Outdoor stuff


Costa Rica is a country that relies heavily on the revenue from eco-tourism. While having lunch with Julio, the manager of the KTM motorcycle dealership in Santa Ana, we found out just how deep this revenue stream is.

Julio asked if we’d paid our eco-Tax yet. Shannon and I were confused so Julio took out a 5000 Colone note, about $10, and showed us the Toucan pictured on the bill. He then asked if we’d seen the police that stand roadside wearing white gloves.  Instead of driving around in cars and stopping law breakers with flashing lights, these cops stand at traffic circles and intersections. When they see an infraction, they point at you and motion you to pull to the curb. They threaten with confiscation of your license, towing your car, and a court date a month out. Its all a game and what they’re working towards is getting you to pay a little something so you can drive away, or as Julio explained, they put their finger out, hoping a Toucan will land on it – the  Eco Tax.

Well, we hadn’t paid our tax in CR, but on our way to Grenada we were pointed to the curb at a traffic circle. The cop asked to see our licenses and explained that we hadn’t signaled our turn as we entered the circle. No, I’m sure we didn’t. Those things are nuts with traffic across four lanes of a two lane road, cars both stopped and flying through, no road signs and us about lost, I probably didn’t signal that I was going to exercise my only option and turn right into the circle. So, the cop had our DL’s in hand and explained that he would need to keep them until our court date a month out. And he would need to write us a ticket for $40 each. And it was Sunday and we couldn’t pay it till Monday so he would need to tow the bikes. (This guy was good)

After his speech he just kind of stood around waiting. We did too. This frustrated him, so he explained to us again just how dire our predicament was. And then we stood around some more.  To move things along, he went to his car and got out some papers and a pen, shuffled them a bit and then walked back over. We obviously didn’t understand what was happening, so he explained it a third time. Yeah, we got it. What he didn’t understand was that he had laminated photocopies of our licenses and that we had two more to give away in our luggage. We didn’t care.

What I did care about was time. It was late and I was tired and hungry and after about 15 minutes I was ready to go. I asked if there wasn’t some tax that I could pay to take care of the problem now. He lit up like Christmas morning. I opened my wallet and showed him that I had 120 in Nicaraguan currency – just under $6. His face fell like he opened his present and found underwear inside. He asked if my friend had any money. I asked, and Shannon said “yes, but no.” Ok, so we play some more.

Back to the car and more theatrical shuffling of papers.  Then a conference with the other cops. He walked back over and said – “OK, 120 and you have no more problem” So, there in the middle of traffic I get out my wallet and without looking at me he says “esperae,  esperae!” Wait, Wait! He doesn’t want the cars to see what hes doing. When theres no traffic he holds out some papers and motions for me to put the money between the pages.

So I do, and we drive away having negotiated our “tax” from $80 down to $6.

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For almost a year now I’ve been collecting bits and pieces to build a patio in the back yard. Most all of them from Craigs List. I’d gotten a how-to book from Lowes and planed, built, redesigned and moved the patio about a hundred times in my head. Now, bearing down fast on Leaving Time, I really wanted to have this loose end sown up, so I sent an email out to some friends asking for help and offering beer and Gabes ribs in thanks.

At first I was disappointed in the response – which was nothing. No one said no, no one said yes, no one said anything. I was feeling a little abandoned, but it was what it was and I’d just have to deal. I guess it just took a while to sink into everyone, because on Saturday Janet, Hillsy, Phil, Geoff, Shannon, Susan, Michelle and Maria all showed up to help.

Smart man that I am, I had done a lot of prep work so that when they arrived I could get the most out of them. A few days before I had hired Mark and his bobcat to break up the soil. Then Willie and Susan helped me to level it. We dug trenches and put rail road ties in, then back filled and raked. Next I needed sand for drainage and I called Brad. He let me borrow his truck to pick it up -and not only did he help me unload – he brought PBRs to fuel the shoveling. On Saturday morning Lee lent me his whacker packer. No, its not a gay sex toy, it’s a heavy vibrating machine about the size of a push mower that’s used to pack dirt. Whacker Packer quickly became the word of the day though. Any time you could work it into conversations -there it was. “Yeah, the shovels over there against the fence behind the whacker packer. You know, the yellow whacker packer. Whacker packer. ” I had to meet Tallyman on Heywood at 9:30 to get it and when I got home folks started arriving.

Shannon, Janet, Hillsy and Geoff were the first to pull in – 3 bikes and a mini van. I split them into two teams – Janet and Hillsy were given the project of making a step into the raised patio, and Geoff and Shannon were asked to make the walkway out of the back gate. Maria was put to work shucking corn and making potato salad. Everyone threw them selfs into the work and did an amazing job!

With almost no direction Shannon and Geoff, with the help of late arrival Phil, made a path that has absolutely no discernible pattern. They made circles, half circles, a Maltese cross and the prettiest sewer clean out you’ve ever seen. Its random and more beautiful than anything I could have ever imagined or done. Hillsy and Janet made a semi-circular step hemmed in with rail road ties that has an Asian look to it. Susan and Amanda dropped in about lunch time and started the big circle on the raised area but had to go before they could finish. Maria and I took over when the ladies had to leave and Michelle, after cleaning up from lunch, supplied everyone with bricks while musing on the finer points of how to groom your mound of Venus and singing German songs about buttons.

