Drugged Boy

esq040114drugging01-1519855960My sister recently tagged me in a link/post on Facebook. I highly recommend you read it before you read what I have to say. It’s long but worth it.

I haven’t spent time considering my boyhood years in a very long while. I read this post and it inspired me to write. If you are my friend and you like the image of me you have, you might want to stop reading now. However, if you are indeed my friend, you’ll read, understand, refuse to judge and just maybe come away with a better understanding of who I am or why I do certain things.

Fair warning, this post may be all over the place. 😉

Some Back Story

If you know me, you probably know my father and his father, my grandfather, died within six days of each other over Thanksgiving (On Thanksgiving Day for my dad) in 1982 when I was 8 years old and my sister was 5. In the span of less than a week I’d lost any real chance at male role models in my life. I’d never crawl around my dad’s 1970’s Monte Carlo with him and understand why opening the butterfly valve on the carburetor changed the fuel/air mix. I’d never hear my grandfather’s stories of traveling the world with my grandmother.

My mother had lost her husband and with him some of the support that came from his side of the family. To be blunt, they mostly abandoned us after the funeral. My mother was left to her own devices. My home had been the traditional sort where dad worked and mom stayed home with the kids. My memories of life before my father died are mostly clouded so I don’t remember my mom being home all the time. My father got sick when I was five and so my early years are pretty much memories of my father wasting away and my mother being strong, taking care of him and managing life. Mom went to work, we went to daycare or babysitters.

My mother is still the strongest woman I know. She never re-married and only rarely dated. My sister and I were her life and she did everything she possibly could to make sure we turned out alright. By mine and my sister’s own words, she did an amazing job. My sister and I are both compassionate people, loyal to our friends and family nearly to a fault. My sister is also a single mother who is doing a fantastic job with my niece. I often look at my niece and think that perhaps her “wildness” might, by another person and in another time, be taken as something that “needed to be addressed”. I am eternally grateful that my sister lets her be who she is going to be because she is simply amazing.

I have no children and no desire for them. I attribute a lot of this to my childhood. I don’t “blame” my childhood, rather, I say it was a good teacher and I do not believe I would be strong enough to handle things as well as my mother did in the worst case scenario she had to endure.

After my father died, I understand from my mom and others that I did not handle it well. My own memories are pretty fleeting except for a few very vivid ones I cling to. I lashed out at my mother but I don’t know if it was any more than another boy would have at that age. My mother took me to a counselor shortly after my father died and perhaps a psychiatric doctor, I’m not certain. I do know that not long after, I was put on Ritalin. I was also put into “special education” classes for people with learning disabilities. I’ll address this first.

Special Education

How do I explain “special education”? Unless you’ve been through the system, you probably have no idea what this entails. you might have seen these kids in school but you probably never really knew them. Maybe you even made jokes about them. These kids were those on the spectrum, or perhaps those who truly had learning disabilities like dyslexia (My best friend back then had a form of this in which he read books backwards). Some had very real anger and violence issues. One of my more vivid memories of these classes was around fifth grade where a kid was screaming and hitting the teacher. He ended up climbing up on top of a tall cabinet out of reach and the room was soon filled with staff trying to get him down.

The curriculum was not the same either. It was for lack of a better term, “dumbed down”. I became bored quickly and would often be reprimanded for “day dreaming”. I started reading books for enjoyment around this time and it was the only thing that took me out of my head.

For my own part, I was in these classes because I did indeed lash out, mostly at my mother and my sister. I was especially mean to my sister even into high school. I believe now that I was jealous of her. She never had to go into special classes, never got put on Ritalin and to my blind young eyes, didn’t have any “problems”. Later I would learn she had dealt with as much or more than I ever would.  I cannot tell you if this anger I had was just “who I was” at the time or if it was due to my father’s death or the Ritalin or a mixture but I can say that I still struggle with anger issues sometimes. I’ll get into more of that later but thankfully, age and experience have taught me to temper anger with creativity and other outlets.

When I was going into my 8th grade year, my mother decided she had had enough of doing it alone and planned to move us from the outskirts of Chicago to Roswell, NM where her parents lived. It would be the beginning of me taking control of my life. I told my mother in no uncertain terms that I would refuse to go back into “special education” classes when we moved. I wanted a new start. Sometimes I laugh at that memory, a twelve going on thirteen year old “telling” his mother he would refuse to go into anything but “regular” classes. To my surprise, she agreed. I saw it as a new start where no-one knew me, where I wasn’t called a “retard” when I came out of the room everyone knew was for “the weird kids”. I was bullied non-stop by a kid in my 6th and 7th grade years. I even remember his name, Mike Zimmerman. I was glad to be leaving even if it was for an ex-military town in the middle of the desert.

By the first month of 8th grade, I knew I was behind. The “special education” classes had not prepared me for the true curriculum I should have known. I struggled hard. My struggles caused me anger and the kids around me could feel this. I got into fights, I spent time in In-School Suspension and I was even suspended out of school a few times. I continued to be bullied until around 10th grade when, after having my nose destroyed by a kid who jumped me for no other reason than I was a loner. I came back to school after a week long suspension (yes, I was suspended for getting hit in the face and running into the counselors office bleeding all over). The kid who hit me was a year younger and was not suspended because “I was older and should know better than to get into fights”. Yes. Really. Something changed after that. I became aware of myself in many ways. One of these ways was my size. I was not a small kid then, nor was I grossly overweight but I did have broad shoulders and natural muscle. The next time this same kid got me alone was in a locker-room in the gym a few weeks after my return. I saw him coming up behind me and without any words I spun on him and drove his head into a locker. I kept bashing his head into the locker until I saw him crying and then I just walked away. He never approached me again, he never looked at me again and he never squealed to the office that I had assaulted him. I had learned to stand up for myself but I had also learned that I had little to know control over my anger in that type of situation. This was something I would struggle with well into my 30’s. People picking on defenseless people became a trigger for me and I would unleash on them. Only in the last few years have I truly come to a place where I can control the black rage which assails me when I see a situation like this.

School never really worked for me and I dropped out in the 11th grade. I did not end up flipping burgers but I’ll get into that below.

Drugged Boy

I do not recall when I was put on Ritalin or when I was taken off of it but I do have memories of being influenced by it. The article, if you read it, touches on some of these and I will do the same with my own experiences here.

I have a memory of standing at my second story bedroom window and wondering what it would be like to jump. My mother corroborate this memory I believe though it’s been a long while since we spoke of it. I would have been around eight or nine. Suicidal thoughts at that age are not unheard of but rare I’d imagine. I believe highly that the Ritalin I was on altered how I perceived things around me.

I relate to some of the article’s other mentions of side effects and longer lasting permanent alterations. Insomnia is probably my earliest memory of any side effect. I remember being up until one or two a.m. when I was ten or eleven and then not being able to get up for school.

Anxiety and Agitation are things I deal with daily. Again, it is hard to tell whether this is just who I would have become anyway or if the years of Ritalin had a hand in shaping me along with a traumatic childhood loss of parents. There really is no way to know.

Suicidal thoughts and depression have also assaulted me from time to time. Since my late twenties the occurrences have been very few and far between and thankfully, never more than a few months of struggling. The most recent bout of these feelings was about a year ago. Each time however, I learn a little more and I’m able to move on.

But, are you ADD/ADHD?

No. At least, I don’t believe I am and I’ve had doctors tell me as an adult that I was most likely misdiagnosed. I believe much of this has to do with advances in the understanding of ADD/ADHD. I absolutely have some ADD moments but I think that is human nature. My career is full of multi-tasking and that could be taken as ADD.

