Saturday, December 17, 2011

Kick Fear In The Face

I'm afraid. Of lots of things. I missed a lot of opportunities, or didn't try hard enough and failed at too many things, so I'm afraid of failure. I want to succeed. More than ever. To make up for those past failures.

I'm afraid of heights. I fell out of a tree once and my vest snagged on a branch. It bunched up around my neck and I dangled there like a convict at the gallows in an old western movie. Now, climbing a ladder freaks me out. My hands start to shake as I get higher, but I still like climbing.

I'm afraid of water. I fell into a swimming pool when I was four and swallowed half the pool. My mom had to pump the water out of my lungs. I can't walk too far into the ocean before I start to feel nervous. If my feet can't touch the bottom I have to go back. I can't linger in the deep end of a pool even though I can swim. Canoeing terrifies me. But it's fun, so I do it anyway.

I'm afraid of things, things I shouldn't be afraid of, but I will not allow those fears to limit or define my life. When faced with an opportunity for adventure there's usually a situation that should inspire fear. I think it's a prerequisite for adventures. Those challenges can either be retreated from or passed through. You can either enjoy the adventure, or shy away from it. Have fun or play it safe.

You'll never risk getting hurt if you play it safe, but you'll never risk earning that sense of accomplishment either. When I found a narrow, damp, low-ceilinged cave in Arkansas, I started to hyperventilate while still sizing it up. It was no death-defying feat to squeeze through there and see where that cave led, but gasping for breath in that dark hole was a huge accomplishment for me, not in spite of my fear, but because of it. It's more meaningful if you're afraid of doing it because you not only conquered the challenge, but conquered your fear.

I hope to challenge myself with every adventure, great and small. I hope to learn from my fears and work through them rather than allow them to dissuade me from discovery and adventure. I hope to inspire others to do the same. And I hope to always find new things to be afraid of, so that I can kick that fear in the face and accomplish something anyway.

Things I'm Afraid of: Heights, Water, Enclosed Spaces, Large Groups of People, Failure, Public Speaking and Eating In Front of Strangers.

Things I'm Not Afraid Of: Bears, Alligators, Venomous Snakes, Spiders, Hurricanes, Fire, Being Alone In the Woods At Night, Camping In Swamps, Hopping Trains, Hitchhikers, Men With Chainsaws, Men With Guns and Getting Lost.

Funny. The most dangerous things don't worry me at all, but the trivial almost gives me panic attacks.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Get Off Your @$$...

...and do something worth telling the grandkids about."

I think that's going to be my official words of encouragement from here on. I think it's fitting. What about you?

You don't have to do something big. You don't have to do something dangerous. You don't have to do anything that will earn the praises or attention of your peers or family members. In fact, you might want to do something that will earn disapproval, as those are the deeds we're most likely to talk about at a later date.

Do something fun and exciting.
Do something unpredictable.
Do something that doesn't at all fit into your routine.

Go forth and explore. See what's in the woods behind that rest area. See what's under your house. See what's up in that tree.

Learn what it feels like to swim in a frigid river. Learn what it feels like to crawl in a cave. Learn what it feels like to jump out of an airplane.

One day, your kids and grandkids will be sorting through photos, trying to decide what to put in the slideshow at your funeral. Make their eyes bug out. Make their jaws drop. Make them jealous. But most of all, INSPIRE THEM. If you do, then one day their grandkids will look at the photos of your grandchildren and say "grandpa did that?"

Now doesn't that put a smile on your face?

What are you waiting for? Do something stupid. And do it with a smile on your face, because you have no idea who will be looking at the photos in fifty years.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The New Paddles

As I'm sure you already know, Tasha and I are taking several months off from the daily grind next year to go on a 2,400 mile expedition down the Mississippi River. If you didn't already know, well, you do now. And to move our 17 foot canoe along the mightiest of rivers on the continent, we'll need paddles that can stand up to the challenge.

Not only will they have to be durable enough to last three months of continuous usage without breaking down or coming apart, they'll need to be lightweight, ergonomic, and efficient. If not, it'll be our arms that fail us. Paddles are as important for such a trip as shoes are for a marathon. Too heavy and our arms wear out. Not comfortable and our wrists cramp up. Too frail and they break. Not efficient and we grow tired.

