10/2/18

Zesty.

Well, I finally got tired of eating whole chickens out of plastic capsules, and my wife convinced me to try one of those "we'll send you all the ingredients you need!" food services to see what's up. We figured at the very least we would get to try some new food, and as an added bonus, we'd get to keep the recipes. We started off with Sun Basket, and worked our way through Hello Fresh and Home Chef.

I called a timeout after my wife was juggling three of these services at the same time, and put an indefinite hold on Blue Apron because each one of these things is like that old Columbia House CD club you used to fall for when you were a kid. Forget to send one postcard back and suddenly you were being billed $37.50 for Barry Manilow's Greatest Hits. We almost had overlapping services and too much food at once, but we got it ironed out.

After about the third meal, I realized why my wife was so interested in these kits. Out of the last 15 recipes we've tried, she cooked the first two.

The rest: All me. Why?

I think it's because she immediately figured out that if there are instructions for building something (a recipe, for instance) I am physically and mentally incapable of simply standing by and letting someone else screw up the final result by not following them exactly.  To put it another way, I never have parts left over when I build shit from IKEA. Yeah. I'm that guy.

I am now convinced that she half-assed the first meal or two accidentally-on-purpose so that I'd take over the cooking.  It worked, too. She is totally using my OCD against me for her own nefarious purposes, namely, having me combine pre-measured ingredients in a specific order, apply heat, and notify her when it's magically turned itself into a meal.

As I'm sure you can imagine, there are both benefits and drawbacks to cooking like this.  Let me detail a few of these for you.

Benefits:

1. Less time at the grocery store.  Note that this is another benefit for my wife, because I rarely if ever shop for our food.  She saves me that hassle, and I love her for it.  if I were single, I would likely be subsisting on gas station chalupas and pre-made Cumberland Farm sandwiches due to my aversion to actually shopping for individual ingredients. I say "ingredients" because the chances I would buy said ingredients and combine them into something that was actually edible all on my own are slim to none.  At best, I'd have some Banquet chicken and frozen mac and cheese in the freezer, and most of a leftover pizza in the fridge.

2. It just shows up on your doorstep! It's like food Christmas every week.  Especially if you forget what meals you've chosen.  The UPS guy will hate you because these bastards are heavy, but other than that you're good to go. Just tip him well at Christmas. Or, if you've got a sadistic streak, give him a gift certificate for one of these services so he has to carry his own box of food.

3.  You get to try foods you've never tried before.  For instance, I've discovered that I like Risotto. Before this, I never even knew what Risotto was, let alone how to make it.  I thought it was some kind of cheese, like Ricotta. (It sounds like it should be an Italian sports car. The Alfa Romeo Risotto. Drive one today!)

4. You have some time to decide.  If you're too tired to cook or just don't feel like it because you worked late or binge-watched Breaking Bad until 2 am, you can freeze the meat, and the rest of the stuff will keep for up to 5-7 days. But usually it doesn't take that long, since the clock is ticking on three complete meals that are basically ready to go.  I mean, how lazy can you be?  Eventually you will feel guilty that you are standing in front of the open fridge eating slices of pre-packaged provolone instead of cooking your fresh food. Since you paid a bunch of money for it,  and you probably have three more meals on the way, you either need to cook it or let it rot.  Eventually, you will give in and break out the pans.

5. The instructions are pretty easy, and you get to keep the recipes. This sounds more useful than it is, especially with Home Chef, because they provide their own spice packs and some dressings/marinades, so you have no idea what's actually in them.  With Hello Fresh and Sun Basket, they tend to have you make that stuff from the base ingredients, so while it's more work up front, it's easier to repeat the recipe when you inevitably quit the service.

6. Cilantro. All the cilantro.  You either love it or hate it. I happen to love it, and a lot of these recipes seem to call for it. I'm not sure why, but I'm not complaining.  If there is cilantro and lime in the recipe, I'm on board.  I am pretty sure I must be part Mexican. You could put cilantro, sour cream and cheese on a seven day old hot dog someone had kicked under the counter at the 7-11 and I would eat it and like it.

And now for the drawbacks, of which there are many.

Drawbacks:

1.  The incredible amount of packing waste.  Each box of three meals is insulated with something resembling carpet padding wrapped in plastic, and contains 4 ice packs, two above and two below all your perishables. The ice packs are made from some kind of slimy gel encased in plastic. The instructions say that you are supposed cut the bags, let the slime demons out, then recycle the plastic bags and the cardboard box.  Unfortunately, our recycling bin states in huge letters "NO PLASTIC BAGS" so off they go into the land fill.  And that's just the beginning.  In each of your three meals, you'll have more plastic. One small plastic bottle for a bit of balsamic vinegar here, another for some cooking oil there; A few sprigs of cilantro is in a plastic snap container.  Individual servings of sour cream, tiny bottles of ketchup and mayo. Little bags of cheese and rice.  It gets pretty crazy.

2. Don't let anyone tell you different -- This shit is expensive.  It has to be.  Sometimes I dump the ingredients for a meal on the counter top and think, I just paid 20 bucks for 4 flour totillas, a couple of tiny chicken breasts, a cup of rice, a lime, a pepper and some spices. What is wrong with me?   It just doesn't seem worth it. But I can truthfully say that I haven't had as much food waste due to spoilage/laziness. We no longer refer to the crisper drawer in the fridge as the rotter, so there's that.

3.  You get to try foods you've never tried before.  The attentive among you are thinking, "Wait, didn't he just list that as a benefit?  Yes, yes I did. But I maintain that it is also a drawback. Let me tell you a story about the Cheyote. While it sounds like the name of a lost Indian tribe, or a terrifying abomination resulting from the unholy union of a cheetah and a coyote, it is not.  It's actually an "edible" gourd from Mexico. It should be reclassified as an ornamental gourd because it looks like a mini nerf football with warts, and tastes like dirt. That didn't really surprise me though, because in the recipe it actually had a warning. And that warning read as follows:

WARNING: WEAR GLOVES WHILE CUTTING CHEYOTE AS THE SAP CAN CAUSE SKIN IRRITATION AND NUMBING OF HANDS.

I thought to myself, That's what I want in my mouth. Something that causes skin irritation and makes my hands stop working. 

But into the frying pan it went. I am nothing if not an instruction follower.  (I am pleased to inform you that I did not die from Cheyote poisoning. I will not be having it again, but feel free to give it a shot if you're ever in the mood for some crappy proto-vegetable that tastes like ass and make you feel like you slept on your hands all night.) 

4. Skimpy portion size.  I'm not a big guy, but literally every single one of these "meals for two" had what I consider to be a good-sized single serving, with a little bit left over for a snack the next day.  If you are a 5'7" 150 pound man (or woman) you could probably eat most of it yourself.  If, on the other hand you are a 6'2" 250 pound man (or woman) these meals will not fill you up. If you somehow manage to do the considerate thing and limit yourself to your share, I guarantee that you will be stalking around the kitchen at 2 am eating Count Chocula out of the box while the cat looks on in disgust. 

5.  You don't get to pick your own vegetables or fruits.  They show up in a bag on your doorstep, sure, but so far I'm not very impressed with the overall quality. I think Sun Basket is best in this regard, and all their stuff is organic.  They are also more expensive.  As a general rule, however,  nothing is quite as "farm fresh" as they all claim it to be.  The tomatoes are hard, pink pellets, the greens can be a bit wilted and the fruit is sometimes bruised.  They try to prevent damage in shipping, which is probably why none of the veggies are really ripe. I could have driven nails with the last two avocados I got from Hello Fresh.  I couldn't even cut them in half. I also scored a rotten potato from Home Chef. They made it good by offering me a $5 coupon off my next order, which, come to think of it, is probably about what I paid for that potato.

6. Jalapenos. All the jalapenos.  Now, I love a good hot pepper, but I can only eat so many of them before my stomach and intestines revolt.  It seems like every recipe we've tried has either Jalepeno or Pablano peppers as a solid ingredient. The meals in general tend to be on the spicy side, so if you like bland, then most of these meals will not be for you.

I sit here in my comfortable leather chair writing this, having just finished making something that tasted like a Mexican Sloppy Joe. Let me sum up: A burger's worth of taco-seasoned ground beef and tomato sauce, a package of cilantro and one jalapeno diced up and mixed with olive oil and lime juice. Dump the meat over some rice and top with the cilantro/jalapeno mix, add some cheese and toasted tortilla strips. Simple, right? And it might even sound pretty good if you like hot, spicy food, which I do. However, there's a good chance I'll be finishing this blog post from my much-less-comfortable porcelain chair while I chug Pepto and eat Tums by the fist-full. 

7.  All of the fucking zesting. I confess:  I've never zested before. I didn't really know what zesting was. I had no good way to zest, and there is a lot of zesting called for in these recipes. For all the poor saps out there reading this who are in my previously uninformed shoes, it's very simple. It's basically grinding the rind off something. (I know, that sounds dirty. Hey baby. How's about you and me grind the rind over at my place?)  I now consider myself a zesting expert. Limes and Lemons mostly.  I'm not a professional, by any means -- I've never zested for money --  but if you need a good zest, look no further; I'm your guy.  I am also pretty sure I have zest-induced tendonitis in my elbow, so I may be forced into a sub-par zest with my other arm, but I'm sure you will still be satisfied.

