German lessons are out this year; long-distance hiking is in.  

Arizona has a trail that follows the mountains which snake through the middle of the state from Mexico to Utah.  It’s called The Arizona Trail and I intend to do as much of it as I can this winter.  For the last two days I have been hiking a section of the trail from Patagonia north.  I’m doing the parts near Tucson because that is where we are now.  Next on tap is to go back to the southernmost sections before picking up where I left off north of Tucson.  If all goes well, I should get to the Grand Canyon by early April.

The trail is 800 miles long which would take longer than the roughly six weeks remaining until we return to Chelan.  However, much of the trail is open to mountain bikes and I intend to ride those sections.  Whereas twenty miles per day is a good distance for a hiker, a mountain biker can usually do two or three times that much (terrain permitting.)

The sections (called “passages”) that I just completed were an interesting variety of desert scrub, grassland, and connifers mixed with desert oak trees.  The elevation varried from 5000 to 6500 ft which, even in southern Arizona can be chilly this time of year.  My tent was 25 degrees inside this morning and caked with frost.  As soon as the sun comes up, however, it’s a whole different world.  When ascending in the afternoon I was stripped down to just a t-shirt.

Recent rains have filled the normally dry creek beds and I had to cross water at least twenty times.

I met no other hikers on the trail but I noticed at a trail register that several other people are thru-hiking – one only a day ahead of me.

Mary has kindly volunteered to ferry me to and from trailheads – an encore of her supporting role from 2011 when I did the Pacific Crest Trail.

Some trail scenes:



Rudy started barking in the night a few days back so I got up and looked around outside.  I didn’t notice anything amiss so I assumed one of the plentiful feral cats in the neighborhood had aroused him.  I went back to bed. Some time later he started barking again so Mary looked around.  She didn’t see anything.

In the morning she looked out the window and said “Lief, your bike is gone!”  Sure enough, all that was left of my $1500 Specialized mountain bike was a piece of the cable lock with which I had secured it to the trailer.  This was a cable about the diameter of my little finger and it was sliced off as clean as a butcher cuts sausage.  Mary’s bike was untouched.  I guess Rudy’s barking scared the thief off.  Know what? – from now on Rudy gets our full attention  when he barks in the night.

The very next day I went to REI and bought a new bike, racks, cargo bag, and Kryptonite locks of hardened 3/4″ steel that no bolt cutters can breach.  (As every boy who read Superman comics knows, even Superman cannot overpower Kryptonite.)  They’ll have to bring a cutting torch or grinder – which we would certainly hear so I’m confident the bikes are now safe.  What scumbags!  Taking my dear bicycle on which I rode the Great Divide.  

I’ve been watching the bicycle listings on Craigslist, hoping to see my biycle for sale.  Thoughts of employing the thief’s own bolt cutters on various parts of his anatomy have been crossing my mind in the unlikely event I see my bike advertised.

Safely locked to the trailer frame with Kryptonite locks we feel our bikes are now safe but this morning Mary noticed that either a very big dog or a human had pissed high up on the tarp she covered her bike with.  Could it be that the thief returned and, angered by his inability to steal the bikes, pissed on them?


I rode The Loop trail around the city of Tucson yesterday to try out my new bike.  That was about 60 miles.  This new seat isn’t nearly as kind to my butt as the one that was stolen so there was no more riding today.  To give my bruised hiney a rest, Mary, Rudy, and I took a little hike up Sentinel Peak which provided a great view of the city:


Yes, the heat here is dry and dry heat isn’t as oppressive as humid heat but after spending an afternoon walking through the desert when the temperature was in the low eighties, I can tell you that dry heat isn’t exactly benign.  One thing to consider other than humidity is the intensity of sunlight.  When the sky is clear blue sunlight can give you the feeling you’re in a solar oven.  

I hiked up to a place called Seven Falls today with my aluminized parasol to see if the sun would be less oppressive than it was the other day when I wore a sun hat.  The “sunbrella” has several advantages over a mere hat: It shades one’s entire upper body – not just the head.  It also allows free air circulation which eliminates the “sweaty head” problem from which I suffer.  And, should the weather turn rainy, it can deflect raindrops.


