Friday, August 21, 2009

Stained Glass and Good-Byes...

The weather today was lousy. Angry clouds and drenching rain all day. It was the perfect opportunity to clean up and start packing. I am anxious now to be back in Florida, to see family and friends, to enjoy familiar surroundings, to move on.

My experience in Maryland has been extremely stressful, partly due to events beyond my control, but largely because of circumstances I created for myself. I realize now that it was more about time than place. I moved to the Washington, DC suburbs because I genuinely like the area, and the city itself, but what I really needed was time to enjoy the things I like about myself, and time to examine the things I don't like. What do you do when you discover that the person you have become is not the person you want to be?

There is no easy way to change direction when you have been in the same town, working the same job for years and years. I wanted to break all routines of behavior, disrupt all patterns of thought, and keep the strongest parts of the old life structure while adding to it new features that will make it more durable, and more functional.

The process is nowhere near complete. I'm only now beginning to understand that the New Clothing Enterprise will last as long as I do. But I've noticed differences in myself. And I like them.

I find that waves of warmth flow over me when I see loving parents cuddling a happy toddler. I eat slowly, and enjoy my food. I sip drinks. I stop when I see flowers or trees or patches of blue sky that remind me how great it is to be alive. I will literally stand and smile, and enjoy the sight, and let it register in my mind. If you can't find happiness in such things, where will you find it? Never surrender your right to live in the moment. Who knows how many moments we have left?

I no longer get upset when I make wrong turns, especially if it's a road I've never been down before. How many wonderful things and places have been discovered by accident? I talk to animals now. Not far from where I live, there are two areas that always attract deer at dusk. When I walk past them as I return from the train station at the end of the day, I have made it a habit to say, "Hi deer," and then chuckle to myself. You should try it. It works. Don't worry, the animals haven't started talking back. Yet.

After doing some preliminary packing, I went up the road to the Stained Glass Pub. It's the nearest place to get a drink and watch sports with a boisterous crowd of regular patrons. I went there often when I first arrived here. People were immediately tolerant, if not downright friendly. I had chatted with a handful of them. I had gone four weeks without a visit there, four weeks without any alcohol at all, actually, and I think they missed me. Now I had to say good-bye.

Before I left the house, Jun Li, the young Asian guy who lives across the hall, was stocking the fridge with a 12 pack of Heineken. He always has beer. I asked if the box of wine that had been chilling in there for weeks belonged to Cynthia, and tried not to make a face at the mere thought of wine in a cardboard container. No, the wine was his, he said, in case of emergencies. I laughed and wondered what would constitute an "emergency."

After I shuffled through a slight drizzle from the car into the Pub, I hadn't been at the bar for more than twenty seconds before Murat slid a cold mug of Stella in my direction. He's good about that.

Hunter stopped to chat. He is a crusty old guy who manages the kitchen during the week, but works weekend shifts as a server for extra money. His throat is ravaged from years of smoking and drinking, but he is a character. It is karaoke night in the other room, and he sees me wince as someone hits a sour note. Karaoke originated in Japan, and I wish it had stayed there. Seeing the expression of painful disapproval on my face, Hunter leans in to my ear and whispers, "Next to the CIA and a handful of others, I'm one of the few who knows that karaoke is covert, long-term payback for Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

He walks off to one of his tables, and then looks back. His eyes sparkle in the dark room when he turns to see me still laughing. He looks tired, but I know he is enjoying himself.

Another man, whose name I can't remember, walks by. He's wearing a T-shirt that tells you everything you need to know about him. It says: No sense in being pessimistic. It wouldn't work anyway.

I stayed for three beers and the end of the Redskins game, then I was ready to go. I thanked Murat for his kindness, smiled and waved at a few others, and left.

Next stop: Florida.

The New Clothing Enterprise continues...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I was so taken by the setting of Ft. Washington that I decided to return there, but I felt like I needed another excuse to justify retracing some of my steps. So I decided I would search for the first two stops on the escape route of John Wilkes Booth.

The Booth Escape Route (you may need to click the photo and view the enlarged version)

Most of us know the story (if the details are sketchy in your mind, you can find information on Lincoln's assassination HERE]. On April 14, 1865, Booth, acting somewhat in conjunction with a handful of others, shot the president, and fled across the Navy Yard bridge into Maryland. He stopped, initially at a home owned by Mary Surratt in Clinton, Maryland.

