Hannah’s Sandal Tells Her Side of the Story 

Three days ago, I posted a blog on the miraculous recovery of Hannah’s sandal from the side of the New York Thruway.  Click here for that blog.  Teacher/blogger/former UNE student of mine Molly Hogan suggested I write from the sandals point of view.  Challenge accepted.

sandals right one

Really!  You are just leaving me here.  It’s damp, gravelly, and my goodness the cars and trucks are roaring by.  I can hardly hear myself think.  As I was minding my own business on the floor beneath Hannah’s feet as she drove, their car slows, and all of sudden I’m dumped by the side of road.  And then she and her loser hubby (really that’s too harsh, just unobservant) drive off in their fancy, shmacy Prius.

And all the while, these two clueless ones have no idea that I am back by the side of the road.  Oh, she’ll find out soon enough and wonder how he could have been so careless.  There’ll be smoke coming out of her ears, I predict, when she learns of my predicament. 

I know their itinerary is traveling to Ithaca, Syracuse, and Old Forge, New York, and then returning home by this very thruway in two days.  Lying four feet off the shoulder in these nasty small stones, I’m starting to itch and damn if those aren’t storm clouds above.   

sandals hannah sans right one

You know, I had it pretty sweet, nestled on the top bookshelf in their bedroom.  It’s warm there, and she takes me out when she wants to kick back, be uber comfortable.  I am her go-to shoe.  She gently caresses me with her foot as she slides in.  She’s light, delicate and gives me just the right Reiki massage on a daily basis.

She found me at Marshall’s after months of looking for just my style.  She loves me.  She said so.  As dark approaches, car after truck ignores me, and for that I am thankful.  I am waiting for my deliverance back to Maine.        

Two days later – I am certain that she hasn’t slept well thinking of me lost and alone.  He has his doubts, but damn, he’ll support her come hell or high water.  She is the girl of his dreams going on 51 years.  She’s the faith; he’s the what-the-hell, let’s-give-it-a-shot guy.

By later afternoon Thursday, I still don’t see their Silver Prius with Maine plates.  And now it’s time for me to have faith in the Sandal God.  I close my straps and pray for the return of her loving foot embrace. 

Prius 2

A little before 5P, for the fifteenth time a car pulls over, the last time to change a tire, but this time it’s his yuppie Prius.  OMG.  She’s driving, he jumps out with the cars racing by, cradles me, and returns me to the most appreciative sandal wearer in the Known World.  Clearly, the Sandal God answers prayers. 


Dan and Hannah Explore Ojai, California with an Assist from Penny

Unity of SB

Rev Larry of Unity of Santa Barbara speaking on Collateral Beauty

When we travel, the hikes are cool, the scenery beautiful, yeah, yeah, yeah.  But the best part are the people; whether here in California or elsewhere in the United States.

During our stay on the Central Coast of California, pickleball has been ideal for meeting people in Ventura and Santa Barbara; in addition, becoming a part of the Unity of Santa Barbara connects us with kindred spirits.

Mitch with take out


To build further connections, I have a brilliant idea for your consideration.  My best friend from my childhood in Fair Lawn, NJ was Mitch Kaplan.  We played Radburn Rec basketball as sixth graders together, took the buses and subways to Yankees games across the Hudson River into the Bronx, played dice baseball, had our hearts broken by the young women in high school, and even played on the high school tennis team together.

Mitch above waist shot


While I moved away to live in California, Arizona, and then eventually Maine for 35 years, Mitch returned to our childhood home in Radburn (section of Fair Lawn) after earning his BA from Antioch College in Ohio and his MFA at NYU.  Despite the distance, we stayed in touch; in part thanks to my frequent visits to see my mom and dad, who for many years still lived across the park from Mitch and Penny’s house.  Which brings me to Penny.

Mitch skiing

Mitch on the slopes, an athletic passion I did not share

Meeting in California, Mitch and Penny later married in Yellow Springs, Ohio with Mitch in a Boston Bruin jersey.  The cliché fits – he walked to the beat of his own drum and orchestra.  As we each approached retirement (he from a successful career as a writer and me after a run as a school and college teacher), golfing together loomed big in our future.

And then, damn it; he died from leukemia and its treatment.  He was 61.  That’s now more than eight years and counting of double bogeys and three putt greens we missed.

Ojai map

Carpinteria is ten miles south of Santa Barbara on the coast

After he passed, I kept in touch with his wife Penny who remained near to their two kids in the East.  Having grown up in Fillmore, CA, Penny came to mind when Hannah and I began traveling to California in winter; I soon realized how close Fillmore was to our month-long condo in Carpinteria.

Ojai 2 D and H with Emma and Theresa at Cafe Emporium

Dan, Hannah, Emma, and Theresa at the Cafe Emporium, Ojai

So, here’s where the brilliance comes in.  (I think you’ll soon see that I’ve checked that box.)  I asked Penny if she had any old (as in dear) friends in Fillmore that might like to have a cup of coffee with Hannah and me when we explore the town for a day.  It turns out she has a high school friend in nearby Ojai (pronounced Oh-hi) and sends me Emma’s email address.

