Eight Below

January 20th, 2019

2018 was a tough year for us. I lost my Dad in early April, and my Mom on Thanksgiving day. For all of my 66 years, they’ve been there… none us perfect, but each respecting the other and with few harsh words.

Nothing had prepared me for this. I found many important things in my life not getting done, and had to just roll with it. Whether it was at home or at the fire department, things were just not getting done, or someone else was stepping up and doing them.

I have a German’s sensibility about how things should be, and I feel a little stab every time I encounter something that is not right. I get this tingle that says (in a German accent) “How hard can it be? Just roll up your sleeves and get it done!” I’m embarrassed to admit that our downstairs freezer has been nagging me for some time. We have two freezers, that do a great job preserving our yearly bountiful harvests. Neither freezer has a self defrost. Before this year’s garden produce started infiltrating, I moved everything from the smaller upright freezer into the larger chest freezer and defrosted the upright. When that project got completed, I pronounced a hearty “Ja Wohl!” onto myself.

But the chest freezer remained frosty. And as the produce began to fill it up, the chances of that frost sticking around increased. I make a lot of trips into that freezer, and each time I opened it, the frost crystals seemed to spell out “loser.”

That is until this morning. Being in the northernmost region of one of the northernmost states, we get our share of cold. And being surrounded by Lake Superior on three sides gives us our share of snow. All the seasons are welcome to us. Sometimes the cold gets a bit extreme though, like this morning’s eight degrees below zero. It is hard to get much accomplished outside in temperatures that cold.

Alice and I decided this was the day to empty the chest freezer. I made 6 trips up the steps with boxes and baskets of frozen food. I stacked them all neatly on the brick patio outside our door in the -8 air. Then I grabbed my Milwaukee heat gun and went to work on the frost. As each sheet of freezer frost fell off the sides, a chuckle of delight escaped my lips. I took great satisfaction in dumping each chunk into a bucket, and then into the sink to slowly melt away and disappear into the basement sump.

When it was all defrosted, I washed the whole inside with a solution of baking soda and water, and then made 6 more trips back downstairs with the still frozen food. Alice took the opportunity to organize the food back into the freezer as I brought down each container. I think it was a balmy -1 outside by the time we finished the project.

Now I can eagerly anticipate future visits to a frost free chest freezer, secure in the knowledge that no frost will soon deface its walls.

I’ve heard it said there is not bad weather, just inadequate gear. I’ve also learned that when minus eight is tossed in front of you, an opportunity to make use of it might just present itself.


January 7th, 2019

One of my pet peeves is junk mail. Especially in this era of email, the Internet, and online shopping, catalogs and junk mail seem mostly superfluous to me. I can’t remember the last time I’ve found something in a catalog that I’ve wanted to order. I can’t remember the last time I opened a bulk mail letter and said, “Eureka, I need that!”

I own several domain names, which cost me $15/year to maintain. I only actively use one of them (tedsoldan.com) but I keep renewing the others thinking I’ll use them someday. All domains are stored in a database that is freely available on the web. Along with the domain name is name/address information of the domain name owner. Several times a year, I get a junk mail letter from a company that gets my name from that database, and wants to be sure I don’t let my domain name expire. I’ve written back to them a couple of times asking them to stop sending the mail, but have not been successful in getting it stopped.

So today I looked up their phone number and dialed it. A man came on the phone, and once I made it clear that it was my intention to be removed from the mailing list, he grew increasingly hostile. As I was questioning him about being sure we were removing all mail from his company to my address, he told me he had just explained to me that was what he was going to do (he hadn’t) and suggested I “…put on my thinking cap.” I asked him if he was having a bad day, but there was no answer, because his end was dead.

These things bother me, although I know they shouldn’t. I’m sure whoever it was on the other end of the phone forgot about our interaction as soon as he hung up on me. But I’ve been thinking about it all day long. The world is changing, and I’m having to learn to change with it. You see, I’m used to dealing with companies like Amazon that seem to value me as a customer. When something goes wrong with an order, they bend over backwards to make it right. It works for me. I usually search Amazon before I look elsewhere. Wal-mart has an excellent return policy, and seems to have their customer service representatives trained well enough that the experience of standing in line for a refund or exchange is not a negative one for me.

