Month: April 2016

Up up and away….

The last night in Florida was great.  My sister, Ellen, drove down to pick us up and take us to her house for the night.  My parents came over for dinner to participate in “twenty questions.”  It was a good “last supper” for us.

We had a very nice chat with my sister on the ride up.  Even though we only live two hours away, we only visit for a few hours a year at the holidays.  With her boys in college now, I hope she and Martin take the opportunity to travel more.  We hope to be able to meet them and their oldest son, Brian, this summer as we skirt around Eastern New York.

The final stuffing of the packs went without a hitch.  Karen’s pack weighed 18lb before food and water so that’s only one pound away from the target.  We are carrying more clothes than we will need in the summer and heavier bags than we will be using then, so her summer weight should be closer to 15.  My pack was heavier than expected, too, at 22 pounds before food and water.  I was hoping for 18.  I already decided to ditch the Kindle and rain pants.  We have long pants, fleece pants, and umbrellas so I might not be super comfy in cold rain the first month, but I’ll get by.  I decided to keep the guide book, but it’s on the chopping block.  The pack was overstuffed with only four days of food so I also switched out the twenty degree winter bag for the forty degree summer bag.  Now everything fits, but just barely.  If we get weather below freezing I will need to sleep in my fleece.  I should be able to use the summer bag for the whole trip until we get down to the Smokies in September.  (Update: Union Station has a post office in it so the Bluetooth keyboard is on its way south.)

We transferred all the stuff that you don’t want to check through security into my pack and stuffed it to the gills.  We then had her pack still stuffed pretty full and one carry on food bag. We we zipped right through TSA pre check for some reason and got right to the gate in record time.

Why are TSA agents always gruff?  It must be part of the job description.

I expected a delay with the pack through the x-ray since there were a thousand odd things in there but it flew through.  A quick stop at Starbucks and a restroom break at the gate and we are up up and away as I write his in the air if for no other reason than to test out the offline posting modes.  Seems to work well.  And typing on the new phone is not as bad as I thought it was going to be so I think the Bluetooth keyboard is leaving us at the first post office we hit, too.

Since we had to check one bag, we had to stop at the ticket counter check-in.  The line was huge and we thought we might miss our flight at first, but an agent told us that there was a small line at the far end, so that worked out well.  It seemed like she was there to talk to us specifically and no one else.  Our guardian is already watching over us.  One woman at the front counter said she had been waiting in line for over an hour.  I’m very glad that was not our case. I think we will have a very good trip.

T-minus 2 days – Initiate Launch Sequence…

…and get ready for main engine throttle-up.

There’s no turning back now.  Its done.  Our fate is sealed.  And it feels great.

Yesterday was the last day of work for both of us, and while that day was a very difficult one, it feels like a huge weight has been lifted.  Both of us have had difficulty sleeping for the last month.  We wake up at midnight or 2 am and often don’t get back to sleep.  Not last night.  We both slept like babies.  I awoke at about 4:30 (not unusual) and Karen at 5:30 and we are both fully rested.  I spent the hour in bed testing out the offline editing mode in the WordPress app and it took a little bit of getting the hang of it, but I think I have the hang of it now.

Back to work…  Karen’s crew gave her a sendoff last week and gave her a nice basket full of hiking foods, and my coworkers did the same yesterday.  We spent a good deal of time last night integrating all the goodies with our boxes and everything is all laid out now and ready to go.  Yesterday, I was surprised to find that I was not locked out of my computer all day and had everything buttoned up and ready to go by 4PM.  All the emails on COBRA and other post-employment emails forwarded to the personal account – check.  Desk cleaned out – check.  Grab the photo of Karen from my desk, shake a few hands, and I’m gone.  Goodbye 21 years of memories – time to make room for new ones.

As mentioned above, the boxes are all laid out and ready to go.  Spare shoes laid out and ready to go.  Packs – well, packs arranged in piles and almost ready to go.  We still have half a day to get things sorted out.  And packing for an airplane is not like packing for hiking.  We are going to pack all the evil things like lighters, stoves, knifes, pointy sticks (hiking poles) in my pack and check that as luggage, while we carry-on her pack onto the plane.  We cannot carry cooking alcohol on the plane, so the fuel bottle will be empty and we will have to find denatured alcohol or Heet in Harper’s Ferry before Sunday.  Heet burns a little sootier than straight alcohol but you can buy it at convenience stores vs denatured alcohol from hardware stores or outfitters (for big $$$ sometimes).