Ojai 2B foursome at Libbey Bowl

At the in-town, just off the main street, Libbey Park

I email Emma, who responds enthusiastically that they are early risers and would love to have breakfast with us this early February Friday.  Encouraged to try the Ojai Café Emporium just off the main drag in Ojai, Hannah and I meet Emma and Theresa in a nook of the cafe.  Filling us in why they like living in Ojai, they tell us of their joy in walking to town to get coffee, the pleasure of being away from the cold of New Mexico, and their love of the temperate climate.

After learning their backstory, I mention, in response to their question about mine, that my first teaching job was in Anaheim, 35 miles south of Los Angeles; it was a short-lived job because the US military was clamoring for a piece of me.  Suddenly, I find myself opening up to two women I just met about the fact that I was conscientious objector during the Vietnam War years.

That said, the government didn’t quite see eye to eye with my self-assessment.  Let me explain how I dealt with our difference of opinion.

Ojai draft lottery

After graduating from Arizona State in 1970, I lost my student deferment; in addition, the Selective Service was no longer giving deferments for teaching positions like mine in Anaheim; I was reclassified 1-A.  That was the first year of the draft lottery, which it turns out I lost in a big way.  Out of 365 dates in the year, my December 27 birthday was chosen #78.  Since everyone from #1 to #195 was to be drafted, my goose was cooked.

Ojai conscientious objector

In the summer of 1970, I informed the Selective Service I would not serve because I was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War.  Basically, my local draft board said, no you are not; you are not a Mennonite or Amish, and anyway you need to be against all war.

Having the right to appeal, I petitioned the New Jersey State Selective Service Board to hear my case.  Fortunately for me, government bureaucracies can work slowly; it took them 10 months into 1971 to decide unanimously (5-0) that I was not a c.o. in their minds.  There is a federal appeal but only if the state board is divided.  So, I waited as an eligible and vulnerable 1-A.

Ojai make love not war

Going to Canada was not an option for me.  Too cold and too faraway.  My resolve was strong that I would never shoot a weapon.  And I waited.  Out of the blue in early 1972, I was reclassified 1-H.  That meant that every 1-A had to be drafted before I would be drafted at all.  Essentially, that meant I would not be drafted.  I never got an explanation why I was reclassified, and I never asked.

With my future noticeably brighter, I got a full-time teaching job in Tempe, AZ in February 1972, proposed to Hannah later that month, and after five years of off and on dating, we were married on July 1, 1972 in East Penfield, NY, at her father’s Christmas tree farm.

Thank you, Ojai ladies, for asking.

After breakfast in Ojai, we walked the in-town Ojai Valley Trail, a former railroad paved for bicyclists, runners, and walkers.  The mountain trails around Ojai have been off limits due to the decimated hillsides caused by the burning brush and trees of the Thomas Fire two months before.

Ojai 3 H on Ojai Valley Trail

On the paved Ojai Valley Trail, which goes all the way to Ventura on the coast

Randomly as we walk the Ojai Valley Trail, I stop what seem to me to be welcoming faces and ask why they like living in Ojai.

The first, a dental hygienist raises her arms out, and beams, the weather.  But she, too, has a story to tell about the Thomas Fire.  After the first flames could be seen in the mountains, all four roads out of Ojai were closed, sealing the town off from the outside.  Scary was her word since she and the other townspeople didn’t know if the fire would come down to their valley to destroy their homes as it had for whole neighborhoods in Ventura the day before.

Ojai 3D OVT

Ojai Valley Trail

Another thirty-something, says she likes the small-town nature (7,400 residents) and the climate.  A gentleman in his 80s adds that he appreciates that the town council wants to keep Ojai the way it is, they don’t have an expansionist mentality.  He agrees it is expensive to live here.  A lower end house in town can go for $600,000.  Ouch, California real estate.

With four miles of in-town trail walking in the books at near 80F, Hannah and I return to 63F Carpinteria 20 miles back to the coast, pleased that my checked box idea produced such dividends.









Dan and Hannah and the Women’s March (1.21.17)


Dad and Mom, a lifetime inspiration

My mom would have been on the front line of the Women’s March.  Dad, a sailor in World War II, would be right there with her.  They were Roosevelt Democrats and supporters of Barack Obama from the get go.  Living well into the nineties, they are turning over in their graves over the election of 2016!

I wanted to be at the Women’s March for Civil Rights on this first full day of the Trump Administration, but…

Flying south to Washington to walk alongside our friend Ellen just wasn’t in the cards.  It turns out there was a good reason why Hannah and I didn’t go to any of the Women’s Marches throughout the country.


To be clear, these are challenging times for many in our country.  The first two paragraphs from the mission statement of the Women’s March organizers outlines the genuine fears of many of our sisters and brothers in this country.

The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us – immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer, Intersex, Asexual), Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault – and our communities are hurting and scared.  We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear.

