Quietus

Today marks the 10-year anniversary of my first longitudes post.  It also precedes my wife and me migrating to a warmer clime for six months, where I won’t have access to a (real) computer.  Therefore, I’ve decided to go on indefinite hiatus. 

I’ve truly enjoyed writing these 240 or so essays and am grateful to all who take time to read.  I’ve tried to keep a mix of lighthearted and serious—life, after all, is both.  With the lighthearted, I hope I’ve provoked a smile or laugh.  With the serious, maybe I’ve encouraged (in my amateurish way) some considerations.

In that light, here are some of my favorite lighthearted and serious quotes.  And to get one last lick in, I encourage all to watch a new documentary on the late George Carlin, entitled George Carlin’s American Dream

While most of my heroes are musicians, comedian Carlin is one of the exceptions.  He was not only damn funny, he had guts and integrity and was unafraid to butcher sacred cows.  He remade himself several times, getting better with each remake.  And it goes without saying we agree on a lot of things. I could easily list a hundred Carlin quotes, but in the interest of variety, I’m limiting myself to four.

We need you now more than ever, George.

Peace.

Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups—George Carlin

Political correctness is America’s newest form of intolerance, and it is especially pernicious because it comes disguised as tolerance—George Carlin

Rights are an idea. They’re just imaginary. They’re a cute idea. Cute…Rights aren’t rights if someone can take ’em away. They’re privileges. That’s all we’ve ever had in this country, is a bill of TEMPORARY privileges; and if you read the news, even badly, you know the list gets shorter, and shorter, and shorter—George Carlin

When fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with jack-boots. It will be Nike sneakers and Smiley shirts—George Carlin

George Carlin being arrested in Milwaukee in 1972 after exercising his temporary privileges

If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses—Lenny Bruce

The Jefferson and Lincoln memorials are stunning but you look at the dome of the Capitol and remember the mob that stormed it in the name of a miserable lie that is being repeated this election year and how do you explain this?  The mob went to the same schools we did, learned about Jefferson and Lincoln, and yet they are fascinated by fascism and long for a dictator—Garrison Keillor

I went to church Sunday morning, which I need to do if I want to know whether I’m a believer still or if it’s just nostalgia—Garrison Keillor

He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire—Winston Churchill

Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself—Mark Twain

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect—Mark Twain

Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind—Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you want to get laid, go to college.  If you want an education, go to the library—Frank Zappa

The United States is a nation of laws, badly written and randomly enforced—Frank Zappa

Republicans stand for raw unbridled evil, and greed, and ignorance, smothered in balloons and ribbons—Frank Zappa

Liberals can understand everything but people who don’t understand them—Lenny Bruce

I am really enjoying the new Martin Luther King Jr. stamp – just think about all those white bigots licking the backside of a black man—Dick Gregory

Lots of people who complained about us receiving the MBE received theirs for heroism in the war, for killing people. We received ours for entertaining other people. I’d say we deserve ours more—John Lennon

Agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without them, in our incomplete state, there would be no advance towards civilisation—Oscar Wilde

All authority is quite degrading. It degrades those who exercise it, and degrades those over whom it is exercised—Oscar Wilde

Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel—Samuel Johnson

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing—Socrates

Modern Christianity is an encyclopedia of traditional superstition—Gore Vidal

Are we a dream in the mind of a deity, or is each of us a separate dreamer, evoking his own reality?—Gore Vidal

The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country…and we haven’t seen them since—Gore Vidal

A Peek into the #MeToo Purgatory Chamber

I enjoy watching documentaries and interviews.  On YouTube the other day I caught an interview clip between disgraced TV journalist Charlie Rose and American investor Ray Dalio on the potential for “civil war” in the states…Dalio pointing out that we’re now in “Go ahead, make me!” territory, where it’s okay to trample on the rule of law and the Constitution.  Dalio claims this could lead to large-scale violence, even larger than what we witnessed at the U.S. Capitol in 2021.

Dalio specializes in hedge funds and, even though he’s a smart guy, I take what he says with a grain of salt.  I was actually more interested in Rose.  Most television journalism is superficial at best (the Big Three), and polemical at worst (FOX News and MSNBC).  Rose was on PBS and his interviews on The Charlie Rose Show always had much more depth.

In 2017, eight women accused Rose of sexual misconduct.  PBS, CBS, and Bloomberg L.P. summarily fired Rose—based on accusations and without due process—and since then he’s been residing in the #MeToo purgatory chamber.

After the accusations, his close friends, talking heads Norah O’Donnell and Gayla King, expressed shock and dismay:

“I’ve held him in such high regard and I’m still struggling,” lamented King, adding that he “does not get a pass here.”

“There is no excuse for this alleged behavior,” huffed O’Donnell. (Nice that she used the qualifier “alleged.”)

Then I did some more clicking and found a HuffPost video entitled “A Brief History of Charlie Rose’s Creepy On-Air Behavior.”  The video features both King and O’Donnell engaging in, and even prompting, sexual flirtation with Rose.  But I saw very little “creepiness” by Rose (whatever that word means). 

The misleading and libelous click-bait title of the video—which is not your typical, amateurish YouTube compilation, but an official HuffPost production—is one thing.  Another is the question of, to what end does this video serve, besides being #MeToo eye and ear candy?  In the video, after Rose compliments her on her tan, King pulls the top of her dress toward her breast.  O’Donnell spanks her ass.  It’s standard frivolous morning-show fun and games.

Double standard here?  If so, should we allow double standards?  Borrowing King’s language, do women “get a pass”?

***

For his part, Rose (a bachelor) admitted after the anonymous charges that his behavior may have been “inappropriate” and “insensitive,” but “I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings, even though I now realize I was mistaken.”

Garrison Keillor—also banished to the #MeToo gulag for alleged sexual harassment, and whose saga I wrote about here—recently made a similar statement about “shared feelings” on CBS News Sunday Morning.  Keillor was also abruptly fired for “alleged” behavior, but is now having a bit of a comeback, traveling his A Prairie Home Companion stage show around the country again.  His archived, filmed shows, plus A Writer’s Almanac, have been restored for public viewing.

Evidently Minnesota Public Radio had a change of heart.

While Rose has remained quiet, Keillor is largely unrepentant.  He argues that his behavior toward his accuser, an assistant, was “mutual flirtation,” the sort of behavior that “thousands of people did before me.”  He says “The culture changed…you should not be friends with a female colleague.  It’s dangerous.”

(If true, what a sad state of affairs.  I would never have dated and later married my wife of 36 years, whom I worked with in 1985-86.)

Al Franken, who was forced to resign from the Senate before he had a chance to defend himself in front of his colleagues, is also back in the public eye.  He has a podcast and recently toured the country with his The Only Former Senator Currently on Tour Tour.