This modest plantation home had done a variety of duties. The Surratt's ran it as a tavern, boarding house and post office. John Surratt, Sr died in 1862, leaving behind considerable financial difficulties, and Mary rented the home to - oddly enough - a policeman, and moved into Washington, DC to run a boarding house. It was there that she and her son, John, Jr, met John Wilkes Booth.

As Booth fled the capitol on the night of the assassination, he met up with co-conspirator David Herold, and stopped at the Surratt house to retrieve weapons and supplies that had been stashed there.

The Surratt House

I will add one interesting side note; according to the Surratt Society website [Link HERE], Mary Surratt - as a result of whatever role she played in the whole affair - became the first woman executed by the United States government.

Of course, as we now know, Booth had broken his leg while jumping from the president's box seats to the stage below. He and Herold went to visit Dr. Samuel Mudd, where they spent the night.

The Mudd House

The house still belongs to the Mudd family, and has limited visiting hours.

I could have continued south from the Mudd House, following the rest of the Escape Route to the edge of the Potomac, where Booth eventually paddled across to Virginia, and then was trapped and killed by Union soldiers, but I had gone far enough for one day. It was time for my own escape, and the reason I ventured back into this area in the first place.

I drove to Ft. Washington. After all, it was a Fee Free Weekend! I wanted to sit and relax as the day came to an end, and really enjoy the beauty of the place. This time, I brought fresh whole wheat bread, cheese, grapes, and organic iced tea with spearmint. And I had picked out the perfect picnic spot the day before...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Forts (Part 2)...

Here's a test. Name a battle from the War of 1812. It's okay. Take your time.

Give up? Most people will eventually remember the Battle of New Orleans (probably because of that stupid song), and, if you think long enough, you might come up with Ft. McHenry, since it led to the birth of our national anthem. Beyond that, the war is largely a black hole in American history. When the enemy captures and burns your capitol, it's not likely to be remembered fondly.

The British, you see, were fighting the French. I know, when were they not fighting the French? (Answer: When they were fighting the Spanish!) The king (possibly still bitter about the whole revolution thing) was mad that the former colonies were continuing to trade with the French despite the fact that the former mother country was at war with them. The Americans, it seems, had become rather fond of champagne, perfume and fancy underwear. The tension eventually caused an outbreak of hostilities in 1812, although the British weren't terribly interested until 1814, since, by then, they had finally defeated Napoleon, and banished him to the island of Elba.

I mention this because the War of 1812 was the first time that the site of Ft. Washington came into play, and Ft. Washington was the next fort I visited after Ft. Foote.

[National Park Service site HERE]
[Google aerial view HERE]

Ft. Washington was originally called Ft. Warburton. It was a very simple structure, completed in 1808 to protect the Potomac River approaches to the cities of Alexandria, Virginia and Washington, DC. When, on August 19, 1814, British forces landed at Benedict, Maryland on the Patuxent River, and began moving toward Washington, DC from the southeast, the fort's commander, Captain Samuel Dyson, was naturally quite concerned. After winning the Battle of Bladensburg - 6 miles east of Washington, DC - on August 24, the British spent a restful night in the nation's capitol, but not before taking time to set fire to the government buildings.

On August 27, as British foot soldiers retraced their steps toward Benedict, the British fleet sailed up the Potomac and approached Ft. Warburton. Dyson had a garrison of just 49 men, and, faced with the enemy land forces behind him and the enemy fleet in front of him, he did what any sensible commander would do under the circumstances; he used his 3,000 pound store of gunpowder to blow the fort to smithereens, and then ran screaming into the night (a court martial later found him guilty of abandoning his post and destroying government property).

From there, the British turned their attention to Baltimore, were repulsed at North Point, and at Ft. McHenry, about which Francis Scott Key wrote a moving poem, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But it was from this inauspicious beginning as Ft. Warburton, that Ft. Washington was born. As early as 1794, the great general and the nation's first president had recognized the need to construct fortifications on the high bluffs at this location, partly because it offered a terrific field of fire that would discourage enemy ships from advancing up the Potomac, and partly because it was right across the river from his house.

The War of 1812 had shown the young nation that real coastal defenses, capable of actual resistance, were necessary. Where they existed, such as at Ft. McHenry, they had been successful. By 1824, Ft. Washington was completed on the site of the less fortunate previous fort, and, I have to tell you, for a visitor, Ft. Washington is fabulous.

