Friday, February 27, 2009

Day Seventeen: Offloading Before The End Arrives

Saturday, April 22, 2000 - It was clear when I woke in the morning at the bottom of the large oven that is the Grand Canyon in summer time and so it was no surprise that the day would become quite hot. A slight breeze kicked up during the night that literally sucked all available moisture out of me and it continued throughout the day making drinking water a lifesaving event. During breakfast of peach pancakes and fruit, I sensed something was up due to the crew continually whispering to each other off to the side of camp. As we started packing, they told us that Bill, the father of the family of four that arrived yesterday by helicopter, had some sort of heart problem during the night and is cutting his trip short to go to the hospital. Unfortunately, cuttings ones trip short at the bottom of a remote stretch of canyon isn't easy. The crew had called someone who was going to drive forty miles in a four wheel drive truck with a low granny gear down some canyon some miles downstream, the nearest access point of any kind, pick up the family and then drive back up with family riding shotgun in the back. Not very pleasant but the only choice.

We separated their bags out and I helped take down their tent before we pushed off. After Lava falls, the waters just seem tame and even medium sized rapids just felt like ripples. The end of the trip was a burden that was only getting heavier on my mind. We stopped at mile 220 for lunch and did a quick hike up the beach to the high water mark during the 1983 flood of 92,000 cfs. A few of us then walked about a mile up the canyon to explore and kill time before walking back to the boat. It seems wrong to be leisurely taking someone having heart problems to a destination point but we would be waiting on a truck to arrive there so we might as well be waiting here where some scenery was available as there where there wasn't much to see. When we got back to the river from our hike, I was so hot, that I rashly decided to jump in the river. Bad mistake. All heart and breathing functions immediately stopped when I hit the ice cold water that had warmed up to a balmy 50 degrees at this point 220 miles below the dam upstream. I defied all laws of physics as I merely slapped the water and then defied gravity back to shore. Once there, breathing resumed but we would be a couple miles down the river before my heart rate would assume some sort of normal rhythm.

We made it to Diamond Creek around mid afternoon and got the family of four and their gear into the back of the truck. Since they were still strangers to us, there were no tears shed or sense of betrayal but instead cordial handshakes and wishes of good luck. We also took the time to offload a lot of trash and unneeded supplies and picked up some fresh food for the last two nights, our first fresh food since the beginning of the trip. We also picked up some motors for getting across the sewage lagoon called Lake Mead and loaded up one of the dories since it was unneeded now. As a result, we also had to say goodbye to Ote whose husband and owner of the dory company had driven the truck trip down the canyon. It was all I could do to keep my emotions in check as I hugged the lady who expertly oared me through Lava Falls and may or may not have painted me in the nude, goodbye. I would truly miss her.

We pushed off and went around below Diamond Creek Rapid at mile 226 to camp for the night. It was a rocky shore and we had difficulty getting everything tied up so that things wouldn't get beat up on the rocks. After getting camp set up, I had a few beers with the crew until time for a supper of barbeque chicken, broccoli and rice casserole, garlic bread and a fresh salad. After the dishes were done, we sat around the fire telling stores late into the night. Although we have two days left, tomorrow will be the last day in the dories for the clients. As I lay down among the rocks in my sleeping bag, I wished I were dreaming so that when I woke up, we would be just beginning the trip instead of winding down to the end. The crew has started dropping details of how the end will be and as I began to drift off to sleep, I decided how I would like to say goodbye to the river at the end of the trip.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Delivery Man Who Felt the Need For Speed

One of the basic ingredients to any remodeling project is wood and so one evening after work, I dropped over at one of those big box stores and walked around pricing some wood. The economy may be crap and the construction industry at a complete standstill but it certainly makes my billfold happy. I figured out what I needed and arranged to have it delivered on Saturday when I would be home to deal with it and I needed a day to get stuff ready anyway.

I woke up Saturday morning to find that three inches of that white stuff had fallen over night and soon the road plows were flying by scraping the road out front into an icy sheen. I live on a hill so I got to see quite a few people slipping and sliding as they made their way by my house. I kept plugging away with my project and finally about four hours late, the semi with my wood arrived.

Why a semi I have no idea since I only had 20 sheets of OSB and a small pile of 2x4's but that is what it came on. The semi came down the hill towards my drive and put on the brakes only to keep right on sliding down the hill. They drove off down the street and came back five minutes later heading up the hill this time and parked right in the middle of the street. The guy hopped out and apologized for being so late but said it had been a heck of a morning. The store hadn't plugged in his semi and so he had to work a long time to get it started. Then he had discovered that the brake lines had frozen and so he had thawed them out. Next he learned that the skid steer hadn't been plugged in either and so he worked to get it started and warmed up. Finally after all that, he pulled into the loading dock of the store only to have to wait because they hadn't pulled up my order.

