About Erich Eipert

Erich Eipert is the author of historical nonfiction and adventure novels available in ebook and paperback versions.

The American Ridge Trail: a trail dying a slow death

A Trail on Life Support: the American Ridge Trail

—conditions as of mid-August, 2017.
It’s summer and for me, that always means backpacking. This time out it was to an area I’ve visited many times over the last thirty or thirty five years. The section of trail my shoes bit into on August 9 and 10 this year was a continuation of the piece my grandson, my neighbor Barrett, and I, failed to complete last year. That grueling grind year apparently did in Angelo’s backpacking aspirations for a while, and he declined to go this year. But, I hope he’ll return to it someday.

All that happened last year was that we ran out of water after dragging ourselves up slope after slope in the broiling sun. We’d slogged ever higher and higher to near 7000 feet, only to lose the trail across a grassy hillside and a and loosely

Backpacking the American Ridge Trail in 2016.

My grandson and If on the American Ridge Trail in 2016, with Mt. Rainier in the background.

packed steep peak awaiting us on the far side. I recalled have trouble in the same rugged vicinity several years earlier and the trail had deteriorated noticeably since then. We were already parched and because we had no assurance we’d locate the trail ahead, or reach the next water source (Kettle Lake) before we were really in trouble, we turned around. The water issue caused us to descend off trail in the spot the map called Big Basin. We hiked far down and an hour or more later found water in a forest stream, but when we attempted to follow this creek down to BumpingLake to shortcut our way back to the car, we soon learned the terrain ahead was more vertical than horizontal and overgrown with dense, forbidding ground cover. This left little choice but to camp for the night partway back up and in the morning hike out by another route.

 

The following morning we opted to take the next descending trail down off the ridge, which left us at unoccupied Mesatchee Creek (horse) Campground along Highway 410. This put us over 30 miles from our car on the opposite side of the high ridge. Disharmony was in the air! The teen member of our party had a voracious appetite and quickly consumed the last of the food I thought I’d brought plenty of. The serious foot blisters he’d acquired also begged attention. The lack of a phone signal in that vicinity didn’t help matters. But then came the miracle. Barrett, who’d begun to trek down Highway 410 after the three of us had unsuccessfully stuck out our thumbs for a time, radioed that he’d found us a ride. A kindly woman and her grown son offered to take us back to our car in exchange for showing her the way back to the campground she’d left the rest of her family at that morning when she’d driven out to stock up on supplies. Her camp was actually along the way.

This year’s experience began and ended in the midst of a heavy haze from British Columbia forest fires. Our teen companion of the previous year and his iPhone had better things to do, so it was just Barrett and myself. We started out from the opposite end of the ridge this time and intended to connect to the missing part of the trail by approaching it from the other direction. Couldn’t miss, we thought! From the trailhead on the Bumping River Road near the junction of Highway 410 we expected to reach Kettle Lake by suppertime at the latest. Unfortunately, the trail did not cooperated. By early afternoon we were well into the considerable amount of water we started with because the weather was hot, the elevation gain substantial, and the walking difficult. Some of the trail was just plain gone. On our first encounter with the lost trail we had to scramble down a steep slope with loose material that used to have defined switchbacks. Surprisingly, a bit beyond we found the next two miles of trail had been freshly cleared of downed trees.

Goat Peak early evening selfie.

By mid-afternoon we were way behind schedule and still not very far along, but encountered a creek with a good flow of water that invited us stock up again and quickly cook up a meal. After wrestling with Barrett’s malfunctioning new lightweight gas stove for half an hour we finally managed to fix  its pump. However, the two packets of mac and cheese the stove cooked up was almost unpalatable and much of it needed to be buried. In the late afternoon near Goat Peak, our GPS apps suggested to us that we’d sidetracked ourselves on a difficult elk trail. Another half hour wasted. So it wasn’t until six p.m., with some 3500 to 4000 feet of elevation gain behind us, that we were finally able to take a selfie at the top of Goat Peak.

