Monday, September 19, 2022

OTR 12 behind...and then ends

OTR-12 begins

After changing plans and four days of non-stop preparation, I got a good night's sleep last night, probably my last in four nights. It took just about the same amount of time to load the Defender this morning as for a long journey, and we shoved off at 11:00.  

The drive out of DC was probably one of the worst I have experienced on all my road trips: traffic, construction,  complex highways. Interstate 66 is not a straight shot out of the city. The highway twists and turns, ascends and descends faster than the eye can keep up.  After 26 miles of intense driving, we broke out onto the open highway. 

Donner, who usually positions himself in his front seat facing towards me with his legs straddling the gear shifts, had positioned himself facing towards the rear of the Defender, the position he takes on our long journeys. Somehow he knew we were setting off  on a long journey.

As soon as I was free of any significant traffic, I broke out my ipad and new Beats Studio 3 headphones. When I put the head[hones on, the Defender went silent. Wow, they sure block out all noise.   For the next 40 mile I listened to Pete Seeger's rendition of Oh Shenandoah to put me in the right mood.   The detritus of life that I was leaving behind ---albeit for just a few days --- was quickly jettisoned from the Defender as I made plans for the next three days.  Which campground would I settle in? How would I spend the next three days?  What kind of shape would I be in to deal with the camp chores?  What if my new cot  did not fit in the tent?

About 40 miles up the road, I removed the headphones.  The noise from the Defender was almost deafening.  I had no idea that it made so much noise.  But something did not sound right.  As I accelerated, it sounded as if my muffler had come off.  The stick shift was vibrating like I had never seen it vibrate before.  Something is wrong. I continued on the highway, thinking that I just was not used to silence in the Defender (with these new  headphones on) and then suddenly hearing the noise in its full volume.


At 1:30, I made the left turn onto Skyline Drive, the highway that wends its way along the Shenandoah National Park.  Then, just as I passed the  entrance sign, the engine choked and the check engine light popped on. Ooops. Huston, we have a problem.  I could not get much acclelation above 40 mph.  The last time that happened was on the Alaskan Highway when I lost an engine.  At the entrance kiosk, I pulled off to the side of the road and turned the engine off.  Usually, when the check engine light comes on inexplicably, when I stop and then restart the engine it turns off and all is okay.  It did not, once, twice, three times.  I sat in the Defender on the shoulder of the road for 10 minutes trying to decide what to do.  One option was to continue with my plans  and accept what happened.  Another option was to turn the Defender around and head for home to have the vehicle taken care of right way.  I decided to continue with my plans. But just a few meters up a hill  I could not get any acceleration, so I made a U-turn and headed back into DC.  About 30 miles into the trip home the engine choked,   but that turned off the check engine light and it kept moving. 


I took as many side roads as I coud to get home because I did want  the Defender breaking down on a highway. Fortunately , we made it home without further incident by 5:00.  I will take the vehicle to my mechanic tomorrow with the hope that they can figure out what the problem is.  This could be one of those problems that will be hard to track down.  Whenever it is back on the road, I will set out again. Fortunately, all the packing is done so I will only have to spend 30 minutes loading the  Defender the next time. 

Stuff happens.  But I am baffled about why the Defender has not acted up since I returned home from my trip in 2020, and then breaks down on the first day of this trip.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Day minus 3, Friday, Sept 16

If all goes well, which often does not happen, I will be on the road on Monday. Not to the Donner Party Trail, but on the trail with Donner. The plan is to take perhaps five 4-day journeys to campgrounds within a day's drive of DC. I will start with the Shenandoah Valley, where I shall return to my roots, literally and figuratively. The plan is to be away from Monday to Thursday on each of these trips, and return to DC for three days to resupply, continue my physical theraphy, take Donner swimming for his own theraphy. And, frankly, I want to see if I still have both the passion and stamina for these journeys.  But the Monday-to-Thursday window is somewhat symbolic given that Monday and Thursday in German are Montag and Donnerstag, and so this trip will allow to reminisce about all my dogs from Montag to Donner, bookends to Sonntag and Kessie, and Leben and Erde in between. Forty-nine years this week I have spent with those six magnificent days.

