Category: Food

Out And About In Seattle

Big cities don’t thrill me, but Seattle, Washington, has many fun and out-of-the-ordinary things to do, beautiful scenery, friendly people, good food . . . I could go on.

During a recent trip, we spent a few days in Seattle, sightseeing and catching up with an old friend. Though it was typical weather for the US Northwest—with gray skies, occasional mist, and one day of actual rain—we made the most of our time there. And once again, we arrived back at our hotel one evening wondering why we thought we could pack so much into a day—at our ages. (more…)

Announcing Camino Route Report – Via De La Plata 2016

Camino de Santiago

During the fall months of October and November 2016, Grandpa hit the trail for thirty-three days of walking the Via de la Plata in western Spain. Daily accounts of that journey to find history, peace, and new friends are now available on the blog site. Either follow the links in this post, or select Camino de Santiago here, or from the blog’s main menu.

The Vía de la Plata (Silver Way)

Starting in Sevilla (Seville), is 1000 kilometers from Sevilla traveling through (more…)

A Look At A Day On The John Muir Trail

Continued from, Preparing to hike the John Muir Trail

An Anecdote from the Trail

One long day during my trek, I planned to camp by a lake that was almost 12,000 feet in elevation. This particular day was going to be another eighteen miles of hiking. Later that afternoon I met an older gentleman (older than me, at least) coming down the same trail I was headed up. We offered the usual greetings, and he asked where I planned to camp that night. After hearing of my planned destination, he asked if I had hiked this portion of the trail before (that should have been a warning sign!). I replied that I had not since this was my first JMT. He remarked that the next few miles were “a bitch.” Hoping for a different reality, I told myself he must have been a negative type: the whole trail is hard if you looked at it the way he did. WRONG. The man was not negative—he was coarsely stating the obvious. That short section of just a few miles is unusually rugged and was a lot of work for weary legs at the end of a long day.

As I neared my destination, the trail made a quick turn to the right along a dry streambed. As I was looking around to see where the track led, I got tripped up in my trekking poles and did a pounding face-plant into the rocks. This all hurt so bad—you know, that traumatic shock!—that I thought it possibly the end of my journey right then and there.

Slowly, I recovered enough to do a self-assessment: sprained fingers and a wrist, scraped knees, and something quite askew with my face. (I’ll save your sensibilities by not including the iPhone selfies I took of that facial injury!) I rinsed everything and felt about to see how bad the injury might be, finding a hole with my tongue on the inside of my lip and a hole with my finger on the outside. Did I have a hole through my lip? How am I going to blow up my air mattress with a hole in my lip? Fortunately, the hole did not go all the way through, the injury did not end my trip, and the damage did eventually heal.

To offset this painful and, I’ll be honest, embarrassing event, that night was so very quiet, eerily calm, and sublime—it was beyond imagining. I wrote of that night in my journal the next morning:

“Last night, no sound whatsoever. No ripple slap on the shoreline of the glass-smooth lake. Not even the smallest itinerant breath of air to rustle my abode. No bird or rodent sounds. Nothing. The creatures appreciated as much as I did those surreal night hours when it was so quiet and the evening’s darkness was so keen. There was no light pollution at all. The celestial brilliance of the stars could only ever be overshadowed by the nearly overwhelming quiet, the freakish calm of that night.” 

My Typical Day on the JMT

It all begins by slipping out of the sleeping bag and into the cleanest clothes available at the time.

I collect my food cache in its bear-proof storage container, the BearVault™ 500, then come back to my campsite to heat water for breakfast. Oatmeal and tea. Always oatmeal and tea. (Stay tuned for reviews of the BV500 and some of my other gear in future posts.)

An idyllic setting off-trail near Upper Palisade Lake, north of Mather Pass. Photo credit: Brien Crothers

I am a minimalist in the wilderness and heat water for the oatmeal, then heat water for my tea, drinking the tea right from the same pot. I pack no mug. While sipping my tea, I begin to break down camp and reload my pack.

