Thursday, August 6, 2009

From lbs. with love

A friend of mine, Randi, keeps a truly hilarious blog. This week she wrote a letter to her 15 pounds ( As someone who recently welcomed back my own 15 pounds I can relate to such a letter. This morning the thought hit me, “How would my 15 pounds reply to such a letter?” Well here it is.

Yo Aaron! What’s up?

Don’t know why you had to write a letter, I’m right here. But if that’s how you want to do this then fine. I know we’ve had an on again off again relationship (mostly on again) but it ain’t all been bad. Remember all the fun we have when I do come back? The bacon double cheeseburgers, those trips to Cold Stone, or that Chinese buffet that we love. Remember that? We’ve had some good times man. You know that game we play where we sneak a cookie (or three) late at night and then try to be cute when your wife catches us with a reply like “No I’m not.” Classic. Good times...
We both know you hate to exercise. Is there any exercise when I’m around? No, you’re welcome. And don’t pretend you didn’t enjoy those nights on end in front of the TV finishing off the kids left over Halloween candy either.
Come on man be reasonable, as hard as you try to push me away we both know you miss this rotund ball of fun when I’m gone. Why else do you keep bringing me back?
Sure, I’ll go, if you really really want me gone. You know where to find me when you get tired of eating apples and celery sticks; when you’re tired of "working out" and counting calories. I’ll be around.

With love,
YOUR 15 lbs.

P.S. I’ll be waiting at the BBQ Company if you need me. Remember 1st and 3rd Wednesdays are all you can eat!

Thursday, July 2, 2009


It has been less than 24 hours since I got my new iPhone. I know you are asking yourself 'Isn't Aaron too cheap to buy an iPhone?', yes I am; this phone was purchased through work. Anyway for those of you unfamiliar with the iPhone it isn't really a phone at all. Sure you can make and take calls on your iPhone, but this little baby is a portable universe all it's own.

The first thing I did was download my pictures and music through iTunes. This took up about 1/4 of my available 8G's of space. Then I synced my Outlook (email, calendar and contacts) wirelessly (since this device was purchased with the intent that I use it for work). Both went off without a hitch and I was already pleased with the massive upgrade this device was compared to my last device. The Photo viewer is pretty trick, with access to your pictures at your finger tips, literally.

Then I found the App Store. Life has been a blur since then. (I won't even go into the Wi-fi, Bluetooth, YouTube and Web browsing capabilities)

Thus far I've stayed to the free apps (again I'm cheap) but even these are amazing. First two I downloaded were the facebook and twitter apps and they work like a charm. Then of course was a Star Wars lightsaber simulator (Awesome!). Then I got the entire standard works and hymns right there in the palm of my hand.

Today I got SportsCenter and MLB at Bat apps, I got the news from USA Today and a racecar app (FastLane) that is really cool.

I found apps that teach you Spanish and German ("me gusta mantequilla").

I felt like CNN's John King and his magic screen with Google earth. Gives a whole new meaning to "the whole whole in your hands".

Then there's the time waster, kid entertainer, co-worker annoyer kind of apps. Seriously I'll never be productive again. What were they thinking getting me this device?

Bottom line is if there's a better technology than this I haven't seen it. I'd like to blog more but Arcade Hoops Basketball is calling.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Men vs. Wild

Day One

Tuesday morning early we set off for the Hellsgate Wilderness. Jeff Neeley, Zane Frentheway, Marc Jackson, Cedar Glasgow, Mason Crandell, Kolter Anderson, Kyler Fackrell and myself.

The plan was to drop off vehicles down at Gisela and have Kent Anderson and Lane Glasgow drive us up to the rim. We discovered, however, that the area had been closed off and we could no longer park cars there. So after a bit of searching we found a spot back in a wash where we felt we could leave our vehicles that would carry us home. Then we loaded up into the two vehicles and zipped up to the drop off. Lane and Kent wished us luck and we were left to ourselves to brave the rugged wilderness that lie ahead.

The hike began with a 7 mile jaunt up and over a mountainous area. There were several fairly steep inclines, one that was particularly memorable as I felt my heart might pound right out of my chest. Our reward for making it to the top? Descending a perilous drop off on the other side to get down to the water.

Thus far in the journey the boy’s spirits were high, they were singing songs and goofing off. Although the hike was tough they seemed to be enjoying themselves despite the difficult terrain whether they would admit it or not.

