A Better Sunday Night

Lush, warm, and energetic, summer in the Chicago area is excellent, .  There are great music/food events all over the place.  Golf, biking, boating and bags tournaments are in full swing.  However, having to go to work the next day curtails fun the day before. Even if you loved your work like I did, there was always a transition to get ready.  One of the best things about retirement is it lets you have “a better Sunday night”.

I spent a couple of days over in New Buffalo, part of the Southside Riviera, with my good buddy,  Roger Wood.  As I found out, New Buffalo has too many local breweries for an overnight stay.  We also got to play Harbor Shores, this year’s Senior PGA Tournament course.  You’ll need to bring your A game, not your post brewery tour game to properly enjoy it.  I still have a little PTSD from that round.

In addition to golfing with friends and neighbors, I played in the Laurie S. Bauer Foundation for Sudden Loss tournament founded by my old coworker and friend Andy Balbirer. It was great weather, a great cause and good fun with ex coworkers. Many current employees played and I felt for them as they had to work the next day.

If you are invited to go to see the Lost Bands of the Eighties tour make sure you go with good friends, food, and drink.  It was poor music, played badly and plenty of intermission.   Ravinia on a beautiful evening with Lori’s childhood friends and spouses, who after 30 years are now my good friends, saved the day.  Too bad it was Sunday and we decided to leave early to ease Monday work.

Being back in Chicago wasn’t all fun and games as being home also means home maintenance.  Had to stain the deck which is oversized, see first picture, and various other smaller jobs.  It’s time to get back out there.   Decided to head east this weekend before heading west next week.  Next blog post on the travels to Cleveland and Philadelphia.

The One that Got Away….. By guest blogger, Chet Simmons

Last week, I had the fortune of joining Jim on the July Idaho/Montana leg of the Ridgeline Tour. Conditions were perfect for an outstanding week of touring, hiking and fishing.  Jim picked me up in Boise, Idaho with the specially outfitted, gleaming and plushy Ridgeline pick-up.  The vehicle was certainly comfortable and functional but it raised a few eyebrows in “cowboy country” as it was not a burly Ford, Chevy or Dodge.  Jim soon corrected that image of a pretty pick-up by backing into a fishing guide’s Chevy Tahoe and smashing the Ridgeline’s tail light, bumper and rear quarterpanel into a gnarly mess.  For the rest of the trip we looked a lot “tougher” and more acceptable to the Montana natives.

After some challenging and exciting fishing in Henry’s fork of the Snake River, the tour proceeded into Montana for some world class casting in the Madison and Gallatin Rivers.  The day on the Madison was notable for the fact that Jim and I were on our own.  No guide. No help with equipment.  No directions on how or where to fish.  We had a beautiful, sun-splashed day.  There was typical fly fishing frustration – endless casts with no bites – as well as fish hooked but lost back to the river. Finally, after much experimentation with various combinations of flies, I hooked into the “big one”- a massive brown trout.  The current was fast and the fish was furious.  The fight went on for what seemed like an eternity.  Gradually, I was able to maneuver the fish closer to the bank.  Jim gallantly jumped into the water in order to assist with the landing.  Although tiring, the fish was still moving quite rapidly.  Jim readied the net to grab the fish.  The water was rushing.  In an instant, before Slim could react, the trout swam between his legsand snapped off the line. It then disappeared back into the Madison.  Massive disappointment set in.  At that point, Jim and I knew how Bill Buckner must have felt when he let that ball go between his legs in the 1986 World Series.

None of this deterred us.  The rest of the vacation was outstanding with excellent fishing, hiking, sightseeing and honkey-tonk hanging. A new crew including expert fly fisherman Pete “buzz” Mathieson will be returning in August.  They will have another crack at the “Buckner” fish. Hopefully, he can be landed this time.

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Dede’s Perspective

Hi to all!  Jim has invited me to be a Guest Blogger this week for the Ridgeline Tour and I’m very happy to be here.  I will do my best to write up to Jim’s high standards and expectations.

My name is Dede Gruenberg; Lori’s (just slightly) older sister and Jim’s sister in law.  My husband Wes and I moved to the Boise area in 2015 to be closer to our grandbabies (four girls ages three months to seven years).

