Bwa Nef Falls

This picture of Flow standing awestruck at the foot of Bwa Nef Falls is one of my favorite photos from our recent trip to Dominica.


It is a stunning waterfall, set way back in a canyon with rocks tumbled over the top turning it into more of a cave.


Dominica Bound

6 months ago I had never heard of the Caribbean island nation of Dominica, Wednesday–if all goes as planned–I’ll be touching down at Dominica’s main airport.

Sometime around Thanksgiving my partner suggested that we go to Costa Rica in the Spring. I checked into it and found that my (somewhat) recent marijuana conviction prevents me from going there until 2021. That seemed like a lot of time to wait to go on vacation, so we looked around for an alternative. My partner’s friend suggested Dominica as that alternative.

Dominica? Where the hell is that? Well, as I discovered it is a small (15×30 mile) island state in the Southern Caribbean. Depending how you measure, it is either the northernmost of the Windward Islands or the southernmost of the Leeward Islands. It’s Western side is in the Caribbean while its Eastern shore is in the Atlantic. It lacks the white sand beaches of some of the other islands in its neighborhood, as such it has been left relatively untouched and is still mostly covered in rainforest.

You can rent a house in Dominica cheaper than you can get a Motel 6 in the US. So we (My GF Flow and my brother Mike) are going to spend 2 weeks. We have a place on the West side for a week and a place on the East for another week.

A few of the activities that I am looking forward to are: hiking, bird watching, photography, native crafts, whale watching, snorkeling, canyoning, tubing, and checking out the waterfalls, native cuisine, hotsprings,  and just generally immersing myself in a foreign culture for two weeks. Due to cruise ships, 99% of the visitors to the island stay for only half a day, so we will definitely be the exception to the typical Dominican tourists.

Both places we are staying (allegedly) have internet so I should be able to blog the trip and then per my usual MO pull it together into one narrative post after I am back and settled.

Camping Anecdote

So I am still camping in Southern California. The Mojave became too hot so I migrated to the Sequoia National Forest East of Bakersfield. I am on the rim of the Kern River canyon, maybe 1200 feet above the river itself. I think these are the Piute Mountains. At some point I when I am near a keyboard I will summarize the trip. As of now I am tapping this out on my tablet, so a short anecdote will have to suffice. Probably won’t be back in civilization to actually post it for 4 or 5 more days.
I took a 4 wheel drive trail off of highway 178 and slowly navigated about 5 miles up to the canyon rim, bumping and scraping my way along. I found a pretty little knoll with gnarly live oaks, wild flowers galore, buckeyes, and not too many cows, and with lots of squirrels for Smoke to chase (my fear being that that dog will chase one off a cliff.)
After setting up camp and making coffee, I kicked back to relax and enjoy the bird songs and the view. Not too long later I hear a motorcycle putting up the hill. As he nears camp I wave and he puts into camp. As he pulls his helmet off, he says, “Dude, you totally ruined my whole day.”
Somewhat takin aback I inquire what I could have done to ruin his day?
And he replies, “I bought this trail bike for Christmas, today is my first real ride. I loaded it on my truck this morning and drove as far as I could up this hill, then I unloaded the bike and continued up the hill. I’m riding along thinking this is really getting away from it all, I’m riding where very few people get to go. Then I come around a bend and what do I see? A f*#king Toyota Yarris. The only way you could have made it worse was if you asked where the nearest Starbucks is.”
I pointed out that I already had coffee or I might have. I offered him a cup, which he accepted, and we talked for maybe half an hour. Then he said he had to get up the hill a ways so that he could at least tell his friends that his new trail bike made it further up the hill than a Toyota Yarris did.
I didn’t see him come back down the mountain so he must have found another way down, or he’s still up there.

Just to add before posting: got 2 or 3 inches of rain Tuesday and Wednesday, it came with 35 mph winds with 75 mph gusts. Holy cow, I think hurricanes sustain 72 mph and above. It was some crazy wind, but the tent withstood it.

Visit to Big Bend National Park

This trip took place in November 2009, I memorialised it in a series of blog posts at the time.  This is an attempt to bring it all together and make it cohesive.  I hope to do the same to my 2010 Everglades trip soon.

I had recently returned from canoeing the Missouri River and re-assimilating into daily life was hard.  As October wound down I decided that trying to mesh into my old life was futile and that I was better off hitting the road.  Since Autumn was ending and Winter was about to begin, my options for camping travel were limited.  Brief pondering led me to decide on Big Bend National Park in West Texas, just over 1600 miles away to the Southwest.  After only a couple of days to plan and stock up on supplies I was nearly ready to hit the highway, but first I spent some time trolling Craigslist for riders heading that way.
Going near the Mexican border is always a gamble as it has become a militarized police state. With check points and areas of the country “closed”, armed paramilitary patrols and the works.  It has been almost 15 years since I have been down there.  It was bad then and that was before all the hoopla of 9/11 and the following of tightened border security, minute men, etc… I think it will be good to see what we are up against…since we let it happen there, how can it be stopped here?  My hope was to not end up in a third world jail cell in Texas or Arizona.  How does the Hell’s Half Acre song go… “If you’ve got long hair and hippy beads don’t get off the interstate.”
I know the local areas down there thrive on making examples of folks like me…let’s hope we come through unscathed.

A New Mexico Mountain Pass        From 2009 Big Bend NP

My flaky riders caused me to leave 2 hours late, but finally got rolling with 3 riders (found via Craigslist). Out I-580 then South on I-5 to CA58 East then East on I-40. Out of California into Arizona. I dropped 2 riders in Flagstaff (I hope they did not freeze on the mountain where I dropped them off). Then further East on I-40 into New Mexico and South to Ramah where I dropped off my other rider at a wolf sanctuary. Smokey, never having met a wolf before, got them all stirred up. The sound of 20 excited wolves is something to hear…unbelievably beautiful. Then secondary roads across New Mexico to Alamogordo where we got a motel and had a chill evening.
Got up early in the morning and did a quick visit to White Sands National Monument which was really nice although not as grand as I had expected.  The entire visit only took about 4 hours.

