Leaving on a Jet Plane

Flying has never been a favorite activity of mine. Some of this, I am sure, is the fact that most of the flying I have done in the past 25 years or so has been associated with work and not pleasure. I also have those fond memories of the smoking section of days gone by which, with my luck, tended to be all of one row behind the row I was crammed into. Just close enough for a strong winded smoker to shoot a steady stream of smoke up my nostrils. However, my most recent venture in the skies was to get us to one of the biggest cruise ships in the world. Warm sunny weather in March what could be better. Surely, I could put up with a bit of bouncing in the skies.

So we decided leaving on a jet plane was the way to go. Our booked flights through Southwest were pretty reasonably priced and at my favorite airport Mitchell Field no less. However, Southwest has also come up with this concept known as open seating which, for the ultimate in planners like myself, seems like a ridiculously bad idea. I like planning on being in a certain seat next to my bride of 25 years who is in possession of all the on board munchies. Open seating throws all that to wind. As I squeezed my boarding pass in frustration over this change in process, (how about a little change management Southwest), I did take a bit of comfort knowing that we were to the front of the C boarding group. I figured those in groups D and E might be the ones in real seat and overhead space trouble. Oh but no silly me, group C ended up being a rag tag bunch of about 10 people. Groups A and B were lined up in force 60 strong per group marching through like a bunch of British redcoats. It soon became clear that, by the time group B had lined up, the terminal area was pretty much empty and group C was basically a joke. In desperation, I was tempted to grab a kid, any kid, and make my way to the boarding with young children line. Unfortunately, a still small voice told me this was not the best of options. Finally, as the ticketing agent scanned our useless boarding pass, she left us with the ever popular airline words of encouragement “grab any open seat it might be your only option”. So I kissed my wife goodbye and headed for the first single seat I could find. This method allows for one’s angst to increase exponentially as you approach the rear of the plane. I did see one defensive lineman sized gentleman sitting in the middle seat defiantly staring down anyone who would dare try to squeeze into the aisle or window seats next to him. Fortunately, some folks liked their traveling companion enough to actually choose the middle seat leaving a couple of aisle openings for the straggling C group. I grabbed the first seat I could find, granted nowhere near my favorite candy toting traveling companion, and settled in for a candy less flight.

The one positive in all of this is that Southwest does allow one bag to fly free so load up and limit the amount needed in the carryon luggage.

Da U.P. Part One – Copper No Peek Ski Hill


Copper PeakThere are many stereotypes of those of us advancing in years from being slow drivers (true) to being intolerant of current music trends (true), to being ever so forgetful (from what I remember, also true). The last of these can be the most worrisome as you wonder if your forgetfulness is just a normal old age random occurrence or a sign of much worse struggles yet to come.   For some reason, my forgetfulness tends to be an early morning thing and can make day determination a bit more interesting than necessary. It would seem that deciding if it is Friday or Saturday should be an easy call each morning.

One area in which I noticed a bit of forgetfulness actually tends to help is in the area of conquering fears. I think this has as much to do with the fact that at my age I have forgotten most of what I am afraid of, and why, and not due to a new found backbone of any kind. For example, for as long as I can remember, I have always been afraid of heights. Never liked being at the top of the see saw, the apex of the swing, on top of a ladder, dancing across the shingles of a roof, nor approaching the edge of anything that required looking down. So, much to my surprise, on our last trip north, I was quite willing to hop in a flimsy ski lift chair, get pulled up a hill by some type of cable contraption and then start the ascent to the top of Copper Peak.

The U.P. is an interesting place to visit, but we have never had the desire to make it a week long destination. We make a quick run in, see what is to be seen, and return again to the woods of Northern Wisconsin and cell phone reception. Not quite sure why the areas seem so different, but for us the U.P. truly is a place to visit and not a destination. While on vacation and in one of our “what should we do today” moods, actually my mood since most everyone else was content to lie in the sun, the shade, or the hammock with lie being the key word, I decided we should give the U.P. a try for a day. To the best of my pamphlet knowledge, there really are only two things worth visiting within easy driving distance in the U.P. – waterfalls and a real high ski jump hill. Fortunately, there is a little corner of the U.P. where both of these attractions co-exist. The Copper Peak Ski Hill and Black River Harbor are a short drive from each other and both are worth seeing.

Copper Peak is where this whole memory loss thing came in quite handy. As a little background, Copper Peak is the only ski flying hill in North America. The flying part seemed to me a better description than those labeled just a ski jump hill. By most definitions, what the folks did coming off of the end of the ramp with a couple of chunks of wood on their feet never quite met my definition of jump. When you think of jumping, you feel there should be a landing involved somewhere shortly thereafter. The landing from a ”jump” off this hill would come way too many seconds later, fully giving the “jumper” plenty of time to argue with themselves about the merits of what they were doing. Who knew there were people who not only jumped off the end of one of those ramps, but they actually flew.

Just a few additional random facts to peak the reader’s interest to head to the U.P. – Copper Peak is one of only 6 ski flying hills in the entire world and the only one in the western hemisphere. It is the largest artificial slide in the entire world, though I am not quite sure what constitutes a non-artificial slide, and is built into a 364 foot rock formation. Those brave enough to descend the ramp will face wind speeds in excess of 70 mph and will travel at 95 fps. The tower can withstand winds in excess of 190 MPH and can sway up to as much as 18 inches with a drop 3 times as steep as Niagara Falls. The record jump on the hill is 518 feet accomplished way back in 1994.

