Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Philmont Journal: Day 9

Day 9: June 18, 2012

            Today was better than yesterday. Instead of hiking 10 miles after a disappointment, we had 10 miles to hike but without the disappointment. Boy, can you spell a better day! If you talk to our sister crew, the hike was 12 miles, all uphill but they clearly cannot read a map. (I tried to explain to them that you didn’t gain altitude every time you crossed a contour line and that sometimes it’s actually a decrease in height, but they weren’t really that receptive. They argued that they had already gained 65,000 feet this trip! Incidentally, they can’t estimate pack weight either but that is a different story for later) The first half of our trip was rather terrible except for two things: 1) crossing a river and dunking ones head in it which is particularly refreshing even at 9 in the morning, and 2) well, now it’s time for that story. Last night while hanging bear bags (actually the OOPS bag which is named because as soon as you get it hung a scout comes up and says, “Oops! I forgot to put this stuff in,” so you bring the oops bag back down and stuff that particular scout in) Anyway, while we were hanging the bag, we briefly encountered two members of our “sister” crew also hanging their bear bags. I use the term “sister” loosely here because you usually do stuff with and maybe actually like your sister. Such was not the case here unless you count liking to mock them. As we were finishing hanging the bag, one of their guys asked how heavy my pack was. I thought that it was a rather odd question because why would he give a rat’s behind about my pack, but I answered anyway. He proudly proclaimed in a condescending tone that HIS pack was only 32 pounds and that it was the heaviest in the crew. I found this odd for two reasons: 1) at my house when we brag about pack weights it goes something like this. “What?! Your pack is only 220 lbs? You’re such a girl! Mine is 230 lbs.” 2) When we began to crunch numbers, here’s how things fell out. 32 pounds total – 6 lbs for water – 10 lbs for food – 5 lbs for tent = 11 pounds for sleeping bag and pad, camping essentials, dishes, a stove, the backpack itself, extra clothing, and whatever else he brought. Paul (he thinks too much) expressed disbelief and the guy purported that the reason that his pack was so light was because he had UnderArmorTM clothing and not the nasty cotton stuff that we wore. (This was actually funnier because earlier, one of their crew members had asked one of my brothers how in heaven’s name we managed to hike in cotton t-shirts. My brother answered, “It’s what we do.” Boy did that shut him up) We decided that this guy (the one with a 32 pound pack) had UnderArmorTM that must have weighed negative pounds to maintain a pack weight that was so light. Paul (I told you he thinks too much) also pointed out that there was no scale out in the wilderness upon which to weigh one’s pack. Moral of this story? Don’t try to make sense out of male bravado; it doesn’t work. Incidentally, we hiked faster than them today even with our “heavier” packs and a leader with a bum ankle. What’s that tell you?
            Nash’s back got progressively worse and tonight he went to see the staff about it, partly because it really hurt but mostly because the medic was a girl. Hopefully it will start getting better.
            Oh, one last thing: the ropes course. For those of you who are not familiar with ropes courses, they are essentially team building obstacle courses. We did really fun things like stand on boards, wiggle through a spider web, walk backwards, and scale a 15 foot wall. Don’t ask me how standing on boards and walking backwards got crammed in with the rest. I guess it was to give us a rest. Altogether, the thing was a blast.
            Anyway, hopefully we can do our conservation project tomorrow since it is a short hike of only 4 miles. Fingers crossed.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Unsung Heroes: Jason Dundrum Part 3

            “So what’s this great plan that you have?” Brandon asked when he and Jason reached their shack. It was one of several old forgotten structures built into the city wall that had originally housed garrisons of soldiers. They had become unnecessary and been abandoned when Michael Sultana had taken control of the area and forbidden infighting between the barons. Now they stood empty except for the illegal peasants that lived in them.
            “I haven’t exactly come up with a plan yet,” Jason answered. “These things take time, you know.”
            And normally you promise a plan to a mob until you already have one, and a dang good one at that,” Brandon retorted. “Excuse me for thinking that you were smart.”
            “I am smart,” Jason countered, “just not always prudent. There’s a difference you know. Now be quiet so that I can come up with something before tonight.”
            Brandon gave a huff of exasperation and flopped down on his cot. When Jason got like this, there was nothing to be said until he had gotten all of his thinking out of the way. In certain respects, his intense concentration was a good thing. He could sit down and solve a problem, come up with a plan, think through all of the aspects of an endeavor all in one sitting. Nothing could distract him when he got started and he would not rest until he finished. On the other hand, Brandon saw the distinct disadvantages of his friend’s unshakable concentration. He was incapacitated for as long as he thought leaving him vulnerable to any number of outside influences. Which was exactly why Brandon stuck as close to his friend as he did. If he was absent, the perfect combination of events could be the end of Jason.
            With these thoughts floating through his brain, Brandon drifted off into a light sleep. He was woken an hour and a half later by light footsteps. He bolted upright, reaching for a small knife on the floor under his bed while simultaneously casting his eyes around the room, searching for a threat. The noise had been caused by Jason crossing the room. Brandon glanced out of the window and judged that it was about time to get back out to the fields.
            “Well, are you going to sleep all day or are you going to get up so that we can get back to work?” Jason asked. Evidently he had finished his thinking which was good news. Promising a mob a plan that you didn’t have was never a good idea. Brandon had the scars to prove that particular point and as a painful reminder that he couldn’t think as quickly as Jason could.
            “I’m coming,” Brandon grumbled and staggered out of bed. The knife went into his belt where he covered it with his shirt. He grabbed tools and water skins on his way out the door, wishing, not for the first time that Jason was not so absent minded. The two friends made their way to the fields outside of the city where they continued the work that they had left earlier. They worked until the sun dipped below the horizon. Brandon began to gather the tools, but Jason stopped him.
            “We don’t want to go to the tavern just yet, and we might as well do something useful while we’re waiting.”
            “And why exactly don’t we want to hit the tavern?” Brandon asked.
            “It’s too early,” Jason explained as he continued to work the soil in front of him. “If I’m going to get the people to agree to what I’m proposing, I’m going to need a mob mentality on my side. If we get there too early, there won’t be enough people, and my idea might not make the impact that I want it to.”
            “What do you mean?” Brandon asked.
            “What I’m about to propose is going to take more guts than most people have by themselves,” Jason explained. “In groups, however, people tend to have a lot more courage then they would otherwise have.”
            “Courage or stupidity?” Brandon asked.
            “It doesn’t matter which,” Jason answered. “So long as it is driven by a logical and well thinking person, both work almost interchangeably.”
            “I hope that you know what you’re doing,” Brandon said as he retrieved his tools and continued to work.
            “So do I, Brandon, so do I.”


