I don’t get a lot of things about Disney. But then again, I’m not going to get a lot of things about a vacation that makes skiing at Vail look cheap. However, the thing I get the least is full grown adults without children waiting in line to get their pictures taken with characters. Admittedly, it takes a pretty small person to judge another’s hobby, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Because any parent that’s waited in a line with their four year old has thought this exact same thing, all the while cursing these childless folks for forcing us to wait in that line any longer than needed.

Here’s the list (from not at all creepy to completely creepy) of the types of childless adults (SINKs, DINKs, ZINKs, whatever you want to call them) getting their picture taken with theme park characters:

  • Those rounding out autograph books from childhood
  • Those that quickly just want a picture and move along
  • Anyone pretending Prince Charming is saying anything remotely charming
  • Anyone holding a long enough conversation with a princess to where they think they’re forging an actual friendship (while only mildly creepy, these are perhaps the most annoying as they’re literal choke points in Disney’s already painful queue system)
  • Anyone referring to a prior year’s conversation with a character. Newsflash: Ariel is a character played by an actor. The odds of that same actor playing Ariel in 2017 that played Ariel in 2013 are extremely low (even if it was the same person, they would have had approximately 144,369 conversations with guests in that time).
  • Dude with a girlfriend getting a solo picture with a princess
  • Solo dude getting a picture with a princess

Needless to say, no pictures of me exist with a Disney princess. Unless you count my daughter.

 

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I’ve been visiting Summit County my entire life, usually entering the outdoor playground via the Eisenhower Tunnel, thinking only of the fun awaiting far below. Little did I know that the trailhead to one of the higher reward to effort ratio trails is located at the western entrance to that same tunnel. It’s not marked on many maps. The best description I could find online was from the Summit Daily News. From what I can gather, it’s called the Straight Trail.

To access the trailhead (from the county) you head east on I-70 and take the “exit” just before the tunnel set aside for trucks to check their brakes. From there, you take the road up behind the tunnel entrance usually reserved as the last chance turnaround for any vehicles transporting hazardous materials, and go just below the CDOT building which will be on your right. From there, the Summit Daily News article describes a parking lot. “Lot” is generous; it’s really just an expanded shoulder to the right of the solid white line. Park here. If you see a no parking sign, you’re still too far up the hill.

From the parking shoulder, begin walking up the paved road that bends around to the north. It’s not the most idyllic trailhead, what with all the traffic noise and a walk past a modern engineering marvel, but as you ascend the paved road, which turns into an obvious footpath, the traffic noise quickly subsides. This first section is where the Straight Trail gets its name, as it’s literally a straight line up or near a creek bed to the end of the valley. On your right side is the face you’ll ultimately climb. It looks intimidating. It isn’t. This section of the trail is the roughest, but it’s in no way too rough. We were a little past prime time for wildflowers but I suspect this portion of the trail puts on quite a show earlier in August.

At around the 45 minute mark (probably less time for many, we weren’t in a hurry), the path either continues straight up the valley or there’s an obvious path to take to the right. You’ll want to take the path to the right. From this point, you start to gently ascend the face that now looks far less intimidating. As you start to climb, you double back toward the tunnel entrance and many familiar features become more and more clear. Features like your car parked far below, Buffalo Mountain, and the Gore Range. There’s a gentle switchback and you once again head toward the north doubling back toward a second switchback. The second switchback is the last and the ascent remains gentle toward the ridge.

The views continue to get better and better. The primary view is west toward Silverthorne (the Lowe’s is a long, white manmade feature you can use to orient where you’re looking). As you continue higher, you’re able to see the Ten Mile Range and even far to the west to a distinctive fourteener, the Mt. of the Holy Cross. As the climb to the “summit” ridge, views to the east start to emerge, including Torres and Grey’s Peaks, Loveland Pass, the top of A-Basin’s notorious East Wall, and the Loveland Ski Areas. At the top of the ridge, you hike along the border of the Loveland ski resort and can stop for a quick photo next to a ski run sign, high enough to provide some sense of the amount of snow this place gets in the winter.

