Dan and Hannah Hike Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County, California – March 2011 Archives

Author’s note. I take you back to spring break 2011. I would retire from my position as a prof in the Department of Education at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine two months later. Hannah and I flew into SFO (San Francisco Int’l Airport) to hike the national parks/monuments of the area. Though one now needs reservations to visit Muir Woods, back then we found a parking spot and had the run of the park.

Escaping the city limits of San Francisco by way of the Golden Gate Bridge, Hannah and I take to the four-lane California 101, then exit onto the winding two-lane Pacific Coast Highway with its tight hairpin turns and no shoulders.  

Enter the Redwood Grove

Arriving at the Visitor Center at Muir Woods National Monument in Mill Valley, CA, we take the ranger-recommended hike up Redwood Creek along the Bootjack Trail.  

Redwood Creek among the redwoods of coastal California

Immediately, we are in the midst of the tallest living things on the face of the earth, 250-foot plus redwood trees.  Redwoods!  Oh, they are majestic, certainly magnificent, indeed breathtaking, regal is no overstatement.  You might be thinking, enough already with the inflated adjectives.  Well, my impatient readers, please think again.  As my college roommate Big Steve would say, these trees are stunning.  Feeling like Jack looking for the top of the Beanstalk, we crane our necks skyward unable to see the tops of the redwood canopy.

The redwoods along the boardwalk at Muir Woods National Monument

Absurdly stunning

Through this forest of clustered redwood families is a blacktop or a wooden boardwalk trail, maybe 12-15 feet wide.  Among tourists in sandals and street shoes, we warm up for our hike in this lush rainforest where thick, hairy moss hangs from every branch.  We are within a few miles of the Pacific Ocean. Ferns abound on either side of the boardwalk with the snow fed rushing waters of the Redwood Creek, just an arm’s length away.  With the wet winters and fog off the ocean throughout the rest of the year, this climate is perfect for redwoods.

Redwood Creek

After a mile of humanity, we step straight ahead on the aforementioned Bootjack Trail, which is muddy and sloppy from last night’s drenching rain.  Hiking boots are a must with the trail rocky and crossed by roots as it ascends into the Pacific coastal mountains.  The roaring creek makes it difficult to talk; for the next hour we see no one on the trail to break up the hike or possibly make a brief connection with a kindred spirit.   Arriving an hour or so later at the Van Wyck Meadow, we lunch while sitting on a rock in the sunshine.  

Bootjack Trail

Our lunch time rock at the Van Wyck Meadow

Turning left we hit the Tamalpais Conservation Club Trail for the home stretch which, rather than climbing the canyon wall, cuts into the canyon hundreds of feet above the thundering creek with little elevation change.  Using hands and feet, we do grope through a 12-foot section of the trail washed out by last night’s downpour.   

Though the park information lists this loop hike as plus or minus four hours, we do it under three hours with 15 minutes for lunch.  Fact is, we primarily hike for exercise.   We cruise pretty well and smell fewer roses.  It’s just in our DNA, but it’s one heckuva good workout. 

Oh, there’s one final joy – cell phones don’t work in Muir Woods.  We tried.

Dan and Hannah Hike Big “M” Mountain in Missoula, Montana (Archives – June 2011)

Six hour, 360-mile drive

Thwarted by three-foot snows in early June on the 7000′ lakeside trails in the Grand Teton National Park, Hannah and I head instead north from Pocatello, Idaho to explore the 3200′ Big Sky campus town of Missoula.  We have Big “M” Mountain (Mount Sentinel) in our sights.

Big M Mountain with Mount Sentinel beyond

With easy-to-negotiate switchbacks, hiking to the large concrete “M” is a satisfying challenge for families and sprint-hikers alike.  Camouflaged wire fences are nicely hidden in the grassy terrain and make trail cutting and trail eroding nearly impossible.  It’s a gentle 20-25 minute hike along a dirt trail to the top with satisfying views of the University of Montana campus, all of Missoula, and the mountains of the Bitterroot National Forest.  

Wanting more of the trail experience, we decide to venture beyond, on to the higher reaches of Mount Sentinel, a prairie restoration area with wild grasses and flowers along our way.   Our breathing is heavy, our stride purposeful for the skies are going from gray to black across the valley.  Undaunted, we press on.  Hannah and I confer, waiver, and wonder if to continue is a fool’s gambit.  Fools that we are, we press on, double timing our pace.  Spotting a windsock above us and thinking the top is nigh, we quicken our steps.  The top is not nigh.