            Brandon and Jason entered the city about an hour after sundown. Jason argued that it wasn’t early enough to go to the tavern yet, so they visited their house first and stashed the tools there. After taking a few minutes to cool down, they headed for the tavern, arriving a little more than an hour after sundown. As Jason had predicted, the place was packed when they arrived and he almost back down. Almost. He had already committed himself to this, and he would certainly not be backing down now. Even so, he took a few moments to compose himself before entering.
            Brandon led the way into the tavern, forcing a path through the crowd for Jason. The small man walked close behind, head up and a look of confidence on his face. He knew that if there was one thing that these people needed, it was to see confidence in him. Confidence that his plan, whatever it was, would work. If he believed hard enough, he knew that he could get them to believe as well.
            “There’s the guy,” he heard someone say.
            “But he’s just a kid,” someone else responded. “What does he know?”
            “Nothing. I told you so earlier.”
            “We can’t listen to him; he’s going to get us all killed.”
            “Why are we even here?”
            Jason could see Brandon tensing at all of the comments, and laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder to calm him down. The last thing that he needed was for Brandon to start on his brand of protection. Jason himself felt nothing. He used to have jittery nerves, but they had been replaced by nothing. Either this plan would work, or it wouldn’t. If it did, he might be able to save the city, perhaps the whole nation. If it didn’t, he would die one way or the other, either sooner or later. No matter what happened, he couldn’t force his mind to care. Soon, this would all be over.
            By the time Brandon had forced a path to the bar, the whole tavern knew that they were there. Jason glanced at the institution’s owner, Mr. Sharidon, an old friend of his. Mr. Sharidon was elderly and several times Jason and Brandon had helped him with various things. He nodded to Jason and motioned to his bouncer who stepped into the tavern’s doorway and kept watch in the street. The last thing that they wanted was for the city watch to stumble upon them when this meeting was going down. They could easily be charged with conspiracy against the baron and thrown in prison. And not many people had ever returned from those prisons. Jason climbed up onto the bar and turned to face the crowd, all of which was looking at him. For a moment he felt a twinge of fear, but he shoved it away instantly. Now was not the time to back down.
            “You said that you had a plan,” one of the crowd called out. The voice was not unfriendly, though the next one was.
            “You want us to go fight for the baron and yet you said that you want us to do it for ourselves, not for him,” the dissenter from before called out. “You are crazy, aren’t you?”
            Jason tried to speak, but he was interrupted by someone from a different section of the tavern.
            “You’re a friend of the baron trying to manipulate us to do his will. We should take you out a string you up.”
            Voices from different parts of the tavern began to chime in until Jason could not understand anything from them except that all of their tones were angry. He let it continue for several minutes, allowing the villagers to get it out of their systems. Finally, when it appeared as though things might get out of hand, Jason reached down and tapped Brandon’s shoulder. Brandon brought his fist down as hard as he could on a table, rattling the glasses on it and even some on nearby tables. At the same time, he bellowed for silence and gave a dangerous glare to all parts of the crowd.
            “Thank you, Brandon,” Jason said to his friend before turning his attention to the crowd. “Now, it is true that I recommend going to fight for the baron, but it is not for the reasons that you think. We know that if we do not do as the baron orders, when he returns he will pay vengeance on all of us. We will not be able to stand before his army.”
            “Unless the baron dies in battle,” the leader of the dissention called.
            “The baron may be a cruel man, but he is by no means a stupid one,” Jason reasoned. “While he would stand to gain from deposing the king, he will be trying to play both sides of the game. He may commit some of his forces to the cause, but he would never irreversibly tie himself to it. No matter which side wins, he will return, probably stronger than he left.”
            “You’re suppositions are unfounded,” the opposition called. “The baron has set himself up against the king and the king will kill him. That is the only logical outcome.”
            “That’s quite the speech from someone who can barely count to ten much less know about the political scene,” Brandon said. “I am as clueless as you in this area, but Jason is not. We have had much taken from us, first by the barons and then by the king. If we are to reclaim any of it, and we must if we want to maintain any self respect as men, Jason is the only one who can lead us to do that. I’ve known that from the day that I met him and I stand by it now. Sit here like cowards and do nothing to stand up for yourselves or listen to Jason and learn how it is that you can earn some respect. You came here to hear the man talk, now let him talk.”
            There was silence in the tavern for several moments as Brandon’s words sunk in. No one said anything else and Jason was about to speak when the bouncer stuck his head through the door.
            “The town watch is coming on one of their patrols,” he warned. In moments, everyone was sitting down, and business in the tavern was back to normal. Brandon pulled Jason off of the bar and sat him on a stool there. For several minutes, drinks were sold and people drank and laughed together, though tension hung in the air. After what seemed like an eternity, the bouncer signaled that all was clear. Jason climbed back onto the bar and began to speak.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Unsung Heroes: Jason Dundrum Part 2

