Things to read...

If time is short, I'd suggest reading at LEAST The Prologue and Legend of The Pinto Bean Posts!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Into the wild

Well everybody, I've made it to Alaska, more to follow!!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Follow-Up!

Hi everybody.... I've not just fallen off the face of the earth, I've just been really busy trying to recover my house from my trip...

When I finally arrived home from my trip, all was relatively well at the Daniel household. The lawn was a little overgrown, and it was really hard to get the environmentalists to stop protesting my destruction of the wildlife reserve that it appeared to be when I finally mowed it down, but otherwise it was ok. Rockstar was thrilled to get to frolic through the weeds and pee on his favorite schnauzer next door. This is a pretty ritualistic thing for them. He goes outside, the schnauzer runs to the fence to squeal, and RTD calmly pees on him. Repeat as necessary. The only real difference now is that there's a second schnauzer. Fortunately for RTD, they stand close together...

Once in the house it was evident that no one had broken in to clean my place up, and I was slightly disenheartened at this. The only issue presented itself when I waded into my garage. Yeah... waded. Unfortunately, Johnson City apparently had been the victim of heavy rains and animals marching two by to, and my garage apparently served as the reservoir for the water that came with it. The good side of all of this would be that I don't really have much of value in my garage so there was no real "damage" done. It took a few days to mop and evaporate it all out, but now it's back to being the dank place that I know and love. That all said, I spent the rest of the week attempting to landscape my yard a little bit. I'm not sure if anyone here has ever attempted to operate a shovel with one hand, but let me suggest that you pass on it if that was in your weekend plans. I planted a lot of liriope and put in some cheesy walkway lights since whomever designed the stairway on my front walk was obviously a fan of M.C. Escher... After digging roughly 100 small holes and planting a metric arseload of vegetation, my good friend called to inform me how I did it all wrong, so who knows if it will take. Even if it does, I have to keep and eye on RTD as he is excited at the prospect of this new and intriguing smorgasbord that I have given him. He's already managed to ravage a couple of plants...

So now on to lessons learned. First off, this is what I feel I've learned. I don't necessarily AGREE with it all. Saying this, I'm sure I'll still get a little hate mail from someone who didn't catch that.... These are based on my discussions with people, as well as the thousands of e-mails I've gotten and the comments on the blog. So onto the lesson!

The best thing I think that most surprised me would be American people's desire to help people. I am not even going to limit that to "vets, wounded, bloggers" or such, because so many people were willing to help for reasons that had nothing to do with my service. While many people were voiced their pleasure at getting to help a vet, a number of people readily admitted that they weren't too concerned about my service at all. Some people even just wanted to see Rockstar... The sheer number of offers I had to stay with complete strangers was simply overwhelming. People who had nothing to offer other than a meal and a floor were still vying for the chance to help. Had I been able to stay one day with every person who offered, this trip would have lasted into the "years" category. I had offers from all walks of society, too. I met people who obviously were liberal, conservative and other. There were those who were well to do, and those who were scratching to make ends meet. In all honesty, I feel that the "economically poor" were probably more willing to help than any other group. Don't confuse me here, I'm not passing judgement or looking down my nose. I am simply awestruck that those who themselves are worse off than me still want to help. I met and corresponded with people throughout the USA, as well as the rest of the world. I had e-mail bidding me well from around the world, from people who've never set eyes on my country, and will likely never meet me. I met people who were nearly speechless as they tried to convey their feelings about my trip to me in a thickly accented English, underlining their immigrant background and their pride to be here now. All in all, I'm that much more proud to be a citizen of these United States, and above that a member of this worldwide society.

Conversely, if there is a "negative" to this outpouring that I've been able to detect it is this. While I think the majority of Americans WANT to help, I think we suffer from a few problems. The biggest one I would venture to say would be a nationwide sort of "bystander effect" and "crowd psychology." The analogy is this: If you were standing alone and saw a little old lady fall down, you would MOST LIKELY offer help. However, if you were standing around with twenty strangers and saw this, MOST LIKELY everyone would stand there and ignore it, silently wondering what to do while actually doing nothing, just like the rest of the crowd. This phenomena has been demonstrated many times over, and I feel it exists in this context, too. While most American's are aware of combat wounded coming home, we don't know "what to do" about them. We want to help, but we look to our left and our right, to our neighbors and friends, and we see that they are doing just as we are. They are doing nothing. So there we stand, awkwardly wishing we could do something, perhaps even voicing that something should be done, yet never taking the initiative to do it. We don't do this because we're bad people, we do it because we ARE people. I think people were so willing to help me because they saw in my trip an outlet for their desire to help. I appealed to the masses on my blog, though those who read it were largely "alone" at the moment. Quietly you sat at your computers, reading my adventures, seeing the "little old lady fall down" and alone you decided to help. In my blog, there was no crowd to look at, no one else to draw an initiative from. There was simply me and you, thousands of people all standing alone, ready to help. For all of this I thank you. So now here is what I hope to see. I would love to see people find an outlet for their desire to help. I'm going to leave my blog up and even update it where I can for everyone's entertainment. I'm also going to leave my paypal link up for donations, every penny of which will now go to The Wounded Warrior Project. I also may try to link a few other worthy organizations to this blog in order to present other opportunities to help to those who want to. I know some people only have time to donate, and maybe this will give an outlet for that.

A few other things I'd like to mention... I received quite a bit of mail from my Pisgah trip, both good and bad. Some people were glad I "told it like it was" while others were discouraged that I was so "shallow and sophmoric, and won't make a good doctor" because of it. That said allow me to expound a bit on my beliefs as well as probably anger more people... I mentioned the obesity thing for a few reasons. It's a problem. Period. There is no other way around it, it is an issue that is only getting worse. At 18 years old I had a 38 inch waistline and did what most everyone else I know did. I blamed everybody BUT myself for the problem. That and I downed no less than three bags of peanut M&M's a day along with 4-6 20 oz pepsis. Even after I got in the Army I was still "overweight" by standard, and barely passed the bodyfat test. Then one day I had an epiphany. Maybe if I ate less food and worked harder, I'd be in better shape. No more blaming Mickey-Dees for serving me that burger. No more cursing "my genetics" for being "big-boned" (which actually I'm not... I have the bone structure of a small woman... stupid genetics!) I again faced this issue when I lost my hand. I was in amazing shape at the time of the accident, and I dropped from 215lbs of solid muscle to 168 lbs of not so solid muscle. Then I started the climb back up to 215 lbs of no muscle. I got chubby enough that my underwear band rolled over on itself... I realized that many amputees simple gave up on working out, and accepted that they would no longer be in shape. Not all, but many. Especially upper extremities. Eventually I found out that there was a prosthetic made for weightlifting, and after a bit of self-pity, back to the gym I went. Now I'm back to 195 pounds, can bench press well over 300lbs, and can knock out 25 pull ups and 90 push ups on a good day. I still suck at running, but now it's more to do with my legs going numb from my spinal issues.... Why am I saying all this? To qualify the rest.