Before I continue, I should note that, by some miracle, I had stumbled on another Fee Free Weekend at a national park, and was thus robbed of one more opportunity to use my Annual Pass.

But, as you can see, the location did not disappoint.

The purpose of the structure was simple: to contain and shelter as many weapons as possible, almost all of them pointed at the Potomac River. Coupled with Ft. Hunt on the Virginia side, this would have made a considerable gauntlet for invaders intent on sailing up to Washington, DC.

The early fort was improved in the 1840's, and again in the 1890's when eight concrete shore batteries were added to supplement the original casemate fort.

The fort was abandoned twice along the way - it was empty for nearly twenty years after the Civil War - but was reoccupied whenever foreign hostilities arose.

Finally, the site was turned over to the Department of the Interior, in 1946, right after World War II.

At some point, a small wooden lighthouse was constructed where the rugged spur of land extends furthest into the river. I wandered around for a few hours, and then found a spot on the bluff to watch the sun fall behind the distant trees. If only I'd thought to bring champagne...

Sunday, August 16, 2009


This weekend I decided to explore forts. A string of them - literally dozens - once surrounded our nation's capitol, most of them from the Civil War, but some from before or after. I set out for Ft. Foote, on the Maryland side of the Potomac, a few miles south of DC.

[National Park Service site HERE]
[Google aerial view HERE]

It is little more than ruins of a Civil War era fort now administered by the National Park Service, and it is very much off the beaten path, but I knew as soon as I turned into the entrance that I would like it.

There, right next to the dirt road, was a mother deer and her little one, and they wouldn't get out of the way! I wanted to hop from behind the wheel and walk up and say, "Look, I'm one of those nasty human beings that you frequently see from a distance, and you should have run off in sheer terror about three minutes ago." Finally, I just drove slowly by. The grass in that particular spot must have been delicious. Mom and baby stopped chewing, and just looked at me as I passed on the way to the little parking lot. Then they resumed.

It soon became apparent why the fort was left untouched, or, more specifically, why the cannons were left untouched. Some of the guns placed here were so big it was difficult to remove them once they were no longer needed. I'm sure, at the start of the war, with Confederate troops running back and forth out there in the woods and warships sailing around God knows where, there must have been a sense of urgency to move the things into place. After the war, when someone got the bright idea to relocate them, I'm guessing the response was a series of raised eyebrows, accompanied by a "you must be joking" look. These are Rodman 15 inch smoothbore cannons. Two of them remain at the site. To get an idea of their size, you can compare them to the couple from Kansas and their young daughter that I ran into during my wanderings.

(Don't forget, you can click on each of these images to view larger versions)

These monsters fired an iron ball that weighed 434 pounds. The guns themselves weighed 49,000 pounds. I wouldn't want to move them. Would you want to move them? So, here they sit, in the Maryland woods on the edge of the Potomac, surrounded by apparently scrumptious fields and lovely trees.

The arched, concrete structures that were powder magazines, and supporting facilities have seen better days, but they are still very much in evidence. I love walking around places like this. It never ceases to fascinate me. The trick is in trying to picture yourself there at the time. Imagine you are Fred the Union Soldier, and you are standing by the front gate in 1863 wondering why the deer won't go away. Your rations haven't been up to par lately, and you're thinking about munching some of that grass yourself...

Anyway, sites like this are great because there usually isn't much to them, and you can move along quickly without feeling like you've left something out. It gives you a real feeling of accomplishment. There was one curious thing. A road led from the parking lot to the ruins, and another road led, after a half mile or so, to a grill and a trash can. I'm not kidding. Here they are, hundreds of yards way from anything else in the park:

I was trying to figure out why this would be the case, when, because I have become so adept at imagining myself in another place and another time, I pictured park headquarters during the meeting that must have decided on this arrangement.

Ranger 1: Well, we think we have the Ft. Foote park ready to open to the public, sir. Most of the debris has been removed. We've cleared a parking lot and a road to the site. We've even made sure there is no residue remaining from the gas tests that were conducted there during World War I.

Head Ranger: Excellent. (looks at a map of the site, and wonders about the other road). What is this road for?

Ranger 1: Nothing, sir.

Head Ranger: Nothing?

Ranger 1: That's correct, sir.

Head Ranger: Well, why is it there?

