Travel is Personal

This headline may seem a little like a no-brainer to a lot of people, but I’m not sure most people take their travel personally. Here’s what I mean: I’ve been to Paris three times and I’ve never been up in the Eiffel Tower. Oh sure, I’ve been TO the Eiffel Tower, but not up in it. I didn’t want to go up. I also didn’t want to go to the Louvre. I’m not particularly an art lover, so why waste a day in a museum when I can stroll along the Seine or watch a street artist or simply sit in a café and people watch? All those things seem a lot more interesting to me than art.

I’ve spent enough time in European churches that they all start looking the same … stunning stained glass, astounding feats of architecture, majestic. Yes, admittedly, the cathedrals of Europe are gorgeous, but after awhile they just start looking the same to me. I’d rather find the hidden gems, sample the food, soak up the atmosphere of the town, not the tourist meccas.

That’s what I mean by travel is personal. Too many people cave to the recommendations of an author who writes about those things you “simply must see” in cities around the world. Those authors apparently don’t think, or live, like I do. I prefer to travel with a vague idea of where I’m going and leave much of my trip to chance. Usually in a week-long trip I only plan one or two things to see and leave the rest to chance.  If you’re the type who prefers a little guidance and direction, just keep in mind that these authors are writing about what they love. If you agree, their insight can be super helpful, but if you don’t agree, don’t feel like just because they are published authors means their suggestions are right for you.

That said, one of the things I typically plan is some sort of walking tour or half-day sightseeing tour. A really great travel agent who takes the time to get to know you before booking your trip can be the difference between finding the right “kick-off tour” for a vacation and spending a week touring sites that bore you to tears. My travel agent, Travel Planning for You!!, does just that. Micky knows the overview-style tours hit the highlights and point me in directions I might not have thought about. Tour guides are a wealth of information about their towns and can often suggest off-the-beaten-track sights that have shorter lines. Once on a walking tour in Prague, another couple was talking about a place called “Spa Beerland.” With a name like that, how could you not be interested? I asked about it, checked it out on the hotel lobby computer and made a reservation. It is still one of my favorite vacation memories.

When you’re planning your next vacation try to remember, travel is personal! After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Go see it the way you want to!

Same Road, Different Season

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A recent drive across a short stretch of desert in Arizona has me wondering about a classic desert plant, the Saguaro cactus. These tall, prickly plants with their outstretched arms and stand-up-straight trunks, almost human-like, dot the landscape like guardians of the sand. This particular stretch of road west of Phoenix, will soon be a regular drive for us, but for now it’s still rare enough to notice seasonal changes in the landscape.

We drove it in February when the winter was full of cool breezes and the desert landscape was in a seasonal resting mode. Everything looked a little sleepy somehow. The Saguaro were green and healthy then but didn’t seem to reach for the sky.

We drove it again in May. It was unseasonably hot for spring and had been very dry for a long time. Those same Saguaro were looking almost gaunt. The trunks showed signs of drought – a little shriveled. The branches were short, thin and often falling off.

We were back last week in the heat of the summer. The monsoon season is a little more robust than normal. It’s clear the Saguaro love the bright summer sun and the recent thirst-quenching rains. The trunks are fat and green. The branches reach proudly for the blue sky.

I’m excited to see what fall brings to the Saguaro. Will they retain their fat, water-filled bellies? Will the stubby, new branches grow into thick upstretched arms like concert-goers cheering on the band?

Sometimes, going back to the same place can really change your outlook. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … go see it in different seasons.

Diversions – The Lonesome Road*

“In the desert, you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain”
—  A Horse With No Name by America

 

The road before us stretches for miles, this oft-traveled section of Route 66 in California, near the Arizona border. Top down, the air cool in the February sun, we smile and sing along to the Eagles “Hotel California.”

