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Most of my stuff I don’t write until it’s baked for awhile, until I’ve got some time and perspective on it.

This time it’s a little different.

This time it’s recent.

So the title: Humpty Dumpty in Winter…

We all know he had a great Fall, but that doesn’t say squat about what kind of Winter he had.

I feel a little like Humpty Dumpty in Winter right now.

So it seems that my body decided to reduce some of its parts into kit form a little while ago, ending up with me having a femur that came from the manufacturer in one piece and is currently in two.

For those of you not completely clear on the whole scientific/technical part of all this, this is not, actually – oh, what’s the word… “Desirable”

I’m not quite ready to write a whole lot more about it other than I need to thank my family – my wife, my kids up front.  Without their willingness to drop everything and help when I needed it, I’d be in some seriously deep doo doo right now.  I also need to thank my mom, my sisters, for their support and encouragement, and I also want to thank my friends at work, church, and elsewhere for their thoughts and prayers when I needed (correction: need) them, or being there and flipping me crap when I need that (you know who you are).

Sometimes that’s just the thing you need.  Knowing when to do which – I’ll leave that up to you.

All the people at the ‘Hotel Swedish’ who helped in so many ways, from docs, to nurses, physical therapists and the chaplain, thank you…

And before this gets into sounding like an academy awards speech, I’ll stop.  Thoughts, prayers, and the occasional flipping of crap are very much appreciated.

The weird thing is that I keep coming back to that line and lesson that came out of the Shi Shi Beach story –

“I’ve learned that whether you know it or not – people are watching you.  The way you deal with the struggles you’re facing may be the only inspiration people have.”

And I find myself almost hearing God’s saying, “Are you SURE you want to say that?”  I’m wondering what story/inspiration, if you will, will come out of this.  I’m a little close to the forest to see the trees right now, and am wondering, honestly, how much God has for me…

He says he’ll never give us more than we can handle, but just that line combined with my history makes me wonder what kind of Faith God has in me…  Clearly it’s more than I have in myself, but I’m learning.

I’ll try to update things somehow and let folks know how I’m doing.  Right now the pain is tolerable – though more than a touch distracting.

Take care…

Tom

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A little background on this story first…

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What you see below started out as a note to my friend Greg who asked how our weekend was. People have learned, over time that asking me questions like this often ends up with – um well – stories.  This was no exception. The weekend in question this time was President’s Day weekend, 2007, and the story had so much in it that it became one of my longer stories.

The previous year we’d gone out to a place called “Norwegian Memorial” over President’s day weekend.  The weather on *that* weekend was stunning, cold (27 degrees in the daytime), but clear, very little wind (a wonderful story, but for another time), so when we found out the troop was heading out to the Olympic Peninsula again, we were all over it.

We wanted to relive that incredible adventure.

However – the adventure we lived, while incredible, was very different, as you’ll see.

Also – over time, I realized there was another, related story, or maybe series of stories – or lessons, tucked inside this one – those lessons will follow – but for now – this is a trip to Shi-Shi beach with the scout troop (Ballard’s BSA Troop 100) Michael and I had been a part of for years.  Shi-Shi beach is out on the Pacific Ocean, near – well, it’s not near anything.  But if you remember those Native Americans (the Makah tribe) who wanted to go whaling to keep their culture alive a few years back – this is just south of them.

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Normally I take tons of pictures on trips like this.  This trip was different.  There are SO many pictures that weren’t taken on this trip.  You’ll see why as we go.

The original plan was to leave for Neah Bay around 5:30 Saturday morning to try to catch up to the troop who’d left the night before.  However, I had unplanned work that didn’t get finished until 1:30 that morning – which messed up my 5:30 plans for leaving just a touch.  In fact, I didn’t wake up till 8:30.

After some last minute packing and the like, we headed out the door to drive up to the ferry terminal for the first leg of the trip.  I thought we were making pretty good time – but as we were sitting in the ferry line, it became clear that the reason we were making such good time was that my watch had slowed down before actually stopping. So we’d not only missed the one we’d hoped to catch, but we’d missed the one after that… and the one after that, and… well heck, we were at plan C or D by this point.

The weather was clear blue sky, just like we’d found the previous year at Norwegian Memorial, but by the time we got out to Neah Bay around 4:00, it was absolutely raining sideways.  We’d been told to stop at this thing like a lean-to to pull our gear out of the car and transfer it to the truck of our contact there to get out to the trail head, but it was raining so hard, and coming from anywhere but up, that the little roof we were under did nothing to keep us dry.  As we left in his truck to go to the trail head, he pointed out the “lean-to” we were supposed to be at.  That one was roughly 100 feet long.  Yeah, would have been nice to see that one in time…

We got to, then left the trail head at 4:35, and before we left, we have this little prayer we say whenever we go out. It’s something I learned in Germany when I was growing up, and it’s become not only a habit, but a good one:

Alle Schritt, und alle Tritt,

Geh’ du Lieber Heiland mit.

Gehe mit mir ein und aus,

Fuehre Du mich selbst nach Haus.

Wo ich bin, und was ich tu’

Sie’ mir Gott, mein Vater zu.

— which roughly translated, equals

Every pace, and every step

Lord come along beside me

Go with me in and out

Lead me safely back home.

Where I am, and what I do,

Watch over me, Lord.

This had far more importance than we knew at the time.

Given what time it was, we started walking fast. After about 2 miles over a little gravel, some boardwalks and occasional mud, we found a turn, and it was like walking down a stream-bed with an inch of water coming down it.  No problem, it was hard pan, we didn’t sink into it and it was easy to walk on.  When we got to the bottom, all the water that we had been walking downhill with kind of stopped.  It had been bringing all sorts of organic matter down with it, which gathered into one honking big mud hole.

With no other options, we pressed on, and the mud started out only ankle deep in most places, but was calf deep in others.  Stepping carefully, we were able to avoid the places where it was obviously knee deep. Some of the foot prints we saw made it clear others had learned that the hard way.

There were about 30 spots like that, ranging from the size of a typical kitchen to twice the size of a city bus.  It was hard to walk around them most times because the surrounding area was worse in many ways.

