Showing posts with label chris korbulic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chris korbulic. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The day the FBI came calling

Chris Korbulic shot this self portrait along the Apaporis River in the Columbian Amazon in April this year. The five-person expedition planned to paddle 700 miles, but something unexpected interrupted their plans. 

Hardly a week goes by without someone asking about our son, Chris, 30, who's sort of a local celebrity with tales of his kayaking adventures often making their way online and into newspapers, magazines, films, and, occasionally, TV.
It hasn't been uncommon for photos such as this, documenting Chris enjoying waterfall moments around the world to show up on media. This was in Brazil.

So I wasn't surprised in a hardware store in Grants Pass, OR, when a man behind me at check-out inquired, "What's your son up to these days?"

A store employee swung around and joined the conversation. "Yeah," she said. "Where's Chris?

I thought I'd have some fun with them.

"Oh, he's fine," I said.

"The FBI was at our house for three hours last week alerting us that he and four other kayakers had been held hostage by guerrillas on a river in the Amazon jungle. But no worries. They were released after a few days, and he's back in the USA."

I told the tale as if being held hostage by guerrillas in the jungle was no big deal, happens all the time.

Astonished looks all around.

"Sheesh!" blurted the clerk. "I'm sure glad he's not my son! How can you sleep at night?"

How many times have PK and I heard that?

I got a charge out of the stunned reactions. Now everyone within earshot was leaning in.

It was easy to be glib and milk the moment, but the actual day that the FBI showed up at our house, and the ensuing 24 hours—that was a different story.

For us it began Friday, April 21, 2017.  (For Chris and the expedition team, it began April 18 when they first encountered their captors.)

 I 'd left the house for a bike ride and saw PK talking in our driveway with two men in suits and a nattily dressed woman. I pegged them as purveyors of the Watchtower and prepared to bolt, head down, eyes averted.

"It's the FBI," Paul mouthed as I approached with my bike.
They'd already shown their IDs to PK and stated their purpose, but I was clueless.

The FBI? Is something going on in the neighborhood? I thought.  It did not occur to me that their visit had to do with Chris .

We'd received a text message from Chris within the past few days, or had it been a FB post?  Or was it four days ago? On Instagram? I lose track.

Whatever. His expedition team of five traveled with their best friend, a Garmin InReach satellite device, which enables them to send texts anywhere from anywhere. Hence, they're able to placate parents and other people who care with frequent communications.  Almost daily communicating created a sense of security. False, it turns out.
One of few rapids on a 700-mile expedition, unlike previous expeditions that have been rife with roaring falls, canyons, and cataracts.

In addition, through InReach, a friend in California was updating the team's location though the Amazon wilderness. The map link was available online to anyone interested. We'd seen it  but weren't checking every day, so we were unaware that InReach reports had stopped

Just stopped. The screen had gone blank. Big trouble.

Well, isn't that the perfect definition of "ignorance is bliss"? We would have been emotional wrecks, had we been paying attention. But after enduring 10 years of our son doing seemingly impossible feats and taking unacceptable (to us) risks, we've become calloused to his living on the edge.

He's strong, smart, humble, skilled, and somehow happily enmeshed in a culture that puts him amongst an elite group of modern-day explorers and adventurers. He continues to amaze and delight us as we live his adventures vicariously.
Not a photo a mom can enjoy. Chris on the first
descent of Toketee Falls on Oregon's North
Umpqua River in 2011.

I removed my bike helmet and PK and I and three FBI agents took seats in our living room. PK and I exchanged glances. What the hell's going on?

"It's about your son, Chris," said the lead agent, who introduced himself as a hostage negotiator.

Hostage negotiator?

The other male agent was an FBI special investigator, the woman was a victim specialist.

Victim specialist!

PK and I exchanged glances, and I know we're in the same boat, so to speak, of shock and disbelief. This can't be happening!

The reason for the FBI's visit unfolded.

Out of what the lead guy described as an "abundance of caution," we were told that Chris and his expedition team in Colombia's Amazon Basin appeared to have been detained by FARC, a rebel guerrilla group. FARC had been mostly disarmed in 2016, after 50+ years of conflict. But holdouts exist.

Some of the FARC holdouts were apparently holding hostage all five members of the expedition.

Team members Ben Stookesberry, Jessie Rice, Aniol Serrasoles, Jules Domine, and Chris Korbulic. Ben was allowed to take the photo above, the only one during their captivity. Actually, on that very day, April 21, perhaps around the same time we were hanging on every word uttered by the FBI agents, the armed group was telling the detainees that they would be released the next morning. Although the FARC rebels confiscated cameras, electronic devices and memory cards, camera lenses were returned and the rebels did not take thousands of dollars from their captives. Chris managed to hide five memory cards, losing only the one that remained in his camera.

