Monday, December 14, 2015

2015 in Review

Every year, when most people are thinking about their new year resolutions, I like to add a few minutes to reflect on my past year. The adventures I've had, the people I've met, and the life lessons I've learned.

First off, I would like to say that I should have probably looked at my list from 2014 more throughout 2015. Last year, I learned the following 6 things.

1) College is a lie. < - I still find this unbearably true.
2) Enjoy being single. Few men are worth a power-walk. < - Also unbearably true.
3) Free time. It's a rare commodity. Use it. Love it. < - It doesn't feel so rare right now. But these are words I desperately find myself needing at this particular time in my life.
4) Some things are better with a buzz. < - I'm honestly upset that I don't have any alcohol right now...
5) Regular adventures are important to your overall happiness. < - So. Many. Adventures!
6) Having a purpose is equally important. < - Acutely and painfully aware of this one.

2015, for me, has been one of the most challenging and rewarding years I can remember. I've gone from gainfully employed to happily unemployed to backpack. I've left the U.S.A. for the first time, traveling to four different nations on two different continents. I hiked my first portion of the Appalachian Trail, camped in the Catskill mountains, fell in love with New York City, moved across the country to live in Colorado, worked as a mechanic's apprentice and a police dispatcher. I've fallen in love, learned new hobbies, lived on my own, lost my job, and struggled with unemployment. Through it all, these are the biggest lessons I feel I've learned over the past year.

1) Traveling solo is the best cure. For anything.
2) Never take your friends and family for granted.
3) Get a dog.
4) When you find a man worth power-walking for - jog.
5) If you don't know anything else about who you are, know the purpose you want to serve.

#1 - Traveling solo is the best cure. For anything. - Seriously. Heartbreak, mid-life crisis, ignorance, you name it, I'm willing to bet there's a valuable lesson to be learned when you visit another country. Perhaps even a new city or state. When you find yourself alone in another country playing charades so you can order a piece of pizza, you discover something about yourself. You find out that you're resourceful. You learn how to be calm and kind in frustrating situations (you really don't want to piss off the only person on the train who speaks English, but if they find you pleasant and sweet, they may become your new tour guide!). These are just a couple of the ways I grew as a person on my entirely too short trip. The most important thing I learned had to do with relationships. The first time you ever found yourself in an unfortunate situation at home you likely knew with almost certainty that you could call someone to come help. If you were far from home, you could likely communicate with a stranger to help you. When you're in another country where you don't know even know the word for help, you realize the roles people play in your life. There are some old friends you've stayed in contact with for years that you wouldn't want with you, but people you've known for mere days that would unquestionably have your back in a sticky situation.

#2 - Never take your friends and family for granted. - I'll put it this way. When you find yourself unexpectedly and suddenly unemployed, your friends, your siblings, and your parents will know exactly what to say. Some corny jokes, some venting, good advice, and a roof to sleep under are more than enough sometimes. Your friends and family will be there for you when you need them. It's your job to get back at it so you can be there for them when they need you.

#3 - Get a dog. - I really don't feel like this needs much explaining. When you feel sad, your dog will cheer you up. When you really just want to lay down and cuddle with something, your dog will tolerate you. When you feel like you're pretty much worthless, your dog needs you to feed it, water it, and take it for runs.

#4 - When you find a man worth power-walking for - jog. - I won't delve into my past relationships or my current one. I'll just say this. Last year's advice was great. Being single is pretty awesome. You have no one to think about but you and your four-legged friend - and your dog will forgive you for anything. You go where you want when you want with who you want and you do what you want. It's awesome. Then someone comes along and they make you want to become a better person. Suddenly, you have another two-legged friend that's always there for you. Whether you think you need it or not. Moral of the story is; first, make sure he's worth it. Second; Make sure you're not just being blind and stupid - do this by introducing him to friends and family and then asking them, "can I keep it, or do I need to throw it back?" If they tell you something along the lines of "dogs are better than men," do the hard but inevitable thing and dump him before you get to attached. But if they say you can keep him, well, any man worth keeping is worth delivering the world on a silver platter for.

#5 - If you don't know anything else about who you are, know the purpose you want to serve. - When you find yourself on an adventure most would kill to have the courage to go on, and you feel empty about it, it's nice to know why. Fortunately, for me, it didn't take much to figure it out. I've always known what purpose I want to serve in the world, I just thought I could ignore it and have a little fun for a while without it tugging me back. Unfortunately for me, I'm not allowed to pursue that specific meaningful purpose in my life for another seven months and eight days (no, I'm not counting. Why do you ask?). Is it torture, sitting here waiting around for that day to arrive? Yes. But I can only imagine what my mental state would look like if I didn't have a clue what I was looking for in life. Luckily for me, there are things everywhere that remind me of the purpose I want to serve. I know exactly how to arrive at that goal, it's only a matter of time.

While you're thinking about your New Years resolutions and the kind of person you want to become, stop for a few minutes and think about the person you were this same time last year. Think about the lessons you've learned and the things that have made you the person you are. Losing 10 pounds probably won't change your life drastically, but deciding how to make the change from the person you are to the person you want to become, and actually acting on it? That will change your life for the better.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Women in Combat Arms

I've been sitting at home the last few weeks with little more to do than workout, read, clean, and play video games. So entirely too much of my attention has been turned toward facebook. I'm not proud of it, but it is what it is. The recent hub-ub on facebook is all about women going into combat arms. While I've never been in combat arms or even the military, I'm still going to chime in on this. Because it's my blog and I'll do what I want on my blog. You don't have to read it.

Firstly, a huge majority of the complaints about this on facebook have been coming from my male military friends saying how the dynamics of their units will have to change. They won't be able to be as harsh, vulgar, and crude as they're used to for fear of SHARP (basically sexual harassment) complaints. I have one thing to say to that. GET OVER IT. The decision has already been made and just like every other stupid rule the military has come up with, you're just going to have to make the best of it. You have had the privilege of working in what is likely the ONLY job (or genre of jobs) in the United States where you don't have to worry about offending a thin skinned female. Everyone else in recent history has had to deal with that. And you know what? I am genuinely sorry. I've had the privilege of observing some of you in your unnatural, womanless environment and I think it's absolutely hilarious. Of course, my sense of humor is completely off-color and is 100% of the reason I have a first-class ticket to hell when I die, and I'm not even the infantry type. Most of the women who want to go into combat arms have something to prove. These aren't the women who joined the military because they want to marry a man in uniform, they're probably the women who like watching things explode, curse at least as much as you do, and are probably not going to bitch and moan much more than you when they have to go without a shower while they're in the field. They won't even be able to sign up for combat arms MOSs until January (if the timeline doesn't change), then they have to either reclass or go to basic and AIT, or OSUT, depending on the job. So realistically, you have until at least March or April to get your head around this. Honestly though, I can imagine how much that's going to change the dynamics of your units and for those of you hard nosing this, it's going to suck. But this is the real world, and the real world has to deal with women... Unless you live in a Muslim community that actively practices Pashtunwali and Namus. And from what I know, exactly zero of you are all about that.

The second huge complaint I'm seeing is how women are scientifically not as physically capable as most men. I've also seen a photo floating around of a small unit doing a ruck march where two of the men are carrying a woman's rucks for her. There's two problems here. First, the attrition rate for someone actually going through SFAS and SFQC to become a Green Beret is said to be about 95%. That means most MEN aren't capable of doing this job. Hell, even if a man makes it through all the physical challenges, they can still not be selected because the instructors have determined they wouldn't be a good fit for the unit. If a woman is held to the same standard as the men in these courses, and is determined to be a good fit for the unit, then I see no reason why they shouldn't be allowed to serve in those roles. And if you've had your head in anywhere that's not the sand you might realize that women have been serving in "support" roles with SF and SOF units for several years. And that's not including the women who where a part of Delta long before the Cultural Support Teams began. If you don't believe me, read Ashley's War by Gayle Lemmon.

