Tour des Trees 2020: Rollin’ in Place

I retired from my role as President and CEO of Tree Research and Education Endowment Fund (TREE Fund) in November 2019. That was right around the time that we announced that the next installment of our premier community engagement event, the Tour des Trees, would be rolling through Colorado in September 2020. Having ridden in and fundraised for five prior Tours (click here for last year’s report), I had fully intended to ride that planned 2020 mountain route as well, but those plans changed last Spring when I was awarded the opportunity to visit Ideas Island in Sweden, creating an irreconcilable scheduling conflict.

Then, of course, Anno Virum happened, and everything changed. I’m not posting from Sweden right now, and the Tour did not roll through the Rockies as expected. Bummers on both fronts. While losing the opportunity to work on a project at Ideas Island impacted only me, the loss of the 2020 Tour had far more consequential impacts on TREE Fund, significantly cutting into its ability to provide community engagement and fundraising to support crucial arboricultural research programs. The West Coast is burning as I write this post, demonstrating clearly and painfully how necessary and valuable scientifically-robust research findings and practices are to mitigating climate change, combating invasive species, and capitalizing on the myriad benefits provided by healthy urban and community forests. TREE Fund is a major player in that effort, especially as Federal funding for such work has evaporated or been redirected in recent years.

I was pleased, therefore, when TREE Fund announced plans for a “Rollin’ In Place” Tour designed to allow riders, runners, walkers, swimmers, hikers, whatevers support the organization safely from and in their own home communities. They’ve set a goal of $150,000, around the theme of “3-2-1 Go!,” explained thusly:

Traditionally, Tour des Trees riders would spend a week riding through a state or region, engaging with communities and raising funds for TREE Fund. Instead of riding 321 miles in the Rockies this year, we challenge you to take on 321 your own way! Ride 321 km a month the entire duration of the campaign, run 3.21 miles a day, do 321 pushups a week, walk your dog 321 miles, pogo-stick jump to a new record of 321 . . . you get the idea. 321 is the magic number!

I’m down to do my part on that front to help TREE Fund reach its event goals. I’m sticking with cycling as my activity, with a 321 mile goal, ridden out on the road, like a normal Tour. While I can’t get the climbing experience in Iowa that I would have gotten in Colorado, I do want to replicate the daily endurance aspect of the Tour, so my objective is reach 321 miles in six rides (a typical Tour week), ideally including one century (100+ mile) ride. We are moving from Iowa on October 22, so I intend to complete the miles and the related fundraising before then.

I’ve kicked things off by making my own contribution to the cause, and would greatly appreciate it if you would support TREE Fund via my “Rollin’ In Place” campaign. Here’s my fundraising page, where you can make your own gift to support the mission and goal. That page is linked to my cycling computer, so it will show progress updates as they occur, and I will also report them here, of course. Thanks in advance for whatever you can chip in to the effort. I am grateful, as will be the entire TREE Fund team.

Last year’s Tour team. We’re not together in person this year, but the communal spirit remains strong. (Click to enlarge and see if you can spot the very professional Ex-President/CEO throwing the metal horns. BRUTAL!!)

Last Landing at DSM

Barring something unexpected or unplanned over the next several weeks, Marcia and I made our final landing at Des Moines International Airport yesterday, back in Iowa after a week-plus in Nevada and Arizona. We’ve spent a lot of time in those DSM halls and concourses since 2011, and I can’t say that I will miss them in the least. Come November, I will also appreciate again flying out of cities where the word “International” in the local airport name actually means that you can get to a foreign country on a non-stop basis, which is not the case from Des Moines. I suppose there must have been a flight to Cancun or Toronto available at some point in the past, and they never bothered fixing the name after such service ceased. Meh.

As reported earlier, here and here, the trip west was wonderful, as was spending time with John and Katelin, and we’re so so SO looking forward to being out that way full time. Beyond the beautiful countryside and rich cultures of the region, it felt good to just be in places where most people are taking basic common-sense health protections (e.g. masks, social distancing, limits on number of people in enclosed spaces, etc.) seriously, and where the State governments are not engaging in macro-level evil political idiocy like this and this. Ugh!