Ranger 1: We didn't actually want the road to be there, sir. It's just the place where they parked the bulldozer for breaks and lunches while they were clearing the road that we did want.

Head Ranger: I see. (pauses to think) That's a problem.

Ranger 1: What do you mean, sir?

Head Ranger: People will be mad if we let them walk down a long road that leads to nowhere.

Ranger 1: I see your point, sir.

Ranger 2: (meekly, unsure of himself) We could... We could put a grill at the end of the road, sir.

Head Ranger: A grill? Why on Earth would we want to put a grill at the end of a long road that leads to nowhere?

Ranger 2: That way, when people get to the end of the road, they would think that the road was there to take them to the grill, sir.

Head Ranger: (thinks again, for a long moment, then exclaims) By God, that's genius!

Ranger 2: Thank you, sir. (bolder now) We could even put a trash can with the grill, sir. That way it would really appear as if we intended them to be there all along.

Head Ranger: (excited now) Genius, I tell you. Genius. (looks at Ranger 1) What do you think about that Ranger 1?

Ranger 1: Installing a grill and a trash can would be much cheaper than erasing a long road to nowhere, sir.

Head Ranger: (pounds the conference table decisively with a clenched fist) Make it so.

I inspected the grill, and it looked as if it had actually been used at some point, although probably not since the Carter administration. But Ft. Foote was a great way to start the day, and a perfect primer for what was to follow...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Moving Up...

Yesterday, I spent most of the day moving my stuff to one of the upstairs bedrooms. Rachel and Leslie moved out over the weekend, and Lisa (the landlord) wanted to embark on a massive re-organizing effort downstairs, and then advertise both of those rooms for rent since they seem to be more desirable. It appears that I will only be in the house for a couple more weeks, and, with two rooms coming open, I had volunteered to move anywhere that made things easier for Lisa. So, after some cleaning and preparation, I moved to Rachel’s old room on the second floor, up two flights of stairs from the basement.

In some strange way, I was looking forward to it. I wanted to see what life was like up there in the lofty heights. Despite the common area that opened to the back deck, the downstairs room felt like a cave, quiet and secure, but also dark and isolated. Usually, I enjoyed the solitude, but sometimes I felt like an inmate on Alcatraz.

Immediately after settling in the new room, I noticed some differences.

As you know, hot air rises, therefore, thermostats in multi-level dwellings are tricky things. It took only a few moments before I understood why the upstairs folks were always adjusting the temperature. While you could hang meat in the lower regions of the house, the upstairs seemed a bit toasty. I soon noticed that there were ceiling fans in all the rooms, and that the temperatures were actually in the normal range, it’s just that I had become accustomed to shivering even when it was ninety-five outside. Soon, I was quite comfy.

Then, during my first trip to the upstairs bathroom, I noticed that the exhaust fan is rather old, and, for about ninety seconds after you flick the switch, it sounds like Marine One is attempting to land on the roof. But it settled into a more restrained cacophony, and, after trudging up and down two flights of stairs forty times, the hot shower was a welcome relief.

The next major change involved sleeping. The downstairs room had a normal twin bed. This room has a queen-sized air bed. I’ve never slept on one before. In a house like this, air beds make perfect sense. When a renter shows up with their own stuff, Lisa can deflate the air bed, and store it easily. For those who need a bed, you take it out of the box, plug in the pump, and, voila! My first few attempts to settle back and read were very tentative. I couldn’t avoid the admittedly irrational fear that the thing would spontaneously pop, and traumatically deflate with an obscene rush of air, like a gigantic whoopie cushion, leaving me dazed on the floor in a pile of plastic and pillows. Eventually, I relaxed, and realized it is quite comfortable. I drifted off into a sound sleep.

This morning was my first morning in the new room, and it was a harrowing experience. As I look back, I think it started when Cynthia woke up and turned on the bathroom fan. I was still asleep, but, somewhere in the back of my brain, I began processing the disturbances around me. Something was landing on the roof! After a minute, I could hear voices, talking. Surely, this is not right. Then the music started, faintly, at first. And I could feel heat, and sense bright light, blinding light. I thought it was the beginning of a close encounter of the third kind. I may have even dreamed I was Richard Dreyfuss. It was horrifying. I awoke suddenly to see something I hadn’t seen in three months - the sun shining through my windows!

Oh yeah, did I mention that I have two windows?