They plow the sand like snow.     From 2009 Big Bend NP

Then East out of Alamogordo into the mountains where we took time to play in the snow (photo above, some of us played harder than others). Two hours later we were in Artesia and it was 85 degrees and getting hotter.
We headed down to Carlsbad Caverns but it was too hot to leave the dogs in the car so we skipped it.
When we got to the Texas border we found the road closed due to an accident, the police said it would be hours and offered up a 120 mile detour We decided to wait it out, but after an hour and a half the police said the equipment to clear the road was still at least 2 hours away…so we set off on the 120 mile detour which brought us to Pecos Texas. Since we were worn out from playing and driving all day we got another hotel.  Motel 6‘s policy on allowing dogs really makes traveling with the four footed companions convenient.  Of course they only allow one dog, but it isn’t hard to get the second dog in.
Hit the road early the next morning and headed South toward Mexico.  Coming in to Big Bend you are struck by the vastness of it all.  A vast and stark landscape, reminiscent of some of the best scenery in Death Valley.  My intent was to stay a week and explore everything possible with two dogs in tow.

Big land, big sky         From 2009 Big Bend NP

We first stopped at Panther Junction, the central visitor center and hub of the park, where we got a permit to camp at Rattlesnake Mountain, a back country campsite.  Then we went West to Rattlesnake  Mountain and set up camp.  As it got dark the sky lit up with the Milky Way like I have never seen it (although I seem to recall that the sky was like this as a child).  The first night we caught about 6 shooting stars, peek viewing of the Taurids were in the early morning after moon rise, so we were happy with seeing any.  I could clearly see the space station as it made its periodic passage over head.  There were more stars than I have ever seen, even with no moon the desert was lit below us.  I spread a blanket on the ground and just stared (gaped) up at the sky.  We went to bed at 7 and were up at 3 AM, a pattern that would repeat itself our entire stay.  The biggest problem with Winter camping is the short days.  Getting up, the moon was bright and it was easy to see to make coffee.  Hunched over the stove with a steaming mug in my hand, I wanted nothing more.

St. Elana Canyon     From 2009 Big Bend NP

After it was light we headed down to the Rio Grande where I hiked into Santa Elana Canyon and a refreshing hike it was.  After this we simply drove a big loop and took in the scenery.  We spent the rest of the day in the shade of the van reading The Inner Citadel by Pierre Hadot (an analysis of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.)
The next day we drove up into the Chisos Mountains , where we drove and took in the sights (much of the trip was sight seeing from the car–dogs are not allowed on the trails).  After this we went up a four wheel drive trail as far as our trusty steed could take us, then got out to hike further up.

Shadow with the Chisos Mountains       From 2009 Big Bend NP

Almost immediately I realized I had locked the keys in the car.  I was in disbelief.  Miles from the road, no cell coverage and all of our water in the car.  I felt like banging my head on the car.  Instead I judged the back drivers wing window to be the cheapest to replace.  I took a rock in hand, turned my head, and bam……bam…bam…bambam…bam.  Nothing, just small chips in the glass.  I got a bigger rock and stood back 5 feet and lobbed it at the window…bang, it bounced off leaving a larger chip.  Angry, I picked up the rock and winged it at the window…bang…the rock bounced off…and…the window popped open.  It had busted free from the motor that controlled it and allowed me access to the car.  I still had to tape it closed but it beat the hell out of covering a hole with plastic.  I felt like the luckiest man alive.

Smokey with the Chisos     From 2009 Big Bend NP

We spent another afternoon lounging and reading.  The next day we did the same drives that we had done previously but did them at different times of the day to get a new view of things.  Big Bend is full of wildlife…we saw road runners, numerous birds, javalina (collared pecaries), mule deer, hawks, and a coyote that I mistook for a wolf (a ranger set me straight later on).
The next day we moved camp to the other side of the park (Candellila camp) and did more driving and sight seeing.
Big Bend was my first introduction to the Chihuahuan Desert.  I have spent much time in both the Colorado and Mojave deserts and once spent 3 weeks camped in the Sonoran desert (these are the four desert types in the US).  That was the main thing that had brought me to Texas, to finally get the chance to engulf myself in this alien terrain.  The dominant plants were creosote, ocatilla, yucca (agave and sotol), and various cacti that were new to me and I didn’t bother to learn the names of.  The Chihuanhuan has more cactus species than any other desert and I saw and noted maybe 15 of the 65 that reside there.  The main cactus was like beaver tail but it grew much larger and the spines were red, this gave the plant the appearance of having a red halo in the sunlight…a pleasing chimeric quality.  The rocks and mountains are a mix of sedimentary and volcanic…they are very old and much worn down.  The Rio Grande cuts a canyon that is the Southern boundary of the park.  The river is a quarter mile wide oasis in the desert.  This time of year (Winter) that is where most of the action is with the park having two major installations near the river (stores, campgrounds, visitor centers, and interpretive trails.)  During the Summer the action moves to the Chisos Mountains where the park maintains a restaurant (pretty decent breakfast buffet at $8.50) and a lodge as well as the customary store, campground, visitor center, and interpretive trail.
That night I am reading by lantern light when I feel something brush my hand…i glance down…it is the biggest tarantula that I have ever seen, easily 2x the next biggest one that I have seen.  I scream and jump up, throwing my book…I am watching the spider and at the same time dancing and brushing at the imaginary spiders that I conjured up.  Shadow got behind me and Smokey went to investigate the spider.  I don’t know what the tarantula did but Smokey jumped and moved away.  I stomped my foot and told the spider to git and it ran under a rock about 10 feet from where I was sitting when I first spied it.  Well I had the heeby jeebies and was pretty much done sitting on the desert floor in the dark for that night.  So I stepped out of the lantern light to stand and gape a while at the sky.  As my eyes adjusted to the night, the path to the road became visible and I decided to go for a walk.  The dogs trailing behind, I left the lantern burning in camp and walked out the trail about 100 yards to the four wheel drive trail and then started up hill (whenever hiking I will always go uphill…when I get tired it is an easy saunter back to my starting place.)  We followed the road up and around to the left where it passed above camp.  And right there, running with its lights off, is a park service truck.  WTF?  As I approach I see the word volunteer on the side of the truck and leaning out the window the driver is scanning my camp site with binoculars.  I am walking toward the front of his truck and he doesn’t see me until I ask, “Is there something I can help you with?”  He starts like I had caught him beating off, and says, “No, no…I was just doing the final road check.”  He continued, “You need to get them dogs on leashes.”  “Yeah, I’ll do that”, I said just as sternly as I could and then stepped back.  He turned on his lights and left.
Even though he had left, I couldn’t shake him.  What was he doing?  Was it that I had made an illegal crossing into Mexico earlier?  Was it that I am a chronic pot head and pretty much commit a walking felony every time I leave California?  Was it the dogs and the leash thing?  Was he just curious?  A pervert?  A thief?
I got in the tent and read by flashlight, what with tarantulas patrolling the desert floor there would be no rest outside.  The next morning I got up and broke camp, things were weird and I don’t do weird.