Mount M with the campus below

At last, we hit the jeep trail to the top, see the threatening dark clouds on the horizon and bid a hasty retreat, jogging downhill in our hiking boots.  Some five to six years ago, after thirty years of daily running, Hannah and I gave up pounding the pavement due to creaky knees that squeaked every time we got out of bed.  Almost immediately once we stopped running, the creaking knee noises stopped.  But running is what is needed today under darkening afternoon skies.  

Feeling the strain on the interior of my thighs, I keep pace with Hannah’s relentless descent off Mount Sentinel.  And thankfully, still no rain as we return to pass the Big “M”. 

The U, that is the University of Montana in Missoula

At the lower levels, we encounter causal hikers in sneakers and iPods.  We pass mom and dad who are shepherding their two kids, maybe 4 and 6 years in age, up the mountain.  We hear the boys say, You mean we can’t throw rocks!  Coeds pass us, one wearing a tee-shirt that says make art not war.  Got to love college towns.  

Over the next three days I pay for our rapid descent as climbing steps and even more so coming down them or even down a street curb is painful.  I look like Walter Brennan as I awkwardly land on one foot and then the other.  Even so, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

January 2022 Postscript – Hannah and I have not returned to the northern Rockies in ten plus years. California has stolen our hearts, well, my heart (And hopefully JetBlue will keep their part of the bargain and fly us to LAX next Saturday). Our next trip to Montana will be with our grandsons, Owen and Max, and their parents in a few years. Later we’ll bring Will’s family here to this outdoor paradise of mountains, streams, and meadows.

Dan Learns About Life on the Appalachian Trail at the Pine Ellis Hostel in Andover, Maine – Archive July 2011

Appalachian Trail

As an Appalachian Trail groupie, I just can’t get enough of the lives of thru-hikers (those Appalachian Trail hikers going from Georgia to Maine or vice versa in one calendar year).  In Andover, Maine, I learn that just down the road from where we are staying is the Pine Ellis Hostel where thru-hikers get off the trail to get a shower and sleep in the bunk room ($20/night) or in private rooms ($50 for two); get pizza and ice cream at the Andover General Store and pick up waiting mail at the local post office.  

Being bold when bold is called for, I ride up the driveway on my bike, park, and just step right up onto the front porch, acting like I know what I am doing, which I certainly do not.  Fortunately, I am a newcomer like everyone else.  David, one of the caretakers, takes me and a few others on a tour of the back bunkroom for four, which on this 90+ degree day is suffocating.  Then it’s to the laundry, which for $3 you can do a load of your nasty smelling trail clothes, the kitchen area where meals can be cooked, and a living room with a computer and television (got to have a shower to use the computer).  Though I saw a woman in her 50s, most of the thru-hikers are 20s and early 30s. 

Front porch at the Pine Ellis Hostel, Andover, Maine

Seeing an empty spot, I sit on a porch bench next to Shoo-fly (her trail name), who is most willing to talk.   Having recently quit her job, she says the rule of thumb is that it costs about $4000 to hike the AT for the four to five months that it often takes.  The Whites (White Mountains in NH) are the toughest.  (She hasn’t seen the Maine’s mountains, yet, since she has just crossed into Maine!) 

She says, AT hikers never take blue blaze trails (those trails going to side views of, say, waterfalls or other points of interest) if they are more .2 of mile away.   They have just too many miles (2180 miles) to hike from Georgia to Maine.  She started in early March (now late July) and is on her third pair of Merrell hiking shoes. Merrell will replace one pair of hiking shoes for free for thru-hikers.  She hopes to finish in two weeks at Mount Katahdin in Maine.

On the porch I am taken aback by an ashtray with fifty cigarette butts.  Shoo-fly has a Smart Phone and others have iPods.  She mentions that 9P is the hikers’ midnight.  She says to me, You should hike the trail.  

I take that as a compliment since I am semi-fit for one in my sixties, but I have no spirit for the backpacking life.  One, it rains regularly; two, a 30-40 pound backpack is beyond my capability; three, the tedium of hiking the green tunnel (i.e. what thru-hikers call the trees covering the trail for much of the 2000+ miles), and four, I sleep poorly enough that sleeping with others in a shelter holds no charm for me.  Fact is, five, physically I couldn’t do it.  Thirty-five years of daily running has taken its toll on my knees.  