All the cars are bedded down for the summer except the FJ Cruiser.  A little Stabil in the tank, at least 3/4 tank in each one, and a bucket of damp rid on the drivers floorboard to keep mold from growing while we are gone.  Most of them have the battery disconnected, but the Tunrda and the FJ Cruiser will be on battery tender trickle chargers.  The damp rid has a floral scent, so I hope we don’t return to cars that smell like a brothel.  But flower stench is better than green fur all over everything.

One of the hardest parts so far has still been leaving Loretta.  We are so used to having our best friend come and greet us when we get home from work, but today the yard is silent.

No little puppy kisses for us.  It has only been four days and the raccoons have already taken over the yard.  We planted blueberries last year and they are about two weeks away from maturing.  The little masked bandits will clean them out for sure.  The lawn is moved, the weeds sprayed, the house looks immaculate.  I hope we still recognize it when we return.

We have also been cleaning out the refrigerator over the last week, buying just enough at the grocery to stay alive, but not to accumulate unneeded food products.  Does a person need three bottles of pepper vinegar?  I think not – we have one now.  How we managed to end up with four bottles of brown mustard is another mystery.  One will suffice.  A jar of pickled okra with one okra in it?  Munch and toss.  Home grown pickled habanero peppers that are about 15 years old?  Gone (I did not eat those).

The butterflies are gone and it is now time to tidy up the last bits of packing and head out this afternoon.  We have slept the last night in our bed, will take the last shower soon, and cook our last scrambled eggs with cauliflower and broccoli (don’t judge – we are cleaning out the fridge).  Once we finally lock the house for the last time it might start to get a little weird again.

T-minus 7 days and counting….

Right now Florida spring is in full bloom.  The redbuds and dogwoods have come and gone and everything has greened up.  Not so in West Virginia.  They are probably peaking their early spring bloom right now and only the earliest leaf buds starting to emerge.  Meanwhile, our dining room is in full bloom as well.  With camping gear and boxes of food all over the place.  Karen is an orderly person and I think her nerves are about shot as preparations have the house in total disarray right now.

You’d be amazed how much work it takes to not be home for six months. Every bank and utility we have has been contacted and auto-pay set up on everything that will allow auto-pay.  Credit cards linked here, bank accounts linked there. Its a huge web.

Now on top of that add that we had to upgrade Karen’s phone so we can both have data access while gone, our home phone put on vacation mode.  They charge a pretty penny to not use any services, and despite them telling us they could not disconnect the service until after May 2nd, they have already disconnected the internet.  Why is the phone company always so hard to deal with?  After three calls they still fouled everything up.  No worries. Verizon has a bit better customer service than Century Link so the phone is now tethering to allow us our last minute internet indulgences.  Even DirecTV was a snap – we were able to suspend service over the phone with the automated system in about three minutes.  Insurance on all but one car is on hold (left one active so we are covered in rental cars).  All the refrigerators in the shop are cleaned out and unplugged.  The refrigerator in the house is approaching college student status as we clean it out of all the oddball things we don’t really like eating.

Now comes the really hard part… the animals.  Last weekend we took both cats to a friend who offered to adopt them.  Super!  A two for one deal.  After we let them out of their carriers, they immediately found a way to crawl under the trailer and have hardly been seen since.  The food disappears so they must still be alive.  The cats were not hard, but the dog is.  Dogs are like humans and our precious Loretta is like a child to us.  Two weeks ago she developed an aural hematoma and had to have sutures in her ear and has been wearing an elizabethan collar since then.

A dear coworker has offered to foster her while we are away, and she has had one play date so far.  They already have one dog and one cat, and Loretta is great with cats.  But like all cats, theirs is wary of Loretta.  Their dog gets along great with Loretta and she also seems to have fun running back and forth along the fence with the backyard neighbor’s dog.  Loretta is a very social dog and will love it in her temporary home, but we will miss her dearly.  She goes to get her stitches out tomorrow morning and to her foster home tomorrow night.  It is absolutely gut wrenching to even think about not having her around.  I can’t imagine what its going to feel like two days from now, or one week from now as we lock up the house for good and head off to Jacksonville.

I have to change subjects quickly.  Cars.  Cars are non emotional, right?  If you know me, not so much.  I have an unhealthy attachment to them, but I will not miss them – they are just vehicles.  We are moving them all inside garages, will put a little Stabil in the tank and pull out the batteries.  I will leave one of them on a battery tender so when we get back we should have at least one working vehicle.  We have one more car than garage bays, so the 1970 Landcruiser has drawn the short straw and will have to sit outside for 6 months.  It’s survived 46 years of weather, what’s another 6 months.

