Those things physical

As I have aged over the past fifty or so years, I look back at the varying physical challenges that I have overcome. Many of my friends, Navy Seals, Army Rangers, and other special forces share these memories. For me, those physical challenges included Marathons, Half Marathons, working in the fishing industry, Tough Mudders, even basic training in the US Marines. All of them had their own unique obstacles and all had some blocking point that had to be overcome. As I look back, probably the most challenging of them was the UNQ platoon in basic training for the US Marines. This isn’t part of the normal training within boot camp. This was, well, unique to a small band of schmucks that couldn’t qualify with the M16 on qualification day.

I was in second phase of Marine boot camp, snapping in at Camp Pendleton when I caught pneumonia for the second time during several “pit calls” (we will get to that in a minute). While in the Navy hospital at Camp Pendleton, I had some young Marines warn me that I may get recycled, but if they offered me the “UNQ platoon” which is short for “Unqualified” that I would be better off getting recycled, and under no circumstances should I pick that platoon. They didn’t say why, but the impression that I had was that the UNQ platoon was a “super bad” place to end up at for any period of time. One of the thoughts that echoed quietly in the back of my head was that “First and foremost, all Marines are basic riflemen, and the Corps takes great pride in that”. That alone should have been a red flag. To discredit the Corps by not being able to do something as simple as shoot a rifle was about as bad as it could get.

snapping-in

I returned to the rifle range, to be greeted by one of my own Drill Instructors, Sgt. Rovenek, the “good DI” who was now the Senior DI for this “UNQ Platoon”. These were recruits that couldn’t qualify with the M16-A1 rifle during qualification day. So, instead of going on to Mess and Maintenance, the Marines instead created a platoon for the “non-hackers”. Sgt. Rovenek told me I had a choice, get recycled (again, due to pneumonia) or stay with him and the UNQ platoon and I could catch up with my regular platoon during ITS (Infantry Training School).

Hell that was an EASY call; I told him I would go with the “UNQ platoon”. I had already been in boot camp for three weeks longer than I wanted to be due to two weeks in Balboa hospital with bi-lateral pneumonia and I had NO intent of staying any longer, much less getting recycled to another platoon.

I am not sure if he smiled or frowned, but either way, the decision was made. Sgt Rovenek assembled the platoon of “unqualifying f****” on the first day and in his normally loud voice he pronounced that we owed him one hundred bends and thrusts at his cadence, and if we failed to deliver on that? We would owe him two hundred bends and thrusts, and each time we fail, it would be one hundred more on top of whatever we owed him. I knew that we could bust out one hundred easily, so no worry about that issue.

Over the two days of shooting, I noticed that ALL the DI’s were very reserved in their treatment of us “unqualified f****”. I qualified the first day, high expert, and most did, a few did not. However two days into it, we all qualified. Sgt Rovenek, true to his word, marched us to the “pit” at the snapping in range. This Pit sucked. It was about four maybe five inches deep of very fine powdery dirt. It was kind of like what women’s make up is made of; very fine, very light, goes everywhere you don’t want it to go. We assembled our weapons outside the pit and marched into this “dirt circle”.

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We began with bends and thrusts. Hands go down, feet go out, feet come back up, and the body goes up. “One Two Three Four, I love the Marine Corps”, along with other entertaining chants, and this went on to the count of about ninety something when somebody screwed up. Now? Two hundred bends and thrusts. All the while the other two junior Drill Instructors are in your face, screaming, yelling and doing very well at just pissing us off.

We were about 45 minutes into this “thrashing” when Sgt. Rovenek uttered the words “STOP!”  “SIR STOP! AYE AYE SIR!” was our response. He had us run to the ladder-well (stairs) going down to the .45 caliber pistol range, beating each other with our covers (hats) to knock the dirt off.

We then ran across the .45 range, twenty yards or so, up the other ladder-well, went into the concrete head (bathroom) that was 50 feet from the stairs, washed ourselves off as best we could, used the head if you had to, and get into formation outside the head. We were so relieved; it was OVER! Holy crud, that was a tough thrashing! “Forward march” were the words, and then?

“Column left” and right back into the pit. And we went at it again. DI’s yelling, screaming, and kicking dirt in your face, pushing you down with a boot on the back. Recruits scream, some started crying, others just getting angrier, many in a pretty serious daze. Another 45 minutes goes by, we are up to about 500 bends and thrusts when we do the same thing again, run to the ladder-well, hitting each other with our covers, across, back up, into the head, out into formation and then? “Forward march” then? “Column left” and back into the pit we went.

This was repeated over and over from about 0700 until chow time around 1100, at that point? We were mud-caked, sore, beat, angry, tired, and owed who knew how many bends and thrusts to Sgt. Rovenek. But we were thrilled, the thrashing was over. We chowed hard, seriously starving after that kind of beating and as I got into my second mouthful of that outstanding noon chow it dawned on me… We had nothing, absolutely NOTHING to do for the next three days. NOTHING.

I stopped eating and put my fork down. I realized what was about to happen to us for the next three days and the rest of today, we were going to thrash. And that is ALL we were going to do. I quit eating, and focused on drinking water… and not too much, I had seen what happened if you puked in the pit, you got to cover it up with dirt, and then? Put it in your pockets.

Been there, seen that. And no thanks. I nudged one of the guys I had made friends with, and told him what I thought. He said “No way” they won’t do that. I said ok, but I wasn’t taking chances. When we finished chow, most of the guys were fat and happy at that point, in mud caked utilities and covered from head to foot in half inch deep cracked mud. Our faces were grime streaked from sweat and fine powdery filth. The other recruits were content, chow was had, and they had survived a serious thrashing. We began marching back to the pit, and one by one, I saw the lights come on. Every recruit there had an epiphany. We had just been introduced to WHY you don’t go to the UNQ platoon.

For the next three days we spent close to 6 hours  a day or better in that pit, bends and thrusts, grenade drills, push-ups, side straddle hops, or being cockroaches that bury themselves when they die. Grenade drills involved running as hard as you could across the pit, and when the DI screamed GRENADE! You dropped like a rock into the dirt. Then when he yelled CLEAR you got up and started running again, full tilt boogie. I saw recruits puke, cry, pass out, get revived and start again. That was a thrashing that is probably the worst the military has to offer including Hell Week from the Seals or any other elite force.

By the end of the week, almost all of us were barely able to get out of the rack, and our utilities stood in the corner by themselves. I don’t know that the dirt ever came out of those “cammies”. The “UNQ Platoon” was a serious motivator…. And Sgt. Rovenek motivated the hell out of that entire platoon. It took me days to recover from that kind of beating. I didn’t know it was possible to exercise that hard, and still keep moving. Shortly after we left the rifle range, we caught up with our platoon for ITS. Infantry Training  School.

ITS was the Marine equivalent of the Navy Seals “Hell Week”.  By far, the UNQ platoon had been my “Crucible”. Today, the Marines have changed ITS into the “Crucible” where you are given little sleep, little to eat, and pushed to your limits physically, mentally and emotionally. Many times in that pit I questioned what in the hell I had got myself into, but? Quitting was never an option. Giving up was never an option. This is what separates the recruit from becoming a Marine.

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Moments. Those that stick

For the past few weeks, I have been in a combination of feeling morose, no, strike that, reflective and elated. You see, having been through many life’s experiences, a person needs to sit back and take account. Maybe not a full accounting but one that takes measure of their life. The people, the places, and of course, the events.

I look back over the years, now spanning into decades, and in that reflection, I realize that I have been most fortunate. I spent 6 years in the Marines, some of which, I have a dubious accounting of. I make jest of most of it, some funny, some making light of some very shitty circumstances, but for me, overall, it was something that I needed.

mom lynda me

Most of my life I have had a pretty lousy opinion of most authoritative figures, some conscious, some unconscious, but all in all, a pretty lousy opinion all the same. I had run ins (multiple) with an assistant principal in which I lost the battle,

every.

single.

time.

It began with witnessing the aftermath of a school mate who had committed suicide in his backyard using his dad’s .300 savage at point blank range through his mouth. The sight stays with me to this day. This was a moment that stuck.

