Hiking With An Attitude of Gratitude: Pass Mountain and Granite Mountain Thanksgiving Week Hikes

After our quick San Diego trip, we returned to the desert for more hikes. The weekend before Thanksgiving, Carolyn and I went and hiked the Pass Mountain Loop Trail located in the Usery Mountain Regional Park. We hiked about 7.6 miles with total elevation gains of over 1000 ft and since it was a Friday, we encountered just a handful of hikers during our 3.5 hour journey. I did encounter a tarantula which I thought unusual.

Once again socially distanced in the desert yet close to 2 million people. We took the loop clockwise and about half way in, it does get rocky and on the way down the stepping down does take a toll on my joints but it was well worth the hike.

We started our day with some Hava Java coffee and ended with a stop at Barrio Brewing located at Gateway Airport. Both are excellent places and the brewery is located next to the runway where one can watch planes come and go. It was a great day from beginning to end.

Still on furlough with no end in site and not working Thanksgiving for the first time in seven years, I decided, with the help of Carolyn, to do thinks different this year. The Phoenix area weather was sunny so we decided on a Thanksgiving picnic at Cave Creek Regional Park with some turkey cranberry sandwiches from Sprouts with a growler from Huss Brewing.

We picked up Carolyn’s mother Carol and arrived in the early afternoon with no fanfare and few people in sight. Our picnic was not glamorous but it was a nice time outdoors together enjoying and thankful for the times together. I’ve never been a big fan of holidays so this was perfect for me. Sitting in the warm glow of the sunshine eating our simple meal and reflecting on the year and thankful for our health and being able to enjoy mother nature was perfect.

Once our meal and growler was completed, we took a nice short hike of close to two miles on the Overton Clay Mine Trail Loop. We have now been on every trail in the Cave Creek Park so our mission was accomplished.

For some time now, Carolyn and I have wanted to go to the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park located near Yarnell and to hike the trail to the memorial site. There are only 12 parking spaces so we arrive at sunrise to make sure we can park and it is cold with a strong wind blowing. Our trek takes us a bit over 6.5 miles and a total elevation gain of 1800 feet. It is a combination of two trails, the Hotshots Trail and the Journey Trail that goes to the Fatality Site. The state has built an excellent memorial park with 19 memorial granite plaques that share a photo and some detail of each of the fallen hotshots. It is a very strenuous and not an easy hike. The state built the trail since the only other access to the Fatality Site would be through private property. As we hiked we stopped and read each plaque. It is the most significant hike I’ve ever done.

The emotions one feels knowing the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots tragedy is at times overwhelming for me. I cannot describe the feelings knowing that these young men died after being overrun by the Yarnell Hill Fire is chilling. After reaching the overlook you will see a Tribute Wall that has many items placed on it from other first responders all across the nation and other countries. It is something to behold.

Carolyn and I pass only two people on our way to the fatality site. We spend a large amount of time paying our respects. It is moving to see the crosses with their names at the location of where they made their final stand.

As we hike out, Carolyn and I reflect on lives cut short by a senseless tragedy. We pass more hikers that are coming in as we are returning.

I struggle writing about it knowing the details of the story. When the tragedy happened on Sunday June 30, 2013, Carolyn, Jordyn, and I were listening to the news in Flagstaff as we were returning from our rim to rim hike at the Grand Canyon. I’ll never forget it when a breaking story came on the radio about a hotshot team missing and getting the update around 7:00 pm that they had perished. I was angry, confused, stunned, and emotional, thinking “Why?”. Having had the opportunity to fight wildfires during the summers of my years at NAU, it just hit me hard.

Six and half years later I pay my respects and this hike to the fatality site will always be something I will never forget. When we finished our hike, we met one of the young State Park Rangers and listed with him for awhile. What a wonderful representative for the state. He was filled with knowledge and quite passionate about his position and the park.

Carolyn and drive through Yarnell to Prescott reflecting on the hike. We finish our day by stopping at the Prescott Brewing Company for some Christmas Ale, Thumb Butte Distillery for a tasting of their spirits, and to Lonesome Valley Brewing for dinner.

Our final hike of the weekend was a sobering event for us and truly left an impact on our lives. Our Thanksgiving trip has been a significant trip reflecting on all that we have to be thankful for.

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A November To Remember: The San Diego Hikes

Friday the 13th of November, exactly eight months to the day that I was officially furloughed from my hotel position in Phoenix. (Friday the 13th of March) Since we were in San Diego on the day I was notified, Carolyn and I returned to finish the official Five Peak Challenge that we had started in January. Due to Covid pandemic concerns and the multiple shutdowns in CA, we were unable to finish what we started.

Quinn Ashton and I at Sky Harbor, Phoenix, AZ November 13

Phoenix Sky Harbor had more activity then we had seen in a long time. While at the gate, I had this masked man (yes everybody had a mask) approach me and ask “Are you Tim Fruth?” (something like that) Lo and behold it was Quinn Ashton from St. Johns, Arizona. I had actually refereed some of his high school football games he played in and later on we have officiated multiple high school games together. We got to visit for awhile since he and his wife were on our flight to San Diego to catch a plane to SLC to visit their son. For the record, everybody wearing a mask really throws me off. That was a cool start to our road trip.

