Recidivist

From my last post, I caved.  There are too many apps that connect through Facebook; when I went “offline” it made it harder for me to get stuff done.  I did enjoy the weeklong reprieve, though.

Happy Fourth!

I feel for people who have pets or combat vets in the family when the fireworks start going off.  Fact is they’ve already started going off – weeks early.  Because some people are asses and never think about anyone but themselves.  But if you have a dog, instead of complaining about how everyone else’s right should be restricted, try buying a thunder shirt and getting dope from your vet to zonk your dog out during the high festivities.

For your combat vets, buy them lots of alcohol and a good pair of flanged earplugs. They probably still have the pair for which the Department of Defense paid four hundred dollars (rough estimate) so help them find those. I’m not taking away your right to complain, just offering practical solutions.

Feeling lost

I’m in a weird place because the first part of the year saw Aaron the eldest and I going hiking every weekend. Rain or snow or shine, we were out there kicking up leaves. Since he accepted a position with Amazon in Texas and started his training, we haven’t been able to get out. I’ve got to craft another game plan because this is not something I’m giving up.  I’m planning on hiking the Appalachian Trail at the earliest opportunity and I want to keep my feet on wilderness paths. You’ll see more pictures from me once I get back into a groove. Miss my hiking buddy! I’ve asked Steven a few times if he’d like to go, but he’s uninterested. That’s okay if it isn’t his thing, but I can’t stay away from it.

The inbetweenies

I’m currently unemployed! We discovered that my contract ended on July 1st and not August 7th, when I hired in at JFHQ-IN, but it couldn’t have happened at a lousier time. We just got a new provost marshal, who roughly translates to “my boss” and the incoming officer really has his plate full.  They won’t be able to sit down with my contract company reps until Wednesday after the holiday weekend, and it may be a couple days after that before everything is inked. So I’m in a weird place. My holiday weekend may be a lot longer than yours! But that, too, is okay, as it will give me the opportunity to knock out a few more local trails.

I have pulled the Facebook plug. Never in all my born days have I run across something so time consuming, mindless, and zombifying. It is worse than TV. Good riddence! 

I have described myself elsewhere as a Boy Scout with ADHD and no filter. Unfortunately over the years that has affected my attitude toward money. And so I haven’t always made the wisest financial decisions. My wife does much better. I’d have been well served had I given her the check register of “the Garlits estate” but you know how that went, I’m sure. ADHD. “Ooh, shiny!”

I am getting wiser with age. I think. I hope.

I’m surrounded by opportunities at present, but I think I’m staying put. You see, ten months ago I took a job in Indianapolis with a lowball first year salary after the previous job situation became unmanageable. Went from a 5 on, 5 off 12 hour watch analyst schedule to banker’s hours. In northern Virginia. With the family still in Indiana because we told the kids when we moved back to Indiana from northern Virginia back in 2010 that we were putting down roots until they all graduated from high school. We did very well with that, except for me having to commute from Virginia for awhile.

Disclosure: I’ve been taking contract gigs since 2012.  Year to year at will employment. That means they can let you go at any time for any reason, and you can quit at any time for any reason.

I had taken the job in Virginia specifically because it was a 5 day on, 5 day off gig. I could go home to Indiana every 5 days. And spend five days there. I took the job in Indianapolis because they dumped the 5/5 schedule and my goal was to quit as soon as I had landed a job. Any job, really. Well…as long as it was in emergency management or a related field. That’s what I do.

My painful task once replanted in Indiana was to right size the personal finances so we were living within our means. That didn’t go so well. Over the past couple years we’d financed three vehicles. I know! They weren’t expensive vehicles but, I know! I also ran up credit card debt trying to steady the good ship Indiana Finances. And made some dumb decisions which left us with a good bit of tax debt. And I made a really stupid decision concerning my master’s degree capstone paper. I allowed them to bully me into signing up for the class when I couldn’t really devote the time to it, couldn’t really afford it, and really didn’t want the professor they assigned to us.

So I did something really smart and really stupid. I sat down with the wife and told her that I wanted to be out of debt. That I wanted her involved with the week to week finances. That I had cut up all the credit cards and cancelled the accounts.

That I wanted to cash in the 401(k), deposit it into her personal checking account, and give her the control of paying off all of our debt with it. And beefing up the emergency fund. Showing her when the mortgage and utilities are due. And basically giving her veto rights over all of my financial decisions. Historically financial mis-decisions.

