A Learning Experience

If a great trip has both adventure and learning, this trip will be a huge success. For adventure, we are headed to the Julian Alps, the bright granite mountains of northern Slovenia. Ok, not kayaking down the headwaters of the Amazon finding food along the way (I’m saving that for a future trip :-), but we intend to revel in the mountain contour lines that Illinois so lacks. For learning, this trip could be a perfect 10, since anything we learn is more than what we know now. Slovenia is just not one of those countries that comes up while discussing how marimbas are constructed or where Exascale supercomputers will be deployed. Sorry Slovenia, we know nothing about you. Oh, years ago you were in Yugoslavia, but honestly, that’s it. We don’t even have a reservation for the first night’s hotel. We land, and the adventure starts… Join the Slovenian alpine club and then head north via bus toward the mountains.

This trip started with a pre-adventure. For the past 2 weeks Paul has been in northern Door County near egg harbor, WI. Beth and I left the house at 7:30am on Saturday to meet Paul and see his concerts. The final performance ended at 10pm, and then we drove through the night back to Naperville. Our trip was made more exciting when at 2:00am I noticed a drunk driver near Chicago on 94E. Braking every few moments and swerving around the lanes I decided to call 911. We don’t know if the troopers intercepted him.

We arrived home at 3:00am and packed up and left for the airport by about 12:00. I’m exhausted, fading in and out as I tap on the iPad. Paul is fast asleep. I promised not to post sleeping pictures, so here is one right before he passed out



A picture of the packing table, a key step in Beckman adventure making.

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In Frankfurt

(Paul): It’s been quite a comical start to our journey. The man sitting in the aisle seat of the section in which dad and I were seated was quite a character. A bulky Serbian with nearly incomprehensible English that loved to chat away. I couldn’t understand most of the his talk with dad, but I picked up on references to the state of world affairs, education, and outsourcing. All of this spoken in very few words with much space in between. But the funny part was that he never seemed to stop drinking. Following his first beer at the beginning of the flight, he had two glasses of whiskey before falling asleep. And after he woke up in the morning, the flight attendant came around asking “tea or coffee?” to which our neighbor quickly replied “whiskey.” slightly confused, the flight attendant asked where he was from. After he answered “Serbia” she nodded, smiled, and brought his a glass of whiskey.

The next comical event came as we went through security in Frankfurt. We ran our bags through the x-ray and on the way out, I was pulled aside for a random metal detector search. The normal procedures were done as the agent check my pockets and ran me down with the detector. But before he let me go, he ran the metal detector around my head to make sure I didn’t smuggle anything into the plane in my hair. And I thought my hair was fairly in control today. Anyway, now we are waiting for our flight from Frankfurt to Ljubljana (pronounced lube-yawn-uh). We’ll keep posting our adventures as we arrive in Slovenia with absolutely no plans (thanks dad).

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In Bohinj, tmrw we hike to huts. Rain coming

This update was sent at ||07/23/2012 13:50:41 CDT || via SPOT communicator GPS Location: Latitude:46.27615 Longitude:13.88959

Link to Google Map location: https://maps.google.com/maps?q=46.27615+13.88959 Message Sent:In Bohinj, tmrw we hike to huts. Rain coming


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Hiking up

It is morning in the small village of Bohinj. We have not yet planned our route, despite pulling out the map on several occasions and using our finger to trace several paths thought the green forests and into onto granite cities high above the valley.

We spent the night at a small roadside restaurant and hotel. The scenery is familiar, even if the native language is not. Gray haired farmers cut down alpine grass and lay it across frames to dry – food for the cows during the winter. Small yellow, white, and purple flowers are sprinkled across every field. Onion-topped churches with grandly exterior walls tell stories of past Slovenian heroes or saints.

Ahhh, real bread and cheese. There may be no culinary delight I miss so intensely as the simple pleasure of the hearty grained bread and fresh cheese of the Alps. There is no substitute in the US.

Paul and I saved a bit of cash by buying a small jar of pasta sauce and a bag of tortellini, which we prepared by the lake. Yum.

Oh, and the picture below of the locks? There is a bridge in Ljubljana where love struck couples come to seal their future. They attach a lock with their names to the bridge. Hundreds of locks were affixed to every possible place on the bridge.

Ok, well, we may not have cell coverage for the next 6 days. So, maybe just a SPOT update from there on out. bye!






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Koca pri Triglavskih Jezerjh

An absolutely amazingly wonderful and painful and exhausting day. Every good adventure has a moment when your lungs are begging for air, your muscles are burning in pain, and you count the steps until you can guzzle water and eat handfuls of salty snacks.

We arrived at Koca pri Triglavskih Jezerjh hut after 7 hrs of hiking. 5.5 hours if walking and 1.5 hrs of resting and eating. My fitbit thinks we did 25253 steps and 403 flights of stairs. The maps tells the real story…. 3800 vertical feet. Wow. For those of you don’t routinely hike with 30 lbs packs, that is a big big day. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

We left our small hotel this morning. Our packs are heavy with food. We paused in front of small hotel along the way to steal some wireless and post our blog.