I realize that not everyone will or wants to look like a magazine model. However, I also realize that people are allowing themselves to go down a bad road with obesity. When I see children that are maybe ten years old, and they are my weight, SOMETHING is WRONG. Some people will cite genetics, but sadly that is not the case most of the time. The reality is VERY FEW people are genetically unable to maintain a healthy body. Most people just follow that path I was on and blame everything but themselves for it. Anyhow, some people felt that I lacked empathy for voicing my thoughts on this, and poking fun at it. To that I say I must disagree... I am quite empathetic and I try to do all I can to help anyone I know to get themselves to where they want to be. Ask any of my friends and they'll roll their eyes at just how much I try to help. However, as an aspiring physician, while I think empathy is indeed important, I also feel that the ability to be frank about situations is also needed. Too many healthcare professionals turn a blind eye to issues like this out of fear of "offending someone". I come from a family of nurses who can all tell stories of parents who become angry if they or the doctor even hints that junior or themselves might be... oh my word... FAT. While it is a touchy subject, happily it is a CURABLE subject! Some will have to work harder than others, and most would have to make sacrifices, but all can attain the results! Very few other "diseases" can offer that. Finally, as for the "penguin" comment... this IS just a blog, which I have been writing for entertainment value as well as to tell my story. Sometimes something just seems funny, and I go with it. Would I walk up to someone, or even list them by name or picture on here with such a crude comment? No. No, even I am not that mean spirited of a person...

This all brings me to a last point of learning that I can take away from this. I've written a lot, covered a lot of ground, and touched on a lot of subjects. One thing I have certainly learned is that the maxim "you can't make everyone happy" hold true. Some people e-mailed telling me I didn't deserve t call myself a Christian because my stories and my blog didn't bring enough credit to God or His word. On the same day I'd receive mail from people attacking me for mentioning religion, chiding me for "shoving it down their throats." The same held true many of the subjects I mentioned. In the end I responded minimally to any of this because I am not here to argue viewpoints on the Internet. I merely took away for myself the viewpoints of others, both good and bad. Here at the end I offer my view on life. Live it and let it go. If I read something I disagree with, something "offensive", something "ignorant", I take a moment to try to view it from the other side, then I let it go. I don't let it eat at me, and I try not to let it color my view of the issue. Entirely too many people get up in arms over non-issues which simply serve to empower the issue. If you laugh at the "offensive statement", you take away it's power to offend. When you consider the "other sides" position rather than just discrediting it because it disagrees with yours, you make yourself more knowledgeable on your issue. Anyhow, these are just my thoughts, laugh at them if you want...

Well that sums it up for today.... I definitely have more topics I plan to discuss here so no worries, the blog is not yet dead! Alaska merely days away so I hope to provide more entertainment and life experience for your reading enjoyment. Also, still looking into the calendars, so please keep a watch there!!

Finally, The Book. Sadly, I don't think anyone is interested in publishing this, so who knows. I had a number of contacts initially, but most have fallen away, and the few who have responded to me basically voiced that the story "didn't hold the emotion they were hoping for." Loosely translated as far as I can tell, happy stories don't sell like a tragedy does. If you need any more proof of that, buy a newspaper or just turn on the news and see how many "tragedy stories" there are compared to "feel good" stories. That or maybe this thing just kinda sucks.... hehe

Anyhow... stay tuned for more!!

With pictures!

What has happened to our hero??? *cough*RTD*cough*

Biff!! Booom!! Poww! Tune in soon to find out!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The long road home!

Well I've been delinquent in posting for a bit because of weather reasons. When I last posted, I was in Jacksonville, Florida and about to head home. I left out and went up the east coast a ways before heading on up towards North Carolina. Well unfortunately for me storms moved in and I had to make the decision to either sit in my truck and watch the rain for a few days, or press on in to Johnson City, and then return to NC a day later. Well obviously steaming in the Bean with RTD making sweet doggy love to my ear as he tried to get me to let him out didn't sound too appealing, so I opted to go home for the night. This also allowed me to clean up the Bean a bit and have a good nights rest in my own bed! Mmmmmmmm bed... Anyhow, I decided Saturday would be Pisgah Day, and early Saturday morning I headed on down there.

Pisgah is a relatively large National Forest that surrounds Asheville, NC and takes up a good portion of the western tip of NC. I opted to head to the area West of Asheville because of an article I'd found in a magazine I'd "borrowed" from a barber shop in Vegas. It detailed several natural water slides, and the Pisgah had one. I've already mentioned how much I like water, but I also enjoy jumping into it, and sliding through it, too. Waterfalls to jump from are easily found. Natural slides are not. What Pisgah offers is a 60 foot solid rock slide that has been worn smooth by eons of water coursing over it. This was bound to be fun!

The road leading up to Sliding Rock is typical of what you'll find in this area of the Appalachian south. Lush green trees overhang a narrow winding road that courses it's way up and down the various mountain valleys, seemingly lost within itself as it slowly leads you to your destination. Alongside the road runs that meandering river that is also almost as lost as the route you're on. Cell phones, satellite radio, and the garminator are all pretty much useless here from the green canopy that perpetually shades the road. After about ten or so miles of this, I arrived at Sliding Rock. Or should I say I arrived at the line to get into SR. After a bit, I finally made it to the front of the line where I paid my $1 admission fee to the redneck riviera. After watering Rockstar I headed down to gaze upon this great rocky wonder. While it's nothing in comparison with Schlitterbahn or other man made wonders, the fact that it's a natural waterslide is still amazing.

I made my way down to where the line began and got my place and began to observe the waterlogged obesity epidemic that surrounded me. I'm not gonna say much because this is a topic that infuriates me, but out of about 200 people there, maybe twenty, MAYBE I say, weren't overweight. Call it whatever you want, fluffy, pudgy, big boned, whatever, but in the end it boils down to "eats too much, does too little." Before the hate mail comes in, let me say that I work my tail off to stay in shape. I have one arm, and still manage! Trust me, I know the effort that's required. Anyhow, back to the line. Basically you stand in line for about twenty-thirty minutes depending on the crowd to slide for ten seconds into a mountain stream. Worth it? Oh yeah.

After a bit of time in line, I'd made my way to the top. On the way I'd witnessed all manner of technique for navigating the slide. I'd also nearly burst an eardrum as a redheaded teenager screamed her whole way down the slide. I think someone had just told her the NC had just enacted a lawn banning twinkies, but I'm not sure. Once at the top, I decided to just go for the standard right down the middle slide. I sat down and pushed off with my one arm and slowly slid a ways. Apparently my swimsuit material was made of sandpaper or something else the kept slowing me down. Finally I hit a steeper pitch which simultaneously allowed me to gain speed and attempt to reverse feed myself my swimsuit. At the end I hit the little drop off into the pool of water where I learned the other secret of mountain water. Despite being shallow in nature, and the air temp hovering somewhere around "spontaneous combustion", the water temperature maintains a balmy 48 degrees. As my toes entered the water, time slowed down as my brain began to prepare for the imminent future that was to come. Quickly my legs went in and my brain began to warn me of polar bears. As my wait and chest went in and the wedgie came out a bit, relief was nowhere to be found as my lungs had apparently gone on strike. About five hours later I was up to my nose and relatively certain the fat little girl across the pool from me was actually a penguin. Finally I was completely submerged where the mammalian dive reflex was in full force allowing me to survive for the hours it seemed to take for me to reach the surface. One at the surface I began my violent thrash for the shore just twenty feet away. Forgetting I was an amputee I found myself swimming in a circle. Again. Correcting my drift got me safely to shore where I renounced all that was warm, and got back in line. Yup, I was going again, atomic wedgie, cold water and all!

My second run down was a bit better. This time I'd studied the curvature of the rock and decided on an off line run. I went left of the well worn path to a slightly bumpier but more moss covered lane and pulled my trunks as far up as I could in a friction saving self induced wedgie. I then took a bit of a sliding start and went down the icy lane to the depths below at a much better clip. The polar bear club experience was once again waiting for me at the bottom, and once again I entered the water full of regret at the error of my ways. Again I semicircled my way to shore gasping for breath and shivering violently. I again forgot all about how cold it was as I got in line for a third trip down. Yup.... dull spoon here!