Our water was again disappearing fast and we had miles yet to hike to reach Kettle Lake, so we hurried on down the trail that dropped 1000 feet in the next mile, with a lot of blow-downs near the bottom near the saddle just before the Goat Creek Trail junction. From there the trail repeatedly gains and loses elevation as it snakes along above and below 6000 feet. This would have been taxing enough even if the trail had been in good condition, but the many downed trees and the path’s repeated disappearance made for slow trekking. By 7:30 p.m., with the forest darkening, we found ourselves weary, almost out of water again, and still over three miles from Kettle Lake. As we pushed ourselves up one particularly long slope with our hiking poles a startling crash of thunder sounded just ahead of us. This was followed by two more booms minutes later. At eight o’clock, with just a few sips of water left and at least two miles to go, the descending darkness and the trail condition forced us to camp on the trail. That evening we whiffed a bit of smoke—smoke more like campfire smoke than atmospheric haze smoke–but thought little of it. At first light as we packed up, the smoke smell returned.

After about an hour of hiking that put us on the ridge top, Barrett spotted a smoky fire half a mile away in dense trees on a steep slope. To my surprise, I found I had a phone signal, and this allowed me to report the fire and its coordinates. As I wound up my call I noticed Barrett was already hustling along the trail. I guessed he wasn’t eager to find out what that fire was going to do, so I followed. It wasn’t until later that I realized I’d forgotten to take a photo!

Just when we thought reaching the lake would now be child’s play because we’d simply follow what the map told us was series of switchbacks down a steep slope, we again lost the main trail and found ourselves on a side trail. We trudged back and forth for twenty minutes, repeatedly checking our GPS apps to align us with the red zigzagging lines on the map, but could not find the trail. In the end we gingerly sidestepped down the loose, steep scree and dirt slope, carefully digging in each foot . With some searching we eventually re-located the trail some distance below the slope in the forest. As we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at Kettle Lake, we watched the first helicopters arrive in response to the fire. And we continued to hear them most of the day. [After arriving back home I learned that lightning strikes had actually started three fires in the general vicinity of where we’d camped, and a total of nine throughout the area.]

Given the terrible condition of this part of the Ridge trail, we decided not to

Blow-downs across the trail. These were easily crossed, unlike many more serious blockages.

continue on for several more miles just to find where we’d lost the trail the previous year. We’d lost the trail enough times already and the effort no longer seemed worthwhile, particularly after it came back to me that several years earlier when I’d last gone through that stretch, I encountered a massive blow-down covering several acres. The trail at that time was completely obliterated for some distance and Ihad to bushwhack around it and find the continuation. Given what we’d just hiked through, it seemed unlikely that this remote part of the trail had ever been repaired. So we left the ridge to descending on the Kettle Creek Trail, which incidentally took considerable time to locate because the trail shown on our maps indicated a series of descending switchbacks heading west. Apparently the first mile or so was rerouted north from the lake years ago, but did not appear on hiking maps. We eventually noticed a largely hidden sign nailed to a tree, pointing out the trail.

 

It has been pointed out to me that the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the William O. Douglas Wilderness Area and the American Ridge Trail within it, has limited resources for trail maintenance. So it must choose where to allocate those resources. I have been phoning the Naches Ranger Station yearly, asking for more upkeep on this trail, but only the approaches, and small portions, have been fixed. The trail is in critical condition and badly needs attention. It would be a shame to lose this scenic trail, but that’s what will happen if it doesn’t receive attention soon.

New game in town: Seattle Double-Tap Bocce anyone?

That need to fix

Five player Seattle Double-Tap Bocce.

Wintertime Seattle Double-Tap bocce on WPLBC’s new synthetic turf bocce courts. Action and movement is not in short supply with 5 players and 20 balls on the court.

