My agent just sent the galleys for my new novel, Almost Human. I’m in Mexico right now so will have to review them when I get back from fishing and adventuring. Choices are difficult in this fast paced life!… Actually, the novel will have to wait for a little while. At least until I have finished fishing and drinking homebrew and shine with my buddy Steve Parks. 🙂 Choices, choices…. Oh, did I mention my good friend, Casey Whitesell did the original art for the front cover? The art department at the publisher loved it and she’s a local RIM mountain girl. Can hardly wait to thank her.
In a few days, I’m headed to baja for a couple weeks because someone has to keep an eye on things 🙂 …. I entered the 101st. Airborne, jump school on April 23,1967, Fort Benning, Georgia..After that, was–well, after that. .So I like to be somewhere that I feel I earned….. You know what I’m talking about Johnnie Griffitts and John H. Bogacki … We made it and are still going on… The only easy day was yesterday and yesterday was a …….
Back in the late sixties I was traveling with some friends along the coast road from Puerta Vallarta to San Blas. We had the road to ourselves and the stars were just coming out as we wound through the jungle. I had just repaired my BMW motorcycle and for once it was running well. I had hoed weeds all summer to earn it from an old man who had it setting in his barn (a story in itself). We were moving fast enough to cool us from the sweltering humidity when we came upon a tree blocking the road.
I was the first to stop and investigate. As the rest of our group came to a stop, a small group of armed men and women stepped out of the jungle and surrounded us. The leader pointed an AK-47 at me and demanded money. I was intimately familiar with this weapon as I was just out of the military. I could tell he was uncomfortable and surprised when he realized that we were all gringos.
Immediately, I took exception and told the leader that he couldn’t take all of our money as we needed to get home and, further, my girlfriend was expecting. This threw the whole group into a whispered discussion. Now, I admit I made the part up about my girlfriend but the rest was true. We had all stretched our spring break, which was designed to be a week long, into several months. Our parents (especially my girlfriend’s) and the college officials did not see the humor in our change of vacation plans.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, the leader nervously asked me how much we needed to get home. I replied that we only had a $125US between us and we needed a least a hundred to get home. I pointed sympathetically to my girlfriend. We bartered for a good hour and finally settled on us giving them $25US and cooking them dinner.
Everyone relaxed and the AKs were set aside. It was a communal affair with us sharing what we had for dinner. This being the sixties in Mexico, the women cooked while the men shared a bottle of tequila chased by macho stories. This was the birth of one of the recipes in the one-arm cook book, Chili Mac. They loved it.
The evening wore on as many of us nodded off. Our impromptu campfire died down and as silently as they stepped out to meet us, they drifted back into the jungle like sleep walking ghosts.
After moving the log I commented that it was the politest robbery I’ve ever heard of. I learned that evening that sometimes when you step into a drama and you just have to play it out. Besides, there might be a story in it.
Where’s Charlie Boorman when we need him!
I’ll be unplugged and out of touch for the next few days as I’m headed up to Fresno the long way around for my talk. It’s my bad luck the the high desert and Death Valley National Park are in reach of my around about route to Fresno. My online presence will be sporadic at best but hopefully I’ll have a few stories to share. 🙂
I will be giving the presentation on Thursday, April 9 for the Central Valley BMW Riders in Fresno, CA. Here’s a link to their newsletter with all the details, http://cvbmwriders.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=45&Itemid=263.
Sometimes the story comes from life and ends up on the road. This is the case with this posting as it is a lesson I brought to the road.
When I was a new teacher just starting my career, I served as a bilingual 3rd grade teacher. I remember getting quite frustrated with a student who was consistently late and often fell asleep in my class. I saw this student as not motivated and disrespectful. I assumed that he was staying up late watching TV. This was long before personal computers and other technology.
One morning, during my math instruction, I found this student sleeping; head down on his desk. I lost my temper. I was young and new to the profession. I shook the desk waking him up and commenced to dress this student down for his inattention and lack of care for his education. I saw his behavior as disrespectful and made several assumptions about him and his future.
I kept this student after class during recess so I could discuss his behavior further. I began counseling this student about not watching television in the evening and getting to bed early. I threaten to call his parents. I stopped immediately when the student began to well up and cry.
What the student told me next changed my practice as an educator for the rest of my career. He had been hiding in an abandoned car in the alley behind his house all night to avoid being beaten by his father who had been drinking. He said when his father began to drink he got violent and the family would hide and that this happened frequently.
I learned by listening, that this student got himself up each morning, dressed his younger sister and walked several miles to school through one of the most gang infested sections of the town. He told me he came to school because he could eat both breakfast and lunch. He was hungry most of the time. Further, he came because it was safe and he believed that I cared about him.
Of course, I felt horrible for the assumptions I had made concerning this student and the fact I did not know about his home environment. It never happened again in my career as an educator. I learned a great lesson that day. Sometimes, we as educators might be the only caring adult a student meets all day.
