Saturday, June 6, 2020


Let's talk about motorcycles. Growing up, motorcycles were a big focus for my family. My dad raced motocross as a young man. My mom raced enduros when she was pregnant with me. To provide a little bit of knowledge, Enduros are one of the oldest forms of motorcycle competition. Run on a challenging route that includes wooded and desert terrain, more difficult “test” sections are connected with roads, fire roads or easy two-track trail.

For whatever reason, I never raced. It wasn't from a lack of desire. I think, more likely, it was from a lack of finances. My parents wanted different things for us. All the same, I grew up riding motorcycles as a passenger with my dad. I loved going for rides with him.

As I got older, the rides got longer and I always loved the opportunity to get on the bike with my dad and go places. One of my funniest memories was on a group ride were the front bike hit a chicken. That chicken flew up into the air and proceeded to take out its revenge for its death on all of the bikes in the row. It bounced of each motorcycle or rider's helmet, covering everyone in feathers and other chicken "parts".

My dad taught me the basics of riding a motorcycle on my mother's 1988 Honda Shadow. I learned the shifting process while driving it from the driveway into the garage. Fast forward a few years and I felt ready to get my own motorcycle. I was living in Prescott, Arizona and needed a way to pay for the year of school. I sold my car, paid for classes, and decided a motorcycle would be my preferred mode of transportation.

Before I go any further, I need to put in a disclaimer.

*** DISCLAIMER: I am describing an event that occurred back in my early adult years. I am not recommending, suggesting, or implying that any of my children or any other young adults should follow in my footsteps. END DISCLAIMER ***

I called up a buddy who had a car and asked him to drive me to the Department of Motor Vehicles on a Saturday morning, where I proceeded to take the written test and obtained my motorcycle permit. I then conned the same buddy into driving me to Phoenix, where I had found a Suzuki GS500E for sale at a price that I liked. I saw the bike, liked the bike, and gave the owner a check for the bike. He gave me the title and told me I was welcome to drive the bike around the neighborhood for a while before I drove back up to the Prescott area. I took him up on his offer, sat on the bike, started it up, and then thought about my 15 minute driving lesson that I had from my Dad back in my early high school years. I then drove around the neighborhood loop a couple of times, practicing my shifting, breaking, and turning. Then I told my buddy I was ready and followed him out of the neighborhood and drove through the city of Phoenix, up I-17 and eventually back to Prescott. I should say, it wasn't without mishap though. One thing I learned from this trip was to check the gas tank. Driving northbound through Phoenix on I-17, I ran out of gas. I remembered that I have a reserve and I went to switch the reserve switch and found it was already on the reserve selection. I literally ran out of gas. My buddy realized I wasn't behind him any more and had to get off at the next exit, work his way back to me, and eventually found me pushing the bike up an off ramp and then to a gas station. My second lesson of the day, after I filled up my tank, was when pulling out into traffic, remember to release the clutch slowly as you start to turn the throttle. DON'T turn the throttle, realize you are not moving, remember you are holding the clutch in and then just let go of the clutch. This is how wheelies happen. A wheelie out into traffic of a busy Phoenix street on a Saturday afternoon is a good way to get killed. For whatever reason, most likely divine intervention, I managed to recover from my accidental wheelie into heavy traffic without getting killed, injured, or arrested. We drove the rest of the way up to Prescott without further incident. So, my first real solo motorcycle ride, I bought the bike and for my first ride drove 120 miles back up to Prescott from Phoenix and did not die.

The above picture is of my Suzuki GS500E (it isn't the actual bike but the same model and color).

I had the bike for a while and then disaster struck.... No, I didn't crash. I got married and sold the motorcycle because, "we needed the money". While I sold it under duress, I was promised I would get another motorcycle. Fast forward many years, I had been a Marine, a cop, graduated with my Bachelor's degree, my first Master's degree, went to Kosovo as a contractor, and gotten hired by the State Department but still, no motorcycle in the garage. I were assigned to the Residence Office in Portsmouth New Hampshire. I meet my new boss at the front door of the National Passport Center, where our office was located and one of the very first questions he asked me was, "Do you ride?". I told him that I had my motorcycle endorsement but did not currently have a motorcycle. He gave me a very serious look and said, "Well, you had better get one or it will reflect poorly on your employee evaluation report". I think he was joking but as I tried to explain to Melissa, I wasn't willing to take chances. Melissa did not find me humorous and made it clear that we did not have the money for me to buy a motorcycle. 

The fact that I did not have money to buy a motorcycle did not stop the guys I worked with from taking me to look at motorcycles and test drive motorcycles, and let me ride their motorcycles and generally work on convincing me that it was the right thing to do. Melissa and I argued a lot about motorcycles during that first year of my assignment.

