Monday, August 27, 2012

Unsung Heroes: Jason Dundrum Part 5

            “So, do you think that this will actually work?” Brandon asked as he and Jason headed back toward the tavern. It had been several hours since they had left, and they were hoping that almost everyone had cleared out by now.
            “It has a good chance of working, yes,” Jason answered with more confidence than he actually had. He knew that the most important part of a plan was to get people to trust in it, even if it was shaky.
            “So what are we going back to the tavern for?” Brandon asked.
            “Mr. Sheridan said that he would get a group of supporters together to meet me later tonight,” Jason explained. “There are several parts to my plan, and every one of them needs a reliable person doing it. Tonight I’ll have several people to choose from to do these things.”
            “I can do something,” Brandon said, hurt that his friend hadn’t considered him first.
            “I know you would try your best, but let’s face it Brandon, you wouldn’t be able to convince the king that his barons have risen up against him, nor could you convince the barons that the king is planning to dispose of them. I will feel best if I have you backing me up when I go to talk to the other peasants.”
            Brandon nodded and dropped the issue. Jason’s answer had stung, but he knew that it was true. He was not the diplomatic sort; in fact, his attempts to reason with people often ended with him throwing someone out of a window. This approach was actually pretty effective for your normal everyday peasant who had just cheated at Poker, but kings tended to not take kindly to it and Brandon was rather attached to his head.
            Jason led the way around the back of the tavern and used a service door to gain entrance to the building’s kitchen. Mr. Sheridan’s daughter and son were there cleaning and looked up only briefly to see who had entered. The boy motioned with a thumb to a private room off to the right and Jason headed straight for it. Brandon headed toward the main room of the tavern and began his patrol as had been agreed upon before. With the giant on guard, no one would be entering the building without Jason’s knowledge.
            The room that Jason entered was small containing only a small table and a dozen or so chairs. Stacks of small, colored chips stood in front of each chair, poker chips if Jason was not mistaken, and a large floorboard in the corner had been pulled up. Jason decided that the chips would be used for camouflage to hide the true purpose of the meeting should someone walk in on them but wondered what the raised floorboard was for. It was too small to be an escape passage. Mr. Sheridan sat at the head of the table and was flanked on either side by five men. All looked up as Jason as he entered the room.
            “Jason,” Mr. Sheridan said. “Take a seat and we can begin.”
            Jason stepped to the only empty seat, the one on the end of the table, and sat down. All eyes were on him and once again he felt a moment of discomfort. This gathering would be examining his plan in detail and, whether he liked it or not, their decision would decide whether it succeeded or not.
            “So, Jason,” Mr. Sheridan said. “We’re here because we think that your plan may have some merit to it. Explain it again in full with all of the details so that we know exactly what will be required of us and the people.”
            For a long time Jason explained his plan much as before in the tavern but with many more details. The men would periodically stop him to ask questions and challenge certain aspects of the plan, but Jason was never stumped. He had thought through the situation thoroughly and had contingency plans for everything except for one situation. He didn’t bring it up himself and hoped that no one would think of it, not only because he thought it unlikely but also because it would be the single most detrimental thing that could ever happen during his scheme. To his relief, no one at the table thought to ask the right question, and an hour after Jason began, they had all agreed to the plan. During this whole process, one of the men, one of the only educated peasants, had been writing on several sheets of paper. When the council had finished questioning Jason, he spread his notes across the table with two large maps, one of the surrounding areas and one of the whole country. With a pencil, he began to mark lines and symbols on the maps, indicating the different stages in Jason’s plan.
