Feathered Aspen


Every Last Drop of Summer

Papa and Granny drove into town for Labor Day weekend.  It was great to see them, and we fit in quite a bit while they were here.

I’ve developed an instagram crush on @dramapothecary.  There’s this comedy sketch that Joshua watched last year where a couple are in their car.  They have kids in the backseat, and the wife says, “oh look! A new restuarant.”  They make meaningful eye contact and deadpan, “we will NEVER go there.”  Anyway, it’s become a bit of a saying for Joshua and myself, and in the case of Dram Apothecary, I hope it’s not true, but thus far, it has been.  The 21+ rule, while understandable, is a bit prohibitive.  Oh and the location.  Silver Plume?  You’d blink and miss it, just past Georgetown.

Anyway again, I knew they were in town for a little tea workshop at the DAM, so I convinced the family to make an outing.  It wasn’t much of a workshop, really.  Just a make-and-take sort of craft, but it was fun to creep on my instagram crush and get a back of tea.

Inside the art museum, when went to see the flower exhibit.  WHY I have not yet gone through that exhibit is beyond me.  It closes in October, and I MUST see it again at least once.  The paintings are absolutely stunning, and the one above was my favorite.  Perhaps because of this little explanation right next to it:

Mmmmm…  So lovely.

On Saturday, we drove up past Silver Plume to the trail head for Herman Lake.  It was a stiff uphill hike for about three miles, but when we got to the top, it was well worth it.  Above treeline, we got a generous view of mountain tops and this here lovely lake, which made an excellent backdrop for a rare family photo.

If you’ve ever tried to take a photo with little ones in the mix, you know just how many photos have to be taken in order to get everyone looking/with a half-smile on their face.  Really, if you’ve ever done this, you know the half-smile is really asking too much.

Which makes me wonder, really, why there are so few photos of this here man and me.  They’re a relative breeze to take, and he don’t hurt the eyes, if you know what I mean.

Lily and mommy.

This guy.  What a dad.  I really love him.  Did ya know he’s running 100 miles this weekend?  Yeah.  That’s what I said.

Lily was a good sport.  She got out and hiked quite a bit, and then she took a little snooze in the Poco.

This picture pretty much captures it all.  Lu follows Lily everywhere and tries to do whatever she’s doing.  Cuties.

Grr.  I’m just now realizing that someone never sent me the photo of all of us (Papa, Granny, Sarah, and the four of us), but just so you know, we all did that hike, and I was particularly amazed by Joette, who is a bit of a miracle woman.  She’s conquering her Lyme’s naturally, with plant-derived anti-biotics and a strictly Whole 30 diet since this past January.  For a woman who has battled pretty severe pain for the past three years, she was a rock star on that hike!

On Sunday, we knocked out a few projects around the house, taking advantage of a couple of extra hands with the kiddos.  The dresser you see above was a castoff from the previous owners at Sarah’s new house, so I nabbed it painted it pink, and soaked the gold handles in turpentine (which smells, but did the trick).

We moved things around and I can finally say that our home feels a bit more moved into 🙂

I found this super tall bookshelf at the thrift store for $10.  Once I painted it yellow (with much help from David’s fiance/my future super awesome sister-in-law, Melanie – yeah, that’s a whole ‘nother story), it made the perfect storage spot for toys.

We played a game of musical couches and moved this one in the photo above from the porch to the kid’s room, the one from the living room into the porch (pictured below), and the futon from the back porch into the living room.  Cuz we like to make things complicated.

Porch is still probably my favorite room in the house 🙂

We had been making do with one toilet since we moved in, and then on Friday our other toilet broke, so Joshua and Tim took out the old ones and installed the new ones…  For $23 each?!  I guess with a rebate, that’s what they came out to?  How is that possible?  Anyway, I thought this photo above was hysterical #menandcoffee


Here’s the futon in the living room.  And our hopelessly dirty rug.

We decided to go small with the futon in the living room so that we could fit in a small dining area.  And we finally managed to get a “W” up on the wall for little Lu.

This is a better pic of the dresser.

Mommy, take a picture of my white pigtails.  Yes ma’am.  On another note, this was the same morning after we had gone to the “soft” opening of Coda Coffee in Edgewater.  I got a FREE cold brew, and my mom got a FREE chai, and it was spicy and not too sweet, so pretty much the BEST MORNING EVER.

On another note, (drumroll) we withdrew Lily from preschool.  Yup.  After all that fanfare…  BUT I have to say that I have a lot of peace about the decision.  We debated for a good long while before we enrolled her and then decided to have a trial period.  After two weeks, we debated some more, and although it was a tough debate initially, I think we all arrived at a good decision.  We included Lily in the decision making process, and surprisingly (?), she seems to be pretty content with the decision too.  I’ll give you the deets some other time.

I guess the theme of September is squeezing out every last drop of Summer.  This past weekend, we drove up past Buena Vista and Mt Princeton Hot Springs to camp at Cascade Campground, just below the trail head for Mt Antero.  It was super beautiful and the aspens were just starting to turn.

Mt Antero is an old mining spot, and the summit is even known for having aquamarine and topaz just under the surface.  There are tons of old roads criss-crossing this high alpine area, and there were plenty of ATVs taking advantage of the trail.  Nevertheless, it was a gorgeous hike.

Sadly, I’m a total wimp when it comes to old forest service roads, so rather than encouraging Sarah to take her SUV up 2.6 miles of rough road, I made her chicken out and park at the bottom…  Which meant that a round trip to the top would be 15+ miles.  In addition, I had to keep a close watch on the time.  I figured that, at maximum, I had eight hours before my breasts would explode into massively painful mountains of mastitis (too much information????).

So we hiked our tails off.  And so did Ollie and Oscar.  And we hiked and we hiked and we hiked.  And then, less from a mile from the top, at roughly 13200 ft of elevation, I had to call it.  We weren’t going to make it.  Not if my boobs were going to make it back intact.  So we turned around 😦  I mean, we could TASTE the summit 😦 But I guess 13.5 miles and 3,400 ft of elevation gain round trip is nothing too shabby?

Joshua had some good bonding time with the girls while we were gone.  Doesn’t even look like they missed me, snots. When I got back to camp, we went for another little walk and then stopped to build a fairy castle with sticks and rocks and pinecones.  Lily finally forgave me for leaving her behind.  She asked me, “mommy, some day can I have a date with you and we can go up a mountain?”  Um, sure.  I mean, definitely.  I mean, thank you, dear child, for making all of my dreams come true.

