Monthly Archives: November 2011

Thanks-giv-o-fest

When we were in and around our 20’s, we found that the four day weekend granted us for Thanksgiving was an ideal time to light off into the woods.  For one thing, it afforded us an extended stay in the beloved woods.  Second, it was hunting season, and that meant we could go hunting.  Third, the weather was, sometimes, pleasant.

This decision of ours was met with harsh criticism from the parents, at first.  Who did we think we were, eschewing the family unit during the holdiay?
What’s the harm,  we countered.   It’s not like it’s Christmas or anything like that.  We’ll be celebrating like the Pilgrims did.
Even our friends threw disdain in our direction, ‘Who do you think you are going camping on my favorite holiday?’
‘No television? No football? Yikes! Oh noes! Damn you both!’
Eventually they just gave up and let us rifle through the pantry and wished us farewell.
Thanks, bye, see you in four days.

The first Thanksgiv-o-fest was at The Rock.  And what a Thanksgiving it was.  We had hiked our non-perishables (beer, liter of Jack Daniels, couple of 2 liter bottles of Coca~cola and canned food) up the week before.  My sister dropped us off on Wednesday night, after dark.

We were clad in full camo, backpacks loaded with all we could carry.  I had a small pre-cooked chicken wrapped in aluminum foil and Dollar carried a pumpkin pie fresh from the Hillside bakery – white box wrapped with string and all.  Once again Dollar’s unerring sense of direction led us to our perch, without flashlights, mind you, ’cause we were stealthy like that…and the security guards over at Hewlett-Packard across the street were always on the lookout for strange goings on in the woods.

We hiked our heavily laden asses up to our cave and setup for the night.  None of our pre-stashed goods had been touched.  Morning dawned to find a herd of deer in our camp, a very good sign.  They had no clue we were there and when we popped out of the cave, we were maybe 20 feet from the closest one.

I can’t remember the exact events of the day, mostly hunting, cutting firewood and drinking. Thanksgiving dinner was a whole chicken, potatoes, asparagus, and a bottle of Dom Perignon – courtesy of Dollar.  We drank out of glass champagne glasses that we stashed the week before for the occasion.  Upon completion of the bottle we smashed our glasses in the fire.  How decadent of us.

If memory serves correct (and it may not) we went out hiking after dinner.  Night hikes are a given on any camping trip with the ‘crew,  but on the edge of a cliff it takes on a new meaning.  And two drunk idiots trying not to tumble down the rock face would have been quite a sight, if there was anyone there to sight it.

We stumbled ourselves out to the cliff-iest of cliffs.  A place where you could dangle your legs over the edge and not have to worry about bumping rock for maybe 80 or so feet.  It was there, in all our glory, that the Rockslider was birthed.

The Rockslider was a slug of Jack Daniels, straight from the bottle, washed back with a chug of Coca~cola, also straight from the bottle.  It worked for us, quenching the fire nicely.  Remember, we had to travel light and had smashed our good stemware an hour previous.  We each tied our respective bottle around our neck with a length of cord and when the moment hit us, we would be all ready to go.

In retrospect, the first pro’lem would be that Dollar is not a Jack Daniels drinker.  The both of us only learned that after this trip.  Second would be the battle cry of the evening, namely ‘a double dose, will make you comatose!’ prompting one to repeat the glug-n-chug process right quick.  (Dollar’s inspiration).  Lastly, and something I wasn’t aware of until this trip, was that Dollar’s sixth sense of direction was severely impaired when forced through a filter of good Tennessee whiskey.

At some point, we figured we should get back from the edge of the world as we knew it, lest someone be scraping us up off the rocks below come morning.  Yeah, we should get back to camp and spend the rest of the evening there.  And thus started the hike from hell.

We must have hiked up and down that mountain (hill, for you western folk) a half dozen times.  The last time down, Dollar lost his footing and tumbled/slid a good 20 yards before coming to rest across a fallen tree, losing his survival kit in the process. (Yes, despite all of the indications otherwise, we were smart enough to have our survival kits on us.  We never left camp without them).

It was then that I began to consider shifting to survival mode – aka, let’s sleep this off ’til morning.  But Dollar, he insisted we try again.

