Cor’s Switch to Cross Country Running

Cor in his Cross Country Uniform

Cor recently made a change in his life. He switched from playing on the school Soccer Team to running for the school Cross Country Team. In the grander scheme of things, the switch from one sport to another is not that big of a deal. Still, Cor agonized over the decision for several weeks this summer. He loved being a soccer player. He loved his teammates and his coaches. And there was a lot of momentum — established through youth leagues and through his first year of high school — for him to continue his involvement with the soccer program. However, he ultimately felt that the Cross Country program would be a better fit for him, going forward. And even though there are mixed emotions about the transition, I feel like this decision was an excellent opportunity for Cor to grow up. And I’m proud of the way he handled things.

For awhile, Cor thought about trying to do both Cross Country and Soccer. However, Marci and I felt that it would not be good for Cor, academically, to participate in two sports in addition to his studies. So we exercised our parental authority to take the two-sport option off the table… And then we left it up to him to decide. You’ll have to ask Cor, himself, if you want to hear all of the reasons for why he made the decision he did. But here is my parental analysis for the Costs and Benefits of his switch from Soccer to Cross Country.

The Benefit of Time

The time commitment expectations are pretty different for the two sports. Soccer requires two practices a day (5-6 hours per day), throughout the month of August; whereas Cross Country requires just one practice per day (2 hours per day). Especially for younger players, like Cor, the season schedule for Soccer often includes 6-8 games per week (divided among matches for Varsity, Junior Varsity A, and Junior Varsity B). Each game takes almost three hours (factoring in warm-ups, breaks in the action, and the game itself). So that’s 18-24 hours per week of game time, in addition to school. On the other hand, Cross Country meets only happen once or twice per week. And when Cross Country meets happen, we expect that the entirety of a meet (including Men and Women, Varsity and Junior Varsity) will be about three hours. So, just 3-6 hours of “game time” per week.

The effect is muted when practice times and travel times are factored in (roughly the same for both sports). Still, it seems realistic that Cor should gain at least ten hours per week that can be applied to his school work and other commitments. And that could make a big difference for him.

The Benefit of Stress Relief

In addition to the time savings, Cor seems like he will be saving himself some stress by joining the Cross Country team. Soccer is just a higher-profile sport, with a larger number of participants, so there feels like more pressure built into the activity. More pressure for teammates to outdo each other in order to earn playing time and more pressure for the team to win games. On the other hand, Cross Country seems like more of a collaborative sport. It’s mostly about each individual maximizing his own potential. Runners sincerely cheer for one another. And they just generally have more fun together. The group of long-distance runners on the Track team last spring became a close group of friends. And it’s appealing to create more space for those relationships to deepen.

The Benefit of of Contributing to the Team

In addition to all of the personal benefits, Cor’s switch to the Cross Country team also maximizes his opportunities to contribute to the team. Roosevelt’s Soccer Team is stacked with talent. Cor is really good at soccer, but he was probably going to be fifth or sixth on the depth chart at his position this year. The boys in our family tend to be “late bloomers” when it comes to physical development, and even at that he’s a full year younger than most of the other boys in his sophomore class (because of the way his academic level transferred when our family moved to the United States from the Netherlands). So with soccer, he’s always been fighting to overcome the perception that he’s “too small” for the sport.

With Cross Country running, however, Cor’s already (as a sophomore) looking to be fourth or fifth on the men’s depth chart — when most meets include four to seven Varsity runners from each team. So he stands to become an immediate contributor. He’s really good at running, too. He’s already proved himself in Track and in community races. And I think he’s only going to get better with time, training, and physical development.

Cor in his Cross Country Uniform

The Cost of an Identity Crisis

Even with all of the aforementioned Benefits, there are still some Costs associated with Cor’s switch to Cross Country. In particular, Cor has always identified strongly with the sport of Soccer. He was born in the Netherlands, and he’s quite Dutch in his obsession with voetbal. He follows many different professional leagues. And he owns perhaps a dozen soccer jerseys from different teams. You might say it’s just part of “his brand.” But in the process of making his Fall sports decision, Cor came to realize that he can still be crazy about soccer even if he’s a Cross Country runner. He can still cheer for Ajax… and the Crew… and even for the Roosevelt Rough Riders.

Even though he’s had a long-standing relationship with Soccer, he’s always been something of a runner, too. He can be both a running guy and a soccer guy. And I expect he will be, too, for years to come.

