Christmas with Julia and David

For the past 20 years or so I’ve spent my Christmas morning with Julia Child and David Sedaris. Julia and I started spending a lot of time together after I bought her Baking With Julia cookbook in the late 90s and discovered her amazing recipe for Pecan Sticky Buns. These are a three day affair that she calls the “ne plus ultra of sticky bundom.” I’m not sure if sticky bundom is an actual place or just a state of mind but these gooey caramel treats are worth every second of work and worry that goes into them. This year, I was missing my old next door neighbors Sara and Michael Baxter. We spent so many great holidays together and I often baked them a set of sticky buns on Christmas morning. It’s 2020 so we phoned it in this year via Zoom.

I’m not exaggerating one bit about the three day prep time. The brioche dough that you start with is easy to make but takes several long rise periods and it just can’t be rushed. We had our first Zoom baking session on Wednesday afternoon to start the magic together. It begins with a yeast sponge that is gently brought alive with warm milk. The dough making is the most stressful part for me. It requires a professional heavy duty mixer and no less than 20 minutes of medium to high mixing. I worry about how hot the mixer gets and spend the entire time dancing around the countertop to make sure the mixer doesn’t vibrate itself off the counter. Then comes the butter. Lots and lots of butter. This is the kind of recipe that you really don’t want to make yourself because you just can’t forget the fact that you crammed 5 sticks of butter into these innocent looking breakfast rolls.

The dough rises overnight and you have some down time to plan the next step. The Baxters dialed in the next day for the best part – log rolling day. The dough comes out of the refrigerator a little bigger than what you started with and it is pliable and fun to work with on a lightly floured surface. This is the only recipe that I use that requires a tape measure. We carefully rolled out our dough in 11 x 13 rectangles. They were a little jagged on the ends but it is fun to roll it out carefully. After incorporating a few more sticks of butter, we brushed the dough gently with egg and sprinkled it with crushed pecans, sugar and cinnamon. After rolling it into logs, we placed them in the freezer for another overnight resting session.

It’s Christmas morning and we are up at 4:30 to pull the logs out of the freezer and line the pan with more butter and sugar. Here is where David Sadaris joins the party. I put on his recording of Santaland Diaries and laugh at his sardonic tale of working as an elf at Macy’s Santaland. His stories of dealing with demanding New Yorkers as one of Santa’s helpers is even funnier to me now that I live here. I especially love his descriptions of all of the different long lines at Santaland. There are lines for everything in New York and you just have to accept it. Lines for the bagel shop, the hardware store and the post office routinely snake outside and around the building. I think that is why so many New Yorkers get everything delivered to their apartments. I don’t mind the lines actually. It’s fresh air and good chance to people watch. Plus, I am getting over 30,000 steps a day moving from line to line. This is especially important when you bake with five sticks of butter.

The final step for the sticky buns is actually quite dangerous. After baking for 40 minutes, they turn golden brown and are sitting in a lava hot mix of butter and sugar. The trick is to flip them over onto a plate without burning yourself or dumping them on the floor. It takes a swift decisive move – any hesitation and you are covered in hot caramel. I warned Sara and Michael about the plate trick and they did a beautiful job. Their sticky buns looked like the ones featured in the cookbook. Well done Baxters! Well – mostly Sara. Michael was up with her at the crack of dawn on Christmas so he deserves the credit. Bryan stayed in bed but was up just in time for the buns to come out of the oven. Well played Bryan!

It’s been tough spending this first holiday away from our friends and family but sticking to this tradition really helped. I sat peacefully this morning with Bryan in our new apartment and savored the warm caramel and sugary center of these beautiful treats. Santaland cheered me up while I baked and it was great to spend time with Sara and Michael over Zoom. Next year we will be able to bake and laugh together but in the meantime we have all of this. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Me and My Trashy New York Friends

Linda and Drew on Broadway and 113th Street

New York has a trash problem. It always has but during the pandemic things seem a lot worse. I think it is a combination of increased take out food, reduced sanitation budgets and just general 2020 funk. It’s been a tough year and it is showing along the beautiful streets and avenues of this lovely town. I just can’t walk past garbage and I have started picking it up as I tour my neighborhood and run errands. I even bought one of those trash pickers, special gloves and a reusable bag that I carry with me. I have been taking breaks from work lately and cleaning Morningside Park – especially the pond near where the homeless cats live.

