March 17, 2019


Since I am keeping these posts in chronological order, the first topic in this update is the longest ski outing of the season.  It followed a series of snowstorms that arrived back to back over a two week period.  Yellowstone’s Northern Range went from having less snow than normal to well above normal.  After this brief break, the snow continued, followed by a two week cold spell in late February and early March.  Bozeman (27 inches) and Jackson, Wyoming (54 inches) both set records for total snowfall in the month of February.  In early March, during the worst of the cold spell, the overnight Low at the Bozeman airport went down to -39F, and shattered the old record for the coldest temperature in March by 6 or 7 degrees!


2/17/19 Blacktail Plateau Ski Trek to The Cut

This may have been the very beginning of the elongated cold spell that settled over the Northern Rockies.  The forecast called for fairly seasonal temperatures in the morning, with falling temperatures in the afternoon, along with the arrival of 5-10 mph winds out of the northwest.  That combination, along with my removing my gloves periodically to take photos, would result in severe torture to my fingers.  I had received a Christmas present of very high end guide gloves, which are rated from 10F to -20F.  Since the coldest temperature predicted for the late afternoon was 7F, I left those gloves in the car, and took the gloves that I normally keep in the pockets of my parka.  Everything went well on the way up the 4 mile grade to The Cut, until that last half mile, when the wind came up.  The trip back down had us skiing into the wind.  That wind, combined with our velocity, as we skied downhill, created quite a wind chill.  As you will see, in the following images, Yellowstone’s wildlife had quite a challenge coping with the sudden abundance of snow.  We were lucky, in that we had vehicles with trusty heaters in them awaiting us at the trailhead.  The critters we were photographing throughout the day would have to hunker down and spend the night in sub-zero temperatures and wait another month for the unrelenting cold to loosen its grip.


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This cow elk is digging down through several feet of snow to access grasses.  Several of her peers are visible in the top left corner of the photo.


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This hillside above Oxbow Creek that the dirt road curves around shows plenty of evidence of elk having pawed snow away to reveal edible vegetation below.  We skied through here 3 weeks earlier, on 1/26/19, and there couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 inches of snow in this area.



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This close-up of the cow elk along the creek provides some perspective on just how deep the snow was.  It was easily up to her belly, and maybe a bit deeper than that.



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This elk calf was lying in the snow on the hillside above us.  How would you like to dig through all that snow with your face, just to find lunch?



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As we continued up the road, we noticed a bull elk on a windswept hillside.  There was considerably less snow on top of his lunch, but it came at a price.  If the wind came up, there was no getting away from it, unlike the small canyon where the cows were ensconced.



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The snow can’t be more than 8-12 inches deep in this area.



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His hind legs might be standing in only 5 or 6 inches of snow, but there’s almost twice as much where his head is.  That tree on the left, and its impact on the prevailing southwesterly wind probably has a lot to do with that.



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Up the hill and around the corner, we saw our first of many bison herds we would see this day.  My ski partner, Kelly is off in the distance, waiting for me to put my camera away.



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The rush hour traffic was brutal!



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This trio was doing their imitation of NFL down lineman, just daring us to make it through them.  We opted to wait until they decided they had won their “King of the Mountain” game with the humans.  Seeing as how mature bull bison can way as much as 2,000 pounds, we were way outmatched!



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The groomer came through in the midst of this “migration”.  We learned firsthand about the difference between fresh bison pies and ones that had been exposed long enough to the frigid air to freeze.  The groomer grooms everything in sight, including feces.  (See the flattened bison pies at lower left.)



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This cow bison shows evidence of having been foraging on the south side of the road.  That massive hump of muscle comes in handy for swinging that huge head from side to side to sweep snow off the grass below.



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This peaceful stretch of road, between bison herds illustrates the difference a groomer can make.  As you can see, there is a nice set track on the right to accommodate the classic or “traditional” kick and glide cross-country skiers, and the wide flat expanse next to it for the skate skiers.



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Here’s the next bison herd we encountered.



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These bison are enjoying the thin snow layer on this windswept hilltop.  That’s the Buffalo Plateau behind them, across the Yellowstone River.



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This is a classic winter ecology shot, showcasing how a small herd of bison had used this glacial erratic as a handy windblock.  There were snowdrifts 4 or 5 feet deep around the west and southwest portion of this giant boulder.  The east and northeast side of the boulder had plenty of open space that had been tracked up by bison.



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Looking back to the west northwest, we had a view of Electric Peak in the distance (straight down the road).



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Zoomed in on Electric Peak.  This was about the time the breeze started stirring, and the temperature started dropping.  Naturally, we were nearing our high point at The Cut.



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When we finally reached The Cut, we found 3 bison bulls hanging out in the deep drifted snow up there.  On our arrival, one of them decided to wander down the hillside from upper right to lower left.  It was enough to dissuade us from going any further.



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He appeared to have “attitude”.



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His sidekicks had the high ground, well above us.  It had all the earmarks of an ambush.



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On our way back, I took these last couple photos of a particular herd we had sped by on our way up the hill.  These fools were out in this snowy bowl, not far from Geode Creek.  It almost reminded me of the bowls on the south side of Vail Mountain that I skied when I lived in Colorado.  They were classic powder stashes.



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Meanwhile, just to the left (west) of the fools, the brighter bison were taking advantage of a douglas fir grove that created a sizeable windbreak.  The snow was thin, and the grass abundant.  This was the last time I took my gloves off, with the exception of a brief lunch break about a mile and a half from the trailhead, down where we had halfway decent shelter from the wind, and a power utility box to sit on.




2/22/19 Tower Junction to Tower Store Ski Outing

This was a Friday, and it was the only day forecast to have clear skies for photography after the day we skied Blacktail Plateau Drive for the next 2 weeks.  The temperature was to be cold, but this was a fairly easy 2.5 miles out and 2.5 miles back on a groomed trail on a paved road.  When I reached the trailhead, there were quite a few vehicles parked along the road.  I feared it would be a mob scene, but it turned out the majority of the vehicles belonged to photographers who were pursuing a group of coyotes with their long lenses.  As soon as the coyotes left, so did all but a few vehicles.  It was 7F according to the thermometer in my car when I hit the trail.


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This is the one image I obtained of the coyotes before they disappeared to the left, heading down toward the Yellowstone River.



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Not much more than a half mile from the trailhead is Rainy Lake (at left).  Bumpus Butte is above the left side of the road in the distance.



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The stately douglas fir at left is a landmark that tells us we are approaching Calcite Springs Overlook.



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The Calcite Springs sign is partially buried in the richness of recent snowfall.



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I had met John from Atlanta on my way up the hill.  He caught up to me from behind, and told me his wife was up ahead, but he felt confident he would catch her, because she was “slow”.  They were exploring the overlook when I reached the parking lot.  Since I spend so much time there during the spring and summer, observing bighorn sheep lambs, osprey nests, and the usual peregrine falcon nest, I kept going.



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In the background, at right, we see Cutoff Mountain, which the north boundary of Yellowstone National Park runs over from east to west.



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Zoomed in on Cutoff Mountain



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I stopped at the second pullout after Calcite Springs.  This is where we observed the 2018 peregrine falcon nest last summer, located well below the roadway in a very protected shelf on a rock buttress.



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John and Jenifer arrived, and started asking me questions about the ecology of the area.  I explained the origin of the columnar basalt, visible high on the canyon wall across the river, and how the bighorn ewes bear their lambs along the steep canyon walls in June.  They keep them there for at least 2 or 3 weeks, sometimes longer, until the little ones are large enough and sturdy enough to elude predators.  The rest of the herd is often found in the meadows up above the canyon.



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Looking upriver, we see two bands of columnar basalt on the canyon wall across the river.  The area where Tower Creek joins the Yellowstone River lies on the rightat the third bend of the river as you go upstream.  In the far distance, on the expansive hillside, the Agate Creek trail gradually drops down to the east side of the river.



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John and Jenifer ski on toward Tower Fall and the Tower Store.



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I wanted a photo of a skier below Overhanging Cliff to add a sense of perspective on just how high that wall is.  Unfortunately, by the time I got to where I wanted to take the shot, John was already heading around the bend in the distance.



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Thankfully, another skier came by, and I was able to get the image I desired.  In this case, this was a husband, who was being pursued by his wife.  She caught up to me just before I reached the Tower Store.



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A foursome who had skied from Petrified Tree to the Calcite Springs area via Lost Lake had skied by as John, Jenifer, and I were at the second pullout past Calcite Springs.  A second couple also skied by.  It created a virtual “crowd” at the Tower Store, but there was plenty of room at the tables.  I hung out with John and Jenifer until they headed down to the overlook to get photos of Tower Fall.  My fingers got cold, because I had taken my gloves off to search my pack for moleskin, so Jenifer could remedy a hot spot on her foot.  Unfortunately, I was unable to find any, but Jenifer remembered something she had that would fill the bill.  Meanwhile, I left my gloves off while eating lunch.  I let the presence of warm sunshine fool me.  By the time I put my gloves back on, my hands had been exposed to the cold air for about 15 minutes.



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I walked down to the overlook to get a few photos.  That necessitated taking my gloves off again.  My fingers suffered for it.  Thankfully, I had brought my guide gloves along, and by the time I had skied the first mile or so on the way back, my fingers were back to feeling comfortable.  This photo showcases the road and the rock towers that flank Tower Fall, from whence the name comes.



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Zoomed in on a frozen Tower Fall



2/26/19:  Third Chemotherapy Infusion Session

By now, a routine had established itself, and this seemed almost “old hat”.  Even the usual side effects were anticipated, and no surprise when they showed up.  By that evening, I had the head cold symptoms I had felt the first two times, only this time, they were milder, and did not last as long.  The only notable side effects this go-round were the fatigue and taste bud disappearance that had struck on the Friday (third day) after the second infusion.  On the 27th, I had the customary Neulasta injection.  Taking the generic form of Claritin had prevented the bone pain during the second cycle, and it would do the same this time.


3/1/19 & 3/2/19:  Snow Shoveling Complications

On Friday, the 1st, I had a technician coming to replace my tankless water heater, which had been slowly withering away.  It was 9 years old, and built by an outfit that went out of business years ago.  You can’t find repair parts for the devices anymore.  We had gotten so much snow that last week of February that I had a significant amount of snow to remove from the sidewalk.  I actually accomplished that on Thursday afternoon, the 28th, but it snowed again that evening.  The next morning, I removed that snow, along with opening up a passageway through the snow berm that the plows had created along the street.  In both instances, I was able to accomplish the work without a physical problem.  Unfortunately, that Friday afternoon, with the new water heater installed, I set about clearing snow from the garage apron that suffers from the creation of a snow berm via the plow that clears the alley.  This time, I experienced labored breathing after a while, and had a wee bit of chest pain.  I simply stopped shoveling, and waited to recover.  Then I started in again.  I repeated that cycle 3 or 4 times, until the job was done.  Naturally, it snowed again that night, so I had to shovel again on Saturday.  I was able to clear the sidewalk out front without any problem, but once again, doing the driveway apron, I had the breathing issue.  I reported it to my primary care doctor via the electronic health record program I participate in.  On Monday, I received a call from one of the nurses, who wanted to arrange an appointment to see the doctor.


3/5/19:  Primary Care Physician Visit

On Tuesday, the 5th, I met with my primary care doctor and a third year medical student.  I was interviewed by the medical school student, and then both she and my doctor.  The result was a prescription for nitroglycerin, which I now carry around with me everywhere I go, and a referral to the Cardiology people.  That appointment is scheduled for 3/26/19.


3/10/19:  Slough Creek Ski Trek

This was a ski outing that at one point had two Yellowstone365Meetup Members signed up, and the possibility of a third.  That third never committed, and the other two Members had to cancel for one reason or another.  I decided I wanted to do this itinerary bad enough that I would go by myself.  This is a fairly popular trail, although it does not get the heavy traffic of a Blacktail Plateau Drive or the Tower Road.  Most of the people who travel it are experienced backcountry users.


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Shortly after leaving the trailhead, you approach the only significant hill on the 2.5 mile journey to the Slough Creek campground.



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Those dark figures in the middle of the image are bison.  We usually find quite a few in this area.



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This cornice, just off the trail, is an indication of just how much snow has fallen lately.



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I was about a mile down the trail when this group of 5 bull bison suddenly appeared from behind a low rise, moving from left to right.  The lead bull seemed to be as surprised at my presence as I was at his.  In the background, you can see a cow/calf herd also crossing the trail, heading toward the hillside off to my right.



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The lead bull turned around, and started heading back the way he had come.  Unfortunately, the bull behind him was not interested in giving ground to any humans.



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About the time that all 5 bulls had made it out to the junction, I noticed a pair of snowshoers heading toward me, returning from the campground.  Notice the snowshoe tracks at left, bison trail in the middle, and ski tracks on the right.  This is a “major thoroughfare”.



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The bulls were starting to act ornery.  I knew they wanted to use their trail, and head my direction.  I decided it was time to yield the right-of-way, and I started skiing off to my right, and began making a big arc that would circle around them.



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The couple on snowshoes pulled over when they got near where I was breaking trail off to the right in this image.  We exchanged greetings, and I soon realized I had met them at the Canyon Village Visitor Center last spring.  The husband is going to be a seasonal interpretive ranger at Canyon this summer.  We had a good conversation while the bison were deciding if they really wanted to use their trail to head south.



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While 3 of the bulls were trying to make up their minds, the other 2 started walking south.



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Eventually, the 3 uncertain ones realized they were being left behind, and they started running about as fast as a bison bull can run in fairly deep snow, even if it is a “trail”.



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They started catching up to their buddies after a while, but they were snorting steam and throwing snow in all directions accomplishing their mission.  FYI, that’s the low north end of Specimen Ridge in the middle ground, and Mt. Washburn in the far distance.  You can barely make out the 3 story lookout tower on the summit.  The line of sight explains why you can get cell signal in the Slough Creek area.  There are Verizon Wireless facilities in and on that building.



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Meanwhile, the cow/calf herd was feeding and lounging around over at the base of the ridge that lies east of Slough Creek.



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I continued on to where I could get a 90 degree shot at the rock face that produces substantial echoes.  I tried to summon some coyotes, but I don’t think any were around.  The wolf watchers at the trailhead had told me they were seeing coyotes south of the paved road.



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I had spent so much time yacking with people along the trail and interacting with the bison that I didn’t have enough time to continue on to the campground.  Actually, I might have been able to pull that off, but it would have been pushing the envelope on the remaining daylight, so I took the conservative alternative, and headed back to the trailhead.



3/11/19:  Second MUGA Exam

I don’t even know for certain who scheduled this procedure.  I just got notified via the electronic system, and showed up.  The good news is that instead of the 50% I scored in December, this time I got a 58%, which moves me inside the low range of normal, since 55% is the lower limit for “normal”.



3/13/19:  Second PET/CT

I’m pretty sure this was scheduled by my oncologist in consultation with the radiation oncologist.  I do know that my primary care physician had been told by the oncologist that if the procedure showed a total absence of lymphoma, I might be able to skip the fourth cycle of chemotherapy.  That got me real excited!



3/14/19:  Consults with Oncologist and Radiation Oncologist

These were back to back appointments, presumably to go over the results of the PET/CT and plan the eventual radiation treatment.  In the first consult, with the radiation oncologist, I was told that the PET/CT showed a total absence of the various traces of lymphoma scattered in various places, with the exception of the primary area where Osama is/was hanging out, on my right trochanter.  Apparently, the scan shows the lymphoma is gone from the soft tissue in that area, but the bone still shows a possibility of remnant lymphoma.  The problem is that the color that is showing up could be an indication of remaining lymphoma, OR it could just be inflammation.  Both show up as the same color.  I told the radiation oncologist that given what he was telling me, it appeared that the sensible thing to do would be to go forward with the fourth infusion just to play it safe, and he agreed.  I asked him about the radiation treatment plan.  He said we would meet two weeks after the fourth infusion (which is scheduled for this Tuesday, 3/19/19), so he can administer a CT scan that will determine the precise aiming of the radiation beam.  A week later, radiation treatment would commence.  The plan is for 20 treatments, which would be 5 treatments a week, Monday through Friday for 4 weeks, assuming it starts on a Monday.  I have an appointment for the CT and associated procedures on April 2.  I am hoping that we can start radiation on Monday, the 8th.  If so, I would be done with that on Friday, May 3rd.  If not, it would be Monday or Tuesday, May 6th or 7th.

My meeting with my oncologist was pretty redundant to the meeting with the radiation oncologist.  They talked briefly between my meetings, so they were in sync.  My oncologist did call the consulting cardiologist about a concern he had regarding my snow shoveling incidents.  The cardiologist told him that with my MUGA score having elevated, he was not concerned about the chemo issue and my heart for that last infusion.

Barring something totally unexpected, I think the plan moving forward is all laid out.  I would expect some of the usual post-cancer treatment surveillance, like a periodic CT or PET/CT.  At this point, my hope is to not have to update this blog on the subject until early May, at the conclusion of this melodrama.



3/16/19:  Slough Creek Snowshoe Trek

This was a bad case of a good idea with poor execution.  Seeing other folks on snowshoes last weekend put the idea in my head that I should schedule a Meetup activity to snowshoe out to the Slough Creek campground.  I had several Members who came dangerously close to going, but only one, Kelly, actually signed up and showed up.  Poor dear, she got drafted into assisting me with an equipment problem with my gear, and now I suspect that I may be responsible for the problem.  Beyond that, our outing was complicated by the fact that the “trail crew” (local bison herds) had been appropriating the human trails for their use, and once the day started warming up, the symptoms of snow collapse to come started appearing.  We made it about a mile before we decided to do a 180.  I got a few photos that I will post here, just for the sake of levity.



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Kelly waits for me to catch up.  Compare this trail, close to the trailhead, to the photo of it from 3/10/19, six days earlier.  Everyone, everything, and some bison have been using it.  On our return, a group of skiers was heading out as we were returning.  They got one look at the steep hill, which is way pockmarked with bison tracks and other impact marks, and skied back to the parking lot.



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As usual, Kelly is up ahead, waiting for me.  At least, this portion of the trail has not been trashed by a herd of bison.  Further down, we would come into an area where bison had been on and off the trail.  Snowshoers had postholed during the warmer part of a day.  This day was predicted to be appreciably warmer than this area has seen in a month or more.  It was destined to get dicey by early afternoon.  I suspect we got out of there just in time.



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Kelly had spotted this small herd heading up the campground road, headed toward the trailhead and the pavement.  By the time I got my camera out and the zoom working, half of them had already disappeared from view.  Based on size differences that were apparent, even at a great distance, courtesy of the camera optics, I suspect this was a cow/calf herd.  They were long gone by the time we got up that hill.  I hate to say it, but it appears we will have to resort to other means of enjoying the backcountry, while we wait for this bounty of snow to melt.  The weather forecast for the next week is full of sunny days with Highs in the upper 40s and low 50s.



February 10, 2019



Since my last update, 1/14/19, much has transpired, and this post will contain the usual chronological recounting of significant events since then.  First, I want to make some observations regarding chemotherapy in general.  I do this because I have learned a lot in recent months, and it strikes me that I was relatively ignorant on the subject until recently.  My hope is to enlighten family and friends who might be similarly uninformed on the subject.

I had known for years that chemotherapy in general was the gradual “poisoning” of your body, in an attempt to kill off the unwanted and potentially deadly cancer cells that threaten it.  The very concept of harming the body in order to save it seemed so foreign to me when I first heard about it, many years ago.  My oncologist walked me through a bit of the biomechanics of how this process works, shortly before I commenced chemotherapy.  He told me that the chemicals infused target fast-growing cells.  The nastiest cancer cells are those that have metastasized, and are growing rapidly.  Other fast-growing cells in our bodies include those that make our hair and nails grow, and this explains why so many chemotherapy subjects lose their hair via the process.  (In my case, I am seeing a gradual, and slowly escalating loss of body hair, but so far, not the real dramatic type that some patients experience.  My beard is not growing near as fast as it has over my adult life, and my nails have slowed down their growth.)  Those other fast-growing cells in a cancer patient’s body experience “collateral damage” during chemotherapy.  I am told that much of my right trochanter (upper portion of right femur) should reform after the cancer cells are killed off by the chemicals and subsequent radiation.  I am counting on that to help me get back in the game on hiking and downhill skiing!