The road is ours and ours alone. Most have foregone what was once America’s highway for the Interstates. Today, hurried minivan moms and dads choose to keep their kids entertained with DVDs and tablets, instead of joining in the Alphabet Game and looking outside the window to see the desert for what it is … vast expanses of nothingness … an  American West tamed by cowboys, miners and early settlers, yet teeming with life that can be seen by those who slow down and take a look.IMG_0222

A freight train looms in the distance on the tracks paralleling the road, its single headlight growing larger on the horizon. As the big diesel nears, we wave at the engineer. He signals back with a long blast of his harmonious horn. He rumbles by, tank cars filled with oil or some other chemicals; containers filled with consumable products destined for long, low warehouses built on cheap desert land, only to be transferred to trucks bound for your house and mine, ready to be used and thrown away, feeding our lifestyles.

I think about the engineer, and what he sees and thinks as he crosses this great land, day after day. Do others in passing cars wave hello? Or do they whiz by, oblivious to the train’s massive presence. Does he see the beauty of the desert? Or is it just another route on his way home?

For him and us, it is a lonesome road, but in its starkness, there is beauty and serenity that can only be found when you avoid the beaten path.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. Go see it.

 

(*Inspired, as they say, by true events.)

Adventure Begins With an Idea

On New Year’s Day, if you had asked me how my life would be different halfway through the year, I might have responded, “It will be hotter?”

Looking back over the past seven months, I have to admit, it’s difficult to pinpoint any specific moment that caused the incredible changes that have taken place:

The mule seemed to laugh as if he knew what was about to happen.

It started in February with the end of a lifelong dream. I even wrote a blog about it. That led to an unplanned trip, which had Greg and I diverting to a new community near Phoenix, Arizona where our spur-of-the-moment side trip led to a house with a floor plan and a community that we both immediately fell in love with.

Next came a series of conversations that ended with a decision to turn our lives upside down and change our lives from a living-for-work-and-career mentality to making retirement a priority.

We snapped a picture in front of the model of our future home.

From that perspective, we decided to sell the home we had lovingly created together and spent thousands of dollars customizing and personalizing. We added a trip back to Phoenix in May, signed the papers to build our dream retirement home and put the ball in motion to sell and relocate.

Realtor pictures helped our house sell fast.

Our house sold with lightning speed and instead of moving at the end of the summer or perhaps early fall, we had less than a month to pack! We are already settled into a temporary home while our Arizona dream becomes a reality.

With the whirlwind of life-altering decisions in just the first half of the year, I can’t help but wonder, if someone asked me today, how I would answer, “What will your life be like on New Year’s Eve?”

It is astounding to look back and see the changes that have occurred. Our motives and pace have been questioned by friends and family. Through it all, the one thing that has kept us sane is our ability to talk about everything; to recognize when we are stressed and share the feelings and work through them together; the willingness to laugh through our struggles and comfort each other when the stress gets overwhelming; and the knowledge that no matter what happens, we are together and as a duo we can get through anything.

A cactus is a cheerful, constant reminder of where we are headed.

We ensured that our top priority was always each other and we worked to keep our eyes on the prize. We said goodbye to some things we loved and dreams we had and chose to focus on a new and exciting future with more than a few unknowns. We are opting for the adventure of creating new dreams and making them happen. After all, as Semisonic pointed out in their song, “Closing Time,” every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

 

 

There is a whole world out there waiting to be explored … and every exploration starts with an idea.

 

Yes You Can!

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Greg and I have spent the last few weeks obsessing about a decision we’ve made. We’re a few years from retirement, but we found where we want to retire and we’ve decided to build our retirement home there. It’s a big step that means we will either carry two mortgages, sell our current home or come up with another solution. Since we live and work near Washington, D.C. and want to retire out west, moving into the new house isn’t really an option. So, we’ve spent this time asking ourselves, “Can we do this?” “Should we do this now?” “Are we really making a wise decision?”

Home or Travel

Before you ask why this is in a travel blog, you can probably guess that owning two homes would take a serious bite out of our travel budget … and we LIVE to travel! That part of the decision has us asking, “How do we make this work without giving up what we love?”

I’ve mentioned it before … finding the money to travel is a priority choice. If you need to drive an expensive car, you won’t have as much money to travel. If you need to buy loads of expensive shoes, you won’t have as much money to travel. If you need to go out to eat three times a week or buy an expensive latte every morning … well, you get the point.