Bobby (my boss), Jon, (my coworker), and I had to go to the federal courthouse in New Hampshire to meet with the U.S. Attorney and some of the assistant U.S. Attorneys for a meeting. After the meeting, we started our drive back up to Portsmouth and stopped at a Yamaha dealership on the way back to the office. I discovered that Yamaha had a promotional program in place where you buy a bike and not pay interest for two years. Additionally, they had a brand new 2005 FZ1 for sale that was a two year leftover. I negotiated with them and got them to agree to selling me the bike, a helmet, and a few other needed items with a very reasonable out the door cost that was almost $2000 less than the retail price of the bike. I called Melissa and explained the situation. We talked through the details of the plan and Melissa said, "Chris, I will leave it up to you, I know you will make the right decision".

*** DISCLAIMER #2: I am not a smart man. I will be the first to admit that I have made many, many mistakes in my life. There are multiple decisions that I have made in my 45 years of life that I wish I could take back or do differently. Some decisions have caused issues in my married life and in making those decisions, I never intended to hurt Melissa or cause her to feel like I did not value her judgement.... I also know that we have needed many years to work on our communication skills. During this particular time in our life, we still had a long way to go on communication and what Melissa deemed to be the right decision was not the same thing that I deemed to be the right decision. For my kids, I hope that you can learn from some of our mistakes and work on communication skills earlier in your future relationships so misunderstandings, while inevitable in marriage, will be greatly reduced. END DISCLAIMER #2 ***


The above pictures are of a stock 2005 Yamaha FZ1 that matches my bike when I bought it. There were a lot of changes that I made to my bike because there were several things I wasn't a fan of. One of the guys that worked at the National Passport Center lent me his garage, tools, and knowledge and we basically tore the bike apart and made it into something different. Some of the modifications we did to the bike included;

Undertail kit with integrated lights and blinkers -- This removed the large black plastic section hanging off of the bike in the rear. This involved using a dremel tool and cutting up the motorcycle, which was nerve racking experience because once I started the cut, there was no changing my mind. I am very glad I did it but it was one of the more difficult parts that I did myself on the bike.

Removed the front blinker stalks and replaced with flush mounted blinkers

Removed all of the chrome or silver bike parts (minus the exhaust), sandblasted them, and powder coated them black or blue to match the bike.

Removed the mirrors, modified the handle bar ends and installed handlebar mirrors: This was done for a couple of reasons. The factory located mirrors created a lot of buffeting at highway speeds and were nearly impossible to see out of due to vibrations. I had a friend who made me some custom mirror hole covers that covered  the spots the mirrors connected to, adding a bit of "blue bling". My dad modified the bar-ends so that I could slip on the bar end mirrors onto the bar ends. A not on the bar end mirrors, I am honestly not a fan of them either but the ones I have on the bike now are high quality, don't vibrate, and look really good. They are just hard to see out of and I have to turn my head and look away from the road in front of me in order to see what is behind me.

I purchased some other modifications, such as different sized front and rear sprockets to change the gearing a bit and a new spring for the rear shock that was more suitable for us "bigger" people. Unfortunately, life got in the way and the State Department told me I would be going to Iraq and prior to that, 6 months of training so I put the bike back together and drove it up to Maine and parked it in my Dad's garage. Other than a short ride in 2010,  the bike sat in the garage from 2008 until 2017, when I loaded up into the back of a UHAUL and moved it to Arizona, where it sat in my garage virtually untouched for another 2 years.

The bike wasn't running. Sitting for as long as it did, the carbs were in need of a rebuild, there was a possibility the fuel tank would need to be stripped, relined, and sealed due to the gas sitting in it for as long as it did. It needed new tires (it was still wearing the original tires made in 2004), and it would need a plethora of other things. I had gotten a quote to get it up and running and it was in the neighborhood of $3500, which unfortunately, with the bike being almost 15 years old, is about the actual value of the bike. I was talking about the situation with a coworker in October of 2019 and he told me he had a friend that lived in Sahuarita who was a mechanic for UPS but was also a certified motorcycle mechanic who did work on the side out of his garage. I gave Justin a call and he was happy to help so I loaded the bike into the back of a rickety trailer and dropped it off at his house. I eventually learned that his daughter and my daughter were good friends, which made it a small world.

The motorcycle experienced all kinds of indignities. The wheels came off, the fuel tank came off, the carbs came out. Fortunately, the internals of the fuel tank were perfectly fine, which was rather shocking but also due to my father making sure it was filled with stuff that counteracts the rusting process. There was no rust in the fuel lines or the tank which saved me about $500 right off the bat.