One major point I want to make is that there are tremendous individual differences in the types of cancer that individual humans experience, thus differences in types of chemotherapy.  Also, individuals react differently to the same type of chemo.  One person might lose their hair rapidly and totally, while I have met some who have done an admirable job of keeping theirs.  Other side effects, like fatigue and nausea, can vary all over the board from individual to individual.  Chemotherapy plays havoc with our immune system, and individual immune systems vary widely for any number of reasons.  Here’s just a simple off the wall example of the impact of chemotherapy on my lifestyle.  While I am undergoing chemo, I am forewarned to avoid any enclosed area, like an apartment, condo, house, or vehicle that contains a cat and the accompanying litterbox.  That is because kitty litter is a potent reservoir of toxoplasmosis.  There are an estimated 40 million Americans infected with toxoplasmosis, so it can’t be all that serious.  True for most folks, but for anyone with a compromised immune system, toxoplasmosis is a much more serious threat!  My friend, Linda, has a very personable cat, Tao, who just happens to have a litterbox, so I won’t be visiting Linda or Tao for the next several months.

Part of my motivation for this Introduction is to showcase the broad array of individual situations and reactions to chemotherapy.  I do not want folks reading my blog, and getting the impression that because I seem to be having such a relatively easy time of it, everyone else should.  That is far from the case!  I am blessed multifold.  I have one of the less deadly types of cancer, although with the transformation of my lymphoma, I am now in a more dangerous “cancer playground”.  I am younger and healthier than many of the cancer patients I see at the Bozeman Health Cancer Center.  I am blessed with a historically robust immune system.  I have a lot going for me.  All these years of backpacking, day hiking, skiing, and engaging in a plethora of other sports and outdoor activities is paying off.  Every day, I see the names of people younger than me in the obituary column of the local newspaper, who have perished from this dread disease.  It is seeing substantially younger people, who have had the bulk of their lives ripped away from them that particularly pains me.  I have a visceral reaction that makes me wish I could trade places with them, so they could enjoy the kind of long life I have known, and their family be spared the unimaginable pain they must be going through.

I have now had two of the four chemotherapy infusion sessions that are planned for me at 3 week intervals.  With having to return to the Center the day after infusion for a Neulasta injection, plus the “dry run” back on December 18, I have had a fair amount of exposure to the nursing staff in the Infusion area of the Cancer Center.  I am constantly amazed at how these dedicated professionals maintain their upbeat demeanor as they deal with cancer patients.  These are specialized nurses, who have deliberately chosen to work in this concentration.  They never cease to amaze me.  I know there is some hefty amount of mortality associated with this patient population, and somehow, these people just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and soldiering on, seemingly to not let it get to them.  I say “seemingly” because there is no way of knowing what kind of emotional tricks they have to play on themselves to stay in the game in the face of repetitive loss.  They must justify their daily investment of time in knowing (1) they are providing extremely significant assistance to those fighting for their lives, and (2) over time, we are slowly winning battles in the war against cancer.

Speaking of the war against cancer, I want to mention that everywhere I look, I am seeing evidence of how continued research and technological development is benefiting cancer patients.  Twenty years ago, the outlook for someone with the transformed lymphoma T-cells that I am fighting was bleak.  Now, roughly 80% of patients have a successful outcome via chemotherapy and radiation.  That’s just one example of so many.  We are now seeing breakthroughs in using our knowledge of the human genome to develop pharmaceutical “cocktails”, tailored to an individual’s unique genetic makeup, to combat some of the most virulent types of cancer.  Any support you can lend to the cause is appreciated, be that financial via cash donations to the American Cancer Society or other organizations supporting research and treatment, political support on Capitol Hill for the allocation of tax dollars to research, or volunteering in your community.  There are so many different ways we can all join the fight, and we never know when our effort might be helping a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or even ourselves down the road.

Thanks for sticking with me through this lengthy Introduction.  Now, here’s the latest/greatest since 1/14/19:


1/15/19:  Chemo Commencement

On this very first infusion day, I had to show up about 45 minutes ahead of when the chemotherapy was scheduled to begin, so I could get a blood draw accomplished and analyzed.  It turned out to be more like an hour, so since all my infusions are scheduled for Tuesdays, I opted to make future appointments to have blood drawn on the Monday afternoon preceding chemo.  Since my oncologist wants me to have blood labs weekly, this has worked out to be a handy routine, where I know I have to swing by the home of the “vampires” every Monday afternoon around 3:00 p.m.  It’s a ritual that works well for me.

Hannah was my nurse once again.  We started out with a series of injections via the port in my chest, prior to getting down to the serious business of the chemotherapy chemicals.  These initial substances were primarily steroids, including Benadryl.  I noticed some mild physical reactions to these, but nothing serious.  Then came the “Big Kahuna”, Rituxan, AKA Rituximab.  It is a “monoclonal antibody”, essentially a biological agent, as opposed to the other 3 agents, which are all chemicals.  On the very first chemo session, Rituxan typically takes 4-5 hours for the injection.  Subsequent sessions usually run around 90 minutes.  It turned out my body was able to take up the Rituxan quicker than most.  The oncologist, Dr. Hensold, swung by in the afternoon, consulted with Hannah, and decided that my future Rituxan injections could be via an alternative means (abdominal injection), which goes much faster, like 10-20 minutes.  The thought of having my chemo day cut in half in the future was indeed good news!

Once the Rituxan was out of the way, we only had about an hour’s worth of the other 3 injections, Doxorubicin, Vincristine, and Cytoxan to do.  Doxorubicin is actually an exotic antibiotic, rather than a “chemical”.  It is red in color, and given in two large doses.  When it is being administered, the patient has to keep their mouth real moist and cool.  That’s where popsicles come in!  Yes, popsicles.  This was the “pleasant surprise of the day”.  Hannah asked me what flavor I preferred.  They had quite an assortment.  I chose my all time favorite, i.e. orange.  Hannah kept encouraging me to give that popsicle a workout.  I did so well that I was nearing completion of the second half, and we were only halfway through the injection.  That opened up the possibility of asking for a second orange popsicle, and I took advantage of it.  The second one was every bit as enjoyable as the first, and I suffered no side effects.  We zoomed through the other two injections, and I was out of there an hour or more earlier than anticipated.  It left me over an hour to relax at home, before heading to the Museum of the Rockies to catch a very educational presentation on paleoecology by Christine Whitlock, Ph.D.  Hannah had suggested I just go home and stay home, but I had been looking forward to this learning opportunity for weeks.  I feared I might start nodding off during the presentation, but I was able to stay alert throughout.

It was afterward that I made my big blunder of the day.  I had been seeing television ads for a new type of pizza loaded with pepperoni at Little Caesars, and I wanted to check it out.  I picked one up on the way home, consumed it in its entirety, and proceeded to pay the price overnight.  It was a good thing I had plenty of antacid tablets available, as well as anti-nausea medicine!


1/16/19:  First Neulasta Injection

I had to return to the hospital 24 hours after completing Tuesday’s chemotherapy for the Neulasta injection.  I learned that bone pain is a frequent side effect of Neulasta.  This substance induces the bone marrow to produce more white blood cells to counteract the action of the chemotherapy, which tends to lower your white blood cell count.


1/23/19:  Major pain

During that first week after chemotherapy I anxiously waited for all manner of potential side effects to materialize, but other than intermittent head cold symptoms for the first 2 or 3 days, and occasional very minor nausea (nervous stomach), I escaped relatively unscathed.  During the night, at 2:45 a.m. on Wednesday, 1/23/19, 6.5 days after the Neulasta injection, I woke up in agony.  My lumbar spine felt like it was on fire!  I have had occasional lumbar spine issues over the years, but not in the past 3 or 4 years.  It just didn’t make sense, until I started thinking maybe it was related to the Neulasta shot.  After an hour or two, the pain started moving down to my waist, and then over to my left hip.  I called the Cancer Center as soon as their phones were operating, at 8:00 a.m.  I was told a nurse would call me.  After about 45 minutes, I heard from a nurse, who said she would try to get me in front of the nurse practitioner or one of the P.A.’s.  A half hour later, she called again, this time saying that Dr. Hensold wanted me to get an x-ray at the hospital, and he would see me at 10:30 a.m.  In the interim, I could take an NSAID, like ibuprofen.  I asked the nurse if I could use Aleve, and she said “Yes”.  I downed two of them, and headed for the hospital.  By the time I got to the hospital, the pain had totally subsided.  The x-ray was taken care of quite quickly, and before long, I was in front of Dr. Hensold.  He explained that what I felt was in fact bone pain.  The nurse had told me that typically, that side effect shows up in the first day or two after a Neulasta injection.  Once again, I was an outlier.  Dr. Hensold told me that the lumbar vertebrae are some of the most marrow intensive bones in the body, which is why they are frequent targets for Neulasta-related bone pain.  The x-ray seemed to show we were already making progress in the fight against Osama.  When I mentioned how the pain had migrated down the lumbar spine to my waist, and only seemed to move to the left hip area, Dr. Hensold reminded me that with my metal prosthetic right hip, there was no marrow for the pain to migrate to on the right.  It was a real “Duh” moment for the guy with the artificial hip!

1/26/19:  Skiing from Frog Rock to Blacktail Plateau Drive and Beyond

My leg was feeling so good that I scheduled my first cross-country ski outing of the season for Saturday, 1/26/19.  It was a Meetup, and I had 5 Members accompanying me.  With a Member who had a wrist injury that prompted her to eschew her skis in favor of snowshoes, for fear of injuring the wrist further in the event of a fall, we were like the “walking wounded”, but we managed to do a 5 mile out and back trek in relatively flat terrain.  We had decent weather, which helped considerably.


Left to right: Kelly, Larry, Jennie, Vanya, and Diana at the Frog Rock trailhead



Frog Rock at extreme left, with Folsom Peak at Center, and Cook Peak at extreme right



Kelly, Larry, and Jennie heading east on service road to connect to Blacktail Plateau Drive


Diana (left) and Vanya on service road



Photo of Frank on service road, courtesy of Vanya



1/29/19:  Day of Cardio Reckoning


In my second and third weeks after my first chemotherapy treatment, I was getting an occasional sore spot in my mouth, but they would not last long.  Compazine was taking care of any slight nausea that would appear.  For all intents and purposes, I was “cruising”.  My primary care physician had orchestrated an appointment, and I had a feeling I knew what was coming.

Sure enough, given the results of the MUGA exam, the stress test with Lexiscan, and the other cardio diagnostics, he wanted to put me on a statin and a beta blocker, which he did.  It just added to the pipeline of pills I devour every day.  He started me out on a minimal dosage, and so far I have not suffered any side effects.  We have to watch the beta blocker in particular, because my blood pressure has always been good, and we don’t want it to drop into the low range.



2/1/19:  Skiing the Bannock Trail


As I watched the weather forecast for the first weekend in February, I could see that steadily, day after day, Friday the 1st was predicted to be a beautiful day, with sunny skies and warm temperatures, even in Cooke City, outside Yellowstone’s Northeast Entrance.  Saturday and Sunday were going to be cloudy, cold, and snowy, so I scheduled our next ski outing for Friday.  The forecast held, and we had lovely weather.  We skied the 2 miles to the park boundary, and went beyond, but did not make it to where you start seeing the summer homes between Silver Gate and Cooke City.


Kelly and Vanya crossing the bridge over Soda Butte Creek



Looking southwest from the Warm Creek pullout toward Barronette Peak, the snow is so much deeper than what we had 6 days earlier at Frog Rock.



Looking down Soda Butte Creek, with the area where the Upper Pebble Creek trail crests the ridge north of Barronette Peak in the distance



We had recent bison tracks all around us. We even saw a pair of bulls off to the right of the trail.



A tree stump along the creek sports a “Jimmy Durante nose”.



After a mile or so, the terrain opens up into a broad flat. Soon after, we started seeing relatively recent moose tracks, and evidence of recent browsing on fir and spruce trees.



We had ample evidence that coyotes had been using the ski trail, including repetitive scent marking.



Mid-afternoon sunlight crosses the trail, in between tree shadows.



Vanya and Kelly, with Barronette Peak in the distance




2/5/19:  Second Chemotherapy Infusion Session

On this past Tuesday, I met with the Whitney, the nurse practitioner, before meeting my new nurse for the day, Ashley.  Whitney suggested I take Claritin or the generic version to mitigate the risk of another bone pain incident in the wake of the upcoming Neulasta injection.  I took her up on that suggestion, and am hoping to not have a repeat of the lumbar torture.

On this day, everything moved expeditiously.  The Rituxan was administered by abdominal injection, and couldn’t have taken more than 10 or 15 minutes.  Of course, I got another orange ice pop to go along with the Doxorubicin injection.  My entire time in the infusion area didn’t amount to more than 3 hours at the most.

The next day’s Neulasta injection was routine.

I was looking downstream, and decided not to schedule a ski trek on the weekend.  It was a combination of a nasty weather forecast, which worsened as the week wore on, and apprehension about the potential impact of chemo side effects so soon after my second round of infusion.

Once again, just like the first go-round, I found myself feeling like I had a head cold that first night after chemo.  It persisted off and on over the next couple days, but I discovered that taking Tylenol could address the problem fairly well.  (The nurses tell chemo patients to avoid NSAID’s, because they can suppress your platelets.)  On Friday, the 8th, I had intermittent bouts of fatigue in the afternoon combined with what appeared to be a total shutdown of my taste buds.  That was depressing.  For someone who relies heavily on food rewards for pleasure, I was rather disappointed.  It lasted for about 3 or 4 hours.  Then I took a 2 hour nap in the early evening.  When I woke up, I felt markedly better.  I fixed dinner, and could actually taste it.  My energy level went way up.  I have made the connection between hydration and side effect mitigation.  When I allow myself to get the least bit dehydrated, the side effects worsen.  I just have to keep pounding the water!  Just this evening, the puny tastebud phenomenon has kicked in again.  I had a relatively tasteless dinner, which was disappointing.  I’m starting to see how some cancer patients can lose so much weight.  It’s hard to get excited about food that you cannot taste.  I will not give up on food easily.  I am too addicted.  Watch this space for more news on this struggle as time goes on.

It is Sunday night, the 10th of February.  I’ve already got my eyes on this coming Saturday, the 16th, for another ski outing.  I’m looking at trying to make it up Blacktail Plateau Drive as far as The Cut.  That’s ambitious, being 6 miles each way.  I might have to make it 3 or 4 miles each way, since I haven’t done more than 5 miles yet this winter.  I’m somewhat out of shape, not having hiked since September 22, and with only two short ski days under my belt.  I have to take it easy on that right leg until we know Osama is pretty much gone, and the bone is reforming.  I will keep an eye on the weather forecast as the week proceeds, but at this point, Saturday is looking fairly favorable for at least a moderate ski trek.

1/14/19: NEW PLAN (same as the old plan)

January 14, 2019

FIRST:  Recognizing the winner of the “Name that Mass” competition

Before I get caught up in my New Years’ Eve photos and story, I want to give credit where credit is due.  Cathy Smith (no relation) from Illinois is the individual who submitted the winning name, “Osama bin Laden”.

It is a bitter irony that Cathy lost her husband, Jack, to cancer in August of 2018.  He was a fighter, and gave it everything he had, trying to beat this cursed disease.  My hope is to draw strength from knowing that Jack himself, or the memory of his battle, may have inspired Cathy to generate such an appropriate name for the mass on my right femur, sometimes referred to as a “lesion” by the imaging and oncology specialists.


12/31/18 New Years’ Eve

Linda works from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., and her sleep schedule wanders all over the place.  We kept vacillating on what to plan for New Year’s Eve, knowing she would have to be at work, stone cold sober when the New Year dawned.  There was talk of joining Liz to watch the torchlight parade and fireworks on Snow King Mountain.  Of course, Liz was fighting some sort of vicious cold or other nastiness that had a grip on her.  Linda had already put in one of her exotic work shifts, and needed to catch up on sleep that evening.  I wound up going solo to watch the festivities at Snow King that evening, and thoroughly enjoyed it, since, unlike my local friends, I had never witnessed the event before.

Linda and I made a quick run to a number of places in town to do the usual post-Christmas rituals, like returning or exchanging items at retail establishments.  Just as we were wrapping up this activity, Linda suggested we make a quick run to the north, up along the west edge of the National Elk Refuge, and out toward Kelly and the Teton Science School vicinity.  It was already late afternoon, but the sky to the west and southwest was hinting at a possible colorful sunset.  Of course, my camera was back at Linda’s place, and I would have to rely on my Samsung Galaxy S8 for documenting the experience.  As we proceeded north from Kelly, we came to an area where we had been seeing moose regularly since back around Thanksgiving.  There were a number of vehicles on hand, and we passed between them, and continued north a short ways, where we parked for a bit, while we considered our options.  We were not well-equipped to hunt moose with our cameras, since we did not have much “reach”.  I would have loved to have had my Nikon P600 with its killer zoom lens.  Instead, we continued up north, and Linda guided me up a road that I had not been on before.  It took us to a number of great landscape photo opps.  While the skies were ideal for photography, the ambient air temperature was less than comfortable, so photos were either shot from the comfort of the car, through a temporarily opened window, or via a quick hop outside the car and some frenzied phone camera activity.  I’m not sure exactly what the temperature was out there, but I think it was around the 4-6F realm.

Here’s a few representative shots from that magic hour or two out in God’s Country on New Years’ Eve:



“The Grand” towers over its surroundings.



Mt. Moran’s stately presence lies at right, with the icy road pointing at its flank.


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Close to our northernmost point, I was fascinated with the wind-sculpted “scalloping” effect where the plow had come through.  We had gotten some wind in town, but nothing like the force that reshaped this snow berm.



More wind sculpting with Mt. Moran posing in the background



Linda, who is a much better photographer than me, turned me on to this photo opp.  I’m not sure if I did it justice, but I sure had fun making the attempt, in spite of the cold.  At this point, we were headed back south, and the long shadows tell the story of what the sun was doing.



OK, so I am as fascinated with Mt. Moran as everyone else is with the Grand Teton!  I included this for my long time hiking buddy, Daryl, who visits these parks multiple times annually, and is famous for saying “OK, this is where I’m going to build my cabin”, each time he reaches a particularly lovely spot in the backcountry.


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We reached the place where about 6 bull moose had been lounging around earlier.  They were still there, and we were losing light fast.  Believe it or not, the whole bunch, or at least 5 of the 6, are lying out there in the sage and the snow.  You can just make out the ski trails on Snow King Mountain at center, in the distance.


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Zooming in, we can see 2.5 bulls (the 0.5 is along the right border), and the ski trails on Snow King Mountain are much easier to see.


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We hustled south from the moose photo opp in hopes of catching a sunset glow on the snowclad Sleeping Indian Mountain to the east.  Linda has gotten some incredible photos of that late day lighting phenomenon over the years, and we had hopes of catching it this day.


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We were not destined to catch that type of effect this go-round, but we were treated to a brief, but memorable low angle light display on the south and southwest-facing slopes of the Tetons.


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We stayed with this gorgeous display of sunlight until the bitter end.  We were along the Gros Ventre River, just off the road at one of our favorite pulloffs.


I have posted a video, and a few still shots of the torchlight parade and fireworks display from later that evening on my Facebook page, so many of you have already seen them.  While I could try to post that 4 minute video here, I am going to avoid it in the interest of not eating up a large portion of the free image storage that WordPress provides me.  I will simply post a still image of the parade and one of the fireworks display, which was outstanding, but I only caught a couple photos of the last big shell in the finale.  I didn’t think I would get much shooting through my car window at a distance.  The parade was impressive.  While the video is 4 minutes long, the actual parade had to have lasted close to 15 minutes, maybe longer.  There were literally hundreds of skiers participating!


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I was parked at least 3 blocks from the base of the mountain.  These were taken handheld, so the shutter speed was WAY slow.  The fireworks were shot from the vicinity of what looks like an illuminated “80” at right of center.


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I was very impressed at the fireworks display, and I have seen some humdingers, including out over Elliot Bay in Seattle and in Las Vegas.  This last shell just seemed to hang in the air for a minute or two.