Some of us who love to play board, card, and lawn games have an innate need to improve existing games. When required, we sometimes even bang out a new game from an old one. Well, maybe “required” is too strong an adjective. But sometimes a game just cries out for a bit of doctoring. So we try to inject it with more action, strategy, or complexity vitamins. Just such a call came to me while playing bocce recently at the club I belong to, the Woodland Park Lawn Bowling Club (wplbc.org) in Seattle. Continue reading

40 years on—Vietnam and my enemy encounter

Return to Vietnam – Part III

The chair lift up the once VC dominated Black Virgin Mountain outside Tay Ninh City.

The chair lift up the once VC-dominated Black Virgin Mountain outside Tay Ninh City.

My wife and I had just visited Tay Ninh City, where we separated from the tour group at the Cao Dai Temple and took a taxi to what we American troops knew as the Black Virgin Mountain (Núi Bà Đen). This 3000-foot extinct volcanic peak dominates the flat Mekong Delta plain around it. During the war I’d often gazed up at the mountain and yearned to visit the peak. The mountain was a VC (Viet Cong) stronghold at the time but US forces held onto a small outpost at the tip—one only accessible by helicopter. On my recent visit I was disappointed that a time constraint kept us from hiking one of the trails to the top. We had barely enough time to take the cable car (constructed sometime after the war) to a gaudy Buddhist temple two thirds of the way up the mountain. Nevertheless, the ride offered a spectacular view. Continue reading

Return to Vietnam—what I found

Return to Vietnam – Part II

Me at the War Remnants Museum in Saigon. I'm standing in front of an armored personnel carrier in a courtyard crammed with American equipment.

Me at the War Remnants Museum in Saigon. I’m standing in front of an armored personnel carrier in a courtyard crammed with American equipment.

Although Vietnam is still a relatively poor country, Southern Vietnam has clearly prospered since the war when the only real economic engine was Uncle Sam’s aid and GI payday. Ho Chi Minh City, which nearly everyone still calls Saigon, is today busting at the seams with people, shops, restaurants, taxis, buses, and particularly motorbikes. Capitalism, in other words. I was surely not the only visitor to whom it seemed that nearly all of the city’s 11 million inhabitants were out competing for space with taxis and buses on their 7 million motorbikes at all hours of the day and night. Their presence made street crossings daunting. The motorbikes also made it necessary to walk in the street much of the time because the sidewalk space not claimed by outdoor shops and vendors was packed with parked motorbikes. Anyway, I digress.

…military aid and assistance has again begun flowing into Vietnam from the U.S. government. Who’d have thought!”

Vietnam hasn’t forgotten the war, but its youngish population today has other national concerns. Big ones like its northern neighbor. Continue reading

Vietnam 40 years on—my return

Return to Vietnam – Part I

In 1971 I couldn't have imagined that someday I'd be welcome in the presidential palace in Saigon--a place constantly in the nightly news during the war.

In 1971 I couldn’t have imagined that someday I’d be welcome in the presidential palace in Saigon–a place constantly in the nightly news during the war.

World War II is still very much alive in our media and our consciousness, as I’ve noted in recent blog posts. But one of that war’s offspring, the Vietnam War, hasn’t gone away either. Six decades after it began for Americans, that war too lives on in much the same way. This past April 30 marked an important date in both wars. On that day seventy years ago, in 1945, Hitler killed himself and effectively ended the Second World War. And on that day 40 years ago, in 1975, the North Vietnamese Army took Saigon and ended the divisive Vietnam War. A flurry of news reports and documentaries commemorated the latter anniversary date, but I had time to watch only one. That was because I was about to commemorate the war’s end in a more vivid and personal way. By coincidence, my first return to Vietnam since serving there both in a base camp and as an infantryman occurred just days after this significant date.