With a bar set that high, I find that I’m pretty unprepared for rudeness. I’m getting better at is as I get older, I think because the anger juices are slower to start flowing. And that is a good thing, because I’m not good at being angry. And there surely are some experts at anger out there. My goal is to make sure I do not cross paths with these folks if possible.

Which brings me to a couple of books I’ve been reading lately, both by Jaron Laniar. The first is “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,” and the second is “You Are Not a Gaget.” His basic argument is that social media has a customer, but you ain’t it. The customer is advertisers, and you are the product. This isn’t sinister in and of itself, but Jaron suggests that social media has determined that if it can feed articles to you that make you angry, you’ll be more likely to hover, thereby spending more time looking at the advertisements it sells. Anger sells widgets.

The ostensible reason you keep coming back to social media is to keep track of your friends. Perhaps the real reason is a bit more deeply buried in your subconscious. Whatever the technique, it seems to work… people keep coming back day after day, and the advertisers that pay a lot of money to social media have access to a select group of folks that will look at their online ad, while they would just toss a piece of junk mail.

Since I’ve been reading these books, I’ve curtailed my use of social media significantly, but not completely. I wonder why I don’t just pull the plug?


December 24th, 2018

When we dropped our son off at college in 1998, I suggested that he spend as much time as possible around exceptional people. College can be a good place to exercise that option. My belief is exceptional people give one a target in life. Alice and I were lucky enough to both work at a university for our professional lives, and we also did our best to surround ourselves with great folks.

Fast forward to about 5 years ago, when the Internet was becoming more and more an important part of my life. A new web page presented itself to me: TED.com

TED talks became a regular feature of my life and remained so for several years. For the first time in my life, I could enjoy the company of exceptional people, and listen to them talk about their fields of expertise without having to move from the computer screen in front of my armchair. I indulged in TED talks, and shared many of my favorites with friends.

The next level of technology that changed my access to great ideas was my discovery of podcasts. As you know, I do write a blog, but I never really caught on to blogs as a way to taste the world of ideas. But podcasts really opened my eyes. Even with the discovery of podcasts, I had to wait for one more technological breakthrough before podcasts started showing their current potential. The breakthrough was a new pickup truck.

My old truck, a 2002 Ford F250 was showing its age, so this summer I decided to bite the bullet and buy myself a new truck. I got the most basic model available with an 8′ box and no crew cab. This was to be a truck, not a car with a little box out back. But even with just the basics, it came with a radio with an unanticipated feature… the radio could pair via Bluetooth ™ to my smartphone. When the truck was new, I went through the pairing procedure as part of the familiarization phase, but didn’t really see any applications that grabbed me.

I was occasionally using my smart phone to listen to music, and one time I got into my truck, started it up, and started going down the road when suddenly the song I’d been listening to came up on the truck’s speakers. And it sounded good! I still owned an iPod in those days, so I paired it with my truck radio and began to use it to listen to some podcasts. It was great. I make weekly trips to town with my truck to run the week’s errands, and found that the miles just flew by when I had something interesting to listen to.

Next I downloaded an app to my smart phone called Pocket Casts ™, and began to use it for listening to podcasts. I also moved my music library over to my phone, and quickly rendered my little iPod obsolete. Now when I get into my truck, it talks to my phone, figures out what I was last listening to, and starts playing it for me. It is seamless, simple, and I hear a lot of good stuff while driving with very little effort on my part.

There are so many podcasts out there that I believe a professional trucker couldn’t listen to them all. I’ve settled on 7 of them. I can’t think of any I’d like to delete, and don’t think I could add any more, since I can barely keep up with the 7 I have. Here they are in no particular order:

Fresh Air, Freakonomics Radio, Big Picture Science, The Ezra Klein Show, This American Life, The Moth, and Waking Up (with Sam Harris). (note that the Waking Up podcast is in the process of changing its name, but if you do a search, you should still be able to find it.)

If you haven’t yet discovered the world of podcasts while driving, I encourage you to look into it. These things have changed my perspective on things, and frees me from the tyranny of finding something interesting on the radio dial. My little phone contains enough material to keep me interested during several cross country trips.