Went for a run yesterday after the long hike on Saturday.  I was feeling pretty good after the hike but then my run humbled me.  It wasn’t pretty, folks.  No better than a fully pregnant slog, really.  But I saw these pretty puppies up there and decided to take a little break and smell the roses (harhar).

Would you just look at her?  I mean.


Today Lily drew a picture with two eyes, a nose, a mouth, and legs.  She also wrote “Hoil.”  Because, apparently, she can do that?  Who is this child?!

On the way home from the Children’s Museum, these two fell asleep holding hands.  Pshaw.  So cute.  Now if only they hadn’t fallen asleep on the bike ride home, they would have napped (which quite possibly would have been even cuter).


Adieu to Break

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For our last few days as free agents, Joshua, Lily, and I escaped up to the mountains near Leadville.  The air was cooler, and we were able to spend time with one another without distraction.  We stayed at the Mayqueen Campground on Turquoise Lake for three nights.

We left on Sunday, stopping once to feed Lily.  On the second half of the trip, I sat in the backseat with her and sang songs while she held my finger with a vice grip and concentrated hard on my face.  At the campsite, I donned a new baby carrier that I picked up on craigslist for 20 bucks.  We still love the Ergo, but we discovered that there are a few drawbacks to the carrier as Lily gets bigger.  Lily loves facing outwards, and the Ergo is pretty broad at the bottom, so it’s pretty uncomfortable for her hips to sit facing out.  In general, the Ergo doesn’t seemed to be designed to allow the baby’s limbs to stretch out, and often times, Lily ends up all curled up.  This works great when it’s cooler outside and when she was tiny – it’s definitely cozier – but I wanted something that would allow her to see out and stretch out.  I absolutely love the Bjorn, and I feel like she gets even more support than the Ergo.  On the other hand, Joshua thinks it’s hellishly uncomfortable.  Oh well.  For 20 bucks, I’m pleased 🙂

While I walked around with Lily, Joshua set up camp.  When he was done, he said, “Hey Babe, I’m off for my run.  I’ll be back in 6 or 7 hours.”

If you’ll recall Joshua’s earlier post, his first run of any notable distance was with me on our second date.  Now, he’s definitely beating me at my own game.  I love that he loves running, and I love that it makes him feel great, but as I stayed back with Lily, there’s a part of me that thinks, hey!  I was the runner!

So while Joshua ran 23 miles on the trails where he’ll be pacing K in the Leadville 100 in a month’s time, Lily and I went for a 4 or 5 mile walk along Turquoise Lake.  When we got back, we hung out at the camp to wait for Joshua.

Of course, Joshua was back a couple of hours earlier than he had expected.  He felt great, and after 2,000 ft of elevation gain, he had averaged 11 minute miles.  Also, his Merrell Trail gloves now have a silver dollar sized hole in them, and so do all of the socks he wears when he’s running in them, so he basically ran it barefoot.

We had cornbread and chili for dinner, and Joshua shivered as he held Lily.  Skinny boy.

That night, Lily was great, and the next morning, we had breakfast and went for a little walk along the water.  Heading into Leadville, we walked around the Victorian homes surrounding mainstreet, and then we treated ourselves to coffee and a couple of sandwiches at a cafe.

Back at camp, Joshua went for a 9 mile run (two long runs in a row are part of his ultra training schedule) while I read, napped, and nursed Lily, and afterwards, I went for a 5 mile run.

For dinner, we ate Falafel, and as it got dark, we went for another walk along the lake.  Including walks, Joshua covered 36 miles in a little over 24 hours.  Stud?  I think so.

The next morning, we ate our breakfast near the creek feeding into Turquoise Lake, and then we headed out on Timberline Trail.  Lily was cute as a button in her sun hat (sidenote:  why are baby hats impossible to find?  We had to safety pin this one to make it fit.), and she stayed awake for much of the hike, enjoying the trees and Timberline lake.

It was so nice to take a long walk in the mountains with my two favorite people 🙂  Joshua and I talked a blue streak like always, and Lily seemed content taking in the world.  9 miles later, we returned to camp happy and tired (and out of diapers, so Joshua had to make an emergency trip to Leadville).  We relaxed for the rest of the evening, and I finished another book by Ann Patchet.  I loved State of Wonder so much, I was trying to recreate the experience, but alas, The Magician’s Assistant isn’t nearly as good.

The next morning, Joshua packed up while I went on a run with Oscar.  When we got back, we all bundled into the car and then drove to Leadville for breakfast at the Tennessee Pass Cafe, where everyone gaped and cooed at our beautiful baby 🙂  Lily slept all the way through our drive home, and Joshua and I agreed that our little camping trip was the perfect way to finish out our summer break.


Lily Goes Camping

We finally mustered the bravery to go camping with Lily.  At three months, she and I have nursing down, and she sleeps well at night (if not through).

The P’s joined us for the trip, and we headed out to Green Mountain Reservoir near Silverthorne.  Joshua impressively packed seven souls and our all of our things into the little Hyundai, and we made the two hour trip out.  Lily did very well, except for the last 10 minutes.  K later noted that she has a very well developed set of lungs and vocal chords.  What a diplomat 🙂

Once we arrived, we set up the P’s tent to change into our swimsuits and covered ourselves with sunscreen.  Down by the water, Joshua and K finagled a shelter from the sun’s rays for Lily, and we all took turns in the water.  Just as I was getting out of the reservoir, the sky unleashed a serious downpour, and the P’s tent began to blow away.  I huddled in the car with Lily, while everyone else braved the gale-force winds to try and rescue the tent.  In swimsuits, K, Stacy, and Joshua wrestled with the enormous 7 person tent which had now become an enormous 7 person kite.  After a few minutes of being buffeted by tiny pieces of shale and debris, Stacy called it quits and huddled in the car with Lily and me.  Just as we had corralled the dogs in the car as well, one of the tent poles broke in three different places, spearing through the tent and rain fly, and collapsing the entire affair.  K and Joshua, still practically naked, proceeded to quickly shuttle all of our now damp things from the tent into the car.  When they were finally done, the wreckage of their tent lay in a puddle next to our car, and the seven us were inside, completely swamped with our stuff.

Finally, the rain let up.  After some debate, we decided to stay.  We pitched our four person tent just in time for it to start raining again.