I do appreciate that regular readers here may be tiring of my rants on how much I’m not enjoying Iowa lately, but it’s hard not to express those sentiments, given how overwhelmingly bad the neighborhood attitudes and political leadership are on life-and-death matters here in the state and city where we still live, for now. It eats at us. It’s tragic. We want to be done with it, though we know our departure won’t in any way alleviate the suffering of so many Iowans at the hands of their inept “governing” cabal of intolerant, anti-science theocrats and their big corporate enablers. Oh well. I’ll try to minimize such sentiments here over the weeks that remain for us in Iowa, but rest assured, they will continue to percolate below the published surface.

And now, having spent more words than I probably should on those matters, I suppose looking at pretty pictures might be a preferable option, for me and for you alike. Click on the image below, taken at Chimney Rock in Sedona, for our trip gallery, should you be so inclined. I’ll leave it to readers’ discretion as to whether you see a lens anomaly there in the image, or visual evidence of a Sedona Vortex in action. Either way, I like the shot, as it captures the magic of the region (literal and/or figurative) well. We are planning one more out of state trip (driving over to Northwestern Illinois) before our move, so maybe I’ll have one final Midwestern gallery before the pictures start looking like this full-time in November. Have I mentioned how eager I am for that?

Flagstaff and Chill

When Marcia and I left Las Vegas and drove eastward into Arizona on Monday, the day’s high temperature was about 115° F. This morning, when I got up early for my coffee, the thermometer read 35º F, and it has only risen into the high 50s at the sunny peak of the afternoon. So that use of “chill” in the title today is literal, not figurative, especially since we’ve done our usual mixes of forced marches throughout the days, with not a lot of time allotted to slugging about and relaxing. While temperatures across the Southwest have dropped dramatically over the past few days, it’s especially noticeable in Flagstaff, sitting at about 7,000 feet above sea level. No wonder Arizonans from the scorched bits of the state down south come up this way for summer reprieves.

This is our second visit to Flagstaff, and we find it to be a most appealing destination. One of our favorite things about it is the stellar job that the city’s leaders and managers have done in protecting, preserving and activating incredible outdoors spaces within the city limits. There is a tremendous network of mixed use paths known as “FUTS” (for “Flagstaff Urban Trail System”), along with an equally rich spiderweb of single-track cycling trails and more hardcore hiking trails out of the city and into the surrounding mountains. There are wonderful views and vistas to be seen on pretty much every trail we’ve strolled, most especially looking up toward the San Francisco Peaks and (especially) Humphreys Peak, which towers over the region with its summit at about 12,700 feet above sea level. The (mostly) pine forests in and beyond Flagstaff’s municipal boundaries are also wonderful, creating shady groves with open sight lines, and framing most of the scenery one might choose to snap while ambling about.

I include some such snaps below, noting that every one of these images was captured within either walking distance or a short (10 minutes or less) drive from our hotel, smack in the middle of the busiest downtown part of the city. Add in the benefits of Flagstaff’s “dark sky” policies on urban lighting (designed to protect Lowell Observatory, which also resides within city limits), and you’ve got a tremendously natural feeling urban environment, one which most other cities would do well to emulate. We will be here through Friday, with some side trips to the Sedona area, for house-hunting and general regional acclimation. It’s very exciting and enjoyable to consider living near here in a mere couple of months!

Old and Out of the Way

Marcia and I are in Las Vegas this weekend, visiting Katelin and John. The trip out was our first foray through airports since March. If you had told me a year ago that I ever would or could ever get on a commercial airplane looking like this, I’d have bet good money against it.