Once finished there I toured on up and down the road at Pisgah a bit more, scoping out areas to see the next day. I camped at the park campground where beer and hot dogs were consumed, along with smores and other tasty camp foods. Then I laid down for one last night in the Bean. Sadly my bad choice of foods led to a restless night of nightmares as my gut repaid my brain in kind for the evils that I'd laid upon it at dinner. Oh well... gotta have fun, right!

Today I went to a place called Looking Glass Falls where again I swam around in the frigid water. I brought RTD out and threw his toy for him. I beamed with pride as he ran straight into the water to get his toy. No longer does he timidly dance around at the edge before slowly going out after his toy. Unfortunately I threw his toy into the waterfall where it was sucked under and is now probably still on spin cycle at the base of the falls. Fortunately Rockstar was smart enough not to go in after it, so we ended up leaving sans toy. The rest of the drive home was spent on those same mountain roads, overlooking the wonderful views that are just a part of living in the Appalachians. If I had to sum it all up in a word, I know of one that covers it all. Beautiful!

Well everybody, this more or less concludes my trip. The Alaska trip will be from the 28th of July to the 4th of August, and will be made with the Wounded Warrior Project. This is a yearly fishing trip they offer so it will be done by air to Kodiak, Alaska, and RTD will be back here in TN. Last year there were lots of stories from it, so I'm assuming this year will be no different! That said, Daniel's Big Trip will continue, even if in a different vein! Between then and now I will post a few "lessons learned" blogs so keep checking back for those! Also, a calendar SHOULD be coming together so please keep an eye out for that! Until then!!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Project

To the few of you who've managed to struggle through reading all of my rambling posts, you've heard me mention a time or ten The Wounded Warrior Project. Well my trip has culminated with my visiting their headquarters... As one would expect, things went well, I was happy, and Rockstar got into stuff. This is that story...

I stayed the night with my hookah loving buddies in Hudson, FL (NOTE: lots of people questioned just WHAT was IN the hookah. No worries, it was cherry tobacco. Even I'm not so dumb as to post about drugs or anything, and that's not really "my thing" (or theirs) anyhow...) I got up the next morning and readied myself for my trip to Jacksonville. My friend was busily adding to his blog, something he'd never even HEARD of the day before. We ran out and got lunch in his brothers brand new GT 500 Shelby Mustang which he is storing for him. Just to let everyone know, I did massive smoky burnouts, lots of donuts, got it up on two wheels, and knocked out a few "Dukes of Hazzard" style bridge jumps in this cherry new car. Ok not really, but mostly because Logan was wise enough not to give me the keys, but it's coming, mark my words... After pounding down some steak and sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeet tea, I headed to Jacksonville and the Wounded Warrior Project.

The drive up to Jacksonville took me back across the landlocked central Florida area, where the Spanish moss grows in abundance, and teeth apparently don't. There were quite a few large thoroughbred horse farms which brought back memories of my horseback riding adventures... If it's possible to crash a horse, I'm your guy... My g/f in undergrad had a huge Tennessee Walker, and horses were her life. She tried relentlessly to get me to ride, and finally I agreed and she taught me how. Now I've ridden horses a lot in the past, but this was different. They ride bareback. She kept her horse with this old pork barrel like mare that had been living the good life sitting out in a field and eating grass for the last several years, generally avoiding morons like me. This was about to change.

Now I'd ridden a few other horses with her before so I generally had the hang of the bareback thing, but that was always on old broken down nags. I have to say that my first few jaunts were scary since there was no real way to "hold on". Once one becomes accustomed to riding bareback however, saddles become even scarier. Well this horse I was riding, Gunner, was a bit more spirited than the others and was also my most regular mount. We generally did well on our long trail rides as long as Gunner could follow her walker, Wyatt. The problems would arise when they got separated or Gunner couldn't see Wyatt. Gunner would become nervous and unresponsive to me, and I would mostly sit there stupidly and wonder what to do next. My seventeen minutes of experience didn't give me much to fall back on... Well one day my friend decided she'd had enough of this and it was time to break Gunner of this little issue. She decided I would ride her monster horse Wyatt back to the barn, and she would ride Gunner a different way home to break the separation anxiety. Did I mention NO ONE rode Wyatt except her? Did I mention he was HUGE? Was it mentioned that I had more time on the nickel horse in front of the drugstore than I did on real horses? Yes, this didn't go well.

Well as we changed mounts she reminded me just to be firm and relax and there was nothing to worry about. Easy for her to say, she wasn't sitting on top of a friggin Warhorse. Well Wyatt and I set off for the barn just a few miles away, and things went somewhat smoothly. Wyatt was a little agitated and kept looking back for the other two, but continued to follow my commands, and I started congratulating myself on my mastery of the beasts. We made it to the home stretch where the biggest danger still lay ahead. The Goat Farm. Now for the equestrian challenged like myself, let me explain something. Horses are giant musclebound thundering beasts that are scared of absolutely nothing. Well nothing except dangerous stuff. Things like werewolves, nuclear warheads, goats, paper bags, their own shadow, lawnmowers, gnat farts, windblown leaves and most everything else that would strike fear in the hearts of anything. The big test for me was to get Wyatt past the goat farm without him entering into a blind panic. I'm sure you think you know where this is going... Well you're wrong! In a demonstration of my horsemanship skills, I navigated Wyatt past the goat farm without incident, in spite of numerous bleats from the predatory goats, and a few attempts to get away made by Wyatt. With the big danger behind us and myself preening atop my steed, we made our way down the last little way to the barn which I could already see above the corn. This last strip was a six foot wide grass strip with a cornfield on the left, and a big ditch and road on the right. Well as we entered the last hundred yard strip a riding lawnmower was being piloted along at the near end. Recognizing the danger I tightened the lead and navigated a nervous Wyatt along past it and onto the path. Then across the road another riding lawnmower came around the side of a house and started circling the lawn like the carnivore it obviously was. Wyattt began to get more nervous and started dancing a little bit. I started getting more nervous and began trying not to soil my shorts. I kept Nervous Nellie pointed towards the end of the strip and the safety of the barn while gently coaxing him home. Then a third lawnmower appeared, this time on a trailer on the back of a huge truck. It was at the end of the path. This was not a good thing. Apparently using their pack hunting skills, the feral mowers had manged to encircle us on the narrow path. Wyatt just stopped. Then the truck with the mower in back turned towards us. Wyatt was done. Realizing that his life was in obvious danger as the rabid and blood crazed lawnmowers descended on us for the kill, Wyatt did a quick calculation and decided he could run faster if he could drop a quick 200 pounds. He started bucking to get me off, and I started trying to hold on and get him back under control. When that didn't work, he whirled around in a circle and tried to stop fast to roll me off. My adrenaline filled legs held on as I screamed "WHOOOOOOA" in a prepubescent pitch. Seeing the the frenzied lawnmowers were nearly upon us, Wyatt started bucking and spinning at the same time. With this he managed to throw me high up onto his neck, but also ended up with himself toeing the ditch and slightly off balance. As I reigned rearwards and screamed "BACK", Wyatt rolled one wild eye up to look at me. Noting my unapproved seating position on his neck and sensing freedom was near, Wyatt executed one last little forward buck, and off I went. Now however, Wyatt was a little too far forward over the ditch and nowhere to go but down. Knowing that would allow the mowers to descend upon him for the killing blow, he jumped out into the road where he saw the mower laden truck descending in for the kill. Scrambling hard to get traction and whirl away, he lost all balance and fell on his left side just as I heard the sickening "THUMP" of my friends most favorite possession getting hit by a truck.