I’m not the only one obsessed with trash. I started volunteering with a great group called One Block Upper West Side. They organize huge clean up events and several dozen volunteers scour the streets between the West 70s and 110th street. We fill several large bags and make sure to clean out the medians on Broadway. It’s incredibly satisfying and we get a ton of “thank yous” while we are out there. It just blows my mind that people can’t get their trash to the right place. There are literally thousands of trash cans and recycling bins all over this city yet the sidewalks are littered like there was no where else for it to go.

Come on New York! This is a beautiful place you have created. Let’s keep it that way. We have soaring skyscrapers, underground trains and beautiful parks all surrounded by wide rivers. This is all still so new to me and it amazes me every time I leave my apartment. My favorite adventure is a long run down the Hudson River greenway down to the World Trade Center for a fancy coffee at Blue Bottle. I walk around downtown and find new details in the old office towers and then take the train back uptown.

One of my buddies from One Block is named Linda. She lives down the street from us and we meet once a week and pick a few blocks to clean together. While we are walking together, she tells great stories about growing up here and about all of the secret places to explore around the Columbia University neighborhood. She loves this place as much as I do and it’s great to learn about her neighborhood. Linda is also really smart about all the animal habitats that are hidden all over the City. She has taught me about the importance of the underbrush in Riverside Park and how to keep the trees healthy that are planted along the sidewalks. She is my favorite trashy New York friend and with a few more like her we can clean up these neighborhoods together.

I Bike New York

“Do you have a car?” This is a question that New Yorkers ask each other all the time and it makes me so happy. It is asked with absolutely zero judgment. It’s just a simple question but it isn’t something that I can remember ever being asked before. If you live just about anywhere else in the US, it’s presumed you have a car – several, in fact. But New York is flat, compact and is covered in inexpensive and convenient transportation options. Cycling is my favorite one by far. There are a lot of great things about this handsome City but the best thing about living in New York is that you can and should get just about anywhere on a bike.

Yes, a lot of people drive here but it is stupidly expensive or stressful. You either pay $700 a month for a parking spot or spend half of your week moving your car around to psych out the street sweeping schedule. It just isn’t worth it to me and a slow bike tour through Manhattan is a perfect way to discover her hidden little parks and beautiful architecture. There is just one rule to follow – if you are on a bike there are no rules. This is the only down side that I can see to cycling here. The hard core cyclists can be first class jerks. They ride the wrong way down the street, on sidewalks and they blow through traffic lights. In fact, if you don’t ride like this, well…. I left my apartment last week and headed safely down West 110th Street in the bike lane on my nifty Citibike. When I got to the 7th Avenue intersection, I hit a traffic light and made a safe stop. That was not cool apparently. Another cyclist came barreling behind me screaming “What the FUCK are you doing stopping? You’re on a bike ASSHOLE.” I guess I need to check the statues again on this but I could have sworn that the same rules apply.

Now those are some good teammates!

Then there is the Central Park Peloton. There is a lovely five mile loop in Central Park and it is packed with cyclists and runners all day. This is the only place in New York where you have to follow rules on a bike because if you don’t then you will be crushed. Literally crushed. The course was designed for a lazy small ring recovery ride but New Yorkers have a better idea – an outdoor velodrome! It is a sight to see. Triathlon and time trial get ups galore. It looks like the bike course at Kona out here. Aero bars, aero helmets, full disk wheels and lots of very very tight kits. 250 watts is what these guys and gals are aiming for and I think they are hitting it just fine. Just don’t get in their way or you’ll get more of the helpful comments like I did on 110th Street.

Fortunately, there are a lot of happy New York cyclists out there and I found them at NYCC – the New York Cycling Club. They are quite amazing actually. They have a huge group of friendly riders of all levels and they post their rides on a convenient online sign up system that ranks the rides by speed and difficulty so you know exactly what you are getting into. I joined them last weekend for a long ride up to the summit of Bear Mountain and then we took the Metro North train back down to the City. Our ride leader was Steve Vaccaro and he is a bike lawyer. Yup. That’s a thing and he isn’t the first good riding buddy that I know that specializes in this area. My friend Ken Rosskopf in Decatur is also a bike lawyer and it is interesting to hear their stories. Steve is a passionate transportation advocate and a great guy to spend the day on a bike with.

