Sunday, May 17, 2015

The ol' Green Boat

I felt like doing a little reach back to the past today, to the year 1985.  This time of year always brings back the memory of the day my brother and I put ourselves, and our little sister, in grave danger on the Restigouche River.

It was late May, early June timeframe, and I was 13 years old.  My brother was 11, and my sister was 7.  Some of you know me and where I come from, Mann's Mountain, New Brunswick, waay out there!  It isn't even recognized on any map.  The community across the river from us is called Matapedia and is in the province of Quebec.  The Matapedia River feeds into the Restigouche here and in the middle of all these river channels, right out in front of our house, sits a huge island.    

The Island!  The previous summer, my brother Trent and I had been given an old green boat which was built by my uncle when he was a kid.  Up until then, we had never had a boat, so this opened up a whole new world of exploration.  For two young boys who were expanding our horizons, being able to get over to the Island was like reaching the Moon!  And once we'd made it over there, the Island forever became our big natural playground, even as adults.  We still go over there whenever we get the chance.

The season was getting warmer and every day, we would come home on the bus and as we rounded the top of the long hill that led into our community, we were presented with a magnificent view of the valley below.  The river nestled beautifully in those rolling green hills, and the Island!  The river was still swollen from the spring runoff, but the waters were receding, getting blue'er and clearer, and ever so slowly revealing the Island and priming our excitement.  We were getting really ansy about getting the boat back in the water, but Dad warned us to wait until water levels dropped.  Til it was safe.   

But on one particular day, we crested the hill on the bus and looked down... the water was still high enough that there was a narrow stream cutting right through the middle of the island, but the headwaters looked calm and inviting.  Imaginations ran rampant, it was just too much temptation.  Imagine... we could paddle straight through the island!  In a few weeks, that stream would disappear and the chance would be missed.  We got off the bus that day and scrambled to get the boat down over the hill to the shore.  I am sure we never told Mom what we were doing.  She would have said no, so we didn't bother to ask.  We knew we'd have to go and get back quick, before Dad got home.  I figure we were playing up a little bravado too, cause we invited our little sister along with us, her first ride in the Ol' Green Boat.  

The Ol' Green Boat
Now, I should explain this boat a little more.  It was a flat bottom plywood boat, and was also flat on the sides and front, built almost like a wooden box with a slight curvature in the sides and had a keel that ran its length.  It was heavy too, from multiple layers of fibreglass patch jobs.  She was a very cumbersome boat.  I manned the front due to the cramped leg space, and I had a paddle that had about a third of the paddle part sheared off.  My brother, Trent, manned the back and had a bladeless goalie stick for a paddle.  We were very confident in our boating abilities and confident about our vessel, and assured Heidi that we knew what we were doing.  We did, we were pretty good for what we were working with.
   
We set out for our first float of the year and quickly realized the flow of the river was a lot more than we'd experienced before.  So we went up along the shoreline to give ourselves ample room to get out into the middle of the river to make the entrance at the head of the island.  We knew there was serious danger if we were to get sucked down either side of the island, because just down river from us there were still huge 3 foot swells of raging water and if we went there, god help us!  If we went there, we would have to ride it out for a long damn ways before we would be able to get safely to shore.  So getting that trajectory right was very important, which we did.  And it was awesome to be dragged into the island like that.  Like it had a tractor beam on us, faster and faster as the current sucked us in. 

It whisked us right in to the head of the island and calmed as we came out of the main flow.  We had to get out to drag the boat over the rocks to actually get into the free flowing channel and the water was extremely cold!  But once we were in that channel, it was a magical place!  Gently floating in total silence save for the birds and bugs the hum of a warm spring day bringing all that vegetation back to life.  Floating over the place where we'd normally be walking, our imaginations ran wild with excitement.  Soon the little stream started to gain steam towards its exit into the angry part of the river, so we turned around to go back.  Dad would be home soon and he would kill us if he knew we were over there.

Commanding the Trek probably looked something like this...
Once back at the head of the island, we were presented with a very ominous situation.  We had walked the boat out a ways, til we couldn't stand the pain of the icy water anymore and hopped in to start paddling.  There we were in the boat, hovering over maybe 3 feet of water, paddling for all we were worth but I could tell from watching the rocks that we were not moving much.  The current, along with our flat-fronted boat and our ill-equipped paddles, were holding us in place.  This was very bad.  We had not considered this.  We had no choice but to get out into the freezing water and walk the boat as far upstream as we possibly could, being sure to try to stay in the middle of the watershed so neither side of the island current could snag us, then we hopped in and began to paddle again.  We had to go upstream to make our long cross-trajectory to the shoreline.  We paddled for all we were worth, and very slowly we made ground but hardly enough to get us to where we needed to get to.  The river was winning and we were running out of steam.  We decided to angle the boat slightly towards the New Brunswick shoreline while keeping that upstream trajectory to cross the heavy flow that pushed down the NB side.  A neighbor in a motor boat (17foot canoe) came up past and checked in, and I think we just waved him by to let him know we were OK, but he only went a ways up and stayed there watching and waiting.

I am sure, when Dad crested the top of that long hill that led into the community and saw that spec of a boat out there in the middle of the river, I am sure his heart must have dropped right out of his body.  And confirmation of his worst fear when 'the boys' weren't home when he drove in the yard, he must have ran like hell to get down to the beach because there he was, and there we were right in the crux of it paddling for our lives.  We were caught in the main current, and he was yelling at us from the shoreline as the river began to drag us down.  We had no choice but to go for it and dramatically increase the angle of our trajectory towards the shore to go with the flow instead of fighting it so much, using the downstream suction to help propel us into the shoreline.  We landed maybe 150feet downstream off target, way too close to the point of no return.  We'd made it!  