The article I mention at the top touches on this quite a bit. I was a “wild” kid. I had and still have a ton of energy. My friends who are ten years younger than me often comment on it. I was also an adventurous kid. I wanted to and again, still want to explore everything. I consume tons of random information on things as wide and varied as how the Mayan language evolved to why my dog farts and then checks his own backside. I live in Wikipedia for hours at a time and I get sucked into clicking through related topics. Does this make me ADD? Maybe. Or maybe I just enjoy learning new things but never spending a ton of time on one topic. I credit this “dysfunction” for my success in my career so if I’m like this because my mom put me on Ritalin at the advice of a misinformed doctor then all I can say is “Thanks Mom!”

What saved you?
Do you blame the doctors or your mom?
Who are you now?

Define “saved”…

My mother obviously “saved” me. I do not blame her for anything yet she often makes comments and blames herself for the special education, the Ritalin, even not getting re-married. I shush her of course. My mother was a suddenly widowed woman with two young children. To say “she did the best she could” would be an insult. The woman didn’t just “do the best she could”, instead she gave up every dream of how her life might go.  My mother’s goal in life became making sure that my sister and I would have one. She more than succeeded. My mother “creatively financed” (her term), when she needed to make something happen. If we were broke and struggling, my sister and I didn’t really know. Only later would we come to understand how many times we were close to financial ruin. We had what we needed for school, we had food on the table and most important, we had my mother as a stalwart and fair defender of her children. She didn’t back down from those who would try to do us wrong nor would she stand for any bullshit we tried to lay on her. I could spend page upon page telling stories of what my mother taught me, how she taught me even when she wasn’t intending on teach me, etc.

I do not blame the doctors either. That is too easy. Research in this area and most psychiatric areas has come leaps and bounds since that time. I cannot blame a misinformed doctor for putting a kid who’d just lost all the men in his immediate and local family on a central nervous system drug in order to help a single mother control her all-over-the-place son.

I blame no one. The situation perhaps but no one. At the end of the day, I’m pretty happy with who I am.

So then what did “save” me or, at least, what helped me out?

Mom made a decision just after my dad died that would end up being the catalyst for change in my life. It would save me from flipping those burgers when I dropped out of high school and would steer my career. The decision, combined with my natural inclination toward tearing things apart to understand them and putting them back together would steer me toward the life and career I now know.

My mother bought a computer.

It was a Commodore 64. It had a modem. I was instantly addicted. Instead of tearing it apart like I had done with countless alarm clocks, toys, etc to see what made it work, I taught myself how it worked through it’s own language. My equally nerdy babysitter also like computers and showed me a magazine that had code in the back. I was hooked. Looking back, it also focused me. It continues to focus me to this day but not in that dead eyed stare at a gaming console way. It challenges me to focus in order to learn which has the side effect of centering me similar to how meditation works which I also spend quite a bit of time doing.

Today I am 43 years old. Only a year older than my father was when he died. I’ve been married an divorced. My ex-wife and I are still friends and she is still one of the few people I completely trust unequivocally. My lifestyle is not 2.5 kids and a white picket fence. My fence is red-brown and I have no kids. I tend to have more female friends than male, something I absolutely credit my upbringing for. I have an excellent “personal life”. My career is fun and fulfilling. Sometimes I struggle with depression. Sometimes I struggle with anger and maybe I am even a little ADD but all in all, I’m happy.

In closing

I’m not a parent. I’ve never raised a child nor do I have any interest in raising one and perhaps do not have the required patience to do so but I do agree with the article in saying that we need to stop medicating our boys and instead try to embrace who they might be. Certainly there are going to be cases where ADHD/ADD are absolutely something that needs to be treated. I know several mothers and fathers with boys who are truly suffering from these debilitating conditions but I also know and work with young adults who were mis-diagnosed, given Adderal and now have come to rely on it in adulthood as a crutch they probably never really needed. Some of my 20-somethings I work with have admitted suicidal thoughts to me when they try to get off Adderall and others abuse it for the wakefulness effects.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read the article mentioned at the top. My own story is not a fair telling of the more common outcomes of boys who are mis-diagnosed and then drugged. I count myself as one of the lucky ones. I am not an alcoholic, I’ve never dived into the drug scene even when I was constantly surrounded by it on a nightly basis. I don’t suffer from much PTSD regarding my childhood nor do I rely on any medication dave for an Advil or two here and there. I have been lucky. Many others have not.

A Year in (of?) Review

calendarAs I pulled my blog up this morning, I realized it is only a few days short of a year since I last posted. A year. Incredible. Not because it’s been a year since I have added something here but because of how 2017 changed me. Without getting into too much detail, I lost the person in my life who I thought would be there forever. She was, in my mind, elastic and ever patient. It turns out she was not and was more than willing to give up an intricate and challenging friendship without much explanation other than about a forty minute conversation without much of a warning. We had been joking around in text in the hours leading up and I’d sent her some URL’s through email which she responded to.

If this sounds bitter, it is not. I made her departure very easy. I was not in a good place and that had nothing to do with her but I put a lot of it on her so when a knight in shining armor came into her life and immediately started painting me in a bad light (again, I made it easy), then she was more than willing to drop our friendship and run. “He made some valid points.” was her response when I asked her if this was her decision or if he had given her an ultimatum. I had my answer but it didn’t make watching her walk away any easier. To his points, I’m guessing they were pretty spot on. I was in a horrible place and unknowingly I was probably taking her with me. She did what I could not, she got out.

In the months that followed, I had a few unpleasant moments. I couldn’t go into downtown Dallas and avoided it at all costs. I nearly ran into her one day in a mall and had to pull out old stealth moves to avoid her. I’d break down at random times and cry like a hungry child. I was a mess but I hid it well from everyone including my fiancĂ©. Well, most of the time. She knew what was wrong because I’d come home from that “last meeting” and told her everything about what had happened but in the coming days I’d tell her I was fine and she accepted it. I went on to deal with the hole alone.

I kept a six month journal because that was the time my ex-friend had told me she needed to sort things out. I figured a journal of daily ramblings might help and it did. It turns out that six months was just a buffer and that she had no intention of returning to our friendship and trying to figure things out. I bought it though and kept that journal faithfully with the intent on giving it to her when we met in six months. It now resides in my safe.

If this all sounds melancholy I apologize. It was to be honest but things got better. I am part of a Ren Faire for two months a year and while it was still difficult in those months, the fair was a fun distraction. I had also met someone at work who has since become one of my good friends. An unlikely friend but a good one. Summer is a blur to be honest.

August came and was a turning point of sorts. I had some kind of silly hope that I’d at least get a Happy Birthday from my old friend. That day came and went and I began to accept that she wasn’t going to call, that I wouldn’t wake up to another friendly text or get an email saying “look, I just need more time, I’m moving, big things are happening, I’ll give you a call someday when I get settled.” Anything would have been better than silence. Instead, her family slowly started dropping me from Facebook.

It began with her sister, after I posted “Have fun!” on a trip she was taking to San Diego. I imagined my friend and her sister talked and that she told her I was nuts, or that I was some horrible person and so she removed me. In reality it probably was not that dramatic.

As fall came and wedding season picked up (I own a DJ business), I had plenty of distractions. Between fall weddings, lifestyle events, planning a trip, Help Portrait and other things, I was pretty occupied and Christmas came quickly. We planned a trip in the new RV (the old one was stolen in July) to the Grand Canyon which turned into 10 days and six National Parks, meeting a new friend and joining up with some other friends on the road and a night in the desert on BLM land. It was an epic adventure.