…The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights.  We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.


Our amazing Oregon Family (Becky in green, Corrie to her left in the blue ski cap, Abby to her left, and Karl in front of them in the purple cap)

Weeks ago, we learned that our sister-in-law Becky and her daughters, Corrie and Abby, and our nephew Karl, were marching in Portland, Oregon.  We stand with them.

The day before the march (Inauguration Day) our daughter Molly asked Hannah to join her and Molly’s friend Nancy for the Women’s March in Boston.  I so wanted Hannah to go, but it just wasn’t going to work out.  We stand with them.


Jeff in Portsmouth, NH

It turns out there were two Women’s Marches in our neighborhood – one eight miles away in Portsmouth, NH that our friends, Corky and Jeff & also Lisa, walked and a second 45 minutes away in Portland, Maine where our friend Molly marched.  But we just couldn’t go, but we stand with them.


Then a few days after the Women’s March in Portland, Maine, I read our friend Molly’s blog.  (She was a student of mine in teacher education at the University of New England and is my favorite Maine writer).    She wrote eloquently about the experience.  Her lead includes these lines that captured my mixed feelings, too.

I debated about participating.  I’m an apolitical creature and find the world of politics uncomfortable, if not repellent.  I vote and I educate myself about the issues (well, to be honest, not all of them, but most of them), but that’s about it. I don’t like talking politics and I don’t enjoy listening to political coverage.  In all honesty, I also just wanted to spend a quiet day at home.   Click here to read her entire blog.

But she did go.  In response to her blog, I wrote:

Dan Rothermel says:

January 24, 2017 at 8:48 am

Proud of you. Maybe it’s time for us bystanders to be more involved.  Maybe this election shakes many of us out of our complacency.  So, the question is, what is next?  What does each of us do as individuals?  Collectively?

So, what do I as an individual do to promote civil rights (i.e., the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality) for all?  And why weren’t Hannah and I participating in the Women’s March?


You see, we had scheduled lunch with our daughter-in-law Laurel’s mom, Sandy and her friend Paulette, who were visiting from Massachusetts.  We choose to make our caring, respecting, and loving difference on a small scale.

For us, empathy begins in our own hearts.  It starts with us being “peace-full” (i.e., full of peace) in our own lives.  Treating all we meet with love, we then have that love spread through them onto others, like ripples in a pond.


Nancy and our Molly in Boston

Though we would have been on the frontline of the Women’s March, today we spread our love one-to-one with Sandy and Paulette.  Love begets love.  Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.  We each advance human rights as we can.  For us, love is always the answer.

In a world so torn apart by rivalry, anger, and hatred, we have the privileged vocation to be living signs of a love that can bridge all divisions and heal all wounds.   – Henri Nouwen

Dan and Hannah Remember August 5, 1979

For the first five years of our marriage, Hannah and I lived the sunshine life in Tempe, Arizona (part of Phoenix’s Valley of the Sun).  While Hannah went to grad school in nursing and later in counseling at Arizona State University, I taught fourth, then sixth grade in the Tempe Elementary Schools.  As we knocked on the door of our thirties, we decided that we were ready for kids of our own.  It seems the universe had other plans.

After two years of trying, we came up empty.   We were done trying.  Bummed, we even thought of moving to Montana.  True story.  And then in January of 1979, we learned that Hannah was pregnant thanks to a carefree November weekend in California.  Who knew?  Though Hannah’s pregnancy had the usual first trimester fatigue, but no morning sickness, she kept up her five miles of daily running well into her ninth month.  Our plan was that when our first child was born, we would buy newspapers from that day to commemorate it.


Desert Samaritan Hospital in Mesa, Arizona

More than ready, nearly nine months into her pregnancy, Hannah had rumblings aplenty throughout the first Saturday morning in August.  Driving her to Desert Samaritan Hospital in Mesa some five miles from home, I had no idea what the next twelve hours would bring.  What first time parent does?   Psyched for the action to begin in the early afternoon, we waited in an appropriately named “waiting room;” soon we learned that her uterus was not in a dilating mood.   Hannah’s due date was three days away, so we were sent home; we decided to go by way of Phoenix – a major miscalculation.


The booths of Riazzi’s Italian Garden

Driving to Riazzi’s Italian Garden just over the Salt River Bridge into Phoenix that early evening, we ordered chicken parmigiana and lasagna.  Such a rookie mistake.  For literally half the meal, Hannah crouched under the table at our booth doubled over in pain.  Even so, we both kept eating.   Eight hours later, the error of our ways would come home to roost.

With contractions getting serious, we returned to the hospital early that evening; Hannah’s dilations were making progress toward the magic number of 10.  Saturday Night Live with Ricky Nelson kept Hannah distracted as contractions got closer and closer; that coincided with every last bit of lasagna coming north as we approached the midnight hour.  By 230A, Molly Melinda Rothermel came asinging into the world.  Ready or not, and more not than ready, we set off on the adventure of our lives.