Even though my gear is spread over a quarter acre during the night—bear vault over here, cooking gear over there, and lean-to with sleeping cocoon at the flattest place in camp— it all goes back into place and rests on my back before I walk away the next morning, with one last glance over my shoulder to make sure I have everything.

As I repack my belongings, I refill my water bottles and load the day’s lunch and snacks into a pouch on my waist belt. As I hike along the route, I snack on nuts and bars, only occasionally pausing to refill a water bottle. I stop at midday for a lunch break of fifteen or twenty minutes. My afternoons are much like the mornings: I snack on nuts and bars as I stride along, ascending and descending hills, and taking pictures. 

I covered the 211-mile JMT in twelve days, hiking about eighteen miles a day. As I planned the trip, I reasoned that if I were to hike at a slow pace of 1.8 miles per hour, it would take only ten hours to cover eighteen miles per day. My pace was about average, but I usually don’t stop very often and I hike for more hours in a given day than most. I enjoy the trail so much, I can’t get enough! 

Most people attempting the JMT will take around three weeks to complete the distance, but other hikers I spoke with along the trail were on track to complete it in seven days. It’s important to remember to hike your own hike, at a pace that works for you. 

The key to a successful day of hiking was finding the right campsite. I generally knew in advance where I wanted to camp by looking ahead in my map book, but sometimes there were several sites to choose from. I wanted my site to have shade and a view, be near to water, be flat, and be previously established. Upon arrival, the first order of business is to set up the lean-to, followed by washing my clothes and myself. I washed my feet every day, my hair every other day, and went swimming whenever I could to wash all the other bits.

Washing clothes is quite taxing at the end of a long day on the trail. I would wet the item in a stream or lake, then walk some distance away (to keep the waterways clean) and apply a biodegradable soap. I would scrub and beat the item on a rock, rinse it with water from my water bottles, wring it out, and finally hang it up or lay it on a granite slab heated by the sun to dry.

Then it’s dinnertime: eating a freeze-dried meal is a ritual. I begin by telling myself how very hungry I am and how the meal is going to taste so great. I read the directions on the package, heat some water, add it to the package, stir the concoction, and set it aside for several minutes. Then, before eating, I try to convince myself again of how great the dinner is going to be! After awhile, I got used to these modern-day freeze-dried meals. Sure, they were not fantastic home-cooked meals, but they did provide needed nourishment and got me through the next major phase—sleeping. After dinner, I clean up and critter-proof the camp.

As soon as the sun sets behind the canyon walls—usually about 7:00 p.m.—I slip into my cocoon, read for an hour or two, and fall asleep. Only to repeat the whole cycle the next day.

I found that the truly hardest part of the day was getting up in the morning (after all, I’m a grandfather). The many mountain peaks would glisten in view from my sleeping bag. It was early, but it was time to get up and get moving, and it was usually cold out there.

I would eventually slip out of my bag, turn slightly to bring my feet out, and slide them into a pair of old Crocs™. From there, it took all my upper body strength to rise from the ground to my feet. 

Sophia Loren once said about aging gracefully, “Don’t make old man sounds; don’t grunt with effort.” It’s an attitude thing. I would have disappointed Ms. Loren greatly each and every morning on my JMT journey.

All this routine, this daily effort, begs the question of why do I do this? Why should anyone put in so much effort?

I remind myself that I do the work for the chance to experience something I don’t get to see and experience every day: incredible beauty! The visceral response I have to such beauty in the world is worthy of the work.

The following pictures are some of my favorites, but they do not come close to the beauty witnessed in that particular moment. Because I took these pictures, I can slip back into that moment, that setting, and feel again a bit of the grandeur, the scale, and the solace. You’ll have to experience the JMT for yourself. Photo credits: Brien Crothers

Coming up next in this series, A Few Impressions of the JMT (in No Real Order)

Hiking the John Muir Trail – Early Days

I was freezing! Pondering this notion over and over in my head as I lay in my sleeping bag, I decided: Indeed, I am freezing! And freezing every night for the next two weeks was not going to be much fun. Did I underestimate the cold? Did I not pack the right gear? It was far too late for these questions. (more…)

An Ambulatory Retreat: Hiking The John Muir Trail

My blog has been quiet these past couple of weeks, as I’ve been busy hiking the John Muir Trail (JMT). I’d like to spend a few posts sharing my latest adventure with you. These vignettes will, hopefully, inspire you to continue preparing for your own travel adventures.

