Paladini Potpie

Adventures within The Crust!

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The Great American Treadmill Trek

We left Modesto on May 6, 1990. We were heading across the country on our DP AirGometer – a fancy new stationary bike that worked the arms and shoulders as well as the legs.  We started east on Highway 132, making our way slowly across the AAA road map.

Every day we jotted down how many miles we went, and every few weeks we added them up and marked them on the map. (This was before the days of Map Quest and other mileage calculating web sites.) I had copied the map’s scale of miles onto a twisty tie (from a loaf of bread). Using it as a flexible little mileage calculator, we followed the curves of the road up through Yosemite and beyond.  John had a red line and I had a yellow. We challenged and encouraged each other, and pretty much stayed together.

When we reached the California-Nevada border we got a Nevada map, and then the following year we got a map of Utah.  Sometimes, just for fun, we did research on the cities and places we traveled through. We often talked about following our route as a road trip one day in real life.

Then, somewhere in Utah in 1995 John had back surgery. Real life. After he recovered we decided to exchange the AirGometer for a regular treadmill. We also decided to start averaging both of our miles and travel together in a single line.

Mile after mile, map after map, and year after year, our journey continued. We counted all the miles we walked on the treadmill and any miles we walked outdoors.

Finally, after 20 years we reached our first destination – The Atlantic Coast!  On our map, and in our mind, we triumphantly arrived in Virginia Beach, home of John’s brother, Mark and his sweet family.

We gave them virtual greetings, but wished we could have stopped by for a visit in real life!

By this time we had 10 road maps – one on top of the other – all stapled to the wall near the treadmill.  Where do we go from here?  I tried to convince John that it was time to have a swimming pool put in the back yard so we could swim laps…across the ocean.  (He just gave me “the look”)

Instead we decided to head north and walk around the perimeter of theUnited States.

We still jot down the miles, add them together, and chart them on the map; but the twisty tie has been replaced by WalkJogRun, a site where I can measure the miles on my computer and then put them on the map.

Since our arrival on the East Coast, we’ve walked north along the beach when there was a beach road. We walk along the highway when it runs near the coast.  We have almost reached another goal. Today we stand at Whiting Bay, the most eastern edge of Maine. (There must be a lighthouse around here somewhere…)

Habakkuk 2:2 says “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.”  (Okay, so we’re making it plain on maps instead of tablets.)

It may be silly, but each goal we come to really feels like an accomplishment. Our imaginary destinations have created tangible victories, and encouraged us to keep on walking. We’ve walked thousands of miles.  Someone has said “Success is not a destination. It’s a journey.” So now we’re getting ready to journey inland, up along the Maine-Canada border, to the farthest northern corner of our country. Who knows what adventures await!


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Views on The Virginia Corridor Trail

“Tracks Come Out Along the Virginia Corridor” This was the headline of a story David wrote in June of 2003. As a teenager, our son was a volunteer reporter for city of Modesto, writing community interest stories like this. His stories were published in an information newsletter, City Pride, an insert for the city’s monthly water bill.

David’s story was the first we knew of the biking and walking trail our city planned to build along the site of the old unused Union Pacific railroad track. I had been very sad, years ago, when the trains stopped running through the city of Modesto – the end of an era. But now we were happy to learn that the forlorn and neglected strip of land would have such a glorious future, and we eagerly watched the progress of the Virginia Corridor bike and walking trail.

The groundbreaking was May 23, 2005, and in January 2007 the “Centennial Junction phase” of the Virginia Corridor Trail opened to the public.

Walking with friends, and walking our dog, we have used that trail a lot! It begins at College Avenue, and future plans take the trail all the way north as far as Pelandale.  How exciting – to be able to bike or walk essentially from one end of Modesto to the other!

David actually bikes from his house all the way to his job downtown on the partially completed trail, but for months now we have walked to the end of the trail and looked impatiently toward the new construction.

And finally, last Saturday, the newest section of the trail opened.  John and I walked over the beautiful pedestrian bridge that spans Briggsmore Avenue!  What an exciting day!

Biking and walking across Modesto is getting easier — and much prettier!