As to which company is best, the jury is still out.  None of it is really health food, and to be honest, I think it's a fad and none of these companies will be around in a couple of years. The meats are mediocre, the veggies and other ingredients are the same stuff you get at the market except less ripe, and everything seems destined to be cooked in some kind of oil, whether it be canola or olive.  If they delivered a chef, a busboy and a dishwasher with your food, then they might have something. Although come to think of it, that already exists, just not for people who fly commercial and don't own a fleet of turbo-charged Risottos.  I think you'd be better off just buying a cook book, picking three meals and then going to the grocery store with your list. Sure it takes longer, and it's a lot more work, but my wife won't mind. 

I think my favorite so far was shaved steak with onions, mushrooms, and cheddar cheese on a pretzel roll.  It was really good, but I essentially paid 20 bucks for two rolls, a package of Steak-Umms, a little onion, a couple of mushrooms and two slices of cheese.  I ate it, but I resented it. It was expensive, and I could feel it clogging my arteries. I dropped a piece of steak on the floor, but I picked it up and added it back to my sandwich, because, hey, that was probably like a buck's worth of meat.

So I'll end this by saying (a) I'm still sitting in the comfy chair (to your vast relief, I'm sure, and to mine) and (b) I'm kind of enjoying the cooking part a little more than I thought I would.  So if anyone has any recommendations for any companies they think might offer better food or more for your money, let me know in the comments.

Until next time, Bon Ape tits! (Is that right?  I think it's right.)


1/6/18

No Laughing Matter.

I walked into the dentist's office with a bit of trepidation - I'd had a hot/cold sensitivity in one of my chompers for a few days, and figured I had a cracked filling. Both hot and cold food would cause a dull ache in my brain, and sometimes biting down on something hard in just the right way would shoot an ice pick into my eye.  I hate the dentist with a passion, even though I realize the necessity of it. I floss and brush twice a day and never miss a cleaning because I know that's all easier than having major work done.  Prevention is key and all that -- especially when it comes to your teeth.

I've just started going to a new guy closer to home, and I'm not sure about him yet.  The first time I went to him, he said he found a cavity.  I haven't had a cavity in probably 30 years, so I was skeptical.  I wasn't entirely sure he didn't just need a new widescreen TV for his kid's room, but I let him fill it anyway, and I continue to reserve judgment.

This time, I wasn't sure what was going to happen -- I figured it could be anything from a new filling to a root canal and crown; or god forbid, an implant.  My wife had an implant done there 6 months ago and we're STILL paying it off. I could have bought a nice used car for what that fake tooth cost.  That was a nightmare for her. Bone grafts, socket wrenches, hydrocodone, lasers... it was a mess.  And then after it was done, she was having trouble with it, and we thought for sure it was going to need to be yanked out again.  Eventually it settled down, and everything is fine now. I hated paying for it, but it's nice not being married to a hillbilly anymore.

 They are punctual at this place, I'll give them that. I arrived about ten minutes before my appointment, and they don't generally take you early.  You will sit there until the exact moment of your scheduled appointment, and then they come and take you into the back where the rooms and chairs are.  I was sitting in the waiting room, coughing like a TB patient.  A few months ago, I had gotten a head cold that moved to my chest.  Unfortunately, it took up residence there like so much Michael Keaton in Pacific Heights. I'm STILL coughing, and it's maddening.  At any rate, I was coughing, and they have complimentary water and flavored seltzer in this little glass-doored mini-fridge. I didn't want to be belching in anyone's face, so I grabbed an ice cold water and drank it down, hoping to stifle the cough a bit. That rang my bell a little because my tooth did NOT like the cold water.  I still finished the bottle though, doing this weird thing where I covered my tooth with my tongue and sort of stuck the bottle on the other side.

This office is fairly small, since the entire practice is shoehorned into an old Victorian house that has been turned into a business. The waiting room and the main reception desk are basically in the same 12x15' space, with a small bathroom directly across from the desk. To the left of the bathroom door is the entrance to the examination areas. Immediately after I finished the water, the hygienist/assistant came out to get me.  I stood up and started to follow her to the back, but then took a detour to use the bathroom while she waited. Better safe than sorry.

I am no fan of their bathroom, mostly because there is no fan. There is absolutely nothing to mask sounds (or smells) of whats going down in there, and it's right on top of the waiting room and reception desk due to the layout. It's like that guest bathroom at your in law's house that is three feet from the dining room table. Nobody wants to use it.

So to set the stage, the office is so quiet you can hear the house creaking, and the waiting room has about 4 other people in it, all just silently staring at their phones or reading magazines.  So I do what any self-respecting guy would do.  I aim for the side of the bowl to avoid making noise.  This is the classic NP move (ninja piss), and it takes some skill, depending upon the toilet.  Sometimes it's easy -- the newer low-flow toilets usually have lots of porcelain real estate to aim for. Unfortunately, this toilet, like the rest of the house, is fairly old and that means it uses approximately 40 gallons of water per flush, and the bowl is round and deep, like an ornamental koi pond that you pee in.*  Still, if you are an expert, there's a slice of about an inch between the edge of the bowl and the water that you can hit and still execute a perfect 10-point NP.  So I threaded the needle, scored a solid 9.0 (lost a point for flushing before I was done, so the noise would cover up any sloppiness in execution), washed up and followed the hygienist to my chair.

Sitting down, I immediately realized the other thing I hate about this particular dentist office.  The chairs don't have arms. It's awkward, and I don't like it. I always end up sort of sitting there with my hands in my lap, trying not to dig my nails into my palms until they bleed.

I could feel myself getting nervous.  I was away from work on my lunch hour, I had no idea what was going to happen, but I knew there would be drills involved.  I am a big wimp when it comes to the dentist.   Even if it's just a cleaning, I tense up like I'm being electrocuted and I stay that way for the duration.

The assistant took some X-rays and she apparently found a crack in the tooth, which she showed me with a digital camera and some kind of funky outlaw ROKU app on the widescreen TV in the room. The doctor strolled in and glanced at the screen, then told me to lie back so he could take a look.  He poked around in there for a few seconds, and said, "I'd suggest taking out that old filling, and putting a crown on that tooth to hold the crack together.  There's a good chance that section of tooth will fall off anyway when I start cleaning it up, since the crack goes around the base."

I didn't want to hear that, but OK.  I asked him if that meant a root canal, and he said, "Not necessarily. I can prep it for the crown right now, and we can put a temporary on and see how it does. If you are OK for the two weeks that it takes to get the permanent crown back from the lab, chances are you'll be fine without a root canal."  I liked this answer because I've never had a root canal and I'd like to continue not having one for as long as I can manage it.  I never had my wisdom teeth taken out either, and that's because I was born without them. That makes me some sort of genetic freak - or (as I prefer to think of it) just vastly more advanced on the evolutionary scale than all you poor bastards who had to go through having those fuckers dug out of your neanderthal jawbones with a chisel.

So out comes the ginormous Novocaine needle, and I tense up even more as he jabs it into multiple areas of my face from the inside. Then he left, and it was just me and the assistant waiting for the numbness to start. She asked me if I was nervous, and I said, "I hate the dentist. You are going to put power tools inside my head and grind away at a part of my body that has a giant nerve bundle just under the surface. Of course I'm nervous."

She laughed.  "Do you want the nitrous?" she asked. " It'll take the edge off. Laughing gas. You know."

I did not know. I didn't even know that was an option.  My old dentist never asked me if I wanted the nitrous.  I entertained the idea. "I dunno," I said. "I've never had it before.  What's it like?"  She said, "The doctor made us all try it when we started here so we'd know. She paused and then added, "Um...I'd say it's like having a couple of drinks."

A couple of drinks sounded like a good way to break the deathlock my left hand currently had on my right, so I told her to sign me up.

She strapped this rubber thing over my nose and told me to start breathing in.  She said after a few minutes I'd start to feel it.  I didn't feel anything. A minute or two later, she said, "Still nothing?"

"Nope." I responded. She reached over and tweaked a knob on the tank, and then looked at me again, questioningly.

I got as far as "Still noth---" and then I felt like I was already on the business-end of five martinis.

"Whoa," I said. Then I felt the irresistible urge to laugh.  I know, that's a cliche, but I immediately got the giggles. On the inside.  I managed to keep it together on the outside for appearances, but it was close. I almost went full Joker.

"How are you doing now?" she asked.

I grinned stupidly. "Pretty....pretty.....pretty... good." I said, giving her my best Larry David impersonation. I don't think she got it though. "Hey, you know what I hate?" I asked, as a random thought pinwheeled through my brain and came out of my word hole.

Without waiting for an answer, I pointed at the chair and made grabbing motions with my hands. "How'm I supposed ta white knuckle this bitch with no arms to grab onto?" I asked.

"Is that Novocaine working?" she asked, ignoring my question.

I touched the side of my face and it felt like I was drooling a little. Classy.  Something else funny occurred to me, and I sang a quick chorus of Two Tickets To Paradise, but I don't think she got that either. She was young. Or maybe it was because it came out sounding like "Two tits, a pair a dice" and she had no idea what that meant, and wisely chose to ignore it.