From this point, we hiked up a short hill that ultimately showed the path to a second small hill where we decided to have lunch. Just below our lunch spot was Chair 9 at Loveland. From that point, you could see 4 ski resorts: Loveland, A-Basin (if you count the top of East Wall), Keystone, and Breckenridge. The most surprising view was that of Keystone, where you could essentially see the entire front side of Dercum Mountain, the original part of the mountain. The view was the trail map I had grown up memorizing as I learned to ski. It was a view I didn’t know actually existed, at least from land. But each of the classic groomer Euro-centric “man” named runs across the front were visible as well as my all-time favorite screamer, Go Devil, on the far west side of the mountain. For me, the trail map view of Keystone was an unexpected highlight of the trail.

After lunch, it’s an easy all downhill walk back to the parking lot. In total, it took us about 2.5 hours to get up though it could be done in far less time. It’s a little over two miles in length (one way) and a very manageable 1500ish vertical climb to just below 12,700. The entire hike is out in the open with views that well, you’ve already read about the views.

For someone that enjoys hiking above the tree line, this is about as easy a way to get there quickly. Add that to gaining a new perspective on a lifetime vacation location, and this hike easily qualifies as a hidden gem.

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Obviously, when you get invited to the Grammys, the most common question asked is “What are you going to wear?”

Fortunately, for me the invite clearly said “black tie” which simplified the decision to criteria and questions like does my tux still fit, do I wear a bow tie or a straight tie, and how do you tie a bow tie? All in all, pretty simple. In hindsight, I probably should have had some sort of pocket square because apparently pocket squares are a thing now.

I will say, I felt out of place on Friday and Saturday nights prior to the event. I wasn’t aware that dudes around events like this wear black suits out to dinner. Or at least they do in LA. I went with my Midwestern-chic jeans and sports coat look. Of course, my refusal to not wear blue jeans that are so dark they’re almost black made that look even more casual than usual.

Enough about me, what you’re really interested in is “what did Lindsay wear.” The invite suggested a short dress would be appropriate, she wasn’t so sure. I was fully prepared to purchase some sort of ridiculously priced dress that she would only wear once. That was before I learned about Lindsay’s plan.

Being know as an over-planner, I should have expected this. The first step to her plan was to find a short dress that could be worn as a back-up and contingency in the event the rest of her plan couldn’t be executed. She successfully found (a moderately priced, to my surprise) dress that fit well and looked great.

The second part of her plan was to see what Rent the Runway was all about. I had never heard of it but apparently it’s possible to rent designer dresses at a fraction of the price. I mean, if it’s good enough for the average groom at a wedding, why can’t a woman rent clothes to wear to fancy shindigs? I was intrigued, to say the least. The way it works is you basically pick your dress, pay anywhere from 5 – 15% of the retail price. You’re able to select two sizes, making up for the fact that you’re not able to try on the dress. They do, apparently, have people who have rented the dress send in pictures of them wearing the dress so you can see what it looks like on actual people as opposed to models on a website – I honestly think this feature sold Lindsay. You select whether you want it for 4 or 8 days, they mail them to you for free, and give you a prepaid bag to ship it back. It’s pretty much the same way Lindsay uses Zappos. Or as she would call it “easy peasy.”

There’s obviously still risk that the dress won’t work, but what the hell, she tried it anyway. Well, she actually rented two dresses (times the two sizes) just to hedge. And it’s good she did. The first one she tried on? I didn’t even get to see her in it. Apparently it was that bad. The second? Winner. Stunner. Showtime.

At the rate we go to these types of events (and by “these types of events” I don’t mean A-list awards shows but simply any event requiring me be in black tie), I’d absolutely encourage her to rent the runway again. Great value, super simple process – I mean as long as it fits.

 

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If you’re friends with me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, you probably noticed that the wife and I were fortunate enough to snag an invite to the Grammys in Los Angeles last weekend.

The short answer to the question posed in the title is:

“Because AEG (the company that owns and operates the Staples Center) wanted to build the Sprint Center in Kansas City on a site that was occupied by a branch of UMB Bank.”

The real answer is far more complicated than that, but at it’s root, that’s as far as I was able to trace the answer to that question (which was posed to be by a golfing buddy via text and probably many others when photos started popping up on social media). When the opportunity arose and the invite was received, I quickly scribbled “attend a major entertainment awards show” at the top of the bucket list and told Lindsay, “yeah, we need to do that.”