            “What do you suppose all of the commotion’s about? And don’t mention that blasted messenger,” Brandon said. A large crowd of people had congregated in the town square and all seemed to be yelling at once making it impossible to determine what was going on.
            “Raised taxes, probably,” Jason guessed. “Can you think of anything else that could get these people so worked up?”
            “No, but I also didn’t expect a messenger to arrive and leave in the heat of the day,” Brandon answered. “The more that I see, the more I think you may have been right. I would guess that it was his message that’s got everyone in an uproar, and even taxmen don’t move out during the hottest hours of the day.”
            “I hope it’s something exciting,” Jason said. “Maybe it’ll even get us out of here.”
            “I wouldn’t think so,” Brandon said. “The only thing that is likely to get us out would be a war, and they’re never exciting, not for the rank and file. Trust me on this one. Besides, we’ve got it good here. Why would you want to leave?”
            “Good?” Jason said incredulously. “You’re really going to stand there and tell me that we have it good? We barely have enough to survive and even go hungry a lot. In what world is that good?”
            “The world that we live in,” Brandon shot back. “It’s not perfect, but it’s better than a lot of people have.”
            “Let’s just see what this commotion is about,” Jason said sullenly. He hated when Brandon was right and refused to admit it. The only thing worse than a right Brandon was Brandon when you admitted to being wrong. The two men approached the crowd and stopped a woman on the outskirts of it.
            “Mrs. Smith, what ‘s the commotion about?” Brandon asked.
            “You know how the baron left the castle several days ago?” Mrs. Smith answered and Jason and Brandon nodded vigorously. “Well, now he’s calling for all of the men from sixteen to forty to join him at Lake Caplin.”
            “He’s raising an army,” Brandon said thoughtfully. “That means war with someone.”
            “That’s what everyone is saying,” Mrs. Smith concurred with tears in her eyes. “My Amos just turned sixteen. What’s going to happen to him?”
            “When are we supposed to meet the baron at the lake?” Jason asked.
            “As soon as possible,” Mrs. Smith answered. “But many of the people are talking about not going.”
            “That’s crazy talk,” Jason said. “We don’t go and there will be hell to pay when the baron gets back.”
            “That’s what some people are saying, but with the baron gone, it seems like we can stand up to him. They won’t realize their mistake until it’s too late.”
            “We’ve got to stop this madness,” Jason said. “Brandon, get me to the fountain.”
            Out of the two friends, Brandon had the muscles while Jason had the brains and relative eloquence, at least he could speak in front of a group without making a fool of himself, and Brandon knew it. If anyone was going to get the crowd to give up their mutinous talk, it would be Jason. With Jason holding tight to his belt, Brandon began to make his way forcefully through the crowd. He shoved people aside when he could and knocked them over when he had to, until he reached the large fountain at the center of the square. With one hand he picked Jason up and stood him in the top pool of the structure then gave a long bellow loud enough to bring silence to the mob. Jason nodded his thanks to his friend who stood by the fountain in case things got ugly.
            “So, I hear that the baron wants everyone from sixteen to forty to meet him at Lake Caplin,” Jason said. Though his body was small, his voice was certainly not and could be clearly heard across the whole square. “We know that this means war.” There were shouts of affirmation all across the crowd. They were well aware of what was going on.
            “The baron may be going to war, but he sure are heck aren’t,” one man yelled from the middle of the crowd. There were shouts of agreement all around him. This must be the pocket of men against going; Jason turned to face them directly and fixed his fiercest glare on them.
            “That’s brave talk for a peasant when the baron isn’t here,” Jason said in a quiet voice that still managed to carry his anger across the crowd. “He’s gone and seems weak, but we all know what will happen later. Sooner or later, he will return, and then we will wish that we had gone to fight for him. I’m not very old at all, but I remember the last time that he was crossed. We all know that his retaliation was harsh and I shudder at the thought of that happening again.”
            “So you want us to go and risk our lives and the lives of our sons for that tyrant?” the dissenter called. One thing was certain; while he was much larger than his verbal opponent, he was much weaker in voice. “There’s no way that I’m risking a single thing for him!” He looked at those around him for support and they called their agreement.
            “I’m not asking you to risk your life for the baron but for your own family,” Jason said. “If we don’t comply with his orders, when he returns, and we all know that he will, he will kill you and your family leaving just enough alive to work his fields. I’m not asking you to fight for the baron but to fight for your family’s sake.”
            “He won’t be able to take us,” the man called. He knew that he was losing the argument, a fact that was evident in his voice. “We can spend all of the time that he’s gone fortifying the town. When he comes back, he won’t be able to take us!”
            “That’s a foolish idea, and you know it,” Jason said. “The baron’s army may be small, but it’s composed of trained soldiers, something that we don’t have here. They’ll overrun the city in a minute.”
            “So you’re saying that we should let the baron win?” the man called. “Spill our blood in his army for his goals?”
            “No, I’m saying that we should go to meet him,” Jason said. “The town guard is coming, so we have to disperse or we’ll end up in jail. I have a plan, so anyone who is concerned about joining the baron, meet me in the tavern tonight and I’ll tell you what it is. As for now, the town guard is coming, so we have to disperse or we’ll end up in jail.”
            Brandon pulled Jason off of the fountain and pushed his way through the crowd to the nearest side street. They turned down an alley, walked across a street and down another alley. Brandon took a roundabout way of getting to a rundown hut that the two men shared, but Jason didn’t even notice the route. He had been embellishing the truth when he said that he had a plan. The beginning of one was in his mind, but he had to figure out all of the details before tonight.
            It may have been the authority in Jason’s voice or the threat of the guard, but the peasants began to disperse quickly. Minutes later, when the guard arrived in the square, it was deserted.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Unsung Heroes: Jason Dundrum Part 1

