Hewlett Gulch Trail

It all started with a $10 mountain bike I bought at a police auction from the university.

Or rather, turn back the clock about 25 years to a time when riding a bicycle was just about the only way I had to get around.  I started off with a steel frame BMX bike, probably built in the last 70s or early 80s.  It was a used Schwinn.  I had that thing loaded with bells, horns, a speedometer, and even a headlight.  Pedaling a heavy bike like that with a generator rubbing the front tire was something of a chore, but I used to put hundreds of miles on the thing in the summertime, just riding around my home town.  When I was 14 I graduated to a Huffy “mountain bike” which was more like a regular 10-speed with straight handlebars.  For the next few years, I continued to ride the heck out of that bike, even doing 50 and 25 milers for Boy Scouts.  I never wore a helmet and never thought much about riding once I got my license.

The day I turned 16, I got my driver’s license and didn’t touch that bike for two years, until college, where my roommate borrowed it most of the time.  For the next two decades, I always brought my bike with me with every move, but seldom did I ride.

In 2016, I acquired an honest to goodness mountain bike.  It was for sale at a police auction on campus where I work.  I started and ended the bid at $10.  The frame was solid, it had a disk break, 21 speeds, most of them low-end.  There wasn’t a manufacturer’s mark or serial number on the whole rig.  The only thing missing was a seat and a seat post, which I found a replacement for at a bike shop for $35.  With a tune-up and overhaul of the breaks and gears, I was into this bike for about $80.  Still not bad, considering my Huffy brand new was around $100 back in 1989.

Good tires, brakes, shocks, gears, and now a very nice seat, and I was ready to roll.  I added the bike rack to my Jeep and was ready to conquer some trails.

All this can be yours for $10

What they don’t tell you is that even though you might have pedaled hundreds of miles in your youth, and plenty of time at the gym, though beneficial, there is still no substitute for actually getting on a MTB trail and riding.  The first trail I rode was the Devil’s Backbone in Loveland, CO.  It was a challenging trail for a new beginner.  The terrain is a lot of volcanic rock that is exposed in striated patterns running diagonal to the actual trail most of the time.  There are lots of stops you have to make to accommodate hikers and dogs and other bikes.  I found that the twist gears on my handlebars, though advanced compared to the shimano thumb shifters on my ancient Huffy, were still not the best.  Bikes have advanced even beyond those devices in recent years, with thumb and trigger shifters which bring you up and down with a simple click, instantly.

After a couple scary moments on the trail, I decided that yes, I actually did need a helmet if I didn’t want my head cracked open.  I only rode a few miles, and felt like I was winded through much of it, but it was getting out more and I was ready to try out this new experience in other places.  I started switching my workouts over to stationary bike from eliptical and noticed muscles that hadn’t been worked in decades, screaming out in agony.

I started researching mountainbiking trails in Northern Colorado and came across a nice loop in the Poudre Canyon called the Hewlett Gulch Trail.  The following weekend, I loaded up my bike and headed over.  I probably looked out of place with what I affectionately call my Frankenstein bike against the Trek, Raleigh, and Giant crowd.  Which there were plenty of.  My bike likely has some of those parts. Someplace.  Acquired through questionable means I’m sure.

Starting out was easy.  The first 200 yards being downhill, until you hit the first water crossing.  When I was a kid and riding, if you needed more power, you only needed to stand up on the pedals and apply more force.  The problem with a decent mountain bike is the frame is so light that the added torque proves to be too much for the bike and it’s hard to keep the wheels where they need to be, which is on the ground.  You lose traction, you skid, you don’t go anywhere you need to go.  I learned this crossing the first creek. Then up the first hill.  What I had been missing at the gym during my training wasn’t building muscle to power through the hills, it was building endurance for when your legs just need to move that crank as quickly as possible in the lower gears.  This will let you creep up the trail.  It is exhausting.

By the fourth time across the same creek, my boots were soaked and my legs were on fire.  There were plenty of ups and downs, and at my skill level, I decided there was no shame in stopping and even less in just walking your bike.  When I came to a crossroads, I asked another person on the trail, another mountainbiker, which was the best way to go.  They had just come from the right fork and said there was a pretty challenging climb to the top of the hill if I went left, but it was a good mile or two of downhill after that until the trail looped around.  I decided to pick that way and soon found myself in an endless series of switchbacks, most of which I pushed the bike up when my legs got too tired to fly around the crank.  The path was grueling and where the grade was easier, the rocks were usually loose and unreliable on the switchbacks.  I did a lot of pushing.  I was sweating profusely, burning through my first bottle of water pretty quickly and still the climb continued.

Made it, Ma! Top of the trail!

I don’t remember when I got to the top, but once there, I stopped to take pictures.  Eat my PB&J, a bunch of grapes, cheese, snacks, and anything else I had packed. There was nothing left even for the ravens that were hanging out, catching thermals from the sunny hillsides.

The ride back down was amazing.  It made pushing the bike up the hill totally worth it.  The shocks from some unidentified donor bike took the bumps and ruts and rocks, the softer caliper brakes on the back wheel eased my speed, while the grippier disk brake on the front provided quicker grabs when needed and even quicker releases.  I found myself flying down the hill at around 35 mph or maybe even faster (the speedometer on my old Schwinn would have come in handy).  The run ended at a stairway of crumbling rock.  I pushed the bike down this section and continued onward, managing ruts in the trail, getting my wind back just in time to start carrying the bike across the creeks again.

The only time I went over the handlebars was a hard stop just before a creek crossing, where my wheel stopped and I didn’t.  I was grateful for the helmet.  I tucked and rolled and laughed it off.  I met the fork in the road again and missed the rush of the wind and the sound of blood pumping in my ears.  I returned to my Jeep and secured Frankenstein, having survived the trip.  A little under eight miles in around three and a half hours.  I was beaten to a pulp, but ready for the next ride.

Kids are the ultimate all-terrain vehicle.

I have ridden the trail again on a Trek bike, and found it no easier than with Frankenstein. I probably pushed it more than my bike because it was heavier.  Around 13 pounds vs. the 20+ of the Trek. Also, the seasons were different, and with that came other hazards on the trail.  The creeks were lower, but the grasses were taller and the ruts deeper. Which is why I wrecked twice on the Trek as opposed to once on my bike.  I have also hiked the trail up to the fork with my kiddos and gotten to see it on a more personal level.  It’s a relatively congested trail, but a great ride on a bike once the crowds break up.  There is plenty to see on foot as well, and being in a box canyon, the have the benefit of sun and shade intermittently, as well as the chaos of mountain weather, which can change every ten minutes.  People are probably the biggest obstacle, other than the switchbacks.  And the likelihood of hitting a rut wrong and crashing, which I did on the Trek bike.

I think the point I am trying to make is that if you use your resources and find equipment at a reasonable cost, you can make the best of your situation.  You can still have a great time without going broke doing it.  I’m planning on another trip up the HGT soon, probably just using Frankenstein, and being sure to pack enough food so I don’t bottom out on calories again.  And as always, I’ll be sure to wear my helmet.

