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Birthday Sunrise

Birthday Sunrise

Southern Rockies


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After Ticketbastard sent out an email for free tickets to the 90’s throwback show, we passed up Citizen Cope for the “free” show. Of course service fees were levied. $10 for 3 tickets. I wasn’t really too concerned with Seven Mary Three, but Sponge and Marcy Playground intrigued me, especially for $3 per ticket. Arriving at Memorial Hall was like a walk down memory lane. The conversation was peppered with Remember when’s while we sat in the car finishing our beverages. The frenetic atmosphere of the entry on a concert night was nowhere to be found tonight. A few security personnel mingled about, putting up some barriers and chatting amongst themselves. As I waited in line at will call, I took the opportunity to read the quotes posted above the doors and windows of the large foyer. A building built in memory of soldiers and sailors with quotes that, ironically, seemed to lean more towards diplomatic and peaceful means of conflict resolution. Perhaps hindsight is 20/20. Tickets in hand, we waited on the front steps under the pigeon roosts. The tickets listed 7:00 p.m., but doors were still boarded shut and it was after seven. The crowd that had gathered outside wouldn’t even fill the Record Bar, Bottleneck, or other bar-sized venues around town. Apparently, free tickets were offered via the radio as well. Doors finally opened and the small group proceeded in. I chuckled when I noticed they were actually patting people down. After yielding my weapons and stash of gum, I walked past the corner reserved for band merch and noticed a single Memorial Hall security member seated at the table with a couple of items for sale. It didn’t look as if merch sales were going to be a priority this evening. The guy could have just as easily been selling free plague inoculations. I’m sure the line would have been longer. The small crowd was pretty much divided evenly amongst the seats and the floor. The group on the floor had pushed against the barriers and barely stretched four people deep. At one point I wondered whether they would just call the show or invite everyone on to the floor. The soundboard kept us entertained with favorites from the likes of Pearl Jam, Collective Soul, Live, and Offspring. Contrary to the writing on the mirror, the 90’s were a lot further away than they appeared. The place was still pretty empty when the lights went down and the stage lit up. Band members came out and donned their axes, but it wasn’t clear yet which band was going to get the opener slot. The opening notes of Wax Ecstatic screamed from the amps and Sponge’s frontman, Vinny Dombroski took the helm. The room might as well have been filled to capacity. Dombroski’s charismatic swagger had rock star written all over it. Clad in a black leather motorcycle vest and plaid western shirt, with black jeans and Terminator-style wraparound glasses, Dombroski came out with a nice touch of motor city garage attitude. Sponge’s 45 minute set sprinkled a blessing of Motown gospel over tunes like Sixteen Candles and Have You Seen Mary. Unfortunately, the highlights were diminished by efforts to rev up the crowd with singalong lyrics like “Party til ya’ drop”. repeated over and over. Did I mention over and over? Just to make sure the horse’s corpse wasn’t twitching, they led the crowd in one more round of “party til ya’ drop” before thankfully leaving the stage. Candidate number two on “Who Wants to Relive the 90’s?”, Marcy Playground, came to the stage with a simple “good evening” and launched into Poppies, the opening track from their 1997 debut album. The cautionary tale of the poppy’s history lacked the contextual backing that the heroine overdoses of two prominent 90’s front men, Cobaine and Hoon provided, but sounded just as fresh as the original recording. John Wozniak’s vocals were clean and concise over the crunchy guitar licks. His two bandmates in the rhythm section kept things tight as well. Having dismissed Marcy Playground as a radio one hit wonder, I never saw them in the 90’s. However, I was quite disappointed in my dismissal of their music after their 45 minute set. Of course they treated the crowd to Sex and Candy, but they also included a number of other patent 90’s numbers that included a nice round of Wozniak versus drummer Shlomi Lavie trying to catch each other off key. Each time Lavie crashed down on the drums, Wozniak met his demands with a round of noisy guitar. Wozniak took time to thank everybody for coming and to comment on the rarity of memorial halls in America. Reminding us that many of them have been torn down and how lucky we are to have a venue that has hosted Elvis and Patsy Cline in her final performance. Wozniak’s comments hit home, as my brother in law next to me had seen Soundgarden open for Skid Row here, Nirvana, Devo, and Frank Zappa, just to name a few others that he witnessed on the stage of Memorial Hall. Wozniak closed the night with a nice treatment of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. I was pretty sure Marcy Playground’s set was the crescendo for the evening and sure enough Seven Mary Three’s opening songs reminded me of the gateway opened in the late 90’s for bands like Creed, Nickleback, et al. With the gate open, our party agreed that it was time to leave and return the glass slippers. On the way out, I noticed members of Sponge and Marcy Playground engaged in conversations with fans at the bar. Certainly not an option for bands at the height of their careers, but it was nice to see that they appeared to be enjoying themselves as much as the few hundred people that came out to see them. Walking down the hill, I turned to my wife and told her, “you can never go home honey.” Perhaps, you can never go home, but if hindsight is always 20/20 then maybe looking back isn’t such a bad idea once in awhile.

