About Utah and Me

I’m just back from a nearly perfect adventure in my Favorite Place on Earth! Sure, I was there with an open wound which isn’t healing as fast as I want it to. And I had a little hissy fit on someone I love dearly and have since made amends with. But other than that, my trip to Southern Utah could not have gotten much better.

I went to all familiar places and did hikes that I have done at least a few times before. The weather was stunning. The scenery following suit is expected, and the reason I can’t get enough of being there. I cried when I saw the Utah sign in front of me, as well as when it was behind me, for two different reasons. I was even suitably inspired to consider putting a forgotten dream back on the agenda. All this brings me closer to making a life-altering decision!

Anyone who knows me knows that I love to travel. Fifty states, six Canadian provinces, forty-two countries, six continents, nearly fifty national parks worldwide. Some pretty good numbers, by any count! I’ve taken a lot of heat and have been accused of many odd things for loving my globetrotting, and for loving life in general. (Imagine!) But this isn’t the reason that I’m getting closer to making this life-altering decision.

Okay, okay. Enough teasing. Are you sitting down?

Southern Utah moves me so much, I’m considering shutting down all other travel and spending all my leisure time and money there. For starters, I will likely return in the summer, even though I had other plans. I’ve managed to work my personal Promised Land into an itinerary that includes knocking off two more national parks. (I’m trying to hike all U.S. national parks, and I’m more than half done!) This is the behavior of someone who can’t live fully without something. I’m using every and all excuses to be back there again! And I’m thinking that maybe it’s time to stop making excuses and just go.

Well, here’s my disclaimer. Not so long ago I rethought, rewrote, and put out my Bucket List. And there really are some items on it that need to be done. A train trip through the Swiss Alps is bought and paid for. I’m traveling to Antarctica, my seventh continent, later this year! Another cruise on that list is a priority for next summer. And I want to continue to hike those national parks and see my niece in South Carolina. But maybe some of the other entries on that Bucket List aren’t as important as spending as much time as I can in Southern Utah before my time is up.

My time being “up” is another reality that I have to take seriously. Because no matter what anyone wants to think or do or say, my diagnosis of Stage IV Lung Cancer is no joke. Yes, it is a sad truth in my life that some people think that it is something to laugh about, that it isn’t as “serious” as it sounds, because why would I still be running around the damn world if it was so serious? Herein lies a strange truth: I am the beneficiary of the changing face of cancer, and that allows me to live my life much the way I always have.

But I digress. This was supposed to be a post about Utah and me, not cancer and me, and I wouldn’t want the world to roll its eyes at me and sniff, “There she goes again, talking about stuff that make people cringe.” Yet, another truth is that when I talk about Utah and me, cancer always has to be included, whether I want it to or not.

Which leads me to the aforementioned “forgotten dream.”

At one time I planned to buy a small RV and go on a really long road trip after retirement, for as long as I wanted. Naturally, a great deal of my time would be spent in Southern Utah. I also planned to buy a home in a 55+ park, though I could never quite figure out how those two things went together, and why I would buy a home, then go out on the road and leave it behind. Before I could figure it out, my friend cancer came along and made both of them highly unlikely.

But here I am, blogging from my little house in the 55+ community. And in spite of open wounds and a cruddy diagnosis, it appears that I’ll only have to go to Boston every three months now as long as scans keep looking good. Which suddenly opens up that RV road tripping dream to me again, that cancer not so much crushed, but that I let go of and decided to just keep doing what I’ve been doing all along. As I traveled through my cherished Southern Utah I was inspired to think that maybe, just maybe, it’s still possible, and that I can come home to my beautiful little house in between trips. I’ve figured out the mystery of how those two dreams go together!

The verdict is still out on the RV. I have a big scan day coming up on Tuesday, the 2nd. If all goes well I’ll plan my next trip to my beautiful land. Meanwhile, please enjoy some pictures taken on my most recent trip.

The Little Cactus That Could

I talk about some pretty heavy duty subjects around here: cancer survival, loss, family woes, struggle. So I think maybe it’s time for me to write something a little more lighthearted, about a Little Cactus That Could. And did.

Before I tell my story I have to admit that there are a couple of things wrong with this title that I should point out. First of all, I only chose it because it’s catchy and reminded me of a children’s book we had at home, called “The Little Engine That Could.” For you see, the cactus in question really isn’t so little. And the only reason that it could and did, is because of crazy old me and my will to make it do those things. Because unlike the aforementioned little engine, the cactus, though round, doesn’t have wheels, or a train whistle, or even tracks on which to travel. But The Little Cactus That Could did have wings, if you want to use your imagination.

Confused?

Meet the cactus in question:

Okay, okay, we clearly have another problem here. I’m not completely sure, but I think that this is a hunk of a Joshua tree, also known as the Yucca brevifolia, and a member of the Agave family. So it isn’t even a cactus, at least until you practically tear your hands off to stick it into a bag so that you can then try to stuff it into your suitcase…

Whoa! I’m getting way ahead of myself! I’d better stop here and backpedal to a few days before the suitcase scene…

It was a frigid day in Las Vegas, windy, with the highway to Death Valley threatened with snow. The storm forced me to change my plans for the day, to do a short local hike on the edge of Red Rock Canyon. Here’s what the view looked like when I got there:

Yeah, the snow was a bit too close for my liking, and it was damn cold with a swirling wind. But intrepid adventurer that I am (insert winking emoji!) I was going to do that hike if it killed me! So off I went. And that’s when I saw my cactus. Or Joshua tree baby. Or whatever it is. Note to self: pick that thing up on the way back. That anomaly that looks like a desert sunflower. I’ve been bringing home cool stuff from the desert for decades, but I’ve never found anything like the Little Cactus That Could. I was mesmerized!

