Feb 27, 2011

The assault on Bomber Mountain - 6, hike to Lake Helen

Sunday, August 27
6:30 am:  I whip open the Good Book, read a couple chapters, pray, then peel from tent into the crispy 30 degree morning. 

Anxious to motate, we speed pack as if sacking groceries while Fish brews a vat of hot chocolate. He stokes the amber sparks to flame, we sit for 20 minutes absorbing warmth from burning pine and plan today's six mile hike.  

Pants and packs on, we mosey over to the trailhead and deposit our registration card.  A ranger is emptying the box and quizzes us on multiple survival scenarios we might face in the boonies.  He yaks on about animals and hypothermia and getting lost.  A faint warning klaxon sounds in my mind.  We dish out the answers he's looking for and away we go. 

We'd geeked the books for months to learn how to decode topographic maps and navigate by compass.  How to handle the terrain, temps and weather patterns.  What to do when a black bear, mountain lion, rattlesnake or squawking marmot wishes to engage in hand-to-hand combat.  The books said the animals would leave us alone unless they were towing babies, and bears get cranky and hungry if the berry season is bad.  In these rare situations, there was little hope.  Experts pretty much said to raise your hands up real big and yell "NO NO BAD BEAR!  DON'T YOU EAT ME, I MEAN IT!!"  If that fails, then you are screwed.  You wet your pants and pray while not looking the she-beast directly in the eyes as it detaches your legs and feeds them to her fluffy cubs. 

We’d return to this spot in five days.  A month before the trip, I was joking with Fish that the before picture of us as we embark would show the three of us smiling, clean shaven, naive, and rearing to go. The after photo would show just Fish and me, partially mauled by some crabby mountain goat and missing miscellaneous limbs, with Sherpa nowhere to be found, M.I.A.

Although mountain virgins, we at least looked the part.  Posers, every last one of us!

We started down the West Tensleep Lake/Lake Helen trail, into the Cloud Peak Wilderness area.  The term “wilderness” in mountain speak has a distinct meaning.  The "wilderness area" is delineated on topo maps with a thick black line.  It's a place where man has not defiled the land, the lakes are clear and unpolluted and you most likely are outside of radio, TV and cell range.  You're on your own if bad things happen.  We'd be three hours from help if something ate Sherpa.

The trail was shaded and inviting, a path Red Riding Hood would skip down on the way to grandma's house to be eaten by a wolf. 


A half mile in, we came upon West Tensleep Lake.  Not a person in sight, a chipmunk's chatter reverbed as the lake blew fresh air.   

My straw hat blew off, I put it back on.

We continued on, a couple of miles into the hike, the weight of my pack bit into shoulder meat.  I’m a fairly sturdy beanpole with good resolve, so shrugged and trotted on.  Sherpa and Fish looked good at this point.

“Beard, take the pita bread!” Fish barked.

“I don’t want the stinking pita bread, you take it!” I snipped. 

“It’s not holding in my pack well, here you go!”  He slung it at me.  I reluctantly jammed the eight-pack of pita into the top zipper of my pack as I scoffed and muttered.  Sherpa grinned.

The trail was chunky but not very steep, we'd gain only gain 1,000 feet today.  The footing was slippery in spots and balancing bricks on the back while traversing stones made for an interesting hike.  I’d run a solid 17 miler a few days earlier, so the legs were ready to work. 

The footpath was superb and different than I imagined.  The smells were an unexpected treat. It was like sliding into a car with a couple pine air-fresheners swinging from the rear view mirror.  But less artificial and more concentrated. 


Where are the birds and bugs, I wondered?  There were no whippoorwills calling from the trees, no flies or mosquitoes injecting us.  Stark silence, broken only with a swirling breeze.  I'd solve the mystery of the missing birds and bees later that evening.

A trek through Iowa woods is mud, mushrooms eating downed oaks, poison ivy vining up ash trees and thick brush wrapping around ankles.  Mountain woods are the opposite:  clean and dry footing, cushioned with an inch of decaying pine needles, thin vegetation, no weeds and fresh expanse.  The trees were worn, weathered and stout, and shrinking the higher we climbed.  They started looking more like pumped up bonsai trees as we neared 10,000 feet.

My hat blew off.

We hiked for an hour, then rested in an open meadow. We could see the mountains that surround Lake Helen in the distance.  We also heard mooing. What were cattle doing at 9,500 feet?  They were oddly out of place, as if airlifted from a Midwest farm and cruelly dropped off in the hills.  They seemed content enough, but were skinny.  We mooed back and trekked on.

