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Worst trip of my life

I have returned from my weeklong treacherous travail to the edge of the Coma Canyon abyss.

 

My torso has become a palate of deep purple, yellow and green, against a canvas of pale skin.

 

I am minus one organ, which I am convinced was pummeled into submission before being sliced out, leaving a trail of over a dozen industrial-grade, stainless steel staples.

 

Somewhere along the path, I was shocked with electrical paddles.

 

I am Frankenstein.

 

And, I have the T-shirt to prove it.

 

       I am Frank

O.K. Axl, I’ll take Rock & Roll Bands of the ‘80’s for $1,000.

 

I’m starting to wonder if the purpose of this multi-media, global adventure humor website, or “blooogggg…ack, ack, cough, cough, as the wife-person says it, like she’s trying to clear a hairball from her throat, is primarily to provide a historical perspective for my younger reader.

 

Some of us are looking at the far side of sextdecades; that’s (kind of) Latin for six decades, or 60 years; NOT six decades of sex.

(Old people having sex…that’s just gross, as my daughters keep telling me.)

 

Anyway, our generations have a completely different point of reference for historical events. We lived it, while you may have happened to stumble onto it while exploring the World of Google.

 

   Panama hotel view

 

That brilliant and perceptive concept came to mind as I was thinking of my recent—albeit, short-lived—trip to Panama. My early exit had nothing to do with the psychological warfare waged against a CIA-trained, Medellin Cartel member named Manuel Noriega, which took place some 25 years ago.

 

That operation was not the nifty package that the Navy Seal team was hoping to wrap up. After 10 days of blasting, heavy metal Guns and Roses, and other earsplitting rock music, the notorious drug dealer—and ex-BFF of the United States—finally raised the white earplugs and gave himself up.

"Reportedly the song "I Fought The Law" by The Clash was played repeatedly along with "Welcome to the Jungle by Guns N’ Roses; another song in the line-up was "Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die" by Jethro Tull.

 

      jungle colors

 

Without providing exceedingly boring and excessively graphic details on the physical deterioration of my current travel adventures into the advanced latter years of middle age, I will just say that this is my Official Year of The Wheels Beginning to Fall off the Bus.

 

The gist of this inevitable human condition is that my planned two-week sailing and snorkeling sojourn along the Caribbean coast of Panama, turned into a one-day, welcome to the world of airline change fees and astronomical increased, last minute flight and hotel costs.

 

My immediate alternatives were either a visit to a local clinic, which even the locals recommended I avoid, or a 40 minute panga voyage over rough seas, to some unknown medical facility. Plus, the fact that the extent of my limited Spanish and poor pronunciation, was an ability to order more beer or inquire as to the location of the nearest toilet, I was worried they might think I was saying,

Creo que voy a tener un bebe.”

 

So, I opted to fly back to Panama City, and then home to the states, a two-day trek.

 

   Air Panama PAC to BOC

 

So, what in holy hell does this have to do with some two-and-a-half decades-old military event, dealing with a drug dealing dictator dude you likely have never heard of?

 

Well, my only Panamanian point of reference were either some gigantic ditch that crosses the country, or the story of the rock music-driven eviction of an infamous, poor acne-pitted, pineapple-faced, ex-dictator.

 

As the latter occurred at the exact moment in time I was experiencing the most significant emotional event of my life¹—albeit, mine was in the middle of the Sea of Cortez of Mexico—the two events are inexorably linked in whatever remaining gray matter of mine, which has not yet turned to mush.

(¹ See previously published reports of my famous Stuck At Sea story.

To reiterate, ignore the oft-repeated, misstated account that I was “lost at sea.” I knew EXACTLY where I was and where I wanted to go; I just couldn’t get there from there. Although, ironically, the epic north winds were blowing me towards Panama.)

 

Back to my recent ill-fated adventure: Happily, I made it back home, and with certain medical treatments administered, and particular excess body parts soon-to-be excised, I soon hope to be able to quote Noriega in the letter he wrote to his wife, just before giving into the ten days of aural abuse, and once again say,

"I go now on an adventure."