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8 point shed found while hiking

If there are any redeeming qualities to unemployment, one might be the option for delaying the completion of your taxes until the final moments of April 15. Unlike many of my fellow thirty-somethings, who have chosen to continue the overpopulation of our orb with the assistance of our federal government’s tax policy, I don’t have a chicken strip disposal unit to exchange for the thousand dollar IRS coupon. I’m left with the usual bag of unwanted t-shirts donated to the Goodwill and some shrinking interest on a box of windows I get mail sent to. I thought I had ol’ Sam beat this year. I hauled off two carloads of donated goods and my crafty little Tax Act website was sure to itemize each discarded doily and candelabra into a sizable heap of deductibles. But, Sam is a crafty sumbitch and his ace in the hole turned out to be a nice chunk of tax free unemployment. Ass, gas, or grass, nobody rides for free, right? Yup, tax free until April 15 hombre, now pay up. But, I’m still unemployed! Maybe you didn’t hear me the first time. Pay up!

April 14 seemed like as good a day as any to do taxes. I went ahead and punched in the numbers and wracked my brain for any further deductions. Coming up short of the IRS’s expectations, I saved my return and put off the final filing for tax day. Spring has been kind this week, providing a near perfect weekend of backpacking in the Ozarks. Only near perfect because of the inconsiderate apes who camped on top of me one evening. Thousands of acres of public land and you and your nine partners throw down camp next to me! Jesus Christ, I’d hate for you to hike a quarter mile down the trail out of sight. Where was I? Oh, tax day. After giving the legs a little recovery time from hiking, a nice eight mile stroll was on the ticket this lovely morning. Birds were chirping away, the sun hadn’t even cracked the eastern sky, and a nice breeze kept the sweat off my brow. All was well, until the sidewalk saw me coming and extended its thorny hand. Seconds later I’m sliding into homeplate with the palm of my hand acting as the brakes on this polyester clad locomotive. I didn’t even let out the usual round of four letter niceties. I just rolled back over and clutched my hand waiting for the drips of blood to begin seeping to the surface. “Do we need to turn around and go home?” my wife asked. Satisfied with the matronly attention, I scoffed at the notion of ending a nice run so early. I gathered myself and pushed on. My hand hurt so bad, until a block or two later, I didn’t notice the pain in my hip. Evidently it had provided the initial point of contact and my hand did the rest. Fortunately, the polyester running shorts kept the skin intact upon my hip.

With blood sufficiently shed, I was free to hand the reins of my checking account over to the Internal Revenue Service’s dark horsemen. Regrouped and bandaged up, I proceeded to clean my yard of the mess winter had left. Some time in the sun proved to be a nice salve for the pain of the day and although tax day had done its best to ruin my spirit, I could only smile as I sat down to dinner, that included a nicely prepared salad and italian sub crafted in my kitchen, all washed down by a Dale’s Pale Ale. I’d love to go on a rant about the ills of the federal government and the constituents that make its gross mismanagement of money possible, but will instead point out that time spent with family and friends enjoying a homemade meal beats the hell out of a tea party. With tax day in the rearview mirror, I hope everybody’s outlook is a bit brighter now. If not, get up off the sidewalk, brush yourself off, and continue your run. Get outside.