For others ways to get out more, I suggest checking out police auctions, Craigslist, eBay, and other resources for decent, gently loved equipment someone just wants out of their garage.  And if you get some cobbled together pile of bike, if it works, great!  If not, at least you have a great story to tell, and that’s the best part about getting out more.

Near the end of the trail.



The Sledding Hill

Growing up in a small mountain town in Colorado spoiled me.  There were some things that weren’t all that great.  Some winters were very hard, with any of four roads in and out of the county either getting snowed in or buried in avalanche at any given time.  The good part was that when we got snowed it, it just slowed life down a little bit.  We either hunkered down and conserved our resources for a few days, or we took advantage of what we had on hand.  Only on the coldest days or windiest nights were we discouraged.  There is something about hearing that cold, howling wind blow against the side of your house for months on end that begins to eat at you.  Some don’t come back from that. sledding3

Today, I can look outside my window and see green grass emerging from the brown of dormant lawns.  In just a few weeks, the first leaves of Spring will be sprouting on the trees.  The rains will come, bringing with them the rumbling crescendo of thunder.  The soft patter on the roof as you lie in bed, as the streets will be slick and shiny, clean once again after the salt and sand of a pathetic Front Range winter.  In the Front Range, it feels like we get four seasons.  Winter is a periodic event, with only a few major storms leaving much accumulation.  School is canceled for the kids upon the anticipation of a blizzard.  I have only seen two or three in twenty years that would count as such in my book.  A few days of the jet stream dipping down from Canada in December might be enough to put the mercury down to -20 or -30, but I remember days when as a kid, we sat in our classrooms, in our coats and snowpants, huddled around space heaters because the boiler had frozen.

Sometimes that wind would drift the roads over and kids out on the ranches would have to bunk with us townsfolk for a day or two, until the rotary plows cut new paths through the drifts.  Even efforts to use industrial espionage to sabotage the possibility of school went unheeded, when some students unplugged the engine heaters on the school buses the night before a cold snap.  The buses started late that morning and school went on as scheduled.

On days when it was so cold that even gasoline cars wouldn’t start, we headed to the local ice skating rink, a vacant lot that the Town would flood with a hydrant and we would skate on all day and sometimes well into the night.  Broken telephone poles were our benches.  A streetlight provided enough light to see after the sun went down.  Shovels and a plow on wheels were left for anyone wanting to be their own Zamboni when the snow fell.

Outside of town, if you had the right toys, you could go snowmobiling. When I was older, I went cross-country skiing. Very few of my friends were skiers.  Even downhill.  For the most part, we were a poor town, and in spite of our snows and mountains, it was an hour drive to the nearest slopes.  Instead there was ice-fishing, sometimes dog-sled racing, and for kids like me you could build snow forts in your front yard that would last until March.

November 2017, Walden CO

My kids struggle with the school allowing recess.  Then there is the matter of safety.  Children are treated as fragile little eggs, and part of me thinks this is sweet because adults don’t want the kids to be hurt, but in reality it probably has more to do with litigation and insurance premiums than kissing boo-boos and wiping away crocodile tears for skinned knees.

I’ll spare you more of the walking to school uphill in three feet of snow stories (even though they are true).  When I was a kid, our recess was three times a day of sliding down a 100 yard hill at 30 mph on a thin sheet of plastic.  Sometimes we rode on our butts.  Sometimes we flew down the hill face first.  Once we got to the football field at the bottom, we ran all the way back up and did it again.  As a kid, in the winter, I probably ran up that sledding hill forty times a day or more.  There was the sting of icy powder on your skin, the teeth rattling impact of going over jumps we had made from packed snow, which turned to ice from the friction of hundreds of passes every day. There were glorious impacts, collisions with other sledders, a game where the elementary kids tried to take out high school kids as they walked up the hill to the lunch room, and enough concussions to make a sports medicine researcher giggle in anticipation like a kid at Christmas morning. sledding2

Any who know Walden in the winter know about the school hill.  To this day, kids and adults still sled on it, though it is more regulated during school hours.  The population of town has dwindled and the old elementary building has been abandoned.  All grades fit inside what used to be the Jr.-Sr. Highschool building.  A fair walk up the hill and across the football field and then up the main sledding hill again to find that exhilaration, now limited by rules of conduct, numbers of times you can sled, and other lists which just suck the life out of everything.  It’s no wonder the kids use their recess to text each other instead.

I try to get my kids to the Hill at least once a year.  We like to use truck inner tubes.  Sometimes plastic sleds work if the snow is right.  Coming up to altitude is about a 3,000 ft. difference.  At 42 my body protests, but the muscle memory of hundreds of runs up that hill spur me on.  Even if my lungs don’t cooperate and my heart races and my head swims, my legs are pushing me up that hill, eager for the next run down.  Even my dad in his 60s will sometimes sled with us.  My mom too.  Times are different in good ways.  When I was a kid, the idea of my grandparents in their 60s sledding down a hill was unimaginable.  People got old younger and stayed there in those days.  My kids don’t know what that was like, thank goodness.  Or maybe it’s like my legs.  Once you feel the pull downward and you are racing down the Hill, the years just fall away like chaff.  sledding

My youngest makes friends every time we go.  He has never met a stranger it seems, and the local kids are welcoming.  It’s the love of the Hill that binds them all.  There is no rivalry or distrust of outsiders.  They know only one thing, and that is the rush you get when flying down that hill, en masse or alone.  They don’t even know each other’s names as they shout out to each other with every pass.  Even my teenagers loved the Hill.  They were pulled kicking and screaming from their devices and peer groups and their occluded teen worlds into an uncertainty of ice and snow and a blissful approach to terminal velocity.  You are reminded you are alive because compared to your daily life, you feel one step closer to death.  The phones don’t even compare.

Social media on the Hill is snow and gravity.




I Like Hot Springs, Long Hikes, and Harrowing Drives on Mountain Passes in the Snow

Hanging Lake is one of those hikes that is quintessential Colorado.  I didn’t know this until the other day when a friend of mine found out I was going to Glenwood Springs for a day trip.  “Are you going to Hanging Lake?  I’ve always wanted to go there!”  Sure! I answered, then I had to Google it.  The Glenwood area has never been one of my areas of expertise.  It has always been a long drive away from wherever I have been living.  On average about four or five hours away, depending on traffic.

My original plan was to go to a hot springs and let the naturally warm and stinky water flush out the toxins of typical bullshittery in my daily life I have to contend with.  There is just something about sitting in hot water that helps you forget you are living in hot water most of the time.  But since this was a hike to a very beautiful, and well-photographed location, I decided to include it in the itinerary.

On the drive up, I let my mind wander, listened to my entire playlist on shuffle, singing with some songs at the top of my lungs and listening to others like I was just hearing them for the first time.  Probably because I was.  I couldn’t remember where any of these songs had even come from.