After pausing for a map check, we decided to follow the lake for 1.5 hrs. The deep blue water was still. Small ripples danced from the stern of the early morning racing kayaks as their athletic paddlers glided around the lake. The path was easy, and provided a chance for Paul and I to twiddle and fiddle with every strap and toggle to find the perfect adjustment for our packs.

A short snack stop at the end of other end of the lake and we were ready to begin hiking up toward the solid rock face. Paul is a strong hiker. We talked about my work and Birch Creek as Paul strides to strange polyrhythms in his mind.

Thirty minutes later we hit The Wall. The trail continued through the forest, but zigzagged steeply. Dark green firs poked toward the sky. We travelled alone in this dark wood, but didn’t see any slavic vampires or werewolves. I think we are safe here in the lonely woods. We didn’t see a wood cutter either.

Soon the trail became vertical, or at least it felt that way. Old iron pitons held cables bolted to the sides of exposed sections. We moved slowly. Our shirts were soaked. I was dizzy. Each step sapped our strength.

We stopped at a waterfall for a glorious lunch. At least when your are hiking, every lunch with food and water is glorious. Paul explained “I forgot how much I like getting burned”. Our buffet was classic… German cube bread (essentially moist unleavened grains pressed together), cheese, sausage, and dried fruit.

We stopped again at a small lake before pressing on toward the hut. The last 15 min, with the hut in sight was wonderful. Our legs were jelly, but our sprits were high. At the hut we whipped out our Slovenian Alpine club membership cards, complete with ID pictures, that we had purchased at the Matica Alpine club in Ljubljana. Our alpine membership card afforded us 50% off at sleeping price. The public room with many mattresses was 13 euro a night per person for members, but we grabbed the last 2 person room for 17 euro each.

I convinced Paul to wash up outside at a small water tap. The icy cold water both hurt and refreshed as we washed up with peppermint soap. I popped on a wonderful merino wool shirt and life after exhaustion was good. We fired up the stove and slurped up a beef stew. We were famished. We savored each sporkfull, but pulled out the snacks for more calories. In the distance, a group stopped at the lake and stripped down for real cleaning.

We relaxed in the hut and I wrote this blog post. A friendly group of 60 yr old Swiss women who speak French and German to each other shared our table as Paul and I splurged on a strudel and hot chocolate. Ahhhhh. Tomorrow’s forecast is rain rain rain. We met a Dutch family that tried to summit Triglav but were turned back by the fierce wind. Tomorrow may be difficult. We will attempt the hut only 3.5 hrs away, but it has no water, so no more washing out our salty tees. I don’t think it will get cell service, like this one seems to.

So, see you in a couple of days, wet and cold and exhausted.









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Safe at Dolicu hut. Triglav peak in morning

This update was sent at ||07/25/2012 12:34:37 CDT || via SPOT communicator GPS Location: Latitude:46.36504 Longitude:13.81947

Link to Google Map location: https://maps.google.com/maps?q=46.36504+13.81947 Message Sent:Safe at Dolicu hut. Triglav peak in morning


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Dolicu Hut

To be a truly remote adventure, someone along your path must stop, and with a puzzled look ask “why are you here?”. It has been a comical moment for Paul and I on the last few trips. This time, it happened at dinner. It took some time to explain why an American would find the small mountain huts of a tiny country an adventure. But our hut friends understood.

We slept soundly. We kept the small window open all night; the cold mountain air was splendid. By 7:00am we were busy packing up. The roar of our small stove told of the oatmeal and coffee to come. Ahhh. We tossed some dried blueberries into the gruel and watched them plump up. To the hungry man, a crust of bread is a feast.

We boldly strode out and began a slow climb up. The valley was green. The carpet gave way to the gray-white of the scree slopes pointing toward the massive peaks on either side of the trail. Our peaceful valley stroll didn’t last long. After about 45 minutes we were once again panting and taking deliberate steps up.

After 1.5 hours of steady, painful climbing our legs were jelly. Or maybe gummi bears. We were intent on making it to the top of a very high pass and eating. Paul remembered that we had some instant garlic potatoes and we gained strength from the anticipation of making it up to Potato Pass. Each of us had different tunes playing in our heads as we plodded up toward Spud Saddle. It began to sprinkle and get cold and windy. We decided to make our potato heaven a short distance from the top. A small rock shelf shielded is from the wind and sprinkles. The stove faithfully roared to life once again and within minutes we were slurping on glorious garlic potato wads stuck to our sporks. Paul’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and had we not been sitting down, he may have swooned over. For me, salty spicy Thai lime cashews topped it all off.

We packed up and had only made it 10 minutes up the trail when we were stopped cold by a herd of Steinbok. I don’t know the English word for them, only the German word. They are antelope-like mountain animals with fantastic meter-long antlers. Their knobby antlers curve gently back. Fortunately, they were down-slope from us, but still quite close. Several were sparring. Rearing back on their hind legs and then dropping down with their horns and smashing their opponent. With each mighty smash the Steinbok paused and then pushed each other. The crashing sounds of these eager warriors echoed off the steep stone mountains. We took pictures and video. It was beautiful. However after watching several pairs stand 8 feet high on their rear legs and then fearlessly smash down, we started to worry if the Steinboks would be threatened by us. We would certainly be in trouble had one come charging down the path. I thought about the utility of my carbon fiber hiking poles. I think quite simply we would have been toast had they decided Americans are unwelcome in the Julian Alps.