To solve this problem we got in tough with Danny at Whiskeyjack Paddles in Whitefish, Montana. A craftsman as well as an artist, his work is a wonderful blend of form and function. A little more than a week after we placed an order for some custom designed paddles, they were in. The result of Danny's hard work was simply breathtaking.

Each paddle weighs in at roughly 1 pound. The shafts and blade are bent to proved for a cleaner exit from the water (thus creating less drag) and less strain on the wrist. They're virtually weightless, yet more sturdy and stable than our heavier paddles. And the appearance... Just see for yourself.

I was worried that I'd spent too much money on the paddles and hoped that I'd notice some kind of difference when we used them. I didn't have to use them long to know that I had received my money's worth. From the very first stroke I could feel the difference. The canoe slid forward with ease and the stroke seemed almost effortless. With far less force we were traveling at the same speed and distance.

Typically, with straight paddles, Tasha would paddle on the right and I on the left. After about fifteen minutes we would switch sides as our arms grew tired. That first day on the lake with our new paddles saw us several miles over the water, exploring islands and cuts until finally, a couple hours later, we realized to our astonishment that we hadn't switched sides a single time. Our arms weren't tired and our pace wasn't slowing. By the time we wrapped up our day, we'd only switched once and that because we wanted to see how it felt on the other side. When we loaded up in the truck several hours of vigorous paddling later, we were just as fresh as when we'd first hit the water.

We could have paddled all day... which is good since, come August, that's exactly what we'll be doing.

I tip my hat to Whiskeyjack Paddles for the functional art they was crafted for us. These custom paddles are a thing of beauty and I look forward to using them for months on end.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

One Year From Now...

Been a while since my last post and for those following, I apologize. Life has been pretty hectic these past several months with the troubles of starting a business, writing a novel, and of course work. But now it's time to get back to the posts because it's time to get back to the Adventures.

In one year (August 2012), I will embark on my most ambitious adventure to date: the exploration of the full length of the Mississippi River. The countdown begins, as does the race against time to condition, outfit and prepare for such a journey.

Why? Because it's there. Because the largest river on this continent ends its winding in my home state. Because I've never, in 31 years, set foot in those muddy currents. Because one is more likely to meet a person who has summited Mount Everest than to meet a person who has seen the full length of the Mississippi. But mainly I wish to do it because I'm curious and the sound of the river calls to me much like the sound of the road tugged at my soul before I went Walkabout in September of 2009.

Who? I, for one, will be making the 2,320 mile voyage, spending most of my time sitting at the stern, steering the vessel. Tasha will be accompanying me, taking her seat at the bow. Between us (and rocking the boat from side to side as he looks at everything) will be Rocco (Adventure Dog). He'll be there mostly because it's nearly impossible to go anywhere for five minutes without him and definitely not three months. Also, because he'll be THE FIRST DOG TO CANOE THE ENTIRE MISSISSIPPI RIVER. EVER. PERIOD.

When? From August 2012 to October/November 2012. It takes 75-90 days to travel from Lake Itasca, Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico by way of canoe, and launching in August will grant us mild weather while in Minnesota. As fall advances, we'll be steadily paddling south through Minneapolis, Davenport, St. Louis, Memphis, Vicksburg, Natchez, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, ending our journey near Venice, Louisiana after we paddle out to the Gulf of Mexico.

How? With great difficulty, I expect. There are water falls in the upper portions, dozens of lakes, boats, barges, swamps, dams, locks, alligators, waves, snakes, undertow, storms, floods and hurricanes. And those are only the difficulties we'll have to face that come from beyond the gunwales of our boat. Within, we face sunburn, blisters, illness, muscle fatigue/strain, fear, apprehension, panic, frustration and arguments. Tasha and I know our relationship can withstand the difficulties associated with separation. We did it when I went Walkabout and it continues now that I drive a truck 3 weeks out of the month. But will being trapped in a canoe for three months put us to the test? Probably. No matter how fast either of us paddles, we won't be able to escape. We'll probably hate each other before the end... but we'll get through it. We'll have to. There's no way out but downstream. I just have to hope she doesn't shank me in my sleep.