The I-70 corridor from Denver to Grand Junction is beautiful in the Spring.  I stopped for lunch in Avon at Burger King.  Not very glamorous, but I wasn’t there for the fine dining.  It was noon and I had other places to be. Avon is apparently where all the roundabouts in America go.  No fewer than five roundabouts just to get to Burger King.  One right after the next.  The next leg of the drive was just putting in the miles until Glenwood Canyon, where Hanging Lake is nestled in among the limestone cliffs.  Spring was a great time to go, because as anyone in Colorado knows, there are only two season in the Canyon:  Winter and Road Construction.road

Hanging Lake is about a mile up from the parking area.  Considering what I have hiked, from the well-groomed trails of RMNP to the overgrown logging roads of my growing up, Hanging Lake fits somewhere in the middle.  The website and the signs posted around the park warned of icy conditions and a difficult hike.  The first 200 yards of the trail were some of the nicest sidewalks I have walked in my life.  I was beginning to doubt the urgency.  The trail takes a sharp turn from the paved bike path and the majority of the hike is stairsteps of stone.  It is a lot of work, even for someone used to lots of hiking or walking, but the footing is stable and easy to follow.  Seven bridges cross the creek that runs down from Hanging Lake.  By the third bridge, I had passed several hikers on their way down.  They warned about ice on the trail and how “you WILL fall.”

When I mentioned my plan to do Hanging Lake the other day, I was met with a few different responses.  Some saying how it was such a beautiful place and others talking about how popular it is.  How they prefer more wild/untouched terrain and the crowds you encounter.  During my hike, I didn’t see the crowds, no more than any trail at Rocky Mountain National Park.  A couple summers ago, I did Black Lake, which ends up on the western foot of Longs Peak.  In spite of snow up to my knees, uncleared trails, and even a point where there were no trails, I had to have run into at least 30 people on the hike.  They all remarked about the untouched beauty of the place, while I remember looking to the north and being able to see cars on a road heading towards Bear Lake, possibly the most oversaturated (and overrated) destination in Colorado.

On my hike up to Hanging Lake, I might have seen twenty people, heading up and down.  By the third bridge, I could see why.  The slush of the morning, with the impact of hikers and sporadic rains had turned the snow into No-Shit Olympic Grade Luge Ice.  Even in my Merrells, I had a hard time getting footing, and did better to avoid ice or snow altogether, instead hopping from rock to rock or staying on the mud.  Standing in one place meant that you would just be at the mercy of gravity and find yourself sliding downhill.  I was glad for last month when I took the kids to the ice rink.  My hockey-stops and turns came in handy.ice

The hike reminded me of a disaster movie.  On the way, I passed a family. A mom and dad and two little kids.  Then there was the couple in their mid-to-late fifties, the family with the college age daughter leading the way, the inexperienced mom who kept sliding down the hill, and the handsome dad who offered his hiking pole every time she did.  The Sikh hikers who didn’t speak much English, and the father/son duo. The quartet of sorority girls in yoga pants and running shoes.  And the puff-puff-pass 420 couple. I guess that got to make me the lone street-smart off-duty cop or the retired special forces with a mysterious past, or the knowitall asshole writer…oh yeah, I see where I fit into this now.

After working my way up the ice slide, a difficult railed walk up some stone steps, and a walk down the catwalk, there was Hanging Lake.  I was drenched in sweat from the climb and shed my layers to air out.  Hanging Lake’s clear waters and icy falls were mesmerizing.  Cut-throat trout lingered near the edge of the catwalk, and blue jays swooped in to squawk and mooch whatever trailmix they could bum off the visitors.  The catwalk gives you a vantage point back across the canyon to snowy peaks and sheer rock faces.  The lake is small, and warning signs all over stress the importance of leaving it alone due to impact so that others can enjoy it.

I found out while in Glenwood that this has been the source of debate and controversy.  Hanging Lake has so many visitors each year that in May, shuttles will drive people out to the area and visitors will be limited to less than a thousand per year.  You will have to buy a permit to make the hike as well.  One story I was told blamed a swim team who had all jumped in the lake and posted pictures of themselves doing this on social media.  Other accounts were that people were impacting the area by erosion, leaving garbage all over, and even using one highly-graffitied historical hut as a toilet along the way.

When I was done taking my pictures, I decided to head back down the trail, seeing that snow was coming in from the opposite end of the canyon.  The man I had spoken to on the way up had been right.  As I let my mind wander to troubles of my own life, stresses that caused me to take this trip in the first place, I felt my feet swing up from under me and with a teeth gritting crunch, I was flat on my back.  With only a scrape on my elbow and a sore butt, I decided that the trail was a good place to clear your head, because there was no other room for thoughts other than where your next footstep would be placed.  classic shot

By the time I reached the bottom, the snow had become freezing rain.  I was sore, sweaty, and in need of something to put in my stomach.  I stopped in Glenwood Springs for gas and lunch.  Picking the first thing that came up on Yelp reviews for local eateries, I went to Polanka,  Polish restaurant, where I ordered the combo meal.  Six perogies, saurkraut, a cabbage roll, and a length of kielbasa.  It was the high fat and calorie kind of comfort food just perfect for after a strenuous hike.  The owner of Polanka and I talked about how marijuana dispensaries are ruining his business.  We talked about the impact of idiot hikers and tourists on Hanging Lake, and about how it is pretty much overhyped.  This was in contrast to what the lady at Starbucks told me before I set out on the drive home.  She loved Hanging Lake, but both could agree that restricting access to this landmark didn’t sit well with them, even if it was necessary to protect it.

After lunch, I went to Iron Springs and sat in hot springs for about three hours.  There I visited with a number of people.  From a well-traveled man born in Damascus to a quartet of selfie-obsessed college girls on Spring Break to Sunnie and Cody, a young couple from Columbia Missouri, who had stopped along the way to Las Vegas where Sunnie was doing a dance workshop before heading to LA.  Then there was John and Maddie who had been in Moab on vacation and had stopped in Glenwood on the way back to Wyoming.  We traded stories, talked about our lives and perhaps one of my favorite things about road trips like this for me, is you get to make friends to share that moment with and once you part ways, you will probably never see each other again, but in the process you have enriched each others’ lives.

The afternoon began to fade, and I had a four and a half hour drive back home, so I set out.  By Vail Pass, a spring storm had set in and I had to keep my eyes on the road.  The roads were awful until I hit Denver and then shortly after that, snow had turned into a deluge of rain.  After 15 hours on the road, I was ready for bed.  My skin still heavy with the smell of sulfur and a pounding in my forehead from too much time in the water and not enough hydration.  A whirlwind of a daytrip across my home state I would recommend to anyone, all done for little more than gas money, lunch money, and $20 to get into Iron Mountain Springs, which was well worth it.

Usually I write about getting out more with my kids, but sometimes you have to make these journeys alone.  For me, the destination is arbitrary.  And sometimes, the only way you can make sure you can do these kinds of things is to do them alone.  If you keep an open mind and a friendly word, you won’t find yourself alone for long.



Clinton Harris is a Colorado native and a writer learning to get out more.

