Off the Grid

That’s my status now. Although it’s not really true. My wife and I are keeping our home and someone will be sitting in it for us. Yeah, we might get out somewhere without any public utilities but it won’t be for long in duration and certainly not permanent.

It’s summer time! And the living is easy. Even the phone is shut off for days in a row. We’ve been adventuring around, having just come back from camp. This week we recharge and gear up for a music festival in the mountains over the 4th of July. Immediately following, we’ll be traveling down to party with friends in a multi-day wedding near Sao Paulo, Brazil. We’ll stick around and check out the area, but keep it simple and not try and take in it all for the short time we have. And after that, it’s time to do some serious hanging out in the Colorado area.

None of this has anything to do with Agile. The URL is my name. Regardless of the blog’s title, guess what it’s about? During this time of travel, tweets and posts will be much less frequent, if at all. There’s an intention here, to refocus this as a reflection of what is going on with and around me, that I might find interesting to post. Not always my experiences. Yet current, what is true right now, for me in this moment. When I’m working, there may be more of a slant to that. There might not. We’ll see what comes up. I’m working on becoming one integrated Aaron. Let me know what you may think of this approach.

The Man Burned Last Night

A person known to the Billboard Liberation Front, Paul Addis, was arrested for lighting the man last night. The man burned after the lunar eclipse last night. The charred remains have been removed from the foundation and a new man will be up in time for the scheduled burn on Saturday.

With this year’s theme of the Green Man, it seems appropriate that this is the year someone pulled off the age-old joke of igniting it early. An outlaw working alone, Paul pulled off something which will be remembered for some time. At least he did it early enough in the week to have it rebuilt. This year, people at the event get a 2-for-1 deal with the burn.

For my cousin Justin Alexander Emmons (1973 – 2007)

I wish to express my gratitude for the kind words and stories from Justin’s friends and family. It gives me a better picture of a man who connects us all at this place today. Let us continue to celebrate the life of my cousin Justin.

All right, JAE. This one’s for you.

Being an only child I didn’t have siblings around day-to-day. What I did have was time at a special place with the person closest to me as a brother, my cousin Justin.

Us cousins loved to spend time at the Grandparents. Their home, our sanctuary, rested at the foot of Pikes Peak, in a cozy little neighborhood of individually designed and built houses, in the foothills, overlooking the city of Colorado Springs.

The guest bedrooms were split for their children; Joe’s room and Sue’s room. It’s how we were arranged for Christmas. Also for summer breaks with the parent’s gone, staying with the best grandparents these cousins could have.

We would explore the trails out the back yard which wove through treed ridges and bushy gullies going ever steeper up to the mountains and rush-back-down-home for cold glasses of milk.

We never really got lost …well, there was the one time… we’d been gone all day and became somewhat disoriented and got a little panicky. Justin really wanted to get back home. I led the way downhill, towards the city and it was OK …when we found the road which traveled to Duckwall’s and further to the zoo. We followed it back towards home.

Of course there was always camping. Retrieving little secrets out of the Rocky Mountains like trout from a stream.

Ah, the fish. Wandering up and down rivers with poles in hand to snag them out of their place in the river. He loved to clean fish once he learned, and was very enthusiastic to do so. It delighted me to see him ever so eager to clean even mine. “Here Justin, would you like to clean another? Sure!”

Arriving at a camp spot we would JUMP OUT of the car, RUSH UP to the top of the first rock outcropping spotted and YELL DOWN while madly jumping and waving at everyone to look.

Our grandparents had boats but the most fun was the inflatable raft. Tied to a tree, paddling like crazy to parts unknown… maybe just jumping in and out of it in the front yard, imaginations going wild. Once on a day trip we came across some pretty swift rapids, but Uncle Joe navigated us successfully through. Mostly we would just drift by a bend… with a little steeper and faster spot which made it fun, next to our favorite camp spot closest to home. Sometimes, we would hop in the river with our life jackets on, to shoot over the little spill on our backs and swim to shore.

Fire management was serious business at our camp. With our fire poking sticks crushing the big logs down and arranging them to make the flames burn blue and white and –leap– with orange. Ends glowing red from the work, we’d write smoke filled grey symbols in the sky and scratch at rocks to mark them black.