His luck didn't change when he arrived at my place because as soon as he lowered the skid steer to the ground, the rear tire on it was completely flat. So I drug out my tiny emergency battery charger slash tire pump slash flashlight slash jump starting unit and hooked it to his tire. Of course the battery in it was dead so I had to drag out every extension cord I own to reach the road and get it working. Twenty minutes later, the tire was pumped up and I had to reel up all that extension cord as the driver hopped on the skid steer and immediately floored it. He probably sat there for two or three minutes spinning the tires as fast as they would go while making a whopping inch or two a minute headway up the hill. I was just about ready to suggest he back down the hill and get some headway because once your tires start spinning like that, you aren't going to go anywhere. But before I could he figured that out and backed down the hill and started up again.

He got up to the mailbox but couldn't fit between it and the truck so he stopped and hopped into the semi and immediately floored it which only got the tires spinning so all hope of forward progress was lost. He then put it in reverse and promptly backed into his skid steer while I frantically tried to jump high enough to get his attention through the side window. Fortunately though he hit the tire hard with the rear trailer bumper, no damage was done and the skid steer was backed down the hill out of the way. He got back into the truck and immediately jacked knifed the semi so that the trailer was going into the Lawn Nazi's lawn across the street much to my delight.

He never did get the trailer straightened out and got to the point where he was either going to run over one of the Lawn Nazi's perfectly manicured bushes or have to drive out of the lawn and up the hill. After much spinning and digging of ruts in the Lawn Nazi's lawn, tires going full speed of course, he slowly an inch at a time melted through the thin icy sheet of snow glazing the street and progressed up the hill. A full twenty minutes of slowly spinning the wheels brought him past my drive and up to the top of the hill.

Had it been me at this point, I would have just left the truck up there and brought the lumber down with the skid steer. The driver however backed down the hill and once again slid past my driveway though he did manage to avoid jack knifing the trailer into the Lawn Nazi's lawn this time. At the bottom of the hill, he floored the semi and inched his way back up the hill but this time a couple more feet into the center of the road.

While the driver hopped onto the skid steer at the bottom of the hill and floored that so that he crept up the hill an inch at a time, a hippy looking guy driving a small RV came over the top of the hill and hit the brakes. He got out and eyeballed the situation for awhile and I wondered what he was going to do. He could turn right onto a side street and drive around the block or he could try to squeeze between the semi and the curb protecting the Lawn Nazi's lawn from the street. The hippy went back to his RV and evidently decided to go for it and started down the hill. Forty feet from the semi he lost his nerve and locked up his brakes but with all the weight and the momentum he had obtained, there wasn't anyway he was going to get that thing stopped. So with front tires locked up, he continued to slide towards the semi.

I thought he would surely hit it but the crown of the road saved him and he gently slid over to the curb so that his front tires scraped along it the rest of the way down the hill and his rear tires rolled through the Lawn Nazi's lawn, much to my delight. The truck driver had finally inched his way up to the trailer and had lifted up my small pile of OSB and 2x4's from the trailer bed. What he should have done was turn around by backing up the hill so that the weight could stay over the front drive wheels but he backed down the hill and once again, floored the engine and slowly spun his way up the hill and dropped the stack off in front of my garage.

While he drove down the hill to the rear of the bed, turned around and once again floored it so that he slowly inched up to the rear of the truck so he could fasten the skid steer, I transferred the entire pile inside my garage door and closed the door. He hopped into the cab, floored it and spun his tires until they melted the snow, grabbed the pavement and propelled the truck an inch forward to the next patch of snow waiting to be melted. I walked down the hill to my neighbor's driveway where I had parked my two wheel drive vehicle out of the way while he slowly crept up the hill past my driveway. I backed out of my neighbor's driveway, feathered the engine slowly so not to spin my tires and loose traction, and easily drove up to my driveway and into it. What should have taken all of about ten minutes had taken almost two hours. I got my money's worth.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Changes: Part Two

Well the trip started off well but about fifteen miles from home, Mrs. Abbey realized that our main source of Little Abbey’s entertainment, her iPod Touch full of videos and songs that only a two and a half year old would love, was still at home. A half hour later, we were back at the same spot with the iPod now packed but running a little later than we had planned. We skipped a trip to the library to return books in favor of me doing it later and getting to the airport on our planned upon time.

One of the disadvantages to living in the very rural United States, it is a long ways to the nearest airport which is very tiny compared to most people’s standards. But I consider that last part to be a great advantage because you can literally get from your car, checked in, through security and to your gate in about roughly 15 minutes.

Something new to me, but during check-in, the lady asked if I wanted to accompany my family clear to the gate instead of just to the waiting area before security. I said that would be excellent and with proof of ID and a quick trip back to the car to drop off my pocket knife which I’m guessing wouldn’t make it through security, I was through security with my two girls and sitting by the gate for the half hour remaining before their flight. It was thirty more minutes of which I took full advantage.

But all too soon that time came and after watching my wife and daughter disappear down the walkway to the plane, an intense feeling of loneliness set upon me in the middle of an airport with perhaps 100 other people within 100 feet of me. I can’t believe how domesticated I have come after all those years of living as a bachelor. I would revisit this thought later that evening as I was cleaning the house, doing laundry and loading up the dishwasher to get some order into my temporary bachelor pad, complete with Tickle-Me-Elmo.