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The Call

Ice Damage on the OHT

Nature's Wrath

Since returning from hiking the Ozark Highlands Trail, it’s been a bit hectic; mostly catching up on neglected tasks and healing my broken body. The hike went rather well the first 4 days. I slowly built my daily pace from 15 miles to 30 miles over that period. Unfortunately, the fifth day on the trail found me descending several good sized climbs. “But, that’s good isn’t it?” one might ask. Yes and no. Too much downhill puts strain on knees and all muscle groups on the front of your legs and ankles. Ever hear of shin splints? Long story short, I finished day 5 in some pain, especially after a lot of downhill was followed by a lot of technical scrambling over rocks and fallen trees. That particular stretch of trail threw everything it had at me: uprooted trees, poor trail conditions, rock scrambling, more river crossings, and ice storm damage. I was finishing up the trail on day 6, planning my return leg and how I could lighten mileage for 2 days. Unfortunately as the day wore on, my legs were getting more sore and swollen. Rather than injure myself, I called an audible and decided I’d seen the entire trail and there was no sense in suffering through the whole trail again. After all, I was out there to enjoy the peace of the outdoors, not injure myself. Besides, 5 1/2 days of hiking, 165 miles, and countless beautiful vistas had sated my hunger. I did not want to make that call. Nobody does.

I read this morning that a gentleman and his young son were missing after their capsized boat was found on a local lake. I’m certain that a Saturday fishing trip had been planned and was highly anticipated by father and son, both. I had another outdoor adventure tentatively planned the same day as well. When I looked at the forecast and saw the gusty winds and a chance of rain, I decided that better weekends were waiting down the line. I wish this gentleman had done the same. This lake is notoriously rough in windy weather. One August afternoon, my wife and I rented a small fishing boat for the day. We took off down the lake and fished coves near the marina. The little 10 horsepower motor wasn’t intended for traveling far. We were wrapping up the day across the lake from the marina when a storm came in. If you’ve ever found yourself in an aluminum boat on a lake with lightning, you know how I felt. I decided that making a b-line for the marina was the best call. As we crossed the main channel of the lake a gust front from the storm had whipped the water in to a frenzy. I pointed the nose of the boat in to the face of the waves that were easily 3 to 4 feet in height. As I narrate this story, I’m picturing the movie, The Perfect Storm. The little boat would climb to the top of the wave and the nose would crash down the other side, my wife yelling out each time her backside and the aluminum seat came to rest against the lake’s surface. I repeated this maneuver several times, each time throttling the little Evinrude to the top and backing off as the craft descended the backside of the wave. This incident is etched in my memory. What probably lasted less than 10 minutes seemed like forever and could have turned in to eternity for our friends and family. It saddens me immensely to consider my dad getting that phone call so close to his birthday. Spring is leaving her card everywhere I look. The daffodils are up. The tulips will be flowering soon. Birds are serenading me each morning on my runs. Get outside, but don’t be afraid to make that call.

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As I headed for my spinning class this morning, I was greeted by the NPR hourly news telling me unemployment numbers were going to be worse than expected. The squawk box continued to pontificate on bad winter weather in the densely populated Northeast and some other nonsensical rhetoric intended to instill a false sense of hope in my already downtrodden psyche. Stop it already! When are the talking heads going to quit blowing sunshine up our assholes and tell us the truth? Never. The media outlets have become an extension of the bloated institution elected by 40% of the population who cared enough about the democratic process or donated enough money to have a stake in it. Leaders are only as good as the worker bees in the hive. Yes, good workers can make an otherwise average leader look pretty rosy, and occasionally a good leader whips his or her lackeys in to shape. However, our do-nothing group of congressman and senators continue to set new standards in the race to dismantle American pride and hope. If you’re reading this and your congressman or senator is asking you to rehire them in the fall, I urge you to look at the track record the present legislature has and ask yourself, “Do these people deserve to be rehired, or should they join the nearly 17% of us who are unemployed or under-employed?” After a savage beating on the stationary bike at the hands of our cycle dominatrix, I tied on my running shoes and capped off an hour of stationary bike hell with a brisk 3 mile run back to the house. You can take my job, you can give my money to more bankers, but you’re not going to get the pink and orange orb filtering through the trees this morning. The sun will rise, the moon will set, and I will be outside to enjoy them. Next week I will be out there every morning and evening. Yes, my knees will hurt, my feet will look like a trip through the burn unit and smell like a gym locker, but when I roll out of the sack on to the wet leaves the troubles of the world will be a mere afterthought. My only concerns will be picking ’em up and setting ’em down. As the miles tick off, I will listen to birds returning from their southern vacation. I will wade rain swollen draws. I will curse the climbs. I will hope for more sun as the sky opens upon me. I will smile and I will frown. However, Ma Nature and I will dance. At the end of the night she will drop me off without so much as a goodbye or a kiss. I will curl up on the forest floor and hope I see her again. A 21st Century Hobo needs a bindle with some space if he’s going off grid. Today will find me shoving nearly 40 pounds of food and gear in to my pack. Hope that it all fits; the food that is. As spring envelops us, I hope everyone listens to the train whistle’s call and throws a biscuit or two in the bindle and gets out there. Get outside.