Lunch was at the two hour mark.  Fish and Sherpa looked shot and were mute.  I felt okay and offered to grill steaks.  Lit the JetBoil and cooked two packs of chicken ramen noodles.  They tasted good, we relaxed for 45 minutes.  Fish fingered the map and confirmed "we are close, under an hour to go."  This gave us the prick of adrenaline we needed to get off our butts and finish it. 

My hat blew off, I replaced it.

Feb 22, 2011

Brownie craft mother and a gaggle of girls

Pigtails' a Brownie Scout, her troop houses 17 hyper-pups.  Each month, a parent volunteers for treats, while another leads the craft.  The treat sheet was full by the time it made the rounds, so I signed up for craft duties.

It would eventually be my turn to be the Brownie craft mother.  No big deal, it was a ways off.  I'd worry about it later.

Troop leader Jen e-mailed a few weeks ago to remind me I was on deck to create some handmade wonder for the February meeting.  

Oh crap!

She recommended making something with a Valentine theme or perhaps friendship bracelets, since the next pow-wow would focus on friends. 

My e-mail response to her read:  "Dear Jen, I agree friendship bracelets are the way to go.  Now I need to Google friendship bracelets to learn what exactly they are."

I like cars and steam engines, not Shrinky Dinks and Silly Bandz and all the other spoils that ponied yappers embrace in second grade.  My neck got sweaty picturing a room full of beady eyes staring me down as I stumbled through a craft catastrophe. 

Beard would be the laughing stock of the second grade! 
Pigtails would be humiliated!
Disgruntled Brownies would form a human chain of rage and pinch my back fat! 

I enlisted my friend, Curls, to help.  She fondly recalls braiding friendship bracelets in grade school and was happy to assist.  She downloaded simple assembly instructions and measure-cut hundreds of strands to make it easier on the girls.  How to:
  1. Twist six strands of string together and tie a knot on one end.
  2. Have a friend hold the knotted end, the other person continues twisting.  Twist the dickens outta the strands.
  3. Fold the cord against itself, the strands will self-braid.
  4. Loop through and tie a couple knots.  
  5. Kabam!  Out pops a perfectly braided bracelet. 
A couple practice runs at home, Pigtails carefully learned the steps and offered to lead the project for her troop.  Our first bracelet turned out decent, although it was barely big enough to fit a finger.


Judgement Brownie day arrived, I was the only boy in the room and uneasy.  The girls didn't seem to mind me there once they learned what they'd be making later on.  They couldn't wait.

I should have brought a tape recorder to the conclave, I'd pay money to sit through again and watch.  Haven't laughed like that for ages. 

Troop leader Mrs. C. explained to the girls what a penpal is and how their troop would be writing letters to another Brownie pack cross country.  In the middle of that teaching moment, Frannie politely raised her hand and asked:

"How many pancakes does it take to shingle a doghouse?"

Mrs. C's mouth just sorta locked up, before she could respond Frannie continued:

"25 pancakes.  Plus one giant pancake right in the center of the roof."  

Mrs. C. was using the ignore it and she'll stop tactic and continued on with her penpal conversation as if nothing happened.  I covered my mouth and desperately tried not to laugh loudly.  A little of my chuckle leaked out.

Mrs. C. asked them to name states in the U.S. where the girls know relatives we could mail letters to.  Some said California and South Carolina, others said Germany and China.  Jen clarified that Asia is not a state in America.

The girls were done with penpal talk, they demanded treats and craft, stat!  Pigtails engaged, demonstrating how to magically transform multicolored strands into woven jewelery.  The Brownies were mesmerized and clapped with approval when I suggested they make two bracelets:  one for a friend, another to keep.

The project went well, not a single girl snipped off an index finger with scissors or knitted their hands together.

Frannie hung the tassels of her winter hat over her lip, raised her hand and shouted, "Hey everybody, look at me, I've got a black mustache!"  It was astonishing how polite they were at being ornery, never failed to raise a hand before saying something outlandish.

Craft completed, they formed a circle and exchanged 3x5 cards on which they'd written something they liked about each friend in the troop.  They went around the circle and read one card each.  Sweet kids, all of them.

Finally, the Brownie secret handshake.  Cross arms, chant the motto:


Spin around and unwind while giggling:

And that's a wrap!