The sunbrella definitely helps but reflected light off the sand still managed to give my legs a heat rash.  I used this sunbrella on the PCT but never saw another hiker with one.  On today’s hike I saw quite a few hikers who, judging by their  flushed faces and sweaty brows, were feeling the heat but no one else sported a sunbrella.  Go figure??

Seven Falls is an 8-mile hike popular with University of Arizona students according to my hiking guide.  Because of the current drought, the falls were dry today but when the water is flowing and the pools at the falls’ bases are full of clear water I can understand the attraction.  The stream bed in many places is long expanses of water-smoothed bedrock that is dotted with shallow pools that are warmed by that intense Arizona sun.  



Tucson is a nice little city.  The air is clear, the moutains are near, and the pace of life is not so hectic as to get on one’s nerves.  Summers here are said to be unmercifully hot but as it is now February, that’s none of our concern.  They say Tucson weather has been unusually warm since our arrival a week ago (high 70s-low 80s) but even if it were to dip back down in the 60s, the nearly constant sunshine would make for pleasant weather.

The Crossroads RV Park where we have established ourselves warrants description.  We stayed here last winter and found it enough to our liking that we have returned.  It is centrally located with a full complement of shopping facilities nearby, which pleases Mary greatly.  There is free camping on BLM land just outside the city limit but the amenities of power, water, sewer, and cable available here were attractive enough to overcome even my legendary frugality.  Our site is on the perimeter of the park, facing a modest residential neighborhood, and very little traffic passes by making it a refuge from the traffic noises on the far side of the park..

Crossroads is presided over by Carol, the resident manager.  On the one hand, Carol is in her mid-to-late 60s and just barely ambulatory.  On the other hand, her sovereignty at Crossroads is absolute and exacting.  Crossroads is not a high-class RV park.  Many of the trailers here are fifty or more years old and well past their prime.  As an example, several of our neighboring trailers have roofs that are covered by a thick layer (or perhaps several layers) of waterproof sealant as residents fight a never-ending battle against the abundant and destructive ultraviolet radiation so generously supplied by the Arizona sun.  Most of the residents are elderly and rarely venture outside their modest dwellings.  Considering what Carol has to work with, one might expect Crossroads to be on a downhill slide to trashiness and ruin.  Not so. Carol tirelessly monitors the situation to keep the grounds shipshape.  Several times a day she can be seen making the rounds in her electric cart, casting a careful eye for bits of litter or accumulations of miscellany around the trailers.  Offending residents are brought into compliance.

On the language front, my tutor search is not going well.  Despite inquiries sent to the possible tutors supplied by the university, no one has responded.

I have been exploring trails in the nearby Catalina Mountains atop my newly purchased Keen hiking shoes.  The hikes are preparatory for a planned hike along the Appalachian Trail this fall.  I don’t expect the physical training to carry over to September but I need to test my equipment ahead of time so that all is ready in that regard.  I also bought a new backpack the other day at REI – an Atmos 50 AG by Osprey that is state-of-the-art.

I did a hike in the Catalinas a few days ago over a steep, boulder-strewn trail using leg muscles that apparently have lain dormant in recent years.  The result was a few days of painful hobbling about.  Yesterday’s hike went much better in Sabina Canyon.



Here we are early this morning in Quartzsite, Arizona, ready to move on after two weeks of BLM camping.  What do the old sailors say? – “Red sun at morning, sailors take warning”?  Other than the fact it was a record-setting 82 degrees in Tucson today (which wasn’t half bad) I’d have to disagree with the sailors.  It’s been a nice day.

