International Trips

When it comes to international travel, I take exception to people that say “I want to see America first”. Unfortunately, this attitude can also be stated as I don’t want to travel internationally. America is big enough that I won’t see it all no matter how hard I try. Therefore using “see America first” is the same as saying I don’t want to travel internationally.

That being said, I have compiled a list of my international travels. Each trip is presented with a brief description and/or some of my feelings about the destination.

Canada

I visited Canada a few times starting when I was a child. My family went to Niagara Falls and Algonquin Park and Thousand Islands a couple of times. I also skied in Vancouver in 1988. Canada (at least the English speaking part) is barely international travel.

1971 England

My first overseas international trip was to England with the choir from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. We visited Worcester, Oxford, and London. I (and the choir) performed in St. Paul’s Cathedral. I enjoyed England – especially when it was basically free.

1972 – 1974 Asia

The navy took me to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Guam (not really international), Japan and the Philippines. “nuff said.

1971 – 1975 Mexico

I visited Mexico several times. Visiting both Tijuana (a border town) and Tecate (not really a border town). Tijuana is not really a good destination. Tecate, while being on the border, has no real American counterpart. It is much more like visiting a true Mexican city. Took a camping trip to the San Felipe on the Gulf of California.

In 1979 Europe

Tony Pietsch and I went to Europe for a bicycle trip. We were headed for Germany but… I cut it short. If you want to visit Europe, do it like the Europeans – Drive or take a train. I started in Shannon Ireland and ended in London.

1995 Rotterdam, The Netherlands

With Kathy, my soon to be wife, we visited Rotterdam for a conference. We took a day trip to Amsterdam and decided to return on vacation when there would be more time to explore.

Amsterdam and Belgium

I returned to The Netherlands (Amsterdam) to celebrate the New Year (1997). We stayed at a B&B run by a gay couple. I visited Belgium at the same time. Amsterdam has some great Museums (Rijk and van Gogh among them). You can also smoke marijuana legally.

I liked Amsterdam. Belgium, not so much.

1997 Nepal

Dilip Ballal (my boss at the University of Dayton) and I traveled to Nepal for a Himalayan Trek. The plane ride(s) to Nepal took up a full 24 hours – and that only got us to Kathmandu. There we got our passes to the high country and took a plane to Lukla – one of the worlds most dangerous airports – to begin our trek.

The high country in Nepal was really overrun with tourists. It was a neat trek and there are plenty of good sights and 20K+ foot mountains. Kathmandu is a neat city. Nepal in general was a very affordable vacation destination. Not to my particular liking but… Lots of folks return year after year to trek. There are plenty of places other than Kala Pathar and Mt. Everest to hike.

1998-9 New Years in Spain

Madrid is like Chicago – everyone speaks Spanish and there is too much traffic and no place to park. Barcelona was vastly overrated (my opinion). Our best day was visiting a fishing village south of Barcelona.

2000 Paris and China

We visited Paris for our anniversary. Kathy and I loved Paris. We spent a day at Versailles with Jack and Jacky Merveille – friends from my undergraduate days and Paris Natives. Probably my favorite museum was the Rodin Museum. My favorite walking tour was Pere Lachaisse Cemetery (resting place of Jim Morrison). I liked Paris a lot – even more than Amsterdam.

In the fall we went to China. China was just emerging economically. There were pockets of unbelievable poverty literally next door to wealthy neighborhoods. We spent most of the time in Shanghai and Nanjing. It is an interesting place – but not for everyone.

2001 South America

We took 45 days to travel from Rio de Janeiro to Lima. Along the way we took trains, planes, buses, boats, taxis, etc. I realized that Brazil (Portuguese) is much nicer than Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru (all Spanish). We had some nice adventures, but, having been ripped off and attacked in Hispanic countries on a fourth different continent, I decided that I had visited enough Hispanic countries.