            Jason watched as the process continued, amazed at the way in which the scribe was able to transpose his plan onto the maps. He was unfamiliar with all of the symbols that were used but was still able to get a fairly specific idea of what was being drawn. Probably because he had invented the plan and knew all parts of it intimately. He listened to the scribe talk as he wrote, correcting him occasionally. In a quarter of an hour, the whole thing was on the maps on the table and another discussion began. Once again, the council began to question and discuss different aspects of the plan, and Jason had to defend them again. Several suggestions were made to improve the plan, many of which he refuted and dismissed easily, but some of which he agreed with a saw implemented. One of the most obvious was that he had planned on waiting until all of the peasants were assembled to talk to them, but one of the men in the room suggested sending out riders to meet the armies coming from each village to talk to them separately. This way, the opinions of a large crowd wouldn’t affect the arguments that were being made. Should one group of villagers reject them, the others might still agree. This would also give the conspirators a larger support base when they reached the barons’ armies.
            Three sharp raps on the closed door interrupted their deliberations and immediately the maps and notes were swept off of the table and stuffed under the floor board in the corner. One of the men pulled a deck of cards from his pocket and began to shuffle and deal to each of the members of the council. Twelve people was a few too many for the typical poker game, Jason knew, but perhaps it would stand up to scrutiny should that be necessary. He collected his cards and looked at them, not really understanding what he was seeing. He had never played poker before, leaving such ventures to Brandon who was inordinately good at this sort of thing. People began to throw chips into the middle of the table and his quick eye picked up on what was happening. He matched the bid of the man before him and waited for the biding to come to an end. Calling for two cards like several of the men before him, he looked at his new hand and still didn’t understand what he was looking at. He knew that multiple cards of the same kind was good, but he didn’t know how good. He continued to bid until the end and laid his cards on the table with everyone else. Apparently two cards of one kind and three of another was good enough to win all of the chips in the middle of the table. As he raked the pot toward himself, he decided that poker was actually fun.
            Two hands later, there was another knock at the door, this time only one. The council instantly forgot about their game and pulled the maps back out onto the table and began to debate and discuss again. Jason settled back for the long night that he knew lay ahead of him.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Unsung Heroes: Jason Dundrum Part 4

            “My proposition to all of you,” Jason began, “is that we arm ourselves as best we can and go to meet the baron. Now I know that it has been said that I think that we should go and fight for the baron, but I do not. We should go and agree to fight for him only if he does something for us.”
            “And what exactly do you think that you can get out of the baron?” a villager asked.
            “Rights,” Jason answered immediately. “Freedom, for instance, to enter and leave the baron’s lands without his express permission. Rights to own property. Freedom from imprisonment without cause. Rights such as these that no one can take away from us. That is what I would bargain with the baron for.”
            “Bargain with the baron?” a dissenter snorted. “You cannot bargain with the baron when he holds all of the cards.”
            “He doesn’t hold all of them,” Jason shot back. “He has called for us to assemble and help his army. That means that he finally had need of us, and his need is a weakness. That is our bargaining chip.”
            “I still don’t think that it will work, and I’m not willing to risk my life on some half-baked plan that you invented,” the villager said.
            “You risk your life by staying here,” Jason countered. “If you wish to save your measly skin so much, you will go to fight for the baron anyway and take your chances with the king’s army. We find ourselves caught between a rock and a hard place; the trick is to find a way to squeeze out from between them and come out on top.”
            “And you have a way to do that?” a villager asked.
            “I believe that I do,” Jason answered. “If our baron has resorted to recruiting us, that means that he and the barons that he is meeting with have finally run out of resources and fighting men to run this war off of. If my guess is correct, and I know that it is, all of the other barons have done the same thing to try to bolster the numbers of their own forces. That means that there will be a lot of men just like us who think like us and are as unhappy about the situation as we are. I will talk to them and see what I can arrange. Unless I miss my guess, I can get them to make similar demands of their barons. If we can put all of the barons in the same tight spot, they are more likely to cave.”
            “There’s a problem with your plan,” Brandon said so that all could hear him. He hated to speak out against Jason, but he had thought of something that needed to be addressed. If he was right, Jason would have thought of it already anyway.
            “I have explained as simply as possible the basics of my plan,” Jason explained to the crowd. “What is it that worries you?”
            “The demands that you are going to make of the barons,” Brandon started. “The barons’ power is limited by the king, but if they do win and give us the rights that we demand, they will have even less power than they do now. What would convince them to continue the war?”
