Send My Big Butt Up A Mountain!

Backpacker Magazine is sponsoring a hike and climb up Mount Whitney and they’re organizing teams now.  They’ve opened up the selection process to readers and, naturally, I want to go.  One, it’s for charity.  And two, I love a good adventure.  And, three they are shamelessly open to social media pandering which is where you come in, fair readers.

Mount Whitney

I want to go.  I want to go so bad I’ve been practicing peeing in the yard in a snowsuit with a backpack on.  Trust me, it ain’t easy.  Especially since we’re averaging 90+ degree days in the shade.

But nothing worth doing is easy and I’m a long shot by far, so if you want to see and hear about me hauling my heavy hiney up the highest mountain in the lower 48, hit up the comment section and tell them why oh why they need me by their side, partly because I’ll make ’em look good.  The following is my entry. 

Breathtaking views, provided I’m still breathing….

Comment away, my trusty friends, comment away.

Backpacker Magazine Entry:

I live in Indiana.  The only jagged peaks I see on a daily basis are the towering stacks of my beloved Backpacker magazine I cuddle at night along with my precious, but now defunct, National Geographic Adventure magazines which I probably fondle a bit more than my husband.  

And here’s the other thing – in terms of the “wow” factor, my backpacking trip experience will pale in comparison to most of those who will enter.  And I’m probably not your typical target market.  I stand five foot tall, live amongst the Amish, telecommute from a desk job, am the middle-aged mother of two teenagers, and own more pairs of relaxed fit jeans than I care to admit.

Wait!  Don’t delete me yet!!!  Whew – that was close!  Ok, so why, you ask, should you consider me?

Don’t worry… I know where he lives…

Well, for starters, I am the poster child for every adventurous tomboy who finds herself stuck in the body of a responsible working mother.  We’re out there by the millions, picking up socks, fixing suppers, and puzzling over the giant holes in our husbands’ tidy whities.  Meanwhile, inside of us beat the hearts of our younger, freer, adventurous selves who now all too often only get to come out to play on the occasional weekend.  After the kiddies’ soccer practice, that is.

That can be tough to swallow because my dream is to hike, hike, hike – the AT, the PCT, anywhere – but while my present responsibilities keep me grounded in Indiana for the better part of the year, I AM out there, rain, shine or snow, on a daily basis with my 20-pound Sierra Club day pack on my back.  Granted, me hiking Hoosier hills with a 20-pound pack is not “scaling-Mt.-Whitney sexy,” but what I lack in exotic scenery, I make up for in shear miles.  And I’ve loved every corn-covered inch of it.

It’s no Mt. Whitney, but at least I did it!

Also, I work out daily, and I’m strong as an ox even if my muscles are covered with an extra layer of chub to keep me warm.  I ride bikes, I jog, I hike, I kayak, I camp, you name it – if it’s done outdoors, I want to do it.  As a farm kid born and raised, I’m no princess – I turned in my tiara for trekking poles decades ago.  Also, while I’m not fast, (I clearly won’t be the first one to the top), I’ll be the little-engine-that-could plugging away non-stop with my tree-trunk thighs of steel.  And, I’ll be smiling and laughing all the way because that’s my approach to life – live it, love it, laugh it off. 

So while my daily circumstances may be normal, my approach to life isn’t.  I don’t sit back watching the kiddies try all of the fun activities like so many other Hoosier mothers.  I climb the rock wall.  I ride the mechanical bull.  I scale the towering sand dune. I play in the waves.  And I want to hike to and conquer Mt.Whitney. 

See! This blog post DOES make my butt look big!

For more information on the Mount Whitney climb and the charity Big City Mountaineers, check out this link to Backpacker Magazine.  And tell ’em I sent you!

http://www.backpacker.com/climb-mt-whitney/destinations/16758

Robin “Thighs of Steel” Fritz

Me ready for an adventure

For the Love of Traveling Companions and Italian Punctuation

I have grown to love the sight of the words “Ca’ Elena” in my inbox.  Just the sight of that ending apostrophe sends shivers up my corn-fed, middle-aged spine.  There aren’t a great many words in the English language with that funny little punctuation mark at the end of them.  Sure, contractions like “can’t” and “won’t” and “don’t” and “shouldn’t” are dripping with them in an oh-so-negative fashion.  But put it on the very end of a word like ca’ and the exotic implications drip with the promise of foreign adventure on a grand scale.

Call me crazy, but I need more ending apostrophes in my life, and I don’t mean the plural possessive kind.