We hiked back up the mountain until we reached the top, and knowing our camp was about 1/4 of the way down, began to descend, again.  Only this time, Dollar was having some issues with balance and judgement. And, because he was leaning on me most of the time, so was I.

At one point, we stopped to rest and I thought I recognized the small plataeu we were on.  It looked like where I had been gathering firewood that morning. Dollar was not so sure and wanted to continue down the mountain.  Somehow I convinced him that we were at the right latitude (he is not easy to sway when he is drunk) and we began to move laterally, in short order stumbling into camp.

But the evening was far from over.

Dollar retired to the cave to rest.  I stayed by the fire.  Not long after I heard some commotion and Dollar erupted from the cave and forcefully emptied the contents of his stomach about the escarpment. (Which I duly recorded via photographs).  Interesting, I thought.  That was a mighty fine dinner he just tossed out.  ‘Meh, whatever’, I said to myself, recalling the fourth rule of Bird (which emphatically states: Drink, and the world drinks with you. But puke, and you puke alone).

When I turned around, I noticed that the fire was getting larger.  I staggered up to the pit and saw that it had spread into the dry mulch/rotten log soil and I had a full blown, out-of-hand fire on my hands.  I proceeded to stomp/beat/scrape and whatever to put it out, but this bitch was on the move.  It got into the dry leaves under a fallen log and in no time a very large area was in flame.

I called out for assistance, but my request fell on deaf ears. Dollar was incapacitated.  I wound up pouring about a 12 pack of Budweiser cans on the blaze, effectively quelling it’s thirst.  After that I was able to subdue all sparks and hotspots.  It was no big deal, about the beer, I mean.  We had plenty.

Finally I sat down and cracked open a brew for myself to wash away the cinders and smoke inhalation.  About that time, Dollar hung his head out of the cave and tried to come up to help.

‘Go the fark back to sleep, you drunkard.’  I said, launching a beer can in his direction.  ‘And don’t puke in the cave!’

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The Rock

Dollar and I couldn’t be kept caged in Hillside for long.  As soon as I obtained my driver’s license and a mode of transport (a beat up old Chevy Le Mans, 4 door, in forest green and rust) we struck out for the hills.  We hunted wherever and whenever we could.  It soon became obvious that we needed to find a place to spend the weekend, as our hunting trips were ending entirely too soon.

The first place that we took over as our own was a rock outcropping in the old iron mining hills of Hibernia, NJ.  I had been in and around this area for most of my young life, courtesy of my uncle.  I knew we could roam far and wide without being harassed by non-hunters, game wardens or any other undesireables.

Dollar and I scoured the area looking for a cave because this surely was cave country.  Eventually we found a reasonable facsimile thereof.  It needed a roof, but once that was constructed, we had us a dry, well hidden, semi-comfortable place to dwell.  It was on the very edge of something like a 40 ft. rock outcropping.
Thus, The Rock.

I remember the day we found what was to be our home-away-from-home for the next couple of years.  It was a beautiful spring day, warm and sunny.  We were free climbing up the rock faces and rappelling down by rope, in and of itself some pretty cool stuff.  Occasionally a cascade of ice would tumble past, as huge melting icicles let loose from above.  It pushed the entire experience over the edge.

Getting to this place was a challenge in itself, and that is exactly what we wanted.  A normal person would not willingly hike up the rock face, as it was quite steep.  Nor would one go down the rock face from above, because it was treacherous and didn’t look like you would make it to the bottom any other way than by express (falling).  In this way our hidey-hole was well hidden and escaped detection for years.

Problem with this area was the huge Hewlett-Packard plant across the street.  Being that they were working on top-secret government projects and all, (like laser printers and fax machines) and despite the fact that the entire facility was fenced in, with constant security and surveillance, they didn’t like us parking overnight on the short dirt road that led into the woods.  So they would call the police.  The police would come and, depending on their mood, either ticket the vehicle or flatten the tires (yes, both happened).

We would drop off our canned food and lesser equipment prior to our trip, in the daytime, then employ my sister to covertly drop us off after dark, where we would hike up our perishables and gear.
Fully camouflaged.
Because we were stealthy like that.