Once arriving in San Diego, we decided to roll our luggage to the Little Italy area to pick up our rental car since we had plenty of time before our scheduled time. This 1.5 mile hike was a great warm up to what was ahead. Carolyn probably thought it was because I was being frugal but truth be told, it was a beautiful morning for a brisk walk and it the perfect warmup for my stiff joints.

Most people from Arizona, including Carolyn and I, visit San Diego for beach time. Carolyn and I have added some local hikes to our times in San Diego that have included Potato Chip rock and most recently the Mission Trails Regional Park Five Peak Challenge. We had previously hiked North Fortuna and South Fortuna in January 2020 on a beautiful day and on a rainy day on March 12, 2020 we completed Cowles Mountain and Pyles Peak. We had planned to return and hike our final peak, Kwaay Paay Peak in April but Covid restrictions put that on hold. We would have traveled but CA had specific restrictions that basically prohibited us from going and staying in a hotel and transportation was problematic.

The morning was beautiful and Carolyn and I decided we would add some mileage to our hike be putting a loop together after our summit. We started our summit to Kwaay Paay be hiking from a parking area on the furthest SE side on a trail that skirts a housing area and then connecting back to the main trail and on to the summit. There were few hikers to be encountered making social distancing not just a saying but a reality. It seems that most of the ones we encountered were hiking with a face mask and we just weren’t going to do that. The elevation gains on the summit trail are about 875 feet over a well defined trail that is rocky in places and could be slippery when wet. At the summit we just enjoyed the view of San Diego to the south and west and the peacefulness of being at the top. The trail is rated moderate to hard but it is short so not too much of a struggle.

On our trip down the mountain we took the first fork in the trail to head towards the San Diego River and the Grasslands Loop Trail. Our hike ended up over five miles with a total elevation gain of 999 feet. The grassland areas are beautiful in their own way and the loop is a great way to see a different side of the area. We were able to avoid others and just take our time enjoying the warm sunshine and the time of being together out in mother nature.

Carolyn on the Grassland Loop Trail

Our next stop is the Hilton in Torrey Pines for a couple nights. It is a beautiful property by the golf course with views of the ocean but there is nobody there. It’s just different. After getting settled, we head out for dinner and a beer. No hike for us would be complete with out a stop for local beers so we head to Draft Republic located in La Jolla. Really a cool spot with a great selection of local craft beers and good eats. We get to enjoy one of our favorites from Latitude 33, Honey Hips. Great way to end Day One.

Day two starts with a strange way to do breakfast. No indoor seating and menu but we get a to go omelet and sit by the pool ready to start hiking in the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, named for the rare Torrey Pine tree. It is a beautiful area on the coastline with some interesting history. During the day we log over 6.5 miles of hiking on a variety of trails and find some time along the beach. With highs around 68 and sunny, we stroll through a variety of terrain. There are many out on this Saturday enjoying the beautiful San Diego weather.

Since hiking and exploring craft breweries is one of our things, our first stop is the Viewpoint Brewing Company. The place is packed for having social distanced seating and we get to sit outdoors in a beautiful waterfront setting. This place is very popular with the locals and we were glad we found it. Excellent beer and some good fish tacos. We end up with an Eddie Van Lager and a Big Hat Blonde. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I like my blondes, beer that is.

Our final stop of the day is New English Brewing another cool spot with a great patio. The sun has gone down and it has become cold so it’s just a quick top to try something new. One of the many things I’ve learned is that to remain open in California, patrons at all breweries (bars etc) must order food and just can’t have a drink. I’m not certain how this practice stops the spread of Covid but it is interesting. So we have to order food from the taco truck just to have a drink. If one was to go to multiple places it could get expensive and lead to some unnecessary and unhealthy weight gain. Carolyn and I manage to split food orders to keep our calorie intake down. Our choice at New English Brewing is the Blueberry Blonde. It is very tasty and has a great purplish color that adds to the experience.

Our trip is done with some great hikes and great beers as we have to get on the first flight out of town to Phoenix since it is the only one that has seats for us standby passengers. Our flight leaves in the six o’clock hour so it’s up early to drop off our car and catch Lyft to the airport. Another November adventure complete. With Covid numbers still on the rise, Carolyn and I are trying to get some outdoor adventures completed while still honoring social distancing and traveling with our masks. Mission accomplished.

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A November to Remember: Hiking the Desert

Socially distanced hiking in unseasonably warm weather seems reasonable to me. Since being furloughed in March, I refuse to be “locked down” indoors and have continued to enjoy simple adventures around the areas that I live.

Carolyn had been requesting that we return to the Superstition Mountain Wilderness for a hike near Canyon Lake on the Boulder Canyon Trail. Our first Friday adventure has been decided and off we head to the Apache Trail and the Canyon Lake Marina.

Our start to the day is a slow one due to my ADD as I was quite discombobulated due to this reoccurring disability. Scattered and lacking focus, we head out and I left my hiking poles behind. Thank goodness I did remember water and snacks.

