Friday, November 5, 2010

Greetings From the Road

Well, I'm on the road again, though my mode of transportation is a bit different. I'm not sticking my thumb in the wind, waiting for a ride while smiling at every vehicle that passes. I'm driving around in a 77,000 pound tanker truck. A couple years ago, if someone had told me I'd one day be a trucker, I would have laughed at them. Now, I can see myself doing this for a while.

The job: Hauling a tank full of liquid for about a thousand miles and then pumping it out into a customer's tank while making sure that I don't burn myself with acid, inhale something poisonous, detonate a 45,000 pound bomb, or misfile the mound of paperwork that comes with it all.

The perks: I get to hang out in truck stops all over the country, face new challenges, sleep in a different state each night, work my own schedule, travel and earn some good money.

The drawbacks: One wrong move and the liquid sloshes too hard, rolling the truck over and not being home but one week out of the month.

But what's the real reason I'm a trucker? It all boils down to one word, the word that got me started on all this adventures tuff in the first place. WANDERLUST. I have to travel. I have to keep moving. If I don't I get antsy, and we all know what happens when I get antsy. I get moving. This job satisfies my wanderlust (at least for now). And the ability to take all my weekends at once will greatly help me out when it comes to shorter trips.

So why am I telling you this? Because, my change in career illustrates how a person can adapt and change his station to better suit his needs or desires. I was a graphic artist for almost fifteen years, a good run in a career by any standard. But I changed my source of income entirely, spending two months in trucking school and another 6 weeks in training with my employer. Why? Because it works for me.

If you're going to get what you want out of life, you have to be willing to let go of the things you no longer need. There's no such thing as a career, just a string of jobs in a related field. You're not tied to that field. If the day comes that another line of work would better serve your interests, then change your line of work. The idea that one must stick with it because they've invested a certain number of years just doesn't make sense.

The same goes for your home. So your kids have moved out and your house seems empty. So what if you have a lot of great memories in that house. Those memories will remain with you forever. Get a different house better suited to your current situation.

We must adapt in order to be happy. Life is constantly changing and parts of us, some of those details that make up our lives will have to change with it. Your life is a story, it's up to you to write it.

What will make you happy? What changes do you need to make in order to bring more joy to your life? What do you need to add? What do you need to leave behind?

Don't worry about leaving something behind. In the end, it's just a thing. And the world is full of things. Losing one makes room for another.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Tale of Two Boats


July 1st, Adventure Chick, Adventure Dog and the Newanderthal launched the canoe in the Sabine River below Toledo Bend. The custom made sun shelter kept the late morning heat off the thick-haired dog as we pushed off from the sandy bank. Our goal was simple, tackle the Class II and III rapids that lay along the next third of a mile of river without dashing our skulls against the rocks.

Neither of us had ever attempted rapids, not even Class I, so it made sense to go head on with Class III before learning the easier stuff. It's how we roll.

The first set looked a little hairy, but as we entered, we quickly found out that it wasn't that big of a deal. The water was quick but shallow, so we were dragging keel for most of the way and didn't spin wildly out of control, flying, flipping and dying. We actually came through alright. Since it looked a little nasty, I opted to pull the canoe over to get some photos of the rapids we had just conquered.

Ahead, a rock shelf stretched a third of the way across the river. We aimed for it and glided the bow of the canoe onto the submerged shelf. Then the trouble hit. The current began swinging the stern of the canoe around to the port side, forcing more of the canoe onto the shelf. I dug my paddle into the rock, but unfortunately the current was stronger. The entire port side slid onto the rock, raising it. The starboard side dipped and we tilted. A half second later, the weight shifted abruptly and the canoe shot out from under us.

The icy water came up to greet us and the entire boat seemed airborne. It went completely upside down, trapping the Adventure Dog between it and the sun screen, under water. I planted my feet and grabbed the gunwales, flinging the swamped canoe over while the Adventure Chick yanked our fuzzy friend free. Though startled, he calmed down almost instantly and retreated to the bank.

We laughed at the incident, but watched our point-and-shoot camera float around in the flooded boat. Should have put that one in the dry sack with the SLR. Oops. After bailing the boat, we launched again and proceeded toward the next set of rapids.