Press Play

For Thanksgiving this year, we ordered our dinner from a fancy place in Brooklyn and I was excited to go over there to pick it up with by bike trailer. It was a blast. I hooked up the trailer to my Merlin road bike and headed down the West Side Greenway downtown and the over the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a terrific way to get a nice ride in and our meal made it back safe and sound. Zero carbon emissions even! Although it has been a crazy year I still have so much to be thankful for. And cycling in New York is definitely one of them.

So Tell Me For True – Are You Guys For SCUBA?

One of my favorite movie scenes is from Along Came Polly when naked SCUBA Claude awkwardly invites the nervous honeymooners to an underwater party. He declares himself the unofficial SCUBA king of St. Barts and wants to show them the beautiful coral reefs underneath is sailboat. His big sailboat. Lisa, played by Debra Messing, is very much for SCUBA but her tightly wound New York husband Rueben, played by Ben Stiller, is unsure about the whole set up. He is right to be wary and catches Lisa in an affair with Claude which sends him back to the City where he meets and falls in love with Polly. Its a great scene and a fun movie but could I bring my own SCUBA party to New York?

Bryan and I recently moved to Harlem and got set up in our new apartment. As soon as I got into town, I went to visit the Adventure Scuba shop with my fresh dive resume and PADI Open Water Instructor license. They were very friendly and invited me to co-teach a class yesterday out in Long Island.

Here we go!

One of our goals in moving here was to simplify our lives and that meant getting rid of our car. Plus, it’s stupidly expensive and a huge headache to own a car here so I am learning to navigate around without my own wheels. Fortunately, New York is beautifully designed to get just about anywhere on bikes, trains and buses so here I go. I loaded up all of my gear on my back and headed first to the C train underneath our building towards Penn Station.

A car? Fahgettaboudit. This is New York!

Another thing that I love about New York is that nothing phases these people. A dude schlepping all of his SCUBA gear on the train didn’t raise an eyebrow. They just don’t care – but in the nicest possible way. You do your own thing here as long as you don’t get in anyone else’s way. Penn Station is just a couple of stops from our place and then I transferred to the Long Island Railroad for a pleasant ride east to the Lindenhurst station where I met my co-instructor Tom. We shared an Uber to the dive shop and did some last minute planning on what we wanted to cover. Our students were on time and eager to learn. The day went perfectly and we were able to get through of our skills with time to spare.

This was my first real teaching experience and it was awesome. The excellent training that my instructor Bruce laid down came out automatically. I demonstrated the skills, stated the values, gave positive reinforcement and corrected in real time. I swiveled my head like Linda Blair underwater. It’s so important to keep a close eye on all of the students and I chuckled to myself as I remembered Bruce’s Linda Blair reference from The Exorcist that he drilled into us during our instructor course. The best part of the day was when I slowed down the skills and spent extra time with each of them until I felt comfortable that they achieved mastery. It was so fun to see the three different learning styles come out in these students and to adapt to those on the fly. That is what makes this so interesting. Watching the light bulbs go on and watching their eyes get wide in their goggles when they nail the skill. Those first breaths underwater are so fun to watch and I left feeling so good about what I was able to pass on. I thought I liked diving but I think I like teaching it a lot more. I have the privilege of introducing a whole new world. 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water and I get offer that up. Sweet!

Happy students. Super happy instructor.

I was on Cloud 9 the whole way home. I found a path to do what I love in a city that I adore. I felt so relieved that the instructor course prepared me so well for this real life experience and in so many ways the learning has just begun. Now I get to let my joy for this sport come through in a way that helps others find all the happiness it has brought me. As I finished my last leg of the journey home and came up from the 110th Street train station, I was greeted by a great impromptu jazz ensemble right outside of our apartment. I stopped for a few minutes, left some money in the tip jar and soaked in the moment. This is why I wanted to live here. I made the right move after all.

Press Play

The City has been so kind to us so far. We love our place, Chuck and LD are happy and Bryan found a delicious Hungarian pastry shop around the corner that serves amazing hamantash. On the professional front, I start an exciting new job tomorrow as general counsel for Equitable Facilities Fund. It’s a lot of change all at once but it’s all very exciting and hopeful. This is what I wanted out of this year and it is coming together. I know we are all going through a scary time but there is a lot of good out there. Hang in there. Better times are coming.

