Monday, October 31, 2016

Moving on

For all of you who have followed along, my journeys have been far and wide and unfortunately my blogging has been as well. Last post Dec 2015. WTF?

My website is up and running now, as is my new blog

I'll leave this up rather than move everything over, so whoever wants to can look back and see how far things have come since those early days when times were just starting to get better.

Thank you for all the views.
Be safe, be well, and come on over and check out the new place.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

December already? WTF?

As November comes close to an end and I look back at the year that has passed, all I can think is “Holy shit, what a year!”
I started the work year with my ship docked in Singapore, a beautiful city I hope to visit again when I have more time and free daylight hours.
From Singapore we sailed to Mumbai and began a large project off of India. (For anyone familiar with the blog or the Riverpirate Times Newsletter, it was five long weeks without internet).
I spent fifteen days in May on my Harley, and rode from Halifax to Gatlinburg and back, via the Nascar All Star Race in Charlotte. I sampled nine flavours of moonshine at a distillery in G’burg, I rode the Tail of the Dragon and the Devil’s whip, and I took the Blue Ridge Parkway home. Almost 4000 miles. Knock one more off my bike it list.
In July I was transferred to the Western Trident for a job off Newfoundland, and have remained with the ship, becoming part of the permanent crew. My old vessel has been temporarily cold stacked due to the downturn of the oil industry and the low cost per barrel of oil.
Since joining the Trident we have transited from Scotland to Norway and spent six weeks in the Norwegian Sea, and as I write this we are currently sailing from Cape Verde off the West coast of Africa to Cape Town. Three days ago we crossed the equator, another first for me, and another off my bucket list.
From Cape Town will sail around the Cape of Good Hope to the port of Durban, and then to Maputo Mozambique where our next job will start in late Dec or early Jan., and at a glance, that’s been my year. Almost. There was also Arizona.

Arizona, or more specifically the Arizona EMS Odyssey Conference in Phoenix marked a turning point for me in my ongoing recovery and management of emergency services stress related illness.
Earlier this year I was invited to speak at the EMS Odyssey conference about my experiences with emergency services stress, CIS, and PTSD and spent several days in 100 + degree Arizona heat in June.
It was by far my most shining moment as an educator and public speaker primarily due to nervousness, and despite multiple “dry runs” and two preparatory presentations delivered the month previously, the presentation did not have that same smoothness of transition as was typical in the professional life I had formerly known, and lacked in the level of quality I had wanted it would have.
That said it was an amazing experience, one I’ll cherish forever, and with the conclusion of the presentation I closed that chapter of my life and let my grief over the loss of my EMS career finally go.
Mostly when I let myself think about all I had done and what I could have done I find myself still angry, even though it’s been almost eight years, but a little fire in the belly keeps the spirit alive and if you’re going to have hate inside you, it might as well be directed at an Insurance giant and their subsidiaries than at an individual. In my case, I fucking despise Medavie Blue Cross and its subsidiary Emergency Medical Care Inc. Sadly, the majority of my peers who previously worked for, and some who currently work for the Evil Empire echo my sentiments.

All told, 2015 has been a banner year for me, perhaps my most beneficial yet as I stride forward in good health and away from the traumas and demons that accompany from my life in EMS. That might sound a little over the top, which has never really been my style, but the triggers that stimulate recall of events best left un-remembered remain just below the surface, ready to rear their ugly heads when memory or conversation stimulates their release. Therein lies the primary reason I walked away from all things career related in 2008.

If you’ve read any of my newsletters or blog entries you are already aware of the important role photography has played in my return to better health and my ongoing recovery, and on that note I can very easily tell when my Harley time and my camera time has been minimal, especially when home and work stress starts to pile up, manifesting itself as a visceral and almost palpable level of unsettledness and mild anxiety. A little camera time to take the edge off, the resolution of the affecting stressors when possible, and the return to my normal is often accomplished. In times of increased unsettledness my camera is my go to, especially when Harley time is not an option.
It didn’t really hit home how automatic my response to increased stress had become until the day I was preparing for my first “After the sirens” presentation. I had gathered my thoughts early in the morning, ran through the list of things I needed, troubleshot all the foreseeable complications I could, and ran through the slides on more time. When there was no more prep to do I found myself pacing from room to room looking for things to occupy my hands and my mind, and as I did I found my anxiety level rising steadily. Before I even realized what I was doing my camera was in my hand and I was outside taking some shots of my bike. Within a few minutes I had calmed perceptibly and it was only shortly after that the proverbial light bulb of realization came on that grabbing the camera was an automatic response. With realization comes knowledge.

