There and a Drive back again.

 There and a Drive back again.

 A Poor Planning Tale.


 Thursday morning started out as planned. Two guys, two thirty pound packs and forty miles ahead to our destination.  I had tried this trip once before. Carrying too much weight and wearing the wrong shoes I had set out on the Kal-Haven trail to the destination of South Haven. Two days and 60 miles later I had to give up and call to be picked up because my feet were beyond healing in a day or two.  

 This time I was smart enough to wear tennis shoes and doubled up socks.  The weather was cool and I brought extra layers of clothes.  Food was lighter having bought trail mix and high calorie nuts to eat while traveling.  I brought a canteen instead of a plastic water bottle.  For extra protein I carried a fishing pole on my back.  Since the temperature was supposed to drop to around thirty degrees I also packed a wool blanket to help get through the night, with the sleeping bag.

 Remembering how my feet and legs felt the last time I attempted this trip I brought a bottle of Motrin.

 The first few hours of the trip passed at a pace of four miles per hour.  We were making good time.  In the first five miles outside of Kalamazoo it was clear we were out of the city.   The sudden change in wildlife gave a clear sign of where we were in the world compared to civilization. The golden finch sitting on a tree is rare to see in the city. The red heron, also known as the reddish egret, sitting in the middle of a pond told me I was in a new world.  I had seen the image on a cheap bottle of wine but I had never seen one in the wild.  

 A few miles outside of the city limit’s the thumping of wings caught my attention to see turkey vultures leaving the unknown remains of a carcass sitting in a drainage ditch.  The large black blurs with their deep red heads and necks were not a common sight around here until this year.  Two weeks before I had seen three turkey vultures while running the Celery flats trail.  On that trail the sight of deer and turkey is common but turkey vultures have increased in population over the last few years.

 At every available stop we sit down and snack for a few minutes.  The water pumps had already been greased and painted with a fresh coat of green paint.  The streams were still flowing from the winter melt off.

 Through the bare brush and naked trees the sights of million dollar houses show through.  The new siding, three stories, and wrap around porches slows us down while we watch the pagoda being build next to the full size swimming pool.  I remembered when the house sat by itself a few years before.  Now it had neighbors surrounding it with a few acres to play with for each.  

 The town of Kendall is the start of the old remains of the railroad this trail once was.  A remodel train stop now functions as a shop with a new smoke stack outside.  The old sliding doors to receive cargo are still in place.  The brick building behind it is being closed up poorly hiding the fact a train stopped here at one time.  New grey blocks sit in the old entryway waiting to be cemented in.  the smell of maple fills the air as we walk by.  

 We are three miles away from the first camp ground on the trail.  The town of Gobles is one of the large places along the trail.  Where the trail crosses is less than a quarter of a mile from their main road.  Just like in Kendall signs are set up pointing arrows to where one can find, food, water, and entertainment.   Gobles had invested more into their signs and now had gas stations and a pizza place fifty yards from the trail. I doubt the trail was the deciding factor for where they put the pizza place but they made sure to put up a sign advertising Calzones.

 By the time we reached Gobles our feet were sore.  Muscles in the side of my legs I had not used much before were now angry and making it known.  Ben assumed he now had blisters and kept asking where this camp ground was.  After twenty miles of walking we were now at our camp.  There were two hours of daylight left.  I used the outhouse while Ben started a fire in the fire pit.  

 The fallen tree limbs and uncut grass was what I remembered from biking the trail two years before.  Stopping for water on my bike trip I had noticed the fallen limbs left over from a wind storm that had recently happened a few days before. The green leaves were still full of life on the fallen branches.  The tall grass told me the campground had not been taken care of all summer.  

 When we walked up, the same limbs and branches still lay in the campgrounds. The steel and concrete fire pits still looked new next to the rotted sign post where one could at one time put their permits.  We did not have permits.  The maintenance of the Kal-Haven has been up in the air ever since the state took over the trail.  A few years ago one had to purchase a trail pass on either end in order to use it.  You could buy one either at the caboose in Kalamazoo or in South Haven. The ability to enforce the buying of passes led to the state taking over the trail.  The sad thing is that nothing had been updated on the trail except for a few signs now stating “no trail pass required.”

