Friday, April 29, 2011

Bear Attacks in Canada

This is just what I needed to read about with 50 days to go before the Alaskapade begins.


Bear Attack in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

These are pictures of an actual polar bear attack.          
The pictures were taken while people watched and could do nothing to stop it.
Reports from the local newspaper say that the victim will make a full recovery.

The photos are below.

















Monday, April 25, 2011

To the Arctic Circle (and Beyond or Back?)

This is it.  Today, I head north on the Dalton highway and into the Arctic Circle.  I'm told that the Circle officially lies about 200 miles north of Fairbanks and that the terrain isn't too bad this time of year for an experienced rider.  I suppose I'll see for myself today, but all I know is I'm so close to my goal I can taste it.  My friend Jeff has been giving me updates from the pump stations along the Trans Alaska Oil Pipeline.  I rained up there yesterday, but stopped last night when I hit Fairbanks.  Jeff advised that I wait it out today and let the sun dry out the roads.  I needed to get the tires I purchased mounted, so I heeded his advice.  With fresh rubber and new brakes, Hester is ready to roll.

Once I get there, I have some decisions to make.  My original goal was to just make it to the Circle monument and place Martin's hat there. Shortly thereafter, I expanded the journey northward and wanted to try to get as far as Deadhorse near Prudhoe Bay. I abandoned that later goal upon reading of horrific road conditions between the Circle and Deadhorse.  Now I'm rethinking the rethinking that I rethought a while back and I think (again) that I want to try to make it to Deadhorse.

I don't imagine I'll ever be up here again, so this is likely the only chance I'll have to truly ride to the top of the world.  I still haven't decided which way I'll turn after my little Arctic Circle arrival celebration. Weather, road conditions, and my general mood will all impact my decision.  If I turn right, the adventure continues and I'll go as far north as I can.  If I turn left, the adventure still continues as I head back home via the Black Hills.  I'll send a satellite check-in message from the Circle when I arrive there.  Since I won't have a means of updating this blog until I get back to civilization, you'll have to check in here and view my GPS status to see if I turn north or south when I leave the Circle.

Watch my status on the map, look for my update alerts, and wish me luck.

Second Amendment Rights & The People's Republic of Canada

This entry will probably rub some people the wrong way.  That said, please know two things:
  1. I am sensitive to your feelings and do not wish to offend you in any way.
  2. #1 is complete crap and I couldn't even type that with a straight face.  My concern over the opinion anyone disagreeing with me might have regarding the topic at hand can be measured in micro give-a-shits.
Actually, I don't intend to offend my friends in Canada. We have plenty of stupid policies down here too.

I've mentioned before that the majority of my nights on this journey will be spent camping in a tent.  I love tent camping and used to be an Olympic caliber camper.  These accommodations are as much a preference as they are a financial necessity, especially given the skyrocketing price of gas and its impact on my Alaskapade budget.  Nevertheless, when I consider the fact that Alaska boasts the highest population of bears and wolves in the United States, I have a legitimate reason to be somewhat concerned for my safety.  I don't go looking for trouble, but anyone whose read any of my stuff knows trouble and stupid situations just seem to find me.  Obviously, I can't get to Alaska without passing through Canada. The Canadian portion is not just a logistical requirement, it's also something I look forward to.  Riding through the Canadian Rockies, Banff, Lake Louise, the Signpost Forest, and the ALCAN are all aspects I am excited to see.  The one aspect I'm not looking forward to is the Canadian requirement that I travel unarmed.

All you left-wing voluntary victims can unroll your eyes now.

I have a squeaky clean past and as such, have passed FBI and local background checks and earned my Concealed Handgun License. Most states have reciprocal carrying agreements with Texas and I'm allowed to drive or ride with personal protection while in them as long as I abide by their specific requirements.  I am not paranoid; I am prepared.  I do not live in fear.  I live with the quiet yet confident knowledge that I am willing and capable of defending myself and those I love should the need arise.  I find it ironic that so many anti-gun people would throw a fit if they learned that the school they send their kids to didn't have fire extinguishers, but wouldn't tolerate that same school allowing its faculty to carry a weapon.  The irony becomes obvious when you ask yourself when the last time a student died in a school fire compared to when a student died because no one was allowed to defend them against an armed assailant.

Wanted for Assault of Clueless
I've been a helpless victim before.  In 1990, I woke up on the side of the freeway in east Texas, my face crispy from my own sun-dried blood and seeing blurry black dots that eventually came into focus as buzzards circling over me as laid on the highway frontage road. I had the living shit beat out of me by three guys who looked like Larry, Daryl, and Daryl because I was unaware of my surroundings.  I have also been on the other side of the fence.   In the years that followed, I took measures to learn to protect myself and those measures paid off when I successfully did so against two assailants in Chicago's O'Hare Airport.  I was arrested on the spot, but was released after witness statements were collected and ultimately exonerated when video surveillance revealed that I was actually the good guy.  In January of 1996, the State of Texas enacted its CHL program and I earned mine in May of that same year.  The way I saw it, I had been getting my head kicked in in martial arts training for the previous five years and if the State was offering me another level of defense, I would be dilatory for not taking it.

Canada offers nothing for handguns and while a rifle strapped to Hester's hip might look cool, it might also draw unwanted attention. I spent weeks researching the Canadian Firearms Center web pages looking for a legal way to carry as I make my way to up Alaska.  Canada classifies all handguns regardless of barrel length as restricted and the ones small enough to reasonably conceal are prohibited altogether. There is a special provision to the law that allows US visitors with licenses issued in the States to carry a pistol after a stack of forms are filled out and temporary license fees paid.  This provision comes with one caveat. The pistol cannot be carried for personal protection, nor for hunting.  So, unless there's a national shooting competition for which the Customs officer can verify I am registered, I'm out of luck. Don't think I didn't consider trying to sneak mine in.  I'm told by other riders who have ridden into Canada that Customs Officers at the smaller points of entry practically disassemble your motorcycle and actually make riders unpack everything for inspection before letting them through.  I know that having Hester impounded and myself tossed in jail on firearms smuggling charges would make one hell of a blog story, but I think I'll pass.

One member on HDForums.com mentioned that he had heard of a Canadian program wherein your handgun is sealed in a tagged container at the Canadian port of entry and allowed to be carried through by the owner.  At the exit border, the tags are verified as legitimate and unbroken and the pistol is unpacked. As unlikely as this seemed, I called around the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Customs offices and asked if such a program did indeed exist.  I received mostly laughter from everyone who answered.  Interestingly enough, I had a few private emails telling me several places along my route where I could buy a pistol from individuals on the street.  I suppose the old saying is true: If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.