The seven FARC members, led by a woman, didn't realize that Ben managed to hold onto an InReach device and had been surreptitiously communicating with a contact in Columbia and another in California.  Chris also had a GPS unit that was signaling the group's location.

Chris told us the only time he was afraid, and planning  an escape into the jungle with his GPS, was the night before they were to be released. He was in his hammock when Colombian military planes began flying over the encampment. The FARC went ballistic.

"They were running around, yelling, asking where is the GPS? Who has it?" Chris had hidden one on his body. The planes left. Things calmed down. The next morning, the team was released and paddled four miles downstream to catch a bush plane to a tiny airport in a tiny town. There, much to their amazement, they were met by representatives of the Colombian military and the FBI.

The greeting party was but a small contingent of the agents and agencies in Columbia and the USA interested in the case.

A brief account of the hostage situation is here:  Outside Online -  How 5 kayakers were taken hostage in the Amazon. It's a series of photos with longish captions outlining the basics of what happened.  The photos, all but one by Chris, provide a sense of the ethereal Amazon. A more in-depth print article about the episode is in the works by the Men's Journal.

I don't want to repeat what you can read on Outside Online, but PK and I  have some thoughts about the US government's response.

We are grateful. 

We were impressed that three FBI agents came to our home, and others to the families of two other US citizens on the expedition. Chris' girlfriend, then in Hawaii, was also contacted by an FBI agent who offered assistance.

We learned that when US citizens are held against their will in foreign lands, it's a no-holds-barred commitment to get them out safely. 

What I've described was a small part of what was going on. The agents informed us that representatives of various US government agencies cooperate in hostage situations involving US citizens.  The agents didn't mention the  FBI-led Hostage Rescue Team, but I looked it up and understood that had the kayaking team been held for ransom, or even detained for a longer time, their captors could have been subject to measures similar to what Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT ) teams do. Drop in, rescue hostages, take no prisoners.

Impressive. Check it out here.

What was the FBI's purpose in visiting us?

Learn about Chris 
They asked multiple  questions about Chris, most designed to determine how he might handle being held hostage.  Does he have medical issues? What kind of person is he? How does he handle stress? How might he react to being pressured?(tortured or threatened)

Admiring parents as we are, we described Chris as a "real nice guy." Humble, quiet, thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent, strong, and centered. Because of what he does for a living, we know that he's able to focus on the moment, shut out negative thoughts and maintain a calm center. We think he'd avoid stupid moves or emotional or angry displays.

Educate us about how to respond to ransom demands
A large part of the visit had to do with "proof of life, requiring the captors, should they call us, to provide evidence that our son was still alive. 

And on it went, all the way through the mechanics of "how to get you your money,"to responding to threats that the hostage will be harmed or killed. I was beginning to disconnect.

It was surreal. Absolutely unbelievable. If this was really happening, our lives could be changing forever, right here, right now.

The hostage negotiator said that if we got a ransom call, he would be moving into our house. As it was, he left us with a recording device should we receive a ransom call. If we were contacted by a captor, we were instructed to call the hostage negotiator any time, night or day.

We didn't have to. Thank you, Universe.

Instead, we learned the next day that the team had been released and flown by a US military plane based in Columbia to Bogota, site of the US Embassy. All were debriefed by FBI and Columbia officials, lodged in a hotel, provided meals and offered air transportation to anywhere they wanted to go. The US citizens were asked to stay three days to satisfy intelligence needs.

The Extreme Kayaking Athlete Moms' Club
One more thing. Chris K. and expedition leader Ben Stookesberry have been frequent kayaking partners for going on 10 years, covering thousands of miles around the world and sharing both magnificent and horrendous experiences. The worst, of course, was in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2010 when a monster crocodile rose out of the Lukuga River and snatched from his kayak their good friend and trip leader, Hendri Coatzee.

Hendri's death was international news and a deep personal tragedy to Ben and Chris. Both had been within feet of the crocodile attack and were profoundly affected. Ben created an award-winning film, Kadoma, about Hendri and their expedition and tragedy, still available on iTunes.

 The 40-minute film is gut wrenching and beautiful at the same time. Hendri Coatzee was an extraordinary human being and a gifted writer. He wrote a book that was edited and published following his demise,  Living the Best Day Ever. 

PK and I were in Costa Rica when this tragedy occurred. We were pursued by media, and so was Ben's mom, Bette Campbell. During this blurred tragic time, we began communicating with Bette.

Chris and Ben were being held by the dysfunctional Congolese government. It was making us crazy. That lasted about a week before they were flown out by the United Nations.

Bette and I kept talking. And later, for a few wonderful but heart-wrenching days, we were with Hendri Coatzee’s mom, Marie Nieman, when Ben’s film debuted at the Telluride Mountain Film Festival in 2011.

Bette and I talked again on April 22 this year after we were assured that our sons were safe.

Bette told me about her interview with the FBI agents, and how she described to them her remarkable son, Ben.

