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Outward Bound – Boundary Waters Dog Sledding

Boundary Waters – Day 1: Great Team/Group

Boundary Waters Veteran Dog Sledding Group – March 2020

Our instructors seem nice and genuinely happy to be here. The veterans all seem very laid back and, surprisingly, there does not seem to be an overbearing alpha personality in the groupSteve 2 and I volunteered to get into the river as part of a hypothermia training scenario. I only lowered down to my stomach but the water did not seem that cold despite the ice and snow. I actually felt warm afterward as the other members worked to keep us warm. We shuffled inside and changed into dry clothes.

Steve getting wrapped up after our plunge

The instructors issued us gear for the rest of the night and did their best to ensure we would have everything needed for the upcoming trip. We are all nervous about life after class as COVID-19 continues to spread and our lives change on a daily basis. I know it sounds a bit entitled since we all essentially chose to be here (over paying for cancellation of everything that was purchased for us), but the idea of the world becoming unrecognizable to us by the time we are done with this class and having no real contact to the outside world until then, is a little terrifying. I thought of how expedition leaders hundreds of years ago must have felt the same when leaving for multi-year explorations with little to no communication. We all slept out on the porch as our last dry-run with our new gear before heading out tomorrow.

Notes:

  • Darick – Collects first copy prints of books, like $30k for an original print Walden.
  • Bill (part of original Duluth crew) – Likeable, screwed up his back in a Humvee wreck, was hit by a drunk driver recently and is afraid his back will not allow him to finish the class.
  • Steve (part of original Duluth crew) – Is into marketing, the first person to talk to me on this trip, while we were waiting for a shuttle in Minneapolis.
  • Steve 2 – Goat farmer … loves dogs, interested in climbing Rainier.

Boundary Waters – Day 2: Skiing

Not a long day today, picked out our dogs, drove to drop-off site, rigged up sleds and dogs, and skied about 6 miles. I pulled a pulk with weird plastic bindings that caused my heel to constantly pop out of the binding (kind of looked like a plastic Kinder binding where boot get strapped down). Skis were wax-less and immediately I could tell they were going to be sticky. It was very difficult to get any glide due to the warm temps. I would shuffle and try to kick off the 1 inch of snow that frequently accumulated on my skis but that only allowed me to barely glide for about 20 feet or so before the problem began all over again. My bindings came undone about a dozen or so times until Neal, one of our instructors rigged a bungee cord on them to keep them on. Combination of the snow conditions causing me to randomly stick to snow on downhills, pulk pushing me around, and weird binding put me on my ass a few times. Everyone gave up skiing before we reached camp and either walked in skis or undid their skis and carried them while walking through snow. It was a very frustrating day.

Neal looking back to see if I have fallen on my ass again

On the positive side the day was short, and we arrived into camp around 1PM, which allowed us plenty of time to get all of our work done prior to dinner. We all immediately went to work gathering and processing wood, caring for the dogs, and setting up shelters. Camp is on the North side of a moderate sized lake (August Lake perhaps) that we crossed. Weather is nice, spent most of the day only wearing 2 layers. Getting some alone time with Steve, Bill and Darick.

Bill and I processing wood

I spent a lot of time with a dog named Fleetwood who is black, quiet and very sweet. She is an Alaskan Inuit and one of the 2 dogs that I helped load into the truck-kennel. Her demeanor sets her apart from most of the other dogs. Darick, Bill, Steve and I all slept with “Fry Pan” one of the lead dogs, and ended up laughing our asses off for a good 5-10 minutes prior to falling asleep.

Meeting Fleetwood

Post note: I did not know it then but Darick, Bill, Steve and I had already established our little group and would do most everything together for the rest of the trip.

Boundary Waters – Day 3: Dog Sledding

I finally got to dog sled! It seemed fairly straight forward to control speed and stop. The dogs are unbelievably eager to get to pulling. It seems that the only things they care about in the world are eating and pulling. I have to shout to my two lead dogs “Sunbeam … Fry Pan … ready dogs … let’s go” and they immediately take off. It’s worth noting that for some reason the “let’s go” has to be in a high pitch voice, which evolved to become more and more ridiculous each time I say it. There is a dog-fight early on while we are harnessing dogs that leads to “Grey Jay” getting a nasty gash on his nose and bleeding everywhere. “Fry Pan” was also involved and though it looked like she was okay she began limping heavily midway through the day (a long 8-10 mile day in thick snow with sleds full), and she began stopping altogether which caused the other dogs to quit. I brought this to the attention of Neal, who discussed the situation with Nora (most dog-savvy instructor) and they decided to strap her to the back sled and replace her with another dog. There were 4-6 other dog fights and for some reason Fleetwood was often involved as the aggressor. Steve and I had to push the sled quite a bit as the dogs were getting gassed and the trail was rutted out with sharp uphills and little run-offs. I even drove the sled over Steve a little when I was trying to get it back on the trail by applying the brake (in powder) while telling to dogs to pull. Lesson learned there. We learned toward the end of the day would could keep from running off course a little on the sharp downhills by stomping down on one side of the drag brake and standing on the inside skid and leaning. Funny that it took us this long to figure this out. Part of the reason why we were experimenting with steering was because our strongest pull-dog, “Papa” in the back was consistently pulling us off and to the right even if the low and easy path was left, possibly just by his strength and position on the rope.

Beautiful sledding across a frozen lake to begin the day

Once we arrive to camp I spend a little time setting up shelters and then process wood with Bill and eventually Steve. The instructors have gone out their way to get to know many of the students so far.

We set up a large expedition style canvas tent with a wood stove and that is where the cooking is done. Once dinner is ready we all piled into the smokey, steaming hot tent and eat, and then the typical, nightly, why are you here questions came out. Today’s question was what three things are going great back home and what three things aren’t. The smoke is burning my eyes so I just close them and kind of sit and listen quietly as everyone takes turns talking about things they are struggling with. Steven (non-Ukrainian) puts himself out there by talking about some of the post war things he is dealing with and how it is causing distance between him and his immediate family. He says he has difficulty with nit-picking imperfections at home. Sadly I can relate to most of this. It is very honest moment and no one really knows what to say. After a moment of silence I offer my answers:

Three things going well:

  1. I am at a position at work now, due to tenure where I pretty much get to choose what I want to work on
  2. Small things like a wonderful bouldering trip with Jade last summer up in New England. For some reason a couple of particular moments from this trip are replayed heavily.
  3. My wife and I have been married a long, long time and I pretty much get to do anything I want to when many of my friends do not have any such freedom.

Three things not going well:

  1. I need a better relationship with Logan. I talk about how fun our Boston trip was.
  2. I miss riding my motorcycles, like really miss riding them.
  3. I am not sure I am happy in my job. I know it sounds cliche but sitting down all day really does not make me happy. I often dream about working for forest services or as a ranger if pay was not a concern. I even stare out of my window at the construction workers building shit in the snow and get jealous, which is just ridiculous.

Notes: Darick, Bill, Steve and I are getting along great. I have had little to no communication with Ashley or the twins. Today Logan had to step outside the canvas tent to drop second pant layer to dry out/cool down and he came back in with his outer pants around his ankles and said “Don’t look at me … I’m hideous”.  The way he said this was pretty damn funny. Logan skied out with “Grey Jay” and “Fry Pan” so they can be evacuated and in “Grey Jay’s” case, retired (I think). 2 new dogs (“Wednesday” and another are brought it)

At one point of time one of the instructors whipped out the surprise of the night, a jar of salsa to throw on our dinner. Everyone spontaneously erupted to a loud cheer of “SALSAAAAAAA” which kind of caught the instructors off guard. The told us that they cannot recall such an animated reaction to any of the treats they have offered in the past, let alone salsa. I was just glad it wasn’t just me who broke the silence by shouting.

Boundary Waters – Day 4: Solo

It is finally solo day. We gathered around early and the instructors did everything they can do to make sure we wouldn’t kill ourselves, and remind us half a dozen times not to blow our whistles unless life, limb, or eyes are in jeopardy. Many of the vets are pretty nervous about setting off on their own. I know Darick and I have been looking forward to it and are completely at ease. I imagine Ashley is as well. I grabbed a bunch of birch bark (we were told this is great kindling) to use as fire-starter and showed a few others where they can find some.

