Friday, October 29, 2010

Candy Day

I’ve been thinking a lot about candy lately, more than I have in the last 11 months. I mean really, how can I not? I was at Wal-Mart this afternoon, and while hiking back and forth between the “food” section and the “other” section each time I remembered something I had forgotten to pick up, I noticed how the Halloween candy aisles were duplicated in both sections. The shelves were full of orange cardboard bins, each full of clear cellophane bags of individually wrapped candies. They were so beautiful! Shiny foil, colorful little boxes, pastel tablets, many with their familiar colors so you could tell just what kind they were from down the aisle. I had a lot of good times with candy when I was little. My grandma used to babysit us in the summer, and we would take our pennies and nickels across the road to Andy Goats store, a little hole-in-the-wall with a fully-stocked candy wall and buy pixie stix and root beer barrels. Halloween was very exciting because we got more candy at one time than ever before. We’d go up the country road near our house, knocking on doors, and then return with about half a lunch sack filled. Of course we’d dump them out and compare. The treasures were all the little mini chocolate bars. The boring ones were the peanut butter taffy wrapped in orange and black waxed paper.I’ve taken my kids trick or treating each year until, one by one, they aged out. The last year it came up, I just promised my kids I would buy them a bag of candy if they agreed to opt out. I expect a good part of the Halloween candy for sale is actually purchased to be set out in trick or treat bowls or for party dishes, but I will bet that most of it is bought for the family candy dish to snack on for the months leading up to that celebration of candy, Halloween night. My family has held off so far, but I do plan on setting us up with a few lovely bags for Halloween Weekend. In honor of the favorite candies in this household, I have looked up their origins and share them here. Since Peanut M&Ms are my husband’s favorite, I’ll start there.The founder of the Mars Company, Forrest Mars, got the idea in the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War when he saw soldiers eating chocolate pellets with a hard shell of tempered chocolate surrounding the inside, preventing the candies from melting. Mars received a patent for his own process on March 3, 1941. One M was for Forrest E. Mars Sr., and one for William F. R. Murrie. Murrie was involved because he was the president of Hershey’s, who had control of the rationed chocolate. The first colors were red, yellow, brown, green, and violet. In 1950, a black "M" was imprinted on the candies, later changed to white. Peanut M&M's were introduced in 1954. The most interesting information on M&Ms has to do with the different colors they used over the years. Because when you get down to it, it’s just chocolate, a peanut, and a pretty coating.Snickers is also made by the Mars family, invented in 1930. It was named after their favorite horse, “Snickers.” (snicker snicker!) What’s interesting is that in the UK and Ireland it originally sold under the name Marathon. When they standardized the global brand and named it Snickers, the bar moved from being 9th most popular to 3rd most popular. In 2005 the Food and Drink Federation in the UK got all involved with trying to make the candy industry more health conscious and “encouraged” (ha ha) Mars to do away with their King-Sized bar. So now it doesn’t say King-Sized, but “shareable” and is in two pieces.I remember the very first time I had a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. I was about 11 years old and riding with some neighbors. They stopped at Boa’s Minnow Farm and let us pick out a soda or candy. I got a Reese’s and was stunned at how tasty it was. I found out they were invented by Harry Reese in 1928, much longer ago than I’d thought, but after he died in 1963, Hershey’s bought the company. So that’s probably about the time I started seeing them advertised.I was quite surprised to find out about Pixy Stix. In fact, this is a two-for-oner. It used to be a drink mix in the late 30’s called Frutola, but when the owner found that kids were eating the powder straight, he changed the name to Fruzola and added a spoon. It was also packaged with a candy dipstick and called Lik-M-Aid (We used to wander the halls in high school dipping and licking those little sticks.) When parents complained about the grainy, sticky powder, the company came up with a compressed tablet form called… SweeTarts!Did you ever wonder why a 3 Musketeers bar is called that? Created in 1932, it originally had 3 pieces in one package, strawberry, vanilla and chocolate. Chocolate was the most popular, so they phased out the other flavors.Tootsie Rolls have been manufactured since 1896! It was the first penny candy to be individually wrapped. The founder named them after his daughter’s nickname, Clara "Tootsie" Hirshfield. The Tootsie Pop was invented in 1931. Tootsie Roll industries is one of the largest candy manufacturers in the world, and as of December 2009, Tootsies became certified Kosher.I’m really not sure what my very favorite candy is. My tastes have changed a little over the years, so I may have to start doing some taste-testing. And I’m thinking that the last week in October just might be the perfect time! What is your favorite? What is so special about it? Why is it better than all the rest out there? And Happy Candy Day to you!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pike's Peak, part 3

After our delicious breakfast of the special pancakes prepared by the staff of Barr Camp, we had a couple of hours free to look around the area before we needed to head back down the mountain.