A Canoe? Yes. We're going to tackle that river in a canoe. An extremely narrow, low-profile canoe with no motor. It will be propelled by a pair of wooden paddles and a lot of manual labor. Why a canoe? Because my earliest memories on the water were in a canoe, an orange Coleman, 15.5 feet in length. Canoes are good boats for river travel, especially extended trips. They have a higher payload capacity than kayaks and even some aluminum boats, yet they're still narrow and nimble enough to slide into spots that motor driven boats could never hope to explore. They draw only a few inches of water, so those early miles through shallow portions will be easy. By most recent count, there are 22 places where one must portage a boat (carry the boat over land to cross obstacles). Most of these are small dams and waterfalls in the upper quarter of the river. Try carrying a 16 foot bass boat and let me know if it's a good idea. No. Canoes and kayaks alone can traverse the entire length of the river. And I'm not putting that high-energy dog in a kayak. I don't like swimming that much.

What's Wrong With Me? Plenty. First is the belief that I was born in the wrong century. Exploration, facing dangers and challenges, eating bugs, drinking out of streams and sleeping on the ground suits me fine. It's not only my idea of fun, it's my ideal life. I yearn for the day when I can spend the majority of my time living like that. Secondly, my time on Walkabout didn't quench my wanderlust, it inflamed it. I got a taste for exploration and now I need more. Driving this truck 70,000 miles in the past 9 months is not enough. I see the same roads more then twice and I get antsy. I need to get off the pavement and find some other avenue... like a river. Lastly, I made a bucket list and I'm steadily checking things off. Canoeing the Mississippi has been on that list for a long time, but soon it will be crossed off. I don't ever expect to do everything on my list because I keep adding to it, but I'll cross out a hell of a lot of items before I die.

What If I Fail? I'm going to do my very best to paddle that entire river from start to finish. I don't intend to stop in New Orleans like most thru-paddlers. That's not the end of it. I intend to do it all. If blisters force me to stop, then I'll stop... until my hands heal. Then I'll buy gloves. If a hurricane blows through, I'll wait it out. If the river floods, I'll keep paddling and watch for strange currents. But if, for some unforeseen reason, I cannot complete the trip, then I'll go home with a heavy heart and the ability to hold my head high and say "I did my best". Then I'll figure out what went wrong and start making plans to do  it again. And do it right. And I'll finish. I promise.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Dodging Tornadoes

It started in Paul's Valley, OK. I remember Paul's Valley quite well, having spent 4 days trapped there by a winter blast that had blown down from the Rockies and swept eastward across the country, dumping as much as 27 inches of snow in a matter of hours. I rode that wave from Denver all the way to Oklahoma City, following the taillights before me until the snow became ice and the roads became glaciers. I then skidded, bounced, slid and worried my way another sixty miles to Paul's Valley where I parked for 4 days, waiting for the roads to clear.

Then, a week ago, parked in Paul's Valley, the weather hit again. Another wave stretching from Texas to Canada was sweeping across the country. This wave was torrential downpours, electrical storms, and tornadoes. Hail hammered my truck while severe gusts threatened to blast me off the road. Rain and mist cut visibility down to 100 feet. Vehicles slid into the median and ditches, and tree limbs littered the interstate, providing attention-grabbing obstacles (though where they came from, I have no clue since there were no trees in sight).

I got confirmation that there were indeed tornadoes in the area, crisscrossing the land, tearing up whatever they could find. I kept moving, intent on driving out of the destruction. I figured I was harder to hit as a moving target.

I slept in Russellville, Arkansas and listened to Emergency Broadcast System warnings about tornadoes in a half dozen counties. That night, the violent winds shook my truck, rocking me to sleep as rain and hail slammed the roof.

In West Memphis, Arkansas, just as the sun was rising above the trees and struggling to pierce the dense clouds, another driver informed me that a massive tornado had carved a 2 mile wide path of destruction out of the Little Rock area a couple hours earlier… as I was driving through Little Rock. No wonder my truck had almost been blown off I-40 several times.

The winds had calmed so I thought it was over, but that afternoon I was proven wrong. While hooking to a trailer in West Memphis, a tornado struck. In an instant, the calm air was a turbulent, chaotic monster. My truck, weighing in at 78,500 lbs. felt as if it were being rammed by another truck. So violent were the gusts that it knocked my coffee mug from the cup holder. I sprinted inside the building, almost losing my footing to the winds, and took shelter inside. A couple parked trailers were overturned and a smaller trailer suddenly went sliding. It traveled a few hundred feet before crashing into a parked truck. The winds calmed a bit, only to return a half hour later. This went on in waves for several hours. By the time I left the next morning, part of the building's roof was gone.