Once arriving we start our hike at 9:20 only about an hour behind our planned start. Once again, we are socially distanced only passing a couple returning from their morning hike and we will not see anyone else until the very end on our return. The hike is quite strenuous for me due to the rocky nature of the trail. Walking on rock takes its toll on my back and hips but I get through it. The scenery is beautiful. Deep in the Superstition Mountains the trail heads up before descending down to a wash that you crisscross multiple times. We fail to see any wildlife (not including me) but it is very peaceful and the views of Battleship and Weaver’s Needle are simply amazing. We hike in about 5.5 miles from the road and we could have continued but I just knew getting out would take a toll on my joints. The elevation gains total about 1800 feet and it is the going down that pounds on my lower back and hips and I missed my poles. The climb out is significant so be prepared as it is strenuous.

The views of Canyon Lake are special. Our journey lasted about six hours with plenty of stops to take in the scenery. Even with the pounding, I was happy and glad that I did it but sure that I will have plenty of residual aches and pains.

Upon returning we stop in to the Well Done Grill for some fish and chips, (A Friday thing) and they just happen to have Barrio Blonde one of our favorite light craft beers. On our way back to the Dreamy Draw condo, we stop by Goldwater Brewing Taproom in the Longbow Marketplace in East Mesa. We had no idea that Goldwater had opened in this area but what a lovely stop. Talking about favorites, their Desert Rose is a Kolsch style brewed with organic prickly pear that we have always loved. Not only does it taste good, it’s got a beautiful color to it. What a great day of hiking and crafting our way through Arizona. For an ADD guy, my attention was quickly focused on enjoying a cold one.

Our second hike of November takes us to Cave Creek Regional Park easily accessible and a beautiful area that doesn’t get overcrowded. After the pounding my body took Friday, I still manage to move around willing myself to get outdoors with Carolyn and her mother.

Another beautiful day in the desert and our hike gets started around 1:30. For November, it is a cloudy day but beautiful hiking weather. Today’s mini adventure takes us over 3.5 miles on the Overton to Go John to Overton Loop trail. We gain about 500 feet and we remained socially distanced with only a few encounters with hikers. Very peaceful with some good views looking south towards Phoenix. Only about 35 minute drive from our condo and we are in this beautiful county park. It is amazing to me that we are so close to 1.7 million Phoenicians yet far enough away to find solitude and peace. The hike starts by the Visitors’ Center and heads north behind one of the mountains with a gradual climb and eventually meets up with the Go John trail which is probably the most popular trail in the park. From there we head towards the picnic area parking lot rejoining the Overton Trail to complete the loop.

Since it is Saturday and we still have some time for a little enjoyment, we drive to the Cave Creek/Carefree area for a craft cocktail at the Elysian Desert Distilleries Cave Creek Tasting Room. Elysian is very unique place owned and operated by a mother/daughter combo. The bartenders make up some great tasting and unique cocktails that uses their Carefree Bourbon and some of their other spirits. It was fun to hangout and enjoy a local small business. On our way home we stopped for a pizza at Oregano’s.

A great start to our November outdoor adventures escaping the stresses of this Covid 2020 year. There is always peace to be found in the desert, socially distanced by choice and circumstance. In other words, Get Outdoors!

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From the Mountains to the Desert: More October Hikes in AZ

One of the best parts of living in Arizona is the different climate zones for outdoor activities that are all close enough to be in whatever type of hiking you desire. So one weekend we can be in a cooler mountain area and the next we can be wandering around the desert. I’ve read of many that do these 52 hike challenges in a year and living in Arizona that is relatively easy to accomplish. Carolyn and I haven’t even tried but we have averaged over 50 a year for the last three years.

In mid October, we head to Payson for some kicking back and R&R at our “cabin”. I laugh about it being our “cabin” since Carolyn and I have raised both of daughters K-12 in our quaint little home and have owned it since 1994. Now that we often stay at our condo in Phoenix, our acquaintances and coworkers often ask if we are going to our “cabin” in Payson. That’s it our cabin. When in Payson and with weather permitting we always try for a day of being outdoors on a walkabout so we decided to hike up the Horton Creek Trail by Kohl’s Ranch.

For a Sunday, not many hikers out on the trail and it is me and my girls, Carolyn, Caitlin, and Jordyn, plus Jordyn’s husband James. It’s a cloudy day but a beautiful day for a hike. Carolyn and I have hiked this trail multiple times over the years since it is easy to access and close to our “cabin”. It was a great time being with family especially having our daughters with us on this one.

We even found some color on the leaves along the way. The trail is well marked with easy access to the creek for relaxing and listening to the water flow. Elevation gains are gradual and the trail is appropriate for all levels of hikers. Dogs are often present and it is always appreciated to find friendly ones and ones that are on a leash. Just saying.

A weekend later, Carolyn and I went to Estrella Mountain Regional Park, a Maricopa County Park. The park has multiple areas for picnics and a great visitors’ center plus areas for camping and even has horse back riding vendor if that is your thing. This park is south of Goodyear in the SW part of the Valley. Easy to get to and a very nice park.