Once inside the tent, we bundled up Lily, and the seven of us hunkered down for a few games of Boggle.  It eventually stopped raining, and we left Lily with Stacy while the rest of us went on a beautiful run into the surrounding hills ( I ran 5 miles!  The furthest yet!  AND I felt great 🙂 ).

That night, we had burritos in the dark and retired to the tent, somewhat apprehensive.  None of us had wagered on sharing a tent with seven – and one of them a three month old – but Lily was a rockstar.  Despite having stayed awake for approximately 13 hours that day, she slept well.  She woke up a few times in the night to feed, but she didn’t cry once, and the next morning, everyone reported a good night’s rest.

In the sunshine, we ate a breakfast of pancakes and enjoyed the view.  Stacy and I went for a swim in the cold water, and afterwards, we all piled in the car to go for hike on the opposite side of the reservoir.

The hike was a bit abbreviated at only 2 and a half miles, but it did not lack gain in elevation.  It took us an hour to climb a mile, at which point Lily announced that she was hot and hungry and had been stung by a fly.  K confessed that his foot hurt, so I felt relieved when we all decided to throw in the towel.  I love hiking, but I do not love hiking while Lily is screaming.  In New Orlean’s speak, it makes my nerves bad.

We arrived back at the campsite just in time for a deluge.  Once again, we piled into the tent.  And we stayed there for the rest of the afternoon and night.  That’s right.  We’re in a serious drought, Colorado is up in flames, and the first weekend we decide to go camping it pours for two days.

Anyway, it was still nice.  We played games, people read (I read ABC Zoo with Lily), and when it got late, Joshua and K braved the damp and chill to make us all dinner over the camp stove.  Lily had another great night, and this morning, we woke up to blue skies.

Once we had all packed up, we stopped in Silverthorne for a breakfast of Eggs Florentine and Huevos Rancheros, and we drove the whole way home without Lily crying once.  All in all, a lucky trip:  rain for Colorado and a relatively pain free introduction to camping with a three-month old.

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Buena Vista, Happy Birthday

Not sure how to place photos in text and in chronological order 🙂

Joshua leaning against our car between Buena Vista and Cottonwood Pass.

Sign outside of Buena Vista.

Tumbleweed 🙂

Drive-thru theater.

Road up to Cottonwood Pass. It got snowier as we went along, and we were glad to have our snowshoes.

Oscar and his grin 🙂

A view of South Park.

On Thursday morning, April 28, we loaded our little red Hyundai, turned the key in the ignition, and drove towards the mountains.

Three blocks down, we turned around and retrieved my library book, Plainsong, by Kent Haruf.

Once again, we hopped in the car, rolled the windows down, fired up some tunes, and then turned around – this time to retrieve extra blankets, just in case.

The third time we pulled away from the curb outside of our new home, I looked at the clock. It’s 9:30 AM, and I’m 25 years old. Scrolling through texts on my phone, I see happy birthday wishes from family and friends, and I think how bizarre it is to have been alive for a quarter of a century, a generation, two and a half decades. I feel old and young at the same time. My father-in-law, Tim, reminds me that I’m celebrating this birthday in the same state where I was born, and I pause to admire the symmetry.

My husband prides himself as a ‘notch-on-the-belt kind of guy.’ As we turn onto 285 heading out of the city, he catalogues my notches.

“You’ve gotten a degree, you’ve completed two years of teaching, gotten married, traveled for four months in South America, one month in Greece, and six months in Europe and India and Nepal. You have a cat and dog and a new job. You’ve lived in Minnesota, Washington, Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Colorado… Twice. I’d say you’ve cleaned up!”

I assess my resume from Joshua’s perspective, and I agree that it’s been an eventful 25 years, but at the same time, I’ve had moments when I have stopped to think about how quickly time moves and how scary it is that a moment lived is just as soon gone. I know that I’m far too young to talk about mortality with any real wisdom, but my two years in New Orleans showed me a certain fragility. Sometimes I’m afraid I won’t be able to fit everything in, and I’m terrified of wasting time. I sit in the doctor’s office, and I’ll think, “huh, I guess I’ll never be a doctor.” And although I’ve never particularly wanted to be a doctor, it makes me just a little bit sad.

But before I get too melancholy, Joshua asks me, “if you could choose a super power, what would it be?”

I think for a moment. Maybe I’d be like the fairies in Fern Gully and make things grow. Or maybe I would be a healer. That would be cool. But when I think about all the super-power TV shows, books, and movies, it strikes me that none of the heroes or villains got to choose their super-powers.

“I don’t know,” I say, “it seems like the better question would be: if you were born with a super power, what would it probably be?”

Joshua pauses for a moment. “Huh,” he says. In the silence that follows, we contemplate the immense profundity of my observation.

“I know what super power you would have,” I say.

Joshua would have the super power to intuit topography and blueprints before arrival. Although not a part of his super power, he would develop a talent for drawing topographic maps and blueprints over the years, and his skill as a strategist and memory for directions (abilities that he was born with but are not super powers – unless you consider the ability to remember 10 to 15 step directions a super power, which I guess is debatable) would make him a valuable asset in crime, war, and adventure. His weakness is an inability to sense biological matter in either landscapes or buildings before arrival, and he must be within 200 miles of the landscape or building to sense its unique topographic or blueprint layout.

Once I’ve told him, Joshua expresses initial disappointment that telekinesis passed him by, but ultimately, he agrees. “It just makes sense,” he says.

Ironically, Joshua decides that I would have the super power of healing. By touching others and concentrating, I was first able to heal basic scrapes and burns, and as I grew older and stronger, I became able to heal larger injuries. My weakness is that healing others drains me, and it takes time – sometimes even weeks – to recover from healing. That’s why I have to work out like “a chick being chased by a hamburger.” I have to keep up my strength.

As we drive, I keep a steady playlist of Adele, Mumford and Sons, Joni Mitchell, and Brandi Carlile coming through the speakers. I play all of my favorite songs (in no particular order):

I Miss You by Blink 182

Brick by Ben Folds Five

Paper Planes by MIA

Maps by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Dreams by The Cranberries

High and Dry by Radiohead

Hide and Seek by Imogene Heap

De Perros Amores by Control Machete

Beautiful World by Colin Hay

Dixon’s Girl by Dessa

Skinny Love and Blood Bank by Bon Iver

Lay Lady Lay by Bob Dylan

Anthems for a 17 Year Old Girl by Broken Social Scene

Yellow by Coldplay

Heavenly Day by Patty Griffin

Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes

Eyes by Rogue Wave

Half Acre by Hem

Orange Sky by Alexi Murdoch

Pink Moon by Nick Drake

The Freshman by The Verve Pipe

Re-Offender by Travis

Kids by MGMT

Can’t Stop by The Red Hot Chili Peppers

Push by Matchbox 20

Desperately Wanting by Better than Ezra

Joshua has heard this same playlist over and over, but since it’s my birthday, he applauds each choice and sings along.

