Four Months Down – Two Weeks To Go

Cape Lookout National Seashore - Clinton Begley

Sunset at Cape Lookout National Seashore - Photo By Clinton Begley

 

Fist-fulls of change, hard-boiled egg shells and google maps printouts comprise the majority of the refuse littering the floor of my car.  As anyone who has ever ridden with me knows, entry to my car usually involves a brief waiting period pending consolidation of items strewn throughout the backseat. Today, a climbing harness, grocery sacks of damp clothes, some ratchet straps and several spindles of CD’s would be the main barrier of entry.

The unseasonably tolerable Sunday summer air in my Georgia  neighborhood echoes with the sounds of familiar Illinois voices as Kentucky Knife Fight pumps from the speakers in my four ajar doors.  My thoughts turn to their and other voices from home while I categorize, compartmentalize and cast away some of my car’s contents in preparation for the next cargo laden exodus to a new region of the country.

I never really unpacked to begin with. Boxes half full and ransacked litter the floor of what has been my home for the last four months. Duffle bags of clothes unworn sit upon closet shelves and books unread grow flatter daily under their own weight… still packed and stacked in plastic bins that will leave tell-tale rings like crop circles in the carpet on my bedroom floor.

Soon these crates and bins will find themselves thousands of miles northwest. Though perhaps this time the cold Montana winters will afford me the time to explore their contents more fully.

My summer has been spectacular. I’ve been busy as all get out, but I’ve managed to run many of the great classic rivers of the Southeast in all manner of watercraft. I’ve piloted rafts, canoes and kayaks down many rapids, and even swam a few.

Clinton Begley Guiding Second Ledge on Chattooga River's Section 3

In solitude I hiked and explored a classic North Georgian wilderness area where a prison escapee once lived for 6 years undetected, and discussed the finer points of assessing the potency of backwoods Tennessee hooch with a Cocke county resident in the moonshine capital of the world.
I planned a trip to Yosemite National Park and helped to guide eight participants as the first team to explore  its southern high-country this year. Replete with blizzards, icy river crossings and all manner of backcountry techniques it was the very definition of an adventure.  I led a group of six participants on an ocean journey off the cost of North Carolina in waters once pirated by Blackbeard. Each morning we awoke to living vestiges of his pillaging as wild horses, descendants of those that swam ashore in the wake of his destruction of merchant ships, grazed near our tents.

My experiences in the office at Georgia State have been just as nurturing as my experiences in the field. I’ve assisted in various projects from polishing off an $80,000.00 bouldering cave project with new hold selections and surveillance, to hand picking nearly 50 tents to replace the current rental inventory. I’ve created some new avenues for marketing and exposure for the program, and even taught a backpacking skills clinic.

I often post photos, blogs, or comments online about my various activities, trips and projects. Yet these are not boasts or bragadocious self-congratulatory exhibitions of my endeavors. They are thank yous, and gestures of appreciation to all those who have been so instrumental in bringing these experiences within my reach.

Throughout this summer internship, each and every day, my thoughts have turned several times a day to all those who have encouraged, contributed and sacrificed to make this happen. So many people in my life have done so much to get me here. From the encouragement and assistance of my family, to the kind and inspirational words and lives of my friends I would not be here if it were not for a veritable team of people in my life. Certainly I would not have had this opportunity were it not for my great friend Carson and his excellent administration of this program along side his generosity in allowing me to stay in his home. Similarly, I look forward to sharing a house with Matt in Missoula in just a few short weeks when I take him up on his hospitable offer to be a housemate.

Things will get harder after this summer. For the first time in 11 years I will be without a job. I’ll be focusing upon school, and on further realizing this dream that until recently was only visible in my mind’s eye. Yet, I am more confident than ever that I am on the right path.  It’s a confidence that is a luxury granted by the unwavering support of friends and family hand-in-hand with my  acknowledgment that the opportunities that have been laid before me, and the people whose paths have crossed mine are not accidental, nor are they earned. They are gifts; and I take none of them for granted.


The Horn of Atlanta

Flag of Eritrea

It’s a lot easier to focus on writing when no one around me is speaking English. Well, no one except Neil Cavuto.