It was quite warm for our Halloween hike in the desert but once again there was absolutely nobody on the trails. Close to the city but yet we were all alone. We ended up hiking over 6.25 miles on the Rainbow Valley/Toothaker Loop. Our total elevation gain was 600+ feet so a good workout in the heat. Usually I would add some photos but I can’t since I deleted them all by user error with me being the user. This trail is used by mountain bikers and is moderate and easy to follow. Quite social distanced and easy to get to. I enjoy the loneliness of the desert and hiking and reflecting on all things. The desert is very Biblical when you think about it. That wilderness that Jesus roamed for 40 days was a desert where He fasted and was tempted by the “Devil” before returning to begin His ministry. I’m obviously no Jesus but there is something spiritual about hiking in the desert.

While on our sojourn in the desert, Carolyn and I have worked up a thirst, Carolyn and I decided to try a new to us brewery located in Goodyear, Saddle Mountain Brewing Company. Very cool place and they have a great patio to social distance for a beer and food.

November is here so more hikes are on the horizon.

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From the Desert to the Mountains: October in Arizona

It was another warm Saturday in Phoenix when Carolyn tells me that we should go for a hike at the Cave Creek Regional Park, a Maricopa County Park.

A 30 minute drive from our condo and we find ourselves in the park with absolutely nobody around. We have visited the park several times hiking the Go John Trail Loop that is a nice hike. The Maricopa Trail is accessible from this area as well.

Our journey today is the Slate Trail to Military Trail across Flat Rock Trail to Quartz Trail and back on Slate to the Trailhead. Our loop ended up being 5.25 miles with some elevation gains of over 500 feet on a nice, smooth, well maintained trail. Even though it was warm, it was great to be out in the desert with nobody around.

The park has a visitors center and it does cost $7 to get in but Maricopa Parks are well maintained and have many areas for picnics and when fire dangers are lower, they even have grills to bbq. Great park close to the city but far enough to be socially distanced. Today’s hike was really socially distanced. I’ve always enjoyed socially distanced hikes long before socially distanced became a thing. No masks on the trail. The park is almost an island surrounded to the east and west and south by private land with houses but they are hidden in the landscape. Northern boundaries still are quite desolate. For a quick getaway from the urban areas, I highly recommend this park.

No hike would be complete without a stop on the way home at a local brewery in Cave Creek. Normally we would stop by the Cave Creek Beer Company but Covid 19 has taken its toll on one of our favorite stops. So what to do?

We decide to stop by the Elysian Desert Distillery in Cave Creek. What a great place. The bartender was a gem. He actually could talk anything bourbon related and he made us a couple fabulous cocktails using their Carefree Bourbon. He made a special one for Carolyn on the fly and not only was it good but it was good looking. He also is responsible for hand crafting the different bitters. The tasting room is currently open on Friday and Saturday 2 to 7. Not cheap but a nice splurge.

Bourbon Cocktails

The following weekend, Carolyn and I returned to Payson to take her mother to the Arizona Snowbowl in Flagstaff to ride the chairlift and take in some fall colors in the area. Beautiful day to go and upon arrival there were many out on a Friday. The lift wasn’t to busy and our trip up and back was cold but we liked it so much we rode again.

After our rides, we decided to do some walking in the area and we did the Aspen Loop Trail, a 2+ mile hike that was really nice and not difficult in any way. We were pleasantly surprised that there were few people on this specific trail and the Aspens still had color. It was very pleasant with plenty of sunshine.

On our way back to Payson, we stopped by Dark Sky Brewing Co, Flagstaff Brewing Co, and Historic Barrel+ Bottle House. FYI, we did not have drinks in all these places as we took turns on who would order and where but we did eat a burger at FBC, and a fantastic pizza at Dark Sky, and enjoyed the newer cocktail lounge at Historic.

Love Arizona adventures.

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Down In The Florida Keys: Part 2

It was rainy season and we expected to get some rain and we did on several of the days but we always had sunshine as well. The Casa Marina is a fairly old complex but lots of action going on with several beach weddings on Saturday. It has the flavor of the Caribbean. The sister property to the Casa Marina, The Reach had breakfast every day, a nice happy hour and some good food so we would walk over there and have a nice relaxing time just watching the waves come in. The employees at both properties were great, friendly and accommodating. iXPBzT7wSU+bt%YrV68z7A

Several days we just hung out relaxing and for me reading. Nothing better then beach-side reading times. It was so relaxing. Once again, Carolyn and I did not rent a car. For what we had planned a car was just an added expense that we could avoid. Lyft to and from the airport, cruiser bikes, and walking, that’s our style. Our times at the beach are fun and relaxing. I finished several books, beach type reading, an Allison Brennan “Lucy Kincaid” novel Nothing To Hide, and a mystery that takes place in Florida by Rick Mofina, The Lying House. Easy, beach style reading. Of course, every beach deserves several good beers and Key West has some excellent choices.

We learned that the best way to get around was renting cruiser bikes for several days. We could get plenty of exercise, yet get to where we wanted to be fairly fast. We rode many miles around the island and into town checking out the various places. Duval Street is the party street area and Covid may have slowed it down some but it was hard to tell. Most places have some outdoor seating areas and most have happy hours and most have seafood options. I’m not certain what I ate but sure enjoyed it all.