1/5/19:  Return to Bozeman

It was a few days after Christmas when I finally heard from the Bozeman Cancer Center.  The decision had been made by my oncologist and the consulting cardiologist to have me get an EKG run, as well as a stress test with Leviscan.  The scheduler that I talked to in the Cancer Center was able to put me down for Thursday, 1/3/19.  She told me I would be hearing from the Cardiology people, who had to coordinate with the Nuclear Medicine people.  I didn’t hear from them until sometime the following week.  It may have been Monday, New Years’ Eve.  They gave me 3 or 4 dates that were available to choose from.  I opted for the first available, which was Tuesday, 1/8/19.  Since I knew that the EKG would be administered in the lab at the Cancer Center, and they only take 5 or 10 minutes, I got the idea that if Linda was OK with my hanging around for a few extra days, I could move my departure out from Wednesday the 2nd, to Sunday, the 6th.  After getting Linda’s OK, I called my favorite scheduler, Rebecca, explained what my new plan was, and asked if there would be any problem moving the EKG to Monday, the 7th.  She said that would be fine, and got me a new appointment.

As the weekend after New Years’ approached, we watched the weather forecast closely.  A storm was forecast to move down from north to south along the Northern Rockies, and arrive in Jackson late Saturday night, and dump snow through Sunday.  Then, a Pacific front was moving our way from the west.  It was expected to arrive on Monday.  I got more than a little bit nervous about the impact of the first storm on Teton Pass and the southern half of my route back home, based on forecast snow totals.  I was also fretting the potential influence of the larger system moving in from the west coast.  Sometimes, when you get two different systems converging, all sorts of screwy things can happen, including one speeding up while the other slows down, the two merging, or one bumping the other out of the way, and then becoming stationary for a few days.  I decided to hit the road on Saturday afternoon, so I could get over the Pass and most of the way home before dark (more to avoid hitting wildlife on the road than concern about weather or road conditions).  I left Jackson at 3:06 p.m., and arrived at my house in Bozeman at 6:58 p.m.  I was treated to a couple hours of very pleasant orchestral music written by some of the greatest Russian composers (my favorites), courtesy of BYU Northern Radio as I zipped from the top of Teton Pass down through Victor and Driggs, over to Ashton, and up through Island Park.  Most of the music was Rachmaninoff and Rimsky-Korsakov, but there was a bit of Tchaikovsky thrown in as well.  I’m still the same guy that used to go bump skiing in Colorado listening to Molly Hatchet via his Walkman and headphones.  I just have a variety of musical tastes.

I’m not going to give Monday, the 7th, a header, because it was so quick and easy.  I’ve had lots of EKG’s over the years.  It’s standard practice when you check in at NIH as a healthy volunteer.  Your first stop is Phlebotomy, where the vampires draw your blood, your provide a urine sample, and get an EKG done.  On a good day, you can zip through all 3 procedures in 15 minutes!


1/8/19:  Stress test with Leviscan

This is a somewhat exotic test that takes around 5 hours.  First, they injected some sort of radioactive tracer into my bloodstream.  I was told that it would disperse throughout my circulatory system initially, but over time it would concentrate in the heart area, where it would play a pivotal role in the imaging to come.  I was told that this day would consist of a number of minor activities, each one separated from the others by anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.  It really was as advertised.  Being an Army vet, I told the med tech I had lots of experience with “Hurry up and Wait”.  After the first half hour to an hour, I was moved to the Nuclear Medicine area, where all their expensive/fancy imaging equipment resides.  I had a scan done that took around 10 to 12 minutes.  I was told that this was the collection of baseline information.  Then we moved to the room where the actual stress test was to take place.  There was a treadmill in there, but we were not going to use it.  The Leviscan drug stimulates the heart to simulate the impact of exercise, essentially a simulation of walking or jogging.  This is where the cardiologist and a nurse came in.  I didn’t notice this until after the procedure, but the med tech had wheeled in a crash cart, just in case my heart got into trouble and we had a “Code Blue”.  I was wired up with at least 8 or 10 EKG leads.  The cardiologist administered the Leviscan after telling me that I might feel a variety of symptoms for around 5 minutes, including the possibility of shortness of breath, rapid, shallow breathing, flushing, nausea, chest pain, etc.  He wanted me to report anything I was feeling that was out of the ordinary as soon as I felt it, and assured me that if anything got too troublesome, he had an antidote close at hand that he could administer immediately, which would be effective immediately.  Then he asked if anyone had watched the national championship game between Alabama and Clemson the night before.  The med tech and the nurse didn’t say anything, but I piped up, because I had watched the entire game, as well as the trophy presentation and interviews afterward.  It was definitely a piece of football history!  The doc had already administered the Leviscan.  He asked me if I was feeling anything.  I told him I had some slight flushing of the lower part of my face, and my stomach was feeling slightly nauseous, but nothing serious.  We just kept gabbing, and gradually, both side effects dissipated.  Nothing else ever showed up.  After 5 or 6 minutes, the doc disconnected some sort of wire harness he was wearing, said “his EKG never changed” and announced that he was finished and was heading out.  I couldn’t get anyone to tell me whether the EKG not changing was a positive or a negative, but based on the doctor’s demeanor, I figured it was a plus.  Ever since I flunked the MUGA test, I have wondered how a guy who has been so active in the outdoors, particularly at altitude, for many decades, could have a heart problem.

Afterward, they took me back to the room with the imaging equipment, and ran the same 10 or 12 minute scan they had run hours earlier.  After that, I was free to go.



1/9/19:  Phone Call from Cardiology and Visit With Radiation Oncologist

I had an afternoon appointment with Dr. Koeplin, the Radiation Oncologist in the Cancer Center on Wednesday, the 9th.

That morning, I got a phone call from a nurse in Cardiology.  She said Dr. Erb asked her to call me, and tell me that the stress test and imaging showed evidence of my having had a small heart attack at some time in the past.  I was told that Dr. Erb would be conferring with Dr. Hensold, my oncologist.

My visit with Dr. Koeplin was a bit of a “hey, we’re getting the band back together” moment.  Back in 2010, Dr. Koeplin handled my radiation treatment for my mediastinal mass, AKA “Adolf”.  Dr. Hensold had been my oncologist.  Dr. Koeplin’s nurse had already walked me through lots of information pertinent to my eventual radiation treatment.  I had a few questions for Dr. Koeplin, and he answered each one as I introduced them.  I was curious as to whether the radiation treatment will be concurrent with chemotherapy or subsequent to it.  It will not commence until the chemo has been completed.  I learned a few rather important things from Dr. Koeplin.  At one point, he said that my transformed lymphoma has an 80% cure rate, which I found reassuring.  Up until that moment, the best information I had was something I had dug up in some rather old citations on the web, and it seemed to indicate a cure rate more around 50%.  I also heard that the odds are very high that the lymphoma took up residence in the top portion of my femur because it was somehow drawn there by the presence of my prosthetic hip, which also acts as an infection magnet.  In answer to my interrogatory, the good doctor told me that there was no way of calculating how many sessions of radiation will be necessary until we get to the end of the chemotherapy, when a CT, and possibly a PET/CT will be applied to meter the success of the chemo.  That will dictate what happens with the radiation.

Within minutes of my having departed Dr. Koeplin’s office, my phone rang.  It was Suzanne, Dr. Hensold’s nurse, calling to let me know that the decision had been made that I would be able to undergo the original planned chemotherapy.

I should mention that I inquired as to whether there was any way to tell how long ago the small heart attack happened.  I pretty much knew the answer, but wanted to ask anyway, in case some new technology or technique had evolved recently.  I was told that there is no way of knowing.  I told Dr. Koeplin that I was fairly certain I know exactly when and how the heart attack happened.  He heard my story, but didn’t seem anxious to endorse it.  A few of you know the story.  Most of you do not.  For the majority, I will say that I had a traumatic injury back on August 24, 1979, in the mountains of the Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado.  I was trying to evade a thunderstorm, and found myself off-trail at almost 12,000 feet above sea level, in what amounted to a glacial cirque.  I was crossing a steep snowfield, up near the top of it, and was about halfway across when my feet slid out.  I started sliding down the several hundred feet of snow and ice, gathering speed as I went.  I had anticipated the possibility, and had a contingency plan.  Once I started sliding, I immediately turned my back to the snow, and insured that I would descend feet first.  Everything was going well, until I sped across the short run out at the bottom much faster than anticipated, and crashed into a boulderfield at high speed.  I suffered a range of injuries, most of which were not detected in the Emergency Room that evening.  I was flipped forward, after suffering a compression injury of the lumbar spine, and likely crunching my right hip, the one I eventually had to get replaced in 2016.  I was knocked unconscious, and when I came to, I was lying spread eagle across several boulders, on my back, with raindrops hitting my face.  Initially, I could not feel anything from the waist down, but that changed after a while.  My chest felt like I had suffered a crushing injury.  I remember thinking that I felt like I imagined it would feel like if you were lying on your side, and a truck tire ran over you.  I feared I had cracked a bunch of ribs, and possibly the splintered ragged end of one of them could rip a hole in one of my lungs or my heart.  I worried that I could be bleeding out, and not even know it.  I will leave the story at this point.  The bulk of it consists of the epic struggle to self-rescue, along with the numerous pieces of medical evidence that has surfaced in the last decade that shows damage done that was not discovered by the rookie E/R doctor that night.  I have talked about writing up this story for decades, but have never gotten around to it.  I am finally at a point where I very much want to document the entire saga, from beginning to present.


1/11/19:  Office Visit With Dr. Hensold

On Friday afternoon, the 11th, I met with Dr. Hensold, my oncologist.  He explained that he and Dr. Erb had jointly decided that my heart is sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of chemotherapy.  He told me that my treatment will never have a dosage large enough of the danger drug to pose a serious risk.  In all the years he has practiced oncology (many decades), he has only encountered one circumstance where a patient experienced heart damage unexpectedly.

He asked me which day of the week I preferred to have chemotherapy scheduled.  I told him Tuesday would work well for me.  It avoids the few recurring calendar commitments that I already have, and it didn’t seem overly busy when I was in there on December 18th.  The die is cast.  I start chemo tomorrow, 1/15/19.


12/24/18: The Mystery Deepens

December 24, 2018

12/16/18 Trip to Yellowstone

Thankfully, I was able to get away on this Sunday to spend a few lovely hours in the place I love.  Other than a few drives up and down Hwy 191 through the extreme western part of Yellowstone National Park, this was my first trip into the park since my 9/22/18 badger hole encounter.  The weather was absolutely incredible!  Here is was Mid-December, and the temperature was ranging between 50 and 55F on my drive down Hwy 89, south of Livingston.  The skies, which started out mostly cloudy up north, gradually cleared the further south I went.  By the time I reached Mammoth Hot Springs, I had primarily blue skies, which allowed very flattering low angle sunlight to work its magic on the Upper Terraces.  I got plenty of gorgeous photos of Canary and Grassy Spring, both of which are very active right now.  I will post a few photos here for the benefit of those not active on Facebook.  I will be creating a photo album, which will include a video of Canary Spring cascading off Main Terrace, on my Facebook page.


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Terracettes along Grassy Spring’s runoff channel


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Canary Spring spouter at left near edge of Main Terrace (Mt. Everts in the background)


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Canary Spring cascading off Main Terrace


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Zoomed in on Canary Spring’s cascade


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Near portion of cascade with pools and terracettes


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Turning to the right, and looking downhill


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Can you believe the abundance of pools and terracettes?


In spite of fairly thin snow cover, there were skiers making their way around the Upper Terrace Loop.  The conditions looked to be fast.  I drove east to Tower Junction, and continued out the Northeast Entrance Road as far as The Confluence of the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek.  I saw a large group of skiers at Frog Rock, who appeared to be returning from a foray up the Blacktail Plateau Drive.  There were skiers using the road between Tower Junction and the Tower Store.  The conditions had to be fast on all those trails.  I was envious!  My search for critters was mildly successful.  There were numerous bison and elk herds.  Several coyotes put in an appearance, including one daring individual who almost committed suicide in front of my vehicle.  At The Confluence, I observed a courtship pair of bighorn sheep, but they were high enough on the hillside, with tall grass partially obscuring them, so I was not able to get any worthwhile images of them.  There was no evidence of otters out and about, although I am sure they were “around”.


12/17/18 Port placement

After some last minute scrambling on Monday morning, essentially last ditch efforts to find a free ride to the hospital, I resorted to using Uber.  I was pleasantly surprised to find their system remarkably efficient and effective when used the way it was originally designed.  It just never worked for reserving a ride in advance, but it turned out that I did not need to.

The procedure was unremarkable, and did not take long.  I did not feel the least bit “foggy” or “out of it” in the wake of the conscious sedation.  I hung around in the little room I was assigned, while the nurses drove themselves crazy trying to find a workaround to get me home without letting me use Uber.  I’m sure there is some risk management-related, patient safety, reason for their paranoia about releasing someone to a non-related, non-friend transportation mode.  Initially, my nurse told me he was going to drive his bicycle home (about a mile), get his car, and take me home.  Then, a different nurse told me they had arranged a ride with a Cancer Center volunteer.  I was destined to find out later in the week that while I was trying to use the American Cancer Society to find a ride (totally WORTHLESS – IMHO simply an advertising tag line to bring in more money, without providing the service), and approached the Cancer Support Community for a referral, the resource was right within the Cancer Center.


12/18/18 Let the chemo begin (maybe)

On Tuesday morning, I received the results of Friday mornings MUGA assessment in My Chart, the electronic patient information portal.  It showed I scored 50% on blood ejection from the left ventricle (meaningless to Little Old Ignorant Me).  Then, I noticed the low end of the normal range was 55%.  I hoped this was not going to be a problem.

I showed up bright and early at 7:50 a.m. for my 8:00 a.m. chemotherapy appointment.  I worked on the 1,200 piece jigsaw puzzle in the waiting area until around 8:10 a.m. when two nurses came looking for me.  They escorted me into the chemotherapy area, which turned out to be a long room with fancy recliner type chairs that somewhat resembled a beauty parlor.  There must have been 10 or 12 chairs, arranged in pairs.  My nurse started familiarizing me with numerous logistical details of my surroundings, and set the stage for the day’s activities.  My first infusion was going to go a mighty FIVE hours!  Within a half hour, it became apparent something was out of kilter.  My nurse apologized, and said there was going to be a delay.  She thought it had something to do with my doctor not having issued some order.  She told me the delay might force us to run late, maybe until 5:30 or 6:00 p.m.  I said I hoped we didn’t run too long, because I had a Montana State University women’s basketball game to attend that evening; and it started at 7:00 p.m.  She said she couldn’t guarantee anything, but hoped I would be able to make it.

I busied myself trying to get the TV to access double digit channel numbers, a technical problem I was unable to resolve on either of two different televisions.  My theory was that with the size of the hospital, and likely number of TV’s, it was entirely possible that they used some sort of distributed video server technology, and we had a software problem.  Does that sound sufficiently technical.  Are you buying it?

Sometime around 9:30 or 9:45 a.m., my nurse asked if I had taken my prednisone medication, and I told her “No, but I have them with me”.  She had me retrieve them, and wanted me to take two of the pills.  I had a paper cup of water at my side, and was about to pop the pills in my mouth when 3 other people suddenly appeared in front of me.  One, who I was to learn is a Nurse Practitioner in a leadership position, said, “Don’t take those pills”.  Literally, my mouth was open, and the pills were inches away, when the intervention took place.  I was told that my low MUGA score was sufficient cause for concern that my heart might have a hard time handling several of the chemo chemicals; and we needed to postpone the chemotherapy until after I had an echocardiogram in the Cardiology Clinic.  I was told not to worry.  There were workarounds if my MUGA score proved to be a show stopper.  Apparently, there are substitutes that can be made for the chemo components that are so rough on the heart.  My oncologist’s scheduler, who, ironically, used to work in Cardiology, got on the phone, and quite quickly she had an appointment for me the next day, Wednesday, 12/19/18.

I had already been given 2 $5.00 gift cards by my nurse for The Perk, a coffee and pastry place just outside the Cancer Center.  I decided to use one of them before departing the hospital.  I took care of several chores as I made my way home, stunned by the development.  That evening, I took in the MSU women’s basketball game, which was an impressive beat down at the hands of South Dakota State, a team which had given nationally ranked Oregon a very tough game recently.  We lost by 21 points, but we got to see a very impressive team in the SDS Jackrabbits.


12/19/18 Echocardiogram

My echocardiogram or sonogram was administered by Kim, who has been doing these procedures for 29 years.  She definitely had the technique perfected.  It was downright spooky to lay on my side on a bed/table, and watch the image on the screen nearby.  There isn’t a lot to say about this.  It was foreign to me, went painlessly, and the waiting to here results commenced.

Weeks before, I had conversed with my dear friend, Linda, in Jackson Hole, as well as my hiking buddy, Liz, about the possibility of my heading down there for Christmas.  Linda and I had both gone 5 or 6 years spending Christmas alone, and we looked forward to having each other’s company during the holidays.  Then came the news of the aggressive, fast growing form of lymphoma, and the need to start chemo immediately.  That trashed my holiday plans, because the period 7-10 days out from chemo is a critical time, where your white blood cell count and a few other indicators need to be monitored.  The impact of the chemotherapy on these critical elements is most severe during that period of time.  With this new wrinkle, there appeared to be a possibility of renewing my original holiday plans, so I alerted my friends.


12/20/18 The phone call

I was anxiously awaiting news, either via My Chart or more likely, a phone call, from a nurse.  It finally arrived at midday.  The echocardiogram confirmed the MUGA finding.  I was told that my ejection percentage as measured on Wednesday was 50-55%.  That got me figuring that I might be quite close to that borderline of low normal, but I was destined to be disappointed.  The nurse told me that my oncologist had conferred with the cardiologist who reviewed the echocardiogram results, and they decided to refer me to my primary care physician for a cardio workup, and that I would hear from that operation.  The nurse did not expect me to hear from them until after Christmas.  I was told that my oncologist was going to be working on “Plan B”, whatever that will be.  I fantasize about a new fix that relies only on radiation, and skips chemo, but that is not likely to materialize.  She said my oncologist, who knew I had been hoping to spend Christmas in Jackson, told her to let me know I was free to head south.  I alerted my friends that I would be coming their way on Friday, the 21st, and went into scramble mode, trying to get all sorts of important chores out of the way, since I was unsure exactly how long I would be gone.


12/21/18 Meet the social worker and head south

I had a 9:00 a.m. appointment to meet a Cancer Center social worker on Friday.  My plan was to pack my things afterward, and hit the road.  One of a number of tasks that I learned the social workers took care of was securing rides to treatment of treatment-related appointments for patients if at all possible.  Naturally, they prefer to be notified several days in advance of an upcoming need, out of respect for the volunteers who so selflessly give of their personal time.  This was the magic news I was thrilled to hear.

With a few other odds and ends that I needed to take care of before I could leave town, I did not get on the road until 2:15 p.m.  We had gotten a dusting of snow around 4:00 a.m., and the storm was moving south.  I caught up to it a few miles south of the Yellowstone National Park boundary, and was driving in falling snow from there to the south end of Island Park, ID.  That slowed the traffic and my travel time.  Normally, I can do the drive between 3:45 and 4 hours.  I ran into periodically snowy roads between Ashton, ID and Tetonia, ID.  I even passed two snow plows, separated from each other by a half mile or so, but working in tandem.  I was fearful about what shape Teton Pass might be in, as well as the reported abundance of critters on the road, including deer, elk, and moose.  I was happy to see dry pavement from Tetonia through Victor and for quite a few miles on the west side of the pass.  Even the upper portions of the pass were in good shape, and I felt much better.  The east side was somewhat comparable, but those steep, curvy sections proved a bit challenging.  My transmission will never forgive me for the high speed downshift I did from third gear into second on that hill.  I was treated to a tasty steak dinner, courtesy of Linda, and commenced what has been a great time in Jackson so far.


12/22/18 – 12/23/18 in Jackson

Saturday was a laid back Christmas prep day, with deploying decorations and joining the throngs in the stores, picking up last minute items.  On Sunday, Linda, Liz, Scott (close friend of Liz), and I got together for a sumptuous breakfast at The Bunnery.  We visited the Astoria art gallery, where we drooled all over the incredible works of Lynn Boggess, a very talented artist who lives and works in West Virginia.  We had seen those paintings on the night of the Christmas Tree Lighting in Town Square on Thanksgiving Weekend, but it was through the windows, because the gallery was closed.  Now, we got to see them up close, where we gained a deeper appreciation for how unique Lynn’s technique is.  We spent much of the afternoon with Liz, out tooling around Grand Teton National Park.  We checked on government shutdown-triggered closures, and didn’t find many.  The road is open all the way to the South Entrance of Yellowstone.  We must have seen at least a dozen, maybe 14 moose between the Teton Science School road and Kelly.  Eventually, the clouds descended, hiding the high peaks, and before we got back to town, it was snowing.  We need the snow!