The Cost of Relational Time

I think everyone in our family will miss the time we got to spend with other Roosevelt Soccer families. Those relationships have been forged over years of joy and pain. We’ve sweat together in the sun-soaked stands. We’ve shivered together in lawn chairs at weekend tournaments. I think especially of late-night indoor league games at NC Soccer Club… and post-game celebrations at Bellacino’s… and cheering at dramatic come-from-behind victories. Our boys have become young men together. And I’m sad that we just won’t have as much time together at Soccer stuff.

We still want to be friends with Soccer People! We still hope to come cheer for the team, whenever circumstances allow. And if anyone else ever wants to come and watch Cor at one of his Cross Country meets, his team schedule is online, too.

All in all, we’re happy for Cor with this new season in a new sport. All transitions have their Costs and Benefits, of course, but we’re looking forward to navigating this course.

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Peach (Ice Cream) is Back

First Handel's Peach Ice Cream of the Season

We’ve got oppressive humidity. We’ve got Back-to-School advertisements. And — as of this week — we’ve got Handel’s Peach Ice Cream. It must be August in Northeast Ohio!

First Handel's Peach Ice Cream of the Season

The ice cream itself is incredible. But I’ve got a story that makes Handel’s Peach Ice Cream even sweeter. And after a few recent conversations with people who’ve never heard the story before, I thought it might be a useful public service to put it back out there for everyone to read.

You’re welcome.

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Ten States in Twelve Days

Silver and Centennial Summer Family Vacation 2022

We’re back from our family vacation! First, we had seven weeks at the Collegiate Church Network‘s Leadership Training program in Estes Park. Then, Marci, Cor, and I took the better part of two weeks to swing further west: to enjoy some dedicated vacation time centered in Utah and Nevada. We drove our minivan, however, so the trip ultimately included ten states in twelve days. And I have to say that it was a pretty epic odyssey in our Odyssey! I wanted to winnow down our considerable collection of pictures that I took to a sort of Top Ten, roughly corresponding to the ten states that we visited.

But first, a disclaimer: I don’t believe in the concept of “flyover states,” that is, disregarding certain parts of the country that are less populous or that seem less interesting to outsiders. All the different places we passed through are amazing in their own ways. Still, I didn’t happen to get any decent pictures in Wyoming or Indiana. So I’m going to acknowledge them as legitimate parts of our trip — but I’m going to give their “picture places” to Utah and Nevada (doubling up their allowance), since those were really our destination spots. So anyway: here are the pictures and stories that go with them…

Wyoming (Not Pictured)

We drove through a steady drizzle for much of our travel from (my job assignment in) Estes Park, Colorado, through the great state of Wyoming, to (our first vacation stay in) Honeyville, Utah. So we really just made two stops: one for lunch and one for fueling up the car. I love Wyoming, though.

Bonneville Salt Flats

Utah

I already covered a number of highlights from our time in the weird-and-wonderful state of Utah in a different post. But as we were driving West from the Great Salt Lake, just approaching the Utah-Nevada border, we passed through the Bonneville Salt Flats. They run automotive speed trials through this area. They film car commercials with this backdrop. And yes: the ground tastes salty! (I tried it myself). Again, I was reminded what a weird and wonderful state Utah is.

Fiiz Drinks in Elko, Nevada

Nevada

This vacation was our first real test run of life as a family of three, now that the proverbial nest has started to empty out with our baby birds (Elliot and Olivia) flying towards greater independence (college and careers). It was unfamiliar. Maybe even uncomfortable at times. But I think we started figuring some things out. And one of the fondest memories of the inauguration of this era — and particularly this vacation time in Mormon Country — was our nearly-daily trips to the drink shops, or soda shops, of Utah and Nevada.

I still prefer espresso drinks or bubble tea, myself, but it’s interesting to see how much carbonated beverages like Sprite and Coca-Cola can also be customized with various shots of Torani syrups… or cream… or pureed fruit. Our favorite place ended up being Fiiz Drinks, in downtown Elko. We especially appreciated their air conditioning and iced drinks, seeing how daytime temperatures were in the mid-90s. Good drinks lead to good conversations. And good conversations lead to good bonding time.

