Monday, March 10, 2014

My Annual Stress Test - Climbing to The Pinnacle on the Appalachian Trail

     With the spring of 2014 in just a few days, it's time to think about my annual heart stress test. This isn't the one reserved at a doctors office, it is my examination applied by hiking a stretch of the Appalachian Trail near Hamburg, Pa.
      The hike begins at the trail head on Reservoir Road and ending at a point called The Pinnacle. It is a steep five mile climb and for me, a great way to test myself for the outdoors. I figure if I start to suck air, pass out and fall over, then I'm not in very good shape. Though I am kidding, I do value this hike as a way of seeing how fit I'm feeling beginning a new season.
      With many days of snow and bitter cold temperatures this year, I left the AT winter hike for the more hearty souls. I am outdoors shooting photos and video all winter long for work in zero degree weather. The last thing on my mind was to climb a mountain. I was content to tweet and follow hikers who were trekking around the country.
      My wife Deb and I are constantly out once the weather breaks and the sun shines, but we don't camp out on the trail. We are day trippers and hotel sleepers. I apologize to the hard core hikers out there. We will walk old train lines that have been ripped up and converted, also hike along the Lehigh River near Jim Thorpe, in French Creek State Park, or the Valley Forge National Park and many other spots in Pennsylvania. Sometimes it will be hiking for a weekend or when time is tight, we'll walk five milers on a trail near our home.
     The Pinnacle is the first challenge of the year. It is is truly how I gauge the days ahead. I'm hoping all the shoveling, deep snow walking and constant effort have kept me in half decent shape even as I graze on whatever I can find in the refrigerator. Sometimes I wonder why I put myself through this hike but the view is well worth the sweat.
     At the parking lot we start up a gravel section until you round a bend and then split off at a fork on the trail.
     We prefer the tree canopied white blaze trail to the left, with steep ascents and switchbacks. Short flat sections are part of the climb and this helps to keep me moving without tiring.
     There is also another way to the top which is a wide lane to the right and a point where star gazers drive vehicles up hill to small private observatories. This is a very tough climb and one that wears me down. We did this section on a hot and muggy summer afternoon last year and stopped several times to catch our breath.
     So instead on this spring day, up the white blaze trail we go. Let's face it, I've been walking this stretch of land for nearly thirty plus years and it's still up hill all the way. We do take the time to watch a millipede or salamander. On a rare occasion we will spot a deer but luckily so far we haven't crossed paths with a bear.
     Most of the time we are just slowly plodding along, talking and walking content to be out of town and in the woods. After several miles we enter a small meadow and pick up the blue blaze trail which will take us to The Pinnacle. This part of the trail narrows and is blanketed in rocks. I'm more careful not to turn an ankle on this section as it's a long way to hobble back down to the bottom.

     On the final feet of the climb, the trees part and the sky opens up in a panoramic view. It is a spectacular location and the payoff is well worth for the energy spent along the way. Raptors are floating on the thermals at the edge of the cliff. It's a beautiful site and we sit  for a while to enjoy the moment.
      There will come a day when I will have to turn around, failing to make it to the top. But for now, I look far into the distance from my perch at the top of the world knowing that I passed my test for another year. And then I realize, I have five more miles to go, but luckily that it is all down hill.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

When the Snow Hits the Fan, I Can't Work From Home.