 

Personally, I can’t blame old Manuel for surrendering. My parents expressed the same sentiment during my high school and early college years with what was blaring from my bedroom stereo.

 

 

   Red Frog bar sign

They say to travel with your eyes wide open, in order to completely capture the wonderful world as it unfolds like a road map in front of you.

 

I would add to that: You should travel with your mouth wide open, so you get a taste of the area you are adventuring through.

 

scooter on street

Unless, of course, you happen to be motoring on a Motorino at the time, searching for the perfect pizza pie.

 

Those bugs stuck in your teeth tend to make a lousy pizza topping.

 

My journey of culinary contentment began on Main Street of the tiny town of Mt. Shasta, way up in northern California, some 15-years ago. It was there that I discovered a small bakery, with shelves brimming with beautifully baked loaves of bread. The proprietor explained that the secret of his creations was the wood-fired oven smack in the middle of his establishment.

 

I had never seen such a thing, but, as a wildland fire fighter with a possibly worrisome worship of the open flame, I knew at once that I must build such a structure.

 

But, probably not in the middle of the wife-person’s cherished 1906 farm house kitchen.

 

The owner of the Oven Bakery suggested I purchase a book entitled The Bread Builders, for a guide to constructing an oven and building the perfect loaf. All I would need were a “few bricks and a bit of mortar.”

 

That was some 15-years ago.

 

In the interim, wood-fired pizza purveyors have become as ubiquitous as craft beer brewpubs and farm-to-table restaurants. There are probably a dozen or so in the Sacramento area, alone. Apparently, I am not the only one fascinated by fire and the resultant amazing flavors it imparts on almost any kind of cooking.

 

And, in the last few years, it is not at all uncommon for individuals to place one of these ovens on their backyard patio, or inside as the centerpiece of their kitchen. So much so, that in certain crowded  San Francisco Bay Area neighborhoods, they are being smoked out by them (but, probably more so from backyard smokers than efficient ovens with a good chimney).

 

Except, at our place, the only evidence of my interest has been a frayed, 15-year old book and a big fat pile of the best of intentions.  When the wife-person would ask me to explain my lack of execution, I would say,

“Sorry, dear, I’ll get to it.”

 

But, as, Felix Unger once said, "Sorry doesn’t feed the Admiral’s cat." 

 

Nor, does it feed the hunger for a hand-kneaded, delicious delicacy with the perfect cornicione crust, topped with a chunky sauce from San Marzano Italian tomatoes,  a moderate amount of the quintessential Mozzarella di Bufala cheese, and a few leaves of fresh basil.

 

The cornicione crust refers to the sought-after puffy finish along the pizza margin, while the di Bufala cheese is the classic cheese made from the Italian water buffalo.

 

But, thanks to either the generosity of heart or the lack of patience for another 15-years of waiting, the wife-person gently suggested I go get the “guts” for a quality wood-fired oven, get off my foundation, and begin building.

 

It was about that period of time that Number Two Daughter introduced us to Mac Duff’s Public House, in South Lake Tahoe, where we thoroughly enjoyed what came out of their indoor, wood-fired oven; from the thoroughly tasty pizza crust, to an amazing truffle oil mac & cheese, to a fantastically flavored bread pudding for dessert, it was all good.

 

Their bar ain’t bad, either, assuming you like great beer and a good selection of whiskies.

Mugnaini logo

 

I noticed a distinctive, stylistic letter “M” at the oven opening, and was told that the oven was from a company called Mugnaini.

 

 

 

After virtual minutes of language lessons on Italian, garnered primarily by watching vintage Sofia Loren movies while she was in her prime (and oh, what a beautiful, scantily clad Italian pin-up she was in her prime),

“…no dear, I’m watching masonry lessons on YouTube.”

I learned that Mugnaini is pronounced “Moog-and-innie,” or possibly, “Mug-a-yinie,” no wait, it’s “Moon-ya-ini,”…I think.

 

I guess it’s back to watching old Sofia Loren movies.