He uses an iPhone 5SE for his photography.  He is lucky because he’s not a photographer, it’s just he lives in a part of the world where it is hard to take a bad picture of anything.

The Search for Bigfoot

I grew up in a mountain valley, one of the three vast “Parks” of Colorado, a windswept plain at about 8000 feet above sea level, surrounded by 12,000 ft. tall mountains on all sides.  We were isolated.  Undeveloped and to this day, still one of the most untouched regions of the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

My home town was, and to this day, hovers at around 700 people.  We had one school.  Two gas stations.  Three bars.  Three liquor stores. And two grocery stores, both of which featured severely marked up milk, bread, canned beans, and meat.  Most people in town drove sixty miles to the nearest town (in any direction) to do their shopping. Only during blizzards when the roads were closed did the locals succumb to price gouging and shop locally.23795308_10155225267713412_8676039804032762096_n

A number of years ago, when I was just around my youngest’s age now, someone in town had a corral of horses down by the river. Something had been spooking them.  Something which had emerged from the primordial forests, followed the river down, close to town, and began tormenting these horses.  In the partially frozen mud of the Michigan River, someone found a footprint.  It was like the shape of a man’s footprint, only large.  And fresh.

I remember that chilly afternoon when a large group of local men gathered, some riding in the back of pickup trucks, others with their dogs.  A few had horses.  All of them had hunting rifles.  There was a lot of hushed talk, fearful talk in low voices about Bigfoot.  Sasquatch.  For two days, the men crashed through the willows which choked the floodplain.  They looked for any other sign.  Hair.  Scat.  More prints.

Two weeks later, a black bear was shot by a friend of my dad’s with a bow down by the bridge outside of town.  The bridge that spanned the Michigan River. Bears weren’t all that common in those days, having been hunted out decades before. And with the death of the bear, strangely enough, the signs of Bigfoot also disappeared.  The two were obviously a coincidence.  But I never forgot the angry villagers who converged to drive a monster out of our community.

I love telling my kids that story whenever we visit.  This last Thanksgiving, my youngest, seven years old at the time, got excited about the prospect of hunting Bigfoot.  His grandpa outfitted him with all sorts of lanterns, flashlights, compasses, binoculars, and other gear to help him in his expedition.  Unfortunately, Grandpa ran out of steam that afternoon, and so it was up to me, Grandma, and his sister to indulge him on his trek.

The days were growing shorter, and so at about 4pm, we loaded up in the car while my dad napped, and headed east to one of my favorite places in North Park.  I’m convinced it would be nearly impossible to take a bad picture of this place.  The sunsets are spectacular.  The mountains are just as they were when settlers came into the area, and probably not much different than they were when the first people came into the area, with the exception of a few timber roads and patches of clearcut here and there.23755425_10155225267848412_3970156591653163350_n

We drove up the winding road, chasing the shadows cast by the last rays of light for the day.  The higher we got, the colder the air became.  The roads were rutted with mud and snow and ice.  An unseasonably warm November, but because of recent snowfall, the mountains were caked in an impressive white, unmarred above treeline by the warm days that had followed.

As night set in, we took pictures and walked a hunting trail a little ways to the trailhead of what is still one of my favorite hikes.  I have probably hiked this path in the Summer more times than any other trail.  It is daunting to say the least.  Most of it is at a grade that would be straight up if not for the switchbacks.  An old logging road allowed to grow over.  A thick forest of lodge-pole pines and aspen make up most of this five mile ascent until you reach tundra and some of the best views of the valley I have ever seen.  North Park stretches out to the west, north and south.  To the east is the Front Range as you stand on wilderness area, the highest tors and crags to the South are the Rawah peaks, across the valley to the West are the Zirkels.  Unlike Rocky Mountain National Park, just a few miles to the south, there are no groomed trails, no busloads of tourists, no cell reception, and no signs kindly reminding you to take only photographs and leave only footprints.  There is just you, the biting wind, and the cerulean sky infinite.


That night, there was no Bigfoot to be found.  And though we only stepped out of the car for a little bit, being unequiped for a night hike in the snow, my son ran and played, searching, hunting, as is what boys are born to do.  His goal was fulfilled, even though I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that we didn’t even see any footprints that weren’t our own.  But that is what adulting does.  It fixes your sights on the goal for so long that you forget to enjoy the path.  We didn’t need to find Bigfoot, only look for him.

And that is what we did.

We headed back home, watching the last rays of light fade behind the mountains to the West.  The stars and other worlds of our solar system began to wink into view.  My son fell asleep in his seat, holding his trusty brass lantern.  My daughter got back into range of the cell tower and was happy again.  My mom and I talked about life and the world and broken things and hope.  Back at the Grandparents’ house, hot chocolate was poured.  Television was watched. And Bigfoot remained elusive.

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Last Services for 100 Miles Should Tell You Something

In June 1998 two buddies of mine–Jimmy and Jason–and I rented a Chevy Blazer and lighted out for the territories, heading west at 11pm.  Our plan was to leave at dawn the next morning, but we were all so excited to take this roadtrip that we decided just to roll out of town right then.  Nobody was going to sleep anyway.  We left Greeley, CO and hit I-80 at about midnight, then we drove, missing the majestic landscape of the I-80 corridor as we cruised at a reasonable 110 mph.  The playlist must have been very heavy on Death Metal (Jason’s choice), but as the hum of tires on hot Wyoming asphalt lulled us to sleep, it didn’t matter what the guy from Foetus was screaming about.  It could have been Cannibal Corpse. I don’t know.  They all kinda blur together at some point and the nuances of shrieks and growls distinguishing that particular oeuvre of music are lost.

The last thing I remembered was Rawlins.  A town I have loathed since I was young.  A destination my dad used to torture my mom and I with as a child.  Their are only a few interesting things about Rawlins.  In the 19th century, when the West was wild, an outlaw was hanged and the Sheriff who did the hanging had the man’s skin tanned and made into a pair of shoes.  Also, there is a refinery nearby.  The Sinclair refinery.  This is where all the dinosaur gasoline comes from.  As a kid, I loved dinosaurs.  The town of Sinclair smells like the tarpits that might have killed the dinosaurs.  It’s horrible.

We stopped for gas in Rawlins, where a truck driver was tweaking so hard that he signed his name on the gas receipt with a happy face.  We kept driving into the night, snacked up as required.  We hoped to make Utah by dawn, and we did.  Our vehicle passing through Greenriver and Rock Springs in the pre-dawn light, the long shadows stretching out ahead of us.  Jimmy took over driving and the mountains and forests of the Ogden area soon dissolved into the Bonneville Salt Flats.  I slept.  Jason slept.  Jimmy kept driving.  Driving through the early morning hours, eating up the miles of road as the rest of us dozed.  He passed by a place that was advertised as being the last services available for the next 200 miles.  He might have said something about this as we flew past, but I wouldn’t know, because I was asleep.  I always remember this wrong, since I thought he had passed Deadhorse Point, but that’s on the opposite end of the state.