Obviously, it wasn’t that simple and that wasn’t quite my first reaction. My first reaction? “There’s no fucking way they’re going to let us do that.”

The “they” in question was our employer because the invite was received by a supplier contact that Lindsay works with. Neither of us had ever received this type of invitation in a professional setting and, in the sexy world of benefits outsourcing, had never really considered it much of a possibility. Literally, my experience in this type of situation was taking a computer based compliance training course once a year where they make it sound like if you accept more than a dinner from a third party, you’re looking at punishment that could lead up to and include termination of employment. And don’t even think about ordering dessert at that dinner.

In this situation Lindsay received a surprise email just over a month ago from a partner at the bank mentioned above, which has access to a suite at the Grammys based on a sponsorship deal in place with AEG. To her credit, she’s one that sees no harm in at least asking the question and approached her boss, whose reaction was “let’s give it a shot and see what they say.” Surprisingly, after meeting a few conditions, both general counsel and compliance gave the green light. I was stunned. Lindsay was giddy. We were going to the Grammys.

For those that know me, I’m not really a “Grammys” kind of guy. This became painfully obvious on the dance floor at the after-party. I’m pretty happy listening to Jack Johnson and any other acoustic singer/songwriter that either plays on his label or produces what Lindsay rightfully calls “surfer music.” Needless to say, I don’t think people really had me pegged (nor did I peg myself) as someone that would ever attend the event.

Now that the compliance issue was cleared, there was still the personal aspect. We’ve always been fortunate and have tremendous support from family and friends when we want to do things (like the time we wanted to go to Everest Base Camp for three weeks and somehow convinced our parents that they could each spend 10 days with their 14 month old granddaughter – but seriously, what grandparent wouldn’t do that if able, especially given how adorable our daughter is).

This time around, both sets of parents were traveling, Lindsay’s in Mexico and mine in Colorado. We were going to need to get creative. Thankfully, that’s where we’re fortunate to have family friends like Aunt Kiki. I’m pretty sure Aunt Kiki just really likes Lauren and pretty much just tolerates us (or at least me). Whatever. I’ll take. Even then, three nights is a lot to ask – especially outside the family – but thankfully Aunt Kiki (and husband) were up to the task. And I can’t thank them enough. Without a trusted family friend like her, this type of thing just wouldn’t be possible. I’m going to owe her for the foreseeable future (as she’ll rightfully remind me). I was hoping that the swag bag at the after-party would be repayment enough, but upon finding it stuffed with such glamorous swag as a Hello Kitty visor and sweat bands, I probably need to rethink that strategy. Regardless, it was worth it.

Now that the personal piece was taken care of, I stared to ask questions like, “if someone wanted to just go, how hard is it to get Grammy tickets?” I did a little research to see if one can even get tickets. Based on my internet and StubHub search, it looks pretty hard, which was somewhat surprising since it’s held at the Staples Center and 10,000 people attend. You’d think in this day and age, there would be a price for everything. I get the sense tickets are given to individuals in the industry and corporate sponsors and partners (how we were able to score an invite) and that those people pretty much use them. I did see a couple people outside trying to turn tickets (though those scalpers seemed to be in “buy” as opposed to “sell” mode, at least when we walked past).

I’m going to dedicate the next few posts (not sure yet how I’m going to break it out) on the experience. From the scene around LA Live (we were lucky enough to stay at the JW Marriott across the street from all the action) to the pre-party (where my closest brush with “celebrity” over the weekend was a shared elevator ride with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper), to the event itself, to the after-parties, to how the heck Lindsay decided what to wear, to anything else that seems noteworthy from the experience.

All in all, pretty much a typical weekend for a middle-aged suburban married couple. But not really.

Of course, all of this wouldn’t have been possible without the invite from our hosts. A simple thank you does not suffice but I can’t really think of what might. Just know that it was greatly appreciated and you provided a once in a lifetime weekend. Simply incredible.

 

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There comes a time in each youngster’s life when her parents finally bite the bullet and take her to her first game. For us, that day was Saturday and that event was the Wisconsin/Northwestern football game in Evanston. Lindsay is a Wisconsin alum and Northwestern, in case you hadn’t heard, is Chicago’s Big Ten team (even though its own fans are routinely outnumbered in its own stadium). What better reason to make the trek to Evanston for Lauren’s first (semi) major sporting event?