Ours was by choice!

And by the way, funny story (in retrospect).  We had no health insurance!   Never gave a thought to the possibility of complications.   As a teacher for the Tempe Elementary Schools making $15K, I would have to pay $100 per month to add Hannah to my health insurance.

Since all prenatal care and doctor visits, hospital costs around the delivery, and post birth care by the pediatrician would be just $800, we both agreed that to save the $400 we would not to put Hannah on my health insurance.  The universe shook its head, smiled down, and let this Grand Oversight slide.  A beautiful, happy, healthy Molly made us a family of three.


From the newspapers we bought on the day of Molly’s birth, The Arizona Republic reported these stories.

At the top of the front page, it had the weather predicted for the day (high of 105F and low of 68F).  Headlines above the fold were not page turners – Debate renewed on sports arena for Civic Plaza and Gulf oil spill nears US coast.)  Boring!


Turning to the Arizona Magazine section with the cover story about tubing down the Gila River, I noticed eight pages of ads for cigarettes (e.g., Camel Lights, Winston Filters)!  Eight years before in 1971, Congress had banned the advertising of cigarettes on television and radio so print media reaped the rewards and did its best to seduce a generation of smokers.

In the entertainment section, movie ads included Escape from Alcatraz with Clint Eastwood, Sunburn with Farrah Fawcett, Rocky II with Sylvester Stallone, and Meatballs with a young Bill Murray.

Sydney Omarr in the Astrological Forecast said if August 5 is your birthday, you are attractive to the opposite sex; your ability to communicate leads you into the media and success in print.  (Molly does write regularly as a math educator.)   You have a lively curiosity – you often have more questions than answers. (She clearly passed that gene on to our grandsons, Owen and Max!)

In the Sun Living section, there were ads for houses in Knoll Gardens on Baseline Road in Tempe, where we lived.  New homes were priced from the mid-$40s (i.e., $40,000).  Six years earlier, Hannah and I had bought our first 3 bedroom house on a fenced-in quarter acre lot in Tempe for $21,000, that was fully-furnished.


That Sunday morning, I also bought the mammoth Sunday New York Times, which cost $0.85 cents in the New York Metropolitan area and $2.50 in Tempe, Arizona.

The lead was A New Government is Formed in Italy.   Not quite, Man walks on the Moon.  Within the first section, there was an article, Study Finds 10 States Will Afford the Best Life for Retirees.   It turned out Arizona was one of the ten.  With retirement nowhere on our radar, we would move two plus years later to New England.   Our adopted state of Maine was not on the list, yet that is where we will retire, save for a few winter months somewhere warm.  We are soft.


An ad titled It’s Better in the Bahamas.  Starting at $82 a Week!  On Nassau, you can get lovely accommodations for 7 nights and an island sightseeing tour for $82 to $303.  Those were the days!

The Arts and Leisure section advertised $9 and $11 tickets for an upcoming Grateful Dead concert at Madison Square Garden.


The cost of a first class stamp was $0.15, a gallon of gas was $0.86, and a gallon of milk was $1.62.

60 Minutes was the top rated television show.  #2 was Three’s Company, #5 was M.A.S.H., and #6 was Dallas.

Fact is, August 5, 1979 was pretty much like any other day that summer, except for the highlight – Molly Melinda Rothermel came into the world.

The preview picture of Molly for this blog was taken during her running of the Boston Marathon ten years ago.







Dan and Hannah’s Woo Girls Reunion at Niagara Falls  Part 2 of 2


NF  1  R and H

Rockin’ Robyn with her Mama

For the Second Annual Woo Girls Reunion (Hannah, Bambi, Maxine, and Wendy – all proud graduates of the College of Wooster in Ohio), we travel to Maxine and her hubby Don’s place outside of Niagara Falls, New York.  Though it’s a 522-mile drive from York, Maine, we give it a comma (by punctuating the trip!) by stopping to lunch with our daughter Robyn near Syracuse.   Over Chinese (Hannah and Robyn) and Mexican (Dan) at the Destiny USA Mall food court, we catch up while scarfing down our lunch; later Robyn gives us a bag of goodies.

NF 1A  Chicken Soup cover

Within the bag is a book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: The American Spirit.  Robyn’s a published author!  The story of her time at Give Kids the World and her military service comes alive.  Robyn has a good tale to tell and it just reinforces how proud we are of her.

NF 2A 4 Woo Girls in kitchen 2

Maxine, Hannah, Bambi, and Wendy

Three hours later we pull into the driveway of Maxine and Don’s out-in-the-country home.  It’s been nine months since the Woo Girls got together at our place in York on the Atlantic coast.  Last year we were all pretty much new to each.  During one stretch, Hannah and I hadn’t seen any of the women in 40 plus years.