When I came home, I posted a Throw Back Thursday picture of my old friend on my photography Instagram with a message of understanding and support. Her two cousins, one of which I’d seen not four weeks earlier at a volunteer event and even talked to about my friend, her cousin, were the first two people to “love” the post. Less than two weeks later both would delete me from their profiles and block me. I imagine at the request of my old friend. Where a year ago, I would have immediately assumed anger, I did not, instead choosing to believe that seeing my comments or posts on her cousin’s profiles might be difficult for her. Whichever is true, I accepted it instantly and there was little of that gut wrenching sensation I would have had previously.

So what did I learn?

If you made it this far, congratulations because that is some depressing stuff above. It was depressing to be sure but here I am, still breathing and that is the point after all, isn’t it? Breathing? Continuing on.

I learned that it was possible for someone who no longer wanted me in their life to continue to affect mine nearly a year after they departed. I learned that I can never let that happen again. I learned that I can sink into a pit of depression at levels far deeper than I had ever thought possible. I also learned that sometimes it takes a jarring life event to wake someone up and make them realize who they are.

In the end, it’s very possible that even had our friendship been pristine, she would have pulled out of it anyway. One thing my old friend was unfortunately prone to was manipulation in the name of love and love is what happened. I’m almost certain that if her new love had said “I don’t want you to have any male friends” that she would have complied. This near certainty is bolstered by something one of her family members mentioned to me earlier in the year when they reached out perhaps feeling sorry for me.

I learned that my belief in open communication is a good path and because of the events of 2017, my communication has gotten much better with those I love. I rekindled some friendships that had gone away due to lack of communication, ended some that were detrimental to my life and my relationship with my fiancé strengthened beyond belief.

I learned that I should support my friends no matter what I believe and then be there to celebrate with them or hold them as they cry, whichever the outcome. I failed horribly in this with my old friend and it absolutely contributed to the outcome. Even had we split due to the possibility mentioned above, it would have been an easier departure for both of us.

Most importantly, I also learned that I can change. Without trying to sound like an “old man”, people my age are usually set on a path they established long ago and do not want to change. I went the other way. Over the last year I have gone from an angry, “screw everyone who doesn’t like me” to  someone who values input on who I am and someone who would rather say “You make a good point, I should take a look at that about myself.” Many things have changed. My political leaning even changed which, honestly, beforehand I really didn’t lean either way and was happy in the middle but as I began to actually stand up for what I truly believed in, I realized I lean more to one side than the other.

Something I am still working on is trust. If anything was damaged by the events of the last year, it was trust. When someone jokes with you like nothing is amiss in the hours leading up to their sudden departure, it takes a great deal of trust out of you. This has manifested in not getting to know people like I once did. I used to want to know someone inside and out as soon as possible, I craved their story. Now I tend toward staying with those I already know and trust. My work friend was the exception, she told my walls to f-off. I also have become somewhat of a recluse. Depression has that effect on people but though I’m on the other side of it these days, I still prefer to stay in my house working on projects, hanging out with close friends, my fiancĂ© or the dogs. I’m sure in time that will level out as will other small details.

All in all, I can say as I write this that I am happy. I miss what is lost but I’m thankful for what I’ve gained from the outcome.

A Changing Mindset

124614-matte-white-square-icon-arrows-two-directions-left-right1In the past few weeks, I have randomly asked acquaintances, that is to say, people who do not know me well enough to know my “leaning”; “Do you think I am Democrat or Republican?” The answers varied from shock at why I would ask such a thing to a confident “Republican”. I have been told I “look like a Republican”. Ha!

In reality, I’ve always put myself square in the middle and honestly, if you do know me, you know politics have never been big in my life. I have never voted. Not once. I’ve never felt my centrist views allowed me to vote fairly. I’m often heard saying “Well, I believe the government should stay out of women’s bodies and I also like my guns, so you tell me which way I lean.” Those are two very large discussions though, aren’t they?

Lately, especially in light of this most recent campaign, I find myself agreeing more with the Democratic side than the Republican side and those things I have agreed with in the past on the right are beginning to wane. I certainly don’t believe we “need a wall” and instead need to enact programs to help people come here if they have an honest desire to do so. Sure, terrorism is a problem but building a wall isn’t going to help. I know this for fact. Anti-Cyberterrorism is what I am contracted to fight. Healthcare is also a big one. I’ve always thought the socialist views on healthcare were the best and look at the countries enjoying those benefits.

There are many more and there is *much* I am uneducated about concerning both parties but this is where you come in. In a few minutes I am going to be sending out an email to an email list I’ve kept updated with people I’ve met along the way who have intrigued me or in some way captivated my “brain side”. I am going to ask you to explain your views to me and why you believe what you do because, honestly, I know very little.

 

525,600 Minutes

flat,800x800,070,fThe Bridges he Burned

For the past several weeks I have been doing quite a bit of self exploration. I won’t get into the details because it does not matter for this particular post but today I had yet another a epiphany. These have become common lately. I have spent much time in meditation and soul-searching. If you have been reading this blog or you know me personally this probably does not sound like something you would expect to hear from me.

I can be very cloak and dagger, even with people I hold dear and this has not served me well. This has provoked the ire of friends in the past and more recently put a rift between myself and someone I care for and love. While I am not about to begin walking up to strangers on the street and spilling my life story, I am dedicated to being more open with those who are close to me going forward.

On a few occasions in my life, I have lost people I am close to, not due to death or moving away, but because of my own intensity. It does not happen often thankfully but I always seem to handle it the same way up until now. Normally I am extremely upset and I want to fix everything right now. This generally causes the other person to back away even further. With this last most recent incident, I attempted to take a different path which was to back off as much as possible and give them the space they required. I have not earned a gold star but I am giving it a shot. Instead of trying to contact them constantly to try and “fix it”, I began keeping a daily journal both publicly online at a dedicated web address and in a hand written  journal. So far this has served me pretty well and allows me to put my thoughts down without blowing up someone’s phone.

While the above are realizations I’ve come to recently, they are not the epiphany I had today so lets get into that.

How do you Measure?

If you are anything of a musicals buff, you already know what the subject is about. If not I encourage you to look up the musical “RENT” and the song “Season’s of Love”. The short version is that this song asks how you measure a year in the life of a person. I was listening to this song today and I listen to it pretty often. It got me thinking about how I handle someone going away.

My immediate thought is “we are going to be wasting so much time being apart and we only have so very little time to live.” It upsets me greatly because I truly feel like anything can be solved through communication but on a few occasions in my life, including this one, communication was the last thing someone wanted. My mind just keeps playing that over and over again; “we have such little time why are we wasting it being upset when we could spend it working things out. What if one of us gets hurt? What if one of us has an accident and we can never resolve?” And over and over it goes.

The fact is, when someone wants space, that is the only thing they are thinking about. They are not thinking about any of those possibilities I’ve mentioned above or if they are, the need for space outweighs the risk. They need time to sort out how they feel about a situation or they need to focus on something else without interruptions  from you.

When someone requests space from you and you do not give it to them, it only serves to push them further away. A person who wants space from another is going to get it one way or another. Either you’ll grant their desire or they will put more distance between you. Certainly they could be “letting you down easy” by telling you they just want space temporarily when in reality they have no intention of working on the issue, but I would like to believe that most of the time people truly do want to resolve things with others who are close to them. Admittedly, I have not always been good at granting space from someone I deeply care about.