A lot more mesmerized than I was with my hike. I gave it my best shot. But that snow was too close; it was bitterly cold and the gusts were just about gusting me over. After a half mile, I had to turn back. And there was my little burst of sun waiting for me. Yet as much as I wanted it, and I knew it would be a great and interesting addition to my new home, I started to procrastinate. Maybe I shouldn’t take it. My suitcase was already full with hiking stuff. I had not brought a second bag like I sometimes did when bringing boots and poles and backpacks. I’d probably just have to leave it behind, like an abandoned child.

I took it anyway, put it in the trunk of the car to deal with later. Out of sight, but not out of mind.

A few more days of more successful hiking ensued, and then it was time to pack to go home. The Little Cactus That Could lurked whenever I opened the trunk. Now, it was sink, swim…or fly? Just throw it in the bushes, I tried to tell myself. It’ll tear Muffin (my bunny) up if he gets anywhere near it, I reasoned. And yet, I put it in a Walmart bag and brought it up to my room.

It’s tradition that I repack my suitcase the night before I leave for home. This time, I had to try and get this damn spiny thing in between clothes and supplies. First, I had to put it in something that would make it less sharp, otherwise I’d have a bunch of ripped stuff when I got home. I always carry bags for food shopping, and it just so happens that the one I bring with me these days has a cactus print! It was just barely big enough to house my new accessory, and I got a few injuries getting it in there, but it worked. Lopsided for sure, and still poking through the fabric, but definitely better.

I’d bought some dresses for my sister Jeanne, a few things for myself, some small presents for my niece. And as already mentioned, I’d only brought one bag for my week of hiking. I knew in my heart that even if I managed to somehow get this un-little desert delight in my suitcase that it either wouldn’t close or it would get destroyed on the way home. And if the TSA happened to open the bag for a random check, someone was going to get hurt. My carry-on is always a backpack and is full of medication, camera equipment, and food, so that wasn’t an option. But here was the new conflict: we’d arrived at this point together and I just couldn’t imagine leaving my new sidekick. It was crunch time.

There was only one way this thing was getting to Massachusetts: it had to go on the plane with me. Which brought up a whole new slew of issues! A) What if the TSA officers think I’m bringing it as a weapon? B) What if they consider it like food or liquid, and throw it out because it weighs too much? C) What if they just think I’m nuts for bringing this thing to the airport and trying to smuggle it through security? I concocted excuses for all of them, not really caring if they thought I was nuts or if they tossed it out. Naturally, I was concerned about them thinking I’m a criminal wanting to tear up my fellow passengers with the Little Cactus That Could. But I decided I would just shrug and say that I was only bringing it home to decorate my new house. I’m a trusted traveler, have TSA precheck, Global Entry, all that stuff. My passport is well-stamped, without a single hitch. I tried to convince myself that it would be okay, one way or the other.

I slept well that night, and got up very early to fly. Dropped my rental off, got the shuttle to the airport. Overstuffed suitcase: check. Backpack: check. Barely legal cactus-print bag held cautiously away from body so as not to get pinched: check.

The Southwest Airlines rep had no clue she was looking at a possible criminal. The big guy waving me into the precheck line wasn’t savvy to what was in the nondescript white bag. The officer who handed me back my passport was unaware that an arrest might soon happen. Now, the moment of truth had arrived. The white bag went on the belt to be scanned. My excuse was ready. I had tweaked, reviewed, and memorized it.

I walked through the body scanner, then waited at the other end of the bag scanner for my stuff. Tense. Shifty-eyed. Worried. And out came the Little Cactus That Could as if nothing was wrong, while I tried to envision what it looked like on the scanner screen as it rolled through. Like a pointy bomb. A jagged, multi-blade knife. Something never seen before by TSA agents. Waiting with bated breath to be stopped, I snatched my stuff off the belt and split. No one followed me.

The Little Cactus That Could had just made it through United States airport security.

Said cactus continued to move toward Massachusetts. I warned the flight attendant that I had something in my bag that might hurt someone if they tried to shove their carry-on into the overhead past it. She was not interested. I petitioned my nearby passengers not to push the white cactus bag in the overhead with a bare hand. They were unconcerned. In fact, no one cared about the Little Cactus That Could. Except for me! I babied my new friend as we made our way from Las Vegas to Baltimore, then on to Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Through Bradley Airport. Onto another shuttle to my car. And finally, up I-91, across the Mass Pike, and over a few other roads to my little home.

What a journey!

Here’s the end result of a lot of hard work, and worrying!

A Hike for the Favorites List!