I have no idea why the Eritrean proprietor of “Atlanta’s Best Coffee” insists upon using the “Deafen” setting on the television in his shop, but since his channel of choice is Fox News, I always find myself disappointed that the maximal setting just  isn’t quite enough to actually rupture my eardrums for good. I suppose I can’t complain too much though; the jabbering of prime time political punditry typically floats to the surface of audibility only in the lulls between chatter and greetings between the Eritrean patrons. It almost seems as though everyone who enters is arriving to a party in their honor after a long absence. Hugs, cheek to cheek kisses and megawatt smiles are traded around while no palm is left untouched. Well, no palm except for mine anyway. I’m becoming a regular though and the old man who owns the place is starting to pick up on what I order when I come in. Decaf soy cappuccino. A man’s drink.

In all the times I’ve been there, the only English that is ever spoken is to me… both from the man, and his television. There is something refreshing in this. Perhaps it’s just a bit of novelty from having enjoyed an essentially mono-cultural existence in Quincy for so long. But I feel like that is okay.

Atlanta’s Best Coffee is far from being convenient. It’s neither on my way to work, nor on my way home and there are much closer, and trendier places near each. But a 20 minute drive is a small price to pay to feel worlds away from anything familiar.

I first discovered it on one of my many meandering drives in an attempt to familiarize myself with the painfully conceived road system around Atlanta. The free wi-fi and the promise of a cure for my sweet tooth lured me in. But I return not for the coffee, and not really for the free wi-fi either. To be honest, I’m not really certain why this particular place has become my go-to for a hot beverage and bandwidth. But I suspect that somewhere in between the appeal of being immersed in a different culture in À la carte doses, and  having a place to focus  without the temptations of inadvertent eve’s dropping, I have garnered a sort of pride in the discovery that keeps me coming back. In the midst of becoming familiar with a new city, and new people giving suggestions and tips and directions on where to find their favorite everything, I have discovered a place of my own to prefer.  While I appreciate them, recommendations often negate the serendipity of exploration that I love so much. So even if what I discover pales in comparison to that which is recommended, at least the discovery is my own to cherish and stubbornly enjoy.

So I’ll keep going back to Atlanta’s Best Coffee as often as I can. Yet I won’t be aiming to gain admittance to the hugs and handshake club. I am perfectly content to enjoy the atmosphere and the positivity that they generate, but I may not have a choice in the matter. One day last week, as I was leaving the shop I received an invitation to attend an Eritrean Independence day celebration to commemorate 20 years of Eritrea’s freedom from Ethiopia. Food, and a live DJ were promised along with a prominent keynote speaker. I’m just crossing my fingers it’s not Neil Cavuto.


“I do believe it’s a Chrysler.”

A two thwart raft weighs over one hundred pounds. I found that out a day earlier while loading five of them onto a trailer at the Georgia State University garage. I’d been there five minutes and had already met two of my new co-workers, loaded the trailer (improperly) and pissed off a parking attendant. I’d later find out that the skirmish was just another battle in the ongoing war between my department and theirs. It’s best to let them know I mean business early on I suspect.

Stock Photo of Nantahala National Forest Sign

As we unpacked the rafts (properly) the next day and learned to inflate them beside Nantahala lake in West-Central North Carolina, a bass boat pulled up to the dock . A middle aged man in cutoff blue-jean shorts sporting yellowed white velcro sneakers, a ten-thirty shadow and a handlebar mustache hopped ashore with bow-line in hand and tied his vessel to the dock. As we continued our work preparing the rafts for some flatwater training exercises, the man fired up his pickup and backed the trailer into the lake to unlaunch his craft. A few minutes later, when our paths crossed his as he finished winching the boat the last few inches onto the trailer, I asked him how the fish had been biting. Instead of answering, he turned to point into the water just a few yards out from the bank.

“Theys a car in ‘da water.” He drawls… index finger extended fully toward a dark shape in the water.

I and a few others strained our eyes to peer through the glare and ripples on the water’s surface. Soon we were pointing too as the taillights come into view and the dark shape comes into focus.

“We cawled nine-wun-wun and tode em bout it this moanin.” he continues.

“I do believe it’s a Chrysler.”