We packed up our cameras and we eagerly climbed the remaining distance to the pass. 45 minutes of decent and we reached Koca Na Dolicu, a cute little hut with solar panels and a wind turbine for power. Sadly, unlike our previous hut, there was no water source. Each 2 liter bottle of water was about 7 dollars. We made fantastic time, even with the pause at potato pass and the visit to the Steinbok animal park. It was only shortly after 12:00. We got our beds and collapsed for a few minutes. Paul is quite strong, and could probably hike faster than I. We have been relaxing in the hut, designing the frame for the marimba, looking through our photos for the day, and of course eating dinner. Tonight’s specialty: Couscous Parmesan.

The weather continues to swirl and spit. Hopefully by morning we can attempt a summit of Triglav. The weather will be our guide….

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After dinner in Dolicu hut, Paul and I went up to bed early. We had hopes that Triglav Peak would clear off in the morning. We set our alarm for 5:30 and made one final dash out into the cold night air to the outhouse, hoping to minimize further nighttime trips. Not a star could be seen. Overhead, the small turbine whirled away, energizing the compact fluorescents dimly lighting the dinning room.

The morning greeted us with her gray and cold embrace. I cracked open the heavy wooden door to the hut and then started boiling water on a metal table in the entryway. Whispered German, French, and Slovenian broke the silence as hikers crawled out of their warm beds and descended the knotty pine stairs looking for coffee. Our oatmeal was good, but we also snacked on dried apricots and salty trail mix.

We packed one backpack for the summit attempt and stuffed the greater portion of our gear under a table in the hut. After only 50 meters the trail started a steep ascent. We were far above the tree line. Dotting the rocky path, clumps of grass adorned with tiny flowers waved gently in the wind.

After 30 minutes of climbing we had fantastic views of the valleys below. The wind blew the light gray clouds quickly overhead, replacing them with darker clouds that spit cold rain down on us. We were hot and sweaty from climbing and cold from the sprinkles and wind. Triglav was shrouded in a dark, thick mist. Except for the smallest of blades of grass peeking out from behind small stones, there were no signs of life or joy.

Two hours into our climb we reached the north face of Mt Doom. A steep scree field led up to what looked like an impenetrable sheer rock face going up hundreds of feet.The cold wind made our fingers numb. Nearby, we saw a boulder that we could hide behind while we warmed up. Paul and I shivered against a large rock and slipped all of the remaining gear we had brought with us – down sweater, rain pants and jacket, and extra socks for our hands. Time passed. We huddled and waited. Why was Mount Doom so angry? Food. We needed to eat. Even in the most inhospitable of places one can always feel better after a good meal.

Paul and I sliced open our special meal…. A foil pouch of “Pink Salmon” we had brought with us from the USA. Slippery chunks of cold fish were spread on a slice of smoked Gouda. Ahhhhh. Shivering? Yes. Feeling ready to attack Mount Doom? Maybe.

The dark rainy clouds Occasionally gave way to lighter rainy clouds, but the weather did not break. We decided to go up to the cliff face. We were surprised by what we found. Steel pegs and cables wound their way up the face into the dark clouds above.

Ugh. We paused and considered the obvious. We decided to go up the route a little to get a feel for things. We pulled off the socks warming our hands and grabbed the cold, wet iron pegs. Soon we were edging across broad gaps, holding a steel cable. We looked down. A slip here, without harnesses would not end well. Paul and I stopped to consider our plans. We turned back. Really, we had only slight hesitation at bailing on our ascent. Clouds swirled around us and we would not enjoyed any views from the summit, had we survived the climb. We slowly descended the slippery rocks, walking backward down the worst edges. My fingers were white, and I had trouble holding on to the cables. A sound choice to turn back.

As we hiked back to the hut, Paul and I agreed that if you never have to turn back, the route you have chosen is not sufficiently challenging. Indeed.

Back at the hut we enjoyed a hot meal on my stove and planned our route to the next hut. I’ll have to share that part later, we have to get moving, but let’s just say it was the most difficult portion of the trip to far….

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3000 ft ascent, hut wurst great, relaxing.

This update was sent at ||07/27/2012 10:21:31 CDT || via SPOT communicator GPS Location: Latitude:46.37527 Longitude:13.92848

Link to Google Map location: https://maps.google.com/maps?q=46.37527+13.92848 Message Sent:3000 ft ascent, hut wurst great, relaxing.


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Dolicu Photos

We finally have an Internet connection good enough to upload photos. Here are some from potato pass and Dolicu


Some of the wildflowers peeking out from the rocks.


Our Ibex (steinbok) pictures. A bit blurry, but it is a small pocket camera. Ugh.


Heading up to spud saddle


Stopping for some caffeinated goo…..ahhhh….


Around and to the left of that mountain, and we are there…


Dolicu hut! Whoooohoooo


Ahhhh, a bunk bed and a full belly….

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