April Fool’s Day Run

The skies were a bit cloudy to the west as I started my five mile trail run, but I wasn’t worried. The run wouldn’t take too long, so it was doubtful that a serious storm could move in that quickly. I run in any conditions – heat, cold, wind, rain or snow – except one – I don’t run when there’s lightning. I’m no April Fool!

I was about ten minutes into the run when strong breezes really started whipping through the trees. Sustained winds of at least 30 mph with stronger gusts came out of nowhere. I looked up to see fast-moving clouds streaking across the sky. Small dead branches were breaking off of oak trees. Soon I took a turn and was about halfway through the loop, so there was no turning back. Next, my greatest fear, lightning, crackled through the air. A loud thunderclap signaled a lightning strike not that far ahead of me, though no rain was falling.

A minute later I saw smoke a few hundred yards in front of me and realized the lightning had ignited some dry underbrush. By the time I reached that part of the trail, there was thick black smoke billowing above orange flames. I barely was able to make it through the single track path that was rapidly becoming a raging inferno. As I left the fire behind the rains came with ever-increasing winds. My eyes squinted as I didn’t want to lose my contact lenses.

Tree branches creaked and threatened me as I quickened my pace and just hoped to finish the run in one piece. Suddenly I heard a loud noise and saw a large tree falling toward me. I barely got past as it smashed to the ground behind me. Shaken, but unhurt, I continued on as the winds and rain had now become a monsoon. The creek I had to cross had swollen to a small river. The logs I usually walk across were completely submerged, so I waded through the knee-deep water and continued running in water-logged shoes.

Several times I had to climb over or walk around more downed trees as this had really turned into an amazingly fierce storm. Lightning strikes continued as this rain-soaked runner just prayed to make it to the end of the run. What more could happen? Guess? I hit a root and tripped badly, sprawling to the ground. My right knee hurt and blood ran from gashes on my left shin and right hand. Mud was all over me, but I only had a half mile left. I ran awkwardly due to the pain and somehow made it to the trailhead and back to my car. All I could think about was getting in my car, driving home, taking a warm shower and lying down.

“Oh no,” I shouted loudly as I saw my car keys on the front seat of my locked vehicle. Could anything else possibly go wrong? Can you believe all of this misfortune happened in one day? Well, don’t – April Fool!!!

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Cruise Tales – 2015 South and East Caribbean #13: Last Cruise Run, Pool, Sun Deck

Today is our second sea day in a row and last day of our week and a half cruise. After Easter Sunday service we headed back to our room and prepared for the late morning activities. We both put on bathing suits as we packed our towels, sunscreen and books. Then I put on my running shoes. ‘Why are you going to run?’ asked Jill. After about one millisecond I replied, ‘That’s what I do.’ And so we were on our way to the thirteenth deck, one level above the pool. We set up to chairs and I decided to try running on the seventh deck. I heard it was less than three laps to the mile compared to nearly six laps to a mile on the twelfth deck jogger’s track.

I started my  run on the seventh deck and there were many walkers strolling at a leisurely pace. I walked when I needed to get through crowded areas and also along the shuffleboard courts. ‘You’re supposed to run on the upper deck,’ I was told by one guest who must have been a Walmart security guard! But it was just way, way too difficult to run, so after a lap I took the elevator to deck twelve and the jogger’s track.

Ten laps there would even me out at two miles in total, so off I went. The basketball court at the stern had a few players and, with light winds, they had a chance to hit a few buckets. There weren’t many people walking which was good as I increased my pace each lap. ‘Hello, Gary,’ I heard from two teenage girls. They saw me sing with the ‘Fab Four’ early in the cruise and so I had a bit of notoriety. By the last couple of laps I was definitely under seven minute mile pace. ‘You’re fast,’ one of the girls said as I ran by at pretty strong effort. I walked it off, caught my breath and headed over to the two chairs Jill and I had prepared with beach towels. But first it was time for a dip in the pool.