I arrived at school that morning after seeing that bloody wad against a wall, who had been someone I knew. The principal felt obliged to explain to me and a few of my compatriots that suicide was a one way ticket on the express elevator to hell. I felt obliged to tell him where he could place his holy book and I left his office. Two days before the semester was out, he summarily dismissed me from school for a day I had missed without an excuse a few weeks earlier. It never got any better, so I finally decided that my ticket out was the armed forces, and more specifically the US Marines.

usmc-logo

In the first four years of my six year tour in the Marines, I made some serious mistakes, and had some epic adventures. I flew for the first time in my life to San Diego, CA where I attended boot camp. I traveled to Okinawa Japan, where I spent 14 months and 29 days of some of the screwiest times I had ever had. I fell in love, tried to make that a permanent situation and it blew up in my face. I ran with some great guys and laugh heartily at the temporary insanity that we all experienced over there. I had yet another run in with an authoritative figure which I handled well, in my opinion.

okinawa 83

I returned to California where I spent time in 29 Palms California. That was epic. We were assigned to go out into the field in the “Stumps” and inventory all the gear that Supply had out in the storage vans and 50 cubic inch boxes that they had scattered through the area they called “Supply”. When we arrived, we got off the “Deuce and a half” (two ton large truck), and were summarily marched to the large 20 man GP tents that were waiting for us. First thing you noticed was the heat. it was around 114 degrees Fahrenheit, and not a cloud in the sky, much less shade. The first thing they told us was at NO time were we to try to get shade in the tent, or sleep in it. It could kill you. and within the first week, one guy tried, and almost succeeded… in dying. The tent amplified the heat, it didn’t reduce it.

We had been there for two nights, where the temps dropped to about 20 degrees at night, so you bundled up in your sleeping bag on your cot and get the best sleep you could. On the second night I woke to a rumbling sound. In the haze of a good sleep I kept trying to figure out what I was hearing, and it just didn’t compute. I got up, and looked down and noted that there was running water on the ground. I kept thinking “what the fuck” did someone take a leak in the tent? Then two things happened. I realized that the folks that originally setup the entire supply camp had placed it in a very old dry river bed. and that we had a 3 or 4 foot wall of water coming at us.

The mad scramble to get our shit out of the tents, up the sides of the river bank was something you would see in the three stooges movie clips. We had our cots and gear floating downriver, the tent collapsing, and the water was rising. After a few minutes the water was from bank to bank and flowing furiously. a couple of guys went downstream a bit before they came out spitting muddy water and cussing like only a Marine can.

When first light came around the water was almost gone but with that? so were the big wooden boxes with a LOT of our supplies in them. Everything from tires to electronic chips to starters to repair parts for just about everything. and as we looked down the creek bed we saw tires sticking up out of the dirt, boxes buried by dirt, and all we could say was “HOLY SHIT”… So we spent the next three months sifting through and digging supplies out of the dirt all down the creek bed. Needless to say we were cussing the folks who initially planted our Supply depot in the middle of a creek bed. In seven different languages.

So after weeks in the heat, freezing at night, and living in the desert, it was getting old. I started walking to the concrete head (showers and bathroom) that they had in this camp. I was walking in the required red shorts, white t shirt, and either boots or shower shoes, carrying my shit shower and shave bag along with towel, pretty much on autopilot just slogging through another day. I look to my left, and I see a naked woman. running. I rubbed my eyes, shook my head, opened my eyes as she went right past me. naked as a jaybird.

It was a woman Marine, who had started out from the Women Marines tent, that was surrounded by concertina wire to keep the males out. (believe it or not) and she was scootin down the dirt road heading for the other end of the camp. I looked down the road and saw what appeared to be either a Colonel or Lt Colonel just chewing the shit out of a very young Marine who had obviously done something he didn’t like while on guard duty. This was the entrance to the camp, and the guard was required to stop every vehicle and ask them some kind of asinine question… anyhow, they both stopped, mid sentence and watched the gal sprint on by, laughing her ass off.

The officer then shouted at the guard to go catch her. He ran after her asking, no PLEADING for her to stop and she just kept trucking, dodging this way and that, laughing the whole time. He finally tackled her, and quickly covered her in his jacket and she kept laughing. I found out later that the gals had a connection with Motor T, and got a bottle of tequila brought in.. The gals proceeded to get pretty shit faced, and they bet her five bucks she wouldn’t streak through the camp. and off she went.

Later, a group of us were talking about it, and they went on and on about how stupid it was to do, funny, but just stupid.. Then I popped up, and said, well, while we are here in the “Stumps” baking every day, she is back in the BEQs in Pendleton, 3 people per room and has AC.. not sure how stupid that is.. they stopped, and agreed. Fast times in 29 Palms.

streaking

I also got to spend time in San Luis Obispo, and of course the fun loving town of Oceanside. All this, and more, courtesy of the USMC. I decided to get out in 1985 and go home via a road trip that I had planned for months. I rode my motorcycle from San  Diego, to Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Park, Yosemite, and made a grand tour of freedom after my first tour in the Corp.

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I spent a few days in Kings Canyon, then made my way to Yosemite National Park. I was told there were no camping spots available, and that I could ask the local ranger if they had a spot at each campground. I found a ranger who looked at me, then at my gear, then asked, “You in the Marines”? I said that I had just got out. He smiled, put his hand out, and replied “Semper Fi”. He too had been in. He pointed up a gully and said that I could camp there, but watch out for the mosquitoes. He wasn’t kidding. My helmet stayed on, as did my clothing while I put up my tent. Once inside, I had all I needed, a six pack of beer and a smile that wouldn’t quit. This was one of those moments that stick. Lying in a tent, in Yosemite National Park, a beer in hand and nothing but time… It was glorious

When you find yourself actually in a dream that you had been working on for months? It feels good, in fact, beyond measure. Happiness doesn’t begin to describe the elation of that experience. I can’t recommend it enough to anyone. Over the next few days, I went from California to New Mexico where I prepared to leave for Alaska.

You see, I had also bought a ticket to visit my older brother in Alaska. While I was enlisted in the Corps, my brother left Texas and New Mexico and went to Alaska. Over the next four years, I received these wild letters and pictures of my brother and some of his adventures in AK.

garrett-and-daonne

I was truly impressed and felt I had to go explore Alaska. I spent a few weeks there, did a 10 day kayak trip into Prince William Sound, and fell in love with AK. I watched Orcas by the kayak, spent nights in a tent on the shore of a glacier and listened to it growl. The feeling of complete freedom, and a respect for nature and all she had? this was another one of those moments that sticks

orca

I returned to New Mexico and found myself exactly where I had left. Lousy no pay job, no education, and heading nowhere fast. I reminisced about the Corps and talked myself into re-enlisting, and with that? I was sent to North Carolina, and shortly after that, to the Mediterranean, where I got to explore Europe which I also fell in love with. The people were welcoming once they got past the “you are a rude American” opinion. and I explored with gusto. On board ship, I got to experience what the first navigators of the ocean must have had. The stars were from horizon to horizon and there were so many! The sky was packed with stars, and finally I could understand how you could navigate by them, and fall in love with crossing the ocean. We would lay out on the flight deck and just watch the sky, another moment that sticks.

stars

My Lt who was in charge of Supply had decided that the warehouse would be on the LKA while he and the office staff were on the LST, a flat bottomed “Gator Freighter” where the brass of our MAU (Marine Amphibious Unit) were going to be. He was a fantastic brown noser, but not much more when it came to planning. That left us on a ship that never pulled into the same port they did. Which meant we were on our own as long as we kept our heads down, and after a rather terse discussion with the other Corporal, we all decided to stay quiet. We ducked our heads, stayed low key, and we “skated” while we were in the Med… We didn’t pull duty, we didn’t pull guard watch, my troops didn’t have to pull mess duty, this was golden.

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We were able to go out on liberty every night, go on every tour that the ship offered,  and had no one to answer to. No duty, no watch, no responsibility other than to ourselves. Marines NEVER get it that good, but by god we did. And we went from one end of Europe to the other, and saw as much of it as we could. Another moment that sticks

backpack

My plan, while being in the Corps, was to save my money, and each year, take my leave and return to Alaska with the hope of buying land and a home. And by the time I retired? I would have a place I loved and it would be bought and paid for. Have you ever heard of “better laid plans of mice and men”? I spent endless hours buying books from our catalog and from mail order companies, then studying in great detail my routes to Alaska and places I wanted to see. I bought my backpacking gear with every intent on using it as often as I could just to prep for AK. I fantasized, I planned, I dreamed. On the mess deck I was living the dream of returning to Alaska.

mess-deck-1986

Eventually I was medically discharged, so my retirement plans vanished, but my plans of being in AK did not. And this is one of the most exciting memories of those days. I bought a small RAM D50 pickup truck, and with my dad’s help, put a small camper shell on it, built some small cabinets over each wheel well, and laid a foam crate type layer in the bed where I would sleep for the next two years. My father, who had divorced my mom when I was 12, and left us cold? Well, after years of being pissed off to no end, I had finally made peace with. and his helping me with that truck was a moment that stuck.