            The continent was a noisy place. With no strong central government, the city-states were constantly fighting each other, vying for position and material wealth. It had existed this way for hundreds of years, and people had grown used to it. It was in way a democratic system, rather nobles ruled like kings over the cities, each with his own army to do war against the others. The common man simply did as he was told by the noble that ruled over him. Those on the outskirts of the cities’ territories would sometimes change hands several times a year, but it didn’t affect their lives. They prepared, planted, and harvested the same no matter who owned them. This way of life was very familiar to the people, but it was all about to change.
            In the year 1339, an ambitious noble named Michael Sultana raised an army with the intent to expand his territory. His campaign seemed to be typical, squabbling with his immediate neighbors about their territory lines. After all, he didn’t have the means to raise an army big enough to capture a single city much less a lot of them, but he had found an unusual and extremely helpful ally, a wizard with a knack for creating and corrupting creatures. Michael bolstered the thin ranks of his army with werewolves, goblins, and many other abominations and set out on his conquest with an army ten times the size of any other around.
            The army of Michael Sultana blazed across the continent like a wildfire, killing or capturing everything in its way. In three months, they had captured all of the cities in the known civilized world. To the common man, the conditions were no worse than before. They still prepared, planted, harvested, paid their taxes and did their military service time. The lives of the nobles, on the other hand, had been changed greatly. Their status had gone from one of supreme ruler of their lands to simple pawns used by Sultana. They met in secret on an island in the middle of Lake Caplin and so the rebellion was born. This is the story of the rebellion and the unlikely hero that brought the people to victory against Michael Sultana


            Jason Dundrum was the last person that you’d want to have your back in a fight. He was eighteen years old, though anyone who didn’t know him would laugh at that. He looked to be about fourteen or fifteen because of his slight build. Standing 5’10” tall and weighing in at 100 lbs, he was the smallest adult around. Not surprisingly, his small size caused him to get picked on by everyone his age and even those younger than him. In a society where might made right, Jason Dundrum was the lowest man on the totem pole.
            Jason’s mother had died two minutes before he was born and he never knew who his father was. He lived his whole life as an orphan, a situation that didn’t help his problem with bullies. His only relief from the cruelty and happiness in life came from his best friend Brandon Draitton, another orphan. In direct contrast to Jason, Brandon was as big a person as you could have without him keeling over from a heart attack. He stood 6’3” tall and weighed at least 350 lbs, all of it muscle. He had a face that only a mother could love, and so received his share of bullying, though not as much as Jason due to his size. Together, Jason and Brandon hobbled through life, trying to be as unnoticeable as possible until the year 1345. On the first day of Spring, a message came to their city that changed their lives forever.