     When the winter weather takes a serious turn and begins to dump snow and ice over The Mercury's coverage area, I can't work from home. I'll will check twitter out for any possible leads, but the scanner and my contacts are what I use most on days when storms dominate the news. The pictures snapped on a phone looking out from inside a warm house doesn't cut it.
     I clean off my car and dig in for a long day of navigating the area for any news that occurs.  I hit the streets and my SUV has been great, chewing up the snow as I travel over hilly highways.
     Who do I blame for one of the nastiest winters in decades. Is it Old Man Winter or Mother Nature's fault.  And where is that rodent declaring six more weeks of bad weather.
     During one extremely cold Sunday night, just sitting down to watch the pro bowl football game and a major fire call came in. I  bundle up and took the time to pull on winter boots and a heavy coat. Normally I will fly out the door unprepared for the elements but it was near zero outside. Hurrying from my parking spot along Route 662, I high stepped it through deep snow, shooting photos along the way. It erupted in flames as I got to the building. By the time I finished recording the scene, sending out videos and stills from my phone on social media sites and talking to the news desk, I discovered that my socks were off inside my boots and pant legs were covered in snow.
     It was time to head home and send some photos from my real Nikon cameras. The desk waited for the breaking news photos redoing the front page for the late remake. I transmitted a bunch of photos within a half hour and we got the paper out on time.
     Most snowy days I wear a hat, gloves and a hood so the icy stuff isn't blowing down my neck. But the long days do take a toll and wear me down. After snapping photos at most of the winter storms I'll arrive home but don't head inside for hot cocoa and cookies. It's time to fire up the snowblower and shovel my place before the day is done.
     I see a number of people outside while I make my rounds and surprisingly they aren't negative about the weather. They matter of fact state it's winter and this is what it's supposed to be. At church this past Sunday, people didn't drag in they were chipper and smiling.
     The roads are torn up from the salt, freezing temps and plows scraping the highways. Dodging potholes are part of the daily commute.
     Predictions on the storm ahead is for over a dozen inches of the white stuff accumulating. The area suffered one of the worst ice storms in recent history and most of the residents just got their power back, some were without electricity for a week. I'm sure those folks are keeping their fingers crossed that they don't have to deal with another blackout.
     At a hardware store yesterday, customers were like busy bees buying shovels and other accessories. Luckily the Douglassville store got in a precious supply of salt. It was a flurry of activity and you could see the helpful workers were tiring from a long day of loading heavy bags into vehicles.
     We'll see how storm number twelve affects the area. And for the record, I've decided to blame the old man for the damage of the winter of 2014.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Gridlock - Highways I'd Rather Bypass

     Like most people, I enjoy driving a car. I've never been interested in having the fastest or shiniest or most expensive. My main concern is that it can get me from point A to point B without incident or a breakdown.
     But, I have to say when driving, there are several highways I could do without on my journeys around the countryside. They are I-95 north through New York City, I-495 or the Beltway around Washington, D.C. and I-76 the darling of GRIDLOCK, The Schuylkill Expressway into Philadelphia.

     When I see the red lights on the back of cars and the slowdown begins, I start to see red and get aggravated. There is no place to go. All you can do is stay in line with all the other lemmings pumping the gas pedal, tapping the brake. Repeat. I try to stay patient but that isn't one of my best attributes.
     We are all in it together as the outdated infrastructure and all the small feeders roads dump motorists onto the backed up highways. Vehicles clogging the lanes come to a dead stop what I like to call a CARonary vehicular attack. And then a lane jumper dodges left, cuts right and heads down the shoulder of the road.
     AHHHHHH! No road rage just frustration watching all of this. When we drove home from Connecticut on our last summer trip, it was a breeze until several miles from the George Washington Bridge in New York City. It took us over an hour and change to make it through. Good thing for Garmin keeping me on the straight and narrow and do I mean narrow as cars squeezed me from all angles but I remained on course. Hit the gas, jam on the brake hold my breath. Repeat.
    And my wife Deb and I are traveling off peak hours. I can't imagine what that road is like on a Friday at five p.m. when commuters and city dwellers are trying to get off the island for the weekend.
I like New York City but unfortunately so do millions of others and if I want to travel I have to play the game.
     Our family has preferred to travel south to enjoy the beach. We've been to Florida on the gulf and east coast, a couple times to the Outer Banks, but mostly Myrtle Beach, S.C.  I always try to talk myself into the fact that the drive will be better this time. I am a dreamer. We have finally given up driving during the daylight hours and instead leave shortly after midnight. On average it takes ten hours to get there, but in the event of a traffic backup hours can add on. It's not a problem driving down as everyone is excited to get on the road anticipating a great week ahead.
     But when you're dragging after playing hard for seven days, and we are forced to leave our rental unit in the morning with the thousands of others at the same time, the drive home can be a nag. Traveling is fine out of Myrtle and I'm in good spirits after a nice holiday with family, but in the back of my mind I know what is waiting for us when we get north of Quantico, Virginia. The backup is for miles and and miles on a Saturday nearing the point where Route 95 and the Beltway merge.
     The engineers and work crews have designed and built, redesigned, dug up and rebuilt the same roadway it seems like every summer. The road go from four lanes down to one and the jockeying for position in this mess is brutal even though no one gets very far. It's time to sit back take a deep breath, sigh and rub my aching head.