Enter Open House Spain.  As September draws near, it draws ever so closer with it my Venetian dream which is about to come true in spectacular fashion.  Mid month I will set off on my lovely adventure thanks to Open House Spain’s

The living room of fair Ca' Elena

The living room of fair Ca’ Elena

“Go With Oh” international travel blog writing competition.  As a runner up, I have been awarded the use of an apartment in Venice and thus begins my relationship with that Italian beauty, Ca’ Elena. 

For Ca’ Elena – which Google Translate claims in English is Ca’ Elena – is the delightful name of my home-away-from-home in the far eastern regions of the Cannaregio District, and it appears in the subject line of every email I get from Michele, the apartment manager, who I like to think of as my Italian match maker extraordinaire.  Even when I read her emails they carry an Italian accent.  I bet if I print them out they’ll smell like cheese.

The master bedroom where I may, on occassion, sleep.

The master bedroom where I may, on occassion, sleep.

Set in a quiet local neighborhood, Ca’ Elena is perched at dead end of Corte Paludo, a narrow street which runs east to west between two canals and which, no doubt, has never seen a car or truck in it’s life.  From what I can see from Google Earth, Ca’ Elena is a delightfully squatty building with a dusky red tiled roof, and sports a wide southern facing balcony between brick red walls to the west and ochre yellow walls to the east and which overlooks a small courtyard – begging the question, is that OUR balcony perhaps?

Oh, pinch me now, fair Ca’ Elena, pinch me now!

A quiet canal

Ca’ Elena’s caretaker, Michele, has graciously emailed me on several occasions regarding such necessities as what vaporetto to take from Marco Polo Airport and when and where to meet so she can walk us to the apartment.  While Venice is a maze in which I intend to very quickly get lost, doing so with luggage in tow is not on the bucket list.  And so Michele graciously emails me and I do cartwheels and my mind wanders off to the Bridge of Sighs and I make plans to cook pasta for dinner and every word I utter ends in “o” and I find myself ordering vividly colored sundresses on ModCloth while asking the children to bring me a gelato.

Words don't do justice

Words don’t do justice

And, as Ca’ Elena comes with not one bedroom but two, just joining me in my dream will be my bestie art buddies, Candy and Preston, because dreams are nothing without characters – and, trust me, Candy and Preston are characters – because characters come with stories and plot lines and emotions and opinions and visions that are the proverbial salt and pepper which season any experience worth having.

So let me introduce you to my sea-salt seasoning, Preston who comes with a black leather hat worn on all occasions and who likes his bourbon from the top shelf.  As a fellow Hoosier, he lives in the country where he and his brother, Alan, run a cooperative garden, raise free range chickens and sell organic eggs in between making art and smelling like men.

Preston at a student art show he organized for our local art guild

While Candy and I are artists of the tamer persuasions – paint, pastels, pencils, etc. – Preston, like any real man, is drawn to flame and fire and smoke.  As a child, he was drawn to pyrotechnics and once diverted a band of Blue Angels flying overhead who – while headed to a local air show – streaked over his house just moments after he set off a rather aggressive bottle rocket.  Fortunately for Preston, no charges were pressed.

A skillful glass artist, Preston has his sights set on Murano and, knowing him as I do, he will have talked his way to a working forge before we can say Dale Chihuly.  For Preston is a talker – which is why the charges were never pressed – and a natural story teller, and I can’t wait to watch him work his verbal magic in a city home to a foreign tongue.  Somehow, I know, he’ll make himself understood.  And won’t that be fun to watch?

Whereas Preston is our sea salt, Candy is my spicy cracked pepper with a taste for margaritas.  In a city of bland, Candy is a colorful bell tower, ringing out

Candy with her painting “Lady in Red”

with a deep laugh that gets me every time.  Hanging with Candy is instant cardio for the abs and I have the six-pack to prove it, though it’s hiding under an extra layer of fat to keep me warm.

Where I am short, Candy is tall, elegant, commanding.  While I sit in a home office working away while surrounded by cats, Candy is the executive director of a local museum and gets to do such exciting things as curate exhibits and plan art shows for her galleries and represent the museum on every non-profit board and city function one can think of.  When Candy speaks, people listen.  And when Candy jokes, I snort Malibu rum and Coke out my nose.

I’m planning my Venetian wardrobe carefully because I know walking in Candy’s shadow, I will have to work hard to keep up and be noticed.  She has a dressmaker’s dummy and doilies, and she’s not afraid to use them.  For the local pioneer fair which she organizes, Candy shows up looking like the love child of Daniel Boone and Sacajawea.  It says a lot that my 17-year-old daughter, Jackie, wants to BE like Candy.  Yeah, she’s that good.

