The Family

The Family
Airstream Weekend Warriors

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cancellations, Disappointments and a Miracle

Troutstream Western Headquarters
Dillon, Colorado

Our beloved Maggie

  There are some days when reality will hit you like a punch to the face. On our recent trip to Colorado, I learned firsthand that everything you hold dear can be ripped from you in an instant. After wallowing in the disappointment of a cancelled Airstream trip to the Dakotas, a near tragic event happened that made me truly appreciate all that I have. While I have never taken anything for granted in life, this was a shock to my system. This event showed me that I possessed poise and strength for my family when they needed it. Most of all, this event taught me in real terms the fragility of life. Enough with the melodrama. Here is what happened.  

     The summer was slowly creeping toward an abrupt and unwelcome end. Melizza and I had planned a trip to the Dakotas in August. Our plans became increasingly ambitious as we expanded the trip to allow the kids a week at our family condo in Colorado. Sometimes careful planning goes by the wayside when confronted with the demands of work. A couple of weeks ago, I had to cancel our trip to the Dakotas due to the launch of project at work that I am responsible for.

     I really shouldn't complain. This has been a great travel year with trips to Europe and Chicago along with Airstream trips that took us from the Florida Panhandle to the dunes of Michigan. We are far from done with Airstream travel this year but it is always disappointing when you carefully plan a trip months in advance only to see it fade away. It pained me to cancel my reservations at Custer State Park.   My kids will not see the herds of bison or experience the unexpected beauty in the Black Hills and the Badlands of South Dakota. I love the adventure of the open road and have a strong desire to drive westward.

     Even though I cancelled the Airstream trip, I was unwilling to deny my kids the opportunity to spend a summer week in Colorado. So we left the Airstream and the Sequoia at home and hopped in the van for a long drive to Colorado. Dillon, Colorado is boring twenty hour drive from Dayton, Ohio. I rode my bike to work on a Friday morning. I figured a nice sixteen mile ride early in the morning would calm me down before a long drive. Melizza picked me up at work in the late afternoon and we drove and drove all through the night until we caught a glimpse of the Rocky Mountains rising from the barren landscape of eastern Colorado. My kids have travelled to our family townhouse in Colorado numerous times but they have never made the journey by car or visited in the summer.

    What should have been a great morning quickly turned into a living nightmare. We arrived to a postcard perfect summer day in the Rocky Mountains. The sun was shining and the mountains of the Ten Mile Range were visible in all their splendor. Our family condo sits on a bluff above the marina on Lake Dillon. Our unit is on the third and fourth floors and the parking area sits below the first floor. As we exited the elevator and opened our front door, I began carrying suitcases in to our home.

     While I was inside, I heard Ethan scream that our dog Maggie had jumped off the deck. I ran outside in a panic only to hear Maggie cry out. I was almost afraid to look over the edge as I knew that the drop was a precipitous thirty feet or more onto asphalt. As I looked down, I saw Maggie lying on her side with a pool of blood surrounding her head. It was so horrifying that I was unable to scream and was momentarily paralyzed with fear. Maggie had jumped onto a three foot high wall and had either fallen or leaped over it. Melizza and the kids were hysterical. I ran down the stairs thinking that I would be facing the unthinkable and most likely comforting my treasured companion in her last moments on this Earth. It is difficult to write about this as the thought of that moment still makes me cringe.

     I arrived down below to find Maggie lying on her side. She was conscious and lying still. I kneeled down beside her fighting back the tears so that I could comfort her and assess the damage. Her breathing and heart rate were normal. I gingerly placed my arms around her and stroked her fur. I whispered to her that I was here for her and that I love her. I looked her over and saw no immediate signs of broken legs or hips. I couldn't determine where the blood had come from. In a matter of seconds people descended upon me from the bike path below and from the building above. Someone brought me a roll of paper towels so that I could wipe away the blood. There was so much that I didn't know how she could survive. I will never forget that smell. While all this was going on, I could hear the heart wrenching cries of my wife and children from three floors above.