I have a workaround though.  I found a Federal Firearms Licensed dealer in Tok who will receive my weapon for me. Tok is the first town I'll reach after I enter Alaska.  I'll ship it from a FFL dealer near my home a week before I depart and it will be waiting for me when I arrive. I found another FFL in Washington and will have my Tok FFL ship it there so I'll have it for my return trip.

It seems not only unfair, but puerile that I have to expend so much energy and money just to exercise my Constitutional right to self defense.  I know, I know.  Canada doesn't care any more about our Constitution than I do about their maple syrup or Celine Dion (the two of which I find equally interesting). Still, it's not like they can't completely check me out in mere seconds while I'm at their station. I read about a rider who was denied entry into Canada because he had a DUI over five years prior and had to seek a Canadian Minister's Approval of Rehabilitation and pay a hefty fee to enter.  I've never had a DUI nor a record of any kind other than a traffic ticket years ago. My point is that with existing INTERPOL networking capabilities, they clearly have the ability to look into the legal records of American citizens whereupon in my case they will see that I have passed an US FBI background check and have been issued a CHL.  Admittedly, that alone will probably incite them to crawl up my butt with a microscope.  Nevertheless, I find it incongruous that as a proven law abiding citizen I must be subjected to the same obligatory victim status to which they subject their own citizens when all I'm trying to do is get to my country's state of Alaska or back to the lower 48.

I'll stop whining now.  A few hours of my time and some cash are minor annoyances compared to the experiences I'll have on this journey. At the very worse, it gave me fodder to vent here. As if I needed that...


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Manopause?

This week, I was asked if taking this journey is just me going through "manopause".  I suppose that's a contemporary slang term for what was once referred to as a man's mid-life crisis.  I looked it up at UrbanDictionary.com and found this:

man·o·pause
noun
\ ma-no-pȯz
A mental condition typically found in men in their mid to late 50's brought on by the realization that old age is just around the corner. Symptoms include: frequent reminiscing about the “good ol’ days”, cranky judgmental attitude and a closed minded approach to anything new. Usually punctuated by the chronic need to play a lot golf and vote republican. The condition is difficult to cure and almost always progresses into oldtimers disease. 

Personally, I don't think that definition comes close to describing me.  First, I'm only 48 and although my hair may be in its mid to late 50s, it's all still there. Nevertheless, I embrace age. I don't think how old you are matters. I think it's how you are old that counts.  I don't believe I'm cranky, but I have been labeled judgmental a time or two.  I don't think I judge people per se.  I simply form resolute opinions based on astute observations. I'm very open-minded and love to try new things. I have no desire to chase a ball across finely manicured lawns and I think they named it golf because all the good four-letter words were already taken. Finally, I never simply vote for a political party. I generally vote for fiscally conservative candidates without regard for their political affiliation.

So why can't a man pursue an adventurous dream without his sanity or commitment to his family being called into question? It's not like this idea just sprang up. I am many things, but spontaneous is not one of them.  I've thought about Alaska for years and over the last six months, have taken a systematic approach preparing myself physically, mentally, financially, and equipment-wise to see it through to fruition. Nevertheless, people see my growing hair and shrinking belly and then look around expecting to see a new Porsche and a twenty-something girlfriend.

I haven't gone off the deep end, nor have I lost my mind.  I have lost the willingness to suppress my goals to the benefit of those who don't share them and for those who possess an irrational sense of entitlement to the time and freedom for which I've worked so hard my entire adult life.  Furthermore, I refuse to act old just because I'm getting old.  I'm chasing a dream. I'm going to Alaska!

"I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.- John Galt/Ayn Rand

I'm trying to apply this mantra to my life, one aspect at a time...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Alaskapade on Twitter

I have been asked by several readers to set up a Twitter account for the Alaskapade updates.  It seems to me that there are already plenty of other ways to keep up with me on the road, but I appreciate the interest.  It was minor effort to set up the Twitter account and I linked my Spot GPS transponder to the account.

So, if you're into the Tweeting scene and you prefer to keep up with Hester and I that way, you can follow me on Twitter under the username @Alaskapade. I don't plan on tweeting directly to the account. The updates will come from the messages sent from My Spot transponder.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Stupid - Part Three

For those of you jumping in without reading the articles in chronological order and wondering what the hell this has to do with the Alaskapade, the next paragraph is a repeat from a previous entry.  Everyone else just skip down.

I was sitting in a client's conference room in the midst of pre-meeting smalltalk when a co-worker brought up the Alaskapade and asked when I was leaving.  One of my clients asked what he was talking about and my co-worker pulled up the Alaskapade.com page on the conference room's projection screen.  We had but moments before the meeting kicked off, so there wasn't much time for me to explain.  There was time, however for my client to express his opinion that "this has to be the stupidist thing [I've] ever done".  My first instinct was to argue the purpose for my trip, but this is my customer and IBM probably wouldn't appreciate that.  So, I just grinned, nodded, and bit my lip as the meeting started.

It did get me thinking though.  I know I'm firmly resolved in my purpose for the trip and I also know that I've done many things more stupid than this.  There are too many to list without starting another blog, so I thought I would describe my top three in no particular order. As promised in a previous post, here is another of the three dumbest things I've ever done. 
 

"Sabotaging" My Senior Prom
"Now you can explain to your mother why you won't be walking across the stage at your graduation commencement this weekend."

This isn't as much stupid as it was just a smart ass prank.  I was a senior in high school and like most seniors, I thought I knew everything and felt like my Teflon reputation would keep me out of trouble.  Reflecting back, this is all pretty trivial when compared to exploding balls and prison camp.  But watching my kids go through high school and seeing them deal with what seemed like end of the world stress reminded me of how at that time in my life, simple high school silliness sometimes seemed like the end of the world for me too.

I graduated in 1981 from Lakeview Centennial High School in Garland, Texas.  LCHS was a brand new school with all the modern conveniences and was considered a model for other schools and districts around the country.  My sisters graduated from South Garland High School and it was expected that I would too.  They were both super star students, cheerleaders, drill team, and ultra-social popular girls.  They were a public school faculty's wet dream.  Me, not so much.