Enough Clamps?

December 23rd, 2018

A friend at work told me a story some years ago. Her husband and another guy were sitting at the table talking about woodworking tools, as guys sometimes do. During a pause, she asked them, “How do you know when you have enough clamps?”

She said both guys stopped and slack jawed, just looked at her. No words came.

That story came to me the other day when I was replacing the fiberglass rope gasket on our Jotul stove. The instructions on the bottle of adhesive were cheerful and clear. “Clean the groove that accepts the new gasked thoroughly. Then add a bead of adhesive to the door groove, insert the rope gasket, and close the door for 2 hours. You may want to put some newspaper in the door so you don’t glue it shut.”

Sounds easy enough. The adhesive had been sitting in the shop for a few years now. I bought the new rope and adhesive some time back, because frankly this job is past due. But I did finally get around to it. I shook the little jar of adhesive, even though the directions said nothing about that. I then attempted to insert a bead in the groove. The adhesive was like water. There was no way I would be able to insert a bead without it running down the glass in the door.

So I measured and cut the correct length of rope, sat it on the hearth, and applied a bead of adhesive to the rope. Then I carefully fed the rope into the channel. Things went fine until the first bend, when the rope fell out. I enlisted Alice’s help, but to no avail. The raw adhesive was not sticky enough to hold the rope in place long enough for me to get the door shut, and we did not have enough hands between us to hold the rope in place. What to do?

As is so often true, clamps were the answer. With the adhesive drying on the hearth, I sprinted out to the shop, grabbed every spring clamp I had, came back inside, reapplied the glue, and then started feeding the rope back into the channel. When I came to a corner, I pinned it down with a clamp. As you can see in the picture, by the time I made it all the way around the door, I’d used up a lot of clamps. If I would have had more, would I have used them? Probably.

After about an hour, the adhesive had dried enough so I could removed the clamps, stick the newspaper in the door, and close it tight so the glue could finish its curing.

Besides spring clamps, I have a good assortment of C-clamps, bar clamps, Jorgensen clamps, pipe clamps, workbench clamps, and a couple of Kant-twist ™ clamps to round out the picture. There are probably others out there I could call on if the need arose. I am frequently grateful for my clamp collection.

So how many is enough? The better questions is how many is too many. What would have to happen for me to have more clamps than I want to keep around. That is a bridge I’ve not yet had to cross, but then again, I’m only 66 years old. I hope I’ve still got a lot of clamping left in me.

Cherry Lumber

November 19th, 2018

My neighbor Jim had some cherry trees on his property. His friend Bill thought he might like to make some cabinets out of cherry. So Jim and Bill embarked on a small scale logging operation. They cut down and bucked up several trees, and hauled them out to the bush road by hand, because they didn’t have a tractor between them.

Once on the bush road, the heavy logs were moved onto a trailer and pickup and hauled to Bill’s place. Bill then went to work finding a sawyer to make lumber out of the hard-won cherry.

Things got more complicated, because local sawmills are used to dealing in 40 cord truckloads. Jim and Bill’s few logs were random length… small diameter ones longer and big ones shorter, to make them possible to be lifted by hand. For-profit sawmills want standardized log lengths. Jim and Bill could not find a sawyer interested in their small project.

Jim is Ernie’s son. Ernie, who passed away some years ago, helped me on numerous occasions when I was much younger, poorer, and less capable with tools. Ernie never refused a request from me, often worked with me for a long while, and when asked what was the charge, would say, “Oh, give me a dollar.” I swore I’d get even someday.

Jim (Ernie’s son) called me up and asked if I’d be interested in sawing some cherry lumber for his friend Bill. I was very busy, and my sawmill was not reliable after I replaced some parts last summer. But when Jim asked, I happily said yes. He said his friend Bill would be dropping off the logs.

The cherry up here often grows crooked, which is fine for firewood, but a sawmill demands straight logs. The crooks become firewood as the log is being squared up in order to make lumber. These guys had some pretty crooked logs. Some were quite small. And the big ones were a little short. Short logs mean extra work, because fewer sawmill “dogs” are available to hold the logs in place as the saw head passes up and down. I had an challenging pile of cherry logs to work with.

