Lost in the Wild

IMG_4851We are not the Robinson family, although we do like to explore. We try to experience something new on our new country, when we leave the house, ever since we moved here.  It has been an absolutely fantastic adventure, despite some minor less fantastic moments – but let’s not dwelve on the darker times.

In recent months, we have talked a lot about getting more familiar with the great outdoors.  We live in the mountains, next to a huge state park, and pride ourselves of having joined the great scouts organisations for both girls and boys.  As such, we must learn and explore!

Last week we finally build up the courage to face nature head on, and go into the great wilderness – well armed with bug sprays, water, pocket knife and of course iPhone.

We found what we thought would be a good beginner and family trail, in the majestic Bear Mountains which is over 5000 acres of trees, lakes, rivers, wild life that will kill you and of course animals.

For this virgin trek, we even brought our loco brown 2 year old Labrador.  She hates other dogs, gets extremely hyper when she meets people and pulls like a bull.  It would be good for her to burn some energy and at the same time train walking on a leash like a normal dog.

The family SUV took us to the starting point and we prepared ourselves for a “short” trek around in the woods.  My dear wife sprayed all of us with insect repellent.  With the amount she used, mosquitos quickly became an endangered species in a 5 mile radius.

Hi Ho Hi Ho – off we go … we are family … we will survive” were tunes that we spontaneously started singing while climbing our first little ledge.  I personally prefer the soundtrack from “Sound of Music” but perhaps not relevant at that very moment.

The girls climbed large rocks, ran into the wilderness, looked at all insects and screamed by the sight of most insects.  It was a true family bonding moment.  Our son was less impressed as her prefers so watch movies about outdoors, and not being inside it.

Marking a tree in case we don't make it back!
Marking a tree in case we don’t make it back!

I felt awesome.  Putting my scouting experience to use and explained random things to the girls, hoping they would pay somewhat attention.  I showed them the markers on the trees, showing the trail we were on (little did I know that these would become essential for our survival 2 hours later) and was skipping along the path in my trekking sandals.

In hindside, none of us had selected the best footwear for this outing, but we still managed and took our time as we scaled various cliffs and streams.  We had fun and that was important.

As we got deeper and deeper into the wilderness, we encountered less and less people.  They obviously knew something we didn’t or had better trial maps.

2 hours in we finally met another family.  They asked us for direction and we joked that we were heading back to the car and pointed towards a wider trial.  It was only when their lead scout shared his map that I realised that we were slightly of course.  In fact, had we stayed on the trail, we would’ve ended up 10 miles from our starting point and car.

somewhere here
somewhere here

I tried not to panic in the presence of our kids, who all looked at me for guidance.  A nervous giggle emerged from my throat and I proudly pointed towards the path we just came from and exclaimed with a trembling voice “we are going back on the trial we just came from“.  Inside my head I as screaming “we are lost and will die!

Thankfully the kids did not argue and simply turned around.  They just turned, faced the path and started walking while humming.

The good thing was, we knew the path challenges already, and we could easily find our way back to the car as we followed the trial markers. I told you they were important!

Soon we could hear cars again and suddenly I spotted our car in the parking lot, and we had one bar coverage on cell network. It was a joyous and emotional moment being back in civilisation.

Part of me doubted my tracking skills, but my fatherly GPS senses kicked in and navigated us back to safety.  My wife actually kissed the car and hugged all of us with tears rolling down her face.

What did we learn from this family bonding adventure?

  • My youngest daughter knows how to pee in the wild
  • We need to wear better shoes
  • Would be ideal to have a trial map and compass
  • Bring more water and perhaps snacks
  • Prepare to be lost better!
  • Bring pen and paper to write letters home
  • The loco Labrador can actually work nicely (probably exhausted too)

All in all, it was a great afternoon spent with the family and we are absolutely returning to the wild in the near future.

Winter is Coming with a Body Slam

signThe winter had been pretty mild.  We’ve had a fair share of freezing my butt of cold days and nights, and some days my eyes froze.  But, nothing severe like 2-3 feet of snow in 12 hours or a sudden avalanche from the nearby mountain.

Deep inside my rather shallow body, I had a suspecion that we would get absolutely creamed and dumped on.  We couldn’t just get a mild winter with a few inches of snow.  I needed to use my snow blower, and at least 100 lbs of road salt (from my 1000lbs stash), to proudly be able to say “winter is coming!“.

