Friday, October 31, 2014

Welcome Home

Finally back at home. It was a great trip, but also a long one.

I'll have a wrap-up post in a day or two, but right now I'm decompressing from the road. To tide you over, here's a story that makes me realize how nice it was to be out of touch for ten days.

The Ebola quarantines and the great military divide
I generally try to avoid any topic about the president, because damn near everyone out there either hates the man reflexively, or sort of worships him.  And so the comments turn into a disaster, and I have to keep monitoring, because some people simply cannot confine their comments to the issue at hand.

Today I am breaking that normal tradition because of all the answers to questions I’ve seen over the years, the president’s answer to an Ebola question the other day unquestionably strikes me as his worst.  Some can argue the validity (politically or actually) of the “you didn’t build that” or the “you can keep your doctor” but for just straight up oddity, I give you the quote below.

But before we get to the quote, as a sort of framing of this, the backdrop is twofold.  First, states are trying to quarantine doctors who treated Ebola patients.  Some knucklehead decided that after treating victims in Africa, he’d just lie to the authorities:
The city’s first Ebola patient initially lied to authorities about his travels around the city following his return from treating disease victims in Africa, law-enforcement sources said.

Dr. Craig Spencer at first told officials that he isolated himself in his Harlem apartment — and didn’t admit he rode the subways, dined out and went bowling until cops looked at his MetroCard the sources said.
I literally have no position whatsoever on quarantines.  I don’t know if they are needed, constitutional, fascist or ridiculous.  I’m also not going to research it, because I suspect this topic de jure will be gone by the time I get back from my upcoming vacation.  But, I also think that this guy, and the lady doctor in Maine (my home state) are being pretty selfish.  You want me to be held aside, alone for 21 days?  You’ll bring me food, I’ll have cable TV, and I can sleep as much as I want?  Dude, sign me up.

Second, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has decided to quarantine the troops when they get back from West Africa: 
A 21-day quarantine for all military personnel serving in Ebola stricken areas of West Africa was approved by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Wednesday.

The quarantine was pushed for by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hagel said.  Initially the measure will apply to all personnel leaving the West Africa area. But Hagel said the policy will be reviewed within 45 days.

The policy creates a separate set of rules for military members than what the White House has pushed for civilian health care workers. President Obama has argued that civilian volunteer health workers returning from aid trips to Africa should not be quarantined and the White House has urged states not to impose their own quarantine policies. Science, Obama has said, does not support the need for a quarantines.
So there’s the meat and potatoes (an extra “e” for Dan Quayle) of it.  Now the quote:

Q    Are you concerned, sir, that there might be some confusion between the quarantine rules used by the military and used by health care workers and by some states?
THE PRESIDENT:  Well, the military is a different situation, obviously, because they are, first of all, not treating patients. Second of all, they are not there voluntarily, it’s part of their mission that's been assigned to them by their commanders and ultimately by me, the Commander-in-Chief.  So we don't expect to have similar rules for our military as we do for civilians.  They are already, by definition, if they're in the military, under more circumscribed conditions.

When we have volunteers who are taking time out from their families, from their loved ones and so forth, to go over there because they have a very particular expertise to tackle a very difficult job, we want to make sure that when they come back that we are prudent, that we are making sure that they are not at risk themselves or at risk of spreading the disease, but we don't want to do things that aren’t based on science and best practices.  Because if we do, then we’re just putting another barrier on somebody who’s already doing really important work on our behalf. And that's not something that I think any of us should want to see happen.
There is so much in there it would take me a generation or two to unpack it all.  The first sentence alone makes no sense logically. So the troops will not be treating patients, but they are going to be subject to more rigid restraints?  That’s like saying a motorcycle is more dangerous than a Big Wheel, which is why you should always wear a helmet while riding a Big Wheel.   Huh?

The rest of the paragraph makes more sense I suppose.  When you do join, you understand you have fewer rights.  That much is obvious to anyone that has joined.  But from a public health standpoint, it isn’t even the slightest bit relevant.  If this whole policy deals with the threat of Ebola to every day Americans, how does the circumscribed nature of military service add to the discussion?  Huh?

The first sentence of the second paragraph is so long I get lost reading it.  Presumably it is referring to the health people (nurses and doctors) volunteering overseas.  But again, how is this different than the people in the military?  Military people (believe it or not) ALSO have families, also have loved ones, also have difficult jobs, and we should decide for them based on “science and best practices” as opposed to the random selection by a magic 8-ball or a gorilla who can also pick Super Bowl winners.  Again, it doesn’t really differentiate which is what the question was about.  So again, huh?