The plan was to sniff around Phoenix today and maybe spend some time there but when we drove in a brown fog of air pollution obscured the city and the traffic was unnerving and we couldn’t find a place to park and so we just drove on down to Tucson in disgust.  We’re holed up in Catalina State Park north of Tucson for the night.  There is a mighty fine view of the Catalina Mountains from our dining “room”table:

I’m going to ride my bicycle into Tucson tomorrow to try to find the nice secretary at the University of Arizona who last year was so helpful in hitching me up with a German tutor.  If that works out, we will probably do a repeat of last winter when we stayed in a trailer park within the city limits.  If not……….?  We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

We’re enjoying the warmth.  And should we ever start taking this weather for granted we just need to look at this photo that was taken a few days before we left Union Valley:

Mary is lobbying for new tires for the trailer and if we needed encouragement to spend the cash for the tires, boy did we get it today.  We were being swept along the Phoenix freeway today by the inexorable flow of traffic like a pair of drowning swimmers in a raging river when we heard a loud “bang!”  I thought some debris had hit our truck but then we saw a black cloud slightly ahead of us, one lane over, swirling up from under a concrete truck.  Shards of rubber up to several feet long were spiraling through the air.  One of his tires had blown.  Lucky for him, his truck had about thirteen other tires to take up the slack so he managed to make it to the next off-ramp without losing control.  Not so, another truck we had passed a few miles earlier; this big rig was upside down facing the on-coming traffic.  Rolling over I can understand but how he wound up facing backwards I find beyond comprehension.


By pure coincidence we were booked on the first of KLM’s fleet of relatively new Boeing 787 “Dreamliners” to land at Dulles International Airport.  To celebrate our arrival, an airport fire truck greeted our plane with a hosing down from the truck’s water cannon (above).  

From my perspective as a mere passenger, the plane’s interior was not that different from the interiors of other planes.  The wings, however, at least from my seat in the plane’s middle section, looked uncommonly small, as if during construction the plane had been given a dose of Thalidomide.  But hey, those stubby wings managed to keep the plane airborne across the Atlantic, so I’m not complaining.

I must commend KLM for their better-than-average selection of on-board movies.  In my experience, airlines seem to have an uncanny knack for choosing crappy movies for their passengers’ entertainment but on this flight I watched one pretty good movie (The Wizard of Lies) and one excellent movie (Maudie).  Maudie is the story of a physically handicapped woman who manages to make a marriage with a taciturn and irracible fish monger in Nova Scotia.  It is a very moving story and archival footage at movie’s end pops the surprise that it is the actual story of real people.  I give it five stars.

Our son, Nicholas, picked us up at the airport.  We’re spending a week with him and his family in rural Virginia.  On Friday he took us into DC for a tour of the Capitol building which is so much more impressive in “person” than in photographs.  So much marble in our nation’s capital; I’m surprised there is any left in the world.

We had a picnic lunch today down by the creek that flows through Nicholas’s two acres.  The setting reminded me of N.C. Wyeth’s paintings of the first Thanksgiving.


As is our habit on the morning of a big adventure, we were wide awake and anxiously biding our time by 4 AM on Monday morning – a full three hours before our scheduled boarding of the train to Amsterdam.  Our last grappling with Deutsche Bahn had not been pleasant (see Freiburg Fiasco).  The source of our anxiety was no fault of Deutsche Bahn.  German trains are sleek and admirably administered.  The problem lay with our baggage, or rather with the fact that there was  250 pounds of it.  

Seeking to avoid the escalator catastrophy of the Freiburg trip, we had re-packaged our stuff into three somewhat sleeker containers: a Samsonite suitcase for the folding Bike Fridays, a large duffle bag with shoulder straps, and a smaller daypack  that we mounted on our chests.  Looking and feeling like paratroopers about to jump into enemy territory with a full complement of combat gear, we walked (staggered?) the half mile to the train station of Wilferdingen in the cold early morning darkness.

The source of our anxiety was the memory of how difficult it was last time to load and unload our several pieces of luggage onto and out of the train amid the surging mass of hurrying passengers who have their own needs to attend to.  On the crowded train from Metz to Freiburg, we had also been unable to stow our oversized luggage properly and the embarrassing knowledge that we and our luggage were inconveniencing the other passagers was something we were not eager to re-experience.  As if our luggage issues were not concern enough, we were also fretting over the knowledge that we had four train transfers to contend with on the way to Amsterdam.

