Farewell to Fergus

King Fergus Morris, born 28 APR 1999, died 20 JUL 2012. Great Pyrenees, 114 lbs (at his largest), deer chaser, walker, wrestler, mountain climber, hiker, trekker, snow lover, beach lover, traveler, diplomat, lover of all things meat, flower sniffer, chick magnet, attention getter, lived through his nose, companion dog, lover boy, best friend. He could walk, trot or run fast when he wanted to and he always Fergus and John on the Riverwalk in Corvalliswalked slower going home than going out. He was not a runner or water dog, nor was he aggressive. He never attacked a person (although he did go after a few dogs), he never broke anything indoors (he was always aware of his size). He could be very stubborn. He hated loud noises more than anything else. July 4th was his least favorite time of year and was the only time he ran away from home – he jumped the fence, was hit by a car and almost died. He was gentle and accepting of almost everyone and everything. He disliked going to the veterinarian’s office, but he never refused to go inside. He never flinched at needles or having his temperature taken, but he hated having his nails clipped. He avoided dirt and water and rarely got a bath, but he always looked clean. He always got bathed after rolling in dead deer, one of his favorite scents after lavender — the bush he liked to sleep under. He loved to be brushed while laying on his side and during shedding season we spent hours brushing; when it was time to brush the other side, I’d tap the side that was showing and he would stand up, turn around and lay down to expose the other side. We walked together 1-3 miles twice per day, every day of the year for nearly 10 years — we walked around 10,000+ miles together, including longer trips.

The Three Most Common Questions

Fergus and I met a lot of people. Most he liked, a few he didn’t. Having someone stop as they drove by to ask about him was not an uncommon occurrence. By far the three most common questions were (in sequence): may I pet him, what breed is he, how much does he weigh? My children and I used to joke that we should have a “pull string” with the answers to these questions recorded. When I left Fergus with June for the first time, I let he know to expect these questions. Fergus was an attention getter. Other popular questions were: how old is he, does he shed, does he eat a lot and what’s his name. People enjoyed hearing the story about how he came to be King Fergus. King was the name given him by the people who fostered him after he was rescued in Montana. My (former) step-daughter Caitlynn always wanted a large dog named Fergus. So that he would not get confused we called him “King Fergus.” For short, he was Gus. Because of the familiarity with the female Pop music singer, we rarely called him Fergie. Fergus is a Scottish name that means favorite one, supreme man and highest choice. This name seemed to fit him very well.

Replacing Sam

Did someone say, “Bacon?” With Sue, Zoe (left) and Hunter (middle), JAN 2004

The only other dog I ever considered my own was Sam, a small and adorable beagle. I don’t remember a time as a boy when Sam wasn’t around, but I do remember the day he was hit by a car in front of our house shortly after the family moved. We didn’t have a fenced yard at the new house and he hated being chained in the back, so he often ran free with us while we were playing outdoors. When the car hit him, I saw the whole thing. My father wrapped him in a blanket, picked him up and took him to the vet. The man who hit Sammy was distraught. When I learned later that night the vet could not save Sam, I cried for weeks. My heart was broken, I swore I’d never have another dog.

Technically, my ex-wife Sue, is the one who had the idea to get a dog, picked out the breed and completed the paperwork adopt him from the rescue program at about age 3. She and her daughter Caitlynn drove to Walla Walla WA to pick him up one day while I was at work. I really didn’t know what to expect and was very surprised when I saw his size. I still remember his gray, cracked and dry nose. He refused to drink water, but I finally got him to drink out of the toilet. Eventually, he trusted us enough to drink and eat out of a regular bowl and his nose slowly got wetter and darker and smoother. We knew after a couple of months that his health had improved by the condition of his nose!

Fergus was the first of three Pyrenees we adopted in a short period of time. Sue had the idea of finding dogs for therapy purposes in her program at the Childrens Farmhome. She wanted a gentle dog because they’d be around teenage boys who often got upset. She wanted a large breed because these boys were also known to place small animals in stoves and washing machines. I helped write up the guidelines for “Healing Hounds” and her company approved the program.

My marriage to Sue ended within a year of Fergus coming to live with me. In that time the two of us bonded strongly. When Sue moved out, she initially took all three dogs. But with some discussion, she saw it best to leave Fergus with me. The split of the household left Fergus confused and anxious for a long while. We saw the other two Pyrenees, Zoe and Hunter, only once or twice after that. I also inherited a cat from the split — but the cat was always closer to Fergus than to me. The cat, Rainbow, went away for about a year to live with my daughter Jessie in Seattle. But, Rainbow came back earlier this year and the two instantly recognized each other.

Rescuing Fergus

Sometime on adventures, Fergus would get stuck in blackberry bushes. He would wait patiently while I untangled his long fur from the prickly vines. Once while snow shoeing in the Cascades, the snow was wet and warm, near freezing. As he walked in the snow, it slowly built up until it became large snowballs on the feathers of his legs (the long tufts of hair behind each leg). He became so weighed down, he couldn’t move, so he laid down in the trail and waited for me to notice. When I hadn’t seem him for a while, I backtracked to find him. I had to smash at the snowballs with my fists to break them up and get him moving. From then on I tried to trim his feathers before we went to the snow or at least carry scissors in my bag. Another time last summer returning from a long trip, we camped and hiked near the Santiam River. On an old wagon trail we came to a deep but not too wide crevice. He didn’t like the looks of it, but allowed me to position myself in the crevice and lift him across. I occasionally would find myself pushing him out of ravines that were easy to get into and harder to get out.