 I set up my tent back by the brush and behind a fallen limb.  The sun was setting and with the cold air nobody was on the trail.  I changed my socks and found on pair had completely worn through.  I had no blisters on my feet and popped 800 milligrams of Motrin for the pain in my legs.  Ben checked his feet, they appeared red and sore but no signs of blisters at that moment.  He wore his ARMY issued combat boots.  During basic he had marched over 12 miles a day while wearing the same boots and thought they would be fine.  The fire was burning and the heat was welcome.  Sadly the warmth of the fire was not as inviting as sleep.  I changed my socks, ate some of the spicy trail mix for the artificial warmth, and reorganized my bag.  Ben finished cooking a bowl of top ramen noodles in the fire and chewed them down.  I crawled into my tent and closed the doors.  The tent I have has faired well in the past through rain and cold weather.  

 The moment I sit on the wool blanket I laid on the floor my body starts to shiver.  I leave my coat and fleece on while crawling into the sleeping bag.  I use my shoes and wool scarf as a pillow.  I was unable to fit in sleeping bag with my coat on and decided to leave it on.  Throughout the night I would feel the sting of cold ice on my face and adjusted the scarf I had covering my face.  At five in the morning I heard the singing of birds in the trees and the sun was still over an hour away from rising.  I fought to continue sleeping but felt the cold creeping up through the ground under me even with the wool blanket.  Once I woke up I put my shoes on and exited the tent.  I moved around and check on Ben who had three sleeping bags and a water proof tarp.  He had slept outside  next to the long burned out fire pit and was fine.  His body was hidden except for the small space left open for air.  Ben had slept better than me.  

 When Ben filled his camel pack he had trouble sealing the cap because of a build up of ice.  luckily he found the leak before placing the pack in his rucksack.

 At six a.m. with ten hours of sleep we now put our things away in our bags and snacked on breakfast.  Ben checked his feet and found blisters covering both feet.  One covered the sole of his foot from his toes to his heel .  Ben changed his socks and had trouble walking.  

 “I need to make it to South Haven.” he said.

 We both agreed to continue and check on things as we went along.  We were already getting a three hour head start from the day before but Ben’s feet were a disadvantage now.  A mile down the trail we stopped and Ben checked his feet. He took some Motrin and we continued waiting for the medication to kick in.  I marched a few feet ahead trying to keep Ben moving.  We came to a swamp that surrounded us on both sides.

 “dude, did you fart? You could have warned me.” he said smelling the sulfur in the air.

 The gasses in the air was rough and assaulting as we walked passed to a wooded area.  Ben stopped and checked his feet again. Down the trail two deer stood two hundred yards away eating the spring greens growing along the trail.  I told Ben to double his socks and reduce the friction on his feet.  The muscles in the side of my calves were burning again.  We had walked three miles.  

 After doubling his socks Ben had doubled his pace and we were on track again. A mile and a half later both of us were feeling it. The broken gravel trail turned into pavement and it felt like the earth was punching up into my feet.  Ben’s feet started to feel the pressure and soreness again.  Bloomingdale was ahead. The trail ran through town where the depot was turned into a museum.  The water pump was removed.  The outhouses still stood.  

 A sign was posted next to the trail.  The images and text inside was bleached by the sun over the years and stated a $15 permit was needed for the reservation of a camp site where we spent the night.  I wondered where that money went since the campsite had not been maintained in years.

 I had a difficult time accepting that a hundred yards down the trail oils pumps still worked at pulling the black gold out of the ground but travelers couldn’t get a drink anymore. Ben and I sat at the picnic table to access the situation.  He checked his feet again.  One of the blisters had opened before reaching the park.  His socks were wet again.  After sitting at the picnic table he stood up to use the rest room.  Five minutes later and thirty yards away he finally reached the outhouse.  I knew what we would decide.  There was no way he could continue on.  I could still travel if I chose to but I wasn’t leaving Ben behind to make it to South Haven before nightfall.  He tried to contact a few people via cell phone but never got a response.  I contacted my girlfriend who lived close to the trail in Kalamazoo.  She was able to come get us.  An hour later she arrived informing us she had hit a turkey on the way out.  She continued to describe the explosion of feathers everywhere as he loaded our packs in the back of the van.  The front of the van was free of any sign the turkey had been hit.  

