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Posts Tagged ‘Backpacking Cascade Mountains’

Election Day

Image by elycefeliz via Flickr

Thank goodness it is over: mid-term elections. The day following elections, November 3rd, is almost as bad as the days leading up to Election Day on November 2nd.  The whole day is taken up with pundits and analysts telling us what the election results mean; as if we are too ignorant to figure that out ourselves and need someone to tell us.  Of course, even the analysis is driven by political views.  So, none of it is hardly objective – from the left, right or center.

At least for a short period of time, about 18 months, we will not have to listen to the ads, get phone calls from pollsters, and be visually assaulted by placards along our streets and highways. It is not that I am against the American political process.  Far from it!  We are privileged to be citizens of a country that can change political authorities without a coupe or revolution that causes death and destruction.  Few nations in the world can do this.

I am just tired of the mean-spirited, misleading and meaningless droning that has taken over any real civil dialogue that will result in really solving problems. Much of today’s political proclamation reminds me of a poster I saw one time for a revival meeting taking place at a conservative Baptist church in our neighborhood.  In bold-letters across the top is declared, “Come hear preaching against!”  And then it went on to list all of the ills of our society: smoking, drinking, gambling, movies, television, dancing, illegal drugs, swearing, etc.  The whole poster was filled with issues that listeners could go and hear preached against.

It struck me in the weeks leading up to the elections that this was pretty much all I was hearing in the debates. Propaganda I received in the mail never espoused what a candidate was for and any solutions the candidate was offering to solve our state or federal problems.  They all consisted of what a political action committee (PAC) or sponsor for an opposing candidate was against.  How helpful.

I was taught years ago that any unskilled moron can tear apart a barn. However, it takes a skilled craftsman and someone who really knows what they are doing to build one.  It would appear to me that we have more than enough people who can identify the problem and tear apart what has already been attempted.  What we are really lacking is enough people who can come together to build something that will benefit everyone and last more than one election cycle.

All of this has got me to thinking about politics that really matter. It has been a “hobby-horse” of mine for years now, but this past election cycle has only solidified my opinion regarding American politics.  It is simply this: The only politics that really matter are the politics you and I practice everyday.  Let me explain, please.

The most basic definition of the word “politics” is offered to us by the Merriam-Webster as “the art or science of government. Now, before you rush head-long into thinking that the word “government” has only to do with our large scale federal and state governments, think again.  Our early American Founders understood first and foremost that governance, or government, was first and foremost a personal matter.  It concerns how one governs his or her own affairs: home, land, finances, relationships, etc.  Thus government, properly practiced, starts within one’s own home.

Unfortunately, it seems that as a society as a whole we have lost touched with this reality. We focus on macro-politics, when our most important contributions are on the micro-political level.  The American electorate gets all worked up over what party is in power, what national issues are screaming for our attention, and who has most recently offended our political sensibilities.  Meanwhile, the everyday things we could do to govern ourselves and our own circle of influence goes unmet.

Glacier On Mt. Daniels, Washington State, September 2010

Glacier On Mt. Daniels, Washington State, September 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

For example, the political debate over health care is a major issue on the national scale. Yet, how many of us really practice responsible self-government in the way we eat and exercise?  All of us contribute to the rise of health care costs when we let obesity and a sedentary lifestyle send us to the doctor for expensive medical procedures and then expect our insurance companies to pay for it (which is paid for by the rest of us contributing to the system, by the way).

Many conservative and religious American voters vow to only vote for pro-life candidates. However, how many of them actually help the governance of their local pregnancy centers by volunteering time or donating money?  It is useless, let alone hypocritical, to vote for state or national pro-life candidates if one is unwilling to act locally to help those with unplanned or unwanted pregnancies.  Personal politics demands that I practice in self-governance that which I vote for on my election ballot.

In other words, what we demand on the larger scale of the political arena, let us practice on the political scale that really matters: personal politics and self-governance. By making a difference in our own towns, cities, neighborhoods, local schools, food banks, rehab centers, social agencies and volunteer organizations, our culture is changed at the micro-level.  This change will be reflected at the macro-level as those within our communities and raised on our values are elevated to larger or macro levels of political responsibility.

The politics that matter start on the personal level. If we cannot self-govern, then what makes us think that anyone we elect will be able to govern for us?  This is only a cop-out.  Instead of taking personal responsibility to choose and to act, we want those in government to tell us what to do so that we can blame them when it does not work out.  It gives us an excuse to “Vote the bums out!”  It is time for every American to take a personal vote.  If you were “president” of you, would you re-elect yourself?  If the answer is no, it is time for some soul-searching.