Fergus Rescued Me

Fergus and I lived alone most of our time together. Occasionally, there was another person (i.e., girlfriend or roommate) hanging around more than others. In his final six months, we lived exclusively at my current residence with June, who he liked best of all. During my times of solitude, he was my constant companion. We “debated” many topics and he helped me solve problems (this is code for me talking to him while he listened quietly.) When life was burdensome, there were always our walks. Walking with Fergus always slowed down my day and brought me peace. Brushing Fergus was also a very cathartic experience and gave me something “physical” to show for my efforts to boot — a handsome dog and a very large pile of white hair. If I ever needed to cry, he was there with his ample size and big heart. He would let me hug him or just cry in his fur… to a point. Fergus seemed to understand the need to cry, but he also had his limits. No wallowing in self pity with this guy!


We had a way of communicating that was partly verbal and partly through either eye contact or physical movement. For instance, to let me know he wanted to change the path of our walks, he would stop at an intersection, face the direction he wanted to go, look at me and then look in the desired direction. He had a way of looking at the door that let me know it was urgent he go outside. He also made it clear when it was time for his twice-daily walk. He would be patient to a point, but if I was still in bed (or on the computer), he would find me and help me remember to go — starring loudly (as my son Scott called it) at first, then barking and hopping around. He always got a haircut in July (sometimes a second one in September) after which he went into what I called Tigger-mode. Like the character Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, he would leap and bounce around to show his excitement.

Saying Good-bye

With Kelly Volkmann, Truman (left) and Teddy (right), NOV 2005

I had always wished that when it was Fergus’ time to go, that it would be quick. And it was. Less than 2 weeks before he died, we took a walk in MacDonald Forest on the Old Growth Trail, one of his favorites. Five days before he died, he barely made it to the trailhead of a nature path near our house — about 100 yards away. He needed assistance to walk across the yard on the day he died.

A trip to the vet on Wednesday let me know that Fergus’ kidneys had stopped functioning. From what I read about kidney failure, once the “clinical” symptoms show up, it is too late. After the Big Adventure last summer when we drove 6000 miles over 6 weeks, we took a 2-night backpack trip to Mount Jefferson Wilderness — it turned out to be 3-nights. He climbed to the glaciers on Mount Jefferson — well over 9000 feet from a start of about 3000 feet — but had trouble getting down. I literally had to drag Fergus for about 3 miles down a scree field because he didn’t feel up to the descent on his own. This was a dog that used to scramble over scree like most people attack stairs. On that third night of the trip, I was unsure whether he would make it out alive. He did and I treated every day after like it was extra time with him.

When we moved to June’s house, Fergus had a covered area outside where he could stay outside regardless of weather. And he did. He came in to be social for about an hour a day and then went back out. He loved June’s black Labrador, Scout (she is 3 years old), and taught her about calmness and grace and allow people to love her better. Most importantly, however, he taught her that food for dogs comes after nearly every meal if one is patient and not pushy and sits quietly nearby but not too close.

Resting on his final day, 20 JUL 2012

When it was just him and me during his last few days — I graded homework on my laptop while sitting in a chair next to him in the shady grass — he made it really clear he was ready. The vet gave me medicine for his tummy (he hadn’t eaten in a week and was vomiting bile) and his pain. I forced those pills down his throat for 2 days before I made “the call.” I couldn’t actually make the call to the vet myself, June did it for me.

Skip and Kelly Volkmann were present along with a good friend Craig Olbrich, and of course, June and Scout and Rainbow. We all told stories while I petted him as he lay in the grass. He was calm and may have even slept some. When the vet got there around 4:40, he was quick. Fergus didn’t even lift his head when the vet shaved his arm to administer the drug that put him to sleep. It was peaceful and serene and very graceful. Skip and I carried him out to the vet’s car on a stretcher and he was cremated. I’m trying to decide whether to put the ashes in the garden here or to build him into the mortar of an outdoor fireplace June and I plan to build this summer or next. Either will be fitting.

Last Words

After Fergus and the vet left, I broke out a 16 year old bottle of Lagavulin single malt scotch whiskey. The five of us friends drank a little over half of the bottle while telling more Fergus stories. Fergus would have been pleased. See the photo collage I put together about My Time With Fergus if you haven’t gotten your fill of Fergus pictures.

I have a pillow that reads, “My goal in life… is to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am.” To my teacher, my role model and my friend, I’ll keep working on it. You will always be with me in my heart, rest well. Never forget Fergus.

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Into Thin Air…

King Fergus on Waldo Glacier

OK, that title is a bit overly dramatic. But, it has an element of truth, so I decided to go with it. Certainly my adventure into the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness was not as dramatic as a Krakow book, but it did have its moments.

The story starts in the spring when I received an email from a pair of friends, Kate — a professor and biogeochemist at OSU, and Julie — a former fellow instructor in the OSU College of Business. The email was entitled, “Your mission should you decide to accept it” and went on to explain they’d seen this really cool backpacking trip at their sports Club and wanted to do it, but the price seemed rather steep. They figured they could cajole me into being the trip organizer. Of course, I said “yes.”