At home we would often ‘camp out’ in the Gooneybird, our Grandparent’s RV hooked up to the house in the back yard, and I am certain, no matter which trailer or motor home it currently was, that it contained magical properties, such as protecting us from being heard by anybody. I think about Justin, perhaps 11 out there with me one night, headphones on and the walkman blasting, singing off-key to the Oak Ridge Boys while I, at 15, launched pillows at him to make him stop.

We’d climb up and hang out in the scrub oak trees in the back yard. Each cousin had they’re favorite one and we’d drop straight down off the limbs to run up to the back deck for glasses of orange juice and 7-Up.

There was one chair on that deck we both adored. I had picked it out to give my Grandparents for Christmas, along with a bench that hung from the ceiling with ropes that passed through wood slats to make the back and seat. Justin had called it and after sitting there for awhile got up to go inside for something, and I immediately sat it in to take it back. No way was my cousin going to sit in my chair. When he came back he got so riled seeing me sitting there that he forgot to open the screen, bouncing off it with one hand pointing up with the number one and the beginning of a “Hey…”

As we got older we might’ve been bigger trouble makers, but then Nathan came along. If I was old enough to drive I guess that would make Nathan about 7 or 8 at the very least. We were given permission to drive the pick-up on an errand to the 7-11. On the way back I decided to take a little detour… to the abandoned gold mine where there were plenty of easy dirt road tracks and the motorcycles liked to race around. Nathan had promised not to tell but panicked on return of them finding out, and so told them what we did.

We kept in close touch through our school years of high school and college. Justin came to see me play at Drums Along the Rockies. He came out for a summer break while I was living with some friends in a big Victorian near downtown Denver.

We had a commercial sized kitchen and even in those days, Justin could cook. He’d use whatever was around him and get creative… which was necessary during those starving student years.

I believe we saw 4 separate Dead shows together… one in Denver, 2 in Vegas and one at the Sandstone with his Dad and some friends of mine who road-tripped there and crashed at his family’s home in the basement with me.

When I left for Europe after college I dropped by Kansas – natch – and it was the end of the school year and time for Omega. A special time for my cousin in his town… he put me to work and I loved it, greeting happy people arriving with their arms out the window for me to put on their plastic bracelets for the music festival. I met so many of his friends camping out there over the long weekend and it was the best way to depart the U.S.

That’s when we started falling out of touch. He’d be in Alaska while I was in Colorado. He’d be in Colorado while I was in Boston. He went to Orcas Island when I came back to Colorado.

I had a chance to see him, while he was in Orcas Island, as my wife and I were traveling through Vancouver Island, on our way to New Zealand. We didn’t stop.

We’re just back to the States and I was hoping this summer to catch up. What a tragic accident.

I’ll miss you so much, JAE.
Justin Emmons

Looping by Car in the Far North

Man it’s freezing in this bus. And I’m hungry, too. Thought I’d have enough time to get a bite to eat and pick up a book for the ride. Neither of which happened because I got to talking with Don. I did go in to the pizza shop to see if they could provide anything in the 5 minutes before the bus was due to arrive. Said it’s take 10 so I left. Could’ve stayed. The bus was 30 minutes late.

Of course, I initiated the last conversation with Don, about who might be responsible for the 9/11 attacks. You might’ve guessed, Hussein and Iran were not what was on our minds. I was so focused when I got there, to drop the car off and fill out the paperwork and get out, to catch the bus and have time to look around. I even interrupted the conversation Don was in when I pulled up, such was my rush. A real tapu around here as the Kiwis are true conversationalists.

Would you expect to have esoteric conversations when you drop off a car at an auction house for them to sell for you? It wasn’t on the agenda. But it happened. I can’t remember how we got into it. But Don said something interesting. That we’re not here to learn, but to remember. Talking of great civilizations of the past. And choice is what life was all about. I was enjoying that part of the talk. Then he pulled out the secret, which had recently been given to him, after someone else had mentioned it might be the sort of thing he’d enjoy reading. I saw the DVD with Erica and some friends in L.A. and it became our running joke. We also went to the magic castle.