The penultimate sentence though is the one that really (judging by my emails) has people angered.  Again the specific question dealt with the differing ways we are dealing with civilians and military.  So this sentence, “somebody who’s already doing really important work on our behalf” directed ONLY at the doctors, to differentiate them from service-members seems at first blush to be a complete insult.  It’s really hard to interpret that sentence differently when given the context of the question.

I don’t know, maybe they were just free-wheeling an answer on the spot, and it was less that articulate.  Lord knows I’ve said some dumb things in responses to questions.  (Just ask my wife.)  But this whole thing just seems insulting to me, and I don’t have a position on quarantines in general.  But to differentiate between doctors who in their benevolence are dealing specifically with Ebola victims, from service-members who put their lives on the line, and then somehow create a policy that weighs safety with the value of the service, and deciding it favors doctors doesn’t make sense to me.
Sigh ... welcome home, Tim...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Elk Hunt Chronicles - Day Eleven

I'm almost home! I stopped at our lake cabin to take care of a few pre-winter maintenance items. I'm also taking advantage of this stop to do a few loads of laundry (yeah I know, but it makes my wife happy ... and we all know that a happy wife means a happy household). So tomorrow I'll sleep in, and then take the leisurely two hour drive from here to there.

The weather here in Texas is nice, but not quite what most folks would consider fall weather. I wore shorts today, and had to turn on the truck's air conditioner arund noon. Still, it beats the heck out of winter.

Speaking of the truck, this may be it's last trip. I really like my old truck (1995 F-150 4X4), but I'm starting to lose confdence in it, Yes, it got me from Texas to Wyoming and back, but a few months ago I dropped a new engine in it and it still sputtered a few times. Plus the ride grew increasingly rough during the trip, in spite of new tires (balanced, of course) and a front end alignment. To top things off, the tranny started shifting a little rough, even after a pre-trip flushing and filter change.

I think it will do okay on local trips, but I worry about it's long term dpendibility. Too bad, because I just put a really good new radio in it.

Anyway, one more Elk Hunt Chronicles report, and then it'll be back to the normal boring stuff (although the technology will be easier - this combination of tablet and smart phone crap drives me crazy...).

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Elk Hunt Chronicles - Day Ten

All good things must come to an end. And I'm just about ready for this particular good thing to conclude.

Another long day on the road today. Some congestion from Colorado Springs through Pueblo, but once I got south of Pueblo it was smooth sailing. I really enjoy driving through Raton Pass. It's on the CO/NM border (elevation 7843 feet) and goes through some rugged scenic terrain, both up and down. The slope is pretty steep going up - so steep that semis crawl along at about 10-15 MPH. My truck was struggling to maintain 65 MPH. Of course, it's a flatland truck geared for torque, not speed (the speedometer's highest reading is 85 MPH). Like me, it gasps for air when exerting itself at elevation.

Another cool thing about Raton Pass are the 'Beware of (insert wildlife here)' signs. There are the usual yellow diamond "Deer Crossing" or "Elk Crossing" signs.

But near the summit of Raton Pass I saw a wildlife sign I'd never seen before. I tried to take a picture of it but couldn't get my smart phone into camera mode in time (too busy steering, dodging slow moving semis, manuevering around curves, etc.) Anyway, I found a similar image online.

Yes, that's a "Bear Crossing" sign.

After crossing Raton Pass I hung a left and headed through northeast New Mexico towards the Texas panhandle. I thought the drive through Wyoming was desolete, but NM just might be worse. Not much in the way of scenery (rolling plains with a few hills and mesas off in the distance). The worse part about this particular stretch is that the speed limit gets lowered from 70 MPH to the 50s or 40s, depending on location, for what are basically ghost towns. These little wide spots in the road are home to closed and collapsed businesses and buildings. There are few if any inhabitants for miles around. To make things worse, the speed limit is lowered miles before what used to be a town, is kept at ridicuously low levels during the deserted ruins, and isn't restored back to 70 until miles afterward.

It was a great relief to cross the border into God's Country, where the speed limit is higher, the gas is cheaper, the beer is colder, and the women are prettier.

I'm spending Tuesday night in Lubbock. Wednesday should be a relatively easy day - just a little over 300 miles, compared to the 500+ miles of the past two days. I plan to spend Wed. night at our lake cabin, doing some laundry, stashing some meat in the freezer there, and taking care of a few maintenance chores. Then I'll head for home on Thursday, where I plan to make my wife a happy woman...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Elk Hunt Chronicles - Day Nine

They say timing is the key to life. That was proven today, at least in terms of the weather.

