Lessons Learned in Rome

Vatican City

This is the third, and final, post in our When in Rome series.

Early access is best. Make reservations online ahead of time if you can. Go for the “no line” opinion. We have been to several World Heritage sites and other places frequented by the masses. And we don’t like crowds or missing out on what we came to see because of those crowds. Therefore, we usually seek out passes with the early access option (Chichen Itza, for example). They don’t cost more. You just have to be willing to get up and to leave early in the morning, sometimes as early as 5:30 a.m. (more…)

Out and About in Rome

Vittorio Emanuele II Monument

This is the second post in our When in Rome series.

Our first full day in Rome, we loosely followed the Heart of Rome walking tour suggested by Rick Steves, visiting the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Pietra, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and the Bruno Statue in Campo de’ Fiori. Steves is the travel expert on Europe seen on PBS. We found a copy of his travel book for Rome in our apartment, and off we went. (more…)

Pickpockets – Put Them Out of Business

On a busy afternoon metro ride in Rome, Italy, a friend of mine had his wallet stolen from one of the pockets on his cargo shorts. You know the kind. The pocket down low on the leg, secured with a small patch of Velcro. The robbery happened when my friend was exiting a carriage, and he has played the event back in his mind enough times to know exactly when the theft occurred. There was a young (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…)

Would We Use Airbnb for Italy Again?

Continued from La Dolce Vita: Living the Good Life While Touring Northern and Central Italy, the final posting in the Options When Two Is Four or More series about the advantages of using the Internet when securing lodging for a tour of Italy.

Touring Italy for three weeks with my wife (Grandma) and our friends (also grandparents) became one of the highlights of my life. We later joked that we must have thought we were much younger because we packed a lot of adventures into those three weeks. However, we were well prepared and had worked out much of the details before leaving home.

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Although we had used Airbnb and other similar websites in the States before—and have friends who use those sites to occasionally rent out their home—I must admit I was still a little nervous before seeing our first place in Rome. When you travel halfway around the world, the last thing you want to find out is you booked a flat over a train station. (more…)

La Dolce Vita: Living the Good Life While Touring Northern and Central Italy

Photo credits: All images by Brien Crothers

Continued from the Options When Two Is Four or More series about the advantages of using the Internet when securing lodging for a tour of Italy

Areas of Italy We Visited and the Places We Rented

Rome (Roma, in Italian) is a big, noisy, busy city with hundreds of things to see and do. Ancient history is everywhere. Just walk in any direction near the older parts of the city, and you will see amazing sights, learn a lot about the era of the Roman Empire, and enjoy unique cultural experiences beyond any of your expectations.

Getting around is easy on the metro and bus systems. They were always packed when we needed to use them. Be ever vigilant with your belongings.

Our rented place was in a nice neighborhood—secure, clean, roomy, and adequately equipped, appointed, and stocked. There were stores, mini shops, a bakery, and lots of dining options nearby. Our host, Andrea, met us there at street level as planned, took us up to the fourth floor, explained everything (the location of laundry facilities, amenities in the kitchen, dining options in the neighborhood, etc.) and left us the keys. Easy peasy. (more…)

Options When Two Is Four Or More

Photo credits: All images by Brien Crothers

Following my adventures on the John Muir Trail (JMT), I headed to Europe for another trip of a lifetime. I’d like to spend a few posts sharing about some of the lodgings we stayed in and the cost savings we found on the way.

It all started one evening around our breakfast nook table with two laptops, some snacks, and a bottle of wine. (more…)

A Few Impressions Of The John Muir Trail In No Real Order

Continued from A Look at My Typical Day of hiking on the John Muir Trail

The JMT is super clean, has no visible trash, and is well maintained (let’s keep it that way, please). Trash used to be an issue in the parks, but a little education goes a long way and patrons now have greater awareness of the environmental impact of litter. I was also impressed by the signage. The signs were so clear that I did not need serious navigation skills for the JMT, though I believe all hikers should possess a map and compass—and the ability to use them.

Etched anodized aluminum signs of the John Muir Trail and Inyo National Forest. Photo credit: Brien Crothers

Etched anodized aluminum signs of the John Muir Trail and Inyo National Forest. Photo credit: Brien Crothers

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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)