Cracking up along the John Muir Trail


The fall 2011 trip: Oct. 30-Nov. 1


By Captain

One at a time, we penetrated Maude's Crack, entering low and thrusting forward toward a climatic finish. It was stimulating. Satisfying. It left each of us a little breathless at the finish but in a good way. Done, the ambition was to do it again, though some respite would be required to regain form and function, stamina at this age not being what it was at, say, 18.

Get your mind out of the gutter, dear reader. This isn't that kind of website. Nor is Maude's Crack anything that would attract Cinemax. Rather, the crack is a fissure in a grand escarpment of sandstone atop a small mountain along the magnificent John Muir Trail, where the man himself once walked along the Kentucky-Tennessee border. In this, the 21st Century, the trail is a gift for backpackers such as us. It is well-marked, gentle in grade, lightly travelled, close to water and blessed with interesting geology, like Maude's Crack.

Starting this account with sex to get attention was a cheap trick. But sex sells cars, razors and even milk, so why not a 5,500-word essay on a hike during which nothing happened? My job as a Patio Boy in good standing is to provide a record of each hike. I am the rapporteur, assigned to find the thread running through the tale, its personality, its lasting thing or theme, and then report my findings.

A few times during the hike, some of the Boys asked how I was going to write this one up because the trip was uneventful. No disasters or near disasters befell us. No one got lost. No torrential rains challenged the quality of our gear. No bear – or interesting women – disrupted our days or nights. It got a little cold at night. There were ice chips in the water bottles one morning and our fingers froze when packing up our tents to leave. Ank slipped on a rock and fell face first into a creek but wasn't injured. His underwear got wet but he is alive. Some of the firewood was green and slow to burn. Bull's flashlight malfunctioned. The inhabitants of two tents pitched adjacent to mine snored. That's about it for excitement. Hold a race to see who can clip their toenails first and there would be more action.

A few days after we returned home on Tuesday evening, I found myself with many of the Boys at a Friday night chili and beer gathering for a local nonprofit, hosted by one of our own, Dave, on behalf of Redwood, a school for the handicapped that his family helped start and now helps sustain. Bob, Ank, Dave, Silver Pops were in attendance, as was Doc, who could not make this trip but was anxious to hear what he had missed. The Redwood fundraiser was under a big tent, with a few hundred people in attendance. Most of us knew a lot of the people from our social, civic and business circles. Church. School. Work. But off to one corner (near the band Just Gravy – which, by the way, rocked) were the Patio Boys, each of whom had attended to the requisite pleasantries with other guests but in the end found one another.

What a great trip, we told each other. We penetrated Maude's Crack, someone said, because apparently you cannot mention this trip without saying that. Man, what a fire, someone else said, still in awe of what was amounted to a barely contained forest fire. Wasn't that view from the top stunning? Made you want to grow wings and soar above it. And so it went. But leave it to our senior member, the wise and observant Silver Pops, to put his finger on the singular most significant thing about this trip. "I've never laughed so hard," Silver Pops said, smiling contently at the memory, still fresh. "It drives out the demons. Clears your head. You know what I mean?" And I did. Laughter of a certain sort is an analgesic against demons and diencephalonic detritus. It is, as billed, the best medicine.

Think of that that scene in "Scent of a Woman" where Al Pacino, who is blind as a dead-end, persuades a Ferrari salesman to allow him to take a showroom car for a spin. Why allow such a thing? "You made me laugh," the salesman explained, appreciative and wishing to repay the gift. And that is what the Patio Boys did for each other this trip. We made each other laugh. Often. It was bound to happen on a trip that involved starting at Peters Mountain and had Maude's Crack on the to-do list. Is your water filter clogged? Give it a Flomax. Stove sputtering? Slip it 3 mg of Coumadin. Want to inflate your Thermarest with minimal effort? Put a Viagra in its valve. It should stay up for at least four hours, which is the maximum hours of good sleep available in a tent any way. And so it went.

There is, of course, laughter every trip; but this trip was defined by it. Most of what we laughed about I can't remember, and if I did it might not seem funny on the page. What happened in the woods was more about the mood than the content. With each jibe or joke, foible faked or forced, we took one another further from the strains, large and small, of daily life. The laughter gave us something healthy, something soulful, something needed.