 On the drive back we came up to the spot where the turkey was hit.  Feathers filled the grass on both sides of the road. The chest of the turkey was covered in blood and it was dead.  The amount of visible damage to the animal told me there wasn’t much left worth salvaging for a meal.  Ben commented on how everyone in the van had gotten a turkey one way or another except for him.  

 Ben and I were dropped off at my house where we started.  Walking around we appeared to be a couple of drunks.  The packs were heavy again.  Ben went home to help his feet heal and I went inside to put my things away.  Once I hit the couch House of Cards died into the back ground as I fell asleep and took a four hour nap to add to the ten hours of sleep I would get that night.  

 As of now I am still having trouble walking.  Bugging out is regarded as easy and simple.  To anybody who has done serious backpacking this is not an easy feat.  Trying to bring anything along you have to measure the weight with the benefit it brings.  To many people this math doesn’t add up.  

 At the start out packs weighed the same.  Ben had chosen extra sleeping bags in exchange for a tent.  For him the math worked out.  I chose tennis shoes instead of hiking boots and the math worked out.  In order to know how to bug out and figure out a plan it is important to know what items you will be using.  To assume an item is useful because of its name is a mistake. Hiking boots does not make a good hike.  

 For a hike like this I can say bring Motrin or some kind of anti inflammatory medication, don’t leave that behind.  Wear good shoes.  Bring light weight, high calorie, food. Hike with a partner for motivation and making better decisions.  I was in Ben’s position a few years back and I continued on.  I hiked 60 miles before calling it quiets and being picked up on the way back home.  My feet were torn up and I had trouble walking, standing, and sitting on the toilet for a week.   This was not a situation I wanted to relive.  

 The hike was educational.  I learned more details of how to plan and what to do in the future.  Even after calling it quits Ben and I were discussing when to try the trip later and what to change.  He hated his boots and knew now to have comfortable tennis shoes. The only problem we could find with trying it again was the first camp sight and how far it is on the trail.  Instead of walking we focusing our sights on fishing over the weekend and made to do that instead, after a long serious of naps.

Matthew Gilman can be contacted on his author Facebook page and found on Twitter.


Wild Greens and One Step at a Time

A fortunate thing about cold weather is that the house appears to stay a warm 50 degrees inside. I don’t know how or why but wearing a jacket and having a desire to clear will keep one warm in this crappy April weather.  I had shut off the furnace when the temperature reached 70 for a few days.  The garden was taking off.  Running had become an everyday activity. Living in Michigan I should have known better.

 The upside was that I started to find green in the garden that could be added to my lunch and dinner.  Some of it, like the chives, garlic greens, kale, and green onions were from the garden.  Others like the dandelion greens were from the gathering aspect of harvesting food.  Fresh young dandelion greens were a common staple at one time.  Finally my meals started to show some color and added some flavor.  

 Putting together my hiking pack I tried to prepare for a trip that is coming up.  I should not have been surprised that my five day assault pack wasn’t able to hold my sleeping bag and tent.  I had to modify and add a few straps here and there but I was able to fit everything.  Overall weight I’m guessing is around 20 pounds.  This should be a more comfortable trip and better planned than last time.  I never liked the aspect of bugging out in books because of the unrealistic expectations that writers will have on the human body.  I have tried a hiking trip with extreme miles and found that if one did makes it over thirty miles in a day, they would not walk any further for a while due to injury.  

 I hope to find out how many miles is realistic not only for my books but for myself.  The weather for a while is staying around thirty degrees at night. In preparation I packed an extra wool blanket and a wool scarf.  Because I was starting to look homeless I shave my beard today and cut my hair short where I normally keep it.  I fear this may have left my face exposed to the elements if there is a drop in temperature or cold wind.  Reaching the shores of lake Michigan on a cold day will be no fun and my hiking companion will be disappointed in the lack of bikinis.  

 It will be interesting to see how many edible plants I can spot this time along the trail.  The rows of wild strawberries was a surprise the last time.  The lack of drinking water will be an issue.  Many of the wells after the half way point are out of commission due to levels of arsenic.  

 The hike ahead will be tough.  It won’t be as perilous as the first but that doesn’t mean it will be easy either.  