The adventure of going back up to Alaska was a dream reborn. I drove from New Mexico, visited some friends in Oceanside on my way up to Cordova, AK. We had all got out of the Corps about the same time, and they were all just hanging out in a 2 bedroom apt on the beach. about 6 or 8 guys sharing an apartment, but free of the suffocation of the military and the freedom to do as we pleased. Most had jobs that barely paid the bills, but it was freedom, that is much maligned by my civilian friends that have no understanding what freedom truly is. Let me repeat that. Civilians, never having served in the military have NO idea. This was a moment that stuck.

For about a week, I just relaxed with some great guys, and enjoyed Southern California. But eventually I had to pack and go. I was heading to Alaska. I loaded up and moved on. One of my regrets was not getting everyone’s full names and phones, as last name basis doesn’t go far in white pages. Sometimes even both names don’t work in looking up old friends.

I got to Oregon, and while there I stayed on the beach in a campground for a day. It was raining so I got my fishing gear on, and went for a walk down the beach. I can remember feeling incredible, I was, after all, a free man. I am sure the people who saw me out dancing a jig in yellow rain gear during a downpour on the beach was an odd sight indeed, but I cared not. The sheer overwhelming emotional overload of no longer having anyone to answer to was a joy. Those that have never served in the military will never understand what I am talking about. This was again, a moment that stuck.

rain-dance

Over the years, I have had so many moments like these, moments that have been my candle in the dark, or the impetus to plan yet another adventure that would make this life just that much sweeter. Since then, I have been blessed with the company of my wife, who was also my high school sweetheart. Lynda of whom I have multiplied those moments that stick by a factor of thousands.

I hope, no, strike that, I would ask, that each of you who read this? follow Mark Twains suggestion, and join me in those “moments that stick”.

 

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.

So throw off the bowlines.

Sail away from the safe harbor.

Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Explore.

Dream.

Discover.

– Mark Twain

Categories: Adventure, Adventure Travel, Backpacking, Bail on facebook, Camping, Family, Friendship, Hiking, like, Living Passionately, Love, Reconnection, Relationship, Spiritual | Leave a comment

Musings on a ski lift

My wife and I just recently enjoyed Christmas with my family in Salida Colorado. This is something we do our best and pulling off each year, with the Carpenter clan getting back to enjoy each others company once again.

We are spread across the US, from my nephew in Oklahoma, my sister in Texas, the other in New Mexico, and my brother in Alaska, where I used to live. I learned to ski in Alaska, and while that may sound dramatic? to some degree, it is. But let me jump back some time before I moved to Alaska, and therein describe my love for the hobby of skiing. I say that lightly, I have never been an “expert” and my form leaves much to be desired, but? I can get down most mountains without breaking parts and pieces.

My brother, for my birthday, gave me the present of a trip to Santa Fe and to learn to ski. I was fresh out of the Marines, and was home at the time, so I said, sure? why not? Danny and his girlfriend, Rikki, showed up in Roswell, New Mexico in an early 70s or 80’s VW wagon that was held together by bailing wire, bondo, and gum. I was impressed. We hopped into the van and slid the door shut… twice. nope, three times before she would latch. Bang, and off we go. I note that both of them already have blankets out in front two seats. there are no seats in the back, just bags, clothes, and other odds and ends. But there was a piece of plywood, stretched across the back for their bed.

I sat in between the seats and blanket on and coffee in hand, we were off to Santa Fe. First gear, grind, second gear, grind, third gear, smoothly in.. finally got it in final gear on flat ground and we were moving on down the road. The only thing that was missing was a fatty and a lighter, and we would have given “Up in smoke” a run for their money. Here I was, the pretty brainwashed uptight Marine, and here is my brother and his girlfriend who lean as hard left as one can without falling off the planet. and I loved them both for it.

We pulled into Santa Fe and were at the hill at first rise of sun. I was so excited I was humming in high gear. Danny helped me pick out the first set of skis and bindings. the minute the guy saw “beginner”? He set them to release on a fart alone. and damn glad he did. I had no idea of what I was doing. I had never been on skis before, closes thing to it was inline roller skates on which I sucked, or the 10 minutes I owned a skateboard until I flew 15 feet into the air because of a pebble stopping my fat wide wheel like hitting a brick wall, wheel high, now I know why they have “skinny tires” today. and minus a few bruises and road rash.

Regardless, I am now coming up to my first chairlift experience. I manage to figure it out, albeit a bit intimated somehow. I kept seeing myself getting clobbered by the ski chair or falling out right as the lift goes out and gets up about 8 or 9 feet. (I have seen this happen) for some reason, right about that height, some people get the overwhelming urge to lean forward.. waaaaay forward and out they go. straight down for 8 or 9 feet, face first. skis explode, knees and legs get twisted in some really bad ways, and that skier is done for the season, if not forever.

However, it was a bluebird day, had snow a couple of days ago, and they had groomed green runs. those were for me, figure out how to point skis downhill and control them while have a great time in the mountains of Santa Fe. I get to the top and launch off of the lift to the snow and down the little hill.. about half way down the easy part, i catch and edge and down we go. I note other people that had gone down and I noticed how much trouble they were having getting back up.

I figured out, very rapidly, that pointing your skis down the hill and trying to stand on them is not possible in any physics related theories that you can successfully stand up on a set of skis that appear to be magnetically repelled to you or any part of your body. The skis will flee your company with gusto, leaving you poorly connected to the ski(s), or just one of them. sometimes neither. Just depends on how hard the snow gods want to laugh. In my case, they were getting started with a good chuckle

I managed to get my skis beneath me, horizontal to the mountain, with the right food on the downard edge and the left above that, now? All i had to do was push on the poles and “walla!” I would have upright stance, while all these people coming off the lift ski around me. in the middle of the ramp. I finally get up and start moving again. towards the tree line as i should be heading. put pressure on inside tow of right foot and I should start turning right…. about now.. now… now… crap.

Down again, this time? In a tree well. Ever see a tree try to eat a human? Climb into a tree well, where the snow is all but impossible to get out of. pop skis, use poles in thirty ways, toss skis up on trail, and climb.. kick, push, but climb. at the end of it? you are a frozen popsicle that just made it out of the freezer. Then the only thing you really want to do is cut the ******ing tree down and burn it to use its body to warm yours.

tree-well

In 2001 I had my most spectacular day of skiing and my most spectacular yard sale. I was skiing in June of 2001, a beautiful bluebird day in Alyeska, on top of a black diamond run that met with a nice green run, that went down, over a slight rise, then cut to the left at a slow angle. Perfect for a day of skiing in shorts, T-shirt and backpack. It simply did not get any better. I had my tunes jamming in my ears, ZZ-Top, “Pincushion” and I was flying.  That is the only way I can describe skiing, it is as if you are 6 inches off the ground and just flying… I went down the black diamond, steep, but not crazy, did my side to side motions, cutting speed to warp factor 3, and I was free. I came down, then was going over the slight rise, a gentle thing, just a slow rise to the turn coming up the song just got to “I’m a pincushion” and….

WTF?

I am upside down, my skis and boots in the air over my head, I am still moving at about 50 mph and seeing blue sky instead of snow, and I have absolutely no idea how I got there. The next thought I had? This is going to hurt. and WHAM! I land on the rough corned up snow, skis fly into the void, poles dig into the ground and instantly get yanked out of my hands and I am going ass over teakettle down the hill, then sliding on my left side trying to get some traction to stop, all to no avail. When I stop? I look back up this gentle rise and I am seeing stars….

ski-crash-1

Eventually I get up, note that one side has a great run of bloody road rash running down my arm, side and leg, with ice crystals and rock embedded in my skin, and my skis and poles? nowhere to be found. I climb up the hill in my boots, still dazed a bit, and still trying to figure out what happened.. but I am at a complete loss. I chalk it up to who knows what, find my skis and poles, and finish the run to the bottom where I load up my gear and call it a season. Next day? after screaming like a banshee as I scrubbed the ice and dirt out of my skin, I was black and blue from top to bottom on my left side, and guess what?

Still wasn’t a bad run.