The Route

My friend Ed suggested several of his favorite trips and I did some research on the internet. I found one for Hunts Cove Loop — 17 miles, partly on the Pacific Crest Trail and less than two hours from home. Perfect. A quick trip to the grocery store to pick up some freeze dried food, a trip to the outdoor store for a map and a stop at the ranger station for a wilderness permit… and we were set. In the weeks before the scheduled departure, Julie bowed out of the trip, so it was just Kate, Fergus and me.

First a little about my dog, King Fergus — or Fergus (or Gus) for short. He is 12 years old and has been with me since I rescued him at about age 3 from a shelter program. He is my constant companion and recently accompanied me on a 6-week car adventure through 11 states. (See Travel Log #8: By the Numbers.) He is a veteran of the outdoors and walks 3-5+ miles per day, every day. He’s been on numerous mountains and navigated many boulder and scree fields. He is full of energy and loves to go wherever I go. I was nervous about taking him on this long of a trip at his age, but did several extended hikes while traveling in August and felt he was up for it. Oh, and important to the story, Fergus weighs 110 pounds.

He didn’t disappoint… at least on the first half of the trip. We got to Waldo Glacier, a couple of miles from the summit of Mt. Jefferson, with little trouble. Yes, Fergus wanted to rest frequently, but that made the trip more enjoyable for all of us. We ate lunch on the glacier, enjoyed the view and then started back down to camp. That’s when trouble began.

Fergus won’t go downhill!

I was perplexed, he’s gone down hill exactly as many times as up as far as I could remember. The scree fields were no different than what he’d been on many times. But still, he didn’t want to come down. His legs were wobbly and he had a look of terror on his face. He simply refused to budge.

After much coaxing and waiting, I could see I had to do something or we would not make it back to basecamp before dark. I approached him while he was sitting in typical dog pose, put my hands around the base of his neck and dragged him — while he sat — down the mountain. He buried his head in my thighs and I restrained his slide with my hands on his shoulders. With Kate directing from behind, I backed down the mountain dragging Fergus in front of me. He was not a happy camper.

Eventually, we made it to camp and Fergus found a cool spot to lay down. I brought him food and water and left him to “sleep off” the adventure. The next morning, he was moving slowly, but seemed interested in going home. We decided we’d need most of the day to make the final 10 miles back to the car and so left rather early. Fergus came along behind us.

Getting Home

Several downed trees blocked the trail home.

All was going well until we came to the first trail switchback. Fergus refused to go through it. He tried to “cut” the switchbacks and got stuck. Eventually, I resorted to the same sit-and-drag we’d done on the mountain. When we came to logs in the trail, I had to lift him over with Kate helping on the other side. Eventually, I had to drag him through several creek crossings. Kate and I debated throughout the day whether he was injured, fatigued, frightened or just plain being stubborn. Fergus and I regularly communicate during the day, but this level of communication is beyond our crude ways of letting each other know what’s going on. Throughout the day, he became less eager to walk and began stopping in the trail more and more frequently. By the time we made it to Pamelia Lake (3 miles from the car) it was 6PM. It took us 2 hours to go the last 1 mile. A quick calculation and we figured we’d be on the trail well after dark if we were able to continue. Although we had headlamps, we also had food for one more night… so, we decided to stop at the first available campsite.

Fergus didn’t even leave the trail. I provided food and water, but he refused to eat. As Kate and I prepared to sleep for the night, I saw he was shivering. (Fergus is a snow dog, he NEVER shivers!) I fashioned a blanket for him out of a garbage bag, wrapped him up in it and retired to my own sleeping bag. It was very quiet that night — Fergus did not move.

Plan B

In the morning, we packed our gear — except the tent — and started on the trail. It was dark, we used our headlamps. We left the tent in case Fergus was not able to walk, we needed somewhere to leave him so we could go for help. While we had discussed possible slings and stretchers using a combination of sticks through my sleeping bag or dragging lashed frames through the dirt, we concluded it would either be too rough for Fergus or too difficult for us. Remember, Fergus weighs 110 pounds. We didn’t have pen and paper to leave a note on Fergus (“Dog injured, went for help, do not move”), so figured the pitched tent would send the same message.

With Kate on Mt Jefferson

After a quarter mile with Fergus moving increasingly better, we became optimistic. I dashed back to collect my tent while Kate kept coaxing Fergus along the trail. They had gotten almost to the other side of the lake by the time I caught up again. We stopped for rest. We had a backup plan — if Fergus couldn’t get out of the wilderness on his own, Kate would drive me into cell phone range where I could call a friend and return to wait with Fergus for help. I hoped my friend Skip would agree to bring a bicycle trailer that has a yoke for pulling. We would load Fergus into the trailer and pull him to the parking lot.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to implement plan B. Although Fergus’ progress continued to slow, we did make another mile toward safety. But then he laid down and refused to move any further. We got him to eat an energy bar (go figure, nobody likes these!) But still he would not move. In frustration, I walked around him, told Kate I’d be back after dropping off my pack and would come back for hers. She would wait with Fergus. I took off at a fast pace then heard Kate call from behind… “he’s up!” He was actually trotting. With me staying 40-50 feet ahead — where he could see me but not reach me — we made our way back to the car, finally.