Clicking around yet again, I landed on an essay by race and gender activist Ijeoma Oluo.  In 2017 Oluo was contacted by USA Today and asked to provide an editorial rebuttal to the idea that due process (a legal term) should always be followed when sexual harassment charges are levied against a man.  In other words, they wanted her to say that sexual harassment charges are occasions when due process should be brushed aside.

I’m hardly a fan, but to Oluo’s credit, she declined this appalling request.  I don’t read comic books like USA Today, but I’m not surprised a vanilla publication like USA Today would pursue a debate where one side suggests the rule of law be abandoned in a drumbeat of “guilty until proven innocent.”  False equalization once again.

***

Like the problems of climate change and guns, sexual harassment shouldn’t be a political issue.  It’s not liberal, conservative, Democrat or Republican.  It’s common sense and affects everyone.  Liberals and the “mainstream media” shouldn’t be capitulating to the harshest voices of #MeToo, and the alt-right should stop being apologists for Republican misogynists (and, I might add, electing them to the White House).  Period.

And Rose, Franken, and Keillor should not “get a pass.”  But at the same time, their punishment should fit the crime.  There’s a difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment, and there are different shades of harassment. Painting with one impulsive brushstroke to erase careers based on allegations is a dark alley I don’t think we want to venture down.

Like Keillor correctly noted in his CBS interview, the #MeToo movement began with a noble goal in sight: inappropriate advances and sexual harassment, especially in the workplace, are a form of bullying, and bullies shouldn’t be tolerated. 

At the same time, and as I’ve analogized before, the idea is to hit the bullseye.  But pulling back too far on the bow not only misses the entire target, it can cause a lot of collateral damage. Gayla King agrees.

We’re already mired in a civil—rather, uncivil—war between two distinct political ideologies.  Do we really want to start another uncivil war between the two genders?  I, for one, hope not.

   

(Image: MoniQcCa)

“They Just Don’t Make Music Like That Anymore”

Music has recently taken a back seat on longitudes.  Most know that my first love is rock music (the good stuff, anyway).  For this post, I’m profiling a jazz radio station I just discovered.

First, some quick history:

I’m a baby boomer, so I often struggle with the lightning-speed changes that occur these days, especially technological.  In the 1960s, I was a stripling when “Top-40” pop music dominated the AM-radio airwaves.  I reached puberty in the 1970s, when FM-radio “free-form” programming gave preference to album cuts over singles.

By 1976, record executives had sunk their largest claws into the music.  I watched with dismay as stadium-rock acts like Boston, Foreigner, Journey, Styx, and Pat Benatar assaulted the airwaves, along with my ear canals.  Concurrently, promoters were charging ever-higher concert ticket prices, and rock albums became alternately generic-sounding or pretentious.  (Like it or not, that’s when Punk Rock sprang into action, which gave way to New Wave and Alternative Rock and beyond.)

Plastic, plastic, take the modern way…

Convenience, everything is clean and easy

—Gentle Giant, “Convenience”

The technology left me equally dizzy.  First it was 45 rpm singles, which had replaced 78 rpm records.  Then 33 1/3 albums.  (We didn’t need the distinction “vinyl” back then.)  Then we were conned into buying clunky 8-track tapes for our cars.  Cassettes replaced 8-tracks and were a distinct improvement, especially if you collected bootleg Grateful Dead.  Then the revolution of compact disks, which claimed to have better sound, convenience, and indestructability.  Then MP3s…the format was now invisible!

I think I still owe them money.

Now?  Invisibility through Bluetooth, I guess, accessible anytime and anywhere you want.  But in the whirlwind of convenience and digital blips, something intangible disappeared.  That almost personal relationship with the artist and their music became lost.  Which, I guess, is why we’re now returning to vinyl.

Anyway, to get to the point: despite the return of vinyl, it’s an incontrovertible fact that most of today’s rock music sucks (“today” for me being anything after the early 1980s). My Toyota Prius agrees with me, since it came equipped with neither a cassette deck nor CD player (despite my dashboard resembling an airplane cockpit).  Basically, if I want music while driving, it’s either neatly packaged crap delivered by robots—the occasional public radio station notwithstanding—or the extremely limited options now available on SiriusXM Satellite Radio.   

Thankfully, and without having to cross paths with Howard Stern, I discovered a good Sirius station: Real Jazz

What is “real” jazz, you ask?  Who the fuck knows.  But I think this label is used to distinguish the music from “Smooth Jazz,” which is more lightweight and poppy and closer to Easy Listening than jazz, and aimed at less-discerning listeners.  Smooth Jazz became popular in the 1970s with songs like George Benson’s “Breezin’” and artists like Chuck Mangione.  Suddenly, jazz began sounding like TV show theme music.  This trend peaked (or bottomed out) in the early 1990s with much-maligned saxophonist Kenny G.

“Real” jazz dates back to the early 1900s.  It encompasses Dixieland, Big Band, Swing, Bebop, Hard Bop, Cool Jazz, Modal Jazz, Latin Jazz (including Bossa Nova), Jazz-Funk, Free Jazz, and Jazz Fusion.  It’s the kind of music my dad loved (Big Band, Swing, and Bossa Nova) and which I discovered in college, deejay’ed in the ’80s, and still enjoy (Bebop, Hard Bop, Cool, and Modal).  All these styles are on Sirius XM, depending on the show, which depends on the day and time.

SiriusXM jazz deejay Nicole Sweeney

I’ve been listening to Real Jazz regularly for several weeks now, and unlike rock or Smooth Jazz, I’ve yet to hear the same song twice.  Part of this might have to do with the fact that good jazz is improvisational in nature.  There are established charts and written arrangements, but these are just blueprints that allow the musicians to “blow,” or exercise their individual creativity.

Rock/pop, on the other hand, discourages studio creativity.  Rock has a fan base exponentially larger than jazz, therefore there are more cooks in the kitchen—agents, managers, producers, record execs, broadcast affiliates, lucrative contracts waving in the air—to make sure artists toe the line and keep things musically dumb…and to maximize profits and feed the beast.

There are always exceptions.  But you won’t hear them on the radio, unless you occasionally strike gold at the left end of the dial. 

Most of the Real Jazz I listen to is on weekdays while tooling around between grocery store, library, and soccer games.  I’ve established close personal relationships with hosts Nicole Sweeney and Andromeda Turre (love that name). 

Yesterday, while visiting the music store and library with my granddaughter, Rory, I was treated to Bill Evans’s classic “Peace Piece.”  If you haven’t heard this understated but lovely solo piano piece, click the digital blip below.  Be prepared to wipe a tear. 

It’s been said many times, but I’ll say it again: They just don’t make music like this anymore.

A Conversation with God about Identity, Environment, and Sports

On CBS News Sunday Morning yesterday I saw a startling statistic: three out of ten Americans believe God determines the outcome of sporting events.

This is appalling.  What is going on here?  Why is it only three?  I would have expected at least nine, if not ten.  Just shows you that religion is on the decline here in Lilliput, I mean America. 