The sections of mud were so deep in places that one of our scouts literally got stuck in one of them on the way back out.  We’ll come back to him, well, on the way out.

We felt, at the time, like we had no options but to go on.  Camping where we were was far too wet.  We were on the only trail out there, so we didn’t feel like we were in danger of getting lost, but still, with our ride back gone, the fact that we were the only ones on the trail at that time of gave us very little room for error.

Honestly, I don’t think I could embellish the story right now to make it any worse than it was, and it’s not that it was so horrible, it’s just that we’d gone from bright sunshine that morning to raining sideways that afternoon to hiking out toward a beach in mud up to our calves, and we were only about an hour into the hike.

After a while, we’d learned that walking in mud is fairly challenging, especially with my right leg running short on hamstrings, and carrying the loads we were carrying.

We also learned that if you are walking in mud that deep, anything shorter than hip waders is going to mean that your feet will very definitely get wet.

And we learned the benefits of wool socks (you aren’t really sure when your feet are wet – because the wool insulates so well).

Eventually, we got through all that, the path curved to the left (south) and we saw we were on a fairly dry path along the top of a ridge, the ocean to our right. At that point, we saw a sign, not a celestial one, but a bunch of boards nailed to a couple of hunks of wood shoved into the ground.  The sign indicated that the trail stopped there, and if we wanted to continue, we had to hang a right, down the hill.

It was still light when we got to that point, but because of the trees, just barely.  Michael and I headed down what looked like it might be a trail, but it was REALLY hard to make out – especially since it was under more trees, and it was that time of day when it’s too dark to see, and not dark enough for flashlights to make much difference.  In addition to our backpacks, we were carrying a 5 gallon bucket with our portion of food for the troop in it because we needed to have stuff in hard sided containers to keep the raccoons away.

(Little did we know that the raccoons wouldn’t be caught dead in this weather).

The trail was steep enough in places that we were using tree roots as steps.  I’d go about 10 feet, then light the way for Michael, then he’d come follow me.   I slipped once and lost my water bottle.  I could see it down the hill and off the trail, but seeing it and getting it were two different things.  It stayed there. I’m sure some raccoon appreciated it later.

Michael did an amazing, amazing job, I am so proud of him – and told him so, but I don’t think he really, truly understands how much he did.

We made it a little further, about halfway down the hillside, which bore a bit more of a resemblance to a cliff than a gentle hillside, it turns out, and then saw a couple of flashlights on the beach as we were looking down through the trees.

Oh, wow, salvation!

We yelled, “HELLLOOOOOOOO!!!!! IT’S TOM AND MICHAEL!!!!”

No response…

We waved and yelled again, and again, and again, waving our hands, our flashlights, anything, but got zero response.

Finally, the lights came toward us, and we called out again, and added,

“WHO ARE YOU?”

“We’re Scouts

Uh…  Right.

We’d made the assumption that it was only OUR troop that would be crazy enough to go camping in a rainstorm.

“Right, but who are YOU?”

“We’re scouts from Troop 4435 on Whidbey.”

Oh, crap.

Our troop WASN’T the only one crazy enough to go camping in a rainstorm.

They graciously gave us a little guidance down the rest of the hillside, which made it much easier for us to keep going.  Then we asked them if they’d seen anyone else recently, and they said they’d seen two other people with purple pack covers (like what we had on our packs) walk by at some point – they were camping just south of Petroleum Creek – which was “two or three creeks down” the beach.

They led us through their campsite, and out onto the beach, where, in the absence of any other directions, we hung a left and started walking.

We set up a pretty good pace because, honestly, we didn’t know exactly how far we had to go. Also, if it’s not clear yet by the writing, it was dark by this time.  There were no stars at this beach, nothing but clouds, occasional rain, lots of wind, no light, and the roar of the Pacific Ocean 50 feet from our right ears.

The one thing we didn’t know – or have a true sense of because it was dark, was the tide – and the fact that it was out.  The beach sand we were walking on was hard and level.  We found out later that that was the only reason we were able to walk anywhere.

So that’s what we did…

We walked – and walked, and walked.

It must have been at least twenty minutes before we saw them – but there they were, three lights in the distance.  Of course, they could have been 20 miles away, we absolutely couldn’t tell from where we were, but we kept walking – and found a creek – and crossed it.

And found another creek, and crossed it.

And a third one…

We figured we were home free.

Those lights in the distance hadn’t changed.  Michael and I were walking fairly closely together – to the point where we’d occasionally bump into each other, and were using one flashlight to light our way since  we were on the beach and there was no reason to use both of them.

In fact, we felt like we were in a bubble of light in the darkness – there was no real way to tell we were making any progress of any kind, no landmarks passing by, nothing.

At one point, Michael, without slowing down, smacked his flashlight and said, with a surprising amount of conviction, “Never again…”

“What?”

“NEVER again…”

His light had been giving him trouble, and was flickering a little bit, and the whole ‘adventure’ bit of this was wearing just a little thin.

“Never will we do a hike like this again,” he said, gesturing to the cold, the dark, the wet.

“…but boy, will I have stories to tell my grandkids…”

His ability to look at things with a perspective most kids his age don’t – and the ability to see the good in a bad situation, while going through the bad situation, is one he’s become very good at.

We kept walking.

Speaking of flashlights, that trip was indeed the last time we used them.  They’d looked effective when we got them, but it was very, very clear that if you wanted a good light, you definitely needed to spend the money and buy a good light.  A little later we were to find out what that term meant.

We kept walking, and eventually, were able to tell a difference in color on some of those lights we’d been seeing, and it was clear that one of them was a campfire, because it was yellow and flickering, the others were lights like Coleman lanterns, a little blue tinge to them, and less flickering.

We walked on.

At one point, it looked like someone had poured gas onto the fire, as it flared up pretty brightly. We figured that just had to be our scouts, so we were encouraged by that.

We’d been told by those first scouts that it was 3 creeks down the beach. By this time we’d gone past at least six, and not passed any of our own scouts, so we weren’t really sure what to think.