Maybe we were about to make our own Deadhorse Point? More like Dead Recently Graduated College Kids Point.  With 1/4 tank of gas in the car, Jimmy had passed the last gas station for 100 miles.

He informed us of this when Jason and I woke up, asking nonchalantly, “How many miles will a quarter of a tank get us?”  A quarter of a tank was a liberal estimation.  More like whatever was left in the tank when the fuel light came on.  The only thing burning brighter than that low fuel light was Jimmy’s ears after we started chewing him out.  After dropping down to 55 mph to conserve fuel and scrambling through the owners manual, we determined that the car had a capacity of around 18 gallons.  Which by our estimate meant we had about eighty miles to go on about three gallons.  We turned off the AC, ran with the windows down, and held our breath for the next hour.

Looking at the map, we decided to take a state highway, south to a town big enough to have services.  We soon discovered that in Nevada, when they say, “Last services for 100 miles,” they don’t mean “In the direction you are traveling.”  It takes into account all cardinal directions.

We watched those mile marker signs pass, counting down the remainder of the distance we might have to walk to find the next gas station.  60 miles.  54 miles.  45 miles.  That little gas pump burning angrily in the sea of dials within the dash instruments.  Cruise set at 55.  Then lower.  We felt like we were crawling after the triple digit pace we had been going. We crawled right through a town that was a speck on the map, with a gas station that had long since been abandoned.  An old Australian shepherd mix (maybe mixed with Coyote) sitting on the stoop.  Signs posted all over the place warning that tresspassers would be shot and buried. We didn’t slow down.

Jim reminded us that it was okay. He had AAA. As we neared the next closest town, we still had no cellular reception to even call AAA.  Jim’s indestructible Nokia didn’t have enough oomph to reach the nearest tower.  In those days, people didn’t even text, and the internet was just dialup for most people, much less any kind of navigation via cell phone.  We were looking at a long walk in the mid-morning desert sun on an empty stretch of road.  The weather was weird though.  Cloudy to the east, a weird, yellow hue to the sky.  A tail wind was helping us along.

Sputtering, we coasted into a gas station.  Nineteen gallons went into the tank.  Mentally exhausted, we stepped into the hot desert air, no longer being forced into the car at 50mph.  Inside the gas station shop, we loaded up on provisions for the next leg of the trip.  Plenty of liquid to drink, strange candy bars not of our region.  Candy I hadn’t seen in years.  Idaho Spuds and Suzie Q’s.  O Henry bars.  Chik-0-Stiks.  Bit O Honey the size of your arm.  It was like the farm where crappy Halloween candy was born and shipped off to stores before it could outgrow being fun-sized.  These were the real-deal, King Sized versions.  Wash them down with a Big Red or Sarsaparilla!

Our tank replenished as well as our spirits, we continued on.  By the time we stopped at our hotel, we were wiped out.  Television in other towns is always strange, approaching something of an uncanny familiarity to what you are used to, only a little off.  Local commercials are usually low budget used car commercials with a weird little man in a bad suit, shouting about how nobody can beat his prices.  The news reflects the regional styles, with a demographic selected to be the most appealing to natives of the area.  Somehow the chalky makeup and overly teased hair, the perfect teeth, is always rankling when compared to your own homeland.  You think “How did people this goofy looking make it onto TV?”

I would imagine everyone wonders this, no matter where they are from or where they wind up.  When you get used to how the newscasters look, its time to pull up stakes and move on.

On the news, we learned that the source of our tailwind, which gave us about 25 miles per gallon, was the first tornado to hit the area since the late 1800s.  It touched down some distance away, tore the roof off some sheds and departed as quickly as it had come.

We ate dinner at a restaurant more suited towards the simpler palate of a vastly Mormon population.  Salt and pepper being the only exotic spices allowed.  Fat and flour being the other ingredients.  No coffee.  Not that we needed any.  The first leg of the road trip was about 16 hours.  Reno was our first main excursion.  Beyond a couple casinos, there wasn’t much to do in Reno, so we headed up into the Sierras.  Three Colorado boys driving the mountain roads of California was like a duck taking to water, only the roads are wider and better cared for. We flew along.

Then onward to San Francisco.universal

Me, Jimmy, and unidentified Tourist (far right) at Universal Studios. 1998.

I Don’t Get Out Much

I might have mentioned before that I’m not always satisfied with the day job.  There are days that my imagination takes me to far off places.  Times that my brain and my fingers work on conjunction, spinning yarns or sometimes just making observations or reflections about life.  Most of the time, these thoughts never surface anywhere beyond my notebook or locked blog.  One day, I will die, and possibly someone will stumble across these thoughts.  Maybe they will be important.  Maybe not.

A lot of my writing lately has been about regret.  Sometimes I feel like my life is stuck.  It is a source of a lot of frustration for me.  If I had asked myself twenty years ago what my life would be like at 42, I would have probably talked about living in a downtown loft, or a secluded mountain hideaway, working on my fourth or fifth novel.  Back then I was secure in the belief that I could chase my dreams and do what makes me happy.  One of the truest ways I am happy is through writing.  It also makes me miserable.  I begin projects and I abandon them because I am a perfectionist.  I get the words down for a while until I see there being no reason to continue.  My stories aren’t all that interesting.  My life hasn’t been all that interesting.  For the last seventeen years, the majority of my life has been working to support a family and wiping butts and noses.

So on the days when I’m chipping away at a story, either in the quiet of my own empty house, or the solitude of moments at work when other people are shopping online or talking about their grandchildren, I do so in secret.  It is clandestine.  Taboo. The clickety-clack of the keys betraying what you are to a silent room.  A very silent artform, but luckily I am not a musician anymore who needs to express himself with sound.  If I could type silently, I would and slip beneath the surface without question.  Muffling the oars like Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride.  I start and I stop to mimic the banality of an email.  The near-automation of data entry.

My mind takes me to places.  This morning I thought “I would like to become a travel writer.”  A lot of lucky souls do this for a living.  I don’t get out much.  Between kids and the cloud of poverty hanging over my head, true travel hasn’t happened for me in a very long time.  Aside from a few family vacations while I was married, a few days off from work to check out Santa Fe or the Black Hills, one long weekend in Los Angeles, I haven’t been on an adventure of this kind since 1998 when a couple buddies and I took a road trip for nine days to California.  We witnessed a tornado in the Nevada desert, as we were driving on fumes because two out of three of us were asleep when our driver passed the “Last services for 200 miles” sign at Deadhorse Point with half a tank of gas.  We coasted into a gas station, engine sputtering.

The greatest trip I took was when I was seventeen.  I was loaded onto a bus with 40 other teenagers and driven from Denver to St. Louis, to Gettysburg, Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York City, then Niagara Falls and back again. The trip was the best two and a half weeks of my life. I still talk to friends I made all that time ago.  One of these days, I will write about our misadventures.  Being young.  Falling in love.  Narrowly escaping getting into trouble.  First kisses and final farewells. We learned more about ourselves on that trip than we did the Civil War or the Constitution or Ellis Island.

