Tools of the Trade

I’m intensely interested in language; I think all writers are. We find the intricacies of them fascinating and seek to master it the way that a mason masters the use his trowel, square, and compass. We frame our message using the grammar, metre, and precise word selection to ensure that we not only convey our point but our emotions as well. We paint a picture with words in the same way that an artist would use oils on canvas.

International travel therefore provides the writer or orator, that pilgrim of language, the opportunity to learn and experiment with a foreign language. The metre, syntax, grammar, and inflection will all be alien to him. But what fun he will have! Signs in both English and the host language will provide the easiest way to decipher the mysteries of this new language; much like sign posts leading him down the road of autdidactism.

Once he’s built his confidence in comprehension of this new language, he’ll test the waters with short phrases and questions. “Sil-vous plait, je voudrais un bier.” “Oui, monsieur.” And the bartender will bring him his pint of beer. Or he’ll find himself at some pizzeria in Rome: “Scusi, signori, I would like un vino. . . and, um, one of these (He then points to the menu; pointing always works).” “Of course, signori. Uno momento.”

Eventually, mastery will come. Eventually the seeker will graduate from pidgin communication to full fluency. Which is a day of much rejoicing, as he orders off of the menu without any hesitation.

Dopo

There’s a special sensation when pulling into port for the first time. There’s an electricity in the air, a palpable excitement shared amongst the entire crew. Each new sight and smell and sound builds the excitement to a crescendo of magnificent proportions. the young seaman who the previous day had been run down, tired, exhausted from two-and-a-half months at sea with nothing to alleviate the drudgery of grinding and painting the chalks and bits but the occasional bird perched atop the hurricane bow is suddenly renewed by the bright Mediterranean sun and the promise of liberty.

And liberty, blessed liberty, that short, seemingly infinitessimal time when a Sailor can depart the ship, and then walk, run, or fly to the nearest bar and drink himself silly and attempt to arrange more carnal pastimes. Or he can immerse himself in the culture and language of whatever paradise he finds himself in. And the troubles and toils of the day job won’t follow him.

And thus it was, as it has always been, when we pulled into Bari, Italy — the crown jewel of the Puglia region of Southeast Italy — after almost sixty straight days at sea. And the crew felt that same excitement, and each deck seaman scurried about the forecastle with an extra pep in his step, and tended his lines with that much more dedication. And then, once safely moored, and all business attended to, those glorious words were announced on the 1MC: “Liberty Call, Liberty Call. Liberty Call for duty sections 1 and 2.” And then those same deck seaman raced across the brow to regain their land legs.

And my compadres and I — all four of us — set foot onto Italian soil, some for the first time. The first stop was to find a caffeteria and scratch the itch that only a capuccino could scratch. And then we wandered, as we are wont to do. There’s a special joy in getting lost in a foreign city. The hassles of leading Sailors and long bridge watches and wardroom politics seem miles away, completely unreachable, and the to-do list that stretches a cable’s length is replaced by the top notch priority of finding a good bowl of pasta and magnificent bottle of wine. Your troubles can wait until later; “dopo” in Italian.

And after sixty days at sea; sixty days of rushing; sixty days of maintaining a steady strain; the near complete lack of any kind of hurry that pervades the Italian culture is a welcome relief. Everything is dopo: paying for your coffee? Dopo. Can we have the check, please? Dopo. Signora, when do we need to check out of our hotel room? Dopo.

What a welcome relief it was. This sleepy seaside city, who’s real claim to fame is that it contains the cathedral that houses the bones of Saint Nicolaus (Yes, that Saint Nicolaus). This same seaside city which has been a crossroads for various conquering armies throughout the millenia, was a refuge from the storm of operational commitments and uniforms, where you could almost pretend you were a civilian. And like all Sailors, every now and then we all need some time in a safe port from life’s tempestuous struggles.

Where the Sky and Sea Meet

Life at sea can begin to drag at times. It seems to occur more often the longer you’re at sea. The nights drag into days and the days mix together until the only dividing line is each day’s watch. And then those blend together until you try to create your own log and  can’t remember if that particular helicopter landing, where the winds wouldn’t stay put off of the stardboard bow and the seas were so confused that the deck wouldn’t stay anything resembling steady, happened on Tuesday or Thursday three weeks ago. And so Sailors, being the crafty individuals that they are, have created their own metrics for telling the days apart. Many in the crew use burger days (The U.S. Navy serves hamburgers for lunch every Wednesday, fleetwide). And then conversations like this occur: “Hey dude, do you remember when Chief said we needed to get that fuse box squared away?” “Yeah, man, he said next burger day.”

