Days of Wine and… Wine

OK that’s not ALL we did in Phoenix.  Far from it.  No, really.

We’ve learned how much we appreciate variety while on the road.  A little bit of primitive “dry” camping, some cushy private RV “resorts,” a generous smattering of wooded state parks with a ton of space, the very occasional beach cottage…  We haven’t been traveling long enough this go-around to really need what we got in Phoenix, but it was most certainly appreciated.  In fact, I would classify the week as “epic.”

My best friend from college with whom I commiserated on day 1 of Naval ROTC training back in 1986 is now an Emergency Room physician in Phoenix.  He lives on what I can only call a “compound” (in the very best sense of the word) in the middle of a fairly dense but entirely pleasant residential area with his lovely wife and four kids, whose ages match my kids’ perfectly.  We don’t communicate nearly enough and see each other even less, so a visit to Phoenix was a must, and when he suggested that we take over a corner of his 1.5 acre lot cousin Eddie style, I jumped at the opportunity.  This visit would entail a work trip out of PHX, so it would be a relatively long stay.

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Regarding the wine… I can’t really call him a wine enthusiast or aficionado, as neither of those words convey the level of commitment.  At the same time, “freak” goes too far.  Essentially he’s the best kind of wine geek – he’s been a well-educated fan since college and has aggressively collected and studied wine as a hobby since then, with his cellar size more or less tracking with his means.  For years it’s been so large that he needs to store it off-site.  But he’s not ostentatious or pretentious about it – he likes to drink it and enjoy it with friends, not display it and save it.  And yet he’s not really a “drinker,” so a very basic calculus problem will demonstrate the degree to which his cellar growth has vastly outpaced his rate of consumption.  At some point he played that math forward and realized he needed to slow down his rate of purchase and find more occasions to pull out the really good stuff.

This, lucky for us, was one of those occasions.

We drank well.  Oh man did we drink well.  But even more fortuitous was my being in town during one of his annual “wine dinners” with a few like-minded friends of his.  It’s a ridiculously exclusive thing where they pull out all the stops for a night, have a catered dinner, and taste 6-7 wines centered on a theme.  This year’s theme was Andy Beckstoffer grapes, which I knew nothing about previously but rapidly got up to speed on.  It was by no means a given that I would be able to attend this dinner, but he was able to grease the skids for my attendance.  I’m convinced this was a once in a lifetime kind of thing for me.

But I’ll stop there with the wine geekery and put the details in another post for the curious.

The overarching theme here is that the visit was a smashing success and fed the soul.  Our kids got along famously and will likely continue to keep in touch.  The weather was perfect.  The adults, with several nights lounging by the pool while the kids played, had enough time to catch up and reconnect in earnest.  So often time constraints rush that sort of get-together; not so this time.  Even with school, work, and the typical life stuff we all manage, we were able to cook together, eat together, watch our kids play together, and do just the right amount of reminiscing.

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Every morning I would get up and wander over to their enormous grapefruit tree to pick a few for breakfast – incidentally that’s the best way to make your kids grapefruit fans.

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Keeper and I pulled out our drones and took advantage of their enormous yard to practice flying them around and scaring their dog.  OK, that part wasn’t on purpose, but was an amusing discovery, after which we steered the drone clear of him.  He really didn’t like that thing.

One day gave us the opportunity to head north (and up) to Sedona.  On another we met up with some old Whidbey Island friends at the Musical Instrument Museum.

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Sedona was stunning, but felt a little commercial to me.  Back in Washington there are a few mountain towns that took an emerging theme and decided to go whole hog with it as sort of a marketing ploy.  Successful marketing by the way — they’re fun towns and get a ton of visitors.  But still, there’s a veneer of inauthenticity to it that you have to either ignore or decide it’s part of the fun and roll with.  Sedona, to me at least, felt like “hey, come visit the New Age theme town!”  I don’t know how deliberate that was on the town’s part and it may be an unfair characterization, but that was my take.  The crowds and horrible traffic (on a Monday!) didn’t help.  And it certainly doesn’t need the marketing – the scenery is spectacular and stands on its own.  I’m told there is also a very real energetic feel to the place that undergirds its reputation.  Both Tacco and one of my friends’ kids mentioned sensing it.  I didn’t, but I did appreciate the red rocks and jaw-dropping vistas.

