I Just Need a Moment of Your Time

This will be a quick post, little more than a mouthful. I just wanted to bring this YouTube video to your attention. It’s the preview about Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold’s recent traverse of the Fitz Roy range in Patagonia.

I’m a big fan of everything about this, and I really enjoyed the trailer. You should spend the roughly 7.5 minutes to enjoy this too.

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Urban Hiking Through History

IMG_4990Richmond is one of those cities where you trip over history.  So much has happened here throughout the history of this country.  As an example; six blocks from our house is a city park called Chimborazo.  The park is on the site of the largest hospital for injured soldiers run by the Confederacy during the Civil War.  On the north-west corner of the park is a historical marker which states that an important battle of the French and Indian war occurred less than a quarter-mile away.  Eight blocks to the west is St. John’s Church, where Patrick Henry gave his famous “Give me Liberty, or Give me Death!” speech.  And directly across the street from the church is another historical marker, which explains that the entire city of Richmond was burned during the War of 1812 by the British.  It’s dizzying.

I have the day off today, and because we’re currently pretty close to broke (it’s the week between paydays, and we’ve just paid all our bills) we decided to find a low-cost (read: free) option for family recreation.  We decided to walk part of the Richmond Slave Trail.

Since I began this post by talking about history, I should probably give some more background.  Richmond was a major slave market during the days of slavery.  Slaves were brought from Africa in ships, and (until 1778, when Virginia banned importation of Africans) were unloaded just down the river from Richmond at Ancarrows Landing.  Even after Virginia no longer allowed importation of slaves, Richmond remained a major center for the exportation of slaves to other points around the US.  Slaves which arrived at Ancarrows Landing were then marched up the river to Richmond, where they were sold at auction.

The Richmond Slave Trail retraces the trail traveled by slaves, and through interpretive markers, educates hikers about the history and horrors of the slave trade.  It’s part memorial, part history education.  I wasn’t able to find an official trail website, but the Richmond regional tourism website has a lot of great information about it here.

Eli is a great hiker, but tends to get tired after a fairly short distance.  Ezra would be riding in a stroller.  We decided that doing the entire trail was probably not a good option, so we opted to do the section of the trail on the south bank of the river.  We parked at a parking lot next to Diversity Park (Hull St. and South 3rd St., if you’re interested), loaded Ezra, a diaper bag, and several Nalgene’s of water into the stroller, and began walking.  The view from the observation platform at Diversity Park is incredible.

It's hard to do the view justice...

It’s hard to do the view justice…

Two of my favorite hiking buddies!

Two of my favorite hiking buddies!

Overlooking Mayo’s Bridge, all of the James and the business district of Richmond is in front of you.  Mayo’s Bridge is another one of those hidden historical gems; its one of the oldest bridges in Richmond.  As Union forces closed in, the Confederate Army torched the city, then retreated to Appomattox (and surrender) across the bridge.  The trail then circles underneath the bridge, and sets off east down the river bank, hugging the floodwall.

Mayo's Bridge...probably not how it looked during the Civil War.

Mayo’s Bridge…probably not how it looked during the Civil War.

He's a big helper, and loves his little brother.

He’s a big helper, and loves his little brother.

After a casual stroll along the floodwall, we walked under the I-95 bridge.  This is Eli’s favorite bridge; he calls it the “AHHHH Bridge,” because he likes the high-pitched whining sound the car’s tires make as they roll over the corrugated cement.  We transitioned from a paved/gravelled side-walk like path to a mulched trail which wound through the trees beside the river.  The trail was ideal for trail running, strolling, or mountain biking.  Pushing a stroller?  Not quite so easy.  Very doable, but not ideal.  The stroller was just a bit wide, so we ended rolling half in the undergrowth on either side of the trail.  Still, we enjoyed the fantastic views of the Tobacco Row area, Church Hill, Chimborazo, and Great Shiplock Park across the river.

Slave Docks trailhead, directly under the I-95 bridge.

Slave Docks trailhead, directly under the I-95 bridge.

Eli the Explorer leads the way!

Eli the Explorer leads the way!

Tobacco Row, the Lucky Strike Building, Church Hill, and the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument.

Tobacco Row, the Lucky Strike Building, Church Hill, and the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument.

After about 30 minutes of walking, we arrived at Ancarrows Landing.  It’s now a Richmond city park, with benches, fishing tables, and trash cans lining the riverbank.  Someone had also attached a rope swing to a large tree which overhangs the river.  There is a large parking area there, so it appears possible to drive your car in for the day.  The biggest thing that struck me about the park was how badly cared for it was.  There was trash everywhere.  Many of the trash cans were overflowing, and spilling out onto the ground.  Its pretty clear that not much thought is given to maintaining the park, which is unfortunate.  After a few minutes of poking around and exploring while Mel fed Ezra, we began the walk back to the car.