Cynthia was up, getting ready for work, TV on, exhaust fan on, and there was daylight outside! It was already a glorious morning, and I decided I the best way to complete the start of the new day would be to have a cup of coffee. So, I’m off to Starbucks. Even though I’ve moved up, some things never change…

Friday, August 7, 2009

Disruption at Fort Totten

When I first arrived in the DC area, I signed up for two text alert services. One is called DC Alert. I receive text messages on my phone when there are severe weather warnings, vehicle accidents that affect traffic patterns, or other major police, fire or utility situations that it helps to know about so they can be avoided. I also signed up for Metro Alerts. I receive text messages on my phone when there are outages, delays, repairs or other situations on the Metro that affect its ability to run on time, if at all.

It is indicative of my experience here that I get Red Line (the part of the Metro that I'm on) alerts every day since the crash on June 22. I have a hard time being too bitter because it could be much worse. I could have been on that train. The night of the crash, I ended up semi-stranded in DC, and made my way home with some improvisation and luck (See Previous Blog Entry HERE), but I really couldn't feel sorry for myself because I knew there were people who wouldn't make it home that night, and, in fact, some (as it turned out, nine of them) who would never make it home.

Still, when I chose the location of my hovel, I was counting on the Metro to provide at least part of my link to the unfamiliar outside world. It hasn't worked out the way I hoped.

The June crash occurred between the Fort Totten and Takoma Park stations, four stops down the line from the station I use (Glenmont). Service hasn't been the same since, and the frustration continues. Just today, I received twelve alert messages. Here's a sampling:

(ID 57949) Disruption at Fort Totten. Expect delays in both directions due to a switch malfunction outside Fort Totten station.

(ID 57315) Disruption at Fort Totten. Trains are moving at reduced speeds between Fort Totten and Takoma stations due to track circuit repairs. Expect delays in both directions.

(ID 57315) Disruption at Fort Totten. Due to the ongoing June 22nd accident investigation, Red line trains are traveling at reduced speeds between Fort Totten & Takoma stations. Expect delays in both directions.

(ID 57945) Disruption at Fort Totten. Every evening during the month of August, Red line trains will share the same track between Fort Totten and Takoma stations due to track circuit repairs. Customers may encounter delays and are encouraged to add at least 30 minutes to their travel times.

Every evening during the month of August!

If I ever write a book about my life, the chapter dealing with this portion of it will be called Disruption at Fort Totten.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Top 10 Beer List

When waiting on a Metro platform or standing in line somewhere, I'm sure it appears to those around me as if I'm just staring off into space, but I've actually found a very constructive way to use that time. I try to make a mental list of 10 people (living people, not historical figures) with whom I'd like to be able to sit down and enjoy a beer and a good chat.

Try it some time. It's not as easy as you think. Obviously, the possibilities are almost endless. For me, the list changes frequently, depending on my mood and present circumstances. There is one person who always seems to be there though. Gary Larson.

If the name doesn't sound familiar, he is the creator of the very clever, extremely entertaining, but often dark and bizarre series of cartoons called The Far Side.

As I contemplate my existence, I appreciate Larson's philosophical views:

I'll drink to that.

Thanks, But No Thanks...

Got this today:

Thank you for your interest in the communications associate position at the Xxxxxxxx. We apologize for the delay in responding to your application, but had an unprecedented number of submissions. Unfortunately, we are unable to offer you a position at this time. Thank you again for your time and interest. We wish you the best of luck in your job search.


Martha Xxxxxxxxx
Director of Communications
Organization Xxxxxx

I applied for this job on June 1st. June 1st!

I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I'll be heading to Florida in a couple of weeks. Given my recent luck, I'm assuming that, the day I arrive in Orlando, I'll get an e-mail from a company in DC requesting an interview.

C'est la vie.

Monday, August 3, 2009


** Please note: You can click on all of the photos below and find a full size image to enjoy. To get the full effect, I urge you to do so.**

On Sunday, I decided to visit Great Falls National Park (Link HERE). It's just over the border in Virginia, not more than 30 minutes drive, and, after Saturday's bike ride, I wanted to be active but not too active.

I was expecting a nice park and a peaceful afternoon. I had no idea...

I get to the parking lot (after using my NPS Annual Pass!) and hear rushing, falling water. Then I see the sign below and I KNOW I've found a place I'm going to like!

I followed the trail to the nearest ledge and was greeted by this...