The logistic planning and preparation is not much different than that for my usual planned long road journeys, except that I have to cut down the 12- page To Take list to one page. What I want to avoid is having to spend four hours loading the Defender before I leave and then another four unloading when I return, since I will only have three days at home.

One thing I will have to acclimate myself to on these trips is how to spend my days. Usually, I stay in a campsite only overnight, and then move on the next day to some distant venue. My road trips are not for rest and relaxation. Perhaps I will take one book with me each time with the hope that I can complete them. I think I will start off with Precipice, a new book about the risk facing Earth. And if the word has not yet gotten out, we are indeed standing at a precipice on some many fronts these days. The two questions we all should be asking ourselves are, first, what should we do to prepare if these risks materialize, and, second, what role can we play to avert them?

One of the tasks that I was hoping to get done before I left for any trip this year was to set up my new iMac computer and then download all of my music and cherished photos onto my new iPad. The problem is, my Dell-Microsoft computer started to go on the blink a few months ago and I have not had a chance to set up my new iMac. (By the way, after 40 years, I have finally abandoned Microsoft. I am sick and tired of losing an hour a day waiting for Microsoft this or Microsoft that to respond to simple commands.) But not one to five up so easily, I got online to the Apple iTunes store and purchased copies of what I call my On the Road music.  I also was able to send my favorite photos from my desktop to myself, and then opened them on my iPad and save them so I could call them up without the internet. There's a solution for every problem. worth solving.

Every trip I take I usually add one new improvement. The improvement this year is a low-rise (4") cot. Those who followed OTR-8 will recall that I brought along a standard height (12") cot on that trip, only to find out 1000 miles later that it didn't fit in my tent. Although the usable space for a cot in the tent is 85 inches, and the cots are 76 inches long, that would work for a cot that was one inch high since the tent walls slope inward. So, without pulling out my old geometry books, or taking the time to set up the tent now and try out the new cot, I am hoping that it will fit. If not, it's back to the ground for me. My cot is 30 inches wide and Donner's 29, so the two should fit perfectly in the 59-width shown on the below diagram of the tent, below. The good news is that the weather will be such that I will be able to have some of the cot hanging out into the vestibule.

If there is one goal I have for this trip it will be to visit the site  where I spread Montag's ashes in 1990 along Jeremey's Run Trail.  Although I will not be able to make the 5-mile trek to get to that site, there is an overlook from the road, so will I park the Defender at the Overlook, and then let my mind wander down the valley and back across those 14 wonderful years I spent with that magnificent dog, starting back 49 years ago.



Wednesday, September 14, 2022

OTR 12 is on, sort of


I cannot believe that it has been 10 months since I last posted. Time flies.


I have been purposely silent on my plans for this year because I was afraid that I would set my expectations too high. The truth is, I was hopeful and planning to get back onto the Donner Party Trail again this year, setting out this past Sunday.  That did not happen, primarily because of several unplanned interruptions in my condo, where I remain as president.  But because I have to get back on the road, my plan now is to head out to where my love of nature was rejuvenated from when I grew up on banks of the Hudson River in the foothills of the Catskills, the Shenandoah Valley.  Montag and I used to backpack in that beautiful valley most every fall weekend we could for about eight years and had some extraordinary experiences there.  If that bond between a man and his dog best set in anywhere, it is on a camping trip. The last time I was there was back in the early 1990s when I hiked the Appalachian Trail to a place called Jeremy's Run, where I scattered Montag's ashes, with Sonntag and Kessie by my side. Ten years later, Leben and Erde were by my side on the North Slope of Alaska as I scattered Sonntag's and Kessie's ashes there. Whenever I hear mention of those places, my mind goes back to those magnificent dogs.


My plan is to head out to valley over the next five weeks on Monday (i.e. Montag) mornings and stay till Thursday (i.e., Donnerstag), when I will head back into DC for four days. Unfortunately, there is no internet in the park so there will no blog, so to speak. But I will start this one (OTR-12) and maybe post once at end of each week.  But if there were a blog, it would be rather boring to read, but not to experience.


