Go Take a Hike

There was no playing of the National Anthem that morning. No start gun either. As long as participants were on the 6.2 mile Volksmarch course by one o’clock in the afternoon, they would be allowed to participate—quite a change from previous events at which participants gathered in the predawn darkness for events (walks and runs) scheduled for 6:30 a.m. or thereabouts. 

Arriving at the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota around ten o’clock, we parked in a huge parking lot with hundreds of other vehicles and boarded a bus that took us to the registration area. The entertaining driver turned to the passengers and delivered a special message from the Volksmarch officials: “Go take a hike.” 

Registration was easy, peasy—name, address, phone number. After completing the forms, we walked over to a long table where several people stood ready to take our entry fee: three cans of food from each person. After plunking down the cans of soup, black beans, and corn, we walked to the other side of the registration table and started walking. 

I immediately fell under the spell of the woods. So did my husband. The sun dappled path, the birdsong, and the sight and sound of the walkers in front of me set a magical tone for the entire walk. Despite there being hundreds of people around me at any given time, I could still hear occasional rustlings in and below the trees. The aspens were a spectacular sight—tall and strait with feathery green leaves and white bark. The terrain was rough in some places—and hilly and slippery. We were glad we’d worn sensible shoes.

Our co-walkers were of all shapes and sizes and ages. Some were in family groups. Others, especially those intent on speed, were more likely to go it alone. I wish I could say there were several racial and ethnic groups represented, but that wasn’t the case. I saw only two Native Americans, a father and son, during our two hours on the course; the rest were overwhelmingly Caucasian…alas. I later learned that there’s still a lot of controversy about the monument.  Some Lakota consider it a pollution to the landscape.

My understanding is that some Native Americans were disturbed by the carvings of four white men at Mount Rushmore. Henry Standing Bear, an Oglala Lakota chief, approached Korczak Ziolkowski about creating a Crazy Horse sculpture. “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too,” Henry Standing Bear said. Work on the sculpture began in 1948 and continues today. On June 1, we met one of Ziolkowski’s sons who was eight years old when his father began the project. 

In past walking and running events, an unspoken protocol dictated that participants move to the side if tired—and stay in motion and out of the way of others. The June 1 event was different. People stopped to take pics, climb on rocks, recline on rocks, eat snacks, compare notes, drink water, and laugh and talk. No pressure except to relish the time spent on the beautiful wooded trails leading to and from Chief Crazy Horse’s monument. And speaking of the monument, Crazy Horse’s head is eighty-seven feet high. Pretty impressive. 

As I reflect on the Volksmarch, I think of the beauty of the area (mentioned above) and the people who made the journey with us. 

  • Some seemed eager to share their experiences of past Volksmarches and vowed that it was addictive. Hmmm. We’ll see. 
  • Just about everyone was in high spirits. Once I leaned over to take a reflective photograph in a roadside creek loud with chirping frogs, and a man wearing a red shirt and shorts and sporting a long gray ponytail said, “Watch out for that snake!” as he walked by, laughing as I jumped.
  • We saw a man taking photo of four women, everyone laughing and talking. I volunteered to take a picture of all of them, and he told me that was his harem. Someone told him to get in the photo since it was after all his birthday. Then someone from the group took a photo of us. It’s my fav from the day.

Once we reached the top of the memorial and looked Crazy Horse in the eye, I looked around at the others who’d made the trek with us, and though we’d likely never meet again, we shared some shining moments that morning. The struggle was real but rewarding, too. The people, including Crazy Horse, made the experience awesome.

There’s another Volksmarch in late September…. 

Wounded Knee

As mentioned in the previous post, traveling Sage Creek Road was unsettling. Here we were, 21st century senior citizens who’d been around the block more than a few times, and yet we felt jangly and jittery. I thought of the Native Americans who’d persevered without air-conditioned cars, cell phones, tasty snacks, or GPS systems. We were on a dirt road that would end in a matter of miles and minutes, rain or no rain feeling the shadow of unease and anxiety—stress.