I wasn't a bad kid. I like to think I was just energetic and creative.  In today's diagnostic terms, I was off the charts ADD/HD. Back then, there was no name for it.  Kids like me were just brats.  Whatever the term, in my last year of junior high school I knew one thing; I was not going to go to South Garland and live under my sisters' shadows while trying to measure up to their academic and social successes.  It almost broke my mom's heart, but she understood my motivations.  When LCHS opened, we were the first class to go through from freshmen to seniors.  In fact, the first year, there wasn't even a senior class.  The school was new, the technology was fresh, and the faculty was young and optimistic.  It was the perfect place for me to blaze my own path and pretty much get away with anything along the way.

I as a scrawny kid in high school.  I was 5'-4" and I didn't hit puberty until the summer before my senior year. I was too small (and lazy) for sports and my interests were all technology related. Schools today embrace geeks and offer programs for them to excel.  Back then, we had four primary groups: socials, jocks, ropers, and freaks.  The socials were usually rich, snotty kids who wore Izod shirts, Jordache jeans, and always drove cool new cars.  They seemed to always have extra lunch money and were constantly letting their snotty social friends cut in the cafeteria lunch line. The jocks were often stupid lumps of beefcake who were pushed through the academic system by the coaches because of their athletic prowess.  The ropers all drove old pick-up trucks, dipped snuff, and smelled like the livestock with which they probably lost their virginity.  The freaks had long hair, wore concert t-shirts and torn jeans, and were proud of their stoner reputations.  Many of them would come back from lunch every day with a vapid grin and reeking of pot. Looking back, the freaks were probably the most genuine crowd of all the groups because what you saw is what you got and they really didn't give a damn what anyone thought of them.  The socials pretty much did the same drugs that the freaks did. They just wore nicer clothes and completed their homework.  Nevertheless, I steered clear of the freaks. I didn't judge them; I just didn't want anything to do with them.  My sister was struck down in a crosswalk by a stoned driver the week before her high school graduation.  Her death tortured my mom and I couldn't bear being associated with people who could do such a thing to a family.  So, I never touched pot nor drank in high school. In fact, I've never smoked pot even to this day.

The geeks didn't fit into any group.  In fact, back then we really weren't thought of as geeks.  Dorks is probably a more appropriate term for who we were. I was into model rocketry and computers. The Computer Math class had the latest technology of the time: a Radio Shack TRS-80 computer with a whopping 4k RAM, a 1.7MHz processor, data storage on cassette tapes, and a black and white monitor. I wasted countless hours writing BASIC programs to validate rocket designs and calculate propulsion trajectories...none of which I ever used or validated.

In my sophomore year, I got into photography and it opened up a whole new world for me.  Photography and my affiliation with the school's yearbook and newspaper staff helped me cross over from dorkdom to a somewhat pseudo-social status.  I wasn't popular. In fact, I was still a dork but I had a camera and that made me key to getting the popular kids' pictures into the yearbook and paper.  As such, I got invited to many parties.  I got the last girl, but at least I was there.
Spot the Twin Camera Photo Dork
Our class' faculty sponsor was Mr. Poore.  Tom Poore was a strict, no bullshit, take no prisoners teacher. No one talked in his class and there was no cutting up allowed.  It was a solid hour of American History and amazingly enough, everyone learned in his class.  His reputation as a hard ass preceded him and everyone hated him until they actually had him as a teacher.  That hatred usually faded into respect laced with a dusting of fear.  He was the kind of teacher who made a kid believe that the trivial things that happen in high school could actually end up on some permanent record.  As our class sponsor, Mr. Poore helped us raise money for our senior year activities.  Under his leadership, our class worked through our sophomore, junior, and senior years to earn money for our prom and other senior year events.  We served concessions at Texas Ranger baseball games, worked the midway games at Six Flags, and had countless car washes.  By our senior year's end, we raised over $20,000.  With it, we bought the school a new scoreboard for the gym and paid to finish a monument on the school's front lawn that was started but unfinished by the slackers from the class of 1980.  On top of all that, our senior prom was free to all class members.  This prom was no small affair. We held it at the Grand Ballroom at the new (at that time) Dallas Hyatt Regency Hotel. There were cash giveaways, casino games with prizes, and excellent food. Granted, it was hotel food, but compared to school cafeteria food, this was tasty stuff.  We had a killer DJ named Marshall Argovitz.  You never forget a name like that. For grins, I looked Marshall up while I was writing this and low and behold, he is still a Dallas area events DJ.  Although the name Marshall Argovitz conjures thoughts of someone about as exciting as a model rocketeer computer nerd, he did a great show.  But I digress.  This may have been our prom, but it was Mr. Poor's showcase event to his fellow teachers, the school administrators, and the district executives.  They were all invited and looking back, it seemed like they all showed.  I wasn't aware of this fact or I might not have done what I did.

Well, maybe...

Mr. Poor was a forward thinker.  As a photographer and one of few students he seemed to actually like, he put me in charge of creating a slide show for the prom. This assignment started back in the tenth grade and had me collecting images of my classmates from my sophomore throughout my senior years.  I was the ultimate photo geek. I carried a regular film camera for the paper and yearbook and another camera with slide film for the prom show.  My photographer crowd thought we were infinitely cool and thus labeled ourselves "Camera Commandos".  Everyone else just thought of us as photo dorks. When they would make an announcement for any club to meet for yearbook photos, I would grab my camera and go.  I wasn't shooting the picture, I just wanted to get out of class and a camera was a like an unlimited hall pass.  I managed to appear in many club or group photos my senior year.  I'm convinced that if I had a hair net, I could have been included in the photo of the cafeteria lunch ladies.  My cameras went everywhere I did.  I had photos of car wrecks, a Cessna plane crash near our school, and I shot every official event our school held as well as many unofficial "events" held by the students.   I even captured images of a football coach making out with a senior student at the Dallas Zoo. This guy was body builder with a short man's complex and a total dick to me the year before. He gave me three licks with a paddle in front of the entire varsity football team for something I didn't do. I made a point to walk up to them at the zoo that day and say hi...with both cameras danging from my neck.  We got along really well after that.

