Sunday, November 26, 2017

Western Travels Summer 2017: The Detailed Recap

Ruby, here, taking over the Whompton blog! It's been about four months since we got back from the EPIC adventure out west and I rediscovered the play-by-play that we created at the end of each day. So here goes...

Day 1 - 6/24/2017
  • Leave St Louis at 5:00a 
  • Stopped at rest area and saw a Great Horned Owl and Prairie Dogs
  • Collected 43 of 50 license plates
  • Slept in Wyoming in Rawlins @ Pronghorn Inn and Suites, which was surprisingly great! 
Day 2 - 6/25/2017
  • Left Rawlins for Grand Tetons National Park - Visitor Center 
  • Hike Taggart and Bradley Lakes Trail - beautiful wildflowers and views of Alpine Lakes
  • Drove to Grant Village in Yellowstone - Saw first bison!
  • THIRSTY mosquitoes and 40 minutes to register
  • Set up camp at the H loop near the bathroom! - Learn how to use the camping gear
Day 3 - 6/26/2017
  • saw Kepler Cascade
  • Walked Geyser Hill
  • Saw Old Faithful erupt around 8:45a
  • Biscuit Basin and then had to abort the Mystic Falls hike because of fierce mosquitoes (this hike was recommended by the ranger because Fairy Falls was closed)
  • Midway Geyser Basin and Grand Prismatic Spring (OMG. SO INCREDIBLE)
  • Geysers flowing into Firehole River
  • Lunch at overlook - South one stop
  • Firehole Lake Drive - another visitor told us that Cone Geyser would erupt relatively reliably so we stayed to watch Cone Geyser
  • Saw a marmot at Firehole Lake?
  • tried to go to Fountain Paint Pots but parking lot was so full. Too many cars!
  • Back to Old Faithful - saw it erupt again, watched the movie, Lola became a Junior Ranger, we read all the exhibits, saw Old Faithful erupt again, saw a bison by the Old Faithful Inn, like very close to the inn. 
  • Walked to Grotto and Morning Glory Pool
  • Back to camp for dinner
  • Failed to get to amphitheatre - but took nice walk by the campsites and lake instead - beautiful sunset!
  • Played cards to stay awake to see stars--instead we all fell asleep. 
Day 4 - 6/27/2017
  • broke down camp after overnight rain
  • Fountain Paint Pots - saw mud pots!
  • Drove to Mammoth Hot Springs and saw a Gibbon Falls on the way on the side of the road. - Stopped in traffic because of construction
  • walked down to see spring in the meadow
  • Saw bison and elk
  • Mammoth Hot Springs and Lower Cascade
  • Walked up - Started to thunder and beelined to car as it started to pour to wait out the rain
  • Drove to Wraith Falls - 1 mile walk - short, and lovely wildflowers
  • too many people at Petrified Tree to go there
  • Drove to Tower Falls - folks there reported a bear had just run through!
  • Drove up the mountain - stopped at some overlooks - transitioned to high elevation ecosystems through Dunraven Pass
  • Visitor Center at Canyon - Volcanoes!
  • Checked in and people suck and want to change their reservations making everybody else wait... 
  • Set up camp and mosquitoes suck - We begin competition to kill them all - Scores so far: Ruby-8, Raina-6, Eric-4, Samantha-3 (in car)
  • Move bison patty from campsite
  • avert tent flood crisis - hope it works out
  • dinner at Canyon Lodge - back to visitor center
  • watch movie and played cards at Lodge
  • Ranger program was supposed to be Pika Program - Instead we got disappointing "Living with Predators" because the ranger was called in last minute.
Day 5 - 6/28/2017
  • depart to South Rim to Artist Point
  • saw a crazy huge waterfall - Yellowstone Falls
  • watched the sun reveal itself in the canyon
  • hiked to Point Sublime - back to Artist Point and then Uncle Tom's Trail.
  • Descended 300 steps to side of waterfall. Many steps back up!
  • Hail! Small (bead-like). Brisk walk back to car
  • Foggy at our campsite because of mist coming off waterfall
  • ate lunch at overlook over Hayden Valley - birds, bison, wolf den (we were told there were 9 cubs)
  • stopped at Sulfur Caldron - Mud Volcano - dragon mouth, Churning Cauldron, bison hanging out on mud geyser, Black Dragon's Cauldron, sizzling basin
  • Drove to Fishing Village - visited visitor center, learned about birds
  • Ranger warned about storm that was likely coming because the lights had flickered in the visitor's center
  • Traveled to Storm Point trail on recommendation of ranger. IT WAS AWESOME. Meadows, WINDY along lake, beautiful forest, view of tall, snowy mountains with lake and sandy beach!,  Lodgepole pines
  • North Rim to view canyon and Upper Falls from top. Upper Falls is powerful! Lots of water
  • North Rim Drive is packed so we skip and go back to campsite.
  • Hail! Storms! - Sit in van. Krystal, Eric and Ruby sleep
  • Cook Dinner in campsite - rice and beans
  • Hang out in Lodge during rainy evening
  • Drive North Rim to see Falls and that was about it - in bed at 9:00p.
Day 6 - 6/29/2017
  • not raining! But it is wet
  • Oatmeal breakfast and pack up all wet things
  • broke down camp
  • Saw a bear on side of road snacking on our way out of the park
  • Stopped in Bozeman for Chipotle, Walmart, and grocery restock
  • drove to Columbia Falls and stayed in Western Inn at Glacier -- it was AMAZING.
    • Big rooms, beds for everyone, playground, laundry, refrigerator and they let us dry out all our gear (Which took no time's a dry heat). And wifi! 
Day 7 - 6/30/2017
  • Departed after breakfast of nutrigrain bars and muffins at the hotel
  • Drove into Glacier - Apgar Visitor Center.
  • Ranger Leigh is the best ranger we have encountered yet (I hypothesized that she has worked at camp...)
  • Day hikes
    • Howe Lake - wildflowers, jumpshots, Darth Whompton returned - 
    • Lunch
    • Rocky Point - stared at lack on rocks. I put my feet in
  • Set up camp - loud and bountiful neighbors. Fit two tents very close (no fire)
  • John's Lake Loop - beautiful forest -- the lake is NOT the highlight. Sacred Dancing Cascades were stunning, skipped rocks, sat by water, rapids were close. Turquoise water
  • Walked along Lake McDonald and Village
  • Dinner - eggs/breakfast burritos - Eggs are hard to cook on a stove. Hard to clean up from pan too.
  • Raina is at 18.5 mosquito kills and is in the lead
  • walked to Apgar Village - learned about boats for tomorrow 
  • Brushed teeth at Visitor Center
  • Drove to Goat Lick and saw goats licking and running along mountain side
  • Krystal narrowly avoids hitting a deer and manages to keep us on the windy mountain road. Go Krystal!
  • (SPOILER ALERT) Harry Potter cast his human patronus - I slept in my hammock 