But at least obsurd conversations like that break up a long midwatch, as does the ever popular game of “Who’d You Rather?” So far Scarlett Johanson and Fat Amy are neck and neck and factions have arisen amongst the crew over their particular favorite. And even then, games and training can only last so long, until halfway through that long midwatch you run out of things to talk about and everyone is left to their own thoughts as they struggle to remain awake and retain what sanity they have left. Those are the nights when you venture out to the bridge wing and stare up at the stars and see the brilliant studs of light puncture the inky black sky for as far as you can see. And then the watch stretches on as you transit the vast Atlantic Ocean.

Eventually, you’ll look out and see no one else for miles, and then you’ll look down at the radar scope and confirm that electronically, and it’ll dawn on you that you’re really alone out here. If something should happen it’ll be up to you and the other 199 members of the crew. As the ship rocks side to side, and the swells crash into the port beam, you call down to the Central Control Station, where the engineers control the engines and bowels of the ship, and inquire what the sea water injection temperature is. “Hey pilothouse, CCS, SWIT’s about 60 degrees.” “60 degrees, bridge aye.” Sixty degrees: That sure is cold. . . And I haven’t seen a single surface contact all night. And then the thought begins to creep in, as you stare out at the empty sea: If I go overboard, I’m probably not making it back. Ditto for if we all have to abandon ship.

And it makes you realize how important it is that we do our jobs right, and keep the ship running and afloat. You realize why all of those man overboard drills are so direly important. You see how important it is that the look outs stand a vigilant watch. And why it’s so important that you stand a vigilant watch. And then the sun breaks the horizon and shines its wondrous rays down on the sea below. And you eagerly greet it.

Distant Shores

It’s a strange sight, to sit off the coast of a country you’ve never been to and probably won’t ever visit. At night you can distinctly make out the dark mass of land as it breaks up the almost endless sky. And the lights sit ashore, twinkling, waiting for the sun to rise. And there I sat, perched atop the rails on the port bridge wing, leaning against the life boat canister, surveying the coastline for movement of any kind. The only sounds are whine of the gas turbine engines and the whoosh of the ventilation fans. The air is static and the South American humidity so thick it feels as if I’m breathing a glass of water. And the watch drags on.

Conversation has gone stale and the drug runners don’t seem to be interested in coming out to play to tonight. No doubt they could see our ship from shore and thought better of it. Whoever thought standing a five hour midwatch, after standing the reveille watch the morning before and then working through the day, was a special kind of cruel.

But it’s in these moments, out here, all alone on the bridge wing that I can finally afford the time to be introspective. I have the freedom and the privacy to be alone (Yes, alone, finally!) with just my thoughts. Here, watching the coast roll lazily along, I can ponder life’s mysteries and breath a little easier.

But the humidity doesn’t get any easier to take. I soon retreat back to the pilothouse which is cooled by an asthmatic air conditioner. I walk through the door just in time to meet my relief. We do a quick turnover and then I lurch down the ladder and back aft to the wardroom.

I raid the gedunk drawer and pull out a couple whole grain poptarts (These are just like regular poptarts, but with a better marketing team). It’s been a long day and I just want to decompress. As I munch and munch and think over how uneventful the watch is, I feel the ship come alive beneath me. Both gas turbine engines are now online and are screaming at full grunt. I know that the bridge team have spotted a drug runner and are now giving chase.

And such is the life of a warship at sea: Long periods of boredom unexpectedly punctuated by moments of sheer terror and excitement. As for me, I cleaned up my garbage and went to bed.

Call The Shots

My day job involves hunting submarines. It’s a highly scientific process that, like most Naval Warfare requires a healthy amount of wild ass guesses and improvisation because the real world rarely conforms to the neat formulas of the classroom and laboratory. The actual tracking and prosecution of a submarine by surface and air assets requires an entire team of watchstanders to operate the SONARs and interpret the data that they provide. My job is to form all of that information into single picture of the battlespace and then determine how to maneuver the ship in order to sink the submarine or at least defend other ships in the area.

As in most leadership positions, mine is largely an exercise in communication and decision-making.  The decision-making portion can be the most aggravating at times. Communication usually takes care of itself, but the processing of the vast amounts of data coming from all of the different pieces of the puzzle can be aggravating. Often times the data is contradictory or doesn’t fit the projected models neatly. And sometimes, my adversary does something completely unpredictable that doesn’t jive tactically. This causes frustration, just as all decision-making can.