My goals for the remainder of the year and for 2016 are to be a better photographer and spend more time in camera mode, and make the final transition to becoming a health and safety practitioner whose primary role is injury and incident prevention. I am one step closer to achieving that goal with the recent completion of my Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety from UNB.
Next year I’ll start my OHS Diploma program and I’ll finish it when time and money permit. The path I’ll take from here to there will be a long one, however I’m only a young guy yet, as I won’t hit the big Five O until August J.

So here I go, onward and upwards towards even better health and an even greater level of inner peace.
When I get home in a little less than three weeks it will be Christmas holiday time and I’m looking forward to spending those five weeks with my family, and getting RB the beasts and me moved into the farm.

I hope whoever is reading this is well and in either aware and in touch with their personal and mental health needs, or actively working towards achieving those needs; needs which surpass all others by a landslide.

Be well and take care.

Monday, October 19, 2015

May trip - Leg three The Tail of the Dragon

I left Gatlinburg heading South on 441 and another section of the Foothills Parkway towards Cherokee NC and within about 5 minutes the sun turned to rain.

The morning was spent in the rain, in the sun, in the rain, in the sun, in the shade of the Smokey Mountains where the temps were at least 15 degrees cooler than the open areas, and then back into the sun. And that was just the first hour or so of the day to Cherokee NC.
From Cherokee I rode US 74 to its intersection with Rte 129, then headed North through Robbinsville and then past the Cheoah Dam, landing at Deal’s Gap just after noon.

Deal’s Gap Motorcycle resort exists at the southern end of the Tail of the Dragon, an 11 mile section of US 129 filled with 318 curves, and is a starting point or ending point for all who dare to try to tame “The Dragon”.
Complete with a takeout store, motel rooms, a general store and merchandise mecca filled with stickers, T shirts, mugs, and an assortment of Dragon paraphernalia, and the Tree of shame, Deal’s Gap resort is a must before tackling the Dragon.
My orange T-shirt is definitely High Vis for those rare days I ride without a jacket and Max’s windshield now sports my Deal’s Gap Dragon with the Canadian flag just above the headlamp.

You will also find Killboy photographers along the Dragon who capture images of you during your ride that you can download for a reasonable price to commemorate your ride on The Tail of the Dragon.The image below is A Killboy image of me and max.

If you’ve never ridden the Tail of the Dragon, it’s a ton of fun providing you don’t overdrive your abilities. Some of the curves are mostly straightforward, some are at the bottom or top of a rise, and there are more than several hairpins. What makes the Dragon unique in my experience is the fact there are no side roads and no driveways, just trees, gravel, pavement, and other riders.
The torque and dynamics of the Sportster made the ride a blast, gearing down for the corners then coming onto the throttle at the apex of the turn, shifting up into third and occasionally fourth, only to release the throttle and gear down for the next turn.
You spend a lot of time down shifting and braking, leaning and accelerating and I can see why the guys and gals on crotch rockets enjoy posting their fast trips on Youtube.
As a paramedic I have seen what happens when a biker loses traction, and have treated road rash more than twice, so while I had a ton of fun taming the Dragon, I made sure to respect this unfamiliar stretch of blacktop and so that some of Max didn’t wind up on the Tree of Shame, or worse.