The reality is what we all know too clearly. There is no administration or elected official that is going to bring solutions to all of our problems.  It is up to each of us to practice politics that matter, which is the science and art of governance.  Let’s start with self-governance and go from there.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Extended backpack trips can pose a health risk. But not for the reasons you may think.  For example, more people suffer episodes of diarrhea while camping from soap or improperly prepared food than from dirty dishes.  That’s right.  Poorly rinsed dishes that do not get off all of the soap cause more sickness than dirty dishes.

One is better off just washing with plain water – cold or hot – than trying to use soap. Plus, it is more environmentally friendly.  Need extra scrubbing power?  Find some sand.  Use a knife edge to scrape.  Whatever you do, skip the soap unless you can rinse sufficiently with hot water because only hot water removes the soap.

As to poorly prepared food, well, you’re on your own there. My problem is usually over cooked food.  Camp cooking for my part can resemble more of some kind of pagan burnt offering sacrifice to the gods than actual cooking.  This is one reason I have embraced the easy to prepare freeze-dried meals most backpackers now use.  The hardest part of preparing these meals is lighting the camp stove to boil water.

Aside from those two things, a backpacker is relatively safe when it comes to hygienic issues. One discovers that after traversing miles of trail up the sides of mountains that even a hunk of cheese or summer sausage with his buddy’s fingerprints on it are easily overlooked.  A dropped piece of fruit or granola bar on the ground merely bears the hassle of having to blow it off before popping it the mouth.  Floaties in that drink?  Unless they are squirming, just chalk it up to more fiber or protein in the diet.  The majority of the world includes plants and insects anyway.  So, go global!

The toughest part may be keeping personal hygiene issues at bay. Dirt and smell are just a part of the experience I figure.  This is particularly true when the trail has been muddy.  Aside from the sweat the workout produces, the dirt and mud can get everywhere.  What does one do?

Of course, there is always the nearby stream or lake. A simple washing and rinsing of face, hand and feet (preferably in that order) is usually sufficient.  It can even be invigorating in alpine lake and streams where the water is only a short distance from the glacier that produced it.

Then, there are backpackers like my buddy, Dan Tourangeau. They are sophisticated enough to carry prettily packaged personal wipes.  For those unfamiliar with these, they were first produced as baby wipes.  These handy towelettes could be used in a moments notice when changing a diaper or cleaning up after a meal.

One day, someone must have realized that they were good for adults too. They are now everywhere.  People carry them in purses, school backpacks, office drawers and in cars.  They substitute for the lack of a bathroom’s wash basin.  The varieties are endless: aloe, anti-bacterial, with scents, without scents, exfoliating.

Now it appears to have entered the world of backpacking. My buddy, Dan, had a few packages.  I admit they were pretty convenient to use before meals or after a trip into the woods “to talk to a man about a horse.”   They must now be a very important commodity to have since Dan has his pack weighed to the ounces.  He does not want to have to carry more than he has to up a mountain.  Who can blame him?  So, for him to pack those in and then pack those out, they must be a necessity.

The last night of our five day/four night trip, Dan decided to practice a little backwoods hygiene with his fancy personal wipes. I was tucked in my sleeping bag in my own tent and starting to fall to sleep when I was dragged from dreamland to reality.

GACK!”  The sound coming from Dan’s tent sounded like he was asphyxiating.

Are you alright,” I asked.  I was truly concerned for his safety as equally as I was about having to pack him out if something should happen to him.

Yeah,” he reassured me.  “I’m just trying to clean my feet with these personal wipes but I can hardly stand the smell of my own feet!”  After a few moments, there was another loud, “GAAAAA!

I chuckled.  “Why are you cleaning your feet now?  We’re packing out in the morning.”

He explained, “I was tired of my dirty feet and thought I would clean them.  But now I’m wondering if that was such a good idea.  Good grief I’m stinky!

Why are you doing that in your tent,” I asked.  “Being in a confined space only makes it worse.”

I didn’t think of that,” said Dan.  Another few moments passed and then, “AACK!  I think I’m going to throw-up!  I don’t think I’ve ever smelled so bad!

I laughed out loud.  “Well, good luck with that.  I’m sure you’ll feel better once you’re done.”

I don’t know if I will survive it.  I mean, this is really bad!

