Volunteerism and Solitude, Idaho

It was a long drive to Idaho, and fortunately my truck was doing pretty well in the way of gas mileage. I drove twelve hours from Vail, CO through Utah and into some Idaho state park on I-84 before I couldn’t see straight enough to steer. Summer nights here are cozy enough that I didn’t even reach for my sleeping bag before reclining my seat for a roadside rest. The next morning I made the final three hour leg to McCall, ID, a lakeside town of three thousand up against the Rocky Mountains of central Idaho.

A good friend of mine was waiting there. He guided me in around the small airport to his barn loft. The airport is impossibly busy. It’s where regional forest fire related air traffic is based, so powerful spotter planes, retardant bombers, and helicopters blazed with orange insignia rattle constantly overhead, on their way to manage a burning state. Rumor has it that this airborne fire fight burns through three quarters of a million dollars of federal money per day in operations costs. Spare-no-expense orders from US Forest Service’s chief in Washington DC after criticisms from last year’s ‘devastating’ fire season. An orange skycrane, a giant helicopter made for lifting heavy loads, took off with a storm of wind and noise, off to douse some burning tract of wild land. Around the corner, Eric flagged me into his driveway. Continue reading

Jackson’s Hole

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Above Jackson Hole, from Josie’s Ridge

Engines roared, and a sold out crowd at the Jackson County fairgrounds cheered with every crunch of steel. My friend Brendan and I showed up late to the Figure Eights — a competition between beat up cars of unknown make doing figure eights around a dirt track and trying not to wreck — so we patrolled outside the barbed wire perimeter trying to catch sight of a spectacular smash-up.

We were closely observing the movements of security guard types as well, who would blast suspected fence climbers with flashlights and jeers until the freeloaders backed off. The small stadium was filled to capacity on this last night of the county fair, but we were not about to miss the championship round of the Figure Eights.

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Burgh

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Thirty-odd brand new bikes provided by our camp’s sponsor.

“So when are you gonna be on Ninja Warrior?”

“What?” I was caught off guard by a mother of some bike campers in between sessions. We were outside of Pittsburgh, in Monroeville, PA, at a quaint sports center, and both of us were killing time until the next wave of kids arrived.

“You know, that TV show with the acrobatic people going through all those obstacles. You look like you should be on that show.” She was kind, and would later be thrilled that her son and daughter were both riding two-wheel bikes.

“Well, uh… thanks! Maybe I ought to apply!” I’d always imagined being so nimble. Continue reading

Toledo… Harbor?

lighthouseOur first day in Toledo for bike camp afforded my partner Kevin and I a little free time. We had heard about a state park called Maumee Bay, and figured a little fresh air would do us some good.

“It’s on the beach!”

Okay, I’d never been to the Midwest, so there were a couple facts that I was about to learn which caught me by surprise. 1) Ohio has a coastline, kinda, because Lake Erie is big enough, I suppose that it’s collision with Ohio  might be called a coastline. 2) Ohio shares an international border with Canada, kinda, though the border is some miles out in the aforementioned lake. Continue reading

In and Around Central PA

“I’ll have a jumbo dog with everything.” I said to the gal behind the counter. Judging by all the photos and awards on the wall, I was in a good place for hotdogs, so I thought I’d go big

“Whaddya mean everythang?” asked the clerk, Joe’s Dog House buttons a-glimmering on her red apron.

“Ya know. All the things.”

“You mean you want your garlic and your bananas and your peanut butter and everythang?”

“What? No!”

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Charlotte. Of Which I Knew Nothing.

ImageIt was hot in Charlotte, North Carolina, when I showed up for the last week of June. My ICan Shine partners Andrea and Leigh were sitting on the floor by a baggage carousel waiting patiently before we rejoiced and headed out into the thick air. We were shuttled to our truck and trailer in an airport parking lot, and I struggled with the new vehicle’s keys and doors, sweating all the while. On our way to the hotel, it occurred to me that I knew nothing whatsoever about the place I was now driving through. Continue reading

Topeka, Capitol at the Middle of the Country

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The Governor’s Mansion, Topeka. Probably haunted.

Topeka spoiled me. I spent weeks of training struggling to learn my role as a bike technician with ICan Shine. Admittedly, between all of the trailer driving practice and power point presentations during training, one hears a lot of horror stories from veterans about camps gone wrong: bad hotels, unmotivated volunteers, tantrum-prone children, equipment thieves. So on my very first camp in Topeka, Kansas, I felt incredibly fortunate.

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ICan Work

It’s been a while, so here’s a recap:

I came home from Africa back in November 2012 to be with family over the holidays. Since I was home, I thought I would look for big boy jobs in my field. I had some success during the search, but ended up with a job I never thought existed. I am now a bicycle technician with an organization called ICan Shine, a non-profit group which aims to teach folks who have cognitive and other disabilities how to ride bikes, and to encourage them to become more confident and independent. Continue reading

Bale Mountain National Park

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Nyala!

“Have you thought of your program?”

This was the third time this guide had barged into the drafty common room of the Bale Mountain National Park lodge to solicit his services. I had told him before that I had no plan and no desire for a guided walking tour of the park, be it for bird watching or otherwise, yet he persisted.

“We must make a plan.”

“Do I need a guide? Can’t I just walk around? Besides, I’m just here to meet a friend. I don’t think we will even do any trekking tomorrow.”

The friend I was waiting on was Brian, a long-haired, coffee-fueled, Peace Corps volunteer who I had met only fifteen minutes before. I was sent his way by an old college friend (and PC volunteer) who said I ought to go check out Bale. I thought this an excellent idea. Once you make Peace Corps friends in an area, the whole network opens up, and a vagabond can easily hop from town to town, connecting the dots.

“I’m just going to hang out with Brian. No birding.” It was getting cold and dark. Finally the guide gave up, electing to walk down to his cabin, leaving me in peace. Continue reading

Free Flight Upgrade

The free wine lady

The free wine lady

I had never dreamed of flying business class. There’s something about it that repels me. Maybe it’s in the designation: Business class is clearly made for those who sport pressed suits and shining shoes, who tote matching designer luggage sets, who actually have business abroad, and who may or may not be paying for it on their own. I’d seen business class before, but during my most recent stay towards the front of a commercial aircraft, I felt particularly out of place, having bummed around Africa for nine months previously with hardly more than a single change of clothes. Business class is not called Dirtbag class for good reason. Continue reading