The water felt great and I could taste the salt on my lips. I grazed an older gentleman as the water gently rocked to and fro with the boat and we struck up a conversation. He was from New Jersey and looked the part of a Mafioso. ‘It feels great in here after running,’ I said. ‘The only thing I ran was numbers!’ Yep, I was right. When he found out I was from Orlando, we were talking about everyone up north wanting to move south. Another guy, about thirty years old, said he was from Miami and joined the conversation. After ten minutes discussing the recession, rebound and increasing home prices in Florida, I was cooled off and rejoined Jill on the sun deck.

Actually I had a short stop poolside as my young ‘fans’ were there. ‘Are the two of you sisters? I asked. ‘Everyone thinks that, but we are just friends,’ one replied. They were Emma and Sarah from Pennsylvania and were high school seniors. Emma was going to go to Penn State. I wished them well and finally made it to the sun deck one level above the pool. Jill was reading and I joined her. My book of choice this trip has been ‘Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories,’ by Agatha Christie. It was my daughter, Monica’s, book during her teenage years and I picked it up for the trip.

Two couples were happy to find four lounge chairs available next to us and we struck up a conversation with them. Everyone enjoyed meeting new people. Butch and Denise and his friend, Al, and his wife were from Ontario and totally enjoying thawing out from a cold winter. Butch was enamored with Jill’s wedding ring. He thought it looked like a Super bowl ring, as others have before. Of course Jill said, ‘We call it the Super Bowl of love.’ We mentioned to Butch that two of the diamonds were originally in separate rings, one belonging to Jill’s grandmother and one to her great-grandmother.

Butch really liked that story and we talked about family heirlooms. He has a grandfather clock handed down to him, appropriately, by his grandfather. I mentioned having my grandpa’s last deer hunting license, his original union card from 1926 and my grandma’s cutting board. Jill also mentioned my having my grandma’s perfume bottle. It was nice reminiscing on the last day of our cruise. Thinking about the joys in the past, enjoying the present and planning for the future.

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Cruise Tales – 2015 South and East Caribbean #12: Easter Service with Pastor Dave

When we booked our cruise we didn’t pay attention to the potential that we would be aboard ship during Christian religious holidays. But that is exactly what happened. We set sail a few days before Palm Sunday and docked back in Miami the day after Easter. We were hopeful that there would be some type of nondenominational religious service aboard ship. We inquired on day number one of our cruise and found out there wasn’t a service scheduled for Palm Sunday or Easter. And when we saw the size of the chapel we didn’t know how there could be a service anyways. It was beautiful and peaceful, but could only hold a dozen or so persons.

We were in Aruba on Palm Sunday and the island was very quiet. Our taxi driver informed us that 82 per cent of the population was Catholic and that Sunday was a day for church and family. Nearly every business was closed except a few to serve cruise ship visitors. We didn’t attend a local service, but went to the appropriately named Palm Beach and saw quite a few Palm trees.

Later in the cruise, much to our delight, we heard that there was going to be an Easter service in the Spinnaker Lounge. We didn’t know anything else, but we made our way there at the 9:30 appointed time. Jill and I had been there before for a jazz concert and ‘Bandaoke,’ which is like karaoke, but with a live band. As we sat down for the service the employees were stacking glasses and taking an inventory of the bottles of liquor behind the bar.

Then an elderly gentleman approached the microphone and introduced himself as Pastor Dave. He led us in song and prayer and the several hundred in attendance joined in both. We sang songs including ‘How Great Thou Art,’ ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Jesus Christ has Risen Today.’ The musical accompaniment was by an older woman wearing an Easter bonnet that we surmised was Pastor Dave’s wife.

In between songs, scripture and prayer, Dave told us that he was a retired preacher from the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, though he now lived in British Colombia. The pianist was his wife of over fifty years. They served at a small church of only thirty members out in a rural area, so the Spinnaker Lounge held at least ten times that number.

It was an uplifting time and we were so grateful to have the two of them to lead the Easter service. Both Dave and his wife spoke to us and wove tales of their youth in Canada into the scripture readings and Easter lessons. It was an unplanned event that was pulled off by popular demand as, evidently, many cruise goers had inquired about a service and we were lucky to have the Canadian couple aboard to grant our wish. After the hour of worship it was back to normal cruise time of eating, sunbathing and gambling, but we all smiled just a bit more.

