Author: Kathy Hornbach

Record of ACA Bugs Kathy Found

Record of ACA Bugs Kathy Found

Posts in this series
  1. Signing up for ObamaCare
  2. Record of ACA Bugs Kathy Found

As mentioned elsewhere, I started using the ACA (United States “Affordable Care Act”, aka “ObamaCare”) website two minutes after it opened on Oct 1st. Throughout the signup process, I endeavored to take a snapshot of every error I had. I’m sure I missed a few, but, here, for your viewing pleasure, are a sampling of ACA error messages. Which one is your  favorite? For the record, I successfully signed up for health care through the site, and found the website hassles  a minor inconvenience compared to the prospect of dying from or facing bankruptcy because of a lack of health insurance.

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Signing up for ObamaCare

Signing up for ObamaCare

…how I got health insurance (for less than the GDP of a small Latin American country) last weekend

I am so tired of the endless harping and gnashing of teeth over ObamaCare. They never have stories of people who actually signed up, and what it was like, good and bad. Are you curious? Here’s my story.

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The Road Home – Canadian Rockies 7

The Road Home – Canadian Rockies 7

After saying goodbye to our friends, we headed west to Kootenay National Park. The sun lasted long enough for us to explore Marble Canyon. It’s a deep, narrow canyon carved by a bright blue glacial stream. Quite the sight. The surrounding area was burned by a huge forest fire about a decade ago – you can just see the re-growth starting.

As we walked back to the car after visiting the Canyon, the heavens opened up with rain. So we gave up on the rest of our hiking plans for the day, pointed the car homewards, and arrived home before 6pm. Can’t wait for our next trip!

Saving the Best for Last – Moraine Lake, Banff 6

Saving the Best for Last – Moraine Lake, Banff 6


The original impetus for our Rockies trip was to visit a couple we had met on a cruise ten years ago. Like us, they were focused on travel and very early retirement. They are from Atlanta, but have a rental property near Banff, and had planned to spend a month there enjoying the Rockies in the falls. Fortunately for us, they invited us to spend a couple of days with them. Their property is beautiful – if you need a place to stay in the Rockies, check out Birch Haven. We had a wonderful time trading tips  on the ins and outs of frugal living, investment strategy, and traveling cheaply.

The rain  finally relented, and we set off for an awesome hike near Moraine Lake (another bright blue glacial lake), through Larch Valley. “The Larch”, besides being the punchline of a Monty Python skit, is also a deciduous pine tree – ie it loses its needles in the winter. And, up in the mountains in mid-September, the larches turn bright yellow before they drop their needles. We had a 10+km hike on the Larch Valley trail, with sweeping views of golden trees, topped by a row of 10 mountain peaks. It had snowed the night before – first time this season – so we were treated to bright white peaks.

It was a (here’s that phrase again) a stunningly beautiful hike, the best of the whole trip. Check out the slide show below.

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Traveling in the Canadian Rockies – 5

Traveling in the Canadian Rockies – 5


Though we had absolutely no problems whatsoever, there some things you should beware of when traveling (driving or hiking) in the Canadian Rockies.

The first danger is the infamous Rental RV. We believe that 14.5% of the BC population rented RVs and drove them to the Rockies the exact week we were there, and we offer the following picture as proof. Every third vehicle on the road is an RV. And they all drive slow. And the narrow, twisty roads have few passing zones. (Though, to be fair, Canadians are so polite that the RV drivers will often pull over when they see they have a line of cars behind them.)

Although more of an annoyance than a true danger, the main east/west Canadian railroad threads its way through the Rockies right next to the roads you drive on and the towns you stay in. Simply because there isn’t any other way through these steep mountains. As long as you don’t mind whistles and rumbling every 20 minutes throughout the day and night, it’s not a problem.

Then there are the avalanches. While we weren’t in much danger in mid-September, they can be pretty dangerous much of the year. Every few miles, it seems, there is an “Avalanche Danger” sign. In some sections of Glacier National Park, the avalanches are so frequent that they bow to the inevitable, and build “avalanche sheds”, so that the avalanche will just skid over the roof of the shed, and continue on downwards. To be sure the avalanches don’t get too big, the road crews have mobile howitzers they shoot into the snow building up to trigger a (smaller) avalanche.

Hiking carries its own dangers. Besides black bears and grizzly bears, one must be especially careful during the elk rutting season. And there is always the danger that the glacier you are hiking up to see could calve a huge iceberg into its glacial lake, sending a flash flood over the trail, carrying away everything in its wake (think tsunami, but much colder). And the ever present avalanche danger imperils hikers as well.