We took off on a 1 mile side hike to a boulder outcropping that was supposed to give a terrific view. It was an easy, pretty hike. The weather had turned chilly over the night, spitting out pellets of snow, and we wore our cold-weather gear. The fork leading to the outcropping was clearly marked by a big arrow on the ground made of white quartz rocks.
There was quite a bit of the quartz. In areas, you could see that the rounded side of the mountain was all white quartz, thinly covered with a layer of dirt. The scattered white rocks and the mounds where dirt was washed away looked like half-melted snow on the ground.

At first it looked like our trail just disappeared into the pile of boulders. But once we started climbing on them, we could see each logical place to climb to next.
And when we reached the top, the view was glorious! I felt like I could see to the east clear to Kansas.

To the west, the mountain loomed. I think we were too close to see the actual peak from here, but what we could see was clearly above timberline and decorated with traces of snow.

Coming to this spot was important to me. We had not climbed to the top of the Peak, but we did climb to the peak of something, and we got the pleasure of looking down and out at the beautiful expanse below.

At 11AM we were ready to hike back down the trail. I was very curious to see how much faster we could go down than we had come up. I was anxious to get going and ended up attaching a few too many things on carabineers to the back of my pack, and they quickly slid down to the bottom. With each step, swing, slap! swing, slap! My camp shoes and empty Nalgene bottles slapped me on the rear until I couldn’t stand it any more and tried to readjust things. My little black ditty bag I had hooked above my shoulder kept snagging the material of my silk underwear top with the Velcroed flap. I couldn’t find a handy place to put my camera and still be able to grab it when I needed it. But I got a lot of ideas for making my pack-out better for next time and for customizing my backpack with more pockets and loops!

We practically ran down the trail. I could feel my feet sliding down towards the toes of my shoes. I tried to keep my body flexing as I moved down the trail instead of lumbering stiffly. There were a couple of spots on the trail where it was possible to take a wrong turn and go off on an abandoned spur. We were near one of those places and were being careful to stay on track when we had the shock of coming across a dead tree blocking the trail! Our first thought was that we had strayed, and we walked back up a little ways to check that possibility out. But then we saw the freshly broken aspen and the raw hole in the earth where the rotten trunk had broken off below ground. The wind the previous night had blown it over. We had to climb over the tree. It was very exciting.

We stopped at No Name creek again to have a cup of coffee and a half hour rest. Climbing down is hard in a totally different way than climbing up. The last mile and a half was fairly brutal, and I would say that using my walking stick saved my knees from a lot of wear and tear. We reached the trail head at 3:11PM that afternoon, called for our ride and sat on the rock wall by the Cog Rail station while we waited.

It felt like we’d been gone longer than we had. But I’m sure that was because we had done so much. Perhaps that is the secret to living a life that feels long and full. To put challenges and adventures in it, to do things unusual and interesting, to test yourself, to step out of ordinary life once in a while.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pike's Peak part 2

Walking into Barr Camp was like being in one of those quest fantasy novels.

“Our two heroines had been stealthily making their way across the wild forest all day, knapsacks on their backs, avoiding the king’s men who were disguised as joggers, and taking such sustenance as their waybread could give. Their unease grew as the shadows began to lengthen and the looming face of Old Man Mountain grew nearer, nearer. Would they have to bivouac off the trail, lighting a forbidden fire to keep the wild animals at bay? Carolingian leaned heavy on her stick, and her brow creased in worry as she wondered whether she could hold out until they reached that homely inn, Barre Campe. But she had to; her companion Nolangia was younger and less experienced. Nolangia would take her cues from Carolingian.
“I’m sure we’re near. Dost thou see yonder glow of candlelight?” Carolingian murmured, wanting to believe it was true.”

I kept looking for the promised sign we were near, the rail fence. And right there where it was supposed to be, it was. The perfect touch was crossing the creek on a rustic wooden footbridge to reach the cabin.
The cabin was old and solid, made with thick timbers and chinking. Light came from pressurized gas lights, and the running water came from the creek, purified. The outhouse was out back, men’s and women’s in a structure a short walk from the back door.

