More of the Usual and then Some

By Jim Dickens

Golf in Pittsburgh and Cleveland with Chris, John, Andy and Ian

I spent the first two thirds of June doing a little more of the usual. I played golf with great friends in Pittsburgh and Cleveland at their clubs. Thank you Andy and John. Then came home and detoxified myself.

Next, I went with some of the officers of the local Trout Unlimited Chapter, Willie, Dale and Dave to the driftless area of Wisconsin. The driftless area is the area that was not covered with glaciers during the last ice age and has a nice rolling hill topography with cool spring fed streams. We had a great time there catching lots of trout and inspecting some restoration work we were involved in.

Willie fishing a bend in the West Fork of the Kickapoo River

So in addition to travel, skiing, fishing, and golf I have been spending some time getting involved with a couple of non profits. It’s something more than the usual. I am currently helping raise funds for Trout Unlimited, TU. TU restores streams flowing out of the mountains and springs improving the water and surrounding habitat making it healthier. Most of the USA is downstream of these initiatives and the water you live on is better because of it.

When I moved to Chicago over 30 years ago, none of the streams we fished would have had trout in them. This is because they used to be polluted, muddy and warm. The introduction of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts combined with improved environmental science, government funds and volunteerism are what keeps us living in a safe clean world unlike many other countries. It is really nice to be part of improvement not just hanging on to what we have.

Farmers, townships, federal grants and contractors catalyzed by TU have improved hundreds of miles of driftless area spring fed streams making them healthy. With the exception of mining pollution, most streams can be turned around. I think we can and should keep improving our environment. And, I think it is high time the USA does much more by adding real climate change mitigation to the Clean Air and Clean Water efforts.

Among the first few non profits I have contacted, TU has turned out to be a good fit for me. I am looking for one more non profit to be involved in and am open to suggestions. Look for a sober account of a drunken week spent in Santa Rosa, CA (wine country) next.

Being Squared Away

By Jim Dickens

Some people have minds that automatically track where everything is and how to properly do things. They have orderly lives, are almost always in control and things are squared away. I am not one of those people and am thought of as absent minded needing lists and special habits to keep from losing things and missing appointments. My old fishing mentor, Dr. Z is squared away.

Dr. Z at his trusted run on the Upper Delaware

Dr Z.’s 4 wheel drive Mitsubishi Outlander is about to eclipse 200K miles. His trailer while the oldest in camp is fully functional and his river boat is self refurbished to last well into the future. His fishing gear is well organized and he is always prepared no matter the conditions. It’s comforting knowing we won’t have delays and a poor outing due to being unprepared or disorganized or unknowledgeable.

New year new gear: Upper Delaware accommodation

The Upper Delaware River flows finally calmed down enough to wade fish, so I made my way out flying through Scranton. As you can see above in addition to my customized Yeti cooler, I have added beginner drone photography. You always need to up your game.

Upper Delaware brown trout

The fishing was difficult as the river was still high with some pretty intense rains limiting the opportunity. Once, the fish started feeding just as it started pouring down, and I could not see my fly as the fish surfaced all around. It was a frustrating lost opportunity. However, we did manage to avoid getting skunked and the fish in the river remain large and rambunctious.

Mom and dad at the reservoir

Rolled back home through Philadelphia and flew the drone for my parents at the reservoir behind their house. Took picture of my brother’s house and went to dinner with his family.

My brother’s house. Good drone photograph practice

Then headed home stopping in Pittsburgh at the home of Marine Colonel Ian Ferguson another squared away guy with a 260,000 mile Ford Five Hundred and a functional flip phone. I highly recommend the pub dinner at the Blawnox Pa, Nox’s Tavern and Grille.

I admire people who are squared away and it’s always good to have someone along who is. They remind you to get your phone charger and keep you out of avoidable danger. The tour is heading out to Viroqua WI, Gibsonia, PA and Mentor, OH next. The tour is in full swing.

Viagra Man: The Tour Hits One Year

By Jim Dickens

New year, new gear!

There is a past Viagra commercial where an old guy sails his boat alone and suddenly the main sail breaks loose.  He calmly MacGyver’s a repair and continues sailing happily along in the sunny evening.  Here’s a link to the commercial.  So when the toilet starts to run/leak and I fix it quickly with one trip to the hardware store or less, I declare myself Viagra Man to any one in earshot, usually my wife.  No one gets it and they often think I am uncouth. But I get it and that’s enough.  I like the idea that old guys are special and I think there is some truth to it.