I have hope for this most recent situation as the person involved is extremely intelligent and self aware. I tend to believe that while I did not want the space and it has been and continues to be extremely painful for me, the end result of resolution will be worth it.

Personal Crossroads

d64912afea_2012-originalWhen I was about 19 or 20, I moved to Longview, TX. It was my first apartment along with my first real “job” on top of being 120 miles from home. It was a new adventure. I turned 21 and another first happened; I bought my first handgun and later, my CHL.

I’ve been around guns all my life thanks to my uncle, who not only taught me to respect them from a young age but also how to care for them, when to use them and when not to use them. I credit him alone with recognizing that I was very interested in firearms and instead of hiding them away, invited me to handle them and later to shoot them. He passed away many years ago but he will always get the credit for giving me a proper respect for firearms.

If you know me well, you know I enjoy the right to own firearms and add another level of protection to myself, my family and my home. If you know me extremely well, you know I am proficient in using them when the need arises. You rarely see me advertising this right on Facebook because I don’t believe it is something that needs to be advertised. You will also rarely see me join a gun debate because, again, I don’t think that kind of thing needs to be argued. I don’t check in from the gun range, I don’t post pictures two-fisting Glocks. The occasional shot of Celeste holding an M4 slips into my Facebook album on occasion because, honestly, that is just pretty (and she is proficient with it which is even more pretty to me).

Although I’ve had my CHL from nearly the day it became a law, I rarely “Conceal Carry”. I keep firearms in the cars most of the time, in the house all the time and I make sure I carry one on long trips. I rarely carry into Star Bucks or Walmart (I know the hardcore are going to balk but that’s ok) and I have not exercised my right to Open Carry even though I fully support it and enjoy the option.

Until recently, I haven’t felt like I “needed” to carry into Walmart, Starbucks or anywhere else like that. Part of this is my training, I feel I can handle myself in hand-to-hand combat well enough not to need to carry all the time. Even in a gun situation, I’ve trained and trained over the years on how to disarm someone whether they are holding a knife, a bat, a small child.. or a gun.

But
 Things are changing.

I was downtown, maybe five blocks away the night five officers were killed during a protest. I was armed. I was happy to be armed but I was also happy I didn’t get caught in the middle of it and that my biggest inconvenience was getting out of downtown due to road closures. I keep reading about random acts of violence against minorities by bigots. I keep reading about racist epitaphs left at schools and little girls raped by entitled college white boys.

I keep hearing about hate.

I don’t hate much personally. There are few things in this world I will affix that title to but it seems like those things keep cropping up more and more lately. Rapists, murder of innocents, abusers of women, etc. More and more I think “Man, I should be carrying just in case”.

Perhaps it would shock you to learn that I’d prefer peace over carrying a gun. Hell, I’d prefer legalized sword carrying over a gun but we do not have either and the criminals have guns. Utopia is not possible but a better class of living is in reach if we can come together as a nation and decide to work toward it.

There is a famous and way-overused Ghandi quote; “Be the change you see in the world”. It’s splashed on meme’s, t-shirts, number stickers, tattoos and everywhere in between. It is also true.

For now, I’ll keep looking around, taking in my surroundings, remaining aware and do what I can as one person to make my place in the world a better one. I hope you will do the same and then perhaps, one day, our children, or their children will enjoy a time without war, without hate, without bigotry and with more understanding and respect of each other.

Where does it end.

hate-mail-2I’ve been watching the news on and off since early this morning. Fifty dead in a nightclub shooting. Terrorism has once again found it’s way into American streets. Those who are fond of saying “It won’t happen here”; who have faded memories of 9/11 or even those too young to remember that day are now reconsidering.

I’ve watched Facebook too. The current political campaign immediately jumped on this tragic news to further their own agenda. Personally, I am a gun owner. If ISIS suddenly unleashed thousands upon thousands of sleepers in the United States, as has just happened in Orlando, I’m not going to be taken from my home or dragged from my car and beheaded in the street without some kind of fight. The people who are trying to buy your vote do not need to worry about being attacked, they are surrounded by guards at all times. Yes, even Bernie. Gun issues are a tool for them to stand on or reject based on what their campaign managers see trending in the American public. Mass shooting? “We hate guns.” Gun owner defends a kindergarten? “Guns are good in responsible hands.”

This is more than guns however. This is where we have arrived as a people. There have always been mass shootings. The difference is, there was no CNN blaring it over your Apple Watch, phone, computer and digital signage on every corner. A great quote from a bad movie comes to mind:

“Come on! How many innocent victims splattered across a window would it take to have the city reverse its policy on hostage situations? And this is 1976; there’s no CNN, there’s no CNBC, there’s no internet! Now fast forward to today, present time, same situation. How quickly would the modern media make a frenzy over this?”

While it is true we have had gun crime since the dawn of firearms, they have not changed all that much. What has changed is people. Our patience is shorter because we have become used to instant gratification. Our tolerance of others has been tested by the media splashing imagery of death and destruction and blaming it on an entire religion when really, only a small subset of that religion is responsible. If ISIS represents all Muslims then Westboro represents all Christians… Right?

We have let media choose what we believe. Consider the below infographic which shows how six companies control what you see. (Click image to enlarge.)

six-major-corporations-control-media

 We have allowed the television in the living room, in the restaurant control us. We have allowed the Internet; which was supposed to bring us closer together, drive us apart.

What can be done? Isn’t that what everyone is asking? Likewise, everyone seems to have an answer and so I’ll throw mine into the pot.

Education.

Perhaps we should stop teaching our children to hate. Perhaps skin color matters a lot less than you were brought up to believe. Maybe your god is just as good as someone else’s or… Maybe they are the same yet remembered and celebrated in different ways. Maybe we need to stop taking money away from schools in order to build football stadiums and start funding a better people rather than a better football season.

Headaches from Hell

MigraineSince my early 20’s I’ve been plagued with nearly daily headaches in one form or another and occasionally several forms at once. I’ve been diagnosed with ocular migraines (painless but annoying), Migraine with Brainstem Aura (Usually reserved for young people and mostly girls), Chronic Migraine and Tension Headaches. On occasion I also get hit with Cluster Headaches which make the rest look like child’s play. Sinus Headaches are nearly a daily occurrence for me Spring – Summer, which, in Texas, is nearly all year.  Normally only those closest to me hear me bitch and complain about these and because I have lived with them nearly half my life, I’ve just become accustomed to them. As I write this I have a Tension Headache.

Over the years I’ve tried a variety of tricks to combat these annoyances. I don’t like taking medication and especially narcotic painkillers which usually do not do much in the way of relief and tend to make me nauseated.

I decided to write this today after trying yet another approach which I’ll get to later.

Treatments I’ve found to work

Below I’m going to list treatments I’ve personally found to work for various headaches. Unfortunately some of them I’ve never found relief from aside from time in nearly 20 years.

Cluster Headaches – These bastards have no treatment. They come on fast and thankfully last only an hour or less. Less than 1% of the population suffers cluster headaches. They are debilitating to the point of near paralysis due to pain and I often faint when they come on. (Driving is fun!). Also thankfully they are rare and I can usually tell when one is about to hit. Time is the only thing that kills the pain. I’ve tried everything from morphine to NSAIDS in high doses.