On Sunday I sat and chipped odd shaped pieces of brick to complete the project, and I spent a lot of time looking. I looked at all the effort my friends put in. I looked and I saw their signature in the step, in the walkway, in the circles of brick. More than 10 people contributed to making the patio and I will forever see their hands, hearts and creativity embedded in my back yard. Its things like this that make a house a home and a man immeasurably wealthy.

Thank you all so much.

Whacker Packer

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This picture says it all. Joe, Bill and I went fishing on Sapphire lake this past Saturday. I don’t know why, but I thought the whole trip was really funny. It started out by taking golf carts from the house over to the lake, where, tied to the dock was a giant pink flamingo paddle boat.

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I had to get in it and dork around. I would of loved it if we could have fished from this thing – but alas, it was chained up. I checked!

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Here, in preparation for the expedition, the men are unloading supplies from the golf carts into the boat.

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Unfortunately Bill had a hard time getting into the boat, so I set him up on the dock. The kid working at the boat house gave me an umbrella that I tied to a folding chair and I got him a glass of water. (thats him in the background) I told him to ring the big farm bell if he needed anything. The lakes not that big. I could have gotten there in time if need be. I’m not a terrible person – right?

So off Joe and I went for some hard-core fishing:

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Yeah, thats as big as they got. But it really was fun. Joe has lived next door to my family since before I can remember. In Lighthouse Point he and Jerry were always our neighbors and now they live right next door to my Mom in NC. Its really good to know that she has such old friends so close by – and it was nice to go out with Joe who remembers going fishing in the Everglades with me, my dad and grandfather in the 1970′s. Theres no substitute for history.

When I go visit Mom I ask her to make me a punch list of things that need doing around the house. On this trip one of the things she asked was that I fix up the gas grill. It needed a little work after having blown over in a windstorm and then just some general spring cleaning. After getting it all cleaned and back in shape Bill and I enjoyed a few cocktails and a nice grilled dinner on the deck. The next morning when I went outside I saw a perfect little paw print made from pollen that had been stuck to a racoon’s foot. I could just see perfectly how he planted it on the front of the grill, stood on his hind legs and reached up with his nose to smell what we had cooked for dinner.

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Click the image above for the full gallery of photos

Memorial weekend was as full as I could ask. I went into the weekend with a list of about five things I wanted to get done. By noon Friday I was already behind. I started out adding a center stand to the bike so I can jack it up and change tires or work on the drive train while on the road. Well, the skid plate was too long to work with the center stand so I had to take it off and cut it down and then grind the edges so it won’t cut me when I fall. I also remade the tool kit on the front of the bike. I kept the 3″ PVC, but used compression caps instead of the screw-in end caps. The screw-in caps were hard to open and would vibrate off. I also used some all-thread to make a better mount than the hose clamps. I’m really happy with the results, but it took me all day.

Saturday I wewnt to Hendersonville to pick up some rail road ties I bought on Craigs List and then met Gabe and family for lunch and a little White Squirrel Fest. We had some great BBQ and the kids jumped around in the jumpy-tent. I had to leave a little early though. I had more work to do on the bike.

My nephews fourth birthday was Sunday in ATL and the only way I would go was if I could take Deseo, but the back tire was bald. With the new center stand I could change it myself and put on some 80/20 road tires I had. I jacked the bike up when I got home and commenced with the changing. This turned out be more of a challenge than I bargained for. After some serious wrestling I finally got the new tire mounted on the rim and then tried to get the wheel back on the bike. It wasn’t going back on! Covered in dirt and grease, I gave up at 10 pm, showered and went to Burger Meisters for a late supper. I sat at the bar and met Griff and Elizabeth from England and Ireland respectively. Really enjoyed meeting them and we had a good bit in common, but I lost Giffs email – so I’ll just have to wait till our paths cross again.

Sunday I was back working on the bike by 8 am and after taking the wheel off three more times and doing everything I could think of twice, I noticed that one of the break pads wasn’t aligned just right. That was it! I can’t tell you how excited I was. Almost 8 hours and I figured it out on my own. Very gratifying. I had the front tire changed out in 15 minutes and was on the road to ATL by 1.

Debbie threw a great party for Aiden with a yard full the cutest kids from 7 years old down to newly arrived. She had a slip-and-slide, a pool with a kid kayak, squirt guns - A perfect summer birthday. I got home about 11:30 that night and was totally spent.

Monday was all about relaxing – and cleaning the truck. I didn’t want to drive far, or put in a whole lot of effort, so I headed up to Skinny Dip falls. This place was really amazing. MM 417 on the parkway. I’d suggest it to anyone wanting a great place to jump into a cold creek. I had a little nap on a rock and then stacked some stones (the ones in the photo).

Great weekend.

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Brid putting some of Jerrys ashes in the Green river before the 2008 baddle. Afterwards we all floated flowers down stream in his memory.