The four women and I matriculated at the College of Wooster as first year students.  Girls had curfews and three legs needed to be on the floor every time a guy was in a girls’ room.  Freshman wore dinks as part of the freshman initiation.  Hannah was in the local Lambda Alpha Sigma sorority/club and I a member of the local Kappa Chi fraternity.  (When I pledged Kappa Chi, it was called Kappa Kappa Kappa (that’s right – KKK) and the fraternity pin was a white cross!  Really!)  Neither social club is still active at Wooster.

NF dinks

Freshman Dinks at Wooster

NF J and B  and MLK 2

John, Martin, and Bobby

Charismatic and beloved President Kennedy had been assassinated less than three years before we enrolled at Wooster.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy would be murdered while we were at Wooster.  Four students at Kent State were gunned down just 45 minutes northeast of the Wooster campus.

It’s no surprise that we all went our separate ways during such tumultuous times.  But today, as the sun goes down just north of Buffalo, New York, we, all in our mid to late 60s, reconnect.  By the way, we are having Genesee beers which were not allowed at Wooster in the 1960s.

NF 6 Don and Maxine in backyard

Don and Maxine in their backyard

Earlier in the week, Maxine’s Don checked out the entire Niagara Falls hike to see how long it would take and where, if need be, we might cut the hike short.  Did Maxine marry well or not!  After our weekend together, we know she aced this test.

NF 6B  Skip and Bambi backyard

Bambi and Skip

On Saturday morning, Maxine drives the other three Woo Girls in her car the 30 minutes to the Niagara Falls State Park while Bambi’s guy Skip and I ride with Don.  It’s Saturday of Father Day Weekend so the crowds have come to Niagara Falls.

NF 6A  Woo Girls in backyard

Wendy, Bambi, Hannah, and Maxine

Our starting point is Goat Island, but soon we cross over to the Three Sisters Islands with views of the raging rapids in the Niagara River, just before it tumbles over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls.  As a local kid, Don would play in and among these islands, long before fences were built.

NF 4  D and H at American Falls

American Falls in the background

With summer crowds on the paved trails to the 188’ Horseshoe Falls of the Ontario, Canada side, we seven pair off in twos and threes in conversation and mellow hike with no sense of urgency.   The day is warming to near 90F so mellow is the word of the day.

NF 4B  Woo Girls at American Falls

Bambi, Hannah, Wendy, and Maxine

Though there are many on the trails, we can get our pictures by the fence protecting us from the falls.  The fence is right up to the cliffs themselves so enjoy this 22 second video of the 100’ American Falls.

NF 5 Falls from Observation Deck

Canadian Horseshoe Falls in the distance with the American Falls in front

Further beyond there are six booths selling tickets to the Maid of the Mist boat ride for $18.25 per adult.  Since we are just going to the Observation Deck and then taking the elevator down to the sidewalk to the base of the American Falls, we are charged a mere $1.25 each.  Quite the deal!

Though our views of the falls from the Observation Deck are spectacular, there is a 300′ long long line waiting to get onto the elevator.   At noon, as I look below, I see people are not even moving, waiting in line to stand by the base of the American Falls.

NF 6C  D H and Wendy in backyard

Wendy with the Mainers

Never a fan of waiting (both for the elevator and the path to the Falls), I ask the others how they’d feel about passing on the elevator ride to the base of Falls.  Unanimously the other six are on board to forego the wait. It’s near 90F and Maxine and Don’s air-conditioned house beckons.

Hanging out with the Woo girls, Skip, Don, and I know we have hit the mother lode.

Dan and Hannah and Spasmodic Dysphonia Part 7

What did I learn today – Day One of our Apollo Beach Adventure?

…that this will take patience – and discipline.  My “temperament profile” speaks to my need for discipline. I CAN be very disciplined. But, I’m also very good at going on my “Family Circus” (remember that comic strip?) detours.  Robbie (the counselor/consultant who works with Connie) reminded me of something I already know but…need to be reminded of: to make my voice – and the work that it will require – a priority and to do that work early in the day. Then, any further work throughout the day is bonus.

 …that I DO rely on and feel and appreciate companions along my way….those who keep in touch one way or another (texts, emails, notes) remind me of their love and support. I am sustained by that support more than they probably know. How lucky I am to have those companions in Life. They are what, they are who, add value and meaning to Life.

 …that I like to keep in touch with those who provide support, encouragement, love…sustenance.  So, I text, email, write postcards; I write them as much for me as for them. 

 …that Dan is my anchor, my True North. That I feel so lucky to be living Life at his side.

 The anticipatory phase is over…now the reality of work that lies ahead has kicked in. Practice, persistence, patience…will be my mantras. It’s like going on a diet….it’s not just for 6-8 weeks. It’s a lifestyle change that will be required of me. Connie and her team will provide me with the tools I need to make that change. Those I love will provide the support I need to maintain it – with my practice, persistence, and patience.


Dan and Hannah and Spasmodic Dysphonia Part 6

Here’s an excerpt from Hannah’s daily journal as the clinic begins.

On the three hour flight, I read 80 pages in Kevin Hancock’s book “Not for Sale.”  It’s the book our good friends Donna and George gave us for Christmas….turns out Kevin (president of Hancock Lumber in Maine) also has spasmodic dysphonia – and has attended the same SD clinic I’m headed for in Apollo Beach, FL.