At the end of Sage Creek Road, we turned right, eventually arriving in Scenic. After getting the “straight down that road” instruction, we began the long, desolate road that eventually took us to Wounded Knee. There were few people in sight, just buildings, including a school and some small homes, and acres and acres of land on all directions. Cows and horses abounded, and we discussed what cows did in the rain, snow, sleet, or relentless heat. We were mainly quiet, though, daunted by our surroundings, barren and beautiful at the same time.

After forty-five minutes, give or take, we saw three Native Americans sitting behind a sign on the side of the road. Large and red, the sign had “Wounded Knee” written on it, but since that wasn’t the sight we were expecting, we traveled past, totally missing the church and cemetery across the road. We turned left at a crossroads, rode on about six or seven miles, and finally realized we were in the middle of nowhere. We pulled over to consult the GPS together, confirming our confusion. Tired and aggravated, my husband turned around and retraced our route, vowing that if he didn’t see something soon, we were going back to Rapid City. He was officially done.

“Come on, Hon. We’ve come so far, and it’s stupid to go all the back to Rapid City without visiting Wounded Knee,” I said. And after a moment, “This is something I really want to do to honor my mother. You know how she felt about Native Americans, especially after reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” That did it. Like my mother, he too has a special affinity for America’s first inhabitants.

We soon came to the fork in the road where the three Native Americans were seated and turned in. I got out to ask about our whereabouts, feeling every atom of my appearance and background, an older white female fortunate enough to be gadding about doing the tourist thing on a Friday afternoon. A little twinge of guilt seized my conscience, but once I was out of the car and walking toward them, there was no turning back.

One of the men, Emerald, pointed across the road to a cemetery and church on a hill and began telling the story of the massacre that had occurred December 29, 1890. Estimates of the dead vary depending on the sources one reads, but somewhere between 175 and 300 Lakota men, women, and children were slaughtered by the American Cavalry. A blizzard made burying the bodies impossible until days later. At that time, the Cavalry hired civilians to dig a trench to bury the massacred Lakota in a mass grave.

We were incredulous. Somehow, we’d missed this story in history classes. We’d heard of the Battle of Wounded Knee, yes, but we didn’t know many American Indian groups refer to it as the Wounded Knee Massacre. Calling this slaughter a battle doesn’t prettify what happened, and I can well understand the difference in terminology.

My husband and I walked across the road to the cemetery, stopping first at the fenced in area surrounding the mass grave. Ribbons, shawls, feathers, and other mementos were tied to the fence. Gone but not forgotten crossed my mind. As we strolled through the cemetery, every grave was decorated in some fashion, and I got a sense of what the deceased were like and how much they’re still loved and remembered.

The cemetery was peaceful, and I was overcome with a sense of history as I listened to the rustling sounds of the trees, noted the views surrounding the hill, and read the tombstones. Lost Bird’s grave especially touched my heart. I sauntered over to the church and looked down the hill at the little community of Wounded Knee, glad to know that descendants of the massacre still lived.

Well, Mama, here I am, I thought as we returned to the car, the hillside with its history and inhabitants behind us. I might have gotten a little choked up.

Sacred Ground

If I haven’t mentioned that Gate 1 Travel is an awesome company, I’m doing it now. Our National Parks Tour began in Rapid City, SD and ended in Jackson Hole, WY, and each day was filled with beautiful sights to see and interesting information to be absorbed. Much of the education was provided by our tour guide, Tim Miller, and two step-on guides, but nighttime found us googling additional information about what we had seen that day and what was on tap for the next.

So much to learn, so little time.

On the second full day, our bus driver suggested a change of plans: a visit to Devils Tower near Sundance, WY. Ignorant about what that was, everyone on the bus was nonetheless eager to visit this laccolithic butte in the Bear Lodge Mountains. Essentially a rock formation formed as magma, molten material beneath the earth’s crust, this monolith is considered to be the remnants of a volcano.

