Why Is Minnie Returning to Colorado?

Why the photo of our rig from when we paused a few weeks ago on Colorado’s Wolf Creek Pass at 10,800 feet? Two reasons. First, my mom’s name, like our trailer, was Minnie, so our cross-country adventure has been dedicated to her memory.

Second, Sue and I turned around in West Virginia and are heading back to Colorado. This time we will camp at 10,000 feet, near Breckenridge, to hike as many high-altitude trails as we can do in eight days. Why the heights? We are conditioning. Can you guess the trail we are planning to backpack in August? Hints: 243 miles, mostly above 10,000 feet, named after a pioneer.

At the end, we will have camped for 30 days straight. The tent-camping part is new for two hikers used to a bed and shower, even after grueling days on the trail. Can we do it? That is what I wondered in 2013 before our first distance trek, Spain’s Camino de Santiago.

Make Tracks on the Best Rail Trails in America

Begin the bicycle journey of a lifetime (or perhaps several lifetimes) on the rail trails of America, all 24,000 miles of them. If that sounds beyond your pedaling endurance, a book, the Rail Trail Hall of Fame, will show you the 33 premier paths spread across the country.

Setting off from our campsite at Rafter J Bar Ranch in South Dakota’s Black Hills earlier in May, we rode south on the 109-mile George S Mickelson path that begins in Deadwood and ends in Edgemont. First, Sue deposited our payments of $4 each per day at the self-pay station, which offered trail brochures, including an elevation chart.

It was all uphill from there. Until our turnaround point, that is. After six miles of battling the crushed rock surface rutted with tire tracks and horse-hoof divots, we ran out of power, stopping for lunch at a shady bench on our downhill return.

It was a beautiful trail, but we prefer smoother, flatter surfaces, and our second trail from the book was perfect. Beginning in the charming village of Nisswa, Minnesota, we pedaled north on the 119-mile Paul Bunyan State Trail. Paved, mostly flat, with weather to match the beauty of several of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. We turned around after 11 enjoyable miles, pausing for lunch at a trailside park in the inviting village of Pequot Lakes.

The guidebook includes maps, directions, and a summary of each trail. If the book is not enough for you, there is a TrailLink App and so much more available online. AllTrails also has biking information on some of its hiking trails.

Lifetimes of rail-trail bicycling await.

Black Hills: Can You Top This?

If you are scouring the atlas for adventure and beauty, the Black Hills of South Dakota may end your search. The 4.6-mile Lover’s Leap loop trail climbs nearly 700 feet to this view of Custer State Park and beyond.

Many more trails, lakes, a wildlife drive, and four presidents at Mount Rushmore invite exploration. Bring your hybrid or mountain bike and plenty of pedaling power for the 110-mile Mickelson rail trail.

Pitch your tent or park your RV at one of a seemingly unlimited number of campsites. Our favorite is the Rafter J Bar Resort, with more green space than any park we have visited. In May, we almost had the place to ourselves, with views of forested hills and pristine (except for clusters of deer poop) green fields.

Finally, you will be close enough to explore Badlands National Park, another one of our favorite hiking destinations.

Chasing Dreams in a VW Bus

In 1972, Jerry Steimel graduated college, jumped in a VW Beetle with his lifelong friend, and set out to live his dream, a cross-country trip to California. But his VW Bug had other ideas, quickly ending the trip with mechanical breakdown.

Steimel’s dream wasn’t deterred. Forty-five years later, he jumped in another Volkswagen, a 1973 air-cooled van, and set out from his home in Massachusetts for another try, this time solo. But Jerry Steimel hardly traveled alone.

In Chasing Zorba: A Journey of Self-Discovery in a VW Bus, he is guided by author Nikos Kazantzakis and his book, Report to Greco, whose life lessons begin each chapter. He names his van Zorba after Kazantzakis’ book Zorba the Greek. Steimel’s goal: California. And so much more.

Some call his plan lunacy. But Steimel is out to discover comfort in taking risks rather than living as if he is just waiting to die. He doesn’t hurry, neither in his writing nor his driving, and his literary and physical journeys are a meander. But, in the end, the book rushes up and grabs readers before leaving them with memories anchored in what it means to live life to its fullest.

Steimel goes to great lengths to find places, like the West Virginia site where four high school boys launched rockets and their lives to heights beyond their wildest dreams. It is the site of the film October Sky, which Steimel watched a dozen times. That figures, you see, because Jerry devoted 45 years to social work, lifting kids who needed an extra push.

Steimel weaves places and American history with the people he meets as he drives mostly back roads, having to stop more than now and then to take Zorba to mechanics for adjustments. The journey tests Steimel and Zorba in ways they could never have anticipated.

The author and his VW Bus still miss the turn of the key every morning. And I miss wondering what is around their next turn.