I’ve done several interviews with religious figures here on longitudes, including the Pope and Donald Trump.  Both were very enlightening.  The Pope informed me that sexual harassment is no big deal, and Trump told me that Hawaii is not a United State (among other curious things).

I met with God later that day—his day off—and we had a wonderful discussion about sports while pounding Miller Lite and watching the Jets-Steelers game.  In the course of our meeting I discovered God isn’t really an old man with a white robe and long, flowing white hair and beard.  God is actually sexless, dons a New York Yankees jersey, and looks more like Truman Capote.

I was anxious to get his/her take on the above startling statistic.  I also wanted to know why God hates the city of Cleveland. 

Here, then, is my conversation with The Almighty:

longitudes:  Thanks for meeting with me, God.

God:  You’re welcome, my tiny speck of white sand.

longitudes:  Pardon me for saying this, sir…I mean ma’am…I mean ma’am-sir…but most of us down there think you’re a man.  Especially Mormons.

God:  Yes, well, you folks down there have baffled me since I sent my son to straighten things out.  Endless wars, murders, torture, greed, hypocrisy, stupidity, and GEICO commercials.  And you keep adding letters.

longitudes:  What do you mean that we keep “adding letters?”

God:  You’re already up to six: LGBTQ and I.  Actually, now it’s seven, I forgot the ‘A.’ Okay, I make gender mistakes once in a while, but you don’t need to rub it in.

longitudes:  What should we do?

God:  Try consolidating into one letter.  Maybe, like, an ‘O’ for “Other.”  I realize you’re having fun, but you’re stressing me out with the alphabet soup.

longitudes:  God, I just learned that only three out of ten Americans think you determine the outcome of sporting events.  Why is that statistic so low?

God:  Yeah, that shocks me as well.  I think it’s because organized religion is on the decline in your neck of the woods.  I blame those damn atheists Christopher Hitchens, George Carlin, and Frank Zappa.  It’s why I pulled them up here sooner than their time.

longitudes:  Oh.  Do you think if more people attended church, that statistic would rise a little?

God:  Absolutely.  Back in the days of Puritanism, and before that the Spanish Inquisition, you had to go to church to worship me.  If not, you were burned at the stake or had your limbs torn off on what I affectionately called the “Wheel of Death.”

longitudes:  But those things occurred long before soccer, Major League Baseball, and Jim Nantz.  How were you able to determine sports outcomes back then?

God:  Jousting duels.  Gladiatorial contests.  Chariot races.  You know, garden-variety sports like that.

longitudes:  I see.  I remember watching Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd duke it out in Ben-Hur.  That was real exciting.

God:  Sure was.  I hope you put your money on Heston.  I pre-ordained him.

(Suddenly, the Jets quarterback is sacked.  God lets out an audible “Oooh.”  It is now obvious to me he likes New York.)

longitudes:  Yeah, I figured Heston might win.

God:  Right, but it’s a shame he became obsessed with guns later on.  Maybe I should’ve given that movie role to Paul Newman instead.

longitudes:  God, is there anything I can do to push that statistic up a little?  Maybe get it up to forty instead of thirty percent?

God:  That’s very kind of you, my shiny pool of phlegm.  Well, let’s see.  My records show you vote Democrat.  Might wanna shift to Republican and encourage others.  Also, I see you have three grandchildren.  Try to convince their parents to forego the university education.  Ignorance breeds superstition, after all.  Lastly…why the hell are you a Cleveland fan?  (Oops, pardon my language.)

longitudes:  Actually, God, I wanted to ask you about that.  You’ve been pretty harsh on the Browns, Indians/Guardians, and Cavaliers winning championships.  Except for that one year when LeBron James helped the Cavs.

God:  Yes, I have a special place in my heart for King James.  Well, truth be told, the reason I’ve been harsh on Cleveland is because of that fire incident.

longitudes:  “Fire incident?”

(At this point God offers me another Miller Lite, but I politely decline.) 

God:  Yeah.  I’m talkin’ ‘bout the burning of the petroleum-soaked Cuyahoga River.  That infamous incident came soon after the Browns won their last championship.  That was no coincidence.

longitudes:  So all these years you’ve been blaming the citizens of northern Ohio for an industrial-related environmental debacle they may have had nothing to do with?

God:  Yes.  Do you think I’ve been too rough on them?

longitudes:  Well, yes I do, sir.  I mean ma’am-sir.  Heck, I lived near Cleveland and was only ten years old when it happened.  Why should I have to suffer?  I mean, I hope I’m not being disrespectful.

God:  No, not at all.  You have a good point, Peter.  (By the way, I like your name.)  Maybe I should loosen up on Cleveland.  Not a bad city, despite producing Drew Carey.

longitudes:  We Cleveland sports fans would appreciate any assistance, ma’am-sir.

God:  It’s done.  You can expect a Guardians World Series victory or Browns AFC Championship win any day now.  (I can’t very well grant you a Browns Super Bowl win.  That’s asking too much of me.)

longitudes:  Thank you, thank you!  And I’ll do my best to keep my grandkids away from higher education.  But—and I hope you understand—voting Republican is a bridge too far.  One last question, God.

God:  Ask away, my insignificant fleck of wet clay.

longitudes:  We screwed up with, er, your son.  But why all the grief since then?  I mean, it’s been a total horror show for two-thousand years.

God:  That’s your doing, not mine.  But it might help if you stopped worshipping the messenger and concentrated more on his message.  And stopped living in the past.

longitudes:  Good points.  Thanks for meeting with me, God.

God:  No problemo.  And thanks for bringing the pizza, but I prefer coal-fired New York over Chicago deep-dish. 

NOTE: This is not a real interview. God—if there is one (or more)—has never spoken to me verbally, and I’m okay with that.

Bigfoot and the Age of Unreason

You see it everywhere.  Often on a yard sign or bumper sticker.  Sometimes accompanied by the words “I Believe.”  Yesterday I saw it again while driving.

I’m not talking about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, flying saucers, pothead pixies, or various religious deities.  Rather, a different supernatural entity that takes the form of a furry biped.  A creature not unlike the Himalayan Yeti, or “Abominable Snowman.”  I’m talkin’ ‘bout Bigfoot.  Sometimes known as Sasquatch.  Scientific name: Hoaxus maximus.

At one time I was mildly amused at how certain adults clung to a grainy 59-second video—filmed in California in 1967, significantly when LSD was still legal—to substantiate their claims that Bigfoot is real.  “Let’s all play make-believe.  It’s easier and more fun than the truth.”

These days, I no longer see the cuteness or humor.

Since the 2016 nomination and election of an even more terrifying biped (scientific name: Dumbshiticus politicus), whose singular pre-election political credential was that he led a movement attempting to disprove the citizenship of a sitting president—even after that president was, beyond reason, compelled to produce his birth certificate—there’s been one idiotic claim after another.  And enough idiots to believe in those (always unsubstantiated) claims to cause serious alarm to the rest of us forced to reside in the Kingdom of Lilliput (America).