Although the loneliness hasn’t completely faded, it had subsided a bit as I began my first night alone by working late at work and then doing above mentioned chores. Staying occupied does make time pass faster. I just hope that time doesn’t pass too quickly a month from now when I am tossing out all the cheeseburger wrappers, cleaning the mountain of dirty plates, and washing a mountain of dirty clothes before my better half gets back.

All subsequent nights have been spent working on the garage project. God bless busy remodeling projects!

****

A couple weeks ago, a coworker asked me who my financial guy was and I gave him the contact information. Last week, in perfect timing for my remodeling project, I recieved a $25 gift certificate in the mail to the same store that I received a $100 gift certificate mentioned two posts ago, as a token of appreciation. Had I known that, I would have been trying a lot harder to send more people to my financial guy's door.

****

Mrs. Abbey and Little Abbey made it safely to her childhood home in the Philippines after 36 hours of traveling and four hours of sleep. Little Abbey is kept busy playing with her two first cousins, one a year older and one a couple years younger. It was good to hear their voices again.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Day Sixteen: BETRAYAL... again

Friday, April 21, 2000 - The sky was completely socked in when I woke in the morning but had cleared off by the time we shoved off. We had breakfast burritos and fruit in the morning and got the nine people who were leaving today sent off ahead in two dories while the rest of us struck camp. The remaining seven of us, only three of us who had gone the entire distance, got camp packed up and pushed off an hour later. We floated down to Whitmore Wash in time to see the last helicopter arrive and take the last three remaining people away and drop off a second family consisting of a single mother and her young daughter. The other family already waiting was a mother, a father and two kids.

Once again my emotions were similar to those I experienced at Phantom Ranch. Those that had been on the trip since the beginning and had left, had betrayed us in a way. They were deserters complete with guilty eyes. The six people joining us were infiltrators trying get to know those of us who had been experiencing the trip for over two weeks now through some of the biggest rapids in the world that are considered runnable by boat. Because three of the new people were children under the age of twelve, the entire dynamics of the trip would instantly change. Instead of grown adults with kids already off on their own or still single adults, we now had children around. It was like when some guy who had brought his wife to a guy's night out party at a bar. It just wasn't the same anymore. All this sat as a bitter pill in my stomach and only reminded me that my trip of a lift time was going to end soon.

When the new people had been briefed on boating procedures, we shoved off and floated down to mile 195.5 for lunch. We had sandwiches and assorted munchies mostly eaten in silence. Soon after we pushed off, the wind picked up and began howling upstream at us. Elaina, my oarsperson for the day fought it all the way to mile 205 where we had a pretty decent rapid to relieve the tedium. At mile 206, we gave up and pulled in for the night.

I found a rock ledge to pitch my gear for the night further away from the rest of the people than normal. The wind was still whipping sand everywhere, getting into everything, which seemed to fit the mood of camp. I retreated to the raft to escape the blowing sand and where I drank a few of the beers that had been donated to me with a couple of the boatmen. Almost all the people who had left earlier in the day had donated their leftover alcohol to me since they couldn't take it with them. In all, I was fairly beer rich with well more than I could ever drink with several cases of various beers and even a couple bottles of wine. This was the only positive to those that had betrayed us with their early departure. But even that had its downside because the two Germans had been some of those that had left and Jurgen hadn't left behind any of that excellent brandy of his, damn him. When I sensed that the boatmen had their own emotions to deal with and needed some time off, I slinked up the canyon behind camped to be alone until supper.

For supper we had chili, cornbread and a carrot salad. Afterwards, the skies cleared again as the wind died down and we built a small fire on the beach. As the people disappeared and the stars came out, their beauty seemed to bring back the mood of the three crewmembers still awake and myself. We talked about music, favorite songs, favorite album covers and favorite lyrics until late in the night. Tomorrow would be a new day with the crew, the old timers as the three of us who had gone the entire distance referred to ourselves, the older new guys and the newer new guys.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Changes

Noticeably different in my life as you read this, I will be two thirds of the way to the airport to drop off my wife and daughter for a one month visit to the Philippines before Mrs. Abbey begins residency for the third time in her life. I'm not worried about them getting along over there but I am worried about the getting over there part. My wife is strong and will get the job done but I know I would be worried if I knew that I was going to be cooped up in a tin tube for nearly 24 hours with a two and a half year old that I need to keep entertained. My normal routine for long distance flying is taking lots of sedative type drugs so I sleep the time away. This option isn't available with a kid.