It is a somewhat strange feeling not knowing just how soon I will be summoned to return to Bozeman.  I don’t know what the future of my medical treatment will be, but it is hard to imagine that my primary care doc is not going to refer me to Cardiology.  Time will tell.  In the meantime, I am relaxing and enjoying myself in the company of friends.  I hope to get the trip report/photo album from last Sunday’s Mammoth visit mounted on Facebook this week.  This blog will not likely be updated again until I have meaningful news to share.  For the immediate future, no news is good news.


Results of the “Name that Mass” competition

Thank you to all who devoted the mental energy and time to conjuring up creative suggestions for this vile entity’s name.  It is appreciated!  I have known the winning suggestion for a while.  I knew it right away when I read it.  Unfortunately, with all the day to day  medical craziness in my life, I did not solidify the memory of who submitted that name.  I have a vague recollection of it being someone of the female persuasion, but even that could be wrong.  I am asking that person to please identify themselves to me.  Feel free to email me if you have my email address, comment on this blog post, or comment on the Facebook post that will announce this latest blog entry.  Your suggestion resonated with me because this individual not only was responsible for the deaths of over 3,000 innocent Americans, his actions tipped my life on its head at a critical time.  It will be so easy to generate train car loads of unvarnished hate directed at this thing that is trying to take my life.  The winner is OSAMA BIN LADEN!



December 14, 2018

Twas the week before Christmas………………

and Frank will be starting chemotherapy!  I was hoping for a diagnosis that would only require radiation treatment, since I found that relatively tolerable back in 2010.  Per my oncologist, there will be 3 cycles of chemo, followed by radiation.  The cycles will be separated in time by 3 weeks.  I have not heard what the plan is for the radiation treatment that will follow the chemotherapy, but I suspect it will consist of a lot fewer sessions than the 23 we did in 2010.  They will likely be a bit more intense, because we have the luxury of “blasting” the mass that showed up quite clearly on the PET/CT.  The same radiation oncologist that arranged my treatment in 2010 is going to be calling the shots this time as well.  It feels good to have the team back together!  The second bone biopsy was done in a different room, with different equipment, by a different interventional radiologist.  This time, they hit pay dirt, and got live tissue.


New meaning for the word “transformation”

My oncologist had used the term in our 12/5/18 visit.  At that point, it was simply that there was a possibility of transformation.  The second bone biopsy result, coupled with the PET/CT imaging confirmed that what had been a Type 1 indolent relatively innocuous lymphoma has morphed into a Type 3 high-grade aggressive lymphoma.  In our 12/13/18 meeting, it became clear that my oncologist wanted to commence the fight against this unwanted visitor ASAP.  I just underwent MUGA testing today, which is an assessment of the heart’s relative strength, to make certain that it can tolerate chemotherapy.  While the results were not available at the time I departed my chemotherapy education session this afternoon, nobody has called me to wave off the planned chemotherapy.  Originally, the chemo was scheduled to commence on Monday, the 17th, but the P.A. that did the chemotherapy education recommended that I have a port inserted in my chest on Monday, which will make all the upcoming blood labs and infusions easier.  The chemo people were thrilled when the scheduler called them to tell them they were switching me from Monday to Tuesday.  Apparently, they were double booked on Monday!


Logistical issues

I managed to dodge the “sedation” problem whereby you are prevented from driving for 6 to 8 hours after the procedure on both bone biopsies because I said I was willing to simply go with a local anesthetic.  (I had only had a local for the needle aspiration of the prosthetic joint back in late September, and managed to get through that with any high pain drama.)  That allowed me to drive to and from the hospital.  On Monday, I have to be at the hospital to check in around 12:30 p.m., and will be sedated for what is essentially a surgical procedure, albeit not a big dramatic surgery.  They expect the port placement to be wrapped up by 2:30 p.m., but they will keep me around for an hour or so to “keep an eye on me”.  (Maybe they have had problems with patients running off with scalpels or other valuable tools.)  Naturally, they told me “you will need a ride”.  I said “I don’t have a ride”.  I could easily drive myself to the hospital.  The problem would be getting home afterward, when I am prohibited from driving for 6-8 hours.  (Back before the first bone biopsy, I tried talking them into letting me drive to the hospital, and then simply hang around until 6-8 hours had passed, so I could drive home.  With chemo commencing the next morning at 0800 hours, I need to arrange for a ride both directions.  That led to at least an hour or more of excessive frustration this evening, as I wrestled with the Uber app for the first time ever, attempting to schedule a ride TO the hospital for Monday around noon.  This is my first attempt to use one of these services.  The Lyft website did not seem to be offering ride services in Bozeman yet.  They appear to still be recruiting drivers.  I did enough research on taxis to recognize that they are much more expensive.  I’m hoping that this will not become a recurring problem.  At least, nobody has hinted at my not being able to drive to and from chemo sessions.


Going forward

I am a big believer in the power of imagery in the human mind.  Those that have read the story of my radiation treatment in 2010 are well familiar with how I gave my mass (tumor) a name (Adolph, in memory of Herr Hitler) that stirred up a lot of aggressive hateful thoughts that I then directed at the mass each time I underwent radiation, but occasionally at other times.  I will never know whether it made any physical difference in the results, but it sure made me feel better when that first CT scan, after 15 treatments, showed Adolph was shrinking and darkening.  The following 8 treatments rendered Adolph a tiny shriveled up, black crisp, according to what I was told the later CT revealed.  I had imagined Adolph writhing in pain each time they were dosing me with radiation.  It sure made me feel better.

This time, I am going to repeat the behavior.  It may have bought me 8 more years, so why not.  I am introducing a new twist.  Rather than arbitrarily picking some new “bad guy” myself, I am going to invite those who visit my Facebook page or this blog to participate, and volunteer potential targets of my imaging wrath.  I have decided I do not want anyone still alive to be included in this competition.  Those still in the game always have the potential to change their evil ways.  Besides, in these ultra-fractious political times, I would get a long list of politicians, media people, and maybe even a few professional athletes or Show Business types.  I want to confine this to those who vacated this life after having exceedingly evil.  Some of the best candidates may be people who are readily recognized by either their first name, last name, or a nickname.  Since I will be doing the mental imaging, and living with the image of this dirt bag for some time, I will select the winner (maybe with a wee bit of input from a few of those closest to me).  So far, the only prize of value I have been able to conjure up would be a full day of free Yellowstone National Park touring, exploring, hiking, skiing, or whatever the winner preferred, led by yours truly.  Of course, my leg has to survive all this mayhem being visited upon it for me to accomplish any meaningful hiking or skiing/snowshoeing.


1.)  I will be trying to update this blog as often as I feel I have noteworthy news.  That will likely range between 1 and 3 weeks.

2.)  I am hoping to make a day trip to northern Yellowstone this Sunday, 12/16/18, which will be my first visit, other than going up and down Hwy 191 between Big Sky and West Yellowstone a few times, since 9/22/18, when I visited the badger hole.

3.)  For anyone that has DishTV, check out Channels 198 and 199.  I’m particularly partial to 199, which features what they call a “Classic Yule Log” burning in a large fireplace.  Fall asleep with it on, and with the sound effects, you might just think you are in a cabin on a snowy landscape.  If you have cable or DIRECTV, you might want to check and see if they are doing something similar for the holiday season.

4.)  Don’t worry about me.  I have the A Team looking out for me at the Bozeman Health Cancer Center, and the benefit of prayers being offered up on my behalf by family and friends.



December 6, 2018


Bone Biopsy Results

The first test results to hit my patient portal arrived on Tuesday, when I learned that the cultures showed no evidence of infection after 4 days.  That was good news, but also made the likelihood of a cancer diagnosis all the more likely.

I did not receive the official test results provided by the pathologist(s).  Thankfully, my oncologist had them when I met with him yesterday, Wednesday, 12/5/18.  The verdict was Non-Hodgkins B-Cell Follicular Lymphoma, exactly what my mediastinal mass was back in 2009/2010.  That is why this update is included in the Lymphoma category besides the Whassssssup category.

My oncologist gave me a look at the CT and MRI images from the previous week, and there is definitely something screwy going on in and/or around the greater right trochanter.  The bone itself is looking very unusual, almost like it was struck many times by the round end of a ball peen hammer.

New Tests Scheduled

My oncologist told me that even though the Interventional Radiology people made six passes to retrieve tissue on November 30, all the tissue examined by the pathologist(s) was dead.  I told the oncologist that it brought back memories of what the surgeon who did the mediastinoscopy (scoping procedure to obtain a biopsy) back in 2009 told me the mass in my chest looked like.  He referred to it as “necrotic fiber”, which I thought of as “dead fiber”, kind of like a carpet.

The oncologist said it is important that we continue searching for live tissue from that area, so we know exactly what we are dealing with, so here is the new strategy.  I will undergo a second biopsy on Tuesday, 12/11/18, where Interventional Radiology will “go where no man has gone before” looking for life, almost like a Mars Lander.  If this is not successful, the next step would be exploratory surgery, not unlike when a teenager gets home from high school, and opens the refrigerator door to see what is in there.

Additionally, I will have a PET scan on Wednesday, 12/12/18.  The oncologist wants the best view possible of whatever craziness is going on.

Likely Treatment Plan

Just like in 2010, the NCIC guidelines would recommend radiation treatment for this type of cancer.  My oncologist said that the location that we would be nuking is one where there is minimal concern with potential collateral damage, unlike the “high-priced real estate” in my chest that was radiated in 2010.  You gotta love an oncologist who alludes to being able to “just blast it” when talking about how radiation impervious the surrounding area is.  Obviously, this potential treatment plan is just that, “potential”, until such time as enough detailed evidence of the pathology has been gathered.

So What Does All This Mean?

Here’s a few thoughts on where we are at, how we got here, and where we are going:

1.)  I strongly suspect that the cancerous growth in or on my upper femur was the source of the hip pain I was experiencing during the summer of 2018.  By August, other hikers noticed that I was limping.  It is a bitter irony that the situation had gotten so bad that on Friday, 9/21/18, I made the decision to call my primary care doc on Monday for a referral to an orthopedic surgeon to check my hip implant for any possible problem.

2.)  The incident on Saturday, 9/22/18, when I stepped in the badger hole, is the likely cause of the linear stress fracture on the right ilium, but it is probably unrelated to what is going on further down that leg.

3.)  One lesson for anyone reading this is that I should have sought medical attention in August, given how much pain I was starting to experience during and after those day hikes in Yellowstone.  I’m only mentioning this in the hope that it may save some other person the grief and medical drama I am experiencing.

4.)  Just like with the mass in my chest back in 2009/2010, and the surgery for the carcinoid tumors in 2011, I plan to rely heavily on this blog as an instrument to keep family and friends updated on developments and progress.  I will do a simple post on Facebook, referring interested parties this direction.

5.)  Thanks to my not being able to work while my hip/leg is not fully functional, I lost my opportunity at the job I was applying for in September, and am not in a position to work a full-time job.  This is creating a looming financial crisis.

Next Post

I have a follow-up appointment with my oncologist next Thursday afternoon, at 2:00 p.m. to go over the results of the second biopsy, the PET scan, and blood labs.  My hope is to update this blog that evening or the following day.



12/1/18 Update on Right Hip Situation

December 1, 2018

Bringing things current

I am guilty of having neglected this blog over the past month.  Part of the reason lies in my posting occasional updates on Facebook, sending out brief summaries on my weekly, sometimes bi-weekly message updates to the almost 300 Members on the Yellowstone 365 Meetup group, and the fact that there has been virtually no definitive conclusions to report.

My healing continues, but at a much slower pace than anticipated.  I gave up the walker in totality in mid to late October, and relied totally on the cane.  In the past 2-3 weeks, I have been able to do progressively more walking without the cane, but when I do so, it is with a decided limp.  The original prognostication was for 6-8 weeks from 9/22/18 for me to be totally healed.  We passed the 8 week mark a few weeks ago, and I am not near being back to totally normal.

Here’s the story in chronological order:

10/29/18:  On my first follow-up with my orthopedic surgeon, he expressed some concern on my progress healing.  He counseled me to “push it”, but then said “don’t push it too hard”.  I started doing laps around the local shopping mall and places like Home Depot and Lowe’s.  Regardless of what I did, the healing seemed to continue on its own, slow, but steady pace.

11/19/18:  I had a 3 week follow-up with the surgeon.  He voiced considerable concern, and showed me the source of his angst.  We compared x-rays of my hip taken that day with those taken back in late September.  He pointed out that there appeared to be a “void” or an area of unexplained bone loss.  It was serious enough that he wanted to schedule me for a CT scan and an MRI.  At this point, I told the surgeon about my lymphoma history, just in case it might be relevant to whatever strange thing was going on with my hip.  I had already rented a Dodge Caravan minivan to haul a brand new mattress that was purchased on an unbelievable Clearance discount in Bozeman, but needed to be transported to Jackson Hole, WY.  The mattress was in the minivan, along with a bunch of my belongings for a planned Thanksgiving getaway to visit friends in the Jackson area.  I told the surgeon I would be available for imaging the following week.

11/21/18:  While traveling through Grand Teton National Park, I got a phone call to schedule the imaging sessions.  We locked in 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, 11/28/18 for the CT, followed by the metal suppression MRI (due to my prosthetic hip).

I had a wonderful time in Jackson, got to explore a few places I had not been, which included several walks in the snow, using my hiking poles.  (I also had my cross-country ski poles along, but did not use them, since the snow was not deep enough to require them.)  I am tempted to use select photos from that trip to fashion another album for the purpose of updating my hip story on my Facebook page.  I already used a few immature bull moose photos obtained on 11/21/18 for an update on my Facebook page.  As usual, I am using my blog to flesh out the story, supplying more detail for those who desire it.  I think I will throw a few photos in here for the sake of those blog readers who are not active on Facebook.


Town Square in Jackson, WY shortly after Christmas Tree lighting on Friday, 11/23/18



NW corner of Town Square with illuminated antler arch and Million Dollar Cowboy Bar in the background.  Each of the 4 corners has an arch comprised of elk antlers, and each is illuminated.



Linda, my Teton Canyon tour guide and dear friend reluctantly poses while we were walking along the North Fork of Teton Creek, a ways upstream from its junction with the South Fork.



This was the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and it was cold, humid, and snowing.  I did get to see a dipper (water ouzel) on a snow-covered boulder, but it flew once I arrived.


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Believe it or not, after we came back over Teton Pass that Saturday, we were treated to clearing skies and a mother moose and her two calves fording Fish Creek, between Wilson and Teton Village



Enjoying a leisurely breakfast at The Granary at Spring Creek Ranch on Sunday


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Linda channeling Vanna White, showing off her vanity plate, which memorializes famed mother grizzly #399’s cub, which was hit and killed by a vehicle in a hit and run incident in Grand Teton National Park in June, 2016.  That’s the Jackson Hole ski area above Teton Village in the background.


I regret not having gotten any photos of Liz Goldsmith, who I spent a fair amount of time with while I was in Jackson.  Liz was with us my first night in Jackson, with us at dinner on Friday night, and with me playing shuttle car driver on Sunday.  She is a fast friend and a stellar outdoorsperson.  Next time I see her in Jackson, I will have to get contemporaneous photos.  For now, just to prove Liz exists, I will post a photo from one of our hikes together in Yellowstone in October of 2017.


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Liz Goldsmith checking out an assortment of coyote, grizzly bear, and wolf tracks in October, 2017, along the Sour Creek portion of the Howard Eaton trail in Hayden Valley


11/28/18:  The CT scan and MRI were completed in the late afternoon.  I asked how soon we would have results, and was told “within 48 hours”.

11/29/18:  The next morning, between 8 and 9:00 a.m., I received a phone call from my orthopedic surgeon.  He had seen the results, and had conferred with my oncologist.  They were in agreement that there was something unusual going on, and that a bone biopsy needed to be done on my right femur.  The surgeon explained that what had looked like a stress fracture on x-rays, which are 2 dimensional, looked like a lesion once the imaging was accomplished with CT and MRI technology, which is 3 dimensional.  That lesion could be evidence of some sort of cancer activity or even an infection.

Later that day, I received a phone call from a nurse in the Interventional Radiology Department at Bozeman Health (our local hospital).  He said I was scheduled for a bone biopsy the next morning at 9:00 a.m., and he was calling to go over the details and ask me some questions.  I told him that was the first I had heard of the appointment, and that I had an important periodontist appointment at 1:00 p.m. that same day.  I did not want the morning appointment preventing me from seeing my periodontist, who is very busy, and whose openings tend to be a month or more out in the future.  I was told that they would be giving me general anesthesia, and I could not drive for 6-8 hours afterwards.  I informed him that we would have to look at rescheduling for the following week.  He told me I could get a friend to drive me.  That’s when things got a bit testy.  I told him I had nobody that was available to play taxi driver for me on a weekday, particularly with the logistics involved.  There was a chance my vehicle could be stranded at the hospital.  I also had a haircut appointment at 3:00 p.m. that I did not want to cancel, because it was my last opportunity with a very special cosmetology student who is graduating in 2 weeks.  The nurse said he would consult with the P.A., and get back to me.  About an hour later, I heard back from him.  He said the P.A. and the physician that would be doing the biopsy had conferred, and agreed that I could go without the general anesthesia, and just have a local anesthetic.  That set the stage for Friday, the 30th.

11/30/18:  I arrived at the hospital promptly at 9:00 a.m.  After a brief wait, a different nurse came to the waiting area and led me back to a room that was to be my temporary room to prep for the procedure.  I doffed most of my clothes and gowned up.  Then I had to wait for someone from the lab to do a blood draw, after which the doctor would come see me.  The phlebotomist showed up in short order, and did a magnificent job of drawing blood with minimal pain induced.  Then, a much longer wait ensued, while I waited for the doctor.  It was shortly before his arrival that CNN broke the news about the earthquake in Anchorage and the surrounding area.  I was spellbound, looking at photos and videos of places I am well familiar with, including roads I traveled on regularly while I lived in Alaska.  Naturally, in the midst of that, the doctor showed up, and we got the show rolling.

There is no need to go into great detail here.  I was anticipating something like the needle aspiration of the prosthetic joint that I had on 9/24/18, when they were wanting to rule out infection in the joint.  Even with the local anesthetic, it was a bit painful, but manageable.  This procedure was so different.  I just laid down on a fancy table that had a unique CT scanner adjacent to it, which allows the physician to direct the needle to the exact area to be biopsied.  There was a primary physician, his assistant, which was either another M.D. or a P.A., a med tech, and a nurse.  While I thought they were still administering the local anesthetic, it turned out they were already doing the biopsy, and within 5-10 minutes from when I laid down, the whole thing was over.  There was hardly any pain.  I was absolutely amazed.

Just as I had two days earlier, I asked when the results would be available, and was given what I now suspect is a standard timeframe:  “48 hours”.  My plan of care upon discharge showed I was already scheduled for an appointment with my oncologist on Wednesday, December 5, to go over the results.  Today, Saturday, 12/1/18, I received the formal document directed to the patient portal that sums up the CT scan results from Wednesday, the 28th.  It mentions the suspicion that there is likely either some sort of cancer activity in or around that bone, or possibly, an infection.  I have done a fair amount of web research on a number of possibilities, and there is a broad spectrum of potential causes for what we are seeing.  My hope is that I will find there is a definitive answer come next Wednesday, and that a practical treatment plan is obvious.  I am already prepared for the possibility of radiation treatment if it turns out to be lymphoma.  I’ve already been through that, and in a much more critical area, my mediastinum (heart, lungs, other “high-priced real estate”).  Having it on an upper leg/hip would be much less impactful near as I can tell.  I know I am decades beyond any worry about the possibility of having radiation preventing my ability to procreate.  Hopefully, if it is some sort of infection, antibiotics will be able to counteract it.  The scary possibility would be a more serious form of bone cancer (sarcoma of one sort or another).  My orthopedic surgeon mentioned on Thursday morning’s phone call that he is concerned about potential instability of the implanted hip.  He cautioned me to use my cane, and be very careful not to take any falls.  That got my attention, because I know revision surgery on an existing artificial hip is much more complicated than the original procedure.  My fervent hope is that I come out of this able to return to hiking and skiing.