I’ve been lots of places and have done lots of hiking. 40+ countries, 50 states, 40+ national parks around the world. So it isn’t every day that I can say that I’ve done a hike that I consider one of the best I’ve ever done. It hasn’t happened in a while, as I’m sometimes drawn to going back to the same places (hello, Moab, Utah!) to do the same trails that are already on the list. That changed on the trip that I just returned from.

Before I reveal where I took all these incredible shots, let me offer my disclaimer for this post. You probably won’t find the usual choices on my list. You also won’t have to slog two hundred miles to complete one of the entries in my favor. My choices are not two thousand mile trails like “the Appalachian Trail” or “the Continental Divide Trail.” I find articles that site gargantuan trails ridiculous, and written by people who know nothing about hiking, who have clearly never completed the trails in question. I also get tired of the same long hikes on every list, like “the Milford Track” in New Zealand. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that all the hikes I’ve mentioned are incredible. I’ve experienced parts of some of them. But they’re general suggestions, not specific. The hikes on my list are specific and can be done in a day, some in a couple of hours. The one pictured here took two hours, and packed more of a punch than many that I’ve spent days and days discovering.

Where is this trail? Valley of Fire State Park, sixty miles north of Las Vegas, which looks like a national park. We’re talking Nevada, USA, and close to a major city and tourist attraction. I had been here two other times, and thought it was time to go back. In spite of some pretty crazy weather during my week in Sin City, I got a perfect day for hiking, just no sun or blue sky, which would have made for even better pictures!

I had already done the Fire Wave Trail on my last visit. Here’s a picture of me from 2015:

And here’s me this year:

The scenery hasn’t changed much. But the hiker sure has!

This is an easy trail to find, as it is right off the Parking #3 lot. It’s also simple to follow, as it is a one trail deal down to the Fire Wave. The change in scenery along the way is incredible! First, massive walls of red Aztec sandstone beckon from ahead, with soft green mounds of limestone in the foreground. Christmas colors for hikers! Where can you say that you’ve seen red and green rocks, and in the same place?

Once past the rocks, the whole landscape changes to red and white striped sandstone underfoot with pastel sandstone views of aptly named Pink Canyon in the near distance. After a short and mildly steep descent, the Fire Wave comes into view, with a smaller mound next to it. Turn in a three-sixty and just marvel at your surroundings!

Most people choose to do an out and back on this trail. But if you want to do the Seven Wonders Loop, which I’ve come to understand was just opened to the public in 2021, you can proceed to the bottom of the wavy rocks to this sign, and continue on:

Things get a little less obvious once you hit this trail, and they get worse as you go along. But don’t let that stop you! I latched on to a family and another solitary lady (from Germany!) to figure out how to do this loop. We figured it out as a team. Also be warned that a few of the slot canyons, which are normally part of the trail, had to be hiked around because of flooding. The incredible photo opportunities made the extra hiking well worth it! I call views like this “National Geographic material.”

Once you have gone around the water keep in mind that you will have to cross the park road to finish the loop. You will also have to climb back to the parking lot. If you’re really worried you can always take the road, which is plenty scenic, but the stunning terrain you’ll miss will make you want to take the chance of getting a little off track now and then. Don’t expect cairns like on many established trails in the American West (because there are often no trees to put blazes on!) but metal markers can be found along the way. Keep following the general path of the road and you will make it back to the lot without too much trouble. And you’ll see this jaw-dropping stuff along the way:

Seven Wonders? I vote to change the trail name to “A Thousand Wonders Trail!”

An extra added plus: the park was loaded with mountain goats that day!

For more on my favorite hikes, click here!

Good-bye, 2022

Happy New Year!

New Year’s used to be my favorite holiday, a pivotal day when everything is seemingly shiny and fresh. New pursuits, new goals, new, new, new! This year the day passed like any other. I had to remind myself on the eve of the new year that it really was the eve of a new year. I don’t know about anyone else, but the so-called “holiday season” didn’t feel like a holiday season this year, in fact it didn’t feel like much of anything. Maybe it’s because of what the past couple months of my life have been like. Whatever the reason, I’m glad it’s gone for another year. Please take down your trees and lights and save on your electric bill.

I got caught up in the Southwest Airlines mess. Instead of flying south to see my niece on the 23rd I received a text at 4:00am telling me to stay in bed because my flight was cancelled, along with 7,000 others. I didn’t make it to South Carolina until Christmas evening. After a couple of good days with my niece (and a big, beautiful turkey feast at 9:00pm on the 25th!) I got dreadfully ill with a sinus infection, made my first out of state visit to an urgent care center, and spent the next three days in bed. A fitting end to a year of many gains that failed to make up for a crushing loss.

No matter how many trips I took or successes I had they can never make up for the loss of my sister Marie. I miss her so badly, wish she could share in the good things that happened to me in 2022. Purchasing my beautiful little house and finally finding domestic peace, resuming international travel, surviving a deadly disease for yet another year; having Marie here to be proud of me would make all the difference, would have made 2022 a different kind of year. No matter what I do now the losses that I’ve dealt with always outweigh the good.

Sorry for being so depressing!