I learned that my experience growing up was not necessarily the same as those of many of my students. I was fortunate enough to have loving parents who cared for my sister and me. They made sure we were safe and secure. They valued our education and supported our schools. My family life was and is good. But I cannot assume this is the case with all my students. Abuse and hunger does not only just happen somewhere far from our community..
Over the years, I have become part of many of my students’ stories who have had to overcome great hardship and obstacles just to get to school each day. It is our primary responsibility, as educators, to identify those students in need and help remove those obstacles. We as educators must look beyond our classrooms to the world outside our schools to insure that our students are safe and secure.
I carry this lesson as an attitude on the road. I have learned that people while differing in language and culture have pretty much the same motivations They want to be safe and secure. They want to be loved and cared for and most importantly valued and respected. We have to look deep and not judge other people we meet on our adventures by the assumptions of our own culture (ethnocentrisms). By connecting with those we meet on the road with mutual respect and care, we open the very door that keeps us traveling to the next blank spot on the map as we chase the ever-changing horizons of our dreams.
If you are wondering what ever happen to the little boy I spoke about in the beginning of this article, my wife, Tammy, and I had the honor to attend his graduation from high school many years ago and we were proud to receive word of his commission as an officer and gentleman in the United States Navy. He is presently serving in harm’s way.
Okay, here is a staple for all of us who have been adventuring in Baja over the years. This is a dish you truly can prepare while sipping a beer in one hand. We always carry a couple of pounds of macaroni and a several cans of chili just in case. And we’ve gotten so use to preparing this while setting up camp that everyone complains if we don’t! In fact, our children have been known to ask for it when we’re settled and could cook anything.
You cook this after a long day of traveling overland trying to get unlost. You finally have found the beach you’ve heard about and its getting dark. So, chili mac comes to the rescue. You can cook it in minutes while your sipping a beer and setting up camp.
I apologize in advance to my foodie friends and bloggers I follow. But when in Baja, necessity is the mother of all invention.
Here’s all you need: a little salt, 4 cans of chili (8oz.) and a 1 pound of macaroni to serve about 5 or 6 hungry adventurers.
Boil 4 quarts of water (salt to taste) or use sea water.
Heat cans of chili – or if you want to get really gourmet, use homemade you already prepared.
Dump the 1 pound bag of macaroni into to the boiling water. Bring back to boil and stir occasionally. Mac should be ready in about 6 to 8 minutes depending of altitude.
When the mac is soft to your taste, pour the water off. If you’re on a moto you probably didn’t bring a colander so use a lid; or we’ve even been known to use a flip flop when desperate.
When the chili is warm, mix both together and enjoy.
It will replinish you and give you enough energy to finish setting up.
Tomorrow, you can go out and catch a real meal!
Early one morning in Playa de Estero I woke up to a loud conversation just outside my window. I couldn’t really tell what was being said at first but it was loud. I was living in an old airstream trailer at the time and had all the windows open. It was August in Baja on the Pacific side and the fishing had been spectacular and the dinners and drinking even better. So it was just way too early to be waking up.
I slowly pulled myself out of bed to see who was making so much noise when I saw and learned something very special. Three old friends were straddling their bicycles out front. They were so intent talking that they didn’t notice me .
It was Vic, Coach, and K-Mart Bob causing the racket. All three men were pushing 90 years old and had been friends for over 60 years. Vic was a tall lanky man who looked like what I imagined Don Quioxte be like. He was missing an ear from his time in the South Pacific in WWII and he was stone deaf without his hearing aides, which was most of the time as he thought they made him look old. K-mart Bob definitely didn’t have his. I had helped him search his whole trailer the day before. He thought his dog, Misty, had eaten them. K-mart Bob had been a manager of a K-mart in San Diego before retiring in Baja. Coach, had been the women’s swimming coach at Claremont College and before that had played in the 1936 Rose Bowl. He always wore his but they didn’t do much good. Both Coach and K-mart Bob would’ve made a good Sancho Panzas to Vic.
As I leaned out the door and listened, I was mesmerized. All three men were shouting at each other trying to be heard as they gastrulated dramatically. Coach asked K-Mart Bob, “Are you feeling any pain this morning?” K-mart answered, “No! I don’t need a Goddamn Cane! What about you?” Vic interrupted, “I don’t have the flu why is it going around?” They continued in this way for a good 15 minutes, conversing but not actually hearing each other.
When they finally broke up, I stopped K-mart and asked him what they had been talking about. He said that they had had a good visit like they did every morning. For years they had made a point to stop and “catch up.” He paused and said, “You know there’s a lot of flu going around.”
I learned early that morning that communication was not really about language at all.
Halibut on Foil with Butter and Garlic topped with Fresh Grated Parmesan Cheese (cheese is optional):
In Baja, besides motorcycling, there is the fishing and believe me it’s world class. Both coasts, the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez, offer year round fishing with literally hundreds of different species to catch.
But if you find yourself in the estuaries of the Pacific, get yourself over the shelf of a sloping sandbar in about eleven feet of water, and you can catch halibut almost any time of the year. Some months are better than others but fresh halibut is our favorite. These are California Halibut and keepers for us weigh around 6 pounds but can grow up to 35.