My only issue with this plan was that I’ve been teaching (or training or brainwashing, depending on your perspective) Lauren to become an Iowa Hawkeye fan. At one point earlier this season Lindsay started to realize this and went full press with the Badgers. To counter this, I shared the basic fact that badgers are, in fact, mean animals. Lindsay was not impressed.

So there really was no plan. I hadn’t bought tickets, not wanting to commit ourselves in the event the three year old was uncooperative. I didn’t really even know where to park, with my last experience at a Northwestern game having taken place in 2008. The only thing we knew was that a former classmate of Lindsay’s was attending a tailgate “on the west side of the west parking lot at a Northwestern painted ambulance. Seemed like it would be easy enough to find.

Along the way, and it may have been because it was too early, there seemed to be far more scalpers looking to purchase than sell tickets. Not a great sign. As we approached the west lot, I decided to raise three fingers, the international sign for “I need three tickets.”

It took a few minutes but the first good Samaritan claiming to need tickets asked, under his breath, “How much you looking to spend? I’ve got them on the 30 or the 50.” This guy had no idea he was dealing with a former expat that had spent years haggling on the mean streets of Dilli Haat. My response, “Not sure – what’s it cost on the 30?”

“$75.” I knew it was too early to buy so offered him something that wouldn’t insult him (not sure why I was worried about insulting him, but as someone that’s negotiated foreign currency exchange rates on the black market in Kathmandu, it seemed like the stand up thing to do) – $50. He declined, and we politely went our separate ways. At least I had some idea the market.

A few minutes later, my three fingers still extended in the air as we searched for the purple ambulance, two women approached Lindsay and asked, “Do you need three tickets?” At first, I thought maybe it was the friends Lindsay had planned to meet (I had never met her friends and these women seemed similarly aged and were wearing Wisconsin gear). But no, they were simply friendly Wisconsin fans looking to unload the season tickets of their friends that were unable to attend. We started talking, quickly got to price, and there first offer was, “I don’t know, like $40.”

Sold!

We followed them back to their tailgate (their brother-in-law had the tickets – seriously, if they weren’t Wisconsin fans, it would have seemed like a pretty obvious scam of some sort) and quickly finished the transaction. Our only plan was to resume our search for the illusive purple ambulance, but before we could leave, we were being offered food and drinks. It seems like it would have been pretty rude to have simply purchased tickets and left without a beer. I’ll never root for the Badgers against Iowa, but this type of hospitality is tough to beat.

We never did get a chance to find that purple ambulance. We made some new friends, I think Lindsay even made some sort of connection with one of the sisters. The daughter was her usual charming self, making herself at home, picking at strangers’ food as only a three year old can.

As kickoff approached, we said good bye to our newest dearest friends and walked the 50 yards to the entrance. The seats? Surprisingly good. A little low (third row behind the bench) but on the 35 yard line. Bottom line, you could do a lot worse.

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The camera was on a dolly to follow the action else it may have been a little annoying.

We made it to halftime – about what we expected before our daughter lost interest. She watched a bit of the band, saw Bucky the Badger up close, seemed enthralled by Willie the Wildcat (I didn’t even know the Northwestern mascot had a name, but I guess it makes sense), and we made our way to the exit – well in front of the rush at the end of the game.

What did I learn at Lauren’s first game? A few things:

  • Even something as innocuous as buying football tickets on the street can lead to a little adventure
  • Northwestern is a great place for a first game – not too big, not too serious. It’s like Columbus except the exact opposite
  • If you spend too much time trying to brainwash your kid to be a Badger fan or a Hawkeye fan, she might just become a Northwestern fan

Will we be back? I think we will – based on the current Big Ten schedule, Iowa and Wisconsin alternate years in Evanston, so as long as there’s no realignment (which rarely, if ever, happens in college football), we may have a new annual tradition on our hands to see Chicago’s Big Ten Team, which is pretty much any team playing Northwestern in Evanston.

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The original travel plan for Moab this year was for Lindsay and I to fly to Salt Lake on Thursday night where our friends Judith and Glenn would be eagerly awaiting our arrival, having driven down from Calgary, for us to embark on the car ride to Moab the following morning after staying near the airport.