Yes, the traveling was great, I love my home, and I continue to beat the odds of Stage IV Lung Cancer. Perhaps the best thing that happened in 2022 is that my incredible sister Jeanne survived a potentially fatal surgery to remove a huge staghorn kidney stone. Click on the link and read a little about them. Look up some images. They’re disgusting. Jeanne had been fighting infection, sepsis, and constant hospitalizations that only worsened as time went by. Her surgery was a last resort, and she got the best care possible. I’ll just bet Marie had something to do with her success. What a bright spot that I still have her.

I have not formally made any resolutions for 2023. But I have something nagging at me that really is kind of a resolution: to get serious about writing again. Before cancer, all I blabbed about was writing, traveling and writing. Since my diagnosis I’ve managed to pen a book about my journey back to life, and I’ve blogged here all along. Yet I lost the passion and the hunger, and I have not gotten it back to date. It’s time to regain it. I once wrote two extensive books at the same time, and self published seven books in a matter of a few years! Recently I read through my “cancer journey book,” sent it to a close and brilliant friend of mine, and his interest has given me back a glimmer of the ambition I once had. I’m changing my in progress page to reflect my renewed interest in “Destination Life.” Have a look and tell me what you think!

I’m also making lists of publishers of memoires, short stories, and articles on health and wellness, hoping to kickstart my interest again by doing a variety of writing, and maybe even putting some of my old but worthy stuff out there and seeing if anyone bites. So many times I’ve vowed that I would put myself to making a part-time career out of writing. Vows and lists have to be backed up by action. Instead, I play with my phone or watch Hulu. I guess I’ve earned my right to do that. But I feel like I’m cheating myself. No time like the present to light a fire under my own butt, right?

Hey! I just changed the whole appearance of my website, yet another thing that has been on the to-do list for months and only got done now. Yay, me! Could the thirst to write again be just around the corner? My fingers are crossed!

Until then, please enjoy some of my favorite memories from 2022!

It’s Bucket List Time!

Having a Bucket List is pretty much a given thing for most people, but did you ever think about the right time to start chipping away at it? I’ve spent so much time traveling and hiking and doing other things that I love to do that I feel like I’ve been barreling through my Bucket List for quite a while. However, less than a year ago I really started to narrow things down and decide what it is I still must do. Because…

*I’m not getting any younger. Are you?

*I have this crappy disease to contend with now.

*COVID19 changed the world for me and a lot of other people.

For all those reasons and more, I find that there are a lot of things I don’t want to do any longer, so I’m happy that I did them before now. For example: I have no real desire to sit on an airplane for twenty hours to get somewhere. (Though, given a few items on my list, I may find myself doing that at least a time or two more!) There are also things that I want to start doing, like experiencing cruises, which I have hardly done at all. I took these wishes into consideration when creating my list. My choices are truly a mix of old favorites and new interests.

Without further ado, let me share my personal Bucket List, including my progress at getting the items done. I eliminated a few this year!

Experiences

* Cruise to Antarctica. Yeah, this is top of the list, baby! I really wanted to see my seventh continent early in 2023. I’m ready. But wait! The two cruises that I narrowed my adventure down to are booked solid. No joke! Who knew that a legion of people around the world would be plunking down between $10,000 and $50,000 to board a ship for two weeks or more to see penguins and seals? Not me! But you can bet I’ll be first in line in 2024!

* Greenland Cruise. One of my travel friends and I have been talking about this one for a couple of years now, and we came oh so close to booking it for next July. Then…she backed out. I’m crushed. But I will find a way!

*Alaska Cruise. I’ve road tripped the Last Frontier twice, but have never been to southern Alaska, where there are no roads. Must get there. Not sure when this will happen, but this one will definitely be easier to pull off than the two above. Glacier Bay National Park will be part of the package. More on why below!

*Hiking in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Over and over again I see St. John touted as an amazing place to hike, always as sure sign that I’ll be interested. Not sure why I haven’t jumped on this one yet.

*Australian Outback. Uh-oh, twenty hour flight! But I know it will be worth it. I’ve been Down Under once already and must go back before I leave this world.

*See the Pigs in the Bahamas. I kid you not! I’ll spend the whole trip on the beach with the pigs then come home happy. Probably another cruise. Do you see a pattern here?

*Hiking in Hawaii. Oh, and I just figured out how to get to American Samoa, so add that to this particular adventure.

Countries

*Costa Rica. I was scheduled to go in December of 2021 when COVID19 was still a hot topic. I couldn’t risk getting stuck in a foreign country, so cancelled. No plans to reschedule, but not giving up.

*Brazil. I never wanted to go here until I saw some pictures of Rio on Instagram, then it shot to the top of the list. And I want to see that big waterfall while there too. Likely to be a part of my Antarctic adventure in 2024.

*Return to Portugal. This one tugs at my heart strings, because I had to cancel my third trip to one of my favorite countries due to cancer. But there is hope…

*Switzerland. Woo-hoo! I found this really cool rail trip online and put a down payment on it for June. Let’s roll!

* Return to England. Did you ever go somewhere and not do something while there, then it sticks in your craw for, like, twenty years? Me too! Here’s the thorn in my side: In 2002 I went to London, Liverpool, and Canterbury. And yes, the journey to Liverpool was for the obvious reasons: Fangirling before the word was even part of the English vernacular. I did everything I wanted to do with regard to my beloved Beatles…except one thing: I didn’t go to the cemetery where Eleanor Rigby is buried. Can such a thing bother you for twenty years? Yes, it can. And it has. So that will be taken care of, put to rest once and for all. And just for kicks I added four days in Portugal to the end of the trip to see how much more it would cost. Turned out to be so insignificant that I’ll do it. This will all be my retirement present to myself. I intended it to be Antarctica, but this will more than suffice.