The four days I was in Wyoming were just about perfect. Blue bird skies, crisp but comfortable temperatures, light breezes (for the most part). But yesterday, when I left, the weather turned. The day dawned cloudy, cold, and damp. Overnight temperatures for the next few days are forecast to be in the 20s. Highs today and tomorrow will struggle to get into the 40s, and the wind was howling. However, I was nice and comfortable in my truck.

I underestimated how much meat one elk would provide. Those beasts are huge. Between the elk and the antelope, my large ice chest is full. In fact, I had to leave some meat behind. Of course, I made sure I took all the backstraps and tenders, and left behind most of the burger and stew meat.

I topped the cooler off with 16 pounds of dry ice and 30 pounds of regular ice. That should keep the meat cold until I get home. Of course, with all that meat and ice I can just barely lift the cooler. Good thing I spent all that time getting in shape before the hunt.

The drive today wasn't that long in terms of time (around 8 hours) but the last few were pretty stressful. After crusing for the first four hours from northern Wyoming to the Wyoming-Colorado border (I estimate I saw fewer than one car per mile), I slogged through the Fort-Collins - Denver - Colorado Springs morass during rush hour in the rain. But I eventually made it to my hotel in Colorado Springs.

Tomorrow should see me through the remainder of Colorado, all of New Mexico, and end in Lubbock, Texas. Tonight I'll kick back and watch the Cowboys-Redskins on MNF.

There are some benefits to getting back in touch with the outside world...

Monday, October 27, 2014

Elk Hunt Chronicles - Day Eight

One of the nicest things about this trip is that I've been blissfully unaware of events in 'the real world.' For some misguided reason I decided to check the CNN website to see if obama has been impeached or shot yet (just kidding about that last one).

Alas, barry remains in office. That was depressing enough, but a couple of stories made me feel even worse.

Authorities: Suspect in California shooting spree was deported to Mexico twice
One of the suspects in a California shooting spree that left two sheriff's deputies dead was deported to Mexico twice, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Let's see obama explain to the families of those dead officers why he refuses to enforce border security and immigration laws.


In other news:

Quarantined nurse slams Gov. Christie
Kaci Hickox, a nurse placed under mandatory quarantine in New Jersey, went on CNN on Sunday and criticized the "knee-jerk reaction by politicians" to Ebola, saying "to quarantine someone without a better plan in place, without more forethought, is just preposterous." 
"This is an extreme that is really unacceptable, and I feel like my basic human rights have been violated," Hickox told CNN's Candy Crowley on "State of the Union."
While I respect her selflessness and compassion, she's way off base on this one. She's seen first hand what an Ebola epidemic looks like. Why on earth would she want to take even the slightest risk of that occurring here? IMO our right to be free of Ebola trumps whatever rights of hers that have been allegedly violated.

There were more equally depressing and nonsensical stories that I didn't bother reading. Instead, I did what I should have done in the first place - ignored the Internet and went out for a hike.

Another gorgeous day. I  wish I could take this weather back home with me.

I'm leaving Monday morning to return to 'civilization.' It's been blissful, but I have to go back ... I guess...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Funnies 2014.10.26 and Elk Hunt Chronicles - Day Seven

A twofer today - it's Day Seven of my elk hunt, and it also happens to be our 22nd (?) wedding anniversary.

First, the elk hunt:

As most of you know, I've filled my tags, so this weekend is R&R. I slept in yesterday - after the shock of successive pre-dawn wakeups my system needed some time to recover. So when I walked out on the deck to greet another gorgeous Wyoming morning I was treated to the sight of several wild turkeys casually strolling away.

I guess they knew I didn't have a turkey tag.
Later in the day I went out for a hike. I managed to scare up a pair of ring-necked pheasants.

It's hard to see them, but there's a pair of birds more or less in the middle of this picture.
All in all, it was a wonderful day. Perfect weather, a nice and relaxed atmosphere, dinner with friends ... the only down note was that my wonderful wife wasn't here to share it (her choice, by the way - she was invited).

Speaking of anniversaries:

A man was walking down a street when he heard a voice from behind, ' If you take one more step, a brick will fall down on your head and kill you.'

The man stopped and a big brick fell right in front of him. The man was astonished.

He went on, and after a while he was going to cross the road. Once again the voice shouted, ' Stop! Stand still! If you take one more step a car will run over you, and you will die.'

The man did as he was instructed, just as a car came careening around the corner, barely missing him.

The man asked. ' Who are you? '

' I am your guardian angel, ' the voice answered.

