Monday, May 30, 2016

You do what you have to...

In case you haven't heard, we are no longer homeless and living in an RV behind an abandoned house in Whetstone, Arizona. After 27 months my old job took me back.

Are things better now, yes! Are things perfect, no!

Our personal finances were destroyed to the point where they will never be the same. My daughter will be an adult before we can finance anything. I am OK with that.

No one owns something they have to pay for over the course of 30 years. We aren't playing that game anymore. I will not work myself to death to pay a mortgage for years and still end up with nothing to show for it in the end but wasted youth and vitality. You shouldn't play the game either. Renting is much better. You pay for a service. They fix all the things when they break. You still end up with nothing in the end either way.

Why did it take so long for me to get a job in my field?

We live in a rural area and when I got laid off the area was saturated with professionals from my field. Many stayed for over a year and took jobs.

Why didn't I take the first job I could get no matter what it paid?

You don't spend over a decade building a career in a certain field to abandon it to work at pets mart for 20% of what you used to make. You fight and try. You never give up. I applied for 236 positions in my field from Hawaii to Virginia. No dice!

I did anything I could for money. I scraped dog poop, I mended fences, I dug trenches and holes, I drove a construction truck, I worked construction, I did landscaping, I helped people move, I worked as a Fiber Optic Technician. I let my work ethic shine! Since I am a veteran, I know how to work in the heat. Frequent breaks, stay hydrated, and cover up. I would literally outwork everyone else at the work-site.

We sold most of our possessions. I sold my guitar. I sold my daughter's guitar.

Many people helped us. Many! The town I live in and the surrounding areas were very generous.

The best money was in Photography. I would shoot portraits in the park a few days a week. I could make $100 in an hour sometimes. However, in a small town, the volume isn't there and I could not get enough customers to pay the bills.

Our car was reposessed and the remaining car died.

A buddy loaned me his truck so I could get a job at a major retailer, the number #3 employer in town.
I worked there for a year and went to college to try and finish up my degree. We moved out of the RV and into a rental house. Even with the steady work we were always late on rent.

Things were very hard for us. We still have worries, but they are different worries now.
My best advice if this happens to you is to try to stay in your field, but also understand that you might have to do some shitty things to take care of your family for a while.

Why didn't I write more? Cause I'm a hack and no one reads my books anyway, LOL!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Father Daughter Sunday Afternoon

We’ve had a few days to recover so I think it’s time to write about this. We are both safe, if a little worse for wear.

Last Sunday, May 22nd, 2016, my daughter, Mia, and I decided it was time to grab some Slurpees and hit a few dirt roads in "The Beast", our new to us truck. The Beast is a beat to piss old Ford F-150. It’s mostly blue and gray with rust accents. The Beast was previously owned by a 19-year-old with more money than sense. He installed Offenhauser Exhaust and Intake manifolds and a huge Edelbrock four-barrel carb. To say this truck is stupid fast is an understatement. It also lacks an exhaust past the exhaust headers, so it is effing loud, but its race-car loud so it’s cool.

We get in the Beast around noon. She smelled of hot vinyl, grease, and the dust of centuries. Kind of like the Millennium Falcon probably smelled in The Force Awakens. I coaxed her to life with a mighty roar and off we went to the Circle K in Huachuca City. I got a Cherry and Mia got a Mango. We headed back out. We found a dirt road we like and we followed it. About 10 miles later we saw some cottonwood trees. Mistakenly thinking we had found the San Pedro River, we headed towards them. In reality, the San Pedro was still a few miles away. Did I mention we were only going to be gone 20 mins? Why take my cell phone, or a knife, or a gun? This will come into play later.

The road started to get rougher and rougher, but the Beast could handle it. We finally come out to what we thought was the San Pedro but it wasn't. It was some flood plain area. You could tell it flooded recently with a metric crap load of water. There were a few houses less than a mile away. The ground was devoid of trees and bushes and in the exposed areas you could observe the cracked and dried mud. In a lot of places our tracks were the only ones visible.

We started tooling around seeing what we could see. We got out a few times and hiked around. Mia said it looked like the plains of Africa and it kind of did. I decided it was time to go so we piled back into the Beast. We took a few tugs on our slurpees and I give Mia “the look”. She knew things were about to get interesting. We decided to take an alternate route back. We drive local dirt roads for a few reasons. One, it’s fun and cool, two it’s interesting to learn things about your area, and three, I am always scouting good camping and shooting areas.