We made the decision for me to stay home last fall when we bought the plane tickets at perhaps the apex of their price. The same ticket is now $700 cheaper. We didn't want to spend the money for a third ticket (you know the whole economy thing) and I just didn't have the time off. Because this is my third job in a dozen years, I have restarted at the bottom of the scale three times. If I still have a job at the end of this year, I will have three weeks vacation for the first time in my adult life but for now I only have two. Because I hope Mrs. Abbey will be starting residency later this summer, I am going to have to be Mr. Mom which means when Little Abbey gets sick or the daycare lady needs a vacation, I have to spend days of vacation at home. So that left perhaps only a week to use on a trip to the Philippines and with essentially four of those days spent traveling there and back, it just didn't seem worth it. Plus, I think it will allow for a less stressed out mother-in-law when she doesn't have to entertain me or speak English.

This will be the first time in over five years that I have been alone. Thankfully I have tales of R. Sherman doing similar stints alone at home while the wife and kids are overseas so I know if is survivable. I know it will be easier to live alone for a month than keeping a kid entertained on a plane for 24 hours but I'm not looking forward to it. I will have to actually do the laundry instead of just help fold it and I'm going to have to cook all my meals instead of just the evening meals during the weekdays. Perhaps the biggest concerns will be going from having a noisy house full of the voice of a chattering two and a half year old to nothing at all.

I have thought this out and think the best solution is to stay busy and to do projects that would be hard to do while entertaining a chatty two and a half year old. Have I mentioned that my daughter likes to talk? So this narrowed things down to a home remodeling project and I only had three currently on my list. Two of them were to remodel the two bathrooms but getting close and personal with a toilet or shower just didn't seem like what I had in mind. So I am going with option three, remodeling the last part of the house that I can still call as my territory, the garage.

It serves its purpose of keeping two cars out of the snows of winter and rains of summer as well as housing other essentials of daily life such as bicycles, boats, strollers, tools, etc. It even had a small work bench that I made once upon a time when I lived in an apartment. But it is dark, dingy and getting kind of cluttered. So I am taking a $100 gift certificate that I got for Christmas and putting that into sprucing things up a bit and perhaps getting things better organized. My hope is that I will actually have some space to do some more projects without having to work around my wife's potting area, juggle power tools from storage to workspace and back again just to keep some space free. I'm sure I will have several posts with pictures as I progress with the project for the next month.

Monday, February 16, 2009

This 'n That

A couple of weekends ago, I went down to the farm and spent the afternoon welding up a 30-foot tower for a project that my father has planned. He has a new-to-me wire welder so the job was a lot more pleasant than in the past. My mother is always telling me that one of the perks of being a grandmother is that you can see your grandchild and spoil her rotten but at the end of the day, she goes home with me. Well one of the perks of being an engineer with farmers for parents, I can go down to the farm and be one for a day but at the end of the day, I can go home to my day job. It's a good thing too because I think I found a few muscles in my legs that I hadn't been using too often at my day job.

***

We Americans are so spoiled. Last week in an article on CNN, a man has been complaining about being out of a job for two years. That in itself is nothing new but he has been working two part-time jobs and still has burned through much of his retirement savings though it is just he and his wife at home. My spidey senses start tingling there because someone should be able to live off two part-time incomes or at least enough that you don't have to burn through your ENTIRE life savings in two short years especially when the wife has a full time job in the county government. The kicker came when he said "It's tough going from earning $2000 A WEEK…." What in the heck?! You would think someone pulling in over $100,000 a year might be able to save enough money to cover himself in the eventuality that he might be unemployed or unable to work in the future. Although it doesn't say, I would bet anyone who cares that he has a huge house, two or more new cars and perhaps several other toys that he is making payments on. Nobody saves for a rainy day anymore and when someone like that goes crying boohoo to the media, it is hard for me to shed a tear.

***

My place of employment is sorting through a room that is probably best described as a catch all for things related to the plant floor. For several days, I have been dumpster diving and feel like a kid at Christmas salvaging all this perfectly good stuff that is going to end up in a landfill somewhere. My best find so far is a set of shelves with a dozen rows of pull out metal bins for storing all kinds of odds and ends in the garage. You can never have too much storage out in the garage and these days all you can buy are tiny plastic versions of my seven-foot tall version. Now I have a project for when Mrs. Abbey and Little Abbey head off to the Philippines for a month in just two short days.

***

February started out warm for us with highs in the fifties. We got a couple more days of cold and then we nearly broke 70 degrees and a record right before Valentine's Day when I wrote this post. I don't say this often but I'm beginning to really like February.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Day Fifteen: Alive Below Lava!

Ote Below Lava

Sitting in the front of the dory boat along with Jurgen the elder German, we silently drifted downstream towards the lip of Lava Falls. Beyond the lip all that I could see was leaping white froth that seemed to be waving us towards our doom like sailors to a siren. My hands were locked onto the gunnel railing and for a second, I looked at them fascinated by the how white and insignificant they looked. The boat started picking up speed as we edged over the lip and slip down the tongue towards the first wave that wickedly towered above us. The boat climbed half way up the wave before the weight of the German and myself combined drove it into the interior of the wave.