Just a few days ago, as we were washing clothes and towels and trying to get everything all fresh for storage, the washing machine broke.  Great, something else to deal with.  Luckily its a common part (motor coupling) and a quick search on Amazon found one that could get here in 2 days (and it did arrive in plenty of time on Saturday morning to get laundry done).  Major appliances like that are so commoditized that they are actually super easy to work on and actually designed quite well (albeit cheaply).  Now we are just wondering what else will break with less than two days before we will have to leave and Captain Amazon will not be able to bail us out.  Think positive thoughts!

We planted blueberries last year and they are just about to ripen.  I hope we get to eat some before we leave but it’s not looking too good.  They are still pretty green.  Lawn service is set up, the weeds sprayed and mowed.  We fear a full summer of growth without the extra care we give the yard will end up looking like a jungle when we get back.  But there is no point in worrying about that.

In fact, there’s no point in worrying about anything.

Genesis – what are we doing!

Have you had one of those moments in your life where the future looks just like the past, and the past is not what you dreamed your future would be?  I had one of those moments recently.  The symptoms are all too common – a dead end job that robs you of the time you should be spending with your family, a yearning for more, the need for change.

Inertia is the paralysis that keeps most people planted into corporate life where everything is comfortable, everything can be anticipated, and very little to be discovered.  That is not me.

I was always an inquisitive child, a precocious teenager, an adventurous young adult, and now a settled old man.  I’m OK with A-C, but D just rubs me the wrong way.  Why must we be trapped in the normal corporate rat race that enslaves nearly the entire nation?  NO MORE!  Time for a change.

So I did it.  I quit my job.  No more status quo.  I want more, and there is plenty more to be had.  I just wont have it served from a cubicle any more.  This is where I should insert a Walt Whitman or John Muir quote, but that’s not me.  For the next six months, my office will be on my back, my house on my back, my grocery store on my back, and my wife by my side.  Yes, I convinced her, too, that there was more in life.  And she is just as hungry as I am right now.

Our plan is to board up the house (figuratively), ship the animals off to boarding school (foster homes), load up our packs and head up to Harper’s Ferry, WV to begin hiking the Appalachian Trail northward to mount Katahdin, Maine.  Then we will flip-flop back to Harper’s Ferry and head southward to Springer Mountain, Georgia.  The most common hike is a northbound (NOBO) hike from GA to ME, which is what we had intended to begin with, but paralysis kept us from launching our plan until the very last possible moment.  We intend to go slow, and the hike we are planning will take a full 6 months, and not starting by April 15th means not being guaranteed that mount Katahdin will not close for the winter due to weather before we can get there.

That fear of not being able to “finish” was one of the reasons I aborted a thru hike of the AT in 1989 on May 7th, the day after I graduated college.  I had no choice back then – May 7th was the earliest possible date I could get there.  And the end of October was when I thought I could realistically get there.  But the end of October is too late.  What I should have done was start in Maine and hike southbound (SOBO).  Back then there was no internet to research all of this information, so I did what I knew to do – start in Georgia and hike to Maine.  I ended up quitting the trail outside of Roanoke.  The Virginia blues took hold of me and coupled with running out of both time and money (and cool weather), the urge to quite was just too strong for me to overcome.

My big regret for quitting back then was that I did not get to hike across Maine.  Maine is one of the most remote states on the trail – very few towns, very few roads.  It’s also an alpine vegetation, which really turns me on.  There’s something fantastic about smelling pines and firs to let you know you are in the woods.  Tulip Poplars just don’t do it for me. So in the summer of 1990 I drove up to Maine and hiked nearly the whole state in three weeks.  That was a summer I will never forget.  The trees and lakes and mountains are like no other place in the country.  I swam in a stream or lake nearly every day of that hike and savored every single day.

Eventually, I did end up piecing together the remaining bits of the trail from 2010 to 2013.  Karen and my Mother were there to greet me as I finished my last section of trail.

The first thing Karen asked me when I finished the AT was “Are you ready to hike it again?”  And my answer was a resounding “No.”  I had a rough last day.

I had arranged for them to meet me at 5 pm, and I had quite a few miles to hike that day.  I had two very steep climbs and decided to go light on water so I could travel fast.  But that proved to be an unsound choice, as I tore a hamstring muscle from a dehydration cramp just 150 feet from the top of the second big climb, yet I had twelve miles to go. and it was nearly 11 am at that time.  I had to make 2 miles an hour to meet them on time and I was in so much pain, I had to walk flat footed and could barely manage 1 – 1.5 miles per hour.  After a few hours I was able to make better time and I think I ended up only about 30 minutes late, but I remember that day well and remember how great it felt to no longer be hiking.

That feeling wears off fast.