We came to a campsite short of the one we’d just seen with the lights, and could see lights and fire there, and we yelled, “HELLOOOOOO!!!”  Someone came out with the mother of all flashlights with a beam you could walk on (clearly this was a good light) to see who was out on the beach at this time of night, and we found they weren’t scouts, either… The fellow with the light offered us some water (we were pretty tired by then, and my water bottle was gone) – and we must have looked like crap.  The fellow told us the scouts were the second campsite down from theirs.  He also mentioned that the next creek, Petroleum creek, was a little deeper than the other ones, about six inches, and that we should be careful.

As for the campsites, remembering our little experience with counting creeks, we figured we’d check every campsite, not just the second one, and so, at the next one, we called into the darkness, “HELLOOOOO!” – and no one even got up – it was just “WRONG GROUP!”

We looked at each other for a moment, shook our heads, and walked on.

By this time, those lights weren’t any bigger, but it was clear we were getting closer, and this cheered us greatly.

We walked on.

…and slowly, gently, almost imperceptibly, another sound came to our ears, which was a different, much harder to describe sound than the roar of the ocean that had been in our right ears the whole way.  This was more the sound of a high frequency hissing/splashing combined with a much lower frequency rumble.

That sound didn’t make any sense until the source of it came into the front of that bubble of light we were walking in.

It was Petroleum creek.

And with all the rain, it was fast.

The rumble was rocks the size of grapefruits and cantaloupes rolling down the streambed, being pushed along by the water.

Where we were it was about 25 feet wide at least.

Michael and I stood there for a moment and just stared: “What should we do? What could we do?”

The troop’s campsite was clearly on the other side of that mass of moving water.  Behind us we had all the distance we’d traveled and not found the group.  To our left, we had logs that had been piled by the tide at the base of a cliff.   And to the right, in the roaring darkness, we had approximately 5,000 miles of ocean and tide before there was any thought of land.

And that tide was starting to come in.

Suddenly the 25 feet of rumbling, splashing water in front of us didn’t seem like such a big concern, our options were clearly narrowed down to forge ahead, and forge ahead we did, right through the water.

If our feet hadn’t been wet by that time, by golly, they were wet now.

There is something about walking in very fast moving water that’s pretty amazing, and at the same time, terrifying.

If you’ve not experienced this, the water is alive. It is trying to push you over, and it doesn’t care.   It doesn’t care whether you’re tired, or whether you’re sore, or whether you’ve got people waiting for you.  It doesn’t care what you have planned.

It just is.

The rocks that weren’t moving when we stepped on them rolled under our feet.  Those we didn’t step on rolled into our ankles.  We had to be on our toes, so to speak, the whole time.

But we made it through…

…and we walked on.

And eventually we got to the campsite, where we saw we had to cross at least forty feet of wet, slippery logs just to get off the beach.  One of the scouts came down (I couldn’t tell who at the time) and took the 5 gallon bucket from us.  Michael got up there first, and it took me a while to get across the logs, I was quite concerned about getting across, with my right leg the way it is, being so tired, and the fact that the logs were wet and slippery and all.  It would have been very, very easy to slip and break something important.  Paul (the scoutmaster) came over and took my pack, told us we were just in time for dinner, and aimed us toward the “kitchen” – where there was a lot of food (spaghetti, salad, etc).  It was 7:35.  We’d been walking as fast as we could for three hours straight.

They’d almost given up on us – but then they saw Michael’s light coming down the beach, and they watched as we got closer, and they helped us get off the beach when it was clear it was us.

We stood and ate. There wasn’t much room, really, to sit down.  People were talking and glad to see us – I couldn’t see them because of all the salt and water on my glasses, the sweat in my eyes, and the smoke from the campfire and oh, and they were all wearing headlamps – which meant that when they looked at me, all I saw was this smoky star pattern of lights, and I couldn’t see who was looking at me at all.  I could mainly tell by altitude.

The voice coming from above me had to be Kim.

The one from a little lower had to be Dan.

The one that sounded like a Georgia peach cobbler had to be Ken.

The lower (both in altitude and timbre) voice sounding like a mixture of camp coffee and gravel sounded like Paul.

Past that, I couldn’t tell.

The wind hadn’t died down, but we were in a bit of shelter, so that was good.  It was clear that right after eating, the only smart thing to do was to put the tent up, hunker down in the sleeping bags, and go to sleep.

Dan asked about our tent situation, and I told him that both Michael and I each had a tent, and that we could each set up our own, but it seemed more logical to just set one up quickly and go with that.  Dan asked if I had my little orange pup tent (I did) and he suggested that I would be dryer if I were in a newer tent (my pup tent was 20 years old, and well used).  Paul had suggested the only flat spot was right there on the trail – but that wasn’t wide enough for any tent, but when we went to get the tent, our packs were on a flat spot under a tarp, so we just set the tent up there – first time ever, in the dark, in the wind, in the rain… Got it up in about 10 minutes, though now that we know, we can do it faster.  It took us a while to get everything settled, but once we lied down, we were – well, laying down never felt so good.

As I lay there, slowly letting go of the tension of the last day, just beginning to allow myself to rest, and realizing that we’d accomplished what we’d set out to accomplish, I started to see these strange animals – kind of holographic, iridescent dragons – it was very, very strange… I told Michael I was starting to dream before I was asleep, and Michael said, “Pop, you’re really out of it, you’re hallucinating.”

Oh good…

We said our prayers, grateful that we’d made it in safely, and were instantly, profoundly asleep.

The trip out is another story.

The trip out…

I’d been up in the middle of the night. I’d been dreaming that the tide was coming in, and as is the case in many such dreams, reality and mother nature strongly urged me to get outside and take care of another tide wanting to go out.  I did – and saw, at the edge of the flashlight’s beam that the tide, all 5,000 miles of it, was very definitely in, and it was right on the other side of all those logs – there was no beach visible at all – it was more than a little unsettling, making me realize how close we’d come to not making it on the way in.