Feb 20, 2011

The assault on Bomber Mountain - 5, Buffalo to West Tensleep Lake

We pressed to the quaint town of Buffalo, Wyoming, a clean hamlet shivering under the shadows of the Big Horns.  The population tallies less than the altitude; the sign greeting visitors reads: Welcome to Buffalo.  Elevation: 4,050. Population: 3,638.
We trolled for maps and a few odds and ends at the Sports Lure on main street Buffalo, a well endowed mom and pop joint with racks of testosterone.  I couldn't suppress belching out a Tim the Tool Man Taylor grunt when I stepped in the door.  Lots of heat: Beretta, Browning, Remington and Winchester, check.  Bear skins, flint and steel, gunpowder, serrated gutting knives, moccasins, archery weapons, yes.  Tampons, lip gloss, diapers and scrunchy hair tie thingies?  Nope.

Next stop was a local thrift shop/grocery combo, let's call it a throcery.  Picture 1973 purple plaid polyester bell bottoms on the thrift side, expired Little Debbie Banana Pudding Rolls on the food partition. It seemed an odd mix, but there must be a market for shoppers grabbing a starchy leisure suit with that blob of ring bologna.  

Fish and Sherpa discussed at length whether we should go to the other store across town for a better food selection.  I was getting impatient and barked, “We are here to climb a mountain, not to find the most homey grocery store in town. Let’s get what we need from this crusty place and move out!!” They froze, then tucked tails between legs, then quickly scurried inside to purchase expired Little Debbie Banana Pudding Rolls.  Surprisingly, Sherpa acquired not a single pair of disco slacks. 

With food rations topped, we began the steep ascent from Buffalo up to West Tensleep Lake outside the Cloud Peak wilderness area of the Big Horn National Forest.  It was a scenic 60 minute climb from 4,000 feet at Buffalo up to West Tensleep Lake at 9,000 feet.  Native Americans named this lake for distance; it sits about a ten night's sleep from some (unknown to me) town or lake.  

Whispering rain loosened into a downpour, the grade angled 10% as the wheels slipped on the front wheel drive Pontiac.  Fish slowed, shifted to third and chugged to the clouds. 

We'd stalked the weather in this area for a year via a web cam, it hadn’t rained for weeks.  Heavy clouds were unloading this day, we hoped it would cease soon.  No glory in setting up a tent in the mud.

We pulled off Highway 16 onto gravel and headed the final miles up to the West Tensleep Lake campground.  The rain slowed, with drizzle and haze smoking the mature pines lining the lane.  Heck, might as well show you:

Dumbo, the baby mule deer with wind sails greeted us.  I told Sherpa it was fake, a lifeless Disney animatronic.  I just hoped it would refrain from lifting its leg and urinating on my tent like that Badlands mouse. 

The odometer stopped spinning at 920 miles.  Props to Fish and his iron biscuits for handling all the driving.

We slopped into the muddy campground, the last groomed area we’d see for a week.  A dull rain trickled, ceased, then reluctant sun rays poked through.  We needed to prop tents and boil noodles before dusk.  

A moist 40 degrees, I hoped the clouds were spent and stayed quiet the rest of the week.   

Tents up, both gas stoves rolling chicken & noodles and bellies soon distended, we searched for rotting wood to light a fire against the chill.  No dice, the kindling, bark, my socks, everything was soaked.  

We noticed a young family in the spot next to us starting to pack up and head out.  We were curious why they were leaving at night, so we strolled over to visit.  

The dad said “Our little one is fussy and the camper is leaking. We are heading back home.”

I said “Hey, don’t worry about your little one crying, he's not bothering us.  And besides, we are loud, too.  Fish here snores like a warthog and I randomly scream like a spider monkey.  

His toddler wailed bloody murder.

In a pathetic attempt to make them feel better and maybe startle the kid into a smile, I erupted with my life-like monkey call, “UH AAAAHHH AAAHHH AAAAH!!!!"  They liked it, even the crier shut his trap for a few seconds and grinned. Then he resumed his miserable screaming. 

They departed and said we could take possession of their fire.  Yes to heat!  We lit a branch and transferred fire to our ring before dousing theirs. 

Tired and shivering, I glanced at the temp gauge in the tent.  36 degrees and falling.  I wondered what level of frosted wrath momma nature would hand us higher up in the mountains.  Would my 25 degree bag...zzzz...be stout...zzz...enou...zzzzz...

Enchiladas, a priest, a stranger and forgiveness

Every once in awhile, an unscripted event occurs that affects me enough that it must be told to others.  Today was one of these chance encounters.

Mass, then massive enchiladas for lunch at my favorite Mexican joint.  I had a coupon for a free "child platter" with paying adult.  Key words are Mexican and platter and free.  Score!   

As Pigtails and I were wrapping up crunching tortilla chips and beans fuming with diced jalapenos, a kind older woman walked over and whispered that she needed to speak with me.  

I asked if I was in trouble, she winked and said I was.  