We made it down to the water around lunch time without much trouble although Marc did lose his walking stick. We stopped there for some lunch and I gratefully removed my shoes and socks and let me feet dry out. Some of the boys swam in the water even though it was very cold.

At this point it hit me that we had no alternative but to continue on to the end. The climb back up that mountain seemed just as unpleasant as the thought of carrying on and even if you did no one would be back there for us. The only option was to get to the cars at the bottom. I didn’t allow myself to dwell on that thought though because I didn’t want to freak out.

One small digression; Mason thought it would be a good idea to up the difficultly level of this adventure by attempting to hike in his underpants. Once we got to the water Cedar joined him in this folly and donned a Speedo for the duration of the day, despite our warning to the contrary. I’ll illustrate later what a bad idea this was.

After lunch, which for me consisted of a protein bar and some jerky, went entered Tonto Gorge.

The first descent into the water was shocking. Although the day was very warm the water was very cold. The first several yards you only had to get your feet and ankles wet but slowly the water got deeper and more of your body was exposed to the cold. I’ll try to be delicate here but when the water hit the region just below your waist let’s just say it was unpleasant. Once you got past that and your body adjusted, by adjusted I mean became completely numb, the water wasn’t all that bad.

At this point in the hike Cedar declared that it was “The best hike ever”. That was the last time this sentiment would be expressed.

Several hours later we took a break on some rocks and a couple of the boys jumped off a cliff into the deep cold water while we older guys rested peacefully. At this point Kyler had lost one of his three water bottles (more on that later).

The bad part about taking a break like that was you get dry and warm and have to re-acclimate yourself to the water, again by re-acclimate I mean numb yourself.

You have three choices going down the Gorge. You can climb boulders and cliffs, rock hop/trudge through the shallow water, or swim when it gets deep. That’s it, that’s the list. Sometimes the canyon chooses for you and you just have to go with it. All of these have their pros and their cons and each is exhausting in its own way.

After several hours of getting in and out of the water I was spent. One piece of advice that I got from Bishop Peterson as he was prepping us for this hike was “Never pass up a decent camping spot”. The reason being is that you never know when you’ll find another one. Well about 4:00 we happened along a reasonably good spot to camp for the night. We met briefly and determined that 4:00 was too early to stop and that we’d make camp at the next good looking area. Almost immediately after making that foolish decision the canyon narrowed and the terrain became even more difficult and unwelcoming. It was nearly two hours before a suitable spot was found to camp.

At this point Marc and I had fallen behind the lead group and I had lost sight of Kolter who was 100 yards or so ahead of me. I kept replaying in my mind the counsel of Bishop Peterson “Never pass up a decent camping spot”. I was cursing myself for being so foolish when I heard the boys talking up ahead as the canyon turned to the left. I was so happy to be able to sit and know that I was done for the day.

After a few minutes I changed into some dry clothes and went to pump water for cooking and drinking for the night and morning. We brought a 5 gallon collapsible water jug for the camp. Cedar and I took turns filling up one and Kyler and Mason filled the other. Then we made our way back up the rocks to our camp site which was a sand bank about ten feet above the water on an incline.

There we dried out our gear. Kyler’s sleeping bag was completely soaked and my bag got wet as well. Another reason to make camp early was to allow things time to dry. Even though we were all prepared with dry bags things still get wet.

Then it was time for dinner. We all boiled water on the camping stoves we had brought. A big ‘thank you’ to Bishop Peterson for letting us use his equipment. We poured the boiled water into our freeze dried pouches and let them sit for 8 or 9 minutes. I had spaghetti and meat sauce. I used too much water but it still wasn’t bad.

We had scheduled our trip to go though Friday. After dinner the first night Kyler looked at me and said “I’m not doing three more days of this.” I couldn’t say that I blamed him. I asked Jeff, our guide without whom we never would have made it, if it was possible to make it out in 3 days and he said “It’d better be because I only brought food for three days.” At that point the decision was made to hike as long and as far as we could tomorrow in an attempt to get out by Thursday.

The sun had barely dipped behind the canyon walls and we were all lying on our beds, which were just a ground pad and a sleeping bag. I had decided before we went that I’d do a nightly devotional that centered around teamwork. I even prepared team building activities. I was a fool to think I’d have to energy for this but still I talked with the boys about team and teamwork before we prayed and tried to sleep foregoing any additional activities.