Today we were talking to our mechanic, Marty Miller, who is an avid long-distance biker and writes for a biking magazine. He had just written a piece about the bike trail and I asked him if I could quote him here in my blog:

Marty writes, “ It will benefit everyone, but particularly the bicycle commuters who live north of Briggsmore and west of McHenry, but that’s not the best part of the Virginia Corridor improvement. When the last Tidewater Southern train rolled down that track, it ended a congestion problem on Ninth Street that had been plaguing Modesto for years. Also the miles long row of gray hopper cars that took feed to the chicken plant on Prairie Flower Road west of Turlock no longer leaked product as they moved, virtually eliminating an insurmountable rodent problem in some of Modesto’s premier neighborhoods…”

(I never thought of that back when I mourned the loss of the train running through Modesto, right down Ninth Street and up Virginia Avenue)

Marty continues, “…My own commute used to include riding in the dark in the rain up Virginia Avenue with car headlights smearing through the water on my glasses, which made seeing the black 90 gallon (trash) containers in the road on Wednesday before Thursday garbage day a real dance with danger.  All a memory now as I ride home on the lighted bike trail with cars and headlight off to the distant right.”

So check it out!  Take your bike or your feet and start at College Avenue. Take the trail to Bowen and back for a pleasant easy four-and-a-half miles.

(Click here if you’d like to know more about the Stanislaus County Bicycle Club, or read some of Marty’s articles.)

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Memory Prompts

There are almost 60 birthday cards taped to my kitchen wall, thanks to my sister who is helping me celebrate my 60th birthday this week.  The cards have been coming for almost two months, a few each day.

Many of them have tongue-in-cheek condolences, and witty barbs about aging.

I don’t really feel like I’m getting too old and decrepit yet, so it’s still fun to laugh about it. But I have to admit that my mind is not as sharp as… um, I forgot what I was going to say…..

So starting this week. I’ll be doubling up on the crossword puzzles and reading up on some of those memory prompting tricks.

I heard about two couples who were out for an evening stroll.  The men were walking side by side, several paces behind their wives. Pete was telling Joe about a memory seminar he and his wife had just attended.  “You use word association, to bring things back to your memory.”

“That’s great!” Joe enthused. “What’s the name of the seminar?”

Pete stared at him blankly. “Oh gosh, let me think…” he scratched his head.  “Help me remember…” He looked at his friend, “What’s the name of that really popular flower…?”

“A daisy?” Joe offered.



“No, that’s not it.”


“That’s it! Rose!”  Pete cupped his hands around his mouth and called up to his wife, “Hey Rose, what was the name of that seminar we went to last week?”

Okay, that’s a joke. But word association really is a good idea.  Unless it backfires as it did with me a few months ago.

I used to see this older gentleman and his dog every day when I was out walking. We usually just smiled and said hello, but one day we stopped to chat.  I introduced myself, and he told me his name was Tom and his little dog was Maggie.

Tom and Maggie. As we went our separate ways I decided to use word association so I’d remember his name. Tom and Maggie are the main characters in Mill on the Floss by George Eliot.

Since I love books, I was sure I’d remember Tom and Maggie if I hooked them to a good book.

The next time I saw Tom, he was alone. I walked over to chat with him, feeling pretty smug for remembering his name. “Hello Tom,” I greeted him, “Where’s Daisy today?”

He gave me a strange look.  “You mean Maggie?”

Ooops – wrong book! Tom and Daisy, from The Great Gatsby, had jumped straight into my head,  while the other  Tom, and his sister Maggie, sat there in their Mill, giving me no help at all.

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Not a Flat Adventure – Part 2

The storm warning over the Bay Area wasn’t going away. John had been checking the weather on his smart phone several times a day. “Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked me more than once.  To be honest, I was a little nervous about backpacking in the wilderness under the threat of severe storm warnings. But I wasn’t going to be the first woman to throw in the towel.

Emily, Robin, Kathy and I had been planning this hike for several months. Robin is a teacher, so Easter break was the perfect time for us to go. Up until now we had been pretty secure in the fact that the weather had been unusually warm and dry this year.

So far…

Now the forecast began to look more and more ominous. We kept sending  texts and facebook messages to each other. “Are we still on for this?” “Rain or shine?”  (Apparently nobody wanted to be the first woman to throw in the towel.)