Sunset at the Hole in the Mountain Cabin

Nevada (Again)

The place where we stayed in Northern Nevada had some significant challenges, mostly related to the Nothingness of Nevada. But it also had some spectacular sunsets. And we had time to watch them and enjoy them together every night, which is pretty special.

Arizona Sunrise

Arizona

We were in Arizona for less than an hour on this trip. And all from within our Honda Odyssey. It was the start of our big push back East, and we hit the state line just before dawn, while Olivia and Cor were still sleeping in the back seats. Marci snagged this picture — which is pretty spectacular in spite of all the bug guts on the windshield — and then drifted back to sleep, herself. But those next ten miles or so happened to coincide with a beautiful canyon and a glorious sunrise. There were times when my jaw literally dropped, as I took in some of those views! I liked having these views “to myself,” but also having Marci, Cor, and Olivia (who met up with us in Las Vegas the previous day) within an arm’s length. Even a little bit of Arizona packs a powerful punch, I’d say.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Utah (Again)

I like this picture from Bryce Canyon National Park because it seems like something from a different era. The expressions on Olivia’s, Cor’s, and Marci’s faces are almost candid. And it’s the only photo from this particular spot on the rim of the canyon, where there were no railings or other crowds of tourists to clutter the background. It just seems like the kind of picture that would come about from that era when pictures were captured on rolls of film, developed weeks after the trip was finished. Bryce Canyon was beautiful — and even better than I expected it to be because of the short hike along the Navajo Loop we were able to do while we were there.

Visiting the Stumpf Family at their New House in Littleton, Colorado

Colorado

On our way back through Colorado, we got to visit the newly-acquired home of our former (Kent) neighbors: Curt, Amy, Max, Lila, and Sam. It felt like a surprisingly sweet reunion, since Olivia was the only person from our family who was able to attend their Farewell Festivities earlier in the summer. Of course, they demonstrated the same hospitality that we knew from living right next door to each other for ten years. They let us tour the new house (even though they were barely moved in, themselves). The kids had a dance party in the basement, while the adults caught up. And we had delicious ice cream sundaes in their amazing new open kitchen. Our visit was only about two hours, but it felt like a gift.

Nebraska

I had hoped to take the “scenic route” through the Sandhills of Western Nebraska, on our way from Colorado to Iowa. But we ultimately decided that expedience would be better than the experience. So, I talked the family into choosing a quirky diner for lunch. And our stop in North Platte, Nebraska, at the Lincoln Highway Diner, did not disappoint. I had chicken-fried steak and eggs, and the food was excellent. But the thing I appreciated most about the Lincoln Highway Diner was the way that it seemed to provide a window into the “real” Nebraska. Cornhusker flags on the walls… men with walrus mustaches… women with tall perms… We were the only tourists there for lunch that day. And we felt right at home.

Iowa

I actually lived in Iowa for about six months, just before my first birthday. There’s not much to Elk Horn (even the church where my Dad got his first job out of seminary has ceased to exist), but there is a windmill. A few other outbuildings, too, paying tribute to the town’s Danish heritage. Kind of kitschy, but actually perfect for a road trip like ours. We had hoped to get dinner in Elk Horn that night, but both of the town’s dining establishments — The Norse Horse Tavern and Larsen’s — were closed for some reason. Ah, well… It was interesting to see the place that I’d only ever remembered seeing in photographs, before.

Stopping for Gas in Illinois

Illinois

Time keeps ticking for our 2010 Honda Odyssey, just like it does for the rest of us. It’s nearing 200,000 miles on the odometer. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it gave me some stress on this trip. The air conditioning system kept acting up. The brake pads will need to be replaced soon. And both of the rear sliding doors are getting pretty janky. Still, I’m very grateful that we made it all the way back through Illinois (where this picture was taken) to Ohio without any major incidents. Hopefully we can give the Odyssey some tender loving care, now that we’re back to trusted mechanics in Kent. And hopefully it will serve us for many more road trips to come.

Indiana (Not Pictured)

We made record time across Indiana, not even stopping for food or fuel. It was just that point in the trip, where we were eager to get home. But Indiana is great. We made it to and through Indiana, and we were all glad for that.

Ohio

Vacations always help me to appreciate everyday life, when I get back home. I like Ohio (probably my favorite of the ten states). I like Kent: our friends and family… our house… our church… our cafes and shops… We’re still not fully up to speed here in Northeast Ohio, but we’re glad to be back.