Matthew Gilman can be contacted on his author Facebook page and found on Twitter.


Hunkering Down, Don’t do it alone

 The last two days have been a long series of rain.  We haven’t had the pleasure of any storms, only rain.  The long slow drizzle of sun covering rain. Granted this has been a great time to finish the rough draft of my current project.  I will say I think it has a lot to do with the insomnia that I dealt with last night.  

 I woke up 20 minutes before I would have been at work on an old normal day.  I drove to work and had the luxury of parking wherever I wanted.  I dropped off my badge, keys, and pager to my old boss and said goodbye to a few people.  We promised to stay in touch and get together from time to time.  

 The rest of the day was devoted to my new job, the job you are reading about.  I had to go to the library and upload the latest episode of The Writer: Chronicling the End of the World. While I was there I turned in an application with the used bookstore downstairs to be a volunteer.  

 The morning was spent finishing up my latest novel.  I wish I could say it’s finished.  That maybe my mission tonight.  

 I can say that rice is getting old already.  There isn’t much to work with on adding to the staple food yet.  The garden is growing slow with the cool weather.  

 Hunkering down is like being in college.  You stay in because you don’t have money to go out.  You put together weird food items because you forgot to get groceries.  Out of boredom you do your homework because there isn’t much else to do.  What may sound odd or sad was that I never dreaded writing papers for school.  I normally got a good grade on it.  The downside was that most kids hated it or did bad so it was rare for the teacher to assign a paper.  In college the paper was back and I knew how to write.  I remember then wondering if I could make money writing other people’s papers.  I never did, just got the look of being a kiss ass over achiever for getting an A and making people look bad.  Then of course we would have the test and my score would drop.  

 So far the hardest part of hunkering down is the loneliness.  I have my cat… I have my crazy cat.  I try to think of reasons to leave the house when that’s not part of the job.  This afternoon I had to mail a package and found myself shooting the shit with the mailman.  Turns out he is a pretty interesting guy.  If the weather was better I doubt I would have these problems.  I could have gone running or went for a walk.  I would have rode my bike to the library this morning.  

 I can always sit back and say if the world was chaos than there is no way I would go out the door.  Lets get real for a moment.  Curiosity would get the best of people and they would go out.  Somebody might stay behind to protect things but you can’t spend all your time inside without replenishing things.  I don’t have the option of having somebody staying behind to protect things.  My cat pretends to be tough but it’s all an act.  

 Hunkering down is not for the lonely.  Having a cat is nice but it doesn’t replace having somebody to play chess with.  She always knocks the pieces over and doesn’t move them in accordance to the rules

Matthew Gilman can be contacted on his author Facebook page and found on Twitter.


Gone Fishn’

Today was the second time I have gone fishing this year.  The first time I went out I had no luck using the imitation bait in my tackle box.  In the past I had received a lot of criticism for using worms on a hook.  In the end I usually had the better catch.  That didn’t prevent me from trying to use my fake bait.  

 If a person can get good at using fake bait maybe I should put some time into it.  So the first day I went out changed lures every 20 minutes or so and caught nothing, zilch, nada.  I went home disappointed but learned something along the way.  Use what you already know works.  

 So today I went out into the garden in the cool morning hours.  I did the little bit of work I needed to do.  When the sun was up warming the soil I turned over some boards and grabbed the worms underneath.  I had more than enough from my garden and set off to the lake.  

 The first hour was slow.  Around noon things changed.  for an hour I would toss the line out to get a bite right away.  Large crappie mistaken for bass by a guy walking his dog were pulled out and tossed in the bucket for later.  This went on for over an hour.   

 By the end of the afternoon I had nine crappie and ten blue gill waiting to be cleaned for dinner.  At home I scraped the scales off.  Filleted the meat off.  Battered the pieces and fried them in oil.  The best meal on the planet is one that you provided for yourself from start to finish.  The crappie has always tasted good and impressed me with the amount of food they provide. I cant say the same for blue gill but they do taste good.  

 At the end of my fishing trip I still had worms left but the fish had stopped biting.  Almost twenty fish is nothing to be disappointed about.  It was a fine meal over a glass of home made dandelion wine while catching up with a friend. In the coming weeks I hope to catch a lot more and fill the freezer for future meals.  