Day Two

Day Three

Day Two

The wind had blown throughout the night the temperature dropped significantly. Combined that with the incline that we were laying on and previous day’s activity and it was little wonder that no one slept very well.

We were all awake by 4:50 and Mason had already gotten up and started a fire with drift wood he had scavenged when the cold became unbearable. We all grudgingly got up and made breakfast. I boiled water and made what was supposed to be scrambled eggs with bacon. The bacon parts weren’t so bad but they were intermingled with something that resembled eggs but tasted like powdery bloated death. Shortly after eating this I abandoned my goal of not making twozie on this trip and quickly made a make shift toilet to relieve my suffering.

Then we all changed back into our hiking clothes from the day before, burned our trash and packed up our bags. We made our way down to the creek to pump water. At this point I learned that Kyler had lost all his water bottles the day before and Marc had lost one of his. I gave one of my water bottles to Kyler and Marc got a second from one of the boys Gatorade bottles.

All night I had been dreading getting back into the water. I was resigned to the fact that I had to keep hiking but getting back into the water after a cold windy night seemed just too daunting. Much faster than I wanted, the time came to take the plunge. The sun had still not peaked over the canyon and the day was still cool when my ankles and feet first sank into the ice cold creek. Then with one misstep I was up to my waist and fighting to catch my breath.

Eager to get out the boys, Cedar, Mason, Kyler and Kolter, sailed ahead trying their best to stay out of the water. This was for two reasons really. First, as I’ve already illustrated the water was cold and second, you could move much faster out of the water than in. Unfortunately this particular course meant scaling boulders and cliffs which was physically demanding and dangerous. More often than not I found myself choosing the left strenuous colder path which meant falling behind the lead group.

For the first part of the morning I stayed with Jeff and Zane with Marc just behind us. Before too long Jeff and Zane made their way ahead and I was left alone with them ahead of me and out of sight and Marc somewhere behind me. I didn’t mind hiking alone because I could go my own pace and didn’t feel the need to keep up with the faster boys. I could tell where they had been by the water marks on the rocks and for the most part just followed their trail.

There were two particularly unpleasant experiences I had during my morning sojourn alone. There was one area with gigantic boulders that I could see no way around or over. After some searching I found a small crevasse underneath and between two of the boulders. I had to crawl on my hands and knees through the passage scraping on the rocks in about three inches of mossy water. Much to my delight I found that this was also the home of twenty or so spiders that scurried about the rock walls that engulfed me.

Next I encountered a small waterfall/rapid area. I thought I’d be able to keep my feet or at least my hands and feet as I made my way down. Quickly though I was disappointed as I slipped and was pushed down stream by the current making sure to hit every rock on the way down.

After this though the rest of the morning was a piece of cake. I just had to rock hop and climb in between intervals of getting into the ice cold water and then swim for about a ¼ mile stretch. Now I know a ¼ mile doesn’t seem like a long way and you are thinking ‘hey it’s swimming, how bad could it be?’ Well let me tell you with a 30 pound pack on your back it’s no picnic. While I was swimming this last ¼ mile stretch I had determined that if the lead group, which now included every one but Marc and myself, hadn’t stopped for a break at the end of this swim to allow us to catch up that I would punch the first person I saw in the face and the next person until I was overcome by the group and eventually beaten. I know this is a disturbing thought to come from a young men leader who is charged with protecting these boys, I only share it because during this trying experience I had many more such thoughts that I wouldn’t normally have. Thankfully as I came out of the water and began to empty my pack of the 15-20 pounds of water I had taken on, a fun ritual I repeated after each swim, I heard Mason in the distance and the urge to punch someone in the face subsided.

I rejoined the group and was able to persuade Kyler to pump some water for me as my one water bottle had been empty for some time. I again feasted on a protein bar and some jerky. Yummy. And we awaited Marc’s arrival. Every few minutes we would yell for him as I explained to the group that hearing their voices had given me strength and saved them from what would have surely been my feeble attack on a group of well rested and younger combatants.

Before too long Marc made his way around the bend before collapsing next to us on the sandy beach and expressing a desire to not continue much longer. Some of the boys had already determined to lighten his load by taking some of his equipment and set about divvying up some of his things. I was particularly proud of Mason who took the lead in this labor of love and would later take the bulk of Marc’s dry bag for the duration of the trip. I’m sure Marc would take much more the one sentence to express the love and gratitude that he felt and feels for Mason’s service.