The Des Moines airport was not very crowded. There should have been plenty of room to safely socially distance in the terminal while awaiting our flight. But, of course, Iowa’s elected officials have done a terrible job in setting examples and providing rules for the Anno Virum, and many of the State’s residents have embraced that lethal disrespect for others that oozes down from above. So we experienced aggressive jerks at the airport invading other people’s safe personal spaces, and/or refusing to understand that a mask worn over your chin and neck is not really a mask at all. As, frankly, we expected. Sigh.

After six months mostly at home or on the road with just the two of us, being readmitted to the nattering noise of large numbers of other humans was jarring and very unpleasant: TV’s and flight announcements blaring, idiots watching movies on their laptops without headphones, other idiots having shouted conversations into their phones. People can really kinda suck sometimes. No wonder social distancing hasn’t over-burdened me on a personal day-to-day basis, beyond being bummed about not being able to see family members and travel freely, and annoyed at people being stupid about basic personal protective measures. Hermitic misanthropists like me are well programmed for days like these, I suppose.

Since getting to Nevada, though, things have been most exceptionally pleasant. Katelin and John’s house and park-like yard are great places to hang out, and we have done some wonderful walks. The best one took us up over a 7.5 mile route to just under 10,000 feet of elevation, to visit the subject that inspired this post’s title: a 3,000+ year old Bristlecone Pine known as Raintree, the oldest known living thing in Nevada. Here’s a snap of me with that venerable sylvan old-timer in her ancient grove, just for a sense of scale. (Click to enlarge, if you’d like).

Pretty freakin’ incredible! Well worth the strenuous hike. Marcia and I are headed to Flagstaff, Arizona later today for the rest of the week. It is on the (very) short list of places where we hope we may find our retirement home later this year. It is a good deal cooler there than the 115° F temperatures we have been experiencing around Las Vegas, so that will feel refreshing too.

More pics and reports later this week or next when I am at my computer. I am posting right now from my phone, so apologize in advance for likely fat-fingered typos!

Minnesotin’

Marcia and I are back home in Des Moines tonight after a wonderful week in Minneapolis and environs. It’s nearly 100° F here in Central Iowa with grotesque humidity levels, and is forecast to be so for the next week, making the inordinately nice weather we had in Minnesota over the past eight days all the more pleasurable in contrast. As noted in my prior post, we rented a really nice AirBnB in Minneapolis’ Kenwood area near Lake of the Isles, making it super easy and convenient to access a variety of great (carryout) restaurants along Hennepin Avenue, and also the glorious Grand Rounds network of trails surrounding the lakes at the heart of the city. The architecture in that area is stunning, and we were just a few houses down from the Purcell-Cutts House (a most fine example of the Prairie School), and just across the narrow lake neck from the Mary Tyler Moore House, made famous by her hit eponymous sitcom. There’s boodles of other fine specimens about, along with stunning gardens in great, full, peak bloom in most cases. Perfect!

Marcia and I circumambulated Lake Harriet, Bde Maka Ska (the Lake Formerly Known as Calhoun), Lake of the Isles, and Cedar Lake multiple times on foot without having to get in the car to get there, and we also kayaked on and between the latter three, which was wonderful. We did leave the neighborhood a few times for great walks around the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Lake Elmo Park Reserve, The Walker Art Center’s Sculpture Garden, and the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Trail. En route between Des Moines and the Twin Cities, we also did very nice walks at Myre-Big Island Park in Albert Lea and River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. My pedometer tells me that I walked 79 miles over the course of the week. That clearly justified all the ice cream, cookies, popcorn and pie that I ate while there, om nom nom!

After the Arboretum walk, we took a guided tour at Paisley Park, Prince’s nearby production studio and (in his final years) home. It was very cool to see, though sad to ponder how prematurely the Purple One left us, another undeserving victim of Big Pharma’s pusherman approach to opiate economics. Sigh. On the family front, we got to spend outdoor time with three of Marcia’s siblings and some nieces and nephews as well, and she had brunch with a pair of school friends at a legendary neighborhood restaurant, Curran’s, which is sadly closing and being razed soon, after over 70 years in business. We drove by Marcia’s nearby childhood home and schools, along with the church where we were married in 1989, and also went out to Fort Snelling National Cemetery to leave flowers for and pay respects to her parents, who are buried there.