So, we cashed in the retirement account and are furiously paying down debt. Yeah, I know, with the retirement account. It’s cheating, I know. It may require a ten percent penalty, I know.

But by the end of this month, the only people we’ll owe are the mortgage people and the bank because of one final car payment. By the end of the year that final car will be payed off, too. And within about four years, the mortgage will be paid off, too. Then we won’t. Owe. Anyone. Anything. Except the debt of love. We’ll be living far beneath our income. Well within our means.

I feel like a weight has been lifted from me. Here’s to not living hand-to-mouth. Here’s to financial freedom.

 

Over the past several months I have been trying to come out of the Army retired reserve and come back as an enlisted. I was looking at the geospatial engineer career field. Found out yesterday that I can’t get back in since I have my 20 year letter. 

I tried. Oh well. 

I am in rejigger mode now. My priorities are changing. The world is changing. I’m changing.

It’s a good thing for my part.

Stay tuned.

 

IMG_1799

Utility service road. Yeah we hiked it.

Hey, Greenlight here!

Coming off of two section hikes of the AT inside of a week, it took some “gettin’ used to” being back in relatively flat Indiana.  Aaron and I continue our weekendly expeditions over at Free Range Hiking and he is closing in on halfway toward his goal of fulfilling 40 hikes this year. My daughter-in-law Britni also joined us. She’s been hiking with Aaron for several weeks now and hopefully will continue!

On Sunday, we hiked about seven miles of the Depauw Nature Park, which is managed by the university of the same name. They advertise “well maintained trails.”  I give them that.  If by “well maintained” you mean “covered with gravel.”  I’m not complaining, mind you, I’m just saying that my boots like mud.  And rocks. And roots. And steep hills and inclement weather like rain and snow and heat and humidity. And, well, I’m just weird that way, but HYOH, right?

I did a light shakedown and resupply the night before and hiked with a lighter pack than I what I have been training with, but I make it a point to hike with my full pack as much as possible because I’m training for that glorious AT thru-hike somewhere in the not to distant future.

We had fun at DePauw Nature Park.  You will too, if you go. There are some camping spots off the creekside rail trail.  I haven’t completely figured out what their trail designations mean, but since they consist of interconnected loops, you’ll find the campsites eventually if you keep hiking.

The best part of this hike for me was when we came to the end of a loop and followed a trail that dead-ended at what appeared to be a service road.  That led to the cryptic “Prindle Institute.” I joked that maybe it was a driving school.  You’ll either get it or you wont.  That emptied out onto an asphalt road on the edge of Greencastle, but there was another gravel service road that looked like it ducked back in to the woods.  I was using GaiaGPS and the map showed that if we kept walking in that direction we would intersect the first trail we took from the trail head.

That led us back to a utility cut that with a steep and overgrown descent into a creek, and back up  onto the trail near the trailhead.  I was sorry to be back on well maintained gravel paths, but all in all it was fun. And we were only halfway through hiking.

Back near the trail head, we decided to hike along the abandoned quarry site, past a retreat

IMG_1806

Looks sorta like Washington Monument

center shaped much like Washington Monument on the Maryland AT at the top of Monument Knob.  I’d hiked past that on my way back to Indiana from DC a couple weeks ago and hadn’t gotten to climb the spiral staircase because the monument had been struck by lightning and was engineer taped and closed for repairs.  This DePauw retreat center also had a spiral staircase so I ran to the top and enjoyed the view for a few moments.

The bluffs of the quarry presented picturesque views of the lake below, and geese were bellowing and the males were showing off to the females.  It is that time of year, you know.  It began to mist a bit during the last hour of our hike, and we stopped about a mile from the trailhead to drink some water and snack on the food we’d brought.  I pulled my JetBoil out and had a steaming cup instant coffee, some Skittles, and a foil packet of Mango Habanero Salmon.

Back at Aaron’s house, I played with the dogs for a bit, Aaron and I drank some Dragonfly IPA from Upland Brewing Company in Bloomington and laughed over YouTube videos. They still had to drive a couple of hours to meet up with one of Aaron’s high school buddies in Marion, so I pointed the hood ornament east and headed back to the house for a shower, dinner, and some DVR’d COPS episodes.

Not a bad day, hiker trash, not bad at all.  Head on over to freerangehiking.com and join us for an upcoming hike!

-G

Newfound

Typical section of the AT near Clingman’s Dome

Hey, howzit’ goin’? I’m Greenlight.