Day 8 - 7/1/2017
  • early start to get parked at Avalanche - Trail of the Cedars to Avalanche Lake - dramatically read poems on Trail of Cedars
  • Beautiful alpine lake with waterfalls feeding it and then there was a grizzly bear walking up the shore that was not scared off by humans. - TOO CLOSE.
  • But got away without too much drama and with the 20 other people that also saw the bear. - Beautiful views of mountains and creek on the trail
  • Back to the campsite for campsite shuffle and lunch
  • Paddled on Lake
    • One 3 person kayak with Krystal, Lola, and Eric
    • Two solo kayaks for Samantha and Raina
    • One SUP for Ruby
    • I made a sacrifice to the Glacier Nat'l Park gods when I jumped in for a refreshing dip into the Lake (on purpose!) and the screws that were holding my GoPro to my chest harness failed. BOO cheap plastic! Enjoy the GoPro and the family memories Lake McDonald
    • Bald Eagle and nest sighted on lake
    • Despite the offering to the glacier gods, the SUP on the Lake was my all time highlight of the trip.
  • Junior Ranger at Apgar (Agpar? Agraba? Abracadabra?)
  • Back to campsite to rest. - One tent swarmed with mosquitoes. Eric slaughtered 11 and doubled his running count
  • Dinner - chickpea deliciousness (yay for mushrooms, crushed red pepper and fresh spinach)
  • Huckleberry desserts at Eddie's - Server Ryan gave ideas for all the hikes and gave free huckleberries to Samantha
  • were late to Ranger Stephanie's winter migration/hibernation ranger talk at Apgar Campground due to a typo on the schedule. Lovely view on the lake
  • Ranger program on wildfires at Fish Creek (Lola was a tree on stage!)
  • Stars/telescopes @ Apgar Visitor Center. Saw incredible views of moon (so detailed), Jupiter and its moons, Saturn and its rings, ring nebulas, learned about summer triangle, Vega and friends, satellites (those crossing S->N are usually military reconnaissance and surveying, E->W are communication), saw shooting stars and then it got cloudy and we got back to tents around midnight.
  • also Lola did not remember going home due to sleep zombie state. 
Day 9 -  7/2/2017
  • break down camp @ Fish Creek and drove Going-to-the-Sun Road to Logan's Pass. Lots of cyclists. Scary and beautiful drive
  • Logan Pass-->Jr Ranger complete with Ranger Stephanie
  • walked in SNOW to Hidden Lake Overlook
  • Lunch watching others come down Hidden Lake trail and beautiful meadow with a ground school and a bee/hornet that indulged on Lola's granola bar
  • Attempted to find parking at St. Mary's
  • There is none - so we had a bright idea! We'll take shuttle from Rising Sun, waiting 30-40 minuts then not enough space on shuttle so we drove to the camground
  • setup camp - campsite is very different from others--wide open, grassy plains-->beautiful views of mountains, no trees!
  • gado-gado and setting up tents near ground squirrel holes
  • drive to find St. Mary's falls trailhead--mostly succeed after an unsuccessful try
  • St Mary's Falls is stunning (looks similar to Gorilla in WNC) and Virginia Falls is amazing! Refreshing feel of mist/wind off water
  • peek at Jackson Glacier - it will be gone in 13 years...or less
  • Ruby showers (wait about 20-30 minutes in line to do so) and then collapse in bed
Day 10 - 7/3/2017
  • wake up and the site is gorgeous! Perfect temperature--oatmeal and views and WIND!
  • drove to Many Glacier and hike to Iceberg Lake--lovely views, saw a grizzly, and two cubs, goats, and a moose and no pika. 
  • Swiftcurrent Motor Coach Inn fails Eric --bathroom is being cleaned, water fountain is being serviced
  •  rest in Many Glacier - hotel with view of water--read and sleep
  • people are hangry and sleep deprived and discuss plans for 2 hours--then go back to campsite to eat extra rice and beans (and marshmallows) and early to bed.
Day 11 - 7/4/2017
  • wake up and the mosquitos are visibly waiting on the outside of the tent to feast--and yet aren't so terrible when we do get out of tent
  • Oatmeal and go! Drive to Canada--dodge cows on road that look very evil when looking at you and then sun head on