As an avid reader, I had to visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. You can take a self guided tour or have one of the guided tours. I did a combination of both. Hemingway was an interesting individual who died relatively young just short of his 62nd birthday. Married many times, he died by his own hand whether intentional or accidental is debatable. klPIvmWbQUyatxrGzoL+Aw

His house in Florida looks just like it did when he resided there. We rode our bikes by the Truman Little White House but we ran out of time to visit. It is very historical and I guess it will be the next time. I love history and was a bit disappointed that I didn’t find the time to visit.

Carolyn and I visited Fort Zachary Taylor Historical State Park several times during our stay. It is a beautiful beach area with plenty of picnic tables, grills, sand, bike paths, and an actual fort that you can visit. Very cool and once again very historical as it was a working fort for many years. We walked around (no masks) during the hot humid times of day. The beach times were fun even though there were storms way off the coast and the water was rougher then normal. Still a great place to hang out. Our bike rides along the beach were epic.

Our time at Key West had to come to end and once again we flew on Silver Airways back to Fort Lauderdale. Carolyn’s cousin Lauranye Croke picked us up at the airport so we could visit with her and her husband Kevin Croke in Jupiter. Uncle Frank and Lorraine Cerar came down to visit and we went out to walk on the beaches and it was great to be able to visit with all. We even got to hang out at one of Kevin’s favorite places The Dive Bar and Restaurant. Good food, good drinks, but even greater company.

Carolyn and I decided to change our flight and overnight plans and we ended up staying in West Palm Beach at a beautiful Hilton only three miles from the airport. Southwest currently only has one flight a day leaving West Palm Beach to Baltimore and we were nervous about whether or not we were going to make our flights due to limited seats available. No problem as we made it to Baltimore and immediately left for Phoenix arriving in the middle of the day.Jh1EHSw%QpSq7zKKPPNl2g

Key West has many venues that host musicians and music seems to be a big part of the scene. I’ll leave you with this Key West classic by a gentleman that has performed there for years, Gerd Rube with the Florida Keys Song. This guy reminds me of a Payson local legend, John Carpino. It is magical.

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Down In The Florida Keys

About a year ago, Carolyn had suggested that we should try to get a room in Key West, Florida if and when any came available using my employee rates. We eventually were able to book five nights for our birthdays in October. We were excited that we would be able to discover some new places and have a relaxing beach vacation in a state we had been to only once before. Along came Covid putting our planned vacation in jeopardy. As we approached my birthday to fly October 1, our anxieties were in full bloom since flight schedules and number of seats available became less and less but we decided to give it a shot. We are glad we did.

We managed to get to Fort Lauderdale via Southwest Airlines with a stop in Denver. We land in the early evening to discover that Broward County had some tight restrictions in place. Our stay was at a Hampton Inn close to the airport and the Three Sons Brewery. We grab a Lyft and head over to Three Sons only to find out that the kitchen had closed. We still grabbed us a brew and discovered that there was a place to order food from just a short walk away the Historic Dockers Restaurant and Pub. The bartender let us know that the restrictions include Broward County checking their sales slips to make sure all food is ordered before a specific time (I believe 10:00 pm). He let us eat our beer battered Mahi fingers that we had ordered to go. They were so tasty. Unknown to us, there was a group next to us that were on our flight from Denver who gave us an impromptu happy birthday song.

Thursday has become Friday and we are flying standby on Silver Airways to Key West. What a great flight on a jet propeller plane that was as smooth a flight as I had ever had. It was beautiful looking out on the ocean as we traveled down the coastline.

Arriving in Key West, the airport has the charm of other Caribbean airports where you walk across the tarmac into the terminal. We grab a Lyft to our hotel the Casa Marina. In a Covid world we are masked up and check in to our upgraded room thanks to Kevin and Laurayne Croke. They just happen to know people. Never knew that was coming. Blessed beyond measure, this trip is looking good so far.

After a quick bite to eat at the beach side restaurant, we decide to get some exercise and walk into downtown Key West. On our walk we pass the southern most point in the USA and head to a quaint, cozy brewery, First Flight, the southernmost brewery in the USA. Filled with history, (the origination of Pan Am Airways) this is a must see stop and place to have a drink. The ambiance is special and the light rain falling makes for a nice quiet romantic spot on our walk.

On this Friday evening, Key West is packed. We walk on down to the Waterfront Brewery to enjoy the Crazy Lady Honey Blonde Ale. What a great craft beer. Light with a taste of honey. Not many better then this.

We avoid the stops that are loaded with people as it appears all the workers have masks on but few of the patrons. Social distancing could be an issue but we loved walking down by the water listening to the vibe from the tourists. Our first day is in the books and it is a great start to our R & R vacation spot.

As we walk down the famous Duval Street we are amazed or maybe astonished at how many people are packed in the various bars and restaurants. We chose not to do any of those but we sure enjoyed the vibe of the area and all the people watching as we walked back to the Casa Marina.