I did take a great bike ride on the Bolivian “Death Road” (see https://shawnpheneghan.wordpress.com/2021/01/06/great-adventures/ ), had a nice visit to the Brazilian Pantanal, Bonito (home of fresh water springs) and floating cities in Lake Tititaca Peru. We also spent 3 days hiking on the trail of the ancients (not my fav) before visiting Machu Pichu – another ripoff. I was tired and ready to go by the end.

2003 Vienna

Kathy and I took her Parents to Vienna for Thanksgiving. It was a nice weekend as Vienna is a pretty neat city. While it was a short trip, the Christmas Kindle was clearly the highlight.

2004, our 10th Anniversary, was 10 Days in London

We started the trip with a few days in New York. Starting in Newark, I was asked to produce the credit card that I used to purchase plane tickets. That card had been replaced and thus could not be produced. Not to worry, the agent gave me the number (all 16 digits) and asked me to see a different person for verification. Needless to say, the airline (BOAC) had violated a raft of rules concerning privacy of my account. The new agent realized the error and we flew to London in business class and home first class.

We took in a couple of shows (Chicago and Les Mis), spent time visiting a couple of abbeys, took a day in Greenwich and another at the British Museum. In general we had a really great visit. I really like London: lots to do, great walking city and they almost speak English.

2005 Thailand

In the fall we visited Thailand. Iis a beautiful country with beautiful people and food. There is also some great historical monuments to World War II (Bridge Over the River Kwai). It is unfortunately very hot and muggy. We spent most of our time in the northern part of the country.

We also visited Myanmar for a day. It, along with several hill villages in Thailand are extremely poor. I was amazed at the dichotomy. Not just poor people living next to rich folks, but even within a household – people that struggled to get by had marble steps and teak furniture that I cannot afford.

All in all, Thailand is worth a visit – but the heat would keep me from visiting again.

2007 China (Again)

We visited China for our anniversary. We spent three weeks visiting Beijing, Zian, Chengdu, Hong Kong, and Tibet. I enjoy Hong Kong and we spent a day walking Cheung Chau island. However, the highlight of the trip had to be the Terracotta Soldiers in Xian. There was an amazing difference (for the good) between China in 2000 and China in 2007. While the country is not for everyone, I enjoy it.

2008 Greece and Turkey

We took a cruise of the Mediterranean Sea. We started and ended in Athens. A very crowded and vastly overrated city – though the ruins were inexplicably amazing. The islands were also amazingly pleasant – though seeing them by cruise ship did not allow any real time to explore any island.

The highlight of the trip was a visit to Kusadasi, Turkey. We arrived the day after St. Pats and the city was very quiet. There were an unbelievable number of Irish Bars Downtown – maybe that explains why it was quiet. Turkey was an amazingly clean country. Second best was the day we hiked on Patmos.

I would recommend Turkey, and even the Greek Isles, but not by tour boat.

2009/10 Moroccan Vacation

For New years (2010) Kathy and I went to Morocco. It was our first trip from Hawthorne, NV.

It was a pretty great vacation. Morocco is much like California (geographically). It has a Mediterranean climate, with mountains (the Atlas) inland, and desert (the Sahara) beyond that. The population is diverse – from big city folk to desert nomads.

We spent New Years eve in the Sahara Desert, camping under a full moon. Kathy and I got married in a Muslim wedding.

All in all, a good trip to a clean, neat, and friendly country that has my recommendation.

2012 Australia

We intended to visit Australia for a few weeks. Instead, we booked a “tour” that included 4 nights each in Sydney, Cairns and Melbourne. I put “tour” in quotes because there was no real tour – just flights (international and in country) and hotels. Transfers to and from the airport and any day trips were not included.

There were no real highlights of the trip but conversely there was nothing bad about the trip. We took several day trips covering wine tastings, food production, Great Barrier Reef, inland forest, Melbourne Zoo, Sydney Harbor, and Museums.

Australia was nice – but much too much like America. I’m basically ambivalent.