More…

*National Park Hiking. I started working on the goal to hike them all a decade or more ago, after I had already visited many of them. The 2022 count is thirty-eight down, twenty-five to go. Many of the locations I have left are remote and tough to get to, but I’m not giving up. Every summer I hike more. In fact, I knocked off a load this past summer.

*Climb The Edge in New York City. Have you heard about this? Another excuse to go to my precious Big Apple.

*Concerts. Paul McCartney, Foo Fighters, Elton John, Harry Styles, and Ed Sheeran.

*Buy My Own Little Piece of the World in a 55+ Community. I came of age not so long ago. Working on it.

*Buy and Road Trip in a Small RV. Not working on this one yet, but once other things are settled I will.

*Last but not least, I want to spend as much time as possible with my beautiful niece in South Carolina and my amazing sister Jeanne nearby.

Recent Progress

I knocked off five national parks this summer, and also saw Sir Paul McCartney and Elton John in concert. Chipping away.

Please enjoy photos from some of my recent Bucket List events!

What’s on your list?

Cursed, But Blessed!

I know, I know, it’s been a while since my last post. But if you’ve read enough of them you know that I love my summer road trips, and they keep me pretty busy. Not busy enough, however, to stop me from thinking about things that I’d like to blog about. Here’s one that popped into my mind as I toured California again for nearly three weeks. And if you don’t mind, I’m including snaps from my trip!

I don’t know how many times I’ve declared myself a “lucky girl.” The term just seemed appropriate, and it illustrated that I didn’t take the life I had (and the life that I still have) for granted. A good paying teaching gig, friends to travel the globe with, a few people who really, truly love me.

And then, cancer struck in the autumn of 2019, and just about the worst case scenario I could ask for was mine: Stage IV lung cancer. A curse for the rest of my life, which probably wouldn’t be much longer anyway. After a pretty good run of being a “lucky girl,” my time would wind down and I’d fade away, into the sunset. In like a lion, out like a lamb.

But wait. After seeking top tier medical care, things started to look considerably brighter. Nearly three years later, I’m still here. Not only that, I continue to do what I love to do. So the question looms: am I still a lucky girl? Am I luckier than lucky? Or am I truly cursed?

I think that all apply. Let’s talk about being “cursed” first and get it out of the way. That’s how I like to do things in life: saving the better stuff for last.

Because of the life that I’ve lead, that, by the way, I made for myself through sound decisions and hard work, I’ve been the target of what the world now appropriately calls “haters.” A perfect term! And regardless of how the world coaches you to handle “haters,” there’s only so much vitriol you can take before is starts to stick. When “haters” touch on every aspect of your life, from your body, to the way you travel, even to what you have in your freezer, the hurt sinks in deep. When these individuals not only hurt you, but also the people you love most in the world, the sorrow becomes unbearable. You would hope that the hatred has stopped since I got cancer? It has not, and in some ways it has only gotten worse, since I not only have to deal with this disease, I have to deal with them too. Between cancer and them, I would honestly rather deal with cancer. At least cancer can be controlled for periods of time. The nasty humans that I’m talking about don’t ever stop the abuse and the pain. On top of all this, I’m dealing with the death of the only person I could really talk to about my illness, and about their sickening way of treating me. The past few months have been incredibly trying, and sometimes I’m not sure that I can go on, or that I want to go on, or that I want to keep doing well.

But then…I think of all the things that I’ve done in this life and how there are so many other things I want to experience before I leave this world. And in spite of this disease, I can still do them! Herein lies the blessing. I may have the deadliest cancer at the deadliest stage, but lung cancer has treatment options that other cancers don’t have, treatments that sometimes allow patients to live normal lives for many years. Thus far, I fall into this category. I’ve maintained my lifestyle of hiking, biking, and traveling, something that my oncologist has said has contributed greatly to saving and extending my life.

The past three years have not been easy. Radiation, scans, medication changes, progression, side effects, haters. But I’ve had a lot of fun too. I can’t say that I haven’t. And as always, I’m not seeking sympathy. I’m just putting my feelings out there, trying to write on topics of interest, and hoping that maybe I’m helping someone who has the same issues.

So you see the confusing life that I lead now. Then again, I have lead that same confusing life for decades. Great love, crushing adversity. Loss, and luck. Extreme sadness, extreme joy. Sometimes, all at once.

Some days I wake up feeling like crap and I tell myself, “I can’t do this anymore.” But then I think of the two family members who still love and need me, I think of some of the great friends I have, I think of my sweet bunny Muffin, and my traveling and writing and hiking, and I say, “Okay, I’ll keep trying to get through this.” These days, I’m looking for a fresh start. Have to keep moving forward for that.

Cursed perhaps, but blessed more.