Weather was still great, probably in the 20’s with small flakes falling from time to time. Very peaceful. We headed out and I got dropped off in an alcove on the lake Southeast of where we slept the night before (I am on the North shore of Omaday Lake). Wolf tracks ran right through my camp and the silence was deafening. I had not realized how loud 16 dogs and 11 people have been over the last 3-4 days.

Wolf tracks

First thing I did was shit. I know, not something you want to hear about but I could write an entire blog post about the tranquility of that shit. I farmed a bunch of snowballs and stashed them by my “shitter” in case I needed them in the future. This turned out to be a great idea. After I did my business I built my shelter using a tarp, some twine, 2 poles and truckers hitches. It was a pretty simply setup off under some pine trees. We were told it is going to snow/sleet so I wanted to take advantage of the trees. Kind of funny for some reason a bowline was easier for me to tie than a trucker hitch.

Home for the night

It is good to be alone. No, it is GREAT to be alone. We have had little to no time to ourselves since the trip began because there is always something to do and somewhere to go. The work and movement itself is not hard, but the breakneck go-go-go pace of everything really makes me appreciate me not having to do a damn thing now. I am confident in my shelter, confident in my skills, and I can spend the next 18-20 hours or so doing whatever I damn well please.

Songs rang through my head in the silence. I gathered firewood for a while and decided to lay down in my shelter. I ended up taking a short nap. It dawns on me that today we are the dogs. Each night we chain the dogs up wherever we camp using ice screws and metal guy wire. I noticed the first night that they are chained so that they are just out of reach of each other and find that a little odd. I wonder if they would not like to lay together in the cold. Now we (the vets) are all out of reach of each other and I totally get it and no longer feel sorry for the dogs at night.

I woke up from my nap and sat around a bit before eating the 3 Jolly Ranchers given to me by our instructors. I laid on my back in the snow while eating my last Jolly Rancher and began to doze off again. This was not the best idea. I was so utterly comfortable, content, and relaxed I damn near choked to death. When I woke up in a panic from said choking, I thought of how funny (okay morbidly funny) it would be for the OB crew to have to explain to my family that I had choked on something when I was out by myself and died. I figured they would issue an Outward Bound policy to all instructors that participants would only be allowed life savers in the future. This made me laugh to myself a little.

I spent more time processing wood and building a fire platform. After a little while I headed over to my shelter to pass out for a proper nap. This was one of the best naps I have had in a long, long time. I awoke around 16:00 to the sound of Logan asking me how I was doing and if I wanted a dog. I told him that I wasgreat and that I would like Fleetwood if possible since she was so bitchy yesterday.

Firewood processed, and fire roaring

I fought the urge to begin a to-do list. I am not exaggerating when I write that. I can’t help but to think something must be wrong with me. We haven’t had any time to ourselves until today, and my thoughts raced uncontrollably from topic to topic. I am afraid of not being “in the moment” again. I think about the end of the trip and how I am just going to blink and it will all be over, and I will be sitting on a bus, shuttling to the Minneapolis airport wearing my “I came, I saw, I OB’d shirt”. I always have a tendency to look ahead to the end of whatever I am doing. I am in the process of re-reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Pirsig really hammers home the folly of not being attentive to the now. In short the journey really is the destination. These thoughts made me want to write more to preserve my thoughts and feelings throughout the trip.

I also thought about COVID-19 and what is happening to the world while we are all off-grid. It presents an “I think I left the stove on” feeling that just does not go away. I never know when the thought will pop up during the trip but it does so, repeatedly without warning. I take a little comfort in knowing that everyone else is coping with this too.

I headed to the lake to get my fire going. It was ridiculously easy to start with Birch bark. Right before I put my food on Logan appeared with Fleetwood. I took a video of her arrival and tied her to a tree. I boiled my pots of water and cook the Ramen, veggies, and sausage that was provided to us and relaxed a little while eating and drinking my tea. I had saved about half of my firewood to put back for future Outward Bounders but about 10 minutes into relaxing I convince myself that we are probably the last winter group that will come through here until late next year, and that there is more than enough downfall and dead branches to sustain campers for years to come. A poem pops into my head …

“Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I did my very best to burn a hole to the bottom of the lake. I ended up with a 5 foot wide 30″ deep crater I would have to fill in the morning. The following day I was told by a handful of people that they could see my fire from across the lake.

After tending to my fire, I cleaned up, brushed my teeth, fed Fleetwood her lard, and led her over to the shelter area. I was able to tie her up so she could sleep right next to me without any risk of her peeing on my gear. This day was everything I imagined the trip to be. I closed my eyes and fell asleep to the gentle sound of snowflakes on my tarp.

Boundary Waters – Day 5: Last Night Out

I slept pretty well last night, only occasionally waking up to see Fleetwood starring at me. It took me about 30 minutes to pack up and head over to the group campsite where we had a big breakfast waiting on us.

Fleetwood and I heading back to camp

After eating I was treated to skijoring for the first time, which was absolutely wonderful. The snow that had fallen over the last couple of days had made the ski conditions much more favorable. It felt a little foreign to fight keeping my balance as a sled dog pulled me along but I started getting a feel for it and relaxed a little toward the end of my 5 minute run.

I could get used to this

I knew we were looking at a short, last night out and was looking forward to getting another shot at skiing, perhaps with better conditions. We packed up camp and headed out and immediately I felt the kick and glide I had grown accustomed to in Colorado. I was not pulling a sled this time around so I really got to hang back and take pictures when I wanted to, and just glide along through the wonderful, peaceful Minnesota woods. This was one of the 2-3 ah-ha this is what I signed up for moments. I was on cloud 9. I was so happy that I paused for a short while for my only selfie of the trip. I wanted to remember that moment, and being in that moment.

Wonderful ski day

The rest of our last ski day was fun, quiet, and relatively uneventful. I did get to talk to Ashley briefly and to no surprise, beneath the guarded exterior was a very intelligent and ridiculously capable person. I think most everyone knew this already. She was a Hahvahd grad would had recently summited Denali, and I think Aconcagua in the past. She had been waist deep in adventure for quite a while.

We eventually made our way to a little alcove on a river a few miles from base camp. The center (moving) portion of the river was not frozen. It was a quiet little spot, shielded from the wind with a good view across the ice. We didn’t need to concern ourselves as much with firewood gathering and processing since we had amassed and pulled quite a load on one of the dog sleds. We still had to tend to our dogs, make sure they were happy, chained, fed, and healthy, and setup our shelters. I volunteered to help cook for the first time which meant I could sit around the fire and prepare food. For the life of me I cannot recall what I cooked but I recall it being with Darick.

Cooking duty aint bad

We gathered around the fire when the food was ready, ate, answered our question of the day and laughed and conversed. I recall Neal busting out some form of snack/dessert and all of us getting a little excited. The sun set across the river in dramatic fashion and the temperature lowered quickly. I took my watch off and hung it on one of the tent guy-lines for a reading. After dinner we ran around camp to warm up prior to jumping into our sleeping bags. Typically routine.

Fire and a sunset

Boundary Waters – Day 6: Heading Back to Base Camp

When I awoke the next morning my watch read 6 degrees F. Not insanely cold by any shake of the stick, but colder than anything we had experienced thus far. We all quickly huddled around the fire for breakfast and fed our dogs. I think we all were very conscious that we would be back to base camp within a few hours, with beds, bathrooms, running water, and technology. We were told the travel for the day would be about 3 miles.

It was my last day dog sledding. I had learned a little, gotten better at steering for sure. Steve was joyfully running along and filming everything. As we approached base camp we turned onto a packed, snowy road. This is where it became somewhat hard to stop the dogs, okay actually impossible to stop them alone. Up until this point Steve would jump off and go take pictures and I could dig my arms under the sled frame to shove the brake teeth into the snow and stop them easily. The first time Steve stepped away on this road the dogs, probably sensing they too were close to home, took off. I stood and pulled up as hard as I could on the brake and even tried applying another foot on the drag brake, and they just drug me along like it was nothing. Steve was able to jump on and help me stopped them before things got out of hand.