When they decided to consult with a rodent, the annual groundhog day, I was not surprised when the furry critter predicted another six weeks of winter.  He too knew winter was coming.  I must admit, asking a small furry dude to predict the weather is rather odd, but hey, stranger things happens.

It was rather pleasant when we had a 62F winter day, and I could drive with the windows down.  Little did I know that winter was indeed coming.  The weather guys did warn the population, but when you sit in a t-shirt, listening to Shakira, you can’t really take them seriously.  Surely winter is over!

Later that evening, snow did cover the night sky, and temperature dropped.  By 4.30am we received a call from the school, saying school would be closed – followed by a number of emails and text messages.  All stating “winter is coming!“.

dayaftertomorrowEarly morning and first light, showed how busy Mother Nature had been.  Everything was covered in a thick layer of snow, and it did not look like stopping.  It just kept coming and coming.  As if Mother Nature wanted to make a point “it ain’t over until I say so”.

Mid afternoon the snow finally stopped, although a rather brisk breeze kept blowing snow around.  Winds were howling and my eyeballs got frostbites when I peeked out the door.

I knew I had to deal with it.  I prefer not to engage in cardio exercises when it is this cold, but when you have a 200 feet driveway, and it is not electrical heated, someone has to clear it.  AND, that someone is obviously me.

All three kids had “sudden” symptoms of fever or coughing, and informed me they were unavailable for child labour.  My wife had to work (new job and trying to impress the boss) and my loyal brown Labrador was pretending to be paralysed.  All in all, a sorry bunch of heroes.

I dressed up for my arctic experience and started my 30″ snow blower.  This beast could take on anything; jaw crunching snow eaters and strong caterpillar track.  We were going to conquer this together.

clarkThe size of the task became apparent when I opened the garage door in best Clark Griswold style.  The snow was about a foot deep, and had completely erased my landscaped garden and driveway.  It was there somewhere.  I just had to find it. … mission accepted!

Snow was flying all over as my snow monster was eating through all the snow, trying to find the surface.  We were in this together.  The red paint was gradually being covered with snow and icicles, and so was my beard.

2 hours later and I had cleared the driveway.  Well, there was still a thin layer of snow on the tarmac, which at this point was starting to freeze.  A few times I almost lost my footing, but mostly recovered while letting out a few yelps.  It was manly yelps in case you wondered.

As I was preparing for one final turn, a small pivot with my snow blower, my legs literally disappeared underneath me.  It was like watching a movie in slow motion, and felt even slower.

I made a few graceful attempts to recover the inevitable, only to suddenly lift off the ground and body slam into the ground.  Not a hope of bracing the fall with my arms, as I for some reason decided to hold on to the bloody snow blower.

The wind was knocked out of my chest, and as I laid there looking at the tarmac, I melted the ice with my breath.  I couldn’t even call out in pain and was stuck for several seconds.  It was pretty clear that body slamming 200lbs of Scandinavian bacon does some impact, and the pain quickly shared that observation as I could feel a shooting pain in my chest.

I’m not a doctor or expert, but it was obvious that I had fractured or bruised a rib or two.  But, in true manly spirit, I got up, and continued my work … at least for a further 23 seconds.

At that point I did what all men does.  I walked to the porch, sat down and waiting for anybody in my family to notice me and give me some sympathy.  That failed, and after 12 minutes of self indulged suffering, I went back to spray salt on the fecking ice.  That’s how you deal with it.  You spray salt on that shit.

Now I’m praying and hoping that winter is truly over.  I’ve had enough of this white stuff.  Winter did come! Mother Nature kicked my arse, and big boys do cry.

wintercame

I’m not Hulk

The week had not gone as well as we would have hoped.  66% of the kids were down with severe cold & flu symptoms, and partial strep.  It had been 4 days of missed school and I wondered if this would have an overall impact on their scholarship applications missing a week of elementary school.  You never nowadays.

When I was standing in the shower that morning, I do not anticipate how manic my morning would become.

I left 66% of my kids in the care of my lovely wife, and 33% by the road waiting for the school bus.  Once she had jumped on the bus, I shot off in my “new” Dodge Charger.

I was early for once.  Only a few minutes, but it still gives a good start to any day.

tireOn my route to work, there’s a section where a few highways cross, and a diabolic like lane change happens.  There’s nothing around on this isolated piece of road.  For about a mile it is just barren wasteland – no-mans land – an area you would see as a battle ground in Mad Max as they fight for water.

