but a camera malfunction messed up the photos  😦

Next destination was Glen Canyon Dam, just over the border into Arizona. We arrived too late in the day to tour the dam, but did spend very informative time in the visitor center. We were both quite surprised at the amount of armed security all around the visitor center and the dam itself. A sad commentary on our times. The RV camps are very full all through this part of the Southwest, and we felt fortunate to find a spot in the Park campground.

Following the sage advice of our Wellman friends in Arizona (thank you, Greiners and Brophys!), we headed for Antelope Canyon, a so-called “slot canyon” of major renown.

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Surreal, beautiful, breathtaking; all fitting descriptions of this underground world, with only a sliver of light coming down from the “slot” above. A nearly two hour hike with our Native American guide making it a highlight of our month’s long hiatus from home.

Hard to leave this natural wonder, but still more “places to go and things to see”. Next up, Monument Valley, of world-wide fame. More hiking and exploring, and an unexpected added plus, a showing of the original movie “Stagecoach”, which simultaneously introduced to the world, Monument Valley and John Wayne, in his first major starring role. The movie was filmed in and around Monument Valley, and added greatly to the grandeur of the film. The campground we stayed in there was in fact in the same place as the film makers, under the direction of John Ford, also stayed for the duration of the filming. What a treat!

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An iconic view of the great southwest.
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Another opportunity for a glorious hike, this time around the “Left Mitten”. Five miles of wonderment and awe.

Only Native American driven tour vehicles are now allowed to drive on the monument lands. Most of these tours are multi-hour visits, and we didn’t think we could afford the time to indulge. What lasting memories we now have of this famous locale.

While at the visitor center, we were advised to drive back along the way we had come to see “Goosenecks State Park”. A relatively new park that has yet to be “discovered” by the touring public. The area showcases the bends of the San Juan River in a spectacular setting, similar to the Great Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado.

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A 1500 foot up view of the Great Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado.
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The Gooseneck Canyon of the San Juan River. A six mile float trip down stream will move you about 0.8 miles closer to the mouth of this canyon-carving river.

STella gassed up and ready to go with Mesa Verde on the GPS cross hairs. Almost a hundred miles of scenery that would be remarkable anywhere. To add some drama, however, a snow squall popped up. This was a first for this trip. The road surface was warm enough to melt the snow as it fell, but we realized there would be more of the white stuff at the higher elevations we were headed for.

Our day ended at a pleasant but nearly vacant RV Park in Bluff, Utah, a town that proudly proclaimed it’s settlement in 650 AD. We enjoyed our first steak supper of the trip at the just-opened-for-the-season Cottonwood restaurant. Very nice, and super friendly folks.

Bright and early the next morning, we made the very short trip out of town to view the petroglyphs that have been gracing the sheer rock walls of the San Juan river valley for a thousand years or more. That some of them have been vandalized is not surprising, that any of them still remain pristine is remarkable.

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These are found in many places, but few are as well preserved as these.

It was hard for us to complain about some snow since we have had nearly perfect weather for all the trip thus far.

We have seen multiple cliff dwellings up til now, but these at Mesa Verde were the most extensive and well preserved of all of those. Truly mind-bending, trying to visualize the construction and day to day life of those who lived here 800 years ago.

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Cathy found it hard to comprehend how the people stayed warm, and kept their children from continually falling down the sheer cliffs within feet of their dwellings. Wood for fires would need to be transported from a substantial distance, and all the water carried up from the spring-fed stream several hundred feet down the steep slopes. Not an easy life.

Off from the Cliff Dwellings to the last of the National Parks on the list: Arches. Once again, our Senior Parks Pass got us in for free. Who says it doesn’t pay to get old?  🙂 This park is one of the most photographed parks in the country, and it’s easy to see why. There was an overflowing parking area at the first of the many “must stop for” sites; The Balanced Rock.

From whichever direction you see this “it-can’t-really-be” monolith, it appears to be on the brink of collapse. The “balanced” rock sitting precariously at the top of the crumbling column is estimated to weigh 3,500 TONS! That’s the weight of 17 locomotives! Until 1975, there was a smaller little brother named “Chip off the old block”. As we made our little hike all the way around it, I decided I wouldn’t want to be in the vicinity when this one finally succumbs to gravity and erosion.

The arches in all their individuality are pictures of grace and seeming fragility, but they have been in place for more years than we have existed. What a feeling of wonder to see.