She's of the generation I admire most, that polite, rugged, friendly, wise, grounded, witty and caring type that listens so well and causes me to yearn to flip back the time machine six decades to live out simpler days with them.

She said, "I was watching you and your daughter as you were eating.  She reminds me of my daughter when she was that age.  Hold onto her."

I sensed the weight, but didn't quite know where she was going.  

She continued, "She was the type that would date the most unpopular boy in high school to prove to others that he was a nice guy.  She didn't care what other people thought, she always desired to do the right thing."

Moron me asked, "It sounds like she was raised right.  Is she happily married now?"

She paused as a tear built.  I'd already blown it with the wrong words. 

"My daughter was killed by an underage drunk driver when she was 17 years old."

I didn't know what to say, other than "I'm so sorry.  I don't know how I would ever be able to handle that if it happened to my daughter.  I'd be so angry at that drunk, I don't think I'd be able to forgive him."  

She said "Oh, I didn't forgive him for a long time.  When the newspaper reporter came by for an interview, he ran the headline, Angry mother says forgiveness can wait. 

I glanced at Pigtails, she was over at the gumball dispenser trying to shake out free M&Ms and Smarties.

"Have you been able to forgive him as time went on?"

She nodded, "Yes I have, but it took years and years."

"What led you to do so?"

"Well, God can't use me if I don't forgive.  I had to if I was going to be used as a vessel.  I couldn't have let go of the anger if it wasn't for my faith and by God's strength."


This stranger was living out the words of the Gospel from Matthew 5 that Father M. had read just an hour prior during the homily.  He said we mustn't wait for motivation to do the right thing.  We should do the right thing regardless, and motivation to continue will flow once we begin.  

Ye have heard it said, love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.  That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.  For if you love them which love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the unjust do the same? - Mat. 5

This strong woman has learned to love her enemy, or at least to forgive him.  She made me realize I need to appreciate what I have, truly forgive others and understand I can't be a good servant unless I let go and love. 

Jotted this blog address for her and told her Pigtails and I would pray for her tonight.  I hope she reads this.  

I gave my daughter a big hug in the car, then was silent on the drive home.

Feb 16, 2011

Double down - 3, beating the odds

1, an icy lake
2, the thaw

Double down - an option in blackjack to double your bet after the initial two cards are dealt.  The value of the third card flipped determines your fate.  Either a double win or a double loss. 

When you lose a spouse, it forces you into a double down gamble.  Risk increases, stakes double and you have one flip of the card to get it right.  

You must play to beat the odds.  The game can be won.  

I'll share how I'm managing my double down round and tackling the challenges that pile with being a lone wolf.  The game's still on, but this is working well so far: 

  • Don’t be ashamed.  It’s not my choice that I’m a single dad and there’s nothing I can do about it right now.  I do the best I can to make it work.
  • Be smart with time and money.  I place all the bets and win or lose accordingly.  Plan, ponder, then execute and get it done.

See, she's turning out perfectly normal.  Right?
  • Help your rug rat live as normal a life as possible.  Ride bikes, bat the ball, don a tiara while sipping tea and paint her nails.  I do not recommend caving in and letting her paint your man-nails.  Pigtails likely doesn't realize she’s being raised any differently than the neighbor kids living 20 feet away under the loving hug of a mom and dad.  This is good.
  • Ask for help.  Early on, I was overwhelmed, beat down and felt locked down in solitary confinement.  On the rewind, I realize I should have asked for help from family and friends, rather than secretly wishing they would offer to assist when I was reeling.

  • Exercise until deep muscle tissue shreds (my workouts are cruel), slide spinach through your pie hole, slumber six hours a night and pray.  This will clear the mind, body and soul, while curtailing cottage cheese buildup.  You are all that your child has, live long for them.
          • God listens if you pray and ask for help.  He created oceans and flesh by speaking them into existence.  He can surely help you conquer hardship and bear the weight.  When it seems no one is around, Christ is. 
            • Don’t spoil.  A spoiled child will sour into a spoiled adult.  Disciple and consistency are critical.  Kids yearn for your time more than toys.
            • Don’t put son or daughter in the middle.  Using your little koala bear as an instrument of revenge against their mom or dad will ferment into resentment.  If the other parent is open to it, encourage junior to spend time with them.  I speak only positive things to Pigtails about her mother.
            • Be thankful and content.  You have a child, crafted in your image, a great blessing!  Enjoy the flexible independence that comes with living without a mate.