The road winds through passes and bends, and we steadily climb higher. Smooth hills covered in brush make way for steeper hills covered in evergreens. Two hours into our drive, we pull over to look out over South Park, a wide high-alpine plain surrounded by gorgeous snow-capped mountains, blue skies and white, pillowy clouds.

We get out to stretch our legs, and we look so good doing it, three more cars pull in to do the same. One couple is from Baton Rouge, and when we reveal that we lived and taught for two years in New Orleans, they look at us as though they think we might be lying. We tell them that our cat’s name is Thibodeaux, and they smile easily. We aren’t lying after all. The man looks out at the mountains and takes a deep breath. “Sure don’t look like Louisiana, does it?”

We agree that it doesn’t and take a moment to treasure our good fortune.

Back on the road, Joshua sings the jingle to South Park all the way to Fairplay. I entice him into doing Lesson 15 from Pimsleur, and together, we practice telling la Senora Gomez about how we want to eat and drink in the Hotel Bolivar, but we only have 73 pesos. Setenta y tres pesos. No es demasiado. Is it late or early? Tarde o temprano? Puedo pagarlo. From the back of the car, Oscar tilts his head from side to side, as if he were watching a tennis match.

We cross the pass into the Arkansas Valley shortly after noon. Driving through Buena Vista, we admire the lovely, old painted homes and resolve to explore Old Town on our way back.

Heading up Cottonwood Pass, we wonder at the enormous log cabins that dot the hillside. Who are these people, and how did they make their money? If the rich are only 10 percent of the population, they sure do have a lot of homes in Colorado.

A few miles up the road, we reach an opened gate. A sign informs travelers that the pass is closed, but if you should be fool-brained enough to try it anyway, your rescue and the rescue of your vehicle shall be at your own expense.

We drive on another 200 yards, and where the snow covers the blacktop, we stop and park. We make ourselves a couple of sandwiches and eat, sitting on our crazy creeks, gazing up into the mountains. The sun is shining.

Just as we’re about to set off on our snowshoes, a young man pulls up in a pickup. He’s outfitted with heavy winter appliances, and he asks us if we think the pass is possible. We shrug and say we would never try it in our little tin can of a car. He nods, revs the engine, and surmounts about two feet of snow, fishtailing for a hundred yards before he slides into reverse and whips back down the hill onto hard pavement. He doesn’t look over at us as he passes by.

For the next three hours, we snowshoe up Cottonwood Pass. For the first couple of miles, we walk in the middle of the road. It’s covered in deep snow, and all around us, peaks meet blue sky. Oscar runs himself ragged, scouting up ahead and racing back to check on us. He’s grinning.

After a couple of miles on the road, we turn off on a trail to Ptarmigan Lake. The snow is so deep here that we can hardly guess where the trail might be, but with luck, we find a bridge covered in snow, and we follow the gaps in the trees. Oscar bounds first with his front feet and then wriggles his hind feet up and out. Eventually, he gives up and lets us break the trail. It’s deep, and our hearts are racing from the exertion and elevation.

At an hour and a half, we turn around and make our way back. Again, Oscar races on ahead to show us the way.

Back at the car, we shed our soaking socks (Joshua resolves to purchase gators) and load back into the car. We drive back down the mountain, and just before we get back into town, we stop to take photos of an old drive-in theater. The wind is blowing hard, and tumbleweed blows across the field.

In Buena Vista, we hop out of the car and walk down Main Street. Cute cafes and gift shops have hours suited to tourists, and they’re all closed now. At the end of mainstreet, I spy an antique store that I might like to browse through, but the owner is closing up for the day. Outside, he has a chrome and pink formica dining table that I salivate over while he tells us that the wind just stopped blowing through the valley last weekend, and a good thing, too. The record low this winter was 36 below in February.

Main Street is short, and before we know it, we’re back in the car, heading South out of town. We pass river outfitters and follow the Arkansas River down to Ruby Mountain Campground. It’s empty, and we set up camp near the river.

As the late afternoon sun warms the tent, Oscar and I lay inside as Joshua makes dinner. I’m nearing the end of The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and as with most good books, it’s hard to put down when I’m less than 100 pages from the end.

The sun dips below the mountains in the west, and Joshua announces that dinner is served. Pasta with an artichoke and basil pesto that Joshua had the forethought to whip up last night, before we left.

Stuffed, we crawl into the tent and play a couple of games of boggle. Joshua beats me, as usual, and before we snuggle into our sleeping bags, we wrap Oscar in a couple of blankets. We read for a little while with headlamps, and then we fall asleep to the sound of the river.


Strathdon to Grantown-on-Spey to Muir of Ord

August 30, 2010

This morning, we woke up and at apples and shortbread for breakfast. Once we had broken camp, we headed into Grantown-on-Spey. Finding a Co-operative, we stopped to buy food for lunch, and a little ways down the road, we paused to load up on drinking water at a public restroom. Over the night, Joshua had the genius idea to make our own waterproof socks. So, sitting on the steps of the public toilets, we wrapped our feet in the extra plastic bags he had picked up at the Co-op, and then we jammed our plastic feet into our socks. Viola! Waterproof socks!

With rustling feet, we pedaled out of Grantown-on-Spey and onto one of my favorite stretches of road so far. As we cycled, the clouds began to part, and out of the Northeast, we saw blue sky. All around us, heather spread along diamond-sized lochs and over softly rolling hills. Patches of trees that grew out of mossy blankets cropped up in the valleys, and gradually, we descended into the woodlands.

At 1 PM, we stopped for lunch. Sitting on a stone fence overlooking a country valley, we basked in the sun. That’s right. The weather had gotten better and better, until finally, it was almost warm. With blue skies stretching on for as far as the eye could see and the sun warming our toes, we fell in love with Scotland. It really is beautiful.

Once we had eaten our strawberries, spiced couscous, homous, oatcakes, and cookies, we hopped back on our bikes and cycled through Culloden Forest and the suburbs of Inverness. Once again following cycle route number 1, we entered Inverness and followed cobblestone streets into the city center.