Now to address the photo. Whoever the hell thinks it's ok to have anyone carry anyone else's ruck during any form of training is wrong. Someone suggested the woman in the photo may have been on profile. It's my civilian opinion, that if you're on profile (meaning you have a medical note preventing you from doing a portion of the training), you shouldn't be doing the training to begin with. And if you're not on profile, don't be a bitch and carry your own ruck. And men, honestly, if there's someone in your unit, male or female, who will fail if they have to carry their own ruck, LET THEM FAIL. No one wants someone on their team who isn't capable of pulling their own weight and doing their job. We are currently at war and anyone who can't or won't pass the tests is a liability on the battlefield and may get you killed. I know that with the shape I'm in right now I wouldn't be able to even think about holding a ranger pace with a ruck on. Hell, I probably couldn't even do it without one. 98% of the SF, SOF, Infantry, Scouts, and other combat arms men I've met are total beasts. But that means that if I were ever going to try it, I would make sure I could do it and then some before I went.

Now that I've had a word with the men of combat arms, I'd like to have a word with the women. I'm certain a large majority of the women who want to go into combat arms are going to take this next piece as a no-brainer, but I'm going to say it anyway. The military is a man's world. Combat arms is even more of a man's world. Now I'm not saying to let go of serious sexual harassment complaints, and there is no world in which a woman should not report a rape; but if you walk into a combat arms unit and can't take a little rape joke, you seriously need to reconsider the dynamic of the unit you're considering joining. Vulgar, inappropriate and even rape jokes are a pretty regular thing tossed around in these kinds of unit and if you can't laugh at them, get up and leave the room. Filing a complaint because of a joke and ruining the career of one of your teammates is not the way to go. The women who will be going into combat arms in the next year or two are going to be considered pioneers and will set the standard for all other women who follow. Women in the military today already know, or should know (especially new Lieutenants), they have to prove themselves. In support jobs where your job doesn't get any more physical than morning PT, it's probably ok if you don't make above a 270 on the PT test. But if you're going into combat arms where the average PT score is a 281, do not give anyone the satisfaction of being able to say you're the reason the average is 281 instead of 282. Beat the average. You have something to prove and an example to set. So do it.

And anyone who is of the mindset that women should serve in combat arms but shouldn't have to sign up for the draft can excuse themselves from any sort of argument about equality. We are currently an all-volunteer military and likely will be for the very distant future, but with tensions between Turkey and Russia being what they are, who knows? It's my personal opinion that women should have had to sign up for the draft before they were allowed into combat arms. But I don't make the rules.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Syrian Refugees

Everyone is in an uproar about this Syrian refugee "crisis." Normally, I don't chime in on these types of things too much, but here goes my .02. Begin rant.

I don't rely heavily on my facebook feed for a place to get valuable, accurate information about what's going on in the world, but it does give me a pretty accurate representation about how my friends feel about topics like this.. At least until I unfollow them. I'm honestly probably only following about half of my friends list (and that's a generous estimate). I've been seeing two sides of facebook propaganda the last couple of weeks. The far right side says we don't need to allow refugees, and if we do, go with Donald Trump's suggestion of making Muslims carry a special ID that shows their faith because they could be terrorists. People of America, may I introduce, Hitler with his new and improved, unkempt toupee'?  While we're making them carry special IDs and putting patches on their shoulders, why don't we just skip a few steps and start incinerating them? Honestly, how does that not sound like the beginning of the Holocaust?

Hitler similarities aside, Donald Trump may be an excellent businessman, but business politics are nothing close to world politics. In business, you can lose your temper, scream "you're fired," and basically ignore anyone you don't like. You can't ignore Russia, people; and you can't bully them into any position you want. If Trump and Putin got into it, as much as I hate to say it, that's a war game Putin would win. Trump has straight up said he knows more than our Generals. I'm pretty sure that's another place Hitler went wrong. There's also this thing called the United Nations where we have a permanent seat with veto power! Trump, if elected, may discover that playing games with the stock market is not the same as running a nation. And while the United States President may be considered the most powerful man in the world, he doesn't rule the world, and there are still rules he has to follow. But I digress, this isn't about Trump...

The second half of that argument was that refugees might be terrorists. That's ignorant, people. Of course some of them are terrorists. Are all of them? No. In fact, a great majority of them aren't terrorists. And the terrorists that might be kept out by not being in allowed in as refugees would find another way in. Honestly, does no one remember 9/11? Did no one read about how the attackers in Paris all had passports? One of them even had a French passport! If terrorists want in, they'll get in. Does being a refugee make it easier to get here? Yes, but it makes it harder for them to hide here. Which is their ultimate goal. And while most of the refugees coming here wouldn't be outright terrorists, or even Muslims for that matter - I know, it's hard to believe someone from the Middle East could belong to a religion other than Islam, but Syria practically encompasses Lebanon, a State that's been ruled by both Christians and Muslims since it's inception. - a majority of them would be Muslims. And when a large population of one religion or nationality or even region is moved en-mass to another place in the world, they will band together. That's why we have neighborhoods in the United States that are comprised almost solely of Hispanics, or Russians, or Africans. It's simple psychology and sociology. Those who would have only been considered lip-service Muslims will find familiarity in their local Mosque. It will be the only place that feels like home in a world of white men who are nothing but suspicious of them. If that mosque happens to be one that preaches to the more extreme side of Islam, you're bound to breed a few terrorists.

The other side of the news feed propaganda I've been seeing is the whole "we were refugees too. We're all immigrants" blah blah bullshit. Allow me to give you all a history lesson. The United States did not begin as a place for people to escape to. For many, that may have been how it was, but people came here to settle a new land. In the beginning, this land was still owned by the English and the people who came to settle here were coming here to settle in a land where they had to fight the Indians, win, and start a family and worship in their own way. Fast forward a little and you have the Revolutionary War. This is the part you should pay attention to. When the government was imposing unfair taxes, the thirteen colonies revolted and started a war that won them their independence. In Syria you have president Bashar Al-Assad who was never meant to be president. He was an ophthalmologist in London for crying out loud! BUT! For ten years (beginning in 2001) he returned to Syria as his familial duty when his father and older brother died rather unexpectedly (whatever anyone tells you, Syria isn't a Democracy. It's "officially" a Republic and unofficially a monarchy) and ruled with a gentle hand, slowly implementing more western policies so as not to upset those in power who liked things "the old way." In 2011 when the Arab Spring began, things went to shit. Instead of the Syrian people stopping to think about it and saying, "hey, we've got a President here who is trying to make things better for us," they hopped on the Arab Spring bandwagon and got a little out of hand. I'm not in any way condoning how Assad gassed his people, nor the civil war he's been engaged in, but I can see where he's coming from. Most people in Syria don't understand their own politics (neither do most Americans for that matter); but if you put yourself in Assad's shoes all you can really say is, "Dude, I've been here for ten years and I've been giving you ungrateful assholes as much as I can as fast as I can. Believe it or not, my hands are tied. How do you think my dad and brother died? Now you want to revolt? Fine! We'll just go back to the way my dad used to handle things!" The Syrian people, while they didn't have all the liberties they wanted, were too blind to realize they were being given those liberties about as fast as they could come. It took until 1920 for women to be able to vote in the U.S.. That's 144 years in a state founded on Christian values and equal rights. You think you'll get it any time soon in a nation founded on Islam and Sharia law?! Baby steps, people.

The Syrian people had the gall to start a civil war, but lack the fortitude to finish one. This is a population which has solved a majority of their issues with violence. They were getting their desired changes through diplomacy and started a war anyway. Now they're running. Even if it was only the women and children coming to the United States as refugees, you just took away the Syrian Army's main reason to fight for their own independence. I'll preface this next statement by admitting that I am not a veteran. (I'm trying to join the military, but I have to wait another year before I'll be allowed in for medical reasons) However, I'm pretty sure most of our current military, particularly those who joined shortly after 9/11, did so so they could protect their homeland. So they could make sure their loved ones would continue to sleep soundly at night. They went off to war so the women and children in their nation never had to witness the violence they brought to the doorstep of our enemies. One might argue that there's not been a war fought among our homes since the Civil War like there is in Syria right now. To that I say, shouldn't they be MORE motivated to fight?! If there were a war being fought among our homes every redneck in the nation (man, woman, and probably youth) would be wearing mossy oak with an American flag sewn on their shoulder lugging around their bow, shotgun, pistol, and any other weapon they could find. If we're doing anything for the Syrian people by taking in their refugees, we're taking away their motivation to fight. And as an American, I don't necessarily care to harbor cowards who haven't the gall to fight for themselves.