Coming out of Northern Alabama in the afternoon was just as bad. Violent winds sprang from nowhere, slamming my truck about. The skies behind me, erratic clouds and frequent lightning, looked worse than the sky before me. So I drove on, weaving down state highways, dodging fallen trees and debris for several hours. My pulse was racing, my nerves were shot, and my hands ached from gripping the steering wheel. It was like driving through a hurricane… something I have experience doing.

I made it to the interstate and tore south, arriving safely in Saraland (where I was once assaulted by crackheads while on Walkabout). My training told me I should have stopped when the weather got that bad, but my instincts had been screaming for me to keep going. My instincts were proven right when I learned that a mile-wide tornado had ripped apart the area between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds more. I had been on the edge of that storm, fleeing. Had I stopped, I may very well have been part of those statistics.

Now, I'm safe in Florida. Another day of storms followed the Birmingham tornado, but I made it through that unscathed even though a truck parked 5 spaces down from me was overturned during the night. This bad weather seems to be following me. I've surfed the waves of three blizzards, two flood-inducing storm systems and now tornadoes. Every two weeks another wave of severe weather washes down from the Rockies and crosses the country. I've never heard of weather like this. Wonder what I'll see next month.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Welcome Home

Almost immediately after moving into my new home, I was back out on the road again. Several thousand miles later, I returned briefly to get my NC license, open a credit union account, and settle a few other things. I did get to paddle around Lake Norman a bit, but then I was in the truck again.

Now, after owning a Charlotte address for a month and a half, I finally got to see what all the fuss was about. Tasha had been joining hiking groups left and right, and it was with one of these groups that we hiked up South Mountain.

The trail began at a parking area where we met about twenty other people. Once gathered, we set out to conquer the trail. It traced the edge of a stream where a man in hip waders was fly fishing before crossing a narrow foot bridge. Then, it was all uphill from there.

Over boulders and mounds and up the mountain we went, ascending through the tree-covered slope. The sound of falling water grew in volume until we came to the source. The waterfall originated high in the mountain, but the source was obscured from view. From where we first glimpsed it, only the lowest portion could be seen.

Higher still we hiked, skirting the sides of the falls as we followed it up, closer to the source. The trail was steep, one of the steepest I'd ever been on, but worth the effort. At the top, the roaring falls came into view and those standing nearest the uppermost pool were getting misted by the rushing water.

We stood there a while, watching the churning water fly from the ledge overhead and thunder down onto the rocks below. It was magnificent to say the least.

The hike, up to the falls, to the top of the mountain, and back down to the bottom, took several hours and  a lot of energy, especially for someone from the flat country of south Louisiana. Tasha and I weren't accustomed to the elevation gain, but we didn't let that get in the way. It was just another obstacle to overcome on the way to enjoying the great outdoors.

I wonder what day two will bring.

P.S. Thanks to David and Florence from the hiking group for the photos. We accidentally left our newly-repaid camera at home for this trip. Oops.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Vessel

Every great voyage needs a worthy vessel. Magellan had the Trinidad, Columbus had the Nina. Leonardo DiCaprio had the Titanic. Next year, when we embark on our great river voyage, we too will have a worthy vessel. 2,400 miles of the continent's mightiest river awaits and to conquer it, we'll need the best canoe money can buy.

Weighing in at a mere 65 lbs. our Old Town Penobscot will be light as a kayak, but the rolling rocker and shallow arch will keep it nimble, despite it's length. At 17 feet, it'll be able to carry 1200 lbs. of adventurers, dog, food and gear.

Why purchase such a canoe? The answer is simple. The Mississippi doesn't fool around. In the north it's lined with boulders, turning the gentle stream into Class II and III rapids, occasionally widening into massive lakes with wind and waves fully capable of capsizing small vessels. Further south, dams and locks force paddlers to portage their craft, hauling the canoe overland for as much as a half mile before getting the hull wet again.

Downstream, the river might as well be one giant lake. At over a mile wide in some places and 200 feet deep, it's used as a major shipping channel where barges that dwarf football fields chug along. 650,000 cubic feet of water discharge into the gulf every second from its mouth. It drains 31 states.

The undertow is among the worst in the world as far as rivers are concerned, and driving over bridges that cross it, especially along the Arkansas/Mississippi border, once can see whirlpools the size of large houses and currents that could spin, flip and rip apart a canoe or kayak.

The Mississippi kills people. That's why we're going all out with the canoe.