 

Long story even longer, after I over-researched the world of wood-fired ovens, as I am wont to do, I eventually purchased the belly of the beast, so to speak, in kit form from Mugnaini, and got to building.

 

For some portions of the project I proved to be highly qualified.

 

the big dig begins

 

With impressive shovel manipulation—including the commensurate blisters—I was able to dig out a footing and deftly drive and dump the wheelbarrow around the corner (I don’t think my neighbor has noticed the newly formed, small mountain on his place yet. Or, maybe he has.

“No Mr. Reynolds, I don’t know where that ponderous pile of dirt might have come from.

Yes, I do, if fact, have a big hole in the ground over at our place.”

 

pile of dirt

 

Then, thanks to the kindness of another neighbor, and those YouTube videos, I learned how to pile a bunch of cinderblocks, and then fill them with concrete.

 

          masonary intern

 

Laying out the pieces of the pizza oven puzzle I began to wonder what in the hell I got myself into.

 

dome ready to set

 

Finally, after countless hours of impassioned phone calls to the inexplicably patient staff at Mugnaini (namely, Reese) from a hapless do-it-yourself-er, wannabe builder…namely, me…I finally—almost—finished the construction.

 

(It’s only minus a few pieces of trim and a plaster finish.)

 

forms off

 

But, at least it was time to kick the tires (or, in this case, the massive monolith of cinderblocks, rebar, and concrete) and LIGHT THE FIRE!

 

first fire

 

After a prescribed burn schedule, just like the old days when I got to light hundreds of acres of brush and grass on fire (to benefit wildlife habitat)—and get paid for it—with the wife-person’s skilled preparation techniques, I got the first pie slid into the breach.

 

All 700 degrees of it.

 

first home pizza pic

 

After a mere 90-seconds at that blazing temperature, I could finally enjoy the fruits of my labor with a slice of my favorite fresh mushrooms, black olives, and Italian (what else) sausage pizza.

 

O.K., I ate the whole damn thing by myself, accompanied with a wonderful bottle of locally sourced, farm-to-my mouth red wine.

 

fruits of the labor

 

I wonder if my neighbor would mind if I parked an Italian water buffalo on his property.

 

Italian water buffalo wikipedia

               "WildWaterBuffalo(Bubalus bubalis arnee)" by Djambalawa

 

 

I just have to find a YouTube video on how to milk one of these things.

Once again, it is that time of year to offer the obligatory oath to self-improvement by subscribing to behavior you somehow found objectionable or generally unattainable the day before.

 

So…as soon as you find your pants…let us begin.

 

  hostel floor person

 

Resolution #1: Exercise more and eat better.

 

This resolution is a default New Year’s resolution statement and is a legal requirement to list, which you agreed to in those 65-pages of boiler plate, mumbo-jumbo you clicked that you actually read when you signed up for whatever online free app you downloaded.

 

Resolution #2: Drink less bad stuff and drink more good stuff.

 

In Colorado, this resolution reads,

“Use less illegal drugs and use more legal ones, thus contributing to higher education and a higher you.”

 

Resolution #3: Join a gym.

 

Not that you will ever go after the first week, but the people who do go appreciate all the money you non-attenders provide to “subsidize” uncrowded conditions and upgraded cardio machines.

 

Resolution #4: Integrate vigorous exercise into your daily life.

 

Begin with, getting up to change the channel on the TV, at least occasionally.

 

Resolution #5: Figure out how to even change the channel on that 50” HDTV without the use of a remote control.

 

This actually comes in handy when the battery dies in the remote just as you hear your wife walking down the hallway, towards the room you are watching the porn channel.

 

Resolution #6: O.K. exercise and dieting are tough. How about starting out by watching Dr. Oz?

 

You may impress your wife that you are at least trying to learn more about your physical and mental wellness—not that it will erase her mental picture as to what you were doing as she walked in.

 

Resolution#7: Recognize that apples are nice.

 

What more can you say about fruit?

 

Resolution#8: Remember how important it is to drink water.

 

Try drinking 130-proof Booker’s Bourbon without some. 