Sweet Rewards

Once back to the parking lot, Fergus needed no coaxing to jump up into the back of Kate’s SUV. When we reached civilization (Detroit Lake), I rewarded Fergus with an entire bag of beef jerky and Kate with a double-grand, venti latte. Thanks Kate for being so patient!

More photos on Picasa. The trip took place September 13-16, 2011. [I wrote this up within a couple days of the trip, but I’m a little late posting because I got busy and forgot to publish!]

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Travel Log #8: By the Numbers

Just for fun, I kept some of my receipts and a few other data… those who know me know that I like to quantify things when I can. So, this will be my final travel blog entry and will provide some of the numbers I accumulated along the way on F ‘n J’s Fabulous Summer Adventure. By all means, if you find any errors in these numbers (yes, I know some of my friends are even more anal about numbers than me,) please let me know!

  • Travelers: John and Fergus
  • Mode of Transportation: 2010 Honda Fit
  • Departure: Friday, 22-JUL
  • Return: Friday, 2-SEP (Scott’s Birthday, Yay!)
  • States Visited: 11
  • Total Time on the Road: 6 weeks or 42 nights
  • Total Miles Driven: 5990.1
  • Total Fill-ups: 23
  • Total Gas Burned (according to receipts): 171 gallons
  • Average Price per Gallon of Gas: $3.671
  • Highest: $4.199 in Newberry Springs AZ
  • Lowest: $3.369 in Colorado Springs CO
  • Miles Per Gallon (according to Honda dash gauge): 40.4 MPG
  • Miles Per Gallon (according to above data): 35.0 MPG (What’s with the gauge Honda?!)
  • Music Concerts Attended: 2
  • Number of Nights Camping: 1
  • Number of Hotel Nights: 15
  • Number of Nights with Friends or Family: 26
  • Friends and Family Visited: 43*
  • Relationship Conflicts Resolved: 1
*NOTE: this number is really strictly defined. I met many times this number of people, but I only counted people with whom I stayed or ate.

Photo Highlights

Following are a half dozen photos that best summarize the trip. My Photo Journal has 167 pictures, so these were hard to isolate. I took several times more digital photos (on my Canon Sure Shot and my iPhone) than I posted online. It was an eventful and memorable journey, thanks for following with me!

Most Proud Moment: Scott didn't tell me he picked me to pin on his flight wings. I was so proud!

Most Surprising: Taken by my Dad. Is my hair really the same color as my car?!

Most Inspirational: We went to Karaoke after a soccer tournament. Jack got up to sing and then lost his nerve. His sister and a friend joined him so he could "get back on that horse!"

Most Fun: The USA Pro Cycling Challenge was a blast. People watching (not just these lovely ladies) was nearly as much fun as watching the cyclists!

Most Photographed Subject: Easily the winner, my traveling companion Fergus... Scott was the second most photographed followed by any of Sandy's children.

Favorite Photo of Me: Taken in Garden of the Gods Colorado by my new friend Jon Stricker. This was near the start of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge Prologue. I road this park twice on my trip, it was a blast both times!

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Travel Log #7: Coming Home

When I started this trip, I had no idea where it would take me and how long I would be gone. By the time I got to around week 4 or 5, I knew that I wanted to be home by the Labor Day weekend.

Unsure of when I’d wear out my stay at Sandy and Mike’s house, I seized on the USA Pro Cycling Challenge as the anchor for my departure. Since the week-long biking event started on Monday (22-SEP) with the Prologue ending in Downtown Colorado Springs, it was obvious I needed to stay until at least Tuesday. Mike had originally planned to travel with my two new friends — Jon and Will — to view Stage #3 in Vail, but had to change his plans due to business travel. So, Fergus and I filled in. That set departure at Wednesday, so we could view the Thursday stage. Upon further learning Stage #4 would travel along the road in front of our Edwards CO hotel the next day (26-AUG), I extended my stay there for one more night so I could see the peleton on its way to Steamboat Springs. It was well worth the wait. But, Jon and Will had to get back to work, so Fergus and I stayed the second night on our own.

Glenwood Creek, Colorado near the Hanging Lake exit on I-80.

To let the traffic die a little and the route to clear up, Fergus and I found an outside brew pub in town for lunch on Thursday. We headed west on I-80 with a stop in Glenwood Springs Canyon and found a pleasant hiking trail that followed a cold water creek. Back on the road, we headed north a short while later and stopped for the night in Craig CO. With our schedule no longer driven by having to be anywhere for weeks, we finally left the freeways for 2-lane road, State Highway 13. There was nothing magical about staying in Craig except it was getting dark, there were lots of hotels to choose from and Fergus and I were both road weary. The hotel I found was probably the least comfortable of all that we stayed on the entire trip. It was hard to put my finger on what was wrong other than it just didn’t feel clean. Fortunately, it was also the cheapest hotel on the trip.

Rising early (earlier than usual given the room,) we were on the road for only our first 4-state drive. Unlike the 3-state, 600+ mile day from Houston to Wichita a few weeks earlier though, the trip from Colorado through Utah and Wyoming and ending in Montpelier ID was half the distance and allowed for numerous side trips including the one pictured to Flaming Gorge WY. The Gorge was spectacular and full of amazing vistas. Given the dry climate, however, car touring or boating are probably the two best options for this location. (See my photo journal for some pretty spectacular panorama shots — the dam, the reservoir and the unusual geographic formations.)