I mentioned I had a bus to catch and he jumped up and got a kid to take me there. The kid subsequently wandered off after I started talking about electronic voting. Don gave me a site to look up, David Icke, after we talked about the aspect of WTC looking like a controlled demolition.

The rest of the day wasn’t so bad but had in it a lot of driving loops in the car. I started by going in to town to drop off laundry, get some breakfast, photocopy my passport for the movers, hop on line and check messages. Of course, I forgot the passport. That was OK, had to come back for the laundry. On the way home I thought about meaning to get the extra car key from John before heading to Whangarei. That’s OK, I would be back for the laundry.

Got home and packed up the things that are being given to Carl and John and wait for the movers. They were stated to be there between noon and 1 and showed up just a little after one, which should give me plenty of time to go pick up the laundry, get the copy of the passport at the office and pick up the house key from John to go get the car key at his house. The laundry wasn’t ready.

Filled out all the paperwork for the freight and customs and listened to one of the movers impersonate Yoda. Not only in verb-subject rearrangement but in voice, naturally. I asked his colleague if he did any impersonations. I think he was a bit shy as his skittish answer, sort of whispered in a laugh was proffered in a quiet no with small getures. His coworker thought it a shame and went in to Donald Duck.

He told me about rellies in Martha’s Vineyard which led to a brief discussion of American politics since the Clinton’s frequent the area. A lot of blue blood there is what I said. Agreeing he pointed out that he was just a Kiwi. I’m sure there’s some blue bloods down here too.

Told him I had to scoot to get down to Whangarei in enough time to drop the car off and catch the bus back up. The third loop. Two to town already. He gave me a Waterboy ‘You can do it” and had me sign the paperwork and promised they’d lock up. Said it was OK, they had just packed up and were taking all the valuables, anyway.

Enough of that on the bus. Good meal at the best restaurant in town, the Jerusalem. Open on holidays like the one we just had here. Get the laundry tomorrow, pack it and have Carl take me to the airport. 19 hours later or 5 hours before I leave I’ll be with Erica in La Honda.

Fox Glacier for Christmas

The rain just won’t let up in Christchurch and even the locals find it unbelievable for this time of year. We chase the sun over to the west coast. Traveling over Lewis Pass and a night at Hanmer Springs, on in to Punakaiki and the Pancake Rocks and down to Fox glacier we drive before the rain finally finds us. This car handles so well, it is such a pleasure to drive.

At Fox Glacier we stay at a backpacker’s on Christmas eve, and have some very nice conversations with fellow wanderers. There’s a woman who teaches at the community college in Grand Junction, a man who retired from farming in Ohio, another young woman applying for a job with CBS for the Beijing Olympics, and they are all really entertaining people.

There’s also a younger guy from Minnesota who is living in Wellington and down for the holiday. His bus up to Nelson doesn’t leave for another day and he feels stuck at Fox Glacier so I offer to take him up north to Greymouth where he feels it will be better to catch a bus that day.

Off we go and what this guy lacks in personality he compliments with sheer dumbness. He decides to just stay the night at Greymouth, which is a small town with nothing going on at all, as opposed to Fox where admittedly there is no town but who cares when you’re surrounded by mountains majesty? It would be like choosing to hang out in Detroit over Aspen. He declined my invitation to head back for Christmas in Christchurch so I leave him at a stinky hostel that he chose, and we go over Arthur’s Pass.

What a lovely area and we stop to hike to a falls. There are Lupin blooming throughout the valley. We pick up a guy who has just done a long back country trip. He’s a teacher in Auckland and very entertaining for conversation. He takes me up on my offer to mail his stove and gas bottle back since he can’t take it on the plane and mentions that he helps to maintain a hut in Tongariro so he would like for us to come up so we can do a hike with him out to it; fantastic.

Hanging out in Christchurch we do some of the cultural things like the Museum and Botanic Gardens. We need to get serious about job finding and I am fired up to go back to school. I want to study science and get a Master’s in Environmental Science. Education is cheap here, and Otago is ranked in the top 100 internationally and has a well-known program. Erica will teach and has her credentials all sorted out.