Justin rebuilt the carbs, switched out the front and rear sprockets. He flushed all the lines, changed filters, refilled fluids, and put everything back together again. We hit a few occasional snags but managed to work through them (Most of the time). He got the bike back together again and after a bit of riding it went back to Justin's garage and we switched out the front and rear brake lines, putting in stainless steel lines that were blue and looked good with the bike. I also added a riser, which raised the handlebars an inch and moved them back (closer to the rider) by 1 1/4 inch, which made a huge difference in comfort.

Finally, I ditched the stock exhaust pipe, dropping 9 pounds from the bike and put on an aftermarket slip on that looks better than stock and sounds way different. It was also super inexpensive and not much different than having no exhaust pipe on the bike so I am not sure it will last too long.

So the above pictures are of my bike, as it sits now. It runs well and while I have been struggling with the electrical system for a bit, it is running really well right now brings a smile to my face every time I get on it and start a ride. It may not be the nicest first generation FZ1 out there but I think you will be hard pressed to find one nicer than this.

My current plan is to drive the bike to DC in July to start my almost year of training but that plan is currently in flux as COVID-19 hates me and is making my classes all virtual. Granted, if they end up being virtual, I will get to stay home and spend almost an extra year with the family, which is a nice touch. As of right now, my first course has been cancelled, the second (6 week course) is supposed to be live, and my 10 month language training is currently scheduled to be virtual. If language training stays virtual, I may skip the 3000 mile drive to DC, take a flight, stay in a hotel, and do the 6 week course and then fly back, instead of driving 3000 miles back. It is all up in the air but if I do drive, I will try to blog daily about my adventure.

Until next time.....


Sunday, April 19, 2020

The hike from H. E. Double Hockey Sticks

Good evening and happy Saturday my faithful followers, or, in other words, hello my family that I love so much.

While out and about today, I was thinking about what I should blog about next and realized that back in September, 2019, I had an interesting adventure that I should have written about back then but did not remember I had a blog to document interesting travels. I remember now and since I wrote less than a month ago, I figured I would try to get this blogging train moving and write some more.

Back in September of 2019, before the world was placed in a hopefully temporary time out, a friend of mine, Jordan Thorpe, whom I have worked with in Scouts off and on the last three years gave me a call and asked me if I was willing to be the "Second adult" on a overnight hiking trip. I agreed because it gave me the chance to spend some quality time with Kaelen and I figured the exercise would be good for me. I didn't ask where the hike would be or where the camping would be because it was for some 12 year old scouts so how hard could it be. For those of you laughing at me right now, you have no idea.....

I let Jordan know that I had to work out of the State that week but would be back in plenty of time to go on the trip. The week of the hike, I flew up to Denver, Colorado on Monday, sat on a Board of Examiners panel for the State Department on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and then flew back to Tucson on Friday. I got home at about 1300 hours, packed, and then went to meet up with Jordan and the scouts so we could head out to this hike. Unfortunately, Kaelen hadn't had a great week and wasn't able to join me on the hike and since I found that out on Thursday or Friday, I was kind of stuck going. Again, I thought, "how bad could it be?"...

To preface the rest of the evening for you, I did not have a whole lot to eat during day because of traveling and I surely did not drink enough water, which I discovered shortly enough. I met up with Jordan and the two scouts who were going with us on this overnight hike. Jordan told me we were going to hike Madera canyon (Old Baldy trail, get to a point right below the peak of Mount Wrightson and set up camp. In the morning, we would get up at 5 am and hike to the top of Mount Wrightson (The highest peak in the Tucson region at just under 9500 ft) to see the sunrise, which overall, sounded like a great idea.

We drove the 36 miles to the parking lot at the start of the hike and started the event at around 4 pm. In addition to my pack, I had a full camel-pack of water, plus 48 ounces of water in a nalgene bottle. We hiked about 50 meters through the parking lot to the start of the trail and I knew that I was in trouble. Generally speaking, I am in decent shape. While I may at times be heavier than I should be, I am generally active, weight train, and do a bunch of cardio. The hike should not have been that bad. Unfortunately, due to a lack of sleep, lack of food, and lack of water, I realized that this was going to be difficult.