While reading, I discover the other word I’ve been searching for when people ask me how I’m feeling about going to this 5 day intensive voice rehab clinic with Connie Pike (a speech pathologist who developed SD herself back in 2004.)  Mostly I feel excited and hope-full.  A bit “nervous” I had thought….but that word didn’t feel quite on target. 

Instead, it’s “butterflies” I feel (thank you, Kevin.)  A fluttery feeling; full of uncertainty, yes, but more with an anticipation of good things – possibilities – to come.  Excited, hope-full, filled with butterflies….not a bad way to begin any journey!

Dan and Hannah Hike the Ocean View Loop Trail in Muir Woods, California

MW map of area

A mere ten miles and twenty minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the redwoods of Muir Woods await to blow your mind.  Looking skyward at these 250’ towers of beauty, I wonder if anyone but the winter wrens and spotted owls have ever seen the tops of these majestic scrapers of the sky.  Named for the naturalist John Muir who was celebrated by Ken Burns in the PBS series on the National Parks, Muir Woods lies at the base of the winding Panoramic Highway in Mill Valley; an isolated paradise of redwood wonder.

MW map of trails

With the sun settling to the west this late January afternoon, we have an evening deadline to get to the San Francisco International Airport to fly East for Winter’s Revenge.  Seizing one last hike, we choose the Ocean View to Lost Trail to Fern Creek Loop.  The trail guide calls it a moderate hike with steep sections that takes two plus or minus hours; bring it on, for soon enough we’ll be thigh deep in Maine snow.

MW 5 Muir woods sign with D

With the weekend crowds two days away, we and maybe seventy-five others have the park to ourselves on this Thursday in January.  Due to its proximity to San Francisco, Muir Woods attracts one million visitors per year, mostly during the summer and on weekends.  This afternoon local school kids with notebooks and a running start are here to explore nature’s treasure that is Muir Woods.

MW 9 H on trail at MW

As with most trails at Muir Woods, the one mile long meandering boardwalk of the hall of redwoods begins our hike.  Ninety-five percent of all visitors seem to confine themselves to this stretch of majesty with its 1000 year old crimson towers.

MW 6 towering red wood

The entry to the Ocean View Loop is a well-identified right and takes us immediately above the Redwood Creek riverbed.  As we hike the 800 feet of elevation gain past redwoods and Douglas firs, we will soon learn that the Ocean View Trail has in fact no ocean view.  The cool, damp redwood forest belies the reality of a drought ravaged California.  Three years ago when we last hiked Muir Woods, the Redwood Creek was raging.  Today we can’t even see a trickle, a dribble, or a droplet during what is their quote rainy season.

Hugging the canyon-side, we climb a trail just wide enough for one.  Redwoods can only survive in the coastal California because the fog belt here provides the necessary moisture for the grand dames of the arboreal world to flourish during the dry season.

Climbing the Ocean View Trail

Climbing the Ocean View Trail

In the mid-afternoon we step purposely along the switchbacked trail occasionally passing hiking couples.  Breaking my code to converse with one and all on the trail, we pass others by nodding “a see-ya-later” in order to meet our flight departure deadline.  The redwood canopy blocks most of the sun which on this January day near 4P is beginning to set.  Old timers say that at one time the trees did not obscure the ocean view.

Descending the Lost Trail to the Fern Creek Trail

Descending the Lost Trail to the Fern Creek Trail

While the Ocean View Trail goes on further into the Tamalpais Mountains, we turn south on the Lost Trail, steeply pitched with railroad tie stair steps to ease the hilly descent.  A 1930s landslide covered this trail for 30 years and hence the name Lost Trail.  Later we turn back towards the Redwood Creek on the Fern Creek Trail.

MW 9L D between logs with redwoods behind

Focused on our upcoming departure to the Great White Northeast, we have motored through this two hour hike in 75 minutes.  As you can guess we don’t exactly stop to smell the roses or let the tannins from the six inch bark of the redwoods create any olfactory delight.  But we do get the exercise and soak in the redwood experience one last time.

Wrapping up an afternoon at Muir Woods

Wrapping up an afternoon at Muir Woods

Packing away our hiking boots and gear, we fit all our clothes and gear into a carry-on travel bag and a sizable canvas bag each.  Though it’s 5P, the traffic south to the Golden Gate Bridge is manageable and we sail across and then down 19th Avenue through the city.

From our front seat

From our front seat

Arriving at the airport we find our 11P flight to Boston is on schedule.  We crash in quasi-comfortable airport chairs playing with our iPhones as we await our departure.

Our California dream world hiking vacation is ending as we set our sights for home, our New England paradise on the coast of Maine.  It’s just that our East Coast nirvana may not be ready for us until May.