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The fall and rise of Vietnam vets

Vietnam revisited

Me and buddies, Christmas 1970, somewhere near Cu Chi, Vietnam

Me and buddies, Christmas 1970, somewhere near Cu Chi, Vietnam

Who alive in America today hasn’t heard of the Vietnam War or doesn’t know a family it has touched? This conflict dragged on for years and ultimately became very unpopular. Late in the war, returning soldiers like myself were despised by many.When I came back to America in 1971, we soldiers were warned not to wear our uniforms when traveling.

Well, how times have changed! Now veterans are popular once again and are often even thanked for their service. Even Vietnam veterans are now held in high esteem. Continue reading

Refugee Crisis—The Worst Ever?

?? refugees going onto a boat in ???

German refugees fleeing Russian onslaught in Kurland, October 1944. Photo from Bundesarchiv.

The tragic refugee problem makes headlines every day. Dramatic photo and video scenes repeatedly show us a mass of impoverished humanity on the move. In many of us fortunate enough to have a permanent home in which we’re viewing or reading these stories, the reports evoke empathy. But in some they also produce indifference, or even outrage. Such people are angered that their country is overwhelmed with migrants. Supporting refugees is never cheap and there can be major social consequences from an influx of people of a different culture and religion.

Modern refugees loading a boat....

Refugees transferred to a Maltese patrol boat. US Navy public domain photo

So what is the world to do with the millions of people who have lost their country? As massive and unprecedented as today’s problem sounds, the world faced an even more desperate crisis after World War II—one I described in The Secret She Carried. At that time millions of people were forced to flee the fighting as the Eastern Front fighting pushed into the Soviet Union, then reversed course and ran westward back to Germany. In today’s crisis, the dead number in the thousands. But in the earlier crisis over two million of the 15 million ethnic Germans who were forced out of their homes in Eastern Europe died. Continue reading

Oswald and Oskar—they survived where many didn’t

Oskar and Erich at Tomaselli Cafe in Salzburg, June 2015

Oskar and Erich at Tomaselli Cafe in Salzburg, June 2015.

In The Secret She Carried, an account of two German soldiers meshes with my mother’s story. Oswald Lustig and Oskar Halusa were my Uncle Eduard Hajek’s closest school friends and still teens when they first saw combat. Somehow, both came through the hellish fighting despite multiple life-threatening wounds. Sadly, Eduard didn’t.

I’d been communicating with both men for some time before our first face-to-face meeting in 2010. Fortunately for me, each had put considerable time and effort into preserving memories of their southern Moravian Sudeten homeland over the years. In Germany, Oswald had assembled several books about his part of Moravia and was still an indefatigable information gatherer at age 86 when I spent a couple of days in his home. He was a gracious host and I left loaded with new information. Continue reading

World War II ended in 1945, or did it?

The end of World War II

Photo showing relative size of British bombs of the Second World War. They ranging from 500 lb to 12,000 lb. As the main recipient of such bombs from Britain and America, Germany remains a graveyard for unexploded bombs. Some 2,000 tons of them are discovered annually. [Photo created by the United Kingdom Government is in the public domain; Wikimedia Commons, Raf ww2 bombs.jpg] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/34/Raf_ww2_bombs.jpg

Photo showing relative size of British bombs of the Second World War. They ranged from 500 lb to 12,000 lb. As the main recipient of such bombs from Britain and America, Germany remains a graveyard for unexploded bombs. Some 2,000 tons of them are discovered annually. [Photo created by the United Kingdom Government is in the public domain; Wikimedia Commons, Raf ww2 bombs.jpg]

Did World War II in Europe end 70 years ago in May 1945? If you read my earlier two part post on the subject (Those Pesky World Wars–they just won’t go away), you’d know that on a true/false history exam or quiz show, true would be the correct answer. But outside of that context, false would also be correct. Technically, the fighting in the European Theater ended with the surrender of Germany, and then in the Pacific Theater a few months later. However, in a way, the war lived on because it left many problems unresolved and created new tensions and turmoil when the victors took or redistributed territory and drew illogical borders through former colonial possessions. The resulting troubles and unresolved issues brought about struggles that to this day show no signs of disappearing. Examples abound in the Middle East, Southern Asia, South America, and Eastern Europe. Continue reading

The Death Valley Chuckwalla: They don’t write ‘em like this anymore! Or do they?