West from the park.       From 2009 Big Bend NP

I drove across the park and out the West side along the Rio Grande on Farm Road 170 toward Presidio.  The road follows the river for about 40 miles and it is beautiful.  It is curvy and mountainy with many short 15% or better grades and all the while the green oasis of the Rio Grande is off to the left in a picturesque canyon with a beautiful South Western back drop that leaves you stunned…like some one had punched you in the stomach.  The dogs got to wade and frolic in the river and there were lots of turn outs.  I sat upon a huge boulder high above the river with ravens cawing in the background and smoked a number and counted my blessings which are many.  We visited an old movie set, a fake ghost town now…overrun and abandoned and a picture perfect day to enjoy it in.  We went to Presidio a border town with a legal crossing.

Smokey with the Rio Grande       From 2009 Big Bend NP

I browsed a few clothes stores and discovered, much to my delight, that they stocked clothes that fit me…they even had clothes 2 and 3 sizes too small for me.  It was a joy to shop for clothes and be able to buy what you happen to like as opposed to scrounging for stuff that fits.  I bought a couple of pairs of jeans that I really didn’t need just to experience the joy of it all.  And I realized that they had my size because they were catering to wealthy Mexicans who are regular sized people too.
Then we drove the two and a half hours up to Van Horn across the rolling Texas hills and got a room to shower and prepare for the next leg of our trip.  It wasn’t until I was back in civilization that I noticed that I had not seen an airplane in five days, no contrails, no annoying buzz, nothing.
After a rest and a shower in Van Horn, we headed West on I-10 up through El Paso, through New Mexico, and finally to Tucson AZ. We got a room for two days near downtown, with our plan being to spend a day at Saguaro NP and Ironwood Forest NM. But those plans were changed when we discovered that Tucson is a major shit hole.
The worst urban sprawl that I have seen, poor traffic management, and a stench hanging over it all. On top of that our room was a dump. I drove 8 miles to a park to let the dogs play and it took half an hour to get there. The town is like 40 miles across with stop and go traffic all the way. It seemed as if a 4 year old had laid the city out, but more probably nobody laid it out–and that is the problem. The city tries to present an environmentally caring attitude–but there is no city in the desert that can pull that off. Building a city in the desert is the anti-thesis to caring. And to allow it to sprawl to all ends of the earth only adds to the perception. There were bill boards displaying all the things that Tucson is doing to conserve water and they erected them right next to golf courses. The city had a physical stench and it left a mental stench in my mind. I decided I did not want to stay there. I asked for and received a refund on my second night in the hotel.
I spent that evening on Craigslist trying to drum up a rider or two, I was trolling both Phoenix and Tucson. I had a few responses, one wanting me to pick her up in Yuma and go to Southern California (I declined as I wanted to get away from the border area), another wanting me to wait a few days (I declined as I wanted out of the shit hole of Tucson), another wanting a ride to Reno (I declined as there was no direct way to get there).
The next morning I checked out of my room and headed North toward Phoenix. As I drove I decided I would offer a ride to the guy going to Reno as I was ahead of schedule, he seemed like he needed it, and I felt like doing a good deed. Going through Reno only added 120 miles to the trip but it added about 6 hours as the most direct way to get there was all secondary roads. So I phoned him up and told him if he could be ready in an hour I would take him to Reno.
The rider didn’t know how to give directions and it took about an hour and a half to go the 30 miles out of my way to pick him up, but he turned out to be a good rider–a good driver, ok conversationalist, and we had similar musical tastes. So we set off out of Phoenix for Reno. All secondary roads…the whole way. North on route 60 to route 93, up through Kingman AZ and across the Hoover dam into Nevada, get on route 95 in Las Vegas and up to Alt 95 to 395 and into Southern Reno. I dropped him off at two thirty in the morning and headed up to I-80 to go up over Donner summit for the 200 mile shot home. As I dropped him off it started to rain…and I knew that rain in Reno meant snow on the mountain. I got to Boomtown near the NV/CA border and decided to nap a couple of hours, I did not want to get tired on the mountain and have to sleep in the cold.
I awoke at six thirty to the sound of a steady rain. I jumped up and hit the traffic station only to hear that the chain requirement had went into effect for I-80. I drove the 60+ miles down to route 50 and got there just in time for the announcement that chains were required there too. I have never used chains, I have no intention of using them as my owner’s manual says not to. So I settled in to wait it out. Fortunately that was only 4 hours and we were on our way.