Approaching the kennels

Once we reached the Kennels we had to secure the dogs, provide one last health and welfare check for each of them, and then take them back to their spot in the yard. This was an oddly sentimental moment since we all knew we would not see them again. After dropping off the dogs we headed over to base camp to turn in all of our gear, and to dry out everything we had taken, which was a lengthy and involved process.

Base Camp

We all had a few minutes to check with family on our phones. Laura and the kids were doing fine. I really didn’t have a lot of time to catch up with them. I am not sure if I learned then or later that Steve had a friend who had died of COVID-19 while we were out. Apparently his last words were, “I just don’t want to die”.

Eventually we made our way back down to the river and sauna, where we would jump into the icy cold river wearing wool socks, and then shiver and shuffle our way over to the sauna for about 30 minutes before repeating the process. This was a surprisingly comfortable evolution, and it was quite relaxing. We all did about 5 round prior to heading back to base camp for a shower. On the last round I challenged myself and others to stay under for about 10 seconds (head and everything), which sound insanely easy. After playing with Wim Hoff stuff for a while I was able to hold my breath for about 3 minutes last year, which is good for me. The second your head went under that cold water though you could just feel the air being sucked out of you as every muscle in your body tensed up. Add to that the unsettling feeling of drifting down the river a little, and it was genuinely hard to stay under just 10 seconds.

Wish my mother was here for this

The shower and dinner that followed were nothing short of heavenly. I was pretty dingy after 5 days of smoke, sweat, and grit. Having a hot meal and dessert was great too. After eating we were introduced to a couple of other teams who had just returned from being out in the sticks, including a group of teenagers who had been out for about 60 days I think. We were tasked with doing dishes for everyone, and it was kind of funny to see how effortlessly we self-organized to knock that out.

At some point of time we returned to the dog yard for our final ceremony. We were asked what we took away from the course, told that we all passed, and asked if we would award ourselves with an pin symbolizing excellence. We were all told to close our eyes and hold out our hands if we thought we were deserving. After this we were told to explain our decision to either take or turn down the pin. A couple of people shared a similar answer with me, that excellence is really the best of the best, statistical outliers, etc. I believed I came in with a wealth of experience yet even with that experience only performed adequately. It was an interesting question. To this day I do not know if I grasp the philosophical depths of our answers. Maybe people like me are just destined to wander through life thinking we have not achieved excellence in anything? Have I achieved excellence in anything (volleyball)? I know I am good at a lot of things, but good cannot hold a candle to excellent. I snuck out to take a picture of some of the dogs and of the shack we huddled in. Right then and there I was struck by the realization that we would be back in our airport shuttles en route to returning to family and COVID-19 tomorrow.

The dog shack

Boundary Waters – Day 7: Returning Home

The shuttle ride back to the airport was similar to the shuttle ride in. We all had our own conversation groups and I spent most of my time trying to replay the whole experience while soaking in the Minnesota scenery as it whizzed by. I had no idea when I would be back.

Once we arrived at the Duluth airport I raced off to charge my phone so I would have some sort of entertainment as I traveled all day. I kind of liked the Duluth airport, even though is was incredibly tiny.

I see what you did there MN

Once through security I purchased a couple of things and hung out briefly with Martin, a straggler from one of the other groups. He told me he was from San Fransisco and that his mother was worried. A few days later we would get call from the Outward Bound director so he could inform us that Martin was presumptive positive and that we should all self isolate/quarantine as if we were too. It turned out Martin did not have COVID-19 but it gave me a little bit of a scare since I had minor cold-like symptoms.

I split once and for all from everyone at the Minneapolis Airport. There the Buffalo Wild Wings employees were so happy to see me (they were all just sitting in the dining area at a table without customers, cooks and all) that they gave me a bunch of free food and sat around me and talked about the trip and Coranavirus. Salt Lake City and Colorado Springs airports were equally desolate. I wore a handkerchief over my mouth and nose and received some funny looks through my travel that day. A couple of weeks later and my handkerchief/mask look would be required by Colorado for leaving the house.

Pirsig’s Gumptionology 101

Because with great power comes great respronsitrillitrance

Gumption

Gumption describes exactly what happens to someone when they connect with quality … they get filled with gumption. A person filled with gumption doesn’t sit around dissipating and stewing about things, he is at the front of the train of his own awareness watching to see what’s up the track and meeting it when it comes. The gumption filling process occurs when one is quiet long enough to see, feel and hear the real universe, not just one’s own stale opinions about it. In climbing and other physical pursuits, gumption is akin to “flow state”.

An adequate supply of Gumption is the first and most important tool. Gumption is the psychic gasoline that keeps the whole thing going. If you haven’t got it there is no way the motorcycle can possibly be fixed. But if you have got it and know how to keep it, there is absolutely no way in the world that motorcycle can keep from getting fixed … it’s bound to happen. Therefore the thing that must be monitored at all time and preserved above anything else is gumption.

Gumption Traps

There are innumerable kinds of gumption traps. Essentially anything that can cause one to lose sight of quality and thus lose ones enthusiasm for what one is doing.

There are two main types of gumption traps:

  1. Setbacks – When you are thrown off the quality track by conditions that arise from external circumstances
  2. Hang-ups? – When you are thrown off the quality track by conditions that arise within yourself

Examples of Setbacks (External)

The Out-of-Sequence Reassembly Setback. This typically rears its ugly head right when you think you have it all just about done. You begin the reassembly and then notice a part that was left out. Everything has to come apart again, and this is a major gumption trap. This can require a substantial rest period to re-gain gumption (Pirsig jokes a duration of a month)

Mitigations:

  1. Notebook used to write down order of disassembly and note anything worthwhile for reassembly later on. Notes should pay attention to left hand and right hand, and up and down orientations, and color coding and conditions of wires.
  2. Newspapers opened out on the floor of the garage with all the parts laid out left to right and top to bottom in order of disassembly.

Notes:

  1. Gumption can be salvaged by the knowledge that information may have been gained and that the second assembly will be quicker/cleaner.

The Intermittent Failure Setback. The thing that is wrong becomes right just as you start to fix it. Electrical shorts often fit into this category due to things bouncing around as you ride. As soon as you stop things are okay. All you can really do it try to get things to go wrong again. These become gumption traps when they fool you into thinking you have the thing fixed.

Mitigations:

  1. Wait a descent amount of time before assuming things are fixed (few hundred miles using the motorcycle example).

Notes:

  • Actually more of a gumption trap to the owner who has to take the problem to professionals again and again than to those who struggle through the process themselves, due to knowledge they will gain. You will be more prepared to work on it when the intermittent occurs than professionals.
  • Be mentally prepared for a long fishing expedition

The Parts Setback. The price of the parts are often jacked up due to you not being a commercial mechanic. Also the part might not fit. It is always a major gumption trap to spend the money only to get home and learn that the part you just purchased will not work.

Mitigations:

  1. Know your suppliers, know who is most helpful. Get to know them on a first name basis.
  2. Keep an eye out for price cutters.
  3. Always take the old part with you to prevent getting the wrong part.
  4. Take along machinist calipers with you to be sure you have precise measurements and can compare.
  5. If you have the time, money, and patience, learn to machine your own parts.

Notes:

  • The work of machining your own parts becomes gumption building.

Examples of Hang-ups (Internal)

Value Traps – Those that block effective understanding, the largest and most dangerous group of hang-ups. Generally best to recognize value traps when you are in them and to work on getting through trap before proceeding with work on your project.

Value Rigidity – Most widespread of value traps. If your values are rigid you cannot learn new facts.

Mitigations:

  1. Slow down deliberately to go over ground you have gone over before to verify that the things you thought were important are really important. Just stare at the machine and be interested.
  2. Chase nibbles when fishing. Go from motorcycle mechanic to motorcycle scientist.
  3. Check your ego at the door … be humble. If you have to, fake modesty.

Notes:

  • Often shows up in pre-mature diagnosis. Have to clear your head of old assumptions.
    • We pre-select what we think has value meaning for our problem and ignore the rest.
    • Example of South Indian Monkey Trap, monkey values rice over life, trapped by its value rigidity. Stop yanking and stare at the coconut.

Anxiety – So sure you will do everything wrong you are often afraid to do anything at all.

Mitigations:

  1. Work out your anxieties on paper.
  2. Read every book and magazine you can on the subject.
  3. You are chasing piece of mind.
  4. Organize things.
  5. Avoid fidgety things that can create more problems later on.