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This year marked our third annual #LaFamiglia Reunion complete with patriotic commemorative tee shirts.  The idea of an annual family reunion was birthed by Jack Dickens (Jim and Lori’s oldest son), when we moved to Idaho.   As our families have grown and spread out over the years, it has become more challenging to be all together in one place over the holidays so this summertime gathering has been a wonderful compromise.

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This leg of the Ridgeline Tour found our adventuresome travelers Jim and Lori departing at the crack of dawn and heading west from Naperville on Thursday, June 28th. Despite some annoying road construction and a nasty microburst in Iowa; 15 hours later, Lori and Jim arrived safely in the Denver area.  They were met there by sons Jack and Chris who flew in from San Francisco, daughter Emily from Cleveland and Auntie Susie (middle sister) from Chicago.  Susie spent the week celebrating her big ‘six – oh’ my gosh how did this happen?  Friday night they went to Red Rock to see the folk musical group The Avett Brothers.  As you can see that the venue is gorgeous and apparently provides the opportunity for some hiking in order to get to one’s seat. I understand there was quite a bit of curiously smelling low hanging ‘fog’ at the concert that seemingly was emanating from the patrons; as this is Colorado where ‘fog’ is legal.

Saturday morning, Jim, Jack, Chris and Emily departed in the Ridgeline to begin their two-day drive to Boise complete with stops for hiking and overnight tent camping.Apparently, by the time they arrived at their chosen campground it was completely full. However, somehow, they were able to share a spot with a lady who was sleeping in her car with her dog.  Everything worked out fine**Editorial comment: Everything worked out as fine as it can, considering they were sleeping in tents and not an RV with running water, flushing toilets and A/C. In this blogger’s opinion, ’Glamping’ is always the bestway to rough it


The Ridgeline Tour arrived in Boise on Sunday at roughly the same time as Susie and Lori who decided flying from Denver was a better option.  Jim was able to rent a VRBO that was only a mile from our house.  Ideally, we all like to be under the same roof but this worked out fine too.   We gathered for an evening meal together and celebrated June birthdays with laughter, presents, pie and ice cream.

Monday the ladies enjoyed mani/pedis and lunch together while Jim and his boys muscled my son’s smoker into the back of the Ridgeline and hauled it to the rental home.  Then they hung out together at a sports bar to enjoy World Cup soccer.

The weather this week was gorgeous in Boise; warm dry days and cool evenings were ideal for pool time, hikes, ice cream, mini golf, fun, food and laughter.



The 4thof July was the last night for many in our group who were heading home the next morning. So, we celebrated the holiday and Susie’s 60thwith beer, bags and brisket which was smoked and tended for 18 hours by Chris and Jack. And of course, no 4thwould be complete without watching fireworks.  We were invited to my daughter in law’s parents home to watch the local festivities from their back deck. They have a beautiful home that sits on a ridge that overlooks the entire Treasure Valley



It’s a most interesting thing.  Summer is wild fire season in the west and Idaho is no exception. Yet, fireworks are sold from tents at most major intersections.  Apparently when purchasing them, you must sign a paper that says you agree not to launch them in Ada county where they are sold. From Dave and Linda’s deck not only were we able to view firework displays from public venues like the Meridian Speedway and local businesses, but also displays from people’s backyards.  There were literally too many to count, most rivalling the public displays.   It was really beautiful and also a little frightening to think that this much explosive power was in the hands of people who likely are not pyrotechnically trained and may have been drinking too much beer.

The day after the 4thbrought early morning departures for the Dickens boys as well as my daughters and son in law.  Jim and my son Wesley enjoyed a restorative sleep of about four hours and drove to Oregon to fish the Owyhee River where Wesley caught a 22-inch bass; his personal best.  The air temperature in the canyon was over 100 degrees however the frigid waters of the Owyhee kept them cool, even through their waders.

Thursday evening was spent, once again eating, drinking and enjoying one another’s company at a local Italian eatery.

Friday the 6thmarked the official end of this leg of the Ridgeline Tour as Jim picked up a friend at the Boise airport and they headed to the east side of the state and points beyond to pick up the adventure again.  My sisters and niece Emily flew home to Chicago and Cleveland, respectively and personally, I am missing everyone more than words can say; it was an amazing week that passed all too quickly.

There’s nothing better than family, food and fun and we are blessed to be rich in all three.  Thanks for tuning in to this week’s installment of Jim’s blog!  Stay tuned for the further adventures of the Ridgeline Tour.