End rant.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

I'll Have A Day On The Rocks, Please.

In my last post, I mentioned that I'd taken up rock climbing since I moved to Colorado, but I didn't really say anything else about it. That's because I'm basically in love with rock climbing and it deserves its very own post.

You may remember when I went to AZ with Leo, he took me on my first rock climbing adventure. My second climbing venture happened on my trip to Italy. While I was there I met a complete stranger off of tinder who offered to take me climbing. Of course, everyone in Italy then was a complete stranger. But this one was an American stationed in Vicenza. So I met him at the train station with my shoes, a beaner, my ATC, and enough webbing to make a harness (because that's all the rock climbing gear I took on my backpacking trip), jumped in his car, and let him drive me to a whole other city half an hour away. Yes, I recognize the safety concerns involved in this endeavor, but you know what? I'm still here. And I got to go rock climbing. And I made an awesome friend that day! Paul, who I still talk to, took me to Lugminano and explained how it had been one of the biggest rock climbing places in Italy back in the 80's. It was probably a class 3 hike in, but there were soooo many routes! Paul didn't know what the names of the routes were, or what they were graded at (they use a different grading system in Europe than we do here in the states, anyway) but it was fun!

Climbing in Lugminano, Italy. Paul let me borrow his harness!
That day I basically decided when I came back to the states I was going to go learn to climb somewhere.. I initially thought I was going to buy a beat up old van or something and drive it to red rocks just outside of Vegas and just camp out and climb for a few months. Obviously, that's not what happened. And I'm glad it didn't. I really like frequent showers.

When I moved most of my things up here to Colorado in May, I wasted exactly zero time. I was only here for a week before I was to start my road trip to the North East, pretty much only owned what I'd had in Italy plus a harness (climbing in a Swiss seat made from webbing is never fun), I had no idea what I was actually doing, didn't know anyone in the area who climbed, and I had a severely pulled bicep tendon that was still healing. None of those seemed like good reasons to not go climbing. It took me all of two days in Colorado before I found a random person on facebook with enough experience to teach myself and my new roommate the climbing basics. Again, I met two complete stranger in a parking lot at some ungodly early hour and drove off into the mountains with them. Except this time with my roommate. I have yet to regret a spontaneous adventure, and I'm quite glad I took this one.
My roommate and I, climbing at Clear Creek.

I learned the basics of climbing that day, and since I got back from my road trip, I've gone on several climbing ventures. In the last two months I've gone from someone who didn't know what cleaning was to climbing a multi-pitch called "Lost in the Jungle," leading and cleaning routes up to 5.9s, and just last week I climbed a 5.10C called "Via Comatose Amigo." To say that I'm in love with this sport would be putting it mildly. My goal is to be able to lead a 5.11 by the end of the year, and perhaps one day do a climbing competition. Which makes me wonder why I'm sitting on my couch right now instead of climbing... I should do something about that.
Making my way up Via Comatose Amigo - A 5.10C

Monday, August 17, 2015

Since I've Been Gone..

Ok, so it's been a few minutes since my last post, so here's what's been happening. I came back to the states, took up photography, bought an old beat up VW Passat wagon, drove it around the northeast for a month, went to the West Point graduation, did New York City up right, ate at the Chegg on Long Beach Island in New Jersey with my body builder buddies, hiked on the Appalachian Trail, moved to Denver, CO, somehow got a part-time job as a mechanic, a full-time job as a police Dispatcher, and have taken up rock climbing. It's been an adventure to say the least. Here's the highlights...

When I graduated high school, I applied to West Point. Like so many others, I wasn't offered an appointment. I was, however, offered a scholarship from West Point's Association of Graduates to attend Marion Military Institute for a year. If I performed well there, I was all but guaranteed an appointment to West Point the following year. While I was at MMI, I decided West Point wasn't the route I wanted to take to get my commission, but I made some awesome friends - many of whom went on to graduate West Point in May. I was fortunate enough to be invited to stay with Lt. Col. Charles Faint and his family on base during graduation week. I really can't say enough about what awesome hosts they were. Or how nice it was to be on base instead of having to drive there every day. And having Charlie and his wife Lilla give me directions so I didn't wind up completely and utterly lost.

West Point Graduation Parade
The graduation was, well, a military graduation. Efficient. General Dempsey was the honored speaker, and he sang (and made the graduates sing) "New York, New York." Aside from his little Sinatra piece, the General actually laid out some real words of wisdom. I'd love to have lunch with that man.

My roommate from MMI, Chelsea Kay graduated that day, and was commissioned by none other than the Superintendent, General Robert Caslen. How she got the Sup to pin her, I don't know, but she did. It was really cool to get to attend her commissioning in the Sup's garden, away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the school. It also gave me a kick in the ass. I didn't attend West Point, but I finished college and did my short stint of travels. And here was Kay, kicking my ass and getting her commission first. So now I have no choice but to get mine and catch up with her.
Chelsey Kay, the new butter bar
After I saw Kay off, I made a B-line for New York City. As fate would have it, I discovered that I wasn't the only old cadet from MMI who attended the graduation and was spending the next couple of days in the Big Apple. My old platoon leader from MMI, Roderick Bonner was also in town. We spent the next day sight seeing and tasting all the local cuisines... And by the local cuisines, what I really mean is hot dogs from street carts and the occasional piece of pizza.
The 9-11 memorial on Memorial Day
After NYC, my plans to see a friend in upstate fell through when he had to skip town for work. So I spent a night in the Catskills camping out of my car and hiking. As uneventful as a story as this is, I mostly just want a reason to post this picture..
The sunset where I camped.
My next stop was New Jersey. I was genuinely surprised when not one single gas station I pulled up to was self-serve. Apparently, there's a law in Jersey against people pumping their own gas. No, seriously. Every gas station has attendants to pump your gas for you... I spent the next few days trying to find a balance between not eating too much, and looking like a bird at every meal... Meals, of course, where every few hours. Because I was with Pat the body builder and his body builder buddies. Who only stop eating to work out and sleep. I ate with them, I worked out with them (although we pretended not to know each other in the gym. I'm not leg pressing any cars anytime soon), and I slept in Pat's house. And Pat made sure I got to do the tourist stuff like buy a lighter from Ron Jon's, check out the famous people's houses, and drive the length of Long Beach Island. He's a pretty cool guy when he's not busy trying to date my sister.
The traditional beach pic.

Pat on his third round of wings at the Chegg.
The next stop I made really should have a post all its own, but for the sake of catching up, I'm just going to give it this short piece. That, and I really want to go to sleep.