Yowie Wowie – a Brand New OWSI

Bray Wyatt a/k/a “The Fiend” is a WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) favorite and he coined the phrase “Yowie Wowie.” He explained it as follows: “You ever have something so amazing happen to you that you couldn’t control what came out of your mouth next? Yowie Wowie!” I can’t think of a better way to describe how I felt after my last open water test yesterday and I found out that I was an official PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor. A real live OWSI! Yowie Wowie for sure.

The PADI Instructor Examination lasts 2 days and it is a nerve racking 48 hours for sure. On Saturday, we met the examiner in a hotel conference room in Santa Clara. The day starts with a pretty formal run through of all of the requirements and how and when we will have a chance to make up any portions that we might fail. There are a few gatekeepers in place that you just can’t re-do. If you mess up on the standards exams or make a really bad mistake in the water then you get to come back another day. After the introduction, we had 5 timed exams covering physics, physiology, the environment, dive equipment and decompression tables. These involve a lot of calculations and some pretty quick decisions that you have to make. Some of the questions are intentionally confusing and they are testing whether you really have instructor level understanding of equipment, how depth and pressure affects your body, air consumption and common dive injuries.

We all passed these exams and then were given a 50 question exam on PADI standards. You simply have to nail this one. If you don’t get a passing score then you have to come back and do all of the exams over at another examination. Fortunately, this one is open book. This makes sense though – if you don’t know how to find the basics like maximum student/instructor ratios and what the key elements are to certify a new diver you are putting lives at risk. I was happy to get a great score on this one too and then it was off to our classroom presentations.

Sure – looks pretty but cold as ice!

We were given about an hour to eat lunch and prepare a lesson assignment that we received that morning. We have to hit about 10 different components during the presentation to get a passing score. You begin by make a non-diving connection and getting interaction with the class, then you present the materials showing that you have mastery of all of the various electronic teaching aids that PADI provides. You also need to emphasize the environment, suggest equipment to buy, get the class interested in specific continuing education, use a PADI online tool, demonstrate using a non-diving training aid and then summarize, reinforce and close. It’s not that hard if you follow the formula that we were taught and I really like public speaking so this part is fun for me. I got a 4.8 out of 5 and was pumped by the score.

Knot tying practice. I think I tied the bowline knot 1,000 times during class!

We then headed over to Diver Dan’s about 10 minutes away for the confined water presentations. The pool at Diver Dan’s is small and hot as heck and I was already pretty nervous so it was uncomfortable. I just stuck to my deep breathing and got through the skill circuit in good shape. The examiner had us do the following underwater skills – mask removal and replace, fin pivot buoyancy, regulator recovery and clear, remove and replace scuba kit and CESA (controlled emergency swimming ascent). She had us do these one at a time and we were being watched by the other six students in the exam. It went great and I got a score of 23 out of 25 and was really happy with that. Not sure where I got dinged and I frankly didn’t care. I only needed an 18 to move forward and I was there! After these demonstrations, we each had to teach a skill in the pool with two pretend students. The instructor also assigns problems to the students to screw up some component on purpose to see if you can correct it before they get too far ahead of themselves and risk getting injured.

Ike – our OWSI class mascot

My skill was to teach a controlled five point descent without touching the bottom. I fortunately caught both of my students’ mistakes (one of them tried to go underwater without their regulator in their mouth!) and was able to correct it early and have them re-do the skill. I got a 4.8 out of 5 on this one and was feeling pretty wonderful as I drove back down to Monterey that afternoon. I grabbed a quick dinner, prepped my gear for the next day a then went over my slates for my open water test the next morning at 7AM. For the open water, I got to do alternate air sharing (stationary) and teaching a knot skill underwater. Those are both pretty easy and I banged them out smoothly with scores of 5 out of 5 on both! I’m so glad it went well because I was freezing in the cold water and tensing all of my muscles to keep myself from shaking. As soon as we were all done, the examiner let out a little “Woo Hoo” yell through her regulator to let us all know that we passed those two skills. Ever seen a bunch of nervous divers let loose under water? It was awesome. We all high-fived and did little dances to celebrate. What a great release.

