Sunday, October 8, 2017

Smokeaggedon

I sat there.  On the toilet.  Distraught.  I had an incredible urge to pee but nothing was coming out.  My bladder felt like it had a 10 gallons of fluid in it, but only a few drops dribbled out.  The car was packed and my wife Kiirsten was ready to go.  We were headed east to the Gorge on this labor day weekend to see Guns N Roses.  Kiirsten had never been to the Gorge Amphitheater and I had never seen GNR. The original members were back together so it seemed like the perfect show to check out.    


I knew the constant urge to urinate was not from a full bladder.  This happened 10 years ago to me and I recognized the symptoms.  It was my lower back.  Something was out of whack and the nerve bundle that ran down my spine was inflamed causing me to experience this persistent uncomfortableness.  I also had a broken cavity filling in the back lower section of my mouth that was competing for the title of ‘what’s more annoying and painful’ award.  So, clearly I was ready for this road trip!


I originally had thought we would take the longer more scenic route over White Pass on Hwy 12 and stay the night in Yakima, but there was a raging forest fire nearby in the Cascades Mountains.  The terrible air quality and a forecast high of 100 degrees made me rethink that plan as we left our home.  Before reaching the on ramp we changed course and headed north bound on I-5 in route to Rosyln.  I was confident we would be far enough west of the wildfires so we would have good air quality.  I was also excited to cool off in the local rivers to beat the high temperatures.


The drive was picturesque as we climbed up and over Snoqualmie pass.  We made it to our Cle Elm/Roslyn exit in less than 2 hours and we were both excited to have dinner at The Brick Tavern.  We had stopped off at The Brick five years prior on our way home from our mini honeymoon in the Methow Valley and we were hoping to enjoy some more of The Brick magic.  


At the top of the exit ramp we turned left to head north and there it was. The Plume.  It was huge and black and ominous.  How did we not see this cloud of smoke until now? It looked like a wildfire was in Rosyln.  I couldn’t believe it.  I rerouted our trip based on wildfires to now drive directly into one?  My exterior presentation was calm but my mind was frantically processing our options.  It was almost 5 and we were close to being hangry so we continued to The Brick. The tavern was packed and abuzz with talk about evacuations, fire retardant dropped from planes, loss of work and loss of homes.  This was not a normal Saturday crowd looking to relax and let loose. We sat at the bar as the stainless steel spittoon below our feet moved water from left to right.  I sipped on a local black lager while my phone showed me the air quality anywhere east of us was terrible.  Finding a place to stay felt futile because of out of town firefighters, evacuees and because it was labor day weekend.  We sat there with full bellies and empty heads.  My tooth ached from munching on my burger, my bladder screamed at me to empty it and now my body was signaling me to evacuate some solid waste.  


I made my way through the long skinny historic bar full of beautiful ornate wood finishes and 20 foot high ceilings in search of the Men’s room.  The classic urinal trough greeted me as I searched for the stall.  As I got ready to enter the stall I realized something important was missing.  No door! Really? Yup, no door.  I have low vision so sometimes verification of physical elements being there or not takes a little extra time.  I finally see there is a curtain.  Yes, a curtain.  I knew that would work.  Somewhat relieved, I turn my attention towards the toilet and my next surprise awaits.  No toilet seat.  Are you kidding me? My body was not happy with this predicament.  Hover? Squat? I didn't see how it would work without a seat.  But a miracle happened. There was a toilet seat! It just happened to be upside down on the floor.  Ugh.  I couldn't believe this scenario unfolding but my stomach wasn't  interested in my current feelings of disgust.  I picked up the nasty seat and set it gently on the toilet.  I then slowly lowered my derriere onto the unhinged seat.  One minor move almost plunged me directly into the toilet.  The porcelain toilet acted like ice under the plastic spacers of the seat.  As I sat there tenuously, shallow breathing, I quickly lost everything that needed to be lost.  The tight confines of the space and the unstable toilet seat made for an awful clean up.  I knew my desire/rule to never touch anything in a bathroom was an impossible standard to achieve on this day.  The curtain and I became friends during my final moments in that wretched stall.  I walked out of the restroom shell shocked and Kiirsten knew it.  She didn't know why but, she knew that I just came back from hell.  We made our long walk through the bar and outside. Upon exiting, we were greeted with heavy smoke.
As we approached the car all I wanted to do was burn my clothes and shower.  Dipping myself in a vat of hand sanitizer would have also worked.  Neither was going to be an option.  Kiirsten now knew the reason for my distress and she knew I was inconsolable at this point unless she had a portable shower.  We had no where to stay that night and all the places we wanted to stay had been fully overtaken by thick forest fire smoke.  We decided to roll north over Blewett Pass in route to Wenatchee.  We hoped to get a little reprieve from the fires and find a place to stay. 