This one seemed a bit worse. The right side was Class III, which means lots of obstacles and fast moving water. The left side was Class IV, which means you stay away from it when inside a canoe. We hugged the far right side, navigating our way through a narrow shoot, around a tight bend, and over a small waterfall. Back in calm water, we managed to pull over and get photos without flipping the boat.

After a relaxing paddle around a calmer section of river, we ate some lunch and headed home. We'd tackled our first rapids and came through unscathed. We just have to watch out for the calmer waters. That seems to be where we have our troubles.

On July 4th, I headed out with Captain Thorton on the Calcasieu Ship Channel. The clouds were gathering, but the rain wasn't coming yet. The two of us and his dog, Tabasco, cruised downstream watching the pelicans and gulls. A few minutes into the trip, we spotted a pod of dolphins shadowing a shrimp boat.

Twenty or so miles into the trip, we pulled into a small cut off the side of the channel. While idling along, the engine died. After a few failed attempts to restart the motor, Captain Thorton investigated, discovering that the fuel filter was in dire need of changing. But after several attempts to unscrew the filter, we realized that it was rusted in place. We wrapped a belt around it, using it for grip, but it still wouldn't budge. Then we drove a screwdriver through the side to create a makeshift handle. It bent the screwdriver and tore a hole in the filter, but still it wouldn't loosen.

A passing tanker made its way up the channel, redirecting the current as it went. Suddenly, we were being sucked back into the ship channel. With no power to alter our course, I rushed to the bow of the boat and dropped anchor. As the ocean liner faded into the distance, the current switched again and we were safe.

Finally, after much frustration and a little blood, the entire housing was unbolted and removed. We then set about the task of ripping the filter apart with screwdrivers, knives and pliers. Once the seal was stripped away and the filter lay in pieces atop the ice chest, we were finally able to break the threads free and remove what remained of the filter. The new one went on without a hitch and a few minor frustrations later, the housing was connected to the fuel lines once more and we tried the engine.

Crossing our fingers we listened as the engine cranked up, then died. The captain tried again, and it started. This time, it remained running.

We moved back into the ship channel and headed toward the launch. I had a barbecue to get to and Bobby had fish to catch.

The fuel filter tried its best to strand us, but after a small blood sacrifice to the maritime gods (in the form of bloody knuckles scraped against jagged metal) we had defeated the filter soundly. We always win and future problems should keep that in mind.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hurricane Preparation Part 3

The storm has passed and the lights are out. With any luck, your house was not cut in half by a falling tree. If it was, I am deeply sorry. Now that the town is in ruins, what do you do?

First, you want to be careful. Before venturing outside, make sure there are no downed power lines in your yard. If there are, try contacting the power company. Avoid any downed lines at all costs. There's enough electricity running through those things to fry a whale, you don't stand a chance.

Check the perimeter of your home. If you have any damaged windows, you'll want to remove whatever projectile the hurricane felt the need to shove through the glass and string up a tarp. If you don't have a tarp, tack a sheet to the window frame on the outside of the house. Though not waterproof, it will still keep rain out, along with bugs.

If you want to scout the damage around your home, be wary of dangerous animals. Snakes, raccoons, wasps and other critters might be in the area. Everything was shaken up by the storm and in quite a panic. They will likely seek shelter beneath anything, including a sheet of metal that blew into the yard or an overturned trash can. They're already spooked and startling them can easily provoke an attack, so watch out. Approach every piece of debris cautiously and if you pick anything up, use a stick to lift it first, looking underneath. Do NOT stick your hands or fingers under something unless you have first made certain that there's nothing under there that can hurt you. A bite from a copperhead won't kill you, but the tissue damage will ruin your weekend and the medical bill will likely cost more than your car. Not to mention the fact that you could have a couple fingers fall off.