Stand off with Fergus at a pull-off in Idaho looking at the tallest hill on the Oregon Trail, aptly named Big Hill.

Maybe it was the curvy roads, the continuing heat or just the amount of time in the car, this was also the first big protests from Fergus. Poor guy. He refused to get in the car several times. At one stop at a small historic site highway pull-out, he refused to leave the small shelter. I had to drive the car to the door and force him inside. That night in Montpelier ID was uneventful. I did try to go the hotel’s “tavern” to get a cold beer, but was “smoked out.” I realized I wasn’t in an urban-friendly, smoke-free community!

Palisades Dam, Idaho

The following day I was determined to find cooler territory and continue my drive north. We made a stop on Palisades Dam and enjoyed a cool breeze — Fergus more than me. In this shot, it almost looks like he is trying to hug the sign marking the name of the dam. That day was one of our shortest driving days, we stopped in Driggs ID. The proprietor of the small inn we found on the highway gave us such a good rate, I decided to stay for two nights.

Driggs was also one of the more friendly towns on our trip. Because we had made so many stops on the short drive we arrived relatively late given it was Sunday. Asking for suggestions, we were directed to the Lonely Wolf. Their outside seating was “dog friendly” and Fergus found both a generous wait staff (they liked to feed him), but other dogs and friendly patrons. We enjoyed it so much, we came back the second night too.

Teton Mountains, notice the ribbon of road and the switchback!

Driggs is set just west of the Idaho-Wyoming border. My marathon training called for a 15-mile run during our first morning there. I enjoyed the scenery so much, I ran 16 then brought Fergus back in the afternoon to Teton Canyon for a hike. Unfortunately, while the canyon hosted a creek, we shared a gravel road with 4-wheel drive traffic and found little shade. It was a long, hot 5 miler. I fared much better the next morning. Before leaving town I wanted to bicycle up the hill to Grand Targhee Ski resort. I had been frustrated about not being able to capture a good picture of the Tetons and thought this hill climb would provide a good view and a good ride. I was not disappointed in either respect.

We hoped back on the Interstate to get to Boise. A former work colleague, Beau Brazier and his wife Autumn, had agreed to host Fergus for an overnight on our way home. They actually talked us into staying for two nights. Beau had arranged ahead for our former boss, Linda Arpin, to join us for dinner on my first night in town. In my 13 years at HP, I had two excellent supervisors, Linda was one of them. The three of us closed down the Greek bar in downtown Boise, Cazba. We had a lot to catch up on!

Madie (left) and Bella (right)

Boise was busy. I discovered the great trail system north of town and had two wonderful runs. On one day, Fergus and I walked to the Hyde Park Pub and enjoyed yet another dog-friendly dining experience for lunch. I cooked dinner one night for Beau and Autumn and their two tenants (they rent out the upstairs of their large, historical registry home) joined us for beers afterward. But the big deal was the dogs. Fergus has already met their Great Dane, Bella, about 4 years ago on an earlier trip to Colorado Springs. Since then they had adopted Madie, a smooth-coat St. Bernard. There were a few skirmishes, but all canines decided they were okay with the arrangement and peace reigned until our departure.

Fernview Camp Ground near US20 and the South Santiam River.

I toyed with the idea of driving straight home from Boise, it is only a 9-hour drive by Interstate. But opted instead to take a slower, more scenic route on US20 across Oregon. Again, it was a good decision. From the high desert to the thick fir tree forests, I love Oregon. Spontaneously, only about 2 hours from home, I pulled off of US20 for a quick rest stop along the South Santiam River at a camp ground called Fernview. Fergus and I found our way down to the river — it was a bit treacherous — so he could get a drink. While there, he convinced me to stay for the night. “Afterall,” he reasoned, “we had brought camping gear with us and had yet to put it to use.”

So, I pitched my tent in this small camp ground of only 11 sites. Were completely alone. Although a camper came in long after I had gone to bed, it remained quite peaceful and serene. It was a fitting last night on the road. I slept well knowing I had Fergus as my guard dog for the night. He enjoyed the freedom of the outdoors. On a hike the next morning, we saw a wolf (I think,) but neither he nor Fergus cared to interact. I topped off the idyllic experience the next morning with a stop of The Point Restaurant on Foster Lake, a mere 20-minutes away and an hour from home. I have seen this restaurant many times, but just never had the excuse to dine there. Fergus enjoyed his bacon strips when I got back to the car.

Finally, Friday morning — 6 weeks to the day after leaving Corvallis, I arrived home. I proceeded to unpack and clean the car and gear. In the midst of my activities, I received an unexpected call from yet another friend, Matthew Criscione. He wanted to know if I’d like to go for a mountain bike ride. Let’s see, clean and wax the car or ride my bike in the forest… easy choice! It was short, but it seemed like a fitting bookend to the trip. I left Corvallis after spending the morning with friends watching the Tour de France and finished with a friend riding my bike in MacDonald Forest. Perfect!

Oh, and one last thing… when I returned to Corvallis, I was met with a newly resurfaced street outside my home (Walnut Street.) Apparently, while I had been out of town, this part of the city had been torn up, diverted, detoured and under construction for several weeks. And, I missed it all. Double Perfect!