On that particular strip of road, I suddenly started to feel sluggish steering capability and low air pressure on left front tire.  Deep inside, I knew I should’ve changed my tires some weeks ago.  It’s just one of those things you should’ve done, and didn’t do, and now shit comes back to haunt you!

Luckily I had all the necessary tools in the boot of the car – or trunk as the Yanks are calling it.  Either way, I was prepared for a DYI roadside assist.  Little did I know that was missing a key ingredient – wd40.  You cannot leave your home without it!

Within minutes of diagnosing the flat tire, I had whipped out the necessary tools needed to do the job effectively.  3 simple items that can make it so much easier.

  • A jack
  • A lug wrench
  • A spare tire

The only obstacle that you are never prepared for is how tight the wheel bolts.  Fear not.  I attacked those suckers with an attitude and a ferocity that would scare any WWE wrestlers.  I was gonna come out victorious.

As I attached the lug wrench to the first bolt, it was clear this was going to take a little more effort than earlier anticipated.  All five bolts were as welted to the wheel, and didn’t give a crap that I was pulling it.  If they had a voice, I’m sure I would have heard them laugh and mock me.

I pulled.  I stood on the wrench.  I kicked the tire.  I poured warm coffee.  I cursed. I kicked the wrench.  I kicked the tire.  I kicked the car. I kicked the ground. I scratched the wheel with my nails. I screamed at it. I used a large rock as hammer on the wrench.

I prepared for one final attempt.  I focused my anger at the bloody wrench.  Grabbed it with both hands, and mentally transformed into the Hulk.  All my powers were being directed to my hands.

hulkAs I pulled the immovable bolt, I let out my manly war-cry, which sounds like the Dementor from Harry Potter, and flexed all my muscles in my entire body who had been on holiday for the last decade.

Sweat was being forced out from various places on my body and forehead.  The war-cry quickly turned into a cry of agony.  I felt and heard something pop on my left side, from muscles I hadn’t used for a long time, and it was like being stabbed by Excalibur. Not that I have much stabbing victim experience, and not planning on it either, but this was painful.

Cars (drivers) flying by on the highway must’ve had a wonderful experience, seeing a guy dressed in a nice suit, jumping on a wrench attached to his car, and being totally animated.

I was in pain.  Tire was not coming off.  I had to call for reinforcement.

... to be continued.

The Unwanted Visit of Jon-Ass

gingergrizzlyIt has been a very unusually mild winter on the East coast so far, with Christmas day hitting 70 Fahrenheit (21 Celsius).  Most days in December had blue skies and we didn’t even start the oil furnace.

I seriously considered preparing the Christmas feast on the BBQ, light the fire pit and then do some insane Marshmallow rice pudding creation for dessert.  In the end I opt’d for the traditional dinner in the oven.

People really enjoyed the mild winter and I was careful not to jinx it.  But, deep inside I knew we would get snow, and it would be back to snow clearing the ridiculous long driveway.

The news started to report about strange weather behaviours and snow was falling in Nashville.  Our local weather-guy forecasted the arrival of a Nor-Eastern storm, bringing a lot of snow.

Stage is set for the arrival of Jonas (aka Jon-Ass)

Not sure who comes up with these storm names, but Jonas Brothers were indeed an annoying phenomenon … they came, stayed for a brief moment and left us with annoying songs.  And, the equally Jonas Berggren who gave us Ace of Base.  You get the point, Jonas is annoying!

girls
Girls at Work

Late Friday evening the first flurries were dropping, and by the time we woke up we had about an inch.  Not much, but the sky was only getting started, and the intensity grew.

By 1 pm we had about 8 inches and the girls braved the blizzard to go hit the slopes (i.e. our silly long and steep driveway.

I stepped outside a few times, but each time my beard was filled with icicles, bringing back memories of my viking days sailing around the fjords of Alaska.  Back then, we only went to shore to pillage and sleep with the locals.

By Sunday morning, the snow had stopped falling, and the total accumulation was closer to 16-18 inches.

It looked absolutely stunning.  The white landscape, the silence and the powdery snow was only disturbed by the local wild life.

BUT, looks can be very deceiving, especially as we have a stupid long driveway.  It’s paved, but that does not make it any easier to clear.  Thankfully I have it almost down to a science.