So there we were at the trailhead with Gordon, the Park Ranger.  He looked a little dubious, but he was also very interested in the process of loading three llamas for a three day hike on the Ohlone Wilderness Trail.

And it is quite a process, although my friend Emily has it down to a science. She has led pack llama excursions for about 25 years. The most important thing is to distribute the load evenly on the animal’s back, so we carried along a handy hanging scale to weigh the packs when we were loading them. As little as a pound of uneven weight can be uncomfortable for a llama.

Each llama can carry about 75 pounds. That’s the nice thing about llama-packing. You can bring a lot of luxury stuff you can’t take on a regular backpack trip.  We had bagels, lox and cream cheese for breakfast. Our dinner was fresh chicken and vegetables one night and shrimp with Cajun beans and rice another night.  No dehydrated soup mix. And the llamas do most of the work while we just stroll along carrying our personal things in light day packs.

The two younger llamas, Inca and Patches, carried most of the load. Seventeen-year-old Josh helped out a little, but the old herd boss has worked hard on dozens of pack trips over the years, and this trip was mostly to give him a fun outing in his old age. Llamas are very social, and they’re great team players, so Emily and Kathy also hoped the old gentleman would be a good teaching influence on young Inca, who had never been out on the trail before.

We hooked the three llamas together in a string, with Josh in the lead, and started up the trail.

Take note of the word, UP.

Looking at the topographic map – although I didn’t really know much about topographic maps – we knew there would be lots of ups and downs. Strangely, it seemed that there were more ups than downs. The Ohlone Trail is 28 miles long, with over 8000 feet of elevation gain/loss. Our hike would cover only 15 miles, but with all the elevation you could wish for.
Robin’s dad was the park ranger years ago, and it was he who actually laid out the Ohlone trail. Trudging up some of those perpendicular slopes, we had some choice comments for him. Apparently the man did not believe in switchbacks!

In my last blog I talked about how Robin, as the park ranger’s daughter, lived in a wilderness cabin when she was a little girl. They had no electricity and her mother cooked on a wood stove. They lived a rugged and adventurous life, and Robin said that the lives of her friends in the city seemed sort of flat by comparison.

“Well, there will be nothing flat about this trip,” we assured her. “The Lord has a sense of humor!”  We trekked up and down the hills, ignoring the spattering raindrops, and tried not to think about the thunderstorms in the forecast.

My friends’ red, blue and yellow ponchos billowed brightly in the breeze. I didn’t have a poncho, but I was perfectly dry and comfortable in John’s hunting rain gear. How I appreciated it — especially his warm down vest — although I know I looked a lot like the Michelin man.

The first day we had scattered showers and a little wind. It wasn’t bad walking weather until around 4 pm, when it began to pour.  We knew we wouldn’t make it three more miles to the designated camp site, so we decided to set up the tent on a wide part of the trail, and take shelter just until the rain let up.

We sat in the tent laughing and changing into dry socks and rummaging for something to eat.  We had just set up the little back-pack stove in the vestibule of the tent to boil some water, when we saw the last thing we expected to see – two men walking up to the tent.

The men were drenched and distressed, and asked us if we had passed a woman on the trail.  They had been searching for her for hours and their cell phone battery was now dead. We told them we hadn’t seen another human being all day.

We got out our map and figured out our location, and Emily gave them her cell phone to call the Park Service and 911. We also invited them to pray with us, that their companion would be found, and that she would be unhurt.  They seemed to be caught off guard by the idea of praying, but they were willing to join us. By then the water was boiling, so we made dinner and shared it with them.

Finally, it was getting dark when the Park Ranger arrived.  He told us we should stay camped where we were, and he told the men to return down the trail to the place they had camped earlier in the day. The park personnel would search for the missing woman.  He said he didn’t want any more people getting lost on such a night.

We gave the men some granola bars, and Emily actually insisted that they take her cell phone and an extra battery. (We had been kind of chuckling about the fact that Kathy’s expensive “smart phone” didn’t have reception at all on the trip and Emily’s and my dumb ones worked pretty well off and on.)

She gave them her address so they could mail it back to her. “But it’s only a $50 phone,” she told us. “If they don’t mail it back, it’s no big thing.”