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Cruise Tales – 2015 South and East Caribbean #11: Treadmill – Don’t Rock the Boat Baby

When sailing through the ocean there is a one hundred per cent chance that there will be waves. The only questions are: how high will they be and from which direction. When attempting to fall asleep the waves are often very noticeable. Often when seated during dinner it is obvious that the boat is moving slowly back and forth. And if you run on one of the ship’s treadmills in the fitness area, it will be very apparent from which direction the waves are coming.

Earlier in the cruise when I was running a few miles on the treadmill we were crossing over the waves. The treadmills faced the starboard side of the ship and I could feel my stride going toward the right side of the treadmill, the left side of the treadmill and so on. I was somewhat concerned that I could step off of the belt and stumble, so I hooked an emergency clip to the waist band of my shorts to stop the treadmill if I had a bobble. Luckily, it did not come into play.

The waves weren’t too high. They never exceeded five to seven feet on the cruise, and were more typically in the one to three foot range. Todd, whom I met at the Ultimate Texas Hold ‘em table told a much worse tale from a cruise he took one summer. His group was on a ship bound for Bermuda from New York City when a hurricane from the Caribbean turned northward and spawned huge waves. They delayed their stop in Bermuda and the ship’s captain steered the ship as far away as he could. Then they just sat in place, the captain face the ship’s bow into the waves and they bobbed up and down for hours on seventeen foot high waves. That would have been terrible.

But back to today where I was once again on the ship’s treadmill for a couple mile run. This time the ship was slightly rocking from side to side. I had the incline set on one per cent, but with each wave we rocked over the incline changed. I was probably alternating every five seconds between a three per cent uphill grade and a one per cent downhill grade. It definitely kept me on my toes!

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Cruise Tales – 2015 South and East Caribbean #10: Cinnamon Bay at St. John

Upon our arrival in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands it seemed like the most popular option selected by cruise ship passengers were excursions to nearby St. John for relaxation on a beach, snorkeling or both. Choices included Trunk Beach, Megan Bay and Cinnamon Bay. Our daughters, Monica and Valleri, had been there previously and raved about Cinnamon Bay. We didn’t book a tour, but arrived in St. John via ferry and took a taxi to Cinnamon Bay.

The first difference we noted compared to previous stops in Aruba, Curacao, St. Lucia and St. Kitts was that St. John was lush with greenery and flowers. It was definitely a tropical paradise for the eyes. We drove through National Park land that was beautiful, as were the views from the winding road to the shoreline below. Our taxi took us past the other beaches until we arrived at our destination. We walked down a sand pathway and were greeted by a picturesque beach with very few people. The ship’s excursions all went to the other beaches, so we were two of perhaps one hundred visitors, at most, on the crescent shaped beach.

The wind blew fairly strong as we made our way to the right side of the beach and toward some rocks where we saw a few people snorkeling. Four double kayaks were in the bay and a couple sailboats were further off shore. Due to the wind we sought a sheltered spot and there were several available between huge outcroppings of black volcanic rock. We set up our towels and beach gear and marveled at the layers of the frozen lava – an indicator that this island was once an active volcano with fiery red lava flows.

Jill and I both did a bit of reading. Once again I was deep in a murder mystery being explained by Miss Marple in Monica’s collection of Agatha Christie’s short stories which she read during her high school days. We journeyed down to the water where small waves were breaking. Our lower legs were chilled by colder than expected water temperatures, so we didn’t get in much above our knees. The colors of the water were fabulous with different shades of crystal clear blue. I took a few pictures of the waves breaking on some large rocks and more pics of cacti growing right out of the steep, black volcanic hillside. How did the roots establish themselves?

After an hour or so of relaxation, we headed back toward the little gift shop and restaurant. I warned Jill to watch out for a bowling-ball sized black rock in the sand. As she went to step over it her back foot slipped in the powder sand and caught under the rock. You can guess what happened – she went down so fast there was no helping her to avoid the fall. Her hands and knees braced her body and she had no scrapes. She wasn’t as lucky with her foot as one toe turned from white to blue to purple over the next few minutes. We thought it might be broken, but she hobbled on despite the pain.