But sometimes you have to stand back, look at everything in front of you, and then trust your gut because it’s your job to make decisions. In the Anti-Submarine Warfare world that requires focusing on the information you know, trying to make logical inferences based upon your understanding of your enemy’s tactics, and then doign something; anything. Theodore Roosevelt was famous for saying: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

This holds true in all avenues of leadership. Your people look up to you for a decision. That’s the reason you were put on this earth, to provide them direction in moments of crisis, when their ability to chart a course of action fails them. It can maddeningly difficult at times, but you have to do it, and no amount of hand-wringing or garment-wrenching will save you from it. So simply put, make the decision, break that institutional inertia, and then make course corrections as necessary afterwards in order to achieve your end goals.

Why Is STEM Education So Boring?

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve received the response of  “That’s cool; I’d be an engineer too if it weren’t for all of the science[math/drudgery/chemistry/fill in the blank],” I’d probably be driving a brand, spankin’ new Lamborghini Aventador with all of the trimmings. But usually all I get are excuses about why somebody would rather cover up the harsh truth than just admit that they weren’t passionate about science in order to pursue an education or career in it. But I do agree on one point and one point only: Unless you’re a huge nerd (I’m only a moderately-sized one), science can be a bit boring and dry. This is why I’ve always been a fan of people like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan, and Richard Feynman. These men had the ability (Dr. Tyson still does) to encapsulate the wonderment and awe that accompanies the pursuit of scientific discovery. Professor Tyson does an exceptional job in this video:

It’s that sense of grandeur that propels those of us who consider ourselves scientists and engineers and mathematicians to continue to explore the world and universe around us. It’s the same feeling that I get when I take things apart just to see how they work. The same feeling that I feel when I look up at the night sky, while far out to sea, and gaze upon the might Milky Way.

If we could but impart this same feeling to each and every one of our children, we’d create so much more interest in STEM education.

The Fire of a Thousand Suns

A sailor is sprayed in the face with liquid fire.
This is how it begins.

Back in April, I had to undergo an armed sentry course in order to be qualified to carry a weapon while on duty. I was also taught how to properly use the collapsible baton and OC spray. In order to be certified on the use of each, I needed to pass through the trial by fire that is being sprayed in the face with OC spray.

Now, in order to understand just how bad this is you must first understand what exactly OC spray is. “OC” stands for “Oleoresin Capsicum,” which is an oily resin derived from the fruit of hot peppers and chilis. In other words, this is what is commonly referred to as pepper spray, the same stuff that the police use in order to quell riots, brawls, lawlessness, and general ruckuses. This spray contains a high concentration of capsaicin, the chemical that makes spicy foods muy caliente. Because of that, it makes an excellent less-than-lethal weapon to be used in crowd control, subduing a violently resistant bad guy, and generally getting people to do what you want them to do. And now dear reader, you may ask “Well, just how does it do that?”

Continue reading “The Fire of a Thousand Suns”

The New Grand Old Party

We Republicans stand at a cross roads: We can choose to change and each faction of the party can compromise some of their views and we can unite or we can go the same way as the Whig Party did before. There’s just no other way to go. The Democrats have moved ahead of us in diversifying their base and grabbing a larger chunk of the American populace as their loyal voters; namely the black, Latino, and women’s rights votes. By many, Republicans are seen as old, decrepit, backers of big business and out of touch with the needs and struggles of the majority of average America.

But it wasn’t always like this. The Republican Party used to be the party of intelligent progressivism. We used to be the party that moved America forward. My personal hero, Theodore Roosevelt, was a staunch Republican who battled for such things as anti-trust legislation, equal rights for all Americans, and liberty. Many other prominent Republicans supported similar legislation and policies such as Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. Our party is built upon the ideals of personal responsibility balanced by a government which keeps its nose out of the personal affairs of the people.

Meghan McCain recently published an opinion piece along these same lines. In it she says the same things I’ve been thinking for years chief amongst which is that we’ve decided to follow the Religious Right and Social Conservatives so far down the rabbit hole that we’ve delude ourselves into thinking we can legislate people’s morality. It’s hurt us, as evidenced by the last two presidential elections. We focus on issues like abortion and gay marriage when we should really be fighting the increasing burden of debt that represents a serious national security threat to this nation. We must hone our message around the base of a sane fiscal policy, a strong national defense, and a dedication to the idea that every American should have an equal opportunity for success and should be left to do as they please so long as they don’t violate the rights of other Americans. These are the principles that made America and the GOP strong. They will again in the future only if we speak out in favor of them.