An Open Love Letter to Utah

Dear Utah,

I remember clearly when we met: the year was 1995, I was with my beloved mom, and we were driving cross country for the second time. The year before we had cut our teeth with a 9,400 miler that inexplicably, did not include a trip through your glory. Yes, there were many other glories, but maybe not quite like yours. This particular trip had a catch: I had just purchased a little bright pink car that we would leave in Southern California once I found someplace to live there. That was my biggest dream leading up to 1995: living in California, and I lived it for five years. But that’s another story for another day, and it’s a long story, for my love affair with California continues. At times, it even competes for my attentions that I usually reserve for you. Believe me, this is not a slight to you, my love. It just IS.

Well, how do you like that! In writing this letter to speak my appreciation, I realize that I have things a bit wrong. 1995 was not the first time I saw you, it was the first time, perhaps, that I REALLY saw you. Mom and me actually drove up to Zion from Vegas in 1993 and stayed a couple of days. Just a little sneak peek at your well known red rock magnificence, and yes, we were impressed. But as I said, 1995 was the deal sealer. As only a road tripper knows, the power to choose where you go and for how long, to have the time to marvel at the color of the rocks in Glen Canyon and wonder how a strip of I-70 can be more beautiful than seventy-five percent of the rest of Planet Earth, will do it. Love at first sight, and forever love at second. And third. And fourth. And…Whew!!

Records indicate that I didn’t make it back to you until 2008 (how can this be?!) and even then, I only flew into Salt Lake City to drive north into other states. Still, I remember that I was pleasantly surprised by random findings along the way.

Listen, I know what I was doing: I was beginning to explore the world outside of this country, and I was completing the tall task of visiting all 50 states in my domestic travels. I also buried Mom, my best friend and greatest traveling partner (sigh) in 2004, so I was cutting my teeth as a solo traveler and really, just trying to figure out who I was.

And then, a big event took place in 2009: I started hiking. That’s when things started to get serious. Still, the slam dunk didn’t happen until 2013, when I spent two and a half weeks hiking all five National Parks in your awe inspiring southern extremities. Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches. While I loved them all (of course!) one emerged as my favorite, and remains thus: Canyonlands. Even as I chip away at hiking ALL the National Parks in the United States, I just can’t keep away from Canyonlands. Doing the same hikes time after time in Canyonlands. Dreaming of Canyonlands. Not enough time in a lifetime to get enough of Canyonlands. Did I mention I love Canyonlands? 😉

For me, the only other place in Utah that comes close to Canyonlands is Glen Canyon. That narrow strip of excitement between Hanksville and Blanding. Yes, that part of Glen Canyon. The Dirty Devil River. Bridge over the Colorado. Hite Overlook. I take the same darn pictures every time. And I don’t care.

Oh, don’t even get me going!

2017, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022. COVID19 was the only thing that stopped me from being there in 2020. Our reunion in 2021 was unbelievable, because you see, I found out I had cancer in the autumn of 2019, and guess where I was a month earlier? And the thought of never seeing you again was unbearable.

Cancer sucks. Needles, scans, bad news, one step forward, two steps back. But as I became a pro at all of it, I realized that I had a pretty great defense mechanism: memory. Because of memory I didn’t have to think of scans when I was having scans. I could think instead of all the amazing places I’ve had the incredible fortune of exploring. And, you guessed it: I spent a heck of a lot of time in Utah when I was lying in some MRI beast two thousand miles away. How can I ever thank you for that?

I can’t. But I’ll try anyway, by giving you my continued patronage for as long as I have left in this life.

See you soon, my love.

About Traveling

Hey, this will be my last post for a few weeks. Vacation time is nearly here, and I’m heading back out on the road again. Which makes this the perfect time to write about one of my favorite subjects, for the first time in a while: Traveling!

I always find it so weird when people make it sound like there is some “right” way to travel. That you, as the subject, have to travel in some certain way to be a “traveler” and not a “tourist.” That there is some time frame that you have to spend in a place to make it worth your while and to satisfy others that you successfully “saw” something or somewhere. That one person’s way of traveling is superior to another person’s way of traveling. Last thing I knew, travel was supposed to be fun, like an ice cream sundae, with a learning experience on top, like a shiny red cherry, if you so choose to have one. Then again, maybe a trip is simply an escape from the rat race.

Social media is full of “influencers” who will have you believe that their way of traveling is not only better than yours, but that it’s easy and they’ll show you how to be like them, for a price. You can trot the globe while taking odd jobs like bartending and teaching English as a Second Language. Thanks, I got over working in bars when I was twenty-five, and I teach people’s kids every day and love sending them home at 2:15pm, no questions asked. I like my good paying job with paid vacations. I’d pay to see pictures of those “influencers” doing one of their real jobs in between the glossy shots from the pristine mountain top in New Zealand and the beach in Mexico. I want to see the “influencer” mixing a White Russian and looking picture perfect. Really.

Thank goodness for the unfollow button! I recently had to use it on one of the better known globe trotters that I had been following for a couple of years, because she was being pretty insulting to someone else’s way of life. What the heck happened to live and let live?

The other thought that I don’t agree with is that in order to travel in a worthwhile way you have to go to a foreign country. Make no mistake, I love exploring places outside the United States. I’ve done more than my fair share. But in a pinch, and let’s face it, we’ve been in quite a pinch since March of 2020, I’d take a road trip to the American West above all other traveling. I’ve ticked off forty plus countries thus far and have every intention of ticking off more in my own fashion once I deem it safe for me, but give me that road trip every time. It should come as no surprise that I’m heading to the American West this next trip too! I can’t WAIT!!