Meeting Maude

Maude's Crack is hidden from view, which seems appropriate to the metaphor its name conjures. Mystery. Intrigue. The forbidden fruit. You can sense her proximity. Smell the musk of the dark place nearby. You're attracted, inexorably, as if the propagation of the species depends on your conquest. But you have a few preliminaries first – some wine and flowers, if you will. That is, we had to get to the Crack before entering the Crack.

We started in Kentucky at Peters Mountain, which is reached by driving a little logging road that winds and rises steep from a valley along Rock Creek and the Sheltowee Trace Trail. The road eventually narrows, and then is no longer gravelled. It becomes something only a Jeep should attempt. We had a Suburban and a Camry, so we parked, consulted our maps, photographed ourselves by the Big South Fork sign, put some foot powder on, changed socks, took final urinary breaks, checked for cell phone service, finished the bag of pretzels, hid the car keys under the wheel wells where no thief would ever think to look, strapped on our backpacks, discussed the NFL, gazed knowingly at the clear sky and declared rain unlikely, scratched itches, read "War and Peace" and then got started. It only took 57 minutes from arrival to departure. Less than an hour. The average airline can't top that.

On Day One, we walked just under four miles with backpacks over an undulating trail that came to a bridge and then split into three trails, two of which permitted horses. We decided to scout the options in groups of two or three and see if we could find a campsite. One of the facts about the John Muir and its ancillary trails is a dearth of designated campsites, and this was certainly true on this section. The scouting turned up nothing, so we opted to just stay on the main Muir and hike until we found a flat spot. The main Muir had one key advantage: It banned horses. We like horses OK. I even own one. But horse trails and hiking trails should never be one in the same. A 1,100-pound animal wearing metal shoes and carting around a 200-pound rider pulverizes any trail into a mucky mess that sucks your boots into a muddy mush with every step as if you were walking across an ice rink topped off with molasses. The Forest Service calls these "equestrian trails" – which sounds so elegant and pretty. Be not fooled. They excruciating not equestrian. Horseback riders need their trails. Backpackers need ours. Sharing is not good.

The Muir at this point followed No Business Creek, coursing along a bench of earth about 100 yards above the water. Just down the trail at a bridge an old campsite awaited. By all appearances, it had gone at least one season unused. The fire ring was hidden by grass and the tent sites were overgrown in tall grasses and brambles. But there was a good half-acre of flat land. The creek meant ready water. Firewood was abundant. Horses didn't seem to venture this way. We had found home for the next two nights.

Day Two, we started up the mountain toward the Crack. It's a steep ascent, or would be except that the John Muir Trail is especially generous with its switchbacks. You could almost climb this in a walker, which in a few years might be a feat we'll be called on to test. I should point out that two members of the corps lost the trail and so walked straight up the grade. Being one of those two, I can only say it wasn't that bad and we were not lost -- just misplaced, as Patio Boys have never been lost as you will learn from past essays. In this instance we were never out of shouting distance. Visual contact? It's overrated.

Near the top, the trail flattens out below a huge cliff, below with boulders the size of house trailers rest where they fell. Off to the right, the entry to Maude's Crack opens like a tulip cleavage in a Georgia O'Keeffe painting, oversized and made of stone not petals because this crack is more slot than slut. Imagine facing cliffs that once were a single, solid piece. When it split, a shoulder-width passage opened, revealing a ready-made footpath that rises at the grade of a typical staircase. It is not a taxing climb nor technical. Near the top, a side trail follows another rupture in the rock. If you've seen the movie "127 Hours" then you've a place just like this. A rock that looks like the one that trapped that James Franco's arm rests right across a crevice, below which is a seam of air. An abyss. The scene is so like the movie version that you half expect to see bloodstains. There a line in the movie about how rocks were carved and loosened over geological time, and, oh, by the way, we're still in geological time. Recalling that line – and the movie's plot ? made the walk through Maude's Crack a more of a Prilosec moment than it should have been. Message to Mother Earth: No new heaves or hoes today, please.

The trail through Maude's Crack ends on solid ground at a grand panorama of a vast valley cut by humble No Business Creek and its sister tributaries. No Business doing what? Creating unparalleled beauty? Refuting creationism? Somewhere in time, No Business Creek had a 3D Etch-A-Sketch and knew how to use it. A ridgeline of cliffs rose a mile or so away, tracing its edge across what was, on this day, a cloudless, beautiful Oct. 31st. No one enjoyed this more than Bull, otherwise known as Bad Ass because he used to beat Bobby up when Bob was 10. Now that they are pushing 60, Bull no longer beats on Bob. The hiatus since that last beating is about 42 years. Our Bull is the kind of hiker who likes views. Glacier National Park set him on fire. This was working for him, too. "Awesome. Spectacular," Bull said, taking it in. If you want to see a bad ass lose his bad, watch the Bull take in a view like this.

