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ARE YOU READY TO RUMBLE?!?

 

The main event on tonight’s ticket will be the perennial powerhouse, Facebook status updates, versus the clear underdog, WordPress blog posts.

 

Given the literary—and spousal—abuse bestowed on us hapless bloggers, and the ubiquitous popularity of Facebook posting, why do I continue on going against the upstream current, whether it be on a VIKING RIVER CRUISE up the Rhine River through Germany and France, or even on a simple day paddle up the American River, on Lake Natoma, on my WILDERNESS SYSTEMS kayak, which I purchased at REI?

 

Excuse me while I take another healthy gulp (possibly a questionable adjective given the reference) of my BOMBAY SAPPHIRE gin.

 

My mélange of not-so-hidden ad references, folded into the present-day publishing paradigm, reveals the recipe of our changing tastes as to how our appetite for recreational reading is satiated by how we consume our daily diet of the written word.

 

(Why did that sentence suddenly make me so hungry?)

 

In dehydrated terms, why is Facebook so overwhelmingly more popular than blog posts?

 

Isn’t one a bunch of pictures surrounded by a few words, and the other, a bunch of words interspersed with a few pictures?

 

Wait, I think I just answered my own question.

 

Add to that, the collective diminishing attention span of the typical “reader,” which is further fulfilled by Twitter Tweets of few words, Instagram photos of no words, SnapChats of transitory existence, or GrindR reach-arounds (sorry, wrong forum on that last one).

 

To make matters worse, for some time now, quality travel writing prose of the Tim Cahill-genre has been supplanted by vaguely disguised advertising “articles,” which at least used to be disclosed by tiny font notices, barely visible through the clutter.

 

Nowadays, even that modicum of fair waning has been thrown under the bus by the business of publishing, where something called “native advertising” totally blows up the wall between intellectual property and biased-by-nature advertising, as John Oliver so expertly explained on his weekly program.

 

No wonder most people would rather look at shiny pictures, and skip the yada-yada-yada of those pseudo stories.

 

O.K. Time to get back to writing…as soon as my buddy and I finish our CORONA and PACIFICO cervazas. 

 

     frank with drinking buddy

 

 

NOTE TO ADVERTISERS: royalty checks for the aforementioned advertisements can be sent to my mailing address of record.

 

I am being paid for this drivel, right?

Travel can be tough.

 

Just ask that 80-year old guy going down the ramp at the Montreux train station in Switzerland last week. But, more on that in a moment.

 

The cliché goes that getting there is half the fun. Yeah, that may be the case, but getting there might also be twice the hardship. I am not sure my math makes sense, but nevertheless, it’s a given.

 

Take our recent three-week trip to Europe (no, my lack of blog posts for that period was NOT due to me being stuck under my desk in a drunken stupor…this time).

 

Our destinations included Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Switzerland—including the spectacular Lucerne area.

 

 wrong turn to Lucerne

 

The trip started poorly as soon as we left the house, and I made a slightly wrong turn. And, by slightly, I mean I thought I could drive there.

 

My first clue should have been when Google Maps said I could drive to Lucerne in 1 hour and 58 minutes.

 

  map to wrong Lucerne

 

After the wife-person applied the appropriate dope-slap to her clueless husband, we got on the Delta flight that was closer to 10 hours and 58 minutes.

 

Hey, I was only off by a zero; give me a break.

 

And, eventually, we made it to the “correct” Lucerne.

 

 the right Luzern

 

As to a few trip highlights, I stood in a public plaza in Belgium with thousands of World Cup fans and watched the home team  beat Korea.

 

 Belgium football

 

Down the road—or more accurately, down the river, the Rhine River—I got to stand in an outdoor viewing venue in Germany and watched the home team beat France.

 

 German French football

 

As might be expected, there were also dozens of, what one local guide actually called, ABC’s (Another Bloody Church). Yes, many were brilliantly beautiful, but, well, we did see a lot of them.