I truly believe (maybe I should use a different word) that these Bigfoot cultists actually think a creature like this exists.  Just go to the Wikipedia article.  Wikipedia is a wonderful tool.  But the entry for Bigfoot has 90 paragraphs devoted to him.  There are 249 footnotes

Remember, unlike World Book or Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia.  It is “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” as Abraham Lincoln once wrote in a very different time.  Citizens of our republic contribute to it.  And there’s obviously been a helluva lot of contribution to Bigfoot. 

(The Wikipedia article for the Gettysburg Address has half the footnotes of Bigfoot.)

***

Some of you probably know that there once was an historical epoch known as the Age of Enlightenment, or Age of Reason.  According to the aforesaid free encyclopedia, it was “an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries with global influences and effects.”

During this Age, knowledge was pursued “by means of reason and the evidence of the senses, and ideals such as liberty, progress, toleration, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state.”

Francis Bacon, John Locke, Voltaire, Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were just a few of the leading lights casting light.  Another was scientist Sir Isaac Newton.  Newton must have had foreknowledge of what was comin’ down, because his Third Law of Motion states that “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Satirist Jonathan Swift, the Kurt Vonnegut Jr. of his day (oil painting by Charles Jervas)

Longitudes predicts the 21st century will be the opposite reaction to the Age of Reason.  Think about it.  We kicked off this century, this new millennium, with a “truther” movement claiming that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an inside job.

Ten years later Lilliput entertained itself with a “birther” movement claiming that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. and therefore shouldn’t be president.

Since then we’ve entertained ourselves with one fiction and conspiracy theory after another.  Manmade climate change is a hoax.  COVID-19 is a hoax.  Joe Biden’s election victory is a hoax.  The January 6 U.S. Capitol attack was “legitimate political discourse” (Republican National Committee, February 2022).  The Sandy Hook massacre was orchestrated by the government to enact stricter gun legislation.  (I’m not religious, but God help anyone who believes this last claim.)

But Bigfoot is real.

Why do so many people exercise freedom of choice by believing in unscientific, unsubstantiated, and preposterous claims?

The late James Randi, a professional debunker of psychics and faith healers, famously exposed the fraud of supposed mentalist Uri Geller on a 1973 program of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  Geller was humiliated when his “mind” was suddenly, for the first time, unable to bend spoons.  The result?  Instead of the public showering Randi with praise and gratitude, he was the recipient of an avalanche of hate mail. (Few of us like being shown we were fools.)

James Randi with Johnny Carson

Psychologists undoubtedly have detailed analyses for the phenomenon of masses of people who choose the lie over the fact.  I’m not a psychologist, so I’ll just say: there are many idiots living among us.

People, there is no such creature as Bigfoot.  There’s also no Santa Claus or Luke Skywalker, and the town of Mayberry is fictional (ask journalist Ted Koppel, who tried to visit one time).  And—though this may shock and offend—there was no giant boat that held two of every species on earth.

***

Maybe I’ve got it wrong, though.  Those of us who still believe in reason and enlightenment—in progress, knowledge through education, book-learning, the scientific method, the five senses, solid and verifiable facts and the search for truth (of course, truth is ever-evasive; the idea is to pursue it)—still need a place to escape to in the face of monstrous tragedy (or monstrous idiocy).  And self-annihilation is not an option.

The Rolling Stones sang “We all need someone we can dream on.”

But like I tell my five-year-old granddaughter, Avi, while it’s fun to pretend, there really are no such things as ghosts, haunted houses, and people on horseback without heads.  And she gets it.  (Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are on hold.)  Sadly, there are way too many adults these days…adults, but who have the minds of children…who can’t differentiate between fantasy and reality.

And as long as society believes in things like Hoaxus maximus, there will always be a Dumbshiticus politicus lurking in the shadows.

Dumbshiticus politicus, exhorting his mob toward “legitimate political discourse”

The Military-Industrial-Media Complex

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist…The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocation, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, January 17, 1961

Every so often Eisenhower’s warning of a growing American military-industrial complex—where armed forces, commerce, and politics are closely linked—flashes on my personal radar.  It did so again September 4 while watching CBS News Sunday Morning

The title of the segment was “HIMARS: How it’s changing Ukraine’s fight against Russia.”  I’ve been out of touch for a few months, so I was curious to learn about Ukraine’s success or failure against its invader neighbor to the east.

Indeed, I got a report card.  But it played second fiddle to the larger story concerning defense contractor Lockheed Martin’s lucrative development of high-mobility rocket systems (HIMARS), which Ukraine is now successfully deploying against Russia.

On Sunday morning…America’s most popular church day, and for many a day of repose…I digested with my scrambled eggs one dazzling image after another of ground explosions, army tanks, death missiles, fireworks, bombs bursting in air, and sober army generals and Pentagon officials glowingly discussing the success of HIMARS.

HIMARS is being developed, per CBS national security correspondent David Martin, in a “Lockheed Martin plant in rural Arkansas, a seemingly minor outpost in America’s vast military-industrial complex…”

Chief weapons buyer for the Pentagon, Dr. William LaPlante, explained how Lockheed—with the federal government looking over its shoulder—plans to “dramatically increase production” of the high-mobility rockets.

“Can you double production?” asked an earnest Martin of Lockheed COO Frank St. John, as if on the verge of drooling.  “Absolutely,” St. John responded, struggling to suppress a smile.

Martin also dangled a juicy morsel in front of retired army Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges.  Martin noted that the 16 HIMARS rockets which the U.S. has thus far given Ukraine “doesn’t sound like a lot.”  Hodges not surprisingly replied “It’s nowhere near what I think Ukraine can use.”

In 2020 Lockheed Martin received almost 90 percent of its total revenue, totaling 53.2 billion dollars, from defense contracts.  Notably, this was before the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The U.S. is by far the world’s largest weapons exporter, mailing out 9,372 million dollars-worth in 2020.

Watching this broadcast, it struck me that America is now in one of its periodic lulls between wars, yet despite this, conflicts are occurring in other countries, and America, as it usually does, has a significant role to play.  And there’s a lot of green to be made in fulfilling this role.

Longitudes won’t weigh in on Eisenhower’s words of warning about “misplaced power” and the “power of money.”

And it won’t take a stance on how involved the U.S. should be in helping Ukraine win its war against an imperial aggressor.  For once, I’m in the majority: in support of Ukraine’s David-like fight against Goliath Russia.

What struck me was the cold, clinical manner in which Martin and CBS conducted its segment.  Numbers were tossed around, statistics were dispassionately run down, and as I already mentioned, the viewer received an entire war-video game’s worth of destructive images.