"He's humble," she said. "He's generous. I'm proud of him being who he chooses to be. He couldn't handle being stuck in an office, making do with what's expected. I'm glad he is who he is."

Right on, Bette. Me too. I couldn't be more proud to be Chris' mom, and as for Chris' father, PK,  he can barely contain his enthusiasm for telling Chris stories to whatever man, woman, child or dog will listen.

We know that if  Chris wasn't doing what his soul requires, we'd worry about him being depressed and downtrodden. He's fortunate to be able to pursue his passion and have the skills, courage and inner strength to do it.
Started young. Won't quit until he must. Despite
how much he sometimes scares us, gotta love him.
But please, no more FBI visits. 
Plus we could stand a bit less of this type of action.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Roadtreking - Us and Them, Then and Now

The young runner on the tree-strewn forest road is Chelsea Behymer, son Chris' girlfriend. She's running out of the sheer joy of being alive and thumbing her nose at minor obstacles such as hundreds of downed trees  en route to a trail we wanted to hike. But first we have to drive there, them in a self-converted Sprinter, us in our cushy Roadtrek Agile.

The tree-clogged road presented a challenge they wanted to tackle. To Paul and me, it was a no-brainer no-go from the get-go, even though we followed them.

A recent van camping trip with son Chris, whose primary sponsor, Eddie Bauer, features the Live Your Adventure brand, and his friend Chelsea, made clear the differences in our travel styles and our generations, including their propensity for risk and ours for scaling back in that department. For starters, we joined them by invitation. How cool is that? I loved my parents, but I don't recall at any time inviting them to ruin a jaunt with me and a romantic partner. That's just one little difference. (If you have a few minutes, check out those links above.) Maybe we're getting rewarded for all the camping trips we did with our sons when they were youngsters. 

PK and I are Baby Boomers, although I am officially one year too old. We worked hard, scraped by for a few decades, and raised two incredible sons. We were frugal because well, we couldn't afford not to be. Now well into retirement, we've reached a comfort level that enables road tripping in luxury, at least compared with son Chris, and also compared with our younger selves. (Keep reading.)

Ours is the sleek silver Roadtrek Agile van above. Theirs is a spirited red Sprinter he named nevervan. Maybe because he wanted one for so long but never thought he'd find one he could afford. 

Chris and Chelsea travel in true Millennial fashion equipped with rugged mountain bikes, kayaks, the latest electronics, propane stove, cooler, and a trowel. No heater, no AC, no running water, and no toilet. Not even a fan.

He snagged a deal on this used Sprinter a couple years ago, and between kayaking expeditions, he, with help first from his father, and later, from Chelsea, fashioned a simple custom interior from which he can work and play. Our home is his mailing address, but the Sprinter is his real home, which he often shares with Chelsea and her little mutt, Peanut.(Naturalist Chelsea has work that takes her to far places for weeks at a time.) 

Our van, on the other hand, is a lightly used 2010 Roadtrek Agile on a Sprinter chasis and, like Chris', boasts a Mercedes diesel engine. Let's not even talk about the price difference because it is, frankly, shocking. They're going Spartan, mostly, and we're, well, not! 

But there are some perks to getting old, right? For the record, our van, the same 21 ft. long as Chris', is decked out with: cherry wood cabinets, unbelievable storage space, a refrigerator/freezer, AC, a microwave/convection combo oven, a generator, a tiny toilet/shower closet, a queen-size bed, swivel seats, blinds, curtains, a retractable step, awning, outside shower, furnace and on it goes. We love it, love it. But we also paid our dues. 

                                    Photo above: Chris riding his bike about 25 years after the photo below was taken.
Korbulic family around 1989. Chris, 3, has the long shorts, Quinn, almost 13,  the cute pink ones. Paul's kayak is atop our trusty Toyota Landcruiser and my road bike is ready for my training ride that morning for Cycle Oregon. We car/tent camped from Oregon to South Dakota and back. One of our best family trips ever. 

About paying our dues. We progressed through the decades from rough and tough tent/river/car camping (30 + wonderful years, half of them with our two sons), to sleeping in the bed of our pick-up (a couple awkward years) to enjoying the hell out of our FourWheel pop--up camper beginning in 2010, to our current state of luxury.
We've never wanted a hulking RV, but something that parks as easily as a large pickup, doesn't require an RV site with hook-ups, and gets decent gas mileage. No wonder our Roadtrek is named "Agile." It satisfies  our keen desire to travel comfortably but nimbly as we pile on the years. And my, how those years are stacking up.

We kinda noticed those years during our enlightening camping caravan with Chris and Chelsea. We also noted some, umm, traveling style differences. This is to be expected, of course, since we are 40 years older.  But they indulged us, and probably didn't notice, as they were too busy making every minute count: running, biking, hiking, gathering firewood, gnawing roots and herbs, gazing into one another's eyes, organizing their van, doing push-ups on picnic tables, and washing up in snow-melt temperature lake water. And I'm only exaggerating a tiny bit.