I also have to say, either my alcohol tolerance has gone to shit, or she's actually an ex-stripper and "a couple of drinks" to her meant a bottle of Jack and a 6-pack back, because I was hammered.

By then, the dentist was back, and they were going over the plan. The told me to keep breathing through my nose. I did. And I liked it. I think I started huffing it a bit because I could feel it cut off the feed from the tank if I breathed it in too deep.  It was metering me, and I hated it a little.

The assistant kept asking me questions, but I don't think she really wanted answers. I think she was just gauging how high I was and whether they could start drilling. I decided to ask her some questions, too.  Funny things were occurring to me, but I couldn't get the words out.  They were playing Christmas tunes over the in-room radio, so I asked the assistant about it.

"Sicka crimmas moozik?" I asked.

"What did you say?  The Christmas music? Do you want us to put something else on? Did you say you were sick of Christmas music?"

"No YOU," I said.  No, Butch Walker."

"Sorry we don't have that. It's just Pandora," she said.

"No. K-N-O-W." I spelled.  Butch. KNOW'im?"

"Ohhh, do I know Butch Walker?  No, who is he?" she asked.

"Producer. Artist. New CD. Christmas. Good."  My brain wanted to explain, but my mouth only knew how to speak in single word sentences.

Then the music changed to some instrumental piece that sounded familiar.  In my addled state, I could only identify it as some form of fast tempo classical.

"Carfoon Moozik," I said.

"Cartoon music? Yeah, it does sound like that," she laughed. "OK, we're going to have you lie back a little further. Are you good?  You don't feel sick or anything?"

I shook my head no, and then the dentist said, "I think we're good to go."

While they were getting ready to drill, I could hear the other hygienist talking to someone else in one of the other rooms, and the way she was talking struck me funny.  I started laughing, and they stopped again to make sure I was ok.

I tried to explain, but the idea was a little more complex and I wasn't sure if I was making my point, which was that they were talking to all their stoned patients like they were a bunch of five year old children.  I tried to explain it to them, but finally gave up. It was too much work.

Right about then, they stopped talking to me, and started talking to each other, but I didn't realize that I wasn't in the conversation any more.  She was reminiscing about her first day there, when she had taken a face plant on an icy ski slope a couple of days before and scraped most of the skin off her forehead and nose and had to show up for work looking like a giant scab.  The dentist was telling her he was a snowboarder and used to do the parks and ride the halfpipe and do that thing where you jump up and slide down the rail, and the same thing happened to him once.  My eyes were ping ponging back and forth between them, and I desperately wanted to inject some of my hilarious snowboarding stories into the mix (of which I have none) but for some reason I had all these hands and tools and drills and stuff in my mouth and it was making it hard to talk.  I finally raised my hand, and they stopped.

"Are you in pain?" the assistant asked, concern in her voice.

"You fuckinwimme?" I asked her, pointing at my dentist. "He snowboards?"

She stifled a laugh and he said that yes, indeed, he did snowboard, and that I would have to be quiet now and let them finish up so we didn't cause delays for other patients. I knew I was definitely out of the conversation at that point.

That was the weirdest thing for me -- I couldn't clearly tell who they were addressing when they spoke.  It sounds ridiculous, but it was confusing as hell.  The dentist would say something like "Hand me the spoon excavator" and I'd be like, Hell yes! Anything you need! Just tell me what it looks like, and I'm on it! Then other times he'd be like "OK, sit up and rinse. You can spit into the funnel," and I'd be just laying there thinking It's pretty weird that he wants her to spit into some funnel.

The other freaky thing is, for me at least, time was stretched. I kept looking at my watch after what I felt like a really long time had gone by and it had been about five minutes.  They were probably wondering what the hell I was late for, I was looking at my watch so much.

They were about half way done, and had been drilling in my head for about four hours (30 minutes) and I realized that I had to pee so bad my entire body was tensed up because my bladder felt like someone was standing on it. It had apparently taken the signal a while to get through, because I had to go.  And the assistant is telling me "Relax, just keep breathing through your nose." I wanted to tell her that the last thing I should do is relax, because if I did, there'd be a cleanup in aisle five.  Finally I raised my hand again.  They stopped drilling and I said I needed to go to the bathroom, which I am pretty sure I heard come out of my mouth as "baffroon" but they got the idea.

I stood up and immediately felt ten times drunker than I did before.  I stumbled out of the room with the assistant's hand on my back.  She was talking me through it.  "OK, just go straight, watch out for the door jamb, don't trip on the rug, it's the first door on your left. Your other left, that's it."  I was bouncing off the walls, and the hallway looked lonnnnng, and all I could feel was this giant, warm hand on my back.  Finally, we were outside the bathroom door, and I went in.  I looked in the mirror and opened my mouth and was immediately grossed out by the little bloody nubbin that had once been my tooth.  I closed my mouth and staggered in front of the toilet.  I briefly thought about threading the needle, or maybe even sitting down, but I figured if  I sat down I might not get back up.  So I did what any drunk guy would do.  I aimed center mass and took no prisoners.  I peed for about 30 minutes (one minute) and I made a racket the entire time and gave no fucks.  It was the longest pee of my life.  I finished, washed up, made sure everything was back where it was supposed to be, and walked out of the room and into the waiting giant hand of the assistant, who ushered me back to my armless chair, whereupon I began huffing again in earnest. 

After that, things went pretty smoothly.  I'm not sure if they had upped the gas again or what, but the rest of the grinding and the mounting of the temporary crown was basically a blur. A few requests to bite down, that's it, no, not on my finger, and it was done.

When it was all over, they sat me in a chair for about 20 minutes and pretty soon I was back to normal. It's kind of amazing how quickly the nitrous leaves your system and you're not drunk anymore.

I have to go back in about a week to get the permanent crown put on.  I think whatever they did solved my problem because even with the temporary crown, my temperature sensitivity has gone away.  I'm not sure if they'll let me have the nitrous next time or not. I doubt it.  I probably don't want it anyway because I found out that it's an extra hundred and twenty bucks that isn't covered by insurance. Oops. Merry Christmas to me.  I have to admit, being stoned off my gourd did help with the anxiety. They probably could have pulled all my teeth out and played a game of jacks with them and I wouldn't have given a shit.

Totally worth the money.

* In unrelated news, I'm still banned for life from the Japanese area of Epcot. 

5/19/17

I learned a new word.

I overheard a conversation today in which one woman smugly said to another woman, "I engaged my kundalini today."

The first thought that occurred to me was that it sounds like something you'd order in an Italian restaurant.  I'll have the Kundalini with Clam Sauce, please. Yes, paired with a nice red, thank you. Or maybe the name of a great magician of yester-year, Kundalini the Magnificent or some such.

But after listening for a while, it started sounding like it was something physical, or perhaps made of some kind of invisible energy.  The first one "engaged her kundalini" like it was some kind of powerful weapon of the future. "The Borg are attacking the ship! Should we engage the Kundalini, Captain?  "Make it so, Number One."

The second woman didn't so much engage her kundalini, she was all about "releasing" hers, which sounds more like something from a shitty monster movie where some evil mastermind sets the Kundalini loose to wreak havoc on the townspeople.  DEAR GOD! SHE'S RELEASED THE KUNDALINI!! RUN! RUN FOR YOUR VERY LIVES!

So with the vast power of the internet at my fingers, I did some hard-core research on The Kundalini, and by that I mean I typed it into google and followed the link to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Merriam-Webster says The Kundalini is the yogic life force that is held to lie coiled at the base of the spine until it is aroused and sent to the head to trigger enlightenment.

That sounds pretty suspect to me from a straight up physiological standpoint.  If I had something coiled up at the base of my spine, I'd probably know it, especially if it got aroused.  I'm getting up there in age, and as far as I can tell, never in my life has anything from my ass been railroaded up my spine into my skull (although I've been accused of having my head up my ass, but that's a totally different thing.)

I encourage everyone to go read this book.  It will explain in very accessible language exactly why all of this sort of BS is just that.  "What's the harm?" you may ask. "If a person wants to believe that some self-proclaimed hippie chick shaman who smells like weed and essential oils can shoot invisible beams out of her hands and "help" heal their broken leg or sooth their angry hemorrhoids, then why not?"

Well -- because it makes us dumber as a society, that's why not.  It's another step backwards toward the days when we were cowering in our caves wondering what made the gods so angry that they were shooting bolts of fire from the sky.  You may think I'm exaggerating, and maybe I am, a little, but it makes me angry and a little sad to see people buy into these things. Everybody wants to believe in magic, I get it, but just because it's ancient doesn't mean it's not complete bullshit. They used to bleed people and drill holes in their head to let the evil spirits out, too. Of course, in the 1800's they also used cocaine to treat depression and that shit totally worked, at least for a few hours, so there's that.

