Of Mountains and Mosquitos

Jul 5, 2018   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

Welcome back, gang. As has been well documented here, Barbara and I have been pretty much in a whirlwind of travel as of late, whether it was Trans-Atlantic to Amsterdam, or down south to Orlando to visit family, or more recently to St. Louis and then to Colorado. I’ll recap the trip to the Rockies today, and catch up on local news (and weather and sports.) But first, we’ll head west to Berthoud, Colorado to recap those festivities.

Jim Doyle, Barbara’s oldest brother, has worked his butt off for years, doing a lot of the same kinds of work I’ve done for the last two decades plus. When we first met he was the Press Secretary for Senator Ben Whitehorse Campbell, from the great state of Colorado. As I recall, one of the first times Jim came out to Bandimere for the Denver race, he brought the senator with him. I asked him this weekend if he thought Senator Campbell still recalled that, and he said, “Are you kidding? We were just talking about it a couple of weeks ago. He’ll never forget it!”

For the last 14 or so years, Jim has been a communications specialist for the National Park Service. He’s been really good at what he does, and very valuable for the National Parks and the entire organization. He’s also had to deal with some health issues, and he has the EKG graph of his heart when he was having a heart attack, then the jolt from the paddles, and then the normal beats after the shock, tattooed on one of his arms. It’s a stark reminder of how fleeting life can be. He’s doing great now, but I’m sure the challenges of the last few years played a part in his decision to walk away from work, the associated commuting, and all the stress, in order to fully retire and enjoy each day.

Happy Retirement, Jim! We were honored to be there. (Click on any image to enlarge).

Jim’s wife Debbie put the whole party thing together, and Barbara and I were thrilled to attend and meet a wide variety of their friends. Plus, it’s rarely a bad thing to look to the west and see mountains. I consider the mountains to be like the beach. Even a quick visit, as little as a few hours, re-energizes a person and makes life better.

We flew out on Saturday, to Denver, then made the drive west and then north to Berthoud. We are also fortunate to be able to stay with Jim and Deb when we’re there, and that makes it more fun, more comfortable, and a lot less expensive. All good things.

Since the party was on Sunday, we steered clear of making a big meal on Saturday and just went to one of their favorite Mexican restaurants that night. The margaritas were, well, I guess you could say… Fantastic!  And the food was great, too.

I learned on Sunday morning that my job during the outdoor party that afternoon was to be the head grill chef. We were having hamburgers and brats, along with a wide array of side dishes, and it would be my responsibility to keep the aforementioned burgers and brats coming, although we still weren’t sure how many guests would attend.

I was on the back patio, as we started arranging chairs and tables, and saw an old faded and dusty cover atop what had to be the grill. The cover was enough to make me wonder what kind of surface and flames I’d have at my disposal to make all this food, but under it was a brand new five-burner grill. Don’t judge a book by its cover, right?  OK, maybe you can judge my book by its cover. I mean, after all, when you’ve got a Mark Rebilas photograph and graphics by Todd Myers, that’s a nice cover. I hope my writing lived up to the look!

On Sunday, as we continued to set up for the backyard hullabaloo, Jim was able to join a large group of friends who are all dedicated Harley riders. They had plans to go for a ride in the foothills. When asked when that was going to happen, Jim said, “Oh, it’s 2:00. Probably right on the dot. This group is all about being punctual. And they’ll have the full route mapped out before we start up any bikes.”

Mount up!

Sure enough, around 1:45 we could hear the rumble of the engines as they arrived, one by one or in pairs. At 2:00, they all mounted up and took off for a scenic Colorado motorcycle ride. They were all smiles when they got back.

Jim loves his Harley, and Deb has one too but she felt the need to stay home to quarterback the final preparations for the party. It got pretty hectic as we closed in on the 4:00 mark, which was the noted time for the gig to start. I was busy prepping burgers and brats.

At around 3:45, I fired up the new grill. My grill here at home in Woodbury is a Char-Broil and I’ve had it for a long time. I’ve replaced the grates numerous times, put in new flame shields, and “tuned it up” as much as I can, but I can state with assurance that it’s no longer at the top of its game. When I fire it up, it can take 15-20 minutes for it to even approach 400 degrees. I’ve just been limping it along out of laziness, I think.

I fired up Jim’s new behemoth, put the lid down, and walked away. All I did was go into the kitchen and finalize how many burgers and brats I’d put on the grill as my first batch. I then went back out to check on it and the thermometer on the front showed it was already up to 390 degrees and rising fast. Obviously, I need a new grill. And I’m not ashamed to admit I covet Jim’s new set-up. I need one like it, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t fit on the grill deck here. These are real world problems…

The party got started and I went to work. Basically, for the next hour, all I did was grill, flip, and turn. And every time I opened the lid the wind would shift and blow all the smoke right at me. After a while, I could barely see out of my glasses! It was frantic grilling work, but I was absolutely determined to make it all delicious and perfect, without leaving anything undercooked while also not burning anything. I don’t cook fully raw brats very often, so that was another nervous challenge. In the end, the reviews were stellar and Jim thanked me profusely for feeding the large gathering so well. It was the least I could do to help him celebrate this new important chapter in his life.

As Jim said, “People have been asking me what I’m going to do on Monday. I really don’t know, but I do know for sure what I’m NOT going to do on Monday!” I think he’ll adapt to full retirement perfectly well.

Look for it… LOL

Now here’s something hilarious. Jim’s daughter Erin, along with her sister Leah, took on the task of decorating and putting a nice display of Jim’s accomplishments, photographs, and big moments, on a table in the living room. Everything from his park ranger hat, to photos of him on election night with Senator Campbell and another in the Oval Office at the White House, along with a diploma from the University of Colorado. He got it for his graduate degree in Public Relations.