Trying to prepare us, Tim said the best way he could describe the rock/mountain’s appearance was that of a bunch of pencils held together by a rubber band. Hmmm. He also told us that the grounds were considered sacred by Native American tribes, including the Lakota and Kiowa, and that many American Indians tie prayer cloths on trees near Devils Tower’s base. “Don’t touch them,” he said.

Tim told us that some people refer to the monolith as Bear’s Lodge and shared a fascinating story about how that name came into being. According to the Kiowa and Lakota tribes, several bears began chasing some young girls who were outside playing. Scared, the girls climbed on a big rock and prayed to the Great Spirit to save them. The rock rose toward heaven and out of reach of the hungry bears. According to legend, the bears left claw marks in the sides of the rock in their futile efforts to reach the girls.

Even from a distance, the Tower cast a spell on me, and when our feet actually touched the earth and we saw what appeared to be millions of rocks and feel the gentle breeze, I knew this holy ground. And that dappled sunlight filtering down through the tall ponderosa pines and aspens was divine. The leaves on the nearby aspens shimmered and shook, and my husband whispered, “This is beautiful.” Magical, too, I thought.

There was no way I was leaving the monument without further exploration, so I walked the 1.3 mile trail around the base of the tower. Paved, it was easy going, and the views were absolutely magnificent. I knew there was a slight possibility of seeing climbers ascending the mountain, but that day (June 20), there were none. Native Americans view climbing the monument as desecration and oppose it, and in June there’s a voluntary climbing ban.

It probably took 25-30 minutes to “do” the trail, mainly because of stopping to gawk, take pictures, and wind my way around other walkers who apparently didn’t have a bus to catch! Take Nike’s advice and JUST DO IT!

In the afternoon, we visited the battlefield where the Battle of Little Bighorn took place. Known as Custer’s last stand to many, I learned that many Lakota call it the Battle of the Greasy Grass. The day was gorgeous, sunny and breezy, and it was unsettling to ponder the noise and bloodshed that had happened on almost the same day (June 25) 142 years prior. Were the long grasses and the wildflowers gracefully swaying in the breeze that day too?

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There’s also a National Cemetery on the premises, and its neat rows of identical white crosses are quite a contrast to the willy-nilly tombstone arrangement on the Bighorn battlefield. From what I read and heard, the combatants were buried where they fell.

Our minds filled with thoughts of Custer, Sitting Bull, and others, we left for Billings, Montana to spend the night. Lucky me. My college roommate and her husband met us for dinner that night

A Heck of a Day

Jim Valvano says there are three things everyone should do every day. “Number one is laugh. Number two is think — spend some time in thought. Number three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think and cry, that’s a heck of a day.”

I liked the advice the first time I read it and resolved to do these three things each day—and more, like exercising and expressing gratitude and spending time with family and/or friends. Getting out of Dodge to laugh, think, see, exercise, and experience life with special folks can double the fun. That’s what happened on a recent weekend when my sister Ann, her daughter Katherine, and my daughter Elizabeth went to North Carolina for a Vintage Market Sale and spent a few hours in Chimney Rock.

Just being in the car together was a treat. We sang, told stories, ate snacks, philosophized on life, and shared family secrets. Around and around the curvy road from Hendersonville to Bat Cave we went, impressed with Katherine’s driving and the gorgeous sights. I mentioned that an aunt’s husband, a policeman, had been killed chasing a speeding car along a mountain road, and the atmosphere became hushed as we considered Aunt Doc’s loss.

Someone asked about going to NC with grandparents, and I said I remembered making the trip many times, a lone little traveler in the back of their light green Chevrolet, probably a ’53 or ’54. Ann began singing “See the USA in Your Chevrolet,” and I joined in. One of our daughters remarked, “I knew they’d start singing,” and her comment was all we needed to continue belting out Dinah Shore’s jingle.

Soon we were in Chimney Rock and under its spell—again. Having climbed to the top of the Chimney one steamy summer day, we looked up at it with awe and appreciation, knowing that we’d conquered it. Katherine parked the car, and we hustled across the street toward a bridge.