Recently, during my annual camping trip to Death Valley National Park, I found the following description hanging amidst the clutter of photos and other historical items on the wall of the Borax Museum at the Furnace Creek Ranch Resort.

The front cover of the Chuckwalla. The newspaper was printed on butcher paper, so the archive copy did not reproduce well.

Front cover of the Chuckwalla. The newspaper was printed on butcher paper, so the archive copy did not reproduce well.

“The Death Valley Chuckwalla was published at Greenwater during the copper boom days of 1906 -07. The editor and publisher was C.B. Glasscock, later to become a well-known Western writer. Nothing remains of Greenwater today; but one of the Chuckwalla printing presses stands in the museum courtyard.” Continue reading

Those pesky World Wars—they just won’t go away: continued

U-576 and its crew

One of several recently released NOAA wartime photographs of U-576 and its crew that had been gathered by U-boat historian, Ed Caram, who died last year. Courtesy of NOAA.

The World War I veterans are gone now, but the lingering effects and presence of that war are still remembered and felt today. The observance of the hundredth anniversary of the event that sparked the war—the assassination of the Austrian heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, on June 28th—took place this summer. As much as that older war is imbued in our history and culture, World War II looms larger not just because it was larger, but because it is still recent enough to be felt by the families of men who fought in it. As enormous as the monetary cost of both wars was, the cost in lives—up to 16 million for WW I, and up to 80 million for WW II—was even more staggering.

Continue reading

Those pesky World Wars—they just won’t go away

Minutes before the attack in Sarajevo that initiated WWI.

Minutes before the attack in Sarajevo that initiated WWI.

In one sense we want to forget the world wars, and in another, we want to remember. Whether it’s books, TV, radio, movies, politics, museums, games, school, road signs, national holidays, or the news, the reminders are everywhere and unending. They are on my mind for two reasons. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. Also, I am close to completing a biographical narrative and anecdotal history of the period. Continue reading

83,936 Bags of Trash…A Little Litter Story

By Erich Eipert

This story has a dejecting part as well as something heroic and uplifting. Let’s get the cheerless part out of the way first.

Litter on roads

I don’t think about litter much until I’m on foot and see great quantities of it hidden in the grass of the roadside ditch. Or drive past piles of filled plastic bags after a cleanup effort. There’s a surprising amount of rubbish out there. I seldom see anyone throw anything from a car window like in the old days, yet somehow the garbage accumulates. Maybe litterers are more active after dark. A study or two has probably addressed this, but I’m getting off track. I can understand drinkers who drive, and underage occupants, throwing out their empties, but who and what accounts for all the other trash? Fortunately Washington state, where I live, isn’t the worst place when it comes to offenders. I suspect the reason has nothing to do with the intellect-challenged “Litter and it will hurt” signs along the roads. But again, I digress.

Litter in the Mississippi River Continue reading

Just another day in North Korea—execution of singers by machine gun

Tired of North Korea and its sicko leader Kim Jong-un yet? One more post and then I’ll stop. This headline grabber is too barbaric to pass up—a report that Kim Jong-un machine-gunned his ex-lover and 11 other singers and performers accused of selling pornographic videos of themselves. Many news outlets picked up the story and disseminated it after South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper broke the story based on an unconfirmed report from China. The fact that a story like this is believable, even if it turns out to be a rumor, tells you all you need to know about this regime.