Except there was a typo. I’ll let you find it yourselves. When he got the diploma he was rightfully proud of it, but someone in the family said, “Uh, you better look closely at that…” They all commenced to rolling on the floor.

The university asked him to send it back while they also sent him a new one. As he said, “I took the new one, but there was no way I was sending this one back. It’s too priceless.”

All in all, the whole shindig was a huge hit, and Jim really was touched by the outpouring of friendship and support, from family, friends, and neighbors. It was a great day. He must’ve thanked Barbara and me a dozen times, for making the trip out there to be with him. It was our pleasure.

Our flight out of Denver wasn’t until 4:00 on Monday, so we had some time to kill. Berthoud is great little town, so heading into the small downtown area for bagels, muffins, and coffee at a sidewalk cafe was the perfect start. Later, Jim took Barbara and me up to Estes Park, right near the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. If you’ve ever been to Estes Park, you know how quaint and fun it is, and from there you’re right at the foot of the majestic Rocky Mountains.

Good for the soul. (Admission:  I took this from the restaurant parking lot.)

We didn’t have time to go up to the top of the mountain, or even enter the park, but we had a wonderful lunch at a great restaurant, with views for miles.

Like I said, it’s just like the beach. Even a brief visit is good for the soul and erases just about anything that ails you or stresses you out. By the time we made the scenic drive back to Berthoud, it was about time for Barbara and me to head to the airport.

On just about any other Monday, I’d have been pretty stressed out to make that long drive because traffic can back up in multiple places along I-25 and the 470 Toll Road. Right away, though, it was pretty apparent that with July 4th being on a Wednesday, a lot of people were taking multiple days off, if not the whole week. We ran the speed limit all the way to the airport. Our fun little jaunt was over, but we had such a great time.

The next big thing on our agenda was July 4th, and those plans came together late but also quickly. Back in the old neighborhood, we’d annually get together in Neighbor Dave’s driveway for the fireworks, because the city of Woodbury shot them off at a park not too far from there, across the front pond. It was always a lot of fun, but then a few years back the city shifted the fireworks to a big sports center in the opposite direction. That eliminated the driveway shenanigans.

We’re doing a great job of getting the gang together way more often this year. Best friends…

Instead, we found we could see the fireworks even better, looking the opposite direction, from a small park in the subdivision, near the Blake’s and Meehan’s homes. Lynn and Terry Blake have downsized to a new Woodbury home like we have, but just days before the 4th Lynn sent out a text to our full “gang” and a large group of us got together in the park, once again. As our contribution to the festivities, Barbara made some incredible white wine sangria. And the fireworks were awesome.

The mosquitos were also awesome. We had fogger spray, citronella candles, and regular bug spray, but for a good hour around dusk they were pretty incessant. People talk about Minnesota mosquitos all the time (the overused cliche of a joke is that the mosquito is Minnesota’s state bird) but frankly they rarely are so bad that you’re in full repellent mode.

This time, after some rain in the morning and with high humidity, they were out in force. Right when it was at its worst though, we got lucky. Just before the big fireworks show got started, a number of other families arrived in the park to take up viewing spots and they had their kids running around with sparklers and other smoky things. It was a still evening, and very humid, so all that smoke kind of hung around us and that really helps with the buzzing bugs. By the time the smoke cleared, most of the mosquitos had left with it. And the fireworks were great. Also great was the shared friendship and laughs. As Scott Meehan said, “We’re doing a much better job of all getting together this year. Let’s keep it up.” I agreed, 100%. The sangria was pretty good, too!

And here’s a byproduct of our trip to the park…  Terry Blake brought a football along, and I looked at it longingly. I told Terry, “I really haven’t thrown a football around much for the last 20 or 25 years. I haven’t even thrown a baseball that much over the decades. By the end of my playing days, my right shoulder was such a mess a sports doctor said I had two choices. I could undergo rotator cuff surgery and face a long and painful rehab, or I could stop throwing things. I chose Option B.”

Earlier in the day, we had some lemons and limes that needed to be thrown out so I did that literally. I went out on the deck and tossed them into the trees behind our house, knowing they’d degrade naturally. And although my shoulder felt tight and it did hurt a little, there was no incredible stabbing pain (like a knife) in the shoulder.

So I grabbed the football, and Terry and I started about 10 feet apart as we tossed the ball. Within a few throws I was backing up, to put a little more on it. I wasn’t throwing bullets, but I was getting a lot on each throw and most of my passes were good spirals. And it didn’t really hurt that much. That was cool. And, since I hadn’t thrown a football in a long time I also hadn’t caught one. Terry throws really nice spirals, and the muscle memory for catching those, to the right or left or above my head, came back pretty naturally.

That was so fun, we’re now talking about playing catch with a baseball soon. I’d love to mess around and see if I can still throw strikes and make my sidearm sinker work. One small step at a time. After all, I just turned 62. It’s not like I’m going to grab a ball and throw 90 mph with two feet of sink on the fastball. I’m pretty sure there’s no “comeback” in my future, but it’s really fun to do this sort of stuff and get even a slight taste of how it felt back in the day.

That’s about it for this one. No travel this weekend, but I’ll be following along as the NHRA Mello Yello tour invades New Hampshire and the rest of New England. My next scheduled trip on a plane is for the Sonoma race, at the end of the month. I’m looking forward to getting out there. More details on that as we get closer.

As always, I ask only one favor. If you read this and liked it, please click on the “Like” button at the top. I’m trying to earn a camping trip with my scout troop and I need the “Like Credits.” LOL.

Bob Wilber, at your service and happy to be home.


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