    After sitting for a couple of minutes with Maggie in a state of shock, one of my neighbors suggested that I stand up to see what she does. I was afraid that she wouldn't be able to walk and would cry out in pain. To my surprise Maggie stood up and walked eight or ten feet with no discernible limp to a shady spot adjacent to the building. I asked my neighbor to retrieve my wife and try to calm her down so that I could take Maggie to the Animal Hospital. I don't think you can call 911 for a dog fall. Melizza and the kids made their way down to the parking lot. I could not shield them from the pain and the fear but I was able to stay strong for them. Melizza pulled the van around and the boys and I rushed Maggie to the vet. To our amazement, she hopped into the van and jumped onto her favorite seat. Ethan clung tightly to her on the fifteen minute drive to Breckenridge. I had called ahead so they would be ready for us.

    All of the beauty of Colorado that I travelled so far for meant nothing while facing a crisis like this. When we arrived at the Animal Hospital, Maggie jumped out of the car and was acting surprisingly normal despite the blood still clinging to her fur. In the waiting room, she was sniffing the other animals as if she didn't just fall thirty feet from a deck. We were quickly escorted into the examination room. One thing I will say about Colorado is that they have incredible vets. Everyone has a dog and what kind of vet wouldn't want to live out here? After examining Maggie, we learned that she had no broken legs, no internal bleeding, no chipped teeth or any other major injury. Her one injury and the source of all that blood were a few lacerations in her nose. The doctor put her on anti-inflammatory medication and told me to call him if anything abnormal occurred in the next twenty four hours. Once I knew that she was all right, I released all of my pent up emotions in a blitzkrieg of tears. I cannot say enough about the quality people that helped my family in Dillon and Breckenridge. I am truly grateful for all of the help my family received.

Tears of relief and joy

    Maggie was back to her old self as soon as we arrived back in Dillon. We will be traumatized for life and are so thankful that we did not lose our precious Maggie that day. I later learned that she was likely trying to hop the railing to dive after hummingbirds. They were flying between the treetops and the bird feeders on many of the decks. From Maggie's perspective, she was just hopping a fence to dive after a bird. I sat on the deck with a leashed Maggie and proceeded to have a beer or three while watching the sailboats on the lake.

This was taken after our visit to the vet.

Maggie and Melizza after the fall
Maggie looking back to see what I am up to the next morning

Beautiful Lake Dillon and the Ten Mile Mountain Range

     On Sunday, we travelled northeast to Grand Lake, Colorado at the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. Despite many trips to Colorado, Melizza and the kids have never visited the park. We drove on the breathtaking Trail Loop Road more than 50 miles across the park to Estes Park on the east side. Much of the road is above the timber line. Lunch was a picnic at 12,000 feet. The highlight of the trip was a close up view of grazing elk in a high meadow. This was also an opportunity for us to scout some of the campgrounds within the national park. There are so many great hiking trails within the park that we absolutely will return next summer to explore the park. After exiting the park, we visited the Stanley Hotel. This hotel is famous as the inspiration for Stephen King's book "The Shining." We had a nice dinner in Boulder before I had to fly back home for work.

Grand Lake Lodge
The Never Summer Mountain Range behind me

Maggie lived for this moment. Please don't go after the elk! 

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado
She will be spoiled for life

      As a looked out the window of the plane at the Rocky Mountains to the west, I was already missing my family but comforted by the fact that they are all together and healthy. Never take anything for granted. Life is precious. Go hug your dog for me. I can always take another Airstream trip but I will never have another dog like Maggie.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Silver Lake Whirlwind Weekend

Silver Lake State Park Campground
Mears, Michigan

     I cannot believe I am back home. The New York Times is still bundled in a blue plastic bag. We just had a great meal of rosemary chicken, Michigan asparagus, potatoes and a homemade coconut cream pie from Woodland Bakery. This was the meal we were supposed to have in Michigan but never found the time. Reflecting back on this weekend makes me smile. We camped with new friends. We attended our first fish boil. We scaled the massive dunes surrounding Silver Lake both by foot and in a monster truck. The campground we stayed in was probably one of the worst we have ever been to in Michigan with massive Outdoor Recreational Vehicles parked every which way, chain link fences and crowded sites. Our campsite was directly adjacent to the dump station. Despite that, I loved every minute of it. Every time I visit West Michigan, I discover something different and find new reasons to return.