When you get to my age, 57, you have declined significantly although many fail to realize or acknowledge it.   You are slow and weak.  Your reflexes are bad, you’re less flexible, you stiffen up easily and you are covered with aches and pains.   Your mental agility has slowed and your memory suffers. You can’t learn like you used to.  And it’s going to get worse so what is so special about getting old.

Not a good track to see when alone on the stream ( Black Bear)

I like the confidence and economy of having broad experience and wisdom.  For example, the recent 8 day Ridgeline Tour travels to Pennsylvania went south quickly.  A friends urgent unplanned business trip and high Upper Delaware River flows eliminated my plans from Monday evening to Thursday evening right before departure.  I left Monday morning on my travels not knowing where I would be Monday night and without anywhere to be until Thursday 7PM.  Strangely, I was relatively undisturbed by any of this and headed out.

On the Monday drive, I had a think and made plans to stay at the posh Glen Dorn resort where I had never stayed before.  Having mental maps in my head from lots of travel and a remembrance of a positive reference from a Pittsburgh friend it just happened.  Siri and I were getting along so searching and communicating while driving was easy.  Tuesday was an awesome day on two private creeks. At 5 PM, I started driving east and made arrangements to stay near where I had fished almost exactly 40 years before, Kettle Creek.  I met and had a beer with a couple of youngsters sitting in the plastic chairs outside in front of the room doors of our bare bones motel.   They oriented me and the next morning I stopped at their recommended fly shop got advice and the correct flies.  The fishing was awesome and at 6:30 PM I started driving east again.

I noticed my old University, Bucknell was a couple of hours away on the road to my destination, Philadelphia.  I figured they would have a decent restaurant and a good place to stay.  Thursday, the weather turned sunny and warm so I switched from fishing to golf and played 18 just outside Philadelphia.  I had dreaded being alone but the people I met along the way made it better than I expected.  However doing things with friends and family is so much better.

Cleaning off the dirt in Lewisburg, PA rain

Monday in Cleveland, I stopped in to see my daughter Emily’s ex-college soccer coach.  I really liked her not just as a coach but as a human being as well.  She helped Emily, her teammates and the college immensely. It was well worth stopping in and telling her I noticed.  Giving positive feedback is way better than giving someone a piece of your mind.  Thursday night in Philadelphia, I had dinner and drinks with college buddies.  We forgot our age and stayed out way too late.  Actually not too late,  it was worth it.  Saw my two sons, wife, brothers family and  my parents in Philadelphia and attended the forty thousand strong, ten mile Broad Street Run. Lori, my wife, and I watched 5  family members run in the pouring rain.  I stopped in Pittsburgh on the way back and had dinner and breakfast with an old college friend turned Marine. All were cherished experiences.

Broad Street runners left to right, Jack, Chris, Matt ,Melanie, Tim

When you get old you start to know how things are gonna turn out.  You have the context of your experience to draw on when things change so you adapt quickly with less effort.  You have some real and helpful advice for others.  You know how to be happy.  It can truly be a golden age.   For some the glory days are their high school sports or their college GPA or their successful career.  For me, it could be the hugely enjoyable Ridgeline Tour unless I think of something better.  

Youth in Philadelphia

It’s one year since the blog started and the Ridgeline Tour kicked off.  There is no end in sight which brings to mind “it’s about the journey.”

Truth in Advertising

By Jim Dickens

It all started on a hill Overlooking Berkeley, the bay and San Francisco

The California Bureau of Tourism runs commercials with celebrities showing all kinds of first class recreation with oceans, mountains, vibrant cities and numerous spectacular attractions. It’s all true and why it’s exorbitantly expensive but 40million Americans still live there. My sons say it’s a fun tax that is worth it. Lori and I visited for 11 days and decided we will do it again next year.

We went to visit our sons, one who lives in Northern Oakland and one who lives in Watsonville, on two weekends at the end of March. In between we visited our friends Pete and Gayda in Lake Tahoe and the iconic Yosemite National Park. Instead of a long chronology of what where and when, spin through the slide show below. Not pictured are the many humpback whales in Monterey Bay. It was too much work to photograph versus just being there and enjoying it.