Chilhowee to Pigeon Forge

The Dragon just kind of ends without fanfare and the curves straighten out as Rte 129 takes you West towards Chilhowee.
I left 129 and the Dragon behind and headed North on another section of the Foothills Parkway through Happy Valley, and while I had no set destination in mind other than Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge is where I ended up after transiting through Townsend and Wears Valley.
The Parkway ride was clear and sunny and the roads wide and winding compared to my 11 miles on the Dragon.
I stopped at Smokey Mountain Harley Davidson in Pigeon Forge to browse and take a couple of pictures, and picked up a long sleeved shirt and a couple of poker chips as I usually do, then headed back to Gatlinburg hungry, thirsty, a little bit tired and a little bit sad it was over.    

I dropped my clothes off at the laundromat, trekked down to Howard’s and had a drink and ordered supper, headed back to put my clothes in the dryer 45 minutes later, then went back to Howard’s and ate my ribs. After supper was done I went and got my laundry then back to the hotel to pack for the start of the ride home the next day.

When I got off Max at the hotel that evening Max’s speedometer showed I had travelled 1985 miles since I left home. They were 1985 fantastic miles. Despite the rain.

May trip - Leg Two to mile 1985 Charlotte to Gatlinburg

After packing up the bike I headed over to Stewart Haas Racing in Kannapolis, about a ten minute drive from the hotel. Holy fucking cool.
I’ve been a Tony Stewart fan since his rookie year in 1999, the same year my driver at the time Ernie Ervan announced his retirement. Getting to see the shop and store was very cool to say the least.

The ride from Kannapolis to Maggie Valley NC was mostly uneventful until I made it to the foothills of the Smokey Mountains. Then the rain started. Again. This time, with lightening. I had four days of good weather prior so I guess I was due. Back on with the rain gear and the full face helmet, and off I went to Maggie Valley.

The Wheels through Time museum was unlike anything I have ever experienced and not what I expected at all when Mike at Colonial HD gave me the heads up about the place.
When you hear the word museum you get an image of polished surfaces, bright lights, and well, shiny stuff. Not so much in Maggie valley.
A lot of what is on display has been donated from people who have found things buried, covered, and hidden in basements, storage spaces and barns, the latter of which led to the creation of the TV show “What’s in the barn”.
In spite the darkness (often a photographer’s foe) the ambiance of the place was warming, and rust, debris, and seemingly haphazard manner in which stuff was placed, the museum takes on an aura of its own, almost like a massive sculpture that is spread over thousands of square feet and two stories.
A lot of the images I captured turned out less optimal than I would have preferred due to lighting, space, object location, and lens options, but after sitting and editing them I realize they are a true representation of the Wheels through Time experience.
If you’re planning a trip anywhere remotely close to Maggie Valley, take the time to go to the Wheels through Time museum. It’s an experience you won’t want to miss.

After an hour or so at the museum I fueled up and headed out for the last segment of the day, through the foothills of the Smokey Mountains to Maryville TN. Five minutes after heading out the rain and thunder started; this time I was smart enough to keep the rain gear on. And I mis-navigated once more, ending up in Wilton Springs, not anywhere I had planned to be.

The Foothills Parkway

After refueling and reviewing my location on a wall map at the gas station and having a chat with an old guy also on a fuel stop (who pointed out I’m not the only person who ends up here asking for directions because signage is poor) re-planned my route and headed for Gatlinburg.
The ride from Wilton Springs to Gatlinburg took me onto one of the finished sections of the Foothills Parkway, a really scenic drive with a canopy of tree branches overhead, and smooth twisting blacktop surrounded by forest.
Over the course of next three days I would ride other sections of the Foothills Parkway and if they ever finish it from one end to the other, it will be another to do ride for bikers coming to the area.


Rte 321 W junctions with Rte 441 S at the Eastern boundaries of Gatlinburg and after riding from one end of town to the other, I stopped at a garage to ask if there was a Motel 6 or Super 8 nearby. The hillbilly behind the register must have thought I was speaking in Korean because he just looked at his friend with a Huh? kind of look, so I repeated my question in a reformatted and much simpler manner and asked for the nearest cheap motel. Pretty much the same response except this time with what sounded like “I unt no”, so I thanked them for their kind hospitality and for being so helpful, turned Max around and drove 100 feet to the Days Inn and
checked in.
Days Inn Gatlinburg isn’t much different than many Days Inns I’ve been in, and it served its purpose well as a base of operations for the next couple of days.

