I stood in the living room at 1:00 am and compared the chicken scratch checklist with the random globs of equipment littering the floor. The pack was obese, but it appeared incapable of swallowing up all of this:
REI dome tent and tarp
Marmot goose down sleeping bag - rated to keep digits toasty down to 25 degrees, I'd soon discover I should've shelled out the extra $16 for a 10 degree bag
Self inflating sleeping pad - the term “self inflating” is wishful thinking here, unless "self" is referring to me, myself and my wind sacks
Katadyn water filter pump
JetBoil cooking stove, with a couple high altitude fuel canisters - this tightly engineered aluminum flame gets angry and boils water in two minutes
Eating utensils, including a bowl, cup, bamboo spatula and my favorite, a titanium spork
Mountain Gear synthetic hiking pants that convert to shorts with a couple of zips, sun-proof hiking shirt, double tighty whiteys, three pair of wool socks, base layer of glorified long johns, North Face fleece, nylon shell, hat and gloves, PJs and a couple of wicking tees
Danner hiking boots, sandals for the luxury spa and sauna walk to the quiet area behind the Pine trees where we'd dig holes in the soil and poop
Sun hat - I forgot to pick up a canvas brimmed hat, so I settled for a crusty straw mini-sombrero that sat rotting in a closet for years
Bahonka camera with spare batteries and digi-cards
70 oz. Platypus hydration pack and 80 oz. water bladder to keep my bladder topped
Nalgene one liter bottle
Rubber snake (more on that later)
Flashlight and xenon miner’s lamp
Big Horns Mountain Range topographic map
Compass with thermometer
Leatherman tool to fight off wrathful rodents and to open indiscriminate bottles of wine with the integrated corkscrew
60 pills to squelch an intestinal uprising
Glow sticks, hand warmers and a solar blanket apparently knitted from Reynolds Wrap
Greasy sunscreen that smelled like old lady - the sun torches at altitude
88 cent rain poncho - this crappy little plastic tarp worked miracles in the rain
Toiler paper - I was curious what it was going to be like to open the bomb bay and drop a couple of biscuits down a mountain
“Cat hole” shovel to bury human scat
Sunglasses - you gotta look like a smooth mother in the bush
Kitchen soap and scrubber sponge
Waterless antibacterial hand soap
Travel size toothbrush, paste, mouthwash and deodorant - absent were shaving cream, razor, comb, hair gel, floss, mirror, toupee and a full jet bathtub
Night splint to coddle a foot injury
Carabiners - didn't really need them, but they looked nice in the store and felt right since we'd be roughing it and stuff
King James Bible
Notebook and pen
How in tarnation am I going to squash all this junk in the pack? Quietly so not to stir Pigtails, I used my bony butt like a hydraulic ram to compress the contents and get all 40 pounds of camp squeezed inside. With a grin for the small victory of making it all fit, I slumped into bed. Five hours from now, we'd be heading west towards the mountains. I couldn't wait!
Now that Beard and Pigtails is up and running and a few posts sprayed around, I'd like to share why I started this blog, how often I plan to post and a couple things you can do to help me.
What's the point?
The web holds a decent stack of single parent blogs, but pickin's are slim for single dad blogs. I suppose that's because only a smidgen of fathers have primary custody. But they are out there. Separation and divorce slice many marriages, so there's a legion of parents in a leaky boat like me.
I hope this blog will encourage those going through rough times. May it educate readers that know someone going through a split. I'll help you to help them.
You do it how often?
I'll do my best to put up at least two pieces per week, one Beard and Pigtails post and one off-topic post.
Beard and Pigtail posts will be parenting stories and the like. This is the meat of the blog and where most of my energy will smolder and smoke.
Off-topic clips will allow me to dust off the digital archives and air out some of the musty novellas collecting cobwebs on my hard drive. It's fun to revisit races and trips as I tap the keys, a quick teleport away from the ice to someplace warm.
We'll hike for several months, so you'll have to put up with that as the weekly off-topic post for awhile.
Please scratch my back.
Your job is easy.
If you enjoy or at least barely tolerate this blog, please:
continue to read
sign up to follow (upper right corner of this page, e-mail me if you can't get it to work) - if you follow anonymously rather than publicly, I won't know you are following and won't be able to put you into the Follower Freebie drawings
Perhaps you'll just follow for the free stuff. I suspect that's my Mom's motive; she wants free Apple product.
