by Maggie Boyle Judi
This week, we have two stories in one. The first is the story of how two California residents ended up Under the Blues in San Juan County.
The second is how one of them recently ended up Out of the Blues and standing on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, which at 19,341 feet, is the highest point in Africa!
East of Monticello sits a little house with beautiful south-facing windows, the result of the dreams of Wally and Sandy Linstruth.
Just looking at the house, you might never know the unique capabilities of the building, but it holds within its walls, and especially it’s floors, an amazing ability to heat itself.
No electricity or gas required, just the ingenuity of it’s architect and builder. The home is self-heating! Using the sunlight from the windows, and a convection system inside the floor, the Linstruth’s can survive the bitter Monticello winters with no electrical or gas heat.
Wally and Sandy built their home in San Juan after spending years visiting the area. The couple vacationed many times among the red rocks and desert canyons of southern Utah, and after retiring, eventually settled under the Blues.
It was an ideal location for Wally, a ham radio operator and engineer who had a lifelong dream to build a passive solar home on a plot of land large enough for his radio antennas and equipment.
It also availed Sandy of the breath-taking scenery and is the quintessential venue for an avid hiker.
Sandy, who found the vast, remote locale perfect for her love of exploration, has been a member of an all-womens hiking club for more than 20 years. The many mountain trails, and canyon roads were just what she needed to scratch the itch of new adventures and exotic hikes.
The couple hired Sherril Hollingsworth to help build their home. Wally was in heaven working everyday to iron out the wrinkles of his innovative domestic experiment.
Says Sandy, “Sherrill would snap a blue line on the floor and say, “Do you want a wall here?” and we would say, sure! Looks good!”
But half way through the build, Sandy began to notice that something was not right with Wally. After a series of tests and Doctors appointments, the verdict was in, Alzheimers.
The couple, with their ever-present positivity, pushed through the diagnosis, finished their home and realized their dream of being San Juan County residents.
Enjoying the ham radio, long hikes, and new neighbors, Sandy took great care of her lifelong partner, and even when his memory failed him to the point that he did not know her, Wally still trusted Sandy with his life.
“He didn’t know who I was anymore really, he didn’t know I was his wife,” Sandy explains. “But he knew that he belonged with me and that I was a good person, and that he felt safe with me. …He didn’t want me out of his sight. It’s funny, because even though intellectually he didn’t know I was his wife, or even what a wife was, he was still emotionally connected to me.”
Eventually, when Wally needed more care than his wife could give, they moved to Washington State to be near her sister and an excellent care facility.
Wally passed away in 2010 and Sandy had a decision to make. “I really thought that I would want to sell the house when I came back. I thought, ‘I can’t go back and just be out there all by myself.’
“But I came back and I love it out here, and I thought, ‘Well I don’t want to leave.’”
So Sandy made a compromise with her four children. She would winter with them in Nevada and spend the summers in her beloved Monticello.
“So that’s my life now,” she laughs. One thing to know about Sandy is that she is brimming with positivity. It is the unmistakable trait that has carried her throughout her life, and most likely the thing that keeps her hiking.
Three times she has climbed Mt. Whitney, a 14,000-foot summit in the Sierra Nevada’s. She has hiked the Alps with her equally-adventurous sisters, and logged countless miles on trails all over America and beyond with her beloved hiking group, which she lovingly refers to as “the Geezer Squad.”
This September, the alacritous 71-year-old climbed to the top of Kilamanjaro! An amazing feat for anyone, let alone a septiganarian!
With her sister, and the Geezer Squad along for the ride, Sandy spent 13 months carefully preparing for the monumental task. She camped at altitude, hiked in loose skree comparable to that found on Kilamamjaro, and carefully prepared all her gear for the hike.
Hiking Kilimanjaro requires a lot of gear, as the assent can take six days. The group arrived in Tanzania for the hike knowing that reaching the summit is not a guarantee.
Because of the altitude and the challenge, many who attempt it do not succeed. But Sandy’s guide is an experienced mountaineer who has summited seven times.
She set the women on a slow and steady course of hiking, breaking up each day into six hour or so walking periods. Three of the group are in their 70s and Sandy’s little sister, “a whippersnapper,” as Sandy calls her, is 68.
The women seemingly started out at a snails pace, but by midday they would catch up to the “quicker” hikers.
She laughts, “They would see us coming and say, ‘we are going to get passed by the grandmas!’”
The Tanzanian government mandates that each group of hikers hire local porters to carry the packs, filter the water, and cook the food. The 12 women comprising the Geezer Squad were assigned a whopping 42 porters!
“These porters are athletes that you can’t believe,” Sandy recalls. “They would pass us and by the time we got to camp they had everything set up and dinner cooking. They filtered our water for us.
“I’m not trying to make it sound too easy, it’s still quite a hike, but those porters are unbelievable!”
The group began summit day at midnight, hiking through the night and finding the summit at about 8:45 a.m. Sandy couldn’t believe her “luck” to make it all the way to the top.
As slow as the group climbed up, they sped quickly back down and completed the round trip from sunny African savannah to green leafy jungle, to frozen summit and back in eight days.
Upon completion of the trip, Sandy said, “I really wanted to find a t-shirt for my grandson that said, ‘My grandma climbed Kilimanjaro and I’ll I got was this lousy t-shirt’ …but they didn’t have one of those.”
I guess the t-shirt sellers don’t really expect to sell to very many mountaineering grandmas!
I asked Sandy why it is that she has spent so much of her life walking, hiking, and loving every minute of it.
She replies with her typical laugh, a lilting giggle that accompanies much of what she says, with this. “Why do I like this so much? I think its one of the few times when you are totally in the present.
“Most of the time, you’re thinking about what you did yesterday or what you’re going to do tomorrow. You’re not really totally focused on right now.
“But when you’re out there and you’re hiking and whether you live or die depends on you, everything is so immediate and the rest of the world is gone and you are so in the moment.
“Why do I like it so much? I don’t know but I do love it. I love being outdoors, that’s why I like it out here, in Monticello. It’s just so beautiful and peaceful and it’s like my own little retreat.”
Sandy plans to take another big trip in 2017 to hike across New Zealand. For now, she saves her pennies and trains in the mountain, canyons and deserts of San Juan.
In addition, Sandy will just enjoy the home she built with her cherished Wally. The little house with the south-facing windows east of Monticello is home to one amazing hiker!