            “That, my friend, is the most important aspect of my plan,” Jason said with a smile. “I will arrange for a messenger to go to the king and bring him news of the rebellion of his barons while simultaneously convincing the barons that the king has grown tired of them and plans to eradicate their positions entirely. If either side believes the claims, the war will certainly happen. The barons will have no choice but to stand and fight the king, even if they do not like our demands.”
            “So you are going to tell the king what is going on?” someone called. “Won’t that give him time to prepare his armies? That would be very dangerous to us.”
            “That’s not true for two reasons,” Jason answered. “First, tipping the king off will give his time to gather his troops and meet us in a field to do battle. He’ll do it because it is a way for him to assert his authority by winning in the field. That gives us a much better chance of breaking the back of his army without trying to do it over the walls and defenses of his castle. Second, make no mistake that in the barons’ army, we will be the lowest soldiers on the totem pole, especially after the demands that we will make. If we are forced to attack the king in his castle, we will be the first men to charge the walls and also the first to fall by the arrows of the king’s archers. We stand a much better chance of surviving the battle if it takes place in a field. Also, tipping off the king will work to our benefit because it will put the barons on a tight schedule. They will be forced to accept our demands quickly so that they can raise an army that can stand up the king’s.”
            “So now all of the sudden you are a military and political genius?” a villager called.
            “I would never claim either of those things,” Jason answered. “I have simply thought through the whole situation and made conclusions that any idiot can make. We must go to fight for the baron, but we do not need to do it on his terms.”
            The tavern was silent for several long moments as Jason let his words sink in.
            “Think over what I have said and make a decision,” he finally said. “I will meet anyone who is coming at the gate tomorrow at sunrise. Come armed and prepared to travel for we will move out as early as possible. We will discuss other important matters on the journey.”
            Without another word, Jason jumped off of the bar and headed for the door, Brandon following close behind. The crowd parted to allow them through, most staring in awe at the small man leading the way. Even compared with the giant behind him, he was by far the most impressive man in the whole building.

Philmont Journal: Day 12

Day 12: June 21, 2012

            We left Miranda early in the morning today. Actually, I should say that we packed and left our campsite early, but from there were headed down to the burrow pen (or “donkey” pen as I called it just to annoy Steven. He claims that there is a difference between burrows and donkeys but hasn’t actually said what those differences might be) We arrived at the pens before 8 to receive our instructional talk on how to pack and handle our burrows. It seemed easy enough when the wrangler was doing it; of course, she was using the nice one. First she showed us how to gear up and saddle the burrows. The process was rather time consuming and took four people to complete and after all that the stupid animals didn’t even take the majority of our pack weights. After demonstrating the packing and unpacking of the donkeys, the wrangler gave us a few tips on handling them on the trail. Apparently they can be a bit stubborn (go figure. It’s not like they’re donkeys or anything) so the wrangler gave us three methods of getting them to move should they decide to stop. 1) Stand behind (though not in the kick zone) the donkey and wiggle your fingers. Looked more like spirit fingers to me and incidentally never worked with our donkeys, 2) Give them a slap on the rump, 3) Take a stick no bigger around than your thumb and give them a jab in the butt (The first two methods gave us constant results if you count the donkeys ignoring us as “results.” Needless to say, we began to use the third method exclusively)
            So, you know the saying that goes, “There are no stupid questions, just stupid people”? Well, what happened next is a perfect example of this idea in action. After explaining the third method of getting the burrows to move, one of the scout leaders from a different crew asked, “Do we poke them in the butt or the butt hole?” Paul (remember, he’s too smart for his own good) rolled his eyes and said “The butt hole isn’t called the butt. It would be the rectum or anus.” I laughed so hard. To myself of course.