  • Krystal waves at border patrol and then answers there are only five people in the car to which we all respond "SIX!"
  • Canada lets us in anyway and we drive to Waterton Lakes. Information centre lady encourages us to do the Bertha Lake hike--a moderate hike
  • Actually, that hike is mostly uphill. Lovely steep climb. Glad to make it when we finally do because we literally climbed a mountain
  • Upper Bertha Falls is on the side of the mountain and is fantastic. The lake is gorgeous. Eat sandwiches by the lake and start trucking back down the mountain. Lola cried on the way up. We all otherwise cried internal tears. It was steep. Two hours to go up and an hour and a half to come back down.
  • Sat by the lake with the wind and the water and super cool rocks and awesome views
  • Krystal and Lola became Xplorers of Parks Canada
  • Visited Prince of Wales Hotel--it is Scottish and they were having afternoon tea. 
  • Visited Red Rock Canyon--pretty and lots of people. 
  • Canadians drive slowly and sleep limit is slow at the park.
  • re-enter US and eat at Two Sisters Cafe--finish the license plates with Hawaii and Rhode Island on the license plate map at the restaurant on the wall. WIN!
  • come back to campsite and read and chill
Day 12 - 7/5/2017
  • drive and drive and drive
  • Chinese Buffet in Lewiston and Albertsons
  • saw Devil's Tower!
  • sleep at Spearfish Days Inn
  • Lots of HPMOR-Stanford Prison Experiment and SPEW
  • weird prison/airplane toilet in Montana Rest Area
Day 13 - 7/6/2017
  • late start after showers and continental breakfast
  • drive to Mt Rushmore -- line is LONG to get in so we take photos from the road and keep driving
  • follow Iron Mountain Road through Pigtail Bridges--narrow tunnels are a bit nervewracking
  • cross into Custer St Park -- confusion about whether we are supposed to pay? See bison and two coyotes stalking pronghorn and prairie dogs
  • Wind Cave National Park - get tickets for 2:30 Natural Entrance Tour--eat lunch, watch film (and nap), look at exhibits
  • Park Ranger Mike (who has been doing this for 27 years) is excellent! Shows us lots of boxwork and popcorn formations. Tells stories about surveyors getting lost, cave being 147 miles and they are discovering 2-3 miles per year and a guy who is married to his job (how is it?--ROCKY!) HA!
  • Drive to Wall Drug--stop at Rest Area to cook dinner. It is hot. Should have noticed the shelters int he shade. 
  • Wall Drug is crazy. Much stuff none of us need. We take photos at the jackalope and the t-rex. Eat ice cream and leave. 
  • Onto the Badlands. Set up camp and went to evening program about bison!
Day 14 - 7/7/2017
  • get up early -- hit trail by 7:30a
  • hike Notch Trail (with a crazy ladder up and down), Window & Door trails, Cliff Point trail
  • went to visitor center to avoid heat --watched movie, become junior ranger (1 of three for the day), ate lunch, and plotted afternoon
  • learned about the Cold War at the National Minutemen Museum Historical Site
  • Lola and Krystal become Junior Rangers (2 of 3 for the day),
  • Missiles! Almost ending the world! So many close calls!
  • Went to National Grasslands Visitor Center -- Lola, Krystal, and Samantha become Junior Rangers (3 for 3!)
  • Watched a video and did pushups
  • Left passport books so we had to go back!
  • drove scenic drive through the Badlands. It's hot! Take photos at a few overlooks and see the yellow int he formations
  • hang out at Lodge for about an hour
  • Make dinner and watch storm roll in. Get in van because of lightning. Lots of wind and lightning
  • Watch tents bow in the wind
  • Sold double rainbow -- stunning! And a gorgeous sunset opposite the storm clouds and rainbows
  • Cumulus mammatus clouds end the storm
Day 15 - 7/8/2017
  • drive drive drive to Nebraska
  • stay at Tina and Frank's and play lots of Heads Up and eat tacos
  • Sleep in beds and depart for home the next morning. 
Day 16 - 7/9/2017
  • Drive to St Louis
  • Ruby drives to North Carolina