 

 Luzern ABC

 

Also, there is no lack of really old shit over there, including interestingly painted buildings, and…some other stuff.

 

 Luzern building art

 

As to really memorable moments, there were gallons of great local beers, but that will have to flow into another blog post.

 

So, to conclude today’s sermon, let us remember that our life’s travels often include at least some scintilla of travails, which seems all the more appropriate, as that is the root of the word describing such treks.

 

Or, more plainer said, travel can be tough.

 

Extended transits through Europe often encompasses trips by train. In and of itself, that is typically a positive experience, as the rail system “over there” is well planned, well run, and well laid out.

 

But, it often requires swift transitions between track platforms, which are sometimes on multiple levels. If you are lucky, you might find an escalator or elevator at the bigger stations.

 

 Antwerp train station

 

In others, you get to run up and down multiple stairways, while hoisting your roller luggage. In those stations, you are grateful if you happen to find ramps to run while pulling your bag behind you, as it bounces against your ankle and spins around, twisting your wrist.

 

It was in one of our transfer stations near Lake Geneva where we had but minutes to race down one ramp, then up another to make our connection.

 

It was there that I decided that “you kids” texting and checking what Facebook posts you missed in the previous 15-seconds while you were getting off the train, and 80-year old guys who insist on strolling smack down the middle of the ramp…well… I am an American and I have already put up with your strange languages and weird currency…I’m coming through!

 

Sorry, 80-year old guy.

 

I have got to get to the next really old place, with narrow, bumpy streets and old churches to visit.  And, some other stuff.

 

sleeping lion rock

This is about the inflammatory topic of airline carry-on luggage, which is possibly (because I am making the next part up) a leading cause of inflammatory bowels.

 

In other words, this incendiary subject pisses the shit out of us.

(I know, I have my bodily elimination plumbing crossed.)

 

Let’s recap.

 

The airline industry wanted more money.

 

The airline industry starting charging for check-in bags.

 

Then, the airline industry has tried charging for food, drinks, making a reservation, window seats, aisle seats, exit row seats, pillows, blankets, using the loo, and the list goes on and on.

 

The airline industry profits have soared, just like the cost of flying and our tempers, from being treated like chattel.

 

Along the way, most passengers (my wonderful sister, not included) have switched to more carry-on luggage, and by more, I mean bigger bags and lots of them. Much bigger and many more.

 

  big carry on

 

This has lead to a whole litany of issues, none of which has made flying any more enjoyable, and many of which are due to the airline industry simply—and blatantly—ignoring passengers who are getting away with schlepping a cavalcade of bulging bags in tow, right past them and onto the plane.

 

The scrum at the terminal gate looks like the cluster of World Cup soccer players attempting to kick the ball into the back of the net, with elbows flying, jerseys being tugged, and people being knocked to the ground.

 

Except, in the airport terminal, there is no referee blowing a whistle at obvious fouls.

 

Then, once on the plane, the poor flight attendants have to deal with the apparently clueless passengers clogging the aisle, trying to put their multiple, over-sized bags into the overhead storage area intended for use by two or three people, and not just them.

 

Finally, the flight attendants get to be the “bad guy” by telling the trampled, last boarders, who are just now picking themselves up off the terminal floor, that they must gate check the bags they packed with their valuables and breakable stuff, which they thought would be in the plane with them, and will now—sometimes by getting dropped twenty feet down onto the pavement—be flung into the belly of the plane at the last moment.

 

The inhumanity of it all created a bad (l)atitude by Spud Hilton, the senior travel editor of the respected San Francisco Chronicle, to create a tidal wave of affirmations (but, also subsequent renunciations—more on that in a moment), as well as identifying a Twitter topic, hashtagged, #CarryOnShame.

“The passengers at the gate dragging roller luggage that is more the size of a clown car than a carry-on.

…we’re asking travelers at the airport (past security) to look for examples of “carry-on shame,” to take pictures or videos of the obviously oversized “carry-on” luggage and post them…”

 

 

This movement was quickly picked up by numerous national media, which tended—and trended—to find the topic to be a sore subject for many a traveler.