            I'll shut it down with a short story from a couple years ago:

            Raffi digs into Down by the Bay as I lock Pigtails' tiny wrists and twirl her like a helicopter.  Dizzy, I glide her down for a landing and wobble to the beat as she recoils her hands and bellows, 

            OUCH!!  DADDY, YOU HURTED MY ANKLES!!”  

            I smile and point down, “Ankles?  Those are down there.”  

            She angles her brow, glues hands to hips and scolds, 


            Like, duh.  Obviously, the word "wrist"  had not yet been spliced into her swiftly expanding six-year-old vocabulary.

            Single mom or dad, I’m cheering for you.  Be strong, you can do it!  When you are thrashing alone in that icy lake, plant your little one on your lap and look into their eyes.  He needs you.  She loves you.  

            Even if you do chafe her arm ankles.

            Feb 13, 2011

            The assault on Bomber Mountain - 4, Badlands to Big Horns

            ride through the rings
            Journal notes for our evening in the Badlands:

            8:36 pm – Fish says he’s spent from driving and tucking to bed.  Sherpa and I roll our eyes, what a wimp.

            8:38 pm – Fish is flapping around in his tent.  What in heaven’s name is he doing in there? Sherpa and I ready our miner lamps.  On the count of three, we unzip Fish's tent and flip on the lights to neutralize the disturbance. 

            8:39 pm – Sherpa lets out an uncomfortable yelp. Fish is rolling around in his bag, to our dismay, he's wearing what appears to be a birthday suit. “Pardon me, do you have any Gray Poupon?” I ask.  I'll give Fish the benefit of the doubt and say he's “changing into his jammies.”

            8:41 pm – Fish removes himself from the tent, avoids direct eye contact and tells us “I feel better now, I’ll stay up for awhile longer.”

            We unrolled the sleeping pads beneath the stars and traced constellations pulsing above the horizon.  At this point I realized my self inflating air mattress was malfunctioning. The three of us are not absolute morons, yet fumbled with the air valve for 15 minutes.  Ready to give up and chalk it to a defect, I offered the ludicrous idea of trying blow to the device up with my mouth.  228 puffs, seal the valve and low and behold, it held air.  I'm no pneumatic engineer, but was under the impression “self inflating” means it magically auto-fills when you twist open the nozzle.  Incorrect in my assessment, I announced “got it, the self in self inflating is referring to myself.” We laughed, talked planets for an hour then retired.

            Saturday, August 26
            3:00 am, I awake to the tiny scurrying of a busy rodent outside my tent.  I hear it twitching around, mousing for grub. Then my ears detect the tiniest little puff of piss, a teensy “ppssff”.  That filthy beast urinated on my tentOh well, half ounce at most, we're good. 

            Fish is toddler-like in his propensity to rise at the buttcrack of dawn, bright eyed and loud in his goings about to ensure everybody else wakes up.  I'm not a morning person, I could use some squirts of melatonin, it takes me 20 minutes to get both eyes fully open.  Fish and Sherpa were already dressed and cuddling with a nearby mule deer when I groggily emerged from the nylon dome.  

            our campground
             We packed our gear and headed over to the park diner for breakfast.  We understood this would be our last real vittles for a week, we'd soon head into nature and dine on jungle rat and ramen.  We forked through giant Oglala omelets, thin meat and veggies folded into eggs, smothering a traditional Native American Indian fried flatbread.  It was excellent!

            Sherpa and I snagged a couple souvenirs for our brats, then headed out to explore the alien landscape. 
            Fish grew up in South Dakota and  visited the Badlands several times, he repeatedly warned us to slather sunscreen and be prepared for Hades temps.  To his surprise, we awoke to a cloudy 60-degree day.  It was a cool, comfortable morning in Hades. 
            The Badlands are surreal, slightly spooky and look like they were shipped here on a barge from Mars.  The sterile hills are the silted remains of an evaporated lake, a photo negative of the Grand Canyon. Tall piles of rocky sand layer upwards, the inverse of earth eroding away from a nibbling stream.

            Fish abandoned us at a nondescript trailhead, then peeled away and parked the car at the end of the trail a couple miles up the road.  Sherpa and I had a great hike and conversation. We gathered a small collection of rocks along the way and carried them with us for our two-mile walk. 

            We caught up to Fish near the end of the trail, he asked: 

            “Whatcha got there?” 

            “Uh, these are called rocks.” 

            “Well, there might be a ranger up there, and he won’t like the fact that you are snagging souvenirs. Put ‘em in your pockets.” 

            “But they are too big,” we protested. 