A cool concluding story. My son’s buddy, Reese, was a dreamer in high school and had a flair for the dramatic in college. Now he lives his dreams. He has managed to sign on with Google and leased a small transit van which he sleeps in. As you may know, Google provides free dining, fitness, clothes washing, and showering facilities. Jack’s buddy takes advantage of all and is saving 80% of his paycheck to realize his dream of becoming a real estate magnate. It’s great to see his success through his willingness to do what it takes including getting out of his comfort zone. Idea guys are a dime a dozen, but dreamers that do change the world.

It was great experiences with great people in a land of amazing places. Too bad it is so crowded. We will be back next year!

Bahama Slim and the Blue Horizon

“Now the reason I’m smiling, is over on an Island on a hillside in the woods where I belong”

Guest Blog By Legendary Fly Fisherman, Peter Perkins

I don’t think James Taylor was singing about Green Turtle Cay, but the lyrics capture my sentiment for this place. It’s a wonderful little island that Kit and I have visited for several years now, and we were very honored to welcome Slim and what I believe is the first international leg of Ridgeline tour.


Fly Fisherman Extraordinaire Peter Perkins

Slim arrived right on schedule via Jet, taxi by Rose, and ferry, and was well into a Kalik and plate of cracked conch by the time I picked him up at the Green Turtle Club.

It was a beautiful day, so after dropping the bags at the house, we headed out to town flat in search of bonefish. Prior to Jim’s arrival, Town flat had reliably produced shots at lots of incredibly spooky big bonefish. For some unknown reason, they seemed to have vacated the flats the first day and a half of fishing, and we only saw a few fish in many hours of wandering. Fortunately Slim took it pretty well and with the help of more Kaliks and conch was able to slip into Bahamas mode. We took him to some of the Islands finest eateries, Pineapples, and Shortys where he seemed to be quite impressed with the minced fish and house cocktail, the Gully Wash.

The third day we sought out professional help and enlisted the services of legendary local guide Ronnie Sawyer. True to his reputation, Ronnie put us on bones, and in spite of some strong winds, we were both able to each land one before our half day of fishing was up. Ronnie was suffering from a pinched nerve, so he couldn’t do a full day.

Slim’s fish fell for one of Ronnie’s weighted yellow eyed gotchas. It was a large fish and once it felt the sting of the hook, it was off to the races. Ronnie was barking out guidance as the fish went well into the backing. We were a little concerned as we saw the backing rapidly depleting and even more concerned as I saw Slim pinch the line in an effort to slow the fish down. It’s sort of like trying to grab a band saw. After two huge runs, Slim boated a nice 6 pound bone.

At this point I should humbly mention that in the Bahamas as well as Montana last summer, Slim has caught bigger fish than me. This has been a very painful experience for me which I am currently being counseled for. Pisces envy!

After leaving Ronnie, I took Slim to a little flat behind the town cemetery. Just as we reached the end of the sidewalk I spotted two large bonefish and put Slim on them. He got one to take, but unfortunately, the fly snapped off on the set and our yellow eyed Gotcha was gone.

On our last trip to town flat, the elusive bones had returned in droves. While we saw many fish, these fish lived up to their reputation of being the largest and hardest to catch in the Bahamas.


Pete and his buddy 50 Cent getting the island a little barbecue from the reef

I’d hoped to get Slim out for an Island adventure of conch and lobster diving with local character 50 Cent, but the winds kicked up and the ocean started rocking. Something to look forward too next time.

All too soon, Slim’s visit came to an end and we put him back on the ferry and on to the land of the free. As always, we greatly enjoyed his company and look forward to the next great adventure of the Ridgeline tour.

Frog on a Fly Rod Tube

A Comfortable Transition

By Jim Dickens

Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas

There are situations that are just comfortable and it seems it is different depending on who are and your previous situation.

After getting fit and cross country skiing in the cold winter darkness for several months, going to see my friend, Peter Perkins, in Bahamas turned out to be a perfect comfortable transition. Pete was renting a house with his wife Kit for a month and I went to stay with them for 5 days. Pete and Kit are warm, non judgmental people capable of being laid back on a warm tropical island.