If I'm lucky, I can maybe get 25 friends and family onboard. But I surely can't get 50 or 100 to follow without your help. Lassoing in friends of friends is when we roll the snowball. Send a friend a link or just tell them to Google "Beard and Pigtails" to find us. It'll show up on the search results page right beneath the Gillette goatee grooming web link.
Pigtails has been nagging since the first snow fell to invite a couple friends over for a Saturday afternoon play date. Tea time with a skinny bearded man has apparently lost its luster, so I finally relented and allowed up to three of her beaming buds over for a good ol' house trashing bonanza. Inexplicably, the three kids spawned and I ended up with a small herd of the little things, they were all over the place.
Polite yet ravenous, they destroyed a 16 oz. sleeve of dry roasted peanuts in minutes. It was a lot like watching the obsessive compulsive squirrel in my backyard that hoards nuts like crazy each fall before the first frost invades. I can only imagine what the food mayhem will be like when she has friends over in the teen years.
They rotated using the toilet every three minutes. Now I greatly appreciate what it must be like for her teacher to keep those 25 tiny bladders reined in and on a tight schedule.
The crew played dress-up (except for Will, God bless him, he held up surprisingly well against all those girls), school, Wii and a few rounds of whirls on the IKEA swing. The swing by far belted out the most giggles, they kept coming back to it, over and over again, begging me to spin their guts out. I complied, as they are only this size for a little while longer. Their squeals and enthusiasm were contagious.
My thinking was that if I allowed a large group of friends over this time, it would beat back Pigtails and she'd not soon bug me for another play date.
Of course, the opposite was true.
She's already asking if ten peanut chomping, perpetual pottiers can come over soon to play. We'll see. But for now, tea time with dad will have to suffice.
We are halfway there in getting ten readers signed up as Followers on this blog. Thanks to those that have already signed up, I appreciate it!
If you'd like to see this blog move ahead, please forward the blog link to at least one friend, then click the Follow button over on the top right of this page. The first ten Followers will be put in a hat, and one person will win a microfiber towel. Click here to learn more.
If you'd prefer to remain anonymous when signing up to follow, you can make up a name such as Wendy Floppysnot when creating an account. As long as you provide a valid e-mail address, I'll be able to contact you to get your mailing address if you win the drawing.
After ten Followers, the next push will be for 50. 50 Followers = a $50 giveaway. To the right is a poll to vote for your favorite Follower Freebie. The top pick will be given away when we hit the next goal.
The summer of 2006, I took an iron-butt trip 1,000 miles west with Slippery Fish and Sherpa for a hike through the BigHornMountains in northern Wyoming. Our adventure will be regurgitated here one chapter per week until I've spilled out all 20,000 words.
Join me on a quiet mountain escape from the dullness of this Midwest January chill. Let's go!
Love at first sight
Back in the fall of 2005, friend Slippery Fish concocted a scheme to tackle the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. He excitedly recounted his visit to this range with his family as a boy. He grew up backpacking, and his clan made several trips to the Big Horns, hiking from WestTensleepLake up to LakeHelen and MistymoonLake. Another year they circled SevenBrothersLake and LakeSolitude, but never attempted to summit a mountain or climb higher than 10,000 feet.
On his third trip west to the Big Horns with his dad and brother, they planned to conquer BomberMountain. It launches over 13,000 feet, the next highest point on Earth to the east is atop the Swiss Alps. Unfortunately, shortly into his vacation, his brother coughed up a nasty batch of bronchitis and they were forced to abort the trip.
For 30 years, a desire has festered within Fish to return and bust the chops of BomberMountain. So he put the gears into motion for an adventure to retrace his boyhood steps, to set out to do what he had long dreamed about: to stand atop Bomber, two and a half miles above sea level.
“Can I go with you?” I begged.
“Nope,” he quipped, “four is the max, and I’ve already put together a crew."
“Okay, maybe next time,” I said with a slump.
A couple months later, Fish asked "Beard, you wanna tackle the Big Horns with us?” I thought he was joking, but he confirmed someone abandoned ship which opened a slot. I thought about it for three seconds, smiled and said "of course!"
Fish, Sherpa and I planned the trip over several months while munching on quesadillas at our favorite lunch joint. We finally firmed up the details, purchased our equipment and mapped out our itinerary:
Day 1 Sunday - Depart from trail head, 9000 feet. Camp at LakeHelen at 10,000 feet. Trees stop growing, replaced with barrenness at 10,300 feet.