Dashing through the snow       From 2009 Big Bend NP

When we got up around 7000 feet I went up toward Wright’s Lake to find a place to let the dogs play.. After an hour of playing and romping, we shot across 50 to Sacramento, got on I-80 and went home.
It is always good to arrive home…it’s a good feeling (almost as good as leaving home). Since I am a few days early I don’t have anything pressing to do and can do an easy decompression before getting back into the swing of things.

Postscript, or My Border Experience and What it Means for Immigration Policy

The US can not stem the flow of undocumented migrants into this country, by some estimates the flow is almost one every minute…drip…drip…  All of our efforts in stemming this flow, have thus far, been largely ineffective.
My first intimation that things were not the same along the border as in the rest of the country was an impromptu stop by a Border Patrol checkpoint.  A friendly Hispanic male in a sharply creased uniform approached my window while 3 well armed white males stood back and watched.  “Where are you coming from,” the officer asked as I put down my window.  My hackles were raised by this invasion, but I held it in check and told him.  Next he wanted to know where I was going, which I told him.  Then he wanted to know my citizenship and what I planned to do at my destination.  I was mad, but I played along.  “Alright, you can go,” he told me.  Mad now that it was sinking in how invasive this experience had been, I told the officer that he should look for a new job.  When he asked why, I told him that “when the Constitution is restored he would be out of work.”  I held back on adding, “those of you not hanging from telephone poles, anyways” as I drove away.
I was angry.  This had obviously been a search of my vehicle, it had also been a detention of myself and my vehicle.  All with no probable cause.  Therefore extra-Constitutional.  It was a checkpoint in my country by my government to determine if I could freely travel…this is not a part of the America that I know and love.  This invasive behavior is one step away from requiring travel documents to move around.  And what if I wasn’t white?  What if I was brown and spoke broken English, like so many of my fellow American citizens, what would my experience have been then?
I went on down to Big Bend National Park.  Big Bend is a large desert park with the Southern boundary consisting of over 100 miles of Rio Grande River/Mexican border.  There is no border crossing anywhere near but there is an isolated Mexican village across the river.  The park’s newspaper is called the Paisano.  Paisano translates from the Spanish as countryman, loosely it means country folk.  What got me is the extent that the paper’s editors went through to make the reader fear those country folk from across the river.  Almost every page contained an admonition to fear those folks across the river.  And for humans, fear easily turns into hate.  And while avoiding explicit warnings to hate the brown people across the river, the paper’s editors still managed to evoke this message at every turn of the page.  Am I accusing the paper’s editors of being a bunch of racists?  No, but I am saying that their attitudes and words tend to increase–and are in fact indicative of–the racism already present in those who visit the park.  Fear the brown man, if not he will be arrested and deported to some place far away, your property will be seized, and you will be fined $5000.  It is this sort of incendiary writing that we refer to as fear mongering.  And, like Lou Dobbs, these folks will claim that they are not trying to incite hatred of the other, but the results are clear to anyone lucid enough to step back and critically view the situation.
When I left the park, I traveled along the border to the West about 75 miles to Presidio, TX.  This drive contained an estimated 70 miles of Rio Grande/border for a total of almost 200 miles of border.  Not a fence in site, the river is some places shallow enough to wade across.  Running in and out of canyons and weaving its way through the desert it showed to me that there is no way to “secure” this area, it is too open, too vast, too isolated, and too barren.  Terlinqua to Presidio was about 50 road miles, there is nothing in between.  Not a town, not a retail business, a couple of ranches near Presidio and that was it.
When I headed North out of Presidio, and then twice more as I paralleled the border on I-10, I ran into border patrol “inspection” stations.  Always it was either a woman or a Hispanic that approached my window and always armed white guys stood around watching in their para-military garb.  I did my best at these encounters to be both non-cooperative and non-antagonistic, not an easy fence to straddle and I was successful to varying degrees.  “Where are you coming from?”  I am coming from the South I would reply.  “No, where have you been?”  I have been in the South.  “Are you a US citizen?” Yes.  “Where are you going?”  I am going to the North.  “What, do you have a problem?”  “Am I being detained, am I free to go?”  With this last I would repeat, “Am I being detained, am I free to go?” to any question they asked.  At some point Smokey would start barking (her barking annoys me to no end but in this case I was glad to hear it) and they would eventually tell me to go ahead.
A couple of more observations to round out this account.  In Arizona on I-40, many miles from the border, I noted many SUVs of different colors with whip antenna patrolling the highway.  Sometimes two or three of these vehicles were parked together in the median.  I noted many Border Patrol vehicles sitting along both the highways and the secondary roads monitoring traffic, these vehicles were seen as far North as Kingman, AZ.
I made a similar trip to Glacier NP on the Canadian border.  I noted no such activity, no inspection stations,  no Park Service exhortations to fear our neighbors, nothing at all like the atmosphere created at our Southern border.  Despite the fact that terrorists have been caught trying to get in from Canada, but–to my knowledge–never from Mexico.  Still, the two borders of our neighbors are treated far differently…and the only difference that I can see is the color of their skin.
These events and observations illuminated two things for me.  First, the border is indefensible with anything but the most intensive and invasive measures.  And, two, the border area is a de-facto police state, essential liberties have already been surrendered in a no-win attempt to thwart these erstwhile migrants.
So the question becomes, how far are you willing to go to secure the border and which liberties are you willing to give up to do so?
For certainly, we have the means to secure the border, should that ever become our passion.  Here, for instance are some steps that would realistically secure the border:
Institute a national biometric based ID to be used for obtaining employment;
Make a stiff penalty for employing undocumented workers, say 5k for individuals and 50k for businesses;
Wall off the urban areas, perhaps a 20 foot wall separating the two nations;
Build a fence half a mile on our side in the rural areas and place land mines between the river and the fence;
Deport immediately any undocumented person who shows up at a school or a hospital;
Increase Border Patrol check points and patrols; and
Run ad campaigns offering rewards for any tips that lead to deportations.
The above is not very realistic, yet is, never-the-less, doable.  Still, I don’t know how you feel about it, but that is not the nation that I want to live in.
With that said, something needs to be done with the immigration issue.  Having 12-20,000,000 undocumented, unlicensed, uninsured, unprotected people in our midst is obviously not a good thing.
I would argue that far more benefits could be gained by abandoning our present course and adopting a course of investment in Mexico.  Jobs, education, and health care should be the objectives of these investments..  By raising the living standards of Mexicans living in Mexico we avoid having our living standards fall to their levels (Which present trends make seem inevitable).  With education, jobs, and opportunity, the pull of the North would decrease drastically and would eventually balance out with migration to the South.  As more balance is achieved we could give logistical and military support to help Mexico seal its Southern border.  As Mexico becomes more stable and secure in its borders we could begin dismantling the barriers between our countries.  After all, goods and services already flow freely across the border, is it not time for people to join in that?
I see no one in leadership with the political vision to give us real immigration reform.  Instead, incremental changes will be made that does nothing to stem the flow and leaves millions upon millions out in the cold while depriving the rest of us of our liberties, one at a time…drip…drip…
Disagree?  Got a better plan?  Leave it in the comments.  But remember, my idea requires that WE GIVE UP ZERO CIVIL LIBERTIES, be sure to list which liberties you are willing to give up to implement some other idea.  To state, “build a fence”, is jingoistic nonsense; anyone who spouts this has either never been to the border or is stupid.