During a recent hike with like-minded local chapter members of American Pilgrims on the Camino, I first overheard the term ambulatory retreat used to describe walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. An ambulatory retreat, in my mind, can be any trek out in nature. It is a restorative trek, a healing one. I don’t remember the woman’s name who used the term, or I’d give her credit, but perhaps she, too, had heard it elsewhere. Either way, I am quite fond of the term and its intended meaning.

Members of the local chapter of American Pilgrims on the Camino, Muir Woods National Monument. Photo credit: Brien Crothers

Members of the local chapter of American Pilgrims on the Camino, Muir Woods National Monument. Photo credit: Brien Crothers


A Topless Goddess

Sunrise on a Calm Caribbean Playa del Carmen Sunrise on a Calm Caribbean

(This a composite of our adventures, representing a day in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, winter 2016.)

One moment a sea of heads bouncing and bobbing down Playa del Carmen’s eclectic Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue), the miles-long, slightly undulating promenade paralleling the Caribbean Sea; a path full of hawkers spread evenly block after block, all selling various zip-line and snorkeling tours, excursions to Mayan ruins and to Cozumel, taxis to most anywhere in the areas of Cancun and the Riviera Maya. Beautiful people, restaurants, shops, and stores—low-end trinket to high-end Michael Kors and Victoria’s Secret—a busy Starbucks every other block. Nike and Puma, Sephora and Forever 21. Too, ultra modern malls, all

Quinta Avenida by night, Playa del Carmen

Quinta Avenida by night, Playa del Carmen

glitter and glamor. All astride the most famous Avenue on the Yucatan Peninsula, known as the Mexican version of LAs Rodeo Drive.

Quinta Avenida, Playa del Carmen

Quinta Avenida by day, Playa del Carmen

However, as quickly as the day could by appreciated, it changed: a large black cloud loomed south of Playa, making its way north, bearing down on the huge crowds sauntering here and there. Vendors and other locals took note and slowly prepared for another afternoon downpour.

The deluge began as a light mist, quickly the sky darkened, so dark that sunglasses were pocketed, plastic bags and umbrellas made for the ready. Then as if a wall of water came upon us, it started coming down with a vengeance.

Our dilemmas, continue the two blocks to our condo, or duck into a mall. The rain helped us in our decision-making by quickly doubling its force—on its way to a full-blown squall. We passed locals and tourists all waiting, held tight to a wall or under an awning, all trying to stay dry. Quickly we were in the mall before getting completely soaked. Waiting out the storm while lunching at a top-floor restaurant, a good place to watch as Mother Nature washed the streets and a stranded few with a warm shower fresh off the sea.

Busy beach in front of the new Grand Hyatt, Playa del Carmen

Busy beach in front of the new Grand Hyatt

Earlier that same morning and while walking the beach well south of the Ferry Terminal, with ferries to Cozumel, as I walked beyond the exclusive community of Playacar, and as the morning progressed, crowds of sun seekers and families, runners and walkers, cleanup crews and lifeguards began to fill the beach.

Walking through the growing crowd—come gauntlet—full of old, large, shall I say, well-fed men and women in Speedos and bikinis, respectively. Americans don’t wear Speedos. More people and more Speedos (that look like her bikini bottoms—perhaps they share) as I made my way passed resorts and beautiful, vast vacation homes.

More and more Speedos. Then, as the rest of the world vanished from perception, a topless Goddess wading in knee deep surf, splashing about, her eyes closed, enjoying the sun–and all its resultant senses. Her hair up in a knot, bikini bottom (mostly bottom), body perfectly bronzed, perfectly…. I didn’t notice.