Our solution is to sell our current home and move into a smaller, less expensive apartment until we can move west. It’s a big step! But perhaps by providence, I’ve seen several reminders this week that pointed out if you don’t take the leap off the cliff, you cannot soar. This is our leap. Sure, it’s scary, but we want to soar. I’m 17 letters into my plan to See the World A to Z … only nine letters to go. I can’t give up now. Greg is also fully vested in the plan. He’s excited to see it through to the end.

We’re giving up a little for a potentially HUGE gain – our dream home in retirement and the continued freedom to see the world. You can do the same! Anyone can. Take a deep breath and take the leap. Soar! After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored.

You’ll never get there if you don’t start somewhere.

Diversion – P is for “Psoaring”

20171021_143745Okay, I made up that word (because I’m a bit psycho), but when we booked our trip to Hawaii (see “P is for Pu’uhonua”), we bookended the flights to Honolulu with stops in Los Angeles to break up the long flights from the East Coast.  On the first of those LA stops, Judy and I decided to check off a bucket list item with soaring lessons!

As a private pilot, all my flying has been in planes with motors, but soaring in a glider has held a certain appeal…matching wits with nature in search of thermals that will take you to new heights, rather than just gliding “down hill.”  I reached out to Jeff Jewell, one of my LA-based flying buddies who had spent some quality time flying gliders, for some advice.  He pointed me straight in the direction of the Southern California Soaring Academy in the high desert town of Llano. He also let me know that on the day we were planning our experience, he would be flying the tow plane!

We arrived dressed for the desert – shorts and t-shirts – but were met by breezes and cool temps. That didn’t dampen our enthusiasm as we were met at the door by Julie and introduced to our instructors.  Judy was shown to her glider first and after she and Jim pre-flighted, a golf cart towed them to the end of the runway.  22730336_897410107074580_3258421392343006608_nDale gave me a thorough rundown of the instruments and controls of the ASK-21 sailplane we would be flying, the difficulty we might have finding thermals this particular day, and the procedures we would follow when being towed into the air.  We, too, were then towed out to the end of the runway, where Jeff taxied-up and the crew hooked up the tow line.  When the line was taut, we waggled our rudder indicating we were ready to go, and Jeff firewalled the throttle in the Piper Pawnee tow plane ahead of us, and we quickly lifted off right behind.

A truly masterful instructor, Dale walked me through the tow procedures, one of the hardest parts to learn when one is getting their glider rating, as I followed along with my hands and feet on the controls. As we approached the mountain ridgeline south of Crystal Airport, we dropped the towline. We were soaring!  Flying within just a hundred feet or so of the treetops, the view and the sensations were exhilarating, and maybe a bit intimidating.  A pilot in a powered aircraft like I fly would never get that close to a mountain, Dale said, and I can certainly attest to that. We skimmed along the ridge, looking for the slightest amount of lift created by the winds rising up the mountain (called ridge lift or, in meteorological terms, orographic lifting) … lift that could be felt in the seat of the pants and seen in the very sensitive vertical speed indicator called a variometer.  There wasn’t much, but Dale found some (Judy’s instructor would quip that Dale “could find a thermal in a fart”) and he racked the tiny aircraft with the incredibly long wings into a spiraling turn to stay in the thermal.

Then it was my turn.  Flying that glider was unlike anything I’ve ever flown before.  Dale was constantly urging me, “More rudder!”  Unlike the Pipers and Cessnas I usually fly, where only a bit of rudder is needed to coordinate the turn, sailplanes with impossibly long wings experience a LOT of adverse yaw.  But I got the hang of it, and soon Dale was showing me how to use speed in a dive to build energy to climb.  We found a small thermal in a place dubbed “The Chimney.” I did my best to stay in it, spiraling in a steep turn as we climbed ever so slowly.