Tension Headaches – These are usually at the cerebral cortex (back of the neck high up near your hair-line). These are a squeeze type pain and pulse at times. Tension headaches can last for hours and can be caused by sinuses but also by tension in the shoulders and neck. One of the more recent (today actually) treatment was to use a TENS unit for an hour. This dulled the pain immediately until the NSAID’s kicked in. Ibuprofen also tends to help as do muscle relaxers (The TENS does something similar in the area of muscle relaxation through stimulation).

Migraine with Brainstem Aura – Narcotic painkillers knock these out after while but I hate taking them. Normally a dark room and high humidity (hot shower in the dark) help these. Vision is affected with this type as well and can last after the pain resides (Ocular Migraine).

Chronic Migraine – About the same as above although dark room or a blinding mask of some sort usually help the most in these cases.

Sinus Headaches – I saved the “best” for last. Sinus headaches are something I’ve lived with the longest and most frequently. Daily for months at a time. So much so that at times I’ve been black listed from buying Pseudo-ephedrine based medication (The ones that are OTC but you have to get from behind the pharmacy and give your license for). These can trigger tension headaches as well. The pain is everywhere; back of the head, sinus cavity, under the eyes and the worst, for me, pressure in the ears that causes a similar pain to that of perforating and ear drum. Hydration is probably the number one treatment I’ve found especially when it comes to clearing the pressure in the ears. OD’ing on water during these times cleared the pressure within a couple hours. Pseudo ephedrine based treatments like Advil Cold and Sinus or almost anything with a “D” in it (Claritin D) also relieves the pressure and pain. Wet Heat also works well. I’ll usually soak a hand towel and then microwave it for a minute, let it cool a bit and press it into my sinuses. Sinus washes also help.

Summary

The above is based on my own experience. I’m obviously no doctor. Hopefully something above works for you as well.

Big Bend Backpacking 2014

Well we made it. After an 11 hour drive home through mostly terrible weather, we returned home and began recovering only to be attacked by the Flu. At one point I had a 103.7° fever. Most of that is done now save for a bit of hacking up crap. Big Bend was gorgeous and we really couldn’t have asked for better weather. 60-65 during the days and crisp nights of 20-27°. Below you’ll find a from memory recollection (with some help from my GPS upload which you’ll find the link to below).

Arrival

We arrived around 7pm or so on December 26th. It took us about 10 hours total including stops to get to the park. It was dark when we made our way to the Chiso’s Mountain resort where the trail-head begins. We re-arranged a few (hundred) things and decided to sleep in the Xterra in front of the office in order to get as close to the front of the permit line as possible. We met a couple of college kids, one, a tiny girl with a decidedly backpacker look about her and legs like a competitive squatter asked us to look at our map which we obliged. She had hiked the entire PCT (Pacific Crest Trail, 2100+ miles). They wished us good travels and departed for wherever they were staying.

Day 1 (8.5 Miles)

The Xterra is not comfortable, even on our Nemo sleeping pads and we got little sleep. I woke up around 7am and told Celeste we needed to cache water at the Blue Creek trail but that we wouldn’t have time to cache at both spots so we’d have to carrry in two days worth of water the first day. Water weighs 8.4 pounds per gallon. We carried two gallons each on the first day in addition to what was already in our packs. We drove up the Ross Maxwell scenic drive and I cached 2.5 gallons of water in a Bear Box just off the drive. We arrived back at the Resort/HQ lot just as the office was opening. The park was already filling up with day-hikers and tourists. We jumped in line and only had a couple people ahead of us. The ranger lady quizzed us over our plan, made sure we knew people died on our particular trail often and made sure we had cached water. She appreciated that I had done my homework (see “OCD”) and issued our permit. We met another group briefly in line who we would continue to run into, pass, get passed by, etc over the next three days. We walked back out to the truck and began filling our hydration packs and side-mount bottles. I weighed my pack when all was said and done, just for fun. 52.6 lbs! Celeste was carrying roughly the same. We re-parked the truck and headed toward the trail. The Outer Mountain loop actually consists 2654of three main trails and several smaller trails. For the purposes of this writing I’ll just stick to naming the main trails. The smaller trails which lead out of the resort area are very short. We headed up the trail and within 10 mins we saw our first deer, standing in the trail. Because we were still in the day-hike area, there were several hikers behind us. I stopped short and turned around whispering to look ahead. We watched the deer for several minutes and it departed. We headed on quickly coming to a fork. This fork is where you decide whether you are going to d the loop in the clockwise or counterclockwise. We headed left toward Emory Peak and the Juniper Trail. Almost immediately, the trail begins to ascend from around 5000ft where the Chisos Lodge is up to 7000 feet where the base of Emory Peak is. “I hate switchbacks” became the recurring theme on this trip. As we trudged up the switchbacks around noon, we waved to who would become our new trail friends, Vikki, Warren and “The Justins” who had found a cool little cove just off the trail to lunch. At around the same time, we also ran into a guy named Aaron who we would spend our first night sharing a back-country camp spot with. It was getting warmer and we shed our shells and kept moving. Just after noon we reached the base of Emory Peak or as I liked to call it “End of the Tourist Zone”. There were *many* people here. The base serves as the stoping point for those not only heading out to back country but for those who are continuing on to the top of Emory Peak, the tallest point in the park. There is a Geodetic survey marker up there which some people “collect” and which are also tied into Geocaching. At the base there are a number of flat rocks which beg to be rested on and so we did just that.

I knew we would probably not make our 11 mile goal for the day. We were carrying a lot of weight and first days on a trail always suck as you acclimate. We rested, waved to our friends as they prepared to head up the side trail to Emory Peak and continued on toward the Juniper Trail by way of Boot Canyon Springs. Past the base of Emory Peak, the trail descends a few hundred feet and then ascends back to 7000ft. It was between these points that we ran into a ranger who diligently checked our back country permit and sent us on our way. We reached Boot Canyon Springs at around 3pm. One thing that desert backpackers can never count on is water and as well, the ranger lady had told us all the springs were dry. They do this I’m sure as insurance. You can’t really tell 2661people everything is full and then have a hiker dehydrate and blame you. Boot Canyon was full of water and looked amazing. We had filters of course but didn’t need any more water (or weight) and continued on. Juniper Trail branches off here and we took it, ascending a few hundred feet to the top of the hill. For some reason I became pretty lethargic at this point and actually stopped and laid down for less than a minute with my pack on. I think I scared Celeste a moment but I was more being silly than anything else. We began to descend quickly after reaching the peak. The sun was getting pretty low at this point. If you don’t hike or backpack, then you probably think ascending is worse than descending but descending can be not only technically more difficult, but as well, more dangerous. As one of our trail friends said, “Descending is a different kind of pain.”  This would be our (or mine at least, Celeste might disagree and go with the final descent for reasons you’ll read about later) worst descent of the trip.

The Juniper trail descends about 3 miles into the valley of the Chihuahuan desert. The trail was insane. Steep and loose switchback descents were blocked by large fallen trees, hidden rocks whose only job was to trip you and wet ground. The rewards however, outweighed the obstacles and provided us with gorgeous views of the distant mountains and more immediately, the basin we were heading to. One of the most spectacular things to me all through the trip was looking at where we had come from, especially while ascending or descending the mountain. Looking up three thousand feet to where you began is awe inspiring. We finally hit bottom in a run-off which was dry and began a minor ascent into the desert floor. At nearly sunset we rounded a corner and saw the Zone Camping sign which means we had reached the end of the established camping in the park and were now officially in the back country. At about the same time, we saw a lone tent and made way toward it. The grasses were high on either side of the trail here. At the side trail tent site we spotted Aaron and he extended a welcome to share his site which we graciously accepted. It was dim by the time the tent was up and dark by the time we began cooking. Temperatures drop fast in the desert and as soon as the sun went down it dropped to the mid thirties. It would hit 26° in the basin overnight. We climbed into our sleeping bags and went to sleep realizing that we would need to complete upward of 14 miles the next day in order to make up for what we didn’t make today.