We headed down a south oriented dirt road. I started getting nervous due to the nature of the area, it’s all flood plain and runoff. That meant it was sandy. The Beast does not have 4-wheel drive. We found a really great short range shooting area that would also make a great camping area. We didn’t stop there, but head up a hill, instead. I got nervous. There are some serious drop offs in this area, dirt erosion cliffs 12 feet or taller. We get halfway up the hill and I start wondering... what’s on the other side. Mia told me to keep going but I didn’t.

I was halfway up the hill and the Beast was taking it like a champ, but I balked and tried to eased her back down. When we got to the bottom I tried to do a J-turn, or back up and turn, to head back down the road we came in. It didn't work out so well. While backing up, I felt the rear wheels bog down. No Problem, I thought. I put it in Low, and we pulled forward a bit. Until we get stuck, again. Crap, I thought. Sand behind us, Sand in front of us. What do I do?
Up until this point, it was a fun Father Daughter Sunday afternoon. This exact point. Grrrrrrrr! Grrrrrrrr! I kept revving the engine and shifting between low and reverse, but the tires weren't catching anymore.

Let’s do a recap. No Cell Phone. 20 Minute outing. 10 miles deep into unknown, unnamed dirt roads.

This is when I knew we were in some crap. We spent four hours trying every trick in the book to get the truck free. Brush under the tires, check! Thank God, I keep a machete in the truck, a real one. I was able to cut a metric crap ton of brush to put under the tires. It didn't matter. The Beast turned them to salad and laughed at our efforts. We tried to jack the tire up. That worked as far as the fact that the tire came up. I was able to put river rocks and pieces of boards under the tires. The boards were from old furniture people shot up. We even fed my coat under the tire, since I heard that might work. It didn’t. I just tore up and burned holes in one of the best coats I ever owned. The beast laughed at us. Noon plus four hours, plus the near 30-45 mins of driving around meant it was near 5 or 6 pm. Mia urged me to start walking. Trying to turn this into a learning experience, like I do all disasters, (Mia is very good at first aid) I asked her what we should do first. The veteran of many episodes of Les Stroud and Dual Survival, she suggested an inventory of the truck for usable supplies and items.

Inventory completed, we had 7 bottles of water. We also had about 1/4 each of a Slurpee left. Binos, compass, emergency LED lantern, a poncho, machete, and my tore up coat. We used four shopping bags I had in the truck to make one super bag and loaded all our stuff into it. We also had my camera, which I took because we could fire the flash after dark as a signal. The Slurpee cups would make great trail markers to help us find our way back. Being a Veteran, I was really missing a gun at this point. I estimated we could reach a house we saw on the way in with less than 30 mins of walking. That was the goal and the plan. This was rough country. Small hills limited visibility and the roads cut back on themselves, often. Just because the house was close didn't mean we could get there. Heading out we agreed to one cardinal rule, NEVER LEAVE THE ROAD!!! After discussing it, we agreed this was the one mistake all the disastrous shows we have watched had in common. People overestimated their skill at land nav and dead reckoning and got more lost. Wasn't going to happen to us.

I made sure we each drank as much water as we could before the walk started, just to stave off any creeping dehydration we might have incurred while working on the truck. I set a hard pace from the start. We MIGHT have enough time to reach the house, but why risk it? After nearly twenty minutes of following our tracks through the dirt and sand of the road we found ourselves on the top of the tallest hill in the area. We looked around with the binos. There was the truck, peeking at us mockingly from around a bend in the road, less than 300 meters away. Twenty minutes to cover 300 meters. At this point I was getting worried.

We could see the house! It was grey, square, and of modern design. There was a vehicle in the driveway which was a good indicator that someone was home. I took a bearing with the compass on the house, as well as triangulating on a few other prominent landmarks so that I could use Google Earth to find my truck when I lead the tow truck back to it. The house was maybe 1/2 mile away at this point. Easy Peasy, I told Mia. We never found that house.

We eventually come to a crossroads and took the southern branch because we could see parts of Lower Huachuca City, the area near the waste water treatment facility. Huachuca City isn’t a city, it’s a town, and a small one, at that. It exists parasitically off the hind teat of Sierra Vista. Sierra Vista isn’t really a city, it’s a large town. It exists parasitically off the hind teat of Fort Huachuca. We were lost near the hind teat of a hind teat. I always knew where we were in relation to HC, it was the backup plan. Did I want to drag my kid across ten miles of open desert? N, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

Now is the time to impress upon you the seriousness of the situation. We were in danger of several things. Did I want to spend the night in the desert with my kid, alone? No. Did I mention we did not even have a book of matches in the truck? We fill up on water and check the sun. Its nearly touching the ridgeline looming before us about 1/2 a mile. It was getting dark. We are moving as fast as I can with an eight-year-old child. Since the road was heading generally towards HC, even when we enter low areas and can't see, we keep to the road. It has to reach the highway or the town eventually.