The icy cold water took my breath away and the loud roar was abruptly dampened as I hung on and waited for the boat to punch out the backside of the wave. The water continued tossing me around like I was inside a washing machine but I continued to hang on for what seemed like an eternity. I was just about to let go and swim for freedom, certain that we had flipped over when we suddenly emerged into daylight. I gasped for breath as the boat with another half ton of water added to its weight, groaned and slid down the backside of the wave into a water trough so deep that the gates of Hades had to be nearby. With all the additional weight, the boat didn't even pretend to go over the second and much bigger wave and just dove into the immense face. Again I hung on and contemplated life inside a washing but once again we punched out into daylight and slid down into the trough heading for yet a third wave. Once more into the wash cycle and once more we lurched into daylight.

The wave train ahead started getting smaller and the boat full of water, passengers and gear was now able to lurch over them like a drunk on a roadside curb. We were through! I wasn't going to die after all! I had survived the mother of all rapids! Wait. Through my euphoria-laced brain, I heard this scream piercing my mind that sounded almost primeval and not of this world. I looked around searching for the source when I realized that it was coming from the German. No wait, it was also coming from the couple in back. Wait, I was yelling too! Then it hit me, we were all yelling in euphoria at having cheated death. We were alive!

Yet another primeval scream of "Bail!" pierced my other scream already in progress and once again I started searching for a source to this new sound and saw Ote straining at the oars trying to eddy us out as the boat lurched full of water over waves still six feet tall. It still took a few seconds for my brain to process that it wasn't over yet and that we still could tip over if we didn't get some more freeboard by lightening the load and once id did register, I grabbed the bailer and started bailing the water like a man on a sinking ship who didn't know how to swim. The other passengers quickly caught on, helped with the bailing and soon our boat was riding much higher and we were pulling into shore.

Boat Running Lava

Ote told us to get out while she oared back ready to help if any of the three other dories or two rafts behind us flipped over. I grabbed my camera and scrambled upstream stumbling over the sharp lava rocks that cut my legs like razors in an attempt to get some pictures of the remaining boats coming through the rapids. After all the boats had safely made it through Lava and were pulling towards shore, I walked back downstream to the beach where everyone was gathering. The euphoric high was starting to wear off and I finally noticed blood dripping down from a half dozen wounds on my legs. I still had enough of that high not to care so I took an offered beer, popped the top and held it up as we toasted our survival in the dory boat tradition. We were ABL, Alive Below Lava.

When the celebrations died down, we floated on down the river to mile 185-1/2 where we made camp for the night on a huge sand bar. After the initial flurry of setting up camp or tossing my gear in a pile, as was my case, we all kept talking about Lava and the nine people who would be leaving us tomorrow. Because of my journal writing, I was designated group address note taker, so I walked around getting everyone's personal information so that I could send it out after everyone went back to their regular lives.

The crew mixed up some cocktails and an avocado dip to munch on while we waited for the preparation of a beef and chicken enchilada dinner complete with rice and a cake to celebrate Jorge's birthday. After supper, the traditional Lava Follies, or skit show put on by crew and clients alike, began around a roaring fire. There were poems, songs, jokes and stories told by all. Ote read a speech given by Chief Seattle that was absolutely beautiful and since everyone was curious about what I wrote in my journals, I read today's excerpt about Lava. The crew then handed out awards (chucks of lava rock), commemorating the identifiable trait of each client. I received the Harvey Butchart award for hiking every mile of every hike and then some.

After the follies, I stayed up late into the night with some of the crew swapping jokes and reveling in the day. Clouds started moving in but we were all full of sunny cheer at having cheated the river one more time and more importantly, surviving to tell about it.

Customary Beer Below Lava Falls

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Day Fifteen: Lava Falls

Devil's Anvil

Thursday, April 20, 2000 - Today was a beautiful day with lots of sun, by far the hottest day of the trip so far. I wondered what it was like on the outside of the canyon walls in that "other world" I once knew. Despite the long hike to Mooney Falls yesterday, I woke up early even by my standards and couldn't fall back asleep. I "inch wormed" my way over to a nearby rock in my sleeping bag and watched the sky transform itself into all shades of red, pink and yellow. I would have taken a picture if I could have reached my camera from the comfort of my sleeping bag but I couldn't and so I didn't. Eventually the cooks awoke and began rustling down in the kitchen area so I packed up my gear and moseyed on down to talk with them as a breakfast of cherry French toast with strawberry yogurt was prepared.

Perhaps it was the campsite, the air, or the knowledge of what was in store for the day but everyone seemed to get an early start today, even the wandering couple we picked up at Phantom Ranch and we were on the water in record time. For twenty-one miles, we mostly floated on the calm water with the occasional small riffle broken only by a lunch stop at National Canyon. We ate some pasta salad and other munchies and also did a short hike. Too quickly we passed the Devil's Anvil, a chunk of black lava rock notorious for what it represents and heard an almost white noise in the distance that too quickly turned into a pulsing roar. We eddied out on river left and hiked downstream to finally behold the monstrosity blocking our downstream progress.