Well the truck hit Wyatt gull on in the back as he was lying on his side, and he spun a full 360 before coming to a stop. I sat there stupidly trying to figure out how I was gonna explain why she was now the proud owner of a half ton of dog food. Well upon completing his pirouette, Wyatt leaped to all fours and scrambled towards the barn. I was relieved. Then Wyatt remembered Gunner and company weren't AT the barn. Then Wyatt went the other way. At a high rate of speed. Why me... Well I apologized to the guy looking at his dented bumper and took off running after the horse, passing the now silent lawnmowers as their riders just sat and watched the spectacle continue to unfold in front of them. I'd chased Wyatt a good mile when I finally saw Gunner and my friend come running up from behind with her screaming at me. Apparently the only thing she'd been told was "yeah that idiot on that other horse just got it hit by a truck. They went thatta way..." Finally she managed to find Wyatt running in huge circles in the field which we'd departed earlier, still wild eyed and avoiding me. Once she got him under control we managed to assess the damage. Amazingly, Wyatt had a few minor scrapes on his flank, but was otherwise unscathed. Fate smiled on us all when Wyatt fell on his side, allowing his precious legs to avoid contact with the bumper while absorbing the energy of the hit on his massive hind end. I was relieved. Wyatt was happy to be back with the herd. My friend was still ticked. It was a long silent walk home...

Anyhow, enough of my equestrian inability, back to Florida. As I mentioned, central Florida is mostly poor rural farmland like so much of the south. As I neared the Atlantic coast, the urban sprawl of Jacksonville replaced the falling in trailers and moss covered oaks of the inland. Once in Jacksonville proper I managed to make my way through the spaghetti like organization of the inner city interstate system to the manicured corporate park that housed the Wounded Warrior Project. I was excited to see the headquarters of the organization that's done so much for me. As I pulled the Bean into the parking lot, they waved me in to the right door as RTD and I dismounted and headed in.

Inside, the entire staff applauded Rocky as he triumphantly entered the hallowed halls of the WWP. I think a few people noticed I was there too. Rocky was his usual timid self as he ran to and fro, jamming his nose into everyone's crotch. Finally he settled down a bit and I was able to let him off the leash while everyone welcomed us. The staff was so kind as to give RTD and I a plaque with the Wounded Warrior logo on it, which I must admit I was proud to get. I'd seen them before at events they'd hosted and always wanted one for myself. After introductions were made, the staff was dismissed back to more important matters of running the organization as I was given a tour of the facility. Rocky still jut ran in circles accepting all manner of attention from anyone willing to give it to him.

When you first walk in, you're greeted with a foyer containing the wall sized logo, the mission statement, and some pictures of our wounded. Off to the left is the exhibit portion of the Sacrifice Center, the name bestowed upon the headquarters building. The first wall you see stretches down to your right and contains stories about some of the stories of the soldiers that the project that the WWP has helped. Also is the current focal injury that the WWP has highlighted, currently the Traumatic Brain Injury. Rounding the corner of that wall to the left stretches the sponsor wall where notable celebrities pictures and stories are displayed for all to read. All of these placards are interchangeable so current stories can always be rotated in. Another left turn brings you to the inside "room" of those first two walls where the core values of the project are listed. Each of these values is listed along with a picture of a wounded warrior who can be heard describing what these values mean to them on the video that's displayed there. These wrap around to your right in a rotunda like fashion, as well as a couple silhouettes outfitted with prosthetics which have been donated by actual service members after they are no longer usable. The centerpiece of the rotunda are a couple of mannequins outfitted in the latest gear being used to help keep warriors OUT of the project. One must remember that the best situation would be no injuries. To the right of the rotunda, the names of sponsoring companies are proudly displayed for all to see. Crossing across the rotunda brings you to the hall to the exit on your left, and the offices on the right. Displayed prominently on this wall are stories of "Alive Days" and the pictures of the injured they belong to. Finally as you make your way back to the entrance foyer there is a wall of letters on your right containing letters written by the wounded and their families, detailing their appreciation for the project. There are lots of them, all unsolicited. This comprises the "tour" part of the Project. Also in the same area is the TRACK center which will be used to help educate our fallen to get them ready to go back into the world and rejoin the society the gave so much for. While I was there several members of Aaron Rental's headquarters touring while debating on helping sponsor the WWP. I mention this to draw attention to the fact that this is all privately funded. This isn't some governmental right/left wing organization wasting your tax dollars on $4683 toilet seats. These are real guys, many of whom are also wounded, doing their best to ensure our nation's wounded aren't forgotten. Take a moment to check out the WWP site and see what I'm so enthused about.

Anyhow, as my tour drew to a close, I heard RTD's diesel engine growl emanating down the hall, and moved quickly to see what he was into. I showed up to see Rocky with a cornered staff member. RTD was snarling and growling at the largest guy he could find, who was a looking a bit worried at the moment. He said RTD initially noticed he he prosthetic legs poking out from his shorts, and then started in on the growl when he reached down to pet him. What I noticed was RTD's stumpy tail wagging at 97 mph. I grabbed Rocky and immediately launched him into a vicious sounding playfight there in the foyer, much to the horror/amusement of all who saw and heard this. It sounded like RTD was out for blood... Once everyone saw RTD was just wanting to "playfight" tensions were eased, and Rocky was able to turn back to his first "victim" who now eagerly smacked RTD around. Turns out Rocky's "Cujo" moments are just his mentally challenged attempts at initiating a bout of playing with anyone he thinks will be game for it.

Finally my time at the headquarters drew to a close and a few of us headed out for dinner. We ate at Dave and Buster's, a first for me, and traded stories about med school, the WWP, and other trips we'd been on. Afterwards we split ways and I headed to my friends place there in Jacksonville for the night. The trip is sadly drawing to a close and I'm not looking forward to its' end. Fortunately for you, the loyal readers, WWP is sending me to Alaska in a couple weeks, so my trip isn't over yet! While RTD won't be there, I'm sure there will be adventures to write about so don't delete my sight just yet! Until then I've still got a bit more to go, so keep checking back! Homeward bound in the near future!!...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Guns and Hookahs!!

Hello all! I write this from my buddies place here in Hudson, Florida. I headed up here just north of Tampa from the mangrove swamps of Cape Coral as soon as my head stopped pounding. As usual I swore off alcohol at sun up, yet had partaken of tasty beverages by sundown. Don't get me wrong, my idea of "hard drinking" is pretty tame, and I average about two drinks a week, but sometimes ya gotta have fun! The trip back north was uneventful, but I did have a bit of time to reflect on a few things. I've been thrilled to go on this trip, and proud to be "sponsored" by so many people who've never met me. I'm not sure what the final tally will be, but I'm sure that it will go a bit into offsetting the cost of this adventure. In the end though, I think back to what the medicine man told me; money isn't that important, it's what you learn from it that is. I've received a number of e-mails from people thanking me for lessons they've drawn from me, and no they aren't referring to dumb dog ownership! here's one in particular though that sticks out, as I've had it both in person and in e-mail.