Now Dollar, he has a sixth sense when it comes to direction.  At least when he’s sober. More on that later.  But when it came to getting to The Rock, he could lead us in full dark right to the escarpment.  Then we would separate (to avoid falling rocks) and climb up.

It was a campsite on a rock face.  You slept in the cave, but only had a narrow ledge to move out along for maybe 5 feet.  Then you either climbed up or down.  Up to the fire, down to go home.  If you lost your grip on your beer, it rolled away, off the edge of the escarpment.  If you fumbled your breakfast, it splattered down three feet of barren rock.  If you lost your lunch, same.  If you lost your balance while relieving yourself in the middle of the night, the safety rope we strung up might hold you, but I wouldn’t have counted on it.

There is probably a hundred ways to die or get seriously injured up there.  Everything from the obvious, like falling off of a cliff, to the not so obvious, like falling into an abandoned mine shaft.  Then, of course, there are all the usual camp hazards, like getting cut with an ax or your boot knife, slicing your hand open on a damned can of tuna, getting stung multiple times by the wasps that lived in the crevice or even getting shot by some turkey hunter.  And all the more hazardous by the constant 30 degree slope we existed on.

But we were young then, and tough.  And stupid.  Ignorance is bliss, so they say.

What we did know was that the Rock was ours alone.  We liked being there so much we began to hatch a scheme that would bring us family wide notoriety for a long time to come.  And that scheme was:

Thanks-giv-o-fest.


I like Tom Hanks.

Yeah, yeah, I like him too, what’s he going on about now?

I will point to three movies Hanks’ was involved with that have made my decision.

Saving Private Ryan
The HBO miniseries ‘ The Pacific’, and this video here:

http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthread.php?136581-BoatLift-An-Untold-tale-of-September-11-Resilience

(Thanks to my brother-in-law Bruce for forwarding this link.)

The first you may have seen. It won an academy award for best Director (Spielberg).  It will take about 2.5 hours of your time to catch up.  (personally, my favorite character is the squad sniper, Daniel Jackson, played by Barry Pepper.)

The second you may have missed.  It was a 9 week sister-series to Band of Brothers that detailed a few key islands in the Pacific theater, during WWII.  This will take a good 10 hours to invest, but it is very engrossing.  The graphic scenes, a hallmark of the Hanks/Spielberg team, as well as the excellent acting on all parts, convey the horrors of war.

The video link, however, you can do in 12 minutes.  It is time well spent.  The people in this video are like a cross-section of the NY/NJ area.  They come across as genuine, almost familiar.  I like the guy in the baseball hat.  (Robin Jones)  But that’s just me.

There is not a word spoken in this video that is gratuitous.  You can hear the emotions in their voices.  It is moving.

To be honest, I was not aware of this boat lift until now.  I am sure it was mentioned at some point, but most likely lost in the overwhelming media at the time.  Everyone should be aware of what these watermen did. At the 10:00 minute mark they give the numbers:

For those familiar with the Dunkirk Evacuation during WWII, 339,000 British and French soldiers were backed up against the English Channel by the German army.  French and English watermen, mostly fishermen, using their own boats, saved all of them in 9 days.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, 500,000 people were evacuated from lower Manhattan in nine hours.  It was the largest sea evacuation in history.

How can I effectively convey those numbers?  The Izod Center (originally Brendan Byrne Arena, and formerly Continental Airlines Arena) seats about 20,000.  The Metlife  stadium (Giants Stadium) seats approximately 82,000.

Try to imagine evacuating the Izod center 25 times or the football stadium six times.  Filling each vessel (safely) to capacity with confused, scared, choking, dust-covered people.  People who were not able to contact their loved ones, unsure where their colleagues might be or what to do next.

This fleet assembled ad hoc, without government appeal, of their own volition, out of a sense of duty to their neighbors and fellow Americans.  They were within sight of the towers, the smoke and the dust plume, unsure if another attack was on its way, or a bomb was going to go off, or if an invasion had begun.  The Coast Guard broadcast over the radio where to go for directions.  With that one call, hundreds of boats converged on Manhattan Island.

I have a lot of misgivings about my fellow man (and woman).  Most of that is from my experience in the business world.

This helps restore some of my faith.

BWL
~/~/~


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