The first half of the hike, roughly 3 miles, went pretty nicely. I was holding my own and that was a good thing. As we started the second part of the hike, my left calf started cramping, followed by my right calf. Then my hamstring and quad on each leg cramped. I started walking a bit slower and trying to drink more water because the cramps were not fun at all. At one point, I would cramp every step I took. I was really slowing the group down and was severely embarrassed to be the problem. Of all my faults, being the one to slow a group down has never been one of them so this was a new and very unpleasant experience for me. We continued moving up the mountain and while Jordan thought he was helping, he kept telling us, "Oh, it is only about a half mile to go" and we would go another half mile and there was still much more to go. At one point, as I am slowly putting one foot in front of another, I experienced a full body cramp. Every muscle in my body decided to, at the same moment, experience the joy of a full on Charlie Horse. I collapsed to the ground, fighting to get the pack off as my muscles all mutinied against me. I am sure that I have hurt more than this before but for the life of me, I can not think of a time. Even in the future, when I tore my biceps muscle from the bone, I did not experience that kind of pain.

After a few moments, which of course, felt like hours, the pain subsided and I sat up, drank some water, ate some beef jerky (and had to deal with my jaw cramping). After a bit, the water and salt in the jerky seemed to help a little bit and I started the walk again, just in time to realize it was pitch black out and we could no longer see the trail. Since we were all boyscouts, we had flashlights so that was the least of our worries. As we went higher up the mountain, the temperature dropped and a cloud basically settled over us so it was now wet and cold. At about 11 pm, we finally arrived at the area Jordan had planned on camping for the night. We had climbed the equivalent 319 flights of stairs by the time we stopped for the night.  The two scouts shared a tent. I had a tent I set up on a outcropping of rocks and Jordan tied a hammock between two trees. Right after I got the tent set up, I changed out of my clothes, which I think held every bit of water that had once been a part of my body. I hung the wet clothes up outside of the tent, hoping they would dry during the night but since we were literally in a cloud, I didn't think it was likely. We heated up some water to head to our freeze dried meals and had an awesome meal. It honestly probably wasn't all that good tasting but it was salty and it was exactly what I needed at the moment.

As I got ready for bed, I set up my camel-pack near by so I could drink water through the night as needed. My Nalgene bottle was gone. I think I lost it when I collapsed on the trail. I had a high tech blow up mattress pad that was supposed to support key areas of your back and provide for a good night's sleep. As soon as I laid on it, it much for high tech. While it was super cold out, I had a good sleeping bag and my tent was 4 season so I felt pretty comfortable. Granted, every time I moved or adjusted to get comfortable (due to sleeping on rocks), I would cramp up which would wake me up. I drank water and then fell back to sleep. While I did not sleep really well, I did get some sleep, which was more than I can say for Jordan, who was rather unprotected from the elements in his hammock.

I woke up at 5 am, feeling exhausted but much better than the day before. We woke the boys up and again, in the dark, proceeded to hike up the mountain. We arrived at the highest point of the peak at about 6 am. I would love to tell you that we saw a beautiful sunrise but we were still in a cloud, which blocked out the sun.

What we did see was:

And we saw this:

 After a while on not really being able to see the sun, we started heading back down the mountain to our campsite so that we could pick it up.  As we hiked back down, the sun got higher and the cloud we were in got lower for a bit. The following pictures show the clouds from our perspective on the mountain. Please note, at no time did we get on an airplane. The last two pictures were taken while standing firmly on the ground. In fact, the last one has a scouts arm in the picture to prove the point.

 After packing up the camp site, we ate some breakfast and headed back down the mountain. While we were all tired, going down was so much easier than going up and I think all of us were very happy to make it to the bottom of the mountain.

I feel like I need to do this hike again in the future but I will also be okay if I don't. I do know that I never want to feel the way I did on the hike up and will work as hard as I can to make sure that doesn't happen again.

Until next time.....

Thursday, March 26, 2020

In the beginning

In the beginning.....

I started this blog because I wanted to keep up with my amazing wife, who, at the time, was keeping an awesome blog, showing off her mad writing skills, and sharing with the world her adventures through life, that often included 5 children and her doting husband (me). I figured that I too could bask in the glory that is "Blog writing" and regale thousands, if not millions, of avid followers with my tales of greatness and sometimes tales of immense woe.

Unfortunately, I have not been a faithful blogger. Having started this blog in January of 2012,  I have, as of today, March 26, 2020, made an incredibly lame 8 entries, with two of those being re-posts from entries I did in Melissa's Blog.

As for the millions of adoring followers, well, in 8 entries, I have garnered 3 responses. One from my mother commenting on the nice pictures I posted (I hadn't posted any), one from my wife, and one from somebody I don't know and have no idea how they came across my blog. All in all, my plans to dominate the world via blogging has been bitter failure.