In fact, the waves got pretty loud there for a while – with the splashing of the waves being in the higher frequencies of sound, and again, an occasional low frequency rumbling accompanied the splashing.  This time it was a little softer, and far, far lower than the rumbling of the rocks in Petroleum Creek.  This rumbling I could easily feel through the ground I was standing on.  At the time, however, I was awake enough only to notice it, but not awake enough to try to figure out what it was.  I went back to the tent, crawled into the sleeping bag, and closed my eyes, only to be awakened seemingly seconds later by the yells of one of the adults, “Get up, get packing, we’re moving out in three hours!”

Um…

We’d just gotten here…

In fact, at that time, it had been less than 12 hours of “gotten here”…

The wind hadn’t died down, and we had rain squalls coming in off the ocean one after another.

Paul, the scoutmaster, had looked southwest when it was light enough and saw a rather large, ominous looking dark cloud, and given the state of some of the scouts (some having done poor, inexperienced packing, etc.) it was clear that if we were to stay another night, we’d be dealing with things far worse than just being wet, like hypothermia; and those things would only get worse if we were to try to hike out with the scouts in that condition to start with.  The decision was made to leave, immediately.

In fact, the clock was very definitely ticking from that moment.  The tide charts said that high tide was at 12:53 and that it would be a plus 9.3 (or 9.1, don’t remember which) high tide, which for those of you who understand these things, means it was way freaking high.  The highest of the month.

Understand, we had about 10 scouts and 11 adults to get packed (think herding cats), out of the campsite, over the logs, across a stream, and up about a mile or two of what was now very steep beach, and rocks, and logs, and whatever the ocean decided to spew out before that tide came in.

I found out later that it was exactly at this time, when we were walking out, that my mom, 150 miles away, felt the very strong urge to pray for us.  She didn’t know why, figuring that, “The boys are just on a campout.”

She prayed anyway.

It’s one of the reasons I appreciate my mom.  She’s got enough experience to pay attention and to listen when God pokes them and tells her to pray.

Back at Shi Shi, on the way out…

There was this little matter of a rock that jutted out into the water at high tide that we hadn’t seen in the dark on the way in.  This meant, if we weren’t past it by the time the tide came in, we were going to be there on the wrong side of the rock until that tide went back out.  That might be a rather uncomfortable place to be for a few hours, I mean, imagine having your back to a cliff, wind and spray in your face, and the surf grinding huge logs into mush right in front of you (this was what I’d felt through my feet the previous night).  Clearly getting caught between any of those logs was well past unacceptable.  Had we gotten stuck on the wrong side of that rock, even getting back to the campsite might not have been an option, we didn’t know – and didn’t bother to think about anything remotely close to that.

The important thing was to get off the beach,and get off it fast.

Michael and I left a few minutes before the rest of the troop because we figured that because of my leg, we’d be slower than the others.  We got packed up very quickly (heck, we’d barely had time to unpack), and got moving.

First thing we did?

This was what was between us and the ocean

Crossing the logs to get back onto the beach.

Cross those logs – and it turned out that the low rumbling I’d heard during the night was the waves thrashing those logs we’d crossed around like toothpicks.

It made me think quite a bit – given that we’d walked in on a low tide and had made it just in time.  The waves didn’t move the logs around gently.  It was a seismic event, and I realized that it was that that I’d been feeling through my feet the night before.  Being caught out on that beach would have been – well, in a word, fatal.  We would have been backed up against a cliff, with logs grinding themselves and anything in between them into mush right in front of us, with that ocean on the other side.  It would not have been a good night.

Next thing we had to do was cross Petroleum “creek”.

Since our shoes and feet were already completely soaked, we didn’t even slow down, we had that race with the tide to get the almost two miles up the beach before there was no beach left.  A couple of wet feet in wool socks was nothing.

I’d look back every now and then to see who was coming – and recognized Kim’s bright yellow/green coat and figured that because of my leg, they’d gain on us and pass us (the whole point of leaving early was based on that assumption).

Much to my surprise, they didn’t.

Michael, leaving Shi Shi

My view of Michael as we left Shi Shi. We all walked as fast as we could to get off the beach before the tide came in

On the way in, Michael had occasionally asked, “Want me to drop it down a little?” (referring to the pace we were walking) – and I would usually say “No” because I was using him to pace myself.

If he was going to go fast, I was going to go fast, and keep up with him.

Period.

On the way out, Michael’s only comment was, “Keep up, old man! I am NOT dropping the pace.”  I was behind, but I did manage to stay with him.

Walking fast to get off the beach as the tide was coming in.

With the tide in, what remained of the beach to walk on was anything but smooth.

With that tide already on its way in, all that flat, hard sand was under water, so we had to walk on the steeper part of the beach.  That part was filled with rocks, logs, and occasionally somewhat dry sand – so that meant all our walking was either on that dry stuff that just sucks the energy right out of you, or on the slippery rocks, or threading our way in between.

It was about this time that Michael, having seen one of the “Top 10 most Beautiful Beaches” in the world, mentioned, through the wind, the waves, the sand and gritted teeth, that he thought the reason the beach was called “Shi Shi” was because there was no ‘t’ in the Makah language.

I was not, at the time, in a position to disagree with him.

Now the last time we’d walked down this beach, we didn’t know how far we had to go, because

a) it was dark, and
b) we’d never been there, and
c) we had no idea how far we needed to go, and
d) all we knew was that we had to hit the beach and head “left”.

One thing we actually saw this time that we didn’t see the night we hiked in was that big rock you had to get around before the tide came in.

And the tide was definitely coming in.

Looking north, Shi Shi Beach, between trailhead and Petroleum Creek.

Paul and Dan, learning what “Sea Foam Green” really is.

When we got to the rock, we finally understood what “Sea Foam Green” was.  The waves had deposited this line of foam about 2 – 3 feet high right at the base of that rock, and we stumbled through it before the waves came any higher.

We later heard that those coming behind us actually had to time their walks around this rock as the water had already come that far.