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North Korea—where the threats keep on coming

Last year I reviewed a book about North Korea (Escape from Camp 14) in a commentary titled Justice would demand they be sentenced to dig up frozen human waste with their bare hands. The book is about the political prisoner slave labor camp system that has been a feature of this regime practically since the country was divided into North and South. Little has changed in that dreadful place since I wrote that piece; its government is still a blight on the world ,and its people are no better off now that 28-year-old Kim Jong Un replaced his late father, Kim Jong Il.  Continue reading

This gives a whole new meaning to the expression “You’re full of s***”

When I saw the recent news story in the June 7 issue of The Week about a swimming pool study done in Atlanta by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I read it with interest because I’ve often wondered why swimming in pools and lakes doesn’t cause more gastrointestinal illness. It’s hard not to ingest a bit of water whether you’re seriously swimming or just having fun. I know pools contain disinfectants that kill cryptosporidia and giardia (protozoans) and bacteria like E. coli, but disinfecting agents don’t work instantly.

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Heroes Shooting Blanks Pt. 2: Is there any location Hollywood hasn’t discovered?

I’m beginning to think the answer to the question posed in my title is “no.” At least in the West within a thousand miles of LA. After leaving Movie Flats in the Alabama Hills, the lovely but surreal setting of the Trona Pinnacles became my next camping destination. The pinnacles are located on the playa of Searles Dry Lake in the Searles Valley, just one valley west of Death Valley National Park in this harsh basin and range country. If you read my earlier post on the Bennett-Arcan wagon train party’s 1849 escape from Death Valley, it might interest you to know that another party became trapped in Death Valley about the same time. The Jayhawkers abandoned their wagons as well and walked out by way of Searles Valley. They acted to save themselves from a situation of their own making, so they were only heroes in a limited way. Yet even this marginal heroism beat what followed after this place too became a popular filming location, like Movie Flats. The cameras here weren’t shooting good guys shooting outlaws and Indians. The cinematography was of a different type.
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Heroes Shooting Blanks

Movie Flats

Riding off into the sunrise at Movie Flats

I just spent a couple of days camping in and hiking through hero country. No, it wasn’t a battlefield. And yet it was. If that sounds contradictory, it should become clear shortly. It is a princely place if you’re drawn to southwest high desert country like I am. This tract of land is situated near Lone Pine, California and is in the Alabama Hills, a name which has nothing at all to do with Alabama. The area has it all: sun, sagebrush, cactus, canyons, and jumbles of huge golden boulders. If that isn’t enough, topping it off is the grand mountain vista backdrop of Mt. Whitney and its surrounding high Sierra peaks. I’d better confess right here that I’m not the first to notice the ultra-western-ness of these features. The Hollywood movie industry noticed it 90 years ago. Continue reading

Cherries—a Vietnam experience and a half

Helicopter drops grunts in landing zone. U.S. Army photograph. Public domain.

Authors writing from personal experience about combat know that conveying their experience is ultimately an impossible task. The chasm between those who lived the trauma in a place like Vietnam, or some other version of Vietnam in another war, and those merely reading about it is nearly unbridgeable with mere words or images. But like many other veterans before him, John Podlaski tries to do just that in his book, Cherries: A Vietnam War Novel. And in this basic mission he successfully describes what Vietnam was like for some. I have to say some because in a war where the vast majority of those in uniform served as support personnel, most of the hardship fell on those few actually in the field. But more about that later. Continue reading

Justice would demand they be sentenced to dig up frozen human waste with their bare hands

Escape from Camp 14

Escape from Camp 14

Saying we face many political and economic problems in America—problems that appear overwhelming—seems like an understatement. But then along comes a book that puts things in perspective and reminds us how good we really have it when compared to people in certain other places in the world. Appropriately enough, I finished reading such a book just before Thanksgiving Day. The book is Escape From Camp 14, by Blaine Harden. No one in the US, no matter whether they are incarcerated or just dirt poor, is forced to dig up frozen human waste each winter with bare hands, then chop it up and spread it on fields. But it’s a fact of life in North Korea, Harden informs. Continue reading

What do tools and my novel—Guy Going Under—have to do with each other, you might ask

Book trailer for Guy Going Under

From book trailer for Guy Going Under

Our unmatched ability to conceive, make, and use tools is something that sets Homo sapiens apart from all other species. The use of tools is easy enough to picture in factories, repair shops, kitchens, and home workbenches, for the primary definition of the word is usually: an implement, especially one held in the hand, as a hammer, saw, or file, for performing or facilitating mechanical operations (dictionary.reference.com).