The intended takeaway is that America’s military-industrial complex is, even without our own war, doing wonderful work defending freedom around the globe.  And, in fact, there’s room for expansion.  (Sixteen HIMARS weapons just aren’t enough.)  Maybe—this time, anyway—it is a good thing.  But for me, the players in this broadcast seemed a bit too cozy.

Flow chart of “follow-the-money” game (courtesy Transcend Media Service). Note the flow between defense contractors, media, voters, and elected officials.

Since the blaspheme of the Vietnam War, we’ve had multiple jarring examples of how crony capitalism conducts itself in a nefarious fashion.  And the 1990 Gulf War and 2003 Iraq War are sterling examples of how the corporate media is a not-insignificant conduit between military, commerce, and politics.

General Electric is a large weapons manufacturer that consistently lands in the rankings of top arms-producing and military service companies. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), in 2019, General Electric ranked 12th in the United States and 21st in the world out of these companies. GE is a major manufacturer of aircraft parts and missiles that were used extensively in the Gulf War and in Iraq. And, until 2013, GE either directly owned or had shares in the National Broadcasting Company (NBC).

Transcend Media Service: Solutions-Oriented Peace Journalism, May 17, 2021

Getting back to that CBS News Sunday Morning broadcast, it would have been nice to have former army General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s prophetic words at least alluded to, for balance purposes. 

But I guess providing such balance wasn’t part of Martin’s assignment.

Appalachian Trail Solo Thru-Hike Odyssey: Final Thoughts

This last Appalachian Trail post coincides with me finishing the transfer of my trail journal from a dog-eared, narrow-rule, chub notebook to an electronic file.  But unlike when I fashioned a book from my 2013 to 2018 section hikes, I won’t be formally publishing this time around.  Instead, I’m offering my journal to anyone who would like a free copy.  The journal covers all 165 days and nights I was on the A.T.

There’s quite a bit here.  In addition to my usual misanthropic observations, I talk about where I hiked, where I slept, people I met, wildlife encounters, fear, anger, loneliness, joy…even songs that I whistled.  And there are lots of photos!

If you would like a free PDF, just give me your email, either in the comments section here or in an email sent to: pkurtz58@gmail.com.

Anyway, here are my final thoughts to wrap up this series:

The Appalachian Trail has become a human highway.  This is undoubtedly due to the prevalence of recent hiking books and movies, iPhone technology, and to significant improvements in backpacking gear.  These days it’s not only “cool” to do a thru-hike, it’s easier than ever (or as easy as a long-distance hike can possibly be).  The days of a solo backpacker spending multiple days and nights alone with his or her thoughts, and calling home from a phone booth located god knows where are long gone.

I’d go into detail on why thru-hiking has exploded and why it is now so easy, but I already touched on this here and there.  My journal also covers this ground.

Audie Murphy plane crash site, Brushy Mtn., Virginia

The Appalachian Trail is becoming increasingly commercialized.  This first became apparent to me when I visited my local outfitter to purchase a few items.  When Emily and Luke learned I planned to do a thru-hike, they gave me a substantial discount (the tribe thing).  Then at the start of my hike I learned about “slackpacking,” where hostels are able to double their profits by offering shuttle services with day packs to hikers who temporarily trade in their full backpacks to make their hike easier.

At the end of my hike I learned about “food drops” in the once-austere Hundred-Mile Wilderness, and the popularity of one-stop shops like Shaws Hostel, which (some argue) are placing profit over quality, integrity, and ethics.

In between I experienced well-publicized speed contests on the trail, A.T.-related blogs and YouTube channels chock full of advertisements, and even a news channel specifically for A.T. hikers.

The Appalachian Trail reminds me of today’s sterilized Nashville country music scene.  As Waylon Jennings sang long ago, “I don’t think Hank (Williams Sr.) done it this way.”

People on the Appalachian Trail are the same as people off the Appalachian Trail.  I met hundreds of backpackers during my five-and-a-half months out there.  The vast majority were friendly and helpful.  They encompassed the mass of humanity: young, old, male, female, wealthy, middle-class, poor, homeless, highly educated, lesser-educated, urban, rural, liberal, conservative, white-collar, blue-collar, heterosexual, homosexual, religious, non-religious, American, non-American, extroverted, introverted, fat, and skinny. 

The one exception to this was a noticeable absence of “people of color.”  It’s evident to me that there is a socio-cultural element that is determining who backpacks and who doesn’t.

Abandoned barn near Hampton, Tennessee

The Appalachian Trail has a tendency to get under a person’s skin.  I’m not sure why this is.  One of my favorite hikers last year was a 74-year-old man from Honolulu, Hawaii named “Bruiser.”  He was on his third thru-hike of the trail. 

I asked Bruiser why one thru-hike wasn’t enough, and he said he liked doing them to stay in shape.  I then asked why he didn’t just work out in a gym back in beautiful Hawaii, and he said the fast food and snack machines there would be too tempting to overcome.  I then asked why he didn’t do other trails, like the Pacific Crest Trail or the Continental Divide Trail, and he said his skin was sensitive and there wasn’t enough shade out west.

I don’t know if Bruiser was being entirely truthful with me.  My impression was that, like me, he couldn’t really verbalize why the Appalachian Trail had gotten under his skin.

There won’t be another thru-hike for me, but there are one or two special places on the A.T. that I’d like to return to, if only for just a night or two.  If you read my journal, you’ll know where they are.

***

Thanks for following me on my trek, and again, if you’d like a free copy of Call Me Omoo, please comment or email me (pkurtz58@gmail.com).

Soon, I’ll be exchanging my tent for six months of beachcombing in Venice, Florida.  My hedonism agenda includes tennis-playing, sea kayaking, snorkeling, kitesurfing lessons, and collecting sharks’ teeth.  I want to eat a lot of fresh fish and catch up on my reading.  While I’ll miss being detached from the bullshit of 21st-century society – at least, superficially – a change of venue is in order. And I have absolutely no regrets being retired.

Perfect timing: I just received an unsolicited text from a recruiter about applying for a position. My response? “Thanks, but I quit the rat race and would prefer not to.”  Like certain sad copy clerks whose lives contain walls, I still have the power of self-determination.

Sunrise at Jo-Mary Lake, Maine

English Language Minor Crimes

The English language may be on life support. I’m sure this isn’t news. Whether it’s tied to an overall decline in formal education, I don’t know. I’ve already written about America’s abysmal standardized test scores and low international rankings, so I won’t cover the same ground.

I’m rankled by mangled English more than most probably because in college I majored in journalism and minored in English, therefore these minor crimes really stick in my craw. While hiking and sheltering with other hikers this past year, my craw was filled to the brim. (What’s a “craw”? A jaw?) As a way to let off steam, I’m listing some of the most egregious linguistic violations I’ve encountered.