And the vessel will be powered by the best paddles money can buy. A pair of custom-made wooden paddles with curved shafts and smooth grips.

But a great vessel isn't complete unless it has a name. And ours will have a name... and a logo. Soon, the world will know the awesomeness of the LIBERATED STURGEON.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


'They say behind every great man there's a great woman. While I'm not a great man, there's a great woman behind me.' 

That quote came from Meryll Frost, a quarterback interviewed by The Port Arthur News in February 1946. I can relate. Like Meryll, I do not consider myself a great man. I've accomplished a few things that made me feel great, and I wouldn't mind one day earning such status.

Regardless, there is someone great standing behind me. Everything I've done in the past two and a half years, I've done with the encouragement, support, help, advice and coordination of this great woman. She helped me prepare for my Walkabout despite the possibility that it could destroy our relationship. She actually threatened to break up with me if I didn't go because she knew how much the trip meant to me. She took care of everything in my absence so that I wouldn't be burdened by worries of the affairs of home. And she helped me through some of the most difficult parts of my trip, just by emailing a few words of encouragement.

When I returned, she supported me financially while I searched for a job. She kept everything moving while I got back on my feet and took over all the bills so I could save money for trucking school. Once that was done, she made it possible to launch into my new line of work by holding down the fort in my absence.

Now, she continues to hold down the fort, packed up all our belongings to prepare for the move to North Carolina, found us a place to live, sold off all our junk, and worked out the details concerning utilities for our new home. She did all that, while still finding time to write, take care of our four year old child who looks like a black lab puppy, sort through submissions for our writing contest, and get our taxes done.

Once the move is done, she has to start conditioning for a 3 day hike into the mountains of Peru to Machu Picchu and a three month long canoe trip down the continent's mightiest river. And that's just the outdoor stuff. There's a job search, helping to run our own home business/publishing company, find a house to buy, and countless other miscellaneous things.

She's stressed, tired, aggravated, and discouraged, but she keeps going, dealing with one problem after another in a  way I never could. She crushes obstacles and moves forward, leaving a trail of accomplishments in her wake. She's my Adventure Chick, my muse, my confidence. She's done more than she even realizes. She praises me for my accomplishments even though she's pushing me forward the whole time. She's my love. She's Tasha.

Maybe one day I'll be great. If so, it'll be because she was right there behind me, beside me, pushing me along and elevating me to her level.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Rollin', rollin', rollin'...

Over 15,000 miles since November 4th and having a blast. I've now seen every mile of Interstate 10 and 59, most of 40, 55, 57, and a good chunk of 20. I've also driven through a snowstorm so intense that I had no idea that I had left the desert behind and driven through a major city until I was a hundred miles on the other side of it. It was pretty crazy.

Hometime is a different story. Though I love being on the move, my time at home never comes soon enough and when it finally arrives, it seems I'm suddenly heading back out again. Too many projects at home and not nearly enough time to work on them. There are stories that must be written, hiking poles that must be made, camping trips that must be taken and swamps that must be canoed.

So what's the plan?

Get moved ASAP. Hopefully I can be living in North Carolina by the beginning of March. Once there, I'll get everything organized and then try to switch to a local or regional job. My company has tons of opportunities so it shouldn't be difficult. Once that's taken care of, I'm buying the canoe. Not a canoe, but THE canoe. The canoe that's going to take Tasha, Rocco and me down the Mississippi River. The canoe that's going to fulfill a dream. The canoe that just might set a Guinness record (I'll tell you about that one prior to departure).

But before the Mississippi Adventure, Tasha and I have another adventure lined up. South of the border, WAY south, in the mountains of Peru, lies Machu Picchu. We're going to hike the Inca Trail to the top and explore the once lost city. This will happen in 2011, but not exactly sure which month.

In other news, I picked up a friendly traveller while in New Mexico a few weeks ago. Mark was trying to get to San Diego for Christmas and having difficulty hitching along I-10. I found him at a truck stop about 40 miles from El Paso. After learning of his direction of travel, I offered him a ride and a safe place to crash for the night. Since I have bunk beds in my truck there was plenty of room. Talking with Mark brought back fond memories of my Walkabout. I learned a little about train hopping and next time I go wandering, I'll try out that mode of transportation.

If you're reading this Mark, take care and good luck on your travels.

I'm out for now. Have to look up some info on Peru...