We had a great time, and if you enjoy being outside while learning some history I’d highly recommend you take a day (or a half-day) and do all or part of this trail.  The grade is easy and mostly flat.  It’s about 1.3 miles from the parking lot on Hull St. to Ancarrows, and the trail is well-maintained and good for those who are not hardcore hikers.  A word of advice; if you do this trail, there is a huge amount of poison ivy.  Either learn how to identify it (here’s a resource for you), or commit to not touching anything leafy and green.  Either way, go home and take a cool shower immediately.

Welcome to the world, Ezra!

baby_cartoon_st8Just over three years ago, I introduced you to my firstborn.  Elijah has since grown into an active, inquisitive three year old.  I also wrote that we were expecting our second this past December.  I was busier this time, and so wasn’t able to blog about the run up quite as much as with Eli.

Two weeks ago, Ezra Matthew Zook was born at 1:34PM, weighing in at 6 lbs 13 oz, and 19 inches long.  Labor proceeded very quickly this time.  Melissa is doing great, and Ezra has quickly made a place for himself in our home.  Eli was initially a bit unsure of how to react.  Since then, he’s become very protective of his little brother, and loves him dearly.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll stop writing and let you see the what you’re actually here for!

Brand new!

Brand new!

Brothers, meeting for the first time!

Brothers, meeting for the first time!

These PJ's are just a bit big...

These PJ’s are just a bit big…

Ready to head home.

Ready to head home.

"I'm talking to the baby..."

“I’m talking to the baby…”

They say he looks like me.

They say he looks like me.

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We took him to the river for the first time yesterday; he showed us the true meaning of "relaxed."

We took him to the river for the first time yesterday; he showed us the true meaning of “relaxed.”

Just two brothers, hanging out.

Just two brothers, hanging out.

More to come soon!  We went to a new swimming spot yesterday, and I have some photos to share of that too!

On the Cyclic Nature of Existance

The title is a fancy way of saying “its funny how life goes in circles…”

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Would you let this guy take care of you?

Would you let this guy take care of you?

Three years ago, I started this blog and wrote many posts from the Ski Patrol Aid Room at Massantten.  That’s me, three years ago at about this same time of year, happy in my radio harness, with my trauma shears and radio.  I waxed eloquently about how happy I was to “work a job where I got to choose what clothing I wore based on the weather report,” and also wrote with anticipation of the arrival of a child(who bore the pseudonym of Bean at that point).  I also wrote with excitement about my first set of skis.

Of course, if you’ve followed me you know that Bean turned out to be an Eli, and that the winter in the Aid Room gave way to a move to Richmond, where I traded my skis for an ambulance, and my OEC certification for EMT/Paramedic Student.  Recently I’ve been fairly quiet about everything.  I just haven’t had time to write!  Work life has been crazy; personal life has also been mostly crazy!

For those of you who were following my exploits as a paramedic student, you may be excited to know that as I write this, my certification cards list me as a full state and national registered Paramedic.  I made the grade!  Last monday, I began the final leg of my journey towards becoming a full Richmond Paramedic by starting my preception time, in which my ability as a medic will be evaluated.  After 22 shifts (which should be sometime mid-January), I should be released.

Back in the radio harness, a few years older with a few more pounds (I'm working on it).

Back in the radio harness, a few years older with a few more pounds (I’m working on it).

The title, however, refers to where I’m currently writing this post, and some other developments in my life.  I’m writing, once again, from the Ski Patrol Aid Room at the Massanutten ski slopes.  I again have the old, familiar radio harness attached to my chest and my trusty hiking boots on my feet, and I’m once again caring for those who have found themselves (unfortunately) at the crossroads where gravity, speed, and low-friction surfaces meet.  My skis are leaning against the wall waiting for the end of my shift, when I’ll go out for a turn or two and see if my somewhat older body remembers how to ski (I’ll start slow, I promise).

I’m able to do this because with the paramedic certification came a raise, which allows me to commute to the valley once or twice a week and spend a day among the mountains I love, with people who feel similarly.  I’m not able to be here as often as I’d like, but that’s the price we pay for financial security, medical insurance, a decent car, and the ability to travel a bit.  We’re still living in Richmond, but one improvement at a time.

baby_cartoon_st8The other deja vu has nothing to do with the ski patrol, or with EMS/outdoor medicine whatsoever; those that are friends on Facebook will already know this.  We are once again expecting!  Baby #2 has been given the pseudonym “Noodle,” because once again we are not going to find out whether we are having a boy or a girl.  Noodle will be joining use around June 25, 2015.  So once again, the baby picture icon will be making an appearance on my blog.