Our plans are to head south and visit the campus in Dunedin, hike Kepler outside of Te Anau and spend some time in the Queenstown and Wanaka area before we have to really concentrate on finding the place to live and settling. After all our shopping for that place to live, it has found us in regards to my education, more than likely we will be making home in Dunedin.

Christchurch Ends the Bedford Nightmare

In to Christchurch we march, hell bent to make it without something else going wrong. Erica’s uncle has a place we hope to stay at to refresh ourselves and use as a base. It’s well worth the effort because this is an incredibly nice house with all the utilities running, waiting for us; or anyone for that matter. We buy some beer and rent a stack of DVDs, going back to the house to play a couple games of pool, watch movies and drink.

After taking it back to Midas I hop online and put ads out on all the sites I can find: Gumtree, TradeMe, Craigslist and more. The dinging was a hub put back on loose, fixed free of charge. Within a couple days people are emailing me about it. A couple more days go by and someone is actually here looking at it. He crawls all around it and makes me nervous that he will see what a piece of crap it really is. We go on a long drive. He makes an offer of $8,000 and I refuse it. After all, we spent $11,500 purchasing it. I tell him I’ll go to ten and he leaves to think about it. I call him back and tell him my financial adviser has authorized nine five. He comes back at $9,250 and it’s over. The Bedford is out of our lives, and we didn’t even have to burn it!

Cash in hand we go out looking for a replacement ride. I’ve done my research on Consumer Reports (New Zealand edition) and Top Gear. I had recently heard about this show from the UK when my mother sent me this video. They are their version of Click and Clack and might even be a little funnier. We wind up with a 1997 Honda Accord wagon and only paid 7 grand for it, with all registration and other licensing included. With the dual cam VTEC in it, we could probably tow the Bedford.

Abel Tasman

The big kayak shop we start at doesn’t have any kayaks available, and so calls a smaller place. We sort out the campsites we’ll stay at and pay for the whole lot.

Wandering around town we come across a flyer for the kayak place we’ve rented from. He charged us 20 bucks more than the price we were charged. I tell him this when we meet in the morning and he promises to get it to me before we leave, and doesn’t.

After a brief introduction to the wonders of kayaking and how to keep one upright in the water, we’re off to Split Apple Rock. After that we head north, a direction we’ll follow for the next 3 days. We spend the night at Te Puketea with a load of Germans, with the mail boats constantly whizzing in and out, dropping off and picking up day hikers. Around sunset the activity stops and we’re left with breathless views and serene silence.

The rain starts that night and is relentless. The wind is strong enough to flatten our tent upon us. Once again we don’t secure all our food and a possum tries to grab a bag of our stuff. I shake him off and bring it inside. We spend the morning inside the tent waiting for the rain to abate. About half way through the day it breaks and we paddle off.

The next stop is called Mosquito Bay and despite the name is a great place. It turns out to be our favorite of all the places we stay. At high tide there is an island just off the beach. The tide differential is 12 feet so at low tide we’re surrounded by sand and a little creek wandering through the area.

There is a pair of Oystercatchers nesting, and a pair of Herons fishing in the little lagoon. Another little Bellbird doesn’t like the other birds too much and is just raising quite a racket. The napping seal just ignores us all. The only thing that detracts from this little piece of pleasure is Erica’s lip has swollen up so bad she slurs like the retard Jimmy from South Park when she talks. It must’ve been bitten by a sand fly or …something.

The next and third day Erica’s lip looks fine and we make it on to Onetahuti. It’s another big drop off for the boats, it is big and litter is scattered everywhere. We drop our stuff and go out to Tonga Island in the middle of a marine reserve and full of seals. There are babies squeaking loudly. One of them is so small he cannot walk very well and is still nursing, head wobbling as he looks out at the tourists passing by in the boats.

After much oooing and ahhhing we decide to head as far north as we’re allowed to check out Shag Harbor. This is named after a bird, not the action. It’s full of secret little coves and has tree limbs reaching over the water. Following back as far as we can we discover a little trickling stream which has cut out this exceptional place.

On the way back the sea has grown tumultuous and threatens to roll our little kayak over. We keep perpendicular to the waves as trained, cutting away from land and back towards it as we try and head south and back in to our camp spot.