Apparently people feel somewhat inspired by what I've done. One thing people continually note is "how much I've accomplished in spite of my injury." Well here's my take on that... First, one thing I always say is that everyone's injury is grave to them. People make the mistake of thinking "oh I could never go on if that happened to me", or conversely "how are they letting THAT slow them down." Within reason, everybody's injuries are important and serve as obstacles to overcome. One thing that I do know is everyone has the capacity to go on and do great things, regardless of their injury. Be it a sprained back, a missing arm, or a wheelchair for life, the life you lead afterwards is a reflection on your inner self. I have friends and acquaintances who've had relatively minor injuries who simply give up, sit down, and do no more. I also have friends who have injuries that make mine look like a bad paper cut, and yet they go on to lead productive lives. Why? Because they chose to! These people knew that they'd never be happy lying in a bed being fussed over. they constantly sought the next challenge. Sometimes that challenge was walking, sometimes it was as simple as eating. In the end they did the most they could, and were all the better for it. I'm sure I could sit at home and draw a little VA pension, tell anyone who'd listen about my tales of woe, and many people would say I was well within my rights to do that. I don't. Instead I go tax my tiny brain trying to learn the art of medicine so that someday I'll be a decent doctor. Before that I taught myself how to frame, do plumbing, lay tile, hang drywall, lay concrete, and a host of other activities all while trying to renovate my little place. I do all this because I choose to. Every time I get down, I just think about the "do nothing option" and I press on. Ultimately, while I am thrilled that people look at me as an inspiration, I try to let everyone know that everything I've done, they too are capable. It all comes down to you and your choice. Me? I choose to live.

Ok enough of the rant, back to beer and hookahs... I made it here to Hudson in time to shoot the breeze a bit with my friends here. They recently found out they will be the proud parents of triplets, so there was lots of talking to do! I also showed them the wonders of the blogosphere and they have now set up their own blog to tell the tale of three kiddies and the life of being a cop, and ask advice from those who are in the know about young'uns. Hopefully it all goes well! After trading tails of in vitro fertilization versus life on the road, we settled down for some good steaks and water. Ok maybe not so much on the water... Logan's parents (of the couch/urine story) came in for dinner too, so the conversation was never dull. Finally, bellies full, we settled in for post dinner drinks and whatnot. This is when Logan busted out Ye Olde Hookah. Having never messed with one, I was intrigued. I myself am a staunch non smoker, but he assured me it didn't smell like an ashtray in Hell, and fired it up. I must say that the smell was in fact quite fragrant, which was even more intriguing. Finally I got up the courage (read: had enough to drink) to take a puff, and was amazed that it wasn't bad at all. Apparently the tobacco is flavored, and it also takes on the flavor of whatever liquid you bubble it through, i.e. wine, beer, bleach or what not. All in all, it's a lot like a cigar, where the goal is to enjoy the flavor (which cigars lack IMO) and not really so much about inhaling all the smoke. Well the hookah brought up tales of the middle east where we both have been, and it wasn't long thereafter before the topic of guns floated by, too. So here we are, two ex-infantry buffoons puffing on a hookah, talking politics and guns. While drinking. Then the cameras came out. First it was a picture with the hookah, then the brandy... I'll let the pics themselves tell the tale of the rest of it. Remember, you can click the pics for bigger versions... Hopefully at least a few people might be offended and will send me hate mail, which I will then find immensely entertaining.

After everything was put away and order was restored, the parents took this as an excellent opportunity to leave before things got too out of hand. We were then sitting around debating what to get into next when we heard the booms. Someone was shooting fireworks. We were out the door before the next set was off. We headed down the road to where his neighbors were firing mortars off as fast as they could. We brought along Logan's rinky dink black cat bottle rockets and quickly joined the fray. It went a lot like this... BOOM! BOOM! phhhtpop BOOM! I was reminded of the "Harlem Nights" scene where everyone had big guns and the one guy had a tiny pistol. It didn't take long before one guy was tying fuses together and other guys were lighting them. Two people bent over the mortar tubes, giggling with glee as they try to get all the fuses to light at the same time, then sprinting away before anyone took a round to the face! As this went on, neighbors began to gather to enjoy the free show that had manifested outside their doors. I think a number might have been betting on who got "blowed up" first. Probably didn't help that one guy out there was running around with one arm... The saving grace was that several of those involved were cops, and therefore viewed as professionals who knew what they were doing, and not as giggling half-lit man-kids with lighters and explosives. Anyhow, the night ended with no big incidents as I'd left RTD inside. I figured it would take him about three seconds before he started trying to go catch the fireworks...

Well today I'm headed to Jacksonville for a day or two, and then on back to TN. Like I said, I'll try to post for a bit longer about whatever I remember that I missed on the trip. Also, I must clarify, RTD is in fact housebroken, he only has issues if another dog has been there and peed first!! Hope everyone is still enjoying this!

Ernie and his balls...

Well the end of my trip draws near, but it's not done yet! Today I'm hanging out in The House of Whoop A$$ which was so gracious as to host me. I made my way here from Pensacola along I-10 which is pretty desolate up in the norther climes of the panhandle. An interesting thing there are the rows upon rows of pines growing in the sandy Florida soil. Obviously they are tree farms, but it's just odd that everywhere they are in long straight lines like giants arranged in phalanxes, ready to do battle with nothing more than the Florida weather which is a formidable adversary in and of itself. Once I made it through Tallahassee I headed down south on HWY 19 which is supposedly a faster way to Tampa according to that great dashboard deceiver, the Garminator. What the Garminator never tells you is that there *might* be 145767923 stoplights to slow ya down.... Not that I cared but don't you be fooled!

Sadly, one thing I noticed was that Florida away from the coast is kind of poverty stricken. A lot of trailers with cars up on blocks in the front yard, kinda like my place. I felt right at home. Where there aren't trailers there are huge groves of trees covered in the hanging shrouds of Spanish moss, reminiscent of portraits of the civil war era. That or Forrest Gump... Once I got close to Tampa I came into the strip mall and powersports dealer nirvana that is the Gulf Coast economy, and palm trees and other Florichic vegetation and architecture reminded me of the money that is still in Florida.

In Tampa, I made my way over to my buddy from flight school's parents place where they'd agreed to host Rocky and I. This is an agreement they probably regret now. See RTD has never seen certain things, like screened in porches. As soon as I let him out the back door, he ran headfirst at full speed into the screened in porch, and thankfully was rebuffed. Then he ran around and tried to figure out how to get out. I mean, the grass and trees are RIGHT there! There MUST be a way to get to them! When he was again confounded, he finally gave up and decided just to pee on stuff through the screen. With all that out of the way he was able to turn his attention to Oreo, their maltese/shitzu mix. Oreo was busily running around and trying to sniff RTD, and then humping his leg. RTD just looked at me with a confused look... He's never interacted with a fog this small and was unsure how he was supposed to go about humping Oreo's rear. Finally he gave up and just peed on Oreo, which nobody found amusing except me. After all that, RTD finally let go with the coup d'grace and dropped large Rocky Bombs on the cement next to the pool. I guess he figured if he was outside, that's good enough. After dinner we all settled in and hit the sack, where Rocky then decided to go do a little marking on the white furniture. Now he's NEVER done this before unless it's somewhere another dog marked, so I think RTD might have been trying to cover a little Oreo milk. I was dispatched to petsmart to get cleaner shortly thereafter...

After Tampa I made my way down south to the Ft. Myers area to meet Ernie who, had offered food and beer both of which I could not refuse. If there ever was a need for a "North American Guy" call, it would bellow "Steak and beer over here!!!" when activated. It would work well. Here we hit the local pub and downed beverages before heading home to play in the pool, which had already been the source of amusement today. Can you guess how? If you said "Rocky The Destroyer" you would be correct.