Notes:

  • Results from over-motivation, can leads to all kind of errors of excessive fussiness. Jump to conclusions and chase all kinds of errors.
  • It’s okay to make mistake, take solace in the fact that you are least getting an education.

BoredomNot seeing things freshly and lost your beginners mind.Opposite of anxiety, commonly goes with ego problems.

Mitigations:

  1. When you are bored … STOP! Go to a show, take a nap, call it a day, turn on TV.
  2. Sleep. It is easy to sleep when you are bored, and hard to be bored when you are well-rested.
  3. Keep a cup of coffee at the ready.
  4. Turn boring jobs into rituals … reacquaint yourself with the familiar.

Notes:

  • If you press on through boredom you are inviting the BIG mistake.
  • If coffee and rest don’t help you might be suffering from deeper quality problems.  

Impatience – Close to boredom, caused by underestimation for amount of time a job will take.  

Mitigations:

  1. If possible allow an indefinite amount of time for the job, especially for unfamiliar work.
  2. Value flexibility … overall goals must be scaled down in importance, and immediate goals must be scaled up.

Notes:

  • Cleaning up shop is a good example of a scaled down goal. Helps you scale down impatience by helping you find what you are looking for.  

Truth Traps – When the context of your question is too small for nature’s answers.

Mitigations:

  1. When your answer to a test is indeterminate that means that either your tests aren’t doing what you think they are or that your understanding of the context of the question needs to be enlarged.
  2. Do not throw away Mu answers. They are every bit as vital (or more so) than yes or no answers.

Notes:

  • Strong statement could be made that science grows more by its Mu (non-discrete) answers more than its yes or no answers.
  • Yes or no answers confirm or deny hypothesis. Mu is beyond the hypothesis.

Muscle Traps – Those that block psycho-motor behavior. 

Mitigations:

  1. Buy good tools. Good second hand tools are better than inferior new ones.
  2. Bad surroundings fall into this as well. Make sure you have adequate lighting, heat, air, etc.
  3. Avoid out of position work when possible.
  4. Take the time to insure you do not damage things while working on the problem. Handle precision parts gently.
  5. Take more time.

Notes:

  • Primary example is inadequate tools. Muscular insensitivity is another example (bull in china shop).

All in all Pirsig’s outline of gumption traps provide a shortcut to living life. His intention is that if we are aware of the traps that we fall into, and in some cases the underlying cause of those traps, that we can more easily address them, climb out of them, move on and grow. As we get more comfortable and familiar with that process we improve our quality and the snowball continues to roll and grow.

Notes: Watch out for gumption desperation, where you hurry up wildly in an effort to restore gumption to make up for lost time. That just creates more mistakes. Know when to take a long break from your projects.

2018 Firsts and Notables

  • NHL Playoff Game
  • Chopsticks
  • Questival
  • Paid of NASA
  • Finally hit my credit score goal
  • Padre Failure
  • Ski Resort Trip
  • Hiked Across San Antonio
  • West Coast Trail
  • First Rifftracks event
  • Royal George (its been decades)
  • Set bike to work speed record, moving time of 52 minutes, moving speed over 15 MPH
  • Played a few rounds of golf with Dad
  • Bought lemonade from a lemonade stand
  • Finished DC badge challenge
  • Capital Reef NP
  • Arches NP
  • Bryce Canyon NP
  • Black Canyon of Gunnison NP
  • 6 NP, cross-country trip with Jade
  • Finally got Longs
  • Tommy Caldwell talk
  • Got Laura interested in climbing
  • Wim Hoff
  • Navy/Air Force game
  • Camped with Moose!
  • 60 mile CT session with Jade
  • Visited Vancouver
  • Moved offices
  • Made progress on CB750 with help from dedicated forum members
  • Got my first real road bike
  • Lazer tag with kids
  • Stopped using work elevator
  • Began climbing in earnest
  • Big Memorial Day car camping
  • Destroyed truck on CastleCon approach (due to mechanic errors)
  • Finished 50 mountains
  • Finished 14 audio books
  • Ate crab pulled right out of a tidal lake
  • Visited a couple of lighthouses
  • Hiked Waldo and Williams Canyon
  • Massive Mania failure

Alice is cleaning up


 

Motorcycle Diaries

Pipes Wrapped

Pipes Wrapped

I recently spent a couple of days wrapping my pipes with a coworker who had just done the same with his bike. There were a couple of snafus but it came out looking really good. So I decided to bring her up to the cabin for the first time. It was a fun ride but I could not help but notice that she was sputtering and significantly lacking in power. I know that it is advised to re-jet the bike to lean out the air/fuel ratio (stoichiometric ratio), but had not gotten around to it. That being said she had was noticeably more hesitant than the last time I took her out for a round trip to Denver. I spoke to my friend in San Antonio and found two very good references (below) and decided to check/gap/clean the plugs, check the point gaps, and manually adjust the fuel/air mixture screws.

Carbon fouled plug from running super rich

Carbon fouled plug from running super rich

I removed the plugs and noticed that they were covered in carbon deposits, which should have been expected since I knew the altitude had me running extremely rich. I cleaned the contacts a bit with 80 grit sandpaper, and checked their gaps. All four were gaped to .8 mm or so which is within the acceptable range (.7mm – .8mm).

After removing the plugs I checked the breaker point gaps and found that the right breaker point was only gaped to .25mm or so when fully open. I cleaned the contacts on both points with my sandpaper, adjusted the right point, and moved on to the fuel/air ratio problem.

Each of the four screws were about 2.5 full turns (900 degrees) from being screwed all the way in. I backed each out 1/2 turn and reassembled the bike.

When I started her up she ran and idled much more smoothly than the day before. I have yet to take her out for a spin but I hope to take her to work sometime this week. Next up, installing clip-on bars, powder coating the rims, and re-jetting the carbs.

4 Sporks in 7 Years

I must say much has changed in my life in the last several months. I suffered through a drama-packed job situation which is still settling and I had many opportunities to learn and do new things. Below are the details of some of the more interesting events of the last few months :

  • *I have changed jobs on 2 occasions with the possibility of a third coming
  • *I achieved Security+ and Network+ certifications (to get bonuses and add resume filler, currently prepping for CISSP & CEH), and a Cloudshield Certified Developer Certification
  • *I lost my fourth spork in recent memory at work (probably stolen again)
  • *I took a Christmas vacation to Colorado with my immediate family where I learned how to … quickly … put on snow chains and of the value of owning a Subaru in snowy conditions
  • *My motorcycle has broken down to an extent
  • *I have been prepping for the whole grad school routine again
  • *I finally finished Jades Robot Costume only to have her declare that she will no longer be known as Pickle
  • *I ran Warrior Dash as Lt. Dangle, and lost the keys to the cruiser (this one must be told verbally. I could spend all day writing about it)
  • *I may have determined what the hell is wrong with my weather station
  • *And finally Laura got a job … just kidding

Jerb Drama
The biggest life changer in the last few months was without a doubt, my job situation. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the DoD contracting process, a contract and its allocated positions and financial resources are usually reassessed or bid on annually. I worked with a small company developing software for a NIDS/NIPS system deployed by the Air Force. Most of my coworkers were rather unconcerned about losing the contract since our company had it for many years and since the government was relatively happy with our products. In fact when the negotiations for the contract were being made the contracting office and people affiliated with our work requested that bidders provide a detailed and technically specific development plan consisting of several hundred pages of information … in like 15 days in an apparent attempt to ward off bidders. Despite all of this, I was still pessimistic. I just had a weird gut feeling about it all and several small signs popped up as we closed in on D-Day. On the last day of our work we still hadn’t received an answer as to our future. Only then did I begin to see a shift in the moods of many of my coworkers. We all had to pack our stuff to avoid having to be escorted back onto the premises in the event of losing our jobs. The next night we finally received an email from our interim team leader who was rather shocked himself when saying “we did not get the contract”.