Here’s the snow clearing recipe:

  • clear 95% with snow-blower; this will cause you to be covered with snow all over, resembling the abominable snowman.  It’s rather painless exercise, but wrists may become sore as you push engine forward.
  • scrape the remaining layer manually, to see black tarmac; this is a painful activity, which will keep on giving for several hours after you are done. However, if the sun is out, this will result in quicker melting
  • sprinkle the magic; by far the easiest job, and one you will have to compete for with the rest of the family.  You simply sprinkle some snow/ice melting salt over the areas, to remove the remaining snow.

Although, it also make you feel like a retired WWII veteran.  You back is killing you.  Muscles you did not know you had will ache. Some exposed body parts will be numb due to cold and limited blood circulation.

Two hours of hypothermia, white knuckles, icicles in beard and eyebrows, can’t-feel’my-knees sensation and frostbitten eyeballs.  It’s worth it man!

My driveway is now spotless.  Pride of the neighbourhood.  I’m the driveway-snowclearing-hulk … or just the ginger grizzly 🙂

BEFORE
BEFORE
AFTER (and I found three cars)
AFTER (and I found three cars)

Nowhere Near-Death Experince

Backyard BBQ 2The joys of being a house owner comes hundred fold when sitting on the back porch smelling the BBQ aroma of frying meats and having a glass of home (almost) brewed moonshine. All while the kids are playing yard games, wife is standing in the sunbeams gloving of utter gorgeousness and Mumford & Sons‘ tunes are streaming from the bluetooth speaker.  Weather is of course fantastic, warm, but not flesh scorching.

To be absolutely honest, being a home owner can certainly suck at times.  There’s always something that has to be fixed and staff in the local Home Depot are becoming your only social life.  Water leakage, door handles sticking, shower head breaking off, toilet clogged due to excessive toilet paper usage by 5-year-old, shower door dropping off ledge and not to forget the outdoor areas.

You know you are in trouble socially when Home Depot staff are befriending you on Facebook, and greeting you at the local ShopRite.

The latter can be an adventure, especially if you own a small forest like we do.  We never know what we might find and if it is from an unsolved crime scene.

A few days ago I decided to put on my responsible house owner and father hats on, and do some manly stuff around the house – literally around the house, as I needed to cut the grass, blow some leaves, pull some weeds and pick up dog poop.

Two dogs equals a large amount of natural fertilizer kids step in!

The cool thing about this was that I got to play with all my man toys; lawn mower, weed wacker and backpack blower … all my favorite power tools that makes me feel masculine.

sweatingThis was the first time I was attempting to cut our lawn, and something that had not been done since last fall, when the previous owner vacated the premises.  It had grown a little wild to say the least, to a point where I had to empty the grass cutting collector after 2-3 runs.  The grass for thick and moist, blocking the flow at times, and it was physical labor my body was not use to, and I was sweating profoundly.

Suffering from acute dehydration, I knew I had to stay hydrated and emptied a few gallons of cold water, but it was still very hot out.

After my lawn adventures, I moved on to weed trimming, followed by clearing leaves and grass cuttings with my power backpack blower.

It was an awesome 3 hours of solid work, enjoying the great outdoors, and I was proud of my achievements as I sat on my deck look (and smelling) the newly cut lawn.

However, something was slightly off.  My body was tingling and I was a little dizzy.  It was a very strange feeling and something I haven’t felt since Shaun T hammered my body to smithereens.  Not a very pleasant feeling.

But, I got a deserved shower and we headed off for dinner out with the family.  Thankfully my wife insisted on driving and as we went on driving my poor body started to show further signs of exhaustion.

heatstrokeIt was probably a combination of exhaustion, dehydration and lack of food that caused my body to react this way.  Or, just the fact that I’m getting older and perhaps this was a near-death experience.  I was seeking comfort in my family, but at the same time attempting to hold up a strong appearance for my kids.  Dad is doing just fine!!

Knowing my body fairly well, which I should after 40+ years, I simply needed to replenish my batteries.  What better way than eating spicy Mexican food, flushing it down with full blown non-diet Coke?

Gradually my body was recovering, although it took much longer than anticipated and I have come to the realization that I’m not a a young man anymore.  It was pretty obvious that I had a nowhere near-death experience.  Any man in my age would suffer from 3 hours of heavy gardening work, despite a good friend of mine completed the Spartan Race as #10 in his (our) age group, which is a lot more demanding than gardening.

Gotta go!  Shaun T is calling me on my cell!