But the definition of the word doesn’t stop there. Today the word is just as often used in a broader way: an item or implement used for a specific purpose. A tool can be …a technical object such as a web authoring tool or software program…a concept can also be considered a tool (businessdictionary.com). In other words, tools can also have intellectual components and be applied to intellectual pursuits.

With humans being wired the way they are, progressive or competitive people are driven to devise or seek out the best possible tools. Let me now defer to a definition from a website for this type of person, Cool Tools. Its definition of a cool tool is: …anything useful that is superior to comparable items. The constant search for such tools is a component of, and a major driver of, science and technology. I am no longer a scientist, but the idea remains ingrained in me and I recognize that even selling books requires modern tools. Hence, the book trailer below. I won’t go so far as to claim it is the ultimate cool tool, but have a look! And Cool Tools is well worth a look, too.

Guy Going Under—a hero who “kind of likes just doin’ nothing”

The author just doin’ nothing in Death Valley

I recently spent three weeks camping in Death Valley National Park. There, when not hiking canyons, I basked in the pleasant—well, hot—temperatures and eased into a languid “I kind of like just doin’ nothing, it’s something that I do” sort of existence (description courtesy of a Robert Earl Keen song—Something I Do). Continue reading

Guy Going Under: A Cave Adventure hits the shelf

Guy Going Under: A Cave Adventure

Yes, my new novel, Guy Going Under: A Cave Adventure, is now out there. It, like the bookshelf it rests on, is virtual and can be purchased as a Kindle eBook at Amazon.com. The paperback version should become available soon.

As an adolescent, I was taken with Tom Sawyer’s cave adventure because I grew up near the Mississippi River in southeast Iowa, not too far north of Hannibal, Missouri. I suppose Mark Twain’s story first planted the idea of writing my own cave tale. Yes, it took me a few decades to make it happen, but I did do it. My tale is set in the Pacific Northwest rather than in the Midwest; Seattle plays a part, but most of the action takes place on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. Or maybe I should say under the Olympic Peninsula, since this a cave story. I’ll have a little more to say about the actual story in a follow-up post.

Wall Drug Heroes: Historical Western Photos

Wall Drug

Western history photos in Wall Drug Backyard

Western history photos in Wall Drug Backyard

I’m on a vacation driving trip so I’ll keep this short. As I write, the driving happens to be across South Dakota, a state that is a mecca for highway billboards. You know—the tourist-trap type informing you of the mystery spot or the fun cave. Drive the state east to west on I-90 and it won’t take you 300 miles to become aware Wall Drug has 5 cent coffee, free ice water, and homemade pies and breakfast rolls. Wall Drug has been in business so long that its signs have become icons and there are many, many competing signs along the route. But I digress. If you’re like me, by the time you finally reach exit 109 and the town of Wall, you’ll be torn. Should I get sucked in by the advertising or do I drive on? Continue reading

Hero today, gone tomorrow? Richard Rowland Kirkland, Angel of Marye’s Heights

Fredericksburg, Virginia

Richard Rowland Kirkland memorial at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Photo by Eipert.

I have some ready excuses for not posting in weeks. One is that I’ve been busy trying to finish “Guy Going Under,” my cave adventure/mystery novel. I have to say heroic effort was required at times for me to sit behind the keyboard when spring and summer weather was waiting right outside the door. A second excuse is that I’ve been traveling. One of the places I recently visited was Fredericksburg, Virginia, the site of a Civil War Battle fought in and around the city on December 11–15, 1862. The battle there is noted for being one of the most one sided of the war. Continue reading

Competition goalball–no sissies here!