But I digress, as I sit on the chairlift, I often reflect on life. I note that each time I do that, I can reflect on an earlier time in a different chairlift and create a link of sorts across time. Usually those links are poignant, reflective in just how good my life has been, both good and bad, with the good usually outweighing the bad. I think back on experiences on the ski hills I have encountered, white outs, falls, GREAT runs, really magnificent “yard sales” where you wipe out so badly that you are tempted to sell all your gear at a yard sale (provided you can even find your gear after such a legendary explosion)

I think back on the painful items, losing my Connie, and how skiing 6 days a week gave me an outlet for a kind of pain that just doesn’t go away. It may lessen, or get packed away really well, but skiing did much to help me adjust to it in 2001. It also goes back to the highlight of 2004 where on a mountain in Squaw Valley, I dropped to one knee and proposed to Lynda, my high school sweetheart. Truly a great point in my life.

Or when we reconnected and tried to ski every hill we could find as we traveled from Alaska to San Diego by way of Key West. and we found a LOT of mountains to ski down as we went through Canada, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado.. Each one having a unique mountain to ski on, and ski we did. and on each of those mountains, I took each chair ride as an opportunity to enjoy the company, and to reflect on the past, and hope for the future. But what I found more than anything else on those lifts?

Peace, happiness, and hope for the future.

Join me there, when you can, look back, reflect, enjoy the company you are with, and look to the future with a skiers heart, a skier’s point of view. and that view?

That there are no bad runs.

keystone

 

 

 

 

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Canada O’ Canada (You I will not see) Late post from 2015.

Well, another minor adventure in our travels, one of the kind that makes you want to pull your hair out, and slap people viciously…  To explain….

I have wanted a shotgun for home protection for some time. I have always had the opinion that the sound of a round chambering in a twelve gauge is unmistakable. Everyone knows that sound, “CHICK, CHAT”, and if they keep coming in our rig after hearing that? Well, their next step will be their last.

I finally came across a shotgun that fit all our needs, it has a longer barrel than I like, but it would fit the legal needs to go into Canada with it. Longer barrel, pretty much a hunting shotgun at this point. I went to the US embassy site and read up on the legalities of bringing a shotgun across the border, in a few words? Should not be a problem. I mean I sat there and read all the rules and regulations several times over, and based on my interpretation? No problem.

We chose to go through Canada primarily due to the short distance to get from Grand Rapids Michigan to Bangor Maine AND get to see Niagara Falls! woo HOO. Off we go! We arrive at the border crossing early afternoon, we have plenty of time. I have placed the ammo in a drawer that cannot be accessed and put the shotgun (empty) on the bed, and we pull up to the check point. “Passports?” Drivers license? yep yep. “Have anything to declare”? “Yep, a twelve gauge shotgun”. The guys eyes get BIG and he starts to stutter.. “Uh, you got that where exactly”? I reply, “Empty, out on the bed for easy access”. He still has those big doe eyes, “And it’s empty, right”?

Lake Harmony

I look at him funny and think what part of “empty” did you not understand boy? But I stay nice and say, “yep, it is empty”. “Do you have any other weapons”? “No” I respond, “I know that handguns are illegal in Canada”. He asks a few more questions then again, “Any other weapons”? “No” I reply while thinking to myself “What part of NO did you NOT understand boy”? But I remain pleasant. He is just doing his job. He sends us over to be inspected, which I knew was coming.

The Canadians had us get out and went into the rig after the shotgun. Meanwhile, two more join the party. The guy with the shotgun asks me if I am going hunting, and that I reply “No, just going to Niagara Falls”… Wrong answer. The cop takes the shotgun and goes inside. Then comes back out and says “Well, we don’t have any rules about just transporting your weapon into Canada, but…” We can’t allow you to take it either”. The question he had was whether I could ship on or just have to turn around at the border, and back in he went.

In the meantime, the dogs board the bus, looking for that elusive Colorado grass that they are SURE we were smuggling across from the US after declaring I had a weapon on board. Yep, I’d be that smart indeed. And of course Lynda has all manner of plants sprouting in the rig.. Looks like a regular green-house and to the untrained eye? Probably all looks a lot like pot. That mind altering plant that does all manner of nasty things to your brain. Just ask the Federal Gummint about that. Anyhow, the dogs go through, the people go through, and close to three hours later? Do we get to go to Canada?

Nope

We got sent back to the US… We didn’t do anything illegal but not quite legal either. So much for the US embassy look up that I had spent time on JUST to avoid this problem. We turn in traffic and head back to the USA.

We arrive at the US side, a quarter mile from where we just spent 3 hours having our house torn apart by the polite Canadians. But at least we didn’t have them come out waving my syringes saying “WTF is this?” Instead they looked at the legal drugs and went.. “boooooring”.

As we pulled up to the US side, the guy reacted the same way, the same doe eyes and “You have a shotgun”? Well he spent about 4 minutes putting that into a computer and sending us on to the inspection guard. This guy had us pull up and put our hands on the dash until he could see what we were doing and that we weren’t Haji, of course I SO look like a rag head bent on killing and maiming citizens of the US. He pointed us inside where a very laid back older LT. said “You did what”? and laughed. He responded that sometimes you get through and sometimes not, this must have been a not day.

He got the numbers off the shotgun and checked to make sure it wasn’t stolen. On that note, if the shotgun wasn’t registered to anyone? It is now registered to me due to that neato skeato check. The Lt. held us for a few minutes and eventually sent us on our way. All said and done? about 4 hours of waiting, being searched, and turned around, re-searched, waiting, and going on our way, several HUNDRED miles out of our way just so you know, but no worse for wear. Other than my shortening fuse…

Lesson learned.. no weapons into Canada… and Canada, O’ Canada?

You I will not see.

 

 

Categories: Adventure, Adventure Travel, Backpacking, Camping, Emotion, Facebook, Family, Friendship, gun control, guns, Living Passionately, Love, Reconnection, Relationship, RV Travel | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Whistle

I have a whistle on my keychain. My brother had borrowed my keys and asked about it, I told him it was a long tale, and I would share it at some point. Well, he got away without me explaining that story so, here goes. That whistle has significant meaning to both my wife and I, and most of her family. Let me explain, this is going to take a minute.

Going back to the 80’s when my wife and I first met, in high school. We were the average love struck teenagers and we were each other’s “firsts”. Yes, that “first”. Our first time was in the front seat of my orange Mustang Ghia (no jokes about how it wasn’t really a mustang now). We were parking one evening after visiting with a friend, Larry Clark. We had some Jack Daniels and coca cola, and were talking to Larry about his current life’s events. He and his wife were having problems, pretty significant ones, that unknown to us at the time, led it his suicide in July of 81. He was my best friend at the time, and had said nothing to me about his intent.

Larry

Anyhow, as we were about to leave Larry’s he said, “Nope, you can’t leave drinks behind” and Lynda reached over and downed the entire glass. I was shocked. Lynda never drank much, but wow, she put it down like a drunken Marine. (I became one of those in July of 1981). We went to our usual parking spot and things, well, things got carried away. We had both held back on crossing that “line” for quite some time, but she decided we were ready. Even today, when we see an orange Mustang car of any year we get quite the laugh.. and the smile.

I enlisted in the US Marines without telling anyone. I had been thrown out of high school three times and finally decided that school wasn’t for me. I had a problem with authoritative figures. So what do I do? I get my GED and run off to the recruiters and end up joining the US Marines. Lynda was rightfully hurt and angry. But I explained to her that she not only would have talked me out of it, but I had no where to go. I had no education, and the economy was in the toilet. In  a big way. A few days later I left for San Diego, and essentially said good bye to Lynda for 22 years. I spent many years wondering where she was, or who she might be with, and how she was doing. I knew I had screwed up.

mom lynda me

 

That same July, Lynda’s dad, JD Smith, sat down the the breakfast tableand calmly turned to her and asked her if she was still a virgin. You could have dropped a pin and it would have been as loud as a gunshot. Lynda looked back at him and said, “Well dad, I won’t lie to you about something that important, no I am not”. JD’s next question as he eyed the shotgun behind the door was, “Where is he”? She replied that I had just left four days earlier for the US Marines. JD got up from the table, walked outside to the porch and sat down and cried. He didn’t speak to Lynda for two weeks after that.