            I glanced over and saw Sherpa stuffing small boulders down the back of his pants.  I copied, ramming rocks into the rear crack of my Levis. We trekked another quarter mile with pounds of pebbles lining our pants.  No ranger was found, I think Fish set us up.  
            Exiting the Badlands, we tallied the tick marks for a total of 81 Wall Drug signs by the time we entered the town of Wall.  Wall Drug's surely blown through their advertising budget every year for the entire 75 years their doors have been swinging. “We’ll hit Wall Drug on the way home,” said Fish. 

            Out of the blue, Fish asks, “You ever heard the joke about the Christian, the Agnostic and the Hindu that trek up a mountain?” I knew what he was getting at, a metaphor for myself, Fish and Sherpa. We posses vast differences in background, beliefs, religion and politics, yet we somehow manage to hang out without strangling each other.  We hung tough together the entire week, our small contingent represents the American melting pot.

            sunflowers, not corn, flanking the pavement before crossing into Wyoming
            We clicked off another 300 miles and noticed the first rise of the mountains on the horizon at the 850 mile mark. “Fellas, welcome to the Big Horns!” announced Fish.  We snapped outta our trance after pounding miles through the barren lands of Wyoming. Hundreds of miles of no farms, cities, crops or animals, nada. Instead, we spotted steel arms, pipes and hydraulic claws drinking and scraping up oil, natural gas and coal from the Earth.  

            Sherpa and Fish celled their families one last time to say goodbye and to finalize wills.  I tried to reach Pigtails, but Sprint's coverage in Wyoming was crummy.  I wasn’t able to talk to her like I promised before heading into the wilderness.  I hoped she'd understand.

            Big Horns in back

            Interview with Pigtails

            ** 2/13 update **

            DSMama and anonymous asked:
            1. Do you have Bieber fever?
            2. Should your dad grow his hair out like Bieber?
            3. If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
            4. Does your dad let you paint his toenails?  Tell the truth.
            5. Is your dad a good cook?
            6. What's your favorite meal that he makes?
            7. What's your favorite subject in school?
            8. Do you know how to jump rope?
            9. Do you know any jump rope songs?
            10. What do you want to be when you grow up?
            Pigtails' song and dance:

            Click here if above sound file doesn't work for you.


            ** 2/9 update **

            I'd wager that DSMama has BieberLuv.com bookmarked, she fired off these questions for Pigtails:

            1. Do you have Bieber fever?
            2. Should your dad grow his hair out like Bieber?
            3. If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
            4. Does your dad let you paint his toenails?  Tell the truth.
            Thanks, DSMama!  

            Please leave a comment if anyone else has Bieberless questions for Pigtails.  I'll flip on the mic and share her responses soon.


            I'll periodically interview the hairy-headed monster and post up our conversation.  Please send a question you'd like to ask Pigtails by leaving a comment below.  I'll post her response once I gather a handful of questions from readers.

            In her own words:

            -Beard and Pigtails

            Feb 8, 2011

            Double down - 2, the thaw

            Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light - Matthew 11:29-30

            The sun slushed the ice, it was a slow thaw.

            Family was mute on the matter and catastrophically disengaged.  Co-workers didn't know what was going on, they can't read minds and I didn't feel like spilling it.  I only opened up to a few close friends.  

            I mostly chipped at it alone.  

            after the ice, spring
            Small moments made a difference.

            My buddy Greg called every few months to check in.  He'd tell me his family was thinking about Pigtails and me.  That meant a lot.

            Recently, a couple of running cronies offered to unsnap Pigtails from my back so I could tackle errands and stretch out a little.  I declined, but chuckled picturing her working those goofballs over with her subtle charm, begging for sour apple bubblegum and asking to paint their nails purple, yapping till their ears melted.  I was glad they asked, the thought does count.

            I glanced at a single mom at the indoor playground, her finger ringless and stare hollow as her sprite climbed the germ infested foamy elephant.  My solitude melted in small batches as I realized others were in a similar predicament.   I hopped online and learned there are 15 million single parents in the states.

            Time gently soothed and cauterized most of the wounds.  I pondered my shortcomings that contributed to an imperfect marriage.  And I’ve forgiven my spouse.  

            Divorce mapped out a clearer future and strengthened my rights as primary caregiver. 

            The compression of time and money that comes with the solo parent package has chiseled good habits.   I generally have more to do in less time than in a double parent household, so I’ve dug in and become more efficient on several fronts.

            Pigtails and are I happy, we have fun again.  

            Her kindergarten teacher jotted this on her report card:  

            “Pigtails is delightful.  The joy on her face is a reflection of what’s in her heart.”  

            Maybe she will turn out okay.  

            Those days of self-doubt still seep in, I sometimes question my ability to steer the ship while bailing out water.  But we are making it work.  And if I can somehow keep things afloat, bear the burden and get the job done, I hope others can too.