One of the unofficial event photos I shot was from a small party I attended.  It was after the Homecoming dance and a bunch of us were going to dinner after.  Our crowd got to the restaurant and our reservations had fallen through. One guy's parents were out of town, so we stopped at a grocery store and bought steaks to grill at his place. Half of one of the couples there was my closest friend who was also a rocket geek. He and I seemed to share a brain and were always together.  An exciting Friday night for us was putting a twist in the belt drive on the record turntable and listening to entire albums backwards hoping to catch hidden subliminal messages. We would do this while building rockets and making prank phone calls.  He and I were super tight but to me, the girl he took to the dance was a complete whiny bitch whose existence the rest of us just tolerated.

This party went as parties did when parents weren't around and after a while, people were coupled off making out wherever space permitted.  My friend and his date were on the couch and I snapped a picture of them.   On the coffee table in front of them were beer cans and a wine bottle or two.  On the couch, perfectly juxtaposed  were he and his date, stretched out with his hand up her fluffy blue formal dress.  You couldn't see his face, but you could see hers clearly.  For all her whiny yelping in the past, she looked pretty happy in this picture.  At the time, no one seemed to notice that I took the pic and I pretty much forgot about it.  I was processing slides and negatives in my darkroom at home (yes, I was King Über-dork with my own color/b&w/slide darkroom) and ran across the image, but it wasn't in my negative strips.  I mistakenly shot the photo with my slide film camera. I probably just saw the shot opportunity and grabbed the first camera body I could reach...since I wasn't grabbing any other body.  I decided to print from the slide and took a copy to my friend at school.  We all had a laugh over it, until she saw it.  Then, it wasn't funny to him anymore.  Bitch.

A year went by.  Spring and the twilight of my senior year had arrived.  I was on track to graduate in the upper 10% of the lower 50% of my class, I was signed up to go into the Air Force in the fall after my graduation, and The Cars' Panorama was a top selling album.  I worked three different part-time jobs to help out at home and keep running money in my pocket, and I was the head photographer on the newspaper and yearbook staff.  I was optimistic about my future and life at eighteen was pretty good.

A few days before the prom, I was reviewing images from the stack of slide carousels that comprised the presentation for which I had been shooting pictures and working over the last three years.  Each slide was choreographed with specific parts of tunes from the era that we selected which included "Don't Stop Believin'", "Super Freak", and "Touch and Go". This was all programed on old school equipment that far preceded today's multimedia platforms.  The Radio Shack TRS-80 computer couldn't handle much more.  The music tracks were on cassette tape along with subsonic cues we manually placed, which would tell the different slide carousels to advance to the next image. The Hyatt gave us three large screens, the center screen of which was giant and the best images would be projected there. During the program, the images would flash from screen to screen, precisely timed with the subsonic cue points I programmed in.  On Friday before the prom, Mr. Poore reviewed the show and gave his blessing to its content.  I took the carousels and projection equipment home with me with plans to go to the Hyatt in the early afternoon the next day and set up for the show.  The Hyatt's audiovisual technician met me and connected everything into the hotel ballroom's P.A. system. We reviewed the show, reset the carousels, and left the ballroom.  After we parted ways, I sneaked back in, removed the retaining ring on the center slide projector, pulled out a random slide, and hurriedly dropped in the slide which I claimed had been destroyed the year before.

I drove home, dressed for the prom, picked up my date Tammy, did the obligatory photos with the moms, and we headed downtown. On the way, I told her what I did.  She laughed out loud and then said "You're dead. Mr. Poore will kill you!"  She too worked on the prom planning and one of her roles was coordinating invitations to the administration members to whom Mr. Poore wanted to kiss up. I sank deeper and deeper into my car seat as she listed them and decided I should try to retrieve the slide before the show.  We arrived at the ballroom and saw that it had been transformed into a wildly decorated scene with casino games, hors d'oeuvres tables, and Marshall Argovitz's lights flashing and music blasting.  I approached the AV table in the center of the room which was now surrounded by red velvet ropes and saw a different hotel AV guy sitting there.  He wouldn't let me get to the equipment saying he was instructed my Mr. Poore to prevent anyone from messing with the content of the show.  I told him I was the guy who produced the show and it got me nowhere.  Crap! I had really outsmarted myself now.  I joined my date and my friends and tried to put it out of my mind.

Mr. Poore found me and introduced me as the producer of a wonderful retrospective of the best times experienced by the best students at LCHS. I can still hear him today. He did this repeatedly to many of his special guests, including the school district Superintendent and his wife. He commented "I hear you've done something special for us tonight". "You could say that..." was all I could come up with.  Mr. Poore was so emphatic that I suspected he had found the slide and was just putting me through the wringer to make me sweat. I was already sweating and I didn't need his help.

As the evening progressed, we danced, we ate, and we acted stupid as seniors do. After a few awards were handed out, the lights dimmed and the slide show started.  The presentation lasted about thirty minutes and kicked off with our school fight song, which now that I think about it is probably a term no longer allowed in public schools these days. The first image was of our school mascot in front of the school in the early morning dawn light.  Other random images slashed from screen to screen.  I made it a point to get shots of everyone I could into the show and groups would yell out when they saw themselves and their friends on the screens.  People cheered the pics of the teachers they liked and boo'd the ones they didn't.  There were silent when Mr. Poore's picture came up.

I kept waiting for the slide to appear and each time a screen filled with another image, I was cautiously relieved. I had dropped the slide into the carousel with such haste that I had no idea where in the presentation it might appear.  I only knew it would be in the center screen; the giant screen.  Everyone was having a great time, laughing at the silly images, some staged, most candid. I was nauseous. I looked around the room for an instant to see where Mr. Poore and his entourage were standing. I wanted to know which side of the room to avoid. Before I turned back to the screen, the entire room erupted in laughter. My stomach wrung itself inside out and I thought to myself, "This is it. I'm dead".  I looked up and was relieved to see an image of a football coach dressed as a cheerleader at pep rally.  Oh yeah...I knew that one would kill.  Whew!

A few minutes later (which seemed like an eternity), I was looking for a place near me to discreetly barf when the crowd erupted again, but this time you would have thought the coach was naked based on the volume of the screams and hoots.

This was it.  I was dead.

There on the giant center screen was my best friend and his whiny dance date.  Unfortunately, she was also his prom date. Oops.  Her shriek rose above all the other yelling and became so shrill a pitch that I was certain only dogs could hear it.  In my early afternoon haste, I had dropped the slide in sideways. But on that large screen, the image and her identity were crystal clear.  For a brief instant, the photo dork in me marveled at the clarity of the image, its depth of field, and its color balance. I could go to my grave (and probably would within the next sixty minutes) knowing I took a really good photo.