I’ve been on the much anticipated 1st West Coast swing and I have realized that what I think happens isn’t reality and others have different and very cool perspectives.  Therefore you can anticipate from now on that I will be inviting guest posts from others on the Ridgeline tour.

My dear wife, Lori, drove from Chicago to Denver in one day.  We went through horrendous weather and construction but she was in with me.   Our kids and Lori’s sister Susie flew into Denver to meet us.  The Concordia’s, old friends, were out of town but shared their sensational home with us so we could have a close base to see the Avett brothers at the Red Rocks amphitheater.  I highly recommend Red Rocks and will be back again.

Lori flew to Boise but my three kids jumped in the Ridgeline with me and we  hiked and camped for a couple of days on the way to Boise.  I highly recommend getting altitude acclimated before hiking from 9,500 to 12,400 feet.

In Boise we had a family reunion for several days and it went from perfect to hot.  I ended up fishing in a canyon at a 105 with 55 degree water, a very weird sensation.  But we did catch some big fish.

Finally my old friend Chet, joined me to fish from Boise to Bozeman.  We did too much too fast, again, but old friends can adjust without drama.

Look for posts from my son, Jack, on hiking and camping, my sister in law, Dede Gruenberg, on the family reunion, and good old Chet on fishing from the desert to the forest.  The Avett brothers had a message of do no harm and make no enemies to which I totally relate.  The saying “there is too much hate in the world” rings true.  Next time I see you let’s smile.

What a Difference a Day Makes

Guest Post by Jack Dickens

On the first day of being 26, I found myself carefully considering whether or not I believed in omens. Because if I did, what was happening around me was definitely not good. Hail was pouring down, lightning was streaking across the sky, and thunderous booms were echoing across the valley.

As I looked behind me in concern I was greeted only with the maniacal smiles of my dad, brother, and sister who were taking a sick joy in our predicament. My dad was so happy with the situation that he was bursting into song. I did not feel confident that this would be a good year.

But we hiked on through the Mt. Zirkel wilderness and as we continued the storm subsided. When we got to the last mile the sun broke through the clouds and the hill came alive with the color of the mountain wildflowers. We reached the summit of our hike with a cloudless sky and an electric blue alpine lake. I was and still am, struck by how much changed in a matter of hours.

And if there was a takeaway from the Mt. Zirkel hike it was this- keep on hiking with the ones you love- through the mud, lightning, hail and rain. Because soon enough the storm will break and the sun and wind will be at your back. The storm will have made it all the sweeter. Cheers!

Staying True to the Tour

If you remember, the Ridgeline tour is not about traveling but reconnecting and having great experiences with friends and family.   I have an extremely small extended family, one uncle and two cousins.  The Uncle and one cousin live in Oxford, England and the other cousin lives in Rome, Italy.

The cousin in Rome Italy needed help getting her small children, 4 and 6, to Oxford, England to see their grandfather, my uncle who is fading.  Lori and I agreed to help her get her children to and from England.   And, we planned see other friends and family as well.

Mid June gives you a good chance to see England at its best weather wise.  The sun was out along with the flowers, leaves, and people. The Cotswolds are idyllic and there we visited second cousin, Hugh, and his wife, Rosie.  The have a large rambling home with 4 golden retrievers and 14 horses.  We had a fantastic time visiting over a dinner of Welsh leg of lamb.

Hugh, by the way, is the most interesting man in the world having commanded a tank battalion in West Germany, appeared in the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, played in a rock band and is currently a successful photographer  recently shooting the Royal’s playing polo.

I got to play two great golf courses, Minchampton and Oxfordshire with Hugh and my cousin, Simon, respectively.  My uncle, Peter, helped found Oxfordshire, so Simon and I were able play.  They still have a plaque commemorating the opening and a tree planted for my uncle.


Did we see some sites, yep, plenty of them but it’s way more fun to see them with your family and friends even if they’re 4 and 6 year olds who speak Italian.  Despite the best efforts of the Fiumicino airport to foil our plans, my persistent cousin, Alison, made sure we got there and back.  By the way, the funnest way to learn Italian but not the best is to have a 4 year old girl be your teacher.

To accelerate my learning of golf, I have decided to do a golf marathon.  Read the next post to see how that goes.