Day 2 (14.1 Miles)

2680Day two dawned with a crisp morning at around 35°. (Panoramic pic to the left was taken from camp, click for a high-res full view.) I stepped out (fell out?) of the tent around 6:30am to have a look around. Aaron and Celeste woke up not long after. We made our way slowly, eating some cold cereal and packing away the tent, pads, etc. The sun broke over the mountains and it immediately began to warm up. We hit the trail at roughly 8am and Aaron, being much faster than us immediately pulled ahead and out of sight. The last three miles of the Juniper Trail, which we failed to complete the previous day, were mercifully level and we made steady, quick time. We had also lost a day of water including what we had cooked with which made the packs lighter. It was cool but warming up fast. We ran into Vikki, Warren and The Justins breaking down camp and waved. Shortly after we stripped off our cold layers, we arrived at the Juniper Trail/Dodson Trail head. There is a water cache here where we could have stowed another day’s water but for which we did not have time to do hence having to carry in two days worth at the onset. You also need a high clearance vehicle to get to this cache which we had but again, time did not allow.

We hit the Dodson trail feeling pretty good. We had completed just over three miles in only an hour and a half. None of the three trails which create the Outer Mountain Loop are “easy” but the Dodson has the least extreme ascents and decents. It winds through the desert up and down hills and through valleys and riverbeds. It was at one of these riverbeds where we found Aaron doubling back to tell us he had lost the trail and were waiting for us because he knew we had a GPS with topo maps installed. (I’m a geek, sue me). We set him straight and he quickly got ahead of us and out of sight. We did not see him again the rest of the trip. I’ve failed to mention so far that Celeste lead most of the trip. This was never planned in advance it just happened. I thought it might be fun for her to lead, to get to see what was coming and understand how to keep a trail in sight and find it when astray. She did an amazing job, so much so that I didn’t worry if we were on the trail or not. The Dodson trail is probably the least marked and easiest to lose of the three. Rock cairns mark the trail but, as Aaron proved, they are easy to miss in some places. Celeste was able to keep track of them and find them when we thought we may have strayed.

2685Day two was the warmest and had us stripped down to bare essentials by mid day. (Panoramic to the left was about mid-day on the Dodson). It was also about this time that Celeste stopped dead, let out an “eek” and side stepped a large tarantula. We let it pass and kept moving. The Dodson as I mentioned is hilly but not steep. We made good time but by two or so in the afternoon were getting pretty fatigued. We had completed the same amount of distance as the previous day but in half the time. We stopped to take a few pictures on the edge of a switchback overlooking about a 1000 foot ridge. It was here one of my trekking poles decided to take a dive over the edge. It caught most luckily on some scrub brush and we were able to fish it off the ledge.

We were determined to make up yesterday’s missed distance and complete day 2’s as well. By 4pm we were constantly looking for the trail’s end which would be known when we spotted the water cache I had stashed our water in and by the Homer Wilson Ranch House which sits near to it. The end of the Dodson makes wide arches around foot hills and a few small switchbacks. It was at one of these we came upon an injured hiker. He was using a trekking pole as a crutch. We had passed him several
times over the past couple days. He was a vagabond on holiday from school and just hiking around Big Bend and other area trails. He had blown out his knee pretty bad. Earlier in the day Celeste had also injured her knee but it wasn’t nearly as bad as this guy’s. (It would be later as you’ll read). We promised him we would wait for him at the cache to make sure he arrived. The water cache is right on Ross Maxwell Scenic drive, the only place in on the trail that comes anywhere near a paved road. He said he would hitchhike out so we wanted to make sure he didn’t collapse in the desert. We said our goodbyes and continued on.

About this time we were at twelve miles and were hoping the trail would end soon. I had done the math and figured 13.5-14.5 miles from our morning camp. The trail leveled out into a rocky creek bed and I knew were were close. The sun
2699was dipping behind the mountains and the air was cooling quickly when we spotted the water cache across the valley and the Homer Wilson Ranch in the distance. We trudged the three quarters of a mile across the valley and past the ranch to the water cache. The sun was setting nicely (Pic to the left taken from the water cache at sunset, that bright speck on the horizon is Venus.) and it was getting very cold. As we arrived at the cache, a large meteor graced the sky and I spun Celeste around to watch it. It fell for a good three seconds and lit up the sunset sky. As we located our water in the bear box and began to refill, our injured friend appeared and limped up to us, thanking us profusely for making sure he made it alright. We head-lamped it out of the water cache and down the trail toward the ranch where the Dodson Trail meets the Blue Creek Trail. You have to camp .5 miles up or down either trail so we headed a half mile up the Blue Creek and searched out a flat and only slightly rocky spot as best we could with our headlamps. We set up and cooked and quickly warmed up in sleeping bags. I got out a couple times and while it was clear, the moon gobbled up most of the star-light. You could easily see what you were doing using only the moon’s glow. It was gorgeous and crisp. We had completed 14.1 miles and were exhausted, falling asleep quickly.

Day 3 (10.1 Miles)

Day three dawned and was as previous mornings had been, crisp and cool but not uncomfortable. As daylight broke we realized we were not alone but surrounded by a few other backpacking groups flung out along the trail. We had heard voices and seen headlamps the night before but had no idea how close they were. Voices travel further in the silence of the desert. I mentioned Celeste had bummed her knee earlier the day before and it wasn’t happy this morning. She dug out the first aid kit and found the ace bandage, wrapping her knee. It helped, especially on flat ground and ascending, but the descents wracked her. We had our first hot breakfast this last morning, re-hydrated biscuits and gravy from Mountain House. Not bad at all. We packed up and Blue Creek Trailheaded down the trail. The beginning of the Blue Creek Trail is almost all riverbed with large, sharp rock for a path. Thankfully both of us wear heavy duty hiking boots but I could imagine someone without proper ankle support breaking an ankle every ten feet. Celeste was keen on the cairn markers and we never lost the trail. The trail winds through some gorgeous red rock formations, pinnacles and boulders that look like a miniature Bryce Canyon (As seen in the panoramic picture to the left). The trail winds out of the river bed and into some low, mostly flat rolling hills. There are canyon ridges on either side, some with large cave mouths.

Exiting the hills you walk through a nice canopy of Juniper trees and run offs that make you forget for a mile or so that you are in the desert. Finally, you come once again to the base of the Chiso’s mountains. The Outer loop takes you up and then down the Chisos the first day (Side trails and Juniper Trail), through the desert on the second (Dodson Trail) and then back to the other side (Blue Creek Trail & Laguna Meadows Trail, behind Emory peak) on the third. We had a day of switchbacks in store for us. We began the ascent and ran into other hikers, including a couple we had run into the day before who were doing the loop in the opposite direction. Above us, far above us, we could see the top of Emory Peak. We knew 2706from other hikers that we would be ascending to the base of the peak which looked… Far… The switchbacks are about four miles up with a 3000 ft ascent. They went on forever. Celeste’s knee was holding up, but we were tired and rested here and there. Hours went by and as we reached more flat areas, our four trail friends caught up with us. (Pic to the right was taken around this time).