The bridge was barely wide enough for one vehicle at a time, but there was plenty of room for pedestrian traffic so we started walking across it, the sounds of rushing, gurgling, bubbling water all around and below us. Loved that experience—the four of us connected by blood and love and memories standing in such a sacred place. We took pics of the place and of each other.

After crossing to the other side, Katherine and Ann turned left and began walking up a hill into a quaint neighborhood I’d often spied from afar. Our morning stroll on that street nestled between mountains and situated by a creek was marvelous. “What would it be like to wake up and see such a sight each day?” Katherine wondered aloud.

The small houses were unique and charming. Elizabeth took a photograph of one of the picturesque homes and the for-sale sign in front. “No worries, I could never live this far from the coast,” she said. I understood. The mountains and the beach are both “thin places” where a person can feel the presence of the divine. And yet, living near the edge of a continent is awesome, grand, and humbling.

We were in high spirits. We laughed, exclaimed over the beauty around us and the sweet charm of the houses. Takeaway: that beauty has been there just waiting to be seen and felt, but we had to cross the bridge to do it, something none of us had done on previous visits. Cross over and enjoy the journey.

 

After coming back to the main drag, we visited a couple of shops, and the younger set purchased a few treats including a pearl ring and a geometrically designed shawl. When we went into a shop of gems overlooking the creek, I scarfed up some colorful glass rocks that were free. They’re now in an Easter dish reminding me of those moments.

Next stop: Riverwatch Bar and Grill. We sat on the second story porch, and although we couldn’t see the water, we heard its ever-present roar and glimpsed the Carolina blue sky with its white puffy clouds. A couple of times, I got up and sauntered over to the edge of the porch for a peek at the creek. A young boy around twelve years old tried to go from one slippery rock to another. Eventually he was successful, but it made me feel kind of encouraged to see that he, like us, had to struggle a little.

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Lunch behind us, we got into the creek itself…or stood on some huge boulders, that is, joining about a dozen other people taking advantage of the setting for photo ops. Seeing and hearing the “alive” water wasn’t enough for Katherine, and before we left the area, she dipped her toes in the freezing, rushing water.

I think I can speak for the other three “girls” when I say it was a heck of a day.

Elvis, Martin, and Abraham

Ever since our trip to Illinois last week, I’ve been thinking of three men who made an indelible mark on our country: Elvis Presley, Martin Luther King Jr., and Abraham Lincoln. While traveling, we visited sites that filled our minds with facts and an increased sense of appreciation for their gifts and perseverance.

We arrived in Tupelo, MS just minutes after the museum chronicling events in Elvis’ life closed. No problem. The grounds were lovely, and we were able to take as much time as we wanted to see the small two-room house where he was born, the church where he spent many Sundays as a child, a huge statue of Elvis as a teenager, and a brick inlaid time line of major life events. It was all fascinating, but I think what captured my attention and awe was just how humble Elvis’ beginnings were.

Elvis’ music touched people all over the world. From the Graceland tour in Memphis, I learned that his Hawaii concert was viewed by one and a half billion people in forty countries. So no, he didn’t fight for human rights or lead a country divided by war, but his impact on others remains. I’ll always remember, “Another little baby boy was born in the ghetto, and his mother cried.” Powerful song.

While I got a real sense of Elvis’s personality and heart while in Graceland, I felt more sad than glad there. He worked hard, played hard, loved hard, and died far too young—right there in Graceland.

While in Memphis, we visited the Civil Rights Museum, an awe-inspiring collection of photographs, artifacts, movies, news clips, and dioramas that teach and inspire at the same time. The main part of the collection takes part in the Lorraine Motel, the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was felled by a single bullet. There’s a wreath on the railing where he was shot. Inside, the rooms where he and some companions stayed are preserved as they were on that day in April 1968. He was an extraordinary man on a mission to improve life for African Americans and all people who were marginalized.

I know he was no saint. But still, when I ponder his role in the Civil Rights Movement and remember King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, I can think of no one who did more to move equal rights for all forward.