            After the wrangler’s talk, we attempted to pack our burrows. I say “attempted” because, well, it should be fairly obvious. We had two burrows, Eddy and Murphy. Eddy was easy to get along with and was packed in short order; Murphy on the other hand would have none of it. He kept moving around and trying to dash away from his packs making it a nightmare to try to get anything onto him. Between the 11 people in our crew we managed to manhandle him into his gear but it took about an hour to do it, putting us on the trail at 10. It wasn’t the earliest start that we’d ever had, but we knew that we would have plenty of time to get to the next camp before dark.
            The sky was overcast as we pulled our burrows out of the pen and onto the trail. They seemed determined to give us as difficult of a time as they could. Once we started moving, the roles of the burrows reversed with Murphy being the easy one to handle and Eddy being, well, a pain in the ass. Or perhaps just a jackass; I now know why that word means what it does. Stupid donkeys are stubborn as anything I’ve ever seen. We also almost had an issue when Eddy (who is massive for a donkey) got spooked by a truck that passed us on one of the service roads and danced sideways onto Nash’s foot. Now Nash, being the smart man that he is, was wearing steel toed boots which can cause problems when dealing with horses and such since if one of the things stomps hard enough on the steel, it can break and cut off your toes. Luckily Nash was alright with just some bruising.
Despite the difficulty with the burrows, we made good time. We stopped briefly at a campsite with a corral to eat lunch before continuing and finishing the hike at 2 PM. The last descent to the camp, Pueblano, was great fun. It was very steep and Eddy decided that it would be a good idea to run down the trail. The only problem with this idea was that most of our crew as well as the other burrow was in front of him, so Steven and I (combined weight of around 400 lbs) had to keep him from tearing off at breakneck speed. As I said before, Eddy is an uncommonly large burrow, so the task wasn’t easy, especially since he kept wanting to step all over our feet. Luckily we managed to get to Pueblano without any serious problems and went through the whole camp process yet again. We got a porch talk which was probably the funniest one of the trip; sadly it was mostly physical humor that doesn’t translate well into writing.
We set up camp, ate dinner, and headed back to the main camp for a game of “logger ball” which we had been promised was the best game ever, even better than mountain ball. When we got there, it ended up just being a 3 inning baseball game where people were supposed to run the bases backwards in the second inning. I say “were supposed to” because the first three batters on our team ran the wrong direction and all got out. So much for paying attention. Over all, the game was sort of fun though not overly so; it was baseball after all. After the game there was another program but I was too tired out to attend. Instead I went back to the camp and talked magic with two other members of my crew.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Philmont Journal: Day 11

Day 11: June 20, 2012

            Today we climbed Mt. Blady. If you have ever participated in this endeavor, those words are quite enough; however for those who have not, I will elaborate. (also this would suck as a journal if I didn’t tell what had happened)
            We rose at the ungodly hour of 4:15 this morning. Apparently Dad has an internal alarm clock because he was the one that was waking us up. I wonder if he just tells himself to wake up at a certain time or if he has to pop open a panel in his back and put the time in with an array of buttons. We crawled out of our tents and stumbled around, getting our gear together. Keep in mind that it was still dark as we did this. Dumping out a pack full of stuff to find what you need is easy when there’s light, but it because more difficult when there is only darkness around you. Small things (always the important ones) tend to roll off and never be found again. We put on our day packs and headed up the trail with several other crews. I wore my sunglasses, either because I’m just a whack-a-doodle or because it was that early. Who knows.
            It was incredibly dark as we climbed the first few miles and I remember little of it. I know that we stopped at 7 or so for breakfast which was voted “The Best Breakfast Every” by our crew. The pepperoni sticks were a real hit; it was probably the first time that everyone ate everything in a given meal. We stopped at Black horse mine for the meal. It consisted of several empty buildings. It was rather boring since we couldn’t go into them. Apparently there are a lot of rats in the abandoned buildings and breathing the dust of their feces is no good for you. Go figure.
            We started hiking again and the trail gradually grew steeper until we were going straight up. Then it got stepper so we were walking upside down. At least that’s what it seemed like. In reality, we were probably going up a 45 degree angle for a good part of the way. It’s hard to believe, I know but it is true. We hiked until the air was too thin to breath, and then we hiked some more.