 

Resolution#9: Next year, at least try to be a little more on time, like making these New Year’s Resolutions by New Year’s Day.

 

You are not going to follow them anyway, and by January 2nd you are already thinking about that St. Patrick’s Day pub crawl coming up.

 

Resolution #10: Figure out if it is New Years or New Years.

 

Consider checking multiple grammar and punctuation website’s and gather experts opinions.

 

Resolution #11: Contemplate exactly how you think you will successfully fulfill New Year’s resolutions that have been made and broken for 4,000-years, starting with the Babylonians.

 

Hey, that may be your out. You are just following the example of 4,000-years of history.

 

Resolution #12: Wait. What do you mean it’s the Twelve Days of Christmas?

SWA pre flight procedure

Typically, I take precautions before I begin a commercial airline trek.

 

Better to be prepared—or at least numb—should any untoward event occur.

 

As a universal rule, babies are cute (unless you happen to be visiting the Hamptons with the Seinfeld clan).

And, as everybody knows, twins are at least twice as cute.

 

Or, so goes the rule.

 

Imagine my astonishment as I waited to board a recent Southwest Airlines flight from Portland, OR, to Sacramento, CA, when I caught a glimpse of what, in all  honesty, could only be characterized as a couple of really ugly babies being pushed up to the boarding gate in a side-by-side, tandem stroller.

 

 

  SWA comfort dogs boarding

 

They had big ears, they were really, really hairy (even more so than me…albeit just barely), and they had huge noses (even bigger than mine…albeit just barely).

 

They almost looked like a couple of dogs, sitting upright, all cutesy in their stroller, and waaaaiit a minute…THEY WERE A COUPLE OF DOGS.

 

 

SWA comfort dogs in tandem stroller

 

So began my education as to the regulations regarding allowances to be accompanied by what are known as comfort animals.

 

As you can see in the pictures, these animals do NOT have to be contained in a cage, but can have their own seat, or sit on their master’s lap.

(Although, I might question, who has whom trained?)

 

 

SWA comfort dogs on board

 

Without much effort, I learned that for a mere $129 you can purchase,

The Standard Kit Includes Official Vest With official Patch, Universal ID Card, Certificate,Tag For Collar & Clip On ID Holder.

 

The vest, ID card, and certificate are all official. It must be because it says that in the online advertisement.

 

The website includes the federal law verbiage that—according to them—”makes it clear” that it is official.

 

  comfort animal federal law

 

My favorite part is,

emotional support dogs do not have to be professionally-trained to perform any task. Service dogs can be trained by their owners or in any other manner the owner desires.”

 

Great. I’ve been trying to get my dog to fetch me a gin and tonic. That would certainly provide me tremendous mental comfort on a long flight.

 

If any airline insisted on something a little more significant (with an emphasis on “little’) as to a medical justification, an article in the New York Times mentioned that for $99 a psychotherapist in Marina del Rey, CA,

“provides an hour of her time, over the phone or Skype, and a clinical assessment, along with a prescription letter.”

 

The Times story went on to say that the certification is not limited to just dogs. and could include,

“a cat, a monkey, a horse or even a potbellied pig.”

 

I am not sure how that psychotherapist conducts her clinical review over the phone or Skype.

 

I guess she must get it right from the horse’s mouth.

(Sorry, how could I resist that one?)

 

 

  SWA comfort horse at ticket counter

 

Pet Travel .com expands the list of allowable animals to include,

parrots, elephants, and lizards”

 

What the…??? An elephant?

 

And you thought that guy sitting next to you on that one flight was taking a tad more room than was comfortable for you.

 

Eventually, I made it to the official, “official” determinant of, at least, Southwest Airlines policies, and did find out that these free range critters in the aircraft are not allowed in the exit rows.

 

Must have something to do with their inability to open the exit hatch or understand simple instructions from the flight crew, although I question the capability of some of the travel masses to do so.

(Clearly, they cannot comprehend the carry-on baggage rules, nor understand the need to GET THE HELL OUT OF THE AISLE when we are attempting to board the airplane!!!)