Here, we paused – and those of us with Verizon checked their emails, voice messages and NFL scores. Those of us with Cincinnati Bell read those familiar words, "No service."

And then we pressed on.

Destinations, not a destination

A good hike is one with destinations. You leave here to get there.  But because we would be walking a loop, our destination was our starting point. Point A was camp but so was Point B. So why leave? We were already there. That would be like asking why leave home only to return in three days. For the sake of what's in between. This hike's important destination was plural. Destinations, not destination.

Maude's Crack was our first in-between destination, the overlook the next. From there, we moved along to a plateau where we came upon an old family cemetery. Mountain cemeteries are invariably interesting. They remind you that many of our wild places today were, at one time, owned by families, who passed land from generation to generation and, though isolated, found a way to feed and comfort themselves against all manner of hardship. No hardship is more evident in the cemetery than the deaths of children. Tiny tombstones testify to their brief lives. Many lived long enough, a year perhaps, to be named and be known. Others took so few breathes that their parents and keepers were too consumed with the desperation of the moment to pause long enough to settle on Hank or Hiram, Sadie or Sally. Here, in cemeteries like these, the awful sadness of such deaths is present, 100 years or more later, haunting the present with the shadow of a long ago family tragedy. Quietly, you read such tombstones and are reminded of the losses in your own lifetime. A bridge is built between the ages.

Babies beside dear mothers beside beloved grandmothers beside darling daughters besides sons fallen in war. They are all here. And then there are the Nimrod Slavens.

I could not tell you for certain that Nimrod was the patriarch of the Slaven clan, but his tombstone is at least attempting to tell you that he was. It is larger, more commanding, and includes an oval-framed photograph of him in the same style as a Matthew Brady photo of Lincoln. It is black and white but more black than white. Brooding. Serious. Eyes that say, "Don't mess with me. I'm Nimrod, and you sons of bitches better back off." Like John Wayne tucking the reins between his teeth and a six-shooter in each hand, his visage is of a man ready to charge into the gates of hell, fearless and certain. All around him are the Slaven women and children. His charges. One was "Minnie Maude." Could she be the namesake? Under Nimrod's watchful eye, you dare not dwell on such thoughts.

We decided to rest a bit at the cemetery. Some of us sat on a bench on a shady edge; others stretched out on the grassy flat and took in the glorious October sunshine. Dave bent a leg backward to stretch it, demonstrating the benefits of his yoga, which he took up after his knees wore out from running.
Bob mirrored each move, more or less, drawing on his kinesiology training to show us stretching exercises that were remarkably similar to Dave's yoga positions, though with Bob the demonstration came a mini-lecture in physiology so that we would know exactly which muscle group was being prepared by which stretch. Bull and I were the rapt students of this. There we sat, each of us pretzeled in some odd fashion on an open patch of Slaven cemetery, surrounded by Nimrod and his family. Graveyard yoga on a fall day in Tennessee with the Patio Boys – an anodyne to all adversity and apprehension, though perhaps the moment was ametropic if you take a longer view of time.

Halloween and hallowed thoughts

"Do you believe in the paranormal," the Guru, asked, barely a mile into the trip.

I don't. Not exactly. I do believe in the Paul Simon lyric?, "God only knows, God has his plan, the information's unavailable to the mortal man."  This lyric is not an excuse to abandon the seeking -- or maybe it is. I'm not sure about that. Certainly many before us have tried, imperfectly, to make the information available to the mortal man. Hence religions. Here's what I know about the paranormal: I've had some unexplained things happen to me ???over the years, including two encounters with a soothsayer who, the first time, walked against the mass of people headed to the 1988 Kentucky Derby, chanting, "Bet the filly. Bet the filly." The filly, Winning Colors, beat the boys that year, one of only three girls to wear the roses in Derby history. The soothsayer showed up again just outside of International Falls, Minn., one year as we were headed into Canada for a canoe trip across Quetico Provincial Park's lakes and portage trails. Careful, he warned, the portages where we were headed have mud that swallows you to the waste, deeper if you are not careful, sucking you into a primordial soup where extinct dinosaurs are decaying into coal and diamonds. Later, on a long and difficult portage, I took a step into a floating bog, that sucked my foot and leg down and wouldn't let go. The next guy fell up to his waist. So, dear friends, don't ignore the soothsayer. He is a short, little Leprechaun of a man, probably about 70 years old, boiling with nervous energy and possessed of an odd kind of ingratiating joy etched with the panic of a person who has seen impending disaster and feels the urgency of obligation to warn those who might benefit if only he can tell them soon enough.