We got past it, and found this fellow we’d run into at the trail head the day before.  He wasn’t American, didn’t speak English very well, and while we were trudging up the beach with all our big packs, he was tootling along with a little day pack.  We were doing everything we could to get north, OFF the beach, and he was just getting onto it.  And heading south. Toward the dead end that was that rock.  No idea what his plans were, but it was strange.  Michael asked him how far to the trail head, “Oh (gesturing back over his shoulder, with a thick eastern European accent), one thousand miles?”   (We’re thinking, “Alaska?”)  We figured he might mean 1000 meters, and kept walking.  Somewhere along the way I found a stick, which I found I was depending on quite a bit.

We kept going.  Problem is, we didn’t have much in the way of landmarks when we came in (since it was dark when we’d done it), so knowing where to get off the beach was getting to be more and more important.

This was shortly before everyone else got there, and the hail started.

Michael and me, just after getting off the beach

Eventually, Michael was very sure he’d found where we got onto the beach, and he was right.  We climbed up there, waded through a pretty deep puddle, and just stood there for a bit, catching our breath and waiting to wave to the next group that came by so they could quickly get off the beach.  Turns out that Kim had been following us, and said, “Man, you guys were really moving!” – That was a nice compliment from someone who’s 6’5″ and has two tremendously long legs.

We all rested for a bit, then the folks who could, dropped their packs and go out and help the remaining little scouts who were having trouble, and there were a few.

Michael dropped his pack, and since he was hot from hiking so fast, dropped his jacket and headed out there and brought the packs of several of the little ‘scoutlets’ back in. He was on his way out again when I looked and saw how big the waves were getting.

Michael, lower right, heads out a second time to help some of the little scouts get their packs in. It’s good we were hiking fast and not looking at those waves while we were out there.

That’s when the hail started.

This wasn’t just piddly hail, but hail that came crashing through the trees, ripping leaves off as it came down hail.

Being under the trees, I have no idea what it was like out on the beach where Michael was helping the other scouts.

They came back with some packs and things, and went out again to help the little ones.

Eventually everyone got back, and we ate anything we could find.  We had packed for another day, so there was no shortage of food.

We rested for a bit longer, this crisis over, since we were off the beach, and braced ourselves for the rest of the hike, which was that slog through the mud I wrote about earlier.

Michael coming up the “hill” – behind him somewhere over the edge is my water bottle.

Also, remember that hill we climbed down? We had to climb up it this time.  But it was (relatively speaking) dry, and there was light – so we could actually see what we were doing.  While we were resting, some of the older scouts came and ferried packs up that hill – that was very nice, and made the hike up a whole lot easier.  Seeing it in the daytime made me think twice about the trip we’d taken down the thing at in the dark, loaded with packs, in the rain.

I didn’t bother to try to find my water bottle.

We took a little break at the top, and marched on – always trying to stay at the edges of the mud holes – I tried to count them again, but lost count at 30-ish of them… again.

Mud - up to your ankles if you were lucky.

Paul and Eric going through one of the 30+ mud holes along the trail out.

Of course, our feet were soaked from the moment we’d hit that creek a couple of miles back, so worrying about mud just wasn’t worth it, but there was this stability thing we were concerned about – namely making sure we didn’t fall down while we were walking through all that mud.  I had to make it clear to one scout that his shoes (and the plastic bags he had his feet in) needed to be tied securely because if they weren’t, he could easily end up face planted in 6 inches of mud, with his backpack on top of him.  I didn’t have to explain to him that breathing, in that position, would be a touch on the difficult side.

He got it.

And he tied his shoes.

The mud would suck your shoes off if you weren't careful.

Eric just as we found him, and before Ed pulled him out of the mud.

At least one scout did end up getting stuck, and was sitting/laying there when we came up to him.  Ed (his uncle) picked him up and got him out, but we had to make sure the number of boots coming out of the mud matched the number of feet coming out.  (one boot got stuck, and we had to fish around in there to get it out).

One scout was just exhausted – he kept sitting down on the side of the trail, but we got him going, it takes more energy to put the pack on and get up again than it does to keep walking – but (we later found out) that this was his very first hike ever, so he had no idea what to expect, and that much walking, with that much stress, was a little beyond him.  I helped him get up once and get his pack on.  In doing so, I also reached down to pick his pack up so he could get up, and just about threw it into the next county.  It weighed less than 20 pounds. Mine was 70 with all the wet clothes and food in it and all.  (I’ll have to work on that).

The hike out, once we got going again, was really uneventful.  Mud. Trail. Mud. More trail.  Mud, more mud. Gravel. Then boardwalk (split hunks of wood spiked onto 6 x 6’s) – eventually, we got to the trailhead, where Mark had thoughtfully already brought the bus.  Again, food was brought out, disbursed, and eaten.  We found ourselves wondering at the number of calories expended on this trip, as that first part wasn’t just “hiking” – it was moving as fast as we could go to make sure we weren’t stuck.  That would have been exquisitely bad.

The mud was everywhere

Eventually, things were packed, the bus was loaded, and we were off to go get the Saab, and start the 5 hour trip back to Seattle, and civilization.

It was scary at times, but I do have to tell you, it beat the heck out of a weekend of wasted time in front of the TV any day.

Now like I said, there’s another story in all of this, and it came to me as a series of lessons, or things I learned over the months that followed this one.

I don’t have all the words together yet, but I’m going to do something a little different this time – I’m going to give you a ‘rough draft’.  And I’m going to ask you to do something a little different.  When you’re done seeing what I learned – if something stuck with you about this story – let me know in the comments, maybe we can all learn something together

That story is about the lessons of Shi Shi beach.