I'm wearing the poncho slung over my shoulder and Mia has the burnt up coat. Something to sleep with, it was her idea in case we ended up out there after dark. Smart girl! The poncho kept falling down so I stopped for a minute to put it on right. That’s when I noticed something. Mia had been saying she felt like we were being watched several times over the past hour. She even stopped a few times because she heard something behind us. I saw movement up the road, about 200 meters. Just another rabbit, I thought. I was regretting not having my .22 as we had seen nearly a dozen rabbits and rabbits are delicious. It wasn't a rabbit; it was a large coyote. The four legged type. The ones that have interbred with dogs and are now nearly the size of Mexican Gray Wolves.

The thing you need to know about coyotes is that if you see one, it probably wants you to see it. Why? So you don't see its buddies sneaking up on your flanks and rear. I immediately set Mia on rear guard and I draw my machete like a sword and yell at the Coyote. "There it is!" You have to use language they recognize from being hunted. It ran off to our right, where the brush is thickest. That’s also where the sun was low against the horizon, blinding us to that direction. Damn those bastards were slick!

We scouted around for a weapon for her as we continued. So now we HAVE to get to civilization before it got dark or we were dog meat. I have a very full understanding of my abilities as a warrior. With a rifle, I would be wading through a high tide of coyote bodies, smiling as the sun rose, with a machete... I might get the first few, but one would eventually get behind me and take me down. We kept yelling out and talking loud. We spotted them once more, off to our right a few hundred meters away. We had traveled maybe a mile, so they were tracking us. We found Mia a section of PVC pipe and I broke the end to make it jagged. She has the heart of a warrior. We keep moving until we get to some high ground.

I left the road for a few minutes, I could still see the road, but even at the high ground I could see nothing but HC. I was hoping for a house, as HC still appeared to be several miles away. Eventually, we come to a fence. At this point we couldn’t follow the road anymore as it turned north and away from civilization. We were both footsore and full of stickers by this point. We drank some water and listened carefully for the coyotes. Now, I could feel them out there, almost point to them. We had no choice. We could see HC less than a mile away, but it was a mile across open terrain with no cover while being stalked by coyotes and it was getting dark.

As I pondered what course of action to take, if the risk is worth the eventual reward, I could appreciate the irony of an author suddenly falling into one of his stories, which I was seriously wondering if we did. I made a promise to be more considerate of my characters if the author writing this story would just let us get home, safe and sound.

Mia was worrying about her mother freaking out. We had been gone 7 hours at this point. There might have been some crying and screaming I DON'T WANT TO DIE. Might have been her, might have been me. I am not pointing fingers. I was appreciating the army training I had received and administered over the years. Ruck marches, land nav, I realize were all great preparation for this event. Long ago, I learned to fight off fatigue and personal discomfort to keep pushing ahead. We discussed it and decided on a course of action. We discussed a few scenarios about what could happen as we crossed the open area. It was full of tall grass but not much else. It would be a haven for rodents. Snakes were a great concern as it was cooling down. The coyotes were still a concern. With the rodents there may have been holes that could cause us to fall or break an ankle. We would move fast, but not run.

I am man enough to admit that I was experiencing a great amount of fear and concern at this point. We were lacking important gear that would have turned this flight of desperation into a nice cross country hike. Such as a phone, matches, maybe a few MREs, and a tent. The open ground was a festering craphole of stickers, tall grasses, gopher holes, and a vicious type of Cholla cactus. We had to stop many times to pull stickers out of our flesh and shoes. Ever the trooper, Mia stood guard over me with the machete when it was my turn. The houses were getting closer and I felt my hope rise. The sun was fully down and the twilight was deepening. I kept a close watch on our back trail and the coyotes decided not to follow us into the open area or they were flanking in the brush to the east and west of us. We reach another fence, but I could see where it ended so we headed in that direction only to find... the Bobocamari river!