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Faithfully Farming My Forty Acres

After our family vacation in the Western Wilds of North America, we drove through the Heartland to get back to Ohio. Through Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana… The fields of corn and soy seemed impossibly green, after our time in those more arid areas on the other side of the Rockies. And the fields prompted — and provided space for — a lot of thinking. Particularly about things I felt God had been stirring in my heart throughout the summer. Specifically, I kept mentally repeating a phrase that appeared in my reflections about the 10-year anniversary of our family’s move to Kent. A phrase that I hope will define the next season of my life: Faithfully Farming my Forty Acres.

To me, “Faithfully Farming my Forty Acres” means soberly and sincerely serving as a pastor, or shepherd, for the congregation in which I’ve been placed in Kent. Not trying to single-handedly save the world (because Jesus already did that). Not aggressively expanding to adjacent territory. And definitely not trying to seek fame or fortune for myself in the process. “Faithfully Farming my Forty Acres” speaks to consistency, season after season, year after year. Cultivating the fruit of the Spirit in my life, and in the lives of students at Kent State University. Sustaining our own operations and sending out surplus crops to market, as we’re able.

Forty acres is a decent-sized piece of land (twenty soccer fields is the most mentally-accessible equivalent to me). Even so, in agricultural terms, forty acres is not considered a big farm. It’s more of an old-school “family farm” than an example of “Agribusiness.” I think of it like a piece of land that’s been in the family for generations. And we’re just plodding away, year after year, cooperating with the earth’s natural processes to produce the most basic necessities.

Faithfully Farming my Forty Acres is not fancy stuff. But it’s good, honest work. So, after a lot of reflection this summer (and on the drive back to Ohio), I feel freshly envisioned and invigorated to put my back into it. To intentionally limit my focus to the fields in front of me, and to till that soil… fertilize those fields… harvest the crops in season… and let the land rest… repeating the cycle with each successive year.

Our culture emphasizes “genius” or “virtuoso” performance. You’re supposed to “build your brand” or “make your mark” or “reach for the stars” or whatever. However, embracing the opportunity for “Faithfully Farming my Forty Acres” is a deliberate pivot. They won’t make movies or write songs about me or my church. We won’t ever make the evening news or the cover of magazines. But we will walk closely with God. We will cooperate with His work in our lives and in the redemptive work around us. And we will, Lord willing, keep farming for many years to come.

Posted in Church, Family, God, H2O Kent, Health, Home, Introspection, Leadership, Ministry, Prayer, Small Groups | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Faithfully Farming My Forty Acres

The Nothingness of Nevada

The Open Roads of Nevada

We’ve left Nevada. We’re heading back East. And already, with the state barely out of our rearview mirror, my memory drifts towards the nothingness of Nevada. I think about the tumbling tumbleweed that crossed the highway within the first ten minutes of crossing the state line. I think about the ghost town that we visited at high noon one day. And I think about the signs that said, “No services for 70 miles” (or even longer). There’s so much of so little in Nevada!

The level of desolation in the “Silver State” is really remarkable! And I really don’t mean that as a slam. I genuinely love desolation. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the wide open vistas throughout the week we were there. But even for me, the nothingness of Nevada became uncomfortable at times.

The Open Roads of Nevada

Our Journey to the Western Wilds

As I’ve thought about our time out west more fully, however, I’ve come to realize that fixating on the “nothingness” of Nevada isn’t quite right. We actually saw quite a bit on our swing out west (which included both Utah and Nevada). After leaving our summer base of operations in Colorado, we drove through Wyoming to Utah. We stayed three nights in a little yellow barn out in the country, near a town called Honeyville. And while we were there, we saw some historical sites… experienced a cool piece of “land art” called Spiral Jetty (by the same artist who did the Partially Buried Woodshed in Kent)… and soaked in some natural hot springs.

Bonneville Salt Flats

Afterwards, on our way out of Utah heading into Nevada, we drove through Salt Lake City and saw the center of the Mormon universe (which strikes me as a very strange universe). However, between leaving Salt Lake City on a Monday afternoon and driving into Las Vegas in the middle part of the following Sunday, it really did feel like we left civilization behind. Our entrance into Nevada came just after crossing the Bonneville Salt Flats. And wow! That’s where we really started to feel that “Nothingness of Nevada”!