Kit & Pete at the Dollar Bar, Green Turtle Cay

A couple of other things that made this comfortable for me. Pete is the best fly fisherman I know including guides. I knew we would be fishing in the right places the right way. Another comment on that later. The other thing is Green Turtle Cay, a small island two miles long and 800 yards wide with about 500 people on it. There are no Marriott or Hiltons and the businesses are small locally owned and operated. Hence the division between the visitors and residents is small and you are as likely to see a resident enjoying the beach as a tourist. Things are a little worn taking the pretense out and making it more laid back. Hand your money through the window and get a fish sandwich and a cold beer and sit at the picnic table in the warm sunshine. Ahhhh!

Main Street in our Golf Cart, Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas

Pete introduced me to a new fishing style which I found addictive. There are large sandy flats around the caribbean islands where the sought after bonefish patrol like wary ghosts. You quietly walk the flat searching for their moving shadows.

Walking Town Flat in search

We had some poor weather, a cold front came through and some high winds, but I like being out in it. We saw an almost stranded Manta Ray, a couple of sharks, and many barracuda, pretty cool. While the fishing was difficult, we remained undeterred and still enjoyed wearing shorts and flip flops.

Pete on the hunt

While searching for bonefish we did catch a few other species, Palmetto, Barracuda and Needle.

We did manage to catch Bonefish. They are prized for fighting above their weight and there was some question whether or not I would get spooled (where a fish takes all your line off the reel and breaks off) on one large one. For those of you who fly fish, Pete made a double haul 100 foot cast into a stiff quartering breeze right on the money and the fish missed. So he did it again and made the catch below. It was amazing.

If Pete and Kit are there next year, I’m going to try and come down as well. It’s great weather, a great place with great people and an addictive experience. Next year, better flats walking shoes, a boat to get to all the flats, and improved stealth.

It’s time to enjoy the rest of spring. Eleven days in Northern California should do it. Next blog post, California here we come!

The 2019 American Birkebeiner Adventure

By Guest Blogger Carlos Navarro

Warm & happy before the start!

Administrator’s Note:  Carlos is the toughest guy I know having run 35 Chicago Marathons, climbed mountains on several continents and never shied away from a challenge.   Carlos never loses. Just once in awhile, he runs out of time.

Several years ago, a work colleague of ours recommended Jim and I join him for a cross-country ski event up north in Wisconsin.  This seemed like a good idea.  Possibly an annual event to balance the summer races and fall marathon cycle.  The only problem with this good idea is that Jim and I live in the Chicago area which now a days doesn’t get the annual snow fall it once did which makes training for the Birkie challenging.

A rational person would say well that’s not for me and let it go.  Well lucky for me Jim, Lori, my brother David and his wife are not always rational people when it comes to jumping into athletic challenges and that is how we get to this year’s Birkie adventure.

I’m going to break this down into three parts: traveling to and from Hayward/Cable Wisconsin from Chicago, the race itself and the time in Birkie land not racing.  

First the race: the American Birkebeiner Classic 55K 

Race day. Saturday Brother David and his wife Kelly who had a bout of rational thought and did not race this year but did come up with their son Nick to provide support and partake in Birkie fever. Saturday morning it’s 30 overcast some snow flurries on a base of 3 feet of snow.  Perfect Birkie weather. Nevertheless, I’m nervous.  My preparation for this race consists of 2 loops of the Argonne 9.5-mile Waterfall Glenn loop and a 10-mile Kettle Moraine loop aborted after 3 miles due to ice. I’m facing a 55K hilly fast winding course and I’ve two real practice loops.  I told you I’m not rational about these things.  We all pile into David’s Volvo wagon and head for the start with WOJB on radio playing Birkie fever songs. Soon enough the songs do their job and calm my nerves.  We get to the start area and its full of energy from all the very fit Birkie racers.  Jim and I were placed in wave 5 (out of 8) which was too slow for Jim and too fast for me.  We are dressed appropriately which means that when one standing around not moving one gets cold.   Soon enough they call our wave and off we go at 9:35 AM.

The first 15K are crowded with a winding gradual elevation increase of 10M.  Jim is clipping along at a 6:36 min/K pace.  I’m doing 8:10 min/K.   This first 15K has us cross High Point at 12K which is just that the highest point in the course.  I haven’t fallen yet.  

16K – 25K OK.  No falls I’m getting the hang of this again my pace however slows 8:32 min/K.  Jim continues to fly along at 6:36 min/K.  

26K – 40K Continued up and down with a lot of long fast downhills.  I fall twice not too bad.  No blood. Even with the two falls I clock through 40K at 8:22 and Jim is at 6:44!  I’m gaining on him 😊!  