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Fall Recap, 2017

Time to reflect on the past few months with a fall recap.

Raina and Lola went to Girl Scout sleep-away camp again this summer.  Raina convinced two good friends to join her at camp, and she was super excited to show them all that she loves about the Camp Tuckaho experience.  Unfortunately, the start of Raina's camp was delayed because of tremendous storms that knocked out power.  Fortunately, due to that occurrence, we met another Girl Scout in our neighborhood who then joined our troop!  Serendipity!  (photo credit: GSEM)

Lola ventured to Camp Cedarledge so that she could ride horses and be a cowgirl. She had no hesitation about going to a camp where she knew no one -- she was confident that she'd fit in and make new friends.  And, of course, she did.  (photo credit: GSEM) 

School started almost immediately after camp.  Raina moved up to 7th grade at MICDS and Lola moved to 3rd grade at her new school, Ross Elementary.  She confidently and smoothly made the transition to a new school and we're really proud of her for handling it so well.

Here's the requisite first day of school photo for the Whompton women. 

Note that Raina is full-fledged adult sized and also note that Raina is so tired of hearing people comment on her height.  Not enough people comment on the fact that her brain is full-fledged adult sized too -- she much prefers participating in adult conversations because she's so mature.  Raina has grown up and, as an almost teen-ager, is ready to take on the world.  Even so, mature kids are still kids.  Here's Raina having a great time playing in a friend's castle.

Raina, as a super introvert, prefers to curl up in her bed and read a book.  She branched out from that a little bit this fall.  She joined the all-girls First Tech Challenge (FTC) team, and her specialized focus is on coding.  She's being mentored by a Senior girl and Raina has really enjoyed making connections with the older girls on the team while also working with her 7th grade friends.  FTC is a fantastic addition -- wonderful team activity, wonderful team of people -- and she's thrilled to be matched up with fellow girl geeks.

Her second team activity this year was to join Cross Country.  Raina did Daddy-Daughter runs on the weekends with Eric, trained at practice with the team, and steadily improved her pace and performance at each meet.  We're so proud of her for trying something new and for pushing herself to improve.

Raina continued with Girl Scouts this year -- she's a Cadette and is currently doing service in pursuit of her Silver Award -- and joined the Middle School Meeting planners group.  She emceed a Halloween costume skit within her first few weeks in the group; she confidently grabbed the microphone and, with great deadpan humor, delivered punchlines in front of the 450 person crowd.  She's really coming into her own, and it's an amazing thing to witness.

Lola engaged with team endeavors too.  She joined the Girl Scout troop at Ross, which has been a fantastic experience.  I personally felt guilty about dissolving the MICDS troop -- I wasn't going to continue leading it if my kiddo wasn't there -- and I'm so grateful that her new troop leader is even more Girl Scout oriented that I was.

Eric continued to coach Lola's soccer team (because he's an awesome human being) and Lola had a great time playing soccer with her friends.  Lola grew as a player; she developed a better awareness of how to interpret what was happening on the field and how to respond.  She's also fast and has a lot of endurance, which translated into a lot of action (and consequently a lot of Gatorade) for Lola.

Eric is also coaching Lola's basketball team and he's most excited about this sport; the two of them have been preparing for the season by practicing on occasion at school.  The frequency of practice increased dramatically when our elderly next-door neighbors replaced their decrepit basketball goal with a new one and purposefully started parking their cars on the other side of the driveway.  The neighbors love having Eric and Lola playing on their goal, and Eric and Lola have a great time doing drills and developing skills.  Eric's crossing fingers that Lola chooses basketball for the long-term.

Lola is, proportionally, the strongest Whompton by far.  She'll drop down and do 40 push-ups without a problem, she climbs poles and ropes without stopping, and she runs long distances quickly and without complaint.  She joined the Ross Running Club and logged over 10 miles in the space of a few Thursday half-hour sessions.  Here's a picture of Lola demonstrating her upper body strength.  (Not pictured is her climbing the rope to the top of her elementary school gym.)

Requisite Halloween photo.  Raina adapted her costume from last year and Lola is wearing a costume sewn by Nabila Kearney.

 Super cute photo of our neighbors + kid 2.

Just a typical Sunday at Ethical Society.  Raina has moved into the Coming of Age class, which is a two-hour commitment each Sunday.  She used to grumble a bit about going to SEEK but she grumbles not at all about Coming of Age.  So far, it's a lot of conversation, a lot of service, and a lot of exploration of other religions. 

The Whomptons traveled to Nebraska this fall to celebrate Tina and Frank's wedding.  We explored the Arbor Day Foundation trails and even found Goldilocks and the Three Bears' chairs!

The highlight, of course, was reconnecting with good friends.  I roomed with each one of these women during college, and it's amazing to see how much we've changed and how much we've stayed the same in these past 20 years. 

We danced the whole night long.  Favorite dance: Run the World by Beyonce.  Lola was super bummed about having to go to bed before everyone else.  The girl likes to party.

Whompton family photo.  We dress up nicely.

And all of us together.  Such a joyous trip.

I joined the Foundation board for NARAL Pro-Choice America and happily sponsored a table for their annual Gala.  Friends from different parts of my life joined us, and it was cool to share across those lines.  Dr. Shah, the lead doctor at Hope Clinic for Women the entire time I volunteered there, was recognized for his decades of commitment to women's health.  It was wonderful to honor him in that way.  The Gala was packed to bursting with people and was an incredibly successful fundraiser.

We ended the soccer season with a hail storm that stripped the trees of all their leaves, flooded the basement, and damaged my car and Eric's van.  The roof inspectors are coming out soon; I suspect we'll need to replace it again.  Oh, Saint Louis weather, your erratic changes can be so scary.

And we ended the fall running season by supporting Girls on the Run.  The Whomptons worked the finish line again and it was so amazing to congratulate all these girls on completing a 5K race.  Samantha and I danced in the streets in excitement.  I love doing service as a family. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Alcoholism taught me not to trust.

The Ethical Society is devoting each month to a different emotion and September’s emotion is trust.  In considering this theme and in response to a recent visit to my hometown, I determined a fundamental truth about myself.  Alcoholism taught me not to trust.