Because I am who I am and refuse to cower down before failure, I instead stand before you, in failure. Not to be deterred, I have once again taken up the challenge to inform the masses, bedazzle the minds and win the hearts of all those who read my blog, which at this moment is..., well, just me, so you can consider myself properly bedazzled.

Should someone other than me stumble across this blog, whether on  purpose, through mere fate, destiny, accident, or because it is being used to torture you beyond what is allowed by the Geneva Convention or the Patriot Act, I feel inclined to explain why I have started writing again. There is a long reason and a short reason and because I am wordy and make things overly complicated, I will explain both...

The LONG reason.....

Things change, the world changes and we change. In fact, the only constant in life is that there is no constant. Currently I am in Northern Virginia, sitting in a hotel room while the Corona Virus, also known as COVID19 wreaks havoc across the world. The idea that the world, as a whole, might go the way of the dinosaurs, while not necessarily a scary thought, is one that makes me want to at least record my small bit of life. I don't plan to get deep into feelings but I do like the idea of my children surviving the apocalypse and having something to read that gives them some insight to my thoughts on things. Regardless of Corona, my life is constantly changing and in fact, I am preparing myself for another big change. I will be leaving Tucson in July (assuming the world is not destroyed and has recovered from this freaking virus) to head to almost a year of training and then heading to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. Melissa and the kids are staying in Sahuarita while I am in training and will possibly join me (Melissa and the youngest two) after my first year at the new assignment. I will certainly stay in close contact with them and make as many trips home as I can to spend time with them but I also want to document as much of the interesting aspects of these changes as I can. I am not saying I will blog every day but I want to at least put up things that invoke excitement or share sadness, or well, I guess, whatever I deem worthy of writing about.....

The SHORT reason.....

My wonderful wife, during a discussion where I mention I would like to blog about my trip to DC in July and maybe use my blog a bit more, laughed at me and said, "Right, just like you were going to blog every day in Afghanistan". She expressed doubt in me so now I have to prove her wrong.... Hey, it is more productive then when someone told me, "You will never run a marathon" and I ran 4 of them just to prove a point. At least me blogging shouldn't cause two surgeries..... At least, I really hope not.

Moving onward.....

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

We want you there Yesterday!

I haven't posted in a very long time. In fact, I think the last time I posted, I was on my way to Kabul, Afghanistan.... Mmmm, so much for a post a day or something like that.

A lot has changed since I last wrote. I spent a year away from the family, came back to the U.S., had a wonderful 10 weeks off where we traveled literally everywhere. We then spent 1 year in Falls Church, Virginia for French language school and other necessary training. In October, 2014, the 7 of us, plus one very cat-like dog packed up our stuff (euphemism for "crap") and flew off to Nouakchott, Mauritania... By the way, when I say, "crap", what I mean by that is 18 suitcases, 1 dog crate with dog, and at a minimum, 10 carry on bags. What it doesn't include is the 4 thousand pounds of belongings and 1500 pounds of food that was shipped off to Nouakchott a few weeks earlier... Anyway, I completely digress. As a family, we completed three years in the Sahara desert, and were reassigned to Tucson, Arizona.

First, it is wonderful to be back in the U.S. It is wonderful to be together as a family and for the kids to not have to be stuck in the house surrounded by each other and their parents. They get to run, bike, skateboard, visit, go and do, and the best part of it is their parents, Melissa and I (in case you forgot), get to do all of that as well, including hanging out with people we like and don't have to see every day at work. Second, I did not get the position I was promised and while I was initially bitter about that, I could not be happier about being in the Tucson area. We have a house and we have generally happy, outgoing, super energetic children and I could not be more pleased with where we are, where I work, and who I get to work with.

So, now that you are all generally caught up with my life (If this wasn't enough, I would be happy to direct you to Melissa's blog, where she has done a MUCH better job than me of keeping things updated), on to the topic of the title, "We want you there YESTERDAY!".

So, as I explained, I am assigned to Diplomatic Security's Resident Office in Tucson, Arizona, which reports to the Los Angelas Field Office, which in turn, reports to D.C. I love it. I get to do investigations and I don't have everyone calling me at all times of the day and night to deal with their "emergencies" that they knew about 2 months prior and are now telling me about it because there is something they need from me but did not feel like they had to include me in their planning process the prior two months and....ok, I digress. Sorry, a little flashback but I am okay now.