2015 Tanzania. Kathy and I went on a safari. The national parks in Tanzania are amazing. The wildlife is more abundant than I could imagine. The Masai villages were like visiting another world. As for the Tanzanian way of life, I wouldn’t know. Our tour didn’t stop at any local markets or visit any local cities or towns. We were on safari and that is all.

2017 New Zealand

Kathy and I were invited to New Zealand by Colleen Keller (now Sterling). We spent the entire time (nearly two weeks) on the south island. A majority of the time was spent in Wanaka – a vacation spot on the edge of Mt. Aspiring National Park. We also visited Oamaru on the eastern coast and Christchurch (upon arrival and departure).

While there were essentially no freeways, there was also no traffic. Food was exceptional as major industrial meat farming has yet to take hold in the country. Travel was easy (save for driving on the “wrong” side of the street). The people were pleasant, the countryside beautiful, and wine country accessible. Glacier fed rivers were beautiful and the trout fishing was great.

New Zealand was a most pleasant country. It has my highest recommendation.

It was also my last international destination.

Fires and Evacuations

Introduction

I have spent the past 26 summers in the mountains of the American West – 20 in Utah and 6 in California. While the west has had many fires during this time, only three had a significant effect on me.

The Shingle Fire

On the evening of 1 July 2012 the shingle fire broke out in Swains Creek, Kane County, Utah. Kathy and I were sitting under our spruce tree (a place we referred to as the savannah) enjoying some wine and watching the smoke rise. That evening we experienced our first evacuation. When a very large man with a gun tells you it is time to go – you go.

I grabbed the cat (Blacquer) and the wife and I was on my way.

I stopped by Andy Osterhaut’s on the way out to offer any assistance he might need. Given that he had a wife, few kids, the Big Dog (Bernie), a cat, hamster, and his cabin was essentially his home, I thought he might need some help. I took the big dog with me as Andy didn’t have room. I spent the first night in a forest service volunteer camp. Blacquer had had enough of the car – he left. Given a long drive across the desert ahead of me, I left for Hawthorne the next day – after giving up on the cat. I did leave food with the other residents so that if he returned he could be fed.

It seems Blacquer was smart enough to return to our site that evening. Friends fed him every night until Friday when they captured him and threw him into their truck. and dropped him at our home.

We returned to Swains that Friday – as did Blacquer. Bernie went home and all was well.

We didn’t experience another fire until 2021. However, we made up for lost time with two evacuations.

The Tamarack fire in Alpine County, CA

The Tamarack fire started on the fourth of July and was “monitored” for nearly 2 weeks. However on Friday 16 July the fire sprang to life. An evacuation order for Markleeville and the surrounding areas was made on the afternoon of 16 July.

We didn’t get any notification of the evacuation order until a neighbor stopped by and told us at nearly 7PM. We got no official notification. No sheriff’s visit. No phone call. No email. In my attempt to find out what was happening, I drove to the park Grover Hot Springs State Park was just across the street). The park was empty. Camps were set up but the evacuation was essentially complete. I was pulled over by the park ranger and told, officially, that an evacuation had been ordered.

I returned to the cabin, grabbed the cats and left for Hawthorne. Driving at night is one of my least favorite things but we arrived in Hawthorne at about 10:30 PM.

We returned to the cabin on Thursday 29 July to retrieve camp gear Pete Hodes had left, drugs that we had left, clean out the refrigerator (a rotting mess) and secure the whole place. The state park and national forest were closed and businesses were not yet opened in Markleeville. They really would prefer that we were not there – and we left the same day.

Block Fire in Hawthorne

On 26 July, while we were in Hawthorne and under evacuation orders from Markleeville, a house (trailer actually) on “O” street (I live one street over on “N” street) caught fire. It blew its propane tank – which I heard. I called 911 to report the fire but apparently they already knew of it. However, I was told to get out of the house – now.

Being evacuated is not something to get used to doing but this was the second time in less than two weeks.