Moving around the town might be a bit difficult. Downed trees and telephone poles will be a constant nuisance, not to mention business signs and chunks of sheet metal. Avoid running over any debris, especially wood and sheet metal as they will likely contain nails or screws, and also power lines. If the wind is still blowing hard, be mindful of intersections. Those heavy traffic lights can snap loose and do some real damage to you and your vehicle. If they are hanging at weird angles, try to cut through a parking lot or drive in a different lane to avoid being directly beneath them. You may have to get out and walk if the streets become too clogged with debris. After Rita, navigating most neighborhoods had to be done on foot. Be careful of snakes if you're hoofing it. Also, if any cops pass through, wave or nod at them. Do NOT try to duck them. They might assume you're a looter and toss you in the slammer.

Check on any nearby friends and family members and see if they need help clearing branches from their driveway or road. If you have friends nearby who evacuated, check on their homes in case there's damage. the only thing worse than having your home damaged while you're in it is having it damaged a week before you can get there to prevent water from pouring in.

Communications will likely be down for a while. Your home phone will go out as soon as a line gets snapped, and cell phone towers can take damage. Turn on your phone and check for signal. Get in the middle of your yard for the best chance for reception. If you get no signal, turn the phone off. Check it again in a day or two, turning it off when not in use. Also, remove the battery. If you run down the battery when you don't have signal, you can't use it when you do.

Listen to your radio. If the National Guard or the County/Parish sets up a relief center where citizens can get food, water and ice, you need to know about it. Also, if the tap water is not suitable for drinking, you need to know. Only run the radio for a few hours, and actually listen to it. Keep it tuned to the local emergency station or the weather station.

Open up your windows to let some cool air blow through the house. Without air conditioning, your home will become an oven when the sun comes out. Get some fresh air in there. At night, only open the windows with screens over them.

There will be bugs. The storm will have blown down every wasp nest in a 200 mile radius and quite a few will be in your yard. And the ground hornets will be flooded out. If they become a nuisance, the solution is easy and cheap. Fill a glass or ceramic bowl with steep sides with a sweet liquid. Sunny Delight works best, but any fruit juice, Kool Aid or even cold coffee with sugar will work. Fill the bowls about halfway and set them around the outside of your house. The wasps will fall in while trying to drink. It's an easy to make wasp trap. If they fill the bowl, scoop the dead ones out with a spoon and toss them in the dumpster.

Start cooking your refrigerator food so it doesn't go bad. Remember to keep your refrigerator visits short and few. The more time that door stays open, the faster it will loose its cool air and things will begin to spoil.

If the National Guard is called in and your area is declared a Disaster Area, the whole situation changes. You need to find out when the curfew begins and ends, and where the Disaster Area boundaries are. If you leave the area, you will not be allowed back in. They don't let people return, even if you never evacuated. Even if you left for a couple of hours to purchase food for your family, on the return trip they will turn you around. They will not allow you to bring food to your family that's still in the area. However, they can't cover every route in and out of the disaster area. They'll start by blocking off the interstate and major highways, and then move on to smaller highways and large roads. However, even the National Guard doesn't have the manpower to block all the roads.

Before leaving for food, you should scout some of the back roads that lead in and out of the area. If you see the National Guard has a checkpoint on the highway leading out of town, find a way around the checkpoint before you leave. On the way back, take the detour to avoid them. You need to scout these alternate routes ahead of time. If they are blocked by downed trees, you need to know before leaving.

If every road is blocked, there's still a way to get food from a safe zone back into town, but it's tricky. You need several people and two vehicles. What you want to do is leave a vehicle parked on the inside of the disaster zone near some kind of path, such as railroad tracks or a pipeline, anything that you can traverse on foot. You then take a second vehicle out to buy groceries from a few towns over or the next state or wherever. On the way back, if the National Guard won't let you through, you park your car near the path, out of sight. Then, using backpacks or a four wheeler or a little red wagon, transport the groceries to the car on the inside of the disaster area. Any time you need to make a supply run, just walk over to the car on the outside and make your run. Then park it and sneak back in.

Don't run around at night. There will likely be a curfew, and if there isn't, you'll look suspicious. Also, it's dangerous. You could step on a nail, a snake, or get mugged. Stay around the house and have a barbecue. Eat some of that food you have thawing out. Clean up in the cold bath water and get some sleep. Read a book.