     So lets start at the beginning. I met my new friend Chad while waiting for Lucy at ballet. What are the odds that two dads would be sitting around at a ballet studio in Dayton, Ohio and both be Airstream owners? In my hometown, those are pretty long odds. Chad and his wife Leah had previously owned a Bambi and were just about to purchase a brand new 23 foot Flying Cloud bunk bed Airstream. Chad and I begin to correspond and it turned out that he works right across the street from me. Melizza and I met up with Chad and his wife Leah a few weeks ago to see their new Airstream. We all hit it off and planned a getaway to Michigan together. Oh yeah, they also have twin daughters that are Lucy's age. They wanted to visit the dunes along Lake Michigan. That is a tall order booking on a summer weekend at the last minute. We were able to find two horrible sites at Silver Lake State Park. It is not Ludington but they do have great dunes.

     The dunes along Silver Lake are enormous. There are over 2000 acres of sand dunes within the park. The campground is pretty much albino white trash but I am, after all, both pale and white. While I lack any facial tattoos or a vehicle with monster truck tires, I was just happy to be there. I had to admire all of the cool trucks. I am especially fond of the vintage Broncos from the Sixties and Seventies. The star attraction for the crowds here are the dunes. This is the only location in Michigan where you can drive on the such a massive expanse of dunes. There is a loop along Silver Lake itself which is bordered by the dunes across from the campground.

One of the many Broncos surrounding me
     The Trout family arrived on Friday night and settled in. In the morning we explored the dunes.

Lucy sitting atop the dunes overlooking Silver Lake

     After all of the ascents and descents on the soft golden sand, we headed to the Whippy Dip for lunch. We spied a vintage 1972 Bronco in mint condition in the parking lot.

     Maggie was allowed a rare ice cream treat after the intensive workout.

     We headed over to the local fruit market and learned that they would be having a fish boil on Saturday night. 

     When Chad and Leah arrived Saturday afternoon and set themselves up, we all headed out for the famous Mac Woods Dune Rides. They have an exclusive lease to operate tours on the dunes and they do a fabulous job mixing corny tourism with a thrilling ride on their distinctive elongated red trucks. We have been on this tour before and were happy to repeat the experience with our new friends. As the truck crested the top of each dune, the sound of the engine was quickly drowned out by the shrill screams of three six year olds.

     That evening we attended our first fish boil. This is a Scandinavian tradition dating back to the pioneer loggers who held these events to bring in friends far and wide. A large iron pot is brought to a boil and potatoes, onions and spiced Lake Superior Whitefish Fillets are added. What a show it was. We all enjoyed an elegant and educational evening at Cherry Point Farm. They also served cherry pie and ice cream for dessert. The highlight for the kids was when the accelerant was thrown on the fire before serving. That beats the onion volcano at Benihana any day.

Lake Superior Whitefish is a fast growing fish so it does not carry toxins.

     Saturday night was all about getting to know our new friends by the campfire. Leah and I are both talkers and we shared many stories while the girls made S'Mores and retreated to the Flying Cloud for a movie. Melizza and I are so grateful to find new friends to share new experiences with. We look forward to many future trips with them.

     This morning I woke up early and took Maggie for a walk along Silver Lake. After that I biked a couple of miles over to Little Sable Lighthouse. The Lighthouse was still shrouded in fog and I had the entire beach to myself. The only sounds disturbing the still morning were the shrieking gulls along the shoreline.

The dunes across Silver Lake
Leah's childhood bike that she has passed on to her daughter
Group picture of the South Dayton Airstream Club Charter Members

     It all ended too soon but I had to get home and be into work early on Monday morning. I cannot wait to return to the endless dunes along Lake Michigan. 