We need a return to the traditional role of the Republican Party as the party that moves America forward and not the party calling for a return to the Dark Ages.

Saying Farewell To A Hero

The Flag is folded over the cremains of Neil Armstrong
The Flag is folded over the cremains of Neil Armstrong

I’ve written about the US Space Program before on this blog, and having worked in support of it, I’m very passionate about our exploration of the final frontier. Therefore it should come as no surprise that one of my personal heroes was Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on an alien world. Armstrong was an outstanding leader, an amazingly-talented pilot, and a humble man who accomplished extraordinary feats. He also valued his privacy and kept his professional and personal life separated.

As for me, I’ve admired Neil Armstrong since I was a young boy and learned that man had landed on the moon. I  was instantly captivated by his feats and those of his colleagues. I wanted to be like him, and had it not been for Neil Armstrong, I would never have slogged through the four years of toil that it took to earn my engineering degree. Had it not been for him, I would not have chosen to join the Navy, instead following in the footsteps of my Uncle and Grandfather into the United States Air Force. But by my logic, if the Navy produced talented aviators like Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, and Gene Cernan, then by God that’s where I wanted to learn how to fly.

And so the news a few months ago that Armstrong had passed away struck me terribly hard. But I felt an unusual sense of kinship when I learned of his request to be buried at sea. While a Naval Aviator serving in Korea, he had developed a love of the ocean, something I can certainly sympathize with. I too have come to love the sea with all of her mystery and her tempestuous nature. It was his final wish for his earthly remains to be committed to the deep and so a ship was chosen for the solemn duty of carrying him to sea one last time.

In a strange bit of kismet, the ship chosen happened to be the USS Philippine Sea stationed in the same place as I. The Norns didn’t stop there, weaving our paths to cross one final time. As I was participating in our morning physical training, I suddenly heard the whistle blasts  calling all hands topside to attention on all of the ships throughout the basin. Scant minutes later, I spied the Phil Sea, as she made her way towards to the breakers, her crew manning the rails dressed in their whites. I instantly realized what was happening and I stopped mid-stride. I came to the position of attention and stood stock-still as I watched my hero make way towards his final resting place. The cruiser soon passed and the whistle signal to carry on with assigned duties was blown and I returned to my run a bit older than I had been before.

Longfellow Friday

As I did last week, here is more of The Saga of King Olaf by Longfellow. I’ve taken it from this website, in case you’re a curious soul.

The Musician’s Tale; The Saga of King Olaf

Part II: King Olaf’s Return

And King Olaf heard the cry,
Saw the red light in the sky,
Laid his hand upon his sword,
As he leaned upon the railing,
And his ships went sailing, sailing
Northward into Drontheim fiord.

There he stood as one who dreamed;
And the red light glanced and gleamed
On the armor that he wore;
And he shouted, as the rifted
Streamers o’er him shook and shifted,
“I accept thy challenge, Thor!”

To avenge his father slain,
And reconquer realm and reign,
Came the youthful Olaf home,
Through the midnight sailing, sailing,
Listening to the wild wind’s wailing,
And the dashing of the foam.

To his thoughts the sacred name
Of his mother Astrid came,
And the tale she oft had told
Of her flight by secret passes
Through the mountains and morasses,
To the home of Hakon old.

Then strange memories crowded back
Of Queen Gunhild’s wrath and wrack,
And a hurried flight by sea;
Of grim Vikings, and the rapture
Of the sea-fight, and the capture,
And the life of slavery.

How a stranger watched his face
In the Esthonian market-place,
Scanned his features one by one,
Saying, “We should know each other;
I am Sigurd, Astrid’s brother,
Thou art Olaf, Astrid’s son!”

Then as Queen Allogia’s page,
Old in honors, young in age,
Chief of all her men-at-arms;
Till vague whispers, and mysterious,
Reached King Valdemar, the imperious,
Filling him with strange alarms.

Then his cruisings o’er the seas,
Westward to the Hebrides,
And to Scilly’s rocky shore;
And the hermit’s cavern dismal,
Christ’s great name and rites baptismal
In the ocean’s rush and roar.

All these thoughts of love and strife
Glimmered through his lurid life,
As the stars’ intenser light
Through the red flames o’er him trailing,
As his ships went sailing, sailing,
Northward in the summer night.