As I've learned, Rocky fancies the pool. Well his pool is different than any others I've seen in that it just overflows over an edge into a "well" about four feet below it that acts as a skimmer/trap. Well after a while of playing with the ball, RTD decided to try to play with two. This worked for a bit, but eventually one managed to fall over the edge into the well. Well RTD then swam over and peered over the edge ad the orphaned toy and contemplated his next move. While he did this I screamed "Rocky NO!" which roughly translates to him as "You better hurry up and do whatever it is you're planning!!!" Upon hearing this Rocky crawled up on the thin edge of the pool wall and teetered precariously while eyeing his ball. I unassed my seat and yelled at him "you better not! No!" Which again roughly translates to "Now or never!" Rocky opted for "now" and into the well he went. Once in there he realized that there was no way out and began thrashing around as I laughed at him. I finally got down and was able to grab his handy dandy Rockstar Carrying Handle that I make him wear at all times and pulled him out. Well as soon as he was out, he realized that while he was out, the ball wasn't. Luckily I was able to catch him midair as he jumped right back into the well. We had to restrain him until Ernie could fish both of his balls out with a skimmer. (How's that for a sentence to take out of context....) Finally Ernie took his balls away from RTD so we could dry him off. But the fun wasn't over yet...

With Rocky now dried and ball-less, he soon became bored. This was right about the time the pool was back to smooth waters, and RTD was able to see something he hadn't seen before. Where the jets blow water out just below the surface, it creates a ripple in the water. Rocky was intrigued. He sat there and watched it for a bit, debating on what to do. His first action was to try to paw at it. He managed to lean over and balance enough to paw, but he kept coming back emptyhanded. Odd... the ripples are still RIGHT there! Next he got on his belly and sniffed at it before jamming his head underwater to try to get a closer look. Still nothing. He then sat back and watched some more before choosing his final course of action. I looked over in time to see him on his haunches wiggling trying to judge how to jump onto it. I yelled another "Rocky NO!" which we all already know means "Do it! Do It Now! Get to the Choppah!" RTD immediately jumped in and once again came up empty mouthed, but alas, this time he could FEEL whatever it was making the ripple. Sensing that the prey was close, Rocky made his way over to the jet and then did his best to drown himself attacking the underwater jet. Once again the Patent Pended Rocky Carrying Handle was used to haul him back out of the water for some more drying off. At least Ernie was happy that this time his balls were safe and dry.

After all that RTD was put back inside and we headed out for the steaks and beverages. After dinner we headed to a little outside pub where I regaled all within earshot with my tales from the road and whatever else came to mind. As mentioned before, nothing makes me happier than an audience. Eventually, no doubt sensing I was nearing the point of no return as the area was starting to get more crowded, Ernie wisely hauled us back to the house where we were able to hang out and drink with the Captain, though the Doctor couldn't make it. Those who know me know what I mean (think Morgan and Pepper). Ultimately the night wound down and everyone headed to their places of rest where tragedy struck. apparently sometime during the night, a band of bat wielding thugs broke in and popped us all on the head. At least that what I think happened. that's what my head keeps telling me...

Well today it's back to Tampa to see my friends who recently found out that they are about to be parents. Times three. After that I'm headed to Jacksonville to see the Wounded Warrior Project people and a few more friends and then it's back to TN. I still have several stories to post so keep coming back to see what's new!!

Also if anyone here happens to work with a book publisher, feel free to lie and tell them this is the best thing you've seen since chocolate was invented and see if they're interested in helping me publish any of it!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The camera....

Hey everyone! I've had a lot of people ask what kind of camera setup I use, and then they tell me all about theirs. I'm kind of ashamed to admit it, but I have no clue when it comes to photography... I am using a cheap Fuji Finepix 8.0 I bought at Best Buy about a week into the trip when my older cheaper camera died... Sorry there's no great digital SLR supercamera with "adjustable F-stops" and "variable lenses" etc etc etc...

That said, I've had a fair amount of interest in a calendar and or glossies of some of the pics. If you are interested, PLEASE take a minute to click the poll on the right side here. You can choose more than one option so pick accordingly. I'm trying to gauge interest here to decide if it's worth the time to get some professional calendars made to sell here for probably around $20. Thanks gor taking the time to take the poll!! Daniel

Born on a Bayou...

After my last post (from Katy) I headed on over to the local Autozone to get a new compressor for my A/C system. I think I should have invested in autozone before I started this trip... I wonder if they'll name a store after me after all the business the Bean has brought them in the last six months... I bought the compressor and asked if I could use their store toolbox to put it on. They asked what tools I needed and I explained I didn't know yet, but adamantly promised I wouldn't steal the box of broken and mismatched tools they loaned me. Finally the relented and turned the box of tools over, and I went outside to work. I quickly set about pulling the compressor with all the wrong tools. Finally I got it off with a large blast of freon to the face and finally got the instructions out to read. Step 1: drain freon from system. Ooops... Eventually I'll learn.

As I started getting the new part ready to go in, one of the employees stepped out and asked me how I planned to get the freon BACK in.

"In? I was just gonna hook up this can here..."

"That won't work. You need to have something to suck it in."

"Wait, what? Do you have that here at the store?"

"Uh no, not really."

"Uh oh..."

Years of experience allowed the Autozone guy to recognize imcompetence when he saw it, and he suggested I take it across the street to the mechanic there and have them charge it. I told him that was a bit too pricy for me and I was gonna try it myself somehow. Recognizing that dangerous combination of incompetence coupled with ignorance, he took it upon himself to call the shop himself and explain that he had a customer who was systematically destroying an ugly truck in their parking lot and asked if they could fix it before meltdown occured. The instructions lying crumpled on the ground nearby probably helped my case, too... Fortunately they agreed and I took the truck across the street for a professional attempt at repair.

At Katy foriegn and domestic auto repair, the mechanic, Tink, assured me he could get the Bean recharged and I'd be set. After a bit he asked if I'd changed the filter, too. Filter? There's a filter? Well Tink the uncharged the system and checked the filter, which contained all sorts of parts of the old compressor. Not good. After seing this, he decided maybe the whole system should be flushed, too. Several bottles of flush later, 24 years of crud was removed and he set about hooking it all back up. Finally, several hours later and a lot more work completed than what they initially agreed to, the Bean was blowing 48 degree air and I was ready to get back on the road. I have to thank Tink and the rest of them there for being so kind as to work late into the afternoon before the 4th to get the Bean back to arctic goodness!

Back on the road I decided I'd drive late to make up time. I then promptly got stuck in the parking lot that is I-10 in Houston at late rush hour. Eventually everyone remembered they were supposed to be driving and traffic started moving and I headed out. I managed to get to Lake Charles, LA around 9:30 and looked for a camp. Jellystone was the only option, so off I went in search of Yogi and crew. Once there I was laughingly informed that if I didn't have a reservation there was no way they were taking me in. Dang. I then went to the local Econolodge, which happened to be on MLK drive there. I hate to make broad statements, but in my life, I've NEVER been on a MLK drive that gave me a good feeling and the fact that the Garminator was beelining me there wasn't reassuring.