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Travel Log #6: Cycling

My brother-in-law suggested I bring my bicycle when I told him I hoped to spend a couple of weeks with his family in Colorado Springs on mine and Fergus’ car trip. Since I drive a Honda Fit, it seemed like a tall order to squeeze anything “extra” into the car. I debated with myself whether it would really be worth it for the one or two rides I would likely get in. Especially since the bike is expensive and I might be hesitant to leave it in the car in some of the towns I visited. Hauling inside and repacking it each day seemed like a great burden. I could use a rack, but my experience shows a bike on top of a car dramatically decreases gas mileage. A bike on the back is better, but more susceptible to road grime… and this was my beautiful Chris Chance road frame after all! Besides, I am signed up to run in the Portland Marathon on October 9 and I will need to be running much more than biking.

2010 Honda Fit

1998 Chris Chance.

Inside the loaded car.

So, there were lots of reasons NOT to bring a bike, but I brought it anyway. I’m really glad I did and this article will talk about why.

Mike English is my brother-in-law and is married to my little sister, Sandy. Mike is an awesome endurance athlete. While I was in the Springs he took a weekend to compete in a half-Ironman in Iowa and almost broke 5-hours! He’s a great runner and cyclist… he’s getting good in the water too — but that is another story. Mike introduced me first to an employee (and long time friend) he recently hired, Ryan Japp. Later, he introduced me to Jon Stricker and Will Block. Both of these men are also soccer coaches and having met them through cycling gave us something to talk about while watching kids soccer.

By chance, the end of the second week I planned to be in the Springs was also the week of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge — and event that drew this year’s top 5 Tour de France finishers and many world renowned professional cyclists. The commentators during the race suggested this event, which follows much of the defunct Coors Classic, could be considered the American version of the Tour de France. Whatever the hype, the crowds were crazy, the cyclists were amazing and the events I saw were lifetime memories.

An Intense 4 Days of Riding

Mike (left) and Ryan (right) riding up Gold Camp Road in CO.

A ride with Mike and Ryan from their offices in downtown Colorado Springs into the Garden of the Gods and the expected Prologue Time Trial course with a side trip up Gold Camp Road started off the fun. I had only been at altitude for less than a week and had a hard time finding oxygen to breath! 25 miles followed by a couple of beers afterward.

The next day, Mike and I rode to Jon’s house and we toured the rolling hills east of the Springs. This was Mike’s “easy” day prior to leaving for the half-Ironman, so he “took it easy” on us. After dropping Jon at his house with about 35 miles, Mike and I put on additional 20 including a 52MPH blazing descent north of town.

Two stags watch as we ride by.

Mike was unavailable the next day, so I rode with Jon. We returned to the Garden of the Gods, scouted out a location for the following day’s events at the Prologue and returned via a maze of city streets. 26 miles. During the ride out, Jon and I saw 3 8-point buck deer. They crossed the road ahead of us on a hill and then watched us from the vantage of a hilltop. Jon caught this photo with his phone’s camera.

Jon interviewed for TV.

The USAPCC started on my fourth day of cycling in the Springs. I met up with Jon and Will and rode to downtown Colorado Springs. We checked out the cycling expo, had lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant and found a spot to watch the first few finishers of the beginning Time Trial race. In between, Jon and I were interviewed by a TV journalist, but I don’t believe any of our comments were aired. Sigh. Mike met us downtown — having returned to town from his race. Together, the four of us rode to the base of the hill in the Garden of the Gods. It was very exciting to watch the style of the racers as they all seemed to have slightly different approaches to making the sharp turn at speed. Patrick Gretsch of Germany won this race with a speed of just over 35 MPH, the top 20 riders were within 17 seconds of each other. My mileage for the day, 46 miles. If you watch closely in this video, after he makes the corner, you can see the cyclist and his chase vehicle through the gate in the wall.

Taking it on the Road

I postponed my departure from the Springs to collaborate with Jon and Will. They had already planned to see the 3rd stage, another time trial, that finished at the top of Vail Pass. We arranged a hotel for the 3 of us and Fergus in Edwards CO.

Jon (left) and Will (right) riding the trail to Vail.

Edwards gave us a great 20 mile ride to Vail and an opportunity to mingle with the teams prior to the start of the race. We decided to get a sandwich for the wait on the Pass, but that prohibited us from using the TT route to get to our observation point. Jon and Will have ridden this part of the state a lot — most recently via the Golden Triangle Tour. We picked our way along side roads and eventually walked (we had brought sandles) the last two miles up the Pass.

Christian Vandevelde finished 2nd for the day. This was the bike he rode.

This still gave us ample opportunity to eat before the racers started showing up on the hill. The initial racers start at 1 minute intervals, the last few — because they are usually considered the fastest — start at 2 minute intervals. A TT is a great bike race to watch, because you get to see each racer individually. Watching the expressions on the cyclists face give a hint at the concentration required to endure this type of pain. Unlike the Prologue TT which was essentially downhill the entire way, this one was a 10-mile uphill climb. The section we staked out was about an 8% grade.

Spectators vying for their moment of glory.

The racers were fun to watch and the eclectic members of the viewing crowd were fun too. Many of these folks had dressed in bizarre garb and ran along the cyclists in hopes of getting on TV or in the newspaper. Seeing these people up close — think Speedo swimsuits with fishnet stockings, capes and wigs or super hero costumes and mostly men — gave me an entirely new appreciation for the concentration required of the cyclists!