Parking our bikes in the heart of the shopping district, we locked up and headed in search of an outdoor store. It took some doing, but after a little comparison shopping in three different outdoor stores, we found what we were looking for at the cheapest prices. The two of us purchased silk liners for our sleeping bags at Black’s (we did our last-minute shopping for India in Inverness because it’s the last major city we’ll be in before leave… We won’t have any time in London.), and then at Sports Direct, we found a cheap little backpack for day trips. For me, we purchased a pair of running shoes (mine now smell so bad we have to place them further than 20 feet away from the tent), spandex pants, and a wicking tank top. Sports Direct was having a mega clearance sale, so everything was dirt cheap.

In Marks and Spencers, we loaded up on food for dinner and breakfast, and when we were done, we got back in the saddle. In our cycling guide book, they have us cycling 70 miles tomorrow, but since the weather was so beautiful, we decided to go a little farther. The outskirts of Inverness look a lot like Edinburgh, and for ten miles, we skirted the Bay of Moray. In Beauly, we passed the last of the rush hour traffic, and a couple miles past Muir of Ord, we found a little path that led to an ideal campsite.

Once we had set up camp, I warmed up Cream of Asparagus Soup which we ate with big hunks of baguette. For dessert, we had a couple of very ripe Nectarines and Banoffee Pie. (Catherine and Donal – Joshua has been craving this ever since we left St. Helen’s) Happy and full, we crawled inside the tent.

August 29, 2010

I’m at the top of Lecht Pass. The wind howling through the pass is so strong, I have to lean forward in order not to be blown over. The strongest gusts force me to stop, brace my bike, and close my eyes so that the grit from the road doesn’t fly into them. It’s freezing cold, and as I begin to push my bike downhill, I move my feet like senseless blocks of ice. Looking into the sky, dark, heavy clouds are rolling in, and I know that if it starts to rain, I will completely loose it. I’ll start weeping, and then my tears will probably freeze to my cheeks.

Earlier that morning – or, actually, in the middle of the night – the two of us had woken up to the wind blowing the side of our tent into my face. Our little Mountain Hardware tent is made of pretty sturdy stuff, and although our tent poles bowed and the tent felt a little bit like an anti-gravity simulator, it did not break. The tents around us, however, weren’t quite so lucky. At about 8 AM, Joshua and I were watching as the lashing rain and gusts of wind threatened our little safe harbour when, all of a sudden, a big, black thing hit the side of our tent and then flew all the way over it. That, my friend, was the tent next store. When Joshua looked outside to see how our other neighbors were doing, he discovered that we were alone. The nine other tents that had been pitched around us were gone. The little black tent that had taken flight was upside down and up against a fence, and another was poking out of the trash can, its poles broken like brittle bones, and its fly flapping sadly in the wind.

As soon as I woke up to the wind smothering my face, I pretty much assumed that we wouldn’t be biking. The rain was fierce, and even though I was wearing all of my clothes and I was cinched into my sleeping bag tightly, I was still cold. All morning, we laid awake, looking up at the dripping ceiling and worrying over the billowing tarp. Just after 11, Joshua poked his head out again and announced that he saw blue sky. The rain had abated for a few minutes, and he was headed for the grocery shop to see if they had a forecast and to buy a little food to last for the day.

When Joshua returned, he asked me if I thought we should stay or go; the people at the grocery shop hadn’t known the forecast, but they said they thought the week was supposed to get better. I told him that I had assumed we would stay, but that I was open to ideas. He dithered for a while, looking at the sky to the Northeast, and then he decided we should go. We might be facing a massive headwind, but even if we just went 5 miles an hour, we would make it to Grantown-on-Spey within 6 hours.

That seemed reasonable to me, so we leapt into action and broke down the sight. Within 40 minutes, we were already on our way. Unfortunately, our clear skies had succumbed to gloom, and within minutes, it began to rain. Thankfully, the wind that had decimated our little tent village was not quite as strong near the tree-line road, and we covered the first 10 miles from Strathdon to Cargraff relatively quickly. At the base of Lecht Pass, the rain had cleared, and the wind didn’t feel particularly strong at all.

Which was good, because Lecht Pass looked like a vertical face. As soon as we saw the climb out of Cargraff, we had to dismount. We could barely cycle 10 feet. Pushing our bikes up the road, we began to sweat. We stopped every 200 yards or so to catch our breath, and then we continued forward. At the top of the first section, we paused to look South. The view was spectacular; Moors surrounded the entire valley, and in the distance, white-washed Cargraff Castle crowned an impossibly green hillside. Hopping back on our bikes, we hoped the worst was over.

It so, so wasn’t. Traveling North through Lecht Pass, you encounter three major steep climbs. The first is the shortest. By the time we had made it to the third major climb, the wind was blowing so hard that every muscle in my body was braced for impact. Feeling panicky, we stopped at the ski village, but when we realized that the wind was not about to die down and the skies to the North did not look any more promising, we continued forward. A couple of times, we tried to get back on our bikes, but the wind was blowing so hard, we were worried it would blow us right over.

So we walked down Lecht Pass. Finally, after almost 5 miles of walking our bikes, we turned a corner, and some tree cover made it possible for us to ride. Descending into Tomountil, our feet were killing us. After the rain and then the wind, they were completely frozen. Joshua stopped to put socks on, but of course, the wind blew right through. In Tomountil, we stopped at the Tourist Office to see if they knew the weather forecast. When I asked, the girl behind the desk smiled and nodded. Then, without looking at her computer screen or using the aid of any printed information, she looked off into the distance and said, “rain. They said it’s going to rain for the rest of the week. We should be getting some frost in the mornings, too.” When I asked her if she had heard anything about the wind, she shook her head. “No,” she said, “but there usually isn’t any wind if there’s frost.” Hmmm

Back outside, I told Joshua that things weren’t looking hopeful. He told me that he was starting to hate Scotland. I looked up at the still threatening sky and silently apologized. I wouldn’t want to make it any angrier than it already is.

Biking the last 14 miles to Grantown on Spey, we hit two more massive hills. Thankfully, these hills weren’t quite as massive as those on Lecht, and we were able to stay in our saddles and sweat through them. Finally, descending through Moors and valleys with rivers and trees on either side, we passed the round about before Grantown-on-Spey. Pausing on the other side, Joshua thought he spied a good spot to camp, and we ended up pitching our tent right next to the round about, above a little park with wooden bike jumps.