Dad was so angry at us.  Not only that we'd been so foolish to do something so stupid, but then taking our sister along was absolutely crazy.  Our boat was taken out of the water for a month.  I don't know what other consequences were laid on us, but we learned a valuable lesson that day.  We were always told to respect the River, and Mother Nature, because she can be deadly if you don't respect her.  We had tested her and won, but it could have gone the other way.  Had it gone that way though, I am pretty sure that nothing could have flipped that old flat bottom boat.  It would have been a hell of a ride!  Quite thankfully, that's not how the story went.

Thanks for reading.

TRJ
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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Rescue 2014: Year of the Dogs

Benny
Benny somehow got through the gates in the wee hours of the morning and snuggled himself in between Tanya and I.  We don't let any of the dogs sleep with us, usually, except for Zuma.  So hand it to Benny, he's a crafty little pudge ball!  I don't know how he did it this time, how he got through the gate and up the stairs and onto our bed to slip quietly between us without making a sound, unheard by Zuma who is usually quite attentive to movement in the house.  Earlier in the evening he'd gotten through before I'd fallen asleep so I brought him back downstairs and secured the gates.  This time, he was totally silent.  I turned over and there he was!  So I gave him his due credit for being so stealthy and allowed him to stay for the night.

Benny is our most recent rescue dog, who I am happy to report has stolen the heart of our friend CJ who was visiting from Halifax, and she is going to adopt him.  He's a real sweatheart, a chubby brown chihuahua with big brown eyes and long lashes, who loves to curl up with his people.  He is a very well balanced dog.  He was overweight when we got him, and even though we've been able to trim some fat off him but he's still a stocky, pudgy little guy.  Someone loved him at some point, but didn't bother to get him microchipped and so he wound up on death row at Lied Animal Foundation with some serious injuries.

Someone from our agency, 'A Home 4 Spot', found him there on death row, all torn up and unmedicated, waiting to die.  He had been attacked by another animal and had open wounds on both sides of his neck and his side was ripped open.  The Animal Foundation does not save animals like this.  Benny was in pain and waiting to die when a kind soul from our agency took it upon herself to pay his medical bills and save his life.  And now he is truly saved, and going to become a Maritimer!  Now to work out the logistics of getting him across the continent... I may be bringing him if things on the job front don't start looking up.
Otis & Breeze

It has been quite a year, the Year of the Dogs: 2014.  Since we started fostering, we have literally saved the lives of 14 dogs.  Two of those were rescue-fails... which is, we were fostering them, but then we ended up adopting them.  They are our two twin chee's (chihuahua's), Otis and Breeze.

Otis in his cave.  Only he can fit under the couch!
Otis impacted our family in a huge way.  We got him and his brother Troy as puppies, and once Troy (now Ziggy) was adopted, we just couldn't see Otis living anywhere other than here.  He is a whole lotta happy packed into a tiny little body, and we just needed to have him in our pack.  He is our little cheerleader!  Otis' energy is infectious, and he helps us bring around any dogs that come here and are fearful and need a friend.  Otis is friends with everyone.

Queen Breeze
Breeze is the most recent addition to our family, which brings our family pack up to 4 dogs.  They look almost the same, and they are inseperable.  They sleep together, play together, and fight like crazy!  She is a bit of a head case.  A real prima donna, drama queen.  She has been with us a long time and is not good out in public at the adoption events.  She doesn't really like strangers, and hates when her pack is seperated.  She's a screacher and whiner!  Considering the way she is out in public, and how well she and Otis get along, we decided to adopt her.  And much to our suprise, has also taken up the Alpha role in our house over Zuma!  Zuma has relented his position to her, and that is really something because Zuma has been the alpha for as long as we've had him.  But Breeze is a very needy, prissy, and jealous chihuahua.  I don't think Zuma sees her as a threat, just maybe as his whine-ass little sister.  He just lay back and said 'OK, whatever Breeze', and we've never seen him do that with any dog, ever.  She's special all right!  Our little Queen Breeze.

Miller, now called Rambo
My favorite dog this year was my little black chihuahua named Miller, now called Rambo.  Which is a fitting name, cause he's tough looking... but he's not tough at all.  He has an underbite, with a snaggletooth that juts out over his upper lip, and huge, expressive satelite-type ears and big globular brown eyes.  He never really fit into the pack, always the outsider on the fringes, watching.  He's a bit of a strange dog, very unsure of himself and was quite quickly demoted to bottom dog of the pack... except he would never accept that.  He and Zuma did not get along, and Zuma put him in his place many times before he eventually decided that Miller was no threat and began to ignore him completely.  Miller never gave up the fight though, right up til the last day he was challenging Zuma, following him around and posturing himself with threats like 'I'm gonna kill you Zuma!'  It was funny, except for the territorial battle that Miller was waging and marking his territory all over the house... including many instances of marking our bed and pillows.  So you think I'd hate him, right?  But no, he was a unique little dog, very special.  If Tim Burton had to cast a strange, halloween-cat-type-dog for a movie, Miller was it.  And even though he pissed on my pillow a couple times, I loved him and I wanted to adopt him.  He was with us for a full year, and it took a lot of rehabilitating to get him to become a social animal, to trust humans.  It took a really long time but he came around.  We didn't think he'd ever get adopted but luckily, he did.  And on our second visit to his new prospective home, he began initiating play with their crazy little dog, so we knew it was right!  We were so happy for him, we'd done a great job and Miller... Rambo would be OK!