Becky Lessner and I have been best friends since we both ran on the Point Park Cross Country team in 2012. We decided while I was still in Spain that we were going to do part of the Appalachian Trail. Becky wanted to do the portion up in Maine, but we really didn't have the time to get up there and back, so we opted for a piece out of the middle of the trail. On the first of June we bailed out of our beds at the hostel in Harper's Ferry and got ready to go. It was raining, but we were super prepared. We donned our rain jackets and set out into the 75 degree morning. It was uncharacteristically cold considering it had been well over 80 for the last couple of weeks. We made it about an hour before we realized the temperature wasn't getting higher - it was only getting lower. I'd packed for this trip almost three weeks ago, and I certainly wasn't prepared for this. I had a single pair of pants, a pair of shorts, two shirts, and a rain jacket I'd borrowed from Becky. About twelve miles in we made it to a cabin for hikers and started getting comfortable. We'd taken our hammocks to sleep in and no sleepingbags because, well, it was supposed to be in the 80's and 90's and only getting down to 70 at night. The temperature kept dropping and I was tired of being cold and wet. One of the other hikers on the trail (Over Forty was his trail name), exasperated, expressed how he wished we could start a fire in the furnace in the cabin. "Furnace?! Fire?!" My posture perked like a dog being told to sit for its favorite treat. "Yeah," Over Forty said, "there's a furnace in here, but there's no dry wood." I made my way into the cabin and snatched three dry pieces of wood out of the pile. "Y'all go get wood. We're making a fire." Everybody started bringing me wood. Small stuff at first, and then bigger pieces. One of the fellows there just kept repeating how we would never get a fire going because the wood was too wet. He quit bringing in wood after his second time out, complaining that he was cold. With a paper towel, a couple of dry sticks, and going light headed from blowing on the flames so much, I kept our furnace hot until three in the morning. Over Forty officially named me Draco Fire Starter. So there's one more nickname I have to keep up with. Becky and I ditched our hammocks and took a bunk in the cabin. Around four in the morning we were both freezing our asses off in shorts, all of our t-shirts, our rain jackets, and our hammocks and my microfiber towel for blankets. When you're cold and water logged, even the extra body heat from spooning doesn't keep you warm enough to sleep. We both threw in the towel like the pansies we are, stuffed breakfast down our throats, gave our extra food to the other hikers, and headed back towards Harper's Ferry.
Just after the rain let up.

We were certain velociraptors were going to jump out at any moment.

This is as clear as the weather got for us.

After we finished on the trail, I made a B-line for Nashville to crash at my sister's house. I hadn't slept at all in the cabin, had walked well over twenty-four miles in the mountains in the last two days, and drove eight more hours to make it to Nashville. I don't even remember if I saw my niece and nephew off to bed. All I really remember is that I forced myself to take a shower before I drug myself to my bed. Then I got up ungodly early and drove another eight hours back to Arkansas to gather the rest of my belongings, change my oil, and move to Denver.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A New Directive

I know I've been absent lately, and I have yet to tell about my trip to Italy. I've been working on a different project for a little bit now and I'm feeling pretty good about it. Here is but a small excerpt. 

       Jessica did what she is often times quite remarkable at, and asked me a couple questions that made me think. She asked me first if I regretted coming home from Europe so soon. I didn't. Partly because I felt like I was finished in Europe, but also, I wasn't the type to regret things. I don't know if there was a definitive turning point in my life, if I had gradually evolved, or if I had never really experienced true regret, but I couldn't think of a single thing in my life I regretted doing. Every time I came up with something unfortunate that had happened to me, or a stupid decision I had made, I could think of the lessons I had learned from those incidents and decisions. I knew the outcome of each event in my life and I could either learn from or laugh about each and every one of them. Usually both. Every instance was undoubtedly responsible for turning me into the unique character that I was today, and I was genuinely excited about the person I was going to become in the future. I didn't just not regret coming home from Europe, I was intrigued to see what role that particular decision would play in my life several years down the road.  
The second question Jessica asked me was, "when were you the absolute happiest?" Immediately, my mind jumped to Belize. The first night on that windy, sandless island, sitting on the deck, drinking Belikin. Every five minutes I would get this shit-eatin grin on my face and say, "Dave! We're in fucking Belize!" It wasn't the place, the company, or the beer that made me feel happy in that moment. The reason Belize meant so much to me was because I had accomplished my life long goal. To drop everything on a moments notice and skip the country. To disconnect, almost completely, from the rest of the world. To just decide to leave, and go. It was exactly what I had always wanted to do and I had done it. I kept asking myself, Why did it take me so long to do that? School and work were both valid excuses, but they were still excuses.
Nike's just do it slogan was my new directive. I had just done most everything I wanted for a while, but there were things I had always wanted to do that I hadn't had any plans for accomplishing. Living in Colorado was a big one, and those pieces were finally beginning to fall into place. Do a road trip around the United States was another, and I already had a plan unfolding in my head for that as well. Again, I wasn't sure if this change in attitude had happened at a definitive point or over time, but I wasn't going to sit around and day dream anymore. I was going to make life happen for me. If there was something I wanted to do, or accomplish, I would do it. Whether I had a partner in crime or not was irrelevant. The world was lying at my feet and it was within my ability to go anywhere and do anything I pleased. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Ireland: Carrick-a-rede Bridge and Giant's Causeway

Carrick-a-rede Bridge
Ever since the first time I saw pictures of the Carrick-a-rede bridge several years ago, I've wanted to cross it. When I found out Paddywagon did a tour with a stop there, I had to go. I didn't even care that it wasn't the main attraction, which was the Giant's Causeway, I bought a ticket right there. I didn't even care about going to the causeway, honestly. I boarded my bus around 8 in the morning in Dublin and patiently awaited my destiny. 
On the way there, we stopped at some cool trees that were supposedly used in filming some portion of the Game of Thrones. I'll be honest, they were pretty cool. It was at that stop that I realized two things. First, it was snowing. Second, the wind was blowing. Like a lot. When we got back on the bus, our driver crushed my soul with a single sentence, "the carrick-a-rede bridge is closed due to high winds, so we aren't going to be able to cross it." Thanks, wind! 

We did still go to the bridge though. It's a little over half a mile from the gift shop to the bridge and most people on the tour bus opted to have a nice cup of hot chocolate at the restaurant in the gift shop instead of making the trip. I, however, was not missing this opportunity. I said screw the wind! and started walking. The wind was so high that I was pretty sure I was going to turn into a human kite and fly into the ocean a couple times. I'm really glad nobody had any children there. 
On my way out to the bridge, it actually started sleeting! Then a fellow coming the other way stopped me and said, "be careful, there's a wall of rain coming this way!" And pointed behind me. When I looked and saw the downpour headed for me, I just laughed and said to myself, the only thing that could make this any better is if the wind actually threw me into the ocean!! Then I promptly knocked on the wooden fence along the trail, cause nobody needs that bad ju ju. About that time I found an older British lady who was just as determined as I was and we did our best to act as paperweights for each other for the rest of the hike. 

At the bridge a stout gentleman there saw my complete lack of qualifications in the area of paper weighting 100 pound old ladies in 60 mph winds, and took over for me. Since the half mile trek back was into the wind, I had to grabbed my coat hood from the inside with one hand and pulled it down over my face because the wind was making my eyes tear up. Then I ran. Or tried to. In normal conditions, the pace I was setting would have been a steady 7:30 mile, but I'm pretty sure that's how long it took me to make it the half mile back to the gift shop. 

I may not have gotten to cross the bridge, but I'm pretty happy with having to gotten see it. Plus, it costs money to cross the bridge, and I didn't have to pay! And there were no crowds!! What more can you ask for?

Giant's Causeway
The Giant's Causeway was the next stop after the carrick-a-rede bridge. I'm told that on a clear day you can see Scotland from there. I kinda had to laugh at the thought of a clear day in Ireland, cause I didn't see one the whole week that I was there. 

It was still insanely windy and cold, so I paid the 2£ to ride the shuttle down to the causeway from the visitor center instead of taking the "15 minute hike" to the bottom. There was a lady at the bottom with an infant. Woman was nuts, but must have incredible grip strength cause the wind was measured at 60mph with higher gusts. I won't lie, I was thoroughly unimpressed with the hexagonal rocks. What did impress me though, was when I let myself fall into the wind and it actually held me up! I did that for as long as I could stand the cold and got some foreigner to get a photo of me. Then I paid attention to the rocks.. There was some kind of officer there making sure no one climbed on the rocks, but while someone else was distracting him, I grabbed a guy from Minnesota, gave him my phone, asked him to get a picture for me, and climbed the rocks. 

