When faced with a choice to cape, or not to cape: always choose cape

After the experience at SXSW of renting these scooters, I had been aching to buy one. I live about 6 or 7 miles from the office (depending on my route), which is just far enough to work up a sweat on a bike. And then need a shower. And clothes to change into. And a whole series of logistical issues I could never quite figure out.

Scooters don’t have this problem.

My Bride was concerned about my visibility for the cars on the road.

“Don’t worry. I have an idea.”

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Upta camp

Last year, we found some property about an hour and a half north. 62 acres of woods in the middle of nowhere, Maine, bounded by a river. There’s nothing on it - no utilities, no cell service, and barely a logging road cutting through it that provides access.

In other words, it’s perfect.

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These past few years, we’ve been occasionally renting a cabin off-grid in places around the state. Just holing up with a wood stove, some books, and quiet. Playing card games by candle light as a family, or walking the trails.

When we started looking for our own, we wanted to find a place that we could place a cabin, and create our own retreat. For now, the woods have given the Boy and I a place to go camping on the occasional weekend. (The girls have visited a couple of times - but they’ve less interest in staying out in the woods until there’s some kind of toilet to use…)

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The first time we went up there was still snow on the ground (it was April, but this is Maine). We used a tent, and just walked the land a bit, hatching plans.

The next time, we built a lean to shelter - something we could toss our cots under and enjoy the campfire. We added a bit each time, learning what worked, and how to keep it dry. It was a simple tarp thrown up between a fallen tree, and another timber I tied up at an angle. Good enough to start.

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The property includes an old gravel pit - scraped out by the county when they were building the nearby road decades ago. It’s a handy feature as we think about putting a road into the site we’ve located our camp on, and will eventually place the cabin on. It’s about a quarter of a mile into the woods near to the rapids of the river. The water rushes high in spring, and more placidly in the other seasons.

But the gravel pit also serves as a safe shooting range, standing in the cut towards the pit, where the back bank will catch any stray shots safely. I found a Remington .22 bolt action that is nearly identical to the one my grandfather owned, which I learned to shoot with. A good tradition to pass on.

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The Boy and I spent the winter plotting and planning what to do next upta camp. When we went up to ‘open’ the property this season, I was pleased to see how well the shelter had lasted. The front support had collapsed. But underneath, the ground was still dry, and the wood we had stored ready for the fire.

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But I had already decided to expand it a bit - we’ve had friends join us once, and look forward to doing so again. Besides, I wanted a bigger fire.

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We went with a simple structure, and added a tarp. I left a gap at the ridge pole to let the smoke escape - this will be a little tricky when it rains, of course, but I have some ideas on how to address this later on. Each trip up, we’ll add a bit more. I started one end barrier, and will add another, plus more supports.

This isn’t meant to be a permanent structure, but I do want it to last through the winter. I’ll be clearing trees, and creating the space for a cabin over the coming seasons, but we’ll probably be another year or two before we get around to building the actual structure.

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I lost track of the number of ticks I’ve pulled off of ourselves over the trips - early in the year, only one or two. But during the height of summer, it’s just about unbearable, between the ticks, black flies, and mosquitos, it’s true. But that’s really only a stretch of about a month or so.

All in all, it’s a place to find peace. To goof off and learn a few bushcrafting skills. To light a fire and share a can of chili. To plink away at the target, and try to identify the tracks we find along the river. To let the sun fall behind the trees, and enjoy the quiet of nature. And build a few memories together while we’re at it.

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I see why Mainers are so partial to the woods.

The first stripes I ever earned

Note: Originally posted a shorter version of this last year on my 20th anniversary on Linked in, and this is also over on Medium

It’s remarkable for me to think that today is the 21st anniversary of my discharge from the Army. (and tomorrow is the 26th anniversary of my enlistment).

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What a long time ago that was. And what a lasting mark it left.

I enlisted after leaving college — I had started at Georgia Tech at 17 studying computer engineering, but quite frankly, was unprepared to be a serious student at the time. I knew it, and they certainly were able to figure it out after a year or so. I joined the army both to pay for school, and because I wasn’t really sure what else to do as an 19 year old without a master plan.

I served five years active duty in what would be the interlude between the two Gulf conflicts, as a moderately good Arabic translator. (I’ll always hold myself up against the native speakers I served with — ‘moderately good’ was a pretty good standard to achieve). I was fortunate to make several life long friends during my years of service. And saddened when I learned of incidents in places far away from their homes and safety where a few lost their lives. The job was demanding, and rewarding, and has nothing to do with what I went on to do as a professional after I left the army. And yet it has everything to do with how I still do things on a daily basis.

It’s a trite thing to say, but I grew up in the Army. I met the woman that would become my bride. I learned what it takes to be relied upon, and to trust my team. I learned how to plan, and to know when to adjust. I learned to ask the people with experience to teach me. And I learned to teach with what little experience I had gained. I learned how to let others lead, and to lead myself.

Almost every lesson I learned in the Army still applies today:

  • Sleep when you can.

  • Eat what’s offered.

  • Go to bed tired.

  • Wake up ready.

  • Serving is an opportunity.

  • Leadership is earned every day.

  • Improvement always takes effort.

  • The person next to you will probably be in a position to save your life some day: treat her accordingly.

  • Be humble.

  • Complain less.

  • Do more.

When I left the Army, we moved to California and I dropped right into the technology career I had paused when I joined. I was fortunate to find a boss that valued the skills I had gained, and generous enough to overlook those I hadn’t yet developed. He was reasonably confident that if my time in the Army had taught me anything, it included a reasonable amount of discipline and willingness to figure it out.

I still rely on those skills daily