            Feb 6, 2011

            The assault on Bomber Mountain - 3, snaking towards the Badlands

            Fish @ Badlands
            Friday, August 25
            I dropped Pigtails with her sitter, then met up with Fish.  He smirked and said “You'll be surprised where I’m at with packing.” When I stepped into his basement, I was very surprised, but not pleasantly so. His pool table was covered with a flee market of freeze dried beef and oodles of ramen noodles, expensive tech underpants that claimed to prevent S.B. (sweaty butt), water filters, collapsible fishing poles and insect repellent.  It was all there, but not neatly tucked into his pack.  

            He thrashed around, haphazardly throwing bits into his pack with no order or caution.  Clothes, maps and unidentified objects were scattershot and flying everywhere.  He zipped up and smooched his wife, then we headed over to grab our wingman.  Sherpa's son leaked alligator tears as we bid farewell.  Sherpa stuttered, I punched his shoulder and told him it would build character in the little guy. 

            We headed over to Enterprise to rent a “full size American sedan”, I was expecting grandma's Crown Victoria or a Lincoln Town Car.  They chucked us the keys to a blue Pontiac Grand Prix, that'll work.  Time was slipping, it was 11:30 am when we finally loaded and left town. 

            sayonara, civilization
            “Are we there yet?” I whined as annoyingly as possible from the backseat ten minutes into our drive. We'd bite off 550 miles today and camp in the Badlands, halfway to the Horns.

            This billboard greeted us at the South Dakota border crossing:

            Fish and I laughed, Sherpa looked puzzled. 

            “What does that mean?” he asked in his Indian curried accent.  

            I responded, “You ever seen an old western movie where two cowboys are primed for a pistol match at high noon, and one of them snarls, 'Are you ready to meet your maker, punk?'  Then they shoot each other silly and both die instantaneously. God is using this billboard to tell us we'll all die in the mountains.”

            I was only partially kidding.  Other than Fish's hike three decades past, we had no clue what we were doing when it came to roughing it.  A cluster of computer dorks heading to the sticks, the only trekking we were experienced at was meandering the aisles of Walmart.  We were doomed.

            That billboard bothered Sherpa, he brought it up again later that evening.  The next day, we spotted a similar banner in Wyoming that read “God Loves You.” Sherpa felt better after that, problem solved.

            Men attack miles on the road like they do flipping channels on the TV.  Keep ‘em rolling continuously.  Fish leaned on the go pedal, with quick petrol and pee-stops when the gauge arrowed a quarter tank.

            We tarried at Chamberlain, South Dakota, a picturesque rest stop where the Missouri River bites a deep gouge into terra firma.  Strolled the Louis and Clark exhibit there, then worked through a spicy mound of vegetable biryani and yogurt sauce Sherpa's wife had steamed up for us.  

            64. That’s the number of Wall Drug signs tallied by the time we hit our campground inside Badlands Park.   

            Snakes!! Sherpa's armpits get sweaty thinking about them.  While pulverizing tacos at lunch one afternoon, Fish asked:

            "Sherpa, what do you think about snakes?" 

            "Horrified, I can't stand them," he said.

            "Well," I chimed in, "snakes are cold blooded, and the temp will drop into the 30s at night.  So odds are one of the little critters will try sneaking into a tent or bag to warm up." 

            His eyes widened as he landed his taco back on the plate.

            "Yeah, you'd better keep your tent zipped up, there are rattlesnakes in the mountains," Fish added
            with concern.

            The first thing we noticed when pulling into the Badlands campground was an abundance of signs that read, “BEWARE Rattlesnakes!” Now, what exactly are you supposed to do with that?  Remove from storage your trusty snake charming flute to lure the poisonous serpents into a deep trance? 

            Sherpa nervously glanced at the sign, then at the pocket of snake holes directly in the loading zone where we'd launch our dome tents.  He went around filling up the holes as best he could with rocks and sand.  

            Oh yeah, forgot to mention we also saw a poisonous snake sign back at our Chamberlain rest stop.

            This was all working perfectly into our plan.   

            The final day of our trip, we'd plant a rubber snake in his sleeping bag and cure his phobia for good.  We cared about our friend and were simply trying to help him.  We also wondered if he would cry.

            Feb 3, 2011

            Blogging about the blog - flow control

            A couple people mentioned they can't see the Followers button or it doesn't work.  It appears the button may be disabled if you access this blog from work or over certain networks.  Try pulling it up at home or on a different computer and please e-mail me if it continues being stubborn.