We inquired at the store about lodging on the beach and found out the rustic cabins and tent pads are available, but there were so few that they need to be booked way in advance. A taxi driver told us that he has a three bedroom, two bath place available that sleeps six and that there are other similar lodgings on St. John. Hmmm… I think a weeklong visit to St. John could be in the future. The beaches are great, the views are outstanding and both St. Thomas and Tortola are a short ferry boat trip away.

Postscript: Within a couple of days Jill’s toe was drastically improved as the purple faded and we concluded that it had merely been a bad bruise.

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Cruise Tales – 2015 South and East Caribbean #9: Stanford Joseph of St. Thomas

Today’s cruising adventure involved local transportation as we exited our ship in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin islands, took a taxi to the ferry boat, ferried to St. John and taxied to Cinnamon Bay. Then we retraced our route back to the ship. It is always interesting to meet random persons by chance. Today on the ferry we met Stanford Joseph of St. Thomas.

Jill and I sat down in a row of three seats to the left of the ferry and put our beach bag between us. The seats were narrow and the extra room was welcome. More people came aboard until it was apparent that seat was needed, so I pushed the bag under the seat and slid left. Soon an elderly man took the seat to my right. He had ebony skin, slightly graying hair and was dressed in a white shirt, black pants and matching black tie.

‘Are you a local businessman?’ I inquired. ‘Yes, I own my own company, Supreme Printers.’ This led me to ask a second question: ‘Do you have today off for Good Friday?’ ‘I do. In fact, I am heading to my church to play the piano during today’s noon service.’ Conversation flowed and he introduced himself as Stanford Joseph. He related that he played piano for St. Ursula’s Episcopalian Church in St. John.

We talked about business and I was shocked that he started working in the early 1960s. Stanford was 76 years old, but looked at least fifteen years younger. Over the years he did work in typesetting, copy editing and was even a track and field coach. I told him about my passion for the sport of running and my own experience as a distance runner. He mentioned how one of his six children was a track athlete and now a coach, while a grandson is now running competitively.

‘Are you going to sell your business and retire in the next few years?’ ‘No,’ he replied. Many family members work with me in the business. I will probably slow down sometime.’ Do you think? I guess that is what keeps him young.

We arrived in St. John and said our ‘goodbyes.’ Stanford disappeared into the crowd as he hurried to his church. Jill and I felt drawn to go to the Good Friday service, but he was gone and we had our own itinerary. That twenty minutes spent conversing with Stanford was a wonderfully random part of our cruise adventure.

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Cruise Tales – 2015 South and East Caribbean #8: Music and Humor with Jim

There were many different musical and variety acts on board from which to choose. Steel drums poolside, a jazz band in the Spinnaker Lounge one night, Karaoke in the Bliss Lounge every evening, a Motown revue at Spinnaker another night and more. One of the more popular acts we kept hearing about was in Magnum’s, where a piano player took requests and alternately played music and joked with cruise guests. So one night we checked it out.

There were comfortable chairs in Magnum’s, the kind you could just melt into. Jill and I found two in the front row, off to the side behind Jim’s back. But we couldn’t hide from him as he quickly bantered with us and found out we were from Florida. Somehow the subject of singing came up. ‘Jill is a jazz singer,’ I said proudly and emphatically. ‘Oh no! We’ve got a jazz singer and her manager. What else do you do?’

‘I’m a C.P.A.’ ‘Oh, how boring,’ he chuckled. ‘I also run marathons,’ I added. ‘Even more boring!’ And the crowd laughed. Jim played and sang another tune or two and took time during and between the songs for interplay with the crowd. A couple hundred spectators had filled every available seat and there were many others standing.

Jim turned toward us. ‘What would the jazz singer like to sing?’ Jill thought for a few seconds and said, ‘My Funny Valentine.’ Jim motioned for her to join him, gave her the microphone and started playing. This is one of the songs that is always a highlight of Jill’s singing, and this rendition was no exception. Luckily I was able to record the performance on my iPhone.

Jill finished the song as the piano faded and the audience clapped enthusiastically. Jim, true to form said, ‘That was great! Now get out of here and take your manager with you!’

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