     My least favorite drive is the Schuylkill Expressway. From the point where Route 422 connects with Route 202 and then into I-76, it's one long backed up pile of cars and trucks slowly heading to the city. And what I don't get is that at times I'm doing 55 mph and in a blink of an eye I'm at a dead stop. Speed up slow down. Repeat. With only two lanes, every on and off ramp causes delays.
     So to balance the nasty roads that I have to navigate I drive over many country lanes. Deb and I will head out to Lancaster and travel some scenic backroads where the farmland goes on for miles. Take it easy, cruise along and relax. Enjoy the roads and the driving. Stop at some of the road side vegetable stands and eat lunch at a
barbecue joint. And then it happens, even here in God's country.
     HEY, What the heck is that big tractor doing driving only five miles per hour in front of me. You can't go anywhere not even when you've got nowhere to go.
   

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Understanding The Meaning of a Bumper Sticker and The Vietnam War

    In the '60s during the height of the U.S. troop escalation in the Vietnam War, my father placed a big bumper sticker on the front storm door of our Pottstown home with the following words - I SUPPORT THE TROOPS IN VIETNAM.
     It didn't say he supported the war or the politicians whose bidding these drafted soldiers were sent to do. It simply stated he supported the troops. My father was ahead of his time in this way. Many people around the country blamed these men and women for the battle they were told to fight. But the servicemen performed their patriotic duty and came home to a boiling society that wouldn't allow them to return with the dignity they deserved.
     My father was a career soldier who fought in World War II and Korea. He was in the Army reserves at the end of his last year when the fight in Vietnam was raging.  One of my older cousins and a U.S. Marine told me that my Master Sergeant dad couldn't lead any more young men off to war. So he retired in 1967. He served more than two decades and within a year he died at the age of forty-six.
     I looked at that sticker every day when I walked into our north end home wondering what it meant. And I'd think of the war protestors on college campuses trying to put the pieces together. How does my dad support these guys when everyone else seems to be at each others throat.
     Several of my friends had older brothers who went off to Southeast Asia. I remember talking to them and how down they were when the one they looked up to had to leave home with a duffle bag hanging from their shoulder. They were proud and afraid at the same time. I never saw a protest in Pottstown as a kid, there may have been one but people in this blue collar area were busy making a living at one of the many factories in town trying to pay the bills more than to make a political statement. I'm sure there was talk and fear but people had to keep on working.
     After the death of my father I'd accompany my mother to Valley Forge Army Hospital in Phoenixville on a weekly basis. At times my brother Gary and sister Lisa would be along. I saw the wounded suffering from amputations and other serious injuries.
     When you are born into a culture as an army brat, you are part of a family that extended far past your own. I could walk down the halls of the army hospital alone, without fear. These hurt men waiting in the halls to see a doctor would look up at me a twelve years old and say a couple words and give me a smile. And I'd answer them back as best as a preteen could. I never witnessed the worst of those who suffered but watched some who were recovering hobble by on crutches or sitting in wheelchairs wearing those baby blue colored pajamas.
     We'd go into the commissary and my mom would buy groceries or other goods at the Post Exchange. There were always soldiers around us. We went as a family to see the doctors for inoculations or dental checkups. I spent many days at the post in my youth. I liked being there and around those heroes.
     Every visit before heading home, I'd ask my mom to drive over to the landing pad to watch the military helicopters bringing in the wounded. They were transferred to a hospital truck with a big red cross painted on the side. My mom never hid this from me. It was part of the real world growing up in a military family.
     Seeing this would get to my mom, but it wouldn't stop her from taking me there. We'd sit in the car quietly together and took it all in. I'm not sure how I felt watching the injured carefully tended to by other soldiers and nurses. But I now understood the meaning of the sticker on the door.
      The Vietnam veterans weren't welcomed home after their days of combat were over. It took years for that to happen. The first time I photographed Vietnam vets at home was in Reading, Pa. 25 years ago this month when thousands lined the streets for a welcome home parade and then dedicated a new memorial in a city park.
      I've had the honor of accompanying them to The Wall in Washington, D.C. The bus was silent on the way, veterans deep in thought. There were hugs and tears shed and flowers placed on graves. But it seemed like a healing process that day as the ride home was filled with loud chatter and laughter.
     The dedication of the statue and memorial in Pottstown's Memorial Park was a great event back in 1989. I shot one of my favorite photos of an Airborne Ranger who had fought in Vietnam shaking the hand of the soldier statue. Sadly this veteran passed away last month. I knew him since I was a boy growing up in the same neighborhood.
      They came home changed men forever, some were okay and got back to work while others continue to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. I've gotten to know the local veterans from all wars and have the privilege of telling their stories working for The Mercury.
     This past week was the latest welcome home held in Pottstown with veterans opening up about their daily lives fighting in Vietnam. Warriors Watch Riders motorcyclists made their way down High Street to show their respect along with the speeches, hand shakes and thanks to the men. It was a long time coming for some of these guys.
     I will continue to cover the services and homecoming for veterans past and future because they deserve our thanks knowing we are behind them no matter our personal feelings. And I will support the troops wherever they go.
     Because that is what I have learned after looking at a bumper sticker placed on a door forty-five years ago.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Canning Fresh Vegetables by a Kid Who'd Rather Eat a Hot Dog