Once we had set up camp, we boiled some water for tea and wolfed down a pack of oatcakes, a brick of cheese, apples, crisps, and shortbread fingers. Inside the tent, we read for a bit (Joshua’s reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and I’m reading the third book in the trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest… They are AMAZING.), hoping our frozen feet might begin to warm up, and then when Joshua’s headlamp went out, we decided to go to sleep.


Lonach Gathering

August 28, 2010

Imagine waking up to the sound of a lone bagpipe. It’s 6 o’clock in the morning, and you’ve spent the night camping in the midst of the Cairngorm Mountains, the Scottish Highlands. As you open your eyes, you hear its mournful call. The music grows quieter as the piper walks on his way, but you can still hear his piercing and haunting tune. You fall back asleep, listening to the sweet patter of rain on the fly of your tent. Today is the Lonach Gathering, but the Clansmen don’t begin to march until 8 o’clock. As the sun flirts with storm clouds, you catch another hour of sleep.

It would be a mistake to come to Scotland for its weather. It’s mostly unpredictable, but the one thing you can predict is that it will rain. Hard. Last night, our tent notified us that it has grown old and its ready to retire. It did so by springing leaks along all its seams. As squalls passed through the valley, we braced ourselves for the next deluge, hoping that our sleeping bags wouldn’t be completely drenched by morning. Each time the rain let up, we could hear the stream outside. It runs past boulders and pebbles, creating a rushing, busy sound. I imagined that it grew louder as the night wore on. Perhaps it wasn’t only my imagination.

At a quarter to 8, Joshua and I got out of the tent and ate our yoghurt and granola mixer on the way to the center of the village. Since we were already wearing every item of clothing that we own, we did not have to stop and change. Near the Spar, all the Clansmen and village people were gathered around. The Clansmen wore their rigs: kilts, knee high stockings with felt flashers, vests, ties, woolen double breasted jackets, sporrans, and pins with ribbons and medals. On their heads, they wore jaunty berets or big feather ensembles, and in their arms, they carried bagpipes, drums, flags, and spears. Slowly, they began lining up in formation, and once they had lined themselves in perfect succession, they began to march and to play. They puffed out their chests, looked resolutely forward, and marched past all of us. It was poignant and proud, and somehow, it almost felt like an intrusion to be watching them. They do not do this for the spectacle or for tourists. Yes, they’ve shined their buttons, pressed their pleats, and tucked new feathers into their caps, but they do this because they have been doing this for nearly 200 years. It’s just what they do. On the last Saturday of every August, they march for 8 miles playing their bagpipes and drums, and along the way, they stop for drams of whiskey. At the back of the march, a horse-drawn cart is manned by two medical professionals. This is serious business, and it’s no time to make resolutions regarding sobriety.

Just before the Clansmen began marching, Joshua and I had found a position on the bridge in the sun. Before we had left the tent, I had tucked the arty calling card for our Tandem Friend in my pocket. Luckily, he saw us as he and his wife were crossing the bridge. When he said hello, I stopped him so I could give him my thanks and the arty calling card. We exchanged names, and we followed Pascal and Val to their favorite spot to watch the Clansmen march. Having seen the gathering many times, Pascal and Val confided that this was the best part. As we watched the men pass, Joshua took pictures, and we all regarded them with a measure of reverence. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be part of a cultural history like that? Later, Joshua told me that it made him a little bit sad to think that we didn’t have a ready made community with its own food culture, traditions, and costume. It would be nice to be so connected to your history, to march with your community, and to be proud of where you come from and who you are. (Sure, I have pioneer roots, and I grew up in Mora with Nordic crafts, lefse, and the Vasaloppet… From Mandy, I got to partake in Sukkot, Shabbat, and many other facets of Judaism, but with both, I always sort of felt like an imposter. I’m not a Swede. I’m not a Jew. I’m an American mut of German, Irish, Danish, Norwegian, and whatever else blood. My mom’s Catholic, and so was was my dad, but my mom’s family is Missouri Synod, and Mandy, my brother, and my sister are Jewish. I can’t claim one, and I’m not sure how to claim them all.)

Pascal and Val wandered back home or maybe to the Gathering, and Joshua and I followed the Clansmen. Just 200 meters up the road, they stopped for their first dram of Whiskey at the Strathdon Schoolhouse, and after they reassembled and left, we went back to the tent. Trying to avoid the rain, we huddled inside the tent and read for a couple hours until the Games got underway. Once again emerging in all of our clothing, we made our way into the grounds. Wandering through artisan stalls, we browsed through hand-crafted Sporrans, kilts, and almost anything you can imagine in plaid. Joshua splurged on a bottle of limited edition Lonach Highland Whiskey, but I didn’t find anything I really wanted. The hair pieces with plaid roses and feathers were attractive, but 20 pounds? I’ll make them myself.

Making our way to the covered bleachers, we passed men tossing cabers, hurling hammers, and heaving great big heavy balls. They were all dressed in kilts, and although it couldn’t have been more than 50 degrees, they were all wearing Under Armor t-shirts on top. Those who were most successful at tossing great heavy objects were no lightweights themselves, and I wondered what genetic combination had produced such stocky, strong Scots. I’m guessing a process of natural selection by way of hard winters, big ass hills, and frequent battles, coupled with a Viking and Celtic bloodline.

Under cover, we showed our swanky orange passes and made our way to H28 and H29. Girls of all ages sat on the field in front of us, dressed in their plaid and velvet costumes with long, argyle socks and delicate, lace up dancing shoes. One by one, they hunched over and ran through the rain to a covered stage where they leapt up on their toes and bounced until I was tired just looking at them. In particular, I admired their gracefully raised arms, elegantly flexed fingers, and pointed toes. To their left, a group of fit young men pranced and high-kicked their way up and down the field. Their nylon sweatsuits swished as they moved their arms like windmills and each of them stretched, preening in front of their audience.

I felt inspired. Some of the Games are open: namely, the Hill Race. I haven’t run a race since I was 18, but I decided that I needed to seize the moment and join Scots as they forged their way up a mountain. The registration was free, and the woman at the desk told me to return to the information tent just before 3. I wrote down my name, and the woman handed me an adhesive backed number, 103.

Back under the tent, I felt the familiar jitters of pre-race anxiety. In high school, I had always had a love-hate relationship with racing. Before the race, I hated it. I always got so nervous, and I would sit in class before our team left, just shuddering and quaking with nervousness. As we warmed up, I’d feel nauseous, and just before the gun would go off, I’d be a wreck.