The drive over the pass was quiet and smelly.  It was like we were driving in the clouds as we made our ascent over the pass.  These clouds weren't clouds though and they were toxic.  It was still a bright sunny day as we climbed to 4100 feet, but the smoke hid the sun from us.  I was worried about my wife's lungs because of her asthma.  I was worried about our concert experience while wearing respirators.  I already had on my respirator in the car because there was no way to keep the smoke out of our car.  I wondered how we could hang out the rest of the weekend outside with masks on.  You really couldn't carry on a conversation with the mask on.  I worried about finding a decent place to stay.  I worried about bailing on the concert due to smoke and losing another $200 in tickets.  The thought of losing more money that week was stressing me out.  I had lost $142 earlier that week because I booked a priceline room in Seattle for the wrong night.  Losing almost $400 in one week was enough to give me a panic attack.  So, Kiirsten and I really didn't talk for that hour and a half drive.  I knew Kiirsten was worried about my well-being as I worried about all the unknowns. 

Kiirsten scored us a room at the Wedge Mountain Inn near Leavenworth.  It was a 1 star, but it had vacancies and got us off the road.  The shower I took was baptismal worthy.  I would have jumped in a 42 degree river at that point so this 1 star shower was divine.  I made sure my clothes and the car seat cover I sat on were securely placed in a garbage bag.  The garments would be sanitized once we got home.  Our evening after that consisted of B rated movie watching and alcohol consumption.  I was a mess emotionally.  Kiirsten was a mess because of me.


The next morning brought us a new day and a new chance to right the ship.  Air Quality in Leavenworth looked decent so we headed there for breakfast.  I was still stuck.  I didn't know what we would do.  Would we be at the Gorge tonight listening to GNR or would we be on the west side of the Cascade Mountains in search of clean air?  I knew Kiirsten felt she couldn't help me with my struggles and I knew I was unable to articulate anything of substance to her.  We finished our Bavarian breakfast and decided to try and escape the poor air quality and high 90's temp by heading to a swimming hole just off of Route 2.  The river was gorgeous.  Clear and cold.  The smoke hung tightly to the rock faced slopes that towered over us on both sides of the Wenatchee river.  Each of us explored our section of river separately.  The water was emerald in color and the visibility seemed endless.  My constant need to urinate had not gone away but the cold water seemed to help my lower back pain.  I also was managing my toothache with advil and not chewing on the left side.  We had hours to kill before a decision needed to be made.  All of the options still bumped around in my head.  The money we could lose.  The escape from the suffocating smell of smoke.  The loss of not seeing GNR or Kiirsten getting to see the Gorge for the 1st time.  Every option seemed to carry disappointment with it.  


Time passed and I finally was ready to take a chance.  Instead of further retreat into the abyss of myself or the desire to scream from a place of despair, I bared myself to her.  I told Kiirsten all the things that were bothering me.  Fear of letting her down in some way.  Letting myself down.  Feeling shame and sadness.  Feeling stuck.  She listened and I felt heard.  In that moment of toughness and rawness Kiirsten said it.  She told me that being with me was all that mattered.  KK didn't care if it was an awful spot or a great spot.  She wasn't concerned if it was a hurtful moment or an uncomfortable disconnected moment.  She wanted to be with me.  Just me.  To experience life with me.  We could lose money and escape smokeaggedon or strap on our respirators and head to the show.  She made it clear that it didn't matter what we did as long as we were together.


There is a release or an unburdening when we bare our soul.  When we speak of what binds us up inside we free ourselves.  This wisdom seems easier understood when we are not engrossed by helplessness and despair.  In that moment, Kiirsten held the door open for me.  She invited me in and offered me a place to stay.  And she was right.  It didn't matter in the end.  When I was able to step outside of my own hindrances to enjoying life or being present in the moment, I could embrace her dogma.  Life with Kiirsten was always better.  Even when I felt I was letting her down or disappointing her, it was better with her.  Life is more rich when I experience life with my wife. Kiirsten is fully committed to devouring the marrow of life.  She wants to fill herself up with as many precious moments as possible while navigating the journey of life.  She not only loves me fiercely but she has a passion for experiencing all this world has to offer.  It is why I love her dearly and why I am filled with gratitude for her.