So there we stood one sunny day at the base of the ski hill, deciding the merits of a trek to the top. Most of our group was in favor, while a few others, mister height adverse not included, were more than a bit wary of the entire process. After a bit of urging and a group rate negotiation, we were soon on our way to the base of the hill. While most of the area looks a bit out of date, the actual ski lift portion seemed to be fairly well maintained and I was optimistic that each of our chairs would successfully negotiate it to the top. After being scooped up by the chair and starting the climb to the top, I did have a fleeting remembrance that I really did not care for heights. And as bad as I suddenly felt about the entire process, I could only think that the trip back down would be just that much worse. After a nervous 4 or 5 minutes, we were sliding out at the top and back on solid ground once again. Should you make the trip,  one suggestion is to take your time and enjoy the wonderful view of God’s amazing creation.

Step two was a trip up 24 stories in an old and very slow elevator. With 6 or so of us crammed into the small box we crept to the next landing. The next stop is where my old fears would have really kicked in back in the keen memory days. A number of the visitors with good memories spent their time on this platform plastered to the elevator building wall. I was willing to venture out to the edge and enjoy the incredible scenery and contemplate the climb to the very top of the jump. The remaining climb is about 8 stories up a series of stairs and metal platforms, most of which showed a bit too much of the ground below for my liking. At the bottom of the hill I had convinced myself that the last 8 stories would not be part of the journey. As if to stress the wisdom of this decision, folks we met on their way down commented something about a bit of swaying going on at the top. A combination of swaying and excessive heights did not seem like a winner to me. However, by the time we had reached the platform, apparently I had forgotten about the whole swaying thing, since I was soon on my way to the top. The last destination of the journey up was a smallish platform at the very top of the jump. The view is quite incredible and the view down the ramp is all the more so as you wonder how any person, with or without a good memory, could ever push off and start the slide down the ramp. As I stood at the top, I was thankful that I had forgotten my fear since the trek up was quite something and overall well worth the effort.

The chair lift ride back down the hill was actually quite a bit more enjoyable than the trip up and was a great way to end the visit to Copper Peak. The lift operator encouraged a return trip in the fall and some day we might take him up on the suggestion during the peak of fall colors. From the top, I would think the view would truly be something to see. So if you are ever wandering through the western part of the UP give the ski jump hill a try and make it to the top.

Top 10 Cruise Dos and Don’ts

It’s a little hard to believe that after almost 25 years of marriage, and an equal number of excuses why I thought the timing was all wrong, we finally went on a cruise.  I am not quite sure what came over me this winter, since I tended to be the one leading the charge to make the cruise happen.  I am blaming it on the ridiculously cold winter and the havoc the cold played on my brain cells of reason.  I have always been very firm in my position that a cruise was something that made no sense at all.  Haven’t all the cruise mishaps been well documented?  From wide spread food poisoning, to the ship dead in the water with the one working toilet, and even better, the cruise ship that tipped over.  The whole tipping thing was a bit worrisome since I am not a big fan of water in general, unless it is either frozen or in a bottle.  To further reinforce the whole tipping concept, the first activity of our 4 day cruise was to assemble on deck, something which took way too long, in my opinion, and then listen to someone with a heavy foreign accent totally confuse everyone about how to get into the life boats should a tip happen.  The foreign accent would be a recurring theme which, when coupled with a poor PA system, pretty much made all announcements unintelligible.  Hopefully, nothing they told us was of any importance.

While hardly an expert after all of 4 days on the water, I have put together a top 10 do and don’t list for those looking to take this vacation step.

  1. Don’t book a 4 day cruise in March.  March tends to correspond to Spring Break and way too many 20 year olds standing in a hot tub with beverage in hand.  The hot tubs were essentially unusable as they were filled beyond a reasonable capacity morning til night.
  2. Do eat in the dining room as opposed to heading to the buffet.  I consider myself quite the buffet lover, however, there really is something to be said for sitting down and having someone bring you literally as many courses as you want.  On our particular cruise, there was only one formal evening which interrupted our stops in the dining room.  Otherwise, casual dress pants and golf shirt work just fine unless of course you pack 2 pairs of casual dress shoes and no pants of any kind.  In which case, you shuffle in as the dining room opens and hope no one notices.
  3. Don’t fly down on the same day the cruise sails.  While it can be done, it does lead to a fair amount of weather watching and getting up way too early on the day of the cruise to catch the early flight.
  4. Do consider one of the excursions while in port.  While I am sure most are way overpriced, they do provide a stress free way to enjoy the time on land.  Our excursion was nothing exceptional, but did provide a very relaxing time on dry ground.
  5. Don’t order up 7 desserts at one meal.  It is very tempting to do this, but is a poor choice if a good night’s sleep and a friendly scale are in your plans.  This also is a little embarrassing as one plate after another comes your way.  Your waiter is not waiting for you to finish the first before rolling out the seventh.
  6. Do get a balcony if pricing allows. While we did not spend a great deal of time on the balcony, it was a nice place to retreat and enjoy a room service breakfast on our day in port.
  7. Don’t buy a watch.  Not sure what else to say.
  8. Do take advantage of the entertainment.  Most of the shows were far better than I would have expected and were well worth the time.
  9. Don’t over pack.  I am fairly certain we only used half of what we brought.  No one really cares if you wear the same thing 2 days in a row
  10. Do find time to take a few walks.  Just make sure to hold onto your hat because a stiff breeze is pretty much a certainty on deck.  The apparent winds tended to be over 40 mph most days.

Overall, the whole cruise experience was a positive one and I could be talked into a return trip.  It was a very relaxing time with no real communication from the outside world – no internet, no texts, no e-mail, etc.  Also, while probably not the best idea, it is possible to head out without a passport.  So all you reluctant men out there, relax and give that cruise a try.