Exploring the Area around the Hole in the Mountain Cabin

Elko County

We stayed four nights in a very remote mountain canyon in Elko County, Nevada. And by “remote,” I mean that we were about forty miles from the nearest town. We had to open and close at least one cattle gate every time we left or arrived at the property because it was a real, working cattle ranch.

Exploring the Area around the Hole in the Mountain Cabin

The only real traffic we ever had to deal with in Northern Nevada was cattle! Not nothingness. But certainly not the hustle and bustle of everyday life in Northeastern Ohio.

Cattle Drive on a Gravel Road

One of the advantages of our cabin up in the mountain canyon was that we had an amazing view of the sunset every night. It was very cool. Except for the temperature sense of the word. The cabin didn’t have air conditioning. And daytime temperatures got up around 95 degrees Fahrenheit! Unfortunately, that took away from some of the restfulness we might have otherwise experienced in Northern Nevada.

Sunset at the Hole in the Wall Cabin

Even so, I really can’t complain about our time in Nevada. It was low-key. But it wasn’t “nothing.” The Lamoille Canyon area of the Ruby Mountains was spectacular (and a good twenty degrees cooler than the plains!)… We got to visit a sweet cowboy shop, where they make saddles that sell for tens of thousands of dollars and then ship to customers around the world… We did some thrifting, and we saw the new Top Gun movie. Honestly, if our cabin would have had air conditioning — and maybe also if we could have shortened our stay there by one night — our time in Elko County would have been amazing. But with those extenuating circumstances, we did start to lament that sense of nothingness by the end of our stay.

Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park

Our second-to-last day and night in Nevada may have been the best part of our visit. We stayed at a really neat place called the Hidden Canyon Ranch, near Great Basin National Park. While we were there, we hiked to a grove of Bristlecone Pine Trees estimated to be between 3,000 and 5,000 years old… We did a ranger-led cave tour… And then we soaked in a hot tub while we watched the stars come out. In retrospect, I wish we would have borrowed one of the days from Elko County to increase the length of our stay down near the national park (though civilization was even more sparse here). It was the best kind of “nothingness” that made the stars shine brighter.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

Our last day and night in Nevada, we went to the infamous Las Vegas Strip. It was overwhelming, after all the stillness and sparseness of the rest of the state. But it was a memorable afternoon and evening.

Honestly, I felt comforted by our return to “nothingness,” early on Sunday morning, when we started making our big push back East. I’m glad we got to experience a few different facets of Nevada. I can’t imagine that we’ll be making it a regular, recurring vacation destination. But it was certainly worth seeing everything there was — and everything there wasn’t.

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Destination: Northern Nevada

The grasshoppers pelting our minivan sound like plugs of tobacco hitting a spittoon, as we hurtle northeast through the brush country of northern Nevada. It’s hot and dry here, in late July. The towering, snow-streaked peaks of the Ruby Mountains off to the south suggest that things are not always this way. Still, I wonder what to make of these broad, sweeping plains between mountain ridges.

Were we crazy to come out here for a family vacation? The locals have asked us — repeatedly — “Why’d you come here?” They seem willing to believe that Ohioans might visit Elko on their way through to somewhere else. But a destination?!?

Back in 1910, developers bought up 40,000 acres of these Great Basin flatlands with a dream to make northern Nevada a destination. They intended to make farmland out of the region by damming up Bishop Creek and recruiting Mormon laborers to cultivate wheat and raise livestock. Their vision, their sense of destiny, was so strong that they built a theater, a post office, a school, a train station, a hotel… And get this: they called this new destination Metropolis. The Mother City.

Things seemed to be on track with Metropolis for a few years. Some seven hundred souls came to settle the area over the next decade. The wheat yields were better than expected, even after they lost the water rights to settlers further down the valley.

But then came the plagues. First, the settlers had problems with the coyotes poaching their livestock. Then, after they wiped out the coyotes, they had problems with the jackrabbits eating their crops. Even after the settlers wiped out the jackrabbits, later plagues of crickets and typhoid and drought started wiping out the settlers, forcing them to move on to greener pastures. Figuratively and literally.

By the early 1920s, Metropolis started hollowing out. The Mother City became an empty nest.