Thus were our thoughts preoccupied for the twenty minutes we waited at the Wilferdingen train station.  We dared not take our packs off for fear we would be unable to heft them on in time when the train arrived.  It was a welcome relief to find a nearby railing at a convenient height on which we could support our packs without taking them off.

When the train finally did arrive and we had succesfully clambered aboard, Mary and I were able to trade self-satisfied grins because our boarding was somewhat anti-climactic – all went well.  The duffle/backpacks, while heavy, proved to be much more manageable than they had been when carried as armloads.  It was also a great relief to find the train nearly empty.  And so it went throughout the day.  Our route followed the Rhine and was quite scenic with many authentic medievel castles staring down at us from the rocky heights along the way. We made our four transfers with only minor inconviences, such as the lack of an escalator in Dusseldorf and the consequent necessity to drag our weighty baggage up a long series of stairs.  A kindly policeman saw Mary slowly ascending the stairs and offered to help but she stoically declined his offer.  Our train was late arriving at Dusseldorf and we missed our connection but that proved to amount to nothing more than waiting another hour for the next train.


We had allowed an extra day in Amsterdam because we misplaced our flight information and feared we would have to straighten that out with the airline but that was all taken care of over the internet.  So, with a free day on our hands, we rode into the city and walked the always-interesting streets of Amsterdam.  Mary bought some souveneir gifts and  we took a sightseeing ride on one of those glass-topped tourist boats through the canals:

I remembered those boats from when I was a boy and our family visited Holland.  Probably because we were eight and it would have been expensive, our family didn’t ride the boats then.  Many of the houses along the canals are hundreds of years old and quite distinctive with their Dutch gables.  We learned that they are high and narrow because homeowners were taxed according to the width of their homes, not the height.  Each has a beam extending from the gable top so that furniture can be hoisted up to the windows, the staircases being too narrow for access.

Back at the hotel, Mary had trouble getting TV reception.  All that appeared on the screen was “green signal” – or so she thought.  After several unsuccessful attempts, she went down to the concierge and asked her what the “green” message meant.  The concierge had no idea so she accompanied us up to our room.  “That doesn’t say “green signal”;  it says “geen signal”” the amused woman informed us.  “Geen” is Dutch for something like “no or not any.”  A loose cable appeared to have been the problem and our television service was restored – in Dutch.  It’s quite amusing to hear Dutch emanating from the mouths of such notable actors as Brad Pitt and Russel Crowe.

So once again we wait – this time for our flight to Washington DC in a few hours.  I admit to being pleased that we will cover in a matter of hours in a Boeing jet what it took the Pilgrims several months to do in the Mayflower.


After two and a half months in Europe, we’re coming home.  And I must say, we’re ready.  It’s been great but…..

For two of the two and a half months I’ve been preoccupied with an intensive German language program at Sprachakademie in Karlsruhe.  It has gone well and I have learned a lot but it has brought home just how massive an undertaking learning another language is.  At least a full year would be required to truly feel comfortable with a new language.  In my case, that isn’t practicable.

Mary took the trolley into the city today and met me after school for a long-promised visit to the natural history museum.  Karlsruhe museums offer free admission on Fridays so of course we had to go on Friday.  We learned that this giant prehistoric flying creature was neither bird nor dinosaur and that it had fur instead of feathers!  The museum employee who informed us of this was so enthusiastic when he explained this to us.  I think we made his day.  “You’re welcome, museum employee.”


Monday morning at 7 AM we catch a train to Amsterdam.  Wednesday we fly to Washington DC to spend a week with Nicholas & family, then it’s home.

One final cultural peculiarity to bring to your attention:  There is a street on my daily commute into the city that features an unusual window display:


Those figures in the window are not mannequins.  They’re actual women in their underwear.  There are about ten of these display windows in a row.  The windows are adorned with bright placards announcing the obvious: “GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS!” The photo is blurry because even though they display themselves willingly to passersby, they don’t willingly pose for photos.  I had to take it as a drive-by from my speeding bicycle.