After our rest we continued on, this time making an effort to keep the group together. We stopped at shorter intervals and allowed everyone to catch up before moving on. I know this was a sacrifice to the boys who just wanted to keep going but I was glad we all stayed together for most of the afternoon.

Our goal all day was to make it to the final camp site that Jeff knew of. Making it there would guarantee us getting out in three days. Anything short of that we risked spending another night in the canyon. All of us were driven by the desire to make this site which led us to again forego the wisdom and counsel of our good Bishop and pass on a perfectly good camp site continuing on past a large sandy area with plenty of drift wood to make a fire. This decision was not reached lightly or unanimously. Mason, Cedar and Kyler wanted to press on. Kolter and Marc would have been happy to stop. Zane, Jeff and I were indifferent leaning slightly towards stopping. We had checked the GPS loaned to me by my friend Mike with the waypoints provided by Bishop and saw that the next closest waypoint was 0.94 miles away as the crow flies and we thought that it might be the location we had been seeking. I told the boys we could continue towards that waypoint but that we would not pass another camping spot. Kolter muttered something about doing harm to Mason, who had led the campaign to continue, if we ended up sleeping on the rocks.

The lead group flew ahead while I hung back at a slower pace to wait up for Kolter who had to pump water. After a few hundred yards Kolter caught up to me. From the GPS we knew the canyon was going to take a right and then a long semi-straightaway before banking back left and our waypoint and hopefully our camp site would be there. After 45 grueling minutes of hiking and climbing and wading through the water we hit a long swim that we weren’t anticipating. This was just when the sun had dipped below the walls of the canyon the water was now freezing as was our bodies. I couldn’t paddled and keep up with Kolter and he moved ahead of me shouting back when he had reached land. I was only half way through the swim when I found myself alone once more.

It was then that my mind started reeling again. My first thought was that I couldn’t keep going not knowing how much farther I had to go for the day and that I could potentially die. Oddly enough that thought was morbidly comforting being that I wouldn’t have to continue as I had for the past two days. I quickly dismissed that thought when I thought of my lovely wife and three beautiful children. My next thought was when I spotted a patch of sand about 4 feet by 6 feet and thought that I could just stop there and when Marc came along he and I could make camp for the night and with my stove and his water pump we’d be just fine. I began to fantasize about the two of us building a life there on that little spot of beach, a life of no more climbing and no more swimming. We would have been happy there. That plan was quickly dashed when I remembered that he’s 6’5 and wouldn’t want to sleep with his feet in the water the rest of his life. So I continued swimming.

At the end of this swim I discovered that the canyon indeed did turn to the left and, as I drained my pack once again, I saw that to my right was a relatively sandy area that would have been passable as a camp site. To my horror though there was nobody there. Before working myself up into a homicidal rage again I thought I’d a least yell for Kolter to see if he was in shouting distance. So I yelled “Hello!” and was relieved when several voices bellowed back from the other side of the creek not more than 200 yards up the canyon. I traversed my way through the bush and sand and rocks across the creek and up to where they were. When I drew near I saw that they were making camp and asked “Is this it? Did we make it?” Jeff said that this was the place. I smiled and told the boys I was proud of them for making the goal they had set. They mumbled something back to the effect of ‘Wipe that smile off of your face you crazy old man how could you bring us to this horrible horrible place, I hate you’.

I basked in the glow of their love and adoration for a moment and then set to work making camp and drying out my soaking wet sleeping bag. After several threats of physical violence a couple of the boys made their way down to the creek and relieved Marc who had showed up right behind me and immediately set to pumping water for the camp.

Since we were assured we’d make it out the next day the boys set to work consuming all the food they had brought for their journey. Seriously they ate three and in some cases four meals worth of food in one sitting. Jeff gave me some powdered Gatorade packets to add to my water for the night. I could literally feel the electrolytes flowing through my body. I hastily made my beef stew and set my still damp sleeping bag between Kyler and Marc near the fire Mason had built.

Although Marc’s body was clearly hurting he seemed to be in good spirits, although he was concerned about being cold so I gave him my emergency blanket. Likewise Mason, who had hiked in his jacket to cover his sunburned body, got a jacket from Zane. Everyone really pulled together and when a need was found somebody was always willing stepped up to fill that need. I was honored to be a part of this group of men.

