The Honeymoon

Seven weeks
explore the west

"I have enough money for a conventional two-week honeymoon", I said to Jean, "or enough to buy a tent and a couple of sleeping bags and we can take the summer and camp our way across the country." Our June wedding is approaching and the planning is in full swing. Jean will be graduating from Heidelberg in early June, and I will be finishing a masters degree at the University of Michigan. We had the summer free, with no summer jobs and grad school waiting in the fall. So we had lots of time and (almost) no money.

Jean had never been camping. Maybe the honeymoon wasn't the time to start (was I playing with fire with this suggestion?). But she had never been west of Chicago, and the idea of a trip further west was intriguing. "Are there showers at the campgrounds?" she asked. "Sure," I said, "all the campgrounds have showers." Of course I wasn't sure that there were showers at ALL the campgrounds, but I was pretty sure we could always find one with adequate water.

In the end, the tug of a western trip won out over any uncertainties about camping, and I was authorized to buy the tent and sleeping bags. The tent turned out to be a seven-foot "pop" tent - shaped a bit like an igloo with a hexagon footprint with seven feet between the opposite sides - easy to put up and take down. (A decade later that tent worked well for four of us - Jean and me and two kids.)

I bought two good down sleeping bags (that would zip together, of course) - good to 30 degrees below zero. Down is a good choice because it has a wide comfort range - not too hot in warm weather and great on those cold summer nights high in the mountains. We still have those sleeping bags, over 50 years later.)

On June 18, 1961, we were married in Bloomville, Ohio, Jean's home town, and took off on the honeymoon that evening in our new 1961 Ford station wagon. (Jean's parents had scrimped and gotten us a new car for a wedding present.) That night we found a nondescript motel in Woodville, Ohio, for our "first night", and the first of almost 50 nights on the honeymoon trip. Woodville was one of only four nights we spent in motels on the trip - the rest were in camping grounds (a few of which had showers) in our tent and down bags.

Suffice it to say that, in the end, Jean deemed it a great success. We camped our way across Canada to Jasper National Park, down to Glacier National Park in the US, out to the coast to Seattle, down the Oregon coast to San Francisco, then back east to Bloomville through the states. A total of just shy of seven weeks.

rom Woodville we slipped into Michigan, camping the next night in the northern part of the lower peninsula. Then across the Mackinac Bridge to the upper peninsula and the Tahquamenon Falls area. About the fourth night we were in the Porcupine Mountains state park camp ground, on the southern shore of Lake Superior.

We had arrived late and I set up the tent at dusk, and didn't notice the tent was in a slight depression. The weather was good (nice sunset), but the storm rolled in during the night. The tent did well in the downpour, but in the morning (which dawned beautifully) we discovered the tent was in a puddle and the bottom was soaked. The air mattresses mostly protected the sleeping bags, but even they got a bit wet.

Our tent was surrounded by pine trees, so I stretched the sleeping bags across the branches to dry in the sun. Then I fastened a rope to the top of the tent, threw the other end over a branch, and hoisted the tent up so that the bottom was off the ground and could dry. As we were having breakfast a young boy from the adjoining campsite was eyeing us and seemed very curious. Finally he edged closer and asked us what kind of tent we had, hanging there in the tree; he said "We have the kind of tent that sets up on the ground."

That was a lot of fun, and in the future, when the rain was threatening, we would sometimes jokingly ask ourselves if we should set up using the hanging technique. In any event, after that I made sure we were set up on high ground.

We then made our way across Wisconsin and Minnesota, entering Canada at International Falls, Minnesota That brought us into the Lake of the Woods area of Ontario. Lakes - and floating logs - everywhere, the lakes all seemingly being used as the transportation pipeline for local logging operations.

Then it was on to the plains surrounding Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton - Canada's lush farm belt through Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. The western part of Alberta is host to the Canadian Rockies and Jasper National Park. The Canadian Rockies are spectacular, every bit the equal of those in Colorado and the other states. The Jasper Park campground was our home for five days. The grizzly bear marks on the trail-side trees added an extra dimension to our hikes in Jasper. The nights were cold in Jasper and our sleeping bags were great; many of the other campers complained that their bags were not warm enough.

Then it was down along the Rockies to the Columbia Ice Fields, Banff National Park, and then back into the US and to Glacier National Park. We camped at Glacier for a few nights and did several hikes in that park. One of our all-time favorite hikes was the 10-mile roundtrip trail to Iceberg Lake at the foot of a spectacular cirque. We would return to Iceberg Lake two more times in later years.

Glacier is also grizzly country, and the park rangers tended to carry firearms and little bells. You are supposed to make noise as you walk and not surprise a grizzly; you can buy little bells and whistles at the park gift shop. (Though one ranger joked that the grizzlies interpret those bells as dinner bells.) The science of grizzly protection has evolved, as we discovered in our later trips to Iceberg Lake - more on that later.

From Glacier it was across Montana and Idaho to Seattle, where we had one of our few meals in a nice restaurant. I ordered steamed mussels, which come in a big bowl and an equally big empty bowl for the empty shells. Also a small cup of melted butter into which to dip each mussel as you take each out of the shell and eat it. After doing that a couple of times I opted to put a bunch of mussels in the butter and then eat those when the cup got full. But each mussel didn't raise the level of the butter in the cup by much and, much to my surprise, I ended up getting all the mussels in the cup - an elegant meal, but not much quantity for a healthy appetite.