Rome +10 to -10

If you ever have to miss a flight, try to avoid doing it in the Rome Fiumicino Airport.  It’ll make you dig deep and test your fortitude.  However, if you want to see a lot of great western civilization history, Rome is awesome.

We hired tour guides to take Lori and I to see the Pope’s House, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Forum over three 1/2 day tours. From Emperors, to Popes, to Barbarians, to Kings, I’ll share a few of my strongest impressions.

Rome is old, twice as old as England.  Civilization has reinvented itself and built over itself at least four times.   My favorite place to feel Roman power was standing outside the Pantheon in front of its immense columns.  I am close to a pagan but gazing upon the Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica was religious.  Imagining Roman commerce while standing in the Forum made the old stones come to life.  The Kings were short lived and thought Mussolini was a good idea so nothing from them. Having good tour guides and viewing city center is a +10. The airport is a -10.

Fiumicino is filled with airport employees and processes I have never before seen.  Airline Alitalia is on the verge of bankruptcy and I’m not surprised.  The excessive number of airport employees serves to increase bureaucracy instead of increasing service.  When we missed our flight, we got to rebook for $1800 on the next flight 4 hours later. And, we nearly missed the new flight despite steadily working through ticketing, security, passport control and numerous other checks without reason.  It’s bad enough to do it on your own but with a 4 and a 6 year old in tow who don’t speak english you have to dig deep.

As you may wonder about the youngsters, they were the purpose for the trip and the reason we traveled from Rome to England and back.  Read the next blog to find out more.

All I have left

When people ask me why I love fishing and golf so much,  I respond that it’s all that I have left.  Ailing knees and an unstable shoulder relegate me to the world of low impact. Golf and fishing have knowledge, decision making and coordinated execution.  More importantly they are excellent buddy activities.

On the East Coast Swing,  I got to play the Pete Dye River Course at Virginia Tech with my good buddy Chris Milhous.  I picked him up at his home in Marrietta, GA and we drove through the remnants of Subtropical Storm Alberto to Blacksburg.  Luckily Chris is a good story teller and driver so the trip felt short.  We played an awesome course and Chris is an even better golfer so I learned from him as well.  Unfortunately that learning did not translate well for the fraternity brother reunion tournament, The Red Stackloaf Invitational.

The Stackloaf adds in a beer drinking dimension requiring excellent decision making, the “chug mulligan” .    You may take a mulligan (retake your shot) provided you chug a beer before you do it.   The decision is when and how many chug mulligans to take.  Chug mulligans early and often ruin your decision making and coordination for the rest of the round creating a vicious circle.   However, these vicious circles are often hilarious to observe.  I watched one in my foursome this year do 5 chug mulligans in two holes causing one of the others in my foursome literally fall down with laughter (notice the crooked hat and dirty club in the picture below).  This year’s Stackloaf was fantastic but the fishing was even better.

I fished with two great buddies, Dr. Pat McMahon and Pete Mathieson, who also happen to be well connected skilled fly fisherman.  We spent a couple of days fishing, Penns Creek and the private waters of Spruce Creek and the Rolling Rock Club.   Fishing I think has better stories.  The waters we fished had lots of extra large trout.

Rolling Rock Creek is beautiful providing amazing aesthetics.  We were joined by Pat’s friend George who owns Albert’s Meats.  We had a great barbecue stream side.  I have included the pictures here to dispel the doubt placed around my “fish” story.

The East Coast Swing will be done again.  Maybe fewer longer stops and a few less miles. Golf and fishing help you hone your decision making skills and are useful beyond.  No question doing the Ridgeline Tour now while I am able was a good decision.  Some cliches like “seize the day” are still wise.

At the Bucknell Reunion we saw the Class of 1968.  They did not look like they could still walk 18 holes or wade a stream or hike in the mountains or kayak a river or bike the wine country.  Thats only 14 more summers then never again.  The Tour must continue. It’s all I have left.

The next blog entries will be from the European Tour.  Look on the side bar for the schedule.


Well the East Coast Swing is complete. The Honda Ridgeline logged 4,680 miles in 18 days with events in  Cleveland, Pittsburgh, the Upper Delaware, Washington DC, Siesta Key FL, Atlanta, Virginia Tech, Bucknell,  and the Rolling Rock Club.  Siesta Key and Bucknell featured reunions.