We just had one more skill to demonstrate – rescuing an unconscious diver in the water. This involves turning the victim over, establishing buoyancy, giving rescue breaths, removing all equipment (victim and rescuer) and towing them to shore. We had practiced this so many times during the course that these were damned near perfect. Or at least they felt that way. Smooth, slow and demonstration quality. We all felt so accomplished with this skill and it was a blast to show off a little. We did our debriefings with the instructor back on shore and then received our completion certificates. After we got cleaned up, we headed back to the dive shop for pizza and some nice chill time with the examiner.

Ike’s friend Minky. Minky lives in Florida but was out in California for a nip and tuck. Seriously.

This was a hard process. We put in over 100 hours of course time in addition to all of the online studying and travel. It was humiliating at times. We submitted ourselves to constant critique. We were evaluated physically and mentally every day in tough conditions. There were many times when I doubted whether I could pull this off. Our course director Bruce Weitzenhoffer and his colleague Dane Durand pushed, prodded and molded us into dive pros – not an easy task. Bruce pushed us hard but we were ready when the time came. He was also there for every minute of our 2 day exam. He didn’t need to that but it was so sweet and helpful to see him on the pool deck and shore cheering us on. He really cares about us and that was the best part of this whole experience. I feel like I have a true mentor and friend in Bruce. He took me to a new place. I feel so much better in the water and have such a deeper understanding of my equipment and how diving affects my body. I feel like a dive professional now and am proud to be in the their ranks. I think I’ll be a kind and patient instructor and can’t wait to get out there with my first student. Anybody want to learn how to dive? First class on me. Seriously.

Scott, Nick, Gail (Examiner), Bruce (Course Director), Will and Drew

Leave Your Ego on Shore

If you ask anyone that has done some dive training they will tell you that you have to be prepared to get yelled at. A lot. I’ve had to learn to leave my ego at the shore for every dive training class that I’ve attended. It definitely varies in degree depending on the instructor but you are guaranteed to be at the wrong end of several hours of harsh corrections. They point, grab, yell, pull, yank and maybe – just maybe, tell you that you did something okay. It’s the whole point, really. The instructor feels a tremendous weight to show you the safest way to manage a very dangerous situation so you just have to let it come at you full force and learn the lessons.

My visceral instinct is to defend myself but you have to let that wash over you. I am here because I don’t have these skills and want to learn them. When my instructor tears me apart – I have to let it happen. It’s the development part. The meat of the thing that I’ve thrown myself into. Today was hard but wonderful. I came home last night completely worn out after 10 hours in the classroom and had several hours of homework after that. My shoulder was still killing me so I didn’t get a lot of sleep and got up at 4 AM to review my in water demo skills again and was back at the training pool by 6 AM.

We spent seven hours in the pool today showing 24 “demonstration quality” skills that I will be using when I start teaching a class. There were no less than four instructors rating our performance and it was intense. We would demonstrate a skill and then receive a long list of feedback. It was mostly good but very very very specific. If your motions were too fast or you weren’t watching your other students while also maintaining perfect buoyancy then you got dinged. To make thing more interesting, the instructors throw curve balls on every skill. They give our fellow students ways to mess with you to see if you can manage it. You are going through your demo and everything is going great. Then your student is spitting out their regulator and grabbing at their mask. You have to deal with this hot mess while also constantly swiveling your head around to keep track of your other students and your assistant. You just can’t freak out. Keep breathing and solve the problem. I did several skills that I thought were picture perfect and then had to absorb 5 minutes of corrections that I had never thought of before. Listen, learn and correct. I can’t be defensive or hurt. I am here to learn something I don’t know.

After our pool skills were were all exhausted but we grabbed some lunch and went back into the classroom to re-learn rescue skills for an unresponsive diver. This is the real deal. If you have a diver that is unconscious in the water, you have to know all the steps to turn them over, remove their gear, give rescue breaths, tow them to the boat or shore and summon medical help. Then we gave our first classroom teaching demo using the PADI lesson plan method that includes a ten point checklist of items that they want you to hit on every lesson plan. Engage your students in interactive scenarios, state the objective, answer the question, reinforce the value, tie in training aids, sell dive travel and products, incorporate online tools, summarize and reinforce. Oh, and be fluid and engaging. Don’t forget that part!