Our dear friends, Tom and Candy Lanza, created this dish years ago. And we stole it without shame! My wife, Tammy, has made this recipe a tradition in our family. You can cook these delicate filets in a pit filled with coals on a lonely beach or in a BBQ on your back patio back in civilization.
Out of all the ways to cook this divine fish, we feel this is the tastiest and the easiest method after a long day out adventuring, especially down in Playa de Estero, where the halibut are plentiful.
Depending on size of the halibut, 1 to 1 ½ fillets per person. Left overs will not go to waste!
A couple of sheets of aluminum foil
Fresh halibut filets (1 ½ per person)
Garlic salt to taste
1 stick of real butter
Fresh grated parmesan cheese (optional)
Filet a fresh Halibut and put on plate
Pat down the Halibut with paper towels, put back in frig or ice chest to keep chilled
Heat up BBQ (charcoal or gas) to piping hot but leave the top open or off (closing the lid will end with poached fish not crispy)
Lay out aluminum foil with the edges turned up to catch and hold the butter (double layer of foil recommended)
Smear a half of a stick of real butter on the foil and be careful not to poke holes in it
Sprinkle liberally with garlic salt on the butter and foil
When the butter is bubbling, lay the filets of halibut on the foil
When the edges of the fillets start to whiten and less pink is visible, gently flip the fillets, smearing more butter on the foil to prevent sticking
(Optional) – Sprinkle with fresh grated parmesan cheese
Cook until flaky and white, no visible pink in the center… poke with spatula edge, the fillet should bounce back when done
When you taste this delicacy you know you are living well and so go forth!
Serve with rice and beans or rice and fresh steamed green beans or just by itself!
Life is very good.
About this time every year, I like to retell a story about my best friend, Fritz.
It has been several years ago since he passed. But, like with all those we love who pass, it seems like just yesterday. He left, but not before he taught me one last lesson.
Fritz was a big, larger than life man who lived life to the fullest. I have often said, it is harder to find a good fishing buddy than it is, a good wife. And, Fritz was the best fishing buddy I ever had.
He was a man of many contradictions. He lived modestly, but was a millionaire. He was a tall Viking, but was the softest touch I ever met. He was the most successful contractor in our valley. He was a man’s man, and my friend.
Now, to the story. We were planning a fishing adventure down to Costa Rica. The motos were ready, the packing was done, and the dates were set. It was all we talked about for months. I poured over every route and studied all the possible tide charts and camping areas along the way.
I thought the day we would leave would never come. Finally, the day of our departure was near. I was so excited that my friends were tired of hearing about our plans.
But a few days before we were actually scheduled to head out, Fritz called me, and said he could not make it. He said that a job had come up that he could not pass up. I was livid and we argued. He said he had doubled his bid but still got the project. He paused and said, “Kenny. We can always go next year.”
I postponed Costa Rica and left on a long moto trip that stretched into months. We didn’t talk much during the time as I was traveling to the white spots on the map where there was no connectivity. I was unplugged. When I finally got back, there were several messages on the phone from Fritz’s daughter that said my friend was ill and I should come right away to see him.
Fritz had contracted cancer. What he had thought was a bad virus before I left had turned out to be lung cancer. Immediately, I went to see him.
He was frail and ill. He was weak and barely had the strength to speak above a whisper. We talked long into the evening. He weakly laughed, as we recalled all the adventures we had been on and all the great times we had had.
I looked around his richly appointed house where we had spent so many evenings planning our adventures and realized all his stuff and money did not really count for much, now. All we were talking about were the good times and adventures we had shared.
As though he had read my mind, he squeezed my hand firmly, eyes welling up, and said, “Kenny, we should have gone to Costa Rica.”
My friend, Fritz, died the next day.
It is always the same every time I get ready for an adventure. I get so wrapped up in the planning and packing that I’m exhausted by the time I throw my leg over the motorcycle and twist the throttle. And what is craziest about all this is I always pack too much which is half the reason I’m tired in the first place. I realize it is not the effort of packing but how all that stuff weighs on the mind.
I learned from many past adventures, that, except for emergency gear, if you haven’t used it in first three days you don’t need it. So I pack it up and send it home at the first chance I get. This makes for better traveling; as packing and unpacking gear is faster and less cumbersome when setting up and breaking down camp and its just plain easier to find where I stashed something on the motorcycle. Life on the road becomes less cluttered.
So, while it is easier for me now days to get ready for an adventure, I still pack more than I need. And really, I’m down to one pair cargo pants that make into shorts, two pairs of underwear, one Jetbol to cook in–you get the picture.
I have slowly grown into to a minimalist on the road. But what I’m noticing is that this philosophy has carried over into my life off the road. After several months out, I return needing less, and more, importantly, wanting less.
To paraphrase Thoreau, we don’t own things–things own us.
Have any of you found this to be true? Or is it just me?