Trips like these aren’t tourist travel for the faint of heart.  They aren’t all-inclusive resorts or floating hotels that transport you to the precipice of an experience.  Like a window you are looking out of while safe inside the familiar confines of your air-conditioned home away from home.  The best trips are ones where you travel deep.  You eat food that the locals eat.  You skip the touristy spots, though those are also fun, and you see what makes a place tick.  I have often thought of doing a cruise, but after hearing about how topical the experience is I would try it, but I think I would want something else.

I like the part where you get lost, or you see a detail that isn’t listed in a Lonely Planet guide.  I don’t need the long lines to see the Mona Lisa, I don’t need the same stupid picture where you are holding up the leaning tower of Pisa.

I would like to do something different.  My experiences are limited, and I am outgrowing them.  I need to broaden my horizons to become a better writer, as well as a better person.  I think I might start seeing what I can do about making a living out of writing more about my experiences.  At least while I still can.  Then it won’t matter if someone hears the clickety clack of my fingers on the keyboard. It will be work.  It will also be play.

How to Have a Midlife Crisis on a Budget

There is a decades old trope on what a male mid-life crisis looks like.  Men reach an age where they begin facing the short rows of their mortality.  Maybe they have an affair, get a divorce, start dating women much younger than themselves.  They start dressing snazzier, driving sports cars (the Mazda Miata is made to be waterproof, not just from the eventuality that you will leave the top down during a rainstorm, but from the amount of crying men in their mid to late forties are doing while driving).

This week, I think I might have a mid-life crisis.  But not in the traditional sense.  I am living on a shoestring budget.  I can’t afford the sports car, the new sunglasses, I dislike Polo shirts, white shorts, and I have no desire to wear a “chronometer.”  This week has been a rough one.  Kids can be demanding, ungrateful, and though I love them with all I am, sometimes it’s nice when they go back to their mom’s house.  This weekend, I was met with a series of requests. Most of which were very expensive.

I hate taking my kids to the store, because I feel like a broken record.  Every ten seconds, I have to tell them “No.”  The follow up to their demands as to why I won’t buy them candy, toys, arts and crafts supplies, random crap, etc. is “Because I have less that $40 in the bank to get me to the end of the month.”  They don’t understand that a bottle of soda is nearly $2.  If they got one of those (each) every time we went to the store, it would be a $20 per week habit.  Forget about getting a coffee when the kids are with me, because my $2 Americano winds up being $6 worth of coffees or hot chocolates, which they either chug or leave half drunk in the drink-holders of my car to rot. So I just don’t buy any for them.  I say No.  They want something just to get it.  They don’t appreciate it if they do get it.  Why should I get a coffee and not them?  Probably because I do most of the work around the house.  Unless you count trashing the house as participating in the chores. If you do, then also include eating anything out of the fridge and leaving the mess for Dad to clean up too.  Because most of the time, that’s what they do.

My solution to this: don’t have food in the house, because they will just eat it when you aren’t looking.  When I say they will eat anything, I mean everything. My daughter sometimes puts Red Hot on soda crackers and just eats those.  Top Ramen, corn/potato chips, dry noodles, stale marshmallows, cans of sardines.  Saturday morning, my seven year old took it upon himself to make breakfast.  Which turned out to be four slices of pizza from the night before.  This was before anyone else got out of bed.  He gets up early to watch cartoons or play iPad games and was quite content with finishing off the leftovers of what was going to be lunch for three people.

It’s easier to just not buy food sometimes until you need to eat it, because there’s a chance someone will have absconded with a key ingredient anyway by the time you are ready to cook dinner.  This weekend a friend of my youngest came over, ate half a donut (leaving the rest to rot) and then raided the fridge.  She was disgusted and said “Seriously?” when she looked inside.  Because apparently the donut she wasted wasn’t sufficient.  It would have been fine for breakfast for somebody had she not mouthed the damn thing to leave for me to throw away later.

My point is I can’t even feed the urchins that drift in with the neighborhood tide, much less have a proper midlife crisis. Not only am I telling my kids “No” but myself.  A lot.

If there is anyone who could use a midlife crisis right now, it’s me.  On the heels of a messy divorce, a dead-end job, expensive as hell kids, bills, and now feeling like my body is just on the verge of failure, maybe I can afford one when I retire?  Hopped up on heart medication, with bad joints and aches and pains.  Living on the bullshit pension my dead-end job left me.  My life has been a hand-to-mouth existence since I got married.  Divorce didn’t help that at all.  Divorce was expensive and mine is still not paid off.

So, I am unable to go abroad, take vacations, extended trips, even spend my evenings at the bars (not that I want that), much less buy a flashy red sports car or pay for half-drunk lattes, fruity drinks, or trinkets for someone half my age.  Why do that?  Kids are expensive enough, and a mid-life crisis girlfriend is just like having another kid!  No!

So, this is what I do.  This weekend, I taught myself how to ride a skateboard.  I had never done that before.  Two weeks ago, the kids and I went ice skating. I taught myself how to skate with hockey skates.  I’m getting a late start on a lot of these things. I made pretzels from scratch for the first time too.  I’m reading more.  Part of me wonders what I need to do to change my life.  I will never be financially secure at the job I have now, and after 17 years here, I can see that I will easily go another 17 without any change in that.

Sometimes I think of the old days when I was younger.  More social. I had a little bit of wiggle room as far as money goes.  I scrimped and saved to make sure I had savings and money to pay all of my bills. I had no credit card debt.  I got married and all of that vanished. “We” made bad decisions with money. I was the sole bread-winner.  I couldn’t go back to college because I had a wife and kids to support.

I’m working on setting things right, but it will be a long road.  I have no desire to go back to school anymore.  My job is lame, but at least I can go home at the end of the day and work stays at work, and my body doesn’t feel horse-whipped.  The hardest part is not feeling fulfilled at the end of the day.  Like what I’m doing is only staving off starvation or scurvy.  It’s survival.  Treading water.  When I write, it’s fine and all, but these days, nobody is paying for your quippy outlook on life.  Why should they when you have the internet giving it away for free?  Blogging for money is nearly dead, with Facebook and Twitter over-saturating the market and suppressing the rest of the internet through their filter.

That leaves writing for my own pleasure, and if someone else gets a kick out of it, so be it.  It’s not going to make me rich, but at least it’s something I can still do well.  It’s my equivalent of starting a woodworking shop in my garage, or restoring a late 60s muscle car.  Plus, it’s free.

Maybe one day I’ll have the life I see in the Patagonia catalog?  Or those hip travel shows with the millennials that act like idiots in other countries?  For now, I’m stuck.  I feel stuck.  The only benefit of being stuck is even if I’m not going ahead, at least I’m not falling back.  So I’ve got that going for me.  Which is nice.