Day 2 Monday - Weather permitting, ascend BomberMountain. Summit and start the return hike back to camp by 1:30 pm for the best light, weather and safety.
Day 3 Tuesday - Lazy day, camp, fish, R&R. Consider moving camp if we find a better location.
Day 4 Wednesday - Climb Cloud Peak, return to camp.
Day 5 Thursday - Rest and relax, fish, extra day in case we encounter poor weather earlier in the week.
Day 6 Friday - Hike out. Drive to Devils Tower. Friday night slumber party at Devils Tower or in Spearfish, South Dakota.
Day 7 Saturday - Return home.
Enough background, time to hike!
Big Horn Mountains are located in north central Wyoming
The first microfiber towel was created in 1927, carefully fashioned into a diaper and worn by Lindbergh to keep his trousers tidy on that toiletless flight across the Atlantic. Mothers of the Roaring Twenties soon learned microfiber worked better for dusting lamps and polishing Studebakers than damming up baby poop.
Own a piece of aviation history and enter to win your own microfiber towel with a couple of clicks!
I'd like to get the word out about this blog and increase my readership base, so I'll bribe sweeten the pot with a giveaway. Over on the right side of this page is a Followers link. Click to sign up and follow, and I'll add your name to the hat. Once we hit 10 followers, Pigtails will draw one name from the hat and the winner will be shipped (U.S. only, please) a free microfiber towel. Easy peasy, and not often that you have a 1 in 10 chance of winning something useful.
Child not included, and child refuses to remove her new hat
Please sign up to follow this blog, pass the word along to a friend and I thank you!
Below is another post I put up at work on lessons from an 8-year-old. Reposting here since some of you have not yet read it.
Lip gloss man
Sunday morning at church, a former teammate, we’ll call him "Don", was liberally applying ChapStick to his face. He was partaking in operation Crispy Lip, aggressively lapping rings and laying greasy skid marks, similar to something you’d see at the Iowa Corn Indy 250. Pigtails glanced over at “Don” and whispered, “Dad, your friend is putting on lip gloss again.” She thereby christened him Lip Gloss Man. He’s a good sport; they share a ring-around-the-mouth charade when they see each other. It’s their secret handshake of sorts.
Lesson: Look for something unique in others that you can both smile about. It will tighten your relationship, since laughter binds us.
Error 404: Invalid air quotes Pigtails has picked up on my frequent use of air quotes in conversation. She’s started using them often and usually in the wrong context. She says things like:
Dad, I’m hungry, may I have a hunk of “string cheese”?
I’ve since schooled her on the subtle intricacies of when to launch these double-fingered curls. She lands a witty punch now when using them in the proper context: Sure, Daddy, that’s not a gray hair, it’s “blonde.”
Lesson: Little eyes and ears are continually recording. My daughter helped me realize I need to keep my sarcasm and cynicism in check. And air quotes are funny when used in the wrong context by tiny fingers.
Although I’m a fairly healthy grazer and mostly limit the cholesterol squeezed through the food hole, I don’t deny the occasional Mac, fries and sugary Coke. Pigtails polished off her BBQ-dunked nuggets and made a beeline to the greasy McPlayland for some high-bacterial-count slide action. I noticed she was playing with a couple of younger special-needs children. On the way home, she said, “Did you notice those nice little kids? Some of the older kids were being mean to them. I felt bad so I asked if they wanted to play tag.”
Lesson: Be kind to all, especially those who need it most. It’s easy to find faults in others. But it takes humility and integrity to respect the dignity of everybody.
Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson
Our neighbor, Mrs. Robinson, lent us a tagalong, a bicycle for kids that bolts to Dad’s bike to form a tandem. On our initial sail, Pigtails wobbled and yelped like her seat was on fire. She was certain we’d fall over. I stopped, locked eyes and said, “Honey, I’ll keep both of us up. I won’t let you fall, please trust me.” Soon after, she was stable and stoked like a champ. We biked the neighborhood until the sun was snuffed. When I later asked her how she became such a good rider, she said, “I knew that you had me, so I was no longer afraid.”
Lesson: Her simple words reminded me that I, too, need to trust in a higher power. When I put my trust and faith in God and realize He will take care of me, worry fades and confidence strengthens.
Tyrannosauruseswith acne and healthy sidewalks
One day in a smarty-pants, matter-of-fact tone, Pigtails talked excitedly about a show on Iowa Public Television where she learned about dermatologists discovering dinosaur bones. I hope she meant paleontologists.