When we headed into the Great Smoky Mountains on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, Aaron and I went with the intention of getting our trail names, on the Appalachian Trail, that we will use when we eventually thru-hike the AT.

Aaron wants his bestowed spontaneously. I’m more of an opportunist. But there we were, bearing down on Mount Collins Shelter where we’d spend Saturday night. We could smell wood smoke a mile-and-a-half away and knew we were getting close. The shelter is a half-mile off the AT on a side path, and we were told by Firecracker, the first thru-hiker we met on the trail, that there probably wouldn’t be many thru-hikers at Mount Collins because thru-hikers don’t like burning unnecessary miles.

It was, however, a cold and windy night. There were a couple of thru-hikers at the shelter as well as a bunch of section hikers. With Aaron, and me the shelter was completely full. As we were pulling out our food bags and preparing to eat, with the sun going down, I pulled my Browning head lamp out of my pack and turned it on. Scoping out the inside of the shelter and looking around outside for a place to cook my dinner, I figured that my lamp was too bright and probably annoying people as it shined in the their eyes as I passed by.

Half of the shelter occupants had already eaten and were in various states of awake and asleep as they lay on the two tiers of sleeping spaces. I adjusted the light so that it was only emitting a soft green glow. Others were doing the same thing with their lights; all of their “low beam” colors were red. Coming around the side of the shelter, one of the thru-hikers mentioned off-handedly to me, “Hey dude, I like your green light.”

I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but as I was drifting off that night (before having to get up at 3 a.m. in nothing but my boots, compression shorts and down jacket to pee) I wondered how active I should be in the solicitation of a trail name. The first thing I did after making a double coffee in my JetBoil the next morning and downing the last of my maple bacon toaster pastries was to gather some firewood and attempt to get the fire started in the shelter fireplace. Having a full can of Zippo lighter fluid in my fire kit helped the process. The two thru-hikers were stirring and I asked which one of them had said he liked my green light last night. The younger one sporting dreads and a friendly “dude” attitude fessed up.

“Do you think that would work for a trail name?” I asked him. “Greenlight. I sort of like that.”

“That or maybe … Green Lantern” he joked.

“Oh, hell no! I gasped. Maybe Deadpool but please, not Green Lantern!”

It was agreed. My trail name would be Greenlight.

I like the fact that I didn’t decide single-handedly what my trail name would be. I like that it was negotiated on my second section hike of the AT itself, which will eventually become my home for four or five months in the not-so-distant future. And lastly, I like that it was the result of give-and-take with current thru-hikers.

Most people in the world have never heard of the Appalachian Trail. Of the ones who have, only a small subset give a rat’s ass how I got my trail name, or that I have one at all.

For me, though, it is important. It moves me one step closer to a dream. Not the dream of beginning, but rather of standing atop Katahdin and saying, with Grandma Gatewood, “I said I’d do it, and I’ve done it.”

 

 

IMG_1717It rocks your feet inside your boots. That’s what I told myself six miles in, sitting in my hammock at the Dahlgren Backpacker’s Camp after my first time on the Appalachian Trail. I was so proud of my Merrell Moab Ventilator hiking boots with green Superfeet inserts and merino wool blend socks, and while I have no blisters to report, I have to give the first round to the AT. I lay in that hammock, listening to the wind rolling up the hills and swaying two trees that rubbed and brushed together making a sound like laughter, and fell asleep like a baby in a cradle.

The excursion began with the traffic jam that is the beltway in the afternoon. It took two hours to get to Frederick, Maryland from my room south of old town Alexandria, but I finally rolled into the trailhead and changed out of work clothes and into hiker trash attire in the front seat of the car. It was a quarter after six by the time I stood in front of the hiker’s overpass on I-70. I entered with a sense of excitement and reverence, disappearing into the wood line atop the flinty rocks that would remind me that I had feet.

I still tend to over-dress at the beginning of a hike, such as the unnecessary black jacket I was wearing. As I started to climb Bartman Hill on the west side of I-70 in South Mountain Environmental Area, a trail running couple and their dog passed me in the opposite direction. The man seemed military by his haircut and demeanor, plus he was carrying a coyote military day bag. We passed so quickly there was only time for a short greeting. I don’t aspire to trail running, but I was swinging my trekking poles at a pretty good clip. I wanted to get in as many miles as I could on this my first on The Long Trail. Bartman peaks out at 1400 feet, and my GPS told me at the halfway point that I’d gone up 1000 feet and descended 1200. That is enough to blow the cobwebs out of your lungs, and make you pull off any odd jackets that might be covering your torso and stuff them in your pack.