Where was the Guru going with his question about the paranormal, I wondered. Before I could answer as to whether I believe or do not, he said, "I didn't. Now I do."

And then he explained.

The Guru is Ank's brother. He first hiked with us last spring, while visiting from California. In absentia, we called him the Guru because Ank had told us many stories of his brother's trail knowledge and experience. He became our Britannica of backpacking.   Once we got to know him, we called the Guru "Brother Ank" because Guru seemed a touch over the top, and we weren't out to apotheosize the man in person. The Disciples didn't call the Son "the Son." They called him by his given Hispanic name, Jesus.

(By the way, did you know that your Kindle tries to get to know you? We know this because Dave ordered some spiritual books on his Kindle and so, assuming it knew his tastes in literature, recommended some additional books, including "Jesus Is My Gardener." Sounded pastoral and interesting, so Dave ordered a sample, assuming that "Jesus Is My Gardener" was some sort of allegory for the Son of God as a one who tends to the fields. Rather, the book was about immigration and braceros. The pronunciation of the title is "Hey-zeus Is My Gardener."  So, to the Kindle Empire we say: You don't know us so well as you might think! P.S., I can tell you this story inside this story because Dave brought his Kindle backpacking, so this parenthetical tale, and almost agrapha, belongs in this essay).

The Anks' younger brother – we'll call him Young Ank, for the purposes of this story – was just widowed, after his wife, struggling from the unrelenting afflictions of an unfortunate infection that resisted treatment, finally won her rest. She and Young  Ank had made a pact that when one died first, he or she would, if it were possible, provide the surviving partner with a sign as to whether there is life on the other side of death.

That first evening alone in bed, Young Ank felt an unmistakable presence, a warmth as if he were being embraced. OK, you think to yourself, who hasn't? Imagination is a powerful force, especially at night in bed alone. Who hasn't slept with Nastassja Kinski in this same fashion? A warm presence might result in a warmer dream but it is not proof of the paranormal.

The next night, the presence was at the foot of Young Ank's bed, even more evident and real. As it happens, Young Ank and his wife had one of those high-end mattresses that conform to contours of your body and that dent themselves with the memory of those contours. Well, when Young Ank looked down where he felt the presence, there was an unmistakable indentation. Getting a little more convincing, isn't it?

I should point out that Brother Ank started out his adulthood in seminary, which put him on a path to become Father Ank but that journey was interrupted when he dropped out and instead became a school teacher. Brother Ank has that soft, calming voice of a priest, full of assurance and the confidence of truth. So along with the facts of this story about the dearly departed's apparent visit to her husband, there was also Brother Ank's guru-like delivery. It gives any story credibility.

Skip ahead to the third day of Younk Ank's widowhood. He is looking for his shoes. Can't find them anywhere. Finally, he looks beneath the bed. There they are but not along the edge, where shoes are found under a bed, but dead center underneath the bed, neatly placed, side by side. Who takes his shoes off and puts them under the middle of the bed? No one. Clearly, this was another sign of life on the other side. Maybe, when Mr. and Mrs. Young Ank made their pact, they imagined something more dramatic, like a personal appearance or an invisible hand typing on the iPad. But we don't know what the limitations are from the other side. Or the learning curve. We do know that in three day's time, Young Ank's wife mastered the warm embrace, the "I'm right here, seated on the bed" and the hide-and-seek shoe game. Impressive. She may also have set digamy law on its head.

With his ghost story, if it may be called that, Brother Ank set the table for a parallel theme for this trip. Along with the laughter came a depth and thoughtfulness that most of our trips have in some measure but this one had especially. Brother Ank the Guru had much to do with this. You see, in addition to his sister-in-law's death and his role in comforting his brother through this trying time, Brother Ank was also back home in Kentucky from California because of a life-altering occurrence of his own. "I'll be honest with you. I'm having marital troubles," he said, as matter-of-factly as something could be said. I cannot speak to everyone's immediate reaction upon hearing this, but mine was: What business is this of mine? Answer: None. And this along No Business Creek, after all. But Brother Ank needed to talk and needed someone to listen. Not react. Not judge. Just listen. Don't we all need this? Accept the gift of being chosen to listen. It's a grace.