Lastly, try to have fun. Explore your damaged town and take lots of pictures. Keep a journal about all you've seen and done. Tell ghost stories, play games or just sit around and talk. Or go camping. You could even spend a night under an overpass. Some of them have a neat little shelf at the top that offers protection from the wind and rain. They're quite comfortable and can keep you safe from the elements, even during the storm itself (I speak from experience). The storm is only a disaster if you don't find a way to enjoy yourself during the experience. If you can enjoy yourself, then it's an adventure and you'll have much better stories to tell.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dumpster Diving



Patrolled the empty streets of Sulphur the other night, cruising along, seeking out any promising looking dumpsters. Dumpster Diving is an art, one that I'm new at, and like any other, there's lots to learn. Like which dumpsters are locked and which are open. Or when trash pickup is. Or which stores have a compactor instead of a dumpster. These are all things I'm learning and the best way to learn is to do.

So the other night, my Adventure Chick and I went out and jumped in. The first dumpster was behind a retail store. Some stores toss out some pretty good items. You can find all sorts of things in a dumpster. This one was full of flattened cardboard boxes. Strike one.

The next dumpster turned out to not be a dumpster at all. I was going to hit up a medium sized grocery store in an attempt to score some free produce. Entire heads of lettuce get tossed if there's not enough room. You can get for free food in such good condition and so far on the good side of the expiration date that you'd pay full price for them. The grocery store we marched behind had a compactor instead of a dumpster. All their trash gets compressed, smashed to a pulp and sealed in a large container that's impossible to access from the outside. Strike two.

Near the Dollar Store was a cop. He was sitting in his car, watching movies. Good thing dumpster diving is not baseball. Strike three.

The dumpster beside another dollar store yielded a battery-powered AM/FM radio. It was about the size of a deck of cards with a collapsable antenna. It works perfectly.

Behind another store, I score about fifteen loaves of bread, most of which have not hit their sell by date. There's also a few packs of hot dog buns, Texas toast and rolls. Some of the packs are damaged, sliced open by a careless stocker who doesn't know how to wield a box cutter. A couple have mold. Those are given to a person who owns ducks. A couple loaves were pressed a little while shipping and have a few slices that are crushed. There's nothing wrong with most of the slices. Most of the loaves are in perfect condition. There's no reason for them to be tossed out. It's more bread than we could use in months, so we give most of it away. We toss three loaves in the freezer, one in the refrigerator along with a whole loaf of Texas toast.


A few other dumpsters are either empty or have only trash. Stuff like empty fast food bags and crumbled paper. Behind a pizza joint we find a pizza box, closed, right on top of all the trash. Most of the trash is damaged boxes. Inside the closed box is an entire pepperoni, olive and mushroom pizza. The crust isn't even stale. It doesn't smell funny. It smells like pepperoni and pizza sauce. It smells like a fresh pizza should. We take it home.

Back at home, my dog is confused at why we went grocery shopping at 3 in the morning. He doesn't understand why we're sorting through dozens of loaves of bread. He can't figure out why we're eating pizza at 5 am, but he's thankful that he gets the crust.

I gave the radio to my brother. He's going to use it at work. The ducks love the bad bread and the people love the dozen plus loaves of good bread. The Adventure Dog, my Adventure Chick and I enjoyed the dumpster pizza.

Someone thought it was all trash. Someone was wrong. And out there, more perfectly good food is thrown away than what it would take to feed every hungry person in the entire world.

Once, a few buddies and I filled the entire trunk of a car with good food taken from one dumpster behind one store. It only took five minutes to find that much. More was left behind because we simply didn't have room.

Do me a favor. I won't ask you to go digging through the trash, but could you not throw away stuff that isn't trash? If it's food, give it to someone who needs it. If it's clothes, drop it off at a Goodwill or similar thrift store. If it's electronics or other items, hold a garage sale so that someone who needs that item can buy it. Don't trash what someone else needs.

Thanks.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hurricane Preparation Part 2

Now that you've purchased some supplies to help you wait out a hurricane, there's a few things you should do just prior to landfall. Preparation doesn't end at the grocery store.

First, fill some containers with water and freeze them. Plastic ice cream buckets, 2 liter coke bottles and milk jugs work great for this. Fill them 2/3 full and freeze them with the tops off. Once frozen solid, mostly fill the gap and freeze again. Attach the lids and store them in the back of the freezer. You should have enough to nearly completely fill the empty space in the freezer. This will keep your food cold once the power goes out.