            If you sign up to follow anonymously, your name/icon won't show up under the Followers list, there's no way for me to determine you are following and so I won't be able to add your name to the drawings.  You can switch follower settings to public up there on the top right.

            If we hit 50 Followers, we draw for a $50 prize.  Looks like the Target card is in the lead, although the giant vat of toothpaste is also in the mix.  I assume a dentist placed that vote.

            I'm still tuning the layout of the blog a little, but the general flow will look like this:
            • Each new post shows up at the top of the Home page.  
            • The Home page will show the most recent seven posts.  The eighth post will roll off.
            • Each post is labeled, and the labels show as tabs across the top.  So all the parenting-type Beard and Pigtails posts are together, hiking posts are together, etc.
            • Posts older than 30 days will be auto-archived.  Scroll down yonder to the bottom of this page to access the archives.
            • I'll try and put up an off-topic post each Sunday afternoon and a Beard and Pigtails post mid-week.  Mileage may vary, but I'll attempt to stick to this routine.
            I encourage readers to participate.  Lob an email (address is over on the right side) or leave a comment if you have questions, feedback, suggestions or feel inclined to ship me a smoked ham. 

            I've got a year's worth of words waiting to be unleashed, and Pigtails is a living post itchin' to be scribed, so hang on!


            Feb 1, 2011

            Double down - 1, an icy lake

            3, beating the odds

            Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven - Matthew 5:3 

            I'll share a three part on the gritty fall and rise of single parenthood.  This one dips low, but it's unfiltered honesty.  Telling it allows me to release a little steam pressure.  Nobody likes to talk about this, but I will.  

            I write this not to stir up a pity party, but to speak up for those going through a similar situation.  Each person traverses this trail for a different reason, maybe as the result of death, divorce or separation.  If you know a friend going through hardship, I hope this will help you better understand their new life.  Send this on to them.  

            We'll squirm together, here goes...

            "You can have her."

            These were the exit words from my wife of seven years when Pigtails was a year old.

            So began the morph from married man to single dad.  It was not a gentle transition, but a precipitous fall into an icy lake. 

            My spouse was a stay-at-home mom, tending to baby and contributing to a calm household.  The next day, she left. 

            A storm stirred, I hustled to find daycare for my diapered, smiling daughter while absorbing new tasks my wife tended to in the past.  Clear thinking and important, swift decisions needed to be riffled off with precision.  I found it best to ignore the sore thoughts of abandonment.  

            I didn't have time to grieve, I'd do that later. 

            oblivious of the storm

            I went to work with a smile on my face while my heart thickened to stone and stomach balled up with fear.  Outside was cheerfulness as anguish etched away inside like acid.  

            My heart goes out to you, single mom. 

            Single dad, I understand what it’s like to work a full day, then come home and mow the lawn with your toddler strapped to the stroller, wailing from the porch.  With the smell of gasoline on your hands, you scoop her up, calm her down and kiss her red cheek.  Then you scurry inside to bake dinner and bathe her.

            There’s no one around to help, you do it all. 

            I know what it’s like to shop for dresses for your little girl and the salesperson smiles and says, “Oh, how cute, no mommy tonight, good luck with that.”  Not sure what got into me, but great restraint was required to not flick her nostril when she said that.

            There's the public bathroom quandary.  What do you do when your curious tot is too old to tag along with you to the urine-soaked men’s room, yet too young to explore the ladies' loo alone?  I'd scan for a friendly looking mother with gentle eyes that didn't give off the essence of hating children, then casually beg her to take Pigtails in and pray for the best.    
            Note: The family restrooms that have surfaced in recent years are excellent.  Now a family of four can all awkwardly partake in synchronized peeing and washing of hands.
            I struggled to play the outfit matching game for my girly tike.  How can different shades of pink not match?  Stripes and polka dots jive, right?  What the, they don't?!  Perhaps one day I'll get it...

            I understand the isolation of dining in a restaurant with a happy couple all but spooning and sharing a meal in the booth next to you, and a content family on the other side.  You nibble in silence or play peek-a-boo and idly chat with your toddler who’s not yet old enough to respond, but is old enough to catapult a partially chewed chicken and dumplings bomb on the crotch area of your pants.

            I know what it’s like to attempt to make Pigtails look presentable at school, hair ponied and dress pressed, tasks I’m not the best at.

            I know what it’s like to receive nothing for Father’s Day.    

            I remember flipping my pillow one night to find a dry spot from the tears.  With little rest, I'd bolt up the next morning, dress Pigtails and drone to work with the molted smile stapled on.

            It was a black time in my life.  

            I was poor in spirit.