I will update this blog as soon as possible after I get significant information on Wednesday afternoon.  If it turns out that we have simply turned a corner only to find another corner, and it requires additional diagnostics, I might wait until that is completed.

10/15/18 Update on Hip Fracture

October 15, 2018

I celebrated my 3 week anniversary of this debacle two days ago.  Almost all the medical info for this update was available over a week ago, but I got so enveloped in a host of chores and other tasks, that this is the first time I have had adequate time to generate this report.  I have found that this hip fracture has robbed me of a considerable amount of time.  Anything I do, whether it be simple chores around the house, or trips to the doctor, take considerably longer than they would if I were totally healthy.  I have learned to allot more time on both the front end and back end of any activity.  Simply getting dressed takes considerably longer.  I have to use my special tool to put the sock on my right leg, just like I did back in 2015 and early 2016, just before, and after my implant surgery.  Getting my trousers on is much more of a production.  Getting in and out of my vehicle is a major undertaking.  It can be torturous, and I am glad nobody has shot video of the endeavor.  This is all a consequence of being old and living by myself.


So, here’s the latest greatest on the battery of assessments, imaging, and tests that were run after I returned to Bozeman.  I’ll start with the final results of the needle aspiration of the artificial joint to check for infection.  The initial determination was “no evidence of infection”.  Since then, the final report has been issued, and it indicates “NO GROWTH”.  Let’s hear it for a clean growth medium.


The DEXA bone density scan showed that I have normal bone density, with no evidence of increased fracture risk.  This is the “biggie” that had me anxiously awaiting the results.


From here, things get a bit more chaotic.  My white blood cell count continued to be normal, and the hematocrit/hemoglobin level was slightly decreased, which is easily accounted for by some expected bleeding associated with the fracture.  The CRP and ESR markers for inflammation remain elevated, and that has been an ongoing source of concern for my primary care physician.  Inflammation can be associated with infection, malignancy, or autoimmune causes.  This, coupled with all the pain and mobility issues I was experiencing in that right hip prior to the badger hole incident, is what was driving the concern about possible infection.  Then we have the fact that I am a cancer patient, so if the markers remain high on my next blood panel, I could see a referral to my oncologist.  Everyone keeps telling me to watch myself closely for any of the classic signs of infection, but I just keep plodding along, with no symptoms.  (Of course, I was carrying that mediastinal mass around for quite some time, and never had any of the classic lymphoma symptoms.)  I guess I am something of a “medical mystery” for those intrigued at the prospect of trying to crack the code on what is going on.  They even tested my Random Testosterone, which came in a bit low, but still within the normal range, particularly for someone my age with Obstructive Sleep Apnea.


At this point, we are just waiting for the passage of time, and hopefully, my continued healing.  I was told to anticipate 6 to 8 weeks to heal the fracture.  I have follow-up appointments during the last week of October.  I see the orthopedic surgeon two weeks from today, and my primary care doc on Friday, 11/2/18.  I’m not sure if the surgeon is going to have new x-rays taken, but that would make sense, just to verify how the right trochanter looks at that point.  I know that the primary care physician wants a new blood panel run for any of a number of reasons, but I know she wants to get a look at those inflammation markers.


I am doing quite well with my cane these days.  I still use the walker for certain foot travel, just to minimize the weight load on my right leg.  I have gotten to where I can move around in a small space without either assist device on occasion, but I don’t push it.  I definitely have soft tissue pain in the quadriceps and several adjacent areas, as well as tenderness on the outside of the joint on the side of my leg.  The big mystery remains, i.e. the question of what was producing the steadily increasing pain in the hip and growing range of motion issues for that right leg.  I would not be surprised if that stress fracture had already started weeks, or even months, before I stepped in that badger hole.  On August 19, some hiking partners on a rather lengthy hike in Hayden Valley, remarked that I was limping.  I was not even aware of it, but then, I had been limping years before I got the new hip, when I lived in Alaska, and was only aware of it after an orthopedic surgeon walking behind me on a street in New York City called it to my attention.


One piece of good news is that I met with the employer I had been conversing with the day before I fractured my hip, and there is a good chance I will have employment once I am back to where my leg function is fully regained.


I should have a new update posted in early November.  Thank you to everyone who has extended their sympathy and well wishes.

9/22/18 Hip Fracturing Encounter With Badger Hole

September 30, 2018

Just as I used this blog as a convenient means of updating family and friends on my lymphoma and familial carcinoid tumors back in 2009-2011, I am now using it for the same purpose regarding my right hip and its long history of problems.


It started on August 24, 1979, when I made an unplanned glissade down a snowfield just north of Devil’s Thumb Pass in the Colorado Rockies.  Moving at incredibly high speed down a very steep slope, I impacted the boulders at the bottom feet first, and my right hip and lumbar spine absorbed the worst of the collision.  The story of what happened in the aftermath of that crash, and how I self-rescued, is a sufficiently exotic story to someday fill a small book.  I had no idea of the severity of my injuries at that point in time, but over time, a succession of indicators would be discovered.  First, after 4 to 6 weeks of massive bruising of my right hip area, accompanied by widespread numbness in that area, I consulted a chiropractor to seek relief from the numbness.  He looked at the x-rays, and asked me if anyone at the Emergency Room that evening had mentioned that I had a cracked lateral transverse process on one of my lumbar vertebrae.  The late Friday evening E/R staff had missed it.


When I first visited the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda in 2009, they noticed that two of my lumbar vertebrae had fused themselves together.  I was told that it was a common artifact of traumatic injury.


Years later, in 2011, at the NIH, a surgeon performing abdominal surgery to resect a portion of my small intestine, where carcinoid tumors resided, discovered that my bladder had moved from its normal position at the base of the colon to the very top of the colon, where it had conveniently attached itself to the organ.  Over time, it had distended, taking advantage of the available space.  She gently removed it from its perch on the colon and put it back where it belonged.


In January, 2016, during surgery in Anchorage, Alaska, to replace my arthritic, wore out right hip with a metal and ceramic implant, the orthopedic surgeon found a “spike” (osteophyte) of calciferous material sticking out sideways from the joint.  This is not uncommon in joints that have suffered traumatic injury, as the body makes any number of ill-fated efforts to repair damage.


The implanted prosthesis performed well, and I managed to do a number of substantial hikes in Alaska in the summer of 2016, with minimal discomfort.  I did as much hiking in Denali National Park that summer as I did in the mountains close to where I lived in Eagle River.  In the winter of 2016/2017, I engaged in repeated cross country skiing outings on the groomed trails adjacent to the high school and our subdivision, several of which are written up in this blog.


In June of 2017, I relocated to Montana, and resumed hiking in Yellowstone National Park.  I rejoined Facebook at the urging of several friends, and began posting photo-intensive trip reports there.  They remain on my Facebook page as photo albums.  It was a great hiking season, as I met several new hiking partners via Facebook, and a number of my pre-Alaska Yellowstone friends joined me on occasion.  There was a wee bit of soreness that gradually developed in the right hip once we were doing longer, steeper itineraries, but it was nothing serious.  In the winter of 2017/2018, I skied the Northern Range of Yellowstone with Donny Racz, who had hiked with me many times the previous summer.  We even downhill skied Big Sky once in the middle of the winter.  Big Sky made the local skiing community an offer it could not refuse, which was an unlimited ski pass, good for the 3 weeks of April prior to closing for a price between $100 and $200.  I took advantage of it, and skied at least 3 times in April.  By then, I had created the “Yellowstone 365 Meetup”, which is a Yellowstone-centric activity group, designed to provide day hiking, education, photography, skiing, snowshoeing, and social activities year-round to Members.  That group has grown since its beginning on the evening of March 31, 2018 to 268 Members in six months.  We started hiking in Yellowstone in mid-April, doing easier treks in the north end, while waiting for the warmer months to melt the record snowfall and dry out the terrain in the interior.  We did not move south in any serious way until late June or early July, but eventually, we were knocking out numerous adventurous itineraries, many off-trail.  On August 4, Donny and I were astonished to encounter a succession of grizzly bears and 10 members of the Wapiti Lake wolf pack, all converging to feed on a bison carcass in western Hayden Valley.  We got some very impressive photos of multiple grizzlies sharing a pond, as well as a small grizzly and one of the wolves in the pond simultaneously.


Unfortunately, for some reason, as yet undetermined, my hip started to give me more trouble as the summer went on.  It was sore, and just kept becoming more sore.  A totally off-trail hike just north of the South Boundary of Yellowstone on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend, which included a fair amount of deadfall navigation, complete with hurdling logs that were several feet off the ground, really seemed to exacerbate the situation, but it was not apparent until a few days after the outing.


We had a Meetup hike on Labor Day, out to the pond where Donny and I had watched the bears and wolves a month earlier.  We were able to see what was left of the bison carcass, off in the distance.  Donny and I only suspected its existence, opting to not walk over a ridge blindly searching for it while large carnivores were coming and going.  The next two weekend’s hikes were canceled due to lack of participation, so theoretically, my hip was given a break, but it did not seem to make much difference.  During the week of September 10-14, I made a 3 day run down to Jackson to visit a friend, and we spent several days running around Grand Teton National Park photographing moose, mountains, and early fall colors.  We were out walking around on fairly level ground along the Gros Ventre River, at the Cunningham Cabin, and a few other places.  My hip seemed to be behaving itself to the extent that it could weather a 4 or 5 hour drive without acting up.  I decided to take myself off the twice a day Aleve regimen I had been on for the last year and a half, primarily a result of chronic pain in my left shoulder.  I had done that once before, maybe 6-9 months ago, and while the shoulder seemed much better, a number of other aches and pains made their presence felt, which persuaded me to get back on the meds.  This time, I stopped on Saturday, the 15th.  By Sunday night, the 16th, I was starting to feel increasing pain in my right hip, but my left shoulder was totally pain-free.  On Monday, the 17th, the hip pain was even more pronounced, so I decided I would get back on the Aleve that evening.


Over the ensuing week, I was dismayed to find that being back on Aleve was not having significant impact.  It may have resulted in slight improvement, but there was still substantial hip pain.  On Friday, the 21st, I was showering in the morning, and made a weight transfer from my left leg to my right leg.  Suddenly, it was like being hit by a lightning bolt, or possibly, being tased on the hip area.  In the aftermath, I had all I could do to simply stand, and the hip was VERY painful.  The discomfort and accompanying mobility issues were sufficient to force me to resort to using my cane to move about my house.  I feared that I might have to cancel the planned hike up the southeast side of Mt. Everts, planned for Saturday, the 22nd.  That evening, when I went to bed, I made one slight change in my typical sleep logistics.  I had been placing a pillow beneath my knees for the past several years, at the recommendation of a physical therapist in Anchorage.  It just seemed that with the angle of my hip skeletal structure, not having that elevation might just be helpful.  It proved quite beneficial, and within an hour or two, I was feeling much better.  On Saturday morning, I was able to get around without resorting to the use of my cane.  There was still a fair amount of pain, and a slight loss of flexion in the right leg, but I felt there was a reasonable possibility I might be able to hike, particularly since I would be using my hiking poles, which offer quite a bit of stability.


On Saturday morning, the 22nd, I told my hiking compadres at the trailhead about my hip situation, and cautioned that I would try to go, but that circumstances could force me to turn back early on.  There were 5 of us, and we started out on the Blacktail Deer Creek trail, heading north toward its junction with the Rescue Creek trail.  I was in substantial pain, but I wanted to give myself some time, because it is not unusual for some ache or pain to surface early on, and then dissipate once you get going.  We went a quarter mile or a bit less, and then veered off the trail to the northwest to start ascending the broad open landscape to the west of the large exclosure.  Over the next several hours, we gradually made our way up to the southeast rim of the mountain, where I had hoped to see a pond I had visited several times back in 2010.  We found a pond, but it was the large one that we pass by frequently when we are on the south end of the mountain.  Brian Fanning lost his cell phone, and we spent some time trying to find it.  We ate lunch, and decided to try and retrace our steps on the upper part of the mountain, in an effort to locate Brian’s phone, using Kelly’s GPS track of our route.  Unfortunately, we never did find Bryan’s phone, and he now has a new one.


After we had descended the mountainside, and were within 30 or 40 feet of rejoining the Blacktail Deer Creek trail, we were walking through the sort of mixture of grasses and sagebrush that is common across Yellowstone’s Northern Range.  It is pockmarked with badger holes, and I managed to stick my right leg in one that was partially hid by the vegetation.  I immediately experienced an electroshock type of pain in my right hip, and went down on the ground like a sack of potatoes.  Brian McKinney, who was walking next to me, checked me out as best he could, and persuaded me to stay put on the ground.  I was convinced that if I could just get on my feet, I could walk the rest of the way to the trailhead and the vehicles.  At one point, I went through the lengthy process of gradually, bit by bit, going from flat on the ground to standing.  I found myself able to take one very short step, maybe 6 to 12 inches maximum, moving my left leg forward, but I just couldn’t move the right leg.  Brian finally convinced me to get back on the ground, while he summoned help.


This was around 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon on an absolutely gorgeous, warm autumn day.  Laying on the ground, surrounded by scenery that included Mt. Everts, the Red Dirt hillside, Crevice Mountain, the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone, and numerous other features was almost a privilege, in spite of the discomfort in my leg.  Within 8 or 10 minutes, a party of day hikers, on their way up the trail, stopped to check on me.  It sounded like they had spoken with Brian, and he asked them to check on me.  They were very pleasant people from Bozeman, a couple who was hosting another couple visiting from out of town.  Eventually, I suggested they move on, so they did not burn too much daylight.  Shortly thereafter, both Brian’s and Kelly returned.  They had summoned help.  I suspect Diane had driven to Mammoth to report the incident, but I do not know that for certain at this writing.  Within minutes, the first National Park Service (NPS) personnel arrived on the scene, followed by several waves of additional help.  That’s when I started feeling somewhat self-conscious.  In my volunteer days at Rocky Mountain National Park, I had assisted in a number of wheeled litter rescues/haul-outs in summer and toboggan rescues in winter, when there were little or no seasonal resources available.  I have Wilderness First Responder training, and recertified twice via the Wilderness First Aid curriculum.  This was familiar “territory”, in terms of equipment and protocols.  The thought of being transported myself was more than a little embarrassing.


Thankfully, there was one older NPS fellow, who had a real dry sarcastic sense of humor, and his shtick really served to alleviate my emotional pain.  The lead Advanced Life Support (ALS) team member is the leader of the program at Mammoth.  He was incredibly professional!  They took very good care of me, and I was back at the trailhead in short order.  That is when the real “sell job” began.  They had told me that eventually I would have to make a decision on whether I wanted to be transported by ambulance to a hospital, or private transportation.  I kept insisting I did not want to go by ambulance.  Of course, every one of us had their own vehicle, since none of us live close to each other.  That in itself would have been a major logistical problem.  There was no way I would be able to drive, even though I probably thought I could.  Eventually, I surrendered to common sense, and agreed to be transported by ambulance.  I told them I wanted to go to Bozeman, because that is where I live, and where my primary care doc and oncologist are.  They told me that if Livingston, which is a half hour closer, has orthopedic care, they would have to deliver me to Livingston.  What I did not know at the time is that Bridger Orthopedics in Bozeman, which is a large orthopedic practice, with multiple locations, just signed a deal with the lone orthopedic surgeon and his P.A. down in Livingston about a month ago to joint their practice.  I wound up in Livingston Health Care, the hospital affiliated with Billings Health Care.


We arrived in Livingston just before dark.  It was probably around 7:00 p.m.  The Emergency Room personnel had x-rays taken, and shortly thereafter, I was informed that I had a linear stress fracture of the right trochanter, and would be admitted to the hospital.  The one advantage of a small community hospital is that if they are not being slammed by some major event, like a multi-vehicle injury accident or some weather-induced community trauma, it’s pretty quiet in the E/R early on a Saturday evening.  I was quickly moved to a room upstairs.  Someone asked if I was hungry, and I told them I definitely was.  I had eaten a light lunch on the mountain, and part of it was still in my day pack, which was in my vehicle.  (Thankfully, Kelly Burns had driven it to Livingston behind the ambulance, then road back to Mammoth in the ambulance.)  They brought me the only thing they had available, which was a cold reuben sandwich.  It was in a semi-hard plastic container, and appeared to be a product designed for easy storage, and then heating via a toaster oven or some similar appliance.  It didn’t matter to me.  I wolfed that sandwich down, and then watched the Arizona State – University of Washington football game, which started at 8:00 p.m.


On Sunday, Russell, the P.A. from Bridger Orthopedic, came by to see me.  He was very informative, and told me that it was not likely that I would need surgery.  He said that I would have to keep as much weight as possible off the right leg for between 6 and 8 weeks.  The term he and the nurses kept using was “toe touch” pressure, meaning just lightly touching the toes to the floor.  Russell also used an imaginative description about applying more pressure to the leg than if you were “stepping on a puppy”.  A fellow from Physical Therapy had me walk around the hospital floor using a walker, and took me to their PT room where I practiced doing stairs.  Since I had just been through this in January of 2016, it was real familiar.  Everything was making sense if you simply did not consider all the discomfort I had been experiencing prior to stepping in the badger hole.  I told Russell about it.  I also told Dr. Coleman, the on duty physician about it.  It was later on Sunday that somebody, and it may have been my nurse, mentioned that my white blood cell count and two markers for inflammation were all elevated.  I had been worrying that the pain I was experiencing in the hip in August and September might be due to an infection in the joint.  Of course, I had been warned way back in January of 2016 about the danger of infection in a prosthetic joint.  There is something about those things that makes them an infection magnet.  If you get an infection in some other part of the body, it tends to migrate rapidly to the prosthesis.  For the first 2 years after implant surgery, I had to take preventive antibiotics every time I had a dental appointment, just to guard against the possibility of infection in the joint.  If infection occurs, it almost always requires surgery to clean it up, and that often results in revision of the joint, meaning removal of the implant, and substitution of a new one.  That revision implant is a much bigger deal, with much more hardware involved, and prone to more trouble.  It is something to be avoided if at all possible.  I know people in Anchorage who are on their second or even third hip implant.  It is not fun!!


On Monday, the on duty physician was Kelly Walker, M.D. who is a WWAMI TRUST preceptor.  She told me that my white blood cell count had gone back to normal, but the two inflammation markers (ESR and CRP) had risen even further.  That generated concern about possible infection in the joint.  They were planning to have a radiologist do a needle aspiration of the joint to acquire some fluid that could be tested for the existence of pathogens.  Everything seemed to be moving along quite well, and then Dr. Walker discovered that the radiologist was not in, and would not be back until Thursday.  Things looked kind of gnarly, but then, good news.  She told me Bozeman Health could get the procedure done that afternoon, around 3:00 p.m.  I had just enough time to eat lunch, get dressed, and drive to Bozeman Health.  I was so thrilled at the prospect of being back in Bozeman, so if I did not need to be in the hospital, I could be at home.  I was told that if the needle aspiration, which is done by a radiologist, uses x-ray technology to guide the needle to where it needs to be.  If there was no infection, I would likely be released home.  Otherwise, I would be admitted, and surgery would be scheduled ASAP.  You may be wondering how I talked them into letting me drive to Bozeman.  It was a combination of my vehicle being at the Livingston hospital and my having ABS brakes, which do not require much pressure to activate them, even in a severe braking emergency.


I was wheeled out to my car in a wheelchair, and shortly, I was on my way to Bozeman.  I had to have someone meet me at my car in Bozeman to wheel me in to the Radiology area.  Once the procedure was under way, the radiologist told me that he was having trouble finding liquid to aspirate.  Eventually, he found a little, some of which was blood.  He told me that in his experience whenever there was infection, there was a lot of fluid, so that boded well.  I was to hang around the hospital waiting to hear from Dr. Walker with the test results.  Two hours later, I got the call, saying the initial read was “no infection”.  I was thrilled, and that allowed me to go home.


