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.