We are just back from a very fun weekend to kick off 2015. I’m definitely looking forward to this year and the weekend set the tone. Like life, it had a mix of ups and downs, but in the end, it was fantastic family fun…and we recovered Debbie’s iPhone after a seriously bad situation turned out OK.
Over the years, Debbie and I have had end of year/New Year’s adventures around New England. In 2013/2014, the holiday schedule was a big wacky, so we stayed close to home. In 2014/2015 with a four-day weekend, we had ample time to get away. This year, we reconnected with the Roti Family for the trip, and the Wilson Family joined us to make a trio of families and a total of 12. We opted to stay close to home. For many years, Debbie and I have wanted to visit the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Noble View Outdoor Center, so this year, we made it happen.
Our club has some amazing venues in the northeast, and this one is right up there at the top of the list. Two cottages, an old farmhouse, and a variety of other structures sit on 358 acres on the top of a mountain in Russell, Massachusetts. Noble View is one of our club’s larger land holdings and is on the site of an original 1800s New England farmstead. AMC purchased the property in 1930 and it has a rich history. The view of the Pioneer Valley is stunning. The property has its own trail network that is great for hiking, trail running, snow shoeing, cross-country skiing or whatever you can dream up.
We rented the spacious Double Cottage for Friday and Saturday nights. The cottage can sleep 18. The smaller North Cottage sleeps 10. There are other accommodations on site, including tent platforms, and ample space if you want to pitch your own tent. We arrived late on Friday afternoon, but in time to catch an amazing sunset. The moon was nearly full and it was gorgeous. The sunrise on Saturday morning was even better. The sunset on Saturday afternoon was in a white out, and the sunrise on Sunday morning was in the freezing rain and fog.
Saturday was filled with cycling, trail running, and hiking. Unfortunately, a couple of the runners, including me, did some damage with one sprained ankle and a smashed knee. The knee was mine, and I’ll be OK in a few days, but I just can’t catch a break. We explored the property and checked out some of its prominent landmarks including Pitcher Brook, Little Pitcher Falls, and Big Pitcher Falls. Several old cellars, the remnants of old buildings, dot the property. The trails are hilly and rugged. They were leaf covered until the snow started to fall late on Saturday afternoon. By nightfall, several inches had fallen, though the precipitation changed to sleet and freezing rain overnight.
This morning, we awoke to an icy mess that wasn’t good for doing much outdoors other than building snowmen. Our children had a blast. This is a great venue for families and since it is only an hour from Hartford, it is super-convenient to get to/from. We love the high mountains of northern New England, but it was nice to get home early on the Sunday before the first full work week of the new year. We definitely plan to return to Noble View during the warmer weather months. My bike ride ended early with a rear tire puncture before I even got down the driveway, so I plan to return to ride the network of dirt roads in that part of Massachusetts.
Our indoor time was filled with games and great conversation. We didn’t totally unplug for the weekend, but Noble View is off the grid. You really could check out from technology if you wanted to, which is cool since it is so close to the suburban landscape where we live. The two cottages are heated by wood stoves, though they have electricity powered by the sun and a backup generator. The commercial kitchens allowed for some awesome food preparation and we had five great meals, sharing responsibilities for the cooking and cleaning.
The common bathhouse is the newest building on the property and is super-green with a number of sustainable features. The building has energy-efficient windows and doors. It has on-site grey water disposal. It’s super-insulated and has a solar wall heating and cooling system. It has roof mounted solar photovoltaic electric power system. It even has the same type of Clivus Composting Toilet system found at AMC’s high mountain huts.
Unfortunately, the weekend nearly ended in disaster. I got a real close up view of the composting toilet because Debbie dropped her iPhone down it. I guess that some of you might still call it a disaster, but the fact is that with the help of the caretaker, Gary, a noble man indeed, I recovered the phone. Before drafting this post, I spent some time reading about Clivus’ various technologies, including the Foam-flush system at Noble View. How did it happen? Well, here is the blow-by-blow.
We were cleaning up the cottage in preparation for departure and Debbie comes running from the bathroom (about 150 feet away) yelling at me. I couldn’t believe what she was saying. She said she dropped her phone down the toilet. She said that it was in her back pocket and well, you use your imagination. I guess it popped out. The thing with a Clivus toilet is that there really is no bottom. There is a hole, and apparently, it is big enough to fit an iPhone 5C in a Lifeproof nuud case. I’ve always been a huge Lifeproof fan, but now I truly love the product.
Once she calmed down and I stopped shaking my head (I have to admit I was a bit perturbed, but even I remarked, “Accidents happen.”), we made a plan. We checked out the backside of the bathroom where there was a door to gain access to the inner workings of the toilets. There were three toilet fixtures, including one in the men’s room, one in a family room, and one in the women’s room, but I think they fed one common system down below. The door was locked, as we expected. Word of the debacle spread amongst our small group like wildfire and soon everyone was interested in the situation, especially the little boys. Our first order of business was to call Gary, which I left to Debbie. I was willing to loan her my phone, as long as she made the call from the safe confines of the kitchen! I could hear her pleading with him. At first he told her that there was no way to retrieve it, but I knew from our dozens of trips to the huts and AMC’s other properties, that wasn’t true.