Second, arrange the junk in your freezer so that you can get to the good stuff easily. Pull meats to the front and shove the frozen bottles to the back. Put meats on one side and vegetables on another. Organize it as best you can and remember where everything is. When you have to remove an item, you can't afford to be digging for two minutes. Open the door, grab it, shot the door. Ten seconds is the longest that door can remain open. And you will only open your freezer once per day.

Third, fill as many waterproof containers with water as possible. Start collecting empty milk jugs and drink containers now. 1 gallon Hawaiian Punch jugs are awesome for this, so are milk jugs, tea jugs, plastic coke bottles, etc. Rinse them out and put them aside in a cabinet or closet. Once the hurricane becomes a certainty, fill them ALL up. Water pressure will fall once the power goes out. A good quantity for drinking water is 10 gallons per person in the household. That should be enough to last a little over 2 weeks, which is plenty. Also, fill large pots for use as cleaning water for dishes. Wash all your dishes and fill up both sinks. If you have large plastic totes or buckets, put them in the bathroom and fill them up. This is how you'll bathe and flush the toilet.

Cook a large meal and have the whole family dig in. This will get rid of some of that frozen food so that nothing goes to waste. The leftovers will keep for a couple days and you won't have to cook or clean pots for a while. If you have an electric stove, this will also be the last well-made meal you'll have for a while.

Everyone should take a good, thorough shower a few hours before the hurricane. It'll be a while before you get another good cleaning, and you don't want to give horrible body odor a head start. Once the bathing is done, fill the bath tub with water.

Unplug electronics and move them away from windows. Power surges could fry them and even start electrical fires. Your phones and laptops should all be charged.

When the storm hits, keep your kids calm. The situation will have them on edge. Getting them to help out with the effort will go a long way to raising their spirits. Have them unplug the electronics. Once that's done, get the kids to play with the dog. Tell them that the dog is scared and playing with the dog will help out the family pet. Giving them something to take care of will turn them into the protectors. Occasionally ask them how the dog is doing. Their response will likely indicate their own feelings rather than those of the dog. Downplay the hurricane. Tell them it's just a storm that takes a little longer to pass than most and that most people evacuate because they're scared of thunder. The kids might even find it silly to be afraid of hurricanes.

Once the power goes out, play a board game or tell ghost stories. Since the TV is off, spend some quality time bonding with your family. You'd be amazed how much fun a Category 3 hurricane can be.

Soon, I'll go over some things to keep in mind for AFTER the storm passes. These things include navigating through a ruined town, finding food when there's no open stores, dealing with the National Guard if the area is declared a Disaster Zone and getting around when the area has been put on lock-down.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hurricane Preparation Part 1


Not everyone will evacuate in the event of a hurricane. Plenty of people stay behind for whatever reason. As with past hurricanes, I will be one of those people who elect to ignore mandatory evacuation orders. Leaving can be dangerous (Hurricane Rita killed 7 people, but 113 died in the evacuation before the storm made landfall), costly (renting hotel rooms in the far north corner of the state that lose power anyway) and frustrating (idling on Highway 27 for 2 days while waiting for the traffic to move 100 yards).

Whatever your reason, should you decide to stay, you need to be prepared, and that means preparing today. Those who wait until the storm is heading for the area will find themselves on a crowded canned goods aisle with 600 other lunatics all fighting over the last can of asparagus. You'll leave the store with only a roll of paper towels to show for your efforts.

What you need is a hurricane box. It's a box full of junk that you'll need during a hurricane. Should one hit, knock out power and communications, you'll be prepared while others will be trying to open a can of beans without their electric can opener.

I have a large Sterilite tote which serves as my kit. You can pick one up at Wal-Mart or the dollar store. Or just get some cardboard boxes and fill them up. Anyway, here's a list of what you can put in there to turn the rough times into an adventure.