Around 3pm we reached the base of Emory Peak and the high-point of the day, around 7000 ft. It leveled out and Celeste pointed out the sign (pointing in the other direction) that read “Zone Camping”. This meant we were officially leaving the back country for the more established part of the park. Half a mile later this was immediately noticeable by not only the signs pointing to different trails and the composting toilet with established camping sites but also the number of day hikers. The South Rim trail meets here and many day hikers were present. When in the back country, the solitude is the main draw. Aside from our trail friends and a few others, we saw no one. We would go hours and on the Dodson, nearly a day, without seeing another person. The Blue Creek trail ends at this junction and we took off our packs and rested with Warren and Vikki. They began the descent and we stayed a bit longer.

Celeste’s knee was preparing to give her hell. We had another 3.5 miles of descending switchbacks before we reached the Chiso’s Basin. The view of rooftops below which were those of the lodge where we had begun were misleading in their nearness. We donned our packs and began to descend. Celeste’s knee had to be monitored so we took it slow and for the first time on the trip for any mentionable distance, I look the lead. I called out hazards as she had for the previous two and a half days. We competed with day hikers, almost all curious about our large packs and 2717haggard expressions; “You guys look tired!” was always met with a “30 miles in the desert back country will do that”. I don’t have anything against day hikers, I like to day hike myself, but it seems to me that they enjoy making sure someone else feels worse than they do and assuming they are on the same hike. Finding out that we were on the last leg of a three day, 15k elevation tour carrying 50 lbs on our backs to their 5 lb hydration packs usually humbled them. We weren’t bad-asses, we were just ready for food that didn’t come out of a bag. (The picture to the left is looking up at the peak we had descended from.)

We made our way carefully, passing many other hikers heading to Laguna Meadow or the South Rim. One couple in particular had us looking in the newspaper the next day for a story about a rescue. These two were heading to where we had camped the night before. Some 7 hours away. They had a car there they said. The problem was, they were carrying only hydration packs and even if they were twice as fast as we were, it would be well after sunset and very cold when they arrived. They were both wearing shorts, and the man’s legs looked like he had run through a bramble filled thicket singing the Sound of Music. To be more precise, it looked like someone had tried to inflict a well known torture technique aptly called “Death by a thousand cuts”. However, what struck me as most entertaining was the huge can of bear spray he had holstered, yes, holstered, to his hip. Big Bend has a small (very small) black bear population who would rather investigate your food than attack you. Sure there is always a danger, but these guys are more apt to run from you than anything else.

The descent was not hard in the technical sense but Celeste’s knee was not giving her any joy. Several times I “threatened” to call the rangers and have her carried down on horse-back to which she repeatedly “threatened” to impale me with a trekking pole. 🙂 We finally made it down justCeleste near trail's end. before sunset and found our trail friends in the parking lot.  (The picture to the right is of Celeste close to the end, trail wary and cursing her knee about .7 miles from the Chiso’s mountain lodge. This fork is also where, three days earlier, we had gone left to begin our adventure.)

Once in the parking lot, all talk turned to food. Real (ish) food, that came from a kitchen. The Justin’s were in their truck and they along with Warren and Vikki were going to Terlingua to stay for the night. They knew of a Mexican place and we followed them out of the park. Driving was an interesting thing but we made it the thirty or so mile out of the park and to the restaurant which had roughly 10 seats. We waited and eventually joined another party at their table and who by fun coincidence, was someone Vikki had gone to school with. We swapped fun stories from the trail including one of my favorites about a trail runner who “didn’t believe in mountain lions”, a story better told by Justin. We said our goodbyes, exchanged contact information and headed to a hotel for the night. Showers are the best thing ever.

Summary (And some fun stuff)

From Kevin:

I did quite a bit of research on Big Bend’s Outer Mountain Loop before deciding to hike it. It had been many years since I’d done an extended backpacking trip and this would be Celeste’s second trip, the first being much shorter and much less technical. Some of the take aways I came out with are below and pertain to both this hike in particular and to backpacking in general. Below that are some things Celeste wanted to share that pertain mainly to the female persuasion when it comes to backpacking (not necessarily just for Big Bend).

Cache water at both caching spots if you are able. The spot at Juniper/Dodson Trail requires 2 hours minimum to drive to from the park office and a high clearance vehicle. 4WD is recommended. If you can cache here you’ll only need to carry one day’s with of water at a time. Our first day was three miles short of our goal and at least part of that was due to the extra water we had to carry.

Train. Both Celeste and I are runners (albeit less so lately) and training will absolutely make your like more enjoyable and safer. I recorded 15,500 feet of elevation changes (The rangers say 20k). This mostly achieved on a 16 inch path and at times on no path, through terrain ranging from sand to large loose quarry rock.

Choose your footwear wisely and absolute wear boots with ankle support.

Don’t pack too much or too little. We packed too much food, envisioning wondrous relaxation at the end of each day. In reality, by the time camp was set up, it was so cold and we were so tired that all we wanted were sleeping bags.

Look up once and awhile. Especially within this hike, footing was not always assured. I spent a good portion of the hike navigating rocks, loose berms on switchbacks, etc. Stop. Look around. It’s gorgeous.

And some words from Celeste:

We girls love our skin so don’t do what I did and completely forget to apply a good coat of sunscreen before trekking down the trails.

Baby wipes are your best friend! Out in the middle of nowhere of course there aren’t good water sources for a nice shower but baby wipes can help clean up the areas that are starting to feel a bit dirty.

Don’t be afraid to be afraid. There are some trails that are a bit scary – loose rocks, small pathways where one slip could mean an airlift home. Fallen trees, large animals and so on. Breathing and going slower is the key. Don’t worry about keeping pace with your partners as your safety is the upmost concern especially when you aren’t too sure about an area.

Menstrual cycles are never fun especially on the trail. Thankfully there are so many different things we can do including tampons, diva cups and so on. What most women hikers rave about is the diva cup since you don’t have to worry about carrying extra tampons and waste container which means less weight in your pack.

Bring good sunglasses!! Leave your blinged up riding around the town glasses back home where they belong. On the trail you definitely need good protection for your eyes as well as needing to see! Sometimes the sun is so bright in your face that the trail is hard to see so fight back with some good shades.

You aren’t on the trail to look good/impress anyone. So leave the makeup at home! Or at least in the car or risk adding un-needed weight to your pack.

If you have longer hair like I do I’ve found the best and easiest way to keep my locks out of my face is in braids. I like braids better than say a ponytail or a bun b/c your hair won’t be a tangled mess by the time you make camp or by the time you are finished with your hike. I use just simple elastic hair ties, which are super light if you need to carry any with you.

Unfortunately with hiking,  blisters do happen not only on feet but if you utilize trekking poles, on your hands as well. So be prepared with some good moleskin to place on top so you can keep on keeping on.

Speaking of feet one of the best things I have found that helps especially before a long hike – trim those toenails. This helps especially those times when you are going downhill and your toes are nice and comfy with the end of your boot.

Finally, trekking poles are absolutely the best! If it wasn’t for these amazing things I definitely would not have been able to get past some portions of my hikes. They are worth the investment!

Gear

I had a few people ask about what gear we carried for a three day, two night desert hike. I’ll try to touch on most of it and provide links where applicable.

The tent we used was a Northface Tadpole 23. I won’t post a link because this particular tent was made ten years ago. It did us fine but this was it’s last hurrah.

We cooked using an MSR MicroRocket Stove. Love this thing. The ignter wasn’t great but that’s why you carry emergency matches. (Which we never had to use but got close once).