            “Throw me that hoe,” Brandon called to Jason. The smaller man picked up the tool and pitched it to his friend. It fell about two feet short, but Brandon didn’t say anything as he retrieved the tool and continued to work. Because both men were orphans, they had not inherited anything and had to work the local baron’s land to make enough to live on. Together, they made a phenomenal team, preparing, planting, and harvesting twice as much as any other team of field workers.
            “Sure is hot today,” Jason said as he straightened and leaned on a shovel. He wiped the sweat off of his face and took a drought of water from his canteen.
            “No argument there,” Brandon concurred as he looked back at the quarter mile of ground that they had already worked today. He took a long drink of water and leaned on his hoe as he looked at the surrounding land. As he sometimes did, he tried to imagine that he was not dirt poor but that he owned all of the land that he could see. Not for the first time, he found that he couldn’t imagine it. He had never owned anything in his life except for the food that he ate and the clothes on his back, and he found that his mind just couldn’t fathom owning so much. With a sigh, he turned back to the dirt beneath him. He was good for nothing but to work another man’s land and give up most of the produce.
            “Is that what I think it is?” Jason asked, causing Brandon to look up. About a mile away, a cloud of dust could be seen, indicating that a horseman was approaching at a rapid pace. It was a messenger almost certainly, and the speed with which he was traveling indicated that the message was very important.
            “If you think that it’s a messenger, then probably yes,” Brandon said and returned to his hoeing. “Not for us, of course. No doubt for someone who is very rich.”
            “Probably right,” Jason agreed and returned to work, though he kept one eye on the horseman until he entered the city walls.
            Jason and Brandon continued working until the sun was almost directly overhead. By this time, their canteens were empty and they were tired, so they collected their tools and headed back to the city. They would eat lunch and wait out the hottest hours of the day, returning in the afternoon to continue their work until nightfall. It might not have been the best existence, but it was one and they would take whatever they could get. At least they usually had food and enough money to buy a new set of clothes every year and to repair and replace their broken tools. It was better than most men had it.
            “So, who do you think the messenger was for?” Jason asked as he and Brandon walked back to the city with their tools slung over their shoulders. Brandon gave Jason a look of exasperation.
            “What has got you stuck on this messenger?” he asked. “We know that it’s not for us, so what do we care who he was taking it to? It’s not like it’s going to affect us. Besides, he’s leaving already.”
            Brandon and Jason stepped off of the road to make way for the wild rider as he tore down the dusty road past them, kicking up a cloud big enough to choke them. Jason tucked his nose and mouth down into his shirt to filter the air. It took several minutes for the dust to settle so the men could continue walking.
            “Probably some nobleman’s son,” Brandon surmised ruefully. “Doesn’t have a bit of manners; probably doesn’t even consider us people to be considerate to.”
            As it happened, the messenger was indeed a nobleman’s son as Brandon had surmised, but he was dead wrong when he said that the message had nothing to do with them. It would change both of their lives for forever.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Unsung Heroes: Jason Dundrum

What follows will be a short story, released in several parts, that takes place in the world of my book, to be released later this year. It gives some background to the storyline of my book as well as making known the actions of an ordinary man who became a hero. I hope that you enjoy reading the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Philmot Journal: Day 8

Day 8: June 17, 2012

            Today was terrible. We signed up for a conservation project (necessary to earn the Philmont patch) from 8:00 to 11:00 AM and would have a ten mile hike afterwards. It was going to be a rough day, but still doable. We arrived at the project area only to find that an error by the staff left us without a project to do. The only other place to do a project on our trek is at Baldy town, a location that we will be going through on a 12 mile day. I just love the thought put into the locations of these projects. Needless to say, I’m not too impressed with the planning for these things.
            Anyway, it’s Fathers’ Day today; I guess it was a good one for Dad because he enjoys hiking. I personally think that he must be a bit of a sadist to enjoy it, but who am I to judge. As I said before, we did about 10 miles today. It was lots of fun (insert heavily sarcastic tone here). Nothing of interesting happened today, and when I say that, I mean it in the fullest sense of the word. It was so boring that it was probably remarkable in the fact that nothing interesting happened. In fact, it was so boring that if you took the most boring person that you know and put him on this particular day of the trek, he would probably seem extremely interesting. I honestly think that I would have rather picked cotton than participated in this particular day.

Entry 2
            Round two of the 8th day is about to begin. I thought long and hard about today and decided that there were actually a few things of interest (relatively speaking) that I can relate. Nash’s back is screwing up on him. We should probably get rid of it since it’s slowing us down. There ARE camp stores periodically along the trail, so maybe we can pick up a new one. Nash said the last time he bought a spine, he got a used on which explains his current discomfort. This time we’ll be sure to choose a top quality one. And if we can’t find a spine, perhaps a new crew member. You can find anything in these stores. We did pass a store today and looked for a new Nash, but wouldn’t you know it they didn’t have a single one. Stevens and Pauls, yes, but no Nashes. Rats. I guess we’ll just have to put up with him.
            On the plus side, I found out two new things about Nash today. 1) Nash owns his own company called “Good Company.” The funny thing is, they sell substandard stuff. They are mainly in the frosting market. 2) Nash has a violent younger sister who, for all intents and purposes, is NOT cute. Nash’s sister: if you are reading this, those were his words, not mine. Hit him next time you see him. Heaven knows my sister would do the same to me.
            As I said, not much of interest today. Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Philmont Journal: Day 7

Day 7: June 16, 2012

            We woke up today at an ungodly hour. We were going to hike the tooth of time trail, roughly a seven mile round trip and had 5 miles to hike afterwards to get to our next camp. We started before the sun rose above the mountains, carrying with us as much water as would kit in our day packs. Our adult leader with the bum ankle stayed at the camp to “watch our packs” which is code for “save his ankle for the rest of the trip.” We would come back to camp after the climb to the tooth and retrieve our packs and our stray adult