MW york temp

Dan and Hannah Hike the Ben Johnson Loop Trail in Muir Woods, California

MW map of area

On this mid-January day we put a bow on our nine days of coastal hiking in California.  It’s been Bluff Hikes up and down the coast: San Luis Obispo, Big Sur, Santa Cruz, and Gualala.  Though the snow and ice of Maine will snare us in its evil web tomorrow, this Thursday we will hike a mere three miles from the Pacific Ocean at the crown Jewel of the Redwoods, Muir Woods National Monument.

MW jet blue at night

We have “stolen” an extra day in California by leaving tonight at 11P on the evening red-eye from San Francisco to Boston.  Rather than fly today and miss hiking completely or fly tomorrow and pay for a motel room that we would use only til 4A in order to catch the 7A cross country flight, we are flying overnight.  Brilliant?  Yes and no.  The trade-off is a lousy night of sleep in the plane.  A small price to pay for another day in paradise.

Gas in Boonville, CA

Gas in Boonville, CA

Leaving the home of our friends Tree and Scott in Manchester, CA just after dawn, we drive inland by way of Mountain View Road heading to Boonville, CA some 25 miles away.  No lie, it takes an hour to drive this winding road to get to this one-horse town known for its wine festivals.  In need of gas, we have no choice but to put in an additional two gallons at $4.59 per gallon to tide us over til Cloverdale some 30 mountainous miles away.

MW 4 Muir woods sign with H

After Cloverdale, it’s a direct 80 miles down the six lanes of the 101 to Muir Woods.  Just three days ago we were caught in the Mother-of-All-Traffic-Jams on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here at Muir Woods.  After sitting on the off-ramp for 25 minutes in five miles of car-clogged traffic ahead to the Pacific Coast Highway, we took the alternative six-lane 101 highway north to Santa Rosa, CA.

The trails of Muir Woods

The trails of Muir Woods

This Thursday we have no such traffic and cruise into Muir Woods.  Parking that can be non-existent on the weekend after 11A is ample and welcoming today.  Three years ago we hiked the Bootjack Trail for nearly four hours.  Today we are looking for another redwood-strewn  hike before we fly to the snowy tundra of Maine.

Taking to the boardwalk through the redwoods, we… But let me let my videographer tell his story.



MW 9AA Ben Johnson Trail with H

Named after legendary conservationist John Muir, the Muir Woods National Park has redwoods nearly 1000 years old.  When informed that this area would be named after him, John Muir said, This is the best tree lover’s monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world.  To that, Hannah and I add Amen!  My college roommate Big Steve used the word stunning to describe the spectacular in his life.  These redwoods are stunning.

Dan on the Ben Johnson Trail

Dan on the Ben Johnson Trail

Though this is the rainy season, after a mile on the boardwalk we take the fourth bridge over the now very dry Redwood Creek as the relentless drought of California rolls on.  On a quiet Thursday in January we choose the Ben Johnson Trail with its 1000 feet of elevation gain to celebrate our last day in California.  Called a moderate/strenuous hike by the trail guide, the Ben Johnson Trail is a steady climb under the redwood canopy.  FYI, Ben Johnson lived in a small cabin in what is now Muir Woods. In 1935, he built the trail that that bears his name.

MW 9F Han with trail sign

With redwoods here, there, and everywhere, the mile and third climb takes us 45 minutes of purposeful hiking.  In Muir Woods there lies the largest stand of ancient redwoods in the San Francisco Area; these trees are the tallest living things in the world.  We are grabbing last minutes on this California trail not knowing that this year’s icy and snowy Maine winter will take hostages all the way through April!

The Dipsea Trail

The Dipsea Trail

Turning south on the Dipsea Trail, we find the trails are well-marked.  Unfortunately we are leaving the redwoods behind as we hike through grasslands with pine trees bracketing the mini-meadows.  With the Pacific Ocean to our west, the Dipsea Trail is pedestrian and functional, but hardly stunning.

Dipping back into the coastal rain forest of redwoods, we descend rapidly back to the Redwood Creek and toward the visitor center.  With two hours of hiking in the books, we want more.  We are in denial that we are leaving paradise this evening.

Descending through the redwoods to Redwood Creek

Descending through the redwoods to Redwood Creek

It’s 330P, and negotiating San Francisco traffic to the airport south of the city is on our minds.  Traffic, schmaffic. It will be there whether we hike or not.  Throwing vehicular caution to the wind, we select the Ocean View Trail as our closing hike of the week (See the blog for May 3, 2014).

Dan and Hannah Hike the Bluff Trail in Gualala Point Park, California

In traffic on 19th Avenue in San Francisco

In traffic on 19th Avenue in San Francisco

We made a mistake; it was a rookie mistake.  We paid, we learned (we think).

Here’s the scenario.  Leaving our Quality Inn motel in Santa Cruz, CA some eighty miles south of San Francisco at 830A on a Monday morning in mid-January, we time our departure to minimize the traffic as we pass through the City by the Bay.  Being first timers on this section of the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), we have no idea that the two-lane sightseeing coastal adventure of the past few days is now a thing of the past.  At this point the PCH has become a highway of commuters heading to San Fran.