My most enduring memory of Miller was his fascination with my guitar playing.  The other dogs scatter when I plug into the amp to play, and that was Miller's queu to come to my feet with a toy and want to play.  That was our time.  On occasion, the amp would really arouse his curiousity and he'd stare into it while I played... and he would turn to me and sing along!  I swear it!  He'd turn around to look at me, put his ears back and howl softly with his little outstretched 'O' shaped mouth!  Incredible!  Not only that, but if I was sitting and playing acoustic, he'd come right up beside me and stare up at me with those big brown eyes, listening intently.  A few times he even put his paw on my strumming hand and mimicked my movements.  He was fascinated by music.

Miller and I had a deep connection, I was his human and I took him under my wing to make sure that he knew he was part of my pack, even if he didn't quite fit in with the other dogs.  I'm glad Tanya talked me out of adopting him though, the territorial battle was too much to deal with.


Sophie LOVED the pool!
My biggest challenge of the year was the boxer/pitbull Sophie, whom I've written about here.  She caused a lot of chaos in our pack and turned our house on its end.  She'd never really had any stability of any kind, having been in the system for so long as a puppy.  She was special.  The bad kind of special, and needed a ton of training.  I have since come to know all kinds of boxers and pitbulls at the boarding/daycare facility where I work, so I now know I was ill-equipped to deal with her.  Some of those breeds have a predisposition for having a screw loose and need special consideration, and she exploited my inexperience pretty quickly and our house fell into chaos.  She was very needy and demanding, and as the biggest, strongest, and loudest dog in the house, I was a little afraid of what might come of it because the other dogs did not like having her here, especially Zuma.  After she bit my friend, we no longer felt safe in having anyone over to the house, so we were in social lockdown for a few months.  I went to a trainer to help me try to understand, and with that knowledge I set about a training program with her.  Lots and lots of exercise, and lots of things to keep her mind occupied all the time.  Luckily I had the time to deal with all this, because it took a lot of energy to keep her anxieties under control.  We worked together and found some common ground, and we eventually found a good family for her who promised to continue to work out her issues.  Last I heard, they had finally, FINALLY taken my advice and brought her to the trainer with whom I had worked, after she had bitten the husband.  Beautiful animal though.

I have been very fortunate to have the freedom of time to do all this volunteer work with 'A Home 4 Spot'.  It is very rewarding to take in these broken, discarded animals and rehabilitate them, give them back their dignity and confidence so they can feel happy and safe in our pack, and help find their forever homes.  When we hear the stories and get pictures of our fosters with their new families, that's what its all about!

Nice work, Joneseses!  And nice work to all you other volunteers and families out there who choose to adopt instead of supporting the Pets-for-Sale industry.  Those animals you see in the windows of pet stores will eventually end up on the kill-list if they are not taken, at which point organizations like ours will try to save them.  We can't save them all, but we should at least be trying to fix the problem and stem the bleeding, and shut down the storefront industry completely.  Pets are not commodities to be bought and sold and discarded when they're past their due date.  There are just too many people trying to make easy money off the lives of the innocents and flooding the market with unwanted animals.  It has to stop.

Thanks for reading.

TRJ

Pack Jones:  (clockwise)  Tanya, Zuma, Benny, Clancy, Miller, Otis, Breeze

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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Troy & Steve's Grand Canyon Adventure!

Ahh a new year of adventure is upon us.  I am still collecting my stories and writing lots, but its been awhile since I've posted anything so I wanted to get this going again.

My good friend Steve came into town last fall with plans to go on an epic hiking adventure.  He invited me along and luckily, it worked out that I had the time and was able to join him on his trek.  Steve and I go way back, our friendship was forged in the ring of music and our connection runs deep.  He is an Adventure Racer (check out his site at ActiveSteve.com), and he came to Nevada in between races to do some hiking in the back country of Zion National Park.  He is a super-fit, highly capable and motivated individual.  I am fortunate to have friends like Steve to guide me in this life and push me to do things beyond my expectations.  He is my brother, and as such I feel it my duty to keep one elbow firmly implanted in his ribs at all times.  I love to pick on Steve!

We spent a few days planning the fine details of our adventure over many beers by the poolside.  If you are back country camping and carrying what you will need to consume for 3 or 4 days, you'd better plan that well.  Steve was in charge of the plan, I provided the comic relief.  We also warmed up for the big hike by doing little day hikes around Vegas to make sure these old bones were in good hiking condition.  I was worried about my knee, which got tweaked on my adventure to Mt. Charleston and made for a long day.  But all was good, all systems go!  We got out to do a hike at Red Rock and took a ride out to Death Valley.

We had a really weird experience out at Death Valley.  We were lucky it was a cloudy day so it wasn't nearly as hot as it should have been.  We got off the beaten path a bit when we spied a slot canyon carved out of the mountainside that we wanted to see up close.  We walked up the wide floodplain towards it, but there was a growing sense that this was a bad place to be.  The sky was darkening and heavy purple clouds were gathering over the mountain above us.  There was a spittle in the air, and all the hairs on Steve's arms went up.  It would have been really cool to see that slot canyon explode with water, but truth is, it was a dangerous place to be.  People die all the time like that here because they are unaware of the threat of floodwater in the desert.  And here we are standing in its floodplain, staring up at the hole in the rock where all the water is going to come blasting out of.  We got our pics and got out of there.

Looking down on Badwater from Dante's View, 5475' elevation
We made our way from the valley floor around the back of the mountain where we caught the storm, and then climbed out of it to the peak.  We watched as the storm rained on the valley where we had just been.  There were lightning strikes too, going down from where we stood!  Very cool.  Another system moved over us and then it started to hail!  Death Valley... the hottest place on the planet and we're getting pounded with ice balls!  That was a wild experience.