We are, of course, a week away from Christmas, and just over two weeks from a new year.  So, if I’m not able to blog between now and then, may you and yours have a beautiful December, a wonderful Christmas, and a New Year filled with adventure!

A Philosophy of Exploration

River hiking in the middle of the city.

River hiking in the middle of the city.

From where I was stood, balanced on top of a huge pile of dead trees stretching 200 meters down the front of an old damn, I could see no good way forward.  Eli rested his hands on top of my head, and solemnly surveyed the scene from his perch on my shoulders.  We were searching for a new swimming hole, and had spent the past half hour thrashing through weeds, unsuccessfully attempting to avoid the poison ivy lurking in the underbrush, climbing over boulders, and balancing on logs.  We found an old damn which funneled water into a disused/crumbling hydroelectric plant; the original thought was that if we walked out this damn towards the middle of the river, we might find a good spot in front of the damn where the water backed up.  The massive log jam in front of us, the product of decades of floods and storms, proved my intuition was wrong.

It was at that moment that I realized that the word “explore” really just means “to make lots of mistakes.”

I said as much to Eli, who really just wanted to swim.  He informed me we were “esplorering,” so I took that as his blessing to continue.  We backtracked (back down the damn, over the huge logs), then crossed from the damn to an island on a fallen tree.  A short walk and a short wade later, we found a beautiful, isolated gravel bar next to a section of river that was the perfect depth with a sandy bottom, and enough movement in the water to keep it fresh and not stagnant.  We splashed and swam until it was time to head home for dinner.  Eli fell asleep on the way home, which is as good a measure of an expedition’s success as any.

Walking through the old hydroelectric plant, starting the search for a swimming spot.

Walking through the old hydroelectric plant, starting the search for a swimming spot.

Mel and Eli discover a toad!

Mel and Eli discover a toad!

The whole experience caused me to reflect a bit on exploration.  I was only half serious when I said exploration really just means making lots of mistakes, and yet at the same time making mistakes is a huge part of exploration.

In order to make my musings more formal, I looked up the actual meaning of explore in the dictionary.  This is what I found:

EXPLORE:   A transitive verb.

1)  To investigate, study, or analyze.

2)  To become familiar with by testing or experimenting.

3)  To travel over (new territory) for adventure or discovery.

4)  To examine, especially for diagnostic purposes.

-Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Definition #3 is a no-brainer, especially for the purposes of this blog.  But I think I like #2 best; in a nutshell, its exactly what we were doing last night.  We figured there would be a good waterhole somewhere in the area we were exploring, and set off to test our hypothesis.

Failure and mistakes are inherent to the process of exploration.  As famously pointed out by The Princess Bride, “Anyone who says differently is selling something.”  Look at Ernest Shackleton, my favorite explorer.  He lost his ship to the ice, and his crew had to survive on whatever they could until rescued.  Hardly auspicious, yet we view Shackleton as a successful explorer.  Why?  Because of how he responded.

Since making mistakes is an inherent part of exploration, fearing those mistakes shouldn’t hold you back.  Instead, the best explorers focus on responding to mistakes and challenges in positive and well-considered ways.  Back to Shackleton.  After he lost his ship, he undertook a daring voyage in an open boat to an isolated whaling village to get help for his men.  He ended up rescuing all of them.

We’re not all Shackleton, or J. Michael Fay, or David Livingstone, or Ed Viesters.  But we can explore nonetheless.

Because explore is just a big word that means to make lots of mistakes.

And as you explore, don't forget to play in the dirt.  That's important too.

And as you explore, don’t forget to play in the dirt. That’s important too.

 

Paramedic School is Over!

Rawley Springs, taken during a recent visit to Harrisonburg

Rawley Springs, taken during a recent visit to Harrisonburg

Well, I took another of those blogger breaks, which I’m ashamed to admit have been fairly frequent in the past year.  However, my posts should pick up again now.

Paramedic school is over!

We finished the classroom portion of the class on July 28th.  I finished my last field ride (working as a paramedic student in an ambulance, with actual patients) on August 3rd.  I took the psycho-motor exam (which is fancy talk for an exam testing how well I can do the practical skills of paramedicine, like intubate, start IV’s, calculate drug dosages, manage an emergency scene, perform patient assessment, etc. etc.) on August 9th, almost a year exactly from when I started the program.

My goal.  So close!

My goal. So close!

At this point, the only thing standing between me and certification as a paramedic is the written exam, which I will schedule sometime in the next two weeks.  I have four attempts to pass a long, multiple-choice exam.  Of course, I hope to knock it out on the first shot!  I’ve been enjoying having some additional time off now.  It’s a bit of a shock to go from working long stretches of time without a break, to having regularly scheduled days off.