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Going up and down mountains brings still more perils. Still more challenges on the steep mountain roads – chain-up areas, runaway truck lanes, steep grade warnings, signs flashing “extreme and changeable weather”, and switch-backs that require large vehicles to back up in order to make the turn.

Still not deterred? Consider the results of an impact with a moose, herd of caribou, or other multi-ton animal. On the upsides, this is an indirect way of learning about which (large) animals are most common in the area you are driving through. . .

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Never a dull moment traveling in the Canadian Rockies…

Yoho National Park – Canadian Rockies 4

Yoho National Park – Canadian Rockies 4

West of Banff, and back across the BC border, is the beautiful and relatively unknown Yoho National Park. “Yoho” is the Cree word for awe and wonder. Besides being stunningly beautiful, it is also home to the Burgess Shale, one of the world’s most celebrated fossil beds.

We stayed at a hostel in the tiny town of Field. It was still raining during most of the visit, but we did manage a couple of excellent side trips during the breaks in the clouds. First stop was Takakkaw Falls, the second highest falls in western Canada, and reachable only through a steep series of tight switchbacks. It’s name comes from the Cree, “it is magnificent”. And it was pretty awesome.

Next stop was the aptly named Emerald Lake, a brilliant green lake surrounded by mountains and glaciers. We hiked entirely around the lake. One one side is a dry micro-climate, the other is rain-forest like. The two sides were completely different in their trees and plants. The dry side was repeatedly overrun with avalanches – as evidenced by the lack of trees on that part of the mountain (which you can see in the picture at the top).

One of the mountains surrounding the lake is home to the Burgess Shale. This site is famous because of its fabulously well preserved fossils from the Cambrian Explosion, a time when life madly diversified. We really would have like to have hike up to it, but it’s an extremely strenuous all day hike up a steep mountain side, and we decided we weren’t fit enough yet. Maybe next year.

Enjoy the pictures of  our Emerald Lake Hike. 

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Icefields Parkway in the Rain – Canadian Rockies 3

Icefields Parkway in the Rain – Canadian Rockies 3

After  two stunningly beautiful hot, sunny days of sightseeing in the Canadian Rockies, reality set in as the first rainy cold front of the fall season swept in. Unfortunately, this was the day for us to drive down the “Icefields Parkway”, a ~100 mile stretch of (here’s that phrase again) stunning beautiful glaciers and glacial lakes and glacial rivers. The Columbia Icefields, at the continental divide, feed eight major glaciers along the parkway, including one that comes down just about to the road itself, pictured above. One can tour this glacier with a purpose-built bus-like vehicle with huge tires (to prevent it from plummeting into any crevasses that may have opened up). In the picture above, you can see them as tiny ants about a third of the way up the glacier. Given the icy driving rain and wind, we decided to hold off on this tour until our next visit.

We saw a few of the sights between rainstorms, but it was a pretty miserable day…

 

 

 

 

 

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Jasper, Alberta – Canadian Rockies 2

Jasper, Alberta – Canadian Rockies 2

We headed out from Vancouver, our first time across the interior of British Colombia, on our way to Alberta. The BC interior is very big, quite mountainous, without a lot of people or towns. Lots of logging. Quite beautiful, but not pristine. Scary signs about sudden changes of weather, chaining up, avalanche zones, falling rocks, beware of bears…. Fortunately, we were traveling on bright sunny 80 degree day and proceeded without a hitch. We spent the night in Tete Jaune, BC at a lovely little motel on the Fraser River, whose owner supplied us with free pizza because the only nearby restaurant had closed for the season.

Next morning, we were off to Jasper, Alberta, a small town in the heart of Jasper National Park, where Scott purchased a polarizing filter that he had forgotten to pack – an expensive mistake but pretty much a necessity for this kind of photography.  Our first stop was Lake Maligne, a beautiful glacier-fed lake about thirty miles away through thick wilderness.  Like most  mountain lakes in the Rockies, this one is stunningly blue or green, because of the “glacial till” in the water – basically flour-sized particles of rock that have been pulverized by the glaciers that feed the lake. We took a boat ride around the lake, including the world-famous view of Spirit Island you see at the top of the page. We just missed seeing a mama bear and three of her cubs at a pond next to the road on our drive back into town.

We stayed at an inexpensive B&B in Jasper — hotel prices, even in mid-September, are very high, so this was a lucky break. Some really excellent restaurants in town – we especially liked Raven Bistro, an innovate, mid-priced bistro right downtown.

Next morning we went on a strenuous (for us, anyways) 12km hike to Cavell Meadows & Angel Glacier. Yet another chance to be gobsmacked – soaring mountains, hanging glaciers, hoary marmots, chirping little pikas, glacial terminal moraines, babbling mountain streams, you get the idea. See the slide show below for our favorite views from the hike.