For the remainder of our time on the trail we thought about the lost woman and prayed for her when we thought about her.  In a happy postscript I’m delighted to say that Emily got her phone back the Tuesday after our hike. The man mailed it with a very gracious letter telling us that their hiking companion was safe and how much they had appreciated the phone, the food and the prayers.

No, it was not a flat adventure.

One night it was so windy I really was afraid the tent would blow away.  The side of it was flapping so wildly it was coming down and hitting my face with wet smacks. I lay there praying and trying to remember where I had stashed my glasses. As I pictured all of us stumbling around lost and blind on the storm-tossed mountain, I called to mind every scripture I ever read about the Lord’s deliverance.

The next morning dawned glorious! It was blue-skied and bright, with magnificent cloud shadows on every slope.  We saw mist hanging in the hollows of valleys, and enchanted vistas we would never have seen if it hadn’t been for the rain.

Then that afternoon the sky darkened and it began to hail. Hailstones the size of peas piled up on the llamas’ backs as we walked dismally along. After some time of walking, we decided to set up the tent and wait it out.  Sure enough, after a couple of hours and a nice nap, the weather cleared and we were able to pack up and hike to the next designated camping area.

By the third day both pairs of my shoes were thoroughly soaked. I learned the trick of lining them with plastic bags to keep my last pair of socks dry. By that time the storm had spent itself, and the day was stunningly beautiful.  But we were so tired! We trudged along singing every song we could think of to keep our spirits up for that last mile. At Del Valle, our husbands would be waiting to pick us up and take us back to a nice flat life with electricity and bathtubs full of steaming hot water.


Not a Flat Adventure – Part 1

Newspaper photo of Robin and a llama on the opening hike of the Ohlone Trail, May 15, 1987

Robin’s dad laid out the Ohlone Wilderness Trail 25 years ago, and a very young Robin – along with my friend Emily and her llamas – were part of the group that made the first hike to open it.  So you can imagine that I was thrilled to be part of The Fellowship of the Four  who planned an “anniversary hike” on the trail this spring!

Robin, who is now a biology teacher in Southern California, was excited to return to her roots and hike in the land of her childhood.  Emily and Kathy have llamas, and looked forward to the hike as a training experience for one of their new young animals. I just felt privileged to be included for any reason.

At the ranger station, on the morning we began our trek, Robin was as giddy as a little girl! She and her family used to live here…and she played in that creek…and the old green barn hadn’t changed a bit (except now it was a visitors’ center, which happened to be closed that day) We walked along the water looking for the remnants of an old bridge. Robin told us about sitting and watching out the window of the ranger station as a violent storm washed the bridge away years ago.

left to right: Robin, Emily, Kathy and Andrena at the trailhead with "Josh"

Her dad, David Lewton, was Park Ranger for The East Bay Regional Park District, and the family made their home in a rustic cabin, deep in the park.  They didn’t have electricity, and although they had running water in the house, they didn’t have a flush toilet. Her mom cooked on a wood stove, or sometimes with propane gas.It was the life they chose, and Robin says that even as a child, she knew she had benefits that could never be purchased with such modern amenities as electricity or television.

She told us about going to school each day in the modern world, and then returning home to her adventurous real life in the wilderness park.

She said sometimes she spent the night with friends in town, and their lives seemed sort of flat. It was never really dark because there were always street lights, and little lights on the appliances in the home.  It was never really completely quiet.  And when she woke up in the morning it was always the same temperature – never hot and never cold. It was nice enough, she admitted, but just sort of flat.

I think the Lord must have been grinning during the weeks we were planning our trip.  We set it up for Easter break since Robin is a teacher. We’d had a remarkably mild, dry winter and spring, and we felt confident that the lovely weather would continue.  Little did we know that our three day hike would be during the biggest rain and wind and hail storm to hit California this year.  It would definitely not be a flat adventure!  (To be continued.)


The Lady With The Dog

“Hello there!” The woman patted Simon on the head and chatted with him while I stood off to the side, curious. We were at the counter of my vet’s office. Simon and I had just paid for his shots and were getting ready to leave, when this smiling woman came in with a cat carrier on her arm. “Hello!” She finally turned to me. “I recognized your dog. You walk by my house every morning. I live in the house on such and such a street…”

We introduced ourselves and had a few moments of small talk. I’ve never read Chekhov’s “The Lady With The Dog” but that’s how I feel. The lady with the dog.
People may or may not recognize me, but they always know my dog. 