The music kept playing and the images on the outer two screens kept changing.  But the image in the center screen just stayed there.  Apparently, I didn't just insert the slide sideways, I also dropped it in cockeyed and it was stuck in the projector. The screen would go dark for an instant as the projector's shutter closed for the next image to drop in from the carousel and then illuminate again with the same picture.  This happened repeatedly and every time the crowd would yell out loud.  The repeating of the image became a bigger joke than the image itself. People were holding up lighters like it was a rock concert in the 70's.  If this were a concert, my death would be analogous to Stevie Ray Vaughan's demise as he died moments after one of his greatest performances too. This went on for a good five minutes while Mr. Poore searched the hotel for the AV guy who had apparently abandoned his post once the show started.  Eventually, the show stopped and the offending slide was removed while everyone boo'd. The presentation started again and everyone settled down.  My stomach however, was about as settled as Fukushima, Japan during the recent earthquakes there.  This was the sentimental part of the show wherein our alma mater played and all the sappy pictures of the students showing their school spirit at pep rallies and football games were shown.  The last image before the credits ran was of our school mascot posed in front of the school in the sunset. It was symbolic of the end of an era - in a very high school way.

When the music faded, everyone was silent.  Almost every eye in the house was teary except for one pair and those were blood red with anger. Mine were tear filled too, but for a different reason than everyone else.  Finally, my picture popped up during the credits and the place erupted again.  People were shouting out my name.  At that instant, it occurred to me that in a few short years, I had moved from  pre-pubescent photo dork, up to pseudo-social, and further up to full-on Ferris Bueller rock star status.  Even the two or three freaks who showed up at the prom thought I was cool.  My introspective status analysis came to a sudden halt when Mr. Poore appeared at the podium, turned and looked at the screen, and then shot a look back at the AV guy who then killed the projector.

You could have heard a moth fart in the silence.  It was as if E.F. Hutton had spoke.  Mr. Poore said nothing. He just walked away.  Marshall cranked up some music and the usual prom activities resumed.  I hung around, danced, and did my best to have fun.  The rest of the evening, I was greeted with encouraging lines like "man, that was cool!", "that was awesome!", "you rock!", etc.  Unfortunately, those words of encouragement were followed by "...Mr. Poore is gonna kill you".

My friend avoided me the for the rest of the night and I went to a different after prom party.  He and the rest of my normal crowd went to a "party" held for him by his parents so they could keep an eye on him.  He was a great kid and is a great guy now, but for some reason his parents never trusted him.  Maybe it was the company he kept.  Nevertheless, it was probably best that we parted ways because at the time, he seemed really pissed.  He later told me that he thought it was as funny as everyone else, but she was sitting next to him and he had to act pissed.  Looking back on those days, I realized how much she meant to him and how much he means to me to this day.  I suppose a better friend would have thought acted differently.  But I did what I did and it seemed funny at the time.  To this day he is one of two or three people on whom I could call anytime day or night and he would be here for me.  He knows I would be there for him too.

Monday came around and when I got to school, people just stared at me as I drove my AMC Hornet into the student parking lot.  I remember holding out hope that because I didn't have any classes with Mr. Poore this semester, I might be able to avoid him. I was still enjoying somewhat of a hero status before school started.  But by the break between first and second period, word was out. It was like one of those movies where the school bully let it be known that he was going to beat someone's ass.  In this case, the bully was Mr. Poore and the ass was mine.  Even my teachers would look at me and just say "wow".  My journalism teacher Ms. Newkirk looked at me, held our her hands as if grasping together,  and just said "big ones".

Never one to back down from confrontation, I decided to take the initiative and go see Mr. Poore rather than have him send for me.  I went by his classroom after lunch before my next class.  I noticed the crowd behind me was swelling and yet growing increasingly quiet.  There were no doors to the classrooms; just open doorways, so it was easy tor them to eavesdrop on the class without being seen.  He was sitting at his desk grading papers; his classroom was bathed in its usual hallowed silence.  I took a deep breath, gulped, approached his desk, and said that I heard he wanted to see me.  He responded without looking up from his papers "I will see you; when I'm ready; on my terms, not yours."  I remember him then sternly pointing to the door in a silent gesture indicating he wanted me out of his sight.  Man, I felt sorry for the students in his next class.  Hell, I felt sorry for myself.

There were only three days of school left.  Maybe I would be off the hook he got distracted, although that was about as likely then as President Obama handing over his birth certificate today. Days passed.  Tuesday, nothing. Wednesday, nothing. By Thursday, I was beginning to consider the possibility that he did forget.  Friday was a school day, but seniors were out.  It was either today or I was off the hook.

I managed to distract myself with the usual end-of-school goofiness. The yearbook was out and people were passing their copies around to be signed by other students. I suppose it was a popularity contest of sorts to see how many scribbles one could get in their yearbook. The super-social airheads would just pass their books around for anyone to molest and I never passed on an opportunity. If it was a girl's yearbook, I would find the creepiest looking dude's photo and next to it write a passage thanking the girl for giving him his first blowjob or some other grotesquely descriptive sex act.  I did the same thing for the guys. It was great to see them or someone else discover it. I could always tell when someone saw a yearbook I wrote in. In an apparent post-prom homage, someone wrote "R.I.P 1981" in my book next to my senior photo.

I was at lunch in the noisy cafeteria and had almost forgotten about it all until student after student came up to me telling me that they just called over the school PA for me to report to the office. I walked into the office which was bustling with year-end activity and the place fell silent.  All of the cute student aids just looked down when they saw me except for one, who just did the finger across the throat slashing motion as I walked by.  The secretary just shook her head and pointed to the offices in the hallway behind her desk.  I knew where to go.  I had been there a few times over the last four years. Mr. Poore was waiting for me in the Vice Principal's (Mr. Coleman) office. I went in and sat down, but was told to stand.  Mr. Poore did all the talking.  He described how my "sabotaging" the prom humiliated him before his peers and his supervision and how I ruined the prom experience for the rest of the class. I thought of the crowd reaction and fought to suppress a grin.  I swear Mr. Coleman fought back a grin too.  I stood silent; motionless, and emotionless.  There was no getting out of this one.  I just wanted to get it over with. Mr. Coleman finally spoke up and said they had carefully considered carefully an appropriate punishment for me.  He flipped through his Rolodex, picked up the phone, dialed, pressed the speaker button, and said  "Now you can explain to your mother why you won't be walking across the stage at your graduation commencement this weekend.  You'll receive a diploma, but you will not be allowed to participate in the commencement."