 

But, it was not just the issue, itself, that picked at a few scabs, but the method of drawing attention to it that also caused a little consternation among others, including a successful travel writer, Matt Villano, who, along with many others, felt that,

“This whole #CarryOnShame campaign to “out” airline carry-on policy offenders publicly is an embarrassment. It’s passive-aggressive. It’s rude. And, at its core, it is bullying. Do I think people brazenly violate these policies? Yes. Do I think surreptitiously photographing the offenders and posting the “evidence” on social media is the right way to handle the situation? HELL NO. If you have a problem with someone’s carry-on abuse, report it to a flight attendant or a gate agent. Nobody is going to change the system by prancing around this issue like a high-school prankster. If you want change, set an example, practice kindness, take a stand, and advocate constructively.”

 

 

I can’t say whether the “movement” will, or will not, lead to positive changes, so I’d rather not wade any deeper into the public pool of social media, especially since I respect the opinion and experience of both Villano and Hilton.

 

In the meantime, to make matters even more interesting, the luggage labyrinth has just become an even more challenging conundrum, now that the airlines have recently reduced the size of carry-on luggage.

 

Of course, the first question is whether they will continue to ignore what is  being rolled right past them and onto the airplane.

 

If…and when…the carry-on luggage cops start actually enforcing what size—and how many—bags they let you take on the plane, I am assuming that enforcement will be part of the TSA screening process.

 

That got me thinking that I might make a little money by facilitating carry-on baggage hoarders.

 

will carry on your bag

 

So, look for me at the ticket counter as you first enter the airport, and for a mere $20, I will offer to carry on that extra bag that you insist you must have on the plane with you.

 

I initially thought my scheme to be foolproof (just as a fool would think)…only until Number One Daughter pointed out a…ah…small hurdle that I would have to negotiate.

 

      TSA bag check

 

 

Hey, what’s the worst that could happen from accepting luggage from strangers at an airport?

 

 

     TSA arrest

 

 

Oh, yeah. And, there’s that other thing…

 

 

    TSA cavity check

For many an author, the road to writing is lined with empty bottles.

 

Personally, I have found that alcohol works well when it comes to my insubstantial adventure travel writing, both in terms of execution and while awaiting acclamation.

 

 

  bar quote

 

Notwithstanding my early years in Scouting, and subsequent decades of literature-inspired adventure travel, an occasional blog post about my latest adventure folly in the field, an accomplished travel writer does not make.

 

The path I have taken en route to becoming a global humor travel writer has been ignominiously ignored by both print media and online domains, which is not to say, that this is not an undeserved plight. 

 

But, my travel  adventures are relatively mundane, thus lacking the fodder for exhilarating tales.

 

 

            jackrabbit in motion

 

While I was once frightened by the looming shadow of a rather large rabbit, to date, my flesh remains unmarred by jaguars, and my lower limbs have suffered nary a gnaw by wolverines.

 

I once got a menacing stare from a duck because I would not share my butterworms,  but thankfully, I avoided being pecked to death.

 

Possibly, I would be a better writer if enlightenment was not so hard to hold.

 

Contrary to certain world renown travel writers who are said to have gotten lost in their own backyard, as I previously pontificated, I have never been in that predicament.

 

I do seem to get myself into an occasional outlandish travel situation that is cause for clamorous celebration of my travel companions, even though I might think that it was not so funny when it happened.

 

And, even with my chronic fever for road trips, my dreams have been buried by editors who have rejected my countless un-written, thus un-submitted travel stories.

 

Yet, my lack of writing acumen has not deterred me from years of self-published posts, thanks to any-idiot-wannabe-writer-can-use blogging software, which I also link from Facebook, as if I needed the added literary indifference.

 

And amazingly, still no one has confused me with the storied statesmen of evocative adventure travel writing prose, Tim Cahill.