Another side duty is getting Temporary Duty (TDY) trips to assist the Secretary's detail or Embassies overseas, or whatever they happen to need bodies for. Being fairly new to the office and trying to maximize my time with the family, I hadn't really pushed for any trips. Well, around January 9th, my immediate boss and I had just finished a meeting with another Law Enforcement agency when someone told us that we had a call from the LA Field Office. The person calling (the Assistant Special Agent in Charge) had asked for Jeff and when told that Jeff was in a meeting, asked for me. That was weird because I never get asked for. Since I was also in the meeting, I didn't get to find out why he called. My immediate boss gave him a call and a little while later, he was at my cubicle and it me with, "Chris, I have the privilege to tell you that you are Diplomatic Security's first pick to take a 45 day TDY assignment to Khartoum, Sudan and they need you there right away".  ****Personal note***** They figured since I had all the necessary training, spent the last three years in an equally difficult location, and didn't have anything actually going on, I was a perfect fit ***End personal note***. "Do you accept this mission"..... How can I say no....Actually, I really couldn't but I liked how he presented it as an option.

The next day, I started the process of getting tickets and finding out if I needed a visa. I was originally told that I did not need one and it would be fine. I asked the High Threat Programs (HTP) office to double check that because I was pretty sure I needed a visa before leaving the U.S. (I read the Sudanese visa requirements so I was actually sure that I needed a visa before leaving the U.S.). I got a reply back that they would look into it. I had some travel for an investigation for a couple of days so when I came back to the office on Monday, I was informed that I had to have a visa and needed to get them the application, two photos and my passport as soon as possible. I went and got visa photos and sent the photos, the completed visa application, and my passport overnight/early morning delivery. I then called the people helping me with travel and asked if they had cancelled my tickets for the following day. I kid you not, they asked, "Why, aren't you going to fly out tomorrow". I reminded them that I just overnighted my stuff to them and I doubted they would get it in the morning, get my visa, over-minute it back to me, all in time for me to fly out at 9 am... They thanked me for my suggestion and postponed my plane tickets. It is a good thing because UPS took my overnight with morning delivery package and delivered three and a half days later than scheduled delivery....Not like we were in a rush or anything...

I would like to tell you that my emergency visa request was processed the day it was dropped off at the Sudanese Embassy but that would be just funny. Fast forward three weeks (to last Tuesday), and I get a call that my visa is ready and they want me to fly out on Thursday, February 1st. I asked them if they remembered my whole overnight with morning delivery that was actually three overnights with late afternoon delivery and they agreed to book my flight out on Tuesday, February 6th (today for those of you who are counting). I got my passport and visa on Wednesday, booked a hotel in Doha, Qatar because I have a forced overnight, arranged transportation to and from the airport and got everything set with the Embassy in Khartoum. Since I am a protector of tax payer dollars, I paid for the hotel upfront because it was almost $100 cheaper (and within reimbursable allowances) and I got a better price because I went the "pay now, unable to cancel later route)...Again a good steward of your tax dollars. I will not mention I booked a room at the Ritz-Cartlon hotel...

I took an administrative day off of work on Monday so I could pack, get work done on the Van, and run a bunch of errands for Melissa so she would have less to deal with with me gone. Tuesday morning (again, still this morning) rolled around and Melissa, along with some of the kids, took me to the airport, dropping me off at 0915 hours. Plenty of time for my 12:40 flight out. In fact, it really was a lot of time because my flight was delayed. I checked in at the United Counter and was told my flight was delayed but with my later connection, I would be fine. I got my backs checked in, went through security, and proceeded to wait around for my flight to take off. After a couple of hours, I went and checked the flight board and found my flight had been pushed back three more hours, in fact, past other flights headed to Houston on United. Taking a deep breath, I left the terminal because there were no United agents anywhere to be seen, and went back to the ticket counter, where there were now billions of people in line... Ok, slight exaggeration but there were a lot. Go figure, most of them were supposed to go to Houston but because of all the delays, were going to miss their onwards. I waited and waited. One lady got so exasperated, she told the ticket agent to cancel her flight all together and her job would have to just deal with her missing the important work meeting and it served them right for booking her flight on United... I see this not going well so I called my folks in D.C. and let them know they may want to start getting me different flights. Finally it was my turn and I explained that I had a connection in Houston that would take me to Doha. I actually think she snorted. She explained there was no way I would make that flight, especially since my flight out of Tucson had been cancelled and there other flights were equally as delayed. I explained that my bags had already been checked and asked her to please return those bags to me, fully expecting it to be a fight. She said no problem and disappeared to find the bags, wherever they may go.. I called my folks in DC again and told them I definitely needed different tickets and begged them not to allow United to have any of the connections.