That plan changed somewhat when Lindsay learned of a client meeting she needed to attend the final afternoon of our planned trip. Not a big deal, we’d part ways at the airport, I’d go home to Chicago and she’d fly to Seattle for a client meeting and to scout for future houses. (Joking, joking – we’re not moving to Seattle, but if someone were to hypothetically get offered a job there, I’d hypothetically have our house packed in a weekend.) The plan changed again when Lindsay learned she needed to be in Houston for work the day we were flying to Salt Lake. Not a big deal, I’d keep my plan as is; she would add an early morning flight to Houston, work there, and meet me in Salt Lake.

While all of her work travel emerged, north of the border Glenn realized that they were looking at 18 hours each way to drive from Calgary. Thinking better of this idea, he booked a flight and rented a car.

Taking the most economical option (as is usually the case in the commoditized rental car industry), he elected to go with EZ Advantage Rent-a-Car. They offered an upgraded Toyota 4Runner for an additional $20 per day. He declined, seeing this as an unnecessarily large, gas guzzling vehicle, and instead took the Kia Sorrento originally assigned. Plus, that additional $20 per day could be used toward wine.

Unbeknownst to anyone, this was a mistake.

Based on the new and earlier flights recently booked by my travel mates, the final morning of the trip started at a nice and benign 4:03am departure from the hotel in Moab. We were all cheerful, some more cheerful than others with the discovery that Glenn’s phone was filled with 80’s sing-a-long music. Cheerful, that is, until the temperature gauge on the car started acting up. Thinking nothing was out of the ordinary – the car was still running fine. We continued. Somewhere between Provo and Salt Lake, Google maps directed us off the highway to get around an accident. That’s when the trouble started. Cars aren’t supposed to steam out of the hood. It quickly subsided so we went back on the highway, except the car didn’t want to accelerate. Trouble.

Glenn put the hazards on and took the first exit, hoping to find a gas station. With no gas station to be found we limped into an outlet mall parking lot right in front of a Columbia Sportswear store still hours from opening.

At this point, it was nearing 8:00am and Glenn and Judith had an international flight to catch at 10:00am. Let’s just say that EZ Advantage Rent-A-Car’s customer service center didn’t seem to match our sense and level of urgency. Our solution? Deserting the car in the Columbia parking lot with Uber to the rescue.

In the interim, Glenn was finally connected with someone at the car rental facility in Salt Lake City. By this time, they had little leverage. They could send a tow to pick up the car in the parking lot and we would drop off the key with the shuttle driver at the airport. There really was no other option, at least no other option that meant flights would still be made.

At this point, we had no idea what the cut-off was to check bags for an international flight, and honestly, knowing would have only added stress to the situation. How much stress we didn’t actually know until we got to the airport just in time for Judith and Glenn to hit the 75 minute cut off.

I’m not sure who’s at fault in this situation or if anyone is at fault in this situation. It’s been a long time since I’ve worried about a car overheating. So long, in fact, that it’s not something I remotely worry about. Maybe I should. Maybe Kias suck. Maybe EZ Advantage Rent-A-Car sucks. At the very least, their customer service sucks. Maybe we just got unlucky and shit happens.

What I do know is that Judith is a lot like my wife. Suffice to say, the good folks at EZ Advantage Rent-A-Car have no idea how lucky they are that our little contingency plan worked.

(Sorry for the lack of photographic evidence but the stress of the situation kept the camera phones in our pockets.)

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I first took Lindsay to Moab in 2008 for our fifth anniversary. After a few nights exploring the town and hiking in and around Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, we splurged and ended the trip at Sorrel River Ranch. Little did I know this would set two distinct parallel paths in-flight. First, and not surprisingly, Lindsay would determine that her “happy place” was this beautiful ranch on the banks of the Colorado River with views of red rock mesas. Second, and a complete surprise, I would become a runner.

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Typical sunrise view from Sorrel River Ranch

When we booked at Sorrel we had no idea that a half marathon, Moab’s “The Other Half,” ended at the ranch earlier in the day of our arrival. At breakfast the next morning, we noticed something about many of the other guests – they seemed fit, they seemed energized, and it was obvious they had accomplished something. At that breakfast Lindsay declared that she was going to take up running. Not only had she declared she was going to take up running, but she decided we needed to come back the next year and conquer “The Other Half.”