And finally, there’s Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. As all school children know, Honest Abe, also known as the Great Emancipator, spent much of his young life in a log cabin in Kentucky. He mother died when he was nine years old, and his father remarried about a year later. He was basically a self-taught man whose education is estimated to be a total of eighteen months. He worked at a variety of occupations, including rail-splitter and shopkeeper, before entering political life when he was elected to the Illinois state legislature in 1834.

In Springfield, the facts from history books came to life as we toured Lincoln’s home, ambled through his community, visited the Lincoln Museum, and walked through the old Capitol. In the museum, I learned more of his angst about the war, the slavery issue, and the nation’s economy. I began to see him as a “real” figure, one who loved his country, his wife, and his four boys. Three of the four sons died before reaching adulthood.

 Assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln also died too young. He rose above all manner of issues to become one of the most popular and respected leaders of the 19th century.

 Elvis and Abe came from lowly beginnings; one became a performer who charmed and entertained people all over the globe, and the other became grew up to hold the highest office in the land. Although his family wasn’t poor, MLK had his challenges and struggles too. Regardless of their inauspicious beginnings, all three men seemed destined for greatness.

Seeing evidences of their lives up close and personal makes me ponder for the hundredth time (or more): What makes some people rise above obstacles to fulfill their potential and become instruments of progress, fairness, civility, and yes, entertainment while others do not?

Time To Say Goodbye

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The next day we were at sea all day, but no one was bored. That doesn’t happen on a Princess Cruise unless a person refuses to come out of his or her cabin. During the at sea days, there were movies, shows, demonstrations, and dance lessons. Some people hung out in the casino while others sat or walked on the Promenade Deck. Others opted to watch a movie on the top deck while sitting in a hot tub or huddled beneath a blanket in a deck chair. Some people shopped and others frequented the bar. Always, there was something to do, to enjoy. There was even a library!

On the morning of the last day of the cruise, we attended a demonstration by the sous chef and bakery chef. Quite entertaining. Towards the end of the performance, many of the staff walked on stage, and one of them, a Vietnamese man, regaled us with the most powerful rendition of “Time to Say Good-Bye” I’ve ever heard. Small in stature, his voice was “big” and touched everyone in attendance. At that moment we realized that the hour to say good-bye was quickly approaching. In less than twenty-four hours, all passengers would be disembarking.

I spent the afternoon walking on the Promenade deck as the ship eased its way to and through the Inside Passage into Canada. The ship’s naturalist was aboard and kept the passengers abreast of everything going on around us as we slowly cruised into Canadian territory. Whales, porpoises, tree-covered mountains, islands, and glaciers surrounded the ship with their natural beauty.

That night we dined with a three other couples whom we had not yet met. Although I can’t recall their names, we sincerely enjoyed their company. They, especially the women, were high-spirited and fun, and I even picked up an excellent recipe for cooking salmon on the grill. And lest I forget, a highlight of the evening was tasting Baked Alaska, a flaming treat that we had seen entering the dining room on trays carried by what seemed to be two dozen staff members.

Early the following morning, we put our bags outside of the cabin and made our to the Horizon Dining Room on the 14th deck. We had enjoyed breakfast there several mornings, and the variety and quality of the food were excellent. Usually a bagel and cream cheese gal, my cruise breakfasts were a little more substantial. Let’s just say I added a little something extra. Something like yogurt, fruit, wheat toast, banana nut bread, scrambled eggs, and bacon (only once, don’t judge). And then there was that morning when I opted for salmon and eggs…delicious.

That morning, the dining room was full, making it a challenge for the six of us to eat together, so we settled for “close proximity.” I met a new friend, a 79-year-old woman traveling to Canada for a family wedding. Chatting with her was a delightful experience, and I admired her willingness to follow The North Face advice to “Never Stop Exploring.”

Breakfast behind us, we reluctantly walked outside to the Lido Deck and asked a staff member to take our picture. It was time to say good-bye. Jeanita and Thomas were flying out of Vancouver with some other people that evening, and and Judy, Carl, Otis and I were spending the night in Vancouver.