Well,” I offered, “better thee than me.”  And with that I rolled over and settled back into my sleeping bag.  I was exhausted from that days hike up to Robin Lake and back.  It seems, however, that sleep would have to wait a little longer.  After just a couple minutes of the sounds of night birds and crickets…

GAAA!!” shouted Dan.

Now what?” I asked.

I know that this is TMI (Too Much Information), but I decided to clean my privates because I smelled so bad.  I think the wipes only made the smell worse!

You’re right,” I offered.  “That is TMI.  Unbelievable.”

I think I’m going to pass out it’s so bad!” Dan protested.

Do you have your tent flap open?” I inquired.

No!  That’s a good idea.”  Next, I heard the zipper of Dan’s tent flap.  “Whew!  That’s a little better.”  A few moments passed before I heard in the dark, “Man!  I don’t know why I stink so bad.  I don’t usually ever smell this bad.”

According to who?” I quipped.

I mean it.  The smell is nauseating,” said Dan.  “It got worse after washing my butt!

Good grief!” I exclaimed.  “Some things should not be disturbed on an extended backpack trip until one gets to a shower.  Unbelievable!

I think you’re right,” Dan laughed.

I’m going to give you the Bible name, Lazarus, so that every time I see you I can say, ‘Surely, Lord, he stinketh!‘” I joked.

Should I go around shouting, ‘Unclean!  Unclean!’?” Dan joked back.

We both laughed out loud.  You have to love camp humor.

Hey,” a thought suddenly came to me.  “Make sure you put those wipes outside the tent.  If they’re that bad they’ll scare off any wild life that comes around in the middle of the night.”

Good idea,” said Dan.  After a few moments of silence, I heard, “Where’s my clean socks?  I know that I had another pair somewhere.  I can’t find them.”

Maybe you’ll find them better in the morning when you have better light,” I offered.

Yeah.  Maybe.  Man, this is baaaaaad!” Dan commented.

Well, I’m certainly glad you have your own tent.”

Fall Colors in Alpine Meadow, Granite Mountain, September 2010

Fall Colors in Alpine Meadow, Granite Mountain, September 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Soon, Dan quieted down and I drifted off to sleep.  I slept hard and woke the next morning to the sun peaking through the trees and making sun blotches on my tent.  It looked like it was going to be another fine day.  We had misty, rainy weather packing in, so it will be nice having a sunny day to make our way out and back to the car.

I unzipped the flap to my tent and reached for my boots sitting just outside it under the rain-fly vestibule. I slipped my boots on without tying them, unzipped the rain fly and pushed myself up and out of the tent’s door.  My stiff legs took a moment to adjust to my weight.  I looked around.  Dan wasn’t up yet.

I went and watered a tree and then climbed atop a rock that overlooked the lake and looked toward the morning sunrise. Yep.  It was going to be a beautiful day.  There was a part of me that was wishing we had a few more days.  I sighed and headed down my rocky perch back to our campsite.

As I approached our tents, I noticed the dozen or so towelettes scattered on the ground in front of Dan’s tent. I remembered with a smile the events of the evening before.  Suddenly, there was movement in the tent, the zipper to the tent door began to move around by an unseen hand, and Dan poked his head out.

Good morning!”  I greeted him.  “It’s going to be a beautiful day to hike out.”

Morning,” Dan mumbled.  He gingerly raised himself up out of his tent, eyeing the sanitary wipes on the ground and careful not to disturb them.

I suppose those will have to be packed out,” he mused.

Yeah,” I answered.

You don’t think you’d mind doing me a favor,” he grinned and looked at me.

Oh, no,” I protested.  “Those are bio-hazards.  You’re responsible for packing out your own garbage.  I’d find a zip-lock bag and put them in there.”

Good idea.”

We made our last breakfasts.  Ate them in our leisure and then packed up camp.  Dan found an old freeze-dried meal pouch and put the wipes in there and sealed it good.

I was dirty, sweaty and looking forward to a shower and shave when I got home. I’m sure I had my own unique scent.  But when one has been out in nature longer than a couple of days, I figure it is better to embrace it than fight it.  After all, humankind has lived and survived in the wilderness longer than it has in modern civilization with all of its cleanliness rules.  Civilization just teaches us to hide the dirt.

Dan appeared and smelled cleaner perhaps, but he was still carrying it; albeit in a zippered pouch buried in his backpack. Me?  I was proudly wearing my dirt until I re-entered civilization where my wife and children would have nothing to do with me until I cleaned up.  I’m thinking my way is much safer.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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This past backpacking trip up around Granite Mountain revealed not only how old I am getting, but also how old my equipment is getting on in years.  My legs did not handle the steep climbs like they once did in bygone days.  The second day of my trip entailed about 10+ miles and 3,000 feet in elevation.  I could barely walk the next morning.  It took a while to work out the soreness and return to a normal gate.  One that did not look like I was wearing leg braces anyway.