At the hotel waiting to check in, I got my first clue when the clerk told security that there was someone on the second floor going door to door asking for drugs or money. Nonplussed, I bravely checked in anyhow and pulled around to my room. I hadn't even got the bean in park before there was a guy at my door. I got RTD and my knife ready and opened the door. he immediately asked if I could come across the street with him for a little help. I looked at the dark grove of trees he was pointing towards and followed my gut instinct and tasered the guy. Ok I didn't taser him, but at the sight of Rocky he lost interest and ran off. Still undeterred I headed up the stairs to my hovel... The room itself was disgustipating. The carpet was hideous and the smell was worse. I looked at the two beds and bravely pulled back the comforter. Blue sheets. Not good. For the hotel unitiated, colored sheets are ALWAYS a bad thing. Colored sheets indicate bleach is not a part of the washing process. I looked closely at the sheets and was impressed at the number of stains on the first bed. The second bed looked a little better, but then when I touched it, the bed was wet. I briefly considered getting the air mattress before realizing I'd PAID for this. Angry, I finally headed back to the desk where I stood around for about twenty minutes while the clerk did everything but unlock the lobby to let me in. My only solace was in scaring off potential customers with my tales of nastiness and funk in the hotel. Finally I was given a refund and I made my way on down the road to a Ho-Jo that was much nicer.

The next morning I set off for Pensacola to see the fireworks at the beach there. Along the way I crossed all manner of woodlands and bayou. Pines and hardwoods would yield to the cypress and other undergrowth of the wetlands. Herons and other waterbirds hovered just off the highway, taking advantage of the updraft off the water to hold them steady as if painted into the sky. Every time I got ready to pull over to take a picture, a local law enforcement officer would appear next to a "no parking ever" sign. Eventually I crossed into Florida where the wetlands gave way to the sandy soil of the Florida guld coast. Pines and dark undergrowth again became the masters of the land as I pulled into the RV park which was kind enough to let me park there. They were the only place that wasn't booked full, or so greedy they hadn't jacked the prices way into the hundreds. I watched the fireworks from the Outback there, and then headed back to campground for a humid nights sleep. I must say 75 degrees still sucks when you can swim through the air to get to the bathroom... Today I'm headed to Tampa for a day or three, and finally on to either Orlando or Jacksonville before making my way back north.

BTW, Ernie of, get ahold of me!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

Today is the day we all celebrate our independence as a nation. This is a day that is uniquely special to the United States, yet sadly has become more commercialized in the last several years. One day in the future it may become "Happy Fireworks Day" once some organization protests that they are offended by our Declaration or some such nonsense. It seems unlikely now but look at all the other "Holidays" that have changed over time. One never knows.... Today though it is still Independence Day, and it's a day I'm proud to get to see. Sadly, it also marks the two year date of the day I found out my friend CW3 Flanigan was killed in Afghanistan fighting for the freedoms we hold so dear, yet take for granted.

Over the last several weeks I've had an excellent opportunity to witness just how much freedom we have. I've received e-mails from people who think otherwise, and even talked to one (conspiracy theorist) but I myself remain confident in our freedom. People point out that we are restricted from owning automatic weapons, and scream that our freedoms are gone. The truth is though, we are free to own them provided we follow the rules to GET them. Not all countries have this, and I personally agree that there needs to be a checks system in place for such stuff anyhow. The Supreme Court, in a rare moment of enlightenment, even upheld everyone's right to own a handgun, provided you meet the requirements which essentially mean you aren't a felon. Seems pretty free to me! If you want to go buy a few hundred gallons of diesel fuel and fertilizer, you can! Don't be surprised if someone questions WHY you just bought the ingredients for a bomb, but if you don't have ill intent, their yours for the taking.

In a few more months we'll all head to the voting booths to make our selections for the future leaders of this country. In that little booth you'll have several choices to make about this future. Some people might argue that candidate A is just like candidate B, and there may even be some truth to that, but in the end there is still an A and a B. Some countries don't have that. Look at Zimbabwe which recently held their "election". It was a really easy process, you vote for the only name on the ticket, Robert Mugabe, and you go home. I can promise you this, Robert Mugabe of last week will be just like Robert Mugabe of next week, which is a lot more similar than McCain and Obama. What you won't have there is someone with a gun assisting making sure you have no trouble choosing the "right" candidate. More freedom in my book.

Perhaps some of you are heading out across country today to celebrate with relatives. As you cross easily from state to state, think about the places where you can't do that. There are no guards asking why you feel like heading over to Georgia for your afternoon. Not every country can say that. While you tool down the highway on your trip, you have no worries of being pulled over merely because you aren't from the local "tribe" which runs the show there. No officer will be holding out his hand expecting your license and a hundred dollar bill to avoid a little "talking to" courtesy of a nightstick. Still sounding pretty good to me...

Some of you might be enjoying your summer, anxiously awaiting the start of school where you hope to go on to be a doctor, a lawyer, a politician, or maybe a humanitarian worker. All options are open and your performance will be your key to these dreams. What you won't encounter is some bureaucracy that tells you that you can't chase these dreams because you didn't score well enough in school, or you are from the wrong caste, or you just aren't the right race or gender. I myself came from a background where I nearly failed out of high school and came from a poor family yet here I am, a student in medical school. These are all freedoms which we enjoy that people in other countries don't

One of the things to remember is that this independence didn't come for naught. The price paid was heavy, and even today the debt is still being settled. Tonight while you enjoy your steak and beer, remember that somewhere in the world, an American is suffering so that you won't have to. This is a person who did this of their own accord, be it for school, a sense of patriotism, or just a way out. No letter arrived in the mail directing them to report for duty. No truck full of armed men came and whisked them away to a new life of danger. This citizen willfully stepped forward and said "I will go" when so many others sat back and criticized or listed the reasons why it just wasn't convenient for them to go. Tonight while you watch the beautiful displays of fireworks bursting overhead, know that somewhere else in the world an American is seeing the same bursts, hearing the same booms, and wishing they weren't there. This person will see no beauty in the rockets red glare, only danger unknown to those who've not been there. When the embers fall on you as you try to dance out of the way, remember that for a neighbor of yours these embers are shrapnel, embers that injure far more gravely. Lastly, remember that in the morning when you awaken, head pounding from the nights festivities, a friend you've never met will never reawaken from their last nights journey.

I myself will be in the Pensacola area provided all goes well. I'll likely be sleeping at a truck stop as all the campgrounds are booked and I lacked the ability to reserve one far enough in advance. I'll enjoy my night in the Bean because tonight of all nights, hotels apparently don't offer a military discount because of the opportunity to make more money. Thankfully though, regardless of where I enjoy my night, tomorrow I will awaken though just two years ago I came so close to not, and so many of my brothers in arms never will.

Remember, freedom is not free. As soon as I get better internet access, I'll repost one of my favorite pictures because I feel it says it all.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

No country for dumb dogs

The other day RTD and I made the trip through Big Bend National Park over in the far reaches of Southwest Texas. The trip the from Las Cruces was boring, and I must admit the desert gets a bit monotonous as I've mentioned before. One can only spend so much time thinking "Yay! Sand!" before wanting to fill ones eyes with cactus spines and starting dreaming of unnamed horses. At least that's my feeling. Desert dwellers probably feel that green trees and rolling mountains get a little old... Well this was my first trip to Big Bend in spite of my years of living in Texas. I took a route through Marfa, TX so I could see the area where No Country for Old Men was filmed. If you've not seen this movie, go rent it now and watch it. Twice. The first time will leave you feeling unfulfilled and confused, like that first morning after prom. The second time brings it all together a bit better since you kind of know what's going on. I was surprised at how "artsy" this tiny west TX town was, but after considering that it is a popular destination for Hollywood Western types, it made more sense. Alas, there was still no Starbucks.