And now, a century later, it’s a bonafide ghost town. The only traffic that we have to deal with in our approach to Metropolis comes in the form of scattered herds of cattle loping across the road. When we arrive at the site, we can still make out the last vestiges of the hotel and the school, along with the footprints of a few houses. Rusted metal and cracked concrete are scattered here and there. One plaque describes the town’s demise, concluding with the verdict that “the town ultimately died of thirst.” Another plaque tries to put a more optimistic spin on things:

In memory of those valiant pioneers who settled and built a city here, giving so much to us all in their pursuit of happiness and security. Today, we enjoy the fruits of their efforts… Many who lived here aspired to become teachers, lawyers, civic leaders, church leaders, and best of all reared great families in homes where love and happiness filled their lives. May we always remember our Metropolis heritage and beginnings, and may our lives be fuller because of the Metropolis pioneers. May we also forever resolve within our hearts and minds to cherish the memories of the pioneers of Metropolis. Blessed be the name of Metropolis, Nevada throughout the eternities.

The true story of Metropolis is probably somewhere between the town that “died of thirst” and the “valiant pioneers… blessed… throughout the eternities.” Happy things happened in Metropolis, and sad things happened in Metropolis. But they’re all in the past. What remains is an empty shell, a ghost town. And somehow, this gets me thinking about my own mortality. I will not last forever, and neither will the things I build. Even as my own nest empties, the world will keep spinning. The days, months, and years will pass. The dust will gather. And others will pass their own judgment on what was.

So, in a way, northern Nevada is a destination. A picture of every person’s destiny. And there may be elements of that which feel uncomfortable. But if you look out at the plains and the mountains, it’s clear to see that there’s beauty in it, too.

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The Best of Me

I recently finished reading David Sedaris’s collection of short stories, The Best of Me. I decided to give it a try towards the end of June, Pride Month, because I wanted to read something by an author from the LGBT Community — and, honestly, many of the other books from the LGBT Community which I might have chosen to read sooner were wait-listed with my library’s electronic collection. So, the best thing about The Best of Me was that it happened to be available.

Honestly, I’ve been a fan of David Sedaris for several years. As the title of the book might imply, The Best of Me functions as a sort of “Greatest Hits” from Sedaris’s writing. Consequently, I’d probably read (and enjoyed) about a third of the stories in this collection already. And the other two-thirds were fun, frolicsome reading — just what I like for summer reading.

Sedaris’s strong suit is humor. And indeed, there were some laugh-out-loud moments from this collection. But I felt more bothered than usual by some of the snark and cynicism in some of his fictional stories — particularly the stories that seemed to come from his earlier years. And generally, it was interesting to notice that I found myself gravitating more towards the book’s personal essays, or memoir elements.

In particular, I was struck by the last three stories in the collection. 

“Why Aren’t You Laughing?” is a story about the author’s mother — including her late-in-life struggles with alcoholism — and it’s such a complex and powerful portrayal that it really made me think. About parental relationships in general… the way that I’ll remember my parents… and the way that my children will remember me… And about my own sense of identity and self-worth.

“The Spirit World” is a story about the author’s sister, who took her own life after a period of estrangement from the rest of the family. It deals with general themes of family dysfunction — but also familial love. As the title of the story suggests, it also deals with the spiritual themes in a surprisingly-nuanced way. And again, I just found that the story made me think. Perhaps even more importantly, it made me feel.

And finally, “Unbuttoned” is a story about the author’s father and the process of dying. The story is a master class in demonstrating the universal with the specific, and again, it prompts deep personal introspection. About human mortality. There’s a heaviness to the writing that is strangely balanced by periodic injections of humor. Overall, it left me thoughtful. Prayerful, even (though Sedaris would not consider himself to be a religious person). In succession, after the preceding two stories (described above), it does the work of humanizing both Sedaris and me.

I really think those three stories at the conclusion of The Best of Me might really be the best of David Sedaris. I’d highly recommend those three stories, even if one doesn’t want to read the whole book. They’re kind of the best.

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Planet Utah

There was a moment yesterday when I felt like I was standing on a different planet. The landscape around me featured dazzling white soil, matte black rocks, and a sea of tepid, rose-colored water. It was weird. Yet, weirder still was the feeling that the moment may not have even been the weirdest part of my weekend. My weekend visiting Planet Utah.

My experience with Utah is admittedly quite limited. We had one family trip through the eastern half of the state in 2019. Still, my memory from that trip centers on the vivd orange soil, the strange rock formations, the weird names of the region’s canyons and roads, and the New Age and Native American spirituality connected to various sites. It was other-worldly, but amazing. This summer, our family is visiting more of the western half of the state — and we’re discovering that it’s other-other-worldly and amazing in its own ways. It’s markedly different from the American Midwest, of course, but also markedly different from other parts of Utah.