The fire eventually took out 5 homes – 2 on O street and three on N street. It burned within about 50 feet of my home. Power was out but was restored at 4 AM the next morning. And just as we were recovering from this fire, Markleeville began to open up.

Caldor Fire

Finally (well hopefully finally) the Caldor fire ripped through the American River threatening Tahoe and Kirkwood.

We returned to Markleeville on Sunday 15 August to evaluate and secure our home. It was clear that we were not wanted in the area. There was a lot of work being done: Utility poles being replaced and dead tree being removed. The park (Grover Hot Springs) was closed. The forest around the area – closed. Several roads in the area were closed. and, Markleeville was only partially open.

We closed for the winter and departed for Hawthorne on Tuesday,17 August. We went through Gardnerville to do some shopping and the smoke from the Caldor fire (of which we were not yet aware) skied over Job’s peak. Leaving for the summer was a good alternative.

As of the first of September the Caldor Fire had crossed the sierra ridge and burned into the Tahoe valley. It was but a few miles for Kirkwood and Lake Tahoe. Evacuation orders had been issued throughout the Southern part of the lake and even across the Carson Range on the Kingsbury Grade.

Smoke from that fire has soaked not only Tahoe and Reno, but Hawthorne was inundated for a few weeks. While that fire did not cause us to be evacuated (again) it has shown that our decision to depart Markleeville for the summer in mid August was prescient.

Summary

I have been through three evacuations, though only learned of them from an official visit to my door (or phone call/email) once. I have not been burned out in any of the three fires – but evacuating is not a pleasant task. Many have said how lucky I was – but I think the people that were not threatened with a fire are truly lucky. Yeah, it could have been seriously bad, but wasn’t. It at least was not as severe as a tornado blowing your house apart – and yes that has happened also.

The summer of 2021 has been tough. Three fires, two evacuations and choking smoke have precluded having much fun in the forests near either of my two homes. The Caldor and the Tanaka continue to burn (though only the Caldor fire is a great risk as of September).

I can only hope that things will get better for 2022 – it is difficult to imagine how they could be worse but… As mother said “Smile things could be worse” – she was right. I smiled and things got worse.

I Had a Stroke

Introduction

On the morning of 13 August, 2019, my life took a turn for the worse. I experienced a CVA (Cerebro Vasucular Accident). Or in the generally accepted vernacular – I had a stroke. The following is an overview of the happenings of the stroke and recovery. I am still not “perfect”, and may not be getting much better.

I awoke early on the morning of 13 August 2019 and took a walk around Grover Hot Springs State Park (GHSSP). This was a pretty normal early morning walk of about 3 miles. I head down the hill and across the creek (Hot Springs) and enter the forest at the Charity Valley Trailhead. I head up the trail, enter the park and hike around the hot springs meadows exiting the park and returning up the hill to Shay Creek Summer Residences. The stroke hit just as I entered my driveway.

I felt it hit. On the next step, my right side collapsed and I fell. Calling for help was a wasted effort and so I struggled to my feet and up the hill to our home using muscles on my left side and a straight leg on the right. I made it into the cabin and informed the wife that she needed to get dressed. I needed to go to the hospital as I had had a stroke.

Trip to the Hospital

While exiting the Shay Creek area I suggested that it might be better to stop at the park and ask for assistance. In hindsight, this was probably one of the better decisions I have ever made.

Adam was in the entry booth. He started with some general banter, but immediately responded when informed that I needed assistance. Emergency services were called and the park ranger (Josh Heitzmann) was notified. I awaited transport in the picnic area. GHSSP is in Alpine County, California. It has no hospital so we awaited the ambulance to arrive from Gardnervile, NV, about a half hour away.

The ambulance arrived and the trip to the hospital began. The paramedic got an intravenous (IV) line inserted after several failures – the winding hot springs creek road didn’t assist. Josh and Kathy followed. The ambulance only took me as far as Turtle Rock County Park. There I was transferred to a helicopter and flown to Renown Hospital in Reno.