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In the midst of the Baddle

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The Baddle ground. I don’t have final numbers, but I know we took in more than $10,000 for ALS and the Green River Access fund.

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An afternoon hike into Bonas Defeat confirms that Earl is a tourist dog – NOT an adventure dog. He prefers a mulched path.

and lastly…

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The Hillys first gig. We weren’t perfect, but we’re the only ones who know that for sure.

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Like an annoying old friend that you’re glad to see, the pains back. Its that tired muscle ache in the back and shoulders and I love it. I’m physically tired in a way I haven’t been in a long time. I was last in my boat back in November for Gauley. Today it was warm and sunny and there was natural flow and I was excited to paddle. I texted a few folks I knew, but no takers, so I drove out to Big Creek on my own. I’m really glad I did. As it turned out there were a handful of folks there and I knew most of them, so hooking up with someone to paddle with was easy. Drew from Memphis arrived about the same time I did and we hiked up to just below Action Alley. Above AA the river is a little harder, and I was feeling sketchy about getting off the couch and onto something as challenging as this. I was kind of shaky at first and had to roll about 3 times, but what a day. Now I’m sun burnt beat and happy.

I suck at delegating. I usually do things myself and look up what I don’t know on the web or in the library. Then I take stuff appart, “fix” it, put it back together, and repeat the process when inevitably it still doesn’t work.  Its a side effect of my testosterone poisoning. For this little trip I can’t be independent. I need to lean pretty heavily on friends.  It’ll be a good lesson for me.

Since I won’t leave till the Fall for BA, I applied for a Middle Fork Salmon permit. Launch dates are given by lottery. A group of us has applied for various dates and if one of us gets a permit, we all ride. I requested four dates in June. This is a trip I wouldn’t have dreamed of running on my own. It requires a lot of logistics and raft support. As an Eastern kayaker, I don’t know any rafters and the logistics are pretty daunting. If it works out I’m going to be relying on James and his contacts for experience and support.

I’ll also need some help with the bike. I bought the KLR. Its in great shape but it will need a few mods if I’m going to take it to Argentina. I’ve gotta say that when I was test riding it, it was hard to get my mind around the idea of riding this beefed up bicycle all the way to South America. I won’t be the first to do it, but the vehicle felt so small and vulnerable, and the road’s long and dangerous.

I don’t have a lot of experience working on engines. I’ve looked on line and there’s a huge community around the KLR 650. The basic bike has been available for about 20 years and its popular in South America, so getting parts and service shouldn’t be a problem. Shannon has also offered to help. He loves tinkering with engines and really knows his shit. He’s also expressed interest in riding with me for a while. Maybe to Guatemala, the first real destination, where I’ll take immersion Spanish classes for a few weeks. I’d love it if he did ride with me for a while. It would be great to have him along for a lot of reasons. He’s a good friend. I think starting off riding with him is what I was thinking of when I wrote the “Good judgment” post below.

SwampA long time ago I got the notion to paddle the Cumbahee River in the Ace Basin all the way out to Edisto island. In my mind it was going to be a grand adventure seeing the changes in environment go from intimate fresh water swamp to salt marsh. I got some topos of the area and enlisted the help of Kurt – my kayaking mentor.

The plan we came up with was for us to put in together at a spot where the road crossed the Salkahatchee Swamp near Walterboro. He’d paddle in with me for a few hours, then turn back. In about three days time, when I got to Edisto, I’d call and he’d come down with Meg to pick me up. Great plan – right?

Well, there were a few things I didn’t take into account. Like the fact that the water was only about 2 inches deep, there was no clear channel, no current to follow, and there were so many downed trees that we couldn’t go five feet without squeezing under or pulling over one of them.

With Kurt there this was all fine, but once he turned back and I was on my own things changed. I guess I went about a quarter mile more going over and under logs and trying to get around places that looked like a tornado had come through. Then, while pulling myself over some downed trees, I almost lost my glasses. I was able to grab them as they sunk into the black murk, but that set off a panic. I had visions of me trying to sleep sitting upright in the kayak with the sleeping bag on my head upside down because there was absolutely no high ground anywhere. Or worse, turning big blurry circles in the swamp because there was no current to follow and ending up as dried out alligator food because the skeeters got all the blood. Suddenly I was really scared. I decided to turn around and I hoped I could find my way back to the car before Kurt left.

Three shots from a gun, blasts of a horn or soundings of a whistle – three of anything like this are a distress signal. I was repeating a series of three blasts on my safety whistle like I was hyperventilating and paddling as hard as I could. If I missed Kurt things would be complicated.

I made it back to the road and the car was still there. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see it. Kurt, however, was nowhere to be seen. I could wait. After a while he came out from under the bridge looking surprised to see me. It turns out he had found an old Nash Rambler station wagon sticking up from the muck, had climbed on top of it and finished his beers. He never heard me and little orange whistle.
This story has been in my head for the last few days as a lesson in how not to embark on an adventure. This story, and remembering how my heart dropped in La Coruña Spain when the bus pulled away leaving me alone in a foreign country. These are things I don’t want to repeat.