As I continued on towards the park, the desert continued to be about as exciting as RTD on Valium. I did see some Javelinas which was another first for me in TX. Javelinas are a time of swine that get up to about 60-80 lbs, and have a perpetually bad day. Running into a javelina is bad. Running into a pack is worse. Running into a pack with piglets after a meal of bacon and pork chops is probably catastrophic. Luckily RTD didn't run into any at all. We also saw more wild turkey and buzzards which always hold Rocky's rapt attention. Other than that we mostly drove and I cursed the thunderstorms that were prevailing, and swore that if the park was just more scrubby desert I'd start searching for books of matches...

I was not let down. The contrast between the park and the surrounding nothingness is huge. The park is filled with jagged peaks and valleys, colors across the spectrum, and varieties of fun filled wildlife to keep the nights interesting. I entered from the west entrance and made my way through. The same showers I'd been cursing made for amazing pictures, so of which I've already posted. The elevation change is amazing, and at the highest points in the park the weather is almost cool. Well, for Texas at least. I tooled along taking pictures and stopping to admire the contrasts of the oranges and reds of the rocks and sunsets against the angry blacks and greys of the summer storms. I finally descended into the Rio Grande valley where the heat and humidity were in direct competition with each other to see which could be listed under "cause" on your death certificate. I made it to the campsite where I got out of the Bean for about thirty seconds before deciding to head back up the hill to the Basin campsite. I'd suggest this to anyone who isn't "camping" in Van Halen's old tour bus.

We overnighted at the infamous Skunk Stomping Grounds where tragedy was narrowly avoided, and I was pretty much miserable. My air mattress picked that night to spring a leak, and after two refills I just settled for misery on the cold floor of the Bean while Rocky looked at me in a mocking fashion. The next morning brought on more rain and massive fog until we made it back into the lowlands. The trip out of the park was ok, but the best scenery is in the west of the park, and the rains do nothing but to enhance it though that might only work in the evenings. After the park I went through yet another Alien Checkpoint where the Bean was scrutinized in detail to see if I was running illegals through there. I guess the fact I could easily fir thirty or forty brings a little attention to me. After that it was back to desert boredom until I noticed a little something.

In was driving about thirty miles south of Fort Stockton when I notice a large black hunk of rubber on the side of the road. You know, the ones that occasionally depart a truckers tire and sail directly into your windshield, too small to do damage but big enough to require and underwear change after it hits. Well these hand sized chunks are not unusual, except this one moved when I got closer. This piqued my interest, and the Bean was eventually doing a 27 point U-turn to get back to see what it was. When I got back to where it had been, it was gone! I turned around again and slowly cruised up the highway to see if I could find it. It wasn't long before I saw the "rubber" walking through the woods. The "rubber" was actually a "Tarantula". I was impressed, another first for Texas and I! I immediately stopped the truck and got out for a closer look. I left RTD there in the truck since I wasn't sure how poisonous these things might be. Anyhow, one thing that fascinates me are spiders, and here was a big one. I drew deep from the wellspring of knowledge gleaned from years of watch such great shows as The Crocodile Hunter and other Discovery Channel wonders, and tried to decide what to do next. It didn't take long for the answer to come to me.... Poke it with a stick. I've learned that when all else fails when dealing with wild animals, especially those with large fangs, stick poking is a given. I rounded up a twig and tried to remember if tarantulas were capable of long jumps. My gut said "no" so the poking began.

My first couple of pokes did not produce the desired effect, so I went with another time tested method of wild arachnid wrangling, and tossed a few pebbles at it. I was rewarded with some movement to and fro, but not much else. Now I got a bit of testicular fortitude up and started alternately poking, pebbling, and picturing as close as I could. Finally it wandered into the road and stopped. Foiled, I increased my stick poking, attempting to poke about the head and neck area. I was having fun! I was five years old again! I was standing in the middle of a highway with a semi truck headed my way. Finally with one last deft maneuver I poked away and garnered the desired pose. The spider rared back on its' hind legs and displayed the fangs. Success!! I snapped a picture and retreated to the side of the road as the truck passed by, blowing the tarantula around a bit. Finally, bewildered at what had just happened, it made it's way back off into the brush in search of that eternal motivator of males, females, and I continued on to the Hill Country of Fredericksburg, TX.

Now I realize Texans love Texas and everything, but most of my memories of Texas aren't very fond, therefore my opinion may be a bit jaded. That decree made, I have to say the Hill Country is a pretty nice area of the world. The temperatures here tend to be about ten degrees cooler than the rest of Texas, so Satan isn't nearly as often spotted in this corner of Hades. The hills are a golden rolling carpet spotted with live oaks and mesquites, and that everpresent destroyer of cars, that oversized rodent, that walking eating machine, the White Tailed Deer. Throughout the hill country are numerous wineries and ranches, and my personal favorite, several winding rivers. The rivers are where one can engage in that great Tejas Past Time of tubing. This is where you and a few friends rent inner tubes with plastic bottoms, toss in a cooler of tasty brew (cans only) and float lazily along the green hued limeladen rivers with hundreds of your new friends. On a weekend it is nearly impossible to not end up drinking, regardless of whether you brought any beer or not. The multitudes of sun seekers floating along on the donut shaped caravan will surely bequeath unto you more alcohol that you care to have. While Texans might be hogs of the highways, they certainly aren't stingy with the beer.

After a lazy frozen rainfilled afternoon of floating the river, we headed to my other favorite destination of the Hill Country; Gruene, TX. Gruene is an old German town that's since been revamped for tourism. It's just touristy enough to be a tourist town, yet not so overdone you expect a large mouse with gloves to pop out from behind every corner. My favorite restaurant there is The Gristmill, and one would be selling themselves short to miss out on it! No meal on the menu will run more than $20, and most are half that. The place is in an old mill, so the old walls, timber, and water tower are all still there, along with terraced seating, and the oldest dance hall in Texas just a stones throw away. If all of this sounds like a shameless plug for Gruene, it's because it is! If you ever end up near San Antonio, scratch the River Walk off your list and drive the half hour north to Gruene and mail me your "thank you" notes later!

Speaking of Texas dance halls, I also got the opportunity to here a couple of Texas musicians play. Sadly it wasn't at Luckenbach, though I've heard Thomas Michael Riley (whose place I was staying at this time) play there and ya can't pass that up, either. Matt and I ended up in Marble City Falls to hear Mike Blakely play along with a few other fellows, and good times were had by all. I was getting a bit worn down by this point but I was still quite happy to have the opportunity! Finally with all that out of the way I visited a few more friends in San Antonio before getting ready to head out to New Orleans. One of my classmates is spending his summer playing Army in the summer heat of Texas so he can be an Army doc, so I had to bring him and some of his other downtrodden buddies some Rudy's so that they'd know what real brisket was like. Hope ya enjoyed it, old man...

As for SATX, I don't have much to say, that's where I did my rehab, and I may write about that tonight for the 4th. I don't know yet, I'll have to look in my soul and see if there is a story that wants to get out. If so, you'll see it. That brings me to where I am now; Katy, TX. I stopped here because my air conditioner stopped about ten miles back so I'm about to suck it up and go buy a new compressor. The sound you heard this afternoon was the wail I unleashed after seeing the price of keeping the Bean (and Rockstar) cool.... Anyhow I hope to get to around N'Awlins tonight, and then who knows from there. My buddies at Fort Rucker have all headed out for the Fourth so I may just sleep on a beach in Florida somewhere, who knows. At least the bikinis will be out in abundance!! Until then...