Trained for either camp or court,
Skilful in each manly sport,
Young and beautiful and tall;
Art of warfare, craft of chases,
Swimming, skating, snow-shoe races,
Excellent alike in all.

When at sea, with all his rowers,
He along the bending oars
Outside of his ship could run.
He the Smalsor Horn ascended,
And his shining shield suspended
On its summit, like a sun.

On the ship-rails he could stand,
Wield his sword with either hand,
And at once two javelins throw;
At all feasts where ale was strongest
Sat the merry monarch longest,
First to come and last to go.

Norway never yet had seen
One so beautiful of mien,
One so royal in attire,
When in arms completely furnished,
Harness gold-inlaid and burnished,
Mantle like a flame of fire.

Thus came Olaf to his own,
When upon the night-wind blown
Passed that cry along the shore;
And he answered, while the rifted
Streamers o’er him shook and shifted,
“I accept thy challenge, Thor!”

I Like Cars

I’m a car guy. There, I said it, and I feel so much better now that that skeleton is out of my closet. You see, there’s something intoxicating about driving a car for me. I love the feeling of hitting an apex just right and accelerating out of the corner, and the thrill of slamming the pedal all the way to the deck is one of those things that just has no substitute. I love the way you can feel a car dance on the edge of its grip, teetering, on the verge of letting go, and only your skill as the driver keeps it on the tarmac.

So yes, I love cars, and I love well set-up cars like BMWs, Audis, Subaru WRXs, Mitsubishi Evos, and so on and so forth. There’s just a joy that a car with a well-sorted chasis and a responsive throttle and transmission can provide. It’s why I love my Lexus IS250, and why I’ve loved every Bimmer that I’ve driven, and why I continue to lust after the BMW M3 and Ferrari 458.

So, after seeing one of BMWs newest commercials during my wanderings on teh intarwebz, it really resonated with me. Deep down inside I’m still a big, giant 8 year old who dreams about driving a fast car at the very limits of its design. I share said commercial with you below:

Things I Find Difficult Whilst Writing

As many of you may have figured out by now, I enjoy writing. It wasn’t always so. In my younger years, I used to despise it, viewing the act as nothing but a chore to be muddled through. Somehow, during all of my obstinance and procrastinating, I actually became a decent writer, or at least my teachers thought so. In fact, my English teacher in my junior year in high school fought tooth and nail with me to try and convince me to write. I could have cared less then, my focus being on playing football and trying to look cool for all of the girls in my class. But Mrs. S insisted, even dragging me to a writers’ retreat on the shores of Lake Arrowhead run by UCLA. This wasn’t all bad, though, as I got to spend a few nights hot-tubbing with some rather attractive young lasses from other schools. The retreat did give me an opportunity to actually focus on writing and in the process I really learned to like the practice, the ability to ability to put my creative energies to some use being a catharsis of sorts. But I’d never admit that anyone, my own pigheaded stubbornness and ego being far more important than my need to create. I did start a blog, though, excusing it away as a playground to practice my HTML coding skills in, still refusing to admit that I did in fact like to write. I really didn’t fool anyone, but pride cometh before the fall.

After many years of fighting it, I’ve finally given in and have maintained my current blog as time has allowed, and have even begun the adventure of writing a novel all my own. Over the course of writing I’ve run into a few areas of difficulty that have impended the creative process. For the sake of my own sanity, and perhaps that of other writers, I’ll share them below:

  • It is insanely difficult to write dialogue that reads and or sounds real and not forced. In order to do it effectively, you need to write it how you would speak it. Include the guttural sounds and peculiarities of accent if need be.
  • My tendency to be a perfectionist causes me far more headaches than it needs to. At times I find myself typing out whole paragraphs, reading them back, and then deleting them wholesale because I don’t like how they read or they don’t express the idea I’m trying to convey as precisely as I would like.
  • Finding the right word I need is difficult sometimes. Dictionaries and thesauri come in handy.
  • Conveying space and the layouts of different settings can be troublesome without becoming boring. I’m still working on this.
  • Characters and events are far more interesting when the small peculiarities and ideosyncracies are included. It requires attention to detail, but can make or break you as far as making the reader feel immersed.
  • On the flipside of the above, don’t include so much detail as to overwhelm the reader.

All in all, turning the thoughts in my head into coherent sentences can be a difficult process at times and the only thing that makes it easier is practice and the continuance of forcing myself to sit and write.