This weekend’s adventure was supposed to be a visit to the Rheinhafen, Karlsruhe’s Rhine River harbor.  We rode our bicycles out there on Sunday, which was good because the city traffic was minimal but was bad because the harbor takes Sunday off like everyone else.  Hence, not much to see.  We wanted to see all the big ships unloading and the enormous cranes lifting the containers but no such luck.  The harbor is said to provide much of the raw materials for local industry and it is quite a large facility but we got to see little of it because the gates were closed and the ships weren’t moving.  

Holland may be the bicycle-friendliest country in the world, but Germany holds bicycles (and tricycles) in high regard too.  Most mail, for example, is still delivered by bicycle in Germany.  Here’s a photo taken from our apartment window of our local letter carrier:


It makes a lot of sense I think. When you’re stopping at nearly every house along a street, a bicycle is as fast as a van and a lot cheaper.  One way this is born out is the fact that Deutsche Post, a private corporation, earned a profit of 4 billion dollars last year while the U.S. Postal Service lost as much.  

Some of the postal bikes here have electric motor assist – something I’m sure the workers appreciate. That big hub on the bike in the photo above is an electric motor.

Another German innovation is the beer bike:


This thing roams the university district of Karlsruhe on warm days, powered by up to twelve pedalers who drink mugs of beer as they loudly sing their favorite songs accompanied by a blaring stereo system.  It has an on-board tap for dispensing beer and a bartender who doubles as a driver (not simultaneously).

Our two-month stay in Karlsruhe is winding down.  I’ve put over 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) on my bike pedaling back and forth to class each day.  I have one week of classes left and then we face another ordeal on the Deutsche Bahn.  Our train ride to Amsterdam includes four transfers which we are dreading.  Our baggage hasn’t gotten any lighter during our stay.  We hope that by stowing the wheels and hitches of our Bike Friday trailers inside the Samsonite cases we will be able to find space for them on the trains (see the September 2, Freiburg Fiasco post to this blog).  Fingers crossed.


Our German in-laws, Wolfgang and Waltraud Frasch, invited us to spend the weekend at their house in Ulm.  We jumped at the opportunity.

Ulm is a two-hour train ride from Wilferdingen (where we’re staying).   It is a historic, medium-sized city on the Danube River in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg in southern Germany.

Waltraud picked us up from the train station on Friday afternoon.  As soon as Wolfgang got home from work, Mary and I were invited to tag along to their ballroom dancing class that evening.  We agreed on the condition that we be granted “Observer Only” status.  I learned long ago that the essence of dance is grace and when ya’ ain’t got no grace, ya got no business dancin’.  We thoroughly enjoyed our observer status and easily resisted numerous entreaties to take to the dance floor.  Mary and I agreed that Wolfgang and Waltraud deserved the  Best in Class prize.


Then it was off to a nearby restaurant where I discovered that a liter of German ice beer does wonders for my ability to speak German (or so it seemed to me.)

Saturday was sunny and warm.  The hills were aglow with the brilliant colors of autumn.  Wolfgang led our foursome on a hike through the woods of nearby Blaubeuren where, in addition to savoring views of the village rooftops in the valley, we toured a 1000-year-old monestary and gazed into the deep blue waters of a football-sized natural pool (the Blautopf) that is fed by springwater from the mountain behind it.



Back at their house, Waltraud capped the day with her delicous gourmet plum cheesecake:

Sunday morning Wolfgang and I took a bike ride.  Wolfgang borrowed a neighbor’s bike for me but he let me ride his super-deluxe mountain bike because my Crocs couldn’t handle the clip-in pedals on the borrowed bike.  Ulm was shrouded by a heavy fog but we climbed to the top of a nearby ridge and broke into the sunshine.

I love his bike!  It handled every obstacle effortlessly.  On the way home we stopped by Seeberger GmbH (corporation) where he works as a salesman.  Seeberger sells gourmet coffee and nut/dried fruit snacks all over Europe.  Check out the Seeberger warehouse – that’s a lot of dried fruit and nuts!   It reminds me of Scrooge McDuck’s bullion depository:


We talked the afternoon away while we basked in the sun, had a hamburger lunch, then caught the 3:54 train back to Wilferdingen.  Thank you, Wolfgang and Waltraud for a splendid weekend.