A trail of lake water and dust was following him out of the gravel parking lot by the time the absurdity of this last phrase sunk in. Chains, webbing and logic became clearer as we stared into the clear but rippled Appalachian water and we soon realized the vehicle was part of some dive training exercise. Even so, the poignant words of our piedmont poet were not diminished as the phrase has now entered the lexicons of those present to hear them.


Fleur de sel

Clues were scarce.
As I scanned through the hundreds of pictures and videos with the tiny left-right arrows, there were only a few hints at who the camera’s owner might be. The face at the end of an outstretched arm, framing itself from a distance was that of a young sandy haired man. The first few photos appeared to be of a military academy graduation, but my knowledge of the armed services did not equip me with the ability to identify the branch. The last few photos, hauntingly,  showed the beach along the great Salt Lake where I’d found it. Snapped just moments before I’d arrived there with my friends Matt and Mark to test whether the rumors of supreme buoyancy were true, those pictures chronicled a similar experiment shared between people I suspected would always be strangers to me.

The Great Salt Lake Sunset

Matt and Mark on The Great Salt Lake at Sunset- Photo By Clinton Begley

It was day thirteen going on fourteen of a vacation across the American west on July 31st, 2009 and I was due to fly thirteen-hundred miles back to the Midwest the following day. A week earlier, while descending 3200 feet from Stony Indian pass in Glacier National Park my own point-and-shoot camera had slipped from my hands and exploded like a soda can full of glitter upon a slab of granite at my feet.

Granite :1 | Camera: 0

Though I felt blessed holding it’s cosmically bequeathed replacement in my hands, I couldn’t help but sympathize with the unknown smiles captured in each photo I flipped through on it’s tiny screen.

It was obvious that what I held in my hands was a chronicle of a summer of celebration. Over 200 pictures and videos of travels beginning with a graduation. Family trips. Exploration. Memories.

My search for the camera’s owner started logically and simply. A call to the Antelope Island headquarters yielded no reports of a lost camera. Once I returned home, I reviewed the catalog of pictures on my computer and meticulously poured over the images looking for clues. No license plates, no diploma pictures. There was a brief moment of hope when I spotted a last name on the front of some BDU’s worn by what appeared to be the owner’s father. But without a first name, there was no way to know for sure. I googled phrases like ” lost my camera at the great salt+lake” and “lost camera at antelope+island”  I signed up on a couple of lost camera websites and shared salient points about the details of the camera’s discovery in hopes that the owner would go-a-googling too. Although a year and a half passed without a clue surfacing, I’d stubbornly resolved to some-day find the owner. Over the past few months, as I’ve prepared to embark on another journey, the camera resurfaced amongst my belongings. At last, begrudgingly, I resigned myself to put it to use.

A quick visit to ebay yielded a new battery and charger for slightly more than the cost of postage. Upon the arrival of my new accessories, I decided to browse the photos one last time before deleting them forever and claiming the camera as my own with which to capture my own archive of travels. In this last viewing, something new caught my eye. A box, mostly out of frame, upon a table at what looked to be a graduation dinner.

My fingers moved fast: Right Click>Open With> Photoshop CS3

As the pixelated image of the box at the table’s edge filled the screen, I realized I was within reach of finding the camera’s owner. It was a Josten’s box. Probably containing a class ring, or graduation announcement or other such milestone marking memorabilia, the box was exactly the clue I’d been looking for to link all the pieces together. Visible barely within frame was part of a shipping label, the most important parts: Last name. Zip code.
It was enough to deduce the graduating academy.

Within moments I was on the phone speaking consecutively with several employees of Josten’s customer service department as I was put on hold and transferred up the chain of command after each before them had been regaled with a story of my attempt to reunite a 2009 Colorado Springs Air Force Academy graduate with his camera, and how I’d come to posses it. Less than 45 minutes after an abridged account of the whole saga had been left on customer service manager “Dawn’s” voice mail, I received a phone call from an incredulous and appreciative guy now living in Logan, Utah.

Salt Lake Horizon Photo By Clinton Begley

As Above So Below on The Great Salt Lake - Photo By Clinton Begley

I just returned home from the post office a few moments ago, shipping receipt in hand. It would be easy for me to concede that this receipt is all I have to show for my hours of playing Horatio Caine and the year of self restraint that kept me from deleting the pictures outright and hawking the camera on ebay. But in truth, I’ve been given an opportunity to appreciate a perspective wholly unique to the clockwork of the universe.