But the crooked logs also provide some interesting lumber, which became evident as the logs were taken apart. I spent some extra time and “bookmatched” the lumber as much as I could as I stacked it. Bookmatching means I stacked it with contiguous board edges touching, like the pages in a book. So the grains in one board more or less mirror the next one down the log. As I got into the project, I found interesting cherry boards whose mirror images suggested improbable designs.

When I called Bill to tell him his lumber was ready, he came right over, and was thrilled by what he saw. “How much do I owe you,” he asked as he reached for his wallet. “You’ll have to take it up with Jim,” I said. “I’m doing this as partial payback for all the kind things Jim’s Dad did for me over the years.” Bill put his wallet back.

Later on in the season, Jim ordered a 40 ton load of gravel to repair a different section of his farm trail. Before he could spread it out, Bill intervened, and said he and his grandson would spread the gravel, and they did a quick and thorough job with shovels and rakes. When Jim asked him how much he owed him, he said, “You’ll have to take it up with Ted.”

A recent survey asked people how many friends and family did they have in their lives that they could call for help if they needed it. For the same survey question some years back, the most common answer (not the average) was 5. The most recent survey’s most common answer was 0.

My question is, what cements a friendship to the point that a call for help in the middle of the night would be reliably answered by a friend? Had Bill have bought his cherry lumber, all kiln dried, straight, and unchecked, at the Home Depot ™, there would be no story. He’d bring it home, build his cabinets, and that would be that. But the cabinets Bill builds with the Soldan milled cherry lumber will carry a story along with them. I can see grandchildren telling (exaggerated) stories about the trials and tribulations involved in bringing grandpa’s heirloom cabinets to life.

All three of us felt some satisfaction in this project. And I can tell you that if either of these two need anything it is in my power to help them with, I will. I would argue that this “transaction” is reminiscent of the barter system we were all a part of not so many generations ago. I would further argue that while we are perhaps richer in material things than the folks several generations back, we are much poorer in social terms. I think humans are happiest when they are part of a group, as complicated as such a thing always is. Working our way through the ins and outs of our group’s dynamics cements our place in the world. And it gives us the satisfaction of knowing we’ll have help when the need arises.

First Wind

November 15th, 2018

One serious advantage of dog ownership is the walking. I do a lot of walking during the course of my day, but it is mostly on the way to get something done. With the dog, the walk is the task. He is busy using his nose, which leaves me some time for contemplation. I think we all need contemplation.

One of our favorite walks is along the pond dam closest to the road. And my favorite stopping place along the route is the one in the picture. I’m standing on the part of the dam that represents the tallest pile of dirt we made during construction. The old creek bed is around 20′ below my feet.

The most memorable recent walk around that route was a couple of weeks ago. I turned to admire the view, as I often do. It had snowed the night before; one of those gentle first snows of the year that paint such lovely pictures on the conifers. As I stood and stared out at the results of my efforts over the years, I noticed in the distance that the fluffy snow was starting to fall off the trees. I was witnessing the disturbances of the first wind of the morning, and it was coming right for me.

I became enthralled with this event. Tree after tree was shedding its snow, as the wind moved west towards my vantage point. Then I began to see the evidence of the wind’s approach in the tiny ripples progressing along the surface of the pond. Just before the wind hit me, I raised my arms and opened my fingers, so I felt the full force of the day’s first wind.

My Little Buddies

August 10th, 2018

When I was growing up, almost my entire view of the world outside my family was from television. If you are like me, several of those commercials are still stuck inside your head. One that keeps coming back to me is of a woman sleeping peacefully in bed, and then the music comes up, she throws back the covers, pumps both fists into the air, and the singer comes in with,

“Yeah, feel so good it shows
everybody knows
it’s a Sealy Posturepedic ™ morning.”

Even at a young age, that sort of attitude towards waking up seemed implausible. I can’t remember ever greeting a new day with a fist pump and a smile. For me it is more like opening one eye, and hoping I’m dreaming and the alarm is not going off.

One very fine thing about retirement is that most mornings, no alarm needs to be set. I can mellow into the morning, thinking about this or that. Often, it is one thread in that train of thought that inspires me to get my feet on the ground for another day.