For boiling and at times, eating, we used a GSI Pinnacle Dualist. I’ve taken this on a lot of trips but it’s probably more than most need. I bought a GSI Halulite Minimalist to shave about half the weight and will try it out soon.

Our headlamps are both Petzl. They are bulletproof and light-weight no matter what version you choose.

Celeste carried a Gregory Deva 70 which is a ladies 70L pack. She absolutely loved it for comfort and balance.

I carried an Osprey Atmos 65. I’ve taken this pack on a couple trips and it’s done well for lighter loads up to 35 lbs but it was a bit uncomfortable the first day. It leveled out nicely and eventually I forgot it was there (which is what a proper fit should do). I recently replaced it with an Osprey Aether 70 which has a better hip belt.

Celeste uses an REI Brand Down sleeping back which she adores. (I’m unsure of the name but it’s a 15° degree bag).

I use an older Northface Cat’s Meow 20 ° bag which has always done me fine except for an annoying snag on the hood.

There are other miscellaneous odds and ends but that is the main list. Food was mostly dehydrated packs by Mountain House and a couple other brands which REI sells. Dehydrating your own food is also the way to go and cheaper but time consuming.

——Below this line was from before and during the trip, saved for posterity.——u3ptg3sn

Celeste and I are embarking on a trip to Big Bend to go backpacking. We will be backpacking the “Outer Mountain Loop” using the linked itinerary. This post will serve as a spot to update (as we can) to let our friends and family know we are alive. 🙂 The trip is 30 miles round trip. We will be aiming for 10 a day but perhaps more. As there is limited service in the park, updates won’t be frequent especially as we get into the middle of the trip which is very remote. We will be driving to Big Bend on Dec 26th and sleeping overnight either at a hotel or at the trail-head in the Xterra. We will cache water and then start the hike on the 27th as posted in the itinerary. We should arrive back at the trail-head on the 29th late in the day. We will then either sleep at the trail-head or drive into Marfa and find a hotel. I’ll update as much as possible here with time/date/lat/long/ Please do not take lack of updates as being an issue as there will be little to no cell access in the back country. If an update has not appeared here by evening Tuesday, Dec 30th please contact Big Bend State park.

12/29/2014 – 06:45 – Doing well. Did 8.5 miles on day 1 and really humped it on day 2 with 14.1 miles. Made it to the water cache at sunset and hiked another .5 in the dark with headlamps. Just woke up to find we had phone service which I’m sure won’t last so thought I’d update. Oh, and cracked my phone 🙁

12/26/2014 – 19:37 – Made it to trail head had to double back to post update. Barely service so don’t expect updates until Monday or Tuesday- will update if possible. 12/26/2014 – 16:37 – Stopped in Ft. Stockton for the last real meal for several days.

12/26/2014 – 12:36 – Just west of Abilene. GPS says we should get to the park around 6pm.

40.

dadI didn’t wake up today and feel any different. I don’t look different than yesterday, I don’t feel different. Today however, at around 4am, I turned 40.

For as long as I can remember, people have made jokes about being 40. There are the black balloons, the Hallmark isles full of silly cards. But I don’t feel any different. Perhaps a little reflective, maybe nostalgic. I remember celebrating 30 with my oldest friend and her then-husband and my then-wife at an Olive Garden somewhere in Mesquite, TX. (I think?). She had tiny daughters who are now driving and looking at boys. I had more hair, less grey and less experience. So life has changed quite a bit in ten years but then again, not much has changed at all.

mom_jenI feel grateful to have made it to this age. When my own father was 40, he was fighting a losing battle for his life and would be gone by age 42, something I think about often when I need to be humbled. After he passed, I remember armoring myself with thoughts like “He lived a long time!”  To an 8 year old, 40 is a long time but we know that is just not true. I cannot fathom his battle or my mother’s.

me_handI feel lucky to have so far lived the life I want to live. I have an amazing mother and sister, both who inadvertently taught me to be the man I am simply by being strong women. My career is in demand with both Amazon
and just last week, Facebook, trying to recruit me into their fold. I am surrounded by many wonderful people and I have side-lines that let me do what I love such as DJ’ing and Photography with a career that is flexible enough to allow pursuit of them. I have worked hard to get where I am, nothing was handed to me but I am also lucky to have had support from family and friends. However, when all of these things start inflating my ego, I just remember the fight I watched my father battle when he was my age and I remember it can be taken away without warning.

noraThis post isn’t depressing, it is elating. I am excited about the rest of my life. Scared? Perhaps of the unknown but I come from strong people who always made it work and therefore I believe I will.

Because I like lists, which you know if you follow this blog, I’m inclined to create one (or two?)  here.  These are burned into me, are part of me. I can recall them vividly any time.  Some will be vague, some will be recognized only by a few and perhaps some by no one else but myself. So.. Here are my top 20 (that I can think of at the moment) favorite life memories in no particular order.

20) – A trip to Galveston when I was 20 to meet a girl I met by chance in Dallas who was on a trip from Illinois. We spent the night on the beach just talking and I never saw or heard from her again.

19) – Meeting Ghost for the first time.

22171_1306031206313_8312790_n18) – Bus trip to New Orleans with a bunch of crazy kids and a similar trip to Orlando. (two for one!)

17) – The Belton trip.

16) – Yard work with my dad and learning to cut the lawn.

15) – Geeking out in my room when I was 8 or 9 with my babysitter in front of a Commodore 64 writing “games” from the back of a magazine in BASIC.

jessshawn14) – All the music that my parents played on vinyl in the house. Mostly Motown. Best gift was mom finding her collection and gifting it to me a few weeks ago. I’ve been listening non-stop.

13) – RV trips with my grandparents. Or visiting them during trips, I don’t rightly remember if we actually traveled in the RV.

12) – Sledding a toboggan at Pecan Knoll? Ridge? Park something.. (Mom will know) – In Illinois when I was a kid.

11) – My first day at my first “big boy” career job.

10) – Meeting my niece Nora for the first time.

313404_2464320602824_1096512190_32904960_1913039468_n9) – My first scuba descent into the ocean.

8) – Watching deer eating at dawn just outside a glass door in a cabin with a wide-eyed child sitting next to me before anyone else woke up.

599600_10151132877486454_1445420220_n7) – A concert with a favorite band and friend in Deep Elum during it’s hey-day.

6) – My first Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

cel5) – A certain swinging chair in Scarborough Faire in the middle of the afternoon after a bit of Meade.

4) – My 21st birthday at Detour with my best friend and twisting my ankle jumping off one of the aerial dance floors.

linds3) – The first time I ran a 10k (8 mile) race without walking. Still working on that half!

2) – My mother sitting across a table from me when I was a teen explaining some life lessons that have never left me and are a foundation for who I really am.

1) – The helicopter. I know if you are reading this, you’ll think “WHY THIS?!” but it changed me. I doubt I’ve ever thanked you for it, but it did.

…and at least 10 things I have left to do:

 

10) – Space Tourism.

9) – Taking my mother someplace she needs a passport for.

8) – Running a half marathon (Only 5 miles to go!)

7) – Completing my DM.

6) – A couples trip with my best friend.

5) – Ice scuba diving in Antartica.

4) – Thru-Hiking the entire John Muir trail.

3) – Leaving IT for good and building a wedding venue business.

2) – Teaching Nora to drive stick. (Assuming manual transmissions still exist) 🙁

1) – Building bottle schools in Nigeria or Ecuador.