Dozens of times throughout my life I’ve received the metaphorical phone call from a Josten’s employee informing me that someone found my camera and wanted to return it. I’ve always passively accepted the gifts and blessings handed to me without much understanding of the intricacies and details that needed to exist in order for that final connection to be made. I’ve always trusted that what had fallen into my lap had done so for a reason, and I’ve accepted it without questioning the myriad factors required to get it there. What strikes me now is that over the year or so of periodically holding out hope that I’d find the camera’s owner, I never once felt like I was on a mission to execute some higher purpose.  After-all, it’s just a camera… not a kidney.

Truth be told, my motives were mostly selfish. I enjoyed the puzzle of it… the mystery to be solved. Yet in the end, something wholly implausible yet altogether positive resulted for a guy in Utah who had but to answer the phone and recieve. Not to wrap this whole thing up into a cute and quotable bundle, but it really makes me pause to consider what blessings each of us are blindly and unflatteringly executing everyday by indulging what motivates us in the ways we were created to be.


Archeological Dig Underway in Local Residence

So my house is currently a disaster.

Boxes and piles litter the floor of almost every room as I sift through the rubble of my life to find the gems worth salvaging.

One such recovered gem has been a box of CD’s by local bands that have played in Quincy over the last fifteen years or so.

I instantly realized what needed to be done. I’ll start a blog!

A quick trip to Godaddy followed by one to WordPress is all it took to get rolling. Now, if you visit mydeadband.com you can download .ZIP files of the CD’s I’ve found and preserve them in your own digital crap-box for all eternity. Or at least until a massive solar flare emits a massive EMP that erases all trace of our humanity from the electronic record.

mydeadband.com

mydeadband.com screenshot

Each download is accompanied by any applicable photos and recollections I may have. Others will better memories than my own are welcome to add to the archive.

I’m not sure I need another project right now. But I feel like if I don’t do this now, then I never will.
Besides, what better time to filter through memories and tracks that document my involvement in the Quincy music scene than as I am preparing to depart from it all? If nothing else, I hope that others can enjoy the nostalgia of familiar sounds from our collective upbringing during what was in my opinion, a golden age of music for Quincy, Illinois.

For a more detailed account, check out my guest blog on “The Breakdown” at The Local Q.


A Lengthy Introduction

We hit the turn at around 50 miles per hour. Plumes of red-orange dust shot out from either side of our once institutionally white ten-passenger van as we burst from the confines of Texas two-lane onto a path between Mexican dunes left by the mighty Rio not 200 yards from our tires.

As Carson hooted and ye-hawed into the walkie-talkie, Van Two cautiously slowed and eased into the landscape several hundred feet behind us. As they flexed and articulated through the terrain, we scouted the path ahead via air as we sailed over and ricocheted off of the embossed desert surface…tires more of a precaution than a necessity.

If, as we returned from orbit and touched down once again on terra-firma we’d all found ourselves simultaneously choking on trail-mix,  then perhaps the synchronized Heimlich action imposed by the van’s seat-belts upon our diaphragms would’ve been a more welcome surprise. But much like lying out belly first  in the end-zone to catch a game winning Thanksgiving day pass from the all-time QB, this abdominal trauma was far to mild to wipe the smiles off of our faces as we skidded to a halt in a cloud of aerosol desert and laughter.

Like fish from a shattered aquarium we poured out of the van and dispersed outward in every direction into the thorny countryside.  As the second van rolled to a stop behind us, it became clear that our glee was infectious. As the seams on their van burst to expel it’s writhing and anxious passengers a voice was heard from the thicket of brambles just yards away:

“A Carcass!”

Angelica

A leg. A hoof. A pelvis. Ribs.

Like buzzards we descended upon the kill. The soul of the beast long passed on, the bleach-white bones merely a remnant of the scaffolding within the vessel that once was.  We felt no shame. No guilt, no remorse. Only celebration at the discovery.

As they hunched and huddled over the hood, it was no surprise to any of us that zip ties and 550 cord were enough for a small and dedicated crew to secure the leg in place firmly upon the grill of van-two. Our van followed suit with a shoulder blade wedged behind the front license plate. It would stay there for the duration of our journey, eventually cemented in place by the juices of two-thousand miles of bug curtained asphalt.