Instant brown rice
Campbell's chunky soup
canned chili
canned vegetables
fruit cocktail
peanut butter
jelly
peanut butter
trail mix
granola bars
instant mashed potatoes (just add water kind in the small bags)
summer sausage
canned tuna
pre-cooked chicken (preserved in bags)
oatmeal
crackers
battery powered radio
wasp spray
toilet paper
paper towels
candles
batteries
flashlight
LED lantern
cash
roll of quarters
paper plates
manual can opener
camp stove with fuel

Now you might be asking why one would need cash and quarters. I have experience in the post-hurricane scenario and having cash is a huge help. When a grocery store finally opens up but because of downed communications the credit card machines don't work, only those with cash can shop. And as soon as you can, you'll want to wash some clothes and the commercial laundromat will have power before you do.

The trick to buying these things is to do your shopping when you go to buy groceries. Each time you make a trip to the store, add a few items from the hurricane list to your shopping list. Start with the items that will go first if a hurricane hits, like the canned goods and batteries. From there, get the radio, candles and more food. Work your way down until you're done. If a hurricane moves into the gulf, speed up your purchases.

Soon I'll post again about what to do just before the hurricane makes landfall.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Beach Cleanup



I snatched a few hours of sleep after getting home from my night job, then headed out to Holly Beach with my girlfriend. There, we joined up with almost 200 other volunteers. Our goal was to clean up as much trash and sea weed as possible so that when/if the massive oil slick reaches that section of the coast, the impact will be lessened, the oil cleanup will go smoother, and less toxic debris will be stuffed in our landfills. Cleaning up sand is one thing, but when you also have tons of sea weed and trash that's also caked in sludge, the whole process grinds to a halt.


Armed with rakes and sun screen we descended upon the beach in scores, rushing to pull the washed up sea weed away from the advancing tide. It was hauled up, bit by bit and then gathered into piles. Those piles were then loaded into trucks and onto trailers where they were hauled away where they will ultimately decay into large mounds of fertile soil.

A few hours later, the line of sea weed that typically adorns the tidal zone was completely gone as far as the eye could see in both directions. It was a very productive day and should the oil hit that section of beach, the cleanup will be much easier. But that's just one beach. The cleanup goes on. Some 90 miles of beach must be prepared for the worst. That preparation will not only make cleanup easier, but will also save the lives of hundreds or even thousands of birds, like the brown pelican.


Please, check out www.gulfresponse.org and sign up to be a volunteer. You'll be fed lunch and the sun hats, sun screen, rakes, trash bags, bug spray, gloves, shirts and water are all provided for you. All you have to do is donate some time, which is the one resource that is rapidly running out during this time of crisis.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Renegade Canoeing and Urban Spelunking

We're at it again. Or were, earlier today, exploring places we probably shouldn't have been. In this case, a drainage tunnel that runs under Holly Hill Road in Lake Charles.


Adventure Chick and the Newanderthal launched the canoe near The Landing on Prien Lake Road and found the tunnel, a culvert about 5 feet in diameter. The water in the bayou smelled like a mixture of mildew, sewage and rotten death. Ahead, the culvert yawned like the waiting mouth of some hungry serpent.

And into the darkness we paddled. The water in the drain pipe was only 6-8 inches deep and, despite my preconceived notions, had no scent whatsoever. The scorching sun was left behind and our eyes soon became acclimated to the dim lighting. We were each equipped with a small headlamp, and shortly after switching them on, mine began to flicker. I made a mental note to throw away the aged light and purchase another as soon as possible.

The water was too shallow to paddle, so we propelled the canoe forward with our hands. After no more than a hundred feet, we were beached. The slight incline of the drain pipe had reduced the depth of water to just a few inches and even the shallow draft of the canoe was too much. Now it was time to get dirty.


Our adventure pants came in handy as we removed the legs, converting them to shorts. We slipped off our shoes and proceeded on foot through the ankle deep water. We tried to avoid stepping on the numerous catfish swimming around, and were quite successful. Occasionally we aimed the camera out of an overhead storm drain and snapped a few shots as a reference so that we might discover where we were going.


We walked, hunched over for a few hundred more feet before the tunnel grew taller and we were able to stand upright. I'm not ashamed to say that I smacked my head more than a few times and added a couple new scratches to my well-worn adventure hat. After a half hour or so, we decided to turn back. The battery in the camera was fading and we were both getting hungry (crawling through drain tunnels works up the appetite).