It was 3pm and we knew it was decision time.  If I had bet an hour earlier, I would have said we would head home but we decided to head to the show and at least check out the Gorge air quality.  We drove east and then south along the mighty Columbia River.  We made it to our campground and set up camp quickly so we could start pre-funking.  The smoke was mild and we sipped on our drinks before jumping on the old Seattle Metro buses that would take us to the show.  After paying $14 for a drink, we sat on the grassy slope and listened to GNR for 3 glorious hours.  Slash, Axl, Duff and the rest of the band rocked the Gorge like they meant it and the capacity crowd of 18,000 loved it.  Even though the forest fire smoke was not terrible we decided to bring our respirators with us just in case the air quality deteriorated.  It was a great decision because we ended up wearing our respirators for almost the entire show due to heavy smoke. It wasn't forest fire smoke that was choking us out though.  It was cigarette smoke.  It felt like we were surrounded by thousands of chain smokers. What irony.  The whole time I was worried about forest fire smoke ruining our rock show experience when I should have worried about tobacco smoke.  


As darkness fell on the crowd, we sat there in our foldable low backed chairs, wearing respirators, and holding hands.  I felt like a lucky man.  Later I would learn that people starred at us like we were possible terrorists plotting biological warfare because of our breathing masks.  I was happy my lack of night vision kept me oblivious to that fact because I was able to fully enjoy a great rock show with the woman I love. 
Sitting there as 40 plus year old drunk people stumbled past us as the show neared its end, I embraced only one thought.  I knew there would always be a silver lining as long as Kiirsten was by my side.  No matter the circumstances or obstacles before me, life is always better with KK.  I squeezed her hand with that thought while Axl worked his way through The Seeker as the encore winded down.  


Our 3 hour drive home on Labor Day was a time for reflection.  As I gazed out the window at the approaching undulating Cascade Mountains, I soaked in the fact that 25 years ago on that very weekend I took a chance and arrived in the Pacific Northwest to find work.  I moved in a linear fashion through all of the memories I had created since moving to Washington State.  As my memories moved closer to the present, I felt blood rush to my head and I became flushed with gratitude and joy for all that I had in life.  I was also thankful for the weekend I just experienced.  From moments of despair to moments of enrichment.  I got to experience a life time of feelings in a 3 day period and I got do share it all with my wife, Kiirsten.  Another memory to hold on tightly too. 


I am so thankful for this woman.  Love You KK!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

My 2nd Album was just released!

I started playing the drums once a week about 3 years ago.  I took a break from singing and playing guitar to focus on playing drums with my friends.  Don't get me wrong, I still love to sing and perform but there is now a special place in my heart for the drum kit.  

This album is a collection of the best songs I helped create with my best friend Ricky T Torrance over the past 2 years.  All music is original and all of it was created through improvisation.  I like writing songs and perfecting them through practice but I also enjoy making up songs in the moment.  I compare it to painting.  I love watercolor painting and I never paint the same picture.  I enjoy creating something new while painting.  It is very relaxing and fulfilling to put on paper what I feel deep down in my soul.  I would go crazy if I had to paint the same picture each time.  Playing music once a week with my friends fulfills me in much the same way.  The main difference is trying to get 3 or 4 people on the same page to create a song worth listening again.  

For people who have visual impairments and have concerns about being around loud music (me!), I can tell you I take keeping my hearing intact very seriously and when I am in the studio rocking out I normally wear double ear plugs (foam earplugs and ear muffs over the plugs).  

If you WANT a free copy of this album, just ask me and I'll set you up.  If you want to support Camp Abilities Olympia, please purchase the album below for $5.  All proceeds go directly to the camp! I hope you can find at least one song you like on this album or even feel inspired to create your own music! 

DOWNLOAD LINK - R T K - SMOOZER

SOUNDCLOUD (IF YOU JUST WANT TO LISTEN)- Listen here!


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Camp Abilities Olympia Radio Interview

I recently got to experience the camp of a lifetime when I took on hosting Washington State's FIRST EVER Camp Abilities.  It was a free sports camp for visually impaired and blind children that we hosted at Saint Martin's University.  We had (50) volunteers and (9) Athletes for the (2) day sports camp.  It was an event that seemed to effect everyone who participated in a very positive way.   We are hosting the 2017 Camp, the week of August 7-11th @ Saint Martin's University.  

Check out the website for more information in the coming months!


LINK TO RADIO INTERVIEW
Camp Abilities Olympia Interview with Dick Pust @ Mixx 96.1fm


Dick Pust and me!

For more information about Camp Abilities Olympia or to donate to this camp please go to 
CAMP ABILITIES OLYMPIA WEBSITE




2016 Camp Abilities Olympia!!!!!
CAMPP ABILITIES OLYMPIA PHOTO BY OLYVTX PHOTOGRAPHY


My 1st paid writing gig!

Earlier this year I received an opportunity to write an article for Outdoors NW magazine and I am thrilled to share the article I wrote.  I am hopeful this is not my last published story and have so much gratitude for Kris Parfitt, the managing editor for giving me a chance to contribute to the magazine.  I hope you enjoy it!

LINK
Blind Winter Adventures

My buddy Derek DeVries up in the mountains!