Down In The Florida Keys

This Paradise Seems Made For You And Me

Down In The Florida Keys

The Land Of Love Is Down Here In The Keys by Gerd Rube

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Back In The Day: My Journey Home Part 3

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning in Bucyrus on this mid September day, albeit a cool one for this time of year. Every day starts off with coffee and once again we skip the free breakfast at the Holiday Inn and decide to go to another coffee shop in Bucyrus. In asking Yelp for help, we find such things as Speedway, McDonalds, Tim Hortens, etc but little in the way of local shops. Down the list is a mention of Flour & Whisk Bakery and we decide on that one. We head on in and it has no seating but the owner is there and what a pleasant person. He is very friendly and we strike up a long conversation while drinking our coffee and we discover that he has a strong local following as his regulars come in and he greets them by name. It is a small shop that has a strong local following.

With coffee in hand, we visit some places that held memories for me. Our first stop is where we first lived when I was in 2nd and 3rd grade at 201 Songer Street. My father was a minister for the Wesleyan Methodist church and this address was the parsonage we lived in. It contains some mixed memories for me but I had to see it. The church no longer exists and a business has taken over the building. From there we drive down the roads that I once walked to Lincoln Elementary School. The school is now closed but serves as an administrative building for Bucyrus Public Schools. The factories that bordered the school have all been boarded up and that was a shock to the system as they were going full bore back in the 60’s and 70’s.

No visit to Bucyrus is complete without a stop at Carle’s Bratwurst. It is the home of real bratwurst and has a huge following. When we arrive, it is packed but we get some brats to go with some other items for a picnic at Aumiller Park. I spent many hours at Aumiller and the park is as charming as it was 45 years ago. There is a baseball tournament going on and it is very busy. We eat our great brats and take a walk through the park and along the Sandusky River.

Carolyn wants to walk around the downtown area where Bucyrus has some great murals in the town square area. The town square has been turned into something special. Great place to visit and just hang out.

From the town square, I take Carolyn down Stetzer Road to view the local reservoirs. Many memories for me at the reservoirs including Riley Reservoir. We get out and hike the Outhwaite Reservoir loop and it really is a different type of pretty. We can see the farm country and it so peaceful being out by ourselves. Our time has come to get around for the Colonel Crawford Class of 1975 Reunion.

The reunion theme is the 70’s and Carolyn and I have prepared ourselves with some vintage finds. I’m throwing on some flares with a vintage Bob Seger Concert tee and jacket from his “Stranger in Town” tour. I thought it most appropriate since I am now feeling like a stranger in town. Carolyn has got the bells and vintage look with the AZ touch of some turquoise and no matter what she wears she looks great. Dressed and ready, we head out to Cranberry Hills for dinner and drinks and my anxiety is peaking. I have not seen most of my classmates since 1975 and I’m nervous.

All that anxiety is for naught. Greeted by old neighborhood friend Jeff Dummitt, who leads me straight to the bar. What a grand evening. Carolyn and I had a ball. It was so much fun reconnecting with those who ventured out as Covid 19 definitely kept the numbers down and of course that was disappointing. By my count there was 16 of us and the evening was filled with memories. The following were in attendance: Jim Davis, Andy Dotson, Jeff Dummitt, Jeff Foreman, Carol Fortney Shumate, me, Jeanne Gerhart Thompson, Reed Hiltner, Dave Lauthers, Patti Long Garrett, Mike Kocher, Karen Markley Schmidt, Dave Parker, Gary Trash, Cheryl Yaussy Wagner, and Brant Zucker.

These type of events take lots of work so a big thank you to Jeff D., Jeanne, Reed, Karen, and Dave L. Great stuff. Dave, our class president did a fantastic job emceeing telling many stories and adding some great humor. Brant and I were able to spend some time as he and I were friends from Whetstone Elementary. Getting to visit with the others was fun but to reconnect with Jeff Dummitt was extra special. I’d have to write an entire blog about his story. I think Jeff and I can stay connected moving forward. It was very emotional for me to reconnect with Jeff as we were neighbors and friends from 4th grade through high school. I’ve really missed that connection. Now to get him to Arizona. I’ll be working on that.

Reunion photo stolen from Jeanne’s post

The evening winds down for all of us old folks and I was so glad we made this trip. Carolyn was made to feel welcomed and she had a grand time meeting those who helped shape my high school years. Reconnecting was great and as we headed back to Bucyrus, we had some sadness knowing we were headed out in the morning to Columbus.

Is it the scenery or my selective memory
Or just a simple fact that I gotta realize
My friends have gone and their lives have moved on
And I guess that’s just the way it is
If this town has grown beyond my home
I guess it all comes down to this
(by Blues Traveler)

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Back In The Day: My Journey Home Part 2

Most who read my blog understand that I write mainly about various outdoor hiking adventures. This is a bit different as I return to my hometown after 44 years of being away.

Rise and shine, it is Friday morning in Bucyrus and it is somewhat unseasonably cool for a mid September day. My hometown from the mid ’60’s to the mid ’70’s doesn’t have many coffee shops listed but there a couple so we go to the Pelican Coffee House located in the Square area. Located inside of the Amish Vault, a gift and furniture store, business is steady. We grab our coffees and head to Findlay, Ohio.