Once we emerged and returned to the truck, we followed the route by locating houses and signs we had seen from the storm drains and discovered that the tunnel runs beneath Holly Hill Road and we had followed it for over half a mile before turning around.

We need some rubber boots, better head lamps, full batteries, and perhaps a video camera, in case we come across the Ninja Turtles or that freaky clown from IT. Speaking of that freaky clown, we did find evidence that he's around here...


Thus concludes our Renegade Canoe trip and first adventure in Urban Spelunking.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Renegade Photography


Renegade Camping is camping in a place you're not supposed to, like the clumps of trees near an exit ramp beside the interstate or in some bushes outside a large bank.

Renegade Breakfast is when you take advantage of the complimentary breakfast of a hotel when you're not a guest.

Those are two of my favorite things to do and partaking in such activities provided excitement and tasty treats while on my Walkabout. But there's another activity I enjoy and that's Renegade Photography.

Renegade Photography is when you have to break the law to get the photos you want. Such as crawling through an already broken window into an abandoned building so you can snap shots of old jail cells and broken toilets.

Sound fun? It is. Especially when you get to play with giant levers that slide the prison locks into place or look out the barred windows overlooking town and see how the inmates saw things back in the early 1900's.

In the DeRidder jail, which was used around 1914, there are currently 2 light bulbs that are still burning. Their yellow light casts an eerie glow over the shadowy stairwell that spirals through the heart of the concrete building. The dust is half an inch thick and every metal surface is covered in rust and flaking paint. The walls are peeling and glass crunches beneath your feet as you walk.

There's old locks and beds and toilets and showers. The sunlight throws beams of light across the floor. Nothing moves.

Try finding that without trespassing.

I go on these Renegade Photo Shoots because I love abandoned buildings. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the abundance of strange textures. Maybe it's the silence. Perhaps the eeriness attracts me. I feel like an explorer when I'm in there. It's an adventure, like crawling through the ruins of some ancient culture long, long forgotten. In a way, that's true, if not entirely accurate. These are ruins, left over from the early part of last century, forgotten by modern society.

It's like I'm Indiana Jones, only there's no giant ball of stone rolling after me and fewer pygmies with blowguns.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

These Boots Are Made For Walkin'...


The most important piece of gear on any hiking or backpacking trip is the pair of boots on your feet. You can have the latest Granite Gear pack, Northface jacket and Eureka tent but if your boots don't hold up, neither will you. It's like your car on a road trip. Pack all the sandwiches you like to minimize food stops, but if your engine can't take it, your trip is over before it begins. Boots are that important. They're the foundation of every walking trip. So let's take a look at the boots that took me from Sulphur, LA to Boston, MA and back again.

Surprising as it might seem, the boots I chose were the cheapest items of my major gear. They were less than the backpack, tarp shelter, knife and sleeping bag. So why go cheap when footwear is so important? Because I'd owned a pair of these before.

The Canyon, by Magellan (Academy Brand) is an all leather hi-top boot with a black sole. They're nothing fancy to look at, just a classic-style leather hiking boot. A bit on the heavy side, but waterproof and tough. I purchased them for $50 at Academy in Lake Charles in late July and got them broken in. Being leather, they're a little stiff at first, but after wearing them for a week to work, they'd loosened up. By mid-August, they were ready for long trips.

Throughout the trip I spent countless hours pounding the pavement with a heavy pack on my shoulders, pressing my feet into my cheap boots. Walking on pavement is not my favorite thing to do, but when hitching, it's a must. A few times I walked about 20 miles on the shoulder of interstate, sidewalks and curbs. The unyielding concrete did little as the thick soles protected my feet from the torture. The only time I felt any soreness was at the end of Day 2 when I walked from Sulphur to Lake Charles, hitched to Welsh, and then walked to Jennings. My pack was heaviest then and my feet not yet toughened from the trip.