It’s not like the iPhone fell into the New York City sewer system. I trusted the waterproof case and knew that the phone would be fine if we could get to it. I’ve sat on many of AMC toilets in the past and yes, I’ve handled my phone (keeping sanitary habits in mind) when in the bathrooms. I would be lying if I didn’t think about what would happen if a phone ever fell in. I’ve personally taken extra precaution, often removing my phone from my belt holster, to ensure that an accident didn’t happen. Wow, I’m lucky that I didn’t drop my phone in the toilet.
Regardless, I told Debbie as she was talking to Gary that if he came back (he had just driven up from Westfield to plow the access road an hour earlier), that I would “go get it myself.” I just needed him to unlock the door. First he said it would take him an hour. She pleaded more and said it was urgent. She said, “Please hurry.” He lived less than 10 minutes away, so we really knew that he didn’t want to fish it out of the bowels of the Clivus system. In the end, after referencing a broken truck that needed repairs, he said it would be 30 minutes. We waited patiently, with moral support from the Wilson and Roti families. No one left us hanging. I think they just wanted to see what would happen when Gary arrived.
Would he be wearing waders? Would he be wearing a gas mask? I knew that the thoughts of our kids were just fantasy. One of the hallmarks of a Clivus system is that it doesn’t smell. Any good composting system (whether it is food scraps in your backyard, a leaf pile, or human waste), should work without strong odors. I won’t explain the science behind this. You can go to the Clivus website and elsewhere for the whole story. So, despite my doubts, Gary did show up. First, he had to use the Kubota tractor to clear a path to the john. I was thinking, this man means business! There was only two inches of icy slush, but he brought out the big machinery anyway.
All kidding aside, he was a gentleman and we really appreciate him driving back up the hill to assist. Art Roti, Debbie, and I joined him on the fateful trip to the bathroom building. Gary opened the door to an amazing collection of green building systems. It was an environmental engineer’s dream with inverters, hot water heaters, and all kinds of stuff. Gary had already told Debbie via phone that it was “six-feet down.” I think that is why the kids were worried about the waders. What was Dad going to wear if Gary only brought one set?
Anyway, all Gary and I needed were disposable gloves. Conveniently, he had a box of them just inside the door on a shelf. We both donned them before clearing the floor to gain access to a set of trap doors. He lifted up the steel door and we literally gained access to the bowels of the toilet. The bottom of this building was actually about 16 feet down, not six. We had to climb down one ladder before sliding over to another platform and then climb down another ladder to the bottom. I followed Gary down and in my haste, I stepped on his left hand, but he was cool about it. At first, I thought he was going to say, “That’s it, you guys are driving me nuts, I’m out of here!”
But, he brushed it off and we were soon standing outside of a unit that looked like a large pizza oven with the door at about chest height. Of course, it wasn’t pizza cooking inside this unit! Before you know it, he had the door opened wide. I was reaching in my pocket for my flashlight before I realized that the insides of this beast were well-lit. He told me that he turned on the light. As suspected, there was no odor, but the view…well, let’s just say that it wasn’t a pretty picture and I’ll be going to my grave with the image burned in to my brain.
I’ve done the green tour at a variety of AMC’s facilities, which usually include “Clivus Composting Toilet 101,” so I figured it wouldn’t be that wet. The idea with a good composting toilet, which is quite different from a pit toilet, is that the liquids are separated from the solids. I’m not sure if that is good or bad when you are searching for a blue iPhone in a black/clear case, but I do know that iPhones are solid. It all happened so fast. Gary pulled out this special rake and in a matter of seconds, he spotted the phone. I didn’t think that the Find My iPhone App would come in handy (click here for another great Debbie lost iPhone story), but I was prepared to call the phone if I had to.
He spotted it near the top of the pile (we warned EVERYONE in our party to NOT use the bathroom until after we fetched the phone), and used the rake to get it close to me. That’s when I made one of my most heroic gestures of love in our 15 years together. I reached that iPhone with my hand and grabbed it from sinking any farther. This is a kid friendly blog, so I won’t give you the entire description, but you should assume that I needed the gloves. Unfortunately, I brushed up against the door with my favorite Patagonia jacket, but it’s Gore-Tex, and it’s already in the washer.
Anyway, Gary and I were in no mood to hang out in the basement of this bathroom, so we closed up shop, turned out the lights and hightailed it out of there. I climbed the first ladder and yelled up to Art. I implored him to take a picture so that we could memorialize the occasion. Wasn’t Luke Skywalker’s flight suit orange? You know, the one he was wearing when he climbed down from his T-65 X-wing Starfighter after delivering that fateful blow to the Death Star? If I recall, he had to climb down a ladder. I had to climb up a ladder. Well, either way, at that moment, I felt like a conquering hero.
I got back to ground level and tossed the phone into the snow in a feeble attempt to free it from the poop that covered it. I can’t recall exactly what Gary said at that moment, but it wasn’t what he said that was funny, it was how he said it. He simple remarked that there was something on the phone, and I think he referred to it as “crud.” No kidding. I took it inside and blasted it with the high pressure washer hooked up to the commercial sink. It took a few tries to free it from the stuff that it was lying in for the past hour, but it was functioning well enough to take a photo of Debbie and her other hero, her savior, Gary.
You just might see Debbie, Gary, and I starring in a Lifeproof ad near you soon. Our testimonial is a powerful one indeed. So, despite a flat tire, a sprained ankle, a smashed knee, and various other mishaps, our weekend at Noble View ended up with the most noble view of them all etched in my mind and a story about an iPhone in a Lifeproof case that will last a lifetime.
The final word goes to our 5-year-old daughter, who on the car ride home, said multiple times, “Guys, stop with the potty talk.”