Despite our exhaustion after the hike, we immediately headed south to Athabasca Falls, a thundering waterfall that has dug its only little mini-canyon.

 

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Gobsmacked by the Canadian Rockies

Gobsmacked by the Canadian Rockies

At the tail end of our beautiful British Colombian summer, we headed off in our car for a week in the Canadian Rockies, on the border of BC and Alberta. Having seen the US Rockies several times, we thought we knew what to expect. Well, we were wrong!  We were gobsmacked by how stunningly beautiful the whole area is — much more rugged, glaciers everywhere, not nearly so commercialized. Hard to believe we’ve lived next door to this natural wonder for nearly 10 years, and haven’t visited until now.

The instigation for this trip was an invitation we received from a couple we had met in 2002 on a cruise around South America. They own a beautiful rental property in the southern end of Banff National Park, were going to be staying there for a month, and invited us to join them for a few days. We had met them just after we had retired; they were seated at the same cruise table we were at. In an amazing coincidence, they were undertaking a similar retirement/travel strategy as we were. Our get-together in Alberta would be a chance for us to compare notes for the first time in over ten years!

We did a circular tour through the Rockies, visiting five different Canadian National Parks – Jasper, Banff, Yoho, Glacier, and Kootenay. We’ll take you through some of the highlights in the following pages. Here’s the route we took; the northern leg was outbound. You can click on the map to see a more detailed version.

 

Next: Jasper

Last Stop: Bangkok

Last Stop: Bangkok

Heading Back to New England

And hoping the snow is gone

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Sri Lankan "dagoba"

Our journey home did not start auspiciously. Maybe we should have “made merit” like the gentleman in the photo above.

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Back in ????, we’d booked an overnight sleeper train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. It’s very cheap (20% the cost of flying), reasonably comfortable, you spend almost the entire travel time asleep, and you don’t need to pay for a hotel room that night. We showed up at the station, to learn the training was running “at least” an hour late. Sounded ominous. The hot season starts on March 1, and it was at least in the high 80s, with humidity about the same. Clouds of mosquitos attacked hungrily — hey, the girls’ gotta eat sometime.. We waited & sweated. Kathy took a wander around the station; she happened to look at the train schedule listing. There were no sleepers on the 8:30 pm train, only seats! Apparently the station agent in Hua Hin had screwed up.This was a 12+ hour train. We would have to spend a long night sitting in upright train seats, after waiting in a hot, buggy train station for some indeterminate time. It took us about 5 minutes to decide this was no longer the desired course of action. A svelte, kindly young man was sitting opposite us and chatted us up — an ex-Vice-Principal from a school in New York City, continuing his journeys in Thailand. He’s meeting up with a friend who is starting a new aid organization. These spontaneous “cultural exchanges” make our travel infinitely more interesting — and in this case, help pass the time while we decide what to do with our dilemma.

Because we’d wanted an air-conditioned room during the day, we had paid for an extra day at our hotel. Worked out to about three bucks an hour, well worth it (particularly in retrospect). The guesthouse was certainly surprised to see us reclaim our room an hour after we had checked out and left! We all had a good laugh.

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First thing next morning, we started calling airlines for a flight. Shades of our first Chiang Mai exit back in January – no reservations because of a screw-up, and all the flights full. Veterans of this exact situation, we knew what to do – go to the airport, buy a ticket for a flight atsometime in the future, and standby for the flight we actually wanted. So that’s what we did. And, like our other two standby attempts this trip, we made it onto flight, no problem. Unlike where we waited from about 7pm until nearly midnight (then had to rush through Customs and Immigration) — we arrived at the airport, got our tickets in 10 minutes’ time, and 5 minutes after we got into the standby list, we got confirmed, seat assignments, went to Departure and got on the plane almost immediately. It almost never goes this well.

Bangkok is also pretty warm, but inexplicably, not as hot as Chiang Mai (even though its further south). Blue skies (Bangkok’s air has been improving over the years; Chiang Mai is getting worse). We don’t have many plans for Bangkok; it is our third time here in the past two months. We do the luggage shuffle — rid ourselves of anything we can that is now excess (worn out maps, for example), and re-pack the stuff we’ve been carrying through Thailand along with the bad we’d left behind in Bangkok. Sounds like a trivial exercise, but we travel pretty light, and all this stuff (including, for example, a small carpet we purchase in India) needs to fit into one duffle bag, two carry-on-sized bags, and a pair of rucksacks. It’s an art.

We’ve got a bottle of wine (turns out, a decent bottle of wine) — we score some bread, cheese. . . parma ham at a nearby supermarket — “room service” dining, on the cheap.