A few key differences


Choosing a campsite
Us:  We love Forest Service campgrounds, $5 a night, senior rate, or county, state or national camps, between $15 and as much as $35. We have succumbed to private RV campgrounds under desperate circumstances, which can run between $35 and $55, depending upon size of RV and amenities needed. Not recommended! 
Them: Dispersed camping: free (AKA boondocking)
Note: They seemed comfortable with the Forest Service camps we used during our two nights out, but Chris later revealed that those were the only times they'd stayed in designated campgrounds. We treated them to the $10 per night fees. Our first night out, the four of us were alone in a lakeside campground with a spectacular view of Oregon's Mt. Thielson. We also had clean odorless toilets, picnic tables, fire pits, and lots of wood for campfires.

I had to look up "dispersed camping," although we encountered it in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, CA, and in Death Valley. We didn't call it dispersed camping in our 20s, though, but 'finding a place to park and hide in the woods or wherever." The link above is an excellent guide, which I just discovered on the RoadTrekking Blog, which calls it boondocking. I was delighted to learn that many Roadtrek owners prefer boondocking. That's my kind of group!

As a person who grew up in the boondocks of North Dakota and has lived in Oregon boondocks for a few decades, I am pleased that remote terrain has come into fashion with owners of high-quality compact self-sufficient camping units. I'm excited to go boondocking along the East Coast. Is that even possible?

In the West, most ranger stations have behind-the-counter maps to how and where to camp free provided you can do without hook-ups. Of course, Chris and Chelsea don't need no stinkin' ranger advice. They've only been routed out of a "campsite" at 2 a.m. by law enforcement once. 
Mt. Thielson from a deserted Forest Service campground on Lemolo Lake in Southwestern Oregon, May 2016.
Settling into a campsite - Us and Them
Us: set up the camp chairs, pour some cabernet sauvignon and start thinking about appetizers.
Them: check the mountain bike tires, do a few calisthenics, hop on those babies and ride 45 minutes uphill over rocks, roots, and downed trees before returning to gather wood and assemble a campfire. 

PK may be wondering where the corkscrew is located as he watches the biking preparations "next door." Soon they'll be off and onto the same trail we'll hike tomorrow to Lemolo Falls. That's our Roadtrek Agile.

Dinner time
Us: Sometime between 7 pm and 8:30 pm, preferably during daylight. 
Them: Sometime before bed and after a bike ride or a hike, especially if they've had fewer than five or six hours of physical activity. Or maybe that should be seven or eight hours?

Plastic bags
Us: We're virtuous, we thought. We reuse purchased plastic ziplock bags until they fall apart, and take cloth bags shopping. We use the inevitable plastic disposable bags for trashcan liners and to hold  massive amounts of garden overproduction to drop at food banks and press into neighbors' hands. 
Them: No plastic bags. None. I've tried forcing ziplock bags on Chris to keep a hunk of cheese or a leftover from drying out. Nope. No plastic bags.
Upon encountering a road blocked by too many downed trees to count
Us: Complete agreement that the downed trees make the road a no-go. 

Them: (Who are in lead position) Let's get through by using the machete on the smaller trees and holding others up so the van(s) can pass under, and then just dodge around stuff. Destination: an up-close view of Lemolo Falls. We turned around, of course, with a bit of difficulty, perhaps a quarter mile down the pike, and took a log strewn hiking rail to the falls the next morning. But we followed them into  this obstacle course. It was, uh, instructive, to observe our differences.
Yes, this may be too many trees, they agree.  Below Chelsea bends another small tree for van passage.

Bathing (with environmentally acceptable soap, of course) in streams, lakes, oceans, ponds, snowdrifts etc.
Us: Unless the water temp is at least tolerable, we'll wait for a warm shower or take sponge baths.  
Them: Frigid water is not a problem!  It toughens then up, and I believe they actually like it. Plus after a few hours of running, mountain biking, vigorous hiking, rock climbing etc., rinsing off is imperative, icy water or not.

Leveling the van
Us: We use those orange plastic Lego-like thingies plus a cellphone leveling app for precision work. 

Them: Search around and you'll find the perfect rock or piece of wood.

The obvious difference between "them and us", of course, is that they're in the fullness of beautiful vigorous youth and PK and I are teetering on the edge of old age! 

We realize what's coming, but before it does, we'll be riding high, far and wide in the Roadtrek.

Warm Spring Falls is just a few miles off the beaten path near the North Umpqua River in Southern Oregon. The trail to it is maybe a half mile long. I think we should be able to get there again in 10 years, maybe even 20. When you're in the first third of a normal life span, you can't fathom the last third. But when that final third arrives, you know you must grab every bit of joy. Seeing waterfalls and wild birds, tending a garden, nurturing relationships, including with your adult children, all take on new meaning.  The "life is short" cliche becomes your reality. I need to get to bed and rest up. I very have important things to do tomorrow.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Easy as falling off a .... Cliff?!