Now, fast forward 22 years later and Lynda and I had reconnected. We were going to Grand Junction, Colorado from Anchorage Alaska on my R1150GS BMW motorcycle to visit everyone in Colorado and then finish moving my stuff to San Diego. It seemed like a great visit, I was getting along with everyone, even JD welcomed me into the fold. I was ecstatic, I was about to have a second family, and I had history with them, knew them all. Little did I know what history was about to unfold.

bike

JD decided that we needed to go to town and pick up some items, who knows what, and invited Dan Hudson, Lynda’s uncle along. We walked out to the drive in front of the house, David, Lynda’s brother, was sitting in his wheelchair (He is a quadriplegic from a three wheeler accident) on the front porch, facing the GMC truck we were about to climb into. You see, JD had zero business driving, he was getting up in years and his eyesight was nothing to laugh at, so Dan opened the driver’s front cab door and jumped into the driver’s seat.

JD had a three door truck which had some limited seating in the back portion of it. He opened both doors on the passenger side and leaned in to clear a space for me to sit on. He was pushing pillows and other items they had brought for the trip from Roswell, New Mexico to Grand Junction Colorado. He was eager to be on the road to pick up whatever it was he needed, and I passingly noticed that Dan had found something on the steering wheel. He was staring quite intently at whatever it was and suddenly his head ducked down to the steering wheel. and…….

  TWWWWWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEETTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT   

The whole fucking world exploded into the sound of a whistle. Now, I mean the loudest damn police whistle you have ever heard, it shook the windows on the truck, hell even the windows on the house! I mean HOLY MOTHER OF GOD loud. It went on forever. Then?

Silence.

But JD shot out of the back of that truck as if his hair was on fire from the smoldering lakes of lava in hell, and that all the imps from that same godforsaken place were on his ass, and they were going to drag him straight to Hades for all the evil and wicked things he had ever done. You could almost see those demons in your minds eye, where they were all over his back and shoulders, screaming, cackling and laughing, well intent on putting him up in front of Satan for every thing wrong he had ever done. I could see them clawing and scratching, just trying to get a grip and drag him into the depths of that dark dank hole in the earth….

Well, JD was not going to go quietly, and not without one HELL of a fight. He spun around, away from the truck, and I could see his eyes, heck it was impossible not to see his eyes. He had glasses like coke bottle bottoms that magnified those eyeballs a hundred fold, and all I could see in those huge orbs was the total fear of those imps reaching for his soul. He was so scared that he couldn’t even scream, all he could get out was, “NNNNNYYYYYYYAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!” and he saw me. No actually, he didn’t see me, what he saw was something blocking his escape from all those demons that were upon him, and there was nothing in this world going to stand in his way. NOTHING. Not God himself would have been able to slow him down. Those eyes that belonged to JD were huge, bulging, and in complete and utter panic, and I happened to be standing in his way.. that was not going to work for JD in that moment.

I saw his right fist come up out of the south forty and “biff!!” he caught me in the chin. All this as I spun to get out of his way. It was a weak grazing blow from a 72 year old man to the chin, kind of like a light whiffle bat catching me on the edge of the jaw, but it caused me to rotate, giving this rocket propelled devil magnet, a way out, and he looked like a man with his hair was on fire and his ass was catching. JD flew past me in such a manner that the wind sucked me into his wake. And he was gone.

Just like that. I mean gone. and me? I was standing there totally dumbstruck still trying to figure out exactly what in the hell had happened. I looked back towards the truck and there in the front seat with a police whistle dropping out of his mouth, was Dan, and he was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe. He had tears streaming down his cheeks and the look of someone who had just pulled off the gag of the year. My eyes glanced sideways to the house, and David, Lynda’s brother, sitting in his wheelchair had tears streaming down his eyes, and his problem? He was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe either.

JD? at the other end of the yard… Eyes darting madly trying to figure out where all those imps that just about had him were gone. Patting himself to be sure they didn’t take a piece of him to hell for a taste test. I looked back at Dan, and now he was doubled over from laughing so hard, and Dave? Still couldn’t breathe. I kept wondering if these two jerks were going to pass out from laughing so hard. I still hadn’t figured it out.

You see, JD had this police whistle on his steering wheel just in case.. He had fallen years before during a cold November day in New Mexico in his “back forty” and had broken a hip. He couldn’t get up, and couldn’t make enough noise for anyone to hear. He almost went hypothermic before a friend happened to stop by and found him freezing to death outside. After that? He carried a police whistle in his truck just in case that ever happened again.

Dan found it on the steering wheel, and knowing that JD was as jumpy as a tick on methamphetamines, he knew blowing that whistle for all he had would scare the bejeezus out of JD.. and it did. Worked like a charm, JD turned into a rocket propelled devil magnet and I just happened to be in the way. A sock to the jaw, I moved, and so did JD, at just under sonic speed.

After all the laughter died down and after JD’s heart rate got down to 200 beats per minute, we all laughed, shook hands and went inside to share the tale. After everyone else quit laughing, someone, not sure who said something to the effect, “Hey JD, guess what?” “You got to sock the guy that fooled with your daughter”. And in that moment? JD kind of processed that thought and his chest swelled, and he said “You know something?”

“You’re right”

Shortly after that I received a wooden plaque from my future parents in law. When Lynda and I had reconnected, I had asked for their blessing of our marriage. It took them awhile, but guess what?

I got it… Once her mom got over the huge shiner that Lynda had when we showed up at their house, but that?

Is another story

 

 

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Christmas! (and Landmines) and Angels Galore

Well, we have settled (for the time being) in Grand Junction, Colorado. We decided to park it here in Colorado for a plethora of reasons, however the main reason was that Lynda is pursuing her Masters in Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The cancer she was diagnosed with, and sentenced to, has been dealt with, a stage 4 prognosis that western medicine states that there “is no cure” seems to have been cured.

Lynda

Now, we are always reluctant to scream out “CURE” as cancer can be a sneaky bastard. so we go with NED.. (No Evidence of Disease). We have been in Colorado for what, a year and a half? 6 months in Breckenridge two winters ago, and last year here in Grand Junction. It has been pleasant, and we seem to be settling in nicely, but one never knows what the future may or may not hold. The past, however, is a different beast.

Lynda and I finally retrieved our stored “stuff” in San Diego, of which, included our Christmas decorations. We were both really looking forward to putting up the tree with our own stuff, and items with history to them. I began pulling the boxes from our shed and garage, and Lynda began putting them up including the fake tree

“click”

“What was that”?

“Hmmm hmm hmm” listening to country Christmas music we laughed and guffawed, eager to setup our home in the best of the festive new year.

BOOM

crater

Landmine.

I opened a box of ornaments, and staring me in the eyes was an ornament that Connie, my first wife who I lost to pancreatic cancer, was lying. It hit me like a brick. The date on the ornament was  1997 and I found myself propelled back to our home in Alaska, putting up the tree, along with my two cats, Einstein and Champagne, and I was acting a fool watching the two cats bat the balls around or chasing tinsel. Suddenly I realized that those days were long gone. She was gone. As were my cats. And I know that doesn’t sound like much, but they were my first family… and they weren’t coming back. It hurt.. soul deep.. something that is expected to last a lifetime? Doesn’t.

Connie

I  have spent much of my life trying to anticipate what was coming next, simple things like how long my truck would last, or heck, even if the stock market was going to go up or down.. you name it, I have continually failed at guessing what the future holds.. But I sure as hell didn’t foresee Connie dying, or my family vanishing one by one. I mean, yeah, I know that the cats had an “end of life” time on them, but while you are living the life, we simply don’t comprehend that end.

my einnie 2

And when it happens? It is as if your world suddenly stops spinning and there is this “Holy shit” moment that is impossible to describe.

At the same time, Lynda stepped on one, and it was an ornament that her mom’s picture was on. It was an emotional scene. We didn’t break down and lose it, but neither of us were far from it. Then? Top all that emotional energy  and with the fact that based on western science, Lynda shouldn’t be here either.

At that point we decided to go get me some coffee… (any excuse to take a breather). It is at moments like these that we realize how tenuous our lives are here on this planet, and all of us should celebrate each moment we have with ones that we love.. Because sometimes that 100 years you are given at the start of life, suddenly becomes a lot less.

We took the break, did some reminiscing, took stock of where we were and where we are. Dabbed our leaking eyes, steeled our hearts, and went back to it again. This time? Not so bad. the initial blasts caught us off guard, but only for a moment. I think that our experiences, our losses, have taught us to cherish what time we have, however much that may be, and to be mindful of our pasts, to not repeat any mistakes we have made over the years. and we both have made our few.

This year, we celebrate 10 years married, 12 years together, a record for us both. It has been by far, the best years of my life. I shudder to think what would have happened if Lynda had lost her fight as Connie lost hers. I won’t waste anytime contemplating nightmares, but I will, however, share a story about what I consider to be an angel among us.