My dad is an alcoholic and has been for as long as I’ve known him.  He was a risky alcoholic too – he frequently drank and drove, even with children in the car.  He crashed multiple vehicles, earned many DUIs, spent nights in jail, and lost his license for a year.  My dad also has a fuzzy relationship with the truth; he frequently exaggerated and lied to make himself look better.  I never understood it and I raged at my dad about his drinking, his lies, his exceptionally risky behaviors. I cannot count the number of fights we had about it, which generally resulted in my yelling furiously and disappointedly at him and his slamming the front door as he stormed out.  We kept up that relationship for a solid 7 years, from about age 8 to 15.  I purposefully did not invite friends over to my house because I was embarrassed by my dad’s drinking.  I stopped talking to him except to judge him.  I refused to go home with him if he had been drinking and I was irate at him and my extended family members for loading kids in the car with a clearly intoxicated driver.  How do you trust the adults around you when they clearly don’t have your best interest and safety at heart?

His alcoholism and my unwillingness to accept it did break our family; my damned persistence and righteous fury never ceased and my dad kept getting drunk.  My sophomore year of high school I told him that our relationship was over because he had chosen alcohol over his family.  That statement was the catalyst: he decided to quit drinking and he went sober cold turkey.  I was ecstatically happy he stopped.  In my remaining 2.5 years of high school, my family did events together, took trips together, spent time together.  I remember the last few years of high school as being really positive – probably because I wasn’t spending all my free time yelling at my father and being worried that he was going to kill himself or someone else – and I did normal things like hang out with friends, join clubs and teams, focus on academics, etc. I began to trust him.

At age 18, I went away to college and, almost instantly, my dad began drinking again.  I returned at Thanksgiving break to discover my father had returned to alcohol.  My mom, brother, and sister watched this happen and did not stop it AND DID NOT TELL ME that it was happening either.  (They had many opportunities; I regularly called every Sunday morning.)  I felt so betrayed by everyone and I desperately wanted to leave Owensboro – the focal point of all this pain – and never come back.  I raged and cried and vowed that we were done.  I was emotionally cutting off from him.

I returned home that summer and made it deliberately clear that it was a short-term stay.  I did not move back into my bedroom but instead slept on the living room couch.  I continued to bunk on the couch during other college returns to Owensboro (Thanksgiving, winter break, spring break) and then I would cut the trip shorter and shorter.  Even though the vacation was two weeks long, I’d be back in Saint Louis after 4 days because that time was all I could emotionally stand.  As a 20-something adult, I shrunk those 4 day trips down to 4 hours or less.  Christmas gathering scheduled for 1 PM?  No problem.  I’d drive the 4 hours to Owensboro, arrive by noon, stay for the meal, exchange gifts, and leave by 4 PM to drive back to STL.  Yes, I drove 8 hours to only spend 4 hours at my destination.  Then I stopped coming for those trips too.  At this point, at age 39, I go to Owensboro for funerals and that is all.

When I was pregnant (and more of an adult), I wrote my dad a letter and tried to express all of this to him.  I also stated that he would not have a meaningful relationship with my children because I didn’t trust him to do right by them.  My daughters spend substantially less time in Owensboro than I do because I fundamentally refuse for them to be exposed to his alcoholic and lying behaviors, I refuse for them to lose trust in a loved one in that way. 

As an adult, I can rationalize and be empathetic toward him.  His parents divorced when he was young.  His sister died from cancer as a teenager.  He fought in the Vietnam War.  He has witnessed and experienced absolutely horrendous things.  I understand that my dad self-medicates with alcohol and I understand that alcoholism is a mental illness.  Even so, those rationalizations don’t repair our relationship.  I clearly haven’t learned to let this go, and I don’t know that I will.  I don’t want to give him a way to hurt me anymore.  I don’t know how to have a meaningful relationship with someone I don’t trust and I don’t know how he can ever fully earn my trust again.  

Friday, July 21, 2017


I have my occasional pitfalls of unhappiness (usually tied to being overworked and stressed) but I'm a pretty upbeat and positive person, overall.  So when I get sad, like really sad, I don't handle it well.

In the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I was privileged to attend a five-weeks collegiate program for talented Kentucky students.  The program was interesting, I met many cool people there, and it helped prepare me for going away to college the following year.  However, I was sad pretty much the entire time -- so sad, in fact, that I contemplated suicide while I was there and I struggled to find any joy in the experience.  I vividly remember being immersed in these engulfing waves of terrible emotion and I couldn't find a reasonable way to become less sad.  I didn't tell anyone specifically how I was feeling -- I didn't want to bring anyone else down during a time where they seemed pretty happy -- and I am grateful that a program administrator granted my atypical request to go home for a weekend during the middle of the program so that I could try to emotionally reset.  It was a bad period overall.

In the past 20 years, I have had occasional bouts of what-felt-to-be-but-was-not-actually overwhelming sadness, although their frequency has lessened over time.  (I credit my Mirena IUD for most of my emotional stability these past seven years.)  Most of my sad days have a specific trigger now, which helps to name the situation, understand it, and frame it as a short-term experience.

I was very sad yesterday.  I woke up and learned that one of my former students, someone who was in my first class at MICDS, had unexpectedly passed away.  I remember her kindness and friendship toward others, her determination to do her very best, and, when she was occasionally dissatisfied with those results, her determination to work even harder the next time.  I ran into her five years ago and she had full-scale transitioned into adulthood.  It was lovely to see her and the person she had become.  She was good-at-heart and simply way too young to die.

I have lost too many students these past 17 years and it breaks me every time.