My brother’s family, my family and my mom and dad gathered in an 8 bedroom, 6 bathroom, 2 pool complex.  I thought May would be before hurricane season but we were wrong.  I have worked with insurance companies for years who  factor global warming effects into their models for longer hurricane seasons and more storms.

Still I booked Florida anyway and Subtropical Storm Alberto washed out most of the planned activities.   Luckily the family got along well and cut me slack.  We failed to go fishing, kayaking, jet skiing, boating and beach barring.  We did some golf and beach walking. There was a tour of Mayakka State Park to see gators, birds etc. My brother’s daughters planned a surprise Siesta Key Fiesta to celebrate recent birthdays.  Hats off to them for making the most of it.

A great thing about family reunion’s is reconnecting with nieces and nephews because they are growing up and there is always new interesting news.  My nieces brought their significant others with them, a marketer for industry disrupter PayPal and a naval pilot.  They got along well with my kids and I hope they stick around.  With our children now adults it will be hard to get them all together again, but we will try.  They are great people and give me faith in America’s youth breaking the negative stereotype.

Bucknell was a different reunion with frat brothers of 35 years.  We revert back to how we interacted back in the day. Trash talking, jokes and phrases were pulled out from years ago.  I “shotgunned” a beer although a light beer slowly.  It’s really fun to belly laugh with guys from long ago.  We went through a lot of growing up together and the bonds really are strong and brotherly.  I still count them among my best friends. ‘Ray Bucknell!

One of the highlights of the Bucknell Reunion was playing in an annual golf tournament, the Red Stackloaf Open.  Look for another blog entry on Golf and Fishing shortly.

Old Friends

Dan Willcoxon once told me, “You can’t make old friends.”  When I say that to others they always nod with understanding.  It might have to do with old friends   know you from a different time and hence in a deeper way.  I got to reconnect with some old friends the past couple of days.

The Honda Ridgeline has logged 2400 miles since the last post stopping in Cleveland, Pittsburgh,  the upper Delaware River, Washington, DC, and then on down to Siesta Key, FL.  I’d say the rhythm has been a little too fast.  I should be spending a little more time at the stops and spreading out the schedule.

In Cleveland, Lori and I got to see my daughter, Emily and my son, Jack for the first time since having brain surgery.   We were all glad to catch up and see each other intact.  Jack is in the middle of moving from Pittburgh to California and Emily is starting graduate school so we had a loads to talk about and I stayed up too late trying to keep up with youth (Craft beer is much more potent than Bud Light and not recommended for healing from brain surgery).

I put Lori on a plane home in Pittsburgh and went to visit some great old friends from my college days, Dr. Pat McMahon and Andy Kimball, Esq.  However, I knew them from before their professional achievement and we still interact in puerile ways.

We like to drink beer and trash talk to each other while competing at a game, any game.  I found myself at shuffleboard table playing for $10 a game and ordering another beer at 1 in the morning just like it was something I do normally.  It was great reconnecting and catching up.  Great experiences with great friends is the best way to live.

From Pittburgh, the Ridgeline rolled to the northeast corner of Pennsylvania in the wilds on the West Branch of the Upper Delaware.  I got to take some dirt roads with big potholes and puddles using my truck all wheel drive and ground clearance.  Even better I got to fly fish with Dr Z who taught me 40 years ago.

Dr. Bill Zegarski first took me fishing in 1977 on a creek near Monroeton PA.  In 1978 I had a lot of “car trouble” making me late for school as I learned how to fish a little better.

I will say the student has remained the student and Bill is still the master.  I was amazed as he used binoculars determine what kind of bugs the trout were eating.  He is a legend on the Upper Delaware and everyone respectfully calls him Dr. Z.  Dr. Z graciously shared his private access to the world renowned fishery.  It was an awesome experience and great to reconnect.


It’s a far cry from the wilds of north eastern PA, to Old Town Alexandria making for diverse set of experiences.  Played the swanky, Belle Haven Country Club with old fraternity and football friends, Dave Phillips and Larry Zmuda.  Dave had kids returning from school, and graduating and Larry had a son getting married in South Carolina in 3 days but they still took time to visit and Dave even put me up and made his wife go out to dinner with me.  Old friends are great because  you can tell stories from the past as you create new memories.

The pace of these visits was too hectic and next time I’ll slow it down a bit to make it even better.  So next I drove to Siesta Key FL for a family reunion.  Next post, How to have a Family Reunion in a Tropical Storm.