My bags were returned to me and I received a call back from D.C. that said I was not on the 1445 (2:45 pm) flight on American Airlines and would arrive in Doha at midnight the following night. I rushed down the the American Airlines counter and had to use the stupid Kiosk to check in. Imagine my non-surprise when the Kiosk told me there was no record of me having a flight to anywhere... I think the Kiosk was a little to gleeful but since I couldn't prove it, I stepped out of line to call D.C. back. I discovered that I had missed 2 calls from D.C. I called and was told, "Um, ya, we couldn't get you on that flight". I discovered I would now be flying out at 0930 the following morning.

I called my wonderful wife Melissa, who thankfully had taken a mental health day, and asked her if she could come pick me up at the airport. I explained the situation and she informed me she had gone walking and was at the furthest possible point away from the house that she could be. She, being the wonderful wife she is, moved as fast as she could back to the van to come and get me. I sent a couple of emails to cancel my travel to and from the hotel and also to let the hotel know I would not be arriving on the night of the 7th but instead I would be there on the night of the 8th. I figured I would be paying for two nights in the hotel since I had bought a "though shalt no cancel ever" room and I even let D.C. know about that so they could make arrangements to still reimburse me, which they happily agreed to do. Surprisingly, the hotel kindly changed my room with no questions asked and rescheduled my ride to and from the airport the following day.

Melissa picked me up and we spend a lot of time discussing the general horridness of United Airlines. The kids that went to school were surprised to see me when they came home from school and everyone seemed fairly happy to have an extra night with me, which was really nice.

Overall, it was an interesting day. While slightly frustrating at times, I didn't pay for the tickets and I got paid to stand around and wait. Getting delayed a day allowed me to switch and repack a super heavy suitcase (the case itself weight 30 pounds) into a much lighter one that could hold a bit more items, and I got an extra night with the family and unlike the last three weeks, does not extend my time away. I figured, as I sit here, I could get start this blog again and try to document the next two months in Khartoum, Sudan and what better way to start than start with an interesting, funny story like this.

The big joke of the day has been, "You have to be there yesterday!", 4 weeks later :)

Love you all,


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Day of departure :(

So, I depart today for the U.S. and then Kabul, Afghanistan. Part of me is extremely excited for the adventure to begin and another part is extremely sad to be leaving my family behind once again. Not my favorite thing to do and one I hope I can limit as much as possible in the future.
So anyway, I downloaded a new program called "Day One" that reminds me to write daily. I figured I would give it a try and see how it works. When I am ready to post, I will just try copying and pasting into the blog so the whole world can see my day to day activities and thoughts..... or something like that :)

6:28 PM
So, today has been pretty tough. I went to the office for a little bit, finished up some last minute errands and for the most part, spent most of the day either packing or hanging out with the kids. I am heading out in about 2 hours or less and still have a lot to do. I am torn because I am excited to head out on a new adventure but sad and bummed out that I am once again leaving my family behind. This is seriously getting old.

7:44 PM
So, packing is done. Thanks to my amazing wife for helping me sort through the 20 pounds I was overweight in ONE suitcase. I think I definitely see the issue with super huge suitcases. If I was not leaving in 20 minutes, I would repack into a much smaller one.

9:55 PM
So, again, my amazing wife jumped to the rescue and repacked my super huge suitcase into a much smaller, reasonable one, which should keep me from overpacking on the remainder of my travels. No sooner was she done then the expediters arrived and I had a tearful farewell with Melissa and the kids.
The ride to the airport was fairly uneventful minus the tunnels out of Jerusalem being closed for an unknown reason so after a short detour, we made decent time to the airport, which is usually a good thing but again, dealing with the whole reverse abandonment issues at the moment so it has been tough.
I had a good conversation with another passenger who is flying to D.C. for training. He is a local that works for the Consulate. We arrived at the airport together and had the same expeditor but you would have thought he had two heads and a sign around his chest that said terrorist by how the Israelis treated him. See, Issa, (the gentleman that is traveling to the states) is Arab Israeli (and an American Citizen). His bags were completely searched, he was given a hard time through the entire process. Hard to believe and I think it is one of the many reasons I am looking forward to departing here. Just wish it was with the whole family.
Anyway, I made it through security with no issues. One of the nice things about having an expeditor for official travel is not having to wait in line but of course, I absolutely hate cutting hundreds of people like I am special….well, I guess I am :)
Looks like I have a wireless connection so i am going to send and email off to Melissa and get ready to board the airplane.