So like that I went from being the happily and gainfully employed breadwinner of my family to an unemployed software engineer (yeah think Office Space again). The good news when these things happen is that the company who wins the contract typically hires several of the old employees to fill gaps in technical skills specific to the project. This was also the case this time however the winning company grossly underbid on the contract resulting in all of the former employees having to walk the fine line between taking care of themselves and taking care of friends and former coworkers. In a way it resembled the shittiest game of musical chairs ever played, where those left standing when the music stopped playing had to drastically alter the lifestyle etc. For whatever reason I happened to land in the lap of L-3 Communications which was subcontracted by the winning company to provide developers, and for what it is worth I consider myself very lucky that I did. They are a very large established company who take good care of their employees, and they provide a $5000 bonus to me if I can get somebody hired … *wink*. That being said I do miss Meritec and my old coworkers. I was wonderful working with all of them.

I have since settled in again and though I still feel rather stressed concerning my new more senior role with the project, I have learned a great deal and can honestly see myself leading a development team in the near future. The biggest setback so far with the new company is that I lost my friggin spork AGAIN! I don’t know how or why but the damned things keep disappearing from my desk drawers. I know how asinine it might seem to think that someone is walking around stealing sporks, but we have caught no less than 3 people in the act of tossing our drawers late at night for CDs/DVDs/Pens etc. I will be the first to admit that one of them was almost entirely my fault since I probably left it in the break room. The others just walked off mysteriously. I am thinking about installing an alarm and/or booby traps. A bunch of crap it is.

Professional Development
So now that I am with L-3 (which offers certification bonuses) and since I have witnessed first-hand how quickly I can be out of a job, I decided to go certification crazy. I pretty much spent all of December reading Security+ and Network+ books to prepare for examinations. I learned earlier in the year that CompTIA had decided as of 2011 their A+, Security+, and Network+ certifications would expire every 3 years or so, unless a bridge examination was paid for and passed. Since I took both of mine in December I am certified for life (with the completion of CPEs).

I decided to use a Prometric testing center to take my first test, Security+. I had been studying for about 10 days or so, and had the material down pretty damn well sans some of the specifics regarding digital cryptography methods. The nearest testing site with an available date was located by the airport. I assumed that each test site would be fairly similar and quickly purchase my voucher to take the test at 2pm.

I woke up early on the morning of the test and rifled through my note cards and practice exams. Sometime around 10am I received a call from the test proctor who asked if I was taking the test at 2:00. When I informed him that I was, he asked if I would rather take it at noon or even 1pm. I told him I did not want to move it up because I was driving to San Marcos after the test and moving it up would require me wandering around somewhere for an hour or two. He then had the nerve to inform me that he was there until I finished my test and that he wanted to get out of there by 1pm to do something. He kept pushing his case on the phone, and eventually as I became more and more pissed, I gritted my teeth and told him I will be in at 1pm.

I arrived at 1pm and he immediately quipped that he could have been home by now. Again I was left rather speechless. I figured I would just go in, knock out the test and be on my merry way. I sat down and began the 100 question test. The first 10 or so questions were alien to me. It was crazy. I had studied very hard, I knew my way around my study material and could pass any assortment of 100 questions out of their 500 or so question test bank with a 98% average. The actual test however asked oddly worded questions that were either tricky or outdated. Often times the questions concerned subject or acronyms I had never even heard of. I was about halfway through the test when my little panic alarm went off in my head. I sat there dumbfounded and embarrassed, finding it hard to swallow that I was going to fail a friggin Security+ exam when my job was to develop secure software for the friggin DoD. I actually contemplated walking out and saving Joe Gotztago his hour or so and returning home to study for a test retake. After a few minutes of starring at the screen I became a bit more rational and thought; F-it you are here, you spent 2 weeks studying this shit, if you fail you are going to crash and burn not walk out.

So on with the test. Another 10 questions down, another 2-3 marked for review. It was about this time that Joe Gotztago apparently retreated to his little Civic and began BOOMING baselines through the wall. I really couldn’t believe it. Being a Kramer I quickly deployed our famous “I can fuck with you worse than you can fuck with me” game plan and made it a point to sit there and review every friggin question to the last second of my time limit. Honestly I was done reviewing at about the 1 hour mark but I wanted to stay there, stare at the wall, stare at the camera, pick my nose, and doodle on my scratchpad. At that point I didn’t care if Joe Gotztago was missing the birth of his first born child, my ass was planted like a Chia Donkey. I pressed the submit button about 20 seconds before my time expired and prepared myself to receive a proverbial kick in the sack. To my absolute surprise I was informed that I had passed with a score of 860 or some such, with 750 out of 900 being passing. Don’t ask me how. So on the way out Joe Gotztago was pissed off and kept commenting that he wanted to be home, and that next time I should sign up for an earlier test. I just smiled and nodded and walked out the door knowing damn well I would never take a test there again, and that I would be able to look forward to a couple of study free nights.

I wish I had an awesome story for the Network+ exam. I really don’t. I studied hard again, picked a Prometric testing site in Austin, and passed it rather easily with an 880 or something (90%).

Currently I am studying for my CEH exam next month at a much more leisurely pace.

Halloween
Alright so on to Halloween. I wanted to do something over the top this year but I could not figure out what. I wanted to hit one our costumes out of the park, but was afraid time constraints would lead to 3 ground outs (there Laura are you happy? … I used a baseball reference). I spent some time looking around at Electro-Luminescent lighting. You can buy it fairly cheap and sew it into jackets, etc. I thought about sewing some into my motorcycle jackets so that when I give my bike gas the sound of the engine would cause it to glow more (they sell audio sensors). I really wished I had the time to make something like this. Oh well maybe next year. While searching around for Daft Punk patterns and pictures I stumbled across a guy who created a friggin Daft Punk replica helmet. <-- I am still amazed by that. That served to remind me that I am no artist and that I should stick to simple shit. So for me I only had to visit one costume site to fall in love with the Lt. Dangle getup. I spent a couple of months growing out my wannstache. Logan’s costume was not an issue since she inherited Jades from last year. I had asked jade 8-10 weeks before Halloween what she wanted to be and for some reason or another I drew a sketch of a robot and she was sold. I had a pretty good idea how everything would look and fit together, but I could not figure out how I was going to create the flashing panel buttons on her chest. Originally I figure I would just buy stain glass tiles and wire some Christmas lights behind them, however the light would not diffuse correctly and it frankly looked horrible. I then though I would purchase an old Simon game off of Amazon or EBay and mount that sucker to her chest box. Do you have any idea how expensive those things are nowadays? Like 100 bucks! I ended up going to cheap and shitty route of just cutting rectangles out of rubber mats we bought. It took a few weekends to finish everything. It all came out rather well except for the stupid buttons … oh yeah and except for the fact that I made her eye holes too high and that the lights mounted on her shoulders prevented her from turning her head too much. Most of our neighbors were in fact impressed and requested to get pictures of her etc. I suppose the costume would have been less glamorous to them if they would have stayed on the porch long enough to realize poor Jade had to remove her robot head entirely between houses just to be able to see and move. Oh well. Simple fixes for Logan’s robot next year right?

Christmas
This was the first Christmas I spent back in San Antonio where I was comfortable enough financially to take a vacation. Since I like an 80 degree Christmas about as much as I would like rooming with Glenn Beck, we decided to head up to the southwestern corner of Colorado. Of course since everyone else in the Northern Hemisphere were had to make out arrangements a few months ahead of the trip. After calling no less than 20 places we decided to stay two nights at the Elk Point Cabins on Vallecito Lake, about 30 minutes Northeast of Durango. We also had to make reservations for 2 nights in Cloudcroft, 1 night going up, and 1 driving back.

Once we knew the trip was on, we began looking around for stuff to do. I found out Santa was going to give Jade and Logan Polar Express tickets to the Silverton train, so that took care of one evening. The hostess of elk Point Cabins suggested a horse pulled sleigh ride around the mountain as another fixture in the trip. we figured we would leave the rest of our trip unplanned since we might want to split up or do something else etc.

About two weeks before Christmas I woke up early to begin studying for my Network+ exam. I glanced at my phone as I typically do early in the morning and noticed something wrong. I have a pseudo-live image of Cloudcroft (up to 30 minutes old) as my phone wallpaper. That morning when I looked I saw a huge pile of something and a bunch of chaos. I quickly went to the upstairs computer and logged on to pull up the high resolution feed and looked in amazement as I realized a large portion of the historic downtown district (3 shops) had burnt down. It was a very sad scene since it was approaching their most profitable tourist season, and since the shops were nearly 100 years old, and since we would be visiting that very place in 14 days or so.