I only thought I was afraid before. This was going to go over like a fart in a church Baptistery. with my mother.  Mine was a single mom who proudly raised three kids on her own and one key major measure of accomplishment for her was seeing us graduate.  She struggled to pay for my senior photos, the cap and gown, and my graduation invitations, so depriving her of seeing me walk because of something stupid I did was going to hurt me much worse than the paddle ever could.

Mr. Coleman  had called my mom at work, which didn't help my case any.  When she came to the phone, I told her I was in "the office" again. "Do they need permission to paddle you? Because they already have it." was her response. I explained what I did and she started laughing.  I told her they weren't going to let me walk at graduation and her laughter stopped. I think I remember frost forming on the phone's speaker.  If it did, it quickly melted when she started her rant.  Mom was with us kids like a mother bear was with her cubs, but if we were guilty, she was all for us paying a price.  In this case, she thought the price was too high and when she started in, Mr. Coleman picked up the receiver and asked me to step out.  After about ten minutes, they ushered me back in and Mr. Coleman reached for his paddle. 

His paddle was a masterpiece of woodworking craftsmanship with a taped handle and holes drilled throughout the butt impact zone for added sting.  Mr. Poore asked if he could do the honors, but apparently only administrators were allowed to dish out corporal punishment. I was relieved to hear that. I assumed the position and Mr. Coleman asked "How many?" I grinned and answered "One!" to which Mr. Poore replied "He wasn't asking you" as he held up five fingers.  Mr. Coleman let five hard ones fly and set my ass on fire.  I wasn't grinning anymore.  I stood up fighting  back tears.  I tugged my pants from my butt and and shook them as if to rattle out the ashes that had been my underwear as I regained my composure. I reached out and shook Mr. Coleman's hand; Mr. Poore refused, so I turned to leave. I wanted out of there bad.  My parting words were "See you Saturday".  It was a lesson learned well, for about two days. I wore combat boots to the commencement and after receiving my diploma on stage, did a nose dive tumble down the steps as the entire place gasped.
Seniors 1981

I've seen Mr. Poore a few times since then. He fast tracked himself from a teacher to the Principal at my sisters' alma mater South Garland High School.   While there, he helped us coordinate our 10th and 20th class reunions. He even shook my hand.  While writing this, I did some looking around and found that he's still in the Academic world.  In fact, he's wound up at probably the best possible place a guy like him could. Click here to see.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Alaskapade.com Is Up

I'm not ditching Google Blogspot completely because I like their authoring interface.  But I've managed to port my writing over to my own site and since Google AdSense screwed me, I'd rather not send them any traffic.

Nothing changes from the reader's perspective except that you can reach the site the following ways:

www.alaskapade.com
alaskapade.com
or
http://alaskapade.blogspot.com

.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Stupid - Part Two

For those of you jumping in without reading the articles in chronological order and wondering what the hell this has to do with the Alaskapade, the next paragraph is a repeat from a previous entry.


I was sitting in a client's conference room in the midst of pre-meeting smalltalk when a co-worker brought up the Alaskapade and asked when I was leaving.  One of my clients asked what he was talking about and my co-worker pulled up the Alaskapade.com page on the conference room's projection screen.  We had but moments before the meeting kicked off, so there wasn't much time for me to explain.  There was time, however for my client to express his opinion that "this has to be the stupidist thing [I've] ever done".  My first instinct was to argue the purpose for my trip, but this is my customer and IBM probably wouldn't appreciate that.  So, I just grinned, nodded, and bit my lip as the meeting started.

It did get me thinking though.  I know I'm firmly resolved in my purpose for the trip and I also know that I've done many things more stupid than this.  There are too many to list without starting another blog, so I thought I would describe my top three in no particular order.As promised in a previous post, here is another of the three dumbest things I've ever done.


 Shooting My Mouth Off to a Prison Camp Guard

"That - Mr. Wilson - is going to cost you."

Many years ago, I served in the U.S. Air Force. My primary job was an Electronic Warfare Systems Technician and in that capacity, I serviced aircraft-mounted electronic countermeasures (ECM) equipment. The gear's purpose was to jam or deceive enemy radar by altering the apparent location and/or quantity of our aircraft as they flew over threat radar systems. We also maintained radar warning receivers that alerted aircrews to the presence of various ground and air based radar-guided missiles and anti-aircraft artillery. In their day, these systems were on the absolute bleeding edge of microwave and RF signal processing technology and as technicians on them, we were the geekiest of geeks. Training for and working with these systems required serious security clearances beyond what the general public even knew existed.  While I was in basic electronics tech school, I was constantly hearing from friends and even high school teachers back home telling me that strange people in suits with badges showed up at their doorstep asking questions about my background. I was squeaky clean - the Air Force's wet dream, so securing the necessary clearances necessary to move on to the specific equipment was a breeze for me. I also happened to do really well in the school. Classes ran six hours a day, five days a week for 18 months, at the end of which I had carved out a 98% test score average. My point isn't that I'm some smart guy. Hell, I flunked algebra in high school.  I just got the concepts and excelled in the training.  Nevertheless, that average earned me honor grad status and that status offered me my choice of base assignments as well as opportunities to join Special Operations forces.  In one of the few conversations my father and I had regarding my career, he strongly advised (based on his own experiences) that I stay away from any special duties that involved National security or Special Ops.

I couldn't wait to get into National security or Special Ops.

I took an assignment at Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Texas and worked in an ECM shop in the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing's Component Repair Squadron (CRS). Many there claimed ECM stood for "Easy Chair Maintenance" and that CRS stood for "Can't Repair Shit".  To a certain degree, they were correct.  So when I was offered an opportunity to step outside the box and work in field intelligence, I jumped at the chance.  I would work in my shop until notice of an assignment came to me. These notifications usually consisted of temporary duty (TDY) orders with the location blanked out. Then, I would disappear for a few days and no one in my shop or immediate command structure was allowed to ask where I was. It was a perfect racket.