Amazingly, as we approach the turn for the Golden Gate Bridge, the eight lane interstate (I-280) just dumps us onto a city street (19th Avenue); from there it’s twelve miles of go and stop and stop some more with at least 75 traffic lights.

G 2A map of Cali north coast

But that isn’t the big mistake, but it is part of it.  Once over the Golden Gate Bridge, we do choose wisely and zip along at 65 mph on the six-lane 101 north for 50 miles to Santa Rosa.  From there it’s 50 more twisty miles along the windy two lane routes 12 and 116 to Jenner, CA on the coast.  Once on the PCH our GPS says we have 71 miles to go that will take us two hours of driving to our destination north of Gualala, CA (pronounced Wah-LA-La).  Two hours for 71 miles!  Welcome to the Pacific Coast Highway ladies and gentlemen.

Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway

The mistake?  I think you can connect the dots from Santa Cruz to San Francisco to Santa Rosa to Jenner to ….   Too much driving.  The serpentine roads of rural California take hours to navigate.  Sadly it’s a vacation day without a hike.  That just should not happen.  That is a sin against all that is vacation holy.

The Corey House

The Corey House

Happily we arrive at the Corey House, the VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) of our friends Tree and Scott (neighbors of ours in York, Maine).  These two cross-continental travelers set this entire West Coast adventure of ours in motion.  Tree was the one who articulated how as outdoor people they didn’t want to spend the winter inside when temperate California waited with open arms.  After six nights in motels, Hannah and I are ready for the comfort of the sunset coast home of Scott and Tree.

Coastal town of Gualala

Coastal town of Gualala

The next morning after a homemade Tree breakfast, they chauffeur us to Gualala Point Regional State Park for the last of our five bluff hikes in California.  Scott and Tree are making this area a wonderful three month home away from home.  After we leave, they will go to town for a Saturday evening spaghetti dinner fundraiser at the Gualala Community Center.  They are on first name basis with Judith, the post mistress, and have a gym membership at Kenny’s in-town Physical Gym and Fitness Center.  They will run in the Whale Festival 5K in Mendocino, some thirty miles north up the coast.  In a vacation area, they are fast becoming locals.

Tree and Hannah

Tree and Hannah

Parking in an empty trailhead lot, we will skirt the Sea Ranch Community today as we hike along the Pacific Ocean.  Known for its distinctive, simple timber-frame construction, Sea Ranch is a  community of some 1800 luxurious vacation homes a few yards from the ocean itself.

Hannah and Dan above the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean

Hannah and Dan above the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean

On the bluff trail with Tree, Scott, and Bob, their Irish setter, we see more dry grassland as we have all up and down the California coast.  It’s relaxing with compadres like Scott and Tree who take care of us like family.  After our hike, Scott will stop at the Surf Market in Gualala and buy a bottle of Crane red wine for dinner.  Pretty routine stuff, right?  What you don’t know is Scott and Tree don’t drink.  They bought it just for us.

Rocking the California coast

Rocking the California coast

Above the basalt cliffs, we hike in pairs, Tree and Dan, Hannah and Scott, then we switch it up.  With an Irish setter, the pace is relaxed which fits the mellow California feel of the day.  As we hike, Scott gives us a lesson in whale-ology (i.e., to marine biologists it is cetology).  Soon I spot five whales while Scott’s eagle eyes finds 17.

Hannah and Scott

Hannah and Scott

You have no doubt heard the expression, Thar she blows.   Though we see no whales breaching, Scott has us looking for the warm water spray from their spout on the horizon as they exhale and inhale.  The visible spray (“blows”) is whatever seawater that has collected into their nostrils.   Whales usually remain beneath the surface for three to ten minutes, but they can stay under for 30 minutes or longer.

G 7 D on bluff trail

Scott and Tree have come west to count migrating gray whales that are swimming often some 500 yards off shore southbound to Baja  California ; whales have their calves in the warm Mexican waters.  He registers his daily count with the American Cetacean Society, which has a large census center in Los Angeles.

Have you ever wondered how can you make a whale float?  Root beer, ice cream, and a whale.

G 8 crashing waves of bluff trail

Overlooking the Pacific we lunch on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a day when we are glad to have sweatshirts.  Though just a touch chilly here 150 miles north of San Francisco in January, it’s sunny and upper 50s by the water.  Just last night the Weather Channel has informed us of another East Coast snowstorm and plunging subzero temps.

Hannah and Tree

Hannah and Tree

For the most part we have the bluff trail to ourselves.  Tree and Scott are in the midst of their first month of three away out west in California.  On this day, they will have no way of knowing that this will be the coldest, snowiest winter in memory in Maine and throughout much of the eastern two-thirds of the United States.

Along the Bluff Trail in Gualala State Park

Along the Bluff Trail in Gualala State Park

The California coast has its hooks in me.  For Hannah, I’d say it’s a small itch.  But I hope it is one that she will want to scratch next winter!