(Tim, please note that I did not say “elder” statesman.)

 

   Tim and I on the mountain

 

Whether Facebook posts represent even a scintilla of a legitimate alternative to “real writing” remains to be determined,  Even then, I sometimes struggle with the minutiae of Facebook.

 

The other day I was playing with my self (portrait) for a possible profile picture, which somehow posted itself worldwide. I was not sure how that happened, but ultimately two people even “Liked” it.

 

One was my adopted, third daughter/ ski-snowboard buddy, who I bribe with brews for her positive acknowledgements of my blog posts.

 

The other was the world renown, and my longtime adventure travel writing hero/mentor, Tim Cahill, who I once bribed with a substantial amount of Bombay Sapphire. (You would have thought it would have worn off by now.)

 

So, as I surmised, my road to writing has benefitted, at least in some fashion, from the drink.

 

And, improbably, has made my face Likeable.

 

 

Photo by Shiloh

head compass

This post is about navigating in a sea of concrete, alcohol appreciation before breakfast, on belonging to a tribe, and getting a prostate check by a mob of gun lovers.

 

I’d like to think that I have a head for topographical spatial orientation. In other words, I can usually find my way.

 

Like Daniel Boone, I won’t admit  to ever having been lost.

 

And, like Daniel Boone, that is not to say that on occasion I haven’t been a bit bewildered for a while as to where in the hell I was.

 

     lost in translation

 

To wit, when I got off the BART metro train in San Francisco last weekend, as I ascended from the subterranean depths into a deep canyon of concrete monoliths, which all but blocked out the sky, you might as well have put a blindfold on me and spun me around, as if playing pin the tail on the donkey.

 

After wandering around for a while looking for a recognizable street name, I finally resorted to pulling out the iPhone and started down the street—looking like almost every other person out there—walking while staring down at my hands, as I tried to avoid Mad Hatter taxi drivers and semi-suicidal bike messengers.

 

     skyscrapers from street

 

My desired destination was the iconic Maggie McGarry’s Irish pub, home to the über-fanatical fans of Arsenal English Premier League soccer—or football (fútbol) as known to the rest of the world. We fervent followers go by the nom de plume “Gooners,” as we shout support for the players, who are called “Gunners” (from the club logo).

 

The pub was televising the final match of the F.A. Cup, which is the world’s oldest football cup competition. This annual championship game is a very big deal in the world of English soccer. Arsenal was playing against the heavily under dogged Hull City team in Wembley Stadium, with almost 90,000 in attendance, plus trillions watching around the world

(O.K., maybe only billions).

 

                Arsenal logo2

 

While some of the early risers were quaffing frosty pints of Guinness, others opted for more of a traditional American morning Bloody Mary, many of us began the morning with chilled glasses of Magners Irish hard cider, which are anything but hard to swallow, as we hoisted them early and often.

 

The joy of joining with a group of people of all ages, races, and sexes (apparently, nowadays there are more than just two) and the common bond of enthusiastically cheering for your favorite team, or political cause, or some other interest often results in the old cliché where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

A physiologist would probably tell us that there is some basic human comfort and physiological power being part of a tribe.

 

     Emirates FA Cup celebration

 

There’s that, and the part where you get to dress up in certain costume elements (which might only be a team t-shirt), being able to act crazy, and…yes…it is acceptable to drink copious amounts of alcohol before most of civilized society has even woken up.

 

To say the early stage of the game was not going well for the masses of Gooners at Maggie McGarry’s is an understatement of an epic proportion, as Hull City went up two goals against the clear favorite Arsenal squad, IN JUST THE FIRST EIGHT MINUTES. The gang at the pub was in a serious case of soccer shock.

 

     MM crowd

 

It appeared there was an increased consumption of Guinness as the Gunners lagged, but then again, winning makes us drink more, and losing makes us drink more.

In any regard, at the end of the 90-minutes of regulation time, the teams were level (which means “tied” in soccer talk).