     Canning vegetables was an annual ritual for my wife Deb and me every fall buying boxes of tomatoes, corn and other vegetables at a good price.  And doing the work yourself gave you the satisfaction that on a cold winter day, cracking open one of the mason jars would give you a taste of all the fresh vegetables from summer. We haven't canned for a dozen years.
     For me eating fresh vegetables as a kid was an acquired taste. I grew up an army brat and everything came in a can from the Army post commissary. My mom made her own soups and was a great cook baking fresh pies weekly, but for some reason we ate vegetables out of a can. Annually we grew a couple of stringy tomato plants in the back yard but I got accustomed to the bland taste of store bought canned goods. And besides like most kids, I would have rather just eaten another hot dog than vegetables.
     When I met Deb, her late father was a gardener or should I say more like a farmer. He had a huge garden behind their Stowe home and was constantly pulling weeds or turning the soil planting and replanting. And at harvest time I was on hand at dinner to try the fresh veggies.
     I can eat a majority of anything fresh out of a garden but, I still can't eat fresh green beans. I look at Deb, smile and say these taste way to green! Funny, but the taste is still to strong to like. I can eat green beans pickled in a jar or cooked in with a ham and cabbage but I won't eat them unless they are boiled to death. The only vegetables I ate when I was a youngster was corn, waxed beans, apple sauce (yes I considered that a vegetable) and potatoes.
Deb working in her kitchen.
     With Deb's family, I was introduced to everything home grown from carrots, radishes, beans, cauliflower and broccoli, cabbage and tomatoes of all varieties. Peppers from mild to the set your tongue on fire types. Cucumbers, lettuce, squash, rhubarb, peas (no I won't eat these either) and kohlrabi. I looked at that green little thing and said to myself what the hell is a kohlrabi. I found out its a bit like a turnip. I never, ever in my life ate a turnip especially one called a kohlrabi. But when my father in law started mixing in all those leftover vegetables at the end of the season to make chicken soup on a cold fall day, I munched down those kohlrabi's along with all the other stuff. He made the best soup, just ask my daughters who still talk about how they miss not having a big bowl this time of the year.
     Deb's brother Joe also has a garden and cans some of the best vegetable concoctions I've ever tried. We were over recently and he had us try some home canned spicy hot asparagus and the taste was amazing. If I don't like something I'm not eating it to be polite. I could have eaten an entire jar and I'm not a big fresh asparagus eater. That ranks up their with the green beans. But pickled in a brine and adding in a couple of hot peppers gives it a flavor I go for. We ended up leaving with jars of some of his latest canned goods.
     And that got us thinking why not put up some jars for the coming winter. Yes it's easier to buy food at the grocery store, no mess, no time involved.  But being a vegetable convert, I have seen the light of eating home grown veggies, we decided to dust off the Victorio strainer, washed and sterilized our boxes of old mason jars and got to work.
     The first two projects were to make tomato sauce and the other was to make a salsa. I drove to several local farm stores and road side vegetable stands and bought a couple of big boxes of Roma variety tomatoes along with a bunch of onions, peppers and other vegetables requested by my wife.
     We skinned the tomatoes cut up the vegetables in large pieces. From here Deb took over to make her salsa. She has a processor that pulses them into small little pieces in seconds. It seemed to take a lot longer when we cut everything up by hand years ago. What a time and labor saver. From there we ladled the contents into a pint jars, sealed them up and boiled the jars in a hot water bath to kill off any remaining bacteria.  It was a lot of work to get fifteen pint jars of salsa. We chilled one down and tried it later that night, and I'm not exaggerating, it was the best salsa I ever had. Our kids agree as we are down to less than ten jars left and we haven't had a frost yet.  A second batch is schedule though I'm not sure we will be able to duplicate the taste. It had to be beginners luck.
     Next, we washed and cut up the remaining tomatoes in quarters and I ran them through the strainer to separate the juice and pulp from the skin and seeds. This hand operated little marvel doesn't miss a drop which is then mixed with spices and boiled down.
 