Prior to boarding, I would like to comment on Israeli Customer Service, or, the complete lack of said customer service. I had to get a receipt from the counter in order to eventually get reimbursed for baggage fees (Stupid United). Anyway, following the instructions I was given earlier when I paid the stupid baggage fees, I went to the counter at the gate to get a receipt and stood in line behind a couple of other people. It was 10:15 pm. There were three employee's behind the counter doing what appeared to be nothing who stated, "We will not be taking any seat change requests until 10:30 pm" so all of the people in front of me left. I walked up to the counter. I was promptly told, "Sir, we will not to any seat changes until 10:30 pm, like I just told everyone". I smiled and replied, "Thats good, I do not need a seat change (I liked the seat I had, I paid extra for it). I just need a receipt". The reply, "I told you, you can not get a seat until 10:30". "I am sorry, you misunderstood me. I do not want a seat. I would like a RECEIPT for baggage fees".  The reply, "We wont do anything until 10:30". I said, "Okay, I will wait here". The reply, "No you wont. Other people may have questions....Like you are going to answer them.

So, I stepped back away from the counter and waited until 10:30. A line formed again and now, they had 5 to 6 people behind the counter, talking about the weekend and what they were going to do and how we were all idiots standing their watching them (Okay, they were speaking in Hebrew and I do not speak Hebrew but now that it is well past 10:30, this is what I am imagining they are saying. 10:45 rolls around and we are all still standing in line when they start boarding the plane, completely ignoring the line of many people. Needless to say, I was not getting out of line until I got my receipt, which I eventually did  but it really was not like I needed another reminder to why I was so very excited to leave this place and why I wish my family was leaving with me.....

Anyway, I will try to start up fresh when I land.

Until next time.....

Monday, July 9, 2012

My First (6th or 7th) post in my own blog

Welcome to Dad of 5. This is my first blog and I figured I needed to at least start it off in style. Of course, while I type this, I am on hold with Apple trying to figure out if my kids' Christmas present is going to get here on time but that is an issue for another post.

So why a Blog? To be honest, I have no idea but my wife has done an amazing job with her blog and I am envious so I figured I would conquer my sins and have what she has....oh wait, thats not how that works.....

Anyway, I wrote the above two paragraphs back in December when I first started this blog and never actually got around to finishing it. Since then, I have had a couple of original posts and reposted some stuff I did on Melissa's Blog (Just US).

Since I just departed Jerusalem in preparation for my next assignment, I figured it would make sense to keep everyone up to date on what is going on in my life, because, well, I know everyone is dying to know my day to day activities and such. (So egotistical, I know).

Melissa and the kids have stayed in Jerusalem for the next year while I explore the world, or at least the part of the world containing Kabul, Afghanistan, which, by the way, you are all invited to come visit :)

I plan on doing two types of posts with this. I have started a new work out plan (About 6 months ago) and will probably keep a sort of "Work out Log" here. If you are not interested in that part, please feel free to not read it. It will basically be a list of my workouts for the week and is more for me to keep track in case I lose my written logbook.

I also want to do a regular update of events as well, which I have not done well at in the past but who knows, maybe I can change my nature, which is actually a pretty big challenge but to quote the infamous train, Charlie..... "I think I can, I think I can".

Until next time....

Operation Baghdad re-post #2

And continuing my theme of recycling old stuff (Been watching a lot of Hollywood remakes), here is my second (and only other) blog attempt documenting my time in Baghdad.

Well, I have not added as much to the blog as I had originally hoped to do but I wanted more pictures to add before I posted. Unfortunately, I need a permission slip to take pictures around the palace and the Embassy compound, which I am sure I will get eventually.

Starting from where I left off last time, the rest of my belongings arrived the day I did. Unfortunately for some in my group, there was a little mix up and one individual thought she had her stuff but it was mine. The belongings that were labeled mine belonged to a third individual and the stuff that was his actually was labled with the first person's info. I guess it ended up great for me cause I got my stuff quick. Everyone else got it straightened out pretty quickly and they got their stuff a few days later. My work gear arrived in two shipments, once I received a day or two after arrival and a second I received two weeks later.

I have quickly become accustomed to my surroundings and my work. Each day is usually an exact repeat of the day before. Maybe a better title for this post should have been "Groundhog Day". For those who have seen Bill Murray's rather humorous movie of the same title, you will understand the reference. In someways, this works out well because I have a fairly set routine that I just repeat on an hourly basis. One of the several downsides of this is that I have absolutely no idea what day it is...ever. On top of that, our "weekend" is Friday and Saturday. Of course, when working 7 days a week, there is not much of a weekend for us but hey, its only one year, which I have just completed one month of.

Overall, we are doing our best to stay safe and keep those that are detailed to us safe. Most people I work with do an outstanding job and for the most part, I am enjoying the experience although I would much rather be home with my family, whom I miss very much.

Until next time, have fun, enjoy life and be safe.