We travelled early on a monday morning to Zion National Park and ended up waiting in a long traffic jam just to get in to the park, and then we got snaggled in another traffic jam when we got to the campground.  So much for solitude away from the masses of tourists.  It took a lot of our morning only to find out that the campground was booked solid, and that they were making a makeshift campground for the overflow.  Then we found out the unfortunate news that in order to book a back country hiking permit, you would need to put your name on the waiting list THE MORNING OF THE DAY BEFORE you want to leave on your hike.  Only so many permits are allowed and everyone wants one, so you have to sign up a whole day in advance.  This gutted all of our plans.  We decided to cut and run and high tailed it for the north rim of the Grand Canyon to start all over from there.

We first secured a campsite at DeMott Campground for the night and set up our tent, then sought out the park ranger's office to forge a new plan of attack.  This is where we met Ranger Steve Bridgehouse.  Steve is a really great guy, very passionate about his job and the hiking lifestyle in general.  He enthusiastically helped us forge a new battleplan and lifted our spirits.  Most importantly, he informed us that we do not need to camp in any campground, that we were allowed to camp ANYWHERE on public lands!  He showed us all the service roads on the maps surrounding the canyon and recommended what he thought were the best places to camp, and even back at Zion where we'd go back to in a couple days.  He also told us the best hikes we should be doing.  Meeting him was the best thing that could have happened.  Steve was now informed and excited about our new plans.  We did a quick tour of the area and were anxious to get away from the tourists, so we foraged for as much firewood as would fit in the trunk of the rental and retreated back to the campsite.

Evening came in quick and cold and damp!  The fire did very little to warm us as the temperature dropped to freezing very quickly.  Steve had gotten us provisions of freeze dried meals for the week, along with carefully measured portions of trail food, so we enjoyed a delicious steaming bag of beef stroganoff for supper, which was very welcoming.  It was a really cold night!  It was tough to keep the ground cold out, sleeping on a foam mat in a sleeping bag.  I wore my earmuff'd hat and gloves and had to keep turning over all night long less the frost get me.

Chilly morning for adventuring
In the middle of the night all hell broke loose when a pack of coyotes exploded into revellry.  They must have been celebrating a kill or something.  I recognized the yips and yelps of happy play from my own dogs' vocabulary, but this was much more intense!  The coyotes were having a blast at whatever it was they were doing, and it sounded like a lot of them too, really close to us.  A little un-nerving, but really cool.  I believe that was our spirit-animals who'd come to welcome us to the canyon.

In the morning our car was covered in frost.  We didn't bother packing up anything proper, we broke camp as quick as possible and just stuffed it all into the trunk to deal with later.  The seat heaters in the car were heaven while we waited for the frost to unthaw off the windshield.  Then we made our way to our first real trek, a decent into the Grand Canyon along the North Kaibob Trail.

Jones on the edge
Steve on the edge
Now, I didn't really know how my fear of heights would be, trekking with Steve.  He's a professional, and I knew I wouldn't be able to travel with him on all his hikes.  But I resolved to go as far as I could with him and find out where that line was for me.  The North Kaibab Trail decended 3000 feet over 4.7 miles into the canyon to Roaring Springs.  It was a mule trail for the first while, and from there it was a meandering mountainside trail hanging on the cliffs and carved out of the rock wall in some places.  It was a really well maintained trail and despite the height and the amazing views I never lost my nerve.  The scenery was breathtaking.  The morning was beautiful too, a cool sunny morning with just Steve and I and nature, singing random tunes that came along.  Frank Zappa's "It can't happen here" was the soundbite of the week.  We finally felt like we'd broken away from the tourists and found the solice we were seeking.  Peace and tranquility, and a gorge of super-massive scale.  Wow!  Its tough to describe.  We decended for 3 hours to Roaring Springs, through layers and layers, billions of years of the earth's history.  I've never seen so many fossils!

We could see and hear Roaring Springs a long time before we got there and unfortunately, we found out that we couldn't actually GET THERE!  There was no trail to it, it was just a very tall waterfall coming out of an underground pool of water far up on the opposite mountainside.  That was disappointing.  We took a quick breather and powered up with food and drinks before we started the long ascent.  The hiking poles were invaluable for this kind of trekking.  The sun beat on us relentlessly on the way up but it was still a really nice day with a gentle breeze every now and again.  We made really good time going back up too, which took about 4.5 hours.

Sunset overlooking the Grand Canyon
Our destination for the evening was North Timp, to camp on the edge of the canyon.  We hit a local store and bought two big beers for the evening and one big roadie for me as we jetted off onto the service road through the woods for 45 minutes to get out to the rim.  The service roads were really well maintained too, so we cruised like a rally car over the dirt and tested out our rental, dodging deer along the way.  What an amazing area!  Right out to the edge of the Grand Canyon!  We set up camp amongst the pines and I gathered wood for the evening's fire.  We met two other fellows who'd been mountain biking all day and were spending the evening there as well, a Brit and a New Zealander, both were pilots who were off on their own adventure.  We enjoyed the sunset with them over beers and a giddiness of where we were and what we were witnessing.  That night Steve and I had our first real good fire!  I love bonfires, and I miss that alot.  We had a much more comfortable sleep too, on the soft pine tree gound and the warm canyon air wafting up over us from below.

The Grand Canyon is so super-massive, that I have to say you kinda lose perspective a bit.  Your eyes can see it, but the scale and definition is lost because it is so vast.  In my opinion, it isn't as spectacular as Bryce Canyon.  I told Steve that he needed to see Bryce and the spectacular colors and rock formations there, so we made that part of our plan and headed there the next morning.  We cut through the woods again on the service road for about an hour and a half, and then stopped for a good breakfast sandwich at Subway before continuing on to Bryce.

Bryce Canyon
We were now heading back into the throngs of tourists.  Traffic jams at the edge of the wilderness, our solice was over.  Bryce is crazy busy with tourists.  It is spectacular, and the hiking is easier too so it attracts everyone.  They have a bus system to get people in and out of the area, but people still take their cars in and create havoc in the parking lots.  There's nowhere you can go at Bryce without running into throngs of people.  We spent the day hiking and it was once again, an amazing experience to see it all again.