Soon, it was time to head back to the ground.  I had long lost sight of Judy and Jim, but I was too mesmerized in my own experience to really notice.  I did some stalls and steep turns to get a better feel for the bird, then Dale demonstrated the aerobatic capabilities of the ASK-21 with a wing-over! I flew the pattern toward the airport with Dale working the spoilers to lose lift in a glider that would rather fly than be on the ground.  Nevertheless, we nailed the touchdown and coasted to a stop.  Our first soaring flights were done, but they won’t be our last!

There’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored.  See it from the air!

Judy ready to soar

 

Why I Fly

From my earliest days, I wanted to fly.

As a youngster, I was fortunate to fly commercially before airliners became nothing more than airborne buses and coats and ties were de rigueur. ClipperFlights in Lockheed Electras, Convair 440s, Boeing 707s and DC-8s had me glued to the window as the earth fell away during takeoff. Back then, cockpit tours for kids were a must, and the stewardesses (as they were called then) ALWAYS had wing pins for their young passengers.

Balsa wood, tissue paper and dope models followed, as did subscriptions to every flying magazine I could get my hands on. Dad took me to airshows at Pt. Magu where I saw the incomparable Bob Hoover in his Aero Commander Shrike perform a complete aerobatic routine with both engines silent.

My best friend’s grandfather took us up for a ride in a Piper Tri-Pacer out of Van Nuys airport and later a Piper Apache; his dad took us up in a Cessna 310 … the stage was set.

But priorities changed.  Sailing, then cars and girls in high school, more sailing in college and a first marriage kept my aviation dreams at bay. But then in 1993, the planets aligned and an opportunity presented itself that was simply too good to pass up … a close friend had an opportunity to buy an old Cessna 150 for $9,000 – a bargain! – did I want in?  Absolutely!  Another friend had just received his Certified Flight Instructor certificate and would train me in exchange for the flight time.  Deals were made, checks written and the airplane was ours.N5749E

My logbook tells the story.  My first lesson was on April 6, 1993 in a Cessna 172 when we went to pick up the plane.  Mike flew it back. I soloed just three months later with only 18 hours logged!  I passed my private pilot checkride on March 21, 1994.  Bigger and faster airplanes followed and in December 2001, I passed the checkride for my Instrument Rating.

It all stopped in 2003.  I moved east and when the promise of a new job failed to materialize the finances to fly just weren’t there, and then life ensued.  The dream faded but never went away.  A new, but short-lived job with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association threw new sparks on the fire, but my then-wife wasn’t a flyer … it wasn’t a priority.

Fast forward to 2012 when the woman of my dreams enters my life … and she wants to fly!  Judy not only supported my dreams, but wanted her dreams of flight to be realized.  For a wedding present, I got her a logbook of her own and an introductory lesson.  On a cold day in January, I watched her take off for the first time at the controls.  Later that summer, I, too, was back in an airplane with a new medical certificate in hand and an instructor putting me through the flight review paces.  It took a few flights – I was definitely rusty, but it all came back and my instructor signed me off.  I was back in the air!Checklist

A week ago, I was again signed off by an instructor to fly one of my favorite airplanes, a Piper Arrow, and later this year, I hope to regain my Instrument Rating currency. In the meantime, Judy and I are planning many flights together.J&G Flying

Today is National Aviation Day…a day to celebrate why we fly and our nation’s long history of flight. I am incredibly thankful to live in a country that affords me this opportunity…but it is an opportunity that is being put at risk by Congressional legislation to privatize our Air Traffic Control system. This move will make private aviation too costly for all but the richest folks and put control of ATC in the hands of the airlines that do NOT have your interests at heart. Thousands will lose their jobs and critical infrastructure served by general aviation will be lost.

If you have ever, even once, thought about taking a flying lesson, enjoyed a scenic flight, taken a flight with a friend to another airport for a “$100 Hamburger,” I ask you to do two things:  1) Write or call your representatives in Congress and tell them to Modernize, not Privatize, our ATC system, and 2) Book a flight with an instructor TODAY and see for yourself what joy flying brings!  If you need some advice, contact me…I’m always happy to talk flying.

There’s a whole world out there, waiting to be explored…see it from the front seat!

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