Is there something to natural medicine? Herbal remedies? What about massage therapy or acupuncture?  Sure there is.  If you're taking a natural supplement for your aching joints and it's "all natural" and it's really working, check the ingredients. You'll probably find willow bark extract, which contains salicin, which is a chemical similar to aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). That's why it works. In fact, the first aspirin was synthesized from willow bark. But now you're paying $21.95 for a bottle of 30 pills of questionable quality control when you could pick up 300 Bayer aspirin for two bucks.  Massage and Acupuncture are simpler -- they both cause your body to release endorphins, which are the body's natural pain killers.  Eating spicy food will do the same thing, apparently. Probably nipple clamps will too, for all I know.

Anyway, back to The Kundalini.  Here are a few descriptions  of it.  I'll let you all form your own opinions after reading that. It sounds like maybe a nice thing to have, but if it's truly sitting at the base of the spine, I only have this to say -- I was staining my deck all day and now my Kundalini is killing me.  I think I angered it.  I'm going to try to fix it with a vodka martini and a dunk in the hot tub.

Wish me luck.  If my head explodes, you guys know what happened.



9/12/16

A Forced March in the Woods. Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

We continued hiking toward Sampson Lake, figuring we’d get there with enough time to rest a bit, gather some firewood and decide what we were going to have for dinner. We didn’t have a ton of choices. We’d been shoveling homemade granola into our faces like squirrels all day, courtesy of Greg’s wife, but we were getting ready for more substantial fare.

When we finally reached the lean-to we were pretty beat. We dumped our packs and went down to check out the water. It’s a weird feeling when you take that 40 pounds of lumpy misery off your back -- you feel simultaneously off balance and like you don’t weigh anything. It makes you run around like a toddler for few minutes until you get used to it. The lake was small but pristine. And we were the only ones on it. It was glorious. I could have been sitting ten feet away from the body of a footless hiker and I probably wouldn’t have even noticed, but we had made it to our first waypoint. I activated my spot and sent the “all good” message to our wives and started getting some firewood together, and in the meantime I collected some lake water and started it filtering so we’d have it ready to boil when we were done gathering wood. I was looking forward to a hot meal and some relaxation.

I was pretty well stocked up with Mountain House freeze dried “Gourmet” meals, however they are gourmet only when compared to other large scale, commercially produced freeze dried meals which means that on a practical level, they suck slightly less than the competition. On the plus side, since they are freeze dried, they are very light, and cooking them basically means you only need to boil water, dump it into the envelope, let it sit for twelve minutes then shovel a giant sodium bomb into your pie hole. Seriously, they are so salty that they’d probably stop your heart if you had to eat them for more than a week. If you look at the ingredients, there’s anywhere from 880 to 1600 grams of sodium in each serving. The kicker -- each meal is 2.5 servings. Taste-wise, some of them aren’t too bad, and if you stick to the basics you’ll be OK for a few days. You probably won’t shit for a week after you get home, but that’s not the worst thing that could happen when you’re deep in the woods with a single hot spare pair of underwear.

The Beef Stroganoff is pretty good, and the spaghetti and meatballs isn’t horrible if you don’t mind “meatballs” the size of peas that have the texture of rubber pellets. I’m not sure if they’re actually meat, but they do add some texture. Frankly, it all tastes pretty good by the time you’ve hiked a bunch of miles and had nothing to eat but a few handfuls of granola and a power bar. Some of them are spectacularly bad, however. Scrambled eggs and bacon, for instance. When you first open the package, it looks like squares of yellow styrofoam and dirt -- and after you cook it, it looks like wet squares of yellow styrofoam and dirt. I had it for the first and last time when I went camping with my brother and my six-year-old nephew. My nephew took two bites of it and said that it “tasted like a recycled fart.”  I’m not sure I want to know the arcane and probably disgusting process involved in recycling a six-year-old’s fart, so I’ll just have to take his word for it.

The lean-to was nice, except that it had a stream. Normally that would be a feature and not a bug, but the problem was that the stream in question ran directly under the lean-to. It wasn’t much, a trickle of water really, but the ramifications were that if you sat on the edge of the lean-to, your boots were in the muck. It was perfectly positioned to get mud all over everything, including the floor of the lean-to. If you moved the lean-to three feet in either direction, you would have missed the water completely. It was almost as if it had been designed that way on purp-- Chad! You bastard!

Dinner for Greg was Spaghetti and Meatballs. Dinner for me was the infamous Chicken and Rice. You’d think there wouldn’t be much they could screw up with chicken and rice, but you’d be wrong. This was the first time I had it, and it sucks. It’s deceiving, because it smells pretty good when you’re cooking it. It has kind of a "Ramen noodles in a college dorm" kind of smell to it. It continues to fool you as you take the first few spoonfuls. After about the fifth spoonful, however, you realize that it tastes like buttered armpits on a hot summer day, and all you can think of is how horrible it would taste coming back up. Unfortunately for me, I had packed more than one of these horrible meals. I thought about trying to pawn one off on Greg, maybe trade him for a chili mac, but it was too late. Instead of giving him the old Tom Sawyer routine like I should have, I instead told him how gag-inducing it was, and after that he wanted nothing to do with it. I finished it, because it was our first night and I didn’t want to waste food, but it was painful.

After dinner, we hung out a bit then walked down to the water to watch the sunset. It was a beautiful still night and so peaceful, it already made the whole trip worth it. I wished I sucked it up and brought a good camera, but all we had was a couple of crappy point and shoots that couldn’t do it justice.

Sampson Lake Sunset
I thought we’d stay up a bit after we walked back to the lean-to but we were both so beat we decided to turn in pretty early because we wanted to get an early start in the morning.  We unrolled our sleeping pads and bags, and Greg discovered his pad wouldn't hold air.  It was surprising because it was a Thermarest and those things are generally indestructible. So much so, they have a lifetime warranty.  I've owned the same two for over 20 years and never had an issue. Unfortunately, when you are 20 miles from nowhere, a lifetime warranty isn't worth a recycled fart.  He was going to have a few rough nights ahead of him. The bummer of it was he had to carry that useless POS the rest of the way or he couldn't send it back for replacement.

I assumed I would fall asleep almost instantly, but Greg had other ideas. Or I should say that a certain part of Greg’s anatomy had other ideas. Get your mind out of the gutter.  I’m talking about his freakishly long uvula. And now I realize that probably doesn’t make it any better.

To make a long story longer, Greg fell asleep the second his head hit the sleeping bag, and he snores. With Gusto. And I mean "capital G" Gusto. And I had forgotten my earplugs. When I first closed my eyes and he drove that freight train directly through the lean-to, I thought, Holy shit, that’s loud. It’s like there’s a hibernating bear ten feet from me. Then as it got exponentially worse, I actually started laughing. I was so deliriously tired. It was like a Foghorn Leghorn snore wrapped in Three Stooges snore, then marinated, wrapped in drunken Shrek snore and cooked for an hour at 375 degrees. It was the Turducken of snores.

There was no way I was going to be able to sleep through that. Not without NyQuil or Yukon Jack, anyway. Since Greg doesn’t drink, and I didn’t have a head cold, neither of those two solutions was at hand. It was like having a 454 big block with a radical cam idling next to your head, with the driver goosing the throttle every once in awhile, just to keep you on your toes. I turned on my headlamp and dug around in my pack until I found my toilet paper, and I rolled a couple of pieces up and shoved them in my ears. Then I had more than his snore to worry about, because I had made one of the damned things too small and it went in my ear to the point where I couldn’t reach it. I grabbed my ear and wiggled it, I poked in there with my thumb and index finger and tried to grab it, but all I did was push it deeper in. It was just beyond my reach. Right about the time I started to panic a little, and give serious thought to waking Greg up to assist, I remembered that I had a pair of tweezers in my pack in case either of us picked up a tick. I grabbed them and gently dug around in my ear until I was able to grab a bit of the TP  and pull it out. I tossed them both and grabbed more toilet paper and made two more, probably twice the size as the originals. Unfortunately, they did no good at all -- It was like they weren’t there. I thought briefly about dunking them in water to increase their sound blocking capabilities, but then I figured that (a) I’d get one stuck again, only this time for good, and (b) I’d spend the next two days hiking down the trail feeling like my ear was being fucked by a monkey.

As I lay there wide awake, I tried all of the same tricks I use on my wife when she starts snoring. I knew from experience that if I could get him to wake up, and if I could fall asleep before him, chances are that I’d be able to stay asleep, given the amount of tired I was. The first thing I did was cough a few times. Nothing. I tried clearing my throat really loud. Nada. I yawned and made a sound like Chewbacca after he hit his shin on the coffee table, and that also had no effect. I was beginning to think he was deaf. I tried thumping my feet, which is easier to do on a mattress than a wooden floor, but it made a satisfying thump that didn’t even slow him down. I thrashed around like I just took a taser to the nuts, and when that didn’t work either, I gave up. I thought about maybe grabbing my tent and heading down to one of the nearby tent sites, but it was late, and cold, and I was already in my bag with my boots off. Short of getting out of my bag and kicking him, I was out of brilliant ideas. Then right when I was resigned to just staying up all night, I thought of one more thing to try. I fished my 2 watt LED flashlight out of my pack, and shined it directly into his face. It lit up the entire lean-to in a bright white light. He stopped snoring almost immediately, thrashed around a bit, mumbled something that sounded like "No...no...not again" and then rolled over into the fetal position. It's also possible that I had been watching too many X-files episodes and what he really said was, "Get that fucking light out of my face" but I guess we'll never know for sure. I said something about hearing an animal, and turned the light off.