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Philmont Journal: Day 6

Day 6: June 15,2012

            David left us today; we are so dead. He waited until after breakfast (we had his food, after all), then was off down the trail at about 70 mile per hour. Seriously, I think this guy rivals the cheetah as the fastest mammal on earth.
            We started hiking, following him and in 3.4 second he was out of sight. And this was on a half mile stretch of straight trail. The next section of trail was quite boring, just rocks, dirt and sticks all mixed together. I feel like I am less charitable to the ground when I am hiking across it with an extremely heavy backpack on, but then again what good can you say about the ground? It is almost literally lower than dirt. We started a game of conundrums to pass the time. The game was so simple that even a crew of Boy Scouts could understand it. One person gave a scenario (i.e. A man jumps off of a building. Half way down, he hears something and realizes that he doesn’t want to die.) and the rest of the crew had to determine what was going on by asking yes-or-no questions to get information (i.e. Was all the man wanted for Christmas his two front teeth? Did the man have his two front teeth when he jumped? He certainly didn’t have them after he jumped!)
            Four or five conundrums later, we arrived at Crater Lake, though it looked more like just a Crater since Lake implies the presence of water. There was a cattle drive going through that area since Philmont is still an active cattle ranch. The cows were probably going, “Isn’t this Crater Lake? Where’s the water?” “I know. This is more of just a crater.” The experience was interesting since I have never seen a real cattle drive complete with cute cowhands. Neither had Steven, evidently, though that didn’t stop him from striking up a conversation with one of the cowgirls (since the cowboys were admittedly less attractive). He was so good, he managed to trip over a rock, just as he was saying something; it was a smooth move and the cowgirl must have been a hard nut to crack for him to not get her phone number after that.
            After Crater Lake, we had a slight disagreement over the reading of the map. I hate to admit this, but I might have kind of been wrong on this one. Anyway, after wasting a bunch of time, we got on the right trial (actually it was the left one) and headed for Miner’s Park. We got in with very little time to spare, picked up food for the next several days, cooked dinner (because it required water and our campsite would be dry tonight) and ate. We barely managed to cook and clean the dishes and make it to our climbing program on time. By “on time” I mean about fifteen minutes to half an hour late, but the free spirits of climbing are apparently never on time for anything, so we were in good shape. We sat through a safety talk which in essence said, “Don’t do anything stupid and kill yourself,” grabbed helmets, and headed for “the Pit” that is, the climbing area.
            There were 2 paths to climb: Sweet Tea with a difficult of 5.6 and Hot Sauce which was a 5.8. We had 7 scouts climbing, 4 up Hot Sauce and 3 up Sweet Tea. Nash claimed that he would smoke us all because he has been climbing for a very long time; however, I managed to beat him by half his time which was good because I had been smack talking a LOT. Of course, Michael beat me by 30 seconds, but who cares about that. I wasn’t racing him (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) and he’s just a bloody spider monkey. Clearly he didn’t make eye contact with the girl at the top or, as Steven pointed out, he would have frozen and fallen back down. Then he would have only beat me by 5 seconds, and that would have been a shame. My older brother David also climbed Hot Sauce and all of the members of our crew completed their climbs which was better than the other crew that was climbing with us. What can I say, we’re competitive and inspired. Once the first climber made it to the top, we were good to go.
            At the top of the climb, we clipped ourselves to a safety line and walked down a ledge to the repelling station. That is repelling like down a cliff, not repelling girls, though our smell was probably doing that after several days on the trail. A girl named Sarah ran the repelling station; Steven must have eagle eyes because he commented on how good she looked, and he never climbed the rocks. Michael almost fell of off the ledge when he saw her; good thing he was tied off. Sarah tied us to the repelling line and gave us a run down on how to do it so that he wouldn’t fall and bust our faces on the stone wall. I tried it a few times, but no matter how many times I slammed my face into the stones, I couldn’t make it look any better even by a little bit. As we were waiting to repel, she kindly informed us that one of us smelled horrible. She was very kind to remind us of that in case we had forgotten that we had been without showers for 3 days now.
            It was after 3 before we left the climbing area and headed off to camp, bragging to all of the crews about Michael’s fast climbing time. I don’t always claim his as my brother, but this time I did! I was assured multiple times by multiple people that the hike to camp from the climbing area was only 2 miles, but I think it was more like 4. We dropped down to a creek where we filled up all of our water bottles and two collapsible water bags. We also met some staff members there who were kind enough to point out the latrine for me. I am very grateful to them. We also met some staff doing GIS stuff which was cool since that’s what I just went over this past semester in college.
            After a good rest, we headed up a steep grade, carrying our packs and the two water bags with about 20 or 25 pounds of water in each. They were incredibly heavy especially considering the terrain, but we knew that we would appreciate the effort the following day when we actually had water at our dry camp. One of our adult leaders counted 9 switchbacks on the map, though it turned out to be more like 15 of them. Our brains were addled by the exertion and lack of oxygen, so we invented hiking song lines to take our minds off of the idea of passing out and rolling all of the way down the hill. The worst part would not be the bruises that it would inflict, but having to climb all of the way back up.
            At camp, we saw several deer that were evidently not afraid of humans, probably because you can’t kill them (the deer, not the humans) on the ranch. The photographers of our crew found this strangely fascinating and took an ungodly number of pictures of them. We even had one kid try to get closer by using his fingers to emulate antlers to “disguise” himself as a deer. Who comes up with ideas like this but a bunch of Boy Scouts?! Needless to say, the deer was a bit smarter than our crew and saw right through the disguise.
            We turned in early since we would be doing a good bit of climbing the following day. In the night, a fantastic amount of wind came through and knocked down our dining fly and David’s tent. I suppose that’s what you get when you camp in a pass.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Philmont Journal: Days 4 and 5