But as soon as we crossed the start line, I knew my job. The nervousness disappeared, and I got my game face on. I was never the fastest, but I worked really, really hard, and by my senior year, I was pretty good. Running for Varsity on a State-ranked team, I finally broke the major goal I had set for myself 6 years prior: 4 kilometers in under 16 minutes. It’s still one of my proudest accomplishments, and I was lucky enough to have done it twice: at Conferences and then at Sections. I was a good runner, and I loved it, but I never had the speed to be a real contender. Now, when I run, I like a slow, steady 10 minute pace that I can do forever. I don’t race. I hate feeling pressured to be good at what I love and what I do for myself.

That said, there is a certain something that you can only get from being good. From being better than the rest 🙂

For the next couple of hours, we watched the strapping highlanders toss enormous things that chewed up the beautifully manicured lawn. Bagpipes played, and dancers danced. Behind us, an extremely famous man received visitors and gifts, and we tried to figure out who he was. No one we recognized. All around us, posh Scots dressed in tweed, woollen jackets, kilts, and plaid broke out their extensive picnic baskets, bags and briefcases (I shit you not), and got down to the serious business of eating sarnies, drinking whisky, and munching on pot pies and haggis. We were way out of our league.

For lunch, we walked over to the village shop and bought cheese and pickle sandwiches with spicy crisps. Back at the tent, I changed into my running shorts and my new flashy windbreaker. I donned my soaked running shoes, and then we made our way back to our seats.

At a quarter to 3, I couldn’t stand the anticipation any longer. I stripped out of my extra layers right in front of the fancy man and slapped my adhesive number on the front of my windbreaker. Scooping my hair into a ponytail, I kissed Joshua goodbye and headed for the Information tent. I looked around at the competition. Spying some really old and really young Scots, I felt somewhat assured that I wouldn’t be the very last to cross the finish line. Gillian, a school teacher from a village 20 miles South came up and introduced herself, wanting to know how long the race was. I told her that, as far as I knew, the race was 5 miles. It started in the Games ring, it went uphill, it went downhill, and then it ended back in the Games ring. We chatted for a little bit, and she explained that she had decided to begin running hill races this year. It was her intention to ‘not age gracefully.’ A cyclist, she was excited to find that Joshua and I are going from end to end, and she warned us that tomorrow would not be easy. Lecht Pass, she says, is a killer.

At 3, the Clansmen preceded us into the Games ring, and they marched around the circle, heralding the start of the Hill Race. The runners – about 70 in all – entered the arena behind them, and gathering behind the start line, we stilled for our cue.

I never start fast. I think I probably even start too slow on principle. I’m not a rookie, and I’m not about to sprint out of the box just to show off. As a result, I think I exited the arena perilously close to last.

That all changed as we turned the corner and met a wall. Apparently, this was the vertical face that they expected us to run up. Well. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I think I may have missed my calling. I plowed up that hill, passing more than half of the runners on my way, most of them had slowed to a belaboured walk. At the top, I kept passing, and when we hit our next uppy bit, I kept running.

The term Hill Race indicates that there will be a hill. And there was. I ran up a very big hill for 2.5 miles, and when I got to the top, I ran back down 2.5 miles over long grass, large tree roots, wet moss, and scrabbly gravel. At the top, I had passed all but one woman that I could see, and on the way down, four or five of them passed me. It was exhilarating discovering that I’m a bad-ass uphills, and even when a few people passed me going back down, I still gave it my all. At the bottom, I passed by Joshua who was cheering me on, and in the Games ring, I kicked it into the finish line.

It was all pretty informal, but here’s the rough data: it was about 5 miles, there were about 70 people, there were less than 10 women in front of me, and I finished the race at around 33 minutes. (I seriously didn’t even know I still had that kind of speed in me!) I finished with my legs shaking and red, and my lungs burning that particular I-just-ran-a-race burn. It was great. Joshua was proud of me.

Back at our seats, the famous man had left, and I told Joshua that Gillan had informed me that he was Billy Connelly (or something) he’s an important Scottish comedian and actor, and he lives just to the West of Strathdon. Apparently, he’s a big deal. We settled in, and I redressed to ward off the chill. In the arena, men were still tossing things and fussing with their kilts, and little girls were still bouncing on their toes, hopping over swords, and arching their arms like ballerinas. While we sat, I made Joshua debrief the race with me. He laughed at my excited, competitive streak.

The rain came and went, and we watched as little children strained at tug-of-war and pillow fights atop of logs. I went to buy us a tray of salt and vinegar chips, and when I got back, the Clansmen circumnavigated the arena one last time. Although they were wet and probably a little bit drunk from all of the whisky, they marched in file, puffing out their chests, and beating on their bagpipes and drums. We stayed until the end to watch them take down the Scottish flag, and we listened as the last bagpipe blew. The sun came out at last, and their long shadows stretched across the field while their spears glinted in the light.

On our way back to the tent, we stopped to pick up some curry sauce for dinner. While I hopped in the tent to avoid the incoming rain, my valiant husband braved the drizzle to cook up some rice and serve it with the curry sauce. It was pretty good, and we wolfed it down just in time to avoid the real down pour. Now we’re inside, hoping – like last night – we won’t drown under the the leaks of our little old tent. Outside, bagpipes are still playing. Drummers are still drumming. It’s raining, and the whole caravan park is busy getting drunk.

August 27, 2010

There’s something to be said for dry clothing, a shower, and a closely mown field to pitch your tent in, and although the Braemar Caravaning Club has a bit of duck problem – specifically, there are dozens of ducks and they all walk around, honking loudly at all hours – I still slept blissfully. Clean. Warm. Comfortable.

In the morning, we were in no rush to get moving. For once, we were unafraid that someone would come up to the tent and tell us to get the hell off their property. Not that they would; the Scots are probably the nicest people on Earth. Anyway, we relished our comfort, and we read until 10.

When we finally started to break down camp, our caravan neighbor jumped out as soon as he saw signs of stirring life. Marching purposefully towards us, he offered us a cup of tea, a mug of hot chocolate… Coffee? Biscuits? Overwhelmed, we thanked him and told him we were fine, but as he persisted, we felt kind of bad NOT taking something. What’s the protocol here? How can we receive such generosity and hospitality gracefully, expressing our full thanks? It’s a bit overwhelming, and we come away amazed every time, saying the same line over and over again: ‘the Scots are probably the nicest people on Earth.