I learned a couple of important things. One, when someone’s sense of hearing is overloaded with whatever internal circuits make it possible for them to simultaneously snore like a chainsaw and not wake themselves up, the sense of sight is still working, even through closed eyelids. Two, Greg mostly only snores when he is on his back. So now I have a plan for our next trip, and it involves making him a mandatory sleeping shirt. It has pockets on the back which I will fill with these to keep him sleeping on his side. Or maybe these. I haven’t decided yet. I know he felt bad about it, so I hope he’s not pissed when he reads this, but it’s all in fun. I just need to go to sleep first is all. Barring that, if it’s not raining, I am going to sleep about 100 yards away, and "guard the camp perimeter" with my earplugs.

The next morning, I felt pretty good for having gotten about three hours of sleep. I must have dozed off at some point, because I actually woke up, which is generally a good indicator that you have, in fact, gone to sleep. I jumped out of my sleeping bag and immediately regretted it, but not as much as I thought I was going to. Sure, my legs and feet were a bit sore, but other than the normal “sleeping on the ground” stiffness in my back, I was ready to roll. I put my boots on and got ready to face another day of hiking. For breakfast, I opted for oatmeal and some mountain house “granola and milk” which looked like dried nuts and berries in a bag of cocaine. You were supposed to add water and shake it up, then pretend it was milk. I think it needed more water than the directions called for, because the milk had the consistency of latex paint, but I ate it anyway. Greg opted for another couple handfuls of homemade granola, and I think he probably got the better of the deal. Luckily, his knee didn’t feel any worse than it had the day before, so we were able to postpone the “point of no return” decision until later that morning. We were still a few miles away from the actual halfway point in our hike. We figured we’d take a break right between West Lake and South Lake and decide what to do. At that point, we could either turn around and hike back the same distance over trails we knew the condition of, or we could continue on into the unknown. The plan was to take stock of the knee situation, and as long as it didn’t feel like it was getting worse, we’d press on.

All my thoughts about how good I felt disappeared the second I shrugged into my pack and had the full weight of 40 pounds plus water pulling down on my bruised collar bone and hips. I felt like an astronaut coming back to earth after a month in the international space station. Every step sucked, and because the main trail was back UP from lake level, it was a shitty way to start the morning. But after the first mile or so, the kinks were worked out and we felt pretty good.

The first day was filled with insightful and entertaining conversation, but by the second day most of our sentences were comprised of two words or less, and usually one of them was some sort of profanity. A typical conversation went something like:

Greg (looking at map): Ugh.
Me: What?
Greg: Hill.
Me: Bad?
Greg: eh.
Me: Far?
Greg: 1000 feet.
Me: Shit.
Me: Knee?
Greg: Good.
Me: Good.

It wasn’t just our language we lost. We lost most of our humanity. It hadn’t even been a full two days and we were already blowing our noses directly into our hands and trail farting without remorse. At first we’d do the decent thing and give the guy hiking in the back some kind of warning, but by the end of the second day it was every man for himself. You had to recognize the signs, or you only had yourself to blame. The good thing about being in front was that you didn’t have to deal with the crop dusting. The bad thing was that you were the one who got to do the I-just-got-a-spider-web-across-the-face-dance. It was probably a fair trade.

We got to the halfway point pretty early, and Greg said his knees didn’t feel much worse. That was good, but there was no guarantee they’d stay that way, so we gave it some thought while we rested. It would be a shame to go back, but the devil you know and all that. I told him it was up to him; I was good to go if he was. I then said that I only paid for the airlift rescue insurance for myself, and that if I had to hit the little red SOS button on the SPOT! tracker because he couldn’t walk, I couldn’t guarantee that they’d take him along. I also told him that I thought I read in the fine print that they just shoot the lame ones, but he decided to chance it and we continued on with our original plan. We’d try to make the lean-to on the south shore of Cedar Lakes by late afternoon. Failing that, if it got dark before we reached the lake, we figured we’d camp off the trail somewhere along the way. Either way, that would leave the last hard part (Cobble Hill) and a short hike to the north side of Cedar Lakes to the other lean-to for day three, and spend the last night there. We’d wake up in the morning, take our time, and hike the four short miles back to the car. We knew the next day called for rain, and we figured a short hike from the south side lean-to to the north side lean-to might be just what the doctor ordered. Besides, we wanted to see some of the cool bridges that we had heard about.

Since this loop is pretty far out in the wilderness, most of the bridges haven’t been repaired in quite some time. A lot of the bridges over certain streams had been washed out, so you were forced to rock hop across. Sometimes that could be tricky with a pack on, but it wasn't too bad because the water level was low. Now I know why people use trekking poles - those extra balance points while rock-hopping across water can come in handy. Also, you can bet your ass I’m going to have at least one strapped to the back of my pack going forward. Luckily, none of it was deep enough that we had to take our boots off and wade across. My favorite bridge had to be this one - it was a bitch to cross, since it was slippery and at a 40 degree angle in some places:


Here’s another longer one that took us over some wetlands:


And this one probably won’t be there next year. Also a little iffy to cross:



We got to the South end lean-to around 4 pm, and while it was in good shape, there was quite a bit of left behind old junk. There was a table for cooking nailed/tied to a tree, and a good-sized fire pit. There was also a dock that was high and dry, because apparently an old dam had collapsed and the Cedar Lakes are in the process of becoming the Cedar River again. It’s a slow process, but it’s happening.



 Apparently it’s due to the state’s rule about not repairing structures on land that has a wilderness designation. I’m wondering if they have a similar rule about their outhouses. I made the mistake of going to check the state-sanctioned pooper. It was completely full of shit. It wasn’t at Michael Moore levels quite yet, but it was close. Put it this way -- you could see the pile inside the hole while still standing outside. For those of you who don't camp where there's no indoor plumbing, that’s not normal in an outhouse. That’s not even normal in Guanabara Bay. I closed the door and walked back to the lean-to.

“How is it?” Greg asked.

“Put it this way,” I said. “Be careful of where your junk swings if you decide to sit down,” I replied.

He laughed. I think he thought I was kidding.

“I think you think I am kidding," I said. "I'm not."

“I might have to suck it up and make a visit,” he replied. “That granola has been trying to get back out of me for the last hour.”

“Good luck,” I said. “Hope for shrinkage.”

He was gone for a bit, and in the meantime, I got the stove set up and starting looking around for some firewood for later. When he got back, he had a haunted look on his face. I think being told about it and experiencing it directly were two very different things. I asked him how it went and he shuddered a little and said, “I just...hovered...and..added to the pile.”

That visual will haunt me forever.

We were pretty gross and sweaty from the hike and Greg decided he wanted to go swimming and get cleaned up a little. It was a good idea, but the water was damned cold, and I wasn't sure I was up for it.  I figured I'd let him go first.  I was glad I did because he didn't last long.  I tested the water and immediately came up with a different plan, and fired up my camp stove.  I mixed a liter of boiling water with a liter of lake water and put it in an MSR dromedary bag, and hung it on a tree. There's a little flip valve on it that let out a stream of water, and I used that to take a nice, warm backwoods shower.  It felt like I was getting pissed on by an angry god, and it was probably the best shower I've ever had.

After we were cleaned up and in fresh clothes, we scavenged some wood for the camp fire and I scoped out a place for the bear hang while it was still light.  It's always easier to find the perfect spot and get it set up before you need it. I've done it in the dark many times, and it's a pain in the ass every single time. After dinner, we made some coffee (Thank you, Starbucks, for your ridiculously overpriced instant coffee packets that are perfect for backpacking and taste almost like real brewed coffee) and hung around the fire talking.  It was night time, so we were back to full sentences. After the fire burned down, we headed toward our bags, and mercifully, I was able to fall asleep before Greg and he must have slept mostly on his side because I only woke up a few times during the night, once because what sounded like a 300 pound chipmunk was rifling through the camp looking for something to eat.

The next day was a bit colder and a lot more dreary, and looked like it was going to rain.
We got a pretty early start figuring that we'd beat the rain to the next lean-to.  I had my rain gear packed in an outside pocket for quick access, and I had given Greg an old surplus military poncho that I had used to cover my pack on previous trips.  According to the map, it looked like we had the highest bit of elevation ahead of us, Cobble Hill, and neither of us was looking forward to it.

It turned out to be not too bad, but it did start pouring buckets about half way to the last lean-to.  It was pretty much an uneventful put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other slog in the rain, looking at not much else but our own feet because of all the rain in our faces. We made pretty good time regardless, although the hardest part was not slipping on the leaf-covered rocks and roots that littered the trail.  When we came around the corner and saw the lean-to, it was just about lunch time. The rain was starting to let up, so we checked out the lake, and got some water filtering for a hot meal.

View from the North-End Cedar Lakes Lean-To.