I discovered that some of my gear was beginning to show its years. The frameless, lightweight backpack I intended on taking had several broken snaps, buckles and belts.  I ended up feeding it to the dumpster.  It was not even worth donating to Goodwill.  My Coleman Peak-1 stove is close to 30 years old and, while it runs like new, it is definitely getting heavier as I’m getting along in years.  Some of my carry-bags had tears and holes, my hiking boots that I got over a decade ago are well ventilated; perhaps too well ventilated when the hiking trip is a wet one like this last one.  Oh well, it is all a part of “roughing it”, right?

My hiking buddy, Dan Tourangeau, on the other hand has kept up on all the newest gear. He’s got all the newest light-weight gear, which is becoming more important with our age.  He also has a lead on me in years by more than a decade.  So, I feel I must allow him such creaturely comforts.  Someday, I’ll be there too.  Hopefully with light-weight gear too.

I must admit a bit of enviousness at my buddy’s gear. He does travel in style.  While we were heading into Hyas Lake above Rosalyn, Washington, we ran into a young family packing out.  Dad had a very heavy and laden pack while carrying an infant in a frontal carrier.  A little girl of about 4 or 5 walked along with her mother who sported her own pack.  They looked like they had had a good time and were heading out of the woods to return home.

Tuck Lake, Washington, September 2010

Tuck Lake, Washington, September 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

At first, we stepped aside for the young family to pass by. But then Dan, who does not know a stranger, noticed the young mother’s backpack and exclaimed, “Hey, we’re twins!

Not understanding what he was referring to, she gave my buddy a worried side-ways glance.

Wanting to reassure her, Dan explained, “We have the same backpack!

A look of relief swept over the young woman’s face and she looked over at her husband.  Forgotten by Dan was the fact that his backpack was completely covered by a pack cover to keep the rain off.  I tried to point that out to him and moved to lift the side of it.

Dan, you’re pack is covered,” I explained.

Oh, that’s right,” he offered to the woman.  “I guess it would help if you could see my backpack.”

We all chuckled at his gaff.  The woman recognized the color of the backpack and said, “It looks like we do have the same backpack.”

At this, her husband then interjected, “That means you have a woman’s backpack.

Dan looked up at him.  “Huh?!

The husband explained, “Well, it looks like you have the Venus backpack.  Those are made for woman.  The Mars backpacks are the ones made for men.”

At this point I was thinking to myself that I have obviously not been shopping for gear for a very, very long time if they now have backpacks that go with the book, “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.”  I have obviously been out of the loop!

Dan attempted to dismiss the idea that he had a backpack made for women.  “How come the guy in the store fitting me for it never said anything!?

Then Dan countered with a bit of humor, “That’s OK.  My masculinity is still intact.  I am alright with a woman’s backpack,” he asserted.

The husband came back by stating, “Well, they are slightly shaped different because a woman’s back is not shaped the same as a man.  Maybe the woman’s form just fit you better.”

I smiled a huge grin and looked over at Dan.  Obviously the husband of this young family had a great sense of humor.  I was liking him.  Dan looked a little deflated but was not to be undone by the encounter.

That’s alright,” Dan continued.  “I’m in touch with my feminine side.  I can handle it.  It doesn’t bother me at all.”

Good grief,” I inserted.  “Unbelievable…”

We all were chuckling and started to say our goodbyes when the young daughter with the mother asked, “What are you guys talking about, Mommy?”

The young mom looked down at her daughter and said, “We’re talking about how that man has the same backpack as Mommy.”  That seemed to answer the girl’s question.  I couldn’t help but let out another snort and chuckle.

Outdoor backpack

Image via Wikipedia

That’s just great, Dan,” I told him.  “You have a woman’s backpack.”

Hey,” Dan defended himself.  “It’s working great for me.  So I can’t complain.

Well,” I said.  “That explains the urge I have had to help you in the rough spots of the trail and over the streams.  I thought it was just because of your age, but here it turns out to be because you have a woman’s backpack.”

I snickered.

Dan was silent.  Yes-sir-ee, having new gear and fancy backpacks sure helps on those long trips up the sides of mountains.  It offers a great deal of comic relief as you work yourself into near catastrophic muscle failure.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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