I want to curl into myself for the foreseeable future, grieve, and ignore the outside world, but I know that pathway leads to even more sadness.  So I will do the actions of someone feeling normal -- go to meetings, interact with family and friends -- and wait to become happy again.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Epic National Parks Adventure: South Dakota Pictures and Stories

At this point in our journey, I had repacked and rearranged the van's trunk SO MANY TIMES that I was confident that I have the best arrangement.  It only took 1.5 weeks and 8 tries, right?  I'm ready for the next trip for sure.

On our last morning in Glacier, we packed up and got on the road.  We were driving east through Montana and and planning to stop somewhere in South Dakota for the night.  More cities with hotels seemed to exist in South Dakota than in Big Sky Country.  Devils Tower was nearby so we detoured over.  It added an extra hour to the trip, but on a 60 hours-in-the-car journey what's an additional hour?!

Devils Tower, WY
We arrived after the Visitor's Center closed so we wrote in the stop in the girls' National Park Passport books.  We'd do the same later in the trip for another location.

Devils Tower is so small that Lola can hold it in her hands!  :)

We planned on stopping at Mt. Rushmore but the long line of cars ..... well, they weren't because of me.  A picture suffices and so we wrote in, rather than stamped, the passport books again.

The plan was to travel to Wind Cave NP and the most efficient route was straight through Custer State Park.  Custer has lots of bison (we were "been there, done that!" dismissive about bison at this point) and twisty-turvy roads.  Additionally there were three single-lane tunnels that made me hyperventilate because they were so dangerous, people stopped their cars in the middle to take pictures, and no one could see if another vehicle was coming the other way.
I did not enjoy my Custer State Park experience, overall.  

Wind Cave NP is one of the earlier national parks created and the first one for a cave.
I'm a Kentucky girl, and I'm telling you that Mammoth Cave is better.  Hands down.

Wind Cave had interesting boxwork features.  It was a "dry cave" so most of our cave knowledge was useless -- no stalagmites or stalactites there.  However, our Park Ranger was fantastic and we really enjoyed his stories of 27 years leading tours into Wind Cave. 
Back on the highway we were immersed in Wall Drug signs.  So, yes, we stopped, shopped, and acquired ice cream.
Requisite Jackalope picture
Then it was time to get to the Badlands, find our campsite, and get situated.  Driving through Badlands National Park at dusk was absolutely stunning.  The sun hits the rocks in different ways and the color array -- red or orange or yellow or brown -- absolutely depended on the sun, rock, and shadow.  
Exhibit A:  morning sunrise
Exhibit B: same formation, 5 minutes later
Badlands is a photographer's dream space.

Badlands at nightfall

Badlands at nightfall

No one was at the Badlands entrance gate to charge us or at the campground entrance gate to charge us, so we were remarkably under-informed about Badlands NP rules.  Were there bears?  Could we hang a clothesline?  What time should we set out in the morning?  Also, folks were clamoring all over the formations with no regard for staying on trail and we absolutely flipped out about it.  Leave No Trace, for goodness' sake, and stay on trail!

As it turns out, you are actively encouraged to climb in any way you please on the formations.  (Even so, we mostly stayed on designated trails because we're conformists.)  No bears in Badlands but the trade-off was lots of heat and wind.  Lots of heat and wind meant hardly any mosquitoes, though, and that seemed a reasonable exchange.

We allocated two nights and one day to the Badlands area.
Night #1:  Arrive at campsite at 8:40 PM.  Set-up camp in record time so that we could attend the Evening Ranger program at 9 PM.  Watch the lightning storm in the distance and wonder whether that storm would reach the campground.  Note to selves: "wow, it's so hot I don't want my sleeping bag!" and "wow, I really, really smell!  Sorry, fellow tent compatriots!" and "wow, this place is really gorgeous."

Day: After another oatmeal breakfast, we rushed over to the Visitors Center which opened at 7 AM (the earliest of them all, for this trip).  The Park Ranger gave us hiking advice -- try these places, get there now while it's not too hot -- and we did exactly as instructed.  The terrain was breathtaking.
Lola is so tiny in comparison.
We hiked three different trails and each one gave views like these.  It was overwhelming.

Stephanie kept comparing the formations to the Grand Canyon. 

On top of the world!

The Badlands was Eric's favorite part of the trip.
With 95+ degree days, no shade, and all the major hikes done by 10 AM, the Whomptons were at a loss of how to spend the remainder of the day.  We did what any reasonable person would have done -- we became Junior Rangers at a ridiculous number of parks.  Badlands, National Grasslands, and Minutemen Missile all had programs AND air conditioning, which was the perfect combination.

Becoming Junior Rangers at Minutemen Missile NHS.
I had never been so depressed when completing a Junior Ranger booklet.  After reading all the displays, I took my booklet back up to the front and apologized for not completing it and then the Ranger cajoled me back into it.  But, really.  It's not uplifting to complete a book about Doomsday events and I didn't enjoy making my own missile decorations.

The Doomsday Clock is now 2.5 minutes to midnight, y'all.  Thank you, climate change and Donald Trump.
Evening/Night #2:  After hanging out at the Badlands Lodge, we made our way back to the campsite to make dinner.  The sun was unbearable and relentless -- we hitched a tarp up to the campsite table area to make some shade -- and then watched as a lightning storm began in the distance again.  The previous night's storm never reached us and, honestly, when you can see miles in any direction it's hard to estimate how far away something is.  When the winds picked up, we packed up all the small items and took down our tarp sun shield; when we heard thunder, we all moved into the van and watched the storm roll in.