Nothing like jumping in slow.

But here’s the thing: with the right research and the right plan, we did it. I started by running a minute or two at a time with walk intervals in between, but by the time we returned to Moab in 2009 as registered entrants in the race, I had little doubt we’d both finish the race. And finish we did. Since then, I’d classify myself as a runner.

Fast forward seven years, three moves, and one child, and we got the itch. In need of a fall vacation and an excuse to work toward something, a destination half marathon was in order. And what better place than Lindsay’s happy place. Along for the ride this time were our trekking and adventure travel friends Judith and Glenn, the Sparlinskis.

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Judith and I at the start of the race

The thing I’ve learned about half marathons is that for me the satisfaction isn’t in finishing the race, it’s in the process and discipline required to finish the race. Barring an unforeseen injury, I know that if I do three short runs per week with a long run on the weekend of escalating length, that I can pretty much be ready for a half marathon in ten to twelve weeks.

This formula is especially important for The Other Half. Why? Because I know I’m not setting any personal records. Relatively speaking, the race takes place at altitude and has some strategically placed hills in the second half of the race. In fact, mile 8 is a hill. Why put myself through that? The race takes starts near mile marker 31 on Utah State Highway 128 at Dewey Bridge and ends at Sorrel River Ranch. If you’ve ever driven that stretch of road, you know the reason. The scenery.

From the start, you quickly enter a tight red rock canyon that winds down the Colorado River. Prior to the canyon opening up, you can see Fischer Towers, probably one of the more famous rock climbing playgrounds in the US and host to my favorite Citibank commercial. While the towers are a mile to the left of the road, they’re a marker that seems to get no closer for the middle third of the race. Ordinarily, this would be exceedingly frustrating. Except for the fact that, you’re surrounded by towering red rock features the entire time.

At some point during the race, you come out of the narrow canyon and into the wider valley home to both Fischer Towers and Sorrel Ranch. During this year’s race, I couldn’t help but smile. I honestly can’t remember the last time I physically smiled at something like this with no one there to share. And I didn’t care. I just smiled. With the exception of the couple dozen runners around me, it was a completely empty, silent pristine landscape (a pristine landscape that’s the obvious victim of millions of years of erosion but a pristine landscape nonetheless).

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Fisher Towers (from the trail at the towers, not the view from the race)

At this point I did something I’ve never done in a race (at least that didn’t involve a bathroom stop). I stopped. I pulled my iPhone from my arm and took a photo. As is the case with most long distance landscape photos, it’s not a great photo. In fact, it doesn’t come close to capturing the physical beauty. It does, however, trigger that smile on my face.

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Worse than I remember, what with the half man on the right and everything

At mile 11 I finally caught my friend Judith (who used the race as a training run and was only running the first 8+ miles (or 15k as she would say – Canadians and their logical metric system) and talked with her for a few seconds before continuing up one final hill. Thankfully, the course sets up as a downhill toward the end before entering the ranch property for what the welcoming sign said as “0.7 miles to go until beer.”

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Time to start doing pushups or cut back on the IPA

Even as I crossed the finish line, having spotted Lindsay in the crowd so I could actually smile for a photo during a race as opposed to a look of overwhelming pain, I couldn’t help but transport myself back to that silent smile in the middle of the race.

Then I decided to go ahead and have that beer.

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Mountain weather is unpredictable. As someone that considers himself not to be an idiot, I know this. However, given fairly constant temperatures the breadth of conditions experienced in my first three days hiking in the Canadian Rockies was nothing short of amazing. Either that, or maybe I am an idiot.

Joining my Dad and I on this year’s installment of the annual father/son trip that hasn’t quite been annual lately based on things like having a daughter and living abroad, was Lindsay and our friends Judith and Glenn. Judith and Glenn were there because we chose the locale of this year’s trip in a place where they had just purchased a beautiful new condo. When you mooch free lodging, it’s only appropriate to invite them along for the fun. Especially when they’re excellent hosts, local experts, and pretty much my favorite hiking and travel companions. Lindsay was there because, well, when you’re traveling with your favorite travel companions that you met while trekking with your wife, it would be a pretty shitty thing to not invite your wife.