Simon and I walk three miles almost every morning. I mapped out a one-mile-loop and we do it three times. Fortunately I live within a mile of the only hills in Modesto, so it’s a great workout.

The mile includes some lovely, expensive homes; some rather run-down homes; and a stretch along the river that feels almost like countryside. I love to watch the changing seasons as we walk the same route every day.

It’s completely residential, but I hardly ever speak to anyone because I hardly ever see anyone. A couple of times a week I see someone pulling out of their driveway and I always get a cheerful wave and a smile. On the rare times I see someone in their yard they smile and seem to know me. And they always greet my dog. One lady actually came out of her house one day to take a closer look, and comment about Simon’s new very short haircut. She said, “I almost didn’t recognize him.” (We had never before had a conversation.)

A few years ago there was a woman who walked by our house every single morning at 6:45. If I was in the yard, we said hello and exchanged pleasantries.  She was so faithful. I think she walked by our house every morning for three years. I didn’t know her at all, but I felt a warm feeling toward her because of her faithfulness.

Faithful. It occurs to me that that’s how people see me: “The lady with the dog – they walk by every morning.”

I like to think that my faithfulness in this small thing is making a tiny impact on the lives of people who see us walk by every day.

And it makes me long to be faithful in even bigger things.


While Walking…Hailey

Hailey waited on the sidewalk in front of her house. She lived – or lives – in one of the low income duplexes I pass on my morning walk. It had become her habit to watch for Simon and me, and then join us for the few blocks to the place where she turned a different way to catch her school bus.

She loved Simon and laughed loudly as he jumped up and down, tugging and capering on his leash. “He’s a puppy,” I explained, “that’s why he jumps up and down like that.”

“He’s a puppy?” Hailey stared at the 65 pound mass of black fur.

“Yes, he turned one in December,” I assured her.

Hailey looked thoughtful. “I believe that,” she finally said, “because I’m big for my age. I’m big and I’m only nine. Simon’s big and he’s only a puppy and I’m big but I’m only a little girl.”

Hailey is big for her age. She’s several inches shorter than I am and weighs at least 200 pounds. She’s also young for her age.

We never talk about anything too profound. Sometimes she tells me what she saw on television, but mostly we just laugh at Simon’s antics.

One day she surprised me though. “What would you wish if you could have anything you wanted?”

I was caught off guard. “Well, I think I would wish that everyone I know and love could know how much Jesus loves them,” I finally said carefully.

Hailey looked at me a little perplexed. Then she stopped and opened her back pack. She took out a bright plastic toy with some kind of spinner. I was so nonplussed that I didn’t even take a good look at the toy.

She gave the spinner a spin and then peered into a little window on the front of the toy. She held it up for me to see. There was a picture of Shrek and the window had a conversation bubble that was apparently activated by the spinner. The words in the conversation bubble were, “I don’t think so.” Hailey looked sad.

(Shades of our old fortune-telling eight-ball! But wisdom from Shrek – give me a break!)

“What would you really wish for?” Hailey persisted. “Would you like to have a lot of money?”

“No, I have enough money,” I was feeling something almost like bewildered panic and lost opportunity. There wasn’t enough time to have the conversation I really wanted to have with this little girl.

“I guess I’d wish that my children would grow up and marry people who love Jesus.” It was a lame answer, but it was honest.

She turned the toy over to the other side and flipped the spinner again. Smiling, she held it up for me to see. This time it was Fiona’s picture, and the little conversation bubble said, “There’s a good chance of it.”

“So what would you wish for?” I asked Hailey.

“I’d wish the kids wouldn’t make fun of me.” She said matter-of-factly.

My mind was in a whirl and I groped for some comforting or encouraging words to say, but we were at the place where Hailey had to leave us to catch her school bus.

“Bye,” she smiled at me. “Bye Simon!” With a wave she ran across the street.

That was the last time I saw Hailey. I don’t know if her family moved, or if her parents cautioned her about walking and talking with strangers. But every time I pass the duplexes I think about her, and pray that she will find out how much Jesus loves her.