To celebrate, we took a quick trip to Northern VA and Washington DC.  The primary reason was that our friends Chris and Kelly had invited us to a Nickel Creek concert.  They were fantastic!  One of the only bands I’ve ever been to that sounds as good in concert as they do on recordings.  Eli also enjoyed the concert, spending a great amount of time dancing and yelling “Nickel Creek!  Nickel Creek!” (he’s a big fan).

We also visited the Air and Space Museum and the National Zoo, which were big hits with Eli.

We went to a local baseball game recently.

We went to a local baseball game recently.

Eli was more interested in climbing the stairs to the very top row of the stadium than watching the game.  Future climber.

Eli was more interested in climbing the stairs to the very top row of the stadium than watching the game. Future climber.

We managed a family selfie too.

We managed a family selfie too.

Eli loved the airplanes.  Everytime he saw an airplane fly overhead, he would announce "That's my airplane!"  Apparently he owns United Airlines...

Eli loved the airplanes. Everytime he saw an airplane fly overhead, he would announce “That’s my airplane!” Apparently he owns United Airlines…

Tyrannosaur child!

Tyrannosaur child!

The giant Amazonian fish were also a big hit.

The giant Amazonian fish were also a big hit.

Now that paramedic school is over, I hope to begin to repair some of the physical damage the past year has caused.  I had hoped that I would be able to exercise regularly, but it became apparent about a third of the way through that many times there would just not be enough hours in the day.  I also had to choose food based on the “How quickly can it be ready, and can I eat it in the time period before I get my next call?” scale.  I also became addicted to Red Bull.  Yes, I know its terrible for me, but when you have to be alert, but don’t have enough time to get adequate sleep, you have to make sacrifices.  I’m not proud of it, but I did what I had to at the time.  I know I’ve gained some weight (truth be told I’m a bit afraid to step on the scale right now–I will be forcing myself to face reality later tonight).

Now that life has slowed down, I plan to start making healthier choices, and to start exercising again.  I also hope to start doing the things that help me relax. I miss cooking and trying new recipes, visiting historic sites, and yes, hiking and rock climbing.

So, hopefully more updates and mountain-based musing soon!

Hope to see you soon, Seneca!

Hope to see you soon, Seneca!

It’s Summertime!

Rock cairns at the James River.

Rock cairns at the James River.

We went to the farmer’s market yesterday; as we walked in, we were handed cards by two happy looking individuals, who informed us that there would be a solstice party at a local vinyard.  We thanked them, pocketed the cards, and continued on our way.

It was only at that point that I realized it was the first day of summer.

I’ve had this entire weekend off, and its been like coming up for air after swimming underwater across a swimming pool.  Its wonderful, you can’t believe how long it’s been since you last took a breath, and you find yourself a bit disoriented.  I’ve had my head down in paramedic school, and did the math recently; I discovered that I had only had four days off between March 21 and June 16.

I’m so close; I just completed my final hospital shift, and I’ve been approved to begin my field rides.  It will be another month-long push without any days off until the second week of August, but I’ll be set to test on August 9.  After that, just the written exam will hopefully remain between me and being certified as a paramedic.

In other news, Eli started his education in the art and science of rock climbing today.  I was attempting to put marking tape on some new equipment–a set of #4, #6, and #7 Black Diamond hexes–and he insisted on going through my equipment.  So, I talked to him about stoppers, and carabineers, and one inch tubular webbing.  I’m not sure how much he caught, but he enjoyed it.  I used to do the same thing with my dad’s equipment when I was little.

So shiny...

So shiny…

We’ve been going to the river a lot, and exploring the wonder of moving water.  We continue to explore the urban green spots in Richmond.  On a recent hike, Eli learned about crossing creeks on rocks, and also modeled by Wild GUYde hat.  We also recently discovered a (new to us) swimming spot.

Future Wild GUYde.

Future Wild GUYde.

Rock hopping is fun!

Rock hopping is fun!

I found a nice spot at the edge of a small rapid; I was able to brace my feet and sit nicely, with a nice eddy to my left and the flume running over my right shoulder.  Eli had a great time body surfing in the flume, as I kept a firm grip on him (of course…).  I found out later that we were apparently making onlookers nervous; a woman approached me later and said “We wanted to let you know that if anything happened, and you lost your grip on him, we were all going to jump in, and I know pediatric CPR!”  I thanked her for her willingness to help, but assured her that as a former river/climbing guide/lifeguard/current EMT/Paramedic student, I had it covered.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated her concern…I just believed it to be a bit misplaced.  Good thing she won’t be there to see when Eli actually starts rock climbing with us.

Body surfing!

Body surfing!

 

He loved it.  Huge smiles and lots of giggling.

He loved it. Huge smiles and lots of giggling.