 I bought 75 ears of corn at another stand so that Deb could make a picked corn relish.  First we husk the ears, then blanch them. After the ears cools for a minute I take a sharp knife and cut the kernels from the cob.  By the time I get finished two large bowls are filled with corn. Deb mixes in her spices, vinegar and other secret herbs from her recipe and we again fill several dozen jars.  We will have enough to last a year. What was left over we froze and will be able to use over the winter. This was pretty cost effective and it was definitely cheaper to make than to buy in the store.
     We are looking to buy a bunch of vegetables for the next canning. Deb wants to make chow chow. I call this the hodge podge of home canned goods. Whatever is left after the smoke clears in the kitchen and wasn't used is stuffed together in a jar. So we will be hunting down the last of the fresh vegetables at the end of a good season.     But, I will tell you this, there won't be any kohlrabi added. I'm drawing the vegetable eating line.
   
   

Monday, July 22, 2013

Back to the Wooden Bat Game of Baseball

     There is a distinct crack from a wooden baseball bat when the ball is smacked on the sweet spot. And when you don't make good contact you hear a splat and the ball doesn't travel very far.  When using a metal bat and hit it good you'll hear a ping, and when you don't you still hear a ping.
      Baseball is going back to the days of the wooden bat after years of kids swinging the metal. The metal bats give a routine hit more distance and the possibilities of of a ball rolling to the fence. With wood, outfielders can challenge the hitters by playing in closer to the infield.
     There are arguments for both sides, some say using metal makes for a more offensive and action packed game. Others like the fact that teams can play small ball with wood, bunt and hit and run manufacturing runs instead of just hoping someone will hit a pop that will carry out of the park.
     I'm all for the return to wooden bat game. Kids will get more accustomed to it with time. Instead of one base at a time mentality, coaches take more chances and I feel that the games are just as exciting.
     And what's wrong with leveling the playing field and having a good old fashioned pitchers duel. Bats will splinter and break and that can be a danger but it's also a problem with balls whizzing by the mound clanging off the metal ones.
     I feel Pennsylvania is on the right track and school districts still using metal bats need to get on board. They can argue it's costly to keep replacing broken wooden bats and school budgets are already tight. But, when's the last time a kid arrived at a game without carrying his own bat bag. So that argument is a bit weak.
     Even when I played decades ago, I had my own bat that I used in all of my games. If I broke it, then I'd use one the team supplied until I got back to Bechtel's Sports for new one.
     There was a couple things a baby boomer kid had on a bike when he pedaled off for the day's adventures. One was a baseball glove looped over the handlebars, also a baseball jammed into the bike frame. If you had a pickup game planned with the many other kids running around the neighborhood you brought
your wooden bat and held it across the bars as you steered.
     I'm still waiting to see a homer off of a wooden bat this summer and with several state tournaments coming up I'm sure someone will hit one out of the park. Abner would be happy to see the game returning to it's roots.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Travel - Touring Connecticut and Sneaking into Vermont