Not everyone took the same precautions, so the winds and rain caught many people unawares.  The rain was unimpressive compared to the lightning and wind.  Meals and dishes flew away -- it was funny and scary to watch that happen -- and our tent flattened against the onslaught of wind multiple times.  Thankfully the tent poles did not break.  The storm stayed directly above us for a long time and then the sun came out from one side.

The rainbow appeared to end at this mound.
And we could see the complete 180 degree other end of the rainbow too.  And then the double rainbow!
The wind/rain combination meant that it rained sideways.  If that individual had taken the picture from the passenger side of the car, he would have stayed completely dry.  As it was, he was drenched.  
Then we got these mattamus clouds.  Ruby (our resident cloud expert) was dumbstruck by them.  Apparently they are signals of a tremendously powerful storm to come, not of one that has just passed.  At this point in the storm, if we looked straight ahead or to the right, then we saw rain and rainbows; if we looked above or a little to the left, then we saw these mattamus clouds; if we looked far to the left, we saw the sunset.  
Storm + Sunset
The Badlands look like they are on fire.

Sunset during the storm
After all that excitement, we evaluated the tents' status -- yep, water made its way inside of both -- and noted that the heat was returning.  Krystal, Stephanie, and Samantha went to Ranger Larry's evening program (pictures from all of the National Parks, so cool!) and then everyone went to sleep for our last night in tents.

Sunrise at Badlands
Everything was dry by the next morning, which was remarkable really, so we packed up and headed out.  It was time to head home.  Tina Kearney generously shared her home and hospitality with us in Lincoln, NE, and, the next day, we reached STL.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Epic National Parks Adventure: Glacier Pictures and Stories

Glacier National Park has phenomenal beauty.  While Yellowstone was crowded and felt overrun by people and cars, Glacier rarely felt that way.  All we had to do was pick a trail and walk a bit, and we'd leave masses of people behind.  The Glacier books all suggest that the best way to see Glacier NP is to hike it and, with 700 miles of hiking trails from which to choose, they certainly provide lots of options.  There was no hike that we regretted doing and every one provided a view more gorgeous than the previous.  If you like mountains, waterfalls, lakes, wildflowers, and/or wildlife, then you should get to Glacier National Park.  

Whompton goals for Glacier:
1. See glaciers before they are all gone.  Check!
2. Hike in mountains.  Check!
3. See a pika in the wild.  Nope.  Still a life goal and one that I may never achieve, because climate change is reducing viable pika habitat. I will console myself with Sir David Attenborough videos for the foreseeable future.

Sunset at Western Inn, Columbia Falls, MT.
I snuck out in the middle of the night to stand in the parking lot and stare at the stars.  So many stars.
We drove into Glacier and immediately stopped at the Agpar Visitor Center.  Ranger Leigh was awesome and she recommended hiking to Howe Lake.  The scenery was all wildflowers -- the names of which we didn't know then but excitedly determined later -- like bear grass, rose paintbrush, glacier lily, aster, clematis, columbine -- and ones that seemed similar like wild rose, a hydrangea, a miniature dogwood.  The wildflowers were taller than Lola in some places and often spilled over into the trail.  We did many wildflower hikes and successfully came away with no poison ivy (never saw it in Glacier) and no ticks!

The Whomptons did our one-and-only jump shot of the trip, which resulted in Raina breaking her water bottle.  Sigh.

Our second hike in Glacier centered around Lake McDonald, which is as gorgeous as it comes.  The bright teal color of the water comes from fine dust that has been ground up and deposited by glaciers.  Additionally, the water was remarkably clear, as you can see rocks for multiple meters from the shoreline.

Spending time on the lake was absolutely required, so we kayaked and waterboarded the next afternoon.  In addition to amazing lake and mountain views, we saw bald eagles in their nest and flying around!
Ruby unfortunately sacrificed her GoPro to this lake.  
The mosquitoes were not as bloodthirsty or rampant in Glacier, so we actually spent time at our campsite with skin uncovered.  Fish Creek Campground was well shaded and Ruby spent two nights sleeping in the hammock rather than the tent.  The temperatures were substantially warmer in Glacier than expected -- we anticipated 50's and got 80's -- so sleeping in the hammock was a reasonable option.

Requisite family photo, Johns Lake trail.
Johns Lake is a must-see trail and we concluded the day with it.  Oh my.  Johns Lake itself is nothing spectacular but the trees and the cascades were astonishing.  See below. 

Sacred Dancing Cascades, Johns Lake trail.

Sacred Dancing Cascades, Johns Lake trail.
The trail has McDonald Waterfall too, which was lovely, but the Cascades stole the show.
No joke, parental supervision required.  That water is so tempting, and it rushes fast and incapacitates quickly.  We dipped fingers and skipped rocks and honored the beauty.
Avalanche Lake hike.  This one was so crowded the day before that no parking spots were available so we trekked out really early the next morning to get there.  Watching the sun rise and come through the trees was lovely, and this was our only Glacier hike that really required layers.

Avalanche Lake trail.
I love the perspective of how small we really are in comparison to the world around us.
For being such a popular hike, we saw few people on the way to Avalanche Lake but participated in a large crowd of ~30 people fleeing the lake due to the very large grizzly bear that was walking the trail with us.  Individuals are supposed to keep a 100 meters distance between themselves and a grizzly bear.  A ranger described it this way:  if you stick your arm all the way out and your thumb blocks eyesight of the bear then you're a safe distance away.   We were not a safe distance, as he was probably 5 meters away and still coming.  Oh my, that bear was large and unperturbed by all of us.  Eric TRIED to take a picture of the bear but in his panic got his fingers instead.