The other morning, I can distinctly remember what that thought was.

“I wonder how my birds are doing?”

So I got up and checked the hummingbird feeders before I did anything else.

This year we have been blessed with humming birds, who are my favorite summer birds. I maintain 4 feeders that are placed outside windows on 3 sides of the house. Two of the three sites are effectively defended by birds that allow few incursions into their territories. The third site is outside the kitchen window, and I’ve found I need to keep two feeders there, because it gets the vast bulk of the hummer visits. If there is a bird defending this site, he must have thrown his wings up in the air long ago and allowed pandemonium to reign.

It is hard to get an accurate count, but we believe we’ve seen 12 birds at one time at the feeders by the kitchen window. That coupled with the wasps that also lay claim to the feeders, and the excitement is palpable. Alice commented that the designers of the Harry Potter ™ game of Quidditch must have spent time watching humming birds jockeying for position at their feeders.

If you look carefully at this blowup of the little male in the upper right of the picture above, you might be able to see his tongue is out. By now, most of the males have departed for warmer climates, and it won’t be long before the last little female leaves us for the jungles of Mexico. Until that time, we’ll have the pleasure of looking out the kitchen window and smiling at our little buddies.

One of Those Days

July 31st, 2018

It has been one of those days.

The summer has been roaring by. The evidence of this is my one project each summer that positively has to be done, no matter what else tries to achieve precedence. That project being putting up next year’s fire wood. My goal is always to be done by the end of June. If I have ever achieved this goal, it hasn’t been in the recent past. Last year, for the first time ever, I did not fill the woodshed. We had enough firewood, but this year I started with a deficit.

Here it is the last day of July, and I have been out in the woods only twice, and hauled a Scout load of firewood each time. (Hint: it takes MANY Scout loads of firewood to fill the woodshed.) So yes, once again I am behind. Way behind.

Today the day started, as it often does, with exercises and a bowl of cereal. There are other pet, garden, and house related chores to be done. My plan was to unload yesterday’s firewood from the Scout, then load up my tools and head out to the woods. This project was executed, as most of my outside projects are, barefooted. Things went swimmingly until a pretty heavy chunk of hard maple slipped out of my hand and landed on my left big toe. Beneath that toe was a concrete apron. My toe became the thing between a rock and a hard place. It hurt like a son of a gun. As of this writing, the toe is much bigger than it’s neighbor big toe, and is a different color. The injury is also making me walk funny.

After finishing stacking the wood, paying particular attention to heavy objects above my toes (no I did not put shoes on after the accident), the Scout was loaded up, and I was on my way out to the woods, whistling a happy tune. This was going to be the day I was to make a difference in the firewood arena.

I got out to the logging road where I planned to park while felling a pretty good sized dead sugar maple. I assembled and donned my gear: chainsaw pants designed to save limbs from flailing saws, helmet, and hearing protection. (I always wear steel toed shoes when I’m running my saw. I’m not stupid, for heaven’s sake!) I walked up to the tree, and pulled the rope on my trusty Husqvarna 262. Nothing. Several more pulls had the same result.

This saw has been with me for decades. We know each other. This saw always starts. Today, after about the 6th pull, the cord came out of the recoil. So I lumbered back to the Scout, opened the tailgate, and reinserted the pull rope. Another several pulls on the rope, and still no start. I opened the top of the saw, removed the air cleaner, and poured a small amount of gas directly in the carburetor. Back together the saw went, more pulls, not a sputter.

Another disassembly and the spark plug was removed, and set on the engine. Pulls on the rope showed a strong capable spark. So the machine has spark, gas, and it won’t start. I put the thing back together and drove back home.

I have a spare chainsaw for just such an emergency. It hasn’t been started for several years, because the Husqvarna always starts. So I dusted off the Stihl 041, filled it with gas and bar oil, and gave the rope a pull. It did take a half dozen pulls before I got a sputter, but the old saw did start and run. I’m not done for yet!

I drove back out to the woods, parked confidently on the logging road, put on my gear and started the saw. I had a couple of balsam firs to remove around the big sugar maple. No problem. My chest was starting to puff out. I can do this thing!