     After finishing up my Saturday work shift, my wife Deb and I headed to Guilford, Connecticut for a week of day trips and sightseeing with longtime friends Anne and Ted who had a loose itinerary set up for daily adventures.
A view of the architecture at Yale University
     It's a four-hour plus ride on Route 78 through the Lehigh Valley onto Route 95 and over the George Washington Bridge in New York. Heading to Connecticut it was white knuckle driving and quick lane changes to stay on course. I sneak a quick peak at the horizon of the Manhattan skyscrapers while keeping one eye on the snaking traffic.
     Crossing the state line into Connecticut, Deb dials up Anne and we meet at Wilson's Holy Smoke Barbecue, a joint my wife picked out after watching her favorite food shows. We keep a list of restaurants and diners to visit on upcoming trips and this was a nice start munching on a pork barbecue sandwich with collards, baked beans and cornbread.  Deb had the perfect words after dining stating, "The food was yummy!" After dinner it was a short thirty minute ride to their home which is near the Long Island Sound.
Pepe's Pizza
     On Sunday afternoon we stopped at Chamard Winery and shared a bottle of Chardonnay. Later we made our way to New Haven for a walk on the grounds of Yale University and snapped some shots of their historic buildings. I've grown to appreciate the value of taking the time to look at architecture and famous places during our travels.
      Dining in spots also takes on a new meaning looking for family run businesses with a unique style so we dropped in at The Original Pepe's Pizza in the town's Italian district. The pizzeria was opened in 1928 and still serves up delicious pies from their coal fired brick oven. We waited in line outside the popular pizzeria along with other hungry guests before a booth opened up. It was worth the wait.
   The following day we went sailing on the Long Island Sound with Ted's neighbor. This was new to me as I've only been on the sea in power boats and cruise ships. I was put to work by Captain Fred and he had me hoist the main sail and jib and tie them off.
Captain Fred and 1st mate Ted prepare to sail
He also gave me a turn manning the tiller and it took a while to keep the boat on the correct heading and the sails filled with air. We sailed out on the sound 3.5 miles and circled Faulker Island lighthouse and back to the docks. The two men know the water and are able and knowledgable sailors. They sat relaxed giving me instructions as I took control of the boat. The winds were light so this landlubber wasn't concerned about tipping the boat and dunking us into the water but it does take some time to get a feel for controlling the boat.
    We were up early the next morning and drove to Hartford with our main stop at the home of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. I enjoy reading his novels and got a kick out of touring the family home and seeing his upstairs area where he wrote at his desk, smoked cigars, took a nip of the spirits and shot pool with friends. We stopped at the book store inside the welcome center
The Mark Twain house
which is on the grounds and is larger than the home. Deb and I bought a book and I am saving mine for reading on cold winters nights later this year. The center has some of his catchy phrases cast in the cement walls.  There is a short movie of his life and some of his memorabilia displayed in the building.        
Deb's in the fast lane on the alpine slide in Vermont 
     From there we headed north. I took the wheel and drove through Massachusetts for a hour until we crossed the border into Vermont.  The state was the destination as we really didn't have a plan in
mind. The previous day while talking I stated, that while Deb and I have been to every state in the east from Maine to Florida, we never set foot in Vermont. To date,  I have been to thirty four states in the union. But whenever I would look at a map of the United States, I'd stare at Vermont, nagged that I hadn't made it there.
     I would have been content to stop the car, stick my toe on
the ground and drive back, but we decided to head to Bromley Ski Resort that had zip lining, an alpine slide and other summertime activities. The clouds were forming and a
View of Long Island Sound 
thunderstorm was nearby. The owner told us to head up the mountain on the chairlift and kindly offered for us to pay when we got back so we could at least get one run on the zip line. But when we got to the top workers told us we'd have to do the alpine slide with the fast approaching storm.
Gillette Castle
     Deb and I had ridden on the alpine slide at Camelback Ski Resort until they dismantled the run years ago. The rider sits in a sled with nylon runners and speeds downhill on a concrete or fiberglass bobsled track. It's lots of fun and I've crashed a number of times racing Deb in the lane next to me. I'm a little older these day but still zipped down the lane at a swift pace but did pull back on the brake at times to keep from getting out of control. We could only make one run as heavy rain wiped out the rest of the afternoon. On the return trip we stopped at a country store and bought the obligatory bottle of maple syrup, cookies and other snacks. Another state checked off of my list.
     The rest of the week we rode around Connecticut and toured a number of locations including Gillette Castle, the home of Broadway stage actor and writer William
Drawbridge opening in Mystic, Connecticut
Gillette. His castle sits on a hillside with a breathtaking view of the Connecticut River. Gillette was famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes with the play opening in 1899. We took the time to read a number of Gillette's personal letters that are set under glass for visitors to see and we also looked over the unique interior decorations of the home.
      A side trip to Mystic, Conn. had us walking around the nostalgic town. Large sailboats passed by the open drawbridge on the Mystic River at the main street in town.  For lunch we chose Mystic Pizza, the restaurant where the Hollywood movie "Mystic Pizza" starring Julia Roberts was filmed.
      It was a fun-filled week and we boarded the Sea Mist for a boat tour of the Thimble Islands. The captain navigated the waterway where multimillion dollar homes are neatly built onto the small islands dotting the cove.
     We put in close to six hundred miles that week driving over some of the lesser traveled forest covered mountain roads and also along speedy interstates.  I prefer the two lane roads where I can turn my head on occasion to view the scenery without my co-pilot Deb offering her driving instructions to me about watching the road. I can't wait for the next time we hit the trail for another countrywide adventure.