Besides the possibility of infection in the joint, Dr. Walker was also concerned about the potential that my bone density might be low, and that could account for the fracture.  She scheduled an appointment for me with an orthopedic surgeon at Bridger Orthopedic for Thursday, the 27th.  I scheduled an appointment for Friday afternoon, the 28th, with a locum doctor who is helping out with a bubble in the workload in my regular doctor’s clinic.


On Thursday, the orthopedic surgeon had some fancy x-rays taken of the hip.  He seemed pleased with what they showed, and essentially confirmed what I had been told in Livingston about the prognosis for recovery.  He also said he was not surprised that the needle aspiration turned up some blood, given the recent trauma, but also, the fact that the needle was poking around in the joint, and if you do enough of that, you are bound to produce some bleeding.  He also said that he was not concerned about the elevated inflammation markers, because you have to expect inflammation with traumatic injury, like what I suffered.  I am scheduled for a follow-up with the orthopedic surgeon in late October.


On Friday, the 28th, I met Dr. Elaine Samuel, who proved to be an excellent physician, IMHO.  She went through all sorts of test results, and had me tell her the story of my right hip.  Based on all the inputs, she developed what I would call a “plan of action”.  She had a bunch of blood tests run on Friday afternoon.  She wanted to check a number of things, and I’m not going to detail them here.  The results of many of the tests were available Friday evening, and proved negative, so many potential problems were ruled out already.  Dr. Samuel lives in Helena, and is only in Bozeman on Wednesday through Friday.  I have a follow-up appointment with her on Friday, October 5th.  I also have a DEXA scan to check my bone density this coming Tuesday, October 2nd.  That will instruct mightily what we talk about on Friday.  Before I went downstairs to get blood drawn, Dr. Samuel lectured me about symptoms to watch for this weekend, all indicators of possible infection.


I am writing this on Sunday night, 9/30/18.  My pain meds ran out on Friday evening.  Friday night’s sleep was miserable, with renewed pain interrupting it.  Dr. Coleman warned me off my constant repetitive consumption of Aleve, owing to the anticipated side effects of NSAID ingestion.  My mobility is vacillating.  I have been able to drive when absolutely necessary to pick up medication or groceries, but I try to minimize it.  Getting my right leg under the dashboard is a real chore, and that is a Toyota Avalon, which has a lot of leg room.


The one group of people who have been aware of my hip problem are the Members of the Yellowstone 365 Meetup, because I had to announce via my weekly update that I send to all Members every Monday evening that I would not be able to lead the hikes that I had scheduled for the rest of the hiking season.  Given the timeline being presented by the orthopedic community, I am hoping to be back in “hiking shape” by Thanksgiving.  Of course, it is rare that we hike after early/mid-November, unless we have an exceptionally dry, warm fall.  I do have photographic evidence of a few hikes on Thanksgiving Weekend over the years out in the Tower Fall area, using the paved road to go up to the store, and in a few cases, even doing the loop via the Chittenden Road and the campground.

My major concerns at this point are:

  • Determining what the source of the discomfort prior to the badger hole was.  There is the possibility that I already had the stress fracture, or at least a smaller one, that was then exacerbated by dropping into that hole.
  • I have no experience with this type of medical melodrama as a Medicare patient.  I have the fanciest Medicare B option via AARP.  I’m hoping I don’t have to cough up a bunch of money, because it would be problematic.
  • I was semi-content to hike through the summer in anticipation of going back to work in the fall.  Ironically, I was in conversation with an employer on the day immediately prior to this accident.  I have had to postpone further conversation temporarily, but there is a lot of interest on both of our parts, so I am anxious to get this moving ASAP.  Unfortunately, I am going to have to be fairly mobile to make this work, so I could be on the sideline, burning though what little is left of my savings, while waiting for this hip to heal.
  • What are the implications for hiking and skiing going forward?  This summer was an excellent hiking summer, with consistently favorable weather.  Some of this may only be answered over time, via experience.


My plan is to provide periodic updates via this blog until this situation is resolved, and I will announce them on Facebook.  I hope to have one once the results of the DEXA scan are known, particularly after I huddle with Dr. Samuel this coming Friday.

The Long Road Home

March 26, 2018






It only took me SEVEN MONTHS to start creating this post.  Three months after I began that effort, I have finally finished.  There are a host of reasons, and they tend to run sequentially.  The move arrangements, packing, and loading ate up late April and May.  The drive south commenced on June 1.  With visiting family and friends in Colorado, returning to Montana, purchasing various furniture pieces in advance of the truck arrival, the eventual unloading in early July, and hiking season in Yellowstone, I was a busy boy all through the summer and fall.  Complicating matters, I rejoined Facebook in the spring, after a 5 or 6 year absence.  I joined the Yellowstone Up Close and Personal group and the Yellowstone Hiking group, and was posting trip reports, with photos.  In the fall, I started adding video clips to some of the trip reports, and hope to do more of that over time.  Just about the time the interior roads closed in Yellowstone, I started working, and those 40 hour work weeks are time consumers.  I’m betwixt and between on whether I will try to post hike trip reports on this blog, like I did years ago.  The readership is so much larger on Facebook.  For anyone who is interested in seeing those reports, if you are on Facebook, just look for “Ballpark Frank” in Bozeman, Montana.  I have them mounted as “public”, but I have heard from a few people that they were unable to access them.  There are a series of photo albums, almost one a week through the summer and portions of the fall, with a few winter reports covering ski outings primarily.  The report narrative is in the description portion of the images.  If you want easy access to the albums, just send a Friend request.  That will give you unfettered access.







The single biggest expense in most moves is the carting of household goods and other personal property from Location A to Location B.  A move to or from Alaska is much more like an overseas move than a typical interstate move in the Lower 48.  We lucked out big time in that the movers that handled our 2012 relocation to Alaska from Montana gave us a sizeable discount that seemed to be close to 50% off.  It amounted to a “repeat customer discount”.  The one complicating factor in this particular move was dividing an existing household in two, and requesting what amounts to a “split load”.  Jane wanted her belongings unloaded at her house, and I wanted mine delivered to my house.  To their credit, the moving company managed that aspect of the project with minimal conflict and/or confusion.  Jane and I developed a system of identification designed to insure our belongings arrived at the correct destination, and we supervised the loading to as great an extent as possible.  Even with our best efforts, a few items were mis-delivered.  Actually, they would have been, but by keeping a sharp eye on what was coming off the truck in July, we managed to redirect at least 5 items via the moving van.


In a piece of amazing irony, our next door neighbors, who we had lived next to for four years, were moving at almost the same time.  Jason was an anesthesiologist in the Air Force, and was being transferred to San Antonio.  He and Cammy had 4 children, Sierra, Marcus, David, and Clint (in descending order of age, I think).  They loaded their truck several days before we did.  Thankfully, I got to spend some time with them on several occasions, when they were back at their house, cleaning or organizing the belongings that were going with them in their large tow vehicle that was going to be pulling their long trailer all the way to Texas.  They told me they were going the same route Jane and I took on our way up to Alaska in 2012.  When they got to Montana, they planned to visit Yellowstone.  They were hitting the road on Wednesday, May 31, while I was leaving a day after them, on Thursday, June 1.  We joked about how we might see each other on the road, but I don’t think any of us really expected what eventually happened.


We loaded the truck on Tuesday, May 30.  Several of the crew were Samoan fellows, incredibly beefy and strong.  Jane and I stayed at a motel in Eagle River that night, as well as the next.  On Wednesday, Jane spent the morning at her office.  I let the cleaning crew into the house, then headed into Anchorage for a few last items of preparation, including changing some American dollars into Canadian dollars.  NOTE for anyone planning on traveling to or from Alaska via the Alaska Highway:  On the way up in 2012, I didn’t need most of the cash I had acquired.  On the way back in 2017, I hardly used any of it.  It’s still worth having some with you, but know that almost everyone takes plastic these days.


On Thursday, June 1, Jane headed to her office.  Her plan was to drop off her truck with the outfit that was going to ship it to Montana.  Her flight left Anchorage the next day.  My plan was to hit the road from the motel, stop off at my favorite lunch spot in Peters Creek, visit my chiropractor one last time, and continue on to Tok for my first night’s stay, within an hour or two of the Canadian border.  As I was carrying my luggage to my car, the manager on duty told me the housekeeping people had discovered some medication in the refrigerator in Jane’s room.  He wasn’t sure what to do with it.  Knowing that Jane was not going to have the means of retrieving the medication, and concerned that it needed refrigeration, I decided to drive it to Jane’s office at the university, since I was unable to reach her on the phone.  That threw my departure behind by about an hour, which thwarted my lunch/chiropractor plans.




DAY 1, Thursday, June 1, 2017



It was a fairly nice day, weather-wise, one of those days you see quite often in late May and June in the Anchorage/Eagle River area.  As I headed up the Glenn Highway, my mind was racing, considering a flood of extraneous thoughts that were bombarding my consciousness.  I pondered the irony of how 5 years earlier we had arrived together, but now we were heading back to Montana separately.  I thought about the fact that while I had hoped to get in a day or two of hiking prior to departing Alaska, the combination of cold, wet weather and the pressing needs of packing prevented me from getting anything beyond one quick foray down the hill to the campground along the river, below our subdivision.  Shortly after my departure, a group of teens were destined to have a nasty encounter with a bear in that same area.  The day I went down there, the campground hosts had just arrived and there were snowdrifts across the road in places.  The only critters I saw were moose, which are abundant in that area year-round.  I wondered what my new future would hold for me.  At one point, the harsh reality of knowing I was totally on my own if anything went wrong on the long drive ahead occurred to me, and I recognized that I had to trust to luck that everything would go OK.



Folks that have driven the road that connects the Anchorage/Palmer/Wasilla area to Glenallen and eventually, Tok, will have undoubtedly seen the Matanuska Glacier from the highway.  There are a series of pullouts that probably span a 20-25 mile stretch of that road, maybe longer, which afford views of this impressive glacier that does not reach the sea, not even Cook Inlet, or the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet.  The glacier terminates a long ways from Palmer, and creates the Matanuska River, which flows into the Knik Arm after a 75 mile overland journey.  Much like Denali and several vistas from mountaintops in the Chugach Mountains, the Matanuska Glacier always prompted me to take lots of photos whenever I was in the area.  On this day, I was graced with by far the best weather ever for photographing the glacier.  Since this was likely my last opportunity to see and capture images of this landmark, I am motivated to display a number of them in this report.





Figure 1 First glimpse of Matanuska Glacier




Figure 2 Zoomed in a bit from first pulloff





Figure 3 Zoomed in even further from first pulloff




The next series of Matanuska Glacier shots were taken many miles further east, looking south, while the first series of photos were taken from a perspective looking southeast.  While the visible white portion of the glacier makes it appear like a thin ribbon of snow and ice, actually, most of the valley floor is covered by the glacier.  The bulk of it, as you get into the lower reaches, is covered with dirt and rock, probably resulting from periodic melting of the upper portion, which is exposed to the long summer sun.



Figure 4 View to south, zoomed out




Figure 5 View to the southwest, with close-up showing “dirty” ice/snow




Figure 6 View south zoomed in a bit




Figure 7 View south, zoomed in further




I made one last Lower Matanuska Glacier view stop.  It is the easternmost and last (when you are traveling west to east) look at the lower portion of this magnificent work of nature.




Figure 8 Looking southwest from easternmost viewpoint, zoomed out




Figure 9 View southwest from easternmost viewpoint, zoomed in




If this seems confusing, don’t fret.  It was confusing to me.  I thought I had seen the last of the Matanuska Glacier, but after driving another 5 or 10, maybe more miles, I discovered a place where I could see the upper portion of the glacier.  I suspect this area may have been obscured by clouds or fog on my previous trips through this area.  It was one of several pleasant surprises that were in store for me on this precious afternoon.




Figure 10 View of upper portion of Matanuska Glacier, zoomed out




Figure 11 View of upper portion of Matanuska Glacier, zoomed in




At the place where I took the photos of the upper portion of the Matanuska Glacier, I was stunned to see what at first appeared to be shiny white clouds hugging the ground in the distance, way east.  My guess was it had to be at least 50 miles, maybe further.  I realized it was likely some distant mountains, and thought it had to be part of the Wrangell Mountains, which run along the border of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, by far the largest national park in the system.  I had only been in that area once since moving to Alaska.  We drove through there on our way to Eagle River from Montana in 2012, but it was a rainy day, with clouds that hugged the ground.  We knew the mountains were out there somewhere, but never got a look at them.

I know I had been in this area at least twice since moving to Alaska, but for whatever reason, probably clouds on the horizon, I had not seen these mountains from this area.


What is particularly amazing about the view from this spot is that my camera picked up much more detail than what I was seeing with my eyes.  I have very good vision, so my suspicion is that the camera was able to “see” through the haze that was obscuring the mountains when I looked at them.  Near as I can tell, those mountains were between 100 and 150 miles away.  I learned when I reached Glenallen that some mountains were much closer than others.  More on that later………….




Figure 12 Wrangell Mountains in distance, zoomed out – Mt. Sanford at far left, with Mt. Drum to the right, Mt. Wrangell further right, and Mt. Blackburn farthes right




Figure 13 Mt. Drum on right, Mt. Sanford at left




Figure 14 Zoomed in on Mt. Drum, with part of Mt. Sanford at left




This is as good a place as any to detail the relative positions and elevation of the four subject mountains.  Ranging from left to right, we have Mt. Sanford (elev. 16,327 ft.), Mt. Drum (elev. 12,010 ft.), Mt. Wrangell (elev. 14,163 ft.), and Mt. Blackburn (elev. 16,390 ft.).  Mt. Drum is by far the furthest west, so it appears quite large, while actually the lowest of the four.  Mt. Wrangell is an active volcano.  I spoke with a chamber of commerce employee in Glenallen who told me about volcanic episodes over the years that she has witnessed personally.


The clouds started gathering as I proceeded toward Glenallen.  Once I got within 25 or 30 miles of the town, I started getting remarkable views of the Wrangell Mountains, particularly Mt. Drum.  I could see Mt. Sanford, left of Mt. Drum, but not the uppermost part of the mountain.




Figure 15 The road points right at Mt. Drum. Mt. Sanford is at left. Mt. Wrangell is at right.



Figure 16 Mt. Drum and Mt. Sanford, zoomed in



Figure 17 Zoomed in on Mt. Drum




For those who live in close proximity to the 14ers common to Colorado or those arrayed north/south through the Cascade Mountains and High Sierras, and might be wondering why Mt. Drum, at 12,010 ft. elevation looks so big, keep in mind that the base elevation is only around 1,500 feet above sea level, so you are looking at about 10,500 feet of mountain.




Figure 18 Road construction just outside Glenallen, heading for Tok




The last series of photos are ones I took later that afternoon, as I was heading up the Tok Cutoff from Glenallen.  There were dramatic views available of the Wrangell Mountains to the south as I was heading north.  I think this is the Copper River in the foreground.  I know I could see Mt. Sanford on the left, with Mt. Drum in the middle, and Mt. Wrangell’s dome-like structure on the right.  I know the clouds were low enough that I could not see the very top of Mt. Sanford most of the time, but there were a few “magic moments” where the clouds lifted a bit.  When that happened, I would start looking for a place to pull over and get photos.  This was a bit difficult, since the mountains were behind me, over my right shoulder, but it was worth the effort.




Figure 19 Looking south down the Copper River toward Mt. Sanford on the left and Mt. Drum on the right.




Figure 20 Zooming in on Mt. Sanford




Figure 21 Zoomed in even more on Mt. Sanford




Figure 22 Looking south at the north side of Mt. Drum




Figure 23 Mt. Drum with Mt. Wrangell at right




Figure 24 Zoomed in on Mt. Drum from way up north




The road started developing serious quality issues about the time the views of the Wrangell Mountains dissipated.  That’s a good thing, because I had to start concentrating on driving.  There were serious frost heaves, some reminiscent of the nasty ones we had encountered on the Canadian side of the border near Destruction Bay back in 2012, when we drove up from Montana.  In fact, this 15 or 20 mile section of road was by far the worst section of the entire drive, discounting the dirt/gravel section of construction by Muncho Lake in Canada.  Having that 2012 experience was beneficial, and I managed to maneuver my way around and through the pot hole and frost heave “slalom” without suffering any obvious damage or bottoming out.

The weather, which was cloudy and cool most of the way up from Glenallen, started becoming progressively sunnier and warmer the closer I got to Tok, and by the time I reached the outskirts, I had my window down, with a blue sky above me.


The entire time I was driving toward Tok, I was experiencing growing cold symptoms.  My throat was drying out in spite of my hydration efforts.  My sinuses seemed to be plugged up, and I had significant drainage going down the back of my throat.  These were ominous signs of potential nastiness to come.  As soon as I checked into Young’s Motel, I called Jane, just to let her know I had made it to Tok.  I mentioned the cold symptoms, and she suggested I buy some Nyquil to help me get through the night.  It’s funny how you can get so focused on a single task, and go brain dead about anything peripheral to it.  That is what happened to me.  It had not dawned on me to get some sort of medication to at least alleviate some of the symptoms I was experiencing.  As soon as I got off the phone, I went searching for a place to purchase Nyquil or something equivalent.  After a bit of wandering, I located what I suspect is the only “store” in Tok, at least an establishment where you can procure groceries and other basic supplies.  Thankfully, they were still open, because it was getting late.  I was able to find Nyquil, as well as Dayquil for the next day.  I paid an exorbitant amount for the two bottles.  I can’t remember the exact total, but I remember thinking it was just under $20.  I also remember thinking “Regardless of what it costs, it is worth it if it (1) helps me get a decent night’s sleep, and (2) enables me to stay on schedule with my long drive, since I had locked in my lodging at each stop along the way.


I went back to the motel, which is a fair-sized operation, and Fast Eddy’s, one of the few restaurants in Tok.  I ate a fairly nice dinner, checked email, and went to bed.




DAY 2, Friday, June 2, 2017



Thanks to the medication recommended by Jane, I got a good night’s sleep.  To facilitate my quick start to the day’s drive, I had a quick breakfast of beef jerky, a protein bar, and something else that I can’t recall almost 10 months later as I write this.  While this was going to be another relatively light driving day, compared to Days 3 and 4 (only covering the same distance between Tok and Whitehorse that we traveled in 2012 on the drive north), I wanted to get moving, because I was getting a later than anticipated start, thanks to the Nyquil’s sedation effect, and I was hoping to have some extra time at the end of the day to do some exploring around Whitehorse, and scout out a good restaurant for dinner.


I was about to write “the traffic was light” as I left Tok, and then I remembered where I was.  I doubt Tok ever sees anything resembling moderate or heavy traffic.  There were a few vehicles, including a truck or two, in those first 4 or 5 miles, because you have scattered homes and businesses (like contractors and loggers) along the 2 lane highway that takes you to the Canadian border.  Once I got 5 or 10 minutes outside Tok, the traffic was just short of non-existent.  There was nobody ahead or behind me, and I would have a vehicle heading toward me maybe once every 3 or 4 minutes on average.  Probably half or more of those were RVs, with people from the Lower 48 heading up to Alaska on vacation.  Many of the remainder were 18-wheelers transporting everything from the belongings of people moving to Alaska to a variety of typical motor freight.


The weather was fairly nice, sunny with some clouds here and there.  It gradually became mostly cloudy the further I went south.  The drive from Tok to the border is only around 93 miles.  There is not much in the way of spectacular scenery on that drive, so I was motoring.