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We left Arches and headed for Denver and arrived at sister Bev and hubby Russ’s about 8pm. Warmly welcomed! Spent Thursday thru Saturday there. Met beautiful baby Kaylee there the next day and enjoyed time with Marisa and Mike when he came there from work. Relaxing days and then wonderful party hosted by Bev/Russ to celebrate our trek. Nine good friend guests and wonderful evening.

Left 0400 Sunday and drove all the way to Albia to be with Mom for her 96th birthday. She had a wonderful BD party at the White Buffalo hosted by my siblings. She really enjoyed it. Her best friend from Homestead, Dorothy Beary was with her for the party. Cathy and I had supper with her in the Homestead and then visited with Howard at his apartment along with Peg. Feeling the strong pull of HOME now, we left for the final leg of the giant circle we had scribed around the USA.

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My 96 years experienced Mom. They don’t make them any tougher. Or better.
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Home is where they Love you. And it’s great to be Home. 

It was heartwarming to be welcomed home by Sean, Barb and Collette. Kelley was here from Chicago as well and brought two of her girls, Laila and Ellie.

And so, the end of this chapter, of what we hope will be an ongoing story of travel and adventure. Having you all along has made it a journey of joy. Thanks always for that.

 

Friends: The “Family” you get to pick yourself.

There are happily few “regrets” on this entire odyssey. Not being able to personally visit some of those myriad first cousins in this part of the world falls into that category. So, Dennis and Marilyn, and Joyce, know that we we would have loved to stop and visit your southwestern homes, too, if limited time and conflicting schedules had not intervened. You are precious to us, too!

Past adventures have spawned a new family of “friends” for us. My 30 plus years of riding Iowa’s premier bike ride, Ragbrai, has added great length to our annual Christmas card list! As you faithful Blog readers will recall, this ride started “on the road” with Jackie and Richard from Miami. At this end of the continent, LONG time biking friend, Norma Jean has come from LaLa Land to Iowa on numerous occasions to ride and stay with the Conway Clan. I was able to interrupt her still busy professional day to enjoy coffee, conversation and conviviality with her before her own “Gramma duties” pulled her away. Thank you for the wonderful time of reminiscences, NJ!

With mutual, albeit convoluted, connections to the Camino de Santiago, Jennifer de la R. and the Conways have become “family” type friends (definition: you can count on a meal and a bed if you’re in the vicinity 🙂 } Jennifer has/is a Blog author herself, and I chose the WordPress site for my blog in large part based on her experience with it. California Freeway driving in a motor home is not for the faint of heart, but we arrived in Simi Valley at Jennifer’s home none the worse for wear. She, and Angus, the lovable guard dog, welcomed us enthusiastically. We had to split the visiting agenda, based on time constraints, so Cathy and Jennifer were off to the Getty Gardens and Art Museum, with big emphasis on the Garden, for Cathy.

The evening was delightful with the arrival of two of Jenn’s “forever friends” from high school who wanted to meet these vagabond biker farmers. A super meal and produce from the vintners and brewers of California kept the attitude and atmosphere marvelously merry!  Thank you, Rebecca and Becky, for enlivening our evening!

I am putting this to the “publish” mode, and will add more pix when they become available. Thanks to all you Family of Friends!

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New Best Friends Forever  🙂
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A celebratory cake, marking the miles of the Southern Tier  

We are off to the the magnificent Parks of the Southwest, with planned visits to Antelope Canyon, Zion National Park, Horseshoe Bend, Glen Canyon Dam and Arches National Park. We will be using up megabytes by the gazillion with pix.

Stay tuned!

 

 

Shifting Focus, Changing Course

When this entire Mission was in the planning stages, it was decided at the beginning that the End of The Ride, was just the start of Phase Two; Vacation Time! There was so much that could be seen with more than half the country sitting between San Diego and Wellman, winnowing down the choices was the hard part.

As with the bike ride, there were people “along the Way”, that we knew we MUST visit. The sons of my life-long friend from Marine Corps days, Jon Ingersoll, both reside in San Diego. We have known Shane, 47, and Chase, 44, since they were infants. Sadly, Jon is a victim of Alzheimer’s Disease and is not able to travel, so we will not be able to see him on this trip. I had come to San Diego to visit Jon and help him when he finally had to move in with family for help and assistance several years ago. We had a glorious time driving around to old haunts, playing his beloved “Geezer Softball”, drinking beer and telling lies and making us “legends in our own minds”. I have those memories and they are the ones I choose to hold.