What You Think You Will Become

I’m a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger. I always have been, and as I’ve grown older and more involved in politics and fitness, I’ve only come tor respect him and his ideas more and more. Yes, I know that recent extra-marital scandal was a large disappointment, but great men have their failings just like ordinary men.

An old adage from the Gautama Buddha is that everything that we are stems from our thoughts, and thus our success, our evil, our goodness, and our love all rests in our minds and the thoughts that guide our actions. But what does this have to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger, you ask? You see, Ahnuld has long held and expounded upon the belief that the difference between the truly successful and the average person is how they approach the world and their thoughts towards the future. In a rather famous speech of his, Schwarzenegger made the argument that in order to be truly successful, you must create in your mind a palpable vision of who and what you want to be in the future. Only then can you create a course of action to achieve that vision.

He couldn’t be any more correct. Vision is one of the things that separates the greatest amongst us from the rest of the crowd. The many men and women who are remembered in the annuls of history all cultivated a vision for the future and then executed a plan in order to attain that vision. Theodore Roosevelt had a vision of building a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans so that the US Navy could more easily and safely navigate ships between either ocean, thereby increasing combat effectiveness. Napoleon Bonaparte had a vision of conquering Europe and sitting upon the throne as emperor as the many Caesars before him had. Both men had visions that they tirelessly strove towards, each step generating momentum that would carry them to their end goal.

And that is the lesson herewith: That in order to lead successfully or to reach the heights of achievement you must know where you want to go (your vision) and then draw a map of how to get their (your plan), and then work tirelessly in order to reach that goal. But none of this is a secret, anyone who has ever achieved success in their life could tell you the same thing; the real secret is that anybody is capable of this. It’s what has made America the greatest country in the world, and continues to do so.

The Tao of Life at Sea

A few weeks ago I returned to Naval Station Homeport aboard the USS First Ship, the finest frigate in the fleet, completing my first deployment abroad in defense of hearth and homeland. I literally left on the eve of my 24th birthday and returned a changed man.

Life at sea is completely different from anything I had experienced prior. It’s truly something special, holding its own secrets and mysteries to be unlocked through ancient practices and long midnight watches spent wooing the sea. And truly, the ocean is a lady; no other creature could be as temperamental and loving.

Now that’s all something you’ve heard before, dear reader, repeated to the point of delirium by old, crusty mariners as they slug back their gutrot rum and swap lies. Even I failed to appreciate it until I found myself on the starboard bridge-wing, alone save for my fellow watchstanders inside the pilothouse and the rest of the crew below, soundly asleep or wishing to be. As I stood there sipping my coffee and staring at the twinkling lights of the Algerian coast on the horizon it finally struck just how unique the experience was.

There’s a sense of calm in a moment like that. It to balance out the excitement one feels as the ship rocks and rolls in heavy seas on a pitch-black night and all you can do is watch as the inclinometer approaches the magic angle of dangle at which the superstructure is designed to tear away from the hull, saving the ship, and sending everyone on the bridge to the briny deep.

But the sea is temperamental and she balances every high with a low and for every moment of terror she rewards those brave enough to face her storms and swells with days of placid steaming with water so clear that you can nearly make out the sandy bottom. And like a schoolteacher, the sea seeks out men and cultivates a special relationship; bringing them to her and separating the wheat from the chaff. The coastlines of the Atlantic are a testament to the men who were found wanting.

She’s a harsh mistress, but I’d have it no other way.

Misadventure on the Pedlar, Part Uno

This is a story of the best beer I’ve ever had. Like most of my stories, it involves me thinking I was invincible and can withstand anything life throws at me. As is the usual case, I was reminded exactly where the limits of my mortality actually exist.

This particular story takes place on the Pedlar River nestled within George Washington National Forest. GW National Forest is itself settled in amongst the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western Virginia, about an hour or so from Lexington. Every Spring, the Corps of Cadets runs an exercise designed to test the 4th Classmen on their fieldcraft, namely skills such as land navigation, shelter building, and wilderness survival. The exercise covers a roughly twenty mile course of arduous terrain in some of the most beautiful country Virginia has to offer.

I participated in the aptly-named 4th Class FTX (Field Training Exercise) each year of my cadetship. It was a wonderful way to break up the monotony of the Institute Experience and also recharge my batteries by getting away from the hustling weariness of modern life. Unfortunately, George Washington National Forest tried to kill me every single year.

Continue reading “Misadventure on the Pedlar, Part Uno”