  • Each of us – as we travel this road of life, will have times when the road is easy, and the burden is light.
  • However, there will also be times when we will face challenges, where the outcome is unclear, where the challenges themselves seem to be insurmountable, and where there is real danger, and yet, for whatever reason, we must press on.
  • I’ve learned that when you are in those situations, when you are in over your head, and you need help, people you’ve never seen before, will appear out of nowhere, and give you help and direction when you need it, and you will never see them again.
  • I’ve learned that sometimes, the road can be oppressing, that you can feel completely surrounded by danger, and it can be very, very frightening.
  • I’ve learned that a little light goes a long way, and as long as you have a light to guide you, you can go far.
  • I’ve learned that having someone alongside you to encourage you, by either matching your speed, or encouraging you to match theirs, can make you go farther than you thought you could by yourself.
  • I’ve learned that there is no better friend than one who will do just that.
  • I’ve learned that there will be times when you want to just stop, and rest, and quit, that you simply can’t, you must go on.
  • I’ve learned that there will be times when you want to keep going, but the smartest thing to do is to stop and rest.
  • I’ve learned that knowing the difference between these two is not always as clear cut as one might think.
  • I’ve learned that while moving forward is dangerous, not moving at all is even more so, and you must go on.
  • I’ve learned that going on can mean doing things you’re not used to doing, and going on can be more difficult in the short run than just staying put.
  • But I’ve also learned that time doesn’t stand still.  Life goes on, and in some ways, life, just like Petroleum Creek in the story – doesn’t really care how you feel, or whether you’re tired, or scared, or lonely, or unsure of yourself. Time, and life, marches on.
  • Just like with Petroleum Creek, when we had a cliff to our left, 5,000 miles of open ocean to our right, and nothing we needed at our backs, there are times when you have no option but to plunge ahead and push relentlessly forward into the unknown, no matter how tired or scared you are, to achieve your goal.
  • I’ve learned that whether you know it or not – people are watching you.  The way you deal with the struggles you’re facing may be the only inspiration people have.
  • I’ve learned that some of those people watching you will be ready to drop what they’re doing and help you out at the drop of a hat.
  • I’ve also learned that some of those people watching you will not help at all, and the best thing you can do when you encounter people like that is to simply keep walking.
  • I’ve learned that when you are absolutely exhausted, and have done all you can, and can do no more, to not be too proud to let someone else take the load off your back.
  • I’ve learned that no matter how hard you think things are, they can, and sometimes do, get harder.
  • I’ve learned that when you can see clearly, and when you have the opportunity to see things in the light – that they can be far, far scarier than they ever were in the dark, because now you can see just how close you were to the edge, or to simply not making it at all.
  • I’ve learned that prayer is important, critical, and we never know how much the prayer of someone many miles away affected us.  Conversely – I’ve learned that if I’ve got this weird feeling that I should pray for someone, given what I’ve seen, I pray for them, and pray right then.
  • I’ve learned that communication is so vital, and it has to work on both ends.  Messages sent but not received are the same as messages not sent.  It was only after we got back that we found two messages on my cell phone from one of the leaders, both telling us of the weather and the dangers, and that we shouldn’t come. The messages had been successfully sent, but I was not in a position to receive them.  That one has some implications that are a little deeper than I can wrap my mind around right now.
  • I’m sure there are more. But as I thought of how Paul had gently taken the heavy pack off my shoulders when we finally got to the campsite, and how I had to restrain myself from throwing that 20 pound pack into the next county when I picked it up – I learned one more thing: Things that are easy to one person may be almost impossible for others, either because of their condition or because of the load they’re carrying. A burden that is heavy for one, may be easily lifted by another. And when we’re in the position of being able to lift the load for another person who simply can’t go on, it is our responsibility to do so.

Folks, it’s been two years since I was asked to speak at my friend Betty’s memorial service. I got to thinking about her just recently, and as I read through this again, thought it might be something worth sharing. So that said, here’s my eulogy, for my friend Betty…

Hi – My name’s Tom Roush – I had the pleasure of knowing Betty – well, Don and Betty back – gosh, how long’s it been? – close to three years now, meeting both of them at the cancer survivor’s support group that was held in a nondescript conference room at the Ballard hospital.

There were a number of us there – old folks, young folks, and everything in between… I was one of the in betweeners, I guess… Each of these meetings was “moderated” by a social worker of some sort – and they each had their own way of going about things. They were all wonderful in their way – the goal being to bring us to a safe spot where we could actually talk about our feelings toward this – this *thing* that had brought us together.

There was the one who really insisted that things be done by the book.

(None of us had read the book)

There was the one who was like everyone’s Jewish Grandmother – she brought laughter, love, encouragement and hope to each of us.

And then there was the one who came in one day when we were all talking about something other than cancer.

You know… Life…

…and she got so mad…

We were there, in a cancer survivor’s support group, and she was upset because we weren’t talking about cancer.

And you know what?

We’d LIVED it – to be honest, it pissed us off…

We all knew – in that support group, that if you said “Chemo” – you wouldn’t have to explain that chemo was the thing that made you barf, or made your hair fall out – that chemo often – for lack of a better, more socially acceptable term – spayed women and gave men involuntary vasectomies. We didn’t have to explain to the folks there in the room that chemo – oh, let’s see if we can find a nice word for it….

Nope…

No nice words…

Chemo sucked…

For some of us, radiation sucked – and we didn’t have to explain that or talk much about it – it was something that most of us in the room knew.

You know what we wanted to talk about? We wanted to talk about surviving. Remember what kind of support group it was?

Here, I’ll tell you what it wasn’t.

It wasn’t a cancer survivor’s support group.

It was a cancer survivor’s support group.

We wanted to talk about surviving.

And we did…

Oh Lordy, we talked about surviving…

It was wild – if you can imagine a bunch of scarred up people who’ve done battle with “the big ‘C'” wild – we were so into talking about life –about this thing called survival – and not just surviving, but having fun doing it – that that moderator got mad and walked out…

Dang we were a rebellious bunch…

She wanted us to talk about cancer – because in her eyes, it was cancer that defined who we were, and she saw the common theme between all of us being that we’d had cancer…

The thing was – we had had cancer, but it hadn’t had us.

We didn’t have to take the time or words to explain to the people in the room that this whole thing called cancer sucked.

We didn’t have to spend the time talking about how lonely it was, to go through this battle that no matter how many people are helping you, supporting you, loving you, the battle, and the fight, is yours alone to fight.

But this was the place we could talk about it.

As so often happens when going through a battle like this, we do our crying in private, and then put on a brave face – a mask, if you will, and go out and face the world. Sometimes, in that room where we met, we cried, and sometimes the conversations we had were astoundingly hard, and sometimes – some of the best conversations we had had no words at all.