The lean-to was well-provisioned.  Someone had left behind a brand new foam sleeping pad, the latest issue of Penthouse, and an unopened bottle of Gentleman Jack.  It was enough to make us wish we had hiked the loop counter-clockwise instead, because then Greg would have been sleeping on something softer than pine boards, and I would have had a bottle of Jack to help me ignore the snores.  As for the Penthouse, well. We're above that sort of thing. Also, I already had that issue.

As we sat there in the rain eating our lunches, we took stock of the weather.  The next day wasn't going to be much better, and spending a wet night in a lean-to with no fire didn't really sound too appealing to either one of us.  So we looked at the sky, looked at each other and decided to hike the rest of the way out to the truck.  When we finally got back to the crowded parking lot, this is what we saw:


Luckily, The World's Loneliest Comedian wasn't sleeping in the back. We made it back to my house in record time.   Greg helped me get my gear into the basement since there was no way my wife was letting us in the front door with our muddy boots and soaking wet clothes.  While he wasn't looking, I stuck my last chicken and rice meal into his pack.

A few days later, I got this picture in an email from Greg.  It's a guy who does drawings in the shape of animals by hiking or riding his bike while tracking on his GPS.  The subject of the email was:  "I don't think our hike was ambitious enough."


I sent him this back, with the subject of "I don't know. I think we did OK."


A few minutes later, I got his reply.  It simply said:  "Damn, that hike was a lot harder than I remember it."

And that's why I love my friends.  They can all stoop to my level with such effortless grace. 

6/23/16

A Forced March in the Woods, Part I

It's 11:55 pm on Friday, and I am officially turning over a new leaf.  I've just removed the Book of Faces and Twitter apps from my phone, and my plan is that I'm only going to check them once a day, and then eventually wean myself off of doing even that.  The way I figure it, infinity apps are the devil, and they sap your productivity and do nothing but waste your time.  So this is a grand experiment.  My goal is to spend less time dicking around reading various political rants and trying to interpret the meaning behind cryptically posted memes and quotes and more time on the important things in life, like television and finishing up the work-at-home portion of the curriculum required to graduate from Scary Clown School.

So what have I been up to?  I know nobody asked, but it's my blog so I'm going to tell you.  Ye Olde Photography, mostly.  I know I've mentioned my photography jones before, but I keep going backwards in time.  I started out with a Crown Graphic and a Bronica S2 from the mid-50's and 60's respectively, but lately I've been shooting film using big old wooden cameras like these, which date from the early 1900's:



For some reason, I'm drawn to alternative processes that were used before the final black and white process as we know it was ironed out. These techniques are from the mid 1800's -- basically from the advent of photography. One of my future goals is to learn how to do wet plate collodion, which is just about the coolest thing in the photographic universe.  It's a little dangerous and a little poisonous, but you know, so is life.

I've been doing Cyanotypes, Vandyke Browns, and regular old silver gelatin prints mostly.  You know, normal stuff that normal people do in modern times.  I still want to try Bromoil, which is a very neat medium that combines various printer's ink and bleached gelatin prints.  Here's a cool example by my friend Mark.

Why am I doing this?  Mostly because I got tired of shooting a thousand digital shots to get one good one just because I could (the 'spray and pray' method of photography), and then never doing anything with them.  I started to become disenchanted with all of the pictures I saw that were clearly stillframes from 4K slow-motion video, or HDR'd within an inch of their lives so the photo ended up looking like a shitty Thomas Kinkade painting, which is not to imply that there exists on this planet a non-shitty one.  Some people love that stuff, but I hate it. Everything looks like CGI from a video game.  I wanted to do something that was a little more artistic -- something that required skills I would have to learn and continue to hone over time.  I wanted to produce something that was one-of-a-kind -- something that could be completely wrecked at any point in the multi-step process if I didn't pay attention to what I was doing.*

Let me leave you with a couple of prints.  The first one is a cyanotype of an abandoned church in the Bahamas printed on some watercolor paper:


And this one is a regular old silver gelatin print of an abandoned truck that I just found in the woods.  It was taken with that 5x7 camera and lens in the picture above:


Well, I'm not really leaving you, per se, I'm just leaving that particular subject for now because I know I probably lost half my audience to boredom already.  If anyone is interested in seeing more of my photos, email me and I'll send you a link to my Flickr account.  No nudes. To clarify, by that I mean I don't have any to show you. Of me or anyone else. To clarify further, I don't care if you're naked when you email me, just don't tell me about it because that would be weird.  And also probably unsanitary.

For the three of you who are left, the real reason for this post (other than the fact that my wife is on a girl's weekend with her friends and I have the house to myself) is that I just finished watching "A Walk in the Woods." It's a movie based on a book by Bill Bryson, and I know it's a cliche to say this, but it really sucked compared to the book. Vast chunks of the book were left out - and from what I could tell, it was most of the funny chunks.  I think Robert Redford was a little bit mis-cast, and Nicke Nolte was a lot mis-cast.  Also, he sounded like he was gargling kangaroo nuts the entire time.  I did laugh once or twice, but mostly at the slapstick and mostly because I'm a cheap date.

At any rate, it reminded me that I still have to write about my own "Walk in the Woods" last fall -- a 27-ish mile loop around the West Canada lakes that I did with my friend Greg, who shall remain nameless. DAMMIT.  I did that wrong.  OK, so now you know his name, it's time for me to pimp him out.  He makes custom furniture, does antique restoration work, and best of all, makes custom electric guitars from scratch.  Go see his stuff right now. It's awesome.  I'll wait.

Nobody listens to me.  You didn't even go, did you?  Bastards, all of you.

Our trip began like so many things today do, via a dick pic sent over snapchat. No, no, I'm kidding.  I barely know what snapchat is, and besides, nobody wants to see that.  It really started with that most archaic of all technology - email. I got an email from Greg in July with a subject of "Bucket List Hike" and the details of a three day loop around a series of small lakes in the West Canada Lakes wilderness.  He said, "It's in the wilderness area behind that log cabin we stayed in many years ago. I used to spend hours poring over the topo maps. I've been intrigued by it for years."

I must have been drinking pretty heavily at the time, because in a fit of bad judgement,  I immediately shot him a response that said, "Let's do it. We're not getting any younger."  I don't think he expected that because it took him a while to respond. Either that, or Wheel of Fortune was over, and he was already in bed.  His initial reply indicated that he'd need to start doing daily hikes and buy some gear, and finally, after a few more back and forth messages in which we both partook of much hemming and a not insignificant amount of hawing, we agreed that we would start considering this as something that we were going to do.  Granted, it's not like through-hiking the AT, but even so, I think we were both sort of amazed that we had just decided that yes, we were going to hike approximately 20-30 miles into the woods without any good reason (like, for instance, a pressing need to avoid the law.)

We then decided on a September time frame, discussed our various outstanding physical ailments, talked about the best ways to get in shape for this, and finally decided that there was no way we could get in shape for this, so we decided to do it in three nights and four days instead of two nights and three days. Doing it in three days would be almost ten miles per day, and that seemed a little ambitious, given the fact that we both work from home and take about a thousand steps a day circumnavigating a rough triangle that consists of  (1) where we work, (2) where we eat and (3) where we defecate.  Sometimes you can even cut that down by two thirds with a slice of cold pizza and an empty Snapple bottle. Add to that the fact that we'd be carrying packs that would weigh in the neighborhood of 40 pounds each, and the extra day seemed like a fantastic idea.  We told each other that it was so we'd have an extra day to "enjoy the hike," when we both knew it was really code for having an extra day to "not throw up our own testicles."

Once we decided where we were going, we wanted to get maps -- the problem with this location is that in order to map the entire loop, you'd need four different quadrangles.  Luckily, we found a place on line that prints custom topo maps for cheap and on waterproof paper no less. So I was able to order this on a single map:



And a few days later, this showed up in my mailbox:



It was a thing of beauty.  Waterproof, folded, and it had a matte finish so you could write on it.  Except for the unfortunate placement of the UTM grid that makes it look like we'd be passing Butthead Pond, it was perfect.


We had a map, a compass, a GPS, four days off, and a dream.  Due to circumstances beyond our control (wives) we weren't able to leave when we had planned, (wives) so the trip got pushed to October, which meant we had to worry about two things:  Hunting season and cold, wet weather.  It was touch and go for a while as to whether we'd even be able to do it (wives), but at the last minute things worked out and we headed off early one mid-October Sunday morning.  I told Greg not to wear his brown suede coat and white gloves, and luckily he took my advice.  The good thing about doing this during the week is that we'd pretty much be the only people in the woods.  The bad thing, of course, was *also* that we'd be the only people in the woods.

To that end, I purchased a SPOT! tracker, which is a GPS device that allows you to contact search and rescue if things go to shit and you are stuck 20 miles from the nearest road and have, for instance, a random bone poking out of your meat suit.  It also allowed our respective wives to know we were ok, and track our progress.  I'd read that the transmission can be hit or miss depending upon how open it is to the sky, so I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that at some point during our trip, one of us would be perched at the top of a tree screaming obscenities at the uncaring gods and waiting for a little red light to turn green and still not knowing if we were about to get rescued or if the blinking green light just meant the batteries were still good.  It's safe to say the UI on these units is a little lacking.