 

The Southwest Airlines animal rules also prohibit having your pet travel without you onboard, should you entertain the thought of sending Fido on a fun trip to some faraway forest, or, if you have “joint custody” with an “ex” who now lives across the country somewhere.

In other words, no unaccompanied iguanas allowed.

 

Back to the horses mouth, I found a story about a horse that actually did fly on a Southwest Airlines fight.

 

 

  SWA comfort horse boarding plane

 

I assume if they allow horses, they must also accept related animals, because, when it comes to my mental contentment and comfort, I really appreciate my ass.

 

Just mind where you step.

walking to the light

It is inevitable that one day we will all take the lonely walk toward that metaphoric white light.

 

Fearing the reaper, but possibly with cowbell in hand.

 

The fact is, we all gotta go sometime.

 

 

But, today, I speak of an inevitability of life, which comes in a completely different form—and smell—although sometimes they do come together.

 

I speak of a somewhat sensitive personal topic, with which I hope to avoid the stench of sophomoric bathroom humor.  Well, mostly.

 

So, I am not talking about the ultimate end of the trail which we all face someday, which signals the ultimate end of our travels.

 

Mr. Hanky

No, I am talking about the completely normal and necessary human function, euphemistically known as Going Number Two.

 

Or Taking a Dump, or Dropping a Deuce, or Letting Loose a Bowel Bomb, or Shooting Out a Sewer Pickle, or Backing the Big Brown Motorhome Out of the Garage, or Releasing a Sewer Snake, or Unleashing Turdzilla, or…

 

As funny as the topic might seem to some, taking care of “our business” as we partake in adventure travel can, in fact, be often daunting.

 

Our activities commonly involve trekking far, far away from those tidy toilets, to places where a hole in the floor constitutes the place to go..

No commode in the abode, so to speak.

 

And sometimes,  no toilet paper, either.

 

This is not to say, that having to go while we are gone doesn’t sometimes get done in the most relaxing and beautiful places on the planet.

 

If you appreciate the stark setting and ceaseless skies of the desert, you can only hope to find facilities as scenically situated as this structure set many miles from the nearest paved road, way out in Saline Valley, south of Death Valley.

 

 

     Saline Valley view

 

 

This remote area of developed hot springs and low flying military fighter jet sorties used to be under the jurisdiction of the BLM, which imposed very few, if any, restrictions, including where you wished to camp and how you relieved yourself.

 

Of course, not all wilderness locations are quite so liberal in such allowed activities, including human waste disposal.

 

Years ago, Number Two Daughter and I set off to climb Mt. Shasta. A few days before the planned Big Climb, we made a warm-up hike to Helen Lake at over 10,000’.

 

After we parked at the base parking lot, we were issued a piece of equipment that I certainly never learned about in all my years in the Boy Scouts.

 

Due to the hordes of hikers making the mountain trek, regulations require you to literally pack out what you packed in, including what you carried up in you.

 

Back then, the chosen removal method was…and I am not making this up…you placed a paper target on the ground, which you could hopefully hit with some accuracy. Yes, there were points granted for your aim.

 

 

     pootarget

 

 

Heaven help anyone on the shy side, as there was virtually no place affording any form of privacy. With your fellow hikers passing nearby, it made going in public a difficult proposition for some, not to mention any fibbing as  to your poop-on-the-paper score.

Nothing to see here…move along…

 

 

 

     Shasta crowd

 

 

Full Disclosure: Luckily for myself, my daughter, and the other outdoor enthusiasts, I was able to pack out ALL of my contents intact and in the form I carried them in.

 

Another wilderness adventure venue requiring unusual methods of ridding oneself of that which must be ridden of, is whitewater rafting rivers with limited camping sites, where, if we all went at will, we would really be stuck up shit creek without a place to put our paddle, or anything else.

 

The first time someone told me the toileting technique mandated by the United States government was to first pee in the river and then poop in a metal ammo box (the infamous “grover”), which would be packed, along with our food stuff for the entire trek…well, I thought they were joking. They were not.