There are a few more photos here.

Now it Can be Told (Busted in Poweshiek County)

so lets get to the point
lets roll another joint
an head on down the road
to somewhere i gotta go
Tom Petty 

So my Summer didn’t go quite as planned…as a sage once quipped, “Life is What Happens While You Are Busy Making Other Plans.”  As they say, excrement happens.  Careful readers will remember my posting my plans for Summer back in April, and any observer knows that is not what happened.  I mostly played my cards close to my vest because I didn’t want pity, I didn’t want to make excuses, and I really felt no shame; after all I am right in this situation.

So back in April I put my belongings in storage, vacated my house, and headed East to my father’s funeral with plans to go in search of destiny after he was firmly planted.  Part of packing up my life was throwing the pot I had laying around into a box and putting it in the van, somewhere between half a kilo and a kilo (I didn’t weigh it…it was just what I had laying around when it was time to go).  Good herb too, Emerald Triangle at its best…

I made it as far as Iowa, Grinnell Iowa.  I was out of the van playing with the dogs when a police rolled up…one thing led to another and he called for help and searched my van…oops.

So there I was…

My van, my two dogs, a rider who didn’t drive that I was taking to Chicago, and the police pull out my two pounds of pot…a day and a half before my father’s funeral and nearly 600 miles away.   Oh yeah!  not a good day.

Could there be a good part to the story?  Well, the police didn’t find my five grand in cash, I’m pretty sure they would have taken that.

Considering that the police were in the process of making havoc out of my life for possession of an innocuous weed, they did treat my pretty good. They left my rider in charge of my van and my dogs and ran me into the county seat where I passed jail and went straight to the magistrate, multiple felonies and multiple other charges, they released me on my own recognizance and dropped me back off at my van.  With barely a two hour delay in my travels, I was back on the road….poorer, but none the wiser…

Those who know me know that I sowed more than oats in my younger days of carousing, a couple of felonious assaults and a bunch of other stuff back in the 80s…that culminated in Jackson State Penitentiary where I rang out the 80s and chimed in the 90s.  My assumption based on what Michigan would have done…multiple pounds of pot, baggies, and a scale…was to assume that I was going to spend some time in the Iowa penal system.  I made that assumption and I acted and prepared accordingly.

Possession with intent to deliver, a 5 year felony; Iowa drug stamp violation, a 5 year felony; using a vehicle to commit a felony, a 4 year aggravated misdemeanor, and possession of paraphernalia, a misdemeanor.  Oh year, they’re going to send me to prison alright.

So with the help of a great friend and with the support of a great brother, I moved my stuff out of California and into Missouri and made plans to place my dogs with relatives…and court dragged on…

…and on…

If you see me tonight with an illegal smile
It don’t cost very much, but it lasts quite a while.
Would you please tell the man I didn’t kill anyone?
I was just trying to have me some fun.
John Prine

Months dragged on, the wheels of (in)justice turn slowly… glacially slow.

Finally in August my attorney stood up on my behalf, and the courts not wanting to research the motions and wanting to avoid the cost of trial came up with a deal that I couldn’t refuse.  They basically dropped everything except the felony possession which I plead guilty to with the understanding that the prosecutor would request probation (along with a few thousand to several thousand in fines and costs).

Since then I’ve gone up to do a pre-sentence investigation with the department of corrections.  I held off going public with this until that was completed, today I received my copy of that report.  The pre-sentence investigator has reiterated the call for a few thousand to several thousand in fines and costs and tied that to a recommendation of unsupervised probation.  So it seems pretty solid that that is what I should get.

My figuring of the costs that I will incur are a bottom limit of $3500 and an upper limit of about $13000…and back to California I will go.  Running back just as quickly and firmly as I can.

My sentencing is next Monday, the 24th…I really don’t expect any surprises.

So that leaves but one question.  Cui bono? To whose benefit?  I’ve thought it through and the only ones who have benefited from this misadventure are the narco-terrorists South of the border.  So to the police, to the magistrate, to the judge, to the entire criminal justice corporate complex, congratulations…the narco-terrorists appreciate you.