We took Steve Bridgehouse's suggestion again and found a back country campsite for the evening and just as he promised, this site he suggested was really impressive.  We were off the beaten path in a little valley, lots of firewood, and the coolest forest of downed trees I think I've ever seen!  We climbed atop one of the cliffs overlooking the valley to have our supper and watch the sunset.  Then we explored the bizarre landscape and foraged for good fire poking sticks.  The rolling hills were dark orange and were streaked with silver, contorted, dead and downed trees.  I could have spent a whole weekend right there.  We had an even bigger bonfire that night to appease my firebug, and a selection of 4 beers each.  I will return to this campsite again.

The path to Angel's Landing
Our last destination was back to Zion, and we had to get there by 8am to try and secure a campsite for the evening.  There are no public lands surrounding Zion, so our off the grid camping nights were done.  I'm not a big fan of campgrounds.  We got a site, left the car on it and geared up for our next hike.  Steve's ultimate destination on this trip was Angel's Landing, and I knew we'd be parting ways on this one.  The brochures warned anyone afraid of heights should not do this trail, and I was OK with that.  I went along with him for the beginning, and found that the trail up was actually paved... and that the tourist traffic was insane!!!  It might as well have been any steep downtown city sidewalk with the amount of pedestrian traffic flowing in both directions.  This was not for me.  I let Steve go on his own and found my own adventure meandering back to camp.  He told me later that there were a lot of pedestrians all the way to the top, and a lot of people on the trail that really had no business being up there.  I had my own adventure which fulfilled my day.  Then it was back to camp to set up the tent on the hard packed ground.  My body was done!

Steve on Angel's Landing, 1488' elevation
I decided that I should go find some firewood for the evening, and get us some beer.  It was the last night so I thought we should have a good selection of at least 6 each, on ice for when Steve returned.  Also, eating freeze dried food and nuts and granola for three days fueled a killer craving for a cheezeburger.  I drove all the way to Hurricane, 25miles both ways, to get wood and beers and find a cheezeburger, and let me tell you that that was a damn'd good burger!

Steve arrived almost the same time I returned and he wanted to wash up so he took a little plunge in the Virgin River.  Its hard to believe that this meek little trickle of a river has carved out this entire valley.

We settled in for another evening of beer tasting and fire poking.  Sometime in the wee hours of the morning the wind kicked up really strong and began to pummel our tent.  The warm air rising from the canyon created a very powerful wind tunnel through the campground and our little tent was rocking like a freakin' jet engine.  We awoke all chalky mouthed and stuffed up from the dust storm blowing through our tent.  Steve just got up and started getting ready for his last day of hiking, while I hunkered in to try and get some more sleep, but the wind was relentless and it began to get lighter out so sleeping was impossible.  I got up and enjoyed one more freeze dried breakfast, scrambled eggs and ham, and packed up camp.  While I was waiting for Steve to get back I embarked on one last hike along Watchman's Trail to overlook the valley.  The tourists!  By gawds what a beautiful country, just chock full of people!

What it must have been like for those early explorers, seeing all this grandeur for the first time.  They were probably paranoid about being killed by the natives, but still in absolute awe of the spectacle before them.  Its heart wrenching sometimes.  Where we are, who we are and how lucky we are to be here and have this time.  Seeing the Grand Canyon like that, hiking into her great belly, camping on her edge.  What an adventure!  And that's only one little piece of it all.  So much yet to see and do.

I am a lucky guy!  Thanks for reading.

TRJ



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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sophie's Adoption! Thank you Universe!

Thank You, universe, for bringing me Sophie's 'Forever Family'!  The story of Sophie is a good one.  There is no way to tell this story in a convenient little package, so I will tell it in full.

Sophie was a dog we rescued for 'A Home 4 Spot', one of the many canine rescue agencies here in Las Vegas.  Usually we take in small dogs, but Sophie was special.  She had special needs and thus, came with a whole bunch of baggage that I had no idea how to handle.  I fell in love with her the first time I saw her and said to Tanya, "If we had the space, I would adopt that dog."

And then, the universe threw us a bit of a curve ball when Sophie's fostering needs became desperate, the organization needed someone to take her in.  We had already babysat her for a week so we knew her, and although we were apprehensive about having SIX dogs in the house, we decided that she had been in the care of 'the system' too long already.  We wanted to help rehabilitate her and find her forever family.

That became a 4 month ordeal for me.  I'm not sure I was ready for it but there it was.  Sophie's baggage was heavy, and I had to seek professional help in order to help me help her.  But in doing so, I more importantly realized that I needed to fix ME before I would be able to help HER.  I was part of her problem, and it just wasn't working.  We were unravelling each other.  It did begin to work in the end.  We both kind of stabalized together as the kinks got worked out, and I was finally able to reach her and bring us to a better working place.

Sophie and Otis
Still, since none of the conventional methods of meet and greets were working to find Sophie's forever family, I decided to write this blog (posted below), and throw the word out into the universe to pull them in.  I wrote this on September 5, 2014.... but I never posted it!  I didn't have any good pictures of her so I waited for a few days and it never got posted.

Of course, there were other balls in motion to find Sophie's family, but within a week of me writing the blog that I never posted, we had 2 solid hits.  The first one didn't work out, but the second one did!  A young couple who fit the profile of what we were looking for, and we happily handed Sophie over to begin her new life on September 16th, 2014.

Thank you, universe!  And thank YOU, to all of you who help us save the lives of these unfortunate animals.

Please see original blog below...