As soon as the next shuttle came around, I jumped back on and rode to the top. There wasn't much to hold my attention in the huge visitors center though, so I did what I do best. I found food. There was a restaurant in the visitors center, but who wants to eat at a visitors center? There's a tiny little restaurant just down the hill that looks more like a cottage. They had a bar and a few open fires. I grabbed a seat next to the fire and had what will probably the best soup and sandwhich combo I'll ever have. And a hard cider. I'm pretty sure I'll never be satisfied by food in the United States again. 
I doubt I'll ever pay that much for soup and a sandwhich ever agin either though. Since  Northern Ireland is technically still a part of the UK, they don't use the Euro, they use the pound. So the 12£ i paid for my meal seemed fairly reasonable. Until I did the math and realized I had just paid about $25.. I still probably should have gotten another cider though. The one wasn't enough to keep me warm for long after I stepped outside. 

Ireland: Cliffs of Moher and the Blarney Castle

I'm a little late with this post because I've been doing other things.. Very important things.. Like drinking my life away in Italy. It's been a good time. Anyway, here's my experience with a couple tourist stops in Ireland. More to come later. 

Note: since I'm too young to rent a car in Ireland, I did all of my tours with Paddywagon tours. They have busses leaving pretty much every day from Dublin, Belfast, Cork, and a few other places, and they stop at all kinds of cool little spots on the way to your main destination so you actually get to see quite a bit. All of their tour guides were very nice and friendly and knew a lot about the places we went. If you can't rent a car, or are too cheap, I recommend using them. 
Cliffs of Moher
For those of you who are fans of The Princess Bride, the Cliffs of Moher are THE CLIFFS OF INSANITY! Yeah, they're real. It's ok, I thought they were a movie set too until I turned 5 and discovered how to use the Internet. They're on the west side of Ireland just a little way south of Galway. Galway looked like a pleasant little town, and everyone I talked to spoke highly of it. If I'd had a car and not been too cheap for a train ticket I would've stayed there for a couple of days. The Paddywagon tour stops in a town called Doolin for lunch. In Doolin there's a bar called Flanagin's. It's kind of amazing. If I'm ever foolish enough to get married, I'm doing it in Ireland just so that place can cater the wedding. Which, I don't think they cater, but I'll figure that out. They also stopped at the "baby cliffs" which are only about 100 ft high. They stop there first so you won't be completely underwhelmed when you make it to the real ones. 
The real Cliffs of Moher stand about 700 ft tall. You don't really get a true appreciation of just how high that is through pictures though. You kind of have to go. If you can help it, go when it's not pouring rain, because if it's stormy or there's a lot of mist, you can't see much. Don't get discouraged if the weather forecast is calling for rain though, there's rarely a day in Ireland that it doesn't rain. It rained while I was there and I still saw the cliffs just fine. Take a rain coat instead of an umbrella though; and for you ladies and men with luscious locks, go ahead and tie up your hair. The west coast of the island is quite windy, and on top of the cliffs there's not much to break it. I'm pretty sure if they had half a dozen wind mills on the cliffs, Ireland would have clean energy for decades. Hats are a bad idea too. 

When you get there, I suggest breaking the rules. All of them. When you get on the trail past the gift shop and take your first glance at the cliffs, you can go left or right. Going right will take you up a little hill to a round castle looking thing where the guy that used to run the town would take his women (he was a womanizer, the local husbands weren't his fan), for a romantic view. I can kind of see why they went for it, cause the view really is incredible. On the trail to get there, if the winds are high like they were when I was there, there's actually a spot where the wind carries the ocean spray all the way up and onto the sidewalk. You're seven hundred feet above the ocean and you can hear the waves crashing on the rock, and then you feel the spray on your face. Kind of awesome if you ask me. 
There's no rules to break there though unless you want to climb on the tower, breach a castle door, or do some deadly cliff diving. However, if you go left, you'll soon come to a sign that says not to pass it. Pass it. Cops aren't going to come after you. I honestly didn't even see the sign because of all the people who were walking right past it. It's really just there so they can't be held liable if you fall and die. There's a narrow trail with a wire fence on the left and kind of a rock slab wall on the right. It's quite safe. Next, go over that rock wall. There's kind of a trail on that side of the rock wall as well, but it leaves nothing between you and the edge of the cliffs except the wind. The trail can be wide in places and narrow in others, and it can be a little muddy, but it's really not bad and the view is ssssooooo much better! 

You really can't go wrong if you visit this place. I feel like even if you were there when it was misty, you could still get some pretty good pictures. You'll probably have the uncontrollable urge to watch The Princess Bride too, so just go ahead and pack that. 

The Blarney Castle
When most people think of the Blarney Castle, they think of the Blarney Stone and being granted eloquent, flattering speech. I have two things to say to that. First, there's a lot more to this place than just the stone. Second, I kissed that stone and I wouldn't say that my speech has changed at all. It certainly didn't help me in Italy, where I arrived with a vocabulary consisting of "thank you" and "whore island" (thank you, Sterling Archer). Thanks, for nothing, stone. 
The Blarney Castle itself really is quite a sight. There are a lot of castles around Ireland, but many of them aren't this intact. This one has obviously had some maintenance done on it, but it's still awesome. When I got there, there was a choir group singing at the base of the castle distracting everyone. Since I have the apparently unique ability to appreciate someone singing without watching them move their mouth, I passed the crowd and made it to the entrance before everyone else. Score one for me. Inside the castle is really nice, but on the way up, it's pretty much a straight shot to the stone. At the top, take a second to enjoy the view, and maybe put on some Chapstick. After all, the locals piss on this thing at night, so having a nice protective layer between you and that nastiness probably isn't a bad thing.. That could be why my speech isn't flattering though.. Kiss at your own risk, I suppose. You have to literally lay down and bend over backwards over a hole in the floor to kiss the stone. Don't worry though, there's a mat there to lay on, and someone there holds you to make sure you don't fall, and another to take your picture. They're probably the same ones that relieve themselves on the stone though. 

The way down from the top is a little more interesting. There's a few rooms in the castle you can go into. The dining hall, the kitchen, the maids room, etc, etc. it's all pretty interesting. Once you leave the castle though, you can go behind them to see the poison garden, the caves, the creek, and a non-poisonous garden. I'm not sure about the poison garden though. There's a sign that says not to touch, smell, or eat anything in it, and I definitely saw and old lady bent over getting herself a good whiff. To my knowledge, there were no ambulances called there that day. If you're not quite as brave as that old lady, you can sit on a bench that's got some kind of "poisonous" vine growing in a canopy over it. I saw a couple taking a photo there. Kind of ironic how they were celebrating their love in a poisonous place. Way to kill your relationship, guys. 

If you're still not that brave, you can walk on a trail along the wall to the other gardens, or down to the creek. The trail along the creek is actually quite pleasant. I am in love with the sound of creeks though, so that's just me. I found a stump to sit on right over the creek and pulled off my shoes for a bit of relaxation, then headed for the cave ( after I put my shoes back on). The caves were a let down to say the least. I was expecting something big and filled with pots of gold and maybe a leprechaun or a cave troll. Nope, just a little cave inhabited by a spider. 
When you're finished with the castle, the lying stone, the not-so-poisonous garden, the creek, and the caves, go ahead and pull out your cash. The world's largest Irish gift shop shares a parking lot with the Blarney Castle. They have some pretty awesome t-shirts for normal people and alcoholics alike, souvenirs, and a bunch of cotton stuff all made in a warehouse there just up the street. The place is huge! Like, three or four stories kind of huge. If you're like me with only a backpack and you don't want to buy anything, there's a nice restaurant attached. I didn't eat there, but I was told it was pretty delicious. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


To anyone who is wanting to travel to Ireland, I have a few pieces of advice for you. First things first; once you land, leave Dublin. It's not a bad city, and there's some cool history there, but in comparison to places like Belfast and Cork and the countryside.. It just doesn't compare. Second, drive around the north. I, unfortunately, didn't get to do that. I tried to rent a car in advance, and Avis' website says they can rent to those under twenty-five, but that was a lie. They did give me a refund though, so that was nice.. I spent the first few days in the south, and while I enjoyed it, my final day in the north was more scenic. In the north the hills roll on for miles a little more fluidly than they do in the south. The mountains are even prettier. It is colder though, so bring a coat. They consider 26C (78F) sweltering heat, so if you're from the south like me, just plan on being cold.