The outhouse was worth inspecting, in more ways than one. It was a composting toilet, of which I had read about but never seen. The 2 throne rooms were ultra clean, well-constructed, had locking doors, were roomy, and had absolutely no odor. The seat itself resembled those perched above vault toilets. On the wall was a sign reminding visitors that nothing, absolutely nothing except “waste, toilet paper, and wood chips” should be thrown down the hole. And if the visitor didn’t happen to be the sort who followed rules just because, the sign writer appealed to a speck of human sympathy that might be felt. “If anything else is thrown in, the staff has to dig it out by hand.”

We had arranged our trip just after the main season, and as a result, there were only 2 other people sharing camp, along with the 2 staff members. The other folks were a man and his son, from Georgia, who were climbing to the summit the next day and spending the following night at Barr Camp again.

Since we had chosen to cook our own dinner instead of signing up for the spaghetti dinner, we took our cooking things out to one of the picnic tables outside. I say “we” generously. I had offered to do the cooking, and therefore had the gear. Nola’s job was to take pictures.

A couple months before the Pike’s Peak hike, Melinda, Bethany and I took a “gear test” short hike to a county park. It was there I learned many things, like “pack light, pack tight,” don’t bring too much junk you aren’t SURE you’ll need, and keep the menu simple. I made a dish there that I duplicated that evening at Barr Camp. I began by trying to call it “Trail Tuna Hot Pot,” but I ended up just calling it “Tuna Glop.”

The recipe is as follows: Boil a couple cups of water. Dump in enough vermicelli or angel hair pasta (cooks in 3 minutes) until it is about halfway up the water level. When it is done, stir in a tablespoon or two of dry milk and enough “cheeze” powder (from the bulk section in Winco) until it looks right. Lumps are ok. Open a foil packet of tuna and dump in. Stir. Eat. Yum Yum! Finish up with a granola bar and a cup of instant coffee for dessert. I’m sure that being hungry had a lot to do with how enjoyable the dish was, but truly, it’s hard to go wrong with salt, starch and fake cheese flavor!

The bunk room was not quite what I had expected. I had been thinking more like the dormitories I had stayed in at Scicon, church camp, and 4-H camp. These beds were all laid out in a cheek to cheek intimate fashion that made me very glad the guest number was so low.
Georgia and his son took two beds on one end, and the two of us took two at the other end. We realized that if the place was full, like it is during the summer, not only would we get real chummy with our bed partners, but we wouldn’t have the room to sprawl out our packs and gear. They would have to stay packed up on the floor directly at the head/tail of the mattress.

But then there was option number two—the dog houses, or “lean-to’s” as they are called.
Since they don’t really lean on anything, it’s hard to call them that, but they are a cute, outdoorsy choice. I think that wind doesn’t blow UP the side of a mountain, and if so, the openings should be protected enough to make it comfortable inside. There are two of these, one close to the outhouse, and one further away, which sets up higher off the ground so you have to use a stump to climb up into it. I think three people could fit inside one. But it also reminded me uncomfortably of a bear box, the sturdy type of container that is ubiquitous in National Parks that you put your food in to keep it safe from bears –except this bear box didn’t have a lid…

After it got dark, we retired to the common area around the wood stove for contemplation and pleasant conversation. It was just a little chilly, and I looked longingly through the glass fronted stove door to the paper and kindling laid inside. But after the pressurized gas lamp was lit, it warmed up the little room just right. Books—popular novels, classics and nature books filled the built-in bookcase above the sofa. Propped up on the wood stove were books for identifying Colorado trees, birds, mountains, and funguses. I’m crazy about identifying things, and my prizes were a limber pine, a mountain chickadee, a gray jay, a red-breasted nuthatch, and a mushroom that is red with white polka-dots.

It was pretty easy to get to sleep. I was warm and cozy, and the mattress was cushy. But I didn’t stay asleep. When I came back to bed at 2AM after visiting the outhouse, I couldn’t get back to sleep. At first, as time went on, I got anxious, but then I decided that I had enough sleep saved up that I could afford to just lie there and enjoy, well, just BEING. Soft breathing sounds from the sleepers on either side of me were peaceful. I was warm and comfortable. My new sleeping bag was silky against my skin and slithered around easily as I moved positions. A small glow came from one corner of the room, and the six-paned window showed the dim night outside. My glasses were off—I could see nothing else. I could hear the wind picking up.

The sound of the wind sighing through pine needles is unlike any other sound. I remember the first time I was aware of that sound. I was a kid, and our family was camping somewhere in the mountains. I was sitting outside at a picnic table playing with my new tape recorder when I felt that noise above me, all around me, that wind blowing though the pine trees like a lonesome song.