Our plan was to take the ferry to Victoria for dinner, but those plans didn’t quite materialize. We took the ferry but went to Sydney, a picturesque coastal town a few miles from where the ferry docked. We walked, oohed and aahed, took pictures, and ate dinner at Subway (they’re everywhere!) before returning to the ferry.

The next morning we flew out of Canada towards the home of the brave and the land of the free. Seeing the words “Welcome to the U.S.A.” was emotional, and I pondered how people entering for the first time must feel.

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Somewhere There’s a Town Called Skagway

Somewhere there’s a small picturesque town in Alaska called Skagway where six of us, all South Carolinians, spent a few memorable hours. We knew it was going to be a fun day as we stood waiting on the deck. As we studied the mysterious graffiti on a huge rock across the way and then glanced at the town villages to our left, we practically bristled with excitement and impatience.

Finally the disembarkment began, and beneath an overcast sky, we walked down the gangplank and strode toward the town. A small shuttle bus took several  passengers to the downtown area, but most of us chose to take the coastal trail so that we could get a better look at the ships in the harbor and some of the local scenery.

Six of us began the excursion together, but the cold and wind began to aggravate Judy’s oncoming cold, so she and her husband Carl left shortly after arrival. My friend Jeanita and I enjoyed browsing through the shops along Main Street, including a fur shop where she spied a coat like one she had purchased years ago. The town (at least the area where we were) was neat, clean, and pretty. Businesses were all well-maintained, and it was a pleasure to walk up and down the main drag and a few blocks off to the side where the homes were.

“Can you imagine living in a place like this?” I asked Jeanita.

“No. I mean, look at those mountains. How would it be to walk out your front door and see them on every side?”

“I know, I know. And then right around the corner, there’s the water,” I said, walking into yet another store.

“But oh my gosh, it’d be so cold,” Jeanita said. “It’s only September, and we wouldn’t be able to stand the wind without our vests.”

There were jewelry stores, souvenir shops, and even a museum. Attracted by its façade, we went into the museum/gift shop. Dark and a little musty, it was unique in size and interesting. It was probably the smallest museum I’ve ever visited, and yet it contained a treasure trove of artifacts and gold rush memorabilia. We browsed through the building and left with jade bracelets and matching earrings. We’ve never been able to pass up a deal, and the jade combo was no exception—buy the bracelet and get the earrings free.

We sauntered into a bakery and vowed to come back for muffins. We didn’t. Not really a regret. Just a fact. You can’t do everything and eat everything. Time and the human digestive system won’t allow it. We went into several jewelry and souvenir shops. Although the businesses were technically souvenir shops, they had a different feel about them, especially the one with native art and jewelry.

Our husbands had walked apart from us most of the day, laughing and talking about who knows what. Near lunchtime, the four of rendezvoused at the Red Onion Saloon. In its heyday, the business operated as one of the finest dance halls and saloons in the gold rush town of Skagway. It was also a bordello, and today visitors can tour the rooms upstairs for a small fee.

Diners from the various cruise ships filled the tables, and we four sat near the front, a location affording good views of the outside street action and of the restaurant goings-on. The servers all wore dresses with low-cut, form-fitting bodices. In keeping with the spirit of the bordello past, the girls had money stuffed in the front of their dresses. We enjoyed the upbeat ambience of the place and agreed that our chowder and chili dishes were quite tasty.

We talked to our server, and when Thomas, Jeanita’s husband, asked her what she was going to do when the ships left, she simply said, “Relax.” She then turned to us and said that actually she was somewhat of an artist and that she made Christmas ornaments of twigs. When she described the ornaments in detail, I recalled seeing them in a gift shop for the price of $44. Artistic or not, the tiny twig tree was too pricey for me.

Reluctant to leave a place with so much charm and beauty, we stopped by the souvenir shop on the way out. Purchases in hand, we rounded the curve leaving town and walked briskly back to the ship in the chilly, damp air.