WARNING:  This paragraph contains a description of bodily functions gone awry, and the complications that followed.  If you are not fond of reading about such things, I would recommend you skip to the next paragraph, which picks up right after I cleared Canadian Customs.  Remember, you were warned!  On the flip side, if you are anything like my old hiking buddy, Craig, and enjoy dry humor, and irony, you will love this.  Unfortunately, my cold was acting up, and at one point, about a half hour south of Tok, I tried to blow my nose.  Here I am, flying down the road, and trying to blow my nose at the same time.  Bad move!!  The next thing I knew, I had a veritable geyser of blood coming out of one nostril.  I must have uncorked a gusher.  There are no pulloffs along this part of the highway, so I was trying to manage driving and not getting blood all over my car and me.  That puny tissue was no match for what I had unleashed, so I had to call in reinforcements.  This is ironically funny and damn dangerous simultaneously.  It wasn’t long before I had a mouth full of a mixture of phlegm and blood, and I wanted to get rid of it. Here’s Frank zooming down this narrow 2 lane highway, still in Alaska, so the foliage on the side of the road is not cut back all that much, the way it is in Canada.  It’s early enough in the day, and early enough in June, that the ambient air temperature was probably in the 30s.  I was going to spit the wad of unwanted material out of my mouth, feeling pretty comfortable that there were no vehicles coming the other way, and nobody behind me.  I put the window down, turned my head, and let loose.  I was probably traveling at 70-80 mph, and given what happened, I have to wonder if I was driving into a headwind.  All I know is that the gruesome mixture did not go where I had intended it to go, well out onto the pavement.  Instead, it was blown back against the side of my car.  I looked in horror at the sprayed mixture of blood and phlegm that was plastered all over the side window behind me, and figured it was probably covering part of the door and rear fender.  How nice!  To make matters worse, the ambient air temperature, combined with my vehicle’s velocity produced enough of a wind chill that everything was almost immediately frozen into place.  All I could think of was “how am I going to explain this to a Customs official?”  I had at least 3 canisters of bear spray stashed in my car, and knew that it was illegal to bring those across the border.  I did not want them inadvertently discovered if all the blood on the side of my car prompted a closer inspection to determine if a crime had been committed.  After all, I can imagine, and I am sure you can too, twenty different ways you can wind up with blood on the front of your car, everything from hitting a bird to someone in the vehicle ahead of you spitting a bloody compound out their side window.  It’s just hard to conjure up an explanation for the mess I had all over the driver’s side rear quarter of my car.  I was surprised at how fast the border crossing appeared.  There was some sort of sign warning of the approach.  I went around a corner, and there was the border.  Thankfully, there was not even a U.S. Customs booth or any type of structure for southbounders.  Then I had to traverse what appeared to be maybe 50-100 yards of “No Man’s Land”.  Visions of the 1 km Zone I saw along the border between East and West Germany in 1971 flashed through my skull.  Soon enough, I was pulling up to the window of a Canadian Customs building.  I still had PTSD from my interaction with a 35 or 40ish military looking Canadian Customs guy I dealt with when we crossed into Canada back in 2012.  He must have grilled me for 5 minutes about whether I was transporting any guns (pistols, rifles, grenade launchers, bazookas, shoulder fired rockets, etc.) or the ammunition for said guns (bullets, grenades, rockets, and the clips, magazines, whatever, that might hold them).  I swear that guy was the single most unfriendly Canadian I have ever met, with the exception of a guy you will read about that owns and operates a B&B in Whitehorse.  Imagine my delight when I see a 20-something young woman, young enough to be my granddaughter, with a loving smile from ear to ear, welcoming me to Canada.  Honest to God, I can’t remember a thing of what she asked me.  All I know is that I kept my gaze fixed on hers, trying to maintain the most rigid eye contact ever manufactured, so her eyes would not move toward the back half of my vehicle.  I know that I was not grilled in the least.  I suspect she could tell from how the inside of my vehicle was piled high with belongings that I was moving back to the Lower 48 from Alaska.  She probably sees that multiple times a day.  She seemed to relate to me as if I was her father or grandfather, showing me an unbelievable (and unwarranted) amount of respect.  All I know is that she exhibited absolutely none of the Inquisition-like behavior of her peer that grilled me on the southern border 5 years earlier.  I felt like I wanted to adopt her, she was so sweet and kind, but then, I also wanted to beat feet before she took a look at what adorned the side of my vehicle.  Thankfully, another vehicle was approaching from behind, so I was quickly allowed to proceed.  My pulse and respiration rate was so elevated it’s a wonder I didn’t have to pull over to recover, but I just got the hell out of Dodge.


So, now we are in Canada.  I expected to see the killer frost heaves I had vivid memories of from 5 years earlier.  Names like Burwash Landing and Destruction Bay were ringing in my ears, but someone must have unleashed some serious money to fix that road.  It wasn’t until I reached the little town of Beaver that I finally relaxed, figuring I had escaped the wrath of the 45 and 90 degree frost heave gods.  By now, the skies were clouded over, and I was bummed out that it could hamper the view I had been hoping for when I traversed Kluane National Park, the Canadian side of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.  It was cloudy and a bit rainy here and there in 2012 when we passed through there.


I can’t remember exactly where I was when I finally decided to turn on my radio just to see if I would pick up any signal.  I sure did not expect to pick up any American stations, given how far away I was from Tok, and knowing it was a lot further to any other American town of size.  I also knew I was a long ways from Whitehorse, which was the first Canadian town of any serious size.  To my amazement, I picked up a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) channel.  The signal was strong, and a female disc jockey was playing music.  It was a somewhat eclectic mix of music.  She would play 3 or 4 songs before interrupting with some information about each song, like its name, and the band that produced the sound.  It was a much-needed distraction from my “Bloody Window PTSD”.  Eventually, I entered Kluane National Park, and the clouds were persisting.  How depressing!


Then, something miraculous transpired.  Just as I was approaching the most scenic part of the drive through Kluane, the disc jockey started playing music from a recent music festival at “Echo Beach”.  At the time, I had no idea where Echo Beach was, but imagined it had to be in or around one of the major metropolitan areas in Canada, or maybe some resort area.  I now know that Echo Beach is in Toronto.  The first couple selections were OK music, nothing special, but good enough that I was enjoying it.  THEN came a period in time that will forever be seared into my memory.  In many respects, it was the highlight of my trip, which is saying something, given the great views of the Matanuska Glacier, the high peaks of Wrangell-St. Elias, and a few experiences later in the journey.  I heard the d.j. talking about someone named Scott Helman.  He had released a record a few years earlier that was somewhat of a hit, but just recently, he had unleashed an entire album, titled “Hotel de Ville”.  I had never heard of this young man.  What I have found out since is that the album had just been released a few weeks earlier, and he and his band were playing all sorts of singles from it at this big CBC music festival at Echo Beach the previous Saturday.  Now, I have discovered that his album won 2018 Pop Album of the Year in the Juno Awards, which I suspect may be the Canadian version of the Grammies.  As the d.j. started playing some of Scott Helman’s music, the clouds started parting.  The next thing I knew, there were patches of blue sky here and there, revealing some startlingly beautiful mountains that I didn’t know were there.  I remember coming down a long gradual hill and eventually doing a semi-circle around what amounted to a bay on Kluane Lake.  When the d.j. came back on, and mentioned the names of Scott Helman’s songs she had just played, I was going crazy trying to commit them to memory.  This kid is GOOD.  A few days later, when I reached Edmonton, I was trying to find the album, but no luck.  Same thing in Calgary.  Long before I reached Bozeman, I had thoroughly researched Scott Helman, and had gotten the name of his album.  I found I could order the CD from Amazon, but I wanted it NOW.  I really wanted the CD for my drive to Colorado and back, but it was not to be.  Eventually, after returning to Bozeman, after checking again at the most reliable CD/record store in town, and finding they still did not have the album, I simply ordered it from Amazon.com.  I played that music all summer long, tooling around Yellowstone.  There are certain songs on that album that absolutely tripped my trigger on that incredibly scenic drive through Kluane National Park, 21 Days and Ripple Effect were the two titles I could remember, and I wrote them down on a napkin in the restaurant where I ate dinner that evening, in Whitehorse, along with Scott Helman’s name.  No way did I want to lose track of that musician and his work.


I should explain that as I was driving through Kluane National Park under totally cloudy skies, particularly low clouds that obscured any view of mountains nearby, I was experiencing a depression.  I was remembering how optimistic my outlook was as I drove this route in the opposite direction in June of 2012.  Little did I know what was in store for me.  I was destined to learn some hard lessons, and the timing of the drop in the global price of oil was but one of the big negatives that had its way with me.  Anyone that knows me well understands that I am not one to wallow in self-pity or sustained hand wringing.  Life is too short.  On this particular day, a convergence of negative energy really had me down.  It didn’t help that I had this wicked cold show up at an importune time.  The timing of Scott Helman’s music coinciding with the sudden break in the cloudy conditions, while driving through one of the most scenic areas on the continent, was like a spiritual awakening.  It triggered a flood of endorphins that coursed throughout my body, but my brain was the “needy” organ, and it relished the positive stimulation.  Little did I know that life had one more negative turn in store for me that day.


The weather was back to pervasive gray skies as I arrived at Haines Junction.  I thought back to how we arrived in Whitehorse on the Friday of the weekend of Canada Day in 2012.  The town was bustling with a convergence of people, both Canadians and foreigners.  I remembered reading about the curious relationship between the city of Haines, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.  Every Canada Day (July 1), the Alaskans from Haines travel to Whitehorse to help the Canadians celebrate, and a few days later, the Canadians return the favor, and run down to Haines for the 4th of July.


Thankfully, as I approached Whitehorse, the weather gradually improved.  The temperature was rising, and the clouds were breaking up to some extent.  My health was shaky at best.  It was probably a combination of the cold, not having eaten much of a lunch, and some gastrointestinal discomfort.  I was really anxious to get to the B&B where I had a room reserved for the night.  When I reached Whitehorse, I went to a gas station, filled my tank, and went about the work of removing the garish reminder of my misfortune between Tok and the border crossing.  Fortunately, the warmer weather made the removal fairly easy.  I went looking for the B&B.  I had looked at a photo of the place on a website, and it looked more like a 3 or 4 story commercial building than a B&B.  When I finally located it, I saw that the photo didn’t lie.  It was a square building in an odd part of Whitehorse, well away from downtown and any of the other lodging corridors.  There was no way you could park close to the building, and what parking there was along the adjacent streets was mostly occupied.  I had to circle the block a time or two to eventually find a spot with a short time limit.  I figured I would check in and then move the car.  I was concerned, because my vehicle was filled with valuable belongings, the kind of things I was not going to trust to the movers, as well as some critical items for my multiple stays at my house in Bozeman, while awaiting the arrival of the moving van.  I had multiple laptop computers, cameras, binoculars, spotting scopes, multiple GPS units, a TV, etc.  My plan was to bring most of the contents of my passenger compartment into my room each night, for security’s sake.  I had done that the previous evening in Tok.  At this place, I would be doing some lengthy hauling.


I was shown to my room by a woman who I assumed was the wife of the owner, although I do not know that for certain.  When they eventually spoke to each other, much of the conversation was in an Asian language that I did not understand, likely one of the Chinese dialects or Japanese.  I noticed that my room did not have its own bathroom.  When I was booking lodging for this trip, several weeks earlier, I had been confused by the verbiage on the establishment’s website.  I was using booking.com (a mistake I will NEVER make again) to try and clarify what the arrangements were for the subject room, and they assured me that the room I was booking had its own bathroom.  I have a number of reasons for never booking lodging that comes without a dedicated bathroom, some of which have to do with my health, and some with my habits.  I told the woman that there must have been a mistake; and that I had reserved a room with a dedicated bathroom.  This place was quite large, and there were multiple floors and many, many rooms.  To call it a B&B is a little misleading.  I wanted to be moved to the type of room I believed I had reserved, or get a refund, and go looking for my kind of lodging.  The woman took me to the fellow who appeared to either be the owner or at least, the manager.  He had an attitude, and did not seem the least bit empathetic.  To put it mildly, we did not get along.  My health issues were not disposing me in the direction of patience.  I needed to get somewhere where I could be comfortable, and soon.  The fellow told me he did not like my attitude, told me he did not have any rooms available that had dedicated bathrooms, and he was not going to refund my money.  That is when I called booking.com, which turned out to be a total waste of time.  My strong suspicion is that they have something approximating a fiduciary responsibility to the lodging proprietor, similar to that which listing realtors have to a property owner.  It was a horrible experience, one I will never experience again, because I will never take a chance on (1) booking.com or (2) ANY B&B or Air BnB.  I immediately started looking for a reasonably priced room for the night.  I knew of a few places where I was sure I could find rooms available, but they were very pricey.  I was looking for middle of the road pricing or less, not The Ritz.  It dawned on me that I might save myself a lot of time wasted driving around or making phone calls by simply swinging by the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, which is what I did.  I was pleasantly surprised to see they had warm cookies available to all comers, so I indulged.  I related my sad tale of woe to the folks working the information desk, and enlisted their assistance in helping me find lodging for the night.  One of them suggested a motel up near the airport, appropriately named the Airport Chalet.  She said it’s not the newest place in town, but the rooms are clean.  That was good enough for me.  I got on the phone and made a reservation right away.  I drove up there, and it was exactly as I was told.  Unlike so many of the newer places downtown and near the river, which were very touristy, this place was more of a traditional motel, and the plethora of big trucks in the parking lot supported that idea.  It had its own restaurant, which was handy.  I ate a late dinner, and enjoyed listening to the conversation of some truckers nearby, who were telling each other tales of adventures driving to some of the rather remote locations to the north, like Carmacks, Dawson City, and beyond.  Oh how I wish I had a recording of that conversation.  Two of them were seated at a table eating dinner, and a third trucker, a younger fellow, was seated at the bar.  They had a 3-way conversation going, and it was amazing!  When I walked back to my room, I paid a lot more attention to the trucks in the spacious dirt parking lot.  There were none of the types of trucks we see zooming up and down our interstate highways, with their traditional trailers.  Each of these rigs were exotic.  They were hauling very large pieces of what was likely critical infrastructure for dams under construction, government agencies, logging companies, mines, public utilities, etc.  I had no idea what many of these humongous items were.  I just knew they were very important, and somebody was spending a small fortune to get them hauled into very remote places.  These trucks were filthy dirty, but if you looked close, you could see that they were very well-equipped, in terms of suspension components, huge tires with incredible cleats, and anything else likely to make a difference in surviving the rugged roads they would be negotiating once they neared their destination.  I did not take any photos after Day 1 on this trip, but I wish I had pulled out my phone and snapped a few images of that parking lot!


The next morning, I had a traditional breakfast before what I knew was going to be a very long driving day.  I knew I would likely not be eating lunch along the way, unless it was something from my in-car food stores.  This was a day where I was going to cover in one day what Jane and I had taken 2 days to traverse in 2012.  I planned to drive right through Watson Lake, and continue all the way to Fort Nelson, B.C.


For the sake of anyone contemplating a trip to or through Whitehorse, the B&B that treated me like dirt is Midnight Sun Inn – Bed and Breakfast.  Patronize it at your own risk!




DAY 3, Saturday, June 3, 2017




Maybe it was the trucker food.  Perhaps it was the cookies at the Chamber of Commerce.  Something all but eliminated that nasty cold overnight.  All I know is that I woke up on Day 3 with minimal cold symptoms.  The timing was perfect.  I had what was probably going to be the longest day of driving of my trip ahead of me.  I just know I felt really good when I got back on the road.  All the truckers had pulled out before I even got out of bed.  I had breakfast in a totally different room than the bar/lounge area where I ate dinner the night before.  This was a bright room, with large windows on two walls.  There were lots of small tables along with a few booths.  It seemed the vast majority of the patrons were locals.  Everyone seemed to know each other.  Even though I was a total stranger, I felt like I was among friends down in rural Montana.  It was a near-identical culture.  My server treated me as if I was just another local, and I liked that a lot.


As I started my drive, my thoughts turned to my next door neighbors in Eagle River, the Miller’s.  They were great neighbors.  It just struck me that I have a couple of photos I could throw in here that will add a personal touch.  The first one is a shot of the Miller’s four offspring, plus our landlords, Andy and Katie Leh’s two sons, Levi and Isaac.



Figure 25 Sierra in back, Levi (green shirt) in front of her, Marcus (blue shirt), David in front of them, Clint in front on left, Isaac in front at right




Here’s a photo Jason being the prince that he is, using his snow blower on our driveway.  Trust me, if I had a photo of Cammy, you would see it.  She is an attractive woman.  I suspect Sierra is going to grow into a fetching woman, and her parents are going to have their hands full managing the hordes of suitors that will come calling.



Figure 26 Can you believe Jason is from Louisiana originally? He sure adapted to life in Alaska.



Jason and Cammy had their belongings loaded onto a truck bound for San Antonio several weeks before we had our things loaded.  They had lots of friends from their church in the area, as well as a really nice trailer that they would take camping.  For those last couple weeks, they were living in the trailer, with friends, and once in a while, even back at their house, because I would see them, and occasionally get the chance to chat with them.  As their departure date neared, I discovered that they were going to drive down the Alaska Hwy in their Suburban, and visit Yellowstone and some family in the Salt Lake City area, before continuing on to San Antonio.  I told them I was going to be a day behind them, and that, since they were going to be taking it easy, while I was going to be trying to expedite my passage, there was a good chance we would see each other on the road at some point.  I knew that they were going to be retracing the route Jane and I had taken on our way to Alaska in 2012, so I understood that if I did not catch them before Dawson Creek, I would not see them again, because I was going to be heading east from Dawson Creek to Edmonton, and then down through Calgary to Montana.  The Miller’s were going to take the scenic route, down through Jasper and Banff.  As I started toward Watson Lake, where we had spent a night in 2012, I reminded myself that I needed to keep a watchful eye out for Jason, Cammy, and the kids.


This was a good weather morning, and the scenery was showcased in chamber of commerce splendor as I drove southeast with Teslin Lake on my right for an hour or two.  The morning sun on the green hillsides prompted memories of landing at Shannon Airport in Ireland after flying all night from McGuire Air Force Base back in 1970.  It wasn’t even close to being identical, but the position of the sun and the stunning shades of green highlighted by it were eerily similar.  As is so typical of the Alaska Highway, the traffic thinned out markedly as soon as I got 10 or 15 minutes outside Whitehorse.  The reality that I was leaving Alaska and the Yukon Territory behind was starting to sink in.  I was really closing one chapter of my life, and opening a new one, and rather than the high speed of an airplane flight or the painfully slow pace of a long illness, I was accomplishing it at highway speed.  There was plenty of time to contemplate all that had led to this point in time, and what I hoped lay ahead.  After zipping through the little village of Teslin, the road takes you east, while Teslin Lake slowly disappears, continuing in a southeasterly direction.  Now, you are traveling just north of the British Columbia border, even dipping into B.C. for 5 or 10 miles at one point.


The next several hours were unremarkable.  You can’t really refer to it as “boring”.  After all, it IS the Yukon Territory, and there could be a bear or a moose around any corner.  You can go many miles without seeing a single house or building.  In 2012, Jane and I stayed at a small lodging/café operation a few miles west of Watson Lake.  This day, I was hoping to be through that area in the early afternoon, with the only stop being a refueling break at Contact Creek Lodge (Historic Mile 570 of the Alaska Hwy).  I motored through Watson Lake pretty much on schedule, loose as it was, took notice of the forest of license plates from all over the world fastened to vertical poles that is the small town’s claim to fame, and just kept going.  It had not changed much in 5 years, since the last time I sped through it.