Third, pack a rain coat or an umbrella. Preferably both. Most of the time it's cloudy and drizzly.. And when it's not.. One minute you can see the blue sky there promising you a glorious day under the sun, and the next there's a tempest blowing through. The locals all said that's pretty much an all year round thing. 

If you are going to drive through Ireland, be prepared for some changes. Like EVERYTHING IS BACKWARDS. In my head, I knew they drove on the wrong side of the road and the steering wheel was on the wrong side and the Irish just generally do things involving transportation wrong, but it still messed with me. When I went to get on the bus at the airport, I immediately felt dyslexic. Imagine my surprise when I suddenly looked up from my phone and realized that we were turning into the wrong lane. Yeah, I shit a brick. About twice a day every day. Also, in the cities I think there's more one way streets than there are two-ways. And being a pedestrian trying to figure out which way to look was almost impossible. Thankfully, the Irish have gotten one thing right. On the ground at just about every crosswalk in Dublin it says "<- look left" or "look right ->." That was pretty awesome. 
Do the tourist things. Ireland is gorgeous and if I could (and it was warmer), I would probably rent a car and explore it for a month. But since I didn't have that option, I used the paddy wagon tour company and rode their tour busses all over the place. The tour guides were pretty cool, and they stop at a lot of interesting places. Like the Blarney castle. Yeah, I kissed the stone. I'm really eloquent and have the gift of flattering speech now, could you tell? If I had planned better and wasn't so cheap, I probably would have done their nine day tour. But I am not a big planner and I'm a cheapskate. 
           One last weird thing that I've realized is pretty much the same all across Europe; in a multi story building, the ground floor is floor zero. And you might be on floor three, but have room fifty-one. I swear they do that just so they can watch Americans walk in circles sometimes. 
Overall though I found the Irish people to be very friendly and welcoming. Weirdly enough, I heard a lot of other languages just walking around in downtown Dublin. I mean, virtually everyone speaks English, but other pedestrians talk in several languages. I heard Slavic languages, Arabic, Celtic, Spanish, some Asian languages and several others I couldn't identify. It was really interesting. Overall though, everyone seemed pretty friendly, and even though I stayed in the slums, it didn't feel that sketchy.
          Oh yeah. If you're a cider person, have some Bulmers. It puts everything I've had in the states to shame. Of course there's also the Old Jameson Distillery and the Guinness brewery in Dublin. They were, of course, packed with Americans. 

Monday, March 30, 2015


At the end of 2014, I reflected on the last year and made a list of things I had learned. Two of those items have stuck out to me the most over the last few weeks of traveling. The first, number five on that list, is that regular adventures are necessary to my overall happiness. I'd say that I've been having some pretty good adventures this year. I went on a road trip and did a couple of what Outside magazine calls the world's most dangerous hikes. I experienced Las Vegas for the first of what I'm sure will be many times. I visited Oklahoma in the snow, and beat a winter storm home from Nashville after a great few days in Tennessee with friends and family. I made my first trip out of the country and got to spend a weekend on Caye Caulker in Belize, and I'm finally living my dream of backpacking Europe. And it's only March.
The next item on that same reflective list, number six, is where the issue begins. Number six said that having a meaningful purpose is just as important to my happiness as having adventures is. Over the last few months, I have completely forgotten about number six. Throughout my entire life, I have had a plan and a goal to strive for. All through high school my goal was to attend West Point. I didn't get in the first time I applied, but I got a scholarship from West Point's Association of Graduates to attend Marion Military Institute. After my first semester at MMI, my purpose changed from West Point to the Intelligence Community. Over the next two years I worked tirelessly in both "real" work and my academics to propel myself into a career in the community. After I had to return to the University of Arkansas from Pennsylvania, I lost a lot of my motivation, but continued on with unparalleled determination. During my last semester at the U of A, my motivation and determination for anything but adventures vanished. I put $2,000 and my passport in my school bag and consistently thought about leaving. I was and still am completely burnt out on that direction in my life, though I plan on returning to it later. But now that college is finished and I've started towards my personal legend, I'm having trouble finding a meaningful purpose.
I know I need this break from the "real world" to gain some perspective and renew my focus, but that hardly feels like a meaningful purpose to me. I have always enjoyed being altruistic and helping people, but it's difficult to find people to help in a place where I'm the expat. If anyone needs help, it's me - which is something that has never sat well with me. So while I may be traveling and having a great time over the next several months, I'm convinced that, for me, this trip would be more fulfilling if I had a meaningful job to do. I know I won't be satisfied if I go home just yet though, so I'll continue to search for my purpose in this world as I scour the globe for adventure. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Before I even begin this post, there's one myth I'd like to debunk about Europe right now. 
Myth: Pretty much everyone in Europe under the age of thirty five speaks English. (I can't tell you how many places I've read this, or how many people have told me this. My German teacher told me it was pointless to learn German because everyone there spoke fluent English)
Fact: While most people can play charades and know enough English for you to order food, it's probably best if you just assume they don't speak any English and learn some Spanish. If not as a necessety, then at least as a courtesy. 

I was expecting to have to play charades with people, but I guess the reality of that didn't sink in until I was trying to order food off a Spanish menu. Not that I was asking questions about it. I don't care what I eat as long as it's edible. I literally have just been pointing at stuff or playing eeny-meeny-miney-mo with the numbers, but asking for directions, or how much the bill is is just.. Well, it's not English. Considering this is the first time I've ever been anywhere that they don't speak English as one of the main languages, I'd say I'm doing quite well. I'm also pretty glad that they speak Spanish instead of Czech, because I can at least ask for sangria, beer, and the bathroom in Spanish. Which is a surprise when you take into account the fact that I've never studied Spanish. I can still barely count to ten correctly. I have a much better handle on German than I do Spanish, and I could actually get around in Jordan since I studied Arabic in both high school and college.. A lot of good that's doing me in Spain. Am I surprised at people here not knowing English? Not at all. Would life be much easier if I knew more than how to order booze? Yes. 

Since Saturday my friend Dave and I have been driving around Northern Spain. I'm finding it hard to believe that there are places in the world more beautiful than this, but I can't wait to find them. I have what could be considered an unhealthy obsession with mountains, and Northern Spain has put every mountain I've seen in the states to absolute shame. If you only have a few days in the country and you like good scenery, there would be no better waste of time than to rent a car and drive around the northern coast. Bilbao, Gijon, Segovia, and Oviedo all have breathtaking scenery on the routes to get there. The cities aren't half bad either! 

One thing you'll probably notice about Spain on a road trip through (or even just visiting the cities) is how clean it is. When I say clean, I'm not just talking clean like the main streets of Pittsburgh type of clean, where there's some trash but it's not quite overwhelming you. I'm talking clean as in you're driving through a tiny old town where buildings are falling apart, but you still can't find any trash anywhere. The type of clean where you're pretty sure you're in the slums, but you can't even find a cigarette butt on the side walk to affirm your speculations. It's the type of clean that makes you think, man... Americans are fucking dirty!

While you're stopped in a city somewhere, go in for a drink. It doesn't matter what time of day it is. Eight in the morning. Noon. Three. Seven. Midnight. Sit down and have a drink. Then, have some tapas. Apparently, the Spanish invented this idea, and I don't know if I can continue my life without tapas whenever I go for a drink now. Tapas are just finger foods. They bring you a drink, and they bring you some tapas. It could be some type of biscuit, fish, or whatever. I had some today that was almost like quiche. I honestly don't know why this isn't popular in the states. The night before I left for this trip, a friend and I were having drinks at an actual restaurant and we wanted finger foods. They had no menu and no appetizers to offer at the bar. At least give me a vending machine to hold me over until I crave America's drunk food - Waffle House! I think I might start a protest when I get back. 