Riding makes me hungry. And thirsty. Thankfully, Gatlinburg has everything a biker needs in as many flavours as your little heart desires, so after quenching my thirst while unloading Max and hanging my gear up to dry I headed on foot to see what there was to see in Gatlinburg and find myself a decent gluten free meal. And I found it at Howard’s steakhouse, but only after I stumbled across Sugarlands Distillery.

Sugarlands Distillery

When I made the plan for the trip I had hoped to find myself at a Moonshine distillery so I could legally sample some shine. I didn’t however think I would find it on the main street in the middle of downtown Gatlinburg and across the road from Ripley’s Believe it or Not.
Bordered on one side by the entrance to Gatlinburg’s most booming industry – paid parking lots and the Skylift on the other, Sugarlands is a moonshine distillery clothing and merchandise store in combination with hourly entertainment in the form of an hourly moonshine tasting event.
So when the young man standing behind the octagon bar asked who in the crowd wanted to sample some moonshine I volunteered, and over the next 45 minutes or so, he proceeded to tell the crowd about each one of the NINE different types of moonshine Sugarlands had to offer, and proceeded to pour each of us a 1/3 shot of each that we all tossed back as a group after his story of its medicinal benefits and uses in recipes from all meals including breakfast pancakes and as a bacon marinade to an after dessert aperitif.
It was a ton of fun and highly entertaining, however it is apparent from the feeling of my head the next day, Moonshine gives me a headache. One that lasts all damn day.

Howard’s Steaks

During my three nights in Galtlinburg I ate all three suppers at Howard’s Steaks. The ribs were fantastic, the rum was delicious, and the tales from the staff about life in Tennessee, the major heroin and meth problems of the region, employees who just walk out before their shift is over, and others who come back to give a hand in the aftermath despite having plans made the Howard’s experience worth repeating. The steaks are great and the ribs are fantastic. The prices were reasonable unlike some of the other menus I read along the street.

I slept well that night knowing the next day I’d be slaying the Dragon, weather permitting.

May trip leg One - Halifax to Charlotte NC

In May this year I did a fifteen day road trip from Halifax NS to Gatlinburg TN and back, over 3950 miles on a Harley Davidson 1200 Sportster. Here is Leg one of the journey.

Yes, a Sportster. Her name is Max.
She has a detachable windshield and backrest, crash bar with highway pegs, a set of stacking backrest bags, leather saddlebags, a touring saddle with a detachable gel cushion, a backpack, and a pillow. Once she’s all loaded Max is a formidable touring partner. She’s a little light for the highway on windy days, but fun as hell the rest of the time.

As is typical for all my road trips to the US, the first two days are spent getting from home through New England, and also as is usual it rained like hell from Fredericton to Calais which completely threw havoc into my travelling plans as I had intended to ride another two hours to Bangor.

As everyone knows who has gone on a multi-day adventure on two wheels, not making it to your established destination can have an major effect on your trip and your plans for subsequent days, which in my case it meant not getting to places I had planned to be and getting stuck paying for accommodations you can’t get a refund for. Damn Expedia deals. Instead of plodding on to Bangor in the rain and nearing dusk I checked into the Calais Motor Inn and started my dismantling routine.
My camera gear is strategically placed in the top section of the stacking bag set which gives me easy access to it when I stop, and enabling me to take it off first when I arrive wherever it is I land. The windshield comes off next, followed by my backpack and pillow, then the bottom part of the stacking section which I have learned to leave still attached to the backrest and take off as one unit.
The saddle bags mount under the seat, so all it takes is to remove the seat screw and pull them out. It’s about a 20 minute process depending on the distance from my room to the bike and the ability to use a luggage mover. 
The Calais Motor Inn is not a bad place and the bar has decent food, especially their gluten free pizza which was a total surprise and well deserved treat after riding in shit weather all day. And they have a decent enough dark rum.