My father graduated from Findlay High School, and I actually lived and went to kindergarten and first grade at Howard Elementary School. After graduating high school, I attended my freshman year of college at Findlay College. (University of Findlay) There are some strong memories in Findlay.

When we arrive, Carolyn loves the Findlay downtown area. A town of approximately 45,000 that appears to be very vibrant. It looks like the area has a great vibe to it with multiple eating and drinking places and appears to be pedestrian friendly. We spend some time over by college where I searched for my childhood home on Frazier Street. I believe that I find my old house but can’t verify since nobody can remember the address for certain.

What I believe to be the house in Findlay that I lived in

Howard Elementary School, located on the corner of Morey an Davis, close to Findlay College and the first school I attended, was torn down in 1985. It was a great old school that was built in 1910 and appears that it is now a parking lot. That childhood memory has been erased. In my head, I believe that I lived at 323 Frazer St but things have changed. Our house was a two-story house that now looks it is the home to two separate homes and since it is so close to the university, I would guess that the neighborhood is now home to many students. I do know that I would walk about 1/4 mile from the house to the school and home each day. For an image of what the school looked like back in the day: Howard Elementary.

Continuing on our drive, we passed Findlay High School and drove through the university campus area where I had attended. Since I haven’t been in this area for over 44 years, the memories come floating back of my times spent in Findlay. I’m done and ready to move on and Carolyn just happens to find a local brewery for lunch, Findlay Brewing Co. Great place with a patio and plenty of social distanced eating. We order in Findlay, OH, an antelope burger. Unbelievable and it is good. Antelope Burger, Yes, it’s really Texan antelope! White cheddar, caramelized onion, baby spinach & honey mustard. How that happens, I don’t know but it is great. They have over 15 of their own brews on tap and we go with the Brilliant Blonde, Blonde Ale that is good.

Back on the road, Carolyn and I are Bucyrus bound and ready to view Robinhood Drive, the best neighborhood to live as a child. First stop, is to visit with an old neighborhood friend, Dave Matthews. Dave and I grew up as avid baseball and football card collectors and I had spent many an afternoon playing with our cards in his house. We meet up with Dave at the house his parents have lived in for well over 50 years. Carolyn and I visit with Dave and his brother plus his parents and wow, what a time. All are doing well and to still be in the neighborhood all these years later really shows the strength of the area. To be able to reminisce about our years is enjoyable. It was a great visit for stop number one.

Dave Matthews and I some 45 years later at his parents’ home

Stop Number two, is right next door to my old address of 1180 Robinhood Dr and a visit with a classmate, Andy Dotson. His father recently passed but his mother is still living in their house, once again, well over 50 years. Carolyn and I meet Andy out front and we head inside. Mrs. Dotson immediately comes racing from the kitchen with this big smile and greets me, “How’s my favorite brat?” What a hoot. We had a great time visiting and reminiscing about our days running the streets and backyards. It really was fun to spend time with Andy, his wife, mom, and sister, and while I was there, David Shealy and his wife stopped by the Dotsons and that was another blast from the past. 44+ years later and not missing a beat.

The weeping willow trees that my father had planted in the front yard and backyard have been removed so it my old house looks the same minus the lack of trees. The fence was still standing but they turned our garage, that we used for neighborhood basketball games, into another room. That was disappointing to see but otherwise the neighborhood looked the same.

Carolyn and I drove around and I played tour guide showing her some of the areas that I used to roam. We stop at the local Krogers and pick up the Bucyrus Telegraph Forum that just so happens to have my father’s obituary in the Friday edition. I had submitted am Ohio version since he had worked for about 10 years in the Bucyrus area. Darel’s Obit. We head back to the Holiday Inn and get around and decide to walk to a mile plus to our next destination. Next stop will be drinks with another Robinhood Heights alum, Don Hardesty. Don was a few years younger and lived a few doors down from 1180 Robinhood Dr. He was often involved in our backyard wiffle ball games and one of my connections to the Hood through Facebook.

Carolyn and I meet Don and his wife Melissa at Norman’s Niche. What a cool place for a beer or a glass of wine. Very cozy with an outdoor patio and great, friendly staff. Carolyn and I had a ball with Don and wife sitting around relaxing and reconnecting. Don had lived in Florida before returning to Bucyrus, met Melissa and reestablished himself as a Bucyrus legend. The lady that was working was a graduate of Colonel Crawford and she had attended Whetstone Elementary, the same school that all of us on Robinhood Dr. had attended. We get to talking and she pulls out a class photo of when she was in kindergarten and lo and behold a picture of my father as the principal is right on top. That was something wild. All of my old hangouts may be gone, but this place was a great one for this old guy. It was a great end to a great day.

The Hardestys and the Fruths closing down Norman’s Niche

There was a time when it was easy to find
A hangout that you knew was yours by name
And mine or not I could find the same spot
But it’s never gonna be the same
I’ve been away and I’ve seen too much
Looks like I’ve been moving on as well
And when I started to not really belong
I suppose I was unable to tell
But I ain’t sad and no it isn’t bad
It’s just one more thing I’m coming to know
If you’re alive you didn’t finish the ride
No telling where it’s going to go
by Blues Traveler

Tomorrow is a big day as Carolyn and I will be spending a whole day in Bucyrus before heading to my class reunion. I’m somewhat nervous yet I’m excited for my journey home.