I was met by an entourage of doctors, nurses and technicians. They wrote my arrival time (1008), in permanent marker, on my leg. Timing is most important and there would be no mistake about my arrival time. Tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) is the gold standard for ischemic strokes but must be given within a few hours. And, of course, the symptoms must be verified as an ischemic (rather than a hemorrhagic) stroke prior to tPA administration.

At the Hospital

As I underwent testing to determine that A. it was a stroke and B. that it was ischemic, Josh and Kathy showed up at the hospital (Josh driving). What would Kathy have done without Josh? Being a volunteer at the park has its upsides. Josh left Kathy with me and returned to GHSSP.

I received tPA and while this may be the “gold standard” of treatment, it did make me terribly ill. After tPA injection, a day in intensive care unit (ICU) is required. I think I was ill throughout my stay in ICU. Then I was transferred to a hospital room.

Kathy, who spent the time with me in the ICU, could not spend the night in the regular room. She slept on chairs in the reception area. She (and I) had no transport to get back to Markleeville. But, that logistical problem was still a ways off.

I spent an additional two days in the hospital recovering. I think that I was making extraordinary progress. On Friday, a few things happened of import. First, Pete and Stacey Hodes showed up. Second, Colleen Sterling arrived. And finally, I was released to the Renown Rehab Hospital.

The Hodes left Friday afternoon and took Kathy with them to the cabin. At least part of transportation was solved.

Pete and Stacey are from North Carolina. they were in the Eastern Sierra for vacation. They were most helpful in assisting Kathy and I. Colleen is from San Diego. Despite the fact that her husband was recovering from a heart attach, she flew to Reno and spent a few days with me in the Rehab Hospital.

The Renown Rehabilitation Hospital is a friendly facility. The object of the stay is to re-learn how to walk, talk, dress etc. I started in a wheelchair and walked out to Pete and Stacey’s rental car in a week.

Recovery

I returned to Markleeville on Friday August 23. I felt that I was recovering rapidly and well. I left by ambulance and returned in less than two weeks walking, albeit slowly. That fall, I recovered essentially all of my coordination. I recovered my ability to swing a knife, talk without slurring etc. However, my left side, which was generally numb, developed pain to replace the numbness.

By New Years, I was walking two to three miles a day without difficulty. But, my left shoulder was tight and sore. Range of motion in my shoulder was a problem. I sought relief through a chiropractor (to essentially no avail). And, Covid hit in the late winter/spring of 2019.

I was scheduled for heart surgery in March – but it was delayed until May (thanks covid). All the cardiologist I talked to assured me that I would feel “so much better”. I got the surgery, spent but a day in the hospital (TAVRS is much better than cracking a chest), returned to Hawthorne and then went on to Markleeville by Memorial Day.

18 Months Later

In February 2021, 18 months after my stroke, Recovery continues. I can walk and talk. My coordination seems fine and my abilities to shop, cook, type, etc seem to have recovered essentially completely.

My left side still has a lot of tightness (particularly my shoulder area) and my whole body has generally suffered significant muscle loss.

It has been an interesting time (the past 18 months). I had a stroke and heart surgery, I have survived the covid pandemic. And, while I feel that I have lost a significant amount of muscle, coodination is good and I am still recovering. Without doubt, I aged considerably but hopefully I will continue to improve. Markleeville is but a few months off and hopefully I will be walking and redeveloping the appropriate musculature to again hike well.

Summer 2021

I returned to “the Woods” for summer 20201 in mid-May. My left side has regained essentially all motion but the pain remains. Such is life – learn to live with it.

Walking around Hawthorne, NV, where everything is basically flat, is different than walking around GHHSP or Markleeville, CA. I have lost significant body muscle. Hills, with which I have always had a love/hate relationship, are now just a hate relationship. As there is very little level ground in the area – I just do my best to climb as necessary. Given that my cabin is three stores above the road it is always a tough finish to any walk.