Interestingly, for being a Sunday, when we got to the parking lot, it was so crowded there was barely any place to park.  We squeezed into the last spot and got out of the truck.  There had to be 20 cars there, and the people milling about the parking area ran the gamut from redneck hunter types to college students to moms and dads trying to pretend their lives haven't changed even though dad has a comatose one-year-old strapped to his back like a sixteen pound spiral ham that has the poops. We locked up the truck, strapped on our packs, and headed out.  Lucky for us, most of the people there were day hikers headed for the summit of Pillsbury mountain, so nobody was following us on the trail.  A few hundred yards in, a group of 20-year-olds passed us in the opposite direction, heading back to the parking lot. I assume they had done the hike counter-clockwise.  They barely looked winded, and were moving fast. They nodded to us as they went by, probably thinking about the all-night party they were going to be attending after they hit the gym and showered up because they don't need to do stupid olds stuff like sleep or rest.

We decided to do the hike clockwise, which meant that our first day goal was to hit Sampson lake before night fall. Pillsbury lake was too close, and Sampson lake was about eight miles out.  In between was Whitney Lake, but that one had a really long detour around the lake to get to the lean-to, and it would have added a couple of miles to our hike. Turns out our decision was a good one, because apparently they removed the lean-to about five years ago. Neither one of us had hiked more than five miles with a pack on in a couple of years, so making Sampson lake was a challenge for our first day.  We looked at it as sort of a test.  Greg's knee had been bothering him on and off, and he had no idea how he was going to do.  We figured we'd play it by ear -- If we made it to Sampson lake and his knee was still OK, we'd continue on.  If, on the other hand, it felt like a hot water bottle full of broken glass, we'd stay there for a day or two then head back the way we came.  In our favor, the map showed the entire hike to be pretty level, with just small uphills and downhills the entire way, so we had a good feeling that we could do it.

We were about three or four miles in, well past Pillsbury lake and  on our way to Whitney when we saw our first backpacker.  I am hesitant to use that term, because he wasn't actually wearing a backpack.  He looked to be in pretty rough shape.  His T-shirt was soaked through with sweat, and his pants were so crusty that they looked like he got them out of the dumpster after a homeless guy threw them out.  He was dragging a backpack in the dirt, holding it in his right hand by one shoulder strap.  In his left hand, also dragging in the dirt, was a black, heavy-duty Hefty bag.  He staggered up to us, and when he was about 15 feet away, he said, "Am I glad to see you guys! Can you help me out?"

Oh Christ, here we go, I thought.

Greg and I stopped at a comfortable distance from him, and waited for more information. Unfortunately, a comfortable distance wasn't something he was fond of. He was a close-talker, so he kept drifting into our personal space, and we kept edging back, not knowing what to expect.  Meeting deranged people on the trail isn't something we have experience with, having never hiked the AT.  We didn't immediately answer his question, because neither one of us was going to say a word before we knew what sort of random asshattery saying "Sure! We'd be glad to!" would entail.

My bet was on some scam involving money, but Greg, as I found out later, had envisioned him asking us to carry his shit back to the parking lot for him.  Luckily for both of us, neither of our theories proved true.  Instead, he asked, "Uhhh....can you tell me if there's a lake around here somewhere?"

At first I I thought he was kidding, but when he didn't laugh, I realized he was serious.  We were in the West Canada Lakes wilderness region -- emphasis on the word "Lakes." You couldn't spin around in a circle while taking a piss without hitting a fucking lake.

"Um, you should have just passed Whitney Lake," Greg said.

"No, I don't think that's the one I'm looking for," he replied.

"Pillsbury Lake?" I asked, hopefully. "That's the only other one on this trail in the direction you're headed."

He dropped his stuff in the dirt.  "Yeah, that could be it."  He paused for a second, then added, "Maybe."

"Just keep going straight, you can't miss it," I said, and rested one hand on the can of bear spray attached to a holster on my hip.

"I'm Tim...," he said suddenly, then stuck out his hand to shake mine.  A little side-note here:  When someone sticks out their hand like that, some kind of automatic corporate reflex kicks in, and I will automatically reach out in kind to shake it.  You could be a zombie, sticking out the severed hand of another zombie and I would probably still shake it.  I was halfway there by the time I realized that no, I actually did *not* want to shake his hand. Not in the least. But at that point, I was committed.  He said something else, but I wasn't sure I heard him correctly because I was concentrating on how I was going to surreptitiously wipe my hand.  What I thought he said was, "...also known as The World's Loneliest Comedian."  I am a bit of a germaphobe when it comes to other people, and I have a vivid imagination.  I could easily picture him adjusting his sweaty nuts with that same hand right before he ran into us on the trail.  I mean, who hasn't done that while camping?  Guilty as charged.  Then he gave Greg the same rigorous, yet damply limp handshake.  I could tell by the look on Greg's face that yes, that was exactly what he had said.  Hi, I'm Tim, also known as The World's Loneliest Comedian.  Alrighty then.

Neither one of us knew how to respond to that statement.  So far, he hadn't been particularly funny.  Personally, I really didn't care what he wanted to call himself.  I just wanted to make sure that reason for his self-described loneliness wasn't because he had recently killed the people at the last lean-to he had passed and was now dragging a bag of severed feet back to the parking lot.

Before we could decide what the polite thing to say would be, he continued.  "Where are you guys from? Where are you going? Where are you camping tonight?" he asked. "I'm pretty beat," he told us, changing the subject without waiting for an answer. "I've  been out here for a while."

He swabbed his face with his soaked t-shirt. For someone who looked absolutely dead on his feet, he was pretty hyperactive.

"I do this a lot. Hike. Get out on the trail.  Helps keep me in shape." He jiggled his belly for emphasis.  "I don't have a car, so I'm hoping I can hitch a ride south to The City with someone," he added.  "That's how I got here.  Before this I was down in Georgia on the AT."

Aha!  That made sense.  From everything I've read, he'd fit right in on the AT.  We nodded at everything he said, not really adding a lot to the conversation.  While he made small talk at us, we just sort of milled around.  We wanted to be on our way but didn't want to just rudely walk away while he was in mid-sentence.  We wished him luck, looked at our watches, anything to basically force the conversation into the direction of being over.  But it wasn't.  "Oh! Let me give you my card," he said, then started digging around in his pants for his wallet. He finally found it, and pulled out a couple of business cards and handed them to us. You know how you sometimes get wet dollar bills for change when you buy a drink at a beachside concession stand?  It doesn't surprise you when it happens, because you're at the beach.  The business card felt kind of like that, except it was probably closer to getting wet money for change in a Walmart at 2 am.  Also not exactly a surprise, but you know, deep in your heart, that's not saltwater you're feeling, and there's no way to convince yourself that it is.

"I love giving out my card. I get a big kick out of it. You can check me out on YouTube.  Just search under The World's Loneliest Comedian." He pointed to the card I was still holding out in front of me.  "Like it says on the card there," he added. I decided right then and there to call him TWLC.

In my head.

"Where'd you guys say you were from?" TWLC asked us again, his record finally skipping back to the original groove.  (Back in the day, we had these flat vinyl discs that we would spin with a machine, and a tiny sapphire on a post would ride around in a groove and make music, and sometimes if the disc got a scratch in it, the needle would make a popping sound and jump out of its groove and start a section of the song over, and...I'm obviously horrible at explaining things.  Vinyl is popular again in certain circles, so my suggestion is to find someone with a man-bun who is wearing skinny jeans and thick-framed glasses and they'll explain it to you.)  We told him where we were from, and without being too specific, where we were going. Finally, I think he either ran out of things to talk about, or realized that he was keeping us from our hike, and he abruptly decided to get back on the trail.  He wished us luck, picked up his backpack and his bag of feet, and continued shuffling toward the parking lot, or presumably, if it could be found, Pillsbury Lake.

Greg and I hiked for a few minutes, glancing behind us every once in a while to make sure TWLC wasn't doubling back to add to his collection.  Finally, Greg broke the silence. "Well, that was pretty weird," he said.

"Yeah, what are the odds?" I replied.  "We're out here in the middle of nowhere and we run into The World's Loneliest Comedian."

Greg said, "How do we know he's telling the truth?  Maybe he's not the world's loneliest.  Maybe he's only the 3rd or 4th loneliest. He could have been lying."

"That's true," I said. "We may never know.  Unless he's been vetted by a sanctioned authority on relative levels of loneliness, it's just one sweaty man's subjective opinion."

We continued on.  We didn't know it, but that was the last human being we'd see for the next three days.

"You realize that he'll be sleeping in the back of your pickup tonight, right?" I said.

"Yep." Greg replied.

We continued to hike.  A lot. Or it felt like a lot, anyway.  We hiked slowly, and complained frequently as old guys are wont to do.  Nobody says that anymore.  Are wont to do. I'm going to bring it back - like I did for Fetch. I complained at every uphill, and Greg complained at every downhill, because that's what put the most stress on his knee.  So it was pretty much non-stop complaining.  At least at first.  At certain points, it appeared as if the trail had been cut by a sadist. Once, we hiked up a big hill away from the lake to a lean-to, and then the trail immediately turned and went back down to the lake.  Completely unnecessary.  It could have been a straight path with an intersecting trail to the lean-to, but no.  We blamed it on some mythical 25 year old bastard of a trail designer who thought it would be funny to route the trail that way.  We could picture him.  He was one of those guys who was in great shape and had expensive ultra-light equipment and hiked in shorts, even in the winter.  He had a GoPro and slept in a fancy hammock.  His name was Chad. We hated Chad.