From Seattle we followed the west coast down through southern Washington, Oregon, and the redwood forests of Northern California to Mt Tamalpais State Park north of the Golden Gate Bridge. From our Mt Tamalpais camp site we explored San Francisco over the next couple of days, including another nice restaurant meal on Fisherman's Wharf. (But this time I had scallops au gratin rather than steamed mussels - much better.)

From San Francisco we headed east to Yosemite National Park. At Yosemite, the bears roamed the campground and "Don't feed the bears" signs were everywhere. But these are black bears, not grizzlies, and therefore not a significant danger. It is interesting, however, to be in your tent and see an outline of a bear pass between you and an adjoining campfire.

We're having a great time but, alas, it's getting to be late July and time to think about heading back east. We still have to move to Pittsburgh and get ready for grad school (Carnegie Tech then, Carnegie Mellon University now). So from Yosemite we head straight back to Ohio, across Utah, the Colorado Rockies, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. We have had a wonderful time.

pilogue 1

In 2001, 40 years after the honeymoon, we were mostly retired and decided to retrace the honeymoon route. This time we stayed in motels - didn't camp a single night - and ate in restaurants rather than mostly over the campfire. And it took only four weeks instead of the almost seven. Not having to set up camp every night and break camp in the morning saved time and moved things along faster, and we didn't spend as much time in places like Jasper and Glacier doing as many hikes.

At the Porcupine Mountains we stayed in the motel, rather than the "hanging tent" campground; when I stepped out of the car to check into the motel I was swarmed by some sort of fly - my jeans were virtually covered with flies. They didn't seem to bite, but they were everywhere and most annoying. We drove through the "hanging tent" campground us; one family was setting up the tent while the kids were trying to fend off the flies with flyswatters. At dinner that night the waitress told us that the government had imported these flies a few years earlier to combat a forest-damaging insect. That didn't work well, and about two weeks out of the year they have this massive fly problem; we had revisited the Porcupine Mountains during this two-week period.

A most memorable event was revisiting the Columbia Ice Field 40 years later and seeing how much the glacier had retreated. During much of the 20th century they had marked where the glacier ended each year or every few years. The rate at which the glacier was retreating had speeded up dramatically during the last part of the century. Most impressive.

Of course we had to redo the Iceberg Lake hike in Glacier Park, but this time around we stayed in the Swiftwater motel, close to the Iceberg Lake trailhead, rather than in the campground. The hike to Iceberg Lake and back was just as enjoyable this time around. That's when we said that we wanted to do it again on our 50th anniversary (10 years hence), with the kids and grandkids, if we were still able at that time. Later, when we told the kids of that goal, they promised to go and carry our packs.

pilogue 2

The ten years passed, and one day in August of 2011 found us, with all the kids and grandkids, at the Iceberg Lake trailhead. This time the kids carried the snacks and wind-and-rain gear (Jean and I didn't carry packs on this trip). I was in knee braces and, as it later turned out, I was less than a year away from double knee replacement.

Two of the kids also carried pepper spray bombs. In the fifty years since 1961 the science of grizzly bear protection had changed significantly. All of the park rangers now carried essentially law-enforcement-grade pepper spray, and recommended that hikers carry it also. Apparently research in the intervening years had indicated that pepper spray, when used correctly, was over 90% effective against a charging grizzly, whereas a firearm was less than 60% effective. So we bought two pepper spray bombs from the park gift shop and had them along.

About two miles in, we came across two young grizzlies feeding in the brush just below the trail, one of which emitted a deep-throat, and most intimidating, growl. Our pepper-carrying teammates had those bombs out and at the ready. But the grizzlies continued feeding, and the pepper spray stayed unused.

The hike to Iceberg Lake and back went without further incident. What a treat to have done the Iceberg Lake hike after fifty years, and with the whole family.

I had been having some trouble with my knees prior to the honeymoon reprise - all that mountain climbing, they say - and at the end of the 40-year-later Iceberg Lake hike my knees were talking to me. I hobbled through the rest of that trip, enjoying the west coast, Yosemite, and the trip back, but didn't do any serious hiking the rest of the way. A year later I was wearing an "off-loading" knee brace in an attempt to ease the bone-on-bone irritation while walking. Two years later I did a two-mountain hike in Oregon's Rogue River National Park, which incidentally gave the knee brace a real test. The brace did OK on that Oregon hike, but the knees were steadily getting worse.

By the time the 50-year-later hike occurred I was seriously bone-on-bone in both knees, with braces needed on both for any serious walking. There was serious doubts all around that I could make it to Iceberg Lake and back. But make it I did, and we had quite a celebration afterward and, more importantly, the makings of quite a memory.

In December of 2011 I had bilateral knee replacement (both at the same time). By the summer of 2012 the knees were as good as ever with regard to walking and hiking. Should have had that done sooner! But then would that last Iceberg Lake hike memory be quite as powerful?