So, it goes without saying that a good time will be had by all.  For how can it not when I will be joined by two creative talkers who find the humor in

Candy’s CEO parking space which Preston & I firebombed with marshmallow peeps…. it’s a long story… and involves liquor …

everything?  Whether we’re getting lost in the Dorsduoro or puzzling over an Italian menu or trying out a Turkish toilet, I will be assured of one thing – we will be living the dream together and making memories for a lifetime.  Let the games begin….

By Robin Winzenread Fritz

To start your own love affair with Ca’ Elena, check out the following link to Oh-Venice and their many beautiful apartments.  Good luck pulling yourself away from apartment shopping and getting back to work:

http://www.oh-venice.com/en/venice-apartments/ref_16176/

Follow this link for more information about “Go with Oh” and to read other winning entries:

http://www.gowithoh.com/blogger-competition/?utm_source=Social%2BMedia&utm_medium=twitter&utm_content=competition&utm_campaign=SherryOtt

Me ready for an adventure

Sun, Sand and the Kindness of Strangers

Normally the sight of a large man lifting a small child up by the ankles and shaking him vigorously over a black-topped parking lot would send me running for the nearest cop.  But in this instance, I not only smiled, I laughed. 

The brilliant blue waters of Lake Michigan

In Silver Lake, Michigan, with its thousands of acres of rolling, blowing sand dunes, I have a feeling this is a regular occurrence.

The small boy in question, like me, was waiting with his family for his turn to ride over the towering dunes at the Mac Wood’s Dune Rides.  As we sat in the parking lot awaiting our buggy-mobile, we couldn’t help but laugh as the father lifted his giggling son and literally shook the sand off of him.  The growing pile must have come from every possible nook and cranny – from inside ears, between toes, out of hair, cascading from shorts pockets – and his younger brother danced excitedly beside his father’s leg, shouting, “Do me!  Do me!” 

By the end of the afternoon, we would all need a good ankle shaking.

Silver Lake is one of those stunning places which should remind us just how transient geography can be.  Once home to a towering forest, the dunes of

Little Sable Point Lighthouse

Silver Lake hug the eastern shore of Lake Michigan near the point known throughout western Michigan as “The Narrows” just due north of the Little Sable Point lighthouse  These long ago towering forests proved to be too enticing to local lumber barons and they were logged out at the turn of the century.  With the loss of their tree cover and its deeply anchoring roots, the dunes began their northward march, moving steadily across the landscape anywhere from one to three feet per year, depending upon the winds blowing off the lake.  As a result, the actual lake at Silver Lake is half the size it was in the 1960s, and homes along the northern shore, if not physically relocated, are sold with an expiration date for, eventually, the dunes will win out and take over.

Despite the dunes’ voracious appetite for local real estate, the surrounding citizens have a love/love relationship with their sandy neighbors to the north that equates into untold numbers of dollars in tourism revenue.  These much

View from the lighthouse

needed dollars – for Michigan is a state still reeling from the Great Recession – pours in from eager visitors ready to stroll, hike, ride, and/or drive over every significant pile of sand that gets in their way.

Protected and managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the dunes are divided into three sections, with the southern third leased by Mac Wood’s for its thrilling rides and informative introductions to this amazing world, while the middle section is available for public pedestrian use.  The northern third is set aside as a public thrill ride tour de force in the form of off-road vehicular mayhem.  More on that in a minute.

Our adventure started off appropriately enough at Mac Wood’s where a

An itty bitty dune

chummy older woman with a quick wit narrated from behind the wheel of our 20-passenger dune buggy bus.  Pulling off of the public road into the protected area we first passed through forest similar to the now defunct trees that once covered the dunes.

Blasting through the forest, we entered the eerily beautiful transition zone between shade and sun where bleached out stumps from long dead pines pockmarked the landscape like so many abstract sculptures.  While taking pride in my ecological bent, I couldn’t help but imagine what lovely coffee table bases they would make with their butter smooth gray and white exteriors.

With a lead foot squarely planted on the gas pedal, our female Helio Castraneves flew up dune and down, around curves and along valley trails, stopping here and there to describe the forces in action.  As we had managed to pick a day windier than most, we also got a free exfoliation in the process, and by the time we stopped at a huge dune for a hike up, my face too was now butter smooth, though I had to dust my way through a layer of grit to get there.