It’s a glorified irrigation ditch but I was deep, steep, and separated us from the row of houses we could see just 500 meters away. SONOFA&^**&!!! We could even see the waste water facility! Anxious at being so close but so far away, we look for a place to cross the fence line. We crawled under the fence and got filled with stickers again. FUUUUUUU!! After a short hike we found a 4x4 trail into the river and we followed it. It was nearly full dark now and our little LED lantern cast a feeble spill of light maybe 6 feet in diameter. I still had my machete at the ready and Mia had her pipe spear. We come out of the Bobocamari and cross the last few hundred meters to the road. A real road! A road we have driven on before. As we approach the first house our instincts must have been in high gear because we both stopped short. "Looks creepy. I don't like it," Mia said. "Me neither. Let’s get the next one," I replied and we headed down the road.

I would like to take this opportunity the thank the lady in the Red SUV that waved at us as she passed. Never mind us being as filthy as sand urchins and that I'm wearing a serial killer poncho and waving a machete. Just wave and keep driving. We passed up the next two houses for similar reasons. We did foray into the twilight zone a slight bit when we encountered a white truck. It was parked off the side of the road like the owner had pulled over to take a leak. I got excited and approached the truck. As I got closer I could tell something was wrong. The truck was missing its license plate and it had a nice layer of thick dust on every surface. As I got closer I could hear faint country music playing from its stereo. We peered cautiously into the bed of the truck. It was filled with household goods like someone was moving but everything was old. The boxes were water damaged and splitting, the exposed plastic of a vacuum cleaner identical to the one we had at the house was yellowed and cracked from the sun. This truck had been here for a long time, yet the radio was still playing. We decided that we didn’t want help from the owner of the truck and that we preferred our role in Lost in the Woods to a role in The Hills Have Eyes. We kept moving.

We eventually approached a house that we could hear children at. Mia recognized the voices as school mates and rushed ahead. We made it! The parents came out side and had a hard time grasping what we were telling them.

"You walked from where? How far? How did you do that? What?"

They wanted to call the Sherriff at first and I agreed. I asked to text my wife to let her know we were ok as we were now 9 hours overdue. They eventually warmed up to me as we smoked and I explained the situation in detail. Even after hiking for miles across the desert, what was Mia doing two minutes after finding the house? Playing with the kids and running around the yard! Eddie, the father, decided he could find my truck and pull it out with his F250 diesel 4x4. We dropped Mia off at home. My wife was freaking out. I left Mia to tell the tale of our adventure while we recovered the truck. I did remember to grab my phone this time. While we were driving I brought up my GPS app, Alpine Quest Lite, and started back-tracing our trail to find the truck.

It was Easy Peasy! They got the Beast pulled out of the hole and back on the road in no time. Eddie refused payment! He instead stated that we should drop off a large bag of dogfood at the HC animal shelter in his name. I love this area. We walked up to his doorstep at about 8:30 at night, and in less than 30 minutes this man had pulled a stranger’s truck out of a ditch. Thanks Eddie!

I added humor to the situation but it was pretty serious and we were in danger. This highlighted as many failures as successes on my part. I was thankful for the stuff I had in my truck but I realized that I was being negligent for the stuff I was missing, especially in this area if we are going to be doing this sort of thing. I am currently constructing a get home back and a rescue box for the truck. I thought long and hard about the things I wish I had. Rope. A good thick high rated rope could have been used in several ways to get us out of the problem we found ourselves in. You could cut it and feed it through the rim of the tire to make improvised tire chains. We could have used the rope to tie cut down pieces of board or branches crossways to the tread of the tire providing more traction. We could have used a HAM radio to have someone send out a tow truck. I could have used a gun, even my little .22 pistol, if only for the security and peace of mind it would have brought.

The physical toll was significant. I was dehydrated. I was over taxed and exhausted. The trek barely bothered Mia. The next day I could barely walk. My everything hurt. I felt like I had a hang over which are symptoms of extended adrenaline exposure and dehydration. I was thanking God that I teach Land Nav. I was thanking God that I was smart enough to know when to start walking.

So, please be smart when traveling off the beaten path. Bring a phone and a gun. Tell someone where you are going and when you should be back. It’s one thing when you decide on a spontaneous overnight with the kid in the desert. It’s another when you are forced into it. So all told after I got home I spec-ed it out, and with our detours, we hiked just over 5 miles to HC. Several times we passed houses less than ¼ mile away. Of everything I wished we had thought to bring, my phone with its GPS and satellite imagery would have been the most valuable. Thanks for reading and as always, check out my books!