It takes a long time fighting the waves and not being able to paddle direct so when we get back and have some company for the night we’re a little annoyed. This annoyance grows with each repetition of the guides’ tuneless ditty that he whistles. Over and over the same little notes are cast on the air and caught by the hair rising on my neck. I combat it by my own dull whistling to show how annoying it is but this only encourages him. I want to ask if he takes any requests, like SHUT UP but just try and ignore him, like we were in a city trying to pretend we’re the only ones walking down a street populated by the throngs.

The next day has us paddle south passing all the little places we’ve stopped on the way up, and we pull up short of the beginning in Observation Bay. It’s nice enough. We’re sharing the area with a family that is wholly ignoring their kids; who hassle the nesting birds. Flotillas of kayaks advance, it’s the weekend. One of them stops and pulls up their boats right to the nesting oystercatchers. Walking up miffed I point out that the birds are really freaking out by all this activity. I get brushed off with a ‘yep, thanks’ from their guide.

I’m more insistent than with the whistling dope and point to the sign guarding the area. I exclaim loud enough that even the family turns to hear me say that it marks a nesting area and is not to be entered. This is why the birds will not stop their chatter. To my relief this works as the guide has the people move their kayaks and the family yells at their children not to bother the birds.

After some reading and a nap on the sand we decide to paddle out to Adele Island. Not having enough of rough afternoon seas we get tossed about on our excursion that nets us only being soaked and exhaustion from paddling so hard to get back. We walk around our camp, examining the mussels at low tide and finding a plaque commemorating Durville’s exploits in the area; thus the name Observation Bay. This is in the Astrolabe Roadside where he once anchored and charted the area, naming some stuff.

The morning trip is quick, making our way through the Gannets out fishing in the morning. We take showers back at the kayak rental place and I remind the owner of the 20 bucks he owes. The owner gets us a tab at the local café as he’s lost his wallet. It’s a very nice place and we have a good lunch. Afterwards we wander across the street to a gallery to look at the wood carvings and I buy Erica a nice necklace.

Waiting for the food I call Midas and get some bad news. Driving on the broken wheel bearing made the tire grind in to the stub axel. They don’t make them anymore. There’s none in the country, He’s had to have one machined and is waiting for the price of the work. To me, it doesn’t sound cheap. It isn’t.

Our bus driver back is really funny. He’s a bitter old man with his own perspective on the history of the area. The development is ruining the place of his memories, of course. We hear a story about the ferociousness of the Maoris. After hunting the Moa to extinction there really wasn’t that great of a protein source, so they did the only natural thing and started hunting each other. Battles did not result in prisoners of war, but lunch.

Back at the shop David walks me through what he had to do. The brake part came, but when he put it on the truck it was at the wrong angle and wouldn’t allow the brake fluid to flow in to the master cylinder. They must not have marked how it was taken apart and put it back together off by about 45 degrees. He had to take it to a specialist to have it redone.

The stub axel broke from my driving it back to the shop. He called us to get advice, but of course, once again we were out of range so he made the decision to make a new one since they aren’t made and he couldn’t find any in the country. He took off the right stub axel to use as a cast and found it had the same thing happen and was a custom machine part. The bearing on that side was about to fall off so he put a lock-tight in around it.

He checked the back brakes to find a washer rattling around in there. The brake shoes were on backwards. We went to lunch while he machined the scored drum and turned the shoes around. Final damage on this work was $1,500. Adding it up at lunch I think we’ve spent around two to twenty five hundred on this puppy. That’s a lot of necklaces, other gifts, adventure trips or about a month’s budget on the road. It sure makes me feel bad about deciding to buy it. But it is only money. I mean we have our health and all that.

We take off again and make it that night to Kaikoura. This is the place I’ve dreamed about. A picture of it hung on our fridge in Denver as a constant reminder of what we were working so hard to achieve. But there is a dinging now in the left hub, sounding like David has attached a cowbell in there which rings at low speeds and over rough roads. So in the morning we push on, with one look back at the magnificent snow covered range looming over the sea.