A fire was started and we all attempted to sleep. It was a full, or nearly full, moon which was somewhat like trying to sleep directly underneath a florescent light bulb. Again it was windy and cold. Everyone slept in 30 to 40 minute intervals before being awakened by something or another. It was a long night.

Day 3

Day Three

I woke up to find that I had slept funny on my neck and had a terrible crick in the top of my back and neck. Also I had a sore throat from what I’m sure was nasal drip from being cold and wet all day long.

I quickly learned though that I wasn’t in the worst shape of the group when Marc looked up at me still in the sleeping bag and said, “I can’t go any more.” I asked what he meant. He said, “You guys hike out and call for a helicopter.” I told him that wasn’t an option. He told me that he hadn’t slept all night and had been throwing up and going to the bathroom several times and was unable to keep anything down; I’ll spare you the details but let’s just says it wasn’t a pretty sight. I assured him that we’d get him fixed up and that he’d make it but I wasn’t so sure. We set to work and quickly got him some water and made oatmeal. That combined with some drugs got him up and going and after a while we were all finally packed up and had pumped water for the morning.

Before too long we found it impossible to continue rock hopping/climbing and had to plunge into the water. Since we set out hiking a little later than the previous day the sun was up and the water wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating or maybe my tolerance had increased. In any case we attempted to stay together as a group but became spread out each time we set off again.

There were two incredibly long swims on this day and it felt like we were barely moving because the wind was blowing against us and it seemed the sun would go behind a cloud just as we climbed in the water. Not fun.

With the thought of getting out that day in our minds everyone seemed to be energized. We also dangled the idea of food in front of the boys as a carrot. Jeff had suggested Barros Pizza and so we all thought of what kind of pizza we’d be ordering once we were finished.

Our bodies were scraped and bruised and our muscles and joints were sore but we knew if we could keep going it would be over soon.

I think I had the record for the most slips and falls on this trip. Whether it was in the water or rock hopping or climbing; on dry ground or wet I seemed to find a way to slip. Sometimes I fell and sometimes I’d catch myself, both were painful. Either I’d fall and add to my scrapes and bruises or I’d balance myself at the expense of a tendon or muscle. This led to me thinking/muttering words that I don’t normally think or mutter and quickly begging forgiveness and saying a silent prayer that we would all be protected. There were several areas of the canyon that were dangerous and with one bad step you could easily become badly injured. It left me to wonder why our loving Bishop would recommend such trip to me. If I didn’t know better I’d think he was trying to kill me.

After a couple of hours of hiking we came to a waterfall and a 20 foot drop. At that point we each threw our packs down the falls and leapt into the cold water.

Jeff told us that once we reached the falls we were about an hour from the end. We could see the light at the end of the tunnel and made our way through the rest of the morning with only one break at the cliffs just outside of Gisela.

It was here that Mason and Cedar displayed the sunburns they had suffered due to their Speedo/underpants episode on day one…not pretty.

From there we happily bid farewell to the water and the canyon and began to hike towards the cars. Our steps hastened and I could almost taste the sausage and black olive pizza that awaited me. There was a couple of hurdles in our way though.

First we had to climb through barbwire fences and cross private land before hopping a fence and walking another couple of miles to the cars. The boys dropped their packs by the gate and ran ahead to get the cars.

Jeff, Zane, Marc and I stayed with the packs and were eventually picked up by Richard, a kind ranch hand who gave us and the packs a ride to the cars.

Our final test came when we had to dig Marc’s truck out of the sand of the wash we had parked in three days earlier. That was not fun but we got it done and were merrily on our way to Barros for a feast.

Both vehicles got there about the same time. Pizzas were ordered and I drank like five glasses of Power Aid before the pizzas even came. The food was delicious and everyone was smiling again.

I told the boys that I wanted them to remember that they can do hard things. That ahead of them in life were hard things, hard choices, hard times and trials that they’ve yet to imagine. I told them that I hoped when those times came if they ever had thoughts of just giving up that they’d remember this hike and how they’d finished it; that no matter how difficult things get that they know that they can do hard things.

I’m not sure you’ll ever get me to do that hike again but I’m grateful that we did it and for those who helped us through it and I know I’ll always remember it.

Day One

Day Two

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