Every single one of my internal organs ran down into the vicinity of my small toe, including my stomach which was the size and consistency of a peach pit. Twenty-foot waves churned, crashed, sucked, boiled and ground past me from one drop to another as I stood on shore watching. The roar was deafening. This was the biggest rapid on the Colorado River. This was the famous Lava Falls, site of this video where a raft twice the size of my boat is tossed around like a child's toy.

My oars person for the day was Ote, the very petite wife of the company owner in her 60's, and the muscle of the sixteen-foot fragile wooden dory that myself and three others were about to cast off into Lava's fury. She was probably one hundred pounds fully dressed and dripping wet and try as I might, I couldn't imagine her maneuvering a half-ton of boat, passengers and gear through that maelstrom of water. There just wasn't any way. So here I was looking at the white froth they were calling a rapid, thinking it looked more like a killer, and silently contemplating how quick death would come to me and whether it would come by drowning or being smashed into the rocks. The only thing that I was certain about was that my death was imminent.

When I couldn't stand it anymore and decided to walk back to where the boats were tied up river where I wouldn't have to contemplate my death. On the way I met trip leader Bronco heading back the way I had come and he asked if I was ready to go down. I put on a big smile and lied, "I can't wait!" Bronco replied, "Great, because your boat is going down first." I think my stomach squirted out from my toenail at that point.

Lava Falls

Monday, February 9, 2009

Lost On Planet China

Somewhere along the line, the name J. Maarten Troost was brought to my attention and several of his books ended up on my wish list for friends and family who wish to buy me a gift. So it wasn't a surprise that his book, "Lost On Planet China: The Strange and True Story of One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation, or How He Became Comfortable Eating Live Squid" ended up in my to-be-read pile.

If I had to describe J. Maarten Troost's style of writing, I would say it is a cross between Bill Bryson and Tim Cahill, two of my favorite authors so it is no surprise that Troost is now on that list. More than once I suffered bruised ribs from being punched for my loud laughing that woke up a sleeping Mrs. Abbey. More than once, I found myself giggling like a school girl as I read through the pages, something a grown man now halfway through his average lifespan shouldn't sound like. Thus I can't wait to dig into his other books, "Getting Stoned With Savages" or "The Sex Lives of Cannibals" which also grace my to-be-read pile.

China is one of those countries which interest me but not to the extent that I desire to actually go there. I picture it as this huge over crowded and poluted country where English is nowhere to be found and foreigners are treated as aliens from another planet. According to Troost's account of his months spent traveling throughout the country, I was right on every account.

The seed to visit Troost was planted while he was living on Onotoa, a tiny atoll in the Gilbert group of the South Pacific when Chinese business men began appearing. The only other group to rival them seemed to be Mormon missionaries and so Troost's curiosity was picked. He eventually settled in San Francisco and after selling his over priced house before the housing bubble burst, he began to think of possible places to live outside the U.S. China was all over the radar and in the news so he set off to explore the giant country.

Because the book was published in 2008 and his travels not much earlier, this book is fresh and extremely interesting not to mention hillarious. From Troost's account of accidentally ordering live squid to accidentally soliticiting the services of a prostitute to stumbling into a hidden gay bar, this book is sure to leave you laughing. In between accounts of getting into trouble, Troost weaves a picture of China's past, present and future.

I am now solidly a Troost fan and give this book five out of five stars. If you are still not sure if Troost is for you, I leave you with one of his five rules you should know if you are thinking of visiting China.

Food can be classified as meat, poultry, grain, fish, fruit, vegetable and Chinese. Embrace the Chinese. If you love it, it will love you back. True, you may find yourself perplexed by what resides on your plate. You may even be appalled. The Chinese have an expression: We eat everything with four legs except the table, and anything with two legs except the person. They mean it too. And so you may find yourself in a restaurant in Guangzhou contemplating the spicy cow veins; or the yak dumplings in Lhasa, or the grilled frog in Shanghai, or the donkey hotpot in the Hexi Corridor, or the live squid on the island of Putuoshan. And you may not know, exactly, what it is you’re supposed to do. Should you pluck at this with your chopsticks? The meal may seem so very strange. True, you may be comfortable eating a cow, or a pig, or a chicken, yet when confronted with a yak or a swan or a cat, you do not reflexively think of sauces and marinades. The Chinese do however. And so you should eat whatever skips across your table. It is here where you can experience the complexity of China. And you will be rewarded. Very often, it is exceptionally good. And when it is not, it is undoubtedly interesting. And really, when traveling what more can one ask for. So go on. Eat as the locals do. However, should you find yourself confronted with a heaping platter of Cattle Penis with Garlic, you’re on your own.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Day Fourteen: Mooney Falls


Wednesday, April 19, 2000 - I had wanted to wake up during the peak of the full moon but unfortunately slept through it. Apparently a full moon makes a lot of light but not much noise. I was feeling a little slow so when I did open my eyes to light of the star persuasion, I leisurely packed up my gear and headed down to the beach for the loading of the boats and thus giving my status as one of the first ones ready to others this morning. After a breakfast of toasted bagels, eggs, and potatoes, we loaded up and pushed off.