'Oh, yeah? ' the man asked 'And where the hell were you when I got married? '

 * * * * * * * * * *

My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met. - Rodney Dangerfield

A good wife always forgives her husband when she's wrong.  - Milton Berle

I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury. - George Burns

The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret. - Henny Youngman

Marriage is when a man and woman become as one; the trouble starts when they try to decide which one. -Anonymous

Spouse: Someone who'll stand by you through all the trouble you wouldn't have had if you'd stayed single. -Unknown

The Japanese have a word for it. It’s Judo – the art of conquering by yielding. The Western equivalent of Judo is, “Yes dear”. -J.P. McEvoy

 * * * * * * * * * *

On wedding anniversaries, the wise husband always forgets the past - but never the present.

 * * * * * * * * * *

At the banquet of Tom and Susan’s 25th wedding anniversary, Tom was asked to give his friends a brief account of the benefits of a marriage of such long duration.

“Tell us, Tom, just what is it you have learned from all those wonderful years with your wife?”

Tom responded, “Well, I’ve learned that marriage is the best teacher of all. It teaches you loyalty, forbearance, meekness, self-restraint, forgiveness and a great many other qualities you wouldn’t have needed if you’d stayed single.”

 * * * * * * * * * *

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Elk Hunt Chronicles - Day Six

Another long day today. We repeated the 5:00 a.m. rise and shine routine. Headed up into the mountains shortly thereafter. I was riding Blue, a steed specially selected to haul my large but firm and well-sculpted ass up and down the mountainside.

What, you want to get back on AGAIN?

The biggest problem with heading up the mountain before sunrise is that it is dark! I don't mean city dark, where there is always some sort of light source. I don't mean suburban dark, where you might need a flashlight to navigate. I mean country dark, where it's darker than my ex-wife's heart.

There is absolutely no made-made light source anywhere around. There was no moon, and although the stars were 'big and bright,' they didn't give off enough light to make a difference. We were headed up a steep and rocky trail that bordered a sheer dropoff. I couldn't see a damn thing, and could only hope that Blue could see the trail better than I could.

This is the trail as seen on the return trip, after the sun came up. It's hard to get a feel for the scope and scale from this picture, but you can see part of the trail in the upper right. Now imagine coming up over the top, where those lonesome pine trees are in the upper right hand corner, in pitch dark conditions. Nerve-wracking...

We finally made it up the mountainside and settled in to glass in search of the elusive wapiti. We were searching the area where we had seen several bulls while out scouting the previous afternoon. As is so often hoped for but rarely happens, we actually spotted the elk where we hoped thought they would be. They were grazing in the foothills below us, moving up and angling towards the treeline. We were above them. Simple geometry dictated that if they continued moving up at an angle, while we moved in a straight line across the slope, we would beat them to the point of intersection, where we could set up a nice little ambush.

Of course, that neglected to take into consideration the fact that elk move faster than horses, especially when the horse riders are trying to be quiet. That relative speed of movement is further influenced by the fact that we were riding through brush and woods, while they were ambling across an open plain. Nevertheless, we got into position before they arrived. We set up on top of a wooded ridge overlooking an open meadow approximately four or five acres in size. Then the fun began.

We were sitting back in the treeline, using the pines to screen us. That also meant that the pines at times screened our view of the elk. It was a bachelor group of six young bulls, all about the same size and same stage of antler development. No huge trophy bulls among, them, but they all fell into the 'good bull' category.

Since the pine branches obscured my view and shooting lanes somewhat, I decided to move up five yards to the edge of the treeline. Utilizing all my woodcraft skills honed by years of mostly succesful hunting, I eased forward one step, only to kick a rock.

Fortunately, we had judged the wind correctly. It was blowing from them to us, so the 'clunk' went unheard. I breathed a sigh of relief and took another step.

My foot came down on a nice crunchy pine cone.

Again, the wind saved me. But now I was determined to watch where I put my feet, so, looking down, I slowly took another step.

My head hit a low-hanging limb so hard it knocked my hat off.

At this point the elk started to sense that something was amiss, and commenced to milling about. But I had finally reached a point where I had a clear shot. I waited for them to settle down, picked one out, and brought my rifle to my shoulder.

Here's where all the time at the range paid off. My mind was so busy procesing the variables (range = 200 yards, rifle zeroed in at 200 yards, no adjustment needed; wind light and into my face, no adjustment needed; shooting downhill at a fairly steep angle (approx. 45 degrees), aim slightly lower; target quartering slightly away, aim a little farther back) that the mechanics of actually shooting went on autopilot (breath control; sight picture; cheek weld, squeeze the trigger...).

For many years there has been an ongoing debate over the appropriate caliber to use when elk hunting. Some folks say a .270, which I was shooting, is fine. Others say it is not enough gun. I don't want to open that particular can of worms, but I will say for the record that this particular elk, shot with a 150 grain .270 round, took about four or five steps and then fell over. No muss, no fuss.