Before we left Braemar, we stopped at the local shop to stock up on farm cheese, crisps, and oat cakes. Cycling through the valley, we admired the coniferous forests lining the road, the old stone castles, and a beautiful river that rushed like root beer alongside us. Minus the hills, the scenery is actually quite similar to the woods of Minnesota or Wisconsin, but just when we start to think things look familiar, we see a huge purple Moor rising in the distance.

After about 10 miles of easy cycling on the A93, we took a left onto a smaller B road. We immediately began climbing up. In our cycling guide, they print elevation charts for particularly demanding routes. Today’s route was supposed to run from Braemar to Grantown-on-Spey, but we’re cutting it short to go to Strathdon, the site of the Lonach Gathering. The full route would have been nearly 50 miles, and the elevation chart looks like one hilly spike after another. Fortunately, today we’re only doing 3 of the 7 spikes.

Climbing through woods and brambles with raspberries and blackberries growing, we headed up into the Highlands once again. At one point, a man slowed his car to a crawl, rolled down his window, and asked us if we knew the name of the hill we were climbing. We said no, and he told us, in thick Scottish accent, that it was called something ‘-yaddick‘ and that the next hill we were going to climb on this stretch of road was something else ‘-yaddick.’ Wishing us good luck, he sped on, and we continued up.

Once we passed the treeline, we the road leveled out for a bit, and spying thunderclouds in the distance, we decided to take advantage of sunshine and eat our lunch. Soaking up a spectacular view of stripy, purple heathered Moor (they burn stripes into the heather to encourage grouse), we ate our lunch in awe. About midway through, our friend, the Scottish informant, stopped on his way back and told us that we weren’t aloud to stop here. The summit was for a while yet, and he didn’t want us to get disheartened and give up. We explained that we were opting for a fair weather lunch, and that – when it comes to hills – we’re made of sterner stuff. He asked us where we had come from and where we were going, and he recommended a couple of shops to stop at along our way.

I think sometimes environmentalist and local policies get stigmatised as leftist, liberal agendas (which isn’t a bad thing as far as I’m concerned), but in Scotland, it’s not about who’s going to get elected or ‘those damned tree-huggers.’ It seems like whether you’re young or old, conservative or liberal, you love the land you grew up on. You don’t tolerate pollution. You can’t stand those damned chain shops, and you support your neighbor because that’s the good and honest thing to do. For our lunch, we didn’t have to hunt for non-GMO, locally grown, locally made food. It’s what’s available. (On a side note, you should really look into oatcakes. They’re phenomenal.)

Back on the road again, we passed through one of the prettiest stretches of road so far. Sure, it was very, very hilly, but it was breathtaking. Around every corner and up every crest, the land swept out before us in a treeless, purple hilly horizon. Sheep munched on grass in the glen, and little stone buildings perched next to the river, shielded by conifers. Up in the hills, there was nothing. No one. It was wild and still, and even though it began to rain, it was perfect.

Down our last hill, we met up with the A road again, and we found our turn off for Strathdon. Cycling through the valley, we passed a couple of small villages, and then, at 26 miles, we arrived. Spying a field with caravans and tents, we tried to find an entry. In a parking lot just off to the side, I approached a man emptying his recycling into the proper bins (SEE?!!), and asked him if he knew where we might find the people in charge of camping. Although he wasn’t sure, he did tell us a little bit about the layout of the town and what to expect with the Lonach Gathering. In the morning, the Clansmen march for miles, and the best bit, he said, is seeing them off. For the games, General Admission pays for entry into the field, but you have to pay extra to get a seat. He warned us that the seats might all be sold out, but he told us to try and get ahold of the Secretary. She might have some left.

Moving to the topic of our cycles, our new friend asked us a bit about our journey, and then told us that he and his wife enjoy cycling on a tandem. Before they moved here, they would take cycling holidays in and around the area, and they loved it so much, they decided to relocate. Parting ways, Joshua and I again remarked on how incredibly friendly everyone we encountered was, and when we entered the camping field, another kind soul told us where we could find the man in charge of camping down the road.

A short distance past the village, we found a huge field with tons of caravans. The man in charge was towing a caravan with his big jeep, and we stopped to ask him for details. Again, the man was very friendly, and he directed us to a smaller sectioned off area next to the river. While Joshua paid, I started setting up the tent, and when we had finished, the two of us went off in search of food.

At the Spar, we loaded up on oatcakes, flapjacks, and apples, and just as I was perusing through the isles, I ran into our Tandem Friend again. We said hello, and then he told me that he had talked to the Secretary. Apparently, there weren’t many seats left, but he had managed to buy to tickets for the covered bandstands. He’d left them and a program just inside the door of our tent.

What?! I was so flabbergasted, I was barely able to stutter my thanks properly. How did he know where our tent was? Oh. The nice camping man had told him. Guess we’re not hard to spot 🙂 I thanked him again profusely, and he just smiled and said goodbye. When I told Joshua, he was also shocked, and as we walked back to the tent, we were speechless. Every few steps or so, we looked at each other and said something like, ‘can you…?’ ‘How did…?’ But the rest of the sentence was just too complex, and in the end, we said, ‘these people are probably the nicest people on Earth.’

Back at the tent, we zipped open the fly, and there in an envelope, signed ‘From your Tandem Friend,’ were two tickets for the covered bandstands and a program. Isn’t that one of the kindest and generous gifts you’ve ever heard of? Crawling into the tent, I immediately pulled out an arty calling card and wrote a note thanking him. I hoped that we might run into him tomorrow.

For the rest of the evening, we munched on oatcakes and flapjacks while we read the program and then our books. Inside the program, they detailed the order events, and as we contemplated caber tossing, highland dancing, and bagpipe playing, we decided that this was probably one of the coolest adventures we’ve ever encountered.

A note on generosity and friendliness:

In the past few weeks, Joshua and I have encountered a number of really, really wonderful people. Some of these people are our family and friends, and some of them are complete strangers. They’ve been impossibly kind, and many of them have shown us incredible generosity. Not only am I thankful for each individual act of kindness, but I am also deeply impressed. These traditions are all about connecting with humans and treating people with care, and I really, really admire these attitudes. I hope that I have shown a proper amount of gratitude, but I also feel like I have a responsibility to pay it forward. Responsibility isn’t quite the right word. Maybe a resolve? A commitment? I would like to learn from those who have been so kind and generous to us, and I would like to handle the people I meet in the future with the same care and generosity.