I wrote the article below in June 1979 while working for a weekly newspaper in Rogue River, OR, and was also learning to row whitewater. PK was a kayaker and we were on the front end of decades of river running. Even then, I obviously had all the river-running types correctly pegged. (Read on rafters, drift boaters, and so on.)
I ran across this old clipping recently and marveled at how prophetic! I had no idea that years later our own son would become a chief officer in the international club of crazy kayakers.

The 1979 newspaper piece:
There are five or so classifications of local boaters. 
Drift boaters get up before dawn, love rainy days, eat kipper snacks, and can fish for 48 uninterrupted hours. 
Muscle boaters have oiled bodies with fabulous tans. They wear stretch knit bathing suits Their crafts sparkle with chrome and their 600-HP motors pull water skiers at breakneck speed. They drink beer from cans and always have a barbecue to attend. 
Rafters laugh at the river. They wear pillow-sized life jackets and smile beneath sunburned noses. They like to sit around the campfire at night drinking Jack Daniels and swapping tales about who almost got pitched over the side. 
The orange torpedo captains carry books rating rapids on a scale of one to 20. They wear sneakers full of holes and their legs are tan in front and white in back. They are moderately nuts. 
Kayakers are the real crazies. While other boaters enjoy sitting around a friendly campfire roasting marshmallows, kayakers are at the edge of the circle chewing raw meat or in the woods digging for roots and grubs.  
In the morning while others are snug in warm sleeping bags, kayakers run naked, scaling dangerous cliffs and challenging local wildlife to feats of strength. 
The kayaker in the photos is typical of the breed. He is Rick Schlumpberger of Rogue River Outfitters, plunging off a cliff on the Illinois River in his kayak. Before this unretouched photo was taken, Schlumpberger had eaten a 17-pound raw steelhead and had taken a five-mile upstream swim. MK

If anybody knows Rick S., please pass this along. I think he'd get a kick out of it. Maybe he's still chewing raw meat outside of campfire circles?

Chris, "falling off a cliff" on Toketee Falls on the North Umpqua River
 just a couple hours from home.  2011.

A little family river history

PK built himself a fiberglass kayak in 1977 while I was pregnant with our first child. Quinn. Fiberglass construction and pregnant women do not mix owing to noxious glue fumes, which in this case, slammed through the kitchen window as kayak fabrication was being conducted beneath it.

But fiberglass was the only way to go kayaking in the 70s, which PK was hellbent on doing.

Hmm. Wonder where our son Chris got the kayaking bug?

The important thing was that if I didn't want to stay home while PK was on the river, I needed to row. (I was not tempted to kayak.) When our baby boy, Quinn, was about two I learned to navigate whitewater and thus became captain of what was known as the daycare raft. Chris was born when Quinn was nine, prolonging my daycare raft duties.

No complaints. I loved sharing the outdoors and the river with our boys (and their friends). Both went on innumerable day-trips with PK and me on the Rogue, as well as dozens of  3-day family trips on the Rogue's Wild and Scenic section. Those were some of our best days ever.

They grew to love it, although Quinn took a bit longer and was in his late 20s before he was declared "boatman of the year" when he rowed the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon on a 28-day private trip during which his father rowed, Chris kayaked, and I hiked to  the bottom of the canyon to camp with the group for a couple days.

Chris is a now professional kayaker. As I write this, he's just back from a recent expedition to Papua New Guinea, and he and his father are on a day trip on the home river. Makes me smile.

Passing it on. Quinn  Korbulic giving his son Noah his first rowing lesson on the Rogue.

PK rowing the Salmon River with me in front. He missed that bus-sized hole. 

Chris, then 15, earned the right to row his first rapid, a class 4 on the Snake River, by winning a bet with PK, who's having a white-knuckle ride. The bet: if PK throws a rock into the air, and Chris hits the rock with another before the first rock hits the ground, Chris takes the oars. We wouldn't let Chris kayak this river, which he wanted to do, because he would have been the only one in a kayak. Instead, he took on a big rapid with the raft. 
Kayaker Chris at 15.

In case you're wondering, where are the photos of me rowing? Well, I have a few in printed form but have yet to digitize.  My favorite is of going through Blossom Bar on the Rogue (Class 4) with friend Linda Shonk holding onto Chris, who was then about five or six. One of these days......

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Serendipity then and now

Serendipity officially means accidental good fortune. When I started this post, I intended to write about January gardening. That took me, somehow, to Africa and travel, and then to discontent with my ordinary life and then to childrearing, marriage, and the march of time. And back again. You'll find no gardening here.

 Serendipity—a pleasurable outcome of  brain exploration translated to fingers on the keyboard.  Writing.