I shot from the knob at the treeline over my right shoulder (your left). The distance was right at 200 yards.

It took a couple of hours to clean him and transport him back to the ranch, where it took another couple of hours to cape and quarter him. Like I said, he's not going to make it into the Boone & Crockett record book, but for a first elk I think he's pretty damn good.

There is a celebration planned for tonight. Future posts may be late and/or garbled...

Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Follies Happy Hour 2014.10.24

I'm pretty bad at huntin' deer.... (sit through the lengthy commercial - it'll be worth it).

Elk Hunt Chronicles - Day Five

Long day yesterday. Up at 5:00 a.m. Horses saddleded by 5:30. Breakfast finished by 6:00. On the trail at 6:15. Sunrise at 7:00.

Sunrise in the mountains - two hours after getting up.
Saw a lot of elk. Unfortunately, they were a long way off on a neighboring ranch. However, I did get a close-up view of the ass end of a bull elk as it disappeared over a ridge about 50 yards in front of me. Oh well, that's why it's called 'hunting' and not 'shopping.'

It was a tough day to hunt. The wind was gusting and swirling. It seemed like it was always blowing the wrong way. But on our way back down the mountain we spotted some antelope off in the foothills. After riding hard and fast (well, maybe it was more like semi-hard and less slow) around a large knoll that sheiled us from them, we managed to get around them without being noticed. I slithered over a little knob and there they were. They knew something was up- they were antsy and milling around. But I was able to knock down a nice buck at around 230 yards. So at least we'll have something in the freezer this winter.

Later that afternoon we went out and scouted for elk for the next morning's hunt. We saw a couple of nice bulls to the south, and that large herd to the north. So it's a question of quality vs. quantity. I've still got three days to go, so we're going after the bulls in the morning (5:00 a.m. wake-up ... groan).

Of course, the bulls are in much more rugged terrain than the herd - steeper slope, more heavily wooded, farther away. But that's what makes it fun.

Keep your fingers crossed for me...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Elk Hunt Chronicles - Day Three

Made it to my destination safe and sound. Dinner tonight at 6:30. That's a little earlier than I'm used to, but I have to be up at 5:00 tomorrow morning to saddle the horses. Then a quick breakfast and off we go.

Below is the forecast for the days I'll be hunting. Great weather for a picnic, but for elk hunting ... not so much. They tend to hang out at the higher elevations until cold and wet weather pushes them down lower.

I've been going hunting in Wyoming for the past decade or so, and every time I've gone there's been snow on the ground. In fact, last year I almost got stuck when the interstate was closed due to accumulations of snow and ice. I'm sure the locals are loving this weather, but highs in the 70s ... really?

It'll be a new experience, hunting in shorts and shirt-sleeves...

My guide and I, dressed for the weather - not!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Elk Hunt Chronicles - Day Two

Finally got out of Texas today. If you've never driven through the Panhandle it's hard to describe it. The word "flat" doesn't do it justice.

Take a look at your tabletop. It is positively undulating compared to the Panhandle.

The horizon is a perfectly flat line.

The roads were all laid out with one tool - a ruler. There are no curves anywhere .

(Well, except for the women. I dated two gals from out there. One was from Post, and the other was from Snyder. They were both cute as bugs and a lot of fun. But they both shared the same flaw - an inability to put up with youthful me. Not their fault - I was pretty immature back then. But still, they could have been a little more tolerant.)

There is also a noticeable lack of trees. In fact, trees are so scarce that dogs make reservations three days in advance.

Once I left Texas the terrain changed rapidly. About an hour into New Mexico I drove through Sierra Grande, at an elevation over 7000 feet. Around the New Mexico-Colorado border I went through Raton Pass, close to 7400 feet. In fact, the drive north from Raton goes through some pretty serious mountains.

I then battled my way through the Colorado Springs-Denver-Fort Collins traffic nightmare. That's about 150 miles of urban sprawl and city congestion. I don't see how people can live in those conditions (although I did live in Houston for twenty years - I guess you can get used to anything).

It was with profound relief and pleasure that I crossed the Colorado-Wyoming border. Traffic virtually disappeared. I think Wyoming has more antelope than cars.

Anyway, I'm spending the night in Douglas WYO. It's about halfway between the southern state line and the northern one, which is my destination. Tomorrow should be an easy day - just a three or four hour drive, then settling in and getting ready to start hunting bright and early Thursday.

I'm not sure what the Internet connection will be like at the ranch where I'm going, so posting my be a bit sporadic for a while. But I'll do what I can.

Y'all hold things together while I'm gone.