Nelson and the Midas Touch

We take one of the windiest roads imaginable with our poor brakes into Havelock, where most of the Green Mussels come from. We check in to a nice motel room which is really an apartment and go eat some of the local delicacy at the Mussel Pot. This town really appeals to us. It doesn’t have the sheen of a tourist town, but does have access to some of the deeper sounds. There isn’t much economy and it seems like the whole town is for sale.

It just never ends with the truck. We’re always on edge, jumping up spooked and looking around at every little noise. We’re heading over a big pass and coming in to Nelson when one of these noises has us looking to each other with bewildered expressions. Zud-zud-zud-zud-zud-zud-zud-zud-zud …this is going to be bad; we can see it in each other’s faces… CA-LANG-A-DANG-DANG-A-LANG …and then it’s all quiet as my skin goes prickly and I pull over. Erica goes looking for whatever that might’ve been coming off and I peer under the hood. The fan belt is completely loose like when the alternator was loose before… no it’s still tight but wait, the bottom most pulley is… gone. So that‘s it. I take off the belt and go down the street helping Erica look for it.

We retrieve it out of the middle of the road and climb back in to the van. I squint, take a deep breath, look up and turn the key. As if these body movements will help. It’s like when we’re going down a narrow road and I hold my breath when we pass an oncoming vehicle, like it’ll make us skinnier. The van does turn over. We make it in to Nelson and are directed to the Midas shop. He tells us it’s the harmonic dampener, which takes vibrations out of the engine. It still started because the battery is charged but that will lessen since the alternator isn’t recharging it. I tell him that a new alternator was put in and he tells me that it’s a shame because this broken pulley is probably the reason why we were having the problems starting the van.

I call the guy in Picton with the news and he tells me I must have ‘ghosts in the engine’. He then puts me on the line with his man Patrick who did the repairs, who insists he checked all the pulleys and they were fine. I am also reassured that they sent the alternator to an auto electrician who stated that it was beyond repair and in need of repairing. He has thrown the old one away so I cannot have anyone else inspect it. Relating this back to David, the Midas man, gets a knowing nod. He tells me that mechanics rip off tourists because they think they’re loaded with money. This is not the first time I’ve heard that mechanics are dishonest, from whichever mechanic is currently lying to my face.

The place we find is a stand-alone apartment for 50 bucks a night. It’s so cheap because they are repairing some things that didn’t get done before high season, and are now too busy to finish them. It’s a little dusty, drafty and one of the bathrooms doesn’t work but it’s big, has its own kitchen and another bathroom that does work.

Another bike ride takes us to a little beach and among some nice shops. Nelson has an alternative feel to it, with organic shops, yoga studios, art galleries and microbreweries. We stop in one of the latter and pay enough money to buy a keg for a couple of OK tasting beers. Nelson is considered the sunniest on the south and would be a great place to live.

In the morning we decide to head out to Abel Tasman and go pick up the van. It’s making a funny noise and so I go back to Midas and David tells me not to worry about it. I tell him that I’ll head off and if anything falls off I’ll come right back. He gives me a little exasperated look and I tell him that’s sarcasm, I don’t expect anything to fall off. Nothing better fall of, but it’s happened before so there is precedent, and recent.

Moving down the road the brakes start to smell funny. Pulling over to check the transmission fluid and then let everything cool, we eat a little lunch. All the fluid levels are fine, and a visual inspection doesn’t really show anything wrong so we start off. We head a little further and not only does it sound bad, it’s really pulling to the left. We think it best to turn back. About 2 blocks from Midas there’s a large KA-WHAM; but I am determined to get it back in. David sees us come in and asks what the matter is. I ask him to take a guess and point to the left front wheel, which is at an odd angle.

He takes a quick look and states that the wheel bearing went bad, that must’ve been the noise I was telling him about earlier. Something has fallen off, and it’s the wheel. The only thing holding it on is the disc brake on that side. We leave it with him and hop a bus up to Abel Tasman, enough time has been spent waiting for this thing to be repaired and a little distance from it would be nice and so when we get to Marahau and the beginning of the track, we decide to rent a kayak for 5 days. I’ve also called Collin, who forgot all about our reconditioned part, but he will track it down and sent it on to Nelson. I’ve told David about what’s happened and he’s agreed to put that on, too.