 Angels – you never know when they might pop up.

 

Lynda was in bad shape. She was officially stage 4. This is terminal in any doctors book. And with breast cancer that has metastasized to the bone, it is a fast moving prognosis.

We had gone to Arizona to get her treated holistically by a naturopath Dr. Joe Brown. First, don’t let anyone tell you that holistic therapy is any less painful than allopathic (standard medicine). This was not the case for Lynda.

Lynda was in pain from the shots she received, and was not doing well at all. We had no idea if we were winning the war on her cancer or losing it. The xrays showed a spot on her shoulder that we refused to have biopsied, but we were sure it was cancer that had metastasized. This is commonplace for breast cancer..

The therapy was very expensive and insurance didn’t cover any of it. This was all out of pocket. We spent somewhere around 50-70K treating Lynda. We had cashed out our savings, our retirement and were going all out. For me it was an easy choice. I can survive without retirement, but I wouldn’t make it long without my wife.

I was working 4 ten hour days in San Diego, then driving to Mesa, AZ when I got off work and stayed with Lynda until I had to go back. I would go to therapy with her, hold her at the townhouse that her brother had bought earlier that year and let us use for free. (It was a rental property for him that he had just purchased). I will never be able to thank David enough for that place for her to stay.

I was exhausted. We were in financial binds that Lynda knew nothing about, we were looking at losing our house, most of our cash, and I was truly surprised that she still had a job.  Emotionally I was trashed. I was tired from the driving back and forth to CA, but I hoped that I showed none of this in front of Lynda. I told her from the start I was her “rock”. I would hold the course when nothing else could. She could stand on me, hold me, and I would always be there for her, no matter what. And if she got too tired to fight the battle? Somehow, I would find a way to fight it for her.. no matter the cost.

I had just left her at the townhouse, and was heading back to San Diego. I found a cornerstore to gas up at. I reached in my wallet and was scrounging for cash or card. We had spent a fortune, and money was starting to get tight. I think that was an understatement, it was tight… Medical expenses were stacking up, the house payment was looming and I was stressed. I stepped out of the car, swiped my card, and started pumping gas. Out of nowhere, this black guy comes around from in front of my truck and starts talking.

The first thought that goes through my head is “Shit, I am about to get mugged”. And as he stops, and begins to speak, I “SEE” this guy. I will never be able to explain this, but here is this guy, my height, but muscular, I mean in really good shape, dreadlocks, dressed neatly. I mean not ghetto, not all thrashed like most bums, but cleanly.. and he is asking for money. any change I can spare. but what has my attention is the aura of this guy. His presence… Suddenly?

The world gets small. and quiet. one minute I can hear the traffic, the planes people talking on their cell phones, doors to cars opening and closing and suddenly?

Nothing. Not a sound. It was as if time was displaced.

It is as if the universe just took in it’s breath, and is waiting to see what I do. In that moment, I was convinced I was looking at an angel. I can’t explain it any other way, and I am not a Christian by any stretch. But somehow this guy was a turning point in my life.. How I treated him would be given back to me… Ten Fold.  I could turn him down and send him on his way, and I was convinced that if I did?

The same would be done to me. I too, in some way, would be turned down. When I say that, I mean that if I decided to brush this guy off like I normally did most people begging for money, the universe would treat me the same way… Brush off any requests that I had made. Including the life of my wife…

I stopped him, told him to hang on a moment, and went into the store. I could see his shoulders sag a bit, and his smile lose some of its shine, and the world seemed to go a little darker. I went to the ATM and pulled out what I could afford to give, and then some. I went back and placed the bills in his hand,  and told him that it was what I could give.

The smile he put forth lit the area up. Suddenly the world was in motion again with the sounds and smells filling the air. He hugged me, thanked me for the cash, and walked away. I turned to look at my truck then back to where he had headed. He was gone. I mean POOF. He should have had another 200 feet to go, but he either moved quickly or something else happened.

At that moment, all the anxiety, fear, anger and sadness was gone. I mean gone. And filling it was the absolute certainty that my wife and I would be together for a long time. Lynda has often questioned how I can be so sure about her health. How can I not question everything? and in that, I can only reflect on that moment, that I had met something, someone that I could never explain, but the interlude left a lasting impression.

Now, since then we have had our challenges, and our scares, but today? she is still by my side, still healthy, and still my first and last love in life. That guy that I met? May very well have been just a bum and I was just tired and exhausted. Me? I like to think that it was a test. A challenge of my basic humanity, of who I am as a human being.

And like that test of my humanity, so are these “land mines”. they are a test of the love we still hold for those that have passed, and our love for those that are with us still. Not all landmines kill, some reaffirm our lives and our humanity

What I would ask of each of you that read this, reflect some, and hold those near you a little closer this year, and the strangers that you meet? Help where you can, you never know who they might truly be.

Merry Christmas to all. Be kind, open your heart, and help where you can.

 

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Grenade… How quaint

You know, I just saw a quick cut of a movie called “The Faults in Our Stars” about a young girl with cancer and her life story. (I have avoided it like the plague as I don’t need any more emotional roller coaster rides from hell than I already have, thank-you-very-much)

She explains to someone that she is a “grenade”, and that, my friends is a pretty good descriptor. What she missed is, that she is a faulty grenade, as the pin is pulled the the timer?

Hand-Grenade-Pin-Out-848915
has a mind of its own

Anyone who has had the word “cancer” and their name used in the same sentence understands exactly what I mean. When someone does that to you, suddenly you become a grenade. A faulty one. You may go off, you may not. The pin may get reset, or you may stand there for years, staring at that fucking pin and that damn grenade and wonder, “Exactly when are you going to explode”?

Then the clock starts. You don’t know how much time you  have. Nor does anyone else. But a lot of them step away from you pretty quick or hide behind life avoiding the blast if they can. At least limit the damage they will experience. Tick tick tick.. fucking life’s clock just keeps on going. In the meantime? You stand there staring at the pin trying to figure out exactly why it got pulled and whether or not you can put it back in.

Then the circus begins.. A true three ringed circus, clowns and all. The doctors that are looking at another grenade, working to slow the timer. Nurses poking and jabbing, they too, doing what they know how to do to slow the tick tick tick of that fucking grenade. Then you begin to wonder, what can I do? what can my spouse do? what can anyone do? and in the background of life you hear that god damned timer still ticking.

You research, study, learn things about health and life that you really wish you hadn’t. and not sure exactly what to believe as half the shit on the internet is someone trying to make a dime, and statistics are made up 73% of the time on the spot. The deeper you dig the more confusing it gets. You hope for something, anything to help silence that ticking sound that is scratching at your brain like a splinter in your hand that you can’t get out. It is maddening. And still you hold that fucking grenade and pin…

Hand-Grenade-Pin-Out-848915

 

Slowly, if you are that lucky, you realize a couple of things. While you are driving yourself mad trying to stop  that fucking ticking sound, you can forget the single most important thing that you should be doing…

Living

Each tick is a moment wasted if you aren’t doing what you truly love. Each tick is something you cannot get back. Time is a commodity that you cannot trade or earn, you get what you get. So for those of you out there reading this? If you think cancer patients are the only folks holding a grenade in their hand waiting for that horrific moment that it decides to go off?

They aren’t the only ones.. You might want to look in your hands and see that each of us have pulled that pin, and time, for all of us is winding down. Cancer patients may have a shorter run of it, they may not. After you read this, you might want to re-examine where you are and what you are doing. If you aren’t doing what you love to do and who you love to do it with?

You might wanna change that before that fricking grenade in your hands goes off.

crater

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Resilience

I read a post on the New York Times today, about a lady, Lisa Boncheck, who recently died from metastatic breast cancer. In the world of cancer, this is not unusual. In fact, in almost every case, when you are diagnosed with metastatic cancer of any kind, the diagnosis is almost always fatal. In fact here is the quote that I read years ago.

“The American Cancer Society (ACS) states that the five-year survival rate after diagnosis for stage 4 breast cancer patients is 22 percent.”

Other quotes are considerably less, and, as the years progress, the survival rate drops over time. It truly depends on a multitude of variables, and for some, just dumb luck seems to be the case. Each person picks their mode of therapy when first diagnosed with cancer, of any kind, and personally I do not believe there is a right or a wrong, only what works for that person.

