Monday 28 August 2017

Message In A Bottle

    After two visits in the past three years an immediate return to Florida may seem incongruous to many but the boys were both eager to visit the newly opened (June 7, 1990) Universal Studios in Orlando. Stopping for the night on any vacation journey was always fun for Gavin and Adam because they were finally able to get out of the van and stay out. They were only there for a short time but it was going to be a good time as pizza, jumping on the beds and watching TV assured it was their vacation too! They probably had to do some homework but for a few wonderful moments they were free – at least until the next day’s drive.

      We awoke to rain and fog, left the motel and headed out of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee where we quite literally turned right instead of left and were officially on our way to Colorado. Severe weather altered our plans in the blink of an eye. Talk about playing the cards we had been dealt; we had no reservations, no route planned and we honestly had no idea where we were going so no matter what kind of spin you put on it, this was a first for us and it was exciting.

      Through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park the road follows a river where we stopped for a picnic lunch as we headed toward the park exit. After enjoying the lunch I sat back and watched as the boys threw stones into the fast moving water thinking that there were not a lot of obstructions like rocks and trees which slowly developed into an idea that I thought Gavin and Adam would like. We took one of their empty juice bottles, rinsed it out, peeled the label off, shook out any excess water and dried out the inside of the bottle as best we could. Gavin and Adam then wrote a note on an empty page from my journal to send down the river in the bottle asking the finder to please send a postcard to their home address which they included in the note.

      What a great little adventure for them as they hoped the bottle would somehow journey down the river in Tennessee to the ocean and across. In spite of the grandiose, hopeful dreams of a child, as it turned out it did not get quite that far. Gavin and Adam received a post card a couple of months later from a man who saw the bottle while fishing in the river and noticed the note. Although their bottle had only travelled a few miles downstream the boys were thrilled to receive the card proving their experiment had worked and giving them and me renewed hope in the goodness of people. We went out immediately and bought a postcard of the Holland Marsh in nearby Bradford with a picture of open flat farm fields stretching as far as the eye could see, a complete contrast to the fisherman’s card of the Tennessee mountains, thereby completing the circle of life of the message in the bottle.

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Tuesday 22 August 2017

Baseball Forever

    The long haul through Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and into Iowa was a snorefest. Generally speaking the boys had always tolerated the changing scenery as a necessary evil but this was a new challenge for them; luckily I had a surprise planned for them for tomorrow.

       “Field of Dreams” is a movie about an Iowa farmer who plows his cornfield under to build a baseball diamond hoping that the spirit of Shoeless Joe Jackson will return. We didn’t have to drive through the area but it was a very short detour to Dyersville, Iowa, where the movie set had been built and was still maintained.

      “If you build it, he will come,” is the underlying theme of the movie, so as we stood in the surrounding cornfield, Adam whispered those words to my video camera. The old house, the bleachers, the ball diamond, the corn, they all made the movie come to life as Gavin and Adam walked through them. Two days from home, this was the perfect stop to make the end of the trip as good as the beginning, another baseball connection on a Whitehead family vacation.

      On the following day amidst fire trucks and other emergency vehicles tending to a blazing car at the side of the interstate we arrived in Chicago late in the afternoon. Karen and I both love this city from past visits so we decided to stay overnight so the boys could see it. Coincidentally, or perhaps fatefully, our first stop was the relatively newly built Comiskey Park. The old stadium was torn down in 1990 to make way for this newer model. Home plate and the batters boxes from the original stadium had been inset in the parking lot so we parked the van in the empty lot about where the left field fence would have been. The boys had a very special moment as they “ran the bases” on their imaginary home run in the big leagues. 

      There was just enough time remaining for a brief interlude at Chicago’s other baseball shrine Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. Built in 1916, its ivy-covered walls are unique to baseball and are recognized the world over. It was closed but we spent a moment reflecting on all the great players and the great games that had taken place at this hallowed location.

      If there was one thing that emerged from all our years of travel with the boys it was being able to reinforce a love for the game of baseball for them – something that had been done for me by my father many years ago. Someday I hope they’ll be able to do the same for their children.

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Monday 14 August 2017

This Is Legal Is It

    Moab is a city of about 4,000 people in eastern Utah and is the closest city to Arches National Park which is why we were there. The park boasts the greatest density of natural arches in the world while spires, pinnacles and impossibly balanced rocks vie with the arches as scenic spectacles.

      The Devil’s Garden Trail was a leisurely stroll revealing to us many arches and columns scattered along a ridge but the five kilometre hike to Delicate Arch following was the show piece of the day for sure. A more harrowing or dangerous hike I do not expect to ever undertake. It wasn’t so much the hike itself as the circumstances and terrain we were faced with once we reached the Arch that would haunt me for all of eternity.

      Delicate Arch is an isolated remnant of a bygone rock fin that stands on the brink of a canyon overlooking the dramatic backdrop of the La Sal Mountains and is beauty personified. It rests on smooth, rounded, barren rock with one side exposed to a sheer thousand foot drop and no guard rails or restraints of any type and no warning of difficulty or danger. I could not believe that people were allowed to roam freely up here amidst such impending disaster. We did venture out to climb around the arch (probably the most foolish thing we have ever done) and it instilled terror in our hearts as we gingerly made our way along an almost non-existent footpath with nothing but empty space and rock below. There was one point when Karen and I had to pass Adam between us, as his legs were too short to reach the next foothold, and all we thought about was “what if we fall?” Not for the faint of heart and, as I alluded to earlier, not for anyone with any common sense or good judgment. I hope if we return in years to come, there will be some regulation on how close one can get to Delicate Arch.

      Nevertheless, it was one of those moments in life we could look back on and proclaim, “We survived despite our reckless abandon and outright stupidity,” a moment that would be a cornerstone as we built our lives’ amazing moments.

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Tuesday 8 August 2017

Canyonlands of Utah - A Geologist's Dream Come True

    We were excited as we left for Bryce Canyon knowing that the drive would bring us more of the awesome Utah canyon lands along the way. It did not take long for us to find a suitable spot to stop along the roadside to partake in yet another rock climb at a spot where the rocks laid in folded stacks as if a row of books had been knocked over. The boys and I ascended the stack to the top while Karen stayed at the bottom filming for prosperity on the video camera. Finally, just before entering Bryce Canyon National Park, we detoured through a blind box canyon right out of Butch Cassidy’s days.
    The closest lodging to the canyon is Ruby’s Inn, opened in 1916. It is all the wonderful things they say it is and more but the real attraction is obviously the giant natural amphitheater known as Bryce Canyon. Wind, rain and ice erosion has created thousands of multi-coloured Gothic spires thousands of feet tall in this area unlike any other on earth.
    It was a highlight of the trip as we hiked the Navajo Trail from the top to the bottom of the canyon providing us with some truly breathtaking views as we travelled deeper and deeper into the abyss. However, I strongly recommend you not attempt a journey such as this in cowboy boots. I believe they were made for riding because these boots weren’t made for walking.
    Surrounded by rock formations like castles and gigantic hoodoos we felt a mere speck in the universe as we wound our way around switchback curves to the canyon floor. The canyon floor was riddled with small caves, fallen trees and rock arches with huge rock formations lined up like sentinels on the hillside. The hike back up took us to the Natural Bridge lookout where we gazed across the canyon, engulfed by fir forests, and felt somewhat blessed that we had chosen to come to Bryce Canyon. As the sun began to set we gazed from the top of the lookout and felt a real sense of accomplishment knowing that we had ventured all the way to the bottom and returned unscathed to enjoy our final look at this most spectacular vista.

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