So on to the trip. there wasn’t really any excitement until we reached Colorado (except for Laura forgetting all of the girls snow clothes for whatever reason). I had checked the Durango weather for the last week and was actually afraid we would get up there and not see any snow. There was about 4 inches or less of packed melted/refrozen ice/snow at our cabin when we got there, but as we headed down into town that quickly disappeared. We went shopping in Durango and hung around town waiting for the Polar Express ride at 6PM. Weatherbug had changed their forecast to 100% chance of snow that night and the entire area was put under a Winter Storm Warning. Naturally my mother and father were a bit nervous about this since they came up in her Chevy Malibu, and since they aren’t accustomed to dealing with snow. We all decided to buy groceries in town in case we ended up snowed in at the cabin.

That night after the polar express ride we drove to the cabin together, played a few gamed and prepared for our winter storm. The owner of the cabins randomly gave us a nice set of snow chains that had been left behind by a previous renter. We moved my father’s car up to the top of the culd-a-sac so that he would not have to drive it up a steep embankment in snow and ice. I went to sleep that night very excited. Every time I would wake up I would roll over and try to peak outside to see if the snow had started. Around 4AM I finally fell into a deep sleep.

I woke up cold at 6:30AM or so. I shuffled out to the main room to see my dad fighting with the fire place. He immediately informed me that it was snowing. It wasn’t coming down very hard though. My dad and I decided to drop my mom’s car off at the local one-stop stop about 2 miles up the road and directly across the lake from our cabin. We figured the plows would operate more regularly there and that we would have a better chance of finding help etc if we needed it. Before taking it there I had to put on those damned snow chains. Wow that was quite the adventure. The gloves on they were too bulky for me to put on the chains, however if I took them off my hands would freeze and literally not work. It probably took us an hour or so to get them on. By the time we were done the snow was coming down like angel shit. We returned back to the cabin tired and dirty. We spent the rest of the day sledding, fighting, eating, and playing games. It was one of the best days I had in years.

ForrsterFor the next 24 hours it snowed and snowed and uh … yeah snowed some more. The place looked like Michael Irvin’s coffee table. There was about 20-26 inches on the ground the next morning and I started to wonder how much the Forrester could handle. We had to head up a semi-steep hill with about an inch of ice underneath it, and my ground clearance is only 9inches or so. As we assessed the situation the snow actually stopped falling. We took advantage of the weather and quickly hopped into the car to drive to the Malibu to dig it out and bring it back to the cabin. It took several attempts to make it up the hill since the plows left a rather nasty 3 foot embankment. The depth of the snow and the ice on the hills gave me fits even with all-wheel drive. After using about half of my clutch plate I blasted through the wall of snow and onto the cud-a-sac. From there it was smooth sailing to the general store.

Thankfully the snow was very lightweight and made for some easy shoveling. We had the Malibu out in no time and were heading back to the cabin. I already mentioned that both of my parents were petrified of getting snowed in. Honestly when I woke up that morning and saw that 2 feet had fallen I was beginning to wonder too. The plows did a good job with the roads, and the snow chains and all-wheel drive did the rest. It only took us about 2-3 hours to pack both vehicles and begin our trip back home. By the time we made it down to Durango the roads were in a condition that warranted removing the snow chains. We did run into more snow showers on the way home and the road was packed with snow for a hundred miles or so. Other than that and our stop at Ruidoso, the trip home was quiet and uneventful.

All 4 of my girls don’t work now
So my two daughter are much too young to work. My wife hasn’t worked since my oldest was less than a year old (approaching 7 years now). However my motorcycle at 37 years old has always worked, that is until a ride home from work mid-December. I was approaching a stop light and as I down shifted it shut off entirely, almost as if I had hit the kill switch. Due to its age the bike often acts in peculiar ways. I had become familiar with its eccentricities through riding it frequently. THIS though was new. I know I did not stall it. Once I came to a stop I put it in neutral and hit the start button; nothing. It wouldn’t even turn over. Normally this would be a battery issue except that my head lamp was on full blast and that I had no issues starting the bike only 3 minutes or so earlier. So there I was in the dark on a bike that wouldn’t start, in a rather remote are about 11 miles from my house. I looked around to see if I could determine an obvious culprit, which I couldn’t. Since the area was flat it would not be that easy to jump it. The only option I had was kick starting the thing.

Now I had read in a book or two about the difficulty of kick starting a bike, even when it is warm. I had never tried it though. The situation I found myself in was such that I had no other options than to see if I could make it work. I sat upright pulled out the kick start pedal and went to town. Stomp – right foot rest pedal to the shin – Lift – repeat. This went on a good 25 times until to my utter delight the bike started. Of course by then my shin was bruised to hell and back but I couldn’t care less. I had kick started my bike, something other cyclist that have never ridden a bike older than 1979 or so have never experienced.

So once I got home I tinkered around with it again. I charged the battery up and tried to start it and got the same results. I suspected a short, but tracing the starting switch the starter motor, I found none. I originally suspected the starter motor, but that wouldn’t explain why it just randomly shut down in the first place. In fact, I still don’t have an explanation for that. I did order a battery from O Reilly which I will pick up on Tuesday. I am keeping my fingers crossed that one of the cells was bad in the old one. With luck she’ll be working again soon.

Belated Gallery Update
Below are the galleries I recently updated, including our Christmas adventures.

Travel->Colorado Christmas Trip 2010
Travel->Colorado Christmas Trip 2010->Road Shots
Travel->Colorado Christmas Trip 2010->New Mexico
Travel->Colorado Christmas Trip 2010->New Mexico->Cloudcroft/Ruidoso
Travel->Colorado Christmas Trip 2010->New Mexico->Carlsbad Caverns
Travel->Colorado Christmas Trip 2010->Colorado
Travel->Colorado Christmas Trip 2010->Colorado->Polar Express
Travel->Colorado Christmas Trip 2010->Colorado->Durango
Travel->Colorado Christmas Trip 2010->Colorado->Vallecito Cabin

Holidays->Christmas 2010
Holidays->Halloween 2010

Time=(Time^Time)

Time seems to be moving along quite quickly as of late. I have settled into a routine of riding my bike to work, working out, riding home, working on my house, and sleeping. A few months ago I bought, installed, and configured my weatherstation. Also, I started playing tennis again, or I suppose I should say I plan to resume playing competitive tennis again.

Last weekend I finally had time to do some long awaited Ahuiz Gallery maintenance. I dusted off some old volleyball photos from 1872 and posted them. Hopefully I will find someone with more photos of 2010 NIRSA Nationals. Apparently I was just too busy to take any. Anyhow the additions are as follows:

Volleyball
Volleyball->NIRSA Nationals 2010
Volleyball->NIRSA Nationals 2005
Volleyball->NIRSA Nationals 2003
Volleyball->Camp Phoenix Volleyball
Volleyball->Dale, Texas
Volleyball->All-Navy Volleyball

Holidays->Christmas 2009

Family->Mom and Dad
Family->Tanyas Bunch
Family->Mathews Bunch
Family->Mathews Bunch->Wang Woody Johnson

Miscellaneous->Weather
Miscellaneous->Weather->Weather Station
Miscellaneous->Weather->Hurricane Alex

Mountain Biking->Bluff Creek Ranch pt 1+2

Travel-Texas
Travel->Texas->Los Maples State Park pt 1+2
Travel->Texas->New Diana (Tanya’s House)
Travel->Texas->South Padre
Travel->Texas->South Padre->South Padre 2010
Travel->Texas->South Padre->South Padre 2010

Motorcycles->My CB500

Shanoh Dorso

AfghaniStan Diego

Chapter4; Koyaanisqatsi ([kɔɪɑːnɪskɑːtsi]), – Crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living

In a matter of a few seconds, the weight that had rested on my shoulders for over a week was lifted. I was HOME. HOME was where my heart was. HOME was a place where I was in control of my levels of misery and happiness. HOME was my visual reminder of why I spent so much time away from HOME. In all of the chaos and anger, I had forgotten the three persons that suffered through every setback I suffered through as they anxiously awaited my arrival. I had lived in an earth/moon/universe revolves around me world for days. It was healthy and comforting to step back a bit, and to decentralize the universe from my existence.