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From the desk of the Mountain Man...
September 5th, 2014

Hello Good People.  I am submitting this to the Internet Universe in hopes of finding a special someone who is looking to adopt our foster dog Sophie.  Conventional methods of meet and greets have not worked, nor has word of mouth, or anything... and she is such a beautiful, eager to please animal, I would desperately like to find her a forever family while she is still in her formative training years.  So I am submitting this you, Youniverse, please help me find Sophie's forever family.

I fell in love with her the first time I saw her.  She is a sleek muscled, 40 pound, all-white boxer-lab-pitbull mix, short haired, with fawn colored freckles all over her body.  She is a very athletic 10 month old puppy with a lot of anxious energy, and she is extremely smart.  She is also a bit goofy looking with her big square head and jawline, widespread cockeyes and one bent ear.  Her voice is ranged from piercing high pitched (the anxiety overload pitch), to her deep, menacing growl when she's playing.  She is a very sweet, affectionate dog, and she loves her people and her pack.

Otis and Sophie Playing
We didn't really want to foster large dogs with all our little dogs, so Sophie was never on our radar as a foster.  But then through a turn of events we ended up taking her in, which expanded our pack to 6 dogs (!!!), 3 of our own and 3 foster dogs.  And as dogs do, they work it out in sometimes less-than-friendly fashion until each one knows their place in the pack.  Sophie tested them all and now resides somewhere in the middle of our pack, respectful of even the wee chihuahuas when they warn her to back off.  And for her size, Sophie's 40 pounds of muscle against a 4 pound chihuahua, they still play quite rough and get along very well.  She knows her place within the pack and is perfectly fine with that.

She has been in 'the System' since she was given up for adoption as a 3 month old puppy.  She has been bounced around alot, from the kennels to fosters and 2 failed adoption trials.  One of those fails was due to a cat that we never did a proper 'meet and greet' with, and the other one failed because not all the family was on board with adopting her.  No doubt, this dog will need work and time invested in stabilizing her energies to keep her balanced.  She needs proper training and she needs to be in a stable environment with good leadership from her owners, and a lot of exercise and mental stimulation.  

Other than the last 4 months she's spent with us, Sophie has never really lived in a stable environment nor has had any opportunity to really develop a good trust and bond relationship with humans, and I think that has greatly contributed to her anxiety and tension issues.  We learned quite quickly that those issues can be volatile.  There have been three occasions on my watch where she has randomly struck out at people on the end of her leash without warning and that raised the red flags for me.  And then one very unfortunate occasion where she bit my friend.

I mention this dog bite because I feel it needs to be mentioned, but it was my own damn'd fault for setting the conditions for her to fail.  Dumbass, human error.  I am not a trained dog-trainer, and I have never had a dog with these kinds of anxiety and trust issues.  And I KNEW that she didn't like my friend for whatever reason from other times he'd been over to the house.  But I was confident we could work her through it, and he was willing to help.  At the time, I felt I had the tools at my disposal to help her and get her to like him, so I had him over for a BBQ and beers on a friday night and set it up.  She was extremely uncomfortable with him being there and I should have listened to her because she gave us plenty of warning.  I was cocky about it.  Bless him for putting in his time in this uncomfortable situation, but it failed and he paid the price.  It wasn't a big bite, just a quick strike that never, ever should have happened.  She's just unsure of herself and without good, stable leadership, bad things can happen.  I underestimated her, and overestimated my abilities.

After that event I sought professional help to help me deal with her anxiety, and we stopped having friends over to the house.  Pam Watson of 'Paws-A-tive Dog Training' was kind enough to donate her time to me, and the agency, to help train me in order to reach this animal.  From then on, 9 weeks ago, Sophie's training became my full time job.  I need to know that the dog I am handing off to someone else is not a dangerous animal.  And I don't believe Sophie is, but she needs special attention to make sure she's at ease and not on guard.

Zuma, the Ten Pound Pom!
I am a believer that these things come along in life to help you.  Why I was attracted to her in the first place, who knows.  Sophie revealed things about me that I try to keep wraps on, that I myself am a bit unstable and volatile.  She came into this house and threw the harmonious balance totally out of whack for a few weeks until it all got worked out, and for a while there, I was out of my head.  She undermined my mental stability because I had no idea how to communicate with her and deal with her anxieties.  I didn't have the tools that Pam took the time to show me.  And unfortunately, she suffered my wicked side in those first few weeks and caught a lot of the blame for the chaos that was erupting as the biggest, gruffest voice in the dog fight.  I mean, she could easily kill any of the dogs here, and I just wasn't sure what kind of animal she was.  But upon further contemplation of the situation, I realized it was more of an alpha Pomeranian issue than anything else.  Our 'Ten Pound Pom', the professional instigator.  This is Zuma's house, and he doesn't like Sophie being here.  He ratchets the tension level to 11 in a heartbeat and the whole house explodes!  We now know that Zuma is the one we have to control and the rest will fall in line.

So Sophie has experienced my aggressive nature, and I don't really know if that has hurt our trust-relationship or not.  I learned one thing, that if I am to reach this dog, I can't be an aggressive person and expect to connect with her as her trusted leader.  I have wanted to give up on her several times, unsure whether I was the right person to be trying to help her.  But Pam really helped me get centered, and helped me get to a better working place with her.  I really do love her and I want to help her be a better balanced dog and find her forever home, so I have needed to be better balanced too.  Right now, no one knows this dog as much as I do and I am the most stable environment she's ever known.  So I am it for her, I can't give up.

We work on our relationship daily with walks and leash training.  She still pulls on me more than I'd like, but I am perhaps looking for more than she's willing to give me.  She's gotten so much better since I started training with Pam.  In the past few weeks she has really started to be a lot calmer in the house and I now know how to deal with her anxieties.  Even Zuma the Ten Pound Pom has occasionally started to come around and initiate play with her, now that he knows she's not a big vicious beast.  I have worked constantly at keeping her energies entertained when she starts asking, either working her physically or working her mind with commands and simple challenges to get her thinking.  She trusts me and loves to be with me, and has even begun to follow my lead into the pool for a swim which she just loves!