It was then our turn to climb a dune, only we did so on foot – or rather, on hands and knees – for the behemoth in question quickly claimed knees, thighs and calves in the process.  As our lower extremities screamed for relief, my teenaged children, nieces and I reached the top where we enjoyed an other-worldly view.  Imagine, if you will, picking up a section of the Sahara desert – stark, blindingly bright, and severe – and dropping it in the middle of a green oasis of trees, blue lakes, and quaint suburbs.  Yeah, it’s like that.

Afterwards, the drive out was no less thrilling and we left Mac Woods with souvenirs in hand and sand in ears thinking that would be the highlight of our meeting with the mighty Silver Lake sand dunes.  But no, life has a funny way of saying, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” and for us, our adventure was only just beginning.

Steffie and Jackie take it to the edge.

Wanting to see more, we drove to the public access area and hiked to the edge between the pedestrian use portion of the dunes and the off-road vehicle (ORV) use area.  Standing there we watched as dirt bikes, sand rails, four-wheelers, SUVs and modified trucks climbed, skidded and flew over the small portion of dune we could see from our viewpoint in a valley of beige.  As the six of us stood there taking it all in, a bright red Jeep with no doors pulled up and a man with a Minnesota accent said, “Wanna take a ride?”

Did we?  Heck, YES we did!

Now normally I don’t climb willingly into the vans of strangers offering candy, but when the van is a tricked out Jeep and the candy comes in the form of towering dunes, I jump head first into the cargo hold.  My niece’s six-foot three inch boyfriend, Michael, climbed in first, along with my teenage son, Jordan, and my niece, Taylor.  As the rest of us watched, they drove off, disappearing in a sea of sand for the next 20 minutes.  When they finally returned, the grins etched on their faces punctuated my son’s cry of, “It was AWESOME!”

Next, I climbed in with my daughter, Jackie, and yet another niece, Stephanie.  St. Paul Tom introduced himself and we were off first on a trail ride

The dunes of Silver Lake

to get a lay of the land.  Hailing from across Lake Michigan, Tom was visiting with sand enthusiasts from all over the United States and Canada, and as a regular visitor to Silver Lake, he frequently offers introductory rides to persons standing on the sidelines.  BTW, if you meet Tom, don’t even try to offer him gas money.  Refusing my initial offer, he quickly scouted out, found and return the $10 spot I shoved in the console.

No, the reward, he said, comes in the form of smiles, laughs and – in our case – screams of joy as he introduces people to the thrills of riding the dunes.  For the first ten minutes, Tom drove us through the tamer portions of the ORV area, pointing out hidden marshes, fast, hard flats, and newbies with rented vehicles who he would no doubt be pulling out later that afternoon with his ever present tow strap.  Passing a giant dune, I commented on its height which elicited from St. Paul Tom a snicker.  “That’s nothing,” he said.  “Wait until you see what we’re going to climb.”  At that point I questioned his sanity and mine, but as I was strapped in with a three-point hitch it was too late to jump out now.  Rounding that dune, we approached the bottom of one that looked to be nearly vertical and Tom turned to us with a smile and asked, “So, do you want to get up it on the first try?”

Stephanie buried her head in her hands, laughed nervously and didn’t answer.  My daughter – ever the adventurer – shouted, “Make it interesting!”  And I replied, “What she said!”

Without so much as a running start, St. Paul Tom stomped on the gas pedal and we were off.  The modified Chevy 350 engine did its magic and it pulled us up, up, up to the crest – amid dozens of ear-piercing screams from front seat

Silhoutted pines on the shore of Lake Michigan

and back – where we seemed to teeter like Wiley Coyote in so many Saturday morning cartoons.  Tom stopped and we sat there, laughing and taking in the view.  Ahead of us lay dune after dune mirroring the rolling waves on Lake Michigan to our right.  It was, as my son had so rightly said, awesome.

St. Paul Tom proceeded to conquer dune after dune before depositing us sandy and spent back where we started.  It was an unplanned adventure that spoke to so many things I love about traveling – beautiful scenery, exciting adventures and proof that the world is filled with good people.  We thanked him over and over and walked away with memories that will last a lifetime.  And as for the sand, it’s still rolling out of my ears.

By Robin Winzenread Fritz

Be sure to check out my article on Travel Culture Magazine:

http://www.travelculturemag.com/silver-lake-dunes-and-the-kindness-of-strangers/

http://www.travelculturemag.com/

For more information on Silver Lake Dunes, Mac Woods or dune buggy rentals, follow these links below:

http://www.macwoodsdunerides.com/

http://www.silverlakebuggys.com/

http://www.parrotslanding.com/

http://www.thinkdunes.com/member-profile/2/163/

http://www.wildbillsatvs.com/