For better or for worse, there will be no backpacking on the schedule during these trips.  The National Park runs four campgrounds, and so that's where we will be pitching our tent. 


Although this was at first a hard decision, it is all for the better since I am going through physical thereby for a pesky walking problem I have been experiencing.  I will do what therapy I can in the camp and return to DCfor a session with my therapist on Fridays, and to take Donner swimming on Fridays and Sundays. He needs to do some recovering too, and he gets half the votes on where we go.  My guess is that if he could talk, he would probably agree with this plan.  I will try to keep up this routine for as long as I can until the end of October, when the campgrounds close for the winter.


Preparing for a four-day retreat on the road into nature in not the same thing as preparing for a six-week retreat for one reason: sometime those six-week retreats run on for as many as 14 weeks, albeit unplanned. And if the Defender gives out on this journey, a 160-mile tow is not the same thing as its breaking down in the Yukon just as the winter snows hit, 4100 miles from home.


Although this trip is Donner's, my mind will undoubtedly be on that magnificent German shepherd Montag, who was my shadow side for 14 years.  Our own road trips only took us to Vermont a few times, but I can assure you he was with me on all my road trips, along with Sonntag, Kessie, Leben and Erde.  And if in whatever afterlife there is only one dog at a time is permitted, Montag would be the first, so that I could give him the benefit of all the lessons on what it takes to be a good guardian for a dog that I learned with his successors.


Click here to read a piece I wrote about Montag the day after he was put down 35 years ago.  He is still on my mind every single day.


ED and Donner

Monday, September 12, 2022


 This blog is dedicated to...

Montag, 1973-1987, my first dog.  He never took a long road trip with me, but his spirit was with me on every trip I took.  What a magnificent companion he was.

This photo was taken by an AP photographer near the White House in February 1979 on the day that two feet of snow fell, and it appeared around the world

Click here to read a piece I wrote about Montag the day he was put down.

Kessie, 1987-1999.  Three weeks after Montag was put down, I responded to a small ad in the Washington Post announcing "Four 12-week-old German shepherd puppies for sale" by a German breeder of shepherds. I arrived " by about noon. There were three females and one male, Karlos.  There had been eight in the liter, four males and four females. Karlos was passed up becasue his ears were not popping up straight like the other males, and his testicles were not dropping. Fifteen minutes after I arrived, a young couple from Virginia, Al and Judy Phillips, and their two kids, 13-year-old Shane and 11-year-old Mindy, showed up, hoping to get the only male puppy left. Since I had gone out there to get the only male, Al and Judy decided to wait until I made my choice. Looking for every excuse to avoid making another long commitment, I didn’t make my decision until five. As soon as I adopted Karlos, I rename him Sonntag, Sunday in German for the day on which he was born. Immediately, the Phillips adopted Kessie. I asked them how they made their mind up so fast. They told me that she had been the one female most engaging with Sonntag the whole five hours.  So, we made a commitment to keep the two dogs together as much as we could, and we did.  Several times a month for the next two years I drove out 11-year-old to the Phillips home and watched those two pups romp around as puppies do.  Then, on July 31, 1989, I received a call. Al, Judy and Mindy had been killed in a plane crash the night before on their way back from Atlantic City.  Since I was the only one who knew Kessie (Shane was in Germany), I immediately drove out to their home and the police let me take Kessie, until Shane returned him from Germany, where he was attending school. Shane had to leave his school in Germany and kept Kessie until he finished high school two years later.  I would often visit him and take Kessie with me from time to time on my backpacking trips with Sonntag. Then, when he announced that he was going to have to give Kessie away as he went off to college, I immediately adopted her.  She was with us for eight years.  What a delight she was, she was my sweetheart.  She took several trips with me to Canada to ski at Mont Tremblant, but she too was with me on all my road trips. Just writing these words makes me miss her as if he left me just yesterday.  She had to be put down in 1999 after a deep inner ear infection ravished her balance system. After I scattered Sonntag's and Kessie's ashes over the tundra in the North Slope, in 2001 I kept some. and scattered them over Al, Judy and Mindy's grave in Colorado.  In the dust on the gravestone I added, "and their dogs, Kessie and Sonntag."