And another time during an evening fall walk when the sun fell at 5 p.m. and headlights were dancing off the bare trees, she loudly announced, “I am going to walk on the sidewalk instead of the street.It’s healthier, you know!” I think “safer” was the word she was aiming for. She was so proud about her high degree of “healthiness” that I just smiled and tugged on her ponytails rather than correcting her.
Lesson: A wiseproverb says children are our heritage. Bring them up properly, and they will honor us when we are hoary headed. Or is it they will soon bring us hoary heads? However it reads, children are a great blessing.
Below is a blog post I put up at work on lessons from an 8-year-old, and how those lessons can be applied to improve relationships with co-workers. Reposting here since some of you have not yet read it.
Early Saturday mornings, Pigtails would slip into my bedroom and use her tiny fingers to pry open my eyelids, just 'til she could see the whites. Then she’d jump with excitement and yell, “Daddy, your eyes are open, time to get up!” I’d shoo her out, begging her to pour a bowl and park it in front of Clifford and leave me be.
This particular Saturday a couple years ago, as she was methodically working her clammy fingers into my eyeballs, she yelled, “DAD, WAKE UP! THERE’S A CHICKEN IN THE FIREPLACE!” I rolled over and thought kids and their imagination…until I heard a bird flapping in the fireplace mesh screen. I tailed it to the living room, and, sure enough, a small bird had worked through the exhaust and fell down the chimney. Pigtails was right, but she had the wrong flavor of bird.
Lesson:Even if an idea sounds weird at first, it might have merit. Keep an open mind on the job, and don’t immediately shoot down a proposed solution that goes against the grain.
A little help from a friend Being a single dad is tough. The burners are loaded with working full time, maintaining a home built in 1950, being a good parent to Pigtails by balancing discipline with love, cooking up healthy meals day after day and carving out time at work to exercise. And although I do my best to hide the burdens from her, she at times senses the weight. When she does, she runs over and parks it on my lap. We talk about our day and what transpired in second grade. Soon, I forget what was troubling me. We play a round of Skip-Bo, the reset button is pressed and life is good again.
Lesson: Every person has something difficult going on in their life. You may not know what the worker in the cube next to you is struggling with. But each of us has the ability to help another. A small note of appreciation or chatting a few minutes with a co-worker about their weekend may be enough to give them a boost and let them know you care.
What are you supposed to do with the tooth after stealing it from the pillow and replacing it with a coin? I didn’t want to pitch the thing, so I did what every good dad would do: I zipped that gross, sticky thing in a Ziploc and buried it in my sock drawer. Which worked fine until Pigtails was helping put laundry away one day and ran across her tooth.
“Dad, why is my tooth in your sock drawer?”
“Oh…that silly tooth fairy, she must have set it down to use the bathroom and then forgot about it. Maybe you should leave a note with your next tooth and ask her.”
So now we have this pen pal thing going on, where I have to grab the tooth and note, write a response (disguising my handwriting, of course), then tuck the note and coin without waking her. Thankfully, most of the baby teeth are out now.
Lesson: Creativity and imagination are important for kids and adults alike. Have fun on the job and strive to find better ways of doing things. Oh, and the sock drawer is a rotten place to hide baby teeth.
While skating a few years ago, a Zamboni emerged to scrape the ice. Pigtails recognized the machine from a recent hockey game we attended, but was having trouble remembering the name of it. “Daddy, there’s that thingy, what’s it called, it rhymes with meatloaf or something.” Puzzled, I could see her gears turning. She continued, “No, not meatloaf, I think it rhymes with baloney...” It made for a good laugh at the time, and we still smile when I bring up the story as we pull out the skates.
Lesson: It’s okay to make mistakes. Tomorrow, you may laugh about something that you goofed up today.
A Ryder moving truck sucks up powdered road salt in its wake, pooling it into a white cloud as it lumbers by. Numb northwest winds dissipate the crystallized cloud and freeze the sweat pooling in my hat as we stride onward.
Last Saturday, 11 brave souls idiots banded together for a trot through the deep freeze in the inaugural IOW MLK Marathon. The acronym works out to Idiots of Winter, Martin Luther King Jr., and it sounds like "Iowa Milk".