Sometimes the patient gets lucky and they find a therapy that kills cancer outright. Others are not so fortunate. Still, others find therapies that function for a while, then, like a bad penny, the cancer re-appears and the patient is given options from everyone. I know we certainly were. And while everyone, including the health care folks, mean well, it is a very, very personal fight. I know, I have watched my mom fight lung cancer, my first wife Connie fight pancreatic cancer, and finally my high school sweetheart and my wife of almost 10 years fight breast cancer as well.

And being the “support guy” I could not, cannot tell you how crazy that battle is. I have watched each of those ladies fight the most personal war of their lives. Each trying to find a way to come to grips that this mortal conflict was both private as hell and as public as it can be. Everyone wants to know how you are doing. Privately each of these ladies could bare their emotions to me. At least to some degree, each holding back what they feared would topple my sanity. On the other hand I was also the sounding board for the fear that held them in a lover’s embrace. Fear of life, fear of death.

On one hand no one wishes to die, to throw off these mortal coils and see what happens next. On the other hand, to live in constant misery of chemotherapy and radiation, each a miserable wreck on the body, in the far reaching hope that somehow this might be the answer to a cure. That by some miracle, walking through this physical hell you might obtain the brass ring in the merry go round of life and get to stay for just a bit longer. And in all honesty?

That is one fuck of a long shot.

Then there are friends that try to help, and like me, find that there is a serious lack of words and honesty. You can’t allow the elephant in the room to grow any larger, but day by day, bit by bit, that elephant fills the room. Until it is much to late to even acknowledge it, and suddenly that elephant is gone, as well as the person that was hiding it.

The lady that wrote her blog and had a lot of followers was brutally honest and descriptive of her experience with breast cancer. I have read only bits and pieces of it, as I find it much too easy to let my mind revisit days of lying with Connie as her cancer marched on with the sounds of gestapo boot heels in the corridors of my mind. It is all too familiar to allow myself to re-visit, so to me, it is something to avoid. Her words and her actions were much the same for my ladies, painful, loving, and honest. An honesty that escaped my Connie.

My mom was beyond forthright, she tackled death with as much energy as she tackled life. When she realized that time was rapidly fading (and long before the movie “Bucket List” came out)

bucket-list-quote1

She determined that she would take care of her “final arrangements” and was calling all the funeral homes in Albuquerque. She finally called one who explained to her that it would cost about nine hundred dollars to cremate her, then there was the container which would vary in cost from three hundred to several thousand. She popped off “Why can’t I just come out in whatever box I am in”? and the response from the curator was “That would hardly be appropriate”.

She laughed and told him, “I am gonna be dead, I could care less what I come out in”. “In fact, hell, you could take me out in a coffee can”. then she summarily hung up the phone and turned to my younger sister and told her “That’s it!” “You can put me in a Folgers Coffee can”.. “Just make it Gourmet Blend” and off she went.. laughing the entire way. And, what remains of her ashes are in a Gourmet Folgers coffee can to this day.

Mom and Halibut

 

My Connie did not have such  a sense of humor. Her defense was denial. While she went through chemotherapy (what little she could tolerate) she simply would not speak of the finality of her disease. The cancer she had was pancreatic, and it was easier to say where the cancer was not, than it was to say where the cancer was. They had missed the diagnosis for probably five years or better. By the time they found the cancer, it was everywhere.

The oncologists were truthful, Dr Stewart informed here there was little they could do. Connie insisted on trying. and after repeating that comment several times to the doctor, I finally pulled the oncologist off to the side and explained to her that while I knew there was little she could do, “by god she would get on board and do something, if nothing else to give Connie peace of mind”. When she saw the anger in my eyes and my clenched fist, she got on board.

One hundred and sixty three days, and my girl was gone. We did all that western medicine could do for both Connie and my mom, but the hard fought battles were lost. In both cases, I closed off those last days in a very tightly sealed corner of my brain, only to revisit them in times of sorrowful loss and woeful memory. Something I do not allow myself to experience any more than I absolutely have to.

Connie

Then in 2006 Lynda’s mom was diagnosed with lung cancer. and shortly after that? Lynda was diagnosed with stage 3a breast cancer. My absolute worst fears had just returned. Understand this, there is little, if anything that I truly fear in this world. The last man I ever feared was my Marine Drill Instructor and during that training, I learned that there was no longer any reason for that trepidation ever again. Until I was faced with a demon I could not wrap my hands around.

Cancer is that devil. No person in this world can hold that emotive response over me. I either lose or I win in combat, but there is no need to dread it. But when there is a disease that threatens the one thing that you hold most dear and you discover that you cannot grapple with the bastard? That is the feeling of someone walking over your grave, and you are aware of it. To sit back and be able to do nothing is the hardest single thing in your life you will ever do as a caregiver.

Yes, I can research, I can study, I can chase down all the potential therapies day and night. I can discuss those until the cows come home, but other than that? There is nothing to kill that enemy, no way I can plunge a knife into it, wrap my hands around its throat and choke the life out of it. I can do nothing but be there. It is a sense of foreboding that I do not wish on anyone.

I also determined that if that is all I can do? Then perform that duty as best I can. Be the support, be that rock that my wife can depend on.. at all times. I think that for those that have played this role? you will understand more than most. It was an honor to escort my mom and my first wife to their next lives. and an absolute nightmare as the person being left behind at the door to that life.

Lynda chose a different modality. She felt that chemo and radiation were a bad idea. We went through a boatload of cash, a few friends, and drove some of our family nuts. She stuck with the concept that something was out of balance, and once discovered and corrected, that her body would heal itself. My skepticism was tempered by the fact that most who had chosen standard western medicine were dead. So to quote Albert Einstein, “Insanity: to do the same thing over and over and expect different results” echoed in my head. So I shut my trap and got on board. I researched we researched. We had trials and tribulations we had success and failure. But at the end of the day?

Lynda is healthy and still by my side.

Colorado Mesas

Coming back around to the start of this post. Some choice news editors had unfriendly or misplaced words for the lady who has just passed. Those posts seem to have been taken down due to the lack of civility or perhaps crass nature, I am unsure. But to those that criticize the writers of this new epidemic, and yes, cancer truly is an epidemic, I say this. Before you lash out with uncivil comments or some incredible argument against those that are fighting and are leaving their thoughts and hearts for posterity.

Try having someone use your name and the word “cancer” in the same sentence. It will change your life forever.

For you critics out there, that feel the need to hassle this gal at the last day of her life?

 

I leave this:

monkey 1

Namaste…

Categories: Adventure, Adventure Travel, Backpacking, Bail on facebook, Camping, Cancer, dislike.. a lot, Downhill Skiing, Facebook, Family, Friendship, Living Passionately, Love, Reconnection, Religious, Social Media, Spiritual, unlike | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Break Time

Over the past few years I have joined Facebook with a passion. A place to post funny cat pictures, make a political rant, and with any luck at least get people to think about some political issue. If I was passionate about it, smart about it, or had a fancy meme, maybe I could change some minds and attitudes. In fact, in a small way, I could change the fricking world!

I was wrong

Hes right

It turned out to be a place to spew my opinion and any one who dared question it I would launch with hastily looked up data from dubious sources and convince them (or me) otherwise. What a waste of time.. I mean that. I have spent countless hours wailing away on cyberspace where most folks, like me, toss out their opinion based on what they have derived from whatever sources and then argue to the nth degree over essentially this point.

It is totally out of our control. I can’t change the political winds of this world anymore than I can change the time of the tide. and the same goes for just about everyone on the other side. We rant, we rave, we point fingers and accomplish nothing. Not one single problem the world is facing is being solved by arguing on Facebook. I manage to alienate people, piss them off, or just get a LOL and off they go. and nothing was gained. This should not be my focus, yet like a deer to a set of headlights, off I ride tilting wind mills again.

I won’t be solving the problem in fukushima, or the dog fighting in Detroit.  I can’t stop the cat killings in China or change the heading of our country. I sit and watch what I consider an irrational fear of everything that this country has become. We bounce from one emergency to the next. Gun control because of the gun nuts, no gun control because of the bad guys. Ebola in Africa coming to kill us all, some Haji in Iraq gonna shoot us all dead, School shootings, dog shootings animal rapings, in fact, words in cyber space are easily ignored, or liked and life goes on.

I understand that as I am as guilty as the next person. I try to stay above the fray, to focus on the good things, the up-worthy posts, or the cute advertisements about some guy making a difference while still remaining anonymous. you know the one, the guy who gets soaked by a water spout and  moves the plant under the water, rescues the dog and the beggars that he is giving money to, the little girl ends up in school. The ad is referred to as the “unsung hero”.