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The Snow – Sunshine Meadows

After a late arrival in Calgary and a short drive to Canmore, our trusty guide for the week, Judith, knew it probably be best to keep the first day short and sweet. She had selected Sunshine Meadows, which is a short school bus trip up the ski-out of Sunshine Ski Resort in Banff National Park. Yes, rather than hike up the 1.5 – 2 hours to the top of the gondola, we elected to hop a ride on the bus. Would you expect anything less from a hiking crew that specializes in fully portered Himalayan trekking (aka princess camping, or as the kids are calling it these days, “glamping”).

When we arrived the night before, she had mentioned it had snowed and I figured it would be just a dusting; however, as we exited the bus, there was actual accumulation. It was only a few inches but the ski runs looked rather skiable. The hiking trails melted first, looking almost plowed.

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As promised, it was a short loop with minimal altitude gain. This was perfect for the first day as I realized I hadn’t laced up my hiking boots since walking into the village of Lukla at the end of Everest Base Camp in May 2014. After the short time, we had time for a lunch that was unintentionally timed perfectly to catch the bus back down. The picnic tables were covered still covered with enough snow that we made the call to make it easy and eat inside, but by the time we headed back, snow was starting to disappear from the paths.

Thankfully, this was a one-day thing. The forecast called for a week full of sun.

The Sun – Helen Lake

Since we left all the hiking planning to Judith with the basic criteria of: (1) pick your favorites and (2) try not to repeat stuff we’ve done before, the second day found us driving deeper into Banff National Park to the trailhead for Helen Lake. The hike itself was one I like. A moderate incline through the forest that tops out and gently ascends a meadow to a lake. This isn’t one of those aquamarine lakes you hear so much about in the Canadian Rockies, but it didn’t matter. The lake was just a destination. A nice quiet place to have lunch. The highlight of this trek was the views both up and down along the meadow ridge. The weather only helped. Crystal blue skies with spotty clouds. Absolutely perfect. It was exactly what the forecast had called for. Looking ahead to the rest of the week, which included one final hike with the others before the actual father/son portion of the trip began with a 3-night trip to Shadow Lake Lodge, we felt we were in for a treat.

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What we didn’t pay enough attention to on the way back down was the light haze we saw forming in the distance. We figured it was just a slight disturbance caused by the angle of the sun or something equally mundane. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Smoke – Burstell Pass

As you may be aware, forest fires cause smoke. That smoke needs to go somewhere. That somewhere is where the wind blows. When the fires are in Washington state and the wind blows from the southwest, apparently the smoke blows straight to the Canadian Rockies. Unfortunately, the fires were in Washington state and the wind was blowing from the southwest.

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What did this mean? Well, it meant that it pretty much smelled like a big forest fire and you couldn’t see mountains, unless you were pretty much right next to them. Burstell Pass never stood a chance. In fact, Lindsay rated it a “solid C.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement for one of Judith’s favorite hikes, not that there was anything that could be done about it.

Honestly, for being a complete smokeout that killed what was supposed to be a killer view from the pass, I kind of liked the hike. We crossed a stony wetland with multiple stream channels. On the way in, Judith and Glenn suggested we change into sandals as stepping in water would probably be necessary so we didn’t need to find the driest route. In reality, we probably didn’t need to change as the water didn’t get above where our shoes would have been. We planned to stick to our shoes and stay dry on our way out. However, the melting glacier had other plans and the water was noticeably higher when we approached on the way back.

Even the stream crossing wasn’t enough to budge Lindsay from her “average” grade. However, even she would have to admit, the conditions she experienced in her second visit to the Canadian Rockies were, well, unique. A day of snow, a day of sun, and a day of smoke.

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Other than the fact they’ve snookered me into believing $15 is more than a fair price for a six pack of Coors Light, I think I’ve finally figured out why I’ll never be a Disney guy: I have no desire to learn how to play their game.

In order to truly enjoy your time on property, you have to fully immerse yourself into carefully plotting your way around the park with fast passes and an app that may or may not work that tells you the line to a ride or a character has dipped and is now worth the wait. It just seems like a lot of work, especially since you’re already in a crowded, sweaty mess of people.

People think I’m a planner (at least when it comes to travel), so it might come as some surprise that I don’t want to play the Disney game. I’m all for planning a trip months in advance where I craft a plan for moving from city A to village B, but that’s kind of where my planning ends. I don’t overthink it and I don’t over-rotate. I’m at a stage in life where I like to know I have a place to stay but I don’t necessarily want to be tied down with a dinner reservation six months in advance.