I am also happy to report that we have had company here this week for the first time in over 2 months.  Sophie was a little apprehensive about her at first, but after our guest showed Sophie that she was the 'treat lady', Sophie became her best friend.  We are working to build these positive relationships, and always working to help her be calm and stable to control her anxieties.  We have seen a great improvement in her, but she still has these uncontainable eruptions of excitement in the form of high pitched yelping, and that still drives me mad.  I have yet to find a way to snap her head back into balance.  She, and I, are still works in progress.

Sophie is a lot of dog, and she is a wonderful animal worthy of someone's time and efforts.  She needs an owner who will be willing to take her to dog training to establish a solid, stable environment, and foster a trusting relationship with her so she never needs to be on gaurd duty.  She requires regular exercise to work out her anxieties, deep massages to aleviate her inner tensions and trust issues, and she needs a lot of things to chew on to keep her mind occupied.  She is a very intelligent dog and wants nothing more than to please her humans.

So I am submitting this you, Youniverse, please help me find Sophie's forever family.

Thanks for reading.

TRJ
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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hiking Mount Charleston

A friend of mine invited me along on an overnight hike in Mount Charleston.  I could never refuse an adventure like this so I went along.  This trek served two purposes; a long overdue measure of my fitness level and limitations of this 42yr old body, and to gain some valuable trail experience for an upcoming trek I will be taking with Steve Meyer in september somewhere in the Grand Canyon.  I have never been on an overnight hike like this beyond the reach of cell phones and civilization.  All my overnighters have been canoe trips fully loaded with lots of gear and beer.  So this was a pretty big, pared down adventure for me.

I should have clued in though, that hiking 'MOUNT' Charleston would be such a high experience... y'see, I am afraid of heights, and this hike was all about getting up to the top of the mountain range along narrow, steep, side-hill switchbacks.  It was a long day and a long, tough slog to get up there under the weight of the pack.  It really challenged my mental state to be able to push through and not get too freaked out by how far down I'd roll if I mis-stepped and went over the side.  I was thankful that I'd purchased new hiking boots (Ariats) for the trek which gave me some sure footed, comfortable confidence, and I was thankful for the knitted wool socks that Tanya had just given me as an early christmas present.  The socks were as promised, the 'best socks ever' for keeping my feet dry and the blisters at bay for the duration of the hike.  Thanks Tan!

PPL (Pierre-Paul Lavoie) was my guide, and his Aussie shepherd Klein was also with us.  I borrowed PPL's pack for all my stuff and he said it was heavy for 'trail weight' at around 35lbs, but I needed everything I'd brought.  We decided against the 6 pack of beer in lieu of a couple big Guinness cans, two for me and one for him.  Very early on we stopped to lighten our loads and have our first celebratory beer, which would be a huge mistake for PPL later on in the day.

Pushing uphill with a full pack is really tough work.  Its been a long, long time since I've pushed my body that hard for that far.  I knew I could do it.  We took our time and rested often.  Charleston Peak via the South Loop Trail is an 18 mile round trip with a 4300' gain.  7 hours in, we finally crested the mountain's peak into the sunshine and were rewarded with a flat trail and a crow's eye view of the valley below.  PPL had begun experiencing nausea some hours earlier and had to stop more and more frequently to fend off the sickness, but at the end of it he could hardly function.  This, we would later find out, was altitude sickness which was exasperated by the one beer he'd had.  He was completely done.  I ran ahead and scouted out a good camping location not too much further along at Griffith's Peak to set up camp at an elevation of 10,830 feet.  Stopping was OK with me because I could hardly lift my legs any more, but poor PPL had a rough couple hours until he finally hurled it all out.  He had me worried.

Celebratory mountaintop beer, and a little yodling!
I set up camp under his instruction and got him settled and then caught the sunset from the mountaintop and had my second celebratory Guinness.  That beer was sooo good!  It soaked into my tongue, through all my bones and aching muscles.  Its too bad we couldn't have had a fire to warm up our bodies once the sun set, because the temperature dropped really quickly and the moonless night was black.  In my mind I had to come up with an evacuation strategy in case... well, I'm really happy it didn't go that route.  Could I, if I needed to, carry my buddy out?  I don't think so.  Maybe under a full moon, but not in this blackness.  We would have had to wait until morning.  Thankfully he was better once he hurled, and the next day he was back in the saddle.

Nearing the top, the trail slopes dramatically!
We probably should have gone the 1 mile to the end of the trail, but we were running low on water so we decided to come back and finish the trail another day.  The descent was a lot quicker, though my knees were starting to get tweaked and I relied heavily on my hiking poles to ease the bombardment.  We were fortunate to find a trickle of water to refill our containers.  I never actually used my extra water until we got back to the car, so the 4 litres of liquids I brought with me was just barely enough for this trek.  We got back to the car in about 5hrs.

A seashell at 10,000' elevation
That hike pushed me to my limits, and what a wonderful deep pain it left in my body.  The endurance is there and capable of doing these treks, but the aches in the joints is not something I can really work and improve upon.  This 42yr old body has its limits and I need to respect what its telling me.  I am pretty happy it can get me way out there though,  knowing I am still up to the challenge.

Thanks for reading.

TRJ




 
 



 




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Friday, May 23, 2014

My New (Used) Kirby

Would you purchase a used vacuum?  Well, I did.  As the primary cleaner of the household, I need the proper tools to do a good job.  And living in the desert with dogs running around shedding and dragging it in with them, I needed an ultimate cleaning machine that could handle tile, hardwood, carpet, and the new deep shag rug.