Branches were moving in the wind; I could hear them rubbing against each other, whipping around, the wind growing more intense. It was all very delicious, lying there listening to the weather, warm in my bag, my head full of good thoughts about my trip, my hike, my life.

Two hours later, I fell asleep for 45 minutes, then woke again. I had dreamed that I had overslept by 20 minutes, and I was too late to get a plate of the special pancakes that they made for breakfast. Happily, I wasn’t late, and we feasted on flat brown cakes made of whole grains, cornmeal, applesauce, chopped apples, nuts, and who knows what else. Georgia and his son were loading up packs for the hike to the summit. I was glad that we were going down today, and yet… I still envied them.

It took us longer to pack up than we anticipated; I could feel myself just start chucking things in the pack and hooking odds and ends on the back strings with a multi-assortment of carabineers. On our way out the door, I took the host up on the offer of a slice of the garlic bread left over from the night before. I’d been coveting a piece, but because I had not ordered the meal last night, I had too much integrity to filch a piece of the bread. Oh Man! It was good! Little brown crumbs of garlic and coarse salt decorated the top crusts. Nola and I both crammed an extra piece in our mouths and a couple in each hand, to go.

(Notice bread in our hands)

We set off down the trail at 11AM, curious to see how much less time it would take to go down that mountain than up, and how much easier it might be.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pike's Peak --Barr Trail, pt. 1

View of Pike's Peak from Nola's place, Woodland Park, CO

Of all the advice I got for my planned backpacking hike up Pike’s Peak, the one I heard most often was “travel light.” Oh, and also, "Take your time and enjoy it." With such simple advice, how could I not consider doing it?

I can’t remember exactly when the idea to climb the mountain first came up between my sister Nola and I. I think she brought it up several years ago, maybe the first time I went out to Colorado to visit and we rode the cog railway up to the summit of Pike’s Peak.

It probably went like this:

Nola: There’s a hiking trail that goes up Pike’s Peak. We should take backpacks and climb it.

Me: HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!!!!!

Every year the topic resurfaced and seemed to sound less crazy, until I knew we were going to do it. Finally we put a date on the adventure. October 7-8, 2010. Nola made the arrangements with Barr Camp to spend the night in the cabin there halfway up the summit. The plan was to strike out in the early morning, have all day for hiking up, sleep in the cabin bunks and then head back down the mountain mid-morning. I had 2 months to prepare.

The funnest part of preparation is acquiring equipment. Each piece comes with its own fantasy of use. The Miox pen I borrowed made scenes in my mind of a pristine mountain brook, babbling its way over the rocks and into my Nalgene bottle, an endless supply of freshly sanitized water to quench my well-earned thirst. My new black silk underwear top, keeping me at a perfect temperature –not too hot, not too cold. My darling little butane backpacking stove, helping me whip up gourmet meals on the trail, the single reason why we weren’t doing the sensible thing of eating the spaghetti dinner at Barr Camp instead of carrying the extra weight of the stove, fuel and food. My backpack… ah yes. My 30 year old thrift store backpack. I took it in to REI (after all, it is REI brand!) to see if they saw anything obviously wrong with it before I started counting on it. The first thing I heard as I brought it in was the accusation, “What are you doing with that external frame backpack!!!” Obviously fashion has caught up to and passed me, and internal packs are all the rage now. After I defended it by saying that I liked it and found it comfortable, the clerk admitted that his wife used one just like it. It passed muster, so I began practicing packing it out.

Now the main worry needed to be dealt with. Could I cut the mustard? Would I poop out 3/5 of a mile up the trail while Nola bounded like a gazelle up the slope? She did have an advantage over me. She lives at 8,000 feet while I live at basically sea level. It would be bad, but not AS bad if we both ran out of steam partway up, but it would be a real blow to my self-esteem for me to be the limiting factor. I had already started running up and down the driveway to get fit, but what I needed was an incline.

I picked out a treadmill that elevated and started working out like the hounds were at my heel.

I had followed my list meticulously when packing. Everything written down had gotten stuffed into one of my duffel bags. Except –the thing that I had forgotten to write down. My Leki collapsible hiking pole. Good Grief! Luckily I found a fantastic solution. Instead of having my family packing it up in a mailing tube and sending it to me, I bought a set of short ski poles at the Woodland Park Goodwill, and Nola and I both used one as a walking stick.