 

 

              river groover

 

 

As you can see, the grover is often placed in a scenic spot of the river camp, which occasionally allows you to wave at other rafting groups as they pass by.

No worries; as I began this story, everybody knows that everybody else has to go sometime. 

 

Not all of our travels involve beautiful, remote outdoor locations. That includes commercial airliners we take to get to those desired places.

 

 

         airplane head space

 

 

I would much prefer to poo in a small metal box or attempt to hit a paper target while hovering in full view of dozens of others, than sitting in a cramped, stinky airborne bathroom during a 12-hour flight of heavy use.

You can only hope that while the plane jerks and jostles in air turbulence, everything stays down while you are stuck in there.

 

The only thing worse than that is doing it in a space of similar size and smells, that not only jolts up and down, but tips over at steep angles, as is the setting in a sailboat out in the open ocean. One minute you have both feet flat on cabin floor, the next you have one foot high on the wall as the boat violently heels over.

 

 

     sailboat heeling

 

 

You think hitting a stationary paper target is problematic? Try hitting a hole that moves in every possible direction. And you think sailors wear those waterproof slickers for what happens outside the boat cabin.

 

Stories of having to poo in public, or while using facilities that move wildly, make me yearn for those quiet, pastoral places, where an old log laying out in the woods provides all the support I need to do what must be done.

 

Unless your karma is as mine once was, where the log happened to be mid-slope and rotten. As I sat back, the weathered old log snapped under the weight of my ample arse, and over I went, rolling down the hill with my pants at my ankles.

 

But, with good commode karma, maybe you will be lucky and find a secluded spot out in the middle of the woods with almost all the comforts of home.

 

 

     woodsy poo spot

 

 

Mind the splinters. 

 

And, the species of native vegetation you might use lacking proper paper products.

 

Hey, its called adventure travel for good reason.

 

 

               woodsy poo

 

    

(Note: No plants were molested, nor air quality fouled, during the filming of this staged reenactment.)

The tales of adventures that went awry abound.

 

Books such as Not So Funny When It Happened (edited by the target of my adventure travel writer man-crush, Tim Cahill);  No Shit! There I Was; and Oh No! We’re Gonna Die, are but a few of the genre.

 

Truth be told, the awryer the better if you’re an adventure humor travel writer (or wannabe facsimile of same)…assuming you survive the ordeal, that is.

 

And, for anyone having followed my decades of travel ordeals knows, I should have tomes of travel tales on the aisles of the digital bookstore shelves over at Amazon. 

 

I should.

 

 

  rocky path

 

 

Most of my adventures seem to take place on, or under, some form of water, so yes, my travel stories are truly all wet.

 

One waterborne pursuit I partake pretty often is lake kayaking. Compared with scuba diving 100-feet down through rusty wrecks, helicopter skiing deep powder on steep slopes, or taking a shower in a tub with no non-skid pads, you would not think much could happen on a calm mountain lake, while safely ensconced in a stable, high-flotation watercraft.

 

You would think.

 

 

  there will be blood

 

 

Viewer caution suggested for visual grossness of this next picture.

 

 

                  knee injury1

 

 

How, you might ask, is that type of injury even possible under such conditions?

 

Well, my first instinct was to proclaim that I jumped off a cliff to save a young child from drowning, but apparently that cock and bull story has already left the farm

 

 

 

       cliff jumping

 

 

Like my dad used to say, “The second liar doesn’t have a chance.”

 

O.K. How about this: I was attacked by a yet unknown, high sierra cousin of the feared freshwater piranha.

 

 

     local fish

 

 

No?

 

Well, I just remembered. A huge, winged marauder swooped in to grab my iPhone 5S off of my lap.

 

Ha, ha, stupid winged marauder; I already paid $1,000 for someone to stand in line for me for the new iPhone 6 Plus.

 

 

  Egret in flight

 

 

No, not that either?

 

 

Well, what certainly should have not happened did not happen, was that, as I was taking three steps in knee deep water, I tripped on a rock and landed on another.

 

Ha, ha stupid rock. It only bled for an hour.

 

 

      plants in rock wall

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