It really is a great feeling though when I get to the end of these hard days. I’ve learned so much already and it is going great. I am nailing some skills that I wasn’t really good at before and really bonding with my fellow students. We are learning little tricks to help each other out and have made a pact to stick together for our instructor exam next week. If we can do the live stuff together for the PADI instructors that would be great. We are learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we lean into those to help each other out in subtle ways. It’s sweet to watch them help me out and I can return the favor. We feel the anxiety together and it’s what gets us through to the next skill. Maybe that is the best thing I’ve learned so far.

My Land and Sea

Today was our first classroom day and it was an intense one. We started off with a two hour timed dive theory exam that included a bunch of calculations. The questions are designed to test whether you understand the basics of the physics of diving. It’s helpful because it makes you think about the science behind everything but it isn’t what you necessarily use on a daily basis. You have to calculate the weight and pressure of sea and fresh water and how it affects lifting objects, air consumption and decompression sickness risks. I missed 15 out of 100 questions so I am solidly in the passing range but have a few things to dig into before the final instructor exam.

We got a lunch break and I headed over to Mi Tierra taqueria for some of the best food I’ve had in a long time. I had to muddle through my terrible Spanish but I would do anything for another plate of these delicious pastor tacos with grilled onions and hot peppers. I’ll be back there tomorrow for sure. After lunch, we spent the afternoon on some practical tests on how to handle difficult class situations. It isn’t going to be easy to try to manage all of these new divers in the water and this part of the course is training us on how to manage the chaos while keeping safety priority number one.

Daisy is on break

My fellow students are really friendly and helpful. We also have two other students that are already instructors but they are training to be master instructors and shadowing our leader through the process. It’s hard on all of us. We are all lovers of the outdoors and it’s tough to spend 12 hours a day in the classroom but it just shows how dedicated everyone is to diving. We will suffer through the paperwork and long lecture to learn more, be better divers and teachers. I am also dealing with a bad shoulder strain that I am hoping gets better before our water training. I fell pretty hard the other day getting out of the water and the weight of my tank fell onto my left shoulder when I crashed to the ground. It took a day to show up but boy when it did, it came in strong. I can’t lift my left arm without a lot of pain. Hoping the Advil and Biofreeze will pull this together soon!

Magical Neon Underwater Forests and a Paper Dragon

Neon Blue and Red Reefs in Monterey, California

I arrived in Monterey yesterday to start my dive instructor training and got my first taste of diving the California coast today. We hit Monastery Beach with a few dive buddies and it blew my mind. The reefs and kelp beds are stunning. Neon creatures are packed everywhere you look and the cold water and strong currents are challenging but fun. I was just in 87 degree water a week ago but here I am diving in the low 50s in a 7mm wetsuit that isn’t keeping me warm for very long. After about 30 minutes in the water, I am shaking. West coast diving is next level for sure and I am excited to face the challenge but I sure do miss diving in nothing but a rash guard and board shorts in Palm Beach.

Click the play button

I’m nervous about this course. I am excited to learn how to teach but it feels like a very heavy responsibility as well. Diving is serious business and putting new divers in the water is a big deal. I remember the fear on my first open water check out dive and my goal is to find a method of teaching that helps students feel at ease. It would be a tremendous honor to be able to introduce new friends to the 71% of our planet covered in ocean. It has changed my life for sure and I want to share it with everyone that will listen. It’s amazing down there. The quiet world of wild animals and beautiful flora are a refuge from our world above. My dive buddy today said that she forgot that there was a global pandemic today. That’s powerful.

The Paper Dragon

I am in good hands with PADI – the certification agency that I am taking the course with. When I set out all of the course materials on one place this afternoon it made me feel better. There are DVDs, encyclopedias, training guides, emergency first aid training and teaching slates that guide you through each step of the process. It is a paper dragon for sure but it gives me a lot of confidence in the process. I am comfortable with paper – I’m kind of an expert at creating complicated piles of it so this feels like home to me. The difference with this is that at the end of this long series of intense study and testing I hope to have the credentials to create wonderful experiences for new divers.

Before heading to my first class, I spent some time driving down the Pacific Coast Highway and enjoying the views of the ocean from Big Sur and it was as beautiful as I’ve heard. The views are stunning from the steep cliffs and I walked down to the beach and watched the marine layer fog roll in. I hope to share some more good pictures of the training with you. It’s going to be a lot of classroom time but I’ll send you just the good bits from the water.