When we moved, we got rid of our old vacuum because the Hoover was nearly 20 years old.  It still worked, but it was stinking and big and bulky.  We got a cheapo machine at Walmart for just over $100, and that served the apartment for the time being.  But once we got our house and 1900 square feet of floors, El Cheapo really proved its worthlessness.  Especially on the day the Kirby salesman came by for a demonstration.

I'll tell you about my Kirby and why I bought a second hand unit.  For many reasons, it is the ultimate vacuum.  For other reasons, it is not for everyone.  My wife will never use it.  It is too much machine for her, too complex.  She liked the simple convenience of the lighter, more useless plastic vacuum which was easy to handle and gave the impression of clean with its transparent bin of dustballs.  I know for a fact that this Kirby is a super-sucker and is doing what it was designed to do, so I can clean with confidence.  And this house gets dirty fast!  

But she's a heavy beast, weighing in at 17 pounds dry weight.  A fully loaded belly and she'll hit 22 pounds!  Based on weight alone I consider it a 'man's machine', with attachable components much like that of a transformer.  In fact, it LOOKS like a transformer, with its chrome metal body and a hood like an old car.  An American Made, industrial strength vacuum.  It is part of my weekly exercise regime.  I call 'Floors Day' my Kirby Workout because it is a physically demanding task that I must do weekly.  I'm OK with it, because I like the exercise and I know I am cleaning and not just flicking dirt around.  It is super powerful, and sounds like a jet engine when you get her going, with a forward drive shaft (or neutral gear) for effortless movement, and a 28 foot power cord that can reach an entire level without having to keep finding the closest outlet.  I would imagine this machine's previous life was doing long hallways in hotels.  Side by side to our El Cheapo unit, there was no comparison.

OH the day the Kirby salesman came by!  That day will live in infamy in our house.  After that I put a 'No Soliciting' sticker on the front door.  It was saturday afternoon, Tanya was watching TV and I was mulling about when the doorbell rang and I answered.  There stood this cute little freckled blonde with her hair pulled back in a pony tail, her face flushed and glowing like she had just come from the gym, so peppy and vibrant.  She had my full attention.  She could have been selling anything, I just wanted to be engaged in whatever conversation she wanted to have for as long as possible.  She wanted to give me a vacuum demonstration, "...just let me do your stairs, it'll only take 15 minutes...", and there was nothing more I wanted than to see this young hottie in her stretchy pants vacuuming my stairs.

I sheepishly went in to Tanya and said, "Hey Tan, there's a lady here wants to vacuum our stairs, is that OK?"

"No way Troy!  Tell her to get the hell out of here!"  My wife knows the sucker she married.  So I returned to the door and made an executive decision to allow this girl into our house to do her demonstration.  She was thrilled, and said she'd be right back.  I told Tanya she was coming in and when the girl came back, she was followed into the house by a large black man.  "Troy, this is Raoul, he will be giving you your demonstration, you two have fun now!" and like that, she was gone and Raoul began.  My jaw dropped.  I was absolutely dumbfounded, and cursed myself for being such a sucker.  But it got much worse.

Have you heard the tale of the vacuum salesman?  How not to let them into your house?  By gawd, it is so true.  Raoul went on and on and on, for about an hour and a half.  He had propositioned Tanya to come sit in on the demonstration and after a while she just lost it.  I have never seen Tanya be so rude to someone.  An unbefore known hatefulness surfaced in her and she glared at me as she walked away right in the middle of his sentence.  I had ruined her afternoon, and I would pay for that later.  He kept going, even though I insisted that he would make no sale today and tried to usher him out.  After a while his sales tactics turned desperate and he started pleading with me to make the purchase to help his family win a trip to Disneyland or something like that.  I eventually started getting aggressive and hateful with him to make him stop talking.  He wouldn't stop.  After an hour and a half, I watched him slowly pack up his things in an awkward, hostile silence.  He tried to make that sale right to the bitter end.

The Kirby sold itself.  The salesman turned me off it completely but the demonstration, up against our plastic machine, proved without a doubt that El Cheapo was not doing what we thought it was doing and that the Kirby was a monster.  A little jet engine powerful enough to pick up a penny off a tile floor and bend it in half when it clicked through the turbine!  There was no doubt in my mind that I needed a better vacuum, but not from this guy.  As a parting shot, Raoul didn't reconnect the catch bin on El Cheapo vacuum after his demonstration and when I picked it up to put it away the bin fell off and the latch assembly broke.  I couldn't fix it, nor could I track down replacement parts.  And so I was forced to purchase a new machine immediately.

I did a lot of shopping but just couldn't shake the demonstration I'd seen.  Despite the salesman, I wanted to get a Kirby.  I found GreatVacs.com online and their stock of refurbished vacuums.  It was a 5 year old machine, half the price of a new one at just over $500.  Expensive?  Time will tell if it was an expensive purchase or not.  They say this machine will still be running strong in 30 years... in 30 years I will be 70 and probably unable to lift it but, I like things that are built to last a long time.  I don't like buying a new vacuum every couple years.  And I really like having the confidence that my vacuum is actually cleaning and not wasting my time pushing dirt around.

As a second hand unit, after a year and a half with it, I must say it is quite heavy, and incredibly loud.  But its a very versatile machine with its different attachments.  There is an attachment for the ass end of it too, so you can use the engine as a blower... for spray painting or leaf blowing... but I haven't done that yet.  Some of the plastic components have started showing their age and cracking.  I have temporarily fixed the cracks with hockey tape, but I will eventually need to invest some more money into it.  Tanya has not used it yet and hates it, but she is OK with never having to do the floors again :)  

Thanks for reading.

TRJ

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