Sometimes, we didn’t say anything.

We didn’t have to.

The conversations were – you know what?

I’ll tell you what the conversations weren’t.

They weren’t shallow.

We rarely talked about what TV show was on, or what movies were on. Much as some might consider this heresy, we definitely didn’t talk about which sports teams were playing – or winning.

We talked about life.

We talked about easy stuff that made us laugh, and hard stuff that made us cry.

We, who had stared death in the face, and had death blink, had absolutely nothing to hide from each other.

When we went into that room, the masks came off.

You know what masks I’m talking about… They’re the ones we wear every day. The mask that you put on

  • When someone asks you how you’re doing, and you’re having trouble at home, and you say, “Fine”
  • When someone asks you how you’re doing, and your finances are down the toilet, and you say, “Fine”
  • When someone asks you how you’re doing, and you just found out that you’ve lost your job, and you say, “Fine”

Oh, the masks we hold onto – so tightly

  • When someone asks you how you’re doing, and you found a lump the night before, and are waiting for an appointment to go talk to the doctor about it – but you still have to go to work to keep the health insurance, and you say, “Fine”
  • When someone asks you how you’re doing, and you’re waiting on test results, and you say, “Fine”
  • Or when someone asks how you’re doing – and your spouse – or someone you love – found a lump – and you feel helpless beyond words, because no matter what you do – the battle is theirs to fight, and you choke out a “Fine”

And – after all those – when someone sees a certain look in your eyes that could mean any or all of these – a look you didn’t even know was there, and asks, really asks, “How ya doin’?” and you either bravely or stupidly, or, because honestly, you can’t quite face that question yourself, you put on that lie of a mask and you say, “Fine.”

Those masks were left in a pile outside the door to that room.

Oh, we did talk about cancer.

We talked about fear, about how much to tell people because society still wigs out a bit when they hear that word…

We talked about how much to say to the people you spend most of your life with – at work.

We talked about knowing you were going to be out of commission for a year or so as the medical establishment tried to cut or fry or poison the cancer out of you, hoping to kill it (the cancer) before either it (the cancer) or it (the poison) killed you, making you feel worse than the cancer ever did in the process.

We talked about how to get your job back after your body’d healed, knowing you’d be dealing with the effects and mental/emotional scars of this long after your hair grew back, long after those physical scars had healed.

We talked about our fears for our families, for our loved ones, for how this was affecting them, and how, in so many ways, they were fighting the same battle – and yet a totally different one.

We did talk about cancer.

But we didn’t talk about cancer nearly as much as you’d think – when we needed to, we did, but you know what we did most often?

We laughed.

We told stories.

We encouraged each other.

We talked about ferocious penguins in Antarctica, we talked about adventures across the country, we talked about our children – how proud we were of them, or what trouble they were getting into, and about journeys we’d taken, and journeys we wanted to take.

Closer to home, we talked about walking around Green Lake, about going up to Costco, and getting that pound cake they have up there, – and especially those Costco hot dogs. And we talked about Don’s wonderful little carvings when he brought them in for us to see.

We talked about this, this thing called life.

And every time I showed up late – let me re-punctuate that – and every time – I showed up late – it was hard for me to get out of work that early – I’d come into that room, with that pile of trampled masks outside the door, and in that room, there was at least one moderator (pick one, we outlasted them all) and a variety of people, but the one constant there was Don and Betty.

And when I saw Betty –there was always this look that said, “I’m so glad you made it!”

A look that told me – without the mask, how she was doing. Sometimes she was doing well, sometimes not… We didn’t hide it in there.

And actually, that says something… without masks, there were no secrets… Betty didn’t have any secrets from anyone… You called their house, and by golly you were on speakerphone. You talked to Don, and you were talking to Betty.

I have to tell you – that my memories of Betty are pretty much limited to that room.

I’ve spent the last week or so trying to put to words my memories of her, and as so often happens in times like these, your mind, in its shock, tries so hard to lock the memories away for safekeeping that you can’t unlock the door to get them out, even when you want to, and no matter how hard you try.

But one thing leaked out through that door.

It’s how Betty made me feel.

There were times when I came into that room – all frazzled from a crappy day, whether it was at home, at work, or somewhere in between, it didn’t matter, and there was this sense of peace there.

It didn’t make sense – given the battles we all were facing, and fighting, but the peace was there. There was always a hug from Betty – always a smile, a handshake, or a hug from Don. Betty made me feel welcome. No matter how hard it was to get there –

Betty’s eyes told me I’d done the right thing in coming.

Betty’s hand, when I held it, told me that everything was going to be alright.

Betty’s body – when she hugged me in that warm, gentle, soft way, told me things I can’t even put into words.

See? I told you some of the best conversations had no words.

Now you’ll see I’m not dressed all fancy here, that’s no disrespect to anyone here, especially Betty… In fact, – I was thinking about it, honestly –every time Betty saw me, she saw me, as I said, all frazzled, with my backpack from work slung over my shoulder, having either ridden a bike or a bus to get there. That’s the way I’m dressed now, because if she saw me all dressed up, she’d wonder who the heck that stud muffin was in the suit – and to be honest, I’d rather she recognized me.

The thing is – the last time I hugged Betty – I didn’t know it would be the last time I hugged Betty.

The last words I spoke with Betty – I didn’t realize they would be the last words I spoke with her…

And I don’t remember them.

But do remember how she made me feel, and so I’d like to leave you with this…

You young folks out there:

Look around – you’ve got parents, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends here.

You middle aged folks – Oh, Lordy – I have to classify myself as one of those now.

Look around – you’ve got brothers, sisters, children, nieces, nephews, and friends here.

And you older folks – the ones who have earned that silver in your hair…

Look around – take your time – nobody’s leaving – look at those kids, those grown up kids of yours – those grandkids.

All of you – When’s the last time you hugged them?

What were the last words you spoke to them?

How did they make you feel?

More importantly – how did you make them feel?

I suggest to you, that

…if there have been cross words, go and forgive – or ask for forgiveness.

…if there is distance, reach out to each other.

