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Often, it's more about the people.

Note: Gallery at end of text.

Visits with special people in our lives is often way too short. Meeting up for coffee or a meal only scratches the surface. I've enjoyed rekindling relationships with family and friends and have indulged in many below the surface conversations. I've laughed until my sides hurt, remembered things that I had long forgotten, and shed tears sharing or listening to life's unfair stories. The first month of van life was spent van camping, hiking, and backpacking in CO. I can't go to CO without a Rusty visit in Canon City. Always a good time grilling steaks, cold beer, and catching up on life. It just so happened that one of my best friends, Micheal, and his wife, Karen, were vacationing in CO so we met up in Breckinridge for lunch and walked the town. A few months in to van life I met up with an old submarine buddy, Troy, in WY. He was RV camping and we visited and confirmed plans for a week long Jeep trip to Moab later in October. And what a trip that was - it deserves a much longer story to be told another day. I flew back to Texas for a few days to attend my oldest daughters BFA photography exhibit. I can't articulate the joy and pride in seeing a daughter of a photographers' portfolio on the walls. There was no other place I'd rather be. A very special moment indeed. While in WY I passed through Casper and saw Pickett, a substitute teacher where I retired from, who winters in TX and summers in WY. He invited me to a fish fry and I met more awesome people. I will cherish the one-on-one times with Aunt Maude (93) and Aunt Wanda (78) in LA, and Uncle John (81) in GA. Talk about some great stories and I learned many new details of our family history. Hearing the jokes of cousin Carl through an audio device which he typed using eye commands (he has ALS).  Enjoyed some awesome Louisiana meals and helped out where I could with odd jobs. I was fortunate enough to visit them all during two separate trips to the east coast (winter 22', summer 23'). Before leaving LA I had coffee and caught up with Wozniak, who I worked for while attending LSU (1990-93) and visited cousins Joey and Cindy who I missed seeing in 22' when they had covid. Met up with submarine buddy, Alex and his amazing wife, in NC on both trips out east including a Superbowl party. I finally made it to Virginia to reunite with my submarine brothers. First in 22' where the planning for a big reunion began and then summer 23' where said reunion became a reality. Talk about a large time. We gathered at Gumby's house for four days of sea stories (thanks Kirsten for allowing us to gather at your house for the long weekend), catching up with our lives, great food and libations, and of course plans to keep in touch. It was amazing how the spand of 36 years became like yesterday. We laughed and laughed and most stories had more than one version. I met up with other friends from my hometown in Maryland and Columbus. Rick took me fishing on the Potomac River and boated in front of Mt. Vernon. We grilled, cleared some trees from his property, went kayaking, and discussed life beneath the surface over a weeks time. His wonderful wife, Julie, and I took a memorable day trip to DC to the Smithsonians. I traveled to Columbus, OH on both trips out east to visit another Lufkin friend and her wife. I value the life perspective I gained in our open conversations and how comfortable we all became in sharing life truths. A short weekend trip turned into five days as they were not tired of my company and I was enriched for staying longer. Also met up with friend Jennifer in KY for a burger and Mark and his girlfriend in AR for a long day hike. On trips out west in 21' and 22' I met up with more friends in UT, AZ, CA, OR, and WA. While boondocking along the Sierras in CA, I contacted Sharon, one of my close friends', Kyle, wife. Kyle died of an aneurysm before I could retire and get to CA in the van. We shared Kyle stories and both learned things we didn't know, which further deepened our memories and love for him. I camped with Jordon, a former student, and one of his friends near the OR coast and grilled fresh oysters we had harvested that afternoon at an oyster farm where his friend worked. He later gave me a walking tour of Oregon State and shared his excitement of being a geology student. Grilled with new friends Katie and Gary near Bend, OR. As I approached Seattle, another Lufkin friend, Del, insisted I take the ferry into the city and what a sight it was seeing the skyline emerge and then drive Vanpe Dien through the middle of downtown. Del has a matter-of-fact intellect and a cheerful presentation of his ideas. He's lived in Seattle for over 16 years and was also a submariners. We lightly discussed west coast politics and it was refreshing to hear Del's take on it coming from East Texas. I was definitely enlightened and the discussion added to what I had seen and experienced in the region. It was also a pleasure to meet his fiance and family. I got in touch with longtime friend from my old neighborhood, Johnny, outside of Portland, OR. We grilled, had a few beers, talk about the good times and what all we wanted to see and do in the future. I will never forget that visit as it was the last time I would see him. Johnny died in his sleep several months later. While backpacking in Banff I met a super nice couple, Chad and Mimi, who basically planned a week for me along the Icefields Parkway and Salmon Glacier (via Hyder, Alaska) in Canada. The following summer on my way back to TX from the Great Lakes Region and across the Dakotas I visited submarine buddies from the reunion in WY and OK. More sea stories and more than fun times. Fall 2023 brought me back to Lufkin for the class of 1983 reunion. Again, it was like yesterday seeing old classmates and talking about our children, careers, and dreams. I make a big effort to visit close friends whenever I return to Texas. Past through Kerrville to visit Steve and Carol, and Marble Falls to see Taylor and his fiancé, Carrie. After having not seeing some for over a year, our conversations often go beneath the surface. We share what we've seen and experienced, and we then share our dreams and life moments that touch the soul. A night spent with Brent at the cigar lounge in Nacogdoches was one such conversation. It can not be replicated. Another weekend at Chuck's farmhouse brought shared stories, most of his I had already heard, and now him hearing very new ones from me. He cocked his head and said "You've changed." And many mornings over coffee while staying with mom connecting new experiences to old with added memories. Fun times with Julie and her patiently listening to endless van life stories. Whether it is just coffee, a beer, or a gathering, I am always in to meeting up with friends (you know who you are) . As we most certainly know, this life of ours is truly short. 



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