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We took a short hike along a stream that runs through town and stacked rocks within an “energy vortex.”  Vortex?  Maybe not — it might have been an energy perturbation or a confluence.  The ranger at the park entrance even mentioned it when we paid our entrance fee.  But I forget how he billed it.  It looked cool though.

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It would’ve been nice to take a dip or at least wade there, but the weather was actually quite chilly despite the sun.  It sits at about 4500’, so even in the summer it can be crisp.

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We drove (crawled?) through town thereafter, on the way to Slide Rock State Park.  It’s billed as a refreshing antidote to the summer heat – which, as a mountain stream cascading over some slippery red rocks, it would be.  It’s less of an antidote to a bracing March afternoon, particularly when you arrive there after the sun dips behind the canyon walls.  The kiddos were nothing if not game, though, and Keeper made waves as it were by being the only one there to go full immersion in the chilly water.  That’s my Pacific Northwest boy!

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He tried to do some sliding in order to get others to join him, but the rocks turned out to be not especially slippery.  I guess Sit On Your Butt And Push Yourself Over The Rock State Park is a less catchy name.

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On the way back down the hill we split off from the others and enjoyed an excellent dinner with Tacco’s aunt and uncle, whom she hadn’t seen in years and was looking forward to catching up with.  Loving these Target Of Opportunity visits — huge benefit to this lifestyle.

Easter Sunday was another highlight.  A sizable chunk of their extended family calls Phoenix home, and Easter is a traditional get-together time for them, so we were able to take part in a perfectly chaotic Easter Egg hunt for the kids as well as a sunny, lounge-y, nibble all afternoon sort of day.

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IMG_0858IMG_0860We had planned to depart on Monday after Easter, but we all agreed that one more day just hanging out with nothing at all to do (they weren’t working and their kids started Spring Break) would be a far better use of our time than trekking east to City of Rocks State Park in New Mexico.  So we stayed another day and chopped City of Rocks off the list, rationalizing that if we did a dawn patrol departure on Tuesday we could easily make it to Carlsbad Caverns.  So glad we made that call.  More swimming, more running around the yard (the kids, mostly), some insanely good pizza, and yes, some more wine.  Perfect.

We said our goodbyes in the evening and pre-positioned Davista+Toad for our planned 4:30AM departure.  My intent was to get up, make a cup of coffee and shower to wake up, open their gate, and roll with everyone still asleep.  Prior to the goodbyes, though, I decided it would be a good idea to fly the drone one more time.  Why on Earth would you do that, you ask?  Exactly.  It seemed really smart at the time though, and yes, there was wine involved.  I flew it straight up to clear all the palm trees and also to show off a little bit, and it almost immediately caught some upper level winds and took off to the north.  Not being GPS stabilized like the more expensive drones, it’s both very susceptible to such things and tricky to orient so as to get it flying back toward you.  More so once it starts tearing away and the tiny lights are all you can see of it.  Had I been able to orient it perfectly back toward us and get it back down out of the higher winds I might have had the chance to show them what an amazing pilot I am.  “I’m going to be impressed if you’re able to recover that” was the last thing I heard (along with the beeping of my controller, informing me that its commands were no longer reaching the drone) before I watched it disappear behind some distant trees.  I felt like I was in high school again as he and I tooled around the neighborhood in the dark, scanning the trees and walking quietly up to people’s backyard walls and peering over them, hoping to catch sight of my wayward drone and wondering what I’d say if the lights in the house suddenly came on and the resident asked what an almost-50-year-old man with a baseball cap on was doing climbing their wall.  It was fun.  Didn’t find the drone though.

[P.S. She found it the day after we left and shipped it to one of our future stops.  Awesome.  Evidently it went far further than he and I had been looking!]

Overall we hated to leave, but appreciated having such an opportunity.  The kids made new friends and got some solid play-with-kids-our-age time and we got to have the kind of week with friends that you really only get a few times per lifetime I think.  It strikes me in retrospect that that’s a large part of why we wanted to do this trip in the first place.

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