Oops – this ball got through the Seattle defense

Sports is not a topic I ever expected to touch when writing about heroes. After all, every daily newspaper already has an entire section dedicated to the topic. The unique sport I want to talk about is seldom, if ever, reported on by the media for it is not a glamorized-on-TV sport and has no well-paid stars. I find myself compelled to write about it because I just returned from a tournament featuring some very good teams and find myself highly impressed. The game is something even most sports nuts probably haven’t heard of. I hadn’t either until I became involved with it as a volunteer a couple of months ago. One thing which makes it unique is none of the players saw the action, and neither did a substantial part of the audience. Continue reading

Breaking Stalin’s Nose: a novel of a young boy and the lies of Stalin-era Communism

Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin: Moscow Metro mosaic (beggs-Flickr)

Sasha Zaichik is the protagonist in this short novel, Breaking Stalin’s Nose, by Eugene Yelchin. Sasha is less a hero than an innocent victim, for what else can you call a ten-year old who’s been brought up with nothing but lies in a cynical, totalitarian state that maintains itself through fear and terror.

At first glance Yelchin’s novel looks like a book for children, but don’t be fooled—it carries a message that resonates with readers of all ages. I’m talking about the human toll of Stalin-era Communism in the Soviet Union, but it could apply to any dictatorial government or ideology, past or present. Think Nazi Germany, Maoist China, North Korea, Iran, Zimbabwe, the Taliban, etc. Continue reading

The Vietnam War—still alive in YA fiction. Part II. I Pledge Allegiance: Vietnam #1

Operation “Macarthur” / US Army Center of Military History

I Pledge Allegiance: Vietnam #1, by Chris Lynch, as you might expect in a series, builds the background for what follows—the experiences of four friends: Morris, Ivan, Rudi, and Beck. This first book depicts the perspective of Morris. The setting is Boston in the late 1960’s when the Vietnam War is raging, the draft is national policy, and every young man of a certain age is (or should be) worried about being sent to Vietnam. Morris continually dreams the same dream. He is in Vietnam in a vicious firefight and his three close friends are there too. They’re all shredded to bits. They might die in different ways and in a different order, but they all always die. The four friends have stuck together through all their school years and by this time have become close. When one has a problem, they all have a problem. Continue reading

The Vietnam War—still alive in YA fiction. Part I. Everybody Sees the Ants

POW-MIA Flag

The Vietnam Conflict ended nearly forty years ago, yet it still touches our lives. Two recent young adult (YA) books are prime examples. One, with a contemporary setting (Everybody Sees the Ants) depicts how lives are still affected by what happened. The setting for the other is historical (I Pledge Allegiance) and provides an example of the war as a resource for current literature. Neither book is a guts-and-glory war story—in both the war serves more as a backdrop in the lives of the characters. Although the two books are very different, they do have one element in common—a recurring dream by the hero. I’ll describe the two books separately in a two-part post. Continue reading

A little context: historic bridges of Iowa and some Iowana photos too

Stone railroad bridge in NE Iowa – StockXchng/Kinsey

Sorry. No heroes in this post, just a little more historical context to round out the Kate Shelley story. And I found some of it right in my own hometown.

Historic Iowa bridges are a side interest related to my childhood memories of an old trestle and its use in my novel about an inventive teen battling an enemy and confronting a land conspiracy in a farm community much like my home town of West Point, Iowa. A photo of the trestle bridge of my childhood (the model for the one in my novel), and a number of other mid to late 19th century historic West Point structures can be found by visiting my Iowana page or directly through this link to Historic photos of West Point, Iowa.  The railroad depot, the trestle, and the train itself are from the era in which my last hero, Kate Shelley, lived. Continue reading