Just before I get up to go, David the caretaker offers all the hikers a freeze pop on this sweltering day and he offers one to me, too.   In my sad little mind, it’s validation of my acceptance into the thru-hiking sister/brotherhood.

July 2021 Update from our friend George Ellis, “Yes they [Pine Ellis Hostel] are still active and still have their van that runs up to the AT to pick folks up. Hiking was a great Covid activity, although distanced accommodations were probably a challenge at times. There is now only one place to purchase food/meals in town [Andover] now with the two others closed (neither because of Covid).

Dan Becomes Father of the Bride for the First Time – July 2011 Archive

Molly is getting married in ten days.  The story of her meeting Tip Rawding is a great one.  Sit tight.  Six years ago, Molly taught math to 8th graders at Rye Junior High School in New Hampshire.   The school secretary, one Paula Rawding, said in so many words, Would you (Molly) like to go out with my son Tip?  RJHS is a small school and things could get messy if the date didn’t work out, so Molly declined.  Life moved on.  

That summer Molly took a part-time job with Green Penguin Landscaping, as it turns out, where Tip worked.  They hit it off, but alas Tip was dating someone else by then.  During that summer, Molly said to Hannah and me, I blew it [by not going out on that date].  But what could she do? 

A year later Molly fulfilled one of her lifelong dreams and moved to a warmer part of our country, Virginia, to teach in the Alexandria City Public Schools as a middle school math teacher.  Ever the go-getter, a year later she applied to a PhD program in Math Education Leadership at George Mason University.  Part of the application process required her to get letters of recommendation.  Her former principal at RJHS was a natural to write one.   

When Molly called RJHS to get that recommendation, she again got the school secretary, the one and only Paula Rawding, who said in so many words, Tip’s not dating anyone, would it be okay if he called you?   Ms. Cool, Molly said, That would be fine.   Well, the rest is history and she is now Molly Melinda Rawding.   

I’ve got one thing to say.   Thank you Paula!

So ten days before her wedding, Molly drives 500 miles north, like all good York Rothermels do, in a mad dash from Virginia to Maine in ten hours, including a stop at her grandmother’s in New Jersey.  Tip, in the human resources department at Home Depot in Virginia, will come a week later.  Once Hannah comes home from cutting hair at Durgin Pines Nursing Home in Kittery, ME in these pre-wedding evenings, we are on the deck of our one-time B and B having alone time with her.  Molly, for now and maybe for a long time, is just where she should be in Virginia.  We learn of her new job in Annandale, VA, her thoughts about having kids (yes!), and the details of the wedding, like where the sound system will come from when it is realized the reception venue has none.  (Solution – A friend of Tip’s sister Bev came through.)

As 3P approaches on their wedding day, the groomsmen assemble up front.  Tip, who has been hidden away so he won’t see Molly, stands in the front as the eight bridesmaids and nephew ring bearer each slowly walk down the aisle of First Parish Church in York, Maine.  Molly and I are hidden so no one can see the bride through the windows in the door to the sanctuary.  Then the doors open and everyone is looking at us.  Well, let’s get real, at her.  Truly it is all about Molly. 

In the Congregational Church, the minister does not ask, Who gives this woman in marriage?   What she does is have the father of the bride kiss the bride on the cheek, proudly and emphatically shake hands with the groom (at this point Tip free-lances by giving me a bear hug), and then I take the couple’s hands and put them together as one.  How cool is that.  I then walk to my spot next to Hannah and my mother in the front row left.  

Tip reads the vows he wrote first.  On this most wonderful day before our special friends and amazing family, I, Joseph Tipton Rawding, do take you Molly Rothermel as my wife in Friendship and Love. And then he can say no more.  It’s got to be 20 seconds that he stands there composing himself.  No one doubts his love for Molly at this moment.  He eventually has the big ending.  Thank you also for being My Best Friend and Companion and I Promise to do my best to be yours. I love you and always will, My Love.  The guy is a poet to boot.   

Then Molly begins Tip, you are my best friend and my greatest love.  She chokes up and pauses, too.  If this ain’t love!.  I sit in the first row and think that I’ve been there myself with those very same feelings about Hannah, Molly’s Mom. 