            Eventually we breached the tree line and saw the final summit and boy did I want to hill myself. How in heaven’s name did I get talked into this hiking trip? About a thousand more feet (in elevation) stretched before us. The only good news was that it was mostly straight (about a 60 degree angle) so it was only a bit more than a 1000 feet total! By now the air was so thin that we had to resort to the 30 step method, that is we would hike for 30 steps before collapsing to the ground and trying to catch our breaths with a lot of gasping. It was really that bad for a long, long way.
            We finally reached the top by 9:30. 4 ½ hours of climbing and it was not even 10! It was ridiculous. The weather had been nice and calm but when we hit the top, the wind hit us. The gusts (actually I was fairly constant wind) were probably 50 to 60 mph and the temperature felt considerably cooler. We staggered to a wind break and hunkered down behind it for a moment. Of course, we were only satisfied with that for a few moments. We left our stuff out of the wind and went to the edge of the mountain, enjoying the breeze and looking off for miles in all directions. We located the Tooth of Time which had seemed impressive when we had climbed it earlier, but from here it just looked pathetic. We took a lot of pictures on what was the top of the world for as far as we could see. The Elevation was 12,441 ft which is sort of, kind of, not really, almost half the height of Mt. Everest. We tied our American flag to a nice long stick and took a bunch of pictures with the flag blowing straight out. I had also lugged the Frantic Orange all 6 miles to the top just so that he could see the top of the world. We took close to a billion pictures (actual count was 999,999,976) before retreating to our cover. There we broke out the big surprise: Mashed Potatoes! (or Nashed Potatoes as we called them for the guy who had brought them) I had lugged a stove, small pot, water, and dehydrated mashed potatoes all of the way up the mountain, but these were not just any mashed potatoes. No, these were LOADED ones. It was amazing! So we ate awesome potatoes on top of the world. No big deal. Just like hiking in cotton shirts: It’s what we do.
            After eating and repacking, we headed down the far side of Baldy, following a ridge trail. The other option was going down a trail that pretty much dropped straight down the side of the mountain. It would have been bad except for all of the loose rock that covered the path. I guess it would have softened our many falls at least a little bit. Needless to say, the decision was difficult: fall off the side of the mountain or take a longer but not as steep ridge trail. Looking across a valley to where the ridge trail ran, we could see several large patches of snow which sold me on that route immediately. What could be cooler than chilling in the snow in the middle of the summer? I should also mention that our leader that me had left back at camp was vindicated in his story. Fgrom Miranda we couldn't see any snow, and he said that that was because all of the snow on our side of Baldy was taken down to Baldy town for use in snow cones and that the only snow left was on the backside of the mountain. Two points for total guessing!
            We slid down the back of Baldy and hit the ridge that our chosen exit trail ran along. We were officially outside of Philmont and the trail disappeared and was replaced by piles of rocks that marked the way. We hiked around to the snow patches that we had seen earlier and took pictures in them. The frantic orange was momentarily promoted to being the head of a snowman. We threw a few snowballs before continuing on our treck. The rest of the way was long and hot and we were tired, especially when we hit the swtichbacks. It was hell on earth. We ate lunch shortly after returning to Philmont long and took a nap in a campsite before hitting the trail again and heading to Baldy Town to pick up our food. What followed was some of the worst trails of our entire trip including one that dropped at a 45 or 50 degree angle and consisted of sand-sized gravel. Despite the hiking conditions, we arrived at Baldy Town and picked up our food without a hitch. We took a trail over a ridge and back to Miranda, arriving about 10 hours after we had left.
            That might have been the day's end at any other camp, but not at Miranda. At 7, there was a game of Mountain Ball. I didn't play (I watched) but it looked amazingly fun. It was sort of like baseball on the side of a hill with a few major rule changes.
1) There were 4 bases (posts) plus home. The four bases were arranged in a square with 1st and 2nd diagonal from each other and the same with 3rd and 4th. Home was apart from all four.