I still try to get out regularly, but walks are shorter and less often than they had been in Hawthorne. I easily tire. Still, life goes on and I continue to hope – though I suspect uselessly – that I will continue to recover.

Conclusion

Life as I knew it is over (I’m pretty sure). I was an active 60+ year old male. Rode my bike into the mountains, hiked alone – usually 2-3 miles before Kathy even got out of bed. I was an active docent at GHSP, and joined the Alpine Trail Association for 8-10 mile day hikes. I Rode my tandem weekly and regularly took off trail walks to explore. The stroke has taken essentially taken all of this away – and I am still not yet 70.

Life has changed. I no longer walk off-trail or alone. Walks are shorter and less frequent. Life is still good at the cabin but… not as active as I’d hoped. Oh well.

Presidential Debt

DebtPresidentInterestBorrowingDebt Incurred
pre-19810various 1.01.0
19811Reagan1.20.82.0
19893Bush1.00.21.2
19934.2Clinton2.3-0.81.5
20015.7Bush2.92.65.5
200911.2Obama3.15.68.7
201719.9Trump1.86.58.3
202128.2Biden
totals12.315.828.2
Debt by President (listed in Trillions as of 1 May 2021)

In the above table (Debt by President) I have gathered the debt (as of May 1) in the first year of a presidents term. (https://fiscaldata.treasury.gov/datasets/debt-to-the-penny/debt-to-the-penny). I use the debt on 1 May as that date is the beginning of the month after tax due date (15 April). Taxes due on 15 April are the result of the economy and tax law under the previous president.

Reading the Chart

The amount borrowed by a president is listed in the column “Debt Incurred”. It is equal to the amount of the 1 May debt of the next presidency minus the amount of 1 May debt inherited by the presidency. For example President Reagan took office in 1981 with a debt of about 1 Trillion dollars. President Bush (the first) took office with a debt of 3 Trillion. Reagan Borrowed about 2 Trillion dollars during his 8 years in office. This is the amount listed in the column “Debt Incurred”

I have broken “Debt Incurred” into the amount that was paid into “Interest” and “Borrowing”. The interest is the amount paid in year one of the presidency (https://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/ir/ir_expense.htm) times the number of years (4 or 8) for that president. This is the amount of interest that needed to be paid to maintain the debt that a president inherited. This is only an approximation (but, I believe a pretty good one) as changing interest rates during a presidency may affect this amount. The sum of “Interest” and “Borrowing” is the “Debt Incurred”.

Items to note

President Reagan tripled the debt.

President Bush (the first) borrowed almost nothing – save for servicing the inherited debt.

Only President Clinton had a net negative “Borrowing”.

President Bush (the second) nearly doubled the debt.

President Obama wasn’t much better than Bush (the second). He borrowed more and raised the debt about 75%.

President Trump leads the list of borrowers (at 6.5 Trillion) despite only being president for 4 years.

All Presidents this century have borrowed trillions – and the amount is growing.

President Biden does not promise to do any better or different.

Current Situation

The above table is particularly important in light of today’s discussions concerning debt, the debt limit, spending etc.

The republicans in congress have suddenly (once again) discovered their desire limited government and controlled spending. Something they seem to lean every time a democrat is in the white house. They sure had it under Clinton. They even had it under Obama. Despite his having increased the debt by nearly 80%, he also cut the deficit he inherited by nearly two thirds. They certainly did not have it under Reagan (200% debt increase), the second Bush (95% debt increase and 1.5 Trillion dollar deficit), or Trump (42% debt increase and a 3.3 trillion dollar deficit). The first Bush (a RINO) had a mixed response.

The democrats are trying to raise taxes – something they always think of as good or necessary. It doesn’t matter much whether there is a Dem or Rep in the white house. And of course they think government spending is the right way to solve problems.

Or to put it more bluntly, the democrats are the party of tax and spend (all the time). The republicans don’t like taxes (all the time). They are OK with spending so long as a republican is in the white house.

And the debt continues to grow.