The boots held up over pavement, rocks, rough terrain and even railroad tracks. They took lacerations from jagged rocks and rusted metal. They were rained on, stomped through mud and water, slid down mountains and climbed back up again. They kept my ankles safe from sprains and awkward twisting while navigating rocky river beds and gripped true while scrambling along in the Appalachian Mountains. They kept the water out when I couldn't stay out of it and my feet stayed dry. They took all the abuse I could throw at them and never let me down.

But most of all they walked, and walked. And walked some more. I'm wearing those same Walkabout boots to work today, just like I have been every day since I finished the trip. Come to think of it, Magellan Canyons are the only shoes I've worn in the past four years...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Man F.A.Q.

TheManFAQ.com. It's a website for men with some great articles. I'd visited the site several times in the past. Then, a couple of weeks ago, the founder contacted me, asking if I had time for an interview for a feature article. Of course I had time.

The article is up and you should check it out. Just click on the LINK.

Also, check out some of their other articles. There's one about a road trip from California to North Carolina that's pretty boss. We all need more road trips in our lives and that article just might light a fire under some butts.

One last thing, check back soon as I will be writing some gear reviews on some of the equipment and gadgets I used on my trip.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Formula

One of the most important things I've ever learned was something I learned on Walkabout. It is the formula to solving problems. It's simple and easy, even if its execution is not. And the more you use it, the more effective it is.

While on my trip, I was faced with more problems in a single day than I was used to dealing with in a week. Everything that could go wrong, did, and sometimes things that couldn't go wrong invented ways of screwing up anyway. It wasn't just the elements, which always had a plan for surprising me, but the simple things as well. Acquiring water in the middle of town was an act rife with obstacles. Once the stores were all closed, the only way to get water was the outdoor faucets, but most of those have had their knobs removed. And don't even get me started on hitching.

Day after day after day, the problems of life on the road ground me down and all too often I dreamt of quitting. But quitting was not an option, so I had to find a way to deal with the problems. I had no other choice. That's when I discovered the formula. Creativity + Resourcefulness + Determination.

Creativity: When a problem arose (usually right after breakfast, but sometimes earlier) I would try to think outside the box. If the solution was apparent, then it wasn't much of a problem. Every problem has a solution, I just have to figure out what that solution is. I'd examine the problem from all angles and try not to discount ideas just because I lacked the means to carry them out. I never knew where one line of thought would take me. I'd discover a solution based on the problem, not my ability to execute the solution. Example: I need to get across a city but the cops won't let me hitch on the interstate and it's too far to walk. Solution: hitch anyway. The problem is no longer a problem, but a challenge.

Resourcefulness: This is where I look at my solution and adapt it to my resources and situation. I know the starting point and the finishing point, I just have to bring the two together using what I have. And if I don't have what it takes, I need to find someone who does. If I need to solve a complex geometry problem and I don't know geometry, why learn when I have a friend who can figure it out quicker? I can learn geometry later, but for now I need instant results. Example: I need to hitch across town without getting on the interstate. Solution: Start chatting up people stopped at a gas station and try catching a ride with them. The challenge is now a reachable goal.

Determination: I have the solution and the plan, now I must put it into action and see it through to the end. This is easier said than done because from the onset the problem has the advantage of circumstances. Those circumstances are stacked against me and working with the problem to thwart my progress. As long as the circumstances are working against me, I cannot defeat the problem. I cannot meet the challenge. However, every situation is fluid. Circumstances change and all I have to do is keep pushing harder and longer than the problem until the circumstances are no longer working against me. Once that happens, the problem cannot withstand me. It will crumble and fall away and I will succeed. Example: Everyone I talk to refuses to give me a ride and some even threaten to call the cops. Solution: Adjust my tactics and keep chatting people up. Eventually a person willing to give me a ride will come around, even if it's a cop. The challenge is now something of the past. It's a deed I accomplished.

A man once tried to climb a mountain that had claimed the lives of many who had tried to climb it before. Reaching the summit was impossible. It couldn't be done. To try was to face humiliation or death. Then a man named Eddie decided that everyone in the world was wrong and a solution existed. He was creative enough to think of a new route, resourceful enough to gather what he needed to traverse this route, and determined enough to defeat every problem that lay in his path until finally he stood atop Everest, the impossible mountain.

Now you know the formula and how to apply it. The problems of your life cannot withstand you.