     If you ever find yourself in Whitehall, Michigan check out Pekadill's for fabulous sandwiches in a charming old house. Behind this casual restaurant and ice cream parlor is a charming garden. The front screen door snaps shut with a satisfying snap of the spring. That is definitely a sound of summer vacation. Every time I visit this area, I discover something new.

     After all that action, I arrived home before sunset. You just have to love the summer solstice. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Seaside Escape

Grayton Beach State Park Campground
Grayton Beach, Florida

Lucy jumping for joy at the arrival of summer in Seaside, Florida
Grayton Beach Dune Walkway
     Sometimes all you need is a few days at the beach. Nothing says summer like a week in Grayton Beach. The plan was simple. School is out for summer and we were headed for the Florida Panhandle before the real heat arrived. All we needed was a few days of beach, sun and unplugging from the outside world. Our trip was shortened by a couple of days so Ethan could be awarded his black belt but we made the most of our four nights in paradise.

     I have described countless times what I like about the area. There are so many great experiences here.

     Biking to the beach or to the neighboring communities like Grayton Beach, Watercolor Resort or Seaside is one of the simple pleasures of staying here.

The campground road to the beach
Beach Parking

     The food is also a big draw for us. The closest market to Grayton Beach is Goatfeathers. You go here for the seasoned shrimp.

     You have to head over the Destin for the good seafood market. Sexton's always has the best shrimp, fish and oysters.

Shrimp Delight
Fresh Fish

     These Gulf Shrimp tasted more like lobster. We found that grilling them was best.

     I will never miss those oysters that I am so fond of. We bought a half a bushel. These were from Louisiana and they were nice and salty.

Ethan is learning to shuck so that I have a partner.
He loves the raw oysters too.

     The beach is always a winner here.

      The evenings in the resort town of Seaside are pure magic.

Melizza picking up some shave ice

Serious filiform corrosion. Ouch.

      The only difference between this trip and most of our prior Airstream trips to Grayton was our campground loop choice. We chose to stay in the new loop at Grayton Beach which has less foliage and more exposure to other campers compared to the original campground. The trade off is that the new loop has full hook ups. Full hookups is not what you were hoping for while dating in college. That is an altogether different subject. For the uninitiated full hookups means that you have a connection for water, electricity and sewer. Most state parks have only water and sewer but many of the newer sections in Florida State Parks have added sewer. The advantage of having a sewer hookup is that you do not have to manage your water use. You can take long showers without worrying that your grey tank will fill up. Even with that freedom, we are still used to water conservation. That coupled with our new Oxygenics shower head probably allows us liberal water use for a few days before our tank is full. For a family of five, a sewer hookup gives you the freedom to stay in one spot for a while. Our campsite was so large and private that I think we will stick with the new loop from now on.

     We also checked out the Camping on the Gulf Campground near Destin. It is a crowded private park but it does offer oceanfront camping. I would love to camp with an ocean view but the place was way too cramped for my taste and they do not allow dogs on the beachfront campsites. That is a deal killer for us.

      Perhaps the most enduring memory of the trip was swimming in the uncharacteristically rough Gulf of Mexico with the kids. Lucy, Jack and Ethan reveled in the barrage of waves. I am proud that they are all strong swimmers so that they can enjoy rough waters but also respect what they are capable of. Even my young teenager cannot help but smile and have a blast in the water body surfing on the seven foot waves.

     This was a very relaxing trip for us. The kids have a busy life at home and go to academically challenging schools. This was a nice reward for all of their achievements. Even as they grow older, my children forget all of the pressures of school and life at home and just enjoy being kids. These beaches echo with the footsteps of their youth. This is our beach and it is a place that evokes memories of family vacation time for me. I hope they carry these memories with them throughout their lives and that this wonderful sliver of coastline becomes a gathering place for our family in the future as it has in the past.

The joy of doing nothing