This pedagogue ain’t perfect and has his own stumbling blocks. (The word “ain’t” here was deliberate.) One of my biggest blasphemes is intermixing subject and object pronouns.  Example: one doesn’t say “The teacher accused she and I of bad English.”  “She” and “I” are subject pronouns but are mistakenly being used here as object pronouns.  The correct sentence is “The teacher accused her and me of bad English.”

However, you should say “She and I use bad English,” because in this sentence the she and I are used as subject pronouns.

A good trick is to chop off part of the sentence.  Would you say “The teacher accused she” or “The teacher accused I”?  I would prefer not to.

Here then are longitudes’ top English language pet peeves:

  • Happy Belated Birthday.  I see this all the time on Facebook.  Everyone seems guilty except I me. Not many take time to ponder this convoluted phrase, because thinking has taken a back seat to blindly following lemmings, and not just in political circles. Here, the adjective “belated” is modifying the noun “birthday.”  Taken literally, this implies that the person’s day of birth has changed; a phenomenon that generally only happens with Hollywood celebrities. Listen up, Facebook: the sentiment is belated, not the person’s day of birth.  It should be Belated Happy Birthday. (You’re welcome.)
  • The word “literally.”  Literally is an adverb and should be used when something occurs that has both a figurative and literal meaning.  Example: “I literally bumped into John yesterday.”  This means that you not only saw John, but that you physically walked or ran into him. 

However, numerous millennials (and some older fucks) say “literally” when the literal doesn’t apply (“I literally died when I saw her”) or when there is only one meaning (“I literally fell asleep during lunch”).  Since correctly choosing the word “literally” involves thinking, it’s probably best to avoid this word completely. But if you feel compelled to provoke astonishment in your listener—try substituting “actually” or “believe-it-or-not.”  I realize they don’t sound as impressive, but saying “literally” ad nauseam impresses no one and makes you sound like a dumbass.

  • The word “like.”  This word, when spoken in the middle of a sentence multiple times and out of context, indicates substandard vocabulary or verbal laziness.  Most people use it to stall, as a substitute for “uh” or “um.”  Others are fast talkers and invoke “like” as one would shove coal into a furnace. Either way, it’s like, a bad habit.

When I was a disc jockey in a previous lifetime, long pauses while in front of the microphone were referred to as “bad air,” and the program manager frowned on them.  However, outside of the radio booth long pauses are an indicator of a thoughtful person who takes his or her time to choose the right words.  Former President Obama, although not perfect, was very good at this.  I encourage it.

  • The word “so” used at the beginning of a sentence.  I’ve written about this before. Some think this trend began in Silicon Valley, or with Facebook nerd Mark Zuckerburger.  “So” is used either as a coordinating conjunctive to refer backwards or forwards to something, or as an adverb.  But “so” is now regularly used at the beginning of a sentence when responding to a question.  Example: “What is Facebook’s privacy policy, Mr. Zuckerman?”  Response: “So our latest and greatest privacy policy is (blah blah blah).”

Are you really keen to emulate Mark Zuckinstein’s poor command of English? I would prefer not to.

  • Waiters and waitresses who use the pronoun “we.”  Example: “Would we like some dessert this evening?”  How the fuck did this shit get started!  “Who invited you to eat with us, Ashley?  Yes, pull up a seat, we’ll all have some dessert together.”

I don’t know why it is so difficult to use the word “you,” or the Southern colloquialism “y’all” or Yankee colloquialism “you guys.”  “We” is not only the wrong pronoun, it also sounds condescending as hell, as if the patron is a child. Do waiters and waitresses think the pronoun “you” is impolite?  DON’T FOLLOW LEMMINGS!

Other minor English crimes include pronunciation violations (here in the Ohio Valley they say “warsh” instead of “wash”) and America’s peculiar penchant for raping geographic names derived from Europe.  (“Versailles” should not be pronounced “Ver-SAILS,” you good people of southeastern Indiana.) 

I think the most comical mispronunciation example I’ve heard is in and around the small, Amish-Mennonite community of Berlin, Ohio.  People here literally actually pronounce their town’s name “BER-lin,” with the emphasis on the first syllable.  I’m guessing the awkward pronunciation is an attempt to distance the town from 1940s Germany, similar to 19th-century Irish immigrants who dropped “Mc” and “Mac” from their surnames to escape discrimination by hiding the fact they once scoured bogs for potatoes. But I say: folks, stand your ground, and fuck the lemmings.

I feel better now.  As I said, like President Obama, I’m not perfect, so if I’ve violated anything here, I’ll accept the traffic citation.

Appalachian Trail Solo Thru-Hike Odyssey: Chapter Ten

One of the first northbound views of cloud-crowned Mount Katahdin, Maine

What do we do given life?
We move around

Solitude, reach for light
Reach or slide
We move around

—Stephen Stills, “Move Around”

[On August 1 I summited Mount Katahdin in Maine to complete my 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail backpack trip.  Coincidentally, it was exactly a year to the day since my wife “rescued” me from thrombophlebitis near Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, after which I was sidelined for nine months.  This entry effectively finishes my A.T. travelogue.  I’ll probably offer some sort of denouement later, a clean green ribbon to wrap up the whole series.]

The so-called “Hundred-Mile Wilderness” which extends from Monson, Maine to Abol Bridge at the foot of Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park presented a few surprises.

First, it is not truly a wilderness as defined by the Wilderness Act of 1964.  It is not federal land that restricts habitation and motorized vehicle activity.  There are private cabins, gravel logging roads, and even an active sawmill whose racket can be heard from the trail.

Second, it is more rigorous than I was led to believe.  There are two significant mountain ranges: the Chairback and Whitecap ranges, plus several individual, smaller mountains.  There is also much twisting, turning, and root, rock, and boulder negotiation, especially during the first 50 miles. 

Third, there were far more hikers than I envisioned.  I expected thru-hikers and sectioners.  But I also encountered day hikers.  Even a family picnicking on a sand beach at Nahmakanta Lake.

For someone hoping for peace and solitude on relatively easy trail, this was all a bit disconcerting.

Hundred-Mile Wilderness caution near Monson, Maine

The good news is that I maintained my daily hiking average of 15 miles, arriving at Abol Bridge in my predicted six-and-a-half days’ time.  I had more than enough food to sustain me the entire way (supplemented by wild blueberries and huckleberries for vitamin C).

A large number of veteran backpackers evidently didn’t feel confident about preserving a requisite quantity of food in their packs, since many relied on food “drops” by hostelries at one or more gravel roads.  This surprised me.  One of the appeals of the Hundred-Mile Wilderness, in my opinion, is the challenge of shunning outside support and relying on your own preparedness.

I’m assuming there were the ubiquitous slackpackers using vehicles to haul their gear, since I met several northbound (NOBO) hikers with small packs headed in the opposite direction.