Once I’d cleaned up around the big maple, I made my notch, and started the cut. The saw was running great, the newly sharpened chain was tossing chips, and down came the tree. Unfortunately, the tree broke into several pieces when it hit the ground. Punky. This huge tree would probably provide very little firewood for us. Darn.

As I was standing there with the saw idling and disappointment drooling off me, I heard a familiar sound over the sound of the chainsaw and despite my hearing protectors. My pager.

So I had to jump back in the Scout, drive fairly rapidly across the field back home, retrieve my radios and fire gear, and head for the fire scene. As so often happens, by the time I got there, my outstanding crew had the situation under control. I had little to do except start the necessary paperwork, and then head back to the firehall.

When I got home from the fire, it was late afternoon, and I had a choice to make. Should I drive back out to the woods and try again, or stay inside. I opted for the later. I didn’t think I could have handled too many more disappointments in one day.

Isle Royale Sandwich

May 28th, 2018

Until my knees gave up, I used to spend much of my vacation time backpacking. I spent a lot of it in the Grand Canyon, but also quite a bit on Isle Royale. Much of planning for these trips involves gear, and the folks at the backpacking store can offer good advice. One thing we backpackers all have in common is we carry everything we need for the duration of the trip (except water) when we take that first step on the trail. The place where many backpackers differ from each other is food.

What you eat is largely a matter of preference. The experts can help narrow down the choices, but in the end you need to figure out what to eat and how much you want to carry. One fortunate thing for Alice and me is we’ve been devotes of granola for 40 years. We learned what we like and how to make it. So backpacking breakfasts were 1/2 cup of granola and a small handful or raisins. Supper was largely solved for me late in my backpacking career thanks to an inexpensive food dehydrator and a book called “Backpack Gourmet” by Linda Frederick Yaffe. This book detailed the technique for dehydrating food for the trail, but also had some great recipes. Snacks were 2 powerbars each day stashed in the pack and eatable at the total discretion of the hiker. Then there is lunch.

The challenge for backpacking food is it has to be durable, non-perishable, but most important, tasty and nourishing enough to keep the furnace fired. Not having enough food makes the trip into a series of daydreams about what will be eaten first when civilization is reached. This is ironic, because leaving civilization was a major purpose for the trip.

Isle Royale elegantly solved the lunch problem for me. I carry Wasa Sourdough Crispbread, cheese, peanut butter, and raisins. Slice up the cheese, being careful to take just the amount you planned for lunch, place on the crispbread, smear a liberal dab of peanut butter on top, and top it off with a sprinkle of raisins. It tastes good and is surprisingly sustaining.

Wasa Crispbread is pretty amazing. We’ve found some that has been stashed away for years, and it tastes good as new. Let us know if you’d like the granola recipe.

Bye Dad

May 13th, 2018

I first discovered the Grand Canyon with my Dad. During my professional years, I travelled regularly to Las Vegas for the Comdex convention, which was, at the time, the largest gathering of computer geeks in the world. I liked to stay in Laughlin, NV, just to get out of the craziness of the Las Vegas Strip. One year I asked my Dad to come along, and he accepted. While I attended the conference, he stayed behind and played at the casino. Then we could have dinner together and do tourist things.

The Grand Canyon is about 3 hours away from Laughlin, and since we’d arrived a day before the conference was to begin, we decided to take a day and drive to the canyon, spend a few hours, and drive back. I don’t think I’ll ever forget looking over that rim for the first time. Have you looked over the rim? Then you understand. If all you’ve seen is pictures, then you don’t.

After my brain settled down a bit from that first look, I noticed an obvious trail some distance below our vantage point (it turned out to be the trail to Plateau Point.) “Someday I’m going to walk down there,” I told myself. I was in my 40s, and had done some backpacking with the Boy Scouts, but had never taken a trip where I was responsible for all the aspects of the journey. With my 40 year old brain, I thought it would be a good idea to do a backpacking trip in the canyon. I asked my Dad if he’d like to go too, and after thinking about it for a while, he said yes.