Addi, 2010-2022. On July 7 this year, my sister Kathleen wrote me that she had to put down her beloved 12-year-old rescued dog, Addi. "Her little angel," she wrote.  It is not my place to write words about Addi, but I am sure the intensity of the love Kathleen felt for that sweet dog would be at least as great as mine.  And the extra joy she must have felt that she was able to give Addi a second chance at life when she rescued her.


Pippa and Eli.  

In August, as Donner and my ex-wife, Connie, and I dined at Donner's favorite restaurant in DC, we were approached (seized upon, is the better choice of words), by a young woman named Anna from Nashville. While I have witnessed many dog lovers dote over Donner, Anna outdid all of them.  But then she explained, and I understood. Her story about her German shepherd named Pippa is much like Donner's: abused, broken, and about to be killed at the shelter. She adopted Pippa two years ago. Below is a picture of Pippa with Anna's first rescue GSD, Eli, who died last year. "He was an amazing companion to me," Anna wrote, to which she added, "dogs are the best part of life."  (You can say that again, Anna.) Although Pippa is still very much here, both she and Eli deserve to be on this dedication page as rescued dogs who were given second chances, and I can only imagine how lucky both of them were to end up with Anna, if how she doted over a stranger's dog at a restaurant in Washington is any indication of the love and attention they got. Just look at those happy dogs!

Thursday, September 1, 2022

About this blog


About this blog

As I have written 11 times before, if a reader of my blog is in search of profound observations or thoughts, you will not find them here. It’s not that I’m incapable of such thoughts, and then turning them into words, it’s just that there’s no time for me to transform my musings of the day in pithy pearls of wisdom. So, if writings can range on a scale of 0 to 10 in terms of profundity, mine hover around between 1 and 2, and principally record the events of the day, and other various and sundry things that occupied my time. For instance, grizzly bears walking down the highway beside my Defender; an engine failing on the Alaskan highway in the Yukon in frigid weather, 250 miles from the nearest garage; the Defender's transmission breaking down in a snowstorm crossing the plains of Kansas, my dog Leben becoming paralyzed 1500 miles from home, etc.

As for the writings in the blog, I dictate them without notes, and so they are replete with errors of one sort or another which I do not have the time, patience or battery to correct all. So, please ignore the obvious errors, and try to make some sense of any words or phrases that just don't look like they fit in. In other words, read the blog in a holistic sense and not on word-to-word basis.


Monday, August 22, 2022

Putting The Old Fella Down


 The bond between a man and his new dog fuses almost instantly; from then on, its strength depends upon individual circumstances.  In my and my German shepherd's case, it only intensified due to the facts that I had him alone, he was my only dog, and we were virtually inseparable for so many years.

             "Montag" - Monday in German - was born on the day the Senate Watergate Committee heard H.R.Haldeman testify that he and President Nixon had no knowledge of Watergate. Skylab 2 circled the earth. Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam were still front-page news.  "American Graffiti" was the new movie that summer. On the day I took the little fella home at age eight weeks, the Dow Jones hit 920; I was 28.  That's how far back he went.  So much happened since then. He spanned two thirds of my adult life.

 To say that Montag and I spent an enormous amount of good time together would be an understatement.  Few people who know me now knew my life without him; many never knew me without him.   The "outside interests" line on his rsum would look like mine except for the SCUBA diving:  jogging, backpacking, cross-country skiing, traveling, outdoor concerts, to name a few; he was always with me.  On many weekends he was a fixture at my office with me. At home, he permeated my life.  It wasn't all fun and games for the two of us though. But we were both there for each other doing what we were supposed to do.  I never lost sight of the fact that he was a dog; to his credit, neither did he. He had a pretty good deal and so did I.  We both knew that.