At Disney? You need to tie yourself down with a dinner reservation six months in advance to get to the “right” character meal, else you risk being a negligent parent or, worse yet, end up eating with a B-lister like Winne the Pooh.

The whole experience creates a weird competition with yourself, where you’re scoring internal points based on what rides or experiences you can rack up. Very little seems spontaneous. It all just seems too…well, planned.

This weekend marks our second family Disney experience in a few short weeks. The first weekend was to make sure we took our daughter before we moved from Orlando (and I thus saved the $10k+ it would have cost later in life and can apply that to a more John-centric trip). We came back again because our daughter seemed to enjoy it well enough and what else were we going to do while our household goods make the trip up to Illinois? The answer to that question was actually a weekend at the Waldorf, but I was out-voted 2-1 for the Disney return.

For all the stress and planning it takes to make Disney enjoyable, my all-time favorite Disney memory was a morning a few weeks ago at the Contemporary. We had no idea the pool hadn’t opened but found it strange that no one was there. Just before 9am, a lifeguard approached our daughter, asking if she had any magic that might be able to open the pool. My daughter looked confused but the lifeguard soon brought out Mickey gloves and a Fantasia hat, asking her to put both on. Following instructions to spin in a circle three times and slap her hands on the pool deck, somehow my little L3 had started the water fountains and opened the pool.

Easily the coolest thing I’ve seen in my (limited) days at Disney. It just took being in the right place at the right time. No fast pass required.

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When you relocate and have a limited amount of time in the place you’re leaving, you invariably start to cram every open minute with some sort of “last” activity as you start to say your goodbyes. When moving from India, we traveled something like 5 out of the final 6 weekends. With the move from Orlando, we’ve filled weekends with family things: a trip to Disney, favorite restaurants, and time with neighbors. Easter Sunday marked the “final” trip to the beach.

Though we’ve only been to the beach a handful of times in the three years we’ve lived in Florida, it’s become a bit more regular and fun based on our two year old’s love of the water.

The closest beaches to our house are Cocoa and New Smyrna; however, those are either crowded or vehicle filled. Seriously. Vehicle filled. New Smyrna allows cars on the beach which makes it super handy to overpack and easily set up your gear. But what it possesses in convenience, it lacks in safety and general ambiance.

Fifteen minutes south of New Smyrna is a peaceful, protected place. A palace where you may need to carry your chairs a little further but can escape the crowds (small parking lots will do that) This place is Canaveral National Seashore.

Unfortunately, a higher than normal tide meant the water was “scary” (my daughter’s word, not mine) so in-water activities were somewhat limited. This was actually somewhat welcome as she typically recklessly runs for the water as soon as she senses she’s free on the beach. Not Sunday. Sunday she asked for my hand to walk her into the water up to her knees, her grip tightening as the water swelled around us. It’s selfish and perhaps a little sadistic that her fear makes me feel more needed, but when you have a confident and independent little two year old, that clutch is a welcome sign of trust. One of the most tangible signs you’re needed.

With the high and angry sea causing us to push our chairs nearly up against the dune, we sat. We enjoyed the view of the scary waves and watched our daughter industriously shovel sand into buckets, ask for water (you have to remember the water was scary so she outsourced her water fetching duties), and move and mix sand between buckets.

When the novelty of her busywork wore off, she left the safety of our setup and ventured south down the beach, not even turning to see if we’d follow. Eventually, as parents hoping that DCFS wasn’t hiding in the dunes, we knew we needed to do catch up. We did just that. After catching her and trying to get her to turn around, she grabbed both our hands and we continued to walk. Stretched in front of us was completely empty beach. Something you just don’t expect to find in Florida.

The only thing missing was a setting sun, but at 10:30am, that would have been asking a bit much. While this feeling probably should have occurred by this point, walking down that beach with the family felt like the beginning of the end of our time in Orlando, and we have a busy two weeks before we officially relocate. We’re trying hard to do as much as possible in that time and have no regrets. To me, that walk down the beach was the first of many farewells in front of me the next two weeks. With just my wife, my daughter, and an empty stretch of sand, it was the perfect first farewell.

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