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Back In The Day: My Journey Home

In August of 1976, my life was in shambles, living on my own in a studio apartment in my small hometown of Bucyrus, Ohio. Not counting a couple days that I did a quick visit in August, 2007, I had never returned until this September. Why now? It was to be my “reunion tour”. My graduating class of about 98 was having its 45th class reunion and I had made up my mind last fall that I was going to go and bring Carolyn so she could see the area that shaped my life. With my father passing in August, my journey back was part of my healing process since I have many mixed (both good and bad) memories of my years spent in Bucyrus, Ohio.

Carolyn and I flew into Columbus utilizing our standby status with American Airlines and we made our flight with out a hitch. Upon arrival, we picked up our rental and headed towards Cleveland where the plan was to visit the Cuyahoga Valley National Park a park that I did not know existed. It had become a park in 1974 but as a teenager, I was unaware. Most trips for us include brewery stops. It has become part our our total experience when traveling.

I had booked a stay at the Hilton Garden Inn in Twinsburg, a short distance from the park entrance. Since we arrived early, we drove to Cleveland to visit a couple of breweries that I was familiar with. The first stop was the Great Lakes Brewing Company. Their September special release was the 73 Kolsch brewed in collaboration with the great Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas #73.

We ate a nice dinner outside on a patio (socially distanced) with a 73 Kolsch and enjoyed the atmosphere on a nice cool Wednesday evening. After dinner, we walked over to the Market Garden Brewery, another very cool place with a great atmosphere in repurposed buildings. Cleveland is getting it done with these type of businesses.

Fireside and maskless at Market Garden Brewery

We returned to our hotel for a night of rest before venturing into Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Our morning starts off with a light rain and we had decided on several waterfall related hikes on streams that run into the Cuyahoga River. The Cuyahoga gained some unwanted notoriety for catching on fire several times in the 1960’s due to its polluted condition. The river was home to many industries and polluting the river was just a normal activity. Nobody would dare go into the river due to the excessive pollution. The 1969 river fire became a symbol for an environmental movement and awareness of how America was destroying its waterways. The transformation is amazing. The National Park really is something special as it interacts with urban areas, rivers, hills, woods, farms, lakes, and animals.

Our first hike is the Brandywine Falls Loop with some added on distances. The falls were not running very hard but it was a nice hike through completely wooded areas that contain trees you don’t see out west. Very few people on the trails and the solitude was enjoyable. Running water is not an every day occurrence with such frequency in Arizona so seeing all the water, streams, rivers is very special.

Next stop is Boston Mill Visitor Center. The area is located along a railroad that had a train that before Covid, would transport visitors from one end to the other end of the park traveling along the Cuyahoga River. Our second hike is the Blue Hen Falls Trail that includes some elevation climbs. Once again, very few on the trail and it was nice to take a trip through the woods down to a small waterfall.

On this trip, we cover about 3 miles and upon return we decide to hike some of the 19 mile Towpath Trail that is very popular with cyclists. The towpath was part of the Erie Canal and hauling boats up and down the river from the Akron to Cleveland area. The manufacturing history in the area is very interesting. After a few miles, we return and head off to meet up with a former student of mine, Jason Nichols, for lunch.

We meet Jason and his daughter at the On Tap Grille & Bar in Medina and order fish and chips since it the fish is Lake Erie perch and it is fabulous. I don’t think I have had perch since I left Ohio in 1976. We had a great time and visit with Jason. Jason had moved from Ohio to Pine, AZ as a freshman and graduated from Payson High School and returned to Ohio after graduation.

It is time to head to Bucyrus and get around to meet up with classmates that I haven’t seen for over four decades. We make a quick drive through Bucyrus, check in at the Holiday Inn, get changed, and off to Galion to the 1803 Brewery & Taproom. Not many there but those that were, well we had fun. Carolyn fit right in and thank goodness nobody told any old embarrassing stories about me. Galion is a short distance from Bucyrus and on our way there, I took Carolyn by Colonel Crawford High School which in someways hadn’t changed that much since I graduated in 1975. We hung out with Reed and Susanne Hiltner, Jim and Jeanne (Gerhart) Thompson, Bob and Karen (Markley) Schmidt, and the President himself Dave and Cheryle Lauthers. What a great way to end our day with some lively conversation and good beer. Forty five years seems like a very long time but we picked up like it had only been yesterday.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by Baker’s Pizza Sports Shack but due to the Ohio Covid restrictions we could only get a pizza and wings to go. Still good though. Day One and Day Two of my “reunion tour” are in the books. Lots accomplished but Carolyn and I would love to return to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and do some more exploring. That will have to wait for another trip.

On Friday, we were to attend a Colonel Crawford football game tailgate event but that’s a no go due to restrictions on who can attend the football games. So off to Findlay, Ohio to chase down some old memories of where I lived for several years including kindergarten and first grade.

It’s been a while since I’ve left home
But I’m coming on back today
Kinda funny but I picture it only
Exactly as it was back in the day

Songwriters: Anna Wilson / Scarlet V. Keys

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