Questions and Fears

Yesterday as I drove my daughter to school, she looked at me in tears and said she was afraid.  She goes to a rough school, a definite downgrade from the charter school she used to go to.  But kids can be mean little bastards, she was dealing with a lot of conflict in her home life, and rather than rebel at home, she decided to take her rebellion out on the road by sabotaging her academic life.  She nearly failed out of one of the best schools in the district and they basically told her don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

So the school she goes to is more “Diverse.”  Which is not true at all.  The vast majority of gang colors indicate Bloods.  She sees a lot of violence.  A lot of racism. Yes, it’s still racism when kids of color are throwing things at you in the hallways and calling you a “white bitch.”  Her teachers are part of the problem as well, often checking out of their classes early while their students run everything like it was Lord of the Flies.  If the kids ever read books, they might see the correlation.  But they don’t.

One of my daughter’s favorite classes was Street Law, which is basically a course for Freshmen that was necessary so that kids would understand their Miranda rights when they were being arrested.  Yes, it’s that kind of school.

So when some maniac shoots up a school in Florida on Valentines Day, she has some valid concerns.  Many of the kids she goes to school with are in gangs.  They have beef with other kids, they openly discuss drug use, violence, rape, all sorts of things that get them street credit for being in a gang.  There’s even some MS-13 wannabes in this school.  She is usually terrified to be in this school.  Often keeping a low profile so she won’t get bullied, beaten, etc.  But now that kids are murdering each other in Florida, she’s seeing her school as a powder keg.  Which it pretty much has been for about twenty years.

Unfortunately, she has burned her bridges at her old school, so she’s stuck here or with the alternative schools, which just seem like a gateway to getting your GED.  As Dad, I know that she needs to learn how to overcome her obstacles.  Sometimes she makes her problems worse.  Sometimes not.

The immediate solution is to offer her some advice.

If she finds herself in a situation where there may be violence, I told her what they tell you in active shooter training.

Run.  Hide.  Fight.

If you can run, run.  If you can’t run, then hide.  If they are coming for you, then get them in a dogpile with other people if you can, beat the shit out of them if you can, and live another day.

Our culture today is so hell-bent on pacifism.  If you just play dead, the bear won’t maul you!  Bears are scavengers. How does that make sense?  Animals prefer eating other animals that are already dead. It makes it easier to swallow a zebra when the joint of leg isn’t kicking you on the way down to your stomach.

An active shooter should face active “victims.”  People who are not going to make it easy for them to murder.  Run.

Hiding is a better choice than dying every time.  And once you have exhausted your abilities to hide, fight for your life.

That’s all I’ve got, because it doesn’t matter who wants to debate what in a pro/anti-gun debate.  When someone is shooting at you, it doesn’t matter if they obtained their firearm legally or illegally.  They are illegally wanting to end your life, and that doesn’t really seem to be something they care about right now.  It’s like anything in life. You cannot control others, but you can control how you respond to the actions of others.  It’s an immediate solution to a situation.  When you are a Freshman in high school, you are already doing what you need to in order to survive.  It’s best not to complicate things with politics, high-minded ideals, or debate.  Get the hell out, live, make your life a priority.

As a parent, do I wish I didn’t have to give that talk?  Yes.  As far as her school goes, with the amount of crime she already tries to co-exist with, it’s just a matter of time until it turns its attention to her or other innocents in school.  The world will always be full of bad people.  Sometimes they have guns.  Sometimes they have knives.  What they always want is power over someone else.  I wish that wasn’t the case, but it is.

A New Beginning…

What is three years?  Sometimes it is a flicker of light through the trees on a mountain road.  Other times it is a big piece taken out of your life.  Sometimes it is both all at once.  A lifetime.  An annoying moment of After These Messages We’ll Be Right Back!

Three years for me has been a long time of figuring out what I’m doing with my life.  I won’t get into the details here, but I was in a long and mostly unhappy marriage.  It took a lot to finally extract myself from that way of life and it has taken a lot to get where I am now.  I’ll spare you the details on this right now.  Maybe I’ll get into it later.  Lots of people have encouraged me to share my story about how I got out of a bad situation, as a way to heal or as a guide for others.  I’ve learned there are other things I would rather think about.  Sometimes it’s better just to move on.

I used to blog a lot at LiveJournal.  Back in those days, it was more a community of writers.  We shared our stories, our hopes and dreams, our fears, and we got to watch each other rise through the ranks of publishing, or eventually burn out and give up.  In time, that platform folded, being bought out by the Russian mafia.  Most of us went on to Facebook, where the account of our lives was much shorter, far less intimate, and responses were those brief little dopamine hits measured in “Likes.”  Gone was the community, the creativity, the expansive way to express ourselves.  But the audience was bigger. It was made up of people we knew in high school, a vast network of people known by acquaintance, or just because they said something cool and you kept seeing their name pop up.  Our friendships are limited to one click on a funny dog video now.  Not very personal and hardly as intimate as writing.

LiveJournal saved my life back in the day.  But made it bearable to be in my situation.  Facebook was a lesser form of escape.  When LJ died, I needed more…in a weird way, losing the better outlet made me go back into the world again, and helped motivate me to ask more out of my life.  Now I’m back here, because I want more out of expression than what social media gives.

One of the things I have learned at forty-two years old as a single dad of three kids, is that there are choices we make everyday in life.  There are decisions we have made which have changed the course of our lives.  Some good.  Some bad.  And whichever path we choose, we just have to carry on, moving forward with every step.  There is a lot of looking back sometimes, but that will only make you feel remorse.  There are no do-overs.  And in making some choices, I understand that there has been a lot I have given up, but also a lot I have gained.

After my divorce I had the unique opportunity to fix or change a lot of things I regretted in my life.  I wasn’t the man I set out to be when I was in my late teens or early twenties.  I actually did get a second chance at figuring out who that was.  It wasn’t the cliché of a midlife crisis where I needed a convertible and a cute blonde half my age to help me find myself either.  No, a lot of who I was had been lost, but not because of vanity or ego. My life wasn’t my own.

One of the things they tell you when you have kids is that “Everything changes.”  As a young dad you get tired of hearing this. You might even brace yourself for it, throwing away all the things you consider trappings of a young man and inviting the burden of responsibility, putting your nose to the grindstone, maybe like how you saw your mom or dad do, suffering through parenthood like some kind of early Christian martyr.

I think the biggest disservice I did to myself was thinking I had to give up who I was to be something for someone else.  Instead of me, I became a husband first.  A father first.  The pieces of Me that were allowed were buried deep.  My life became that of service and self-sacrifice, like some kind of Edwardian butler who could have been replaced by some kind of automation.  More Than Dad means just that.  To my kids, I am usually just Dad.  I love my kids with everything I am, but at some point you have to see that there has to be a You to love with.  My kids don’t comprise me.  They are themselves.  Maybe the best of me.  And maybe the worst of me.  All in different measure.  And I am not just them.  When they grow up and leave the house, in search of their own place in this world, who will I be?  Will I be like some kind of fossil imprint of a shell?  This was where these kids came from!  I will have many, many years of being myself.