Day 5: June 14, 2012

            As you can see by the date, I skipped a day of journal writing. I actually had halfway legitimate reason as you'll find out later on. So here's the story of the last two days.
            Yesterday we woke up at an ungodly hour to get breakfast in the mess hall. In retrospect, perhaps that was a bad idea. After breakfast, we moved our packs to our bus pickup location and played hurry up and wait. We ate lunch in the mess hall at noon, also probably a bad decision. Our bus didn't show up until one, so we played blackjack. Nash fell asleep, so we used his climbing carabineers to attach him to the table. It was the frantic orange's idea.
            When the bus arrived, we loaded up and were off, finally on the real adventure. The bus ride lasted for about twenty minutes, and it was here that I started to feel bad. I chocked it up to motion sickness; boy was I wrong.
            We arrived at the Kit Carson Museum and unloaded our bags. Before beginning, we visited the museum, a representation of an old western homestead. We got to do some blacksmithing and throw tomahawks at cookies. You have to be pretty good to hit a cookie with a tomahawk at five pace, but my crew had a fairly good record over all (though some were definitely better than others). Our crew leader never managed to stick a single one until the last throw. I don't know why they taught us how to throw tomahawks. Perhaps it was to drive off angry bears. ("Excuse me, Mr. Bear, could you stay right there so I can pace of 5 steps. Thanks! One, two, three, four, five. Crap, I missed! Don't move!")
            The museum was entertaining, and we didn't start hiking until about three in the afternoon. By that point, my stomach ache and nausea was in full swing. Based on the pain, I think it was food poisoning from the mess hall. Well, hiking with stomach pain isn't that bad, but here's the problem. When backpacking, a hip belt keeps most of the pack weight off of your shoulders. For this to work, the belt must be tight, something that I was unable to do because of my stomach pain. That meant that all of my pack weight was resting on my shoulders which is not really a good feeling when you have forty-five or fifty pounds in your pack. I believe that I was pretty out of it the entire hike. I remember making up some whacked out hiking songs, but that's pretty much it. I remember putting on six layers and crawling into my sleeping bag without eating dinner.
            I woke up several times during the night, sometimes shivering, sometimes sweating. My goal was to induce a fever and burn off my sickness. Whether it worked or not is up for debate, but in either case, I felt much better by the next morning.
            Breakfast was quite unsatisfying, and by 8:30 we were on the trail. We had not gone more than a mile down the trail, when we arrived at an old style Mexican Homestead and Cantina. We were given a "porch talk" on, you guessed it, the porch of the house. I'm not exactly certain how it came up, but we ended up talking about how humming birds will stab you in the eye if you are wearing reflective sunglasses, (apparently a problem at Philmont) and about the Wright brothers in conjunction with flight plans. We figured their plans would have gone something like: Departure at 11:33. Landing at 11:33. This is going to be a new record, boys! We also talked about important things, but they are significantly less memorable.
            After the porch talk, we got a tour of the house. Actually, I should say that the rest of the crew got a tour since I was using the fantastic facilities. Not only was a hole in the ground with a seat over it, but it also had walls! Bonus for the staffed camps! I caught the very end of the tour and was given the highlights of it by other people. Apparently there was a "courting candle" and suitors only had until it burned down to court the daughter. A device allowed the father to lengthen or shorten the candle based on how much he liked the young man. My dad told Nash that in our house, he would get a "courting match."
            After the house, we went down to the animal enclosures and milked a goat. It was...different. I was refusing to do it at all, in fact, until my masculinity was called into question. I still refused (seeing as though there isn't much there to call into question ;) until the "farmer (actually a guy from my ROTC detachment) made a joke about me being the "Last" one to milk. At that point I had to try milking. Probably my favorite quote of the day was when the farmer was milking and got some on his hand. He said, "No matter how much I milk, that still feels like urine."
            After visiting the corral, we headed to the cantina for some stiff drinks, stiff as they come at Philmont anyway. We sat around and shot the breeze over some tall, cool cups of rootbeer. The atmosphere electrified as David and Steven stepped to the bar to participate in a spicy pickle eating contest. The rules were simple: eat the large, spicy pickle and drink the juice. There was a lot of smack talk before the fact, but David pretty much destroyed Steven. After the contest, talk in the cantina began to slow down. Of course, you can figure out where it went when I tell you that the bar keep was a girl. She felt obligated, given the attention that certain members of our crew gave her, to tell us the 6 rules of Philmont with special emphasis on rule 4b.
            1. Look Good
            2. Don't Die
            3. If you do die, look good doing it
            4a. Don't hit on male staff members
            4b. Don't hit on female staff members for they are more manly than you and will beat you            down.
            5. Don't burn down Philmont
            6. No naked at Philmont

            There was some confusion of rules 4a and 4b, so the barkeep clarified and said that she figured we wouldn't have a problem with 4a. Of course me, being my smart aleck self said, "Well, actually..." My brother cut me off saying, "Woah! You sir, have a girlfriend." To my chagrin,  the barkeep referred to my girlfriend as my "kissy face." The whole crew burst out laughing, more than they should have. I think it was some sort of inside joke.
            After the cantina we continued our hike. One of our adult advisors has a bum ankle so our pace was slow but steady. We stopped for lunch at an awesome overlook. Right now, it's probably time to back up and mention our ranger. He's been with us for our whole hike so far. He stopped us for lunch at the awesome overlook. You could see for miles off of it over the ranch and probably other land too. The road wound around below us and one crew member noted that a bus on it looked like "a block of cheese." A river and lake were also visible. We sat on the overlook for a while and enjoyed the view.
            It was at lunch that our crew first experienced the great "back to back" latrines that Philmont has to offer. Literally, these things are nothing more than a wooden box over a hole in the ground. There is a seat on either end of the box and a back between them. They are great or at least better than having to dig a cat hole. After lunch, we hiked to camp and arrived early enough to set up at a leisurely pace. Dinner was Mexican rice and beef with refried beans. It was horrid and the reason that I started to refer to trail food as "trail trash." After dinner, our awesome ranger pulled a whole lot of tasty things from his pack and made us Philmont mud, a delicious desert. Maybe it was just the hunger and bad cooking talking, but this mud was epic. Bards will write songs about it one day.
            The day was winding down but I think one more thing deserves mention. We were doing roses and thorns or as Nash calls it, "sharing and caring time." When it came to Michael, he couldn't come up with a rose so I said, "What about the girl at the cantina?" He turned bright red. Robert, another scout, noted that he was so red that couldn't tell where his bandana began. Anyway, today was definitely interesting. Hopefully tomorrow will continue the trend.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Philmont Journal: Day 3