We paddled about five miles to Havasu Canyon where we were dropped off for the day. The stream was a brilliant crystal blue and held many fine swimming holes and waterfalls. The whole valley was lush with grapevines and none of the crew that I asked knew why that was other than they were in all the old pictures they had seen from the 1800's. Though there were usually three or four options with every hike, today there were only two options. Option A was to hike to Mooney Falls with Lee setting the pace so that we would make it back with adequate time to continue on our journey. Option B was to spend the day in the lush grapevines swimming in among the pools and waterfalls. I was sorely tempted to try the more relaxed option for once on this trip but the urge to explore was too strong and I opted for Option A. I was beginning to get a reputation of going the distance on every hike and deep down inside, I had to keep it intact.

Lee set off at a blistering half trot with Nick, Art, Anita, Jorge and I right behind. Anita quickly dropped off the pace and went back to enjoy Option B, but the rest of us kept up crossing six miles of some of the most rugged terrain in about two and a half hours. My bad knee was swollen when we arrived and my screaming body wasn't too much into eating but I forced myself to eat and drink quickly in the spectacular beauty of Mooney Falls. Fifteen minutes after we arrived and just as I had snapped a couple pictures of the falls following the inhalation of my sandwich, Lee said it was time to be heading back. I dry swallowed a couple Advil as I trotted towards where he had already disappeared down the trail. The pace back was just as blistering.

I made it to the boats somehow with fifteen minutes to spare, very much thanks to Lee's pace setting abilities and we pushed off downstream. Sitting on hard fiberglass benches never felt so good. We paddled only a few miles before stopping at a cozy camp called Second Chance camp at mile 158. Everyone that went to Mooney falls were tired out and there really wasn’t anyplace accessible behind camp so we stayed in camp and ate salmon spread and crackers until a supper of a shrimp and vegetable stir-fry over rice.

After supper, I limped out on Duffy’s dory and had a beer with him and Nick and shot the breeze for awhile. During dinner, Jorge had given me one of his dark German brews as well so I had plenty of libations. After a hard day’s hike, they went down just right along with another couple of Advil. Later after everyone went to bed, the few of us remaining talked about upcoming Lava Falls and the flips people have had there. It has been a trip free of any flips this far and because that isn’t the norm, I think Lava Falls, the last really huge rapid on the river, weighs heavily on the crew’s mind. I know it weighs heavily on my mind. When I went to bed, sleep was long in coming and even then, huge and heavy waves haunted my dreams. Tomorrow at Lava, we all will face our demons.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

747

Bill dumped the feed along the sides of the freshly scraped pen and looked around. 747 wasn't there to greet him as usual and though he could usually pick her out in a crowd, he began to look at the ear tags for her number, seven-four-seven.

All of the hogs had individual numbers though some were known by names. All of the boars were written down on cards by their names even though they had numbers. It was just easier that way because everyone involved knew who George or Bill were but nobody knew who 1047 was. The boars were only a handful but the sows were well over a hundred and thus they were mostly just numbers, that is with the exception of 747.

Yes her name was her number but she didn't mind. She was one of the smartest and friendliest pigs that Bill had ever seen. She could unlock any gate on the farm until he had taken to putting padlocks on them. Even they didn't stop her and she took to jumping the fences from time to time to get where she wanted to go. As Bill searched the pen where she had been the night before, he began to suspect that she had jumped again. He climbed over the fence into the next pen and began to scrape it clean.

When he was done, there was still no sign of 747 so he reached back over the fence and grabbed the buckets of feed that he spread down the sides of the pen. The sows lined up and hungrily ate. Bill started to turn towards the fence with the next pen when he heard a dragging sound from inside the barn. He stooped under the low opening and saw 747.

Almost immediately upon her arrival, 747 had been different. The other guilts had been more interested in checking out their new home but 747 had sidled up to Bill and put her head under his hand. At first he had absent-mindedly scratched her head like he would a dog until he realized what he was doing. Then he paid more attention and scratched her with more enthusiasm, this time behind the ears. She looked up at him with those big blue eyes that just shouted her enthusiasm for being scratched. Thus had begun a routine that lasted over the years of the scratching behind the ears every morning at feeding time.

In the far back corner of the pen, 747 was sitting down with her legs splayed out to one side in an awkward looking position. When Bill approached, she tried to get up but couldn't. Bill grabbed a hold of her and hoisted 747 back onto her feet but she immediately fell back down. She tried dragging herself forward a few feet but wasn't able to make much progress. Sighing, Bill opened the rear door of the pen and shooed her into the barn proper. There in a small pen off by itself, he helped 747 drag herself into it where he hoped she would recuperate with time. Occasionally hogs would go lame for a variety of reasons and getting them off by themselves away from crush of the others who liked to push and lay upon one another helped them to heal up faster. Bill gave her some food and water, knelt down and gave her the morning scratch behind the ears and made his way back to the rest of the pens and the morning chores.