And also on the paying respects front, we visited the George Floyd Memorial Site at South 38th and Chicago, which was powerful and heartbreaking in equal measure. We could stand at the spot where George Floyd was murdered and see the bell-tower on that church where we were married, just some 10 blocks to the west, so there’s a small personal connection for our family in there, a proximity to places dear. The city has closed off the streets around the area to vehicle traffic, so it’s a growing walk-in shrine site at this point, with volunteers offering visitors donated masks and drinking water if needed, and with various places and ways to leave messages, thoughts, prayers and promises. Or just to walk and reflect and be in the moment and dream of a different future, as the spirit moves each visitor individually.

It is sad to ponder how a regular night on a regular street-corner in a regular neighborhood could go so awfully, tragically wrong. But it is profound to consider the ripples of outrage that have washed outward from this modest spot, in large part because these same sorts of tragedies have occurred so many other times in so many other places, just as needlessly, just as horribly, just as wrong. One whole city block just north of the murder site now has its pavement painted with more names than I could count of victims of similar racially-motivated institutional violence from across the country, encouraging visitors to say their names aloud as they walk among them, reading them like a mantra, honoring their memories, and mourning their absence, and the losses felt by their loved ones. Such killing needs to stop. So here’s hoping those waves of righteous resistance rolling out of South Minneapolis are powerful enough to wash away some of the stubborn structures of institutional racism in our nation, for the betterment of all of its people.

I’ve posted my usual trip album over at Flickr if you’re interested in seeing the images there, including all of the sites mentioned above. Click on the “Sunset Over Lake of the Isles” photo below to see the rest of the set. Marcia and I are both very glad we went North for a spell. And we’re grateful for the reminders that we are blessed indeed to be able to make a trip like this in a time when many families are struggling with illness, or financial duress, or social and racial inequities, or all of the above, and then some. We do not take that good fortune for granted. Ever.

Magnetic North

We’ve been drawn Northward this week, following Marcia’s homing compass back to her Minnesota magnetic pole, where the Voluptuous Varmints roam.

We are renting a very comfy AirBnB just a couple of blocks northeast of Lake of the Isles, and have been walking 10+ miles each day around Minneapolis’ spectacular parks and trails system. We’re trying to safely, distantly visit as many family members here as we can before we relocate to Arizona in October, since it’s a much easier trip from Des Moines than it will be from Flagstaff or Sedona. It’s great to see folks, and great to be back in and around the area where Marcia grew up.

But there’s another component of the visit that carries an edge with a bite. George Floyd was murdered just about 10 blocks due east of Marcia’s childhood home, and we’re seeing a lot of damage around the community from the outraged eruptions which followed that tragedy. Sad and sobering on so many fronts, for so many people. It certainly hammers home the fact that we have so far to go and need to do so much better in terms of providing and protecting justice and equity as defining conditions of our national social contract.

As we watch the Democratic Nominating Convention this week, we are also reminded of one huge, important thing that we must collectively attend to by early November to redirect us along a more compassionate and Constitutionally-sound long-term national path. Marcia and I have already applied for our absentee ballots in Iowa accordingly, and will willingly head for the ballot boxes, masked, if they don’t get to us in time. When hatred, racism, grift, and willful anti-science ignorance are embraced as core operating parameters by both the White House and the Senate majority, it is hard to fight those scourges at street, community and State levels. We can do better. We must do better.

Enough on that, for here and now, I suppose. But plenty more to be said and done elsewhere and elsewhen, and we’re committed to that as a family whether I write about it here or not. Just for the record. Just so you know.

I share a few snaps below of our trip thus far, some happy and pretty, some sad and hard for us to see. We are energized by both types of photos, just in different ways. Maybe you will be too.