Valley Sunrise

We got up early this morning to catch the sunrise in this beautiful valley we spent the night in. The stars were amazing when I poked my head out of the tent at 5 AM before the sun started to warm the skies. It was just at freezing when we got up and there was a thin layer of ice on the tent and the grass. We had such a hot day our first day and it was surprising how much colder it is over 10,000 feet. Chuck is not showing any signs of altitude sickness which is great but the last two days wore the poor guy out. He didn’t want to get out the warm sleeping bag this morning but he looked happy once we got going.

The first six miles of today was probably the most beautiful section of trail I’ve ever hiked. Lost Creek runs down the middle of the valley and it is so green and full of animals. We saw dozens of rabbits scurrying across the trail and also a juvenile moose off up the hill. I couldn’t get a good picture of her before she ran off but it was so cool to catch sight of her for a few seconds. When we came out of the valley we had a nice easy series of gentle climbs through aspen and then down into a wetlands area known for a lot of bear activity.

We didn’t see any bear but we saw lots of intimidating scratch marks on the aspen trunks. It was a clear sign that we needed to swiftly get through this section and make plenty of noise doing it. The Guthook comments talked about several aggressive bears that are out and about. I would love to see one but glad in the end that we made it through without any issues.

We spent about an hour at a nice water stop and chatted up a couple from Kansas City. They were battling some serious blisters and had been trying out several different pairs of shoes to see if they could get some relief. They were taking it slow with a lot of breaks to doctor up their feet but having a great time in between. We stopped around the 17 mile mark today and found a campsite on a ridge next to a cattle grazing area. Taco does not like all the mooing but it isn’t stopping him from getting some rest in the tent. While we were snoozing this afternoon, a huge golden retriever came pouncing into the tent and scared Taco half to death. They made peace in the field but it was quiet a few minutes of drama.

We have a short hike to the road tomorrow morning and then are going to try to hitch into Jefferson for a resupply. Depending on how long that takes we might need to cut tomorrow a little short on the miles. It’s nice to feel so free to do some really easy days out here. I know that Noodle is going to pick it up after we are done but I don’t think he minds the easier pace for the time being.😁

A Dog’s Hike

Taco coming into the Lost Creek Valley

This hike is all about Taco. I was pretty nervous about today since I’ve never hiked him above 10,000 feet and I watched him so carefully. We took nice long breaks every few miles and as we climbed into the higher elevations I made sure that he wasn’t exhibiting any signs of elevation sickness. He is doing great and I’m starting to relax into this a little. Hiking with a dog is a new ballgame. It is a blast but there is a lot of added mental stress making sure that they are staying safe, fed and rested. We are keeping the miles low but when we get into camp he heads directly for the tent and hogs my sleeping bag. He got dinner in bed tonight so he can maximize his rest time. He is so spoiled but so worth it.

We’ve met so many hikers already. I would say that I’ve met more in the two days that I’ve been on the CT than two months’ worth on the AT. We hiked a bit with Moe from Montrose, Colorado today and Noodle found us some puffball mushrooms and taught us how to open them to make sure they were edible. They were fantastic and had this wonderful earthy flavor that stayed with me for hours. Moe showed us a wildflower that you can use as antiseptic for cuts and that you can use aspen bark as sunscreen. I love learning about all these amazing backcountry tricks.

Moe and Low Branch hunting puffball mushrooms

The CT itself is so different from the AT. The Trail is so smooth and fast. I would have killed for just a mile of this in Pennsylvania. The views are huge and we are seeing a ton of wildlife. Mostly deer and birds but there are two very friendly chipmunks in camp tonight. They came right up to our dinner area and started poking around in our food bags. I am hoping that they haven’t figured out how to chew through a bear hang bag but I won’t be surprised if they can. They look like the smartest chipmunks I’ve ever met.

Hey there. Whatcha got in that bag there?

These light miles and slow pace is wonderful. I’m not sore at all and it is great to spend a few hours chatting in camp and lazily making dinner and organizing gear. We climb into our tents around 6:30 and read for a few hours. It’s heaven compared to the pace we were heading to Maine on. We are camping tonight in a beautiful valley next to a nice flowing stream. It is a cool 60 degrees and the sun is setting behind our tents. The chipmunks are singing their little cooing song or maybe it is their war cry. I don’t know what they have planned tonight but I expect it involves trying to get inside our tents.