Inside my HOME, I was reunited with my wife and two children. Doogel was extremely happy to see me. We had been best friends for 5 years, and our separation was tearing both of us up mentally. Chunkster was her typical reserved self, sneaking in a smile or a word or two every now and then. I spent 30 minutes reacquainting myself with my creations before unpacking and straightening up the office. My parents would be arriving in a matter of minutes and I needed to sort everything out to optimize our 5 days together.

Shortly later my mother and father were at my HOME. I was excited to have them both there and had already begun my mental planning of all the places I would take them and of everything I would show them. One thing that had grabbed my attention was the ridiculous amount of snow I saw up in the mountains as our plane approached San Diego. My dad grew up in a cold environment and might, to this day, like snow and cold weather even more than I do. I pulled him aside and told him that we were about 45 minutes away from a ton of snow, and asked if he thought my mom would want to go see some. My mother dislikes cold weather more than my father likes it. I remember inviting her to come visit us when we lived up near Chicago. It seemed that there was nothing I could say or do to persuade her to come up see us. Chicago was simply “too cold” for her. Still, I must have underestimated her love of her grandchildren as she seemed more than happy to accompany us up the mountain to celebrate our own little “southern tourist” version of the Christmas holidays. We agreed to set out early the next morning.

The trip was entertaining to say the least. First and foremost was the fact that our TOASTER-ON-WHEELS did not have enough room for four adults and two children. We discussed the alternatives and decided for whatever reason that my father (not a small man) would ride in the back of the car (where we typically throw our groceries). I suppose he didn’t care how we got there as long as he got to see snow. We stopped and picked up some fast food on our way out. Jade was extremely excited to go see the snow. I kept thinking about her reaction to “nose” in Chicago. She simply loved it. She would stay outside playing in it despite the ridiculous temperatures (-34 F windchill really???).

The trip took about an hour. As we made our way up Sunrise Highway the Junipers and other conifers began to accumulate snow. We stopped on several occasions to take pictures. At the top of Mt. Laguna, there was no less than 20 inches of snow on the ground. The locals reported totals up to 36 inches on or around the mountain. Several Parked Cars lined the roadway as their owners went sledding or skiing. We pulled over and jumped out of the car. Conditions could not have been better. The temperature had to be in the low 40’s. I grabbed Jade and began walking out toward an opening in the field. It was at that point that I realized exactly how deep the snow was. Jade’s lower half disappeared. I turned around just in time to see my mother sink down into the snow with a surprised look. Laura, Chunk, and my father followed. Chunk seemed intrigued by the snow however she was a little less than excited about it when she fell down. Her gloves kept coming off and she seemed to be very afraid of the mystical, cold sheet of white that she had never really seen before. We spent an hour or so playing and hiking around before deciding to get back in the car and drive around a bit.

We had watched several kids sledding down the slopes and I regretted that I again, forgot to buy Doogel a sled. I figured that the one-stop on top of the mountain might still have some sleds. I decided to drive around for awhile to let every one soak in the views. My dad contently looked out the back window as we drove/slid through the snow. After stopping at a couple of scenic overlooks, we made our way to the little store to purchase snacks and a sled. As luck would have it they had both. We turned the car around and headed back to the popular slope areas.

As soon as I parked Doogel jumped out of the car to go sledding. I handed the camera to my mother as I helped the pickle trek through the deep snow towards the slopes. We watched a few kids fly down before hiking up to the top of the smaller of the two hills. I sat down on the sled and instructed her to sit down on my lap with her legs extended out. After we situated ourselves I let go and off we went. Now I need to be honest about something. Though I have been around a fair share of snow, I have, for whatever reason, never gone sledding. I was half amused and half amazed as we gathered speed and barreled down the little hill. It took all I had to hold Jade in place as we spun around, and hit bumps and even left the ground on a few occasions. By the time we reached the bottom, I was lying on my back and had enough snow inside my coat to make a small snowman, and Jade was laughing so hard she was nearly in tears. My mother seemed to get a thrill out of watching and filming her little girls sledding. The more we did it the better we got. Jade even went solo on a couple of rides, her 50 lb. body flying into the air after every hitting each and every bump. Laura and I made an attempt at a new land-speed record (suggested by Mr. Griswald) but ended up wiping out entirely halfway down. I don’t exactly recall what went wrong. What I do know is that she, the sled, and I all decided to go our separate ways. Of all of us, I do not think anyone laughed as hard as the Chunkster. She laughed non-stop each and every time she bounced down the hill. I personally got a real thrill out of sledding with her.

Time flew and the next thing I knew it was time for dinner. Again we drove around for a while, and eventually made our way over to the little town of Julian. I wanted to show it to my dad since I had taken my mother out there a couple of years earlier. We strolled around, pausing to check out each store and eatery. It was getting dark and we were all very hungry. We hopped back in the car, crammed my father in the back again with the sled, and drove off to grab dinner at a little diner I used to frequent after mountain biking. It was very late when we arrived back HOME. All of us were spent, and I felt the full effect of a 12 hour jetlag.

The following days with my parents followed suit. Each day we would set out to do something, and would arrive back HOME shortly after dinner, and I would pass out prematurely due to the effects of jetlag. We shared a special Christmas together. My dad got nearly every part of San Diego my mom saw two years earlier. We shopped, ate out, and played video games together. Both of my children loved having them around. The 5 days we spent together flew by. Before I knew it I was driving them to San Diego International to board their plane.

The remainder of my vacation in the states was equally enjoyable. It was nice to have time alone with Ra, and with each of my kids. I enjoyed taking Doogel and Chunk out to the playground. I learned that Chunk was the polar opposite of her sister in that she was afraid of heights and falling. At an early age, Jade was a fearless daredevil. She would often do flips off of the couch and she would climb on anything she could and jump off. She was so reckless that I dreaded the day when I would have to rush her to the hospital. Logan on the other hand was calculating and very reserved. I observed and appreciated the difference between the two. Away it was easy to categorize Logan as a cookie-cutout, replica of Jade. In my time with them I began to learn of all the little nuances that made my Chunkster special and different. It was like having your firstborn all over again. In the days to come I would develop a special appreciation of her and a bond I thought I could only share with my BFF, Jade.

Laura and I indulged in all the fast food and beer we could get our hands on. We played guitar hero until we actually thought we could play guitar … (This happens after about 614 hours of playing). We shared our own little Christmas as we had two years earlier. Here I was, the proverbial teenager, sharing Christmas with my own wife and kids. That statement may seem scary, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t see the 16 year old in me when I look in the mirror. I imagine that will come to pass someday. I know now, that I am smarter, more driven, and certainly, more responsible, but I believe my similarities to myself back then outweigh the differences. Perhaps this is something everyone experiences.

As the time began to run out on my wonderful little 15 day vacation things started to turn for the worse. The last couple of days HOME consisted of me running through the gauntlet of things I wanted to do or accomplish before leaving. This was the first of two, very humbling lessons I would learn during my vacation. As an organized, list-making guy, I was so concerned with accomplishing everything I set out to accomplish that I didn’t enjoy or appreciate the accomplishments as they happened since I was already thinking about the logistics of completing the next “Task”. For example, I promised Jade I would build us a tent downstairs for us to play video games in for an imaginary campout. Unfortunately I procrastinated that so long due to working on other important items, that by the time I erected the tent, Jade was practically already asleep. Our whole tent excursion simply consisted of me building it, and moving her half-asleep body to her side of the tent so she could finally good to bed for good. It wasn’t exactly how I planned it. I was stressing myself out, worrying about the things I wanted to do before I left. Perhaps I had the TERMINAL to blame. I was HOME with the ones I loved, and I felt remarkably distant from the word “relaxed”. Worse still, Jade began to realize that her time with Daddy was coming to an end. She began acting up, and putting the pacifier in her mouth. I spent the better part of the last two days disciplining her and ignoring her. To this day those memories break my heart. I mean that … they break my heart. At one point of time she sat up in her room coloring. I made my way upstairs past her room to do something in the office and she looked up at me with sad eyes and handed me her artwork. It was a picture of three stick-people with sad faces. Above the stick-family were random letters. I asked Jade what it said and she looked up at me with sad eyes and said, “It says I am sorry that I am a bad girl and I do not have any good ideas”. I had a hell of a time holding back tears. I was so self-absorbed with all the little errands I had to run before leaving that I forgot the reason I was running them. I picked her up and took her into the office. I sat her down, wiped the accumulating tears from my eyes, and began talking to her about her coloring. We made an art-book for me to take back with me. Outside I was comforting her and holding her, doing everything I could to let her know how special she was to me. Inside, the anger and pure hatred toward the Navy that had invaded me during my times at the TERMINAL was overwhelming me. After all, it wasn’t my fault that my children were hurting inside.