15K more to go and I’m starting to feel good about this year’s Birkie.  Reasonable performance all things considered.  The thing about a race like the Birkie is that you end up spending a good amount of time with the same group of fellow racers.  Are you picking that up, racers not just cross-country skiers.  These people are just one level below Olympians.  Yup.  That is an example of the kind of thoughts that go through your head after hours out on the trail.  It’s how I justify my pace.   Then it happened.  Just as I’m starting to feel good about this race, I fall. I fall hard at the end of a fast winding run and I cracked a rib.  Hmmm.  Shake it off and keep on going.  I see David and Kelly on the course. Wow.  What an unexpected boost.  Now I start to count down the kilometers and when I get to 50K I frame it as only a 5K more to go, it will be easy because the last 1.8K is over a lake which means flat.  I figure by now Jim is done. I was wrong he was done a long time ago.  When I was at the 45K point he was crossing the finish line.  Wow he is fast.

52K – 55K – Hayward Lake!  Almost eureka. I want to think that I’m keeping my pace going but I feel I’m slowing down a bit.  Turns out I was right.  I averaged 8:32 for the last 15K.  Jim on the other hand realized he might not break 6:00 hours so he stepped it up.  How he was able to do the math while on the trail is beyond me.  He averaged 6:28 Min/K for the last 15K.  OK I’ve 2.8K more to go and I’m giving it all I have.  Crossing the lake, I see David, Kelly, Nick and Dennis Kelly’s dad out there about half a mile from the finish cheering me on.  Wow again.  At this point I’m giving it all I got, and Nick is running next to me cheering me on.  Either he is very fast or I’m very slow.  On to the streets of Hayward up and over the American bridge across the finish line.   Done!  I finished in 7:51 137 out of 149 in my age group.  Jim finished in 5:58 he hit is goal of sub 6:00 hours.  Amazing given what he went through last April, you know the golf ball in the head episode.  

Birkie Land Time not racing

Friends and exhaustion make any food taste great.

The race now behind us its time to enjoy a good meal with friends and family.  Dave drives us all back to Kelly’s cousin’s amazing cabin, nothing like a hot shower after 55K and we head out to the Garmisch for dinner.  It’s become a tradition of sorts that after the race we eat at a table at the bar which is perfect.  Great conversation lots of laughs, excellent cheeseburgers made better with cold beer and fries.  Its at this point that we start to make plans for next year’s Birkiebeiner.  Yup with more time dedicated to practice I’m sure I can break 6:30 maybe even 6:00!  One can always dream.   Jim hit his goal of breaking 6:00 hours not quite up to his record finish but truly an amazing time given his limited practice for this race.

Back at the cabin after the dinner we had a nice conversation with Mike, Bill, Ralph and Clay who are friends of Jeff who is a friend of one of Kelly’s other cousins.  The common thread across these guys is that they are all excellent cross-country skiers they are all avid fishers and their love of the outdoors be it mountain climbing biking or skiing.  Turns out that Kelly’s dad is also a serious fisherman.  More great conversation.   I’ve heard said that runners are generally nice people.  I think what’s more accurate is that people in general are nice and that people who are active are even nicer.

Traveling to and from Cable Wisconsin from Chicago

Cable Wisconsin is 435 miles away which is normally a 7-hour trip.  Jim and I did it up there in about that time on Friday.  The time went by catching up on family Ridgeline tour adventures (Jim’s) and work (me).  The drive back home was a different story.  We caught some serious snow whiteout weather which turned the northern first four hours into six hours.  We had Lori’s amazing Infiniti SUV which made a tough drive doable.  Clearly the drive would have been easy in Jim’s Ridgeline.  Happy to report that all parties made it home without incident.  Sore stiff late and happy to be home.

In summary what makes the Birkie adventure worth doing each year is more than the race.  Don’t get me wrong the race is part of it but it is more a barometer to checkpoint one’s athletic health each year to see how one is doing; am I getting slower or faster given all that is going on in one’s life.

I want to thank my buddy Jim for being a key part of the reason I did it this year.  If he hadn’t been poking me about my practice or lack thereof and driving me up to the icy trails of Kettle Moraine I might have done the rational thing and said no.  I’m not prepared for 55K.  I can tell you all of us flatlanders who went up to Birkie land are happy that we did.  I got a chance to catch up with Jim, we renewed friendships with Bill and Jeff and made new friends with Mike, Chad and Ralph and got to hear the those wonderful Birkie fever songs again.