There is the point. He didn’t take a dozen pics of the little kid and post them on Facebook, he went home with a smile. What he did required action, not words. (Sounds like a song from Def Leppard)He didn’t go toot his horn about how great he was or what a good thing he did, he just did it. (and of course this is an advertisement, it is not real life). But the point has been made

But people do this all the time, take on a cause. Sometimes with success, sometimes not. I have taken on a couple, with mixed success. But each one had an effect on someone’s life. So, having some success has given me the desire to have a little more.. To help someone who can use it. To be “mindful” of other’s problems and do what I can to assist. I am not a world changer, not out to create a new order. Just out to make someone’s life a little easier. Give them a break, and maybe they will pay it forward. Maybe not.

I have become stunned at the amount of negativity on Facebook and the news in general. I know I shouldn’t be, as that is what sells. The next big drama, the next war, the next scary thing. Examples of that would be the following, you can pick your poison

  1. Global Warming
  2. Terrorists
  3. Anti-vaccines
  4. Ebola
  5. Russia
  6. China
  7. Syria
  8. Pot smokers
  9. Gay lifestyle
  10. American Taliban (hard core religious folks in the US)
  11. Cancer
  12. Venereal Disease (in any form)

facepalm1

All this negativity sells. The crap that the news agencies spew gets everyone in a panic for a couple of months, then it is on to the next made up disaster. I have tried to watch this without over (or under) judging. I have come to the conclusion that the news agencies rule the hell out of this country. They can start a panic, or create an issue where there isn’t one. Does anyone remember President Obama not wearing an american flag pin label on his jacket? The right would have hung him for being a subversive terrorist… oh, wait, they did that.

obamaflagpin

Back to my point. Somehow some obscure issue becomes front page news overnight with all the headlines screaming how we in the US are ALL about to die from Ebola! Measles! Terrorists! Bad Hair!

States-Seeking-CDC-Help-with-Potential-Ebola-Cases-640x480jpg

The part that I just find disappointing is that today? America has become paranoid and ripe with absolute chicken shits with zero spine. A group of people that get crazy about our politicians but never once have called their elected leader, or ever even sent them an email. I suppose that in addition to being a convict, a politician should have taken mind-reading 101. and THAT folks, is pointed directly at ME as well as anyone else that has this hanging over them. If we spent half the time writing our congressmen about our bitches and complaints, maybe something would actually CHANGE? So a new goal for me.. bitch as much to the politicians through their email as I did on Facebook.. (this should prove to be interesting) Make your congresspersons email as busy as your Facebook page.

On with the rant

A group of people that can go absolutely ballistic on another poster on Facebook, and god forbid that you agree with the one being targeted. I have seen people immediately stoop to cursing, ranting wildly, and in a sense, just lose their minds for a short while. Then I wonder what they are like in the real world. Is Facebook a place to put all civility aside and just run off until you spew out all your toxic garbage?

rant-and-repent

I have concluded that as much as I hate to admit it, I too have zinged those that disagree, after all, they dared to disagree with all the facts that I hastily looked up on the web, and since they are on the web, they MUST be TRUE!!!!! whoops, maybe not… dammit they were wrong.

In the meantime, the “shots across the bow” then label me as liberal, or right winger, or something else I can’t repeat here, after all this is a G rated site. Then everything goes up a notch as I am none of the above. My ideals have changed as the winds do, as the tide does. With experience and knowledge my opinions and actions have changed accordingly, and will do so again, I am sure.

So two weeks out and I don’t seem to miss the forray as much as I thought I would. In fact, I am finding less mental stress, more time to do things than bitch, and… working towards making my life better in hopes that others may follow. Will see what it all becomes. For those out there still pushing the envelope on social communication, a friend of mine, John Eberst, made a couple of suggestions should I ever decide to return to the social media world.

John, thanks for the quote: “What I decided to do is just not pay attention to any (most) conversation(s) that looked troublesome.  I turn notifications off on posts if they degrade and I stopped a lot of the group feeds that I was getting.  I miss some of the fun but I would get pissed off when people revert to name calling or some smug sophomoric argument.  The FB algorithms seem to be good and now I rarely see things that make me lose faith in our species”.

Well said my friend, well said.

Hippiness

 

Categories: Bail on facebook, dislike.. a lot, Facebook, Family, Friendship, like, Reconnection, Social Media, unlike | 2 Comments

Quiet evenings… Loud thoughts

I have spent this weekend getting a LOT done around the house. I mean putting up Christmas items, tossing the tree, re-covering the rig before it snowed again.. (and snow it did, the next day after I covered it). Cleaning the house, doing laundry, little tune ups to the house putting up weather stripping, just little knick knacky things that I would otherwise blow off. Replied to some emails, sent a few pics, putzing around. Trimming up the plants (we have a few now) repotting a couple that for whatever reason were croaking. (trying to grow a green thumb). And during that time, reading up on mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a new concept for me. for the most part, I run through life on autopilot. Seriously. I flit from day-to-day without committing much to memory. And this is a multi-layered problem. Having been diagnosed unofficially with ADD or ADHD, my mind wanders.. a lot.. ooooo look! a bunny! (where was i?) Oh yeah, here. mindfulness.

The other issue was a concussion I received in Oceanside, CA. Myself and five of my buddies went out into town and proceeded to get very very drunk. We were on our way back to the buses to head back to base, one of my friends was carrying another across his shoulders as he had completely passed out, and we had just turned to head towards the bus station. The last thing I remember was seeing my friend hanging from the other guys shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

I woke three days later in a complete stupor in the hospital on base. I was in restraints. I looked down at my wrists and like some really bad movie, I am strapped into the bed. The nurse came in, realized I was finally back in the real world and cut me loose. Turns out I had punched out the doctor in the ER. and, Just like that I am standing outside the hospital trying to figure where in the fuck I am at, who am I, and where in the hell do I go? I hopped a bus and got off at my barracks in the 22 area. I had no idea which room was mine. This was scary as hell. Finally one of the Marines I knew showed me to my room, and it took me weeks to get my brains back to functioning. My short term memory since then has had issues, and long term can be spotty at times..

So with this realization I learned on my own, new tricks to make a memory work, or at least appear to function. Many of these were subconscious, not something I understood, but they worked. Things like studying, if I spend 15 minutes to a half hour of intense studying, I have learned to stop, take a break for about five to seven minutes, surf the web totally random in manner, then get back to the books.. gave me a 3.91 in my Masters. The point being that there are always ways to work around obstacles.

With this in mind, I have been reading about mindfulness, the idea that our minds affect every waking and non-waking moment we have. and what we focus on, what we spend time listening to those little voices in our heads (yes, you have them too) try closing your eyes and focus on only your breathing. In 10 seconds or less your mind will wander down one of those interesting alleyways and it will take conscious effort to bring it back to focusing on just your breathing.

This mindfulness is the concept of teaching yourself how to think with discipline, and focus. To leave anger, hurt, resentment and all those nasty negative thoughts behind you and focus on what is important. The moment you are in.

I learned a lesson through a personal growth seminar that has echoed for me ever since. Your past is your past. learn from it, grow from it, but don’t live in it.. That time is gone. The future is a promissory note. and too many things can happen that can cause that note to vanish like a fart in the wind.

You have right now. Here and now. It is the miracle of being human, of who we are. The question is, what will you do with your moment? Watch TV? Listen to the radio? Focus on how happy you are in this moment? and continue that thought to the next. and the next and the next. Thoughts are creation machines.. You bring to you what you think. It becomes real in one manner or another. It can be the greatest gift one can have or the worst curse.

So for me, mindfulness, being attentive to your thoughts and what you think is becoming more and more important. Trying to wash away the negativity of the world through various means of communication is daunting. Facebook is one of those. For each positive saying or video clips of funny animals and such there has to be five incredibly negative posts about the government, the police, or humanity in general. It is something I have watched for a few years now, and it has not changed much over that time.

Mindfulness tells you to be careful what you feed your mind, it absorbs everything.. and those little voices that we all listen to day in and day out? Tend to echo what we absorb. And after a while? We cannot discern the ugliness from the world and the ugliness that comes from us. I think the point here (if there is one as this is the ramblings of .. oooo LOOK! a bunny!).. uh, let’s see, where was… oh yeah, the point here is be careful how you feed your thoughts and what your listen to. It can be the nastier side of the human race,

Or the most beautiful

Namaste.

Categories: Adventure, Religious, Spiritual | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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