Evening Ranger program.  Lola was called up to act like a tree during a fire.  

Good evening, sun!
Sunrise occurred around 5 AM and sunset around 10 PM each day.  It made seeing stars a challenging endeavor, but we managed to stay up for a star-gazing party.  So cool!

Lola and bear grass.

Going-to-the-Sun road views

Going-to-the-Sun road views
Logan Pass is the midpoint of the Going-to-the-Sun road and its roads had, three days prior, been cleared of snow.  The trails themselves, on the other hand, were overrun. The hike we wanted to do at Logan Pass was closed, so we audibled to the Hidden Lake hike, which still involved trekking up a mountain of snow.  The snowy trail continues well past the line of people shown here.  It was a challenging hike, for sure.  

Hidden Lake hike, at the top
requisite family photo
Hidden Lake hike, at the top

Hidden Lake hike, on the top where there was limited snow and great views.
We hung out with mountain goats -- including some baby goats -- and lots of ground squirrels.

Looked for pika.  Didn't find any.  :(

When hiking, we often say that you have to "earn the view," which means that getting to the gorgeous parts should require some hard work.  We earned the views and they were lovely.  Additionally, this hike was exceptionally unique, because we never anticipated hiking in deep snow in July.
I climb steep snowy inclines so that I can sled down them, NOT so that I can gingerly walk back down again.  We took bets about how many people would fall down the mountain on the descent.  Lola tumbled multiple times, Raina only occasionally, everyone else made it unscathed.  Even so, that's not an experience I need or want everyday.  
Beaver Lake trail was near the St. Mary's campsite and seemed an easy wildflower hike for the afternoon.  
St. Mary's Lake

At about this point in the trip, I started wearing everyone down with my ever pressing need to go on more hikes, always more hikes.  That evening saw our last evening hike, which was to St. Mary's and Virginia Falls.
St. Mary's Falls
Virginia Falls

St. Mary's Falls, return trip, at sunset.
We were so tired that we could have sat there the rest of the evening and been happy.
Hikes in Many Glacier were the plan for the next day and, rather than do a series of short 3 - 5 mile hikes, we planned on doing a 10 miler in the morning and then see how we felt for the afternoon.  Iceberg Lake was the chosen hike and it was Stephanie's favorite.  
Views from Iceberg Lake trail

Views from Iceberg Lake trail

Still on Iceberg Lake trail

Animals were on the trail, including a mama grizzly and her baby.  All those people are staring at the bears and probably taking pictures.  Eric took a picture of his fingers again.  :)
We saw a moose on the descent.

Lots of bear grass on this hike
Iceberg Lake!
Apparently it's a thing to jump into the lake, which some lunatics did while we were there.  Generally, though, the brave dipped their toes in and then regretted their decisions because, you know, there were icebergs in the lake.  We enjoyed the view, looked for pika again, saw mountain goats, and scowled at ground squirrels.

Lola caught a small iceberg, so she actually touched an iceberg in Iceberg Lake.  She was super excited about it.
The Iceberg Lake hike destroyed the Whomptons.  We decided to take a break at the Many Glacier Lodge for an hour or so .... and that turned into an entire afternoon of butt-sitting.  I couldn't convince anyone that we should do more, so we headed home for the night.  We were headed to Canada in the morning!
Driving from Glacier NP to Waterton NP, Canada, involves going through some reservations with free-roaming cattle.  We stopped frequently to stare down some cows.
Canada on July 4th!
The Canadian border agent thought I was a little kooky and we're lucky he let us in without too much complaint.  Our first stop was at the Ranger Station, of course, to find out which hike to do.  We chose Bertha Lake, which looked to be pretty, moderate in difficulty, and not-very-buggy.
The Bertha Lake hike was listed as a moderately difficult 10-ish mile hike.  We were confident that we could knock out that distance no problem and we set out with enthusiasm.  You should know that a "moderate Canadian" hike was not the same as a "moderate American" hike.  The Bertha Lake hike was our most strenuous by far; Lola even broke down in tears on the trail.  But we made it up to the top and were rewarded with the exquisite view.
Oh no, that wasn't the last switchback!
Around this point, we started singing every patriotic song in our arsenal -- including the Hamilton soundtrack -- as a way to distract ourselves from the tired muscles.  I effectively dragged Lola up the last half-mile.  

Bertha Lake

Bertha Lake.  Everything about it deserved to be a postcard.
Last Bertha Lake photo, I swear.
On our descent, we encountered many people trying to make it up the mountain and felt pretty terrible when saying "um, the steepness doesn't get better from here, sorry and good luck."  Earn the view!

We enjoyed the descent a lot more than the ascent.  Canadian Rockies, you are so pretty.
Bertha Lake hike.  I thought these plants looked like hydrangeas but the Rangers didn't know what I was talking about when I asked them.
Looking down on Waterton Lake

Another view of the Rockies and Waterton Lake, I believe.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon hanging out at Waterton Lake.  It was gorgeous, the breeze off the lake was chilly, the water itself was downright frigid, and the beach was all rocks.

That didn't stop us from getting in.

Again, the water is so clear that it's hard to tell, but she's standing multiple feet into the lake.
I love this photo so much.  
The last morning at St. Mary's campground, with our wildflower and mountain views.