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The past couple of mornings have found me running in the predawn. I have been noticing a fair number of bird chirps as the sun comes up. The days are getting longer, birds are returning, the squirrels and rabbits have been very active, and I am itching to get back on the trail. Sure, I’ve been running 30 to 40 miles per week all winter(outside), but getting back on the trail with my belongings on my back and disappearing for a week or so is what I need right now. Despite what you’ve been conditioned to think about the subject, humans need to be outside running around, soaking up sunshine, and feeding their muscles more oxygenated blood. “That sounds like a bunch of hippy crap to me,” one might say. I challenge everyone to try it. No, you don’t have to go run 30 miles. But, you need to shut off the television after dinner and take a 30 minute walk or get up before the sun rises and head out then. The predawn is a magical time to be outside before everyone stirs and the waning moon still hangs in the western sky. Everybody’s got 30 minutes in a day to burn on a walk outside. Hell, leave your office at lunch and go then. The sun’s at its highest and you’re sure to catch the most rays. Before I tire of the subject, I’ll make one more plea that everyone get some outside time every day and I challenge you to tell me that you don’t feel better after a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, I’ll be on the Ozark Highlands Trail soaking up sun and probably some rain too. The OHT stretches 165 miles across Northern Arkansas. I’ll be hiking it end to end and turning around and doing it again. This week has found me stocking up on fuel for the 330 miles of hiking and getting my packing list pared down to an acceptable weight for the conditions I’ll see. Right now it looks like I’ll have around 15 pounds of gear and 22 pounds of food. The picture above didn’t come out of a Hyvee ad. It’s my stockpile of carbohydrates and fatty legumes that will bounce me down the trail. In case you’re wondering, that figures out to about 4000 calories per day. I will burn every bit of this and still lose some weight over the 10 or 11 days it takes me to cover the distance. Get outside!

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Around the Bend

My pace has increased, my heart beats in unison with my stride, I measure my efforts by the rate of my inhalations. Careful not to overdo it, I know that a change in terrain stands between a meltdown and maintaining my pace. The road ahead looks level. The rolling hills behind me took their toll and now I need this. Water and food are irrelevant. Screams of encouragement flowing from behind the barriers are meaningless.

The newspaper was brief. It stated dates, family, and career. Nothing else. I could tell the phone call was something out of the ordinary. The tone of her voice was different. She sat down the way, out of sight. She kept to herself. The bruise and swollen stomach were the only things we had to work with. Her last day wasn’t easy for anyone. Tears and anxiety were on everyone’s sleeves. Roll ’em up and get back to it. The stone is turning. There’s work to be done.

The map shows flat terrain next to the creek. It’s been a long day. The pass with the dead horse along the trail, the mosquitoes by the creek, the lightning, the dead end. A few bites of food and I shuffle my feet forward. This looks good. She doesn’t have a good feeling about it though. The creek continues on the map. It looks flat by the creek.  The bushes crowd the creek and getting water proves difficult.  It stays flat by the creek.  I turn back on to the trail. Why don’t campsites present themselves when you need them? I settle on an isolated spot behind the monolith to the north. After dinner, we pack up and move the site across the trail towards the water. The mosquitoes are terrible. I toss and turn in the humidity.

I refuse to look at the clock. I know it’s been long enough that the next turn is the last. The muscles in my legs are tightening after each stride and the slightest imperfection in my step pushes me dangerously close to cramping. The turn is approaching. As my hips swivel I look upward from my fixed gaze at the asphalt. The last turn is at the top of the hill and my heart sinks. How did she see it? Why don’t I see it? The turn isn’t even the finish. There’s more. I struggle to the top and face down the last stretch with determination. The seemingly level grade pushes back on my legs as I run for the finish. The clock counts down toward my worst case scenario and it doesn’t even push me faster. The last hill stole everything I had. I cross the line and steal a look at my watch. One minute ahead of my worst case scenario and nearly ten minutes off my goal, my deflated body is jubilant just to be done.

Her race ended early. I didn’t see it coming. No one did. The newspaper clipping was brief. It included names, time, and age. I didn’t see her name. No one did.

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