Dad had been in the military, but had never been bitten by the camping bug. I talked to him about getting some good boots, loaned him a backpack, and suggested he put some weight in it, and do some hiking every day to get in shape. Dad never spent a nickel he didn’t have to. As we were corresponding about the upcoming hike, I asked him if he’d bought his boots. “Yes,” he said. I should have asked him to elaborate.

He’d gotten a deal on some steel toed work boots. I’m not sure how well they fit him either. “Are you hiking with some weight in your pack?” “Yes,” he said. Again, I didn’t ask him to fill in the details.

It turned out that the weight he was putting in his pack was a couple of coffee table sized books. Maybe 10 or 15 pounds. I had something more in mind like 50#, but he was my Dad and I didn’t push it.

The big day finally arrived. He flew from Lansing and I from Houghton. We were to meet in Chicago and take the same flight to Las Vegas. We met up in Chicago with no troubles, and caught our plane to LV, where we picked up our rental car, and made our way to the canyon. I’d booked a room at the Yavapai Lodge in Grand Canyon Village for the night before our hike was to start. When we got there, we spread out all our gear and split things up into our respective backpacks, and set the alarm for early.

The best hiking in the desert is early morning, so we got up very early, loaded up our packs, and drove to the rim. We parked the car near the trailhead of Bright Angel Trail, and started down. Dad did pretty well at first, although we were going a little slower than I would have liked. The Bright Angel Trail is 9 miles long, and our first night was to be at the bottom of the trail. By the time we got to the first rest house, which is 1 ½ miles down the trail, we’d spent over an hour hiking.

Doing the math in my head told me if we kept up this pace, it would take us over 8 hours to get to the bottom, which is a very long day for a beginning hiker. After a 20 minute rest, we pushed on. Dad started complaining about his legs feeling numb as we continued down the switchbacks. Down is the hardest hiking in my experience, because of the jolts your legs get every time you take a step. There was another rest house called 3 Mile just down the trail, so I decided we’d make for that and see how things were going.

I could not get Dad to understand how to drink water while hiking in the arid southwest. All his life his drinks had been in sips, and down in the canyon, you need to guzzle. He told me his mouth was getting dry, so we stopped in the shade and I handed him a liter of water and told him to drink it. He sipped and gave it back to me. I tried but could not get him to understand what I wanted him to do. He was getting dehydrated, but would not drink water. By now we were about 3 hours into the hike and had not made the 3 Mile rest house. I decided we needed to turn back.

I hiked out with my backpack. I left him all the water we had except for what I needed, and all the powerbars. When I made it to the top, I dropped the backpack off in the car and turned around. I got back down to him a couple of hours after I’d left him, and he was in much better shape. He’d walked a short distance until he found a good place to rest, then had some water and a snack, and did it over again. He told me he’d asked a couple of guys that walked by if he could pay them to carry out his backpack, but he didn’t get any takers.

I shouldered his pack and we hiked out without incident. We got a room for the night back at the Yavapai, and left the canyon the next day.

Dad and I made one more trip to the canyon as tourists after that, but never tried another backpacking trip. He was in his 70s and just didn’t have the will for it. I understood. I made several trips into the canyon after our aborted trip together, and I count the times I spent below the rim among the best in my life.

Fast forward to May of 2018. I’m staying in a hotel room in Tusayan, AZ. Dad passed away on April 4, 2018. It was such a busy time for me that I felt I had not grieved properly. Looking at the calendar, I saw a hole in the second week in May. We had the frequent flyer miles, and I had the time, so I booked the trip. I’ve spent my days rim-hiking, which I’ve never done before. My knees preclude me from backpacking, but I can still rim hike, and hike I have done. There have been tears and smiles. I feel as though the cork has come out of a bottle and all the contents have shot out. I can not imagine a better place to say goodbye to a constant force in my life. Thank-you Howard Soldan for bringing me into this world, bringing me up, and sticking with me through my numerous foolish escapades. I miss you more than words can say, but at last, I feel as though I’ve said a proper goodbye.

Picture 1 was taken shortly after I arrived at the canyon and had my first look. Notice that I have my hat on backwards. I was sad but happy, if that makes any sense.

Picture 2 was taken on my last hike on my last day at the canyon.