I had always heard there was a section of the Potomac River that was impassable for boats - that's why there have been various sets of locks and canals built over the years - but I had no idea that Great Falls really meant great falls! From the same vantage point, I looked to the right...

In the distance, you can see that the river curves to the right, and enters a spectacular gorge. Once you are below the worst of the falls, you are in kayakers' heaven. The launch points are not easy to reach - typically they have to carry their kayak a fair distance and drop down through some treacherous terrain - but I bet the ride is amazing.

So I went home thinking that I had enjoyed a nice walk, and some great scenery, but I was a bit curious about the other side of the river - the Maryland side. I knew there was more government land over there, and I had seen people walking on the rocks across the way.

I figured I would give that a shot on Monday (today). The weather forecast was encouraging, and the Executive Naming Committee had mandated some sort of festivities in honor of the christening of the Raft.

As it turns out, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Park runs all along the Potomac on the Maryland side. No, really, all along the Maryland side. For 184 miles. (Map Link HERE) The park contains what used to be the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which, according to the National Park website (Link HERE) was "a lifeline for communities and businesses along the Potomac River." The adjacent tow path that was formerly used by mule teams to haul river barges upstream is now a hiking/biking trail all the way to Cumberland, Maryland. It's fantastic.

I want to quote extensively from the National Park Service website here, because this is fascinating:

The canal was literally a man-made river. To make the canal work a complex system of hydrology was constructed. To supply water for the canal seven feeder dams were built on the Potomac River from Cumberland to Little Falls. To control the water, seventy-four lift locks were placed in the canal. Each lock raised or lowered a boat approximately eight feet. The locks allowed boats to travel upstream or downstream and made it possible to overcome the elevation difference of 605 feet between Georgetown and Cumberland. Waste weirs and culverts were added to the canal to divert off excess water. In case of a flood, stop locks were constructed to direct flood waters back into the Potomac River.
Bear in mind, the canal runs roughly parallel to the river, but they are separate. The canal took twenty-two years to build, from 1828 to 1850.

So... me and the Raft head out, with Christ on a Raft on the dashboard, After a brief ceremony in the parking lot, the car is officially named.

I had noticed some side trails that looked like they ran along the river, and I thought that was where I wanted to go. A few hundred yards up the tow path, I see a side path. Then I see this sign:

I KNOW I've found a place I'm going to like. And the route is called the Billy Goat Trail. It's got to be good, right? I had no idea...

Because I know solo hiking can be a bit dicey sometimes, I had dressed properly - with sturdy hiking boots - brought plenty of water, a first-aid kit, raincoat, multi-tool, and flashlight with extra batteries. I also brought Albert. I had been ignoring him recently, and this seemed like the kind of trip he'd enjoy. Once he saw the trail (the narrow ledge - the trail marker is the blue and white vertical strip just in front of Albert), he had to show off, of course, and get to the top of the first ledge ahead of me. But, holy cow, this was the sight that greeted me as I looked upriver...

... a long, twisting, rugged slice of heaven.

The "trail" sometimes looked like this:

And sometimes it looked like this:

Then you'd get to the top of one of the rocky peaks, and you would just want to sit and stare.

Incidentally, this is why I also brought along my mini-tripod, so I could take pictures like this - same spot, but now it has me in it:

Albert still hasn't figured out how to use my camera. Also, it was at this point that I discovered that Albert is a good climber, but he's not much on the descent. When I got to the bottom of this tricky stretch, I turned around to see that Albert hadn't budged.

Wait a minute, you say, Albert isn't in that picture. On the contrary, just to give you an idea of the scale and heights and distances we're dealing with, look closely, Albert is between the arrows:

And this is actually the "trail" - you can see the light blue paint slash on the nearest rock and on the angular rock about halfway up. I had to climb back up there and carry him down.

Eventually, we got to another place where a self-portrait seemed appropriate.

And we relaxed and enjoyed the view.

This hike was easily one of the most fun, challenging, scenic and all-in-all enjoyable I've ever had.

It's hard to believe this is 15 miles from the front door of my hovel, and about the same distance from downtown Washington, DC.

ENC Announces Christening Ceremony...


There was a brief meeting of the Executive Naming Committee last night at which the member (me) ratified the poll respondents' choice of "The Raft" as the name for my new old Volvo. It was suggested by one poll respondent that "E" be used as a middle name, in the event that such becomes useful or necessary, and this motion, having been formally proposed, was approved by a unanimous vote of 1-0.