For instance, on our way into the state, from Wyoming, we passed by a large lake with water the color of Glacier Freeze Gatorade. It’s apparently called the ”Caribbean of the Rockies.” And it’s spectacular. However, we didn’t even take time to stop and grab a picture (mostly because Cor had just settled into a nice afternoon nap). Marci and I decided to just press on to see what we could see. And as we went further west, the land flattened out. Around that time, we started to see flocks and flocks of migrating birds (even though this isn’t normally the time of year I associate with bird migration). They all seemed to be heading for the same place we were heading: the northeast shores of the Great Salt Lake.

It’s a beautiful area, just an hour north of Salt Lake City. One of the more notable historical points of interest in this area is the place where engineers completed the first Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. The site is maintained by the National Park Service: the Golden Spike National Historical Park. So, in a lot of ways, it’s typical of such sites. A gift shop… a room with a video playing on a thirty-minute loop… maps… artifacts… and text explaining the significance of everything. However, what’s not typical is the way that most of the rangers are dressed in period costume. Furthermore, twice a day, on weekends, the site is visited by restored Victorian locomotives. And then, visitors are recruited to reenact the ceremony in which the final “Golden Spike” was driven to complete the transportation corridor between the Eastern United States and the Western United States.

It’s weird. Kind of campy. But wonderful, in its own way. Cor seemed to endure it more than enjoy it. But I thought it was fabulous. It really did feel like a step back in time. Another fascinating feature of this visit to Planet Utah.

And then we got back into our car and drove even further west. Further away from civilization and cellular towers. We followed over twenty miles of gravel roads until we reached the edge of the Great Salt Lake. And there, we got to walk the labyrinthine path of the Spiral Jetty, a work of land art by Robert Smithson (the same artist who created the Partially Buried Woodshed in Kent). It’s a bizarre work of art in a bizarre location. But the other-worldly quality of the setting seemed to accentuate Smithson’s fascination (which has also become my fascination) with entropy. It was like a glimpse into outer space, where everything spirals out from its point of origin. Everything drifts towards greater and greater disorder, disorganization, disintegration, and decay.

I can’t exactly explain it, but it felt like Planet Utah illuminating Planet Earth.

After experiencing the Spiral Jetty for ourselves, we decided to walk another half-mile ”out to sea” to actually see and step into the Great Salt Lake. That’s where we experienced the utter disorientation of the dazzling white soil, the matte black rocks, and the sea of tepid, rose-colored water. Such a strange, strange place. Yet such a wonder to behold.

Cor cut his foot on the surprisingly-sharp bed of the lake, and then he literally rubbed salt into his wounds, unintentionally. It caused a quicker exit than we might have otherwise intended. But the sun was getting quite hot by that point in the day, and it was just as well that we could retreat into our air-conditioned mini-van.

We drove back east and decided to stop for some mixed sodas at a ”Drink Shop” in Tremonten. It’s a distinctly Utah thing because Mormons don’t drink alcohol or hot drinks (weird dietary restrictions to go with all the other weird stuff). The Mormon influence is palpable in this part of the state, whenever we’re near other humans. But the people are generally friendly. The young woman at the Drink Shop counter was wearing a black AC/DC T-shirt and a long skirt — which seemed like a strange combination to me — but she was happy to answer our questions about Drink Shops and Mormon dietary restrictions and such. I ordered the ”Keep It Fresh” drink, with Sprite, Grapefruit, Cranberry, Fresh Line, and Fresh Lemon. And it was, indeed, fresh.

Just what we needed to restock energy stores and head back out for further exploration of Planet Utah.

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Chiefs Head Peak

Chiefs Head Peak with Clay, Annie, and Marcel

I’m so happy that I was able to hike to Chiefs Head Peak. Especially considering the fact that it was just two days before our family’s departure from Colorado. And especially considering the fact that I got to do it with Clay, Annie, and Marcel.