Monday, October 10, 2016

Stranger Danger!

It has again been a while since I posted something on my blog.  Life has been full and rich for me of late.  With the encouragement of Lauren Lieberman, the founder of Camp Abilities, I started Washington State's FIRST Camp Abilities.  Its a Sports Camp for visually impaired and blind children! We had (50) Volunteers and (9) Athletes!  It was a weekend to remember!  

More on the camp later but for now please check out my latest story!  I told the story up in Seattle at Fresh Ground Stories on August 25, 2016.  The theme was 'Chance encounters with Strangers'.  Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a VIP? Well, you should be careful what you wish for!  I hope you like it!!!!

LINK:STRANGER DANGER
Blind Trail in Copenhagen, Denmark


Friday, May 6, 2016

What I Saw Through His Blindness

    It has been a while since I have posted something on my blog but it has been for a great reason.  I have experienced the joy of coaching the 1st Ever High School Girls Lacrosse Team of Thurston County.  It has been an amazing ride with these (26) young women but I have missed other parts of my life too.  I am excited to get back to writing and sharing some of my stories up in Seattle.  

     I'm jumping back in the saddle by having a guest blogger!  Acadia is my oldest daughter (16) and she is allowing me to share a recent story she wrote for school that was about a person of influence.  She is a wonderful person in so many ways and I am now learning that she is a very gifted writer.  I am so honored and touched that I have impacted her life in this way.  This story and impact on her puts another check in the column of the greatness that has come from my loss of vision.   I care deeply about being a great Dad to Acadia and Sierra and have worked very hard to be a person who can contribute positively to their lives in a meaningful way.  I was so happy to read this story.  I share this story not as 'look at me' but rather showing the world that what we deem as a disability or tragedy can actually be viewed as a gift.  

Thanks for writing and sharing this Acadia.  I Love You to Infinity times 2!

What I Saw Through His Blindness
            
“As a single dad, it must be hard juggling you two girls and a full time job.” Sarah Bear tells me in a calming voice. He is never late to pick me and my sister up from after school care, so I was concerned. Sarah has just received a phone call. I’m not sure who it’s from, even though my persistent little 7 year old self has asked her plenty of times.
            I later found out that my father, Keith, was late because he had been T-boned by a car on his bicycle. This was the first time his vision wasn’t the only problem. At the time, my parents had recently been divorced, so he moved into town and now bikes everywhere. Ew, biking everywhere. Who would do that to themselves? About a year ago, he had taken his annual trip up to the ophthalmologist and he was told that his vision decrease had become too severe, and it was no longer safe for him to be driving. As a kid, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder that causes you to slowly lose your peripheral vision.
As a kid, he would have me cup my hands around my eyes. “This is how dad sees,” he would explain. “With my eyesight, if you stand anywhere but right in front of me, I can’t see you.” Maybe it is because I have gotten used to my father’s condition, because I have known about it for so long, but I find myself not taking it as seriously as I think I should.
With this “road block” put in his life, he has done a fantastic job of finding ways to ride around it. When I was 14, my dad and step-mother blessed me and my two siblings with a wonderful trip to 4 European countries; England, France, Germany, and Denmark. The time spent exploring and gaining culture and knowledge of the area through hands on experience was unforgettable.  When in Germany, we found it suiting to take a tour of the city to learn more about its rich history. With his vision, my dad uses a cane to navigate and let people know that he may not see them. I was tired from waking up early and walking all day, but I could still see my dad struggling. We were walking on cobblestone, which my dad’s cane got stuck in every other step. The graphite would bend so far back it was strained worse than a college kids paycheck.  This had been happening the whole trip, and he finally lost it. It was hard for me to see him break down because he is generally very good at having a positive outlook on anything that comes at him.

One of the many attributes I have always valued in my father is his ability to recognize his own faults, and never stop working on changing himself so he can become the best father he can be to his daughters. Through the many ways he has had to change his life due to his vision, he has always made the best of the new situations. Although simple daily activities, like getting from work to practice are not thought of twice to most people, he is constantly finding new and creative ways to get places. The day I realized that my father’s vision loss was more of a blessing than a curse, because of how he reacted to it, was the day I realized the way my father has raised me.  He has shown me that I can be anything I set my mind to. What I saw through his blindness was hope. Hope to push through my darkest times, and hope to always strive to be a better person. 
Acadia an I at her 16th Bday Party!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Fresh Ground Stories- A Change of Heart

I was lucky enough recently to tell another story on stage in Seattle.  I have learned so much from hearing people's true personal stories and have immensely enjoyed sharing some of my own.  

I hope you can relate to this story.   It's about keeping a secret.  

LINK:
Keith Edgerton, Fresh Ground Stories- A Change of Heart