 Ever since returning from Africa in mid-October, I've been discontented with ordinary life. No one is cooking for me. No one is driving me around. No one is concerned minute-to-minute with my entertainment. (Thank you, Kara Blackmore and TIA.) There are no giraffes, elephants, lions, gorillas, rhinos, impalas, springboks, cape buffalos, chimps, hippos, exotic birds or even crocodiles parading or posing for my enjoyment.
Oops. Forgot to mention zebras, who seemed eager to have their picture taken.
There's also a terrible absence of drifts of exotic flowers, and forests consisting of what look like giant houseplants. 
Pincushion proteas, indigenous to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town, South Africa, is among 7,000 species thriving in one of the world's great botanic gardens. We spent nearly four hours exploring the eye-blasting magic at the foot of the famous Table Mountain.
Sometimes in Uganda or in South Africa—which I haven't blogged about yet —you can't decide where to look. There's so much to see, so much to do. And the people. Suffice it to say that ordinary life for most Ugandans is different from mine. Their realities make me embarrassed about the luxuries of my privileged never-had-to-think-about-food-or-water ordinary blue-eyed life. Also makes me ponder, what do we really need?
This beautiful Ugandan teenager is making her fifth one-mile round trip from her home to the Nile River balancing 50 pounds of water, which must be boiled at least an hour to be potable. Note that her balance is so good the jerry can lacks a plug. Such are the skills necessary for survival. 
Back in rural Southern Oregon in the dead of winter, I am having to work at being delighted, excited, awed or inspired, as if those are the states-of-being I expect or, more importantly, deserve. That's what Africa did to me. I got accustomed to daily delight, excitement, awe and inspiration. I can tell you, it's not a bad way to live.

Except for a couple spectacular days at the Oregon coast in mid-December, (photos here), dullsville is where I'm at now.  Usually, when returning from a "holiday" as vacations are called in South Africa, I am ready to be home. This time, not. I'm restless, resurrecting that irresistible urge to be on the move that spurred me back in the early 1970s, before babies and jobs and house payments tethered us.

 I say "us" because I've been partners with the same man for going on 41 years. We have our own early histories, but at this point, our shared time predominates. We've been together a couple decades longer than the ages we were when we met. Who knows when you commit to someone that this can happen? If you're lucky, it does.
In Mexico 2006

When our first child arrived in 1977, the itchy feet gave way to nesting and to kid-loving to the center of my being and back. The reason most parents can put up with sleepless nights and toddlers screaming in the grocery store, is that kid-love consumes them.

Chris, left, and Quinn Korbulic, 1999
I love our adult sons, but not as viscerally as when they were babies, toddlers, young children, and even despicable (sometimes) teenagers. They're cut loose and my oh my, who they have become pleases me so. How I adore them still. We won't even get into the grandchildren. Another time.

Back in the day, and besotted with kid-love, I was content with camping and rafting and the occasional two-week summer vacation along with the pleasure and pain of raising children, sustaining a marriage, developing a writing/editing career, and getting acquainted with the Earth in our backyard: the garden, the Rogue River and environs.

I often told myself, and others who would listen, that there's more than one way to travel. Explore your life and journey philosophically, if you can't get out there into the world geography. Having two kids, two jobs, little money, and two or three weeks vacation per annum, I embraced the philosophy route. Time flew. It flapped its wings and dive bombed year after year, pecking me on the head, "You're another year older!"

Now time is pecking me in the eyes, dammit. Get away! Slow the hell down!

Still, I don't regret any of it. I would never give up having raised our sons because both are gifts that keep on giving. And life has come full circle with me being the touchstone for my 98-year-old mom who is in assisted living one mile away.

However. I'm now thinking ours would be a great place to be coming back to. Someday. In the meantime, I will continue to appreciate the small things, and large, that have made this piece of ground home for more than 40 years. It won't be long before we'll be on road longterm and so glad to have a piece of the Earth to settle back into, as birds returning from migration.

Ironically, as I was working on this post, I excavated, from the bottom of a trunk, a diary from 1972. Here's something I wrote August 24 of that year... I was 28 years old.
Driving over the Big Horn Mountains. Stoned. Looking at cows through binoculars and talking about time. A little poem:  
I'll travel til there's no wind left in my soul. Then I'll be old
Well, now I AM old, so I'll say the same thing today except for one word:

I'll travel til there's no wind left in my soul.