The last thing I think I've noticed about this incredibly beautiful country, is how weird the road system works. First off, it's expensive. Renting a car isn't a big deal, but petrol and diesel are both almost 2€/liter. To add to that, road tolls are insane! In the states, we have a couple rolls of quarters to get us through the tolls anywhere. Not here! One toll booth we went through was over 17€! That was just one. In the states, if you take the wrong exit and have to hop back on the freeway and pay the toll, it's maybe a $5 mistake. Imagine making a $30 mistake. Or getting off to fuel up and paying the same in tolls as you just put in your car. No. Thanks. And in cities, be careful where you walk. In the states we very clearly separate our roads from our sidewalks. Not so in the cities here. We were doing a walking tour of Madrid and were casually strolling between buildings when a car drove right through the crowd. In downtown areas, the streets and sidewalks become one... Don't get run over. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Caye Caulker, Belize.

0720 Wednesday 11 Mar 2015
Dave: "Too bad you have your party Friday night, cheap tickets to Belize for the weekend! You could test out your gear!" 
1920 Thursday 12 Mar 2015
Sitting at the Split on Caye Caulker (pronounced Key caulk-uh) in Belize. 

I've had friends tell me that the week before leaving for my first trip overseas I would be sick with anxiety. The fact that I had less than 24 hours to prepare for this hop to Belize probably helped with that. I wasn't anxious about the trip itself, I was anxious that we wouldn't get on our flights since we were flying standby. I'll be honest, I needed this trip a lot. I don't cope well with boredom, so this was the perfect getaway. And to those of you who had been planning on making it to my going away party, I'm sorry I missed you, but if I get back tonight we can try again. 

Belize was my first trip outside of the United States, and I didn't have a clue about the country.. Or customs processes or anything of that sort. I do know that when we were on approach to land I caught a glimpse of the jungle, and I'll definitely be going back to peruse through there and hopefully make it to some ruins! Once we landed, much to my surprise, everything in Belize was written in English. The taxi driver that took us and an American couple to the water taxi said that everyone in Belize learns English from day one. They speak Creole, but since it isn't a written language, they read and write in English because Belize is a British colony. As a result, most people, especially around the touristy spots, speak pretty good English. 

Once we finally got to Caye Caulker we met a guy who was the cousin of our Air BNB hosts, Rosie and Basilo, and he gave us a ride to the apartment we rented. I honestly would have preferred to have stayed in a hostel, but they were all booked. But! If anyone wants to grab a clean two bedroom apartment with a deck, full kitchen and living room with hot running water, check out Axios Sun with the Blue Sky Apartments. It was a nice place, and they have an adorable puppy that stays in their yard downstairs from where the apartment is. 

After we dropped off our stuff we changed and headed straight for the split. A few decades ago fisherman made a small canal through the island so they didn't have to go all the way around. Over the years with hurricanes and a strong steady current, the canal eroded and got bigger and deeper until it finally turned into what it is today. I wouldn't trust my eye on the distance too much, but my guess is that it's about thirty meters across. And you can definitely see the current through there. We chilled out and had a Belikin (the only beer they offer on the island, since it's brewed in Belize City) on the dock at the bar while the sun went down. That bar is basically the bar on the island. There were a ton of travelers hanging out there and we met a few cool people. Also, while we were sitting on the dock we saw some weird sights. At least, they were weird for me since I'm not really a water or beach person. There was some kind of huge fish that kept leaping out of the water to eat stuff, and some kind of bioluminescent snake swimming around. The tour guide we talked to later said it was probably algae, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't. That thing was definitely swimming. 

Later we went to have dinner and while we were waiting on our food to arrive the power went out. And stayed out. It didn't really matter though because all the stoves there run off natural gas, so we still got our food and ate by candle light. Apparently, the power on the island isn't the most reliable thing in the world, but the locals told us that it's usually only one end of the island that goes out at a time and only for a short time, and they usually still have running water when it goes out. There was intermittent running water and the power stayed out most of the next day. After the power went out you could see every star in the sky. They were everywhere and it was awesome! I love the stars. I can only spot Orion's Belt, and idk crap about any other constellations, but I love to look at them. 

If you're an early riser, there's not a better scene on the whole island than the sunrise. I went and checked it out, then went for a run and made it around the whole island. It's really not very big. The southern end of the island is more secluded, which is neither good nor bad in this place. It probably only takes an hour and a half to walk around the whole island. There's a little forest nature reserve that is unfortunately filled with trash near the ocean. I can honestly say that I never gave pollution much of a thought before seeing that. I've always made it a point not to litter, but after that, I think I might kick someone if I catch them doing it.

There are a ton of stray dogs on the island but they're all pretty friendly. If you're really missing your own dog, you can go to the pet shelter that takes in some strays and mistreated dogs and rent one for the day. It's free and they give you whatever dog you want to take for a walk or a run around the island. Kind of neat if you ask me. 

Dave and I did a half day snorkeling tour. It only cost $35 US, so it was pretty cheap! For those of you who don't know, I have a healthy fear of the open water. I was almost ready to vomit when our guide finally anchored the boat and told us to hop in the water and swim with the nurse sharks. Once I got in, I was fine. Our guide chummed the water and about 10 nurse sharks swam around and we got to pet them. And some manta rays. The Rays are like the cats of the ocean. You'll be standing around and they'll just swim right up and rub on you. Kinda scared the shit out of me the first couple times they did it. Our guide Juan told us that the biggest Ray out there us named Steve after Steve Irwin. We decided not to get kayaks to paddle around the ocean and went to the split instead. I chatted it up with a British fellow named Sebastien for a while. There were some dark clouds starting to move in, but they were at least as far as the reef. I asked Dave and Seb if they thought I could swim the split and back before the storm got there. They both assured me that it was plenty far away.. They were wrong. I dove off the dock and made it to the other side in no time. I didn't realize that the current was helping me out a little bit. I walked up the deep shoreline back to the east to try and counteract the current that I thought was only flowing west. It took everything out of me to get halfway back across the split against the current. When I realized that I was pretty much spent and only halfway there the thought of being swept out to sea (and in a tempest no less) gave me a new fervor and I switched from freestyle to the side stroke. Since the current was flowing west, it would have been ideal to be facing east for this part of the swim so I swam more up the current and didn't pass the dock. But the storm was getting close and the small waves I hadn't even noticed before were throwing tons of water into my eyes and mouth, so I turned around. Then about fifteen feet from the dock the rain started pelting me and the wind was blowing harder. I did finally make it to the dock, but the stairs to get up were a good forty feet up current. An older American man had apparently seen me and came over to pull me up from the water. Thank God for him. He said that he had gotten stuck out in the middle of the split a few days prior and a local had had to come save him. Apparently, they're used to less than intelligent travelers who think they're good swimmers. By the time we made it five feet inland the real rain began. It absolutely poured and a few kayakers got stuck out in it. They were on the west side of the island though, so they didn't have to fight with the current. Still, I was quite glad that we decided not to rent kayaks to go to crocodile alley. 

It was a short trip, but it was much needed and we met some pretty cool people. I can't wait until I get to Europe and get to meet a lot more folks! I'll have to make it home first though. Since im flying standby and separately from Dave, I may wind up spending the night in the airport tonight. As long as I make it home in enough time to get to the other airport to go to Spain, I'll be happy. 

Traveler tip: Money. Make sure you get plenty of cash (US or Belize, they will take both) as soon as you land or when you get to the island. I waited a little too long to get any, and Dave wound up having to pay for more than one of my meals because I kept running out. Most places can take a card, but not when the power is out! Everywhere that takes cash will take US dollars, but I want to accrue pirate money from everywhere I go. Note that prices are all posted with a $, but it's Belize dollars. Since Belize currency is pegged to US currency, it will always be exactly half of the price you see. So if it's $70 BZE to do a snorkeling trip, it's only $35 US. 

Traveler tip: Food. Honestly, everything here is pretty good! I suggest trying conch at least once in any form that it comes in. The seafood is fresh, and there's a pretty good selection at a lot of places. If you want hookah or top shelf liquor, the only place to get it is at the Hookah bar and restaurant. They also have a little dance floor where you can rave out until late at night. It's a little yellow building kind north of "town" but probably at least 100 yards south of the split. Don't eat the food there though. I like middle eastern food, but theirs was anything but tasty. 