Brother Ank's story is heart breaking, and all the details don't need to go public. But the narrative outline is this: After 20-plus years of marriage, his wife wanted out. She'd met someone else, though to mention that oversimplifies the situation. Who knows which combination of factors were at fault, but there were factors. Brother Ank had retired; his wife was still working, and that seemed to unsynchronize things in the marriage. Brother Ank nearly lost his life to a pulmonary embolism last year, and so he didn't seem as immortal as he once seemed, and that, too, unraveled some of the binding. The death of the sister-in-law back in Kentucky, and her long struggle with failing health beforehand, was just one more thing that made life appear fleeting. You get one shot.  Take it now or lose it forever.

Brother Ank feared his wife, whom he loved dearly, was hell-bent on moving on. He had come to Kentucky to provide the marriage some time and space, staying past the funeral and coming on this hike with us in hopes that maybe his being away would let any wound heal. "I call, but all we do is fight," he said, smiling sadly, unsure of what he could do to reconcile but sure he wanted to.

Here was a friend the Patio Boys might be able to cheer up. We felt lucky to have him along, and lucky to have a shot at, to quote Billy Joel, help "him forget about life for a while." We did our best. Again, an anodyne to adversity and apprehension, however temporal.

How did we get here in the first place?

A proper Patio Boy trip begins a month or two beforehand with what used to be called the Planning Party. At these affairs, Bob brings prepared maps, each representing one of the options he's carefully selected for our consideration. The Planning Party is typically held in someone's Man Cave or, weather permitting, on someone's patio. And we have some nice patios. There is beer, bourbon, chips, dips. Our wives attend, and it's just fun. After a couple of hours, someone mentions that we are actually together to plan the trip, not fibble fable. And so begin vain attempts to focus.

In the old days, Bob put his documents on an overhead and made a formal presentation. In recent years, he's slacked off, just handing out maps and saying he doesn't care where we go. "Whatever the group wants is fine." he avows. "This is a democracy not a dictatorship." And with that, we make some choices, after which he tells us why the choices are flawed, and we ask, in deference to The Master: Where would you recommend? He hems, haws, acts as if he doesn't want to dictate – and then recommends the option that we pick by unanimous consent. Bob is needy. We need him. It's a good match, at least in so far as planning a trip goes.

For this trip, the Planning Party almost didn't happen, and when it did, it wasn't at a patio or basement; we gathered instead at PeeWee's a local bar that really should stop advertising its cheeseburgers as the best in Greater Cincinnati. They are not. But the beer is cold. Well, most of it was cold; the Guinness had not been chilled, and I realize that's OK in some parts of the world but this Guinness was the temperature of warm spit.

Those demerits don't diminish the place. They add to its ambiance. PeeWee's is Cheers without the wood paneling or a Dianne, neither of which are all that necessary to a bar. And its sports theme isn't the Major Leagues; it's high school. Anyone who grew up in our neighborhood can check out the walls and find friends, family and perhaps himself in one of the team pictures that line the walls. The proprietor, PeeWee, is a Santa Claus of a host, visiting tables with his jolly welcomes. All night long, families and groups of friends came in to kick back and catch up. PeeWee's is about as close to a VFW hall as you can get without actually being a VFW hall. It was an ideal place to hatch a Patio Boy hike, and may be the new official home of the Planning Party, if only PeeWee will chill the Guinness and buy something that more closely resembles beef for his hamburgers.

We got out the maps. McGinnis (no relation to the warm beer) had picked up the mantle after Bob's claimed disinterest. "Wherever you guys want to go is OK with me," Bob kept telling us, convincing no one. McGinnis has selected trails in and around Peters Mountain and Rock Creek, including sections of the John Muir Trail. We all looked at the options and picked all of them and none of them, in our usual fashion. "Option A," shouted one among us. "Option B," shouted another. "C," another.

Bob stepped in. He obviously had been researching the options from the time a few weeks back when McGinnis first emailed options for consideration. In the end, Bob recommended an option and we, like lambs to the slaughter, agreed without question. Peters Mountain to Maude's Creek, it would be.