Day 3: June 12, 2012

I was woken up at an ungodly hour this morning. The clock read @*&$! Or maybe that was what I said. Clearly all of my mental faculties weren’t on track yet. We piled into our vehicles and headed out again, stopping only briefly for breakfast. I was asleep when we stopped so me and my brother Paul* had the breakfast of champions: Skittles. Or maybe they were rainbow vomit. I never can remember.
            It only took about 4 hours to reach Philmont or rather the city outside of the ranch. It was still too early to arrive, so we stopped at an old hotel/restaurant to have lunch. The food was good and the place was quiet unlike after 9 PM. A sign informed us that minors aren’t allowed in after that time. Apparently things get ugly then as evidenced by the bullet holes in the walls and ceiling. Actually they came from many years earlier when the hotel played host to the saloon of a mining town. Apparently they had a little bit too much fun on the weekends.
            Compared to lunch, our first (1/2) day at Philmont was really boring. We had a million and one hoops to jumps through and a ton and a half of paperwork to push. And when I say “we” I mean Dad and my brother Michael*. Dad is the money man and Michael is the “crew leader” so they get all of the fun jobs. I’m just a peon so my only job is acting like a tree! (The dogs all think that I’m part of their territory) While Dad and Michael ran about, signed things, pushed paper, and wove their way through the crazy world of administrivia, the rest of us played “hurry up and wait.” You may know this game. The rules are quite simple: 1) rush to a location frantically as if your survival depended on you getting there yesterday 2) when you arrive, discover that you have nothing to do and wait for a few hours. Needless to say, the game got old fast and we switched to Black Jack. Without money, of course. A scout is thrifty, after all.
            After a few briefings and an extremely brief physical examination, (“Are you dead yet?” “No.” “You’re good to go.”) we received our Philmont issued equipment and food. Apparently our tents are high maintenance (they require approximately 137 stakes apiece) though they are light which is a good thing. The food looks passible, if we were mules, that is. Seeing as though we are humans, I see a lot of nutritious yet nasty tasting meals ahead of us. You know that they’ll be good for us because they look and probably taste nasty.
            We carried our gear back to our tents. I neglected to mention earlier that when we checked in, we were assigned 6 tents with 2 cots in each. Anyway, after putting our equipment away, we went to the mess hall where they served us a mess for dinner. Dinner was an easy affair. The mess hall was set up buffet style expect that staff served the food which meant that they never gave us enough food. That’s just as well as you’ll see later on. There was a salad bar which I hit twice before stopping. All in all, the food was good, at least initially. As it turns out, Philmont food is to Peter as drain-o is to a pipe. Things come out a lot easier and a lot faster afterwards.
            After dinner there was a camp fire. At least it was supposed to be, but a burn ban forced them to use propane flames. The fire was a medium for transmitting to us the history of Philmont. It was entertaining though not overly so, and quite frankly I didn’t care about most of it. After the fire it was back to our tents. Tomorrow we start hiking in the open country.

*Paul is my youngest brother. He tells me that he is 14, but I think that he’s only about 12. He knows pretty much everything until you really need some info at which point his bank of knowledge dries up. He’s too smart for his own good.

*Michael is my younger brother, age 16. He’s working on his Eagle Scout rank and trying desperately to prove that he is a good leader. Perhaps this trip will give him the opportunity to sharpen/build/locate these skills.

Entry 2

It’s probably a good thing to mention now that one of the crews, a venturing crew from Birmingham, AL is composed entirely of girls. Based on the reactions of Steven* and Nash* to this knowledge, this could be an interesting development.

*Steven is one of the scouts in our crew that is not from my troop. He is starting college this fall. He is interested in animals, so it’s no surprise that his intended major has to do with them. He has a girlfriend so he should know better (about the crew from Birmingham)

*Nash is a scout not from my troop. He is also starting college this fall with plans of engineering and ROTC. Given my experiences with him, I don’t expect him to know better.

Entry 3

I should introduce The Frantic Orange as he will also be accompanying us on our trip. I found him tonight in the fruit bowl of the mess hall with all of the other fruit. I mistook him for a normal orange and was about to eat him when I heard him mumble something. I told him to speak up, but of course he had no mouth. I grabbed a pen and went straight to work, giving him eyes first, a mouth next, and finally a nose. He can read lips so I didn’t give him ears; there are sometimes that I don’t want him to know what I’m saying.
            Once he had a mouth he begged me not to eat him and I agreed. I was glad that I had given him his mouth, but have come to regret it already. A talking orange is not the miracle. Getting him to shut up is.