 Dogs destined to live to an old age do their masters a favor by sending unmistakable signs of the inevitable separation well in advance. Montag was no exception. Looking back now over the years I can clearly trace what he stopped doing and when.  But it was easy to ignore those signs because the bond between us intensified as the fun times were replaced with caring and understanding. I wanted it to continue forever, but I knew that it couldn't.

 The medical signs, however, couldn't be ignored, not with a 110 pound dog. Over Montag’s last 16 months, I successfully navigated him between two tumor operations and learned how to cope with a few predictable consequences of his aging. Montag was never in  pain, but he was getting old.  In his last few months, although otherwise in good shape, he gradually started to go lame in his right hind leg.  Convinced by the veterinarian when a decision couldn't be postponed that surgery, as a long shot, might work, I went ahead with it.  I simply couldn't let Montag go without doing everything humanely within reason for him.

  After a difficult five week nursing period, longer than the vet suggested, I had to make another decision.  The operation was unsuccessful; Montag would never walk again. An emotional decision would have kept him here a few weeks longer, but there really was no cause for hope.

The painful decision to put Montag down became irreversible when he still couldn't walk on the designated day. The rest of that day had been rehearsed many times over in my mind. I carried him over the same threshold we had crossed together thousands of times and then 150 feet to my Jeep.  We pulled out at 7:30 in the morning for the 70 mile drive to the veterinary hospital.  I kept one hand on Montag for the entire trip. Tears were the rule, not the exception.  The weather was just foul: heavy rain, a dark sky, lightning and thunder.  Five minutes before the hospital, I cried "I'm going to miss you so much, Montag. I promise we'll be together again."

        An unexpected 45 minute wait at the hospital was welcome, but it only added to my pain.  I sat in my Jeep, alone, with Montag in the back.  My heart sank when finally someone knocked on my door and said, "We're ready."  Weakened from grief, I reached back, touched Montag and said, "It's over, fella."  I drove to the alley in the rear of the hospital so Montag could be euthanized in my Jeep with privacy and wouldn't have to be carried inside. I got into the back with him and removed his collar, setting him free forever.  The vet and her assistant emerged in heavy rainwear and immediately took positions at the rear of the Jeep. With tears streaming down my face and Montag cradled in my arms, I repeatedly whispered to him, "I love you, Montag. Good-bye, buddy. Thanks so much. You're a good dog."  His strong body at first resisted the drug that the vet injected into his left front leg. I pleaded with him, "Please don't fight us this time, Montag."  His weakening body suddenly slumped in my arms. The vet climbed into the Jeep with us, listened for his heartbeat , and then announced, "He's gone."  With those words, a very large and important part of my world collapsed.

  Alone, I sat holding Montag for a few minutes longer.  There was no feeling of relief. If ever before I felt more anguish, I cannot remember.  I shut his eyes, put a make-shift pillow of towels under his head, and closed up the back of the Jeep. Finally composed, I sought out and thanked the vet for her humane treatment and left. At the pet crematory, 20 miles down the road, I carried Montag myself from the Jeep and stayed not far from his side for five hours while he was  cremated. After all, he stayed at my side for 14 years.

 Seven hours after Montag was put down, I was home with his ashes. The small "German Shepherd Dog Inside" sign on my front door, there for emergency purposes, was no longer needed. Perhaps it now belonged on the small box that I clutched in my left arm. It really belonged on my heart.

           That evening, I changed my will -  I want my ashes scattered with Montag's over a site in the mountains where we spent many good weekends together.  I intend to keep my promise to him.  Before I went to bed, I suddenly felt the only joy in a long time when I thought how lucky I was to have had such a great dog for such a very long time. But that's also why putting the old fella down that day was the saddest and toughest thing I can ever remember having to do. I miss him so much.  

 NOTE: Montag was put down at 9:50am on Saturday, August 22, 1987.  His ashes were scattered at the foot of Jeremey’s Run in Virginia’s Shenandoah Mountains in October 1990. Sonntag and Kessie, his successors, were with me.