There were a few highlights.  I was reunited atop Little Boardman Mountain with old friends Hums and Checklist, a young married couple from southern Indiana whom I’d met just before the New Hampshire-Maine state line.  We later found great overnight spots at Antlers Campsite on Jo-Mary Lake, replete with swimming, blueberry picking, and the eerie sound of a distant loon.  Thru-hikers Chef Decker, Pi (from Germany), and a southbound (SOBO) section hiker named Solo completed the Antlers group.

Hums (left) and Checklist (right) atop Little Boardman Mountain

Our tents flooded that night from a torrential rain.  Wet gear, especially wet boots and socks, is one of the banes of backpacking, but we had fun for at least a few hours.

For the second time I bumped into Warren Doyle, the dean of Appalachian Trail hikers, who has thru-hiked more than any other hiker (nine thru- and nine section hikes) and runs a school for aspiring A.T. backpackers. (He’s also controversial with some people, promoting athletics on the trail and violating regulations that he dislikes.) Doyle and a sweet woman aptly named Sweet Potato were at a gravel road and treating poor Pi, who had either tripped or fainted, then fallen, consequently restructuring her nose and left eye.

Another highlight was having Little Beaver Pond to myself for my final night in the Wilderness.  This pond was a quiet surprise.  It’s a concealed sub-lake that spills into the eastern tip of larger Rainbow Lake.

There is no sign for Little Beaver on the A.T.  There is a sign for Big Beaver, but considering Big Beaver is 0.7 miles down a side trail, few hikers bother to walk it.  But just a tenth of a mile down this blue-blazed side trail is a tiny sign with an arrow that reads “Little Beaver.”

Little Beaver Pond tentsite and wild blueberries

I pitched my tent in a small oval of dry pine needles, the pond 100 yards below.  Surrounded by blueberry bushes, I devoted an hour to plucking ripe berries until my baggie was heavy.  These I gorged on later for dessert, then again for breakfast next morning.  In between I watched the sun set over the towering pines that rose over the shore of Little Beaver, while stoking a modest fire, smoking my “peace pipe,” and pondering the immensity of Mother Nature.

It’s a cliché, but out here your ego dissolves and you can feel your insignificance.  This is good.  It’s something one doesn’t often feel elsewhere, and it’s one reason why so many of us, ever since John Muir, flee to the mountains.

Rejuvenated by Little Beaver, I burned almost 18 miles next day to exit the Wilderness at Abol Bridge and reach base camp at The Birches campsite for my Katahdin climb.

Bulldozer, Heat, and me at Abol Bridge. Bulldozer was awaiting his family and summited Katahdin later.

The Birches is set aside for distance hikers intending to hike Baxter Peak, tallest point on Katahdin.  It’s located about a quarter-mile from family-friendly Katahdin Stream Campground.  This separation ensures the Griswold family won’t be disturbed by the sight of dirtbag backpackers getting wasted or peeing in the woods.  But for us hikers, it means a long slog to the stream just to fill our water bottles.

Only 12 hikers are permitted to camp at The Birches on any given night.  On the night of July 31, I was sixth out of seven hikers to sign up.  The others were Checklist, Hums, Heat, Chef Decker, Trash, and Wet Willy.  (The last-named was a really fun fellow, but he had two blown knees and had no business being with us.)

Around suppertime, Ranger Pete Sweeney dropped by to collect our registration cards and ten-dollar camping fee.  He also gathered us around the fire ring like a benevolent schoolteacher to discuss the sacredness of the mountain to native peoples…and to discourage us from celebrating too raucously at the peak.

I didn’t sleep much that night due to my excitement.  I’d come 2,185 miles and now had only five miles left.  So many times I’d wondered if I’d ever finish this Sisyphean venture, and it was hard to fathom the end was looming.

We rose from our sleeping bags with the first rays of sunlight (except Wet Willy), packed our gear, then hiked to the ranger station to trade in our heavy packs for lighter day packs.  I felt somewhat guilty about this, since I’d thus far prided myself on hauling my home on my back the whole way.  My justification was that a heavy pack up Katahdin could be extremely dangerous, plus there was no camping at the summit that required a full pack.  Also, with this short, five-mile “slackpack,” there would be no unnecessary burning of fossil fuels.

So I pulled out my Gregory day pack and filled it with peanut butter, tortillas, Clif bars, and my water flask.  Going suddenly from 40 pounds to five pounds felt like heaven, especially with all the adrenaline pumping through me.  I whisked through Katahdin Stream Campground, offered a knowing nod to Chef Decker (whose family was joining her for her final climb), and began my 5.2-mile ascent up the legendary mountain.

Cauliflower fungus (Sparassis crispa)

Katahdin is not easy.  The climb starts with a glide on gently sloping soil, then steeper dancing on rocks, then gymnastics on extremely vertical walls of boulders.  Some of the smoother boulder sections have rebar to assist climbers, this man-made addition courtesy of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club.

But I had time and adrenaline on my side.  Each day throughout my hike I had one song that I would whistle or hum to help my frame of mind.  Today I gustily sang out loud about a dozen of my favorite tunes—from Burt Bacharach to The Byrds—not even caring if anyone else heard me. 

About a mile from the summit begins The Tableland, a sea of rocks where the A.T. (here known as “Hunt Trail”) is delineated by stone cairns.  This is cloud country, and the wind and chill increase dramatically.  Suddenly, I see a group of hikers gathered near what looks like an oversized wooden sawhorse.

“Omoo!”  “Omoo!” they shout.  Heat, Hums, and Checklist have already arrived.  There are hugs and congratulations all ‘round. We collectively soak in this magical moment.  

As William Clark wrote in his journal when the Corps of Discovery first laid eyes on the Pacific Ocean in 1805: O! the joy.

We spent about an hour at the summit, taking pictures and responding—with as much humility as we could muster—to the day hikers’ many questions.  Hiking compatriots Lobo (a biology teacher from Richmond, Virginia), Zippy Morocco (a Triple Crowner from Missoula, Montana), Rabbit, Trash, and Chef Decker arrived later. Cell reception was no problem at 5,300 feet, so I called Lynn to let her know I was okay, and I’d soon be home to take care of the moles tearing up our lawn.

A bobcat posing in clouds with alma mater, Ohio University

Although I could have hung around the peak all day, I knew the climb down would be equally treacherous and cumbersome, plus I planned to thumb a ride into the town of Millinocket, so I reluctantly descended.  A few hikers were still ascending.  The last one I saw was Wet Willie.  (It turned out he did reach the peak, despite the admonitions of his partner, Trash.  However, on the descent he fell, gashing his head and breaking his glasses.  He didn’t reach the hostel in Millinocket until well after dark.)

All of the August 1 summiters reunited at the Millinocket hostel, except Heat and Lobo, who were elsewhere with their families.  We shared three large pizzas at Angelo’s (their white pizza was exceptional) and also, of course, shared our thoughts about the trail.  Next day I joined Checklist and Hums on a shuttle/bus trip to Bangor.  They flew home to Indiana, but I stayed over another night to decompress and celebrate with Maine lobster roll.  (TIP: if you visit Maine and want fresh lobster, it helps if you’re near the coast.)