Later, back to Quinta Avenida with Kath, where we wandered in search of another taco and sat street side to watch as people, all sorts of people strolled by with one mission or another—or none. Playa attracts people mostly from the northern climes in winter: Minnesotans, Chicagoans, Canadians, Swedes, Finns, Brits and New Yorkers. They come to escape the cold and snow and wind of their hometown winters.

Best Tacos in Playa del Carmen, El Fogon

Best Tacos in Playa del Carmen, El Fogon

Some stay only a week, others for months and months, until the heat in Playa becomes too much. There are locals out with their wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend, their families, strollers and not. There are runners and walkers, a few bikes, though hard to navigate in the throngs of humanity (there is a dedicated bike path on 10th Avenue). There was an old Campesino gentleman, in his Sunday best as he walked to see family members in areas north of Centro Playa. He sported a fine straw hat and an ornate yellow shirt atop worn, but clean pantalones and very minimal and quite ancient sandals. A pride in his eyes, gratitude, humble and kind, and a love for those he planned to see this day.

There were musicians, and young men in traditional Mayan wear attracting customers to a restaurant or shop beautifully adorned with feathers, body paints, headdresses, loincloths, and sandals. And there were the hawks, the pushers of “junk you don’t need,” Cuban cigars, selfie-sticks; you name it (literally). They’ll say things like, “Remember me. I was your waiter last night at…” Every once in a while, they get someone, they hook them with this line and they walk them—as cattle to the slaughter—to their shop, for junk they don’t need.

La Cueva del Chango, Playa del Carmen

La Cueva del Chango, Playa del Carmen

Back to our condo to hang out until our friends returned from one excursion or another, then off to dinner at La Cueva del Chango (The Monkey’s Cave), our favorite fusion restaurant. On their return, we decided on a time for dining and I called Paulo to make reservations. Sometimes, most times, it is difficult to get into—for any meal. Chango is that good, and everyone knows it.

We didn’t need reservations this midweek evening, which only made for an even better experience, quieter, the staff not so pressured. The place is set street side, but we always prefer to dine in the back near the man-made stream, under the Mediterranean palms and bamboo swaying in the evening breeze. Paulo greeted us and led us to a nice table right beside the man-made stream and away from the speakers.

Their music is good, not that techno-beat crap you hear nearly everywhere in Playa, but conversations are more pleasant when you don’t have to yell to be heard. We are from rural America, where you don’t have to yell to be heard. We didn’t grow up in the Bronx or Jersey, where life is so loud everyone grows up yelling to be heard—even in Playa, at the rooftop BBQ, at our condo. But that’s another story.

We have loved our time in Playa del Carmen. We have enjoyed our time with friends that were staying nearby and that we could hangout with them for a while and other friends that came to stay with us in our condo for a week or more. We have come to know them better and to deeply appreciate our friendships. We always relish when our daughter and grandkids can join us as they did for a week early in our time in Playa. I had a great time swimming with my grandkids and the sharks at Xcaret Park. It’s pleasing to see them having fun and experiencing the world and its wonders.

We found great restaurants, shops, markets, fresh empanadas and great Mexican food. Too, great snorkeling spots and cenotes (caves). We’ve met wonderful people from all over and great people from Playa.

Hard work on new condos, Playa del Carmen

Hard work on new condos

When spending time in Mexico, I always come away with an overwhelming perspective that these people, whether of Mayan, Aztec, Toltec, or Spanish ancestry, all work very hard, have great pride for their cultures, and share an appreciation for the land and animals of Mexico.


Quinoa in a Frying Pan

Following another fantastic day at the beach or exploring the Riviera Maya, Mexico, comes that time again to make dinner. We love our little condo, it’s top floor view towards the Caribbean Sea, windows always open to a cooling easterly breeze. But its amenities are, shall we say—less than we’re used to at home. Not really lacking, just different. One night, Kathey was making a fresh cucumber and onion salad to go with a quinoa dish I was going to make with fresh veggies from a market not far from us and using up bits of this and that from the refrigerator.