Footnote: Levi Leipheimer, an American and the eventual overall champion, snagged first place during the TT with a speed of a little over 23 MPH… remember, this was all uphill! This stage proved telling of the overall finish. Although there were three more stages after this TT, the racers in the general classification (GC) contest, finished at the end of the day in the same order they would eventually finish at the end of the race in Golden CO on Sunday.

Lucas Euser of the US during TT

A Bonus Viewing

Although Jon and Will had to return home after Stage 3, I got a late checkout from the hotel and merely had to step out its front steps to see the peleton go by during the first few miles of Stage 4.

Coming back from Vail the day earlier, Jon, Will and I averaged about 24 MPH over this first 5-mile portion of the race course. We worked together as a pace line to achieve this speed and felt pretty good about ourselves. As you can see from the video, however, the peleton of professionals would have left us in their dust!

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Travel Log #5: Colorado Springs (Part 2)

In this second Colorado Springs blog entry, I’ll focus on the activities I participated in during week #2  of my visit. Rather than writing in a chronology as I have been doing, I’ve organized this entry by topic — generally, by person. I decided, since I spent so much time with cycling during my stay, I’ll cover that topic in its own blog article.

Liv at Soccer Practice


Livvy Lou (as her mom calls her) is a busy girl — tennis, soccer, piano, singing. I didn’t actually see any tennis practices because I just couldn’t be in that many places at one time. Her mom (my sister) manages a tight schedule and utilizes a variety of resources to get these kids where they need to be when they need to be there… along with equipment, preparation, food and liquids! We spent the weekend (AUG 20-21) at the US Air Force Academy athletic fields watching soccer. I did get to hear some piano and singing practice at home, but mostly, I enjoyed listening to Liv, her friend Boden and Jack singing Karaoke outdoors after the soccer tournament while enjoying frozen yogurt.

Liv likes her private time. She reads a lot, visits with friends (mostly from school and soccer) and entertains all with her quick wit and rye sense of humor. A very smart girl, she has the smooth voice of a broadcast journalist. She certainly is much more sophisticated than her 11 years might suggest!

Jack at Guitar Practice


Jackaroo, (aka “the Dude”,) is one of the sweetest boys I know… kind of reminds me of me! Jack keeps busy with guitar, Taekwondo, soccer. I didn’t get to see Jack play in a soccer match or practice because we are still waiting to hear which team he’ll play on. While he has been active in other sports, Jack took last year off of soccer, so he is considered a “new” player. He’s got the right attitude and he’ll do fine!

I accompanied Jack and his mom to one guitar practice. We dropped him off and returned after some errands, about half way through the lesson. He was attempting to play a song on a full-sized guitar with an electric amplifier — just to hear what it sounded like. When we arrived, he was playing as you would expect a 10 year old to play — a little rough and hesitant. Then, he put down the big guitar and picked up his youth guitar and the music flew from his fingertips… watch out Eric Clapton!

Although I was able to watch some Taekwondo in the Korean Day demonstration, I had no time to actually attend his dojo to observe practice. He did amuse us with the story of how he improvised his own martial arts move by simply holding up his hands in a “shrug” position while another boy attempted to pinch him during one of the soccer games.

Will watches his brother and sister singing Karaoke, one of his few moments of stillness.


The youngest of the bunch, Will (aka, Big Guy) is ornery and energetic. Between his organized activities — baseball, soccer, Taekwondo, piano — and impromptu activities — lacrosse before school in the back yard, fetch with the dog in the front yard, soccer in the driveway — this 7 year old is on-the-go!

I’ve already reported on his end-of-the-season baseball festivities. I also saw him at soccer and Taekwondo practice. Like The Dude, he is a blue belt. His true love seems to be soccer though. In most any spare moment he was either kicking a ball or talking about kicking one. In one of our after school moments, he gave me a very thorough and impressive lesson in how to kick, pass, elude, dribble and defend in soccer. Then, we practiced by kicking the soccer ball across the street to each other — it had to hit the other person and by defending the garage door opening against an attack.

From where does all this energy come?

During my stay in the Springs, Sandy ran most every morning — usually with girlfriends — after the school routine was done in the morning and before the afternoon routine got into full swing. She knocked off a 13-miler one morning as if it were, no-big-deal. In addition to playing the roles of chauffeur, chef, housekeeper, tutor, nurse and mom… she also backed up a friend when she got busy, put together a photography program for Will’s school and catered the snacks for the soccer tournament.

Meanwhile, Mike was training and then competing in a Half-Ironman triathlon in Iowa — with an impressive 5:07 finish –went on a few bike rides with me, attended school events and dealt with domestic crises. That happened in my last couple of days in the Springs.

This is clearly a busy and active household!

I managed two trips by bike to Garden of the Gods park.


I occupied myself mostly with following Sandy, Mike and their kids. I also had the normal day-to-day stuff of walking Fergus and training for a marathon. I prepared a couple of meals, updated their home computer network, filled in for chauffeuring as I could and met with the repairman (twice) while the dishwasher was getting repaired.

This was my second extended visit with Sandy and family. The first one was in 2008, prior to leaving HP when I stayed and worked remotely for about six weeks. This visit was shorter and under different circumstances, but just as pleasant. Sandy and Mike are gracious hosts and make Fergus and me feel right at home. I received a compliment from all the kids on the meal I prepared on my last night — they all ate and one came back for seconds. At least two took leftovers to school. I will miss these guys! Hopefully, I’ll get one or two of them to come visit me someday in Oregon when they are old enough to travel on their own.