For anyone who has not driven the Alaska Hwy, and most of you probably haven’t, you need to know that if you ever do it, you will want to stock up on maps and a select book or two.  Like the vast majority of the folks who drive the road for vacation or relocation (as opposed to the truckers that go up and down it all year long), I had the latest copy of the MILEPOST, which provides detailed info on the entire length of the Alaska Hwy in addition to a number of other roads it connects with.  The info is arranged by milepost number, in order.  I learned through this experience that if you do not have a co-pilot or navigator, you better know the high points of the day’s route, or pull over somewhere to review the book.  I also have a book I purchased in 2012 that is full of valuable information, Guide to the Alaska Highway, by Ron Dalby.  Ron travels the highway every year, and has been doing so for decades.  One of the key things I learned in his book was that the gas price at Contact Creek Lodge is consistently the cheapest gas along the Alaska Highway.  In 2012, after departing Ft. Nelson, and heading toward Watson Lake, I risked running out of gas to try and make it all the way to Contact Creek to fill Jane’s F-150’s cavernous gas tank with the cheapest fuel around.  I still have vivid memories of that run from Muncho Lake to Contact Creek, late in the day, seeing bears all over the place, with the sun low in the sky.  It all worked out.  We loaded up on cheap gas, and continued on to Watson Lake and our lodging for the night, just beyond it.  On this 2017 trip, I had not done an adequate job of assessing the mileage between Watson Lake and Contact Creek.  I checked the gas gauge as I was leaving Watson Lake, and it gave me confidence that I could make it.  I was thinking I only had another 15 or 20 miles to go, so I was feeling fine about my fuel situation.  Unfortunately, I had underestimated the distance to Contact Creek.  The problem is that when you are southbound, you encounter the original Contact Creek at around Mile 590.  There is nothing left but some old ruins.  It is another 20 miles to today’s Contact Creek.  When I saw the ruins, I started worrying that perhaps this was where I had gassed up in 2012, and it went out of business soon thereafter.  I kept going, but the further I went, the more anxious I got.  It was imperative that I made it to Ft. Nelson THAT DAY.  I had a room booked with a deposit paid.  I had the same circumstance the following day in Edmonton.  Running out of gas this far outside Watson Lake could be a bit of a disaster.  I kept looking at the gas gauge, watching it slowly drop below the E mark.  I knew the odds of making it all the way to Muncho Lake, which I calculated to be the next reliable place where I might find gas in very early June were slim to none.  At the same time, I hated to give up the 30 or more miles I had already traveled since leaving Watson Lake, just to buy expensive gas and waste over an hour, most likely.  Just as I was nearing the point where I felt I was going to have to commit to either backtracking to Watson Lake or making the scary run to Muncho Lake, I came across today’s Contact Creek Lodge.  It is a tiny place, with just a couple gas pumps.  I was never so happy to see a dumpy wore down gas stop in my life!  I just checked the receipt for the gas I purchased, and it was just under 14 gallons; and I have an 18 gallon tank.  I think my gas gauge was trying to scare the hell out of me.


The next hour or more of driving was a sheer pleasure.  I had plenty of gas, was still pretty much on track to reach Ft. Nelson at a reasonable hour, and the sun was shining.  I motored through Coal River and Liard River, famous for its camping and hot springs.  The road started gradually climbing, and it dawned on me that I was approaching Muncho Lake.  Just about the time I reached the near end of the lake, the clouds started gathering.  It was somewhere near the far end of the lake that a thunderstorm hit with full fury.  For 5 or 10 minutes, I was driving through a torrent of falling rain, having to watch closely for rocks rolling down the hillside onto the road.  Just past the lake, I drove into a construction zone.  This was the nightmare that I had feared for months, knowing this trip was coming, and not knowing the status of the extensive construction we had encountered just west of Toad River, between there and Summit, in 2012.  I had exhausted every possible means of getting status on the construction, including extensive web searching as June approached.  I was flying blind.  What I found out was the construction that was under way in 2012 has been completed, but now it has simply moved further west.  It is apparent that there is a plan to improve this road all the way to Muncho Lake, so I would expect the construction to persist for at least 3 or 4 more years, possibly much longer.


There were several miles of muddy mess.  The only upside was that with all the rain, you didn’t have to worry about a dust cloud.  Thankfully, just about the time I reached the section that was being rebuilt in 2012, I drove out of the storm.  The weather turned decidedly pleasant.  The temperature rose.  I had that long downhill from Summit toward Toad River, and I reveled in that high speed pleasure.  Before long, I was cruising the last 40 or 50 miles of the day’s drive, and as you approach Ft. Nelson, you start encountering farms and ranches.  I started seeing black bears feeding along the side of the road.  I counted 8 or 9 in a 4 or 5 mile stretch of highway, and much of it was through farms and ranches.  Then I started looking farther out, to see if the bears were all over the place.  No, they just seemed to be hanging around up by the road for some unknown reason.  All the bears I saw seemed to be feeding on real tall grass.


The sun was low in the sky as I approached Ft. Nelson.  I made a beeline for my hotel, the Lakeview Inn & Suites.  It was one of several good-sized hotels in the town.  We had stayed right next door at a different place in 2012.  I parked out front, and entered the lobby to check in.  I had just completed that process, and was about to head to the car to start shuttling my belongings to my room, when I noticed Jason, Sierra, and the 2 oldest boys coming in the front door.  It was like “old home week”, even though it had only been 4 days since we had said goodbye in Eagle River.  We compared notes about our respective drives, and Jason told me he had taken the kids to dinner after a swim in the pool.  They continued on, and I went and grabbed some suitcases.  This is a 4 story hotel, and I was on the second floor.  I got off the elevator, and went down the hall to my room.  I had put my magnetic stripe key in the door lock, when the door immediately adjacent to my door (like a foot or two away) opened, and Sierra came out.  When she saw me, she got this broad grin on her face, turned around, and got Cammy.  Cammy must have been swimming too, because she came to the door with a towel wrapped around her head.  It was so amazing.  Neither one of us could believe that after driving for well over 1,000 miles, we were staying in the same town, in the same hotel, on the same floor, and right next to each other, after 4 years of living next door to each other!!  Cammy started talking about how she hoped the kid’s noise wouldn’t keep me up all night, and I assured her I would be fine.  I made several more runs to and from my car, and then headed out to gas up and get dinner.


There are not that many places to choose from for dinner in Fort Nelson, B.C.  I was in the mood for something kind of special.  Being in Ft. Nelson, a half day’s drive from Dawson Creek, which is the official south end of the Alaska Highway, feeling recovered from my cold, having not run out of gas up near Watson Lake, and then, running into the Miller’s, I was on some sort of “high”.  I found a place that looked enticing, by the name of Dan’s Neighborhood Pub.  It actually looked slightly upscale, particularly for rural western Canada.  Inside, I found a rather nice looking place to hang out.  Of course, it was Saturday night, so the place had a good-sized crowd.  It was a mixture of groups of young singles, some couples, plus some tables closer to me occupied by older couples anywhere from their late 30s to late 40s.  I’m pretty sure I was the only member of my generation in the place, unless they had a 60-something cook or dishwasher in the back.  There were a fair number of TV’s around.  It was kind of a hybrid bar/eatery/lounge/dance hall/sports bar.  I remember having several TVs nearby, off to my left, as I sat at the end of the bar.  I watched whatever sport was on, probably playoff NBA basketball, but could have been soccer, but there was nothing particularly exciting.  The longer I sat there, the more young singles arrived.  The older crowd appeared to be there primarily for dinner.  Eventually, a band started playing, and that was likely the draw for the younger crowd, in addition to the evident opportunity to meet members of the opposite sex.  The band was nothing to jump up and down about, but they were not bad.  They played a lot of music that I am fond of, pop and rock hits from as far back as the 60s and 70 all the way up to “recent”.  I remember that at a certain point, a fellow, possibly Dan, the owner, or maybe, the manager, rang a bell or triggered some other noise, and the waitresses started distributing these Jell-O shots I had been seeing them making behind the bar.  They had trays and trays of them.  My server gave me one.  I had to ask her what the occasion was.  Essentially, it was just some custom in the place, kind of a thank you to the patrons.  I remember ordering hot wings and a Caesar salad, and both were quite tasty.  A few of the waitresses were definite “eye candy”, but younger than my kids, so I did not harbor any irrational amorous intentions, just appreciation for how a couple of them would start dancing to the music while working behind the bar, or waiting for a drink order on the other side of the bar.  Actually, now that I think about it, one of those women was probably pushing 50.  Yes, I thought about hanging around wanting to see if I could get her out on the dance floor, but she was supposed to be working, and I had a long drive ahead of me the next day.




DAY 4, Sunday, June 4, 2017




I’ll never know if Cammy threatened the boys with their lives, or if their father just used the tricks of his anesthesiology trade to put those kids out.  I never heard a sound from the room next door until the next morning, when the inevitable sound of a family of 6 getting ready to hit the road surfaced.  I was downstairs eating the complimentary breakfast in the space reserved for such activity, just off the spacious lobby, when the Miller family came through the lobby, heading for their Suburban.  We said a quick goodbye.  Jason said he had a feeling we would see each other again someday.  I’m really glad he said that, because it made me feel a lot better about seeing them leave.  (When the Air Force approached him about moving to San Antonio, he managed to negotiate a deal where he only has to spend a year down there, and he is guaranteed a spot back in Alaska.  We had a lengthy conversation about that up in Eagle River one sunny Alaskan late May evening.  I asked him about whether they were going to keep their house or sell it.  He said they would probably sell it, because they needed something bigger.  I told him I hoped they would find something suitable in the immediate area, because it was such a great neighborhood, with wonderful residents.  How many places can you live where you are on the doorstep of Chugach State Park, with its towering peaks, have bald eagles flying around, bears and moose occasionally cruising your neighborhood, multiple networks of groomed, lit nordic ski trails, a high school just on the other side of a forested strip, and a multi-lane freeway just a mile away that can take you to a great little town full of services and restaurants in one direction and a city of 300,000 10 or 15 minutes away in the other direction?)


If you are curious about the preceding paragraph, check out some of my other blog posts from 2017 for photos of the surroundings.  I thought about posting a few here, but that would be redundant to those posts, and this thing is already way long.


This trip report is about to speed up, with each successive day taking less space to report on.  That is because once you head south of Ft. Nelson, the closer you get to Dawson Creek, the more civilization you start encountering.  I think it’s around 300 or 350 miles, but you start seeing the outlying farms, ranches, and businesses as far out as 50-75 miles north of Dawson Creek.  I was hitting it as I headed south, wanting to make good time.  From a mileage standpoint, there is a good chance this might have been the longest day of the trip.  If not, it was a close second.  I gassed up in Dawson Creek, and got lunch at an Arby’s if I remember correctly.  I know that Dawson Creek and the area around it appears to have grown substantially since I saw it five years earlier.  I’m not sure what to attribute that to.


I had wondered in advance of this trip what Grande Prairie, the oil town just over the border into Alberta, would look like.  In 2012, we were absolutely dumbfounded after spending almost 3 days around Banff, Jasper, and the area north of Jasper, to find this incredibly fast-growing metropolis out in what we considered “the middle of nowhere”.  It has to have its fortunes tied to the oil and gas industry.  I remember driving for 50 or 60 blocks, the bulk of it ranging from under construction to brand new to maybe 2 or 3 years old, just to get from the southwest end of the city up the west side to where the main east-west artery came across.  There were brand new shopping malls scattered here and there.  Many of the big name big box stores were well-represented.  I must have seen a dozen Tim Horton’s.  It was incredible.  When we drove west, out of town, toward Dawson Creek, we kept seeing all these oil industry-related outfits, and untold numbers of trucks that were part of oilfield service companies.  It was definitely a boomtown of almost unimaginable size.  Of course, the same precipitous drop in the global price of oil and gas in 2013/2014 that clobbered Alaska’s economy, and by extension, me, had to have hit Grande Prairie hard.  On this day, I could see ample evidence that the rampant growth had pretty much come to a grinding halt, but the city was still buzzing with activity.  It was a Sunday, so you did not have commuter traffic of any significance, but the roads were full of shoppers and recreationalists.  There was also plenty of truck traffic on the main drag that I took across town to access the highway that would take me to Edmonton.


I had my “running gun battle” with booking.com to keep me entertained as I sped toward Edmonton.  Now I was in an area that was sufficiently developed to have near constant cell signal, so I was seeing emails or messages in real time.  I had already communicated with 3 or 4 different booking.com employees.  They suffer from the same problem that plagues most real big businesses these days:  the impersonalization of their call centers.  Every time I would call, I would talk to a different person, and each of these individuals would try and handle my complaint.  Part of the problem was that each person had a different slant on things, and would tell me something totally different than the last person I talked to.  Eventually, I had a conversation with someone approximating a manager or work group leader that confirmed my worst fears.  Booking.com was not about to take ANY ownership of this problem they had created.  I resolved that I would provide them the richly deserved negative publicity they deserved whenever the opportunity presented itself.  We consumers have to stick together!


The traffic on the drive from Grande Prairie to Edmonton was reminiscent of what you would see on four or six lane freeways in the Lower 48 out away from the big metro areas.  I’m thinking of I-70 across western Kansas or I-15 between SLC and Las Vegas.  Just like in the Lower 48, as we got progressively closer to Edmonton, the traffic volume picked up.  I reminded myself that this was Sunday evening, and most likely, a lot of folks were recreationalists heading home to Edmonton or its suburbs after a weekend in the country.  It was twilight when I reached the southwest edge of Edmonton.  This is where I had one of those experiences that confirms my belief that we humans are becoming way too reliant on technology for navigation.  I was trying to find an expeditious way across the southwest suburbs to my hotel, which was just off the main highway that heads south to Calgary, in the south suburbs of Edmonton.  Whatever flaky app I was using on my smartphone kept trying to route me through construction closures, lakes, swamps, and at one point, I swear it was trying to direct me to drive up a tree on a 90 degree corner.  In many respects, this was a fitting reintroduction to large scale civilization.  For five years, the largest city near where I lived was Anchorage, with a population of around 300,000.  Now, I was in a city of just under a million, and a metro area of over 1.3 million.  Thankfully, the Hampton Inn that I stayed in, proved to be a wonderful lodging establishment.  That’s why I have a preference for those inns.  It was dark by the time I arrived.  I checked in, and then went out to get a quick dinner and gas up.


I do have to editorialize that I got a look at Edmonton’s skyline from a distance while wandering outside the southwest suburbs.  The setting sun was glinting off a few of the tall buildings.  I was very impressed, and bemoaned the fact that I would not have a chance to explore the downtown area.  That is on my bucket list, along with an extended visit to Calgary, which I fell in love with on the trip north in 2012.




DAY 5, Monday, June 5, 2017




This day was different from all the preceding days.  I had the luxury of taking whatever time I deemed necessary to get to my house in Bozeman.  The tenants had moved out, and the place was vacant.  I had an air bed and my lightweight summer sleeping bag in my car, and those were destined to be my “bed” for the next two nights.


After I had a nice breakfast at the hotel, I drove to a commercial district nearby, and searched for a CD with Scott Helman’s Hotel de Ville album.  I discovered that much had changed since last I purchased a CD.  The proliferation of broadband internet and apps that support electronic distribution of music has all but liquidated the demand for CDs.  I resolved to make one more attempt to procure the album when I reached Calgary.


I deliberately delayed my departure from Edmonton, so I would not be trapped in Monday morning commuter traffic.  I knew it would only get so bad, since I was out in the south suburbs, and would be heading south, out of the metro area, when I headed for Calgary.  It was a pleasant drive.  The weather was ideal.  I was amazed at the rich, fertile farms flanking the highway.  As I drew closer to Calgary, I could see the mountains off to the west.  They exerted a powerful magnetic pull.  If you have been to Banff and Canmore, you know what the mountains look like.  They are exceptional, with an appearance unique among the mountain ranges I have viewed, including the Alps.


This was my first trip through Calgary on the main highway.  In 2012, we left that road shortly before we reached Calgary.  Once again, flying solo, without the benefit of a co-pilot or navigator, I found myself wandering around a portion of the city south of downtown.  I was simultaneously looking for a place to eat lunch and search for Scott Helman’s album.  I failed at both endeavors.  I got to see a lot of the suburbs, along with a major medical center and several areas where development was midstream.  In frustration, I jumped back on the freeway, and headed south.  I knew I would be in Lethbridge soon, and I could at least eat a quick lunch.  I visited a Burger King in mid to late afternoon, and continued south.


It was not long before I reached the border, and was back in Montana.  The crossing was very routine, with nothing exotic to report.  By then, it must have been around 5:00 p.m. or thereabouts.  I stopped in Great Falls and gassed up at my favorite truck stop, just off I-15.  Then it was non-stop to my house.  I have been trying to recall why I chose to stay on the interstate to Boulder and come down that way, as opposed to taking Hwy 287 down through Townsend.  I have driven both routes so many times over the years, because multiple jobs I worked in local government required my attending conferences, meetings, special events, and trainings in Helena, the state capital.  The only reason I have been able to come up with might have had something to do with wanting to avoid traffic, but this would have been well after rush hour.


It was dark by the time I reached I-90.  I don’t remember eating dinner, but I am sure I stopped at some fast food outlet, probably in Bozeman.  I knew the cipher code to trigger the automatic garage door opener, and let myself in.  Theoretically, my long trip home to Bozeman was complete, but this report is not quite finished.




After the Adventure




Tuesday, June 6 was spent engaged in a number of activities related to my relocation.  I had this one day to accomplish any number of tasks.  I knew the moving van was not expected to arrive for another 2 weeks or more, but there were so many other things I needed to deal with, including meeting with my property manager to pick up keys, both to the house and to the mailbox.  I can’t even remember all the myriad things I was doing that day.  It’s all a blur.  I just knew that on Wednesday morning, I was getting back on the road, and driving to Colorado to visit family.


On Wednesday, June 7, I left for Broomfield, just north of Denver, to spend time with my parents, and visit other family and friends.  I stopped in Billings for lunch, expecting to eat at Del Taco.  Much to my surprise and disappointment, Del Taco has left Montana.  The next surprise was a hail storm just south of Chugwater, Wyoming.  I had been watching the storm as it gathered to the southwest, but by the time I reached the area where it was crossing I-25, it had grown to where it was producing large hail.  I literally did a U-turn across the freeway median and retreated back north toward Chugwater to avoid potential hail damage.  For five years in Alaska, I had not worried about hail.  I don’t remember ever seeing it up there.  I had not been back in the Lower 48 for 24 hours, and I was already being assaulted by hail.


My visit to Colorado went well.  I enjoyed my time with family and friends.  I managed to get two hikes in at Rocky Mountain National Park, and I will summarize each of those and throw in a photo or two.  We also had a barbecue for members of our old co-rec softball team that terrorized our league back in the 1980s.



The first hike was with Jana Fanning.  We parked at the Hallowell Park parking lot, then hiked up the Mill Creek Basin trail a ways to where we started bushwhacking up the south side of the ridge south of Moraine Park.  We took a slightly different route than I have used in the past, and eventually took the trail that goes over the ridge and descends to Cub Lake.  We wandered off-trail and found an area where much of the forest had been logged, probably back in the late 1800s or early 1900s.




Figure 27 Standing by a runoff swollen Mill Creek





Figure 28 Near top of ridge, with Longs Peak in the background




Figure 29 We found cable/wire off-trail near the top of the ridge





Figure 30 With Jana at trailhead after the hike





Figure 31 North St. Vrain Creek swollen with runoff in Wild Basin




Figure 32 At bridge over St. Vrain Creek – Craig in background, looking at camera – Ken on bridge at right in the shade





Figure 33 Calypso Cascades in the afternoon sun





Figure 34 Craig photographing Ouzel Falls





I drove back to Bozeman after spending 9 or 10 days in Colorado.  I was anxious to be ready for the truck unloading.  I had some furniture purchases to make, and a number of other logistical arrangements to make.  Unfortunately, the trailer, with our shipment aboard, was still sitting in a lot in Anchorage, waiting for a driver to be available to bring it down the Alaska Highway.  Now I know why Jason and Cammy moved out of their house several weeks before driving south; and then they took their time getting to San Antonio.  As you can probably imagine, we were given a cascade of excuses, and after the trailer finally made it to the moving company’s terminal in Great Falls, it still took a week and a half to get it to Bozeman.  We did not unload until Wednesday, July 5.  It was 5 weeks and 1 day since we had loaded the trailer in Eagle River.  I have seen shipments from Europe arrive much quicker.  The moving company’s excuse:  It was their busiest time of year.







It is now late March, 2018.  For anyone from the Brooks Falls Disqus Forum that might be reading this, know that I miss you.  My life is substantially different now that I am back in Montana, and working a full-time job.  I have minimal time on weekday evenings, and am in bed asleep before the time when I used to get on the Disqus Forum, when I lived 2 time zones further west.  On weekends, I am typically in Yellowstone both days between April and October, and at least one of the days in winter.  I’m a member of 4 different Facebook Yellowstone groups.  I am about to embark on a new adventure, which is creating a Meetup group, titled “Yellowstone 365”, which will run all sorts of activities in or about Yellowstone.  There will be day hikes, wildlife watching safaris, skiing, snowshoeing, lunches, dinners, picnics, and attendance at Yellowstone-related educational presentations at venues like Montana State University, the Museum of the Rockies, and other museums outside the national park.


I hope to get back to posting the additional non-fiction bear stories in the series I started while I was in Alaska.  With hiking season just around the corner, and the launch of the Meetup group, I’m just not sure when I will get back to it.  Maybe in November of 2018.


Thank you for reading this story of my migration from Alaska to Montana.  You are invited to use the Comment feature to offer any critique, pose questions you might have, or volunteer any information.