 

Finally, well into the second 15-minute overtime period, Arsenal got another one into the net, and finished the game, thankfully without the need for PK’s, or penalty kicks, which probably would have run the pub plumb out of adult beverages.

 

Let the party begin.

 

 

Bedlam on Grant Street

 

The gleeful Gooners celebrated the Gunners achievement by pouring out onto Grant Street, thereby stopping traffic for as long as we dared (we already had one drive by of San Francisco’s finest in his patrol car), so we ventured back into the pub for just “one more drink.”

(Where have I heard that before?)

 

     MM sign

 

We planted ourselves along the far end of the bar to be out of the way should any of us succumb to the inebriating effects of all our celebrating. But, this location also happened to be in the path of  foot traffic to the loo, which—not at all surprising—was visited at an increasing frequency as the game, and appurtenant fluid consumption, progressed.

 

While I was watching the telly above the bar, I felt a slight moistening on my person. My first concern was that this was the result of an aging prostate, which unfortunately seems to one of the joys of being an old fart. But, alas, I was not the root (pun not intended, yet revoltingly funny) of myself becoming slightly wetted. No, it was initiated by an inebriated young lady carrying a cocktail in the general direction of the bathroom.

 

I say “general direction,” as it was in a somewhat rambling route of which I apparently was standing in, even though I was flat against the wall, away from the bar.

 

The young lady immediately began to profusely apologize, all the while gently wiping my bare arm, which I assumed to remove any spillage that occurred. I say “young lady” to assure the wife-person that, although a younger, single man might have seen her as a beautiful brunette, with a seductive smile and alluring attractiveness, I possibly might not have noticed.

 

When she got to the point where she introduced herself as Jackie and told me that she lived just down the street…while continuing to gently remove any perceived remnants of her spilled intoxicant on my forearm…I decided it was best that I introduce her to my young companion, who happens to be a single male, who like her, lives in San Francisco, and was born in something closer to her age than the three decades that separated her and I.

 

    

 

It was the proverbial win-win-win, as the young lady got herself extracted from a man who could be her (grand?) father, my young apprentice got a possible hook up, and the wife-person did not have to remove the root of my sometimes (VERY infrequently) source of moisture because I continued conversation with the beautiful brunette, with a seductive smile and alluring attractiveness…I mean, young lady at the bar.

 

Being a participant in a packed pub of like-minded fútbol fans for such a historically significant soccer event was worth almost being crushed by the crowd, although once I wasn’t sure if the guy behind me was holding a bottle of Magners at waist level, or if he was just…well, you know the line.

 

          soccer prostate exam

Is it worse to say you want a drink, or you need a drink?

 

Sometimes I want a drink. And, sometimes I really, really need one.

 

Facing down a thousand foot, near-vertical ski slope, peering into the depths of the glacial abyss, it was both.

 

       whiskey

 

Thus goes the ongoing story of my weak week trek into the frozen frontier of Prince William Sound and the surreal setting that is Points North Heli-Adventures.

 

        flight up high

 

My first foray into telling the tale of my Alaskan heli-skiing adventure was intended to give an overview from a lofty perch at 38,000’ in our Alaska Airlines 737, as we descended down to sea level and the A-Star helicopters waiting to whisk us to the freshly coated, untracked powder-covered slopes.

 

     frank blower day

 

The story revealed, what I lacked in skiing skills (yes, that is me in the picture), I attempted to make up with a little leg hugging of our cute, redheaded heli-guide.

 

In my subsequent post, I hinted at the physical and mental stamina required to ski at this level, and by hinted, I admitted being basically bereft of both.

 

My woeful performance alone would not explain the impressive abundance of alcoholic beverages nightly in NEFCO mess hall, which topped the tables like the snow blanketing the nearby slopes.

 

     NEFCO crowd

 

Since the vast majority—in other words, everyone but me—displayed the requisite prowess of boarding and skiing skills, their consumption was clearly more celebratory than consoling in nature.