***

Since my start at Springer Mountain, Georgia on May 2, 2021, I spent over 160 nights on the Appalachian Trail, most of them in a one-person tent.  About once a week I got either a motel room or stayed in a hostel to shower, eat, buy provisions, and clean my clothes.  The animals I encountered included one bear, four beavers, two porcupines, two foxes, one rattlesnake, one copperhead (whose head I stepped on), one water snake, several black snakes, one bald eagle, one Northern goshawk, several grouse, and dozens of whitetail deer, red squirrels, chipmunks, orange newts, and toads.  I hiked around multiple piles of moose scat but never saw one.

I met hundreds of distance backpackers and liked almost all of them.  They ranged in age from 19-year-old Cole, whom I encountered north of Buena Vista, Virginia, to intrepid 80-year-olds.  Women hikers were just as prevalent as men.  A few hikers were transgender.  Many backpackers like me walked solo, while others found security in a trail family (“tramily”).

Only one backpacker my entire hike recognized my trail name, asking “Isn’t that a book by Herman Melville?” when we identified ourselves.  It was in southern Virginia at exactly the one-quarter mark.  He was about 30 years old, a former thru-hiker now doing a SOBO section.  His name was Deep Roots.

Sunrise at Jo-Mary Lake

I met a number of eccentrics and heard about others.  They ran the gamut from the motor-mouth ex-boxer at Niday Shelter to a man named Leafblower, who hiked with a large…what else?…leaf blower, and always rented an extra hostel bed for his machine. 

My emotions also ran the gamut.  Hiking alone, I often mulled over my past: vacations I took as a child, old friends.  I constantly thought about my loved ones, especially my deceased parents.  I’m not religious—in fact I’m agnostic—but I could sense my parents’ spirits being with me.  Once, while alone atop Mount Washington in early morning, the grey clouds broke briefly to reveal a layer of blue sky with higher, wispy, white clouds.  This serendipitous event coincided with my thinking of Mom and Dad.

But despite my sentimental moments and occasional bouts of loneliness, only once did I get choked up.  It was on top of Katahdin while talking to my wife.  I told her that hiking this trail was the hardest thing I’d ever done, physically and mentally.  It was harder than leaving home, than any job, than any marathon race.  Raising a family was difficult, but she helped me with that.  This thing, however, was all on me.  I told her there were times of discouragement when I wondered if my hike would ever end.

Now…it was finally over. And I really felt it.

For my next adventure I’m planning a solo canoe trip on the Charley and Yukon Rivers in north Alaska.  After all…we move around.

Appalachian Trail Solo Thru-Hike Odyssey – Chapter Nine

Yesterday morning I arrived in Monson, Maine. Monson is a small lakeside town of about 600 people in the center of the state, and a major hub for Appalachian Trail hikers. To give an idea of Monson culture, the lone gas station sells bumper stickers that read “Kids Who Hunt, Trap, and Fish Don’t Mug Little Old Ladies.”

I estimate one more week to complete my solo thru-hike odyssey.

Between Monson and Mount Katahdin (highest point in Maine, northern endpoint of the A.T., and centerpiece of Baxter State Park) lies what is known as the Hundred-Mile Wilderness. This is a spectacular area of scenic wonders almost completely void of any semblance of civilization.

Omoo at NH-ME line, middle of one of the most difficult segments of the whole trail

It is also one of the more challenging sections for A.T. hikers, featuring both mountains and rugged terrain. Hiking the austere Wilderness requires a stockpile of a recommended 10-days’ rations.

So I’m taking both a “zero” (no miles) and “near-o” (minimal miles) day in Monson to rest and prepare. My oasis is Lakeshore House, located on the northeastern tip of Lake Hebron. Upon arrival I indulged in a hot shower followed by a “Famished Farmer” sandwich at the only grocery and deli in town. I’m now spoiling myself with cappuccino crunch ice cream before it’s back to ever-monotonous trail food.

The vast majority of hikers, mainly younger, stay just down the road at Shaw’s, which is run by ex-hikers Hippie Chick and Poet. (Crunchy granola, anyone?) Lakeshore seems to be the quieter, more low-key alternative, which suits this old guy fine.

Hiking friends Ice Cream and Memories at Grafton Notch. From Germany, they’re spending part of their honeymoon on the A.T.

So far there are only five of us at Lakeshore: me, Silver Bullet, Dozer, Boston, and Double Vision. Not surprisingly, all of us have either silvery hair or bald spots.

When Vision walked through the bunkhouse door, my jaw dropped. We last saw each other over a year ago on a cold, rainy night at a shelter in North Carolina. Vision is now trying to complete a series of section hikes, and the Wilderness is his last stretch. But he’s not doing well. At Carlo Col he suffered second-degree burns after spilling boiling water on his leg. Now, in the heat of mid-July, at age 67, he’s on the verge of heat exhaustion. Like me, he’s spending two nights here. He’s also debating going home. With age comes wisdom. (Often.)

Trail at Poplar Ridge, near where hiker Inchworm stepped off to go to bathroom, got lost, and disappeared for over two years

Despite its hardships, particularly the rocky, rooty section around the NH-ME line, Maine is my favorite A.T. state. For one, Maine-ers don’t believe in asphalt or billboards, a welcome alternative to my home state of Ohio. The A.T. here is referred to as a “Green Tunnel.”

Bald eagle soaring over East Carry Pond, where four of us took an afternoon dip

Although I’ve yet to see one, moose thrive in Maine. Water abounds in the form of lily-padded ponds, lakes, and wild rivers. The mountain vistas offer stunning 360-degree views. And although a relatively rural, under-populated state, the residents have their own unique style (and accent). Living “off the grid” raises few eyebrows in Maine.

As Katahdin approaches, I’m feeling a mix of excitement and anxiety. My journey started May 2 of last year. Sometimes it feels like a shotgun marriage between me and the A.T. Will we ever divorce?

West branch of Piscataquis River, which requires fording. My new Crocs came in handy.

Other times, usually in early morning light when I feel strong and confident, hearing the sticks and crumbled rock crunching under my boots, I feel a deep satisfaction. I’m accomplishing a significant feat, and doing it my own way: wooden walking stick, paper guide/map, full backpack the entire distance, completely solo but nonetheless making trail friends…and lifetime memories.

And lest I forget, this project began with a cause in mind: raising money and awareness for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  Thanks again to those of you who have helped. (R.I.P. Biff, Ben, and Peter.)

Monday, July 25 begins my final launch. As hikers often remark before parting ways (most totally unaware it’s the title of an old song written by television cowgirl Dale Evans):

“Happy Trails”

– Omoo

Sunset at Pierce Pond