Not only had 747 been a friendly guilt, but she had been a great mother. She always had nice healthy litters and was one of the best mothers for carrying for her offspring. She always checked repeatedly with plenty of warning grunts before lying down to avoid smothering her piglets as some mothers were prone to do. Her litters were always healthy pigs and easy to work. 747's friendliness carried over and her piglets were almost as trusting as her. Long after many of her peers had been weeded out and sold, she continued to stay on.

A week later, Bill knew what had to be done. He got the rifle from the top shelf of the closet and grabbed a handful of cartridges from a shelf down in the basement. He loaded the rifle and slowly made he way out to the pens. Out in the lot, he leaned the gun up against a fence post and walked through the pens into the barn. He opened up the gate of the sick stall and greeted 747. It has been a week of rest and all the food she could eat but her plump body had already withered down to where bones were now starting to protrude. Her rear legs, still dragging along the floor were now covered with sores and infection beginning to set in. The truth was now apparent. She had broken her back jumping the fence and no amount of time was going to heal her. Bill scratched behind her hears and tried to avoid looking into those blue eyes as much as possible.

As gently as he could, Bill hoisted her broken hindquarters onto a piece of burlap and with 747 pulling with her front legs and Bill pulling the free end of the burlap, they managed to scoot through the pen in front where the pigs were busy eating their feed and out the front gate into the empty lot out front. 747 sat there in the splayed out withered stance and looked so peaceful in the glow of the morning light. Bill scratched her ears and laid out a pan of table scraps. She bent down and pecked at them but only with half a heart. Bill picked up the rifle and watched her for a few minutes and then saying a quick prayer, aimed it carefully and pulled the trigger. She fell instantly.

Bill walked to the machine shed and drove the tractor with the front loader out to the dirt lot and carefully loaded 747 into the scoop. He drove around the barn to the backside of the hill and carefully dug a hole and buried 747. Most culled sows ended up at the local meat locker and were ground into pork. Bill had hoped that 747 would mend and thus his optimism had kept her in a pen until she had withered enough that she wasn't fit for taking to a locker. He now wished that he had taken her in just so that he hadn't been the one to have to end her life. However, he hadn't and he had done what had to be done so that she didn't have to suffer anymore.

As Bill drove the tractor back to the shed, he thought about 747 and figured that he would never see another sow like her. He was right. He never did.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Kissing $8100 Goodbye

I knew that should Obama get into office, my wallet would suffer greatly. I still believe that he will make my wallet suffer less than under former President Bush who multiplied the size of our government in eight short years to unbelievable proportions but when I started reading about some of the items included in versions of the stimulus bill now being considered by Congress, it made me sick to my stomach. Many components of the bill have absolutely nothing to do with stimulating our economy and have everything to do with increasing the size of our government and thus the expense to me. Here are some of the things that I have found and my thoughts on them along with how much of it is my share assuming a population of 333,333,333 million and my household of three individuals.

Amtrak is slated to get around $1 billion ($9 my share) of the stimulus package. Now here is a government subsidized business that hasn’t turned a profit in over 40 years and yet we still insist on funding it year after year. This $1 billion is on top of what we already subsidize it on a year to year basis. How many of you would continue to throw money after bad money for 40 years?

There is $2 billion ($18 my share) being proposed to throw at child-care subsidies. I really have to stretch my imagination to understand how this will create jobs or stimulate the economy but not as much as comprehending the $50 million ($0.50 my share) for the National Endowment of the Arts. I love the Arts and would gladly cough up the two quarters for my share but I can’t see that creating a lot of jobs anytime soon nor do I think it is the government’s responsibility to force every taxpayer to support it.

About $30 billion ($270 my share) is going for highway infrastructure projects which would probably create jobs and it sorely needed in my neck of the woods where the bridges are literally falling down but this is still less than 5% of the total bill.
Although my house could probably use some updating, I’ll have to wait awhile but the federal buildings will get $7 billion ($63 my share) for updates and that doesn’t include $150 million for the Smithsonian Institute.

A whopping $252 billion ($2268 my share) will go for income-transfer payments, something that occurs solely on paper and will definitely not create one single job or stimulate the economy one red cent.

Speaking of which, I would guess that the biggest sector or the American public that would actually stimulate the economy would be the middle to upper class, those with capital to spend. So why exactly are the poorest among us getting so much to “stimulate” the economy? I’m talking about $81 billion ($729 my share) for Medicaid, $36 billion ($234 my share) for expanded unemployment benefits, $20 billion ($180 my share) for food stamps and $83 billion ($747 my share) for earned income credit for those who don’t even pay income taxes.

Last but not least, don’t forget the $66 billion ($594 my share) for the Department of Education which was just recently doubled over the last eight years by the previous occupant of that White House up on the hill. In total, I’m going to be on the hook for $8100 of this total bill. Perhaps if this would truly solve the ills of our economy, something I highly doubt, I could believe that it is all worth it for a one time bailout. However, this stimulus bill will inevitably be permanently tacked onto our annual budget and I will be on the hook for $8100 next year and every year in the foreseeable future. When is the last president that actually decreased the size and budget of the government?