The christening ceremony will be this afternoon at 1:00 near the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center at the Chesapeake and Ohio National Canal Park. Directions, if you need them, may be found HERE. Casual attire is appropriate. Water will be served.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Monster Within...

About a year and a half ago, I started hearing very positive reports on a band named Fall of Envy. Although I had been slowly but purposely disengaging from the music business, friends and acquaintances still referred bands to me in the hope that I might help, or at least pass information to people way more important than me, along with my endorsement. A friend of mine eventually sent me a video of the band.

It turns out I knew the lead singer - Mike Baker, and the drummer - Brandt Frenchman, from way back when they were in a band called Liquid Vinyl. It is truly a small world.

Fall of Envy was good. Heavy, but melodic. Just the way I like it. In March of 2008, I pulled a few strings, and helped them land a spot opening for Nonpoint at Common Grounds in Gainesville. Then, in November, they opened for Sevendust, also at Common Grounds. The shows were presented by ROCK 104, and I had a great time at both of them.

At some point last summer, I was invited to a barbecue at their house in Orlando. It was a farewell for a mutual friend who was moving away. I got to know the other guys in the band a little bit. Tommy, Brent and Greg.

When I think of Greg Harrington, I get an image of us chatting in his backyard. He had a natural charm, and was inquisitive and engaging. I liked him. Talking to him was easy. For me, at least.

This is a picture I took during the Nonpoint show. Greg is on the right, playing guitar. Mike is singing. Greg's brother Tommy is on the left in the distance.

Yesterday, Greg took his own life. I heard the news at about 8:30 last night.

I never quite know what to think at times like that. I was shocked and saddened. I immediately thought of Greg's brother Tommy, and the rest of his family, and how absolutely awful it must be for them.

And I wonder what it takes to get to that point. Fear, sadness, uncertainty, anger, loneliness, disappointment, and doubt can combine to become a cruel and relentless monster that torments the inner self. I assume we've all had moments when everything seemed hopelessly overwhelming, when the idea of death suddenly became appealing, a relief, if nothing else.

I don't know why some survive those moments, and some don't. I know there are many people who wish they could have been with Greg when his moment arrived, when the monster was winning. If I could, I would have told him to think of simple things that make every day worth living; sunset on the ocean, children laughing, playing with puppies, family and friends. Reasons to go on can always be found, even if sometimes you must search for them.

Good-bye Greg. It was nice to know you. Honestly.

To those who knew him well and loved him, hang in there. My thoughts and wishes are with you.

The weather was supposed to be terrible here today, but, as I look outside, the sun is shining. I think I'll go for a drive. For me, at least, the storm has passed.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Cannondale...

I finally had a chance to get on my Cannondale 400R "Warrior" road bike today, and get a few miles under my belt. I drove down to Belle Haven Park - just south of Alexandria, and rode the last half of the Mt. Vernon Trail. I agree with a description of it that I read online somewhere; it is too narrow and winding to be really good for a serious road biker. For a casual cruise, it's great.

I am glad I chose a reasonable distance (16 miles) for my first time on the road bike in... over a year, I would guess. Within 3 miles, my lower back was sore, my hands were numb, and I had numerous hot spots on my feet (from pressure points against the pedals - no, I do not use clip-ins, I still use cages). In short, it was exactly how I thought I would feel!

The difference between my Trek Navigator 100 mountain bike and my Cannondale are significant. It's like comparing a Land Rover and a BMW. Both are terrific machines, but designed with entirely different uses in mind. I've been on the Land Rover for months now, and the Beamer requires some adjustment!

Before I even left the parking lot, it took me 45 minutes to partially compensate for the months of neglect. A bike needs to be ridden, and I left my Cannondale hanging on the wall for too long. I had to spray chain lube on everything to combat the early signs of corrosion, but, once I cleaned it, pumped up the tires and got ready to roll, it was like old times. Or, rather, like the first time I ever rode a performance bicycle! I have told many people this - those who are not bikers - half the battle of distance road biking is finding ways to get comfortable, and stay comfortable, on a bike. I was not comfortable!

Without getting into much detail, I was glad to find my old friend in my bag of biker goodies...

I'm excited that I have found the motivation to get fit again, and stay fit. Now if I can just get comfortable on that Cannondale...