 Then I'll be dead

Leeks in all their glory in our garden. What you can't see or hear are the bees. The bees. Hundreds of bees. Maybe as many bees as there are in all of Africa. Right in my own backyard. Just in case.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Rafting Uganda's White Nile - Class V

The first rapid was a Class 5 with a tricky entrance to a 12-foot waterfall. I'm in the yellow helmet, and PK is directly on my left. Kara Blackmore, our unofficial tour guide, is in the back in front of Josh, the amazing local river guide. In addition to Josh, we three were the only people on this raft with any previous rafting experience. Which goes to show, with a skilled guide, anybody can do this!! 
We knew from the get-go that, as parents of Chris Korbulic, we'd have no excuse, other than cowardice, for not jumping into a paddle raft for a Class 5 commercial trip on the White Nile near Jinja, Uganda. (For the uninitiated, Class 5 means that flipping is likely.) Not that cowardice wasn't a factor. PK had sorta-kinda committed, and I was "maybe" but then PK, looking at the unfavorable weather forecast, mentioned to Kara, "If it's raining, I probably won't go."

Kara, Chris' good friend and the volunteer tour guide who'd arranged 12 days in Uganda for us, was stunned. "What? You'll man up and go!" she insisted. "What's a little rain?"  

Indeed. What's a little rain? I "womaned" up and signed on as well. 

Our outfitter, Nile River Explorers, picked us up close to our lodging way too early in the morning, and after about a half-hour open-air bus ride later, we were greeted at the company's staging area with a hearty breakfast of Rolex, fruit, coffee, and various carbohydrates. What's a Rolex? A culinary discovery! I know you don't click on many links, but the Rolex link is about more than the Rolex. It's also about Ugandan street life and attitude. There we were outfitted with life jackets, helmets and paddles.  Another 40-minute drive and we were at the put-in.
The assembled paddle rafters getting the low-down on how to navigate the rapids. PK and I agreed it was the most thorough river safety briefing we'd ever heard. Then we were instructed to team up with people of like mind. Do you want to flip or not? NOT. We sorted into a raft of Australians, a family with no river experience who were not too fit looking. Still, PK and I were by far the oldest people in the entire group. I guess our elderly status is getting to be a badge of honor, because on this raft, we were, along with Kara, also the fittest. Not counting the guide, Josh, of course, in his own class of rippled readiness. He was ejected once and he sprang back into the raft as if he'd been propelled by an underwater cannon.

This is the first rapid,  a true Class 5. See that red object toward the top of the photo? That's a raft, and behind it is flat water where each of the five rafts was required to flip, then everybody aboard had to help right the overturned craft. The hardest part? Getting back into the dang raft unaided.  I think Kara was the only passenger on our boat who powered  herself into the raft. The rest of us whales needed assistance. Even all-muscles PK required a tiny boost. 

After getting hung up on rocks, we entered the first rapid in perfect position.
It's starting to look bad! And feel bad! But we're in great shape.

We hit the hole head on. Nobody fell out. This all happened in a flash. These great photos were captured by a pro working with Nile River Explorers. When the trip ended, raft mates decided whether or not to join forces and purchase photo CDs and/or DVDs. 

Believe it or not, this was fun!
You can see the guide powering with his one little paddle to keep the raft straight and we came out of the hole in great shape. I guess everybody swallowed some Nile River, but were none the worse.

The young woman behind me, unfortunately, lost a toenail . She unloaded onto the safety raft, the one with the blue kayak, where she spent the rest of the day with her bleeding and bandaged foot elevated. I think she was relieved to be in the safety raft. She blanched at the safety talk above this rapid about what to do, if the raft should flip and you get sucked into a downward spiral. What you do is bring your knees to your chest and wait to pop up to to the surface. The message: you are not in control here.
The river trip was 15.5 miles, (25 kilometers) long, but it didn't seem that far. Seven rapids, Class 3-4, followed the first, which was the most challenging. We had lots of time to float and enjoy the scenery and the big waves. Lunch on board was the most delicious-ever giant pineapples cut with a few deft machete strokes and passed to passengers in thick sticky wedges. We also enjoyed cookie-type treats labeled as "Glucose." Well, that's honesty in packaging.

This may have been the rapid where the guide was jettisoned. But he quickly reclaimed the helm.

What?! Kara is going overboard.

As a frequent river-runner, she claims that the final rapid of this trip, the Nile Special, is best enjoyed when you're one with the river. time? Incidentally, Nile Special is also a popular Ugandan beer, which was offered in abundance at the end of this trip along with a delicious buffet.
By the way, our boat never flipped, but other boat upsets were frequent. I don't know whether we got lucky with our guide, or if the other, equally skilled guides, dropped into holes sideways on purpose.  Before one especially tricky rapid,which Josh said was better left unexplored via immersion, he gave explicit directions regarding the "ball -up to avoid getting sucked to the bottom" direction but ended his pre-rapid instructions with this: Be ready for anything. Shit happens. That seems to me a good advice for life in general.

