Monday, October 24, 2005

Family Reunion, etc...

I almost forgot to show a picture of the locomotives at The Golden Spike, so there it is.

The focus of the vacation trip was the John K Black Family Reunion in a camp outside of Heber City Utah. After driving through CA, NV, ID, and northern UT, we got to Heber City the night before the reunion.

We were told not to go to the camp until afternoon, so we spent the morning on the "Scenic Heber Creeper" -- a slow-moving train that chugs through the beautiful Heber Valley. One fun part was that the train ride included a "mock holdup" by a pair of "outlaws" The "little one" was quite cute so I've included her picture... The "sheriff" asked me if the criminals had been bothering us and I said that the one guy had "had his way" with my wife. That earned me a sharp strike on the shoulder :)

The train "crept" past a small herd of horses in the river valley. There was one wobbly-kneed newborn pony (sorry, no picture!) that couldn't have been more than a couple of days old, suckling from a beautiful tawny-colored mare.

At the turn-around point, everybody got off the train and the engine took a side-track, and switched to the back of the train to pull us back to town. I was standing next to a wide-eyed kid about 8 years old as we watched this maneuver... then I had a thought "Watch this" I said.... I stuck a penny and a nickel on the track and we stared as the engine ran over it. I picked up the paper-thin coins and gave them to the kid (you could still just barely make out the faces of Jefferson and Lincoln). He was all, "Neat!" And I was proud of myself for thinking of it -- then I noticed dozens of elongated circles on the track (I was obviously not the first person with that idea :-)

The Reunion

The camp is incredible. It is a 20-minute drive from town, nestled in a quiet valley full of "quakies" and pines. It's an "LDS Girls Camp" that accessible only by a private road. We were incredibly lucky to get reservations there (I think somebody had to know somebody who knew somebody who was a mighty good Mormon). There were campsites with bunkhouses with separate cooking areas and flush toilets and a central amphitheater and fire pits. My cousin Jackie and her husband Barr drove in with a trailer full of food and we helped stock the walk-in refrigerator. Everything there was bright-shiny new. I marveled thinking how nice the "LDS Girls" have it -- when the LDS Boys Scouts go out, they sleep in tents and dig holes for toilets.

One of planned activities was the "Challenge Course." We broke up into groups and went to several stations where, as a group, we would work together to solve these challenging physical and mental puzzles. For instance, there are three stumps and three boards, and you need to make a bridge to get the entire team across.... the problem is that the boards are too short to reach from one stump to the next.
The solution involves members of the group holding down one end of the first board -- teeter-totter style -- while one guy carries the second board to the middle. He balances it in the center, with just about 1-foot overlap of the first board. Then by carefully shifting his weight, a second member can carry the third board far enough to set it down on the far end of the middle board and the farthest stump. Then the members can cross one-at-a-time, but the guy in the middle must move and shift his weight in perfect coordination. The last guy is a bit tricky, but by that time we had it down to a science.

Another challenge starts out simple: You just balance as you walk the length of a log. But then the challenge increases as two of the group must walk cross from different directions. When I went, my partner was a little nephew (one of the Columbian boys that my brother King recently adopted) and I just picked him up and put him behind me. Most people crouched down and hugged the log to let the partner crawl over their back. The final challenge there was to cross while blindfolded! (That's me in the foreground).

The coolest thing was the "Zip line." There were two VERY tall logs standing straight up with a 15-foot log between them near the top. The whole setup is guyed with cables. We were required to wear a helmet and a harness with a rope attached. The camp crew belay you for safety (220-pound Dean allowed as how that 90-pound girl on the other end of the rope was going to fly up like a sparrow if he fell (hehe).

First, you climb this really unstable "rope ladder" to get up to the crossbeam. On the left is my niece, Monica (eldest daughter of my yoga-instructing brother Vern). The photo on the right gives some idea of how far up you are. That point there.. where you transition from the ladder to the upper log is the trickiest and the scariest. More than one of the group got to that point and decided that the ground was a better place to be.

Once you get your balance on the log, you need to walk across to the other end (most of the group "cheated" by holding the belaying line as they walked). That's me clowning with the tightrope act. But I gotta say that my heart was pounding. I had to do yoga breathing and get a hard focus on the log before I could take the first step. After that, it's easy -- easy as falling off a ...errrr... easy as eating pie.

Finally you get to the other side and the guy there detaches your belay line and attaches your harness to this pulley that is on a down-sloping cable. You LEAP from the platform and fly through the air with a tremendous ZZZZZIPPPPPPPing sound!

This was great afternoon for all of the participants and all of the watchers.
This is Aunt Karen with one of her grand kids. The best part of the reunion was seeing all of my cousins and family that I grew up with and this new generation of little babies. We had sing-alongs, and talent shows (in lieu of actual talent, I recited "Jaberwocky") and hikes, and volleyball, and comic relay scramble, ... all those things. Somebody had volunteered our group to do a "camp improvement" project that involved hauling wheelbarrows full of shredded bark to line the trails -- and that sweaty bit of activity turned out to be one of the most enjoyable things.

Grandma Black died a few years ago, and 94-year-old Grandpa ("Poppie" to one and all) was too ill to attend. One night we sat around and "remembered" them. There are some great stories about this family and maybe one day I'll tell them here.