These assignments had ancillary training prerequisites that were not overly technical.  Short classes in Falls Church, VA were common. You can determine the Government agencies there and put two and two together.  Less common were the field survival courses which were usually conducted in remote locations in the pacific northwest. One of these courses was essentially a prison camp experience wherein the trainees were dropped-in to the forest, captured by "enemy forces", interrogated, and subsequently evaluated on our ability to cope and maintain military discipline throughout the induced stress. There was one other tech in my shop who had been to "prison" and he had related his experiences to some of us.  So when my turn came up, I had an idea what to expect.  In fact, I was pretty sure that I had the entire game figured out.  Hell, at 24 years old, I thought I knew everything.

I was fortunate to be scheduled in the summer months when surviving in the forest is easier.  There were six of us from various armed services in my drop group.  When I said "dropped-in", I meant it.  We bailed from the back of a C-130 cargo aircraft and parachuted into the forest.  They didn't just strap a chute to us and push us out the door.  I had been a sport sky diver in years past and had some Air Force training as well.  We could see the camp facility from above during our descent and we knew they could see us parachuting in. We had been told that once we were on the ground we would most certainly be captured immediately and taken to the camp.

Having had some idea of what to expect, I packed peanut butter crackers and a heating bladder of water to live on in case I wasn't immediately apprehended. The course had a finite schedule and I figured every hour I was on the lam was an hour I wouldn't spend in "enemy" hands. I also knew the forest was wired and our location would be known as soon as we started moving.  So when I hit the ground, I buried my chute, dug a hole, covered myself with leaves,and laid there. I wasn't alone.  I discreetly shared my sustenance stash with an Army soldier before we jumped. We shared a warped sense of humor and clicked in the hours prior to our flight departure. Beyond that, I figured if I was caught with the goodies, splitting the blame between two of us might make my life easier.

We laid in the woods through the night and were awakened from the pre-dawn silence by an announcement blasted through a loudspeaker system in the trees instructing us to turn ourselves in. Specifically, the instructions were to walk south until we saw a white marker in the trees and then turn left, and to keep turning left at each marker until we received further instructions.  Looking back, I assume they always knew where we were.  They were just to lazy to come get us.  Essentially, they had us following an inward spiral which terminated at a clearing in the forest. The fort was straight ahead of us in this clearing.

Prior to our flight, we were given details of fake missions, nonexistent technologies, call signs, passwords, and other minutia to memorize. This would be the information that our captors would attempt to extract from us during the interrogations that were almost certain to take place in the days ahead.  The instructors actually used Dale Carnegie memorization techniques to force feed the information to us.

My Army co-fugitive and I exited the forest and made our way towards the fort.  After sleeping in the dirt among insects and Lord knows what else and having consumed only stale crackers and warm rubbery water for the last 30 hours, even prison quarters and inmate chow was starting to sound appealing.  The fort looked like a fort I would have constructed as a kid.  It appeared to be a two-story wooden structure with guard posts on each corner and a row of razor wire surrounding the entire place. As we approached the fort, a person appeared in one of the guard towers and yelled to us through a megaphone, ordering us to stop. It reminded me of the French guard in Monty Python's Holy Grail. That movie cracks me up to this day.  Unfortunately, the association of events cracked me up then too and I started laughing. The night before, we had been discussing the tactics they might employ to get to us and surmised that although they would try to scare us, they weren't going to physically harm us.  We assumed were way to valuable for that. This would turn out to be but one of many invalid assumptions that I will have made by the end of this experience. Another guard appeared on the other end of the wall before us and told us to keep walking. We started walking again and the first guard yelled to us to stop. Again, the other guard said to keep walking and we did.  About then, the most realistic bullets-hitting-the-sand-around-us-effect stopped us dead in our tracks. Apparently, when the first guard said to stop, he meant it.  The other guard was unarmed, or at least never showed a weapon. You can guess which orders we followed. The doors about fifty feet in front of us burst open and several people came running toward us with weapons drawn and yelling in some language neither of us understood.

Instinctively, I dropped to my knees with my hands in the air.  The afternoon before, I was leaping into thin air form a cargo plane and was as cool as a cucumber.  Now, here I was firmly planted on terra firma and my heart was pounding so loud I'm sure the guards could hear it from their posts.  We were instructed to turn to face away from the fort.  My hands were bound to the sides of our waists and my elbows strapped so close together behind me that I thought my arms would snap out of my shoulder sockets. They bound my feet together and them bound my right ankle to the left of my Army buddy.  One of the soldier's placed a black cloth on the ground in front of us and told us to put our faces in it.  Picture me on my knees with my arms and legs bound and try to imagine how I could comply with their order.  All I could do was lean forward and let gravity do its thing. I managed to turn my head to the right so I wouldn't face plant into the dirt and so I could see what was happening next to me.  That was the last I saw for what seemed like several hours.  The thick, opaque, black cloth was wrapped around my face and its base duct-taped around my neck. I couldn't see anything, but I remember hearing the tape being unrolled and torn.  We were brought to our feet, turned around, and instructed to walk forward. Still bound at the ankles, it must have resembled a drunken three-legged race.  I had no idea which direction I was stumbling. We clumsily stepped up into something and I felt cooler air surrounding me.  I assumed we were inside the fort.

At this point, we were separated and I was led into a musty smelling room. The door closed behind me and the room was silent except for the thundering sound of my heart and pulse. I was still bound with my head covered. For all I knew the lights could have been on with a roomful of people watching me, so I just stood like a mummy.  I could hear conversations in adjacent rooms, but couldn't make out what was being said.

After what felt like hours, I heard the door open behind me.  My feet, elbows, and hands were unbound and that damn hood was finally removed. In the room was a table with a chair on opposite sides facing each other. Behind the table was a window into a smaller room with a big, old-school video camera.  Two older Asian-looking men in foreign military uniforms walked in. One spoke perfect English, the other said nothing. The English speaker spoke softly and invited me to take a seat.  I was offered a cigarette and a glass of water.  I declined the smoke, but took the water.  We were permitted to accept basic living necessities, but were instructed to decline luxuries that might lead the other prisoners to think we were receiving special treatment in exchange for information or cooperation. I sat at the table and drank the hard water.

The non-English speaker spoke to the other in what sounded like an Asian dialect.  The other nodded, opened a binder on the table, and pushed it toward me.  I was instructed to sign a pre-written statement or write my own and then read to in front of the camera. I replied that I didn't wish to make a statement.  The non-English speaker said something to the other and he then told me that it was not a request. "You must make a statement." I thought about if for a moment and reached for the pen. It was a standard issue black Bic Click pen with "Property of the U.S. Government" embossed in the barrel.  That pen totally ruined the environmental mood effect.