Eventually, though, we got into a rhythm, and started talking.  About the hike, about mortality, about woodworking and politics.  That last can be interesting because I lean libertarian and he leans more progressive, whatever that means these days.  Basically, we agree on some topics and not on others, but we never let it get in the way of a good friendship.  And I really enjoy the back and forth of it.  Most of the time, when people talk  politics with other people who have different views than they do, nobody changes their minds about anything and everyone ends up pissed off.  Welcome to America.  In my case at least, when talking with Greg, he's sometimes made me see things from a different perspective, and I've actually changed my mind about some issues as a result.  I mean, I'm not voting for Bernie or anything, but still.

We've known each other since he was stuck directly in front of me in our high school physics class -- he was an egghead so he was in my class even though he was a year younger than I was.  We bonded over music, homemade cassette tapes and his older brother's expensive stereo.  When his brother wasn't home, we'd sneak into his room and make cassette tapes of our records, so we didn't wear them out.  I still have some of the tapes we made.  We had and still have a similar sense of humor, which I think is part of what kept us in touch all these years.  Even when he was living in Boston and we'd only talk once in a while, it was always immediately as if no time at all had gone by.  So it was like that this time as well.  We still live about an hour and a half away from each other, so we don't get to hang as often as we'd like to, so this was a welcome trip.

Thus endeth Part I, which is way too long already, and not nearly funny enough.  But you guys shamed me into posting something, damn you.  So it's your own fault, really.

See you in few!  (Days? Months? Who can tell?)

(Continue to Part II)

*kind of like sex, except I'm alone in the dark in the basement, and you know what? Bad example.

10/23/15

I needed a new one anyway...

This has to be one of the stupidest things I've ever done.  When it happened, I looked at my wife and said, "We tell no one of this. Ever."  So of course, I've decided to tell all of you so you can laugh at what an idiot I am.

Last weekend my wife and I packed up the car and threw the canoe on top and headed out to one of our favorite Adirondack lakes.  The thing about this place is that you can never tell just how busy it will be.  Sometimes you get there and there might be 10 cars in the parking lot and other times you might be the only ones there.  The other thing that can happen is that you are completely alone on a Friday morning at 9am, but by the same time the next day the lake is crawling with people. Or not. It's a mystery.

On this particular occasion, when we got there it wasn't overly crowded but there were a fair amount of cars.  Worse, there was already another car parked in the launch area and they were unloading their stuff.  It was a husband and wife and their dog.  I noticed two things immediately -- they had an inordinate amount of shit, and they had an electric trolling motor.

We parked behind them, and started doing the same thing.  We grabbed the canoe and brought it down to the water and then came back up for the rest of the stuff.  We exchanged pleasantries with them, and it turned out that they were from out of state and it was their first time there.  He started asking me about the campsites on the lake.

"So, are there many sites around here?  Can you make any recommendations?" he asked.

I thought fast, and told him the location of all the sites, starting on the right and working my way counter-clockwise, and ending with, "The last one is around this bend, and it's not bad. It's a little loud and everyone has to pass by it to get to the other sites.  That's the one we are hoping to get, because my wife's shoulder is bugging her and we can't paddle far." His wife was very nice, but she had this really loud smoker's voice and a Boston-like accent. Lucky for us, as it turned out.

The thing about this lake is that that there aren't that many sites, and it can be hard to get a good spot, or indeed, any spot.  Sometimes it can seem like a race -- who can get there first and fastest.  I always have that sense of panic when the place is crowded.  I have no idea why, but I get very competitive.

I was hoping he'd take pity on me and shoot for one of the other sites, because I had been really talking them up.  I knew he had a trolling motor and could definitely outrun us.  We finished chatting, and I practically ran to the car and grabbed the paddles and the life vests, the bear canister and some of my camera gear, and loaded them in the canoe.  I made another quick trip for the backpacks.  We kept looking to see how far along they were with their unpacking, and we were desperate to beat them out on the water.  My wife climbed in the front of the canoe, I pushed us out, jumped in the back and we were off.  I was paddling my ass off, going full-tilt because I wanted..no, needed to beat those motorized bastards out onto the lake.   We were almost out of earshot, paddling like a well-oiled machine, when in the distance I heard a distinctly Bostonian voice say, "I think they fuggot their cah."

My wife heard it too, and we immediately looked at each other in horror.  We had forgotten our car.  It was still parked in the middle of the launch area, all the doors wide open.

There was a split second where I actually thought, "Fuck it. We'll get another one," because that's how ruthless the race for campsites can get, but then good sense prevailed.

"Holy shit," I said. "I can't believe we forgot the car.  I'm never, ever going to be able to call someone stupid again, as long as I live."

So we did the paddle of shame back to the launch area, and the couple were still loading up their stuff.   I jumped out of the canoe, mumbled something about, "Ooops, forgot the car. Ha Ha. First time for everything," closed the hatchback and the rear doors, jumped in and drove it up to the lot and parked it.  I ran back down to the canoe and we pushed off again.

The good news is that we got the spot we were after and we didn't run into the other couple for a day or so. When we finally did, it turned out that they got a late start because they had a hole in their canoe.  I had nothing to do with that, I swear.

Our good luck didn't last, however.  Shortly before 5 pm, we saw something moving toward us. At first we couldn't make it out, but we could certainly hear the idiots as they yelled back and forth to each other, even though they were barely a yard apart.  There were many f-bombs, and a spirited conversation about knives was in progress.  As it got closer to us, I couldn't believe what I saw.

Two large canoes, connected by 2x4s, with a pallet suspended between them, piled high with shit. Grills, coolers, stereo equipment, multiple 50 gallon garbage bags full of what I can only assume were clothes, full-sized lawn chairs, propane tanks, lanterns and more. You name it, and it was probably on this shitpile homemade catamaran.  There was an electric trolling motor fastened to the back of the pallet, and one guy was steering the whole barge with a stick while the other three drank.   I shook my head, and turned to my wife and said, "We'll be hearing from them later, guaranteed."  It ended up being worse than that.

As dusk approached, I boiled water to cook dinner, and as I was fiddling with the stove, I saw another kayak heading right for us.  I went down by the water to see what was up.  It was a young girl, probably 18 or 19, and she said, "I think I have the wrong campsite.  My friends said they'd be here."

"Yes, you have the wrong campsite." I replied. "They're not here.  Did they have some sort of  homemade shitpile catamaran by any chance?" I asked.

"Yes! That's them. Do you know where they went?"

"I think they're about 3 campsites down on the left," I said. "That thing was hilarious by the way."

She didn't say anything about my opinion of their boat, but thanked me and left.

A couple of hours later, another pair of kayaks show up holding two guys each.  By now it's full dark, and we have a fire going. They are shining their flashlights at us and we can hear them throwing f-bombs and talking about some girl they know and describing her as a "humper."  Class acts, obviously.  It turns out that nobody got the memo that their spot was already taken, and since there's no cell service at this lake, everyone looking for the party headed directly for our campsite until they realized that we weren't their fuckhead college friends and veered off.

This went on until about 1am.  People out on the lake with flashlights, yelling to each other and trying to find the party.  It wasn't that hard to find, since it sounded like a full on frat house in the middle of the wilderness. Obnoxious rap music, lights, screaming, laughing...until 4am at least.  I was a little on edge to tell you the truth because I don't like people on the lake in front of my campsite in the middle of the night.  Luckily, my wife had gone into the tent before me.  The last thing she said was, "I'm not sure I'm going to be able to go to sl--" and then the snoring started, so she missed the bulk of it.  I stayed up and tended the fire until there were no more people on the lake, mostly because I wanted to make sure there wasn't going to be any idiots doing stupid things, but also because my wife was snoring like a drunk biker and I really didn't want to get in the tent with her.  Eventually, everything quieted down and I crawled into the tent and fell asleep.

I'm thinking I might have to find another place to go, or we're going to have to just start camping exclusively during the week. It seems that word has gotten out that this place has no ranger presence and is easy to get to, so it's become a party destination on the weekends.  I'm not sure if we just have bad luck, or if it's like this all the time now, but it used to be deserted after labor day.   I think part of the problem is that they improved the road a few years ago and it's much smoother and easier to navigate than it used to be.  Back in the day it would take you an hour to go twelve miles because the roads were so rutted that even with an F-150 you'd have to go really slow if you wanted to keep your exhaust system.  Now it's so smooth you can do 25 mph in a smart car and not spill your latte.

Anyway, that's pretty much the stupidest thing I've done lately.  I won't say the stupidest thing I've ever done, because I'm hoping I have a lot more time to top it, but so far it's right up there.  

Here's a handful of pictures for you:

Milky Way before the moon came up.  The tree is lit by our fire.

Sunset the first night

My co-pilot

30 second exposure by moonlight