Traveler tip: Timing. One thing I noticed about Belize (and Dave says a lot of the world is like this) is that nothing happens on time. The $25us taxi from the airport to the water taxi sped and wove through traffic. But from that point on, everything was slow. The water taxi didn't load until ten minutes after it was supposed to leave. Once we got to the island we were quickly informed that Caye Caulker is "the go slow island" and we needed to not be in a hurry. Your food will take forever to be prepared, so find someone to have a good conversation with. You won't be on time, but you'll get to where you're going. If you look like you're in a hurry, the locals will talk at you from their kiosks along the road, "why are you in a hurry? Slow down." That was really difficult for me seeing as I consider myself late if I'm less than fifteen minutes early, and if I'm running an errand, I always do it as quickly as I can. It was nice to slow down though. While you're on vacation here, just chill out. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Packout

I tried for a while (ok, five minutes tops) to find a comprehensive packing list for backpacking Europe AND camping while staying lightweight. My efforts were (unsurprisingly) met with disappointment. So I made one up myself. Considering I've never really backpacked, and I carried entirely too much shit when I did search and rescue, this might turn out to be a disaster. I'm not afraid to experiment. I'll let you know if on my way I figure out that I should have left half that crap at home, or really shouldn't have left some things. So here's what I've got..

Honestly, probably too much crap. I'm too inept and lazy to put little numbers on all the items to tell you what they are, but here's what you're looking at.
My backpack is a small, Gregory Cairn 48L backpack. I chose it because it fits my body type best and I would rather downsize to next to nothing rather than pack too much crap and be miserable carrying around 60lbs. It has top and side access, and plenty of pockets. It's also got a little rain cover to boot. I'm quite certain I'll be needing that.
I've got a pair of jeans, a pair of cargo pants, running shorts, and a pair of thin Patagonia cargo type shorts. I've also got 4 shirts, one of which is a Khul collard shirt that shouldn't really wrinkle or smell too bad, even if I do wear it for a few days straight.. (I will probably stink, but the shirt should be ok). And then there's undies and a bathing suit. All of that is in those blue, red, and green packing cubes you see. I'll be wearing at least one of those outfits at all time (I presume), so the cubes should be significantly smaller. At least when I'm wearing the pants.. I also have a light weight rain jacket for those shitty days when I get stuck out in the middle of a tempest, because if it's going to happen to anyone, it's gonna happen to me. I'm only taking one pair of tennis shoes that should be on my feet pretty much the whole time. They're Nike frees and I love them. I've been told to take hiking shoes instead or in addition, but in all honesty, I know me. I wouldn't wear them. I'm too damn stubborn for that. They dry pretty quickly and the tread is at least half way decent since they're new. Fingers crossed that I won't regret this decision.
I managed to fit my climbing shoes, harness, ATC, carabiner, leather glove, and whatever that long piece of multipurpose webbing is called into my bag as well. I plan on figuring out some way to hook up with some folks who are climbing and swing on their ropes with them. Honestly, if I don't get the chance to climb something, I'll be pissed. Those take up a lot of room and add a lot of weight. Obviously, this isn't a set of items most people would carry.
I've also got a sleeping bag liner from Sea to Summit. My mother wanted me to take a set of sheets for hostels. Let me tell you something. A set of sheets is huge, and I'm not one to put sheets on a bed to stay for one or two nights anyway. When I went to Marion Military Institute, I slept on top of my covers with a contraband blanket so I didn't have to make my bed every morning. I'll also note that every time the Col. inspected the female barracks, my room was always used as the standard. If you ain't cheatin, you ain't tryin! Anyway. I got the thermolite reactor extreme as a compromise. It's supposed to add up to 25C to a sleeping bag, so it should be plenty warm in a hostel, and it should also work pretty well for when I wind up camping. I've also got a small "tarp" I usually use when camp in my hammock to sleep under or on for when it rains.. because that will happen to me.
In my "camping" gear I've got 50' of paracord, a headlamp, batteries, some s-biners, a spork with weird little tools on it, water purifiers, and a little water bottle that rolls up when you're not using it so it takes up very little room. It's also got it's own little clasp for when you are using it so you can hang it on your pack. I've also got one of those flint/phosphorous blocks and some pansy little fire starter sticks. Why? Because I'm lazy and in addition to being tiny, they're virtually weightless. So why not? Since I'm carrying my backpack on instead of checking it, I'll have to buy both a pocket knife/multitool and a lighter once I get there.
In a little dry bag, I have all my electronic cords and converters as well as some benadryl, ibuprofen, and Tylenol. And headphones for train/plane rides. There's also a small first aid kit that has gauze, antibiotic ointment, vet wrap, and super glue and yes, I have a tourniquet. I can make one with a stick and a bit of cloth, but again, I'm lazy. In fact, I'll probably prove to be too lazy to even use it on myself if I need it. Fingers crossed that I don't need any of it.
I have a Sea to Summit antimicrobial dry lite microtowel. I got the XL so I can use it as a bath towel and run from a shower to a room without showing off my assets. I doubt I'll wind up in that position, but oh well.
The Gregory Cairn 48 has a sleeve for a camelbak bladder, so I took mine out of the camelbak I usually use to go mountain biking and stuffed it in there.
The toiletry bag seems a little obvious if you ask me. I've got another Sea to Summit microlite antimicrobial towel in there to use as a washcloth. I got the XS and cut it in half. I got it instead of a regular washcloth because it will dry much faster and I don't have to worry about it souring in my bag and making everything stink. Let's be honest, I'll probably smell bad enough as it is. If you don't know what else belongs in a toiletry bag, you probably shouldn't be backpacking without adult supervision. Let your "parents" pack for you and make sure it's one of those backpacks with a leash on it. 
The last item you might be able to pick out is a runner's pouch. It's kinda like a fanny pack, only tiny and it fits under your shirt so you might not get made fun of as much. I've been told countless times about people getting pick pocketed in Europe, and I'm sure I'll want to keep my passport with me most of the time, so that's what that is for. I'll have my passport and some backup cash in there. There's also a "secret" compartment in the side of my backpack that would be secret if the manufacturer didn't advertise it amongst it's assets (thanks, Gregory!) where I'll probably keep my passport card (virtually useless in anywhere but Canada, Mexico, and the islands, but if you lose your real passport, you can at least show that to your embassy to get a replacement quicker) and some extra cash. 
In addition to all this crap, I have a little messenger bag (or a satchel if you're Indiana Jones or Alan from The Hangover) that I'll use when I've got my backpack stowed in a locker somewhere and just want to run around town. It zips AND clasps, so the chances of it getting pick pocketed are slim. It's big enough to hold my iPad mini, a little journal notebook I've got, some pens, and a charger. I'm also taking a Jockery backup battery with me in it too. To say that I'm addicted to my technology would be the understatement of the year. I like to use it to talk to a select few people and ignore the rest. It also provides an annoyingly finite number of hours of music, movies, and other entertainment. This jockery I got is supposed to charge an iPad or iPhone ten times before it runs out. That should do me. I'll go ahead and point out for anyone that doesn't already know, international plans are EXPENSIVE. I won't be getting one. I'm putting my phone on a reduced rate service plan so it's only $10/month. I'll be switching out my sim card with one that I buy over there with some calling, texting, and data capabilities, but for the most part I'm just going to be relying on wifi. Which means that when I bike across Portugal I may have to actually find a paper map..
I had initially intended to keep my backpack under 22 pounds because that's the cutoff for RyanAir's carry on weight. I don't know how much I'll be trying to use them, but if I decide to, I don't want to be stuck on the ground because my backpack was too heavy. All of this wound up weighing in at 21.2 pounds. Can anyone here say "success?!" But also, the Cairn 48 is slightly bigger in dimensions than they allow.. Hopefully if I try to fly with them, they aren't being sticklers about that, or they have room in the hull. I may wind up ditching an item or twelve before I leave. I may also add one or two. Probably not. We're gonna see how this all plays out. I'll let you know as I go along!