Atop Mount Major in New Hampshire ten years later (2021)

Two postscripts.  Our one time dental hygienist had on the celling of the treatment room which we could see when we were on our backs during our cleaning which listed twenty ways to happiness.   Number one on the list.  Choose your spouse wisely.  95% of your happiness depends on that one decision.   Amen.

At the rehearsal dinner lasagna cookout the night before, a woman older than I am asked, How does it feel to be losing a daughter?   That’s so not the way I feel.  I feel we have Tip -and his entire family – joining ours. 

Molly and Tip were married on July 3, 2011.

PS Vault forward to 2021   On Monday of this week, Molly and Tip traveled to a B&B in northern Vermont to celebrate their 10th anniversary.  Hannah and I had Owen (9) and Max (7) for two days which included going to York Harbor Beach and later the Cape Neddick Beach, pizza from the York House of Pizza, ice cream at the Blinking Cone on Long Sands, and a Netflix movie, Surfs Up. Win/win.

Dan and Hannah and Robert Redford in Sundance, Utah – June 2011 Archive

Taking the Provo Canyon Road (Route 189) along the meandering Provo River, we then turn left onto the Aspen Scenic Highway (Route 92) towards Mount Timpanogos, past Sundance and Aspen Grove to the state park ranger station.  

Returning to Stewart Falls in 2017

In mid-June this year (2011), the road over Mt. Timpanogos is closed due to the snowpack.  The ranger warns us that snows will make hiking a challenge this afternoon.  Immediately after parking, we suit up with fanny packs of trail mix and water, and head to Stewart Falls, some two miles away.  Immediately we discover that a mini-avalanche has covered the trail.  Sixty foot pine trees have been toppled and are strewn about as we step over and under some serious trunks in this heavily forested part of the trail.

Hiking a meandering trail through pine forests, which is as much downhill as up, we spot a 100 yard snowfield that adds to the excitement of the trail.  We slip and slide across it helping others who pass in the opposite direction.  

Mount Timpanogos

One young woman said to me, I need your hand.  We connect as a community of hikers.  Today we are again aware that we are not alone and didn’t get to where we are going by ourselves. 

A popular family hike on this Sunday, Stewart Falls gives us many opportunities to interact with others.  Not 45 minutes after we start, we arrive at the soaring falls, majestically falling to the snowfield below.  

Once back to the parking lot, we look to Mount Timpanogos.  Wide and welcoming at the start, the trail up Mt. Timpanogos has us quickly sidestepping a boot-soaking impromptu steam and sloshing over mushy snowfields.  With another snowfield ahead, we turn back after 25 minutes of hiking.  Hiking in snow is akin to hiking in sand.  We step and slide, two steps forward one step back.  It’s joyless unless you are training for the Olympics or some insane ultra-marathon.  We side-saddle through the snowfields where we see a family “ski” down the snowpack in their boots. 

Pleased and satisfied with our afternoon on the trails in central Utah, we drive down the canyon and stop at Sundance to see what it’s all about.  As we stroll through the grounds, I can’t believe it, but I spot the Sundance Kid. The one and only Robert Redford is literally sitting twenty-five feet away being interviewed outside a screening room on this elegant campus for film folk that he has created.  Star struck, I can’t wait to tell someone.  Three women in their fifties approach.  I say, Have you seen who’s here?  They look and have such joy on their faces.  We are five teenagers.  

Once home I immediately borrow the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) at the York Public Library, released during Dan and Hannah’s senior year of college.   Initially the screenplay was titled, the Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy. But with Paul Newman the bigger name and playing the part of Butch, the title was reversed.  

Initially, Steve McQueen was wanted for the Sundance role, but he and Newman couldn’t agree on who would get top billing.  Let me tell you, the movie is timeless and features Katherine Ross riding on a one-speed bike with Newman to the Academy Award winning tune of Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head (B.J. Thomas). 

2021 Update – As you can see by the top picture Hannah and I returned to Stewart Falls in 2017. After Covid-19 postponed both a 2020 and 2021 trip to Utah with our daughter Molly’s family, we hope to once again hike to Stewart Falls with them in 2022. Today Robert Redford is 84 and lives full-time in Santa Monica, California but who knows where he might be in nine months.