Now that's a campfire, boys

My last trip (see the "Good Golly Miss Molly" account) was burdened by failure. In the damp upper reaches of the Smokies, I couldn't get my kindling to burn long enough to ignite so much as a stick. I remain embarrassed about that. This trip would not be a repeat. I packed firestarters. I packed a lighter. I packed extra matches. I packed a propane torch. I packed something I bought on the Internet from a site called Drones-R-Us, where an animatronic Robert Duvall dressed as Lt. Colonel Kilgore lights his logs and says, "Now that's a campfire, boys!" and then breathes in the spiraling smoke as if it were either napalm or Old Spice. Mostly, I took comfort in knowing firebug Ank would get a fire going. So before I left home, I unpacked all that firestarting stuff and brought only one extraordinary piece of hardware know in our circles as "Captain's Saw." The saw folds up to fit in a side pocket of my pack but it can fell a forest. It's my contribution to assuring an exceptional campfire on each Patio Boys excursion.

Firewood was abundant, and in short order we had a quarter cord of wood sawed and stacked. No way, I thought, could we burn all of that in two nights. What was I thinking? These boys can burn some wood. Ank and Brother Ank, especially seemed dedicated to a stunning fire. As soon as one log caught, another went on. I'm sure the Hubble noticed us.

Both nights, we sat around a campfire that would make the TCU football boosters proud. There we traded stories, and answered Dave's seminal question: If you could invite anyone in the world to this campfire for conversation, who would it be? He theorized that if we posted our requests on and sent letters, someone might just say yes. It's like the lottery, he said, if you don't play, you can't win. He suggested the invitation would be good for only year. After that, the celebrity invitee would be S.O.L. The list grew through the night, and nothing final was decided. However, if all goes well we may be the first hiking group on the planet to host Sarah Palin and Stephen Hawking together, with Allison Kraus singing all of us to sleep and either Steve Martin or Bill Murray (there was serious disagreement about which one) telling us jokes. Tina Fey may have to step in as the compromise comedian, although we'd then have to figure out which one was Tina and which one was Sarah. Dr. Hawking should be able to solve that mystery of the universe for us. By the way, you haven't enjoyed science to the fullest until you've heard a bourbonized Bob explain a black hole. This is why we need Dr. Hawking to accept our invitation.

Why camp? Paranormal existentialism answers that one

In the end, I think this trip was, by divine intention, meant to remind us why we go to the woods. Do we do it for fresh air? Sure, just as Bogart's Rick set up shop in Casa Blanca for the waters. No, like Rick, we do it for reasons unspoken. They are paranormal and possibly apotropaic reasons, guarding us against evils whether rank or routine. They are reasons hidden in the eyes of Ingrid Bergman, which we see clearly while alone in our respective tents, drifting off to sleep in the warm embrace of zero-degree down. Play it once, Sam, for old time's sake. A kiss is just a kiss. You'll have to think for both of us. For all of us.

I told a friend upon our return about this trip, and about the Patio Boys. He in turn told me of going to the beach on the Gulf of Mexico each year with his wife and staying in a big house with friends from around the country who see each other rarely except at this beach house. "We talk, we take walks on the beach, read books, and there's a big kitchen because a lot of us like to cook."

There is something in modern life that beckons us in this fashion to bail out; to find time and a place to escape with friends, to laugh, to listen, to ponder the timeless and ignore the onslaught of the countless presumed important matters that occupy our minds most other days. Our jobs. Our bills. Our lawns. Our oil changes. Our annual prostate exams. At times, the problems are much larger. Ask Brother Ank. He can fill you in. And when they get larger, we need people who can handle the story without flinching. Maybe we didn't understand this so much when we were younger and our social circles changed as our situations changed. We had our school buddies, then our college pals, then our career colleagues, then our fellow parents in our kids sports league friends, and so on. But at this point in our lives we are ready for friends who will stay with us through the journey. We've had enough transition by now. We need something stable, lasting.

At that Redwood event, Dave's daughter introduced us to her date. We were, she explained, her dad's hiking group. "Oh," he said, kind and with respect, "I've heard of you guys. You're like the Front Porch Guys, right?" Certainly not. Put the rocking chairs back in storage.  We're not ready for the porch, front or back. We have a spring trip to plan, and miles to go before we sleep.