Here’s a secret about me that makes me different than the garden variety social media travel giant: I love coming home and I love being home, too. The pandemic gave me an excuse to stick close to home and explore my own backyard more. I always said that “someday” I’d do that more and, well, I didn’t expect cancer and COVID19 to give me the opportunity, but I’ve had a heck of a good time! I’ve always scoured New England in between bigger trips, but not like I have in the past two years. In my favorite movie of all time, Dorothy Gale went to great lengths to find out that her heart was in her own backyard. My heart is still and always will be in the American West, but New England is pretty cool too.

Before my cancer diagnosis I spent the better part of twenty years earning my keep as a special education teacher and traveling on school vacations. Maybe taking an extra day or two on either side to make my time away longer, or even escaping on a long weekend. Now that I haven’t done it for a couple of years I realize that it was exactly the way I wanted to travel. Make my money, pay for a trip, enjoy where I was without having to worry about work, and come home to earn money for more fun. After my diagnosis and through the COVID19 storm I continued my exploration as best as I could. Slowly, I’m getting my travel life back on track, though I’ve decided I want to do things and see places that I didn’t take the time to do and see before. Cruises and islands are of high interest, while twenty hour flights to the other side of the world are not really a priority. Oh, and more road trips, of course! Always more road trips!

In short, the Bucket List is officially made. It was time.

And so, I continue to explore as I see fit, and I am unapologetic.

Travel and let travel.

Dear Mr. Truck Driver…

See? I got your attention. Now you think that I’m about to give my opinion on the trucker convoys in Canada and the U.S. However, that isn’t the focus of my blog. Instead, I’m going to write about a recent experience I had with a trucker on the the Massachusetts Turnpike, otherwise known as I-90, locally known as “the Pike.” From my house due East, the Pike is a dull stretch of seventy miles of highway to Boston, and where bad behavior is at a maximum.

Before I zero in specifically on my good trucker buddy, let me first reiterate a frequent complaint of mine: Some people just lose their cotton picking minds when they get behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. Where does common sense go? I just don’t get it. It certainly seems that all anger, frustration, and power tripping is released on fellow drivers. Stupidity is at an all-time high. Messing with the lives of others becomes some sick game, all in the name of getting one car length ahead of someone else, or in a preferred lane before someone else does.

Okay, now let me tell the story of my favorite trucker in the world.

On Monday, March 14, 2022, I was heading to Boston for my monthly check-in at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Yeah, you got it. I have cancer. I’m being treated for cancer. I’m not going to Beantown to party, or see the Red Sox, or to an art museum Truth is, I’d rather be working than going to Dana Farber Cancer Institute. I’m going because I have to. If I don’t go I’ll die. I’m tired on said day, and it’s early in the morning. I’m minding my own damn business, going 70 miles per hour in the center lane the way I always do. Other drivers fly by me, getting nowhere faster than me. I know that. They apparently don’t.

I pass a trucker going at a reasonable pace, and take note of it, because I like to see truckers who don’t think they own the road, who don’t think that just because they’re bigger they’re better. This 18-wheeler, from a company that will be named below, was inconspicuous, as all trucks and cars are until they do something off the wall. This one was a few minutes away from doing just that.

Back in the center lane after passing a few vehicles that were going a little slower than me, I settled in. Ten minutes go by, and suddenly Mr. Inconspicuous Trucker is right behind me flashing his lights at me. As a general rule and as a longtime driver with a clean record and hundreds of thousands of miles on all over the United States of America, I don’t allow other drivers, whether they’re bigger than me or not, to decide how fast I go or what lane I drive in. So I don’t budge, which only serves to piss off Mr. Trucker. My line of reasoning is this: There are two more lanes to move into. Use them if you don’t like my driving.

He doesn’t see things my way.

His next move is to start tooting at me and swerving. Then, the worst thing of all: Tailgating. In a tractor trailer truck that can’t stop quickly should I need to put on my brakes for something. But I held my ground, and so did he. I took out my phone and made a video going over my shoulder, showing the lights of this shithead glaring in my rear window, as well as how close he really was to me. Close enough for someone to reach out my back window and touch him.

I get it, you’re saying, just move for him! It’s your own fault for not moving! Here’s where we’re different. It’s against my principles to cater to a moron like this, particularly when I’m not doing anything wrong. And here’s the funny thing: He finally passed me, and then we got tangled up in stop and go traffic. So I had plenty of opportunities to take pictures of the company name and license plates, and Mr. Trucker got nowhere from his dangerous behavior. Just for good measure, he indulged in the ultimate in blameless behavior, and hung his phone out the window to take pictures of me. Imagine!

I eventually lost him, went to Dana Farber, and got all good news. But this experience sat heavily on my mind and still does.

Did I call Goulet Trucking in South Hadley, Massachusetts? Yes, after I read some pretty nasty reviews that indicate that this is a company that really doesn’t care what their truckers are doing. Daryl, the fellow I spoke to, didn’t seem too interested in me, but I asked him to tell my trucker friend some of the items I’ve already expressed above: I was going to Dana Farber. I have cancer. I was going for treatment. If I don’t go I’ll die. This already sucks enough. Why did he have to make the experience even suckier?