Out of gas at the end

What Comfort Zone?

By Jim Dickens

Last post I mentioned that this winter the Ridgeline Tour was focusing on fitness and included 3 endurance cross country ski races. And, the next post was sure to have some debacle. This is that promised post and my wife and I spent a good time outside our comfort zones.

Sun Valley Lodge's pool is heated to 100 degrees
Sun Valley Lodge Hot Tub, Huge with waiters, Awesome

Lori, my wife, and I have successfully completed the first race, the Boulder Mountain Tour in Sun Valley, Idaho. It was 34K and we finished middle of the pack. We rewarded ourselves by sitting in the largest hot tub I know and drinking a cold beer. So now you know it ended well. However, there were many uncomfortable instances and debacle along the way. I’ll share a few.

Starting on a nicely groomed trail

A few weeks ago, Lori and I headed north to train at the Kettle Moraine Southern Unit Nordic Trails. Long and well maintained, they are perfect for getting comfortable skiing long distances. We decided to ski the longest loop, 10 miles. While changing into our clothes in the warming hut a fellow skier told us the trails were in good shape but that some weren’t groomed today as the grooming machine had broken down. We ended up at mile 6.5 far from the hut in completely ungroomed snow so chunky and hilly that we had to take off our skis and start post holing it. The sun was starting to set and the temperature fell from 20 to the single digits. We had burned through our water and were now under dressed and well out of our comfort zone. Fortunately, at mile 8, the trail became groomed and we completed the loop safely.

20 of life’s best minutes

As you probably know, a polar vortex gripped the midwest a couple of weeks ago producing record cold. 36 hours before our flight to the Idaho race, we were notified our flight was cancelled. All potential future flights that would get us there in time were full or cancelled. Searching southward we found a flight out of St. Louis and booked it. We found renting a car to be difficult as they were being used by everyone stuck in Chicago. Eventually we succeeded and started driving through severe cold in white out conditions while making a hotel reservation on the way. New plans, strange places, horrible cold and darkness made things quite uncomfortable. However, the new flight connected through San Diego and we got to spend 20 minutes in warm palm tree filled sunshine. It melted our angst and discomfort.

I should also mention a small debacle discovered as we traveled to Idaho, I reserved accommodations for the wrong date with no excuse. So during all the rerouting to get to Idaho, I had to get a refund and rebook. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t get a full refund and Lori saw once again what an idiot I can be.

Scared and cold at the starting Line

The race itself had challenges beyond the usual physical discomfort of aching muscles and burning lungs. There was little information on what where and when so we had to constantly ask people what was going on and how everything worked. Uncertainty is a mind killer. The race day was foreboding with clouds clinging low down the mountains producing a dim light and a steady shower of snow. Standing at the starting line, we noticed very few as old as we were. Everyone looked elite with well proportioned aerobic bodies covered in spandex. They were all warming up doing the skating technique which is much faster than the classic technique we ski. The first heat of elite racers took off at 20 miles per hour. Several heats later we plodded out in our baggy clothes at about 6 to 7 miles per hour. I was impressed we even had the courage to start. After 5 miles on the trail, we looked around and we were alone.

We decided to stick together which helped us soldier on. The food and drink stations stayed open and had encouraging kind volunteers. Out of 900 skiers there were 20 or so doing the classic technique, a few finished ahead and a few behind and a few DNF’ed. So Lori and I decided to tell people we finished middle of the pack. I was too proud to say virtually last.

Wouldn’t be as good if it were easy

It was a great physical and mental challenge for us and getting out of our comfort zone makes the success so much better. I like the analogy, that the discomfort of thirst makes a simple glass of water taste better than an unthirsty glass of the finest wine. Finally, I’d say that under Lori’s kind warm preschool teaching exterior lies a good amount of toughness and courage.

Next up is the longest toughest race, the American Birkebeiner February 23rd in Hayward, WI which I will do with my friend Carlos. He has more willpower than anyone I know and I know some pretty tough people.

Solstice Celebrations

By Jim Dickens

We were home for the holidays and hosted 8 events and attended several others between December 5 and January 6. In the midst of this, we have some home renovations underway. Our kitchen above was intact until January 7 and now looks like this. I think celebrations around the solstice are very fun as people relax and have interesting traditions. I’ll share 4 favorites from this year.