I see a lot of parents fall into this.  Their lives become everything they can and have to do for their kids.  They are lost in it.  They become chauffeurs to soccer games, housekeepers, disciplinarians, cooks, gift distributors, entertainment…all for tiny people who take all of that for granted.  They are less and less the mentors, teachers, confidants, or even family.  It reminds me of what Kennedy said about “Ask not what your country can do for you!”  Parents just give and give and give to their kids.  The biggest birthday parties, the best Christmases, trips to Disney, every damned moment of your life will be the best damned moment of your life, kids!!!

Believe me when I say this, but we would spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars every year just on the kids to make a perfect Christmas.

And these parents joke and say things like “Is it beer thirty yet?”  Or “I’m going to slip into a chardonnay and a coma once the kids are in bed! Hahaha!”  And the Xanax prescriptions and the moments where the kids are in bed and the harsh words come between couples.  The drudgery.  The toil.  The moment where you realize this is the same shirt you have worn for the last six Tuesdays in a row.  Every day is just like the last.  Your kids are having a ball, though they are bored by it, and you are barely hanging on.

When I was first separated, I got my kids back on a week by week basis.  One week on and one week off. On weeks without them, I was myself again.  Whoever that was.  When I was with them, I was Dad.  It took a while to merge those two worlds.  To sort out what worked and what didn’t.  Being Dad all the time didn’t work. We aren’t our jobs.  Dad is kinda like a job.  It’s an important job.  But it isn’t all that you are.  The same goes for being Mom.  When you look at yourself in the mirror, do you say: This is Dad!  Why?  If so, I hope that’s not all you see.

I didn’t see much else for a while.  I was the sole provider for my family unit.  And when I was home, it was pretty much my job to do everything in the house.  Cooking, cleaning, chasing after the kids, while my spouse bemoaned her hard day of being a Mom for the nine hours I was away from home.  When I found myself single, I had a lot of downtime.  There were no longer the evenings occupied by nagging kids to clean their rooms, washing dishes, doing the laundry, DIY projects, cutting down tree suckers.  I went to the gym.  I ate simple meals.  I wrote again.  I had a lot of time on my hands to say, “Man this is some bullshit!”  I met up with friends again.  Some I saw drowning in their own parenthood, others single and kidless.  Which isn’t all that great either.

It’s a balance.

This is why I’m writing this. Not to dwell on the years of a horrible marriage, but to share my experiences being a single parent.  As well as the person I am just getting to know again.  Sometimes I am a writer, so you’ll see posts about things I am working on.  Sometimes I am a person trying to understand this messed up world we have inherited.  I’m a survivor of a bad situation. Mistakes were made. I’m also a son.  A friend.  Sometimes I am a lot of things.  All in all, I’m a man who is more than just Dad.

A Long, Long Way to Go



The writing has been stalled a little bit on the book.  I have big ambitions to get it going again.  I feel like I have probably 80% of the plot worked out, 66% of the structure and over half of the chapters written or at least outlined.  I was feeling overconfident of course, because this weekend I had a chance to read some chapters to a friend of mine.  Like actually sit down and read them out loud.  Do you do this in your writing?  You might not. Odds are you don’t.  In my mind, the words were all great, the story was compelling, but when I read them, it was like I was reading a newspaper printed on a piece of Swiss cheese.  The holes and gaps were distracting.  The reaction I got from my audience was more than enough praise to continue with the project, which really is the point, isn’t it? Say what you will about the artist’s drive to produce something they value themselves, but seriously, don’t we all secretly, in our heart of hearts want someone else to enjoy our stories too?

I don’t think there is any shame in that.  At least know the kind of monster you are.  Some people write because it is a compulsion and some people write for attention.  I just want to be honest here and break it down to what it really is:  a performance.  You don’t see actors performing entire plays on their own in their homes do you?  Then why would any writer want anyone to read their work when they could just as comfortably write a book, put it on a shelf or leave it on their hard-drive, indifferent as to whether or not anyone would ever read it?  It is silly and pretentious to say you, as an author, don’t write for your audience.  Don’t play to the audience, but at least be honest with yourself and say you would get a thrill seeing that book on a shelf.  Otherwise, you are either lying or crazy.

Having had my work heard and received well, I realized that the audience it failed to impress was me.  I know I’m a better writer than that.  Granted this was first draft stuff, but I found myself frustrated with the quality of my work.  It resonated with my daughter’s honest review of my book, Song of the Cinder.  She’s 14.  Which means she has no filter when it comes to cutting dear old dad down to size.  She liked the book.  Said it had all sorts of excellent things about it, but I killed her favorite character, almost predictably and the ending felt rushed.

She was right.  The ending was rushed.  I had spent five years on the story from the first short story I had written to the novel it eventually became.  Not saying it wasn’t fun to write, and well-received, but also she was right.  At some point I told myself I needed to just finish the damned thing.  I needed to move on creatively from that story and it was a make or break situation.  Sorta like that old car restoration project your uncle has had up on blocks in his yard for the last twenty years.  Either finish the damned thing or sell it to someone who will!

However, no matter how perfect and well-centered teenaged daughters might be I thought of her advice when I was cleaning her room the other day.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I badgered her all summer long to clean her closet.  She wouldn’t even break stride while she texted her friends and she would simply say, “Okay, I’ll do it tomorrow.”  Well, shortly after sending her back to her mom’s house for the week, I decided enough I-will-do-it-tomorrows had passed.  I chucked two large garbage bags of crumpled up drawings, half-finished projects, and clothes that hadn’t fit for years that had accumulated at the bottom of her closet like some sort of sludge, ideal for the preservation of organic material that could be fossilized for later study by scientists long after humanity has wiped itself out.

I couldn’t even blame her.  She had emotional attachment to a lot of these drawings, though they were treated like garbage, ultimately.  The task must have been completely overwhelming.  That two foot by five foot area may as well have been the Marianas Trench.  She needed someone impartial, cold and unfeeling towards the sentiment of the accumulated crap she had collected there over the years.  She was too close to it to even know where to begin.

Maybe that’s my problem with the book.  Scrivener is an awesome tool for writing, but in some ways I think it makes it too easy to start something, lose it, and never finish it or have to keep restarting it because you can’t find it.  I wrote Cinder on Word, one chapter at a time, rather than one scene or segment at a time.  I compiled it in Scrivener and dumped it into a PDF file for publication.  I have been no better off with it as a writing tool, because it isn’t much help in letting me do the job.  So either I need to figure out a way to stop struggling with the tool, or ditch it outright and go back to what has worked.

Anyway, one thing I do need to do is continue to focus on chiseling away at the novel.  Jumping around might be attractive, but really it’s a matter of getting the words down.  If I write all the fun scenes right off, then what motivation have I got to write the meat and potatoes of it later?  None, really.

So, maybe for your writing, consider reading it outloud to someone else.  Even if they love it, they might just be impressed that you can put words down on paper, or maybe they are jealous and cut your writing down because you finished something that wasn’t a text about how dismal and dark existence is and how High School has no meaning.  I don’t know.  But I do know that maybe at some point I really need to rip and tear, chuck things I haven’t looked at in forever, and just clean out the closet.