Addendum: A dam that would drown this beautiful whitewater section of the Nile River is in the works, but is not a done deal. The dam would destroy the tourist industry in Jinja, whose main tourist draw is the river and various activities associated with it—especially the rafting and kayaking parts. It makes me sick to think that the wonderful Ugandans we met on this trip (as guides and the photographer, mostly) would be out of jobs. This link describes the situation, and introduces readers to some of the people whose lives have been transformed by the opportunities afforded by their river jobs. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thanksgiving Leftovers-Time Spinning Reckless

This year our Thanksgiving group gathered near Squaw Valley at Lake Tahoe.
The weather was glorious, and we spent most of one day at this beach. Some even took a dip. 
Maybe this post title should be "Thanksgiving Afterglow" or "Thanksgiving Rocks" or something other than what "Thanksgiving Leftovers" connotes. True, I will soon get to an easy breezy super-good low-carb leftover turkey recipe.
Here it is! Five ingredients. Five minutes. Turkey/broccoli casserole. Good! See below. 
But the big story, for me, is that the Thanksgiving celebration PK and I share annually with family, dear friends, and, always, a few newcomers, provides a lasting burst of energy and hope. Leftovers, so to speak. 

Leftovers, that unlike turkey, which disappears into soups, casseroles, sandwiches within a week, will continue forever. How could I ever forget this picture of grandson Noah "smiling" for the camera with his uncle Chris  trying to match his enthusiasm? And so many other great moments.
Here we are, recovered from Thanksgiving-feast comas and ready to play beach games.
After five years, our cross-generational Thanksgiving group has grown to 20+, a number we hold steady as the desire to include others, and the reality that too many would complicate our accommodation requirements and the intimacy that's central to the whole deal, makes us curb our enthusiasm. Renting a place to accommodate 20 -25 is a challenge. Having a great time with that number, however, is no problem. We long ago progressed beyond the one-day celebration and are now up to three to five days. Heavy feasting. Immoderate wine drinking. Tireless dancing. Animated conversation. Hiking. Spirited ping pong. A horseshoe-like game called washoes. And whatever outdoor activities the weather or terrain allows. All make for a colorful whirl of time spinning, reckless, on fast forward. 

This annual gathering, and also friendships and traditional celebrations that have gone before, remind me of what matters: honesty, friendships, old and new; family, whether blood-related or not; zest for life; traditions, both established and developing; flexibility; and maybe most important, recognizing that although the universe doesn't give a crap about you, your friends and family do. And you about them. Big time. What's more important than that? (Maybe zest for life, if you can manage that on your own.)

Here's a compilation of photos from this year's Thanksgiving celebration with credit  to Steve Lambros and Laurie Gerloff (and me) with others from Lauren Frank, Gail Frank, Paula Stone, Chris Korbulic and Tom Landis.

The Goods

Here's that pretty dang good and super easy recipe for leftover turkey. Cooking is a shared responsibility at Thanksgiving, and PK and I were in charge of turkey this year. We brought two; one fresh, one smoked, around 19 pounds each. We ended up with mostly smoked turkey leftovers—a good thing! Because I used smoked turkey for this casserole, I didn't add any salt. If your turkey isn't brined or salty, you may need to add a little punch.
All ingredients are leftovers. I brought the artichoke/jalapeno dip and raw broccoli for appetizers that didn't get used. As usual, we had way too much food despite our pledge to go light. Ha! For a similar result, you could add YOUR leftovers and tie it all together with a pre-made sauce or dip, such as the artichoke jalapeno concoction. 

Turkey Snap - Broccoli, Artichoke/Jalapeno Turkey Casserole
Serves four. Bake in a 9X13 casserole at 350 for 30-35 minutes to bake. FIVE MINUTE prep.
  • 2 (approximate) cups Costco's Stonemill Kitchen's artichoke jalapeno dip (1 carb for 2 TBSP), enough to cover the casserole bottom.
  • Sliced cooked turkey, enough to cover the dip. Turkey may be smoked or roasted. I used smoked. HAM could be substituted.
  • 2-3 cups raw broccoli florets, cut into bite-sized pieces. (Save time. Buy a bag.) 
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • Grated cheese, cheddar, Parmesan, or whatever you have on hand, enough to spread on top of the casserole.
  • Salt and pepper to taste. Note: If you use smoked turkey or ham, additional salt could be overkill. 
  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. Spread enough artichoke jalapeno dip in the bottom of the casserole dish to cover it with 1/4 to 1/3 inch.
  3. Arrange sliced turkey or ham generously atop the dip. 
  4. Mix remaining dip with the raw broccoli and diced onions. The mixture should be visibly covered with the dip, but not thickly. If the mixture seems too dry, and you ran out of the dip, add mayo. Too little is better than too much.
  5. Spread the broccoli/dip mix atop the turkey slices.
  6. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven and uncover. Top with grated cheese and pop back into the oven for 5-7 minutes. Remove when cheese is melted, and let rest for a few minutes before serving.  
Note: The broccoli will still be al dente after 25 minutes. If you like broccoli more tender, give the covered casserole another 10 minutes in the oven before melting the cheese. 

Next up: Turkey soup using basically the same ingredients, AND curried veggies with turkey. All low-carb. Ain't Thanksgiving grand?