Steak Night

Seven years ago I offered, for what ever reason, to host my oldest son then a college sophomore and his local friends to “Steak Night”. The tradition has continued. Lori and I cook and serve dinner like a restaurant. My son and his friends eat, drink, tell stories, have humorous toasts and generally catch up. They are now far-flung from New York to Seattle with careers and a couple of marriages. It has been fun to let the inmates run the asylum for an evening and inspiring to see them move from college to independence.

Flaming Punch

We host a Christmas Eve party for 30 to 50 of Lori’s extended family. With a majority of Italian ancestry, it is a warm, noisy event with lots of laughter. Near the end of the evening, 81 year old Uncle Bob makes a steaming hot whiskey punch with cloves in it. Then with great ceremony the kids from 4 to 26 use long matches to light the punch on fire. Uncle Bob then adds some apple juice dousing the flames. This all happens in the middle of the kitchen with mothers wringing their hands as they watch. Given the cloves and whiskey, children only try and sneak a taste of the punch once. We have yet to have the fire get out of control.

Sweat Pants Day

Our immediate family has turned Christmas day into a day without obligation, Sweat Pants Day. After hosting Steak Night, Christmas Eve, different sets of friends and Lori’s school staff, Sweat Pants Day is a welcome change. While our home is open and various people do stop by, don’t expect us hang up your coat and offer you something to eat or drink. It is all self serve. You can hang out in sweat pants, have a beer at 10 in the morning, eat cookies for lunch, shower at 5 PM and watch movies all day. Or you can do the opposite. It is a day with out decorum or tradition and that is the tradition. Accordingly there are no pictures. Many people feel Sweat Pants Day is the best.

Goose Day

My 87 year old mom says her best present is to have family together, the more the better. And, she likes to serve the traditional english goose for dinner and have a gift exchange. It takes her weeks to get ready. Geese are hard to find in grocery stores and take courage and patience to cook.

She also hands out a pull-crack party favors that everyone pulls at once and then we wear the crowns, read the riddles and play with the toys inside while dinner is served by my 89 year old dad. We treasure each Goose Day as the next one is not promised.

After months of fishing golfing tailgating and solstice celebrations, the Tour hits its fitness segment January through March. I have entered three endurance classic style cross country ski races in Sun Valley, ID, Hayward, WI and Biwabik, MN. Look for the next update to include tales of debacle from the cold and snowy parts of the world.

The Family Goes As the River Flows

By Guest Blogger Chris Dickens

Trinity River, Douglas City, CA

After spending my first 24 Thanksgivings in a suburb of Chicago, we made a small adjustment of plans by convening in Healdsburg, Northern California, for this stop of the Ridgeline Tour.  Braving smoke filled air, some heavy rain, and a 2,000 mile flight my sister Emily, my mom, my dad, and my Aunt Susie  joined the native residents (my brother, Jack, and I).  And while we certainly saw some of the best of what California had to offer, the foggy Golden Gate Bridge, towering redwoods, and sun soaked vineyards, there is something distinctly different that I took away.

There is great joy to be had in embracing unexpected experiences. The fact that all parties involved did this was, in my mind, the highlight of the vacation. To showcase this, I would like to provide a few examples. My motion sick prone mom and Aunt Susie encouraged us to drive steep winding roads in a downpour to visit the Muir Woods. On the spur of the moment, my mom’s larger than life cousin, Uncle Jeff, drove a great distance to spend time with us. Previous blog guest Pete Mathieson and his wonderful girlfriend Gayda, unexpectedly treated us with fantastic local experiences. Uncle Jeff did not plan on driving across California, Pete and Gayda did not expect to be hosting but collectively as a group we really made a great vacation out of a blank slate.

If you asked me what my favorite part of the vacation was, I would probably have to say it was the impromptu bocce ball contest. The teams were unclear, the rules were inconsistent, but you would be pressed to find a minute without laughter. As I saw with the rest of the trip, enjoying the company of friends and family is everything.

Uncle Jeff far right, Aunt Susie far left

So for those of you in the path of the future Ridgeline Tour or on other journey’s and want advice from a naïve guy in his 20s, the most beautiful vacation you could ever plan is only as good as the friends and family you have with you and their willingness to embrace the experience.