Here is the Asylum Street Spankers, Winning the War on Drugs:

Floating With Smokey

(written without apologies to Steinbeck)

I don’t remember how I first heard it, but in the early Summer of 2009 I learned that the Missouri River was open water from Sioux City Iowa to its confluence with the Mississippi at St. Louis Missouri.  It had long been a fantasy to float a raft down the Mississippi, surely the Missouri could serve as well.  So I started making plans.  I had already scheduled a month off work for the Fall to go to Maine to see the Fall color change, so it was fairly easy to move things forward a couple of weeks and start planning to raft the Missouri instead.
As I started researching and hunting for a used raft, it slowly dawned on me that a raft would not do the trick, I needed a canoe or a small aluminum boat.  I started telling friends and family of my plans, some were incredulous, some were skeptical, and some were downright impressed.  A couple of months before the trip, I started getting a little scared, I thought maybe I should make other vacation plans, plans that were less extreme.  So I started getting maps of other areas and contemplating doing something other than throwing myself to the fates of a river.  But it was too late for that, too many people expected me to follow through, people were asking about my trip wondering if I was getting ready.  Not having the heart to tell them that I had chickened out, I hurriedly bought a canoe, thus locking myself into the trip.
While I did rush into buying a canoe, this does not mean that I did not research my purchase.  I ended up with a mid-range plastic canoe, a Mad River Adventure 14, a general purpose multi-use canoe.
I and a house mate took the canoe up to San Pablo Reservoir to test it out.  We enjoyed paddling around the reservoir, the canoe was stable and fairly easy to paddle and control.  After a few hours the wind came up and the water became choppy, we ended up tipping into the cold water.  With the wind and waves we were unable to right it or push it to shore.  We treaded water until the police came to rescue us.  Not a very noble beginning to an adventure.  But the police and rescue were very kind, while they warmed me up they also dragged my canoe to shore, loaded it on the van and tied it down.
With this mis-adventure in mind, I had to rethink things.  As I researched adding flotation to the canoe, I became aware of outriggers.  Basically an aluminum arm that sticks out each side of the canoe with a piece of styrofoam on it, this prevents the canoe from tipping.  Keeping the canoe upright was an even better idea than making it float better after being tipped.
I never really got a chance to acclimate Smokey to the canoe before it was time to head for the river.  We loaded the canoe on top of the van and drove like mad men (and dogs) to Missouri, spent a long holiday weekend with family, then it was the moment we had been building to.  Dad drove us up to Craig Missouri, where we entered the water at H.F. Thurneau access.  I unloaded the canoe, loaded it up, and tied the various ropes and gear to it.  Taking a deep breath, I grabbed Smokey up and threw her in the canoe and shoved off.  Like it or not, we were now committed to the river.

The first day on the river was a struggle, we only made 13 miles. I had heard horror stories of the barge traffic on the river. Knowing that the barges used the main channel on the outside of the curves, I cut the curves on the inside to avoid them. I was paddling the shortest distance from point A to point B, from inside curve to inside curve, ignoring the current. I paddled steadily for six hours and ended the day exhausted. I was wondering what I had gotten myself into, was the entire trip to be such a struggle? Smokey did not relax that first day, she stood stiff with her head between my knees. That first night we found a nice campsite along the river. There was quite a bit of mud, but I pitched camp and fell asleep early. During the night, it rained…and rained. Even though I was awake long before sunup, we stayed in the tent, and waited for the rain to quit. About 8 AM the rain slowed to a drizzle and we got up, made coffee and packed up camp. I loaded everything into the canoe, and when I tossed Smokey in, she scrambled around, spilling my coffee and leading to a caffeine free start to the day.
I took up where I had left off the previous day, paddling steadily, ignoring the flow of the river and working much harder than was necessary. Around 10 AM we were hailed by two fishermen in a bass boat. They pulled up wondering where we were going, impressed with our story, they gave me a coke and waved as they pushed away. The soda did much to brighten my spirits and I bit deep as I paddled, enjoying the trip for the first time. Around noon the sun came out briefly so I stopped along the bank and spread my gear out to dry. I made another cup of coffee before loading the canoe and pushing off for points downstream. It was while drinking this cup of coffee (and after having a few puffs), that I noticed that the current moved pretty quickly around the outside of the curves. So I let myself drift around the bends then I would paddle across the river and do it again. Smokey also ventured out from between my feet and climbed into the middle seat where she set stiffly and stared at me. We made 27 miles that day and ended the day refreshed and on a high note. We camped that night on the Missouri side of the river and a prettier campsite is rarely found.

Awoke the next morning to fog and a light drizzle. The river was calm and all was quiet. The good feelings of the previous evening carried over to the morning and I actually enjoyed the drizzle. Since all was wet, we simply tossed everything into the canoe wet, made coffee and set off. the morning was spent drifting through the fog and drizzle and may have been the high point of the trip. Around 11 we stopped to hang the tent and sleeping bag out to dry while we made coffee. A couple of boats stopped by while waiting for the tent to dry, it was here that I noticed that some people were curious about where we were coming from and some were interested in where we were going, but rarely was anyone interested in both. While we were taking our break I took the opportunity to redistribute the weight in the canoe. I moved weight forward, while it made the canoe more sluggish and harder to maneuver, it also brought the front down and made the wind less of a big deal to deal with.
Shortly after our mid morning stop we sighted our first barge. I noticed it far downstream and immediately moved to the off side of the river. I waited but the tug and barge appeared stopped. After a while I decided to cross the river and bypass the barge as much as possible. When I got about a third of the way across, I heard the tug power up and could see it churning water at the stern. I paddled back to shore and got out of the canoe allowing Smokey to nose around on shore. I noted that it was a small work barge and a Coast Guard tug as the pilot gave a blast on his horn and waved as they passed. After they had passed and I noted no waves of any note I told Smokey to jump in and we shoved off to paddle to the other side. The water was only slightly choppy until near the middle when the waves became two feet and were rolling in from two different directions. The canoe was leaning heavily as it rolled the waves, the outriggers were extended three feet on each side and while the canoe would not flip, we had it leaning and dropping at steep angles. I was digging deep with the paddles trying to keep the nose of the canoe where the waves were crashing together while moving downstream. As I went to dig with the paddle to bring the canoe around to meet the waves, the canoe rose and the paddle caught nothing but air. I nearly tumbled out of the canoe as the wave rolled through. After reassuming my seat the worst of the waves were over and another five or ten minutes found us continuing on our way. Smokey ventured out towards the front of the canoe, finally making herself comfortable.