I scribbled out a short sentence, closed the book, and slid it across the table.  Without looking at it, the English speaker motioned to someone in the camera room and stepped out leaving me alone with the other officer.  A large red light on the camera illuminated and the officer pointed at the book and then at the camera and said something I didn't understand.  I opened the book, looked toward the camera and read the following statement which I had written moments before.

"My name is U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Scott Wilson. the Geneva Convention dictates that I tell you nothing more."  That was the written statement.  At this point, I thought about that pen and the smart ass in me piped up and I added "Do whatever you want to me, but remember; You never found me out there. I came to you."

I could hear someone in the camera room burst out in laughter and then stifle it.  The Asian speaking officer leaned over to me and with a straight face said very quietly in perfect, unaccented English. "That - Mr. Wilson - is going to cost you."

It occurred to me at that very instant that that might not have been smartest thing I had done up to that point in my life.  The events that occurred afterward would confirm this thought. In fact, I would learn during my time there that I was wrong on many things concerning this experience.  We figured we were too expensive and important to take serious abuse from these guys.  We were wrong.

I was led to a cell wherein my feet and hands were bound to the outside of the bars as I sat on the concrete floor on the other side of the bars. From that position, I learned shortly thereafter that if the bottom of your feet are beat with a pliable rubber paddle, the bones don't break and there's no bruising for evidence.  I also learned that it hurts like a motherf*cker.

They uncovered my water bladder and peanut butter wrappers from the forest where we hid out.  I paid for that too and there was no blame sharing discount.

I towed the line and did my best to play by the rules for the rest of my time there. Once again, I thought I could outsmart them during an interrogation session, so I made up details and lied.  I later learned that they already knew all of the information I was given beforehand, so they knew I was full of it.  I learned also that the reason telling lies doesn't work is because your captors could assume it's true and word will get out among the other prisoners that you are cooperating. Morale suffers as a result. It's not like everyone's morale was high to begin with, but I got the point.

I learned that they had called back to my shop at Bergstrom and asked for dirt on me. They asked about things like gambling and drinking habits, girlfriends, pilfering from the paint locker; anything with which they could claim to know about and use to try to get me to talk.  When I said above that I was squeaky clean, I meant it. So when I was told that someone from my shop reported some lame story that I forged my semi-annual physical fitness test results, I knew it was crap and thought (silently to myself this time) "is that the best you got?" and refused to talk.

When our "sentence" was complete, they blew a horn throughout the camp and it was as if the world around us went from black and white to color.  The entire staff spoke perfect English as they opened up the cells and walked the grounds calling everyone to assemble in the courtyard.  We were told that our training was complete and sent to shower and get back in uniform and meet up for our individual evaluations.

I remember being struck by the fact that the instructor staff were all older and were all veterans who had spent real time in real POW camps during the Vietnam war. At that moment, I felt like a heel for the attitude I displayed more so than I felt like a pussy for whining when my feet were beaten the days before.  These guys were the real deal and I felt like I had disrespected them.

The key thing I took away from it all was a comment I received from the "Asian" officer.  All he said to me was "You could stand to take all of this a bit more seriously".  I'm fortunate that although I faced some wild stuff in my last couple of years of Air Force service that followed my prison camp experience, I never faced the circumstances that were presented to me in the camp.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Updates From the Road - Please Read

One of the (many) devices I will have on board with me on the Alaskapade is a GPS transponder unit which will uplink my location via satellite and will allow me to send short updates from the road during the trip.  A great portion of this trip will be ridden through remote areas beyond the range of cellular service and this device will let me keep friends and family abreast of my location and status via short (max 41 character) messages. The messages will include a link to a scrollable, zoom in/out map with my current location and a track line of my trip from its inception.  Viewers can move their cursor over the track line to see when I was at that location.  This device will also be the source for a similar map with the same features which will be placed atop my Alaskapade.com page.  Readers not receiving the messages from the road can still see my progress.

The unit does not receive messages.  I will only receive text and messages when I'm under cellular coverage or stopped at a location with internet services.

The device also provides 911/SOS monitoring and emergency dispatch through the dedicated International Emergency Rescue Coordination Center (IERCC) based in Houston, Texas. If I happen to find myself in serious trouble, (assuming I'm physically capable) I can press a button and activate the rescue process. While the safety/rescue feature is this device's primary purpose, I prefer to concentrate on the messaging capabilities and think of it as a means of keeping in touch with my friends and family back in the lower 48.

The routine status messages can be sent to predetermined groups of recipients who can receive the information via text or email. If you want to receive these updates, I need you to send me an email with the following information.

Name
Your preference for contact - Text or Email (or both)
Email Address
Cell Phone Number & Carrier (if text is your preference)

Email this information to me at ktm_scott@yahoo.com

Please do so sooner than later because updating the network is a bit cumbersome and I expect to be really busy in the days preceding my departure.
 
Neither I nor the service provider will distribute or otherwise compromise your personal information.  Transmissions will begin on my scheduled June 18th departure date and will cease when I return to Dallas, upon which I will delete the recipient group and your information. I don't expect more than one or two messages per day unless something extraordinary happens.  Recipients can opt out at any time by, but I will have to be in a location with internet access to edit the list, so you may receive a few messages after you opt out.

Finally, if you're into the geek speak for this stuff, you can find details on this device here.

IT WAS A JOKE!

Apparently, I didn't make it clear enough at the end of my last post that the Alaskapade is not postponed. It was just an April Fools joke.  Come hell or high water, I'm hitting the road on June 18th and I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about here before I leave.  I hope to have "Stupid Part 2" up on Friday.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Alaskapade is Postponed

I hate even having to type this.  It was tough enough just making the decision, but I had to address it and move on.  I've decided to postpone the Alaskapade until the summer of 2012.  The reason is primarily financial.

Some of you are aware that I am an avid stamp collector. Last week, I was offered the opportunity to purchase the coveted Netherlands #12, og, hinged stamp for only $2,300.  If you're into the stamp collecting scene, you can imagine my excitement.  Dropping the cash on the stamp drained my Alaskapade fund and I refuse to use credit cards for a vacation. Therefore, the financially responsible thing for me to do is to postpone the trip.  I'll continue writing the blog as the months pass and the year will go by before we know it.

If you're as disappointed as I am, saying these two words to yourself will make you feel better: April Fools!  Stamps?  Really?