My time at HOME had come and gone in no time at all. Perhaps the TERMINAL had something to do with it. There, time had almost come to a complete stop. I remember looking at clocks mounted on the wall and thinking that they must have been needing batteries since they did not seem to move at all. At HOME, time wouldn’t even allow me the time to appreciate it. I took solace in the fact that I would be returning HOME again in a few months. I imagined setting right all the things that went wrong during my visit HOME.

As always the flight left San Diego international at balls-early-O’-clock in the morning. No one in their right mind was awake at that time. Paris Hilton had probably retired hours earlier. It was unnatural and cruel, because it robbed me of quality “evening time” with my wife….which was when we always played scrabble. I wanted to make the time pass so I forced myself to sleep the entire way. We landed in Atlanta and were herded around like cattle again. My connecting flight did not leave for 5 hours so I walked around to search for a spot where I could sleep. The floor was littered with depressed service members lying around or surfing the internet. I could tell they were all heading back to theatre. I again ignored everyone else and slept, or sat and did my own thing.

It would be a waste of time to take you through the details of my flight back. It was exactly the same as the flight HOME sans hope and happiness. Instead I wish to discuss the entire point of my narration of the events that took place during my Christmas leave. Surely you didn’t think that I would leave you hanging with no sense of perspective, completely lost and confused, and wondering what the point of all of it was (have you seen Remains of the Day?). Yeah it was miserable. Hopefully you got that. Yes, for all of those that have asked, I really did kind of lose my mind (As I read Persig…go friggin figure). None of that motivated me really to write about it. I didn’t need sympathy and in fact kind of dreaded telling the story as it would always leave me angry and unmotivated. The point of the story was the slap in the face that awaited me in Afghanistan. It was so obvious, and yet I had overlooked it all-together. I had always prided myself on being able to see multiple perspectives and on being as empathic as anyone. Yet here I was missing the big picture. I saw a single swirly brushstroke and the entire Starry Night.

I spent another couple of sweltering nights at the R&R tent I had lived at earlier on in my journey HOME. It was cold outside, and the mountains and plains were covered in snow, yet I still found myself sweating and hating life at night. On the third day I hitched a ride with a convoy heading to my base. Bagram lies about 1000 feet lower than Kabul. The entire trip we were climbing. I sat in the back of an up-armored vehicle starring off into the distance. About 15 minutes outside of Kabul we came upon a trash bag city. I have heard of tent cities, and have witnessed some of the eccentric habits of our HOME less in San Diego, but I have never seen an entire neighborhood using nothing but discarded plastic trash bags as shelter. Snow covered the ground and I found my eyes racing all over the place, identifying freezing kids, devoid of warm clothing, huddled under a plastic bags hung in leafless trees to block whatever snow was coming down. Their very essence and identity was centered on misery I will likely never understand. There it wasn’t about finding the time to play Halo with junior; it was about junior staying alive through another harsh winter. Only two days earlier I was bitching about sweating while I slept. How many children in the group of thousands I was starring at would pass away from the sub freezing temperatures in the same time span? As we drove along I caught the eye of a young boy on the side of the road, perhaps no older than 6. He was emaciated, shivering, and had a look of desperation as we drove by. He was hoping we would throw him something….anything. His image engraved itself in my head. I could not turn away. I lost sight of him about a half mile down the road. What a giant slap in the face all of this was.

The image of the freezing children and that homeless little boy jump started a self assessment mode that was long overdue. I began thinking about all the troops who had deployed and perished. I thought about them not coming HOME to their families at all. I wondered how many of them had perished in shortly before returning HOME for the holidays. It seems that things could have been horribly worse on both sides of the tracks. To think I had it worse than the Afghans I was sent over to protect was a selfish and childish thought that I will forever be remorseful of. I was also ashamed to have temporarily forgotten the pains and suffering of the families of my fallen brethren. For the remaining few months in theatre I thought of these things every time I wanted to denounce my fate or bad-mouth my luck.

When I arrived back to base I hopped out of the vehicle and drug my 3 bags and body armor clear across base. All said and done I was lugging a total of 200 pounds with me. The weather was very cold, and my rifle banged up against my knee on several occasions. The entire trip to my hut, as I sweated and grunted, and lost my breath from the 5,800 foot altitude, I never lost sight on the way things could be. The worst thing that had happened to me the entire day was being forced to drag my own shit across base to my warm, comfortable, room, to my second HOME. When I arrived, I threw my bags down and lay down in my bed, and starred at the ceiling. I had a lot to think about. In a moments time I fell asleep listening to the hum of our heater.

Afterword

It has been 4 months since the ordeal began. Things in the Navy still irritate the hell out of me. Don’t get me wrong there. Hell, as I am writing this sentence I am waiting to receive any information regarding my travels to go play volleyball for the All-Navy Volleyball Team; information that I was supposed to have received weeks ago. Now, 10 days before camp, I don’t have a ticket, location, dates, or anything else of value. Time with my kids has been better. There always will be several aspects of fatherhood that befuddle me, but my resourcefulness and access to Google make me a formidable foe to the unknown. I am sad to report that one of the Lt’s we trained with at Ft. Riley was shot a couple of days after I arrived HOME. She was scheduled to return HOME in a couple of months. Many other American and NATO soldiers were killed during my stay in Kabul.

My Afghan friends still awake daily in a country that has an uncertain future at best. Here we worry about a recession. There they worry about rockets landing in the living rooms of their HOMEs, and starving to death. I try to do my best to remind myself and others that we have it good here. Whenever I am angered to the point of tearing up, or when I have reached the end of my short fuse, I imagine the freezing child standing on the side of the road in the plains above Bagram. Yes, I am thankful for what I have, how could I not be.

AIABM AIAF AIBM TA

Nothing new, except everything.

We have elected a new president since the last time I wrote. I won’t bother arguing or attempting to prove a point to those you cannot prove a point to. Worse case scenario we will be better off from a political standpoint than we have for the last eight, grueling years. For that I am thankful. I am also thankful to witness and even take part in history.

Me-SimpsonizedI have been working on a few projects here (*non-work-related*) out of sheer boredom and the primal necessity to create. I decided to Simpsonize my family in order to possibly update my splash page. Here is the image Simpsonizer generated for me. I doctored up the second pic just a bit. Pretty impressive.

I witnessed some interesting weather today. Our first little snow shower came in, at a bone chilling 45 degrees F. Previously the warmest temperature I had seen snow in was near 41 F. The North faces of mountains nearby are covered in snow. Hopefully the Afghani winter will bring many more surprises.

I have been spending most my time on a project for my Doogel. It is really starting to take shape and I cannot wait to share it with all 3 of you. There really isn’t much more going on here. Work is work, and play is play. I am now a slave to Groundhog Day routines. I can’t complain though. It sure beats persistent uncertainty.

I warned you….

I warned you that a cold front was approaching hell. I finally added a project to my “Projects” tab. I have about 10 more lined up. Hopefully, I will be able to post projects frequently if my job allows.

I decided to post my old Hangman Game. Unfortunately, I discovered several install issues while testing the process, mostly centered around the ClickOnce Module within .Net. Nonetheless, I feel that I have figured out workarounds for nearly every case. You can check out the details of the project here.

Shortly after uploading it I realized that I needed to do a couple of things to improve the project. First, I need to figure out a method of keeping track of who won the most consecutive games, etc in an effort to make the game more “playable”. Adding competitive bantor will go a long way in making a game popular. Secondly, I want to streamline the install process. Presently I am at the mercy of ClickOnce on that.

I will continue to post updates and improvements for those who like the game so check back later.




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