Latter that day we passed through the city of St. Joseph. The river was narrow and fairly fast, there were also a couple of bridges to navigate. As we made our way through St. Joseph there were also a few work barges moving empty barges back and forth across the river. It was at this time that I realized I did not want to float through Kansas City, so I called Mike to see if he would pick me up in Atchison and drive me to the other side of KC. He agreed. We learned to avoid the mud when we stopped that night and found a rocky bank to tie up to and make camp.
With the rain and fog over, and with only 20 miles to get to Atchison, I decided to stay late in camp and let things dry. At 11, stuff was still wet so I tossed it into the canoe and headed downstream. We went slow, with only 15 miles to accomplish that day. We didn’t see many people along the river that day and made an early camp 6 miles above Atchison. We enjoyed a long evening and built a fire to help pass the time.
Before the trip, I had done research on where we would camp each night; this seemed important. Missouri has numerous conservation areas along the river to serve as flood mediators and I had carefully mapped each one using the Missouri DNR website. Once I was actually on the river I found that all of that work had been for naught, most of the river bank was empty of human occupation and the entire thing was open to camping. It was a very small percentage of the river banks that were actually occupied and we could pull up and camp anywhere that looked like it might be flat enough to set up the tent. I found that this was representative of my preparations, I had researched and prepared for things that in the end did not pan out to be real problems. Not knowing what the true problems would be on the river, I was prepared for all of the real problems and a goodly number of things that did not turn out to be problems at all.
Up early the following morning we floated halfway to Atchison and stopped to let things dry out and drink more coffee. We made it to Atchison shortly after 11 and tied up at a dock near downtown at Liberty park. The locals were very friendly and let me use their phone as Verizon did not have coverage. I also heard tales of Lewis and Clark’s time in the area, there was much local pride in that they had spent Independence day near this area and had stayed a few days to repair their gear and clean their guns. Mike arrived and we loaded the canoe back onto the van for the trip back to Columbia where we were going to spend the rest of the weekend. I found Atchison to be a friendly and inviting town.

When the weekend had passed, Dad drove me and the Smokester over to Sibley Missouri and dropped us back off at the river to continue our journey. The river had started to change below St. Joseph, below KC the changes were even more pronounced. Less curves meant more paddling, there were also dikes on the outside of the curves meaning I had to back paddle as I made each one to keep from being pushed over. In all the river was wider, straighter, and slower with the current broken around the edges by numerous dikes. We set off and made 20 miles that first half day, we saw no one on the river. It was the hottest day of the trip so far and I found if I set the tent up in the woods off the river that the dew was greatly reduced and our mid day dry out period could be lessened, but not eliminated.
One of the problems that I had foreseen was mosquitoes. I was expecting them to be out in droves, I was fearful that Smokey (who has no experience with mosquitoes) would be tormented by the blood suckers. To combat this I had bought a couple of bottles of military grade DEET. I expected the bugs to be a constant companion, but in the end they were not a problem. On the river itself, there were no mosquitoes. In retrospect I suppose that the combination of open water and wind kept them well outside the river banks. It was only when I set up camp above the banks in the woods that they were a problem, but even here they were not as bad as I had feared. So it became a trade off, camp on the river and wake to everything soaking wet from the dew, or camp amongst the trees and deal with the mosquitoes.
The next day was more of the same, hot and a current that demanded constant paddling. For a second day in a row we saw no one on the river. Daily a Corp of Engineers tug would push a barge either upstream or down. The tug captain was very kind and would cut his engine and idle past us not creating a huge wake and not disrupting our journey to a great degree. We made 23 miles that day and camped a bit early within view of Waverly.

That night I was awakened about midnight with a piercing headache, I laid there holding my head till I finally was relieved again with sleep about 4 AM. It was 8 before I got out of bed and I still felt head achey and generally run down. I popped a couple of ibuprofen and jumped into the river. I drifted slowly for a few hours while the ibuprofen slowly did their magic. Sometime after our morning break the wind picked up and blew steadily into our face. I don’t know how it did it, but whether we were pushing North, East, or South, the wind was always a head wind. Feeling like crap I paddled desultorily and did my best to make progress downstream. Around 3 the water got choppy, this made for a rough ride and made Smokey nervous making her pace the canoe adding to the steady rise and fall. It took us all day to make 20 miles and it was a relief to find a sandbar to end the day on. After a hearty dinner, I took a couple more ibuprofen and went to bed early.
The next morning I awoke at 4 AM feeling great. I had the canoe ready to push off as soon as it was light enough to feel safe. With the rising sun the wind returned, blowing harder than the previous day. Feeling good, I set the canoe into it and paddled away. After noon the water got choppy, much choppier than the previous day. I had to tack back and forth across the river to make progress, more than once I quit paddling to rest and found myself being pushed back upstream. If I rested too long the canoe would get side ways to the waves and they would sometimes come over the gunnels. So I was interspersing my paddling with periodic bailing of the water accumulating in the canoe. We took a long lunch and got back to it in the afternoon. We paddled until our usual stop time and slowly cruised the bank looking for a flat spot for the tent. The first few that we stopped and checked out were overrun with poison ivy, so we continued on. Shortly before dark we found a spot that wasn’t as flat as I would have like but seemed to be relatively free of poison ivy. Somehow we had made 29 miles that day. It had also been our longest day, in the water before sunup until after sundown. And while it had been a struggle to get down river, I had enjoyed it, it was a good sort of exhaustion that led me to sleep as soon as camp was pitched and dinner was finished.