2) The game was self pitch with 5 strikes
3) a runner could run to any base at any time but could only score by running all four in order
4) multiple players could be on a single base at any time
5) runners could grab the ball and throw it
6) there was only one out per inning per team
7) if there were no members of the hitting team at home to bat, they received an out
            The game looked absolutely fantastic and I'm kind of regretting the fact that I didn't play. The highlite of the game was Paul getting in the baseline from 1st to 2nd and accidentally tackling a runner. It wasn't legal but it was hilarious.
            All told, Miranda was a great campsite for two nights and I'm going to be sorry to leave tomorrow.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Philmont Journal: Day 10

Day 10: June 19, 2012

            Well, today’s hike was short as I had expected. We actually went in the wrong direction as we headed out of camp, but that only added an extra mile and a half or so. That was for most of the crew. Michael forgot to sign out of the camp, and was reminded about a half mile down the road. He and Nash had to run all of the way back to sign out and then hurry to catch back up. Even with the extra distance and delays, we made it to Miranda, our next camp site, a little after 10. It was a good thing too since we got the second to last black powder rifle time slot.
            The hike itself was not bad at all except for the last ½ mile. We broke through the trees and stepped into a beautiful meadow at the other end of which we could see the staff cabin. We were almost done for the day so we stopped to take pictures before continuing on our way. Well, it turned out that the meadow, which looked rather short, was actually about a half a mile long. We hiked and hiked and hiked and hiked, all uphill I might add, and arrived at the staff cabin bone tired. The upside was we did get a campsite that was close to the cabin and the water spigot. It was a lot better than having to hike the half mile meadow whenever you wanted to go somewhere or do something. Granted, we ended up napping in camp most of the day, but it’s the principle of the thing.
            Later in the day, we went down to the rifle range to shoot black powder rifles. We had to bring our own targets to shoot, so I brought a bandana. We got a whopping total of three shots on these suckers (which I’m told is actually more than most people in the Chinese military get to train with their weapons) and I managed to put four holes in my bandana. That’s right, I’m just that good. Or my brother is that bad. I prefer to think that I’m good.
            Steven’s favorite activity of the day was going to work with the burrows that they had at Miranda. It was a good half mile or so down to the pens and he made the trip several times. I’ve got to believe that there’s a better reason than working with a bunch of smelly animals for him to walk that much in one day, especially when it’s not a necessity.
            One activity that occurred throughout the day was tomahawk throwing. With the basics that we had learned on our first day of hiking, we started to improve our throwing skills. This was the favorite activity of this particular day and culminated in a tomahawk throwing competition. I was washing the dishes when it started, so I didn’t arrive until the middle, but it was definitely worth watching. Our adult leader with the bum ankle along with three others from our troop made it to the 2nd round of elimination where the event was “left right split.” Essentially, the first person would throw and hit the target, then tell the other person whether they had to hit left or right of the first tomahawk. If the second person was successful, the first thrower would have to split the two tomahawks with the third. Should this endeavor succeed, the tomahawks were removed and the process was repeated until one of the throwers missed or failed to go left or right or split. Two strikes and you were out.
            Our leader in the competition and one of the kids from our sister troop went back and forth about 10 times. Each of them had a strike already, so it was down to the wire. There were several throws that we thought would finish the game, but every time the splitter managed to place the tomahawk perfectly. Finally, the kid opposite our leader managed to split with only about an inch to spare. It was a throw that was impossible to make…but our leader managed to do it, bouncing his tomahawk off of one of the first two and knocking it out in the process. Unfortunately the next throw would be his last. His competitor put the tomahawk into the far right side of the target and obviously called right. Our leader got as close as possible to sticking his throw, hitting the previous tomahawk and spitting sparks. There just wasn’t enough room, and he wasn’t able to stick the throw. Oh well, at least it was a good show.
            Well, it’s time to hit the sack again as we have to leave early for Baldy tomorrow since we’re supposed to off of the mountain itself by noon. I’m taking the frantic orange for pictures. It should be fun.