In my next travel log, I’ll go into some more details about biking in Colorado and following the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. I was interviewed by a reporter during the prologue of the week-long race, but have no idea if it ended up on TV. I head back toward home today, with a stop in Vail to watch the second cycling time trial. I’ll be staying with two friends I met through Mike here in the Springs and splitting lodging costs.

For more information about my trip, see my photo journal at Picasa.

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Travel Log #4: Colorado Springs (part 1)

Since I am spending so much of my trip in Colorado Springs, or just “the Springs,” I’m devoting two log entries to just this part of the trip. Fergus and I arrived on Sunday, 7-AUG, in the evening. The English gang was all in anticipation — Elizabeth (or Liz), Olivia (or Liv), Jack (the Dude) and Will (or often affectionately referred to as William Miller) and of course Sandy (my baby sister) and Mike (Sandy’s husband) and their Australian Shepard, Stella. We arrived just before dinner with one week remaining in the summer holiday (for the kids and their parents.)

Jack and Will English working on a Lego house.

As is customary, life in the English household is busy. To help during the first night, I fed the boys while Mike and the girls had errands and tasks to handle. Jack and Will certainly never lack for anything to keep them occupied. If not playing with the available creative toys or at an activity, we might just be throwing baseballs or lacrosse balls in the back yard. (We have been doing the latter prior to school departure this week. I never knew how to throw with a lacrosse stick before!) The Lego creation on the left is the floor plan to a house. The one on the right is also a floor plan, I think it evolved into a whole town! I saw numerous house floor plans by numerous children — English’s and otherwise — throughout my stay in the Springs.

Jack, Julia (Liv's friend) and Liv working on a Lego town.

Notice, in the first Lego photo, the Taekwondo uniforms? Jack and Will are both Blue Belts. They had come from practice. Later in the week they planned to do a martial arts demonstration for the local Korean Day Festival. Liv’s friend Julia is a regular fixture in the English’s. This is kind of the neighborhood block home, many children float in and out all day and all week long. It is a busy, busy place! Although it is not technically in sequence, I’ve also inserted a photo from the Taekwondo demonstration.

Jack (on left) and Will (on right) are the two blonds in the back of this photo. There were 35-40 students of all ages and 200+ observers.

There have been several bike excursions on the visit. I brought my favorite road bike, my Chris Chance, specifically for this purpose. The first ride happened on Thursday (8-AUG).

Mike and Ryan and I enjoyed craft brews at nearby Panino's Italian Kitchen after a classic bike tour of the nearby terrain.

I met Mike at his office in downtown Colorado Springs. His assistant — a highly competitive Ironman athlete (she had just completed a top finish at Hawaii!) — was on her way out as I arrived. Another employee, Ryan Japp, was working hard at a laptop with a mobile phone glued to his ear… these are the employees of the J&J regional office, they changed and we hit the road from there. As it turns out, this first ride followed parts of the route of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, which will kick off its inaugural race in one week. We rode through the Garden of the Gods and up a long, sustained hill climb called Gold Camp Road. The view of the Springs was spectacular. Ryan and Mike are also very strong cyclists. With my 500 foot acclimated lungs, I struggled to keep up with the duo. I did the best I could to keep up during the post ride debrief as well.

Mile (left) and Ryan (right) on the ascent up Gold Camp Road west of the Springs.

A second ride took place on Sunday, 14-AUG, with Mike and a friend of his named John. John is an mutual fund manager with T. Rowe Price and an avid cyclist. The two of them showed me some of the foothills east of the Springs. We put in an “easy” 56 mile ride — I say “easy” because that is what it was billed as… Mike will be competing in a Half-Ironman competition in Iowa next weekend. This was a spin as part of his taper. While my lungs are starting to adjust somewhat, I still struggled to keep up with Mike and John on the climbs. They waited for me often. A very different type of riding than Thursday, Sunday’s ride had fewer long climbs, they were less steep, but there was much more up and down. Gearing was a big challenge… but there was also the sheer impossibility of keeping up with Mike’s climbing power. Mike has a great power to weight ratio!

Liz, Fergus and me on the summit of Pike's Peak at 14,110 feet.Friday, 12-AUG, was a busy day. A Facebook friend had suggested I needed to go up Pike’s Peak if I am in the Springs. I have spent many weeks here and have never made the trip. Despite another hectic schedule for most of the English’s, I was lucky to have my niece, Liz, join Fergus and me for a drive up to the summit.

Friday was also the conclusion of the regular summer baseball season for Will. His team handily beat their opponents and that put them into the first round of games for the league tournament. Will played well, making two outs in one inning as second baseman. In this league, players rotate through all positions.

Will playing catcher. Note the ball in the air at the far right of the frame!

The opponents in the tournament were stronger (and much bigger!) The two teams battled it out and produced the highest scoring game of the year for the league. In the end, the other team prevailed and Will’s team, the Mets, were eliminated from the tournament. The Mets had their post season celebration immediately following the game in a nearby park. These boys obviously enjoyed playing together as they spent as much time on the play equipment as eating the sugary snacks prepared by parents.

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