We awoke to a beautiful day. The wind had died down, the overcast had lifted, the sky was populated with white fluffy clouds which bounded overhead, seemingly as happy with the day as I was. We took a break and just let the river slowly take us downstream toward our destination. We only made 21 miles that day, but we wanted nothing more. We stopped often and played on the banks and just generally enjoyed the break from the winds. This was the most Tom Sawyer like day of our trip, no worries, no hassles, just a serene float. We started running into fishermen again, they were friendly and would hail us wondering where we were going or where we had come from. That night we made camp on the prettiest sandbar that one could hope for pulling ourselves out of the river a good two hours early to enjoy the evening. Smokey was wound up from being cooped up and spent her evening running up and down the bank and rolling in the sand, she was effusive and the joy she radiated was contagious leading to a wonderful time on shore. Some locals came along in their bass boat and we shared some of my herb and some of their Busch Lite and told tall tales as the sun slowly arched its way down the Western sky. They told me of the Asian catfish that would jump out of the water and knock people out of their boats. I must have looked dubious because they loaded me and Smokey up and we criss crossed the river corralling some fish behind a wing dike. As we slowly idled through, catfish started jumping. They were two to two and a half feet long and jumped completely out of the water right next to the boat. I had to admit that my incredulousness was misplaced. We were dropped back off at camp and made a feast to finish off a beautiful day.
That night there was a competing cacophony of owls, cicadas, crickets, whippoorwills, and unidentified birds and insects that, along with the roil of the river, led to a peaceful–if occasionally interrupted–night’s rest. We awoke to a foggy morning with a bright clear sky.
Our plan was then to float 20 miles downstream and meet Mike the morning after in Glasgow so he could paddle with us the last 40 miles. But, as they say: “The best laid plans of mice and men…” When I got to within 12 miles of Glasgow I received an email that an aunt had died and that my ride needed to leave town to go the funeral, they wanted to meet me in Glasgow that afternoon to pull me and Smokey out of the water. This news placed a different perspective on our day, this was it, the final hours of our trip. We drifted, Smokey relaxed, me sort of melancholy and seeking to adjust to the news. The river had really lived up to all expectations. I wanted an adventure and the river supplied one. I wished to get off by myself and let the day to day pressures be left behind and the river responded to my wishes. Overall the trip had been all that I had wished for and then some. Smokey, a normally rambunctious two years old, had been everything one could hope for in a companion, she had been attentive and obedient to a tee.

We got down to Glasgow about 3 and called for our ride. While we waited, I emptied the canoe and carried the gear to the top of the bank. Dad arrived and we loaded up the canoe and carted it back to Columbia.
I got up the next morning and spent a few hours cleaning my gear and scrubbing the Missouri mud off the canoe. I sold the canoe before noon of that day, this brought the trip to an end.

More photos are here.

Note: This essay first appeared on my personal website, I moved it here while condensing and considating.

Smokey and Nantahala Mountains

Just returned from a trip to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park of Eastern Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest of Western North Carolina.  The trip has been planned for nearly 3 months and with Labor Day finally rolling in to thin out the crowds, it was time to hit the road.  Mike and I, with our cumulative 3 dogs in tow, headed out of Missouri the day before Labor Day.  East on 70 to St. Louis where we jumped on I-64 to pass through Illinois and Indiana.  In Indiana we stopped in a National Forest to hike a cliff area, hell I never even knew that Indiana had cliffs, but it was a beautiful hike.

The remnants of hurrican Lee was blowing into the Smokey Mountains and the weather was promising at least 3 days of continuing rain.  Since it was raining that night, we decided not to camp and ended up sleeping in the truck in Kentucky and finished our drive into the Smokey Mountains early the next morning.  To avoid camping in the rain we got a motel for two nights about 20 miles north of the park, since it was too early to check in we drove into the park to get orientated.  From I-40 South through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg to the park (about 20 miles) is one long horrendous tourist trap unlike anything I have ever seen at that scale.  And being Labor Day, traffic was stifling.  It took maybe an hour to get to the park, we checked out the visitor center and did a 4 mile wet hike to see Laurel Falls…a beautiful 60 foot falls that was well worth the hike.  We also took a drive through Cades Cove where we saw numerous turkeys and deer as well as many historical sites from early settlement of the area.  There was a 10 mile long traffic jam to get back to our motel and it took 3 hours….not really the reason I go to check in with nature, but what do you do?

The next day we went back to the park and did another 4 mile hike/scramble up to Chimney Top, the rain was letting up and we didn’t match the 3 inches of the previous day.  We also drove a “motor nature trail” where we had an excellent and prolonged bear encounter.  The next morning we checked out of our motel and headed for the Nantahala National Forest to enjoy some down time.  We stopped in the park on our commute and hiked a few miles of the Appalachian Trail.  The rain and clouds allowed us to do a fair amount of hiking in the park as it was cool enough to leave the dogs in the car, but they were really looking forward to camping in the forest where they were anticipating free run.  We had to track down a forest service office so that we could obtain a map, and found we were near some old growth so we camped beside the road.  Broke camp the next morning and went to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Grove.  If you recall your American literature then you will recall that it was Kilmer who penned the poem Trees.

I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Due to the beauty of the poem a memorial grove of old growth poplar and hemlock was set aside.  There is a nice two mile trail that encompasses it and it is well worth the hike.  After this we headed up into the Nantahala Mountains where we camped for 3 days in a nice area with a ton of wild flowers, flowing streams, waterfalls, and numerous hiking opportunities.  After we exhausted what this area had to offer we went further south into the Nantahala Mountains and found another piece of paradise upon which to pitch our tents.  The hiking opportunities were not as plentiful but the beauty of it was enough to just enjoy lounging in camp and driving out to take short hikes to waterfalls. All too soon it was time to head for home, we stopped and camped a night in the Pasqah National Forest near the Tennessee border and continued our journey back to Missouri with a stay in a motel in Paducah Kentucky near the Illinois border…finding our way back to Columbia this afternoon.I’ve posted a few pictures here, and if Mike writes something up I’ll edit this post with a link to it.

Edit: Mike did put up a post, but like mine it is skeletal.