1/4 Horsepower

Channeling Bo and Luke, each of the crew dove back into the  newly adorned vans head first and with gusto.
Throttles open we pressed on.

Moments later after cresting a small hill, we saw it.

We bailed out of the van before it even slowed down as though desperate to escape it as Carson announced at the top of his lungs what we all knew and yet had not fathomed.

“IT’S A SPACESHIP!!!!”

It was a space ship. Like bees to honey, we swarmed around the discarded cement mixer and canon-balled inside as we buzzed with elation. Pure, stupid elation. It was ridiculous, as any spectator could have told you.

But there were no spectators.

We were all participants on a journey through space. The fact that our interstellar craft was nothing more than a vaguely cylindrical hunk of wasted steel in the South Texas desert was irrelevant. For a few moments we were on Mars. We each took turns posing and documenting the landing with our craft as any astronaut should, for it was an historic occasion indeed.

Big Bend State Park Spaceship

Although we’d all traveled there together, through the magic of modern technology, astral projection, and certainly more than a little bullshit, each of us returned to earth on our own. Some before others, but all to the same destination. Earth.

Begrudgingly, but still flush from the exhilaration of re-entry everyone weaved their way back the vans the way a child exits a toy store; coveting glimpses along the way.

A million flickering strips of yellow pass us by as the earth turns beneath us and becomes more familiar by the mile.

Truth be told, there were hundreds of times throughout our trip through the American Southwest that gave me pause in appreciation for what we were experiencing. Fourteen of us began the journey together as part of a spring break trip at Georgia State University. I only knew, and only needed to know one other person on the trip;  my friend Carson. But as strangers became acquaintances, and later friends, I realized that a concept as ostensibly abstract as “discovery” was in fact almost palpable, and on occasion indisputably visible in the eyes and smiles of the uninitiated.

Although the realization is recent, I know I’ve always been a romantic. Perhaps more accurately, excitement precipitated by possibility is as common breathing for me. If growing older has taught me anything, however, it is that this is a strength rather than a weakness so long as the excitement can either be tempered by realistic assessment, or augmented by follow-through.

As I witnessed the worlds of the others on the trip expand before my eyes, I was presented with the same choice that has been set before me hundreds of times in the past: Spectate or participate.

For nearly fourteen years I’ve held desk jobs. Now at 29, I’ve realized that while I’ve learned much, and have really and sincerely appreciated many things about my various jobs and responsibilities in the offices I’ve inhabited, my true passions and joys in life have always revolved around the things that I saw both in the eyes of my fellow travelers in the desert, and heard in the voice of my great friend Carson as he led them. It takes a special kind of person to elevate 13 others to a level of excitement about the world and just being alive that a cement mixer in the desert can become a spaceship on mars. Carson has that, and I am praying that I do too.

I wanted in.

Touch the Earth - Big Bend National Park
The Crew in Big Bend

In January, I gave a 3-month notice at my current job at an investment firm and have begun the process of leasing out my house in Quincy to a young couple. In just a few short weeks, I’ll be driving south to work for Carson through the summer. Together, we’ll lead backpacking, rafting and kayaking trips and I’ll be forced to decide whether or not these things I’ve romanticized in my mind are in fact what my heart and soul are built to do.

Late at night, a week or so after our trip culminated and my plane had landed a thousand miles away in Illinois, I received a phone call from a familiar number but from a less familiar voice. One voice became many and as my ear was passed from mouth to mouth a story began to materialize.

In a scenario that good beer has been known to cause, the most fantastic bits came out first and loudest.

Bones. Police. Pagan Rituals.

The details are still a bit fuzzy, but from what I understand: the day after our trip ended, someone decided that the best way to dispose of the carcass remnants that were still adorning the grills of our vans was to simply toss them down an alley between buildings on the GSU campus. A phone call, yellow tape and several interviews later an investigation was closed regarding the source of the unidentified remains. The official conclusion as to their origin: Voodoo Magic.

Given the fact that we’d collectively traveled through space in the belly of a discarded hunk of desert steel, and  managed to avoid rigorous interrogation by the U.S border patrol in spite of our carrion bejeweled radiators, I think the ATL-PD may have been onto something.