The woods were thick with deer, and they looked huge. Three of them skirted me on the IMG_1728east at one point, followed by another a minute later. It seems that everyone wants to see bears, or in Bryson’s case he didn’t want to be molested by one. I would have been at a loss had I encountered one at that point because my back was pressed tight against a tree as the remains of a McDonalds lunch ran into a cat hole between my shaking white legs. I could partially blame it on my excitement of finally being on the AT, but that’s a crappy symbolic present to leave behind for the Maryland wildlife.

Bartman descends to a road crossing, and you pick up two more hills before the trail places you on Monument Knob in Washington Monument State Park. Earl Shaffer mentions the “original” Washington Monument built by the people of Boonboro and later restored by the CCC. It was recently struck by lightning and they’ve got it engineer fencing around it until they can make it safe again, so I wasn’t able to climb the staircase to the top.

Washington Monument was a decisive place for me. I stood in the parking lot drinking water and plotting out my next move. I wanted miles, but in the gloaming, all by myself, I had no idea where I’d lay my head that night. My hands went to the top left pocket of my pack to grab my head lamp, which I put on and turned on. And I walked.

I walked up another hill and switchbacked down the other side into Turners Gap. The cool air felt good on my skin as I hiked through the darkness while my little lamp searched out the white blazes. Head lamp hiking seems to be a skill acquired by much practice, and though I never fell, I did roll my ankle once. My poles saved me. When it is dark and your legs are getting tired, you don’t pick your feet up as high, and you kick rocks. When you do that, your toes make you say bad words. My advice to you is that when you night hike, you make a concerted effort to pick your feet up and place them carefully. Even with shoes or boots on, sometimes kicking a rock on the trail is like stubbing your toe on a bedpost.

At the bottom of the switchbacks, the woods opens up into a grassy field and the blazes are on brown, six-foot high stakes. The light from my headlamp bounced off of a structure. It was the back side of a stone church. Across the street, a couple was leaving the Old South Mountain Inn (Food and Drink for All). There were still a few people inside, so I stowed my pack in the bushes by their stone patio and went in to the bar and asked if I could get a beer and a trip to the privy. Even though they were technically closed, they served me and allowed me to use the facilities.

People on the east coast are tickled because Bell’s Two Hearted Ale is available there now. It’s always been one of my favorite brews. It tasted especially magical sitting there chatting with the bartender at an establishment that serendipitously appeared at the edge of a big woods which you have just night hiked through.

I picked up the trail again wondering how far I’d have to hike until I came to a shelter. I found out in two-tenths of a mile, which is exactly where I found Dahlgren Backpacker Campground, already occupied by three tents and a hammock. I added a second hammock and crashed until I got the urge in the middle of the night to wet the port-o-john. I tried to fight off the urge until sunrise, but keeping pee warm really saps your body heat. I got up, did my wet work, and climbed back into my nest and instantly fell back to sleep.

The occupants in the tent across the lawn from me began to stir at sun up, simultaneously cooking breakfast and tearing down. I broke out my JetBoil to brew a double coffee and munched on maple bacon Pop Tarts while chatting. The older one said he’d completed a thru hike in 2003, and he was shrinking the learning curve for his younger friend. They’d come from Harper’s Ferry and were continuing northbound. They cleared out as I was finishing my breakfast. I broke camp as the rest of campers began to stir, but caught up to them again near a huge rock outcropping. The younger hiker was directing his friend to look around the biggest rock.

“Geocaching?” I asked as I stopped for water.

IMG_1680“Yeah, I was explaining it to him as we were hiking, he’d never done it before.”

“He’s going to get hooked and really slow your pace down, you know” I said, laughing.

He scrambled up the hill to help his friend look for the cache and I hiked on.

On the return to Monument Knob, I shared a water station with a Papa Sprout, a hiker who has completed from Springer Mountain to Front Royal, with plans to complete to Katahdin in sections. I wished him happy hiking and enjoyed the level grade until the trail left the confines of the park. I still had a lot of energy to burn up on trails when Bartman appeared ahead and I realized that my first go on the AT was coming to an end. I crossed the residential road where the trail continues between two houses and down a small erosion control stairway constructed of landscaping timbers and back to the hiker’s overpass across I-70. I stood there defiant, not wanting the excursion to end, but it did.

I tossed my pack into the back of the car and as quickly as it had begun, it ended.

I’ll be back.

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