Day two was spent in not much better weather, but the scenery was better along the midcoast of Maine. Along the way I met and old guy in Kittery who proudly told me of his 90,000 miles on his Goldwing, and how he has since traded it in for a scooter.
I've said it before and I know I’ll say it again; a Harley will attract virtually everyone from little kids to old men. And the stories the latter will tell.

I’m not a fan of a GPS and consider it just one more distraction to process while navigating so I go old school and plan ahead. Day three made me reconsider my opinion temporarily because between construction detours, traffic, and impending darkness I mis-navigated after a fuel stop and ended up off track, spending the night in East Milford NJ and double paying for another motel.

The weather cleared overnight and Day 4 took me to Richmond Va., starting on I 95 as far as Wilmington and onto US 301. That route took me across the northern third of Delaware and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and down the centre of Maryland.
US 301 crosses the Potomoc River via the Harry W Nice Bridge, and the ride continued not to disappoint, ending just after supper in the Red Roof Inn in Richmond.

The redneck in me started to buzz the next morning as I headed out towards Charlotte, knowing that night was the Nascar truck race and All Star Race qualifying. The buzz was short lived and replaced by another when I saw the sign for Colonial Harley Davidson in Prince George, so I took the exit, asked for directions, and landed in the parking lot a little after 1000.

As soon as I walked in the door I said “Holy Shit”: Colonial HD has by far the most loaded showroom I have ever seen, bar none. Somewhere around fifty bikes all lined up by class, Sportsters, Dynas, Softtails, Baggers, row after row, tire after tire; it was a lot to take in. My heart was going pitterpat in a good way.

Colonial HD is also home to some of the nicest folks I’ve ever met in HD land. I no sooner had got my breath back when I was met by Mike, who after finding out where I was from, what I was doing, and where I was heading pointed me in the direction of the newly arrived limited edition Wounded Warrior T-shirt’s and helmet stickers to support veterans living with PTSD.
The t-shirt is by far the most comfortable of all my Harley T-shirts and the sticker has its pride of place on my helmet
He also told me about the Wheels through Time museum in Maggie Valley NC, told me what it was about and we agreed, I needed to stop. More to come.

As always I ask for permission to take a few shots and hand over my business card and after getting the go ahead took a couple of dozen shots inside and out.
As I was packing up my gear a guy walks up and introduces himself as Jim. Turns out he’s the owner, and we start chatting about where I’m from (coincidentally not far from where his wife grew up) and where I was headed, how long he’s owned the dealership, and where he has yet to ride in North America. It’s a short list.
If you want to be treated like family, stop in at Colonial HD. It was one of the first (and in my top ten) highlights of a very highlight filled trip.

The rest of the day was spent cruising through the Va. Countryside, down Rte 15 to Danville where I met Michelle on her 76 Electraglide (1200 panhead).
She was heading for an antique bike show and shine / swap meet and apparently drinking beer from a can in a Koozie, which I didn’t realize until she came out of the store with a box of cans of Busch beer, put them in her cooler box on the back of the bike, and replaced the one that was in her Koozie with a fresh one, placed it in her handlebar holder and rode off.

The rest of the trip was uneventful highway driving in mid-nineties heat and I pulled into the Microtel Inn and Suites in Kannapolis late in the afternoon.

After I unloaded the bike I headed over to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Qualifying race and the Nascar truck race.

I spent the most of the next day just lazing around and went to the All Star Race that afternoon. If you've ever experienced a Nascar race live, you know it's the experience you go for, not the race.
Little Big Town played a concert in the infield, Kid Rock heard I was in town and came to say Hi, there were rednecks galore, a ton of fun was had, and Denny Hamlin won the race

Knowing what I know now I’d have rented a car because I ended up having to sit in traffic and ride for over an hour in the dark, which I hate doing even when I know where I’m at.
When I finally made it back I ordered a gluten free pizza from Domino’s, which served as a great late night snack and a decent breakfast as well. After I picked the olives off.

Sunday was a rest day and I basically just hung around the hotel chatting with people who were there for the race, drank some rum, and watched a little TV. Leg two of my trip would start in the morning.