We agreed to meet Shane and Chase at the USS Midway museum on the waterfront. It was the perfect connection since the plane Jon flew while in the Corps was the A4 Skyhawk, which is prominently displayed on both the hangar deck and flight deck of this tremendous floating history lesson.

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Navy version of USMC buddy, Jon Ingersoll, warbird, the A4Skyhawk
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Farmer John and Shane, “IBSHANE” license plate Jon bought for Shane’s first car.
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Fabulous family of redheads! Katie, Chase, 3 year old Veoleta, and just turned yearling, Quinn. 

We enjoyed a wonderful afternoon with all of them on the ship and strolling the waterfront.

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Farmer Cathy has the magic “Gramma Touch” and won Quinn over instantly. This reminded us how much we are missing our “grands”!

The formative years of my youth included dozens of cousins. That’s no exaggeration when you consider I have nearly a hundred “first cousins” on both sides of my family tree.  Some of them “moved west”, of course, and that includes Jennifer Chocholek. When I was a “mature” sophomore in high school, I was deemed old enough to “babysit” for Jennifer, her five brothers, and her baby sister. This was, to say the least, an educational experience for all of us. I think her mother, Aunt Dolores, and father, Uncle Bill, considered two things were a priority: 1) I was available, and 2) I worked cheap. Let’s just say I could not have done the job at all without the invaluable help from Jennifer, who wasn’t all that much younger than I was. We have stayed close in heart, if not geography for all these years and we were thrilled to be asked to stay over in their home in Rancho Palos Verdes.

It was a special treat to have their daughter, Anna, and HER precious 3 month old Amelia there on our arrival. We have enjoyed frequent views of Amelia on Facebook as is befitting a first born child! Jennifer comes from a long line of great cooks, and our evening meal was tops! It was made even better by the arrival of yet another “first cousin”, JJ Conway of (relatively) nearby Long Beach. In a family of “characters”, JJ ranks fittingly at the top of the classification. It was an evening of much levity and enjoyment. I seriously do LOVE my cousins.

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A wonderful afternoon walk along the beach around the St. Vincente light house. Brisk and windy, but totally lovely!
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Picturesque and “movie material” as former location of Marine World and the locale of the 50’s action TV show “Sea Hunt”. 
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All too soon, “movin’ on down the road”. Thanks for wonderful hospitality, Jennifer and Ken. So great to enjoy the evening with JJ, Anna, and Amelia. 

 

 

 

Gratitude and Satisfaction

A perfect description of the emotions most experienced in these days after “The Ride”. Gratitude in abundance, for so much: for our safety over all these days and miles; for the support of our loving family and their continuing prayers, encouragement and acknowledgement; for the friends and family who followed us in mind and heart and blog posts; for the generosity of those along the way whose brief appearance in our journey added so much to the joy of the trek; for the incredible beauty of this land we are so blessed to live in and love. Grateful for the good health that allows both of us to accomplish a substantial physical challenge for a couple who both qualify for Medicare and get Senior Coffee at McDonald without even asking for it.

Satisfaction, in the completion of a dream that has had to wait for so many years to be undertaken. Satisfaction, that it could be accomplished without either significant bodily pain or emotional stress. Satisfaction, that our many years of happy married life prepared us to be each other’s best friend as we lived each day in the simplest of ways, completely content with the company of one another.

Our incomparable children and their wonderful spouses surprised us at Christmas with the announcement that when we arrived in San Diego, we would be treated to a night in the Hotel del Coronado. They have heard us talk for years of our early-days-of-marriage visits to this most beautiful and endearing vacation destination. Those early stories always ended in “Someday we’ll be able to afford to stay here.”  Someday finally came, and due to the generosity of our wonderful family, it didn’t cost us a thing.

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Checking in to “The Del”, in the magnificent lobby with a lovely orchid gracing the entire room. 
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Built in 1888, the Hotel del Coronado has set the standard for luxury for more than a hundred years. 

From check in to check out, we tried to savor all of the flavor that this elegant, historic, prestigious, and satisfying place had to offer. Walks along the beach,  the many and varied shops and boutiques, indoor and outdoor dining,  listening to music as the sun set; it was all wonderful and memorable.

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Until next time, these memories will sustain us.