Matthew Gilman can be contacted on his author Facebook page and found on Twitter.


The Last Day and a New Day

 Today saw the end of a 14 year long career at a job where I enjoyed many of the people I worked with.  The day was emotional.  This morning I woke up a 5am, a full thirty minutes before my alarm was set to go off, worried I would somehow forget to go in.  Many people expected me to call in as so many had done in the past for their last day. I took this as a continuation of the senior skip days that had me puzzled even in high school.  I did go in to work with the thought “one last chance to get things right.” I cleaned the rooms and made sure the patients were satisfied with the job.  I gave them extra bags to hang on their bed side tables for their small bits of trash.  At the end of the day there were handshakes and comments of disappointment.  I can’t say I blame them.  There are a few good people there, although many have left or are leaving to other jobs.  Part of leaving is letting go of the stress that comes with worrying about the place you work.  Part of me feels bad that I left those concerns for others to deal with, but in the end eventually those responsibilities will have to be handed off for one reason or another.  

 So I clocked out like have for the last 14 years, no different than any other day.  Walked to my car and got to work on a job that I already had started two years ago.  I stopped at the library and reserved a room for a pod cast.  I enjoyed the last burrito I would have for a while. Drank a beer at my favorite place.  Finishing the victory lap only for myself, I went home to enjoy the evening and figure out what I was going to do with myself.  

 The questions in my head I never had before.  Do I go to bed at the same time or stay up late if I’m on a roll with my writing?  Should I take a few days off like my girlfriend suggested and relax a bit before diving into something new? Maybe I should go fishing?

 I stayed home, worked on a gardening book for Amazon, and played in the garden.  I wrote several pages letting the knowledge in my head regurgitate on to the screen.  The garden received some weeding and mulching.  Dishes were done.  The house is still a mess.  The true relief comes from knowing I won’t be working by myself tomorrow at a job I don’t enjoy.  I will be working for myself.  

 The interesting thing about writing is that it doesn’t feel like work.  For people that enjoy their jobs they never feel that dread of going to the work place.  There isn’t anywhere they would rather be.  The hours have been known to fly by when I’m behind the keyboard.  The only regret I ever have when that happens is not getting something else done around the house.  Even then I’m happy with what I had accomplished.  

 My check list of things to do hangs on my wall.  Considering I already had my first pod cast interview, I’m ahead of schedule.  The gardening book is coming along faster than anticipated, but since the knowledge is coming from my experience and years of reading on the subject I shouldn’t have expected any less. My life and my future is now in my hands.  If I screw it up I have nobody to blame but me.  The collapse experiment is on.  Life is a one shot deal.  There are no second chances.  

Matthew Gilman can be contacted on his author Facebook page and found on Twitter.


The New Reality

 His days have become simple. The ride downtown for his online interview consisted of several moments when his legs burned and his heart wanted to jump out of his chest.  His desire to reach his destination faster than time and space would allow pushed his body beyond what his current limitations are.  He knows that those limitations will be pushed far beyond where they currently are, but it will be a long time before he is at that point.

 After the interview he stops at his local brewery where the owner was inside cleaning out the steel drums where he makes his beverage.  The brewer turns around to see the writer outside on his bike.  An excited look on his face tells the brewer the anticipated interview had gone well.  They talk for a few minutes then the writer is back on his bike wondering when his legs and heart will fail him in his simple task.

 At home he spends a few hours in his garden.  Watering the potato containers and checking the rest of the garden his work is quickly done for the day.  Following his garden duties he picks up the book he is reading and sits on the porch.  His wicker chair, that was salvaged from his neighbor’s trash pile, offers him a comfortable place to read but not allowing him to fall asleep.  

 He drinks his home made hard cider. He reads his book about Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Pages pass, the bottle is almost gone.  The moment the light pole in his yard turns on he sets the bookmark between the pages and closes the cover.  He downs the last of his cider and walks inside to spend the rest of the evening creating his own words and forming worlds that live currently in his own mind.  He is a writer.  He is a creator of worlds, his clay is a paragraph, his chisel is his words, and his final art is found in a cover.

Matthew Gilman can be contacted on his author Facebook page and found on Twitter.