 

     boys and booze

 

I would tell myself that I only drank to mitigate the pain of the marred meniscus of my right knee, and hoped that I wouldn’t appear in the next Warren Miller blooper reel of blundering buffoons.

 

     second person down

 

All this is not to say that the skiing conditions are always easy-peasy on the perfect pow. It may be surprising to the uninitiated, but this is not a snow-covered Disneyland-like winter playground where everything is safe and predictable, nor would most of us wish it were.

 

Just like everywhere else on the planet, the snow up there sometimes develops a hard crust, and sometimes the lighting becomes flat and you can’t see where you are going, and sometimes the depth of cover is less than desired and reveals where the rocks live in summer.

 

To wit, here is a short YouTube video, taken during our time there, as my new buddy Pawel “narrates” the conditions he encountered on one particular run.

(It also shows the area above the snow, where the helicopters live and play, and it is not just the skiers who can’t always see where they are going.)

 

 

Given ever-increasing stories of the loss of artic ice, thankfully, currently there is no lack of glacial ice in Cordova, as our last “heli-stop” of the day was to pick some up for the evening’s applications.

 

        ice for drinks 

 

Those are chunks of it on the slope, just outside of the A-Star windshield.

Our heli-guide is outside the ship trying to find a large piece he can physically manhandle into the basket, yet not so heavy that it requires the pilot to offload my fat ass so the copter can lift off the glacier.

 

Back at the lodge, reducing it to a usable (whiskey glass) size took a suitable weapon of mass reduction.

 

        glacial ice

 

Given the uncertainty that Climate Strange© has ordained on the future snow situation for any given place and time, you just have to be prepared for whatever might portend.

 

I am not sure what pre-arrangements the wife-person might have made with the nice folks up at Points North, but they seem to have been prepared for my questionable skiing curriculum vitae and whatever final disposition of me might become necessitated, with just one “muliple-purpose rescue device.”

 

     ski pine box

 

Hopefully, it comes equipped with a nice bottle of single malt to see me off.

Whoa. This is some seriously scary shite I’ve gotten myself into.

 

     PNH heli crevasses

 

I wasn’t as concerned about being faint of heart, letting a helicopter drop me off on the top of a near-vertical slope, strewn with seemingly bottomless crevasses, and patches of exposed diamond-hard, luminescent blue glacial ice.

 

Primarily, because I lack the primal mental acuity when to know better.

 

No, it was more being feint of physical ability and skiing agility, to handle the massive mountains of much sought-after deep blankets of fresh powder.

 

     frank going down

    That’s actually me almost looking like I know what I am doing. Thanks Photoshop.

 

To summarize, the conditions were steep and deep.

 

Unfortunately, I was proven to be weak and meek.

 

     guide guidance

 

My last post presented an overview, but there was more…much more.

 

While not necessarily the case in all things, when it comes to this heli-skiing stuff, getting up was much less an ordeal than going down.

 

Out in the play zone, getting up was quick and thrilling, while going down took ignoring the obvious and pretending that it felt good.

 

     heli base pickup

 

Points North Heli-Aventures makes it almost as easy as falling off a barstool, whisking us up from the lodge base in one of three, sleek, dark blue helicopters in a matter of minutes, up to almost unlimited possibilities of downhill runs.

 

     where next

 

The choices abound.

 

There are massive open slopes where skiers and boarders can make fresh tracks, day after day after day.

 

    skier on big slope

 

Or, for those with even less faintness of heart—or a total lack of primal survival instincts—there are narrow, steep paths, rimmed with razor-sharp rocks, known as couloirs, which is French for, “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR EFFING MIND?!?”

 

     PS FB pic1

 

Apparently, going down only once was clearly not enough for somebody.

 

So, instead of looking down (which I now find, sometimes scares the shite out of me), looking ahead to our next AA meeting (A-wannabe A-heliskier), I will reveal the coping strategies of this support group in this vertical winter playground.

 

Hint – it involves ice.

 

     ice balls

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