You never know who you’re messing with, what they’re dealing with, and how you’re making them feel.

I did the only thing I could. But I know that it won’t do a lick of good. Mr. Trucker will go out and terrorize someone else. Then someone else after that.

This experience brings up a point that surfaces more and more often now: When we’re blatantly mistreated, who can we really turn to if a clear crime has not been committed?

And the bigger question: Can we all just act like decent human beings instead of total brainless careless asshats?

Work in Progress: A Thousand Winds

I’ve written and published seven books under the pseudonym Brenda K. Stone. They’re fun and a little frivolous and I am extremely proud of them. Lately, I’ve taken a renewed interest in what I refer to as my “rock and roll series” and plan to read it after a long break away from it. The idea to pick it up and start writing again is a complete possibility. But not much will get in the way of finishing my current work in progress, “A Thousand Winds.”

The best writing I’ve ever done? “A Thousand Winds” is it. Since my cancer diagnosis, I come from a different place, and it’s not always a bad thing. It’s a deeper, more thought-provoking place. Interesting fact: I came up with the outline of the book before my diagnosis, and guess what disease one of the main characters was dying from? You guessed it, cancer. I’ve since changed that to ALS, so it wouldn’t hit too close to home. But like most authors, a lot of me is in the story.

The first few pages of any book are so crucial, and I’ve been reworking the prologues of “A Thousand Winds.” For a limited time, you can still read the “old” prologues here. Please enjoy the “new” prologues below, and drop me a line to let me know what you think!

A Thousand Winds

Janice

The way she looked at me is burned into my memory. The message in her eyes spoke volumes: You’re old. Therefore, you’re worthless.

She has no idea.

She thinks her generation invented sex. Drugs. Rock and roll. Millennials, or Generation Z, or whoever the hell they are, with Facebook and Instagram and TikTok, invented the world as we know it. The generation of youngsters who are afraid to show their faces without a “filter”, because one of their “friends” might see their soul, invented history. The “been there, done that” Me Me Me Generation covering up who they really are with whiskers or a pig nose, think they have the world at their fingertips.

 Will she ever know what it’s like to truly be loved? By the same man, for forty-eight years? Could she find joy in a sandbox? Or playing house in the woods, where the rocks are her toaster, the trees her shower stall? Did she ever have to disappear into that same forest to escape a man that would hurt his own daughter to satisfy his sick fantasies? No, because Jim and I protected her from that.

 I wasn’t so lucky.

 Coachella is a town one stop removed from the nightmare of my childhood, yet her biggest adventure. But was she marching in Selma, Alabama in 1965? Was she in the crowd for the “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC, 1963? Did she watch the Beatles land at JFK on February 7, 1964, after hitching a ride from California?

Am I old and worthless now?

There’s so much more to tell. The life I’ve led even overwhelms me, to the point I have to leave it in the past sometimes as I struggle to move forward.

Kimberly doesn’t know any of it. All she knows is that seven years ago she found out that I’m her grandmother, and who her parents really were. She hasn’t spoken a kind word to me since.

Perhaps she’ll never know where her grandmother has been.

Because she hates me. And I’m dying.

Kimberly

“You’re such an asshole.” I toss a soiled napkin at Zac. I can relate to the crumpled paper as it floats to the carpet.

“I’m just gonna sleep through the whole fuckin’ scene,” he moans.

“C’mon, you have to help me,” I remind him.

“Grandpa Jim and me don’t exactly see eye to eye, remember? And you know what happens when a guy doesn’t see eye to eye with ‘ole Jimbo.” Zac makes a horrid noise as he pretends to cut his own throat with his index finger.

I blink, because his words sting. I feel like he should know better, and if he doesn’t, that I should tell him that he should know better. But I don’t.

Instead, I keep the light mood going.

“Do you think Kylie Jenner gets a visit from her grandfather that used to be her father the day after Coachella?”

We have a much-needed howl when Zac quips, “Did you forget that Kylie Jenner’s father is a chick now?”

My mirth is interrupted by the definitive sound of a car door slamming somewhere on the street in front of my apartment complex. A quick glance out the sliding glass door has me snatching up the napkin and running for my bedroom to put on the nearest pieces of clothing I can reach.

“Put a fucking shirt on, you sexy slob!” I shout into the living room.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Zac scratches his belly and yawns, but is soon behind me pretending to hump me doggie-style as I’m putting on my underwear.

“I see Grandpa Jim still hasn’t traded in the Oldsmobile for the Porsche he deserves,” Zac deadpans. He seems to think that Grandpa has a lot of money stashed away in his mattress. In fact, Zac is obsessed with the thought. Maybe that’s why he’s so hard to get rid of?

“Shut up.” I suck on his bottom lip and rumple his hair. He’s so beautiful that I put up with all his other nonsense.

Zac pats my butt and chases me for a few steps as Grandpa’s knock falls on the door. I’m trying to stifle a grin when I swing it open to face the man who used to be number one in my life.

“Kimberly…”

The look on Grandpa Jim’s face forces my smile to disintegrate.