Most of the group looped the winter 13.1 mile course once. A couple fools looped it twice for a disturbingly stupid 26.2 mile burn. We staggered the start a little to level out the finish, I had no intentions of pushing the pace and wanted to step out a few minutes early to help fend off the hard spooling half marathoners. Riggs was signed up for double laps, I heard the steel screws in his shoes scratching out ZEECH! ZEECH! as he clawed across black ice at mile four. His legs turned smoothly, as if powered by electric motors, his monotone greeting was "hey" as he bounded ahead like a Lycra-coated cyborg and disappeared.
I nearly put on an accidental demonstration of spectacular ballerina splits over a couple sections of glassed ice, just keep it rolling and maintain forward momentum, I muttered with gritted teeth. Outside the protective block of buildings and homes, the countryside wind licked my nylon running shell and spilled over the collar, condensing the sweat that was boiling from my back. By mile seven, I could sense the quartet of runners behind that were closing the gap with their 6:30 per mile strides.
The temp was 15 degrees, with the January wind dropping the real feel to 5 degrees.
The pack of four scooted by at mile eight, they were relaxed, talking loudly and enjoying the morning. I stopped to spray the snow yellow. We were back in town running along a well traveled road, so I knelt down and spun like a turret to keep my back against traffic as cars rolled by. Dignity is of little value when you're in the middle of running nearly 30 miles. When you gotta go, you go.
I completed the first lap and took a 15 minute break at the start/finish line (Tony's house) to reload on sugar and stretch out. This wasn't really a race, so much as a fun run, so I didn't feel too guilty taking a breather. Andrew was a hero, Tony lined him up to join the second loop so I wouldn't have to run alone and to stave off my untimely death in case fatigue, an abominable snowman or any myriad of other potentially bad "what ifs" struck down. That man is a motor mouth, which is good, since our uninterrupted conversation interrupted my mind from paying attention the cold and fatigue that was chopping at the legs.
At mile 24, which was mile 11 for Andrew, the sag wagon stopped to check on us and validate that we were still alive. A "speak for yourself" exchange occurred next:
Tony: "Are you guys okay? Do you need water?"
Andrew: "Doing great, thanks! No, we don't need any water."
Sandpaper lined my throat, Riggs handed me a Dasani from the car. I sipped a couple swigs, tossed it back and we were off again.
I was hoping to average around seven minute miles, but slowed on the second loop and finished in 3:08. Riggs finished the marathon in 2:42 with no breaks. Outstanding! The half marathon pack finished at 1:26, the lady halfers were a little behind that pace. Overall, solid results and another quality training run for the books.
The best part of any run is the camaraderie and banter that is shared with friends before and after the workout. After the finish, we thawed inside Tony's house, wolfing down a pepperoni pizza and raspberry breakfast pastries. We basked in endorphins while watching basketball, sipping hot jasmine green tea and beer. A few grunts, a round of knuckle punches, then we departed and each went our own way.
While dining with a small herd of friends last night, Pigtails created a word search puzzle on a scrap of paper as we waited for the mozzarella to bubble on our pizza. Glancing at her list of words, I covered my face and said aloud, "What have I done? I've created a little monster who's obsessed with all manner of bodily functions." Here are the five words in her search:
She laughed as she explained the word "her" was the most silly of the words, since dad is a boy and he'd have to look for a girl word.
I worked through the search and picked the words off the list, but had difficulty finding the word "fart". She must have spelled it wrong in the search, there surely was a reason I wasn't finding it. Close to giving up, I slumped and quietly mumbled "I can't find the fart." Pigtails grinned as I gave it one last look and finally found it.
I was praying the others at our table were unaware of what was going on at our end, it would have been awkward to try and explain.
Uno or Go Fish, Trash and Speed, Pigtails is more often than not victorious as she smoothly dissolves her stack of cards with an ornery smirk. I suspect she's responsible for "accidentally" applying that dog-eared curl to the corner of the Old Maid card to usher in a win. I counter strike by curling the edge of several more cards in the stack to throw off her scent. It doesn't matter, she's a card shark and dishes dad another defeat. Humbled again by a snaggle toothed 8-year-old.
Welcome to the numero uno post of Beard and Pigtails! Follow along in the chronicles of a single dad as Beard shares the ups and downs as he raises Pigtails. I'm blessed to have the opportunity to mold and shape Pigtails into a person that will be a light in this world. My hope is readers will come along for the ride and polish this blog to be the best it can be as you share comments and feedback. I sometimes need advice and input on parenting questions, I'll lean on you to help.
Word of mouth is powerful. Please pass this blog on to others in your circle. My goal is to encourage and bring smiles and joy to all the single dads and single moms, parents and others that will join me.