Chiefs Head Peak with Clay, Annie, and Marcel

All summer long, I’ve been thinking that Chiefs Head Peak would be an epic ”Capstone Hike” — worthy of the eight-week build-up in my hiking form… a physical challenge on par with Longs Peak (the tallest mountain in the Rocky Mountain National Park)… and yet another Deep Cut from the Rocky Mountain National Park Discography. Our group was all set to try Chiefs Head a week ago. Unfortunately, though, we had to switch to a different destination, last-minute, because of weather forecasts. This time around, luckily, the weather conditions ended up being perfect. We had clear skies, mild temperatures, and only the very lightest of winds (even at the summit).

Chiefs Head Peak with Clay, Annie, and Marcel

The group was also significant because it represented the ”Core Four” of our Wednesday hiking group. The formation of this group was largely circumstantial — based on work schedules and hiking ability. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that we had several others who cycled in and out of a Wednesday hike or two with us. In any event, the ”Core Four” just covered a lot of ground together: 60.78 miles and 15,735 feet of elevation, to be specific. So, in the hours that we spent together on the trail, we just got to talk about a lot of different things. We developed a special sort of camaraderie. So it just felt right to do this Capstone Hike with this Core Four.

Chiefs Head Peak with Clay, Annie, and Marcel

And I haven’t even got to the part where I describe the amazing features of the hike itself! Honestly, it might even be my new favorite hike! I probably need to wait for the recency bias to fade before I can speak definitively. Even so, I feel very confident in saying that it’s a very, very good hike. Significantly better than Longs Peak.

Chiefs Head Peak Strava Summary

One of my favorite thing about the hike to Chiefs Head Peak is that it’s a loop, not an out-and-back. We actually brought two cars to park at two different trailheads, in order to cut out three miles of walking along a dusty dirt road (which would have truly completed the loop). Still, we never saw the same section of trail twice. I love that kind of variety — and I love the way it looks on a map. There’s also a really lovely variety of scenery on this hike: forests… rivers… lakes… waterfalls… alpine tundra…

My favorite part of the hike to Chiefs Head, though, was the part where we hiked through meadows filled with wildflowers! Just after clearing tree line, above Sandbeach Lake, we had about a mile of soft, grassy terrain. Millions of wildflowers spread out in every direction. And across the valley, our ascent towards Chiefs Head provided us with dramatic views of Mount Meeker, Longs Peak, and Pagoda Mountain.

And the view from the top of Chiefs Head Peak was incredible. It’s the third-highest mountain in the Rocky Mountain National Park, so its view rivals that from Longs Peak. And it may be even better! I especially appreciated the view across sheer vertical drop into Glacier Gorge (where our group had ended up hiking the previous week).

Chiefs Head Peak with Clay, Annie, and Marcel

Without a doubt: the hike to Chiefs Head Peak was challenging. We were completely exhausted by the end. But it was a very happy sort of exhaustion for me. It felt like a privilege, a gift, to be able to finish my summer of hiking in Colorado with those last weary steps to the waiting car in the parking lot.

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West Estes Park Sinclair Station

Eclectic Estes Park Sinclair Station

There’s a quirky little place on the West side of Estes Park. I’d describe it as a gas station / convenience store / tourist shop / donut shop / burger restaurant. And I know that’s a lot to fit into one establishment — but that’s what they do! And they do them all surprisingly well. The West Estes Park Sinclair Station has been evolving over the last several years (I think it was just a gas station, as recently as 2018). But I think it’s shaping up to be an institution that I hope will endure for years to come.

Eclectic Estes Park Sinclair Station

The American West is wild, wacky, and wonderful for things like this. Wall Drug is a particularly poignant example. And I hope that I get to keep discovering these gems, here and there, for years to come. But I really like having one of these eclectic emporia close to one of the places I more frequently visit. It’s just a couple of miles from the YMCA of the Rockies and the Beaver Meadows entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park!

Eclectic Estes Park Sinclair Station

I don’t love donuts like a lot of other people love donuts — but if I’m ever going to go for a donut in Estes Park, the Donut Haus is definitely the place where I would go. It used to be a free-standing structure closer to the heart of downtown. But the owners sold it off and retired early, passing along the recipes and the branding to others who re-established the shop in the West Estes Park Sinclair Station. Around the same time, it would seem, a Mexican family decided to start a fast food place called The Burger Stop in another wing of the building. And this summer, we’ve discovered that their food is excellent! The burgers are tasty. The fries are well-seasoned and crispy. And the Horchata shake is delicious.

I don’t know how the West Estes Park Sinclair Station will continue to evolve in the years to come. But I’m intrigued to see what will become of it.

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