Finally, after several days of training hikes, the day came when we began loading the packs. I had 3 cute little dry stuff sacks for my clothes, food and personal items. I had a new sleeping bag that rolled up nice and small. I had a little black ditty bag for first aid, chap stick, map and sunscreen that dangled on a clip right behind my right upper arm. (That cursed little black kit, a little too far back to grab easily, that had a square of Velcro that kept snagging my silk undershirt, that was so cheap it began ripping out one of the sections before I was even halfway up, and the highest insult, it read “AARP” in big white letters across the flap.)

I couldn’t bear to leave any of my 3 Nalgene bottles behind, even though I was using a Camelbak water bladder tucking into my backpack. What if the stream that was supposed to be halfway up to Barr Camp was dried up? What if it was hotter that I expected and I drank up all my water? Hydrating well is supposed to ward off altitude sickness. What if I didn’t hydrate well enough? In spite of my daughter’s advice that I wouldn’t need that much, I filled my Camelbak, 2 of the 1-liter bottles and sadly left behind the 3rd one.

We weighed our packs. They said mine was 30 pounds. Yikes!

OK, so it was heavy. But I think her scale was off. Or maybe water is heavier than I optimistically wanted to think. On the way down to the trailhead at Manitou Springs, we did a side trip to Wal-Mart to pick up extra sunscreen and chap stick, and then I saw just what I needed. Crunch 'n Munch. From now on Crunch 'n Munch will go on my backpacking list. It is tasty and very lightweight. I had a hard time figuring out how to hook it on to my pack and finally just tied the silver Mylar bag to my waistband with my pink bandanna.

When our ride, Brian and Tim, dropped us off at the trailhead, I did some serious evaluation with a reality check and poured out half the water in my Nalgene bottles. NOW I was ready to hike!

The very first part of the trail is the toughest; it climbs relentlessly up sets of stair-like sections, it’s all in the sun with no shade, and the view is rather plain. We had gotten a late enough start (10AM) that people were already coming back down the trail. They were usually running, and perhaps were some of those crazy people who had hiked up “The Incline” and then, to maintain the same level of physical discomfort, preferred to run instead of walking down. I felt like a loaded pickup truck laboring in first gear up a steep mountain road. I mentally reviewed the rules of the road, which state that uphill traffic has the right of way on one-lane roads, and I took it. Those we met did stand aside, either because they recognized our right of way, or because they looked at the two of us and didn’t want to be responsible for making us lose our momentum.

(Notice silver bag of Crunch 'n Munch tied to the rear)

Since we had plenty of time, we took it slow and steady, stopping to enjoy the view and take pictures often.

It was amazing how quickly we seemed to gain altitude.

It was a relief to reach the shade of the conifers. I needed to pull off my leggings and put on my shorts. I also unzipped the sleeves of my shirt. I was still wearing my long silk underwear. It might have looked hot, but wasn’t. Sweat evaporated, cooling me down through them, they kept the sun off my arms and legs, and they kept me from getting chilled higher up in the shade.

One of the crazy sights on Pikes Peak is “The Incline.”

Apparently, years ago there used to be a funicular railroad that went partway up the side of the mountain for tourists to take the view. After that went away, the rails were removed and the route became off-limits. But the extreme hikers went after it anyway; effort was made to pile necessary additional timbers to fill in the bare spots, and it was opened up for hiking. The top of The Incline feeds onto a loop of Barr Trail several miles up.

In just about perfect timing for a lunch break, we reached “No Name Creek.” We stepped across it, took off our shoes and kicked back for an hour’s rest and food. The creek was not very deep, but I did find some clear water to put through the purifying process and fill my bottle.

It’s funny how squeamish I felt about drinking “wild water,” even treated with the Miox solution. When I was a kid, we had a get-away cabin by a creek. That first year, we drank the creek water straight from the bucket. We used to drink irrigation water occasionally from the nearby orange grove. But I guess after you read about giardia and all the other invisible germs that water can carry, you just get a little paranoid. But this water was what I had been planning on to drink, so I went through all the fun little operations with the Miox pen and started the germ-killing process on a liter of water.

The trail went steadily up. We weren’t meeting as many other hikers how. The mixed oak and conifer vegetation had given way to stands of aspens and pine trees. As we gained altitude, the aspens lost their brilliant yellow leaves, and we could see magnificent granite formations through the bare white trunks of the aspens.

We’d been on the trail for about 6 hours and had reached the final half-mile of the hike. this part was supposed to be pretty tough, and it was sort of like walking upstream in a dry creek bed with football-sized rocks making like stairs. We really appreciated our sticks for this part! Finally, Barr Camp!