…if there is pain, reach out to heal.

You don’t know which of your words will be the last ones, folks.

Please, take the time to think about them, make them good ones.

I’ve tried to put into words who my friend Betty was – but I can’t talk about her in the past tense – because my friend Betty is still very much alive, right here. (my heart)

Thank you.

And so, on this anniversary, I remember my friend Betty – and I wanted to share some of the lessons I learned from her with you as well.

Take care…

Tom


Awhile back we refinanced the house – and for those of you who’ve done that – it means that while all the paperwork is going through, you get a month with no mortgage payment.

Oh how cool is that?

I mean, what could you do with that amount of money if it isn’t spoken for?

If you have any debt, you could pay that down, but if you don’t, and you’re dreaming…

…you could have a heck of a nice dinner for 10…

…you could have a heck of a nice weekend for two…

Or…

You could have something break.

Personally, I think all our household appliances have long conversations with each other while we’re asleep, and they check to see when would be the most opportune time to break.

You know the drill –

You get a bonus at work, and the car needs a new transmission…

You get a tax refund, and the washer goes out.

You refinance the house, and – well, we’ll get to that.

Lord help you if the freezer goes out – that is just mind numbingly gross.

(and yes, I’m sure I’ll write about it – it was kind of funny, as well as expensive and gross – in fact, it was so gross that it gagged the garbage man and – wait – I’d better stop or I’ll end up telling that story right here…)

So we’ve got one month with no mortgage payment…

Wheee!

Which is why the TV decided  to blow up – well, not blow up, it died a slow miserable death.

I was telling my mom about it and she, knowing how I keep finding stories in all sorts of little events, said, “That sounds like a story….”

Sigh…

Okay – so here’s “The Story”

The TV we had (the one before this one) cost us nothing – it weighed a ton – was made right here in the U.S. of A. – took two grown men and a small child to lift, and by gummy, this puppy had dials on it.

We’d gotten it from my sister – and it was old when we got it.  Remember the phrase “don’t touch that dial”? – It’s what advertisers used to say to keep you from changing the channel so you’d watch their commercials.

This was one of those TV’s… It had “the dial”.

You wanted to watch another program?

You got your butt up off the couch and changed the channel.

With the dial.

You wanted it louder?

You got your butt up off the couch and turned it up.

With the dial.

You wanted it back on the channel you had in the first place?

You got your – yeah – you get the idea…

Under no circumstances did you “channel surf”.

My wife, bless her, has the ability to watch multiple programs at the same time.

I do not have this ability.

She can watch 3 sporting events, two movies, and a cop drama, at the same time.

And she can keep track of them.

She is fully capable of telling you what’s happened with every program going on, and what’s happened – even between commercials.

I have no idea how she does this.

She’s been known to have the radio on and be reading a book at the same time.

When she added doing a crossword puzzle to the mix, that caused my left eye to twitch a bit, but when she brought in the unicycle and started juggling flaming swords while she was doing all that – okay, I made that last part up, the ceiling’s too low for the unicycle or the flaming swords, but still…. 🙂

I cannot do this.

At all.

I, like most men, cannot keep track of that many things at the same time.  In fact, as has often been said, I, like most men, have a one track mind… (and no, not necessarily *that* track…)

The weird thing is, watching that TV that way could easily have become an aerobic event – I can imagine the aerobics instructor now for “Aerobic TV Watching”

“Read… and… left… and… turn it up! Good! Feel the burn! Now, turn the channel –“

And…

…that’s about as far as it would go for me.

So it turned out that this TV, the one that required you to do Aerobics to channel surf, had a limited lifespan.

One day Michael called me at work.

“The TV’s broken”

“Broken?”

I mean, the switch had broken – stuck in the “on” position, ironically – quite some time ago to the point where if you wanted to watch TV, you plugged it in.

You wanted to stop watching TV, you unplugged it.

It was definitely basic – without the cable.

So I got home, plugged it in, and it turned on fine.

“See? it works!”

“Wait…”

And sure enough, as the picture tube warmed up – all of a sudden there was this audible “Fwip!” as the picture went cattywompus and sideways for a second and then came back.  It was like someone had smacked the TV upside the head.

Fwip?

What the heck is a “Fwip”?

Just about the time I’d gotten that thought through my head, it did it again….

“Fwip!”

20 seconds went by, then another.

…and another.

Pretty soon, all we had was Fwips and no picture – just a bunch of lines on the screen.

Hmmm…

It was when the smoke came out of the back of the TV that I started thinking of Apollo 13…

“Uh, Houston, we have a problem…”

So… being the brilliant deducer of clues that I am, and having years more experience in the ways of electronics diagnostics and repair than my son did, I – uh – came to the same conclusion that he’d come up with…

The TV was broken.

Eventually – we got another one – A 27 inch TV for 179.00 at Fred Meyer.  (It was a serious sale)

It was much bigger – much better –

And it had a remote.

You could channel surf AND clog your arteries by becoming a couch potato…

Oh yeah…

That’s the TV that, two nights ago, had a couple of funny little lines on the top.

Then yesterday, it went “Fwip!”

Oh good.

Now Michael, because I have educated him in the ways of complex electronics repair, performed the first task one always does when troubleshooting and/or repairing electronics, which is to smack the living crap out of it.

Surprisingly enough, it worked…

Until I turned it back on…

“Fwip!”

Crap.

So my wife and I went out looking at TV’s, and found one, bought it, brought it home, and I plugged it in, an blessed it and Oh Lordy, did this thing have a big picture… you’d think you were in a theatre or something, it was so big, and we got it at Costco, so it was a decent deal.

I figured we were home free.  We were done.  We’d gotten rid of the Broken TV, replaced it, and still had money left over.  I was thrilled, delighted, and satisfied.

I settled down on the couch downstairs where the new TV was, and watched a program, just to see it so big.  It was very cool.

But it seems I missed something when I brought the TV into the house.

Remember when I told you about all the appliances talking to each other?

They do.

And they did.

I completely missed the TV whispering to the old stove, “Tag, you’re it…”

© 2011 Tom Roush

Tom Roush

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